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Thursday, September 30, 2010

THE BLUE REVOLUTION AND THE JAPAN MARINE TECHNOLOGY SOCIETY

First, I had a spectacular breakfast this morning at the Tokyo Westin:

The buffet was incredible.  I "just" selected a tossed green salad with Japanese dressing, two soups (Miso and beef/vegetable), a plate of bacon, pancake/apple sauce, french toast, spinach, mashed potatoes, arabiki sausage, sea bream, salmon, tofu, grated turnip, nine kinds of tsukemono, rice, tea and freshly squeezed orange juice.  The only breakfast that previously came close was at the W Hotel at Walker Hill in Seoul, but that one cost $110, while the Westin version was free (came with the room charge--internet also free--plus from 5:30-7:30 there is an open bar in the Executive Club with a generous assortment of soup, appetizers and the usual peanut/chips combination).  However the W did have all you could drink champagne and wines for breakfast.  You can very adequately survive in an Executive Club Tokyo Westin room without paying for any meals.

Tomorrow I'll hit the omelette bar, fruit smorgasbord and largest variety of breads and pastries I've ever seen in one place.  I keep telling myself that if I can avoid breakfast on this trip I will be able to maintain my present weight.

In the later afternoon I provided a seminar on the Blue Revolution to the Japan Marine Technology Society (MTS) at the headquarters of the Japan Agency for Marine Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).  Greetings from long time pal, Dean Toshitsugu Sakou, Chairman of the Japan MTS.   






















Actually, he knew my older brother, who was a noted marine structural engineer, long before me.   It was nice seeing a bunch of other colleagues.

I should explain that I bought a gorgeous blue tie in honor of the Blue Revolution, and intended to initiate it at this gathering.  However, when I put on my dress shirt, I realized that I had forgotten to bring a set of cufflinks.  I'll need to find a 100 yen store at some point soon.  I must have at least 50 pairs at home and don't want to waste money on any more.  The last time I wore a shirt and tie was...I don't remember.  Actually, I hate to wear ties.  Retired professors are surely allowed this luxury of dressing as they want.  I wonder how formal they are in Qatar?  Maybe I'd better locate a pair just in case.

Apparently, the latest Mac portables now do not use Power Point, but something called Keynote, which cannot be translated by Japanese computers.  Thus, arriving an hour early to make sure things worked...nothing worked.  They tried half a dozen computers, but no luck.  I brought my Mac Air just in case something like this occurred, but the interface did not accept the standard media connector.  To the rescue came Professor Shinichi Takagawa of the Underwater Technology Research Center of Tokyo University, who got the brilliant idea of trying to find the right adaptor.  He somehow went out, found and bought the link that amazingly worked.  What a genius!  That's Professor Takagawa, second from the left, Dr. Yoshiaki Tsurugaya of NEC at the extreme left, me next to Shinichi, Professor Toshitsugu Sakou, Chairman of MTS Japan, and Professor Hiroyuki Nakahara, Yokohama National University, Research Institute for Ocean Economics and Auditor of JAMSTEC, who organized the event.)

The talk itself was okay, but the follow-up reception was great.  What a grand cornucopia of food.



















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Since I re-booted that Flag Counter on Sunday, in only four days, 43 countries have visited this blog site.  I find this astonishing.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Tuvalu Renewable Hydrogen Mission

After arriving in Japan yesterday, my first meeting was with Choonueui Ham (Chairman), Hidekazu Kaneco (Movie Director) and Rina Ariizumi (Global Catalyst) of the Renewable Hydrogen Network (RHN).  They are producing a movie on renewable hydrogen for Tuvalu and wanted me to participate in their film.


As you know, Tuvalu, with a population of 12,000, is one of those Pacific islands at serious risk of being inundated by sea level rise.  Their maximum elevation is 15 feet, second lowest next  to the Maldives.  Tuvalu is a member of the United Nations.  

Their Minister of Public Utilities and Industry, Kausea Natano, last year announced their goal of attaining 100% renewable energy self-sufficiency by 2020 as a message to the World.  A cost of $20 million was suggested.  RHN would like Tuvalu to build their future through renewable hydrogen.  Why not go for the ultimate, now!  I admired their attitude and pledged total support for their effort.

Later today I am providing a seminar to the Japan Marine Technology Society on the Blue Revolution.

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The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 23 to 10,835, but with one day to go, this could become the best September in more than 70 years.  It was two years ago (29September2008) that the Dow suffered its greatest one day loss, minus 778, in reaction to the House of Representatives rejecting the $700 billion bank bailout plan.  A market value of $1.2 trillion was lost that day.  World markets were also mostly down, with the exception of Japan and Hong Kong.  Of course, gold crept up to another all-time high, plus $1/toz to $1309, while crude oil seems to creeping up to $78/barrel (the Dated Brent Spot is at $80/barrel).

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The disturbance that just soaked Cuba is now called Tropical Storm Nicole, and, now at 40MPH, might just skirt southern Florida.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FALL 2010 WORLD ODYSSEY: Honolulu to Tokyo

My Fall 2010 World Odyssey begins this morning from Honolulu.  I will visit:

  Japan
  South Korea
  China
  Switzerland
  Kenya
  Tanzania
  Qatar
  Norway
  Netherlands
  Italy
  USA
    DC
    Austin
    Las Vegas

For any burglers reading this blog, someone will be taking care of my apartment.  

