Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Musings: Piggies

The canopy of stars that gleamed in the night were gone by the time Koko, Pa`ele and I went walking, smothered by clouds and dimmed by the first light of day. Yet Venus twinkled on, sandwiched between two gray smudges.

I’m often struck by the vibrancy of dawn sound: the roar of the ocean miles away, the intense twittering of waking birds massed in the trees, the whisper of wind slipping through the trees, and today, the grunting of a pigs in bushes right alongside the road, which got the dogs very worked up.

As frequent readers of this blog well know, I tend to get worked up over rich people acting like piggies. I thought about that when I went to Kauapea Beach yesterday and saw the Keep Out and No Trespassing signs posted by wealthy landowners whose plants, sprinkler heads, irrigation runoff and greenwaste extend into the public easement. I wanted to turn the signs around so they were facing into the “private property,” but I figured the owners likely wouldn’t catch my drift, or even see it, because in so many of these places, the lights are on, the refrigerators, dehumidifiers and pond/pool pumps are running, but no one is home.

I thought about it when a friend told of being sent to a remodel job overlooking Hanalei Bay, where he saw a perfectly good, very new, upscale house being totally torn up — we’re talking jack-hammering the slate around the pool, ripping out custom-made cabinets, covering over a marble floor and more — because the new owners wanted "something different." It left him with a sick, disgusted feeling, he said, and the others on the job felt the same way, seeing all the hard work of the tradesmen before them destroyed, all those expensive materials being trashed and sent to the dump, though they salvaged what they could.

And I thought about it when I read about the Oxfam report that warns the price of food staples will double in the next 20 years, pushing even more people into poverty. Already, some 925 million people go hungry every day. As the Guardian reports:

A devastating combination of factors – climate change, depleting natural resources, a global scramble for land and water, the rush to turn food into biofuels, a growing global population, and changing diets – have created the conditions for an increase in deep poverty.

[Oxfam] said global food reserves must be urgently increased and western governments must end biofuels policies that divert food to fuel for cars.

It also attacked excessive corporate concentration in the food sector, particularly in grain trading and in seed and agrochemicals.

The Oxfam report followed warnings from the UN last week that food prices are likely to hit new highs in the next few weeks, triggering unrest in developing countries. The average global price of cereals jumped by 71% to a new record in the year to April last month.

The World Bank warned last month that rising food prices have pushed 44 million people into poverty since last June.

In this case, the rich piggies are all we “First Worlders,” especially Americans, with our addiction to cheap energy, insatiable hunger for double bacon cheeseburgers, propensity to buy more than we need at super stores like Costco, and then throw much of it away, and tendency to eat too damn much.

And then there are those who speculate and trade on the misery of others. As Reuters reports,

"This report from Oxfam re-emphasizes the need to address food security in the context of poverty alleviation," [Martin Mortimer, director of the University of Liverpool's Food Security Network] said.

The report said the shortcomings of the food system flowed from failures of government to regulate and to invest, which meant that companies, interest groups and elites had been able to plunder resources.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports, demand is increasing, even as production declines:

The average growth rate in agricultural yields has almost halved since 1990 and is set to decline to a fraction of one percent in the next decade while increasing regional and local crises could double the need for food aid in the next 10 years.

But it doesn’t seem we piggies are too good at heeding warnings. I mean, how many have we gotten about the need to reduce carbon emissions NOW? Yet as the International Energy Agency reported yesterday:

Energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2010 were the highest in history.
After a dip in 2009 caused by the global financial crisis, emissions are estimated to have climbed to a record 30.6 Gigatonnes (Gt), a 5% jump from the previous record year in 2008, when levels reached 29.3 Gt.

In addition, the IEA has estimated that 80% of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today. 

“This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2ºC,” said Dr Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the IEA who oversees the annual World Energy Outlook, the Agency’s flagship publication.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Musings: Real and Fake

A light rain had just passed and Makaleha was cast in a pale pink glow when the dogs and I set out toward the place where the sun was getting rosy on the horizon. I didn’t know exactly where we were going, only that it was makai.

We followed a rainbow and ended up on the thick sands of Kauapea, the beach so wide that in places I could sit and not even see the sea, making it feel almost like I was in a desert landscape. Since it’s Memorial Day, I thought of all the warriors who had been killed in that place — the site of many horrific battles in days of old, or so I’ve been told — and of all the death that humans have meted out to one another for what somebody thought was a worthy cause, a good enough reason.

And that made me think of my friend Kaimi, who stopped by last night after spending the past two weeks in New York. He, and a few other denizens of the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi (PKOA) were attending a World Indigenous Persons conference at the United Nations.

There were plenty of sad stories to be told and heard, and he recounted some of them: gang rapes, disappeared relatives, orphaned children soldiers, immigrants gunned down at the U.S.-Mexico border, rocket attacks in Gaza — the experiences of indigenous people who had survived, and sometimes still lived with, intense violence. It provided a sobering global context for the struggle that kanaka maoli face in regaining their nation, living with an occupation.

“At least we’re not getting bombed,” he said.

We were silent, as that fortunate reality sank in fully. He broke it with the heartfelt utterance of a question that bears repeated asking: “Why does there even have to be war?”

He was carrying a passport — the result of a friendship forged with a Cherokee man on an earlier visit to the UN — issued to him by the United Nations of Turtle Island as a diplomat with the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi.

“I used it at the airport, on my way back from New York,” he reported. “The TSA guy who checks your ID got all excited. He was like, ‘OMG, does this mean you guys finally broke away from the United States?’”

Which gave Kaimi an opportunity to explain that the Hawaiian Kingdom never was part of the U.S. because it was illegally overthrown and annexed. The agent called over his supervisor and co-workers, showing them the passport and saying, “We’re going to be seeing more of these now.”

Kaimi said the PKOA has been forming treaties with other nations, gaining recognition, making international connections. On this visit, they reportedly even forged an alliance with some folks who want to help fund efforts to grow jatropha, a plant used in biofuel production, rather than GMO crops on the Westside.

