Archive for November, 2008

Shai Oster on the melamine milk scandal in China

November 7th, 2008
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shaioster.jpgI went to see Shai Oster speak at the Confucius Institute on October 24 at the Plaza Club. Rosita Chang, the president of the Confucius Institute here, introduced him, pointing out that this has been a year of ups and downs for China. Indeed, Shai reported the same background for his talk. His talk was about the milk-melamine crisis in China, and how it affected China’s future.

Shai graduated from Columbia and reported for various publications. Now he’s a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Beijing. He was an amazing speaker. He was so articulate, and he sort of opened his mind, even with journalistic restraints, to the audience. His thoughts flowed and I felt like a sponge - I was spellbound by his style and his content.

He speaks Chinese, which is always something for a Haole - he has 6 or 7 years in China and is conversational in Mandarin, and that somehow enhanced his credibility and gave greater depth to what he was saying.

He spoke about the difficulties China has had this year. He said he is an optimist on China as we all should be, and need to be, given the awful things that would happen to the world if China fails.

The central part of his talk was about melamine. It was fascinating. He gave us a timeline, showing how the scandal unfolded and pointed out that it hit the fan just a few days before the Olympics. Although you might think that this kind of bad news would get to Beijing right away, that apparently didn’t happen. It was just before the Olympics and they didn’t want to hear bad news.

So although the melamine problem was reported before the Olympics it apparently didn’t get to Beijing and there was a kind of cover up for a few weeks while the Olympics was going on. Only after the Olympics was over, in September, they took the bad milk off the shelves and heads started to roll.

The most interesting part of the talk was Shai’s description of the supply lines in China, a newly prosperous country where supply lines are likely to be long. There are various contributors to the milk supply line. Some of those contributors had the opportunity to sell to more than one buyer.

The problem is they didn’t have enough milk to sell to multiple buyers so they had to expand their supply. They did this by watering the milk but there was some testing and the buyers were likely to find that the milk had been watered. In testing for watered milk, the milk companies tested for protein content and the bad-guy suppliers had to get around that. As in the dog food scandal last year, all they had to do was include some material that would satisfy the protein test. Enter, again, melamine.

Melamine was a likely possibility because it showed as a protein in those tests. So these guys who wanted to sell their milk more than once watered the milk and then added melamine to satisfy the protein test. It’s not just stupidity or incompetence or negligence - it’s willful and malicious. What do you think is going to happen when you put essentially an organic chemical in the food?

The result was horrible. Children were the worst victims. The melamine attacks the kidneys and shuts them down and a great many young children in China were injured for life. That is, they would have to be on dialysis for the rest of their lives.

Shai talked about class action suits which were discouraged by the government but which may still be pending by a hundred some-odd China lawyers, probably emulating the consumer class action suits in the U.S.

Of course, it’s a bad story and its bad commentary in China, but it’s also a story of China emerging the way the U.S. did a hundred years ago in its efforts to insure pure food and identify bad-guys like this. Although it was horrible to see children injured this way, it is also a statement about China‘s emergence into the 21st century.

But don’t take my word for it or even my characterizations about it. Take a look at the talk itself. I videoed it and posted the video file on www.hvca.org. You can see it at www.hvca.org/video.aspx?video=ShaiOster.wmv.

Rosita was right, this was an extraordinary speaker. It was worth going down to hear him on any subject he may choose about China, and it was certainly worth videotaping him. This kind of talk is the way Hawaii can play a role in the bridge to Asia. The people in the room were all Sinophiles of one kind or another. Many from the University but many others were from the community in general.

I would have liked to see a greater crowd and maybe next time that will happen. When he comes again, you can be sure that I'll be there.

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HVCA event for Tech Entrepreneur of the Year

November 6th, 2008
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billspencer903.jpgBill Spencer, President of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association, would like to invite you to a special event.

The Hawaii Venture Capital Association is going to honor our technology entrepreneurs at on November 21, 2008. At this pau hana event we will acknowledge several entrepreneurs from some of our most exciting technology companies and thank them for their hard work and dedication to making Hawaii a better place to live.

The event will be held at the Plaza Club from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Friday November 21st, 2008.

We will have a special guest presentation from Pete Cooper a member of the global development team for Better Place, a sustainable transportation company that is building electric vehicle recharge networks around the world. He supports business development activities in North America and Asia-Pacific regions and is responsible for building the business in Hawaii.

