Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh say, can you Tennessee

One for the Dumb Criminal file: a guy driving around with an ad for fake ID's on his car.

The bust was for not having a commercial license plate. Then they found the computer and card printer.

On the bright side, with the additional charges he's likely to learn to make license plates so he can avoid being pulled over later. Much later.

But who's counting?

If you like to follow (and argue about) U.S. Immigration, the Department of Homeland Security has put out revised 2007 figures on enforcement, unauthorized immigrants and such.

PUC to fix CUC's LEAC

Friday evening isn't my best time to be public-spirited, so I'm grateful the Saipan Tribune covered Friday's PUC hearing. My first choice was judicious alcohol-poisoning with a tribe of misogynistic troglodytes, but I had to tend bar at USSP instead.

A three-hour hearing starting at six to kick off my weekend was right up there, but...

So I wasn't one of "About 15 people, many of whom were legislators" who still remember griping by candlelight a few months ago.

Then again, several people are quoted as being overwhelmed by the amount of information they were expected to digest, so I'd probably be in the same boat.

Better, then, that we have a Monday morning GUIDE TO CUC STIPULATIONS. Even that is frustrating: it doesn't give any figures; I assume none were thrown out in the hearing.

It appears the base rate won't change: "Both CUC and Georgetown agree that more work needs to be done before PUC considers restructuring the base rate, and recommend a base rate hearing before the end of 2009."

That leaves the fuel surcharge, reborn as the acronym LEAC.

So how exactly is this six-month "levelized energy adjustment clause" going to be determined?

"Under the tariff, CUC would be able to recover: fuel and generation lubricant costs and delivered fuel and other costs required by the supplier. The LEAC tariff also would factor in CUC's ability to establish and maintain a 30-day fuel inventory and to develop a reserve to support the availability and efficiency of generating units."

Oh.

So how exactly is this six-month "levelized energy adjustment clause" going to be determined?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Runoff the mouth

I broke a rule yesterday by talking about the next CNMI Governor in the bar.

Well, it's not a rule actually-- just a good idea when there are a lot of candidates and only one job. The odds aren't good that you're talking to somebody who'd agree with you, which can be bad for business.

I usually won't talk politics in USSP unless someone else brings it up, but I'd just noticed a 'Yes 2 Kumoi' bumper sticker (Y2K Get it?). Perfect. I could make a joke and get a read on his opinion of Ray Guerrero, who's a pretty polarizing man.

I'm sneaky that way. It didn't work. I slipped in a line about every Governor being captive of outside forces like the tourism industry. Guessing (rightly) that he'd voted for Ben Fitial last time, I allowed as how it was a thankless job and it was hard to blame the Governor for events outside of his control.

I'd forgotten he was a retiree*. No mention of Kumoi, and he'd only say 'not this time' about Fitial. He didn't want to talk about other guys like Diego Benavente. All in all, it was another lesson for me about avoiding the subject.

The primary reason for losing an election

So I'll avoid it again. Well, soon anyway: first I want to chuckle about the Republican's and Democrat's (if there are any left locally) primaries. I've been amazed for years that candidates pick their running mate going into the primary.

It's short-sighted logic; you have a better chance of winning the primary but limit your options for the general election. That may have worked in the past when there was more party loyalty. Even then, the losing candidates and their families/supporters often threatened to sit out the election or jump to your opponent.

Picking a running mate after the primary would probably result in a stronger, more 'balanced' (wink) ticket. Then again, anyone who tried it would likely lose, so it will never happen.

Also, everyone's an independent these days, so a runoff election between the top two candidates is almost guaranteed.

* If you're outside the Commonwealth and just happened across this post, the CNMI Retirement Fund is expected to be broke in three, four or five years, depending on who you believe. The government has turned it into a Ponzi scheme by not paying its share in recent years.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Paean to Polaroid

Wanna buy a Polaroid? Not a picture, the camera. I've got a 600, still in the box-- but they're not making film after this month.

It was bound to happen with digital cameras everywhere. Still, it's sad. I fondly remember (showing my age) my father tinkering with his fancy Polaroid Land Camera. The early film had to be coated with a "fixer". I can still recall the harsh, but sweetish, chemical smell of the coating. It was probably something like melamine that killed thousands of brain cells.

It's a digital world, though vinyl records are making a comeback. There really is a different feel to pictures caught on film, similar to analog music.

If you're really a fan, check out savepolaroid.com. They're trying to get another manufacturer to pick up the license.

Then you can buy my camera.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The rhetorical cafe

I probably know the answer, but I'm wondering if Saipan's dozens of internet cafes are using pirated software.

Ah, well, we're a small island and nobody cares locally. Reading that a Chinese City Requires Net Cafes to Use Legitimate Software made me think of the hole-in-the-wall cybercafes that seem to be everywhere, and reminded me of at least one shop that was caught buying stolen computers.

My son is devoted to these places so I know their prices, leading me to wonder how they survive.

Storm clouds: the week that was

The Marianas Variety implies that less than 1,000 "out of status" workers isn't much.

More than implies actually: "THE Department of Labor says there are less than 1,000 foreign nationals who may be overstaying in the CNMI since they arrived here over the past six years, allaying fears that the commonwealth may be harboring many illegal migrants."

Seems like a lot to me, and how are they getting by without being part of the underground economy?

Fair enough

Will there be a 'bubble' of unneeded employees because of the transition to federal control of immigration? They may be chasing ambulances a bit, but it's good advice for employers "to extend their employment contracts to buy them more time amid ambiguities and uncertainties regarding regulations that are still being drafted."

It could be a rocky transition.

CUC in a nutshell

"When you're looking at financials it tells you (you're) insolvent," Antonio Muna said. "It's difficult in accounting terms to project if it will be a growing concern, because of all of this burden of liability where debt exceeds assets. How do you cope with that?"

Shellgame in a nutshell

(Eloy Inos) added that the projected decrease in personnel outlays due to reduction in employer contribution to the NMI Retirement Fund was not achieved because the anticipated savings were "plowed back into the system and expensed by way of fuel subsidy to [the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.]."

"If that subsidy was in fact treated as payment of government utilities, [the] $2.1 million over-expenditure in utilities expense could and would have been averted," he said.

Just plain nuts

Key provisions of the budget include...

11-percent employer contribution rate to the NMI Retirement Fund;

Prohibition against reprogramming of appropriations for utility expenses;


Flight fright

It's no surprise, really, but Asiana Airlines is losing money on its Saipan route. Hmm, so is it a bad time to sue over Kumho's Laolao lease?

From the comments, there seem to be some unhappy taxpayers, but CDA proposes changes to qualifying certificate program" tells us the government is still working to provide a better deal.

The Flame Sako Resort & Spa proposal for the beach north of the Palms Resort in As Matuis seems to be getting some opposition too. There seems to be a vocal group that's questioning new development. The Dec. 9 hearing at GTC Elementary School should be particularly interesting.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Yes, but

Rep. Diego Benavente's proposal to hold CNMI elections in even years makes sense, but isn't it a little late?

Local elections have historically been held in odd years, while the newly-created Washington Delegate is elected in the federal even-year cycle.

Maybe I need a lawyer's help here, but it seems that the Governor, Lt. Governor, Senators and Mayors will be elected in 2009 with the current four-year term provided under the Constitution. Can a Constitutional Amendment during the same election change that term to three years?