I will maintain a Spring/Fall global schedule for reasons of weather, fall colors, spring flowers, and mostly, to place Pearl's ashes at sites she wanted to visit, but we never did.  We did not go to the Taj Mahal (the Spring 2010 site) because traveling through India is a royal pain; Mount Kilimanjaro (19,344 ft) involves injections, tse-tse flies and altitude; Machu Picchu is only 7,970 feet high, but travel to Peru can be trying; and...  

The flight to Narita was comfortable, but not particularly memorable.   The plane actually locked and left fifteen minutes early.   

I look forward to airline food on certain flights. However, United First Class has become almost pedestrian.  This did  start with a Henriot Brut Milleseme 1995 champagne before flight and a Bloody Mary at the half an hour mark, with mixed nuts. There were four white wines, and I had a Simi Sauvignon Blanc 2008 with the Malayan beef skewer in curry sauce, Kahlua corn vanilla bisque and green salad.  The Washoku Zen Selection (layered egg, salmon temari, burdock wrapped in glazed beef, seared tuna with wasabi dressing, somen noodles, simmered shiitake mushrooms, pan-seared monkfish and oyster mushrooms) came with a hot Gekkeikan Daiginjo sake.  The Edy’s grand ice cream was topped with Kahlua.  The Maple Blue cheese from Wisconsin was salty, but was well-balanced with a Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003.

The food was good, but not exceptional.  If you’re counting, only up to six drinks thus far, but with four and a half hours to go and a second meal, pork tonkatsu with curry sauce, yet to come, all that I was able to consume were a Glenlivet on rocks and Kirin Lager Beer.  The Lufthansa Delhi to Munich flight of this past Spring was a lot more excessive.  But coming up will be Swiss Air from Shanghai to Zurich.  Stay tuned.

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The Dow Jones Industrials went up 46 to 10,858, while world markets were mostly down.  Gold increased $15/toz to $1308 and closed at another all-time high, while crude oil is at $76/barrel.

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There is this currently mild storm at 35 MPH that will traipse over Cuba and Florida.  Nothing in the West Pacific to ruin my trip.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

VENUS OVER HONOLULU

On my final evening in Honolulu before my global adventure, I gazed at the stars and planets, accompanied by a Bas-Armagnac Reserve and crystal cognac-infused Ghurka, with Hawaiian music in the background.  To the East was a magnificent Jupiter.  To the West, resplendent Venus (left) and, later,  hundreds of stars visible to the naked eye.  With the glare of city lights, that was rare.  Air quality must have been exceptional in the early evening, plus the Moon had still not appeared.  I then pulled out powerful binoculars and saw thousands.  I was tempted to bring out my Celestron to view millions, but Honolulu City Lights came on, Pearl's favorite song, so I continued to just enjoy the experience.  Aloha.

Up to now 20 countries in 30 hours.  (Box on right.)

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YELLOW FEVER

I found it gratifying that since I inserted a new Flag Count widget yesterday, 17 countries have visited at the time of this writing.  That's the box at the top right.

If you ever plan on going to Africa or South America, read this.  While the incidence of death from Yellow Fever is less than 10%, keep in mind that just before 1800, ten percent of Philadelphians died from this disease, with half of the population leaving the city during this epidemic, including George Washington and his administration.  Congress did not meet in D.C. until 1800. 

The female aedes aegypti mosquito (above) donates the Yellow Fever virus to you.  This mosquito also is good for dengue and chikungunya (my Le Reunion experience!!).  The tiger mosquito (below) also can be a problem, especially in the open range.  I've had my blood extracted from this predator in Hawaii.   

Once you contract Yellow Fever, there is no cure, as such.  Don't take aspirin, for example, which can induce internal bleeding for some.  It's a roll of the dice as to how your body will react.

I write about this because I yesterday learned that I needed to take a Yellow Fever vaccination before I left for my next trip, which is tomorrow morning.  The first call I made to the Queen's Hospital Travel Clinic (they are the only ones in the state) this morning stunned me.  They are out of this vaccine.  However, they have a branch hospital in Hawaii Kai, gave me a number and wished me luck.  Turns out that Queen's Hawaii Kai had two left, but were reluctant to give me access because of previous commitments.  Hearing of my plight, thank heavens, they agreed to have me come in this afternoon.  I guess they will also be able to prescribe malaria pills.  Mind you, this injection might hurt and there could be mild flu symptoms, but the potential downside makes this pain and suffering tolerable, even necessary.  Now I only need to worry about those tse-tse flies in Tanzania and Kenya.

The good news is that the last major outbreak of Yellow Fever in the U.S. was a century ago, in New Orleans.  Some of you historians might recall Walter Reed (that DC military hospital is named after him, although he personally credited Cuban doctor Carlos Finlay for suggesting this vector), and how he proposed the mosquito as the culprit, and given credit for completion of the Panama Canal in 1914.  In 1927, Max Theiler of the Rockefeller Institute isolated the virus using chicken eggs, leading to a vaccine, and much later, in 1951, a Nobel Prize.

