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Thursday, August 21, 2014

THE USA IS DOING FINE!

Yes, the United States is doing fine, if not terrific, relative to the rest of the world.  The local paper this morning gave me the impression that our country had messed up the turmoil in Ukraine, seems powerless to rescue our citizens in the Middle East, can't do much for the Ebola problem in Africa, can only weakly suggest peace options in the Gaza Strip and sits on a powder keg for the coming other (than Ferguson) riots this summer.  All that was reinforced by Maureen Dowd (left), a long-time supporter of Barack Obama, who censures him with an excoriating op-ed entitled:


First of all, the world is not doing that badly.  The Cold War is over and there is no threat of a nuclear winter.  What happened to acid rain, the limits to growth and the population bomb?  The imminence of a world-wide depression facing President Obama when he first took office has been replaced by the Dow Jones again approaching an all time high.  In comparison, check out the stock markets of China (all three graphs start in the year 1990):


Japan:


Note that the China high of 6,000 is now dawdling near 2000, while Japan, the country that has made a so-called recovery, was once close to 40,000, and now jiggles around 15,000.  And, by the way, the worth of 40,000 in 1991 is today something closer to 70,000.  The USA?

Yes, we are doing fine, indeed.

What else is good.  The price of oil seems to have stabilized:


The red line is the inflation adjusted price .  So what does the the biggest world producer, Saudi Arabia, do with its revenues?  They spend $67 billion on their military, 9.3% of their gross domestic product.  The top three+ in annual military spending:

#1   USA               $640 billion   3.8%
#2   China             $188 billion   2.0%
#3   Russia           $  88 billion   4.1%
#4   Saudi Arabia  $  67 billion   9.3%
.
#8   Japan             $  49 billion   1.0%

That $640 billion for the U.S.?  You could almost double that figure when you count all the other national security measures funded by the Feds.

The bottom line, though, is that we have no fatal threat.  We are the only supreme power left.  China has no interest in invading America.  Our Navy Seals and selected units can take care of most terrorists.  Russia sort of has one aircraft carrier nearly a quarter century old, and China's is a re-tread of a Ukrainian ship (left).  Honestly...not kidding!    The U.S.?  We have 12, with three more under construction, each to cost an additional $13 billion.  Why???  The military-industrials complex.

No reason why we should spend so much on defense.  Thus, if sanity can prevail, we actually do have more funds to apply to the environment (like global warming, for example) and education.  We can start by returning 90% of our 160,000 active-duty personnel from 150 countries back home.  Then, quickly eliminate these positions.  I could add that this number doubles when you include civilian personnel and dependents.  While we're at this, terminate the F-35 (right), a dud that is expected to cost taxpayers $1.45 trillion, which is $1,450 billion.  I fear the real bill, for that estimate was made two years ago.

More so, then, if we can ever get our politics productive, priorities progressive and attitudes constructive, I have even higher hopes for our future.  The world?  I worry about the basket case that is Europe, the trends I see in Japan with Abe touting the return of nuclear and intent to beef up its military....and a lot more.  We are not the problem, we help provide solutions.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HAWAII IS A SPECIAL PLACE

Hawaii is, indeed, a special place.  However, special is sometimes bad, if not terrible.  To begin, we:
  • are the most isolated population on Earth, being 2390 miles from California and 3850 miles from Japan
  • are the only state that grows coffee, now on most islands
  • supply one-third the world's supply of fresh pineapples (frankly, I find this hard to believe)
  • are the widest state in the nation (130 land masses across 1600 miles)
  • have in Honolulu the LARGEST CITY in the world (this is tricky, but has to do with the previous item)
  • have Ala Wai Golf Course, said to be the busiest in the world (I suspect, though, that this is not the case anymore, as I can walk on just about anytime after a very short wait--and effectively pay only around $4.50 for walking nine holes, but no more than 20  times/month)
  • have only racial minorities
  • are the worldwide leader in harvesting macadamia nuts and orchids (..hmmm...)
  • have:
    • Iolani Palace as the only royal place in the U.S.
    •  Haleakala Crater on Maui as the world's largest dormant volcano
    • Mount Waialeale on Kauai as the wettest spot in the world (683 inches in 1982)
    • Parker Ranch on the Big Island remains as the largest contiguous ranch in the USA
    • Kilauea Volcano (right) on the Big Island as the most active in the world
    • South Point on the Big Island as the southernmost point in the U.S., where supposedly, there is a constant wind of about 30 MPH that blows 24 hours/day and 365 days/year (this I don't believe, as I've fished there and felt no wind)
    • the largest collection of large telescopes on Mauna Kea, which is the tallest mountain in the world when measured from the base (seafloor):

                    But Olympus Mons on Mars is even higher.

