Saturday, January 30, 2010

Musings: Wondering

A couple of things in the news got me wondering, like the articles about the Ka Loko dam settlement that appeared in the print version of The Garden Island and the on-line edition of The Advertiser..

It seems the county’s share of the $25.4 million settlement is $7.5 million — with insurance picking up all but $250,000 — and the state will pay $1.5 million.

Both articles quoted Kauai County Attorney Al Castillo as saying the county was prepared to go to trial, but felt the settlement was in the best interest of the county, then went on to report:

Castillo said the difference between the state's portion of the settlement and the county's had "little to do with culpability, and instead reflected financial realities and state law regarding immunity."

Something’s not right here. Doesn’t the state have insurance, too? And does this talk about “financial realities” mean that the county now has deeper pockets than the state?

What about former Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, who told the county inspector to lay off in his investigations of Pflueger’s illegal grading at the dam? Will she be charged for the $250,000 that the insurance doesn’t cover? Will she ever be held accountable for her deeds? Is the desire to spare her one reason why the county decided to settle out of court? (As my neighbor Andy, ever alert to irony, noted, The Garden Island carried an article about Kusaka right below its story on the dam settlement.)

And if the county has insurance and the state is protected by laws regarding immunity, why are the planning commission and Burial Council so worried about a lawsuit from Joe Brescia?

Then there was the “breaking news” piece in The Advertiser about the House deciding to again bag the civil unions bill.

For some reason, the only comment from anyone that the article contained was a prepared statement from gubernatorial hopeful Duke Aiona:

"This is a temporary victory that only seeks to delay a meaningful decision on traditional marriage," said Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, in a statement released following the House action. "The State Legislature will continue to play political hot potato with the institution of marriage until the people of Hawai'i are allowed to vote on it once and for all."

Why is he quoted? He’s not a member of the House or Senate and has nothing at all at this point to do with this issue, save use it to make political hay, with the Advertiser buying right in.

The Garden Island also ran Duke’s comment, with this rather lame and confusing rationale:

Aiona would assume the full powers of the governor — including the veto power — if Lingle were to travel outside the state, and some lawmakers have conjectured she might have done just that if the House had passed a civil unions bill.


Anyway, it’s disappointing to see the House again stall this issue, with Rep. Jimmy Tokioka among those still kowtowing to the fundamentalists:

Based on the responses from residents in District 15 on Kaua‘i, the overwhelming sentiment was a request to vote no,” Tokioka said, pointing to language in the bill that made constituents worry it could impact their traditional marriages.

Rep. Mina Morita, however, pegged it exactly right in her blog post:

To say that I am disappointed and ashamed on what happened on the House floor would be an understatement. I believe the public, whether one was for or against civil union, deserved a definitive closure on this issue. I have been clear where I stand on this issue. I support civil unions. The posturing on this bill, by not correcting a defective date and all the procedural maneuvering, has been shameful. We were not leaders today.

And finally, The Maui News carried a story that contained a comment from A&B about the future of its sugar operations there:

In a statement, the company said it would continue sugar operations through the end of the year, but that the company's fate beyond 2010 would depend on a "favorable outcome" in water cases pending before the state Commission on Water Resource Management, as well as HC&S' ability to increase its sugar-production levels.

So how is that a big landowner can get away with so blatantly resorting to blackmail, holding 650 jobs as hostage to get its way in a landmark water decision?

Just a few things that got me wondering.....

Friday, January 29, 2010

Musings: On Solastalgia and Its Cure

What a delight to wake in the night to the sound of rain drumming on the roof, dripping from the eaves, plopping on the leaves. During a break, Koko and I went out to take a look at the waxing moon, which tonight will be at its biggest and brightest all year, and saw thick patches of mist crawling up the gullies, swirling about the hooves of the cattle that stood, placid and dripping, in the silvery light.

When morning came, we set out walking in a landscape where raindrops clung like tiny bubbles to the ironwoods and low clouds crept along the emerald slopes of Makaleha and sheets of mist blew lazily through the valleys. I felt restored, at ease, as I generally do after an immersion in nature, unless it's been trashed, and then I feel pain.

And it seems I'm not alone with such feelings. Returning home, I found an email from a friend, commenting on yesterday’s radio show and providing a link to an article in the New York Times Magazine, with the comment:

Think you will like this. Read the whole thing (it is long) and you will see what we on Kauai are expressing, through your talk show for example, the interconectedness of us all and the aina.

He was right. I did like the article, which delved into something I feel, but never never knew had a name, which was coined by Glenn Albrecht, philosopher and professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth:

“[S]olastalgia,” a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’”

The concept is part of an emerging field known as ecopsychology. As the article reports:

Solastalgia, in Albrecht’s estimation, is a global condition, felt to a greater or lesser degree by different people in different locations but felt increasingly, given the ongoing degradation of the environment. As our environment continues to change around us, the question Albrecht would like answered is, how deeply are our minds suffering in return?

As I read it, I thought of a comment Jeff Chandler made on the radio show, about how he, as a cultural practitioner, could relate to the plight of the Newell’s shearwaters, which are being killed by the electrical wires they encounter on their flight to the sea, because Hawaiians had seen their once unfettered mauka-makai movement similarly blocked by fences, gates, private property. And it caused them to feel sadness, anger and despair.

Such responses are not unusual for those attuned to the ongoing loss of interconnectedness. The American Psychological Association released a 230-page report titled “Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change” that noted fear, anxiety, numbness, powerlessness and grief are some of the more common emotional reactions to environmental decline.

The article went on to report:

But ecopsychology embraces a more revolutionary paradigm: just as Freud believed that neuroses were the consequences of dismissing our deep-rooted sexual and aggressive instincts, ecopsychologists believe that grief, despair and anxiety are the consequences of dismissing equally deep-rooted ecological instincts.

An “imperiled environment,” it seems, “creates an imperiled mind.”

And watching the Nature channel doesn’t fix it. In light of the trend toward substituting virtual experience with the real thing, I was very interested in the article’s account of a study done by developmental psychologist Peter Kahn, in which 90 adults were subjected to mild stress “while exposed to one of three views: a glass window overlooking an expanse of grass and a stand of trees; a 50-inch plasma television screen showing the same scene in real time; and a blank wall. Kahn found that the heart rates of those exposed to the sight of real nature decreased more quickly than those of subjects looking at the TV image. The subjects exposed to a TV screen fared just the same as those facing drywall."

“More and more,” Kahn writes, “the human experience of nature will be mediated by technological systems.” We will, as a matter of mere survival, adapt to these changes. The question is whether our new, nature-reduced lives will be “impoverished from the standpoint of human functioning and flourishing.”

Albrecht, the article reports, went on to look as well at environmental success by studying a region known as Cape to Cape, which is described as “a wine-country Eden, lush and bucolic and rife with sustainable industries, from organic agriculture to ecotourism.”

Numerous factors — geographic, political, historical, economic — most likely allowed the Cape to Cape region to remain relatively unsullied. But Albrecht proposes that the main factor is psychological. The people of the region, he told me, display an unusually strong “sense of interconnectedness” — an awareness of the myriad interacting components that make up a healthy environment. True to form, Albrecht has come up with a concept to encapsulate this idea. He has begun describing the Cape to Cape region as a study in “soliphilia”: “the love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet and the unity of interrelated interests within it.”

Sounds an awful lot like the concepts that, as Ramsay Taum explained in a Honolulu Weekly article I wrote a while back, are fundamental to Hawaiian culture: aloha, aloha aina, malama aina, kuleana, pono.

Albrecht has dubbed it “soliphilia,” and according to the NYT Magazine article, he hopes “his neologism will spread and that it will change how people think about their relationship to the environment.”

The article concludes by asking how people can gain, or regain, that “sense of interconnectedness” that some folks already have.

Those of us living in Hawaii already have a leg up on that process, thanks to the enduring, but beleagured, values of the indigenous culture. As I reported in the Weekly article:

One common misconception, however, is that adopting culturally-based, traditional systems entails the need to ‘go back someplace,’ says Taum, who is also director of external relations and community partnerships for the University of Hawai’i-Manoa’s School of Travel Industry Management and operations director for Hawai’i Nature Center.

Instead, he sees it as "bringing forward those principles and practices our ancestors utilized and employed. It may mean a hybrid of low-tech and high-tech opportunities."

I think it also means being outspoken advocates for respecting and protecting the cultural values and ecosystems that comprise the backbone of this place. It means feeling no shame or silliness in talking openly about feeling the land, caring for other species, recognizing that we are just one thread in the web of life that encompasses all of us. And it also means pointing out what’s wrong with our present course of action.

As the NYT Magazine article concluded:

[T]o understand what it is to be whole, we must first explain what is broken.