Well, anyway, while the Big C, cancer, is credited with 8 million deaths every year, Malaria kills up to two million annually, AIDS also 2 million and traffic about a million, so the 30,000 deaths from Yellow Fever are relatively small.  Take precautions, but don't lose too much sleep over this ailment.  Hmm...better get those malaria pills.

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The Dow Jones Industrials dropped 48 to 10,812, while world markets were also mostly down, except for Asia.  Gold reached $1300/toz today, but settled at $1295, while crude oil rests at $76/barrel.

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No storm worthy of mention, except there is that disturbance east of the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

WALL STREET

I just saw my best movie this year, Wall Street:  Money Never Sleeps.  This is the sequel to the 1987 original, where Gorden Gecko made famous:  Greed is Good.  The reviews were not particularly good, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 56% rating (that's the like percentage), but the film still drew the highest audience this week.  Michael Douglas (with Shia Labeouf) remains mostly greedy, but this Oliver Stone effort was terrific movie-making.  Interestingly enough, this is his first sequel.  I guess I somewhat identified with the theme because this blog partially covers Wall Street economy.

Why I enjoyed this movie:

1.  In back to back sentences, Jake Moore (Labeouf) talks about ocean thermal energy conversion (OTED) and laser fusion, two of my dearest subjects.  He was relating the two to each other, but I missed the logic.  What you see in the film is, of course, pure fiction, as the only contemplated inertial confinement commercial option is heavy ion fusion, and the organizers, close friends of mine, have yet to begin.  Let's see now, Chuck would then be Dr. Masters.  Bob, just what you need:  $100 million to get started.

2.  Sadly, this could well be Michael's final flick, as he is suffering from throat cancer.

3.  The cameos kept coming:  Charlie Sheen, Warren Buffet, numerous CNBC/CNN/Fox Business personalities, and Donald Trump (who was cut, but will be seen in the coming DVD).

4.  Eli Wallach, soon to be 95, was fanatastic.  James Brolin is the younger actor, and primary villain.

5.  Speaking of old, I'm again making a joke of aging actors, but when did Frank Langella (Carey Mulligan plays the daughter of Gekko--and why her, for she is British), begin to look so ancient?  He was only born two years before me.  Yes, he was already ancient in Frost/Nixon (coincidentally, Stone directed the 1995 version of Nixon), but I remember Langella from Dracula, only thirty years ago.


6.  I now have a better sense of what happened to Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.

7.  I was surprised with the ridiculously happy ending.  But that is probably why Ben Afleck's The Town also drew viewers this week, although dropping to #3.  On this semi-crummy Sunday (in addition to the other stuff, one of my tires went flat), Wall Street 2010 was feel good.

*NOT A GREAT SUNDAY

Today happens to be one of those depression inducing days.  My VIEWERS gadget stopped working after surpassing 50,000 visitors and 153 nations last week, so I added a new one as VIEWERS X.  Well, later in the day, the original appeared, but the number of visitors was so low that I suspect future viewers will only be credited to the new site. I'll keep both for now.


Total visitors to blog site       50,059
Viewers this week                     608
Number of countries                 153


Countries today included the USA, Switzerland, India, Turkey, Bulgaria, Australia, Korea, Philippines, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Turkey and Czech Republic.

I've been wondering about abandoning this daily blogging effort to take on other challenges.  After three books, 80 or so Huffington Post articles and 30 months of daily blogging, my sense is that my time is being wasted.  No one comments and I'm not making any difference for Planet Earth and Humanity.   Is there something else I can do of greater value, or, at least, more rewarding.

But to continue, for now, some of you know I'm soon to initiate my next around the world odyssey, and I'm certainly no Sir Henry Stanley.  Now I know why I previously avoided safaris.  I just read the Tauck informational guide, where in an incredibly low-keyed manner (for good reason) it was noted that I need to take a Yellow Fever (a so-called re-emerging disease) shot and have with me a certificate of inoculation before being allowed into Tanzania.  I have all of tomorrow to do this.  As a worst case scenario, I can have this performed at the Mount Kilimanjaro International Airport before leaving customs.  But how safe is the sanitation there?  Tanzania is rated #151 in the United Nations Human Development Report, better than Nigeria, but worse than Haiti, Papua New Guinea (this was one of my repeating nightmares) and Kenya (a second country in the tour).  Plus, I guess I also need to round up some malaria pills, again.  Read that Papua New Guinea blog to get an appreciation of what this entails.  I furthermore need to bring a giant can of DEET spray.  It also says watch out for cholera and don't wear dark color clothing, for these attract tse-tse flies (no, that is not a giant mosquito above, that is a tse-tse fly).  How bad can this be?  They kill more than a quarter million people/year and give you the dreaded human sleeping sickness disease.  The camps might have spotty wireless internet, but don't have air-conditioning.  If I want to re-charge anything, I was advised to bring every possible adaptor I can find.  Yes, I know this is an African safari, but I'm getting too told for this.



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There are four ocean storms, but nothing looks threatening.  Typhoon Malakas totally missed Japan and is in the vicinity of Alaska.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

HONOLULU SUNSET

The end of the day yesterday featured an outstanding sunset from my roof.  The first photo is from my 14.1 megapixel SONY camera:


The next one is from my iPhone (2 MP).


