Celebrate the teachers in your life

Posted May 9, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Education, Family

Tags: , , ,

Did you know that in Hawaii public schools, there are over 10,941 teachers, 170 librarians, and 602 counselors? (Hawaii 2015 Superintendent’s Annual Report, 2014-2015 School Year)

Did you know that on average, teachers work more than 52 hours a week, including 30 hours of instruction and 22 hours on tasks like preparing lessons and grading papers? (National Center for Education Statistics 2011-12 School and Staffing Survey)

Teachers give us so much, and their job is much harder than we realize. They prepare lesson plans that engage and inspire students. They find a balance between correcting mistakes and encouraging excellence. They stay after school for homework clubs and mentoring. They show up at school events in the evenings and on weekends. They make the classroom a safe place to learn, challenge assumptions, and build character.

Today is National Teacher Day, part of a week-long event celebrating the teachers in our lives. You can say “Thank You” by joining the 2017 #ThankATeacher campaign and sharing stories and photos of special teachers.

My son is completing the fifth grade this year, and I want to take a moment to thank my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Foster. She was energetic and fun and it was the year I started to see teachers as real people, outside of school. She set up a classroom economy with jobs, a bank, and even checkbooks. She gave us daily writing assignments to practice our writing skills and encourage creative writing. To this day, I remember the first verses of “Do your ears hang low?” and “I Can’t Do That Sum” that we had to recite.

If you need some inspiration, the National PTA offers a free Teacher Toolkit to personally thank teachers for making a positive impact on your life and children’s lives.

If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews in school, here are 7 ways that How Can Families Effectively Partner With and Support Teachers, courtesy of the National Education Association:

  • Develop a relationship with your child’s teacher and keep in touch with him/her often
  • Ask the right questions
  • Set goals with your child and his/her teacher and foster the achievement of those goals
  • Review your child’s data to ensure he/she is on track
  • Look in your child’s backpack every day
  • Frequently view the parent portal (or whichever tool your child’s school uses)
  • Actively participate at school when possible

Which teachers had the biggest impact on your life? How will you thank a teacher today?

“Amazing Fantastic Incredible” by Stan Lee

Posted May 6, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Book Reviews

Tags: , , ,

Trading cards are what got me hooked on Marvel. I remember feverishly opening packs of Marvel cards, hoping for rare hologram cards, and once or twice splurging on a box so I could collect a complete set. I remember writing to Marvel to request an annual report, back when I didn’t have money to invest and Marvel wasn’t making a profit, and being amazed by its colorful, jaunty, comic book format.

Since then, Marvel has become an entertainment titan, and Stan Lee, the creative force behind Marvel Comics, has given us a glimpse into the forces that shaped him in his informal, offbeat memoir, written with Peter David and art by Colleen Doran.  “Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir” (2015), appropriately enough, a graphic, full-color illustrated memoir that answers the question, “How did it happen?”

Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City, New York on December 28, 1922 during the Great Depression. He spent most of his time reading – “I’d read the label on a bottle of ketchup if nothing else was around” and riding his bike – “It gave me freedom. I could go anywhere I wanted.” He gained self-confidence from his mother Celia and a strong work ethic from his father Jack, who was always looking for a better job.

The rise of Marvel began when Lee became an assistant to his uncle Rob and Jack Kirby at Atlas Comics, writing Captain America comics. When they left unexpectedly, publisher Martin Goodman put Stan in charge. After five years in the army, Lee returned to comic book writing and married Joan Boocock. He declares, “I was interested in creating stories that had human characters that could be relatable no matter what the reader’s age.”

Under Lee’s crafting, the Marvel Style focuses on characterization, realistic dialog, and humor. I enjoyed his one-line commentaries about his superheroes, like Spider-Man: “all the problems, hang-ups, and angst of any teen!” and Thor: because “How could any human be stronger than ol’ greenskin? Make him a god!” and X-Men: “Dedicated to all of the people in the world who have been mistreated because they were different in any way.”

