Saturday, May 16, 2009

Musings: Why Are You Here?

The sun rose dark orange in a wide smear of purple as a white half-moon, Koko and I looked on. As we walked, Waialeale brightened from the top down, the hues of its bulk shifting from gray to lavender to blue as mist crept deeper into the recesses of the pastures on this still and silent — save for bird song — morning.

It was quite a contrast to Friday, which I spent in busy Honolulu picking up an award from the Hawaii Ecotourism Association at a lovely luncheon.

The worst part of the day was coming out from enjoying the exhibits at the Honolulu Academy of Arts to find the rental car had been towed from its space on a street where parking isn’t allowed after 3:30 p.m. Ka-ching! On the taxi ride to the tow yard, a personalized license plate offered an apropos message: SPEND IT.

The best part of the day was receiving so much aloha, which came in words, smiles, hugs, a very nice award made of koa and four fabulous lei, including a gorgeous triple strand purple crown flower, which I’m told was the Queen’s favorite, a delightfully fragrant double strand of white ginger, a distinctive ti leaf, kukui nut and shell lei and a beautiful orange ilima.

I felt like a million bucks wrapped in nature’s splendid handiwork. I’ll take Hawaii’s form of adornment over diamonds and pearls any day.

When I got home, a friend who had stopped by to check on Koko and drop off some moi caught on the North Shore that morning said, “You leave a mean waft trail when you walk.” He then recalled how he was decked out with lei up to his nose following his 1978 high school graduation, and had hung the string of mokihana in his various cars all these years until it finally bit the dust a few months ago.

He said it always brings tears to his eyes when the UH Warriors are given lei on seniors’ night. Although many of them are not from Islands, they’re still covered with lei and even they start crying from the outpouring of aloha. “Only in Hawaii,” he said.

His words reminded me of something another friend said as we were walking through the museum and he recounted some of the highlights of a year-long trip he’d taken around the world.

“So even after seeing all those places you knew you wanted to return to Hawaii?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “without a doubt. I saw other places that were as beautiful, or more beautiful, but they didn’t have the aloha spirit.”

If you’re open to it, it can change you in ways that are deep and indescribable. If you’re not, well, then all I can say is you’re seriously missing out. And why are you even here?

That seems to be a fitting segue to the ongoing dispute over Joe Brescia building a house atop burials at Naue. While in Honolulu, I discussed the resumption of construction with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp director and a staff attorney who is representing some of the folks that Bescia is suing. We talked about the personal and financial toll that is often exacted upon citizens who speak up and get involved in community and cultural issues, which is especially tragic in this case, because the courts found that the State Historic Preservation Division failed to properly do its job.

Then in today’s Garden Island I see state archaeologist Nancy McMahon defending the move to build atop burials, saying it happened in pre-contact times:

“The Hawaiians did it all the time,” said McMahon, explaining that Hawaiians used to bury their family members and then build their homes over the burials. McMahon said it is common practice in today’s Hawai‘i to build over cultural and burial sites. “We do that with (cultural) deposits all time.”

“We did that in Kapa’a,” she said. “There’s a huge cultural deposit, and you drive on top of it all the time.” McMahon said the area goes all the way through Kapa’a, and has burials in it, also.

Surely McMahon recognizes the difference between a family burying its own dead under the house or in a plot nearby, as is still done in Samoa and the Cook Islands, and having an outsider erect a spec home atop ancient burials. And just because the state has allowed it to happen in modern times, does that make it right?

Even more intriguing is how McMahon and Brescia’s attorney have such different takes on why those burials are now capped:

McMahon said Brescia did not have permission from the Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau Island Burial Council to cap the burials, explaining that construction workers have placed large circular cement slabs over the burials, a few feet below the surface, and then covered them with dirt.

“He wasn’t supposed to do that, they never got that approval,” McMahon said. “They did that on their own, without consulting the burial treatment plan.”

“We’ll let her lie,” Chipchase fired back, explaining that the plan under review by the SHPD says that the burials must be preserved in place. “Capping is one part of that.”

Chipchase said the only caps that were placed are within the house’s blueprint. The house will sit on stills [sic] above the ground. “Nothing actually rests on the burials themselves.”

