Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ category

“Searching for Mary Foster” by Patricia Lee Masters

October 6, 2018

Buddhist scholar and teacher Patricia Lee Masters traveled half-way around the world, from Honolulu and Ceylon to India and Chicago, to find Mary Foster, granddaughter of a Native Hawaiian chief and British shipbuilder.

In “Searching for Mary Foster: Nineteenth-Century Native Hawaiian Buddhist, Philanthropist, and Social Activist” (2017), Masters narrates her journey of discovery about the lives of Mary Foster of Honolulu and Anagarika Dharmapala of Sri Lanka.

This slim volume is as much a reflection on spirituality and shared values that connect different people and cultures, as it is a biography about a single individual.

We learn a brief history of Buddhism in India; the impact of Anagarika Dharmapala on restoring the birthplace of Buddha, Bodh Gaya, to Buddhists; and Mary Foster’s influence on Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Hawaii.

Just one chapter is dedicated to Mary Elizabeth Mikahala Robinson Foster (1844-1930), who was the older sister of Victoria Ward, and a childhood friend to both Lydia Paki, who became Queen Lili‘uokalani, and Bernice Pauahi Bishop. We learn that Mary Foster was a strong-willed woman with a “horrible temper,” a fierce intellectual curiosity and a need to know more about spiritual ideas other than Christianity. She wrote, “My hunger for understanding remains unquenched, and I long for some way to better understand the world, God, and myself.”

She had both the passion and wealth to champion the causes she believed in: Buddhism and the Native Hawaiian people. Her dual passions may seem contradictory, one looking inward for meaning and one focused outward on society, but both reflect her generosity of spirit and dedication to helping others.

Mary Foster supported Anagarika Dharmapala’s quest to restore Bodh Gaya (the site of Buddha’s awakening). She also generously supported the Maha Bodhi Society, Foster Seminary for Seinhalese monks and nuns, and Foster Home (an orphanage in Colombo). In fact, a cutting from the Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka was planted at Foster Estate in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was also critical in supporting Buddhism in Hawaii, donating land and funds to build Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii in Honolulu.

In Hawaii Mary Foster is perhaps best remembered for her legacy of Foster Botanical Garden. She also founded scholarships for Native Hawaiians to attend Kamehameha Schools and bought hospital beds for the needy at Kapiolani Hospital and Kapiolani Home (later Kapiolani Hospital for Women and Children). She was a determined activist, creating petitions protesting the annexation of Hawaii in 1893 and fighting to protect native trees and water rights in Kahana Valley on Oahu.

With her tremendous impact in Hawaii and Sri Lanka, it is inexplicable that Mary Foster’s life and work have largely been forgotten. It was frustrating to realize that, as Masters admits, “We will never know the real reasons for the family’s dismissal and silencing of the story of her life.”

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“The Power of Moments” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

September 1, 2018

Recently, I attended my first annual conference with other affiliated members. I was tired from traveling, I was nervous about meeting new people, I was distracted about being away from my family, and I was worried about the work that was accumulating at the office. And yet, looking back, it was a wonderful and energizing experience. It was a beginning for me, the first time I felt grounded in my role at work.

Beginnings and endings. The peaks, the pits, and the transitions. These are the defining moments in our lives – “meaningful experiences that stand out in our memory.”

Exactly why brief experiences can be so memorable, and how we create defining moments, is the subject of Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s book, “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact” (2017).

Short and engaging, focusing more on personal stories than research, the book examines defining moments and common traits.

The authors identify four common elements of a defining moment, breaking them down into what makes them so remarkable:

  1. Elevation. They rise above the everyday. To create elevation, we should boost sensory appeal, raise the stakes, and break the script. For example, we might create a memorable First Day Experience to welcome new employees with a personal greeting, mentor, welcome gift, small group lunch, and email from CEO.
  2. Insight. They rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. To create insight, we should dramatize a problem and let people discover the truth for themselves.
  3. Pride. They capture moments of achievement or courage. To create pride, we should identify milestones that motivate us and practice possible responses or actions. For example, we might create academic projects like mock trials and exhibitions, and present them to an audience. “An act of courage can bolster the resolve of others.”
  4. Connection. They are social. To create connection, we should share big moments in person, communicate shared meaning, ask people what matters, and show responsiveness.