Along the way, he also offers five tips for aspiring writers:

  1. “Write about things you know. Or else, be so vague that no one can pin you down.”
  2. Analyze everything you see.
  3. Proofread carefully. Pretend you’re the world’s toughest editor.
  4. “Keep rewriting until your script is as good as you can possibly make it.”
  5. “Don’t get discouraged.”

“Amazing Fantastic Incredible” is an exciting, enthusiastic, and humorous memoir about a reader who went on to become a writer and an actor. Its graphic novel format kept me engaged. I love his creativity (he has conversations with his younger self), sly humor, humility (he credits artists Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, and Steve Ditko; acknowledges his family, wife Joan and daughter Joanie; and focuses on his fans), unwillingness to make personal attacks, and the respectful way he mentions personal tragedies and professional failures.

“Amazing Fantastic Incredible” is the most entertaining memoir I’ve ever read, and it left me wanting to know more about the next chapters in Lee’s – and Marvel’s – extraordinary adventure.

Exciting! Electrifying! days for readers

Posted May 2, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Books, Community, Family

Tags: , , , ,

Exciting! Electrifying! Calling all Star Wars fans, book and music lovers, and comic book readers! Be prepared for an amazing week.

First, there’s… May the Fourth, aka Star Wars Day, a day to celebrate all things Star Wars. Dress up as your favorite Star Wars character. Stay up for a Star Wars movie marathon. Read your favorite Star Wars book (my 10-year old son’s recommendation: “Lost Stars” by Claudia Gray). Indulge in Vader taters, Wookie cookies, and Yoda soda. Practice your lightsaber moves.

Followed by… Free Comic Book Day. From the nostalgic (Archie and Underdog) to the futuristic (Avatar and Dr. Who), for kids (SpongeBob) and kids of all ages, there’s a comic book for everyone! On Saturday, May 6, stop by a Hawaii public library and get a free comic book. Show your HSPLS library card at a Hawaii public library in Aiea, Aina Haina, Hawaii Kai, Hilo, Kahului, Kailua, Kailua-Kona (students, dress for the Cosplay competition!), Kapolei, Kihei, Lahaina, Lanai, Liliha, Makawao, Manoa, McCully-Moiliili, Mililani, Princeville, Salt Lake-Moanalua, Waikiki-Kapahulu, Waimanalo, Wahiawa, Waimea (Thelma Parker Memorial), and Waipahu. Check with specific libraries for special activities.

Wrapping up with… the Hawaii Book and Music Festival, May 6-7 in Honolulu. Immerse yourself in book readings, author signings, panel discussions, storytelling, music, hula, food demonstrations, and more. Trade your gently-used books at the Book Swap. Bring folding chairs or mats to sit on the lawn and soak up the entertainment. Let kids work off their energy in the Keiki Zone. A fun idea would be to have a round-robin storytelling, with a group of people pitching in to create an unexpected, one-of-a-kind story!

What books, comic books, or graphic novels are you reading? Which historical, futuristic, or fictional world do you wish you could live in?

Should doctors write job prescriptions?

Posted April 25, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Government

Tags: , , , , ,

Last month, news of Hawaii’s homeless challenge gained national attention on HBO’s Vice News (Hawaii News Now, 3/30/17). The 5-minute segment spotlights that “Hawaii legislators are debating whether to classify homelessness as an illness and housing as a treatment. (via HBO).” This Vice News report is not the kind of attention that Hawaii wants, but maybe it’s the attention that Hawaii needs.

Correspondent Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani interviewed four people to get their perspectives on the proposal to redefine homelessness as a medical condition. Gary Grinker, who is chronically homeless and has a heart condition; he visited the emergency room 241 times in 2016, costing taxpayers $1.2 million in healthcare. Senator Josh Green, who introduced a bill to redefine chronic homelessness as a disease and allow doctors to write prescriptions for housing. Representative Bob McDermott, who believes that Hawaii has “turned the safety net into a hammock.” And Dr. Daniel Cheng, an emergency room doctor at Queen’s Medical Center, which handles two-thirds of all homeless encounters in Hawaii.

I had three successive reactions to the news report.

