Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Since the outbreak of the swine flu on the American continent, we have been wondering about typical flu mortality in Hawaii. Hawaii doesn't have a flu season; year round visitors from Asia, Europe, the Americas, and other Pacific Islands results in year-round influenza cases in Hawaii due to a plethora of viruses.

We wondered if Hawaii’s tropical climate resulted in more deaths due to influenza as compared to other States. After all, bacteria certainly thrives in Hawaii’s sultry heat. But the chart above, using the latest CDC mortality rates by State from 2005, shows Hawaii’s rate of death by influenza and pneumonia is low compared to the overall rate in the US and majority of the other individual States.

Hawaii reported 241 deaths by flu and pneumonia in 2005, 15% of the overall deaths for that year (the rates are age-adjusted rates per 100,000 U.S. standard population). This was less than the overall US rate of 20.3% and only Alaska (12.3%), Florida (11.8%), Minnesota (14.5%), Oregon (14.5%), Washington (14.5%), and Vermont (13.7%) had lower age-adjusted rates of mortality. It is interesting that most of these States have relatively humid weather.

We were surprised to discover
numerous studies showing that viruses do not flourish if the humidity is over 50% and those that do survive are weakened from the heat and less likely to cause death (at least in laboratory animals). The hot and humid weather that is the norm in most of Hawaii disrupts a virus’s ability to survive and transmit.

Hawaii had a different experience during the great flu pandemic of 1918 than the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. The first flu case came in the Spring, like most of the rest of the world, but the flu persisted in Hawaii during the summer and through to the Fall. The rest of the world saw the flu disappear in the summer and reemerge with fury in the Fall. Hawaii had a low death rate from that flu epidemic compared to the rest of the world.

Each year in the U.S., an average of 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized from serious flu complications. Ninety percent of flu deaths and more than half of hospitalizations from the flu occur in people age 65 and older. In Hawaii,
115 of the 241 deaths in 2005 were 85 or more years of age.

As we watch the growing worldwide concern and rising numbers of deaths from this new strain of influenza, swine flu, we take comfort in knowing that Hilo's rainy nights and warm humid days may be our best defense against the threat.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Merrie Monarch, the premier international Hula competition, was held in Hilo, Hawaii this week offering a view into a culture that is not otherwise accessible to us. We find the richness of the Hawaiian and Polynesian culture one of the many benefits of living in Hilo, but Merrie Monarch offers us the chance to have an even deeper experience of it.

We don’t begin to understand what it is like to be Hawaiian, but we find it spiritually uplifting to be a part of the town of Hilo and audience during Merrie Monarch week. It gives us higher hopes for the future of humanity after watching people so committed to supporting and displaying their talent and culture to all of us through the incredible array of events during the week. Each hula dancer and group of dancers represents a large group of supporting people dedicated to the task of teaching the chants, movements, lei making and to providing musical accompaniment, singing the meles, and giving time and space for practice. It is a huge commitment on the part of families, teachers, and the community to preserve and continue the art and culture of hula.

We come from a world where everything is monetized and the success of something means more money and this money usually translates to controlled access. But Merrie Monarch is very different. The endless hours of effort and practice by the hula dancers is not for money and it is the only international event we know of where numerous free events and low entrance fees allow anyone who lives here to be able to go. We lived in LA during the 1984 Olympics but there was no way we could afford the ticket prices of the athletic events and numerous international dance and cultural events that were scheduled during the month. We are used to living in American cities where major cultural events are so expensive that only the rich or guests of those on corporate expense accounts have access.

As Europeans, we can go to the Louvre in Paris or other museums and libraries to see collections of art, books, and artifacts going back 7,000 years to get a sense of our place and time in the European context of cultural evolution. Hawaii and Polynesian islands have much of their culture in oral tradition, where history and mythology and learning is passed verbally from one generation to the next. Merrie Monarch brings this oral culture to life along with the cultural connection to the land through the flowers and designs and costumes. For us, watching hula during Merrie Monarch is like sitting in the Louvre in awe of the European paintings. A curtain is drawn back and we see the old and new and get a sense of the place and time of the extraordinary Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures.

We are in our infancy of understanding the Hawaiian culture; Merrie Monarch week is an extreme flood of non-European thoughts and experiences flowing into our minds and souls. Integrating the deep message of hula into our western European way of seeing things overwhelms us; it is like learning to walk and we become dizzy and weak from the moment of it. Last year, our first Merrie Monarch, we were exhausted at the end of the week, but felt that we had learned so much. This year, once again exhausted and catching our breath, we realize how little we know or understand.

Here are links to our videos and photos from Merrie Monarch
Ho'olaulea, Ho'ike and other events during the week.

Monday, April 13, 2009


It seems logical that Obama’s stimulus packages and increased deficit spending will lead to an increased rate of inflation in the US. We were wondering if this postulation was true, so we compared the percentage change in inflation rates (annual CPI % change) with the percentage change in US Debt since 1948. Oddly enough, the comparison showed a strong decrease in the rate of inflation as the percent of deficit spending increased. So, we added the additional comparison of the yearly average percentage of unemployment and it starts to make a little more sense.