While not everyone they encountered knew about Alii Nui Dayne Aipoalani, they were all familiar with what had happened to the indigenous people of Hawaii. And while different indigenous groups were pressing different issues, Kaimi said a common theme ran through: "Ask permission, and give them the right to practice their own spirituality.”

Those representing the PKOA weren’t the only kanaka in attendance. Kaimi said they also ran into some who were advocating “nationhood OHA-style, for Hawaiian-Americans,” as well as others who were presenting themselves as someone, or something, they were not.

“It’s not just our nation that has this going on,” Kaimi said. As he surveyed the crowds attending the sessions, listened to representatives from nations large and small, heard stories of indigenous movements co-opted by governments, corporations, infighting, greed, he found himself scrutinizing.

"It's the hardest thing, you know, figuring out, who is the faker? And who is the real group?"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Musings: Wala'au with the Mayor

I went to see Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. yesterday.

He’d called me last week, and asked if I’d be willing to sit down and talk story. We'd met, but never really had a discussion.

“Sure,” I said. Because I’m always open to talking to the people I write about. I mean, fair is fair. But few ever call; instead, their wives and attorneys post nasty anonymous comments. Yes, I know who some of you are.

“Maybe he’s going to offer you a job,” suggested an idealistic friend.

“Ummm, I don’t think so,” I said, reminding her that I’d neither assisted the mayor’s campaign, nor voted for him.

“Ask how big was the envelop starwood gave him wen he wen 2 ask them 2 hire local instead of tht Mexican crew frm Texas,” texted a more cynical friend.

He kept me waiting just a few minutes, then ushered me into the spacious office I hadn’t entered since it was occupied by Bryan Baptiste. Mary Daubert didn’t follow us in, and Beth Tokioka wasn’t there, either. In other words, I was going to get the mayor unembellished. I took that as a good sign.

After a bit of small talk, he made the reason for our get-together clear: he wanted to know the person behind the blog. Like others — most recently, Joel Guy, who expressed trepidation about our first meeting — he seemed surprised to discover I’m neither mean nor scary. I think “cool” was the word they both used. Must be my multi-colored hair, which gives me a chance to plug my fab stylist, HS Ferreira.

Bernard then said he was opening the door for me to call him any time, and asked if I had any questions. The first one to pop into my head addressed an issue that, unbeknownst known to me, Councilman KipuKai Kualii had raised quite eloquently and astutely that very same day before voting on the budget: the mayor’s five new hires, and their sizable salaries.

As The Garden Island reports today in its account of the Council budget vote and discussion:

“Four of these five positions were dollar-funded positions, additions to the budget that the mayor chose to make,” [Kualii] said. “The council needs to have full budgetary powers in order to protect the interests of our citizens by being a check and balance of the administration on all expenditures, especially salaries. If it takes changing the law then that needs to happen.

“It’s against the interest of the community to give council authority for budgetary oversight when it comes to taking on new expenditures in excess of $6,500 for equipment, furniture and vehicles in the middle of the fiscal year but not have a law to prevent the manipulation of vacant or dollar-funded positions resulting in several new positions each costing over $100,000, positions that some citizens have brought to my attention as unnecessary political hires,” Kuali‘i said.

KipuKai also provided the paper with a rundown on those five positions that outlined the old and new job titles and salary. It includes the Special Assistant to the Housing Director position created for Imai Aiu when he was moved out of the planning department — a topic addressed in my second question, which I’ll discuss in another post — as well as an administrative aide, an executive assistant, an Environmental Services Officer and a Risk Management Administrator. Combined, they’re making $430,252 per year, plus $208,455 in benefits.

In explaining the rationale behind his hires, the mayor used a football metaphor that placed him as the quarterback in the line up. “I gotta be able to trust the guys on either side of me,” said the former Miami Dolphins player, looking right and left, his face and voice registering excitement. I could imagine him preparing to hike the pigskin. “I don’t ask how much they’re making, I just know they’re gonna be able to run with the ball and make a touchdown.”

It seems that Bernard, who advanced from the rank and file during his 26 years with the county, knows how difficult it can be to light a fire under the butts of some county workers, is aware of their tendency to cruise and wait out the term of the newest mayor. After sitting in the mayor’s chair for two years, fulfilling the term and agenda of the late Mayor Baptiste, he was eager now to make his own mark, advance his own ideas. And to do that, he said, he knew he needed to put people he could trust, and whom he could personally hold accountable, in some key positions.

He acknowledges their participation in his campaign, and is aware that some of us view it as political patronage. He, however, sees it as insurance that at least some of the changes he envisions will occur.

This was followed by a rather lengthy monologue, as is the nature of most politicians, about his efforts to reorganize and better organize the workings of the county, as well as some aspects of his vision, such as creating an online tracking system for capital improvement projects and a policy and procedures manual for new hires; training staff in sexual harassment; and other administrative housekeeping measures that one would think would already be in place, but apparently aren’t.

It became clear, while listening, that the mayor is smarter than I’d thought, in that he is at least able to see the bigger picture and what needs to be tweaked to make it function better.

I also can understand why he, as captain, wants to assemble his own team of trusted players.

But that doesn't change the fact that we, the voters, need to be able to trust him, which is why I agree with KipuKai’s position on the mayor's new hires:

“Having the council approve these changes to positions in between budgets and prior to any actual hiring would prevent the administration from acting alone and would restore the public’s confidence in our county hiring process.”

I also happen to agree with Councilman Mel Rapozo on the overall budget presented by the mayor, against which he cast the lone vote in opposition:

“The philosophy I thought this year was to reduce and we didn’t,” Rapozo said. “We increased and we increased substantially.” He said he believes the increased spending sends the wrong message to the state, to the Federal government and to voters.

Especially after some county workers lost substantial pay during the furloughs.

"So is there anything you want to ask me, or say about anything I've written?" I asked the mayor, in the spirit of fair play.

