Category Archives: Aging & dementia

Obliteration of Thomas Square history apparently already underway

The city’s ignorance of history is no excuse for destroying the heritage of Thomas Square. This is an instance where the mayor needs to step forward and take action to save this highly symbolic piece of island history.

Thanks to Doug Matsuoka for reminding us of the situation in a Facebook post last week.

He wrote:

The City & County of Honolulu is erasing the Hawaiian flag from Thomas Square… The pathways in Thomas Square are designed to look like the Union Jack in Honor of Admiral Thomas who restored Hawaiian sovereignty back in 1843. You can still see the design in the Google Earth image.

But this last Sunday… check the pano. No paths. They’re fertilizing the paths away, disappearing even the memory of Hawaiian Sovereignty. WTF?

The top photo from Google Earth shows the design of Thomas Square. The Union Jack design is still clearly visible.

Thomas Square

But in the photo below, taken just over a week ago, the paths and the historic design are being obliterated. Click for a larger version of the photo.


This isn’t esoteric Hawaii history. Do a quick online search for Thomas Square and you’ll find numerous references to the importance and significance of the British flag design.

Read Denby Fawcett’s recent column in Civil Beat, which is an excellent review (“Denby Fawcett: Tap The Brakes On Thomas Square Proposal“).

Earlier, Thomas Square was identified as one of our most threatened history sites in a 2014 Honolulu Magazine review (“The 8 Most Endangered Historic Places in Hawai‘i“).

From the article:

Thomas Square is Hawai‘i’s first official public park, dedicated in 1850 by King Kamehameha III for British Rear Adm. Richard Thomas. During a ceremony in 1843 on the plot of land now bearing his name, the admiral restored the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom after British subjects unlawfully seized the Hawaiian government. It was during that ceremony that King Kamehameha III spoke the famous words that would become the state’s motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘?ina i ka pono.” Nearly 90 years later, additional features would be added to the park, including a central water fountain, radial coral pathways arranged in the pattern of the Union Jack and the Beretania Street Promenade, designed by landscape architects Catherine Jones Thompson and Bob Thompson. The park was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1972 based on its political significance.

In his 2014 State of the City address, Mayor Kirk Caldwell listed the restoration of Thomas Square as one of his top priorities, says Curtis Lum, spokesman for the city Department of Planning and Permitting. “His vision is to see Thomas Square emerge, once again, as a crown jewel and, with the Blaisdell, become a more active gathering place that anchors a vibrant arts and cultural community,” Lum says. While concrete plans have not been developed, one proposal discussed in April includes designing a bike path through the park, box planters and hard pathways. The concepts “were not based on restoring the features and characteristics from the historic period, but rather would erase most of the landscape architecture designed by Thompson and Thompson,” says Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of Historic Hawai‘i Foundation.

The public should make its opinions known. The city has made no decisions on Thomas Square’s future, says Lum, but the public will be asked for its feedback during the various phases of planning.

The city expects to complete an environmental assessment of the project soon, and public comment will be essential.

I find it sad that Mayor Caldwell, who benefited from a large property tax exemption due to the historic designation of his residence, is turning a blind eye to the far more significant history of Thomas Square.

Come on, Kirk. The city can certainly renovate the park without destroying its historic character. Show some leadership.

Feline Friday: Homecoming

First catWe bought our first kitten right after we returned to Hawaii to enter graduate school at the end of August in 1969. She was a wonderful kitten we found at a pet store in Ala Moana Center. We were living temporarily with my parents in Kahala, so our kitten moved in with us. She later moved with us into a high-rise apartment building in Kaimuki. Before she was a year old, we adopted kitten #2, a stray found wandering and crying in a construction area near our building during a heavy rain. The two bonded and were very close as long as they lived.

Later, when the owner of our apartment building died and new owners decided to turn the rental units into condominiums, we moved to a townhouse in a development just down the hill towards the ocean, across from Wilson School. We lived there for another ten years before buying our house in Kaaawa and relocating. Kitten #2 died in about 1985. First cat survived and made the move with us. A few months after that move, early in the summer of 1988, she died.

That was 28 years ago.

On Sunday, we decided it was time to welcome our first cat, and the many others that followed, to our new home.

[text]On Sunday afternoon, I brought a box from the garage containing more than a dozen small containers, each with the ashes of one of the cats that have lived with us over the years.

