Archive for October, 2011

Is violence really declining and if so why?

October 25th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

James Koshiba warned in Monday’s paper that the duty of the citizen is greater than just voting – these days we have other civic duties to perform to protect our democracy and way of life. Part of that way of life is freedom from crime and violence.

The day before, the paper had written up three books on the decline of violence, the most notable being The Better Angels of our Nature; Why Violence has Declined by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, which had been reviewed a week ago on NPR. All these books and there must be something to the proposition that violence has declined.

The NPR piece was so interesting I downloaded Pinker’s book from Amazon into my desktop Kindle. It’s very provocative, making the case that violence is declining because “a smarter more educated world is becoming more peaceful.” That’s a great thought, but it raises many other questions. Note that the secondary effect of a smarter world is a world where most people get fed and have decent QOL.

If you have a decent QOL, you’re likely to appreciate it. And the better it is and the more you appreciate it the less likely you are to risk everything by engaging in violence. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to avoid the danger of violence. It has a way of coming back on you, as in Gaddafi.

Note also, however, that lots of violent acts, if not most of them, are irrational, whether drug-induced, cultural or hormonal. Remember at the end of the day, we’re all mammals. If we're more likely to be rational, however, we're less likely to be violent.

We know that the miracle of information technology makes our lives better, it educates us and presumably makes us more rational. So the advent of today’s technology and all the good things that flow from it have got to be a factor in the decline in violence, no matter what the Waldorf School says.

But information technology can work for or against the betterment of mankind, and for or against violence. It’s easy to find examples of how technology can damage mankind, seriously, not only by weapons but also by instruments and processes that spread hate and incite violence.

On balance, technology probably helps us more than hurts us. Don’t you think the tool of technology helps most people and societies lead a better life, be more rational and engage in conduct that is less rather than more violent?

There is the old bugaboo that seeing violence on the screen makes us want to emulate it. But perhaps it’s the other way around – perhaps seeing violence shows us that it is undesirable and discourages us from violent inclinations. We don’t know for sure, yet.

Assuming violent images are presented in a way to help people get violence out of their systems rather than engage in it, perhaps we can say that violence on the media actually supports the proposition that violence is declining.

For the moment, I would agree with Pinker, but I would add that this phenomenon is not static. While violence may be declining today, it could pop up again later with a vengeance, as it has so many times in the past. After all, we’re still mammals, and carnivorous.

We could find that technology goes to a new tipping point and engenders new levels of violence, even more atrocious than before. If that happens, is it the fault of technology or those who use technology? Should we see ourselves and mad inventors or as victims?

All things considered, it seems to me that technology is mostly an instrument of peace and that is most likely to improve QOL for all of us. This all assumes that mankind is basically rational and can avoid slipping bank into old more violent habits. No guaranty on that, of course.

Alexander Stille wrote in Sunday’s Times that more minority groups in this country are now accepted and can play the game. At the same time, he said social mobility is declining, as reflected perhaps in the recent Wall Street protests. What does this mean, and how is it related to the decline of violence?

These days, we have access and mobility to power and wealth that promise success. This takes the edge off social and political disappointment, even if we haven’t actually made it yet. But if things get bogged down, and they could, we won’t feel that gemutlichkeit anymore. Would violence rise?

It’s a moving target, and we happen to be at a low point of the curve right now. But as our world changes, as it must, we’re affected by new endogenous and exogenous influences, and we may find that we’re on the way back to where we were or worse.

Enjoy it while ye may, since with the current recession and credit and banking crises, gemutlichkeit cannot be taken for granted. Don’t assume that the government or technology will be able to keep a lid on things, and don’t be too surprised when QOL drops, and with it personal security.

Want some advice, well here it is: care about the efficiency of government; care about the financial health of government and the economy; and vote with those concerns in mind. A healthy society is a non-violent one. If we ignore these things, we’ll get what we deserve for failing to be good citizens, and we’ll be battling old demons in the state of nature.

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Death with Dignity Is Coming Back

October 17th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

Rep. Blake Oshiro, member of the House Judiciary Committee, is bringing it back. The earlier Death with Dignity bill has come and gone over the last few years, but has never passed the Legislature. Oshiro has been an advocate for the bill, and he’s planning to lead the charge on it this coming session.

The question is whether it’s time, either in terms of those who will predictably oppose the bill on right to life questions, or in terms of the mood of the legislature. It’s not an easy path to passage, but if the bill does pass changes are that the governor will not veto it.

Remember we’ll still in fiscal crisis, and it’s not clear that this bill will be treated as a priority when we have such big fiscal fish to fry. It’s not a money bill, but some ask whether we should spend the time on initiatives like this when the state’s economy is in distress on so many other things?

On the other hand, maybe it’s the best of times for a bill of the nature – they help change the subject and get us back to basics. It would in any event keep our minds off our fiscal problems. It would affect our way of life, and our quality of life at the end of life. We are at the painful intersection of cutting things short or prolonging them with modern medicine. We haven’t yet worked this out. Maybe we will this year.