Each chapter offers a whirlwind review and clinics that demonstrate how to solve real-world problems.

Of all the moments, Doug Dietz’s defining moment resonated with me. As an industrial designer at General Electric, he designed a new MRI machine and had defining moment in which he saw that MRI machine through the eyes of children. Instead of a technology marvel, he began to see it as something scary and intimidating. So he re-imagined the MRI machine as an adventure, creating jungle, pirate, and cable car experiences that fired their imaginations. Are there experiences in our lives that we can transform with creativity and imagination?

What is one defining moment that you experienced recently? Have you helped create defining moments for new neighbors, new co-workers, or new customers?

“Local Boy” by Fred Hemmings

August 4, 2018

“Local Boy: A Memoir” (2017) by surfer and Hawaii State Senator Fred Hemmings (1946-) is an optimistic and nostalgic memoir about his life. “The years of my life defy my wildest dreams,” Hemmings writes, and humbly admits, “I consider myself a blessed person.” His brief, talk-story reminiscences draw us into his life, punctuated with family photos.

“Life’s treasures in so many ways are not necessarily any great achievement but, rather, the valiant efforts.” The memoir begins with “Small Kid Times” in the 1940s. Hemmings is the son of four generations of canoe steersmen and steerswomen. He lived in Kahala and Kuliouou and Kuapa Pond, surviving polio, and attended Punahou School. He reflects, “The true strength of any nation or culture can be found in the hearts of its people.”

“Enjoying the simple things – like the fellowship of surfing with friends – that are life’s greatest riches.” Hemmings enjoys the a life-long appreciation for the outdoors, as a surfer who grew up in the shadows of Duke Kahanamoku and his friends, a football player, a competitive runner who once ran a marathon on a bet, a canoe paddler who learned that you should always take risks when you are behind, and an accident-prone do-it-yourself yard worker. He even relates an unexpected meeting with heiress Doris Duke.

“Politics is not a dirty word.” Hemmings shares some of his experiences in the Hawaii State Senate (1984-1990), where he stood up against corruption and death threats. I was intrigued by his 2006 proposal to diversity Hawaii’s economy by creating a College of Sports at the University of Hawaii, with three areas of study: 1) sports management, coaching, and sports facility management; 2) sports medicine, science, and technology; and 3) sports marketing, merchandising, communication, and history.

Hemmings reveals a wonderful way to view the world and our purpose in life: “When I arrived where I wanted to be, I stopped my quest and pursued different challenges.” Or to put it in surfing terms, “One great wave is better than many good waves.”

For a preview of the book and videos, visit Hemmings’ website at http://www.fredhemmings.com.

“The Productivity Project” by Chris Bailey

July 7, 2018

With so many distractions in life, we could probably be a little more productive.

Author and productivity blogger Chris Bailey embarked on “A Year of Productivity” (AYOP), 12 months of intense research, interviews, and experimentation, so that we can be more productive about being productive. Delegating tasks is Bailey’s productivity hack #14, so we’ve already become a little more efficient just by reading his book, “The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy” (2016).

The productivity tactics in this book can “help you accomplish everything you have to do in less time, so you can carve out more time for what’s actually important and meaningful in your life.” Each chapter begins with a takeaway and estimated reading time. There are 25 productivity hacks and productivity challenges so that you can see which ones work best for you.

Bailey redefines productivity as how much you accomplish – not how efficiently you work. That means managing your time, energy, and attention so that finish everything you intended to do. He reminds us that busyness is not productivity, even though you’re working hard!

Bailey’s writing is conversational and humorous (“This is the kind of stuff that goes on in my head all day long. Please send help.”). The chapters are short and bite-sized, so I could read a bit and then go back to work, or stop and do a productivity challenge.

If you want to take small steps to increase your productivity, I recommend these three productivity hacks: First, disconnect from the Internet when working on high-impact tasks. Next, limit attention-hog tasks like checking email and making phone calls. And finally, schedule a “maintenance day” to do all your routine chores and errands, such as laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping. Make these routine tasks a necessary part of your productivity.

There were three productivity challenges I stopped reading to do. They didn’t take a lot of time, and I felt a sense of control at organizing my tasks.

