Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Musings: Tasers and Terrorists

A starry Scorpion was hanging in the southeast, and what I believe was Mars was glowing reddish in the west, when Koko and I set out walking this morning. At the end of the road we encountered an escapee from the adjacent pasture grazing on the soft grass of a vacant lot. I couldn’t tell, in the darkness, whether it was a steer or a bull, but when it started to approach us, Koko and I decided we’d better beat it.

On the way back, we ran into farmer Jerry, who was headed in to the experimental station to check on things, even though he’s on furlough. Jerry mentioned he saw what he thought was a large flock of parrots flying overhead last evening, and said they’ve apparently done a lot of damage to corn, lychee and other crops on the southside. He also said he’s been appointed to the county’s Important Ag Lands panel, so we know there will be at least one person with a passion for farming involved in the process of designating the prime ag lands that should remain undeveloped.

Not that it necessarily matters, if you’re just going to condemn them for a new dump, as is proposed for A&B’s important ag lands in Kalaheo — the first and only designated in the entire state.

It was such a gorgeous morning that when I ran into my neighbor Andy, I turned around and walked with him as the sun rose fiery red behind the Giant and cast Waialeale, which was partially cloud-draped, in shades of green. That mountain never ceases to fascinate because it not only changes color, but sometimes appears flat-faced and at other times multi-dimensional, as was the case this morning, when the bowl that holds all the waterfalls — dry now, in this long spell without big rain — was clearly revealed.

We both reported receiving calls last night from the Hooser campaign, wondering if we were planning to attend his February birthday celebration-fundraiser, which we were not, primarily because it’s in Honolulu. And we both agreed that much as we like and strongly support Gary, we really wished he would give up his run for governor-in-waiting and return to the Lege. When you consider who might be elected to his seat, losing him in the Senate would be a real setback for Kauai.

The 9th U.S. . Circuit Court of Appeals dealt the cops a little setback this week when it ruled that police “need reasons to believe a suspect is dangerous before firing a Taser and can't use their stun gun simply because the person is disobeying orders or acting erratically,” according to a report on

The ruling opens the door for a California man to sue a cop who Tased him during a traffic stop, causing the man to fall and break four front teeth, and visit a hospital to have the electric dart removed. Kind of heavy for a seat belt violation. The article also reported that “Amnesty International says 334 people died in the United States from 2001 to August 2008 after being hit by Tasers.”

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that the U.S. and Yemen are looking at sites for a potential retaliation strike in the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day airline bombing:

This is part of a new classified agreement with the Yemeni government that the two countries will work together and that the U.S. will remain publicly silent on its role in providing intelligence and weapons to conduct strikes.

Oh, good. Another secret war.

And apparently it's a go, because BusinessWeek reported that Yemen has vowed to strike Al-Qaeda “hideouts” there.

But a New York Times article indicates that failed bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalized not in Yemen, but Britain, “a nation of deep Islamic ferment.” Gee, that does complicate matters a bit, since it's not quite so easy to carry out "retaliation strikes" there.

Democracy Now! has a good piece on how Obama has handled the case, as well as the media coverage. It included clips from people like former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, who is arguing that Abdulmutallab shouldn’t get the full range of protection afforded by America’s criminal justice system, and Pat Buchanan, who was advocating withholding pain meds from the badly burned man to make him talk more. It seems unbelievable we're still having these discussions, and that's partly because the people who carried out the tortures and secret renditions and other lawless acts during the Bush Administration were never brought to justice.

Still, as journalist Spencer Ackerman noted on the Democracy Now! report:

But if there’s anything encouraging about the way Obama and the administration is handling it, it’s that his first instinct and the Justice Department’s first instinct was not to declare him an enemy combatant, was not to take him to some prison overseas, was not to say that he couldn’t be tried in the normal justice system, but to actually have FBI officials on the scene conduct an investigation of him, to question him, to extract information from him, and then to bring charges against him, when it was clear that information leading to a prosecution was in evidence.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Musings: Tit for Tat

As expected, President Obama came out strongly yesterday against the botched Christmas Day airline bombing, saying:

Those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will do more than simply strengthen our defenses. We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the US homeland.”

And then I read:

The United Nations reports the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan jumped by ten percent during the first ten months of 2009. The UN says at least 2,038 civilians died during that period.

Try as I might, I just can’t understand why it’s OK for us, but not for the other guys, to slaughter innocent men, women and children.

Yes, the report indicates that insurgents — the people who are fighting to get us out of their country — killed most of the civilians. But we killed plenty, too:

UNAMA said that 468 deaths were caused by pro-government forces, including NATO and US-led forces, and 166 by "other actors".

And that's just how many have been counted.

Now the conflict will escalate as we send in more troops, and the toll on civilians will increase, too. Don’t we bear at least some responsibility for the deaths that will result from a build up that we initiate, for objectives that remain unclear, even if it’s not our troops doing the killing?

Al-Qaeda has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing, saying it’s in retaliation for American air strikes against the group in Yemen, a place where the U.S. is strengthening its presence:

Defense and counterterrorism officials say the United States has quietly been supplying military equipment, intelligence and training to Yemeni forces to root out suspected al Qaeda hide-outs.

So just how long does this deadly tit for tat go on before we try another approach?

Meanwhile, the American public remains as oblivious as ever to what’s really going on, and as suggestive as ever to the risks of foreign threats. As a result, they’re willing to go to the airport 2.5 hours early for a flight, tolerate increasingly invasive screening measures and keep an eye peeled for “suspicious” people, saying it makes them feel more secure — even though the measures already imposed failed to protect the airlines from an attack.

The reality is, those tourists at the Honolulu Airport are a lot more likely to drown on Kauai or die in a car wreck while driving to or from the airport, then get blown up by a terrorist. Yet for some reason, they see the terrorist as the greater threat.

How many, I wonder, are even aware that their own government is daily taking actions that contribute greatly to world instability, and thus their own insecurity — even as they look to that same government to enact measures to protect them?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Musings: Crotch Bombs & Cannabis

The sun set, creating a distinct crown formed of dark blue light shafts over a ridge whose name I don’t know, which joined other lavender and pink mountains ringing an expanse of green beneath a pale blue sky. It was a scene so lovely that Koko and I stopped to watch, and soon a car pulled over, and the driver got out and said, “You’re Joan, aren’t you?” I recognized him as Rob Zelkowsky, the filmmaker — that’s how small Kauai can be — and we agreed, and his companion, too, that we’d never seen anything quite like that crown before.

Later, returning to the scene of the sublime, a fat, golden Jupiter hung low in the southwest and Hina, building toward blue moon fullness on New Year’s Eve, was directly overhead, clear and white.

By morning, thick mist covered the pastures and a dark blue Giant was highlighted against a backdrop of hot orange. This time it was my neighbor Andy, and the bicycling son of my landlords, who paused with me to admire the landscape.

I asked Andy what he thought about the attempted airplane bombing and he said that with family visiting, he’d fallen behind on the news, which I assured him was fine, seeing as how even the Prez is on vacation. But he had seen a short blurb about it on TV, and when he expressed interest, his tenant, who was over for dinner, asked how it affected him.

Well, aside from Joe Lieberman, who Andy calls the senator from Israel, calling for a pre-emptive strike against Yemen — yes, that worked so well in Afghanistan after 9-11, now didn’t it — it also means tougher TS rules that will serve to make flying even more hellish, at least internationally, as airlines attempt to crack down on crotch bombs:

1. Perform thorough pat-down of all passengers at boarding gate prior to boarding, concentrating on upper legs and torso. 
2. Physically inspect 100 percent of all passenger accessible property at the boarding gate prior to boarding, with focus on syringes being transported along with powders and/or liquids.

As for in-flight:

2. Passenger access to carry-on baggage is prohibited beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination. 5. Passengers may not have any blankets, pillows, or personal belongings on the lap beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.

Meanwhile, the guy had bought a one-way ticket with cash, was traveling without luggage and his father had warned U.S. officials about his son’s increasing radicalism. Something’s not quite right here — aside from the fact that he chose a flight to Detroit. I mean, what was he thinking? Americans don’t give a damn about Motown anymore.

In other news, the Associated Press is reporting that more states are looking at liberalizing their marijuana laws, in part because they're finally starting to realize there's money in it:

"Our state is facing a huge financial deficit and deficits are projected for a few more years," Washington state Rep. Mary Lou] Dickerson said, referring to the projected $2.6 billion hole lawmakers will need to fill next year. "We need to look at revenue and see what might be possible."

Still, some hard-liners remain adamantly opposed to any truce in the war on drugs:

"There's no upside to it in any manner other than for those people who want to smoke pot," said Travis Kuykendall, head of the West Texas High Intensity Drug-Trafficking Area office in El Paso, Texas. "There's nothing for society in it, there's nothing good for the country in it, there's nothing for the good of the economy in it."

Yet Portugal, which has decriminalized drugs, has proven folks like Kuykendall wrong. As Glenn Greenwald reported in

Evaluating the policy strictly from an empirical perspective, decriminalization has been an unquestionable success, leading to improvements in virtually every relevant category and enabling Portugal to manage drug-related problems (and drug usage rates) far better than most Western nations that continue to treat adult drug consumption as a criminal offense.