Let the legal scholars decide, but it sure would have been cleaner for the amendment to be on the ballot last month. Of course, the Legislature got tied up deciding whether it was a regular election. Not so coincidentally, dangerous ideas (to incumbents) like a part-time legislature and elected Attorney General couldn't take effect until 2012. That AG initiative has been kicking around for years, but it always gets buried in committees.

There's still some question about Mayors and Municipal Councils, too. Especially on Saipan, where frequent flyer and Mayor Juan Tudela is doing his best to prove he's not needed.

At least the Mayor of the Northern Islands has a productive marriage mill going, though I'm always amused that an acting Mayor is appointed when he makes a trip up north.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Night lights

Our planet from space if everyone left the lights on; just another nifty image from NASA's Earth Observatory.

The images are from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Operational Line Scanner (whew!) for the year 2003. They filtered out sunlight, moonlight and the aurora.

You can link to a more detailed (3 MB) picture here if you want more details-- it loads too slowly to put on this page.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bail out bonds

I love a good joke, so how could I pass up a story with this lead?

Ford Motor Co. plans to tell Congress it is retooling itself to build small fuel-efficient cars and break from the past strategy of focusing mainly on large pick up trucks and sport-utility vehicles, and will cut the compensation package of Chief Executive Alan Mulally, as part of its bid to win support for a federal bail out of the Big Three auto makers, a person familiar with the matter said.


Jimmy Carter would have been proud, but isn't it a bit late to plan for the 21st Century? Which slogan are they using, Ford. Bold moves. or Built for the road ahead?

Transitions

There's a helpful story on the Department of Homeland Security's "Transition to U.S. Immigration Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands" webpage in Monday's Saipan Tribune.

Not that there's anything new, but along with the overview page it gives us a window on what DHS is doing.

Until we got the (bad) news that Chinese and Russian visa waivers weren't likely, there wasn't any word out of Washington. June 1, 2009 is just around the corner and it's past time for them to flesh out the details.

Six months isn't much time to plan for the new immigration rules. We can only hope that these are signs the process is picking up some steam, and that the process doesn't get muddled by the transition to an Obama administration.

Flying off on a tangent

It's really off of the subject, but it's possible Saipan might get occasional visits from another airline. That would be ICE Air, the Flight Operations Unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Of course we'd hardly be able to fill a plane...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Passing the buck and passing the budget

The Saipan Tribune has a counter on its front page: xx days without a government budget for FY 2009. (Click on the picture of the front page in the online edition.)

Does anyone care any more?

I've enjoyed the online Marianas Variety more since they added a 'comments' feature, though there are only a dozen or so regular users. One thing I've noticed in the last 60 days is no one comments on the budget stories; okay Friday has an exception, just to prove the rule.

Is the budget too complicated? Are people burned out because the budget is never passed on time?

People complain about crime, and about soft sentencing, but not about the Attorney General's inability to attract enough prosecutors to avoid plea bargains. Should there be enough textbooks for all of the schoolkids? How about money to keep skilled medical professionals? The list is long.

How about jobs? That should get someone's attention. There's no way departments can take a ten percent cut without reducing employment. This is an election year, of course, so the actual decisions (and blame) will apparently be foisted on the Governor-- and the Legislature will only take an 8.7 percent cut.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spam diet

I've been casually following some security companies trying to cut down on the spam in our email diet.

Think of it as angels and demons fighting over your internet soul while you blithely check on who's dancing with the stars.

The details go over my head in about ten seconds, but there's been some success in cutting off the control servers for some of the largest botnets-- networks of computers like yours controlled by bad guys to send spam.

The first stories were about the Internet Service Provider McColo Corp. being shut down a year after its Russian founder's car crash. That reduced spam by about 80 billion, according to some researchers, and estimated 41% drop. Evidently that didn't include my friends in Burkina Faso and in various lotteries and s*ze *ncrease shops.

But it's a cops-and-robbers game; the Srizbi botnet, for instance, soon moved to Estonia where it was shut down again. A criminal domain registrar was shut down with little apparent effect.

The catch, and there always is one, would be if governments get too involved. I wonder about the effect on net neutrality.

A little closer to home (your computer), you Windows users are updating regularly, aren't you? Microsoft claims its November Malicious Software Removal Tool took out one million worthless applications.

DUH

Even the federal government is getting smarter about computer security. They're going "to first fix vulnerabilities in federal networks that hackers are known to exploit most frequently -- a move that represents a significant change from current federal security policy." Well, the guidelines should be available for public comment within six months.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cripes, mom

An email forwarded by my mother, of all people. It made me think of Glen Doutrich (RIP).

The madam opened the brothel door in Winnipeg and saw a rather dignified, well-dressed, good-looking man in his late forties or early fifties.

'May I help you sir?' she asked.

'I want to see Valerie,' the man replied.

'Sir, Valerie is one of our most expensive ladies. Perhaps you would prefer someone else', said the madam.

'No, I must see Valerie,' he replied.

Just then, Valerie appeared and announced to the man she charged $5000 a visit. Without hesitation, the man pulled out five thousand dollars and gave it to Valerie, and they went upstairs. After an hour, the man calmly left.

The next night, the man appeared again, once more demanding to see Valerie. Valerie explained that no one had ever come back two nights in a row as she was too expensive. But there were no discounts. The price was still $5000.

Again, the man pulled out the money, gave it to Valerie, and they went upstairs. After an hour, he left.

The following night the man was there yet again.

Everyone was astounded that he had come for a third consecutive night, but he paid Valerie and they went upstairs.

After their session, Valerie said to the man, 'No one has ever been with me three nights in a row. Where are you from?'.

The man replied, ' Ontario '.

'Really', she said. 'I have family in Ontario'.

'I know.' the man said. 'Your sister died, and I am her attorney. She asked me to give you your $15,000 inheritance.'

The moral of the story is that three things in life
are certain.
1. Death
2. Taxes
3. Being screwed by a lawyer

Waiving the flags?

The Department of Homeland Security hates tourists. That's the reality we face when we read (Gov. Benigno R.) Fitial to continue pressing for China, Russia visa waivers (Saipan Tribune)

The Christian Science Monitor tells us that Tourism rises globally, but not to U.S. The article notes that "In fact, the annual number of foreign visitors to the US is about 2 million lower than in 2000, leading travel-industry experts to figure that from 2000 to 2007, the US economy took a hit of about $150 billion." Security trumps tourism.

The article quotes Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association about the reasons there are far fewer foreign visitors to trade shows:
On a recent trip to China, Mr. Shapiro met the owner of a chain of 1,200 electronics stores who said he'd love to visit the Las Vegas show – but can't get a visa. While Shapiro may not know why that particular visa request was denied, he does know about the process a Chinese businessperson, tourist, or student has to go through to get a visa.

As he describes it, the applicant must first get to the US Embassy or a city with a US consulate, wait in what can be a long line, and pay a $100 application fee, giving a full accounting of all financial assets. The applicant must then return to the embassy or consulate for a two-minute interview that results in approval for a visa or rejection.


Foreign students face a similar problem. That's probably going to be the next local headline when the regulations are finalized.

There's certainly a connection to the Marines moving to Guam, with some spillover expected to the Northern Marianas. China and Russia are hardly hotbeds of terrorism, though some Chechens have been among the 'foreign fighters' in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military security, visa fraud and other criminal activity are more likely to be the "security concerns" cited in the proposed regulations.

