Friday, October 30, 2009

Musings: Incremental Change

I’ve been buried in work this past week, and upon surfacing briefly, find that many of the same old issues are being revisited, albeit with a slightly different twist. It made me think of a conversation I had yesterday with Jan TenBruggencate about incremental change: it’s maddeningly frustrating to those of us who know that more drastic measures are needed now, but better than nothing.

Up in Wainiha, for example, another landowner is getting ready to build a home along “iwi alley” —aka Alealea Road — just a few lots down from where Joseph Brescia is building his home on a site with at least 31 burials. Good old Walton Hong is representing this off-island landowner, too, in his quest to build just as close to the ocean as he possibly can.

And once again, the North Shore `Ohana is appealing his certified shoreline, as it did with Brescia’s, while again sounding the alarm against planting yet another dense hedge of naupaka along a beach that is eroding so rapidly, it won’t be long before public access is near-on impossible when the surf is really high.

But the planning commission, to its credit, does seem to have learned something from the Brescia debacle, where it granted final approval before all the conditions of his permit were met. This allowed him to start building before the Burial Council had approved a burial treatment plan. As The Garden Island reports:

However, this time, the commission granted only preliminary approval to a building, location, material and design plan for landowner Craig Dobbin and will require him to return — after satisfying all of the permit’s conditions, including measures in place to mitigate potential burial issues — before considering final approval.

Then there’s the sorry story of old Jimmy Pflueger, whose attorneys have hammered out an undisclosed settlement in the March 2006 breach of Kaloko dam that killed seven people and an unborn baby. I found the comments of one attorney, as reported by The Garden Island, rather interesting:

“I’d say it’s a good day for justice,” said Teresa Tico, attorney for some of the victims’ families. The settlement is “very important” to her clients, who lost loved ones and for whom Thursday’s actions before 5th Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe “finally brings closure,” said Tico.

I know money is great and all that, but wouldn’t you think “justice” and “closure” would follow resolution of the criminal case, which is supposed to determine whether Jimmy was at fault, and then punish him if he was? It’s more like yesterday was a good day for the 14 attorneys who were in the courtroom.

Meanwhile, the bizarre workings — and I use the term loosely — of the Charter Commission continue to be played out in the press, with Ethics Commissioner Rolf Bieber jumping into the fray by staging a “one man protest” against Charter Commissioner Barbara Bennett’s use of the term Ku Klux Klan to describe county manager proponents.

Barbara later distanced herself from the comment, but did go on to say, according to The Garden Island:

”I am totally for this proposal,” she said. “I keep telling these guys that I will bring it to ballot. ‘I support you.’ I wish they would stop.

“You won’t get people to come and volunteer to do the work when there’s this type of harassment,” Bennett said, adding that she has been “bashed and abuse” by “derogatory” “skepticism” almost to the point of “mental torture.”

She raises a good point. No volunteers — as all commissioners are — should be subjected to “mental torture.” That should be saved for those in paid positions only.

I’m not quite sure why people are so fanatical about the county manager concept, anyway. As a reporter, I’ve covered municipalities that had such a position and others that didn’t, and I saw no difference in how they functioned. They were no more accountable than an elected official; in fact, they were less so.

And anyway, I think the idea faces a very hard sell on Kauai, where a number of locals have told me they’re against the idea as it means some mainland haole will end up coming over here and running the island, and that’s exactly what they don’t want.

And finally, Counterpunch picked up the depleted uranium issue, with writer Dave Lindorff noting that the Big Island, where much of this stuff is located, at Pohakuloa, “has the highest cancer rates for the Hawaiian archepelago.”

I’ve heard that reported anecdotally, but have yet to see the evidence, which Lindorff did not provide. Still, Lindorff did make a good point when he said:

The bottom line is that at the same time that US government is continuing to warn about the danger of terrorists acquiring the materials to make a “dirty” bomb that could spread radioactive material in the US, the US military has for years been doing exactly that, and continues to do so, with no intention to clean up its messes, many of which are allowing depleted uranium to percolate into ground water or flow down streams to more populated areas.

I guess it goes back to the old, “takes one to know one.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Musings: What's the Truth?

Thin quiltings of clouds raced across a growing white moon last night, and had totally consumed the sky by the time Koko and I went walking this morning. The streets were wet from a welcome rain and light sprinkles caused me to grab my umbrella just in case it turned into something more.

Could this finally be the end of our long spate of hot, muggy weather?

Those who were predicting the recession would spell the end of capitalism and consumerism as we’ve known it may have to reassess, following reports that the recession is over.

Or maybe they won’t. As other reports, including The Globe and Mail, make clear:

The main driver of the economy – U.S. consumers – are still in a deep funk, relying heavily on temporary government incentives to get them to spend.

“Economists are the only people saying the recession is over,” cautioned Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, N.C. “Consumers haven't seen it yet.”

Locally, those in the economy-driving visitor industry are cautious about the speed of Hawaii's recovery. In writing the story about Councilman Jay Furfaro yesterday, I found in my notes his comments about the debt service that Island hotels are facing. The nationwide average, he said, is $6,000 to $10,000 per room, while in Hawaii, it's $25,000 per room.

"It was necessary to do to remodel and have a competitive advantage," he said, "but they got caught on the down side. Now they're seeing less occupancy and lower [room] rates. I think the business in Hawaii is starting to come back. It's going to be a lot slower than people believe. I don't think any properties will close, but the sad thing is we're seeing these layoffs as they try to control expenses."

Despite the bleak local situation, reports that the national economy grew 3.5 percent in the third quarter were enough to rally the stock market. According to the version of the AP story that ran in today’s Honolulu Advertiser under the headline “Economy's growth in third quarter signals end of recession:”

The Dow Jones industrials gained nearly 110 points in midday trading and broader indices also rose.

Given the dismal jobless rate — now at a 26-year high of 9.8 percent, and expected to rise into next year — and the big question of whether the economy will continue to grow once the government spending incentives are pau, doesn’t it all seem a bit contrived to be pronouncing the end of the recession?

Of course, with the all-critical holiday spending season now upon us — have you seen the Christmas trees and other paraphernalia already on display in stores? — it’s not surprising that media reports are spreading good cheer about the economy.

So it looks like the jury is still out on whether the final outcome will be buy-buy, or bye-bye.

The government is doing its part to promote the former through expenditures intended to effect the latter on our "enemies." President Obama just signed into law the $680 billion National Defense Authorization Act, the largest military spending bill of its kind. As Democracy Now! reports:

[T]he bill included several military spending projects he had opposed, including $560 million for a new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine the Pentagon had rejected. Overall, the bill increases spending $24 billion from the last fiscal year.

Meanwhile, priorities are very different on the home front, where state governments are cutting spending on education and social programs. Now Hawaii’s Department of Education is claiming is claiming that “multiple thousands” will lose their jobs if the lawsuit challenging Furlough Fridays prevails:

Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto and other education officials told Board of Education committee members yesterday that if the furloughs are overturned, the layoffs will be in the "multiple thousands" and center on probationary teachers, administrators and others. Tenured and special education teachers would not be laid off, Hamamoto said.

Yesterday, Eric Seitz, one of the attorneys representing those suing over the furlough plan, called the threat of layoffs an attempt to scare parents and teachers. "Whipping up this hysteria is absolutely irresponsible," he said. "I think it's horrible for them to take that position."

So what’s the truth? Like the news about the end of the recession, it’s really hard to tell.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Musings: A Bit of a Farce

When Koko and I went out into the night, the white half moon was high in the sky, and close to sparkling Jupiter, but by the time we got up, both had set and Venus was just a soft glow low on the eastern horizon.

The sky slowly turned a hazy pink, melting away the stars, and though the air had the coolness of dawn, it felt heavy, thick, languid, like it belonged somewhere other than windward Kauai in late October.

It seems that some folks are thinking the new county landfill belongs somewhere other than Kalaheo.

I hadn’t really paid much attention to the issue until farmer Jerry told me quite a while back that the acreage selected as the new repository of Kauai’s waste is part of the parcel that A&B designated as Important Ag Lands.

That’s right. Kauai was the very first place in the state to have acreage designated as IAL, and it just so happens to be Mayor Carvalho’s very first choice for the new landfill.

As Jerry and I discussed, if that’s indicative of the kind of value placed on the highly acclaimed IAL, what can we expect for the non-IAL? And what does this say about Kauai’s commitment to agriculture?

Even after Jerry shared that little nugget, I didn’t have time to dig into the issue. But it returned to the forefront of my consciousness when a friend called to alert me to a new blog, Protect & Preserve Kalaheo Umi, that appears to be primarily devoted to the landfill issue. It’s unclear just who is behind the blog, given the cryptic nature of the info in the profile, but I hear tell it’s Kauai Coffee, which is none too pleased at the prospect of having a landfill smack dab in the middle of its operations.

