Archive for November, 2010

At the End of Their Rope

November 28, 2010

Lunghu occasionally descends from the lofty heights of sardonic commentary on world affairs to briefly opine on more mundane topics.   Today is one of those rare days, because  –for whatever reason–  a European news service has concluded that its readers might want to know about the current business climate in the U.S. cable television industry.   Perhaps they have media investors in mind, or perhaps they’re seeking signs of (further) decline in American cultural hegemony.   Perhaps a European is somehow involved.

Whatever.

US cable operators lost 741,000 basic video customers in the third quarter of the year, the biggest decline since it started tracking the segment in 1980.  Comcast lost 275,000 video subscribers during the third quarter [alone].  …  Combined with a loss of 216,000 customers in the second quarter, the first ever decline in its history, the pay television segment has fallen 2.3 percent in the last six months to around 100 million subscriptions.

Predictably, industry executives are whistling past the graveyard.

“I think there’s much ado about very little in terms of all the talk about cord cutting.  I think it’s remarkable that in the teeth of a powerful recession … that continued viewership of subscription television held up as well as it has,” said Philippe Dauman, president and chief executive of Viacom.

Others aren’t quite so captivated by the media-honcho spin.

Jeff Kagan, a telecom industry analyst, said a number of factors were behind the drop in cable subscribers, including the inability to buy channels a la carte.
“In order to raise rates annually, the cable television industry always adds more channels and [claims] it is still a good deal.   However, the average customer still watches the same 10 to 15 channels,” he said.  “Adding more channels and charging more does not make it a better deal…  It just makes it more expensive.”

Perhaps Lunghu can translate Jeff Kagan’s perspective into language that a media executive can understand, by way of analogy.   Cable companies are somewhat like chicken farmers, but they have a very special way of selling their chickens and eggs to consumers (don’t ask which came first).   Whether the customer wants chickens or eggs, she must also buy the chicken manure that was generated during its production.  (It’s some kinda green/carbon capture strategy.)  When the customer begins to complain that the price of chicken is too high, the farmer offers her the same amount of chicken and a few more eggs, along with lots more manure all wrapped up in a slightly larger market basket.  And madame can only use a little bit of manure as garden fertilizer…

Fortunately, there’s a Frenchman at the helm of the good ship Viacom.   As long as he’s not the secret mastermind of some dastardly Gallic plot to undermine and destroy American dominance of the popular culture/propaganda industry (it’s always possible), we may yet see U.S. cable providers reach a modus vivendi with the public they claim to serve.   Lunghu isn’t counting on it, which is why he is one of those former Comcast customers.   Life without television has been much more enjoyable.

Lunghu occasionally descends from the lofty heights of sardonic commentary on world affairs to

briefly opine on more mundane topics.  Today is one of those rare days, because –for whatever

reason– a European news service has concluded that its readers might want to know about the current

business climate in the U.S. cable television industry.  Perhaps they have media investors in mind,

or perhaps they’re seeking signs of (further) decline in American cultural hegemony.  Perhaps a

European is somehow involved.

Whatever.

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She’ll Be Alright, Mate

November 27, 2010

A massive software bug at National Bank of Australia has “wiped out a huge number of transactions, including salary payments and transfers, and crashed some ATMs.”   Ordinarily, Lunghu would immediately begin wondering how the lads Down Under had managed (on this particular occasion) to offend the People’s Republic of China.

Then Lunghu remembered that the Aussie government recently issued an offical report blaming PTTEP Australasia for a catastrophic 2009 oil rig blowout at its West Atlas platform in the Timor Sea.

Thailand increasingly seems a very interesting place, even without Viktor Bout.    In the meantime, James Trumbull might want to review (or revise) his comments from earlier this year.

Like Whitey on Rice

November 24, 2010

Seems like some folks either can’t learn from the Viktor Bout experience or still believe that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.   News from Thailand that Thai police and the (US) DEA are torquing up a fugitve task force to search for eleven “major drug trafficking suspects believed to be in hiding in popular tourist provinces in Thailand.

Among the [wanted] traffickers are drug baron Wei Hsueh-kang … and U.S. fugitive James J. Bulger.

If you’re looking for a nice, safe spot for your Thai vacation, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Pattaya are the tourism destinations where you won’t be able to take a step without tripping over law enforcement of some kind.   But look out for Whitey, that old guy in the Bosox hat:

He has a violent temper and is known to carry a knife at all times.

