Monday, March 31, 2008

Musings: Aloha, Superferry and Mainland Mentality

The moon wore a halo and was accented by Jupiter when Koko and I set out walking under a sky of quilted pink-gold clouds that hinted at a lovely sunrise to come. We were both jazzed — perhaps because of the gusty wind that set the bamboo clattering and the eucalyptus and ironwood sighing.

Stopped to talk with both farmer Jerry and my neighbor, Andy, and it was interesting to hear the take each of them had on the very big news that Aloha Airlines is shutting down today.

Since this is Kauai, both of their comments touched on the Superferry, with Andy saying that if the state had invested $40 million into Aloha instead of harbor improvements for the ferry, maybe we wouldn’t be stuck with just Hawaiian and go! — which I have dubbed "no go" in reference to its crummy service.

Jerry, on the other hand, said you have to wonder if the powers that be knew that airplanes, which are much less fuel efficient than ships, wouldn’t be able to handle the rising oil costs, and so wanted to be sure the state had another transportation option.

According to the Advertiser report, the troubled airline went looking for state help, but didn’t get it.

[Aloha CEO David ] Banmiller said Aloha has been in close contact with the Lingle administration for weeks seeking "possible political and government support" and that company executives told the administration that they had no substantive offers for Aloha. Over the past year, the company received minimal support from the administration and other other lawmakers, Banmiller said.

Talking to Jerry and Andy got me wondering if Superferry, now out of drydock, will push up its service resumption date to take advantage of the instability in the interisland transport market. Can it? I mean, even though it got all buss up and put back together, it can pass Coast Guard inspection, right?

And what kind of fares will it be able to offer?

Brad Parsons, who has been going over the testimony presented to the Lege when it was considering the infamous Act 2, which gutted a court decision to allow the boat to run without an EIS, touches on that topic in a post on his blog. It includes an excerpt from testimony by Rich Hoeppner, that Brad updated in brackets:

More important than any of the above information, is the integrity and truthfulness of the people involved in the promotion of this project. They still advertise their operation as affordable and convenient, with weekend fares at $52 per person and $65 per car. In very fine print is the mention of a fuel surcharge based on marine diesel oil (MDO) priced at $300 per metric ton, with a 2% rise in fare price for each 10% rise is in MDO. They also know that the present MDO price is $585. It was as high as $790 just a few months ago and is on the rise since the elections. Is this deceptive, or outright dishonesty? [MDO is well over $900 per metric ton right now, 3/29/08, three times the pricing cost that HSF originally calculated, see:]

What I found most intriguing about the newspaper coverage of the shutdown was an Advertiser article with the headline “Post-war Prejudice gave rise to the People’s Airline.” It includes this fascinating bit of history:

When its first flight took off from Honolulu in 1946, the interisland carrier that would become Aloha Airlines was an underdog created by minorities determined to succeed in post-war Hawai'i.

Founded by publisher Ruddy Tongg as Trans-Pacific Airlines, it was the answer to a class struggle.

Tongg and his friends had felt the sting of discrimination. They had been bumped off flights on the only interisland carrier, Hawaiian Airlines, which reportedly excluded Asian pilots, flight attendants and counter help in favor of Caucasians. The solution from Tongg and his business partners was to create their own airline, said aviation historian Peter Forman.

"When Aloha first came in, they were responding to the prejudices of the time," Forman said. "They created an airlines that a person of any ethnicity could fly on and feel equally welcome. There are many old timers who still support Aloha for this reason."

So what does its shut down — caused in good part by a fare war launched by a mainland-based company with questionable business practices and ethics — say about the current social and economic situation here in Hawaii?

It looks an awful lot like we’re witnessing the demise of aloha — in more than a literal sense— and the rise of “mainland mentality.”

A reader offered this comment:

I feel very sad today for the people of Aloha. How do you say Aloha to Aloha?? Fourteen Million or Billion to put planes in the air a minute, to kill people. But we can't save our own Aloha. Thanks Mr. Bush. To bad he will never have to worry about keeping a roof over his famlies head or food in their belly's. I'm so mad what can I do????

And a nurse friend who commutes weekly to Honolulu shared this:

When I called yesterday to try to figure out my relationship with them, I thought the agent was going to cry. So many lives impacted!

Yes, indeed. So many lives impacted.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

No Come Kauai

While walking to one of my favorite beaches, I encountered this scene of carnage on conservation land, down-slope from a house with the survey stakes that indicate a sale is possible or pending, and so the ocean view becomes even more valuable. It used to be an ironwood forest, filled with birdsong and shade. Now it’s rubble.

It reminded me of a piece I wrote earlier about this very same neighborhood:


All you want to do is make a lot of money, a big return on your investment, some major salad real quick, but you can’t do it in your own town, because the land is too expensive and the regulations are too strict, so you hop on a jet and touch down on Kauai, where you’ve heard the pickings are easy and sweet, and a realtor agrees, saying all you’ve gotta do is buy a chunk of ag land and chop it up into CPRs, but keep the best one for yourself and then decapitate all the trees, because buyers will pay extra for that coveted ocean view, so you do as you’re advised and grade a large pad to build a super-sized spec house that will soon bear a for sale sign and you pour a steep, concrete driveway that funnels all the drainage water from your lot onto the beach, eviscerating the clumps of naupaka that provide cover for the red clay that now bleeds onto the coarse, white sand with each and every rain until soon that stretch of coastline is scarred with small gullies, spoiled and stained, but you don’t notice because you’re someplace else.

All you want to do is go down to the sea, walk a rugged span of shoreline that’s relatively private and still feels real, wild, the way nature intended, without any traffic noise or visual intrusion of human habitation, where you can watch boobies fly and swim in clear, clean waters, but you can’t go anywhere in your own neighborhood, because the county forgot to record the beach access that’s now blocked with chain link, so you drive to another bit of Kauai you especially cherish and clamber down a steep path, among trees that have been felled, exposing the construction site of yet another garish mansion, across coarse, white sand that has been gouged and bloodied, and you feel again the hopelessness of the situation because you already called the deputy county engineer, who is a planner by training, but got his job because he’s good friends with the mayor, and he asked what you thought he was supposed to do about it, and then the state conservation guy, once he finally came and took a look, tried to convince you it was just an act of nature, and the kona winds carry not bird song, but the incessant beep-beep-beep of backhoes and excavators, and you notice, because you visit that stretch of coastline nearly every single day, and you grieve, because you don’t want to go someplace else.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Musings: Sketchy Business

Aside from the sirens that briefly got all the dogs in the neighborhood howling, it was a quiet, sleepy morning when Koko and I set out walking a little bit later than usual. The clouds blocked the sun and its rise and all the interior mountains, except for the face of Makaleha, which was streaked by a lovely waterfall.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, who had spent yesterday planting more fruit trees in his yard. It seems he makes his own guava jam and lilikoi jelly from fruit collected on his property, as well as a soursop sherbet. It’s always nice to see folks actually using their ag land, instead of just growing a crop of grass that’s regularly harvested by a mower.

On the topic of agriculture — one of my favorites — the Garden Island reports today that the Council approved the resolution calling for a 10-year moratorium on GMO taro.

I wasn’t surprised that they passed it, but I was surprised to learn JoAnn Yukimura joined Kaipo Asing and Ron Kouchi in voting against it. According to the paper, she released a statement saying:

”I do not believe it is pono to pass a law instituting a 10-year moratorium without taking the time to understand the objections, reservations and concerns of those who produce the majority of the taro in the state — most of whom are Kaua‘i farmers, our neighbors and friends who for generations have been keeping poi on all of our tables.”

I’m not sure how much more time needs to be spent hashing out the concerns that have been presented by those who both support and oppose the moratorium. It’s also highly unlikely that consensus will ever be reached among taro growers themselves, many of whom are not Hawaiian and so are more concerned about the economic, rather than cultural, significance of the crop.

The article goes on to report:

“All the taro farmers understand and are sensitive to the cultural significance of taro to the Hawaiian community and also have reservations about GMO taro,” Kaua‘i Taro Growers Association President Rodney Haraguchi said in his written testimony. “However, they are opposed to have a law passed for 10 years restricting research which may be necessary.”

His use of the word “all” makes it sound like the farmers unanimously share KTGA’s anti-moratorium stance on this issue, when that is simply not the case. And anyway, the KTGA could not by any stretch of the imagination be said to represent even a majority of the taro growers on the island.

In the end, despite the hours of impassioned testimony, it’s doubtful the resolution — already passed on the Big Island and poised to be adopted by the Maui Council — will have much impact on the Legislature. As you may recall, the Neighbor Island councils also adopted resolutions calling for an EIS before the Superferry could run, and the Lege totally blew them off on that one.

Speaking of the Lege, Ian Lind has an interesting post today about how Rep. Roz Baker managed to craft a bill that would authorize loan guarantees to Aloha Airlines, which recently announced it is again filing Chapter 11.

Such guarantees might not necessarily be a bad thing, but the process by which the bill was “introduced” seems pretty darn sketchy.

