Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday Travel In Houston

My hat is off to the people at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. I arrived at 8 am for a 10:20 am flight to an army of helpful Continental employees and TSA personnel. I check in on line and went to an open kiosk to drop off my bag. Then I sailed through security and was drinking a cup of coffee by 8:20.

Ever since 9/11, IAH is the best airport to fly out of. The security lines move fast and they know what they are doing. Great job Houston!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Plant Fire in Pasadena

Update 2: The 10 pm news reports the fire was out. Some other tid-bits I picked up. The worker who was burned was transported to Herman Hospital by ambulance. If it was a serious burn case, he would have been life flighted. The evening news also reported that the fire started when they were sampling the car and it was a very small leak. It looked a little bigger than just a small leak. I would like to know more details on this. All told, it was smaller than it could have been. Great job putting out the fire.

Update: The Chronicle has an updated story here. They finally name the compound in question: Diethylaluminum Chloride in the amount of 150,000 lbs. I was guessing Triethylaluminum, but this is actually worse. Having chlorine involved is a big deal. That is a gigantic amount of product and if there are adjacent rail cars, and the pictures seem to indicate there are, this could be a big incident. No wonder they are recommending closing the ship channel. I now feel worse for Albemarle than ever. When you close the Houston Ship Channel, that is bad, bad, bad.

Once again, the crack reporters at the Houston Chronicle are all over this story of a chemical plant fire at a Pasadena, Texas plant. This is not the plant Jim VAT works at, but close enough that Jim VAT knows what he is talking about.

First off, let me lend my support to the Albemarle plant in question. There are some good folks there and I hope the injured person has minor issues and fully recovers. No one wishes an incident like this on anyone. I know I do not.

Here are some of the lowlights from our local newspaper:
Firefighters continued battling a fire this evening at the Albemarle Corp. chemical plant in Pasadena that has sent one man to the hospital.
That's right, follow the Houston Chronicle template and report on injuries in the first line of the story even though you have very little information.
When the aluminum alkyls burn, it produces a white powder called aluminum oxide which is a common ingredient in deodorant, Hawkes said
Someone tell me that either Hawkes did not say that or that the Chronicle was not stupid enough to print it. More likely, Hawkes said it just to see if the media was stupid enough to report it. Guess the joke is on them. I'll have to remember that line the next time there is an aluminum fire. "Don't worry folks. That thick black smoke is nothing to bother with. When this is all over, we will have a big pile of harmless deodorant." Give me a break. This is an example of being technically correct, but totally diverting the point. I guess I should applaud the spokesperson for the skillful diversionary tactic.
The company's aluminum alkyls complex is the largest in the world. Products produced at the site include aluminum and magnesium alkyls, alkenyl succinic anhydride, orthoalkylates (DEA, MEA, DETDA) and fine precipitated aluminum hydroxides.
Nice cut and paste job Ann and Ruth. Wow! You have shown you can go to a web site and pull up some totally irrelevant information. Could you even name a metal alkyl? Just one please. Maybe the one involved in the fire. I bet I could guess which one. If I guess, could Ann or Ruth draw the chemical formula? I would bet money they could not without help from Google.

Clearly, Ann and Ruth have failed to follow the Chronicle template. They missed two important items: 1) what the chemicals are used to make and 2) what OSHA history the site has. Once I report them to the Chronicle editors, they will head back to "How to Bash the Chemical Industry" class again. Shame on you girls.

I guess the chemical industry should be thankful for the local media's lack of technical savvy. Their ignorance would truly be a blessing if they did not influence equally stupid politicians. That being said, the chemical industry owes it to their employees, stock holders and communities to minimize the risk in all their operations. That is the bottom line.

Does the media help or hurt in this effort? I say both. They put the pressure on management who at least attempt to stay out of the spot light. Unfortunately, this leads to controlling information rather than solving root causes. I support sharing information and solving problems rather than spin and band aids. In this way, the media spotlight does not help.