“Some of the things you've written have been hurtful," he said. "Not to me, because I'm a big boy, and I can take it, but to my family."

I winced, though only a little, because I'm sorry, but it goes with the territory.

"And some of it has been just been plain wrong," he continued.

I don't doubt it.

"But I don’t expect you to always agree with me, and I would never ask you to change anything you’ve been doing,” said the mayor, who, having majored in communications and worked briefly at KGMB, said he understands the role of a journalist.

That's good, and as it should be.

Still, he’s politically savvy enough to know that it’s easier for a journalist to inflict damage from a Predator drone than to thrust a bayonet while looking into the eyes of your opponent.

But at least now I know I can call Bernard directly and say, "Hey, what's up with that?" And I imagine that from now on he'll be doing the same with me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Musings: Guinea Pigs

The wind sang a sweet shush-shash song in the ironwoods outside my bedroom all night long, delivering a lullaby that was suitably lulling until a waning half moon peeked through the trees in the first inkling of dawn.

Roused, like the roosters, by the light, Koko, Paele and I soon were out walking, heading into that brisk wind, which carried the faintest trace of rain from the black fringe blowing mauka above a swath of pale apricot-colored sky.

President Obama is blowing smoke over in the UK, telling both Houses of the British Parliament that the U.S. and Britain remain, according to a New York Times report, “’indispensible’ nations for peace and stability” — even as the two countries continue to feed the carnage and instability in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and “turn up the heat” in Libya with air strikes that are almost certainly killing the civilians they’re intended to protect.

We’re supplying the drones, while France — and soon Britain — are using attack helicopters, supposedly to ensure more precise killing. Oh, yes, those "surgical" air strikes.

It brought to mind a long article I recently read in the Los Angeles Times that detailed a Predator drone attack that went way wrong in Afghanistan, killing 15 to 23 people (depending on whether you believe the U.S. military or elders from an Afghan village). All of the dead and injured were unarmed civilians, including two little boys.

The story, though difficult to read, showed clearly the problems associated with drone warfare. It seems that even advanced technology can’t override the biases and assumptions that come into play when you’ve got guys eager to gun somebody down — at no personal risk to themselves.

While we’re on the topic of the military, I got an email with a link to an article published on Al — as in short for Alabama — .com about Austal USA and the ferry-builder’s fast foray into American military contracts. It noted:

Its most prominent commercial contract was a $190 million deal to build two ships for Hawaii Superferry Inc. That deal turned into a quagmire for the shipbuilder. A judge made the Hawaiian company stop operating the ferry service because of environmental concerns. That caused Superferry to file for bankruptcy, forcing Austal to eat a $23 million loan it made to the company.

Still, that $23 million was chump change, considering what came next:

In 2008 Austal won a $1.6 billion deal with the U.S. Army and Navy to build 10 high-speed vessels, which were basically militarized versions of the ferries it built for Hawaii.

But no, we weren’t guinea pigs.

Speaking of guinea pigs, France's Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety is saying another 70,000 people should be moved from an area outside the Fukushima evacuation zone because it's contaminated by radiation from the crippled nuke plants.

What I find interesting are all the assurances of “don’t worry, no problem,” from officials in Japan and elsewhere, even as every report from the plant indicates damage is greater than initially thought and reported, and it’s not yet clear just how much radiation has leaked out.

Meanwhile, The Mainichi Daily News is reporting that thousands of nuclear plant workers suffered internal radiation after apparently inhaling radioactive substances while visiting Fukushima Prefecture.

A special earthquake-resistant building that serves as a base for emergency workers at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant had its doors strained by hydrogen explosions at the No. 1 and 3 reactors in March, making it easier for radioactive substances to come in. "We had meals there, so I think radioactive substances came into our bodies," a male worker in his 40s said. "We just drink beer and wash them down," he added.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Musings: They're Back

I heard my first Newell’s shearwater of the season on Saturday morning, that distinctive braying-wheezing call, directly overhead, low and close, sending a shiver through my body as I stood outside with the dogs in the damp grass and darkness of 4:30 a.m.

“They’re back,” I thought with a thrill that was shortly followed by a sense of foreboding and the second thought, “I hope I don’t find any dead ones this year.”

Or as a friend in the Midwest wrote this morning, after stopping to move off the highway an opossum that had regularly visited her home, and was now dying after being hit by a car: “There's the worry about creatures trying to navigate a human world...”

Especially one that’s hostile.

But still, there are people who care, like my friend, who paid enough attention to recognize that little opossum by its markings, and another friend, who reported hearing first the faint calls of a Newell’s last week, and then heartier, more robust calls this past weekend, and Kathy Valier, whose heart was so touched by finding a downed Newell’s chick last fall that she helped out at the SOS (Save Our Shearwater) program and just returned from five weeks of volunteering at the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust in Slimbride, England, where they reared nene in the 1950s for release in Hawaii.

While there, she kept a thoughtful, photo-heavy blog that recorded some of her encounters with nene, Laysan ducks and other birds. It’s definitely worth checking out.

And I had the opportunity to see an adult Laysan albatross feeding its hungry chick this past weekend. I’d always heard that they feed the chicks squid oil, but this meal was all squid and fish, in copious quantities.

As the hungry chick pecked at the parent’s bill, the parent regurgitated the partially digested fish and deposited it directly into the chick’s gaping mouth, without a speck of waste. This was repeated numerous times, over the span of about 10 minutes, then the parent headed over to the bluff and flew out to sea to catch another meal. The chick, almost as tall as its parent, and chubbier, waddled after it, still making its feeding cry, then returned for a nap in its nest beneath an ironwood tree.

The albatross chicks will be leaving in another month or so to begin their lives at sea.

It’s been a rough year for the albatrosses on Kauai, with a lot of egg abandonment, avian pox (a sometimes fatal disease spread by mosquitoes) and even crossbill, a deformity caused by pox that will prevent the chick from feeding itself upon maturity.

