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Thursday, October 23, 2014


Here are a few bits of information you can casually toss out at your next cocktail reception or dinner conversation:

1.  The price of butter, $2.8225, is at an all time high, topping the $2.81 in 1998.  While statistically correct, the worth of $2.81 (relative to purchasing power) today is $4.02.  So, even though at a record high, butter today is cheap!  Cheddar cheese also hit a high.  However, don't now get into the dairy business, for in 2009, butter sold for $1.09/pound, and it cost more to produce this product than the return revenue.

2.  Guess which country will pay $300,000 for just one rhinoceros horn?  Not China, but Vietnam.  While only 15 or so horns were poached in South Africa annually from 1990 to 2007, in 2012 the number reached 688, resulting in two rhinoceroses killed every two days.  People in Vietnam think imbibing rhino horn powder cures cancer.  One treatment can cost $2,000.  During the past five years, the number of millionaires in that country has grown by 150%.  The desired alcoholic drink of the rich is a cocktail with this enhance virility.  Oh, it also helps preserve your liver.  Rhino horn is now more expensive than cocaine.  The attitude?  In Vietnam you can buy anything for money.  The last rhino in Vietnam was killed for its horn in 2010 and Mozambique just earlier this year lost its final animal.  The numbers in Zimbabwe and South Africa are declining because of poaching:

3.  Our unemployment rate is declining, recently sinking to 5.9%:

While Hawaii is down to 4.2%, North Dakota is at 2.8%.  The highest is Georgia at 7.9%.  Around the world:
  • Zimbabwe  70%
  • Turkmenistan 70%
  • Tajikistan  60%
  • Mozambique  60%
  • Djibouti  59%
  • Namibia  51%
  • American Samoa  50%
  • Senegal 48%
  • Nepal  46%
  • Kosovo (Serbia)  45%

The lowest:
  • Cambodia  0% (0.1%)
  • Qatar  0.3%
  • Thailand  0.56%
  • Kuwait  1.5%
  • Guernsey  1.5%
  • Tonga  1.1%
  • Papua New Guinea 1.9%
  • Singapore  1.9%
  • Macau  2%
4.  Yesterday I wondered why anyone voted Republican.  Here is another piece of news that should gall you.  American companies:
  • were responsible for 33% of federal taxes in 1952.
  • Are paying 14% of federal taxes in 2014.
  • Accumulated $1.8 trillion in profits just in the second quarter of this year.
How?  Congressional loopholes.  The Republicans will most probably control both the House and Senate next year.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Frankly, I'm confused.  Republicans seem to like fossil fuels, not care that much for the environment, want to cut taxes for the rich, disdain the poor (which includes most of us), promote wars and love guns.  They will maintain control over the House and are projected to take over the Senate next month.  But how can this be when they have the lowest favorability rating in history:

There are some social issues like family, abortion, same sex marriage, religion, etc., that seem to favor Republicans.  Maybe that's the difference not revealed in polls.  Certainly, it seems like the White House has fumbled the Ebola non-pandemic and healthcare in general...but they really haven't.

However, most voters probably want a change because they perceive that our economy is rotten and heading downhill.  They believe the Grand Old Party (GOP, or Republicans) can do a better job here, by a margin of 39% to 31%.  Yikes, remember, they support the rich.

Is all this sensible?  I think not.  People can be analogized to sheep.  Many actually believe what they see on TV.  Republicans do a better job at swaying the public through commercials that exaggerate the truth and distort reality.  People remember them.  All this is occurring with a media that leans in the direction of liberals (Democrats).  Amazing.

Or maybe I should be focusing on all those not quite Republicans and quasi Democrats, known as Independents.  There are more of them than Republicans and Democrats:

The prime example is President Barack Obama.  He saved the country and world from a possible depression, thus engineering a huge budget deficit, which, if you've not noticed, is not a campaign issue anymore. Why? Because our deficit is dropping, and rapidly.  He got us out of the Middle East War.  Yet, he is blamed for the mess with Syria and the handling of ISIS, two manini issues.  People still seem to hate Obamacare, even though, by all measures, it's working, and will only get better.  Our economy is the best in the world, and although the stock market had a recent minor correction, we are doing great compared to Europe, Russia, China, Japan and rest of the world:

Note, particularly, that the presidential approval rating has been dropping since Obama first took office.  Hey, he won a Nobel Prize and is a heck of a lot more popular than Bush the Younger with countries around the world, though maybe not so for Muslim regions.  Is this because he is doing a terrible job as president, or mostly a perception because of politics?  Is this because Obama is not 100% White?  Read editorials by Joe Klein in TIME and Paul Krugman in the New York Times.  This is a puzzlement.

