February 2, 2008

Spanish Town Parade

This weekend I experienced my first "real" Mardi Gras Parade in "The Rouge." It was a gorgeous day and got a slight sunburn, but thats alright! I came away with 89 strands of beads and only had to flash the chest once...ok no I didn't but I wanted to! I figured out that you need two things if you want to get lots of beads (my beads were literally dumped on my head, skewing the results). So what is it that you need to get plentiful supplies of beads? 1.) Clevage, lots and lots of clevage, and 2.) a small cute kid sitting on your shoulders. So there you go! Be sure to check out more photos here.


February 1, 2008

Dominica's "Resource Curse"

I recently posted about my disappointment of the government of Dominica to accepting to build an oil refinery for Venezuela. It is hard to get steady news streams from Dominica but there are a few people who are keeping information abreast of what is happening on the island. Check out Dominican View, Living Dominica or Dominica Oil to get some snapshots of what has been happening, but unfortunately there is no good single outlet of information. But that’s what makes if fun!

Recently I stumbled upon an article in Newsweek that talks about the "resource curse" associated with oil and other valuable commodities like diamonds or gold. This is a discussion that I have had several times with my friend Bob, who is working in the industry over in Azerbaijan and has seen the effects of this first hand. It is hard, for an outsider, to understand the bizarre and often backward thinking of countries with VAST amounts of reserves of commodities (mostly oil). For some reason, these countries seem to routinely have poorly run governments that are incapable of investing in the long-term good of the country, instead a select few line their pockets with plush funds. Nigeria is probably the best example of this, but the list seems to never end.

Unfortunately, monetary policy of countries is governed by the principal that to be 'developed' one must strive to meet certain 'standards' that are based on monetary derived figures like GDP, per capita income, etc. If you do not meet these standards (coincidently defined by western cultures and ideals) you are considered 'poor,' 'underdeveloped' or '3rd World.' This leads countries to develop shady and unsustainable economic policies (loans from bigger 'prosperous' countries) to bring their countries into the 'developed.' The most common result is the upward mobility of a select few and general population that is worse off than when they were '3rd world' and the country in complete shambles.

So how does this all link to Dominica and the proposed refinery? Dominica does not have a supply of oil, gas, diamonds, or gold in which it can tap into for funds for which to "develop" the country. But Dominica does have a HUGE resource of something that is scarce in today’s hustle and bustle...Great people and Great natural beauty. Unfortunately Dominica has been labeled a "developing" country and the government is trying desperately to provide for its people, which deserve major kudos. BUT, just like the governments of other resource rich countries, Dominica is squandering its resources, in this case its natural beauty, to provide a quick fix and inject money into the economy. The reason why people come to Dominica is because of its friendly people, towering peaks and its lush, never-ending forests. The sustainable eco-tourism business on Dominica can work, but like many other countries before it, Dominica seems to be leaning towards policies that seem good in the short run, but will cost it dearly in the end. Therefore Dominica too, is cursed by having such a wonderful and plentiful resources that will most likely (but hopefully not) be squandered away because of a few bad choices at the hands of political figureheads...i.e. Skerrit and Chavez.

January 31, 2008

Grande Venti Low Fat No Whip Rethinking

Starbucks is facing an identity crisis of sorts. I just finished an interesting book called "Grande Expectations: A year in the life of Starbucks Stocks." It is a great read that peals back the curtains and dives into markets, stocks, and history of the company. The book gives you a good feel for what Starbucks was, where it is now, and what it wants to become. There are "Grande Expectations," so to speak, for the company, especially in China. Starbucks plans to be the first company ever to open 40,000, yes you read that right, 40,000 stores worldwide, with a huge push in the next few years into the Asian and Latin American markets.

With such ambitious goals of opening so many stores, usually in the 1,200-1,500 stores a year, several harbingers became clearer and would start to erode Starbucks market share. Cheaper competitors with better quality coffee, the loss of the handmade feel of the coffee preparation process, and a saturation of the product, has led to decreased sales and traffic in many stores. Saturation is evident here in "The Rouge" (I live within a mile of 2 Starbucks and one location in particular: Manhattan! In 2007, Mark Malkoff hit all 171 Starbucks in Manhattan in 24 hours, crazy feat and pretty impressive pace (hitting a store every seven minutes for over 20 hours!).

The aura that is Starbucks has been crumbling, due in large part (my opinion and many others) by getting away from their core business, the coffee experience! Combine poor quality coffee and the herd like mentality of getting in, ordering, and getting out as fast as possible has made Starbucks more of a high end convenience store than an experience. It was this experience that drew people into Starbucks to experience the smells, the sounds, the "Barista's," and still get them to drop $4 for a iced coffee drink with a fancy name. Many people noted that it wasn't a store, but it became a "3rd" place between work and home where one would meet friends and family. But now you are bombarded with Starbuckian corporate pushes for music, movies, drinking vessels and food. Its no longer an experience, but merely a place where you go for just a cup of coffee.

