Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Musings: Yeah, Well….

OK, so I watched “Aina: That Which Feeds,” paying $3.99 to download the 22-minute film, which was less painful than it would've been to spend $10 to sit with the deluded true-believers at the Kauai Performing Arts Center.

The film was part Hawaiian romanticism, part anti-GMO apocalypso, part tourism promo and pretty much all bullshit, starting with how, according to Stacy Sproat-Beck, the Hawaiians “established a relationship with nature and the environment” when they arrived that allowed them to “live sustainably for over a thousand years.”

Yeah, well, except for all the birds they drove to extinction, and the lowland forests they slashed and burned and the streams they diverted to grow vast monocrops of taro.

Kawika Winter, one of those sitting on the supposedly objective Joint Pesticide Fact-Finding Group, waxed nostalgic about the good old days when his ancestors ignored short-term profits to think five to seven generations ahead.

Yeah, well, except for the time that Liholiho ordered the maka'ainana to harvest 1 million pounds of sandalwood so he could buy the luxury yacht that a drunken crew later ran aground at Hanalei Bay.

David Sproat, filmed while making poi deliveries, dissed the seed companies, saying, “We don't need these chemicals in our lives, among our families, in our communities.”

Yeah, well, except it apparently wasn't a problem when David was spraying pesticides and herbicides at Waipa when he was still one of the Hawaiian Farmers of Hanalei, before the Sproats grabbed control.

Sabra Kauka, in discussing pesticides, asked, “Does it cause death to one organism or death to a whole community?” before going on to say, “We're all related to this and we have to see it.”

Yeah, well, except let's not notice that the same person who was criticizing "industrial ag" one day was blessing the new Jack-in-the-Box the next.

I'm not disputing that the Hawaiians of old did some amazing things. But they weren't entirely benign, and that lifestyle is not going to replicated in 21st Century Hawaii, anyway. So why even pretend?

If you're going to preach that everything will be good if we just return to traditional practices, be prepared to demonstrate that. Start by ditching the tractors and mowers at Waipa, then grow enough food to supply at least your own farmer's market and poi customers. Oh, and do it without depending on $1 million each year in donations and grants to keep you going.

Otherwise it starts to sound like a lot of "do as I say" wishful thinking. 

As the Hawaiians are filmed paddling canoe, planting taro and otherwise looking noble and wise, state aquatic biologist Don Heacock and Bob Yuhnke, an air quality lawyer who is now passing himself off as biotech expert, keep up a steady patter of anti-biotech rhetoric: 

“If you're eating corn, you're eating Roundup; when you apply Roundup you kill most of the beneficial organisms in the soil; Roundup destroys bacteria in the gut and binds calcium, iron and minerals, making them nutritionally unavailable; we don't know what they may do, what residues they'll leave behind; with these GMO crops, they're putting poisons right into the food; you can spray these crops with Roundup every day; the chemicals they use are neurotoxins and they're blowing right into the schools; we've found Roundup in mother's milk.”

Yeah, well, except no fields are being cultivated anywhere near Kauai schools, and an actual peer-reviewed study found that Moms Across America “flat out got it wrong,” when they claimed Roundup accumulates in mother's milk.

Don goes on to proclaim: 

“We can teach a whole new generation about holistic thinking, critical thinking and the truth.”

Yeah, well, except if you're showing keiki this film, having Felicia Cowden instruct them at Waipa or engaging them in the anti-science, anti-critical thinking, anti-fact, anti-GMO movement.

The film ends with Sabra saying we must show love and respect to one another — “that's all I ask” — which is fine. Except why don't the anti-GMO activists show more love and respect to the scientists and field crew whose labors and professional passion they are constantly mischaracterizing and belittling?

One of the main things that turned me against the anti-GMO movement — aside from its self-serving politicians, ties to high-end Realtors and general disregard for the truth — was its treatment of seed company workers, who told me they've felt frightened, harassed, hurt, misunderstood, marginalized, vilified and demonized by rabid activists.

I've always believed that respect must be earned, and then kept. So truly, how do you maintain respect for people who have intentionally caused so much pilikia in our community, and who continue to do so? 

Which leads us to the latest installment in anti-GMO-financed fear-mongering: This week's lectures on Roundup featuring Judy Carman and Stephanie Seneff. Judy claims she's not a GMO activist, though her website is named gmojudycarman.org. She became the darling of the anti-GMO movement after producing a paper claiming that pigs fed GMOs suffered stomach inflammation at a higher rate than those that weren't, which she then extrapolated to human beings and all manner of digestive problems.

