Tag Archives: Umi Perkins

Streaking – Day 2: Confirmation Bias – A Discussion with Biologist and Educator Robert Hutchison

This is part of the Streaking series, in which I write something everyday, and my interview series, including discussions with Ikaika Hussey, Amy Perruso, Marti Townsend and George Cleveland. Thereʻs much more to this interview:

I began to think about possible biases in the conclusions being reached by researchers in Hawaiian Studies (I use this term very broadly and include myself among these) when Dr. Sam Ohu Gon of the Nature Conservancy (recently named a Hawaiʻi Living Treasure) brought up the scientific notion of confirmation bias, and suggested that it may be tainting our findings.

According to Science Daily:

In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.

I thought about my conversations over the past couple of years with the Advanced Placement Biology teacher at Kamehameha, Robert Hutchison – conversations Iʻve found very fruitful in the sense that they represent a kind of “Inside-Outside” view of human behavior. By “inside” I mean oneʻs own personal experience of the world; by “outside” I mean those things that can be measured. Usually this measurement is done by someone else – outside of your own head and experience. My view is that both represent valid, legitimate perspectives on reality, and rather than putting them at odds with one another, they should be constantly compared and contrasted to try to gain a more accurate, and useful, perception of “reality.” Robert is a Kamehameha graduate who has a bachelorʻs degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a Masterʻs in Biology from UH Mānoa. He teaches at Windward Community College in the Summer.

Hutchison suggested that confirmation bias is about:

RH: your point of view and … how you rationalize it or how do you account for it and does it in any way cause you to rethink and modify your original assumptions? And thatʻs what science is about, science is about the search for truth and just the methodology of finding truth as best as we can possibly understand it. You have to wonder whenever anyone who tells you anything. Go back to the source – this is the importance of Kumulipo and chant because thereʻs an understanding that things will be lost if there isnʻt that rigor behind it.

UP: Iʻve been seeing some studies come out about this with child witness, that they can be persuaded through suggestion to have a certain memory that they can be persuaded to think they really had after a certain amount

RH: Exactly

UP: So what youʻre telling me that every time you recall a memory, itʻs being modified?

RH: The brain can fill in these gaps. Vision works this way. Sometimes what it interprets in not exactly what is in front of you.

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The Age of Hubris

hu·bris

ˈ(h)yo͞obrəs/
noun
  1. excessive pride or self-confidence.
    synonyms arroganceconceithaughtinesshauteurprideself-importanceegotismpomposity, superciliousness, superiority;

    • (in Greek tragedy) excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.

One thing that has struck me recently is the utterly casual way in which many of the central tenets of American (and increasingly other developed countries’) democracy are being undermined and abandoned. As I wrote in “Reason’s End:”

In his 2007 book The Assault on Reason, former Vice President Al Gore saw the same alarming trend. Gore held that reasoned discourse, the “central premise of American democracy” was imperiled by changes in the media and the politics of wealth. Supporting this contention, Princeton University released a report claiming America was no longer a democracy at all, but an oligarchy. When the Citizens United decision, SuperPACs, blows to the Voting Rights Act and the end of internet neutrality are taken into account, the veracity of these claims is hard to deny. So the real question is: what caused this fundamental shift in the American consciousness?

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It is the hubris and bluster seen on the Republican side of the presidential race in particular that show these trends most clearly: a casual move toward blatantly racist rhetoric of a kind that was still intolerable as late as 2007! Trent Lott’s mere tone of nostalgia over Strom Thurmond’s (racist) past – at Thurmond’s funeral no less, where his shortcomings might be overlooked – lost him his spot in the Senate (where he was the number 2 Republican).

As NBC News reported on Nov. 16, 2007:

The smooth-spoken Lott found himself in hot water in December 2002 after Thurmond’s party.   Lott said Mississippi voters were proud to have supported Thurmond when he ran for president on a segregationist platform in 1948, and added: “If the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.”

A few days later, Lott issued a statement saying he had made “a poor choice of words” that “conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”

But the damage was done. President Bush distanced himself from Lott’s remarks, telling an audience the comments “do not reflect the spirit of our country.”

