Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A glaring omission from my superlatives

This is the only place to get your laundry done in Saipan. In fact, I'd go here even if I had only one slightly dirty sock. What a service they offer! I wish they had this when I lived with my parents.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My own personal Pantheon - people and things hereby inducted

Victor Wooten - His bass chops are absolutely sick. His solo on Dave Matthew's Band #41 Live in Chicago is almost beyond the known limits of the instrument.
John Chatterton - The greatest scuba diver on the planet. Read Shadow Divers to get the full lowdown on this guy, or check him out on the Deep Sea Detectives. He has done it all in the world of diving.
Noam Chomsky - A living Aristotle. The smartest, and most ballsy, person I've ever seen. He simply has more facts and global awareness than anyone I've ever seen.
Mariano Rivera - The greatest relief pitcher who ever lived, and the most dominant New York Yankee I've ever seen. Watching this guy has always been a joy. Apologies to Jim Leyritz, as that homerun off Mark Wohlers was my favorite moment in sports history.
Emmitt Smith - As a Cowboy fan, no one was better on those glory days teams than Emmitt. He is the all time NFL rushing leader, and the best player on the best team I ever saw.
U2 - All of these guys are incredibly cool, and haven't even lost it over time. Plus, The Edge slightly outdoes Magic, as in Magic Johnson, as the coolest nickname in history. Bad is probably the best song of the eighties. On top of that, Bono does the right thing with his prodigious money, power and influence.
Redheaded women - The world is awash in blondes, and that is "the standard" most women cling to. I say bollocks -- give me Ginger, though Maryanne wasn't so bad, either. I prefer an average redhead to a hot blonde. Some stellar examples of the genre other than Alicia Witt above: Julianne Moore, Angie Everhart, Lolita Davidovich and Karen Klaver (said with complete and utter respect from one married guy to one sorta married guy, Mark.)
French Roast Coffee - Marianas Coffee right here in Saipan makes a great French Roast. This is my favorite bean across the board.
Portuguese Cuisine - We hear plenty about Italian and French food, and those things are great, but few things are better than a great Portuguese restaurant. If you find yourself on a layover at Newark Airport, escape that pit and head to one of the many great Portuguese restaurants around.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Best of Saipan/Saipan Superlatives

I'm going to compile my own personal best of, but I'm open to suggestions and debate on this matter.

Best Cafe
Java Joes. I suppose an argument could be made for Coffee Care, but the service is too inconsistent, and I've gone a few times and they had no bean to go. Jave Joes has a good crowd, reasonable prices, good coffee, a wide selection of good desserts -- plus Rick is pretty cool. The Beans has, or moreso had, nice decor, but the coffee bites, and it is hard to be much of a cafe with lame coffee.

Best Dining Experience
I see only two candidates on this one: Cafe Urashima and Giovanni's, and I'll have to go with Giovanni's by a nose. The number one reason for that is a more flexible and bigger menu, and slightly more refined ingredients, as well as better service than Urashima.

Best New Restaurant
Magic Lamp. The chicken kebobs here are extraordinary, very tender and juicy, and this place in general offers stuff unavailable elsewhere. The lunch special is really very good, and they have Shisha pipes available, so pretty cool there.

Best Restaurant with dubious survival prospects
Taste of India. If only these guys would add some Spam Masala to the menu, then perhaps they'd get more business. The chicken curry is really well done here, and the staff is very friendly and welcoming.

Best Cheap Lunch to Go
The Calzones at Shelly's Pizza.

Best Reason to Live in Saipan
An ocean view on a teacher's salary, with apologies to the Japanese bikini girls at Managaha and Microbeach. Honorable mention goes to the ten minute commute to work, the clean air, low taxes, low stress, access to other Asian locales, Oleai walking path and cheap car insurance -- especially after living in NJ.

Best New Business
Marianas Sweet Shrimp over by the Gold's Gym is a great offering. The only problem is they have shrimp only every couple months, and peeling them is no fun, but sauteed in a lot of garlic, butter and some white wine to deglaze the pan -- wow -- especially with the bread from Carmen Safeway.

Best Video Store
Blockbuster has the best deal on time and price -- especially if you join the Rewards Program, but Kevin's Video gets classic stuff that is often unavailable at Blockbuster -- plus new movies are sometimes impossible to get at Blockbuster.

Best Newspaper
Both local papers are a bit lacking on tough questions and follow through, and the Tribune is pretty fair and not as tame as I would expect given the owner, but largely due to Zaldy Dandan's offerings, and the more vibrant letters section, I'll have to go with the Variety.

Best Cheap Date
A bottle of wine near sunset at Mt. Topachao.

Best Moderately Pricey Date
Dinner Cruise on the Jade Lady.

Best Expensive Date
Don't ask me, I'm married and a teacher.

Best Underutilized Location on Saipan
Mandi Spa at Mariana Resort. This place is fabulous. It has a gym, pool, hot tub, sitting pool overlooking the ocean, and a real Balinese decor. On top of that, hardly anyone is there -- hard to believe.