Maybe more important than anything else, we are the most honest, with Alabama.  According to the National Honesty Index, run by Honesty Tea, our two states scored 100%.  Honolulu was the ONLY city that rated 100%.    Click on that link for details.  The worst was  Rhode Island at 83%.  Hawaii Five-O was rated #3 for honest fans.   

We are also special:
  • As the worst state for doing business (however, even in this study, we ranked #1 for quality of life).
  • While $245,340 is the average cost of raising a child up to the age of 17, it  costs $430,000 in Honolulu.  And that does not include college!  But we were only the second worst, as New York City led at $540,514.   The national average in 1960 was $25,000, which is equivalent to nearly $200,000 today.
  • We pay 300% more for electricity (38 cents/kWh versus 12.5 cents/kWh).
The Huffington Post had 18 worst reasons about Hawaii.  I won't list all, but, here are a few:
  • traffic
  • cost of living
  • shark attacks
  • vog (volcanic fog, which should be VAZE, for volcanic haze)
  • you'll never get dressed up again
This was sort of tongue in cheek, for the posting ended with 98 beautiful photos of Hawaii.


My greatest fear is the next oil shock, for that could thrust Hawaii into a prolonged economic depression.  We are too dependent on tourism, and the departure of Senator Dan Inouye means that military spending will begin to disappear.  If there is no global warming and we have time to slowly develop our renewable resources, Hawaii should be a great place to live by the Year 2100. 

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

HOW IMPORTANT ARE BIRDS?

It's not known for sure, but chances are there are 100 billion to 400 billion birds in the whole wide world, with up to 20 billion just in the USA. , and that's 64 birds/human.  Apparently, this number drops by a factor of two by the early spring, and jumps upon the subsequent hatchings.

Cats kill half a billion birds/year in our country.   Plus up to a billion birds die yearly from window impacts (in the U.S).  Wind turbines kill a quarter million (140,000 to 328,000) birds/year A more comprehensive study by Curry & Kerlinger, consultants to the Wind Power Industry, reports the following bird deaths/year in the U.S.:
  • glass windows:  up to 900+ million
  • house cats:  100 million
  • traffic:  up to 100 million
  • electrical transmission lines:  up to 174 million
  • agriculture:  67 million
So what's this latest news about the solar tower power plant at Ivanpah being questioned because it is killing too many birds?  This  123 MW facility has 300,000 mirrors the size of a garage door reflecting the rays of the sun onto three boiler towers up to 40 stories high.  Federal investigators say that up to 28,000 birds/year (BrightSource, the developer says the number is around a 1000/year) are being decimated, so there should be a halt to any further development, as plans are to increase generation to 392 MW.  Hmm...that would be, by my calculation, 75,000 birds/year, or fewer than 3,000 according to the company.

Taking the environmentalist point of view, if ten of these solar farms, or 4000 MW (about four typical nuclear power plants), are built in the California/Nevada desert, that would equal about one-fifth of one percent cat kills.  And what about those planned 75-storey towers (right) planned at the California-Arizona border?  Add on another one-tenth of one percent of cat kills.

If wind power increases by a factor of ten, that would equal 2.5 million birds/year, or 2.5% of cat kills.  Let's say someday all solar power equals that of wind turbines, that would be 5% of cat kills for solar/wind.  Shouldn't we eliminate cats?  Now.

Maybe we should expand nuclear power, as there have not been too many deaths caused by plutonium/uranium in the USA.  Whooops, let me take that back, for NukeFree reports that avian mortality from wind farms and nuclear reactors are similar, and more than ten times better than fossil fuel plants.  Okay, then, perhaps we should outlaw windows and buildings, for they kill ten times more birds than cats.  The bottom line is that all the existing and coming wind/solar farms will hardly dent the population of birds!!!

Duke Energy Renewables was charged with killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other birds in Wyoming.  There was a fine imposed, which upset some conservationists, who indicated this was a permit to kill eagles.

As minuscule, relatively, as solar kills might be, people are talking to each other.  For example, the Fed's set up a:

22-member Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee, which included experts from the National Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Massachusetts Audubon and Bat Conservation International, developed the guidelines. Committee members report they are optimistic that the new guidelines provide a path to better protection for birds and their habitat.

