Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Diets and Obesity
The diet of 2007 is Wu-Long slimming tea. Oprah swears by…. Whoops! That was an ad. When it comes to diet, it’s best to know what not to do. All diets work to some degree. Some, though, can kill you, and most will not work because of you. These advertisements try to sound as medically sanctioned as possible, tossing in very fine print Food and Drug Administration references to exhibit an aura of respectability.
It is said that 75% of those in the U.S. are concerned about be
ing overweight. Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World, written by Greg Citser, was published in 2003. From 1976 to 1991 fatness increased by 31%, then another 24% between 1994 and 2000. Lost productivity amounting to $75 billion per year has been shown. Worse, this trend is continuing, and being overweight is said to be our second leading preventable cause of death, responsible for as much as 365,000 casualties each year.
Yet, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) changed their earlier position and reported in 2004 that packing on the pounds can only account for less than 10% that figure. Here we go again, the medical profession reversing itself. Then, in 2007 CDCP, really did it, as they described some advantages for being overweight. While being fat increases risks associated with diabetes and kidney diseases, being slightly overweight does not affect cancer and heart disease. In fact some extra pounds protect the body from DEATH.
There is something called the Body Mass Index (BMI), where an obese person is classified as anything over 30, and overweight is from 25 to 30. The example provided is that a 5-foot-4 woman is overweight at 145 pounds and obese at 175. Whew, I’m male, but 160 pounds and about 5-ft-9, placing me with a BMI in the 23 to 24 category, definitely, then, NOT overweight. I can now stop trying to lose weight and enjoy life a lot more. A 5-ft-9 male becomes obese at 200 pounds. Obese is not good.
How to calculate your personal BMI? Easy:
o Weigh yourself in kilograms (or pounds divided by 2.2)
160 pounds / 2.2 = 72.7
o Measure your height in meters (or inches divided by 39.37)
69 inches / 39.37 = 1.75
o Calculate your BMI, which equals your weight (kg) divided by height (m), and, again, divided by height (m)
72.7 / 1.75 / 1.75 = 23.7
In any case, contrary to popular opinion, Americans are NOT the fattest people on Earth. (The following is from the book itself. This is a newer reference indicating that Nauru is the worst and tshe USA is #9.) Qatar, with 45.3% of all women being obese and 34.6% of men ranks as #1. Lebanon, with 36.3% men (38.3% women) is next worst, and the U.S. is #5 for males (27.7%) and #8 for females (34%).368 People in the Middle East appear to be the fattest. Here, I thought Muslims had a sparse and healthy diet. Some stewed sheep, dates, water. Not so in this global economy. In another part of the world, 13.8% of males in Mongolia are considered to be obese. Yes, there are fat people there, too. So eating less is probably good, but being subsequently skinny is not.
Eating just normally, apparently, might not be optimal, as rats on a subsistence diet have been shown to live 30% longer than those free to eat at will. So do skinny people live longer? Well, vaguely yes, except that being underweight could well pose an even greater risk as you age. Osteoporosis (disease of the bone), for example, can be controlled by body fat. For those 55 and older, an extra 5 to 10 pounds actually improve your chances for a longer life.
There must be a contagious obesity virus in fat countries, as there is at least one medical study showing that adenovirus-36 does tend to infect fat people. Whether this true or not, the chances are that genetics, lifestyle, attitude and other factors weigh more heavily. The bottom line is that if you don’t smoke and are healthy, being really fat is bad for your longevity, but being slightly overweight might not be all that bad, especially as you get older.
Finally, can you help control your weight by sleeping more? At first glance, you might wonder if this is also some kind of joke, for sleeping is the most sedentary of all activities. But, yes, obesity is linked to lack of sleep. Children sleeping 10 hours/night were 3.5 times more apt to become obese than those who slept 12 hours/night.16 Go to these references and read about the leptins and ghrelins, for me, I noticed that when I went to sleep later, I tended to get hungry and had a snack.
The body weight of a person is a simple matter of energy/mass balance. If you eat more caloric food and exercise less, you will get fat and probably be unhealthier. Like most things in life, you need to strike that proper and enjoyable balance. A very simple solution for anyone with diet on your mind is to just remember that cutting 150 calories per day, like a can of soda everyday, can result in 2 pounds less of you by the end of the year. In ten years, you should be 20 pounds lighter, unless you’ve then reached the age of 55, when you might want to think about increasing your weight. Stay tuned to any changes to the current medical belief that older people should be a little overweight, plus the advent of those anti-obesity pills (three are already on the market).
The above was a continuation of Chapter 2 from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.
The Dow Jones Industrials went up 91 to 8529 and world markets all went up. Crude oil surged up and is getting close to $73/barrel, while gold dropped a buck to $939/toz.
I guess that disturbance around the Yucatan Peninsula disappeared. But the ocean looks warm in the Gulf of Mexico and off Mexico.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
I will play futurist today courtesy of Wired. There are certain trends that intrigue me:
- The country to watch is Cuba, which is an economic and technological miracle waiting to happen.
