Drone Hysteria

By now anyone reading the news will know that a drone sighting shut down a major metropolitan airport just days before Christmas. London’s Gatwick airport was intermittently closed to arrivals and departures during the busiest travel season of the year, leaving up to 140,000 travelers stranded and scrambling to make alternate travel arrangements.

Waiting to Board
Waiting to board an Alaskan Airlines flight in Seattle

What you may not have heard is that there may never have been a drone involved. This may have stemmed from one bad sighting and a classic case of mass hysteria leading to further drone sightings.

Even worse, authorities looking for anyone to blame arrested and detained an innocent couple for 36 hours. They were eventually released after no evidence was found and an alibi verified. During that time the couple was vilified by name in some major media outlets. The only saving grace here is that the couple is now likely to receive a substantial sum from those newspapers under British libel laws.

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A Threshold of Knowledge

How can someone possibly believe that the world is flat? Evidence our world is a sphere can be found everywhere you look, yet many insist that photos of a globe are lies. How can anyone believe the world is only a few thousand years old? There are literally mountains of evidence for an ancient planet 4.5 billion years old.

Chang'e 5 Earth and Moon
The Chang’e 5 test vehicle service module took this photo of Earth and the Moon together. Credit CSNA

There are so many such beliefs floating about, and a surprising number of die-hard adherents to such fallacies. Yet they persist, and in this internet connected world some of these ideas flourish.

There are many reasons for such beliefs. Some occur as they seem right and are accepted without critical examination. Other beliefs are strongly held as a result of indoctrination from a young age. Once embedded deeply into a worldview such beliefs are very difficult to dislodge.

There is one factor that can be seen in most, if not all adherents to alternate worldviews… A lack of fundamental knowledge about how the world works, a lack of breadth to that knowledge. They have never reached a critical threshold of understanding, they never develop a good personal method of evaluating ideas, of testing against the evidence.

Once you reach a certain point in understanding our world, when you have learned enough to start making sense of that body of knowledge, you start seeing the connections, you gain an understanding of the whole. Proper understanding allows new ideas to be tested, to see how any new idea fits into the whole, to see the supporting connections.

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Justice Wilson’s Dissent

In the wake of the supreme court decision on the TMT conservation district use permit last month, many like myself have been reading the opinions of the court. I was pleased to see that the justices were very clear in their views, there is very little room for any future legal steps in this case. This decision sets clear precedents for future land use cases that will certainly occur over the same issues.

Aliʻiōlani Hale
Aliʻiōlani Hale housing the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court. CC Image by D. Logan/Wikimedia Commons
The majority opinion is a systematic refutation of each argument made by telescope opponents. This is particularly true in the numerous trivial matters that opponents attempted to inflate into major issues. Issues like Judge Amanoʻs ʻImiloa membership, or the brevity of some responses to the absolute snowstorm of submissions in the contested case.

In addition to the majority opinion you may read the quite interesting concurring opinion by Justice Pollack. He agrees with the majority on the final result, but promotes using existing frameworks to judge land use cases such as this. It is also interesting the dissenting Justice Wilson joins in this concurring opinion, at least for the first three parts.

The dissent written by Associate Justice Michael Wilson was published almost two weeks later than the majority opinion. The reason for this delay is not given, it is possibly a result of Justice Wilson analyzing the majority opinion and responding to it in his dissent.

As is often the case with decisions like this, it is more interesting to read the dissent than the majority opinion. Any flaws or weaknesses in the case can be examined and can be more informative. This case is an exception to that, the dissent is interesting, if for somewhat different reasons.

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Ancient Nothings

An ancient megalith here on Hawaiʻi? That would be cool, check this out!

A YouTube video of a supposed ancient megalith in North Kohala
The video I find linked on a local Facebook group shows a rayed structure on the ground a few miles north of Kawaihae, with lines radiating from a central point for a mile or more, an enormous compass that points at destinations near and far from the islands.

It is a striking feature, but it is quite the jump to claim that this is a geoglyph created by an ancient civilization.

The video explains that the feature is 120,000 years old based on the geologic datings of the lava flows on the western slope of the Kohala. Part of this dating is based on a map of the island inscribed around the compass.