Best Bar
Godfathers. These guys are very liberal with the free shots, so I've gotta hand it to them. On top of that, the staff consists of a few attractive Filipinas. There is a large, and pretty vibrant crowd there fairly regularly, and a number of different bands.

Best Customer Service
The package delivery window guy at the CK Post Office. I half expect him to throw my package at me and say "No Soup for You," but you have to relish the opportunity to feel self conscious about conducting a very simple transaction.

Best Person to Invite to a BBQ
The security guard at Dolphin. This guy is way cool, and way underfed.

Best Supermarket
Joeten Susupe. This is like having the biggest penis in Japan, but of the three trips to three separate grocery stores required for a shopping order, Joeten Susupe gets the most done. The French Bread at Carmen Safeway deserves a plug as well.

Best Pediatrician
Dr. Norma Ada -- enough said. Notre Dame graduate -- extremely bright.

Best Surgeon
Dr. Sawer. This man inspires confidence in a major way. Very sharp tack. I just heard he left the island. This is as much a catastrophe as the JAL pullout.
Best Educational Afternoon
The CNMI museum, especially the exhibit on the Castaways of Anatahan, is a really great presentation, as is the War Museum in the park.

Best Elected CNMI Official
With apologies to Cinta Kaipat, I'll have to go with Stanley Torres -- the one best putting up a fight, thinking independently, stirring it up, trying to represent normal people, actually doing his job of legislative oversight, and best I can tell, not whoring himself to the garment factories.

Best (and most dangerous) Historical Site The caves near Bonzai. I went through this once, and it is a workout, and very dangerous, but truly amazing with war artificats still there.
Best Auto Repair Shop
Manny's at ELS Autoshop behind and to the left of the Nauru building. I wrote about this one before.

Best Band
The Big Beats continue to do classic rock with Ripken like consistency, and they tackle stuff that is unexpected, Pink Floyd's The Wall, Rage Against the Machine with Dennis doing his best Zach De la Rocha vocals. They aren't quite the same without Lovely, and her bad dancing, on vocals, but still the best around.

Best Dive Site
There is only the Grotto, despite the inherent dangers of this sucker that should never be forgotten. This one compares favorably with any dive in Palau even.

Best Snorkeling Site

Lau Lau northwest of the dive entry site. This requires a small boat, or a romp through the jungle, but the water is sublime, and you can do a moderate cliff jump. Keep booties on, as it is sharp getting out.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Do the opposite

In a classic episode of the seminal television show Seinfeld, consummate loser George Costanza realizes that all his instincts are wrong and his life such a failure, that doing the opposite of his natural inclination must turn his life around. After implementing the plan, Costanza’s life improves as he goes from being alone, jobless and living with his parents, to being employed by the Yankees with a new girlfriend and a new apartment in Manhattan.

As our island leaders go about dealing with the multitude of well publicized problems such as power, wages, crime and the economy with the effectiveness of a 90 year-old-man in a Las Vegas brothel without his Viagra stash, perhaps they should turn to the wisdom of Costanza and just do the opposite.

Instead of fighting the long overdue wage increase, do the opposite and actually represent the overwhelming majority of people here who want higher wages. Welcome this chance for people to earn a salary that gives them some dignity. Perhaps then, many will be motivated to actually get a job and make something of their life instead of sitting at home on welfare teaching their children by example it is ok to be lazy, have no ambition and rely on government handouts. The idle message these children learn causes countless wasted dollars in our schools with profound academic indifference.

Instead of misdirecting the funds earmarked for the retirement fund, actually do what you are supposed to do, the opposite, and give the fund its money so it can stay solvent. This current system of ripping off the retirement fund amounts to a tax only on government workers because the eunuchs we elected are too afraid to propose an actual tax to pay for this bloated, inefficient government.

Instead of going off-island for another fruitless trip, do the opposite and just stay home. In fact, the government could take the money saved and just burn it to keep the power plant running an extra hour a day. That would probably be more efficient than this current junket to Washington, D.C., or the recent one to Hawaii. And while we are on the topic of the power plant, instead of ignoring it, do the opposite, actually maintain it and perhaps two people can make toast simultaneously without an island-wide blackout. The power plant here is treated worse than “the Gimp” in Pulp Fiction and CUC leadership acts like that is a normal state of affairs we should expect.

Instead of proposing tax breaks and doing the bidding for the vile garment factories, do the opposite and cut out bureaucratic inefficiencies and help new, uplifting, useful businesses like Java Joes, Marianas Sweet Shrimp, Magic Lamp and Shelly’s Pizza. Let all the dumpy businesses on the island like the 800 pawn shops and poker rooms fall back to the depths of Hades from which they sprang. It would also spare me from reading another student journal entry about having no food at home because mom and dad blew their check in the poker room. Beyond that, it would help the overall atmosphere if our poker room to book store ratio improved from 800 to 1, and it might reduce the crime rate as well, which brings me to the next point.

