Archive | May, 2008
May 19, 2008

New winter gear for the comrades

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OK, so winter is over, but there’s always next year. An ad popped up on my Gmail for a company selling valenki, the traditional winter footwear adored by Red Army soldiers, peasants, and gulag inmates throughout Russia. These valenki, however, are suitable for “winter walking on 5th Ave all the way to Rodeo Dr” (why anyone would want to wear wool felt boots in Southern California is beyond me, although I couldn’t comprehend the ridiculous Ugg trend that conquered our great state, either). In addition to their supposed usefulness when it comes to walking from (l)east coast shopping destination to West coast shopping destination, they also broadcast your support for the now defunct Soviet Union via these stylin’ hammer and sickle symbols stitched onto the side.

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Which ones should I get? Black? White? What will go best with business suits?

May 15, 2008

“You know, he should try spending a little more time in his own country”

A warning to all the Italians who will be visiting the United States, you might end up like poor Domenico Salerno, a Roman lawyer who intended to visit his American girlfriend but instead spent 10 days in a Virginia jail thanks to a few Customs and Border Patrol officers on a power trip.

May 13, 2008

I Got a Crush…on Medvedev

Someone has taken the Obama girl video and replaced Obama with Russia’s new president, Dmitry Medvedev:

More on this video from the Moscow Times:

The video opens with a then-candidate Medvedev promising a United Russia party congress that he would cooperate with former-President Vladimir Putin and, if elected, be true to Putin’s policies.

But the busty young woman in the video — clad in a tight T-shirt with a Medvedev portrait that does a fair bit of moving around, is devoted only to the new president.

“You came into politics together with Putin,” she sings breathlessly (and obviously dubbed) in Russian, while staring longingly at the new leader. “I didn’t want anyone else as much as I want you. … I need to be sexy and cool with you. I’ve got a crush on a bear.”

Medved, of course, is Russian for bear.

“I have dreams about you at night,” she purrs on as she walks through a New York City scene in which all the street names have been changed to Cyrillic. “I want to have your children.”

The rest of the footage consists largely of her posing in various stages of undress near pictures of the new president, with the name “Medved” appearing on her scanty, red and digitally altered panties.

The video is a humorous alteration of “I Got a Crush on Obama,” a popular Internet video posted in June and featuring a young woman singing of her love for the U.S. presidential hopeful.

[…]

Compared with Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s hard-drinking and often ailing first president, Putin, with his black belt in judo and moderate alcohol intake, looked like an impressive specimen. Numerous stories in the media touched on the theme of women having dreams — often erotic — about him.

So far, there are no reports of dreams linked to Medvedev, but a government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the press, said it was only “a question of time.”

So will the transfer of power earn Medvedev some of Putin’s macho image as well?

“Let’s wait a little bit. Let’s not rush the events,” the official said jokingly.

One Kremlin spokeswoman, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the quality was not transferable.
“He is a young and attractive man, and it is normal to attract that kind of attention,” she said, after which she refused to answer any more questions.

Yevgenia Baturina, the editor of the women’s magazine Gloria, which is published by The Moscow Times’ parent company, Independent Media Sanoma Magazines, said she found the idea of Medvedev becoming a sex symbol “rather funny.”

“Women like strong men with the right expression in their eyes. Eyes that project force, intelligence, independence a certain ‘bounce,’ and sometimes even some obstinacy, are desirable,” she said. “But Medvedev looks at Putin like he is looking at a divinity, and this is almost feminine.”

“Even the animal ‘medved’ has nothing to do with Medvedev,” she added. “Despite his surname, he has nothing in common [with a bear]. He looks more like a hare or a squirrel.

“So far, his rating among the ladies is, unfortunately, not very high,” Baturina said.

One official with United Russia, the party headed by Putin, said the clip was a joke created by young people “who have their own way of looking at politics.”

“What I’m sure of is that this is not something done by the opposition,” he said. “They would never come up with such an idea. All they can do well is scream.”

As for the danger that Putin might become jealous were Medvedev to replace him in the dreams of Russian women, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he didn’t know the answer to the question.

“Medvedev is the head of the state, the president of the Russian Federation, and Putin is the head of the government. This is all I can say,” he said.

May 12, 2008

ConocoPhillips refinery tour

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Last month, I toured the ConocoPhillips refinery located on the Delaware River in Trainer, Pennsylvania, which is just outside Philadelphia. The Trainer refinery has a processing capacity of 185,000 barrels a day, and processes light, low-sulfur crude oil from West Africa, Canada and the North Sea. I have previously toured an LNG terminal and a facility that produces gas turbines, but I’ve never been to a refinery before, so this was all very new to me. (The ultimate coup, I think would be a tour of an offshore rig in the Caspian Sea or or perhaps the Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf of Mexico.)

The refinery tour was organized by the DC chapter of Young Professionals in Energy (YPE), which, as you’ve probably gathered, is an organization of young professionals who work for the various energy trade associations (like yours truly), government agencies, corporations, and consulting firms that are headquartered in Washington. If you were to look at the membership list, the sheer amount of acronyms would make your head spin.

While the refinery was obviously the main attraction on this field trip, the 2.5 hour bus ride to Philly was eventful in and of itself. We were driving north on I-95, the main highway on the east coast, when our driver suddenly swerved into the left hand lane, which was under construction, and came to a stop in the grassy median that divides the highway. He then proceeded to yell “I gotta go!”, jump out of the bus, and run to the porta-potty on the median. We were all rather puzzled, and exchanged several “WTF?” looks. Our driver returned a few minutes later, announced “Now I gotta figure out how the eff to get outta here!” and started to back the bus out of the construction lane (which was sealed off with, you know, jersey barriers and cones and what not). Amazingly, he managed to get the bus out of the construction lane and back onto the freeway without killing all 25 of us.

