Posts Tagged oil

1:10 Wyatt’s Torch cont’d, “Desperate Measures”

PREVIOUSLY: Dagny launched a one-woman investigation into the history of the mysterious clean-energy motor. Hank had a fight with his wife that may have broken the camel’s back. The Bureau of Economic Planning drafted several bills that would effectively stifle the booming Colorado economy.

Yeah, I’m gonna have to go ahead and ask you a few questions.

Dags commences her investigation by meeting with Lawson, the former banker who now works for the Econ Bureau. She wants info on the condemned GM plant where she found the motor; he keeps throwing out irrelevant defenses of his piss-poor record as a banker. He did not know any of the R&D engineers at the plant but the company that ran it when he held the mortgage, the last company to run it before it went bankrupt, was Bain Capital Associated Services. The head of A.S. was named Hunsacker.

The Hunsacker Proxy

Dagny tracks Hunsacker down in Illinois, where he’s now living as a lowly boarder and drafting an autobiography about which no one will care. He’s even more of a lousy whiner than Lawson. He recalls that when he first tried to raise the funds to purchase GM he applied for a loan from Midas Mulligan, the world’s richest man and one notorious for his impeccable investment record. One can only assume he paid less in taxes than his secretary.

Anyway, Mulligan turned him away for having no collateral or prior achievements and he sued Mulligan by exploiting an anti-discrimination law that was intended to protect day laborers. One Judge Narragansett ruled against him, but a higher court reversed the decision. Shortly thereafter Mulligan disappeared mysteriously forever. A few months later Judge Narragansett did the same. But Hunsacker got his loan from Lawson in the end, which worked out real well until they both went bankrupt.

Yeah yeah whatever, did Hunsacker spend much time at the R&D lab? No, not really. The founder, Jed Starnes, who was a self-made man (obviously), he was quite the innovator. But when his heirs took over some kind of wackness went down at the plant and the research staff abandoned ship. Hunsacker didn’t feel the need to reinvest in that department. The Starnes heirs? Oh, they live low-profile in Lousiana now. That’s all the info Hunsacker’s got. Dagny bolts.

Home of the Creole Miss Havisham

Deep in the bayou our heroine uncovers the next lead. One of the Starnes heirs is a bitter drunk; another killed himself several years back; the third, Ivy, lives in a decrepit old manse studying Hinduism and, I’m just going out on a limb here, smoking a metric ton of weed. Ivy Starnes explains that she and her brothers also neglected the research & development team. Their innovation as managers was to implement a Marxist payroll structure where checks were written “from each each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Basically everybody at the factory voted monthly as to who needed money the most and who worked the hardest. The hardest workers were expected to log overtime hours without pay to cover the neediest employees’ generous salaries. If the industrious didn’t meet the output expectations of the payroll votes, they were fined to make up the difference. Dagny is apalled. Probably because this makes absolutely no sense. Everyone knows that communist countries didn’t abide by democratic votes! Allegory fail.

But I guess that’s kind of besides the point, which Dagny gets because she’s trying to drag the conversation back towards the R&D staff. The only name Ivy’s ganja-addled brain can remember is William Hastings, chief engineer. She remembers him because he quit pretty much immediately after the commie pay scheme was enacted.

Travel by map!

Wyoming now, and Dags knocks on the door of Mrs. Hastings, who is the first dignified person she’s yet encountered in this little adventure. Unfortunately, Mr. Hastings passed away five years ago of a heart condition. But the widow Hastings remembers the last few years of his life quite well, and is happy to regale Dagny with the tale.

William ran R&D at GM for nearly two decades. Towards the end of his tenure he had a young assistant whom he constantly called a genius. The assistant had an idea for a revolutionary new motor, and Hastings helped him complete a prototype. But Jed Starnes died less than a month later and his hippie heirs with their naive ideals showed up to implement  socialist theories of compensation, and so Hastings quit and refused to take another job.

He didn’t quite disappear mysteriously forever, though. Disappeared, sure. Mysteriously, yes. But temporarily, always. See, he and the missus continued their life together as usual except for a month every summer when he’d go on a vacation from which he returned in the fall sans explanation.

She does remember picking him up once and catching a rare glimpse of his enigmatic associates. One was the assistant engineer in question, the other a dignified older gent. Though she never learned their names, by pure coincidence she happened to run into the older guy again not too long ago. She remembers it clearly, because she was shocked to see such a dignified character working as the short-order cook in a roadside diner in Bumblefuck, Wyoming…

Bumblefuck, Wyoming. Dusty road, nothing for miles, just this one crummy diner. Dagny pulls up, steps inside, and orders a hamburger. She has butterflies in her stomach. This is it, she can feel it. The case is about to crack wide open.

Nice place you got here.

There are two truckers at the counter and she waits for them to leave before she strikes up a conversation with the cook. “This is the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten,” she says. “Thanks,” he replies.

She sizes him up. “Come work for me. I’ll pay you $10,000 a year.”  That $75,000 adjusted for inflation, by the way, but he turns her down flat. She doesn’t understand why. ‘I hate to see ability being wasted!’ she cries, and he says ‘So do I.’