- A second article was entitled, The Great Wall of Facebook, which had the following threads regarding Google versus Facebook:
- Google was founded by Stanford students Lawrence Page and Sergey Brin in 1998, while Facebook was the product of Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg in 2004.
- Google has assets of $32 billion, with a net income of more than $4 billion last year. Facebook has never gone positive, but calibrated by Microsoft’s 1.6% ownership (acing out Google), is worth about $15 billion.
- Google owns YouTube and Facebook tried to buy Twitter.
- Google is a search engine and Facebook is a social network website with 200 million members, which is rapidly increasing.
- Facebook expects to replace Google as the dominant search site. Google scoffs.
- Finally, Apocalypse Not on the Swine Flu. I’ve been saying that since April.
That low is now over the Yucatan Peninsula, but is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico, and models show it then going in two general directions: Mexico and the Florida Panhandle.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
The Bahamas flag, chosen in a contest, was first flown on July 10, 1973. The black triangle on the mast symbolizes the unity of the people of the Bahamas. The yellow middle-stripe stands for the sand-strands of the islands plus Sun and the aquamarine stripes symbolize the surrounding waters.
The Bahamas is officially known as the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, composed of 29 islands, 661 cays (sandy island on coral reef) and 2387 rocks (yes, rocks sticking out of the ocean; no one lives on these), with a population of 310,000. There were 30,000 or so at the time of Columbus in 1492, although human activity began as early as the 7th century. The islands were a haven for pirates, including Blackbeard in the 16th and 17th centuries. The British came in 1647. Independence was obtained in 1967, but chief of state is Queen Elizabeth II. The country became a member of the United Nations in 1973. The capitol is Nassau. The life expectancy is 66 and the GDP/capita is $28,000.
The geography makes it major transshipment point for illegal drugs, AIDS is a problem (3% of population) and the highway death/capita rate is 20 times that of the U.S. I stopped in The Bahamas once, a long time ago. My only memory is that of a large cockroach climbing out of a bread bowl at a restaurant. I never returned.
There are now three models of the disturbance (or disturbances?) east of Yucatan. More should be known by tomorrow. Tropical Storm Nangka brought some rain, but not much wind, to Guangdong Province, China yesterday.
Ninety countries have now visited this site: 2558-90-121.
Friday, June 26, 2009
I can still picture in my mind a bumper sticker during Thanksgiving with a turkey carrying a sign: You ares what you eats. For those who actually missed this joke…you don’t want to become a turkey, do you?
There have been fruit alerts. The Great Alar Scare of 1989 tarnished the reputation of red apples. Alar, or daminozide, a plant growth regulator and apple color enhancer, is a carcinogen. But you need to drink 5000 gallons of apple juice per day to get close to laboratory animal effects. Alar was taken off the market anyway, and, in some ways, is symptomatic of public overreaction, later shown in airport security and the bird flu. More recently in 2007, Europe went through a period when pesticides on a variety of fruits caused some concern.
There was the North American E. coli outbreak of 2006 in lettuce and spinach. There are safe ones and the deadly 0157:H7. I sterilized this microorganism with a tunable laser for my PhD dissertation. Scarily enough, just washing these vegetables might not help, as the bacteria could be inside the plant. Three died and several hundred were hospitalized. Generally, the problem comes from irrigation water contaminated with animal feces.
Remember Mad Cow Disease? I was in London during the height of this crisis, and gave their cattle industry a vote of confidence by consuming what must have been the largest hamburger I had ever seen in my life.
Castleberry Food Company’s chili recall resulted in my wife finding four cans of it at home, so she returned them to Costco, to learn that she was credited for six, so we must have eaten two cans. Somehow, we managed to avoid botulism. Good thing I don’t consume pet foods, for that scandal resulted in at least 16 dead dogs and cats and a trace to the bustling Chinese city of Xuzhou…and wheat gluten.
What is wheat gluten? When you wash dough made from wheat flour, the starch is rinsed away, leaving something called gluten. Yes, gluten was first used in ancient China. This noodle-like tendon is popular for macrobiotic diets as a meat substitute.
Wheat gluten is a perfectly safe food base. The danger comes when melamine is accidentally or purposefully added to supposedly increase the protein content. Melamine is an organic base with a molecular formula of C3H6N6, and is used to combine with formaldehyde to produce melamine resin, which you have no doubt used as a plastic dish, countertop, glue, fertilizer or flame retardant. Yes, you have also eaten some of it, as melamine was patented as a feed for cattle to provide non-protein nitrogen. In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to remove this compound as a test for meat and poultry because “it is no longer considered a residue of concern.” Melamine-contaminated feed has subsequently been detected in pork, chicken, fish and shrimp, which were cleared for human consumption. The bottom line, evidently, is that melamine in small doses does not harm us. The largest melamine factory in the world, at 120,000 tons/year became operational last year on Hainan Island off the Chinese Mainland. So, if anything, you will ingest more melamine in the future.
