Thursday, December 27, 2012

World premieres headline Hospitality House benefit concert

Should have posted this much earlier, but if you happen to be in the Grass Valley area on Thursday, come check out trombonist Eric "Red" Starr in A Benefit for Hospitality House as he and pianist Paul Perry perform the world premieres of two new classical pieces.

Click here to read the press release, the first ever such document I've ever composed. I've read countless, but never tried to write one. Also reprinted below.

Also, I also had no idea until a few hours ago that the great Utah Phillips was a co-founder of Hospitality House, the eponymous beneficiary of Red's recital. It's a group that seeks to house the Nevada County homeless on frigid nights like this one.

A great cause, and a chance to support contemporary classical music.

Monday, December 17, 2012

No one dies in knife attack at Chinese elementary school

The tragic carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday is too devastating for words. It's just disgusting that we're almost to the point of being numb to events like this (and that we are already numb to the dozens of individual murders that happen on US streets every week). And nonsensical claims that this should not be an opportunity for a political discussion are infuriating.

The argument against using something like another mass shooting to illustrate why our maniacal gun culture needs dramatic reform often says something to the effect of: "Well, if this guy wanted to do something like this, he would have just used a knife. It's not the gun's fault."

On Friday, we happened to get this scenario in clear juxtaposition. Thousands of miles away, and hours before Adam Lanza went on his heinous spree, another man, Min Yongjun,  stabbed and slashed 23 children at an elementary school in Henan province, China.

The difference between the two? No one died in the Chinese attack because Min did not have a gun. Guns are simply more destructive, and when they are used in mass attacks, the death toll is certain to skyrocket.

The attack in China is no less heinous than the one in the US, and is actually the latest chapter in a disturbing trend of mass knife attacks in the Asian country. But the questions and incomprehensibility that underlie both of these incidents is the same - why would someone do this? The answer, if there is one, will be found in a tough examination of mental health on an individual and community basis. The answer may very likely never be found. In the meantime, attacks will no doubt continue. The question that must be answered immediately is: Do we want potential attackers to have easy access to guns with which they can shoot up a school, or a mall or a theater. Or should we force them to find some other, probably less deadly, means of carrying out their terror plots? It's a grim choice, but is not a difficult one.

For the US, that pesky second amendment will continue to complicate efforts to reach a sensible solution. I have no idea how it will happen, and like President Obama said tonight in a tear-jerking vigil  for the 26 murdered victims in Newtown, Connecticut, there is no single law or policy that will change the situation we currently find ourselves in. It will take a cultural shift.

Meanwhile, there are recent indications that the rock-solid foundation of the gun lobby is fracturing ever so slightly. In many southern states where gun laws are very lax, conservative politicians are being forced to choose sides in measures that would make it legal to keep guns in a car in parking lots while people are at work. The business communities in many of these states, heavily courted by so many conservatives, are not pleased with the potential laws, saying they infringe on their private property rights, according to the Wall Street Journal. Who knows what this means in the larger context. But a divided front could potentially open up some movement in a conversation that has been dominated so much by the one side as to render the 'debate' stagnant.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Losing Omar again

Omar is dead.

Fans of The Wire and the world at large have lost Omar Little, for real this time.

Donnie Andrews, the man who was a primary inspiration for one of the most beloved characters on one of the most acclaimed TV shows works of literature in a generation passed away last week at age 58.

Donnie and Fran
If you are unfamiliar with Donnie, he played one of the guys who protects Omar when he goes to prison in Season 4, and then teams up with the stick-up boy later when he's out for revenge. (One of my favorite scenes in the series remains the one where Omar and Donnie are sitting in a car on a stakeout and Donnie is singing along with the radio. Just so sweet and simple and illustrative of an inherently benevolent soul.)

He, among others, was the inspiration for David Simon and Ed Burns when they conceived of the Omar character - a street thug with a conscience who robs drug dealers with high-calibre firearms.

