Thursday, May 31, 2007

Herding cats with Sisyphus

There is about to be a small pissing match between Ambrose Bennett and ACT. Many people want a new teacher representative, and frankly, have wanted one for a long time. This story here describes the efforts to make the ACT president the teacher's representative to the board. I'm surprised it took this long, but I've already seen Ambrose's forthcoming letter to the editor, in which he is "shockingly" not so happy with this plan. He says anyone should be able to run for teacher rep. who is HQT with five years experience and gets 50 nominating signatures. He complained he wasn't part of this process. His term ends in January. You can read his thoughts very soon if you so wish. Here are mine, which I shared with a few concerned teachers.

A few thoughts on this. Ambrose, knew about the meeting, and certainly could have attended if he so wished. He didn't even have to be an ACT member to attend. Having said that, Ambrose's point that a person should be eligible to run for that position without even being in ACT, I believe, is valid theoretically. Practically, teachers are a disorganized, apathetic mess that a small number of people are trying to fix. Given the size of our bureaucracy, we should be the dominant political voice on this island. Instead we are an embarrassment of lost opportunity and lost potential for influence. And having said all that, this is actually an appointed position, so the election, including the one that elected Ambrose, is really more of an advisement to the governor, who may choose to ignore it anyway.

Bottom line, I feel it is pretty clear from the election that the teachers wish Miss Miller to be their voice. The time frame I suppose of when they want it could be debated. I think they want her there now, but I don't have data, other than the election and a strong show of hands at our meeting to back that up. I think the ACT election shows Miss Miller has a lot of support. Also, these are serious times for teachers, and Ambrose is in a lame duck position. Ambrose has done a lot, especially early in the term. One thing he has not been able to do, and I don't fault him totally on this, is organize a mass of teachers. That clearly isn't an easy job. Ambrose acknowledged this in his letter: "To represent all the teachers, ACT must have the majority as members or they will face the same challenges I faced, which is speaking for all the teachers WITHOUT their support," Bennett said.

I think Miss Miller would have much more support. It won't be easy for her, either, galvanizing teachers, and it isn't all on her shoulders, as it wasn't on Ambrose's shoulders. Again, teachers have been a bitter failure at standing up for themselves and there is no sugarcoating it. Now there are things going down with layoffs and 90 day notices, and there is only a beginning system of support for those who sat from the sidelines for all these years.

A big fight here will create a lot of noise and little else -- and these are serious times. It will doubtlessly turn off teachers from participating. Then we are back where we started. Again. Getting teachers to do much as one is like herding cats with Sisyphus.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

When we was Fab and Ruszala like


Ok, given Brad's picture show when I had something slightly resembling hair, which should illustrate why I buzz it off completely, I'll open myself to scorn and ridicule and show what I looked like with hair in my peak physical condition as a high school senior in 1989/90. The hair went very young, and it wasn't a good feeling. Only when I buzzed it completely did I stop worrying about it. I stopped regular weight training and regular sports activity long ago - obviously. I do try to walk and swim and occasionally shoot hoops. I've had one or two renaissance periods of working out with some intensity, but never enough to equal Brad's Metrosexual intensity, and without the motivation of the potential for new women, unless my wife dumps me, I'll probably never get there again. This photo was taken after a summer of intense training, and it is indeed quite legitimate. Remember I do have feelings, and dis dog bites back. I already said on the Beach Boy's Blog I will make no distinction between Brad Ruszala and those who harbor Brad Ruszalas. You're either with us or with Jolibee's Playmate of the Month.

Monday, May 28, 2007

On Article XII, the Chamber and Tina Sablan

Ricky Delgado in his recent letter mentioned the absurdity of Article XII, the law that limits who can own land here, and noted land prices in Hawaii are through the roof and how Saipan would benefit from fee simple real estate. I just read Frank say on Angelo's blog, there's "nothing wrong" with it, which I know is the prevailing view here on that issue. People think they'll get a free house, free land, free sounds good, so keep it. If I didn't have land, and was indigenous, I'd probably like it. If I owned land already, I wouldn't. As someone who generally believes in economic freedom and treating adults as adults, not children who can't handle their own economic affairs, I think it has to go.

There is something very wrong with Article XII. I've heard from multiple good sources that the few local families with money are buying all the land up now on the cheap from the economically desperate. I'll make the prediction that they'll use their political influence to end Article XII and they just created their own personal money machine. It makes good business sense to do this. I'd buy land now, too. It makes sense to buy things when they're cheap. The problem is land is cheap because of Article XII and the lousy economy, so it is practically being given away. Wall Street couldn't create a scheme as good as this one since Wall Street hasn't created a law that upends the first principle of economics: Supply and Demand.

If a business could only legally sell M&M's to people 6'4'' and above with nine toes, would they sell more M&M's? Would there be demand to drive the price up? Do you think the land owners, once they get as much land as they can on the cheap in this cataclysmically poor economy with 46 percent plus in poverty, will leave all that free money just sitting out there uncollected? Do you think these people won't have the influence to change this stupid law? Post Article XII, which will happen, are they going to say to the average Sablan, Villagomez or Babauta, you're Chamorro, I'll give it to you for a discount from the market rate. Haven't the garment factories proven over the last twenty years that it isn't that hard to buy off this government to do the bidding of the few connected people versus the interests of the majority, who live in poverty according to the legal definition. The last count in the U.S. census was 46 percent in 2000, and you can bet the rent that number hasn't gotten better. Someone has to wake up here.

When Article XII ends, the price of land will go up a lot overnight. One of the reasons the U.S. economy hasn't imploded from war, massive budget and trade deficits, income disparities and a Neanderthal in office, is the fact that homes have increased in value dramatically over the last few years, which is now cooling off. People have borrowed against that value via home equity loans to go out and buy ipods, dinners, vacations and whatever else they want, an invaluable economic tool that is non-existent here. Spending money moves an economy, and to spend money you need to have money. How do we get it: Wages (often lousy here), borrowing (virtually impossible and if so, expensive) and spending less on other necessities like gas and power (through the roof here, especially in the last few years).

This lack of a credit market is perhaps the primary reason our economy stinks. A twenty nine percent loan from Tony Soprano, I mean Wells Fargo or the neighborhood loan shark doesn't lead to much borrowing and much spending and much economic activity. But people hold on to those dreams of a free house, so let's just keep Article XII, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it severely limits the value of land, not to mention the racism that discriminates against those even born here. It is a blatant violation to the 14th Amendment and its equal protection clause. I'm not enough of a CNMI constitutional scholar to know how they get away with that. Plus valuable members of the community might actually stay here, where they have a home, instead of leaving as frequently as they do. Dr. Sawer and Dr. George, the two top surgeons at the hospital, just flew the coop. That is an enormous loss for this island. I don't know how many good teachers I've seen leave in the past couple years. They might stay if they had a home here. On top of that, people treat things they own a lot better than things they rent. People care more about their hometown, not their "apartment town." Remember your last rental car?

It would be amazing if something as prone to screw ups as the federal government actually fixes the three things most messed up here: wages, immigration and Article XII. They've finally started to fix one.
***
I've heard and talked to some Chamber members about the wage issue, and I don't think they'll meet and come up with this position, at least I hope, but here is what their president said. Granted there is the caveat, "who spoke as an individual business."
Following this argument, Guerrero said he doubts the increase in the paychecks
of minimum wage earners will be significant enough to spur economic
activity.“Those who will get a raise will continue to save their money for
more important things. They will still be cautious about spending. Besides,
with the increased cost of doing business, prices will go up everywhere
definitely,” he said.

First the prices retailers charge are scandalous. The wages they've been paying are equally scandalous. The implications of those wages are the demoralization of most people in the CNMI and a bloated, unsustainable bureaucracy. The price of most everything has gone up in the last eleven years, especially gas and power, are you telling me businesses can't adjust to paying .50 cents more after a government paid lobbyist earned millions in government money for this free ride all this time. Plus your telling me it destroys businesses, but won't help workers. Cmon.