Last year’s House Bill 1383 is at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=1383. It was referred to the Health and Judiciary Committees, It was never set for hearing. Last year’s Senate Bill 803 is at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=803. It was referred to the Health and Judiciary and Judiciary Committees there too. At the recommendation of the chair, the bill was held.

But it’s not over for Death with Dignity. Given the two-year legislative cycle, HB1383 AND SB803 are still alive for consideration in the 2012 session. New bills on the subject may also be introduced, and we can expect that the same right to life questions will be raised. It’s anybody’s guess what will happen.

Want to get a handle on the subject? Blake Oshiro will appear on ThinkTech Radio this Wednesday, October 19th. We’ll talk with him to find out more about Death with Dignity. He’s be joined by Robert Orfali, a computer scientist.

In 1999, Robert Orfali’s wife Jeri was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The couple spent the next decade fighting the disease. Jeri died in 2009 at 56. After her death, Orfali wrote two books driven by the experience: "Grieving a Soulmate" and "Death with Dignity."

One reviewer said, "Orfali's book, Death with Dignity, deconstructs the modern end-of-life system and the disturbing reality of how we die in America." The book is on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Orfali/e/B000AP5PS2. Ofali’s research is at http://www.amazon.com/Death-Dignity-Legalizing-Physician-Assisted-Euthanasia/dp/1936780186/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

What is the reality of how we die in America, and why is it disturbing to Robert Orfali and Blake Oshiro? At the same time, why is there so much resistance to legislation of this nature? If you want to find out, tune in to ThinkTech Radio KGU 760AM at 4:00 pm on Wednesday, October 19th.

In a related show on Monday, October 24th, co-hosts Michael Steiner and Ryan Thornton will talk with Ken Zeri, CEO of Hospice Hawaii, on how the hospice model is changing in Hawaii, and with Lisa Groulx, CEO of Parents, Inc., on how these two nonprofits compare in a world where the social safety net is not as well-funded as it used to be. Check it out on ThinkTech Radio at 4:00 pm next Monday.

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ThinkTech Guest and Speaker Reunion

October 11th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

The public is invited to the 11th Annual ThinkTech Guest and Speakers Reunion. It’s on Thursday, October 20th, 5:30 p.m. at the Plaza Club. The reunion is a rendezvous of the ThinkTech guests, speakers, thinkers and friends from over the decade since ThinkTech was founded in 2000.

The Reunion is an opportunity for continued conversation on tech, energy, diversification and globalism in Hawaii, and an opportunity to make new connections, share sunset libations, network up a storm and toast to a better Hawaii. Visit ThinkTechHawaii.com to register. See you there.

ThinkTech is 11 years old. It was founded at Starbucks Merchant Street in 2000 and later incorporated as a Hawaii 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. Its current directors are David Austin; David Day; Jay Fidell; Larry Fung; Nicole Hori; Sherilyn Lau; Dan Leuck; Lisa Maruyama; Bill Sharp; and Bill Spencer.

ThinkTech’s purpose is to raise public awareness about the importance of tech, energy, diversification and globalism to our economy and the future of our state. It presents educational seminars, luncheon panel programs, a drive-time radio series on KGU 760AM, and video productions on Olelo Channel 54 and OC 16. See its website at thinktechhawaii.com, and the articles and blogs by Jay Fidell in the Star-Advertiser.

It takes a community of supporters, thinkers, helpers and friends to keep ThinkTech going. Its underwriters are the Shidler Family Foundation; Hawaii Electric Company; Galen Ho of BAE Systems; and Oceanit. Its radio sponsors include 1013 Integrated; Aidia Studios; Archinoetics; Bays Lung Rose; Bendet Fidell; First Wind; Hawaii Academy of Science; Hawaii Convention Center; Hawaii Youth Symphony; InMobi; Koaloha Ukulele; Law Offices of David Day; Milan Marketplace; MOA Hawaii; Oceanit; Pacific Biodiesel; PacifiCap LLC; Pacific Forum CSIS; Steiner & Associates; and Vintage Wine Cellar.

Its TV hosts include David Austin; Pete Britos; David Day; Tatyana Cerullo; Jay Fidell; Carlos Juarez; Serena Karnagy; Duke Oishi; Alisa Onishi; Lisa Maruyama; Bill Sharp; and Lori Wingard. Its radio hosts include Keith Agena; David Ciano; David Day; Jay Fidell; Jay Kam; Alan Okami; Angus McKelvey; Sherry Menor-McNamara; Norman Oshiro; Brent Shiratori; Bill Sharp; Michael Steiner; and Craig Wagnild.

On top of that, ThinkTech has many alliances in the community, including those with the Anthology Marketing Group; Career Pathways of the State Department of Education; Enterprise Honolulu; the Hawaii Academy of Science; Hawaii Business Magazine; the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum; Hawaii Pacific University; the Hawaii Venture Capital Association; Pacific New Media at UH Manoa; and TechHui.

What a crowd! ThinkTech is delighted with and appreciative of the help and support it receives from these individuals and organizations. ThinkTech also has plans. It has plans to expand its events and its media offerings; to expand its staff, program advisories and neighbor island stories; and much more. You can also help and support ThinkTech in these efforts.