Anyway, I took advantage of a recent interview with Councilman Jay Furfaro to question him about the landfill. He brought up the topic when I asked what he found frustrating about his job. He replied, "clarifying misperceptions," and then used as an example the many emails he’s received from citizens irate that the Council had picked the Kalaheo site.

“We didn’t,” he said. “That’s an administrative process. We hold the purse strings.”

And that’s where the pick may run into problems. Jay said the question now is whether the land will turn out to be too expensive, seeing as how it will take 127 acres out of coffee production.

“Will the owners (A&B) want to pursue loss of revenue?” Jay wondered. “What about the infrastructure they put in? Will they want to recover those investments?”

Equally important, Jay said, is “it’s contrary to the point we’re trying to make about preserving good ag lands.”

It does seem to turn the whole IAL process into a bit of a farce.

Jay also mentioned he really wished the county had done a plan about water resources before jumping into the IAL study. “No water, no ag, no food,” he said, noting that a grower in Kilauea who ships out 1 million restaurant servings of lettuce a year is struggling for water since Kaloko dam was breached.

It seems to be a pattern here on Kauai to not quite think things through, and then the subsequent actions become a bit of a farce. I wonder if Bernard will end up taking some political hits on his landfill choice. A&B is a powerful enemy.

On another note, I’ve been disappointed to see Sen. Gary Hooser taking some political hits for his willingness to speak out against shortening the school year.

And as Ian Lind noted in his blog post yesterday, Honolulu Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge is playing right into it.

In his front page coverage of the issue, which racked up a pile of comments, DePledge notes:

In private, some lawmakers are disappointed by what they see as political posturing by some of their colleagues, including some seeking higher office next year.

DePledge then goes on to identify only the higher office aspirations of Hooser and Congressman Neil Abercrombie, even though other politicians cited in the story have their own political agendas.

So does that mean that a person with an eye toward higher office shouldn’t take a stand on a controversial issue? Or that if he does, he’s insincere and only posturing?

Shoots, even the U.S. Secretary of Education has come out against the plan, making it clear that we are risking federal grants by doing so.

In addition, my department has $5 billion for competitive grants to advance school reform. The $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund will reward states that are leading the way in reform and making education a priority. The $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund will go to districts that are advancing research-based programs to improve student achievement.

We might as well kiss that cash goodbye.

Secretary Duncan also outlined the federal contribution to Hawaii’s educational system:

My department has already made $105 million available to Hawaii from this stabilization fund. Hawaii is eligible for $52 million more when we release the rest of those funds later this year. In total, Hawaii's schools and students are scheduled to receive more than $500 million from the Recovery Act.

It costs just $85 million to restore the 17 days. Where has the money gone? Where is the rest of it going? Why are so many of our political leaders quiet on the issue?

And why is so little being said, in The Advertiser and elsewhere, about the whole issue of the stimulus money?

If you'd like to take action, visit the petition site or

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Musings: Mutual Respect

Mist was creeping around the edges of the pasture and the sky was mostly dark when I pulled up at my former neighbor Andy’s house for our weekly walk this morning. Koko ran toward Andy with a wiggling, whining outpouring of affection, while his dog, Momi, greeted me with her usual calm poise.

The day brightened quickly as we walked, and when Andy’s sore back dictated that we go back, we turned to find ourselves face to face with a giant red-pink ball hanging muted, yet still vibrant, in the thick air and gray clouds of another muggy morning.

I told him I’d interviewed Councilman Jay Furfaro on Friday — an assignment for Kauai People — and was struck by Jay’s comments about trying to incorporate the Hawaiian values of pono (goodness, uprightness), a`o (learning), ho`okipa (hospitality) and ho`oponopono (to put right) into the visitor industry and also his own life.

“It’s a conduct of living based on Hawaiian values,” Jay had said. “Island culture is based on mutual respect. And when you live those values, you become a kama`aina.”

“Do you think that’s true, that when you live by those values and practice mutual respect, you become a kama`aina?” I asked Andy.

“Yes, although I’m not sure how that’s actually been put into play by some of the kama`aina elite,” Andy said, referencing one sugar official who said the needs of contract workers weren’t much different than those of cattle in a pasture.

Still, we agreed, it’s that concept of mutual respect — borne from a need to co-exist and cooperate in a relatively small and finite space — that underscores island culture and separates it from “mainland mentality.”

And failing to grasp that concept has rendered many mainland transplant activists ineffective in the local political arena, Andy said. I think it's also caused some malihini to remain apart from — or worse, become dismissive of — the broader community, the indigenous culture.

As a person who came to Kauai believing respect should be earned, rather than expressed unreservedly, learning to value the concept of mutual respect hasn’t come easily to me, and frankly, I’m still working on it. It doesn’t always mesh with my critical nature, but I know I feel better, happier, when I practice it, so I try.

With those musings prominent in my mind, I came home and tuned into New Dimensions on KKCR. The guest today was Deena Metzger, a writer, healer and medicine woman, and she was talking about how the spiritual intelligence of animals can guide us in healing our own messed up relationship with the Earth.

She noted that elephants grieve over and perform rituals for their dead, and show a distinct reverence for their bones — something she had also seen in indigenous cultures. She then reported that elephants in zoos and elsewhere had become enraged when they weren't allowed to perform those rituals.

And that made me think about how the underlying issue of the Joe Brescia dispute — and so many others, really — is respect.

So much of the pain and anguish that informs the outcry over development, vacation rentals, the misuse of ag land, disruption of burial, the absence of the sacred in our decision-making process, Predator drones — the list goes on and on — stems from a recognition that people and the land and communities are not being treated with respect.

When respect is lacking on one side, it becomes so easy to respond in kind, and so we find ourselves in that all too familiar place of no mutual respect, where civil discourse, much less resolution, is elusve.

As I was mulling over this, Deena mentioned that for us humans now, it’s all about learning how to live in mutual respect — in real alliance — with the plants, the trees, the animals, the elements.

In short, it’s time to embrace more fully the values of island culture.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Musings: Political Cowardice

It was so wonderful to wake in the night and hear the leaves fluttering in the trade winds that have been too long absent, but were back in sufficient force to cool the humid air, free Orion and his celestial pals from their cottony blanket and shake down a snowy carpet of mock orange blossom petals for Koko and me to walk upon this morning.

Dawn approached as streaks of soft pink and orange in a dove gray sky where Venus — planet of beauty and love — shone, quite appropriately, through a heart-shaped puka in the clouds.

I imagine more than a few kids are loving the idea of no school this morning — their second day off this week — although many parents are less thrilled by the first furlough Friday, especially since for many it means they're also furloughed from their own jobs today.

We had a good discussion about furlough Fridays on KKCR yesterday, with Katie Vercelli, a Kapaa School parent who has been active in the issue, Sen. Gary Hooser, former Councilman Mel Rapozo and Wil Okabe of HSTA participating, as well as numerous callers.

Gary is advocating a special session to allocate money from various funds — hurricane relief and rainy day among them — to stave off the furloughs, but said many of his fellow lawmakers are reticent, saying what’s the use if the guv won’t go along and release the money?

Well, she might if the Legislature sends her a strong enough message of support.

And that leads to the real crux of this issue, which was summed up well after the show by Angus, my co-pilot: “It’s an act of political cowardice. This is the one group that depends on the collective protection of society, and you went after that.”

It’s true. Hawaii has 170,000 kids — that’s 14 percent of the state’s population — enrolled in public school. That's a sizable constituency. But it’s a constituency that can’t vote, and has few, if any, lobbyists in Honolulu. So it’s an easy target.

“They’re stealing their education from them,” said a friend who called me on my way home from the radio show.

And while there’s been plenty of grumbling about the theft among parents, along with a federal lawsuit being filed and lots of scrambling on the part of various groups to provide kids with someplace to go, there hasn’t yet been a groundswell of opposition. Gary said his phone isn't exactly ringing off the hook — not like it was during the debates over civil unions and the Superferry.

Speaking of which, one caller asked, what about the Superferry? Was any effort being made to recoup any of the money the state wasted on — and is still owed for — that boondoggle? Ummm, not that I know of. But the $40 million spent on harbor work, plus the untold millions on legal fees, special sessions, etc., etc., would have made a sizable dent in the $85 million needed to keep the schools open for those 17 days. Hey, maybe we could ask Austal for a donation, seeing as how we helped them win that JHSV contract valued at a cool $5 billion.

One caller said there would be plenty of money for education if the big landowners were taxed for what they really are – land developers – instead of being allowed to pay super low property taxes under the guise of being in agriculture.

