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Thursday, October 16, 2003

Over 4 Million Served

Natalie Solent points to this blog survey, which reports:

The most dramatic finding was that 66.0% of surveyed blogs had not been updated in two months...


Blogging is many things, yet the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends and classmates on happenings in her life. It will be written very informally (often in "unicase": long stretches of lowercase with ALL CAPS used for emphasis) with slang spellings...

You sometimes find Big Media types dismissing blogs on this basis---"Blogs? Yeah, I've heard of them. My 15-year-old niece has one. So do all her friends. I hardly think they are a source for informed commentary on current events, heh heh heh."

One might as well note that: "The typical newspaper supports a small community. Often it is distributed free, supported solely by advertising. Its chief features are birth, death, and wedding announcements; notices of upcoming community events, and, occasionally, news articles of purely local interest." This is true of many places I've lived, from the Rocket (of Jefferson County, Missouri) to the Eastern Suburbs (of Sydney) Courier.

Obviously they are not a source for informed commentary on national or international events. Heh heh heh.

(I wrote this, then shelved it, thinking I was behind the curve. Big Media may not like or respect blogs, but at least they know that not all blogs are teen angst billboards, right? Well, maybe not.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2003


All last week, the Bleat (start there) was about Lileks's recent trip to New York to talk to his publishers about upcoming Lileksian goodness.

For example, from Tuesday:

When the meat and wine and gossip was done, it was back to the office to talk about the next book beyond “Desecrators.”...So I said THE IDEA, and bang! / shazaam, he got it. We almost did a little dance on the spot, so perfect was the concept. And no, I’m not telling....If all goes well, I’ll be kicking out a book a year, which is what I wanted to do anyway. Three more Institute books for a total of five...

Oh, for fun! And I'm glad your little idea was received so well.



I did a google search and could not find anything which said that the book was forthcoming, which seems ominous for a book that was supposed to be published this fall.


It better damn well be out for Christmas, that's all I'm saying. It better be under my tree come Christmas Day, or Someone Will Hurt.


Monday, October 06, 2003

Loonies to the Left of Me, Rednecks to the Right

OK, this is new. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer's Tim Funk, Rep Cass Ballenger (R - N.C.) blames CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) for the breakup of his 50-year marriage.

Seems his wife was unnerved that CAIR moved into an office near their house, and they both were worried that CAIR could blow up the Capitol, only a couple blocks away.

CAIR spokeman Ibrahim Hooper said:


Now, this all would be much more interesting if it didn't seem that Ballenger is kind of a jackass:

This isn't the first time Ballenger has been criticized for comments some consider insensitive. Last December, in another interview with The Observer, he said that then-Rep. Cynthia McKinney, an African American from Georgia known for her abrasive style, had stirred in him "a little bit of a segregationist feeling. I mean, she was such a bitch." He later apologized for what he called "pretty stupid remarks" even as an aide was painting white the black lawn jockey -- a symbol of racial insensitivity to many -- in Ballenger's front yard.

McKinney is six different flavors of unsavory, but I really think her colleagues in the House ought not to call her a "bitch" (or even words that rhyme with it) and witter on about segregation.

But it gets better:

Another stress on their marriage: the decision by "we holier-than-thou Republicans" in the House, Ballenger said, to ban gifts -- including meals and theater tickets from lobbyists -- that once meant "a social life for (congressional) wives."


Ballenger's wife also agreed with him that the GOP-controlled House's 1995 decision to restrict the money spent on members of Congress and their spouses had helped turn Washington into "a lousy place to live. ...It used to be you'd get invitations to the symphony or the theater ... I don't think you should get $1,000 trips to the Bahamas (from lobbyists). But I don't see where a dinner or a theater ticket is that bad. We had friends who are lobbyists."

So what did they do? They got a legal separation and now live in separate residences, although he still eats a lot of meals over at his wife's place.

Could this marriage have been saved? I don't suppose it would have been possible to move away from CAIR, and to buy your own damned theater tickets? That would've been cheaper than a separation and separate residences.


It would help if people opposed to McKinney and suspicious of CAIR wouldn't act as if they longed for the old days when all these coloreds knew their place and you could let a nice feller buy you a dinner or a car.

I found this as a little snippet in the Houston Chronicle, where it came from AP. The Chronicle's title was "Lawmaker blames split-up on Muslims", whereas the Observer's title was "Ballenger grouses about Muslims, lobbyist limits". You don't see much grousing in newspaper headlines these days. One gathers that he grouses quite a lot, and always expects to see it in the newspaper.

UPDATE: Not one to open itself to charges of being unfair and unbalanced, the Observer prints Froot Loopy goodness from the other side---to wit, the assertion by a fellow writing for the Islamic Political Party of America, that Muslims beat Columbus to the punch:

It is important for the American public to know that although this political movement by Muslims may be somewhat new, Muslims have been a part of the fabric of this society, in some fashion, since before Columbus. Muslim explorers visited the West Coast long ago. Arabic writings have been found in some caves in California. The name "California" comes from the Arabic word calif, meaning ruler or leader.

Actually, the name "California" comes from "Calafia" the queen of a fictional land of women warriors. I suppose it's possible that "Calafia" came from "Caliph": after all, Arabs occupied Spain for hundreds of years, until driven out in 1492, and many Arabic words entered the language.

I think I'll write the Observer on behalf of the lost continent of Mu.

Via the Lizard King.