Is it worth all this concern?  The number of solar/wind bird kills could be a worthwhile trade-off for combatting global warming and maximizing energy security.


However, my take on this subject is that the solar/wind industry will, actually, find better solutions.  Already, Altamont Pass is experimenting with cage-like lattice towers and shrouds that seem to be working.    We are only learning how migratory birds see and react.  It's possible that visual fixes can work.  Not quite antimissile technology, but, I can imagine some device that can influence bird flights away from solar towers and wind turbines.  Acoustic deterrent options are only in the early stages of thinking.

The Audobon Society will attempt to sway the discussion, but it will eventually come down to economics and commercial feasibility versus environmental factors and public ire.  Sure, technology can minimize kill rate, but will these cures be affordable?  Are birds really worth all this attention?  After all, there are maybe 400 billion birds and  global solar/wind devices might not ever reach a tenth of a billion bird kills/year, without taking any measures.  However, people can be passionate about birds, and this will continue to be an issue into the foreseeable future.


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Monday, August 18, 2014

WHY DO PEOPLE RIOT?

Why do people riot?  A complex question, but the primary reason  has to do with injustice.  Most of the riots in the USA have been racial, black versus white.  Thus, economics, unemployment and the range of sociological parameters come into play.

Through all the turmoil over time in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and New York City, St. Louis somehow managed to avoid anything truly serious.  Until now.  Why?  The black population of St. Louis is around 50%, as opposed to Chicago at 33% and Detroit, a national high of 83%.

First of all, Ferguson is a suburb of St. Louis, and most of the 21,000 residents, if you bothered to ask, will say they are from St. Louis.  However, Ferguson is 67% black with a 94% white police force.  The perceived injustice has been building.  Any spark could have caused an explosion.  

Los Angeles only has a black population of 10% today.  However, it was perhaps up to 20% in the 60's, and a majority in the south central region.  1965 was a year after the Civil Rights Act, and Watts had a population of 32,000, 90% black.  A traffic arrest in August of a black youth led to the Watts Riot, leading to 32 deaths.  Perhaps hot weather is also a factor, for that was the month of August.

Then in 1992, that flashpoint was Rodney King, who was a convicted robber, chased down and brutally beaten by Los Angeles police.  When they got acquitted, pent up frustration led to the Los Angeles Riot, with 53 deaths and a billion dollars in financial losses.  Incidentally, King later sued, was awarded $3.8 billion, but went on to be re-arrested several times, and last year probably died of cocaine overdose.

The trigger in 1998 Chicago (about a third black) was actually the Democratic National Party Convention, and, while the motivations were many, including the Vietnam War, the primary reason had everything to do with the assassination of Martin Luther King a few months earlier.  Thus, again, civil rights.

About Ferguson and St. Louis, the spark was the killing of 18 year old black Michael Brown, who has been portrayed as an angel soon off to college.  The truth is that he was a 6'4"-300-pound thug and criminal.  Watch this video.  That is Michael Brown.  Does it matter?  Of course not.  

In a critical of mass of people, any perceived injustice can escalate, leading to riots and wars.  Anywhere, mixing together a high minority concentration, usually in a hot summer month with an authoritative force of another color or religion or whatever, and you will brew potential for a social explosion.  Africa recently saw upheavals.  China and Europe are now particularly vulnerable to turmoil.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

MY SUMMER OF 1969 WITH CAMILLE AND WOODSTOCK


It was exactly 45 years ago and I was a graduate student at Louisiana State University when Hurricane Camille devastated the gulf coast of Mississippi.  17 August 1969 was also the final day of Woodstock in New York.  Pearl and I could well have experienced both.  Mind you, this was the period when Armstrong had just walked on the moon, our cities were in riot (Ferguson... pales by comparison) and we were losing the Vietnam War.  Here's the story.


From: Montreal, QC, Canada To: Woodstock, NYWe missed Camille mostly because we changed our schedule and, earlier that summer, drove from Baton Rouge to Florida through the coastline of Mississippi, and back.  In August we then found our way to  Montreal to visit the site of the 1967 World Expo.  We heard there was a rock concert being held in Woodstock and toyed with driving the four hours there, for it was on our way back to Baton Rouge.  That is when Camille stormed up the Gulf of Mexico towards Mississippi.

