Archive for May 2011

2011 Summer Reading Programs in Hawaii

May 31, 2011

Hooray! Summer is here! Whether you’re lazing on the beach or jumping into sports, I encourage all of you to join a free summer reading program.

* The Hawaii Public Libraries Summer Reading Programs are for all ages – children, teens, and adults – organized by the Friends of the Library and corporate and community sponsors. Read at least one book every week, and you could win a prize just for reading. Challenge your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to sign up for a reading program too! The programs run from May 31 to July 1, 2011.

* Barnes & Noble “Imagination’s Destination” Summer Reading lets kids earn a free book (from a selected book list) by reading any eight books and sharing their recommendations. The program runs between May 24 and September 6, 2011.

* Borders Double-Dog Dare Summer Reading Challenge dares kids under 12 to read 10 books this summer – and rewards them with a free book (from a selected book list). The program runs from June 1 through September 5, 2011.

* The Old Spaghetti Factory’s Rewards of Reading lets children 10 years and younger earn a free Kid’s Meal by reading just five books (for every free Kids meal, an adult entrée must be purchased). The program is year-round.

Remember – don’t stop reading when the programs end! As Mark Twain wrote, “Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

7 home building and remodeling tips

May 24, 2011

We may joke about spring cleaning, but once everything is organized and clean, summer is a great time to start home improvement projects.

Here are 7 useful, common-sense tips for building and remodeling your home. Some of them, I stumbled upon by accident; others are things I wish I had done.

1. Bins, bins, bins: Remember to set aside an area for three trash and recycling bins. Whether it’s an out-of-the-way corner, along the wall of your garage, or a separate enclosure, make sure there’s enough room to maneuver. It will make your yard look nicer – and you’ll always know where your bins are. If you live in an apartment or condo, a wheeled laundry sorter is a great way to sort your recyclables.

2. Reduce your electricity bill: Even if you can’t afford it now, plan your home with an eye to installing ceiling fans instead of air conditioners, solar panels and solar water heaters, and window film/tinting (to reduce glare, keep the house cool, and for added shatter resistance). Don’t skimp on windows – go for the low-e and double-paned windows; it’s worth it.

3. Give yourself elbow-room in the shower: If you’re planning a tub/shower combo, move the tub a few inches away from the wall, and add a ledge. Not only does it give you more room in the shower, it’s a great place to keep soap, shampoo, and other bath accessories. An incorrectly-placed wall led to this great tip, since it was cheaper to build a ledge than to move the wall.

4. Stairway safety: Consider putting in ankle-high lights along the stairs – you won’t have to turn on all the lights to see each step, and it’s easier to replace bulbs near the floor than on the ceiling.

5. Think kid-friendly and pet-friendly: Even if you’re not a parent, grandparent, or pet owner, you may be surprised. Design rooms and stairways so that you could easily add a safety gate. Consider installing ceiling-mounted and wall-mounted fixtures and appliances (like fans and televisions), so that you don’t have as many trailing electrical cords. If you have a yard, think about whether it can be fenced in for safety.

6. Plan for getting older: Age happens. It would be great to have a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor. Consider installing a walk-in shower and hand-rails – as well as electrical outlets higher up along the walls, so you won’t have to bend over.

7. You can never have enough storage: Organize the garage with racks and shelves, and consider a built-in storage closet for large items like lawn mowers, weed-wackers, and power tools. It will be safer and keep the garage more organized. Don’t try to put your hobby room in an out-of-the-way place, because things will migrate to your most-used rooms anyway. If you live in a condo and have covered parking, ask if you can install a hanging storage rack for extra space.

What useful tips can you share with other home builders and remodelers? What tips do you wish you had known?

The line between freedom, privacy, and public safety

May 17, 2011

Traffic cameras, neighborhood video surveillance, ATM cameras, store security cameras, hotel and condominium security cameras. Satellites take images from space. Google Earth zooms down to our streets.

In Honolulu, there are over 90 city still traffic cameras. There are traffic cameras along our freeways, hot spot traffic cameras, and live cameras (in front of the Duke Kahanamoku Statue). There is even video monitoring in our neighborhoods, at least 14 cameras in Chinatown and 6 in Waikiki.

In 2006, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) even paid $175,000 to install four Waikiki security cameras on Kuhio Avenue, with the support of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board. This year, there is Project PUEO (Police Using Electronic Observation), which will deter crime by installing cameras in federally-designated Weed and Seed locations in Ewa, Waipahu, and Kalihi/Palama/Chinatown, paid for by a $100,000 grant from Target’s Safe City Project.

The intention of the cameras is good: we want to avoid traffic back-ups and be able to react quickly to traffic accidents; we want to deter crime and graffiti, and catch law-breakers.

But in the name of safety and security, we are also giving up a measure of our privacy and freedom.

There is a difference between video surveillance and a Neighborhood Watch made up of volunteers in your neighborhood, or trained policemen on patrol. Video surveillance is intrusive and yet secretive, concealed. We don’t have a choice in installing the cameras; we can’t avoid the cameras; and we don’t know how the images and video will be used, or how long it will be stored, or who has access to it.

Consider this: As the only island state, surrounded by 2,500 miles of open ocean, the only practical way to leave Hawaii is by airplane. Or by cruise ship, if we abandon our cruise at another port. We are virtual prisoners unless we submit to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules about airport security – subject to video cameras, x-ray machines, pat-downs, and full-body scanners. Yes, airplane travel is a privilege. But for an island state, it is also a necessity to interstate travel.

