Monday, May 31, 2010

Musings: Feelings

I drove down the hill, dodging mynah birds and doves that were hanging in the road, honed in on the shimmer of the sun rising on the sea. Nearing the beach, a flock of ruddy turnstones rose up and flew alongside us, then veered off, their snowy breasts and bellies flashing in the early morning light.

The tide was low and the water was clear and the gentlest of breezes stirred the surface and then I dove in and under, transformed and refreshed, as Koko spun tight ecstatic circles on wet sand.

It was a brief and welcome respite from the computer, which has demanded much of my attention this holiday weekend, and will demand still more, as I work to meet two tomorrow morning deadlines. I’ve been pretty much focused on my assignments, which is how I missed the savage attack on Caren Diamond in The Garden Island the other day.

Now Caren is a person I especially admire because she works selflessly for the public good, does her homework and is not afraid to stand up and speak out, which is a lot more than I can say for her pseudonymed attackers. The first nasty dig came from the frequent TGI commenter who goes by the name “interesting.” He’s also the same guy who uses the moniker “dwps,” short for “Darwin was pretty smart,” when he comments on this blog, as well as the apt “mainland mentality.”

People often ask me, who is that guy Darwin? Then one day, thanks to some of his disgruntled associates, I found out, and since then have debated, especially when he's pissed me off, like he did with his snide jabs at Caren, whether to out him. He apparently is new enough not to realize that it’s not easy to keep things secret on this little island, which is why some people get angry at Caren. She exposes their wrongdoings, their sliminess and their smarminess, and they don’t like it, so they go on the attack.

What really amused me were the comments saying that Caren must be a sad, unhappy person because she speaks out against demi-gods like Pierce Brosnan. Yes, she gets bummed about the crap that’s going down in her community — who with a brain and conscience wouldn’t? — but one of the things I like most about her is the way she’s always laughing and smiling.

The personal attacks levied against Caren are a classic case of kill the messenger, not unlike the broadside from Suzy Olson of Lawai, who wrote a letter to the editor complaining about my“Parallel Universes” piece in the Advertiser:

When I read the opinion piece, "Parallel Universes," I felt sad for the writer.

"Who attracts this brand of negativity, hearing and remembering only venom?," I thought. "Maybe she is disgruntled with life and consciously aware of only the poison that she herself projects?"

She then went on to opine:

Kaua'i personifies warmth, with intoxicating people, dynamic intelligence, and unspoiled charm. Kaua'i is quite perfect.

Wow, I thought. Either she doesn’t get out much, or things are hunky dory on the southside (not!) Then I Googled her name and things became more clear.

Well, I want to send a little message out, and I think I also speak for Caren here: just because you can see how screwed up things are doesn’t mean that’s all you can see, or that you are personally unhappy or have a negative outlook on life. In fact, one reason why we fight is because we can see the beauty and goodness, and we don’t want it to be totally submerged by selfish stupidity and greed.

And that leads me to a comment left on my last post, which touched on other reactions to the “Parallel Universes” piece:

I also agree that your quotes accurately reflect social tension in Hawaiʻi. I personally feel so much anger inside whenever I read/hear about what I feel are things that should not happen, such as local environmental degradation and social injustice. I feel so angry inside. But I do nothing. Trying to care and work to a better Hawaiʻi just doesnt seem to amount to anything anymore. It hurts too much to care when everything is so bad. Itʻs so big. And so I just let it go and let myself remain part of the problem.

I was really pleased to see that another reader jumped right in with a great response:

"Hurts too much too care." Yes it does. But even tho many have felt this way, please don't give up! Our comunity needs you! 
My suggestion is instead of trying to change the whole world, just brighten the corner you're in. Even helping with one thing in our community speaks volumes. Good Luck!

Yes, it can hurt to care, but I think it hurts way more not to care. All around us we can see the results of people who are either stuffing what they feel, or into complete denial. And we can also see the results of those who are working to make even a small difference. So hey, don’t be afraid to feel. You’re in very good company.

And that leads me to another comment left on that post, in which a reader offered his/her opinion about this blog and inquired:

I just wonder what the real purpose is?

I’m not trying to convert anyone or change the world here. I’m not convinced it can be “fixed,” and I don’t pretend to have the answers, anyway. I’m just trying to shed a little light on stuff that I think is important, expose a few things that need to see the light of day, stimulate some discussion about issues that are impacting us and remind other like-thinkers and light workers that they are not alone.

But most of all, I’m trying to get people to feel. Something. Anything. Because when they do, they can’t help but care.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Musings: Experiences

On the one hand, when Koko and I went out walking this morning, was a scarlet-smudged sky. On the other was white, round Mahina, coming down from her full moon high. Beside and below her was the fully visible form of Waialeale, blue against a faint pink sky.

Pigs scuttled through the brush, raising the fur on Koko’s back and causing her to whine and strain against the leash. The moon, yellow now, kept sinking into a lavender sky, and the sun prepared to rise, shooting blue shafts of light into gold-gilded clouds that shortly became a riot of orange and red. Waialeale, in the process, was transformed from flat-faced gray-green into concave purple as birds burst into song and cardinals and shama thrush flitted across our path.

By 6:20 a.m. it was all over. The moon had slipped behind the mountains, the sun had slipped behind the clouds, the color had slipped from the sky and everything had changed, except for my experience of it.

I’ve been getting quite a lot of feedback on the "Parallel Universes" piece I originally wrote for ”Bamboo Ridge” that was excerpted in last Sunday’s Advertiser, and everyone has said they felt it accurately expressed their own experiences, things they also had heard expressed.

Most of the responses came from people I know, although I did get some very thoughtful comments from complete strangers, including a call from Anthony Ako Anjo, whose family is originally from Niihau and Waimea (they had the historic Ako Stores in Hanapepe and Waimea), although he now lives on Hawaii Island. He said:

The problem comes down to this, plain and simple: too many people living in a given space. A lot of what’s going on is based on anger and greed.

People have actually insulted me, you stupid Hawaiian. I’ve had it thrown right in my face, this is America. Well, the Nation of Hawaii was stolen by the U.S. government. It’s in the history books. I used to teach history in the public schools and even got in trouble for teaching kids this is what really happened to Hawaii. And a lot of that anger goes back that long, even before 1893.

I have been on both sides of the fence in which I tried working with people, mediating solutions for the greater good. If people can get to the point where they can just look at somebody as a human being that has a soul, no matter what god you pray to, maybe the world will get better. It all comes down to respect.

I was especially surprised to get a call from Jimmy Pflueger, who said the piece was “so true” before asking if I’d be interested in hearing his take on the subject:

Bill Huddy, a pure Hawaiian, at the time he was 80 to 83 years old, he sold a kuleana in the Kilauea area to the Marvin family from Newport Beach. When you sell a kuleana, you split it in half and they would not give him access to a path that led to his piece. He ended up going down a rope to get to his kuleana and his wife, she was in her late 70s I think, she had to go down that rope, too.

One day he came to me and handed me a paper bag. It had $40,000 inside and he said, I need a road to my house. I gave him back the bag and said I’ll build your road. Now Kilauea Plantation used to farm that land and one of their guys said he built a road for the plantation workers. He told me how to make the road, where to go, what to cut, so I did it and everything was fine.

One night I got a knock on my door and it was the Marvin’s son. He had tears in his eyes. He said I will lose my boat if I don’t get $20,000. So I went back in the house and I got the money and gave it to him. I never asked how he was gonna pay me back. The next day his wife baked me a pie and said thanks for being a good neighbor.

Then big rain came and mud came down from the road. Mrs. Marvin called and said I need a culvert and I need it now. The Marvins were using the Huddy’s road, because it was better than theirs. So I made the culvert and I got a $50,000 fine for making the culvert for Mrs. Culvert and a $500,000 fine for the road and 450 hours of community service. Their son was the one who turned me in.

I’m 84 years old. I was born and raised here. So if you think I don’t have a feeling for the newcomers — you lend them money and they turn around and nail you to the cross.

But I can see both sides. Newcomers have a right to use the beach. Some locals have an attitude, and I can say that because I’m a local. I think communication is a wonderful thing and if we all communicated a little more, the world would be a better place.”

And then there was this, from an African-American woman who lived on Kauai in the 1980s and now resides on Oahu:

I know lots of surfers and locals of all ethnicities, and remember a comment from one a couple years ago when I ran into him, "Have you been to the North Shore lately on Kauai? It is all Haole's!!! They have taken over the place and they treat us locals like we are crazy, put up huge fences and gates, it feels like the mainland."

It saddens me to see what has happen to Kauai, I moved here 30 years ago, because I was tired of the black/white issues on the mainland and the snotty people in Malibu where I was living (the only black person for miles). I left the fast lane, UCLA, Malibu and the mainland because things are a bit more low key here, the communities are mixed (lots of Brown people like me) the islands feel safe and removed from much of the discrimination, prejudice and violence on the mainland.

Bottom line, people with money have no respect for locals, they rape, pillage and destroy, the MO for America's greedy capitalist, it has been happening all over the world, with no end in sight as the classes move further apart.