Donnie's story is one that deserves to be preserved in the annals of literature (he did, in fact, survive a jump/fall from a six-story window to avoid a shootout). Turn to the pros for the details - the Baltimore Sun has the most comprehensive obit; the New York Times does a solid job too.

This, from the Times, would seem cheesy and contrived if it was in a TV show. As a true event, it's devastating:

Mr. Andrews was known for drug dealing and audacious robberies in West Baltimore in the 1970s and early ’80s. In September 1986, he agreed to kill a drug dealer for a rival to support his heroin habit. It was his first murder.
“My gun jammed,” Mr. Andrews told The New York Times in 2007. “So the guy was lying on the ground, and it gave him a chance to look me in the eye, and he said, ‘Why?’ ”        
Mr. Andrews killed the man but was haunted by his question. Months later, he turned himself in to Edward Burns, a Baltimore homicide detective. In 1987, he was sentenced to life in prison.    

Donnie would go on to reform himself in prison, working from inside to stop the violence on the streets and reaching out to youths and drug addicts to help get them on the right track.

My favorite arc in Donnie's story is a relationship he developed with another of Simon's protagonists, Fran Boyd from the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (if you have not read it yet, just do it).

The Times has covered this story very well, and you should read about it here. The short version is that Simon and Burns put Donnie in touch with Fran while she was in the throes of drug addiction. They talked regularly while he was still in prison, and it was partly his inspiration that helped her get clean. She, Simon and others lobbied hard for his early release, which he was granted in 2005. In 2007, Fran and Donnie were married, and David Simon was the best man. Read the wedding announcement in the Times here.

Unfortunately, it has been an increasingly difficult year for poor Fran. In August, her son DeAndre died at age 35 of an apparent drug overdose. DeAndre was another of the protagonists in The Corner and he lived a life that vacillated, almost moment to moment, between hope and despair (he also appeared in The Wire (as did Fran) as Brother Mouzone's bodyguard, Lamar, incidentally). Read David Simon's heartbreaking obituary of DeAndre here. This is real life that still aches beyond fades to black.

My sincerest thoughts and prayers for Fran. She is a survivor and a hero. Let her strength endure.

(Picture is from Donnie's anti-violence organization Why Murder?)

Friday, December 14, 2012

'You are trying to experience disorientation and panic': a lesson in helicopter survival

In the event that I am aboard a helicopter that crashes into the sea, I can survive. I'm certified.

Last week I took a trip over to Robert, Louisiana, where Shell Oil has a large training facility for most everything related to offshore oil production. It was the command center when BP's Macondo well blew out, sunk a rig and led to one of the worst oil spills in history. It's a place dedicated to education and safety - you are even required to back in to all parking spots to minimize the risk of auto collisions (a requirement, a later learned, that is actually common at work sites throughout the oil industry).

It is also home to one of the Gulf Coast's most renowned centers for HUET training, or Helicopter Underwater Egress Training. It is a class required of most everyone who might ever go offshore in a helicopter. Of course, that population is made up almost entirely of people who work in the oil industry - not just the roughnecks and roustabouts that work on the drilling rigs and production platforms but also the crews of supply ships and support vessels for those same facilities. And of course the parasite reporters who cover such things.

Shell had invited me and a couple other reporters to come check out the Noble Bully I drillship, which is drilling for the oil company about 70 miles off the Louisiana coast at the Ursa/Mars prospect in the Gulf of Mexico. It would take about a day to get there by boat, but only an hour or so by helicopter. Since we'd be flying over water - and since helicopters have a nasty habit of, well, crashing - we needed to be trained in escape.

The class kicked off around 7 am and began with a few terrifying videos of sinking sea ships and fleeing sailors. That was enough to get us to pay attention. The instructor said, quite soberly, that the most important thing you need to have in order to survive is something worth surviving for. For him, it was his wife, kids and grandkids. Maybe it's a girlfriend, he said. Maybe it's a cherry car. Whatever it is, you need to keep that thing in mind at all times if disaster does strike.