Taum recognizes that we have a long ways to go to fix what’s broken. Still, he said:

“[W]e have to believe we have the ability to make that happen, and that we do have a choice. If we can’t do this in Hawaii, where can we do it? We might go so far as to suggest Hawaii is the canary in the cavern. As Hawaii goes, the world goes, too.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

KKCR: KIUC Lawsuit and Lege

I'll be delving into the pending lawsuit against KIUC over the ongoing deaths of Newell's shearwaters on my KKCR radio show today, as well as some of the hot issues facing the Legislature this session.

Please join me from 4-5:30 p.m. (and maybe on till 6) at 90.9 91.9, 92.7 or via the net,

Musings: Outcome Unknown

The moon, edging into fullness on Friday, was smothered by a thick layer of clouds that dimmed its brilliance, but not its light, which illuminated the world with a ghostly grayness when Koko and I went out walking late last night.

By morning, the finest rain was falling, so fine that it felt more like thick mist, so fine that it would merely settle on the leaves and never permeate the soil. As we walked through this muted, softened landscape, where all the interior mountains had ceased to exist, I thought of a roadside conversation I’d had with farmer Jerry the previous morning, where we spoke of how we could feel the land, and it was suffering in the drought, as were we.

And that made me think of all the ways that the ancients, and not so ancients, tended the land, cared for it, to show respect and reverence and also, perhaps, to ease its suffering, as one would a fellow human being, or an animal, because the land is, after all, so very much alive.

And that made me think of the time I interviewed Aletha Kaohi, who is a descendant of kahuna and who herself can see things in the sky, hear things in the wind, and she spoke of how her father had regularly ridden his horse through the hills on the Westside, tending to places that needed regular tending, that had for countless generations been tended, with prayers, offerings and I don’t know what else, because the details of such tendings are not readily shared.

And that made me think of how much tending used to be done, and now is not, and it got me wondering what the consequences are of neglecting such processes. Some, I am sure, are still carried out, by people like Aletha and certain kumu hula and other cultural practitioners, but not anywhere near to the extent that they once were, when people had kuleana, responsibility, for maintaining the spiritual health of certain key places, and they fulfilled it.

I know that many people would dismiss such tendings as mere superstition, but considering that the ancient Hawaiians knew their land so well, and in such detail that they had thousands of place names that were carefully chose to descriptively pinpoint very precise spots, doesn’t it make sense that they also knew what was needed to keep it humming along, working in harmony?

And that got me thinking about Wailua, which is perhaps the most sacred spot on all of Kauai, and Andy Parx’s blog post yesterday, where he asked where was the mayor, who had come up with a new alignment for the bike path that is still on the beach, and “what happened to the dozens of activists who brought the issue of burials to light and the hundreds if not thousands who were outraged enough to get the mayor to put out his bogus realignment announcement. … Have they just given up?”

Well, I know that some are looking into legal action and some are lobbying the mayor’s office and some are discussing other actions and some — many — are grieving. Because when you go down to that beach, drive across that bridge, and see the tall cranes and heavy equipment massed there, all the commotion and activity, you can feel that place is suffering.

At least, I can, and that feeling comes in the form of chicken skin and a sense of foreboding, and I know I am not the only one who feels it.

Yes, I recognize that the river was already drilled to install the bridges that are there now, that burials were already disrupted to build the highway and hotel, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of what is happening now. Perhaps the past despoilment even serves to heighten the current despoilment, much as the straw served to break the camel’s back.

Because, really, how much despoilment can sacred places take, how long can the ritual tendings be neglected before the mana that is the underlying essence of this place is drained, depleted — dimmed, like the landscape that I walked through as I thought these thoughts?

I don’t know the answer to that question, and perhaps no one else does, either. Many, I’m sure, wouldn’t think it a question even worth contemplating.

In the meantime, we just stay the course of this modern path, where nothing is sacred, save for money, and our right to pursue it in pursuit of happiness, counting on science and technology to see us through.

Maybe it will.

Or maybe we ignore these past knowings, these past rituals, these past reverences, at our peril. Like so much of what we’ve immersed ourselves in, with our pesticides and genetic modifications and plastics and carbon emissions, it’s a giant experiment, outcome unknown.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Musings: Crazy, Mixed-Up World

The skies were gray and the wind was gusting from the south when Koko and I went walking this morning. It was very warm, and the perfume from the angel’s trumpets wafted through the air, making it feel far more like spring than the dead of winter.

The Advertiser, reporting that the dry conditions are expected to last through May, with adverse consequences for agriculture and an increased likelihood of brush fires, also noted:

Rain gauges at the Kaua'i mountaintop measured 308 inches in 2009, 73 percent of normal levels, and a scant 3 inches in December, only 7 percent of normal. It was Mount Wai'ale'ale's third-driest December on record, according to National Weather Service data.

This was followed by the comment:

Less rain means I don't have to mow my lawn as often. I hope the dry spell goes beyond May.

Every time I start to think there’s hope for the human race, I am reminded anew of just how stupid, short-sighted and selfish so many of its members are — much like the corporations that share our legal status. Democracy Now! has an interesting, and ironic, interview today with filmmaker Michael Moore, who talks about the role that “Fahrenheit 9/11” played in that landmark Supreme Court decision. Btw, a very interesting discussion on that decision is going on in the comments section of the "Bleeding Heart" post.

I heard a comment in passing on the radio yesterday about how corporations aren’t like humans because they can’t be jailed or put to death. Now I’m not a fan of the death penalty, but it got me thinking about how different things would be if corporations actually could be executed, wiped off the face of the earth, exterminated.

Would the threat of such a punishment change the way they do business, just as capital punishments proponents believe that the death penalty deters crime?

Would Texas, which accounts for about a third of all the people put to death in this nation, suddenly see an exodus of corporate headquarters?

Would Monsanto face the gallows for the scourge of genetically modified foods, especially now that a study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences shows that its GM corn, which is found in almost every non-organic processed food product you eat, is linked to organ damage in rats?

Would Bayer CropScience and the other pesticide companies that produced the toxins beekeepers are linking to colony collapse disorder face death by lethal injection after long years in solitary confinement on death row?

Or maybe we could just skip the charges, trials and appeals altogether and simply assassinate them based on the presumption of their guilt, as the U.S. is mulling in the case of American citizen Anwar al Awlaki, now in Yemen. Heck, there’s already a precedent, as ABC News reports:

An American citizen with suspected al Qaeda ties was killed in Nov. 2002 in Yemen in a CIA predator strike that was aimed at non-American leaders of al Qaeda. The death of the American citizen, Ahmed Hijazi of Lackawanna, NY, was justified as "collateral damage" at the time because he "was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said a former U.S. official familiar with the case.

Like if Massey Energy just happened to somehow get blown up by the same explosives it’s used to blast the tops off some 470 mountains in Appalachia, would that be “collateral damage,” a case of tough shit — wrong place, wrong time?

Because, you know, morality doesn’t matter anymore, right?

The owner has a right to their property, and as long as they extract the mineral in compliance with the law as it's written today, then they have the right to do so," said Randy Huffman of the state's [West Virginia] DEP [Dept. of Environmental Protection]. "There are only certain things that allow me to deny a permit. And you know, what's morally right or wrong in mine or someone else's opinion is not one of those things."

Yes, it’s a crazy, mixed up world. But that’s what you get when human and corporate psychopaths, as a contributor to comments astutely identified them, are running the show.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Musings: Highest Wash of the Waves

I waited all weekend for the rain, which I could feel was out there, and finally it arrived last night, freshening up the world and creating that beautiful music on the leaves and roof that has been ominously infrequent this winter.

Not so with the big winter swells, and another hit the North Shore this past weekend. As I noted in last Tuesday’s post, such swells are common enough that they should indeed be counted as the seasonally highest wash of the waves that marks the boundary of the public beach.

Now here’s a little data to bolster that claim collected from buoy #51001, which is the closest one to Kauai with the longest record — 25 years — although it is currently not reporting.

It shows that on average over the last 25 years, significant wave heights at that buoy exceeded 6 meters (20 feet) 41 times each year, and more than 1,000 times since 1981. The maximum significant wave height on record is at the buoy is 12.3 m (40 feet), recorded in 1988, and the mean annual maximum significant wave height is 7.9 meters (26 feet).

There’s also a rather interesting scientific paper on the subject that you might want to read, which was written by Sean Vitousk for “Pacific Science.” In it he notes:

In October 2006, the Hawaii Supreme Court issued a ruling (Diamond v. State of Hawai‘i) that the shoreline should be established ‘‘at the highest reach of the highest wash of the waves.’’

He then discusses at length the scientific calculations used in coming up with such a determination before concluding:

Thus our recommendation for the annually recurring significant wave height in Hawai‘i is 7.7G0.28 m (25 ftG0.9 ft), and the top 10% and 1% wave heights during this annual swell are 9.8G0.35 m (32.1 ftG1.15 ft) and 12.9G0.47 m (42.3 ftG1.5 ft), respectively.

These values should be considered the maximum annually recurring wave height for open north- and northwest-facing shores such as Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, where swell is directly incident to the shoreline and blocking from neighboring islands is minimized.