Diethylene glycol (DG) is a particularly troublesome chemical. Remember when cats used to lick antifreeze and die? That was ethylene glycol. Now a bittering agent is added to this chemical, which is still used. But DG has recently made the news as counterfeit glycerin (G, a natural byproduct from soapmaking) because DC is cheaper than G, and companies in China have substituted small amounts (up to 5%) of DC for G to cut costs, for used in toothpaste. No one dies if the toothpaste is not eaten. However, added to cold medicine, several hundred have succumbed in Panama. There have also reportedly been mass poisonings in Haiti, Bangladesh, Argentina, Nigeria and India.
Did you know that Colgate fluoride toothpaste contains: sodium monofluorosphosphate, hydrated silica, propylene glycol (this is okay, but diethylene is not), tetrasodium pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium saccharin, pentasodium triphosphate, sodium lauryl sulfate, carrageenan (from seaweed), a host of flavors with exotic names, sodium hydroxide and calcium peroxide? On this note, have you taken a close look at some of the processed chips sold in bags? First, those chemicals make no sense at all, so don’t bother.
Which brings us, then, to any import from China. The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned 28 imports in June of 2007—17 were from China. My first knee-jerk reaction harkens back to conspiracy and the American Japanese in World War II and American Muslims in the War of Terror. Is there something about China that brings out an inherent paranoia? Chinese recalls ranged from hammocks to toys to jewelry to tires to toothpaste to medical drugs to, of course, food. Seems like lobbyists were having a field day trying to knock out the competition, and Federal officials were only too accommodating. Well, there are no safety standards, apparently, on these imports, and, my gosh, we need to protect our pets. (More recently, there have been other incidents of lax supervision over product manufacture in China, so, without doubt, some of this concern has been warranted.)
The Dow Jones Industrials slipped 34 to 8438, while Orient markets were up and European mixed. As predicted yesterday, the House did pass that cap and trade bill 219-212. The American Clean Energy and Security Act calls for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. Gold dropped $2/toz to $940 and oil eased below $70/barrel.
Tropical Depression Nangka eased into China not that far from Hong Kong and has dissipated. Finally, there is a disturbance just east of Yucatan, and is expected to move north into the Gulf of Mexico.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Memorial services for Professor Ira Rohter will be held at Honolulu Waldorf School at 9AM this Saturday, June 27.
I continue excerpting Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:
Appendix A in Simple Solutions Book 1 covered life expectancies and risks towards life. Here we will run through an assortment of popular health and life topics.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists the top ten public health achievements (from 1990 to 2006 in per capita improvement):
○ Vaccination (47% increase in immunization coverage)
○ Motor-vehicle safety (40% decrease in motor vehicle deaths)
○ Safer workplaces
○ Control of infectious diseases (45% decrease in infectious diseases)
○ Decline of deaths from coronary heart disease/stroke (20% decline)
○ Safer and healthier foods
○ Healthier mothers and babies (35% decrease in infant mortality)
○ Family planning
○ Fluoridation of drinking water
○ Recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard (30% decline)
Most of these achievements are significant, but yet, sorely deficient. Let us closely look only at motor-vehicle safety. Of the major developed countries, the U.S. remains the worst, with 15.5 deaths per 100,000, nearly three times higher than Sweden. But it is 5 times worse in Mexico and 20 times even worse in the Bahamas. Worldwide, more than 1 million are killed on the roads every year and up to 50 million injured. The number one killer of tourists is not crime or terrorism, it is motor vehicle crashes. But this is a chapter on bio-issues. What about safer and healthier foods?
The Dow Jones Industrials surged 173 to 8472. Markets in the Orient were up but Europe was mostly down. Gold went up $11/toz to $942, while oil is in $70/barrel territory again. The House could vote on the "Cap and Trade" bill as soon as Friday. While close passage is being orchestrated, I will go on the record that this legislation is flawed. This political mishmash is a very poor compromise, mostly because Democrats from coal states gained damaging concessions. Not sure if the Senate's will be any better. There is no way that a simple carbon tax can be passed in the U.S. today, but that is the cleanest and most sensible solution to global warming. The bottom line is that President Obama needs to sign something before the next climate conference is held in Copenhagen in December.
Tropical Storm Nangka left at least 8 dead in the Philippines and should strike well east of Hong Kong this weekend. Former Hurricane Andres just went away and is now a disturbance.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
- The Saudi Arabia of phosphorus is Morocco. China is #1 in world supply and the USA is #2, but already, we are importing phosphorus…from Morocco. A small amount comes from guano (usually excrement of bats and seabirds), but both Christmas Island and Nauru (where Japan had an OTEC project) are running out of this stuff.
- Phosphorus was distilled in 1669 by Hennig Brand from his urine (yes, your urine has phosphates, which chemically are composed of one part phosphorus and four parts oxygen).
- What is phosphorus (P) and why is it important?