The chicks reared on private lands have apparently fared better than those hatched at the Kilauea Lighthouse, for reasons that remain unclear. Overall, it seems that food has been an issue, as is often the case in a La Nina year.

But as with everything, there's still so much we don't know.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Musings: On the Fence

At the beach, saturated in shimmer intensified by the wind-roughened ripple of the sea’s surface, looking for glass glinting in white light low on the horizon and finding that today it was delivered in cubes, rectangles, squares, while on other days, all the glass that washes in is triangle-shaped, and still other days, a mix, and I wondered, was it a factor of sand, current, tide, or sheer coincidence, and was the same true at any other beach?

The fence went up at the Lepeuli Beach trailhead yesterday, blocking off the lateral access.

And the world did not end, even though Bruce Laymon had clearly tempted fate by installing it on May 21.

I didn’t know it was going to happen. I just happened to be in the neighborhood, meeting a friend who said, “I heard the fence went up this morning. I thought you might want to check it out.”


“I expected protests,” she said when we got there. “But there’s nothing.”

“Well, there’s not much anybody can do about it now, except cut it or climb it, and either way, they risk arrest.”

It’s a strong and serious fence, with barbed wire around the top and numerous red-lettered signs that proclaim PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESSPASSING.

I don’t like fences, especially near the beach.

Still, I totally understand why he did it. Keeping cattle in is only part of it. Quite frankly, it’s the only thing that would keep me, and everyone else who has ever used that path, out.

Besides, let’s not forget that there is, after all, another perfectly good access right there, and it had been freshly weed-whacked to make its presence quite clear.

“That’s it?” said my friend. “From what I’d heard, I thought you had to scale rocks, risk life and limb. It doesn’t look bad at all.”

“It's not,” I replied. “That’s been totally overblown. Most anyone could go down it.”

“Except, for some reason, the nudists,” she said.

Yes. Strange, that.

Later, when I got home, I found an email with photos that lateral access advocates had sent around, including one of three women, with the caption:

And red shirted Nyoc-Lan Pham who was on a family pilgimage.
Her husband died at Larsen's Beach 11 years ago.
She wanted to see the beach "and touch the water" where her husband died..
Unfortunately a head injury a couple of years ago has left her weak.
Her family tried to lead her down the steep trail (one in front, one behind) but she couldn't make it.

I wonder, did those who heard her story suggest she call Bruce? Because I’m pretty sure he would have been happy to drive her. And did her husband drown because the lateral trail made it oh so very easy to access the dangerous waters of that beautiful beach?

I know that some are very worked up about the fence. I’m not one of them, primarily because we still have an access. Anyway, I believe it’s going to be better for the albatross and shearwaters, because it encloses the area under the ironwoods where they like to nest. And if it does, indeed, discourage the hordes, then it will also help resting seals and nesting turtles, which benefit from fewer humans in their midst.

I am, however, very interested in the question of whether the trail it blocks is a traditional ala loa — an issue that will be decided by the courts, and not Bruce Laymon’s fence or those who prefer to sunbathe in the nude — an activity I do not, btw, in any way oppose. I just never could understand why they couldn't use the public trail.

At the moment, I’m more concerned about the future of the ag lands that front and surround that still wild beach — lands that are owned by the nonprofit Waioli Corp., which so far has resisted pressure to sell; Falko Partners, whose future development plans can be guessed, and Tom McCloskey, who currently has a big chunk on the market at a price that precludes anyone growing something legal.

Do we really want our coastline to be Luxeville all the way from Aliomanu to Ke`e? Because, you know, that’s exactly where we’re heading.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Musings: On Trust

Dew dripped from the eaves and ivory clouds waltzed with an egg-shaped white moon when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. A fiery patch in the east blazed briefly, then was extinguished, as the world entered that time of birdsong-infused grayness that precedes the dawn.

It announced its arrival by staining western clouds pink, as I picked a few surviving blossoms from a gardenia bush whose flowers had mostly succumbed to heat exhaustion and thrips. Then a shaft of sunlight stretched out and touched Makaleha, turning her southern-facing slopes lime green before a shower blew down from the summit, pulling a lacy curtain over the ridges as a rainbow arched up into the heavens.

So much beauty is offered up to us each day.

I haven’t had much time to devote to blogging lately, seeing as how my Internet was down this past week and I’ve been busy with work, moving and the other aspects of life. But I do read all the comments, and while many can be easily dismissed, some prompt reflection.

I especially liked this one from the last post, which was on sustainability:

Another word that has been contorted, distorted, diluted so much that it is now a misnomer.
And NONE of them truly knows or understands the word/meaning.
 So letʻs try a meaningful phrase to replace it: how about, Living Without Corporate Dictatorship.

Ya know, that pretty much sums it up. Imagine, a world without sponsors.

And then there was this one, which was posted a while ago, but it stuck in my head:

Good column and blog but.... The theme all the time is: don't trust no one or what they say.

 That's a hard tack to take through life, must be hard on the mind all the time. 

Give us something you DO trust and believe in :)

It’s true. After three decades of reporting, I’ve learned not to trust government, or really any system or institution. But I do trust people who have proven to be trustworthy.

Primarily, though, I trust my own powers of discernment, my own heart, my own knowing, the messages and direction I receive from my own na`au.

It’s taken me a long time to first develop that trust, and then make it unshakeable, and the process has been facilitated by many metaphysical tools, as well as therapy and extensive introspection, as in “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

But the most profound tool I’ve found is IQM — Integrative Quantum Medicine — which is aptly described on its website as the art of energy, the art of empowerment.

I mention it in today’s post because Louise Mita, its founder, is offering a workshop this weekend on Kauai.

I was skeptical when I first heard about IQM, and only attended the introductory meeting because it was being held at the home of a trusted friend. But after seeing Louise in action, I thought, I want to learn how to do this, and on the way home, I thought, with intense excitement, this is going to change my life.

It has. It’s hard to describe, but it’s primarily a process for learning to trust yourself, to tune in and get answers; in short, to know and use the power we all have.