Judy's paper has been thoroughly debunked by numerous scientists, including a study that looked at the records of 100 billion farm animals, starting before the introduction of GM feed. It found no “unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity" over that period. 

Stephanie, meanwhile, is a computer modeling and artificial intelligence researcher at MIT who is anti-GMO and anti-vaccines. She's know for proclaiming that “At today’s rate, by 2025, one in two children will be autistic.” She blames Roundup, citing a correlation between GM crops and autism.
Of course, a similar claim could be made about the correlation between autism and organic food sales — unless you're a credible scientist:
Like I said, it's hard to have respect or aloha for folks who are running an active disinformation campaign aimed at spreading fear and ignorance via junk science and propaganda films.

Pesticides are dangerous, especially if they're misused. That's an undisputed fact. But unless your goal is to keep people stupid, why use not use credible scientists, and a vigorous debate, to explore the issue in a meaningful way? 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Musings: In the News

Cats and dogs have been often in the Kauai news lately, what with a possible repeal of the barking dog ordinance, and the feral cat people — and most recently, horse therapist Karin Stoll — cruelly attacking the Kauai Humane Society for performing the unpleasant task of euthanizing unwanted animals. Of course, the critics have no plans of their own for housing all those poor discarded critters....

It's always interesting to place such topics in some sort of context, starting with this historical account of Lihiliho's return to Oahu in the 1820s, as described by Rev. Bingham:

The shouting of the noisy natives, and the voice of the crier demanding hogs, dogs, poi, etc., to be gathered for the reception of his majesty (who was in his cups), formed a combination of the sublime and ludicrous not soon to be forgotten by the missionaries . . . which was now increased by the yelping and crying dogs, tied on poles, and brought in for slaughter.

Meanwhile, Australia is moving forward with an aggressive plan to kill 2 million feral cats by 2020 in order to save endangered native wildlife there. As The Guardian reports:

[Federal environment minister, Greg] Hunt said that all of the states and territories have agreed to list the feral cat as a harmful pest, with the animal targeted through baiting, shooting and poisoning.

Also oft in the local news is the GMO debate, with the House of Representatives voting yesterday to approve HR 1599, which addresses labeling for GMO, non-GMO and natural foods.

Both Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and the mainland-based Center for Food Safety (CFS) used the legislation as an opportunity to raise funds. Both also decried a “lack of transparency,” though Tulsi's emails, while giving constituents three links to sign petitions, failed to provide folks with a link to the bill so they could read it themselves, rather than accepting her interpretation.

And Tulsi, in her floor speech opposing the bill, cited Bill 2491 as an example of a local ordinance that could be pre-empted by the federal measure — without mentioning it had already been overturned by a federal judge because it was pre-empted by state law.

CFS, meanwhile, denounces the bill's sponsor for getting contributions from the Koch brothers, but never does name its own “generous donor” who provided funds to match donations up to $50,000. Because transparency is always for the other guys....

Also in the news has been the topic of repealing term limits for Kauai Councilmembers, with Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. saying he'd like to see limits repealed for the mayor's office, too. As in he might want to run again, rather than make way for Nadine Nakamura, who is already doing all the mayoral work, aside from the singing.

The prospect of a third term for Bernard is alarming, though still not as alarming as the possible alternative: any term by Dustin Barca.

Lest you have doubts, consider Dustin's recent Instagram post:
Gosh, Kauai's own Dustin Barca, providing the world with irrefutable proof of this international conspiracy. 

I'm so proud.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Musings: Con Job Too

Continuing with yesterday's “con job” theme, I wanted to draw attention to Ian Lind's commentary on Civil Beat, where he skewers the “kingdom defense” being used by some of the anti-TMT protestors.

It caught my attention because I have a young friend who has been similarly conned into believing that Dayne Aipoalani and the Kingdom of Atooi can protect him from the recurring charges of driving without a Hawaii license or license plates that recently landed him in jail.

Ian cites State of Hawaii v. Harry Fergerstrom, in which the court ruled the state “has lawful jurisdiction over all persons operating motor vehicles on public roads or highways within the State of Hawai`i. Persons claiming to be citizens of the Kingdom of Hawai`i and not of the State of Hawai`i are not exempt from the laws of the State of Hawaii applicable to all persons (citizens and non-citizens) operating motor vehicles on public roads and highways within the State of Hawaii.”