- Atomic number 15, a solid, found in the Periodic Table just below, and therefore most closely related to, nitrogen, a gas.
- Very reactive, so not found in nature as an element.
- Usually mined as calcium phosphate rock.
- Is a component of DNA, RNA, etc., but is mostly found in our bones and teeth.
- Those three numbers on fertilizers, like 19-12-5, stand for the percentage of nitrogen (19%), PHOSPHORUS (12%) and potassium (5%). Neither nitrogen nor potassium will ever run out. But the sustainability of phosphorus is in question to provide food into the long-term future.
- Actually, there is enough phosphorus to last a thousand years, but commercially available phosphate rocks will run out in less than a century.
- So what’s the big deal? Well, a ton of phosphate rock remained less than $25/ton until 2006, when the price zoomed up to $113/ton in 2008. The price of phosphorus fertilizer in 2009 is predicted to be volatile.
- There are at least 300 phosphoric acid fuel cells operating to provide electricity in stationary applications, making this the first type of fuel cell to become commercially competitive.
The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 23 to 8300, while world markets were mixed. Gold rose $5/toz to $931, while crude oil is nearing $69/barrel.
Hurricane Andres killed one, but has quickly dissipated off Mexico. Tropical Storm Nangka, at 50 MPH, should pass through China and Taiwan.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
To summarize, then, the two most important researchers, Mitsui and McKinley, have died. I then retired, but as a “T,” in my mind, I was never in jeopardy. President Mortimer resigned and moved to the State of Washington. But a short two weeks after official notification by NSF of the award, Dr. Zaborsky resigns and is replaced by Alexander Malahoff. Yikes, Malahoff directing MarBEC. A double “M.” I shared my M Curse theory with Alex, and, I understand, that might have spooked him, although I'm sure he understood that I certainly did not believe in things like curses. Well, after a relatively brief stint, he resigned and left for New Zealand on sabbatical, where he was incapacitated by some heart condition. As far as I know, though, he is still alive, and, perhaps, is well. Maybe he left just in time.
What began as the greatest hope for the future economic development of Hawaii became a Ship of Madness. I would rather not go into the details, but the National Science Foundation served as God or the Devil and killed MarBEC after a period of five years. Worse, soon after leaving the University of Hawaii, Oskar was hit with an incurable degenerating nerve disease, and recently passed away.
I began writing THE M CURSE as a docu-novel soon after I retired, but was warned by the University of Hawaii lawyer, Walter Kirimitsu, who later went on to become the President of Chaminade University, that there might be some legal ramifications if I were to continue. Warned is too severe a statement, it was more me asking and he playing the role of a protective university lawyer. Thus, I sanitized the whole thing and insert it here as a condensation. This is a good a time as any to now approach the matter of eternal life itself.
(It is appearing, though, that the people associated with MarBEC have recovered well, and belong to several other new acronyms. Perhaps that was the value and fate of, for me, the what I still consider to be the greatest National Science Foundation program that could have had a monumental difference for the State of Hawaii.)
The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 201 today to 8339. World markets virtually all fell. Oil dropped to $67/barrel and gold sunk $13/toz to $922.
Tropical Storm Andres off the Mexican coast, will continue on a northwest track, then turn west. In the West Pacific Tropical Depression Linfa, at 35 MPH, is bringing rain to south Kyushu. There is another tropical depression at 35 MPH east of the Philippines, and will move west into the islands.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
In the Northern Hemisphere, today (June 21) is the longest day and shortest night of the year. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Last year it was on the 20th of June, and it will again be on that day in 2012. The shortest day in the North will be on December 21. The recently celebrated D-Day (June 6), of course, did not occur on the longest day that year. Rather than confuse you with equinoxes and solstices and declinations, let me just leave this at that.
The following continues Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:
Within a week of Dr. McKinley’s death, the SOEST dean’s office, procedurally, began to retrieve the position. In some desperation, I wrote to Dean Barry Raleigh, to recapture that position and begin a search for Kelton’s replacement. He agreed that we could advertise, and an ad was placed with a deadline of June 6.
By the summer of 1995, the Mitsui Collection Project was going well. We decided to host a dedication, and with input from Professor Matsunaga, we named it the Mitsui-McKinley International Marine Biotechnology Culture Collection. Several of the Japanese M's paid their own way to participate in the ceremonies, including the Japanese (and world) leader of the field, Shigetoh Miyachi.
During this period, the University of Hawaii was in the throes of huge budget shortfalls. There was a rumor that a freeze would be placed on hiring. Unless you try to hire an important football coach at a university, it is essentially impossible to quickly bring on board anyone in any timely manner. Acting deans sometimes stay on in that role for years, maybe even up to a decade. It took all of one week for the University of Hawaii to hire coach Gregg McMackin in 2008. We succeeded 23 years earlier with Kel’s replacement. There is an amorphous cloud obscuring what really happened that summer because I can’t seem to find all the legal paperwork, but in July:
o I vaguely remember a memo dated July 18 from Dean Raleigh telling me there is a freeze coming so don’t hire anyone. I interpreted that to mean if the freeze is announced.
o I recall asking Associate Dean Magaard the following day, for Dean Raleigh had left on his summer vacation, to please approve hiring Oskar Zaborsky, for there is not now a freeze, but there could be one tomorrow.
o Magaard signs.
o Then a month later, Raleigh, back from his vacation, sends me a sarcastic letter for selecting someone like Zaborsky, although maybe it was because I had hired someone when there was a freeze, which had, in fact, occurred. I accepted the blame for some misunderstanding or procedural uncertainty.
