Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Musings: Revolutionary Concepts

I recently attended a workshop on raising chickens that was held at North Country Farms and led by Sky Roversi-Deal, a young man who grew up on that Kilauea farm and is now sharing the hands-on knowledge he gained with others. Contrary to what we're constantly told, not every kid is fleeing the farm.

I'd had chickens before, but was interested in learning how Sky fed his flock with a minimum of imported feed, 'cause ain't nothin' sustainable about shipping in layer pellets, and they're not cheap, either, especially if you buy organic. Plus I can't imagine that eating heavily processed food is any better for chickens than it is for us.

Anyway, I was taught how to make food for chickens, which I'm already doing for my dogs, thanks to Dr. Ihor Basko, and it got me excited about building a coop and raising some chicks.

But Sky imparted another lesson, too, one about the value of stable, consistent yields, as opposed to the high production mentality that is degrading not only farming practices, but livestock animals and the earth. It's pretty shocking — and yes, disgusting — to think that chickens used as layers don't even know how to set eggs — or in other words, hatch chicks — or forage. They've had those basic instincts bred right out of them so that they can function solely as high-volume egg-laying machines in food production factories.

We're changing the basic nature of animals so that we can more efficiently exploit them, and that's not only wrong in so many ways, it's putting our own survival at risk by intentionally reducing diversity.

We've all heard the phrase ”you are what you eat,” and it still holds true. I read the other day that for the first time the French are having problems with obesity, and it's because they've become addicted to the deadly junk food that America exports, like weapons, to the rest of the world.

Producing at least some of own food — and I'm talking cooking as well as growing — is not only the best way to ensure quality, but re-establish a healthy relationship with one of the essential components of life. In the process, it can also reveal attitudes that need changing. I thought of that yesterday, as I was contemplating how to make my cherry tomato plant produce more. I suddenly realized that it was doing just fine, providing me with a steady supply that fully met my needs. I did not actually need more.

And isn't that a revolutionary concept in ever-ravenous America.

While we're on the topic of revolutionary concepts, the White House, Google and YouTube fully ignored the most popular video question that citizens posed to Obama in yesterday's "Your Interview with the President" production.

Even though it won twice as many votes as any other video query, this question was deemed too daring to even broach:

"Mr. President, my name is Stephen Downing, and I'm a retired deputy chief of police from the Los Angeles Police Department. From my 20 years of experience I have come to see our country's drug policies as a failure and a complete waste of criminal justice resources. According to the Gallup Poll, the number of Americans who support legalizing and regulating marijuana now outnumbers those who support continuing prohibition. What do you say to this growing voter constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you have delivered in your first term?"

Guess we know the answer to that one: nothing.

But Obama did take advantage of the “virtual interview” to defend his unprecedented use of armed drones. As Democracy Now! reports:

"I want to make sure the people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part, they have been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied. So I think that there’s this perception somehow that we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly. This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on. It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash."

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in August that U.S. drones strikes had killed between about 400 and 800 civilians, including 175 children. The Bureau put the total number of people killed by drones as high as 3,000.

Weird, yeah, how killing kids and civilians is no big deal, but talking about legalizing marijuana is kapu...... But I guess it's no more bizarre than our devotion to factory food.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Musings: Fringe Fights

What a delight to wake to the sound of twittering, chirping, singing birds, creating a harmonious impromptu symphony that roused me from dreams and sent the dogs and me out into a warm, damp morning that was just turning orange around the edges.

Forget the news; the real action has been playing out overhead in the darkness the last few evenings, with a waxing moon first dancing with Venus low on the horizon, then cozying up midway between Venus and Jupiter, and last night finally snuggling close to Jupiter, not far from the constellation of Makalii. Simply stunning.

Enroute to a meeting with Planning Director Mike Dahilig on Friday morning — which will be covered in another post — I saw a good-sized group clustered around the Moikeha building, where the police commission was meeting. They were members of the Oklevueha Native American Church of Kauai, and in protest of the cop's December raid on their Church, which resulted in the peyote they use as sacrament being confiscated, they were holding signs with messages like “”let us pray” and “set our buttons free.”

Afterward, I spoke with Shane Johnson, the minister, as well as some Church members who said they were not allowed into the police commission meeting, which is public, so I'm not sure how that was justified. Their numbers certainly didn't exceed the capacity of the room.

I looked at the documentation that Shane had, and I can understand why they were under the impression that local government considered them legit, and thus protected from peyote busts. They have a certificate of good standing from the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs that shows they were incorporated as a nonprofit under the laws of Hawaii, with a declaration from the main church in Utah that establishes them as a branch and states peyote is central to their religion, as well as a General Excise license.

Plus as Shane noted, “We're signed up with the mayor's recycling program. It's not like we're trying to hide anything.”

At any rate, the commissioners said they didn't have the authority to return the peyote, although they would investigate allegations of police wrongdoings from Church members, which will take at least a month. And if you look at the commission's agenda, you will see that a great number of citizen complaints against cops are dropped because of insufficient evidence. In other words, unless you've got the incident on video, like LeBeau Lagmay’s Tasering, you're pretty much screwed.

“We're not trying to attack the police force,” Shane said. “We're just trying to keep from being attacked.”

After the meeting, as a uniformed cop stood by watching just in case whatevah, Church members joined hands, said a prayer and sang a song, and the leaders were anointed with hemp oil. They then went to say hi to the mayor, or more accurately, stand in the foyer beneath his office. Their next plan is to visit the prosecutor, though they might want to make an appointment as she could be out campaigning, I mean, educating seniors about scams and the like.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint letter against Maui County, citing concerns that cops violated the First Amendment rights of Occupy Wall Street Maui protestors during a week-long demonstration outside the Kihei facilities of Monsanto, the epitome of the evil corporation.

According to a report from Maui Now:

The ACLU letter, dated on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, alleges OWSM members were threatened with trespass and instructed to leave the site after sunset because of safety concerns.

“[T]here is evidence to suggest that the county is singling out the Occupy protesters for harassment based on the content of their speech.”

The cops also reportedly turned away porta-potties that OWSM had rented, prompting Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana M. Lutey to state in a reply to the ACLU:

“In terms of the portable toilet permit, this cannot be construed as an act of harassment by MPD. If a permit was denied, I do not know who would have denied it. There is no provision in the County Code for the issuance of a portable toilet permit. As a result, no county agency could have denied the permit.”

So the cops were just going rogue?

I loved Monsanto's response:

“This is a legal and safety matter outside of our purview, so we respectfully defer to county and state authorities.”

Really? Then I guess they wouldn't mind if local government started cracking down on safety issues related to their poison-laden GMO cultivation practices, which is one big reason why the OWSM guys were out there in the first place.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Musings: Out of Sight

Out walking beneath a starry black sky that turns white on its way to blue, in a bowl formed by Nounou, Waialeale and Makaleha, all standing vividly clear, I am reminded, as I watch the dogs scamper and skip without restraint of leash, of the model they set for finding joy in the small/big things in life: freedom, affection, food, being part of a pack — as opposed to a PAC.

So let's see, what's in the hopper today.....

Well, it's no surprise, given the recent talk about beefing up America's presence in the Pacific, that both Civil Beat and the Star-Advertiser are reporting an anticipated increase in military spending and personnel — perhaps 1,000 more Marines — for Hawaii.