It’s not a membership thing, a religion, or a cult, and you don’t have to pledge allegiance to anyone or anything.

I use IQM every day, for healing, guidance, protection, clarity. It’s never once failed me, and most important, it’s worked to eliminate all insecurity and fear. Because there’s a solidness and profound sense of freedom that’s achieved when you learn how to function from your na’au.

But don't take my word for it. Find out for yourself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Musings: Ignorance Is Bliss

The roosters were screaming at a one-day-past-full moon that was sliding down in a snakeskin cloud sky when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. We headed east, looking up, where the world was growing light, rather than down, where it remained dark, walking toward the place where the first streaks of pale gold were turning into soft brush strokes of pink, past the goats lying peacefully in dew-damp pastures, past more roosters, past a stream that gurgled softly, toward Venus, brighter even than the brightness of approaching dawn.

By the time we returned, the birds that live in my yard were singing and twittering more loudly than the roosters, and the rosy flush had stretched all the way across the heavens to turn the verdant slopes of Makaleha into rust, the first of many shifts it will experience this day — heck, this hour.

Since interviewing Adam Asquith a week ago, I’ve been thinking about the concept of sustainability, and what it might take to shift western civilization — or more specifically, those of us inhabiting this particularly speck in the Pacific — into a mindset that would make such a way of existing in the world possible.

And I’ve pretty much determined that it’s not going to happen, or at least, not on any widespread scale, barring a catastrophe that leaves us with no other options.

Creating a sustainable Kauai is, like aloha, one of those concepts that is embraced by most in theory, but only a very few in practice, primarily because it requires us to make profound changes first in our values and worldview, and then in how we live. In other words, it demands the conscious attention, hard work, connection to our environment and even hardship and sacrifice that modern life, ironically, strives so mightily to eliminate.

So instead, sustainability has become an intellectual exercise, something some of us talk about. Malama Kauai, for example, is devoting all of 20 minutes to it this evening — the same amount of time it is giving the mayor to discuss his Sustainability HoloHolo 2020 plan in an event that seems intended more to publicize a political alliance that chew on this meaty issue.

I wonder, will the mayor take the bus to the event — oops, no can, it doesn’t run that late, or traverse the side street to Common Ground — or ride a bicycle all the way from Lihue?

And how, exactly, does sustainability fit into miniature golf courses and solar farms on ag land, celebrating the anniversary of PMRF, pumping thousands of dollars into tourism promotion, and a campaign war chest filled with contributions from the construction industry?

Which is all a way of saying that it’s so much easier to talk and plan and chat and mingle than track a wild pig or coax food from the soil or gore the sacred cows in order to totally revamp our completely unsustainable economy.

I don’t mean to knock Malama Kauai, which has done some good things, or even the mayor, who hasn’t, but to point out how this whole sustainability discourse is just that, which is why I tend to dismiss it as a giant waste of time.

And to see the mayor positioning himself as a leader is not only laughable, but wrongheaded, because sustainability is not, and never has been, a top down, centralized endeavor, as a look at the people who are actually living sustainably in this world makes clear.

If we want to get serious about living sustainably, which I am not at all convinced most of us really do, since we’re not yet forced into it, we need to start by looking at how much we can give up, do without. Or as Adam said, rather than debating how to develop energy projects that will keep people on the grid with unlimited electricity on demand, we need to think of how many hours a day we can live with brown outs or blackouts, and then figure out how to meet those reduced needs with small projects that serve individual households or neighborhoods.

Yet all of our talk about sustainability is couched in this giant disconnect of continuing life essentially as we now know it, which we have already seen is clearly not in any way, shape or form sustainable.

Rather than debating which of our ag lands are important enough to save, we need to be planting all of them, because if you look back at the history of the kanaka maoli, who did sustain themselves here with no outside imports, it’s clear that they were growing food in every available square inch.

As Adam noted, sustainability requires an intensively managed landscape, which runs counter to our aesthetic ideals of open spaces and wilderness and lush lowlands, and our modern mindset of humans distinct from nature.

Living on this island in a sustainable way also requires us to cultivate two values that have gone decidedly out of style: patience and delayed gratification.

But first, it requires that we get honest about how we are able to live the way we currently do, which is possible, to use Adam’s words, “only because we have the ability to externalize our needs and demands. We let someone else exploit their landscape. And it’s largely indigenous people that pay the price for it. Our demand is destroying indigenous people and the remaining resources all over the world.”

“Ignorance,” he said, “is bliss. But now that I know that, I know that I have to find another way and teach my children those values.”

When we start talking about and planning for sustainability within the context of those profound value changes, perhaps we’ll be ready to achieve it. Until then, it’s essentially a feel-good exercise -- nothing more than mental masturbation.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Musings: So it Goes

A gray mouse was riding a motorcycle down a short, rose-colored track when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. To the left of that scene shone Venus, and what I believe was Jupiter, though it could have Mercury, seeing as how the planets have been ganging up lately, while in the distance, lavender-scarlet anvils and towers were sidling up to Kalalea.

The roosters — I now live near a very large fighting cock farm — had been up for hours, giddy over the nearly full moon and cheering, like a crowd rooting for the home team, the approach of a golden dawn, which created shadow play on the green peaks of Makaleha and revealed, for the first time since I moved here, the white-streaked summit of Waialeale.

I’ve been immersed the past week in work and the world of moving — packing, unpacking, loading, unloading, cleaning, dirtying — and while it’s not over yet, the end is in sight.

The same could be said of KIUC, which on Friday finally received a federal permit that allows it to legally kill 162 adult Newell’s shearwaters and another 18 eggs and/or chicks with its — or rather, our — lights and power lines every year. I wondered how the feds came up with those particular numbers, seeing as no one really knows just how many `A`o are left in this world, or how many the population can stand to lose before drifting into extinction.