Thursday, October 02, 2003


Those of you who follow the new Star Trek incarnation, Enterprise, but haven't seen the latest episode, might want to go away now, because there will be spoilers.

OK, so, Archer and the crew are looking for information about the Xindi, plus a way to synthesize the magic beans that will keep the space-time knotholes from screwing up the ship. They "accidentally" rescue a luscious slave girl, who turns out to be a Xindi spy. She has some sort of juju which turns her into an organic medical scanner---she can read people's insides and store the information.

This is handy to have. The Xindi want it because they're building a bioweapon that will wipe out humanity without having to go through the trouble of blowing up Earth. It's tricky to build a planet-busting weapon without busting the planet you're building it on.

She gets her info, and tries to return to the Xindi ship, but Archer is on to her, and has her thrown into the brig. So the Xindi board the Enterprise to get her back.

The Enterprise crew then put on The. Lamest. defense action since Dr. Smith was last in charge of the Jupiter II. You'd think that an airlock would be the easiest thing in the universe to defend. It's small, the enemy has to come through this tight space, and if you can break the seal, they all die. But the crew cannot manage this simple task. Three whole people gather to defend the first airlock, fire off a few rounds of comical, squeak-toy sound effects, then retreat.

The Xindi get to their spy in the brig. Archer gave instructions to the guards of the nature, "They will not get to her." To me, this means that if the Xindi do get in, the spy dies first. But no. The supposed defenders are nowhere to be seen when the Xindi come busting in.

Forget quagmire; our mission is an instant failure. Earth is doomed.

Fortunately for our heroes, however, they are up against an enemy even stupider than they are. The Xindi are running all over the ship at will, felling crew right and left, and it never occurs to them that they could just grab a couple of humans and they'd have their info. Hell, they didn't have to go through all this cloak and dagger crap, they could have just arranged to kidnap some humans at the last planet.

But I guess you couldn't really expect sense from a race that would toast Florida then retire to tinker with their weapon (so to speak) for another decade or so, secure in the knowledge that they sure showed those Earthmen.

There's a slight suggestion that she has sabotaged the Xindi's plans by giving them false info, but that's not at all clear.

As the Flea says, this starts out as a red-blooded, bare-chested, he-man episode of the original stripe. Kirk, though, would have done something boldly stupid, not cautiously stupid. Perhaps they (the writers) are still trying to recover from their "protocol"-obsessed Voyager days. They're lucky Field Marshall von Ashcroft doesn't have them taken out back and shot. I would have.

Flea also says, The Flea is still waiting for Starfleet-issue red-shirt uniforms. Last night one of those Marines they took along bought the farm, and I said, "Hey, where's his red shirt?" You have to watch for the silvery-black Marine uniforms.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Dissent Crushed, Film Suppressed at 11

Ah, yes, 'tis fall and the smell of the crushed blossoms of dissent wafts through the air, felling puppies and kitties.

British-born Alex "Who?" Kingston tells all to the Independent, in its fawning profile of her. (Seriously, I have never heard of this "leading light" of American TV.) Author James Rampton wastes no opportunity to grovel in penning this classic portrayal of the honest British entertainer forced by cruel circumstance to spend her days in the grueling sun, enduring pitiless luxury and the drooling, slope-browed locals, to pursue her craft in the belly of the Beast. Ah, but her purity is untouched:

Despite all those years surrounded by psycho-babbling lifestyle gurus, I'm mightily relieved to say that she has not gone all Californian on us. That is most obviously demonstrated by the actress's outrage that in the US virtually all criticism of Bush's policies has been deemed "unpatriotic" and suppressed.

Er, but James, that's so Hollywood!

Kingston also says,

Quite unprompted, midway through our interview she says that The Independent offers "the best journalism in the world". This is not, I hasten to add, just gratuitous flattery. It is expressed as part of the actress's deep concern about the state of the media in the US.


In addition, she is livid about the McCarthyite witch-hunting of anyone who dares voice criticisms of the US President. "It frustrates me," Kingston asserts. "And it's not just because I'm European - thousands of Americans share the same frustrations."

You know, every time I read something like this, I think, "Gosh, a lot of people are saying that. Maybe there's something to it. Perhaps, finally, this person will reveal the Truth! She will give an example of the excesses of the Bush administration! She will blow the whistle on Ashcroft's crushing of dissent!" Let's read:

"...A comic called Bill Maher hosted an irreverent current-affairs talkshow called Politically Incorrect, where celebs would come on and discuss topical subjects. In one edition, he wanted to provoke a debate, so he said that while the terrorists who had hijacked the planes on September 11 were many things, they weren't cowards. His show was instantly axed, and Maher lost his livelihood. Isn't he allowed to make an inflammatory statement in order to get a reaction?"

Phweet. OK, stand down red alert. Sound the all clear.

Ah, yes, Bill Maher. Said something that pissed off his sponsors (actually, he said that it was Americans who were cowardly), and his show went off the air instantly. I mean, sometime in the next nine minutes! No, wait, months. It was nine months. The episode in question aired on September 17, 2001, and (per the above Wikipedia link), Maher's show ended on June 16, 2002. The cancellation was announced about a month before.

His show was on the air for nine months after Fed Ex and Sears pulled their sponsorship. It was not suppressed by the Bush administration. As for Maher's "lost...livelihood", he seems to have found it again. He just had Michael Moore, Charles Barkley, and Aaron McGruder on his show (the fourth horse must've thrown a shoe). Oh, and he has a blog. Happy Day!