We arrived at the refinery about an hour late due to several unscheduled stops like the one described above. ConocoPhillips provided us with a nice, warm lunch, so we dug in while the company representatives performed the standard safety briefing (as to be expected, it was much more thorough than the one we received at Chernobyl). The safety briefing was followed by a thorough overview of the refinery’s operations and the various structures we would be seeing on the tour as well as a Q&A with the refinery manager and other representatives from the various departments.

What we were really looking forward to, of course, was the tour of the facility. Bill, the Public Affairs director, led us on a tour of the refinery, while our bus driver miraculously managed to not run into anything and start a fire. I imagine if he had, we probably would not have been invited back. A few of the things we saw on the tour: gas flare (acts as a safety device), catalytic reformer, cracking unit, liquefied gas storage units, cooling towers, and the dock facilities where the tankers unload their crude. This post would probably make a lot more sense if there were photos, but for security reasons you obviously cannot go around posting photos of energy infrastructure.

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Group photo

Overall, the tour was very enjoyable and I have a much greater appreciation for all the work required to refine crude into something my SUV can digest. Many thanks to Bill and the other ConocoPhillips employees for hosting the tour, as well as providing us all with souvenir mini mag lights to take home.

On a final note, our driver’s bizarre behavior continued on the trip back home. He almost hit a few cars, including a SEMI TRUCK, exited the freeway and entered a lane for a truck scale (WTF?), and took a “shortcut” through Laurel that added 20 minutes to our journey time. Well, at least we left the refinery unscathed.

May 11, 2008

Gazprom: “the Kremlin’s wallet”

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Gazprom’s Yuzhno-Russkoye gas field in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District of Russia


Today’s edition of the NYTimes has a good overview of Gazprom, its relationship with the Kremlin, and the challenges the company faces in meeting growing demand for natural gas at both home and abroad. The accompanying photo gallery, “A Quest for Energy in Darkest Siberia”, is also worth checking out.


With energy prices continuing to hit record highs, Gazprom is more influential than ever, both at home and abroad. Gazprom says that before 2014 it will surpass Exxon Mobil as the world’s largest publicly traded company — a goal that Mr. Medvedev himself endorsed before he became president.

[…]

Rich as it is, Gazprom faces big challenges in the Medvedev era.

Rising prices for steel, equipment and labor have caught the company at the outset of its largest capital program in two decades. Like other Russian companies, it invested little money maintaining or upgrading equipment in the 1990s. But the days of coasting on Soviet-era infrastructure are over, as output declines from fields first tapped in the 1970s.

To meet export commitments in Europe, as well as growing demand at home, Gazprom will have to spend at least $75 billion to bring its two largest fields in the Arctic into production within the next decade, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

Yet exploring and extracting gas in a region where temperatures dip to 50 degrees below zero is technologically challenging, as well as expensive. Gazprom must build pipelines, gas processing plants, liquefied natural gas factories and a full panoply of supporting infrastructure like roads, railroads and ports. And to accomplish those feats, it moves thousands of tons of steel and heavy equipment to the middle of a vast, frozen swamp.

“The complexity and the size of it is what creates a huge challenge for Russia and for Gazprom,” said Vitaly V. Yermakov, director of research for the Russian and Caspian region at Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

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May 11, 2008

Future vacation destinations

7 Abandoned Wonders of the Former Soviet Union: Deserted Cities, Buildings, Bases and More and 7 (More) Abandoned Wonders of the Former Soviet Union: From Mining Towns to Oil Rig Cities.
I’d really like to visit Neft Daşları (Oil Rocks), located in the Caspian Sea about 45km offshore of Baku, but apparently getting permission from SOCAR is next to impossible.

May 10, 2008

This is how the Russians celebrate my birthday

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Pretty cool, huh? Actually, this massive display of firepower was rolling through Red Square to celebrate Victory Day (День Победы), which commemorates the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War. This was the first time in 18 years that the Russians paraded their nuclear missile launchers across Red Square:

The United States expressed no alarm over the parade. Russia has become a leading global arms exporter again, but its wares are almost all items designed decades ago. A Pentagon spokesman, echoing a view common among military analysts, had characterized the planned military review as a hollow show of dated gear bearing fresh coats of paint.

“If they wish to take out their old equipment and take it for a spin and check it out,” said the spokesman, Geoff Morrell, “they’re more than welcome to do so.”

Oh, snap.

May 10, 2008

Yeah, my roommates are pretty awesome

A few reasons why:
– Pineapple upside down cake
– Strongbow
– Russki Standart vodka
– Cookies with bacon in them (yes, bacon)
– oil rigs
Thanks, dudes.

May 7, 2008

Cheated by the fortune cookie industry

We had Chinese food for lunch today. Of course, you can’t have Chinese food without fortune cookies. So I open mine up, and my fortune is “The job is well done.”

Whatever. So a few hours later I grab another cookie from the pile of leftovers, and my fortune is exactly the same as my previous one. WTF? Maybe this is a sign I should play the lotto numbers on the back.

May 7, 2008

“Lindsay, your strengths and weaknesses, as voted by your friends”

The Facebook application speaks, via e-mail:

Your friends have voted on your strengths and weaknesses:

STRENGTHS:
person with the best smile
person with the best sense of humor
most powerful

WEAKNESSES:
nicest
merriest

My parents will be thrilled to know that those high orthodontist bills were worth it. I am not sure where this “most powerful” characteristic comes from, however, as I am just a typical worker in our nation’s capital. Still, I am vowing to make more of an effort to be merry, or whatever.