Ka Lae, Hawaii, and Other National Extremes

What’s our southernmost point? That’s a loaded question.

If I were to ask you what the southernmost point in the United States was, many of you would assume that it’s Key West, Florida. Well, it is and it isn’t. Mostly, it isn’t.

It’s rather a loaded question, as it happens. We Americans get very competitive about our extreme points. (The facts below are thanks to Wikipedia, that font of all human knowledge. Financially support it if you can.)

Recently I stood on the southernmost point in the 50 states, which is Ka Lae, Hawaii. Ka Lae is Hawaiian for “the point”, so it’s also known as South Point. I got there after having first passed through Nāʻālehu, Hawaii, which is the southernmost town in the 50 states. I did that after having visited Hilo, Hawaii, the southernmost place with a population over 25,000 in the 50 states. And to get to the Big Island to experience these “southernmosts”, I had to change planes in Honolulu, which is the southernmost U.S. state capital and the southernmost incorporated place in the 50 states. The Big Island of Hawaii also happens to be the most extensive, and also the tallest, island in all U.S. territory, and in fact is the tallest island in the entire Pacific Ocean. So there.

And here I was, thinking this post would be simple. Silly me. It turns out that these southernmost points depend upon if you’re considering unincorporated territories, such as American Samoa, or just incorporated territories, such as Palmyra Atoll, or only the 50 states, or only the continental United States.

The southernmost city of more than 250,000 residents in all U.S. territory is San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’ve also been there. Florida only starts coming into play when you look for “the southernmost point in the 48 contiguous states occasionally above water at low tide.” That “place” is called Western Dry Rocks, and I think that’s stretching the whole southern extremes thing to the breaking point. (By the way, Key West can take credit for being the southernmost incorporated place in the contiguous 48 states. And I’ve been there, too.)

When you get to the Easternmost and Westernmost extremes, it gets even worse. Are we talking about direction of travel or longitude? Are we talking about the first sunrise or sunset in a U.S. territory? The Prime Meridian and the International Date Line also throw a spanner in the works.

Don’t even get me started about what constitutes the highest and lowest points, and the “pole of inaccessibility”, which is the place most distant from ocean access. You also have to take geographic centers with a grain of salt. Visit that Wikipedia page for some enlightenment regarding extreme points. (I was amused to discover that I work in the northernmost city of more than 500,000 residents but less than a million residents in the United States, which is Seattle, Washington.)

I have no idea why all things extreme seem to be so important to us, but there you have it.

Now that I’ve boggled your mind, I’ll tell you what the southernmost point in the 50 states is like. First impressions of Ka Lae, Hawaii: It’s as windy as all holy hell. These short videos taken by Dear Husband will give you an impression of how windy that is.

I don’t think I could live down there or I’d lose my mind from the unrelenting noise. It’s so windy, in fact, that the area hosts a wind farm. It’s so windy that what few trees trees there are wind up looking like they’re sporting a Donald Trump comb over.

In 1964, the whole area was designated a National Historic District called South Point Complex. When I came upon the plaque, I discovered that at least one person isn’t very happy about that. Later, we came across other monuments which I assume were put up by native Hawaiians. One of them said, “Hawaii is not America.” Another said, “We’re still here.”

Indeed, the locals have much to be testy about. This map of the big island, which shows you how much land is owned by rich white men and corporations, is similar to the map of every island, and it’s kind of sickening to think about. Colonialism in its purest, most unpalatable form.

Ka Lae is also home to the ugliest lighthouse on earth, in my opinion. It’s a 32 foot concrete tower. I think the southernmost point in the 50 states deserves better than that.

The area is also an archaeological site where it’s believed the Polynesians first landed in Hawaii. It is home to the ruins of an ancient Hawaiian temple, and a fishing shrine. You can see holes in the rock ledges that ancient Hawaiians used to moor their canoes, so they could take advantage of the excellent fishing grounds without drifting out to sea.

This area is still known for great fishing, because it’s the point where two ocean currents converge. That also means that the water is really choppy at all times. The green structure atop the 40 foot cliff that you see in the photo below is where people like to jump into the ocean. But it’s a really, really, REALLY bad idea.

If you jump off this cliff, you might meet the fate of Chief Halaea, who was carried out to sea here. The strong current that caused his death is named after him. (For future reference, Dear Husband, please do not name the thing that kills me after me.) Even if you survive the jump and the current, you could easily be dashed up against the rocks by a wave, or find yourself incapable of climbing out of the water, thus eventually drowning from exhaustion and/or hypothermia.

