Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tsunami hits American Samoa

I've gotten some reports of a five-foot tsunami hitting Pago Pago, American Samoa.

The warning for the Northern Marianas has been cancelled by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Makes you feel better, doesn't it?

Actually, that's so far south and so far away it's no big thing-- to us.

Locally, though, the U.S. Geologic Survey (link expired) reported a magnitude 8.0 quake at about 3:48 am our time, and if you look at the widget on the bottom left of this page you can see there are a lot of aftershocks greater than 5.0.

I'm off to look for news stories, but the USGS has a nifty page (link expired) where people can report: it sounds like the quake itself was felt as "moderate" in AS.

More: According to Pacific Tsunami Kills at Least Five in Samoa Region After Quake. There are a lot of stories now if you Google it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Emergency room

So the answer to years of mismanagement at the Commonwealth Health Center is... foreign doctors?

I'm not making this up --even for me that's too bizarre and breathtaking-- the Saipan Tribune says Governor Benigno R. Fitial wants to put CHC "under a state of emergency to allow the hiring of doctors from the Philippines and other countries".

You have to wonder whether he talked to Acting Public Health Secretary Pete Untalan, quoted in the article as saying "the CNMI cannot hire doctors from that country (the Philippines) due to the standards and requirements mandated by the federal government."

"The declaration is being drafted and may be issued this week," the Governor reportedly said. "I am meeting again with the attorney general on this." I'd love to be a fly on that wall.

Another Acting Public Health Secretary John Tagabuel just told the Marianas Variety last week that CHC is in trouble with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. I'm sure they'll love this development.

Two quick questions: why this flailing about when the Administration has had four years to make improvements and, why did the Legislature only start making noise two months before the election?

I've been hearing horror stories from (ex or soon-to-be ex) doctors for more years than I can count.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The oxymoron to nowhere

I almost fell out of my chair. The New York Times had a boilerplate editorial about competitive bidding, but when I checked it turned out they were writing about "earmark reform". Okay, and I'm in favor of putting cannibals on a diet, too.

"The for-profit sector does not get all the earmarks," they chirp, only comprising "about half the $2.7 billion in 1,102 earmarks tucked so far into the $636 billion Pentagon spending proposal for next year."

The beltway band and their followers in the press have lost sight of the problem. (Insert standard props for Sen. John McCain here.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kilili proposes immigration delay

Congressman Gregorio C. Sablan says he's introduced legislation to delay the federal immigration takeover from the CNMI until Dec. 1, 2010.

A press release about his bill was posted on his website a few hours ago, I just went by because I hadn't checked it yet.

The action isn't surprising. He's been increasingly concerned with the lack of visible preparation as we get closer to Nov. 28.

"Even the Department of Homeland Security itself has now admitted in written reply to Congress that the Department will not be fully operational in the Marianas until 2011," the release states.

Just a quick blurb; no time right now. Check out the release. His arguments are pretty persuasive.

Just so its not all in your head

I didn't see this one coming; maybe that's why I'm not rich: an outfit calling itself Pong has come up with a 'radiation reduction' case so your cellphone doesn't fry your head.

Cellphone radiation is on your List Of Things To Be Paranoid About, isn't it? Okay, the jury is still out. One of the links on the company's site is this Scientific American article that I'd run across before.

If it really bothers you, the gadget's sixty bucks a pop, and only available for the iPhone 3G and 3GS right now. Would a tinfoil hat do the same thing?

Talk about niche marketing

Also in the ideas I wish I'd had department: left-handed shorts for men (underpants, rather; Hom is a British company). No surprise, I suppose, since I'm right-handed.

Uni-handed, actually, to coin a word. The new briefs are supposed to have a horizontal slit instead of a vertical slit on the right side.

Somehow, I'm 'minded of buying my first suit as a callow youth. The salesman asked whether I dressed left or right. It took me a moment to realize what he was saying: that suits were cut fuller on one side so you would appear as sexless as a Ken doll (No jokes please, unless you've got something original. It's been either Barbie or Kenny Rogers digs for most of my life).

Staid-sponsored terrorism

Iranian shopkeepers have to worry about larger dolls. "Using unusual mannequins exposing the body curves and with the heads without Hijabs (Muslim veil) are prohibited to be used in the shops," the religious police (Department of Moral Security?) warn, according to Reuters.

Reuters is quoting a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA. I tried to track down the original but their website won't load in my browser. They probably think I'm looking for pro-democracy protestors.

"Both showing necktie and bowtie behind the windows ... and (the) selling (of) women's underwear by men are prohibited," said the police statement. No word yet on left-handed shorts.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Post no pranks

Oh, you guys.

The Yes Men are at it again, putting 100,000 fake copies of the New York Post on the streets of that city the day before a United Nations climate change summit. It's full of some very un-Post-like stories on the subject.