I wondered if KIUC would dutifully report all its dead and wounded, especially if it goes over the limit, and how many more are “taken,” but no one notices, because they fall in remote areas or their bodies are ground into the pavement before they can be recovered and counted.

And I wondered how many of these native seabirds had been killed since 1995, when the utility was directed to get its incidental take permit as part of the consent decree between the community and what was then Kauai Electric over the placement of lines through Kalihiwai.

But hey, I guess 16 years late is better than nevah.

KIUC still has to get its state permit before the federal permit is valid, but rather than follow DLNR’s directive and do an environmental assessment, it’s appealing that requirement to the governor, further delaying the process.

I try to have faith and trust in our utility, but seeing the foot-dragging, law-skirting approach that it’s taken with the Newell’s makes me just a bit uneasy about its FERC-directed foray into hydroelectric.

While the lack of coverage may have caused some to forget about the nuclear catastrophe in Japan, it seems Tokyo Electric Co. has now acknowledged that two more of its reactors suffered core meltdown and it suspects the containment vessel is damaged and leaking highly radioactive water at its No. 1 reactor. Where that leakage is going isn't made clear, but there are two likely places: land and sea.

Meanwhile, Asahi.com is reporting that a new map of ground surface contamination shows high levels of radiation in areas outside of the evacuation zone. In some areas where people are still living, it was higher than the mandatory relocation zone around the Chernobyl plant.

"I am surprised by the extent of the contamination and the vast area it covers," said Tetsuji Imanaka, assistant professor of nuclear engineering at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute.

And I wondered just how much officials do and don't know, and how much they aren't saying.

What really brought it home, though, was this video clip from The Guardian about dairy farmers who have returned to tend their cows in the evacuation zone. The cows survived, but now the farmers fear their soil is too contaminated to grow the feed their animals need, which means the end of their cows and their farms and the food they produce to feed others.

And so it goes as we poison the earth, and along with it ourselves.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Musings: On the Move

The day began with the sound of rain-swollen Makaleha Stream roaring, as mist floated up from the pastures and white tendrils draped themselves around the mountain peaks now visible from my house.

Heading down the hill, on dawn patrol with the dogs, the world was all soft grays, with just an edging of pink tracing the tip of one cumulus cloud and boobies heading out for a day of fishing in the placid waters that soon enveloped me.

I'm in the process of moving, which brings the usual disruptions, fatigue and chaos, but also the joy of settling in to a new place that is so far superior to the old in every way. As a friend who is also a perennial renter agreed, every move gets better. And so it seems does life -- or at least, my life.

I was talking to a man the other day who is having a rough time with his 17-year-old son, who got addicted to OxyContin and is now taking another drug to help wean him from the pain pills.

"They're worse than ice," he said, "because they're even easier to get and the kids think they can't get hooked."

But they do, and when the try to quit they suffer the gut wrenching nausea of withdrawals, which sends them back to the drug for relief.

He said he gave the cops his son's cell phone, which held the numbers of at least 10 dealers. The cops told him the information confirmed what they already knew, and they moved to arrest at least some of the dealers.

"That slowed things down a little bit, but all it really did was push the price up," he said. "Now they're selling for twenty, twenty-five dollars each. You can imagine, the guys who are getting prescriptions for 200, 300 of these every month, how much money they're making. We're talking thousands.

"Our kids are getting addicted, and some people are getting arrested, but what about the doctors who are writing these prescriptions? Shouldn't they be held accountable, too? Because some people, you know,they're going to two or three doctors, and nobody's checking, and the doctors are writing prescriptions for hundreds at a time. It just makes it too easy to sell them."

He'd found there really wasn't much help available for his son, saying "it seems like everything's geared to kids who get arrested." But he'd finally found a doctor who was willing to help. It worried him to give his son one drug to wean him off another, but he couldn't bear to see him suffer.

And then he looked at me and asked, "Can't you help get the word out, through the newspaper or whatever outlets you have? Let people know oxies are the big problem now. It's not ice, it's oxies. They're everywhere."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Musings: Seems Questionable

It seems questionable that we, as a supposedly secular nation, have a “National Day of Prayer,” and that we paid, according to an article in The Garden Island, “a good-sized gathering of County of Kaua‘i employees” to offer up what sounded like exclusively Christian prayers — at the county building, no less — in honor of it.

Still, I can’t quibble with our mayor that we should “pray that our government leaders will make good and just decisions.” The intervention of a divine power is about the only thing likely to ensure it.

But it’s really too bad that even as they were offering up prayers for the military, churches, pastors and ministries (which would seem to generate enough prayers on their own), business, government and media, no one apparently saw fit to pray for the `aina, kai and wai that support and sustain us.

And therein lies the big disconnect.

It seems questionable that the U.S. reportedly spent at least $3 trillion over the past 15 years fighting Usama bin Laden “counting the disruptions he wrought on the domestic economy, the wars and heightened security triggered by the terrorist attacks he engineered, and the direct efforts to hunt him down.”

To put it in some perspective, that’s “one-fifth of a year's gross domestic product — more than the entire 2008 budget of the United States government.” And what, really, do we have to show for it?

It seems questionable that even as Obama is calling upon God to bless America after the reported assassination of bin Laden, Al-Qaeda is calling upon Allah for “his help, support and steadfastness to continue on the path of jihad,” according to a statement the group allegedly posted on line confirming bin Laden’s death and vowing revenge.

So much for the “positive power of prayer” that our mayor referenced.

It seems questionable that the U.S. persists in using what Winona LaDuke characterized as “native nomenclature” in its military operations, including Black Hawk helicopters, Apache Longbow helicopters, Tomahawk missiles and most recently, Geronimo as code for bin Laden:

The term used when you leave a military base in a foreign country is to go 'off the reservation, into Indian Country.' So what is that messaging that is passed on? It is basically the continuation of the wars against indigenous people."

Donald Rumsfeld, when he went to Fort Carson, named after the infamous Kit Carson, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Navajo people and their forced relocation, urged people, you know, in speaking to the troops, that in the global war on terror, U.S. forces from this base have lived up to the legend of Kit Carson, fighting terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan to help secure victory. "And every one of you is like Kit Carson."