Given her big chance to reveal the McCarthy-ite nature of Bush's America, she has to trot out Bill Maher. If that's the best she's got, I think we can cancel that order of crosses.

But let's look at this part again:

"Isn't he allowed to make an inflammatory statement in order to get a reaction?"

This is exactly what he did. He did not try to "provoke a debate", he tried to get a reaction. He didn't say something inflammatory because he believed it; he did it to get a rise out of his audience. This is not debate, or dissent, this is infantile exhibitionism. This is the equivalent of going downstairs and shitting on the carpet in front of Mommy and Daddy's party guests. Why people pay for this sort of thing, from Maher or Stern or Limbaugh, I don't know.

But then, when Maher got more reaction than he bargained for, he whined that he was being "persecuted". How unfair, that people no longer want to pay to be offended!

So, Kingston is just another Hollywood nitwit who has somehow gotten the idea that she (and others like her) are owed a living, that their special specialness entitles them to live in luxury without actually having to please anyone for it. Why, they're doing us a favor by entertaining us! Surely anything they want to say should be OK by us.

Moving along in this tongue bath, we find that Kingston is starring at Boudica (or possibly Boadicea) in a new movie co-produced by WGBH. Kingston and Rampton are wriggling with glee, anticipating the American reaction to this film. For you see:

Many strands of Andrew Davies's biopic about the feisty Celtic warrior queen could have been ripped from today's headlines. The wily old writer's script is full of such current buzz-phrases as "brute force - it's the only language these savages understand," "read my lips," "client state" and "the peace process".

Ugh. I hate modern slang in historical movies. It sounds ignorant. Hell, it sounded ignorant when George Bush said "read my lips" the first time. Enjoy the farm-fresh "it's the only language these savages understand", which was not only in practically every movie set in colonial-era Anywhere, but was probably said by the Cro-Magnon of the Neanderthal. And I don't think the ancients really had the modern grasp of the "peace process".

"What you call terrorism," Prasutagus fumes, "we call defending our home." Prasutagus' even ballsier wife, Boudica (portrayed with characteristic spiritedness by Kingston) then wades in, urging her husband to resist the brutal invaders: "This is our land, and we'll fight for every last inch of it. If we die, we'll die a glorious death." Do these words sound at all familiar?


Oh thus be it ever
When free men shall stand
Between their loved homes
And the war's desolation... Thought not.

No, actually, it doesn't really sound familiar. Care to give us a hint?

The sheer topicality of this tale of a defiant people fighting back against an imperialist invader proved irresistible to Kingston. "Andrew [Davies], in his usual naughty way, draws modern parallels," laughs the 40-year-old actress..."He cheekily puts President Bush's words into the mouths of the Romans. In an early draft, the Emperor Nero even called his enemies 'the axis of evil.'

Tee hee!

"Given what's happening in the world at the moment, you could easily liken the Romans to the Americans. I'm certain that Andrew was influenced by world events as he was writing Boudica," she says, before adding with a mischievous smile: "I will be fascinated to see the American reaction to the film."

What if the reaction is that we can do without your snotty British arse on our TV screens, and send you back to enjoy the cold and damp, hmmmm? Then you can spend your time reflecting with satisfaction on your martyrdom.

Sadly, this will not come to pass.

But remember, "Boudica" on PBS---Must Miss TV!

(Via veteran Oppressor Tim Blair.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Patty Politics

Washington Senator Patty Murray is opposed to the president's request for $87 billion dollars for Iraq and Afghanistan (I didn't realize Afghanistan was included in that).

"We all understand the importance of helping the Iraqi people, but it need not come at the expense of our schools, roads, health care and jobs," Murray said in her party's weekly radio address.


"Every family in America understands the dangers of not balancing your checkbook," she said. "Not only will the president's budget deficit be a burden on future generations, but it is crowding investments we need to make in education, health care, transportation and security today."


"Investments will be made in America first, not last," Murray said.

Well, that's certainly a valid position. In fact, in normal times this would be my position, too.

However, it doesn't jibe with what Sen. Murray said last December, when she spoke to a group of high school students about Osama Bin Laden's popularity in the Arab world:

"We've got to ask, why is this man so popular around the world?" said Murray, according to the Vancouver Columbian newspaper. "Why are people so supportive of him in many countries that are riddled with poverty?"


Murray said, according to the Vancouver paper, that bin Laden has been "out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that."

"How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?" Murray asked.


Murray concluded the session with students by challenging them to consider alternatives to war, the Columbian reported. She said that while building up Third World nations is costly, war is expensive too.

This too is a valid position (even though this is known to some as "paying extortion"), though she was justly derided at the time for the remark about the "day care facilities" (and I derided her for a number of other things).

But these two positions are contradictory. Fine, fine, We Must Do More for the poor Third Worlders (and then they won't Hate Us). But when it comes time to actually put her money where her mouth is, Murray suddenly gets a case of America Firstitis.

I'm guessing this is explained by the fact that it's a Republican administration that wants the money. To hell with the Little Brown People. To hell even with national security, Murray-style (i.e. bribing people into not flying planes into our buildings). Anything to thwart George Bush.

(Latest Murray news via Best of the Web. Scroll down, because they put in permalinks only when they damn well please. Taranto didn't make a big enough deal out of this, so I thought I would.)

UPDATE: Extortion added 10/01.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Letter to a Legend

If this postcard crap bores you, at least read the part at the bottom after the row of stars.