But then, that seems to be the way the Lege conducts a lot of its business.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Musings: Conscious Politics

Awoke in the dead of night to complete and utter silence — punctuated by an occasional far-off rooster crowing — and marveled at the contrast when Koko and I much later went walking in a world filled with sound, all of it made by birds, chirping, cooing, trilling, tweetering.

White clouds rode atop gray ones and then turned to pink, burying all the interior mountains in fluff as we, too, moved through air scented by citrus blossoms and the faint smell of wet pavement from a light rain that fell in the night.

Chatted briefly with farmer Jerry, smiling as always, on his way to work, and was struck by how many people I don’t know wave to me from their cars as they drive by. There’s something wonderful about living in a place where people acknowledge one another, instead of making like you don’t even exist.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, walking one of his daughter’s dogs, as well as his own, and we talked about collecting. It seems the excitement is not in the having, but the acquiring. I don’t collect stuff, but I suppose I do collect experiences. They’re easier to maintain, and priceless, at least to me.

I had a rather remarkable one last night when I attended a session of Deeksha, the Oneness Blessing, in Kalaheo. A woman who had read an article I wrote in Spirit of Aloha called me out of the blue and invited me, thinking — based on what I’d written — that it was something I would enjoy. Such openings don’t happen often, so when they do, I heed them.

It turned out to be a meditation, followed by a hands-on blessing, and I definitely felt the spiritual energy. But what struck me most was sitting with a dozen total strangers and feeling such a deep sense of love and acceptance.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the failings of social movements and political systems, and discussing the issue with a few close friends. In abstract, so many of the concepts behind such efforts are laudable, but in practice they fall apart, largely due to greed, ego-tripping, the desire for power and other manifestations of unconscious behavior.

More and more I’m convinced that the answer lies in transforming ourselves, and from that process will come the profound shift needed to achieve a world that’s just, peaceful and pono.

Which is not to say that one should ignore what is going on or not speak out about wrong doings and injustices. Andy said he’d rather read about politics than spirituality in my blog, which got me thinking that a lot of our political problems stem from the absence of “spirituality.” And by that I do not mean religion or even any sort of spiritual practice, but consciousness, an awareness of the deep consequences of our actions.

That’s what I see is at the root of the debate over genetic engineering, especially when it comes to taro — an issue the County Council took up again yesterday. The Garden Island article on the hearing included this quote:

”Don’t fool around with the taro,” said John A‘ana, a Westside farmer for the past 30 years, who held up a taro plant as he addressed council. “The bottom line is you need to show respect for the Hawaiian culture.”

Although it’s good to see the Council debating a resolution to support a 10-year moratorium on GMO taro research, the real decision lies with the Lege, which is already backing away from the proposal. The House Agriculture Committee deferred action on Senate Bill 958, which calls for the moratorium, after a seven-hour hearing in which testimony favored the resolution. The action doesn’t bode well for the bill’s passage.

In other news, KITV reported last night that the Superferry — which it termed a “troubled vessel” — has moved out of drydock and is now awaiting Coast Guard inspection. The action contradicts those who predicted the damage it suffered in drydock would permanently sideline the big boat, a prediction I thought at the time was based on wishful thinking. Still, no passenger service is planned until April 23.

I got an email from a reader about the post In Defense of Wildness, in which I spoke against plans to extend the concrete bike path from Donkey Beach to Anahola. She said she had attended a meeting in Anahola about three years ago in which “the majority of the people
in the room ( Hawaiians) did NOT want it.” Once again, however, we’re faced with an agency, this time Department of Hawaiian Homelands, that is pushing ahead with the proposal regardless.

She wrote: “I would like to help stop the Path from invading Anahola...”

I agree. Enough concrete along the coast already. Councilman Mel Rapozo, who has an interesting new blog, shares this view. Who else can we get on board to stop this concrete snake from slithering deeper into the wilderness?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Musings:Making Like an Environmentalist

The moon — remarkably bright, although waning — called me out early and then promptly hid, leaving Koko and me to walk in a cloudy world of murky shadows, with a promise of gold and pink around the eastern edges.

At the top of the hill we stood to watch rain squalls in the distance, and a few drops fell on my head, just to remind me we’re all connected, and as we returned, me clutching a fistful of fragrant spider lilies plucked from the roadside, the squalls still marching mauka, up the Wailua Valley, the sun rose and a thick shaft of rainbow formed in the darkest cloud mass and reached faintly for the heavens.

Soon Kauai cops will be reaching for their tasers, according to an article in today’s Garden Island, which reports that a contract has been approved to purchase the immobilizing stun guns. The county plans to buy 20 tasers outfitted with cameras, at a reported cost of $30,000.

I was reading a short piece in the New Yorker the other day about women holding “taser parties” — the modern version of Tupperware parties — in New York, where stun guns can be purchased by civilians. The woman running the party, who previously slept with a knife under her pillow, said she’d been zapped for one second in her rump, just to know what it felt like, and described it as the absolute worst pain she’d ever experienced. Yet here she was selling guns that would zap somebody for 30 seconds to women with no training, but plenty of fear.

Fear was also the reaction of the nene that were subjected to the advances of 7-year-old Lindsey Tresler who “tried to make friends” prior to their release from the pens that held them on Grove Farm land.

According to the Garden Island:

Warren Haruki, Grove Farm’s president, suggested that Lindsey slowly approach the flock of two dozen of the endangered Hawaiian fowl and let them get used to her.

But the nene would have none of that and several of them fluttered into the folds of the shade cloth that covered their pen.

Now why, you might wonder, was a little kid encouraged to approach endangered birds with an eye toward “making friends” when the last thing nene need is to become habituated toward humans, who are one of their primary threats? These are wild birds, after all, not zoo animals or pets, and their survival depends on avoiding humans, with their dogs, cars and unhealthy hand outs.

It’s because little Lindsey is the daughter of a Grove Farm vice-president, and GF is allowing the state DLNR guys to use some of their hand as holding pens for goslings collected at Kauai Lagoons until they’re old enough to be released.

Sure it’s great that GF is doing this, and they make sure we know of their largess under the “no good deed shall go unpromoted” approach that typically characterizes corporate giving, but the encounter had to put state wildlife biologist Thomas Kaiakapu in a bit of tight spot.

Because he and his staff don’t get chummy with the birds and he knows of the dangers nene face when they get friendly with humans, but what could he say when he’s desperate to find release areas near Lihue and Grove Farm owns much of the open land around there?

The whole thing rankled me because it’s yet another example of how a developer, whose sole reason for being is to greatly alter the natural environment, gets to play like they’re the great conservator of our most imperiled creatures.

And sure enough, the Garden Island dutifully reported that the nene release site “is just one of the environmental initiatives it [Grove Farm] undertakes.”

Meanwhile, in the planning room, these same officials sit around and figure out how they can continue their systematic urbanization of central Kauai. If they’re really sincere about their “environmental initiatives,” why don’t they take development of Maha`ulepu off the table?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Musings: Real World

It’s interesting when you walk, especially on a road, because you see things you otherwise wouldn’t notice from a car, and a lot of it is dead. Today it was toads with their intestines hanging out, a belly-up gecko, a pile of feathers that once was a rooster and a rat with its head ripped off, presumably by a cat.

There’s a certain detachment that happens when you see the aftermath of death, rather than death as it happens, which is probably why the guys fighting in Iraq are troubled with nightmares and PTSD while the Americans at home — who don’t even see the aftermath — are now more preoccupied with their own finances than the war, where 4,000 GIs have died.

Still, it’s all worth it according to President Bush, who was quoted on Democracy Now! yesterday as saying:

“And I guess my one thought I want to leave with those who still hurt is that one day people will look back at this moment in history and say, thank God there were courageous people willing to serve, because they laid the foundations for peace for generations to come.”

Yes, George, I’m sure that will erase all the hurt and suffering, especially when there’s absolutely no indication that any foundations of peace have been laid at all.

That was followed by Cheney, the draft dodger, saying:

“The President carries the biggest burden, obviously. He’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, an all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us.”

You have to wonder what world they live in. Certainly it’s not the same real world as the paralyzed veteran or the average American, who now spends 36 percent of his or her disposable income on food, medical expenses and energy — the highest percentage since records were first kept in 1960. Add in credit card payments and whopping mortgages, and things are looking pretty lean.

That also seems to be the situation for some folks on Molokai now that Molokai Ranch has announced it’s laying off 120 people and winding down operations in 60 days.

Today’s Advertiser article blamed the closure on luxury home opponents, but the comment from the Ranch’s Singapore owners didn’t seem to support that assertion.

The reporter wrote:

Molokai Ranch ordered the shutdown after failing to win enough support for a controversial master plan to develop 200 lots for luxury oceanfront homes at La'au that would help finance other ranch business investments that the company said loses a few million dollars annually.

According to the ranch's Singapore-based parent company GuocoLeisure Ltd., Molokai Ranch had positive cash flow last year by selling land, but GuocoLeisure's board told Molokai Ranch to cease operating.

GuocoLeisure added that the shutdown isn't expected to have any significant financial impact on GuocoLeisure, a publicly traded company that reported a $12.6 million net profit last year on revenue of $422 million and is headed by Malaysian billionaire Quek Leng Chan.

