Archive for August, 2009

China: The new Big Oil

Friday, August 21st, 2009

The country is snapping up oil fields from Africa to South America to the Middle East. Soon it may be able to rival the Western giants.

NEW YORK ( — China is on an oil buying binge.

Over the past few months, the Chinese government — or its big government-controlled oil firms — have closed or floated a slew of deals in countries all over the world. These deals have expanded the nation’s oil reach and may one day position the nation to match the skills of western oil firms.

The deals include a $10 billion loan the Chinese government extended to Russia’s Rosneft in exchange for a guaranteed cut of that company’s production. The Chinese have also gotten in tight with Brazil’s Petrobras, arranging a similar deal with the firm that is developing a huge new offshore field – one of the biggest new discoveries in decades.

But it doesn’t end with loans. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that China National Petroleum Corporation is interested in buying all or a part of Argentina’s YPF for $14.5 billion, although a deal is far from certain.

In Africa, CNOOC and Sinopec are buying a $1.3 billion stake in offshore Angolan development rights from American oil firm Marathon. Angola has recently overtaken Nigeria as Africa’s biggest oil producer, and is one of Exxon Mobil’s (XOM, Fortune 500) favorite countries to invest in.

And rumors are swirling that the China National Petroleum Corporation will take the majority stake in Iraq’s Rumaila oilfield from BP (BP). Rumaila produces over 1 million barrels a day, and is Iraq’s biggest oil field.

It’s clear what the Chinese are doing.

“They are stilting on a huge pile of cash and they’re using this as a buying opportunity,” said Greg Priddy, a global energy analyst at the Eurasia group, a political risk consultancy.


Animal Poison Hotline – Jerks!

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

The other day, in a moment of of inattention, I left two pills I was going to take out on the kitchen counter.   Extremely bad form, I know.   But, something distracted me at the critical moment – and it happened.

Sometime later, Indra, one of our seven rescue cats, jumped up on my desk as he often does.  But this time he was foaming and drooling at the mouth in great gobs.

I jumped up, ran to the kitchen to grab a paper towel and then I saw the remaining one pill there on the counter top.  Click! – it all came together and I knew why he was like that.

Damn! Damn! Damn!

I grabbed Indra up and took him to the nearest bathroom so I could keep him corralled and yelled for my wife to come and help.   She went into the bathroom and as she did, she reminded me that we have an Animal Poison Hotline magnetic sticker thingy on the refrigerator.   It’s something that’s been there for several years.

I ran to the kitchen and grabbed the phone and, yes, there was the little magnet that said “Animal Poison Hotline” right there where she said it was.   I called them in a semi-panic.

A nice voice answered and said who they were and then asked me to press “1”, if this was about an animal poisoning event.   Then it asked me if this was a new event (press “1”) or a previous event (press “2”).

Once I’d pressed “1” and then “1” again, the voice said that since they received no state or federal money for delivering their services, that there would be a $60 consultation fee and that I should have my VISA or Master Card ready.   I looked at the phone with sheer incredulity.   I realized I had just gotten tangled up with the Animal Poison Hotline equivalent of ambulance chasers.

I hung up and dialed our local vet while my wife was shouting to “Hurry up” from the bathroom.   I hadn’t called them first because it was 5:30 PM and I thought they were closed.   But, thank God, when the phone rang, someone answered and a vet was on the line in a few seconds saying to bring Indra in right away.  Turns out they were open until 6:30 PM.

To make a long story short, Indra turned out to be OK.   We later found the missing pill and he’d chewed it some but only made one small puncture in it before the vile taste must have made him spit it out.   But, at the time, we didn’t know that and thought he’d swallowed 200mg of Celebrex.   So, what could have been several days of efforts to save him (and maybe lose him) and several thousands of dollars ended up being a two local trips to the vet and about $300.

But, I am still deeply rankled at the “Animal Poison Hotline” people and their credit card demands.  In fairness, when I looked closely at the magnetic sticker later, it did say, in small print, that there would be a ‘per incident’ fee.

But I’m imagining the motivations of the folks who printed the magnetic stickers up and distributed them.   They were seeking a profit and one great way to do that is to match a service with a need.   And this one’s a beauty.

When someone calls up and their beloved pet has potentially been poisoned, they are not going to quibble over $60 and a credit card number when minutes may mean life or death.   But, what a nasty time to jack them up.