Camille, indeed, was the storm of the century. It was only the second Category 5 hurricane to make landfall over the U.S., the first being the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and that was the named used. Third was Andrew in 1992.  Names began to be applied only from 1953, and they were all female until 1979.  Katrina in 2005 was "only" a Category 4, but was the most expensive, said to have caused damages of $125 billion.  Both Camille and Katrina names were retired, with five just in 2005, most ever in one year.  In all, 78 names are no longer used.

Camille attained 175 MPH over Mississippi and had a destruction worth close to $10 billion today.  However, the speed is not official because all the measurement equipment was destroyed.  The best guess on that 1935 monster was 185 MPH.  The system of measuring strength is called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and, perhaps appropriately enough, the story is that Camille was named after Bob Simpson's daughter.  Simpson at the time of scale development was director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center.


I drove by the hurricane site in 1972 and saw the total devastation.  The coastal road disappeared.  Here is the Richelieu Hotel, before and after:


There were several controversies, and the one that still sticks in my mind is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at that time was experimenting with reducing the effect of budding storms using silver iodide.  Simpson  himself was involved with Project Stormfury.  The rumor is that the team seeded Hurricane Camille, which catalyzed the sudden growth in the Gulf.  The cover story, however, is that Hurricane Debbie, which had formed just after Camille, was actually the experimented storm.    If you today checked the world wide web, there is now no link to Camille.  NOAA, it is hinted, systematically expunged any connection of hurricane seeding with Camille.  But, then, did you hear the conspiracy theory about the Japanese Yakuza using a Russian-made electronic generator to cause Hurricane Katrina, in retaliation for the U.S. using an A-Bomb over Hiroshima?  Of course, Hurricane Sandy two years ago also had a few of them.  Now that I've descended into the ridiculous, time to change courses and end with...

....Woodstock.  My interest in this gathering goes back to 1967 when I was a process engineer with the Hutchinson Sugar Company in Naalehu, and was asked to do something different for their annual fair.   To quote from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth:

...annual July 4th Fair, organized what I called The First Annual Battle of the Bands, which might have been the first rock concert held in Hawaii. It was a huge success. Oh, what an impresario future I might have had if I continued that thrust. I think I invented the concept. There were no such things as Woodstock in the early 60’s, where rock groups came together to entertain the public in an outdoor setting.

By the way, if you clicked on that book, you would have noticed that a USED copy can now be purchased for $455.99. In any case, we had to rush back to Baton Rouge, and never got to Woodstock.  If you're nevertheless interested in what people did 45 years ago, watch this almost X-rated documentary by clicking on WOODSTOCK.  It is an hour long.


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Saturday, August 16, 2014

DRUNK HISTORY




Comedy Central has a series now in its second year, called DRUNK HISTORY, moderated by inebriated narrators, where regulars and celebrity guest stars play dignitaries in American history.  Here is a representative version of A Christmas Carol with Ryan Gosling, Jim Carrey and Eva Mendes.  You will note that "F" words are liberally applied and the dialogue is updated to circa 2014.  Will Ferrell is one of the executive producers.  By all rights, we should be embarrassed and insulted about such shoddy treatment of our most famous.  

Honestly, I never even heard of this program until last week, but happened to read that three Hawaii-related VIPs--Captain James Cook, Senator Daniel Inouye and surfer Eddie Aikau--were to be featured.  The whole production is a string of one-liners and exaggerations, not unlike a series of cartoons.  However, the history is mostly correct and the effect is, amazingly enough, hilarious.

This coming week the effort needles Philadelphia, with George Washington (John Lithgow), Thomas Jefferson, and Benedict Arnold among heroes and villains to be skewered.  Winona Ryder is Peggy Shippen.  Who?  Second wife of General Arnold.  If you're thinking, why am I showing an out of focused Washington, imagine being seriously drunk.  The week following, meaning August 26, Sports Heroes will be the subject matter.   Turn to Comedy Central at 10PM EDT, but Hawaii shows the program at 7PM.  The series  has been renewed for a third season.

Have a great Saturday!

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Friday, August 15, 2014

PIECES OF MY MIND

I probably was a reasonable person for most of my life.  Engineer, professor, research administrator...sometime golfer.  After retirement, nothing much changed.  Wrote a few books, went around the world several times.