Last Sunday I went to a stamp show and got a bunch of postcards. We came late, and I sat down at the first table I came to and didn't get up until we had to leave. Since it was near the end of the show, I got 30 postcards for $20, which seemed pretty good to me. The process of culling it down to only 30 cards was brutal.

But most of the cards in the boxes the dealer showed me were very old cards I didn't want, flowery things and Christmas cards from back in the '20s or so. There were a number of postcards with a Dutch theme---little caricatures of people in traditional Dutch clothing. The face of the cards would say something in a "Dutch" accent, e.g. "I am chust zo proud off you". I read somewhere that there were stereotypes of the Dutch in the early 20th century, which we have now lost. So perhaps simply being Dutch was funny in those days.

But I was looking for picture postcards, not cheap ethnic humor. Most of the ones I got this time were hand-tinted, and almost all of those were from Florida. Unfortunately, most of them were also unused, which makes them less interesting to me.

I'm really sorry that I can't post the card images, which would make these posts marginally more interesting.

The most interesting ones:

A modern postcard (only from '89!) portrays, Pedro, the giant neon sign from South Carolina's South of the Border. The card reads:

1. A Christmas Carol
2. Double Trouble
3. The Return of the Pink Panther
4. A Holiday Affair

Presumably these are all movies. It was sent to an Archway Cookie (mmm, cookies) sweepstakes contest, from a man in Florida.

(Postcards sent to contests fascinate me, don't know why.)

Another card shows a beautiful hand-tinted view of Apalachin, NY, and carries a rather snippy missive from a man writing to the Belmont Dispatch in Belmont, New York. He had asked for two copies of some ads (he was running?) and they only sent him one, so he's asking for an additional copy of each of the ads.

This was sent in July of 1958. This web page says that the Belmont Dispatch was under new management as of the previous month, so maybe they were not quite running smoothly. The web page says the Dispatch went belly-up in 1966, from lack of advertising. Or possibly from people wanting two damn copies of every ad they ran.

I was thrilled to get a card from pre-Castro Havana, a picture of the statue of Jose Marti. Except for some faint water stains the card's in good shape, with a Cuban stamp, which was never cancelled. It's dated "3-22nd", but there's no year.

Many of the postcards I saw bore exquisite copperplate handwriting. This person's writing is some of the worst I've seen. I can decipher the fact that he or she took the S.S. Florida to Havana and "He had int. flu all last wk--". Much of it, I decided, is abbreviations. Someone he/she saw in St. Petersburg had intestinal flu the week before. Way to share, honey. The card seems to be addressed to a couple in Haasick New York. That's it, no street address, and of course no zip code. There isn't a Haasick New York. Might be Haosick (which doesn't exist either), Gaasick, Saasick, or Seasick, for all I know.

No! It's Hoosick! I found the name of the man it was addressed to, buried in the Hoosick Rural Cemetery. Died in 1959. Perhaps of eye strain, if he had to read too many of these postcards. (Man, the web is awesome.) Unfortunately, this only pegs the card as being sent before 1959, which one sorta guessed.

The next card is another hand-tinted baby, of "Hotel Row" in Miami. (A google search of "hotel row" miami postcard turned up a thumbnail, but the original image isn't there.) It was sent in 1943 by a private in the Army. I can't make out his name---something like Noodard. Sent to a couple in Albany, New York, it reads:

"Hello folks---Didn't ever think I'd get this far away. Seems[?] awfully good to be here though with Kip[?]. I'm not too crazy about the weather - at least what I have seen. See you later, Maria and Kip." So I'm pretty sure that "Kip" was really Pvt Noodard (or whatever), and Maria his wife. A homesick girl. Wonder what the weather was like, that she didn't like it. (In Miami? In April?) It's in great condition; the recipients must have kept it carefully. Too bad I can't decipher the name.

Then there's a postcard of a large, red butte in Monument Valley. It's not one of the famous ones. The picture's kind of nice: intense red butte, blue sky, gnarled tree in the foreground. This one's had liquid spilled on it while fairly new, because half of the writing on the back is smeared. It's postmarked November of 1958.

The message itself is vaguely interesting (the senders apparently had to be lead by someone else---evidently a stranger---through Kansas City, for some reason). The really interesting thing is the little credit blurb at the bottom: "KODACHROME by BARRY GOLDWATER".

Ha ha! Barry Goldwater! Well, I'm sure that there is more than one Barry Goldwater. Maybe, but this is probably that Barry Goldwater, given that he was an avid photographer. In fact, in 1976 he published a book of Southwestern photographs, Barry Goldwater And The Southwest, and last year Arizona State University commissioned a photomosaic portrait of Goldwater, created from his own Arizona photographs. (Why is he snarling?)

The card was published by Bob Petley, better known for his comic Western postcards.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now, you all must BOW DOWN before me, because I have procured a helping of history, a lagniappe of legend. I bought a hand-tinted postcard of this mountain in Leadville, Colorado. It's called the Mount of the Holy Cross, and as you see, the crevices form a visible cross when the snow has nearly melted. Here's a picture of the actual postcard (with brighter colors than mine), but it's for sale and the image might disappear at some time in the future.

Now, the subject is not the interesting part, oh no. Nor is the sender, a lady from Liberty, Missouri. No, the interesting part is the recipient: Craig Shergold. Craig was a sick little boy who grew up to be a legend. He is the patron saint of alt.folklore.urban.