“The wage increase is good for the employees, but bad for the employers. The
timing, everything is against us. Fifty cents at 80 hours is $40. Not many
businesses will be able to sustain this additional cost. You can expect layoffs,
reduction in work hours to take place,” said Guerrero, who spoke as an
individual business.
People will still buy food and tires and fix their cars and so on and so forth. I'm sure someone can make it work and pay a meager $3.55.
***
A quick thought on Tina Sablan. I loved her letter, and agreed with most all of it, and supported it publicly on multiple occasions. She is not, however, the only, or even the leading voice of protest on this island, as many letter writers would make people believe. Some people have been doing it a lot longer, a lot more regularly and before it was so trendy. I've also heard that she has not exactly played nice with Beautify CNMI.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A lesbian, a comedian and a Saipan columnist walk into a bar

I'm watching Fox News this morning, which is entertaining in a way similar to watching monkeys throwing poop at each other, and the Right Wing talking heads are going absolutely bananas about Rosie O'Donnell. I don't watch The View, I'm a guy after all, so I looked her up to see what she did to get the Sith to foam at the mouth like this. There are some things that are a little whacky like her conspiracy theories on 9/11 and her take on the British sailors in Iran, but the rest seems pretty tame. The Donald Trump controversy is especially absurd. She said Donald Trump isn't the moral arbiter of young people (owing to some nonsense about a Miss USA candidate seen drinking dear God that he gave a pass to) given his multiple marriages, and that turned into a media frenzy, as if that statement was so controversial. She got into some yelling match with Elizabeth Hasselback, a panelist on The View I never heard of before, but who is pretty hot, and let's face it, that matters.

I'm not saying Rosie has key insight, she doesn't, and she talks about things she really has no idea about, like the two things I mentioned above, but talk about overkill on the anti-Rosie stuff. She's "anti-military," as if Rosie is any match for a $439 billion, high tech killing machine. That's not a knock on the military, it is a mock of the Pit Bull versus Yorkshire Terrier nature of that fight, and how the right feels the need to wrap themselves up in the flag, eliciting all the emotion of most every war movie ever made, and protect "the military" against her on Memorial Day Weekend. They're so shameless. I can just see the military history books: Scaled 100 meter cliffs under heavy German fire at Pointe Du Hoc in the Normandy Invasion, fought a desperate and crazed Japanese army at Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Saipan, pulled off a daring invasion in Incheon, Korea, cowed by mild criticism from daytime talk show, so needed to call in reinforcements from Fox News for political pandering to ward off total obliteration. We've gone from defeating the Nazis and Imperial Japan simultaneously, then staring down the Evil Empire to warding off mild attacks from Rosie about a war the vast majority of people in the world, other than the Kooks as Bill O'Reily would say, oppose. What's that old saying about judging yourself by your enemies.

Most disturbing is seeing Dennis Miller on Fox News as a Right Winger now. You can't possibly be a comedian with any credibility and do fundraisers with the president and ride on Air Force One, and say of Bush: "I like him, I'm going to give him a pass. I take care of my friends." He explains his conversion as: "Nine-11 changed me. I'm shocked that it didn't change the whole country, frankly."

I just want to know how someone as smart as Miller can see Bush reading My Pet Goat after being informed the country was under attack, invading the wrong country and setting a presidential record for vacation time, and think yeah, that's the answer right there. That's the decider for me! Look at that face! It's like a guy who went to medical school at the University of Phoenix and all of a sudden, he's got a real patient, who needs real surgery and he can't fake it anymore. He looks as perplexed as Mike Tyson on Celebrity Jeopardy. This is what happens when you mock "Elites." You get faces like this in a crisis.

Andy Card informing Bush about 9/11: "We're under attack, but keep reading, I must know what happens to the goat!" - Jon Stewart

Back in the day, I thought Miller was great, and it wasn't because he got his laughs mocking Right Wingers like Bill Maher does so well now, he didn't, he was just funny. His Black and White special was seminal. His follow up from Washington was great, too. I don't recall them as being political, and to the extent they were, they were mocking Clinton. His stand up specials in Aspen before 9/11 when he admitted he "changed" and in Las Vegas, post 9/11, were spectacularly unfunny. Again, not for politics, just for being unfunny. This was what I said at the time as well. I loved Miller's comedy prior, so his comedic downfall wasn't something I enjoyed. Here is a great write up on this strange turn of events on Miller from SFGate.com:

"Everyone used to think of him as cool and articulate and hilariously
hyperintelligent and able to dissect relatively complicated issues with
deliriously inspiring rants that were able to sub-reference Nietzsche and
Bela Lugosi and chaos theory usually all in one sentence. What a pathetic
and moribund loss. What a sad blow to articulate thinking. What bilious and
dank forces of right-wing fearmongering and neurosis and tax-break bullshit
must've attached themselves like rabid leeches to Miller's seething soul to
suck him so far over to the Dark Side. Dennis Miller, the new
RushHannityStern of the Right. How sad."

Here's my take Miller style:

I hate to get off on a rant here, but I haven't seen such a spectacular fall from grace since Dirk Diggler started a new career giving handjobs for money in a discount store parking lot and got the shit kicked out of him by some closet cases at the end of Boogie Nights. You used to be a comedian with an edge, now you're Carrot Top meets Bob Novak without the street cred. You give it up to the man with greater alacrity than a freshman sorority girl on her ninth Everclear Jello-Shot at Homecoming. I haven't seen someone turn over to the dark side like this since Obi Won gained the high ground at the lava pits of Mustafar. When you went all Robert Johnson and sold your soul to the devil at the crossroads, your skills should have improved -- but you're as funny now as a trauma ward in Darfur after a plate of ebola laced cocktail franks. Was it that hard to keep writing jokes? If middle age means going from edgy to agent of dishonest, establishment idiots, you might be the first reason to smile that Hendrix never saw 28. Like Cobain passing out in Rome, the warning signs were there when you fake laughed to Dan Fouts' jokes on Monday Night Football. Now you're more machine than man. Maybe your kids can one day defrost your frozen integrity from that block of carbonite Jabba the Limbaugh keeps hanging in his heavily medicated apartment. Congrats on finding a way to still get a paycheck and rest in peace, Dennis. Of course that's my opinion, I could be wrong.

****

All the crying is over, and the CNMI finally has a minimum wage hike. This is a done deal. It is now law. There will be a .50 cent increase in 60 days and another a year later and every year until 2015. That increase means $20 a week per worker in 60 days. If $20 per week per worker was the difference between staying open or not, you probably weren't going to make it anyway. It also means that $90,000 for a lobbyist to stop this long overdue increase was a total waste of money. As Angelo said, imagine what Beautify CNMI could have done with that $90,000. Well that money just got flushed -- great work Capitol Hill.

First, the garment factories were gone anyway, so as soon as that cancer is gone, the CNMI can start to restore its reputation, and make a fresh start. The sooner Saipan isn't associated with Abramoff, exploitative wages and sweatshops, the better. Tony Muna was on television saying the government is anticipating a total end to the industry anyway for budgetary planning purposes. Good bye and good riddance. Bree wrote a great post on this in her blog. It provides some great insights into the problems of the local economy.

I'm thinking of all the businesses where I spend my money most often: Java Joes, Blockbuster Video, Joeten Susupe, Joeten Dandan, Wild Bill's, Spicy Thai, ELS Auto Shop, Bobby Cadillacs, Godfather's Bar, Shell Gasoline, Casa Urashima, Daycare, my apartment. I won't buy any retail commodities here other than food because those places treat us all like idiots. I can't imagine any of those businesses being impacted in a significant way other than maybe the Daycare center, and if those people make more money and it costs me more, they more than deserve it.

