The Lodge of Shingebiss

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Coal Mines Safer Under Bush

The NY Times moved instantly to blame the Sago mine disaster on President Bush, crying about the "Bush administration's cramming of important posts in the Department of the Interior with biased operatives from the coal, oil and gas industry..." See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/05/opinion/05thu1.html?emc=eta1

Then a couple days later the Times discovered, no doubt to their dismay, and no doubt after being prompted by some blogger, that mining fatalaties have actually declined during the Bush presidency. See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/08/weekinreview/08basic.html

This is true, as these numbers show very clearly
http://www.msha.gov/stats/charts/coalbystate.asp

There is of course a problem with these numbers. It would never occur to the geniuses at the NY Times that the fatality rate per FTE or per hour worked is a much more revealing number than total fatalities, since the number of people involved in coal mining has changed very significantly over time. I mean, ask me if I am surprised that coal mining fatalaties are lower today than in 1910. Yet even when these numbers are consulted, the result does not change. See "Number and Rate of Coal Operator Mining Fatalities by Underground and Surface Work Locations by Year, 1995-2004"

For this chart in original context see http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/statistics/pdfs/fusc.pdf . Note that the 2001 figures can be only partly attributed to Bush, since his administration began in that year, and that the 2005 figures, not shown on the chart, were lower than any prior year in history, as shown by http://www.msha.gov/stats/charts/coalbystate.asp

Not than the government can take much credit for any of this. Better mining technology and the desire of mine operators to avoid costly accidents has more to do with the improvements than anything the government is doing.

Still, in researching this I was frankly impressed by the highly intelligent safety advice offered by the MSHA. For an example see
http://www.msha.gov/webcasts/Coal2005/mshawebcast05032005.pdf

And their operational planning seems pretty sound, too. See
http://www.msha.gov/MSHAINFO/PerfPlan/Plan2003.pdf

Caesar Builds a Wall

Even though two-thirds of Americans think that a barrier on the Mexican border would be a good idea, my governor Janet Napolitano thinks otherwise.

“Show me a 50-foot wall and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder,” Napolitano said. This asinine remark was greeted with idiotic grins by our local broadcast media stooges, as if it were a coinage of the most profound genius.

Now, first of all, anyone who has seen Napolitano will agree that she won’t be climbing a five-foot ladder, let alone a fifty-one foot one. Even assuming she did manage to get to the top, say by being carried up there, how would she get down the other side? Rappel? Rope ladder? Climb down a piece of clothesline? I mean, the accordion wire on the top would snag her polyester blazer and leave her dangling up there while the buzzards nibbled on her plump carcass.

But seriously, we all know that walls work admirably to prevent the kind of low-level infiltration that occurs on the Mexican border.

An excellent example, foremost upon the minds of many, is the wall built by Julius Caesar to contain the Helvetians. “..a lacu Lemanno, qui in flumen Rhodanum influit, ad montem Juram, qui fines Sequanorum ab Helvetiis dividit, milia passuum decem novem, murum in altitudinem pedum sedecim, fossamque perducit. Eo opere perfecto, praesidia disponit, castella communit, quo facilius, si se invito transire conarentur, prohibere possit.”

This wall, sixteen feet high and nineteen miles long, with a ditch, and forts at convenient intervals, sufficed to keep the savage Swiss at bay. Eventually the Swiss made a deal with the Sequani and passed through their territory, had their asses promptly kicked by Caesar, and retired back to their fondue pots and goat-wives.

An even better example, of course, is Hadrian’s wall, which marked the northern frontier of Roman Britain and worked splendidly for hundreds of years, except when local commanders withdrew the garrison to promote their own bids for the emperorship – the late Roman equivalent of jockeying in the Iowa caucuses.

The unbroken line of barbed-wire entanglements constructed by Rodolfo Graziani on the Cyrenaican-Egyptian border also worked very well at its intended purpose.

I will not waste time on such commonly-known successful examples as The Great Wall, or the Israeli security fence on “the green line” that cut attacks by Samaria-based terrorists by 90%. Analogy to the Berlin Wall is idiotic, because it was constructed by East Germany to keep its own citizens from escaping; if Mexico constructed a wall to keep its own citizens prisoner, the analogy would be apt. Cripes, there are far too many successful walls to be discussed here. Check out the
LIST OF WALLS and the SEPARATION BARRIER articles at Wikipedia for more wall mania.

Interestingly, the Romans almost invariably constructed barriers, even if only symbolic, at places where no “natural” border such as a river or mountain range existed. This resulted as much from their obsession with order as from their desire for security.

So yes, walls are extremely effective at controlling low-level infiltration. Whether the benefits of such a barrier on the Mexican border will exceed the cost of the barrier’s construction is one that could be answered easily – if politicians and journalists would shut their stupid mouths and do a little analysis instead.