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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events

September 10, 2003

The 2nd Anniversary

To all Americans, that headline should say it all. The evil terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 is still fresh in our memories, as if it happened yesterday. Someday, it will probably fade into the history books, and become another day that prompts a newspaper article or two, like December 7 and Pearl Harbor Day. Personally, I hope that never happens, but human nature being as forgetful and live-in-the-moment as it is, it's probably inevitable. But not yet. No way.

It seems to me like it was just the other morning, when I was driving into work and heard a news report that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. It sounded like it had been some small private aircraft, so I wasn't overly concerned, except for the pilot and whoever was in the plane's way.

I got into the office, booted up the PC, and started my morning chores. As I often do, I checked some news web sites, and was surprised to find that I couldn't access them. CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, they were all down. I went to National Review Online, and got to the home page, where it said that the twin towers had collapsed. I was stunned. Then my mother called me and told me what was on the TV. Two planes at the trade center. Another at the Pentagon. Another in Pennsylvania. A bomb threat at the State Department, which later turned out to be bogus.

My first reaction was hopelessly naive, and showed that I had no grasp or understanding about our enemy. I wondered how terrorists had managed to steal empty planes and fly them from the airport. I couldn't imagine that any human could possess such vicious barbarity, that they'd hijack loaded planes filled with innocents and kill them in their suicide-murder mission. Who could be so cruel, so utterly inhuman?

On that first day, that was what I couldn't get out of my head, the idea that unsuspecting people who had done nothing to these slimeballs could be used as instruments of slaughter. It still burns me, to this very day - my heartbeat is speeding up even as I type these words. Two years later, the terrorist attack on September 11 still pisses me off.

I heard the other day that Howard Dean thinks we should remove thousands of American troops from Iraq because Al Queda has moved in to attack them. This abject surrender to our enemies galled me. Now, we don't have to look for the terrorists - they're right there in Iraq, just waiting to get trounced. We should send more troops and wipe out every one of them. But Dean would prefer that we run and hide in the face of the enemy. That's really smart. That sends the right message.

People like Dean still don't understand our enemy. They think we can reason with them, or negotiate with them, or just leave us alone and they'll leave us alone. Don't do anything to make them mad. Give them what they want and they'll go away. Play a constant game of defense and hope we don't get stung too badly. Go on the offensive? Find and kill them before they find and kill more Americans? Too expensive. Too risky. Not worth the effort.

Lord help us all if Dean or a like-minded fool wins the White House next year.

A Deep Breath

Okay, I really didn't intend to go off on a rant about Dean. It just happened, and I got swept up in the moment. What I meant to say was what I did last year - we should never, ever forget what happened that horrible day, and we should never, ever shrink from the challenge that faces us.

The day we do that, the day we lack the will or the desire to defend America, is the day this country is doomed.

Pimental Patrol

The Muse may have taken some time off, but don't think I haven't been tracking our favorite liberal columnist of the Arizona Republic. Last Sunday, he addressed the recent gasoline crisis in Phoenix.

You may have heard a brief blurb on the news about it. A gas pipeline supplying about a third of the Valley's gasoline busted, which caused price spikes, shortages, and long lines at the pump. Though dire, the crisis was brief, lasting about a week, and I know of few people who actually ran out of gas. Many companies (including mine) offered employees a telecommuting day to help employees save fuel.

Most stations that had gas, which were the minority, charged about two bucks a gallon for regular unleaded. A few, though, really jacked up the price, charging close to four dollars a gallon. While crude prices rose about four cents from late July to August 22, some suppliers raised the price to tankers by 50 cents a gallon, forcing gas stations to raise their prices.

According to Pimental, who assures that he fully understands the law of supply and demand, to ask if this is right. Certainly these suppliers could have raised their prices to cover their costs and make a profit, but did they have to make an obscene profit while people were scrounging for gas? Is this right? Is this moral?

I'm sure Pimental understands supply and demand, but it's not clear if he understands the role price pays in the equation. Prices are more than what we pay for a commodity - they also transmit information about what is going on in the market. A low price for a fixed product like gasoline means supply is plentiful and demand is normal, while a higher price means supply is restricted and demand is high.

That's why all gas prices increased during the shortage. Fine - we all understand that. But, and I think this is what Pimental overlooks, those stations charging four bucks a gallon were among the very few that still had gas. Other charging two bucks were shut down - they had run out. Why did they run out first? Because they were charging less as consumers flocked to a lower price alternative.

Those stations charging four bucks a gallon, and the suppliers increasing their prices by 50 cents, were sending an unmistakable signal to the market: gas is in short supply. Come here only if you can't find it anywhere else. Those high prices sent consumers elsewhere, which kept those gas stations supplied. If they had charged two bucks like everyone else, they likely would have also run dry, which would have helped no one.

Now, did those suppliers profit like crazy? Sure. But the public interest was also served, because it kept gasoline available, albeit at a higher price. Those higher prices encouraged consumers to conserve or find alternatives. Those willing to pay the higher price did so.

In short, I don't see the morality problem here.

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