Wednesday, November 19, 2008


SNIFF IT OUT SHERLOCK: The new book “The Superferry Chronicles” received quite the prominent although not-so-complementary review today courtesy of Honolulu Advertiser reporter and blogger Derrick DePledge who, after reading the book called it “a romantic and idealized view of the protests at Nawiliwili Harbor that stopped the ferry in August 2007”

The book by Koohan Paik- who in her bio lists “journalist” first among her credentials- and anti economic globalism author and activist Jerry Mander.(links courtesy of DePledge)- has caused some on Kaua`i to question whether Paik is exploiting or even “cashing in” on the actions and even legal miseries of others as PNN detailed last week

But DePledge questions the use of falsehoods based on apparently shoddy research that resulted in what he called:

factual errors that would be easy to chalk up as mistakes — we all make them — if they were not used by the authors to make critical points.

He listed some.

*The authors suggest Lingle and state lawmakers were sending a message with the name of the law that allowed Superferry to resume operations while an environmental impact statement is prepared. “In a direct slap at the court, they brazenly call it `Act 2.’” (Page 12) “In Special Session, the governor flippantly dubs the draft bill `Act 2,’ as if overturning a Supreme Court ruling were a mere trifle.” (Page 178)

The law was named Act 2 because it was the second bill passed during
special session that was signed by the governor. The first bill, signed into law as Act 1, was a response to a state Supreme Court ruling on extended criminal sentencing.

*The authors claim Lingle did not give much notice for her meeting with Kaua`i residents and did not announce that the purpose of the meeting was to warn of the penalties for violating a new security zone at Nawiliwili. (Page 56)

Lingle gave a week’s notice that she would be coming to Kaua`i and described the penalties at a
news conference at the state Capitol that was given front page and top-of-the-news treatment by daily newspapers and local television and radio.

*The authors describe “illegal Superferry donations to Lingle.” (Page 175) The
donations from Superferry executives to Lingle’s campaign were not illegal. However, the donations were contrary to the Lingle campaign’s voluntary policy of not accepting contributions from companies negotiating with the state.

But the lack of acumen was not his only problem with the book. He writes

The authors do not break any new factual ground about Superferry and accept most of the critical theories about the project without skepticism. The central theory — so far unproven and denied by Superferry executives — is that Superferry is a military prototype designed to help shipbuilder Austal USA win lucrative defense contracts.
The book, which describes Superferry as an “uninvited menace,” is a celebration of direct action that is unlikely to persuade many neutrals.

While DePledge might be right about the slapdash journalism when it comes to researching facts, his contention that the “Superferry is a military prototype” theory is “so far unproven and denied by Superferry executives” is indicative of a the narrow view of what journalism is in today’s corporate news room.

Today’s journalism seems to take the concept of objectivity far beyond neutrality and instead of using investigative techniques that are universally accepted, boils down it’s coverage to a series of “he said, she said” competing quotes from anyone with a title and a tongue- the waggier the better.

Today’s reporter’s shun the utilization of the technique of comparing competing theories based on the factual material until, either the investigation peters out for lack of sufficient information to select from those competing theories or until one theory becomes the only plausible explanation for a series of events.

Though this system isn’t infallible- as the stream of release of innocents from jails proves- it’s the one that investigators- police, journalistic and detectives both real and fictional- have used for a century or more.

They all know that 99.9% of the time, when you eliminate the impossible and can’t even find an improbable that passes the laugh and smell tests, the theory turns out to be correct.

This is at the root of using inductive logic to solve a “case” where the deductive proof of a “confession” is not forthcoming. But many journalists from the post-modern school of “objectivity”- one only fully developed in the post WWII era- refuse to accept the validity of the technique.

Instead they ask those who would accept the indisputable validity of a certain “theory” to prove a negative. Nothing but an admission of guilt to suffice.

In plain English, it’s an “are you going to believe me or your lyin’ eyes” school of journalism and causes costly, time-consuming, investigative journalism to fall conveniently by the wayside in the “el cheapo” libel-phobic news “business” of the 21st century newsroom.

Two summers ago- before top Kaua`i journalist and blogger Joan Conrow’s brilliant series at her KauaiEclectic blog, her “U.S.S. Superferry?” investigative piece in Honolulu Weekly and her recap in a chapter of the Superferry Chronicles; before the Supreme Court ruling mandating an environmental assessment; before the name “Austal” (the builder of the Superferry which just last week landed a big contract for 10 Superferry-clone Navy warships) became a well known commodity among anti Superferry activists- PNN wondered in a column what the connection might be between the new aluminum catamaran ferry, similar naval vessels being considered by congress at the time and the financier of the project, former Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, John Lehman.

It didn’t take a genius to ask the question even way back then: was Hawai`i a guinea pig to show congress this thing is a viable Naval war ship?

But though formulation of the theory at that time was a stab in the dark nothing has been presented- except denials from some ferry executive- to refute the near certainty that the Superferry was a “demonstration project”. to show congress that the vehicle could ply shallow near-shore waters effectively.

