Friday, November 30, 2007

At the bullfights in Quito

I'm in quito for work, but I escaped
from the office for a few hours to go see
La Corrida in the plaza del toros. It's a
very brutal thing to watch, but in this
age of political correctness and eliminating
all possible risks and dangers, bullfighting
is none of that.

The stadium isn't that big, smaller than a
typical basketball arena, so the bullfighting
is a lot closer than it looks on TV or on a
bugs bunny cartoon. It's far enough away
that you can pretend to not see something
if you don't want to, when they kill a bull
that isn't fighting anymore, it looks like
they stab him in the back of the neck with an
ice pick, but if you don't look closely it looks
like they are just tapping him on the top of the
head with their hand.

I took these pictures of the first bull with my cell phone, then the battery died, so I have no other pictures of the
5 other bulls that were killed. The camera really
doesn't capture the speed and grace of all the men

First, guys with pink capes that are toreador trainees,
but who function like rodeo clowns face the bull when
he is completely fresh and bravo. I'm not sure what
they are actually called, I was calling them Mareadors,
because their job is to get the bull tired and dizzy.

Each time one of them will face the bull until the bull
chases them, they run to an exit and if the bull is too
close then a different Mareador will wave his cape, the bull will change directions and chase
him instead.

Then come the picadors on horseback, which seemed like the most unfair part of the
show. They are riding horses wrapped in padded armor, which looked like a giant
quilt, and the horses are blindfolded. The bull attacks the horse, attempting to gore
him with his horns, almost lifting the horse off it's feet, but the picador leans into it
and stabs the bull with a 10' long spear, the head of which has a guard so it can't go
too deep. The picador leans into it, putting all the weight of his body and the weight
of the horse into shoving the spear into the bull. After this, the bull isn't fresh anymore
their tongues are lolling, and in the case of the first bull they occasionally trip and stagger.

The picadors ride out and the toreador comes out, throws down his hat and starts the
real action. He stabs the bull with short spears or knives that have flags on them.
But he doesn't do it the easy way, which is from the side, he stabs the bull in the shoulders
over the horns, curving his body and stretching his arms so that he has the form of a "C"
holding the flags pointed straight down...then he stabs down. It all happens so fast that
even the bull can't tell what happened.

Now the bull is streaming blood from the picadore and from the flags hanging down.
The first toreador was most impressive here, he did the spearing from horseback,
and was able to curve horse and rider in a giant "C" and stab down. All the while
controlling the sideways and backwords with elegant steps. (the horse was the best
trained creature out there)

The last part the toreador takes a red cape and sword from assistants behind the wall.
He then makes the bull charge the cape, just like in every cartoon you've ever seen
(yes, the source of most of my knowledge of history and culture comes from bugs bunny)
But the toreador doesn't do what you or I would do when playing bullfight, holding the
cape at arms length as the bull (or my brother) rushes by. He attempts to let the bull
pass as close as possible, with the sharp horns almost scraping his back.

One of the last bulls was the most "bravo" or angry. He still had a lot of energy and
fight at this point and knocked down the toreador twice, cutting an 8" gash across his
back. The most impressive thing was the toreador kept fighting, facing the bull and
letting him pass even closer than before. lots of guts there.

Then the toreador attempts
to stab the bull with his sword
between the shoulder blades,
apparently it scores more points
if the sword goes in to the hilt, or if
he stabs and pulls itout and hangs
onto it without getting gored in the
process. Almost all the bulls just
kind of sit down at this point with
fatigue and pain, and the toreador
stabs him at the base of the skull
with an icepick. Only once out of the
six bulls did a matador kill
a bull with his sword, he stabbed
him at the base of the neck and the
bull fell like a ton of bricks (or a ton of bull).

After the bull is down it looks like they do a magic trick to distract the audience.
A guy wheels out a big handtruck looking cart while a group of workmen gather
around the bull, and one of them (who looks like he works as a butcher in his day
job) piths the bull with an icepick. If the bull was still alive, it's dead now. The cart
comes running out while a team of gaily decorated horses are slow marched out to the
bull. The bulls head is tied to the cart, the team of horses attached to the cart and the
dead bull is run off the field by the horses.

I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought. I'm sure it's cruel to the
bull, but less cruel than just murdering them in cold blood for food.
At least the bull gets a chance to fight back, and some part of human
culture faces danger with elegance.

Monday, November 05, 2007

“Fatherland, Socialism or Death!”

The New york times (yes, i've gone back to reading that leftist rag) has
a fantastic article written by Tina Rosenberg on oil in Venezuela. It goes
through the problems that having large amounts of oil can cause and what
the best solution can be. The article goes through some history of oil in Venezuela
and what chavez has done to pdvsa.