Peace.

Friday, September 24, 2010

THE STATE OF PLANET EARTH AND HUMANITY ON 124SEPT2010

1.  Are you getting fat?  The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation, headquartered in Paris) predicts that 75% of Americans will be obese by 2020.  Thomas Friedman commented that China thinks we are eating too many hamburgers.  I was invited to my brother's anniversary party last week and was appalled that mostly fat people at a buffet placed on their plates what looked like five scoops of white rice.  If they just cut that back to one, and maintained that level of consumption on other fatty/carbo dishes, they could lose weight.  It's a simple matter of eating fewer calories than you use.  From my Chapter 2 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity (also 29June2009 blog):

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. 

Thankfully, the results of my total check-up this week indicated that my eyesight has not now changed in four years and even that irritating cataract in my right eye seems to have regressed (which is good).  My blood glucose level has dropped almost 10% in two years, my Low Density Lipoprotein is at the lowest number in memory and....I've lost ten pounds from two years ago.  Maybe this is symptomatic of my golfing all five days this weekday, something, actually, I've never done in Hawaii before.  Then again, after today, I won't be golfing for two months.

2.  By the way, that Friedman article above points out the only real fear I have in who will prevail:  China or the USA.  Yes, China's one child policy could well make it too old before getting rich, and I don't worry about any military conflicts because they spend one-twentieth what we do on the military.  However, their country runs like a company.  Ours is like a herd of cats.  I've always been partial to a benevolent dictator, but that will not happen.  To quote again from Friedman:

“How can you compete with a country that is run like a company?” an Indian entrepreneur at the forum asked me of China. He then answered his own question: For democracy to be effective and deliver the policies and infrastructure our societies need requires the political center to be focused, united and energized. That means electing candidates who will do what is right for the country not just for their ideological wing or whoever comes with the biggest bag of money. For democracies to address big problems — and that’s all we have these days — requires a lot of people pulling in the same direction, and that is precisely what we’re lacking.

Our government is broken, and our demise will come sooner than imagined unless we do something about this.

3.  Nearly two decades ago Samuel Huntington wrote about the "Class of Civilizations."  There is an unhealthy opposition to the mosque at Ground Zero.  Time magazine had a table on mosques in the West:












....................U.S............France.........Canada

Population     306             65                 34
(millions)

Muslims         2.5            5.5                   1

Mosques     1,900        2,100               198

More mosques, more problems?  Actually, the U.S. already has almost double the number of mosques per Muslim capita than France.

Temperature highs today:  Baghdad (107 F), Kabul (77 F), DC (97 F).

4.  The Great Recession was overcome in June of 2009, Macondo 252 (that's that BP Gulf well) is dead and all is well with the economy and environment.  Yes, the Dow jumped nearly 200 points today and global warming seems not to be out hand, but somehow I feel uneasy.

5.  The University of Hawaii, for the first time ever, surpassed a student population of 60,000.  Must be the crummy economy.

6.  I earlier this week reviewed the movie, 442.  Congress yesterday approved the award of the highest "civilian" honor, the Gold Medal, to all Japanese-American veterans who served in the 100th Battalion and 442nd, plus those in the Pacific Military Intelligence Service.  The first such gold medals went to George Washington and John Paul Jones in 1776, and other awardees include the Navajo code talkers, Tuskegee Airmen, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Dalai Lama.  There was a 1992 article indicating that the Pentagon opposed converting the Medal of Honor from gold plated to 90% gold, for the price would then increase from $50 to $2300.  Congress went with 90% gold.  On this basis, I guess the current Gold Medal is worth something closer to $8500.  The Olympic Gold Medal, incidentally, is plated gold.

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The Dow Jones Industrials jumped 198 to 10,860, with world markets almost all up, save for the Japan Nikkei.  Yes, another world record:  gold up $2/toz to $1296. Mind you, the 21January1980 gold price of $825.50/toz would be worth $2184 today, so the run is nowhere close to any kind of real max.  Crude oil went up to $76.49/barrel.

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Tropical Storm Lisa at 60 MPH, located not far from Africa, seems to enjoy remaining far in the Eastern Atlantic, and should fizzle over time.  Tropical Storm Matthew, now at 45 MPH, made a left turn over Nicaragua, and will dissipate over land.  The only storm of noteworthiness is Typhoon Malakas, which continues to track projections in parallel to the Japanese eastern coastline and move on north to Alaska before my flight to Japan on Tuesday.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD: Honorable Mention Finalists (Part 18, Section A))

The following continues the serialization of the final chapter from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.  There will be at least three sections, for there were a lot of near finalists:



The Honorable Mention Finalists

 

         


Andorra

 
A tiny (population of 82,000 and 181 square miles), mountainous (starts at 2,854 feet and goes up) and rich ($38,800 GDP/capita, easily in the top ten) country which belongs to the United Nations, I included Andorra because it has the highest life expectancy (83.52 years in 2007) in the world and draws 9 million tourists each year. It is located between France and Spain in the Eastern Pyrenees.