Do you suppose Chan would have been satisfied even if the La`au Point project was approved? I doubt it.

I thought of that when I was on Lanai, where owner David Murdock, one of the world’s richest people, has already built two very upscale resorts and is now selling off luxury home sites, thus perpetuating the pattern of gentrification that has come to characterize development in Hawaii.

It creates a strange mix of average people who work hard to survive in a place where gas costs $4.60 a gallon, and the bored super rich, one of whom I heard asking — unsuccessfully —for a local to take them around because, as his wife said, “We need an adventure today.”

Maybe they should try living in the real world.

Speaking of living large, I noticed the state today will dedicate the new Hawaiian Homes HQ — replete with a $75,000 portrait of Prince Kuhio — in Kapolei.

It’s yet another example of the misuse of money that is supposed to benefit Native Hawaiians, many of whom have died on the list waiting for a homestead award.

Along those same lines, got an email from Andre Perez of Hui Pu about a hearing set for Thursday afternoon on Senate Concurrent Resolution 138 SD1, which disapproves a proposal to hike the pay of trustees for Office of Hawaiian Affairs and also requests a financial and management audit of that agency.

It seems like a good time to bring OHA trustees into the real world occupied by their beneficiaries, many of whom don't have a job, much less a fat paycheck.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Musings: Go Figger

The moon, hidden for days, shone white and clear this morning as Koko and I walked amid a world of chirpy waking birds. I love the way birds start and end the day happy.

Spent the last two days working on Lanai, where the bird song is far more sparse, given the corresponding scarcity of trees, and not a rooster was to be heard or wild chicken to be seen.

Lanai is a beautiful little island, slow and sleepy and quiet, with roads that make Kauai’s look like the rutted, pot-holed messes they are. Of course, we get a lot more traffic, what with the hordes of visitors, nearly all of them behind the wheel of a rental car, that descend on our island each day.

As I mentioned to my neighbor Andy, when our paths crossed this morning, Lanai locals don’t seem to hate the tourists like Kauai folks do. He and I both agreed that we don’t dislike individual tourists, some of whom are very nice, interesting to talk to and even concerned about what’s going on. But the tourism enmasse is so off-putting.

On Lanai, they trickle in on small planes that are about half-filled with locals or arrive on the ferry —small, not super-sized — that runs from Maui. Many of them forego renting a car and take the shuttle buses that cruise around the island.

It’s not like Kauai, where big jets almost totally filled with tourists touch down repeatedly through the day and shortly thereafter a long line of rental cars heads north or south, and you go to a place like Kee or Lydgate or Poipu and think, OMG, and just want to immediately turn around and leave.

And when I was in the interior and backcountry on Lanai, I didn’t hear one single helicopter — the flying scourge of Kauai that heavily mars the tranquility and beauty of places like Waimea Canyon, Na Pali and Hanalei.

We’ve clearly maxed out on tourism over here, at least from a social perspective, although I know the economic forces that always opt for growth over status quo feel otherwise. Their motto is “Bring ‘em on! Who cares if aloha is dwindling?”

But then I suppose attempts to put any sort of reasonable limits on growth or tourism would be branded as “socialism” or an infringement on personal rights by folks like Charley Foster and those who post comments on his blog, where he recently chastised Councilwoman Yukimura and others concerned about reducing fossil fuel consumption for trying to impose “the burden of their amateur prognosticating on the rest of the community” with a proposal to require solar hot water heaters be installed in new homes.

Never mind that we live on an island where we have abundant solar resources and absolutely no fossil fuels, so it just makes common sense to use what we’ve got. No, that’s somehow impinging on the rights of others to wildly consume. Of course, no mention was made of the fact that we all must bear the burden of higher utility bills when KIUC has to keep expanding its generating capacity to satisfy our insatiable demands for electricity.

Apparently those kinds of burdens are OK to impose, but any associated with conservation or alternative energy are not. Go figger.

And go figger how it is that someone like Sherman Shiraishi is serving on the Charter Review Commission, which is now considering one amendment that would make it easier for the Council to meet in closed session and another that deals with the ethics of allowing those who serve on county boards and commission to continue doing business before the County.

According to an article in The Garden Island this morning:

Despite public testimony against the measure, the commission is considering a separate amendment that could let voters decide if volunteer county board and commission members should be allowed to represent private business interests before other county departments, agencies or boards except the board or commission on which they serve.

The proposal came forward after the county Ethics Board recently voted unanimously that no conflict of interest exists in one such case. Specifically, Charter Review Commission Chair Jonathan Chun, who was absent yesterday, asked the board to decide if he should be allowed to sit on the commission while serving as an attorney for private businesses appearing before County Council, the county Planning Commission and other agencies.

[Bruce] Pleas and Kapa‘a residents Glenn Mickens and Ken Taylor said they opposed even considering this as a possible charter amendment.

Taylor said the first thing the commission must consider for any proposed charter amendment is how this change benefits the community.

He said he only sees this proposed ethics change benefiting a “handful of people” serving on county boards and commissions.

That’s a very good point, Ken. Pray tell, how would the public possibly be served by making it even easier for cronyism to be standard operating procedure on Kauai?

The article goes on to say:

The County Attorney’s office issued a legal opinion on the matter, which relates to charter section 20.02 D, but it has not been made known to the public.

The refusal to make legal opinions public – which has become the MO for both the Administration and Council to blow off the public — prompted Council-watcher Glenn Mickens to push for yet another amendment. It would require the County Attorney’s office to make public within two days any opinions related to law and public policy.

That issue came up most recently when Harold Stoessel, whose open letter to the council, mayor and Garden Island on the topic is now circulating via email, asked the Ethics Commission to explain its rationale for keeping secret the county attorney’s opinion about Chun’s possible conflict of interest.

His request, which seems perfectly reasonable to me, met with this arrogant response from Ethics Commission Chairman Mark Hubbard: “I do not intend to answer that, Horace. It could be that I don’t know; it could be that I just don’t wish to answer that question.”

Of course, it’s not too hard to figger why Mark Hubbard, who works for Grove Farm, a company with frequent business before the County and lots of land to develop, wouldn’t want to delve too deeply into this nasty business of conflict of interest. After all, it might get folks wondering why the heck he’s serving on the Ethics Commission at all.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Musings: Not the Information Age

I participated in my usual sunrise service today, out walking with Koko, admiring the creation, allowing myself to get present in it. It was cloudy, but there was enough space along the horizon for the sun to glow through and set everything shimmering.

Stopped briefly to check the headlines on my neighbor’s newspaper and saw that the incumbents were re-elected to the board of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

I never did receive a ballot, although I regularly receive my utility bill, so I can’t help but wonder how many others were left out of the voting loop. That’s the problem with a vote by mail system.

Noticed in The Advertiser that Oahu continues to make life miserable for its already miserable homeless, this time by taking their dogs.

The cops — really, don’t they have anything better to do on high-crime Oahu? — say they’re just enforcing a law against keeping dogs in city parks. But not all city parks, it seems, just those along the Waianae Coast.

HPD's Maj. Michael Moses said the dog sweeps are part of a stepped-up effort to enforce rules governing city parks along the Wai'anae Coast, such as park closure hours, no-drinking laws and parking lot restrictions.

Moses cites concerns — undocumented, at least in the article – voiced by unnamed folks in the rapidly gentrifying community.

"We're responding to community concerns about the increasing dog population in our parks," said Moses. "There is the issue of loose dogs, and some people have been attacked. Some say they've been bitten. And, of course, others are concerned about the health aspects — dog feces, and fleas and all that stuff."

Yes, all that stuff, like the inconvenient homeless who keep the dogs.

It’s just another way to harass the homeless and get them into the legal loop. Even if they go down and spend money they don’t have to buy into the avid chip racket at the Humane Society, the cops can still cite them for having the dogs in the parks, which means a trip to court, a fine that they can’t pay, etc.

Meanwhile, the bigger issue of why so many local folks are homeless continues to get shoved under the rug. Didn’t it break anybody else’s heart to see the old Hawaiian Aunty and Uncle in their tent on the front page of the paper?

What happened to respect for our kupuna and the ohana? Guess there’s no place for those old-fashioned values in the new glitz of big money Hawaii.

I’m headed off-island today for a quick work trip, so I won’t have a post tomorrow. But to counter all the bad news doom/gloom stuff that is just waiting to jump out at your from cyber space, TV and newspapers, I wanted to leave you with this poem from David Whyte:

This is not the age of information.

This is NOT 
the age of information.
Forget the news,
 and the radio,
 and the blurred screen.
This is the time
 of loaves 
and fishes.
People are hungry,
 and one good word is bread 
for a thousand.

Spread joy whenever you can, and love.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Musings: Blown Off

The moon was headed toward full all night, but thick clouds muffled her brilliance, so she made her way across the sky without fully strutting her stuff and now the sun is being similarly thwarted. But that’s OK, because cloudy days and showers are all a part of Spring.

It was wet and quiet when Koko and I went walking on this religious holiday that a Rasta friend dubbed “Bad Friday” because it perverted Christianity into a belief system that links suffering and love. As he noted, it also sets up a good Christian justification for war and killing, which otherwise would be considered sins. If God sacrificed His only Son, surely you shouldn’t fuss about sending your kid off to die, too.