What happened in the previous nationalization is a clue to what is about to happen
in venezuela during the current nationalization:

Paradoxically, nationalization brought the government less money and less control. When Venezuela’s oil was still in private hands, the government collected 80 cents of every dollar of oil exported. With nationalization the figure dropped, and by the early 1990s, the government was collecting roughly half that amount. This low return to the country’s coffers was partly a result of that age-old conflict between short- and long-term reward. Because wells run dry and machinery ages, oil companies everywhere must invest lots of money just to keep production steady, and to grow, they need even more. Without new investment, Pdvsa would lose 25 percent of its oil production every year. Its officials were convinced that Venezuela benefited more if Pdvsa’s profits went to producing more oil, not more government. “Social revenue has always overshadowed investing in the industry,” said Ramón Espinasa, who was chief economist of Pdvsa from 1992 to 1999. “But I think the priority has to be to maintain oil. If you have one dollar left, it should be invested in keeping capacity. Otherwise next time around you will not have a single dollar to distribute.”

Most laymen think that you just drill a hole in the ground and oil comes out forever,
but in reality the oil production declines with decreases in pressure, and more money has
to be spent to drill more wells and expose new formation to production, or workover the
wells that are in production or inject fluids to maintain pressure and production. Money
has to be spent to produce oil, and lots of it. Oil companies might make huge profits of
billions of dollars, but as a percentage of revenues it's not that terrific. (exxon makes $377 billion in revenue, but only $40 billion in profit, Cisco makes $40 billion in revenue but
$7 billion in profit).

National oil companies are even worse, even the good ones are treated as jobs factories,
when I took a trip for a well in south asia, every service hand position had a national oil
company counterpart, so every meeting had 25 people in it, instead of the typical IOC
6 or 8 people in a meeting. So if Chavez is making pdvsa take out all it's cash to support
charity, production will decrease even faster than it does for average NOC's.

To me, the money quote:
As a slogan, “Negotiate a Better Royalty Rate!” doesn’t have the ring of “The Oil Is Ours!”; nationalization of natural resources can bolster a country’s psyche even if the management of those resources is a failure. The urge to nationalize is, at its core, a political one. Chávez seized Pdvsa not so it would produce more but so he could directly control the money. When governments give into this urge, they tend to be susceptible to the temptations of using oil for short-term gain.

NOC's should do what is done in the USA for collecting royalties from oil and gas.
Charge a high bonus to get rights to drill in an area in an open auction, then charge
the highest royalty the market will bear, then be fair and open about how the money
is collected and don't change the rules in the middle of the game. Oil companies are
smart, they do the calculation and if they won't make their corporate minimum profit
then they won't bid. If they will make enough profit but the reserves will be safe for
some foreseeable future than most companies will pay high royalties to stay in the game.
(I don't think exxon and cop left venezuela because of the extortionate royalties, but
because it seems more likely they'll lose the whole investment).

anyway, go read the article.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hail to bogota

It's pissing hail here again in bogota. It's not the same little graniso
like the past few times that could pass for sleet, this is thunderstorm
type hail that's dime-sized and hits the roof of the patio with a steady
plink, plank plunk noise. Unfortunately, our apartment has a glassed
in patio and several skylights that make the apartment very light and
warm when the weather is nice, but during a hail-storm sound like we're
living in the apartment below neal pert.

It's weird that in a city where it rains so much and has occasional severe
storms there seems to be no weather radar. I guess knowing that between
October and march it rains every day is a good enough weather forecast
and it's more important to have a 20 minute gossip section on the news
followed by the bikini model of the day.

Update the next day: other parts of the city saw much worse graniso, the
scenes from the news and from what my wife saw showed it covering the
ground to a few inches, and low spots filled up to several feet.

The worst was at the avenida 26 underpass where the drains were blocked
so the street filled up with 2-3 meters of graniso and water. Here's how it
looked in El tiempo.

So I was lucky the worst part fell several miles to the south and my wife was smart
enough to get off the road and go visit a friend until it stopped.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

On ramp to hell

Lileks on asked for
what are the worst
on-ramps for merging
onto highways. I
immediately thought
of the one that haunted
me through my last year of
high school, which is the
on ramp to merge from
west end boulevard onto
I-10 at the same place where
I-610 and I-10 merge heading
out of new new orleans into Metairie. They've improved it now so that
there is a third lane on I-10 instead of being just 2 lanes with a 50 foot
acceleration lane. But it still sucks, you come out of a super-tight cloverleaf
that immediately curves left again and accelerates onto I-10. If you were
merging at 5:30 traffic in the acceleration lane was stopped, while traffic
on I-10 could either be stopped too or moving at 75 mph.

while you're palms were still sweaty, you had to merge again with the I-610
traffic, then cross the 17th street canal. I always looked at that canal with
fear, since the water level is higher than the surrounding houses. Growing
up I always tried to picture what would happen if it broke, but I always underestimated
what actually happened when the levee broke and let the canal and lake
ponchatrain into the city.