She can tell by his tone that they’re simpatico and is suddenly overwhelmed with how much bullshit she’s had to put up with lately. She spills to him how impossible it is to find anybody worth dealing with anymore and how she’s trying so hard to make something good happen but everybody along the way is a total fucktard.

He takes all this in rather serenely and then asks what exactly it is she came here looking for. “Did you know the last man to serve as the assistant R&D engineer at GM?” He cautiously admits that he did.  What’s it to you, lady? “He invented a motor. It’s vitally important I find him.”

The cook asks who she is and she tells him she’s Dagny Taggart. This whole scene makes a lot more sense to him now but he tells her ‘Give it up, Miss Taggart.’ He will not give her the name, or even tell her if the man is alive or dead. This is the end of the road.

“Who are you, anyway?” she asks him. “The name’s Akston. Hugh Akston,” comes the nonchalant reply.

Dagny’s mind is blown. “Hugh Akston the philosopher? Hugh Akston, Francisco’s former mentor? Hugh Akston who disappeared mysteriously forever years ago? What the hell are you doing frying eggs in the middle of the desert?! None of this makes any sense!”

In reality this is a picture of the first prime minister of India smoking up a British diplomat, and it has no business fitting this scene so well.

Hugh Akston leans back against the counter and takes out a pack of cigarettes. He offers her one and then lights them both up. “I told you you hit a dead end. But I’ll give you one clue. There is no such thing as a contradiction. Only faulty logic. If your conclusions make no sense, go back and check your premises.”

A bell rings in Dagny’s head. Francisco told her the same thing when trying to explain his behavior the last time she saw him. She thanks Akston for the burger and the butt and leaves. As she steps into her car she stops to examine the cigarette in her hand. It belongs to no brand she can recognize. The only insignia is a tiny golden dollar sign stamped above the filter.

The time has come to give up and go home. Dagny arrives at the Wyatt Junction station to wait for the Galt Line to take her back east. But there is hubbub on the platform and she overhears somebody saying they don’t think Rearden will be able to follow all the new regulations at the same time. Some other guy is like “Hey fuck him, he’s rich. He can figure it out.”

Dagny’s blood freezes and she grabs the nearest newspaper. The Congress has given Wesley Mouch blanket authority to issue economic directives. He has placed production caps and price controls on nearly everything and levied extra taxes on Colorado businesses to subsidize the rest of the country’s failing infrastructure.

The memory of when she first met Ellis Wyatt leaps into her brain, the time he stormed into her office and threatened to fuck her up if she fucked around with his business. Another sudden recollection: the time he furiously smashed his glass after they toasted the opening of the Galt Line.

In a panic Dagny races for a pay phone, unsure what she’s trying to prevent but determined to do something. She dials Wyatt and starts screaming ‘Ellis, don’t! Don’t!’ but reaches only a dial tone.

Drop the mic and walk away.

Behind her, just past the station, the rolling hill with Wyatt’s estate and the vast expanses of his oil fields suddenly explode into a teeming wall of flames. All of the silhouetted derricks go up like torches. Dagny drops the phone in despair. He’s not there, she knows that much. He’s disappeared mysteriously forever. This is just his parting gift. One last “fuck you” for The Man. No more oil for you! Try running a techno-industrial economy now, sorry motherfuckers! Peace out.

REFLECTIONS ON PART ONE: The Logical Downfall of Ayn Rand

PART TWO, CHAPTER 1: “Storm’s Abrewin'”

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1:3 The Top and The Bottom, “Not-So-Super Villains”

PREVIOUSLY: Hank Rearden is the metallurgical Steve Jobs of the Randverse, but his entire family blows chunks. Now buckle in, the plot is about to thicken:

James Taggart downs a stiff drink in a seedy dive bar. A dive bar on the roof of a Manhattan skyscraper. This is the most exclusive watering hole in the country, where power-brokers and economic elites go to relax among their own kind in the grungiest low-rent atmosphere imaginable. For that authentic, pre-Giuliani New York feel I guess? This is what it’ll be like when hipsters run the country.

So in this presumably smoke-filled room, Taggart is going round for round with his steel-industry friend Orren, and Larkin the Rearden family friend is there to schmooze with the big dogs. There’s also a fourth guy, Wesley Mouch, who keeps real quiet and watches everybody else converse like a real creeper.

The bar is this dark. Ayn is very specific about it.

“So about that steel you ordered,” Orren says to Jim, “You know how it is these days.” He blames his company’s failures on ‘circumstances absolutely beyond human control.’ Specifically, apparent global shortages of the raw materials of industrial production. The world has passed the point of peak oil, it seems (some more prophecy points there, kind of. Rand implies that “Drill Baby Drill” would be an effective solution, which… Ayn, you’re better than that). But it’s not just peak oil, it’s peak iron ore too. Peak you-name-it. That’s why Wyatt’s new oil fields in Colorado are such a big deal to everyone.

But I'm sure everything will be fine.

Jim assures Orren he doesn’t blame him. He blames Dagny, because she stirred up some shit with the board to void Orren’s contract and push her Rearden deal through. Which gets the two of them going about how much they hate Hank Rearden and his stupid Metal, which will obviously be unsafe and a huge disaster.

