My recovery from a strep infection in the left leg is progressing nicely, even if it may be months before I am fully recovered, and this weekend I reached the milestone of negotiating the stairs at Hawaii Public Radio without the assistance of a cane.
It has been almost three months since this started with my being bitten on the leg while meeting with Pacific Century Fellows at Turtle Bay -- I only repeat this to be mischievous because I hear the manager of the resort was irked at me for discussing it! -- like there is something they could have done to prevent it. It's the tropics, brah! [See comment from the GM in the comments section.]
By the end of March I had gotten out of the hospital, recuperating for another couple weeks at home, and was back on the air, gimping around with a cane and sleeping extra hours. April was characterized by setbacks as I tried to return to a normal schedule too quickly. I finally began turning down the majority of requests for outside speaking engagements and paring my other activities back so I could get the rest I needed. And I started taking vitamins.
This month, the two surgical incisions closed in to the point where I can wash the leg daily and cover the wounds with simple gauze. They are pretty small now. The principal remaining issue is swelling, since the infection devasted the lymphatic system and it takes time for the vessels to repair, assuming they ever do. This is the part that is likely to take months more.
The lymphatic system is a circulatory system but one that has no heart. Lymphatic fluid moves, when it moves, because of one of two things -- the flexing of nearby muscles, and gravity. This is what I was ordered to sleep with the leg elevated -- to undo the downward flow of fluid when I am sitting. Walking is a third condition because it involves muscle movement, and doing more walking will be good for the situation.
My first wife Marilyn had lymph edema after a mastectomy and the nurses taught me how to massage her arm to combat swelling. The two key things to remember are (1) not to rub too hard because that simply collapses the vessels, so it impedes the flow rather than facilitating it, and (2) it is better to "pull" the fluid than to "push" it, so the massaging should be done "downstream" from the swollen area. Lymph is reabsorbed into the body at specific points, which you can look up if you want more information on this.
Several medical people advised me to get a Barcalounger, to elevate the leg while watching television, but I have resisted this, preferring not to make it easier to lounge when there is so much to do. I do put the leg up on a table sometimes. I even put it up on the anchor desk during a feature segment elsewhere in the studio once, but our producer immediately captured the shot and put it on the air.
If you enjoy listening to classical music from time to time but have made no study of it, you may be interested in this weekend's edition of my public radio show, "The Inner Game of Symphony," focusing entirely on symphony inner movements.
The symphony has a surprisingly detailed format, even if many composers break the rules. In the late 1700s, a format used by Haydn caught on so widely in Europe that more than 200 years later the easiest way to describe a symphony is to tell how it follows or doesn't follow the Haydn structure. There have been a couple of widely-followed alterations but even these are best detailed in contrast to the Haydn model.
The typical symphony has four movements, structured as follows:
1. The first movement, which often carries the dramatic weight of the entire work, nearly always follows a "sonata allegro" format in which two themes are presented in two different keys, then the composer fiddles with them, and winds up by presenting them again, but this time both in the same key. The two themes are usually contrasting -- the first one is typically hard-charging and the second one is prettier. In Beethoven's Fifth the first theme dominates, while in Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony the second is the catchy one.
2. The second movement is usually the slow movement, calmer and more lyrical than what has gone before. Sometimes it switches position with the third movement.
3. The third movement is dancier. Haydn usually wrote a minuet, but Beethoven more often wrote a scherzo, which is faster, and this became the norm. The scherzo usually follows an ABA or ABABA format in which A is the scherzo theme and B is a slower, more stately theme in another key.
4. The finale, in Haydn's times and Mozart's, was a brief uptempo movement, usually in a good mood, even if in a minor key. Beethoven and later composers sometimes shifted the dramatic weight of their symphonies to the fourth movement, as is the case with Beethoven's Ninth.
On this weekend's edition of "Howard's Day Off," I play inner movements of symphonies by Mozart, Dvorak, Elgar, Balakirev and Tchaikovsky in the first hour. I am especially fond of the scherzo from Tchaikovsky's "Little Russian" Symphony.
In the second hour, I focus mostly on the scherzo, including the ones from Prokofiev's Fifth, Copland's Third, Schumann's Second, Beethoven's Seventh and Brahms' Fourth, though the latter is more of a fanfare than a scherzo. The surprising part of Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony is an inner movement and comes at the end of the show.
"Howard's Day Off" airs live on Saturdays at 5am-7am on Hawaii Public Radio. All of the music comes from Howard Dicus's personal CD collection.
On Friday, a spectacular fire at Schnitzer Steel sent smoke billowing that could be seen from miles away. The fire, in a pile of scrap metal, burned for hours and seemed unresponsive until firefighters switched from water to foam. One fire official, who shall remain nameless because we like him, tried telling us we were overplaying it because no lives were threatened.
