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.