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29 March 2014

Press review 29-03-2014 - Propaganda

The reasons behind the coup d'état in Ukraine are becoming ever more evident. The propaganda machine made in USA is running flat out, trying to sway Europe as a whole to its side. Vladimir Putin is regularly compared to Adolf Hitler and the annexation of Crimea to the Nazi expansionism that lead to the second World War. But it is in Kiev that modern swastikas are seen, not in Moscow. The US and the UK push the sweet "shale gas" discourse, as if they could ever replace the energy Europe imports from Russia. For now all we can do is hope the chaos into which the Ukraine is immersed does not end up by itself cutting these vital economic ties.

One of the remarkable outcomes of this crisis is the revival of the transatlantic trade agreement. The multiple espionage scandals related to the activities of the American and British intelligence agencies had put negotiations on hold, the European companies being in clear competitive disadvantage with their information harvested en masse. This is the first big victory of the US in this crisis, and might not be the last.

22 March 2014

Press review 22-03-2014 - The gas play

As the crisis in Ukraine rages on, the West slowly recognises it has the weaker hand in the game of force with Russia. Half of all the gas burned in Germany comes from Russia and every member state east of Germany is even more dependent; some depend 100% on Russian gas. There is no way to replace these gas flows in the short or mid term. It requires the deployment of plenty of infrastructure: pipelines, LNG terminals and especially LNG tankers, at least a doubling of the current world fleet. All of it seems very far, especially with the prevailing anti-investment policies. And even with the infrastructure in place, reliable suppliers must be found.

Thus to harsh words follow puny actions against Russia, to the bemusement of the Kremlin. In spite of the pressures from the US and the UK, Europe will continue to do all it can to maintain business as usual with Russia. The intents of "political isolation" are not much more than rhetoric, in a world where the West weights less and less.

19 March 2014

An Introduction to LaTeX

Writing my MSc thesis document was one of the most painstaking experiences I ever had in the computer world. Once the document went over four dozen pages it became very unstable and would wreck the formatting almost every time any substantial text was added. I have the feeling I spent as much time correcting the formatting as I did writing. The worse would come at the very end, by some strange reason Word decided to change all occurrences of the word bacia (Portuguese for basin) to bacio (Portuguese for pee pot); I never noticed it in time and the document went that way for printing. Such frustrating experience compelled me to try a different word processing system; I knew some folk at the Faculty were using LaTeX and decided to give it a try. I never used Microsoft Word again, and almost a decade later, could not possibly conceive going back.

Some weeks ago I administered a short introductory course on LaTeX to a few of my colleagues. Most of them had never seen anything other than Word, but it went quite well nonetheless. Here below I reproduce the contents of this course.

08 March 2014

Press review 08-03-2014 - Europe caught in the middle

The crisis in Ukraine has rapidly escalated into a confrontation between Russia and NATO. It seems the US was more than supportive to the so called opposition that overthrew Viktor Yanukotich. In response Russia retook hold of Crimea, a territory that was under Ukrainian sovereignty for 60 years. It is hard to foresee where will all this lead, but a return to the previous geographic configuration of Ukraine appears remote.

So far NATO has reacted to Russia with sanctions, the US and the UK succeeding in their pressure on the EU to follow their hard stance. Make no mistake, Europe will be the big looser in this stand-off, neither Russia nor the US stand to loose as much. This is the reality of the XXI century, resources have a completely different role in international relationships and conflicts. If for Petroleum and Coal the EU can recur to the international market trying outbid other major importers, the scenario is completely different regarding Gas. If the pipelines out of Russia are tapped off there are no means to replace their flows.

01 March 2014

Press review 01-03-2014 - Ukraine plunged into uncertainty

Exactly one week ago the unexpected took place in Ukraine: a restless crowd terminally rejected an agreement between government and opposition for an early election nine months ahead. Power fell on the streets and politicians hastened to conform to a growing and uncontrollable crowd. While Parliament revoked power from incumbent president Viktor Yanukovych, the latter fled, but still claiming legitimacy. Events have since unfolded rapidly with the country cracking at its seams, apparently between the opposing pulls of Russia and the EU.

Beyond the political aspect of this story, there is a much more relevant energy background that is not fully surfacing to the mainstream. Two thirds of the gas the EU gets from Russia flow through Ukraine; gaining influence over Kiev's government means above all taking up the bill for maintaining the country's gas infrastructure. The scrapping of a trade agreement with the EU, that eventually brought the protestors to the streets, was nothing less than a counterpart for continued financial support to Ukraine's banks and infrastructure from Russia. Those thinking that a Greece like IMF intervention suffices to sway Ukraine towards the EU think ill.