Friday, September 28, 2007
All "the writers" work for the Tribune or the Variety. Maybe the journalistic malpractice that goes on over there explains why Marconi does his blog anonymously. Even by today's weakened standards of journalism, publishing anonymous rumors is unethical. Marconi has been in the business long enough to know that, so he should be held to a higher standard.
Keep Middle Road's practices in mind in every story Marconi writes in the Tribune, especially those dealing in rumor or quoting anonymous sources. I won't harp too much on the sell out nature of being a journalist who works for the major business owner on island, longtime sweatshop kingpin Willie Tan, who has more control and influence on things here than anyone, including the governor. Once upon a time journalists were querulous and stood for the average person. Now they work for sweatshop magnates. Yes, Marconi, that's why the Marianas Variety is my favorite paper on island, and that's why I don't get your subtle jabs at the Variety. I don't like contributing to the guy who controls the government and controls the largest newspaper as well, but that's me.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I found this whole account unlikely, so I emailed PAWS President Katie Busenkell, and here is what she said: "Mr. Yangetmai's niece never contacted PAWS - about anything - finding the dog, trying to find the owner, or complaining about the reward. PAWS just publishes descriptions and pictures of lost dogs, and a reward if people want to offer one. That's it. We don't get involved in the reward thing - just putting people in contact."
From Yangetmai's letter:
"The Good Samaritan lady who found and provided shelter and cared for Jake for
at least four days is my niece. I was appalled to find out from her yesterday
that the promised reward has not been given, and her repeated calls to PAWS and
the Public Defender’s Office has gone unanswered. I find it disturbing to learn
that PAWS and the pet owners are deceptive in their quest to find their missing
pets, and I hope that this practice of promising what they never intend to give
comes to a halt. And now I wonder how long this deception has been, and how many
of our people have been lied to. "
Oh, the humanity. James, here is my email email@example.com, I suspect four days of feeding someone's lost dog was $20 at the most. I'll reimburse your niece for the trauma of reuniting a family with their pet. Send me her mailing address and I'll send a check. Please remember in the future to teach all your young nieces that if they help some little old lady cross the street, don't forget to ask grandma for money for shoe leather reimbursement. What kind of community are we living in where basic human compassion and concern requires a cash reward?
To the people at PAWS, please keep rescuing animals in your free time and raising awareness to needless suffering, please ignore that awful letter and please remember that no good deed goes unpunished.
Here is what the dog owner who didn't pay the reward had to say.
Here is another letter from James Yangetmai. I don't even care about the theft or no theft aspect of this fiasco. I care about the money grubbing, unneighborly, tarnishing PAWS erroneously nature of it. This comment was particularly awful: "Like many people on Saipan my niece had never heard of or even cared about PAWS until the morning she saw the KSPN 2 news rebroadcast." James' two letters are the most revolting things I've seen in the newspaper since the Filipinos go home protest. Are you aware we're surrounded by ocean James? How could you possibly not be aware of PAWS, the tv, radio, newspaper, blog and word of mouth didn't get to you?
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
In those days, the preferred chat places were the various forums on usenet. People could say anything on usenet. It was a total free for all, and naturally it didn't take long for people to completely muck it up. Usenet still still exists, kind of, but it is completely useless. There is virtually nothing but spam ads for Viagra, third world dictators and various people who say you really won millions of dollars, just send your ATM card and the pin so they can deposit your winnings. The people who wanted to discuss the ending of the Usual Suspects, or the latest baseball trade, or what kind of bass Geddy Lee was switching to would have to wade through a few hundred spam ads, flames from wankers attacking the fans and general BS. It became virtually impossible find anything on the actual topic. They stopped going on usenet.
Nowadays, the only real bulletin board I view is the Scuba Board, which follows the model for the current discussion boards. There are moderated discussion boards on virtually everything, and these private sites have all but replaced usenet, and they are run as successful businesses with ads in the appropriate places. People register, people post on topic in specific categories, or those topics are moved or deleted. Abusive users get kicked off and banned. The new Marianas Dive board is moderated, as is Harry's blog, Boni's, mine and others. Cinta and Angelo don't allow anonymous comments. Virtually every successful conversation board is moderated because a mere internet connection is no barrier to entry. If anyone can say anything on these boards, they lose all focus and value, again see usenet now, or look at your email inbox each day.
The Saipan blogs are following the same exact trend, and I'm half surprised it took this long to happen. Anonymous commentators, not all bad, come on, say something absurd, someone has to take time out of their day to respond to something often ridiculous, and the post often gets hijacked by people not especially sincere or honest. Left completely free, there would be penis ads, Biba Candidate X and other assorted nonsense on people's private blogs. I simply don't have the time or inclination to deal with it, so my blog will remain moderated, demonstrable idiots will remain banned, and they can start their own blogs and say what they want there.