Sometimes one has to bumble into things to avoid the specter of insubordination. I could not help, though, responding to Dean Raleigh’s deserved sarcasm with:
Thank you for your memo of August 21, 1995. Yes, I too noticed some imperfection in Oskar Zaborsky’s publication record, but there were important intangibles that made him by far the best candidate. I look forward to meeting with you tomorrow afternoon to discuss these strategic points.
To begin with, your statement that “we don’t have the scientists to do the necessary research, except for one in the Chemistry Department,” is much too pessimistic. For example, when we first initiated the hydrogen program nearly a decade ago, we had no researchers with a proven background in this field. We were able, however, to largely recruit faculty from throughout the campus, and during the past three years of annual reviews—and these are tough three-day sessions involving a panel of about a dozen from industry and academia—have been ranked #1 among universities. In fact, I’m pretty certain that we are at the top in the whole world with respect to a totally integrated academic program, as now and then I’m asked to evaluate these research programs in Japan and the European Union.
To set the stage for Zaborsky, we have already begun to form a team of potential contributors from SOEST, Pacific Biomedical Research Center, School of Natural Sciences, Cancer Research Center, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources and various national laboratories. I’ve been told that during the next fifteen months the best universities and a few companies in Japan would like to send six post-docs to work with us for one and two year assignments. At the local level, we have been meeting not only with elements within the UH System, but also organizations such as the Oceanic Institute and Cyanotech to gain their participation. A report of our state-wide capabilities in natural products will be presented to Vice President Smith next month. We have the basis for forming leading programs in biopharmaceuticals, biological energy production and agribusiness. What we do not have is a leader to bring together this potential critical mass. That person is Zaborsky.
We have succeeded in gaining control of the pre-eminent marine biotechnology culture collection (with an estimate worth of about $1 million, even though the true value is inestimable), and are talking to curators of other international collections for possible transfer here. The Japanese and U.S. governments have agreed to cost-share the transfer and maintenance of the repository at our Bioresources Laboratory. Perhaps most enticing of all is that discussions have been initiated for each country to contribute $1 million/year to support research on the International Marine Biotechnology Culture Collection. This will open the door to industrial contributions. However, to be realistic, I wonder if we can pull this off with our current reputation and paucity of proven capabilities. We need someone like Zaborsky to insure that current talk becomes true substance.
When I initially inquired with key funding agencies about who they might recommend for this position in question, the feedback was nearly unanimous. Both the Japan Ministry of International Trade and Industry and the U.S. Department of Energy recommended Zaborsky for this role—not merely endorsed, but recommended him. We can now add the National Institutes of Health to this list of supporters. Follow-up discussions have reinforced our selection.
With respect to other options, there is no one else with the credibility Zaborsky brings to develop an integrated multi-million dollar research program at the University of Hawaii in marine biotechnology, especially since the bridge to early funding needs to be linked to biological hydrogen production and environmental remediation. There are some top scholars and consultants we know who have published extensively, but each has some major flaw in personality, motivation or leadership ability. We subsequently were careful in the search process—for some of them review our proposals, and we couldn’t afford to alienate key individuals in the field. If Oskar declines our best offer (and his acceptance is far from certain under any affordable circumstances) we should be able to find an outstanding researcher who probably will need a lot of help and a decade to build a strong program in this area.
However, the timing is now, as the current State and University budgetary conditions are such that if we miss on Zaborsky, it is doubtful that we will be able to marshal any support for a second try, thus forfeiting our chance for attaining greater international prominence in the area of natural marine products. We will also stand to lose:
a) much of the above;
b) the $250,000 contribution from Hawaiian Electric Company to support an individual in hydrogen systems;
c) a golden opportunity to gain a leadership position in international biopharmaceuticals, with good potential for funding from the National Institutes of Health and the private sector; and
d) the momentum towards our quest to bring to the University of Hawaii both a National Science Foundation Center for Bioproducts Development and U.S. Department of Energy Hydrogen Technology Center.
The campaign for Zaborsky is, thus, much larger than the position previously occupied by Kelton McKinley. You assisted Kel build-up the Bioresources Laboratory, the base from which Oskar will operate. Without this foundation we would not be able to take this next step. But indeed we can compete, and I trust that you will appreciate the timing of this incredible conjunction of personalities (living and otherwise), budgets (where hydrogen, biotechnology and sustainability appear to be surviving well) and geopolitical circumstances (the Americans and Japanese want to work together in Hawaii in this field) so that we can leverage what we now have up to world class status.