Could Republican political strategy be the reason why they will control both houses of Congress next year?  Whatever the Republicans are doing, you got to give them credit for overcoming common sense and  true reality.  What are they doing, anyway?


Tuesday, October 21, 2014


In two weeks I embark on my regular Spring adventure, this time through Oceania (New Zealand and Australia, although the term generally includes all the islands in this general region) and the Orient.  In advance, I thought it would be of interest to highlight what's newsworthy these days in that portion of the world.

Best as I can tell, nothing much is happening in New Zealand.  Some of the headlines include:
Remember that 20-year drought of Australia?  Well, that's over.  California?  Still suffering.

The primary news item in the Orient has to do with the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.  To summarize:
  • On 1 July 1997 the United Kingdom returned Hong Kong to China.
  • Hong Kong retained much of its freedoms.
  • Changes were cosmetic, like new flag (previous above, new below), etc.
  • However, in small ways, you could see the screws turning.
  • A recent adjustment had to do with electoral reforms, essentially, China would largely determine who could run for office.  The current lightning rod has to do with the Chief Executive, but there is the additional matter of  the Legislative Council also being vetted. 
  • What is the point of voting if all your choices will have pro-China inclinations.
  • On 22 September 2014, the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism began protesting.
  • On September 28, protesters began blocking streets and occupying them.
  • There was some teargas and other measures taken by the government, but China has been relatively subdued about a counter reaction.  
  • This community attitude is hardly unanimous, as polls indicated that "only" 59% were supportive of the students. 
  • Tonight, five Hong Kong officials, led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam (above right), squared off against five students dressed in black T-shirts that read FREEDOM NOW.  Everything was covered live on television.
    • These were not government officials from China, but Hong Kong residents running the city.  
    • The students beseeched these officials to become heroes and support the cause.
    • The government debaters basically indicated that they have no power and China controls everything.
    • One point of view is that, if allowed to proceed as currently edicted, this was at least a step towards democracy, as each citizen will still be able to freely vote...for the candidates blessed by China.
My take?  There will eventually be minor adjustments on how candidates are selected.  Will this be the future of China?  WILL STUDENTS LEAD THE WAY?  Clearly, Beijing is especially worried about how this issue will inflame mainland China students.

The fourth largest country, Indonesia, yesterday inaugurated a new president, Joko Widodo.  Jokowi, a 53-year old businessman, who usually travels in tourist class on commercial flights, and is now running 13,000 islands inhabited by 252 million people, 87% Muslim, more in number than any country in the world.  Because of deforestation, Indonesia is the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and, ironically, because of those islands, the country that could most be devastated by sea level rise.

Switching to Thailand, the country continues to be under military rule.  Thursday is Chulalongkorn Day, a national holiday.  Also known as Rama V, he was that outspoken son of Yul Brynner (when he played the King of Siam) in the King and I (watch this clip, and you will know which one will become Rama V).  At least all should be calm when I get to Bangkok.  I might try Gaggan, said to be the best Indian restaurant in the world.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity is finally declining.  The nuclear disaster at Fukushima is only getting worse.  The update today (which is already tomorrow in Japan):
  • Radiation levels in the drainage ditch were the highest since monitoring began.
  • The government limitation for strontium, which causes bone cancer, is 30 Becquerels/liter.
  • The measurement was 140,000 B/l.
  • The ditch is about a thousand yards from the sea.
  • More than 100,000 people are still restricted from returning:
    • The cost of clean-up could cost $500 billion.
    • A French study put a bad case financial disaster of $7.53 trillion at their Dampierre nuclear plant, a secret study which was just leaked.
    • You think the Fukushima cataclysm might eventually exceed a trillion dollars?
The past couple of times I visited Japan I went to Fukushima, but probably won't this time.  Why.


Monday, October 20, 2014


I went to see the movie Fury this weekend, which took #1 at the box office, with Gone Girl at #2.  Rotten Tomatoes reviewers did not think especially highly of the film, rating it at 79%, but the audiences generally loved it, 90%.

Will the film get nominated for an Oscar?  Will Brad Pitt?  Or Logan Lerman (left, he was in Noah as Ham--and in case you were wondering from where came the title of the film)?  My wild guess is no for the film, but yes for Pitt (Best Actor), who plays the battle-tested and jaded tank sergeant, and Lerman (Supporting Actor), as the rookie who grows from scene to scene.  Fury is much like the 2009 Inglorious Bastards, also with Pitt, except the action for the former occurs mostly in and around a tank.