Actually, both sides aren’t quite speaking the truth here. If you go back and read the “Living in Limbo” post I wrote following the Burial Council’s Nov. 5, 2008 rejection of the burial treatment plan and the comment left by Mike Dega, Brescia’s archaelogist, you’ll see that this whole issue of timing and approval is all a little fuzzy.

But the fact remains that the burials were capped shortly before a hearing on a motion for an injunction to stop construction. And it was precisely because of the capping that the judge three times refused to grant such a motion, saying that considerable work had already begun.

Now, with each passing day of construction, the project becomes further entrenched, and Dega and SHPD have yet to produce a new burial treatment plan for the Council to review, as the court ordered.

So when will it be ready? When the house is pau with a for sale in front?

Meanwhile, the Burial Council did its part in rejecting the BTP that would have given after-the-fact approval to capping the burials. But it didn’t go one step further and ask the Planning Commission to revoke the permit because that condition had not been met.

That wasn’t because they don’t care if Brescia builds his house on those iwi. It’s because they’re told that if they don’t follow the advice of the state Attorney General’s office, they won’t have representation if they’re sued. And the AG's office doesn't tend to offer counsel that might hamper the plans of those who are here because of one reason: money.


darwin_was_pretty_smart said...

"if they don’t follow the advice of the state Attorney General’s office, they won’t have representation if they’re sued"

-- if true, that is pretty instructive then as to some of the powerful dynamics at play

"And the AG's office doesn't tend to offer counsel that might hamper the plans of those who are here because of one reason: money"

-- and/or, "the AG's office doesn't tend to offer counsel that might [land a municipal body in a lawsuit largely of its own creation]"

Anonymous said...

Being exposed to personal liability for not following the advise of "experts" (legal, primarily) isn't new or different at all.

Every condo board of directors is in the same situation. The rule is "hide behind the experts" (esp the board's legal consul). If not, directors and officers liability insurance policy does not have to offer protection (paying for your personal lawyer if sued, paying judgements, etc).

If I were a decision-making employee of the state, I would NEVER stray out from behind my "force field".

I speak from a former condo board member and board president.

Nowdays, everyone has their lawyers on speed-dial.

Anonymous said...

Who in their right mind wants to expose themselves to personal liability in the course of doing their job?

No one.

If the choice is doing the "right" thing...which is often a subjective decision...or doing the "correct" thing...actions avoiding personal liability on the job...the proper thing to do is either 1) quit over conscience conflict; or 2) do the "correct" thing.

In any case, avoid personal lawsuits that could bankrupt you.

And that goes for "demonstrators" too!

Anonymous said...

I'm here for the weather (best in the USA), scuba diving from shore (best in the USA), tropical environment (best in the USA) and a few other "best in the USA" categories.

Plus, it's in the USA, just where I want it to stay.

As to the aloha spirit, it's not significantly different than what we've experienced in many small-town communities we've lived in over the years prior to moving here in 2000.

We've had the opportunity to travel the world a number of times over the decades and have found that same "small town aloha" virtually everywhere...especially British villages and pubs!

Even the French can cobble up a reasonable facsimile sometimes...

We didn't come here for any "magical spirit of the land" or "local culture" crap, though, and would cheerfully build or buy a house build over your grandma's bones if it suited us.

I hope Bresca thoroughly beats down (legally and financially, of course) the opposers.

Anonymous said...

TO: May 16, 2009 5:19 PM




Dawson said...

"We didn't come here for any "magical spirit of the land" or "local culture" crap, though, and would cheerfully build or buy a house build over your grandma's bones if it suited us."

It's a tossup what's the most astonishing thing about that statement, its entitlement or its arrogance.

Whether real sentiment or forum troll, it's a T-shirt motto for the stereotypical Ugly American.

Anonymous said...


darwin_was_pretty_smart said...


-- ya, like "retreat!!"

ps - its called "Caps Lock"

Anonymous said...

congrats joan,
your contributions and skills are appreciated and acknowledged by many. mahalo nui

Anonymous said...

The state grants such entitlement. The law grants entitlement. As someone earlier said, it isn't against the law to build over bones.

The arrogance...well, I am 'cause I can afford to be!

Anonymous said...

ps - I put the FU in FUN!

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks, Anonymous May 17, 2009 12:48 PM.

Dawson said...

"The arrogance...well, I am 'cause I can afford to be!"