A copy was sent to the Vice President of Research, Dean Smith. Four days later, I sent a memo to Smith, with a cc to Raleigh:
“Since our meeting last week with President Mortimer, I had long discussions with Barry Raleigh and Oskar Zaborsky and I feel comfortable in saying that Dean Raleigh is now supportive of Dr. Zaborsky as the leader we need to raise the University of Hawaii to a leadership role in marine biotechnology. …..
So Oskar was hired, but he accepted primarily because he was especially gratified about being named the Matsunaga Fellow in Renewable Energy Engineering, a program funded by Hawaiian Electric Company, headed by Michael May. The double M’s worried me a bit. Oskar was part of an intricate web involving the National Science Foundation and Akira Mitsui, and the details might be shared in a more complete publication on this matter in the future. In the meantime, it did truly bother me that soon after accepting, Zaborsky’s wife, Marcia, yes, another M, was diagnosed with cancer and remained in the D.C. during Oskar’s relatively short reign in Hawaii.
The final segment of The M Curse will be presented early this coming week.
Tropical Storm Linfa skirted north of Taiwan and appears to be weakening, but heading for Kyushu. There are two tropical depressions in the Pacific off Mexico, and both are projected to continue on a path northwest, then west.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
The following continues the serialization of Chapter 2 from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:
Kelton McKinley was assigned to meet with the quarantine people to determine how best to have the Mitsui Collection sent to Hawaii. Little did we know that the biological scientists at the university had had a long and bitter struggle to import anything resembling bacteria into the State. Even simple teaching samples were a problem.
Kelton presented his case to Larry Nakahara and Amy Higa of the Plant Quarantine Branch of the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture. As I am told, Kelton then asked, “how long will you need for your approval?” Larry responded, “maybe two or three years.” “Two or three years for only one specimen?” Asked Kelton. “Do you have more than one sample?” Amy inquired. When Kelton said “maybe 3000 species,” they promptly kicked him out of the conference room.
Now, it is possible that Dr. McKinley was a bit angered. He was very bright, quick-witted and, well, short-tempered. Kelton had grown up in Ohio, and, he told me, watched his father, a union organizer, get beaten. Ohio, furthermore, has odd enclaves of religious cults. He was divorced from his wife, but was very protective of his daughter, who must have been about 7 years old at that time. His wife had recently written that she would be sending their daughter to one of those religious schools in that state that did not believe in evolution. Kelton was already in a troubled mental state when he walked into the quarantine office.
With no particular confidence, we arranged a second meeting, and, just as I was about to enter the conference room, a person who looked very familiar, walked by, who also recognized me. He was Dr. Glenn Takahashi (no relation), and he was Nakahara’s and Higa’s supervisor. We had last seen each other, maybe, half a century ago, when, as kids, we played. He decided to sit in. Also, there was Dr. Lyle Wong, higher up in the organization from the Division of Plant Industry. I don’t know if my friendship with Glen was it, for in the totality of things, anything or nothing can make an important difference, or if Dr. Wong was the key, and he was the equivalent of an angel, but, in effect, we were constructively instructed to meet with the director of the Department of Agriculture, who would gain the governor’s approval, and go to the State Legislature, as they were being difficult only because the laws forced them to be conservative. We also had to pass through the Board of Agriculture.
On March 23, 1995, Kelton McKinley instantly died of a heart attack, at the age of 45. This was a total shock. He was the key individual who had worked out the protocol and arranged to move the Mitsui Collection to Hawaii. You can write a book of what he had to go through just to get us this far. HNEI did not have another micro-bio person, so, we asked Dr. Kathleen Baker, someone who approximated the background of Kelton, and was hired by him to do some minor lab technician work. Rather than go through the hiring process, I just assigned her the leadership role. To be honest, she had just the right unassuming personality (unlike Kelton) to take on the task, so she became Interim Director of the Bioresources Laboratory at Kewalo Basin, where the repository would be located.
I should add that at this point, we did have a position, and there was thus an opportunity to hire a world class individual or just qualify Dr. Baker for this slot. Details will be provided in the next section, but the decision to seek the best eventually led to at least two suits, although success was eventually attained when the University of Hawaii was ultimately awarded the National Science Foundation Marine Bioproducts Engineering Center (NSF MarBEC).
Kathleen and I made the rounds of the Ag offices and the State Legislature. I had to become more active as she had no confidence in meetings at these levels. They all loved what we were proposing: the basis for a new industry in marine biotechnology for the State of Hawaii.