What would I like to see instead? That is a topic for another day.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More trouble for Ex-TSU president

This is another high-profile case of ethics violations that I have written on before. Here is the shocking part:
Slade was fired in June after TSU attorneys concluded that she failed to follow university policies and state laws while spending more than $260,000.

A criminal investigation later revealed more than $1.9 million spent over Slade's tenure on such expenses as artwork, club memberships, spa treatments and tickets for sporting events.

Imaginary Cars in an Imaginary Life

I don't know what is more pathetic, GM spending money making imaginary cars or people paying money to have an imaginary, on line life. I'll let you be the judge.
General Motors' Pontiac division is spending thousands of dollars to create a make-believe dealership that will sell make-believe cars for as little as a few dollars a piece.

Second Life allows users to animate a computer-generated representation of themselves - or someone they might like to be - and move about, talk, walk and "teleport" from place to place in a computer-generated world all while interacting with people who might be, in physical fact, thousands of miles away.

Since it started about three years ago, the population of Second Life has grown to 1.2 million users.

I am so glad I don't own GM stock. I'd be "virtually" broke by now if I did.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Milton Friedman Dead at Age 94

Milton Friedman, one of the 20th Century's most influential economists, died Thursday at the age of 94.

Friedman was a champion of free markets and free people. He was a feature of this blog on several occasions. I direct your attention to this video. There are several other videos on that page such as this one from Charlie Rose.

Dr. Friedman - the world and our understanding of the economic ties between people was left a better place because of you. I honor your life and its contribution to the world. I thank you for your contribution to my intellectual development. You will be missed, but your fundamental ideas will live on forever.

Updated and bumped:

Excerpts from the Wall Street Journal.

On the Free Market

What most people really object to when they object to a free market is that it is so hard for them to shape it to their own will. The market gives people what the people want instead of what other people think they ought to want. At the bottom of many criticisms of the market economy is really lack of belief in freedom itself.

Preservation of freedom requires either the elimination of power where that is possible, or its dispersal where it cannot be eliminated.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Shale at $17 a Barrel

Good luck with this. It will drive my greeny, peak oil buddy absolutely batty just like the stories published this weekend about world oil reserves. Me, I am more concerned about what is right instead of being right. I cannot say the same about my friend. News like this does not penetrate the world of peak oil, global warming enthusiasm. Too bad.

Telegraph | News | U2 move their assets out of Ireland

I have always loved U2's music, but despised their politics. This illustrates the hypocrisy of liberal political positions. More often than not, it is a "do as I say, not as I do" and the propensity to fund charitable activities with other people's tax money.
The rock band U2 came under criticism yesterday after reports that it has moved a portion of its multi-million-pound business empire out of Ireland for tax reasons.

The band, fronted by Bono, the anti-poverty campaigner, has reportedly transferred some of its publishing company to Holland.

Based in Dublin, U2 have long benefited from the artists' tax exemption introduced by Charles Haughey, the late prime minister. It is reported that the band's move has been made in response to a £170,000 cap on the tax-free incomes introduced in the last Irish budget.
As I have said before, if you are going to preach to me, you better have your actions follow your words. If not, don't bother.

As I have also said before, "just shut up and sing."

The Futurist: The US Economy Today - Amazing Resilience

Another great post on economics by the Futurist. Read it all, but here is a taste:
Over the last 3 years, the US has averaged 3.5% annual GDP growth, which is exactly at the long-term trendline. The unemployment rate is lower than it has been for 35 of the last 38 years, with seven million jobs being created in the last 3 years. What is remarkable is that in this period, a number of factors that have caused recessions in the past have occurred, even as new negative forces have simultaneously emerged, and all these have not derailed economic growth. But does this mean we could be growing even faster, had these problems not emerged? Let us look at all the bullets that did not manage to do the damage that they once did, and the new bullets that we have successfully endured.

So in conclusion, the US economy is performing very well relative to historical norms, and this is even more remarkable given the many blows it has taken in recent years. But these blows have taken a toll - and the toll is that the US now lags the growth rate of the world economy by a significant margin.