And then there’s the fact that this is the most garbage-strewn coast in the entire state, again because of the confluence of two currents. And it’s all but impossible to clean this mostly inaccessible shoreline, so it’s pretty gross down there. (I’m glad I didn’t know that during my visit, and even more grateful that you can’t really see much of the debris from the cliff top.)

Speaking of garbage, the state of Hawaii is deep inside the Subtropical Convergence Zone, and shares that zone with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which I’ll be writing about in another post. Fortunately, one of the most dense concentrations of garbage currently extends about 100 to 600 miles to the north of the state. (Yep. That big.) That patch is growing at an alarming rate. The idea that gorgeous views like this could someday be a thing of Hawaii’s past is heartbreaking to contemplate.

But my most lasting impression of South Point is that when you look south, toward the vast, churning Pacific, with nothing, nothing at all, on the horizon, you really understand what it’s like to be completely and utterly isolated. You also fully comprehend the vastness of our planet. Kudos to the ancient Polynesians for even finding these islands. For their efforts and their bravery, their descendants should own every square inch of this state, and then decide whether they want to remain a part of a country that stole their land in the first place. They may not have big industry, but I think the 20 million tourists that visit each year (but less than 3 million during the pandemic, unfortunately) would keep them afloat.

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What Is a Typical American?

Please know that we are not our politicians.

During a recent commute, I was thinking about the fact that people from all over the world read this blog. I’m rather proud of that. I’d like to think that my random musings give people some insight into the fact that not all Americans fit into the current stereotype.

If you’ve never been to the United States, and formed your opinion about this country based on presidential tweets or the news cycle on any given day in the past several years, I’d be rather ashamed at the conclusions you might be drawing about us as people.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that all our news is fake. In fact, I think that most of it is not. But like news everywhere, it tends to focus on the extreme, the lunatic fringe, the dramatic, negative, headline-grabbing insanity that sells subscriptions and gains followers.

The first thing I’d like you to know is that we are not our politicians, just as you probably don’t always agree with your own political figures much of the time. The insanity that comes out of our capitol these days is not reflective of the vast majority of us.

Most of us actually believe that our current gun situation is insane and needs some form of regulation. Most of us believe that we incarcerate way, way, way too many people. Most of us really do know that global warming exists, and we desperately want to do something about it. Most of us think that our health care system is cruel and unjust. Most of us do not agree with the way we currently treat immigrants, the homeless, and the mentally ill in this country.

This nation’s political stance on all of the above is a source of shame and outrage. I wish I could say that our system was actually democratic and reflective of we, the people, but it is, in fact, rigged for the rich and powerful, and they have no one’s best interests at heart but their own. That’s a source of shame, too.

I wish there were some way you could get to know an individual American. Most of us would never think to chant, “lock her up” or “send her back”. The average American doesn’t have a violent bone in his or her body. 99.9999 percent of us would never use an automatic weapon in a school. While we are not perfect (who is?) we are, I truly believe, mostly very compassionate, and willing to help people in need, rather than hurt them or separate them from their families.

While we do have quite a bit of work to do in terms of racial bias, I sincerely believe that people who lead with hate do not represent the vast majority of us. We feel that selfishness is an ugly trait, as is greed. Just about everyone I know is entirely too busy trying to live his or her own life to interfere in the lives of others.

It’s true that there’s no such thing as a typical American, just as there’s no such thing as a typical Italian or a typical Nigerian or a typical Korean. We may come in all shapes and sizes and colors, but I think that most human beings have this in common: we struggle to take good care of our loved ones, and do the best that we can to be the best people that we can be.

So please don’t judge us too harshly. We have limited control over our country’s reputation, and that hurts us as much as it probably horrifies you. Just try to remember that on an individual basis, kindness and love still exist here. They really do.

They just rarely get tweeted about.

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Culture Shock Light

Having travelled to 22 countries, I have come to expect a certain amount of culture shock. In fact, I kind of look forward to it. It’s half the fun. I enjoy having my perspectives challenged, and it’s exciting to see how I’ll react to being thrust out of my comfort zone.

As strange as this may sound, I tend to struggle most with this when visiting our neighbor to to the north: Canada. I spent a great deal of time pondering this as I drove up to Vancouver from Seattle recently.

