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BP's Nightmare

by @ 11:19 pm
Filed under: business,environment — Tags: , ,

BP logoThere seems to be no end in sight for BP's plight. The oil well is still gushing, the stock is bleeding, and there's word of a criminal investigation.

BP's stock got hammered today to the tune of $20 billion. It also doesn't help that BP is a European company and Europe is still grappling with its serious financial malaise. Since April 20, the day of the rig explosion, the stock has lost some $75 billion. If BP keeps its dividend payout steady, the current price of $36.50 a share is a fantastic bargain, yielding 9.2%. Of course there's little chance of realizing that. It's quite possible that BP will stop paying dividends entirely as it will need every dollar to deal with countless liability suits pursuant to the biggest oil disaster in US history.

The contrarian view would consider BP's stock attractive at these levels and it may be a correct view. But BP's problem is far greater than what Toyota had to contend with a few months ago. Surely BP can see the dark clouds coming its way. It had better cork that well soon while there's still a chance to survive the mountain of lawsuits it will have to deal with in the aftermath.

P.S. Somewhere out there Mohammad Mosaddegh is looking down at BP's misfortune and smiling broadly. It's payback time.

Walking on Water, er, Ice

by @ 10:08 pm
Filed under: environment

Much of the US, including New England, has been gripped by a long-running cold snap that doesn't seem to want to quit. No complaints from me. I love the cold and crisp weather. Now I don't have to be outside for my job, otherwise I might have had a different opinion on that.

Anyways, over the weekend, I went for a long jog (outside, of course) and then hiked on a nearby lake, nicely frozen and covered with snow. It's a little hard to fathom walking on something that was all water only a few weeks ago. Gives you an appreciation for the properties of water and the forces of nature.

A few nice shots of the scenery while walking on the lake.


Glorious Winter

by @ 7:13 pm
Filed under: environment,running-hiking

Winter in New England was heralded by a storm that dumped a pile of snow in the area. No records were in danger of being broken though. For many living in the area, the cold and ice and snow are annoying curses, not me. I have a hard time understanding why some people choose to live in a certain area and yet they incessantly complain about the weather. Ok, I don't like the rain much, specially when running, but I try not to whine about it.

To me having the four seasons is a blessing. Yes, the bitter cold and stifling heat are hard to bear on some days, but on balance each season offers its own unique beauty. The arrival of the snow season is a chance for me to get outside and enjoy the serenity and purity of nature. Some may dream of tropical weather, palm trees, and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. That has its own appeal too, but I wouldn't want to have it year-round.

Winter Swans
As I was passing a lake near my home on one of my jogging routes today, I stopped to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings and snapped this photo. Quite a contrast to my recent Arizona trip where I was jogging in 100-degree desert temperatures, and both quite enjoyable in their own ways.


The ANWR Oil Debate

by @ 12:09 am
Filed under: environment,financial,politics

Lately I've seen a number of Web sites and emails exhorting Americans to press their government to explore for oil in a parcel of land in ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northeast corner of Alaska.

The ANWR debate is nothing new and it was a hot topic back in the 1970's oil crisis. Proponents argue that this location may hold vast deposits of oil which could bring relief to the current shortages of oil and thus tame the high prices in the US and the rest of the world. Opponents include the natives and environmentalists who fear that such exploration and subsequent drilling could endanger this natural setting robbing it and its inhabitants (humans and animals) of its ecological diversity and wealth.

I am not sure which side of the debate holds the better argument. Personally I don't like to see natural settings overrun by industrial concerns, i.e. the oil companies. What I do know is that Exxon-Mobil's earnings topped $40 billion in 2007 and surely they will easily exceed that figure this year. As people learn of these outlandish profits by the big oil while their savings are being squeezed, there is bound to be some backlash. That has manifested itself in the form of calls for special taxes on oil companies.

