Archive for December 2014

Best books of 2014

December 30, 2014

Best Books 2014

This year has been filled with many wonderful books, with new and past worlds. Here are some of the best books I’ve read this year:

Best save the crows, change the future fantasy:
* “Murder of Crows” by Anne Bishop – about accepting people who are different, friendship, and learning that “every choice changes the future”

Best sword-wielding, follow your battle-song epic fantasy:
* “Blood Song” by Anthony Ryan – about loyalty, honor vs. obedience, and choosing your fate

Best house-hunting, home-healing, epic battle for a city fantasy:
* Cast in Flame” by Michelle Sagara – about making a difference, the power of names, the longing for home, family loyalty, and understanding who you are

Best save the universe without compromising your honor science fiction:
* “Heaven’s Queen” by Rachel Bach – about refusing to accept necessary evils, keeping your word, and the freedom to choose our future

Best one person against an empire science fiction:
* Ancillary Justice” and “Ancillary Sword” by Ann Leckie – about taking a stand against injustice, independent thought vs. collective thought, redemption, and gender neutrality

Best inspiring power-of-ideas childrens’ book:
* What Do You Do With An Idea?” by Kobi Yamada – about the courage to nurture your ideas

Best changing the way you approach problems nonfiction:
* Think Like a Freak: The Authors of ‘Freakonomics’ Offer to Retrain Your Brain” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – about redefining problems, ignoring artificial limits, and thinking like a child

Best “we gotta stick together” Hawaii fiction:
* “’Ewa Which Way” by Tyler Miranda – about brotherhood, responsibility vs. the longing to be free, choosing to act, and holding on to the good while letting go of the bad

Best finding your sacred purpose Hawaii historical fiction:
* “Kamehameha: The Rise of a King” by David Kāwika Eyre – a fictionalized account of a warrior, philosopher, leader, and role model for Hawaii’s children

Best remembering Pearl Harbor Hawaii historical nonfiction:
* “Pearl Harbor Child: A Child’s View of Pearl Harbor From Attack to Peace” (2001) by Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson – about

What books have made an impact on you? What books have inspired you to change your life? Please share your favorite books with us.

Happy reading and happy new year!

A year’s worth of mahalo

December 23, 2014

Mahalo 2014

My heart is full of thankfulness and appreciation this year! So many people, businesses, and organizations contributed to make 2014 helpful, educational, and exciting.

Mahalo to our public school teachers, Jacky in second grade, Kari in summer school, and Eliane in third grade.

Mahalo to our neighborhood parks and volunteer groups at Koko Head District Park for their Easter Egg-stravaganza and Summer Fun program. Mahalo to our neighborhood libraries for fun movie afternoons, Free Comic Book Day, summer reading programs, and Star Wars Reads Day (my 8-year old son won a Lego Star Wars kit!).

Mahalo to local charging station company Volta, New City Nissan, and the shopping malls that host them for our electric vehicle. Mahalo to the City of Honolulu for free parking.

Mahalo to home improvement stores The Home Depot Kids Workshop and Lowes Build and Grow for their free kids workshops, teaching them to follow directions and take pride in something they built (my son’s favorite projects were the give-and-save bank and claw game).

Mahalo to our local shopping centers: Hawaii Kai Towne Center for the Easter Bunny Celebration and Halloween Spook-tacular; and Koko Marina Shopping Center for the Halloween Trick-or-Treat.

Mahalo to our local companies: Panda Express, for free firecracker chicken on Chinese New Year; Barnes and Noble for their LEGO Movie events and a free cookie in my son’s birthday; the 5210 Let’s Go! Keiki Run, which donated portions of their registration fees to the local school of our choicethe American Red Cross, Hawaii Chapter for their free summer swimming lessons at Ala Moana Beach Park; and 7-Eleven for free slurpees on July 11.

Mahalo to family-friendly local community events: Night in Chinatown; the University of Hawaii Astronomy Open House; the Children’s Discovery Center for HDS Tooth Fairy Fun Day; Iolani Palace for their Royal Egg Hunt (a fun event even in the rain); Watanabe Floral for their Easter Egg Hunt; the Mauka to Makai Expo at the Waikiki Aquarium; the Hawaii Book and Music Festival; the 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular at Magic Island (special thanks to KSSK Radio for their prize wheel); Children and Youth Day and the 3k Fun Run; and the Festival of Lights Boat Parade.

