Monday, October 31, 2011

Musings: More Trick Than Treat

It's mostly murky at both the six o'clocks now, as darkness extends its reach into either end of the day. But dark is good for Halloween, the time of the year when the veil between the realms is thinnest, our shadow sides closest to the surface, daring us to take a good, long look — it it a trick or treat?

I couldn't find a pumpkin to carve into a jack-o-lantern yesterday, though bags of junky candy were plentiful. I heard the other day that Americans eat 135 pounds of sugar each year — nearly a third of a pound each day. That's way, way up from the 15 pounds a year consumed in 1830, and off the charts when you think of how humans evolved without any refined sweeteners. It is it any wonder that obesity, diabetes and cancer are rampant?

And soon much of that sugar will come from sugar beets that have been genetically engineered to withstand direct applications of Roundup. Still, that's not the only sweet trick ahead for human guinea pigs. Monsanto also plans to start selling genetically modified sweet corn — its first GE product developed specifically for consumers, to be sold unlabeled, of course, to the unsuspecting.

As I suspected would be the case, the mayor's pick, Mike Dahilig, has been confirmed as planning director. I was heartened to learn that Mike is keenly interested in food security and is actually taking some enforcement actions against vacation rentals. Still, I couldn't help but feel profound dismay in reading The Garden Island's account of his appointment:

Commissioner Hartwell Blake said Tuesday that in the numerous discussions among commissioners, there was a feeling that perhaps they should have advertised for the position, because the perfect candidate could have been “out there.”

Blake said it would have been nice if a “perfect candidate” was really out there, but the commissioners will never know.

Ah, yes, there are so many things that planning commissioners will never know, because they just don't ask.

I asked Police Chief Darryl Perry to respond to a rumor I'd heard, that he'd directed the cops to stop confiscating driver's licenses, badges and license plates issued by the Reinstated Hawaiian Nation and Kingdom of Atooi. His response: “Absolutely not.”

As he sees it, such items are evidence, and so must be confiscated in order to prove the alleged crime, be it driving without a license or registration, or impersonating an officer. Needless to say, he did not agree with Judge Watanabe's ruling ordering the cops to return Dayne Gonsalves' Kingdom of Atooi marshal badge, a decision that's been sent up to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, I heard that some Kingdom members had used their badges to try and get money from the westside seed companies, claiming they were using their land, which is not entirely far-fetched, since some of the firms do lease the so-called “ceded lands,” though naturally they balked, as they're already paying the state. And I also heard that some Kingdom members had demanded folks pay $35 to park on “their land” at the Andy Irons funeral, and that some unsuspecting motorists complied. Now, that sort of trick does not build sympathy for a cause.

Fittingly, Halloween 2011 has been chosen as the day when the Earth's population of humans — a species with seemingly infinite demands — hits 7 billion, a milestone that's gotta be more trick than treat for a planet with finite resources and countless other species.

It's a strange world we've created, what with genetically altered plant and animal organisms being regularly introduced into the biosphere, to what end we do not know. And now the corporations are moving on to humans. As Democracy Now! reports, “In the past 30 years, more than 40,000 patents have been granted on [human] genes alone—many more patents are pending.”

So what to think and do about it all?

Just the other day, I was listening to a New Dimensions interview with neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, who spoke about human evolution, and how initially, those who were fearful and irritable were more likely to survive.

But though circumstances in our environment have greatly changed, our responses have not. We're still reacting in the same old way, living in a state of chronic sympathetic over-activation and arousal that no longer serves us well, Dr. Hanson argues. Instead, it works to depress the immune system and prompts the release of excessive stress hormones, which harm our cardiovascular and digestive systems.

A few simple actions — consciously undertaken — can help us move out of old reactionary behaviors, he says. These include yawning, touching our lips and exhaling, all of which create “a felt sense of safety,” he says.

I've found that getting out in the garden has a similar effect, with the added benefits of fresh veggies, physical exercise, greater connectedness with the natural world and a profound sense of satisfaction.

"The currents of society are pushing against us,” Dr. Hanson says. “If we want to be healthy and happy, we have to swim against the tide. We have to decide, I want to be a hammer rather than a nail."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Musings: Fair Play

I couldn’t wait to get back to my garden, where a bed was waiting beneath a blanket of banana leaves, and last evening, taking advantage of the ideal planting conditions of a Scorpio new moon, I peeled back the covers and thrust my digging fork into the soft, dark ground. A shama thrush perched nearby, waiting to pluck insects and worms from the newly fluffed soil, and just as I finished covering the seeds, the rain came and did the watering, returning with another nourishing sprinkle in the golden light of dawn.

I was off-island when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rightly rapped KIUC/Free Flow Power for claim jumping on the Westside. A lot of people thought KIUC wasn’t playing fair when it sought permits to study hydro on the same irrigation ditches that Pacific Light and Power, a locally-owned firm, was already trying to develop. What's more, the move spoke volumes about the utility’s insensitivity.

Yet even after receiving such a solid slapdown, KIUC apparently still plans to push ahead. As Vanessa Van Voorhis reports in today’s The Garden Island:

KIUC CEO David Bissell said the co-op will continue to pursue member-owned hydropower on the ditches despite FERC’s ruling and PLP’s license. He called FERC’s “claim-jumping” comment “an unfortunate choice of words” and added that KIUC has been pursuing hydro on the ditches since 2001. When asked in what way, he said through assessments.

