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 instead of the "pumpkins" page.

More photos on MySpace.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


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.

Mayberry BHO

The Audacity of Opie

Another Hollywood endorsement of Barack Obama. Only about an eight on the funny scale, but I like my pun.

I didn't know Andy Griffith was still around. Ron Howard's got some nice wigs.

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Imitation originals

Worn by the Dude in the Big Lebowski (and also worn by Jeff Bridges in the Fisher King), we’ve recreated this classic Japanese baseball shirt. After much research, we’ve determined that the player is Kaoru Betto, who played for the Osaka Tigers in 1948 & 1949. Known as “the Gentleman of Baseball,” Betto was one of the first Japanese power hitters. This re-creation is extremely faithful to the original and is printed on a tan and brown raglan just like the Dude’s.

Prove you're a rebel by copping someone's movie image. Nevermind the contradiction: it's part of being American, real or otherwise.

I wanted The Skeleton Shirt from This is Spinal Tap, but it's probably too late to ship to Saipan by Halloween.

The folks at founditemclothing say it started with an internet search for that elusive "I Love Toxic Waste" t-shirt and has grown into a nifty niche market. I count 31 movies (get the video, too since our local Blockbuster is going down) and they're asking for suggestions.

Their bunny slippers aren't authentic, but they found some and have a helpful link to if you can't find your size.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Who wants to be a running mate?

Joe six-pack should hang out around Goodwill after the election, he just might find a deal for the 'little lady'. The Republican National Committee says Sarah Palin's $150,000 wardrobe will be donated to charity.

Sak's Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Barney's and Bloomingdale's; it brings a whole new meaning to "campaign accessories". I didn't see Wal-Mart on the list.

Good thing the money came from the RNC, McCain-Feingold stops the McCain campaign from accessorizing candidates. The Associated Press dug up an old quote: "The use of campaign funds for items which most Americans would consider to be strictly personal reasons, in my view, erodes public confidence and erodes it significantly."

Small potatoes really, but expect Devil Wears Prada jokes from the liberal blogosphere.

Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks she'll be qualified by January.

Channeling history

It's easy to get caught up in the politics, positions and attacks of this Presidential election. Lately I've found myself skipping over to Ben Smith's blog for his little stories.

He goes for the splashy big picture, but I visit daily for the impressionistic snippets he collects. My current favorite:

For me the most moving moment came when the family in front of me, comprising probably 4 generations of voters (including an 18 year old girl voting for her first time and a 90-something hunched-over grandmother), got their turn to vote. When the old woman left the voting booth she made it about halfway to the door before collapsing in a nearby chair, where she began weeping uncontrollably. When we rushed over to help we realized that she wasn't in trouble at all but she had not truly believed, until she left the booth, that she would ever live long enough to cast a vote for an African-American for president. Anyone who doesn't think that African-American turnout will absolutely SHATTER every existing record is in for a very rude surprise.

Powerful stuff, whoever you favor. Truthfully, I would have said not in my lifetime until this year. Strangely, I forget. Often. (Without even mentioning that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama could get so far in this murky, malevolent and paranoid post-911 milieu.)

My previous favorite, probably apocryphal, was about some redneck stereotype watching a game whose wife called out from the door 'Who are we voting for?' and answered 'We're voting for the n***er'.

Oh, and points for John McCain (Are you trying to cost us this election?):

Irrelevant, but I got an email from John McCain! It turns out I won 50,000 pounds in their campaign's London lottery!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Usury, usurious and using

I've been far afield in the past few days, slumming with the radical right, the radical left and the radically religious.

This last group intrigued me by responding to the credit crunch with the breathtaking concept of a Jubilee: forgiving all debts every 50 years. (Joseph Farah notes that a Jubilee year began on Yom Kippur-- missing the irony of Congress taking a break from its bailout deliberations for the occasion.)

