Thursday, February 28, 2008

Stinkin' Linkin returns to the big screen

The Stinkin Lincoln returns on April 2nd for the premier of Salt Dreams. April 2nd @ One Eyed Jacks.

Hey Clearview!

How's that banning the kiddies thing going? And no, all the patrons aren't hiding behind the plants...

The Sound of Ben Bernake being dead wrong...

Fed Chief downplays risk of Stagflation. You can just picture the author screaming "BULLSHIT!" to Bernake as he writes this article. At the exact same time that Bernake was speaking, Oil his the highest level ever (adjusted for inflation) and the dollar reached a new low against the Euro. Think the two could be related?

Dare I throw in a third thread responsible for the other two? Iraq. Nobel economist analyzes Iraq. $3 Trillion is his MOST CONSERVATIVE estimate of spending to date. He includes some budgetary vignettes that are priceless. Like how the army requires soldiers to pay for damaged helmets, even if the damage comes from an enemy bullet or bomb.

Bernake is quietly wishing Greenspan was there to help him out. Oh, whoops, Greenspan is fiscally cockblocking Bernake by advising Gulf States to drop their dollar pegs. On a related note, the much ballyhooed Iranian Oil Bourse opens on the same day oil closes above $100 for the first time ever. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) had traded above $100 during the day and had closed once at $100, but never over that figure.

Warren Buffet gives the Fed the benefit of the doubt, but makes some interesting observations about the economy (and investing in general). Well worth a read.

UPDATE- ...And the next day, the Dow falls 315 points.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Project Truck Update - 15 Feb 2008

Been pretty busy and I haven't done much work on the truck as of late, but I've done a few things.

Thanks to my post at Stovebolt, I found another local Chevy/GMC truck enthusiast named Jake. He stopped by one day while I was working on the truck and helped me fix the headlights. He loved the truck and he said he had some extra parts that were taking up space in his attic. Jake offered them to me for free if I picked them up. So, it was off to the Northshore for an adventure!

Driving the truck for that long gave me a good feel for the truck. It just wants to go! It's fun to drive (although, after a while, it's tiring because of the lack of modern conveniences like A/C, power steering, disk brakes, etc.). The exhaust header's seal was also blown out, so the engine sounded like a infinitely long string of black cat fireworks going off. The cabin was filled with the smell of exhaust, thanks to all the holes in the firewall. Candice's parents also noticed a small oil leak from the truck and I responded, "my truck doesn't leak, it marks it's territory."

Candice followed me to the northshore. I joked she was the Bandit to my Smokey...

We made it to the northshore

My truck's first load...

The suspension is very stiff, which makes it handle great, but wears you down. The springs in the bed are oversized because any trucks built in '62 were going to be WORK trucks... This truck was built before people drove trucks to make a statement about themselves (and the size of their genitals). My truck was built when men were men, Democrats had balls, and computers took up rooms! Anyway, this truck isn't going to become a preening show truck. It's going to stay true to it's roots as a work truck. That's what it told me it wanted to be.

So I put the truck back to work...

...moving me out of the Quarter.

And then somebody broke into the garage I keep my truck in and tried to steal it!

No worries, though. The truck has an anti-theft device: being old and rusty! The carburetor is old and the choke is busted, so starting the engine when it's cold (i.e.- not run in a while) is VERY tricky. You need to smash on the gas pedal to near-flood the engine and crank it a few times, and then it will start. I could leave the keys in the ignition and it would be take someone else 15 minutes to start.

Next project was installing new exhaust headers on the driver's side:

The old exhaust system... No catalytic converter on this truck...

Here's what the engine looks like sans exhaust:

And, after lots of pulling and cursing, here's the new exhaust headers installed on the engine:

All nice and perdy

I unfortunately bent the dipstick tube while installing the header, so that'll need to be fixed/replaced.

I've also been keeping track of my spending and I'm coming in around $2,200 (including the truck, taxes, insurance, parts etc.) thus far.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hillary's gotta go...