As a matter of fact other officials- state and Superferry- have been quoted admitting the connection if not the actual intention to use our state apparatus to perpetuate a prototype without concern for the islands, its people and its economy

A frequent insightful commenter in various on-line publications- one who has identified himself only as an attorney and a Democrat and goes by the handle “Kolea”- addressed the state of denial by some of the Superferry-as-Navy-prototype “theory”.

He summed up the impossibles, the improbables and the all-but-certains this way in a comment on DePledge’s review.

As for SuperFerry serving as R&D for a proto-type for use by the military, that is the only sensible explanation. Otherwise, Lehman would have been an idiot to believe the SF made any business sense.

When local anti-militarist activists were insisting the SF was REALLY designed to carry Strykers inter-island, I had to tell them that theory did not make sense. But a review of naval national security debates convinced me Lehman was still promoting an idea from his days as Secretary of the Navy, the idea of a “600 ship fleet,: though he had updated in a few key ways. First, he had upped the number to “1000 ship Navy,” Secondly, he had looked with envy at the success Halliburton and Carlyle were having through the outsourcing of military functions to private companies owned by well-connected Bush cronies. Lehman proposed the “1000 ship navy” consist in large part of privately owned ships leased by the Navy for different lengths of time depending upon the shifting missions.

I see the SF as the development of a prototype ship, subsidized by Hawaii taxpayers and tested in our waters. As a private interisland ferry, IT never made sense. It is not viable and never was. The market did not exist prior to the current recession–simply check the passenger loads, both cars and people. People dreamed about a gentle cruise to another island for camping and holoholo, but the seas were too rough, voyages were cancelled with short notice and passengers were throwing up all over the boat. Ulpp! A bad idea.

The Navy has recently expressed a strong interest in the SF and ships of its type. Lehman headed up McCain’s “transition team” and would have been well=positioned to cash in as a “Naval Halliburton” had McCain won. Had “his ship come in.”

Lehman is either an extremely incompetent or conniving businessman. Or both.

To attack Paik and Mander for basing contentions on sloppy journalism is one thing. But to attack that which is apparent to all but the village idiot because it is “just a theory” that “you can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt” makes lies of theories like that of gravity and evolution or any prospective statement based on observations of frequent occurrences without variation from time immemorial.

There are, in logic, strong inductive arguments and weak ones. And sometimes people just can’t see the fleet because they’re too busy examining an individual boat.


Mauibrad said...

Outstanding evaluation of Derrick's BLOG, Andy.

I have to say, in all honesty, there are a few slight inaccuracies in the book. I wish I had had a chance to do a one pass edit of it, but I did not, and it was not offered.

Generally what is good about the book are the testimonies and interviews transcribed by Koohan, the introduction by Jerry, the contributed pieces by multiple authors, and the complete timeline of events from 2001 up to recent months. There is no other source that has put that complete timeline in one place. As for Mr. DePledge, he had plenty of time and ability to write a better book, but it didn't happened.

Aloha, Brad

Katy said...

I think it's important to challenge this idea that Koohan Paik is "cashing in" on the Superferry protests.

Anyone familiar with the dismal economics of publishing can see that she and the publisher will be lucky to recoup expenses through book sales.

I don't for a second believe that Koohan was motivated by money any more than any professional journalist covering the superferry story for the advertiser or star-bulletin. In fact, in her case, I think money was even less of a motivation than it would be for De Pledge or others who are hired hands. Working for money is not a horrible sin, and if the book sales cover whatever expenses she took on and maybe a modest amount of income for the hours worked, which is the best case scenario for a book like this, then I don't see the problem.

I agree with Brad that the book itself does a great service by compiling some of the voices of the everyday citizens who took on the challenge of fighting for what they believe in. This part of the story has been willfully neglected by the corporate media, as it usually is. The need for "people's histories" is always urgent, as so many grassroots struggles have been sidelined and erased by the dominant, mainstream textbook histories.

There is a difference between "in-fighting" and crucial internal critiques on the Left. I am not suggesting that anyone mute their criticisms of the book, but I do advocate centering those criticisms in the understanding that documenting social movements from the perspective of the participants themselves is tough, honorable work which should be supported in principle.

Factual corrections are important, but issues such as estimates of crowd size seem unecessarily picky. Crowd-size estimates have been such an issue of contention for so long between the corporate media, the police and the social movements that most activists now generally accept that the numbers will vary wildly depending on the interests of those reporting them. It's hardly a worthy argument, and it ends up consuming time and energy best spent on other endeavors, so most organizers and grassroots activists don't even bother with it these days.

To Koohan's credit, she reached out to many people to get their input, attended and documented many public meetings and did the work of tracking people down and asking for their participation. Naturally, not all people were included and some may feel slighted. That's understandable, but I think we should keep it in some perspective. Koohan is not the only one allowed to present this story, which I imagine she would be the first to assert, and any one of us has the freedom to tell our perspective, as many of us do.

It makes more sense to me to view "The Superferry Chronicles" as one effort among many past and potential efforts to frame and explore the history of an important ongoing event in Hawai'i social movement history.