Okay, really: I can't be saying shekels and sheep can be used to deal with a 21st Century economy. Not at all, but in Leviticus and even more in the 15th Chapter of Deuteronomy, there is an implicit recognition that borrowing is equivalent to slavery. The concept of bankruptcy hails from Leviticus by way of Merry Olde England and the U.S. Constitution.

And what is debt but a form of indentured servitude? Thanks to credit card companies and their paid minions the concept of usurious rates has disappeared. For the poor, the idea is to pay down the balance but never escape from the principal. Balloon interest rates and ARMs extended this concept to homeowners. Welcome to the squirrel cage.

The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. Welcome to the bailout. (It's fun to cherry-pick Scripture; you can justify just about any argument.)

There's an interesting discussion in the Christian Science Monitor, with a very telling statement from David Jones, president of the 177-member Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies: Creditors like to see a recent history of bankruptcy, he says, because it usually means an applicant has poor spending habits, has no debts, and is ineligible for bankruptcy for another five to seven years. In short, this applicant stands to be a near-term cash cow for the creditor.

I'm just noodling here. Capitalism is our State Religion. Usurious lending is parasitic, but it's so entwined in the body politic that any cure would kill the patient.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The new reality

My experiment with reality television is over.

I am proud that I have never watched a "reality" show for more than a few minutes... until the political debates.

It was fun: we got My BFF, followed by dancing Presidential candidates in Debate the Second. "Who's going to be the President?" got respectable ratings, but they have to refine the product.

I'm thinking sarcastic twits giving feedback throughout the performances. "That was pathetic. If you don't believe it why should I?" Ralph Nader and Bob Barr would have volunteered.

Forget the squiggles (worms to Aussies, I hear), let's have text-messaged votes.

It may seem that I don't take these beauty contests seriously. I don't. In, well, reality, why should I take anyone who hasn't made up their mind seriously? There's too much information if anything, and about distinct positions if you just filter out the polls and pundits.

Tupperware TV

Not only does Barack Obama seem to have better personal trainers, he's also figured a way to actually make the debates useful: Bring Your Own Ballot parties.

I've signed up for email notifications of his daily Talking Points (John McCain's website didn't give me that option) and one clever idea is Debate Parties. Combine that with early voting and you capture some of those 'real excited but gee I'm kind of busy on election day' voters. Don't sweat about it now, it will be overanalyzed for months after the election.

Gaming the system

There are those 18 ads in video game, of course, targeted at Ohio, Iowa, Indiana, Montana, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida and Colorado. It's all over the internet, especially tech-savvy sites.

That's probably the point, as one columnist astutely pointed out (I'd give him a shout, but I can't find his column again in all of the noise). A billboard in a racing game goes flying by; you're really not going to see it unless you want to.

The buzz is probably more important, and it still gets at the 18-34 year-olds he's trying to reach with the emphasis on registration and early voting. A smart move/ a lot of them are missed by other advertising and they're supposedly likely to favor him. Still, there's some rage at invading what are, after all, escapist worlds. He's more likely to pull it off than anyone trying it in future election cycles.

Extra inning

I can't be the only one laughing about ACORN News' pushing back the start of the World Series for Obama's half-hour show: "Sorry, John, but this is business."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pizza pie charts

Food for thought: Domino's Pizza has its own poll when you order online. Has this gone too far? Are pollsters our new shamen?

With a few quibbles, it's close to most of the polls I've seen. had a little fun with this.

Who gets the all-important Philly Cheese Steak vote? Barack Obama and John McCain: "You got three weeks."

But does it work on Saipan?

"Hello Michael", indeed. Get your Knight Rider GPS at Radio Shack.

It can greet you with more than 300 names in 16 languages. I doubt if the preloaded map includes Saipan.

This thing really does works great. Now I actually have Kitt in 87 Black Trans Am GTA. He'll fit right in with the Knight Rider Dash Board thats in my car now. Too bad he's not a real conversational I guess thats what radios are for...haha

I understand that the voice actor (William Daniela) is 81 years old now, but it isnt hard to correct the pitch amd make it sound more like it did when he was on the show.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama the Arab

Here's an amazing video of the woman who John McCain corrected when she called Barack Obama an Arab.