Instead of giving the copper wire thieves one day of jail all suspended, force them for one day to clean up all the betel nut and lime stains on the island – that is if they ever catch these “Napoleons of Crime.” Similarly, if they catch the people stealing from the Japanese at the Last Command Post, instead of one day in jail suspended, let them carry the tanks for the Japanese divers at the Grotto instead of building a monorail.

I could go on, but too much reflection on this government makes me feel like as flatulent as the horse that ate too much Beef-a-Rino in the Marble Rye episode. If our local elected leaders just do the opposite of all their natural instincts this can be the summer of George, and summer never ends in Saipan .

Happy with CNMI doctors

Since arriving on island a few years back, I heard negative stories and anecdotes about the state of our health care facilities and the abilities of our physicians here in the CNMI. Those stories left me a bit anxious when I developed a mildly complex health problem a few months back. I would like to share with others that the stories I heard did not match the reality I experienced. The doctors I consulted with have been nothing other than exemplary. I had two brief stays in our local hospital, and the care I received was outstanding. My primary care physicians, Dr. Tan and Dr. Lamar at FHP, have been extremely diligent, patient, thorough and effective. I also met Dr. Ada, and she was as impressive as her reputation. In meeting with Dr. George and Dr. Sawer at CHC, I could not have been more impressed with their knowledge and competence. I grew up in the New Jersey area, which is a fairly rich state with renowned and well compensated doctors from the top universities, but my experiences with the five doctors mentioned here left me more satisfied than my experiences with those renowned east coast physicians. In fact, just being around these doctors, who are so educated, dedicated and knowledgeable, was an inspiration. CHC certainly needs a radiologist, and other specialists, as well as infrastructure investment, but the doctors here, like the teachers, should be commended for getting results with the limited resources allotted. I thank all of you at CHC and FHP.

Financial musical chairs

Like many of the "mainlanders" living here on island, I came here, and stay here, for the warm weather, relaxed pace, beautiful sunsets, quality scuba diving and access to other interesting places Asia has to offer. It would be nice to make a real commitment here and perhaps buy a new car or a more permanent home. However, it is very hard to contemplate such a thing when I read the newspapers each day and find out more and more about the absolute staggering financial incompetence being constantly rained down by this government.

The latest ineptitude is the mass retirements taking place in the next week as government employees take advantage of a lump sum cash out equivalent to 30 percent of their salary. I know of people well below age 40 retiring as teachers and other like jobs through this offer. From what I can see, these people aren't NFL running backs worn out at such an early age, so I really have to wonder who in the heck were the government officials who looked at the oceans of government debt and decided adding $1 million of needless red ink in a double dipping retirement scam was a good idea when teachers, and other workers, never get raises, class sizes are way too large, per pupil spending is ridiculously low, NMC needs a new campus, and some big hotel like World Resort needs another big tax break. Tongue firmly in cheek on that last one.

I don't begrudge any worker taking advantage of this offer, they’d be a fool not to, but I am rather miffed that idiotic things like this happen regularly. Because of nonsense like this, it is only a matter of time before my teacher's salary, which unacceptably never rises, stops coming, and the $2000 a year that gets involuntarily diverted from my checks to the retirement system, but never makes it there, disappears completely, which means the longer you stay here, the more you get screwed. There is also the little insult that my wife has been waiting nine months to get her tax refund back, and all calls, faxes and emails are fruitless. I’m sure there are plenty others waiting longer for more money. I've never heard of a government that works in such a fly by night manner. Government is supposed to make sure the system is fair and honest, not to be the flimsy, dishonest agency themselves.

This whole place feels like a game of financial musical chairs, and it is going to be very hard to keep talented medical, legal, and teaching professionals, among others, here for the long term if things do not move toward the direction of competence.

Dr. Dull

I tend to avoid the boring daily diatribes of Delano, California's premier blowhard, Dr. Jesus Camacho, but I, like a lot of readers judging by the responses of late in the letters section, have about had it with the enormous wasted space the Tribune offers this clown, who has never even been on island and lives thousands of miles away. I hope the Tribune will develop enough of an environmental conscience to give a more honorable death to the full on forest of trees that have already died in vain for Dr. Dull's daily rants. This is not to question his free speech rights. I’m a first amendment absolutist and he certainly has the right to say what he wants, or even to meet with all his interested readers in any telephone booth he chooses.

I've read enough of Dr. Dull to get the impression that he knows everything, or at least thinks he knows everything. As someone with a journalism degree, I also know that some unscrupulous types use letters to the editor for propaganda or to advance a political agenda under a phony name. One must then wonder why someone thousands of miles away would opine daily on a place they have never visited, let alone lived. The reason I recall reading from Dr. Dull is because of his "Chamorro blood," which he previously suggested gives him more stake and credibility on this island than people, meaning foreigners such as mainland Americans and others, working in the schools, or patrolling the streets for DPS or doing other things. I have an Irish background, but I've never been to Ireland and would certainly not have the audacity to pick a random Irish city and start telling them how to run things because I'm part Irish. I also wouldn’t tell some immigrant or expat living in Ireland I was more true to Ireland because I happen to be part Irish and eat an occasional potato while listening to U2!