All we can do, us citizens who believe in equality, justice and education is try and make a difference in our own lives first, our communities second and last our global family.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Musings: Iwi and Rail

If you're interested in the issue of burial preservation, I've got a cover story in the current Honolulu Weekly that delves into how the city's rail project is likely to impact iwi kupuna, and concerns that Honolulu Mayor and gubernatorial hopeful Mufi Hannemann is manipulating the process for his own political benefit:

Kawika McKeague, chairman of the Oahu Island Burial Council (OIBC), is not a psychic. But he and other preservationists say they can see the future of the city’s $5.3 billion elevated rail project, and to them, it looks something like this:

The city will build the line from West Oahu to downtown, where it will start finding large concentrations of Hawaiian burials. The city, citing the billions already invested to get to that point, will then pressure the Burial Council to relocate the iwi kupuna, or allow construction atop the bones. If Council members resist, they’ll be vilified as anti-development obstructionists and blamed for delaying — perhaps even derailing — the project and adding greatly to its cost. If they go along, they’ll be vilified as cultural sell-outs who set burial protection back to square one. The result, in any case, will be controversy, animosity, great sorrow and angst.

You can read the rest here.

This same approach to phasing the archaeological surveys is also being employed here with the various Wailua projects, including the Path.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Musings: The System

Out in the night, a ghost moon on the cusp of full glowed through a blanket of clouds that by morning had subsided enough to let some gold slip through around the edges. The sun was already up, a red disc on the horizon, when Koko and I set out walking and it shone spottily, creating patches of soft light on green mountainsides streaked with waterfalls.

The sky was dotted with puffs of pink and orange, but before long the sun lost its way and the world turned gray. However, things brightened up considerably when I encountered Farmer Jerry, whom I hadn’t seen in weeks because he’d been sidelined with an injury.

“Well, today’s the big showdown for the farm worker housing bill,” Jerry said, noting that Councilman Darryl Kaneshiro, a rancher, recused himself from the last vote, and will do so again today, at the direction of Council Chair Kaipo Asing.

It seems the pro-development Land Use Research Foundation has come out against the bill, which is a point in its favor. That’s their usual tactic: come in late and apply heavy pressure, which is how they got the Legislature to allow landowners to develop 15 percent of the acreage they designate as Important Ag Lands.

So it’ll be interesting to see if any radical amendments are offered — and adopted — at LURF’s behest.

Ironically, the bill – heavily touted as helping ag – could actually end up harming some small farmers in Moloaa, where workers are currently living in tents, buses, cargo containers and other substandard housing. If the bill passes, they’ll have to clean up their act, but some of them don’t have the money to build worker housing. So what will become of them?

Anyway, Jerry said he thinks the bill has been tightened up enough to withstand abuse by gentleman farmers. Besides, applicants will have to go before the Planning Commission for approval.

And we know they’re always on it. Yesterday, they granted Pierce Brosnan permission to vacation rental his oceanfront Wainiha house, with its landscaping that extends well onto the public beach, even though he's been living in it, so it wasn’t a pre-existing use of that property. Not that Pierce actually showed up for the meeting, of course. That’s what lawyers are for.

The approval prompted one observer to remark: “Even the rich guys have to commercialize the beach. Is it never enough?”

Apparently not, if there’s more money to be made. And indeed, it primarily IS the rich guys commercializing the beach. When the small guys try to do it, like a kanaka offering a surf school without a permit or something, they get dinged. As I noted in a January 2009 blog entry:

I also ran into attorney Dan Hempey, who had just gotten charges dismissed against Titus Kinimaka, who had been cited for running a surf school without a county license. But as Dan pointed out to the judge, the county ordinance stated that only those without licenses could offer commercial services in county parks. “I’m going to have to take it literally,” Judge Trudy said in dismissing the charges.

I wonder if they've changed that ordinance yet?

Speaking of Kauai judges, and the Wainiha coastline, it seems the state has decided to blow off Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe, who last month rejected the state’s certified shoreline for a property there. As I wrote in a piece for The Honolulu Weekly:

Watanabe found the state had improperly relied upon cultivated vegetation and current, rather than historical, wave wash data when setting the shoreline for a North Shore Kauai lot now owned by Craig Dobbin.

The decision stemmed from a long-standing dispute over the Wainiha lot’s certified shoreline, which is used to determine how far a house will be set back from the beach.

“The judge said, in effect, your decision is wrong and you have to go back and do it the right way,” [Kauai attorney Harold] Bronstein said. “She’s also saying, interpret the law correctly.”

But the state went ahead and certified the exact same shoreline that Watanabe (who I hear is on the short list for the Hawaii Supreme Court) had overturned.

So now Harold, who did the case pro bono, will have to go back to court to again challenge the state and by the time it gets resolved, the house could be built.

Do you see why people get so disgusted with the system?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Musings: Take-Aways and Give-Aways

A very welcome and much-needed rain fell heavily through the night, perhaps part of the same system I drove home in yesterday afternoon, admiring the brilliance of blossoming trees as I followed a path of steam rising and swirling from hot blacktop, like a witch’s cauldron, as a squall vanished into the blackness of really big rain mauka.

I’d gone to meet a friend, which required me to pull over to get her call, which by then I had missed, about our rendezvous location.

“I didn’t have my phone’s headset,” I said in explaining the delay.

“Oh, and you didn’t want to break the law,” she replied, referring to the new ban on “holding a mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle” that went into effect on Sunday.

“No,” I said, “I didn’t want to get caught breaking the law.”

Yes, thanks to yet another well-crafted piece of legislation from the County Council, I no longer can hold my phone while driving on Kauai, but if I’m wearing a headset I apparently can still dial it or check email messages — the two most distracting aspects of in-transit phone use — just so long as the device remains lying on the seat.

And I can still eat, drink, smoke, put on make-up, change clothes, let the dog hang out the window, turn around to yell at the kids in the back seat, talk to passengers, check the surf, change the radio station, rifle through the glove box, put in CDs and DVDs, program the GPS, watch for whales, read a map, pull off on the barely existent shoulder of a narrow, dark road to use my phone and — if I’m the cop I saw yesterday — drive 40 mph through the construction zone at Wailua.

Because somehow all that stuff is not as dangerous and distracting as holding a cell phone.

Yeah, we all know it’s not a great idea to do any of the above or use a cell phone while driving. But do we really want to keep giving the cops more opportunities to intrude into our lives?

Meanwhile, the Council is tomorrow set to take up two more badly crafted bills, except these are give-aways, not take-aways.

One is farm worker housing, which gives the guys in Moloaa, who bought their land dirt cheap ($10,000 per acre) because it had no housing density, the gift of being able to build an 1,800-square-foot home, and people like our cattle ranching Councilman Darryl Kaneshiro the opportunity to throw up a few extra rental units for their friends and family, I mean “workers.” Wink, wink.

But no worries; if the county finds one of these structures is not being used for its intended purpose, they’ll make the landowner tear it down, which would be just about the same time that hell freezes over.

The other is Tim Bynum’s bill, which gives ag land owners the gift of being able to legitimize, at least so far as the county is concerned, vacation rentals that remain illegal under state law.

I just can’t wait to see all the extra profit, I mean, produce that Kauai’s ag lands generate with these bills in place.

And today the Planning Commission takes up yet another give-away, a bill designed to diminish the protections of the shoreline setback ordinance. Among other things, it allows coastal landowners to skirt its requirements if they can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Commission, based on the recommendation of our trusty planning director, that their project “will not adversely affect the beach process or interfere with public access or public views to and along the shoreline.”

But no worries, the recommendation “must be based on a report written by a qualified professional consultant.”

And we all know those guys can’t be bought.

Or at least, not cheap.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Musings: Sound Familiar?

I woke up this morning to sparkle: sun squinting through thick clouds, catching the rain still clinging to leaves, setting them to twinkling. It called to us, so Koko and I went out walking in that sparkling, shimmering world, watching leaves blowing horizontally, hearing the steady drip of drops cascading from sighing trees.

In the distance, Kalepa and Haupu were enshrouded in the remnants of a shower, while closer at hand, a lychee tree hung heavy with red fruit. Clouds darkened on the northeast coast, moved mauka and hovered, hurrying us along, and we returned to the house just as a squall spattered on the skylights.

It’s a nice morning for cozying in with a book. I’ve been re-reading Doris Lessing’s short stories lately, the ones set in colonial Africa, and I’m seeing more than a few parallels between the creation of plantations in Africa and in Hawaii, the thoughts of her protagonists and the ones often expressed in the comments section of this blog.

Her characters, the whites who came to make their fortune and considered themselves self-made men, even though they depended almost entirely on the labors and knowledge of their workers, set themselves apart, living in spacious, cool homes surrounded by well-watered lawns and gardens, while their workers were crowded into hot, dusty villages. But that was OK, they told themselves, because that’s how the natives liked to live, they were accustomed to squalor; why, look at the rubbish they allowed to pile up, their broods of children spilling out of unkempt huts.

Besides, they reasoned, if you gave them anything nice, they wouldn’t appreciate it, anyway, or they’d sell it for far too cheap, or even give it away, unaware, in their childlike simplicity, of its true value.