Gayle Quinnel hasn't changed her mind.

Dementia and senility have been suggested since she's 75, and some pretty nasty names used in discussions.

That's an easy answer, but there seems to be more going on, like the sound of a mind slamming shut. McCain corrected her but that made no difference. She saw it "in the library" and in a pamphlet.

That's the dark side of our wiki-world: to some people all information is equal. We get to choose our facts.

From The Uptake: "This is an interview with her done by a live streaming cell phone. Interviewers include Noah Kunin, Senior Political Correspondent from The UpTake, Adam Aigner of NBC News and Dana Bash of CNN."

They have a transcript

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Palin oops

Sarah Palin unloading on "hecklers" that were telling her to speak louder.

Now that's funny. I don't care who you are. -- Larry the Cable Guy

Red Wind

Just another neat picture from NASA's Earth Observatory: Santa Ana winds pushing wildfires out of control near Los Angeles. Jeopardy trivia for me, but hugely important to Southern California.

Interesting because I'd always been told the Santa Ana, and similar winds like the Chinook, came from warm desert air. It turns out to be the reverse; cold desert air heating by compression. That makes more sense, actually, since they occur during the coldest parts of the year.

Also interesting: the article has some of my favorite Raymond Chandler: "those hot dry [winds] that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen."

I remember the lines, but for the life of me can't recall the plot of the story.

NASA images created by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Settle down, kids

This kind of nonsense is all over the internet, but most people don't get too upset unless it's pushed in front of their face.

Can't we give it a break? Media mavens have been hunting high and low for the next outrage to pontificate about. People (like me) who pass it on only make things worse.

No, I don't think this is the worst negative campaign ever, but everything's got to be a superlative in our culture. There are some losers out there who get off on tweaking our noses. There always have been. Deal with it.

What are we supposed to do about it? Too many of the knee-jerks backing both candidates prattle about what it "proves" about their counterparts.

The Barack Hussein Obama billboard is standing outside of West Plains, Missouri, author unknown. The t-shirt is being hawked at the Crucial Brutal website. Neither appears to have any connection with the campaigns.

These are examples of free speech on the edges. We may not like it, but what are our options?

Personally, I'm willing to put up with almost anything short of inciting violence-- and it wouldn't be smart to wear that shirt in a lot of places.

I thought about bowdlerizing the Sarah Palin insult like some other sites. But what's the point? The word itself is still obvious.

Interesting sidelight: the discussion on a lot of sites got sidetracked to the topless women Crucial Brutal uses in some posts.

Barefoot and half-pregnant

Have you noticed how many Talking Heads warn of the dire consequences if governments get involved in managing banks?

I guess they like their socialism barefoot and half-pregnant. Did they try that argument on Warren Buffet when he "rescued" Goldman-Sachs? Investors like some influence over how their money is used.

Let's rephrase the argument: 'We were out of control and came begging to you for help. We'll do better. Trust us. (But stay in the kitchen)'

Paulson's Piñata

That reminds me of when (Treasury Secretary Henry) Paulson's Piñata was being pasted together by the U.S. Congress.

Paulson argued that some of his pals might not want to participate if executive's earnings were threatened. Gosh, Henry, that would hurt our feelings, but they've got to do what's best for them. So should the government.

People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history. -- Dan Quayle

Subway fare

"Dad, why are they charging us tax?" my son asked.

"Hmm?" I hadn't been paying attention, but I didn't know how much his Subway sandwich cost and the total for both of us wasn't out of line.

"There's no sales tax on Saipan," I finally said.

"No, I saw sixty-one cents for tax on the register," he insisted.

There it was on the receipt: BGRT .61. The gross receipts tax is five percent, but that seems a little sneaky, especially when they're advertising their pre-tax prices to draw us in.

Now I'm wondering if there are other businesses treating the BGRT as a sales tax. I normally check my receipts and haven't noticed it.