From the graph, it appears that increasing inflation is correlated with an extended period of low unemployment and deficit spending is related to high unemployment and not the cause of an immediate increase in inflation. Another interesting thing shown in the graph is that there are long lag times between increasing employment and increasing consumer inflation. It takes about 3 years of increasing employment before inflation rates starts to rise and about 2 years before increasing unemployment starts to lower the inflation rate. Increasing inflation rates appear to be related to high employment rates; when people have a stable income they spend more and that increases inflation. Deficit spending does not appear to immediately increase inflation, in fact inflation rates tends to go down during times of higher deficit spending.

Based on this graph, we think 2009 is year one of a two to three year cycle of sharply increasing unemployment. Even though there is huge deficit spending which will vastly increase US debt, if the trends in the graph hold, there should be five years of decreasing inflation. In 2011, employment should begin to recover and inflation will start to increase after the third year of increasing employment in 2014.

The graph also seems to indicate that sharper rises in unemployment result in shorter cycles of economic downturn, so we think the very sharp rise in unemployment in late 2008 and 2009 will shorten the length of increasing unemployment. Based on our findings, Obama’s massive stimulus package won’t increase inflation and may help to shorten the time to economic recovery.

Notes on the graph:

· Inflation is based on the Consumer Price Index(CPI) which is measure of the average change over time of the prices paid by urban consumers of a basket of consumer goods and services. It includes things like rents, apples, and gasoline in a large number of urban areas across the county. The base value is 100 which was achieved in 1984. The graph values are the percentage change in CPI from the previous year.
· The US Debt is always increasing; it increased from $252,292,246,512.99 to $10,024,724,896,912.40 between 1948 and 2008. During that time there were only 4 years where it decreased and only a small amount. The graph values are the percentage change in debt from the previous year. Decreases in the debt percentage means that the debt increased less that year than the previous year
· Unemployment is the yearly average based on the US Labor Department’s published monthly unemployment percentage. We used the average unemployment percentage in this graph because we think it shows the relationships to the US deficit and inflation more clearly than showing the percentage change as we have with the CPI and US deficit.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I don’t remember being bothered by lack of sunlight until we moved to the San Francisco bay area with its cold, dark, wet winters. That is where I heard about SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Every year my winter blues lasted longer and I felt worse.

In 1999, we took a trip to Hawaii in the winter for a week and I found that the sunlight and food charged me up enough to get through the rest of winter. Over the next ten years, I came to Hawaii for one to two weeks to make it through the Northern California winters. I found that the sunlight in Hawaii would last me about a month before I felt the overwhelming winter blues return.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal was the first to describe SAD and pioneered the use of light therapy. Recent research has shown that most people in the Northern US and Europe experience seasonal depression which makes it hard for them to wake up in the morning, hard to lose weight, and feel slowed down during the dark days of the winter. In the worse form of SAD, which affects an estimated 6% of the US population, it causes people a great deal of distress and difficulty in functioning in their lives and may require hospitalization. Another 14% of US adults have a lesser form of SAD, known as the winter blues, which makes them feel less cheerful, energetic, creative, and productive during the winter months compared to other times of the year. Bright light therapy, using a light box with full spectrum light, has proven to be an effective treatment. While in California I used a “light box” which helped tremendously. I heated a small room and flooded it with light and played Hawaiian music to shut out the cold gray world outside. Looking back at those endless days of winter, when I felt like my brain was dead and I was a zombie, I just tried to drink enough strong coffee to get the taxes done and survive until the sun emerged in the Spring.

I was lucky to have a lesser form of SAD, but each year it was more pronounced and lasted longer. Scientists at the University of Maryland have reported that airborne pollution is blocking sunlight causing a global dimming that has been increasing over the past 30 years. A 3 kilometer thick cloud of brown soot and other pollutants is currently hanging over Asia, darkening cities, killing thousands and damaging crops. Dr. Tracey Holloway, at the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at University of Wisconsin in Madison, published research indicating about 12% of the pollution in the Western United States comes from emissions in Asia and Europe; in the Eastern US, up to 10% of air pollution comes from those areas. This may account for my SAD getting increasingly worse over the 10 years I lived in Northern California.

The best part of the winter for me was my sojourn to Hawaii, where I stayed as long as I could by finding affordable rooms off the beaten path in communal B&Bs on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. I remember sitting at the airport in Hawaii, dreading my return to the sunless world of Northern California and wondering why I didn’t just move to Hawaii and what it would be like to spend an entire winter feeling energized and upbeat.

When the opportunity to move to Hawaii finally arrived, we picked Hilo because we found it to be the most affordable community on the Big Island, with the best access to fish, and an endless number of activities that we loved. I was initially concerned that the abundant Hilo rain might be an issue, but after two winters in Hilo and in spite of the rainy days, I have had absolutely no SAD. At this longitude, the only US state below the Tropic of Cancer, the sunlight comes right through the rain so my winter blues never arrived.

As Spring arrives in Hilo, Hawaii and the days get warmer and longer, it is hard to describe how wonderful it feels to greet the new season without feeling like I am coming out of a deep state of hibernation. The joy of living in Hawaii grows for me every day!