Even if you do fuss about all the people dying in Iraq, Bush and Cheney ain’t listening. That was made crystal clear on Democracy Now! yesterday, which broadcast a report: “Bush, Cheney Dismiss Iraq War Opposition.”

It began with Bush’s usual denial of reality.

At the Pentagon, President Bush dismissed criticism of the war, saying US occupation has brought “undeniable” success in Iraq.

President Bush: "There is an understandable debate over whether the war was worth fighting, whether the fight is worth winning and whether we can win it. The answers are clear to me: removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight America can and must win.”

Bush’s approval rating is at 31 percent, a forty-point drop since the eve of the Iraq invasion.

A recent survey found more than two-thirds of Iraqis believe US-led coalition forces should leave Iraq. A quarter of those surveyed said they had lost a family member to murder since the war began. Meanwhile a new CNN poll shows two-thirds of Americans oppose the war, while more than seven-out-of-ten believe it’s hurt the economy.

But far more chilling was Cheney’s blatant “piss off, screw you” attitude toward the public, as captured in an interview with ABC’s "Good Morning America" and rebroadcast on Democracy Now!

Vice President Dick Cheney: “On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.”

Martha Raddatz: “Two-thirds of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.”

Cheney: “So?”

Raddatz: “So? You don’t care what the American people think?”

Cheney: “No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.”

Nope, ya gotta hold the course that's taking the ships right onto the rocks — even if it means blowing off an overwhelming majority of the citizenry. Hmmm. Isn’t that the point where a democracy become a dictatorship?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Musings: No Respect

Faint Venus brightened up when she freed herself from thick clouds and then was lost again in the glow of a yellow sun struggling to break through the gray gloom before it, too, gave up and gave in, suffusing charcoal rain clouds with pink.

Today is the vernal equinox, the day when the sun moves into Aries, signaling the start of spring, new life, new beginnings, hope springs eternal, that sort of thing. I must confess my own war-torn thoughts weren’t quite that bright and cheery as Koko and I went walking, but I could smell the promise of it all around us in the heady sweetness of citrus blossoms, the perfume of spider lily.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, who gave me a brief update on the contested case hearing that started this week over the mansion planned for Kilauea. Aside from the massiveness of the project, there’s the location to be considered. The guy wants to erect the monument to his wealth on land overlooking Kahili Beach, near the Kilauea river mouth.

It’s on land the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had planned to buy next year to expand the Kilauea refuge and give the public access to the river and falls, but Mr. Big Bucks beat the feds to the punch. Guess the realtor just couldn’t wait to make the sale.

I got the figures wrong last time I wrote about this project. The house itself isn’t 35,000 square feet. Instead, that’s the combined total of the main house, the caretaker’s house and the barn, which itself comes in at 5,000 square feet. Kala mai.

Still, who really needs that much personal space? Used to be people who moved to Kauai tried to fit in, be a part of things, build houses that weren’t so outlandishly out of place and touch. But that concept has gone out the window.

As my friend Eddie, one of the Wainiha boyz, observed:

“The haoles are coming in so fast you can’t keep up. They taking over the place. With the haoles here now, it’s not so bad because they came in slow and we could teach ‘em. We gave some of them guys dirty lickins, but they learned the right way to do things and now they know. They paid their dues. They show respect. But now there’s so many of them, and they coming in so fast, we don’t even have time for give all these new guys dirty lickins. They getting in without paying their dues. They do any kine stuff. They got no respect.”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the island chain, we’re getting a good reminder of who’s really in charge in the Islands, who really deserves some respect. According to an article in The Advertiser:

The first explosive eruption at Kilauea volcano in almost a century scattered boulders and smaller rocks over 75 acres of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park in the middle of the night when no one was around.

“Oh, but Pele stay up,” said a friend, who called early, when I read him that bit over the phone.

Yes, Pele stay up, and she’s restless. Wonder what other surprises she has in store?

It came as no surprise that Kauai had the biggest turnout in the state when the Superferry EIS scoping hearings were held here yesterday. I think The Garden Island summed up the sentiments pretty well:

Residents remain concerned about the impact that a large-capacity ferry service could have on the environment, traffic and culture in Hawai‘i but few seem to have faith in state officials’ ability or willingness to eliminate or mediate this threat.

Gee, I wonder when the citizens lost faith? Was it during the back room deals that led to the exemption from an environmental review in the first place? The arm twisting that got the Lege to adopt a Superferry-approved bill to let the big boat run without an EIS? The drydocking that takes the boat out of commission during the period when an oversight committee is supposed to be determining if the operating conditions imposed on the ferry in the interim are stringent enough?

I found the comments posted on the Star-Bulletin article about the meeting quite interesting. People sure have a strange idea about Kauai. Why do you suppose we get under their skin like that?

Anyway, if you missed the hearing and sitll want a chance to express your concerns, comments will be accepted through March 24. Fax to 808-538-7819 or mail to Lesley A Matsumoto, Belt Collins Hawaii Ltd, 2153 North King St., Suite 200, Honolulu, HI 96819.

Mahalo to LightLine for disseminating that info from John Tyler.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Musings: Hearts Sighing

The rain visited, blessed us for a few hours, and then departed, just in time for Koko and me to take our usual walk. The streets were wet and the clouds were on the move, traveling fast, north to south, driven by a wind I couldn’t feel, but that set the tall eucalyptus and ironwood trees sighing.

Today my heart is sighing as our nation enters a sixth year of war in Iraq, and it was sighing yesterday afternoon as I drove to an interview, listening to the Winter Soldier hearings being broadcast all this week on Democracy Now!

It wasn’t easy listening, the tales these young soldiers and veterans told of their tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wanted to turn it off, but felt I owed them at least my attention. They had a story they wanted and needed to tell, a story of their own disillusionment and despair and grief and guilt, and I felt that I, as a member of the nation that had packed them off to war, had the obligation to listen.

It was difficult to hear some of the things they’d done and seen, but what struck me most was the psychic burden they carry and likely always will. Their hearts were and still are heavily sighing.

This war has been especially devastating for soldiers, who don’t always die, but suffer higher rates of hearing loss, brain damage and amputated limbs than those in previous conflicts. But what about the deeper wounding to the heart and soul that occurs when you know that you’ve done bad things for all the wrong reasons?

That’s what haunted me about their stories: the deep regret and cold cynicism that I heard in their voices; the memories, doubts and questions they articulated that will be circulating through their thoughts for perhaps a lifetime.

And will it be a lifetime cut short or weakened by exposure to the depleted uranium our nation used so casually in the Middle East, contaminating our own soliders and the people who still must live there?

From everything I’ve learned about DU, the answer is yes. And now, thanks to military exercises, we’ve got DU in Hawaii, too.

The state Senate committees on Health and Energy and Environment, (of which our own Sen. Hooser is vice chair) today are conducting a hearing on HB 2076, which would require the health department to establish air sampling stations to monitor for levels of depleted uranium.

It’s a great idea. But why an effective date of July 1, 2020? Surely it would be wise to assess the threats to public health and safety more quickly than that. I'm afraid 2020 is a little too late. You can send testimony to

Speaking of testimony, I got an email from KAHEA, the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, saying that more than 6,000 people had submitted testimony yesterday supporting the moratorium on GMO taro research.

The question is, though, who will the Lege listen to? The biotech industry and UH? Or the public?

The Lege did listen to those who opposed the so-called “ceded lands” settlement between the state and its agency, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a controversy I wrote about in the Honolulu Weekly.

Both The Advertiser and Star-Bulletin reported yesterday on the Legislature’s decision to shelve the bill, citing comments from senators who felt the public hadn’t been involved in the negotiations, the $200 million package was insufficient and it was difficult to determine how the two parties had come up with the deal.

With the bill dead, the question now before Hawaii is how will we resolve the question of what kanaka maoli are due for the theft of their land during the overthrow of the monarchy?

Perhaps the state will feel some compunction to finally deal with the much larger topic of “ceded land” ownership now that it’s prohibited by the Hawaii Supreme Court from selling or transferring such lands until that issue is resolved.

And it also seems like a good time to look more closely at OHA and persistent criticisms that the agency isn’t doing enough for its beneficiaries — the Native Hawaiians — with the money it’s already getting from “ceded lands” revenues.

Really, it's an issue whose resolution is long past due. It's been 115 years since the U.S. overthrew the monarchy, and five years since we overthrew Saddam Hussein’s regime. Will we still be in Iraq a century from now? Will debts stemming from our thefts still be unsettled? Will the hearts of those who have had to impose and endure the suffering caused by our imperialism still be grieving and sighing?

The sign in front of Hawaiian activist Mark Boiser’s place in Moloa`a said it all: “FREE LIKE IRAQ.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Musings: For Love of Haloa

Late yesterday afternoon, frazzled and fret from a day’s tedious work, I headed for the hills and rediscovered joy.

Standing out there, in the midst of all that life, my eyes feasting on ohia lehua, hala, uluhe and kukui, my ears filled with birdsong and breeze, I said “I love you” out loud to the world.