The natives’ rituals and spiritual beliefs, though grounded in countless centuries of intimate interactions with their natural world, were viewed as total bunk, baseless superstitions held by primitive people, quaint and outdated in a modern world that could explain everything through Christianity and science. The natives were to be pitied, educated and converted, and if they resisted, whipped, if necessary, to keep them from clinging to their past, which inevitably clashed with something the plantation owners wanted for their future.

Through it all ran the uneasy tension created when natives, displaced from their traditional lands and way of life, were forced into working relationships they didn’t really want, but needed now to survive, with people who disdained, feared yet also needed them. Lessing's white “landowners” often grapple with how much force they can exert to maintain dominance, without risking revolt, sabotage, abandonment or violence from their workers.

Lessing even delves into the development of the land, the real estate agents who sell people on the dream of creating their dream from raw land, the once wild places that no one ever thought would get built up, the steady disappearance of animals, the diversion of water, the often grotesque manipulation of the landscape into something that resembles "back home."

And through it all are woven the attitudes of entitlement, arrogance, intolerance, charity with strings attached, the sense that the natives are lucky that the Europeans arrived and gave them opportunities to correct their false beliefs, make money, succeed, coupled with frustration and fury when the natives just can’t seem to get with the program and grasp what’s good for them.

Sound familiar?

Anyway, the conflict created on Kauai by the ongoing expression of such colonially-based beliefs, and the ongoing resistance to them, is also explored in my piece “Parallel Universes,” which was originally printed in “Bamboo Ridge” and today is excerpted on the editorial pages of The Honolulu Advertiser.

Just to give you a flavor, here are a few of the dialogue bits that weren’t included in the Advertiser:

“The complainers from Dana Point, the rich fuckers, that’s the ones coming to my neighborhood. They build fences on other people’s property — it’s not the local way. They put up fences; it’s like being in jail. I never grew up with fences. The beaches were always open. The new people, they just like complain. Alla them, they major complainers. They sit in traffic — yellow, green, red — they never realize the real Hawaii is just four blocks away. They don’t go to their friends’ houses, or parties or one baby luau. ‘Cause they don’t know nobody. Their cars get the heavy tint, windows always rolled up. They don’t talk to us. They make like the locals stupid. I watch them get sucked in, and I watch them get sucked out. I only look like one monkey. I see what’s going on.”
“Hey, everybody has had changes to their culture. Look at the Indians, all the immigrants. But how long are you gonna cry about it? After a while, you just can’t feel any sympathy for these people. It’s like, give it up and move on already. We can’t be compensating people for every little thing they think they lost. We don’t have that kind of money.”
“I paddle out at Pine Trees and this haole guy says, ‘Welcome! Where are you from?’ and I say, ‘Where are you from?’ And he goes ‘Hanalei.’ And I say, ‘No, I’m from Hanalei. Where you really from?’ And he says ‘California.’ And I say, ‘Don’t they have waves there?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah.’ And I say, ‘So why don’t you go surf ‘em?’”
"We all love Kauai. We don’t want it to change, either. We all enjoy the Hawaiian lifestyle and culture. It’s what we moved here for — the watersports, the surf, the weather, the golf. In fact, I had this little sign made for my desk, and when I’m talking to customers, I turn it around and show it to them and it says: ‘I don’t sell real estate, I sell a lifestyle.’ I made that up myself. I think it pretty much sums it up. Don’t you?”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Musings: Round and Round

The rain began falling just as we began walking, but since it was merely a sprinkle, and I had an umbrella, we continued, strolling on roadside carpets of green velvet and spent shell ginger blossoms, watching the rain move over the verdant pastures, like a fine lace curtain pulled across the landscape.

Looking mauka, Waialeale and Makaleha were non-existent, while behind us, the Giant was slowly disappearing beneath strands of gray headed south fast.

The rain turned to light mist, then grew heavier and we turned back, to take advantage of a dim dawn, a lullaby of dripping leaves and eaves and the weekend’s openness to enter a second round of sleep.

It seems that many of the stories and issues I cover go multiple rounds, sometimes called without a clear victor, other times concluding in what has obviously been a rigged fight and still other times going on and on, with neither side willing to give up, yet also unable to deliver the knock out blow.

A few of those topics came up on my last radio show, and another — the Path at Wailua — is still being hashed out in my comments section, so I’ll start with that one first, since it even fits into the boxing metaphor of my segue.

A reader raised the question of why there’s such a push to run the Path unbroken across Wailua when the “Spiritually and Hawaiian pono thing” is to avoid further upsets to the area and recreational needs could be met without it. The reader then goes on to answer:

It must run continuous to meet the federal funding grant money that the county is using to build it (and send profits to friendly contractor buddies).

When one understands the mechanism behind the push, one sees the pesky Hawaiian burials won't get in the way of millions of dollars of work and profit promised behind the scenes.

And the Mayor takes the punches in the foreground.

It’s a scenario that plays out repeatedly in Hawaii, which is why we have Joe Brescia’s house atop a cemetery, a Wal-mart atop burials in Honolulu, etc., etc. That’s what comes of worshiping the green paper Akua, to borrow a phrase of OHA’s Kai Markell.

I do so appreciate comments that add something to the discussion and show some understanding of the situation, unlike the dunce who commented on the KIUC indictment:

I see dead animals along the road all the time. However, I don't see them closing all the roads or our state being fined for the "takings".

Ya know, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Try Google Endangered Species Act.

Getting back to the question of why does the county do what it does, Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorney David Kimo Frankel shed a bit of light on the Ka`aka`aniu (Larsen’s) Beach access issue. As I reported on April 22, Waioli Corp. offered the county its choice of three access ways to the beach, with the caveat that it had to accept liability for its pick. It chose the middle path, rather than the lateral path, and so now litigation is likely to move forward to retain access to what Hawaiians have identified as an ala loa, or traditional coastal trail.

David said the liability issue raised by the county and Waioli is a “red herring. The state provides protection to landowners who give land for recreational purposes.” He said that Waioli also could give the trail to the state, which already has accepted other sections of this trail, including on the adjacent McCloskey property.

Further, he said, a landowner cannot legally close off access to a trail or road formed prior to 1892, as Waioli apparently already has done by directing its leasee, Bruce Laymon, to discourage people from using that trail.. But as he also noted, and we see all too frequently: “What is the law and what is reality are two different things.”

Anyway, at the recent Land Board meeting on an appeal of the conservation district use permit granted to Bruce for his pasture fencing project, Waioli attorney Don Wilson told the Board that all the paperwork has been drawn up to give the county the middle access. All that’s left, David reported, is for the County Council to approve it.

So is that when the Mayor and Beth Tokioka are planning to finally break the news to the public? Or are they hoping the matter just slips through without people noticing? And why, if liability isn’t an issue, did the county make this particular choice? Shouldn’t we, the people, be included in such decisions?

And finally, another radio guest, Nancy Redfeather of Hawaii SEED, referenced an article in TIME Magazine that delves into the link between environmental substances and disease. We have this tendency, which gets back to our worship of the green paper Akua, to put stuff on the market before we have any idea what it does. GMOs are a perfect example. And now scientists are connecting pesticides, which go hand-in-hand with GMOs, to Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.

The article referenced a study published in “Pediatrics” magazine. According to its abstract:

CONCLUSIONS These findings support the hypothesis that organophosphate exposure, at levels common among US children, may contribute to ADHD prevalence. Prospective studies are needed to establish whether this association is causal.

According to an article on the hardly radical Voice of America website:

Lynn Goldman is with the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in Baltimore. Goldman says the use of pesticides, including organophosphates, is widespread in developing countries, where children are exposed to high levels of pesticides through farming.

"Those kids have much more serious, much more severe, neurological problems," said Goldman. "So, we do see evidence of effects in those populations globally."

Just a little something to think about if you’re living here on “pristine” Kauai, where heavy pesticide-using crops like pineapple and sugar have been widely cultivated and those ever-important because they're income-producing GMO seed crops are still being drenched in the stuff.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Musings: Expensive Agendas

Today’s Advertiser and The Garden Island both are running the KIUC press release that downplays the stunning news that the U.S. Justice Department has indicted the utility on criminal charges for its role in killing Newell’s shearwaters, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

This is big stuff, so I’m disappointed the papers ran with a story based solely on KIUC’s spin. No other company in Hawaii has faced a similar indictment for violations of the ESA, so you know it’s not something the Justice Department is doing on a whim.

As for possible penalties, we’re talking fines of up to $50,000 per bird, and KIUC already has acknowledged that its power lines kill 87 adults per year, including breeding adults. Since chicks require the care of both parents to survive, their deaths constitute an incidental take. KIUC further estimated that its streetlights kill about 18 Newell’s fledglings each year. The law also provides for imprisonment of up to a year, which might be a better course, seeing as how some people seem only to care about how fines might affect their electric bills.