The article goes on to state:

[Bissell] said the primary reason “we went down the FERC road” was the co-op didn’t want to spend a lot of member’s money doing site feasibility studies and end up competing with other energy developers for the same site.

So why in the world would KIUC continue to pursue projects on those particular ditches, knowing that it’s directly competing with PLP, and lacks support from FERC? There’s something stinky here.

As for the “claim jumping” comment, well, it may be unfortunate, but it’s true. As I reported back on June 27, it’s Free Flow’s MO to gobble up permits willy-nilly, even some that compete with other developers. In fact, it got so bad on the lower Mississippi River that FERC had to step in and stop it.

People recognize unfairness when they see it, which is why the "Occupy/99%" movement continues to gain ground. As the Associated Press reports:

The distribution of wealth in the United States is among the most unequal among industrialized nations, according to a study by the independent Bertelsmann Foundation, based in Gutersloh, Germany.

The United States ranked in the bottom five on a combination of issues including poverty prevention, health and access to education — ahead of only Greece, Chile, Mexico and Turkey — according to the study on social justice in the 31 developed nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Distribution of wealth in the United States is the most unequal among the nations examined, with more than 17 percent below the poverty line. Of those living below the poverty line in the U.S., some 21.6 percent of them are children, who also suffer from a lack of access to equal education, it showed.

Meanwhile, as Democracy Now! reported:

A new congressional study has found the incomes for the wealthiest one percent of Americans nearly tripled over the last three decades, far outpacing income growth for all other groups. Between 1979 and 2007, the average real after-tax household income grew by 275 percent for the wealthiest Americans. Income grew by just 40 percent for middle-class Americans during the same period.

The study also found the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans made more money in 2007 than the rest of the country combined.

Mother Jones magazine has also published a number of charts that graphically depict the glaring inequality.

So I think Glenn Greenwald summed it up best when he noted:

"What this movement is about is more important than specific legislative demands. It…is expressing dissent to the system itself. It is saying that we believe the system itself is radically corrupted, and we no longer are willing to tolerate it. And that’s infinitely more important than specific legislative or political demands."

You know dat. To borrow a quote from Albert Einstein: ““We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Musings: True Equality

I returned yesterday from California, where one might find a sign in an elevator advising that it contains materials known to cause cancer in humans, which raises such questions as, why, then, are they still using that stuff, and what am I supposed to do it about it now that I’m enclosed in this toxic box?

I was reminded, after engaging in some limited commerce there, that Hawaii lawmakers have not yet begun to tax: the general sales tax is nearly 9 percent, though it’s not applied to groceries, and the rental car bill included such charges as a "daily ff fee” of $4.50, a tourism fee of $5.17, a concession recovery fee of $20.78, a customer facility charge of $10 and, of course, sales tax.

On the other hand, the park bathrooms were clean and stocked with toilet paper, even those getting heavy use, and at one beach, a sign reminded folks that the water they were using came from creeks used by fish, so please conserve.

I’m all for getting people to think about how our behavior impacts other species, which is why I enjoyed writing an article about Robin Torquati, a Kilauea woman who raises organic garden starts and is “into befriending plants.” As she observed:

”People look at plants as a lower life form. They aren’t. They’re equals. They evolved alongside humans. They’re complex organisms. They give us air to breath, for starters, and they feed us. And they’re way more ready for any climate change than we are.”

People also tend to look down on animals, as if that isn’t what we human beings are, too. At the conference, I heard some scientists giving the usual rap about how only big-brained mammals are capable of empathy, emotion and communication, though one guy noted that slime mold, an organism lacking a nervous system, is able to efficiently navigate a maze to reach food. Another spoke of the sea squirt, a creature that begins life as an animal, then devours its brain and turns into a plant, which might be a worthy aspiration for we thought-mired humans.

And it struck me, as it did when I reported on plans to relocate nene to the equivalent of concentration camps on the other islands and to put monk seals from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands through the same kind of forced relocation suffered by numerous Indian tribes, that our wildlife management actions are so frequently governed by the paternalistic attitude of we know best. Or more accurately, we know what’s convenient and desirable for us.

The dismissive language that was used by some in the meeting about the nene relocation — “they’re just geese, after all” and “they make such a mess with their poop” — is not unlike the language used by aggressors in World War II and modern day Afghanistan — “they’re only Poles, Jews and dirty towel heads, after all.”

And the patronizing language used in describing the monk seal translocations — “these are hardy, curious animals that can easily adapt to new surroundings” — was not unlike the language used in moving Native Americans thousands of miles from their homelands: “these people are savages. They can live anywhere.”

Where did we get the idea, which I believe is patently false, that humans beings — members of a young, upstart, destructive species unable to live in harmony with its environment — are at the top of the evolutionary ladder?

Maybe one day we’ll give other animals, plants and even rocks the credit they’re due, just as we're slowly beginning to treat women and other ethnic groups with more (though sometimes grudging) respect. And just as we once believed blacks and women weren't capable of casting an intelligent vote and newborns weren’t aware of their surroundings and couldn’t feel the pain of circumcision, we’ll come to understand that other inhabitants of Earth also have consciousness.