There is no right or wrong answer to the balance of public safety and individual privacy. We must each decide for ourselves what compromises we are willing to make. I just want to start a conversation.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Does it make a difference if it is government surveillance of public areas or private surveillance of private property? Does having our everyday lives recorded on surveillance cameras matter, if it doesn’t affect us? Does it matter only to criminals and victims of a crime, or is society affected when government expands the scope of its surveillance?

3 new ways to run the Hawaii Legislature

May 10, 2011

The Hawaii Legislature has just finished its 2011 session, which ran from January 19 through May 5. Each legislative term lasts for two years, starting in odd years, and regular sessions are limited to 60 working days each year.

This year alone, 1,664 bills were introduced in the House and 1,559 bills were introduced in the Senate. Some of the bills are cross-over bills introduced in both the House and the Senate, but that’s still an average of 30-60 bills introduced by each legislator. In just 60 days, legislators have to read bills, discuss bills, re-write bills, and get public input. I don’t advocate a longer session (as it is, I think that sessions are about 50 days too long), but we can improve the way we run the Legislature.

In previous posts, I’ve suggested ways to streamline the Hawaii State Legislature. For example, we could create a nonpartisan unicameral legislature (it would save us money). We could limit the number of new and amended laws proposed each year (lawmakers would have to learn to prioritize). We could create a bi-annual legislative session, held every two years (it would save us money and reduce the number of new laws­).

I’d like to suggest three new innovative ways to run the Hawaii Legislature.

1. In odd years, discuss new laws and programs. In even years, discuss existing laws that need to be revised or repealed. If there is an urgent need for a law or amendment, the legislature could still call for an emergency session, just as they can do now. It would help reduce the number of outdated or poorly-written laws and regulations. It would force beneficiaries of laws to justify their exemptions or funding. It would force legislators to prioritize, and give them more time to consider their proposed bills.

2. The House votes only on revenue measures (taxes and fees); the Senate votes only on spending measures. This would put more checks and balances in our government. The House could raise taxes, but the Senate could choose not to spend the “additional” revenue, leaving it in the General Fund or using it to pay our debt. The Senate could vote for a new spending program, but the House could refuse to fund it, effectively voting it down. This intriguing idea came from “Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth, and Treasure” (2010) by Glenn Beck.

3. Allow City Councilmembers to vote on the issues. Each City Council (Hawaii,Honolulu,Kauai, andMaui) would get one vote on bills if there is a supermajority (at least 7 out of 9 members in agreement). This would give City Councils more accountability and allow them to have more influence on issues. And it would give legislators a city/county perspective, not just a neighborhood perspective. Maybe adding more “legislators” won’t make a difference, but our Councilmembers need more than nonbinding resolutions to back up their convictions.

I don’t think these ideas have been tried before, and they would probably require changing the Hawaii Constitution. But I’m not satisfied with the way the Hawaii Legislature is run today. Our government is growing, taking on new responsibilities and requiring more “revenue” (taxpayer money) to function. We need to think of ways that we can make government run more effectively. What do you think?

“Practice Aloha” compiled by Mark Ellman & Barbara Santos

May 7, 2011

From the colorful photos on the cover and photos of people, to the smooth, weighted feel of the pages, decorated with muted photos along the bottom edges as if the book is being held in two cupped hands, “Practice Aloha: Secrets to Living Life Hawaiian Style” (2010), compiled and edited by Mark Ellman and Barbara Santos, is warm, personal, and inspiring.

In Hawaiian, aloha comes from alo (share) and ha (breath). Sharing our life, our skills, our very breath with others. In “Practice Aloha,” so many people have come forward to share their stories, memories, recipes, songs, and good advice about the meaning of aloha and how we can practice aloha in our lives. It’s an outgrowth of the Practice Aloha Project started in 2009 to share stories of aloha.

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer reveals, “To revere all of life, to live with natural sincerity, to practice gentleness, and to be in service to others, is to live and practice aloha every day.”

Shep Gordon and Renee Loux Gordon remind us with a smile, “Aloha is leaving your slippers at the door.”

But more than the attempts to define aloha, I enjoy the personal stories and tales of brief connections that had a lasting impact. The ones I remember most are about sharing food.

Neil Abercrombie remembers his warm welcome at Paris Café: “Awkwardly, I grasped the chopsticks and decided the better part of honor required me to use them shovel-like to heave a huge portion into my mouth. Kim chee! I watched faces light up as I desperately tried to swallow as fast as I could.”

Elizabeth Engstrom wonders, “What couple – with ten children – feeds the neighborhood, including a dozen strangers? People who live their aloha, that’s who.”

Carole Kai is awed by the generous Hawaiian neighbors who shared their food and looked after her mother and 8 siblings, who were left alone for weeks at a time in the 1920s. She writes, “The Hawaiians believed in helping everyone because their belief was that any stranger could be a God and hospitality was the Hawaiian way.”

I see aloha in my everyday life: My aunt, who cooks for people, always remembers birthdays and special occasions, and goes out of her way to help her neighbors. My 4-year old son, who still comes to me with hugs and unexpectedly tells me, “I love you, Mom.” The crossing guard at a public elementary school, who smiles and waves at passing drivers. The tellers at my local bank who remember my name and greet me with smiles. The mail carrier who smiles and takes the time to pet my dog.

How do you practice aloha? What are your snapshots of aloha? To read more stories of aloha or share your own stories, visit