Our family was lucky to win a few contests this year! Mahalo to KHON2 for hosting a “24: Live Another Day” preview event, Legacy Isle Publishing for encouraging writers and giving away “Writing the Hawaii Memoir,” Honolulu Family Magazine for tickets to “A Bollywood Robin Hood,” KSSK Radio for Oahu Ghost Tour tickets (just in time for Halloween), and Hawaii.com for delicious Honolulu Gourmet Co. Chocolate Pineapples.

What are you thankful for? Who will you thank today?

The governor’s action plan for Hawaii

December 16, 2014

Hawaii Briefcase

On December 1, 2014, David Ige was sworn in as Hawaii’s eighth governor. “As I prepare to take over the reigns of your government, I ask each of you to join me in the process of governing. I ask you to find your voice and use it to not only choose your elected officials but to shape the issues that will shape our lives. I ask you to help me with the heavy lifting that I cannot do alone,” he said in his inauguration speech. “Join me in dreaming the dreams, setting the path and doing the hard work necessary for the sake of all of us in Hawaii. And so I say to you, my friends, I look forward to working with all of you—to make good things happen.”

Ige released his Action Plan, “Engineering Hawaii’s Future” (a nod to Ige’s electrical engineering background) as a gubernatorial candidate. He promised to be a collaborative, accountable, and transparent governor. “We will spend public funds thoughtfully and without waste to avoid raising taxes,” he stated. “We will make state government more efficient, especially in the procurement of goods and services and the hiring of personnel.”

Now that Ige is Hawaii’s governor for the next four years, I’d like to take a closer look at his plan. “Engineering Hawaii’s Future” outlines 11 issues, with both action plans and Ige’s track record: budget, economy, education, health care, seniors, environment, energy, agriculture, affordable housing and homelessness, county partnerships, and open government.

Though Ige doesn’t state how he will fund these programs, let’s consider how these plans will affect Hawaii’s government spending and government size. Will the government’s agenda lead to more spending and higher taxes, or less spending and lower taxes? Will the governor’s agenda lead to more bureaucracy and regulations, or consolidated services and the elimination of duplicate and ineffective programs? Here is a summary of some of Ige’s action items and possible impact on government:

No change in government spending, no change in government size:
* Budget. Action items: submit a balanced budget; collect back taxes. Note: I hope that any increase in tax collections will be used to pay for unfunded liabilities, rather than more government programs.
* County Partnerships. Action items: eliminate duplication of effort; and share State resources.
* Open Government. Action items: hold weekly press conferences; hold at least 4 community meetings a year; ensure Board of Education meetings are held after the school day; and support interactive video teleconferencing.

More government spending, no change in government size:
* Economy. Action items: offer incentives and facilitate risk/venture capital for strategic growth industries (information technology, clean energy, health care, and local agriculture); increase commercial airline flights; approve an international airport in Kona; and encourage more corporate conferences and conventions.
* Health Care. Action items: support patient-centered medical homes and community outreach teams; and expand student loan forgiveness programs for medical graduates who work in under-served areas.

More government spending, some increase in government size:
* Seniors. Action items: ensure that Medicaid and Kupuna Care recipients receive equivalent care; support training for caregivers; establish Aging and Disability Resource Centers in each county; and coordinate acute medical care with long-term care.
* Environment. Action items: mitigate risk from natural and man-made hazards, develop sustainable economic growth solutions, and address climate change through the Pacific-Asia Institute for Resilience and Sustainability; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; increase funding on invasive species control, including increased baggage and cargo inspection; and fund watershed maintenance.
* Energy. Action items: more funding for the Hawaii State Energy Office to develop the clean energy industry; modernize the electrical grid, determine the proper mix of fuels at affordable cost, and reduce fossil fuel use in ground transportation; staff the Public Utilities Commission; invest in technology that increases the allowable amount of distributed generation and power sharing between customers and rooftop solar systems; and create programs and incentives to increase clean energy production. Note: where does government’s responsibility end and Hawaiian Electric’s responsibility begin? And how will the sale of Hawaiian Electric to NextEra Energy affect Hawaii?
* Agriculture. Action items: increase local food production from 10% to 20% and identify agricultural, livestock, and nursery lands for irrigation and infrastructure planning; provide more low-interest loans to farmers and ranchers; identify and preserve up to 200,000 acres of primate agricultural land for local food production; establish agricultural parks for small family farms; increase cargo inspections to prevent the introduction of invasive species; ensure funding for state pesticide officers; and support federal GMO labeling laws.
* Affordable Housing and Homelessness. Action items: use State funds to encourage private development of affordable housing (through the Rental Housing Trust Fund); expedite planning and construction approvals; upgrade and increase public housing, managed by qualified nonprofit and private companies; fund the Housing First initiative; and pay for return travel costs for homeless persons from out-of-state.