Once upon a time, Craig Shergold, an English boy, was dying. He had an inoperable brain tumor, and before he died, he wanted to make it into the Guiness Book of World Records for most get-well cards. So the word was put out through various means, and eventually he did make it into the book with 16 million cards. He set this record in 1989; the previous record was just over a million.

The call for cards attracted the attention of John Kluge, who had Craig brought to the US for treatment. He recovered, and now is about 23 years old.

But that didn't stop the cards coming. Well-meaning people kept urging others to send cards, especially to the Children's Wish Foundation (which sponsored Craig's quest), and the Make-a-Wish Foundation (both URLs refer to the "chain letters" section of each web site).

Now, Children's Wish is located in Atlanta, where this card was sent. It's addressed to "Craig Shirgle" at 58 Perimeter Circle in Atlanta. Children's Wish used to be on Perimeter Center East. This site shows several examples of pleas for cards, with many different spellings of Craig's name, and different addresses for the cards to be sent. (None of them is 58 Perimeter, but some are 32 Perimeter, which I did see in the dealer's stack. I also spotted Craig Shirgold and Greg something.). They also give Craig's age variously as 7 and 17, and at least one has the classic Keen[e], NH, variation, as well as a confusion between get well, birthday, and business cards.

Anyhow, this particular card says:

Dear Craig -

Wanting to show you a cross on a mountain made of snow. Christ will heal if you will call His name and we will all pray as you do. Get well soon.

The front of the card has, printed at the bottom, "Only believe, Love Ya". The sender has also stuck a gold address sticker on the front of the card.

The postmark seems to be 1999, but given that it has 15 cents postage on it, I'm guessing it's 1989 (that was the postcard rate then). Which means that it might have been a genuine original card (this FAQ says the record was broken in November, 1989, and the card was sent in June of that year). I don't know whether the fact that it's sent to the wrong name at (probably) the wrong address would invalidate it. But if it was good, why didn't it go on to Britain?

So, WOW! I'm nearly faint at the excitement of it all! I chose this card out of several because it was an old-fashioned hand-tinted one (but maybe not---those are usually linen; this only looks linen---the material seems to be ordinary cardboard). But now I'm kicking myself because I didn't pick up another that had Craig's name correctly spelled.

This site is chock full of modern info, including, of course, the Snopes page. Snopes says that the Children's Wish Foundation had to move from that address because of the cards, and that the Shergolds' old address was given its own post code. An estimated 200 million cards have been received.

And now I got one.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

The Forbidden Island

In a previous post, I said that Niles and I had visited all the Hawaiian Islands. I also said that this was not strictly true.

We have not been to Kahoolawe. This is the smallest of the islands, and is uninhabitable (has no fresh water). For years it was used as a bombing range by the Navy. This has stopped (probably under pressure), and now the Navy is cleaning it up. It's supposed to be open to visitors by 2005, but the Navy is apparently way behind schedule on that.

While it's allegedly off-limits right now, we did see an ad for a weekend trip there, but it emphasized that this was for serious students (though not necessarily scholars) of Hawaiian culture.

The other island we've not visited is the last (major) island in the chain, the island of Niihau. Here's a fellow from Oregon, who had some very nice photos from his helicopter tour of Kauai, writing about Niihau:

Only Native Hawaiians are allowed to live on Niihau, the last real island of any size in the Hawaiian chain. Past Niihau, it is thousands of miles of empty ocean before you reach Japan. I read that Niihau is a place of pride for Native Hawaiians, where they live very close to their ancestral roots and in a self-chosen life-style that some would term "primitive."

While I was on Kauai, tourists like myself heard Niihau referred to as "The Forbidden Island." That's just corny, in my opinion. To my way of thinking, the preservation of Niihau by Native Hawaiians is motivated by a similar spiritual need and an abiding love of the Land...

Awwww...isn't that nice? However, it's not exactly the full truth. Niihau is owned---lock, stock, and beach---by the Robinson family. You travel to Niihau only at the pleasure of the Robinsons, and generally non-native Hawaiians (however that may be defined) are not allowed.

Here's a little write-up by a man calling himself "Uncle Charlie", in response to some questions from a college student who needed to write a diversity paper for his English class. Niihau is only a part of his answer.

Uncle Charlie puts forth his version of how the island was "stolen" by the ancestors of the Robinsons, when private property and money greed first came to Hawaii in the 1840s. He says that Niihau has the most pure-blooded Hawaiians of any island, and Hawaiian is spoken almost exclusively there. He also says that the Robinsons treat Niihau like a Southern plantation.

These two facts are not unrelated.

Here's Keith Robinson's version---not of the past, but of the present. He claims that the residents of Niihau are given free housing, mutton, pork, and transportation. He hires preferentially from among the indigenous population, and employs 2-3 times as many people as he needs.

Robinson also admits there are some behavioral restrictions on his "guests", and of course immigration and tourism are restricted.

(In the interest of accuracy, I'll point out that Niihau has a very limited tourism. Niihau Helicopters will fly you from Kauai to Niihau, where you set down on the beach somewhere far from the village. It's very expensive. There's also a much more expensive hunting package. This is all done with the consent of the Robinsons, of course.)

You can take that free mutton and pork with as much salt as you like, but it seems pretty clear that, if Niihau's residents are living a more traditional lifestyle, it's because the Robinsons are subsidizing it. Would there be much enthusiasm for living this lifestyle (as opposed to knowing about it), if it weren't for the free pork and housing? Or, to be blunt, if the Robinsons did not enforce it?

I'm guessing there wouldn't be.