I know this area fairly well, even know some of the local ranchers, I find the evidence provided by the video a bit lacking. There are more than a few real archaeological remains in the area, remains of the rich Hawaiian culture that existed in the area before western contact.

As soon as I looked at the Google satellite imagery I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking at. A few moments of research confirmed my suspicions… The pattern on the ground is a paddock system used to control cattle movements in a section of range land. I am a bit disappointed, but not really surprised.

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The Divide

Country and city have always been different world, as long as cities have existed. The language each uses to describe the other captures this… Hillbilly, city-slicker, redneck, yuppie, hick, the tradition of mutual derision is as old as history.

Windmills and silos in Wasco County, along state route 206
Windmills and silos in Wasco County, along state route 206
This weekend I was borrowing a pickup truck to run yard waste to the county facility. When I started it up a rather annoying radio station began to play. Looking for an alternative I clicked through the presets on the stereo… Country? I can do country.

With a bed full of oleander branches piled higher than the cab and the tarp flapping I was off, with some very country, country music playing. There would be a few loads this Saturday before the county closed the scales at four.

One thing about country music, it is very reliable. Heavy on the guitar, simple melodic lines perfect for driving. The themes are often heavily based on nostalgia and a simple world of country values. The station is one I seldom listen to, KKOA out of Hilo, carrying the programming from ABC Radio’s “Today’s Best Country” satellite feed.

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TMT Permit Upheld by State Supreme Court

Mid-morning the awaited news found me… The Hawaii State Supreme Court has upheld the conservation district use permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

The Thirty Meter Telescope site as seen from the top of Keck 2 dome
The Thirty Meter Telescope site as seen from the top of Keck 2 dome
We had been waiting for this decision for some time. Based on the usual length of time the court takes to decide a case the decision should have appeared well over a month ago.

To no one’s surprise, the court took a little longer with this particular case. A case fraught with many questions that are hotly debated in this state.

The news quickly fueled a firestorm of mainstream media articles across the country and social media postings. The pro-telescope communities I participate in were celebrating. Opponents were decrying the decision with responses that range from disbelief to inflammatory.

Mid-afternoon found me atop the Keck 2 dome to check on some instrumentation. From there I had a perfect vantage point to look down upon the TMT site on the north plateau. I stopped to consider what those few acres of rock below had cost so far in terms of time and passion.

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Culture Police Ride Again

Another interesting incident in culture popped up this week, one that illuminates where our society currently stands on the relationships between cultures. Living and working in Hawaiʻi, within Hawaiian culture made this event resonate on a personal level.

A Chicago based eatery has trademarked the name ‘Aloha Poke’. No issue there, simply a legal filing. What they failed to understand is that the word Aloha contains central concept in Hawaiian culture. Thus, when the lawyers for Aloha Poke sent out cease-and-desist letters to similarly named businesses around the country, including one in Hawaii, they were met with a firestorm of criticism.

Awaiting the Sea
An outrigger canoe awaits another voyage
Attempting claim ownership of such a word, even in a limited business context, is simply total fail. Legal? Yes. A good idea? Nope.

I suspect the owners of Aloha Poke are actually figuring that out. On the other hand the management at Aloha Poke has not withdrawn their legal assertions and have made a non-apology.

The missteps of Aloha Poke aside, what is more interesting is how some in the Hawaiian community have responded to the case. There have been statements from a number of community leaders. One of the most telling is from the head of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency charged with administering state programs for the Hawaiian community.

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Please Define Normal

We are now more than two months into this new eruption from Kilauea. Two months ago the fissures opened in the Leilani Estates subdivision and homes began to burn.

Fissure 8 Lava Fountain
The lava fountain at fissure 8 in Leilani Estates throwing lava hundreds of feet in the air on June 4th, 2018
For two months this slow motion catastrophe has continued. While a major earthquake may be over in minutes, or a hurricane over in a few days, this eruption just goes on. For the folks in lower Puna the lava continues to destroy homes and disrupt lives.

For those of us outside the eruption zone things are not quite as immediate. We read the daily news, peruse images of helicopter overflights each morning, and wonder when it will be over.