But Trump gets away almost daily with statements that far outstrip Lott’s. Suggesting going after the families of suspected terrorists met with silence (admittedly an awkward one) and left Trump time to repeat it (this was “light” morning television!).

We may just be seeing the death-throes of the Right, and with Bernie Sanders, the resurgence of a solidly left consciousness after the years of the Clintons’ “New Democrats” (which are, in many ways,  similar to old Republicans). As I said in “Why I am a Leftist:”

… pendulums always swing back, and this happened with Obama and the Occupy movement, where leaderless revolution seemed to almost spontaneously emerge. There seems to be a progressive ground swell, with even fairly mainstream media like Salon and the Huffington Post making progressive arguments and even cogently showing their practicality (something the left wasnʻt quite so good at previously).

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The Best Films about Hawaiʻi

I show my students the 1966 film Hawaii, based on James Michener’s book, partly so that we can deconstruct it. Students can see that it demeans Hawaiian culture, but then I ask them if things are any better today. Hawaiʻi and Hawaiian culture continue to be misrepresented in mainstream media. Exhibit A: Aloha the film about how everyone in Hawaiʻi is white (except Bumpy). I reviewed The Descendents and Princess Kaʻiulani when they were released. There isnʻt exactly a deep reservoir of films to choose from for this list, but as Puhipau and Joan Lander are being honored this week in the ʻOiwi Film Festival, here are some gems of the Hawaiian silver screen:

A Mau a Mau: While some may dispute John Kaʻimikaua’s oral histories, it’s hard to deny the quality of the filmmaking. Nalani Minton’s film captures the Hawaiian sense of connection with the most subtle aspects of the natural world: the wind, the sea, the sea spray.

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Hoʻokūʻikahi: To Unify as One – This telling of the events of Puʻukoholā heiau, both historically and today (beginning with the 1991 ceremony of rekindling the ties between Kaʻu and Kohala after 200 years of bitterness) is one of the films that shows Hawaiian culture as living and vibrant – not museum culture. John Keola Lake says in the film: “we don’t want to use [Puʻukoholā] as a memorial, let’s use it as a living place.”

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Puʻukoholā heiau (photo: wikimedia commons)

O Hawaiʻi: Of Hawaiʻi from Settlement to Unification – an invaluable curriculum resource for teaching traditional Hawaiian society, Iʻm not sure whether the film was ever released on DVD. Tom Coffman’s film shows the renewal of the field of Hawaiian history itself  (with the help of archaeology and linguistics), from something static, relegated to “the mists of time” to a vibrant, dynamic era, full of change.

Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation – What is there to say about what is almost certainly the most watched film on Hawaiian history, it is also the only film Iʻm aware of that has a footnoted script!

Stolen Waters – While Puhipau and Joan Lander were clearly on the side of Windward farmers (as the title implies), they do a fine job of showing the arguments of the Leeward (Big 5) interests and their pawns. Another version, Kalo Paʻa o Waiahole, can be use alternately to emphasize the hearings or the more esoteric meaning of wai for Hawaiians.

Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawaiʻi – Keala Kelly attempted something very difficult with her film; to have a story without a narrator. The characters, interviewees and events themselves tell the story, and few films are more brutally powerful. While not as aesthetic as the first two films in this list, Noho Hewa is nevertheless a must see (leave the kids at home).

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On Ownership

This post is part of the continuing “On” series: others include On Capitalism, On Freedom, On Constitutionalism and On Privilege.

In Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Gordon Gecko – famous for the line that defined the 80s, “greed is good” – relates the secret of his success: “I own stuff.”

By acquiring ownership of appreciating assets, investors buy low and sell high, and real estate is a prime example of this. But as Iʻve come to own property, it has begun to dawn on me that one never really owns anything. There are many ways that a property can be foreclosed on, beyond simply failing to pay the “mortgage” (you actually pay the loan, the mortgage is the contract allowing foreclosure): failure to pay taxes (a tax lien), failure to pay maintenance fees, failure to pay any “mechanic” who does work on your house (a mechanic’s lien). Taxes in some high-value areas can be in the thousands per month, so even if you own your property free and clear, the cost of living there can be prohibitive, as much as a “mortgage.” Further, you donʻt really own property at the most fundamental level. The legal concept of “dominium” means that the sovereign owns all property at a level “beneath” your “ownership” – what you have is actually a bundle of protected rights to the property: the right to use and enjoy, exclude others, etc. (though this last right is abridged in Hawaiʻi due to Native Tenant Rights).

