Rob Parsons

We've Got Issues

Crafts fair attendees sound off on hot topics du jour

by Rob Parsons

May 14, 2009

photo: Rich Anderson.

The 36th annual Seabury Hall Crafts Fair was so much more than a recession buster. Still, hundreds of crafters and food vendors were more than pleased to see that when the going gets tough, Mauians shop and eat with the best of them.

Thousands of people converged at the Olinda Road campus above Makawao town to attend the pre-Mother’s Day extravaganza, which has become the biggest and best of such yearly gatherings. An enormous amount of coordination and organization is required from school staff, parents, students and others. County and state planners might take note of such an ambitious, successful event and model their own project planning after the Seabury Hall “happening on the hill.”

Below the Oskie Rice arena, site of the Fourth of July Rodeo, freshly mowed pastures once dusted with yellow fireweed flowers were filled with hundreds of cars, trucks and vans. A procession of people trekked into the school campus driveway, lined with tall, stately cypress trees. Pop-up tents dotted the walkways and green lawns, lending a festive, carnival atmosphere to the school grounds. 

With a panoramic view of the central Maui isthmus, it was easy enough to forget this is a learning institution. Seabury Hall’s welcoming surroundings stand in stark contrast to nearby King Kekaulike High School, whose stark, stiff architecture and layout feels more like a youth detention facility.

I have often attended the storied mid-May event over the years, just to take in the picturesque setting, live music and mingling. But this marked my first year as a crafts vendor, helping to display and sell my wife Heather’s jewelry and hand-painted Bali fabric doorways and home décor designs. I was ready to face the crowd, and also knew that at events such as this, I’m often approached by friends who have issues they’d like me to cover in my column. Indeed, the overtures began even before the gates opened at 9am, as a bagpipe and drums ensemble conjured up a misty rain to bless the day.

“I know you usually write about environmental issues,” a friend remarked, “but I can tell you that mental health care issues are really being hit hard right now. Funding is evaporating. People are out on the street with nowhere to turn.”

My friend is a social service/health care professional, on the front lines of one of Maui’s neediest yet least talked-about sectors. I conceded that I’d like to learn more and that whatever I can do to help spread valuable information, I’m down with that. 

As the day unfolded and the crowds gathered, more people shared with me what topics were foremost in their minds.

The son of a good friend noted 10 years had passed since he graduated from Seabury. He asked me how I felt about President Obama, and I sensed there would be a follow-up question.

I expressed that I felt Obama’s performance to date was laudable, particularly given the state of disarray he inherited, and that he seems to be maintaining his sense of humor—always a good sign.

Had I heard about the movie, The Obama Deception, asked the 20-something landscaper/gardener. I told him I’d look into it and get back to him.

Turns out the film is the work of radio talk show host and native Texan Alex Jones. I learned that Jones has produced a number of documentaries, generally based on the premise of a New World Order or totalitarian government being behind various events, including 9/11.

His latest film portrays Barack Obama as a puppet of the elite to carry out their agenda, and claims the Wall Street collapse was engineered in order to take over the country’s finances. The film’s Web site claims Obama is “in the process of transforming America into something that resembles Nazi Germany.” It states that the “Obama phenomenon is a hoax carefully crafted by the captains of the New World Order and that he is being pushed as a savior in an attempt to con the American people into accepting global slavery.” Whew!

Now, I like a conspiracy theory as much as the next person, especially when they turn out to be true (Hawaii Superferry as a testing ground for a military transport prototype, anyone?). But it seems that Jones is a few years too late in trying to accuse an American president of a ruse of such grand scope. Alex Jones has been labeled a conspiracy theorist, fear monger and a patriot, and has reportedly sympathized with the John Birch Society and David Koresh’s Branch Davidians. In my mind, documentary films and media talking heads are most valuable when they compel us to think, but are potentially dangerous when they attempt to do all the thinking for us.

Right on cue after my research into Alex Jones, a friend sent the following e-mail: Hi Gang, Well, here I am once more begging my friends to quit watching the propaganda networks like CNN and MSNBC, etc. and instead watch the only daily investigative journalism show remaining in the U.S.; Amy Goodman’s DemocracyNow. Last Friday’s show was a real eye-opener; investigative reporter David Barstow just won a Pulitzer Prize two weeks ago for his expose of how the networks retained ex-military talking-heads who, firstly, were secretly working with the Pentagon to disseminate pro-war propaganda, but more importantly, are on the Boards of Directors of defense contractors who have a direct financial interest in selling the wars to the American public. But the most amazing thing is that this story, despite making page one of The New York Times, has been completely suppressed by all the networks, and Barstow’s interview here on DemocracyNow is his only on-air appearance so far. Here is the link (don’t forget to click on Real Video Stream to watch this in beautiful flawless streaming): democracynow.org/2009/5/8/pentagons_pundits_ny_times_reporter_david

While some would call this story a conspiracy theory, notice that my friend calls it “investigative journalism.” I have always held a place in my heart for real investigative journalism, a rare commodity, especially in Hawaii media. A Sunday Maui News story by Ilima Loomis that examined the county’s oversight in obtaining permits before bringing in heavy equipment to reshape North Kihei dunes fits that bill.

From my years working with the county I am well aware that when any work is done on the beach or makai side of the road, phones start ringing. Sure enough, a Sierra Club member and Kihei condo owner called me on Sunday morning, shortly after I had read Loomis’s story. When two more e-mails came in soon after, I vowed I’d contact the county myself.

By midday Monday, Public Works Director Milton Arakawa had responded, assuring me that the dune reconfiguration project (ostensibly to keep sand from blowing onto South Kihei Road, but with the potential to worsen the problem) had stopped and that they would work with the Planning Department on a Special Management Area permit assessment. Chalk that small victory up to media’s ability to inform and the rarity of a government leader pausing to reassess a previous course of action.

A list of times when local government has been criticized but failed to take corrective action would be longer than the chow fun line at the crafts fair. Given all the problems in the world today, even on an idyllic island in the middle of the Pacific, it’s understandable that people would be content to spend their Saturday afternoon cozying up to a large spicy cup of noodles.

The weekends also conjure thoughts of leisure activities such as baseball, and one friend bemoaned his Dodger team’s loss of their star player, Manny Ramirez, to a failed drug test. Ramirez, one of the most feared hitters in the game and one of the most bizarre personalities, must sit out 50 games due to a human growth hormone masking-agent being found in his system. 

One could argue that sports serves as a microcosm of society and thus provides insights as to our mores and behaviors. Others might contend that Major League Baseball is really a diversion from the complicated world in which we live.

By 4pm at the Seabury Hall Crafts Fair, rain had begun to fall, dampening the final hour of an otherwise fabulous day and sending shoppers and vendors scurrying for cover. Over at the music stage, the small crowd that remained was treated to the surprise musical talent of the day.

Rachel Andrews, a Seabury junior, played guitar and sang an engaging hip-hop tune about peace, love and hope, exhibiting vocal range, technique and emotion surpassing many of the professionals that preceded her. As one of a handful who stopped to listen, I was amazed and uplifted. 

That fleeting moment was an apropos reminder that even with all the issues swirling around us on a daily basis, the future may yet be bright if we choose to share our gifts, talents and our hearts with others.