From the little else I've read of Dr. Dull, I recall his bitterness at not being chosen president of NMC since he is a PHD for God’s sake, and it isn’t like there aren’t thousands of professors with PHDs out there writing papers more boring than even Camacho could pull off. Apparently NMC had the "crazy" idea of choosing a president who wouldn't have to find NMC with a compass and a tourist map pilfered from a Japanese tourist hanging out at DFS like Dr. Dull would have. NMC chose someone who has actually been to NMC and knows a thing or two about students here. Enough said there.

The second issue Dr. Dull is prone to rant about is the man leading this island, Governor Juan Babauta. I'm not going to sit here and say that government is Saipan's strongest point, that would be the sunsets, diving the Grotto and the bikini girls on Microbeach, but I would hardly blame all the island’s problems on the governor. There are two other branches of government the governor must contend with in a place where politics is a practical blood sport. There is also a long tradition in Saipan of less than sound decision making that has left this government with a debt and infrastructure problem that would make Jefferson, Lincoln or Roosevelt look bad. In short, not all of Saipan’s “long-in-the-making” problems are the governor's fault. But to hear Camacho tell it, Babauta is more evil than an island wide spam-and-betelnut naval embargo.

Looking at some of the governor's financial priorities, notably cutting down on the poker rooms and increasing educational funding, I feel they certainly agree with logic, long range planning, and my own priorities as a teacher and resident here. Those two things should also be a priority to anyone who cares about the future of the island. The common criticism I've read is that those goals are somehow unrealistic, that the governor lacks the political muscle to get those priorities enacted. Ultimately, the people here can remove those legislators providing the obstacles, and if they want the schools operating with outdated funding and with gambling addiction on every corner, they can vote for anti school/pro gambling legislators and deal with the consequences. That’s the nature of democracy, the masses of people aren’t always wise, “the people” sometimes do incredibly dumb things like endorsing the idea that a black man was 3/5 a person or vote for someone like George W. Bush -- just to give two examples of why Plato preferred the philosopher king to democracy.

When we had two typhoons and when Anatahan erupted, the governor was out there helping people, leading and contributing to this island. Seeing him on television and in person during that time, I felt confident that he was an intelligent, hard-working man making wise decisions I could trust. What has Dr. Dull ever done for this island other than insult and annoy actual residents of the CNMI and brag about his PHD?

Another Saipan Bozo - the Sweatshop Lobbyist

I must say I agree with Richard Pierce’s assessment of the Marianas Variety, which is definitely losing credibility -- especially among the rich and powerful, the elected and connected, and those whose opinions are for hire. These days I seldom trust newspapers. I only believe reliable truth tellers like politicians, corporate CEOs, public relations professionals, people selling things on late night television and those hundreds of people who email me every day about a new mortgage or all those college aged vixens eager to meet me. This paper has never noted that each garment factory voluntarily includes complimentary drinking water and all the light each worker can use. This paper constantly wants to criticize the garment factories for very old problems, and it never publishes the good news about the garment factories, such as the fact that they are looking out for their workers. Most people probably do not know that the airlines only allow fifty pounds of luggage without penalty, so when several factories closed back before the internet, ipods and color TV in 2005, the factory owners didn’t burden their workers with the money they were owed. Garment workers routinely use heavy paper currency, so by the owners going back to Korea or elsewhere without paying workers, that worker was in no danger of going over the luggage weight limit when they went back to China. Did this paper ever note this thoughtfulness? This paper constantly uses an out of date Interior Department study that indicates the factories cost the local government more than it provides in tax revenue. It seldom mentions the more respected report that notes: “If the garment industry leaves the CNMI for whatever reason in the next few years, it could take with it one-half the jobs in the CNMI including one-third of jobs of permanent residents.” What will all you communist, pro-Bin Laden, cut and run, child molester, atheist, liberal media types say if all those permanent residents lose their $3.05 per hour jobs and can no longer put noodle on their plate or buy grease for their bicycle chain. This paper should realize that the garment factories are broke. Do you know how much it has cost the garment factory owners to buy almost the entire government of a place with as many politicians as the CNMI?
I was having a drink the other night when one of my “liberal” friends started to argue with me about my support for Richard Pierce, the garment industry and all things Republican. This flaming lefty was trying to say things like, “Don’t you think a guy like Pierce has a hard time looking at himself in the mirror after dedicating his life to keeping rich people rich and poor people poor.” I was like, hold on, you are worse than those people at the Variety. Do you know anything about business? Do you still play golf? Pierce is conducting business the way business is supposed to be conducted -- just like he explained in the Variety the other day. I told him that when the CNMI government took tax money from people making $3.05 per hour to hire lobbyists like Jack Abramoff to make sure these same people never make more than $3.05, that this is how it works in the real world. Do you expect private industry to pay lobbyists out of their own pocket to rig the system – a system that is totally on the level? I even provided a hypothetical on how honest the system is: Do you think a big oil company CEO could become vice president of the United States with less votes than the other guy, help start an unprovoked war against an oil rich country by saying that country had nuclear weapons and might cause Armageddon, all so energy companies could see record profits as gas went to nearly $4 per gallon and power rates doubled? That would never happen I told him. My socialist friend, in his best Swedish accent, tried to argue that the money spent on garment lobbyists should have gone to PSS for more books and more teachers. I corrected him and reminded him that all PSS needed was prayer in the schools and a prominently posted copy of the Ten Commandments, not money. This persistent, liberal, troublemaker then said it was ridiculous for a garment industry mouthpiece like Pierce to be the adviser to the governor on things like the controversial $3.05 minimum wage. This is when I really got upset and told him that unless the governor could get George Bush to give up the presidency to become the chief adviser on grammar and Greek philosophy, I could not imagine a person being more qualified and appropriate for a job than Pierce is on wages. I then dutifully explained that the real problem in the CNMI isn’t the number of people working for $3.05 per hour, but all the homosexuality here and in the world. If all those gay people succeed in converting the straight people to the gay agenda, what will happen to the CNMI strip clubs? The newfound disinterest in boobs, legs and butts would rival the JAL pullout and the WTO tariff rule changes as economic death knells for the CNMI. I started to think more of the economic crisis this island is in, and I came up with a solution. We should hire Pierce to convince the rest of the island to go along with this idea I heard of setting the maximum wage at $3.05 for everyone – except the elected or the immediate relatives of an elected person. A similar exception should go to garment factory owners and their relatives. A $3.05 maximum wage is how we can save this island, and naturally there should be a 10 percent cut from $3.05. The whole three meals a day thing is outmoded pre-9/11 thinking.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Focusing on nonsense

