Twenty Years of Positive Infinity

A little over twenty years ago I received the following notification from Geocities, the free website provider:

Sat Aug 23 13:59:46 1997…

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Your Member Name is: penlay.
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Your Address is: 4799.
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The URL for your Personal Home Page is:
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/4799

If you want to change your password use our editor at http://www.geocities.com/homestead/homeprof.html

At this location you can also make all other changes to your account profile, including changing your member name and directory listing.

As noted in a similar anniversary celebration of vulcanhammer.net, it’s an eternity on an internet, but here we are.

Some of the very early history of the site–including some of its graphics–is in our “About” page.   A summary of the site after its conversion to a WordPress blog is here.

The goal of this site has been to be a ministry.  That may seem odd to many people, but from the start I’ve been dissatisfied with a lot of the ministry going on out there.  Most churches and parachurch organisations are good at picking the “low-hanging fruit” but when it comes to more difficult fields they tend to shy away.  Growing up in the complicated religious background that was mine has always impressed me the simple fact that there is a body of people who cannot be reached by the “standard” approaches, no matter what those standard approaches might happen to be.  Reaching some of those people has been the main goal of this site.

It took some time to get a structure put together, but by about the middle of the last decade the basic topical structure of the site was pretty much as it is now; you can see this in the “Categories” list on the left.

At this point, as noted last year, the future is uncertain.  The web’s gatekeepers are beginning to close ranks on dissent to their idea.  How far they will get will depend upon many things.  How this blog and many other Christian sites will fare is not certain either.

When we first moved to Palm Beach, my parents placed me in Palm Beach Public School, whose principal was Clifford Ripley (believe it or not!)  He placed many pithy sayings in the school handbook, one of which was “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday; make each day count.”  God has given us one day at a time; we need to make it count while it is still here.  This blog is part of my attempt to do just that the last twenty years; I trust it has been a blessing to you.

Having a Form of Diversity, but Denying the Power Thereof

Millennials’ legendary capacity for diversity may be just that:

A recent study conducted by a Grand Valley State University professor suggests that political correctness, at least among millennials, is little more than a charade.

In an August 16 study, Professor Karen Pezzetti explains that millennials pursuing careers in education “position themselves as good, non-racist people,” but in many cases may just be going through the motions of using “politically correct” terminology to “talk about students from diverse backgrounds.”

King James Bible fans will recognise the title as a take-off of this:

For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2Ti 3:2-5 KJV)

It simply means that these people don’t “walk the talk,” and that evidently includes many Millennials and diversity.

Looking at problems from the perspective of others has never been Americans’ strong suit, but the closing of the American mind (one heralded by Allan Bloom many years ago) has taken place, making matters only worse.   What that means is that Millennials may have the moral wish for diversity but lack the intellectual capacity to really have it.  So, given the intense social pressures of the day, they simply do an act to make others happy without internalising it.  That doesn’t bode well for the day when they actually have to do it for themselves, which is too bad really because, when practiced in the context of a truly task-based work environment, diversity can be very powerful.

Personally I am coming to realise that the diversity business, as it is practiced these days, is a whitewash, analogy intentional.  It covers up the fact that it not only attempts to replace real diversity of thought with racial/gender quotas, but also that more heat than light has resulted.  That’s the dilemma that was exposed with James Damore’s piece that got him fired.  For all of Google’s rhetoric, the racial/gender distribution is still skewed, which has made them the subject of a federal investigation.  From a legal standpoint the last thing Google needed was Damore’s piece, which explains much of their vigourous reaction.

Evidently Twitter Doesn’t Like My Post on Trump and Palm Beach Clubs

One of the most popular posts I have on this site is Trump Opens the Club to Blacks and Jews? Not Quite, which is about two years old.  It’s gotten a good deal of traffic and the gamut of reactions.  I’m glad to inject a little Palm Beach perspective to this question, because both what Trump did and Palm Beach’s social system run against a lot of conventional wisdom out there.