Perhaps, as a NORML rep noted, we are finally reaching the “tipping point” in public opinion that will lead to some meaningful changes in how we deal with this extremely widespread issue.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Musings: Rewriting History

The landscaped was subdued, a palette of muted colors in hues of gray and blue, when Koko and I set out walking this morning. Waialeale was clear, crowned with just the softest brush of clouds, which soon turned pink and stained the entire makai side of the mountain rosy.

I’d just run into my neighbor Andy, who was mugged by an enthusiastic Koko, and we remarked how rarely we observed Kawaikini, even though it’s the tallest peak, because no mountain does seem bigger than Waialeale.

And then we turned and found ourselves eyeball to eyeball with a giant hot pink orb that was, of course, the sun, its fieriness greatly tempered by the haze in much the same way that the year-end dead zone known as “the holidays” has a dulling effect on humans.

The conditions appeared favorable for a beach excursion this morning, and I told Andy I’d headed up to Lumahai yesterday for a long walk on that beautiful beach, where the light shafts penetrated clouds of drifting ehu kai and crabs excavated white sand that was left in small conical piles atop the dark green of wet olivine.

Andy said he hadn’t walked on that beach since the 1960s, and I said it was one of my favorites, in part because it is one of the few with no houses along it. So you can walk there without getting cross over a stupid monstrosity that someone is building or taking note of violations that should be reported. In other words, you can actually still fully enjoy the beach.

“Sounds like a great place for a bike path,” said Andy, which was my cue to chime in, “Yes, and people are already driving on it so it obviously has no burials, and if it does, no one is tending them, so they don’t matter.”

Then we got to talking about ancient Hawaiian practices, with Andy saying one thing that annoyed him about Hawaiians was the way they are always rewriting their history, to which I replied: “Isn’t everyone?” After a moment’s reflection, he acknowledged that was true, which led us to the front page article that The Garden Island published yesterday about a man who calls himself `Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani.

The article read, in Andy’s words, like a giant advertisement for the man, who apparently was selling his vision of a Hawaii united under him. What struck me were not only the lack of important details, like what island his family is from, how he is living and why he ended up on Kauai, but some of the really unbelievable things the guy said, starting with the assertion, which is repeated on his web site, that Hawaiians lived without war for 12,000 years.

There was no conquering, no demands. Wars only came when Kamehameha started killing natives in the interests of the British, he said.

Neither Andy nor I had ever heard or read that claim made anywhere else. And quite frankly, it’s a lot easier for me to believe he’s getting regular messages from “the grandmothers” than that he traveled through airports with a homemade ID card. Now that stretched the limits of credibility.

He certainly sounds like an earnest man, and many of his words did ring true, although, really, he said nothing new. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why the paper printed his story at length, yet has given virtually no coverage to Kauai residents who have been working for years toward the same goal of unification. Where are the profiles of Dayne Aipoalani, or the Pa brothers, to name but a few? Instead there’s this big splash over an unknown who has popped up out of nowhere.

The paper also followed up a bit on a story it first reported on Monday about the snorkeling visitor who was bitten by a mama monk seal with a pup.

Both articles used such phrases as “taking a few bites out of” and “attacked and seriously injured,” even though the county press release said the injuries were “superficial” and “not life threatening,” so it seems the paper was sensationalizing the encounter.

I did get several emails from folks who doubted the woman's story that currents had pulled her toward the seals. I don’t know what happened in this case, but I’ve encountered far too many people approaching seals on the beach, jumping in the water to swim after dolphins and bragging about riding on turtles to totally rule out the possibility that she approached the animals. As far as I'm concerned, wild animals should be left alone, which is why I'm not big on capturing and tagging, either. If you've ever seen it done, you know it's traumatic, and demeaning, too. Yes, tags help us monitor them, but that's primarily for our benefit, not theirs. We know what wild animals need to thrive — less of us — but we don't want to accept that fact, or act on it, so we keep on pretending there's some other solution.

I was interested in one comment left on the first monk seal story:

" dog attacks human, dog gets put to sleep.
shark attacks human, shark gets hunted.
monk seal attacks human.......
shouldnt all animals be treated similarly? Remember the guy at Port Allen? "beat the fish with a stick till it was limp..." why wasnt he prosecuted? If a "local" man admitted to beating an animal, he'd be arrested instantly. Hey Becky Rhoades, pursue an arrest for that man with a similar passion you pursue an arrest for other "animal abusers" "

Our behavior toward animals is full of contradictions. We buy presents for our pets at Christmas, and gorge on the flesh of animals we don’t know. We celebrate the nobility of wild animals, but as soon as one attacks or kills a human, people scream for its death or relocation. Folks rabidly protect the albatrosses that nest in their neighborhood, but don’t blink an eye as the far more rare Newell’s are slowly exterminated by utility lines. We fail to socialize or train a domesticated animal, like a dog, then blame it when it bites or acts aggressively.

And through it all, humans have consistently set themselves apart from and above all the other animals on the planet because of our supposedly unique ability to reason. Now there's a classic example of rewriting history.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Musings: Still Magic

The weather continues on in a spectacular vein, with shafts of light shooting above and below the clouds at sunset and the mornings crystal clear. Orion’s belt was crowning Waialeale when Koko and I went walking this morning in a star-packed world that was so cold it required me to double up on sweatshirts.

As we walked, the blackness faded, then shifted in the east to the faintest flush of pink, a sky poised on the brink of dawn. In the distance, a mist lake formed in the hollow of a pasture, creating a landscape befitting of such adjectives as ethereal and magical.

I’ve been thinking a bit about what really constitutes the magic of Christmas, ever since a friend told me his wife had said this would probably be the peak year for Christmas magic, given that their children are now 4 and 6.

At those ages, they're old enough to understand and young enough to still believe, or at least, most of them, and some keep believing much later than that. I know I held out until age 8, buoyed by the proof of a letter from Santa with a bonafide North Pole postmark. Now kids can go on line to view their own customized video from Santa, as I discovered when a friend sent one to me. I was relieved to learn Santa has me down as nice, and not naughty, which means he knows me a lot better than the anonymous trolls that leave nasty personal jabs on this blog.

Although I usually just ignore much of the Christmas hoopla, this year I’ve been out shopping quite a bit as I prepare a holiday party, replete with gift-wrapped prizes and candy-filled goody bags, for about 200 people, scheduled for tonight. It’s all my part of my newish job, which is part social worker, part social director. Seeing the extravagant displays, and the promises that this or that gift will impart the magic of Christmas, I’ve become aware of the intense pressure that folks feel to find presents that will satisfy, even as I also know, after reading about it in The Week, that people tend to devalue things they get as gifts.

So you’re really better off saving your money and giving, as one saying goes, more presence and less presents.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give at all.

The other day I was talking to a woman who had just returned from California, where she’d spent six weeks in a hotel with her two kids while one was undergoing surgery. The insurance paid for the hotel, but not for meals out, so the ordeal had left her financially and emotionally drained.

When she got home she discovered that she’d lost her eligibility for food stamps and her job had been cut back to part-time. And to top it off, the food pantry that serves the area where she lives was no longer going to be distributing food because some people had taken more than their share, causing a fight to break out among recipients.

“I really counted on that food pantry,” said the woman, who also revealed she had been widowed just weeks before her youngest child was born. Her two sons, meanwhile, are serving in Iraq. “And now that I'm working part-time, it's like I'm just working to pay for my gas. No matter how I try, I just can’t get ahead.”

I’ve learned in my job that if you’re totally helpless, the government will do quite a bit to assist you. But if you’re working, you’re much more likely to fall through the widening cracks.

“You know,” I said to the woman, “I was just today given a $50 gift certificate to Safeway with the instructions to give it to someone who really needs it. And I think that's you.”

I also gave her a ham, one that had been donated to the Kauai Food Bank for distribution to folks that need it.

Her face and mood brightened considerably, even as she then recounted that all the toys for her community had been stolen from the Toys for Tots distribution area.

“Those were for the kids,” she said in disbelief. “How could someone steal them? When did it stop being all about the kids? Did I miss that shift?”

No, I assured her, she hadn’t. Christmas is still about the kids.

And as I thought about the man I don’t know who had purchased the gift card and all the folks who drop money in the Salvation Army kettles and toys in the donation boxes and food at the Food Bank, I knew that despite the bad deeds of some, and the pressures to turn it into a materialistic frenzy, Christmas is also still very much about giving to perfect strangers, with no thought of getting something in return.

Now that's the magic of the season.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Musings: Pressing Problems

Koko and I went out into the silent night, stars thick above us, Makalii close to Orion, and both sliding towards Waialeale, and I marveled at the beauty and the stillness and the amount of light that can be generated solely by glittering stars.

A couple of hours later, when we got up for good, the stars were all gone, lost to a gray combination of pre-dawn light and clouds that were just starting to blush over the Giant, and the silence had succumbed to bird song and, soon enough, a conversation between my neighbor Andy and me.

He began by remarking on this blog, and the recent activity in comments, and expressed once again the desire for people to use at least a fake name so readers can more easily follow the conversation, as after a while, all the anonymouses tend to blend together.

I said, yes, even an abbreviation like DWPS is helpfull, although that “f the birds” comment of his really pissed me off because it’s so indicative of that sick prevailing attitude that nothing matters but us.

Well, a lot of people think like that, said Andy, which is true, and his are not the worst of the comments, he added, which is also true.

I then mentioned that farmer Jerry had called me about Friday’s post, where I addressed the house that’s being built down the street and its incompatibility with the neighborhood. And though I knew he was pissed off about the mainland transplants doing that in his own neighborhood, I braced for a scolding, because I also knew he knows the owner — a local — of the house in question.

But he didn’t scold. Instead, he said that it really bothers him when it’s a local building something like because it’s yet another indication of how the mainland mentality, with its emphasis on materialism, extravagance and flaunting your wealth, is becoming more deeply entrenched here.

We weren’t raised like that, with those kind of values, he told me. So it’s just really sad when you see locals start buying into that whole idea of showing off, setting yourself apart from others. What’s wrong with living simply, modestly?

Of course, it was just a rhetorical question, because anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows my answer would be always be “nothing.”

But Andy, ever ready with the historical perspective, noted that people in Hawaii had been buying into those materialistic values for a long time, probably since the beginning of Western contact, and if you go way back you’ll see that humans in many cultures have long attempted to assert their authority and/or status through the accumulation of possessions or other displays of wealth.

It's been going on forever, he said. I don’t know why you insist on fighting against it.

So I should just give it up because that’s the way it’s supposedly always been, even though it perpetuates the false belief that material goods are the highest expression of a person’s value, a belief that is meaningless, wasteful and destroying the planet?

It’s not meaningless, Andy countered. Some of it stems from basic comfort, like having a good bed, so you can work the next day and not be grumpy.

Yes, I acknowledged, I understand that and I’ve certainly enjoyed the comfort of having a dryer, as well as a washer, in my new house. But with most of us in the U.S., it’s gone way beyond basic comfort, and it does become meaningless when you have so much stuff that you cease to value it. Even then, it’s never enough, because there’s always something out there that’s newer and better, so stuff never can fully satisfy.

And then people who don't have money, but still want to assert their authority and status, go buy all that cheap crap at Walmart, so you’ve got even more resources wasted, more junk thrown in the landfill.

Andy agreed that it had reached the point where our accumulation of stuff was excessive and threatening the health of the planet, which prompted me to ask: so then how do you go about changing those false, destructive values?

I had the answer about 30 or 40 years ago, he replied, and then I forgot it. I used to think it was education, but I don’t believe that anymore, because I just didn’t see any evidence of it in the classroom. We’ve spent all this time and energy and money on education, and I really wonder where it’s gotten us, he said, noting that part of the problem is you’ve got some people who aren’t educable and some who don’t much want to be educated.

That's certainly a shift from, say, 100 years ago, when education was valued not only for its ability to get you out of the factory, but also as a sign of status.

Andy then repeated a saying: Twenty years ago we worried because Johnny couldn’t read. Now Johnny is the teacher. And he recalled that during his years as a college professor, he'd encountered a dean who couldn’t write complete sentences, teachers with masters degrees who were nearly illiterate. So when you're seeing that at the college level, it's not surprising that many students aren't excelling.

I told him about a Calvin Trillin piece I’d just read in The New Yorker about poutine, the popular Canadian dish of French fries with cheese curds and brown gravy, and it included a bit about a Canadian satirist named Rick Mercer. He used to have a TV show called “Talking to Americans,” which “revealed them to be pretty much oblivious of the huge, contiguous country that is their most important trading partner.” Trillin wrote:

His best-know coup came during the 2000 Presidential campaign, when, having insinuated himself into a pack of reporters, he shouted out a question to George W. Bush: What was the candidate’s response to the statement by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Poutine that Bush looked like the man who should lead the free world into the twenty-first century? Bush looked immensely pleased. “I appreciate his strong statement,” he said. “He understands I believe in free trade. He understands I want to make sure our relations with our most important neighbor to the north of us is strong. And we’ll work closely together.”

So if our own president was so ignorant, I asked Andy, who was having a good laugh, why should we expect the general populace to be any different? I put a big chunk of the blame on TV, noting that many people are pretty much clueless about the events of the day, but they’re up on the plot, to use the word loosely, of the latest reality show.

No doubt TV and the various forms of entertainment that distract us are factors, Andy said, but I blame women’s liberation, the feminist movement, for the decline in education.

You wait until the walk is nearly over to drop that bombshell? I asked. How do you figure?

Well, women today have so many more opportunities and options available to them that the smartest ones don’t become nurses or teachers anymore, he explained. They become doctors or architects or any number of other things, and the overall contribution to education has been lowered as a result. And part of the reason they don't go into teaching is because we don't value teachers in our society, and we pay them poorly.

Unlike, say, our celebs and sports figures, who can, inexplicably, make a billion dollars playing golf.

By then we’d reached Andy's driveway, and the dogs were ready to address a far more important topic: the dispensing of biscuits. That done, they nosed the ground for crumbs and Andy and I bid one another goodbye, leaving yet another of the world's pressing problems unresolved.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Musings: In the Dark

A chill wind was whipping through the ironwood trees, setting them to bending and sighing as Koko and I walked beneath them in the dark this morning. It’s feeling like winter, and in my neighborhood, thanks to one person who kindly puts up enough inflatable candy canes and Santas for all of us, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Someone down the street is giving him or herself the gift of a brand new home, and I imagine it’s going to be a lavish one, given the stately lava rock columns that were the first things built, on either side of what is still a dirt driveway. As my neighbor Andy noted: “That’s how they let us know it’s going to be something special.”

Of course, even lava rock entry posts can’t change the fighting chicken farm just two driveways down, or the hodgepodge of buildings right next door. Don’t people stop to think about what else is in the neighborhood before they build? Or how their dream home (or spec house) might raise the property taxes of the adjacent humble abodes?

I was interested to read that Oahu, quite unlike Kauai, is interested in keeping its residential neighborhoods residential, with the City Council nixing a bill that would have expanded the B&B industry there. Even The New York Times picked up the story.

On Kauai, a lawsuit regarding transient vacation rentals (TVRs) filed against the county by the Protect Our Neighborhood `Ohana (PONO) is set for a hearing later this month. In the meantime, when PONO asked the planning department for a list of any and all renewals issued for TVR non-conforming use certificates in the Wainha and Haena area, as of July 31, 2009, it got this reply from deputy planning director Imai Aiu:

Searching our on line record we have only received and approved on [sic] renewal application in the Haena-Wainiha area to date:

TV-1668 FISCHER GARY R TRUST Fischer Vac. Ren. 580090480000 7324 ALEALEA RD Received 7/13/2009
Approved 8/24/2009

Please keep in mind that this was done by searching the on line database and has not been verified by an actual search into the hard copy files. The department does not maintain specific lists of the nature of your request, so to generate one would require department time to generate and be subject to fees under the Uniform Information Practices Act.

In other words, the department will provide only what PONO had already found itself in searching the database on the county’s website. Unfortunately, this kind of stonewalling has been characteristic of the department’s decidedly opaque approach to dealing with the TVR permitting issue, and it’s not just the public that’s being kept in the dark, but the Planning Commissioners, too.

Similarly, the public is being kept in the dark about plans for the full proposed route of the bike path. As Andy Parx noted in his blog post on the topic, the path must run continuously from Nawiliwili to north of Kealia in order to meet the federal requirements for an alternative transportation route, which is how the county got the initial $40 milllion in federal funds.

Andy recalled the challenges posed in getting the path past the Wailua golf course, and said that’s when the idea of a “temporary” boardwalk on the beach first came up:

So the Wailua boardwalk is actually a test- one on a much wider section of beach- that, once it has been approved and laid will serve as a precedent when it comes to getting the path past the golf course.... and on down the coast where the topography is much the same and where the cost and difficulty of obtaining the land won’t be the impediment it appears to be now.

He also raised a good point about one drawback of using a structure that is removable, yet anchored into the sand:

People opposing the boardwalk have missed a valuable argument in the fact that the “stakes” that are dug over the ‘iwi will not just be dug once and left there but could conceivably be taken up and put back on a semi-regular basis, especially if the waves themselves remove them.

There’s an awful lot to consider with this project, once you start looking a little deeper.

On a lighter note, Andy’s post prompted a comment from Anne Punohu, who has become a regular in the comment section here, where she posted a link to her ”ode to Andy and Joan:”

But don't get sassy or cute with them, trust me. They can both rip you a new hole at 40 paces.

Umm, thanks, Anne. I must say, I’ve never received a compliment quite like that.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Musings: Reconsider

It was another perfect winter morning, with quilted pink clouds and mist in the pasture and clear mountain summits and a little nip in the air when Koko and I went walking.

Later, driving into Lihue, I was looking longingly at the glassy, shining waters of Wailua river and bay when I spotted the first of several people along the highway, holding signs that read: “sacred sands,” “keep the path off the beach,” “whose quality of life?” “flawed process” and “shame.”

I waved to them, and they waved back, but it wasn’t the perky, upbeat vibe that accompanies political sign holding. In fact, they looked glum, and I felt like crying.

Surely there’s another solution here. I liked the idea floated in the comments section by “middle way,” who proposed turning the beach front lane of the widened Kuhio Highway into one shared with bicyclists. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work, especially since the speed limit is just 25 mph, as I so well know. And those who didn’t want to be on the road in that section would still have the option of walking their bikes and their bodies along the beach.

I was talking to a friend last night, and he was upset about the situation and wondering why the mayor couldn’t reconsider his original stance, convene a group to review the various options. Because let’s face it, this path has been planned by a small group of people that could hardly be called representative of the community. In fact, that’s one reason why he stopped participating, after asking them: “Where are all the locals?”

This same friend thought it might be good for Bernard to go back to the drawing board on the proposed Kalaheo (Umi) landfill site, too, seeing as how it’s running into so much opposition. As The Garden Island reported today in its coverage of the Council’s review of the Umi site:

“It is becoming apparent that there’s other issues out there that we need to address,” County Engineer Donald Fujimoto told the council.

Yes, just as it’s become apparent other issues need to be addressed with the bike path. But even as the clock is ticking on the Kekaha landfill, and we’re talking here about an essential facility that is used and needed by every single visitor and resident on this island, no one is telling the mayor, who already made his decision on the landfill site, that we've spent enough time and money on this already, soit’s time to “move on.”

As the newspaper also reported:

Tom Shigemoto of A&B testified to register opposition to the proposal and said it might be “prudent” for the county to look elsewhere because unfriendly condemnation will likely be necessary before permitting can even begin.

Hmmm. That throws a small wrench in the works. Seems if the county wanted something from A&B, it should have asked before granting all the Kukuiula approvals. Now what incentive does A&B have to go along? Not that it should. After all, we’re talking about the very first Important Ag Lands to be dedicated on Kauai. What kind of signal are we sending about our support for ag if we build a landfill in the midst of it?

Still, I thought it was very interesting to learn the reason – or at least, the one reported by The Garden Island – for A&B’s opposition:

Kaua‘i Coffee Company, a subsidiary of Alexander and Baldwin, the current landowner of the proposed landfill site, has said putting a 127-acre landfill in the middle of its coffee operation would undermine its image and make it difficult for the company to compete.

OK, so it’s apparently largely an image problem we’re dealing with here. Yet I don’t hear anyone squawking about the intangibility or triviality of that. No one is asking A&B to prove that their image would be harmed, or even that they have a good one or are successfully competing at the moment.

Yet those who have spoken against a path on the beach are challenged to prove that iwi are there and that the beach is sacred.

What it comes down to is, why is it alright to reconsider an essential project because it could harm a company’s image, but it’s not alright to reconsider a non-essential project because of objections raised about sacredness and Hawaiian burials?

And yet one person in comments actually claimed that on Kauai:

We all make concessions to each others' cultural values, but no one group's values are determinative.

Get real! The cultural values associated with materialism always and invariably hold sway.

The friend I was talking to said so many of the comments left on the path and Brescia burial posts bummed him out, because they made him realize just how cold and hard and uncaring so many people are.

That’s one reason why I allow them, just to give folks a sense of what we’re up against. As I told a friend, they’re my little experiment in anarchy, serving as a constant reminder that we’re not anywhere near that level of consciousness yet.

Or as another friend, who lives in the Midwest, observed in an email:

I saw the f the birds and the we hate Hawaiian culture, food, etc comments...... yikes. But, yes, a lot of people think, so what the birds are gone? I am often alarmed how people think, so what the skunk got killed, good riddance, they stink..... we have so little concern for life other than human, but then again, we have little concern for most humans too.

Tis all too true, unfortunately. Still, there are some thoughtful comments among them, left by people who are questioning — and ultimately rejecting — the whole big pile that's being fed to us about the path, proposing other options, counseling compromise, urging cultural respect and environmental consideration. And I'm grateful for those voices, because they remind me and others that despite the attempts to shut us down and up, we've got valid arguments behind us when we say, yes, Mr. Mayor, you need to reconsider.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Musings: Chipping Away

The mist was thick, so thick that it felt as if we were drifting among the clouds, when Koko and I walked out into the cold blackness of pre-dawn. It was caused, no doubt, by the brief rain that fell midway through the night in big, heavy drops, like small pebbles on the skylight, and then departed to leave the sky chock full of stars and all the mountain tops clear.

By the time we returned, the mist had greatly retreated, drifted far away from the road, tucked itself into the valleys, swirled itself around cinder cones, pooled into distant ghostly ponds. Yet it was still visible, even palpable, to those who cared enough to stop for a moment to see and feel.

That shifting scene serves as an apt metaphor for what’s happening today with so much of Hawaii’s native flora and fauna, as well as its indigenous culture. Reading some of the comments that are still being left on the Pondering the Path post, and then an article in The Garden Island about the dramatic decline of the endemic Newell’s shearwaters, really drove it home in an ugly way.

The Newell’s population has dropped from 80,000 in the mid-1990s to less than 20,000 today, and is continuing to decline at a rate of 60 percent every decade. Our lights and utility wires are the primary cause. These birds nest nowhere in the world but Hawaii, so when they’re gone from here, they’re gone forever. Yet KIUC still wants a permit to kill 125 each year and injure another 55.

It’s been working on the permit for the past eight years, and during that time has implemented a few token mitigation measures. Meanwhile, the birds continue to crash, literally and figuratively, but nothing of any significance is done because it’s just too expensive or bothersome or beyond the minimum legal requirements.

“We’re doing what we’re obligated to do,” [KIUC President and CEO Randy] Hee said Friday.

I imagine that when it comes to the pesky problem of imperiled native birds, Hee feels much the same way The Garden Island’s editorial writer did when he penned an opinion piece about the Path entitled “Time to move on:

We have spent far too much time and effort on this project already and there are miles still to do. Concerns for this phase have been raised and heard. Now is the time for decisive action.

What that really means, whether we’re talking about environmental issues or cultural concerns (and of course, they’re related), is damn the objections, full speed ahead. Quit spending time talking about what’s really at stake here, what might be lost by any particular course of action or whether any reasonable alternatives exist.

Just do it. Because we want it and we don’t want to deal with resistance to our wants any more.

The editorial also states:

This can not be turned into a test about measuring degrees of impact.

Why not? Isn’t that what all of the issues we’re debating so vehemently boil down to? When you’ve got species and cultures on the ropes, isn’t it all about degrees of impact?

We don’t know how far we can push the Newell’s population until it irrevocably collapses, or how much we can denigrate and suppress the Hawaiian culture in this fragile time of its renaissance until it fractures and declines once again.

But we keep acting like we do, taking just another 125 Newell’s, running a non-essential project like a bike path across sands that many hold sacred.

We keep chipping away, because we either can’t see, or don’t care, what’s happening to the whole when we do.

As Anne Punohu noted in a comment on “Pondering the Path:”

This culture is NOT DEAD. I meant it. So respect it. It is alive all around you. You must bend to IT not IT to you! Let us be respectful. If you are not Hawaiian, or hanai, or in any way knowledgable, ask first before you post judgment on what you see and here. You might just learn something.

Aloha. My goal is to educate, not dictate.

It was followed by the usual culturally derogatory remarks, of which one is particularly representative:

How bout this for education...we're in the USA now...not "old hawaii".

Chiefs don't mean shit.

Ever get the feeling that a lot of folks would just as soon the endangered birds were gone, so they didn’t have to worry about incidental take permits, that they would just as soon the Hawaiians were gone, so they didn’t have to worry about their bones and ancestors and other bothersome aspects of their culture that can’t be packaged for sale to the tourists?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s really behind the intensity of the debate over the path, and I believe that’s it. People are worried about what might happen if cultural pressure stemming from something as intangible as the concept of sacredness is able to effect a substantial change in the direction of an inconsequential project like a recreational path.

Heck, it just might set a nasty precedent – as nasty as the precedent of building on our beaches and hardening our coastline with a concrete path.

We know that anywhere the path is built in Wailua will have an adverse impact on iwi kupuna and the Hawaiian culture. Just as we know that installing more landscape lighting and utility lines will have an adverse impact on the Newell’s, and building along the shore will have an adverse impact on our coastline. But we keep doing it anyway, rationalizing that a little bit more won’t make any difference, until we’ve chipped away so much, that there is nothing more.

The recreational path is poorly conceived and even more poorly planned. I’ve yet to hear anyone explain just where, exactly, it is supposed to start and end, what route will it take as it encircles the island, how much it will cost and what will be lost – or rather, taken – in the process. But hey, why let those niggling questions stop us, or even slow us down? It’s time to “move on.”

Well, I, for one, and I know I’m not alone, am saying, no, it’s not. It’s time to stand firm and sort this thing out because it’s going to set some precedents, and they aren’t precedents that I and others want to live with. I don’t care if the EA has been issued, or if a small select group was planning this for years or if the federal funding will be lost if it's not used by a certain date.

Just like I don't care if KIUC has to spend a shitload of money or get its head out of the box to finally figure out a way to stop killing Newell's shearwaters.

I’m tired of the constant chipping away in the name of so-called progress -- especially when it’s being championed by people who don’t give a rat’s ass about nature or the Hawaiian culture.

I don’t know where Shilo Pa stands on the bike path, but before I left the house this morning, I had to play one of his songs, because I knew it contained the lines that speak directly to the underlying issue, and I wanted to have them going around in my head today:

“Don’t take away anymore. You already took from us before. You took our lands. Now you wanna take our sea.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Musings: Skate on Through

The sky was a brilliant canopy of stars when Koko and I went walking this morning. The Big Dipper was overhead and Orion was preparing to slip behind Waialeale as we walked through a cold landscape that was too dark to see.

And then a little glow shone in the east and a sliver of rising moon popped up from behind the Giant, illuminating thinly quilted clouds that were tinted salmon by the sun that was soon to follow.

I was gazing upon that splendid scene when farmer Jerry pulled over to chat on his way into work. He said College of Tropical Ag staff will be furloughed for the last two weeks of the year, which translates into a 5% pay cut. While he was glad to have a block of time to work on his farm, it wasn’t exactly like he’d be able to forget work completely.

“We’ve all got plants and crops up there at the station,” he said, noting that he’d likely just go in on his own time to keep things watered, as would other employees. “Farmers hate to let things die.”

I mentioned that to my neighbor Andy when our paths converged just as the mountains were starting to stain pink and he said, “That’s the problem. Some state workers will put in their own time to get the job done and then the Republicans will say, see, we really don’t need all these workers, we can cut some more.”

I’ve noticed that at the Anahola post office, where the hours of the part-time assistant were cut, supposedly due to federal budget constraints. Now I often see Diane, the postmaster, still working at 7 or 8 p.m., trying to do the work of two people, with no additional pay.

So things keep functioning because of the efforts of those who are conscientious, while the slackers continue to skate.

Meanwhile, nuclear power, off-shore drilling, so-called “clean coal” and cap-and-trade are poised to skate on through Congress under the new framework for a climate bill unveiled by Sen. John Kerry. The emissions reduction target has been dropped from 20% to 17% — climate experts say neither are sufficient to keep global warming in check — and isn’t tied to a specific date.

So while we do not enough, entire nations, like Tavalu, hang in the balance. As Democracy Now! reported from Copenhagen:

On Saturday, Tuvalu delegate Ian Fry said Senate actions will determine whether endangered island nations survive.

Ian Fry: “It appears that we are waiting for some senators in the US Congress to conclude before we can consider this issue properly. It is an irony of the modern world that the fate of the world is being determined by some senators in the US Congress.”

Unfortunately for Fry and other indigenous leaders from communities on the front lines of climate change, “Uncle Sam never did give a damn about the brown man,” to quote Sudden Rush.

Speaking of which, folks are rallying on Oahu and Kauai today to protest the reported intentions of Sens. Inouye and Akaka to insert the ”Akaka bill“ into one of the federal appropriations bills that are to be voted on this way. Such a move would likely allow the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2009, as it’s officially known, to skate on through unchallenged, thus spelling an end to claims for independence and full reparations in one fell swoop.

Now there's an upright way of correcting the wrongs that have been committed.

Barring that pre-emptive move, Senate and House panels, including Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s House Natural Resources subcommittee, are set to vote on the bill this week, with Abercrombie saying he plans to resign his Congressional seat after casting several key votes — a yes vote on the Akaka bill among them.

Curious how the Honolulu papers are giving such a key issue so little play.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Musings: Science and Spirituality

A thin layer of mist clung to the nooks and crannies of the pasture and pooled into a distant lake when Koko and I went walking this morning. I nearly missed the moon, which was hanging on by a fingernail just a shade or two whiter than the brightening sky.

Then the sun fired up behind the Giant, setting off a chain reaction that caused all the clouds to turn pink and the summit of Makaleha to blush and Waialeale to appear as a giant mound of rose and blue.

Another glorious day on a planet that is, like it or not, warming because of man’s activities. Yes, those who reveled in the prospect of “climate gate” discrediting the science will have to lay those foolish hopes, and their excuses for inaction, to rest now that the Associated Press has completed its own “exhaustive review” of 1,073 emails stolen from climate scientists. AP’s take on the matter, after five journalists read and re-read some 1 million words contained in the emails:

[T]hey stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don't support claims that the science of global warming was faked….

The messages were also viewed by Mark Frankel, director of scientific freedom, responsibility and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. According to AP:

Frankel saw "no evidence of falsification or fabrication of data, although concerns could be raised about some instances of very 'generous interpretations.'"

So while the “scandal” was seized upon as reason to nix carbon-reducing initiatives by those who would prefer to see no shift in the energy-guzzling, carbon-emitting BAU (business as usual) world as we know it, the people who actually read each and every one of those emails in context say the facts just don’t bear out that kind of conclusion.

But then, the facts never bore out Iraq as having weapons of mass destruction, and look at how many people still believe that.

What’s most interesting to me about “climate gate” is that it does successfully challenge the notion of science as so objective, rational and pure that it somehow transcends human limitations like greed, ego, power-lust and fear and thus can be trusted to not only explain every aspect of the universe, but guide our experience of it.

According to Dan Sarewitz, a science policy professor at Arizona State University:

"We talk about science as this pure ideal and the scientific method as if it is something out of a cookbook, but research is a social and human activity full of all the failings of society and humans, and this reality gets totally magnified by the high political stakes here."

Don’t get me wrong. I think scientific inquiry is a good thing. But I do object when it is held out as some ultimate truth, to the exclusion of all other ways of knowing and being in the world.

Of course, just as I don’t expect climate deniers to change their thinking in light of the AP article and other evidence, neither do I expect those who embrace Rationalism to stop expressing their disdainful contempt for spirituality, intuition and other ideas and experiences that are too big to fit through the tight little window on the world allowed by the scientific process.

Open up, man! There’s a great big beautiful mysterious world out there that science will never be able to understand until it loosens some of its bonds — and maybe not even then.

That’s why I’m so interested in the work being done by scientists like Bruce Lipton, who are really thinking outside the box by bridging science and spirit and showing yes, the twain can meet, and we’ll be better for it.

Getting back to the topic of scientific fallibility, Bayer CropScience LP has admitted that it is unable to control the spread of its genetically modified organisms, despite the use of “best practices.” This resulted in a jury awarding nearly $2 million in compensatory damages to two Missouri farmers because their rice crops were contaminated by an experimental rice variety that Bayer was testing in outdoor field trials there.

You know, the same kind of outdoor field trials that are being conducted throughout Hawaii, the ones that are supposedly no big deal so don't worry your pretty little head about environmental contamination. Kinda makes you wonder if all the corn and papaya here have been similarly contaminated by GMO strains — and helps explain why coffee growers and many taro farmers are reticent about GM forays into those two crops.

Anyway, Bayer is apparently facing some 3,000 claims in Missouri alone, so they’re likely to be feeling it in the only place that really matters to corporations: the pocketbook.

But what I especially liked about the case was the way Bayer, which joins other GMO proponents in dissing opponents because of their supposedly unscientific approach to the issue, claimed the contamination was due to ”Acts of God.

Now there’s a convenient new twist on bridging spirituality and science.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Musings: Hope Springs Eternal

Just before getting out of bed this morning, I saw a falling star through the skylight, which motivated me to get up and out, where Orion was preparing to set behind a clear-topped Waialeale.

It was dark, very dark, giving the appearance of being much earlier than it was, and as my neighbor Andy and I walked along the road, with four dogs between us, the eastern sky brightened, some clouds over Lihue turned peachy and it was evident it would be another glorious day.

The beauty of the past few days made it hard to want to spend Tuesday morning at a planning commission meeting, where the room was so cold that one staff member donned a fur-trimmed parka.

But I went because a petition to revisit the approval given for Joe Brescia’s house atop burials at Naue was on the agenda, and since I’ve been following this story for quite a long time, I figured no sense stop now, even though it's been rather heart-wrenching process.

Attorneys from all sides were there to argue their case. At one table sat Harold Bronstein, Camille Kalama and Alan Murakami. At another sat Walton Hong and Cal Chipchase. In the middle sat deputy attorney Mauna Kea Trask and planning director Ian Costa, who had recommended that the commission reject the petition.

The line up of players alone spoke volumes.

I won’t go into all the details here, even though they’re interesting, because I'm pressed for time and they’re all written up in my story in The Hawaii Independent. And if you’re interested in the issue, or plan to comment here, I hope you will read it, as it gives more background and context.

But the gist of it was that Mauna Kea was telling the commissioners all the reasons why they shouldn’t do anything, although one in particular was repeated often:

“He [Brescia] will sue you. It will amount to a taking and there will be considerable damages involved, and that’s a matter of fact.”.

