Friday, 31 July 2009

Organic food "unlikely to be of any public health relevance."

Not wanting to seem obsessed by this organic food business, but the report I mentioned yesterday appeared in today's South China Morning Post.  "The independent study, funded by the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency... concluded that organic food was "unlikely to be of any public health relevance".

The response of the director of the HK Organic Resource Centre?  "Simply comparing the nutritional breakdown of organic and inorganic food without looking into their growth background is unreliable."   What??  Parse that one (or "deconstruct" it, as the post-modernists would say).  Surely "comparing the nutritional breakdown" is exactly what we should be doing.

Anyway, in our household the order has gone out: don't buy organic, unless you have to.  There you go, that's my little revolt.

Was it X-files where they said: "I want to believe"?  Blow the evidence.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Hurrah for pesticides and artificial fertilisers!

I've long had a campaign in this family -- only sporadically successful -- to drink tap water and pooh-pooh organic produce.  I reckon it's all a big con.  I recall a scientist on the BBC saying that there was indeed measurable pesticide in a cauliflower he'd tested, but that you'd have to eat a truckload of it in a day for it to make any difference.  Meantime Organic Weetabix are three times as expensive as the "Original".   Three times!  I actually got some "Organic" and "Original" Weetabix tested here in Hong Kong and though there were detectable chemicals in the Original, they were in vanishingly small amounts and, like the cauliflower, you'd have to eat truckloads of it, in a day, for it to -- perhaps -- have any effect.

I just heard a report on BBC Radio (675 AM in Hong Kong), which said that a recent study of 50 years' worth of research revealed no measurable health benefits from eating "organic" food.

Even more damning: if the world shifted to organic production, we could only produce about a quarter of what we do now.  Mass famine would be the logical outcome of a leftie-greenie agenda on this organic foods wankery.

I can't find the link to the article mentioned by the BBC.  Email me if you know: peter-at-forsythe-dot-hk (my address in this format so that crawlbots don't pick up my email address for spamming)

Why won't America speak to Israel?

I wrote about Israel and West Jerusalem yesterday, here.   Today's IHT prints two letters on the same topic:


Regarding Celestine Bohlen’s “Telling Israel no: Obama’s bold move” (Letter from Europe, July 29): The Palestinians are not in any way, shape or form ready to negotiate; they are split in a million pieces. The Palestinian Authority is corrupt and ineffectual; Hamas is terrorizing Gaza’s population; Gaza is hemmed in on all sides by Egypt and Israel; Iran is a mess.
What good does it do to pressure Israel on settlements when the other partner in the conflict is in never-never land?
This has been the story all along. The Palestinians refuse to negotiate seriously; the Israelis take more land. In the end, there won’t be any land to negotiate over.
Andrea Moriah, Jerusalem
James Carroll (“A shared Jerusalem,” Views, July 28) writes that “President Obama has replaced the Bush policy of hands-off with a gloves-off readiness to push all parties hard.”
Can Mr. Carroll point to anything at all that Mr. Obama has done that could be interpreted as pushing the Palestianians?
Tuvia Fogel, Milan

Hillary in, Sarah out

Funny piece by Mareen Dowd, she who coined the term the "slutty stewardess look" for Sarah Palin.  
 
Concludes Mareen:

Sarah seems happily oblivious that she benefited from Hollywood casting techniques. Just as movie directors have beautiful young actresses playing nuclear physicists and Harvard professors, knowing the fusion of sex appeal and a heavyweight profession will excite, the novelty of a beautiful former beauty queen and TV reporter cast in a powerful role that has featured dour, gray old men like Dick Cheney was thrilling. At first.

As McCain pal and Republican strategist Mike Murphy so sagely observed recently: “If Palin looked like Golda Meir, would we even be talking about her today?”

Sarah should follow her own advice to Hillary and work harder to be capable. Until then, she’s all cage, no bird.

A bit of a babe herself, young Maureen.  But I guess we'd still take her as seriously if she did look like Gold Meir; she writes in black and white, after all.

59 is the new 30. Yeah!

Lovely article by Thomas L. Friedman in today's International Herald Tribune, here. Contemplating Tom Watson's amazing run in the British Open:
...a 59-year-old man who had played his opening two rounds in this tournament with a 16-year-old Italian amateur — was able to best the greatest golfers in the world at least a decade after anyone would have dreamt it possible.
...
This wonderful but cruel game never stops testing or teaching you. “The only comment I can make,” Watson told me after, “is one that the immortal Bobby Jones related: ‘One learns from defeat, not from victory.’ I may never have the chance again to beat the kids, but I took one thing from the last hole: hitting both the tee shot and the approach shots exactly the way I meant to wasn’t good enough. ... I had to finish.”

So I went out with Kev, to the DB Golf Course and shot a 14 over.  That's 14 balls over.... over the fence, in the rough and lost.  Cruel, yes....  What I learn from defeat: buy cheap balls....

