Wednesday, December 13, 2006
#7: Iranian and Russian Gas Supply to Georgia: Coincidence or Trial Run of a Cartel?
I am not an expert, but it seems that even optimistic estimates of Azerbaijan gas production in 2007 will barely cover internal needs. What is left is plainly insufficient to supply either Georgia or Turkey (please let me know if my arithmetic is incorrect).
The following events, however, are unfolding in a rapid succession:
- Russia is winning a price dispute with Georgia
- Russia decided to reduce supply to Azerbaijan from 4.5 bcm per year to 1 (or 0?), effectively wiping 50% of the new gas field production in Azerbaijan
- Iran dropped the gas supply to Turkey by about 50% which will force it to rely more on the gas from Azerbaijan
- Iran refuses to even consider gas prices below $220-230 per 100 cm
The question therefore is,
Are the recent natural gas supply disruptions simply coincidental or a sign of deep cooperation between Russia and Iran?
The best way to obtain an answer seems to be a discussion with someone knowledgeable inside the Azerbaijanian or Turkish governments. The answer will also become clear either this or next winter.
Pre-Christmas update. I now have an even more basic question:
What are the technical problems on Shah-Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan?
The news about problems got out on Thursday 12/21/2006, but no information on their nature had surfaced even now, three days later.
Post-Christmas update. Finally some news on Shah-Deniz problems: the abnormally high pressure caused gas leakage at the depth of 800 m. Is it high pressure as in "kick" and gas leakage as in "underground blowout"? (where are all the Azeri journalists and bloggers when we need them? - any person around the platform should know the details). If it is the underground blowout, then the production from TPG 500 will stop for quite some time (half a year sounds reasonable).
Well, the latter question seems to have been resolved. Today (1/5/2007) BP has announced that the Shah Deniz production has been shut off "indefinitely". So this was a blowout.
Also, some useful numbers:
- 1 ton of oil is approximately thermally equivalent to 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas
- Every billion cubic meters of gas thus is equivalent to 1 million tons of oil
- Since Shah Deniz is taken off-stream - and unless Azerbaijan will buy either Russian or Iranian gas - it has to compensate with 5 million tons of oil, which is about twice what is currently exported through Russia, or about a third of the Azeri exports for 2006
Saturday, November 25, 2006
#6: Is Polonium hard to get?
12/2/2006. Case Closed. Finally, the mainstream press had accepted the facts as they are and started talking to real experts, not PR folks. This NYT arcticle is properly named, "Polonium, $22.50 plus tax" and delivers the view of Polonium as a widespread industrial metal, which it is. Just to dispel the notion of a "tightly controlled", here is a very casual American report about a loss of a unit with tens of lethal doses of Po-210 inside.
The recent poisoning of ex-KGB colonel Litvinenko in London prompted statements in the press stressing that use of Polonium 210 indicates a huge scale of operation. Polonium 210 is very hard for ordinary folks to get, the articles do say. A brief search on Google, however, reveals that Polonium sources are actually very commonplace, as they are used in factory devices that eliminate static electricity, like this one for sale on Internet at just $71 apiece. Some quantities of Polonium are therefore available with little or no safeguards in place. The good question is
Is it hard to get sufficient quantitites of Polonium 210 from static eliminators to poison Mr. Litvinenko?
Any person with reasonable background in radiochemistry should be able to give an answer. The positive answer might help to eliminate less sophisticated suspects, the negative one might add some weight to claims by Russian secret service that it did not participate in the killing.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
#5: Is Russian economy currently in a bubble state?
So, my question is simple
Did Russian economy enter a bubble during the 2006?
Sunday, September 03, 2006
#4: Where are all these new Russian weapons transferred by Syria to Hezbollah?
I have spent considerable time looking at the photos of captured Hezbollah weapons and have to conclude that:
- There is not a single Kornet or Metis-M unit in the photos I looked at. The most advanced Soviet-made equipment I have noticed resembled an RPG-29, which has no guidance whatsoever and therefore can be useful only from a very short distance. The Russian guided missiles in the photos date back to 1960s.
- The only relatively new missiles in the photos are American-made TOW missiles dated 2001
Now, here are good questions for journalists to answer:
- Is there any proof that newer Russian weapons have been shipped by Syria to Hezbollah? Note that both Kornet and Metis-M use containerized missiles; container tube is disposed of after firing, so there should be plenty of tubes lying around in the Lebanese mountains if the accusations are true.