Now it is up to the founder and former, but now current, CEO Howard Schultz to drag and refine the Starbucks image. Is is up to him to recreate that excitement of going into a Starbucks and talking with the barista to decide what it is you are going to get. Mr. Schultz agrees that Starbucks is lost and I feel that there will be many long nights filled with Grande Venti Low Fat No Whip Rethinking going on in the world that is Starbucks.

January 30, 2008

www.Cuts, Cannabis, and a dab of Oil

Today's title is a little bit cryptic, but hopefully by the end of the post you'll see how they all piece together. Today was just kind of a strange day news wise and well work was kind of boring. We have a huge documentation project that is due. It feels like that very last term paper at the end of the semester that you have to turn in in about 5 hours and you have yet to start. You don't want to do it, yet you know have to get it done...

School children in the Middle East at least had a good excuse as to why they couldn't get their term papers done. Somehow an underwater cable was "disrupted" and internet access across the Middle East was lost. I have yet to hear if it has been restored. Why doesn't something cool like that happen on a Monday morning here? Surely our internet here in "The Rouge" is connected through a huge cable in the Gulf of Mexico. C'mon oil companies, sever that line for us!! Speaking of oil, the annual EIA (Energy Information Administration) released its weekly oil inventory report. The report made oil trade mixed on the day because investors were digesting information on this report and what the fed was going to do with interest rates, which were cut by another 0.5% again today. The oil report showed that crude inventories rose and is starting to close in on the high end of the 30 year averages for stockpiles.

BUT there is bad news on the horizon as refiners are switching over to "summer blend" production and many analysts predict that the cost of gas is likely to skyrocket in the coming days (for California) and months ahead. MTBE, an additive that is no longer used in summer blend gasoline, has been phased out in favor of Alkylate, which is a petroleum product. Shortages of the product have driven up prices in the past two springs and it looks as though it is going to happen again. Some believe that the average price of gas will top $3.50 for the NATIONAL AVERAGE! So I guess this is our warning to start saving now. Oh yea, when is that economic stimulus check coming in the mail?
Two interesting things I think you should check out on EIA website is the weekly petroleum stock supply and the EIA Short Term Energy Outlook. The stock supply, not counting the Strategic Reserve, is somewhere around 20 days. This means that at current refinery utilization, we could run those refineries at their current 4 week average capacity and have enough feed stock for only 3 weeks. Gasoline supplies are roughly in the same neighborhood. Check out, the graphs show lots of interesting trends that you just don't hear about in the news! The second thing is the Short Term Energy Outlook. Just to wet your whistle, take a look at this excerpt.

"Global oil markets will likely remain tight through 2008, then ease moderately in 2009. EIA projects that world oil demand will continue to grow faster than oil supply outside of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2008, leaving OPEC and inventories to offset the upward pressure on prices. In 2009, higher non-OPEC production and planned additions to OPEC capacity should relieve some of the tightness in the market. As a result, the level of surplus production capacity is projected to grow from its current level of under 2 million barrels per day (bbl/d) to more than 4 million bbl/d by the end of 2009"

Does anyone know where this extra surplus is currently being developed and will be online in '09? Interesting outlook and should be interesting to see how it pans out. The EIA also predicts that the average price of crude for '08 to be somewhere near $87 a barrel. Will we see $100 oil again soon? Bets anyone?
Finally I never thought I would write about pot in my blog, but just a mere 30 days into this project and I am writing about it. It appears that in some select locations in Los Angeles you can purchase (as long as you have the creds. man) to buy medicinal marijuana out of a vending machine. You know how vending machines tend to tease you when you purchase something; you know what I'm talking about, the little arm spins, the M&M's get close to the edge and..............opp it gets stuck right...at...the...edge. Just bang on the glass a little, and maybe they will teeter. Question is, what happens when your dime bag gets stuck? Ah the interesting converstations you could think of with that thought! :-)

January 29, 2008

Like a 29 cent stamp...

How many of you out there dread going to the Post Office, raise your hands now...Unless you live in some small town where nobody mails anything, then you know what I'm talking about. You have your package ready (you hope) addressed (did I put the right zip code on it?) and you stand for what seems like HOURS waiting for that wonderful word: "Next."

A few years back I was pretty stoked when USPS announced they would install automated mailing centers to help reduce congestion and lines. You just go, set your package on the scale type thing push a few buttons and BAM, you were on your way! I have found in "The Rouge" that these machines are a crock of crap. They don't tell you upfront that they can not print the small postage labels UNTIL the very last step before you pay for the postage. What the heck is that all about? I believe the employees sabotage the automated centers so that you are forced to come at their specified hours and wait in line, a.k.a. Job Security. BUT you could at least buy stamps at a vending machine type outlet so that was nice right?..............well NOT ANY MORE.