           

United Arab Emirates

 
The United Arab Emirates was formed in 1971 after Britain left the Persian Gulf. There are seven states (Bahrain and Qatar almost joined, but decided to go independent that same year) and you know of only two, as described below. It’s an Islamic country with hereditary leadership. The population is around 4.5 million, where in the 16-65 age group, there are 2.75 males to each female because 85% of the population are foreigners, mostly laborers. The GDP/capita is $42,275 and is ranked #3 by the CIA Factbook to Luxembourg and Equatorial Guinea (no, you don’t want to go there), but #12 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Abu Dhabi is the capital and one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. The city has a population of 2 million and is actually an island. It is said to be the richest city in the world. Each natural citizen is worth an average of $17 million. In 2008, this emirate announced a $15 billion clean energy and hydrogen program, a breakthrough, being the first major Arab commitment to solar energy. The first paved road came in 1961, but in 2011 will open the $200 million Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry.

Dubai, the other known emirate, has no personal, corporate nor sales tax, and, surprisingly, less than 6% of its revenues comes from oil and natural gas. The twin World Trade Center towers had 110 floors. While the tallest current building (in Taiwan) has 101 floors, the Burj Dubai (now called Burj Khalifa because Emir Khalifa--he runs the country--came up with the funds to finish the project) has shot past 158 floors and is expected to rise to 164, 170 or 200 stories by 2009 at a cost of around $4 billion, finally returning this honor to the Middle East. (Officially, there are 160 useful floors.)  The Great Pyramid of Giza had the title for 4000 years. Samsung, from South Korea, which built the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur and Taipei 101, is handling the construction. To discourage competitors, Al Burj, on the Dubai Waterfront, has been proposed to be nearly 1000 feet taller.

It was a quarter century ago that I landed in Dubai when Pan Am had a world route. I did not see anything of consequence then, but, certainly, times have changed the landscape, and I look forward to returning to the United Arab Emirates by 2010 and staying at the Burj Dubai, while also venturing forth to Abu Dhabi.  (Except that I was invited to Qatar, so deleted Abu Dhabi and Dubai from my Fall around the world itinerary.  I looked into staying in the Burj Al Arab (right), but the $1600/night cost was out of my range.  So I instead booked the Armani, occupying the lower 39 floors of that tallest building in the world... for only $650/night.  Maybe next time.)

Next in Section B:  Iceland (which also subsequently went bankrupt, and Australia).

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The Dow Jones Industrials sunk 77 to 10,662, and so did virtually most of world markets, including the Japan Nikkei, down 120 to 9,447.  Gold again broke an all time high, plus $2/toz to $1294, while crude oil is just under $75/barrel.

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There are six ocean storms, with Tropical Storm Matthew at 45 MPH looking to be the most troublesome.  Matthew is expect to attain hurricane strength tonight, roll over Nicaragua, weaken, then re-attain hurricane strength and head for Belize.

In the West Pacific, Typhoon Malakas is at 95 MPH, and will strengthen into a Category 3 storm tonight, but maintain a pathway east and parallel to Japan.  By Tuesday of next week when I'm flying into Tokyo, Malakas should be near Alaska.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD: Surveys on the Best Place in the World (Part 16, Section B)

The following continues the serialization of the final chapter from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.  I somehow missed this portion of "Surveys of the Best Places," so add it here.


SURVEYS ON THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD (Section B)

For those Americans who missed it, the Pew Research Center released their happiness study in 2006. To summarize:

o      Money buys happiness (a very happy tally of 50% was indicated with an annual family income over $150,000, but only 23% at less that $20,000).

o      Only 16% of Americans are not too happy (or don’t know).

o      Married people (43%) are happier than unmarrieds (24%).

o      Those with children are about as happy as those without.

o      Religious types (43%) are happier than the irreligious (26%).

o      Republicans (45%) are happier than Democrats (30%).

o      Whites (36%) and Hispanics (34%) are happier than Blacks (28%), but 12% of Whites are unhappy, while 23% of Blacks and Hispanics are unhappy.

o      27% of single parents with minor children are unhappy.

o      Pet owners (dog or cat, about the same) are no happier than those with no pets.

o      Sunbelt residents are happiest of all. (Another reason why you might want to live where the temperatures remain salubrious and comfortable.)

The National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago spent 18 years studying job satisfaction and general happiness. Well, I might have been too critical about religion, for 67% of clergy were at the top in happiness. The average American worker showed a score of 33%. At the very bottom were gas station attendants.

The British New Economics Foundation published their Happy Planet Index, measuring people’s wellbeing, and in 2006 ranked the tiny South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu at the top, followed by Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominica and Panama. #178 was Zimbabwe. The U.S. ranked #150. The low rating was because Americans don’t treat our planet well. People, the study concluded, are happy because they are satisfied with very little. Clearly, many of you wouldn’t want to live where you only have a very little, save for those with the hermit complex.

(In 2009, Vanuatu disappeared (was it global warming and sea level rise?), but the more recent list had 38 fewer countries. Costa Rica was #1, Dominican Republic #2, Jamaica #3, Guatemala #4 and Vietnam #5.  The United States had improved to #114, with China at #20 and Zimbabwe last at #143, with Tanzania at #142.  Whoops, my next trip includes Tanzania, where Mt. Kilimanjaro is located.)