This model we've had is flawed for the vast majority of locals and foreigners alike and everyone knows it. Let the healing begin. And incidentally, if this means that Filipinos go back to the Philippines and Chinese back to China, then that is actually probably a good thing for them to start fixing the problems in their own countries. I was in the PI in March, looked at the employment pages, and they are all about leaving the PI. No country can prosper with the best and brightest leaving it. Filipinos, including those here, need to fix their own country, not just flee it - and I realize that is a very hard job that won't be done overnight. Even if the workers here got U.S. citizenship and could therefore make more money, yeah that is good for you, but it does nothing to solve the myriad problems in the Philippines -- it just pushes the problem to others.

****

The debate over whether Bruce Bateman is evil continues with both sides mixing it up. Dengre sneered at us progressives a little bit for not hitting Bruce hard enough. As I said before, Bruce is not "evil." When I think of evil, I think of Hitler, Stalin, Cheney, the Khmer Rouge and the guy who invented Karaoke. A politically incorrect Milton Friedman disciple and Saipan Tribune columnist who has donated time and money to the arts, the soccer team and the CNMI teacher of the year, doesn't crack that Murderer's Row. His economics are extreme. His joke was crude and unnecessary. Evil he's not. There are shades of grey.

***

I agree with 90 percent of what Ricky Delgado wrote today's, but I'm not as quick to give Fitial a pass as Delgado is. Fitial isn't the worst person who could be in that job, which is a surprise given his long career as errand boy to the garment factories. I think he's trying to do the right things sort of on efficiency. I would bet the world he won't run again. From what I can tell, he's too sick, too old and too unpopular, and I've heard through the grape vine he has said he won't run again. He barely won last time against a wildly unpopular incumbent and then doing many controversial things now. That don't run again path lets him do the right thing, straighten out the mess and be remembered well down the line. Or it gives him the opportunity to rob the store as best he can and give it away to his friends with impunity if he chooses the dark path.

The problem is he lied through his teeth to get elected promising a surcharge reduction he could never pull off, and in fact making CUC rates much higher. He also clearly lied about supporting the schools. He hasn't done anything, and in fact, has funded education much less. I never believed either promise for a second, so it bothers me less than it bothers others. He loses fiscal credibilty with the Jesus Camacho patronage and the $90,000 flushed down the drain on a lobbyist, not to mention the junkets to Hawaii and the mainland by a large legislative delegation, which I suppose isn't Fitial's fault, but it does blend in with waste during this fiscal emergency. Fitial also has no mandate at all, having not even won Saipan. Delgado's letter suggests Fitial was some kind of outsider inheriting all these problems. Fitial was speaker of the House. He had a huge stake in this goverment before he became governor. I agree with him strongly on the poker room versus casino point, Article XII and the need for citizen involvement.

***

To end on a cheery note, here is a link to picture of one hundred plus young, naked Japanese girls. My favorite part, given the lack of even a C-Cup, is the fact that naked or not, they are all giving the standard peace sign Japanese girls use in every picture they ever take.



Friday, May 25, 2007

The Guest Worker Bill Updated

The big news of the day is House Bill 15-38, which seeks to change the amount of time immigrant workers can stay on island to a limit of 54 months, presumably for the purpose of employing locals in the private sector. The Tribune is silent on the bill. Here is the Variety's synopsis:


"Foreign workers will be required to exit the CNMI every 54 months or four
and-a-half years, and will not be allowed to transfer to another employer at the
expiration of their contracts, according to a 63-page bill that seeks to change
— yet again — the commonwealth’s labor laws and regulations. House Bill 15-38 —
which is backed by the Fitial administration and will be introduced by Rep.
Cinta M. Kaipat, Covenant-Saipan – has been described as “anti-business” by
members of the business and legal communities."

Zaldy Dandan, a friend of mine and someone who is great at giving the straight dope especially on specific topics, excoriated the bill today. I prefer his more specific columns, like this one, to his paeans to uber-limited government. His points seem pretty persuasive to me.

Cinta has enough of my esteem to convince me otherwise, and I'm eager to hear her comments on this bill. My initial reaction is I can't see how this bill helps the problem of employing local folks. They, understandably, don't want to work for $3.05. Those abysmal wages are more competitive in the Philippines and China, albeit still abysmal. Businesses can just bring in another guest worker, but now they have to train a newbie instead of keeping the experienced worker, so there would be a loss of efficiency. This bill, according to Z's column, allows locals to sue if a foreigner gets the job and they don't, so locals could be paid for nothing. I suppose some people will like that, sadly a lot actually, but that is indeed business unfriendly, not to mention the idea of losing a long term, successful employee because four and a half years are up. According to Dandan:

"This latest “reform” bill, moreover, creates “a whole new cause of action
created for unsuccessful local job applicants. They can sue and get six months
wages, plus damages plus attorney’s fees if an employer hires a foreign worker
instead of a ‘qualified’ local. No other criteria are allowed to be considered:
employment history, criminal history, work ethic, attitude etc.”Here, clearly,
the intent is to obligate the private sector to take in locals that the broke
government can no longer afford to hire. As if this would finally persuade local
residents to take $3.05-an-hour jobs doing real work."
I actually don't see anyone liking this bill: businesses, contract workers and even locals, except those that might sue and get money for nothing. Maybe if they get their "chicks for free" it will be a better bill. Let's hear your story on this one, Cinta.
***
I watched Cinta's interview on KMCV, and I think she is very sincere in thinking this bill will improve employment among locals. She mentioned the provisions about orientations that will eliminate the sham jobs where immigrants pay businesses to say they have a job just to stay here. That is a positive element. Down the line when the wages go higher, this bill might turn out positive for local workers. For the next few years, no one will much like it. I don't think $3.55 will motivate people much more than $3.05 did.
***
I enjoyed Ed Propst's long, necessary lashing out about the sludge dumping, and not because it mentioned me favorably. I am glad to see someone new overcome this:

"For several months, I have sat by quietly, saying nothing when I really should have been saying something. Being an entrepreneur and a business owner, I bit my tongue when I wanted to lash out. Maybe it was because I was afraid I might end up offending and losing a potential business client. Or maybe it was because I thought someone else would speak up for me."

The old saying notes "Silence equals approbation," so the more people that speak out against the endless parade of nonsense here, the better. Welcome to the party Ed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back in my day

I guess this is one of those posts where I know I am getting old. I graduated high school in 1990 -- amazing enough to me as I remember the last day of school and graduation like it was yesterday. That was a distinct thought I had chaperoning the prom last week. I enjoy high school graduation, unlike most teachers, even though graduation is hot and long -- and coming up in two weeks. I think graduation is a great day in the students' lives and I enjoy their excitement.

I went to a middle class high school in New Jersey, a fairly wealthy state. The place where I grew up, a town called Sayreville, famous only for being Bon Jovi's boyhood home, did have, and as far as I know still has, a long history of not supporting the school system. In Asia they know Bon Jovi, but I gently nudge them toward Bruce Springsteen, much less known in Asia by the way.

In Sayreville, all the old people would vote against the school budget, as this was a Sayreville tradition, and their kids weren't in school and voting against school funding got them out of the house. In New Jersey voters must approve the school budget, and they all came from the Bruce Bateman School of Economics. Calling them out on it was the first public imbroglio I was involved in, and it started my general antipathy for the AARP. I was only seventeen at the time, which really irritated the blue haired voters. Little did I know that almost twenty years later I'd still be agitating for greater school funding against an equally intransigent force over here -- though obstinate for different reasons. It is a never ending fight Bonnie.

I actually ended up running for the school board as a high school senior and would have signed my own diploma if I had won. I got trounced largely because I was honest, attacking the old people for screwing the young kids, and that is why I decided to become a journalist, not a politician. Later I found out how silly a lot of journalism was and I was in the wilderness for a while.

This is from the Star Ledger archive 4-26-90, impossible to link directly to, and naturally called "School Budgets Fare Poorly in Middlesex County Vote."

"Sayreville had a somewhat unusual election this year, with two incumbents
knocked out of office and a teen-age candidate, who lost. Jeffrey Turbitt,
an 18-year-old senior at Sayreville War Memorial High School, did not pull
an upset but vowed he will return to the election ring in the future. 'In
four years I shall return,' Turbitt said. 'Definitely, I shall return.'
Turbitt said.

I wasn't MacArthur, I lied about returning as it "turns" out. None of this is my main point yet. In elementary school we would go on a class trip every year -- the Zoo, the Science Center in Philadelphia, a few Revolutionary War locales, NJ was key in that fight, the United Nations and one of the many New York museums. From seventh grade on, we didn't go anywhere. Zippo. Nothing.

Today, kids get to go all over the place -- even in a broke, won't fund education place like this. Now, a lot of the funding isn't public money, in fact probably most all of it is from fundraising. The funding comes from selling junk food that makes this place so diabetes stricken. This isn't unique to the CNMI. Fund raising via junk food was a staple then and now. Kids on island have gone to Cape Canaveral (Mt. Carmel I believe), Space Camp (SIS). Students here have gone to Guam and Korea on multiple occasions. The entire class from a Japanese high school visits here each year. The mock trial team makes it to various spots in the mainland. NHS has gone to Hawaii, Disneyworld and other locations. My son is going to the Wax Museum and World Resort tomorrow on a school trip. I don't begrudge them this at all, and I'm a firm supporter and believer in field trips. These kinds of activities rank high on Dale's Cone of Experience, a tool that ranks instructional methods. I'm just saying, back in my day we didn't get this kind of stuff.

God, I'm getting old already.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What if they had a funeral and no one cried?

When someone dies, and people still can't bring themselves to speak well of them, you know they were pretty awful. The most classic example was H.L. Mencken's eulogy, To Expose a Fool, of William Jennings Bryan, who died shortly after the Scopes Trial ended. Mencken's acid pen uttered:

"Bryan lived too long, and descended too deeply into the mud, to be taken seriously hereafter by fully literate men, even of the kind who write school-books. There was a scattering of sweet words in his funeral notices, but it was not more than a response to conventional sentimentality. The best verdict the most romantic editorial writer could dredge up, save in the eloquent South, wasn't the general effect that his imbecilities were excused by his earnestness--that under his clowning, as under that of the juggler of Notre Dame, there was the zeal of a steadfast soul. But this was apology, not praise.

This talk of sincerity, I confess, fatigues me. If the fellow was sincere, then so was P.T. Barnum. The word is disgraced and degraded by such uses. He was, in fact, a charlatan, a mountebank, a zany without any shame or dignity. What animated him from end to end of his grotesque career was simply ambition--the ambition of a common man to get his hand upon the collar of his superiors, or, failing that, to get his thumb into their eyes. He was born with a roaring voice, and it had the trick of inflaming half-wits against their betters, that he himself might shine. His last battle will be grossly misunderstood if it is thought of as a mere exercise in fanaticism--that is, if Bryan the Fundamentalist Pope is mistaken for one of the bucolic Fundamentalists. There was much more in it than that, as everyone knows who saw him on the field. What moved him, at bottom, was simply hatred of city men who had laughed at him so long, and brought him at last to so tatterdemalion an estate. He lusted for revenge upon them. He yearned to lead the anthropoid rabble against them, to set Homo neandertalensis upon them, to punish them for the execution they had done upon him by attacking the very vitals of their civilization. He went far beyond the bounds of any merely religious frenzy, however inordinate. When he began denouncing the notion that man is a mammal even some of the hinds at Dayton were agape. And when, brought upon Darrow’s cruel hook, he writhed and tossed in a very fury of malignancy, bawling against the baldest elements of sense and decency like a man frantic--when he came to the tragic climax there were snickers among the hinds as well as hosannas. "


Well, Jerry Falwell passed last week and he engendered a similar lack of good will. I didn't burst into applause or anything on this news, but I was not the least bit bothered and didn't feel any skinner box, society inflicted, knee jerk remorse at the passing of this divisive blowhard. The most extensive denunciation of Falwell was by the Butcher of Broadway himself, Frank Rich, who penned a piece called The Reverend Falwell's Heavenly Timing in the Sunday Times. Bill Maher offered a funnier homage on his show Friday night in a New Rule called "Death isn't always sad."
“Millions of Americans (upon hearing the news) asked, why, why God, why
couldn't you take Pat Robertson with him? Now I know you’re not supposed to
speak ill of the dead, but I think we can make an exception, because speaking
ill of the dead was kind of Jerry Falwell’s hobby. He was the guy who said aids
was God's punishment for homosexuality and 9/11 was brought on by gays,
feminists, pagans and the ACLU, or as I like to call them, my studio
audience. ”

Zing, bop!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Angelo's visit and other musings updated

I invited Angelo to be a guest speaker to my class on Friday. It was a really fun day, and he did a great job. I believe it is always good to bring in a fresh face and a new voice from time to time. He spoke off the cuff and well. I chimed in to amplify a point or to crack wise. I've read about team teaching, and if this is any indication, I like it. He spoke to my seniors about Beautify CNMI, blogging, developing your communication skills and going off to college in the states as a Chamorro.

In Asia, students just don't speak very much. It is just a fact of life that takes some getting used to. Angelo opened with a question and got the usual response, very little. My favorite quote of the day, and one I'm still laughing about two days later, was when Angelo was imploring the students to develop speaking and writing skills and said, "Talking is not something just white people do."
***
Ken is back. I'm glad, as his is one of my favorite blogs. In other blog news, Commonwealth Soundoff, a new and I thought encouraging blog, is locked and viewable only to the invited. I can't even begin to understand that one. It is too stupid for further comment. I took them off my blogroll the day after adding them.
***
I talked to one of the Taste of India people, and they are indeed coming back to a new location on Middle Road. They are opening in Guam in July.
***
After years at Wild Bill's, Stella is gone. She was like my own personal Filipina Helen Hunt character from As Good As It Gets. I wasn't as big a dick as Nicholson as Melvin Udall. She apparently was accused of theft and the legal allegations remain to be sorted out. My breakfast here will never be the same. My favorite three waitresses have departed the Sam's/Wild Bill's scene over the last few years. None remain. There are new and creative ways to make this island worse. She pleaded the fifth when I asked her about it.
***
I visited our friendly, neighborhood, overpriced Costco, and this Ipod, $234 on Amazon, was $449 at Costco. Anyone who buys that at Costco is too rich, too stupid, needs to be gang slapped -- or all three. This is what I'm talking about when I lash out at island retailers when they bitch about poor sales. Retailers here make it impossible to buy things here and not feel like an idiot. There is no way shipping, or anything else, accounts for nearly double the price on a one pound Ipod.
***
There is currently an online backlash set assail by Dengre regarding Bruce Bateman's column on the Nepalese man who set himself on fire. I emailed Dengre and told him that Bruce isn't evil, and in fact has done some good things with fund raisers for local arts and sports groups, and helped to reward the teacher of the year after the government stiffed her. I explained that he is an affable guy with whacky Right Wing politics who spouts off in the company paper with no regard to political correctness and sometimes sensitivity at all. The guiding rule for comedy and satire is to go after the rich and powerful, not the poor, oppressed, desperate and mentally unstable. Bruce missed that memo. I urged Dengre to focus on more evil people like sweatshop mouthpiece Richard A. Pierce , who knows better and says with a straight face that $3.05 is ok because that is more than China, or Danny Aquino, who has quite a record of Filipino and American bashing in the Tribune archive, but Dengre is a relentless guy and he seems pissed about Bruce, so I'm not sure how this shakes out. A movement is afoot to make Bruce Keith Olberman's Worst Person in the World, but I don't think Bruce will make the cut. It is funny to search Bruce's name in the Tribune archives and see how many angry responses he gets to his column. He has managed to piss off a broad array of people. I responded to him once over something he said about PSS. I'm sure he'll enjoy being the Cruella de Ville of liberals. You're just not Cheney enough to get the Olberman endorsement from this flaming lefty, Bruce.
***
Lost continues to be great. The only thing is, they have this climactic battle set up with the Others for the finale next week, but since there are three more seasons to go, as recently announced, it is guaranteed to be anti-climactic. I started thinking about that as it was getting tense in the last episode.
***
The Yankees continue their putrid play. Joe Torre has been a great manager, but he is symbolic of this whole team: highly paid, lacking fire and over the hill/past his prime. This team could use a fiery guy like Bobby Valentine, Larry Bowa or Billy Martin's ghost. The New York papers are all over these guys -- deservedly.
***
One thought while walking last night: Best Song of the 60s - A Day in the Life by The Beatles, 70s - Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin, 80s -Bad by U2, 90s - Come as You Are by Nirvana and and of the 00s so far - Clocks by Coldplay.
***
I'm now an official member of the We Love Saipan network. I'd like the moniker, We Love Saipan, government excepted -- other than Cinta, but that is not as good a soundbite. That's why I can't run for office, not concise enough.

