USS Theodore Roosevelt’s Captain Crozier wasn’t the first Roosevelt to cause trouble over a fatal disease

The first one was of course Teddy – and the circumstances were remarkably similar, though the ultimate outcome was different. From Power and Responsibility, the Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt: W.H. Harbaugh (New York, 1961).

Pages 113-114, posted, sadly, without permission of the author:

… The campaign [in Cuba] had also proved what there had been no need to prove: Theodore Roosevelt was an inspiring leader of men. He had, Leonard Wood later wrote, the all-important virtues of the soldier. He was courageous, solicitous of his troops’ welfare, and accessible to those who bore complaints; and he commanded in consequence the respect of both his men and his officers. Stephen Crane, who observed TR in the field hospitals between engagements, wrote at the time that he “worked like a cider press … let him be a politician if he likes, he was a gentleman down here.”

It was perhaps inevitable that even in Roosevelt’s hour of greatest glory he should thrust his bull neck into controversy with those who had it in their power to do him honor. Yellow fever raged through the camps after Santiago fell, and when a group of ranking regular officers asked TR, who was by then a brigade commander, to request Secretary of War Russell A. Alger to expedite the army’s transfer north, the Rough Rider consented. With the tacit approval of the commanding general, W. R. Shafter, he wrote a letter that was given out to the press before it reached Washington.

President McKinley and Secretary Alger were understandably outraged. Roosevelt’s letter, together with one which the regular officers had drawn up on reconsideration, was an indirect, but damning indictment of the administration’s conduct of the war. It also advertised to the Spaniards, who were then negotiating peace, that the American Army in Cuba was no longer a disciplined and effective fighting force. Furthermore, Alger had made the decision to evacuate just the day before.

On August 15, 1898, the disease-ridden but all-conquering Rough Riders disembarked from the transport Miami at Montauk Point, Long Island. A month later Roosevelt was called from his tent on the sands. The First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment was formed in a hollow square with the officers and color sergeant in the center. Roosevelt strode into the square and one of the troopers stepped forward and presented him with a reproduction of Frederick Remington’s famed bronze, “The Bronco-Buster.” It was a gift from the enlisted men. TR was visibly moved as he now addressed his troops for the last time. “I am proud of this regiment beyond measure,” he declared. “It is primarily an American regiment, and it is American because it is composed of all the races which have made America their country by adoption and those who have claimed it as their country by inheritance.” He closed with a tribute to the Negro soldiers who had fought with distinction beside the Rough Riders. Then, as the entire regiment, many of its members in tears, filed by him, he shook hands with each man and officer. The great adventure had ended.

There was an epilogue. Roosevelt had been recommended for the Medal of Honor. He wanted it painfully, partly because he believed it would help him in his political career, mainly because he needed throughout his life to surround himself with the outward symbols of achievement. After the original recommendation had been made, TR had written numerous letters on his own behalf, sought affidavits from those who had been with him in battle, and beseeched Lodge to obtain the War Department’s endorsement. But Secretary Alger refused to make the recommendation to Congress. …

Every morning I try, Lord how I try, not to backslide

into the simplistic libertarianism of my youth. Some days are harder than others.

Today Nigel Jaquiss and Rachel Monahan reported in Willamette Week that the State of Oregon is losing money on its new sports lottery. How the hell do you lose money running a sports book? And if you did, who the hell would trust you to run a carbon cap-and-trade scheme?

Oregon Lottery Director Barry Pack will present some unwelcome news at the Lottery Commission’s monthly meeting on Feb. 28. Scoreboard, the agency’s new mobile sports betting app, will lose money for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

“Lottery will have a loss of $5.3 [million] from the program for the first nine months of FY ’20,” Pack said in a memo prepared for that meeting.

Prior to launching Scoreboard last October, lottery officials presented lawmakers with projections showing the agency expected sports to be profitable in its first year—making $6.3 million—and pick up speed after that. …

Great moments in economic consulting report writing

Since I teach Econ honors students how to write these, I keep a file of good and bad examples. This is a great one. From the NYT, quoting Portland economist Robert McCullough from his report on the 2018 Camp Fire:

“PG&E’s behavior was unforgivable and totally unnecessary,” said Robert McCullough, an energy consultant in Portland, Ore. “Moreover, following on the very similar San Bruno incident, management was willfully blind to risks to customers. And, strangely enough, also blind to the risk to stockholders.”