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Why won't America speak to Israel?

Thoughtful article in today's International Herald Tribune, by Aluf Benn, editor at large of the Israeli paper Haarets.  Points made include:

Mr. Obama’s quest for diplomacy has appeared to Israelis as dangerous American naïveté. The president offered a hand to the Iranians, and got nothing, merely giving them more time to advance their nuclear program. 
....

Mr. Obama seems to have confused American Jews with Israelis. We are close emotionally and politically, but we are different. We speak Hebrew and not English, we live in the Middle East and have separate historical narratives. Mr. Obama’s stop at Buchenwald and his strong rejection of Holocaust denial, immediately after his Cairo speech, appealed to American Jews but fell flat in Israel. Here we are taught that Zionist determination and struggle — not guilt over the Holocaust — brought Jews a homeland. Mr. Obama’s speech, which linked Israel’s existence to the Jewish tragedy, infuriated many Israelis who sensed its closeness to the narrative of enemies like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.
....
Mr. Obama has made a mistake in focusing on a settlement freeze. For starters, mainstream Israelis rarely have anything to do with the settlements; many have no idea where they are, even when they’re a half-hour’s drive from Tel Aviv....
Which leads to the settlement issue, including that of East Jerusalem.  Celestine Bohen's article in today's IHT makes the incorrect statement that the US has not recognised Israel's claim to East Jerusalem.  Her article here.  My letter to the IHT refuting her point, here.

Next time in Shanghai, check this place out..


James Cornell at his New Zealand specialty shop.

From the article in today's South China Morning Post (29th July):

The crumbling stone walls that surround the Tian Zi Fang neighbourhood in Shanghai belie a colourful and fascinating corner of the city, with a cosmopolitan mixture of shops, restaurants and galleries.

Its cluster of tiny Shikumen cottages, some brightly painted, others their original dull grey, are criss-crossed by narrow alleys festooned with colourful banners, Chinese lanterns and the odd bit of revolutionary zeal. It's a place of contrasts, reflecting China's past and future, and is as much home to locals as to foreign entrepreneurs, designers and tourists.
Inside the former 1920s commune, the smells of Thai noodles, Italian coffee and ginseng tea waft through the photo galleries, CD stores and boutiques. Symbols of the Great Leap Forward are mixed with modern iconography: hanging in a makeshift al fresco gallery, chisel-jawed communist soldiers are juxtaposed with KFC logos and the golden arches of McDonald's, and in a silk boutique figurines of Mao dressed in a green great coat are immersed in an aquarium with Chinese carp.

Seems it was kicked off by Aussies, with the Kommune cafe....
Kommune was the first Western restaurant to start up in Tian Zi Fang, opening to meet the  caffeine needs of a band of Australian expatriates.
Even the Australian Consul General, Tom Connor, has been along:
Visitors to the restaurant's weekly Great Aussie Barbecue have included the Australian consul general and the head of Qantas, and there are rumours an Australian ex-prime minister will don a Kommune apron in the coming months.
Access to the original article is by login, so I've dowloaded it to PDF file here.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Let the '12 Campaign Begin!

In the discussion last night between our pessimist and our optimist (see below on stocks and multiples), our interlocutors agreed on one thing: Obama is not doing well; he is too professorial, not power-wielding enough.  Not a Roosevelt or Johnson.   Both thought he would be "toast" in 2012.  Who are the candidates?  For the GOP, the front runners are, amazingly enough, Romney and Palin, a Mormon and an almost-born-again.  Let the campaign begin!  Actually, it won't be long until it starts--for some, maybe, like "slutty stewardess" Sarah-- it's started already.

I then came across this link to the All Seeing Eye, comparing the last twelve presidents' approval ratings at this point of their presidencies.  Obama's is tenth.  Harry Trumans was the lowest.  The two highest were Bill Clinton and Dubya.  Their approvals both had risen immediately after an impeachment and starting a war, leading a journalist to joke that if Obama can start a war and get impeached, his approval will go over 100%.  Links at the Eye, including a fun interactive chart of presidential approval ratings....

Jerusalem United

Apparently a UK Foreign Office Committee has recommended that Britain talk to "moderate" Hamas.  Rather like talking to "moderate" Nazis went one comment...
Led me to an article on East Jerusalem, which says it has never been Arab Jerusalem, save for a short period, 1948-67, when it was occupied by Jordan (and Jews expelled, synagogues burned).  The view -- eg within the BBC --  that Israel is "illegally" occupying East Jerusalem is simply not true.  The US Congress made this clear in 1995.

As Steve Lieblich, says 

The great obstacle to Middle East peace is not that Jews insist on living among Arabs. It is that Arabs insist that Jews not live among them.

Battery bicycles for Hong Kong!