He also offered a reason that might have been made up: they were bound by Judge Kathleen Watanabe’s court order, and couldn't go against it. He insisted they were, even though Harold, Alan and Camille said they were not, because the county had never been a party to the suit that Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. filed against Nancy McMahon and the State Historic Preservation Division, and so couldn't be held to an order resulting from it.

But the commissioners never asked their own attorney to clarify, most likely because they wanted a way out, and Mauna Kea was giving it to them, with his reassurances that they had done their duty and any fault in the matter had been the state’s and not theirs and if they took no action it would be appealed to the higher courts, anyway, and that, he said, is as it should be, because that’s where the case belonged, since the role of the Burial Council and the extent of its powers needed to be clarified legally.

And besides, he kept saying in various forms and fashions, to do otherwise would be messy and expensive:

“The house is up,” Trask said. “It’s painted green with white trim. The windows are in. If you’re gonna revoke this permit you gotta be prepared to buy that house for however many millions that will take because it will be a taking. Let the courts decide this.”

When it came time to deliberate, commissioners didn’t go into their usual executive session, but shared a few awkward moments of silence, followed by minimal comments. I was interested in what Chairman Jimmy Nishida had to say, and finally he spoke:

”I don’t think anybody likes the idea of this house being built there,” he said, and my heart leapt.

But then he kept talking, telling the commissioners:

“You’ve gotta vote your conscience, but get all these issues of private property. Sometimes you sit on a commission and you make decisions you just don’t want to do.”

And my heart fell, because I knew then how he was going to vote, and that I wouldn’t like that expression of his conscience.

Only Commissioner Herman Texeira said no, he wouldn’t go along with the planning director’s recommendation:

“It seems the developer knew what the situation was. He went into this with his eyes wide open and then seemed to deliberately circumvent what was on the land.”

Then it was over, with the usual stunned, sad silence that always seems to follow any action, or more accurately, inaction, in this particular long-running matter, until one person in the audience broke it by calling out, “Shame!”

“You didn’t really think they’d do anything, did you?” asked an incredulous friend, who is also a veteran commission watcher, when I called to report the results.

Well, yes, I confessed, I did. Hope springs eternal.

Because surely, there's gotta be a way out of this. As Jimmy said, nobody really wants that house there atop all those burials. It's costing Brescia a fortune in legal fees, and what's the likelihood, anyway, that he'll be able to sell it?

So why, I keep wondering, does it keep going? Why does everyone keep passing on the issue, instead of risking the lawsuit, buying the house, taking a stand? How did it turn into this seemingly unstoppable runaway train, with people -- even those in positions of power -- joking about how the waves will one day take it out if someone doesn't burn it down first?

Jimmy said he wasn’t sure the Burial Council was really equipped to handle something like Honokahua — the massive burial disruption on Maui that prompted the burial treatment laws — and he thought it was likely that a similar situation existed up there at Naue, with burials crisscrossed through all the dunes that are now being filled up with houses.

Maybe they are equipped, and maybe they aren’t. But surely they aren’t if the other bodies that are supposed to work with and support the Burial Council, like the planning commission, keep cutting them off at the knees.

Who knows. Maybe this case will end up going all the way to the state Supreme Court, as Mauna Kea suggested, and the question of the Burial Council's authority will finally be resolved.

Who knows. Perhaps by that time Mauna Kea will have had his fill of the county and he'll be arguing the case himself -- on the Burial Council's side.

Hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Musings: Pondering the Path

It was very cold, dark and starry when I got home last night from the meeting on the Path. It went later than I, or probably most anyone, expected. It was still going when I left, four hours after it had started, and it continued into my dreams.

It was a classic Kauai public meeting, in terms of socializing with old friends and staging interesting side discussions, prompting Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., who had flown in from Oahu, to remark: “I wondered what you did at night, and now I know. It’s better than going out drinking.”

Yes, I replied, and you feel better in the morning.

The meeting, which was very well-attended by at least a couple hundred people, was not, as one snide commenter predicted on yesterday’s post, “a circus.” Well, except for the creepy part where Planning Director Ian Costa and his deputy, Imai Aiu, closed in bouncer-like on a guy who said something to the effect of “you’re a fraud, goddammit,” when deputy county attorney Maunakea Trask was saying there were no burials on the beach.

I and others thought they were gonna yank that guy right out of there and beat the shit out of him, and I wasn’t sure if the cops that moved in behind them were gonna help, or protect the guy. Imai even did the finger wagging in the face bit, before backing off and striding around, nostrils flaring, chest heaving.

Down, boys.

Let’s just say their behavior raised more than a few eyebrows….

The mayor was there, (although Beth Tokioka, unfortunately, was not), and to his credit, he appeared to be listening attentively, which is not an easy thing to do for hours on end.

Still, I couldn’t help but keep returning to a question that one person asked, early on, about why, exactly, we were having this meeting, since the mayor has already come out and said he wants the Path on the beach.

Bernard replied that he had brought in the experts — aka Path planners, and there’s a slew of them, which perhaps partly explains why it will cost $4.2 million to put a strip of recycled plastic on the beach — “because I wanted them to hear you speak and now is the time you folks going speak. I’m not gonna promise you that the decision is gonna be changed, but I want to hear what you folks have to say.”

He then went on to say: “We’re gathering information now” and “we held up this meeting from July so we could gather information.”

OK, so why, then, if you’re gathering information, have you already issued a decision? Which brings us back to the unanswered question of why, exactly, we were having the meeting.

That small matter aside, many of those who spoke were heartfelt and eloquent, hoping to convince the mayor both to change his mind, and not to.

Especially compelling was Val Ako, who was involved in exhuming and reinterring the 87 burials disturbed during construction of Coco Palms. “I don’t want the bike path in that particular location,” he said of the beach route. “It’s full of graves.”

And so, too, it seems, is the area behind Coco Palms.

As he and several others pointed out, including Alan Murakami, who referenced native accounts from kuleana awards as evidence, burials in that area stretch from the fish ponds to the sea.

Especially poignant, and cutting right to the heart of the matter, was Aikane Alapai, who observed: “We have been pushed to all the way of fighting for the sand, one of the smallest tangible things in the world.”

Wailua Beach, particularly coming on the heels of the burials dispute at Naue, is forcing the dominant culture to once again face those persistent, uncomfortable questions: how much, really, does the Hawaiian culture matter? Which Hawaiians are given credibility, and which are ignored? Who makes that call, and how it is justified?

My neighbor Andy and I have had heated discussions about that topic the past two mornings, and more are likely. Because as I see it, what this really comes down to is how exactly does a suppressed culture ever restore itself when that process inconveniences the dominant culture?

Getting back to the meeting, especially telling was one planner’s comment about the spur that’s planned to zig zag up the super steep hillside to the views afforded from atop Kawaihau. “I think this is gonna be a great destination,” he gushed. “Maybe people will even say ‘we did the Kawaihau section of the Path,’ like Lombard Street,” that steep twisty road in San Francisco.

Umm, so much for it not being aimed at tourists….

Especially thought provoking was Sabra Kauka’s comment that “anywhere we go in Wailua we will have an impact, so the question for us all, particularly those with the koko and those with the heart, is where we'll have the least amount of impact. …We came down to the coastal path.”

To which I would say, why, if we know there’s going to be an impact, must we proceed with this section of the Path? Isn’t there an alternative?

As farmer Jerry noted this morning, and the Sierra Club has also pointed out, there is the existing road that runs along the canal behind Coco Palms. Why can’t the Path run on top of it, so nothing new need be disturbed?

This is where Jan TenBruggencate and I disagree, and had an interesting discussion last night. He’s seen beach access disappear over his 50 to 60 years of coastal wanderings, and it’s come largely from development pressure. He worries we’ll lose more unless areas like the Path are set aside to ensure access for perpetuity, so he wants it to be as close to the coast as possible.

I share his concerns about coastal access. But it bother me to think that so many people never even walked along the coast until they had a concrete path to follow. That's really kind of pathetic, because it speaks to the way we've distanced ourselves from nature. Yes, we want to enjoy it, but we don't want to get our feet wet or dirty or devote the attention required to traverse an uneven surface. It’s even more disturbing to think the only way to ensure access is to homogenize it into a ADA-compliant, landscaped ribbon of concrete safe enough for a kid on a tricycle and cluttered with interpretive signs.

I mean, not everybody wants to use the coast in that contrived sort of way. As Jerry and I agreed, go ahead and have your path in urbanized areas like Kapaa and Wailua. But leave the last few bits of wild beach on the northeast side alone, PLEASE. And who is to say that expanding the Path, with its rules and regulations, won’t actually work to reduce beach access? If you’re a person with a dog, you can’t even cross the fricking path to get to the beach in those sections where dogs aren’t allowed. What about if the Path starts to break up or erode and the county closes it for liability reasons? And good luck trying to throw net when you’ve got a stream of joggers and strollers and bikes cruising through. In that way, the Path creates a new kind of development pressure that has the same effect of pushing people away from the beach, especially those who use it for subsistence purposes.