I just found out today, though this appears to have been going on for sometime, that the USPS is removing those automated stamp vending machines. I guess the company that makes these machines no longer makes them and the parts don't exist to repair the broken ones. My question is why are they always broken if they are never working in the first place? It is funny though that the USPS website lists these automated stamp delivery mechanisms (are they really "vending machines") are just ONE of available alternate mailing options available from the Post Office. HA!

Ran a nice little 8 mile loop around the downtown area of "The Rouge" this evening. Stormed right before hand so the air was clean (for "The Rouge") standards but the lovely smell of refinery fumes lingered in the air. There is an interesting bridge, in which no pedestrian traffic is allowed, in Baton Rouge that separates the downtown area from a lower-class neighborhood . The only way to access the downtown area (where most of these people live, is via this bridge. Only problem is, to get their, you have to drive, which a majority of the individuals in this neighborhood can not do. So they risk their safety and harassment from the police for crossing this manmade barrier just to go to work. I wonder what great politician thought this one up?

The real reason to talk about the run was to finally plug http://www.running2win.com/. If you are a runner and want to keep a log of all of your efforts/mileage on a fairly easy to use website this is the one to use. Yea, if you have the Nike "pod" thingy you can put in your shoe you can use their site. But, almost like eating locally grown food, this website is designed by my old club running team faculty sponsor. He responds to almost all emails and the site is really amazing for being COMPLETELY FREE. There are some little quirks, but I love it. I'm trying to figure out how to show my monthly mile total in the blog, hopefully I can get with Mike (the site owner) to look into it very soon. Check it out and if you need any help, just ask!


January 28, 2008

Guzzlin the Beef!

I will admit it, up front and honest...I like steaks. Now vegetarians will scream and moan and I hear you, but nothing is better than a nice medium rare slice of beef. But like almost every other commodity on this earth, consumption and demand for beef is starting to climb. In their weekly round up the New York Times looked at the high consumption of meat within the U.S. (Seriously, what commodity do we not consume the most of in this world? Rice?) and the impacts that industrial meat production has on the land, air, and the cows themselves.

The average American consumes half a pound of meat daily, which is twice the world average. We enjoy a cheap and plentiful source of protein that we all tend to take for granted. We ignore the mass amounts of energy inputs it takes to produce this product. This has fueled and industrialization of the process and it is these huge industrial operations that are proliferating around the world that serve the sole purpose of fattening the animals as fast as possible. This requires huge inputs of energy: grain production (most grain production in the US goes to livestock feed), antibiotics, processing, shipping, etc, and create environmental nightmares (think 100,000 cows crapping everywhere everyday) such as the fact that possibly 1/5 of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from livestock production (including more than just cows, but still). Unfortunately these confinements that help speed up the production of meat (and lets us enjoy our $0.99 hamburgers from Wendy's) make the cows very sick.

Cows are ruminant's and their stomachs are made to digest grasses, not grains. They can eat some grains no problem, but a diet based primarily on corn makes the digestive system of cows very sick, meaning they need lots of antibiotics. This can lead to drug resistant forms of certain bacteria that can be transferred to humans. The close confined pens in which the cows are pent up in also can lead to rapid spread of other terrible diseases that can also affect the food chain...think Mad Cow Disease.

It makes me laugh when I hear or read the phrase "Corn fed Beef!" making it sound like its the best thing since sliced bread, when really it is telling that your meat came from an unhealthy animal. Clearly we can all cut back on our crazy obsession for all things meat. It, like many other sustainable steps we can all take, does not mean you can NEVER have a steak, hamburger or ribs. But every night? Its just something to think about and if you are like me, we could all use a little less meat and a couple extra helpings of veggies and fruits. But man does that steak taste good...pass the A.1 please

Finally a little bit of good citizenry that I just had to put in. Usually if you loose a high end tech toy you can pretty much kiss that tech investment good bye. There have been to many instances where people just snag the lost Ipod or camera and it becomes their new little toy. Finders Keepers is the mantra. Luckily for some there are still people around like Brian Ascher. Brian's fiance found a camera in the backseat of a taxi cab in NYC and he proceeded to do detective work to try and reunite the camera with its former owner. Looking through all the photos for clues he was eventually able to piece together the story of who the person was and eventually get the camera back to its rightful owner. If only more people were like Mr. Ascher! Cheers!

January 27, 2008

Krew of Mutts

Today was the annual Canes Krew of Mutts parade that was downtown in "The Rouge." Basically every dog owner in "The Rouge" brought their dogs out (in their best costumes) and watched the parade. It was a good time as Kelly, Allen, Matt, Kim and I laughed and looked on as the dogs screamed...BEADS, I WANT BEADS!!

More pictures here: