Tuesday, September 06, 2011


Fact checking and complexity—creating the fog and cutting through it

by Larry Geller

If you want to understand the controversies over rail, APEC, homelessness or other challenges we face in Hawaii, more and more you need to read Civil Beat. They are tackling many of the issues that are high on my own interest list.

Over at the Star-Advertiser, they put pedestrian safety on the front page. We’ll get to that in a separate article.

Today’s Civil Beat Fact Check analyzes one of the claims the city and rail proponents have used to garner support for the project. See: FACT CHECK — Rail Opponents: City Has Yet To Identify 10,000 Promised Jobs (Civil Beat, 9/6/2011).

It’s a good analysis, too complex to snip from or summarize here. After you read it, I would like to add just a few remarks:

(1) Not all the jobs will necessarily go to local people, there is nothing to prevent contractors from either bringing in people or employing laborers who may come to Hawaii from the Continent or even from overseas to take available jobs and lower wages. Their earnings may remitted to families back home, without much spending in our local economy. We’ve seen that with imported farm labor.

(2) We do need the jobs that will be created, but the primary reason for a transit system is to move people, and creation of whatever number of jobs is secondary. We’re being asked to pay really big bucks for this. The controversies around the design of the system itself have been the subject of competing interests and considerable misdirection.

On the subject of homelessness, check out Carlisle: Homelessness Worse than Rat Infestation (Civil Beat, 9/6/2011). As you know, the subject of rat infestations is dear to my heart, and I resent Mayor Carlisle’s hijacking of a problem so simply solved to avoid the complexity of an important and usually tragic social issue.

Referring to a Supreme Court case striking down vagrancy laws, hizzoner doesn’t seem to understand individual Constitutional rights. From the Civil Beat article:

"I believe it was social legislation," Carlisle said. "I think it was a complete disaster because now people are out there suffering from their mental problems without us having the ability to coerce them into either the treatment that they need or into a zone that isn't in conflict with everybody else's rights."

Carlisle seems to think he or government should have the right to determine who is in need of treatment and then coerce them into getting it. I suppose he would lock them up in hospitals or mental institutions, it’s hard to understand how he plans to coerce treatment while removing them from the streets. He doesn’t understand that a homeless person in a park is not in conflict with anyone’s rights. Sure, there are better (evidence-based) approaches to the problem, but the Supreme Court had the final say on rights.

Hawaii is making little progress in creating affordable housing or living-wage jobs. Until the state and city get real about the causes and remedies of homelessness as a social issue, Carlisle will, to his obvious displeasure, have to live side-by-side with every citizen of the state, regardless of social status or economic condition.

Good job, Civil Beat. There’s more, check them out—on the Web.

As long as I’ve got you, and just ‘cause this is my blog, I’d like to expound a little on why we need fact checking, why we need facts, and why our children need an education that will encourage them to seek out the best information they can find.

It’s all related to complexity, both the natural complexity of things and events, and to the complexity that is used to create a fog before the eyes of a gullible public, the kind our government and its corporate backers increasingly depend upon, and that increasingly fuels our economy. Yes, corporations will pay to confuse us, to make us buy or to guide our vote.

Digging deep

We live in a world of increasingly complex social interactions. The new technologies seem to increase rather than reduce the number of data points put before us every time we turn on our iPads.

One traditional role of the press has been to help us sort through complexity by distilling it down to core issues where possible. Of course, since news sources are often biased through their own interests as businesses or through ideological leanings or even bigotry, that function itself has become one of the complexities of society. We expect the facts but we can’t trust what facts we are given by our media.

Our ability to sort through the complexity is impeded by the uncertainty created by incomplete or erroneous information. This is not to say that we each can be experts in all fields, but that we need to have access to the complete range of information if we wish it, as well as access to the analysis of experts better able to evaluate the data or to predict its implications.

We also live in a world of competing interests. Complexity is used by those who would take advantage of us by intentionally confusing us, or by omitting some facts, or by exaggeration of others.

As to our elected leaders… this is one area where things have become much simpler. Our Congress is in the hands of corporate interests. That’s becoming overwhelmingly clear. We may send them to Washington, but after that, they seek corporate money and respond to the demands that come attached to it. Pure and simple. Pure what? Supply your own adjectives.

The fact that our government, at all levels, is responsible to interests other than the public sure does complicate things, however. Should we petition them? Should we testify before committees? Should we call our president or city councilperson? Do they care if we demonstrate, get arrested, make YouTube videos? What to do?

Creating gullibility

If we are to buy the crap advertised in full-page ads in the newspaper we have to believe that the potions can actually cure cancer or give us a more attractive smile. This works better if the reading public can be made gullible, or ignorant, or both.

