The Gulf Disaster Engineered To Fail

I’ve been in the workforce for forty years. It’s not like shortcuts are a surprise to me. However, none of my jobs involved pumping dangerous/poisonous fluids up a straw

I have avoided talking about the BP spill. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been with me on a constant basis. I am incensed by what has happened in the Gulf. I am just as incensed, maybe more, that this is a case where shortcuts were taken to make more money. The Gulf disaster was engineered to fail.

I’ve been in the workforce for forty years. It’s not like shortcuts are a surprise to me. However, none of my jobs involved pumping dangerous/poisonous fluids up a straw.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster is a clusterf**k. It is so complex a project there were myriad ways to cut corners–and most were cut.

Pick your poison–literally. There was outsourcing which decentralized responsibility. Each subcontractor had an incentive to save money on their piece of the project without, by design, seeing the full picture

There was “convenience flagging” which allowed many of the projects largest parts to escape proper US inspection by being “flagged” as foreign vessels. There was a cavalier attitude toward safety when safety cost money.

It’s no wonder our government is powerless to fix this problem. We were assured… No, we were lied to by the companies doing the drilling they had all the technology necessary to solve any problem that might arise in this incredibly complex problem. Make no mistake, they lied and we believed them.

Nowadays industries often work in areas so technologically complex we have no choice but to believe them. Oil isn’t alone here. Over the past few years airlines have been fined for flying planes with unfixed maintenance problems. Hospitals have had their problems too. Here’s a Google search for the phrase, “hospital fined.”

Fines are not enough. They become another calculation–a cost of doing business. If you’re lawyered up well crime can pay.

I am now vindictive. People in suits need to spend long periods of time in prison. Rich, powerful, well connected people need to take perp walks.

Over the long run masters of industry need to be fearful that their actions will have real world downsides for them.

That probably won’t happen. It should.

A Call From Cali

Stef had a little problem with her car today. The oil was changed before she left for the West Coast, but today the routine maintenance light came on. Undoubtedly no one bothered to reset it. I went on Google, found the fix, emailed it, then followed up with a call. Any excuse to speak to her is good.

I don’t know if Stef realizes what I have come to realize… and I assume every parent at some point realizes. Frequent contact is good. Yes, absence does make the heart grow fonder.

We talked for a while and then she told me she called my folks and spent ten minutes on the phone with my newly sighted and very, very, very happy father.

If my speaking to Stef is a plus, calling her grandparents is a double plus with gold star and cheese on top delivered by a unicorn!

Tomorrow at 6:50 AM Helaine hops a flight (or really flights) to make the first parental visit to the Coast. She’s bringing a camera. Stef thinks it’s for her, but I really want to see if the place is as clean as she claims!

You can move away and grow up but that doesn’t stop you from still being our child.

Have Hackers Unearthed Climate Change’s Real Inconvenient Truth?

It looks like some well publicized global warming evidence is the product of the books being cooked!

When people hear my opinions on human induced global warming they’re usually surprised… maybe shocked is a better word. I am a meteorologist with some training in climatology. I watched Al Gore present his global warming lecture as an invited guest in the White House. I’m a liberal. And yet I don’t believe we humans are changing our climate in a noticeable or troubling way.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for freeing ourselves from the grip of foreign oil, even if that’s painful in the short term. I’d like the air cleaner with less crap emitted by cars, trucks and industry. My goals are mostly the same as the goals of the global warming doomsayers.

Unfortunately, if you dissent on the issue of global warming you’re branded an idiot or heretic or maybe I’m in the pocket of big oil. The global warming theory proponents often have a religious-like fervor in their support. “How can you dismiss all the evidence,” they ask?

This is my blog. This isn’t the news. My level of fact checking is very low, but published reports say web servers at the England’s East Anglia Climate Research Unit have been hacked and some of the personal emails and data removed are damning!

It looks like some well publicized global warming evidence is the product of the books being cooked! It’s possible the loudest voices in this fight have been playing fast-and-loose with the truth when it doesn’t serve their purpose.