It’s a sentiment I’ve expressed often in my backyard taro patch, for which I have a special and abiding affection.

Ever since my friend Ka`imi told me the story, in a Hanalei taro patch, of Haloa, the stillborn offspring of gods that became the first taro plant from whom the Hawaiian people are descended, I’ve seen it as more than just a beautiful, hardy, useful, productive crop.

Ever since he planted the first row of huli behind my house and said, “Now you have an army of Hawaiians guarding you Aunty Joan,” I’ve found it impossible to view it as just as another plant.

We’ve developed a rapport, the kalo and me, as I’ve watched it grow, harvested and eaten it, re-planted the huli and seen it expand from a small army to a force to be reckoned with.

When I got sick, it started ailing, too. When I recovered, it flourished. When I walk among it, it leans toward me. When the moon is bright, it glows silver. When the rain is heavy, fat drops pool in the heart of its leaves.

In a world of remarkable plants, kalo is something special. It’s sacred. Its cultural roots run very, very deep.

That’s why I’m so adamantly opposed to the University of Hawaii’s attempts to genetically modify taro. I happen to believe that all genetic engineering is morally wrong, scientifically dubious, economically motivated and environmentally dangerous.

And when it comes to taro, it’s absolutely unconscionable. Many Hawaiians vehemently oppose it, seeing it as the final co-opting of their culture, and I agree. Taro farmers haven’t asked for it. No current disease problem warrants it. Consumer acceptance of it is doubtful. It’s a bad idea in every way — except for UH, which could make money from selling the patent.

Don’t be fooled by arguments that research should continue “just in case.” It costs a lot of money to develop a genetically engineered plant. Once it’s done, UH will want to sell it and then it will be difficult to keep it out of the taro patch.

If the state and the University truly want to help taro farmers, then they should figure out a way to eradicate the apple snail, take steps to restore water to the streams and put taro lands back into the hands of Hawaiians.

But leave the kalo genome alone.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the House committee on agriculture, chaired by Rep. Clift Tsuji, will conduct a hearing on SB 958, which imposes a 10-year moratorium on developing, testing, propagating, cultivating, growing, and raising genetically engineered taro in the State.

Please, take a moment to submit your testimony to They'll be accepting comments up through the end of the hearing.

If you want more details, visit Hawaii Seed.

Malama kalo. Aloha Haloa.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Musings: Masking the Stink

Even though it’s Sunday, my eyes popped open at 6 a.m., the same time Koko popped out of bed, so we hit the road through a neighborhood so quiet I wondered if a neutron bomb had gone off and I was somehow spared.

But despite the absence of human activity, the birds were twittering merrily beneath a cloudy sky and flowers and blossoms of all sorts enveloped me in fragrance along the way, just as each time I awoke in the night I smelled the gardenias that are always a welcome house guest.

It’s wonderful to live in a naturally perfumed world. It helps to make the stink of environmental degradation, militarism and political game playing more tolerable.

Yes, folks, today’s post will touch on all three of those cheery topics, starting with the news that Hawaiian monk seals are seriously on the ropes. Don’t be fooled by the ones you see sunning themselves on Kauai’s beaches, or even the poor buggers that haul up on Oahu.

Although numbers around the main Hawaiian Islands are slowly growing, the main population in the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument is now declining at a rate of 4 percent a year.

According to a summary of the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Plan, “Biologists estimate the current population at about 1200 individuals, and modeling predicts that the species population will fall below 1000 animals within the next three to four years. This places the Hawaiian monk seal among the world’s most endangered species.”

I became aware of this when I called Dr. Mimi Olry, the state’s monk seal specialist, the other day to get her comments on how military activities within the monument might affect the seals.

“They’d be detrimental,” Mimi said. “The seals are in a crisis situation already.”

It seems that the young seals in the monument “aren’t making it the first year,” Mimi said. “They’re starving. Something’s not right in the ecosystem up there.”

So shoots, why not make it more worse by shooting down missiles over Nihoa and Mokumanamana (Necker), where seals live and cruise over to Niihau and Kauai? Why not blow up some old ships and stuff and put more toxins in the water? Why not harass the hell out of them with that incessant ping-ping-ping of sonar?

Don’t you love it when your federal tax dollars are used that way?

As for your state tax dollars, they’re being used — for reasons that have never been made clear — to pay for the Superferry EIS that is now under way. Usually those who are proposing a project pay for the EIS, but the state in its unending generosity toward the big boat is picking up the tab.

Scoping meetings to ask the public what should be addressed in the EIS are being held around the state, and according to a Star-Bulletin article that Brad Parsons cited in his blog yesterday, the first scoping meetings have already been held on Molokai, where 30 people turned out, and Oahu, where a total of 12 people showed up for two meetings.

By apparent way of explanation for the low turnout, the article offers this quote:

Neighbor island residents are much more aware than they are on Oahu" of harbor activities, said Mike Formby, deputy director of the state Harbors Division. "They are aware of when passenger ships are in, cargo ships are in, when milk's arriving. They seem to have a general awareness and consciousness."

I’m not sure that’s all there is to it. It might also have something to do with the fact that Oahu residents by and large didn’t seem much concerned about environmental impacts, while that was the big issue on the Neighbor Islands.

Garans there will be a bigger crowd than that when the hearings are held on Kauai — 2-5 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at KCC — Maui and Big Island. And I’m sure one point that will be made is the need to study the impact on monk seals that use Nawiliwili Harbor.

Brad also noted a Star-Bulletin editorial that weighs in on the state audit — mandated by the Lege and delayed by the gov’s refusal to release documents — that is already significantly behind schedule.

In fact, it may not even be ready before the Lege adjourns. Now wouldn’t that be convenient for the gov and her cronies? And as the editorial points out, with the Superferry in drydock, the oversight task force that was formed to make recommendations on possible changes in operating conditions for the ferry won’t have much to report on before the Lege adjourns, either. Again, how convenient.

As the editorial states: ...the public is due an explanation to dispel a perception that something untoward was behind the February 2005 exemption [from an environmental review for the ferry].

Ass right, we’re due an explanation, not only about the exemption but the Administration’s delays. But so long as Gov. Lingle and her Attorney General, Mark Bennett, play the stall game and the Lege doesn’t push back, it doesn’t look like the public is gonna get its due.

Since we’re on the topic of folks getting their due, my Honolulu Weekly article on the proposed “ceded lands” settlement is now posted on line.

I don't want to bum you out completely, so here's some good news: black holes aren't really black! And they don't just suck stuff in, they also spew it out!

Heck, we're learning new stuff all the time. Maybe we'll figure our big problems out.

Have a nice day! ☺

(photo by Mimi Olry)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Musings: Short Memories

It was feeling like typical March weather — gray, cool and windy — when Koko and I started on our walk this morning, but while we were out, the sun punched through the clouds, cloaking Makaleha’s jagged outline in soft, rosy garb and casting the pastures in a golden glow.

Now it’s shaping up to be a mild spring day — replete with my first honohono blossom of the season just about to open, and already exuding its characteristic sweet fragrance.

On mornings like this, when the weather is gentle, and my neighborhood quiet and calm, it’s easy to ignore the conflict that is marring so many lives all around the world. But America’s military has been much on my mind lately as we approach the 5-year anniversary of the war in Iraq.

That’s not the only thing that’s pushed our nation’s militarism into the forefront of my consciousness. I’m also writing an article about the Navy’s plans to conduct live fire training exercises in Papahanaumokuakea — the new national marine monument — and yesterday I listened to Democracy Now, which broadcast excerpts from the 1971 Winter Soldier hearings, which included horrific accounts of American soldiers testifying about the torture, rape and murder they witnessed and carried out while serving in Vietnam.

The other night, my bedtime reading turned out to be Paul Kramer’s New Yorker article about how Americans were using the “water cure” — a more primitive form of waterboarding — back in the early 1900s to torture confessions out of insurgents in the Philippines.

Then yesterday, when I went into the Whaler’s store in Anahola, I saw the banner headline on the The Advertiser, which read: “Army wants to add 2,000 troops in Hawaii.”

According to the article, that’s the latest estimate of how many more soldiers may come to the Isles under a "Grow the Force" initiative. In January 2007, President Bush announced he would increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to provide for current and future needs and to reduce stress on deployable personnel.

It left me wondering just what the President has in mind in terms of “future needs” for an expanded military. And it also left me wondering why we as Americans have such a short memory when it comes to the horrors of our war and the brutalities of our imperialistic forays into other nations.

I was struck, as I listened to the Democracy Now broadcast, at how we were surprised to discover soldiers were running amok in Iraq and Afghanistan, when they’d done the exact same thing in Vietnam.

And I was astounded, as I read the New Yorker story, at how the same arguments that were used to justify torture in the Philippines were trotted out a century later to rationalize torture in the “War on Terror.”

We keep acting like this is all new stuff, when in fact, it’s the same old same old. We not only haven’t learned from history, we don’t even remember history.

That’s why it still hasn’t sunk that imperialism and economics — not a heartfelt desire to expand democracy — are what drive us to invade and control other nations.