After all, it was totally irresponsible of Rearden to invest so much of his remaining ore  in R&D for what was at the time a purely hypothetical metal that would be faster and lighter than steel!  The selfish bastard just up and invents an energy-efficient solution to sustaining the modern industrial lifestyle in a world of declining fossil fuels? Suuuch a dick. Doesn’t he know how many companies he’ll run out of business? And he calls himself a job creator!

But back to Orren, who is currently pontificating about how he loves the free market and property rights, and to preserve them in this hostile climate they need to, you know, be socialized. But just a little bit!

Specifically, Orren thinks the government should centralize the ore supply and distribute it among the steel companies to prevent the industry from going under. Which, since Rearden has the largest private stockpile, would effectively mean confiscating the ingredients for the Rearden Metal  and handing them out to poorly managed old-money companies that are heavily invested in outdated technology. But they certainly don’t say that part out loud. They just talk about the need for ‘progressive social policy’ and how everybody has to do their part to make sure the world doesn’t go totally ass up.

Jim is more than happy to agree, and chips in his two cents while he’s at it. He has beef with a competing railroad, the Phoenix Durango, which is brand new but based in Colorado, and thus squeezing Taggart Transcontinental out of vital market share. Jim thinks it’s absurd for both the Phoenix and the Taggart lines to fight over one market when the declining economy has left whole regions without reliable rail service.

Society as a whole would be better off, Jim claims, if the remaining railroads carved out regional monopolies. Which, since he wants Colorado based on a right of ‘historical priority,’ would effectively mean handing all the oil contracts to Taggart while banishing the upstart Phoenix to an uninhabitable dust bowl somewhere. But they certainly don’t say that part out loud. Orren just nods at Jim’s socially conscious wisdom and says he’ll have to bring that up to the National Alliance of Railroads, which sure sounds like a lobbying group to me.

God, this has got to be the driest, most technocratic evil plot ever. Where’s a good doomsday device when you need one? (This book may or may not include a doomsday device).

Take off the fedora Jack, you look like one of the characters.

These guys and their sinister euphemisms now turn to the real problem — gridlock in Washington. They want to see these policies acted on fast, while there’s still time, but a good man is hard to find in D.C.  Jim says he has a few friends he could talk to. Orren steeples his fingers like Mr. Burns and goes, “Yes, yes, friendship. Friendships are excellent. And important. Don’t you agree, Larkin?”

Larkin has gotten increasingly uncomfortable with these sketchballs who do nothing but shit-talk his friend and plot Hank’s destruction. He sort of understands, seemingly subconsciously, that he’s under pressure to join a cabal of pathetic entitled losers who disguise their whining as high-minded rhetoric. But the rhetoric is so high-minded! And agreeable! Oh, how agreeable. So agreeable that Larkin agrees to work with them, because he’s a pussy. Hank would have kicked both these guys in the nuts by now.

With Larkin (un)officially on board this attempt to coordinate their combined corporate powers for the manipulation of government policy, the subtextual conspiracy portion of the evening is over and Jim asks Orren how was his recent trip to Mexico to visit the San Sebastian mines. And Orren is like, “Mexico’s beautiful.  Saw the mines and, uh, I assume things are going well. They seemed really busy. I didn’t see any copper myself, but there were like mine carts and stuff. Helmets. You know the drill.”

"Yep, that sure is a mine all right." -Orren Boyle

This all makes Orren come off like a useless windbag so Jim has to throw him a softball. Does he think there’s any truth to the rumors that Mexico will nationalize the railroads there? Orren blusters, “Oh definitely not, there’s no way that could happen.”

But they’re not confident men, these two, and they may realize their hypocrisy here. Even if they don’t, talking actual business makes them feel insecure. So now that Jim’s accidentally made Orren look the fool, Orren has to get in a dig back at Jim. He mentions ever so innocently that while he was south of the border he noticed Jim’s Mexico line runs just one busted old train once a day. Jim knows exactly jack about all this, so he uses the same excuses as Orren about how everybody’s undersupplied and underfunded, etc. Not his fault! It was just that one day, really! Orren totally understands.

Still, now Jim is embarrassed, and he gets real quiet and distracted and things are getting awkward until Larkin takes the opening to get the fuck out of there and is all, “Weeellp, gotta go!”

Everyone takes the cue and gets up to leave. Taggart turns to Wesley Mouch (remember him?) and tells Mouch he likes him, because Mouch keeps his mouth shut except when he’s agreeing with someone (which he’s been doing occasionally throughout the entire conversation). Wesley Mouch agrees that this is what Wesley Mouch does, but Wesley Mouch certainly does not say that part out loud. He well knows he was the intended audience for all the political insinuations, because Wesley Mouch, it turns out, is a registered lobbyist. And even though Hank Rearden probably doesn’t know it, because he hates dealing with that part of his business, Wesley Mouch is his registered lobbyist.  Oh, what tangled webs…

NEXT: Chapter 3 — The Top and the Bottom cont’d, “In Which Everyone is Sad”

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