Even though I disagree with these people I am seriously shocked to hear this might be true. I expected the debate was educated and legitimate.

Here are two email snippets.

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” – Phil Jones

“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.” – Kevin Trenberth

The problem is recent history has shown a halt to global warming over the last decade. Whatever the reason it doesn’t make sense to see this if the most well known theories are correct!

This is a story that’s just beginning to be written.

I don’t condone breaking into a computer, as these hackers allegedly did. I certainly don’t condone passing off lies as fact.

The Times Dodges My Cancellation Bullet Again

I get the Times delivered at home. I’ve thought about canceling. It’s not cheap. It is a luxury–I recognize that. I can get it all online and faster.

nytlogo379x64.gifI am slutty for The New York Times. I can’t say whether it’s gotten better or worse with time. Today it’s the finest newspaper in the United States. No one comes close.

The writing is pretty good and no one matches the breadth or depth of coverage. Their reporter’s byline is on a story I’m reading about troubles at Petrobras, Brazil’s oil company. The story is datelined “Rio De Janeiro.”

I get the Times delivered at home. I’ve thought about canceling. It’s not cheap. It is a luxury–I recognize that. I can get it all online and faster.

The Brazil story is part of the reason I stay.

Online you find stories based on your interest. In print you often stumble upon stories by accident because you’re limited to exploring the paper in a linear fashion, page-by-page.

Print will die some day. When it does those paper induced accidental finds will disappear. Sad.

Why Do Most Airlines Still Have A Fuel Surcharge

Why are the airlines still charging fuel surcharges?

oil-prices.jpgThat pyramid on the left is a graph of oil prices over the last year. We’re lower now than we were a year ago–$77.70 a barrel.

With that lowered cost in mind, why are the airlines still charging fuel surcharges? Actually, I think I know the answer.

Back when oil was nearly $30 bbl more than it is now the AP said airlines weren’t considering rolling the surcharges back. As far as I can see nothing’s changed. Didn’t they also justify other price increases on fuel costs?

I have expressed my distaste for airlines (other than Southwest) more than once. They have managed to game the business to the point where we’ve no choice but to take it. They have created a system where rules are one sided and never benefit the passenger.

Except for our money, airlines have no use for us.

Bill O’Reilly

I was disappointed in what I saw on the web clip.

I have been trading emails back in forth with Woody, who is starting to rival my friend Farrell (International Man of Mystery) in miles traveled and places seen. We’ve been talking about oil speculation. Woody’s family business is home heating oil.

If you’re not in the Northeast, this may surprise you. We have trucks that drive around and deliver fuel oil (exactly the same as automobile diesel) to big basement tanks. Woody’s family has kept us warm for nearly twenty years.

I told him about a story on futures trading by speculators and the possible implications on the price of oil, that ran on MSNBC. I’ve watched three packages on this subject, and I still don’t totally understand.

Woody sent me a link. Bill O’Reilly was on and agreeing with the point made in the MSNBC report. I took a look.

I don’t watch Bill O’Reilly often. He is a very charismatic broadcaster. He’s a great reader whose inflection can sell a story. He has an extremely well developed on-air persona, which is more important to his success than whatever political point he’s currently making.

I was disappointed in what I saw on the web clip. To me, it seemed he was cold reading his Talking Points Memo. A few times, he read words, but used the wrong inflection. That’s the giveaway.

I know he doesn’t write everything he reads (maybe anything he reads) – that’s OK. But I expect him to do the broadcasting equivalent of basketball shootarounds and take a look at his copy before he’s in the studio.

It is only fair to note. I might have just caught him on a bad night. I have bad nights. Everyone does. The average of all your work, by definition, is average. Hopefully the excellent outweighs the mediocre.

Out And About

In my George Bush 41 with the grocery scanner moment, I went to my first JiffyLube.

I have a haircut appointment for tomorrow. I showed up today. Oops.

They took me anyway, though it makes me wonder why I keep a calendar if I don’t always check it.

