Sunday, January 9, 2011

Musings: Words Have Consequences

I was lying in bed, a dog on either side — yes, Koko has a new friend, though she’s not yet entirely convinced Po`ele is one — thinking of how effective they were in warding off the chill, when I looked up at the skylight and saw a light bright as Venus pass overhead, moving much faster than a plane, but not nearly so fast as a meteor.

My curiosity aroused, I bundled up and we all went walking beneath a canopy of stars where nothing moved, save for a satellite and the planes — red lights blinking — approaching the airport in a part of the sky that was slowly beginning to brighten.

Back home, still bundled up because the temperature inside remains a brisk 59 degrees, I perused the Internet and noticed a headline about a “Tucson rampage,” which is the type of article I don’t usually read, until I saw that Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was among those wounded in a shooting that also left a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, along with four others, dead:

Greg Segalini, an uncle of the girl, told the Arizona Republic that a neighbor was going to the event and invited her along because she had just been elected to the student council and was interested in government.

What a tragic introduction to what is becoming the increasingly sordid world of politics, although it’s just one arena where, as I wrote in a post about Kahu Kaleo Patterson’s peace work, we can so clearly see “the subtle, and not so subtle, ways that violence has ingratiated itself into our culture through language.”

The connection between language and action, including the heavy use of gun imagery during the campaign by her re-election opponent, Jesse Kelly, wasn't lost on law enforcement investigating the mass shooting:

But in Pima County, Ariz., Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested "all this vitriol" in recent political discourse might be connected to Saturday's shootings. "This may be free speech," he told reporters, "but it's not without consequences."

Nor was it lost on political commentators, at least one of whom was quick to dismiss any link between Sarah Palin and her Facebook page map that depicted crosshair targets on the districts of Democrats she wanted to see defeated, including Giffords', and who Tweeted: “"Don't retreat, RELOAD!" As The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz wrote, perhaps to ease his own guilt over routinely using violent language:

Let's be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn't act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?

That’s just the point. Our use of violent language has become so routine that we express surprise when someone who is obviously mentally ill takes it to heart and acts upon the underlying message.

While we’re talking about language and the mentally ill, I want to take The Garden Island to task for its really unfortunate and insensitive repeated use of the phrase “Crazy Carrie,” in both its headline and article on the arrest of a Kilauea woman for attempted murder. Yeah, it makes for some sensational copy, but it also perpetuates old stigmas and stereotypes. And if writer Leo Azumbuja didn’t understand that, his editor certainly should have.

And while we’re talking about Leo, his article today on the County Council rules subcommittee resolution that I wrote about last week contained an error that unfairly cast Councilman Mel Rapozo in a bad light:

Rapozo, however, ended [sic] breaking one of the rules by speaking for seven minutes, right after criticizing council members for breaking the same rule. The rules allow council members to speak for five minutes on a given subject.

As Mel noted in the comment section:

If you were paying attention, you would have known that the rules allow council members to speak for 10 minutes on any given subject, not five as you reported. This is another example of how your paper misinforms the public at the expense of others. Don't even bother putting in a correction. I think the people have come to learn that the stories in the Garden Island must be validated by independent sources.

It does seem that Leo, who unquestioningly reports whatever Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum tell him, which led to a series of attack articles on County Clerk Peter Nakamura, has something against Mel. You may recall Leo described Mel as a “noisemaker” in an embarrassingly bad article on the new Council, where he fawned over JoAnn and offered some bizarre, yet flattering, observations on the other members.

JoAnn, as I feared, appears poised to use the rules subcommittee as an opportunity to continue her vendetta against Peter, who apparently didn’t step and fetch high and fast enough to suit her when she was mayor and pulling such stunts as sending him faxes on his honeymoon and calling him away from the hospital bed of his dying father.

She used the discussion about the subcommittee resolution to claim once again that the Council apparently hadn’t followed its rules in giving Peter a pay raise by saying it hadn’t been granted by a physical majority of the Council. She and Tim like to conveniently forget that the entire Council unanimously received the Salary Commission resolution establishing the raise after County Attorney Al Castillo made it crystal clear that such a vote meant the raises would go through.

And since this post is about language and its consequences, I’d like to point out that the big problem I have with JoAnn is not that she raised the issue of how Peter got his raise but that she did it through a deliberate smear that she knew was entirely unsubstantiated:

Second, there are issues which due diligence requires be cleared up before I can vote for Mr. Nakamura. The most serious is a 2009 pay raise that Mr. Nakamura accepted which he knew, or should have known, was not legal.

Which leads me to Tim’s recent claim that he didn’t want the pay raise that the Council also gave itself in receiving the resolution establishing the raise for Peter and others. In fact, Tim even claimed that he tried to give it back, but the Charter forbade it.

If that’s the truth, then why didn’t he also object to the Council pay raise in the April 1, 2010 letter (scroll down toward the end of the PDF) he submitted to the Salary Commission? Instead, Tim asked only that the panel revise the salaries of the Clerk, County Auditor and County Prosecutor. There was nary a peep about revoking the pay raises for himself and the other Councilmembers. How curious, for someone who supposedly didn't want his own raise.

As we all know, words have consequences. Especially when they’re false and/or incite others to commit violent acts.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you recognize that The Garden Island newspaper is the news as Tim Bynum sees it. It has been that way for a long time now. Not sure why that is. Maybe that is why they are not covering his planning violations that he disclosed to the public during a Council meeting.

Anonymous said...

Maybe because he, like they are new here, so they want kauai to be 'in their image".
Tim just looks extra self serving, like he is.I'll take Mel's candor anyday.

Larry said...

This country is amazingly violent. It's not just words and the killing metaphors that are used. It's movies, video games, everything about our foreign relations, support of gun sales, etc.

We support military dictatorships, overthrow elected leaders, carpet bomb, fire bomb, drop cluster munitions, assassinate, torture, support brutal regimes like Israel, etc.

There's been surprisingly little objection to our use of torture. You'd think the American public would object, just a little, but no.

Anonymous said...

EVERYONE in the public debate on Kauai needs to tone down the rhetoric. One council member's talk about "transplants" drips with racist hatred. Another former councilperson speaks routinely with similar coded hate words. Another council member makes throat slit gestures. Bloggers refer to public figures like they are sub-human, deserving of sheer contempt. On a national level the congresswoman in the ad with the crosshairs gets shot. On Kauai a caucasion gets shot by a local in a drug crime. While true that the government officials didn't pull triggers in each case one wonders if they have not helped created the climate of hate that made an unbalanced criminal pull the trigger. All of you should be ashamed. Mel-hatres, Bynum-haters, TVR haters, rich people-haters, racist haoles, racist locals - all so convinced that your so right about everything that anyone who differs is fair game for coded hate talk and ridicule. You all suck and you all contribute to a society where we are less and les safe.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone complain about the "Council" idiots just voted them into office !!! Tell me again why voting works?

Anonymous said...

"All of you should be ashamed. Mel-hatres, Bynum-haters, TVR haters, rich people-haters, racist haoles, racist locals - all so convinced that your so right about everything that anyone who differs is fair game for coded hate talk and ridicule. You all suck and you all contribute to a society where we are less and les safe."

While you, of course, obviously love everyone and engage in absolutely no hate talk.

Anonymous said...

It's a good thing that Mel is back. In fact, I think all of them actually have something to contribute with the exception of Dickie Chang. He seems to be lost out there and just follows along and when he does talk it is basically full of platitudes. Totally meaningless. I still think that Kawakami or Rapozo should be vice chair. Jay is going to need the help. Well actually since he is a puppet for JoAnn and Tim, he is probably going to do just fine. And with Dickie turning his back on the local people they seem to have a solid block. That leaves Nakamura sitting on the fence. Although I think she is smart enough to realize the games that Yukimura and Bynum play and that Jay is the type of Captain that would abandon ship first thing and let his passengers sink. This chair is spineless. That's the only reason why they are doing these sub committees. He can't call the shots.

Anonymous said...

"On Kauai a caucasion gets shot by a local in a drug crime."

That's a drug crime. Don't try to make it into a hate crime.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree that Dickie Chang is taking up space. He was Kaipo's lap dog and now he has a new master Jay "I done it all" Furfaro. Only thing this time Bynum and Yukimura all have a hold on his leash. Totally useless. Oh well, maybe Kipu Kai can knock him off in two years.

Anonymous said...

If you listen to AM talk radio, you'd be asking yourself why it doesn't happen more often. There are some sick fuckheads on the airwaves pumping up trigger happy loonies. Disgusting.

Anonymous said...

words don't kill people. people kill people. Words are just verbal expressions of ideas. people have murdered people based on words from the bible, koran, and commie manifesto.
you can't censor speech because most times words have no consequences. only actions have consequences

Anonymous said...

"How can anyone complain about the "Council" idiots just voted them into office !!! Tell me again why voting works?'

duh ican complain cause no one i voted for got elected so use less tar and a smaller brush and try tink refis!

Anonymous said...

"“In Arkansas, we have eyewitness accounts that professional-grade fireworks were set off in a town near a known blackbird roost,” she said, “and that birds flushed from the roost and flew in a single direction at lower levels than they would normally fly. We know that they cannot see well in the dark and we know they were seen crashing into buildings and cars and poles. Necropsies show blunt force trauma to brain and breast.”

As for the hundreds of red-winged blackbirds found dead in Pointe Coupee Parish, La., a few hundred miles from the Arkansas die-off site, they were found along rural roads under power lines, which are thin and difficult to see at night. The theory is that those birds were also spooked by holiday fireworks, and ran into the lines."

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:17...are you trying to sound dumb?..or do you have a point to make?

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:12

My point is u tink all readers of this blog voted the current council into office. jus a heads up u are sadly mistaken my fren

Anonymous said...

unfortunately, you sometimes mislead people with your words by not including the whole truth, which leads to mis-interpretation.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:12 Yours is a false assumption...and we are not friends.

Joan Conrow said...

unfortunately, you sometimes mislead people with your words by not including the whole truth, which leads to mis-interpretation.

You, or another of the indistinguishable Anons., frequently make that assertion, so let me set you straight once and for all. I can't always include every bit of information about everything I'm covering due to time constraints. This is a freebie, buddy, and I try to knock it out in an hour or so before work. I'm also trying to write something that flows well, and I try to keep the posts relatively short. I never intentionally mislead readers by "not including the whole truth," and anyway, people have very different ideas of what "the whole truth" is.

I cannot be responsible for the misinterpretations of those who have poor reading comprehension skills, skim, don't want to accept what I write or just want to ding me about something.

If you have something of substance to add to a post, or a correction, you're always welcome to leave a comment. If you just don't like what I write, you're free to stop reading at any time.

Anonymous said...

Joan...My advice is not to feed the trolls.