Seven Random Facts

Gus "tagged" me, so I'll play along with the request of the island's premiere uke virtuoso. RULES: Each player starts with 7 random facts/habits about themselves. People who are tagged need to write on their own blog about their seven things, as well as these rules. You need to choose four people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they have been tagged and to read your blog! I tag Ken, Sgt. Haugh (sadly leaving the island), Arin Greenwood (sadly left the island) and Young Master Tony Gomez, who has been blog slacking. I got into this one, so mine are long. Yours don't need to be, but I will hassle you if you skip out entirely.

1. I have had three distinct careers: 1. Journalist/Editor, 2. Stock/Option Trader and now 3. Teacher. While I have degrees in one and three, I don't attribute my failure in two to lack of degree. I have the most skill in one and three, but tried hardest in two, which was by far the most stressful, difficult and lucrative career I had. Career three has been the longest at six years. It is not impossible there will be a fourth some day. When my trading career ended, I went from the hardest, most stressful, most potentially lucrative job imaginable to one of the easiest, least stressful and most limited: English teacher in Korea. I was/am way happier in the latter, though sometimes I feel as if I'm not challenged enough and I can't stand the lack of intellectual curiosity in high school students. I try desperately to instill this quality, as that is the only way anyone will be educated -- personal intellectual curiosity leading to self initiative, reading, processing, reflection, etc. I'm not sure if that lack of curiosity is a high school thing or a Saipan high school thing, as I have only subbed in mainland high schools. I was so disturbed by this I contemplated switching to elementary school last year. My new found experience with kids showed me that the little ones want to know things. I observed a few classes at SVES, and realized that wasn't my scene at all, as I'm just not Mr. Empathy, which seems necessary at the Elementary School level. I offer a lot of direct, blunt fatherly advice to a lot of young men in the stead of the countless absentee fathers here, which might be of more value than my reading, writing, speaking instruction.

2. The first time I went overseas in my life was when I signed a teaching contract and moved to Incheon, Korea. There was this smell in the air like an electrical fire. The pollution is extreme in Incheon, the Pittsburgh of Korea. I felt like I landed on Mars. At 4 am and 4 pm there is an equal number of people, and this was on a Sunday turning Monday my first day. I arrived late Sunday evening, slept, and went for a walk at 4 am to witness this scene. It was like nothing I had experienced to date or since. Shortly after I took a trip to Japan and laughed hysterically roaming the streets of Osaka. I was amazed and astonished that I was roaming Japan on my own so very far, so suddenly, from New Jersey. I couldn't stop laughing for about 15 minutes and I wasn't even really sure why. On that trip, it took me about two hours to find my hotel coming back from roaming around town, even though I was close. A taxi driver wouldn't take me because he felt uncomfortable with a "gaijin." All I was doing was pointing to an address on the card. I didn't want to leave the taxi, we stared at each other a few seconds, exasperated, I just completely non-sequitered and named every Japanese player in Major League baseball I could think of and added Sadaharu Oh, the long retired Japanese Babe Ruth. He laughed and then took me. I went diving with an expat living in Japan who I related this story to, and he said it worked because I broke the tension. I was just exasperated and being zany. Whatever works, I got back to the hotel. All that time I watched baseball in my life does have some practical use.

3. I visited Saipan on a scuba diving trip from Korea and was told by the dive masters at Abracadabra that Saipan always needs English teachers. That night I sat up looking at the stars near the pool in my Garapan hotel and contemplated if I could live in such a small place for a "year." My contract in Korea ended in June, I went to Europe, I showed up here in mid-July, got hired at SSHS, and I'll be finishing my fourth year in a few weeks.

4. In heavily populated Seoul, some Korean guy would park his car on the very narrow streets in an illegal parking space blocking my apartment, which required me to walk all the way around the block to get into the door. Because of his lack of concern for others, I egged his car repeatedly to send the message. I drank myself into a stupor one night over the absurdity that I had egged a car at 30 years old, but I do feel he deserved it and don't particularly regret it. People will park their cars in the crosswalk in Seoul, not giving a damn that 300 people have to now dodge cars and take their life in their hands when the light changes. Cops let this go on. I complained vociferously about it to the cops, but the cars tend to be driven by rich, corporate executives. I saw a cop try to stop this once, and the driver said he was older than him, important in a Confucian society, so the cop got yelled at and stood there like a frightened puppy being taught a lesson by the alpha dog. My friend stomped all over these cars in his military boots. I mean stomped on the hood of the car. I would merely tell them off. If someone did this in New York City, they might get dragged out of their car and have the shit kicked out of them. That's why inconsiderate nonsense happens less in NYC -- someone might snap. Apparently there is a positive side to violence. I would be content to tell them off. Ugly American or bald, justice fighter, you decide, but I feel firmly in the right on this one as well. People would walk down the streets in residential neighborhoods, screaming, honking horns at 4 am. One would think a person would be sensitive to others living in such a crowded place, but the opposite is true in Seoul.

5. In college I was obsessed with the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. I went to Carnegie Hall to hear a performance of his Eighth Symphony, the so called Symphony of a Thousand, as somewhere near 1,000 people are required to pull it off. It isn't his best symphony, but it is quite a sonic display. Because it requires so many people with multiple choirs in a seating section, it is hard to get a ticket. I went to many concerts in college, and almost always got in paying $5 bucks to someone stuck with an extra. No deal on this one. As the curtain fell, I just walked in sans ticket, classical concert goers are almost all in their 60s so gate crashing is uncommon, and I figured I'd find an open seat in the nosebleeds somewhere. There were none. Ticketless and seatless, I feigned vertigo to the usher, who put me in the front row next to him in an usher's seat. This was one of my all time displays of chutzpah.

6. I learned my first instrument at 27, the bass guitar. I was good enough to play some songs, and had a band in Korea. Overall, I am simply not good enough, despite extensive effort, and it infuriates me. It infuriated the neighbors, too when I first started. One time, another Korea story, someone pulled some ungodly loud act at 4 am, my next door neighbor. I worked at 6 am, so before heading out, I turned the amp to the wall, put my bass processor on octave doubler, tuned down the bass, and I think I shook the fillings out of the mouth of this numbnuts. Bass frequencies travel far and wide, and this could easily knock the pots and pans out of a cabinet in the next apartment. Don't EVER get into a battle of noise with a bass player with decent gear.