It's a small thing anyway, and not likely to keep me away. Still, here's the Kingston Trio chestnut M.T.A. in honor of the Garapan Subway.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Oh, maybe just whistle

Barack Obama and John McCain may be whistling in the dark when it comes to Iraq, and it's likely both candidates know it.

"Key aides" of each have been vetted (The veterinarian has checked their wind and teeth) and kept in the loop since summer. (President George Bush officially created a Transition Coordinating Council October 9.) They've probably heard much of what's in a draft National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. According to McClatchy Newspapers:

A nearly completed high-level U.S. intelligence analysis warns that unresolved ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq could unleash a new wave of violence, potentially reversing the major security and political gains achieved over the last year.

I'd bet on both candidates ignoring it, unless McCain decides on yet another 'hail Mary' pass to revive his campaign. He has (or had) an edge on foreign affairs, but he's invested a lot in being right about the surge. For Obama, it would seriously threaten his 16 month deadline.

The article also provides less-than-optimistic statements from Gen. David Petraeus, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Defense Department.

The next President's to-do list isn't getting any shorter.

Media withdrawing

It's no surprise that government officials will filter the information they release, but at the same time most news organizations are doing their own pullout.

According to the Washington Post:

U.S. military officials say they "embedded" journalists 219 times in September 2007. Last month, the number shrank to 39. Of the dozen U.S. newspapers and newspaper chains that maintained full-time bureaus in Baghdad in the early years of the war, only four are still permanently staffed by foreign correspondents. CBS and NBC no longer keep a correspondent in Baghdad year-round.

Cynically, we could say that's because bombings sell advertising, while reconstruction and infighting over power won't make the front page. There's an election going on. It's also true that newspapers in particular are hurting, with several going out of business.

Whatever the reason, we're getting less information out of Iraq at a critical time.

The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That's bigger than any tax cut in the any country. -- Rupert Murdoch, 2003

He will either go down in history as a very great president or he'll crash and burn. I'm optimistic it will be the former by a ratio of two to one. -- Rupert Murdoch, 2003

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Stone throwing

By now I'd be willing to believe almost anything about George W. Bush, but I wouldn't believe a word in Oliver Stone's "W." without checking his facts. Witness "JFK". Some misbegotten souls actually look at films like this and go no further.

But I'll watch the movie. That was the question posed at the end of the LA Times blog Director Oliver Stone talks about why he made "W."

Stone's movies are great narratives and usually entertaining, it's just that he seems to make up his mind before he starts gathering information.

And Stone is obviously trying to influence the election by releasing the picture now. A Newsweek review makes the interesting point that "Just how peripheral Bush now seems, in the wake of the country's economic meltdown, is not a situation Oliver Stone could have foreseen when he set out to make "W."—nor is it one that works in the movie's favor."

Bush is beyond lame. He's not very interesting when we're parsing the next President's every word.

But fire up the popcorn and I'll fire up my BS detector. Just remember it's a movie, not history.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rebel, rebel. Aisle three

I never expected to be writing Wal-Mart and AC/DC in the same sentence.

Then again, you'd hardly expect the band to give Wal-Mart an exclusive on Black Ice, their newest album. So much for rockers as rebels. But maybe the group that did Ain't No Fun (Waiting Around To Be A Millionaire) isn't a good example.

They're not the only one. Garth Brooks? Well, that's not a surprise. But Journey? Fleetwood Mac in negotiations? The EAGLES did it last year with Long Road Out of Eden. Granted, they're all 'legacy bands' (I think that's a nice way of saying Rocking Chair Rock) who need all the marketing help they can get, but there's a certain disappointment that they sold out.

Don Henley chirped some nonsense about how Green Wal-Mart was becoming. Get Over It, Don: Wal-Mart was the largest music retailer in the country last year. They put some promotion muscle behind their exclusive albums and give them a lot of shelf space.

The deals also cut out the middlemen: record companies take a hefty piece of the pie. Wal-Mart has been pressing the labels to lower prices so sales will increase, and it looks like they've found one way. The artists get more money and Wal-Mart gets its prices.