The disturbing comment section that followed The Advertiser's story, was prefaced by the admonishment: “You share in the community, so please keep your comments smart and civil.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t deter folks from leaving comments that reflected a stunning ignorance of the law, the issue, the life history of Newell’s Shearwaters and the natural world. I especially liked the one that blasted “tree huggers” and noted:

Do they have ANY idea how expensive thier agenda is?

Oh, probably not as expensive as the agenda of big business. What do you suppose it will cost to deal with the fallout of the BP oil well explosion, seeing as how the spill has now entered the Gulf loop current and is headed for the Florida coast, and is looking to be way bigger than BP has thus far admitted? And who do you think will end up paying? As Democracy Now! reports:

Oil has already reached the fragile wetlands on the Louisiana coast. On Wednesday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said he had asked for intensified efforts to defend the coastline from incoming oil.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: "We’ve got to be completely focused on defending this coast. The cost—the difference between keeping this oil out and having this oil in this wetlands, it literally could be life or death for many of these species."

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, a professor at Purdue University told lawmakers the oil spill may now be 95,000 barrels of oil, or four million gallons, per day—nineteen times BP’s estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.

To put the spew in some sort of perspective, Jan TenBruggencate published a thoughtful post that compares it to the 1998 Tesorio spill in the Islands.

But really, our obsession with dollars and cents skirts the true issue, which is how can you even begin to assess the value of entire species, intact ecosystems, a well functioning natural world?

Finally, today will be the last regular KKCR radio show for me. It’s been (mostly) fun, but I just don’t have time for it any more. Anyway, today my co-host Caren Diamond and I will be interviewing attorneys involved in the Larsen’s Beach case. We’ll also be discussing GMOs with Nancy Redfeather of Hawaii SEED and touching on other issues of local interest. So tune in from 4 to 6 pm. at FM 90.9, 91.9, 92.7 or

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Musings: Color Blind

It started with a fat wedge of white moon and a blanket of silver stars upon black. This gave way, in time, to a pale gold glimmer, and then a small squall blew in, rustling branches, scattering leaves, spattering skylights, before quickly departing, which was the signal for Koko and me to go out walking. The gold expanded in the east and then faded, leaving the sky white, drained of all color, waiting for the sun, which rose from a thick bank of gray, bringing gold back to the east and a pearly pink to the west.

The sky, it seems, has no problem with color, moving through the spectrum easily each night and day. We humans, on the other hand, get all caught up in the matter of skin color, which we use to judge and label, include and exclude.

And as a new study commissioned by CNN shows, the bias is toward light skin, especially among white children, but also among blacks. Discussions with parents of children involved in the study also showed that 75 percent of black parents talk to their kids about race, while 75 percent of white families with kindergartners rarely or never do.

Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock and an award-winning writer on parenting issues says white parents "want to give their kids this sort of post-racial future when they're very young and they're under the wrong conclusion that their kids are colorblind. ... It's in the absence of messages of tolerance that they will naturally ... develop these skin preferences."

Many African-American parents CNN spoke to during the study say they begin discussing race at a very early age because they say they feel they have to prepare their children for a society where their skin color will create obstacles for them.

I found it quite fascinating that President Obama, who is equal parts white and black, identified himself as black on the Census. Since he grew up in a white family, I wondered if he began to characterize himself as black because that's how others in the world perceived him, even though he is in fact no more black than white.

The CNN-sponsored tests sought to replicate the landmark Doll Test from the 1940s, which measured how segregation affected African-American children and were used in the Brown vs. Board of Education case that led to school desegregation.

[Child psychologist and University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale] Spencer said the study points to major trends but is not the definitive word on children and race. It does lead her to conclude that even in 2010, "we are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued."

Perhaps that’s why Hawaiian burials are regularly disturbed — the Army found iwi while doing construction at Schofield Barracks — but the burials of whites are not.

Meanwhile, Waldeen Palmeira and Kaiulani Edens Huff were down at Wailua Beach yesterday morning to halt archaeological work that could disturb burials as part of the process for building the Path along the beach there.

Plans were to use an excavator to do a subsurface archaeological inventory survey, and as you may recall from a report by the Oahu Island Burial Council referenced in yesterday’s post:

Hence, archaeological inventory surveys that encounter iwi kupuna through careful hand excavation are highly troubling for Native Hawaiians. More distressful is the thought of archaeological investigation via backhoe excavation. And worse still is the notion of inadvertent intrusion into burials and destruction of iwi kupuna by high-powered, modern construction tools. Such acts cause extreme pain for us.

The Garden Island reported that:

Beth Tokioka, administrative aide to Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr., said “equipment issues” — not a protest by a few Native Hawaiians, including Waldeen Palmeira — delayed the planned start.

But Kaiulani told me a slightly different story this morning. “They did have equipment issues. The guy walked off the job.” She said the equipment operator, a former classmate of hers, refused to do the work after she and Waldeen said proper procedures had not been followed in securing permits.

When archaeologist Hal Hammatt of Cultural Surveys Hawaii reportedly said he would bring in someone from Oahu to do the job instead, the operator reportedly negotiated with Hammatt to do the dig by hand, with Waldeen and Kaiulani on site and documenting the process on video.

Kaiulani said she called the police on Hammatt and also went on Ron Wiley’s radio show yesterday, which prompted four police cars and some DOCARE officers to show up.

“I asked them which one of you are going to enforce state and federal laws protecting our bones?” Kaiulani recounted. “So they sent Lt. Kaleo Perez down to talk to us and he said they have the green light from DOT. They have the permit from DOT, but they have not met the requirements to begin the AIS. They were supposed to have sit-down meetings with descendents before they even pick a date to dig. It’s like Naue all over again.”

Which leaves me wondering, do we really need to stir up all this pain and angst for a recreational path, when people could simply walk on the beach or ride their bikes along the highway instead? Yes, there's already a highway and hotel there, but must we add insult to injury? At what point do we say, enuf?

(Update: Apparently the archaeological survey is on hold while state and county officials confer.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Musings: Colonial Mindset

Waialeale and the gold light of pre-dawn were peeking out from beneath the clouds when Koko and I went walking this morning. A fine rain, heavy enough to make me glad I’d brought my umbrella, but not so heavy as to dampen Koko’s enthusiasm, fell about mid-way, giving the brightening world an ethereal glow.

As we neared home, the sun began to rise in a blaze of hot pink and orange that filled a perfect square formed in the clouds as Waialeale disappeared beneath a pile of rosy fleece.

Meanwhile, beneath the sea, the oil from British Petroleum’s failed well keeps on flowing into the marine environment. It’s suspected that the spew is a lot larger than is being reported and may already have entered a major ocean current, prompting officials from the Obama Administration, which still thinks offshore drilling is a good idea, to issue this statement:

"We will not rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead, the spill is cleaned up, and the communities and natural resources of the Gulf Coast are restored and made whole," Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a joint statement.

Sounds good, but in reality, it’s highly unlikely that the "natural resources" of the Gulf Coast ever will or even can be “made whole.” But the belief that humans can fix nature, even though we still don’t fully understand either it or our impact on it, is a prevalent one; indeed, it’s a required belief system for those who want to keep us on this insane path.

It’s part of the same mindset that believes every impact can be mitigated, especially if it’s caused by a money-making activity, like Hawaii’s seed corn industry. As The Garden Island reports today, the GMO aspect of that industry is seeing particularly robust growth. But while Hawaii is all gaga over the usual — jobs! tax revenue! $$$! — there remains this niggling unknown that has at least a few of us feeling uneasy:

In addition, there has never been an Environmental Impact Statement conducted for any of the seed industry companies on island, so “we have no idea” what they are doing to the soil and water, among other things, said Blake Drolson, a founding member of GMO-Free Kaua‘i.

Besides the money, the rationale for the industry provided by one of its advocates, Laurie Goodwin, Hawai‘i Crop Improvement Association vice president and Syngenta’s Hawai‘i outreach manager, is not unlike something BP officials might say to defend their drilling:

“Seed biotechnology is a tool in the tool box,” Goodwin said when asked how she would respond to opponents of the industry.

Problem is, some “tools” are a lot more devastating than others, and by the time we find out just how big a mess some of these “tools” can make, we’ve gotten well beyond the place where nature and communities can be “made whole.”

“I’m really disappointed in the Obama Administration, that it can continue to support activities that are so devastating to the environment,” a woman told me yesterday. “Nature is sacred, and they are violating it.”

Her comment brought to mind a conversation I had last Sunday with a graduate student from Wesleyan University. He is here conducting research for his master’s thesis in anthropology, and is intrigued by why so many Americans don’t view the disturbance of Hawaiian burials as desecration.

Perhaps, I theorized, it’s because aside from money and its pursuit, most Americans don’t really hold anything sacred, if you use this definition of the word:

regarded with reverence; secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right; properly immune from violence, interference.