New UN Human Development Data

If you are depressed about the state of the world, read this post from The Futurist.

Things might not be rosy all over, but globalization and capitalization are pulling people out of poverty. That should be celebrated.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Eva Rowe Reaches Settlement with BP

You know what? I am impressed with Eva Rowe who settled today with BP over the Texas City blast that killed her parents. She took a principled stand by not merely settling and keeping quiet regarding the damning evidence. Rather than taking the money and running, she decided to go to trail. Then, when BP relented and agreed to release the information, she settled the suit rather than have a circus trial. As part of the settlement, donations were made in her parents' name as well. That is impressive.

Eva, you have earned my admiration. At age 22, you are either very wise or had good advice. Thank you for taking a stand and then settling when you got what you wanted. You are a good role model in this situation.

As for BP, I hope that 15 people dying has caused you to think hard about your corporate safety culture. If it has not, then I will condemn you even harder the next time.

Energy companies watch out

Now that Republicans have been defeated, oil companies need to watch out.
Energy companies had thrown in their lot — lock, stock and oil barrel — with the Republicans.

Now they face a Democratically controlled House, and perhaps Senate, whose leaders have vowed to take aim at Big Oil within the first 100 hours of a new Congress.

"The oil industry should be worried," noted Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group. "The Democrats have already signaled that they're not going to be nearly as friendly to the industry as the Republicans have been."

And the industry has not laid the political groundwork to handle such a shift.

In other words, they did not give the Democrats any money to leave them alone. Ask Bill Gates about this.
In other words, government is for sale. Pay off both sides or pay the consequences.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Man Puts Puppy in Oven

I know it was a Chihuahua, but six months in jail is just too short for this guy.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Atlanta Journalist Needs Economic Education

I cannot even count the amount of Lou Dobbs-inspired idiocy found in this Atlanta Journal Constitution opinion article. Here is just a taste:
Indeed, farsighted economists have argued that the decline of the nation's manufacturing base poses a greater threat to America than Islamic jihadists do.
Who? Name a reputable economist who does not recognize the changing nature of wealth generation from manufacturing to services.
Meanwhile, a more insidious force -— globalization -— has eaten away at our economic infrastructure. For 30 years now, global competition has been quietly gaining on us, melting the broad base that lifted so many Americans into the middle class. Steel mills are shuttered; textile plants have disappeared; domestic automakers are in their death throes.

Those lost jobs have not been replaced by work that pays as well or that grants health insurance and pensions. The unemployment rate -— a low 4.4 percent -— doesn't account for the fact that many of those jobs are at Wal-Mart and McDonald's.
This is just erroneous. The creative destruction has resulted in new industries, high paying jobs, higher average wages and a vast increase in wealth.
First off, they'd start rolling out government-paid health insurance for every American. The high cost of health insurance is a huge burden for American companies -— a cost that many overseas competitors don't bear.
Where does Ms. Tucker think the money would come from for this massive health plan? This argument is just plain silly.
Second, they'd start a heavily funded national program for energy independence, similar to the space race that followed the Soviets' Sputnik launch. Not only would such a program jump-start science education, but it would also spark entire new industries. It might even lead us to a new, more stable prosperity that doesn't depend on the whims of Middle Eastern tyrants.
At least this idea is one I have proposed in the past and agree with. I guess blind squirrels do find chestnuts from time to time.

Oil companies tackle malaria in Africa

Oil companies do good in Equatorial Guinea. Imagine that: Oil companies that do more than develop hydrocarbon assets. I wonder if Loren Steffy will write about this.

Power industry faces work force shortage | - Houston Chronicle

With all the baby boomers retiring, this is going to be a common story. With all the veteran employees retiring, even my company is having a hard time replacing them. What I see a lot is calling back retirees or those that were laid off when vital positions cannot be filled.

This is a tremendous opportunity for young people if they would only seize it via education and hard work. It is not instant gratification, but slowly and steadily working their way up the ladder.

