I was reading an interesting story yesterday about the rise in shipping costs.  In the past twelve months, the cost of getting a shipping container from Hong Kong to Los Angeles has tripled.  The swing, from under $900 to over $2600, marks both the five-year low and high.  What happened?

In 2009, businesses got scared and slashed their orders and inventory.  There was a glut of shipping capacity, so prices plummeted.  The shipping companies noticed and took containers and boats off the market.  They also converted several of their routes to “slow steaming” – using less fuel and taking longer.

Now, when US businesses are starting to see a need for moving freight, there’s no freight movers available.  The price skyrockets, and there is even talk of bribery to get containers on a vessel.  I can hear it now: Not us, of course, but we’ve heard of competitors trying to offer money under the table.

None of this should surprise anybody who has thought about it.  It’s supply and demand, in a classic fox-and-rabbit cycle.  An abundance of rabbits begets an abundance of foxes, which begets a dearth of rabbits, which begets a dearth of foxes, which starts the whole thing over again.  Or, as we call it around our house when discussing it, the Lotka-Volterra predator/prey equations.

How come, though, how come nobody has been thinking about this in regards to current fiscal policy?  Our esteemed leadership has decided that collecting unemployment benefits should be a permanent job occupation position human right.  Never mind wondering about how we’re going to pay for it – this is important!  And the burden is borne by the decreasing number of people paying into the system.  Or we could consider health care, which has been declared at some level to be a necessary and free benefit for everyone.  Oh, really?  And who’s going to pay for that little line item?  Again, the working taxpayers.  Then we get to immigration, where the federal government has just won the first lawsuit in an attempt to stop a state from carrying out laws that are the same as federal laws.  The illegal immigrants that are in the United States are keeping US citizens from working, and are consuming resources that should go to US citizens.  (For some eye-popping numbers, see the Immigration Counters.)

I am a big fan of subtle humor.  There’s a place for slapstick, for the broad brush of banana peels and cream pies.  But I really appreciate it when there is no laugh track, when you have the opportunity to decide for yourself what’s funny.  Peter Norvig did a fantastic send-up of PowerPoint presentations, using Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as his material.  One of his slides translates the famous phrase

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation

like this:

Norvig is not mocking Lincoln.  He’s mocking the lemmings that put together presentations without a soul or a brain, who think that charts and a little bit of squirt-on design can capture a message.  He is laughing at those who think they can count fractions of nations.

My fear is that this is not a laughing matter.  This country is less than it once was, and there seems to be an attempt, conscious and concerted, to diminish it even more.

I don’t know what to do about it.  I can rail and rage, and the powers that be seem impermeable.  At the county fair on Tuesday, I was talking to some folks at the Tea Party booth.  The gentleman I was talking to promoted the idea of working at the grass roots level.  Not Astroturf, a top-down approach to get out the troops (fake grass – subtle humor there), but the idea of getting to know the folks in your voting precinct.  Get out and talk to them.  Let them know what you think, and why.  Answer their questions.  Provide them with factual information like meeting minutes instead of push pieces (from either side).  And then when the election comes around, you (I) might be elected as a precinct captain.  The county I live in has 200 precincts, meaning 200 captains.  As the Tea party grows in strength, the county captains could become a majority, influencing the county.  As counties band together, we could influence the state.  As states band together, we can influence the country.

Big dreams.  And not a whole lot different in concept than the idea that Godly men make Godly families, leading to Godly churches, towns, states, and countries.  Different goals, definitely, and different mechanisms for achieving the goals.  But the same focus on individual responsibility and action.

I am a Godly man, and I stay that way through God’s help and support.  I don’t yet know if I’m also a Tea Party man.  I respect those who are, but I’m not yet ready to make that commitment.  I don’t want to be a fair-weather patriot.  I also know that they also serve who only stand and wait.