We proceeded to learn some nifty survival stats and strategies. The instructor extolled the virtues of life jackets, which may seem kinda obvious. But it turns out that, especially in cold waters (less than 59 degrees F), a life jacket can triple your chances of survival. In waters that cold, you won't survive more than one or two hours because the coldness will wear your body down. But with a jacket, even in frigid seas, you can survive up to six hours. Don't take 'em for granted.

Other tips: If there is a group of you lost at sea, lock arms in a circle and kick in three- to five-second blasts to create a pulse effect. It creates a target of whitecaps visible from the air. Kick in short bursts so it looks like a signal. Also, beware of static electricity caused by chopper blades when they lower a cable to pull you from the water - it'll travel right down the cord and the hook. Let the hook hit the water first so the static electricity dissipates.

That's all helpful info, of course, but that is not the aspect of HUET that gets the people buzzing. In the afternoon, we moved to the pool. We performed progressively harder underwater tasks like swimming through doors, inflating our coveralls as a flotation device, and so on. Then came the main event - the dunking.

The pool is equipped with the shell and spartan innards of a faux-helicopter cabin attached to a mechanism that lowers and spins the whole contraption upside down. Four of us at a time sat in seats inside, strapped in by a seatbelt, and were instructed on how to jettison the windows and the doors. After punching them out, you must find and grip a reference point so you don't get more disoriented and can find your way out when the frigid seawater rushes in (although we were in a heated pool during training).

"You are trying to experience disorientation and panic," the instructor told us.

And so there we were, strapped in to our simulated disaster cab. "Brace for impact!" someone shouts.

"Brace! Brace! Brace!"

We clutch our seat belts for dear life as the vessels crashes into the surface of the water. The cabin quickly fills. It's up to our ankles and then our knees, and then the whole thing starts to flip. Stomach, shoulders, neck - quick! take a breath because it may be your last! - and we're submerged, and still flipping.

Air bubbles everywhere as the water shoots up my nose and into my ears. The disorientation is kicking in heavily now. We must wait before the violence subsides and the vessel comes to rest before we can punch out the windows. We must remain strapped in even through this so the rush of water does not throw toss us around the cabin.

I'm upside down and searching for the handle that's supposed to jettison the door. I can't find it. Panic is beginning. Somehow my hand glances it and I'm able to push it open as my stolen breath moments earlier at the surface is reaching the end of its life span. I weakly get the door off and clutch for the seat belt latch. It comes off stubbornly and, using the reference point of the top of the open doorway, I push myself out and barely make it to the surface - arms flailing, as instructed, to clear the path of any potential debris from the crash - and gasp for breath. Safe. Alive.

Click here to see my video of what happens (on the surface). 

This is not embellished. I actually needed a little assistance from the scuba team that served as a safety net for this particular run-through. I had to do it again in order to pass the class, and pulled it off slightly smoother, or at least with less panic and no help from the scuba guy. The upside down thing is tough because, to jettison the door, you have to reach down a bit to find the latch. When upside down, you actually have to reach up a bit. It's tricky when disoriented to begin with.

Nevertheless, I am now certified. Two days later, I and some of my classmates flew out. We made it to the rig and back with no problems, thankfully. But I knew that, if we ditched, I would have shit my pants.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Tales of a plumbing refugee

We have been having plumbing problems for a while at our house here in Montrose. It's the bottom floor of a rented duplex on Sul Ross & Hazard. It started with a backed up sink, and then a backed up shower. As the problem worsened, nastier and nastier water started to fill the various basins in the house. A plumber would come and clean out the pipes, the problem would subside for a few weeks, and then it would return.

Fast forward to last week. We had spent Thanksgiving break in Big Bend National Park, which is pretty much the most incredible place I've ever seen. But it's a long way away. So after driving in the car for about 10 hours, we got home a little after midnight to find the plumbing issue had come to a head.