After all, if the universe is comprised solely of energy, are we really so different in the beginning, or the end?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Musings: And Contemplations

A white crescent moon floated in a barely brightening sky edged with wisps and swirls turning the faintest pink when I went walking this morning, still in the land of my youth. Canada geese and ducks lifted off from a lagoon and flocks of squawking crows flew down from the rounded brown hillsides that are such a contrast to Kauai's jagged green peaks. In the distance, I watched a hawk whirl suddenly and dive, perhaps scoring its first meal of the day.

I've been attending a conference on Science and Nonduality while also visiting some of the Sonoma and Marin County beaches and redwood groves that have always shone as bright spots in my childhood memories. They're more beautiful than I remembered, though my childhood home, now occupied by others, is much smaller than I recalled. I haven't been in this area since 1979, and while some parts have changed beyond recognition, others are much the same, like me.

My head is filled with facts, speculations, musings, theories, contemplations -- some of them my own, some of them voiced by others. We're all trying to make some sense out of the world and our places in it as we wrestle with such weighty concerns as the nature of time, existence, reality, and how to blend -- and for some, whether to blend -- a spiritual practice with activism.

Even in a conference devoted to exploring nonduality, we take sides: some advocate engaging fully in life, while others tend toward passivity, taking the position that nothing we do matters in a universe where free will is an illusion. I'm far more inclined toward the former than the latter, though thinking more in terms of how to effect change without simultaneously beating my head against a brick wall.

It will take a while for me to sift through it all, but a few things I've heard stick with me, earning a special, easy-to-find place in my notebook:

"It takes a lot of courage to live in the world today and not just be a dream head, totally asleep."

"Denial, as in don't even know I am lying."

And my favorite: "It's important for people to know there's another reality besides the official one."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Musings: Notable

I arrived late last night in California, and as the plane approached the airport, it struck me that the stars here are on the ground, in the form of countless lights, rather than in the sky. Still, I did see a few glowing up above in the darkness of an eight-lane freeway little traveled at that hour, and driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, which glowed orange in the fog-trapped light, was a chicken skin experience.

Anyway, I'm a little disoriented, so I'll direct you to a few items of note, starting with The Garden Island's coverage of a breakfast meeting with U.S. Senate candidate Linda Lingle, the former guv who so endeared herself to Kauai during the Superferry fiasco. I found this revelation rather intriguing:

She said the national debt has to be brought under control, but PMRF has to be funded. At a time when the federal government is looking at major cuts in the military, PMRF should be preserved, she said. The base sits in a strategic location, brings roughly $50 million to the local economy and employs about 900 people.

PMRF’s location, she said, is crucial for protecting Asian countries in case of war. It affects the entire world, because if the Asian countries can not grow in a peaceful world the global economy will not be able to recover, she added.

Oh, really? PMRF is Asia's police man? And we're supposed to believe that having a base like that here doesn't make our island a target?

While we're on the topic of questionable land uses, I want to point you to an article I wrote for the Honolulu Weekly on the Public Land Development Corp. This new state entity has a lot of power and bears watching. As I report, in part:

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to approve the Public Land Development Corp. (PLDC), which was billed as a way to generate revenue for the cash-strapped Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) by privatizing state land, buildings and resources.

But Act. 55 “is so far reaching that it opens up opportunities for abuse” and could trigger a development rush similar to the one that followed statehood, says Marti Townsend, executive director of KAHEA, an alliance of Hawaiian and environmental interests.

Leases and the proposed transfer of land and development rights from the state to private entities will have just one hearing before the Board of Land and Natural Resources...

The bill passed with very little public attention, but I wasn't concerned until I watched the video of the legislative briefing held by Sens. Malama Solomon and Donovan Dela Cruz, who spearheaded the bill. They were pretty much licking their chops as they spoke about using the PLDC to create density around high-speed rail stations and spark the development of state harbors, rural areas and geothermal energy. It became clear that they, and likely other lawmakers and their developer cronies, have their pet projects that will be pushed right through.

Another big issue is how these long term leases and land transfers could affect the so-called "ceded lands" that comprise the bulk of the state's holdings.

And finally, if you've got some spare time on Saturday morning, join the Surfrider folks in removing a discared fishing net at Moloaa Bay. I participated in one of their "net patrols" at a favorite beach in Anahola, and found it to be one of the most rewarding conservation activities I'd ever done. It reminded me of just how powerful a group of people can be, and how effective, when they're working together toward a common goal. No meetings, no hierarchy, just action and immediate results.

You can learn more about it by reading the article I posted on It's a really cool concept, because the nets that are collected are burned to make electricity on Oahu.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Musings: Speaking Up

It was all gold and glimmery in the east when the dogs and I went walking this morning, providing light enough to find our way, though the world was still predominantly dark, and I thought of how the night before, even a sprinkling of stars had provided ample illumination to navigate.

So it is as we try to dig our way out of this deep socio-economic hole.....

Before I headed out to cover Saturday's “Occupy” event on Kauai, I was talking on the phone to a friend who lives in Tijuana. From his vantage point in that hard scrabble border town, the ongoing “Occupy Wall Street” movement isn’t especially inspiring.

“Their message is inchoate, but what it sounds like to me is they want a bigger piece of the pie — a pie that is already unjust,” he observed. “It’s like receiving stolen goods. I keep waiting to hear what they’re willing to do without to achieve justice on a global scale. Because even the poorest American has so much compared to others in the world, and that insatiable appetite is what’s feeding America’s wars. I still have that button you gave me years ago. It’s right here, glued to my desk: Materialism breeds militarism.”