* The Values Challenge, which asks what you would do if you had two more hours in a day. I immediately thought of three things: reading more, writing more, and doing more art projects.

* The Impact Challenge, which asks you to write down all of your job responsibilities, big and small, and highlight the ones that have the most value.

* The Capture Challenge (the brain dump), which asks you to write down all of the things that you have to do, the things you are waiting for, and the things you are worrying about. This was

The most insightful productivity hack is to treat your “future self” with as much care as yourself today, being careful of your future self’s time and money.

As Bailey reminds us, “People are the reason for productivity.”

How do you keep on-task every day? What are your most effective productivity tips?

“Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers” by Sara Ackerman

June 2, 2018

A missing husband and father. A deadly secret. A gentle lion. A community under suspicion. A budding romance.

“Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers” (2018) by Sara Ackerman is a historical fiction novel that blends war, mystery, and romance into an engaging story about the effects of war, the anxiety of keeping secrets and living with uncertainty, standing up for your friends against racial prejudice, accepting that life is unfair, and trusting that things will turn out right.

Set in Honoka‘a on the Big Island in 1944, in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, school teacher Violet Iverson is still reeling over the disappearance of her husband and coping with her daughter’s anxiety. Soldiers move in at Honoka‘a School and change their lives, and Violet has second chance at love with Parker, an attentive marine sergeant stationed at the school.

Meanwhile, her 10-year old daughter Ella is anxious because she is hiding a deadly secret, and the only thing that helps her is spending time with animals. A gentle African lion named Roscoe distracts her from her secret and gives her the courage to set aside her fear.

With Parker’s help, Violet begins to accept that “life was far from fair, but if you followed love instead of fear, you would come out ahead. No matter what.” She starts to think about the future and enjoy life again.

I enjoyed seeing the dual perspectives of an adult and child about World War II and the racial tensions between Japanese-Americans and the police. The characters felt as if they were real people, even neighbors that you grew up with, with dynamic character growth. The portrayal of Hawaii feels authentic and personal, including the war-time food and gas rationing.

Interestingly, while Ella has a strong connection with nature and finds healing with animals, Violet is constantly challenged when she ventures into nature – by a sea urchin, a storm, and an underwater cave.

A historical note from the author: “Over 50,000 Marines, and mascot Roscoe the lion, lived at Camp Tarawa on the Big Island before sailing off to Iwo Jima and Saipan, two of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific.”

“Trekonomics” by Manu Saadia

May 5, 2018

The optimistic, altruistic world view of Star Trek caught my imagination when I was young – and I’ve been a loyal fan over the years. Seen through young eyes, Star Trek was a universe of possibility, good intentions, and people striving to do the right thing.  But I never questioned whether the Star Trek society and economy could work in the future – or be a role model for us today.

So I was intensely curious to read “Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek” (2016), published on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, by author and Star Trek fan Manu Saadia.

According to Saadia, “The world of Star Trek is an economic utopia” based on universal abundance and automation of labor. It is “the world that awaits us on the other side of that great social metamorphosis.” Saadia explores the economics of Star Trek, as well as the psychology of its members, capitalism and the Ferengis, and real-world Treknomics.

Saadia identifies six characteristics of the Star Trek economy, starting with the absence of money in Star Trek: The Next Generation (though he acknowledges that money may still be used outside of Starfleet).

Note: With my apologies to the author, I re-ordered his discussion a bit. I’m not an economist, but I think the presence or absence of money is irrelevant; the game-changer that revolutionized the economy was the replicator.