A foul odor was coming from the bathroom. I turned on the light to find the tile floor crusted about a half-inch think with... raw fucking sewage. It was mostly toilet paper, caked and soggy, but there were unmistakable globules of feces scattered about, as if some deranged easter bunny had come in and shit in secret corners and left his deposits there to crust over. The toilet and floor were covered in this stinking sludge. A thick black gunk covered the bathtub, which would not drain. It stunk. It was one of the most disgusting scenes I could imagine. (The image to the right was taken several weeks ago, but that is the sludge that had been flowing into our tub every so often. We came home to find our entire bathroom covered in this stuff - plus shit.)

Our landlord has been handling it, to her credit. She sent over a cleaner who spent about two hours scrubbing the shit out of the bathroom (literally) with a big bottle of bleach. She has put us up at a nice bed and breakfast just a block down the street, the Modern B&B, which is quite a nice place (and recommended). The chef makes the best omelet I've probably ever had, made to order. It all seemed well and good, just a relatively minor (if momentarily repulsive) inconvenience. Until...

Late Thursday afternoon I got a panicked call at work from the landlord. The plumbers had to replace a chunk of the sewer line because a tree had grown up right on one of the connections to the house and the roots had run rampant over the tree's 30-year lifespan. Obviously a substantial operation that required permits from the city because of nearby power and gas lines.

"Is the dog inside?" my landlord asked. Yes. "Can you come and let him out? I don't have a key and there's a gas leak. The fire department is here." I was about 30 minutes away. She said she would break down the door and rescue the dog if she needed to. This minor inconvenience had just turned into a life-threatening emergency.

CenterPoint, the local utility, had come the day before to mark off where the gas and power lines were. But apparently they mis-marked. The plumbers, digging with a shovel, nicked a gas line. It started spewing gas; apparently you could hear the hissing. You could smell it five blocks away. When I got home, fire trucks and policemen had blocked off the road for a block in both directions. The house next door was evacuated (ours was empty aside from the dog). Eventually the leak was stopped and the house was deemed safe to re-enter. Inside I had a newspaper, unread at the time, with a story about an explosion, initially blamed on a leaking gas line, that leveled an entire neighborhood in Indianapolis. O saw the story the next day, and shuddered.

Thankfully, the story remains only a frightening hypothetical. But it could have been devastating, and an unforeseeable conclusion to what started out as a simple plumbing annoyance (maybe not so simple, but still). We are still staying at the B&B; the plumbers, I think, were spooked because they have not been back to work since. I'm pretty sure the sole blame lies with CenterPoint because of their shoddy marking job. That's inexcusable. What's worse, when the landlord called them immediately after the leak was discovered, it took them more than an hour and a half to show up and set things straight. Luckily the fire department was able to stop the leak, but how that doesn't qualify as an urgent emergency that requires immediate action, I have no idea.

Anyway, we are all safe, and still essentially homeless, or, at least, unable to use what is actually now a very clean bathroom.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Deerhoof is the perfect band

Somehow I forgot how much I love Deerhoof. I was lucky enough to catch them on their way through Houston earlier this month at the new Walter's near all the art studio/warehouses on the north end of downtown.

It was not a full house. A friend who was potentially going to come along (and did not, his foolish mistake) asked if it would sell out. I was couldn't say for sure. In retrospect, I guess Deerhoof is not exactly the kind of band that packs 'em in. Their shows are a sort of performance art, from the awesome arm-pump-leg-kick dance moves of lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki to the furious and fascinating drum explosions of Greg Saunier. What's happening on stage somehow perfectly describes the chaotic but carefully crafted soundscape that emerges from the four band members. Deerhoof is often noted for being difficult to classify or described. I find myself experiencing that difficulty this very moment...

In Houston, they dished out generous helpings of what I consider their hits from The Runners Four and Friend Opportunity, as well as some of the hottest tracks from their latest, Breakup Songs. For me it was just one euphoric explosion after another, experienced in the tight three-minute pop-song format that they have upended, reassembled and reinvented into something wholly unique. There is no one else like them.