PIC-0120As long as I was out and had a few minutes, I stopped to get my oil changed on the way back to work. In my George Bush 41 with the grocery scanner moment, I went to my first JiffyLube.

They were empty and knew who I was. That makes most experiences better. They could not have been nicer.

I found out synthetic oil is a lot more expensive than that stuff that comes directly from the ground. Also, from outward appearances, my engine doesn’t look like it’s been chugging along for nearly 10 years. And, if you ask nicely for your antifreeze to get topped off… it still doesn’t.

I’ll do that myself at home.

Water Is Seldom A Good Sign

This house has an unusual heating system. There’s no hot water heater as such. The boiler heats water which then gets stored in the bottle. We have never run out of hot water, even with two showers going at once.

There’s water on my basement floor. Water is seldom a good sign.

I suppose the good news is, it’s not coming in from outside. The bad news is, it’s coming from the glass bottle that stores our heated water.

We have an unusual heating system. There’s no hot water heater as such. The boiler heats water which then gets stored in the bottle. We have never run out of hot water, even with two showers going at once.

I called our oil company. Art came and looked. He’s been here before.

It’s safe to say, Art has heating chops. This is the guy you want at 3:00 AM, with no heat. Art probably doesn’t want to hear that, but it’s true.

He popped the top and started to peel away the insulation. The bottle is totally covered with insulation the way a tree is covered with bark. One look and you knew, this is a device that’s not meant to be serviced, only used and replaced.

Art’s verdict – a pin hole somewhere on the bottle. The leak is slow and was probably there for a long time before it began to drip to the floor.

I recommended chewing gum and duct tape. Rejected. I thought they were the universal cure for homeowner problems?

The service manager will be calling soon. Even before the conversation begins, I can safely say, I’m buying a new bottle.

Economics And Oil

As I write this, a little after 2:00 AM, I am concerned… no, I’m petrified the U.S. financial markets will follow the rest of the world and plummet at today’s opening.

The global economy is totally interconnected. International markets fell Monday, while our stock exchange was closed. They’re falling again right now. The Dow could be down multiple hundreds of points right at the opening.

A full fledged crash is certainly possible, though I’d rather not think about it.

That’s really not what I wanted to write about, but since this will be about the international economy and oil, I thought I should acknowledge what’s going on.

Yesterday, I saw a story (in many places) about Israel’s commitment to build an electric car. Here in the states a fully electric vehicle will be out from GM in just a few years. These are fully electric cars, not hybrids.

It makes a lot of sense, because at $100 a barrel, alternative fuels become competitive with oil. Except, $100 a barrel is a totally artificial price.

Yes, there’s some supply and demand at work, but oil’s price is steered by a cartel. They control the supply to control the demand to control the price.

OPEC is not a monolith. The oil producing nations aren’t exactly in lock step. They’re close enough.

That being said, the actual cost to produce a barrel of oil is a lot less than the selling price. What it costs differs by location, but here’s what the Energy Information Administration, a US government agency, says.

In 2006, average production costs (or “lifting” costs, the cost to bring a barrel of oil to the surface) ranged from about $4 per barrel (excluding taxes) in Africa to about $8.30 per barrel in Canada; the average for the U.S. was $6.83/barrel (an increase of 23% over the $5.56/barrel cost in 2005). Besides the direct costs associated with removing the oil from the ground, substantial costs are incurred to explore for and develop oil fields (called “finding” costs), and these also vary substantially by region. Averaged over 2004, 2005 and 2006, finding costs ranged from about $5.26/barrel in the Middle East1 to $63.71/barrel for U.S. offshore.

Forget the $63.71 figure, because it represents a small portion of what’s being produced. By and large, most of the world’s oil is found and removed at $10-$20 per barrel. Obviously, the oil exporting nations are getting rich and their selling price has little to do with their actual cost.

However, in the face of competition from alternative energy (think electric cars) they can and will reevaluate their price, settling for less in the short run to guarantee a continuing market for their products.

Oil exporters don’t want coal, solar, nuclear, or whatever else can be thought up, to kill their business. That leaves us with tough decisions.