There are other rankings that could sway you. In the 2007 Mercer Cost of Living list, for the past five years, Asuncion, Paraguay has been the least expensive city. Moscow is the highest and Tokyo is next. Oslo is #10, New York City is #14 and Honolulu is not in the top 50 (this is surprisingly good), while Singapore is. (The 2010 survey for highest cost of living has Luanda (Angola) at #1, Tokyo #2, N'Djamena (Chad) #3 and Moscov #4, with Karachi (Pakistan) as the cheapest.) However, in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, Oslo is the most expensive, with Paris #2. Manila is the cheapest city. Want to live in the Philippines or Paraguay (or Karachi)?

The Mercer best quality of life list ranks these cities: #1 Zurich, #2 Geneva, #3 Vancouver, #4 Vienna, #5 Auckland, #6 Dusseldorf, #7 Frankfurt, #8 Munich, #9 Bern and Sydney. Honolulu is #27 as the highest rated U.S. city, although San Francisco is #28. Oslo is #31 and Singapore #32. Baghdad received the worst score. More recently, though, Switzerland has been tarnished by an electoral campaign featuring three white sheep standing on the Swiss flag, as one of them kicks a single black sheep away. The matter of immigration has suddenly become an issue.  (However, in the Mercer 2010 list, the top five are Vienna #1, Zurich #2, Geneva #3, Vancouver #4 and Auckland #5, essentially unchanged.)

In Gross National Income, Switzerland is #1, Luxembourg #2, Japan #3, Norway #4 and the U.S. #5. If you divide Gross National Income by Gross National Product: #1 Argentina, #2 Uruguay, #3 Kiribati, #16 Japan, #35 U.S., #53 Switzerland, #107 Norway, #166 Libya. If nothing else, these rankings should confuse you.


The International Monetary Fund has Qatar ($83,841) as #1 and Luxembourg ($78,395) #2 on Gross National Product per capita.  Interestingly enough, the CIA World Factbook has Liechtenstein #1 at $122,100, Qatar #2 at $121,700 and Luxembourg #3 at $78,000.  The USA is #6 ($46,381) and #* ($46,400) respectively.  I wonder why Qatar's numbers are so different, for it will be one of my stops on my Fall around the world odyssey.)

Then, there are some bizarre surveys. The University of Chicago international study reported that 71% of Austrians were satisfied with their sex lives, ahead of Spain at 69%, Canada 66%, Belgium 65% and the U.S. 64%. There were only 29 countries, with Japan at #29 and Taiwan #28. The bottom five were countries of the Orient. The study was funded by Pfizer, which sells Viagra.

The World Economic Forum, based in Europe, annually reports on the Global Gender Gap. The Scandinavian nations are the best, and European nations represent eight of the top ten, with the Philippines and New Zealand the only exceptions. The U.S. wallows in 32nd place, with Yemen at the bottom.  (The 2010 index was unchanged at the top, with Sweden #1, Norway #2 and Finland #3.)

However, the World Economic Forum also has a business competitiveness ranking. One hundred thirteen factors contribute to the process, and the USA is ranked #1. Venture capital availability and a large domestic market help. Seven of the top ten nations are from Europe, with Singapore (#7) and Japan (#9).  (However, the 2010 ranking showed Switzerland at #1, Sweden #2, Singapore #3 and the USA #4.  We are falling behind.)

The most credible of all surveys is the United Nations Human Development Report, all 444 pages in 2006.245 To gain a quick understanding of the scope of the effort, go to Human Development Index, Wikipedia. The top ten in 2006 were #1 Norway, #2 Iceland, #3 Australia, #4 Ireland, #5 Sweden, #6 Canada, #7 Japan, #8 United States, #9 Switzerland and #10 Netherlands. European countries dominate. Singapore is #25, Paraguay #91, Vanuatu #119 and Bhutan #135. Niger at #177 was the lowest, but that is because Iraq and Afghanistan were not included. However, in 2007, Iceland was rated #1, with Norway #2, Australia #3 and U.S. #12.  (The 2009 report has it:  #1 Norway, #2 Australia, #3 Iceland...USA #13, and falling, again.  I bet Iceland won't be on the list in 2010.)

Analyzing all the above surveys, incorporating my world travels and being influenced by Chapter 1 where I concluded that, darn it, the U.S is the best country, the best place on Planet Earth is the United States of America. Norway is great, but too cold. So are Iceland, Switzerland, Canada and, even Ireland. Singapore is appealing, but they take life too seriously. Australia deserves to be in the top three.

But the USA is a big country. Where is the best of the best? The latest Money Magazine top ten are: #1 Middleton, WI, #2 Hanover, NH, #3 Louisville, CO, #4 Lake Mary, FL, #5 Claremont CA, #6 Papillion, NE, #7, Milton, MA, #8 Chaska, MN, #9 Providence, PA and #10 Suwanee, GA. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve never been to most of these cities.  (In 2010 #1 Eden Prarie MN, Columbia/Ellicott City MD, Newton, MA, Bellevue WA and McKinney TX.) Who heard of them...so we can justifiably delete this Money list.