What is the correct ignition timing for an ’87 GMC Caballero with a vacuum distributor?

That is a trick question. No one could answer that question. The ’87 Caballero didn’t come with a vacuum distributor. It came with a computer controlled distributor. However, if you were to retrofit it with a vacuum advance distributor for $55 off ebay, the correct ignition timing would be 10 degrees before top dead center:

Oregon has a bourbon lottery

And the winners are a matter of public record:

At one point the Oregon Health Plan couldn’t afford to cover all low income applicants, so they had monthly lotteries. But this is new to me – Kyle Iboshi of KGW8 has the story here:

… Last year, the OLCC created a drawing that gives the public a chance to buy rare bottles, like the elusive Pappy Van Winkle and the Buffalo Trace Distillery Antique Collection.

A total of 7,663 people entered the December drawing for the opportunity to purchase one of the 106 rare bottles.

“We really leveled the playing field so anybody from Portland to Enterprise to Philomath can have a chance to purchase a bottle that they otherwise may not have a chance to,” explained Matthew Van Sickle, spokesman for the OLCC.

Van Sickle admits only a fraction – roughly 4 percent of the state’s rare bottles – go into the drawing, although the OLCC is looking to continue and possibly expand the drawing system.

As a hobbyist collector, Lehr, would like to see either a first-come, first-serve policy for everyone. Or, Lehr argues, the OLCC should put all limited-edition bottles into a drawing so everyone has equal odds.

“It’s really frustrating that there’s this inequality in the market,” said Lehr.

Why not an auction?

UO is a net oil exporter for the first time since 1949

12/23/2019:

Ever since the 1973 oil embargo our country has had to suck-up to murderous potentates like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and send our soldiers to die in endless Middle East wars to keep the imports flowing.

Meanwhile, some clever and well incentivized entrepreneurs figured out how to frack oil and gas from previously worthless shale formations in North Dakota, Texas, and Pennsylvania. And, as of September, we are now a net oil exporter. for the first time since 1949. If current trends continue, in ten years we will be exporting more oil to Europe and China than Saudi Arabia does:

Of course current trends will not continue. Alternative clean energy sources are already cheaper than oil for many uses, and that will only accelerate the ending of this phase of history.

7/18/2018: Peak Oil Fears

Back in 2006 EWEB invited author Richard Heinberg to Eugene, to give a talk about Peak Oil. Heinberg had just published a scary book about this, claiming :

The world is about to run out of cheap oil and change dramatically. Within the next few years, global production will peak. Thereafter, even if industrial societies begin to switch to alternative energy sources, they will have less net energy each year to do all the work essential to the survival of complex societies.

This got an enthusiastic response in Eugene. Since I’d spent some time in the oil fields doing seismic exploration, and had been hired by UO in part on the basis of my claim to be an environmental economist, I thought I should respond. So I wrote this Op-Ed for the RG, which they published in Feb 2006. It’s no longer on their website, so here’s the version I submitted:

Peak Oil and Other Fears

I’ve been following the reports about the enthusiastic reception that Professor Heinberg’s talk about peak oil and industrial collapse have received in Eugene. Here’s a related problem that I give in class: World oil reserves are 600 billion barrels, and we are using it at 20 billion barrels per year. How long until we run out? Please write down your answer before you read any more of this op-ed.

My students do the math and they tell me 30 years – maybe just 20, if we add growth in consumption and population. Good try, I tell them, but these numbers are from 1950. Hmm.

The idea of economic collapse from resource exhaustion used to be mainstream economics – a long time ago. In 1798, Thomas Malthus argued that population would soon outstrip food production, and that mass starvation would result. During the potato famine, English politicians used his economics as an excuse not to waste money on relief for the starving Irish. Stanley Jevons, in 1865, argued that England’s industrial revolution would soon come to a halt because the country was using up its supply of coal.  Actually, England still has plenty of coal, though not much use for it. As for the starving Irish, well, today 57% of them are now officially “overweight or obese.” Whoops.

While this embarrassing failure to explain reality sent economists back to the drawing board, apparently it has left the peak oil cult untroubled – their forecasts of doom and gloom are just a recycled version of Malthus’s logic, which treats humans as if we are mindless sheep, and which shows no understanding of markets or incentives.

