Category Archives: Consumer issues

About those McMansions…

Credit my cousin, a professor at Boise State, for flagging a website that presents an architectural critique of McMansions (with a touch of humor thrown in for good measure).

Worst of McMansions” describes itself this way: “If you love to hate the ugly houses that became ubiquitous before (and after) the bubble burst you’ve come to the right place.”

Kahala has more than its fair share of these places, which we’re reminded of every morning as we walk past dozens of out of place McMansions.

Here are the basic McMansions 101 lessons.

McMansions 101

There’s a lot here to read and digest.

And even better, there are plans for more. Here’s a list of planned “future posts” that I found by clicking on the “Archive” link and nosing around. What fun this promises!

Future Posts
I’ve been getting a lot of messages (mostly from anons) about posts I should do, etc.

This is a curated blog, which means that the posts are already planned, and are scheduled for weekly publication. To avoid clogging up my inbox even more (though I do love each and every one of you!), here is a list of upcoming Sunday articles/posts in order:

(Note: Blog Specials are posts that have a similar scale to “McMansions 101: What Makes A McMansion Bad Architecture?)

1.) Mansion vs McMansion: Why All Big Houses Are Not McMansions

Blog Special: A Curated Collection of Big Houses That Don’t Suck
2.) McMansions vs The Environment: A Story of Conspicuous Consumption
3.) Not Just Aesthetics: Why McMansions Are Bad Architecture Remix
4.) McMansions 101: Windows
4.5) McMansions 101: The Roof

Blog Special: McMansion Hell CliffNotes: Anatomy of a McMansion – Exteriors

5.) Of Vaulted Ceilings and Jacuzzi Tubs: a Comprehensive Guide to McMansion Interior Architecture
6.) A Field Guide to the Dated: How You Can Tell a House Was Built & Designed in the 1980s
7.) The Joneses Ruined The Neighborhood: How McMansions Destroy the Continuity of Our Communities

Blog Special: A Brief History of the McMansion

8.) A Machine For Pretending to Live In: McMansions, Speculative Building, and the Great Recession
9.) A Field Guide to the Dated: How You Can Tell a House Was Designed & Built in the 1990s
10.) A Post-Recession Retrospective: McMansions since 2010
11.) Gated Communities: McMansions, the Suburbs, and Discrimination
12.) A Field Guide to the Dated: How You Can Tell a House Was Designed & Built in the 2000s.

This Apple Watch band is a real bargain

Milanese loopIf you happen to have an Apple Watch, you might be interested in this bargain.

I just bought another band, what Apple calls the Milanese Loop. It’s woven metal, quite attractive. I got the version in “silver”, actually stainless steel, I believe. Apple’s version has been sold for $149. I just bought this off-brand version (MoKo is the label). It’s delivered in the same packing as Apple’s version, minus the Apple logo. Via Amazon Prime (free shipping) it was priced at $6.99. Yes, a penny under $7. And it is indistinguishable from Apple’s version. A journalist friend who has been to Apple’s factory in China where these are produced says they aren’t copies, they are the same product.

They come in a few different colors, most priced a little higher than the silver on Amazon. And there are two different sizes, one to fit each version of the watch (38mm and 42mm).

When I looked today, prices were a bit higher. You would likely have to pay $9.99.

But when I checked Apple’s own website, it’s still listed for $149.

So definitely still a bargain!

Tough talk from a PR pro

Longtime public relations pro Kitty Lagareta posted some cogent thoughts about the PR industry and Honolulu’s current rail crisis.

She began with a link to an article from Pacific Business News published four years ago (“Honolulu rail project cutting PR budget by 70%”).

Then she continued.