- Which of the American allies have shipped US-made TOW missiles to Hezbollah?
Friday, August 25, 2006
#3: Who orders Assistant US Attorney Stephen Miller around?
Now that the minor issue of the law is out of the picture, it would be pretty interesting journalism to investigate who was applying pressure to the US Attorney office to go after Mr. Iqbal? There is a good reason to expect the chain of command in this case to terminate inside some Israeli lobbying structure in the US. After the disastrous results of outsourcing our foreign policy to Israel, is the Bush administration doing the same with our law enforcement?
Tip: I have learned about the US law in question from this guy's blog. He might be fun to talk to.
Another tip: Coalition Against Terrorist Media seems to be built for the sole purpose of preventing Al Manar from being broadcast in the US. The coalition seems to be a division of Foundation for Defense of Democracy, a well known part of "The Lobby".
The actual complaint makes a very interesting reading (and little sense, in my opinion).
Monday, August 14, 2006
#2: What PR technology is behind the terrorism scare?
For example, the "liquid bomb" scare sounds completely ridiculous if one bothers to ask anyone even remotely knowledgeable in chemistry (I did ask). There is no way to combine two or more household chemicals and create anything truly exploding (as opposed to bubbling). We all tried this as kids, and we know it does not work. Yes, the liquid binary explosives do actually exist (for example, the PLX), but their components are anything but benign or household items.
Similarly, the Wal-Mart terrorists story also fails even a cursory reality check. The three guys supposedly have bought 1,000 cell phones to blow a huge suspension bridge. Press did not bother to ask the experts (or law enforcement) how much explosive material will be necessary to down this bridge (looking at the photos of the bridge I can bet it is in multiple tonnes), where the group stored the said material (as starting the plot with buying the easily available phones is insane) , why did the group need 1,000 phones (as opposed to one or two).
But the questions above are not very interesting. What really tickles me is an ease with which the press is manipulated into uncritical dissemination of the information fed to it by authorities. In short,
What is the delivery mechanism for the obviously hoax terror plot stories into the mainstream press?
It seems that there is much more glory in a "sensational" article showing that the liquid bombs are not easier to make, handle, or smuggle onboard than the conventional ones than there is in parroting the official line. So, what ropes does the US executive branch pull to make the US journalists dance to its tune?
Sunday, July 30, 2006
#1: Did Hanit fire the chaff?
- Hanit is a modern ship that was designed to provide missile defense for other boats
- Iran (and thus Hezbolla) does not posess modern antiship missiles
- Missile defense on Hanit was disabled and the crew asleep at the wheel
- Modern missile defense is not very efficient against moderately obsolete antiship missiles
- Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) equipment is supposed to detect the incoming missile and generate signals to fool its seeker in a way that will take the missile off-course
- Decoys simulate the ship to fool the seeker. A typical decoy consists of "chaff" - lots os aluminum-coated fibers that are fired into the air to create a cloud that reflects the seeker radar beam in a way similar to the ship. Since the ship is somewhat away from the cloud, the missile hopefully hits the chaff.
- Short-range defense consists of a high-speed computer-driven machine gun that tries to hit the missile while it completes the last mile or so of its journey.
The actual choice between 1 and 2 above is very interesting -- and affects the world -- since if the second option is true, and Iran has missiles that score 50% hit ratio on the modern ships, its threat to close the Hormuz Straits is very real, and Iran thus is as untouchable as if it had nuclear weaponry.
While the actual positions of the control switches on the Hanit will not be known for long time, if ever -- except by the various spooks -- there is a question that allows us to select one of the options above and answer to which is currently most likely known to people without security clearances:
Did Hanit fire the chaff?Any operator of a civilian radar in the vicinity should theoretically know if the Hanit actually fired the chaff. If it did, the missile defense was activated, and Hezbolla was good. If it did not, the missile defenses were down and Hezbolla was lucky - and we here in the US can continue to sleep well.
What are Real Questions
Questions that are of interest to me are "real" in a sense that they a) definitely have an answer that can be found today and b) this answer contains information that affects large numbers of people. Note that it is not important whether these large numbers of people know or care about either the question or the answer. Examples of questions that are "not real" in my sense: "is there life on Mars?" (fails a) and "what are the sexual habits of Tom Cruise?" (fails b, as even though a significant percentage of the world population is very interested in both the question and the answer, the latter does not affect their lives in any way).