Bloggers with a reputation for honesty and sincerity, and not anonymous, will get much more, if not complete, leeway. I've never removed any comment with a name attached and I don't think that is a coincidence. Anyone is free to say what they want on their own blog. No one is owed a platform here. I wanted my thoughts in a letter to the New York Times after the last presidential election, but I couldn't very well demand it. The Times is not mine, and I didn't get my forum. An internet connection is not reason enough to grant someone the right to say whatever they want no matter how ridiculous, at least here. The media have reduced their standards on publishing rumors year after year, and public debate and public awareness have suffered. The internet never had many standards to begin with, though various specific sites like to raise their standards above the nonexistent standards of usenet.
You can yell "fire" in your living room all you want, but you can't do it in a crowded theater, and it isn't censorship to prohibit that statement in that place. You can talk about how awful George Bush is at the top of your lungs, but not in the library or in the middle of the Senate's debate in Washington from the spectators' seats. People can say what they want, but not at any place at any time. My blog will not become usenet.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
If anyone wants to know where all our Japanese tourists have gone I can reveal the obvious answer and waive the $200,000 MVA consulting fee: They are in Guam -- in droves. A convenience store at 11:30 pm on a Thursday night had a line twenty deep in booming Tumon.
That we're being taken to the woodshed by Guam isn't shocking news, but after a weekend there I am stunned by the contrasts between Guam and here. Guam has more and better restaurants, shopping and hotels, yet not near the beauty of the Marianas Islands. Guam scuba diving was slightly more exciting than sticking your face underwater in the bath tub, yet the dive boats were packed, and I had to call a friend to find a contact to help get me on a boat. That we're losing to this, and not just losing, but getting spanked with Chicago Cubs style abandon befuddles.
I talked to a lot of tourists, Guam residents and former Saipan folks and everyone without exception said Saipan is more beautiful. They happen to be right. The Brown Tree Snake has killed off their King Fischer birds and other birds apparently, though they do not have wild dogs all over. The downtown tourist district though has a life to it that sits in stark contrast to Garapan, which is typically emptier than the space between George W. Bush's ears. That ghost town feel in Garapan, like a lifeless night club, gives that unhappening vibe that doesn't draw repeat business or good memories.
There aren't all that many fish underwater in Guam, and the coral isn't very colorful. Several tourists told me they'd rather go to Saipan, but it is just too inconvenient to get there. I spoke with Japanese divers and they also noticed the absurd prices Saipan dive shops charge, upwards of fifty percent higher than Guam, and they are annoyed by that. When people from Japan, where a gumball purchase practically requires a loan shark or a mortgage broker, think things are expensive, you know you're probably pushing things too much.
In some regards, Guam is making the same mistake as us by putting the strip clubs and karaoke bars in the heart of its tourist district. Naked, writhing women have their place don't get me wrong, when I was single I had a strong recommendation on that place, but it's not in the tourist district where families congregate.
In visiting the Maharani, which is owned and staffed by the same people from the Taste of India in Garapan, the contrasts are even more amazing. The old Taste of India had delicious, exotic food with a very friendly staff at reasonable prices, and they were rewarded with virtually no business. In Guam it's packed every night.
Tom Kallingal is the owner of the Maharani, and after years in Saipan he now has a bustling business with his Indian restaurant. "Back in 89 things were good. The Japanese market gradually came down. Chinese and Koreans go to Chinese or Korean restaurants. Eighty percent of our customers were so called haoles. This island has more support from the community as a whole. We're full every night so far. I expect to see more when the military comes in."
Kallingal said federalization and the minimum wage were no issue for him, and in fact he said federalization is the answer to Saipan's troubles because he feels the current wages don't provide a living. "They won't like it, but federalization is the answer. People can't live on those wages and they will continue to leave." Kallingal didn't blame the CNMI government for his businesses problems, but noted they were not helpful, either. "The government did nothing to help us, but they didn't cause harm, either. The parking issue was a problem for us. The night clubs took over the clean businesses. It hurt us. The families hated to come. Saipan is so much more physically beautiful (than Guam) with its Flame Trees. I really like Saipan, but they are two different markets.”
Joji Cherian, one of the famously friendly waiters now in Guam, says his life has changed for the better because he's getting a lot more pay. He says he is not the only one doing better in Guam. "I really miss Saipan. We had time to talk to customers. We see a lot of people from Saipan, maybe 100, who live here now. Many others have visited us and I'm so happy to see them."
Pauly Vettiyadan, the second half of the dynamic duo from the Old Taste of India, has had similar experiences. "It was easy and sometimes boring. We had a big reputation. We had a lot of mainland customers, but not much else. Here they are more adventurous eaters and the whole community is supportive.”
There really is no reason for Guam to be eating our lunch the way they are right now. The first, second and third solution is going to revolve around more direct flights to these islands. This will lead to better shopping and better restaurants. We certainly have the raw materials to turn this place around as a tourist destination.
I used to see former Governor Juan Babauta ballroom dancing with Harry Blalock, I mean walking on the Oleai Path all the time, (kidding Harry I swear) but I've only seen him once jogging in Marpi since he left office.
The purpose of these events is to ensure that teachers, parents, and the community are able to meet the candidates and ask questions regarding their plans for education. This will allow voters to make informed decisions in casting their votes for members of the Legislature, Senate, and Board of Education. Round Table discussions will also be held on future Wednesday evenings at 7:00 P.M. in the cafeteria of San Vicente Elementary. Please look for announcements of specific dates. Candidates Cinta Kaipat and Tina Sablan from Precinct One are confirmed to participate in this Wednesday's Round Table.All interested members of the community are invited to join us at these gatherings. You do not have to be a registered voter or a resident of the specified precinct in order to attend. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact The Association of Commonwealth Teachers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
On that topic, I had my regulator serviced at MDA in Guam and those guys did a great job and seem to really know their stuff. It was reasonably priced as well, and done quickly.
And on a somewhat similar note, the Green Card adventure is all but complete now for my wife after our interview. I did this whole task on my own, and hired a paralegal here in Saipan named Lina A. Santos-Magofna to look it over, and she was extremely helpful at a very fair price. She pointed out the two or three things I did wrong, and answered the few questions that come up afterward. She works at the law offices of Mailman & Kara, and her email is email@example.com
If you are doing the whole green card process for a spouse on your own, which recently had a dramatic cost increase, she is highly recommended.
The purpose of this guy, like most of the anonymous crowd, is not debate but simply to aggravate, so I'm not arguing with these people or providing them a forum for their games. I hope and request no one defends me against this guy. Let them all build their own audience, which requires more effort. None of the anonymous blogs have had much success other than Middle Road, and we know who they are, so it's not all that anonymous. For those who cry censorship, let me remind what that word means: The Government restricting what you say. I'm not the government, I'm not required to give people a platform, and you are completely free to say what you want in your own blog. I'm protecting my blog, which is my property, from becoming the circus I see in other places.
And for anyone who still thinks it's ok to do the anonymous thing, this dickless turd is out there trashing my name while hiding in the bushes like a coward. That's why the whole anonymous thing is unfair. He gets to trash my name and hide in the weeds like the vermin he is. And memo to said turd, nothing stays secret long in a place this small.
No respectable newspaper in the world publishes anonymous letters to the editor, and I've already laid out the rules here on this topic. If absurd debates with anonymous sources attacking real bloggers are your thing, go to Middle Road. It won't be happening here.
I've been reading the salary guides for various locations in the states, and the salaries offered for veterans with graduate degrees and experience are scandalously low -- less than here in many cases. And for all our complaining, Saipan is a very cheap place to live with the exception of power. Saipan teacher wages are poor for the long term veteran, but for someone with a few years in and a graduate degree, they are very competitive, and the rents and taxes here are very minimal. Of course, the government here is so unstable, a person can never be sure where the game of financial musical chairs ends. Most people just blow off all the bad news and threats, and I admit, it is easier to live that way, but how many threats do you have to take before you lose the ability to complain when the threat gets carried out. I mean when the Retirement System breaks down completely, and the hospital can't help anyone anymore, can you really say the warning signs weren't there.
Teachers, like soldiers, get a warm and fuzzy public relations, usually, for doing a difficult job with meager pay, though most teachers, at least in the suburbs, don't run the same risk of violence as soldiers, so the soldiers' job is much harder. I don't believe that teachers should take a vow of poverty, and if that is what is expected, I would envision America's education system to continue its long, slow decline.
I have a friend who is my former journalism professor and he is extremely bummed out at the decline in intellectual activity at the university level. Schooling has continually moved in the direction of being grade based. The pursuit of knowledge, even among the better students, seems to be lacking for the singular focus on a grade. School is a grade, and to pass, ideally with a good grade, the mantra. It feels like the day to day classroom activity is viewed as an annoying speed bump to "the grade." I would get feedback from students, and my style doesn't fit everyone equally well as no one's does, that would say things like "the things I learned here blew my mind, but I just don't like school," or "thanks, but nothing can make me read." One famous comment was, "this class was terrible because you made us read and stuff."
