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Friday, October 8, 2010

THE STATE OF JAPAN ON 8OCT2010

Let me first describe a very fine Italian dinner I had with Yayoi/Takeo Kondo and Hiromi/Kenji Hotta, two ocean technology professors from Nihon University.  Above at the Executive Club of the Tokyo Westin and below, with Antivino owner Kozo Kogawa, who coincidentally lives on the same floor as Yayoi/Takeo daughter's family.  If I seem to exclusively wear a blue sport coat, that is simply because it is the only one I brought on this trip. After all, this is a crusade for the Blue Revolution, and Nihon University will be at the front with the original partners.

The food was traditional Italian, as we shared five appetizers and four pastas.  I started with a Cinzano cocktail and we then had a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  Mr. Kogawa was very accommodating, allowing me to add sliced onion and basil leaves to my aglio olio and having my cappuccino enhanced with an expresso.

Another breakfast this morning at the Westin:


I'm in Tokyo, so let me focus this Friday only on Japan:

1.  Two of the three Nobel Prize awardees in Chemistry are from Japan: 80 year old Akira Suzuki of Hokkaido University and Eiichi Negishi, 75, at Purdue University.  Both studied at Purdue under 1979 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Herbert Brown.  Suzuki went home, Negishi remained in America.  The third winner, Richard Heck, has been retired from the University Delaware for a dozen years.  His research was in parallel to that of the two Japanese scientists.  The key element was palladium, used as a catalyst to ease the way for exotic carbon-carbon bonds so that artificial drugs can be created of natural products, thus making the "pill" much cheaper.  The concept also allows for brighter laser diodes and mass production of certain industrial chemicals.    Palladium is also that magical ingredient for so-called cold fusion, not related to this prize.

2.  Eichi Ozawa is becoming a royal pain to the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.  First he calls for a leadership vote against Prime Minister Naoto Kan, but loses, then threatens to sue the judiciary panel that recently recommended that Ozawa stand trial for longstanding scandals.  He would do himself, his party and Japan a lot of good by just retiring for good and staying home.

3.  There has been a warning here too about travel to Europe.  Tom Toles' cartoon well captures the danger.

4.  Japan is getting old.  Their population dropped almost 100,000 last year.  Twenty-two percent are 65 or older, and this figure is expected to rise to 42% by 2055.

5.  The yen-dollar exchange rate hit a 15 year low (high might be more appropriate because it is the inverse of the dollar-euro ratio) of 82.11 this week, meaning that American money in Japan is not worth as much.

6.  The U.S. is encouraging the formation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership for free trade.  While much of the Orient and even Peru and Chile are interested, China and Korea appear to be left out.  Japan is wary, partly spurred by recently signed Peru- South Korea and European Union - South Korea free trade agreements.  These developments are mostly anti-Chinese, which sounding more and more like Republican politicians in the USA.  China has bullied on the Senkaku Island matter, attempted to influence the Nobel Prize committee not to give their Peace award to Liu Xiaobo, and railed angrily when the honor was announced.  Speaking of China, I noticed an obscure article that dozens have been infected with Chikungunya in Donguan, a city near Hong Kong.  I hope Jaw Kai's algae experiment is not there.  I sidestepped this mosquito-borne virus in Le Reunion Island.

7.  A heartwarming development (although you can call it what you want) is that of 50-year old Seiko Noda, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who was once in the high running for Prime Minister.  At the age of 37, she was the youngest minister in the Cabinet of PM Keizo Obuchi.  Although not married, she used the sperm of her current live-in (a restaurant owner from Kansai who is 7 years younger than her) and the egg of a "white" American to be artificially impregnated in the U.S.

8.  Remember the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming?  The one that will expire in 2012?  The agreement that the USA ignored?  Well, negotiators in Tianjin are today getting nowhere in preparation for the Cancun summit next month, the gathering that will make even Copenhagen look decent.  Like the U.S. Congress, even the Japan Diet is divided.  The fact of the matter is that, while Japan had a really hot summer, "only" 132 died (remember, the country's population is dropping nearly 100,000 annually anyway).  You literally need tens of millions perishing around the world before decision-makers take a stand.

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The Dow Jones Industrials climbed 58 to nudge above 11,000 for the first time in five months, ending at 11,006.  It was almost exactly three years ago that the Dow closed at an all time high of 14,164.  World markets were mixed.  Gold is up $11/toz to $1346 (almost a doubling from 5 years ago) and crude oil is at $82/barrel.

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There are two storms in the Atlantic Region, but neither appears of interest at this time.

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