Engineers and terrorists

A quiet terrorist victory, one which has completely escaped the notice of the mainstream press, is affecting your life. It has significance in both practical and symbolic terms. In the short run there is little we can do about it. But in the long run the factors propelling the terrorists' triumph contain the seeds of their defeat.

Do these names mean anything to you?
 
Stephen LaGuardia, 62, and Philip Coplen, 53, Americans;
Michael Hardy, 44, and Michael McGillen, 52, Britons;
Anthony Mason, 57, Australian.  
 
You might have a vague memory of five Western engineers killed last May in Saudi Arabia. They were shot dead in cold blood by al Qaeda in an ABB Lummus office within a vast ExxonMobil petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia. The killers then ghoulishly dragged one of their bodies through the streets. After that, an exodus of expatriates from the Kingdom followed, including 90 Western petrochemical engineers from their company who were working on the same project. The project was shut down.

Another day, another handful of deaths in the war on terror. There have been so many deaths since then. Their company, ABB Lummus, has remembered them with a press release on their site and with two memorial services, flowers, books and walls of condolence, conference rooms named in their honor in their Houston office, a permanent mosaic of remembrance in Houston (with replicas in 10 other ABB offices), a memorial fund, the proceeds of which the bereaved families donated to charities of their choice, special intranet sites established, counseling offered to colleagues, and a company—wide moment of silence observed by 100,000 ABB colleagues across 100 countries. All very fitting and proper. But as time passes, it's gradually coming to light that the loss of their lives has had a significant impact beyond the bereaved families and colleagues. It sounds farfetched that five terror deaths could matter so much to how we live. But who they were and what they did mattered enough for us to see it throughout the world.
 
In a cold way, there was a powerful money cost associated with their murders. This is no exaggeration, according to two Wall Street analysts quoted by Investor's Business Daily. The markets, always leading indicators, have a collective way of making the truth known. The day after the engineers were killed, the price of oil shot up four dollars from $34 a barrel to $38. It hasn't gone significantly down since, leaving that four—dollar premium fully priced—in to this day.
 
But the cost reverberations went much further than that. If you have noticed the price of Baggies, plastic wrap and trash bags up in the past six months at your local Target, you are touching the tiny corner of the scope of chemical production that powers all through the American economy, deep into the cost of housing and automobiles and consumer goods. There is a great shortage of petroleum—derived chemicals squeezing industrial production in the world, and prices have risen because there is not enough supply.  

And since chemical makers must put up their plants near their feedstocks (or ingredients), most important chemical facilities are in the Middle East. The five chemical engineers were doing a critical capacity expansion in Saudi Arabia in one of the world's largest polyethylene plants, which already produced 1.36 million metric tons a year, and the world was depending on it.  The fact that this expansion project was shut down after the attack, literally halted critical production capacity from coming to market. It's not been started up since, although the company tells us the shutdown is temporary, not permanent. As a result, polyethylene prices shot up, going from about 30 cents a unit in May to 65 cents today. And analysts say it was a direct result of the attack.   
 

These, of course, are money losses, albeit unusually huge ones. And because it's only money, the surviving engineers acted reasonably to pull out of Saudi Arabia. It may have distressed the Saudis, depressed industrial production, and forced the market to make its verdict. But: 'there are some things salaries won't pay,' a chemicals analyst on Wall Street said.
 
Al Qaeda has long had the U.S. economy in its gunsights, of course, and possibly knew what they were doing in attacking the chemical expansion project, killing the project manager and the plant manager, along with highly experienced engineers. They certainly knew it was an American they were dragging through the streets. But their aims were probably subconscious, because their actions, rather than words, show the most about who they are and who their victims were.
 
In a way, the killings were emblematic of why the war on terror must be won. The terrorists and the engineers could not have been more different in what they represented.
 
The most important fact about chemical engineers is that they are so productive and work with their minds, something of which destructive and ignorant terrorists are completely incapable. Ironically, both terrorists and engineers come in small numbers. Terrorists resort to collective 'thinking' in their tiny cells, but engineers rely on free and creative thinking. Terrorists produce nothing, they only destroy. But engineers' individual productivity creates literally billions of dollars of wealth that spreads throughout a whole economy and helps even the poorest in the downstream industries.
 
Terrorists literally use their bodies as commodities to carry out their aims. But chemical engineers, by contrast, are the purest knowledge workers in all industry. A chemical engineering B.A. takes almost five years to achieve because there is so much to master. A graduate of a terrorist training camp can be all of 16 years old.
 
And because they are knowledge workers, chemical engineers have an interesting propensity for insisting on an absolute freedom to think. Which is precisely what terrorism hates most. Indeed, they insist on the right to think and will not tolerate totalitarian thought. The example of the Soviet scientists is one indicator of this. And to take an example from the other side of the world, the great oil strike of 2002—3 in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela was led by chemical engineers, who were outraged at the installation of ignorant Castroite political hacks in what had been a meritocratic organization. Venezuela's state oil company lost about $9 billion and 500 of its most talented chemical engineers from that blunder. But it shows how much chemical engineers, in particular, insist on the right to think.
 
So perhaps terrorists knew what they were doing when they carried out their murders. Chemical engineers represent everything they are not. But terrorists are wrong, because the terror war is going to be won. The West will engineer a solution.