The statistics on the number of teachers who quit within the first five years show an enormous movement out of the profession. I'm in year five here, seven overall, and I'm starting to understand why those statistics are what they are. It's a staggeringly difficult job to do well, and the pay just isn't there.
Guam is making the same mistake as us by putting the strip clubs and karaoke bars in the heart of its tourist district. I support naked, writhing women, don't get me wrong, but there is a place for everything. I'll leave that one open ended so people can have their fun in the comments section.
Here is one thing Saipan has done well: Keep the brown tree snake out, as there are very few birds in Guam.
Guam beats us in not having wild dogs every ten feet.
If anyone wants to know where all the Japanese tourists have gone, including the girls in their deliciously slutty attire, I'll save MVA the $200,000 consulting contract for the obvious: They are in Guam. There was a line 20 deep at the convenience store at 11:30 at night on a Thursday for overpriced nonsense. $4.25 for sun chips. I'm still bitter.
Given a little bit better shopping, more and improved restaurants and most of all more flights, we should be able to smoke Guam like a Cuban cigar -- Saipan is simply much nicer than Guam.
Guam schools look more run down and ugly than our schools do, and by all reports are much worse academically and discipline wise than our schools.
Kmart is still Kmart -- cheap crap. I did get a pizza stone and will be inviting friends over for my home made pizza in the not too distant future.
I'll strap my mask on, put in my reg and stick my head face down in the bath tub before I scuba dive in Guam again.
The airport still sucks.
I was listening to Electric Ladyland pool side and it hit me that if Cyn and I have a boy, it must be James Marshall Turbitt. I gave her majority sway if it's a girl, so she agreed.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I also visited the new Maharani in Guam, run and staffed by our Taste of India folks, and it is doing fantastically well. I had a lot more fun in Guam than I expected, but we shouldn't be getting our asses handed to us by Guam, which is happening. More on these things later.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
There are two main counterarguments I have heard to casino gambling; the negative impact a Saipan casino would have on the Tinian Dynasty, and the moralizing argument that there will be more local gambling addiction. Neither of these arguments is convincing.
The CNMI has gambling already via the Tinian Dynasty, and I'm sure Tinian folks fear a Saipan casino might take away from their fragile economy. The fact that the casino is in Tinian and not Saipan, the main tourist destination, is puzzling at best. Tinian and the Dynasty is hardly a resort location with the amenities typical to such a location. There aren't many restaurants or other entertainment options there, and it is somewhat difficult to get to. I can't imagine many people come to the Marianas expressly to gamble at the Tinian Dynasty, but they very well could and would come for a focused marketing campaign based on golf, diving and gambling. It helps to have something to do at night.
I can understand the concern of Tinian folks, but it is misdirected. A casino would draw more tourists to the Mariana Islands. It is not uncommon for people to visit more than one casino, so it doesn't seem unreasonable that a Saipan casino would bring more, not less, visitors to Tinian and the Tinian Dynasty. Beyond that, what is to stop Guam from establishing a casino that would be a "drag" on Tinian by the same logic? This region is unlikely to replace Macau as the gaming destination of Asia, but people like casinos and another tourist lure is hardly a bad thing. A rising tide lifts all boats and holding back competition is never a path to success.
The second counterargument is even worse, the moralizing argument, the idea we'll all become a bunch of degenerate gamblers. My understanding is that certain influential clergy members discouraged casino gambling when this issue came up previously, and that is the reason we don't have gaming to date. This isn't Rick's Cafe in Casablanca, and it isn't shocking. Gambling exists in the open in Saipan and it largely takes place in the dark, dingy poker rooms that lack the dignity of a Bangkok sex show, so the moralizing argument is absurd given that gambling in these poker rooms is the type that has wrecked more homes than Angelina Jolie.
No cash rich, high rolling tourist is ever going to be walking into any of these poker rooms that have all the charm of a trauma ward in Darfur and start plunking down their hard earned cash needed to infuse this dead economy. Casino resorts are a place for shows, restaurants, lights and "over the top" Vegas glitz. They need that type of atmosphere or they revert to the dark, seedy, scarcely populated, smoky hellish pits we have now that attract the wrong type of gamblers -- those who least can afford it.