Thus, more than anything else, this was a tank flick.  I remember being curious about tanks when young, and enjoyed getting into them during Armed Forces Day.  Now I border on claustrophobia.  One of my nephews became a tank commander of a platoon and eventually quit the Army because his group never made it to the Middle East War in Iraq.  The military sent the first team, then a reserve outfit, and the insult was too much to take.  But he went on to become a doctor.  The Abrams tank (right) is used today and  apparently did not fare well in the Iraq War. Here are two hours of CNN Shock and Awe.

Anyway, there was a fight between Pitt's Sherman tank (above) against the vaunted German Tiger (below).  It is said that Germany felt they had miscalculated by never building a heavy bomber, like a B-29, so went overboard with the Tiger.  Hitler picked Henschel over Porsche in the competition to build the Tiger.  Designers married their legendary 88 mm howitzer unto the largest tank ever built (actually, to be perfectly correct, Germany built one Panzer Mouse, left, designed by Porsche, which was almost three times the weight of the Tiger).  The armor at the front would be more than twice that of the Sherman.  However, they had to minimize weight, so the rear was not so thick and therefore vulnerable.

Here is a 10 minute video comparing the American Sherman (though all the allies, including Russia, built their version of this) versus the German Tiger.  Can't really tell the physical difference unless you go to the vital statistics:
                                                                Sherman M4                 Tiger II

Number produced                                      49,234                           984

Primary canon                                           75 mm                         88 mm

Speed, up to                                             30 MPH                      26 MPH

Range                                                     120 miles                    75 miles

Armor  (front)                                           76 mm                         185 mm

Weight                                          66,800 pounds            153,800 pounds

Philosophy                                        support troops               destroy tanks
                                                           avoid tanks

The German shell is to the extreme right, while the American is third from the right.  The U.S. strategy about tanks was to build more.  This was necessary because Germany orchestrated tank battles at greater than a third of a mile, so, as the movie mentioned, Tigers destroyed something like 10 Shermans to one of theirs.  But this is Hollywood, so guess how smart Pitt was about strategy and who wins the battle?  Anyway, I'm not giving much away, for the real climax follows.  If you like a lot of shooting and gore in an R movie, go to Fury.

It would have made for a more interesting movie if they had also followed the crew of the German Tiger tank around, for much of what the Americans did were stretched out and somewhat boring.  As a minor aside, some say that the Russian T-34 was the best tank of World War II, but that will need to survive the test of another movie.  That could be a sequel, maybe this next time with George Clooney.  Oh, yes, John Wick opens this Friday, with Keanu Reaves, rated 100% by Rotten Tomatoes reviewers.


Sunday, October 19, 2014


Yesterday, 25,000 (or 30,000, depending on source) runners participated in the Beijing Marathon.  Masks of various types were used.  However, air pollution did not bother Girmay Gebru of Ethiopia, who won in 2:10:42:

While it was reported that "most" runners finished, it wasn't clear how many died.  The government had issued a BLUE WARNING, meaning, the air quality was unsuitable for outdoor activities.  Not sure what blue means, for:

Maybe blue means off the charts, for there were readings in Dingzhou yesterday that went beyond the highest level on the index.  From another source, here is what I found about BLUE:

Beijing Initiated a Blue Warning  

From Beijing’s severe air pollution emergency director’s office), the reporter found out, Beijing’s unfavorable weather conditions continued to influence the air quality, as the air current moved poorly. At the same time, the fireworks and firecrackers set off on the night of Lantern Festival increased the degree of pollution. From 6 pm on the day of Lantern Festival, the density of PM2.5 increased markedly, rising to a peak hourly average of 500 micrograms per cubic meter. There was even an individual instance of 900 micrograms per cubic meter recorded. Compared with the peak recording on New Year’s Eve, Lantern Festival was 50% higher.

Apparently BLUE means an Air Quality Index greater than 500.  There was some sense of humor, as the general theme had to do with airpocalypse and there was no Ebola scare, for no one wore a Hazmat suit.  Interesting that, as bad as Beijing might be, here are the world's worst air polluted cities:

If you're wondering why Beijing is not listed, this has something to do with the use of particulate matter (PM) size:  PM10 micron by the world and PM2.5 micron by China.  In general, you can inhale a 10 micron particle, but the smaller 2.5 micron is far more dangerous, as it gets into your blood stream.

Last month, September, was the hottest on record. This April, May, June and August also equalled or broke the all-time monthly highs:

"We shouldn't be beating the all-time records without an intense El Nino," said Andy Pitman (right), director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of NSW. "What the hell's going to happen when we do get [one]?"

Hurricane Ana remains at 80 MPH, is today south of Kauai/Niihau, and will turn north from tomorrow.

Best as I could tell, Ana was kind to Hawaii.  Honolulu has had gentle rains for a day and a half now, with sunlight expected this afternoon.  Whew!