Given all the problems this island faces regarding increasing crime, overcrowded schools, unreliable and exorbitantly priced power, horrific, stagnant wages and the absurd and otherwise disturbing fact that a discount shoe retailer in the island’s shopping district can’t stay open, to see such an outcry over some children playing dress up is a sad misdirection of sensible focus and priorities.

If you are a parent of a student, the thing you should be most concerned about is the fact that the PSS budget just got slashed probably by at least $6 million dollars. Of course, this was done politically, so you have to read between the lines to see what actually happened. The PSS budget was technically increased $1.4 million, but PSS now has to pay for power, which was $4.7 million last year before the vast majority of the massive power rate increase took effect. My own power bill has tripled, at least this month, so even conservatively, it is fair to expect PSS’ bill to come close to doubling, so figure on a bill this year somewhere in the ballpark of $8 million. That figure can be arrived at by simply subtracting an $8 million increase via a new power bill PSS didn’t pay before from the 1.2 million increase in its budget. This new power bill should leave PSS almost $7 million worse off -- conservatively. PSS already operates on an outdated shoestring budget that hardly provides, if at all, for books, athletics, custodians, substitute teachers, a fair and reasonable salary for principals and vice principals, paraprofessionals and even the commisioner, all now impacted by the ten percent cut -- among other things.

None of this even considers the fact there are more students transferring to the public schools, and probably even more to follow, as the power situation and poor economy puts the squeeze on parents’ ability to pay for private schooling. Students are crammed like sardines into classrooms with a staff full of disgruntled teachers since many just took a pay cut, and now these teachers have even more students and probably less preparation time. This is the huge problem facing PSS and the island, not a couple of kids playing dress up.

The protesting Chinese garment workers

It is good to see the garment workers demand, and actually get, reasonable treatment here in the CNMI. In viewing these protest events on television, it occurred to me that perhaps some good could actually come from these sloppy CNMI garment factories that could impact the world in a positive way. Perhaps someone from the crowds of Chinese workers demonstrating here will be emboldened to get out there and lead a protest of their own horrifying Chinese government when they go back home.

Numerous media reports cite China as the next great power, the up and comer on the world stage and so on. Intuitively that is real hard to buy into when we read and hear about the countless Chinese citizens borrowing thousands of dollars in unseemly recruitment fees from loan sharks to work for meager wages in the dying Saipan garment factories.

The Chinese government censors the internet and severely limits general freedom of speech. It denies free exercise of religion, imprisons people unjustly and generally has nothing close to a participatory democracy. By contrast, the American and CNMI governments are merely inept, incompetent and whore themselves to the rich, but they are not openly and intentionally evil against their own citizens. If someone from these CNMI protestors learns a thing or two and lights a spark that leads to an uprising against the shameful Chinese government, then something uplifting might come from these crumbling factories.