With all this saber rattling going on, good thing the Lege is considering a bill that will add PTSD as another of the maladies that can be treated by medical cannabis.

Speaking of medical cannabis, I was interested to learn a few more details about that December raid on the Oklevueha Native American church. While the police carefully weighed all the peyote they confiscated, they reportedly did not weigh the cannabis that belonged to three authorized medical marijuana users before seizing it, too. What's more, they haven't given it back. Now how can the cops legally take marijuana that belongs to blue card holders? The cops also were trying to classify the scissors used to cut up the weed as drug paraphernalia. Come on.

Church leaders will have 12 minutes to state their case to the Police Commission this morning about why they feel the bust was bogus. I understand commissioners are busy people, serving for free, but don't you think they could spare more than three minutes per person when folks are raising concerns about the actions of law enforcement officers?

Meanwhile, I was dismayed to hear that a planning commissioner told a North Shore resident, “I haven't been up there for 20 years. I wrote that place off a long time ago.” Sweet.

Equally out of sight is the radiation from Fukushima. But that doesn't mean some folks aren't paying attention. Up in Alaska, they're testing sick seals for radiation exposure. Another culprit could be hydrazine, which was pumped into the damaged reactors and is extremely toxic to marine mammals.

And a detailed article in the Montreal Gazette reports that:

Japan is the only country that appears to be systematically testing fish for radiation and publicly reporting the results.

What's more, they're finding it. According to the article:

Cesium was especially prevalent in certain of the species:

73 per cent of mackerel tested; 91 per cent of the halibut; 92 per cent of the sardines; 93 per cent of the tuna and eel; 94 per cent of the cod and anchovies; 100 per cent of the carp, seaweed, shark and monkfish.

“It’s disconcerting how big of an event Fukushima was and how little data are out there. No one has taken responsibility for studying this in a single agency (in the U.S.), even though we also have reactors on the coast and other events could happen,” said oceanographer Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the non-profit Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass.

Which quite possibly explains why one is studying it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Musings: State of Shibai

It was such a joy to hear the rain come in the night and stay, depositing nearly half an inch of much-needed moisture before it slipped away, leaving big puddles and fog creeping across the road when the dogs and I went out walking in darkness broken only by a few stars and the blinking lights of aircraft overhead.

It had been so long since it rained that I was beginning to feel like I lived on the leeward side. Guess this is what Hawaii under climate change is going to feel like. But don't worry, can still be business as usual —NOT!

Speaking of which, last night Obama gave his bizarre State of the Union address, in which he began by exhorting us to mirror the example set by the Armed Forces — what, you mean follow orders blindly and kill innocents in defense of empire and some bullshit about making America safe, even as we willfully destroy the environment that provides our true security just so we can continue to wildly consume energy and everything else? Ummm, no thanks.

Or was he suggesting we emulate the high rates of suicide, depression, domestic violence, unemployment and brain damage suffered by too many of the 2.3 million vets who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the frustration they experience when being jacked around by the VA when it's swamped under a whopping backlog of 900,000 disability claims?

Yet Obama actually had the nerve to say: “As they come home, we must serve them as well as they've served us.” Get real. If you want to know what crappy service we're giving those sent to fight those two misguided wars, read this article in The Week.

After pandering to the vets and nationalistic sentiment, he moved on to the middle class, talking about income inequality and the bad guys on Wall Street, which prompted Ralph Nader to point out:

"Where has he been for over three years? He’s had the Justice Department. There are existing laws that could prosecute and convict Wall Street crooks. He hasn’t sent more than one or two to jail."

But while Obama talked a lot of shit, these two lines really stood out:

We will stand against violence and intimidation. We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings

Meanwhile, in the real world, Homeland Security is teaming up with the Coast Guard to create a security zone at Kaunakakai Harbor on Molokai precisely for the purpose of intimidating residents — through the threatened use of violence — who oppose the Safari Explorer cruise ship. It's the same strategy Lingle employed during the Superferry protests: slap up an exclusionary “security zone” and threaten anyone who enters it with a federal crime. Oh, and they'll take away your kids, too. Remember that?

As the notice in the federal register reads, emphasis added:

The establishment of this security zone is necessary to enable the Coast Guard and its law enforcement partners to protect people, vessels, and facilities in and around Kaunakakai Harbor during potential non-compliant protests involving the passenger vessel SAFARI EXPLORER to its intended berth in the harbor.

That's the true state of the union, folks. You can engage in civil disobedience only in the manner the government prescribes. Otherwise, you're non-compliant and treated like a terrorist. But hey, this is a democracy, which means you can submit your comments on the zone even though it went into effect on Jan. 19 and was already used last weekend. And you know they're gonna do it no matter what the people say. That's why I really had to laugh at the part that reads:

We encourage you to participate in this rulemaking by submitting comments and related materials.

Yeah, and don't forget to vote, too. hahahahaha

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Musings: What Happened?

The sky was just waking up when the dogs and I went out walking. Stars that had been blazing all night were slowly disappearing as their black background began shifting to the faintest shade of blue. Mist rose up from the pasture and drifted into the road, and in the distance stood Waialeale, fully visible, though softened by a purplish haze. The hundreds of fighting roosters, tethered to their little a-frames, let out a continuous roar, and occasionally a dog barked or yelped.

Returning home, yoga released the stiffness that had set in from spending a couple of hours in my garden, which reflects my own expansionist tendencies. As I complete one bed — I'm now up to eight, plus three tiny loi and an herb garden — I'm thinking, where can I dig another? Because there's always something more I want to grow.

And it brought to mind an article I emailed to Farmer Jerry, under the subject heading “whither (wither) goes ag.....” It was entitled college majors that are useless and included the ranking:

Useless Degree #1 - Agriculture; Useless Degree #4 - Animal Science; Useless Degree #5 - Horticulture

Somehow we've come to view growing crops and raising livestock — in other words, creating the raw ingredients that are made into the processed food-like substances we consume — as inconsequential, in the same category as fashion design and theater arts. What happened?

The same question could be asked of the case that involves Councilman Tim Bynum's alleged zoning violation. Information that I had previously received “off the record” was released by The Garden Island today, so we might as well talk about it. I'm referring to an April 7, 2010, email that County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho sent to former Planning Director Ian Costa:

“We received information to corroborate an anonymous complaint dated March 26, 2010, that was sent to the Planning Department and our office, that Councilmember Tim Bynum was renting out his house, or a portion thereof. Can you let me know if renting out a portion of his residence is illegal given his land status, and what ordinance/statute would he be violating by doing so? Please advise.”

On April 8, 2010, Costa emailed Iseri-Carvalho, responding that Bynum’s residence was permitted as a “single-family” dwelling based on one kitchen.

“If a second kitchen (area used for the preparation of food) is present, then a violation would exist for an illegal ‘multi-family’ dwelling unit,” Costa said in his email.

Now, I found this interesting, because when I attended the Dec. 21, 2011, court hearing on Tim's case, I had a little chat with Deputy Prosector Jake Delaplane about how zoning violations are handled. He said violations are done in tandem with the county attorney's office, with the planning department and county attorney's office typically taking the lead.