I disagree, and some other people I know in the fire department tell me it is potentially dangerous to evaluate the severity of a fire solely on the basis of whether a building is being destroyed or whether anyone is inside. If a fire resists being put out, and you're not sure what's burning, it has the potential to be very bad indeed. Then there is the question of what was in all that billowing smoke.
Schnitzer Steel was fined by the state health department just last year for all the dust its trucks were stirring up as they moved scrap metal around. Also last year, its chief competitor sued, charging it was dumping metals at Waimanalo Gulch landfill that it was supposed to export. The competitor was upset because it felt that illegally disposing of metal on the conferred an unfair competitive advantage. I was not able to find any reported resolution of the dispute.
Benefit of a doubt: maybe these two matters were coincidence and Schnitzer Steel is a good corporate citizen, but the resistance of the fire to being put out left me wondering just what was in that pile of junk. As for the potential risk from all that smoke, the chlorine leak that happened in the same corner of the island just a few hours later made that argument more eloquently than I could.
The Ilikai, which opened 45 years ago, is changing hands again. A judge Thursday found that New York-based iStar Financial was high bidder for the hotel portion of the property.
A Hawaii businessman made a $15.5 million bid just for the commercial space in the hotel. IStar topped that in a $51 million bid for everything. The offer will be accepted formally in a few days; closing will come soon after.
Only four years old when Jack Lord stood on one of its balconies for the title sequence of "Hawaii Five-0," the Ilikai looks good for its age, but there is wear and tear, here and there.
Developer Brian Anderson had a vision of renovating the Ilikai to make it a mecca for young adults. But no one person can renovate the Ilikai.
I said iStar bid $51 million for everything, but at the Ilikai one has to explain what "everything" means. The Ilikai was built to be part-hotel, part-condo, a fresh idea in the 1960s. Of its more than 1,000 units, only about 200 are included in the hotel sale.
Owning the hotel means owning the lobby, some parking and commercial space, and hundreds of units on upper floors. The rest are individually-owned condos.
Many of these have absentee owners, and many of the resident unit owners do not have the funds to share in renovation costs.
They were all for it if Brian Anderson was footing the bill, but instead he asked them to chip in, and like that the plan was dead.
Overextended as only a developer can be, Anderson defaulted, and iStar owned the debt. The $51 million it bid is not cash, but part of the money it lent and never got back.
Anderson had a better chance at getting the condo owners to chip in for renovations than iStar will. He owned more units -- selling as many as he could in a failed attempt to raise enough cash to keep the New Yorkers from the door. Now the New Yorkers will own an even smaller percentage of units.
There hasn't been a peep from iStar on what its plans for the Ilikai are, but I wouldn't read anything nefarious into that. It's a recession -- what's the use of making plans until things are a little less uncertain? But a limited amount of dressing up the place is probably a no-brainer if iStar has the cash. It would repay the effort regardless of whether iStar wants to own a hotel or flip one.
Members of the "Sunrise" improvise 15-second promos each day for the following morning's program. On today's promo, I wield an ukulele. This requires an explanation.
Steve, Grace and Malika discuss the fact that our friend Jake Shimabukuro will perform in our parking lot during Friday's show, kicking off a series of such events with various musicians over the summer.
Taizo found an $8 ukulele -- according to the sticker still affixed to the back of the sound box -- that someone must have acquired as a prop. Camerahuman Joel Ugay, an actual musician, tuned it for me (he didn't know I knew My Dog Has Fleas), and my plan was to simply strum the two chords I am able to play without peering intently at the fingerboard. (On a do-re-mi scale they are re and mi.)
The instrument is a little weird. When the open strings are properly tuned, the first string in the second position is horribly sharp. To get the right sound you have to move your finger down to the first fret. I don't understand how this is even possible. I was very pleased with myself for figuring out where the note is, but ultimately decided to play the familar fingering and get a bad chord. For laughs.
Don't infer from this that I can actually play the ukulele. I can't. My father can. Though his youth and his military service never took him to Hawaii, there have been two or three times when ukulele crazes swept the nation, and he must have been swept up in one of them in his youth, perhaps in the 1930s. Throughout my own children he owned an ukulele and played it serviceably. He even knew "Sweet Leilani." I say "even," indicating amazement, because this was in Maryland.
A little boy with time on his hands and an ukulele in the house is going to fiddle with it eventually, and I taught myself to play four or five chords on Dad's instrument. One of the songs I knew the chords to was "Dark Eyes." What "Dark Eyes" has to do with the ukulele, I don't know.