Seems it's not so far-fetched to claim that the public shoreline does, indeed, extend farther mauka than some of the certified shorelines might have us believe.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Musings: Cherished Institutions

When Koko and I went out about 10 last night, the wind was blowing hard from the southwest, herding great globs of dark clouds toward a half-moon ringed by a halo. “Here comes the storm,” I thought, but when we went out in the morning, it was dry, still, and the sky was patchy blue.

“It makes me think of that guy [UH geology professor Dr. Tom Giambelluca] we heard at the global warming conference, who said that a lot of the winter storms are passing us by to the north now,” said my neighbor Andy, whom we encountered on our walk.

“And that we can expect to see drier winters, punctuated by episodes of extreme rainfall,” I added, recalling the intense November storms that flooded out Hanalei.

I was up there the other day, and stopped to visit a friend who is a horticulturist.

“Did you notice the mango blossoms?” he asked, and indeed I had, because I’d never seen such profuse blooms in the Hanalei Valley.

“It’s way, way too early,” he said, and when I asked whether he thought it was due to the heat, or the big rain or the sunshine, he shrugged. “Nature is trying to tell us something.”

Problem is, we’ve pretty much lost the ability to read her signs, speak her language. Or maybe we’d rather ignore her.

Opponents of the civil unions bill passed yesterday by the state Senate claim lawmakers are ignoring the will of the people — a cry that gubernatorial hopeful Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona has taken up, too. Is it true? Hard to say, seeing as how what is essentially an equal rights under the law issue has become so muddled by the whole God-traditional marriage-white shirt bit.

Aiona also shares the stance of his boss that lawmakers should ignore civil unions and instead focus on “improving public education and balancing the state budget.”

Ummm, shouldn’t lawmakers be able to multi-task, deal with one more than one complex, controversial or challenging issue per session? No wonder the wheels of government turn so slowly.

My favorite quote came from Sen. Mike Gabbard:

"Marriage is not just a word, it is the foundation, it is the bedrock of our society. It is the cornerstone of civilization and it impacts every one of our lives," he said.

Bedrock of our society? Cornerstone of civilization? Well, then that explains an awful lot, because most marriages I see are dysfunctional unions held together by insecurity, duty, convenience, inertia and economic interests — kinda like the rest of our cherished institutions.

I was also interested to see that the Advertiser’s first report on this ground-breaking issue was a short “breaking news” piece cobbled together by “Advertiser Staff,” perhaps from wire reports and what Larry Geller described as a barrage of tweets.

Thanks to AP, the story had been picked up around the nation, and Michael Levine had even written his own localized piece for The Garden Island, before the on-line edition of The Advertiser produced a by-lined article with any depth this morning. Is it any wonder The Advertiser is dying?

Speaking of dying, I was a dismayed by The Garden Island’s insensitive coverage of yesterday fatal crash on Kaumualii Highway. Under the headline “2nd fatal crash snarls South Shore traffic,” the lede read:

A two-vehicle crash near Maluhia Road in Koloa Friday afternoon left a motorcyclist dead and snarled rush hour traffic for hours, according to county officials.

So those are equally weighted events, a man’s death and a traffic jam? Frick, they could have at least relegated the traffic news to the second paragraph.

It also annoys me when the county reports, and the paper dutifully repeats, that the motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet. So what? Would he necessarily have lived if he had been wearing a helmet? I think it grates on me because it implies that the motorcyclist was somehow to blame for his death, when in fact he was driving along minding his own business until a woman inexplicably plowed into him and sent him flying.

Seems to me that if the county can provide such minor details as whether or not a guy was wearing a helmet, it should also be able to provide more major details, like the name of the woman who killed him.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Musings: Bleeding Heart

Koko and I timed our walk perfectly this morning, going out into the world in that special period that marks the passage between night and day. The sky was all a glitter and the crickets performed a symphony as we headed down the road, and at one point I turned to see a star shooting across the sky, headed for Anahola.

Slowly, the day began to brighten, turning first soft blue, then lavender, then growing orange all around the edges. Mars persisted as the stars slipped from view, until finally, even its brightness was no match for the forces of day, which arrived in a soft shimmer of pink that revealed the sweetest, most delicate draping of clouds atop Waialeale.

In the midst of all this splendor we ran into my neighbor Andy, much to Koko’s delight, as he was away for a few days, which meant no biscuit treats or head rubs for the poor, deprived pooch.

We got to talking about the threat to sue KIUC over the ongoing deaths of Newell’s shearwaters, which I wrote about for The Hawaii Independent. Andy said he had mixed feelings about it, wondering if KIUC really was primarily to blame, and the science that had provided that conclusion.

The science was actually done by some of the world’s leading experts on seabirds in research that was financed by the utility itself, and it showed that KIUC is, indeed, the single largest contributor to mortality among the now rare birds.

The lights at Princeville Resort are another big killer, as are the lights at county sports facilities. The state has a program that is working on light mitigation, but KIUC is being targeted for the lawsuit because it’s applying for a permit to to keep on killing the birds rather than adopt some of the measures that its own studies recommended to protect them years ago.

“Well, if the birds are too stupid to avoid power lines….” Andy started, and I made a sad/mad face and he stopped.

“I know you’re only trying to provoke me,” I said, and he said yes, he was, kind of.

“Most of the deaths have occurred since Iniki, when they strung all these lines on high poles in configurations that are especially dangerous,” I explained. “Eighteen years is a short time to adapt for a species that spends most of its life at sea.”

“But even if the power lines are changed, won’t the birds still have to adapt because they’re facing so many threats — dogs, habitat loss, lights?" Andy asked. "Won't they have to be constantly protected?” .

“So then do we just knowingly let the species disappear?” I asked. “The Endangered Species Act doesn’t really allow us to do that.”

And for me, there’s something terribly tragic about our own species if we’re willing to let another species that was in existence long before we were go extinct because we can’t be bothered to change our own behavior to live in harmony with it.

Andy softened a bit when I told him that some of those involved in the pending litigation have been meeting with Hawaii’s Congressional delegation to find funding for changing the power lines so the burden doesn’t have to fall on the ratepayers. They were getting a good reception, and apparently KIUC hadn’t been seeking such assistance.

“Well, then they deserve to be sued,” Andy said, before adding, “Ah, the bleeding heart Joan.”

I am, I’ll admit it, especially when it comes to animals and nature. But I’ll take a soft heart over a hard heart — or no heart — any day.

Speaking of which, if corporations didn’t have enough influence over our government already, the Supreme Court has opened the door even wider with its 5-4 decision to allow them to spend unlimited amounts of money in electoral campaigns.

What’s really creepy about this, aside from totally undermining the ability of citizens to effect the electoral process, is the way it further reinforces the ominous trend of giving corporations rights that have previously been reserved for real people.

As Jamin Raskin, an author, professor of constitutional law at American University and Maryland state senator, noted in a Democracy Now! interview:

The question here is the corporation, OK? And there’s an unbroken line of precedent, beginning with Chief Justice Marshall in the Dartmouth College case in the 1800s, all the way through Justice Rehnquist, even, in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, saying that a corporation is an artificial creation of the state. It’s an instrumentality that the state legislatures charter in order to achieve economic purposes. And as Justice White put it, the state does not have to permit its own creature to consume it, to devour it.

And that’s precisely what the Supreme Court has done, suddenly declaring that a corporation is essentially a citizen, armed with all the political rights that we have, at the same time that the corporation has all kinds of economic perks and privileges like limited liability and perpetual life and bankruptcy protection and so on, that mean that we’re basically subsidizing these entities, and sometimes directly, as we saw with the Wall Street bailout, but then they’re allowed to turn around and spend money to determine our political future, our political destiny. So it’s a very dangerous moment for American political democracy.

Indeed it is. We are, quite frankly, up against a monster of our own making. And resisting the growing control of corporate power and corporate interests is one very important part of the Revolution of Values.

And finally, if you have thoughts about the newest proposal for the bike path route through Wailua, best get cracking, as Jan. 25 is the deadline. It's supposedly the “last chance” to give comments to the county, as well as state and federal transportation officials, who are especially interested in cultural and historical issues and were reportedly surprised to learn that the Hawaiians and other citizens weren’t on board with the mayor’s latest plan.

You can call Ray McCormick of the state DOT office at 241-3006 or Paul Harker of the federal DOT at 808-541-2309. The county email for comments is

I keep wondering why the option of the existing paved road along the canal isn’t on the table. Apparently OHA officials weren’t even aware of it until they were taken there a week or so ago. It would take the path off the beach and the highway, and since it’s already paved, the likelihood of disrupting burials should be minimal.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Musings: Revolution of Values

Mars was absolutely beaming when Koko and I went walking beneath a sky that was just about equal parts stars and clouds this morning. A cool wind whispered and sighed through the ironwood trees, where a pair of roosters has taken up residence, on opposite sides of the street, and as we walk beneath them each day, they crow in unison, much to the delight of the people living nearby, I’m sure.