So if, as Shay claims in the newspaper's report, her “staff works 60-70 hours each week, and it is 'quite insensitive' to have her staff tied up at a council meeting,” how does she personally have the time to follow up on a zoning complaint about Tim? Wouldn't you think she'd delegate an inquiry like that to an underlying?

Or since the planning department had also received the same “anonymous complaint” — and it's my understanding that it wasn't truly anonymous, but someone who wished to have his/her identify withheld — wouldn't you wait for the planning department to check it out and start the ball rolling?

At the Dec. 21 court hearing, Jake said the prosecutors office wasn't targeting Tim, and some 40 persons accused of CZO violations were arraigned the same day as Tim. “Overall, we're taking a stronger stance with these violations because they haven't been enforced in the past,” he said.

Did Shaylene follow up personally on all of those cases, too? Has she been trying to hunt down the off-island owners of the TVRs that are in violation, so they can be served their summons for violations?

I mean, this can't be the highest priority for an overworked county prosecutor, and it sure makes it look she's gunning for Tim. And while Tim is not one of my favorite people, I'm even less enamored of selective enforcement and political vendettas.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Musings: Strong-Arming Molokai

Those who support Molokai folks in their quest for self-determination, as well as people involved with the Hawaii Superferry demonstrations, will appreciate the action at Kaunakakai Harbor yesterday, where about 50 persons protested the return of a 36-passenger vessel operated by American Safari Cruises.

Here's a link to a short video clip of the protest, which was posted with the text:

On January 21st 2012 over 100 police, coast guard, us sheriffs, and fbi converged on the tiny isle of Moloka'i. To protect a private luxury yacht and it's 36 passengers. At a cost of over $1 million dollars.

One of the background comments recorded on the video:

Well, I guess the governor really proved his point. He's the man. Can strong-arm Molokai.

Ya really gotta wonder, why would that cruise ship want to bring passengers to a place where they're so clearly not wanted? A sign held by one protestor offers an answer: GREED IZ DA PROBLEM.

According to a very short report in the Star-Advertiser:

The Coast Guard used a cutter to escort the American Safari Cruises 36-passenger ship, with a response boat and 27 Coast Guard personnel assisting on the ground, as well as a few manning small boats from the Marine Safety and Security Team from San Francisco, which was here for the recent presidential visit.

The FBI, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Maui County police and deputy sheriffs were also on hand.

The clamp down followed an action on Nov. 26, 2011, when Molokai folks used surfboats and small boats to block the cruise ship from entering Kaunakakai Harbor. It eventually turned around left.

But now it's back, with an armed escort. As a protestor addressing the ship and its escort with a bullhorn said:

We don't know who you're protecting. Not us. Molokai has always peacefully demonstrated and yet you guys come here fully loaded, armed and ready to shoot. What's up with that? What you guys gonna do? Shoot our kids? You gonna shoot the kupuna?

We're not terrorists. We love this place. Do you guys love this place? You don't even know this place. Therefore, leave.

It's a pretty sad state of affairs when the government is forcing tourism on kanaka at the point of a gun. As the sign held by one kupuna read: Respect the Lifestyle and Desires of Local People.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Musings: A Truly New Day

Driving to the beach for sunrise, I'm starstruck not by the stars, which were disappearing, but all the mountains — Kalalea, Makaleha, Waialeale, Kawaikini — standing perfectly clear against a backdrop the color of pink ginger. At the shore, the drama continues, with a strategically placed cloud blocking the top half of a fiery red sun, causing five broad shafts of rose and silver light to beam from sea to sky.

The water, smoothed by a faint offshore wind that carries the musky-sweet scent of white hinano hanging in coastal hala trees, is a color somewhere between blue and brown, and conditions are perfect for the guys who pulled into the parking lot right behind me, driving a truck with a window decal of a diver preparing to spear a tako.

I think of the conversation I had the day before with fisherman/surfer Greg Holzman, who expressed concern about the possible loss of shoreline and ocean access that he and others fear could accompany critical habitat designations for the monk seal and the creation of marine life sanctuaries.

I think also of comments he made about how access to the island's mauka areas has been lost with the closing of sugar plantations, development, landowner worries about liability. As a result, he said, the areas that are open, like Kokee, get overused, creating conflicts between hunters and hikers/tourists, and the pig population has exploded in the places where guys can't get in to hunt anymore.

And that makes me think of DLNR's new plan to protect our watersheds — provided the Legislature kicks down $11 million per year. Perhaps that's why the agency is taking its case to the public in the opening days of the Lege with a television special, “The Rain Follows the Forest,” set to air on KGMB at 6:30 tonight, and again at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The plan, which is part of Abercrombie's “New day in Hawaii,” and so includes language about public-private partnerships, sounds a serious alarm:

Immediate action is needed to secure Hawaii’s water supply. Hotter, drier conditions and damaged watersheds are escalating the costs and conflicts over water.

Fresh, clean water is an irreplaceable resource. It is fundamental to our well-being. It fuels agriculture, tourism, and sustainable development. In turn, our water supply depends on the health of our mauka native forests, which capture and absorb rain. With over half of the original forest lost, and the remainder threatened by exploding populations of invasive species, the forest now relies on us for its survival.

The proposal identifies fencing key watersheds and removing all hooved animals from those enclosures as “the first step towards protection” — a concept that is essentially a repeat of what plantation owners did in the early 1900s. But it's likely to meet strong resistance from hunters, who have long had tremendous influence on public land management in Hawaii. Though the plan calls for using hunters to remove the animals wherever it's safe to do so, hunters have consistently opposed efforts to fence public lands.

When the state talks about partnerships, perhaps it could push harder for improved mauka and makai access, so that people, especially those who secure food through hunting and fishing, don't continue to feel so squeezed, which feeds conflicts with other humans, as well as wildlife. Witness the recent attacks on the monk seals, which are viewed as fishing competitors.

I was also interested in the proposal's acknowledgement that:

Additionally, resorts are the most water-intensive land use, using over three times more water per acre than industrial and commercial, and five times more water per acre than agriculture. Because of this, water-intensive resort development and expansion can be restricted by limited water supplies.

But mightn't that be a good thing? Especially since the proposal also recognizes:

[T]he unique cultural and natural resources that attract visitors to Hawai`i are declining. Native species sacred to the Hawaiian culture are disappearing at the highest extinction rate in the nation because of development, introductions of invasive species, and other threats.

Once again we're confronted with this ongoing disconnect between conservation and development. We keep acting like we can have both, and we keep getting knocked up side the head by proof that we can't.

If we're going to spend millions to protect the native forests, why not also get sensible about determining the carrying capacity of these islands when it comes to tourism? We've already heard Richard Lim, director of the state Department of Economic Development and Tourism admit:

[T]ourism has essentially remained stagnant for the last 20 years and can no longer be relied on to move the economy into a prosperous future.

So why keep pretending like it will? Instead of spending money to lure more and more tourists to the Islands, and jumping through hoops to ensure they're entertained, why not channel a big chunk of dough into supporting local ag? That way we'd save water, increase our self-sufficiency and keep our hard-earned cash in Hawaii, rather than sending it out to the places that grow our imported food.

It's good to see DLNR pushing its ambitious plan to protect watersheds, and hopefully it's not too late. But if the Guv truly wants to usher in "a new day in Hawaii," he needs to start steering the Islands away from their dependence on tourism and the military, neither of which will ever be sustainable, and into practices that are.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Musings: Lessons From the "Lowly"

Last night, as the trees creaked and big rain beat on the windows, I sent a video link to a friend of a crow clearly using a jar lid to sled down a snowy roof. It was accompanied by a short article in which a scientist described it as “play-like behavior.”