One @RobertBarber64 liked my piece enough to attempt to tweet it.  On my Twitter laptop notifications, it looked like this:

But when I looked on my iPhone Twitter app, this is what greeted me:

My, my, I think it’s Twitter that’s sensitive, at least in a schizophrenic sense.  Maybe their mobile app people think one way and their desktop people another…

I’ve had commenters go postal on me when I challenge conventional wisdom, but this is the first time a social media organisation has done so, AFAIK.

I’m certainly bothered by the apparent censorship going on here.  But that’s what happens when you hand over the internet to a few organisations; they run things to suit themselves.  We can invoke law all we went, but tech has thrived by basically outrunning the law.  I’ve always assumed that sooner or later the powers that be would start shutting down their opposition (or at least try to) and they’re busy doing that these days.  That’s especially true of Google, whose offensive against their former employee is probably lawyer-driven by attorneys attempting to fend off the feds.

My Facebook Rant re the White “Supremacists”

I was kind of nudged by one of my illustrious relatives (who is now in the Old Country) on the subject of our Confederate ancestors, and this is what I came back with:

I think that what’s been neglected in this debate is an answer to the simple question “How did the ‘Lost Cause’ lose?” The answer to that goes a long way to clearing up many of the “rural legends” that surround the whole issue of the war here in the South.

The Confederacy went into the war with the better part of the U.S. Army, the better part of West Point’s graduates, etc. (The Navy was another story altogether.) It was in a defensive position, forcing the North to slog through a vast, underdeveloped territory with few railroads, making it difficult to move large numbers of troops around. (Napoleon, Kaiser and Hitler alike faced the same geography problem when invading Russia, albeit on an even larger scale.)

But the underdevelopment of the South was its undoing. While Southern grandees contented themselves with living off the sweat of black slaves, their Northern industrial counterparts were building a modern economy based on making things and improving productivity. When Lincoln was elected and the South reacted impulsively by seceding, they were in no position to defend themselves in a long, protracted modern war. And, once the North figured out how to make it work (and that did take a while,) the result was a disaster.

For me personally, what that means was that, while one set of ancestors were producing cannons and ammunition to send southward, the others were on the receiving end of all this, and the result wasn’t pretty.

And I must say that, after living in this part of the country for nearly two score, I can see how this happened. (And this in a part of TN that was divided over secession, many fought for the Union.) White “supremacists” don’t have anything to be supreme about, their ancestors wouldn’t have lost the war if they had. All of the rural legends they’ve spread around only covers up their past and present failures.

It’s disheartening to live in a country that goes off on one moral crusade after another without stopping to think what’s really necessary to preserve and move forward the general welfare and the strength of the nation, to preserve its integrity. To me the Confederate monuments are a reminder of what happens when you allow hotheads to drag a region into a war it wasn’t prepared to fight, and that’s defeat.

One of the “supremacist” protesters from this area expressed his pro-Nazi sentiments in school and wondered what it would have been like if Hitler had won. That assumes that Hitler would have recognised these people as fellow Aryans, and that’s unlikely. (Just ask the Slavs.) My guess is that, in the end, the white “supremacists” would have put a victorious Hitler in the same category as William Tecumseh Sherman, and that’s a name that doesn’t get mentioned too often in polite company around here.

Given the general level of ignorance about American history, this debate seldom gets past the level of platitudes, but it’s still worth a try to change that.

It Takes More Than the Russian Scandal to Connect With Voters

The Democrats need to weigh their options carefully:

“We need to talk about what people think about when they wake up in the morning, and it’s not Russia,” Sragow said. “The more we talk about stuff that voters don’t truly care about in their daily lives … it confirms that the Democratic Party’s brain has been eaten by the elites in Washington who have been sitting fat and happy for a lot of years while working Americans have lost their jobs and lost confidence in the future.”