I took a left brain right brain test, and in things like writing and verbal ability, I was ridiculously strong in. The side that covered math and music I was ridiculously weak, which explains a lot. I had straight D's in all math classes. I'd still be in 10th grade Geometry if not for Joanne Vasile, whose paper I peaked at on occasion. Music didn't come easily and naturally, though I remember writing a paper or two at 3 AM in college and doing ok. I was double remedial in math, which meant I had to do 22 credits my last semester to graduate. While I admire writers and am an English teacher, my classroom is decorated with posters of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Monet paintings, the School of Athens by Raphael and scuba pictures. In short, I admire musicians, painters and non-fiction writers infinitely more than classical literary authors. When I hear Victor Wooten or Geddy Lee or Steffan Lessard, bass players I admire, I am envious and awed. When I read writers I admire, Matt Taibbi, Noam Chomsky, David Halberstam or Anthony Bourdain, I admire them but am not as awed, as I feel I could do what they do if I had to, but not what Wooten, Lee or Lessard do if my life were on the line.

7. When I got here I was single, I wanted to get married someday, but never really wanted to have kids. I married my wife, who had two kids, within six months of our first date, and within two weeks of being engaged. The two tiered economy here had some influence on the speed of our marriage, which was inevitable. Read a contract of a CNMI contract worker and you'll want to vomit. They don't get jack other than they'll fly your body home if you die. I have a friend who has been cutting grass at this golf course where my wife worked. He has been there for more than ten years and he is still making $3.05. I asked him if he ever called out sick, and he told me he never missed a day in those ten years, and this is cutting grass in the blazing Saipan sun. He has taken a couple trips home, but never called in sick. They told them a few years ago there was no money for a Christmas Party, as if they couldn't throw $100 for beer and bbq for the people who allow them to charge Japanese $200 to hit a stupid little ball around. I can't name this loathsome place because they'd probably fire this guy over me calling them out. Also, these people have to deal with tempestuous customers like sweatshop lobbyist on the government dime Richard A. Pierce who sometimes treats golf course employees like garbage if they are late for their tee time.

Noam Chomsky wrote a renowned piece in 1967 called "The Responsibility of Intellectuals." I kind of view this piece like my own bible. In this essay Chomsky asked, what are the special moral responsibilities of intellectuals, "given the unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy" in Western capitalist democracies? His answer was that intellectuals have a "responsibility ... to speak the truth and to expose lies" and a duty "to see events in their historical perspective."

"With respect to the responsibility of intellectuals, there are still other,
equally disturbing questions. Intellectuals are in a position to expose the
lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and
motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they
have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information
and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy
provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth
lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology
and class interest, through which the events of current history are
presented to us. The responsibilities of intellectuals, then, are much
deeper than what Macdonald calls the "responsibility of people," given the
unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy."

It is long, detailed, and describes people who caused endless hardship knowing better. Someone like Cinta uses their power and education for the betterment of all people, while someone like Pierce, well educated yet amoral, is focused on his pocket and sophistry to keep rich factory owners rich. Rant concluded.

I'm putting the finishing touches on adopting my two stepchildren, who shall be officially Tubitts soon. Our kids turned out to be one of the best parts of being married. Because of the hassle of immigration, the expense of flying, and my parents' aversion to long flights, Cynthia still hasn't met my family in the two years we've been married.

Sorry to end on a hostile note.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Citizen participation needed

After years of poor planning and mismanagement, this community is facing some drastic decisions that will have enormous implications for many CNMI citizens. The more the community participates in these decisions, the wiser I believe these decisions will be. The less the community participates in these decisions, the more likely the usual factors of nepotism, re-election interests or just "bending over" for whatever the garment factories want will influence these decisions. I hope it is not the latter.

There are several community groups sprouting up, growing or reforming that will assist in this democratic process. These five groups and entities are all operating with different focuses and in different ways, but all of them are doing work that will benefit the CNMI and lead to more citizen participation and better decisions. I do not speak for any of them, but have participated in each in some small way, very small actually, but I would like to support them all.

After Tina Sablan’s manifesto was published, she followed through and has had open forums at various locations to solicit and organize ordinary citizen input into fixing the many problems with our government. This group is currently putting together voter’s guides for November that hopefully will lead to educated voters making decisions on issues, not on lawn signs and waving. This group is actively soliciting signatures to establish a run off election so the next governor will be elected by a clear majority and will have a clear mandate. Beyond that, this group is trying to make sure the Open Government Act applies to the legislature. Right now, the legislature is exempted. I can't imagine that anyone could read the minutes of the past meetings, on the website, and not come away convinced that ninety percent of the positions and suggestions by the public are infinitely better than anything that ever came out of Capitol Hill. There is a lot more information available at http://www.thecnmi.com/.

Next, there is a rise in the number of bloggers here in the CNMI. There are at least twenty different people writing about the CNMI from many different perspectives such as school principal, environmentalist, legislator, scuba instructor, lawyer, teacher and even student. There are many links to these blogs at http://www.welovesaipan.com/ or my own blog at http://turbittj.blogspot.com/.

Third, Beautify CNMI continues to grow and has received many awards for their efforts to clean up the island. The next cleanup will be on Saturday May 26th at 8:00 am at the Okinawa War Memorial. People can find much more about this group at http://beautifycnmi.blogspot.com/.

Beautify CNMI is also working with PAWS, the Pet Assistance and Welfare Service. Improving the plight of suffering animals isn’t just a moral issue, it is an issue of health, safety and economics. My friend Katie Busenkell recently wrote an extremely sensible, well reasoned opinion article on why solving the issues of our animals is in our economic and health interests, as the current state of the dog population lowers property values and is a turn off to tourists. More can be read here at http://www.paws-saipan.com/.

Finally, after a long period of indifference and infighting, the Association of Commonwealth Teachers has a set of new officers paving the way for a greater voice in education for actual teachers. ACT is meeting on Thursdays at San Vicente Elementary School at 6:00 pm and a new website is currently under construction. Inquiries can be made at cnmiactnow@aol.com.

All of these entities need and deserve more community involvement. The mechanisms are in place for more citizen involvement and more democracy. The people of this commonwealth need to get together to turn around and fix the many problems we face. Don't leave it just to our elected officials. They've had their turn and the reverse Midas Touch is evident.

Summer plans

Northwest finally announced their usual summer sale, so I'll be going away this summer thank God. I was starting to worry I'd be stuck here. I hate Saipan in the summer with the passion of a thousand white hot suns, which is what Saipan feels like in July. Actually, it isn't that bad, I just need a break from this little island in the Summer. I also used miles and will be going to Palau to dive and dive some more. I'm leaving for Palau the day after school ends. Teachers are every bit as fried by the end of the year as students, and I'm really looking forward to Palau and the States. I've been to Palau already, but I always wanted to go back. Last time I swam in that famous milky river with the rejuvenating mud, which I slathered all over my head. Alas, I'm still bald. Maybe a second treatment solves the problem.


There are many things I want to do. I'm going to see Rush in New Jersey. I saw them three years ago, and many other times. I snapped this photo of one of the world's great bass players, Geddy Lee, on that trip. Rush has a new album out that I'm still getting the feel for. On that note, Amazon is shipping through DHL, so stuff gets here from the states via Amazon like rapid fire now. I got the new Rush album two days after it was released. No, I won't just download it. This will be like my 12th time seeing Rush.
I'll see the Dave Matthews Band in Chicago, where I'll meet my newborn niece and hopefully make it to Wrigley Field as well. I'm going to be in Charlotte and Asheville, NC to meet up with one of my old college professors that I hang with for a weekend every year. I'll definitely hit up a few comedy clubs in New York City, as well as all the restaurants featuring cuisine I like but can't get here -- Portuguese and French especially. I'll probably make it to Yankee Stadium. I took a tour of the stadium last time, and it was way cool. I literally had chills walking on that field. I can't even slightly imagine what it must be like to play there. There was no one there, and it still felt like being in an immaculate place. It was more impressive in its own way than when I went to the Sistine Chapel, but I've been a baseball fan a long time. After the Yankees won the series in 1996, I jumped in my car, drove from central Jersey and just hung out and partied with everyone there at the Stadium. That was by far my favorite Yankee team and season. When Leyritz hit that home run off Mark Wohlers in Atlanta in Game Four of the World Series, wow. Well, memories are all I have right now considering this current Yankee team.