It shouldn't bother me, but I just don't like Wal-Mart's business model. I'll bust myself for hypocrisy before some one else does; I'd go there occasionally if there was a store on Saipan. Fat chance, they sniffed around Guam and turned it down. But I'd only be looking for items I couldn't find anywhere else.

Ah, well. It's not an issue here so this is hypothetical.

But I have a question. Where is the closest Wal-Mart to Saipan?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Did the gambler break even?

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) claims Sen. John McCain has failed to report gambling winnings. Their complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee is hardly surprising: they're a very partisan organization.

Still it's hard to argue with executive director Melanie Sloan's point: "Given Sen. McCain’s long history of gambling, the fact that he never included gambling income on his financial disclosure forms suggests he is either the unluckiest gambler ever or, more likely, he failed to report the income."

I read the New York Times article they mention, but checking on income didn't occur to me. (That may partly be due to my philosophical objection to taxing winnings when you can't write off losses.)

More of the background noise you hear from any campaign, I assumed, and probably more disturbing to his evangelical base than anyone else. Besides, the story's not likely to get much traction in Rupert Murdoch's media empire. No big deal, it will get sorted out.

Crap shoot

Losing it at the craps table is a different matter and has nothing to do with gambling. Gosh darn it, that just isn't Presidential.

I'd have to agree with Jeff Dearth, the guy who was allegedly there: "I’d happily gamble with Senator McCain again, but I definitely wouldn’t gamble on him."

That got me worried and, like McCain I guess, I hate to leave the table when I'm on a roll. I wasn't disappointed.

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone

My next stop was Make-Believe Maverick a Rolling Stone article that left me appalled and agape. It's a must-read for anyone interested in the campaign, in my opinion.

I've read bits and pieces of what the article discusses, but it paints a picture of McCain that is downright scary. I'm allowing for the writer's evident dislike of the Senator.

McCain supporters need to get their talking points lined up. Everyone else? Well, read it for yourself. I don't expect it to have much impact on the campaign in any case because of the source. Rolling Stone readers are hardly McCain's base.

The ice-man cometh?

Conspiracy? Really? Is the Drug Enforcement Agency's intrusive search of Chinese passengers an effort "to discredit the CNMI government's claim of ability to monitor the entry of Chinese and Russian tourists"?

I thought the Administration's lawsuit shouldn't have any effect on federal agencies. Not so, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial now says:

"This is a conspiracy. We're in the middle of discussing and negotiating allowing Chinese and Russian tourists to come into the CNMI under a visa waiver [program], then all of a sudden this occurred."

Were the searches of all Chinese passengers over-the-top? I think so. In fact, in more than an hour of internet searching I couldn't find news about a similar mass pat-down. That hardly proves anything, but it's an indication.

Still, everyone on Saipan, Rota and Tinian knows crystal methamphetamine is a threat to the community. They also know China is the predominant source of 'ice'.

Was the DEA heavy-handed? Sure, but that's the way the agency operates. It's bound to hurt tourism to some extent with such operations. They should find some middle ground.

But that's hardly a conspiracy.

I just scooted over to the Marianas Variety The commenters don't seem to agree with the Governor.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Obama challenges McCain on Ayers

Maybe we'll finally get an interesting debate.

Barack Obama has flung down the gauntlet on his alleged friendship with sixties radical Bill Ayers, challenging John McCain to make claims to his face. From ABC News:

"I am surprised that, you know, we've been seeing some pretty over-the-top attacks coming out of the McCain campaign over the last several days, that he wasn't willing to say it to my face. But I guess we've got one last debate. So presumably, if he ends up feeling that he needs to, he will raise it during the debate."

Of course that would set up his argument that the attacks are "the centerpiece of the discussion in the closing weeks of a campaign where we are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and we're in the middle of two wars."

He's backing McCain into a corner.

