Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wow, The US Flu Trend Line Looks Like the Bakken Oil Production Curve

Link here to Google flu trends.

Link here for a North Dakota oil production curve (it's an old graph but it was easiest one to find).

Seriously, that's a very scary flu trend line. I thought it was getting ready to flatten out last week, but tonight it's continuing upward, with no sign of flattening out.

I assume there will be calls to investigate why the vaccine is only 62% effective. I keep thinking of those nurses who refused to get the flu shot. Without the flu shot, 0% effective. Sort of like the lottery: the odds might be awful but you have no chance of winning if you don't buy a ticket.

Autonomous Tractor -- Too Good Not To Post

This has absolutely nothing to do with the Bakken -- though the "general issue" has something in common with the Bakken -- but more on that later.

Don sent this to me. It really is quite incredible. From a technological point of view it's probably not that amazing, but, nonetheless, the video is compelling.

Click here to see advances in farming: video plus story.

Kinze Autonomous Project

The cost of paying a tractor/truck driver can be expensive, but in the Bakken, the problem is not lack of money, it's lack of drivers.

In the ObamaCliff bill there was a provision extending an existing tax break for investment in equipment up to $500,000. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to put this all together.

Wow, what a great opportunity. What a great country.

About That Global Warming Story -- 2012 Being the "Hottest Year" in the US


Later, 8:41 pm est: temperatures could hit record lows in southern California tonight. That forecast for a one- to two-degree rise in global temperature over the next century looks more and more shaky.  But look at this: it's only been a few years since it was this cold (2007).
Crops and other sensitive vegetation could be killed by the cold. The area hasn’t seen such low temperatures since 2007, said Bonnie Bartling, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service. 
"They" say global warming quit 16 years ago. Maybe.

And speaking of cold: wow, it looks cold in Denver where the Baltimore Ravens just defeated the Broncos. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. What a great game. What a great country. 

Original Post

Earlier I posted that I would be getting back to this story: "Our 'hottest year' and Al Gore's epic failure."
Said the New York Times climate blog, in an assertion that was echoed throughout the media: "The temperature differences between years are usually measured in fractions of a degree, but 2012 blew away the previous record, set in 1998, by a full degree Fahrenheit."
Really? If that were true, then hair-on-fire news should have been the fact that 2012 was 2.13 degrees hotter than 2011. That's a far more dramatic change, and in a single year.
Nor was it mentioned that 2008, in the contiguous U.S., was two degrees cooler than 2006. Or that 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were all cooler than 1998 by a larger margin than 2012 was hotter than 1998.
Are you getting the picture? None of this was mentioned because it makes a mockery of using trends in the Lower 48 as a proxy for global warming, the misguided intent that permeated media coverage of the NOAA revelation. 
Whether one "believes" in global warming or not, federal bureaucracies with a political agenda are concerning. 

I also noted this in my initial comments regarding the NOAA story:
The contiguous United States isn't the globe. It isn't even the United States, omitting Alaska and Hawaii. The Lower 48 represent just 1.58% of the total surface area of the Earth. The law of large numbers is at work here: The smaller the sample, the more volatile its patterns compared to a larger sample. And the fact remains, in all the authoritative studies, the warmest year on record globally is still 1998 and no trend has been apparent globally since then.
Until this week, the media's previous favorite way to evade this reality was to report, as a joint CBS/New York Times broadcast did on a recent Sunday morning, that the past decade was the "hottest decade ever recorded."
Uh huh. Because year-to-year changes in global (as opposed to contiguous U.S.) temperature are indeed teensy, it would be astonishing if the decade following the warmest year on record were not the warmest decade on record. But the appeal of this formulation is that it allows the media to talk about global warming in our time without mentioning that, ahem, global warming has ceased in our time.
Is climate warming getting ready to resume? Possibly. Is man's contribution to climate change significant and worth worrying about? Possibly.
Go to the link to see Al Gore's epic failure. It is also counter-intuitive. But predictable. 

Thrift Savings Plans -- Not a Bakken Story

Earlier I posted that I might post a note about Thrift Savings Plans if I found time. I found time: the granddaughters are out with their parents, and the NFL playoff games don't start for a couple of hours.

So, here's a bit about TSPs.

The article can be found at the WSJ: inside the self-driving index funds that finish first

This is how Jason Zweig starts the article:
Can you beat the market by not even trying?
Yes, if you are among the 4.6 million people fortunate enough to invest in the Thrift Savings Plan, a series of funds run exclusively for federal employees and members of the U.S. military. Even if you can't invest in these funds, you can take a page from their book by reading the fine print and keeping your investments simple and cheap.
I retired from the USAF in 2007. I believe I was contributing to the TSP the first year it was available, which I think was back in 2000. I seem to recall that I invested the maximum amount that could be invested for seven years, but I can't remember for sure.

I remember a military colleague questioning the value of the TSP. He was concerned that the funds would be tied up because they could not be withdrawn once deposited until one left the service. In fact, the funds are not tied up. One can take money out of the funds at any time, but withdrawals prior to leaving the service results in a loan against one's account. So, strictly speaking, one's money was tied up. But for those who have trouble saving/investing, that could be considered a plus: yes, you can your money out to use as a down payment on a house or to buy a car, but "we" ("the fund") will treat the withdrawal as a loan. A loan that you will pay back to yourself, not to someone else. [I have long forgotten the nuances of the military TSP, so I may be wrong on any one of these points, but I think I'm pretty close. I forget the rules for withdrawing funds.]

I can't remember the specifics of the program any more, but I do remember one could invest a certain amount of one's monthly paycheck into the fund every year. I simply took my pay raise, or cost of living, or combat pay, or hazardous duty pay, or specialty pay, or whatever pay I was receiving on top of the previous year's basic pay and placed it in the fund, up to the max. If I could live on the previous year's pay, I did not miss that "new" money. It was absolutely incredible how fast that account grew -- even if the return had remained flat, the amount of "forced" savings was huge.

So, how did the returns work out?
The record of these funds is remarkable. In 2012, the bond fund beat its benchmark, the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond index, by 0.07 percentage point—the sixth year in a row that it has outperformed. The large-stock fund also outpaced the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index by 0.07 point last year; it has beaten the market in four of the past six years and tied it the other two.
Both the small-stock and international funds surpassed their benchmarks in 2012 for the third year in a row.
Jason Zweig describes how others can mimic those returns.

Some idle chatter: back in the late 90's there was talk of major changes in the military retirement program. Were the general officers (active duty and retired) thinking about that when they came up with the idea of the TSPs? Did military officers come up with the idea and take it to BlackRock, or did BlackRock pitch the idea of general officers? I know military intelligence is an oxymoron, but, in general, individual specialists in the military are tops in their fields. I'm thinking specifically of the finance officers. Wow, we had some smart finance officers. And many of them provided free seminars on investing for fellow military members. The military itself provided mnay money management courts, from the very basic (how to balance a checkbook) to the very sophisticated for its contracting officers. Two things about military personnel: a) when it comes to electronic gadgetry, they are early adopters; b) when it comes to investing, they take it seriously. My hunch is that some very smart military finance officers, active and retired, came up with the idea and pitched it to investment firms like BlackRock.

When the TSP was introduced, there were concerns voiced by those of us in the trenches that it would replace the retirement system or significantly change the military pension. It hasn't. And I don't think it will.  And it shouldn't. Money invested in the TSP is taken directly from one's paycheck. As Jason Zweig says: non-military members can do the very same thing.

Oh, which reminds me. I might be wrong, but the TSP program sounds exactly similar to what President Bush was thinking when he talked about "privatizing" social security. Wouldn't it have been cool had Congress not reinstated the 2% social security give-back (or whatever it was called) during ObamaCliff talks and instead directed that the 2% social security give-back would be given back to workers, with one significant change: that 2% now going for more Congressional spending would instead be invested in a TSP.  [I guess I answered my own question: Congress would prefer that the money go to Washington where they could spend it, rather than into private investment. And yes, it's being spent, not going into social security -- remember Al Gore's lock box? There is no box. And if a box for social security existed, it would not be locked. Smile.]

Based on polls, younger workers assume the money they are paying into social security won't be there when they retire anyway.

For LTR, Opportunity Strikes Twice -- LTR Strengthens Position in the Bakken With Acquisition

Link here to Thank you to Don. "My West Texas" is out of Midland.

For newbies: Midland and Odessa are about 40 miles apart. Williston and Watford City are about 50 miles apart. The Texas cities are connected by an interstate. It's just a matter of time (this year?) that the North Dakota cities will be connected by a four-lane divided highway.

Now back to the story.

Back on December 18, 2012, the MDW happened to link an article about LTR relocating, expanding in Dickinson.

Now the story (first link above) -- it looks like LTR announced two acquisitions in same press release:
Light Tower Rentals (LTR) has finalized an alliance with Wellsite Leasing and On Site Water.

This acquisition strengthens LTR's position in the Bakken Shale oilfield equipment rental market, enhancing the company's continued growth and performance. LTR is a privately held oilfield services company that provides generators, light towers, frac tanks and other equipment. LTR currently has 16 locations in nine states with headquarters in Odessa.
Wellsite Leasing is a privately held oilfield equipment company that provides light towers, heaters, trailers and other equipment. Wellsite Leasing operates in three locations in North Dakota with its headquarters in Dickinson, N.D.
On Site Water is a privately held company that supplies water management services to the oilfield including pumps and reeled pipe used in water transfer. On Site Water operates in two North Dakota locations with its headquarters in Dickinson, N.D
LTR started out in Odessa back in 1994.

Great Headline, Better Story -- Natural Gas Story; Not About The Bakken

Don sent me a very interesting story. Interesting only because the headline seems to overstate the facts.

First, the headline: US natural gas glut may be slowly coming to an end says EIA.

Now the data points from the article: no, not yet.

Another quote, first: “It looks like we are finally at the end of that string,” said Adam Sieminski, administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In fact, "the EIA shows production growing a tiny bit, less than 1 percent, in 2013 to 69.5 billion cubic feet a day before trailing down to 69.5 Bcf/d in 2014."

That's a direct "cut and paste" from the article. So unless there's a typo in the article, or my eyes are playing tricks, I'm missing something. Again, for those who missed it the first time: "the EIA shows production growing a tiny bit, less than 1 percent, in 2013 to 69.5 billion cubic feet a day before trailing down to 69.5 Bcf/d in 2014."

There are four points made so far:
1) the EIA says the natural gas glut is coming to an end
2) but, according to an EIA spokesman, natural gas production will actually increase a bit first (sort of reminds me of the "I voted against it before I voted for it"; I have trouble following bureaucratic doublespeak -- maybe he means demand will go up more than production and thus the glut will start to go down
3) natural gas production will grow to 69.5 bcf/d in 2013,
4) before trailing down to 69.5 bcf/d in 2014

But that isn't even the best part of the story. According to the article, natural gas production is going to decrease from 69.5 bcf/d in 2013 to 69.5 bcf/d in 2014 because rigs are being stacked (as they like to say):
On December 28th, there were 431 natural gas rigs operating in the U.S. compared with 811 at the start of 2012. [431 is more than 50% of 811.]
In Colorado, the rig count is down 28 percent in the last 12 months to 55 – although that number includes an uptick in rigs drilling for oil in Niobrara formation.
EIA projects that in 2013 the spot price of natural gas will rise to an average $3.74 per million BTUs and $3.90 in 2014.
The article was all about production, nothing about consumption, so perhaps that's where the disconnect is. If production stays the same after cutting rigs significantly, the increased demand for natural gas (due to the demise of the coal industry in this country) may "decrease" the glut.

Pipelines Will Be The Energy Story of 2013 - Yes, Again


In progress.

There was a snippet of a WSJ Transcript interview the other day suggesting that pipelines will be the energy story of 2013. Based on comments I have received, and my own internal polling, it appears that 73% of MDW readers "get it"; 22% do not "get it"; and, 5% don't really care.

That snippet was very short, but here were some of the data points:
  • domestic light oil production will exceed all light oil imports as early as July, this year
  • domestic light oil exceeding light oil imports will be due to pipelines, not rail
  • 20 major -- repeat, major -- pipeline projects being developed and started this year (2013) into Houston: 4 million bbls into Houston
  • another 20 major -- repeat, major -- pipeline projects on the board for 2014: another 4 million bbls into Houston 
  • total US imports is about 8.5 million bopd (both light and heavy)
Those data points were at the link.

Anything written after those data points are personal observations and could be way wrong, but at least where I'm wrong, readers will correct me.

Some observations and/or assumptions on my part:
  • the Bakken represents only 12% of total US production; to date, it is mostly the Bakken that is utilizing rail in addition to pipe (about 60/40); the other US fields still use pipeline
  • the interview leads with 40 pipeline projects in 2013 and 2014; because the Keystone XL is not (yet) approved, the interview could not include the northern segment of the Keystone XL; the interview might have included the southern section which is being built
  • heavy oil (Brent oil, California oil, and Alaska oil) goes to the east coast and west coast
  • the heavy oil refineries are concentrated on the coasts
  • the light oil refineries are concentrated along the Gulf Coast (Texas and Louisiana)
  • Venezuela oil is heavy oil and could be off-loaded either at the Gulf Coast or East Coast for about the same transportation price
  • the Seaway story has two parts: a) capacity was increased from 150,000 to 400,000 bopd; b) the flow was reversed in direction; dismissing one "part" is almost as bad as missing both "parts" of the story
  • mineral rights owners in the Bakken tell me their oil is being sold at a discount because a) there is a glut of oil at Cushing; and, b) the oil is being transported by rail
  • if there is a glut at Cushing, all things being equal, the Bakken operators have to choke back their spigots
  • if Bakken oil is selling at a discount for any reason, Bakken operators might do what North Dakota farmers have done for years: store their commodity locally waiting for better prices; farmers store their grain in co-op elevators; oil companies store their oil in the ground (as original oil in place); unlike farmers, oil companies don't even have the expense of "harvesting" their commodity and then paying for "storage" while waiting for better prices
  • if overnight, the glut at Cushing goes away (or diminishes), the Bakken operators can open their spigots; I could be wrong, but I don't think it costs a lot of money to open spigots on an oil well
  • so, if global demand for oil is decreasing (recession in Europe and slowdown in China), all that US light oil (Bakken and other WTI oil) will "flood" the entire oil market and will depress oil prices; all things being equal that should happen; except all things are not equal: Saudi still sets the price of global oil and Saudi won't accept oil below a certain price; it now turns out that Saudi quietly cut production in December; and, that global recession in Europe -- yup, it's true, but that slowdown in China, like Mark Twain's death, greatly exaggerated: see "China's surprisingly strong data fans optimism" by that most fair and balanced media outlet, the BBC, just two days ago; and this article, "Don't bet on Chinese slowdown in 2013," reported today, in that most conservative of publications, the WSJ;
  • one can argue that WTI won't flood or upset the pricing dynamics of global oil supply and demand (again for two reasons: Saudi supply goes down; Chinese demand goes up)
So, enough of this.

Now back to that poll, where 73% understand why pipelines will be the energy story of 2013, and why 23% don't get it.

The 73% who "get it" understand this story is not about the pipelines themselves, although that is a huge story in its own right; the story is about the derivatives or the secondary effects of the 40 major pipeline projects coming on-line over the next two years.

So, given ...
  • increased takeaway capacity out of the Bakken moving forward
  • that increased takeaway capacity will be predominantly pipeline, not rail; rail becomes less expensive)
  • the glut at Cushing diminishes; the Bakken operators can open the spigots
  • Chinese economy improving
  • Saudi anticipating lower oil demand, already cuts production; Brent rises 
  • the WTI/Brent spread narrows
  • huge backlog of fracking/completing Bakken wells at the end of 4Q12
... who are the winners?
  • the mineral owners in the Bakken, including the state; if the demand is there for light oil, the spigots will open. 
  • Delta Airlines: the airline that rails Bakken oil to its east coast refinery. With increased takeaway capacity, pressure on rail to lower prices; no doubt they've hedged their contracts for 2013 even if Bakken oil sells higher;
  • Enbridge, EPD, EEP, now that the "seed corn" is starting to produce
  • fracking companies; oil services companies
  • Bakken operators 
  • refiners? I don't know. I don't know enough about the refining industry. [Update: Mike Filloon is a bit hard to read on this; he has been bullish on refiners due to the WTI/Bakken spread, and knows that spread will now narrow. But my interpretation of what he writes is that he remains bullish on the refiners.]
... who are the losers?
  • theoretically, the Bakken rails, but probably won't be noticeable for several years (in fact, it's possible, existing rail/CBR terminals will see increased activity, but additional pipeline capacity will put pressure on rail)

To be continued.

In Progress.

Apple: New Business Model (Absoutely Not About The Bakken, Though The Bakken Is Mentioned)

The MillionDollarWay has been a benefit to me in more ways than I can count....okay, in more ways than I have fingers and toes. And thumbs.

Through some excellent educational opportunities throughout my Air Force career I probably took enough courses to earn a degree in .... well, something.... but one takeaway from all those courses, was something called core competency.

Over time, and once out of the military, a background in "core competency" gradually morphed in to "business models." In the Bakken I particularly enjoyed watching the emergence and success of three widely different business models by three different Bakken-centric operators: a) CLR; b) NOG; and, c) Whiting.

I touched on this the other day, but don't recall if I posted a stand-alone post or simply made it part of a longer post, but today, when picking up my granddaughter from Saturday morning band practice, I saw an older gentleman in the hallway on his MacBook Pro, and I thought, "literally, these MacBook Pros are ubiquitous. " It really is quite eye-catching to see the number of MBPs in the Boston area. And that triggered an observation regarding Apple: is Apple changing its business model with regard to product releases?

Macrumors suggests that the next-generation iPad and iPad mini will be launched in March, 2013, just two months from now.
Apple has historically stuck to roughly year-long update cycles for its iOS devices, but the company surprised many observers by launching the fourth-generation iPad in October, just seven months after the debut of the third-generation model. It is unclear whether that shorter interval is the start of a trend for Apple, as it may simply have been a one-time event due to Apple's move to the new Lightning connector.

There have, however, been growing rumors of shorter update cycles being part of a new strategy for Apple as it seeks to remain competitive in the fast-moving mobile device market and smooth out its sales somewhat throughout the year. 
My hunch is that Apple is growing tired of a) folks "waiting" for the next launch; and, b) confusing their customers with "generations."

For newbies to Apple, this is how Apple has tried to address MacOS updates.  I have long given up trying to figure out what version iPad is now available, and whether iPad mini version 2 is now available or if we still have the original iPad mini.

I wouldn't be surprised if Apple moves to simply iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, and MacBook Pro, and does away with the version "numbers" and/or "names." At best, they are confusing; at worse, they create artificialities in supply and demand. The retinal and non-retinal versions will eventually morph into all-retinal versions.

For the record, I have a non-retirnal MacBook Pro with whatever operating system it came with. As long as I can still upgrade every time Apple pushes a new upgrade for free, I know my operating system is "current," regardless of how long I've had it. And for the record, I have the original iPad. It appears the library application is not able to be updated (I'm not sure on that yet) and I can't get any new apps, but for what I bought the iPad for in the first place, it does everything I need it to do.

(Interestingly enough, it is easier to "trash" spam e-mail on the old iPad than it is on the MacBook Pro using Yahoo Mail. I tend to use my iPad to delete spam and the MacBook Pro for blogging.)

But I digress. It will be awhile before Apple, customers, and reviewers get away from "new generation" software announcements, but I think we are close to seeing Apple move beyond caring about what generation the hardware is. When people go into an Apple store, they will be told the hardware is the "latest" generation and that's it. Resellers like Best Buy might be at a disadvantage -- or rather their customers might be at a disadvantage.

Saturday Morning

Wow, I'm in a good mood. Unfortunately I don't have much time to blog. I lost a lot of time replying to a couple of comments, but they were important comments.