“I don't understand how people don't think animals play,” she replied in an email I received after walking beneath a crescent moon as shell pink clouds blew past the waterfall-streaked face of Makaleha this morning.

Really. So if it's hard for some humans to believe animals play, much less think or feel, I realize it's a big stretch to accept the fact that bacteria have something important to teach us.

But they do. After all, they've been around for some 4 billion years, compared to our measly little 100,000, only the last 6,000 of which have approached anything close to what we now congratulate ourselves on as civilization.

Meanwhile, the bacteria can watch the frenzied empire-building, colonizing, exploiting, over-populating, over-consuming human dramas that have brought our species to the brink of simultaneous crises and yawn, “Been there, done that.”

Because they have, more than once, and each time they figured out a way to adapt themselves to weather it, which resulted in an evolutionary leap. Heck, they even developed electric motors as complex as our own, and way before we did, says Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris, an evolution biologist who was the subject of a fascinating and inspiring interview on New Dimensions that you can listen to free through today.

I suggest you do, because hearing her give the abridged history of the evolution of life on the planet really helped to put things in perspective. It also gave me hope. As Sahtouris says, “Life gets creative in a time of crisis.”

So as we ponder our possible fates, it behooves us to take a few lessons from the “lowly” bacteria that not only were here first, but offer us a model for how we humans can evolve into a mature species — provided we don't kill each other off, first.

Here's the biggest tip: move beyond hostile competition to cooperation and co-creation. “We have to form a global family if we're going to make this thing work,” Sahtouris says. “We're not looking for monoculture; that's a human invention. We have to maintain the diversity and do things cooperatively within it.”

And another one: have a little more appreciation for all forms of life, especially the bacteria that play such critical roles in our own existence. Consider this: the bacteria in our guts alone regulate 80 percent of our immune system function.

“We're not supposed to call them germs and attack them all the time,” Sahtouris says. “They're so flexible. We're not as smart as they are. Our consciousness is new in evolution compared to theirs. Once we understand this, we will be demanding natural products and good food.”

Needless to say, she is an opponent of genetic engineering and factory farming practices that call for giving livestock massive doses of antibiotics. While the technically-oriented scientists who come up with this stuff do have their place, she says, “we need scientists who understand life to stand up to them when they're going off course.”

What I really liked was her description of life as “a sort of improvisational dance, constantly rebalancing itself and learning flexibility and resiliency.”

Interestingly enough, just before listening to the interview I'd written an article about acupuncture, and how its sole purpose is to help restore the balanced movement of energy through our bodies so that we can naturally repair ourselves. Ah yes, yet another ancient concept that's finally trickling into Western awareness...

Anyway, as Sahtouris sees it, we currently have "an old culture and a new culture co-existing” in human systems. The old is vigorously resisting relinquishing its power — think Mitt Romney preaching how he'll America arm to the teeth to reassert our role as a dominant force in the world — and the new fears that it won't prevail against that resisting force. But she sees the shift we're making “less like a phoenix rising from the ashes than the metamorphosis of a butterfly emerging from the caterpillar.”

In other words: “Look for ways that we can adapt,” Sahtouris says. “Be in joy, not fear or negativity.”

And embrace your role as co-creator in this dance of life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Musings: Witnessing the Incredible

Sitting in the midst of a racket of mynah chatter and soughing of warm wind through big trees, I think of a friend who likes to affect obliviousness; a facade that is often betrayed by his actions, such as when he wisely declined to view a video clip I sent him about how horribly animals are abused in labs — “I can't watch that stuff,” he said — and instead emailed me a link, under the apt subject heading: response to animal testing.

I watched the video in a state of awe that increased as it progressed — did you see the bat (a mammal, just like us) carrying a baby when it came in to feed? — until at the end, all I could think was, wow, we humans are so lucky to be a part of this world. Can't we start treating it a little bit better?

And then I decided, I'm not gonna post the link to the animal testing video. It's just too tempting to look, and why sicken ourselves with documentations of our depravity when we can nourish our souls and psyches by witnessing the incredible web of life?

All you really need to know is Mars engages in animal testing — as do all these companies — and the video was so disturbing you'll never eat another M&M, Snickers, Twix, Dove, Three Musketeers, Starburst or Skittles. Take my word for it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Musings: Alternative Vision

It was a shivery 62 degrees and the sky was the pink-gray-silver of mother-of-pearl, an open abalone shell, when the dogs and I went out walking this morning. As I watched, the flat top of Waialeale was overcome and then freed by clouds that drifted up and then back down, up and then back down, a scene that kept repeating itself as I tried to dodge sticky, ensnaring spider webs that stretched between trees, dangled from branches and utility wires, holding insects, leaves, pine needles hostage.

It was a scenario not unlike our modern economic system, with its cyclical booms and busts, its advertising campaigns designed to trap us into wanting, and acquiring, so many things we do not need. And I thought back to a snippet I heard on the radio from Mitt Romney's New Hampshire primary victory speech:

The country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. We have to offer an alternative vision. I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we’re lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success.

It struck me that Romney, and so many others, have it all wrong. The current antagonism toward the 1% isn't rooted in envy or resentment of success as they define it — at least, not for many of us.

We don't want to be like them. We want them to be more like us.

We want them to be aware of how over-consumption, conspicuous consumption, endless consumption, strain the planet and its finite resources, lay waste to the land, can never be made sustainable, leave so many others with not enough.

We want them to see how selfishness, narcissism and greed undermine community, destroy relationships, sow injustice, feed famines, wars and strife.

We want them to understand that success has nothing to do with power, money, stuff or exclusivity, but instead is rooted in one's ability to care, to hold out a helping hand, attend to others' needs and not just one's own, appreciate the beauty and love available to all of us, free of charge, each and every day.

That's the alternative vision that is being offered not by Mitt Romney, or any candidate on the campaign trail, but those of us who recognize time is growing short, and we must quickly change our ways.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Musings: Changes Large and Small

A blast of chill air and a lopsided white moon in an even whiter sky greeted the dogs and me when we stepped outside for our walk this morning. Everything was drenched in thick dew and Waialeale, with her notched summit, was fully in view, though in outline, not detail. That would come later, when the sun rose red-gold, staining all in its path with like color and revealing every nook and cranny, crack and crevice, on the mountain's ancient blue face.

I was talking to a guy yesterday who said Kauai used to be much larger, about the size of the Big Island, and Waialeale once stood about 13,000 feet, but the weight of the magma near the top grew too heavy to hold and the summit collapsed, all at once, permanently submerging lower-lying lands up to an elevation of about 1,800 feet.

While the events in Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe's courtroom yesterday were not nearly so dramatic, it's still noteworthy that she actually ordered a guy to pay restitution for stealing medical marijuana. Seems he was caught on video ripping nine ounces of cannabis from a blue card holder who is a caregiver for two others. In addition to restitution of $3,150, based on a price of $350 per ounce, the man convicted of felony theft was also sentenced to five years probation and six months in jail, suspended.