As Oahu Island Burial Council Chairman Kawika McKeague explained it when I interviewed him on Saturday for an article I’m writing, desecration has already occurred once the burial is disturbed. To borrow from an OIBC report:

In Hawaiian culture, a burial is kapu (sacred and off-limits). Families would kanu (bury or plant) a deceased loved one with the understanding that the person’s full life cycle would continue. Upon being “planted,” the iwi (bones)—and the aina (land) that nurtured the iwi—in time would become one. The individual’s mana (spiritual power), retained in his bones, would imbue the aina and provide a source of mana for the community associated with that äina. In this way, kupuna (grandparents, ancestors) continue their kuleana (role, responsibility, obligation, and right) to spiritually nourish their families and äina. The kuleana of the living descendants is to maintain the sanctity of the iwi kupuna (ancestral remains), thus preserving the integral relationships among their ancestors, the aina, and the living community.

The act of burial and burial locations were kept huna (secret and hidden). Burials were kapu, intended to be left in peace, and carefully guarded to ensure that no disturbance occurred. Intrusions into burials (opening up the ground to expose iwi kupuna, touching iwi kupuna, uprooting iwi kupuna, etc.) was considered extremely offensive and disrespectful—an act of violence and degradation directed at the deceased individual, the living family members, and the larger community associated with that burial. Such an act would be akin to disrobing a living person and physically handling them against their will.

Hence, archaeological inventory surveys that encounter iwi kupuna through careful hand excavation are highly troubling for Native Hawaiians. More distressful is the thought of archaeological investigation via backhoe excavation. And worse still is
the notion of inadvertent intrusion into burials and destruction of iwi kupuna by high-powered, modern construction tools. Such acts cause extreme pain for us.

Kawika and I got to talking about the relationship between colonialism and burial desecrations, and it’s a close one, fed by the same mindset that allows a country to come in and occupy another nation’s lands, make comments like “oh, Hawaiians are just making up their culture as they go along” or “they’re just using burials as a way to stop development.”

“People seem to be able to make the connection with unmarked burials at the Arizona Memorial,” Kawika said, “and if I wanted to build a 7-11 in Punchbowl, the veterans would come and shoot me. But the humanity is removed from our burials. They become objects, ‘resources.’ People forget that they are all someone’s kupuna, that we are the living embodiment of that ancestral past. There’s a disconnect, and it’s part of the ongoing disconnection and colonization of consciousness.”

And it struck me in reflecting on all this today that the same colonial mindset drives our troubled modern relationship to the natural world, which we have similarly objectified, depersonalized and removed from the realm of the sacred. And why? So that we could dominate it and exploit its “resources” with an untroubled conscience.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Musings: Path-o-logical

Well, the County Council can pat itself on the back for accomplishing something that pleases people this election year: allowing dogs — licensed, leashed and properly doo-doo bagged, mind you — on the entire length of the Path, save for a quarter-mile section that fronts Lydgate Park.

That way they can have a steady source of revenue from citations issued to dog walkers who unwittingly venture into a section made off-limits because, well, because Councilman Dickie Chang thought it should be.

Poor Councilman Kaipo Asing confessed to “zillions of sleepless nights thinking about the consequences” of — gasp — putting people with dog phobias in close proximity to leashed dogs. You know, because they otherwise wouldn’t encounter any dogs in their day-to-day life and there’s absolutely no place else they can go to recreate on this island.

He was worried about whether the bill would be fair to the minority who are afraid of dogs. Well, what about the minority who are afraid of what a concrete choker will do to the eastside coastline and its few remaining wilderness coves that are slated to be overrun by the jogging, biking, dog-walking, baby-strollering masses?

Councilman Jay Furfaro had his own worries: what the state might think of leashed dogs walking on the Wailua Bridge or alongside the highway at Wailua Beach. Um, how come he’s not worrying about what Hawaiians and conservationists have already said they think about running the Path through a sacred area and on the crest of the sand dune?

And Councilman Darryl Kaneshiro, well, he didn’t vote yes and he didn’t vote no. He just remained silent. Now that’s the kind of thoughtful, decisive leader we want to return to the Council.

Up on the northwestern end of the island, we have another path issue, with Paul Curtis reporting that an astounding 500,000 people walk between Kee and Hanakapiai each year. Wow, that’s about 1,370 people per day. If you figure 10 hours of daylight, that’s 130 people every hour. Kinda plenty for a so-called "wilderness park." In fact, the crowds are so thick it makes it hard to repair the trail so, you know, more people can hike on it.

A local friend said he was returning from bow-hunting in Hanakoa one recent Saturday and was shocked by the numbers of tourists he encountered. “There must have been 200 people on the beach at Hanakapiai. It looked like Waikiki. There wasn’t a bare patch of sand anywhere, and more people were walking up the stream, into the valley. I couldn’t believe it."

Meanwhile, Thomas Noyes, who so altruistically pushed the Path and is now pushing Councilman Tim Bynum’s re-election campaign, has landed himself a job with the Kauai Action and Planning Alliance (which is slotted to receive $37,000 in county funds next year, but no conflict there) managing its Na Pali Trail restoration project.

But the locals who live up there and thought they might be hired to help with that $1.2 million project are instead expected to volunteer their time, even though Hanakapiai has turned into yet another place where they just don’t go anymore.

Of course, the hordes hiking the trail do not come equipped with their own doo doo bags, which means they’re using the bathrooms at Kee, which means the old bathrooms were getting overwhelmed and leaching onto burials and sacred sites, which means a new “solution” had to be devised in the form of a “constructed wetlands” sewage treatment system that might actually end up polluting the real wetlands and the taro patches and the fish pond and had the local boys who take care of the end of the road upset about burials and artifacts that were being moved, without proper cultural consultation, during the construction process, prompting a heated meeting up there yesterday.

But never mind. The tourists are happy, and that’s all that matters.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Musings: Tail Chasing

White wisps wafting westerly stuck on Waialeale and began to accumulate when Koko and I went out walking in a gray pre-dawn already showing streaks of yellowish-orange around the eastern edges. The garbage truck had preceded us, leaving behind upended cans, bits of trash destined to become litter and a provocative — to Koko, at least — scent stream upon the street.

We were nearly back home when the sun rose, shooting shafts of sparkling pink light through the trees and reminding me of the good feeling I had swimming in the sunset shimmer last evening. I hold on to those moments, which carry me through the uglier ones, like watching, in my rear view mirror, the woman traveling behind me obliterate a hen and her tiny chicks and then drive right over a dead cat straddling the center line. I don’t suppose she would have noticed, in her obliviousness, the perfect V-shaped wake created by a gallinule paddling in the still, gold waters of the Kapahi reservoir.

I’ve been thinking lately of how we humans, in our obliviousness, have gotten in way over our heads, set in motion certain courses of actions that have gone terribly awry, like the offshore drilling scheme that has British Petroleum, which Democracy Now! has dubbed “Billionaire Polluter,” scrambling, thus far unsuccessfully, to figure out a way to stop the oil that’s gushing up from its destroyed Gulf well, including the use of oil-dispersing chemicals that could create their own serious environmental problems..

Meanwhile, new evidence is emerging of lax enforcement and questionably cozy relationships, which included sex and drugs, between the Minerals Management Service and the industry it is supposed to be regulating.

But there’s nothing new there. It’s the same relationship we see between the USDA and the chemical companies that manufacture the genetically modified crops that are now — surprise! not — giving rise to what the New York Times characterized as tenacious new superweeds:

To fight them, Mr. [Eddie] Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.

“We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said Mr. Anderson.

Ummm, except now we have all these “tenacious new superweeds.” Oops.

Farm experts say that such efforts could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water.

“It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,” said Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

But wait. Weren’t GMO crops billed as production boosters, harbingers of a new green revolution, wonder crops capable of cheaply feeding a hungry world?

Predictably, we’ve got Monsanto, creator of Roundup and the crops genetically modified to withstand its direct application, downplaying the situation:

Monsanto, which once argued that resistance would not become a major problem, now cautions against exaggerating its impact. “It’s a serious issue, but it’s manageable,” said Rick Cole, who manages weed resistance issues in the United States for the company.

Yes, just pour on more chemicals:

Monsanto argues that Roundup still controls hundreds of weeds. But the company is concerned enough about the problem that it is taking the extraordinary step of subsidizing cotton farmers’ purchases of competing herbicides to supplement Roundup.

And if need be, buy up the competing chemical companies so you can retain your lock on the market, sort of like how you’ve already bought up most all the seed companies.

Monsanto’s “solution” is not unlike BP’s plan to drill another well to cut off the gusher, or the EU's and IMF's plan to follow the U.S. model and "fix” Greece's economy by bailing out the banks that did the bad lending while squeezing the people a little bit tighter or Obama’s plan to bring peace to Afghanistan by killing more civilians and security to America through Predator drone strikes in Pakistan, which naturally encourage retaliation:

If we attack them, they will attack us. If we kill them, they will try to kill us. It’s not rocket science.

And so it goes as we keep chasing our tail, trying to fix the problems we’ve created and in the process, creating new problems that will require new “fixes” that aren’t.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Musings: Kudos and Cracks

It’s starting to get light about 5:15 a.m. now, which means Koko and I are out and about shortly after, walking through a world that’s still mostly asleep, save for the birds, which are raucously joyful. As we walk, Koko sniffs the things she finds of interest — the place where pigs crossed the road, something invisible to my eyes in a clump of grass, a rooster that’s moldered into a pile of feathers — while I stop to smell the fragrance of angel’s trumpet and citrus blossoms.