[T]he Seventh Cavalry, that went in in Shock and Awe, is the same cavalry that massacred indigenous people, the Lakota people, at Wounded Knee in 1890. You know, that is the reality of military nomenclature and how the military basically uses native people and native imagery to continue its global war and its global empire practices.

It seems questionable that the U.S. should be allowed to carry out assassinations, which is why UN human rights investigators are calling on the U.S. to disclose details of the raid to “allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards.” Or in other words, was there any plan to capture bin Laden, or was it a "cold-blooded execution?"

It’s important for the truth to come out, both to clarify the contradictory statements about what really went down and to determine whether this kind of action will be sanctioned by nations that supposedly revere the rule of law. I’m sure many view Obama and Dubya as mass murderers, seeing as how between them they authorized actions that resulted in the deaths of many thousands, but I doubt anyone would sanction targeted hits of either as “justice served.”

Still, it’s not likely that the U.S. will respond to such inquiries. After all, we’re convinced we’ve got God on our side.

And for those of us who believe in a higher power that is love-based, that really seems questionable.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Musings: On Various Things

I awoke in the night to a chill breeze that felt like winter and the welcome sound of heavy rain, which stopped about the time the sky began to lighten. The dogs and I had only walked about half our usual distance when I looked back to see a massive black cloud on the approach. Turning around, I heard a roar that I knew couldn’t be the ocean, and we broke into a run, racing the rain, which won, but barely, leaving us damp and energized.

Though the Akaka bill is fortunately dead, state lawmakers have re-energized its most loathsome aspects with Senate Bill 1520, which appears likely to be sent to the governor for his signature. By loathsome, I am referring to its objective of creating a state-sanctioned process to do what Hawaiians can and should do on their own: establish — or more accurately, re-establish — their own government.

Unfortunately, the process the bill sets forth is to be orchestrated by OHA, a state agency, which taints it from the get-go. Further, to use a paragraph from an AP story, it’s based on a premise that grates:

Native Hawaiians are the last remaining indigenous people in the United States who have not been allowed to establish their own government, a right already extended to Alaska Natives and American Indian tribes.

None of the independence advocates I’ve ever talked to believe they need to be granted a right to establish their own government, both because their nation was illegally overthrown and the Queen never relinquished her country's sovereignty.

In other news of the U.S. having its way in sovereign nations — in this case, Pakistan, which has criticized the raid as an "unauthorized unilateral action," — Administration officials are now claiming that killing Usama bin Laden was an act of ”national self defense.” Ummm hmmm. Right.

Meanwhile, they continue to “correct key details from earlier accounts,” according to a report from Associated Press. You know, just minor stuff, like not only didn’t bin Laden engage in a firefight, he wasn’t even armed. And it wasn’t his wife who was killed, but that of an aide, and she wasn’t used as a human shield, but got caught in the crossfire.

I mean, surely White House officials were fully briefed on what actually went down, so there’s absolutely no excuse for initially releasing false accounts of the raid. Unless, of course, it’s intended to — in the words of Glenn Greenwald — “produce deliberately misleading accounts of the most significant news items -- falsehoods which endure no matter how decisively they are debunked in subsequent days.”

Meanwhile, as The New York Times reports, Obama’s approval rating jumped 11 percent after the raid, which is more than the 8 percent bump Bush got after Saddam Hussein was captured. "My guy's badder than your guy, my guy's badder by far..."

Returning to local news, The Garden Island, which is usually quick to print KIUC press releases, has made no mention of the petition that was presented to the utility, even though the cooperative issued a press release that included this statement from CEO David Bissell:

“Regardless of the outcome of the petition verification process, KIUC welcomes every opportunity it is afforded to meet with members of the cooperative to discuss the potential development of small hydroelectric projects on Kaua‘i. We are at the very beginning of a multi-year stakeholder engagement process, so it is understandable that there is some misinformation and confusion at this early stage.”

In other words, those poor petitioners are woefully misinformed, but we’ll set ‘em straight.

Instead of covering an issue of substance, like this one, the paper devoted many inches to a Humane Society puff piece about a family reunited with its supposedly “accident prone” dog, though it sounded more like human negligence.

Anyway, I was skimming it when I saw a reference to my neighbor Andy Bushnell and his daughter — the ones who own the dogs that killed my cat and attacked Paele. Seems the dog showed up at their place. As I read further, I saw this and had one of those “aha” moments:

The organization sent out Humane Officer Jessica Venneman, who happens to be Bushnell’s former history student.

Oh, now I understand why nothing ever came of my complaint to KHS about the attack on Paele. The case was referred to Jessica, who called me for more details. But even though I called her back four times, she never responded. When I finally got ahold of her, she said she had given Andy a warning because she never heard back from me so she assumed it wasn't serious.

And then I recalled how Andy had previously told me that KHS came out one time to cite him for a leash law violation, but the officer turned out to be his former student, and so she let him off.

This is the kind of thing that is so discouraging about living on Kauai.

And it brought to mind a scene I encountered yesterday, as I moved through a seat belt trap set up on Haleko Street and saw all the shaka-flashing going on between the four cops and local motorists. I couldn’t help but wonder how many tickets they were likely to write for their friends.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Musings: Get the Picture

The thunder came again at about 3 a.m., accompanied, perhaps preceded, by lightning and followed by torrential rain. It made for a restless new moon night of trembling dogs that ended with a dawn walk beneath a sky that had white puff balls floating against a pearlescent background. As the sun rose, shards and shafts of rainbows appeared in the misty rain above the mountains, where Waialeale stood clear-topped, draped in a filmy shawl, and Makaleha was black-hooded, her face streaked with falls.

As the media frenzy over the reported death of Usama bin Laden continues unabated, my mind keeps playing that old Marvin Gaye song:

People say believe half of what you see,
Son, and none of what you hear.