Pre-show, my wife and I were lingering around the merch table when Satomi casually seated herself and remarked on my wife's shirt. We realized who she was and couldn't help but relay to her that we had seen them twice in Vancouver, six years ago, with the first show being the first concert we had ever attended together. She seemed pleased to hear it. On the table were the usual vinyl recordings and T-shirts, but also something that is truly a blast from the past - a cassette tape containing the band's latest album, for $6. If you buy the tape you also get the mp3s, so it's actually a better deal than iTunes, plus you get a hardcopy. We were swayed.

Leave it to Deerhoof to take an idea that seems abrasive and turn it into something that's just perfect.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Halliburton exec gets off

In a truly unexpected turn of events, given the circumstances, the Halliburton tax executive who got caught with his pants down (allegedly) trying to solicit a prostitute north of Houston has had his court case dismissed.

A Harris County jury came back hung after prosecutors presented the case, which hinged on a sting operation by the Sheriff's department. It seemed fairly straightforward: cops pose as online hookers, find johns willing to pay them, set up a meet, agree to swap cash for services, handcuffs come out, and that's that. This time, somewhere along the line, the case fell apart.

CultureMap reported that Joseph Andolino's lawyer said the undercover officer who testified against the senior vice president of tax was not a credible witness. The lawyer accused her of altering officer reports and destroying evidence. The upshot: Andolino is a free and, in the eyes of the court, innocent man.

Not much more has emerged from the case than this, and you can be sure that Halliburton is happy to have it swept under the rug. If nothing else, it's some pretty rock-solid lawyering.

One other amusing part of the story, as the Houston Business Journal reported: This alleged solicitation, assuming it actually happened in the first place, would have occurred right around lunch time no a Thursday afternoon (Andolino and six others were arrested at 1pm). Let's just say that is a helluva lunch meating (or would/could have been).

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Add Minus the Bear to your list of live bands (or: How to find a paying fan)

Minus the Bear has for years been on my list of band to see live. Their entry onto that list and my introduction to them occurred simultaneously. I have always remembered it as an example of the right way to disseminate and monetize music, proof that even in the era of post-physical music media, there is a way to cheaply find new - and hopefully paying - fans.

It was the summer of 2006 and I was making the drive from Northern California to Vancouver, BC, where I was a grad student. Minus the Bear's eponymous classic Menos El Oso had recently hit stores. I was only vaguely familiar with the band by name only, but somehow managed to get an in-studio performance they did at KEXP in Seattle downloaded onto my iPod. (I think I had subscribed to the radio station's podcast feed and it magically appeared there.) I decided to give the 30-minute podcast a shot and was subsequently blown away by what I heard. The podcast host was very enthusiastic about the band as well, which no doubt colored my impression. But it was undeniably good, unique and interesting music. Before I busted across the border, I decided to rid myself of the remaining American cash I had and headed to a record store somewhere there in the Pacific Northwest. The glitchy delays of "The Game Needed Me" from the in-studio were still echoing in my mind and I happily threw down enough bones to buy the CD (as well as The Avalanche by Sufjan Stephens, which is also solid). It's a purchase I never regretted, and those tunes carried me throughout my final year of J-school.

Fast forward to last Thursday and I found out with only a few hours to spare that Minus the Bear would be playing that night at Warehouse Live in Houston. With nothing better to do, I went and checked them out.

First of all, I had no idea they had such a dedicated following. That's a hard venue to sell out, and I don't think it did, but the place was utterly hopping with gleeful fanatics - people packed in, just giddy with anticipation. It was one of those electric pre-show atmospheres where people are just so excited to see the band that they let out a pre-emptive cheer before anyone is even on the stage. When the band finally did emerge, almost every song turned into some sort of singalong followed by sincere, unadulterated gratitude in the form of ovation. 