A baby boomer friend had a similar perspective when I talked to him the next day. “In the 60s, the message was, ‘you can keep it all, I refuse to be party to the machine.’ Now it’s, ‘we want a piece of the action.’ Philosophically, it’s very different.”

I thought about that when I saw a graphic on Facebook that said something to the effect of “show Wall Street what you really think, do your holiday shopping at a small neighborhood merchant.”

Mmmm, yeah, but what about don’t do any holiday shopping at all? Or donate the money you would have spent to a famine relief organization or some other worthy cause?

Because yes, there’s a huge income disparity in this country, but there’s also a huge income disparity between Americans/Western Europeans and the rest of the world, like the Congolese enduring violence and earning a dollar a day to mine the coltan needed for our cell phones and computers. Btw, here’s a link to a very engaging video series on just that.

Still, I’m always glad to see people standing up and speaking out, because it’s empowering to link up with like-minded folks and be reminded you’re not alone in recognizing that the system needs a major overhaul, even if you’re not yet entirely sure how to pull it off.

Unfortunately, the county Ethics Commission would not let Councilman Mel Rapazo speak at all when he came before them with his complaint about the possible conflict of interest in the relationship between the Salary Commission, Boards and Commission’s Administrator John Isobe and Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s administration. I gave more details on the issue in my Sept. 30 post.

The matter was scheduled for the Ethic Commission’s meeting last Friday, but as Mel noted in an email when I asked him how it went:

It didn't go well. Deputy County Attorney interrupted the start of the meeting and advised the Board to not allow my matter to be heard because it would be a violation of the Charter. She advised them that I was using the review process to file a complaint, and that all complaints should be heard in exec session. This was a strategy to stop me from exposing the corruption. After an hour of discussion by the members, I was not allowed to testify on a publicly posted item. They said that they would defer the matter to a special meeting but the fact remains that they violated the Sunshine Law by not allowing me to testify on a matter that was properly posted. Simply unbelievable. I will be taking action on this, probably through a private attorney. The good news is that the entire fiasco was videotaped by a school's media class so I will get the video in the next few days. This is ridiculous and illegal.

The Commission knew exactly what was in Mel’s complaint, so why put it on the regular agenda and then forbid him to speak? Unless, of course, you’re just trying to stall…. or use the old wear ‘em down until they give up approach….

Once again, this raise the issue of county attorneys serving three masters: the Administration, the County Council and the various Boards and Commissions. How can they possibly be effective in representing the various, and often divergent, interests of all three, especially when complaints arise about one of those masters?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Musings: Taking it to the Streets

This afternoon, I stopped by the — well, I really don't want to call it "Occupy Kauai," because that has a whole different connotation in colonized Hawaii, so let's just say it was Kauai's show of solidarity with the "Occupy Wall Street/We are the 99%" movement that had people taking it to the streets all over the globe today.

It was a good-sized crowd, and there was a positive, upbeat vibe, with a lot of motorists whooping and hollering and honking to show support as they drove by. Here are some photos from the event:

You can see more photos and read my article here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Musings: Exaggerations

The moon — big, golden and encircled with a halo — was about an arm’s length from bright Jupiter, and both were sliding down, when the dogs and I went out walking today in the chill air of pre-dawn.

I was at the beach the other day, listening to a surfer friend tell me the latest story going around — a guy claims he was surfing Tunnels when a baby monk seal jumped on his board, and after he pushed it off, the seal got eaten by a shark — and expressing disbelief about every aspect of the tale when two seal pups suddenly appeared before us, swimming gracefully in unison in the shallow nearshore waters, as if to confirm that reports of their death had been greatly exaggerated.

You can’t believe everything you hear — and most certainly, not everything you read — in an age where information is abundant, but much of it is wrong. And once it gets stuck in people’s heads, it’s so hard to get it out, like some of the crazy ideas that formed once folks read The Garden Island’s reprint of the Civil Beat story on relocating nene away from the airport, which led with a greatly exaggerated cost of the project.

I attended a meeting yesterday on the plan to move nene away from the Lihue Airport, and you can read my report at

Moving to the international level, it seems NATO may be exaggerating its claims of knocking off Taliban leaders in order to make its campaign appear more effective, according to a a report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

The report also shows that although the night raids have been portrayed as surgical strikes, eight other people are killed for every “leader” taken.

As The Guardian reports:

The report notes that in briefings to the US media, aggregate claims made for the number of Taliban leaders killed or detained over a given period were sometimes much greater than the numbers recorded in the daily press releases.

"The use of the word 'leader' is intended to convey the impression that the masterminds of the Taliban are being taking off the battlefield. That's a misrepresentation," [researcher Alex] Strick van Linschoten said.

"It is meant to be taken as meaning that we are taking out the brains behind the Taliban off the battlefield, but that claim doesn't really measure up."

