Saturday, August 26, 2017

Kauai

by Madeleine Kando

It’s not easy to be on vacation in Kauai, especially when you are used to a wintery life in Boston, Massachusetts. It is one of those experiences that makes your dulled senses wake up with a jolt. The minute my husband and I step out of the airport in Lihue after a 14-hour journey, we are bombarded with the dizzying scent of tropical vegetation and the sounds and colors of a world that for us, only exists on postcards.

We pick up our rental car, a Jeep of course, so we can take off the roof and fry in the sun as we cruise over the island. It takes us another hour to get to the North Shore, where we will be staying in a rented condo in a resort-type area called Princeville. On the way there, we drive through a grove where the scent of rain, jungle and guava makes our head spin - we never knew anything could smell so good.

We fumble in the dark, as we key in the door code and after several tries manage to enter the apartment. We open the sliding doors to the balcony and step out onto what feels like the bow of a ship. Surrounded by the sound of the surf under a star studded sky, we try to absorb our new surroundings in a jetlagged stupor. A few geckos scurry away under the furniture as we turn on the light.

It takes us a couple of days to recover from the ordeal of air travel and after the initial shock of finding ourselves amongst so much natural beauty, we fall victim to the irresistible charm of this little speck of an island in an immense span of water.

Kauai is the Northern most and oldest island in the Hawaiian chain. Like a wise, beautiful woman, she has allowed herself to age gracefully, letting the vegetation slowly cover her mountains and the ocean erode her cliffs, which now dip into the foaming, blue ocean with their razor sharp edges.

You're sure to have seen movies like Jurassic Park, Avatar, King Kong or Raiders of the Lost Ark – the lush mountains and valleys, waterfalls and beaches, bays and inlets that feature in those films are all to be found on Kauai.

Each morning, we step out onto the bow of our condo, feasting on a spectacular sunrise, a giant ball of fire rising from the ocean, painting the clouds pink and purple. Here and there, like specks of dust on the vast blue ocean, we see little boats, sometimes a catamaran, sometimes a flotilla of long outrigger canoes, manned by avid tourists paddling furiously against the strong current.

We go for morning walk to say hello to the Mynah birds. They look like masked bandits with their yellow encircled eyes, pulling their breakfast out of the dew covered grass. We meet the ever-present brightly colored wild roosters, chests puffed out, their retinue of chickens in tow. These are descendants of the ‘red jungle fowl’, brought over by the Polynesians. After Hurricane Iniki hit Hawaii in 1992, releasing many of the island’s captive chickens into the jungle, the wild chicken population exploded.

A magnificent frigate bird soars overhead, its black wings reaching to almost seven feet. Hawaiians call them ‘Iwa’, which means thief, as these giants of the sky are known to steal other seabirds’ food. There is such an abundance of life here, that a visitor from frigid New England has difficulty grasping it. Back in the apartment, we hear a loud chatter, which we attribute to noisy neighbors, but on closer inspection, we find that a Mynah has made a nest in the vent of our drier.

Today, we are going on our first beach adventure. Kauai has over 90 beaches, many of them only accessible from the ocean, but one of the most beautiful ones, is ‘Secret beach’, which is about half an hour drive for us. A steep climb down brings us to a gorgeous 3,000 feet long beach, with a high, dangerous surf. The waves crash against the black lava rock and a warning sign says: 'stay off the rocks, or you're next!'

We are hot and sweaty from climbing down. Ok, so we’ll stay away from the rocks, but a refreshing dip in the water sounds really tempting. My husband watches me as I wave to him from the water, a big smile on my face.

I forget about the cardinal rule of never turning your back to the ocean. As I wade out, a monstrous wave comes rushing towards me. I am scooped up by a torrent of foamy substance, like a fly in a river. My back is hit so hard that my breath gets knocked out of me. When my head hits the sandy bottom, I feel a sharp jolt go down my spine, from the top of my head to my buttocks, like a strong electric current. Then everything goes black. For a brief moment I feel so relaxed, so at peace, that I never want the moment to end. I let go of all my needs and desires, my physical self has arrived where it has always belonged. I let go of everything and feel total bliss.

Then a pair of hands grab me by the ankles and drags me out of the ocean. I don't want to leave, don't want to wake up. But someone is shaking me and a voice enters my consciousness. 'Madeleine, Madeleine!' I cannot move. My eyes open and I look at my husband, trying to understand what just happened. A few moments pass, then I drag myself to a puddle of water and dip my head in. I slowly rejoin the living, but am left with severe dysentery for the remainder of my vacation. Cardinal rule number two: never drink water that is not flowing.

In the Hawaiian religion, Pele, the goddess of fire and the creator of the Hawaiian Islands, had a brief and stormy marriage with Kamapuaa, the god of water, but after a heated argument Pele chased him into the Pacific Ocean where he has remained, banned forever. He vowed to take revenge by spitting out anything and anybody that enters his domain, especially naïve New Englanders who underestimate his enormous power.