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At a conference on occupation at Cornell last May (my attendance was due to this article I wrote for The Nation), we looked at the term from various perspectives, including the simple occupation of land

As I write this, Hawaiʻi is in crisis. The basic necessity of a roof over oneʻs head is one of the most difficult “commodities” to afford, and hereʻs the thing: many of us are responsible for this state of affairs. Homeowners benefit from raises in housing prices, and have a vested interest in the continuation of this state of constant increase – that is, as individuals. Even this benefit is, in a sense, short term. When you sell your high priced property, you have to buy back in to an inflated market. Also, housing becomes much more expensive for your children, who youʻre trying to help get along in the world. It becomes a form of generational warfare. The situation is so extreme, that even renting is becoming a difficult proposition for many – credit checks, first and last monthʻs rent and/or deposits can make renting something only for the very well-off. (If you had great credit wouldn’t you be buying instead of renting?). According to an article in Civil Beat, thirty percent of renters are spending half of their income or more on rent, making them very vulnerable to shocks, like divorce, death in the family or medical problems.  Add this to the fact that most Americans donʻt have $1000 for emergency expenses, and the situation is dire indeed.

Ironically, some long-term studies show that property, when adjusted for inflation, has not had real increases in a century. Any exceptions to this are bubbles. So are we in the midst of a very protracted bubble? If so, we may want to change our long-term approach to wealth management. I wrote earlier that the wealthy are beginning to thinking about access rather than ownership, an this has begun to trickle toward the middle class and working poor. We need to begin to question the very fundamental assumption that the market is the best mechanism for allocating scarce resources, like real estate. There are some small moves in this direction: Kamehameha Schools (normally a very aggressive developer) is developing its Oʻahu North Shore lands in a way that takes some other factors into account. Priority for a new development in Haleʻiwa will be given to local (that is, North Shore, and often Hawaiian) families who fall into the “gap group” – imagine a teacher married to a fireman. They arenʻt in lucrative positions, but are a stable bet to pay their loan and stay in their house for decades, rather than sell at the first uptick in prices.

Perhaps we should try to return to traditional Hawaiian ways of thinking about ownership. According to a source I cite in my dissertation, Hawaiians had very few possessions. A man, for instance would own only a handful of items related to his trade. So the idea that one could own land was certainly foreign – even chiefs didnʻt own land – they controlled it for a period of time, until the next kālaiʻāina (land division).

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Means and Ends: Process and Results Orientation

With the Naʻi Aupuni convention under way, different styles of negotiating are being brought to light. Professor Williamson Chang wrote a public grievance against one participant who he saw as being obstructionist and belligerent. I heard that the group adopted, and insisted on, Robert’s Rules of Order (I happen know that Pokā Laenui, a participant, is a strong advocate). But the “debates” in the movement, and even more tellingly – their after effects, have often been focused on outcomes at the expense of process.

The very fact that Naʻi Aupuni is meeting at all is the outcome of a results orientation. The US Supreme Court (whose jurisdiction the organizers accept!) enjoined the election pending review. Following the letter of the law, rather than its spirit, Naʻi Aupuni organizers simply sidestepped the ruling and cancelled the election but continued with the convention.

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Which mode Hawaiians should adopt and encourage comes down to one question: Do you believe in democracy? Even though the Hawaiian Kingdom was an emerging democracy, not all Hawaiians in either the independence or Fed Rec movement do. But many more claim to believe in democracy, while being unwilling to tolerate its slowness, and tendency to produce compromises-that is to say, compromised results. The current Republican style of “all out war” – against Obama, Democrats, and it seems, sanity – does not serve as an inspiring example.

But a simple question faces us: do we want our way, or an outcome that everyone involved can live with?

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Interview with Marti Townsend, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Sierra Club

Marti Townsend is a graduate of Moanalua High School, Boston University, where she studied political philosophy, and the William S. Richardson School of Law at UH Mānoa. She began her career at Kahea: the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, later became Executive Director of The Outdoor Circle and was named Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Chapter of the Sierra Club in 2015. I sat with her and Ikaika Hussey over pizza in Kalihi, which is something I do very often, but I wanted to get an interview with her before she became a celebrity – featured on the front page of Midweek – but they beat me to it!