I delighted in the rain that fell yesterday. It had been so long I’d almost forgotten the rhythm of rain pattering on the roof, the beauty of a sheets of rain blowing across the landscape and getting lost in the clouds that drape the mountains.

The farmers I know were also pleased to get some rain, the soft steady kind that really saturates the soil. It was much needed, reported farmer Jerry, who said the rain gauge at the station contained only dried bird droppings when he checked it after the three-day weekend.

Speaking of the long weekend, I’ve been interested in how the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lives on, not only 40 some years after his murder, but in the days that have followed the holiday that honors him. I heard Ron Wiley talking about him on the radio, a friend repeated quotes a speaker had used in a talk and another friend left a message on my voice mail:

“I just wanted to wish you and Koko a happy Martin Luther King Day,” he said. This was followed by a pause, and then the words: “We shall overcome.”

Yes, I, too, believe we eventually will overcome in what King described as a “revolution of values” in the very moving “Beyond Vietnam” speech that he delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, and that was broadcast on Democracy Now! It's definitely worth a listen.

The deep conflicts that confront us locally and internationally are not differences of opinion, they’re differences in value systems, and changes in values aren’t achieved through brute force or a recitation of facts or persuasive rhetoric or scientific studies or even lawsuits. The shift happens through a slow, gradual process of infiltrating the dominant culture with a new way of being in the world, and like any revolution, it's a process that doesn't leave much room for compromise.

I’m wondering how much of Kauai’s truly important agricultural land will be compromised through the process of identifying the Important Ag Lands, which gets under way in earnest today.

A look at the list of people the mayor and County Council appointed to the “stakeholder/technical advisory committee” charged with making recommendations about the land that should be protected from development didn’t leave me feeling too hopeful about the process.

The committee is supposed to be made up of “members of the Kaua‘i Community, such as farmers, ranchers, agricultural land owners, agroscientists and engineers, educators, or those working in agricultural-related fields,” according to the statement of interest guidelines.

OK, so the ag land owners part explains why Tom Shigemoto and Mike Tresler, who represent A&B and Grove Farm, respectively, are on there, even though neither have any particular agricultural expertise. But Dee Crowell? (Update: I just found out he now works for Princeville, so apparently that's why he was appointed.) Mattie Yoshioka? Sandi Kato-Klutke? How exactly do they meet the requirements, other than they’re part of the county’s in-crowd?

But the biggest stretch of all is North Shore Realtor Mimsy Bouret, who must be on there solely to ensure Bette Midler's land doesn't get put into the IAL because her only understanding of ag land is how to sell it to gentleman farmers and divide it up into CPRs.

Speaking of which, I heard the 2,000-acre Kealanani “agricultural” subdivision at Kealia has been foreclosed on by the bank. Unfortunately, the approvals it won remain with the land, allowing the faux farm development to move forward.

As I recall, when the developers were pushing that project they made assurances about how they would strictly enforce the farming provision in the homeowners' rules because they are members of the community who love Kauai and care about its future, blah, blah, blah. So will the new owners at the bank have that same level of commitment and concern? Or will this be just another shibai ag subdivision, like Keala Kai, across the highway?

It seems that when a property is sold or lost to the banks before development begins that the approvals should be revisted, because the situation has changed. A good case in point in Coco Palms, which keeps on changing hands, with all those valuable approvals intact, even as the property continues to deteriorate.

Returning to the topic addressed on my last post, yes, I know it's the state, not the county, that does shoreline certifications. But the county affects how that plays out in terms of the public beach when it approves landscape plans that extend to the shoreline certification line, which is supposed to be valid for just one year. And while I've been told the state employee doing the certifications is dedicated to his work and trying to do the right thing, he is also subject to pressures that are placed upon DLNR to interpret the law, and define shorelines, in a way that tends to favor landowners over the public.

One comment left on the last post was helpful in citing the Supreme Court decision and statute that addresses this issue:

From Diamond v. State of Hawaii:

Indeed, the statute utilizes such language as "the upper reaches of the wash of the waves" and "at high tide during the season of the year in which the highest wash of the waves occurs."

The legislative history of HRS § 205A-1 also supports the interpretation that the shoreline should be certified at the highest reach of the highest wash of the waves. In 1986, the legislature amended the definition of shoreline, adding the following emphasized language that is currently in the statute: "the upper reaches of the wash of the waves, other than storm or tidal waves, at high tide during the season of the year in which the highest wash of the waves occurs, usually evidenced by the edge of vegetation growth, or the upper limit of debris left by the wash of the waves." 1986 Haw. Sess. L. Act 258, § 2 at 469 (added language emphasized). Regarding this added language, House Standing Committee Report No. 550-86 states:

[Y]our Committees have incorporated the suggested amendments to this bill by:
. . . .

(2) Amending the definition of shoreline, to further clarify the manner in which the shoreline is determined to protect the public's interest[.]
1986 Hse. Stand. Com. Rep. No. 550-86, in House Journal, at 1244 (emphasis added). This clarification, which requires the shoreline to be determined at the time when the upper reaches of the wash of the waves would be at their highest, evinces the legislature's intent to reserve as much of the shore as possible to the public. Accordingly, the "upper reaches of the wash of the waves" is the highest reach of the highest wash of the waves in non-storm or tidal conditions.

That would certainly seem to include the big swells that are typical of North Shore conditions. However, if the Lege is truly committed to "reserve as much of the shore as possible to the public," they can show it by passing a bill this next session that gives DLNR more authority to force landowners to remove vegetation that encroaches on the beach.

I appreciate those who make comments that advance or clarify a discussion, including those who offer a different point of view, and I will be attempting to raise the level of discourse a bit by moderating comments.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Musings: Every Picture Tells a Story

Every picture tells a story, so after seeing this one, and then taking my own visit, with tape measure in hand, to Wailua Beach yesterday, it appears that Mayor Carvalho didn’t actually “get smart” and move the bike path off the beach, as I asserted in my last post, but “got slick” instead.

Although the county press release states that “the proposed alignment for the Wailua Beach section will be shifted from the beach to the right-of-way on the makai side of Kuhio Highway,” it’s quite clear from this photo and my own observation that the path won’t actually run along the shoulder of the road, as most assumed — and The Garden Island headline proclaimed — but on the beach.

Yes, the route is a little bit farther mauka than the boardwalk was originally planned, but it’s still on the beach. In fact, now it’s right on the dunes, where most burials traditionally are. If you have any doubt that’s the beach, let’s remember that the rock wall was built to keep ocean debris from washing onto the road.

So nice try Bernard, right down to making the announcement on a Friday afternoon prior to a three-day weekend — the traditional time for putting a spin on news you don’t want followed too closely. Andy Parx, in his inimitable style, nails it with the title of his blog post on the subject: ANOTHER STEAMING PILE ON THE BIKE PATH.

That wasn’t the only steaming pile I encountered this weekend. When I went north, again with tape measure in hand, to the lovely shoreline of Wainiha, I discovered, much to my dismay, that Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, has installed his yard on our beach. See all the driftwood that the waves deposited on his manicured lawn?

Again, every picture tells a story, and this one, unfortunately, offers a tale that is repeated all along that stretch of coast where the state and county have allowed people to encroach onto our beach so they can build massive houses on relatively small lots and still have that de rigueur front lawn and thick naupaka hedge to provide them with the privacy they desire.

We measured debris on his lawn 36 feet in from his certified shoreline — a shoreline that is supposed to mark the highest seasonal wash of the waves, which represents the boundary of the public beach.

Now that he’s got a naupaka hedge and gate and lawn and landscape features on our beach, it raises the question: how do we, the people, ever get our 36 feet of beach back? Unless, of course, the state and county make him move back his plantings behind the true shoreline, which would cut his usable lawn in half and allow the riff raff to get uncomfortably close.

So I got to wondering, why is it that the government is always so worried about “taking” from private landowners, but thinks nothing of “taking” from the public? Why is that even as the experts warn against building too close to the shoreline, the county is approving oceanfront homes that would have virtually no setback if the shoreline certification wasn’t manipulated in the landowner’s favor?

Kiedis, of course, isn’t the only one. The same situation is occurring all along that shoreline, including right next door, where Joe Brescia is building atop a cemetery, and a few lots down, where the waves on Friday washed right under the house. And all along that coastline their gardeners are busy planting and irrigating to perpetuate the illusion that our beach is really part of their yards.

The county and state and Realtors and landowners can pretend that these certifications are legit, but the piles of ocean debris — and the pictures — tell quite a different story.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Musings: Get Smart

A thick layer of clouds and the deep quiet of a Sunday morning on a three-day weekend made it easy to sleep in a bit today, so the sun was already bleeding red into a narrow patch of clear sky above the Giant by the time Koko and I set out walking.

We quickly ran into my neighbor Andy on this 117th anniversary of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian nation, and I told him I’d talked to my sister last night. She lives in St. Louis, and had listened to last Thursday's radio show, which touched on Hawaiian sovereignty, over the Internet.