So even though Hawaii's medical marijuana users still face discrimination in numerous other ways — registering with the Department of Safety, no insurance reimbursements, ridiculous six-month backlog for processing blue cards, no legal supply source, prohibitions against when and where it can be used, and most invasive of all, having to consent to let law enforcement inspect the place where it's grown to make sure the crop doesn't exceed what's allowed — at least the courts will stand up for patients and caregivers when they're robbed.

Or as one courtroom observer noted: "Wow! I just saw a court treat pot like medicine."

Meanwhile, citizens of Washington state and Colorado are going straight for legalization, via the taxed-like-alcohol model. Enough signatures apparently have been collected to qualify ballot measures in both states this year, according to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The group's spokesman, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, issued this statement:

“Our brief experiment with alcohol prohibition along with 40 years of a war on drugs has clearly shown that making a drug illegal does nothing to decrease its availability and may actually result in greater usage. It is also equally clear that marijuana prohibition greatly increases violent black market crime, police and political corruption, and the overcrowding of prisons with people who in most cases could have been productive members of society - all this at a cost of over $70 billion a year, money that could be put to much better use!”

Wow. Seventy billion. Kinda makes you stop and think, WTF?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Musings: For Sale, Cheap

It's good to read that the state Ethics Commission is warning lawmakers not to attend today's “A Taste of Ag” event. The menu sounds super yummy, and we all know how our legislators love to tie on the feed bag. However, the problem lies not with the chow, but with the hosts: the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association and Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation.

As Larry Geller reports over at Disappeared News:

This event is clearly aimed at winning the hearts and minds of legislators. In addition to the fancy menu (see below) it will feature three keynote speakers representing the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association. As the sponsors clearly know, the best way to win someone’s heart is through the stomach. The keynote speakers are aimed at their minds. After all, this is their business: lobbying legislators (another interpretation of “winning hearts and minds”).

So just who is behind the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association? Well, H. Doug Matsuoka did a little digging over at his blog:

In their testimony in opposition to GMO labeling, they describe themselves as “a nonprofit trade association representing the seed industry in Hawaii.” How cool, right?

Wrong! I tried to find out more about them by researching their officers and directors.

He then goes on to present a little chart that shows where all but one HCIA official — including our own Cindy Goldstein, the DuPont/Pioneer shill — is employed:

The corporations represented listed in alphabetical order:


What we have is a who’s who of multinational GMO corporations.  As much as they try to represent themselves as “agricultural” companies, note that all of them are primarily chemical companies with a major portion of their sales in poisons such as herbicides and fungicides.

We all know that these corporations have gazillions to spend on lobbying lawmakers and bullying opponents, which is why it has been virtually impossible to pass any laws regulating the GMO industry in Hawaii and elsewhere.

And while that isn't likely to change any time soon, at least Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo is putting lawmakers on notice that it's just a little too blatant to gorge on grinds at one of their events. Or as the old German proverb puts it, “Whose bread I eat his song I sing.”

What's really sad, though, is that our lawmakers can be bought for a $50 buffet, even if it is all you can eat.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Musings: "Suckas!"

I stopped by a Planning Commission hearing last Friday morning to bang my head against the wall, I mean, check out what's happening with Kauai's most lucrative and bountiful agricultural crop: vacation rentals.

Yep, they're all sliding through the permitting process now, with the owners by and large getting the go-ahead to dramatically increase the value of their properties, rake in outrageous revenues, skew the value of ag land and forever change the character of rural communities like Kilauea.

To their credit, staffers in the county attorney's office and planning department have sought to impose a — gasp! — agricultural dedication on ag lots larger than one acre — an idea proposed by attorney Dan Hempey as a way to get farmers on the land and help TVR owners comply with state law.

But the message from the TVR owners — or rather, the attorneys they sent in their stead — was clear: we don't need no stinking farms.

One after another, the attorneys said screw that pesky ag dedication. Ironically, Charley Foster, Hempey's associate, was among them.

Of course they don't want farms — and most particularly, the kind of people who would labor on them — cracking the carefully constructed facade of opulent exclusivity that they market along with the “private beach” accessed via the illegal trails they supposedly built for “maintenance purposes.”

And while I applaud the county for trying, let's get real: can you imagine how a poor farmer might suffer trying to work on land owned by some of these greedy, narcissistic, money-grubbing speculators, most of whom live off-island?

Which brings me to a question: why aren't these applicants required to show up in person, instead of being allowed to send their attorneys? If they're going to benefit so greatly from the generous gift of a special use permit, can't they at least be bothered to trot their butts down to the meeting room, like those of us testifying against them?

I do have to give Michele Hughes credit for showing face, such that it is, though her attorney, Lorna Nishimitsu, did all the talking. But then, I guess Michele figured it was worth a few hours of her time, seeing as how she had two units up for approval. On that day, anyway.

Which raises another question: why can't we limit these hoteliers to no more than one? Cause isn't it kind of hard to believe that they were actually building a house for themselves and didn't know they couldn't operate it as a TVR when they've got multiple units spread around the island? As an interesting aside, the building permits for the Hughes property show a 2,394-square-foot, two-story “barn” and a 470-square-foot “garden shed,” which is, coincidentally, I'm sure, the approximate size as the two TVRs. Amazing how many “ag buildings” are needed by a non-farm.

Which leads me to yet another question, the question that actually should have preceded all other questions: what about the farm dwelling agreement? You know, the document that ag landowners sign under a notary's seal — with the planning director and county attorney affixing their signatures, too — swearing that the house they're building “is located on and used in connection with a farm where agricultural activity provides income to the family occupying the dwelling?” With family defined as “an individual or two or more persons related by blood, marriage or adoption or a group comprising not more than five persons, not related by blood, marriage or by adoption.”

So how, pray tell, do the sleep-20-with-spa mini-resorts like Hale Mana, which was also on the agenda that day, possibly qualify, even if you pretended the steady stream of tourists staying there were a family? And how can one person have more than one unit, seeing as how it's physically impossible to occupy two dwellings at once?

Which raises another question: why didn't the County Council and Mayor move to enforce the farm dwelling agreement against these egregious violators, instead of cowering in the corner and passing a bill legalizing their scams when their attorneys threatened to sue for a “taking?” Cause it sure looks to me like they're the ones doing the “taking,” with both hands, no less.

And aren't these places a blatant violation of the CZO, which defines a dwelling as “a structure used exclusively for residential occupancy and having all necessary facilities for permanent residency;” and single family detached as “a building consisting of only one (1) dwelling unit designed or or occupied by one (1) family?”

I mean, if they can prosecute Councilman Tim Bynum (who voted for the ag TVR bill, btw) for a rice cooker in his family room, surely they can go after those who build resorts on fake farms.

And then there was Laurel Loo, representing an owner at Anini who wanted a permit for the main house and the ADU (additional dwelling unt), too. Gee, I remember when ADUs used to be called “ohana units,” because the Council approved them as a way to provide low-cost housing for permanent island residents. Guess that concept has gone out the window, along with any sense of justice and morality.

Because it's wrong, flat out wrong, to be rewarding people like Bill and Sandy Strong, whose TVR is up for approval by the Commission today, when they intentionally built their houses for resort purposes. I know guys who worked on the Strong house, and it includes elaborate security provisions and fortifications designed to make it attractive as a rental by the paranoid uber rich. What's more, they added on two guest cottages that would have been illegal, except for the covered walkways that connect them to the main house, thus completing the charade that it was all one unit.