Statemaster.com has a livability index by state, incorporating 44 factors. The top three are: New Hampshire, Minnesota and Vermont. Hawaii is #26. Hawaii does poorly because it has the highest gas price and tax burden, plus second highest housing cost (next to California). Yet, Honolulu was rated #1 by Men’s Health for the lowest incidence of insomnia and #2 by the Center for Digital Government in digital access, although we have fallen behind in 2010. Of the eight communities in the country with the highest percentage of solar-water heated homes, eight are in Hawaii. These must count for something.

Sperling’s healthiest cities has San Jose as #1 and Washington, D.C. as #2.  I’ve lived in both locations, and agree that something good has happened to San Jose since I was a college student, but D.C as number two is a startling. Maybe crime was not a factor. Hawaii is not listed in the top 50, but perhaps we did not take enough Centrum pills, which sponsored the study. But, the Environmental Almanac ranked Hawaii #1 on environmental quality. I didn’t see San Jose or D.C. in the top 75. The EPA rated Texas as the worst in toxic discharge and Hawaii as best. The American Lung Association monitoring 700 U.S. counties, rated Honolulu air among the cleanest in the Nation.  (But, oh, oh, we are #8 int 2009.)

Let’s face it, you want to live in a healthy location:

o      Hawaii was ranked #2 to Minnesota by Northwestern National Life Insurance Company in their survey, incorporating 17 indicators, such as infant mortality, access to health care, smoking rates and violent crime.

o      The Anne Casey Foundation looked at the 50 largest cities in the U.S. for well-being of its children, and Honolulu was ranked first. Hawaii also leads the nation in longevity, and is the only state with an average life expectancy topping 80.

o      Children born in Hawaii will have a life expectancy three years longer than the national average, with lower death rates from heart disease and cancer.

o      Hawaii is home to more centegenarians (those 100 years or older) per capita than any other state.

o      Honolulu has the smallest temperature range of any major U.S. city, with a low of 57 °F and high of 88 °F, an average of 76.6 °F (the national average is a chilly 53.2 °F)

o      Men’s Fitness regularly indicates that Honolulu, for all the Spam (canned mystery meat made by Hormel, said by some to contain more cholesterol per gram than anything else) we consume (leads the nation in pounds/capita) is the fittest city. San Francisco or Seattle is normally #2.

Sperling’s Best Places did list Honolulu in the top ten of least stressful cities (Tacoma, Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas and New York City were the most stressful), and #5 to Charlottesville, Santa Fe, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara as the best place to live. There were 331 metropolitan areas profiled. The surprise is that Honolulu was recommended not only for your next vacation, but as a good place to live. Unemployment is low (during the past decade Hawaii has been #1 or #2 in the Nation with the lowest unemployment rate) and so is violent crime. However, Hawaii tops the nation in thefts. Ah, this is not good.

Cited by Sperling is a remarkable economy, although Forbes and Money regularly dump on the state as Death Valley for business. All three are correct, as the economy is improving while the labor unions do have an influence on legislation that pains the private sector. The 2005 Milken Institute survey showed that Hawaii was the most expensive state to do business. But do you want to do business in South or North Dakota (the least expensive)?

Also mentioned were the infectious people. No, this has very little to do with communicable diseases. There is an aloha spirit that tends to pervade the community. We do the right thing, being the #4 state on charitable giving and are among the lowest on DUI traffic fatality rate (2.02 versus a national average of 4.74). The people of Hawaii were voted best-looking, friendliest and most laid-back by Travel & Leisure. Is this a hint of the best place, or what?


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The Dow Jones Industrials fell 22 to 10,739, with world markets also almost all down.  Gold surged to another all-time high, up $4/toz to $1291, while crude oil is just under $75/barrel.

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There are five tropical ocean storms, they seem today not to be of serious concern.  However, I should note that Hurricane Igor struck Newfoundland with a fury on 22September 10, said to be the worst in a century, causing widespread damage.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD: So Where are the Best Places in the World? (Part 17, Section B)

You need to experience the worst to appreciate the best.  Here are the ten worst cities in the USA:

1.  El Centro
2.  Cleveland
3.  Detroit
4.  Las Vegas...YES, LAS VEGAS
5.  Oklahoma City
6.  Los Angeles
7.  Phoenix
8. Newark
9.  Miami
10 Memphis

The following continues the serialization of the final chapter from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:



So Where are the Best Places in the World?

 

As I’m just about to send this to the publisher, I read that there was a brand new book, published in 2008, called The Geography of Bliss. Eric Weiner, a National Public Radio correspondent and known grump, travelled to the most happiest sites, and wrote a book of his experiences. He mentions that journalists travel to the worst places in the world to get the most sordid stories. So, he did just the opposite. In many ways, this is just what I did for this chapter. Some of the locations mentioned in this publication can be compared with his observations. Someday soon I’ll do just that.

I have landed in Japan at least a hundred times, been to Seoul, Hong Kong and Bangkok perhaps on 20 occasions...each, Singapore at least ten times and various parts of China. Australia and New Zealand are favorite spots for travel. Europe I generally love. Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries deserve their high ranking. Tahiti is charming.

At one time I thought that Australia looked like the country of the future, with vast resources and a pioneering attitude. Then, Jared Diamond’s Collapse reported that a lack of predictable rainfall makes this country already over-urbanized, for very little of the land is livable. Worse, the soils and surrounding marine coastal space are generally unproductive for a lack of nutrients. Scratch Australia from the final list, but it deserves at least a mention.