I came to know this island as a tourist. Given a lot of time, I would probably have gone to a place like Koh Samui, Boracay or Bali -- cheaper and more exotic. Not all vacations are long -- especially if you work in a country with long hours and short vacations like Seoul or Tokyo. To get to those places requires a flight to Bangkok or Manila and then a connecting flight to your resort. A connection going in and out is ridiculous on a short trip, which is why I came here and why a lot of people come here, at least until the lack of flights made it so difficult. This place needs to aim for the shorter term tourists who want to be on the golf course or on the beach immediately, not waiting in a terminal annoyed after ten shoe checks and parched because of the insidious threat of water. Seoul and Tokyo don't have the gorgeous golf courses, beaches or diving we have, and the casinos in Seoul don't allow Korean citizens. It is a "foreigner" only activity over there, which makes sense. Naturally we do the opposite, offer the vile poker rooms for our majority impoverished population that prey on the desperate and financially unstable.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I myself am in the midst of my annual should I stay or should I go debate. I really like a lot of things here. I wrote about all those things in my first Marianas Variety column. I think it is a great place for the kids, especially with a baby on the way. It's a unique place. I like the beauty, the diving and the small town feel. The news at the hospital disturbs. Fitial's latest ploy to screw not just teachers, but everyone, with the no pay on holidays salary cut is another needle in the eye as he threatens the sanctity of contracts. I'm very tired of being threatened. No one knows when the house of cards just falls in and payroll is not met. Just cut the dead weight already. Fitial is doing some of that to be fair, but apparently not enough. Not all jobs are created equal. The power plant hasn't impacted me that much truth be told, but that is another issue with no solution in sight, as is the petty crime. I've heard one too many stories about people being burglarized while they were in their home. That's brazen.
The Yankees and Red Sox played the latest go around today, a nearly five hour marathon in which the Yankees were pretty much getting their ass kicked for seven innings. Then they erupted for six runs in the eighth inning against the Red Sox' two best pitchers in Fenway Park and won the game 8-7, which made this game worth my time investment.
As ridiculous as this sounds to those who don't follow professional sports, when Jim Leyritz hit that three run home run in the 1996 World Series it was also one of the happiest days of my life. That was the last time the Yankees were the underdog. When Alvin Harper caught those long passes for Dallas against San Francisco in the 1993 NFC Championship, that was an equally memorable day. Those catches made up for the pain Joe Montana to Dwight Clark caused me as a ten year old boy. I was devastated when that happened. The only other time I was more devastated by sports was when the Yankees blew a 3-0 lead in 2004 and then George Bush was re-elected a few weeks later. What a dark time that was.
Today's Yankee comeback wasn't on par with those things, but what makes sports so amazing is that they are so unpredictable. Truth is just so much stranger than fiction. I will predict that if the Yankees play the Red Sox in the playoffs again, the Yankees will be kicking their ass and balance in the universe will be restored once again, though I might be jeopardizing that by predicting it.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
A story appeared in this paper last week putting the pay of 1,080 PSS employees up in the air, and no one much flinched. Another appeared about a woman who was basically used as a slave locked in her barracks lacking the freedom to even go to her church -- maybe a shrug was offered. Another story appeared about a rotting canine corpse on the road heading toward our most scenic area in Marpi -- a mere ripple at best. These things may seem unrelated, but what they tell me is that we have lost our outrage, and when horrible things happen, we half expect them and aren't surprised anymore, and that's not a good way to live. There are two approaches to these events, to surrender or to fight.
I can't say I was shocked at the casual approach the vast majority of my peers took to the statement from the chief financial officer of PSS that the money was not there to pay teachers. Most teachers have long been a bunch of comatose lumps in terms of standing up for themselves --even while being threatened with a crime called theft of services, which most every teacher I talked to blew off and dismissed as a ploy. It probably was a ploy, but it is bad for morale and we have come to the point where the government can basically threaten a crime on its citizens and it doesn't matter -- it's barely news. By the end of the week there still were no assurances that teachers would not be cheated, and the Saipan Tribune didn't even think this event newsworthy. I did eventually get an email from ACT President Betty Miller quoting Commissioner David Borja saying PSS found a way to make payroll, but a $36.7 million budget is needed to avert a crisis during the school year. I presume the details on that are forthcoming from the commissioner.
Secondly, this government talks about our problems about human trafficking being in the past, but then we read another story about a woman being locked in her barracks and forced into prostitution. I don't think the Stardust allegations, soon to go to trial, were very different. This event doesn't mean Saipan is an evil place any more than the U.S. mainland is an evil place because of all the horrible violent incidents there from Virginia Tech to Abu Gharib, but it does say there is a problem. This event shouldn't be used as an excuse for federalization -- there are better reasons than this alleged act. Federalization should happen because it is immoral to exploit the third world on American territory to create an inflated labor supply that leaves an unsustainable, bloated, inefficient government as the sole provider of living wages. Those indigenous citizens not in the bureaucracy are left in the cold as few private sector jobs pay a living wage and too many politicians wield power over a vile patronage system run amok.