The report, entitled A Knock on the Door, echoes a study published last month by the Open Society Foundations. That study said that although Isaf had made strides in reducing the number of civilian casualties, the 12 to 20 raids a night over a sustained period, with thousands of arrests, many of them of non-combatants, were alienating the population and undermining the international coalition's aims in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Musings: On Social Unrest

The bright light from a moon that turns full today seeped into my consciousness, my dreams, all through the night until finally the dogs and I got up and went out walking beneath a blue-black canvas daubed with white clouds and stars. Jupiter glowed yellow in the west, a rat raced along the telephone wires above us, and in the east, the heavens began to flush with the approach of the sun until the sky resembled the chunky embers of a dying campfire.

As that big moon was rising last night, a friend stopped by and we got to talking about an accident he’d recently been in: a vehicle crossed the center line on the southside and totaled his truck. The cops, after a lengthy phone consult with unknown person(s) confiscated my friend’s Kingdom of Atooi driver’s license.

Why do the cops keep doing that, when such seizures are clearly unconstitutional? Besides, as my friend observed, “It’s so stupid, because we can just make another one.”

I think it all boils down to a power struggle, fueled by the persistent attempts of “the system” to exert its control over any upstarts, kinda like the over-the-top security preparations taking shape on Oahu in anticipation of next month’s APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) shindig, hosted by the Prez.

Over on the Moana Nui 2011 Faceback page, Kyle Kajihiro of DMZ Hawaii posted maps showing the “ocean exclusion zones” — swaths of coastal waters at Waikiki, Ala Wai and Ko’olina that will be off-limits to we the people during the forum — with the message:

“This is what APEC looks like. It takes over land and sea like cancer.”

Meanwhile, as Democracy Now! reports, the Occupy Wall Street protest is expanding, despite ongoing arrests, and people across the nation are staging their own actions in solidarity. I know planning is under way for some sort of demonstration on Kauai this Saturday.

As Andrew Ross Sorkin reported in The New York Times:

What’s the message?

At times it can be hard to discern, but, at least to me, the message was clear: the demonstrators are seeking accountability for Wall Street and corporate America for the financial crisis and the growing economic inequality gap.

And that message is a warning shot about the kind of civil unrest that may emerge — as we’ve seen in some European countries — if our economy continues to struggle.

I think we’ve got a ways to go until Americans in large numbers feel that uncomfortable and that dissatisfied, just like folks are going to have to get a lot hungrier before they get serious about protecting ag lands and promoting food security.

In covering the Important Ag Lands process, I was interested to learn that some 90 percent of Kauai residents would need to be involved in food production in order for us to feed ourselves. We’re not likely to see that level of participation until the grocery store shelves are bare.

Meanwhile, I ran across a blurb about how in 1950, the average U.S. household spent 3 percent of its income on health care and 22 percent on food. By 2010, health-care costs had risen to 16 percent of income, while food costs dropped to 7 percent.

“Food has gotten so cheap that people just don’t appreciate or value it anymore,” said Farmer Jerry, when I called him the other day to chat about the IAL.

True, that. Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for food these days isn’t anything to value or appreciate — it’s cheap junk that provides little or no nutrition. Is it any wonder that health care costs have risen dramatically as food has gotten crappier?

Which brings me to a comment that a friend made, when I asked him what I should do with a couple of kids who would be in my charge for the day.

“Take ‘em to McDonald’s,” he advised. “If you do that, they’ll be good all day.”

As I flashed on the studies that have shown junk food is as addictive as drugs, it struck me that it’s no surprise the kiddies quiet down once they’ve gotten their fix.

Until, of course, it wears off, as all drugs do, and the craving and crankiness begins anew.

So perhaps the key, then, to sparking massive social unrest is to shut off the supply of junk food and see what happens when tens of millions of Americans start jonesing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Musings: On Legacies

Sometimes, when I’m walking in the mountains, or along the beach, as was the case yesterday afternoon, a small stone, a pohaku, catches my eye, calls out to me, and when I pick it up, it feels as though it was in other hands before mine, hands that used it as a tool, wearing it down so that it fits just right beneath thumb, within palm, between fingers.

And I wonder, because so many millions have walked this island before me, used stone tools for hundreds of years, if it once belonged to one of them, and then I get to thinking about the legacy each of us leaves, and if it matters, in the end, whether it’s associated with a specific individual or if it’s important only that it endures, like a well-worn rock.

I’ve been visiting the Apple web site recently because I’m buying a new MacBook Pro to replace my aging MacBook — the most important tool of my trade, besides my brain — and each time I am confronted on the homepage with a photograph of Steve Jobs and the dates 1955-2011, which mark the span of his short, yet remarkably productive life — a life that had such a positive and far-reaching impact on mine, though I never met the man or even heard him speak.

The first computer I ever bought was a Macintosh, back in 1984, the year it came out. I still recall seeing it in action, with its tiny little screen, marveling at functions like cut and paste, which I’d done prior to that in newsrooms with scissors and rubber cement, and thinking, as I have only one other time in the decades I’ve been on the planet: “This will change my life.” And it did, dramatically.

Though I quickly saw how much easier writing, and later desktop publishing, was on a Mac, I never fully appreciated the beauty and innovation of the technology until I saw a guy on a plane reading an inches-thick book entitled, “How to Manage Your Hard Drive,” and realized, with deep gratitude, that as a Mac user I’d never had to even consider such a thing.

Most of us will not leave such a profound legacy as Jobs; instead, our contributions will be progeny and other creations not of the flesh, kindnesses, service we’ve given to others, the public good. And that leads me to Peter Nakamura, and the news that he’s stepping down as County Clerk after 12 years to work as a senior planner in the Planning Department.