I've been running a dilatory campaign -- perhaps that should read "walking" the campaign -- to have the Hong Kong government allow the use of battery assisted bicycles in Hong Kong (aka e-bikes).  The issue is that the Transport Regulations don't specifically cover e-bikes, so they simply lump them in with motorbikes, which require all sorts of safety gear, helmets and licensing, that just don't make sense for e-bikes.
Many jurisdictions simply deem them to be bicycles and allow people to use them as bikes.  In fact, that's right, because they are no faster (and in many cases are slower) than bicycles, on the flat and downhill.  They are just a bit easier to get uphill, but usually also need to pedal.
I wrote a submission to the government in May 2008, a copy of which is here.
Today's International Herald Tribune has an article, E-China, the bicycle kingdom is going electric (pdf version here): "...production of electric two-wheeler has soared from fewer than 200,000 eight years ago to 22 million last year...".
Maybe I should take it up again for Hong Kong.   A shame to be outdone, and out-flexibled by the Motherland.   I submitted my paper to the Transport Department and got back an anodyne response that simply repeated e-bikes were not covered by the Regulations and hence could not be licensed.  It didn't really address the suggestions I made, but I decided to simply keep riding mine and take the chance of arrest.... (so far, no such luck....).
*****************
Reference:
"Submission to Hong Kong Government, to legitimize the use of environmentally-friendly e-bikes in Hong Kong", Peter Forsythe, May 2008. Here.

S&P Multiples

 A comment last night (post below): that average multiples are now at or over pre-crisis levels, hence correction due.

This morning's Bloomberg happened to have a story on S&P Multiples:
  • Current level: 13 times earnings (I forget if this was trailing or forward, though if I recall, they're most often on forward earnings)
  • Average of last five decades: 16.5 times
  • If stocks were to increase in price to 16.5 times earnings, the market would need to go up 26%.....
Consensus estimates of the S&P, for what they're worth (and that may not be much...), is 1020 by year end, vs 979 now.

Short Stock, Long Stock?

Dinner last night at the Thai, two views on US and China's economic outlook.
The pessimist: 
The US hasn't seen the worst yet.  Unemployment rates, officially around 9%, are in reality much higher.  When those who are out of work, living on savings, run out of money and register for unemployment, the bread lines will start and the deficit blow out.  The period now is like that between 1929 and 1932, with see-sawing share prices, bi-polar investors, followed by nearly a decade of flat prices.   Share prices are at multiples above the pre-crisis levels, and due for correction.  The dollar will drop.
China: Guangdong is dire, factories shuttered and 15-50 million workers sent back to their villages.  There's no buying power in the villages for them to set up viable city-oriented service industries.  But the government might pull off recovery with pump-priming, if it's targetted right.
Conclusion: short stocks, or stay out of them completely.  Long real estate: people always need somewhere to live.
The optimist
The crisis was one of lack of liquidity.  The underlying US economy had been fine until credit jammed up.  Now that liquidity is flowing again, orders are starting to flow and industry get back on its feet.  China, meantime, has many smart, energetic and committed politicians and bureacrats, focussed on getting China through the crisis and look to be making good progress. Inflation is a danger.
Conclusion: long stocks.  Neutral real estate.

Meeker's position: more in line with my hero, the Sage of Omaha: "it's hard to short the US in the long-term".  On China, the returned workers can pool money, energy and entrepreneurialism to grow new businesses.  
Conclusion: Hold stocks; stop-loss the buggers, hold real estate.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

"Foreigners" in Hong Kong: shock, horror!

They featured my letter to the South China Morning Post today.
Read the letter in pdf version here.
I can't find the original article by Stephen Vines anywhere on the SCMP site, though the orginal article which started this exchange on 13 July is here.  
There's always a bit of xenophobia lurking in corners of China's bureaucracy.  Check out some comments on the Rio Tinto "spygate" issue, on 18 July, here.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Golfing, such a tough life




Going out this morning, as Jing was preparing for work, I found myself almost complaining that I "had" to play golf with Kevin... just that I'm such a klutz at the game.... then thought, "what on earth can I be complaining about, that I have to go out to play golf??!!".   A louring day, nicely tropical and sweat-drenching.  Above the view from the 14th hole of the Discovery Bay golf club, a lovely course on top of the hill behind our house, 27 tough holes.  I usually pick up on half the holes, refusing to let the game get in the way of a good walk...  This view is south-east over the South China Sea, the islands in the distance belong to China.  And as always, fun to yarn and yak with Kev....




Thursday, 23 July 2009

Watching the eclipse


Down to the Plaza yesterday to catch the eclipse over HK -- just 75% occluded, but I thought should be good, and was right -- perfect clear day and so relaxing down by Pacific Coffee, watching the moon, crisp and black, slide over the dark yellow sun.  Much longer than I thought, overall lasted from 08:15 to 10:32 (or thereabouts....)