As Jan said, this mayor is sensitized to beach access issues, so let’s make the most of it. I agree. But that doesn’t mean full speed ahead on this expensive, artificial path.

Instead of spending millions on this project, why not start buying up some more easements, or acquiring them through eminent domain? Why not maintain and care for the accesses we have to ensure they’re not lost? Why not stop giving up access ways because of liability concerns? Why not start requiring coastal developers to provide vertical and/or lateral coastal access as a condition of their permits? Heck, they could have started with the Waipouli Resort, that monstrosity built atop burials where the coastal Path won`t actually run along the coast because it and adjacent properties said no, and the county caved in.

It was great to see so many people turn out last night, because as Jan said, it’s really good we’re having this discussion.

Let’s just hope it morphs into a broader fight to support cultural preservation and secure more mauka and makai access, rather than devolves into the usual polarization where we divide ourselves so the developers — and that includes Path planners — can easily conquer us once again.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Musings: Burial Obfuscations

I awoke several times in the night to see that moon, still incredibly bright, though shrinking, peering persistently through the skylight. My new house is so quiet that it was easy to linger in dreamland, and by the time Koko and I rolled out of bed, the sky was already stained orange-pink behind the Giant.

Waialeale wore just the faintest brush of fluff and all the other mountains, from Haupu to Makaleha, were clear. As we walked, shama thrush flitting in front of us, singing beside and above us, the sky and mountains turned gentle lavender before fading into the soft grey of a cloud-obscured sunrise.

The key cultural issue related to installing the Path on Wailua Beach — the possible presence of Hawaiian burials — will be similarly obscured under the stipulations contained in a 2006 Memorandum of Agreement between the feds, state and county. (Interestingly, the signature line for Office of Hawaiian Affairs was blank.)

The MOA acknowledges:

...this project has an “area of potential effects” consisting of lands that are either owned or under the jurisdiction of the County within project corridors generally located between Lydgate Park at Wailua north up to Kapaa Town, and situated from the shoreline inland up to Kuhio Highway...

Just so it’s clear, that means we’re talking about the beach. The MOA then goes on to stipulate that a monitoring plan shall be developed for the project “with provisions for addressing burial treatment that are to be implemented during construction activities.”

The MOA further stipulates (emphasis added):

[A-3]c. A follow-up monitoring report for the Undertaking shall be submitted to State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD). The monitoring report, containing the location and description of any human burial remain discovered during the course of the Undertaking shall remain confidential and the precise data may be provide in a separate confidential index.

In other words, even without conducting a full Archaeological Inventory Survey (AIS) of the area government officials know that it’s likely to have burials. But when they’re found, that information will be kept secret.

We may get an inkling under stipulation C-1 (emphasis added):

A burial treatment plan will be prepared when appropriate to address the preservation of any burials or other human remains encountered in the course of this project.

Unfortunately, it won’t ever be appropriate because any burials found will be “inadvertent discoveries,” which is what happens when you don’t do an AIS first to find out what’s there. And inadvertent discoveries are handled internally by SHPD — in other words, Nancy McMahon — not the Burial Council.

The MOA then goes on to say that:

The pertinent provisions of the KNIBC [Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council] approved burial treatment plan shall be executed prior the completion of the undertaking.

Just how meaningful is such a stipulation? As you may recall, the county Planning Commission approved Joe Brecia’s house at Naue on Dec. 11, 2007. That approval was conditioned on him meeting mitigation measures set forth by the Burial Council and SHPD. The Burial Council has yet to approve a burial treatment plan (BTP) for that property, which has some 30 known burials, seven of which are under the house. Judge Watanabe also found that Nancy McMahon failed to properly consult with the Council and other interested parties prior to approving “preservation measures” for the project, and ordered her to go back and do it right.

That was back in October 2008, and the Burial Council has yet to approve a new BTP.

Meanwhile, Brescia’s contractor has been busily building, and the house is nearly complete.

Now we’ve got Planning Director Ian Costa adding insult to injury with a report that will come before the Planning Commission at its meeting on Tuesday. In his report, dated Oct. 27, 2009, Ian recommends Commissioners reject a request from Puanani Rogers and Jeff Chandler to either revoke the panel’s prior approval of Brescia’s house plans, or amend its decision to specify that Brescia does not have approval to build over iwi kupuna without the express approval of the Burial Council and an approved BTP.

In his report, Ian comes to the conclusion that Brescia “has not failed to comply with the conditions of the Planning Commission.” He bases that conclusion on the circular argument that because the court found that Brescia has all the necessary approvals to construct his home, it must be legit, even though Ian knows darn well that the approvals were granted based on a SHPD preservation plan that the same court found to be invalid.

As the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. explained Judge Watanabe's ruling:

Besides, by concluding that Brescia does not have a validly approved burial treatment plan because Nancy McMahon had failed to properly consult in advance with the burial council, she was saying that a requirement of the State Historic Preservation and burial council, i.e., to have a valid burial treatment plan properly approved, had not been met.

So keeping this mess in mind, let’s return to the subject of the Path. Given the performance of Nancy McMahon and county on the Brescia issue, do you really feel confident that you can trust them to do the right thing if burials are found on Wailua Beach?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Musings: Constructed Wetlands

If you're interested in the issue of sewage treatment for the restrooms at Kee Beach in Haena State Park, here's a link to a story I wrote for The Hawaii Independent.

While the jury's still out on whether the state will be able to properly manage such a system at Kee, the concept of using a constructed wetlands approach to sewage treatment seems to be a good one. It's been used quite a bit in America for a number of years now, and is currently processing wastes from a slaughterhouse on Oahu.

Learning that made me think it might have applications here on Kauai, where efforts are under way to develop a mobile slaughterhouse facility that could help keep our ranching industry alive. At the moment, much of Kauai's ag land is being used for pastures, so if the cattle business folds, it could lead to increased development pressure.

Plus, if you are a meat-eater, the local grass-fed beef that is "born, raised and slaughtered on Kauai," as Kojima's advertises, is the best way to go. The animals are healthier, their meat has less fat so you'll stay healthier and they're not crowded into the feedlots that create really bad conditions for the animals and various environmental problems. The meat tastes way better, too, because the animals aren't fed all the hormones and antibiotics that are part of the feedlot scene. And there's no risk of mad cow disease because they're eating grass, like cows are supposed to, rather than chicken manure, feathers and other creepy crap that's forced on feedlot cattle.

It's also a way to support your local markets, as they're the only ones that stock the stuff. I always buy liver for Koko at Kojima's, and the other day ran into a guy who was picking up some kidney and bones for his happy dog.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Musings: Growth Industries

I saw the moon rise after dinner in Kapaa, all orange and lined with streaky clouds that gave it the appearance of Saturn, and later woke several times in the night to its bright, interrogating light. But I had nothing to confess save for fragments of vivid dreams.

It was still bright and bold, appearing larger than usual, when Koko and I went walking this morning in a brisk southeast wind that set the albezzia to creaking and made the ironwood moan.

Along the way we ran into my neighbor Andy, who said he thought he’d heard me on the radio yesterday afternoon, but he wasn’t sure, because it didn’t always sound like me, or at least, not the me with whom he’s accustomed to conversing.

It was a lively show, packed with constant calls about the bike path on Wailua Beach and other issues of cultural ignorance and disrespect, such as people piling up rocks along the Kalalau trail and leaving crystals on the heiau at Ke`e. One caller articulated the sentiments of local discontent and despair in the face of Western social, political and cultural constraints so eloquently that all I could do was thank him for sharing, even as I wished I could do something to ease his deep pain.

What he recounted, really, was how the forces of greed, dominance and insensitivity constantly chip away at both Hawaiian and local culture. I often think that if some of the cultural denigrators and land rape apologists really understood, on a feeling level, the resentment and pain that so many Hawaiians and locals carry, perhaps they would change their ways, or at least not be quite so cavalier. But I’m coming to believe that some people will never get it, at least not in this lifetime

Anyway, Kumu Kehau Kekua called in and talked about the cultural significance of Wailua simply by translating the place names for that area. I can’t remember all of them, but one meant “the sand dunes that conceal the bones.” It’s the place names that tell the truth and offer the “proof” of sacredness that the deniers demand, which is why it’s so important to use them and vigorously resist attempts by developers and realtors to make up names, like “Banana Beach” for Naue.

That’s their way of pretending that nothing existed prior to what they created, like the person who once told me that the North Shore was nothing, really, before Realtor John Ferry came in and “made it something,” forgetting, or perhaps never even cognizant of, the families that have lived there for centuries and the intrinsic sacredness of the place itself.

And that leads me to a comment that someone left on yesterday’s post:

Perfect, the hawaiian on Joans radio show just said that all of Kauai is sacred and you can't pick one part over another. There ya go. No doing nothing anywhere. It's all sacred.

I know it was meant to be snide, but here’s my reply: Great, you’re finally getting it. Yes, it is all sacred, so treat it with respect and avoid trashing it with all this willy nilly crap that neither we nor the `aina need, like a $4.2 million plastic bike path on one of the world’s most beautiful white sand beaches.