Couple that with the inevitable emergence of fuel economics and alternative energy and it's not hard to guess that oil companies are worried about their prospects. To me, these pro- oil exploration campaigns are not about alleviating oil shortages, but more about distracting the public from the abuses of the oil companies. Many go even further to shift the spotlight away from the big oil and cast it on the liberals, democrats, or Arabs in a shameless effort to create public sympathy and support for the oil companies. One wonders who the real authors are.

Oil companies already have millions of acres of land they can start exploring, but that's not enough. ANWR may hold large reserves of oil, but this campaign smells more like a land-grab and less like a sincere effort to help calm the oil crunch. Blaring their propaganda machine in times of panic and despair is always a good way to assure power and profits.

Review history and see how dictators and tyrants have come to power. Their reigns have almost always preceded by periods of unrest and panic when people are at their most vulnerable and can be easily deceived by empty promises and blustering rants. Once they tap into the herd mentality, they are assured of their golden positions. I want a way out of this oil mess too, but not enough to sell out this country to oil thugs. They're beyond rich enough already.


The Beauty of Winter

by @ 5:51 pm
Filed under: environment

Northeast Winter SnowI know many people don't like winters. In the northeastern US, where I live, you can see expressions of pain and depression on many faces when temperatures drop and the snow season starts. Kids, being the energetic creatures that they are, don't mind it though. For them there's lots of fun to be had in snow and ice. They almost worship it, if nothing, for its supreme power to dictate school cancellations.

This picture of a recent snowfall reminds of my childhood, growing up in Tehran. We never had quite the bone-chilling temperatures that we sometimes experience in the northeast, nor did we have the volume of the powdery snow that we receive here, but we still had plenty of snow and it usually was of the wet variety, good for making great snow balls. Even there, the snow had the magical power to force school cancellations, and who could complain about that.


Recycling Grocery Store Bags

by @ 11:13 pm
Filed under: environment

ShopRite plastic bagYears ago when I lived in Germany for a short time, most people used their own canvass bags when grocery shopping. Initially I attributed that to the European environmental consciousness, which is probably somewhat correct. But then I found out that grocery stores charged for their bags and most people probably didn't want to pay for them. I believe the system is still the same over there and it works well.

In the US stores, grocery bags are an expected perk. Sure, we all pay for it in the form of tiny margins added to the cost of other items, but that is lost on the consumers. Grocery bags are abundant and free. At home we use these bags as trash can liners but when I go to my local grocery store's salad bar for lunch, the cashier would place the container in a plastic bag and I would promptly toss it in the trash at my desk. For years I felt guilty about this practice, but I wasn't about to change that habit.

Then a couple of months ago as I was leaving the store I noticed the long rows of the checkout lines filled with the yellow plastic bags. The sight and sound of hundreds of these bags crinkling and rustling as they were being filled made me consider the amount of waste that was being generated. This was just one moment in time, in one store, in one town. I was overwhelmed by the thought of millions of these bags being dumped in landfills everyday and right then I vowed to change my bagging habit. I wasn't quite ready for canvass bags, but I decided to save the plastic bags and reuse them every time I go to the store, until the bags become unusable.

It took a few false starts, but I finally made good on the promise. In the past couple of months that I have been reusing the bags, I have become quite accustomed to recycling them at the checkout counters. By now I have probably prevented 40 or so bags from going to the landfills and I feel pretty good about it. It wasn't difficult, nor was it inconvenient. It was just making a slight adjustment to correct this wasteful habit. Yet I wondered how many bags can be recycled if everyone shook the old habit.

Today I saw a glimmer of hope to that end. When I presented the clerk with my bag, she credited me with two cents off the total. When I inquired about the credit, she showed me a stamp imprinted on the bag indicating a 2-cent credit for re-use. The grocery store, ShopRite, is obviously trying to portray itself as an environmentally conscious company and I applaud them for that. Whatever their motivation (probably a mixture of business sense and green ambitions), this could set the stage for saving millions of bags from being wasted so needlessly. Other stores have also begun with their own similar initiatives to show their green sides. They just need to promote this a little. Grocery store bags could be going the same way as the beverage bottles and cans went years ago, and that's a good thing.


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