Thursday, July 30, 2009

News from China

I just started reading "Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang". I haven't read in far enough to give an evaluation of the main part of the book, but I can say I'm impressed with the preparation. When it comes to modern China, you'd be lucky to name anyone past Deng Xiaoping. The authors that put the book together understand this and have 2 introductory chapters, an index of names in the back, and fill the narration with notes and explanations. They've done an incredible job at making the book as accessible as possible and I commend them for it.

I've noticed a few news stories from China lately that fit well with the flow of the book thus far that I'll highlight:

Think US infrastructure is in bad shape? Look at this building collapse in China.

Chinese steelworkers protest layoffs, by killing boss. Private steelmaker takes over state-run factory and orders 25,000 layoffs. 30,000 workers, including the 5,000 still keeping their jobs, beat the manager to death. Remember that the economic crisis has also hit Chinese factory jobs hard and, while their economy is still growing, there's a lot of frustrated, unemployed factory workers out there. Perfect recipe for a little revolution...

Files Vanished, Young Chinese Lose the Future - NYTimes. Crooked bureaucrats have been selling academic records to lesser-performing students to help them get jobs and academic visas, leaving the honest students in the lurch working menial jobs.

China doesn't have the Rule of Law, at least not in the way we understand it. If a Party official doesn't like the law, they disregard it. Which leads me to my last story...

Chinese Workers Say Illness Is Real, Not Hysteria - NYTimes. Chemical plant leaks H2S (!) and government response is, 'suck it up and quit whining, pussies.'

Hydrogen Sulfide is something every oilworker learns to fear. It's an extremely toxic gas that smells like rotten eggs. The first thing that happens when you're exposed is you lose your sense of smell. You smell it briefly and then it goes away. And then, about 30 seconds later (at sufficient concentrations), you keel over dead. It's not something to fool around with. Why is it still going on?

"...the plant has a complicated corporate structure that includes investors from Hong Kong and a number of local government officials."

Ah, now I understand. Say whatever you will about corruption in this country, but we haven't hit that low.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


With the death of Walter Cronkite, what is left of journalism? Lots of today's journalists grew up idolizing Cronkite, Woodward and Bernstein, but more of today's journalists look like Joseph Alsop than Cronkite.

A few supporting points to ponder:

Rupert Murdoch caught illegally hacking thousands of databases. Massive settlements being thrown around to hush things up.

Deadspin: The Real Reason You Should Hate The Media (And That Includes Us). From my experience, 27 percent of the people who work in media (and I'm using the Mediaite definition of media, which is pretty much "anyone who gets paid for typing, talking or figuring out how to fire people who type or talk") are journalists in the truest sense, out to enlighten the public for common good, altruistic believers in the fourth estate and its power to invoke change [NOTE- And I salute that valiant 27%.]. The other 73 percent are pretending to be that 27 percent and really just trying to promote their own personal brand. In the past, this has always been an inside joke, something for media folk to snicker about in private. Mediaite breaks with the pretense and just states what everyone already knew: This is really what it's all about. Check out "Power Grid" (a farce of a name if ever there was) for more vomit-worthy moments.

Dan Froomkin hired by Satan's Botoxed Handmaiden {H/T Kevin for the nickname}. Hired with MONEY?!?! Hmm... Bigger picture is Froomkin's real transgression in the eyes of the media: Indeed, nothing eliminates the possibility of establishment journalist jobs more quickly or decisively than criticizing the establishment media as being too sycophantic to political power, manipulated by the Right, and, in general, slothfully devoted to doing nothing other than uncritically repeating what "both sides" say . In the early 20th Century, the New York Times used to "balance" their reporting about lynchings with crimes that black people committed before the lynching.

Speaking of Satan's Handmaiden: FOX Business Vs. CNBC: Who's Hotter? (SLIDESHOW) FUCK YOU, ARIANNA!

And then, of course, there's the infamous Washington Post is a $2 whore scandal (and don't forget The Atlantic, too). The story was broken by Politico. Most painful detail for Washington Post: they got found out because a lobbyist thought it was too blatant. 'Journalists: less of a conscience than soulless lobbyists.'

So, how to fix it? Three ideas here:

1.) Adopt the Russian Business model.

2.) Close the Journalism Schools. Journalism is not a profession like engineering, medicine or even law. You can pick up most media skills on the job, or with a few hours of instruction. If you screw up, nobody dies, and nothing collapses. This is why so many — perhaps most — journalism pros have built successful careers without touching J-school, and why many of them considered a J-degree a dubious credential even in the field's heyday.

