Opinion: The Petroleum Engineer, the School Principal, and the Private Sector

President Donald Trump speaks with Fox News Channel Anchor Bill Hemmer during a Fox News Channel virtual town hall, at the White House, Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator and Surgeon General Jerome Adams look on. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


As you may know, for the past several nights, I have been producing a roll-up of significant U.S. Wuhan virus statistics along with some limited analysis. Despite very public caveats that I am (was) an Infantryman and definitely not a statistician, I get lots of suggestions of different data sets to include or esoteric techniques to better analyze the existing data…By the way, just what the hell IS a second-order derivative, analyzed using a nonlinear regression as it approaches the asymptote? And while we are at it, what’s an “asymptote?”

In and amongst all of this, I’ve been having conversations with one of my Army buddies who, when he wasn’t playing Army Reservist, was a full-time petroleum engineer. He is now technically “retired,” from both of those fields. However, he is so good, the oil company he worked for has kept him on the payroll, “just in case,” even though his replacement has been on board for well over a year. He’s. That. Good.

Anyhow, Jim and I have been going back and forth on the Wuhan Virus statistics as he compares my product with some of the very complex models his company uses to determine at what point a piece of petroleum hardware might fail, given certain temperature and pressure conditions. Needless to say, my stuff is akin to kindergarten crayoning compared to the product his guys produce. The point being, his company along with the rest of the energy sector, spends billions in developing models to predict these things, as the consequences of failure can be catastrophic…I’m thinking Deepwater Horizon here.


This reminded me of a couple of conversations with her Majesty, Queen Teresa, my lovely Bride and retired High School Principal. I remember her saying something along the lines of, “The toughest decision an elected official at any level makes, is whether to close the schools and when to do it. The higher up you go, the more difficult the decision.” If you close the schools when you don’t need to, thus keeping parents home from work, adding days (and cost) to the school year and a host of other expensive results, then you get excoriated from all sides, School Board and parents alike. On the other hand, if you fail to do so and, God forbid, somebody gets hurt, it’s over. You’re done. In short, there is no way to win.

This is what President Trump is going through right now, attempting to determine when to reopen America. Of course, the “parents” in this case, are the Democrat Party and their enablers, the mainstream media. First, they excoriated him for closing the schools in the first place (travel ban from China). Then they spent the next two months screaming that he didn’t “close the schools” soon enough.

The President also struggles under another burden: he has to rely on information mostly generated by unelected government employees who, when it comes right down to it, have no skin in the game. Let’s go back to my buddy, the Petroleum Engineer. Jim and I have known each other forever. One of the things I remember from our many conversations regarding his industry is that, with rare exceptions, government regulators weren’t always top-notch talent. In fact, if the industry (on very rare occasions) was able to identify a guy who was really sharp, they would hire him. In short, talent goes where the money is. There is little-to-no money in the bureaucracy of government for risk assessment. Its whole structure is built around avoiding risk, not soberly assessing it.


As a businessman who has to rely on a bevy of experts to navigate the building codes of cities worldwide to get his hotels built, President Trump realizes this. He understands Dr. Fauci’s expertise and advisory value as he does that of all the other bureaucrats, scientists, and other assorted straphangers. He also understands the risk-averse nature of their training.

He also recognizes the value of industry CEO’s as risk assessors and decision-makers…and their abilities to determine risk and still make things happen when needed. And like those CEO’s, those Captains of Industry, he understands that there is always risk…risk that can and must be managed for effective operations, but never completely avoided or eliminated. President Trump knows that he and he alone must decide when to reopen the schools, reopen America and get us all back to work. He also realizes that no matter when he decides to do so, he will face withering criticism. And he also knows this…

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.


-Theodore Roosevelt


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