That’s why we still haven’t recognized that when young men are sent to fight a war waged for immoral purposes, they will behave in immoral ways.

That’s why it still hasn’t clicked that torture is not only an ineffective means of gathering useful information, it debases those who carry it out and makes a mockery of the rule of law.

That’s why it still hasn’t dawned on us that all of our imperialistic excursions are always destined to turn out the same bad way: massive environmental destruction, millions of lives lost or destroyed, countless resources squandered and the coffers of a few greatly enriched by the suffering of others.

Two sayings came to mind as I pondered all this: those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

Do we really want this craziness to continue?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Musings: That Sick Feeling

The other day, while driving to Anahola, I passed the new sign advertising Kealanani, and I imagined what it would be like to have that 2,000-acre parcel developed into yet another one of the sprawling ag subdivisions that don’ have much of anything to do with ag, except zoning.

I got the sick feeling in my stomach that KKCR radio programmer Kai`ulani Huff had described earlier on air, where you wonder: what’s next?

Yes, what’s next? Which swath of centralized, fertile, irrigated ag land will be the next to go as the state and county make snail-like progress toward designating and protecting important ag lands?

Yet even the state’s most modest efforts to protect prime ag lands are challenged by attorneys like Jesse Souki, who make their living representing developers, and folks like blogger Charley Foster with a pro-growth attitude.

Their stance isn’t surprising; after all, much of what remains undeveloped in Hawaii is either zoned ag or conservation, so that’s where the goods are to be gotten if you’re the plundering type.

They make like they want to have a reasonable, balanced discussion on the issue, but their intentions are clear — open it all up to development — when they start out by posing such questions as: "Given Hawaii’s unmet housing demand by young professionals, blue collar workers, and the shortage of industrial space, would it be better to have a more balanced land use policy instead of one that has nearly 95 percent of Hawaii’s lands kept from development (the supply of land and burdensome regulations being the primary contributors to housing costs?" and “Will keeping almost half of Hawaii in Agriculture stimulate creation of the kinds of jobs that will stem Hawaii’s brain drain or entice Generation X, et al., back to Hawaii?”

I won’t even bother responding to the first question, because it’s so loaded, but I’ll answer the second question with another question: will the construction and service industry jobs that go hand-in-hand with development in Hawaii be any more successful in stemming the brain drain? No. In fact, that's what's been responsible for it thus far.

In response to their other questions — is there an unmet demand for diversified agriculture and is farming in Hawaii economically feasible? — the answer to the first is obvious. We're a state that imports nearly all of its food and has just a five-day supply in the stores, so the answer is yes, there's an unmet demand for locally produced food.

As to the second question, it could be economically feasible if the state provided some assistance with lower cost land and cracked down on developers — and the attorneys who represent them — who are constantly pushing to create gentleman’s estates, luxury homes, vacation rentals and other non-farming uses on ag lands, thus contributing to the speculation that drives ag land prices out of reach of legitimate farmers.

And I’m really tired of that question, how much ag land does Hawaii need to feed itself? If you look back at pre-contact Hawaii, when the population may have been comparable to our resident population now, they were cultivating taro and sweet potatoes everywhere, even in the remotest valleys.

That’s how much land is needed to feed a million people, and we probably need even more today given the depleted fisheries and demand for a more varied diet.

The more pressing question is how much land will it take to satisfy the insatiable greed of speculators, developers, land use attorneys and ego-driven mega-mansion builders?

That's when I get that sick feeling in my stomach again, because the answer is clear: far more than Hawaii’s got.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Musings: Strange World

The wind picked up suddenly and a shower blew through just as the eastern horizon was streaking pink. It was a light rain, and Koko and I were nearly home by that time, so we didn’t get wet. But I wouldn’t have minded, anyway, because I love the rain.

A friend told me he prays daily for rain. “I have to pray extra hard,” he said, “because so many people curse the rain.”

It’s a strange world when people are cursing that which is the source of life, just like it’s a strange world when scientists are busy tweaking the genes of our basic food crops —before they really understand the full environmental and health ramifications of their actions.

I was disappointed to read in today’s Garden Island that the Council yesterday deferred action on a resolution supporting a Senate bill that calls for a 10-year moratorium on research into genetically modified taro.

Most telling were the comments made by what appeared to be the only two persons who spoke aganst the resolution.

Pioneer scientist Sarah Styan said none of the seed companies with research fields on Kaua‘i are doing anything with taro or plan to do anything with taro, but she was there to oppose the proposed resolution.

“We don’t mandate genetic engineering is the solution,” she said, but it is a tool to be used.

University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources County Administrator Roy Yamakawa agreed.

There are definite benefits to organic farming, he said, but genetic engineering is a specific science.

“We’re trying to take technology and trying to make it useful for the people,” he said.

What they are essentially saying is they don’t want any restrictions of any kind placed on this technology and industry. Why? Well, for the University, because that’s where the research money is these days. And for the industry, well, they’ve managed to fight off all controls — even provisions that would allow the public to know where they’re growing crops with experimental biopharmaceuticals. They’re not about to give up an inch for fear they might have to give up a mile.

I like Roy; he's a smart man and a friend of mine. I believe he is genuinely concerned with trying to help farmers. However, I don't believe his employer is operating out of altruism.

It’s disturbing, but not surprising, that UH and the biotech industry have become so close. The college wants money, and the industry has it. According to UH professor Hector Valenzuela, the College of Tropical Agriculture made a decision years ago to embrace biotech at the expense of organic, sustainable agriculture.

A similar pattern has occurred in other universities. So what we’re seeing is a push to develop more genetically engineered crops, which universities can patent and make money from.

Never mind that charging farmers for patented huli — the part of the plant used to grow taro — totally flies in the face of traditional practices of sharing and trading huli among families and farmers.

Never mind that Hawaiians consider taro a sacred plant that is a crucial element of their culture, and they don’t want its genetics messed with.

Never mind that Hawaii's one big GMO crop — papayas — has already cross pollinated with other papaya varieties and even contaminated UH's papaya seed stock, proving that the technology can't be contained or controlled.

There’s money to be made. And it seems that once again, that’s all that matters.

This issue will be still be battled out in the Legislature, where a hearing and rally are scheduled for next Wednesday on the GMO taro moratorium bill. It would have been nice if Kauai County had gotten on board with a resolution in support of that bill, as the Big Island and Maui already did.

But then, it's impossible to fathom the actions of our County Council — a strange body in a very strange world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Musings: Trying to be Heard

I awoke last night to a sound I hadn’t heard in a very long time: rain. It wasn’t a big rain, but it was so welcome, and I fell back to sleep soothed by its pitter-patter and drip. By morning, it was gone, but gray clouds remain, so am hoping we’ll get some more. It’s too early in the year to be that dry.

While walking with Koko as the birds were waking up this morning, I noticed — as I have numerous times before — that the birds that live near the property where fighting chickens are raised sing and chirp much more loudly than elsewhere along the road.

It didn’t seem to me that the area had more any more trees or denser vegetation, so all I can figure out is they’re trying hard to be heard above the cacophony of crowing.

Tomorrow evening, folks on Kauai will have a chance to be heard on an issue that could affect the hearing of marine mammals all around Hawaii — including the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands within the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument — and that’s the Navy’s proposed use of high-intensity active sonar during training exercises.

In addition to using sonar, which has been linked to deafness in marine mammals — and deafness generally results in death — the Navy wants to shoot off rockets from PMRF and blow them up over Nihoa and Mokumanamana.

The Navy contends in their Draft EIS and other documents
that these activities will have no significant impact; however, they do acknowledge that some marine mammals could die as a result.

The hearing on the sonar supplement to the DEIS runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Kauai Community College. It’s the first of four hearings that will be held around the state. If you can’t make it, you can email comments through April 7 to

Although the Navy has resisted public calls to conduct such activities elsewhere or curtail them all together, they do need to run their plans through the state’s Coastal Zone Management Act.

Currently, the state is determining whether the Navyi’s proposed activities are consistent with Hawaii’s coastal protection laws. The public can comment on this through March 24.

KAHEA — the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance — has prepared an action alert on the issue with a letter you can send in and more links.

Whales, dolphins, monk seals and other animals that could be seriously harmed by the Navy’s plans to expand its training exercises and use sonar don’t have voices that can be heard by the Navy or state. But you do. Please use yours to speak on their behalf.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Musings: Comedy of Errors

In anticipation of a busy day, I lingered on my walk this morning, heading a couple of miles mauka so Koko could run loose and burn off extra energy and I could admire the dark red of ohia blossoms and the silvery foliage of kukui trees in a stream-fed valley.

The sun was slow to shake off the clouds that clung to it as it rose, but it finally broke through — exposing itself as a burning orange ball — and the slopes of Makaleha and Waialeale blushed.

That’s my version of the “breakfast of champions,” because a big dose of nature sustains me for hours in the cyber realm, where I discovered that the Superferry Oversight Task Force — excuse me, it’s official name is Hawaii Inter-Island Large Capacity Ferry Vessel-Oversight Task Force — met yesterday in Honolulu.