Retailers in Saipan

Here is one tip for the suffering businesses on the island, notably retail, as they fret about the increase in minimum wage: Stop treating customers here like they are stupid and business will get better. Retailers here charge a ridiculous mark up versus the prices for the same item available online. Retailers must think we don't realize we have a U.S. post office, UPS, and regular flights from shopping meccas like Seoul, Manila, Tokyo, Hong Kong and the U.S. mainland.

In four years, I have not purchased one piece of electronics, clothes or sporting equipment here on the island. Ninety percent of my books came from Amazon, and the toys for my kids from Wal Mart. Even my large and heavy bass amplifier came from off island given the absurd local prices.The markups here are outrageous. I had a camera break over the holidays, so I went shopping, and the sale price on the camera was $80 more than the Amazon price. Even the pawnshop wanted a ridiculous price for a used camera. When I bought my ipod, I certainly didn't get it here. Stop the nonsense, we're not dumb! A small "we're in the middle of the ocean" markup is acceptable to account for shipping costs, but not the prices the vast majority of you are asking.

Two Separate Rebukes, Eric Atalig and Bruce Bateman

This was my response to Eric Atalig's race base attack in the Tribune.

Samuel Johnson once noted that “Patriotism is the last refuge for scoundrels,” a wise quote everyone should ponder as racist statements dressed up in the guise of patriotism, like those of Eric Atalig, get published in the local newspapers. Mr. Atalig never discusses the crux of my argument, which is that the United States has been nothing but benevolent to these islands. He brings up, and is correct about, the unrelated point of the unjust treatment of African-Americans and Native Americans. African and Native-Americans certainly do have grievances that are, and should continue to be, addressed. None of those things apply to the CNMI.

Probably the number one factor that separates the CNMI from the truly destitute islands in this region is the enormous amount of federal dollars that gets pumped in by U.S. taxpayers, who are largely unaware of the sweetheart tax deal the CNMI gets. It would take about a day for a demagogue like Bill O’Reilly on Fox News to have people furious about it. Places like Puerto Rico don’t want to become a state, and thereby get senators and voting representatives, because that would mean residents would pay the same taxes that all the other states have to pay, and the elected minorities, and their groupies, can’t abuse the system as easily as they do here and there. They wasted so much money in Puerto Rico that they had to close the schools last year!

Perhaps Mr. Atalig can’t see this because he views things through a “failed politician” perspective. People like Mr. Atalig often get elected, or if not as in his case, become hangers-on or appointees of those that do, and do the bidding for the people that ignore the power plant, waste money on Rose Bowl floats, give tax breaks to garment factories, never raise the minimum wage and use the third world to bloat the labor supply and make sure local people can’t get a job that pays a living wage in the private sector. For dessert they go on government funded trips to Hawaii and the Philippines to party it up, keep people’s land prices artificially low with Article XII so a few rich local families can buy it all up on the cheap, and then pass out a few crumbs to the normal people and hope the party continues. Now the party is ending and they’re hostile, so they try to stir people up by bashing Americans and immigrant workers for thinking maybe they should get more than $3.05 an hour after ten years at that rate. Plus they want to defend a racist system where someone born here can’t own land, such as my sons, who committed the crime of being Filipino-American. If you are born in a place, live there your whole life, and aren’t indigenous, like my sons, then let’s just change the meaning of the word. The world grows increasingly international, but a few scoundrels can’t accept it.

The next step is to talk nonsense about imperialism, as if raising the minimum wage to something human and denying a cheap maid is imperialistic, which is the real basis for why these crackpots are upset. And as for submerged lands, stop letting the hotels dump their sewage into the lagoon and I’ll be more sympathetic. Who is more devilish, the abusers and their enablers, or those who try to put a spotlight on the abuse? I wouldn’t be surprised if they hold their “$3.05 is great money/keep our cheap maid” rally in a phone booth somewhere and still have room to do jumping-jacks since virtually no one thinks higher wages are a bad idea. How nice it would be if the views of the majority were represented -- not just the views of the rich and connected.

I know what it is like to have embarrassing leaders. As an American traveler, people sometimes want to view me through the prism of dupes and incompetents like Fox News or George Bush. That is why I’m quick to realize that racially inflammatory blowhards like Mr. Atalig are the rare exception to the very welcoming and friendly local people of these islands, perhaps the kindest people I’ve encountered in six years of living, traveling and working overseas. I think Tina Sablan’s profound letter and new leaders like Cinta Kaipat giving office money for police uniforms instead of picnic tables and parties, are clear illustrations that people have had it with the mediocre, failed system we have, and no amount of stirring up faux patriotic feelings via immigrant and mainlander bashing will work this time. George Miller and Nancy Pelosi aren’t the problem, keeping people dependent on a flawed and dying cheap labor/government handout model is the problem.