You’re talking about a revolution, I said, and he demurred, no, he wasn’t really, he was just advocating common sense and fairness. And while that’s true, I knew that he didn’t realize that to assess taxes on the Big 5 that reflect what they’re really worth would, indeed, be revolutionary in Hawaii.

A few people talked about the ripple effects from this cost-cutting measure. Some of it might not be so obvious as the higher expenses incurred by parents paying child care providers or missing work to watch their own kids, or the lost spending by teachers who have been hit with an 8% pay cut. Will we be seeing behavior and learning problems crop up from this additional time out of class? Higher teen crime and drug use rates? A spike in teen pregnancies?

And that raises another question: how much do we, as a society, value public education? If the public schools get really bad, they can be taken over or even closed under the No Child Left Behind Act. Then those who can afford it will put their kids into private schools and the poor ones, well, all three branches of the military are now meeting their recruitment targets — and I use the word literally — thanks to the crappy economy. And if there’s no room for them there, the massive private prison industry we’ve created needs a constant source of fodder.

I have no doubt that many people do care. Katie Vercelli, who I can see serving on the school board one day, is not the only parent who is pushing for better education. A number of callers suggested some really creative and innovative ways for turning the furlough Fridays into something positive through community service, service learning and conservation work.

Wouldn’t that be a nice outcome? And it’s possible, if folks just decide to work together and do it.

Still, as another person said, I don’t want to make it too easy for them, referring to the politicians in Honolulu and especially Gov. Lingle.

While there are many players in this tragedy, Lingle has the lead. As Rep. Neil Abercrombie noted, and Gary confirmed, federal stimulus money aimed at extending the school year was sent to Hawaii, but it didn’t end up being used for education. Gary said that some folks are looking into that, and the Obama Administration isn’t too happy.

That’s just one reason why numerous callers spoke of holding Lingle accountable.

Which leads to the bottom line question: exactly how do you hold a lame duck Republican accountable in a Democratic state?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

KKCR: Furlough Fridays

My topic on today's Out of the Box radio program will be Furlough Fridays — the issues, options and opinions. I have several guests lined up, so please listen in and call with your questions and comments. We'll be primarily focusing on the school closures, but we can easily expand the discussion to the planned closures of many state offices on Fridays. So tune in from 4 to 6 p.m. today on 91.9. 90.9, 92.7 or

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Musings: Puzzling

I’m a bit under the weather, so Koko and I had only a brief encounter with the natural world this morning. Still, we were out there long enough to watch the sky shift from starry black to violet, make eye contact with a pueo that landed on a telephone wire and enjoy the fragrance of mock orange blossoms wafting on the humid air.

So I’m not complaining, although I see The Garden Island today provides yet another account of a tourist insistent upon voicing his displeasure with Kauai.

It’s a little bit hard to feel sorry for this man, in part because even though he’d heard accounts of thefts at Kipu Falls he still left valuables in his rental car.

And then there’s his annoying way of referencing how much money he and his wedding party allegedly spent on Kauai — he pegs the total at a quarter-million — and the important people who were in attendance — higher ups of big companies like Smith Barney, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank — as if we could give a rip and that makes any difference in the overall scheme of things.

But Antonio “Tony” Dettori apparently feels his investment ought to have gotten him better service from the cops. He criticizes KPD mightily for failing to launch an APB or identify the alleged suspect based on a snapshot that shows the backside of a shirtless man who looks like thousands of other guys on this island.

“Something is amiss over there,” Dettori said.

“This case does not look good in the uncorrupted local eyes or the family and friends of all my guests; doesn’t bode well for Kaua‘i in general I think,” he said.

Then he gripes that the cops didn’t arrest the man he picked out of a photo lineup, even though the police had nothing to go on but Tony’s claim that the guy looked suspicious, and the second-hand account of unidentified tourists who allegedly saw the man walk away from Dettori’s rental car with something in his hand.

Sorry, Tony, but the law just doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter whether you’re visiting on Kauai or back home at Del Mar.

I can understand why visitors — or anyone — get upset when they’re victimized by the smash and dash crew or the boys siphoning gas from cars left at the end of the road. But I'm puzzled as to why this gripe is worthy of front-page coverage, even in The Garden Island.

Still, perhaps it does serve a purpose. When I see the shattered glass in the parking lot of my favorite beach, I often think, wow, are those guys really getting enough stuff to make this ongoing crime spree worthwhile? And now I know yes, thanks to tourists who refuse to heed the warnings, they are.

Speaking of favorite beaches, I’ve got a piece in The Hawaii Independent about a proposal for fencing at Larsen’s Beach that would result in the loss of a beach access there. It’s an interesting story, because it also brings up other longstanding issues, including liability concerns and the county’s often slack approach to recording public easements.

If you’re an advocate of beach access and/or especially like Larsen’s — which I believe is properly known as Ka`aka`aniu (and according to North Shore historian Gary Smith, Larsen’s is a complete misnomer because sugar man L. David Larsen didn’t have anything to do with that beach) — you might want to weigh in on the Conservation District Use permit that rancher Bruce Laymon is seeking to build the fence.

Written comments must be postmarked by Friday and sent to Samuel J. Lemmo, Administrator, Office of Conservation & Coastal Lands, Department of Land & Natural Resources, P. O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 97809.

I find it puzzling that DLNR doesn’t accept email testimony. I mean, save a tree, get with the 21st Century, facilitate public participation, that sort of thing. Or maybe public participation isn't what the state wants.

And on that note, even though the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council is finally set to meet tomorrow after being without a quorum for lo these many months, the really hot topic — Brescia’s burial treatment plan — isn’t on the agenda.

Puzzling, that it's still not being dealt with, as meanwhile, construction continues…..

Monday, October 19, 2009

Musings: Underlying Issues

As the Associated Press reported yesterday, the Justice Department has released a memo that advises federal prosecutors not to go after people who use or dispense medical marijuana in conformance with state law.

The policy represents a sharp departure from the Bush era, but still falls short of dealing with the underlying issue. If, as the feds claim, “pot sales in the United States are the largest source of money for violent Mexican drug cartels,” why not pull the rug out from under them and, as the reggae bands advocate, “free up the weed?”

So on the one hand, we have Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama doing something that is, indeed, a form of peace-making, in that it seeks to abandon one minor battlefront in the senseless, long-lived and extremely costly war on drugs.

But then on the other hand, we have Democracy Now! reporting that the “peace-maker” has also sanctioned choke killings:

[T]he number of US drone strikes in Pakistan has risen dramatically since President Obama took office. During his first nine-and-a-half months in office, Obama authorized as many CIA aerial attacks in Pakistan as President Bush did in his final three years in office.

Can you in fact be a peace-maker even as you're engaged in war? Can you in fact be a peace-maker if you're not doing the killing yourself, only authorizing others to do it? Is it the righteousness of the cause, and the sophistication of the killing technology, that distinguishes a peace-maker from a mass murderer?

Just a few underlying issues to consider.

Democracy Now! was quoting from a story by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker that also reports:

Hina Shamsi, a human-rights lawyer at the New York University School of Law….said of the Predator program, “These are targeted international killings by the state.”

The Predator program is described by many in the intelligence world as America’s single most effective weapon against Al Qaeda. But the program has stirred deep ethical concerns. According to the New America Foundation’s study, only six of the forty-one C.I.A. drone strikes conducted by the Obama Administration in Pakistan have targeted Al Qaeda.

The program is classified as covert, and the C.I.A. declines to provide any information to the public about where it operates, how it selects targets, who is in charge, or how many people have been killed. Nevertheless, reports of fatal air strikes in Pakistan emerge every few days

With public disenchantment mounting over the U.S. troop deployment in Afghanistan, many in Washington support an even greater reliance on Predator strikes. And because of the program’s secrecy, there is no visible system of accountability in place.

Peter W. Singer, the author of “Wired for War,” a recent book about the robotics revolution in modern combat, argues that the drone program is worryingly “seductive,” because it creates the perception that war can be “costless.” Cut off from the realities of the bombings in Pakistan, Americans have been insulated from the human toll, as well as the political and moral consequences.

Which is just the way Americans like it. They’ll get their reality from TV shows, thank you very much.

And as a postscript to yesterday’s post, I happened upon this quote in today’s The Garden Island that speaks to the underlying issues quite eloquently:

Salina Milstein: “It is vitally important that we reach beyond ourselves and our selfish desires and think about everything in the world we’re affecting.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Musings: Mastering Nature

Koko and I went walking with my former neighbor Andy this morning, along the mountain trail made slicker than snot by the same light rain that drifted through the pastures and turned the mountains into ghost peaks and got Koko dirty enough that a bath was the first order of business upon returning home.

As we walked and snacked on guava, Andy I and got to talking about the Flunk Furlough Fridays rally that I wrote about for The Hawaii Independent and how even with cutting state workers and the school year, it’s still not enough to balance the budget.

As Andy noted, things won’t get better here until they start getting better elsewhere, which supposedly is happening as people slowly start spending money again.

But that will just mark the start of another cycle, I argued, and sooner or later we’ll end up right back here again, because the spend-spend approach is unsustainable and we still have all those issues related to oil and climate change to deal with.

That’s one thing about studying history, observed Andy, a retired KCC history professor. You see that throughout time, whenever humans encountered something that they thought would be the end, they figured out a way around it.

It seems we’re at that point right now with the rapidly expanding field of synthetic biology. Many of the scientists involved in it are driven by a hubris that is well-stated in The New Yorker article that quotes Jay Keasling, a professor of biochemical engineering at UC-Berkeley — and now CEO of the Energy Department’s new Joint BioEnergy Institute — as saying:

“We have got to the point in human history where we simply do not have to accept what nature has given us.”

That's right. We still don’t understand exactly how nature works, but we’re already thinking we can dispense with it and "liberate ourselves from the tyranny of evolution."

The scientists who are all gung ho for what MIT biological engineering professor Drew Endy calls “the coolest platform that science has ever produced” don’t seem to see the irony in creating synthetic biological diversity even as we continue to live in ways that is destroying natural biodiversity.

Meanwhile, the old exploitation mindset dominates the new science. With no new frontiers on Earth left to exploit, scientists are instead engaging in biological colonialism in which they create or alter organisms to do their bidding and produce wealth, in the form of drugs and industrial compounds.

Nor do they seem to have any qualms about abandoning the concept that life has any inherent value as they mix and match synthetic and natural DNA in any order they desire to create living organisms that will become the latest passing fads that are inevitably tossed aside. As theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson predicted:

”Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture. Few of the new creations will be masterpieces, but a great many will bring joy to their creators and variety to our fauna and flora.”

Biotech games, played by children “down to kindergarten age but played with real eggs and seeds,” could produce entirely new species—as a lark. “These games will be messy and possibly dangerous,” Dyson wrote. “Rules and regulations will be needed to make sure that our kids do not endanger themselves and others. The dangers of biotechnology are real and serious.”

But is anyone keeping on top of a field that even the scientists admit is growing so fast that predictions, much less contemplation, can’t keep up? No. As Endy noted:

“We are surfing an exponential now, and, even for people who pay attention, surfing an exponential is a really tricky thing to do. And when the exponential you are surfing has the capacity to impact the world in such a fundamental way, in ways we have never before considered, how do you even talk about that?”

According to The New Yorker article, it was talked about, once, back in 1975, when the world’s scientists got together to discuss the challenges posed by this new science:

They focussed primarily on laboratory and environmental safety, and concluded that the field required little regulation. (There was no real discussion of deliberate abuse—at the time, there didn’t seem to be any need.)

Now, even the Department of Homeland Security is in the dark about what’s happening with synthetic biology, which has serious terroristic implications. As Endy said:

“They want to know how far is this really going to go.”

So when is the public debate going to begin? Right now all the talk is about producing drugs that will halt the spread of malaria and new organisms that will eat the carbon in the atmosphere, ostensibly allowing us to consume and pollute without a care in the world. Endy summarized the view of many scientists in his field:

”The potential is great enough, I believe, to convince people it’s worth the risk.”

But those who have been following the debate over genetically engineered food know that the same arguments, the same lofty ideals helped launch that industry. It was supposed to feed the world, remember? Instead, we’ve found that its achievements are far less glorious than promised, and its threats, including inadvertent contamination and the displacement of sustainable agricultural practices, have not been resolved.

Other issues, like the impact on human and environmental health, are only beginning to be addressed, decades after these organisms have been released into the wild and fed to people and animals.

There’s also the question, which the New Yorker touches upon, of just who will control this technology. As Endy again observed:

”It’s a question of money. If somebody wants to pay for it, then it will get done.”

As we’ve seen with GE crops, the chemical industry is the prime benefactor. Now it’s looking like the pharmaceutical and energy companies will be the ones to profit from this latest foray into tinkering with the building blocks of life.

Meanwhile, in laboratories around the world, the experiments continue, out of sight and mind of the general public. According to Jim Thomas, a researcher with ETC Group, a technology watchdog based in Canada, there has been little discussion of the ethical and cultural implications of altering nature so fundamentally.

“Scientists are making strands of DNA that have never existed,” Thomas said. “So there is nothing to compare them to. There are no agreed mechanisms for safety, no policies.”

Some of us know what the scientists know, which is that there’s still so much important stuff that we don’t know about how all these processes work. But caught up in the thrill of scientific discovery, they’re not about to pull back or put on the brakes, even though everything is potentially at risk.

“We are talking about things that have never been done before,” Endy said. “If the society that powered this technology collapses in some way, we would go extinct pretty quickly. You wouldn’t have a chance to revert back to the farm or to the pre-farm. We would just be gone.”

And when you come right down to it, maybe that’s what’s supposed to happen to a species that has for too long been insistent upon mastering nature by destroying it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Musings: More Sweet than Bitter

Koko and I encountered a joy-infusing landscape when we went out walking in the brisk coolness this morning. For starters, Venus was glowing in a purple sky just above a fingernail moon that starts fresh again tomorrow. Beneath them, a band of red smoldered above the ocean, then turned orange, then faded to white gold.

On the mauka side of things, all the mountains were perfectly clear, and as the dawn approached, Makaleha and Waialeale shifted from black to Kelly green and steel blue, respectively.

Next came pink, in the form of fluffy clouds and backlighting behind the mountains, and then the gold returned, a bright shimmering sparkle of it that encased the rising sun.

I kept my head up and my eyes high, which helped me to ignore the human contributions to the scene: a smashed kitten being pulverized into pavement; a torn brown paper bag containing an empty quart bottle of beer; the inevitable Icee cups and straws plastered against sagging chain link fences.

It’s not always easy to blot out the ugly side, but I try, an approach to life that no doubt prompted a friend who knows me well to send a link to the more sweet than bitter She’s Got a Retro Kind of Love blog.

Two sample excerpts:

I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…


Today, I found out my boyfriend had been cheating on me for 3 weeks. In retaliation, I threw a brick through the back window of the car he had apparently cheated in, when I thought he wasn’t home and nobody was around to see it. Sadly, they were in the backseat then. I face assault charges now. FML

Moving on, we’ve got the sweet news that Ireland is banning the cultivation of all genetically modified plants and adopting a voluntary labeling policy for GM-free food. Why?

“The Irish Government plan to ban GM crops and to provide a voluntary GM-fee label for qualifying animal produce makes obvious business sense for our agri-food and eco-tourism sectors [3]. Everyone knows that US and EU consumers, food brands and retailers want safe GM-free food, and Ireland is ideally positioned to deliver the safest, most credible GM-free food band in Europe, if not the world.”

So there’s yet another bandwagon we failed to jump on....

It’s accompanied by the bitter news of a sustained attack on Andrés Carrasco, a professor in Argentina who has published research confirming the lethal effect of glyphosate — aka Monsanto’s Roundup — on embryos.

His case points out an ugly truth, as recounted by Prof. Carrasco:

[T]here are no institutional channels accessible to scientists who can undertake research of this type, with powerful interests lined up against them.

Meanwhile, the thorny problem of GMOs ending up where they’re not supposed to continues, with reports that 28 nations that do not allow GM flax for human consumption have been affected by a shipment of Canadian flax contaminated with GMOs. Curiously, according to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network:

European authorities have named the source of contamination as the GM flax "Triffid", which was developed in Canada but was deregistered in 2001 and has been illegal to sell since that time.

Kinda makes you wonder, sort of like yesterday’s report in The Garden Island about a big biomass project that was supposed to be online by 2012, supplying 30 percent of the island’s energy needs and forestalling the need for “the Kapaia Unit Two Combustion Turbine project for the foreseeable future,” according to KIUC President and CEO Randy Hee.


That was followed, in Paul Harvey style, with “the rest of the story” in today’s edition. Seems the deal is “just a concept” with “several steps” still remaining, like securing 15,000 acres of land and then successfully growing the sugar cane and woody biomass that’s required. Oh, and financing.

But hey, no worries! Minor!

It seems Pacific West Energy — a mainland investment firm with no experience in either alternative energy or agriculture — is still pushing a pipe dream that it couldn’t make work with Gay & Robinson, which actually has land and knows how to grow sugar.

If this is any indication of how KIUC is looking to transition into alternative energy, we’re screwed.

Speaking of which, why do you suppose the county is so keen to rid itself of the pesky need to certify shorelines before building stuff along the coast? Do you suppose it could have anything to do with the bikepath along Wailua Beach, or future plans for seawalls and other forms of armoring the shoreline, which inevitably destroy public beaches?

But it’s Friday, and a beautiful day, so let’s forget the bitter and focus on the sweet: talking Chihuahuas.

Have a nice day! :D

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Musings: Back to the Burials

A thin sliver of moon in a star-dotted sky greeted Koko and me when we went walking this morning. The ground was wet from a passing shower in the night, and the air was clean and refreshingly cool. It seems that summer is at long last behind us.

As dawn approached, Makaleha sloughed off her clouds and so did Waialeale, leaving their summits silhouetted against a lavender-pink sky. And as we walked past the neighbor’s chicken coop, a rooster let loose with a raucous “watch dog” crow that startled me and a cat, which jumped out of its hiding place in the hedge, which startled Koko, causing her to whine and lunge in a thwarted desire to engage in hot pursuit.

The Garden Island today carried the startling story that the Planning Commission is actually, and finally, going to review the permit for Joe Brescia’s house, which is being built atop burials at Naue.

Those opposed to the construction have repeatedly pointed out that the permit was granted even though Brescia had failed to meet a condition that specified the requirements of the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council and state Historic Preservation Division must be met. And those requirements cannot be met because no burial treatment plant (BTP) has been approved.

It’s been 13 months since Judge Kathleen Watanabe found that state archaeologist Nancy McMahon erred in approving a BTP without properly consulting the Burial Council.

Watanabe ordered SHPD to conduct the proper consultation, which still has not been done. In the meantime, version 12 of the BTP has been released and the guv has finally appointed two new members to the Council — James W. Fujita and Debra U. Ruiz — while pointedly passing over two "burial friendly" candidates, Nathan Kalama and Puanani Rogers. So now the Council, which for months has been conveniently short of enough members to form a quorum, can finally meet. But since no agenda has yet been published, it’s unclear whether they’ll take up the Bresica BTP, or how the new members will get up to speed.

All this time, construction has continued unabated, and the planning commission hearing on the matter isn’t set to begin until January. So by the time it’s debated, will the issue be essentially moot? Or could Brescia be ordered to do a major remodel or tear-down?

As you may recall, when Watanabe issued her ruling she warned Bresica’s attorney, Calvert Chipchase, that the Burial Council’s actions could affect his building plans. The Council could take any number of steps, she said, such as having the jackets taken off the iwi and removing the seven burials that are now under the house and reinterring them elsewhere.

The judge also said:

“While the burials were preserved, they were not authorized according to law and it could be argued that construction of jackets constitutes alteration,” Watanabe said from the bench. “Although construction is under way, that does not hold relief is impossible.”

We know now that Brescia’s archaeologists did not place jackets on the burials. Instead, they capped the burials, an action that was not approved even under the discredited BTP. We also know that a majority of the Burial Council did not think a house would be built atop the iwi when they voted to preserve in place.

So would it be possible to move those burials without taking down the house? Archaeologist Mike Dega told me at the courthouse last year that some burials do lie beneath the concrete footings, with a buffer of soil atop them, and as I read through version 12 of the BTP, I didn’t see anything to counter that.

I did see one reference to the foundation providing “horizontal protection” for one burial. I also saw numerous references to burials being disturbed by a backhoe during excvation. The plan also referenced the highly contested process of consultation, describing it as:

In total, during the course of fieldwork and during the preparation of this BTP, SCS consulted with the SHPD-Kaua`i archaeologist, SHPD-Culture History division, members of the KNIBC, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), the landowner, and the general public (through newspaper legal ads and numerous burial council meetings). Testimony on this plan was also received at the eight KNIBC meetings noted above. The current plan (BTP-12) will also be submitted to OHA for review.

Further, the SHPD has extensively consulted with interested individuals and organizations regarding the project and the various BTP drafts.

I'd really like to know more about that extensive consultation that SHPD supposedly did. And how, exactly, do you consult with people through newspaper legal ads?

The BTP also glosses over the issue of Brescia’s septic tank, which "will be excavated to a depth of approximately 6 feet below surface." But despite the heavy concentration of burials on the lot, none are expected to be encountered during the septic install.

Meanwhile, another case that deals with circumventing state burial laws is wending its way through the courts. A circuit court judge yesterday refused to dismiss a lawsuit against the state and Kawaiahao Church that claims burials were disturbed when the church's expansion plans were fast-tracked. Construction on that site has been stopped.

So after all the litigation and angst, will Joe Brescia be allowed to keep his house, with the case instead serving as an example of what not to do next time? As The Garden Island reported:

[NHLC attorney Camille] Kalama said Monday that even if the house is allowed to stand, one of Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation’s main goals is that the procedure of approving permits before the burial treatment plan is in place or cultural issues are addressed will not happen again.

“Even having a declaration from the county would prevent this from happening in the next round,” Kalama said.

That would be good. Still, it seems that the key questions raised by this case remain unanswered. Just how much power do the Burial Councils have? Can they stop development if they want to preserve burials in place, and the site is too small or too full of iwi to move the structure? Are their only options digging up and moving burials, or allowing structures to be built atop them? And is that what the earliest iwi advocates envisioned when they fought so hard for burial protection laws?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Musings: Positively Hopeful

The moon was a melon wedge encircled by a halo, adrift in a quilted swirl, when Koko and I went walking this morning. In a patch of clear sky to the east, I saw Venus with a much fainter sidekick that I later identified as Mercury on the handy-dandy AstroViewer site.

It also informed me that the three stars lined up next to the moon were part of the constellation known as Sea Serpent. They and many others became visible when the swirls swept south, leaving a black sky brightening in anticipation of a dawn that arrived as geometric shapes glowing orange in a bank of purple coastal clouds.

One of the most highly anticipated promises of President Obama’s campaign – health care reform — is proving to be yet another giant disappointment as the Senate Finance Committee today votes on a bill that has been heavily co-opted by the insurance industry. With no public option, and a requirement that even people who don’t want, and can’t afford, medical insurance must buy it — with the government kicking in subsidies as needed — it looks a lot more like big business as usual than “reform.”

The insurance industry is pulling out all the stops in its bid to frighten the sheep-like public, and so their representatives, by claiming that reforms will drive up premium costs for everyone else. If that was true, and the industry-sponsored report seems suspect, it seems to make a good case for the single-payer approach.

As for me, it seems that once again, we’re putting the cart before the horse. So long as we eat crap, spend a good portion of our lives immobile in front of the TV, offer no health education in school and view prescription drugs and surgery as cure-alls, we’re never going see reductions in the cost of health care and insurance premiums — or the ill health that’s behind them.

Speaking of ill health, journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich has a very interesting interview today on Democracy Now! about her experience with breast cancer and her disgust with the “ideology of positive thinking,” which she links to the “mass delusion” that helped cause the financial meltdown.

Ehrenreich dissed the idea that “you can control things with your mind if you just have the right thoughts and ideology.”

She’s right to criticize books and movies like “The Secret,” which over-focused on the material rewards of mind power, promising people they could have it all if they just focused their thoughts on it.

Still, you can’t dismiss the idea that our thoughts play a huge role in how we approach and live life, and that by gaining some awareness of our thoughts — which I call the consciousness movement — we can most definitely change how we function in the world. And one by-product of that effort to live with awareness is generally a more positive outlook. Or at least, that’s been true in my own experience.

Of course, the power of positive thinking is nothing new. Consider Voltaire’s 18th Century classic, “Candide,” which parodied the prevailing philosophy of optimism and its beliefs that “all is for the best” — which lives on as the popular “it’s all good” — and “everything will work out in the end,” which I find myself parroting at times, because at one level, it's true, even if that end is mass annihilation of the human species.

While Ehrenreich specifically absolved Obama, and his campaign of hope, by saying that she does not believe he is deluded in his thinking, one has to wonder if it was a belief in the power of positive thinking that prompted the Nobel Committee to award Obama the Peace Prize, even though he’s authorized a war that regularly kills civilians with drones in Afghanistan and is mulling a big build up of troops there.

As Journalist Naomi Klein noted in another Democracy Now! interview:

And even just listening to the rationale that, despite overwhelming evidence, they’re giving this prize in the hopes that it will change Obama’s mind or encourage him to do things he hasn’t done—this is a candidate that ran a campaign that was much more based on hope and wishful thinking than it was on concrete policy. So we have hopes being piled on hope and wishful thinking.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Musings: No Aku Birds

The drive into Lihue during rush hour traffic was made a bit more pleasant this morning because of the reduced speed limit along “blood alley” -- that deadly stretch of Kuhio Highway between the Wailua Bridge and the junction with Hanamaulu. I saw no law enforcement, but folks seemed to obeying the 40 mph speed limit that went into effect today, and it definitely made for a markedly less intense driving experience.