Yeah, that's the kind of manure being spread on these faux farms, which in that particular Kilauea neighborhood have actually worked to drive real farms out of business. Did you ever stop to wonder how Will Smith could sell seven acres of ag land with a house for $20 million? It's because his neighbors on the bluff above Kauapea Beach are running luxury mini-hotels.

Which brings me to anther question: shouldn't all the applications in one neighborhood — to use the term loosely — be grouped together so that the Commission might assess the cumulative impact of such uses on a community? As the president of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association pointed out in his testimony on Friday, that agenda alone included more than a dozen TVRs in the Kilauea area; dozens more have been or will be considered at other times. At least, as KNA pleaded, make the developers present their plans to the community before they are rubber stamped for approval.

And then there's this nagging question: how can the county be handing out special permits for TVRs built on CPRs when state law reads “Special permits for land the area of which is greater than fifteen acres or for lands designated as important agricultural lands shall be subject to approval by the land use commission?” Six of the TVRs on last Friday's agenda are on lots larger than 15 acres.

It's not like the county doesn't know about this provision, because on two other applications the staff report states: “Because the subject property is less than 15 acres in size, the Planning Commission does not require final approval by the State Land Use Commission.”

So what gives, guys? Are you just winging it, because you know Protect Our Neighborhood Ohana – the only group holding your feet to the fire — doesn't have the money to challenge this crap in court?

The mayor and certain members of the County Council who approved the ag TVR bill have tried to soothe opponents by cooing, take heart, at least they're being regulated now, and there will never be any more — a platitude now adopted by staff.

But they just don't seem to grasp that the problem lies in how they're being regulated, as well as in the fact that the greedy grabbers got the goodies, and any farmer who decides at some future point that she/he really could use a vacation rental to keep the farm afloat will be shit out of luck.

By then, of course, many of these mini-hotels will have changed hands several times, at great profit, or sold to hotel chains and investment consortiums. And the original developers will be laughing all the way to the bank, saying, “suckas!”

And that, sadly, is land use "planning" in a nutshell on Kauai.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Musings: Reclaiming Life

The approximate time was last evening, and we were sitting on the beach, preparing to eat a picnic dinner, or more accurately, I already was; my friend was fiddling with a phone app, trying to figure out exactly where Mahina would rise.

“Don't worry about it,” I said. “I'm always perfectly situated, just intuitively. Look!”

And I pointed to the pale white orb ascending, directly in front of us, through the blue-pink smear that sits upon the horizon at sunset, and as it rose, it turned soft gold, then deep orange, and finally, white-gold, casting a shimmering path upon the sea.

The moon was only part of the show, though admittedly the most dramatic. Above us, Jupiter was reigning brightly over the sky, and beyond that, at the end of the arc, was Venus, slipping lower as the moon climbed higher.

Returning home, I flipped on the circuit breakers and the moon-planet glow was replaced by the blinking green numbers of the clock on the stove. I certainly hadn't missed that, with its constant reminder of the passing of time, when I “powered down” yesterday, and I hadn't missed the hum and chug of the fridge, though I did miss its cooling effect, which is why it had been turned back on earlier, before the food inside could go bad.

I've lived without refrigeration, and it can be done without a sense of great deprivation, it just requires a different way of eating, which isn't easily adapted to one day off.

I did feel a sense of giddy joy when I unplugged in the office — the wi-fi, the computer, the back up hard drive — and that told me something; namely, I might be happier if I spend less time working, or at least, the kind of working that keeps me hooked to the Internet.

I've got a smart phone, which I can tether to my laptop, which has a good battery supply, and so I can use my computer and access the Internet without being directly plugged in, and briefly yesterday, I did. But using batteries, whether they're charged by the sun or KIUC, isn't really “getting off the grid” because those batteries are shipped in here from someplace else and toxic substances are generated when they're produced and recycled, or tossed in the landfill. The same goes for wind and hydro turbines, solar panels, liquid propane and backup generators.

They've all got impacts, so ain't nobody truly pure or off the grid, which I define as the military-industrial-corporate complex, in their consumption of electricity.

But tethering the phone to the laptop was a bit more cumbersome than simply flipping the lid and letting wi-fi kick in, which made me stop and think, and that's a good thing, because breaking habits — addictions — is all about bringing unconscious behavior into consciousness.

And make no mistake, energy is an addiction. On Saturday night, thinking about the next day's “power down event,” my mind went through the same litany of excuses it drags out whenever it's told it cannot have something it wants: no one will know if you keep on doing it, what does it really matter, you're not hurting anyone.

Or as Neil Young sang, “Seemed like the easy thing/To let it go for one more day.”

So no, I didn't kick the habit, but I did think about ways I can reduce my electrical use, and the morality of doing so, even if I can afford to pay my KIUC bill. Overall, it was a good exercise in mindfulness, which I always welcome, and my garden benefitted greatly from the attentions I lavished upon it, rather than a keyboard and screen.

But beyond that, choosing to unplug for a day, as opposed to having the electricity go off, gave me an unexpected sense of freedom, of power, of reclaiming my life in some small way. And I got to thinking, so how much has electricity — all technology, really — functioned primarily to enslave us, to enmesh us in an artificial, manmade world (at the expense of the natural world), even as we worship it and the convenience it provides?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Musings: People Power

It was that quiet time before the dawn, or even the first inklings of it, when our way was lit solely by a sparkly, starry sky, the moon having slipped a couple of hours before into a bed of soft orange perched atop Makaleha, when the dogs and I went out walking. I like to look up at the glorious universe when I'm bummed about anything and everything because it helps me to remember: there's so much more than just this.

Here and there, a light was coming on in a bedroom, a kitchen, save for that one house that is occupied only occasionally, and so the lights are always on, as if burglars aren't wise to that trick.

I've been paying a lot more attention to lights — or more specifically, electricity — and our wantonly wasteful use of it in preparation for Sunday's Power Down! event. When I first heard the call to unplug from dawn to dusk, I thought, “Yeah, right. What good will that do?” But then I interviewed its brainchild, the very brainy and witty Jonathan Jay, for a For Kauai article and my thinking changed.

I like it primarily because it's about helping our thinking to change, about coaxing us to become conscious of what we're doing. And god(dess) knows we need more of that. As Jonathan noted:

“[It's] all about trying to discover the value of getting by with less, saying yes to the power of less. It's about right-sizing our relationship to the world.”


But it's not just a consciousness-raising exercise, though that would be fine in and of itself. As Jonathan points out, if we all got serious about reducing demand, KIUC wouldn't be under so much pressure to supply, whether it's by exporting $80-to-$100 million annually to import the 30 million gallons of diesel fuel used in its Port Allen generators or pursuing “green energy” that isn't truly green.

“If everyone used 10 to 15 percent less, that would shave off 10 megawatts of consumption and we wouldn't have to build a dam on the Wailua River,” Jay says. “That's one example of how we can improve life on this island.”

In other words, we have power, people!

When Jonathan came on Jimmy Trujillo's KKCR show to talk about this yesterday, a man called in and asked, why stop there? Why not reduce gasoline consumption by slowing down and not driving aimlessly around the island?