Before us, clouds spilled over the top of Makaleha and Waialeale was buttoned up tight. Soon the sky began to fill with puffs of orange and the sun rose, fully visible in its golden roundness, its fiery brightness dimmed by the same haze that caused Kalepa and Haupu to shimmer, almost as if a fine shower were passing by.

The county appears to be passing John Tyler by for public praise in yet another expression of its liability paranoia, which is beginning to border on pathological. It’s hard to fathom that thanking someone for putting rescue tubes in beaches without lifeguards could somehow open the county up to liability, but such is the apparently off-the-cuff opinion of deputy county attorney Mauna Kea Trask.

“I just want to make sure we can avoid, through the benevolent action of commendating someone for that, we don’t passively put our seal of approval on that,” said Mauna Kea Trask, deputy county attorney, adding that hopefully it won’t be a problem.

Let’s just hope his legal reasoning is more grounded in reality than his reported use of “commendatating.” And let’s really hope his actions aren’t driven by lingering resentment over a certain public heckling incident at a Path meeting involving the very same man whose rescue tubes have saved a dozen lives.

Speaking of the Path, The Garden Island today has a piece about how the debate over it is a sign of Kauai’s growing pains. It quotes Councilman Derek Kawakami making a comment he repeated on my radio show last Thursday:

“Before we had this bike path, it was an old cane road, where you could do whatever you wanted — ride your horse, walk your dog, walk your cat, walk your pig, litter, leave the dog doodoo — and it was just wild,” Kawakami said.

So why, if people were previously able to do all those things without anyone getting killed, maimed, sued or horribly offended, must their activities be so tightly regulated now that the same walkway has been replaced with concrete and incorporated into the county park system?

As I’ve said time and again, the path along Kawaihau Road is truly multi-use and so far as I know, entirely unregulated, yet it seems to be functioning just fine. So maybe the problem lies not in “growing pains” or dogs or even doggie doodoo, but enfolding it into the county park system, with its myriad rules and unionized work force.

Which raises the question, will the Path turn out to be a “lei around the island,” or a concrete choker in the chokehold of the county?

Getting back to Derek, farmer Jerry, who called the other day to weigh in with his response — “yes, people are inherently good” — to a question raised on my last post, mentioned that Derek told him he used to read my blog, but had stopped because “it’s hurtful.”

I don’t think Derek necessarily meant it was hurtful to him personally, because he hasn’t really been targeted here, but hurtful in general, and it’s true, it sometimes is, and sometimes I feel badly about that, because I am essentially a kind-hearted person. I’ve made a conscious effort to tone down the vitriol and hold back some of the poison arrows that fly so easily from my bow, but I know that sometimes people do take “some serious cracks” — to borrow Mel Rapozo’s words and personal experience — here and in the comment section.

Still, in at least one instance the public shunning had a positive effect. Just about a year ago, I wrote a post about an incident involving a young Hawaiian friend who had been stopped from fishing by Mark Barbanell, who owns vacation rentals along the Wainiha River. In the comment section of a subsequent post, Mark did indeed take some serious cracks.

So when I got a phone call from him one night, I braced myself for the worst. He was mad, but he was also hurt, and I felt badly as he described how he felt reading all the things that had been written about him. I was about to apologize when he said, but you know, it was a good thing, because it really made me examine myself and how I come off to others.

As a result of that self-examination, Mark said he had made some changes in his actions and behavior, and he had also made things right with the young fisherman. He even ended up thanking me for writing this blog, and said he felt it was a public service.

So while I understand where Derek is coming from, and respect the civility and kindness I’ve seen him display, in a small community like ours, there is some value to naming names and calling a spade a spade and holding people accountable for their actions. And sometimes, as in the readers' comments about Derek, that results in kudos, not cracks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Musings: What Evil?

It started off as a lovely morning, with a scarlet streak spanning the eastern horizon and drops from a recent rain sparkling on the leaves and two broad waterfalls streaming down the face of Makaleha, all of which Koko and I viewed when we went out walking.

The sun rose and added shimmer to the sparkle and infused the moist air with a soft golden glow and it was almost holiday-quiet on the road, the way it is now on furlough Fridays.

We ran into my neighbor Andy, who mentioned he’d heard Caren Diamond and me on the radio yesterday when we were interviewing Councilman Derek Kawakami, who sounded intelligent and thoughtful, we agreed, when discussing vacation rentals on ag land, which he doesn’t support, dogs on the Path, which he does support, and farm worker housing, which he doesn’t support.

Derek reasons for opposing farm worker housing made sense: there are other issues related to farming, like shipping, marketing and a processing plant, that should be discussed first and have greater likelihood of helping farmers; the potential for abuse is too great; it doesn’t satisfy the primary intent of the ag district, which is to keep agricultural land cheap enough to make farming economically feasible; and it dances around the underlying issue, which is the lack of affordable housing in general.

I then mentioned that a man who identified himself as a kanaka maoli had called in to say he was very frustrated to hear all these discussions about the county’s poor planning process because it diverted attention from the primary issue, which is how the county and state got control of those lands in the first place.

“So Caren and I told him we agreed, and that the land had been taken illegally and should be returned to the Hawaiians,” I said.

“But that’s wrong,” Andy exclaimed, which launched us into a discussion that is probably the most heated we’ve ever had.

In essence, his view was that the Hawaiian monarchy was already selling land, and had sold off much of the good agricultural land before the overthrow, so the land would have been gone by now anyway, even if the Americans hadn’t taken over; that Polynesian nations wouldn’t have been able to advance beyond where they were without associating with colonial powers; that the crown and government lands that comprise the “ceded” lands belonged to the people and still do, since they’re held in trust by the state and feds; and that even if the land was turned back to the Hawaiians or their nation, the citizens would choose to align themselves with the United States.

My view was that if the monarchy hadn’t been overthrown, the kingdom would have developed on its own through associations of its own choosing, and that the rulers could have chosen to do the same things that currently generate money, like tourism, leases to military bases and land sales, with the difference being that the revenues would have gone back to the nation rather than the colonizers; and that his argument was steeped in the white man’s burden mindset of "advanced" Westerners coming to uplift and improve the "backwards" people they encountered in their “explorations,” when that was actually just a rationalization for their underlying objective, which was to dominate and exploit others to increase their own wealth and power.

But that’s the way people are and have always been throughout history, Andy said, to which I replied, yes, because we’ve been taught to be like; that’s how humans been conditioned to behave, but that doesn’t mean such behavior is an inherent part of human nature.

By then we had reached the end of our walk and the dogs had gotten their biscuits and though it was warm, things were a bit frosty between us. Andy decided to sum things up by asserting, as he has before, that I have a flawed belief that people can somehow live in peace and harmony — a belief that I would have thought perhaps he would hold, too, seeing as how he’s part of the ‘60s generation, and isn’t peace and love what it was supposed to be all about?

Then Andy challenged me to come up with one example of a nation or people that lived in peace, while adding the caveat that of course we can’t always be certain that our knowledge of such people would be accurate.

And I said, OK, I will, because I'm quite certain there's got to be at least one

So what do you think, reader? Are we humans inherently evil, destructive, bent on domination and conquest? Or have we been taught to be that way?

What truly lurks in the heart of men?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Musings: A Few Observations

I don’t miss going to Council meetings, except every now and then the newspaper reports on something downright weird that happens there, like Chair Kaipo Asing’s comment that a quote pertaining to high diabetes rates among Native Hawaiians was racist.

But even weirder was Thomas Noyes — aka Mr. Path, and the treasurer of Councilman Tim Bynum’s re-election campaign — claiming that Kaipo’s comment “may have been an indirect attack on Bynum’s bid for re-election.”


As the song lyrics go: “paranoia, it strikes deep….”

I was also interested to read the comments left in response to yesterday’s article on the recent Green Harvest operation. They were almost entirely opposed to Green Harvest, which was correctly viewed as a waste of time and money. One person summed it up:

My guess is way more California-grown weed is smoked on every public school furlough day than Green Harvest nets in a month.

And I was pleased to get an email from former TGI reporter Michael Levine announcing that Peer News, renamed to Honolulu Civil Beat, had officially launched. I’ve been curious about this new adventure in journalism, so I followed one of the links he provided, which was supposed to provide a “free preview.”

It did — two paragraphs worth. But to read the rest, I had to either join, at the special rate of 99 cents for two weeks, or sign in with my pay pal account. I checked out the sign in and felt uncertain. If I logged in, would I be charged without realizing it and then have to go back in there and cancel to avoid future charges?

It just seemed humbug and slow, and so I didn’t bother, especially since I wasn’t even sure I was especially interested in stories about Honolulu’s homeless and the rail project. I understand they want to make money, but it seems to me that when you’re starting out, you might want to offer access for free (without any registration process that links to one’s bank account) to build interest and readership, and then if it’s worth it, folks might want to pay to stick around.

I’d like to see an alternative approach to news gathering and reporting succeed, but this "gateway approach," which Larry Geller’s expands on at some length at Disappeared News is a bit off-putting.