Finally, the numerous local people fleeing this mismanagement and heading to the states aren’t “guests” in the U.S., and I’m not a guest here. I’ve made better readers and writers out of almost 1,000 island residents since I’ve been here. I’ll stack that up against your job of serving a few rich and powerful people and appealing to the worst instincts in others – all to protect a failed model that serves a small minority while life gets much worse for the majority of the indigenous people because of these policies!
This is in response to something Bruce Bateman wrote about PSS. Links are in the first graph.

It was good of Bruce Bateman to admit his blatant statistical mistake regarding per pupil spending in the CNMI, but in claiming his conclusions are still valid, I wonder if Bateman's sour grapes led him to drink too much sour wine.

A more sober analysis of his comparison about the per pupil costs and effectiveness of the private schools versus public schools would reveal an obvious point: the public schools must educate everyone -- including those with expensive special needs like autism, mental retardation, etc. Private schools can and do rebuff these students due to the high cost of educating them. The speech and physical therapy specialists, among others, that assist the most vulnerable members of our society won't be found in the private schools, and they won't have to be flown to Rota and Tinian, either. In a March 2002 report, the Special Education Expenditure Project calculated that in the 1999-2000 school year, the per student cost for students eligible for special education services was $12,474, or 1.90 times the $6,556 per student cost in general education

Private school students generally come from a wealthier background, have more educated parents giving these students improved academic modeling, and these parents are also more likely to be involved in the schools. Countless studies reveal home life has more influence on academic performance than the classroom teacher. It also doesn't take too long on any educational database (I'd recommend http://www.eric.ed.gov/) to find research showing the relationship between poverty and poor academic performance.

Teachers in private school tend to make the bargain of a smaller salary for smaller classes, fewer discipline problems and more academically motivated students as a quality of life issue. Often times these teachers have spouses in more lucrative careers that allow them this career freedom. New York just offered housing stipends and other financial incentives to get teachers to work in the poorest, most violent and challenging schools. Private schools wouldn't attract many teachers at the salaries offered with a class full of juvenile delinquents, which is a social problem far more rooted in broken homes and income disparity than the public schools. School budgets revolve around faculty costs, and since trust fund academy doesn't have to offer urban incentives to hire its faculty, these costs are held down, which shows the silliness of Bateman's comparison.

Far from getting poor results, given the geographic isolation, life support economy and stagnant salaries, I feel PSS does a remarkable job. I can assure Mr. Bateman that the meager taxes he pays here aren't going to a custodian to clean the classrooms -- the students and I do that. It doesn't provide a stipend to coaches or advisers -- we do that for free. When the paint loses it sheen, teachers often pay for that and students often throw on their painting clothes after school. And just to make sure there is maximum efficiency, my classroom is packed full of 30 students, and I have no preparation period. Most teachers do lesson plans and grade papers on their own time. When it is time for a salary increase, it is simply ignored, or teachers are told there is no money in the budget, or you started in the wrong year or how about a ten percent pay cut instead.

So no, Mr. Bateman, your conclusions aren't close to correct, and perhaps you should stick to subjects you know something about instead of needlessly insulting teachers and administrators with deceptive comparisons and failed right wing dogma about privatization as a cure all for society's ills.

Parents today

I read, with great interest, the story about the Tinian High School seniors who went on a class trip to Guam and were later suspended for drinking and smoking on the trip. I found the reaction of the parents to be both typical and disgusting. There was a time in the not so distant past when a teacher or administrator could tell a parent their child was acting in an inappropriate fashion and the teacher or administrator could be confident the parent would be a parent and would discipline their child at home. Those days are, sadly, long gone. As a high school teacher here at Saipan Southern High School, I have very few disciplinary problems in my classes. I attribute this to having good kids, good administrators, and above all, the good fortune of teaching only high school seniors, who are almost all over or near the age of 18, otherwise known as legal adulthood. On those rare occasions there is an issue, experience has told me to fully expect every parent to act like the late Johnny Cochran and pull every string under sun and moon to see that their child's lack of discipline extends beyond home and to the school. In short, most parents, as shown in this Tribune story, try to find a way to see that their little Johnny or Jane goes unpunished. This routine behavior sickens me as both an educator and citizen. I seriously doubt there is a single teacher or administrator on island who gets any kick out of disciplining a student. Discipline is a tedious and unfortunate aspect to the teaching profession -- one exacerbated by an increasing lack of parenting in our culture. Clearly if the teacher/chaperone acted in the manner described in the Tribune story, then the teacher was acting irresponsibly. It should also be noted that teachers island-wide take all kinds of risks to supervise often immature students in sports, clubs and activities -- usually, if not always, for no extra pay and often with out-of-pocket expenses. In this case, people should also be aware that these weren't fifth graders on this trip. These were high school seniors, which means 17 to 20 years of age. They are people one month away from entering the workforce, college or the military. The average age of soldiers killed in action in Vietnam was 19, but apparently some Tinian 18 year olds can't exercise a little control without a teacher working on his or her spring break watching their every move. The drinking age in Guam is 18, which is widely known, so any engaged parent should have advised their kids not to breach the parents' trust and take advantage of that fact. So to the parents crying about their kid losing out on National Honor Society, or being suspended, why not be a parent and teach your children that there are consequences to breaking rules, which is a far more important lesson than losing one more month in NHS or avoiding a week out of school on suspension by trying to convince the principal that 17/18 year olds shouldn't be responsible for their actions. Quit trying to blame some teacher with innuendo about what a 17 or 18 year old or older did with beer on a class trip and offering a "Johnny did it, too" defense you wouldn't accept from your six year old. Be a parent!