“I don’t think that issue is really on hardly anyone’s mind on the mainland,” she said. “The only thing most people know about sovereignty is that group Todd Palin belongs to, and I don’t think that’s the kind of association the Hawaiians want.

“I don’t think most people on the mainland have any idea that Hawaii was an independent nation with a Queen,” she continued. “They just look at it as another state. They don’t think about its history. But when you go there, it feels like another country. First, it takes so long to get there, and it has that tropical climate. All the foliage is so different, and Hawaiian words are part of the daily vocabulary. It just feels very, very different.”

“Ah, so the Hawaiian culture does live on,” Andy said.

“Yes,” I replied. “Hawaii is different. You can even find saimin on the menu at McDonald’s.”

Ah, so much educating needs to be done…..

But hey, at least Mayor Bernard Carvalho got smart and has agreed to move the bike path, which was sold to the feds as an alternative transportation route, off Wailua Beach and into the right-of-way of the main transportation route: Kuhio Highway. It makes sense, especially since the path is going to run along the highway at the golf course, anyway.

According to the county’s press release, the path will run makai of the rock wall, which will be removed and replaced with a concrete barrier. Since the path will be made of concrete, there’s no need to auger down into the sand and risk an encounter with burials. Still, it’s pretty hard to tell from the schematics on the county’s website if the path will still be on the dunes, as the state DOT reportedly told the Sierra Club’s Judy Dalton, according to The Garden Island.

And then there’s that lawsuit over the cultural impacts of the Wailua Bridge widening project, of which the path is a part, to be resolved. I heard DOT’s Tammy Mori on the radio the other talking about how crews will drill down 90 feet to install the new cane haul bridge, and thought, uh oh. A hearing for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for Feb. 8, but the state filed a motion to change the venue to Kauai, which might bump that hearing until later. Meanwhile, the work proceeds.

Anyway, the mayor’s decision to move the path just goes to show that even when some folks think a matter is over, settled, pau, and nothing can be done to change it, a loud enough public outcry can make a difference. So gotta keep on standing up for what you believe — even when the naysayers try to convince you it's futile.

Heck, most people thought attempts to reform KPD were futile, but then I read that Chief Darryl Perry actually fired two bad cops and one slack civilian employee last year. Another four officers were suspended for “poor performance, falsification of records, conduct and conduct toward the public.” That’s good news, and I don’t recall any previous chiefs submitting their annual disciplinary reports to the newspaper — perhaps because there weren't any.

Now we've just got to work on reforming the marijuana laws. It was rather discouraging to read the article about the Kekaha man who got 90 days for growing 77 marijuana plants, for several reasons.

First, you have the stupidity and waste — it costs $88,000 a year to incarcerate someone — of sending someone to jail for growing.

Second, you have the robed tyrant making asinine comments like:

Kanahele’s “defiance,” including possession and use of marijuana and the influence it creates, and how it contributed to his problems, should be proof that marijuana is a dangerous drug, Valenciano said.

Third, you have the "knock 'em back till late in the bars" county prosecutor making hypocritical (and inarticulate) statements like:

“His problems has [sic] to do with drugs,” and he continues to smoke marijuana, Iseri-Carvalho said.

Fourth, you’ve got the county prosecutor actually arguing a small kine case like this herself, which offers grim evidence of just how badly that department has deteriorated under her administration.

But interestingly, most of the comments left on the story supported the concept of "free up the weed." It’s time for Kauai to follow in the footsteps of the Big Island and California, where an Assembly committee just passed a measure to legalize and tax the plant“It is estimated that the bill would generate $1.3 billion a year in taxes and marijuana cultivation fees.” — and adopt a new, more akamai approach to this issue.

Ah, so much educating needs to be done….

Friday, January 15, 2010

Musings: Dream a Little Dream

The darkness of a new moon morning was emphasized by a thick layer of clouds that prompted me to take a flash light when Koko and I went walking, something I never do. Before long, though, the edges of the sky began to brighten and Koko began to whine, signaling that my neighbor Andy and his dog, Momi, were fast coming up from behind.

Andy doesn’t listen to the radio, but he was curious about yesterday’s show, since we’re both friends with and fans of Kaleo Patterson. I said that Kaleo had talked about how it’s easy to forget the progress that has been made over the past 50 years toward restoring the Hawaiian culture and moving toward reconciliation because folks are still so focused on the goal of self-governance, and rightly so.

As one sign of that progress within the Hawaiian community itself, he noted that a torch light aha kukui ceremony, which he described as holding the light high, shining the light on something, is planned for this weekend to mark the 117th anniversary of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. One of those torches will be stationed at Kawaihao Church, which shunned the Queen after the overthrow, and other Hawaiian churches that previously have been on the sidelines of the independence movement, or even opposed it, are also participating.

Andy said he was glad that Kaleo had discussed that, because it’s important for people to know that Hawaiians long have been divided about a lot of issues, except for annexation, which they pretty much universally opposed.

What I especially appreciated were Kaleo’s comments about the subtle, and not so subtle, ways that violence has ingratiated itself into our culture through language — he cited bullet points, target populations and the Killer Tacos stand in Haleiwa as examples — and studies that have shown most people are not inherently violent. (And then there are the conscience-less psychopaths, which I'll discuss in a future post.)

A lot of it is learned behavior, and so it can be unlearned, or we can learn different ways of being, which is why he helped start the Center for Indigenous Leadership and Peacemaking at UH, which studies nonviolent cultures.

They tend to be very careful about how they use language, he said, and they also practice gender equity.

“They also shun competition,” I told Andy, “which is something that most Americans would consider heresy.”

Kaleo didn’t gloss over the difficulties of achieving a non-violent society, saying it’s a lot easier to solve a dispute with a bullet than to sit down with your opponent and lay your issues by side by side on the table, without the desire to dominate.

And that got me thinking about a quote that Dawson had cited in comments:

Dominion. We have only one thing to give up: our dominion. We don’t own the world. We're not kings here, not gods. Can we give that up? Too precious, all that control? Too tempting, being a god?

It struck me later that the foundation of peace lies in the willingness to step back from that desire to dominate.

We aren’t there yet, especially not America as a nation and those of us who have grown up immersed in its violence. As I told Andy, I vacillate between wanting to be peaceful and tearing someone’s head off — especially the idiots who revel in their thoughtlessness, insensitivity, greed and destructiveness.

It’s still a dream, achieving that state of personal peacefulness that ultimately will help transform the world into a peaceful place, but hey, I'm a dreamer from way back. It’s good to have dreams.

Just ask Ken Stokes. According to an article in The Hawaii Independent on the challenges and opportunities facing Kauai in the new decade (which as Andy likes to point out doesn’t officially start until 2011):

“People tend to focus on the fear factor,” Stokes says. “My expectation is that by 2020 we will have stood that notion [of being cut off] on its head. Kauai has the capacity to produce far more renewable energy than we’ll ever need.” Stokes goes so far as to suggest Kauai could some day be exporting energy.

Or JoAnn Yukimura, who was quoted in the same article and apparently does not read the comments section of this blog:

“The generally caring, giving nature of people on Kauai will play a big role in facing these and future challenges,” says Yukimura, who was mayor during the 1992 Hurricane Iniki. The same spirit of sharing and helping each other, she says, is still the predominant force of the people of Kauai today, is what most give her cause for optimism.

Looking ahead 10 years and beyond, Yukimura says that “if we make it over the hump, it’s going to be because of this.”

Or Glenn Hontz, also quoted in the story:

“It takes training and on-going technical assistance to become successful at growing food. Sadly, too many of us want someone else to learn how,” Hontz says. Still, he prefers to listen to his “optimistic voice” and continues pushing to advance the groundwork required for Kauai to feed itself by 2020.

Meanwhile, we keep expanding our roadways, instead of our bus system, our ag land continues to be developed as gentleman’s estates and vacation rentals, rather than farms, no significant alternative energy proposal has even entered the planning process and the council just nixed the windmill bill and is aghast at the 50-cent fuel surcharge proposed by the dreamy Kaua‘i Energy Sustainability Plan.

So we’ve got dreams, and we’ve got reality. Seems it’s good to face up to the latter, while still holding fast to the former. Because as Brudda Iz, among others, sang, "Dreams really do come true."

Sometimes, anyway.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kahu Patterson on KKCR

Dr. Kahu Kaleo Patterson, president of the Pacific Justice Reconciliation Center and longtime sovereignty and social justice advocate, will be my guest on KKCR at 4 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 14.

In recognition of the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day and 117th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, we'll be discussing peace, social justice, the importance of nonviolent direct action in achieving social change, the peaceful legacy of Queen Liliuokalani, ho`oponopono, church apologies for the overthrow and much more.

Join us for a thoughtful, inspiring and informative discussion at FM 90.9. 91.9, 92.7 or listen on-line at We'll be taking calls and questions, too. 808-826-7771.