Peter has served the county extremely well as Clerk, which in my mind is a pretty crappy job, seeing as how you have to sit through the protracted tedium of County Council meetings without rolling your eyes or otherwise revealing your true thoughts, and run the elections and navigate the whims of a new set of bosses, some of them power hungry and ego driven, every two years. He was always professional, courteous and super responsive to public requests for information, and I’m sure he’ll bring the same traits to the planning department, which can certainly use his expertise and institutional memory now that longtime planners like Keith Nitta, Rick Tsuchiya and Brian Mamaclay have retired.

So it’s really unfortunate that The Garden Island, which seems to bear some sort of grudge against Peter, chose in reporting on his job change to dredge up the unsubstantiated smears about his pay raise and vacation time that were leveled by Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum when they wanted someone different as Clerk, but didn’t have the votes to get their way.

Instead, they trashed Peter (and former Council Chair Kaipo Asing in the process), with JoAnn saying she hadn’t had time to really verify her allegations before making them — or to use her words, conduct due diligence — because she didn’t have full access to county records before taking office.

Well, JoAnn, you’ve been on the Council for nearly a year now, with ample time to dig up dirt, and yet you still have been unable to prove your allegations. Remember how you promised, back in a Dec. 16, 2010 letter to the editor, that you would publicly apologize if you were wrong? Now might be a very good time — unless, of course, you’re too busy trying to make sure that you direct the process for selecting the next County Clerk.

The Garden Island also falsely reported, as it has numerous times before, that Peter, as Clerk, was the highest paid county employee. In fact, both the County Auditor and County Prosecutor earn the same rate of pay.

As senior planner, he’ll be making substantially less. But you know, when you consider the shit factor, and the long hours associated with the Clerk’s job, he’s actually gonna come out ahead. And he’ll continue to build his legacy of notable public service.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Musings: Facing Future

I attended the Kilauea session of the county's Important Ag Lands meeting yesterday, and you can check out my full report at For Kauai.

I found the IAL meeting to be fascinating, primarily because of the profound questions about our island’s future being raised by this process. To me, the main one is this: do we really want to become food and energy self-sufficient?

Because as I found out, we do have the raw resources — land, water and sun — to make that a reality. So is that what we want? I’d love to see more island-wide discussions on precisely that topic. Because if we decide as a community that we do want it, I’m sure we can overcome some of the other obstacles, like farm labor.

But whether we’ll have such a discussion remains to be seen. A lot of people are pretty fixed on the idea that the boats and planes will keep coming and Costco will always be full of super-sized stuff.

For others, the thought that we might have to function independently and self-sufficiently, either as an island or an archipelago, is too scary to consider because it means, as one friend described it, “a total collapse of the system.”

But rather than take the doomsday approach, why not look at is as a chance to gain more control over our existence, to pursue true community-based development, to maintain the island’s rural lifestyle that so many of us cherish?

Because right now, we still have that option, and if the economy does rebound, and development resumes, that’s not going to be the case for long. On the other hand, if the economy tanks and we do have to fend for ourselves, it’s best we get started now.

At any rate, though we’re two years into the IAL process, it’s only at the beginning, in terms of the political process that will determine the ultimate outcome.

And while the maps and other documents that Dr. Karl Kim and the IAL team have compiled provide some way-cool planning tools, the IAL process has also raised a lot of tough questions.

Like, do Grove Farm and A&B get to keep all the water in the reservoirs that feed the acreage that they’ve set aside as IAL, since water is a key component of that designation? Or do they still have to return some of that water to the streams?

What role do seed corn, and even coffee, play in a self-sufficient future, seeing as how they’re our number one crops, in terms of acreage and value, but they don’t generate food or fuel for local consumption?

And how can we get more people involved in crafting answers to these questions, plotting our island’s future?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Musings: Money Keeps Talking

The rain came, steady and strong, while I was still snuggled in bed, and as I listened, pulling the blanket closer against the chill, I thought of the garden bed I’d finished fluffing the day before and covered in its own blanket of banana leaves to await the weekend’s Pisces moon planting, and how the moistness being delivered from the heavens would make it even more appealing to worms.

The heavens in the past couple of days also delivered the chatter of intrusive “green harvest” choppers — so loud and low over my house this morning that it set off the dogs into frantic barking. A friend noted yesterday that while two helicopters had been deployed to seek out marijuana plants, only a single chopper was sent to search for the two missing tourists, one of whom apparently drowned off Polihale.

‘That’s because there’s no money in looking for drowned tourists,” I said, “but there is in looking for marijuana.”

There’s even more money in development. So when it came time to draft an ordinance implementing the 2008 charter amendment limiting resort-oriented development on Kauai, developers and their attorneys — many of them formerly in the county’s employ — immediately began talking about vested rights, takings and litigation.

Those are the magic words that make the knees of county officials buckle every time, and such was the case again when the Council speedily and unanimously passed the bill, and a floor amendment from Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura, that came before it yesterday.