My 5-year old grandson Marshall and his parents are coming today. He is very excited about seeing all the ‘fishees’. We told him that Hawaii’s favorite fish is called ‘Humuhumunukunukuapua’a’ and other bright yellow fishees that are called ’lau wiliwili nukunuku ʻoiʻoi’, but he is somewhat indifferent to that information. Fishees are fishees. We drive to Tunnel beach, known for its snorkeling and kid friendly waters. Marshall already has his goggles on when we leave the apartment for the hour-long ride. On the beach, his mom straps his puddle jumper on, which makes him look like a mini-transformer and he immediately runs to the water, ignoring the searing hot sand under his little feet. He cannot swim yet, but his bright blue arm floats keep him up where he cannot stand. He is ready for the fishees. The problem is, he refuses to put his face in the water. Reasonable explanations about the need to look down to where the fishees ARE and not expect them to fly above the surface, don’t work. The Humuhumunukunukuapua’a’s happily swim two feet away from Marshalls legs, but they might as well be on the moon.

The next day we take Marshall to the pool. There he realizes that putting his face in the water is not such a terrible thing after all. For hours he practices with his goggles, vigorously doggy paddling, his butt stuck in the air. He immediately wants to go back to the beach, but it’s already late and time for our daily sunset.

Today my husband and I are going on a jungle hike. If we were younger or had more of a death wish, we might consider going all the way to the Blue Hole. This is the base of the Waialeale Crater, the volcano from which the island of Kauai burst forth in a fiery cataclysm. There, you can see the falls coming down the ‘Weeping Wall’ as the Hawaiians call it.

Ours will be a mere five hour hike. The hardest part of this adventure is the long bumpy ride to get to the beginning of the trail. Our Jeep has to cross 2 streams, and follow a rocky road until we reach the entrance gate (where they filmed Jurassic Park). The gigantic trees reach so high that you can barely see their tops. The hike takes us to a stream with big boulders where we can sit, dip our sore feet in the cool water and eat our subs. Then we loop back via a small, hidden falls, with a pool at the base. The hike back is long. With a sense of relief, we finally spot our Jeep in the distance, take our mud covered hiking shoes off and flop down on the seats. Mission accomplished.

This is our last week. Kauai has become more than a place to us. We have started to relate to her as a human being. Why not? She has a nurturing quality and is as addictive as the daily Mai Tai’s we consume to top off each perfect day.

Today we are on our way to Waimea Canyon, a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, but just as beautiful. Although quite close as the crow flies, it is a 2-hour drive from the North Shore. The rugged Napali Coast creates an unbreachable barrier and it would require blasting tunnels through the most beautiful area of the island to connect the road to itself. Tourists just have to put up with a lot of driving back and forth.

Waimea Canyon is spectacularly beautiful. Sitting in the clouds, with its thousand-foot vertical cliffs, waterfalls and breathtaking vistas, it has been dubbed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. It was created when a portion of the island collapsed and left a depression which then filled with lava flows. Over time, the exposed basalt has weathered from its original black to bright red. It looks like Walt Disney took a giant paint brush and went to work here.

It is chock full of hiking trails, most of them quite difficult, but there are a dozen or so hunting trails that wind their way along the ridges to the edge of Na Pali. We take one of them, the Milolii trail and hike the last few miles, which are just too rough going, even for our Jeep. We are rewarded with an incredible view of the Napali Coast with a dizzying drop to the beaches 2500 feet below. It really feels like we have turned into a birds.

It is not easy to say good-bye to Kauai. She has stolen our heart. The sun is out, the Jeep’s roof is down and on the drive back from the North Shore to the airport, my eyes begin to mist over. I have to say good-bye to the wind and the clouds, the sound of the surf and the chattering of the Mynahs. More than anything, I will miss myself as I am here. Kauai has done her magic on us, has taken a New England couple who have more miles on their snow blower than their car and transformed them into Kauai soaking sponges. We have become addicts in the truest sense of the word. The hundreds of pictures we took will remind us that digging out our cars after a hefty Nor’easter is not the only reality and that the sunsets at Hanalei Bay are waiting for us. This will not be our last visit to this magical island. leave comment here Read more...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Game of Thrones:Metaphor for America Anno 2017



 By now, I am no longer the only one who sees a parallel between the Game of Thrones’ White Walkers and Donald Trump’s “base.” But the analogy occurred to me quite some time ago, so I still claim originality.

The epiphany hit me several weeks ago. The analogy fits. I suddenly realized that Game of Thrones is about the titanic struggle between the resurgent forces of neo-fascism in America, and the rest of us.

In this show, the greatest threat of all are the White Walkers. I suddenly realized that these represent the Trump base!

Think about it: On August 12, we saw the Trump base in action again. A group of white supremacist-KKK-David Duke-following-confederate-flag-waving neo-Nazis held a violent demonstration, murdering an innocent young woman and hurting many others. Read more...

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Overseas Travel: Fun, with some Pain



 My wife Anita and I go to Italy a lot, usually by way of Holland and France. My mother (now 104 years old) lives in Holland, so each year we first spend a couple of weeks with her and then we travel South. We feel that pound for pound, Italy has more to offer tourists than any other country, closely followed by France.