Thinking about all of this, I remembered that years ago I had been deeply pissed off when I read an expose in the Orange County Register about how the local fund raising drives for the local police and firemen actually worked.

The police and firemen didn’t actually have the time or the expertise to man the phones, so they’d hire an outside company to do their fund raising.   These folks would call you up and say, “This is the Orange County Fireman’s Association – how are you this evening?“   And then they’d start in on you for donations for various things to help the firemen.

It was a sweet deal for everyone except the donor.   The fireman’s Association got some money out of the deal and they didn’t have to pay the fund raising folks a penny because their contract let them take 80% of the proceeds off the top for their services.  And the firemen were happy because 20% of something is way more than 100% of nothing.  And it was totally free for them.

But, the donor’s, who were giving out of the goodness of their hearts, didn’t know that 80% of their gifts were going into the pockets of the fund raisers and their lavish life styles.

I’m wondering if something similar isn’t going on here.     Wouldn’t people scream if uncle Bob was down on the floor with a possible poisoning and they called a human poison hotline and got held up for a credit card fee before they could proceed?

Stinky stinky stuff.

Are you wondering who these folks are so you can steer clear of them?

They are:

North Shore Animal League


PROSCAR International Animal Poison Center

Believe me when I tell you that you’d be far better off to put the number of your local vet up on your fridge RIGHT NOW.   And then call your vet and ask them for the phone number and location of the local 24 hour emergency vet in case you have an after hours emergency.   And then put that number up there as well.

The Swiss Menace

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

It was the blooper heard round the world. In an editorial denouncing Democratic health reform plans, Investor’s Business Daily tried to frighten its readers by declaring that in Britain, where the government runs health care, the handicapped physicist Stephen Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance,” because the National Health Service would consider his life “essentially worthless.”

Professor Hawking, who was born in Britain, has lived there all his life, and has been well cared for by the National Health Service, was not amused.

Besides being vile and stupid, however, the editorial was beside the point. Investor’s Business Daily would like you to believe that Obamacare would turn America into Britain — or, rather, a dystopian fantasy version of Britain. The screamers on talk radio and Fox News would have you believe that the plan is to turn America into the Soviet Union. But the truth is that the plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland — which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn’t a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.

Let’s talk about health care around the advanced world.

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.

The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That’s how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It’s also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.

Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program.

Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.


– research thanks to:  Michael M.

– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, a friend of mine suggests the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

A new page here

Monday, August 17th, 2009

I’ve put a post I wrote in 2007 back up as a permanent page in the right column on this site.   It is entitled, “About War“.

It seems as topical today to me as the day I wrote it.

You might show it to the young men in your family, all full of testosterone and patriotism, who want to go and have a great adventure and fight the good fight.

The brutal truth about America’s healthcare

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Free_HealthcareAn extraordinary report from Guy Adams in Los Angeles at the music arena that has been turned into a makeshift medical center

They came in their thousands, queuing through the night to secure one of the coveted wristbands offering entry into a strange parallel universe where medical care is a free and basic right and not an expensive luxury. Some of these Americans had walked miles simply to have their blood pressure checked, some had slept in their cars in the hope of getting an eye-test or a mammogram, others had brought their children for immunisations that could end up saving their life.

In the week that Britain’s National Health Service was held aloft by Republicans as an “evil and Orwellian” example of everything that is wrong with free healthcare, these extraordinary scenes in Inglewood, California yesterday provided a sobering reminder of exactly why President Barack Obama is trying to reform the US system.

The LA Forum, the arena that once hosted sell-out Madonna concerts, has been transformed – for eight days only – into a vast field hospital. In America, the offer of free healthcare is so rare, that news of the magical medical kingdom spread rapidly and long lines of prospective patients snaked around the venue for the chance of getting everyday treatments that many British people take for granted.

To the original…

Chips in Official IDs Raise Privacy Fears

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

– Yeah, the U.S. government is pushing these new passports with embedded RFID chips and the hackers have already broken them. It seems like the bureaucrat’s desire to use new technologies has over-ridden anyone’s concerns for the saftey and privacy of those U.S. citizens who carry these little packets of ‘free’ information out into an increasingly hostile world.   I’m glad I’ve got an ‘old-style’ passport for now.

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Climbing into his Volvo, outfitted with a Matrics antenna and a Motorola reader he’d bought on eBay for $190, Chris Paget cruised the streets of San Francisco with this objective: To read the identity cards of strangers, wirelessly, without ever leaving his car.