Ian goes on to write:

[T]here have been 41 cases brought before Hawaii’s Intermediate Court of Appeals and six cases before the Hawaii Supreme Court over the last two decades in which the courts rejected the argument that the state lacks jurisdiction because the Kingdom still exists.

Asserting the jurisdiction of the Kingdom may make for lively political theater, but as a legal argument, it’s clearly a loser.

And there’s a hidden benefit here for attorneys who pursue this line of argument. When the legal argument fails in court, those enthralled by its “obvious” validity can blame the bias of the courts, the power of the occupiers, and a continuing non-native conspiracy for the outcome while keeping their beliefs, and the reputations of their attorneys, intact.

Meanwhile, Hector Valenzuela, a College of Tropical Ag professor, and The Hawaii Independent are perpetuating another con job, one in which they agree that poor Hector has been hectored by the University of Hawaii for his anti-biotech stance.

As proof, they reference an article written by Paul Koberstein — one of those paid by the Media Consortium to write anti-GMO articles in Hawaii — and printed in the misnamed Independent, whose publisher, Ikaika Hussey, is on the board of Gary Hooser's anti-GMO HAPA group.

Koberstein quotes Hector as saying:

I am not an anti-GMO person, and I have never served as a spokesman for any anti-GMO group.

Yeah, I guess it's just a coincidence that for years Hector has been a prominent presence at just about every anti-GMO rally, meeting and march in the state; never missed an opportunity to utter anti-GMO quotes to the media, and offered “expert” testimony against biotech to both the Hawaii County Council and as a witness for SHAKA's anti-GMO moratorium.

The real problem with Hector is he has a tendency to play fast and loose with the truth, which doesn't endear to him to colleagues who value objectivity and scientific credibility. As a recent article in Slate reported:

Hector Valenzuela, a University of Hawaii crop specialist who also testified as an expert, said the same thing [as anti-GMO activist Jeffrey Smith]: that scientists hadn’t “conducted a single study” to assess the safety of GE papaya. Neither man mentioned the Chinese papaya feeding study in rats—published two months before the theoretical paper Smith had cited—which had found none of the harms Smith alleged.

As for Japan’s approval of the papaya, Valenzuela advised the council to look at U.S. government cables released by WikiLeaks. He said the cables showed “the lengths that the State Department goes to twist arms behind the scenes.” This was a clear insinuation that U.S. officials had coerced Japan’s decision. Smith mentioned the cables, too. But the cables showed no conspiracy. Nearly 6,000 of the leaked cables had been sent from U.S. embassies and consulates in Japan. They covered the years 2005 to 2010, during which Japanese regulators had debated and approved the GE papaya. Food & Water Watch, an environmental group, had searched the cables for references to pressure or lobbying by U.S. officials on behalf of GMOs. The group’s report, issued in May 2013, cited no cables that indicated any such activity in Japan.

Sadly, some 60 faculty members have bought into Hector's claim that his academic freedoms are being violated. After reading Koberstein's obviously biased article, they penned a letter to UH administrators, condemning the "academic freedom violations." Let's hope they employ a bit more discernment and critical thinking in their own classrooms, research and publications. I mean, really, you guys. Serious con.

And finally, I recently linked to a Facebook post with a video clip of baby sloths being bathed in an animal sanctuary. But the adorable clip soon drew fire from a spate of no-nothing know-it-alls:

I read elsewhere that sloths do not need baths unless it is for medical reasons. Please confirm 

I also heard that they should not be rubbed, it scares them...but idk for sure.

I lived in Panama a few years and I was told sloths have a natural oily skin and they stink to make them less prone to predator attacks since they can't defend themselves.

Which therefore suggests that they shouldn't be bathed "clean" right? This video makes sloths "pet-like" but instead National Geographic should be educating us on how they naturally live and survive. Stinky and oily and all!

When I saw the green solution she was putting them in I thought great she's gonna "re-stink" them! But she said a herbal mixture of tea and leaves?!? Wow was I wrong...I just shook my head!

I think they're wild animals and need to be left alone.

A sanctuary is fine to rehabilitate them but they should try to let them live as naturally as possible.

It wasn't "necessary" for them to bathe the sloths clean, surely their natural oils protect them from parasites in the wild.