Four years later, things have, unfortunately gotten much worse. I’m in the public relations business, but increasingly I prefer to call it the communications business because so many people seem to think that if you are in “PR” your job is to “spin” information to make it appear better than things really are…even some in the profession believe this is their job. Early in the rail debacle Mayor Hannemann hired a lot of “PR” people to do exactly that–spin his concept that had no valid data to support it–although, I do believe he actually did convince many of them that this project would not only be his great legacy, it would also be theirs. Many good and ethical PR people have come and gone from this project because they eventually refused to “spin” information that wasn’t true. Some, just gave up when they realized the public could no longer be fooled by pretty pictures, promises, and nice words that didn’t match the facts. In reality, the real public relations professionals are about facts and truth, they believe the public has a right to information that affects their lives whether in the public or private sectors, and they know that “spinning” is for liars and the truth always rises to the surface. Forever grateful that I’ve never been involved in this mess, although I do believe that honest, factual and transparent communications…something Mufi Hannnemann knows nothing about…would have been at least one ingredient that might have shifted the current path this train is on. If Mayor Caldwell hadn’t been mentored so thoroughly by Mufi on communications, perhaps his path would be different now, too.

[reprinted with permission]

Medical Board takes 2-1/2 years to revoke license of controversial doctor

(Correction: SB2675, which was signed into law by Gov. Ige, allows licensing boards to act on disciplinary action taken in other states.)

On May 13, 2016, Dr. Daniel Susott finally had his license to practice medicine in Hawaii revoked when the decision by the Hawaii Medical Board was filed and posted. The action came 2-1/2 years after California authorities stripped Susott of his license to practice in that state, and two months after the Medical Board adopted its proposed order in the case and cited the need “to handle this matter expeditiously.”

Susott was one of those featured in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser series last year on issues surrounding the discipline of physicians.

The Star-Adveriser reported:

In November 2013 California revoked Susott’s license for gross incompetence, unprofessional conduct and dishonesty after investigators discovered he was recommending medical marijuana without adequately examining patients or taking medical histories, according to Medical Board of California documents. He sometimes approved medical marijuana from Hawaii, even though the patients were in California, the records said.

At one medical marijuana event in the Bay Area, Susott saw 254 patients over two days, checked hearts and lungs by looking at the patients and recommended marijuana in all cases, the records show.

After his California license was revoked and while a DCCA investigation was pending, Susott continued to practice on Oahu, and his prescribing activities attracted the attention of state narcotics enforcement authorities, according to court records.

In seeking court permission for a search warrant, an agent with the Department of Public Safety in July said he believed Susott had violated laws related to the prescribing of controlled substances, according to the court documents. The agent cited several cases from earlier this year.

DCCA acknowledged a pending licensing complaint against Susott but declined comment. His Hawaii license still is listed as valid.

Two hearings were held on Susott’s case by the Office of Administrative Hearings, part of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, to consider a recommendation to revoke Susott’s Hawaii license. Despite a variety of issues brought to the state’s attention during its investigation, including the narcotics issues cited by the Star-Advertiser and allegations of abuse previously raised publicly, the recommendation was based solely on Susott’s failure to comply with a requirement that Hawaii regulators be notified promptly when a doctor is Hawaii is subject to discipline elsewhere.

The hearings, in December 2015 and early January 2016, provided Susott an opportunity to present evidence on his own behalf.

“i’m a good doctor and have been licensed for 35 years,” Susott told the hearing officer. “I’ve never a patient complaint.”

He blamed his legal woes in California to his open support for the legalization of marijuana.

“Advocacy of cannabis as medicine got me in trouble over there,” he said, according to the official recording of the hearing.

Susott said he had over 1,200 patients, mostly in California and some in Washington, and that he was still making recommendations for use of marijuana in other states.

Hearings Officer David Karlen asked: “Have you ever turned down or not recommended cannabis for a patient?”

Susott answered: “No, because I believe it is safer than aspirin, it hasn’t killed anybody in 10,000 years.”

Susott also told the board he had hired an attorney in California and expected his medical license to be reinstated within a month.

Susott said needed additional time to collect additional documents, letters from supporters, and to have his reinstatement considered in California. However, Susott failed to appear at at the second hearing and did not submit any of the documents or testimonials he had cited earlier.

In the end, the medical board voted unanimously to revoke Susott’s license to practice.

Susott seemed resigned, saying that he would continue to try to help people even after losing his license to practice medicine.

“I didn’t go to medical school to get a medical license,” he told the hearing officer in December.

To Susott’s detractors, that isn’t comforting news.

Meanwhile, two bills that would have allowed the medical board to take quick reciprocal action when a physician faces discipline in other states. However, a Senate bill died after being sent over to the House, and HB2335 died in conference.