Musings: What Kind of Legacy?

The moon, a thin sliver of white, had just topped the Giant and was barely visible in a robin’s egg blue sky that slowly turned golden when Koko and I went walking this morning. It was cold, about the same temperature — 60 degrees — as my house, and things were looking rosy above Lihue.

Then all the color drained from the sky, leaving it that washed-out white that precedes the dawn, and we kept on walking, stopping to pet two very lonely and very dirty dogs. Just as suddenly, the color reappeared in a flush of scarlet above Kealia, transforming Waialeale from a steel-blue hulk into a majestic purple mountain.

Meanwhile, Joe Brescia continues to transform a Hawaiian burial ground into a luxurious oceanfront spec home, and once again, the Planning Commission refused yesterday to take any action to stop him.

For the second time, Commissioners refused to consider a request by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and attorney Harold Bronstein to require Brescia to show that he has complied with all conditions of his permit.

Commissioner Hartwell Blake, who was absent at the last session, this time joined Commission Vice Chair Herman Texeira in voting against the motion to dismiss the matter. Blake, a former county attorney, also had the courage to recognize the process for the full-on sham that it is. As The Garden Island reported:

The requested order, had it been approved, would have made clear that the commission believes Brescia has not complied with Condition No. 5 of the building location, material and design review, approved in December 2007, which states, “No building permit shall be issued until requirements of the State Historic Preservation Division and the Burial Council have been met.”

Blake said Brescia cannot possibly have met all of SHPD’s requirements because he does not even know what those requirements are because there is no approved burial treatment plan. Responding to his own rhetorical question whether Condition No. 5 has been met, Blake said, “The answer is no.”

It’s hard to believe the Commission can get away with this crap, until you read a little bit farther in the story and see the real reason — as articulated again by Deputy County Attorney Maunakea Trask — why this matter is being swept under the rug (emphasis added):

Trask argued revoking the permits now or even issuing a declaratory order stating the permit conditions have not been followed would fly in the face of Watanabe’s “bifurcated” order and would expose the county to a lawsuit by Brescia claiming the action is a “taking.”

So what it really comes down to is it’s OK to take from Hawaiians and their culture, but it is not OK to even consider taking anything from a mainland developer who knowingly built atop a burial site and has failed to comply with his permit.

“The issue is not whether he had a permit. That’s undeniable,” said Harold Bronstein, an intervenor in the case on behalf of the North Shore ‘Ohana and Caren Diamond. “The issue is whether he violated the permit. And that’s undeniable.”

But hey, don’t let the facts, much less morality, get in the way of your fear over a frigging lawsuit. So what kind of precedent is being set here? That you can just thumb your nose at the Burial Council and breeze on through?

Unfortunately, blowing off cultural concerns — and the law — is nothing new in Hawaii’s approach to land use, nor is it unique to the Islands.

That’s why I was interested to read about an ongoing conflict between between the Mashpee Wampanoag and Aquinnah Wampanoag Indian tribes in Massachusetts and Energy Management Inc. (EMI) a New England based energy company that wants to develop Cape Wind, the nation’s first offshore wind farm, on Nantucket Sound.

The tribes are arguing the 130-turbine project would disturb ancient burial grounds and interfere with ancient spiritual sun-greeting rituals, which require a clear view of the horizon. They want the project, now in its ninth year of the approval process, relocated or dropped.

Now this is really fascinating. Here in Hawaii, it’s culture vs. greedy, insensitive developers. But the stakes are even higher in the Cape Wind case, which pits cultural considerations against energy, the thing that most Americans hold more sacred than anything else.

Not surprisingly, the issue is generating comments like this:

”If there is any legitimate hope for this country to have a renewable energy strategy, we have to demonstrate individual stakeholders cannot block entire agendas,’’ said Robert Kaufmann, professor and chairman of Boston University’s department of geography and the environment.

East Coast newspapers are also pushing for the project, saying it would send a symbol to the world that America is serious about “green” energy.

The National Park Service recently weighed in with native concerns, saying the Nantucket Sound is eligible to be listed on the Historic Register, which affords it more development protection. Now Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is trying to hammer out a compromise, and the developer is talking financial compensation to the tribes.

But you know, some things just don’t have a price tag. As Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe told Indian Country Today:

“My fear is that they’ll try to throw money at us just to go away and let it happen, but what kind of legacy would we be leaving for our children?”

It seems that’s a question that the five Kauai Planning Commissioners who refused to revisit the Brescia permit issues might want to be asking themselves today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Musings: On the Road

Koko and I were led by our shadows, cast by a golden sliver of waning moon, when we went out walking this cold, clear morning, my eyes on the heavens, Koko’s nose near the ground, both of us ever alert to road kill, but for different reasons. Above us, the sky was brilliant with stars and busy — a satellite headed south, passing just below red-orange Mars, as two eastbound planes skirted the Big Dipper.

In the distance, Waialeale and Makaleha appeared as dark hulks against a pale sky, and streaks of red briefly illuminated the east, then faded to gray, waiting for reinforcement from a sleepy head sun still a good 40 minutes from rising.

I’m always struck by how differently I feel and see things when I’m on the road walking, as opposed to driving. The world seems smaller in a car — colder, more distant, deader — and it struck me, when I was driving the other day, that it’s yet one more way we separate ourselves from nature and others.

A friend, most likely enroute to surf, called to report he was traveling down the highway behind a white Toyota pickup truck with a vanity plate that read GOT-ICE.

“Pretty blatant,” he observed.

I was driving alongside a blue pickup truck the other day with a DRUG FREE KAUAI sticker on the back window and a king-sized cigarette sticking out of the mouth of the driver.

Yeah, stamp out those illicit drugs, which kill some 17,000 people annually, but don’t touch the legal drugs like tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceuticals and aspirin, which take out 559,600 users. Meanwhile, marijuana has not been the cause of a single death.

Go figger….

While searching for that data, I stumbled upon another site with the attention-grabbing headline: “Statistics prove prescription drugs are 16,400% more deadly than terrorists.” It noted, after observing that 2,996 people died on Sept. 11, 2000, including the passengers on the four commercial airliners:

According to the groundbreaking 2003 medical report Death by Medicine, by Drs. Gary Null, Carolyn Dean, Martin Feldman, Debora Rasio and Dorothy Smith, 783,936 people in the United States die every year from conventional medicine mistakes. That's the equivalent of six jumbo jet crashes a day for an entire year. But where is the media attention for this tragedy?

Always good to keep things in perspective…..

A friend sent a link The Garden Island opinion pages that included a letter to the editor supporting decriminalization of marijuana written by Harry Boranian. "In case you don’t know," he wrote — and I didn't —"Boranian was a powerful political figure from the past, head of the AFL-CIO during the Hawaiian labor unions' rising in the '50s and 60's and later, Honolulu mayor Frank Fasi's city aide."

Let’s hope he still wields some clout.

Getting back on the road, I noticed that the Wailua cane haul bridge will be closed until July, starting on Wednesday, which means we’re looking at six months of sheer hell. We’ve already gotten a preview these past few months when one lane across the bridge has been closed intermittently, causing long traffic snakes to form in both directions.

Aside from the uncalculated toll in lost productivity, wasted fuel and human stress, the bridge widening is costing $25 million — 80 percent of it in federal funds. Yet once you zip over the new “Acrow panel bridge” that will replace the charming cane haul bridge, or the “historic” Wailua Bridge, which inexplicably has been renamed the Bryan J. Baptiste Memorial Bridge, you’re still gonna end up crawling along in the same old three-lane highway that runs on either side of the river.

Go figger…..

While driving on Saturday, I caught snatches of the oldies radio show on KKCR, which included protest songs from the 1960s and some snippets of speeches and other broadcasts from that era. It got me thinking about the demonstrations, bombings, cultural questioning — all the social and political upheaval of that time.

That reminded me of a quote I read the other day that went something like this: “The Baby Boomers were the generation that had the power to change the world. Instead, they opted for the Home Shopping Network.”

And that got me thinking about whether that was a such good choice.

It appears it was not. As a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research noted:

This analysis indicates that the loss of wealth due to the collapse of the housing bubble and the plunge in the stock market will make the baby boomers far more dependent on Social Security and Medicare than prior generations. While it will be desirable to develop more secure mechanisms for workers to save for retirement in the future, the baby boom generation for the most part has insufficient time remaining before retirement to accumulate substantial savings. Therefore, they will be largely dependent on social insurance programs to support them in retirement.

Hmmm. Maybe the communes will be resurrected out of sheer economic necessity.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Musings: On Polarization (Part II)

Waialeale was tucked beneath fleecy layers of white, gray, charcoal and pink this morning, ending a long stretch of days where her face and summit were gloriously revealed. It had the effect of subduing everything when Koko and I went walking, and I paused in a vacant lot at the end of the road to enjoy the serenity, silence and view.

“Just think,” I said to my neighbor Andy, when he showed up with three dogs. “If they try to fence this off, or build here, we could protest, or sue them, because we’ve been walking here for a long time now.”