Do we want energy independence and, if so, at what cost?

My feeling is, we need to be independent and must be willing to make short term economic sacrifices to establish an energy beachhead. In the long term, an economically weakened OPEC, which can no longer run roughshod over energy prices, is in our best interest.

It won’t be easy. At some point, whether through consumer persistence or governmental subsidy, we’re going to have to endure short term pain in order to free ourselves. OPEC will do their best to temp us by cutting their prices. And, as has always been the case, more oil will be found to quench the world’s growing thirst.

Will we continue to look to alternatives if oil returns to a ‘reasonable’ price? There’s certainly lots of fudge factor in what they’re getting now.

I hope we can resist their temptation.

Baby It’s Cold Inside

Our heating system stopped this morning. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell, because of the temperature Helaine sets the thermostat. I woke up, turned up the thermostat and… nothing.

If you’re reading this from outside the Northeast, this next line might not make any sense. Our home is heated with oil. It doesn’t come in from a pipe. An oil truck pulls up to the house as needed, filling a big tank in our basement.

Our semi-countrified neighborhood has no gas lines, no water or sewer lines and no sidewalks. Our water is pumped from a well nearly 300 feet beneath our backyard. We’ve got a major league septic system hidden under the lawn in the front.

We have purchased oil from the same company since we moved here. Loyalty is rewarded. The repairman was here within a half hour.

As it turns out, a gunked up burner was preventing the system from firing up. Damn you OPEC. A few seconds ago, the sound of the furnace returned.

We have our furnace serviced every year. The last time was 11 months ago. I guess we just got unlucky this time. Meanwhile, I can stop rubbing my hands together.

A Day Without Hot Water

Helaine woke me up around 7:15 AM, two hours after I went to sleep. It only took one look to know, this was not a pleasure trip to the bedroom.

“No hot water,” she said. “Didn’t you hear the heater cycling all night?”

Using methods similar to those Tonto deployed in “The Lone Ranger,” Helaine has hearing and (now revealed) tactile sensory powers far beyond those of mortal men. The water heater is in the basement. Our bedroom is on the second floor, but it’s above the garage which in turn is built over a concrete slab – not the basement! How did she know?

I got out of bed and walked downstairs. My expertise in this sort of thing is limited, but I understand it’s my duty (as laid out in the ketubah&#185) to make like I know what’s going on.

Our heating system is a complex ‘hydroair’ system, powered by oil. The hot water is heated by the furnace which also heats the house. It is virtually impossible to run out of hot water!

The thermometer on the side of the hot water reservoir was pinned on 90&#176 – the lowest it registers. The water was certainly cooler. The furnace was quiet.

I checked the oil tank. We had plenty.

Thirty seconds of looking and I already knew this was way beyond me. I picked up the phone to call my oil man. If you’ve read the blog for any length of time, you seen comments from Woody. He’s my friend and my oil man.

Ring, ring, nothing. I hung up and dialed again. Ring, nothing. Uh oh. Ring, ring, ring, nothing. Even during the height of the summer, I knew they’d be there early. This was a bad sign.

I opened my mail program and started to compose a note to Woody.

Hi Woody –

I’m emailing because your office phone rings once or twice and stops! We have no hot water. Help!

We have oil. The temp in the water tank is as low as it gets. I have no idea beyond that.

Can someone come and help. xxx-xxxx.


I quickly realized, Woody might not be there. He’s bought a home in Santa Fe, NM, which he visits from time-to-time. We needed hot water now… or at least soon.

The oil company office is only a few minutes from here. I had no choice but to drive over and get the process started.

I sleep in pajamas, but they’re not really traditional pajamas. They’re the 21st century equivalent of sweatpants and a t-shirt. I threw on a hat and sneakers, kept my pajamas on, and drove away.

Helaine said, “I smell a blog entry.” Really?

It was only 7:30AM, but the oil company’s office was buzzing. Winston the dog was attacking the office workers, jumping at least five feet off the floor as if he was on a trampoline. Service technicians were getting their trucks ready. Everyone there – living in homes with heated water – seemed happy.