It was a nice way to ease into the work week after spending yesterday morning at the Kilauea Point wildlife refuge, doing the six-mile round-trip hike from Crater Hill (or Nihoku, as it’s properly known) to Mokolea Point, which includes the site of the old rock quarry on the north side of Kilauea Stream.

I hadn’t been to Mokolea Point since the Fish & Wildlife Service bought it, thanks to one of Sen. Dan Inouye’s infamous earmarks, proving that political pork isn’t always a bad thing. While it’s kind of sad that the public can no longer access that area, which has got to be one of the most beautiful bits of coastline on Kauai, it’s been really good for the seabirds, which were, after all, the original inhabitants. And they’ve been sorely mistreated since humans first set foot on these islands. We saw lots of wedgetail shearwater chicks and two red-tailed tropic bird chicks, as well as numerous nene, boobies and iwa.

We also saw some of the island’s most lavish houses, which always makes me wonder why people have the desire – there’s no way it can be justified as need – to live so extravagantly. I guess it’s part of the “look at me” syndrome, as characterized by musician Todd Rundgren’s very tall, and very prominently pink, house. Our guide, longtime Kilauea resident Gary Smith, said that when Todd and his wife, Michele, have people over to play music, “the whole town can hear it, and sometimes that goes on for a week.”

I found it amusing that the Kauai Public Land Trust has been able to secure easements to pieces of land in the Kilauea River valley and adjacent areas because the richy-rich landowners don’t want anyone living close to them. So they’ll sometimes buy an adjoining parcel and then deed it over to the land trust to make sure it's not developed.

Mostly I felt sad when I looked at those houses -- nearly all of them built on ag land, with no farm in sight -- and thought of all the money that’s been poured into them that could have spent on something useful and/or meaningful, like helping other people and/or the environment. It all goes back to the adage: Live simply, that others may simply live.

Gary was an informative and entertaining guide, recounting numerous stories of the old days in Kilauea and that community’s struggle to maintain some semblance of itself in the face of intense development pressures and the influx of really big money. One of my favorites was the time when landowner Ben Bollag tried to illegally fence off the road that has provided access from Kilauea Lighthouse Road to Kahili Beach since the 1880s. Gary said he was the first one to take wire cutters to the barbed wire, and he can still recall the musical ping of the tautly stretched wire being released.

He also recounted the punishment meted out to kids for infractions at Kilauea School: pulling hilahila, with their bare hands. In those days, he said, if one kid was shot with a BB gun, the principal would confiscate the BB guns of every child in town. “That’s how much power he had,” Gary said. “That’s how we kept order.”

It made me think of the football coach and kumu hula I recently interviewed. Both said that some parents don’t allow their kids to participate in those activities because they don’t like anyone else disciplining their children. So much for the village raising the kid....

As I listened to Gary in that glorious setting, I thought of how a small group of people can make a big difference if they’re committed to an outcome and willing to put egos and glory aside to work toward a common goal. The friend who was walking with me had recently watched a National Park special on TV, and said a similarly small group was instrumental in ensuring those vast tracts of land, which most of us would consider national treasures, were also protected.

And just the day before I had called farmer Jerry with a question, only to find he was preparing to put away all the tents that had been erected, and then taken down in the rain, in order to stage the new farmer’s market at KCC. It had taken pretty much his entire Saturday, and I knew that wasn’t the only service he’d given to his community that week.

Jerry and Gary aren’t the only people giving of themselves, even as they raise families and hold down jobs. All around Kauai we’ve got little pockets of people who are working hard to make a difference, as well as others who will throw in some money, but give nothing of themselves, and still others who don’t make any contribution at all.

Ultimately, this island, and this world, is only going to be as good as we make it.

As Gary noted, quoting an old Hawaiian proverb at the end of the hike, “So don’t be like the kolea, which just fattens itself and then leaves.”

Or as the bumper sticker on my friend Kaimi’s truck reads: No Aku Birds!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Musings: Disconnects

The white moon was bigger than half and ringed with a golden halo, thanks to the wisps and swirls of clouds that surrounded it, when Koko and I went walking this morning. The mountains were hulking masses, visible, but not sharply distinct in the hazy air, and when the sun prepared to rise the sky turned first pink and then orange and then lavender as all the stars disappeared.

The hot and muggy weather continues, and when farmer Jerry and I were talking prior to the radio show on KKCR yesterday, his observation, after spending the entire day working outside, was: “I am so ready for summer to be over.”

By the time the radio show was over, I was left wondering why, when water is so crucial to every aspect of our lives, state legislators have given it such a low funding priority. The state Commission on Water Resource and Management was under-staffed even before the layoffs and furloughs were announced, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees this essential element, is right down there at the bottom — alongside the Department of Ag — in terms of manini allocations.

Things sure have changed since the Hawaiians had nearly all the cultivatable land in taro, with konohiki overseeing and constantly monitoring the stream diversions and ditches, which the men cooperated in cleaning in order to keep the water flowing.

They were all aware of the critical need to carefully manage water because they were united in a common purpose: producing food.

Two centuries later, we’re still eating, and crops still need water, but most of us have a giant disconnect from that resource, unless the pretty stream flowing through our yard dries up or a favorite swimming hole gets shallow.

When we’re not directly involved in its care and maintenance, and have the luxury of turning on the tap and always finding low-priced water, we tend to devalue it as a commodity, forgetting the centuries it took to fill our aquifers and the labyrinth of pipes, ditches, tunnels, flumes and reservoirs that deliver it to us.

Just like we grouse at spending $2.50 for a head of lettuce that is a product of a demanding process of growing and picking and packing, and all too often, being shipped thousands of miles to our favorite supermarket.

We call this process of specialization and separation progress, but I’m not at all convinced that it is. Instead, it’s made us lazy, spoiled, demanding and complacent. Worst of all, it’s made us wasteful. I remember hearing stories of the old rice farmers in Hanalei who never wasted a grain because they knew, from their own backbreaking labor, just how hard it was to grow it.

And that brings me to another topic. Farmer Jerry recounted how he had picked some of his nicest longan — now we’re talking the choicest specimens of what is already a delectable fruit — and delivered them to a local health food store, hoping they’d want to stock it.

Instead, he said, “They acted like I’d set a case of Spam down on the counter. They didn’t look at the fruit, or try it, or ask me about my farm, or where it was or what I grew. They just said it didn’t sell.”

Aside from being a perfect example of the culture clash that we all too often see between locals, who are all about building relationships and connections, and haole newcomers, who don't have a clue about the importance of that process, it made me wonder if all the talk about eating locally and supporting farmers is just a bunch of hype.

It seems that people who frequent health stores have some sort of consciousness about food, and they often embrace alternative lifestyles. They’re the sort of folks I often see beating the drum for local food, a resurgence of agriculture and reducing our carbon footprint.

But if they’d rather eat apples shipped here from thousands of miles away than fruit at the peak of its season grown just miles from the store, what future do the local farmers have? Talk about a disconnect. Maybe, instead of putting all the emphasis on growing food, we need to focus some attention on teaching people to want and value the food we can produce right here.

Finally, I found it ironic, after writing about the newly approved bill barring retail establishments from distributing plastic bags , to see several plastic bags gusting alongside the road when Koko and I went walking last evening.

They were blue bags, the kind that once contained The Garden Island shopper. And they appeared to be the same kind of bag that is shown protruding from a turtle’s mouth in the photo on the action alert distributed by Malama Kauai.

As I picked them up, because they’re excellent for collecting doggie doo doo, I couldn’t help but wonder why it was OK for TGI to be tossing thousands of these bags onto driveways each week, but it was not alright for the Menehune Mart to use one to package somebody’s six-pack.

It seemed to be yet another one of our many disconnects.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Musings: Roses and Dust

The world started out black and hazy and dense with stars when Koko and I went walking this morning. And then the sun began to nose up over the horizon, and suddenly everything from mauka to makai was enveloped in a rosy shimmer.

Not so rosy is the ongoing economic news, unless, of course, you’re a defense contractor. It seems we’ve got plenty of money for war, with the Senate approving a $626 billion military and war funding bill. (Let's be realistic here, and stop calling it "defense" spending.)

Meanwhile, in the penny-wise, pound-foolish tradition of the feds, post offices are shortening their hours in an effort to save money.

On the home front, state workers are agreeing to a total of 42 furlough days this year and next, along with the prospect of more layoffs. But even though I read through the entire Advertiser article, I never did see anything about how much money the furloughs are actually expected to save. There was only this lone, vague paragraph:

The furloughs would reduce the state's labor costs and ease an estimated deficit of about $1 billion through June 2011.

Surely the guv must have some idea.