Of all the countries in the world, I tend to assume that Canada is the most like the US.  And we do have a lot in common. But there are some extraordinary differences as well, and because we are so similar, those differences are all the more jarring to me.

Even the sights are “same same, but different.” They have Starbucks and IKEA and Safeway and all those familiar brands you come to expect. But interspersed with those things are these other places that I’m never sure about. What do they sell? I dunno.

And then there are those unexpected turns of phrase that suddenly make you feel like you’re speaking two different languages.

“That’s me done.”

“Huh?”

“That’s. Me. Done. With lunch. I can’t eat any more.”

“Oh.”

Many of the traffic signs are identical to ours, except when they aren’t. And what’s with the flashing green lights at some intersections, but not others? I actually had to Google that so as not to get myself killed. Apparently it means something different, depending upon which province you are in. That would never fly in the US.

The people in Canada seem to have held on to a certain courtesy, dignity, tolerance, cooperation and decorum that Americans have shed as if it were dead skin. We must seem like the crazy relatives that you only subject yourself to at weddings and major holidays. The rest of the time, you just shake your head and sigh.

(And before you mention this in the comments, I realize that in order to even write this post I have to make some sweeping generalizations. I get that no two people are alike. But I think this is an interesting path of inquiry, however unscientific it may be.)

The biggest difference between our two countries, I think, is one of awareness. I’d be willing to bet that most Americans can go years, decades, without giving Canada a thought. I wonder how many of us can even find Canada on a map. (I bet I could get an answer via Google, but I’d be too ashamed, I suspect, of the results.)

On the other hand, Canadians are painfully aware of us. They read our media. They watch PBS. The ravings of our current president impact them quite a bit. Most Canadians think about us every single day. So there’s that.

The impression that I get is that Americans assume they are envied by everybody, including Canadians. But in fact, from talking to the people I’ve met, most Canadians are befuddled by our pride in our military might, our rampant patriotism, our greed, and our distrust of our own government.

Canadians have a great deal more social support, and don’t seem to question the importance of it. They would be shocked if they had to pay a doctor. They are confident in their single payer system, and really don’t understand why we struggle with this concept.

I absolutely love visiting Canada, but I think I need to stop being surprised when I’m reminded I’m not home. I need to let Canada be Canada, and stop trying to force it into my little American box. Because let’s face it: At this time in our history, why on earth would they want to be there in the first place?

Canada_and_USA_Flag

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How Lucky are We?

Can you imagine living in a country where you are in constant fear of having your door kicked in? How about living in a place where your neighbors can and will threaten your life and no one will protect you? Coming from my place of white privilege, I can’t even conceive of an existence in which I do not feel safe. It never would occur to me to worry that I couldn’t keep my family intact.

How lucky we are to live in America, right? Well, some of us, at least. Because I’ve been talking about America. Trump’s America.

Even as you read this, many of your neighbors do not feel safe. You are much, much more likely to be raided by ICE or incarcerated in this country than you are to be harmed by a terrorist. That’s even if you are someone who has been contributing to the economy for decades and have harmed no one in your entire life.

As noted in this story from Public Radio International, there has been a sharp rise in immigrants fleeing across the border from the United States to Canada in recent months. Winter months. These people are willing to risk frostbite to get away from us. From us. You can see pictures of some of these people in this article from The Guardian.

We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I am so ashamed.

The only thing I know to do is add my tiny little voice to the many others who are saying, “This is not who we are.”

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Why I Could Never Be President

Whenever I see Donald Trump make a stupid, insane, divisive, ignorant and/or racist remark on camera, I tend to shout at the screen, “That psychopath should never be president!” It actually terrifies me that he’s even gotten this close. I don’t understand how it’s possible. It feels like there’s no more rationality left in the world, and that’s shaky ground on which to stand.

But today I’m feeling generous. And honest. And because of that I have to concede that I should never be president either.

I, too, lack tact and tend to say what I think with no filter. The difference is that on most days I’m not mean spirited, hostile, or willing to incite violence. But I’m definitely not diplomatic, and it tends to get me into trouble.

I’m also emotional. I cry when I’m frustrated. For the life of me, I don’t understand why this is viewed as a weakness. I have emotions, and they come out. But many people, particularly men, seem to feel this is a flaw.

I’m also too intelligent and have too strong of a moral compass to look the other way. If you are trying to screw over the people or the planet, I wouldn’t be able to compromise with you in any way. I wouldn’t want my back scratched by you, and I certainly wouldn’t scratch yours. I don’t suffer fools gladly. So nothing would get done.

