Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sandwich, Comrade?

My friend Mary, who is currently living with her family in Caracas, sent me this gem, which describes an individual's experience at a state run arepera (sandwich shop).  Apparently Mr. Chavez, and his Trade Minister, Eduardo Saman, created the place to demonstrate the superiority of socialism and to show how private areperas cheat customers by charging several times the true cost of an arepa.

So let me get this straight--millions of freely chosen, voluntary transactions have occurred over years of sandwich shop operations to arrive at prices that are acceptable to both the producer of the arepa, and the consumer of the arepa, and yet the trade minister knows, knows, that the greedy owners of sandwich shops are cheating their customers.  I don't know about you, but I often lay awake at night wondering when the helpless people will finally rise up, and in the name of social justice bring those evil sandwich shop owners TO THEIR KNEES.  What a buffoon--the trade minister, I mean.  Well, Chavez too.

They should brush up on one of Adam Smith's key insights, taken from the pages of Milton Friedman's book, "Free To Choose".  Mr. Friedman writes this:  " ... if an exchange between two parties is voluntary, it will not take place unless both believe they will benefit from it.  Most economic fallacies derive from the neglect of this simple insight, from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another."  This simplistic, zero-sum assumption is an insult to the intelligence and the productive capability of all of humanity, and it has been used to prop up tyranny and dictatorship for all time.  Mr. Chavez uses it now, and it is being wielded ever more frequently here at home by the Obama administration.

The other interesting aspect of the reporting at the arepera is the descent, not profound but palpable, from the crowded excitement, abundance and variety of food, and honor system of Chavez's visit shortly after the opening of Arepera Socialista, to the dwindling patrons, bare trays, stewed hot dogs, harried staff, and not quite the honor system that exists less than a year later.  Such is the descent that always occurs when a trade minister professes to know the sandwich business better than the man who owns a sandwich shop, and the people who buy sandwiches from him.  If the Obama administration can be indicted for anything, it is that they are afflicted with the same disease as Hugo Chavez's trade minister--they profess to know what's in everyone's best interest (yours, mine, Arizona's, Israel's) better than each individual knows it for his or her self.  They have had some success in enacting policy based on that principle.  The degree to which they continue to succeed, or not, in that quest, is the degree to which we may expect the future to be a delicious arepa venezolana, or hot dog stew.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Deepwater Horizon

Okay, this is NOT how I wanted to make my point.  A few weeks ago, after the tragic explosion in the Upper Big Branch coal mine, I wrote a short essay entitled "Say A Little Prayer" (scroll down and you'll see it) in which I defended the coal industry against the type of attacks that were being levied against the Massey company in the aftermath of the disaster.  One of the lines of defense I used was to describe the pervasive culture of safety that exists in the oil and gas industry and to speculate that things were likely the same in the coal mining business--the point being that despite efforts and incentives designed to prevent disasters, they still sometimes occur.  Nature, and the nature of man, sometimes combine in ways that are virtually impossible to predict, and the outcomes can be deadly.

Like the coal miners, the men and women who work offshore on drilling rigs and production platforms are directly responsible for aspects of our modern lives that we would be loathe to live without.  I would like to claim kinship with them, and I guess I can, but the most dangerous aspect of my day is probably avoiding tripping on the new carpet that was just laid in my office (it's a slightly longer weave).  My heart goes out to the families of the lost, and to those who will, tomorrow, take this disaster in stride and climb on board a helicopter or a boat to go tens or hundreds of miles offshore to their work, my prayers and my thanks go with you.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I've been reading Thomas Sowell's newest (and excellent) book "Intellectuals and Society".  One of the recurring themes in the book is how virtually anything that fits the narrative of what he calls "the vision of the anointed" is presented by the self-anointed intellectuals and their enablers (the media, left-leaning politicians, like-minded citizens) as a priori factual.  In other words, any smart, reasonable, forward-thinking person ought to be able to see the truth and wisdom of their commentary, without any regard for or reason to appeal to actual, empirical verification of whatever self-evident "truth" they are advancing.