The new model that economists came up with starts from sensible assumptions – business people aren’t idiots, they want to make money, and consumers don’t like to waste money. As more people use up an exhaustible resource like oil, the owners see the scarcity coming and they start demanding higher prices. This gives consumers an incentive to conserve, and oil companies incentives to find more oil. Companies that don’t own oil start to develop alternative energy sources. Combine these effects, and scarcity tends to go away. Add in a little technical progress and prices will fall, not rise. Sure enough, measured by how many hours we have to work to pay for a barrel, the long trend of oil prices has been downward, except for a few short spikes during wars.

The list of alternatives to oil is very long. On the production side, there’s solar energy, wind energy, nuclear/hydrogen energy, coal, tar sands, or just plain drilling more oil wells. On the consumption side, there’s insulating your house, buying a small car, or riding your bike. (If you haven’t ridden it since the last oil crisis, lube the brake cables first. I learned that one the hard way.) We don’t use these substitutes much, yet, because they are still a bit more expensive or inconvenient than oil is. But they are still out there, waiting for us.

Here’s some evidence of how painless the transition to these alternatives will be. Since it peaked around 1970, US energy use per dollar of economic output has been falling steadily. It is now half what it was. You are probably surprised to hear this – unless you are in a business that uses a lot of energy. If you are, you’ve worked like a dog to make this happen, and you’ve increased your profits along the way. But for the average person, all this has been done without much trouble or even notice by you. This is why we call the market “the invisible hand.”

I don’t understand why people continue to give predictions of resource exhaustion and economic collapse so much attention. The prior history of these predictions is simple – they have always been wrong. The theory they are built on is also simple – and also obviously wrong. But then I don’t understand why people like reading Stephen King either. Is it possible that a nice simple story about imaginary scary things is just a fun distraction for the evening?

What scares me is that with all the attention they are devoting to oil scarcity and the coming collapse of civilization, Eugene and its politicians are getting distracted from working on the many things that markets don’t reliably deliver – like health care access, affordable housing, transportation, good paying jobs, and education – and which we rely on good government to help provide.

Bill Harbaugh, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Oregon

I soon started getting angry emails about my claims, including one from a Portland businessman who accepted my offer to bet that the price of oil wouldn’t go above $200 in real terms within the next 10 years. He backed out when he realized I was prepared to put $10K on it.

So what’s happened? I haven’t been keeping an eye on global production, but today the Dept of Energy’s weekly report is out, and US oil production has now hit 11M barrels a day, up from 5M in 2006:

The price of sweet West Texas Intermediate, which was $78 at the time, briefly got up to $161 in 2008, but it’s currently about $70. (All in 2018 dollars). So what are the predictions for future oil output and prices? If you’re still asking that question, you didn’t understand my op-ed.

EWEB Board votes against Tin-Hativists, for lower bills

When I moved to Eugene in 1995 I was surprised at the size of my first EWEB bill. Perhaps I was unduly influenced by the songs of Woody Guthrie, but I assumed that with lots of hydro and rain, electricity and water wouldn’t eat into my mortgage payments much.

Woody steered me wrong. EWEB was a classic government protected monopoly gone bad, and the bills were steep. I had an $863 mortgage on an 1100 sq ft house with oil heat, and EWEB was charging another $120 for water and lights. I couldn’t make it work without my parent’s help – and I knew lots of people didn’t have that kind of help.

Things have now changed. A few years ago the EWEB board hired a new manager, who has cut costs and your EWEB bill. Now he wants to increase the use of “smart meters” which use cell-phone technology to record electricity use and calculate bills, freeing up meter readers for more productive work, cutting your bill even more. This day in age people try and cut their bills even more by seeing if switching to different energy providers such as Infuse Energy or others, can decrease their electricity bills further.

And yesterday the EWEB board voted in favor of this, despite the testimony of a small group of tin-hatters who thought the radio waves would harm their already iffy brain functionality. The RG has the story: http://registerguard.com/rg/news/local/36419454-75/eweb-decides-customers-must-opt-out-if-they-oppose-smart-meters.html.csp

In celebration, a reader sent me this fabulous video, showing how to put those redundant old electricity meters to a higher valued use. Woody Guthrie would be proud: