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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

THE END OF ORANGE JUICE AND COFFEE?

Let me answer this question with a NO, but Scientific American is one of my subscriptions, and they reported on the end of orange juice and coffee.  What would breakfast be for most with these demises, although I might have this combination maybe only once or twice/year.  At 15 Craigside I seem now to be in a giant rut:  cereal, plain yogurt, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, grapes, pineapple and milk in a large bowl, mostly because the dining room here mostly looks the other way (they really don't want you to take food back to your room for reasons that are beyond my comprehension) when I sneak them out so that I don't have to return the next morning or two.  When I actually show up for breakfast, I have an equally uninspired hot oatmeal with raisins and a juice.  Breakfast is just to keep me alive and blood pressure controlled.

The fear about the future of orange juice is a gnat-sized insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, which has been attacking citrus groves.  The disease is known as Huanglongbing (yes, you can again blame China, for this is a Chinese word for "Yellow Dragon Disease"), and is caused by a bacterium, Candidatus liberibacter, carried in the saliva gland of this insect.  This microbe disrupts the flow of nutrients within the plant:


One solution is a wasp, Tamarixia radiata, that preys on the nasty insect.   The longer term answer is genetic modification, but those are now dirty words in agriculture.  Certainly, there must be something about Japan, for it is one of the few countries without this disease.

The USA produces more than 10% of the world orange juice, but Brazil is more than double our volume.  We are #1 in grapefruit, lemons and limes.


The story, probably apocryphal, is that an Ethiopian goatherd in 858AD noticed that his goats became excited after eating the beans from coffee plants.  Factually, it is generally recognized that the first plants came from Harar in Ethiopia.  It was termed a miracle drug then, and, more and more, medical science seems to now be saying that coffee is "good" for you.


An assortment of insects, like the coffee cherry borer (above), has caused problems.  However, coffee is mostly threatened by a fungus.  The fundamental problem, though, is that almost all the coffee crops originated with a handful of plants from Ethiopia, so there is no diversity of options within the available genes to combat coffee rust.  Global warming also appears to be exacerbating the effect.


Another problem is that very little fundamental research has been undertaken on coffee.  Some years ago I discussed with a researcher in our College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Relations about using genetic engineering to develop a coffee plant that produced a drink that tasted like it smelled.  Note, for example, that tea tends to smell like tea and taste like tea.  Coffee, however, smells great and tastes bitter.  After you add some cream, perhaps a touch of butter, too, and sugar, only then does coffee taste like coffee.  I thus order cappuccino, and add these ingredients.  Anyway, we could not find a source of funding.  I still think that the person or company that finds a genetic solution to this oddity will become very, very rich.

The most popular drink is, of course, water.  Next?  Tea, which is the national drink of China and India.  #3 is coffee, and, you would think the USA is #1 for all the Starbucks.  Nope, we are #25,  consuming about a third/capita as much as Finland.  Cold countries, all in Europe, dominate the top ten. The USA, notwithstanding Hawaii, does not rank in the top twenty in the production of coffee beans. Brazil and Vietnam dominate as #1 and #2.  However, Hawaii Kona Coffee ranks #2 in the world with respect to taste, with Tanzania Peaberry Coffee as #1.

Indubitably, you heard, probably from the movie, Bucket List, that Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee, with beans cycled through an Indonesian Monkey's--Palm Toddy Cat--digestive track.  Only 500 pounds are harvested each year, and a pound can cost more than $500, but Amazon sells it for less than  $400/pound.

I might add that I again had dinner on my lanai last night, and the sunset was above average, the first photo showing the Christmas tree of First Hawaiian Bank:


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

AIR NUTS

Korean Air certainly has had its problems.  There was, of course, KAL 007 in 1983, which was shot down by a Soviet plane.  Physical evidence was not provided until the Cold War ended eight years later.

Second, Asiana Airlines, while still not as large as Korean Air, is now preferred (61%-39%).  I've flown Asiana quite a bit over the past few years and it is in my top three.  Can't say the same for United.

And now, the greatest insult of them all:  Air Nuts.  Say you are Heather Hyun-ah Cho (note, she is Americanized--having graduated from Cornell and the University of Southern California), a high level executive and 40-year old daughter of Korean Air CEO Cho Yang-ho, son of the founder.  While he did admit that he must have done a crummy job of bringing up his daughter, he is no angel himself.  He was convicted of tax evasion in the later 1990's and jailed for seven months.  

I'm quite familiar with Korean Air because, in the inimitable culture of Korea, they happen to sponsor Inha University, where I've lectured and conducted cooperative projects.  Click HERE for an interesting story of why Inha is a contracted combination of Incheon and Hawaii.  The country's first president, Syngman Rhee, started this university after living in exile in Hawaii.

Anyway, back to Heather, who a week ago was comfortably seated in first class on Korean Air 82 from JFK to Incheon.  Cabin crew chief Park Chang-jin serves her macadamia nuts in a bag.  In a bag, mind you.  Heather goes berserk, for her protocol, which is described in a service manual with which she pokes Chang-jin, is specific that a plate be used.  Now, this is after, in abusive language,  making him kneel before her after this outrageous act by Chang-jin.

All would have been well, I suspect, if Heather did not insist that the flight return to the gate to toss Mr. Park off the plane, and he was.  Of course, all this rage occurred on the tarmac and KAL 82 was only 11 minutes late on arrival in Seoul.  So what's the big deal?

That's my take on why, from her point of view, Miss Cho went nuts.  She resigned from all posts with her father's Hanjin chaebol.  But Heather will be back because she remains the prime heiress.  She has a younger sister Emily, who is a senior vice president with KAL, was born in Hawaii and graduated from USC (same as her sister).  That's Emily below, who has done some wonderful things for KAL:


Ah, but the story does not end with Emily.  Hawaii's:

     Mac nuts now all the rage

That's the headline in the Star-Advertiser this morning.  Love the rage part.  Hawaii was the first to commercialize macadamia nuts more than a century ago.  There are 700 mac farms here with annual sales of $38 million.  These nuts are gluten free and include antioxidants, dietary fiber, calcium, iron, vitamins and other minerals.  South Korea has virtually sold out of mac nuts there and are now buying out Hawaii.  All because of Heather Cho.  I once worked for the parent company of Royal Hawaiian Orchards.  Note the new natural products.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

A FEW THINGS ABOUT THE ECONOMY THAT WILL SURPRISE YOU

I want the USA and World economy to crash, down, say, to a Dow Jones Industrial Average of 12,000  (it touched 18,000 earlier this month).  This has nothing to do with my less than vast economic expertise, nor occasional doomsday predilections.  Why, then?
  • I got out of the stock market a year ago, feeling that a severe drop was coming.
    • The Dow reached a record high of 16,577 on the last day of last year.
    • The jump was 27% for the year, the largest annual increase since 1996.
    • NASDAQ closed at the end of the year at its highest level in 13 years, jumping 38% for the year.
  • Well, I was wrong, as the Dow kept increasing...until this past week.  It is at 17,213, down 67 for the day, at the time of this writing.
  • But, I still think a devastating fall is coming, perhaps next year.
  • Only then will I return.
  • Oh, I might add that I also wanted this drop because the apartment I donated to the University of Hawaii will provide an endowment that depends on the performance of the stock market, not unlike any personal investment.  It is still for sale, and I hope won't sell until the market tanks.
I normally try to post a positive Monday message, but the following from Tanzina Vega of the New York Times is also ominous:
  • The wealth gap between minorities and whites has increased.  This means there could be more street protests and violence.  For example:
    • Average median net worth of white households in 2013 was $141,900
    • For black households--$11,000
    • The factor is 14.
    • By the way, this factor in 1989 was 17, so it has been worse in the past.
  • In 2007, it was white $192,500 and black $19,200, or a factor of 10.  What the article did not even comment on was that both have significantly DROPPED....DROPPED over the past six years.  Hispanic?  2007 = $23,000 and 2013 = $13,700, also a crushing drop.
  • The median net worth of households was $135,700 in 2007, sunk to $82,300 in 2010 and even further to $81,400 last year.
Call it the recession, or whatever you want, but our lifestyle is continuing to fall.  Here are a few graphs worthy of your note from Business Insider:

And if you think your personal income tax rate is too high...WE ARE AT THE LOWEST LEVEL IN 30 YEARS:


Anyway, why are  our stocks doing relatively well?  The World at large, for one, is doing much worse.  The Russian ruble has plunged to a record low against the U.S. dollar, 66 rubles to the U.S. dollar.  Their stock market is collapsing and inflation has hit 10%.



Today, France's CAC lost 2.5%, Germany's DAX dropped 2.7% and UK's FTSE down 1.9%.  Last week the Euro Stoxx 50 sunk 6%, the biggest drop since August 2011.  Certainly, Europe continues to be a basket case, and Greece, Italy and a few other counties are on the verge of bankruptcy.

However, China's stock market is 30% higher for the year.  Is this good for them?  Foreign investment this past year has actually declined.  There is a fear that the Chinese market is dangerously manic.  If I had any Chinese stock, I would most definitely take out my money as soon as possible.

Japan?  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won in a landslide yesterday.  As I reported two weeks ago when I was in Japan, though, this means nothing, as all the opposition parties, and there are far too many of them, are in disarray.  Voter turnout was at an all-time low in Japan.  His Liberal Democratic Party (which is the equivalent of the Republican Party in the U.S.) now has an additional four years to further sink the country, as he will continue to piss off China and South Korea, spend more on their military and activate as many nuclear power plants as possible, while downplaying the danger of Fukushima.  Just before he gets kicked out in a year and a half he will, though, increase the sales tax from 8% to 10%, for that is the nature of Japanese prime ministers.  They commit political hare-kiri for the good of the country.  Since 2007, when Abe served his first term as PM, there have been seven, seven, prime ministers.  That's one a year.  By any current measure, Prime Minister Abe, actually, is a political miracle for staying in office for as long as he has.

Japan's Nikkei is at less than half of what it was in 1989, and, in fact, when you consider the real cost of money, the market was 73,000 in 1989 and is at 17,000 today, a factor of four less now.  Mind you, the Nikkei dropped down close to 8,000 after the debacle of Fukushima, so one can say that Abenomics doubled the value of the stock market, which remains at 25% of what it was at peak.  Like the ruble, the Japanese yen has weakened, from less than 80 yen to the dollar two years ago to close to 120 today.

Finally, you would think that the sinking price of oil would boost many markets, but just the opposite is occurring.  Today, U.S. crude fell below $56/barrel.  The nose-dive has been close to a halving since June.


In closing, the U.S. average price of gasoline is approaching $2.50/gallon.  Why aren't airline ticket prices declining?  Senator Chuck Schumer has called for a probe.  Airlines are saying this is not collusion, but just good business sense.  Hey, this is is the USA!  We have a free market, which is doing fabulously well today.

I had a sunset dinner tonight on my lanai, and the view was breathtaking:


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Sunday, December 14, 2014

I'M ALWAYS CHASING RAINBOWS

I've always loved rainbows, see spectacular ones all the time and have spent a lifetime chasing them.  One day at my computer I was photoshopping my family mon, left.  I ended up with the colorized rainbow version to the right below, which is on the cover of all my recent books.  There is a reason for this artistic creation.

It was at least twenty years ago when I was moderating a discussion on Japanese-American relations when it occurred to me that a solution was to take the high road to cooperation, and, as Takahashi in Japanese, means high bridge, I, then, was the ideal person to connect our two countries.  As a rainbow bridge, my life took on added meaning.

The music for I'm Always Chasing Rainbows is credited to Harry Carroll, with lyrics by Joseph McCarthy.  However, the melody is, really, Fantaisie-Impromptu by Frederic Chopin.


First published in 1917, the Dolly Sisters (above) first sung the song that year in a broadway show, Oh Look.  From the 1945 film version of The Dolly Sisters (this is the whole 114 minute version of the film--Rotten Tomatoes viewers gave it a 61% rating), with John Payne and Betty Grable doing the singing..  Charles Harrison is credited in 1918 with selling the most records of this song in those times.   Others:
Why all this detail about I'm Always Chasing Rainbows?  That is the song of my life, for I've been chasing rainbows as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, it's impossible to catch up with any rainbow, for it is an optical "illusion," but real, for the colored rings you see represent the refraction of raindrops.  You need to be between the rainbow and the Sun, so when you reach the rainbow, it disappears.  Further, you never see a rainbow when the Sun is higher than 42 degrees from the horizon.  In higher latitudes in the north and south, you can see rainbows at any time because the Sun might never reach 42 degrees in the winter.  The above from a package of 25 rainbow photos.

I've seen full circle rainbows from my first penthouse in Honolulu, and from planes, plus around the Sun and Moon.  Double rainbows are common from my previous penthouse.  However, National Geographic  showed a quadruple rainbow, except I can only see one below:


Anyway, here are my efforts at chasing rainbows, and someday, whether its Over the Rainbow, or at the End of the Rainbow, I dream that some of them will bloom and flourish:
  • Blue Revolution (scroll down to next posting):  just one of my dreams was to establish a Blue Revolution program at the University of Hawaii--so I donated my apartment to initiate this effort.  This marine multi-product system is driven by ocean thermal ocean conversion, a topic of high interest to me, for I helped draft the original OTEC bill more than a third of a century ago.
  • Hawaiian Onsets:  I helped establish a company to build geothermal spas on the Big Island and Maui.
  • Laser fusion:  worked for Edward Teller at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  Another rainbow, for I thought it would take forever to attain this technology.  However, Star Power occurs in every star and our Sun, and why not on Earth, but, hopefully not again in a Hydrogen Bomb.  That's me with my micro laser system I built for my PhD dissertation.
  • Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI):  spent some time at the Ames Research Center essentially on an effort to design a better way to detect alien signals, sort of like what Jodie Foster did in CONTACT, and helped Carl Sagan gain initial funding for SETI.  Just think, a pathway to world peace, control of fusion and who knows what else might be beaming in from a civilization a billion  years ahead of ours.
  • Simple Solutions:  I've so far written three books in this series, and still hope to complete seven, each a color of the rainbow:
    • The Venus Syndrome:  Purple
    • Pearl's Ashes:  Red (yellow already taken)
    • Blue Revolution:  Blue
    • The BioMethanol Economy:  Green
    • Not sure what (orange)
  • Pearl's Gold Trees along the Ala Wai Canal (the Honolulu City Council recently gave approval, and the initial planting will be on January 5)
  • Pearl's Ashes (I have now laid Pearl's ashes at 50 locations around the world, and have begun compiling an e-photo book)
One of my rainbow projects I don't wish to become real is THE VENUS SYNDROME.  However, if I do write that novel, perhaps it will lead to a film which could scare decision makers to do something about global climate change.

A rainbow can inspire, soothe...delight.  While where I live at 15 Craigside some are restricted to having to take care of a spouse with Alzheimer's.  I fortunately have continued to be provided an opportunity to keep chasing rainbows, maybe even into that Ultimate Black Hole transporting me into a parallel universe where I can begin a new life.

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