Sloth's grow algae on their bodies that protect them in the wild by way of camouflage. These baths are making them more susceptible to predators.

Finally, someone from the sloth sanctuary weighed in:

Hi all, these sloths were bathed because they had a skin condition. It's generally not good for their natural pH balance unless it's absolutely necessary. Sloths do not smell. Or have any kind of odor to protect them against predators. The male Bradypus secret an oily substance from their patch only. This is musky smelling but certainly not bad in anyway. Hope this helps

I couldn't resist adding my own two cents:

This comment thread is a great example of how people make assumptions and pass judgment w/o knowing anything about what they've just seen! And next thing you know they're all fired up about Natl Geo mistreating sloths! The serious downside of FB and social media!

Because how many times has this same stupid scenario been repeated on just about every topic under the sun, breeding ever more ignorance and tilling fertile soil for the next con job.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Musings: Con Job

noun, derogatory
information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

The latest round of agricultural propaganda is about to be unleashed on the Islands. It starts Wednesday night with the first in a statewide lecture series on glyphosate (Roundup) and “the implications of genetically engineered foods on our health.”

“Inform yourself and make educated choices” urges the flyer. Though it's hard to see how that is possible with a program that presents just one strident point of view and features a “scientist” who outlandishly claims her research has shown that glyphosate causes autism. Gee, and all this time I thought vaccines were the culprit.
The propaganda punch gets an extra squeeze of juice Saturday night with the premiere screening of “Aina: That Which Feeds Us,” a slick, big-budget film that ramps up the fear about Kauai's seed companies and romanticizes agriculture.

Ironically, it's presented by Waipa Foundation, an organization that has been unable to produce any significant amount of food, even with free land [correction: a below-market lease] and a steady infusion of volunteer labor and money from private foundations, donors and public funds.

Last year, you may recall, the hype was all about atrazine, with Tyrone Hayes making the rounds in the spring, followed by anti-glyphosate speaker Don Huber in the fall.

Because it's not just enough to plant the seeds of paranoia. They must be carefully tended with steady applications of fertilizer. As in bullshit.

Meanwhile, I noticed that tonight, Civil Beat is hosting a screening of “Merchants of Doubt,” a documentary film that claims to reveal propaganda by outing “the pundits-for-hire who sway public opinion on issues of importance.”

Gosh, could they be pulling back the curtain on the anti-GMO/anti-ag activists? No such luck. Watching the trailer, I saw the film instead focuses on the traditional bad guys: Tobacco and chemical lobbyists, climate change deniers.

A few sample snippets of dialogue:

Keep it simple. People will fill in the blanks with their own, I hate to say biases, but perceptions.

We're the negative force. We're just trying to stop stuff.

It's kind of an amazing accomplishment. Such a small group of people have had such a tremendous impact on public opinion.

All of that could be applied just as well to the alarmists, extremists and dilettantes — many of them paid lobbyists — who have hijacked the left in Hawaii. Yet I have no doubt that the majority of the "progressive" folks who will be watching that film — including Civil Beat, which often builds stories around fake experts like Ashley Lukens and Nomi Carmona — have no clue that they're either part of or supporting the exact same style of propaganda on the left.

What struck me, though, was this comment explaining the smoke and mirrors technique used by propagandists:

“It's all about preventing you from looking where the action really is, which is to say the science.”

In Hawaii, the anti-GMO movement is busily distracting people from so many real issues — gentrification, displacement of locals, a lopsided economy, the scourges of tourism, poverty, hunger, low-paying jobs, homelessness, sea level rise, ice.

And all the money that is being spent on anti-GMO/anti-ag propaganda — flying in Vandana Shiva and the other ideologues, producing slick films, staging "shame" protests at the state Capitol, etc. — could have been used to conduct health studies or actually help people.

So what is it really costing us to be conned by the anti-GMO/anti-ag movement in Hawaii?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Musings: Local Courtesy

Local courtesy is coming under fire on the North Shore of Kauai.

Seems some folks are getting irked waiting at the one-lane bridges that have been carefully preserved all these years precisely to slow down traffic and support the region's rural character. The Hanalei Roads Committee began its work in 1976, and the historic Hanalei Bridge was placed on the state and national historic registers in 2004
Photo from Ivy's Place website.
But for some, the wait at the Hanalei Bridge is apparently unacceptable. Felicia Cowden, who resides in Kilauea, sent the Council this email:

A number of years ago helpful signs were placed at both sides of Hanalei bridge that states [sic] "local courtesy 5-7 cars" or something to that effect.