And then there’s the fact that sometimes I just want to get into my jammies and cave for a day or two. I need time by myself to recharge. “I vont to be alone.” I would not thrive under constant scrutiny.

So I admit it. Donald Trump is not the only one who is totally unfit for the presidency. But at least I’m not on the ballot. You’re welcome.

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Independence?

I’m feeling particularly patriotic today, because marriage equality was recently made the law of the land here in the United States. Every once in a while, for all its flaws, this country gets it right. That makes me feel good.

So, one of my traditions on Independence Day is that I take some time to contemplate what independence means to me, as a woman, as an American, as a human being on this planet. And I’m not just talking independence from England, which is what this holiday was originally about.

Every day, all over the world, people experience varying levels of freedom. I happen to think that on that particular bell curve, I’m one of the luckier ones. But even on this day of flag waving and euphoria, I’m not going to say we get everything right. Some of my freedoms have been rolled back over time, and others are constantly being chipped away at. Independence isn’t some final destination. It’s not like you can sit back and rest once you’ve arrived. It takes work to maintain.

Here are a few things that I value highly, whether I have them or not:

  • Coming and going as I please.
  • Marrying whomever I want, divorcing if I choose, or never marrying at all.
  • Education.
  • The right to decide what I can and cannot do with my own body.
  • Access to health care.
  • Having no one else dictate what clothes I wear.
  • Being able to drive a car.
  • Freely stating my opinions in this blog.
  • Pursuing my own spiritual path.
  • Owning my own property.
  • Voting.
  • Protesting and debating.
  • Living alone, or with whomever I choose.
  • Celebrating differences.
  • Traveling freely.
  • Choosing my own career path, or in fact working at all.
  • Feeling safe.

All of these things, and so many more, are what independence means to me. If you have these things, you are very fortunate indeed. Don’t take them for granted. Today, and every other day of the year, we should appreciate what we have and maintain it, and strive for these basic human rights for all.

Happy Independence Day.

[Image credit: vvng.com]
[Image credit: vvng.com]

It’s Official. We’ll Buy Anything.

I heard somewhere recently that the United States and New Zealand are the only countries that allow end consumers to be exposed to pharmaceutical Ads. This says a lot about our country’s level of greed, that we’re willing to exploit even our own pain and suffering to make a buck. That’s a depressing thought.

Even more depressing, though, is our willingness to buy absolutely anything. A lot of these ads have side effect disclaimers that ought to make our hair stand up on end, and yet these commercials must be profitable for the companies or they wouldn’t produce them.

Who in their right mind would see an ad that says, “With this drug, an overdose or even death can happen,” and then think, “Oh, yeah. I need to get me some of that!” Are we so easily fooled by the passive voice? Is it because a woman who has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is seen jogging uphill? Do we love purple so much that we want to ingest it? Or is the product name so hip and catchy that we can’t resist? Are we really that dumb or that desperate?

Contemplating all of this makes me tired. But I’m sure there’s a pill for that.

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[Image credit: affairstoday.co.uk]

Why I Vote

I used to work with a woman who had never voted, had no intentions of ever doing so, and was quite proud of that fact. She hated this country and everything it stands for, and did not want to participate in it in any way. She dreamed of moving to the Australian outback, where she felt her family would be left alone. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that voting is compulsory in Australia.)

But I have to say that whenever an election would roll around, I couldn’t stand to be in that woman’s presence. It took everything in me not to try to slap some sense into her. The very palm of my hand would ache to do so.

Yes, politics in this country (probably in all countries) is corrupt, and our elected representatives seem to have no desire to represent us. Yes, it’s annoying to have to choose the lesser of two evils rather than the best person for a job. Yes, it’s hard to sift through all the lies to figure out what is the best choice.

As much as I love Russell Brand and his activism, he has become the poster child for a movement that encourages people not to vote as a form of protest because of all of the above. Brand is an extremely intelligent guy, but on this one subject he’s being idiotic. Yes, it’s a broken system, but by not participating in it, you’re not going to make it go away, and you’re not going to fix it. You’re simply giving your power to others.

Here are a few reasons why I vote:

If you do not vote, as far as I’m concerned, you forfeit the right to complain, because you have made no effort to even try to be part of the solution. And believe me, I am as willing to complain as the next person.

If you don’t vote, the majority opinion is not properly reflected, and that causes policies to be enacted that most of us really don’t desire.

