Puzzles

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Several current phenomena puzzle me. Maybe some of Liberty’s readers have answers. I’ll save one puzzle about politics until the end of this Reflection.

  • BP, notorious for spilling oil in the Gulf, has been filling TV screens with ads about its concern for the region’s prosperity. According to these ads, it has installed “cutting edge” technology and a “state-of-the-art” monitoring system operating “twenty-four/seven.” How can BP and its advertising agency believe that its public image benefits from the insincerity suggested by three clichés in ten or fifteen seconds in an ad often repeated in a few minutes?
     
  • In its ads Kroger, the grocery chain, offers reduced prices if one buys at least a specific number of specified items or spends at least a specific amount on them. To take advantage of the deal, the customer has to count which of them he really wants or is willing to stock up on and how much, in dollar terms, he wants them. This additional little complication to life often makes me omit buying the one or few specified items that I do want; I don’t want to yield to the price discrimination. Sometimes I even shop at another supermarket. My reaction may be irrational in the most narrowly economic sense, but I think it is human. I wonder how common such reactions are and whether Kroger takes them into account.
     
  • Charities often send out personalized return-address stickers, presumably to put recipients on a guilt trip if they do not contribute. Almost without exception these stickers put a title before the name — in my case “Professor,” “Prof.,” “Dr.,” or “Mr.” Don’t these fund-raisers realize that it is bad form (except perhaps for a physician) to refer to oneself with a title? The name alone is better.
     
  • Expressing my next puzzle might seem to be a complaint about other people. It is not; I am genuinely curious. Why do so many people want almost continuous contact with one another, as by cellphone, texting, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media? Myself, I do not want to send or receive hourly or daily bulletins about the trivia of everyday life, not even to or from close friends. I understand that the social media are useful in coordinating revolutions, but what accounts for their popularity in the United States?
     
  • Whatever became of the half-dollar? Why is the quarter the largest denomination of coin routinely circulating in the United States?
     
  • Why does bitcoin, the digital currency, receive the respect it does in the popular press? A full-fledged currency must maintain a reasonably stable and predictable value, at least over the time between a holder’s receiving it and paying it out in transactions. Bitcoin’s value, however, has been monstrously unstable, ranging from $13.50 in January 2013 to $782 in mid-November, then falling back. How could people confidently use such a currency for pricing and regular transactions, let alone for long-term or even short-term loans? A sound money derives a determinate value either by linkage to some commodity like gold or by regulation of its quantity with some attention for the demand to hold it. Bitcoin, however, is created in a decentralized and capricious way as the reward for solving difficult mathematical problems requiring much expensive computer time; the problems become more and more challenging so as supposedly to put a ceiling of 21 million on the total issue. The system lacks the transparency required for a sound currency of determinate value.

    Its wide fluctuations do give bitcoin an appeal for speculators. Yet for anyone interested in a nongovernmental currency that performs all the functions of a normal money and that, moreover, allows a high degree of anonymity in transactions, ideas for reform must run along other lines. Bitcoin remains a puzzling distraction.
     
  • My last puzzle centers on a fund-raising letter from Speaker John Boehner enclosing a purported survey of opinion. The questions are slanted to draw desired answers. The phoniness of the whole business is epitomized by the date on Boehner’s letter, “Monday morning” — nothing more. (I received the letter and survey on Monday afternoon, November 18.) Many such appeals — complete with the provocative phony dating — have arrived in my mailbox from Republican politicians over the years; I wonder what the Democrats send out. Anyway, how can anyone believe that such phoniness attracts rather than repels voters and contributors?



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The Green Jihad's Human Toll

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In a few prior pieces, I explored in some detail the Obama Regime’s green energy jihad. Essentially, its goal is to “solve” the “crisis” of global warming by forcing Americans (but not the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, or anyone else) to switch from plentiful, relatively inexpensive domestic fossil fuels to so-called green energy sources (solar, wind, and biofuels — but not nuclear), fuels that are orders of magnitude more expensive.

This jihad has two fronts. First, the Regime is shelling out massive amounts of taxpayer money to solar, wind, and biofuel companies — usually those that have greased the palms of the corrupt Regime, and often those that have failed despite the insane subsidies lavished on them. Second, the Regime puts every possible regulatory hurdle in front of domestic fossil fuel production, doing its uttermost to stifle the renaissance in American fossil fuel energy production created by recent technological advances.

Two recent stories illustrate the toll in human suffering that this green jihad is inflicting on the American people. The first story notes that the US House of Representatives is — finally! — expanding its probe into the green energy programs spawned by this administration. For example, it is looking at the $500 million in taxpayer cash spent on a “job training” program for “green” industries.

This costly Department of Labor program (part of the “stimulus” bill that stimulated only graft) started with the grand promise of training about 125,000 people and putting at least 80,000 of them into jobs. Well, after a year and a half, the program has trained only about 53,000 people, and placed a ludicrous 8,000 in actual jobs. Yes, that’s about $62,500 per job. One wonders, besides, why those people couldn’t have been trained directly by the companies hiring them.

This criticism has raised howls of outrage from the green brigades. Perhaps the most asinine came from Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates, who defended the program on the ground that is wasn’t intended to provide immediate jobs. So I guess she’s admitting that when Obama said the stimulus projects were “shovel-ready,” he was shoveling lies. Oates proclaimed piteously, “It’s like coming to me three days after I join Weight Watchers and yelling at me because I didn’t lose 62 pounds yet.”

No, sweetheart, it isn’t anything like that. A proper analogy would be this: you force me to pay a half-billion bucks to send you to Weight Watchers (a program you could have paid for yourself), under the theory that you will lose 62 pounds, and a freaking year and a half later you have lost only 6 pounds. Get it?

The second story is about the cost of the Regime’s May 2010 moratorium on all offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, because of BP’s deepwater spill. After fighting with the courts for six months, yes, the Regime lifted the moratorium. But ever since, it has stalled the issuance of the requisite permits. (This stall is called the “permitorium.”) Since the lifting of the moratorium, the number of deepwater permits granted has been 71% lower than the average before the spill. Shallow water permits have dropped 84% from their historic average.

The predictable result has been the destruction of a horrendous number of medium and small businesses, with a concomitant loss of jobs. The Greater New Orleans economic development agency has reported the results of a survey showing that 53% of businesses responding have not hired any workers since the moratorium, and 49% have had to lay off workers. Of the 47% that did hire workers, most were just replacing departing employees or hiring in small numbers, and most of them have reduced hours or wages.

That is because the companies are hurting. 82% of the owners reported losing personal savings as a result of the moratorium-permitorium, with 13% completely emptying their savings accounts. 76% of the companies lost cash reserves. 27% lost more than half of them. Only 59% are now profitable.

Few green jobs created, many fossil-fuel jobs lost — all to satisfy the environmentalist extremists who feed donations to the Green Regime.




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