The problem was, I learned to play the instrument left-handed (but still tuned right-handed) and sitting in my lap or on a table like a steel guitar. Hence, I don't really play.
But, then, this will be obvious in the promo.
To explain the current Hawaii economy, and bearish new forecast from the state, I'm going to tell you a story from my youth which I'm pretty sure even my closest relatives have not previously known.
Being an amiable person, given to a sunny disposition most of the time, I never felt suicidal as a teenager, as many teens do when their hormones are raging. But once, only once, after a disappointment in puppy love, I felt such anguish that I literally banged my head repeatedly against the wall.
There is a joke that the good thing about banging your head against the wall is that it feels so good when you stop. However, I can tell you from the somewhat embarrassing personal experience cited above that when you stop, it continues to hurt for quite some time.
A good description of our current economic situation is that the head-banging is about to stop, but we will continue to have headaches for perhaps two more years.
The Commerce Department, the Federal Reserve Board, and some private sector economists believe the recession will conclude around the end of the year. The Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, in its quarterly forecast update issued Wednesday, feels the same way about the Hawaii recession.
But recession doesn't mean bad times. It means a shrinking economy. When the economy stops shrinking, there will be plenty of pain still to come. You may safely plan for at least two more non-boom years, perhaps more.
The new DBEDT forecast calls for 2.1% job shrinkage this year, more than it expected earlier, and it thinks the gross domestic product, the sum total of state economic activity, will experience what economists in their finite wisdom call "negative growth," what wordsmiths call "shrinkage," and what you call "recession." The new prediction is for shrinkage of 1.6%.
In terms of the dollars in your wallet, there will be a small net increase in GDP, but it turns negative when you factor in inflation, even the very small inflation DBEDT forecasts, which, by the way, is probably the part of the forecast that is most likely to be wrong, crude oil having topped $60 a barrel this week.
But suppose the forecast is right in every detail, and 2010 sees 0.0% growth in GDP, and 0.9% growth in GDP in 2011. That's not much rebounding, is it? Basically the head-banging stops but the throbbing doesn't.
DBEDT predicts nearly 8% less visitor spending this year, the equivalent of an entire month vanishing.
This is still a shallow downturn compared to California, and the vast majority of Hawaii residents will be able to sit out the calm without getting too financially dehydrated. For most of us, the real damage has already been done, in the form of market damage to retirement accounts, which will be undone over time.
But it is now widely believed by local economists that a full recovery will take years, and job losses will affect thousands more people even if the total jobless rate doesn't rise much more.
For people with savings who feel they need more skills, it is a good time to return to school -- colleges are countercyclical and enjoy higher enrollment in economic downturns -- and for people with shaky jobs and an imminent threaten of financial problems, it is a good time to suck it up and get a part-time job as back-up. For affluent kama'aina who know they will weather this well, it is a good time to step up and support charities and other nonprofits that are struggling to raise cash, and to support local businesses over mainland chains.
I would be delighted to report happier news, but to deny reality is like banging your head against a wall. And I'm done doing that.
In the depths of an economic slump, the budget committee of the Honolulu City Council has voted 3-2 to raise property taxes permanently while offsetting the increase with a one-time credit for some property owners.
The residential property tax is currently $3.29 per $1,000 assessed valuation. The proposal, which now goes to full city council, raises that to $3.59. Owner-occupants would be given a one-time $175 tax credit.
One councilman approvingly said this allows them to say it's not a tax increase. I have always liked this particular person, but what was he smoking? The tax credit goes away after one year and we are left with higher taxes. I know I may have my priorities wrong but I can stomach the tax increase better than the willful misuse of language.
"How many legs does a horse have if you count the tail as a leg?" Abraham Lincoln asked. "Four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg."
Maui Divers Jewelry, owed $1.25 million by bankrupt Hilo Hattie, has offered to buy the whole company for $1 million and pump another $2 million into it.
The unsecured creditors committee in the bankruptcy case has already given the offer its seal of approval, though it won't happen until or unless the judge supervising the case agrees to it, and he's planning to try to settle this and all other issues at a hearing in late June.
Here's what's going on.
Hilo Hattie overextended itself in a mainland expansion, while failing to maintain the local clientele it would need to survive economic downturns when tourists don't spend. It closed all but seven stores, all in Hawaii.
Ted Nelson, owner of hair cutting shops in Hawaii, led a Los Angeles hui in acquiring the company and immediately took it into bankruptcy to gain power to renegotiate all its contracts.
In bankruptcy you can accept or reject contracts you already agreed to, and the implicit threat of backing out of a contract confers bargaining power to reopen an agreement and seek better or more realistic terms.
Nelson openly said his plan was to build a new flagship store inside Royal Hawaiian Center so Hilo Hattie sales no longer depended on the willingness of visitors to ride a trolley to its Nimitz mothership.