And they deserved it. They were tight.  Guitarist Dave Knudson is the real deal, a joy to watch and listen to. The most telling sign of the loyalty of their fan base (or perhaps an indication of the crowd's intoxication level, which was notably high) came when the band seemed to fuck up the end of one song. Not being very familiar with many tracks other than those from Menos el Oso, I didn't notice anything at first. But the song did seem to end rather abruptly, and the band members were looking around a bit sheepishly. It was then that a deafening uproar arose from the crowd, possibly the loudest moment of the night. Slightly baffled at this reaction, lead singer Jake Snider just kind of laughed, amazed. "Most people woulda said, 'I caught you,'" he said, still riding the wave of support the crowd was offering. The band then proceeded into the next song as if nothing had happened, and no one seemed the wiser.

As I said, I recognized a total of maybe four songs, including "My Time", which I had listened to for the first time only moments before I left for the show. While enjoyment of a concert is usually directly proportional to one's familiarity with the music, I still had a blast. I would see them again. The enthusiasm of the crowd definitely helped. There was more crowd surfing than you might expect from a mathy stoner-rock band like this one. There must have been a half dozen bodies hoisted up to ride the sweaty whitecaps, all told. Houston is apparently some sort of bastion of Minus the Bear fandom. The band acknowledged as much at the end of the show.

For me, it was the climax of a simple story set in this unsettled era of popular music - I heard the band in a promotional spot, liked the music, bought the music, enjoyed it, and then went to seem them play it.  If nothing else, it offers hope to young bands out there trying to make it. I guess it helps if you have something original to offer, as Minus the Bear surely does. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Giants win the pennant! - a fairweather reflection

I've been a fan of the San Francisco Giants my whole life, but I still like I'm fairweather.

It's just hard for me to follow baseball anymore. I invest so much time and energy into the NFL and NBA seasons, I feel like I need to take the summer off. Baseball is the biggest grind - day in, day out - for both the players and the fans. The game, to me, is compelling for its tradition, its longevity, its role as the presumptive pastime of our nation (even if that unofficial role was usurped by football long ago).

I took my wife to the first baseball game she had ever seen. It was in Beijing, during the Olympics. The match was between South Korea and the Netherlands (the Asians mercy-ruled the poor Europeans in four or five innings I think). She grew up in China and had absolutely no concept of what was happening - the strike count, a fly ball, running the bases, all abstract nonsense. These are things that most Americans seem to understand at birth. But when I tried to explain it to her, I found myself getting confused when trying to describe even the most basic concepts. It's a game that is incredibly intuitive in a lot of ways, but to explain it somehow saps it of its magic. It's really quite ineffable, and is much better experienced sensually and through cliche - the crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, the hot summer evenings, the fleeting moments of intense focus broken up by zen-like re-adjustments of a glove or tracing shapes in the dirt with your cleats. It's because of those things, and not my failed attempt to explain what was actually happening, that my wife had a blast that day - just a nice afternoon at the ballpark. It's simple, possibly even pointless, but so much depends on it.

But I digress - the fact is that the Giants are world champions for the second time in three years, which incredibly puts them in league with some of the greatest teams ever to swing the collective bat. (I can't help but wonder what would have happened last year if Buster Posey hadn't suffered that brutal leg injury... I want to say three-peat.) They are a thrilling team to watch, packed with colorful characters, and so obviously a cohesive unit. A model sports franchise, in my opinion. I just wish I could consider myself a bigger fan.

I did go watch them play when they were in Houston for a series late in the summer. They won, obviously, and by the 8th inning, there were only Giants fans left at Minute Maid Park, quite a few by my counting. Now the Astros are moving to the American League, which disgusts me partly because I have no use for the AL and its ridiculous DH, but mostly because that leaves me with precious few opportunities to see my favorite team play in the flesh, save for the odd inter-league series every few years.