Jane Mack, an attorney for Micronesian Legal Services, a non-profit law office that represents the poor in civil litigation, is part of a group playing a role in trying to fix this trafficking problem. She noted that the first step in fixing this problem is acknowledging the problem exists given all the emotion about the federalization debate. "It's not just old news. The women from Karidat who testified in Washington D.C. weren't making up numbers. And the girls and women who are trafficked into the CNMI are, in fact, victims. It is important that politics not get in the way of referrals of victims to Karidat. We shouldn't sweep any current situations under the rug to hide them in the hopes that we'll somehow look better while we argue about federalization."
There was also a letter from PAWS President Katie Busenkell about seeing a charred dog on the road up to Marpi, followed by another suffering dog with a chain collar imbedded in its neck ridden with flies. No tourist is going to enjoy the canine Sunni Triangle for vacation, and what can be a bigger turn off than a charred animal corpse? Busenkell said she sees the same tolerance for the awful, but doesn't think it is an acceptable reaction. "I think people are numbed, but rather than do something, they revert to a convenient blindness. PAWS wanted to do a slogan that says open your eyes, open your heart, save a life. Don't just pass by and do nothing. See that suffering and do something about it. When you take action, you have a positive impact on the community. Stop just driving by."
PAWS is doing something by rescuing as many of these dogs as it can and raising awareness by educating the public. Beautify CNMI is also doing something. Just this weekend a group of volunteers fought back against hoodlums who disrespected the lighthouse and began painting what was a vile, graffiti laden monument. All of these groups are private organizations, yet all get a tremendous amount done without a huge government apparatus. Perhaps there is a lesson there. We should keep up the fight and keep our outrage.
Editor's note: This time I butchered a few transitions. This column thing is harder than I thought it would be, as I'm not making the sweet music I expect of myself just yet. This one is liberal enough to piss off a few people I suppose.
This school year is especially stressful. I have four fully packed classes of freshmen, no prep time, and while academic motivation was a big challenge for seniors near graduation, it is a challenge of Sisyphean proportions with freshmen. The net result is I really need to be in the water on the weekend to decompress, and I'm not talking about avoiding the bends. This weekend a group of crackerjack divers such as Mark Robertson, Dale Carhill, Rose Callier (who revealed she is occasionally sort of topless sunbathing at Wingbeach, man am I dead now), Shahnda, Bob and Darlene, (new to me, think of them like Sting, Bono and Madonna) headed out to Bird Island to explore that environment. None of us had been diving there before, and we all ended up thinking it was pretty cool. There are a lot of clams, several large nudibranchs, (we know where Harry will be next weekend), a very cool landscape and crystal waters. Brady Barrineau told me he discovered a cave there today on his own dive, and he was excited by Bird Island as well. See Brady for more on that one. These photos are by Dr. Mark Robertson, who besides being a great eye doctor, is an extremely knowledgeable diver. He guided me on my first Lau Lau dive in a long time on Saturday, and I was very impressed with that dive -- much more than expected, and appreciated Mark's guidance.
This above captures what we all thought to be a pretty cool landscape.
I met Rose Callier, next to me in the above pic (I'm the only one with the sense not to have a wetsuit on), at the girl's night out at Melissa's house on Thursday night, which was quite the educational experience to say the least. Here is how Saipan works: I met Rose on Thursday for the first time and had some laughs at Melissa's party. She's visiting Melissa, who is my neighbor, the next night on some PAWS work and we start chatting as my wife is taking her pregnancy test, which comes up positive. Lots of screaming erupts. Rose thinks we're fighting, but soon she becomes the first person on island to learn that Cynthia is with child -- about ten seconds after I did. Sunday we go out diving as part of a celebrity diving day. Gotta love this place.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Most unreliable updater who posts more interesting content on other people's blog than his own: Beachboy Brad Ruszala
Most stressed out blogger: Because I Said So Boni Gomez
Most unlucky blogger: Life in Oceania Melissa Simms and her myriad injuries
Nicest Blogger: Beverly Cabanatan Bubbles in Paradise. Honorable Mention Beyond Behaviors Steve.
Most Hypercritical Blog: I lose, Dennis Greenia aka Dengre.
Rookie of the Month: Everybody's Got a Cousin on Saipan, Randy Steele
Best Link Moniker Creator: Saipanuvian Bruce Bateman "Something about cousins."