I’ve always felt that the push over the Russia scandal was bizarre.  The whole concept of a foreign state influencing a country which is still as mentally insular and provincial as this one is strange to begin with. It gets stranger when we profess moral outrage over someone else influencing our elections while at the same time we meddle in others.  And, of course, we’ve always been unjustifiably obsessed with the Russians.  They just don’t have as strong of a hand as it looks to us.

I think the Democrats have it in their minds that if they can conjure images of the Cold War in the old white voters that put Trump in the White House, they can sink him, and at the same time put their own reputation as soft on national security behind them.  But that’s fighting yesterday’s war.  The best they can hope for is to hog airtime with this campaign of theirs.

The biggest problem the Democrat left has had my entire adult lifetime is what we used to call the “limousine liberal” phenomenon, i.e., an elite-directed party trying to connect with people who are entirely different from them in outlook.  That’s another place where the trials of the Anglican-Episcopal world are instructive.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s we had the likes of Ian Mitchell and my prep school chaplain trying to raise the social consciousness of an élite institution, and ending up with an institution that is still élite and now in decline.  Until they figure that out, the Democrats’ dream of closing the deal with the American people and making this country a de facto one-party state will remain beyond their grasp.

Revisiting the Adventure of Offshore Oil

It may seem that posts on this blog are slowing down, but elsewhere it’s another story.  There are actually four sites to this “family” and one of them, vulcanhammer.info, is being moved to WordPress hosting.  (The other two, vulcanhammer.net and Chet Aero Marine, were moved around the first of the year.)

Moving a site that large is a major task, especially with all the photos and documents.  It’s had to be done pieces; the piece that’s just been completed is Vulcan: the Offshore ExperienceMy brother said that it was the “experience of a lifetime,” and I’m inclined to agree with him.  There’s a lot of history in offshore oil, history that’s not well-known, and that was one of the reasons the series was first put up in 2003.  I want to focus on two aspects in particular: offshore oil as a form of “inner space” and how years in the industry is a cure for much of the conventional wisdom that plagues our “deep state” types and their hangers-on these days.


To its credit, the oil industry likes to recount its history.  There’s an entire museum in Galveston dedicated to the history of offshore oil, and it’s definitely worth the visit.  The involvement of my family business, Vulcan Iron Works, was primarily in the platform installation segment of the business, and for a long time it got the short shrift in the story.  That’s been remedied to some degree, and I think the contribution of the construction side of the industry is getting its due.

It’s easy, with all the really large coastal projects out there, to forget just what a challenge it was to fabricate and build platforms to extract oil offshore.  Onshore oil had advanced technologies such as deep drilling and geophysical exploration methods, and these had spin-offs in the construction industry.  But offshore, with conventional platforms sometimes exceeding 300 m in depth, it was necessary to develop advanced fabrication and installation techniques.  Without the benefits of directional/horizontal drilling and underwater completion, that meant lots of platforms to the surface, and the Gulf of Mexico–on both the American and Mexican sides, I might add–was a busy place in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  These projects helped to advanced the technology of construction in many ways which still benefit construction not only of large onshore and marine projects but also for offshore wind farms.

The Gulf, however, along with Southeast Asia and the Persian Gulf, were relatively easy places to build and install platforms compared to the North Sea.  The Europeans “drew the short straws” in finding oil in a place as challenging to do anything as the North Sea, especially in the area between Scotland and Norway where much of the oil was located.  But thanks to their lack of easily accessible onshore oil deposits (before fracking) and the unstable situation in the Middle East, they had little choice.  Facing a harsh environment coupled with a short construction season, another set of new technologies were developed or improved, including gravity platforms, improved safety equipment in marine environments, quick connectors for pile add-ons, finite element analysis for earth structures, and underwater pile driving.

Although most of these technologies are unfamiliar to most people, they contribute to the improved standard of living that many take for granted.  The outer space program contributed to the advance of general technology and science, and so did the “inner space” program of offshore oil.