“That’s right,” he responded. “It’s not about private property. This is public land.”

We were spoofing on the Larsen’s Beach access issue, a topic that has intermittently found its way into our morning conversations in recent weeks.

It’s an issue that has caused me no small amount of irritation, primarily because it’s been accompanied by so much false information that is being dispensed, both deliberately and unwittingly, under the guise of “facts.”

It’s also showed me clearly how the common strategy of selectively using and/or distorting information to make one’s case — an approach that is integral to our much cherished rule of law — works to suppress truth and justice, while fostering conflict and polarization. And that’s why so many issues turn into bitter pitched battles that consume a lot of time, money and energy.

I see the Larsen’s Beach issue headed in the same direction, with Waioli officials chafing at the “sense of entitlement” behind such claims as “these trails are not private land” — an assertion made on a “fact sheet” stapled to a fence post in the beach parking lot — and fencing opponents chafing at an “evil landowner” and “religious zealot” engaged in a “witch hunt” aimed at keeping nudists, gays and hippies off the beach.

There’s likely some truth to all those points of view, but focusing on the “us against them” aspects of the issue is not going to get Waioli what it really wants — an agricultural land dedication to keep its property taxes low and relief from liability concerns — its lessee Bruce Laymon what he really wants — federal money for fences that won't be cut by disgruntled beach-goers — or beach-goers what they really want — the easiest possible access to the western end of the shore.

But it will allow everyone to wallow in the comfortably familiar feelings of indignation, self-righteousness, virtue, blame. An excellent article in Orion about the clash between humans and wildlife, which found its way to my inbox, as so often happens, just as I was seeking some clarity on the topic of polarization, expresses that dynamic well:

Each side is glaring, garish even, in its shriek of righteousness—and so it is with bears the way it is with everything else: we respond from a black-and-white paradigm, the potent dualities of us versus them resound with a faint, prehistoric echo. Instead of man against weather, or man against beast, though, it’s Republicans vs. Democrats, tree-huggers vs. wise-users, Buddhists vs. Bible thumpers. The appeal of such binary thinking is that we are able to name not only who we are, but also what we are not. We draw the dividing line like a firebreak, and it holds back the advancing enemy while we retreat to safer ground.

Is it possible to avoid such polarization? We see how conflict is an essential element in law and news, and it’s inherent in how we practice politics and religion. But is that truly the way things are and must be, or just how we’ve been taught to behave and believe?

When I first began discussing this with my neighbor Andy, he said it all comes down to the age-old battle between good and evil.

“And Waioli isn’t evil,” said Andy, who serves on its board.

“Not like the Superferry,” I said.

“Or Linda Lingle,” he countered.

We were just teasing. Kind of.

Still, good and evil do exist, and our deep recognition of that duality is perhaps why we reflexively choose sides, even when doing so isn’t accurate and works against our best interest, as in the Larsen’s beach access issue. Compromise is possible on this one, folks, and it’s only going to happen if people stop posturing and instead start focusing on their common interests.

But other times it is accurate, and in our best interest, to choose sides on the basis of good and evil, to reject compromise and embrace polarization. And that will be the next topic I explore in this series.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Hawaii Independent: Larsen's Beach

If you're interested in the Larsen's Beach issue, or the broader topic of public access and the challenges associated with securing and maintaining it, I just published a rather lengthy story on that topic at The Hawaii Independent:

KAUAI—As plans proceed to fence a trail that runs across private land, the onus is falling on Kauai County to ensure that public access to Larsen’s Beach is maintained.

The issue has been smoldering for months on Kauai, revealing a deep mistrust of private landowners and the county, renewing long-standing concerns about the liability associated with beach access and raising questions about just how easy an access should be. Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Musings: Peace is Possible

The moon was halved, but still bright enough to light the road, when Koko and I went walking this morning. A satellite zipped past Mars, which was bold red in the west and accompanied by numerous stars in a sky that started out clear, but within 20 minutes was swept with clouds.

An hour later, back on the road, but in a car this time, I saw the sun rise, also halved, and its golden light caused the still waters of the Wailua River to gleam and the summit of Waialeale to appear as if it had been iced with a thick layer of lavender frosting.

Just as I appreciate the beauty of the dawn, I appreciate the thoughtful comments and links provided by readers. Two were left on Tuesday’s post that are worth further exploration by readers because they speak truth about America's activities overseas.

One offered a quote from a compelling New York Times Magazine piece by Michael Ignatieff that spoke to how "America's entire war on terror is an exercise in imperialism."

The other referenced an interview with journalist and activist Allan Nairn on yesterday’s broadcast of Democracy Now! I missed that program, so I checked it out and found that Nairn offered a perspective that would benefit more Americans to consider:

Let’s say al-Qaeda occupied New York. They set up checkpoints on Seventh Avenue. And if a car tried to run the checkpoints, they’d machine-gun the car, as the US does in Iraq. Or they ran drones over Washington, DC, and they were taking out US officials in their backyards as they did barbecues in suburban Virginia or as they were going for coffee in Dupont Circle. How would Americans react to that? In fact, how would Americans react if some young American went out and killed some of those al-Qaeda occupiers? The question answers itself.

The point is that the violence coming out of the Middle East is being fed by the violence that we’re committing and abetting in the Middle East. As Nairn notes, after recounting our attacks on wedding parties and the Pentagon’s characterization of civilian casualties as “bugsplat”:

I mean, when you do things like this, when you make humans into bugsplat, you invite response. So, stop the killing, and you get a benefit. You’ll probably make yourself safer, as well.

There is an antidote to this “I hurt you, so you hurt me, so I hurt you, and you hurt me” approach that fuels the world's war machine. It’s called teaching empathy and peacemaking skills. And I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a woman who has taken up that initiative here on Kauai, with good results.

I hope you'll take a moment to check out her story here. I found it a good reminder that one person can make a difference, and we humans can learn new ways to live.

It’s imperative that we do. As Nairn observed:

You know, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan … horrible regimes. Today, they’re peaceful and productive. They were crushed by violence. That’s how they transformed their societies. I hope we don’t have to be crushed in that way. We can transform ourselves, but people have to stand up and do it. Surround Congress. Occupy the military bases. The US can become peaceful also, but only if we decide to do so. And we do have that choice. We have freedoms here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Musings: Obama's Vacation

I was talking to a friend yesterday who was trying to get back to Kauai from Honolulu Sunday night and was already on the plane, when everything came to a standstill. They sat there for 30 minutes, then disembarked, and learned that all air traffic had been grounded because Obama and his entourage were enroute to Hickham AFB for their own departure. Commercial airliners that were supposed to land had to just keep circling.

By the time the airport started functioning again, interisland flights were all backed up. In the end, after hanging at the airport for several hours, he and his family got bumped and were put up at the Plaza overnight and given free one-way airfare, returning to Kauai Monday morning.

We speculated on how many thousands of people were inconvenienced that evening, and how many thousands of dollars it cost the airlines. Mostly he wondered why it was even necessary, when the Prez was flying out of Hickham, where they’ve got fighter jets that could be scrambled if need be.

Another friend told me that he’d pirated a copy of “Avatar” — one with German subtitles — and thought it was great that Obama and his daughters had gone to watch that film, as it contained messages about imperialism and environmentalism and Native American rights, and maybe some of those themes had sunk in.

Maybe, I said. Then I asked if the movie was violent, and he said there was one part where a village was being attacked and they showed a woman and her children getting blown up by bombs. And I said, do you suppose, when Obama was watching that scene, that he flashed on the thought, wow, that’s what we’re doing to civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and now Yemen? Do you suppose he and his daughters talked about the effects of war and imperialism afterward?

Or were they just caught up in the spectacle of entertainment and the deeper messages, the uncomfortable truths, just slipped on by, like buttered popcorn from greasy fingers?

One message that may never have gotten through to Obama — and apparently not the rest of the world — was the opposition of Hawaiian Nationalists to the revised Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act — aka, the Akaka Bill.

They staged a demonstration near his Kailua vacation home on New Year’s Day, and distributed a press release to news media throughout the U.S. that stated, in part:

The NHGRA, also known as the Akaka Bill, proposes to federally recognize a "Native Hawaiian governing entity" within the framework of U.S. federal policy and law regarding Native Americans that would subject the entity to the plenary power of the U.S. Congress. NHGRA thus seeks to undercut the growing movement in Hawai'i to restore an independent Hawaiian State under international law.

Demonstrators will emphasize the blatant lack of due process mandated by the U.S. Constitution in the genesis of the NHGRA: there have been no public hearings on it held in Hawai'i since the one hearing held back in 2000, when the vast majority of testifiers vehemently opposed the legislation. Opponents of the Bill and proponents of independence will demand immediate hearings in all the islands ahead of further action. As it is, on 12/16/09, the House Committee on Natural Resources voted in support of H.R. 2314, while on 12/17/09 the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs voted in support of a newly amended S.1011. Both versions of the Bill are slated to be considered by the U.S. Congress when it returns from recess later this month.

