Friday, October 31, 2014

Remembering Glen Grant

            Call it what you like. Ghosts, spirits, superstitions, or belief in the paranormal are part of life in Hawaii. Even if you have just moved out here, it won’t take long before you run into someone who insists on blessing a home or someone who refuses to live in a house without ti leaves nearby. It simply comes with the territory.
            I’ve always been fascinated by the subject. I remember in elementary school looking desperately for scary stories to read about. And for all of the superstitions and local lore we have in Hawaii, there weren’t a lot of books on the subject.
            Sure, they were easy to come by when everyone gathered around during sleepovers to talk about them. I can still remember being scared of the Guava Man at Camp Maluhia (it might have been Camp Keanae). That was the strange man that came out of the woods looking for kids to take back with him into the dark. Everyone had stories about vanishing hitchhikers, Madame Pele, or the night marchers roaming the old trails and beating drums.
But you could never find a place to actually read about this stuff. Our library had Eric Knudsen’s “Spooky Stuffs,” which featured not only homegrown ghost stories about the Garden Isle, but brilliant watercolor illustrations of Guy Buffet. Knudsen’s stories featured giants, one-eyed monsters roaming the mountains and woods, and skeletons. They were timeless and seemed to have come from a different era. None of his stories were about modern Hawaii.
            That all changed with Glen Grant’s “Obake: Ghost Stories of Hawaii.” Unlike Knudsen’s timeless stories about Kauai, Grant’s tales took place in metropolitan Honolulu. They were told by local folks, who had witnessed something supernatural. Some saw the faceless woman in the ladies’ room at the Waialae Drive-Inn. Others claimed to have felt the presence of ancient spirits on lonely stretches of the roadway out to Kaena Point. All of the stories were on Oahu.
            Grant got popular when I was in high school in the 1990s. Not only did he write books, but he also conducted walking tours around Honolulu at night. He even made it out to Maui once. I remember going to hear him tell stories at Iao Congregational one night around Halloween time. He was a fantastic story teller and it always seemed like he was smiling as he talked about mythology or some kind of weird tale.
            His books made me think that I could do something like that too. My chance came when my English teacher told me I had to write a book report. Now, back then, I hated reading (most people have a hard time believing that). I couldn’t get through a novel to save my life. So I chose a book I read already: Glen Grant’s.
            My teacher saw right through it and challenged me to do something more than just write a report. What I came up with ghost stories of my own? If Glen Grant went around Oahu for decades collecting ghost stories, why couldn’t I do that for Maui?
            I used the book report as an excuse to call anyone who’d talk to me about ghosts and the supernatural. I sat down with windsurfers or hippies, there were retired cops, the long-time residents recalling the by-gone territorial days, and the hotel workers who had all kinds of rumors floating around the work place.
            It was my first taste at interviewing witnesses. I was learning as I went. I took notes and put it all together until I had the story. Then I’d set out writing it down. In the end, I had about fifty stories. One of them got published.
            I stopped the ghost project when people started calling my house asking me to investigate the spirits in their own home. No thanks. I’d rather listen to a good story. The last thing I wanted to do was see a ghost.
            By then, I was finishing up high school and I was in the school paper and starting to outgrow the subject anyways. But Grant and the experience got me hooked on writing and stories. Glen Grant was not a literary genius, but he was a local author. He wrote about Hawaii and entertained people with his stories about the weird, the unexplained, and the downright scary.

I never met him when I moved back. He died in 2003, the year I graduated from college with a journalism degree. But he’s far from forgotten. Glen Grant’s student and protégé, Lopaka Kapanui, has picked up where he left off and continues to talk story about the unexplained. His books are still reprinted and sold all over the place. Who knows? He may even appear in a ghost story of his own someday.

Friday, October 24, 2014

David Ige and Elwin Ahu: Absolute Beginners

            Two mystery men in Hawaii politics are in the biggest race in the State.
Let’s start with David Ige. Who’s he? Here are the basics: David Ige’s from Pearl City on Oahu. His father served in World War Two in the famed 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, saw action in France, and earned a purple heart and the bronze star. After the war, he worked as a steelworker in Honolulu. His mother was a registered nurse and a dental assistant. They had six boys. David is the second youngest.
Ige got his degree at UH in electrical engineering and later got a master’s degree in business administration while working at GTE Hawaiian Tel in the 1980s. He was an engineer in the private sector for a long time before Governor George Ariyoshi appointed him to the House to fill a vacancy in 1985. He’s been in politics ever since. He remained in the House until he switched over to the Senate in 1994.
But what exactly are Ige his politics? For starters, he’s got some of the trappings of a classic Hawaii liberal. He has voted in favor of the gay marriage bill. He has openly criticized the rapid development of luxury condominiums in Kaakako and has said such development is irresponsible. And a few weeks ago, I noted that he’s open to dispensaries for medical marijuana patients.
One of his favorite talking points is education. He’s a big fan of public schools and wants to work hard to help out the teachers, students, and every stakeholder in our public institutions. But that’s only part of him. What’s he like?
            His friends describe him as humble. For example, when he was nearing the end of his high school years at Pearl City, he got accepted to prestigious places like University of California at Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also applied for UH.
            But he also knew that his family wasn’t rich. He knew that it would have been a struggle for the family to pay tuition for Cal or MIT. It would also make college for his younger brother harder too. So he didn’t tell anyone and went to UH. Now that’s humility.
            The other unknown is Elwin Ahu.             Ahu grew up in Kalihi, but, like Ige, was raised in Pearl City. He went to Kamehameha Schools and was a volleyball star. After a career in volleyball at Graceland College in Iowa, Ahu got his law degree from the University of Hawaii in 1980.
            Ahu was a trial lawyer with stints at Legal Aid in Molokai, then as a public defender in Honolulu before entering a private practice. He worked civil and criminal jury trials on Oahu until he was appointed as a full-time District Court judge in 1994. By then he’d been married twice.
            Back in 2001, he was featured in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. He was candid about what was going on in his life at the time. He said that as his family life started to disintegrate, he found a new faith while sitting in traffic.
            He pulled out an old tape with a pastor’s sermon on it. That led to him attending the New Hope Christian Fellowship and Pastor Wayne Cordeiro. Things started looking up for him.
            “Once I put God in my life, everything went click, click, click,” he told the Advertiser. Click it did. In 1997, then-Governor Ben Cayetano appointed him to the Circuit Court and a year later he married a third time.
            He remained on the circuit court bench for only two years before stepping down to become a full-time pastor at New Hope Metro in Honolulu. He announced his candidacy in February of this year.
            When he did, he said that “government leaders are no longer grateful, it seems, for Divine Guidance, nor are they mindful of our Hawaiian heritage, consequently we’ve lost our uniqueness as an island state.”
            Later, in an interview, Ahu said that his decision to run for office came from what happened with the same-sex marriage debate in in 2013. He said that holding the special session as opposed to a ballot measure moved him to get into politics. Not surprisingly, Ahu opposed the special session.
            Since winning the lieutenant governor’s slot for the GOP, Ahu has not been making too many headlines of his own, and his stance on political issues remains unclear. Still yet, many see him as a rising star in Hawaii politics. Win or lose, no one expects this to be his last race.