We took them all out onto the deck, overlooking our back yard and the welcoming shade of the mango trees. One by one, we picked up the containers. Each had a small label with the name of the cat that had been such a part of our lives. One by one, we opened them, pulled out the small plastic bag inside, and emptied the remains into a bucket half-filled with soil. One by one, we moved through the generations of cats, remembering each of them, retelling their stories to each other, shedding tears, then mixing them into the soil. The first container was actually a glass jar containing the ashes of Emma, kitten #2. The rest of the metal boxes were different sizes and shapes, each marked with a cat’s name, some accompanied by condolence cards signed by our vets and their staff.

When we were done, we stopped for a glass of wine. We let the silence speak.

And the next morning, all of our former cats became part of our newly renovated yard, the bucket of soil added to that being used to put additional plants along the side and front of our house. A bit here, a bit there.

All of our cats are now here at home.

And, yes, there’s a story behind the rusted boxes you can see in the photo above. They were stored on the bottom shelf of the book shelves in our bedroom. Being on the bottom shelf, they were in that 15″ zone of vulnerability to acts of random cat pee. Over the many years, the boxes that had been there the longest fell victim to the drive-by peeing many times, despite our efforts to remove the odors and repel future deposits.

Meanwhile, Romeo seems to have come back from his last vet visit with a cold. He’s been sneezing this week. Unless he shows other symptoms, we’ll treat this as a common cold and see if it passes before too long. The other cats have had a relatively uneventful week. Check them out below.

–> Click here to see all of this week’s Friday Felines!

Supreme Court decision could impact Hawaii election districts

Congratulations to Honolulu attorney and law blogger Robert Thomas, whose column on a recent U.S. Supreme Court voting rights case landed a lead mention by the SCOTUSblog.

SCOTUSblog provides wall-to-wall coverage of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Thomas’ blog,, comments on a variety of cases of national and local import.

Thomas called the SCOTUSblog mention “the equivalent of law blogger nirvana.”

His column, What Does Evenwel v. Abbott Mean For “One Person, One Vote”? appeared at

It was a refinement of his own blog post published immediately after the decision.

Here’s the court’s own summary of the case:

Texas, like all other States, draws its legislative dis- tricts on the basis of total population. Plaintiffs- appellants are Texas voters; they challenge this uniform method of districting on the ground that it produces un- equal districts when measured by voter-eligible population. Voter-eligible population, not total population, they urge, must be used to ensure that their votes will not be deval- ued in relation to citizens’ votes in other districts. We hold, based on constitutional history, this Court’s decisions, and longstanding practice, that a State may draw its legislative districts based on total population.

Thomas was quick to tie the decision back to the awkward case of Hawaii, where legislative districts are apportioned based on “permanent resident population,” which excludes most military personnel and students who maintain legal residence elsewhere.

Thomas was lead attorney in a legal challenge to Hawaii’s most recent reapportionment. The plaintiffs in that case sought to force the state to include military personnel and students in the base population for purposes of reapportionment (Congressman Mark Takai was one of the plaintiffs). The challenge was rejected, but Thomas now raises the question of whether this latest Supreme Court ruling will change the outcome in any future case.

Thomas writes:

Hawaii is the most prominent and extreme. It counts only “permanent residents” and Hawaii “extracted” 108,767 of its Census-counted residents from its last reapportionment population. Like Texas, Hawaii included undocumented aliens (who are counted as residents by the Census), prisoners, felons, and others, but unlike Texas, it excluded active duty military personnel if they elected to pay state taxes in another state. It also excluded military dependents if they were associated with a service member who so elected, and university students who did not qualify to pay resident tuition. Hawaii does so on the avowed basis that it is counting state citizens and protecting their voting power. Which means that to the State of Hawaii, undocumented aliens and felons are all Hawaii citizens, but resident military, dependents, and students who don’t qualify to pay resident tuition are not. This plan resulted in nearly 8% of Hawaii’s actual population being deprived of representation in the state legislature.

The biggest question remaining after the Supreme Court’s decision is how this and similar exclusions will be treated by the courts. The Evenwel opinion cryptically noted that if states rely on “nondiscriminatory population bases,” the choice of whom to include is better left to them. By what standard should future courts evaluate whether a state is not discriminating when it favors voting power over equal representation for all, and chooses to deny some residents the right to be represented equally as recognized by Evenwel?