As ever with cultural sociopaths, it gives them no sense of power unless they can publicly flaunt it -- preferably while shielded by the skirts of legal process, bank accounts and the anonymity of the internet.

Anonymous said...

You bet! You get that combo together and live is gooood!!

Anonymous said...

""The arrogance...well, I am 'cause I can afford to be!"




Anonymous said...

They're so cute when they're young...

Anonymous said...

"The arrogance...well, I am 'cause I can afford to be!"

Plus, your comments are anonymous. Tell us who you are if you truly want to be arrogant.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous arrogance is the best. Besides what would you do with the info? Send me a "best wishes" card?

Anonymous said...

Wishes, like opinions, should be given in person. Otherwise, it's too "Klannish". Come out from behind your sheet, show us what's under the hood.

Anonymous said...

Funny to see the anonymous commenters hypocritically demand that another anonymous commenter drop his anonymity.

- Publius

Anonymous said...

"We didn't come here for any "magical spirit of the land" or "local culture" crap, though, and would cheerfully build or buy a house build over your grandma's bones if it suited us."

Just you happen to own a beachfront house in Haena or Wainiha?

Anonymous said...

I own multiple properties on the big island, some beachfront. Limited holdings on kauai and maui.

I only do what the law allows, but I do everything I want to, within the law, regardless of other's desires.

Anonymous said...

ps - one of the reasons i remain anon.

and i did find really funny an anon chiding me for not being one. talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

i prefer to remain in the shadows for a variety of reasons.

Anonymous said...

pps the main reason i remain anon is because i don't want to be ostracized or beaten up. i'm kind of a wimp that way.

Dawson said...

"I only do what the law allows, but I do everything I want to, within the law, regardless of other's desires."

Ah, yes, the cultural sociopath, God's greatest gift to politicians. No matter how corrupt the lawmaker or how destructive the law, he'll follow it to the letter like a machine -- devoid of sensibility, empathy or common sense.

Regardless of others' desires. Regardless of others' feelings. Regardless of others' futures or pasts. Regardless of anything and anyone but himself.

And we wonder why politicians are always smiling.

Anonymous said...

that's a little strong. i cross dress but that doesn't make me gay, either. i like what i like, so there.

Anonymous said...

In one British village, we found some "small town aloha" in the back room of a pub. We were allowed to congregate with sheep and they were not judgmental at all (the sheep, i mean). They could care less about my contempt for non-white cultures but they preferred that i pet their heads instead.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Being a sociopath means never having to say you're sorry.

I should know.

Anonymous said...


–noun Psychiatry.
a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

A true sociopath wouldn't know what to be sorry for.

The following determines the extent of a person's psychopathy.

Factor1: Aggressive narcissism

1. Glibness/superficial charm
2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
3. Pathological lying
4. Cunning/manipulative
5. Lack of remorse or guilt
6. Emotionally shallow
7. Callous/lack of empathy
8. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor2: Socially deviant lifestyle

1. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
2. Parasitic lifestyle
3. Poor behavioral control
4. Promiscuous sexual behavior
5. Lack of realistic, long-term goals
6. Impulsivity
7. Irresponsibility
8. Juvenile delinquency
9. Early behavior problems
10. Revocation of conditional release

Traits not correlated with either factor

1. Many short-term marital relationships
2. Criminal versatility

Dawson said...

Cultural sociopath is a different beast. He operates strictly within the law, substituting law for ethics and empathy.

That's the nature of the cultural sociopath, they fail to consider another being as existing in the same way as they do, cannot completely grasp the guiding empathy necessary to abstain from momentary urges for want of a greater understanding and a poverty of spirit.
-- Theology Online

Anonymous said...

I know what I am. I can see at least five of the factors that apply to me. Try to guess which ones. Hint: one relates to my fondness for sheep.

watchdog said...

Gadfly is back (has always been posting, but he's in his worst form again).

What amazes me is that someone with so much leisure time spends it here (given the assumption that he doesn't like the content). Either he's lying about it or his priorities are misplaced to say the least.

The great thing about trolls is either they stick around and confirm the poverty of their position (and waste more of their precious leisure time, haha), or they they go away and spare us. In either case, it is we the conscientious readers who learn a valuable lesson about people in this world, and how to deal with them.

Watchdog is back too (has always been reading, but too lazy to post).