Loren Steffy on Wal-Mart

Just when I think The Houston Chronicle's Loren Steffy gets it, he goes off the economically muddle-headedness deep end. The bottom line of this Loren Steffy article on Wal-Mart is that it is OK for Wal-Mart to push prices lower for consumers and profits lower for pharmaceutical companies, but all other Wal-Mart competitors should be immune to market forces.
Here's the crux of the Wal-Mart paradox: We can find fault with a lot of things it does, but we can't deny the benefit. We don't want to shop there, but we inevitably do. The lure of its low prices and convenience makes it seemingly unavoidable.

We love to hate Wal-Mart, and we hate that we love it.

Therein lies the marvel that has made the company what it is. As Joseph Nocera pointed out in a New York Times column last year, Wal-Mart probably did more to keep inflation in check during the past 15 years than former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

I still wish Wal-Mart paid its employees better and offered them better health coverage. I wish so many small businesses weren't crushed in its unstoppable advance across the retailing landscape, and I wish it hadn't tried to lower its own benefit costs by embracing a plan to discourage long-term employment.

But this time, I'm happy to see Wal-Mart's juggernaut clashing with the health care colossus, bringing all its competitive weapons to bear on a market that desperately needs lower prices and a smiley face.

So for once, let's let Wal-Mart be Wal-Mart.

I ask, why "for once"? Wal-Mart is a company that has done more to bring all the products and services people need at low prices than any other company in America. They provide a much higher standard of living to working people than they could otherwise afford. That Steffy is willing to accept a competitive market-based stance in vital drugs, but refuse to accept competitive market forces in groceries and other vital human needs (clothing, furniture, etc.) betrays an intellectual and economic contradiction. This contradictory stance indicates Steffy needs to rethink his entire way of thinking about economics. That he has the pulpit of the Houston Chronicle to spout economically muddled thinking is scary.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

David Deutsch on Global Warming

H/T Chronicle of the Conspiracy

David Deutsch is a legendary physicist who is lecturing on the nature of the universe in this video. He has this to say about Global Warming:

So let me apply this to one issue of current controversy – not because I want to advocate any particular solution, but just to illustrate the kind of thinking I'm advocating. The issue is global warming. I'm a physicist but not knowledgeable about the relevant physics. So for these purposes I am a layman. And for a layman, the rational thing to do is to take seriously the prevailing scientific theory. And according to that theory, it is already too late to avoid a disaster. Because if it's true that our best option currently is to prevent carbon dioxide emissions via the Kyoto protocol with its constraints on economic activity and its cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and so on, then that's already a disaster by any reasonable measure. And these actions aren't even purported to solve the problem, merely to postpone it a little.

So it's too late to avoid it, and most likely it was already too late to avoid it even before anyone knew about it. It was already too late in the 70s when the best available science was telling us that industrial emissions were about to precipitate a new Ice Age in which billions of people would die. And so the lesson of that seems very clear to me, and I don't know why it isn't informing public debate, namely: we can't always know. When we know of an impending disaster, and how to avoid it at a cost less than that of the disaster itself, then there isn't going to be much argument. But no precautions, and no precautionary principle, can avoid problems that we do not yet foresee. Hence, we need a stance of problem-fixing not just problem avoidance.

It is true that an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. But that's only when we know what to prevent. If you've been punched on the nose, then medical science does not consist of teaching you how to avoid being punched in the future. If medical science stopped seeking cures, and concentrated only on prevention, then it would achieve very little of either.

The world is currently buzzing with plans to force reductions in gas emissions. At all costs! But it ought to be buzzing more with plans to reduce the temperature, or with plans for how to live with a higher temperature. And not at all costs but efficiently and cheaply. Some such plans exist: things like swarms of mirrors in space that would deflect sunlight away from the Earth; encouraging aquatic organisms to eat more carbon dioxide, and so on. But at the moment these are fringe research. They are not central to the human effort to face this problem or problems like it. But with problems that we are not aware of yet, the ability to put things right, not the sheer good luck of avoiding them indefinitely, is our only hope not just of solving them but of survival. So take those two stone tablets, and here's a better way of phrasing the two denials I spoke of: On the first tablet, carve: problems are inevitable. And on the second, carve: problems are soluble.