As I so persuasively argued in Immigrate Expectations, the CNMI is likely to get lost in national immigration issues. From recent discussions on ILW.COM, it appears that Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation is very likely early in the next U.S. Congress. Any exceptions for Guam and the CNMI would be seen as precedents and it's hard to see bureaucrats sticking their necks out in that political climate.

Maybe the Governor can bring it up if he meets President-elect Barack Obama while attending the inauguration.

Okay, my tongue is firmly in cheek on that one.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Marianas zen

In the spirit of former House Speaker Oscar "suitcase" Rasa's threat to sue Gregorio "motorcade" Cruz, I offer the following koan:

Which one would you support?

Another test, would this be a non sequitur? NMI's conservation plan paves way for commercial fishing

Shrinking pains. Study sees steep job losses under federalization

There's always the military buildup. And, um, Homeland Security makes it a dim sum. Visa waivers for Russia, China dim

But if it was the federal government... Fitial: Lawsuit over LaoLao lease irresponsible, nonsense. And if you don't like the result... DelRosario: Court's order to seize DPL assets unfair

Paying for Guam's cranes? Matson to hike Guam, NMI rates in Feb..

But there are "new twists to the swimsuit competition." Stellar Marianas to present last Miss Marianas pageant

Maybe it's Guam today and here tomorrow. Gas falls below $3 a gallon. But $3.13 isn't bad

Or give them to the Obama family. Guthertz: Let GAIN help greyhounds (That's Guam Animals In Need)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Saipan oops: sun, sand and sex

A recent post from tripadvisor.com shows that Saipan still has a way to go in promoting itself:
I just returned from 2 days in Saipan in April. We stayed the the Century Hotel, and it was nice enough. Overall, we were disappointed in Saipan because of all the dodgy gambling houses and hookers. Hookers approached me on the street while I was walking with my wife. We felt unsafe in Saipan, and thought our things would be stolen at any moment. We were glad to leave, expecially when the only cafe at the airport sold $5 water and soft drinks. I wouldn't recommend Saipan to the island traveller - Guam and Palau were so much better.

The Aquarius Beach Tower got mostly great reviews, and none of them dissed Saipan. Well, except for "Also, you will be far away from Garapan, the crowds of tourists, cheesy shops and hookers."

A personal view for readers not familiar with Saipan: the hookers are certainly all over Garapan, but generally not too aggressive (at least to 'statesiders'; you can say haole if you're smiling). Either it's getting better or I don't notice as much. The problem still needs more attention, but for me it's certainly not threatening or dangerous.

That said, I had one lovely lass try to jump into my car when I was leaving a general store. Walking over to the Paseo de Marianas for my five buck Thursday supper-- which at today's grocery prices here is cheaper than cooking for the family-- makes me feel like Robert Stack wading through the airport Hare Krishna in the movie Airplane!. My son asked what a 'massageee' was on our stroll there last week. I said a relaxing back rub or some such nonsense. "Let's take a different route back," I suggested. "Maybe I can get another offer." I did.

It's not just the night ladies; Garapan restaurants have their hawkers on the street too, though they usually stick to the Japanese tourists.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The sporting life

Well, studies seem to be showing that Viagra is indeed a performance-enhancing drug. In sports.

"All my athletes took it," Victor Conte of the infamous BALCO laboratory is quoted as saying.

The World Anti-Doping Agency is looking into the matter, and may ban the drug* before the 2009 Winter Olympics. That's timely, because the effects are reportedly more, um, pronounced at higher altitudes.

According to the New York Times: "The agency, based in Montreal, is financing two studies related to Viagra and performance enhancement in sports. The University of Miami is studying whether Viagra benefits aerobic capacity at lower altitudes than the Stanford study — comparable to heights where elite competitions take place. This study is also examining whether there is a difference in the way Viagra affects male and female athletes."

Okay, I'll stop sniggering if you will. After I point out the obvious preliminary screening for men: dirty pictures. Oh, and expunge the picture of some lad in speedos fighting his priapism by thinking of baseball like some Junior High School student who just watched little Maria reach down to pick up a pencil.

More sniggers; I lied

This gives us another possible cause for athlete's well-publicized misadventures. Steroids and Viagra is a scary mix.

It also may explain why ESPN has so many commercials for enhancing that other performance. That and sedentary couch potatoes. I don't watch it as much as I might because of my son. It's not embarassment or priggishness, I just don't like the faux macho stuff.

As usual, professional sports are behind the curve, especially in the U.S. In fact, the National Football league has a marketing agreement with Levitra, while Major League Baseball has Viagra (batter up) and Cialis is on the PGA tour.

* No word on drugs from the same family like Cialis and Levitra (Vivanza! to you Italians).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Federalization formality

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation agreed to review and approval of many of its actions by the federal Environmental Protection Agency under the terms of last week's stipulations.

Like it or not, that's federalization. Technically, it is only the formality described by CUC Executive Director Antonio S. Muna. The stipulations were negotiated months ago.

But, according to an EPA press release:
The orders were lodged with the U.S. District Court in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands simultaneously with the filing of a complaint by the U.S. Department of Justice to address violations of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act at facilities owned and operated by CUC. The orders will take effect when signed by the District Court judge following the conclusion of a 30-day public comment period.

When that happens, Stipulated Order Number One has minimum requirements for a number of positions, including future Executive Directors. Deadlines kick in: for hiring of qualified staff, for an organizational evaluation and reorganization plan (subject to review and alteration by EPA), for (approved) procurement procedures, Standard Operating Procedures, comprehensive training programs... you get the idea. Stipulated Order Number Two deals with oil handling.

It's only for wastewater, drinking water, oil storage, pipelines and spills. Basically, everything but the power plants. And it's bound to be expensive, within 180 days there is supposed to be :
A financial management plan which can generate sufficient revenues to cover drinking water and wastewater operations and compliance activities, planning and design of the proposed Village of Kagman wastewater treatment plant, the proper management of oil and used oil from the PP Facilities, oil spill prevention and response activities, as well as any other anticipated related expenses, including all existing debt and expected debt service and the build-up of a financial reserve, discussed more fully below, including the establishment of a rate structure to generate sufficient revenues, until development of the Final Financial Plan based on an approved Master Plan;

"In the past people wanted to hide from bad news," the Saipan Tribune quotes Gov. Benigno R. Fitial as saying. "We decided to fix the problem instead."

That's twenty years of catch-up in a short time, but this looks like it might work.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Paper cuts

Well, no Sunday Saipan Tribune, according to Publisher Lynn A. Knight.

This has been coming for months. Advertising in both* local papers has been steadily dwindling. Much of what remains is going-out-of-business sales, insurance companies' Notice of Withdrawals and garage sales.

The Marianas Variety went to yellow stock, then green, then slightly smaller newsprint. All to save a buck.

Sunday is the logical choice; that edition sat on the shelf when I was selling papers. There are syndication fees for those Sunday funnies and not much happens here on Saturdays anyway except for sports. Government sources have the weekend off anyway.

Knight makes an excellent point in her column: You don't have to agree with the conclusions of the Economic Impact of Federal Laws on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to consider it must reading. It's too bad I couldn't get the report from Insular Affairs, the CNMI government or the media. I first found the pdf at Unheard No More.

Which brings up an interesting point. Both local papers have been pushing their online editions (which can't be good for ad sales). Why couldn't they have included a pdf on their website? That's one of the few things I like about the Pacific Daily News: links to the original documents often accompany their stories in sidebars.

* I don't include Guam's Pacific Daily News or the Pacific Times-- which is only the press arm of Emmanuel College and whatever politicians might be able to help the college. In any case, ptimes hasn't been publishing much... unless it's got news about... Emmanuel College.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jet streams

No time for posting so far this week, but I've just got to share this simulation of air traffic worldwide.

Addictive. I've watched at least a dozen times.




I don't know if it includes military (I doubt it), private and corporate flights, but this is close to what my guess would be.

That's a lot of carbon offsets for you eco-flyers.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Putting the civil in civil rights

I've been thinking, and saying, it's a bit early to think we've entered some post-racial utopia because of Barack Obama's win.

Here's some anecdotal evidence from MSNBC.com. Fringe people, you'd say rightly, but still a reality check.
There have been "hundreds" of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes.

Another twist

Commentators, who have to overanalyze everything, have been theorizing that the large turnout for Obama helped pass California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.

You see this coming, don't you?
According to eyewitness reports published on the Internet, racial epithets have been used against African-Americans at protests in California, directed even at blacks who are fighting to repeal Proposition 8.

Not to pick on Californians Against Hate (!), but really:
Even before the passage of Proposition 8, Californians Against Hate compiled and published a "dishonor roll" of those individuals, along with their company affiliations, who gave $5,000 or more towards supporting the measure. Telephone numbers and Web sites were added along with commentary about some of the larger donors to public information obtained through the California Secretary of State's Office. (I added the boldface)

Mmm, Mr. Obama, when can we have that conversation about race?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's funny about reindeer?

Hilarious. Some psychologists are obsessing over Who Enjoys Humor More: Conservatives or Liberals?.

What about urinals? Are conservatives or liberals more shy when someone is standing next to them?*

"Common stereotypes link the word "liberal" with words such as open-mindedness, tolerance, and impartiality, while the word "conservative" is linked with tradition, caution, and conventional values. Given these associations we might expect that liberals will appreciate, and respond more to humor and jokes than conservatives."

Liberal stereotypes, I would add.

Personally, I've found people of either ilk to be equally humorless when you get to the poles of the spectrum. Rigid doctrinaire people have more in common than what I find in their political differences. But they make good butts for jokes.

Surprise! The study was picked up by The New York Times.

"Could it be that the image of conservatives as humorless, dogmatic neurotics is based more on political bias than sound social science?" John Tierney asks. Ya think?

* I'll explain if you insist.

Going up?

The Saipan Tribune headline Consumer prices rise in Q3 is a bit misleading. Prices are up from a year ago, but down from the previous quarter.

The new data isn't on the Department of Commerce website yet*. I checked last week, and again today.

"All items" were indexed at 120.9 for the second quarter and 120.2 in the latest report released to the Tribune. This is noted in the story's fourth paragraph: "In a quarter-to-quarter comparison, however, only the prices of food, education and communication, and other goods and services showed increases, with most categories posting declines across the board."

That's more interesting to me; a quarter-to-quarter comparison gives me a better idea of what's happening in our economy. The consumer price index is an imperfect tool anyway, but it's the best we've got. I know it's being improved constantly-- the consultants seem to share a love of after-work libations so I usually meet them.

Still, I wish I had a key of some sort to see exactly what's included in the various categories. And, idly, I wonder if they could do the same by island instead of just the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

I hope the report gets posted by CSD next week.

(For some reason the saying "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." popped into my head. From Oscar Wilde, I think. I checked. At least it's in Picture of Dorian Gray. Delightful book, and that's not a word I use. Somehow, I'd never read it. He throws out more 'I wish I'd said that' lines than any author I can think of. I got stuck and I'm going back to the beginning as soon as this is posted.)

* No link to the CPI reports, but just "jump to" the Central Statistics Division link on Commerce's website and click on Consumer Price Index on their menu.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quibbles and bits

I'll bet the feds at least show up in court.

CNMI Businesses should have guessed.

I'm not convinced, but is this an argument for government pay cuts?

Audit this, Guam.

Shipping surcharges are down, why not prices? Oh, "other factors".

How many Hail To The Chiefs would that be?

Let this be a warning to you. Karaoke Konsequences

Warts and all... I can hardly wait for the TV commercial

In Bernanke we trust

Okay, bankers saying "Trust Me" can be added to the list of canards like "the check's in the mail".

Senators and Congressmen aren't happy with what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson aren't sharing about the $700,000,000,000 (I like the zeroes better than the words) bailout. Little things, like details.

And the other $2,000,000,000,000 in emergency loans? Oh yeah, that. The nerve of those elected officials; they act like it's their money. My favorite quote from the article:

''This constitutes exactly the scenario which landed these banks in their dilemma in the first place. The Fed is making sub- prime loans to these banks and taking their portfolio of subprime loans as collateral,'' said William Nein, an accountant from Woodland Park, Colorado, in an e-mail to Bloomberg. ``Where and when does this stop?''


"Federal Reserve spokeswoman Michelle Smith didn't respond to calls or an e-mail seeking comment."

What's your prevailing wage?

There's apparently still no determination of prevailing wages for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (or American Samoa) in the U.S. Department of Labor's Online Wage Library.

That's one very devilish detail with federalization of labor just around the corner.

Where's the data coming from? Could anyone help me here? I heard a rumor that we might start with Guam's wages.

From DOL's Office of Compliance: While there are several federal agencies involved with granting permission for foreign workers to work in the United States, employers generally must first obtain certification through DOL. Certification may be granted in cases where it can be demonstrated that there are insufficient qualified U.S. workers available and willing to perform the work at wages that meet or exceed the prevailing wage paid for that occupation in the area of intended employment. (emphasis added)

I was thinking of this (again) because of a Press Release from DOL:

STERLING, Va. — GlobalCynex Inc., a Sterling information technology company, has agreed to pay $1,683,584 to 343 non-immigrant workers after a U.S. Labor Department investigation found the company violated the H-1B visa provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

An investigation by the department's Wage and Hour Division found that employees hired under the H-1B program were not paid required wages from March 2005 through March 2007. Wage and Hour Division investigators also found that the company charged new H-1B workers training fees ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 that were in violation of the law.

"This case underscores the firm stance the Wage and Hour Division is taking to ensure that employers do not undercut American workers by underpaying temporary foreign workers," said Corlis Sellers, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division's Northeast Region.

The H-1B visa program permits employers to temporarily hire foreign workers in professional occupations such as computer programmers, engineers, physicians and teachers. H-1B workers must be paid at least the same wage rates as are paid to U.S. workers who perform the same types of work or the prevailing wages in the areas of intended employment.

The Wage and Hour Division enforces the H-1B wage provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, in addition to other federal laws pertaining to wage payments. For more information about the H-1B program, visit the department's Web site at www.dol.gov/compliance/audience/foreign_workers.htm.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Even Stevens

Amazing: days after conviction on seven felony counts, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens ran neck-and-neck for re-election (That's why politicians love earmarks, Senator McCain.)

He was leading until the absentee ballots started coming in, and still trails by only 214 votes to Mark Begich as this is written. Up-to-date results are here.

Bad choice of words

Villagomez says media 'corrupted' community blares the Saipan Tribune headline.

That's a bit sensational. Maybe 'tainted' or 'influenced' would have been better.

It's not Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez actually, apparently the 'quote' was lifted from a motion filed by attorney David Lujan. The 'air of prejudice' against public officials? Well, yeah. Go figure.

It would be hard to argue otherwise. If you're looking for a juror who hasn't heard of charges against the CNMI's Lieutenant Governor, start looking now. Ask around, and you'll have a hard time finding anyone who hasn't already decided on his guilt or been influenced by the media.

Bombast aside, Lujan wants to use a questionnaire to check for biased jurors instead of oral questioning. That's perfectly reasonable; in fact all jurors would be asked the same questions the same way without lawyers popping up with objections.

I just wouldn't want to be one of those jurors. Villagomez has a large family and has gathered friends and enemies throughout his political career. You'd be accused of bias whatever the verdict.

Also, I haven't felt the urge to run away and join the circus for years.

Runoff mouth, runoff election

I didn't expect the loopy extremists to stop with the evil fantasies about Barack Obama after he won, mind you. After all, Bill Clinton got a similar hazing when he was President-elect. Still, the volume should have gone down.

Gun sales are up, we hear. Encouraged by the National Rifle Association, squirrel hunters are trying to get one last assault rifle. Just in case. God bless a well-regulated militia.

But what if Obama gets a militia of his own? Yep, Georgia Rep. Paul Broun is worried about Obama's proposed civilian service corps. "That's exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it's exactly what the Soviet Union did." So he's a Nazi, or a Commie. One of those.

The election is over. What's going on? Wait. It isn't? Sure enough, there's a Senate runoff election. In Georgia. Saxby Chambliss, known for his dirty campaign against Mac Cleland, is facing a challenge from Democrat Jim Martin.

Whew, that was close. I didn't want to stop my campaign fixes cold turkey; this will allow withdrawal. Have they taken any polls yet?

Chambliss is reaching for a few big guns of his own: "Republican presidential nominee John McCain was scheduled to return to the campaign trail to stump for Chambliss on Thursday, following up a visit from Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) on Wednesday. The Chambliss campaign also extended invites to GOP stars Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee." (Maybe Palin would take his call if he said he was Mikheil Saakashvili.)

The political wonks are twittering about whether Obama should "risk" his momentum in campaigning for what is likely to be a losing cause. He hasn't committed yet, reportedly. Martin does have Obama's formidable volunteer organization at his disposal.

The question in one-issue elections is always who gets their voters out. Hmm, how about some scurrilous attacks to get out the base?

I know. Let's set off alarms about militias on the border and about businessmen, firemen, Fed-Ex drivers and garbagemen being recruited to 'watch' us. Oops, wrong President.

I wish Al Franken would do one of his meltdowns about this. But I forget; he's trying to be Senatorial these days and facing a recount in Minnesota. Another political fix! A fix of the other sort, Norm Coleman sympathizers are claiming, as his victory margin keeps shrinking. Yeah, Minnesota is right up there with the big cities in political corruption. Hey, it's a claim, it doesn't have to be true. Just ask Paul Broun.

"I'd never seen anything like that ad. Putting pictures of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden next to the picture of a man who left three limbs on the battlefield -- it's worse than disgraceful. It's reprehensible." --John McCain on Saxby's 2002 ad

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Meatpackers on the hoof

Those 150 Palauans recruited for the notorious Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa seem to be learning about the nefarious world of guest workers the hard way.

Luckily, as citizens of a Freely Associated State, they can legally find other work in the United States. The company began recruiting in Palau after a much-publicized immigration raid and allegations of wage and child labor violations.

Still, some of the tricks would sound familiar to immigrant workers. From the Jewish Daily Forward:

More than 150 Palauans were flown in during September, after being recruited by local representatives of Agriprocessors. Many members of the community said that in Palau they were promised free round-trip airfare and a job that paid $10 an hour, along with free housing.

Nicholson Nichola, 20, said the job had ended up paying only $9 an hour. And after a few weeks on the job, the company had asked the Palauans to sign a paper committing them to paying back $1,400, the cost of the ticket to Postville.


Thanks in part to the Forward's coverage and attention it's drawn, many Jewish groups are boycotting the kosher meatpacker. There have been tales of illegal deductions and of recruiters and landlords connected to but not part of the company.

Stories about the workers get rarer the closer you get to Postville. You'd almost think Iowa papers are tip-toeing around the meatpacking industry. The Des Moines Register, a statewide paper, found one Palauan who had quit because working conditions were getting worse:

(Oscar) Andres said he had seen a surge in the number of dead chickens on a plant conveyor belt, lending credibility to concerns that Agriprocessors officials have been leaving caged chickens unattended for days because they could not afford to feed and process the birds.

Andres said the chickens he processed last month appeared healthier. But the chickens last week looked "half dead," he said. The stench was so overpowering that he vomited at least twice while working at the conveyor belt.

"This is not right," Andres said. "It was making me sick. I was worried about my health."


They also did a nice piece on how the company had affected Postville.

The Gazette in Cedar Rapids sounds like a Chamber of Commerce booster. It quotes a Palauan who doesn't feel secure about his job, and another that's satisfied. A retired priest says it would be best to get new owners. The editor of Postville's Herald-Leader is quoted as agreeing.

The Herald-Leader coverage?. Nothing about workers who have been suspended (and therefore don't qualify for unemployment), increasing lines in food kitchens and landlords threatening eviction.

They found some un-named workers at the plant:

The company's beef kill operation was suspended last Monday (October 27) and, as of today (Monday, November 3) had not resumed. Chicken, turkey and other departments, however, have been working each day. An employee, who asked not to be identified, said he was hired November 3 and is to begin work Thursday on the beef kill floor.

When asked about rumors that the company is having difficulty making payroll, other employees who were standing near the entrance of the plant said they had gotten their checks on time last week and they were cashed without a problem. A sign outside the plant is currently advertising Agriprocessors as a good place to work.


At least the newspaper is good at pulling fines and criminal charges out of court documents.

* An interesting sidelight: The 98 year-old Postville Herald was put out of business because of aggressive reporting that upset local business leaders What would the local coverage have been if it had survived?(Agriprocessors opened in 1987.)

** It looked flaky from the beginning. The Palau Meatpackers league? In a story with this breathtaking statement: "Orientation training will include an introduction to the universal principles of morality known as the Seven Noachide Laws which the US Congress has encouraged the whole world to study and observe as the bedrock foundations of civilization since the ancient days." Then again, the title was Calling for Palauan, Martial (sic) Islands and FSM workers, so it might have been a joke. Palau President Tommy Remengesau tried to warn people

Butterfly tracks

I'm hooked on stories about how we change our climate and on photos from space. Today there was a new one from NASA's Earth Observatory: clouds along shipping lines, or ship tracks.

Oh, joy! An excuse to mount a Search on their website. I've read about jet contrails for years, and how there's a near-permanent band of clouds along popular routes. It seems ships have the same effect. Some of our smarter monkeys are trying to plug all these influences into the climate models on their supercomputers to see the net effect.

I actually doubt if they'll ever get there, even secretly hope they won't. The Butterfly Effect: roughly, that a bug flying or landing on a leaf has an effect which causes something else, affecting something else... Eventually, half a world away a coconut is blown onto your car. Something like that. There's just too much data, no matter how big the computer.

Still, they're getting closer. From another NASA article: "The brighter clouds that result from man-made aerosols reflect more of the Sun’s light back into space, decreasing the amount of light that reaches the Earth’s surface. This interaction of man-made aerosols with clouds has cooled the Earth, offsetting global warming, though scientists are still not sure by how much."

It all gives me a headache, but scientists say the net effect is still a warming climate. I'm not George Bush, so I'll take their word for it. For now.

That burning sensation

What about the fires we set? The second photo is of field sterilization in northwestern India. It kills some pests and fertilizes the fields, but at what price? Another butterfly to track.

There are only a few contrails in this photo of fires in the Southern U.S., but I snatched the link because of a matter-of-fact statement I found droll and scary at the same time: "At the southeastern tip, a strip of cement-colored terrain marks the location of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami."

Which is reflective and causes what? We're too smart, and not smart enough. I've wondered for years what effect a hydrogen economy would have on climate. Imagine a city with millions of people pumping water vapor into the air. Then plug that guess into your climate model.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Complicated CUC problems

I've been thinking about Richard Brautigan for a few days.

It started, like many of my musings these days, with the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation. Oops, I thought, maybe Friday afternoon isn't a good time to pay my bills.

Two laps around the parking lot should have warned me. Maybe they're all in Joeten shopping, thought I. Oh. No. The line snaked in a backwards 'S' around the ropes with its twitching tail almost at the door. They probably just cashed their paychecks. What's my excuse?

Years of training kicked in. I looked for acquaintances to kill some time chatting. No luck. I carefully calibrated the personal space of the attractive girl in front of me. That didn't seem to be a problem with the Chinese guy crowding behind. Line etiquette; that cultural thing.

It got more complicated when we reached the 'S'; total strangers forced to stand face-to-face. We all studied each other, not too closely and definitely not too long. I memorized every sign in the room, studied the ceiling, studied the floor. Studied the video camera, but not too closely and not too long. What's that all about? Get a grip, I told myself, they're not going to drag you out of the line for looking.

A small boy sat on the floor and kicked a wooden partition out of boredom. I chuckled, for the benefit of the embarrassed mother and because I was a little jealous of him.

Finally, a familiar face. Okay, we'd just played against each other a few times in a pool league. Not important, today we were good buddies, and the line trudged forward.

Another boy got caught looking at me too long. I smiled at him. He'll learn.

Really, somehow I knew it was coming. When only one person was in front of me a cashier frowned. She studied her paperwork, went into the supervisor's office and started querying the other cashiers. I thought of Brautigan.

"It always happens when you're next in line, doesn't it?" I asked the girl in front of me. She smiled and answered. We were honorary acquaintances after an hour in line.

The next cashier patiently waited for her customer as someone walked up and gave her a few bills. She must have texted a friend because she was short of cash. I'm guessing, mind you, because one sign said to respect other customers' privacy. The first messenger didn't bring enough. Another friend came, and another after five minutes. (Maybe I'm exaggerating) I thought of the Sistine Chapel.

The third cashier had her own worries. I wasn't watching closely-- privacy, you know-- but there seemed to be some haggling involved, with the customer periodically reaching into various pockets.

I'd recreated most of Complicated Banking Problems, a Brautigan short story, by the time I sailed through my turn at the counter. He was back in my head after all of these years.

That was the only story I could remember, but an amazing thing happened. I Googled his stories but didn't even have to open most links. The title would bring them back, or a teaser like "When I got there they were burying the lion in the back yard again. As usual, it was a hastily dug grave..."

I liked him a lot at a certain time, though I took some flak because he wasn't a Serious Writer. I can live with that; it was his surrealist sensibility I was looking for.

And I found someone reading the story:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Defending Sarah Palin

I'm over my obsession with the Presidential election, but the media just won't let it go. It took Sarah Palin to make me care.

Go figure. On a personal level, her voice came out at a pitch that jangled my blackboard-scratch aural pain center. How much did I dislike her as a candidate? Let me count the ways.

That's all irrelevant; she's got my sympathy. It's not surprising that the worst of the post-election attacks came out on FOX news. Sleazy comments about her thinking Africa was a country* and not knowing the countries in the NAFTA treaty. Anonymous attacks.

That's my problem with FOX: not the political views, but the tabloidy rumors and innuendo it deals in to sell them. I've read conservative commentators for years, even added a cable company mainly to watch Rush Limbaugh at happy hour. That was years ago, before he took himself seriously and, scarily, others began taking him seriously.

It sells. They know that, and so do their competitors. Though they pretend to loathe that proud part of American journalism, they'll pick it up in a heartbeat if they're losing market share.

Who's your Uncle? Sam or Tom

For a moment, Shepherd Smith seemed to be auditioning for a job at another network with his "Joe The Plumber" interview on a Death to Israel remark. I guess not, it's the soundbite, stupid. He followed by highlighting Ralph Nader's loony remark about Barack Obama being an Uncle Tom. Ralph says he's just asking the question. Right, and why should we take you seriously? Did you ask yourself that question, Shepherd?

Mo' maps

The link to the graphic above was emailed by my brother. Yes, I'm tired of this stuff, but it caught me again. What if we map votes with a cartogram weighting population into the election results? From Mark Newman, he's got the same stuff by county and with other interesting manipulations.

* As a group, Americans are abysmally ignorant of geography. There have been dozens of studies proving this obvious fact. Just to pick a group, I'd like to see how many of the 435 U.S. Congressmen could pick out a country in an unlabeled map. How would they do identifying the majority of states? Finding Saipan or the Northern Marianas?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bad times

Bad news for some Micronesian neighbors: Guam Greyhound is closing and Palauan meatpackers face tough times in Iowa.

It's been apparent to outside observers that John K. Baldwin and company bought Guam Greyhound in 2006 with a business plan tied to adding more gaming. It appears they gave up after their latest attempt failed.

Not Kosher

Meatpacking giant Agriprocessors has filed for bankruptcy protection, according to the New York Times.

The company has been slammed nationally for alleged immigration, child labor and overtime violations. The news led to a boycott by some Jewish groups on ethical grounds.

That's led to shortages of kosher meat, according to the article, so the company may be able to come back if it gets new owners.

Agriprocessors made the local news by recruiting in Micronesia. Vice President Elias Camsek Chin reportedly visited more than 60 Palauan workers at the plant recently. Just checking on their welfare, mind you, nothing to do with his Presidential campaign.

I'm often entertained by the idiosyncratic reporting in the Palau Horizon and Marianas Variety. The story manages to avoid mentioning Agriprocessors' name. That one won't pop up in a Google search.

While I'm picking on them

What a difference a plural can make. The Marianas Variety headline Police arrested for firing gun captured my attention today. I'd probably read the story anyway, but it wouldn't have been the first.

An outsider might have been confused for a moment if they read "HISTORY was made yesterday with the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American U.S. president and the CNMI’s first delegate to the U.S. Congress." Or not.

That's just me. I pick at these things everywhere, for instance the vaunted New York Times. Even the author got confused by this ragged sentence and wrote the opposite of what he meant: "Significantly, though, among American troops in Iraq, the hope seemed tinged with skepticism that change in the White House would not automatically mean change in American doctrines that have meant deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Throw off your Cheneys

Just when you thought it was safe to go near the Marine Monument (cue Jaws theme)

Barack Obama supporters may have thought they'd seen the last of Vice President Dick Cheney. Not so fast. According to an article in The Washington Post (reprinted in today's Saipan Tribune), Cheney is concerned about fishing and energy exploration around the northernmost islands of the Northern Marianas.

First Lady Laura Bush reportedly supports the proposed Marine Monument. According to the Post:

Claudia McMurray, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science, said the administration will be "working up until the last week" of Bush's term on the initiatives.