Saturday, October 18, 2014


Almost everyone knows that light travels 186,282 (simplify to 186,000) miles per second, which means that if you were to go at that speed, you would circle Planet Earth 7.5 times in one second.  Or, sunlight takes 8 minutes and 20 seconds to travel from the Sun to us.  To be really picky, our orbit is not circular, so it can be 8 min 27 sec when we are furthest away.  If  you've ever been curious about how we get our sunlight (which is nuclear power, fusion, occurring at the center of our Sun), here is one explanation.

Yesterday, Richard Brill featured in his Star Advertiser column the long, hard trek of sunlight, or photons (this is a quantum of light), from the Sun to Earth:
  • A gamma ray photon is created at the core of the Sun at 27 F million degrees and 250 billion atmospheres.
  • As gamma rays are "dangerous," it is fortunate that this high energy photon has to pass through 432,000 (Brill says 400,000) miles to the surface of the Sun.
  • The first 300,000 miles is plasma denser than lead.
  • This gamma ray photon collides with mostly hydrogen molecules (really, the proton portion), bounces around, and loses energy.
  • It takes around 100,000 years for this photon to finally reach 100,000 miles from the surface of the Sun, and is now only one ten-millionth of its original energy as an X-ray photon.
  • The final 120,000 miles is "only" turbulent plasma (mostly ionized hydrogen), so this X-ray photon only takes a week more to get to the surface of the Sun, which is at around 10,000 F.
  • This photon is now only one-millionth as energetic, or one ten-trillionth of what it originally was.
  • Thus, this benign photon, called sunlight, takes a final 8 minutes and 20 seconds to reach the surface of Planet Earth.
  • The whole journey took about 100,00 years + one week + 8 minutes +20 seconds, or around 100,000 years to reach us.  However, Brill says in the first paragraph 120,000 years, so I suspect he meant that it takes 120,000 years, not 100,000 years, to reach a point 100,000 miles from the surface.  In any case, 100,000 years or 120,000 years is a long time and it doesn't matter much if scientifically accurate.
Unfortunately, the fundamental science is not as simple, for another analysis says this 100,000 years  estimate is, essentially, not really so!  Another source indicates 10,000 to 170,000 years, based on collisions.  A more accurate answer is:

 The calculation is a little tricky, but the conclusion is that a photon takes between many thousands and many millions of years to drunkenly wander to the surface of the Sun.

All three results from eminent individuals are sufficiently different, but such is the nature of advanced astrophysics.  They say dark energy is 73% of all mass and energy in the Universe, and 23% is dark matter, except that no one has yet seen or measured anything dark.  What we observe, thus, is ONLY 4% of everything.  Does this make any sense to you?

Here is something a little more understandable, and reveals the incredible vastness of our Universe.  This source says that a commercial jet would take from 118 billion to 143 billion years to travel from one  end of our Milky Way Galaxy to the other.  Of course, it would quickly run out of fuel first, and can't travel in a vacuum anyway.  Keep in mind, though, that the Big Bang was only 13.8 billion years ago.    The rule of thumb is that light would need 100,000 years to get across our galaxy.  The first biologically modern Homo sapiens evolved around 100,000 years ago, wall paintings perhaps 50,000 years ago, farming 12,000 years, and tale of Jesus Christ 2,000 years.  

The closest major galaxy, Andromeda (which is the farthest thing we can see with our unaided eyes), is 2.3 light-years away, or, in other words, light would take 2.3 million years to get here from there.  Again, other reports show the figure to be 2.5 million years.    Why can't they be consistent?

Incidentally, when you gaze at Andromeda, that light left that galaxy at a time when Homo habilis (right) lived,  and way before the Neanderthals (first appeared 400,000 years ago), where the earliest version of  Homo sapiens, us, only came, perhaps, 250,000 years ago.  In other words, if any signal is detected from that galaxy, if we respond, it will take another 2.5 million years to get there.

Incidentally, while it might be true that our Sun should be good for maybe another 5 billion years, it turns out that our Milky Way and Andromeda will begin to merge in 4 billion years.  With Andromeda to the left, here is what this collision will look like from Planet Earth:

Andromeda has a trillion stars, while at most, the Milky Way might have 400 million, so we will lose this battle.  But, we are only two of 225 billion galaxies that can be detected (there are more).  Inter-galactic travel?  There are suggested ways.  But dream on.

The eye of Hurricane Ana is 140 miles from Honolulu and moving west:

From my computer, here is Ana, beyond the horizon:

Perfectly calm, no rain, only cloudy, but regular screechy weather warnings about the potential of floods.