And this is the problem. To lead an "authentic" indigenous lifestyle, even in blessed Hawaii, involves authentic starvation, authentic disease, authentic ignorance, and (at the very least) authentic motonony---unless you have someone like the Robinsons to subsidize it, and to minimize "contamination" with outside cultures.

This always seemed to escape those earnest souls who burbled on about the "authentic" Aboriginal lifestyle in Australia. They apparently (probably vaguely) imagined that Aborigines engaged in their authentic lifestyle could nevertheless live side by side in equality with the rest of Australian society---that along with the lawyers and plumbers there would be a profession of hunter-gatherers, which would pursue their mighty quarry along the Eastern Distributor, occasionally holding up traffic. Hunter-gathering would pay a living wage (Heaven forfend that they would be marginalized), and of course they'd have access to health care and their children would attend university, probably majoring in Paleolithic Studies.

Assuming this will not happen, though, the only alternative to either authentic starvation or cultural contamination is the kind of subsidized authenticity the Robinsons (supposedly) provide on Niihau. The number of such private benefactors is very small, though, and even the Robinsons doubt their ability to continue. They are talking about selling Niihau. (Note, though, that this article is from 1998. Keith Robinson's editorial, cited above, is from the previous year.)

Imagine that the Robinsons sold out, and the state bought Niihau as a sort of cultural refuge. Outsiders would be kept away, and Hawaiians wishing to pursue their indigenous culture would be welcomed. I wonder how many would flock to embrace a lifestyle without electricity, running water, or TV. Of course, a few will be happy to do that, but I don't think they'll be happy to starve or get sick. And at any rate many other people in society will not tolerate such poverty.

So they'll make arrangements similar to what the Robinsons are doing on Niihau, providing some very basic services, and otherwise leave the people to their own devices, while insulating them from outside contact. This differs from an Indian reservation, where outsiders are (generally) not forbidden. In short, you'll have a human wildlife preserve. (If you let outsiders in for controlled visits, you'll have a human zoo.)

Perhaps this is what the good ladies in this article are thinking (entire article can be found here.) Perhaps they aren't really thinking that they'll let those poor people starve. Someone (airy wave of the hand here) will make sure that they get enough to eat while they're whacking at the soil with their indigenous sticks. And we can lean back in air-conditioned comfort, secure in the knowledge that an indigenous "culture" is being preserved, even if the people are miserable.

See also this Den Beste post, especially the part about the humans being just another animal in the park.

I don't really have an opinion on the Robinsons' operation of Niihau; I just don't know enough about it. I do, however, have an opinion on those who would romanticize the "authentic" lifestyle while refusing to live it themselves, especially when it comes to restricting development so they can have a warm fuzzy feeling that cultural authenticity is preserved, even if it means the people live in authentic misery.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Tedious Tidbits

Here are some more tidbits about Hawaii.

  • On Maui, everyone drives a uniform 15 mph over the speed limit.

  • Sugar cane is a major crop on Maui, and part of the harvesting process involves burning the cane. I met a man whose wife had respiratory problems, and she was so sensitive to the burning cane that she had to leave polluted old Maui and return to clean, breathable Houston!

  • While we were taking in one of our 475 viewings of Maui from Lanai, Niles noticed that some of the clouds hanging over Maui looked more like smoke. This turned out to be a cane fire that got out of control, burning 1,000 acres and forcing the evacuation of kittens, puppies, and golfers. That was on the 17th, I think. On the 18th we saw a Chinook helicopter delivering water to the burned area (which didn't seem to be burning at the time, though it may have been smoldering still).

  • On the northwestern shore of Maui there is a neat, bright green house with a crudely lettered sign out front reading, "It's Hawaiian Island not Haole Island." "Haole" is the Hawaiian word for Caucasians. (Means, if I recall, "dead", because the first Hawaiians to encounter Europeans found them pale as the dead.) When I first heard of the word it was not seen as derogatory, but I heard somewhere that this is changing. There are rednecks in every culture.

  • According to the letters in the Maui News, they are very big on Wesley Clark in (heavily Democratic) Hawaii, regarding him as kind of a savior.

  • On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be much quality control over the letters in the News, as exemplified by this mid-September specimen (which I cannot get a link for):

    The greed on Maui is a sad thing. It is sad because, like so many pests, it was brought here...It gets passed down from the avaricious class through the puissant politicos all the way to the landlord on his small acreage...The gargoyle of greed is the most hideous in myth and as the true picture of one's soul...

    This goes on for three paragraphs before revealing that the author is beefing about high rental prices. Ladies and gentleman: Maui's very own Mark Morford.

  • A POEM

    A fact so odd
    It makes me tingle:
    Hawaii's governor
    Is Linda Lingle.

    (Even odder: she's a Republican.)

  • The jeep trails on Lanai are studded with pieces of black material roughly the size of your hand, which flutter and flap in the wind. The first time I saw them I thought they were birds or little animals in the road. But they are little bits of black plastic mulch, which is used in planting pineapples. The pineapples have been gone for about a decade, but the plastic bits remain.

  • The owner of one of Lanai's shops told us that whenever he needed anything done locally (e.g., getting the car fixed) he let his wife handle it, because the locals didn't like dealing with a white male. "I have two strikes against me," he said airily, "I'm white, and I'm a man." He did not say this as a complaint, but as a perfectly natural fact. I couldn't help hearing another voice: "Oh, those ol' men down to the shop won't listen to no woman! So I jes' let Billy Bob handle that sort of thing." His (at least part native Hawaiian) wife dismissed this with a fond, "Oh, don't listen to him. He knows that's not true."