I'm particularly excited for several reasons:
  • it's a warm day in the local area; overcast, but really, really comfortable; love this global warming; I think all older people do; extreme cold weather is hard on some of us -- ask the Russians and the Chinese this year. But I digress....
  • I haven't even started looking at the weekend edition of the WSJ which I always anticipate with great excitement, but I do have the fourth section open, ready to read [updated: review of the WSJ is down below]
  • I eagerly await Chevron's earnings report for 4Q12; the company expects a "notable" increase in its earnings. Over thirty years of investment; I don't recall a "utility-like" company ever using the word "notably" in a pre-earnings statement; it will be interesting to see how the market reacts (disclaimer: this is not an investment site; make no investment decisions based on what you read here)
  • reflecting on the snippet of an interview at the WSJ suggesting that the US will replace all -- repeat, the US will replace all -- light sweet oil imports with its own domestically produced light sweet oil by mid-2103 (mid-2013? that's five or six months from now!); think of the winners and losers; I may do a stand-alone post on that if I find time; one big winner: Delta Airlines
  • all things being equal, the Bakken operators should be able to open the spigots now that there will be increased storage capacity at Cushing; this is huge; 
  • 2-million-bbl EURs in the better part of the Bakken; when the blog started several years ago, the Bakken EURs were generally assumed to be about 500,000 bbls
  • the declining number of permits, or decreasing leasing activity in the Bakken -- at least suggested by the first two weeks of data in 2013; most areas with leases held by production; decreased costs to the Bakken-centric producer for leases; more CAPEX available for production (I could be misreading this)
  • but all-in-all, I think it was the CVX announcement that put me in a good mood. CVX is off its highs but had a great day yesterday; especially compared to COP, and even to XOM
So, the WSJ links today, in the time I have remaining

Section D (Off Duty):

The front page starts with "tech's new frontier" -- smarter TVs, ultra-HD films, banner year in gadgetry.
Personal (not in the WSJ): We had not bought a new television in 20 or 30 years for my wife's parents' home, but now that we added cable internet, and wi-fi, at that house, I finally gave in an replaced the 12-inch black-and-white television/broken VCR combo with a Vizio 32-inch smart television and a new stand-alone Blu-Ray DVD player with a connection using an HDMI cable. Everyone I know did this ten years ago; we finally moved into the late 20th century. Smile. It is absolutely incredible. And the price for the Vizio at Target during the post-Christmas sale was, to say the least, incredible. I was afraid to get the "smart" television, thinking it might be "smarter" than I when hooking it up  (translation: I wouldn't be able to hook it up in a house with 1950's technology). Wow, was I surprised. I followed each step slowly and exactly and it worked perfectly.  So, for anyone out there 62 years and older, afraid of new technology, don't be afraid. ATT U-Verse works as advertised; the customer support was incredible; and we now can play internet apps on the "smart TV" without subscribing to internet/cable television. Yup, antenna reception is all we need in southern California with internet wi-fi. Truly amazing. And like I said, we are still about 20 years behind what is possible, I suppose.
Okay, this could be the story of the day, page D4: lipstick that goes the distance -- new long-wearing formulas deliver on their promise of endurance. The article does not mention whether the "new" lipsticks still contain powder from crushed parasitic beetles.

A full page article on the Madrono Ranch, in Medina, TX, 90 minutes from San Antonio, featuring the Dai Due School for hunting and barbecuing. Less than $50 for a five-day non-resident hunting license. WSJ's recommendation for target practice before beginning: the Lone Star Gun Range near Lockhart, TX, outside Austin.

Section C (Review -- books, the arts, politics) -- simply my favorite weekend section:

Three troubled allies: Japan, Israel, and Britain are facing big problems of their own just as the US needs their help. Will read later.

Editing our genes, one letter at a time. Will read later.

This looks very, very promising: a book review of Listening for Madeleine, editor/author Leonard Marcus. The review is written by James Kennedy.

Wow, two new books (and reviews) of Sherlock Holmes. I have never gotten into Sherlock but that could be my next phase. I had expected to move into Charles Dickens but got sidetracked by JRR Tolkien. One could spend a lifetime on Tolkien. I need to move on.

A review of Georgette Heyer's novels, life.

Oh, this is very, very interesting: the honcho of high-end headphones, Beats Electronics, is featured. Beats is a huge part of the Apple culture and was the subject of one of Macrumors postings earlier this week.