You can help ThinkTech produce its broadcasts, events and luncheon programs. You can be a video or radio host, guest or helper. You can volunteer to be a camera person, sound person or gaffer. You can volunteer to send email. There is no shortage of things you can do for ThinkTech. In return, this will help you raise public awareness and your own too. Contact us at awareness@thinktechhawaii.com

And, most of all, come to the Reunion on October 20th and meet at least some of the people who believe in ThinkTech and its mission and who keep it going.

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The Spectre of Superferry is still with us

October 4th, 2011
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ThinkTech Hawaii

Civil Beat reported today that Big Wind is going in the direction of Superferry, that is, to nowhere. That’s chilling but there may be something to it, so we should look at the parallels.

The Superferry was tragic in the sense that activists, unopposed by the silent majority, stopped a project that would have benefited the state in general. If they now stop Big Wind three years later, that would be a tragedy of even greater proportions. Not only because we would lose the clean energy Big Wind could contribute, but also because the will of the state was hijacked.

Hawaii has trouble with big projects, and we lose them because a few claim to represent the many when that is simply not so. The problem is that the many choose not to say anything, even when they don’t agree with the minority. The telltale sign is when the silents say they’d rather not discuss their views because there are those who might take it the wrong way.

This is more than an abdication. It’s also bad process that leads to bad decisions. You can’t run a railroad or a Republic by having the minority dictate where things go. If the silents don’t speak for themselves, they have to live by what the minority does, and by their silence the silents become responsible just as if they’d said the very same thing. And that makes it unanimous.

Another parallel is that Superferry was killed because someone failed to dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘T’s. We are being punished every day for the lack of a ferry when at the same time we need a ferry so desperately. It sounds like the activists would punish us all for the sins of whoever failed to dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘T’s. We had nothing to do with it, yet we are paying dearly.

At the end of the day, the question is why doesn’t our island state have an inter-island ferry? Why do the people of Hawaii have to pay huge airfares well beyond their means to get to the neighbor islands? There must be a way we can have a ferry, but you wouldn’t know it. The activists oppose it, no matter what the silents want. The price of ‘I’s and ‘T’s is very costly.

Now in Big Wind, we’re faced again with the same disconnect. To continue the obscurity on Molokai and Lanai, the activists will oppose renewable energy that could save those islands from escalating costs for electricity. We all agreed to develop green energy, but then we forget and block the effort. Is this NIMBY or culture or just resistance to change? The price they want to pay for obscurity is simply too high, and will lead to ruin. Should we stand by while they do this?

The Superferry has the mark of Cain. It’s too hot to handle and no one wants to touch it. Will we ever see another ferry in Hawaii? The state will never rebuild it and, after the debacle, investors won’t either. We don’t talk much about it, but it will continue to undermine our statehood and confidence. It will be an open wound for as long as we are ocean bound. We can never recover from losses like this, not only because we didn’t finish the job but because we are at some level guilty about our inability to do so. In short, we’ll never live it down.

You can see the damage from Superferry, and the damage from a loss of Big Wing could be even more profound. It all suggests something more serious - the islands are splintering. There seems to be a new and unprecedented resentment among them, mostly by the neighbor islands against Oahu. Can this be serious in the Aloha state? It’s hard to say how we came to this place, but we’re certainly here now. For neighbor islands to oppose transportation that would bring the islands closer together, that’s something new. For one island to oppose a project because it helps other islands, that’s something new too.

The common denominators suggested by Civil Beat’s comparison are very troubling, but also very real and possibly beyond reconciliation. Forget about leveling utility rates around the state. Forget about using our wind resources to achieve clean energy goals. Just say no to projects that link neighbor islands with Oahu. Each island will insist on going its own way. We don’t want to be an island state, but rather, in the words of Mayor Billy Kenoi, only a state of islands.

It's hard for us to go back, even if we wanted to, which we probably don’t. Even if someone could bring the ferries back there are a lot of people out there who would oppose them again. Oh, they would claim environmental transgressions about whales and berries but as we know it’s not that at all. It’s the fundamental relationship of our islands and the people on those islands to each other, and particularly to Oahu, the Big Bad Big City Island.

The silents are not likely to reverse the evolution. They’d sooner stay out of the way and let things happen in their own time, however distant that might be. Then they can say they never took a position anyway. But that’s indefensible. What happened in Superferry really mattered, and what happens in Big Wind matters at least as much. Let do some statewide introspection here, the hard kind, and find out what we’re made of. We need to know what makes us run for the hills on big projects and why we so readily allow minority activist groups to hamstring our future.

We need to take a look at ourselves, as members of an increasingly fragmented community that can’t follow through on its own initiatives and projects. It’s about time Hawaii took a close look to examine what's going on under its own hood, why no one can talk about it, and what we can do about turning over the rock and exposing the shadows there to some real sunshine.

Or we can just carry on as before, and let the islands - and the economy - slip into backwater.

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