It took him 20 minutes to strike hacker’s gold.

Zipping past Fisherman’s Wharf, his scanner detected, then downloaded to his laptop, the unique serial numbers of two pedestrians’ electronic U.S. passport cards embedded with radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags. Within an hour, he’d “skimmed” the identifiers of four more of the new, microchipped PASS cards from a distance of 20 feet.

Embedding identity documents — passports, drivers licenses, and the like — with RFID chips is a no-brainer to government officials. Increasingly, they are promoting it as a 21st century application of technology that will help speed border crossings, safeguard credentials against counterfeiters, and keep terrorists from sneaking into the country.

But Paget’s February experiment demonstrated something privacy advocates had feared for years: That RFID, coupled with other technologies, could make people trackable without their knowledge or consent.


How to use electrical outlets and cheap lasers to steal data

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

If attackers intent on data theft can tap into an electrical socket near a computer or if they can draw a bead on the machine with a laser, they can steal whatever is being typed into it.

How to execute these attacks will be demonstrated at the Black Hat USA 2009 security conference in Las Vegas later this month by Andrea Barisani and Daniele Bianco, a pair of researchers for network security consultancy Inverse Path.

“The only thing you need for successful attacks are either the electrical grid or a distant line of sight, no expensive piece of equipment is required,” Barisani and Bianco say in a paper describing the hacks.


Antarctic glacier ‘thinning fast’

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

One of the largest glaciers in Antarctica is thinning four times faster than it was 10 years ago, according to research seen by the BBC.

A study of satellite measurements of Pine Island glacier in west Antarctica reveals the surface of the ice is now dropping at a rate of up to 16m a year.

Since 1994, the glacier has lowered by as much as 90m, which has serious implications for sea-level rise.

More (and a video) …

BP stand for “back to petroleum” — oil giant shuts clean energy HQ, slashes renewables budget up to $900 million this year, dives into tar sands

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

You just can’t teach an old petro-dog re-new-able tricks.

The UK’s Guardian reports:

BP has shut down its alternative energy headquarters in London, accepted the resignation of its clean energy boss and imposed budget cuts in moves likely to be seen by environmental critics as further signs of the oil group moving “back to petroleum”.

Sad, but not terribly original or surprising (see “Shell shocker: Once ‘green’ oil company guts renewables effort“).

But Tony Hayward, the group’s chief executive, said BP remained as committed as ever to exploring new energy sources and the non-oil division would benefit from the extra focus of being brought back in house….

“It saves money and brings it closer to home … you could almost see it as a reinforcement [of our commitment to the business],” he said.

Paging Dr. Cal Lightman!

Seriously, they gut the program and claim it is “reinforcement” of their commitment.  Perhaps BP stands for “Beyond Prevarication” or “Beyond Pinocchio.”

In the business world, “money talks, bullsh!t walks” — so let’s follow the money (as it departs the BP clean energy biz):

BP Alternative Energy was given its own headquarters in County Hall opposite the Houses of Parliament two years ago and its managing director, Vivienne Cox, oversaw a small division of 80 staff concentrating on wind and solar power.

But the 49-year-old Cox -– BP’s most senior female executive, who previously ran renewables as part of a larger gas and power division now dismantled by Hayward -– is standing down tomorrow.

This comes alongside huge cuts in the alternative energy budget – from $1.4bn (£850m) last year to between $500m and $1bn this year….


Satellites Unlock Secret to Northern India’s Vanishing Water

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

– If this isn’t concerning enough, then reflect back on the piece I published back on July 1st about the water shortages coming to India and Pakistan because of the melting glaciers.

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WASHINGTON — Using NASA satellite data, scientists have found that groundwater levels in northern India have been declining by as much as one foot per year over the past decade. Researchers concluded the loss is almost entirely due to human activity.

More than 26 cubic miles of groundwater disappeared from aquifers in areas of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and the nation’s capitol territory of Delhi, between 2002 and 2008. This is enough water to fill Lake Mead, the largest manmade reservoir in the United States, three times.

A team of hydrologists led by Matt Rodell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., found that northern India’s underground water supply is being pumped and consumed by human activities, such as irrigating cropland, and is draining aquifers faster than natural processes can replenish them. The results of this research were published today in Nature.