In the Star Trek economy…

  1. There is no scarcity. With the invention and public availability of the replicator (a device that can almost instantaneously create food and goods on demand), there are unlimited resources, and there are no barriers to economic growth or population expansion. Humans do not worry about survival (food, clothing, shelter, war), so they are more mentally stable; and reason and altruism become the norm. There is less poverty, lower child mortality, higher literacy rates, lower crime, and higher life expectancy.
  2. There is no production or logistics. With the replicator, there is no need to find raw resources, produce goods, or transport them. Like the Internet with information or GPS with location, the replicator is a global (or interstellar) public good. All of the craft and art is in the design stage; once the template is created, it can be shared freely with everyone.
  3. There are no taxes. When everything is free and there is no lack of resources, the role of government is greatly diminished. The government does not need to discover or conquer other lands for natural resources, and does not need to tax people to fund government. The limited role of government and the anti-colonialism philosophy is expressed in the Prime Directive (non-interference with other societies, which requires sacrifice for the greater good and the acceptance that other societies may suffer).
  4. Money is obsolete. As Picard says, “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” This is only possible because there is near-absolute abundance – almost nothing is scarce. There is no conspicuous consumption, so wealth is no longer a marker of status, and private property is mainly sentimental. Reputation is the new currency.
  5. No one is required to work. If everything is available at zero cost, then no one is required to work for survival, and people volunteer to work (free labor). “Work exists to make you happy.” People choose to work to gain a sense of belonging, recognition, glory, self-expression, even philanthropy. Without salaries to measure success, work is based on meritocracy and egalitarianism. Without the need for profits, companies provide services and function with open-source innovation to better humanity.
  6. Free-riding is not a problem. When groups of people deplete resources they share in common (fossil fuels, clean air, fresh water), it is in everyone’s best interests to curb their use of the resource. However, some individuals or governments will choose to continue their consumption, relying on others to curb their use.

“Trekonomics” is a fascinating look at how Star Trek’s economy could be achieved in our future. Saadia himself seems to be an incongruous mix of Star Trek fan and ardent socialist. He believes that we can choose to move towards a Star Trek economy with shared public resources (social democracy), yet he scorns space exploration for exploration’s sake, believing that it is better to use our resources to lift people out of poverty and gain more “human capital” (engineers, scientists, artists). He believes that “Interstellar exploration has no intrinsic economic value and therefore cannot happen until society is so wealthy that not a single person has to waste his or her time on coarse economic pursuits.”

And yet, many of us still dream of space exploration, and perhaps need the dream of an altruistic, optimistic Star Trek future.

“A Harvest of Hawaii Plantation Pidgin” by Myra Sachiko Ikeda

April 7, 2018

Spurred by the realization that erai means “tired” on Hawaii plantations, but means “great” or “excellent” in Japanese, Myra Sachiko Ikeda’s interest in Pidgin English began in the 1970s. She began to focus on the use of Pidgin English on Hawaii Island sugar cane plantations in the Japanese communities.

“Plantation talk was community talk,” Ikeda writes. She describes Pidgin English as a language that grew out of a need to communicate quickly between different communities, made of shorted or contracted words or phrases, built from many languages, characterized by rapid speech, and with many spelling variations. Pidgin English is not “broken” English, but rather “the foundations for the communication which helped build and forge the strong bonds among the people on the plantations,” Ikeda states proudly. “Pidgin is the language which identifies Hawaii as it reflects the shared knowledge and experiences of its people.”

Ikeda’s research is compiled in “A Harvest of Hawaii Plantation Pidgin: The Japanese Way” (2015), illustrated by Jeffery Kalehuakea DeCosta, which explores Pidgin English and its impact on Japanese people and the assimilation of lifestyles and cultures.

Ikeda describes plantation camp names, nicknames, children’s games (the enduring jan ken po gets its own chapter), plantation terms, food, and anecdotal stories, and includes a glossary of words and phrases in Pidgin, English, and Japanese.

She makes categorical distinctions between Japanese generations: issei (first-generation immigrants), nisei (second-generation), sansei (third-generation), yonsei, and gosei. She stresses that the Japanese people have a strong cultural identity, but that Japanese culture was “frozen” in the time of the Meiji Era, while the Japanese language in Hawaii has constantly evolved – or been suppressed during World War II, when Japanese language, culture, customs, and clothing disappeared.

My favorite parts of the book were the humorous conversations, with Pidgin English misunderstandings and mis-hearings. Thought my mother grew up on the Big Island, most of the Japanese words and Pidgin English in the book are unfamiliar to me; I don’t think she taught me the Pidgin English she might have heard growing up.

The one thing that seems enduring is jan ken po. I grew up with the rhyme “jan ken na po, I canna’ [cannot] show.” I didn’t even know that there were other verses! It didn’t surprise me to learn that my son learned this rhyme from his classmates, another generation of jan ken po players.