Yeah, why not? Point is, we can all do a lot more by using a lot less. In many ways, that's about the most revolutionary act you can commit in our consumerist society, without having to worry about being indefinitely detained as a terrorist.

Which leads me to a really excellent article that clearly explains the most troubling aspects of the National Defense Authorization Act. It was sent to me in an email that had as its subject line: NDAA: Open Season for the Police State.

A lot of people, primarily the Obama apologists — one of whom I had to “unfriend” on Facebook because I just couldn't stand another post like “America has a very ungrateful electorate” — are trying to claim it's not so bad, Americans are safe from the Act's provisions.

It is. We aren't.

Its language is subjective and its powers are broad. Since 9-11, our buds in Congress have been steadily chipping away at fundamental rights that we've come to take for granted — just like the electricity that's (almost always) there when we flip a switch.

But ya know, we got the power. Shine your light bright.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Musings: Killers on the Rampage

OK, folks, we've got a possible serial monk seal killer on the loose. Or perhaps the discovery Monday of a dead seal on Kauai, reportedly at Pilaa, where one of Jimmy Pflueger's workers shot a seal in 2009, is a copy-cat crime, modeled after the three previous deaths on Molokai. At any rate, from the KITV news report, these sure look like hate crimes:

"They're dying because their skulls are being smashed. So for me, that is alarming. That's setting a dangerous trend. If we don't stop it, we are going to be the cause of the death of these seals," said [Molokai activist Walter] Ritte.

Ritte believes those behind the recent deaths are young fishermen or hunters who may be misinformed about the seals.

"People are killing the seals. The government can't say it because they need proof. I'm not the government, I'm from the grassroots and I know they're killing the seals," said Ritte.

Hawaii News Now had a bit more detail:

"I can't speak for any other island," Ritte said. "I can speak for Molokai. We all talk story over there. It's a small island. So where you find the seals with the heads smashed is only places where fishermen and hunters go. So if you put all of that together, all of the talk that's going around, it's the young people. And when you talk to the young people (young fishermen) they say, ‘It's just an invasive species. And I walk all this distance and then I get there and the seal is bothering me. They are in our nets. They are in the moi hole. They are invasive species. Kill them,'" Ritte said.

So if people are doing it, other people must know. Make the reward big enough and somebody will talk. And it's not just for the sake of the seals. Anybody pissed off enough to bash in the head of a sleeping seal — or any animal — needs serious help before he moves on to the true invasive species: human beings.

Moving up the coast a bit from the murder scene at Pilaa, there was some discussion in yesterday's comment section about whether the $20 million sale of Will and Jada Smith's home above Kauapea Beach affected home prices on the island.

What hasn't been mentioned is that the property in question is agricultural land. So when you've got seven acres of ag land with a house going for $20 mill, it most certainly does affect all of us who would like to see farming as a viable activity on this island. Speculation on ag land used for gentleman's estates and luxury vacation rentals – as is the case all along that bluff above Kauapea — is rampant on this island. As I've reported previously, it's pushed out bonafide farmers in that area who can't compete with the “fair market value” created by these high-end non-farms, and it drives up the price of ag land in general, making it harder for legit farmers to carry on.

And it's all made possible by a planning department that doesn't take the farm dwelling agreement seriously and planning commissioners who voice disbelief, yet still give their approval, when a billionaire landowner represented by then Rep. Roland Sagum, who thankfully has since been voted out, claims his half-acre spread is a “farm dwelling” and his “crop” is going to be turf. Oh yes, and let's not forget the Realtors who condone this charade and profit mightily from the flips.

While we're on the topic of ag, I encountered an intriguing article about a possible cause in the colony collapse disorder that is ravaging bee hives: a fly parasite that turns the bees into zombies. (Jan TenBruggencate also has a blog post on this today.) As the Discovery article reports:

Parasites, viral and bacterial infections, pesticides, and poor nutrition resulting from the impact of human activities on the environment have all played a role in the decline.

So why is the USDA even considering deregulating corn that has been genetically engineered to resist applications of Dow's powerful herbicide 2,4-D, which has been linked to cancer, hormone disruptions and Parkinson's disease? Because — surprise, surprise — some weeds have developed resistance to the Roundup that was used to drench crops that had been genetically modified to withstand direct doses of that herbicide. So now they want to up the ante with an even more powerful chemical. And when insects develop resistance to that, then what?

"Those resistance problems are going to get worse unless something is done to remedy that," said Garry Hamlin, spokesman for Dow AgroSciences.

Mmm, what about cutting back on the poisons, guys?

To end on a positive note, I recently encountered a suggestion to eat in silence, so that one can think loving thoughts while nourishing one's body. Hopefully with non-toxic foods. And with that, I'm off to the garden.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Musings: Beaten Paths

I saw my first whales of the season yesterday, spouting and flapping and frolicking in lusciously glassy water off the eastside coast, just beyond the place where perfect barrels were collapsing on the reef.

I saw a monk seal, too, but it wasn't “stealing” anybody's fish, just catching a few winks nestled among rocks that provided perfect camouflage beneath the shade of a heliotrope tree. Ironically, I did see a spear fisherman — or more accurately, a guy carrying a snorkel and spear, who told me, “I've never been to this place before,” to which I replied, dubiously, “it looks a little rough to go out” — trying to “steal” the seal's fish.

But it really was too rough to go out, so after getting banged around for a while, the guy returned to shore, empty-handed.

The school vacation, big waves, sunny skies and warm temps on the tail end of the holiday season prompted a lot of people to hit the beach yesterday — so many that four born and raised North Shore boys headed south to get away from the zoo at Hanalei, and stopped by my house for a visit.

“The whole town is just choked with tourists,” said one. “You can't go anywhere.”

“Pine Trees get so many people it's sick,” said another. “You can't even move. We had to get out of there.”

We spoke of a mutual friend who lives in Wainiha, and they mentioned they hadn't seen her for a while. “That's because she holes up at times like this, when the crowds get thick,” I said, and they all nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, you don't even want to go out when it's like that,” said a third. “That's why we came down here.”

Once again, I was confronted with locals who are being displaced by tourism, made to feel unwelcome in their own backyard, or too uncomfortable to want to enjoy it. And once again I found myself wondering, when it comes to tourism, at one point do we cross the line between enough and too much? Have we already crossed it? I'm sure those four guys would say “yes!” Is anybody even reflecting on that delicate balance? Or is the plan to just go gangbusters so long as there's money to be made?

And I thought back on Monday, when I went to a beach that I consider pretty remote and wild, a place that is lightly used, and mostly by surfers and fishermen. Coming up, at the top of the path, I encountered a group of tourists lugging tripods and cameras, their eyes on the big, beautiful surf, oblivious to me and my dogs trying to get past them on a steep, narrow, badly eroded trail.

I was surprised to encounter a small throng in that place, but didn't give it much thought until I saw, parked along the access road, a van with a PUC license advertising photography tours. Great, I thought, yet another wild place — a place that most tourists would never go — is being opened up, commercialized, so somebody can make a buck. And I was pretty willing to bet it wasn't a local running the enterprise.

Sure enough, it's not. According to an Associated Press article posted on the company's website, it was started by a D.C. transplant in 2009 “when the sluggish economy cut into his fine art sales.” Now it takes out some 1,500 people per year. Which is great for him, but what about the rest of us, those who cherish our quiet, private, untrammeled spots? As the article notes:

Tours last about five hours with a maximum of seven people in a group. They include up to 15 stops, some of which are so far off the beaten path that the hikes back to the car leave you winded enough to realize it's been a few months since your last trip to the gym.