"While it would take a significant amount of work, we haven't ruled it out," she said. "We feel fairly confident, scientifically, there are so many unique species in that area, from that standpoint, we think it's important to wall off as much as we can."


It's not Obama time yet.

Saipan's turn at the table

Guam Greyhound lost its casino gaming initiative. Again.

Expect a Saipan casino initiative to pop up on next year's ballot. Again.

It will be a new, improved, can't-miss version of course. They always are. Still, the Pacific Daily News forum will save both sides a lot of time in putting their arguments together. It ran from April through Tuesday's election.

Guam voters gave Proposition A a thumbs-down by almost two-to-one. The Saipan Casino Act lost by almost the same margin. But, as Stevie Forbert said "You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play".

I'd give odds on this-- if it was legal to bet on it here.

By the way

It looks like Northern Marianas voters will be having an election every year for the forseeable future. It's too bad the Washington Delegate election can't be aligned with Commonwealth elections to save a few bucks.

James Baldwin says they've given up on initiatives, according to the Pacific Daily News. I'd still make my bet.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Machine politics

I'm tired of What This All Means. The Onion makes me cry.


Voting Machines Elect One Of Their Own As President

Missing the bota

It seems Gregorio "Kilili" Sablan and Pedro Agulto Tenorio 'should' be headed for a runoff in the Delegate race in the Northern Marianas, "Where America votes first". Both men are leading in incomplete results from the Commonwealth Election Commission, since neither has 25 percent of the vote, nevermind fifty percent.

But there was no CNMI Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives when a 50 percent plus one vote for Governor and Lieutenant Governor was approved by voters last year.

Absentee ballots will be counted Nov. 18, according to the Saipan Tribune. Agulto would have to make up 360 votes to catch Kilili.

The Tribune says 650 absentee ballots have been received so far, while the Marianas Variety says there are 1,112 absentee voters.

It seems Tenorio is still the only candidate who submitted finance reports to the Federal Election Commission.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

That dog don't hunt

Sure, a lot of Republicans are looking for the last boat off of the Titanic, but why on earth would Vice President Dick Cheney endorse John McCain at the last minute? Does anyone think there's an undecided voter who's going to think 'well, if Dick says it's okay...'?

This seems like another Cheney hunting accident with McCain as the victim. Sure, he's still got his fans. So does George Bush: two people stood up for him in USSP last night. Those people have already made up their minds.

McCain is desperately trying to stay away from these associations. Oh, and according to Taegan Goddard, Barack Obama helpfully responded with "I'd like to congratulate Senator McCain on this endorsement because he really earned it."



Surprise, surprise, surprise -- Gomer Pyle

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel died Friday. He was one of the good ones.

Don't know him? You're on the internet, and he's worth whatever time you can spare for a Google. One of the good ones.

Now it's Hawaii

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle claims Barack Obama is even "the other" in Hawaii: "Senator Obama likes to say he's from Hawaii. But, the truth is, I've never met him in my life."

Writer Paul Theroux disagrees in The Daily Beast.

She's met Theroux, though "I don’t have a lot of free time for reading," she is said to have said. See, there were other choices besides Sarah Palin.

Further proof that Obama is an elitist: I'm not familiar with Pico Iyer.

Election Night Lottery

Idly, I wonder if this is legal:

Ken --

I want you to be there with me on Election Night when the results come in.

We're planning a big event that will include tens of thousands of supporters in Grant Park in downtown Chicago.

We're saving some of the best seats in the house for 5 people who make their first donation to the campaign before Sunday at midnight.

If you're selected, you can bring a guest, and we'll fly you in and put you up in a hotel for the night. You'll go backstage at the big event and -- no matter what happens -- you'll have a front row seat to history as we celebrate the supporters who got us over the finish line.

Any donation counts -- whatever you can afford. Show your support at this crucial time with a donation of $5 or more, and you could join me on Election Night:

https://donate.barackobama.com/frontrow

This movement for change has been a testament to the power of ordinary Americans coming together to achieve extraordinary things.

I look forward to having you there on Election Night.

Thank you,

Barack

American idol

Christians praying for a better economy at the 'Wall Street Bull'? (Bowling Green, actually. I know, I know) Tell me it isn't so.

Not really, but there's actually a grain of truth there. A woman namedCindy Jacobs picked the anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash as 'a day of prayer for the world's economies' and the Word went out on the fundamental grapevine.

The bull story is getting some internet traction, but come on now, the source is Wonkette. It's probably a good sign that I can still be surprised by people's gullibility-- not jaded and faded yet, by Ba'al.

I bit, I'll admit. I followed the boingboing link supplied by my brother and went on from there. On some level I wanted it to be true, so I read every blog I could find and all of the comments. The price was 45 minutes wasted; the jokes were priceless.

The bull was a throw-in, but worshipping an idol was too good for Wonkette to pass up. That's my impression, at least. Their photos look more like performance art than some people looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.

Good theater, but Jacobs actual message is less funny and a bit scarier:

For this reason, we are meeting with intercessors at the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve Bank and its 12 principal branches around the U.S. on October 29, 2008. We are also going to intercede at the site of the statue of the bull on Wall Street to ask God to begin a shift from the bull and bear markets to what we feel will be the “Lion’s Market” or God’s control over the economic systems. While we do not have the full revelation of all this will entail, we do know that without intercession, economies will crumble.

Wow, what if she'd gotten to George Bush a few years ago?

Odds and ends update:

No word from the Vatican, but they're vetting priests. Sorry, no Palin joke here.

Wall Street could use a little religion

There's sharia law, of course. (I tried to go to another Washington Post article via the Daily Beast cheat-sheet, but the geniuses at their registration don't recognize Saipan's 96950 as a valid U.S. zip code. I left a sarcastic note.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpkin carving time

Nope, you didn't click on Doc Khorram's site by mistake, this is a panel from Ray Villafane's pumpkin carving tutorial. Amazing stuff, though maybe too much for Saipan's underwater pumpkin carving contest.

I wish I'd run across this site a day or so earlier; this isn't like my usual hack a gourd.

I'd recommend a little patience. The page wouldn't load the first time and I got a server error the second. It looks like he's getting a lot of hits. I finally got through by trying the home page http://www.villafanestudios.com/ instead of the "pumpkins" page.

More photos on MySpace.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Traffic

I love driving down Beach Road in the morning, so complaining when my son misses the bus to Hopwood Jr. High is mostly a parent thing. I'm expected to give The Lecture about Responsibility and Being On Time.

The stretch from Garapan to Oleai --where the road is actually on the beach-- used to be my favorite place to hang out. BS of course: before silting. It's soothing to check the tide, the birds, the people, the boats and ships. Strangely, there's not much traffic going South at 7:30.

Not today. The guy in front of me was going 25 or 30 miles per hour. I can deal with that by hanging back so it averages out. In fact, it was a nostalgic feeling, like being stuck behind a carabao cart years 'n years ago. The problem was the cars behind me. I got crowded every time I left too much distance in front of me.

So much for gawking, so I treated it as a teachable moment. In fact, I've got to get my camera into the shop, I could have made a video for a Driver Education class.

To lower my blood pressure, I calmly noted the fool tailgating us. Did I say fool? Hmm, hope not; that's setting a bad example. Even more calmly (desperately calm) I noted the speed-challenged fellow who wouldn't let me pass but sped up so he could wildly swerve into my lane and make a left turn.