NOTE- Some of this might be a little premature, but fuck it; I'm going ball to the wall...

Obama, McCain sweep. Obama's won 8 in a row. Hill didn't pull in more than 36% in any race (as of my writing).

That's it folks. We've got the Fall lineup here. Anything more is just belaboring the point.

Here are some of my thoughts:
* Huckabee did a commendable job towards the end. He's a genuinely likeable guy. Even Matt Taibbi was initially disarmed by him (not an easy task). Had he just raised a little more money, he could have defeated all the Washington insider candidates, no mean feat. He could still wind up causing major headaches for McCain if he stays in, but he'll probably accept the Veep slot and be content.

* McCain is deader than a deer in the headlights of an 18-wheeler when he faces Obama in the general election. He lost every election amongst the conservative base.+ He was dragged across the finish line by the moderate/liberal Republicans and Independents, NONE of whom will support him against Obama. McCain's biggest asset (media hard on for McCain) is totally neutralized by Obama and his biggest weaknesses (Iraq and his age) are exposed. It's going to be an ass-whupping of Reaganesque levels. He's going to be lucky to carry his home state.

* Hillary. Poor girl. I've never really liked her, but now that she's facing the firing squad, I feel sorry for her. Here's my take on her: she wanted to be a real reformer (as evidenced by Hillarycare). She was beaten down in brutal fashion for 10 years. She wanted to change things from the inside. She finally thought, 'hey, let me make a few compromises, sneak into office, and then I can change things from the inside.' She started giving lobbyists handjobs and before she knew it, she was taking on all of K-Street. And now, in the ultimate tragedy for her, she has to watch a younger candidate who made a point of not compromising on their principles (Iraq vote) and not accepting K-Street money (for the presidential campaign) come out of nowhere and grab the nomination by acclamation. It was her turn, but everyone turned on her and now she sees what she could have been reflected in Obama. That's why I feel so sorry for her.

* Obama's biggest threat, once Hillary is finally dragged off stage in tears, won't be McCain. It'll be the total mess left by Bush. Who wants to inherit a bankrupt, fucked up, militarily weakened, resource depleted ex-hegemon facing the reality of a multi-polar world? According to the Cunning Realist, Bush may have laid the perfect trap for the next president. "How many people cursed Nixon and Burns in '79?" How many will curse Bush in 4 years? His best hope, honestly, is the mess blows up in Bush's face in a way that cannot be denied before Bush leaves office.

+ I work in a fairly conservative office, so I think I know why he's had so many problems with the base. It comes down to 2 factors: the McCain/Bush/Kennedy Immigration Bill and his actions reaching across the aisle during the 2000-2006 domination of the levers of power. Republicans have respect for winners and competitive spirit. Republicans could have fallen in line with Rudy, had he just won. From 2000-2006, Republicans were talking about building a "permanent majority" in both houses, the judiciary, and the executive branch. The Dems were on Terri Shivo levels of life support. Total domination of the government. McCain's problem was when the Dems were on the verge of being crushed once and for all, he hesitated crushing their windpipe and instead tried being civil and statesman-like. By some twisted logic, he didn't 'want to win.' I wouldn't be too surprised if one "narrative" that emerges in the years ahead blames McCain for the collapse of the Republican party...

Friday, February 8, 2008

China's been busy

While everyone on this side of the Pacific is concerned with Bush/the Economy/Briney Spears/Iraq, China has been busy, and not just in preparation for the Olympics.

On the military front:

China has built itself the 2nd largest submarine fleet in the world. Larger than Russia. Including quiet, nuclear powered and even a few boomers [ballistic missile submarines].

Gone out and outfitted a Russian aircraft carrier and named it the Shi Lang (the last Chinese emperor to invade Taiwan). The story of the Varyag is absolutely fascinating. It was bought by a front company while it was being scrapped by Ukrainians. The cover story was it was going to turned into a floating casino in Macao (despite the fact the harbor is too shallow for a deep draft vessel like a carrier). It then had a long, interesting journey across the globe (bypassing Macao) and ending up in China's largest naval shipyard, where it's been refitted and painted PLAN [Chinese navy] gray. Varyag-World has been covering this story in great detail for some time. If you liked reading Blind Man's Bluff, you'll love reading Varyag World. It's still being updated.