Framingham Graduation Speech

Here we are at our celebratory lunch after spending about $6,000, all our vacation time and a lot of our patience. I have to admit, it feels good to be here now, to have this degree only nine papers away – at least nine papers away for all of us except Tim and Aysem, who should be exclusively referred to as T and A. I would dub Debra Diaz as Double D, but you all think of me as a sicko already.

Looking out at this graduating Framingham State College Master’s cohort, I can’t help but think of all the things we’ve learned over these last fifteen months.

We learned that $40 a class from each of us doesn’t get us towels in the restroom, let alone coffee or a decent classroom with actual space or much air conditioning. We learned that PSS wasn’t all that interested in paying us our raises according to their very own salary scale.

We learned that Massachusetts is solving its retirement funding problem by sending a steady stream of very old professors to Saipan.

We learned that Veronica is now ready to start her Ph.D.

We learned from Kim that Yahoo games and Microsoft Solitaire are essential educational research sites.

We learned that you could cram one whole family into one graduate class with Elizabeth, Peter, Lynn and soon to be Baby Jeff Mendiola in one cohort.

We learned that Joceyln is bringing radical feminism to Saipan by refusing to marry Jesse.

In our first class sitting in the frigid Airport Fire Department, we learned that very intense air conditioning is apparently the preferred method for putting out fires in the CNMI – water and fire extinguishers be damned.

That first class, incidentally, was the first, of many times we found out that Laurie was the only non-teacher in our group.

A few months later we took Dr. Cunningham’s class, and we learned the importance of essential questions and enduring understandings.

It wasn’t until the following class that we learned in Dan Hnatio’s class that the essential question was: “Why does a dog lick himself,” and the enduring understanding was: “a dog licks himself because he can.”

Dr. Cunningham also noted the importance of a hook, only in this class, at the end of the hook; most of us had a bag of chips. This group went to class with enough provisions for deployment to Iraq.

Of course I can’t skip over Dr. Lou’s class. We learned that collaborative leadership was letting Laurie or Aysem or Roselle or Rizalina do all the work on the projects while the rest of us kept quiet.

We also learned there that the legendary Packers weren’t just Lombardi, Starr, Hornung and Nitschke, there was also Fuccilo in the mix, and for the record, Dr. Lou is not my father.

Eventually the Christmas season came and we learned, yet again, that Laurie was the only non-teacher in the group. We also learned that Framingham will hire a guy like Roberto, the Japanese were misunderstood in WWII, Santos, since he is married to someone who can teach in Gemma and would carry his water while Roberto offered platitudes such as “it is not so fun to be poor.”

In Gemma’s class, we learned about the importance of activating prior knowledge, like when someone explained to Mark McDonald that a Chimichanga was like a burrito – only fried. Speaking of McDonald, we learned that you don’t have to live what you teach. McDonald is a health teacher. We all know that health class is about teaching kids not to have babies until the time is right, yet McDonald has three kids and has been on paternity leave at least twice in the brief four year history of Southern High. Having McDonald as a health teacher is kind of like having me teach you to slam dunk a basketball or how to star in your own shampoo commercial. McDonald, and his new bride, Ryan, who has two kids, have the potential for more offspring than a couple of boonie dogs at a Viagra buffet.


During our Spring Break, Framingham raided the retirement home again and sent out Mr. Benelli. We learned there that it was possible that we could pay $600 to conduct our own graduate class without a professor at all. My memory is a little fuzzy, was that guy ever really in the room at all?

This leads me up to the last two weeks where we learned something really scary: We might not get out of this program if they were going to send that Harvard guy Jilani with all those hard ass linguistics based pre-course assignments. It turned out that his bark was worse than his bite, and I believe we all got through the ESL class – even you Jim. We also learned that Laurie might be giving Gracie brain damage by speaking two languages to her.

It wasn’t until yesterday, in Dan Hnatio’s class, the sequel, that we really learned something: No, I’m not talking about the shotgun wedding of Ryan and Mark after all those months of sexual tension with those two: I’m still astonished that Bryan Jones is really Charles Jones. I haven’t been this shaken up since the Easter Bunny told me that Santa Claus was a fraud.

Anyway, it has been a heck of a journey guys. Congratulations to us all, we got it done, and as a culminating experience, I will be in the pool later and I brought my speedo.