I witnessed a good example of this just today, while watching this exchange between Ann Coulter and Aisha Tyler (seems like just yesterday she was hosting "The Fifth Wheel") on the Larry King Live show.  Aisha refers to the tea party movement as being "demonstrative", "aggressive", and having "an undercurrent of violence."  This gross mischaracterization fits with the narrative that is being used by the political left in the country to discredit the tea party movement and so it is accepted and advanced uncritically by much of the media, despite overwhelming evidence at rally after rally of peaceful, inclusive, and principled dissent.  Miss Tyler cites as evidence for her "undercurrent of violence" some of the threatening phone calls that were made to Democratic members of congress after their health care votes--no mention of similar phone calls that were made to Republican house members of course.  And can you imagine the telephone calls that those same Democratic members would have received had they stuck by their principles and voted against the bill such that it failed.  O.M.G.

My point is the same as Ann Coulter's--that despite the vision of the anointed, the actual violence that has occurred has been perpetrated by the left.  There was the beating of a black tea partier in St. Louis by SEIU thugs, the egging of a tea party bus in Nevada by Harry Reid supporters, threats directed at Andrew Breitbart at the Nevada incident, and most recently, the beating of Allee Butsch and Joe Brown in New Orleans after they left a Southern Republican Leadership conference dinner.  At this point, the perpetrators of that incident are suspected to be a few of a group of leftist protesters who were hanging about outside the event.  Heard anything about it on the evening news?; of course you haven't.  And then there's the regular protest, rioting and violence that attends every G8 or G20 gathering, every climate conference, and every lecture Ann Coulter gives in Canada (okay, just the one at the University of Ottawa).  For some nice, violent undercurrents, try listening to the language of the left, with its insistence on revolution, its description of its principals as "revolutionaries", and signs that say "No Justice, No Peace."  To top it off, no one can outdo the left for sheer numbers of people killed over the last 100 years.  Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Che', the numbers run easily over 100 million.

Unless reading this post is your first detour away from traditional media sources it's unlikely I've presented anything new or surprising.  What is interesting to me is why the left has this subculture of violence, and I suspect its because they are consistently unable to win their case on its merits.  The health care bill recently passed is a perfect example, not of violence, but of the left being unable to convince the public of the merits of the bill.  Faced with this reality, the Democrats used the less-brutish tools in their arsenal--cutting deals, strong-arming when necessary, and procedural maneuvers.  No one's head got knocked, but the principle is the same.

I have consistently maintained that unless the left is truly willing to cross the line and start knocking heads, or knocking people off, that they will be unable to advance their agenda in the United States to the same degree that it has been advanced elsewhere in the world.  I don't think they have the stomach for it today, and I hope that increasing numbers of Americans continue to convince them that their time is not now, or ever.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The more things change ... the more things change

Here is a very good climate change essay written by Richard Lindzen (Alfred P. Sloan professor of atmospheric science at M.I.T., which, as far as I know, is a pretty good university).  I snagged the article from the science website, Watts Up With That.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Likes and Dislikes

"People do not dislike equality.  What they do dislike is tyranny.  Unfortunately, the only way you get equality (of outcomes) is through tyranny."


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Say A Little Prayer

It took me a long time to love the work that I do, probably fifteen years.  For many years I identified more strongly with those aspects of myself that I used in my athletic pursuits, and dreamed of using through my aspirations of making my living as a writer.  But then, about ten years into it I realized that I actually had some facility for my work, and at fifteen or sixteen years I started to understand how important my work was to the world around me, and now, coming up on twenty-one years in the business, I feel at home.  What do I do?  I look for oil and gas, or as I like to call it, the lifeblood of civilization.  Crude oil and natural gas provide us with many things of inestimable value, but transportation, in cars and boats and trains and planes, is the most visible, the most enjoyable, and the most exciting.  Crude oil is movement.