In the past few years, particularly in peak visitor season, the road can back up [sic] more than 100 cars in either direction, sometimes as far as into the center of Hanalei town. This 5-7 car number is part of the problem. 

Community discussion is vivid on Facebook and casual dialog to remove this sign. An exception is Makaala Ka`aumoana likes the sign. Beyond that, I hear angry or frustrated discussion. It is my sense this would be easy to change and have suggested the county be contacted.

You may have heard from the community on this topic. I have copied the leaders of the community associations for Kilauea, Princeville and Hanalei on this e-mail so that they may weigh in.

Councilman Mason Chock was the first to respond:

Is there an alternative solution? Maybe between certain times of the day it should be a different count? We need to understand this better.

Mmm, it all seems pretty clear: There are too many fricking people and cars down there in the valley. Add up the daytrippers, Hanalei workers who can't find housing west of the bridge, TVRs equal to several large resorts and construction traffic, and what do you get? A traffic jam that bottlenecks at Hanalei Bridge.

It's yet another example of how Kauai has become a victim of poor planning and its own popularity.

Though Felicia seems to think “this 5-7 car number is part of the problem” and that only Makaala likes it, there's a reason why that number was picked. The Roads Committee, of which Felicia has never been a member, did a survey in 2008, asking residents how many cars should be allowed over the bridge before the other side gets a turn. 

A solid majority wanted a small number, with 53 percent choosing 5-7 cars and 28 percent opting for 3-5 cars. Only 19 percent said 7-9 cars, with a very few opting for “drain the lane.”

The committee chose 5-7, as the majority desired, and it's worked pretty well, except between about 2-4 p.m. The problem seems to be primarily people driving out of, and not into, Hanalei.

So what do you do? Take down the signs and create a free-for-all, with fisticuffs and road rage at the bridge as a long stream of vehicles, many of them rental cars, fly past the folks who are patiently waiting?

Sacrifice yet another bit of “local courtesy?” Pound another hammer in the coffin of local culture? And for what? A band-aid solution?

This local courtesy has even become part of the visitor experience, with TVR owners like Brysone's Nishimoto counseling guests on his website:

When approaching the one-lane bridges, yield signs and white lines indicate where cars need to stop to allow on-coming traffic to pass safely. Driving beyond these white lines, without noticing if there are on-coming cars leads to traffic jams, accidents and locals giving you stink eye.

If you are in a short line of traffic and someone is waiting to cross from the other side, it is OK to go if you are the second or third car. However, somewhere after the fourth or fifth car it is polite to stop and allow those on the other side to proceed across. You’ll know you gauged this right if a local gives you the shaka sign for waiting.

Lastly, if you and another car appear to be approaching the bridges at the same time, it is better to stop than race to get over first. There’s “no hurries, no worries” here, besides its your vacation, relax and enjoy.

One thing's for certain: Hanalei Bridge is not going to become two lanes. Such a project would cost some $20 million, and no doubt folks at one of the island's other bottlenecks, like Kapaa town, would prefer to see the money spent there first.

So maybe chillax then? Remember: 

There’s “no hurries, no worries” here.

Which is a good time to direct you to this charming little video. Enjoy!!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Musings: Unreasonable

With today's editorial endorsing the Kauai Community Cat Project (KCCP) as “offering a reasonable approach on the feral cat problem,” The Garden Island has again shown it's woefully out of touch with reality.

Because just two weeks ago, TGI published an editorial calling on folks to support the Kauai Humane Society and its director, Penny Cistaro:

While Cistaro has her critics, as would anyone who steps into that role, overall she has done a good job. This isn’t and shouldn’t be about Penny Cistaro, anyway.

Uh, earth to TGI editor Bill Buley... Who do you think is leading the vicious attack against Penny and KHS? 

It's none other than the leaders and major funders of the Kauai Community Cat Project. Their publicly stated goal is to get rid of Penny and seize control of KHS. How reasonable is that?

No, no one wants to see Kauai known as the island that killed 20,000 cats, though I doubt it would damage the tourism count any more than the anti-GMO folks who tried to label it the toxic island. Australia even allows hunting of feral cats, and it has plenty of tourists.