We then faced the Board of Agriculture. We were, again, in luck. At least curses can be neutralized by something called luck. One of the members was a former distinguished professor with my Institute, John Bardach, and another was a long-time collaborator on environmental matters, Gary Gill. The Board not only approved our application, but also determined that a new law was not necessary, for there are provisions for permitting the importation of the type of microorganisms on our list. They were mostly sensitive to larger organisms, like unagi, a type of freshwater eel, which is a Japanese delicacy. So, magically, from a two to three year ordeal, per specimen, to almost total approval of the entire Mitsui Collection, we had come a long way in a few short weeks. Actually, there were several bacteria on a restricted list, which we had to still work out, but that was trivial relative to how much had been accomplished.
This amazing success became a true miracle when we learned through this process that the University of Hawaii had been fighting these agencies for decades. There was a lot of bad blood from previous interactions. The State Legislature had been trying to work out some compromise during all those years and had failed. Not knowing what we were getting into, ignorance allowed us to proceed with enthusiasm. If I had only known the history of this conflict, I would not have even tried to import the Mitsui Collection.
With a few more bumps in the road, the pathway to the NSF MarBEC takes a few positive turns, but the end of the road sees the curse mutating.
Friday, June 19, 2009
On May 31, 1994, at the age of 65, Akira Mitsui died of cancer related complications. He had lived in Key Biscayne, Florida for 22 years.
What to do with the Mitsui collection? The University of Miami seemed ambivalent about maintaining the lot. Both Japan and Germany expressed interest in taking it over. Three thousand samples with 928 known strains. The value was estimated to be $1 million, but the potential for biotechnology applications was priceless.
In a Department of Energy hydrogen review meeting held at Coral Gables, Florida, the program manager, Neil Rossmeissl, asked, “do you think the Japanese would pay half the cost of moving and taking care of the Mitsui Collection, if we transferred it to Hawaii?” Ever the opportunist, I said, “yes, that would be possible, and yes, Hawaii would be an excellent home for the microorganisms.” The implicit sense was that the Federal Government had paid for the collection, and it would have been a shame to give it away to a foreign country. It turns out that Japan also contributed generously to the effort, so partnering with them was only appropriate. There was no legal need for an official solicitation because of the nature of the situation. Rossmeissl, later, was the individual who was the first to indicate that we should consider hiring Oskar Zaborsky to replace Kelton McKinley.
In November of 1994, the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) hosted a follow-on meeting in Tokyo to the various gatherings held in Hawaii from the mid-80s. Another University of Tokyo professor, Yoichi Kaya, had served on the board of the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research, original sponsor of the biohydrogen meetings, and was director of RITE. Professor Kaya was also a key leader for the Kyoto Protocol regarding global climate change. This particular workshop featured continuous presentations for two days, where speakers spoke in a darkened auditorium. No one knew if you were there or not, so I went back to my room and took a nap from 2PM-4PM, for the talks, to me, anyway, were mostly too, too boring, and were followed by dinner, with various small groups going out to karaoke bars at the end. Typically, sleep came after midnight, and the whole thing re-started the following morning with breakfast at 7:30AM.
I was looking for an opportunity to bring up Rossmeissl’s request, when at the end of the second day, Professor Tadashi Matsunaga and I found ourselves as the only two left in his favorite Ginza karaoke bar. He was asleep more than awake, but asked me, “we don’t think that the American government would allow the export of the Mitsui Collection to Japan, even though we paid more for that collection and sent many of our best students to help. We would like to provide $50,000/year to share the Collection in Hawaii. We can also send one of our young scientists to take care of the collection. What do you think the Department of Energy would say?” Remember, Matsunaga was a post-doc with Mitsui at Miami and had closely kept up with that collection. Matsunaga by then had become editor of the Journal of Marine Biotechnology, and was well connected with Japanese funding agencies. Not sure if he was fully awake, but appreciating this incredible good fortune, I sort of repeated what I mentioned to Rossmeissl, “yes, that would be possible, and yes, Hawaii would be an excellent home for the microorganisms.”
The following morning, a select group of individuals was invited by RITE to participate in a discussion to agree on cooperative research. Chairing the meeting was Jun Miyake, who appeared to have forgotten to comb his hair, and was doing this primarily because Kazuhisa Miyamoto, the moderator, had overslept, and came rushing in a few minutes into the discussion, apologizing profusely. As I said, these past few days were strenuous and most of them had not had not had much sleep. I was the only person in good awake shape. Sitting across from me was Tadashi Matsunaga, who, very early in the meeting, keeled over, hit his forehead on the table and had an obvious red welt all morning. All three M’s no doubt had sat through two whole days of lectures, went out at night (where, as I earlier indicated, all the really important discussions occur), and had only a few hours of sleep. I’ve noticed this syndrome in dedicated scientists throughout the world, and early in my career found a simple solution: take a nap in the afternoon when you can. I brought up the matter of sharing the Mitsui Collection in Hawaii to the discussion group and all thought this was a great idea.
As Mitsui was a jealous guardian of the collection, no one previously had any access to it. Only later did I learn that many of the Japanese researchers sent to work on the Mitsui collection took the more useful ones back home just by stuffing a test tube in their pocket. They probably would have been able to officially request and obtain anything they wanted, but by the mid-1990’s, the shipment of bioorganisms was becoming a problem. Native countries were beginning to appreciate the value of their indigenous microbes and, conversely, governments were getting worried about dangerous germs entering the country.