Carl Imparato of the Coalition for Responsible Government, which initiated the charter amendment, spoke to that reality in his testimony before the Council:

In order to explain the essence of the bill, it needs to be considered in context. The reality is that prior to the passage of the Charter Amendment, the Planning Commission had approved more than 4,000 additional tourist units since 2000. Possibly 1,000 of those units have come on-line; so there is a "backlog" of about 3,000 units (some say it is as high as 4,000, but I believe it is closer to 3,000) that have been granted permits and whose owners could argue that their "vested rights" would be harmed if the Charter Amendment's provisions were applied to such projects.

In a sense, these are horses that were already let out of the barn; and while it is possible that some of them could be forced back into the barn (by adding phasing provisions to their permits that require them to wait in line to build), trying to do this through Bill 2410 would create threats of litigation against the County. (Developers cite legal precedents related to "vested rights" and "zoning estoppel.")

Regardless of whether or not these threats have solid legal bases, it is understandable that the County Council, the county administration and the county attorneys want to avoid litigation. They recognize that the developers have very big economic interests and therefore lots of money to fight for what they perceive to be their rights.

This is the environment in which we have had to pursue remedies to the problems in the original version of the bill.

Carl is not unhappy with the final bill; indeed, he supported it, though not all members of the Coalition do. In an email this morning, he wrote:

On the whole, I believe that the bill is a reasonable and legal implementation of the Charter Amendment's annual growth limit option, when all of the realities (such as the size of the backlog of approved-but-not-yet built projects, and the impacts of the economic slowdown on their construction schedules) are factored into the bill's mechanisms, and in light of the County’s fear of litigation threats. I also believe that this is the best product that the process will be able to create. More talk and more time wouldn't result in anything better.

Carl is a realist. Though the Coalition could have pressed harder for a tighter bill, it’s very challenging for grassroots groups to collect money for litigation, and few Kauai attorneys are willing and financially able to do land use cases pro bono or at a discounted rate.

And while many folks are happy to sign their names to a petition or cast their ballot at the polls, it’s tough to get them educated on the complexities of this particular issue and rallied to apply political pressure. Besides, how many times have we heard the citizenry shout no and the politicians still voted yes?

So while this bill ensures that pretty much everything in the hopper — and we’re talking thousands of units — is still good to go, it does throw a few bones to the voters who overwhelmingly approved the charter amendment. Like instead of issuing 750 new certificates for transient accommodation units (TAU) every five years, the county will issue 500. And if the backlog gets built out quickly, that figure will drop to 250. Further, any un-issued TAU certificates will not be rolled over into the next five-year allocation cycle.

Or as Carl summarized in his testimony:

What does that all add up to? Bill 2410 is complex, but I believe that for almost all credible future growth scenarios, the mechanisms above mean that compliance with the 1.5% growth cap will be achieved within the next 20 years.

He then went on to say that citizens must get involved in the next General Plan update, “as that process will maintain, strengthen, weaken, or completely undo everything that has been achieved so far.”

I think we need to go a little deeper than that and look at the faulty premise behind our approach to development. We are continually told that we must have more visitor accommodations, be they vacation rentals, timeshares or hotel rooms, to keep construction and tourism thriving and the economy robust.

But the burst of frenetic development in the first decade of this century did not protect us from the current economic downturn, with its unemployment and sluggish visitor counts and stalled out construction projects and anemic real estate values. As a whole, we’re no better off than we would’ve been, although some individuals and companies have profited wildly and still want more.

In short, what’s happening on Kauai is essentially a microcosm of what’s happened to the nation, where the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer and the government has aided the former a helluva lot more than the latter.

So while I happen to personally like some of the people who hold public office, I have to agree with the comment that Naomi Klein made on Democracy Now! today about the ongoing occupation of Wall Street:

Protesters are seeking change in the streets because it won’t come from the ballot box.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Musings: Right 2 Know

Rain, tantalizingly light, fell before dawn and then departed, leaving the ground barely dampened when Koko and Paele and I went out walking. Before us, the ever-green summit of Makaleha was draping itself in a cloak of soft white, while behind us, at the opposite end of the street, a bank of gray clouds revealed its scarlet underbelly.

Pioneer Hi-Bred hid its not-so-pretty GMO underbelly when it hosted an open house on the first day of October, which just so happens to be World Non-GMO Month.

While Pioneer was luring in unsuspecting kids with a petting zoo and playing up the dismal prospect of its business being the future of agriculture in Hawaii, a 16-day Right 2 Know March was getting under way in New York. Participants are headed for the White House, where they will demand labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms. Simultaneously, the Just Label it Campaign went live today.

GMO labeling could affect an estimated 65 to 80 percent of the packaged foods sold in America, where 90 percent of the soybean crop, 93 percent of the canola crop and some 75 percent of the corn crop is genetically modified. And before you dismiss the marchers as lunatic fringe, a 2010 Thompson Reuters Pulse survey found that 93 percent of respondents felt genetically modified foods should be labeled, while a CBS poll found that 87 percent of American consumers would like to see GMO foods labeled, just as they are in Europe, Japan and Australia.

So why aren’t they labeled here? Because the powerful biotech industry knows that a lot of people would stop buying their products if they knew they contained GMOs. Because Obama has failed to deliver on yet another of his campaign pledges. Oh, and because labeling would supposedly violate corporations’ First Amendment right to not speak. Ahem....