Oh, and it's hard to accuse when you won't look at your opponent or even shake his hand (Courtesy JedReport)


Joe Biden repeats the party line on Ayers: “In my neighborhood, when you’ve got something to say to a guy, you look him in the eye and you say it to him.”

McCain launches Ayers ad

Glass upper houses

Senate panel wants fewer govt positions blares today's Saipan Tribune headline.

Except in the Legislature.

I thought I was seeing some sense from the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee: relatively painless cuts "from the House-approved 4,200 to just below 3,800 positions." The newspaper quotes a report from Sen. Maria Pangelinan saying that the 409 positions are currently vacant.

In an interview yesterday, Pangelinan said the Legislature should cut personnel costs wherever possible, and strive to fund operations to the maximum. “Funding services benefits all persons in the CNMI and, therefore, is a better option than supporting the economy through public employment,” she said.

Sensible words, but does the report justify the current 240 positions for the Legislature, much less the 290 it recommends? Maybe it's just because we're moving into an election year.

Flat Palin

A (very small) internet meme: send Sarah Palin around the world. Foreign policy experience, don't you know.

Send your pictures to or visit

Really, I'm thinking Michigan. Republicans are begging for her to visit-- haven't heard any cries of 'come back, John'. Democrats want a Tina Fey visit.

That one

More fun from (what else?) Buy a shirt.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Goofy dog alert

Angelo Villagomez' winsome dog Oreo has gone missing in Chinatown/Garapan. Please call 285-6462 if you have any information.

"Oreo is a small white dog with some black fur. He answers to "Oreo" and is wearing a brown leather collar with silver metal studs."

Found, evidently

I didn't blink. I winked

Here's a scoop: John McCain's new campaign ad, starring Sarah Palin. OK, it's a Betty Boop cartoon (Watch for the winks and lipstick). "You're an elephant, you're an ass" indeed.

Say it ain't so, John

Barack Obama wants this Charles Keating video filed under "Look what you made me do." Fair enough, in my book. Evidently it's been in the can, waiting for John McCain or his proxy to play the character card.

Sarah Palin led with McCain's chin, using a New York Times article on Bill Ayers to back this line "This is not a man who sees America as you and I do." McCain is following with "Who is the real Barack Obama?"

Well, negative sells to some voters, but McCain's Savings and Loan skeleton parallels the current sub-prime fiasco pretty closely. David Plouffe sent this link to me--and a few million others on Obama's list-- tipping us that it's going to be playing on Monday.

Loose-lipped McCain operatives have admitted he's trying to divert attention from the economy (A surprising lack of discipline, but that's another subject.) The McCain advertising money does indeed seem to be going into negative ads, according to Talking Points Memo. TPM claims virtually 100% of his ad spending is for attacks, while Obama's is less than half. Of course, since Obama has more resources, "The remaining million per week" cited by TPM is the same amount spent by McCain.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Vote early, vote often

Pundits are still playing American Idol-style games with the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates while the election is very likely being decided under their noses. In the trenches, Barack Obama and John McCain are getting early voters out and sending their lawyers in to fight over the rules.

From 20-30 percent of ballots were cast by election day four years ago. It's expected to be higher this year. Of the swing states that are expected to determine the outcome 53% of ballots cast in Nevada, 47% in Colorado, 51% in New Mexico and 36% in Florida were early ballots last time.

Ohio is taking its first shot at "no fault" (my term) absentee balloting, and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner can expect to be in a legal firestorm for months. She's being challenged for denying some Republican registrations and for allowing some Democratic registrations.

Researchers say it may be a wash anyway, because early voters tend to be the most committed to their candidate. According to the Washington Post:

The early-voting trend does not benefit one party over the other, experts say, because each is targeting infrequent voters. On the Democratic side, that means urban, often minority voters and students. On the Republican side, it is older voters and those in more rural areas who favor absentee ballots.