So it appears that doctors who have lost their right to practice in other states will continue to have a long grace period practicing in Hawaii until the slow administrative process finally catches up with them.

Facing the rail conundrum

Honolulu’s rail project poses a particularly tricky issue at this point in its life.

We’ve already spent a vast amount on it, but the estimated total still to go keeps growing at an alarming pace.

And there’s no real reason to believe that current estimates are more accurate than those that came before.

So what do we do now?

The mayor now says we should just end at Middle Street and defer the remainder of the project until funds are available.

That’s a political fantasy. I don’t think any elected official is going to touch that political “third rail” once the first segment is capped off and the construction crews demobilized. It is just very, very unlikely to happen. And, of course, the crippled initial segment is just going to be a constant reminder of how badly this idea was executed and the costs, economic and political, of trying and failing.

UH Planning Professor Karl Kim, who has a background in transit issues, published a column in the Star-Advertiser which I hoped would have some sage advice (“Five fixes could help put Honolulu’s rail back on track“). Unfortunately, Kim’s suggestions would have been constructive if we were just starting out in designing a rail system, but not very useful when facing a mid-construction crisis in both finances and confidence.

He suggests simply getting over the blame game, finding a new consensus, coming up with a workable revenue model, developing more appropriate technology, and redesigning to incorporate elements of social justice.

It seems to me that this is all pie in the sky. Not going to happen. And can’t happen in a time frame that would give us any way forward from the current mess.

Then there was a comment on a recent post here expressing the “just do it, get it done” sentiment.

Here’s an excerpt:

Not having enough funds to complete elevated rail to Ala Moana is an entirely self-created dilemma. A funding cap BEFORE bids were opened was dumb. It’s a completely SOLVABLE problem that both HART and city council could be discussing because it’s entirely within their authority to address the funding cap issue.

It’s also within the mayor and council’s authority to discuss using property taxes. There are lots of good reasons why Honolulu taxpayers SHOULD be paying more for our own transportation system but I’ll save that for another discussion.

I have a of sympathy for this point of view, although this rail design was not my preference. I don’t agree with those who argue that if not for rail, these billions could have gone to other public projects. I don’t think that’s true. It took a truly major project like rail to muster the political forces to put an excise tax increase into play to cover the costs. We tried to get an increase for education, and that went nowhere.

And when you look around, it’s hard to say that the rail tax has crippled the economy. We’ve got low unemployment, lots of investment coming in, etc., etc. And although the big numbers are scary, the half cent out of each dollar spent isn’t one of the big factors in everyday finances. Obviously, housing is the biggie. The rail GET really doesn’t compare to those big expense categories at the micro level, only at the macro level. So would we really feel the pinch if it were extended farther into the future to pay for completing the system?

But David Johnson, a UH Sociology prof and a friend, wrote in Civil Beat that we need to challenge the idea that since we’ve gotten this far, there isn’t any alternative to just pushing forward to completion. He refers to this the fallacy of sunk costs.

He explained:

But to view rail in terms of costs already incurred is to commit the fallacy of sunk costs. A sunk cost is a cost that has been paid and cannot be recovered. In many areas of life and policy, decision-makers become preoccupied with sunk costs when they would be better off forgetting them. Couples commit this fallacy when they refuse to leave a lousy film before it ends (“We paid $20 for these tickets!”). And the United States committed a much grander version of it during the Vietnam War (“Giving up would mean our soldiers died in vain.”).

And Johnson concludes:

So I end with three conclusions: 1) Common sense says we do not need a rail project that ends at Middle Street. 2) A decent regard for reality leads to the conclusion that we cannot afford a rail project that goes where it should. 3) And recognition of the sunk cost fallacy counsels that we should walk away from this colossal mistake now.

Here’s a link to his column, “Honolulu’s Runaway Rail Project And The Fallacy of Sunk Costs.”

Perhaps we need a contest to come up with the best idea for alternative uses of the rail segments built to date if we just “walk away”. What other uses could be made of the elevated concrete platform?

It’s all just such a mess that it boggles my mind. None of the solutions really “work.”