The act of voting is the act of reaffirming your democratic freedom, a right which Americans have been fighting and dying for since the Revolutionary War.

People still can’t vote in Brunei or the United Arab Emirates, and women can’t vote in Saudi Arabia. Elections in North Korea are only for show. China is not a democracy, and they are currently trying to roll back the rights of the Taiwanese. As long as there is even one person in this world who wants to vote and can’t, how can I choose to not take advantage of this privilege?

One of the last things my sister did before she died was take her son to vote in his first presidential election. She knew it was an important lesson to teach him. It was important enough to focus on even though she was dying, so your manicure can wait.

But most of all, I am a woman. Women did not get the vote in the US until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920. It took 70 years of struggle to make that happen. Women died for it, went to jail for it, and had tubes rammed down their throats and were force fed when they went on hunger strikes for it. After all of that, what right do I have NOT to vote?

So if you’re not voting, you might want to tell me that from a safe distance. I take this very seriously.

Russell-Brand

See, to me that’s a reason to use your celebrity to get MORE people involved. Sigh.

[Image credit: openyoureyesnews.com]

Modern Day Slavery

I just found out that here in the US it’s National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. I bet if someone were to take a poll, the vast majority of Americans would think that Slavery went out with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. Not so much.

According to WGBH’s “Human Trafficking: Modern-Day Slavery in America” by Phillip Martin, “About 18,000 people are trafficked to the U.S. each year, according to the State Department. What do they have in common? Most are indebted to smugglers and traffickers. According to the Polaris Project, a national anti-human trafficking group, victims have also been pressed to work in factories, farms, strip clubs, begging and peddling rings and as domestic workers — for little or no money.“

Imagine coming to America, thinking that it’s the land of the free, where the streets are all paved with gold and all your dreams can come true, only to have your passport taken away and then be forced to work in the fields for 16 hours a day in the middle of nowhere so Americans can have cheap vegetables, or forced to service up to 30 men a day. Imagine being turned into a drug addict, dependent upon your captor for your next fix. Imagine being told if you try to get help, you will be killed and your family will never know what became of you. Imagine the shame, the pain, the fear, and the complete feeling of helplessness.

Human trafficking in the US is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. This is a world wide problem. Everyone should educate themselves on this topic. How to recognize it. How to stop it. How to prevent it. How to help. In addition to the Polaris Project mentioned above I urge you to go to Youtube and type in trafficking and you’ll be presented with a whole host of really good documentaries, both short and long, on the topic.

Here’s one that is less than 2 minutes long, and it will really make you think. It takes place in Amsterdam, in the red light district, and it renders a bunch of tourists, who think that place is all fun and games, speechless. It’s called Girls Going Wild in Red Light District. It’s a must see. Watch it until the very end to get the full message.

Dennis Rodman. Sigh.

If you are the one person on the planet who has yet to see the video in which Dennis Rodman has a full blown meltdown during a CNN interview, you can watch it here.

http://popwatch.ew.com/2014/01/07/dennis-rodman-meltdown-cnn-kim-jong-un/

Dennis, Dennis, Dennis. First of all, if you want the world to take you seriously, you might want to consider avoiding the following:

  • Appearing on television stoned out of your ever loving mind.
  • Announcing that one of the most warped, insane dictators in the modern world is your friend. This is a man who just executed his own uncle and has allowed his eerily brainwashed citizens to suffer through such an epic famine that most of them know firsthand what it’s like to eat grass to survive.
  • Implying that you know why Kenneth Bae has been held in North Korea for over a year when no one else does, because no charges have been filed.
  • Acting so stupid and out of control that your teammates who are sitting behind you look more uncomfortable with each passing minute.

But the most appalling thing that you have done, Dennis, is try to pretend that you’re only in North Korea for the basketball, and that your actions are in no way political. Sorry, dear, you don’t get to enjoy the privilege of celebrity without also having the responsibility. You are a public figure. People, God knows why, look up to you. Whether you (or we) like it or not, you are representing the United States. You are being used as a puppet to prop up an evil dictator, and you can’t say you don’t know it, because everyone with even the slightest bit of intelligence knows how much the people of North Korea have suffered because of him.

Have you broken free of your handlers and gone out in the country to actually see how the real people live? No. You’ve been wined and dined by a madman who must have supplied you with your drugs or how else could you have been so deep in a purple haze in such a highly restrictive country?

Shame on you.

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I’d rather stick my head in the jaws of a crocodile.