China, nervous about US military activity all around them, denies US navy ships shelter during storm.

Chinese interests are seeking to buy 3Com, one of the primary suppliers of US military secured-communications equipment. 3Com is just one of many companies the Chinese are taking an interest in.

On the environmental front:

China has passed the US as the most polluting country in the world.

The Yangtze River dolphin has gone extinct.

Beijing's smog has gotten so bad you can't see across the street. That'll look great on the Olympic broadcasts.

Speaking of the Olympics, athletes are bringing their own food because the Chinese food has so much steroids, the athletes will test positive from eating the chicken.

On the energy front:

China doubling oil tanker fleet. There are now so many oil tankers pulling up to China's coast, there aren't enough places for them to dock.

1 year ago, China became a net importer of coal. In December 2007 it imported 4.3 million tons of coal. The US is the "Saudi Arabia of coal" and 4.3 million tons would be 1/3 of monthly net exports.

China freezes energy prices in an attempt to deal with a severe diesel shortage. China has been subsidizing energy costs to the tune of $15.7 billion for their steel industry alone. Just imagine if Blanco told Krupp, 'we're going to pick up half the bill for your energy.' Krupp would have been here in a heartbeat. Just imagine the sort of unfair competitive advantage that gives Chinese companies...

On the economic front:

Speaking of competitive advantage, how's tortured slave labor for y'a? Up from your bootstraps you fat, lazy, unionized worker!

Major banks rescued by China's sovereign wealth fund. "The idea of China rushing to the rescue of the capitalist world seems so unlikely as to be unbelievable."

China's only going to do so much, though. They are quietly revaluing the yuan. Part of it is an effort to decouple from the US economy. Part of it is to fight inflation in the major cities that's fermenting unrest. Remember, runaway inflation was a factor in the Tienanmen Square protests.

Unlike the author of this what if scenario [Bush refuses to give up power in Jan '09 and Chinese invade], I don't think China's a threat to the US, but we're stupid not to pay attention to them. I think China's economy is going to overheat, pollution will get so bad not even Fox News could content the people, and the 4-2-1 problem will lead to a social security crisis that will put ours to shame will combine to lead China to focus more on internal problems than stepping up to take a leading role in a multi-polar world.


The current season of The Wire is all about the press' abdication of reposibility to society. Well, here are a couple examples that have been a pebble in my shoe:

Journalists are drooling morons when it comes to science stories. I'll bet there aren't 2 writers and NO editor on any newspaper staff in the country that can explain ANY of the 3 following terms: the Scientific Method, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, a Gaussian distribution.

Here are some journalists showing some balls. Oops. Sorry. 60 Minutes chickened out at the last minute.

This one I hesitate to even mention, because even bad journalists aren't this bad. Don't betray your heritage by voting for Barak "Muslim Fundamentalist" Obama Someone actually published this bullshit. They later retracted it, but the damage was done. I have a suggestion for Obama: finance the rest of your campaign with winnings from libel lawsuits. There are dumb people with so much money lying around it's a fire hazard. Do them a favor and take some of it off their hands.

Bad Journalist!

You write poop, you deserve a mouthful of it!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sleepwalking into the next energy crisis...

I've done a lot of work for the energy sector and ever since reading The Prize, I have taken a keen interest in oil-related events. Oil is the fuel that drives everything we do. 95% or so of transportation fuels come from oil. Without it, trains, planes, and automobiles (even smugly-driven Prius) grind to a halt. People have no idea of the importance of a single gallon of gas (500 man hours of labor) and how CHEAP it still is (less than 20 cents a cup; a fraction of what your morning frapa-whacka-chino costs).

