Thursday, April 23, 2015

Musings: Nexus

A friend recently posted this photo on Facebook, with the comment:  "I hadn't seen the situation in Kakaako until today. These photos don't come close to capturing the scope of this shameful mess. What the hell happened to Honolulu?"
It brought to mind similar scenes I'd encountered in urban India, though the Honolulu tarps are newer, cleaner and waterproof:
Westerners expect to see impoverished homeless people in developing nations. But right next to the fab new John Burns medical school in up-and-coming Kakaako? On the streets and beaches of the tourist mecca marketed as “Paradise?”

Not so much. Still, that's the ugly reality of life in the Islands, and most folks go about their day-to-day without giving it much thought. Just like they return to their self-absorbed, planet-busting business-as-usual after celebrating Earth Day.

Meanwhile, a reader sent this email shortly after I returned from India:

While you’ve been gone, a new and bigger insanity has gripped the state: People are up in arms, absolutely indignant that a university would try to construct a telescope atop Mauna Kea.

First, the fight against building telescopes on Mauna Kea is not new. It's been going on for decades, with the most recent battle against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) spanning at least seven years. What's new are the Johnny-come-latelies, the anti-GMO protestors who, having failed to achieve anything in the political arena, are turning their attention to TMT in hopes of building an alliance with the Hawaiian community.

And that's where the two comments find a nexus: Why is it that the fight to protect Mauna Kea has gotten more attention, more interest, more recruits, more social media coverage — particularly among non-Hawaiians — than the ongoing fight against homelessness in Honolulu?

Especially since homelessness affects a disproportionate number of Native Hawaiians (click on images to enlarge):
And why is that non-Hawaiians are quick to take offense at the prospect of another telescope atop Mauna Kea, while remaining mum about the hordes of Hawaiians living houseless in their own homeland? Aren't they, as fellow human beings, the indigenous inhabitants of this archipelago, also sacred, like the summit of the highest mountain?

Why is it that students from Kawaikini Charter School and Kauai Community College are protesting TMT, but saying nothing about the mass of tourists traipsing through Ke'e, or Princeville's attempt to co-opt the heaiu there? Why aren't folks taking to the streets to rage against the ice epidemic that is stealing the sacred souls — and thus the culture — of so many Native Hawaiians?

Or to take it one step further, why is it that a telescope on Mauna Kea has ignited the passions of people locally and around the globe, but the horrors of the Kailua-Kona tourist trap, the gentrification of South Kona and North and South Kohala, the ongoing "economic genocide" — to borrow a phrase from the late Peter Nakamura — is a great big ho-hum?

Perhaps it has something to do with social media, where it's easy to garner likes, shares and #We are Mauna Kea supportive selfies for a simplistic message like “Hawaiians fight to protect their sacred land.” But more complicated concepts, like homelessness, and the gentrification and high cost of living that causes both it and the mass out-migration of kanaka to Las Vegas and elsewhere, aren't easily minimized to Internet memes.

It's easy to attract social media devotees and adrenalin-addicted activists to the latest cause celebre. But using that as gauge falsely inflates the size and power of the movement. I've heard the TMT fight likened to Arab Spring, which is actually a pretty apt comparison. While Arab Spring was a big success on social media, it was a big dud in terms of enacting real and meaningful political change.

Does anyone truly believe that photos like these will stop the TMT?
Or that Gov.Ige will be swayed by 5.000 “likes” and 3,000 “shares?” Especially when he's essentially washed his hands of the conflict, issuing the statement:

The TMT team is legally entitled to use its discretion to proceed with construction.

It's clear, from the many passionate commentaries written by folks on both sides of the issue, that there's no clear consensus on the TMT among Hawaiians or non-Hawaiians. I tend to agree with Ian Lind, who wrote:

I’m guessing there are many people who, like me, see this as an unfortunate clash between two positive sets of values, the urge to preserve and protect our natural and cultural resources, and the urge to understand and investigate the nature of the universe around us.

I understand the rage and frustration that many kanaka feel. I understand the value of political symbols. I understand, and deeply respect, the concept of sacred land.