The wild card may be Hillary Clinton and Obama getting so many new registrations. For instance, in Georgia 39% of early ballots so far are by Afro-Americans, who make up 29% of the population. College students in Columbus, Ohio treated same-day voting like a cult-movie opening, pitching tents to be the first in line. There are reports of thousands of students being bused to registration locations.

Crime watchers

And then there are the felons. The NAACP has gone to court to register some prisoners. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

The state Department of Corrections halted (Reverend Kenneth) Glasgow's registration drive after two days because of complaints from the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party that registering inmates without adequate monitoring could lead to voter fraud. Fewer than 80 inmates filled out registration forms. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has filed suit challenging the prison commissioner's decision to stop the registration drive...

Only two states — Maine and Vermont — place no limits on voting due to a criminal conviction; even prison inmates can cast a ballot. Kentucky and Virginia are the only two states that permanently bar felons from voting, although the governors of those states can restore voting rights to individuals.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear streamlined the process in March, and has since restored the rights of more than 740 released convicts. Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine promised to fast-track applications for voter restoration that his office received by Aug. 1, adding three people to his staff to process applications before Monday's registration deadline.

This is a touchy, and very serious issue. Both Beshear and Kaine are being accused of playing politics when they rush registrations. The "non-serious felonies" (I wouldn't make that up) that don't take away your right to vote in Alabama would be misdemeanors in many other states.

Both sides are guilty of slipping into a mindset that the end justifies the means, foreclosing rational discussion of the subject. The scurrilous, slanderous and snide implication is that all felons are Democrats, and there are about four million who have lost the right to vote.

There's a grain of truth that further muddies the waters. Thirteen percent of black men have lost that right. It's obvious what their vote would be, particularly in this election.

Blacks represent "about 40 percent of the people who've gotten their rights lost and restored," according to civil rights attorney Reggie Mitchell. "With an African-American running, and such a critical mass, this could have a tremendous impact."

Which leads us back to "registering inmates without adequate monitoring could lead to voter fraud." Was that said with a straight face? Adequate monitoring? Of inmates?

Probably my favorite line, until I ran across this line from Auglaize County Elections Board Director Carolyn Campbell: "A lot said by voting now, they can stop listening to everything on TV."

Today's fun fact: President George Bush still owes the Greenberg-Traurig law firm $314,000 for work on the 2000 Florida recount.
Today's question: Does John Scalia still work for the firm?
Today's quote: Get over it! (Justice Antonin Scalia)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Malfunction, dysfunction, bailout

Some days it's just no fun to write. For more than a week, I've read story after story about the dysfunctional national and local governments. Outrage is like adrenaline: it takes more and more to have any effect.

Nationally, we have the credit "crisis". That's a malfunction. But, depending on who you listen to, it's been coming for six months, a year or years. Failure to deal with it is dysfunctional and our political system is to blame. Despite their protestations, both parties have been happily hand-fed by the bad actors in this drama.

So, when Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke wanted their stinking sack filled at the last minute with $700 billion ($700,000,000,000) or so, the politicians were trapped. They knew they were to blame, and they wanted to blame someone else.

The bipartisan ball

They call it being bipartisan. An example: Ben, Henry and George (Bush, it's not really helpful to have him front-and-center these days) give you a three-page proposal and say take it or leave it. If you don't, you're being partisan, perhaps even unpatriotic.

Doesn't work? Let's have the House and Senate committees that sat on the problem for years put some flesh on the skeleton from their closets. If you don't buy that... well, see above.

Except... too many Republicans and Democrats won't go along. Now we've got a dance. The Presidential candidates can't actually come out against it (They might succeed and be blamed for bad things), only sniff that it would never have happened on their watch. The trick, on both sides of the aisle, is to have just enough support to let it pass while giving protection to vulnerable colleagues who are up for election. Nevermind toxic debt; being the only party with majority support for a Bush proposal is toxic.

The Republicans didn't have enough party discipline to play that game, so the Senate had to step in by spreading some tax breaks around. Now we can go back to business as usual.

Nature cover

Barack Obama and John McCain in the hunt. Spotted at All Things Obama 2008