    I still can't decide whether to be more appalled at 1) his assumed helplessness, 2) his apparent self loathing, 3) the insult offered to his neighbors and his wife's people (I mean, he is declaring that they're racists, right? And racism == bad, right?), or 4) the bad advertisement he's blithely giving the island. I suppose it's possible to stay cocooned in your ritzy hotel and never interact with the locals, but otherwise you do not like to wonder if they're spitting in your food. "Way to sabotage our livelihood, honey."---that's what his wife should be saying to him.

  • This same fellow told another customer proudly that Lanai City was one of Hawaii's few "planned" communities. He apparently felt this was a Good Thing. I guess it didn't occur to him that it was planned by an eeeeevil corporation.

  • The latest (Aug. 15) edition of the Lanai Times was placed in our hotel room. The main story was about how David H. Murdock, the Chairman and CEO of Castle & Cooke, Inc. (which owns 98% of Lanai), "spontaneously" took the bandstand at the 11th annual Pineapple Festival to harangue the islanders to get busy and make the island profitable. The Times doesn't put it that way, of course. It dutifully reports:

    He said that he...hoped to see more locally produced items for sale on Lana'i and at the next festival...He would like to see more greens from our gardens and more gardens under cultivation. He mentioned that all of us could be artists and produce art that would be known as coming from Lana'i, and that he would like to see more art created on the island.

    "Or I'll sell you all to the glue factory!"

  • Just inside the entrance to the Garden of the Gods there was an arrangement of small white rocks that we almost overlooked. It was on a nearly-horizontal surface at about head level, so it was difficult to see there was actually an arrangement there. But it was deliberately arranged. It spelled out words:


    It wasn't until the next day that we realized who Murdock was.

  • Our 1989 edition of Hidden Hawaii by Ray Riegert is organized by island, with each island described by certain information---Hotels, Restaurants, Sightseeing, Shopping, Nightlife, etc. When it comes to Shopping, Riegert says of Lanai, You're in the wrong place, I'm afraid. We rode the ferry back to Maui with two women who said they'd only been a day on Lanai and had spent the entire time shopping. They each had a couple big shopping bags. I have no idea what they found to buy.

  • I could tell you the story of the cafe which ran out of pizza dough so couldn't make our pizza and Niles came home empty handed thinking it was closing at 8 so we went to another cafe that was supposedly open 'til 9 but they actually closed at 8 and we drove around the park twice until we realized the first one was still open and they made us a darned good Philly cheese sammich and gave us a free empenada that was not bad. But it's a boring story. Instead, I will note that all good Hawaiian cafes offer macaroni salad. Hawaiians love the stuff. To me, the taste of Hawaii is macaroni salad and guava juice. Mmmm mmm.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Adventures in Paradise

Woof, got in early Friday morning after about 36 hours without sleep. Slept 12 hours Friday night, ten hours last night.

And now for a boring account of our trip.

As I reported before, we were on Maui. I've been to Hawaii several times (always on business---this is the first time I hadn't been on a business trip: it was Niles's business trip), but never to Maui. It's a nice island. The biggest town, Kahului, has a K-Mart and a Borders (and I think a Wal-Mart), plus other big chains. (Yes, this is important.) Yet it's not impossible to find a semi-rural home not far away. This isn't as true on the other islands (except Hawaii). Lanai, Molokai, and (to a large extent) Kauai are very rural, whereas Oahu is basically all Honolulu (except for the North Shore, which I remember being quite a distance from town).

Other than that, I'm having a hard time thinking of something exciting to say about Maui. I went to the Iao Needle. a pointy rock low in the West Maui Mountains. It's very refreshing to go up there after the hot lowlands. (Very mosquito-y, though.) That page loads kind of slow, but it's a very good picture. It's difficult to get good pictures of the Needle, as it's often foggy, and I had to wait quite a while to get any sun on it. When I was there, the cliffs behind the Needle were in shadow, and clouds boiled over their tops, giving the place an especially primeval look.

I went up the volcano Haleakala three times, in all, and it was too cloudy to see the crater each day. A construction worker remembered me from the day before, and said that it was usually "wide open". The second day half the summit was occasionally clear. That day I got a sunburn. I got sunburn in the fog. The third day you could see everything but down into the crater itself. Once, we noticed that Haleakala was so unusually cloud-free that you could see the telescopes on its summit. That was from our plane, waiting to take off for Houston. Of course.

From Maui we went to the island of Lanai (map here). Lanai means "hump" in Hawaiian, and it is indeed hump-shaped. A "lanai" is also the Hawaiian vernacular for a porch or patio. Lanai used to be owned almost entirely by Dole Pineapple, but foreign competition canned the pineapples (har!), and now it's owned by Castle & Cooke, real estate developers. C&C has built two "exclusive" resorts on the island, turning the Pineapple Island into the "Private Island".

So, for 350 smackers per night (for the cheapest room), you can stay at the Lodge at Koele, getting away from everyone---except the 249 other suckers laying down that kind of cash, plus 102 more at the Manele Bay Hotel. Golf is a big deal on Lanai now, with each hotel having a golf course: "The Experience at Koele" and "The Challenge at Manele". (I wonder if there's a big future in thinking up golf course names: "The Epiphany at Pebble Beach", "The Orgasm at Torrey Pines", "Satori at Augusta"...)