Blogger who posts the most random, vague and inane comments: The Saipan Blogger Angelo Villagomez
Bloggers with the briefest posts that cause endless debate generally egged on by Brad -- especially if Tina Sablan or Angelo Villagomez are mentioned: Middle Road
Most Politically Incorrect Blog: Glen Doutrich
Blog I least want to appear on because usually it usually includes pictures of drunk people in bars: EJ's Korean Party Girl
Most focused blog: Nudibranch Harry and Harry's World
Least Ridiculous blog: David Khorram and Marianas Eye
Most Environmentally Educational Blog with a lot of pictures that isn't written by Angelo: Bree and the Land of the Ayuyu
Best Future in Blogging: Hope Gomez
Blogger who elicits the most rigorous debate from Glen Hunter: CNMI Blog Cinta Kaipat
Blog that most resembles the band Men at Work, as in pretty quirky and good but not for long: SOS Saipan Ken Phillips
I'd put links in, but I'm too lazy and most are to your left.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
I came here just a touch over four years ago a single man -- a less successful Brad Ruszala. Now I have a wife, two kids and I'm soon to have a third. I know I'm supposed to wait a while before revealing this kind of news, but the journalist in me makes that hard to do. How this news impacts all types of things like my career, location, etc is still too early to tell -- one of many things to ponder. The only thing I know for sure right now is that with me at 5'5'' and Cynthia less than 5 feet, this kid isn't going to the NBA or WNBA. Life is amazing.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
It's easy to get caught up in the latest example of government mismanagement as you squint to see the numbers on your meager paycheck in your rolling blackout apartment and imagine the green grass in the states -- a place where the power plant works a lot better and a lot cheaper, the stores not as scandalously overpriced, the price of gas a lot cheaper, the jobs more plentiful while paying a lot better than $3.55 and the corruption further removed from home. All of that happens to be true. It also omits a lot of the downside.
I spent a month back in my native New Jersey on teacher summer vacation and got a reminder of the positives and negatives we tend to forget. There were things I certainly liked about being back in the mainland, such as access to major league baseball games, arena stature rock bands, grocery stores that defy description comparatively and fabulous restaurants -- at least those things ranked highest on my list.
It wasn't all so wonderful though. The U.S. is crowded and wildly so in major cities and their suburbs. The traffic in the area where I was raised is at least three times worse than when I was growing up, slowing simple tasks to a speed more akin to a crawl through a football field of glass shards – all to a symphony of honking horns and cuss words -- sounds that will never be confused with a Chopin Sonata. The lines at the local department store on a Saturday are hideous. Getting most anywhere in the states is a fight through tolls and traffic that creates so much stress as to diminish the joy of all the things available. We get to skip all that with our more simple lives out here, and we happen to have a post office to deliver the goodies we want. We get to live Thoreau’s edict of “Simplify” with a way to cheat a bit if need be.
Even though there are a lot of people in the states, they are completely isolated from each other. The mad dog consumer culture now has Ipods being sold in vending machines like candy bars, at least this is the case in Minneapolis Airport. It is very hard to find anyone, anywhere not talking on their cell phone, or tuning out the rest of the world with their Ipod, their portable PSP, or their wireless Internet Blackberry. We surround ourselves not with people, but with digital images and data. Paying for all the latest goodies takes a lot of time away from actually living a meaningful life, and that increases the hours at work and the stress level, which impacts health. Last year, I was sitting somewhere, just me and a stranger, and he started talking, I thought to me since no one else was there. I wasn't sure what he was saying, so I said, "Excuse me." Naturally he wasn't talking to me at all; it was the wireless cell phone headset he was talking into that is now so ubiquitous. No one talks to strangers in the states. I've never seen this piece of technology here, and I didn't even know we have another new method to isolate humans from other humans.
I would go places, and every once in a while I'd see someone who looked somewhat familiar out in the distance. Out here, that usually turns out to be a friend. In the wildly overpopulated states, it is almost never your friend, it's another person you don't know and aren't likely to know. There are too many places to go, there are too many people, and no one much knows each other, so those serendipitous moments rarely happen. I had to train myself to the fact that when I went out, I wouldn't run into friends at the post office or coffee shop or laundry mat, and I didn't much like it. That small town appeal has to be one of the great charms of these islands. It also tends to stop the moralizing and gossiping that would appear in the states. Most of us have seen our doctors, lawyers, politicians or teachers after a few too many Budweisers, or singing bad karaoke, or visiting a place like Chicago, and I'm not talking about the home of Jake and Elwood Blues, and seldom do I hear gossip about it because everyone has seen everyone at some point in that state on this island.
This leads me to another good thing about this place. It is very uncommon to develop friendships with people in higher, and lower, income brackets in the states. Teachers rarely hang out with doctors, lawyers, politicians and saloon keepers in the mainland. That happens all the time here. That is something else that's great about this place.