And then this, a review of Daniel Defoe's masterpiece, Robinson Crusoe, 1719. Wow, Robinson Crusoe and, specifically Daniel Defoe, were a huge part of my early days when I began an aggressive reading program in the late summer of 2002 and continue to this day. This "aggressive reading program" truly saved my life. But that's probably more than you want/need to know. But I'm not alone. I'm thinking of Harold Bloom --

Section B:

Wow, front page article by Jason Zweig, on TSPs - the Thrift Savings Programs. I will tell you all about them later if I have time. These are incredible programs. Only comment now: TSPs demonstrate (for lack of a better word) how clever, smart, brilliant, driven, determined, choose your adjective, to describe retired general officers of the military.  I can't wait to read the entire article, slowly, and then maybe blog about it.

Section A:

Mr Obama will speed troop exit from Afghanistan. All I can say is "about time." Wasn't this the 2008 campaign pledge? Remember, this was the individual who was given the Nobel Peace Prize on expectations. If we are out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, he deserved the prize. Now, we have to get ourselves out of Germany. We still have strategic interests in Japan and England. But strategic interests in Germany? Perhaps one transit air base (Ramstein) as a way station to hot spots throughout the region, but fighter bases in Germany? Okay, maybe one.

Also, front page: Dinner with strangers: pass the mac. Can't wait to read.

Page three: most important page of the WSJ as we've discussed before. Today: LA's waterway; flu shots only moderately effective this year; and, EPA citation further muddles Shell's Arctic plans. More good news for the Bakken.

Rockefeller's senate exit lifts GOP hopefuls. Rockefeller. West Virginia. Clever man.

Here we go, page A9: the Greeks are raiding forests in search of wood to heat homes. We've seen this movie before. Turkey is treeless from doing the same thing centuries ago. Sad. Predictable. Where is the outrage? Why are faux environmentalists not demanding the US "donate" excess fossil fuel to Greece? After all, even Venezuela discounted fuel oil to the US northeast. I think Venezuela even gave some of it to the US for free, but my memory does not serve me well in this case. [I just checked; I was wrong: it was simply heavily discounted, although at this link the word "free" is used on more than one occasion. ]


Peggy Noonan: the GOP needs to be unpredictable and bold; grab some of the president's issues. As noted some time ago, I have become less enamored with Ms Noonan since November. I probably won't read the piece: I love political news; I have less time for purely party-political op-eds.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., addresses "our 'hottest year' and Al Gore's epic failure." Now, that is one I will read.

I won't read Lloyd Sederer's op-ed on the tragedy of mental-health law. It's a dog-bites-man story. The teaser: "patient protections have become rigid rules excluding families from patient care and exceeding common sense."

Sports Page:

The NFL needs some BCS: why the playoffs would be spicier if pro teams played in bowls. Maybe. Maybe not. Home field advantage is not trivial.  And it might not be "fair" to fans.

Motley Fool on Murphy Oil and COP/PSX

First, COP/PSX:
Since the May 1, 2012 spin-off, the two component parts of the formerly-integrated ConocoPhillips have taken somewhat divergent paths. Whereas the spun-off downstream retailer known as Phillips 66 has enjoyed market-beating returns over the past three quarters, the upstream producer that retains the ConocoPhillips name has enjoyed mediocre returns. These contrasting fortunes are indicative of specific challenges faced by ConocoPhillips as well as a successful unlocking of the long-dormant value in the core businesses of Phillips 66.

During the spin-off, ConocoPhillips distributed shares of the newly-created Phillips 66 stock to ConocoPhillips shareholders of record as of the close of trading on April 16, 2012. Each shareholder received one new Phillips 66 share for every two ConocoPhillips shares that they held. Any remaining fractional shares were combined and sold on the open market for cash consideration.

On the day of the spin-off, ConocoPhillips closed at $56.51 per share. It has since risen in value to touch $59.17 per share as of January 7, 2013. This represents a return of about 4.7 percent during an eight-month period. Meanwhile, Phillips 66 closed at $32.76 per share on May 1, 2012. During the subsequent eight months, it has nearly doubled in value. On January 7, 2013, it closed at $51.36 per share after touching an all-time high above $55 during the previous week. Shareholders who have held this stock since its inception have earned returns of nearly 58 percent.
Second, Murphy Oil (MUR):
Yet to be voted on; later this summer.