Tour guides swaps out locations depending on the weather, time of day and year, and keeps adding new stops into his rotation as he discovers them.

[W]e stopped at waterfalls, walked into taro fields, waded in lagoons, climbed over lava rock, hiked down to one of the island's most dangerous beaches, and ended in time to catch a dramatic sunset over Hanalei Bay on the island's north side.

Perhaps the company has the proper permits to take people to all these out-of-the-way places. While only a handful of Kauai trails are approved for commercial use, the state is much more lax when it comes to commercial activities on beaches. You can conduct weddings, and perhaps photo tours, too, on all these beaches — if you have a permit.

In other words, pretty much the entire coastline can be used for commercial purposes so long as you pay the state a fee. Or chance `em, because what are the odds of getting busted given DLNR's scanty enforcement budget?

Now, I've got absolutely nothing against tourists. I understand and appreciate their value to the local economy, their desire to experience this beautiful place. I think it's grand when they indulge their sense of adventure and exploration and find some cool, special spot on their own. But it really kind of grates when they're led to the few relatively unused places by someone who is exploiting these locales for kala — even if they do have a permit. As the testimonials noted:

We saw some amazing places that we would not have known to even look for.

[T]ook us to some places that we would have never found in any guide book.

[T]ook us to lots of fabulous locations which even with all the guide books I wouldn't have been able to find.

Which is just what the company's website promises:

Mostly off-the-beaten-path, difficult to find hideaways. See where these many beautiful places are located & return to enjoy on another day

So in other words, soon they will not be off-the-beaten-path, difficult-to-find hideaways. Instead, they'll become like the all the once off-the-beaten-path places that are now on-the-beaten path, easy-to-find places that locals try to escape because they're overcrowded, overused.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Musing: Antidote

Driving in the cold starriness of 5 a.m., mountains lurking darkly in the middle, rumble strips glowing orange along Kuhio Highway, heater turned on to warm rubber slippered feet, hoodie pulled up over chilled ears, punching buttons on the radio to pass the time, I hear the lyrics, “fill me with your poison, I want to be a victim.”

Really? Are you sure? Because the politicians, you know, they're happy to oblige, what with Iowa holding the first caucus of the 2012 Presidential election today, thus launching us into the vapid, ugly orgy of a campaign season that lasts longer and costs the corporations more than ever, but still leaves we the people with the same result in the end: disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement, dismay. Take, for example, this story from the Los Angeles Times, which has Newt Gingrich calling Mitt Romney a liar:

"He's not telling the American people the truth."

Who on the national stage is? Besides maybe Rep. Dennis Kucinich? Who Rick Santorum likened to Rep. Ron Paul, which is a point in Paul's favor, though he still needs many more to rise above zero.

Which brings to mind a comment in an email sent by a Hawaiian national:

Many gun owners are afraid that with Ron Paul as President the Federal Government will come and take your guns away. Without Ron Paul as President the Federal Government will still come but take you away....!

Yeah, Obama, that old sell-out, overrode his own reservations and signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows indefinite detention to be codified into law and means even the guys cleared for release will remain indefinitely in Guantanamo. Remember how he promised to close that horrid place?

I never really expected much from Obama; indeed, as I wrote back on Jan, 20, 2009:

Shoots, I’d be happy if he could merely live up to this part of his inauguration speech:

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account -- to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day -- because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Need I say more?

Moving into the local realm, where your vote might actually make a teeny, tiny difference, The Garden Island ran a piece that had four Councilmembers and the mayor reflecting on their achievements and frustrations in the past year.

Perhaps a more useful exercise would have been to pose that question to the voters. That way we couldn't have to read Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura talking about “respect” even as she takes yet another swipe at former County Clerk Peter Nakamura's former pay raise, or Mayor Bernard Carvalho waxing enthusiastic about his Holoholo 2020 vision while downplaying the languishing landfill and adolescent drug treatment center or Councilman Dickie Chang uttering such implausibilities as “other islands and the Mainland now look to see how things are done on Kaua‘i.” Oh, wait, that was a different story.

But enough of all that nonsense. A red ball is rising out of a pink mist and the birds are singing and the dew is sparkling. Nature: free outside your door daily; the antidote to politics.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Musings: On Perception

The dew was thick and mist steamed from the pastures, blending into the bleached white pre-dawn sky, when the dogs and I went walking on this chilly, exquisite morning. Once the sun did begin to rise, it made the dew drops, which clung to grass, wire fences, branches and spider webs, glow a sparkly red-gold. Oh yeah, the world is a temple.

It's the season for spiders, and I've been watching their webdoms expand around my house, in the vegetation throughout the yard, forcing me to pay attention to where I'm going, rather than bullishly charge on through. But that's OK, because isn't it all about being aware, so as to avoid sticky entanglements, thoughtless destruction? In some places, camphor leaves and ironwood needles have been caught in single strands that descend straight down from the trees and there they dangle, dancing and spinning joyously in the breeze, like the Hare Krishna lady on the street corner in Kapaa.

I saw her, btw, in Anahola the other day, and she same to me with a smile and a loving hug and a wish of Merry Christmas, though that day was past, and I reflected upon how lucky I am, with my work, to have the freedom to approach total strangers and probe into their lives and share those gleanings with readers so that they might understand others, especially the “odd others,” and so perhaps themselves, just a little bit better. Because though each of is unique, we're really not that different.

I've been spending some time in the garden, which feels to be waking from its slumber, or maybe I've roused it with my attention, now that we've passed the winter solstice and the days are growing longer, imperceptibly to me, though I'm sure the plants notice, since they're far more attuned to such important things. I had completed several hours of digging and planting and weeding and tending when a friend dropped by, just as the pink-orange wisps of sunset were gathering over the naked summit of Waialeale and the waxing moon and Jupiter, all cozied up, were starting to gleam.

“The garden always seems so much happier when I've spent time in it,” I said, looking out over the neat beds carved from guinea grass, a slowly expanding study in shades of green and brown.

“That's because soil absorbs all your negative ions, which changes your perspective and makes you view things more positively,” he responded.

Or maybe, I thought, by working in the garden, close to the plants, attentive only to their needs, it changes me so that I'm better able to perceive their happiness.

Who knows? But of this I am certain: it's all about perception. As Robert Wicks noted on a recent New Dimensions broadcast:

It's the perception that we have that shapes things. We can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.

I've spent a lot of time probing the heights of heaven and the depths of hell, both my own and society's — not that there is any real difference — and in the process I've come to believe that we can't do much to change the world until we first, or simultaneously, change ourselves, an idea that I find exhilarating because it gives each of us the power.

We don't have to wait for the next election, or pass the job off to others. We don't have to wait until we have all the answers, or the perfect solution. We can just keep chipping away at the illusions, the false beliefs, the limitations, the fear.

As a friend said, when I asked if he made New Year's resolutions: “No. I just tell myself, OK, do everything a little bit better.”

Or to borrow a phrase that Stephanie Azaria used when talking about what we need to know to thrive in 2012:

Step into your role of creator. Step into your higher self.