A quick check of the two Honolulu dailies failed to turn up any report of the meeting, which apparently they don’t routinely cover, so I called one of Kauai’s reps, Dennis Chun, and asked if the issue of damages during drydocking came up.

“Yes,” he said, “it came up because we asked. Oh, what a comedy of errors. I was like, what? When they were taking it to dry dock, a boat ran into it and put a big puka in it. Then in drydock, the keel was all damaged because they blocked it wrong.

“And because other companies were involved, there’s all this litigation going on, guys are suing each other. So that’s why they haven’t said in public what actually happened, because it’s still under investigation, and the Coast Guard is involved in it, too.”

Wonder how long it take to get that all sorted out. Perhaps as long as it will take to get the report from the State Auditor, or to complete the EIS, which it seems has been delayed by the drydocking.

Dennis reported that “the rapid risk assessment was begun, but it can’t be completed because the ferry isn’t running, so that report won’t be done till May or June, which will set back the EIS.”

Oh, what a comedy of errors indeed.

Meanwhile, according to a letter to the Maui News reprinted on the Hawaii Superferry unofficial blog, the Alakai uses 6,942 gallons of marine diesel per trip, 13,900 round trip, 97,300 gallons a week, 417,000 gallons monthly. Three hundred sixty-five round trips from Oahu to Maui use over 5 million gallons, which at $3.50 per gallon equals $17,500,000 annually.

That’s $17.5 million, in case you’re not good with zeros, and a fill-up of 56,800 gallons costs the company nearly $200,000.

I mention this because The Advertiser reported today that Gas prices at the pump rose overnight to a record national average of $3.2272 a gallon. Where oil goes from here is anybody's guess. Many analysts expect prices to moderate, while others predict oil could keep rising to $120 a barrel, or higher.”

So how, one wonders, will the Superferry ever be able to make a go of it as fuel prices continue to rise and it was already floundering with bargain fares?

As Maui resident Dick Mayer noted in email:

Of course they [HSF] were expecting to have their "fuel surcharge," so that there would be NO additional expenses if fuel prices rose. Ala[s], they rose and they are operating w/o the surcharge until May/June when their prices will skyrocket as they are trying to win back a clientele. Let's see if they get more customers with $76 fares and a low summertime "barf-o-meter" rating.

Yes, let’s see. But first, they’ve got to get out of drydock without incurring any more damage. This comedy of errors isn’t nearly over yet.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Musings: Questions Without Answers

The stars and planets kept Koko and me company on our walk this morning. I always like to see how they’ve moved in the sky while I was sleeping. They were brilliant, when I awoke, just as they were when I went to bed, but a few clouds rolled in with the dawn.

I’ve been feeling a bit guilty lately with all this warm, sunny weather, because a man from Washington, D.C., emailed me a couple of months ago and said he wanted to bring his girlfriend here on vacation, but she refused to come unless she was assured of beach time.

How likely would that be, he asked, on the North Shore in March, and I had to tell him, not very. March is typically cool, cloudy and windy. So he postponed his trip and here we’ve had a stretch of stellar weather.

I understand beach time. But it's certainly not the only reason to visit Kauai.

The other day I was talking to my friend Ka`imi, who is working with Hui o Maka`ainana o Makana to re-open the loi at Ha`ena State Park and do some stewardship at Ke`e — a very important cultural area that is pretty much overrun by tourists daily.

He was fishing with a throw net and had just brought in his catch when a tourist came up to chat, as they tend to do, and talked about how pretty the fish were, expressing regret that they were dying in his net.

“What are you going to do with them?” she asked, in an almost accusatory voice, and when Ka`imi answered, “eat them,” she marveled at that concept, revealing that never in her entire life had she ever eaten anything she had caught or grown herself. It had all come from a plastic bag, box or can.

He marveled at the prospect of that, and even more at the man from France, who told Ka`imi he lived in a city and had never before seen wild nature.

“How do people live like that?” Kaimi asked me, bewildered, but I had no answer.

Nor can I explain why people keep saying the U.S. is the greatest country in the world when we have the highest rate of incarceration — both per capita and in absolute numbers — and a majority of Americans say they can’t save any money because they live paycheck to paycheck.

Similarly, I do not understand how we can continue to act like nothing is wrong when new studies show our drinking water is contaminated not just with chemicals and pesticide residues but pharmaceuticals — yet another unanticipated result of our increasingly drug-dependent society. And chlorine seems to make the entire mix more toxic.

And I really don't get why, of all the issues facing Kauai, the Wall Street Journal chose to run a front page story Saturday on Larry Rivera doing weddings at the run-down Coco Palms. Is that all the reporter saw? Is that all she found to be important?

As Ka`imi said, so many of the tourists who come here have no clue of what's in store for them, and how special and layered Kauai really is. So they, like the WSJ story, just skim over the surface, and end up missing out on so much.

"They need to be educated about what's really here," he said. "How come the visitors bureau doesn't clue them in before they bring them over here?"

Again, I had no answer.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Superferry Still Stuck Part 3

The Hawaii Superferry website is reporting that the ferry’s dry dock has again been extended “because work to repair damage to the ship that occurred during the drydocking process is going to take longer than was previously projected.”

The boat was initially supposed to return to service March 3, then that date was pushed back to March 25 and now the company is taking reservations only for travel after April 22.

As one reader noted, HSF is actually making money while its boat is drydocked, because it’s not having to pay hefty operating expenses that never hit the break even point due to low ridership.

The Advertiser reports: … by the time the interisland ferry returns to service, it will have been out of service for more days than it has been running since its Dec. 13 relaunch.

The article makes only one reference to the ferry’s work force: With the Alakai out of operation, many of the Superferry's part-time port employees have been out of work.

Hmmm. So where are the rallies to build public support for their jobs, like the ones staged when courts ruled the big boat couldn’t run without an EIS? Why isn’t the Honolulu media reporting sad tales of the workers’ plight now that it’s of the company’s making?

On the bright side, at least taxpayers are saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in tugboat fees needed to keep the loading barge in place at Kahului Harbor. Meanwhile, the state DOT and HSF are still wrangling over "who is responsible for problems with the Kahului barge's mooring system," according to the Advertiser.

Musings: Remembering Our Place

I worshipped at the altars of mauka and makai this morning, and what a service it was!

The clouds that rolled in yesterday afternoon rolled back out late last night, leaving the sky clear and the temperature chill. Venus and Jupiter were the only reminders of darkness when Koko and I went walking, and even they were quickly lost in a wash of lavender-pink.

Waialeale, Makaleha and Nounou – the Sleeping Giant — were free of any adornment but dawn color, and sunlit-infused mist drifted over the pastures, looking like floating specks of gold.

Ran into my neighbor Andy, who was walking with only one dog, Momi, and even as I asked, “Where’s Kila?” I knew his longtime friend had passed, and yesterday afternoon he had. We talked about our ideas of the afterlife — either nothing, and the bliss of that, or another level of consciousness, with whatever it might bring. The only bad prospect, we agreed, was hell, and neither of us believes in that.

Got home and it was too nice to go in, so Koko and I headed makai, picking up a friend along the way, marveling at the abundance of flowers — the most even some old timers have ever seen — that covered every mango tree.

“Crisis blooming,” pronounced my friend, a horticulturist, in reference to what plants do when they feel the future is uncertain and so they’d best reproduce while they can.

This warm, calm weather has caused a black fungus to destroy many mango blossoms, and brisk winds could always return, so it’s still too early to tell if we’ll get a bumper crop this year. But if they hold, both the people and the wild pigs will be very, very happy.

When we got there, the ocean was all a-sparkle beneath the sun, which continued to rise as the tide fell, exposing great swaths of limu-carpeted reef above the blue and turquoise water — water that is impossible for me to resist. Black rocks near the receding shoreline were cloaked in velvety green, and the floating dark lumps that were turtles fed in the glassy stillness beyond the reef. Whales spouted and splashed to reveal their presence near the horizon.

My friend had brought an old, dog-eared book, “Wisdomkeepers,” that recounts teachings shared by Native American elders, some of them gone now, and read an excerpt from an interview with Onondaga Clan Mother Audrey Shenandoah that seemed fitting amid all that splendor:

Nature, the land, must not mean money. It must designate life. Nature is the storehouse of potential life for future generations and is sacred.

How did we get so far from that concept? I wondered, as the words of Thomas Banyacya, a Hopi, echoed in my head:

The Great Spirit made us caretakers of this land. We take care of it with our prayers and our ceremony. Now you poison it and rape it and destroy it with your strip mines and uranium tailings and power plants — all on sacred lands!

I know, from what a number of Native Hawaiians have told me, that their ancestors practiced a similar type of caretaking, as did indigenous people all around the globe, who participated in rituals later deemed pagan or primitive by those who don’t know.

Through drumming, chants, offerings and other acts, all conducted with attention and intention, they tended something much different than just the physical, something crucial that exists at a vibrational level. And they carefully and deliberately chose the places in which to perform these rituals.

As Leon Shenandoah, an Iroquois, said:

Our religion is all about thanking the Creator. That’s what we do when we pray. We don’t ask Him for things. We thank him. We pray for the harmony of the whole world. It’s our ceremonies that hold the world together. Some people may not believe that, they may laugh at it, but it’s true. The Creator wants to be thanked.