And then there’s the Honolulu-centric coverage. The big dailies, now about to become a big daily, have already cut off their coverage of what Oahu folks like to call the Neighbor Islands. It’s too bad that we’re again being shut out.

I’d also like to see a bit more personality shine through from Civil Beat’s “reporter hosts.” The stories are edited to create a sameness in tone that feels too bland and safe for something as electric and eclectic as the Internet.

I wonder as well how they’re going to maintain content worthy of $20 per month (the regular price) with just six reporters. It ain’t easy to crank out thoughtful pieces and interact with commenters, and frankly, most reporters aren’t used to working that hard.

But as the editor says, it’s just the beginning, so I’ll check back every now and see what’s happening, mostly because I like Mike and am interested in what he's up to.

Finally, as a friend who is visiting, and was reviewing stuff on his I-phone as I typed away on my blog, noted:

"It's funny how much of life is virtual these days."


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Musings: Political Ponderings

The day, all gray when Koko and I set out walking, didn’t start on an especially promising note. But it wasn’t long before it turned beauteous, with a coral streaked quilt draped over the eastern sky. The cinder cones glowed gold and Makaleha was topped with dense, steely clouds that made it appear as if the mountain was steaming. Birds were singing, flowers were exuding delightful fragrance, the air was soft and balmy.

Ahhh. And then I saw Bernard Carvalho. Not the man, but his picture, that one of him wearing a tie and orchid lei and tight smile, emblazoned on a banner that was probably about 2 feet by 3 feet, with the red words: Together We Can.

Ugh. The only thing worse than politicians in an election year are their signs. Can’t they be small (the signs, I mean) and discreet, instead of in your face and cluttering up the landscape? Have you ever decided to vote for a candidate because you saw his or her name repeatedly on a sign? If so, perhaps you shouldn’t be allowed to enter the voting booth.

And isn’t anyone going to run against Bernard? Is he just going to be handed a four-year term as mayor? And on the basis of what? Making a decision on the landfill that may need to be undecided? Moving the Path a few feet mauka so it’s not entirely on Wailua Beach? Picking Beth’s brain?

Even though he has no opponent, he’s still waging a campaign, with his signs and supporters already out and about, which prompted someone to send me an email complaining about seeing two of Bernard’s administrators out holding sign at the Kapule-Kuhio junction at about 4 p.m. on a weekday, which is, the person noted, during county business hours, and so, in their opinion, inappropriate.

Of course, those county workers might have been using vacation time, but still, as every politician knows, or should, the appearance of impropriety can be as troublesome as impropriety, which brings back the memory of seeing one of Kusaka’s minions carrying Michele Hughes’ purse from the Council Chambers when her Kealia Kai project was up for discussion.

Before we leave Bernard, someone asked in the comments section of a recent post about vacation rentals (TVRs) on ag land:

I wonder what Mayor Carvalho's position on this issue is? He's been pretty quiet on it. I wonder why?

Has he been quiet? He appointed the director and deputy director of planning who signed off on the bill, which was apparently written at the behest of his County Attorney.

And that leads to a question I’ve been hearing more than a few people ask lately: how did Tim Bynum get so much power? It’s obvious, from the way he’s been frozen out, that Council Chair Kaipo Asing hates him, yet suddenly he’s introducing legislation, which is speeding forward, that could open up ag lands to resort development and is playing large to the dog-on-Path crowd that appears, from its “I have a dog and I vote” bumper stickers, to be single issue voters.

(As an aside, I liked the one that had been revised to read: I AM a dog and I vote.)

He appears to be cultivating, as one local friend noted, the disaffected rich white newcomer vote, which is not a dumb move politically, seeing as how that group is growing.

While we’re on the topic of politicians, someone left a very astute comment on a Monday’s post:

This TVR's on ag land is a political favor by Bynum and Yukimura for their political supporters. 

The thing that really annoys me is Yukimura's lobbying the County Council on a number of issues without ever disclosing here [sic] clients. That's B.S.

Yes, how is that she is able to wield so much influence with the Council on both the farm worker housing and ag land TVR bills — influence that certainly extends far beyond what any average citizen might enjoy, with Jay Furfaro in particular continuing to do her bidding? I mean, once you're off the Council, you shouldn't be drafting ordinances.

At any rate, I’m especially curious to learn where Councilman Derek Kawakami stands on the farm worker and ag TVR bills, since he’s voiced some reasoned concerns, so he’ll be calling in to my KKCR radio show tomorrow afternoon to discuss them more fully. Oh, and just so all you politicians and candidates know the score, any time KKCR has a politico on the air, you can call the station and demand equal time. But you gotta do it within seven days or it's too late, which means nobody else is gonna get the two-hour stints that both Bernard and Dickie already enjoyed.

Shifting to the state political scene, while it wasn’t a surprise to see Rep. Roland Sagum voting against the civil unions bill, one might have expected something different out of Jimmy Tokioka, seeing as how he has a disabled son and has made a big deal out of the fact that his son should be given equal rights — the same kind of equal rights that he wants to deny some folks simply because they happen to have fallen in love with members of their own sex.

Surely Jimmy wouldn’t want to put his son’s rights to a vote of the people as he’s advocating should be done in the case of same-sex couples.

And finally, one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve heard regarding same sex couples was uttered yesterday on KKCR by Scott Mijares, a fortunately failed Council candidate, who opined that marriage has long been reserved for a man and a woman who could go forth and procreate and so it should remain. Well, Scott, does that mean couples should be subject to a fertility test before marriage? That post-menopausal women should be denied the right to marry? That couples must sign an oath promising to procreate in order to be married?

He then went on to say that if people really believe in equal rights, they shouldn’t be supporting the civil unions bill, which excludes a number of people from joining together under the law. He seems not to realize that between marriage, reciprocal benefits, civil unions and the laws already in place that govern parent-child relationships, everybody’s covered, except those who wish to join with their pets.

Which brings me to ask, why don’t people who oppose civil unions just be honest and admit they’re anti-homosexual?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Musings: Energizing

Late yesterday afternoon, enjoying the blueness of the haze-shrouded mountains and the grayness of departing squalls as Koko and I drove to the beach, contributing to the carbon load that is helping to change the planet’s climate, the sight of all the dead roosters and mynahs and various unidentifiable lumps of flesh in the road got me thinking about the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 oil workers and is continuing to kill marine life.

Some scientists say it could even destroy the entire ecosystem there, and with it all the associated jobs and incomes.

There's just no denying the effect that our love affair with cheap energy is deadly business.

What's happening now in the Gulf is a vivid reminder of how much we depend upon the natural world, even as we dismiss it, destroy it, drive over it, drill into it. And although the leak is happening far away, it should be hitting us uncomfortably close to home, seeing as we are nearly totally dependent on imported oil here in the Hawaiian Islands.

So what to do? There’s a lot of talk about growing biofuels in the Islands, but all of the serious farmers I’ve discussed this with say that it’s a pipe dream. Our land and labor is too costly, so just as Hawaii could not compete in growing sugar cane and pineapple, they say, we can’t compete with South America and Australia and other places in cost-effectively producing biofuels. And that’s especially true on little Kauai.

“Our land area is so tiny that doing a commodity like fuel here is laughable,” Farmer Jerry said.

But that hasn’t stopped the Navy and Department of Agriculture from signing an agreement to expand production of biofuels for military purposes, using Hawaii as the testing ground.

As a result, the Navy is already talking about using some 7,500 acres of land in Kekaha to grow biofuels for its own purposes. Small farmers growing food there fear they will be pushed out or forced to grow biofuels for whatever price the Navy wants to pay.

“We’re just getting past this plantation mentality and approach and now we’re seeing the new plantation in,” a Kauai farmer observed.

Meanwhile, a friend sent me an email with a link to a New York Times article about how the U.S. is lagging well behind Europe in the use of wast-to-energy (WTE) plants, with the comment:

Interesting argument for environmentalist resistance to the trash-to-energy issue - that we should be putting our bucks into zero waste, recycling, instead - charmingly Utopian.

He was referencing the reason for much of the opposition cited in the article:

“Incinerators are really the devil,” said Laura Haight, a senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Investing in garbage as a green resource is simply perverse when governments should be mandating recycling, she said. “Once you build a waste-to-energy plant, you then have to feed it. Our priority is pushing for zero waste.”

I’ve had my concerns about waste-to-energy plants, too. But I do have to wonder if it makes environmental sense to be shipping our recyclables to Asia and burying those that don’t get recycled. Because the reality is that zero waste is not anywhere on the horizon for Hawaii, unless the entire economy collapses and the planes and ships stop coming in.

At the same time, we see our fossil-fuel dependent utility, KIUC, depends on more people using more electricity to keep the costs down. In discussing the pending increase in electric bills, Chief Financial Officer David Bissell noted:

The co-op is “still getting the revenue we needed,” Bissell said. And since the original filing, the economy has been showing improvement and the “impact of increased sales” are projected.

Visitor arrivals increasing is “primarily” expected but, “of course, there is no guarantee in it,” he said.