But for a Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage (TNRM) to work, according to the Kauai Feral Task Force report, colonies must have a minimum 90 percent spay-neuter rate, with a goal of 100 percent. The colonies that KCCP manage are not anywhere near that level. 
The Task Force also calls for fencing the colonies to keep the cats from killing wildlife and prevent newcomers from joining the colony, and ensuring that no colonies are maintained on county property. KCCP has not done that, either.

Yes, TNR can be one component of a reasonable program to control the island's out-of-control feral cat problem.

But KCCP is not a reasonable organization, nor is its $80,000 budget reasonable to manage just 510 cats.

It's similarly unreasonable to allow Princeville Corp., which 25 years ago was required to provide 100 units of affordable housing, to get away with 44 ugly boxes and a big asphalt parking lot right on the highway opposite the Hanalei Valley overlook.
What about the other 56 units? And how about installing some mature landscaping now that this eyesore is in place?

It got me wondering, so is this what Princeville thinks of its workforce? 

And is this the best that working folks on Kauai can expect in the way of affordable housing, while all around them lavish second homes are constructed for vacationers and part-time residents?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Musings: Beyond Wrong

The other day, I received an email that contained this photo and Facebook post by Kathryn Xian, an activist with the Alliance to Stop Slavery:

It was "liked" by 225 people, shared by a whopping 394 and followed by a string of 91 comments expressing sadness, grief, outrage and aloha for the man and his family. Others derided the Departments of Health and Agriculture and a few railed on Monsanto. Several lauded Kathryn for being a "true people's champion." Not one expressed any skeptism.

They all accepted the post as Truth, even though it had so many unanswered questions, and some of it didn't make any sense, like blaming the EPA for black market chemicals, or the misuse of restricted use pesticides that it heavily regulates?

My own curiosity was piqued. Why was Kathryn using a psuedonym for someone who is dead? What did that picture actually tell us about the man or the circumstances of his death? If you are trying to stop farm worker trafficking and misuse of pesticides, why not name the farm where the poisoning allegedly occured? Had authorities been notified? What's this about a pesticide black market? And since cancer takes a long time to develop, had "Tom" actually contracted it on a farm in Hawaii?

So I sent her this message:

Hi Kathryn, I saw your sad post about your friend "Tom." I was wondering if you could give me a little more information. How long was he working here in Hawaii? Did he report his pesticide exposure to DOH, and if so, how did DOH respond? When you mention there's a black market for restricted pesticides, do you mean RUPs that are banned in the US? Where are these chemicals coming from? Looking forward to learning more. aloha, joan

The answer, as I expected, was crickets. Which confirmed my initial suspicions that there was more thaCenter for Food Safety, n a whiff of bullshit in the post — aside from its description of Gary Hooser and HAPA, the Babes and Walter Ritte as "amazing advocates fighting to protect our 'aina and 'ohana."

Still, I was bothered by the idea of bootleg pesticides, unprotected farm workers. So I contacted a friend who is akamai about agriculture throughout the state, to see what he thought. His reply:

Cancer has many causes, that said, it's not outside the realm of possibility that this man died of pesticide induced cancer. The immigrant farmers are known to be very poorly trained in pesticide use on their own farms (you saw this in India). If a pesticide works they will use it regardless of whether it cleared for that crop or not, or even if it has an ag application at all. This is a well known fact in the ag community. The HDOA and CTAHR have outreach programs to educate immigrant farmers on safe practices but it's an uphill battle because of language and cultural barriers.

I think that it's unlikely that he was exposed to fatal doses of pesticides on a large ag operation; those guys are monitored by the regulatory agencies especially if they have employees. They are also aware that if residues of pesticides show up on their products it makes for very bad press. They would never use a black market product on their crops. As for the small immigrant farmers, I don't think it's a case of black market products as much as the misuse of restricted use pesticides. But even the sale of these products are tightly controlled and someone with a RUP license would have to purchase it for them. Importing black market pesticides would be hard to do and the penalties would be severe if you were caught.

If your goal is to reduce pesticide misuse and help immigrant farmworkers, it seems to me you'd support the DOH and CTAHR outreach efforts, make a report to the DOH of any possible pesticide poisoning and publicly hold the agency's feet to the fire, publicize the farm(s) that improperly use pesticides so that people could avoid their products, humanize a man who allegedly died from pesticide exposure by telling his story, using his real name, and providing some documentation to back it up.