The first target of everyone's ire is the Oil Majors. Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and ConnocoPhilips are refered to as the International Oil Companies (IOC's for short) within industry. This is who Joe Blow sees whenever on the sign when he fills up his DoublewideTrailer with 22" rims SUV. What he doesn't understand is less than half the oil he's about to pump comes from the IOC's. The other half comes from Nationalized Oil Companies (NOC's) like Saudi Aramco, Mexico's PEMEX, Venesuela's PDVSA, or Norway's StatOil/NorskHydro. In order to provide the consumer with enough gasoline, the IOC's have to buy from the NOC's (at retail prices). Because the consumer is such a cheap bastard when it comes to buying gas (people will drive all over town to save a nickel), the price of gas hasn't kept up with the rise in crude oil prices. In addition to SEC regulation preventing exploration and production divisions of IOC's from sharing profits with refining divisions, the oil companies are getting crunched. BP is cutting 5,000 jobs.

Everyone's eyes widen when they hear Exxon makes more than $1,000 a second in profits, but what they don't see is the oil industry is the most capital intensive business out there. The capital costs are so high, you damn well better be making lots of money!

The most serious threat to the IOC's, IMO, is the critical shortage of talent. Personnel costs have skyrocketed. Most new wells are extremely deep (15,000+ feet) and need weeks to drill at rates upwards of $250,000 a day. Drilling costs doubled from 2003-2006, driven largely by personnel costs. It's hard, but not impossible, to get your hands on a drilling rig. Keeping it fully staffed with experienced crews running 24/7 is damned near impossible. Salaries have exploded as a result. Houston, the energy capital of the world, has become a town of mercenaries; people just leave after 3 months because they get an extra $1.50 an hour. That's been going on for the past 2-3 years now and salaries are up 50-100%. For the companies, it's only going to get worse. I can't find it now, but I remember reading that 50% of one of the IOC's geology and engineering staff will be eligible to retire by December 2009. New projects get more and more complicated with fewer and fewer engineers to work on them. Demand for engineers is going up 40% per year with no end in sight. Just imagine how desperate companies are going to get to retain talent then. It's great for individuals, but it's sapping the industry's ability to get shit done. Projects keep missing deadline after deadline.

All the efforts of oil companies can't even replace the oil they're pumping. The oil companies are running flat out just to stay in place, and even then they are slowly sliding backwards on the treadmill. Chevron only replaced 10-20% of its reserves last year. If that doesn't change, then Chevron (and all the other IOC's) will eventually cease to exist.

Well, what about Saudi Arabia? Aren't they sitting on oceans of the stuff? No, even Saudi Arabia's oil reserves are limited (and might be more limited than anyone thinks). Our idiot president accidentally (or not?) dropped Saudi Arabia's biggest secret on national TV and nobody in the press was smart enough to realize what he was saying...

The US is slowly but surely heading into an energy crisis that will put the 70's oil embargos to shame. It's been coming for 50 years and, though quite a few people have known about it, little has been done to prepare. This nation hasn't had a coherent energy policy since the Carter administration. Well, one way or the other, the next president will have an energy policy that reduces American dependence on oil.

NOTE- The last real oil shock happened before I was born. I only know a little about the oil bust that hit the energy sector in the early 80's. Anyone got any memories of the 70's oil embargo's? I'd love to hear them. Everyone I've talked to seems to have blocked them out of their memory...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bourdain visits NOLA

Watched Bourdain last night and he hit the nail on the head with hit show. He hit every major theme: We are not OK, but we're still open for business. Everyone here is a bit on edge (highlighted by a truly erratic performance by Chris Rose). Bourdain picked up on the level of anger at being forgotten by our government.

Here's my quick list of the restaurants discussed/visited: Cafe Reconcile, Cochon, Herbsaint, Antoine's, Domilice's, a few Warehouse District bars, and a visit with the Pope (Emeril).

He was also sporting a Big Easy Rollergirls shirt.

At the very end of the episode, he ended with the challenge, "I'm here. What's keeping you?" Anthony Bourdain: Friend of New Orleans.

Anyway, Happy Mardi Gras, y'all!

UPDATE- Another great local reaction.