If luck holds out, I'll also get to meet up with Arin Greenwood, who departed Saipan only Saturday, but I already miss and hope to see in NYC. There is a newish band called the Secret Machines, I'd love to see, but nothing is scheduled for the moment. I'd love to catch Doug Stanhope as well, but he doesn't have any shows scheduled. I'm similarly hopeful of seeing Bill Maher, who rules the bleeping planet.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Advice for tourists in Saipan

I came to Saipan on a scuba diving vacation from Korea. I decided to move here on that trip. Saipan is great for a short vacation because once you are here, you are on the beach. If you go to Phuket or Koh Samui or Boracay you need to connect there from Bangkok or Manila. This fact makes Saipan more convenient. Saipan isn't as culturally fascinating as Bali or Thailand, and the beach isn't as nice as Boracay, and it isn't as cheap as any of the three, but it does have history, scenic views, good food, great golf courses, and one World Class dive, and many other good dives -- all with warm water and great visibility. If shopping is your thing, this isn't really the place. The DFS in Garapan has some high end stores, but shopping isn't our strong point. Golf, scuba, history and general relaxation are our things.

I'm going to offer a few tips for our Japanese tourists especially. This isn't designed to be everything, but I live here, and I think I know what is good, and what to look out for, see below.

Things to do:

Visit both CNMI Museums. The Museum in the Park is all about the Battle of Saipan in World War II. It is very well done and brand new with Japanese translations and all sorts of accounts of Saipan in WWII. The CNMI museum on Middle Road is all about Marianas history, and it is fascinating. Especially interesting is the exhibit on the "Castaways of Anatahan Island." These Japanese soldiers whose ship was sunk nearby and escaped to the island didn't believe the war was over until 1951. They lived there off the island and spent time mostly killing each other over the one woman on the island. Read and see everything about it at the CNMI museum.

Dinner Cruise is very nice. I've been on the Jade Lady a few times. This is a very nice evening.

Play Golf at King Fischer or Lau Lau Bay Golf Course. I'm not a golf expert, but I think these are the two nicest courses.

Dive the Grotto and snorkel at Managaha Island. The Grotto is an amazing, amazing place, but respect it, go with someone who knows the area, and be careful crossing over onto the rock. The snorkeling is great, but you might even try camping out at Managaha. Look up at the sky at night, you can see all the stars out here. This is very different from Japan and other places in the region. No place I've been has a sky like Saipan.

Eat at Casa Urashima and Giovanni's at the Hyatt. These are the two best restauarants without a close second. On the subject of food, eat at a place called Spicy Thai Noodle House and the Taste of India. Neither restaurant is in Garapan, so you'll have to leave the tourist area.

Stay at the Hyatt. This is the nicest hotel on island.

Visit the top of Mt. Topachao at sunset.

Visit the Mandi Spa at Mariana Resort. This is a beautiful Balinese Spa with many Japanese customers. I love this place. There is also a go cart track here. There is a horse trail ride here, but that trail ride stinks. There is also a company that offers trekking and biking to various spots. One of the best places is called Forbidden Island. This place can be dangerous also, so it is wise to go with someone who knows the area. This is really a place to see, but it is physically taxing. Read my post about it.

Neighboring Rota, a short plane ride, has a very different feel as compared to Saipan. There are no traffic lights, the people are very friendly. The diving is good. The food is not so good. I wrote about this in greater detail as well.

If you like to gamble, go to the Tinian Dynasty and go to the casino there. This is only a short ferry ride away, or a short flight.

Take the kids to the Wave Jungle at World Resort. This is a nice afternoon for kids. It is slippery in certain places there, so watch out for that.

The best beaches are kind of hard to find. Some require a hike through the jungle, and probably a guide.

Ladies, keep wearing those slinky outfits and smile if you see a short, stocky bald man.

If you are obsessed enough to want English lessons or an English tour on your vacation or other Saipan advice, email me at turbittj@yahoo.com

Things not to do:

Saipan is a safe place, but there have been some jerks stealing money from tourists. Do not leave large quantities of cash in your car. Do not leave anything valuable in your car. Leave it at your hotel. Only go out with the money you need. Thievery is fairly common here -- much more than Japan, but just don't leave money or valuables in your car and you won't have a problem.

Don't go out without sunscreen. I've seen some Japanese tourists with some incredible sunburn. The sun here is intense.

If this post was helpful, leave a comment and let me know.

The teacher purge updated

We had eleven teachers get notices that they won't be back next year due to funding issues. PSS is apparently under a directive to cut fifteen percent of its payroll. Some schools are slightly overstaffed relative to others, so this doesn't seem to be designed in a fair or completely sensible way. I saw one faculty member in tears -- not just a sniffle, either -- tears. She will be replaced by someone to do the job cheaper. I can't really say more on that one without identifying people, which I don't want to do. One of these people deserved it in the sense that they had a ridiculous class with few students, and not much was done in that class. He is a nice guy, just not really appropriate as a high school teacher.

Seven, I believe, were non-HQTs meaning they had not completed Praxis -- at least at the high school level. Some had passed the Elementary Education Praxis and will be transferring. I've heard that some have found jobs elsewhere. My sense is that they were all good teachers with the one exception. Incidentally, there is more to HQT than Praxis. Certain education courses are required as is CNMI history and cultural seminar, but there is a singular focus on Praxis. Many others are not HQT if factoring in those things. I think Praxis is a good thing in that I think there have been a fair number of teachers without the intellectual capacity to be in those kinds of jobs. Few of my peers agree with me on this, but I have kids in the schools, and I frankly wouldn't want my children in class with someone who can't pass the Praxis. Praxis isn't a measure of how good a teacher is at teaching, but it measures knowledge of the subject, and it is very hard to teach what you don't know. Measuring communicative ability is much harder.

These school cuts are really a factor of the community and the legislature being unwilling to financially support the schools. Today I was asked to donate money to put gas in the school's bush cutter. I'm not doing that on general principle. It isn't my job to fund school operations. The chickens are really coming home to roost after years of piss poor management, ridiculous invented jobs, spending on nonsense and lack of will to institute any real taxes.

For next year, I'm not quite sure what will happen with all those students in all those classes. Most classes are packed with 30 plus students. Thirty is far too many students for a language arts classes and others. This is the first year, and the last I'm sure, with a preparation period, something that is helpful for you know, preparing. A teacher's job isn't just the time with students, there are papers to correct, assignments to evaluate and lessons to plan, not to mention clubs and activities to supervise. There are constant adjustments that need to be made to help students progress in their intellectual development. The net result for next year will be more students, more classes, more babysitting, less teaching, less one on one interaction with students, and fewer labor intensive projects like term papers. I talked to one teacher who has gone from three formal papers per quarter to one. I've pretty much done the same.

Through the years I've watched teachers sit idly by and say little about the system. They also seldom get asked, and if they are asked, are ignored. Ambrose Bennett was elected teacher representative three years ago when hardly anyone voted and there was no campaign. He has tried to do certain things, most of them good, but many teachers had issues with him personally and offered minimal support. I don't even know what he is doing up there anymore. He used to report on board happenings, but I've heard nothing for a long time. ACT tried to reform last August, and that went nowhere with indifference and infighting. There is another reformation right now that looks much more promising. Teachers never got together, and now there is no one to fight for them when they need it. The tenure proposal was pushed aside to argue about the Praxis issue.