James "Whitey" Bulger

Words of the Lagoon

November 23, 2010

Mau Piailug may be wriggling in his grave, but Lunghu ain’t taking skywalker’s stanky bait.   Not atoll.

If this is jet-jockey navigation, it’s no mystery why there are so many combat deaths from ‘friendly fire.’

'Mystery Island'

Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!

November 20, 2010

The New York Times has been running a two-part mini-series about forensic research into the characteristics of the Stuxnet computer virus.   Predictably, NYT is focused on the fact that Iran’s nuclear research program appears to have been Stuxnet’s primary target, and on the “possibility” that Israel may have authored and delivered the Stuxnet virus.

“[Stuxnet] was discovered by a Russian antivirus company [Kapersky Labs] in June [2010], after the company received complaints from Iranian customers.”

” …. [Stuxnet contained] two different attack modules … designed to run on different industrial controllers made by Siemens.  Equipment made by Siemens and its competitors is used around the globe to manage virtually all of the world’s transportation, power distribution and communications systems.

” …. [Stuxnet] was intended to induce fluctuations in the rotational speed of motors, by taking over a power device known as a frequency converter, a type of power supply that changes its output frequency to control the speed of a motor.  The worm’s code was found to attack converters made by two companies, Fararo Paya in Iran and Vacon in Finland.  It … inserts fake data, fooling [Siemens industrial control computers] into thinking that the system is running normally while the sabotage of the frequency converters is taking place.”

Lunghu has a slightly different take on the topic, and it can be summed up in two words:  Sayano-Shushenskaya.

From January to March 2009, turbine 2 was undergoing scheduled repairs and modernization.  It was the first and only turbine in the station which was equipped with a new electro-hydraulic regulator of its rotational speed supplied by the Promavtomatika company. …  The turbines of this type have a very narrow working band at high efficiency.   If this band is exceeded the turbines begin to vibrate, caused by the pulsation of water flow and water strokes.  … On the day of accident turbine 2 worked as the plant’s power output regulator and [therefore] its output power changed constantly.  The turbine often operated in powerband II mode, which is accompanied [by] pulsation and strokes of water flow.

[On 17 August 2009] a fire at the hydroelectric power station of Bratsk broke both communications and the automatic driving systems of other power plants in the region, including Sayano-Shushenskaya.   At 8:12 AM local time, turbine 2’s output power was reduced by the turbine regulator and it entered into non-recommended powerband II.  Shortly after, bolts keeping the turbine cover in place broke, and water pressure of about 20 bars (2,000 kPa) [lifted] the spinning turbine with its cover, rotor, and upper parts, destroying machinery hall installations.  Pressurized water flooded the rooms [ultimately killing 75 persons].

Casual students of history may wish to refresh their recollection concerning what sorts of issues were of intense interest to Russia, the United States, Israel and Iran at just about the same time that this tragic accident occurred.   Here’s a hint: at least two Black Sea vacations were already ruined before Sayano-Shushenskaya blew out.

Burning Bright

November 18, 2010

News from Thailand that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will not attend the Global Tiger Initiative summit conference in St. Petersburg (Russia) during the week of November 21st.   Lunghu thinks that this is a wise decision, despite the assertion by government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn that the change of plans “has nothing to do with the extradition of accused arms smuggler Viktor Bout.”   Instead of the PM, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suwit Khunkitti will attend the summit.

Lunghu thinks it would be a good idea if the Thai aircraft carrying Minister Suwit to  St. Petersburg did not rely on GPS navigation while in Russian airspace, and under no circumstances should the plane attempt to land in Smolensk –no matter what.

“Your bootlace has come undone. Careful you don’t trip and fall.”

Hive-Minded

November 17, 2010

Lunghu does not have a Facebook page, and Lunghu does not tweet on Twitter.  He just has this blog, which almost no one reads.   A small audience, but a very select and self-selecting one.  Nor, malheureusement, is Lunghu French.   All of which makes it very unlikely that Lunghu will fall prey to the perils that so concern M. Frederic Pechenard.

In particular, those [police personnel] with secret defense clearance “by being on social networks are exposing themselves to possible approaches by foreign intelligence agencies.  Detailing aspects of their personal and professional lives. … is liable to expose those concerned to malicious acts because of their profession (and) could damage their reputation as well as that of the police,” Pechenard wrote [in an internal memo to French police commanders].

Lunghu feels he need not be unduly worried, despite the fact that he might very well be vulnerable to potential honeytrap operations staged by the intelligence services of Norway, Sweden, France (and possibly the Netherlands).   Give it a try, and see how things work out.   Just remember, Lunghu deals with false-flag recruitment attempts very harshly.   Consider yourselves forewarned.