A quiet terrorist victory, one which has completely escaped the notice of the mainstream press, is affecting your life. It has significance in both practical and symbolic terms. In the short run there is little we can do about it. But in the long run the factors propelling the terrorists' triumph contain the seeds of their defeat.

Do these names mean anything to you?
 
Stephen LaGuardia, 62, and Philip Coplen, 53, Americans;
Michael Hardy, 44, and Michael McGillen, 52, Britons;
Anthony Mason, 57, Australian.  
 
You might have a vague memory of five Western engineers killed last May in Saudi Arabia. They were shot dead in cold blood by al Qaeda in an ABB Lummus office within a vast ExxonMobil petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia. The killers then ghoulishly dragged one of their bodies through the streets. After that, an exodus of expatriates from the Kingdom followed, including 90 Western petrochemical engineers from their company who were working on the same project. The project was shut down.

Another day, another handful of deaths in the war on terror. There have been so many deaths since then. Their company, ABB Lummus, has remembered them with a press release on their site and with two memorial services, flowers, books and walls of condolence, conference rooms named in their honor in their Houston office, a permanent mosaic of remembrance in Houston (with replicas in 10 other ABB offices), a memorial fund, the proceeds of which the bereaved families donated to charities of their choice, special intranet sites established, counseling offered to colleagues, and a company—wide moment of silence observed by 100,000 ABB colleagues across 100 countries. All very fitting and proper. But as time passes, it's gradually coming to light that the loss of their lives has had a significant impact beyond the bereaved families and colleagues. It sounds farfetched that five terror deaths could matter so much to how we live. But who they were and what they did mattered enough for us to see it throughout the world.
 
In a cold way, there was a powerful money cost associated with their murders. This is no exaggeration, according to two Wall Street analysts quoted by Investor's Business Daily. The markets, always leading indicators, have a collective way of making the truth known. The day after the engineers were killed, the price of oil shot up four dollars from $34 a barrel to $38. It hasn't gone significantly down since, leaving that four—dollar premium fully priced—in to this day.
 
But the cost reverberations went much further than that. If you have noticed the price of Baggies, plastic wrap and trash bags up in the past six months at your local Target, you are touching the tiny corner of the scope of chemical production that powers all through the American economy, deep into the cost of housing and automobiles and consumer goods. There is a great shortage of petroleum—derived chemicals squeezing industrial production in the world, and prices have risen because there is not enough supply.  

And since chemical makers must put up their plants near their feedstocks (or ingredients), most important chemical facilities are in the Middle East. The five chemical engineers were doing a critical capacity expansion in Saudi Arabia in one of the world's largest polyethylene plants, which already produced 1.36 million metric tons a year, and the world was depending on it.  The fact that this expansion project was shut down after the attack, literally halted critical production capacity from coming to market. It's not been started up since, although the company tells us the shutdown is temporary, not permanent. As a result, polyethylene prices shot up, going from about 30 cents a unit in May to 65 cents today. And analysts say it was a direct result of the attack.   
 

These, of course, are money losses, albeit unusually huge ones. And because it's only money, the surviving engineers acted reasonably to pull out of Saudi Arabia. It may have distressed the Saudis, depressed industrial production, and forced the market to make its verdict. But: 'there are some things salaries won't pay,' a chemicals analyst on Wall Street said.
 
Al Qaeda has long had the U.S. economy in its gunsights, of course, and possibly knew what they were doing in attacking the chemical expansion project, killing the project manager and the plant manager, along with highly experienced engineers. They certainly knew it was an American they were dragging through the streets. But their aims were probably subconscious, because their actions, rather than words, show the most about who they are and who their victims were.
 
In a way, the killings were emblematic of why the war on terror must be won. The terrorists and the engineers could not have been more different in what they represented.
 
The most important fact about chemical engineers is that they are so productive and work with their minds, something of which destructive and ignorant terrorists are completely incapable. Ironically, both terrorists and engineers come in small numbers. Terrorists resort to collective 'thinking' in their tiny cells, but engineers rely on free and creative thinking. Terrorists produce nothing, they only destroy. But engineers' individual productivity creates literally billions of dollars of wealth that spreads throughout a whole economy and helps even the poorest in the downstream industries.
 
Terrorists literally use their bodies as commodities to carry out their aims. But chemical engineers, by contrast, are the purest knowledge workers in all industry. A chemical engineering B.A. takes almost five years to achieve because there is so much to master. A graduate of a terrorist training camp can be all of 16 years old.
 
And because they are knowledge workers, chemical engineers have an interesting propensity for insisting on an absolute freedom to think. Which is precisely what terrorism hates most. Indeed, they insist on the right to think and will not tolerate totalitarian thought. The example of the Soviet scientists is one indicator of this. And to take an example from the other side of the world, the great oil strike of 2002—3 in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela was led by chemical engineers, who were outraged at the installation of ignorant Castroite political hacks in what had been a meritocratic organization. Venezuela's state oil company lost about $9 billion and 500 of its most talented chemical engineers from that blunder. But it shows how much chemical engineers, in particular, insist on the right to think.
 
So perhaps terrorists knew what they were doing when they carried out their murders. Chemical engineers represent everything they are not. But terrorists are wrong, because the terror war is going to be won. The West will engineer a solution.