Niles and I stayed at the only other hotel on the island, the Hotel Lanai. It was merely expensive, not breathtakingly expensive. It was built in the 1920s as as housing for visiting Dole executives. It's the example of the kind of luxury you have to pay plenty to endure these days. The hotel was beautifully kept up and charmingly decorated, but did not have a TV, air conditioning, fridge, or coffee maker---things that would make Joe Sixpack Tourist reject a much cheaper hotel on Maui (or in Fresno). Normally that would include us, but of course this was different, on Lanai.

We don't golf, so we had to have something else to do. There are only three paved roads on the island, so we rented a jeep to go exploring on the various jeep trails. The jeep came from Dollar, which has a ramshackle office in the island's only gas station. The agent asked Niles, "Redoryellow?" Niles didn't understand he was being asked a question. "What color do you want?" I clarified. He didn't care, so I promptly said, "Yellow." This becomes important later.

Lanai is not your tropical paradise type of Hawaiian island. The ferry from Maui docks at Manele Bay, and the road from there up to Lanai City, in the central part of the island, winds through dry scrubland with few trees. But once you get up in the central plateau (where the pineapples once grew), you see the island's central mountain, which is lush and green, and the zillions of Cook pines (much like Norfolk pines) lining the road and on up the mountain. These are very dark and pointy trees, and they give the center of the island a majestic, even forbidding, look.

The business district of Lanai City consists of four streets around a central park. Almost all the businesses are in ordinary houses, many of which are painted in bright colors. There are something like three groceries (plus the convenience store at the gas station), three cafes (all of which close early), and a few other things. This part of the city is filled with pines.

Our first night we headed toward our point of greatest interest, the Garden of the Gods. This is a very dry area of weird rock formations. Most of them, I'm guessing, were constructed by (recent) homo sapiens. But the scenery is very colorful, and is reminiscent of Death Valley, with splotches of pink, maroon, green, and yellow among the red stones and sand. We passed on at first, planning to get down to Polihua Beach and then back up to the Garden by sunset, when it's most striking.

Polihua is indeed a nice beach, but swimming is discouraged because of strong currents. The striking thing was that there was this huge beach and we were the only ones there. As per the advice on our map, we drove down to one end of the beach track, where we were ATTACKED BY BEES. We pulled up to the end of the road and suddenly there were hundreds---well, dozens---well, a couple dozen---bees swarming about the jeep. We had to pull away and drive to the other end of the road to escape them.

My theory is that they took our yellow jeep for the Great Bee, the God of the Bees, He who is called Buzz, and they came to worship, and perhaps sting to death these infidel defilers inside. Niles thought they were just used to people bearing foodstuffs.

On the way back up to the Garden he said, "Why did you pick yellow for the jeep?" I said, "Er, well, Meryl Yourish has a yellow jeep"---truly, that's the first thing I thought when I saw the yellow jeeps---"and besides, I figured yellow would be easier for other drivers to see."

The next day we went up the Munro Trail, which leads to the top of the central mountain. It's named for "visionary" Kiwi George Munro, who planted the Cook pines. The trail has many great views. Unfortunately, they're all the same great view. Almost immediately on the trail we came upon a swell view of Molokai! Wow! And a little further on there was another terrific view. Of Molokai! And Maui! Cool! "Hey, Niles," I said, "there's a microwave tower above us." "Oh, that's probably the link to Maui...which means there should be a really great view!" And there was! Of Maui!

Occasionally the views of Molokai and Maui would be sprinkled with views of lush green hills covered with pointy pines. There were also some nice flowering plants. I was very surprised to see ohia, the volcano flower. I don't believe I've seen it anywhere other than in Volcanoes National Park, on Hawaii, but then I don't get around that much. It was cloudy at the summit, but on the descent we saw some nice views of the city below. Unfortunately, that's about the variety of views we'd be able to see: city, Molokai, and Maui. Again, very nice, but a bit repetitive.

My main fear was that we'd encounter another jeep on the trail and have to back up to some pullout to let them pass. This never happened. We saw maybe half a dozen other vehicles, but only one came up behind us, and we were already pulled out and we let them pass. Otherwise, we were always at a pullout when someone came by. We were always stopped at a pullout. It took us more than four hours to get through the 2-3 hour trail.

The rental office did not offer insurance, but thoughtfully kept a little photo album full of previous jeep disasters, and the kind of prices they would entail, from extra cleaning ($65) to major dents ($1000) to rolling the jeep ($5500). I am happy to say that we did not get lost or stuck or break ourselves or the jeep. From looking at their photo album, you would think this was little short of a miracle.

The shortest jeep trek was out to see some petroglyphs, which was just "a short walk through the grass" from the road. Well, we got to the petroglyph place and found that a) it was a short vertical ascent through the grass up a hill, and b) the ancient Hawaiians knew Latin letters and naughty words. Hmmm. Turns out the locals (well, presumably) used a nearby non-petroglyph boulder for their graffiti needs. But we found this out because Niles the Intrepid scaled the heights to examine them and found the real petroglyphs. Since I have an unreliable knee, I used my trusty zoom lens to photograph them from the comfort of the jeep.

And that's about it. We could have used another day on Lanai, since there was a couple of things we didn't get to, but only a couple. So why did we go to Lanai, of all places? Because we've already been everywhere else[*]. Lanai was the only one of the islands we hadn't visited. We've done 'em all. No need to go back to Hawaii now!

(Ha ha. Right.)

[*] In a future post we will see that this is not, strictly speaking, true.