More government spending, large increase in government size:
* Education. Action items: increase the weighted student formula spending at the school level from 58% to 75% to empower schools; task the Department of Education to implement early education; and reward effective principals. Note: how will we pay for an extra year of education? Is early education the responsibility of parents or government?

Is anything missing from Ige’s action plan? What do you think the governor’s priorities should be? Are there any State programs that you think could be cut entirely, or merged with other existing programs?

Is it wasteful or watchful government spending?

December 9, 2014

Government Waste 2014

Last week, we talked about reducing our holiday waste. This week, let’s take a moment to consider our government’s spending habits – and sometimes wasteful expenses.

Most of us agree that federal government spending is out of control. We are sometimes outraged by earmarks or “pork” spending –federal or state government spending on projects that only benefit a Congressmember’s district. The Citizens Against Government Waste expands the definition of pork to include, among other criteria, non-competitive awards, money that was not specifically authorized, or greatly exceeding last year’s funding.

A “Hawaii Pork Report” hasn’t been published in a few years (re-read the “2010 Hawaii Pork Report“), though Khon2 News is starting to highlight government inefficiencies. For example, last month “Always Investigating” uncovered almost $1 million wasted by the Hawaii Department of Education on unused timeclocks, purchased in 2010 and never installed.

At the national level, two reports were released recently that identify government waste and “pork” in Hawaii. You can decide whether these are wasteful or legitimate uses of taxpayer money.

Wastebook 2014: What Washington Doesn’t Want You To Read” (October 2014), released by Senator Tom Coburn, highlighted one way that Hawaii has benefited from wasteful federal spending.

Should government money be spent to promote and expand private business?
“A company in Hawaii even received taxpayer funds to produce mead from tropical fruit,” the Wastebook exclaims. In fact, under the USDA’s Value-Added Producer program, three Hawaii companies received “Value-Added Producer Grant Awards” in 2014: Waipio Valley Taro Products received $49,500 to expand production of poi and kulolo and conduct a marketing and branding campaign about the nutritional benefits and history of the taro plant; Emily Taaroa dba Punachicks Farm received $20,000 to improve and increase capacity to provide fresh, organic chicken; and Double Spirals on Tap received $22,322 to conduct a feasibility study and business plan to produce mead.

These amounts will seem like pocket change if you read the “2014 Congressional Pigbook,” published by the Citizens Against Government Waste. The Pigbook identifies three instances of federal government “pork” spending in the millions of dollars in Hawaii.

Should government money be spent on a private research, education, and public policy organization?
The federal government spent $5.9 million for The East-West Center in 2014, or $109.7 million since 1997, to promote better relations with Pacific and Asian nations. “The center was established by Congress in 1960 with no congressional hearings, and over the State Department’s opposition,” the report states. It is “an independent, public, nonprofit organization” for research, education, training, and public policy. Note: I’m not familiar with the East-West Center, so I don’t know whether federal funding (rather than state or private funding) is appropriate.

Should the federal government “equalize” the costs of utilities nationwide through subsidies? Could the same outcome be achieved, with less spending, by expanding the existing RUS Electric Loan program?
Hawaii received $10 million in 2014 for high energy cost grants through the Department of Agriculture, which assists communities whose energy costs exceed 275% of the national average. “This may sound like a bright idea, but the RUS Electric Loan program is intended to achieve the same objective,” the report criticizes.

Is the federal government responsible for drug enforcement coordination within state and local agencies? Should the federal government’s responsibility be limited to interstate coordination?
Hawaii was one of 10 states to benefit from $45.1 million in federal money as part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (HIDTA) at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Originally intended for border states, members of Congress have used earmarks to expand HIDTA to non-border states,” the report explains. Note: I am not familiar with drug trafficking in Hawaii, so I don’t know whether the HIDTA program is necessary and effective – or whether the money could be better used in a different drug enforcement program. Interested readers can download the “Hawaii Drug Market Analysis 2011” on the US Department of Justice website.