But what I don't understand is the selective attention paid to certain issues — especially among non-Hawaiians — while others of equal importance are ignored. Shouldn't these struggles, which share a common root, produce similar sufferings, be addressed as the complex, inter-related whole that they are, rather than reduced to a bumper sticker slogan, a street march or a selfie?


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"But what I don't understand is the selective attention paid to certain issues" . You do realize the same can be said about you Joan?

Joan Conrow said...

If you look back over this blog and my journalistic career, I think you'll find I've focused on an extremely diverse range of issues.

Anonymous said...

Well Joan, you will also find many people who oppose the TMT are exactly like yourself, They also have focused on and are or have been involved in many other issues such as sovereignty, homelessness, militery at Pohakuloa, etc.. One cannot focus on too many issues at the same time as it dissipates oneʻs energy. Maybe it is a good time for you to focus on this issue instead of complaining about people who fail to take up more than one issue at a time. Go into the TMT in depth. Support the movement instead of putting people down for not being active enough in other issues at the present time. Get involved in the movement. Support those who are leading the fight for sovereignty, pono, aloha ʻāina, and cultural respect. Spend more time supporting and encouraging people instead of putting them down?

Anonymous said...

If it's not going to get me on the front page of the paper or on the 6 o'clock news, I ain't gonna complain about the homeless or the lack of funding for education or . . .

Anonymous said...

Selective indeed!! You're so right Joan and in response to @7:04AM you have covered a broad range of issues. I appreciate it since there's lack of coverage in TGI and many are blissfully ignorant if it's not on Instagram, Facebook or part of a march down Rice Street.

Anonymous said...

I know many native Hawaiians who DO support the TMT project. Only they're not posting pictures of their painted faces and bodies or waiving signs along the highway. Many of them are well educated (with a bachelors degree or well beyond.) Instead of viewing TMT as desecrating a sacred place, they believe it honor's the ancient Polynesian and Hawaiian tradition of studying astronomy. I don't see why their interpretation is any less valid, and as you point out Joan, this has been a 7 year project in the making. Many who are making noise now are Johnny come latelys.

I wonder if anyone has done a poll: what percentage of those who oppose TMT have beyond a high school education, and what is the percentage of those who support it that have beyond a high school education? You could break it down into whether the person is of native Hawaiian descent or not.

Dawson said...

7:51 AM said:
Maybe it is a good time for you to focus on this issue instead of complaining about people who fail to take up more than one issue at a time.

You miss the point. It's not about people "failing to take up more than one issue at a time." It's about what motivates people to pile aboard pop causes while pretending they don't see root problems.

Top Hat Entertainment said...

It's not attractive - bottom line. Look at the people you posted their selfies ... all good looking. The issue of homelessness is not attractive. It is a diverse and complex issue for many. It's not for me. I've been friends w many homeless folks since I was a young woman. I've been nearly homeless myself. We need living wages, we need a Harm Reduction approach rather than a criminal/incarceration mentality to drug abuse. We need to INVEST in the homeless. This is not someone else's problem to fix. It's a problem that is global, that is growing in our country, in our cities, on our beaches...compassion, that's what it boils down to. Being poor, dirty, smelly, unemployed, strung unattractive. Who wants to champion that...apparently not our governments. I mean REALLY champion it. So, the nonprofits do the best they can to do the outreach to these people. I, too, have been to India...the one thing I did realize is that we all think we need so much to be happy. One act of kindness has a ripple effect. Until we make homelessness a REAL priority and make it attractive to advocate for it will continue to be the ugly truth that it is.

Anonymous said...

WHERE WERE ALL THESE PROTESTERS WHEN PUBLIC HEARINGS WERE SET ON THIS PROJECT 7 YEARS AGO???? This ALWAYS HAPPENS!! If people are truly concerned about development, they need to ACTIVELY monitor what's on the agenda for development in their county planning departments!!! Get with it

Anonymous said...

You totally nailed it. Seeing all of the out-of-town buffoons who never participated in the 7-year assessment/permitting process but who are now trying to block it, really makes me think that this narcissistic, superficial selfie-driven culture of ours is the power behind all of these protests.