Over the winter, however, money came due on the deal, and Nelson had no money. Royal Hawaiian Center, which Nelson apparently hoped would give him more time, said the deal was off, and meant it.
It is a not unusual development in bankruptcies that the management of a company in Chapter 11 plays hardball on contracts and payment deadlines, then is astonished to find others can play hardball, too.
The creditors committee includes a number of ex-Hilo Hattie executives who didn't get all the money they were promised. But the key members are, like Maui Divers, vendors who provided product for Hilo Hattie to sell.
These vendors don't especially care whether Hilo Hattie operates from Nimitz Hwy. or downtown Waikiki or simply exists as a brand inside Maui Divers locations, so long as their wares sell and they get their cut.
And significantly, no alternative rescue plan has emerged.
The signing of Dan Cooke and Ben Gutierrez to the KGMB news team is a reunion for many of us, in many respects not all of which were mentioned on the air Tuesday morning.
We led up to the announcement that Dan will join us late in the summer as "Sunrise" weather forecaster by having him stand behind a screen offering clues to his identity. The first, which took me by surprise, was that he once offered me a job and I turned him down.
I had completely forgotten about it. When Dan left TV anchoring it was to be CEO of a new media start-up based in Honolulu. He tried to recruit me to join him and I declined, having seen many new media start-ups come and go in my years at United Press International. This one came and went, too, and Dan went on to a career in real estate in Los Angeles.
More recently, Dan and I have been active in the Society of Professional Journalist Hawaii Chapter's annual Gridiron satirical revue, raising funds for local media internships. I'm a bit player, making a few announcements from the stage, generally, but Dan is a star of the show, portraying Gov. Linda Lingle scarily well. The governor is a fan.
Coincidentally, when Gridiron needed a Gov. Ben Cayetano, it turned to Ben Gutierrez. Ben still plays Mufi Hannemann, though he requires stilts to do it. Ben is also a prolific contributor of songs to the show. I hope we will be able to tap this talent on the air from time to time, though since he is also a talented reporter there will be many calls on his talents.
Ben and I go back to before I relocated to Hawaii at the end of 2000. Years earlier I emailed him while he was anchoring for the all-news station, asking to take him to lunch on vacation and pick his brain about radio news employment in the market. His briefing, almost in its entirety: "There isn't any."
Ben, Dan, Billy V and I are all radio people who somehow got involved in television. Billy and I have already felt a kinship because of this and now we have others in the club. Brooks is another, btw. Radio people bring a different sensibility to television news, I think. For us it's about the facts and the story first, and the picture is incidental.
This morning I learned that Dan and I have something else in common -- we both used to drive Miatas. I still miss mine, though the Thunderbird is nice.
Our friend Kirk, who also works in media, is another Miata-phile.
Everyone at KGMB is very excited about the hiring of Dan and Ben. In one stroke we've signed on two experienced, hard-working, talented and amiable co-workers. I am particularly struck by how easily both men fit in with the ethos established on the "Sunrise" set by those of us who were present at the launch Sept. 17, 2007. It was important to us to find enough talent to keep moving forward after Jeff Booth moved his family back to Ohio. Now we have the satisfaction, and even the relief, of knowing we will.
Hawaii arrivals by air, which flattened out in April on a surprise 7% bounce in Japanese visitors, have resumed their more familiar downward course so far this May. Japanese traffic is now down 9%.
Golden Week got some of its luster back, but that was then, swine flu is now. The Japanese tend to think that everybody else is less mindful of germs than they are -- and maybe they're right, if the face masks that are routinely worn by millions of Japanese transit commuters are any indication -- and it didn't help that the first swine flu cases in Japan were recent visitors to Canada.
The bottom line is that we've had 4,000 fewer Japanese visitors in the past two weeks than we had in the same chunk of the calendar a year ago.
Arrivals so far this month are down 3% from foreign countries other than Japan and Canada, confirming anecdotal reports I've been getting of Chinese tour cancellations due to swine flu concerns.
Visitor traffic from the U.S. mainland, meanwhile, continues as before -- down. It kept falling even last month, with strength only from business conferences and vacationers from the Pacific Northwest.
So far this month, domestic arrivals by air are down 2% to Oahu, 12% to Kahului, and 16% to Kona. Lihue has been bucking the trend with an 8% increase.
These changes to Big Island and Kauai traffic are measured in hundreds. But a 2% drop to Oahu and a 12% drop to Maui, over half a month's time, both work out to maybe 3,000 fewer visitors.
Anyway, the main point is that it now appears the negative impact of swine flu on our tourism industry is, after all, nothing to be sneezed at.