“Your phones aren’t working,” I said as I walked in.

“We know. Was that you who tried calling?”

By the time I drove home, Woody had replied to my email… and obviously had made contact with the mother ship.

i hear you were very handsome in your jammies when i called the office a couple of minutes ago. plus i can’t imagine you getting OUT of bed at 7am.

anyhow, sorry about the phones. they’re semi-operational right now. i have our VOIP provider meeting me there first thing. there will be no bluffing –

an ass kicking is on the agenda. hope your facial problem is better.

The technician arrived a few minutes later and quickly found a clogged nozzle. He replaced it and our filter. We have hot water again.

In retrospect, I can’t believe I drove away to see people while wearing my PJs. I’m starting to get very Britneyesque! Thank heavens I don’t attract paparazzi.

&#185 – A ketubah is a Jewish prenuptial agreement or marriage contract and is an integral part of a traditional Jewish marriage. Ours (as most others) is an ornately printed certificate, mainly in Hebrew – a language neither of us reads nor understands. Over time, both of us have ‘quoted’ the ketubah to try and justify ridiculous things we’ve done or want.

Another Mention In Print

Wow – two print mentions in the past week. This time Joe Amarante of the New Haven Register called to ask about our lack of winter.

I’m not sure “alarmist crap” is be a phrase I’d use again for attribution. It was inelegant and crude. Unfortunately, it’s an accurate quote. Sometimes stuff just comes out.

I think writers, like Joe and Charlie Walsh at the Connecticut Post (who quoted me last week), have a distinct advantage over TV people. We need to haul our sorry butts to the scene of the crime. Newspaper people can just pick up the phone and interview a half dozen people in the time it takes us to drive to some far off little town.

Continue reading “Another Mention In Print”

Is This Really January?

I just spoke with a reporter for the New Haven Register. He called to find out about our unseasonably warm weather. We didn’t just break records today – they were pulverized.

       old          2007







(as of 3:00pm EST)

Right now it’s warmer in Connecticut than Los Angeles… and much warmer here than Las Vegas!

Even I, global warming skeptic that I am, am impressed with this departure from the norm. I’ve never seen a winter like this. Still, you can’t jump to conclusions and attach one specific cause to one specific weather anomaly. Weather is not climate and the atmosphere is astoundingly complex.

One thing I did mention on the phone, and which I thought through in some detail, is how this early season weather will affect the rest of winter. At some point the past can affect the future.

With no snow over New York or much of Southern Canada, airmasses from the north will modify before reaching Connecticut. That hints at a more difficult to achieve scenario in order to bring really cold temperatures.

What I mean is, airmasses that in a normal winter might reach us at 15 degrees could instead come in at 20. Don’t dwell on those specific numbers, it’s the general concept I’m getting at.

There are hints it will be chillier… maybe even downright cold… by midweek. There’s no joy in that for me.

In a year when oil is so pricey and electric bills have skyrocketed, maybe this lack of winter isn’t such a terrible thing?

Another Day With The Dumpster

When I came home from work Thursday night, I noticed Helaine had (as usual) taken the trash to the curb for pickup.

When Steffie was in school we put out three cans a week. Now, it’s usually two. This week – one!

I’m sure going to miss the dumpster when it leaves us – probably Monday morning.

Astoundingly, the dumpster has become a status symbol. Helaine tells me she’s spread the word to some friends, all of whom expressed envy and one of whom has already rented one of her own!

Only 22 feet long? Poseur!

Today, as I was carrying out another load from the attic, I noticed our next door neighbor Margie standing at the dumpster’s door. She was on her cellphone, but looking at the dumpster.

It’s OK. Earlier we told her to take advantage. We’ll never fill it alone.

I lifted the long rod connected to the safety latch and pushed the door open. She looked in and gave me an approving smile.

The unfinished portion of our basement is the most astounding part of this epic saga. It’s as if an extra 50% was added to its capacity. Walls, which had been growing in toward the center, are now back where they belong.