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Now watch as I exert my very limited influence on policy makers (or at least shapers of policy) – I’d been wanting to ask Marti for a while now about the prospects of raising the HI5 redemption amount to 10 cents:

Umi Perkins [UP]: So what about raising the [HI5] redemption to 10 cents [up from 5 cents]?

Marti Townsend [MT]: Sure that’s a great idea. [But] the beverage industry is very powerful in Hawaiʻi. It was a significant battle to get the bottle bill passed, and they are constantly making efforts to dismantle it. There is actually a bill in the legislature to repeal the bottle bill, which is ridiculous. There hasn’t been a recycling program as successful as HI5.

Itʻs just ludicrous to think how much trash would be going into the landfill without it. But as successful as the HI5 program has been there is definitely room for improvement. You canʻt get a HI5 redemption for wine and spirits, which makes no sense. You also canʻt get it for laundry bottles or milk jugs. [It ends up going to] H Power which is not really recycling…

UP: Iʻm just thinking about houseless [“homeless”], for example. Right now [those who may use HI5 redemption as a source of income or revenue] have to get 20 cans to get a dollar. If it was 10 cents, they could carry 30 cans and get three dollars and get a meal, like at McDonalds. [Right now they’d have to carry 60 cans].

MT: I don’t know to what extent people have talked about things like the HI5 as a way to help support the disadvantaged in our community. We really don’t do enough for people who are down and out on their luck.

Ikaika Hussey [IH]: That’s a great idea – you solve two problems…

MT: There are great efficiencies we could get by combining programs. Doing different kinds of recycling. [Like] if we treated everything like the HI5 program.

UP: I always thought the bottle bill and H Power go together because you pull plastic out of the trash supply, [then] if it’s mainly paper…

MT: H Power is horrible. You should do a whole blog thing on Covanta. So Covanta is this company that makes money off of incinerators. It doesn’t matter if they produce electricity – they get paid. And if Honolulu can’t provide [enough trash] then they charge [the city anyway]. It goes against our recycling goals, because H Power wants to have more trash, not less.

UP: Oh, right.

MT: Unless you expand what can be in the [HI 5] program… Why can we not recycle 2 liter bottles? Itʻs the same quality of plastic.

UP: So what are the main agenda items for Sierra Club?

MT: Well, pass the good bills, defeat the bad bills.

UP: What are some of the good bills?

MT: Today we had a very successful hearing on divesting Hawaiʻi’s retirement system from fossil fuels. We’re hoping that we can show that it’s in retirees’ interest, to divest from fossil fuels instead of waiting until they become stranded assets, as a result of all the regulations on emissions.

UP: The [oil] industry is hurting so bad right now… I heard there are more jobs in solar now than in fossil fuels…

MT: Yeah, three times more jobs in solar than in fossil fuel-based energy jobs. It’s so exciting. But you know what’s sad is that it’s forseeable that Hawaiʻi will see a downsizing from HECO’s slow moving to approve new solar projects, the tariff to approve new solar programs. The solar industry was booming, and they kind of have a backlog, so theyʻre relying on that, now post [after] the PUCs decision on net metering and things like that…

UP: So there was a headline that said HECO will triple solar, when it was already scheduled to go up by seven times, so they were actually slowing the growth?

MT: They’re slowing the growth, right. That backlog will start to run out and I think you’ll start seeing solar companies closing because they won’t have enough contracts to keep their staff.

IH: it’s a race to the bottom.

MT: The problem is HECO shouldn’t be increasing the amount of coal they burn from the AES power plant which is in a predominantly brown community, and decreasing the amount of solar out there – it’s just backward

UP: So those companies that might close is separate from those that would already close just due to competition?

IH: So there’s a lot of them and they don’t have any differentiating offerings…

MT: Except for price…

IH: They’re just installers. Their technology is all the same. Their revenues are being squeezed because of the tie-in to the grid.

UP: That’s why Next Era wants to keep everyone on the grid?