So what happens when the places where these rituals were carried out are degraded, or neglected? What happens people are no longer actively caretaking the land, have forgotten the prayers, ceremonies and offerings used to maintain balance, thank the Creator?

What happens when the dominant culture dismisses such things out of hand, ridicules the practitioners, proceeds headlong on a path of defilement and destruction, worshiping money more than life, money more than nature?

As Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons said:

We forget and we consider ourselves superior. But we are after all a mere part of the Creation. And we must consider to understand where we are.

And we stand somewhere between the mountain and the Ant. Somewhere and only there as part and parcel of the Creation.

Will the greater forces of nature correct the imbalance? Or is it possible for us now, by remembering, to effect that shift?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Superferry Audit Delayed

Poinography! has a post today about the delayed Superferry report from the state auditor, who apparently hasn’t been able to get all the info she needs from Attorney General Mark Bennett.

I don’t think the resistance that state Auditor Marion Higa is facing comes as a surprise to anyone familiar with the Lingle Administration’s stance on the entire Superferry issue. From the get go, Lingle and her staff have done what they pleased with impunity, and they still are.

The question now is whether the Lege will push Lingle and Bennett to cooperate so the audit can happen. But seeing as how lawmakers caved in to Lingle's demand for a special session to get the boat up and running quickly — so it could operate fitfully and nearly empty before landing in drydock with serious damage — I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Why would they be eager to have their misdeeds revealed? Especially if they can get away with stonewalling.

Musings: Other Points of View

The mist was floating in the pastures, the mountains were crystal clear and everything was cast in hues of purple, blue and gold — including the pesky little dog that joined Koko and me on our walk this morning.

She was full of play, but had absolutely no street sense and darted out in front of trucks twice, causing the motorists to give me stink eye, like it was my dog out of control, and she ran into other yards, setting off the dogs tethered there.

Finally, one neighbor with a lot of dogs got hold of her and apparently called the number on her collar, which I found out when I got home and called the number I’d memorized, too. It turns out the owner was on the mainland and the “knucklehead” staying at his house was just letting her run loose, so he made arrangements for her to stay elsewhere until his return.

So it all ended well, instead of with a dead dog on the road, and was yet another reminder to me to talk to people directly and nicely express my concerns and withhold judgment until I know the whole story.

Because there always is another side to the story, as a reader suggested in his response to my post on The Path, in which I expressed reservations about opening up wild areas to all the people who could then easily access them via a concrete walkway.

Re the path: I get your comments. I'm a supporter in part because it provides access that once existed, but which has largely disappeared. When I arrived on the island, you could travel on pretty much all the cane and pineapple roads (except G&R), and thus places like the Kealia coastline, and the coastline down below Hanamaulu and other areas were accessible to fishermen, hikers, bikers, kids etc. Over the years, largely I think because of liability concerns, that access has been curtailed in some of these areas and many others. Gates across roads. Inaccessible coastal as well as mountain areas. (Tried to get to the forest reserve from the Lihue side lately? Can't do it. Locked gates.)

There are clearly benefits to keeping people out, in terms of conservation, but in Hawai'i, benign neglect no longer serves much of a conservation purpose. There are too many alien species aggressively damaging resources. They need, if they are to be saved, some level of active protection. I keep hoping that involving the public is needed. Seems that with good signage, community involvement, etc., bird colonies, naupaka patches and the like can be well protected. To simply leave the coastline inaccessible amounts to protecting the state forest and park lands by restricting human access. The goats, pigs, mosquitoes, cats and rats simply have free rein in that condition. (I'm told by a helicopter pilot that Honopu Valley, where all access by humans is restricted, is now largely denuded of all vegetation by goats.) Someone needs to undertake that activity, certainly, but I'm not convinced that restricting the people from it is the answer. I'm kind of a Baba Dioum guy: "In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."

Someone needs to do the teaching. Hawaii residents will certainly not learn to love what they can't even get to.

He’s right about the need to teach people how to malama and I am totally in favor of providing full coastal and mountain access to people — with caveats in areas where albatross, nene and other birds vulnerable to dogs are nesting. Still, it doesn't always have to be easy access.

Another friend said he supports The Path because once it’s in place, landowners can’t close off access and he wants to make sure his kids can still have lateral shoreline access, because so much has already been lost.

It’s true the county has done a lousy job of protecting — heck, even recording — public accessways. Does that mean we need to ring the island with concrete to ensure we can get to the beach? Some areas do have access, but are not yet developed with paths, pavilions, etc., and I’d personally like to see them remain in their natural state.

Meanwhile, Councilman Mel Rapozo left a comment on the Passing the Buck post, in which I criticized his stance on the proposed ag moratorium.

He wrote: “Just to let all of you know, I am looking at legislation that would limit the density on CPRs. I am looking at the Big Island's current law that may address the CPR issue here on Kauai. Thank you for all of your input.”

Thanks, Mel, for taking the lead in looking at that, because as Andy Parx noted in his blog, even though the county often pretends otherwise, it can control CPRs and density on ag lands.

It’s a complicated issue, and I don’t claim to have the answers. The ag moratorium wasn’t a perfect bill, but those of us who supported it were expressing a deeper concern. And that’s about the pace of development and maintaining the integrity of Kauai’s agricultural lands, which some — but certainly not all — hope will help feed us in the future and not be used for housing that people already here cannot afford.

Maybe that’s all just a pipe dream, and I really should get with it and take the bike path to Costco.

But then I hear Mama Aina calling me, and I’m not quite ready to give up yet.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Musings: Reprieves

The sky was full of clouds, aside from a few puka where stars shone through, and in the east, Venus and Jupiter — drawing apart — gleamed briefly before they, too, were lost behind the same fleecy force that had claimed the interior mountains.

As I'm busy looking, I often wonder about the world as experienced by Koko, whose nose is so often buried in the grass or captivated by some intriguing scent along the way. And then her small body insists upon stopping — always where the pigs cross the road and yards inhabited by other dogs — until I exert my greater will and we continue.

She collects information through the realm of smell, while I rely upon other sources, such as the court house wireless, which yesterday revealed — and The Garden Island this morning confirmed — that charged were dismissed against Randy Wolfshagen, one of the surfers arrested in the Superferry protests last August.

The article notes that Randy and his attorney were ready for trial on March 25, but charged the case was defective, and the prosecutor agreed.

What it didn’t say is the case was defective because the Coast Guard allegedly picked up Randy in the water and then brought him to shore and told the cops to arrest him, which they dutifully did. Problem is, the cops had no idea what he’d done, so they couldn’t write up a report, and the Coast Guard never wrote one, either.

“So much for the ‘Unified Command,’” chortled the source who gave me the news.

“Yep, the wheels of justice fell off the cart and bounced in my favor,” said Randy, who is planning a party for himself and the “other convicts.”

Still haven’t heard if all the surfers have gotten their boards back or what happened to the four kids who were also busted protesting what has turned out to be a failed endeavor.

Meanwhile, the Advertiser is reporting that Hawaii kids are seriously down. It quotes Marya Grambs, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, as saying:

"We have among the highest rates in the nation of teenagers who are planning suicide, attempting suicide or are thinking seriously about suicide. Girls are the highest," she said. "

Do you spose that’s because of all the rapid changes they’re seeing in the Islands, the losses that occur daily, the grief and stress they see in their own parents who are struggling to survive amid the glitz that is the new Hawaii style while also mourning what was?

Grambs seems to think so.

The high cost of living in Hawai'i also could be a factor, Grambs said.

"We have an awful lot of two-parent families that are working more than one job," she said. "They're less available to their children."

Young people who see their parents working so hard could also be depressed over their limited options to prosper in the Islands, Grambs added.

"That," she said, "is definitely a possibility."

In reviewing the comments posted on the story, I liked the one left by “Bailey,” from Oahu:

Great success for the "system"! Like they say, "It takes a pillage". What a system it is.

And then you’ve got denial, as expressed by “Ohaiboy:”

why would a child living in hawaii be depressed? for $1 a child can ride the bus to anywhere on the island and hang out at the beach. or the mall. or a friends house. as i taught soldiers in the army: suck it up and drive on!

Yes, drive on. Unless you’re stuck in traffic.

Anyway, while we were busy worrying about developers, Superferries, time shares and invasive species, it seems that a far more serious threat was lurking, according to “Jayne and Morgan’s newsletter,” as distributed by Richard’s Diamond always informative “Museletter”:

Many of you knew... some of you guessed... and others will not be surprised that... according to my Trusted & Valued Sources... our Precious Islands had been “scheduled” (of their own accord) to return to the sea for Purification much like Atlantis & Lemuria.

I am pleased beyond measure to report that in recent months, due to the great outpouring of LOVE from those who live here, as well as those who where brought in for their specific energetic contributions...there has been a complete reversal of this

OK, so like Randy, we've been given a reprieve. But everybody better quit screwing up or we’re sunk. Literally.

Finally, mahalo to all those who sent me wishes for a Happy Birthday. That must be why I had such a lovely day.