The multiple county civil defense status reports and various emergency alerts that pop up on our phones each day provide current information… A bit of the Mamalahoa Highway has collapsed in Volcano Village with a one lane restriction, the road to Kalapana has re-opened, there is no tsunami threat from that last 5.4 magnitude earthquake.

July 7, 2018 Summit Collapse Earthquake
A plot of the July 7, 2018 summit collapse earthquake as recorded by an accelerometer in the Keck Observatory foundation
Every day is punctuated by a magnitude five point something earthquake. These summit collapse events have become very regular. You can guess when they will occur as the frequency of small quakes increase around the caldera.

For the most part these events pass unnoticed by much of the island. The volcano area gets shaken up pretty well, but these fifth magnitude quakes are often not felt very far beyond that.

On the summit of Mauna Kea these daily quakes often do disturb the telescopes at night, bumping the tracking and ruining exposures, but otherwise too weak to cause any damage to the facilities.

Hualālai peeks over a thick layer of volcanic smog, or vog
Hualālai peeks over a thick layer of volcanic smog, or vog
The most significant island wide impact has been the vog, wreathing the island in a sulfurous haze. Sulfur dioxide pours from the active vents, mixes with water in the air and forms a thick brown grey haze.

When the vog is bad you not only see it, you smell the sulfur, it irritates eyes and nasal passages. Fire and brimstone reaches out to touch us all.

While the vog makes for spectacular sunsets, the vog can also be thick enough to curtail outside activity. A day like today, with brisk trade-winds to clear it away, is a welcome relief.

Fissure 8 Lava Fountain
The lava fountain at fissure 8 rising about 250 feet as this Kiluaea eruption continues unabated.
Opportunities to legally witness this eruption are few, authorities have been enforcing the evacuation area increasingly strictly. Legal options are the fly or float to the eruption. Deb and I chose to fly a month ago, a helicopter flight I am sure we will remember for a lifetime.

I have not attempted to go to photograph the lava river, despite a very strong desire to do so. The county and state have repeatedly talked about opening a lava viewing area. while there is a great deal of pressure from the community, so far nothing has materialized.

We are so ready for this eruption to be over.

Given the collapse of the summit caldera and the enormous volume of lava emitted so far, it may be possible that when this is over there will be no further eruption for a while. It may take a while for the volcano to recharge, perhaps a year or two. Will we return to the pattern of intermittent eruptions that was seen through much of the 20th century?

Emergency Alert Fatigue

The last month has been a bit… exciting… here on the island. With lava flows and explosive eruptions spawned by our neighborhood volcano.

Another Eruption Message
Yet another eruption status message arrives on my phone.
Along with the ongoing eruption in the lower east rift zone, there are the events at the summit caldera of Kilauea. The withdrawal of magma from the summit storage chamber has resulted in the ongoing collapse of the Haelmaʻumaʻu crater area. Magnitude five point something earthquakes are now a daily occurrence as this collapse continues.

The result? Over the last month we have been bombarded by far too many messages on eruption conditions, vog conditions, earthquakes, and non-tsunami alerts. It is wearing a little thin. And frankly I am ignoring much of it, when I probably should not.

Emergency fatigue has set in.

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Burning Farms

One of the most poignant scenes we witnessed was the many farms destroyed by the lava

Flow Front
The front of the fissure 8 flow approaches Kapoho Bay
We took our helicopter ride Sunday morning, June 3rd. At this point the large flow from fissure 8 had not yet reached the neighborhoods at Kapoho. What the flow was burning through were the many papaya orchards and flower growers found above the bay.

Houses are bad enough, seeing the farms in front of the lava flow was worse. I found myself looking through the telephoto lens at the neat greenhouses, the orchards green in the morning sunlight. The wide flow front was in the process of destroying so many farms, remorselessly moving through the neat rows of papaya trees.

Orchid Plantation Inc.
The greenhouses of Orchid Plantation Inc. disappearing under the lava.
I am aware of how much a farmer puts into the land… Sweat, blood, heart and soul. I look at the photos and I see immaculate operations… Well maintained buildings, no weeds around the structures, the pitiless lava flow advancing. Each scene that appeared in the camera viewfinder was gut-wrenching.

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