It seemed especially fitting when I read an AP article that reported:

[Northern Illinois University psychologist Brad] Sagarin said most people will probably be convinced bin Laden is dead because they cannot imagine the government maintaining such an extraordinary lie to the contrary in this day and age.

Suckers! This is EXACTLY the kind of stuff the government thinks up, and has for years. And it’s easier than ever to perpetuate lies in “this day and age” of unquestioning media and hordes of sheeple who believe everything they see/hear on TV/Internet/radio.

But like I said yesterday, it doesn’t matter if he’s dead or alive, what matters is what people believe, and the incredible political hay that is now being reaped from it.

Consider this: We have a president who was sucking wind so badly that even idiots like Donald Trump thought they could beat him. Next thing you know, Obama reportedly issues the order to blow away bin Laden, and suddenly you have photos — issued by the White House and dutifully reprinted by media lapdogs — that proclaim him "on the cusp of history" as he deliberates the hit.

Meanwhile, John Brennan, the president's top counterterrorism adviser, is completing the varnishing by claiming his boss made “one of the most gutsiest [sic] calls of any president in recent memory" in an article that includes this very telling paragraph:

The revelation that intelligence gleaned from the CIA's so-called black sites helped kill bin Laden was seen as vindication for many intelligence officials who have been repeatedly investigated and criticized for their involvement in a program that involved the harshest interrogation methods in U.S. history.

"We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day," said Marty Martin, a retired CIA officer who for years led the hunt for bin Laden.

Are you starting to get the picture now? It’s OK to use torture, black sites and secret renditions if you get your guy! And so what if Congress has appropriated $1.3 trillion on wars, extra security measures and veterans' healthcare since 9/11? It’s all worth it if you get your guy!

But vigilance, of course, never sleeps, so pungle up another trill, give up some more of your rights and screw the rule of law. We’re America. We’re not bound by that shit.

While we’re on the topic of the feds and the rule of law, it seems the Obama Administration, after initially saying it was gonna take a hands off approach to how the states handled medical marijuana, is now sending threatening letters that warn even state employees could be subject to prosecution for their role in marijuana regulation.

The letters have had a chilling affect on several states preparing to implement medical marijuana laws, and this stance points to yet another area where Obama, who has proven to be such a disappointment to progressives, has backpedaled.

Meanwhile, a group of citizens is hoping that KIUC directors will backpedal on their plan to develop hydro with Free Flow Power using the FERC process, which gives the feds power over local water uses.

Yesterday, they delivered a petition with the signatures of some 300 coop members that asks the Board to reconsider its contract with FFP and bring the issue to a vote of the membership. Now the KIUC attorney is asking for the original signatures, even though KIUC by-laws do not specify that original signatures must be submitted. The request poses a problem, since many of the signatures were collected electronically, and raises the question of whether KIUC can legitimately request them.

Isn’t it great to know our cooperative is so cooperative?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Musings: Dead or Alive

First the flashes of lightning came, then the thunder — great rolling cracks of thunder that had the dogs and me outside at 3 a.m. beneath a sky devoid of stars, yet strangely light. Two hours later, the world was brightening, though black clouds that never did deliver rain were piled thickly atop Waialeale and the lightning still flashed and the thunder still rumbled.

All the world, it seems, is rumbling with the news that Americans have killed Usama Bin Laden in an assassination that our President, taking ample credit, characterized as “justice has been done.”

Though it’s hard for me to see how justice is served by hunting down and murdering, vigilante-style, someone who has never been convicted of a crime, unless, of course, you’re talking about the Old Testament/Old West “eye for an eye” kind of justice, which is assured to keep the violence, and thus the war on terror and all its associated expenditures and abrogations of civil liberties, going for decades longer.

And besides, haven’t we, in retaliation, already slaughtered way more of “them” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, than ever were killed in the events of 9/11? Last I looked, the civilian casualties in Iraq alone were over 100,000, but I guess we didn’t consider the score even because the lives of “innocent” Americans are apparently worth way more than those we deem guilty by virtue of religion and geography.

Obama claimed the decade-long manhunt was part of our commitment to the families who lost loved ones in 9/11 “to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.”

Yet his announcement was followed immediately by a breaking news headline on CNN: “U.S. State Department warns of "enhanced potential for anti-American violence."

So what, really, was the point?

Unless, of course, the “secret raid” of a mansion near the Pakistani military academy was intended to play out as the American version of a royal wedding — a media feast on which the sheeple can gorge, distracting themselves from the radioactive particles circling the globe, the crappy economy, the fattening of the corporate elite, while simultaneously reveling in the reborn greatness of America.

Besides, is Bin Laden really dead? As a Salon piece noted, even while unquestioningly accepting the most recent account as “the real thing,” there have been numerous previous reports of his death. And WhatReallyHappened.com, which reported that Bin Laden died in December 2001, claims its website came under “massive distributed denial of service attack” just moments before the Prez gave the news.

This time, though, you can take the government’s word for it, because they've got the body. Oh wait, no, seems he was already buried at sea. The U.S. supposedly had to move quickly, “in accordance with Muslim traditions.” Like we really give a shit about such things.

But there is the DNA proof — oh, wait, maybe not quite yet. As Reuters reported today, “the DNA results would be known “in the next few days.” Which makes me wonder why they didn’t confirm his identity before they announced it. Meanwhile, other media outlets — quoting senior defense and intelligence officials “who could not be named" — reported the DNA results were already in, offering “near 100 percent certainty” and “100 percent proof,” depending on the source — not that we’ll actually ever have any way of verifying any of it.

Of course, there is that gory photo. Yup. Looks just like him. Gotta be for sure real now.

But in the end, it really doesn’t matter if Bin Laden is long dead, newly dead or still alive, because the reports have two results.

One is an orgy of renewed nationalism, as led by Obama:

But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

And the other is reissuance of the blank check for the “war on terror:”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security expects "threats of retaliation" from al-Qaida in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's death.