 

Roo the Day

November 17, 2010

Just like everyone else, Lunghu believes that he has a sense of humor.   Reasonable men may differ on this point, mileage may vary, side effects may include dizziness, shortness of breath, etc., but Lunghu likes a good joke just like just about everybody else.   However, Lunghu has a difficult time remembering jokes so that he can re-tell them at socially appropriate moments.   In fact, apart from the ones that Lunghu tells in his dreams, he can only remember three jokes.   Quips, on the other hand, are definitely a different matter.

Lunghu’s repertoire of three jokes is family-friendly and religion/political-neutral.  Only one is actually corny, and the other two involve the lighter side of money.  So what are the chances that any one of these few jokes would actually find a real-world echo in a news-oddity story?   Pretty good, it would seem.   Here’s Lunghu’s joke # 1:

A kangaroo hops into a bar, jumps on a barstool, pulls a $20 bill out of his pouch and slaps it on the bar, saying, “I’ll have a beer, please.”
The bartender picks up the bill, walks to the till without a word, rings up the sale, and returns to pour a frosty mug of draft beer, which he places in front of the kangaroo.   At that point, the bartender remarks, “You know, we don’t get too many kangaroos in here.”
The kangaroo replies, “At these prices, I’m not surprised.”

If you imagine the dialog taking place in an Australian accent, the joke may be just a bit funnier.

Aloha, Viktor

November 16, 2010

The ASEAN conference in New York City laid the groundwork and the G-20 meeting in Seoul sealed the deal.  Lunghu finds it interesting that Bangkok Post first covered the story by printing an Agence France-Presse report.

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was flown out of Thailand on Tuesday on a special US government jet to face trial in the United States, bringing to an end months of legal wrangling over his extradition.

As Lunghu predicted back in August, there’s been an air of inevitability surrounding this saga from the outset.

[Bout] showed no signs of emotion or worry.  He was even heard whistling a song repeatedly during the short trip to the airport, a security source said. [Probably not the Col. Bogey March.]

Russian reaction was predictably frosty:

“The independence of the Thai judicial system has to be called into question given the US interference,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

Now the fun really begins.   Lunghu expects to enjoy months & months of highly entertaining shadow-world machinations and skullduggery during the remainder of the year and well into 2011.   It will all work out, Viktor.   When Alla and Elisabeth come to Washington DC New York for the show trial, just make sure they don’t go back to Russia once it’s all over.   We’ve got a nice dacha on the Gulf Coast picked out for the three of you.

Why is this man smiling?

Journey of 10,000 miles begins with single step.

Adroit … or Gauche?

November 16, 2010

Seeking to improve his electoral prospects for re-election in 2012, Nicholas Sarkozy has shifted various ministerial derrières to new seats within the French cabinet.  Kouchner and Borloo are out, Fillon, Lagarde, Juppé and Alliot-Marie are in-likeFlynnDelon.   Conventional wisdom among the talking têtes who opine/bloviate/pontificate about such matters (in the elite media only, of course) is that Sarkozy is dumping the centrists and token lefties who acted as bi-partisan window dressing during the early years of his term, and is now moving further toward the right in an attempt to once again pre-empt the Front National on its own turf.   This was the strategy that secured his election to the Presidency in the first place, so why not give it another shot?   So goes the story line among these blitherati.

Predictably, Lunghu has a slightly different take on these matters.   In Lunghu’s all-seeing eyes, this cabinet reshuffle reveals a deeper truth –a reallocation/redistribution of spoils entre les trois éminence grises de la société française:  Grande Loge de France, Grande Loge National Française, and Grande Orient de France.   In this three-way scramble to carve up the pâtissierie, the GOdF has come away with the smallest slice, while GLNF has grabbed the rooster’s share with the help of their (temporary?) allies in GLdF.   GOdF still has the IMF, the Outre-Mer and assorted crumbs in international trade, but will be playing a distinct second fiddle in defense, finance, transport, energy, communications, etc.  Sarkozy’s principal constituency  –GLNF–  is the main beneficiary.

Is this analysis far, far off the mark?   Has Lunghu got some minor (or major) details completely wrong?   Will critics pan this gloss?   Be candid.   Enlighten Lunghu: surely we live in the best of all possible worlds.

The striped, multi-color button on Juppé's lapel can be read either as "Bx" (for Bordeaux) or "13X" (meaning something altogether different).

How many jewels in that brooch on her lapel? We need a better angle.