A sacred mountain is so cool - who wants a selfie taken in front of a deranged guy huddled under a tarp? In less than 3 months we go from “I am Charlie Hebdo” to “I am Mauna Kea.” No shit, I saw cars with this scrawled on their back windows on Oahu and it was just laughable. Lost, bored, whatever, these people are desperate to get caught up in something/anything that they think gives their silly little lives meaning for a few moments.

It’s all about selling the t-shirt, posting the selfie and, for the real cynical grifters, raising money. Jimmy T and Felicia and JJay were all at it on the air (KKCR) and on Facebook, trying to raise “consciousness” (money) to fight the telescope … though like so many of these ginned up collisions between culture and commerce, not entirely clear where the money’s going or who’s spending it.

Where were all these folks during the 7-year grind of the permitting process? Just like the Kauai GMO vote, they all show up for the parade.

Anonymous said...


You are so right. Our local people will rarely step up and speak for themselves. We're too shame, too busy, no like get involved, even though important interests are at risk.

Be assured the other guys are not shame. They Do show up to make their point. Take the TVR/BnB debate going on for example. Realtors, BnB owners and supporters will turn out before the Council to advocate for themselves. They do not want to be shut down nor interfered with by the County.

How many residents will come out? Sadly, very few, even though their are so many of you out there who are concerned.

So the decision makers say: the only people talking and writing are telling us how great the TVA business is with 10 different reasons why they should not be shut down, have their numbers reduced, or be subject to limits. The Council thinks, no one is giving us reason to believe the community even cares about this. No input from the community =s No Problem, right?

So, unless you are happy with having more tourist rentals in your neighborhood than full time families, listen to the last contributor.

The commercial guys are pushing for no limits, no control. They want to do what they want, anywhere they want, with the least amount of interference; this includes in your neighborhood. The issue is before the County Council right now.

Get involved. No grumble later. Your home is a sacred place too.

Anonymous said...

The homeless situation on Oahu needs more attention. What can be done? Does TMT on The Sacred and huge-ass Maunakea make Maunakea any less Sacred? Perhaps it makes it more Sacred and amazing. It's all how you look at it. Give Mauna kea some credit. It's an immense Mauna. Perhaps a hashtag #iamhomless would bring some awareness? But as someone pointed out in another comment it wouldn't have quite the sex appeal. Can you imagine some big boobed model writing "I am homeless" across her chest. According to the numbers from your charts, they could rally up quite a movement though. Thanks for your thoughts Joan.

Unknown said...

Wow Joan. well said, as usual.

Anonymous said...

We don't have to do anything.

Kaiulani will carry the banner for us!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the locals will only stand up when a famous person puts their face to the cause. Only after Jason Momoa posted on IG/FB did the "movement" steam roll ahead and everyone jumped on his bandwagon including other celebrities that don't know jacksquat about Mauna Kea. But then again if Jason did that for a campaign like "let's stop welfare abuse and make random drug tests required" GUARANTEE the locals not going support because unfortunately it's mostly hawaiians on welfare...yea I half hawaiian, but I bust my ass to take care my family and seeing fellow kanaks keep popping out kids just fo get more tax and welfare money make me sick.
Homelessness, affordable housing, meth, ag, job access - THESE are the things we should be fighting for.Like I said, get with it hawaiians.

-10:30 a.m.

Anonymous said...

What I find suspicious is ever since the green energy plant at the Knutzen gap was proposed and built, Kauai has experienced two of the largest Koke'e fires in the history of the island.

Call it a coincidence but I find it suspicious that the same burnt trees are going to be used as fuel for the green energy power plant.

Where's the GMO and Mauna Kea protesters in the light of possibly Eco Terrorism on Kauai (Koke'e).

There's a meeting at Duke's Friday and the green energy power plant is hosting. I hope someone brings up that question.

Anonymous said...

Ever since the green energy plant was being proposed to be built and being built, Koke'e has had 2 of the largest fires in the history of Kauai.

Guess where all the burnt trees are going to?

What a coincidence!

Anonymous said...