Intercontinental travel gets harder with age. But we haven’t thrown in the towel yet by just going on cruises and organized tours. We still run around Europe independently by car, by train and by airplane. This usually leads to some unsettling experiences.

The last time we flew to Rome from Holland, we had our first “interesting” experience immediately upon landing at Fumicino airport late in the evening:

After deplaning, we both hit the first toilet we could find, a fairly common practice. Then, we proceeded towards baggage claim. Only AFTER we were outside the security area did we realize that Anita - who is diabetic - had inadvertently left her insulin pack in the bathroom which she had just visited. Read more...

Friday, August 18, 2017

American Fascism, Donald Trump and the Slippery Slope



 No day goes by without one more outlandish behavior by our non-President. Howard Dean said it well the other day: Currently, America does not have a functioning president. There is guy who got elected to the White House by accident. No rational person seriously views him as a real President. He is something else - a celebrity, an actor, an oddity, something else. We and the rest of the world have to live with this for the foreseeable future, but this country is now essentially without a functioning president.

A good illustration of this is the flap about Charlottesville: A group of racist Nazi white-supremacist KKK fascists held a rally, they were confronted by a group that opposes racism, violence ensued, the fascists murdered a young woman.

Then, Trump argued in front of the entire planet that both “sides” were equally at fault. Read more...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

North Korea



We just returned from a three-week Hawaiian vacation and I am happy to resume blogging.

When starting up again, the first question is, what shall I write about? The choice is always between something fun, like a travel story, or something grisly, like Trump or North Korea.

Unfortunately, I have to select the latter, since our blog is primarily about current affairs. So right now, I am going to talk about the most important issue in the world today. Next time I’ll tell you about some of our funny experiences on our recent trips. The most important thing in the world today is the face-off between two lunatics - Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un.

Now don’t misunderstand me: I am not engaging in moral equivalency between the US and North Korea, or between the two countries’ regimes. The US, despite its unhinged President, remains a functioning democracy. North Korea is an indescribably totalitarian, militarized insane asylum. Read more...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Democracy in Chains: A True Horror Story

by Madeleine Kando

Preliminary Note: My knowledge of politics and economy is not adequate to give this book its full credit, but I felt it was important enough to write about. It describes the Far Right’s vision of a ‘good’ society, one that safeguards liberty for the few at the expense of elementary fairness and freedom for the many. Knowing that the majority of Americans do not share this vision, the billionaires backed Far Right has been working toward their goal by stealth. If you do not have time to read this 240-page masterpiece, just read the last chapter, the conclusion. It is horrifying.

‘Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America’ is so disturbing, that it takes a while to realize its full significance. Nancy MacLean, a professor of history and public policy at Duke University, suggests that James McGill Buchanan, a libertarian economist and Nobel laureate who taught at George Mason University and died in 2013, inspired the billionaire Charles Koch’s campaign to “save capitalism from democracy — permanently.”

Almost 70 years ago, Buchanan was already promoting the ideas that define libertarianism: Individual freedom, unfettered capitalism and minimal government intervention. In his view, the majority cannot dictate what the individual should do, especially when that individual is rich. He was against everything that a progressive society values: public education, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and of course progressive taxation, i.e. everything that is essential to making a society more fair and just.
Read more...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Restorative or Retributive Justice: Which is better?

by Madeleine Kando

One of the most entertaining ways of getting a grip on the difference between ‘retributive justice’ and ‘restorative justice’, is by watching the TV series ‘Lilyhammer’, starring Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen’s lead guitarist. It is about a former New York gangster named Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano, who is placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program and sent to Norway to start a new life.

Frank becomes a respected (read ‘feared’) local citizen, mostly due to bribes and intimidation. His ‘American’ method of doling out justice soon finds fertile ground in this over-civilized, rules-bound society. Norwegians ‘talk’ to work through conflict, but Giovanni’s Maffia style methods often get faster and more effective results. Lilyhammer makes fun of Norway’s soft approach to crime and oddly enough the show is incredibly popular in Norway. It must give Norwegians an opportunity to satisfy their thwarted sense of ‘retributive justice’. We all seem to have a desire to take revenge on the ones that have wronged us, whether we live in Norway or somewhere else.

What is Justice?

One of the earliest versions of justice can be found in the Egyptian goddess named Maat. She has an ostrich feather in her hair and a lioness by her side. Cosmic harmony was achieved by correct public and ritual life. Maat weighed the heart of a dead person on a scale against her ostrich feather. If the heart was lighter than the feather, it passed the test and was granted eternal life. If If it was heavy with the weight of wrongdoings, the lioness by her side devoured it and the soul was set adrift into chaos.

But since Plato and Aristotle, there has been a constant battle amongst philosophers on what justice really is: is it God’s Devine Command? Is it something that has been agreed upon between members of society? Or is it a Natural Law, like the law of gravity? If justice is what is commanded by God, is it morally good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is morally good? In other words, does justice exist on a higher order than God, who just follows the rules of justice, or did God create justice, like pulling a rabbit out of magician’s hat? Read more...