But despite the large media pool that accompanies Obama everywhere, reporting even such minutiae as what type of clothing his daughters were wearing, I couldn’t find any print coverage of it — not even in the Honolulu dailies.

Apparently it’s preferable to let Hollywood deal with the troubling issue of imperialism than recognize it and address it in your own home town.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Musings: Back to Reality

It’s Monday, the official end of a long weekend that followed a previous long weekend, and for some state workers, the culmination of a two-week furlough. The sun has disappeared behind the clouds, which are releasing a smattering of rain.

I wish I had something to perk you up. Instead, I just have this report from The Washington Post. If you’re feeling like you’ve been frettin’ and sweatin’, but not getting anywhere (to borrow lyrics from The Clash), you’re right:

The past decade was the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times, a sharp reversal from a long period of prosperity that is leading economists and policymakers to fundamentally rethink the underpinnings of the nation's growth.

Middle-income households made less in 2008, when adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1999 -- and the number is sure to have declined further during a difficult 2009. The Aughts were the first decade of falling median incomes since figures were first compiled in the 1960s.

And the net worth of American households -- the value of their houses, retirement funds and other assets minus debts -- has also declined when adjusted for inflation, compared with sharp gains in every previous decade since data were initially collected in the 1950s.

But don’t worry. We’ve turned the corner, doncha know? Heck, everything is going to be OK:

The financial crisis is, for all practical purposes, over, and forecasters are now generally expecting the job market to turn around early in 2010 and begin creating jobs. The task ahead for the next generation of economists is to figure out how, in a decade that began with such economic promise, things went so wrong.

Ya think?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Musings: On Polarization (Part I)

The ping, crack and thunk of small projectiles hitting the skylights continue to keep Koko on edge this wildly windy day. Gusts from the southwest are whipping down from Waialeale, causing branches to snap and leaves to skitter and the horses’ manes to lift and all the trees to sigh.

I always associate winter wind with Laysan albatrosses, because these are the days they love to soar and swoop and glide, using their intricate and intimate understanding of the wind to propel their big bodies effortlessly through space. They’re absolutely magnificent, like the humpbacks that also come to Hawaii in the winter months to breed.

The albatrosses were here long before any people, but were driven out by hungry humans and kept out by plantation crops. They’ve only recently begun to return — Gary Smith saw the first one in modern times land at Crater Hill, where it was inexplicably shot, back in the 1970s.

Since then, they’ve gained a toehold at the Kilauea lighthouse and found tenuous refuge on private North Shore Kauai land, where they’ve been intermittently ravaged by dogs. They are very much a species at risk on Kauai, and due to the mongoose threat elsewhere, this is the only main island where they stand a chance to thrive.

So I was greatly distressed when a friend, who is also an environmentalist, expressed the sentiment, in regard to opening a coastal trail that could impact one of their nesting colonies, that because they are neither threatened nor endangered, “they can move over and share the road.”

Previously, she’d told me that if she had to choose between the birds and coastal access, sorry, but she’d choose the trail.

That choice was made, unwittingly, and most certainly without consulting the seabirds, when the old coastal trail between Moloa`a and Ka`aka`aniu was reopened after much contentious wrangling with Tom McCloskey, owner of Moloaa Bay Ranch. Just a few weeks ago, an albatross and three wedgetail shearwaters nearly ready to fledge were found dead along that trail, victims of a dog attack.

We pet-loving humans don’t, it seems, share the road too well.

I was told that McCloskey was so burned out by the trail easement process that he didn’t want to go through the hassle and expense of getting a conservation district permit to install the fencing that could have protected the seabirds nesting on his property.

So the public got its access, which is a good thing, but in the process, the landowner was greatly alienated -- and I am not intending to paint a sympathetic portrait of McCloskey, who has never shown himself to be a friend of access or the environment -- and as a result, the wildlife was put at risk.

Now, as negotiations begin to open another section of that coastal trail, the next landowner in line is eying the process warily. From what I hear, she’s not opposed to allowing public access, but she wants to make sure that dogs don’t end up in the colony and people don’t end up on her porch — both of which have happened with bad results in the past.

Meanwhile, I’ve been hearing folks claim that she is using the birds as a convenient excuse to keep people out. They’re also circulating letters and emails contending that the fence she erected to protect the birds is blocking an ancient public access. The state reportedly does still owns a historic trail that runs through her land, but its exact route has not been determined and no easement has been approved.

But true or false, these comments are serving to effectively vilify this woman, even though she has something we want — lateral coastal access — and at her own expense is doing a good thing — providing safe habitat for nesting albatrosses.

Here we go again, I thought, suddenly weary of behavior that I also have engaged in countless times: approaching an issue from the tight little corners of either-or, this or that, black or white, good or bad. Can’t we start from the place of considering a solution that provides access and protects the interests of the landowner and the birds? ('Cause I know there must be one.) Must we always go about things from the polarizing angle of we want what we want at any cost — indeed, we’re entitled — and if forced to, we'll back down from there?

I’ve been musing about the concepts of compromise and polarization for a number of weeks, since the Wailua bike path issue hit the fan. During a spirited discussion on my KKCR radio show, a caller characterized the boardwalk as a compromise because it’s a removable structure. But my co-host disagreed, saying it would still impact burials and “some things can’t be compromised.”

Her words rang true to me then, and they still do. Some things clearly can’t be compromised, not if we want them to survive or retain any intrinsic value. And when it comes to nature and ancient culture — entities without a human voice — people with a conscience need to speak up and stand firm on their behalf.

But clearly some things can be compromised, like the location of a house or a trail or a bike path. And surely we humans, with the higher intelligence that we like to confer upon ourselves, can find a way to address these issues without falling into the ugly, exhausting polarization that I constantly witness — and admittedly have participated in — on this island.

One good place to start is the related issue of the Larsen’s Beach access, which I will address in my next post in this series.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Musings: Focus on the Beauty

Last night, it was all about the moon: brilliant, bold, beautiful, bright and, I learned, not accurately termed blue. It called me outside numerous times as it progressed across the sky, encountering wisps of clouds, passing through constellations, shining on through brief showers until, finally, Koko and I got up for good and walked beneath it until the dark faded and the sky behind the Giant flushed and still it didn’t dim, but remained steadfastly white, staring down the dawn.

As the sun began to rise, I ran into my neighbor Andy, who asked what I’d done for New Year’s Eve and I replied, nothing, just stayed home, and left out the part about visiting the moon. But I did tell him how my night began:

I was driving home, up Kawaihau Road, and of course the fireworks were going off there, though it was barely dark, and the smoke was wafting across the street and people were milling and traffic was fairly steady and then I saw, in the oncoming lane, a dark-colored dog, a Rottweiler mix, running madly down the street, and as it raced past I saw the look of terror on its face and it pierced my heart, which is tenderly disposed toward animals, anyway.

And I knew there was nothing I could do, with cars all around and no place to pull over, so I just prayed, even as I cried a little, worrying about that dog, which was in such a perilous situation, and thinking about all the other dogs that were being similarly freaked out, panicked, tormented by the fireworks, and for what purpose, really, other than our mindless entertainment and amusement?

I pulled over by the reservoir and called a friend, a local Chinese, and told him what I’d seen and said, “When is Hawaii finally going to wise up and ban fireworks?”

“You fucking haole,” he said, laughing, trying to joke me out of my funk.

“I don’t care,” I countered. “Fireworks are not a Hawaiian tradition. If you want to practice your culture, go back to China.”

(We can talk like that to each other because he’s my self-proclaimed BFF.)

Then he said, to calm and distract me: “Look at that moon, what a gorgeous moon,” and of course he was right, as it was just rising, a yellow orb floating on a lacy bed of clouds, and doesn’t it make sense, when you’re confronted with an ugliness that you can’t, at that moment, change, to focus instead on the beauty that is also always around us?

“So I was a little scratchy at the beginning of the night,” I told Andy, wrapping up my story. “I’ve always liked fireworks, but seeing that dog just drove it home how we engage in so many unnecessary, thoughtless actions that harm other creatures.”

We talked a little bit about how different dogs of ours had reacted to fireworks: some were greatly disturbed, others relatively unfazed. Koko gets a little trembly if she’s in the house, but isn’t bothered if she’s outside, which is the same way she responds to thunder.

“Do you know who introduced fireworks to Hawaii?” Andy asked, and I did not, so he told me: “Captain Cook.”

“You’re kidding,” I replied.

“Nope,” said Andy, who has been re-reading Captain Cook’s journals. “He set off some fireworks to awe the natives, as well as entertain them.”

“That fucking haole,” I said, and we both laughed. “What an interesting little power play on his part.”

And here they remain, along with the trash that accompanies them, and the burns and the fires and the lost and frightened dogs. And, of course, the moon, which by now has slipped behind Waialeale.

Happy 2010.