Hmm, let's get in the right lane and let the Speed Racers go by. Woops, I almost nailed that guy turning in front of me; at least a three-car collision if I hadn't been watching for a bonehead move. Did you get that, son? Calmly.

Still calm, I explained I had crept into the sidewalk at the Marianas High School light because I had noticed in my rearview mirror that we would have been rear-ended if I stopped in front of the line. Those tourists in the crosswalk have the right of way, I said. Nevermind what I called the guy switching lanes to pass me.

Luckily, he had already 'gotten down' when I pulled up at the No Left Turn sign to leave Hopwood. I vented a little to myself when that, that, that woman pulled up to my right blocking my view of oncoming traffic so she could get five seconds in front of me.

Does anybody actually obey that sign? Is it a real traffic sign? That's similar territory to passing in the bike lane when someone is turning left, we've had that talk too, I think he's old enough. Yes, it's against the law I told him, in fact, it's a question on the Driver's Exam. But no one follows it, including the police.

So the subject didn't come up today (the above happened Wednesday). That must have been a bad day. Today was another smooth, peaceful jaunt along the beach. Well, until we ran into a funeral for the second day in a row.

Why do they run these processions at rush hour, with officers jumping out at every intersection to make things worse? Okay, rush hour is an exaggeration. This is still Saipan. Still, it doesn't seem unreasonable to schedule them a half-hour earlier or later.

Ah, traffic lights. I miss the old days, when people would stop a line of traffic to let someone pull out at a stop sign. That was another sort of aggravation, but it had a certain charm.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Biased news helps Obama campaign




WFTV's Barbara West defends her interview.

The Obama campaign disagrees.

And I disagree with both. That stuff is all over the web in some circles. The Obama campaign should use the interview in its advertising.

College grade

Could the Northern Marianas College actually shut down? I've been on Saipan long enough that I'm used to brinksmanship; thinking the current 'show cause' status was just another example of mañana meeting reality.

Despite the article in today's Saipan Tribune about a closure plan I was still in denial about NMC losing accreditation.

I'm not alone, though. The article includes the incredible statement that some officials "are aware officials are coming, but didn't know they would be using that visit to help determine NMC's future." Why else would they be coming?

Just a minor thing, a comment in Must be the Humidity woke me up. I went back and gave the story a closer read. This is not good.

The CNMI has a small population, and NMC has already had to shut down its Rota and Tinian campuses. Maybe we just don't have the resources, or the will, to support a community college. I hope that's not true.

BTW: Governor Benigno R. Fitial has extended the State of Emergency for the Commonwealth Health Center Pharmacy. Mañana.

Murder most virtual

Adding new meaning to "Get a Life", a Japanese women has murdered her online game husband. Funny, except her virtual crime will probably land her in a real jail.

"She is being investigated on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating data, a crime punishable with up to five years in prison or a fine of up to £3,160."

I'd never heard of Maple Story, so I wiki-ed its marriage rules: Players may participate in in-game marriages at the town of Amoria. Guests may be invited to the wedding, and the marrying couple will receive wedding ring items. The wedding "ceremony" requires the completion of various quests. If a premium wedding ticket from the Cash Shop was purchased, the player is entitled to have a party after the ceremony. In Amoria Dungeon, players can fight exclusive monsters. The KoreaMS version of Amoria has been altered to remove the training grounds and the Chapel area, leaving only the Cathedral. MapleStory currently does not allow same-sex marriage.

Is she the strange one for erasing his avatar, or does he top her by filing charges? The story mentions other internet strangeness:

— A Chinese man was arrested in Japan in 2005 on suspicion of carrying out a virtual mugging spree in the online game Lineage II and exchanging the stolen virtual goods for real cash

— Last year an animated character in Second Life, the popular online fantasy world, “raped” another character

— A Dutch teenager was charged last November with the virtual theft of furniture from rooms in Habbo Hotel, an online social networking site


There are 50 million Maple Stories, this has been one of them.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Elephants and bubbles

It's sad to hear that Carmen Safeway is closing, but I really wasn't going to write about it. Like Blockbuster and other businesses that have been shutting down it's the inevitable result of a shrinking economy. Besides, it's my fault.

It's a systemic problem, but we look at each failed business like the blind men describing an elephant*.

During the garment bubble** all foreign "investors" were welcomed with open arms. A karaoke bar or strip mall was equivalent to a water park.

Back up a moment here. What distinguishes the United States from developing countries? I'd argue that it's a strong middle class (We'll ignore the last eight years; it's my argument).

The CNMI has never asked the basic question: Development for who? Cheap labor has trumped local labor. Where are the mechanics, the hairdressers, the Joe Plumbers? They're on Guam, in the mainland or stuck in the government.

The few citizens or residents who own businesses are swamped by shoestring startups. I don't blame the Chinese, the Koreans, the Filipinos or any other group that comes here. They don't make the rules and the government has never tried to make the local workforce the driver of the economy.

Ah, but times are hard. Local workers who can't find a job or start a business are looking at the "outsiders" and asking 'what about me?' There will always be demagogues to fan those flames. It's noteworthy that the violent in-your-face crimes are aimed at foreign nationals.

The garment bubble has popped. We're left with tourism and transfer payments from the federal government. Most of the small foreign businesses came here in good faith. Ideally, they never would have come, but I'd support grandfathering them when stricter federal investment rules come in next year. That's no excuse to continue down a road that's so obviously a deadend. As Zaldy Dandan points out in Friday's Marianas Variety, the system is dysfunctional. It's too bad local leaders don't know how to fix it.

Oh, Carmen Safeway is (was) one of my favorite stores: an excellent bakery, good quality meat and vegetables and a lot of Japanese products. It's my fault they closed because I've been going to bakeries/stores that are closer or cheaper with merchandise that is 'almost as good'.

* You must have heard the story, but for anyone who missed it: One man fondled the trunk and announced that an elephant was like a snake. Another stroked a leg and said no, it's more like a tree trunk. And so on...

** Speculating while building an economy around an obscure customs footnote (Headnote 3(a)) fits my definition of a bubble

Friday, October 24, 2008

'Free' elections?

Only one candidate for the CNMI's Washington Delegate seat has reported any campaign contributions or expenditures, according to the Federal Election Commission. Washington Representative Pedro A. Tenorio reported receiving $31,498.

Strangely, John Oliver Gonzales, Juan T. Lizama and Gregorio "Kilili" Sablan aren't listed as candidates. Apparently there's a $5,000 threshold before reporting is required. That's one possibility, and my opinion is worth the phosphor it's printed on. The answer might be in the FEC Campaign Guide (PDF).

Felipe Q. Atalig, David M. Cing, Luis P. Crisostimo, John H. Davis, Jr. and Chong Man Won listed no receipts or disbursements.

From the FEC website: "Committees filing with the FEC generally submit reports on a quarterly or monthly schedule. Quarterly reports cover the calendar quarters and are due on April 15, July 15, October 15 and January 31. Monthly reports cover the calendar months and are typically due on the 20th day of the following month."

Again, I've just been skipping around the website, but candidates who are used to the Commonwealth's enforcement should note that there are fines and no extensions.

I went to the horse's, er, source because the information at OpenSecrets appeared to have little change from what I saw last month.

At both sites, Pedro A. Tenorio is the only candidate reporting contributions (and expenditures).

I've really been curious about this. Stay tuned.

In my last post I was too lazy to check, but it seems contributions over $200 must be reported.