Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The White Rose

Growing up in the 1970's and 80's in the USA, as a young liberal, I couldn't help but romanticize the Civil Rights Movement and the young radicals of that era that resisted the war in Vietnam. The protesting and getting arrested to help further a cause, it all seems so noble and brave.  I don't want to minimize what these folks accomplished, but in comparison to the White Rose and what they faced, it seems tame in comparison.

The White Rose was a non-violent resistance group at the University of Munich during the World War II.  From June 1942 to February 1943 a small group of college students produced and handed out pamphlets urging peaceful resistance to the Nazis. They also used graffiti to spread their message. Six of them were eventually caught, tried for treason and executed (via guillotine).  The first three (Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans Scholl and Christof Probst.) were arrested in February 1943 after the Scholl's were caught spreading pamphlets on campus and the printing press was found in Probst's possession days later. Three more were arrested and executed in a couple of months later.

Whenever I see a film or read something about Germany in WW II, I always wonder what the people knew and thought about the situation. How conflicted were they? Or were they conflicted at all? How much did the citizenry know about what was happening to the Jews and what could they do about it if they did know?  How would I react in the same situation? Many people must have felt like these courageous college students, but these few actually did something about it. It not only takes courage, but tremendous foresight and self confidence. Some of these student grew up as members of the Hitler youth. Indoctrination into the Third Reich started at a very young age and their influence was so strong that students spied on their own parent and were urged to report any activity against the cause. It is so impressive that these young people came out of that environment with such strong convictions.

It is difficult to see how much, if any, affect that they had on anything. Members of the The White Rose expected their death to cause a revolt; it did not.  They are considered as heroes in modern Germany appearing on postage stamps and are the subjects of movies. Sofie Scholl has become an icon for what is good about Germany. The text of the sixth pamphlet urged Germany soldiers to lay down their arms and surrender to the allies.  It was smuggled out of Germany into the UK and was air dropped over Germany by allied planes in July 1943 with the title: "The Manifesto of the Students of Munich."  Perhaps they didn't die in vain.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hawaiian Mongoose

If I ever moved to Hawaii, one thing I would miss is the lack of large mammals. The largest mammal (other than the human) is a wild pig. There are no deer, moose or bear like we have here in Vermont. One of our first wild life sightings, while vacationing in HI, was of a tiny creature that looked like a fuzzy ground squirrel.  

On second sight, it looked like a mink or an ermine, but it was actually a mongoose. Mongooses are not native to Hawaii, but are from Asia.

In 1800's the Pacific Islands had a huge rat problem.  The booming sugar cane crop attracted vermin without enough natural predators on the island to control their population.  The rats were destroying crops at such a rate that something needed to be done to control them. In 1883, 73 Indian mongooses were introduced to the island of Hawai'i. The problem here is that not only doesn't the mongoose have any natural predators but mongoose hunt during the day while rats are nocturnal. Mongoose did eventually control the rat population but it took a very long time. In the meantime, mongoose became a pest rivaling the rats. A male mongoose reaches puberty in four months and the female has litters of two to five a year. The mongoose also feeds, among other things, on goose eggs.  The Hawaiian state bird, the nene, is now driven to the edge of extinction mostly due to the mongoose.

Human beings are the only predators of the mongoose in Hawaii. Residence are urged to trap them. One interesting way of killing a mongoose ... beeping your horn at it while it is in the road in front of you. In order to turn their heads and look, they have stop. I think I would have a hard time doing this, but in the long run, it seems like the right things to do.

Friday, March 1, 2013


Since arriving in Kona for vacation, I have been joking about how strung out on vowels I am. Place names in Hawaii have an exorbitant amount of vowels and I have been told that all of them get pronounced. There will be no merging of vowel sounds on this island. When the language was originally written down, using English letters, in the 19th century, it had less consonants than the standard 20 we use (B, D, R, T, V, H, K, L, M, N P & W). When a consonant is used, it has be followed by a vowel and all words have to end in a vowel. So place names like Honaunau-Napoopoo are a real challenge for native English speakers like myself.

This place holds many fascinations other than the language. Regardless of what Congressman Johnson thinks, islands don't float, but are the clumps of land that are above sea level. The Hawaiian islands are tops of a huge volcanic mountain chain. The largest of these is Mauna Loa which, if measured from its base at ocean floor, is larger than Everest.  Both of Hawaii's active volcanoes are on Hawai'i, aka the Big Island, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.  The Big Island is basically five volcanoes that are so close together that they form an island, half of the island is covered by Mauna Loa.  The planet Earth has 13 climate zones, all but two of them (arctic and sahara) are on the Big Island and yet the difference between the average temperature between winter and summer is four to eight degrees. The hottest temperature ever recorded on this island is 97 (F).  Even my home state of Vermont gets hotter than that sometimes.

Tourists, like myself, usually stay in the Kona district of the island. In my time here, the temperature has been around high 70's to low 80's (F). We drove to Hilo yesterday, a two hour drive. Kona (the west side of the island) gets an average of 3 inches of rain each year while Hilo (the east) gets 113 inches a year (12 feet).  We left the tropical seaside of Kona among the surfers and sunbathers, drove through coffee plantations, mountain dessert, cactus, rainforest, saw some snow and/or frost, eventually into the more working class town of Hilo. The temperature dropped as low as 34 (F) on our drive. While Kona's main industry is tourism, Hilo is where the bananas, macadamia nuts and orchids grow.

Our big event yesterday was touring the Kilauea from a helicopter.  The picture above is of the Pu`u `O`o vent that has been erupting continually since January 3rd, 1983.  In that time, it has claimed 189 buildings (100 private homes), almost 9 miles of highway and not a single life.  Lava moves so slowly, people have plenty of time to get out of the way. Below you will see a highway that is mostly covered by a lava field (now cooled and hardened into volcanic rock).

One square mile of land (640 acres) is created every 20 years on Hawai'i due to hot lava reaching the ocean.  It took two years for the lava to eventually reach the coast line. Here is a picture I took of a newest land on Earth being created:

While most islands are losing acreage due to global climate change, Hawai'i is growing.  I am glad to hear this because I love it here.