The bottom line is that it’s easy to spend someone else’s money. In your opinion, are these examples of government waste or are they necessary, savvy local spending? If you could allocate your tax dollars to specific programs, what would you choose to fund?

“Pearl Harbor Child” by Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson

December 6, 2014

Pearl Harbor Child

On Sunday Morning, December 7, 1941, six-year old Dorinda and her parents were listening to the radio when they heard airplanes and loud explosions. “The planes were so low, just barely above the roof tops, that we could see the pilots’ faces and even the goggles that covered their eyes.” Their kitchen was on fire and parts of the roof were gone. There was smoke everywhere. Trying to flee to safety, they saw one battleship was upside down and others were on fire.

They took refuge in the sugarcane fields on Waimano Home Road above Pearl Harbor, joined by their Pearl City neighbors, confused and afraid. They were later evacuated to a sugar mill in Waipahu, where they sat in darkness, slept on the floor, and witnessed an exchange of gunfire over Pearl Harbor, 10 miles away. After four or five days, the evacuees were allowed to return home. Nicholson’s family found many bullets in the walls of the house. Her dog Hula Girl was later found hiding in the crawl space under the house.

“Pearl Harbor Child: A Child’s View of Pearl Harbor From Attack to Peace” (2001) Dorinda Makanaonalani Nicholson is part-autobiography, part-historical narrative about the attack on Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. It is written for children, with short chapters that give a brief introduction to the effects of the war, but everyone can sink into the fear and confusion of the survivors, the struggle to live in war times, and the uncertainty about the future. There are stories from other Pearl Harbor survivors, a short account of a December 6, 2000 ceremony aboard the USS Missouri, and a map of the Pearl Harbor area.

The book begins with a Hawaiian legend of Pearl Harbor, in which a clever yellow shark named Ka’ehu tricked and captured a man-eating shark named Pehu who had been killing Ka’ehu’s people. It’s a story that warns children that evil exists, but so do good people who are willing to protect the innocent.

Nicholson’s personal account begins when her family moved to Pearl City, Oahu in 1940. Here writing is evocative, descriptive, personal, and easy to read, with amazing historic and personal photos. Her story continues through war times, when food became scarce, barbed wire was put up along the coast line, and bomb shelters and trenches were constructed.

“Our school had a bomb shelter, but most of us were scared to go inside because it was dark, smelled bad, and had bugs.” Everyone wore gas masks; “They were to be carried everywhere at all times.” Currency was exchanged so that the Japanese could not use American money. Block wardens ensured blackouts and curfews. Mail was censored, and there was gas and food rationing. “Ration books became a way of life.” Women joined the war effort. Everyone made attempts to contribute to the war effort, by buying war bonds and stamps, and recycling (there is a photo of three Hawaii Scouts collecting old tires to be recycled for use on combat vehicles). Nicholson’s family planted a victory garden for fresh food and even raised rabbits for meat, which made her more determined to work in the garden.

Nicholson remembers the night of August 14, 1945, when Japan surrendered. As they drove through Pearl City, fireworks lit up the sky, neighbors banged pots and pans and chanted “The war is over,” and the air raid sirens sounded, along with the gas alarm gongs and whistles from the ships. Unfortunately, their home and all civilian property were condemned on the peninsula, and they had to sign their deed over to the Navy. They stayed for seven years after the war ended, and eventually built a new home at Halawa Heights, where they could still see Ford Island.

Over 70 years have passed since the attack on Pearl Harbor. The war and the internment of Japanese Americans should not be forgotten. If you lived in Hawaii at that time, I urge you to write down or record your experiences. If you were born after the war, I urge you to talk to those you know and record their experiences.

My own grandparents didn’t talk much about the attack on Pearl Harbor or keep any mementos of the war. They quietly kept the house stocked with canned goods, saimin, soap, and toilet paper. When I was older, I finally asked my grandmother the war. She told me that she worked at Pearl Harbor making concrete blocks, and later as a checker in a warehouse. She said, “Things were hard to buy. Butter was so hard to get and each person cannot have more than one block of butter. Bread was hard to get. We all had to have a card in order to buy food and so we all have enough food to eat, thank God. The Japan War was still going on, still going on, and our men were shipped off the island to fight.”