In this role Pete is the primary contact between the Hawaii engagement and all Better PLC entities/key contractors. This activity includes management of relationships and actions involving: company creation, communication, renewable electricity generation, policy development, financing, and deployment planning.

Please help us honor some of Hawaii’s most notable local heroes, our technology entrepreneurs. This event is sponsored by the Hawaii Technology Development Corporation, KMH, LLP one of Hawaii’s top accounting firms and the EXTEND221 Organization, a group of concerned citizens dedicated to extending Act 221.

The presentations will conclude with a pau hana reception featuring great food, a no-host bar and networking mixer. Mark your calendars now and join us November 21, 2008 at the Plaza Club, pau hana time, 5:30P to 7:30P. Call Gail at 262-7329 for reservations or visit our web site at http://www.hvca.org.

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The end of an era at Kakaako

November 6th, 2008
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vogel.jpegToday’s news included a report that Carl-Wilhelm Vogel, director of the Cancer Research Center, has resigned.  He’s been on the job for nine years.  His last day as director will be December 31st.  After that he’ll continue as a faculty member and researcher at the Center.

He didn’t say why he is stepping down.  That's really not his style, and the silence is deafening.

UH says it will begin a nationwide search for a new director soon.  Judging from how long it took to find a new dean for the Medical School after Dr. Ed Cadman retired there, you shouldn’t hold your breath on replacing Carl Vogel anytime soon.

Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw expressed obligatory gratitude for Carl Vogel’s “many contributions”.  She also said that Center will continue with its plans to build a new $200-million cancer research facility in Kakaako.  Lots of luck.

This is not a good thing.

Carl Vogel has been trying as hard as he can for all these years to building this cancer research center in Kakaako.  Something here has killed it, and although the University says the Center will continue with its plans, with Vogel’s resignation no one is going to believe that for a minute.

What killed it?  Something nasty, I think.  We can only assume it was something inside rather than outside the University - something in the administration of the University, something in Manoa.

Probably it was something like what happened to the JABSOM II Research Center the University was supposed to build in Kakaako or, more recently, the Regional Biosafety Laboratory the University was supposed to build in Kakaako.

In any event, the dreams of Ed Cadman are slipping away.  In the early 2000’s, he had envisioned a campus of life sciences learning and research around the Medical School in Kakaako, but not a single project then contemplated has materialized.  Not a single one.

The University, and David McClain, lost interest in JABSOM II and it died.  DBEDT’s Ted Liu ignored biotech and started pushing the A&B condo project in Kakaako, and the controversy that followed changed the focus of the place to something other than a biotech campus.

Kamehameha Schools announced and re-announced their plans to build a Life Sciences Research Complex on their land in Kakaako over and over again, but nothing has ever come of it, even now.  Things are so silent.

Ed Cadman had recruited Dr. Duane Gubler, who has a global reputation in tropical medicine and infectious diseases to the Medical School and also to build an NIH Regional BioSafety Lab here, but Gubler, frustrated by the lack of progress at UH, took another job with Duke in Singapore and in the process the RBL is probably also dead.

Beyond that, there were thoughts of big pharma, big research, sweeing in from the mainland and setting up shop in Kakaako, filling out the campus with private industry too.  Nobody called, nobody wrote, and nobody came from the mainland to do this.  So nada on that score too.

And now, the coup de grace.  When Carl Vogel, the stalwart supporter of the Cancer Research Center in Kakaako, resigned, he resigned from the project too.  This, the last possibility at Kakaako is now gone too.  It’s a sad day for Cadman’s vision.

Will these projects be resurrected later?  Probably not, not as they were planned, and not in the campus configuration Cadman had in mind.  History is going somewhere else, probably offshore.  Maybe Singapore.

Whether you realize it not, today’s resignation is the end of an era, the tragic end of the biotech park at Kakaako, and in many ways the end of Cadman’s dream.  We always have the Medical School to remember him by, but not the dream beyond that.

I expect that what will happen now will be other developers, public and private, will start taking the spoils, usurping this land for other purposes, without thinking twice and without looking back, leaving the Cadman dream as a distant, receding memory among the condos.

I’ll always remember it, though, as it was supposed to be, and I hope other people will too.

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