And one more thing - the Giants' championship run this year made me a little sad because it came only a few weeks after my cousin, who was just a few months older than me, passed away after a painfully short battle with cancer. He was one of the biggest Giants fans I knew, and he deserved to see them win one more. The romantic in me assures the cynic that he was watching from some cloud up there, or perhaps from a different dimension entirely. And maybe he was. It's just too bad his physical self was not here to join us in rejoicing. He would have led the cheers. We miss you Nathan.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Downhole services - Halliburton tax man gets stung near Houston

A senior Halliburton executive got caught with his pants down in a seedy area north of Houston this month when an online dalliance led to handcuffs and a mugshot.

Joseph Andolino was allegedly soliciting the wrong kind of downhole services and found himself snagged in an undercover prostitution sting that netted six other men, according to a release from the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

He appeared in court on Friday and his lawyer said he was not guilty. A hearing was rescheduled for October 30.

Halliburton tax man Joseph Andolino, caught
allegedly soliciting illicit downhole services
The 59-year-old is listed among the oilfield-services giant's top corporate executives with a title of Senior Vice President - Tax. The company has confirmed that Andolino "is a Halliburton executive".

It was unclear whether Andolino's time with the pressure pumping pros would have a happy ending.

"We expect our officers and employees to maintain high standards of professional and personal conduct, but we do not comment on personal matters," a Halliburton spokesman said.

In the sting, female deputies with the vice squad posed as online escorts and arranged to meet Andolino, among others, at a location near north-bound Interstate 45 and Farm-to-Market road 1960, an area near Houston known for whores and human trafficking.

"Once the suspects arrived and made an agreement with the undercover deputies to receive sexual services in exchange for money, they were arrested," the Sheriff's department said, adding that all seven men nabbed in the sting were charged for prostitution.

Forays into sexual transgression is not exactly an uncommon thing in the oil industry. Just consider the names of some old and existing oilfield outfits and brands: BJ Services, Thrustmaster, Ballgrab... the list goes on. Back in the day, oil conferences were not the stuffy corporate glad-hand parties they are now, but flesh-fests teeming with loose and busty women selling the hottest downhole tools. 

I heard one story the other day (unconfirmed) of a top executive with one of Halliburton's competitors who was sent to Venezuela to negotiate a contract. Business is apparently still done the old-school way down there, and the executive was surely treated to the finest food and the tastiest strip clubs Caracas could offer. One particular pole dancer mesmerized him, and he fell madly in love. Apparently his wife and kids were in town along with him on a work holiday of sorts. the exec divorced his wife within days, swearing his love and life to the woman who had captivated him so by stripping on stage and shaking her stuff. 

Ballgrab, for offshore mooring
Oilmen are probably no more likely to have a dirty sex streak than other professionals. Anytime a buncha dudes sit around for days on end without a female for miles will give in to unhealthy urges of varying shades of moral gray. The booming Bakken oilfields of North Dakota are not just putting the nation's roustabouts to work; prostitutes are flocking from across the country to ply their trade in the man camps up north.

I guess there is something about guys who make a living probing holes deeply with powerful tools to the point of a sticky liquid explosion, all over your hands, your face... It's hard work.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An 'inelegant' debate

Talk about "inelegant" phrasing.

The term that defenders of Mitt Romney et al have used to explain the Republican's tone-deaf and often dismissive statements applies ten fold to what Sierra Club lobbyist Melinda Pierce told Politico reporter Andrew Restuccia about the uber-controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

This is what she  said:

“Clearly, if the president were to go forward and approve the project even after review has shown that it’s damaging to the environment  ... we’ll call a spade a spade.

A spade, huh? Ouch. 

The story is about how green groups are acknowledging that their supposed win in January, when the Obama administration did not approve the pipeline, won't amount to much when he almost assuredly goes ahead and approves it early next year (assuming he is re-elected). This seems like a foregone conclusion to me. 

The only reason Obama denied the original application was because Republicans forced his hand with a provision in an otherwise unrelated highway bill saying that he had to decide within 60 days whether to grant a permit for the pipeline. When forced, he said 60 days was not enough time to finish a review of the environmental impact of the pipeline, and denied the the application. 