3.) Support good writing and beat bad journalists over the head with a lead pipe when they go out in public.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Today's History Lesson: A Chicken in Every Pot

Who was the first person to say "a chicken in every pot?" Not Huey Long or FDR. It was Henry IV of France:

Si Dieu me prĂȘte vie, je ferai qu’il n’y aura point de laboureur en mon royaume qui n’ait les moyens d’avoir le dimanche une poule dans son pot!

(If God spares me, I will ensure that there is no working man in my kingdom who does not have the means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday!)

Henry cared about the French people and wanted them to be well enough that each family would be well enough that they could slaughter a chicken and enjoy the meat at least once a week, without worrying about the loss in egg production. Eggs were an important source of everyday protein.

What did he get for his trouble? A knife in the back from a crazy priest who thought he was the Anti-Christ.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Batt in 'Bidness?

Midura will not run for reelection. Also, note the list of possible contenders at the end. She's gotten burt out on the long hours, low pay, away from her family, while fighting incompetence, intransigence, and corruption. Thank you Mrs. Midura for your service to the city. Special thanks for your letter that kept the pressure on Eddie Jordan and was one of the many things that led to his resignation.

My first thought was this clears the road for Jay Batt to retake his seat on the Council. He's spent a lot of time building up his strength, he's lost a lot of weight and looks a lot healthier. He was elected to the council because everyone decided that, "Hmm. We need a pro-business Republican on the Council." He promised a grocery store for Carrolton. He gets on the council and (SURPRISE!) he takes the side of businesses over residents. Residents got shafted over the new Bruno's and the Tulane/Uptown Square acquisition (among MANY, MANY others). Suddenly, what District A needs is Anybody But Batt. The Riverbend-area residents especially hated his guts.

I will give him this: he did exactly what he said he was going to do on the council. How many politicians can say that? The will of the people was properly reflected in his first and second elections.

Jay Batt may be the front runner now, but he's still got some big hurdles to face. Residents still remember and hate him, even though he has great name recognition. Personally, I think his biggest mistake was opening his big fat mouth on Vitter's prostitution scandals. Video here. The last thing Batt needs is for people to be talking about prostitution during his race. Had he kept his mouth shut, it would have been a personal matter that would have been unfair to bring up in the race. Since he opened his mouth, there are several openings for an opponent. For example, "Mr. Batt, do you still believe Senator Vitter should step down?" If he says no, he loses the good-government/anti-corruption vote. If he says yes, then things get really interesting...

If he loses over the prostitution stuff, he has nobody to blame but himself. It was a huge tactical blunder. His reelection might have gone "out the window" with that slip.

All of that being said, Batt is a fun guy in person and I wish him the best personally. I just don't know if he's the best man for the job.

UPDATE- Don't miss Ashley Morris' bio of Jay Batt. "Jay Batt is Evil."

Also, here's one of Shelley's campaign commercials:

Batt does the boogie-woogie.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bad week for Goldman Sachs

If you haven't read The Great Bubble Machine by Matt Taibbi, take the time to do so. It's a very broad article, so it doesn't nail Goldman down as well as a more specific article and it's by no means a complete catalog of their sins, but it captures the scope of Goldman's transgressions and reach.

Goldman Sachs has called even more attention to Taibbi's piece by howling about the article. Here's Taibbi vs. Van Praag (Goldman Vice President/PR-guy nicknamed "Von Doom").

Even the NY Times noted the Goldman's PR shitstorm: The dense revolving-door conflicts of interest are appalling. Goldman is howling about Taibbi’s article, but the bottom line was articulated last week by the economic blogger Felix Salmon of Reuters. He wrote that he couldn’t “think of a single government regulation over the past couple of decades which has remotely harmed Goldman Sachs” as opposed to the many that “have done it a world of good.”

And just to cap it off, a hacker stole some of their secret trading code and shipped it to Eastern Europe.

I think the most devastating indictment of Goldman Sachs came from analyzing their trading for major clients (universities, pension funds, etc.). Zero Hedge has been tracking their trades for major clients and developed a compelling case of Goldman front running major trades. Goldman will buy up some shares, then process the (large volume) purchases for their client, then sell their front-run shares. The institutional purchase will be so large, it moves the market. Goldman is shafting their client and putting trust in the whole system at risk for a fairly small pot of money. How did Goldman respond to Zero Hedge? They pressured the NYSE to stop releasing data that caught their hand in the cookie jar.

There is one bright spot out there: among the requirements being considered in new banking regulations: extremely large reserve requirements for mega-corporations (Citi/Goldman/etc.). Now there's a regulation that would put a crimp on Goldman. If you pose a lot of risk to the system, you have to carry around extra reserves to go along with your risk. We'll see what happens with the regulation.

UPDATE: Goldman will be laughing all the way to the bank. Massive profits for the last remaining investment bank.

