Wednesday, December 13, 2006


#7: Iranian and Russian Gas Supply to Georgia: Coincidence or Trial Run of a Cartel?

It is interesting to watch the current developments in the gas supply of countries of South Caucasus and Turkey. Essentially, Georgia decided to ignore the Russian offer and instead purchase the gas from other suppliers. However, unless Iran will be playing ball, there would be preciously little supply left.

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:
These events might be simply coincidental. Or they may be caused by a temporary or permanent supply problems inside Russia and Iran. It is also possible that Russia and Iran are checking their cartel pricing power, using Georgia as a test case.

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:

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?

According to the recent anecdotic evidence I am getting, Russian economy might be in a bubble state. For example, I have heard about multiple restaurants opening only to close in a month once the customers do not materialize, banks expanding their branch office network at a breakneck pace with the only hope of being acquired by one of the major Western players, Western European-sized salaries demanded in Moscow by unimportant IT personnel.

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?

If you ever read reports about the latest war in Lebanon, you would have noticed that "modern" Russia weapons are constantly mentioned. Newspapers copy names of Kornet and Metis-M missiles from one article to another while journalists seem to fail to verify the facts.

I have spent considerable time looking at the photos of captured Hezbollah weapons and have to conclude that:
  1. 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.
  2. The only relatively new missiles in the photos are American-made TOW missiles dated 2001
I can obviously provide no proof for statement #1; non-existence of something is kind of tough to prove in general. I would appreciate, however, a photo of anything even remotely resembling a Kornet in Lebanon. #2 is pretty easy to prove; here is the photo.

Now, here are good questions for journalists to answer:

Friday, August 25, 2006


#3: Who orders Assistant US Attorney Stephen Miller around?

As we are all very well aware, a guy named Javed Iqbal has been arrested in New York on charges of retransmitting the Al-Manar TV station. The station happens to be on the US Government terrorist organizations list. Now, the relevant US law explicitly excludes from the presidential authority "the importation from any country, or the exportation to any country, whether commercial or otherwise, regardless of format or medium of transmission, of any information or informational materials". See for example, this excerpt. It would be naive to think that Assistant Attorney Miller does not know the relevant statute.

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?

Reading press recently is scary -- but not for the reasons one might assume. I am really concerned about Americans both in press and in general population swallowing half-baked terrorist stories without any critical thinking. If a journalist would just stop for a minute, assume that she might be fed the wrong information, and call an independent expert prior to simply copying the text into her article, the quality of the publications will be higher and the chances of Rummy continuing his current policy will be lower.

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?

This is a very simple question related to the current Israel attack on Lebanon (or Hezbolla). As we all know, Hezbolla (or Iranians) fired two missiles at the Israely corvette Ahi-Hanit and scored one hit. This is a highly unusual result, as
Therefore, one of the two statements must be true:
  1. Missile defense on Hanit was disabled and the crew asleep at the wheel
  2. Modern missile defense is not very efficient against moderately obsolete antiship missiles
The modern missile defense consists of three components:
Note that there is a good reason sometimes to disable the short-range gun, as it can accidentally fire on one's own aircrafts. There is a weak reason to disable the chaff - for example, if a helicopter tries to land on the ship. I do not know of any reason to disable the ECM.

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

I start this blog out of a sense of frustration with the current state of journalism. The articles - both off- and online seem to incessantly quote each other and engage in navel-gazing. Good journalism has always been characterized by asking -- and answering -- real questions. Since I am not a journalist by any means, I will not pretend to search for answers, but will humbly attempt to post the questions that do really interest me.

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).

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