I’m wondering if the NATO troops that used depleted uranium shells during the 1999 bombing of Serbia — a military operation dubiously named “Merciful Angel” — had any idea of what the toxic effects might be 10 years down the line. Russia Today is reporting:

[M]ilitary experts from Belgrade have registered an increased radiation level and claim the area is highly contaminated.

Besides reports of increased human cancer rates, especially among young people, there are also reports of animals being born with abnormalities, such as extra limbs and two heads.

Our nature is sick. And certainly – it has to do with depleted uranium usage,” says Miodrag Milkovic, a veterinarian.

While we’re on the topic of bad things happening to animals, the Kauai prosecutor’s office can’t be happy to learn that Blaine Jacintho, the Puhi man accused of animal cruelty, is requesting a jury trial. Prosecutors previously failed to convince a jury of wrongdoing in the case where another Puhi man was accused of deliberately running over a cat.

Changing the subject entirely, I’ll be delving into the issue of water — who has it, and who wants it — on Thursday’s Out of the Box radio show on KKCR. It runs from 4 to 5:30, and you can listen on-line. Farmer Jerry Ornellas, who is very akamai about Kauai’s water issues, will be my guest in the studio, and Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake, who has been litigating the precedent-setting case over water use on Maui, will call in. We'll be taking calls from listeners, so if you've got a question during the show, dial 826-7771.

Water is probably the most critical topic, and it’s going to be a major factor as Kauai identifies its Important Ag Lands, since water availability is one of the criteria for such a designation. If you’re interested in a little background on the IAL study, as well as the process that will be followed, check out my article in The Hawaii Independent.

I must say, while I initially was excited about the IAL study, I’m now doubting it will have much impact in preserving ag land on Kauai. Another criteria for IAL designation is land that is already being used for ag. And when you consider that of the 150,000 acres of land zoned for ag on Kauai, only about 5,000 acres are actually under cultivation — and much of that is seed corn and GMO crops — it sure narrows the field. It kinda makes you wonder if, when the dust settles after the fight to keep acreage out of the IAL classification, we’ll be growing diversified crops or the far more lucrative gentleman’s estates.

Speaking of dust settling, and water, if you’re up at 1:30 a.m. Friday morning and have a small telescope, you, too, can witness the Earth attacking the moon in a quest to find water. As the Star-Bulletin reports:

Tony Colaprete of NASA's Ames Research Center in California, the principal investigator for the mission, said in a telephone interview with the Star-Bulletin two years ago that the 4,500-pound rocket will strike Cabeus crater near the moon's south pole at 5,600 mph, making a hole about the size of a tennis court. "It will be like a small SUV moving at twice the speed of a rifle bullet," he described.

The impact of the Centaur rocket is expected to throw a cloud of debris more than three miles above the lunar surface that will be illuminated by sunlight and should be visible from Earth.

Ain’t that swell! And just the other day, I was reading — and I wish I could remember where — that when you consider all the grand names given to the moons of other planets, it’s rather odd that we’ve never given our own moon a moniker. Hmmm. Maybe after Friday's mission we should start calling her Dusty.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Musings: Take Charge/Stop Waiting

Venus was glowing, looking twice her usual size in the moist air of a dew-drenched dawn, when Koko and I went walking this morning. Both Waialeale and Makaleha were totally clear, allowing me to gaze upon all the many bumps and knobs and notches that characterize their summits, as a meadowlark, hidden in a pasture, joyfully repeated its bright metallic song.

The sun rose through a bed of pink swirls and then was suddenly freed, its light bright, yet diffused into a rosy haze by all the moisture in the air.

It was decidedly cool, offering yet more proof of our descent into fall. I pointed out other signs to my former neighbor Andy when we went walking on the mountain trail last Sunday: a fallen red leaf, Christmas berries turning from pink to dark red. And I noticed today that the plumeria trees are losing their flowers.

I also noticed how the very old man that I see each day, frail, yet walking miles, always with a warm smile and a bright “good morning” for me, had rigged up a little set of steps, replete with a pole for balance, to allow him to get over the high guardrail so he can access the Kawaihau Road walking path from his back yard. It was so ingenious, and an example of how he had taken charge of a situation, determined not to let any obstacle stand in his way.

It made me think of the story about the Maui woman, as reported in The Maui News, who survived the tsunami on Samoa because she’d had the sense to escape to high ground after she was knocked down by a severe earthquake. The first wave came just eight minutes later:

As she fled in a van, Cristiane "Kiki" Martins said she and others screamed at villagers to escape to higher ground. But the Paia resident said she saw some families stay behind in their homes, waiting for a warning or evacuation order that wouldn't come in time.

Two days later, I was talking with our own Civil Defense administrator, Mark Marshall. He mentioned that people tend to think government will save them, and that it has warehouses filled with blankets and cots. “We don’t,” he said. Even at the shelters, all that’s guaranteed is 10 square feet of space. And maybe a working toilet and drinking water — or maybe not.

So if we’re essentially on our own in a situation as dramatic as an earthquake or hurricane or tsunami, why do we keep looking to government to save us or guide us or even do right by us in all the other situations that affect our lives, like climate change and health care and Afghanistan and the economy?

As one person noted in a comment left yesterday on Saturday’s post:

The joke is.......people running our government don;t have a clue

Monday, October 5, 2009

Musings: A Deeper Hole

Flashes of lightning lit the sky as I was driving home from the beach last evening in light sprinkles that shortly turned into big rain, the kind that really nourishes the soil. About midnight, the lightning was joined by rolling, clapping thunder, and when it finally departed, and Koko stopped her anxious panting, we went outside and the bright moon was high.

It was still up, hanging over the mountains, caressed by white and gray and black clouds alike as they raced north, when Koko and I went walking this morning, keeping a close eye on a canopy of floating black that promised to bring rain, but never did deliver.

Sarah Palin, with the fortunate assist of a collaborator, delivered a 432-page memoir, entitled “Going Rogue: An American Life,” just four months after ditching the tiresome duties of the Alaska governorship. The book, with a first printing of 1.5 million, quickly moved to the number one spot on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. According to the Associated Press:

Palin herself has said that "Going Rogue" will give her a chance to express herself "unfiltered," a bold brand for a public figure who has likened herself to a pit bull with lipstick and once alleged that Obama was "palling around with terrorists." Palin's collaborator, Lynn Vincent, has her own history of attacking the left. She is the co-author of "Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party."

Hmmm. Seems like that last title is just crying out for a GOP sequel, perhaps titled “Hiking in Appalachia: A Philanderer's Life.”

There’s nothing like a book tour to get Palin out before the public on her terms as she begins positioning herself for not just the number two spot on the GOP ticket, but the presidency itself in 2012, with supporters touting her “traditional American values.”

Meanwhile, our current American values — serious clampdown on in-the-street dissent — were expressed when two men were arrested for — gasp — the heinous crime of using Twitter during the recent G20 protests in Pittsburgh. Here’s where we’re at in America now folks, according to a report in the UK Telegraph:

Elliot Madison, 41, and Michael Wallschlaeger, 46, both from New York, face charges of hindering prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possessing criminal instruments.

Police say they found the two men sitting in front of computers, wearing headphones and using maps and scanners. They are said to have been using Twitter to inform protesters on the ground of police movements.

To paraphrase song lyrics by Primal Scream: “One man’s Tweeter is another’s terrorist.”

As gothamist observed:

And yet real Twitter threats like Lindsay Lohan and Courtney Love remain at large.

On a more serious note, the casualties keep mounting in Afghanistan, where 100,000 international troops from 42 nations are already stationed and Gen. Stanley McChrystal wants 30,000 to 40,000 more.

According to his confidential report to Defense Secretary Gates, the general also wants to “gain the support of the people,” and notes we’re not doing that right now:

Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. In addition, we run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us military; but we can defeat ourselves.

As the Washington Post reported, McChrystal is advocating for “a comprehensive nation-building endeavor,” replete with reforming local government and the justice system, ramping up the reconstruction effort and eliminating corruption.

Gee, that sounds great. Do you suppose it would be possible to do that in the U.S., too?

And how much deeper into the hole will the U.S. slide while we're busy shoring up Afghanistan?

Moving closer to home, we’re starting to get a picture, bit by bit, of how the paring down of the state’s work force will affect our lives, the economy and the environment. We’ve got parents scrambling to find cheap babysitters while the teachers are furloughed for 17 days. We’ve got Gov. Lingle robbing Peter to pay Paul as she guts state invasive species control work to restore some funding for ag inspectors, the loss of which could threaten farming and the economy. And most recently, we learn the state’s Clean Water Branch will be losing four of its 10 staff members under the layoff plan. This could affect both environmental and human health.

As Sen. Gary Hooser noted in response to the ag inspector layoffs:

“Yet what the governor is proposing will have a direct and devastating impact on local farmers and businesses, and will cost our state millions of dollars in the long run.”