But if your goal is to foster outrage, build blind opposition to GMO crops and conventional agriculture, promote a group of people and farms that you consider “pono,” garner support for your group and cause, well, then, you exploit an unnamed person's death in a tear-jerker post that tugs at the heartstrings and disengages the brain.

It's called propaganda, and it's being used widely and intensively by the anti-ag and anti-GMO groups in Hawaii and elsewhere. 

While it's always tragic to see people blatantly manipulated into believing a certain way, what really bothers me is this: Groups with no credibility and legitimacy have co-opted the pesticide issue in Hawaii and adopted antics like these that make it easy to dismiss valid concerns. 

They are actually setting back, rather than advancing, efforts to address real problems associated with pesticide misuse. 

And that's beyond wrong.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Musings: Get Thee Behind Me

The Kauai County Council has advanced a resolution that would allow voters to decide whether they want to rescind Council term limits.

The issue will go to a public hearing on Aug. 16. On Sept. 2, the Council will decide whether to place the charter amendment on the 2016 ballot.

I asked Councilman Ross Kagawa why he introduced the resolution. He replied:

I'm just doing it because I feel like a lot has changed in Kauai since 2006 and that term limits could keep some very important people like Mel [Rapozo] from continuing to serve at a very critical point in our lives. That being said I believe the voters are doing a fine job themselves of keeping councilmembers from serving too long.  No councilmember has ever reached the term limit, Jay Furfaro came the closest, he was seeking his 4th term. So the question is why have it?  Let the voters decide, they're already doing it anyway.  We had only 9 people run for council in 2012, 24 ran in 2014.  3 new councilmembers were elected.  A lot has changed.  

But Carl Imparato, noting that voters approved term limits by a margin of 69-31 in 2006, told the Council there is “no reason to think voters are willing to change their mind.”

Ross, however, disputed that, saying he didn't think voters put much thought into the issue in 2006, when a dozen charter amendments crowded the ballot.

Councilman KipuKai Kualii said he would like to see the Council members run for numbered seats. “People who are doing well wouldn't even get challenged and incumbents who are upsetting the voters will get challenged,” he said. “Term limits, that is not the way to give voters more choice. Anybody different always has a chance.”

Meanwhile, the Kauai County Office of the Prosecutor has lost its most skilled deputies. First Deputy Kevin Takata has already departed, with Lisa Arin, Melinda Mendes and Teresa Tumbaga, who was considered the office's best up-and-coming young prosector, on their way out.

As one observer noted:

The OPA under Justin Kollar has seen the same level of turnover as former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri. Except Shay hemorrhaged deputies from the bottom tier, and Justin's hemorrhaging them from the top.

Still, to Justin's credit, none of his deputies accompanied their resignation with an EEOC complaint. At least, none that I know of.

Interesting to see that the very high profile trial of Darren Galas — charged in 2012 with murdering his wife, Sandra — is finally scheduled for 2016, which just happens to be an election year for the prosecutor.

On a somewhat related note, I recently read a great article entitled, “Is Monsanto Satan? The Pleasure and Problem of Conspiracy Theories.” I especially liked this part:

Belief in Satan has faded over the centuries. But Satan has not disappeared. We need him too much. In the ongoing struggle with inexplicable suffering, there is no greater comfort than finding a target for simple, righteous blame. And so the list of Infernal Names, now secularized, grows ever longer: Big Government, Big Business, Big Pharma, Big Food. These are complex systems, of course—too complex to serve as satisfying scapegoats. But through the alchemy of capital letters we transform them into fairy-tale caricatures of corruption and deceit, villains that help to make sense of it all.

This is why believing in Satan is so dangerous—and so tempting: If he really exists, we can protect our most deeply held beliefs by blaming any opposition on the work of a great deceiver. There is no need for dialogue. In fact, dialogue is inadvisable, because the deceiver is so powerful that any contact risks corruption.

[The conspiracy theorist’s view] is frightening because it magnifies the power of evil, leading in some cases to an outright dualism in which light and darkness struggle for cosmic supremacy. At the same time, however, it is reassuring, for it promises a world that is meaningful rather than arbitrary. Not only are events nonrandom, but the clear identification of evil gives the conspiracist a definable enemy against which to struggle, endowing life with purpose.