There, too, is the attraction of Hawaii. Everyone wants to spend some time here. That really is an unfair advantage for us. On the other hand, most government program managers look upon any visit, any conference, in Hawaii, as a boondoggle and unjustified. So, there is a kind of wash here. In Tadashi Matsunaga’s laboratory (of approximately 50), there is a group known as the Hawaii Mafia, which controlled everything. They were the ones who were carefully selected to spend several months to more than a year at our laboratory in Hawaii. (In 2009, this is still true.)
On December 8, 1994, I wrote to Neil Rossmeissl about An Urgent Need to Resolve a Crisis with Opportunity for Cost-Matching:
As you know, Catherine Gregoire, Paul Weaver and I participated in the Tokyo Biological Hydrogen Production Workshop last month. Maybe the hotel was not quite up to my standards, but the whole event was well planned and the discussions went very well. Approximately 100 attended, and the participation of the private sector was strongly evident. The group resoundingly endorsed rotating this gathering every 18 months or so among Japan, Europe and the United States, with the next meeting most probably in Italy sometime early in 1996.
The value of these sessions, of course, is in the after hours unofficial discussions. A proposal was expressed by the Japanese to bring Dr. Nemoto and the entire Mitsui collection to Hawaii. Japan would provide 50% cost-matching for maintaining an expanded repository, sharing the information and carrying out related research, where focus would be on marine biological microorganisms.
One of the interesting developments at the workshop was the growing attitude that the ocean might well be the key to both large scale biological hydrogen production and remediation of global climate change. This international partnership would, quite appropriately, then, begin to focus on marine biotechnology. The article that Kelton McKinley and I wrote a couple of years ago for the charter edition of The Journal of Marine Biotechnology, which turned out to be the only U.S. publication in that issue, no doubt provided some confidence that the University of Hawaii was ideal for this purpose. Secondly, in terms of proximity and cultural similarities, Japan is clearly more comfortable interfacing in Hawaii.
From all indications, there seems to be a scramble on to gain samples from the Mitsui collection. While a few researchers from scattered laboratories might benefit, there must be a better alternative to what is looming as general dissolution of a potentially valuable resource.
As McKinley and Weaver are closely involved with the subject, have the appropriate backgrounds and are personally familiar with the key researchers in the U.S. and Japan, I have asked them to follow up with you and Catherine to lead the task to come up with a more intelligent solution and look into creation of an international biological hydrogen repository. Eli Greenbaum might also be included in an advisory capacity.
It is essential for steps to be taken now to take advantage of this opportunity. We think that Hawaii is the logical site for this activity, but we stand ready to act for the national welfare should another location become obvious or necessary. I look forward to your comments.
Copies were sent to various national labs and Department of Energy decision-makers. Weaver worked for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Greenbaum was from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Nemoto, a University of Tokyo PhD, was a post-doc under Mitsui at that time, and, after a stint in Hawaii, he joined Professor Matsunaga’s department.
In record time for national consensus, I was able send Matsunaga the following letter on January 24, 1995:
Dear Dr. Matsunaga:
You will be very pleased to learn that your unofficial suggestion that Japan would be interested in cost-matching the relocation and operation of the Mitsui collection from Florida to Hawaii has been very strongly endorsed by key officials within the Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Also, the University of Miami has blessed the transfer.
There are a few important logistical and legal hurdles to overcome, but we are beginning to resolve them. As a first step, the USDOE will provide continued support for the individuals managing the project until the summer. We trust that the actual movement of the organisms can occur later this year.
Catherine Gregoire-Pardo (remember, Tsukiji?) will be attending the hydrogen conference in Japan next week and has been briefed by the USDOE to work out an agreement. Can you please arrange the appropriate meetings for her to discuss this cooperative effort?
It might be of interest to you that there is new leadership in our U.S. Congress, where early and strong enthusiasm has surfaced for hydrogen. The chairman of the key House committee on Science and Technology just introduced a $100 million hydrogen bill and has been asked by the Secretary of Energy’s Hydrogen Technical Advisory Committee to provide a keynote address at our next gathering in March.
Good luck on your discussions with Catherine.
What also helped to move this along was that I was at that time the chairman of the Secretary of Energy’s Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel, and that I was the one who had written the original legislation 15 years earlier. Plus, I had by then taken at least 50 trips to Japan and learned the system. Unfortunately, I never learned the language, which was no doubt a psychological hang-up to being a Japanese-American growing up in Hawaii during World War II.
International agreement was reached: $100,000 per year from Japan, and the same from the USDOE. Plus, we bring to Hawaii the Mother Lode of marine biotechnology, at a time when we were thinking about proposing an engineering research center focused on this topic. No local staff, but the beginnings of an international collaboration, building critical mass to our efforts. (There will be two additional parts, if not three, on The M Curse.)