Every year, when our oil company sends someone to clean and adjust our furnace, I apologize for the condition of the basement. No more. We now have a model basement. He can bring a camera next time!

Next, I took another swipe at the attic. There’s stuff you just can’t throw out. It’s stuff I’ll never use and haven’t touched for years. It is, in essence, sacred to me.

When does one get the intestinal fortitude to heave it all? How long after it’s gone before it’s needed?

Even with dumper’s remorse, I made a bunch of trips to the dumpster. As layers peeled away, I unearthed some more interesting finds.

There’s a photo of Helaine and me, taken at a charity pajama party in Buffalo, circa 1983. I was sitting with a cigarette in my fingers.

Ugh! I quit smoking late in 1984 and never looked back. Best move I ever made.

Another photo, an oversize publicity photo from work here in Connecticut, shows me with our news anchors, John Lindsay and Janet Peckinpaugh and our sports director, Bob Picozzi. They’re all long gone and I’m totally out-of-touch with them, though I heard Bob calling a college basketball game last night.

Is there more to be found? Tomorrow I attack my office.

Who would have though a dumpster would fill up so much blog space?

Global Warming And Me

It is increasingly difficult to be a skeptic when it comes to global warming. That’s not because I am doubting my scientific beliefs, but because it’s more socially acceptable to be fearful of Vanuatu being inundated or Greenland turning green.

I was listening to the Faith Middleton Show today on Connecticut Public Radio. Global Warming was the topic and Dean James Gustave Speth of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies was a guest.

Dean Speth is a heavy hitter on the subject. I could copy his CV here, but I am so overshadowed by his achievements, I’d rather not risk the comparison.

Still, after hearing Dean Speth, I felt I had to send him this note:

Dear Dean Speth,

I listened to your broadcast today with great interest. Though I am skeptical of the harshest global warming pronouncements, I enjoy listening to experts, such as yourself and learning when I can.

Trust me when I say, it would be much easier to be a believer. It is a much more socially acceptable viewpoint to have.

Nearly ten years ago, I was invited to the White House to listen to then Vice President Gore speak on the subject. In spite of all I’d been told, he was a masterful speaker, making scientific points to an audience of meteorologists without benefit of notes or a written script. And yet, I wasn’t won over.

Though it’s purely anecdotal, most of the other meteorologists I spoke with then and speak with now, feel as I do. As operational forecasters, we use computer modeling on a daily basis and understand how weak it can be. We know we can’t always forecast tomorrow’s temperature accurately, much less next month’s or a few decades from now. Heck, we can’t always accurately initialize the models! It’s not for lack of trying.

Long range global modeling makes too many assumptions and takes too many shortcuts to keep me comfortable.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric concerning global warming has gotten so out of hand that lay people are starting to say they notice it! Summers are warmer. Storms are stronger. Winters have less snow.

Last summer and fall, our wild tropical season was attributed by many (Trenberth and Shea as an example) to global warming. Has it abated this year?

If global warming is science and not politics, why is every consequence I hear a negative one? Are there no positives, even in the most dire global warming scenarios? Won’t I save on heating oil? How about road wear and plowing in North America, Europe and parts of Asia? Won’t Siberia and the Great Plains of the US and Canada have a longer growing season?

And if Kyoto is the answer, why are the exclusions that exist in that treaty, and other exclusions which some countries have unilaterally declared (Germany’s removal of coal restrictions) for themselves, never mentioned? You made no mention of these today when declaring all the industrial countries had ratified Kyoto. If I were India or China, I’d ratify a million Kyotos which weaken my competitors and don’t touch me.

Again, it would be so much easier to believe. I am not a political extremist. I believe a clean and pure environment is good in the abstract. I am just scared we’re being sold an expensive bill of goods based on shaky science and strong emotional appeal.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email.


Geoff Fox

Hamden, CT

I don’t expect Dean Speth to read my email and have a Eureka moment. I didn’t expect to be won over when I listened either.

Still, one of us has to be wrong. If it’s me, I’d rather know now than later. I hope he feels the same way.