Which segues so nicely into closing  with this “existential comic;” (you can click to enlarge, or follow the link):

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Musings: Clinging to Beliefs

It’s been quite fascinating to see how some folks desperately want to cling to the belief that a mob of drunken local boys is terrorizing defenseless tourists, without any provocation or cause, at the Hanalei Pier.

Some of it is due to The Garden Island’s usual crummy reporting, which created a certain perception of events. Some of it can be attributed to their own fears or distrust of young local men. Call it haole paranoia.

And some of it is rooted in the same phenomenon that has people still believing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and biotech crops are poisoning westsiders: You repeat something often enough and the gullible — or those seeking to confirm their own biases — lap it right up. Then they doggedly hang on to that cherished belief, even when information surfaces that challenges it, or disproves it outright.

With the arrest of Kapaa resident Iona Keola Loi on two counts of third-degree assault and one count of harassment, additional details surfaced about the event. As Police Chief Darryl Perry told me in an email:

Detective Rose did an outstanding job in gathering the facts contrary to what some may believe.  What we uncovered was not a situation related to racial overtones, or an organized group of locals hellbent on hurting visitors for no reason at all.  I can’t say anymore about this until the case goes to court, but there certainly was more than enough blame to go around than what was portrayed by the initial news reports.  

The police have never, contrary to claims made in the comments section, accused Loi of punching a 60-year-old man or a 14-year-old student, or spitting in anyone’s face. Those claims were made by the alleged victims, whose story is already unraveling.

Today’s newspaper reports:

There were “probably eight of them” who were involved in the actual physical assault, [school group leader Tim] Corcoran said, although he added that some of the bystanders tried to break up the scene.

Previously, Corcoran claimed there were at least 20 attackers, and no one came to their aid:

I really thought we were going to die. We were surrounding [sic] by 20 of them, threatening to kill us. The reason why I think we got out of there alive (was because) they didn’t have any weapons. They didn’t show any knives or show any guns, just bodies,” Corcoran said. 

Yet the minute I even broached the possibility that things were not as TGI and the victims contended, I was accused of condoning violence, defending a punk, victim-blaming, drinking police Kool-Aid, sucking up to locals, losing my good sense, dog-fighting, etc., etc., etc. 

I doubt those who jumped on me will change their views, even if Loi is ultimately acquitted, but I’ve been fascinated to observe how eager some Kauai folks are to believe that Hanalei has spawned a mob of brown-skinned guys on a hate crime spree, and the cops are covering it up.

As for their paranoia, a local friend observed:

Maybe it is a shock to live in a part of America where it’s not normal for white cops to shoot people of color.

If you crave facts, as one reader claimed, you need to first let go of the belief that you already have a lock on the truth.

Which brings us to an excellent piece in Slate on the fear-mongering and lies that characterize the anti-GMO movement. As Will Saletan writes in a vindication of my own experience:

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes.

Third, there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents. But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering isn’t a thing. It’s a process that can be used in different ways to create different things. To think clearly about GMOs, you have to distinguish among the applications and focus on the substance of each case.

It’s a very thorough article, refuting the bullshit spread about the GE papaya, disputing the supposed safety of organics over GE crops when it comes to Bt, discrediting people like Jeffrey Smith and UH’s Hector Valenzuela, detailing the misguided attack on Vitamin A-enriched “golden rice,” exposing the hypocrisy and duplicity of Greenpeace and revealing the sham of GMO labeling.

It also discusses the potential available through GE technology: drought-tolerant corn, virus-resistant plums, non-browning apples, potatoes with fewer natural toxins, soybeans that produce less saturated fat, virus-resistant beans, heat-tolerant sugarcane, salt-tolerant wheat, disease-resistant cassava, high-iron rice, and cotton that requires less nitrogen fertilizer, nonallergenic nuts, bacteria-resistant oranges, water-conserving wheat and more.

That’s what genetic engineering can do for health and for our planet. The reason it hasn’t is that we’ve been stuck in a stupid, wasteful fight over GMOs. On one side is an army of quacks and pseudo-environmentalists waging a leftist war on science. On the other side are corporate cowards who would rather stick to profitable weed-killing than invest in products that might offend a suspicious public. The only way to end this fight is to educate ourselves and make it clear to everyone that we’re ready, as voters and consumers, to embrace nutritious, environmentally friendly food, no matter where it got its genes.

If you’re interested in facts about GMO products, it’s a great place to start. But first, you’ll need to open your mind, and release your fear.