Read more about Nicholson’s experiences and other eyewitness accounts and watch videos on her website at www.pearlharborchild.com.

9 ways to trim holiday waste

December 2, 2014

Recycling Reindeer

For most of us, the winter holidays are an exciting time. We’re lured by bright lights, cheerful music, and “sale” signs into spending more than we probably should. We’re celebrated for being generous and giving, with our money and our time.

But the holidays also make us generous with other things, too – like holiday waste. Our gifts are secured in boxes, cardboard, plastic, and ties – which we festively cocoon in wrapping paper, ribbon, or gift bags. We exchange holiday cards, sometimes with just a perfunctory signature at the bottom.

Let’s think of ways we can save money and help the environment too. Here are some things we can do to minimize waste during the holidays – and maximize our wallets.

For the holidays…
* Send e-cards and e-gift certificates. It may seem a little impersonal, but I think it is perfectly okay to send e-cards or e-gift certificates to out-of-state family and friends. You’ll save on postage and envelopes, and you won’t have to worry about lost or delayed mail. Recipients can immediately print or redeem certificates from their computer.

If you must give that gift…
* Bring your own shopping bag. Leave that plastic bag at the checkout line by bringing your own reusable shopping bag. Econesting.com has links to helpful patterns for do-it-yourself crocheted, linen fabric, felt, and knitted bags. However, let me confess that I save all the plastic bags I get from stores and restaurants, to use on walks with my dog.
* Give eco-friendly gifts. Reduce.org has some clever ideas for giving eco-friendly gifts, with minimum packaging and gift wrapping optional – like park permits, fishing licenses, bus passes, compost bins, and plants. Or think about a rain barrel, a gym membership, or University of Hawaii sports tickets.
* Use eco-friendly gift-wrapping. Rethink Recycling suggests scarves, handkerchiefs, and bandannas; old posters and maps; newspapers; re-usable containers; childrens’ artwork; magazines and catalogs; and re-used gift bags.

Around the house and office…
* Host a Christmas ornament-making party. Instead of buying new ornaments, make your own ornaments – to decorate your Christmas tree or for guests to take home. It’s more fun and less expensive than inviting everyone out to a holiday lunch or dinner! HGTV has a plan for an elegant do-it-yourself decorating party: 1) take old ornaments and Styrofoam balls; 2) add embellishments like sequins, beads, stamps, pins, glitter, bells, fabric scraps, paper, and ribbons; 3) be ready with glue, pens, and scissors; 4) set your creativity free. You can also get ornament ideas from the annual Honolulu City Lights festivities, starting in December.
* Recycle that tree! If you have resisted the attraction of a potted plant or the convenience of an artificial tree, make sure that you recycle your Christmas tree. In Honolulu, you can put your Christmas tree (without flocking, ornaments, or tinsel) in your green bin or drop it off at a City Convenience Center. On the Big Island, you can drop it off at designated transfer stations. On Kauai, you can recycle unflocked Christmas trees at transfer stations in Hanalei, Kapa’a, Lihue, and Hanapepe, and at Kekaha Landfill. On Maui, you can cut Christmas trees into 3’ sections and place them in your green recycling cart or take them to composting facilities (in 2013, drop off locations were the Central Maui Landfill, Pacific Green Waste and Compost in Kihei, and the Olowalu Convenience Center).

For kids…
* Learn about needs vs. wants. The holidays are a great time to teach kids about the differences between the things they really need and the things they want today (but maybe not tomorrow). The Squawkfox website has a helpful “Needs & Wants List” that can help kids spend your money wisely.
* Write a concise Christmas wish list. The Somewhat Simple blog has an excellent “Christmas Wish List” for kids that helps them narrow down their choices. Kids can write down what they want, what they need, what they’ll wear, what they’ll read, and something they’d really like to have.
* Meet the Spirits of Recycling. The Hawaii Department of Environmental Services has a free printable activity book called “The Spirits of Recycling” about a boy who is visited by Green, Gray, and Blue on Christmas Eve.

Has your holiday shopping changed in recent years? Does a product with less packaging make you more willing to buy it? What are your favorite tips for eco-friendly holidays?