On the economics front, we complain about gas, but drivers require so much less gas via distance to get around that our gasoline costs are much lower. On top of that, car insurance is a staggering cost in the states. Insurance that costs $250 here easily costs $2,500 in some U.S. locations. As for housing, forget about it. My family is almost entirely in New Jersey and it is almost impossible to find a house for less than $300,000. There are property taxes, which pay for schools by the way, of $5,000 to $10,000 per year that go along with that house. Taxes across the board are much cheaper here. And jobs for well trained people are easier to find here than the states. The focus there is on "well trained." We have more than enough unskilled labor; we don’t have enough teachers, doctors, engineers, nurses, etc. So yes we have ridiculous power rates, but we have a bargain on taxes, housing and car insurance.
Finally, there is a lot of natural beauty in the states, but there is nowhere with the staggering crystal blue waters we have here. The Atlantic is green and ugly, and certainly not conducive to pleasant scuba diving. With all the frivolous litigation, you'd probably have to sign your life away to do a dive there anyway. We live in a place that people come to for a vacation.
Things are hardly perfect here. But there are things we are blessed to have. In this column, I intend on raising a spotlight on things that diminish the unique joys of these little islands. My thoughts will be appearing regularly in the Marianas Variety on Wednesdays.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
"In a discussion with a candidate for public office recently, an amazing fact was revealed to me. The candidate has been canvassing door-to-door for some time and has entered and talked with more than 500 households representing more than 3000 CNMI residents. What he has found is astounding. He estimates that on average, one household in three in his election district is without electric power and by default, also without water because they cannot afford to pay. He said in some poorer neighborhoods the number is much higher, up to 90 percent without utilitiesPlease bear in mind this is not a controlled, scientific survey, but a dedicated house by house straw poll. Even though we can't deduce from these findings that all of Saipan or all of the CNMI is in such dire straights, we can and should be aghast that such deprivation exists anywhere in our Commonwealth."
Monday, September 03, 2007
Sunday, September 02, 2007
I know a couple things. The minute my check is late, I will be be on speed dial, around the clock, to Rep. George Miller's office and the Department of Education encouraging a federal takeover of PSS, and a lot of people will be getting a lot of scrutiny they don't want if that happens. I'm pretty sure No Child Left Behind doesn't allow school to be closed because you spent all your money fighting federalization. A state takeover of a school system is what happens in a failing system. It has happened a lot in the most troubled districts. I'm not sure how common federal takeovers are, but in this case "local government" can't handle local government, a stick in the eye for all the people ready to secede to defend their right to a local government that may not be able to make teacher payroll and will have to close the schools, unless slavery is now legal. Basic service one, power, is already a fiasco. Ambrose has been saying for months a federal takeover is needed-- I don't think years in this case. The next thing will be to consult with a lawyer, as sending people to work when you know you can't pay them is the definition of fraud. Maybe I can own land here after all. Note to all parties involved here. I am not a contract worker you can abuse so easily. I speak English very well, I have a blue passport, I'm not option less and I may have a lot of time on my hands to make a lot of peoples' lives more difficult, and that will be my singular focus 24/7 if that happens. I suspect the prospect of no paycheck and fraud will even get the comatose lumps that make up 80 percent of my teacher peers to chip in and help.
PSS needs to close all the schools if this is the case -- now. I don't want to hear nonsense like, "it's for the children, work for free." When my rent is free, and the Nuggets at Java Joes are free, and Shell gasoline is free, I'll consider working for free. Until then, forget it. Don't I have enough of a stressful job without worrying about being cheated? I already have basically the job of two teachers. Do you think teachers who don't know if they will be getting paid are going the extra mile? It will be hilarious, and slightly sad really, to see the looks on the faces of the new recruits unaccustomed to the fly by night nature of how the CNMI government operates when they read this news. There simply is no excuse for even reading this in the paper -- none -- especially when the government is cutting absurd checks to lobbyists, public relations firms and Jesus Camacho.
EMPLOYEES of Public School System may get no paychecks until the end of the
fiscal year on Sept. 30 following the administration’s failure to return the
amount it cut from the previous budget of PSS and to release federal
Compact-Impact money that was to cover the PSS payroll until Oct. 15.PSS acting
finance director Lori A. Grizzard, acting Education Commissioner Charlie Kenty
and PSS federal programs officer Tim Thornburgh said the school system is
running out of money to cover the three remaining pay periods for its 797
locally funded employees, who include teachers and support staff.The
administration cut the PSS FY 2006 budget by $2 million but promised to return
it in the FY 2007 fourth quarter allocation. “PSS is still waiting for that $2
million that was borrowed in FY 2006 which was to cover expenditures for the
prior year,” Grizzard said. “The promised restoration will cover our