Meanwhile, unsuspecting consumers chowing down on fast foods, convenience foods and just about all processed foods are serving as guinea pigs. As an article in Mother Jones points out:

[S]tudies on the long-term effects of of GMOs are few and far between. But here's the kicker: scientists who do manage to conduct independent research have tended to find disturbing results, FWW [ Food and Water Watch ] shows:

A 2009 International Journal of Biological Sciences study found that rats that consumed GE corn for 90 days developed a deterioration of liver and kidney functioning. Another study found irregularities in the livers of rats, suggesting higher metabolic rates resulting from a GE diet. And a 2007 study found significant liver and kidney impairment of rats that were fed insect-resistant Bt corn, concluding that, “with the present data it cannot be concluded that GE corn MON863 is a safe product.”

Research on mouse embryos showed that mice that were fed GE soybeans had impaired embryonic development. Even GE livestock feed may have some impact on consumers of animal products: Italian researchers found biotech genes in the milk from dairy cows that were fed a GE diet, suggesting the ability of transgenes to survive pasteurization. [Note: there are footnotes to each study mentioned in the FWW report.]

Now, it's important to stress that none of this research definitively proves that GMOs are contributing to the vast load of chronic conditions affecting Americans. We need more research—independent of industry influence. But surely, it repudiates that FDA's practice of casually granting "generally regarded as safe" status on GMO foods based on industry assurances.

Then, of course, there’s also the question of how all that glyphosate used on the GMO crops, most of them designed to withstand direct applications of herbicides, is affecting human and environmental health.

In short, with GMOs we’ve got yet another example of how corporate greed and self-interest is adversely dominating a key part of our lives: food. At the very least, all consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they buy. And Kauai residents surely have the right to know exactly what our “good neighbors” on the south, west and east sides of our island are really growing and doing — not just what they choose to showcase in a warm and fuzzy open house.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Musings: On Forests and Humanity

A beautiful early morning slipped away in the garden, where I was engaged in the strenuous, addictive — I’m hot, I’m thirsty, but just a little bit more — and deeply satisfying act of digging a new garden bed. Last night, a mere month after sowing seeds, I enjoyed a salad tossed with the first tender leaves of arugula, daikon, kai choi and kale, and as I sat on the screen porch and ate, I looked around in excitement at all the places in my yard that can be transformed, through patience and toil, into productive pockets of sustenance.

As I dug, and Koko and Paele cleaned the last bits of meat from coconut husks, I thought about a New York Times article I’d read the day before on how the world’s forests are dying off at a remarkable rate due to climate change-related heat, drought, fires and insect invasions.

The article was especially interesting because it got into how forests play such a crucial role in absorbing the carbon dioxide that is released by burning fossil fuels. Indeed, according to the article:

It is an amount so large that trees are effectively absorbing the emissions from all the world’s cars and trucks.

The question before all of us, and most especially the scientists who study such things, is at what point we may succeed, through the climate change caused by our carbon emissions, in killing off the forests that are now so effectively absorbing them.

If forests were to die on a sufficient scale, they would not only stop absorbing carbon dioxide, they might also start to burn up or decay at such a rate that they would spew huge amounts of the gas back into the air — as is already happening in some regions. That, in turn, could speed the warming of the planet, unlocking yet more carbon stored in once-cold places like the Arctic.

Ironically, some forests are growing faster due to the increased availability of carbon dioxide, their primary food. But scientists aren’t sure if they ultimately will be able to withstand the heat and water stress associated with climate change, and generally agree emissions must be dramatically slowed.

“I think we have a situation where both the ‘forces of growth’ and the ‘forces of death’ are strengthening, and have been for some time,” said Oliver L. Phillips, a prominent tropical forest researcher with the University of Leeds in England. “The latter are more eye-catching, but the former have in fact been more important so far.”

And that comment made me wonder if the same might be true for humanity. Consider this:

On Friday, already deeply disturbed by the news that our government now openly conducts political assassinations of its own citizens, I agreed to meet a friend for a picnic dinner at Kealia.

As I was driving down Kawaihau Road, a young, male pit bull wandered into the road in front of me. I stopped, of course, and it looked around in confusion, prompting a motorist in the other lane to pause briefly before proceeding. As I waited for the dog to move, a jacked-up pickup truck pulled alongside me and a young man yelled down into my open window, “JUS BANG DA FUCKER!!”

Disgusted, and a bit shaken, I continued on to the beach. The picnic table was entirely covered with graffiti, which had begun spreading like a rash onto the ceiling of the pavilion. The ground was thick with cigarette butts and beer bottle caps, and across from me was a sign that read, “Respect the beach pack your trash,” because yes, some people still must be reminded of something that basic.

It’s depressing and discouraging to be continually confronted with the words and actions of people who exist at such a low level of consciousness, though they may in fact hold high positions in our society.

Yet that day I also had interviewed a woman who has spent a decade marshalling volunteers to help her successfully eradicate weeds in the forests of Kokee, and I had received emails from people who are involved in a wide range of activities aimed at not only raising their own consciousness, but in lifting up those mired in unconsciousness and its "forces of death" allies: violence, fear, apathy and greed.

So yes, even as the forces of death are strengthening, so, too, are the forces of growth, of life, and while the former get far more media coverage, the latter have been much important thus far.

But we're still waiting, like the forests, to see whether the forces of growth will triumph over the forces of death, or eventually succumb, overwhelmed.

In the meantime, all I can think to do is keep digging, sowing, tending, caring.