Buenos Aires has the tango and a European flair. With a Gross National Product per capita of $16,000, versus $9,000 for Brazil and $13,000 for Chile, Argentina seems poised to make a recovery from their economic free fall. But it will tumble again, so nothing in South American makes the A list.

While safety is a plus for those developed countries of the Orient, on the Continent, it decreases with warmer temperatures. Yet, America’s two most dangerous cities, Detroit and St. Louis, are a lot more terrifying than anything in those areas. In any case, we are trying to determine the best place on Earth, so let me share some of my favorites.

My preferred international cities are Tokyo, Osaka-Kobe, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Perth, Paris and Oslo. But most of the world wants to come to the USA, so the top spots are littered with American cities and regions.

With these surveys and my travel experience, I then bravely ventured forth with a top ten list, then expanded it to twelve, and ended up with a sweet sixteen. It was getting too large, so I created an honorable mention category and went back to only a top ten. The best? Drum roll, please……

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The Dow Jones Industrial inched up 7 to 10,761, with world markets mostly down.  Gold, again broke an all time record:  UP $12/TOZ to $1287.  The word on the street is that the Federal Reserve will keep interest rates down, so gold might be the only thing worthy of appreciation.

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There are six ocean storms.  Hurricane Igor is way up north, but at 80MPH, still a hurricane.  There is now Malakas in the Western Pacific, Georgette in the Eastern Pacific, Lisa in the Eastern Atlantic, and, even something just south of the Big Island of Hawaii.


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Monday, September 20, 2010

HOUSING AND MOVIES

Yes, a strange combination, but just descriptive, not related.

The housing bubble, it is said, was the catalyst of the recent Great Recession.  In mid-summer of 2008, when oil peaked at $147/barrel, the 30 year interest rate for home loans was at 6.5%.  The crash came, and by the end of the year, this interest rate had dropped to 5%.  Today, it is at 4.5%.

How does 4.5% compare, historically

Early 60's     6%
1970             8%
1980           12%
1981           15%  (after second energy crisis)
1990             9.5%
2000             8%
2003             5.7% 
2006             6.5%
2010             4.5%

In other words, we are at a half century historical low for home loan interest rates.

Yet, arguments are growing to rent rather than purchase.  In 1900, 46.5% of homes were owner occupied, dropping a few percentage points by the end of the Great Depression.  There was then a continuous climb, where ownership was more than 60% in the late 50's, peaking at 69% just around the time of 9/11/2001.  Since then, there has been a decline to 67%.

How does the U.S. home ownership rate compare with other countries (GDP/capita)?

Spain            89% ($34,144)
Mexico          84% ($13,900)
India              83% ($3,100)
Italy                82% ($38,730)
U.S.               68% ($56,092)
Japan            61% ($49,041)
Germany       56% ($45,606)
Switzerland  35% ($73,798)

Of course, the homes are not the same and government policy on interest rate deductions can make a big difference.  Yet, you can only wonder about the logic of percentage ownership.  Is Switzerland the future of what home ownership will be?

Totally changing subjects, I went to three movies this weekend.  To my surprise (because those films that are shown in 3D/IMAX theaters normally draw the blockbusters), The Town ended up #1 and Easy A #2.  I'm spoiling it for the future moviegoer, but, what the heck, Ben Affleck gives himself a surprisingly happy ending in the first one.  If the crazy character looked familiar, that was Jeremy Renner of Hurt Locker fame.  Affleck could well become the next Clint Eastwood as an actor who also became a director.

About EA, I snarkily say again, when did Malcolm McDowell get so old?  Not as good as Superbad in 2007 or  The Hangover last year, but pretty entertaining summer youth lifestyle fodder.

The third film, a documentary, was 442:  Live with Honor, Die with Dignity.  It has been 60 years since Go For Broke, that film with Van Johnson and a cast of American-Japanese actors.  Robert Pirosh, who wrote the screenplay was actually nominated for an Oscar in 1951.  But there is something a lot more fulfilling about this new film.  I was touched, maybe even with a tear or two or more.  Senator Daniel Inouye was particularly featured.  The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (much later, in 1963, I was part of this group), which included the 100th Battalion, was the only military unit personally honored by a president, Truman.  14,000 (two-thirds from Hawaii) served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts (I worked for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga, who won one of these, and carried a shrapnel in his knee after being injured).  These volunteers also earned 21 Medals of Honor, including a recent awardee, Senator Inouye (1945 photo to left), who lost his right arm during the battle for which he was honored.  I guess because I owe so much to them, I thought this final film was the highlight of the three.

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The Dow Jones Industrials jumped $146 to $10,754, while world markets almost all went up (but not Shanghai), with the Japanese Nikkei leaping another three digits, increasing 117 to 9626.  The Nikkei and Dow Jones most of this year seemed to track each other until the messy politics of Japan intruded.   Yes, gold hit another all-time high, +$4/toz to $1281, while crude oil settled just under $75/barrel.  

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There are six ocean storms, but Typhoon Fanapi already made landfall over China, there is a new disturbance east and south of the Philippines not expected to cause trouble, and a third south of Baha.  The three Atlantic storms are running their courses.

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