And as Keren Gundersen observed in respect to cutting invasive species control funding:

What we protect today we will have tomorrow,” she said.

So is anybody really looking at what the short- and long-term costs of some of these proposed budget cuts will be? Could it be that when viewed in their totality, they aren’t a savings at all, but actually a new cost that is being incurred, with payment deferred, but still due at some point down the line?

In short, are we just digging ourselves into a deeper hole?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Musings: Head in the Sand

We’re just a few days into October and it’s feeling fully fall-like, a condition I noticed late yesterday afternoon, driving to the beach with Koko beneath mottled gray skies and waning light, the water still warm, but whipped by the trades. Offshore, I heard a loud slapping sound, and looked out to see the flippers of a big green sea turtle working the surface of the water for reasons that were unclear, at least, to me.

And it felt like fall again this morning, with cloud-subdued light twinkling through the puka created as wind moved through the tree canopy, and the temperatures dropped down a notch from the recent scorching range as some rain drifted in.

It feels like a good day to lie around and read the Henry James paperback I picked up for 50 cents yesterday at the Lihue Library used book sale. I dropped by at 1:30, thinking I’d give Jan TenBruggencate, who was manning the sale, a bit of company. Ha! He was far from alone; in fact, he reported that people were waiting for him to open the door that morning, and he’d sold 2,000 books in about three hours.

So reading, it seems, is still alive and well, although I wonder sometimes how much longer the diversity of species on this planet will be. In browsing through the books, I noticed one by Gregg Easterbrook subtitled “the coming age of environmental optimism.” Written in 1995, it spoke of how nations would easily make the shift from oil to alternative fuels and we would have no problem getting a handle on climate change.

I mentioned it to Jan, wondering if Gregg wishes, 14 years down the road, if he could change his book, since his assertions have proven false, and that got us talking about climate change deniers. Jan has two recent good posts on the subject. One addresses the complexity of climate science, while the other is about the misrepresentation of a report by German ocean circulation and climate modeling expert Mojib Latif, who thinks there might be a short term cooling period within the overall global warming trend.

The concept of life-altering climate change is a lot to deal with, so it’s not surprising that most people either pretend it’s not happening, or deny it outright. It’s a head-in-the-sand approach that humans take frequently, but where has it gotten us? Just that much farther down a dead-end road.

That hit home when I was chatting on the phone this morning with a friend who’d been looking at her high school yearbook in preparation for her 30th reunion. She was struck to see the issues that were prevalent the year she graduated: tensions with Iran, the war in Afghanistan, the rising price of gasoline, which had topped $1 per gallon, prompting fears of shortages.

“It was like a giant déjà vu,” she marveled. “We’re right back where we were. We knew about all this 30 years ago. We’ve had time, but we didn’t deal with it. Now we’re in Afghanistan, instead of Russia.”

It made me think of the 31 years that have elapsed since Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment to protect ag lands. Yet we’re just now beginning our Important Ag Lands study, at a time when only about 5,000 of the 150,000 acres zoned ag are actually being cultivated and gentleman’s estates and vacation rentals are firmly entrenched.

And how meaningful will the process ultimately turn out to be, considering it’s “slightly politicized,” to borrow a friend’s understatement, by the fact that the mayor and county council will be appointing the task force that oversees the study?

While we’re on the topic of agriculture, the Maui County Council yesterday gave final approval to a bill that prohibits testing, propagating, growing or introducing genetically engineered or modified taro within Maui County, which includes Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe. Seeing as how Hawaii County already passed such a ban, it seems likely attention will now be focused on Kauai, where about 75 percent of the state’s taro is grown.

And finally, The Advertiser is reporting that the HGEA and the state are close to a contract settlement, which includes furloughs. But the real screw is the Guv's planning to proceed with up to 1,100 layoffs, anyway, and hasn’t ruled out a second round:

Lingle indicated that the first round of layoffs would need to be carried out but said it was premature to be discussing a second round when negotiations were ongoing.

The governor said the proposed settlement "would mean that future layoffs would not have to be as severe because we've had labor savings from furlough days."

So how did it go, in just four months, from either layoffs or furloughs to layoffs AND furloughs? Seems the HGEA leadership has a bit of explaining to do about how it buried its head in the sand and lost all control of the issue.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Musings: Dealing With Reality

Clouds shaped like oversized squeeze toys skedaddled west and a growing, lopsided moon continued to dance with Jupiter, though not so closely as the evening before, when Koko and I went walking last night. The air was balmy, cooled to perfection by a wind brisk enough to ruffle clothes and rattle palm fronds, and Makalii was rising above a landscape illuminated by Hina’s bright silver-yellow light.

Needless to say, we lingered.

By morning, the moon and Jupiter had set, and Venus was glowing in the east above broad streaks of orange and charcoal. A hen, reunited with her cheeping puffball chicks following a raucous rousting by dogs, was scratching up a meal, keeping an eye on her flock.

Many parents seem to be wondering who is going to be keeping an eye on their kids when schools are closed for furlough Fridays. Advertiser columnist Jerry Burris was on target yesterday when he noted that the public and private effort to fill the gap “amounts to a backdoor form of privatizing or decentralizing our educational system” and then said:

Essentially, what you end up with is subtle cost-shifting. The "savings" achieved by the state will by and large be taken up by others, either for altruistic reasons or for political gain. There really will be no true savings for the overall, whatever you wish to call it, gross national income of the state.

Aside from this subtle cost-shifting, there's the issue of economic inequities. Kids from families with money likely will be able to buy some sort of quality experience on those days. Other kids will get whatever.

The whole situation underscores the way schools have become, to a large extent, an institutionalized babysitting service so parents can be freed up to work.

The tough work of cleaning up after an earthquake and tsunami has begun in Samoa, where at least 150 people were killed. I talked to civil defense administrator Mark Marshall, who said we did get a 13-inch tsunami, which resulted in some unusual sea surges at Nawiliwili Harbor. The tide would drop two-to-three feet, then come up two feet higher than the high tide, completely flooding the small boat ramp. And that’s something they hadn’t seen before. A surfer friend reported that he did a lot of paddling trying to get back in place after the big suck outs caused by surges on the southside.

Mark said the water in Samoa receded so far they couldn’t even see the ocean, then five waves hit in half an hour, with one 20-foot wave going a half-mile inland. And tsunami waves can push in for 20 minutes, not the 12 seconds we’re accustomed to with normal surf. So just stop for a minute and imagine what kind of damage that would cause all along our own coastline. Mark said many people hold the false belief that a tsunami coming from the south will affect just the southside, when in reality the wave would likely wrap around the entire island, with the most severe damage often occurring where the two wraps converge.

How long do you suppose our luck will hold until a monster wave hits Kauai? And then we’ll be dealing with the reality that has been driven home repeatedly to all of us caught in the gridlock caused by recent road construction: we’ve got just one way across the Wailua Bridge and just one way to get in and out of the North Shore. Add to that just one main entry port for our goods, and you start to get a sense of how vulnerable we are to a tsunami, and how complacent we’ve gotten about that threat.

Shifting gears, I don’t want to belabor the incident with Koohan Paik, other than to say I have a great deal of respect for Isaac Harp, who left a comment on that post. I appreciate his gallant effort to take the fall for Koohan; however, her contention that my story and others were just being used as fill to get a sense of how the site might look is false. The stories were used intentionally to create a product that was going to be presented to potential backers, which is disingenuous in and of itself. I was especially annoyed because I had previously told Koohan I did not want to write anything for New Pacific Voice until I had a sense of the site’s tone and look.

The issue is not about whether Koohan and I are politically aligned, how much she’s done for the community or me being flattered that people want to reprint my stories. It’s about respecting me and respecting copyright law, no matter how “20th Century” some folks might think that is. I’m very generous about letting people use my work, although it’s always appreciated when a link and attribution are included. But when I’ve written a story and sold it to a publisher, it’s an entirely different situation. They then own certain rights, and to reuse it without permission is not only wrong, it devalues something that the publisher and I own.

I don’t know why people think they’re entitled to take something just because it was created through the intellectual process. Do they feel similarly entitled to something created through manual labor?

As for anarchy, which also came up in the comments section, it's not, as so many people believe, an "anything goes" social system. It’s about people living with the highest personal integrity so they're not impinging on the rights of others and rules and laws aren’t needed to govern their behavior. I agree that it's an ideal form for society, and we’ve all got a ways to go to get there.

On a totally unrelated subject, I’ve been struck, in doing a spate of interviews lately, by how frequently people evoke God, or some higher spirit. And invariably, it’s in regard to an expression of gratitude, which caused me to muse, are people who don’t believe in the god concept less grateful than those who do?