Congressman Takai issued a press release immediately following the court decision.

“Today, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that states should be using the “one person one vote” methodology, and not excluding anyone during the reapportionment process. Hawaii continues to wrongfully leave out more than 108,000 military members, their families and university students. It is time to bring our reapportionment practice in line with 48 other states, and ensure everyone is included equally,” Takai said.

It’s worth reading through some of this, as the questions will undoubtedly be front and center when reapportionment time rolls around again.

“Ask me anything,” he said with a sigh.

Friday will be the 5th anniversary of my dad’s death.

Looking back, there are a couple of moments over the course of his nearly two years in the nursing home suffering from dementia, and going through the drawn out process of dying, that are now colored with regret, at least in my mind.

The first arose during one of my afternoon visits to his bedside on the fourth floor in the nursing home on Beretania and Artesian Street where he spent his final two years. This would have been in the final months of his life, as he was spending more time asleep and less time awake and functioning. I had to work to keep him connected with the moment.

I was also spending a lot of time sorting through the stacks of loose papers and boxes of photos retrieved from his small room at the home in Kahala where my parents lived together for nearly 70 years. My practice was to take a couple of pictures, or an old letter or clipping, when I visited, and ask him about it, trying to stimulate parts of his brain that could still yield important bits and pieces of his long life. Almost until the end, his memory of distant events and people remained incredibly sharp even while the present was lost in a swirl of confusion and short-term memory loss.

[text]On this afternoon, I asked him about several photos dating from his 1933 adventure hitchhiking across the country with a good friend to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, then on to visit other friends–especially a girlfriend, I believe–in Michigan.

On this afternoon, I raised the head of his bed so that he was almost in a sitting position. After placing his glasses on, somewhat awkwardly, I passed him photos, slowly, one at a time. He held up each of them, feeling the texture of the paper, looking to see if there were notes on the back, holding them up close to examine details, turning to them catch the afternoon light at different angles. After fixing the moment in his mind, he started talking. Slowly, in a soft, gravely voice, he told of getting lucky, catching a couple of long rides, then spending a day waiting beside a highway before getting their next lift. As he spoke, I had the impression that there might have been several different sets of memories that were mixed in his mind. But I wasn’t seeking historical accuracy. I was just using the pictures as a way to connect with that bit of himself and whatever history that was still intact. As he shared recollections, I tried to probe with simple questions. How did that feel? Were you worried? How long did it take? We parried back and forth in slow motion.

At some point, though, he surprised me. He had stopped, relaxed back onto his pillow, his hand, still holding one of the photos, dropped to his side on the bed. His eyes closed briefly, then looked ahead, not really looking at me.

“Ask me anything,” he said in that same tired voice. “Ask me anything. I’ll tell you.”

And I froze.

One one level, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

But we were never an “ask me anything” family. Far from it.

For us, it was more “ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no lies.”

There were, I came to realize over the years, huge black holes in our family’s life, dead areas that we learned to walk past, to talk around, or to just pretend weren’t there. Some were obvious things that we somehow normalized but never spoke of, others hidden but simmering sources of emotion, anger, that only welled up years later when my parents were in their waning years.

As a kid, I didn’t recognize or pay attention to such gaps in the family matrix, or about fuzzy areas in their relationship that should have been warning signs.

My awareness came later, as an adult. And, at that point, I had adopted a working rule. These were their choices, affecting most directly their lives. Don’t judge, because you are not responsible for their lives and their choices, I told myself repeatedly over the years. Don’t take sides, don’t be drawn in, maintain a safe distance.

So when my dad extended the invitation to ask about anything I wanted to know, I immediately thought of a long list of questions. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to start asking. I don’t know if I was protecting him, protecting my mother, or protecting myself. Probably some combination of all those.

And so I didn’t respond. I just let the silence flow over and around us. He slowly closed his eyes, and faded into sleep.

I stayed for a few minutes, thinking of the opportunity lost, the things, the people, and situations I’ll never have a chance to ask about. And then I picked up my computer bag, slung it over my shoulder, and made my way past the men in the other three beds, towards the hallway, and on to the elevator and the parking lot downstairs.

I didn’t look back.