There are several ways to do that, of course. One important thing is to have as poor an educational system as possible. Hawaii has likely succeeded in that endeavor. With emphasis only on math and reading, gullible students will grow into gullible adults able to understand that they can cure their diabetes or get rich quick if they only do as the full-page ad suggests. There seems to be no room in the curriculum to teach critical thinking skills. Is that deliberate?

If the full-page quack ads didn’t work, there wouldn’t be so many in the paper. Obviously, they pay for themselves. This means that there are enough gullible people in the population to keep the quack business rolling along. Our educational system must be perfect for that purpose.

The second most important thing to feed gullibility—is to run the quack ads. The newspaper must suspend morality and any responsibility for the fate of people whose cancer was not, in fact, cured by buying the potion advertised. Make profit from the suffering that is caused. Make profit by cheating people or depriving them of their health or wealth.

The third thing is to deceive people via the opinion section. For some reason, fact checking is suspended under the guise of “opinion.” That’s an old tradition in journalism, kind of an escape clause. It’s pretty much accepted that what appears in the opinion section may or may not be true, that on these pages the paper has a right to lie to you in print.

To the extent that gullibility is encouraged, the opinion section is where the fruits of gullibility and ignorance are harvested for the paper’s own interests. The editors deliver on their ideology if the public is moved to support or oppose a legislative bill, for example. Nevermind facts, just get the bill passed. Not much different than the paid advertisement pages.

Slinging facts in Hawaii

Returning to ground level here in Hawaii, competing interests (for example, proponents and opponents of the city’s overhead rail project) have put forth “facts” that are designed to confuse us. Each side tries to influence the pesky public to accept its point of view. It is sad that neither can be said to represent the public itself. The developers want to make huge profits so they need public acceptance. Some opponents, anyway, have long fought rail because they would prefer to impose a toll road on the public. For them to succeed, they also need to confuse a gullible public.

The Star-Advertiser has put itself in an electronic closet, but even were it to return to the Internet, it doesn’t seem to have the editorial direction to dig deeply into issues that concern us. Hawaii Public Radio does that through its talk shows, but when the radio is turned off, their good work evaporates without a trace.

We have hard-working blogs like ilind.net, and we have Civil Beat, may they somehow prosper.

So I’m happy to see Civil Beat pursue fact checking for its own sake. The many issues will remain complex, but at least they can be made as clear and accurate as possible.


The homelessness, especially for Hawaiians and that is mainly all I am concerned about because these are their lands and it is a DESPICABLE situation they are in.

Honestly, I donʻt give a ratʻs ass (pardon the pun, Larry) about men who arrive here from the U.S. (either because they are put on a plane by another municipality or because they are running from something). They are usually fit to work but almost choose the lifestyle. I have no mercy for them. As well, women from the states because they have a way of rising to the top when the homes or shelters are passed around and the Hawaiian wahine takes a back seat.

The homelessness was ʻcreatedʻ due to the rampant unregulated development appeasing foreign developers.

BUT....the real impact came from Lingle who created an impossible scenario and trying to force the Hawaiians off their lands.

Hizzoner Carlisle is just another mediocre thinker in a cesspool of many.

Perhaps reinstatement of the Hawaiian Nation is really the answer, at least weʻd be dropping all the political bloodsuckers getting a free ride on the backs of taxpayers and the big trust that belongs to the Hawaiians.

Leadership would certainly take on a humane side and if anyone wants proof, itʻs in the aloha that Hawaiians have extended to the all the ones that have here and ended up stabbing them in the back for over 100 years.

If anyone doesnʻt know what Iʻm talking about and is under the ignorant belief that the Hawaiians have ʻgotten a fair dealʻ then they are truly clueless and donʻt even need to be in the conversation.

Itʻs beyond reprehensible.

Well thanks for emphasizing Civil Beat, Larry. I now have it bookmarked for additional news source. I had not done it before because I thought a paid subscription was necessary to enter site but I see thatʻs not the case.
It seems pretty popular and may be an advertising solution for me.

Civil Beat contributor, Joe Bright, Re-Homed comment, "I've been wondering when being a moron became political clout and when invective speech substituted for critical thinking" about Carlisle's homeless/rat comparison is most appropriate. Hawaii really does lack critical thinking by most elected and appointed. Why else would the mess continue? Why are citizens satisfied with mediocrecy?

Good question. And a scary one. I wonder: Could Palin become president? Yes, if Bush made it, she could. Which is just to say that mediocrity may be too high a bar for our elected officials.

Thanks for astute comments.

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