MT: They want to keep everyone on big energy projects, whether it’s LNG [liquid natural gas] or big solar arrays, they want to keep control of energy production from beginning to end.

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Public Schools that Work: Discussion with Amy Perruso, Part 2

I had been thinking about writing on public schools, particularly the ones that just seem to work. This got me thinking of doing a second discussion with Amy Perruso. Originally from Southern California, she is a graduate of USC. She is Social Studies department head at Mililani High School and has a Ph.D. in Political Science. She was recently elected as the Treasurer of the Hawai’i State Teachers Association (HSTA) on a progressive slate that is seen as a kind of upheaval that could lead to radical changes in the direction of the union. She is an award-winning teacher, recipient of awards from Walmart and the Hawai’i Council for Humanities History Teacher of the Year in 2012. Her students perform at a national level in History Day, Mock Trial and We the People, all of which are social studies civics and history competitions. She has taught, among other things, AP US History, Modern Hawaiian History and Participation in Democracy. We had a second chat on what works (and doesnʻt work) for public schools. You can read Part 1 of our discussion here.
UPDATE: Since this interview, Amy Perruso declared her candidacy as a progressive Democrat for the state legislature in District 19.
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Umi Perkins (UP): One thing thatʻs so strange about Hawaiʻi is that you can pay $1 million or much more for a house, and end up in a bad school district. On the “mainland” what youʻre paying for, often, is precisely the schools in the district. In Hawaiʻi, there are good public schools in moderate income communities. From what I can tell, Mililani High School is very successful across a range of academic measures, as well as athletic and scholastic competitions – you appear to be good at everything. Moanalua High School is similar, and both districts, which are moderate to middle income, are solid from elementary through high school. How do you account for this success, such as it is?
Amy Perruso (AP): I think there is a direct correlation between the relative success of the students in Mililani and their socio-economic status of their families. Not only did higher ‘original’ test scores when NCLB first rolled out buffer our Mililani schools from the most draconian measures for a long time, but those buffers (protection from intrusion of privatizing corporations like Edison, imposed mandated curricula, and hyper-control of teachers that pushed the most experienced and professional out of the classroom) continued to allow for exciting, interesting and student-centered approached to learning, focusing on inquiry and interdisciplinary exploration. This began to disappear even for us with Race to the Top. Any signs of academic excellence you now see are either echoes from the past or tightly tied to the corporatist neoliberal agenda.
UP: But that doesnʻt explain the relative mediocrity of other schools in affluent districts…
AP: I see your question. It is interesting and has everything to do with the ways in which public education is funded in Hawaii. We are funded not by property tax but primarily by General Excise Tax (GET). This a direct result of a historical refusal on the part of the socio-economic elite in Hawaii, beginning with plantation owners, to allow property taxes to be used for education of workers. In Hawaii, we have a radically segregated education system (public v. private), divided both along class and ethnic/racial lines. The public schools educate primarily the children of the ordinary worker, while private schools have flourished by appealing to more affluent families, especially in urban areas like Honolulu. Did you know that almost 40% of all school age children in Honolulu attend private school? From my perspective, children are the most important element of a school, and public schools in places like Honolulu are being robbed of a huge chunk of the children whose families are most focused on and supportive of education. We do not struggle with that problem as much in Mililani in part because of geographical distance from private schools.
UP: One more question (and itʻs admittedly a hard one): what do you see as the biggest challenge in Hawaiʻi public education and the best solution to this problem?
AP: I think that the most important problem facing public education is that we have unfortunately adopted of a model of educational reform that has been clearly debunked by international research. We need to move away, as rapidly as possible, from the model instantiated by NCLB, that is, a model based on competitive ranking, standardization, test-based accountability, deprofessionalization of teaching, and privatization. I agree with Pasi Salberg and other international advocates of progressive education who argue for investment in equity (not just excellence), collaboration and teams, time for play and creativity, existing and available innovation, and creating a culture that encourages resilience by celebrating the importance of risk-taking and failure. I think in Hawaii that means we have to do something we have never done before, and that is to fundamentally and systemically challenge the injustice of how young people in Hawaii’s public schools are being treated and educated, as if they don’t deserve the kind of education afforded to private school students.

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