First, doctors’ first responsibility is to take care of patients’ physical and mental health. A “prescription” for housing would probably involve time filling out forms and coordinating with social workers – time that doctors need to help patients.

Second, having a home may not make people more responsible for their health or reduce emergency room visits. It may even exacerbate health conditions, if people have health emergencies in their home and are unable or unwilling to seek help.

Third, if a solution to rising healthcare costs and chronic disease were housing, we would have more people living in shelters and healthier people at home. But in Hawaii, an alarming 82% of adults have at least one chronic disease or condition and 53% have two or more chronic diseases (heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, asthma, disability, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or obesity), according to the Department of Health’s “Chronic Disease Disparities Report 2011: Social Determinants.”

Instead of a “prescription” for housing, maybe doctors should write a “prescription” for a job.  Research shows that employment increases health status and healthy people are more likely to work, according to a Lead Center Policy Brief, “The Impact of Employment on the Health Status and Health Care Costs of Working-age People with Disabilities” (2015).

“Work is at the very core of contemporary life for most people, providing financial security, personal identity, and an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to community life,” according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) factsheet, “Facts about mental illness and work” (1999).

A job gives people dignity as well as a paycheck. Doctors can assess a person’s physical and mental ability to work, and offer a referral to an employer – who could assess their skills, experience, and trustworthiness.

Do you think that we can reduce healthcare costs by prescribing housing? Could having a job help people be healthier?

Celebrate Earth Day 2017

Posted April 18, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community

Tags: , ,

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and year-round with events, beach clean-ups, recycling, and more. This year, Earth Day spotlights Environmental and Climate Literacy. Let’s all educate ourselves, take action, and make small changes to be better stewards of Hawaii.

Enjoy an Earth Day event in Honolulu

  • On Wednesday, April 19, attend the Earth Day Festival at University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa Campus Center, 10 am to 3 pm. On Friday, April 21, stop by Earth Fest ’17 at Kaiser High School, 1:30 pm to 8 pm. On Saturday, April 22, participate in the free Mauka to Makai Environmental Expo at the Waikīkī Aquarium, 9 am to 2 pm. On Sunday, April 23, go to the Earth Day Weekend Service and Green Fair, 9:30 am to 1 pm, at Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin.

Clean our community by getting dirty around Oahu

There are so many opportunities help clean our beaches, improve our schools, and help with planting. Remember to bring a reusable water bottle, use sun protection, wear closed toe shoes, and choose clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.

  • On Saturday, April 22: Volunteer for the Pūpūkea Paumalū Community Work Day, 9 am to 11 am at Sunset Beach Elementary School, helping to restore the trail from Sunset Beach Elementary School to the pillbox. Meet in the SBES lower parking lot. Contact tim@northshoreland.org for details. Join the Sustainable Coastlines Hawaiʻi Earth Day Event, 9 am to 2 pm at Waimānalo Bay Beach Park. Buses begin departing at 9:30 to different locations nearby. Help out at the Garden of Eden Community Workday, 9 am to 1 pm, Blanche Pope Elementary School, Waimānalo, to help spread mulch and plant trees.
  • On Sunday, April 23: Show your love of nature at the Waimea Valley Workday, 9 am to 3 pm in Waimea Valley. Volunteers are needed to help with native planting, invasive species control, and a new sediment control project on Kalaheʻe Ridge. Email Laurent to RSVP.

Learn about litter, illegal dumping, and environmental enforcement

  • On Tuesday, April, 25, attend the Hawai‘i Environmental Court Workshop, 1 pm to 5:30 pm, at the UH Mānoa Richardson School of Law. The workshop is free and open to the public and will focus on “O‘ahu Litter, Illegal Dumping and Community Environment Enforcement.” Register online.

Clean up your clutter

  • Drop off recyclables, gently used items, and more at the Going Green event on Saturday, April 22, 9 am to 1 pm, at Kapolei High School; and at the Aloha ʻĀina Recycling Drive on Saturday, April 29, 9 am to noon at Moanalua Elementary & Middle School.