We’re caught up in a deranged system where the true cost of producing energy is not reflected in the price we pay on our utility bills and at the pump; where places like Costco can charge less because the true cost of making and disposing of all that packaging isn’t reflected in the price tag; where consumers are rewarded for consuming more.

So we can put up solar panels and talk about biofuels and WTE plants and wave energy and hydro and all the rest. But until we deal with the root cause — an economic system that fails to factor health problems, environmental destruction and death into the cost of energy — we won’t be making any real progress in addressing the issue.

But in the meantime, as Sarah Gilbert writes in Daily Finance, we can start getting clear that it all comes down to the personal choices and actions of each and every one of us:

It's hard to escape our part environmental disasters -- though we certainly do an excellent job of deluding ourselves that we can't restrain our consumption. Just a 14% reduction of driving would mean all U.S.-based oil production could stop immediately. We use 39.9 million barrels of oil a day to drive, and total U.S. oil production is just 5.6 million barrels a day (a shocking 1% of which is currently leaking in the Gulf of Mexico).

But if more of us could face ourselves in the mirror and pin the blame for this disaster on our own choices and habits, perhaps the next disaster could be averted.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Musings: Monday's Miscellany

The rain, anticipated all weekend, finally arrived last night and lingered, delivering big drops that fell heavy and straight. It ceased about the time that daylight began to appear and Koko and I went out walking amid its lingering mists in grass that soaked my shoes and drenched her belly.

To the east, Haupu and Kalepa were white through the haze, which had turned Waialeale into a ghost mountain, the kind favored by Hollywood, with its penchant for illusion.

One can only wonder what they plan to do with Waiakapalae, the lower wet cave in Haena, where the folks making the latest installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean” want to film for five days in a chamber known as the “Blue Room.”

Some North Shore cultural practitioners have already said no, it’s not appropriate, because it’s a sacred place. But will they prevail against the allure of the “great green god?” Already, when Makaala Kauamoana complained to The Garden Island about how traffic in the town recently was brought to a standstill during filming of “The Descendants,” she was attacked in the comments section and her concerns were dismissed by county Economic Development Director George Costa.

Why? Because of the salad that the movie guys bring. As Costa states:

“Although short-lived, these productions will provide an infusion of capital into our economy, put people to work and have another movie credit to (the) storied list that would make most islands, states and countries envious.”

This is followed by a comment from Janice Polley, location supervisor for Disney Productions, which is doing the “Pirates” flick:

“We want to be good neighbors and do the right thing. We love Kaua‘i and wouldn’t want to do anything that would be disrespectful,” said Polley in Costa’s e-mail.

Now how many times have you heard that line?

I thought it was interesting that writer Paul Curtis identified Costa as a “native Kauaian who grew up in Hanalei.” What has that got to do with anything? Does it mean that because he’s from here, he’s got the right to screw up the place? Or that because he’s from here, we can trust he won’t screw up the place?

Curtis also threw in this little tidbit:

The late Mayor Tony Kunimura once said of those filming on Kaua‘i, “all they leave behind is money.”

Ummm, that’s not exactly true. They also leave behind trash — remember the giant Styrofoam heads that were sitting at the entrance to Aliomanu Estates for the longest time? — and such lasting legacies as the total usurpation of places and their names, as was the case with Makana in “Bali Hai.”

I’m not saying that Kauai should close its doors to the film industry, but is it so unreasonable to expect them to notify the people in Hanalei that they’ll be filming so they can adjust their travel times and route accordingly, and to keep them out of sacred spots and environmentally fragile areas? Must money always be the bottom line?

On that note, The Garden Island is finally reporting the real reason why the county ended up with the 138-acre parcel that lies between the Lihue Airport and the sea: it had no development value.

The land given to the county at one point was supposed to be developed as an upscale golf course, according to County Clerk Peter Nakamura.

[Councilman Dickie] Chang, however, said the location wasn’t suitable for a golf course because of the constant hovering of helicopters and airplane landings and takeoffs. “If they built a golf course it wouldn’t be successful,” he said.

Eventually the shared use path will go through the property, and now it will be easier to build it when the time comes, said [Councilman Tim] Bynum.

So it’s too crappy for golfers, but good enough for the public because we enjoy recreating beneath “the constant hovering of helicopters and airplane landings and takeoffs?” Thanks, guys.

While we’re on the topic of the Path, I got an email sent around by Mr. Path, Thomas Noyes:

Based on park users' overwhelming endorsement for allowing responsible dog walking on all of Kauai's existing and future multi-use path systems, as documented in the survey conducted under the direction of the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Kauai Path board of directors supports responsible dog walking on all of Ke Ala Hele Makalae and future path systems. (Note: this is not an endorsement of allowing dogs in all the County parks--only on the multi-use path systems as defined in the current ordinance, and expanded to all the paths as expressed in the bill now under consideration.)

Now how can you say it’s OK to let dogs only on lateral county parks, but not those with other configurations?

On the one hand, we’ve got the county pushing a new vacation rental bill because it fears lawsuits if ag land owners are excluded and scrambling to revise the farm worker housing bill because it fears lawsuits if CPR owners are excluded. Yet on the other hand, it’s considering a bill that excludes people with dogs from all but one small section of one county park.

What is the legal justification? And what, really, is the big deal with leashed dogs in public places? Yesterday, I got an email from one of my sisters, who is vacationing in Vienna:

You'd like Vienna, people bring their dogs everywhere with them, including cafes and on the tram, train etc. They have to wear muzzles on the transportation but they don't seem to object.

I noticed the same thing when I traveled through Great Britain. Dogs were welcome everywhere, and I didn’t observe any doo doo or attacks. Surely we can ease up a bit, too. Or must dog owners, like the landowners who have the county jumping through hoops, threaten to sue to get the county’s attention?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Musings: Back to Traditions

A big rain had just passed, leaving behind wet grass and glistening leaves when Koko and I went out walking this morning. The moon, with a sizable chunk already nibbled away, hung low in the southern sky, fading to white with the arrival of dawn.

Delightful fragrances lingered in the thick air, reminding me that it is May Day-Lei Day, and mist rose and swirled above the still sleeping Giant. In the distance, waterfalls streaked down Makaleha and Waialeale’s flat, gray-blue summit was visible through a dreamy, rose-tinted haze.

“Ugh,” pronounced my neighbor Andy in response to the mugginess. “It feels like summer is here.”

But I knew that wasn’t true, because if it were, I’d be headed down to the beach already instead of sitting in my house with a sweatshirt on, waiting for the day to warm up.

Things already are heating up in the governor’s office as folks on both sides of the civil-unions debate attempt to sway Lingle’s decision on the bill passed in a surprise, last-minute vote by the House on Thursday.

Those opposed to the bill admit they got complacent when the measure was shelved by the House after passing the Senate earlier in the session. So now they’re making up for lost time by laying it on thick with Lingle, who has the power to either veto the bill or let it stand.

I’m fascinated by the way the religious zealots have justified their opposition to a bill aimed at providing equality, as reported by The Advertiser:

Dennis Arakaki, the executive director of the Hawai'i Family Forum and the Hawai'i Catholic Conference, said religious conservatives and others who want to preserve traditional marriage will be fired up.

"This is not about the church against gays," he said. "It's actually about people standing up for traditional marriage."

But just how traditional are they talking about here? While doing a Google search on marriage, I found a definition provided by the Bible Dictionary , which I presume is the one they might want to follow, seeing as how the Bible is supposed to be God’s take on all subjects, right? And it states:

It seems to have been the practice from the beginning for fathers to select wives for their sons (Gen. 24:3; 38:6). Sometimes also proposals were initiated by the father of the maiden (Ex. 2:21). The brothers of the maiden were also sometimes consulted (Gen. 24:51; 34:11), but her own consent was not required. The young man was bound to give a price to the father of the maiden (31:15; 34:12; Ex. 22:16, 17; 1 Sam. 18:23, 25; Ruth 4:10; Hos. 3:2)

I’m not sure how many American women today, even the Bible bangers, would go for that one, or endorse the prescribed roles of each marriage partner, as outlined in Fausset´s Bible Dictionary:

Love, honor, and cherishing are his duty; helpful, reverent subjection, a meek and quiet spirit, her part; both together being heirs of the grace of life

Are any women — other than those being paid by Johns to play such a role — still into “reverent subjection?”

The Bible Dictionary also talks about how monogamy is the cornerstone of marriage, a concept that I imagine most gays seeking such a union would endorse, and mentions:

Marriage is said to be "honourable" (Heb. 13:4), and the prohibition of it is noted as one of the marks of degenerate times (1 Tim. 4:3).

So does that mean that prohibiting gays from getting married is actually more degenerate than allowing them to marry?

If only God had been a little more clear….

What isn’t clear is whether Lingle will sign the bill and distinguish her governorship by doing one great thing; veto it and add another item to her long list of screw-ups, or conveniently go off island so da Duke, as acting governor, can make big political hay by vetoing the bill.

In the meantime, I can’t understand why in the world The Advertiser isn’t allowing comments on the two stories it’s published on this very important issue. What’s up with that?