One caller raised the interesting idea that the path is tied into Homeland Security, creating a means for encircling and accessing the entire island for the purpose of monitoring and controlling its citizenry. (And caller, please correct me if I got that wrong.)

My co-host Caren Diamond observed that it’s part of the county’s desire to turn the island into a giant resort, with all the distinct communities homogenized by virtue of a manicured concrete path.

And that takes us once again to the issue of just how much Kauai should be altered to accommodate the tourists and the wealthy.

As Farmer Jerry noted: “I don’t know what they’re trying to do to this place, just change it some fantasy land where everything is artificial.”

Jerry, who yesterday told me of attending a meeting of the Business Council, said that Sue Kanoho, head of the Kauai Visitor Bureau, got a bit huffy when he suggested that tourism is no longer a growth industry.

Every industry has its peak, he said, recalling how government poured money into sugar in a last ditch effort to keep it alive after it had reached its peak. It still failed.

It seems that’s where we are now with tourism. The Garden Island yesterday reported on the $1 million in “stimulus” money directed to KVB, with both Sue and Councilman Dickie Chang, who originally introduced the bill, gushing about the good results and “return on investment.”

Yet even after reading the article, I remained unclear about exactly what they were.

Right now there’s only one growth industry on Kauai, Jerry said, and that’s selling off land for gentleman’s estates.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shoreline Issues

If you're interested in shoreline issues, check out my cover story in this week's Honolulu Weekly on how private landowners continue to encroach onto public beaches with their intentionally planted vegetation. It's a serious matter if you value our beaches.

And then tune in to KKCR from 4 to 6 p.m. today (FM 90.9, 91.9, 92.7 or, where my co-host Caren Diamond and I will be talking about various hot topics along the coast, including the path at Wailua, shoreline encroachment and the bathrooms at Ke`e. It's a call-in show, so join us with your questions and comments.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Musings: In the Piko

Koko and I set out walking this morning in the silvery bright path laid by an impossibly big moon that was so bright, my neighbor Andy said when he caught up to us, that you almost needed sunglasses.

And we stayed out long enough that when we returned, the sun was in our eyes, pink wisps had draped themselves over the gold-green summit of Makaleha and a small patch of mist rose from a damp nook in the pasture.

“What a glorious morning,” said Farmer Jerry, as he pulled over in the waning darkness for a few minutes to chat. He was on his way to a meeting to discuss how to fend off even more severe budget cuts expected for the Department of Agriculture and College of Tropical Ag. But despite his worry, he was buoyed by the beauty. “Just imagine what Ansel Adams would have done if he’d made it to Kauai.”

All the mountains were visible in the moonlight, and we could clearly see the bowl they formed, with us smack in the middle.

“The Hawaiians had it right,” Jerry said. “Wailua really is the piko. They had heiau going right up to the top of Waialeale. This is a sacred area. You really feel like you’re in the center of the universe here.”

Tis true. Kauai is the center of the universe, and Wailua is the center of that center.

Of course, Wailua isn’t the only sacred spot on Kauai. Last night I drove through the moonlight to Hanalei, where a meeting was being held about an innovative plan to use constructed wetlands to treat wastewater from the toilets at Ke`e, another extremely sacred area.

It seems something needs to be done, as with the current system, secondary effluent — sewage without the chunks — is now running over burials, the foundation of what is believed to be an alii’s house and other cultural sites.

My friends Ka`imi and Ka`ili, who farm the adjacent taro lands and have hopes of restoring the fish pond that could, in a worst case scenario, have semi-treated wastewater flow into it, were also there. They have been involved in the issue for three years, and the state has been forced to slowly bend its will — aided, in part, by the formal intervention filed by Ka`imi and other residents – in response to concerns voiced by the community.

Ka`imi and Ka`ili don’t like the current situation, but they aren’t thrilled with the plans for resolving it, either. They see it as undermining the cultural integrity of Kee, which they and others are working hard to restore.

“There you are, trying to do the protocol, and there’s a big holding tank full of shit behind barbed wire,” Ka`imi said.

They’d like to see the state “take the shit out of there,” Ka`imi said.

But what they’d really like is for the state to address the underlying issue: the extremely intense use of the area by tourists.

Because, quite frankly, tourists are the primary cause of all the shit that needs to be dealt with. Ke`e is one of — if not the most — heavily visited spots on the island. Most tourists go there for the snorkeling, sunsets and access to Kalalau Trail, and they have little understanding about the area’s cultural significance.

Recreation, not culture, has become the focus at Ke`e, and that’s what really rankles.

“It’s all being done to accommodate the tourists,” Ka`imi said of the wastewater project.

Yes, we all know that tourists bring the almighty Euros and yen and dollars. But does that mean that Hawaiians should be forced to choose between whether they want to have sewage flowing over their burials, or possibly into their loi and fish ponds?

How many times must we push them into that tight, unyielding space between a pohaku and a hard place, and then ridicule them for choosing their culture or denigrate them for slowing down “progress” if they resist?

Can’t we have some places where tourists just don’t go, or are only allowed in small numbers? Instead, the state is looking at how to bring in more, more, more.

Back at Wailua, a similar issue is playing out with plans to build the Path along the beach. It’s all about recreation, and Hawaiians who don't like that are being ridiculed for speaking up on behalf of their culture and denigrated for slowing down what some perceive as progress.

Yes, some local residents use the Path, just as some local residents use Ke`e — if they can find a parking space and bear the crowds. But let’s not pretend that the Path won’t be billed as another tourist attraction. Heck, it already is.

So why should Wailua, which is already heavily used, be compromised even more to accommodate recreation and the tourists especially when some Hawaiians object to it?

The state’s master plan for Ke`e also called for a bike path, but as Ka`ili said, “we crossed that right off the map. We don’t want it, and we don’t need it.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Musings: Tomorrow's Promise

It was hard to sleep through a night illuminated by a round fat moon, just one day short of fullness, which is why Koko and I were up and out beneath it several times, she growling at a neighbor’s trash can that looked slightly ominous in the shifting silver light.

By the time we finally got up for good, the clouds had blown away, leaving Wailaleale and Makaleha exposed, and we walked fast, in hopes of seeing the moon sink into the space between them. We were just a little too late, and farmer Jerry, who stopped along the road on his way to work, said he had watched it set while he was putting on his shoes.

Well, there’s always tomorrow, and the promise of another moonset.

It seems that for many Iraqis, especially children, tomorrow holds the promise of ill health, which appears to be linked to America’s war-waging there. As a Reuters article reports:

Incidences of cancer, deformed babies and other health problems have risen sharply, Iraqi officials say, and many suspect contamination from weapons used in years of war and accompanying unchecked pollution as a cause.

"We have seen new kinds of cancer that were not recorded in Iraq before war in 2003, types of fibrous (soft tissue) cancer and bone cancer. These refer clearly to radiation as a cause," said Jawad al-Ali, an oncologist in Iraq's second city of Basra.

The use of depleted uranium in U.S. and coalition weaponry in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait and the 2003 Iraq invasion is well documented, but establishing a link between the radioactive metal and health problems among Iraqis is hard, officials say.

And what about our own troops, and their exposure? Just something to think about as this giant uncontrolled experiment with DU continues and the Prez moves to ramp up the war in Afghanistan in a really big way, sending in an additional 30,000 to 35,000 troops for what, exactly?

I found it quite interesting that a Senate report confirmed that our supposed arch enemy, Osama bin Laden, was within reach of American troops way back in December 2001, but the typically gung ho Bush administration failed to make the full court press required to get him.

Now isn’t that convenient, seeing as how it helped provide some of the justification for invading Iraq and allowed for an additional eight years of conflict in Afghanistan, with no end in sight. You don’t want to catch the “bad guy” too fast when there are still so many billions to be made by the war machine.

And now here we go, deeper into the hole, both literally and figuratively.

So we’ve “liberated” Iraq, only to leave its citizens with a destroyed and toxic nation. Given that legacy, which is more likely, that the people of Afghanistan will welcome us with open arms, or align themselves with “insurgents” who promise to free them from our very real threat?

Obidullah Khan, resident of Kandahar: “If they (Americans) increase troops numbers they will bombard the houses of innocent people more, they will kill more innocent Muslims, they will search more houses and this is going to be a bad disaster for the country.”

You got that right.

Meanwhile, the supposedly liberal press continues to beat the drum for war, with the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting releasing the results of a study that found the nation’s two major newspapers have marginalized antiwar voices. As Democracy Now! reported:

In the New York Times, pro-war voices outnumbered anti-war ones by a ratio of five to one, while in the Washington Post the was ratio 10 to one.

Yet according to the study:

[P]olls throughout 2009 show a U.S. public divided on whether the war is even worth fighting, let alone in need of escalation. In three surveys since July, the AP/GfK poll has reported that at least 53 percent of respondents say they oppose the Afghanistan War ( In September, 51 percent told the Washington Post/ABC News poll (9/10–12/09) that the war was not “worth fighting”; only 46 percent said it was.

So if you’re against the war, no, you’re not alone. The media just want you to think that you are. Because war is very good for business.