The local culture here is to stay quiet for fear of your job. Among Filipinos, that factor is amplified. Teachers from the states come and go, so while they are more willing to take a stand, they are also more likely to come and go in short order. I had about 10 mainland teacher colleagues come and go in the last four years. Teachers should have enormous political influence due to their numbers, but have none for the reasons I just described. The net result is what is going on now. Teachers are being played with as this debate about not opening school until October rages. Teachers will have more students, no preparation time, probably less pay and more urging to shut up and deal with their overcrowded, lousy facilities with minimal support. This is not an equal issue at all schools. The newer schools have better facilities, and some schools are more overcrowded than others. There is really a divergence in issues from school to school.

Today was a depressing day on the job, and I expect many more depressing days. I expect next school year will be my last.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Grass roots organizations

I went to two meetings this week of people concerned with the goings on in this community. I attended the ACT (Association of Commonwealth Teachers) meeting the other night. I've been to four or five of these this year. This is the first time I thought things were headed in a positive direction and that it was worth my time. ACT has a new president in Betty Miller, whom I've known since I arrived on island. Her daughter was my student and she was an involved parent. All year ACT has been sidetracked by the utter indifference to their own lives and careers by 98 percent of the teachers, and the two percent actively trying to help each other were engaging in personality conflicts and petty pissing matches. The net result is that ACT has been useless.

I get the sense, finally, that things are getting better. I think Betty and the new officers and the members might finally make something out of ACT. Given the number of teachers out there, we should have more political influence than we do, yet a lot of people tend to come and go from the system and can't be bothered, really.

Last night I went to Tina Sablan's Open Forum at the college, and this was a great experience. There were a lot of smart people making great comments and suggestions. Ninety percent plus of the things these people said made total sense. I've read the minutes to all the meetings, and everything in there with the rarest of exceptions makes total sense. I suggest you do the same and read them. This group is pushing hard for government accountability through a revision of the Open Government Act, setting up voters' guides that lays out the candidates actual views, thoughts and priorities, and generally laying out standards and challenges to fix the mess that is the CNMI. This will lead, I hope, to voting on actual issues, not on the number of signs a candidate has or how many people a candidate can get to wave at traffic.

I have to give props to Sen. Maria Pangelinan, the lone public official there last night. She is one of those recently elected leaders, like Cinta, that encourage me. Pangelinan really had to take the sins and anger about all the government mismanagement that has gone on through the years, and it was good of her to be there in a tough spot. She is a deficit hawk, which normally I appreciate, but I've read enough Keynes to agree that this would not be a bad time to run a deficit if ever there was one. I lay out the caveat that as long as the spending is going to important things like public education, public health, public safety, and something I'm certain needs more funding: Youth and Family Services because there is an astounding amount of verbal, physical and sexual abuse on this island that is making kids' lives hell.

The one thing these two meetings had in common were white people. I would like to see more indigenous people at both these meetings because I know they are as fed up with island happenings as the loud white people like me. There is an island habit, based on years I'm sure when this was a good idea, of just sitting quiet no matter what was done. Last year PSS violated the salary guide of about fifty of us in the Framingham Master's Program, yet I was the only one who would put my face and name to calling them on it, other than my one white friend I shamed into it. Incidentally, there were many white people upset about it who pussed out. I'm talking about you Ryan and Bryan. When the teachers got docked dramatically on the Praxis thing, an issue I was infinitely less sympathetic about, most said little.

The longest journey stars with one step, as the proverb goes, so it looks like we might be journeying in the right direction at least.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The AG Cup speech

I'm reluctant to criticize a high school student, but I'm reading the winning AG Cup speech in our local paper and thinking wow this is really a good speech. I've coached this event twice and I've come to see that Galvin and Mt. Carmel have this thing down to a science. Last year in Rota -- heavily, heavily Chamorro -- as soon as the Mt. Carmel kid started with the embellished Chamorro accent, I knew we were cooked. Four years ago Harry Blalock's daughter got absolutely robbed. She was by far the best and didnt even place in the top five. She was not my student. Of course, the former Lt. Governor was one of the judges and Harry was relentless on Babauta, so I knew that kind of thing would happen. In fact, when I say she was robbed, I mean Gore to Bush or Marcellus Wallus to Butch style robbery.

Mt. Carmel picks the kid with the best dramatic skills who gives a speech playing up the emotional elements. This kid the other day was near tears, which I'm not picking on him about or suggesting was an inauthentic display. Mt. Carmel's speeches aren't always the best reasoned or the most eloquent, they are good don't get me wrong, but they are the most dramatic and that wins. This is his quote: "I wasn't expecting to win, but I knew that I had one of the most emotional speeches. I knew that I had an edge but I didn't want to assume that I would win.”

I would like to see the best reasoned speech get some props. Rewarding the most emotional all the time sets a standard for poor debate. I'm not saying this kid shouldn't have won. I am saying there are times when I've seen judgment at the AG Cup worse than judgment at the O.J. trial. Professionals under enormous scrutiny give professional sports players All Star and All Pro votes based on reputation, and sometimes I think Mt. Carmel benefits here. Again, I'm not referring to this specific case, but to the big picture.

This winning speech was playing both sides of the fence like a politician, but it was human, reasonably well reasoned, and I am thinking, this is pretty good. Then I hit this section:
"A second mistake was to subject us to the whims of partisan politics. Granted,
by hiring a lobbyist, we share in the blame. But that does not excuse
politicians like Nancy Pelosi from dragging us through partisan bickering as
part of her political witch hunt. We may be small islands, but might should not
make right.The third and worst mistake made by the United States has been to
neglect the unique nature of our islands. As David Cohen has argued, “A better
future for the CNMI cannot be imposed unilaterally from Washington D. C.,
ignoring the insights, wisdom, and aspirations of those to whom this future
belongs.”

First, the demonizing of Nancy Pelosi, like the demonizing of Hillary Clinton and the word "liberal", is an effort elicit negative emotion, which is not much of an argument. There are many things you can criticize about Hillary without making her the boogiewoman. I would have docked him for this flimsy piece of reasoning and lame buzzword appeal. He is doing the same thing presidential candidates or Bill O'Reilly would do, and teenagers couldn't have sold out to polemics of this sort already, could they?

What witch are they hunting? How has the federal government neglected the unique nature of this place? You mean they, like me, find it absurd to expect people to pay for the highest fuel, power and food prices in America on the lowest wages in America. Per capita the federal government dumps more goodies here than probably any place in America. This place plays the American taxpayer for a sucker and then complains. It sickens me and puts me in the rare position of defending the U.S. government. I read that and think, here we go again with the weak, tired and thoroughly lame "unique place" argument.

Next, if there is partisan bickering it is because corrupt Republicans (Tom DeLay) sold out thousands of poor Filipinos and Chinese for a free golf trip and a few nights at the Hyatt, and now someone -- especially Dengre and George Miller -- wants some justice for people like this kid's parents. The nature of partisan bickering is name calling on a nonsense issue -- like John Edwards haircut, not a two tiered economy in which a certain group is left out of any say in the community and paid meager wages.

Finally, if anyone has ignored the "insights, wisdom and aspirations" of local people it is this government. We are setting up a debate in class and one of the topics was the federalization issue, and not one one of my high school seniors out of ninety would argue against federalization. Not one thought the local government should maintain control over the minimum wage because they are smart enough to see what local control over minimum wage has meant. Yet every time the bill is blocked, such as Bush last week, the Tribune and the Chamber trumpet the "good news." Read the minutes of Tina Sablan's public forums. Most everything in there makes perfect sense and would turn this place around, real ordinary folks getting together making sensible suggestions, yet it is ignored.

Good speech overall, but some of this tried to play off both sides of the issue and give me a break on the graph above. Don't get mad Galvin, still love ya.