I've always had opinions, but, more recently, I have become opinionated.  This is not good for personal relationships, but, I tell myself, more interesting for a blogger.  Today, for example, just in the Star-Advertiser, I scanned through a series of mostly non-news items that troubled me:

1.  DEEDY NOT GUILTY OF MURDER:  Sure, this federal agent who just arrived in Hawaii, did have alcohol in his blood, and without doubt fatally shot a "local" guy with attitude who appeared to be harassing "non-locals" at this Waikiki McDonald's.  Here is a 10-minute video, which does not reveal much.  Let's face it, Kollin Elderts was a punk, and in 2008 was convicted for disorderly conduct.  You see this all the time.  Mother and family honestly feeling that their meaningful son did not deserve premature death.  Read my three strikes and you're dead to gain another point of view.

Eminently admirable, for Deedy was apparently just standing up for the feelings of those bullied by Elderts.  Unfortunately, instead of gaining some kind of medal, things went badly wrong, with the taunter skipping a step and being prematurely terminated, also forever ruining the rest of Deedy's life.  Last year there was a  hung jury for murder, and at the second trial that ended yesterday, the verdict was not guilty of murder and deadlocks on manslaughter and assault.  Yet, deputy prosecutor Janice Futa wants a third trial.  While Hawaii laws allow this, kind of sounds like triple jeopardy to me.  Defense attorney Thomas Otake was quoted to say:  They had every chance in the world. First without manslaughter. Now with manslaughter. And they have not been able to obtain a conviction. Our position is enough is enough.  I agree with  him.


2.  PRELIMINARY WORK GETS STARTED ON MOVING U.S. MILITARY BASE;  What the USA is doing is relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa into Henoko Bay.  There are 50,000 American troops (double this number for dependents and civilian staff) in Japan, and the media reported that Japan will pay $3.1 billion for relocation.  However, the bill will be $8.6 billion, so our tax money will need to shell out $5.5 billion.  Note:  there is, of course, also the significant cost of our military in Japan.  Which leads me to say, World War II ended exactly (15 August 1945) 69 years ago.  Why are we even there?  China?  North Korea?  A couple of task forces should be sufficient.  We have 160,000 active-duty personnel serving outside the U.S. in 150 countries!!  There are 41,000 just in Germany.  We have more military in either Japan or Germany than Afghanistan and Iraq combined (31,450).  Yes, these countries provide support funds, said to be $2 billion/year for Japan, and "rent" for bases is forgiven in Germany.  These 160,000 foreign-based military presence costs around $25 billion/year.  So what troubles me is that we remain burdened 69 years after World War II and 61 years after the Korean War.  Bring the troops home.  Eliminate them from active duty over time, and use some at the Mexican border in the transition.  The Cold War ended 23 years ago.  Symbolic presence, okay.  But technology can replace boots on the ground.

3.  CHINA AND SOUTH KOREA OPPOSE TO JAPANESE OFFICIALS' YASUKUNI SHRINE VISIT:  A more accurate term is:  reacted ballistically.  These two, and other, countries in the Orient get royally pissed off several times/year when any high official in government pays respect.  There are 2.47 million war dead buried at Yasukuni and fourteen war criminals, including Hideki Tojo.  Simple solution?  Re-inter those fourteen skeletons somewhere where no one one will bother to visit, and all this brouhaha will evaporate.  Well, maybe not all, but this would remove one relationship impediment.

4.  GROUPS DEMAND ANSWERS ON PUNA POWER PLANT:  I too was taken aback when it was announced during the peak of Tropical Storm Iselle's assault over the Big Island that Puna Geothermal Venture's power plant was releasing hydrogen sulfide.  First, that made no sense to me, as they don't just collect this gas and store it somewhere.  Hydrogen sulfide is a natural component of volcanic gases, and in New Zealand and Japan, this rotten-egg smelling compound is deemed therapeutic at onsens and hot steam resorts.  True, 30 minutes of exposure to 500 ppm does result in headache, dizziness etc...  However, the incoming geothermal steam in Puna is at  1 part per million.  The problem is that your nose can detect 0.00047 ppm, or 0.47 parts per billion.  With the released steam being dissipated, there had to be considerable dilution, perhaps by a factor of a thousand by the time any nearby occupant smelled this contaminant.  Thus, you can still detect this malodorant, and your mind can panic.  I suspect that is what happened.  Oh, that headline article did say that the groups and individuals are trying to close down geothermal development in Puna.  My take is that they saw an opportunity to embarrass Puna Geothermal Venture and exaggerated the truth.  I've personally been involved with this subject for about 40 years.  My opinion is that even geothermal is better than nuclear power, or importing in more coal or any fossil fuel for generating electricity.  This not in my backyard attitude is understandable, but unfortunate.

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