But if crude oil is movement, then coal is light.  And for all you people who think that Earth Hour is cool and important, just remember that the only reason that it's fun is that you get to turn the lights and the television back on at the end of it.  In very large part, all across the world, it is coal that allows you to do that.  Which makes it all the more disgusting when, in light of the current tragedy that has occurred in West Virginia, I read articles with titles like this that attack the coal industry, coal companies, and coal executives. 

I do not profess to know whether the Massey company, in its "relentless pursuit of profits" has neglected the safety of their workers.  But knowing the amount of regulation and inspection that the oil and gas industry is subjected to, and knowing the incredible focus on safety that virtually all oil and gas operators have, especially the larger companies, I find it doubtful that Massey, described in the linked article as one of the nation's largest coal companies, does not have a similar focus.  I think it more likely that a disaster of this type provides those who dislike the coal industry with an opportunity to advance a couple of their narratives.  One of these narratives is that greedy executives, relentless in their pursuit of profits, will sacrifice anything, including miners, to get coal out of the ground.  An unstated aspect of this narrative is that the miners are helpless pawns who have no choice in life but to go back into the mine at the bidding of evil executives, whether the mine is safe or not.  This is part of what Ayn Rand called her "malevolent universe theory", where the forces of the world--big business, the rich, and nowadays even the climate itself-- are so all-powerful and so overwhelmingly stacked against the little guy that the only entity powerful enough to intervene on their behalf is the government.  I think it's all hooey.  If the critics of the industry are so concerned about the safety of the workers why does the story always disappear in between disasters?  Why would miners, who are likely the most cognizant of the safety conditions in a mine, keep returning to an unsafe work environment day after day?  Given the eagerness with which certain groups would shut down a mine, all it would take would be one whistle-blower to make a phone call about unsafe conditions and the media and inspectors would be on them in a flash.  Could it be that virtually all mines, and all mining companies, are well-regulated, well-inspected, and safety conscious?  Could it be that mining coal underground has certain inherent dangers that can be mitigated only to a point, and that miners freely, and proudly, assume these risks?

One thing I know, coal miners, and the companies who employ them, ought to be prayed for every day of the year, not just when something bad happens to a group of men underground.  That brittle, black gold that they dig out every day is one of the great cornerstones of our modern lives, and that work is regularly done under conditions that are more inherently hazardous than just about every other work environment on the planet.  Those men are heroes, and the companies that employ them are doing noble work.  God bless them every one.

Still Learning

If anyone out there (you know, out of the six or eight people who read this thing) has tried to leave a comment recently, and was unable to, I apologize.  I may have had it buttoned down just a bit too much.  If you want to try again, please do.  I've changed some settings and it should be a little easier to get across the moat.

Thanks for your time,

The Management

Monday, April 5, 2010

Simple, really.

Here's another question that I've heard often during the debates over health care. "How is providing health insurance for 30 million Americans who don't currently have it going to make the U.S.A. a "socialist" or "communist" country. Since this question is usually asked by someone on the left, it's often delivered with a bit of a self-righteous sneer, but not always. Some ask the question earnestly. Here is my earnest answer, much of it repeated from my post "A Life Of Your Own."

The essential meaning behind the phrase from The Declaration of Independence: "...certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness", is that every person's life is an end in itself, and is not a subject of or subservient to the whims or desires of "society" or "the public." The source of those rights is life itself. The health care bill just passed, with its forced mandates, redistribution of wealth, regulations, racial quotas, etc., violates that principle. Socialism, statism, facism, communism, etc. are all variants on the same theme--that a person's life is secondary to the whims and desires of the state, the public, the worker, the volk, the ruler, etc. It is in that sense that people correctly describe the passage of the health care bill as moving the United States toward "socialism". It's just that simple.