"At a time when the supposedly progressive party controls all the political branches of the federal government, our economy is being run like a glorified banana republic." -LGM

Meanwhile, Krugman says more signs pointing to a jobless recovery.

UPDATE 2- Goldman Sachs employee caught doing what they do best (fuck us). Unfortunately, this 15-year-old girl was actually an undercover cop.

UPDATE 3- Bashing Goldman Sachs is a Game for Fools. By Michael Lewis. Bitingly satirical take on Goldman's recent woes. Well worth your time. Lewis has been on a roll with his last few articles.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jindal gets fair warning to knock that shit off

Bobby Jindal better watch out:

(Via Reddit)

Hey reddit, I'm a photographer way down here in Louisiana and long time reddit reader. I was out shooting a poster for a movie when a lightning bolt struck right down the middle of our capitol building. Interestingly, this was the same day our governor signed off on dozens of controversial new bills. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.

Anyway, the high resolution image can be examined here:

It's one frame, 30 second exposure. The bolt struck about half a second after I tripped the shutter and it was a VERY LONG 29.5 second wait to see what turned out.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July

Beer + Gunpower =

God Bless America!

For WTF moments, dial J for Japan

RoboGeisha. H/T Jalopnik. Now I just have to figure out what the hell is going on.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Basket Transfer

Basket Transfer
Originally uploaded by Noladishu
How do you get on and off an oil rig? Well, you can take a helicopter (preferred) or you can take the boat. How do you get on the boat? Well, in the early days of the offshore industry, they had a rope and you'd go to the lowest deck and swing over to the boat like one of those horrendously dangerous rope swings from when you were a kid. No harnesses, just your hand strength. Finally someone said, 'what the fuck do you think you're doing' and now you get on and off using basket transfers.

A basket is hung from a crane. The basket is completely open, that way if it plunges in the water, you can just let go and you won't drown in the netting. You stand on a little donut and hold on. No harness. Trust me, holding on is not the issue, it's letting go. If you're exiting a platform, you do this while standing on the helideck, which is usually at least 200' above the water (at least on the bigger platforms). You hold on to the netting and stand on the platform while the basket is lowered over the water (you don't want to be lowered while over the boat, in case you fall) and then you have to let go precisely when you get near the deck, no easy feat in heavy seas.



I've only had to do a basket transfer once and it was in absolutely calm seas. The platform was fogged in and our mid-day helicopter couldn't make it. We could either wait a day for the fog to lift or take the boat. We elected to take the boat. It took hours to round up a boat. We assembled on the helideck at night. Looking down from the helideck, the sea was a long way away and pitch black. I put my gear in a locker (big chest sent down separately) and got on a life jacket. When it was my turn I stepped on to the platform and held on with all my might. You'd need an oxy-acetylene torch to break my grip. We were lowered over the ocean and you can feel every single hickup of the crane operator's brake usage. Apparently, this was his first basket transfer and it was very jerky. Like I said, holding on was not an issue. Oh yeah, and don't look down. If you're afraid of heights, they tell you not to look down (not that that's going to stop you). Got down and got to the boat. Let go. No problem.

We loaded up the boat with everyone from our platform and stopped by two other platforms. It took at least an hour to coordinate the loading at each platform. At about two or three in the morning, I took this video of a coworker who was on Cognac [PDF] doing hurricane repairs. Cognac is a fixed plaform with legs going over 1000' deep that's been producing since the late 70's (in the first offshore oil boom). It got later and later as the boat got more and more full. We eventually loaded around 80 people into a 120' long oil service boat. I teased my coworker about being on a "three hour tour" and he thought it was funny. When it got to be 4 AM and we still weren't in Port Fourchon, he wasn't amused by the "three hour tour" joke. We eventually got into port (Fourchon looks creepy that late at night).

We then had to get a "hot shot" (bus/delivery service used for parts and personnel) back to the Venice heliport, where our cars were. The bus driver was, of course, 2 hours late. He then proceeded to drive 40 mph all the way from Fourchon to Venice. Roughly 2/3 of the way through the journey, there was a riot on the bus. A bunch of oil workers, some of whom had been on a full 3 week rotation and were anxious to see their family, went up to the bus driver and threatened to throw him from the moving vehicle if he didn't speed up. I can't remember too many details because I was falling asleep in my seat. Eventually the mutiny subsided and the driver got the point and picked up speed. We got to the cars, we drove back to New Orleans, and I walked in my place in the Quarter at around 11 AM the next day. I proceeded to walk right to my bedroom and collapse face down on the bed and sleep.

... a three hour tour.

Here's some more video of basket transfers (a lot clearer than mine):