Mālama the Honolulu Zoo

  • On Saturday, April 29, attend the Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and help pull weeds and plant seeds at the Children’s Discovery Forest Work Day, 9 am to 11 am at the Honolulu Zoo. Meet at the Honolulu Zoo’s Gate #6 across the Waikiki Shell parking lot at 8:30 am. Then spend the afternoon at the Zoo.

Bring your own bag (BYOB) to Foodland

  • When you shop at Foodland and bring your own bags, Foodland is offering customers a $.05 bag credit or 3 Hawaiian Miles for every bag used. During April 2017, you can choose to donate your $.05 bag credit to the Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation.

Plan your own Earth Day event

  • Host an Earth Day barbeque or picnic at the beach – any day of the year. The Earth Day Network offers a free downloadable Earth Day Action Toolkit to help you organize and coordinate Earth Day events in your community.

How will you celebrate Earth Day?

We’re growing the wrong tax tree

Posted April 11, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Government, Taxes

Tags: , , ,

I published this post in 2010 and again in 2013. For those of you who are new to Better Hawaii, and for all of us who could use a reminder, I think it’s worth repeating.

Let’s ignore, for the moment, the fact that the IRS tax code is over 44,000 pages, is so complicated that even tax experts don’t understand it, and desperately needs simplification. Let’s ignore the benefits of a national sales tax or a flat income tax.

Think about this: like a tree struggling to shade us from harm, our tax system needs more sunshine, more pruning, and a lot less graft.

In fact, we are growing the wrong tax tree entirely.

Our current tax system is an overgrown banyan tree, with roots extending down and spreading over the whole economy. The federal government has higher income tax rates, ranging from 0% to 35%. The states have lower income tax rates, ranging from 0% to 11% – with Hawaii at the top – but are dependent on federal funds and must comply with unfunded mandates.

It makes more sense to have a tax system like a strong pine tree, simple and orderly. The federal government, which has national responsibilities and a larger tax base, should have lower tax rates. The states, which directly care for citizens but have smaller tax bases, should have higher tax rates and not rely on the federal government for funding.

The only rational explanation for this upside-down, overgrown tax code is that the federal government wants the power to redistribute taxes among the states. They want to create welfare states and ensure that states are dependent on the federal government.

Does this make non-sense? Do you have another explanation – or better yet, solution? Does anyone have ideas about how states can reclaim their power and independence from the federal government?

Lessons from the carnival

Posted April 4, 2017 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Family

Tags: ,

Looking back at the carnivals I went to as a kid, my strongest memories are of jail, the swing ride, and cows. I remember the bamboo jail where people got “locked up” and had to wait for a friend or family member to “bail” them out of jail. I remember the swing ride because I was afraid of it, until my best friend finally convinced me to ride it, and I really enjoyed it. And I remember cows because at the State Farm Fair, the cows were large, bored, and pungent.

We had good times at the carnival recently. At the keiki carnival, my 10-year old son disappeared with his friends and popped up later to ask for more scrips. At the neighborhood carnival, we walked around with friends, tagging along as he played games and enjoyed different rides.

Here are a few lessons we learned (and re-learned) at the carnival:

It’s okay to spend money… within reason. Usually, my son has a hard time spending his own money. He hoards it like… gold. But at the carnival, he didn’t hesitate to use his own money. He was having a good time, and he knew how much he was willing to spend. The neighborhood carnival made it a little too easy to spend money. Instead of counting scrips, we reloaded a FunPass, and the credits flew by.

Competitive games can still be friendly. We should all cheer each other’s successes. My son congratulated his friends if they won and was enthusiastic, but not boastful, if he won. He even gave a prize to a friend because she wanted it, and he had one already.

Try something new. I may have been afraid to ride the swing as a kid, but my son didn’t hesitate to try it for the first time. Then he jumped off and ran to the Magic Maze. I had a harder time convincing him to take a bite of funnel cake for the first time.

Look out for others. My son is an only child, but he looked out for the younger kids in the group. He even rode the carousel (not the most exciting ride for a 10-year old) and encouraged a younger boy to hold on tight and not be afraid.

Carnivals are always better with family and friends. When was the last time you went to the carnival? What is your favorite part of the carnival?