Here is a quote from a great article at - "What is really at stake, however, is a conflict between two ways of knowing and being in the world. For many Native Hawaiians and other Indigenous peoples, sacredness is not merely a concept or label. It is a lived experience of oneness and connectedness with the natural and spiritual worlds. It is as common sense as believing in gravity. This experience is very much at odds with the everyday secular-humanist approach of Western thinking that emerged out of the Enlightenment (as I have discussed in a previous essay), and which sees no “magic” or “enchantment” in the world. And of course, seeing nature as inert facilitates both commercial exploitation and scientific exploration.

Read more:

Tek said...

NO ONE can understand WHY TMT has triggered "the straw that broke the camel's back," while their mind is closed. You've heard that a mind works like a parachute. It only works when it is open. There is one word that explains it all, and it really is for you to discover and claim as your truth, since it is evident that you cannot hear others.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the homeless problem has something to do with the stagnation in ages for the past 20+ years, while the wealthiest continue to receive an even greater share of our nation's wealth. The fact that their taxes have been going down since Ronald Reagan, as the tax-supported social safety net continues to unravel may have some connection, you think? The rich get richer and the poor get homeless.

Anonymous said...

Give it a rest. The "rich" pay the vast majority of income taxes. You are stuck on percentages. The amount that they pay is what matters !!!!

Anonymous said...

^^^EXACTLY. People need to start focusing on what they gotta do to make money. The reason why the rich is rich is because they work hard for their money, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

Being for or against a tangible thing is easy. Being for or against a concept, such as homelessness, is not so straightforward. Really, who is "for" homelessness? It's a lot easier to say I am against this thing than it is to think about an issue and come up with some solutions to address the problem. And, well, my Facebook friends are all against this thing too...

Anonymous said...

@April 23, 2015 at 8:37 PM This is not an issue of eco terrorism. Kauai has an arsonist. There have been more than 70 fires since December 22. Several of these on State Hawaiian Homes Lands and these 70+ fires will not produce fuel for Green Energy.

Anonymous said...

Do you know where the 100's of acres of burnt trees are going?

A) green energy power plant

B) green energy power plant

C) green energy power plant

D) none of the above

Oh yeah you might have missed it but they brought over loggers from Oregon to cut down the trees and bring it to... Answers above.

After these messages we'll be right back.

Joan Conrow said...

Would you rather see the trees rot in place and erosion occur? By selling the burned trees they're able to pay to reforest that area in natives.

Anonymous said...

7:25 said: The "rich" pay the vast majority of income taxes. You are stuck on percentages.

Obviously. From Fortune magazine:

There is no dispute that income inequality has been on the rise in the United States for the past four decades. The share of total income earned by the top 1 percent of families was less than 10 percent in the late 1970s but now exceeds 20 percent as of the end of 2012. A large portion of this increase is due to an upsurge in the labor incomes earned by senior company executives and successful entrepreneurs. But is the rise in U.S. economic inequality purely a matter of rising labor compensation at the top, or did wealth inequality rise as well?

Wealth inequality, it turns out, has followed a spectacular U-shape evolution over the past 100 years. From the Great Depression in the 1930s through the late 1970s there was a substantial democratization of wealth. The trend then inverted, with the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1 percent increasing to 22 percent in 2012 from 7 percent in the late 1970s. The top 0.1 percent includes 160,000 families with total net assets of more than $20 million in 2012.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the burnt trees are being put to use for what the invasive trees were grown to do. What concerns me is the wildlife, the plants, people, landscape, and the safety of the people who have to respond to these enormous fires and the natural resources as well as taxpayers monies being spent to putting out these huge (100's of acres) Koke'e fires.

30 or so years ago the Albizia Forrest was planted on the property of the Knutzen gap.

Why and how it was approved is something that needs to be answered especially if they weren't native in the first place.

Some 30 years later and after a dinosaur movie or two, secret investors, taking land away from a lease, and a power plant later; the invasive trees are to be cut, burnt and replanted for energy use.

All is not a conspiracy but one must pay attention to its surroundings to know that the change is manipulated by certain things and or certain people.