Bringing up the Europeans leads one to consider the relationship of their governments to the enterprise.  Like most industries in the US, the oil industry operated in the legal framework with a minimum of government direction.  The Minerals Management Service was the chief agency of interest, but otherwise the enterprise was pretty much self-funded and directed.  When countries such as the UK, Norway and the Netherlands got involved, it was a different story.  We’d see their national exhibits at the Offshore Technology Conference, we’d wonder why this was necessary and sometimes thought their method was mad.

But there was method in their madness.  For one thing, as Dr. Adel Rizkalla of McDermott explained to my brother and me in 1980, their idea was to stretch out the extraction of oil and not only prevent overwhelming their economy with the revenue (something we’d soon learn the virtue of the hard way,) but also to offer benefits from that revenue for a longer time and for a great good to the country.  For another, their approach was part and parcel with the European concept of industrial policy.  Implicit in that approach is that the oil industry was of value to the country.  We’d soon find out that this was better than the alternative, a country whose ruling elites believed that the oil industry was an existential threat to them.

Vulcan 3100 hammer installing piles for Exxon’s Hondo platform off of Santa Barbara, California. In 1752 Bishop Erich Pontippidan noted that “The North Sea has a curious property. In addition to its salinity it also possesses oiliness. It is likely that here or there the sea, just as the earth, ejects oil flows, or streams of petroleum, naptha, sulphur, coal tar and other bituminous and oily juices.” Similar things were noted off of California, without the offshore drilling that is supposed to be the sole cause of this.

Offshore oil came into the big picture in the 1960’s, at the same time that the American left first let out the primal scream which has echoed down the halls of history to the present time.  They first tried to put the stall on the leasing process, an on-again, off-again process that only delayed the advance of offshore oil in Louisiana and Texas.  They did manage to keep it out of the rest of the East Coast and eventually got it shut down in California.  The environmental movement was a large part of that; as happened with manufacturing, the oil industry has had to improve its techniques to prevent environmental impact, and that’s another place where the North Sea experience was helpful.

But it was more than the environment that drove the left against the oil industry; it was their other pet peeve, suburbia.  Suburbia wouldn’t exist without oil, not only because of the automobile and commuting, but also because of the economic development that made suburbia possible.  The two were part of a fork that has stuck in the left’s craw for more than half a century, and as the left oozed its way into the nation’s intelligentsia, the potential for the oil industry to hit the wall in the US increased.

Not that there weren’t alternatives.  The most serious was nuclear power, which if it had been implemented on a relative scale to the French, could have solved most of the balance of payments problem and avoided the costly wars we’ve fought in the Middle East.  But that was (and is) unacceptable to most of the environmental community, and in any case would only perpetuate suburbia.

The left’s hope of high prices for a commodity in short supply–the shortness enhanced by their regulatory and legal efforts–never quite panned out; the oil and gas industry has proven more resilient than they thought.  And the forward march of technology, even in the industry’s lean years, has helped.  We got directional drilling and subsea completions, which reduced the cost of offshore oil.  But the biggest game changer has been fracking, which found the left “asleep at the switch” to stop.  It has shifted hydrocarbon based energy towards natural gas, at one time a “luxury” fuel, which is much cleaner to burn.  As a result the need for coal or offshore oil has been reduced, turning the U.S. to become a net fossil fuel energy producer for the first time since the days of the primal scream.

Offshore crews generally worked twelve hour on/twelve hour off for two weeks at a stretch. There was thus some idle time offshore; one favourite pastime was fishing. Derrick barge crews discovered what environmentalists hate to admit: offshore platforms are natural habitats for all kinds of fish and other marine life, which made for good fishing. Welding wire was a favourite type of fishing line, though other materials would get the job done too.

Today we find Europeans following the siren sound against nuclear power and fracking, leaving the wisdom of the past generation behind and embracing yet another American neurosis.  Many of the platforms which helped bring this oil out of the sea floor are being dismantled, their field lives ended; some are left as artificial reefs for fishing, another one of those unintended consequences.  Offshore oil isn’t what it used to be, but it set the stage for better things, and made life good when it was possible, and for that it should be remembered positively.