            It’s rare in Hawaii for unknown candidates vying for the top office. It’s a race usually reserved for well-known and seasoned politicians. Whoever wins this race, our executive branch will be headed by new faces indeed.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Maui's GMO Moratorium: How'd we get here?

            Surely everyone has heard something about that “GMO thing” by now. It started on Maui back in June with a voter initiative.
The initiative petition is a unique procedure allowing voters themselves to propose an ordinance. In other words, it need not be introduced by Council members. The County Clerk received a voter initiative containing more than 9,000 signatures asking the County Council to temporarily ban the farming of genetically modified organisms.
A GMO was defined by “in vitro nucleic acid techniques” and “[m]ethods of fusing cells beyond the taxonomy family that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection[.]”
This is the definition used all over the country that is confronting the same issue. Despite the need for a biologist to translate what this means in plain English, the consensus seems to be that no matter how it’s defined, bi-tech companies like Mycogen and the more well-known Monsanto are going to be adversely effected.
            The moratorium would last until more studies were done to ensure that they were safe for the environment and the health and well-being of Maui’s inhabitants. The ban could be lifted by the Council, but it would require a long and drawn out process with comprehensive studies, a 2/3 majority, public hearings, and a finding by the Council that lifting the ban would not “result in significant harm and will result in significant benefits to the health of present and future generations of Maui citizens, [and] significantly supports the conservation and protection of Maui’s natural beauty and all natural resources[.]”
            And so it began. Monsanto and other bio-tech companies lobbied very hard against the passing of his ordinance. On the other side you had the anti-GMO groups and the SHAKA movement. Both sides presented their experts and the Council sat through hours upon hours of testimony both for and against. The Council didn’t vote on the bill and by law, the bill would be decided by the voters in November.
            But first—this being America—a brief interlude into Court. A group of County residents and organizations like the Molokai Chamber of Commerce and Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban sued the County Clerk and the Chief Election Officer of the State. The plaintiffs argued that the question on the ballot was misleading and confusing. Along with the lawsuit came a restraining order prohibiting the question from going onto the ballot. The Court was unpersuaded and dissolved the restraining order in September and allowed the question to go through onto the ballot.
            And so the stage was set for November. Voters will be asked a single question:
 “Should the proposed initiative prohibiting the cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms within the County of Maui, which may be amended or repealed as to a specific person or entity when required environmental and public health impact studies, public hearings, a two thirds vote and a determination by the County Council that such operation or practice meets certain standards, and which establishes civil and criminal penalties, be adopted for Maui County?”
This is why you can’t open a newspaper, turn on the television, listen to the radio, access a website, or do just about anything else without getting some kind of message about this question.
            The media blitz on both sides is reaching a feverous pitch. “YES” folks include Native Hawaiian activists like Walter Ritte and Dr. Lorrin Pang. They are allied with concerned parent-types and organic-foodies. The arguments for the moratorium are that it’s “temporary,” and are designed to ensure that GMOs are safe to have around.
            Camp “NO” seems to have slick television ads and highly-recognizable folks. They argue that this moratorium is unnecessary and will cost the County a lot of jobs. Some are even concerned about putting local farmers not only out of business, but in jail. (As a defense lawyer, I had a good chuckle when I saw the ad with former Honolulu prosecutor Peter Carlisle deeply concerned about a new misdemeanor on the books in Maui County.).
            If the majority of voters check the “YES” box, the issue might try to get back into Court before the moratorium goes into effect. Remember Kauai? A similar thing happened when Kauai County tried to label GMOs. A federal judge ruled the ordinance unlawful this summer.
And if the question is answered in the negative, then you can bet the opposition to bio-tech companies aren’t going to just pack up and leave—especially since most of them are born and bred local folks and Maui residents.

So no matter how this long, wordy and hotly-debate question is answered, you can bet the issue won’t be resolved this November.