This was an unintended political gift for Obama because it allowed him to burnish his green credentials and fire up a large portion of his base. In his heart of hearts, I think he knows the pipeline is an inevitability, and to fight it would give his opponents easy fodder to attack him on issues like jobs and the economy, where he has proven vulnerable. 

The main argument against the pipeline is that it will speed up development of Canada's vast and filthy oil sands, which is one of the biggest deposits of oil in the world. There are all kinds of environmental concerns associated with the oil sands, most of them valid. Keystone opponents say the US should reject the pipeline and the oil it brings so as not to promote oil-sands development. The problem is that the Canadians will not stop producing the stuff either way, and the oil will eventually have to go somewhere. So why not bring it here? Not accepting it on principle is not a very salient argument against it because, economically, it's a bit naive. Furthermore, we already import almost a quarter of our total oil from Canada (2.7 million barrels per day last year, according to EIA), and a big chunk of that is from the oil sands. Keystone would allow more Canadian oil to flow to the US, it's true. But so much already does.

I'm pretty ambivalent on the whole thing. I'm not wild about the oil sands in general, but I also know that there is no stopping their exploitation, and the US will need that oil no matter what. Whoever the next president is will approve the pipeline, I think that's a given. Obama has been able to parlay the issue into a political victory, and when he (seemingly) reverses course, well, apparently he will be called a "spade" for it. Nothing elegant about that.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An unambitious reboot

In what is something like my tenth effort to restart this blog after, again, failing to maintain even the slightest shred of continuity, well, here I go again.

Yes, I have moved on in life. I spent the better part of three years in China and Singapore and moved back to the US at the end of 2010. I re-emerge married, with a dog, and living in Houston, writing online for an international oil and gas newspaper. Meanwhile, the Leaner has fallen into disrepair.

This new iteration will no doubt reflect my interests as they exist now. I suppose they are not a whole lot different than the last time I felt the need to spout off into cyberspace. But my work as an energy reporter skews my interest toward the mechanisms that fuel our world. So readers, if there are any, can expect a fairly regular dose of commentary related to energy news of the moment, if not the day.

My professional focus on energy and business has no doubt colored my viewpoint of how the world works compared to how I approached things years ago. I am not such a bleeding lefty in terms of economics (mainly because I understand economics better) and I hold a grudging respect for the forces that power our world despite the often ugly means to vital ends. Maybe living in Texas had made me more sympathetic to the "other" side as well.

Nevertheless, the Left Coast Leaner will maintain its moniker, primarily because I don't feel like coming up with a new one. But it is obviously geographically inaccurate, for the time being, and possibly a slight political stretch. But I am still fiercely on the side of the social liberals and believe in a big, well-funded government. I believe renewable energy is the way of the future, and should be helped along as such, but am also quite certain that our hydrocarbon-based society is not going away in our lifetime and to believe otherwise is just fanciful. I have no patience for truth-benders and fanatics on either side of any argument. I value and respect style and precision, but am also lazy. I will be a Sacramento Kings fan until they move to Seattle or Anaheim next year (and probably even still then), and I think the Maloof brothers are evil, incompetent fucks. I like movies, I like books, I like sports and music.

This reboot, assuming it takes, will be a work in progress; blogger has a lot more features now than it did two years ago. I will start with the writing part, and I guess go from there. I'm not that great a blogger, in part because I don't read that many blogs or websites outside fantasy sports analysis. I read the Wall Street Journal and Houston Chronicle and the New Yorker in hardcopies, and countless press releases and RSS feeds at work.

I'd be happy if you joined me.

By the way, I will most certainly keep up my old standards of absolutely untimely posts, possibly focusing on events that occurred weeks or months prior. I am doing this solely for the sake of getting words on (virtual) paper and breaking the corrosive rhythms of my increasingly predictable life. I don't really expect many people to read, but am grateful for those who do (and even more so for those who come back).

And one final disclaimer: this blog in no way reflects the views of anyone affiliated with my employer (or my employer itself) and all thoughts expressed here are mine only.