The complete transcript is here

What great thinking ability. Approaching it from a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint is a losing proposition. It was a losing proposition a long time before I bought my SUV.

Scientists Spread Fear

This is another story in a long line of environmental fear mongering. I despise those that continually hide behind the mantle of science to spread their alarmist propaganda. How many times have we been told that overpopulation was threatening planetary stability? We then add another billion people to the planet, feed most of them only to hear more warnings.

Look, I am all for protecting the environment, but these sorts of stories serve no purpose. Largely, the US has successfully dealt with "crisis" after "crisis" with science and knowledge. We have done so without fear mongering. That is the way it should be.

Japanese firm opens plant in Pasadena Texas

I wonder what Lou Dobbs would say about this story. Insourcing is part of globalization as much as outsourcing. Specialization and global competition enriches us all.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Mother Nature Speaks in Australia

Al Gore, call your office. Seems Mother Nature is doing a lot of talking lately. As NASA's GISS noted, Australia had an unusually warm August; it will be interesting to see what the September and October temperatures were.

Euro Disaster

I have often thought that the Euro would be a disaster for Europe. It is interesting to hear the socialists and communists point to Europe as the model when their economies are vastly underperforming the US and Asia. Not only that, European demographics are a ticking time bomb.

If I can turn futurist for a moment, again, I will assert that the next 20 years will be the most exciting economic, social and political times in the last 1000 years. The change will either be catastrophic or enlightening. I wake up each day wondering what new cultural wave will unfold.

Meatballs blamed in positive drug test

Floyd Landis, please call your office and offer this explanation. It just might work! Not, you loser.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Save all of Us from Gov. Perry

Here is a piece of advice Gov Perry: Quit trying to save our children from "godlessness"; instead, save them from the brainless TAKS test. Here is just a smiggen of Perry's asinine statements:
Gov. Rick Perry in a closed meeting today told black ministers in Houston that government has an important function in promoting strong moral values and saving children from a "culture of godlessness" that exists on television.

"It's a ridiculous notion to say you cannot legislate morality," Perry told the ministers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Loren Steffy: More pendulum prattle

From time to time, the Houston Chronicle's Loren Steffy and I agree. In my mind, the auditing firms need to be held accountable for corporate failures if they did not uncover them.

Accounting firms created the Enron debacle. They wrote the Sarbanes-Oxley rules. They reaped the rewards of an entirely mandated industry. When they don't do the job, they need to be held to the same level of accountability as the firms they audit. Any other stance is ludicrous.

Dobbs: American Idiot

OK, I will say it. Lou Dobbs is an idiot. He insists that American workers are entitled to high wages and should be shielded from global competition.
corporate America has just bought a license to outsource more middle-class jobs to cheap foreign labor markets, to continue unabated so-called free trade and the destruction of more manufacturing jobs,

It is now clear to all but those who will not see that both political parties and their corporate masters have placed our middle class in direct competition with the world's cheapest labor, leaving it only a tenuous and failing grip on the American Dream.
This is a fine example of "zero sum" thinking where the pie is only so large and in order for me to have something, it has to be taken from someone else. Global economics does not bring down Americans; instead, we live better and better every year by specialization. Sure it is tough because we have to continually improve and produce things that cannot be produced in the third world. That means we have to be better and smarter every year. It has always been this way, not just recently. One must always adapt to the current economic environment. To cry about having to compete is just a loser mentality. Winners acknowledge reality, buckle down and produce. Don't be a Dobbs, be a true, competitive American.

'Jelly bellies'

I have a small "jelly belly", but would never ask someone to step down from their job for pointing it out. And yet, this is what America has come to. We are a bunch of politically correct wimps.