I'm always amused by their shenanigans: posing as business or government officials and/or creating phony websites to get their points across. My personal favorites are the fake stories about Dow Chemical and the Bhopal disaster as well as the "National Petroleum Council rep" who revealed secret plans for converting victims of any global disaster into oil ('Vivoleum'). Out of laziness, I'll just point you at their Wikipedia page --which has already been updated to reflect their latest theater.

I have to admit that I'm a sucker for pranks like this. They have more wit and panache than a treefull of your usual activists, which also guarantees at least 15 minutes of fame for each stunt.

Here's their press release and home page. The real NY Post carried an Associated Press Story quoting the company statement "Witless Spoof in Flawless Format,"

The faux Post is actually an entertaining read, and essentially factual as far as I can tell (I like the one about the carbon footprint of U-2's world tour). It just loads soooo darned slooow. Maybe their website doesn't have the bandwidth to handle as much attention as they've probably gotten.

I was about to say...

The National Snow and Ice Center tells us they think the Arctic sea ice melted about as much as it's going to this year on Sept. 12, 2009, and NASA's Earth Observatory kindly sent me this image. That's the third lowest ice coverage on record they tell us (topped by 2007 and 2008). One of the reasons I'm not a flat-earther about climate change, though I think some of the advocates get a bit extreme.

It looked like the Northwest Passage might be open (I droned on about that last year), and I was looking for stories on the subject. Somehow I got detoured on the information highway and ended up with the Yes Men.

The Northwest Passage? Didn't see anything official, though evidently a few people made it through on the less favored southern route. I'm sure NASA will remind me again next year at about this time.

USCIS website

It's not interesting to a lot of people, but I happily received this e-missive from the Department of Homeland Security:
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas and Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeff Zients today launched a redesigned USCIS website—available in English and Spanish—a major effort which fulfills President Obama’s pledge to offer enhanced navigation tools for the public to access immigration information and review case status Here's the press release

I'm on board because I've been signed up for DHS emails since the federal immigration ball started rolling toward the CNMI (My inner civil libertarian also wants to see what this huge post-911 monstrosity of a department is up to.)

For instance, a little more than a week ago, I fruitlessly looked for this press release about the proposed foreign investment rules for the Commonwealth. On the new site it was two clicks away. (To be fair, they may not have been updating the old site very well because they knew it was on its way out.)

Ah, those rules; let's take a meeting

The Marianas Variety has a Press Release from Congressman Gregorio C. Sablan with the statement that "Published visa waiver regulations will not be changed before Nov. 28, Napolitano said, although she did hold out the hope of some creative solution to allow Chinese and Russian tourists into the Marianas." So much for having a comment period. Okay, okay, I'm sure there were a lot of comments and they were duly considered. But, still...

Creative solution? Hmm, how about ankle bracelets? Talking to DEA about searching everyone on the planes? That's off the top of my head.

I'm glad the Secretary was able to take the time to discuss the issues, more happy that she "gets it". What does that mean in the real world?

If Napolitano says the tourist visa regulations are signed, sealed and deliverable, I'd guess nil and none are the chances for changes on foreign investment. All in all, not much about the meeting to like, other than the fact it took place. I do like Kilili's last sentences in the Press Release: "I also find it interesting that these investor regulations will even waive fees for investors. This is what we need to do for other people, IRs and permanent residents, who also have made a long-term commitment to the Northern Marianas and cannot easily afford the fees for U.S. visas."

Great suggestion. I hope Napolitano "gets it".

Changing the subject (and why not?)

My daily chuckle came from the line in the release about the USCIS website praising President Obama's pledge and naming all of the officials responsible for it. It reminded me of the current hullabaloo in the 'red'* blogs about the cost of road signs touting projects with 'recovery' or 'stimulus' act funding. Their source seems to be this Washington Times article. "These are self-congratulatory signs; they're political signs", according to Sen. Judd Gregg. "They're so that lawmakers can pat themselves on the back."

The money is small potatoes, though waste is waste (Those $3,000 signs in New Jersey must pad a lot of pockets). Just another teapot tempest.

We see that stuff so much that it's almost invisible. Newspaper notices from supposedly autonomous agencies that have to slip in the Governor's name. The phrase "under the leadership of" slipped gratuitously into stories. Sen. Gregg is either naive or cynical to make such a big deal about it. It's interesting, for instance, that Sen. John McCain's effort to get pork out of the transportation and housing bill didn't get any traction at all.

* (Yes, I hate labels, but that's the closest I can get. They're not exactly conservative, not all Republican. I don't know how else to lump them together in one tent. Even more off of the subject: how did they get to be red, while the liberals got blue. It seems to be an inversion of that whole pinkie, red menace meme.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Your fed in the clouds

I just stumbled across the U.S. General Service Administration's Cloud Computing Initiative, complete with an applications website. It's nice to see our government entering the 21st Century.

Cloud what? The concept of 'Cloud Computing' has been around for awhile, but it's been general, fuzzy and/or, well, (sorry) cloudy.

Boring definition #1: “a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction". (National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) -- the definition seems to be version 15)

This will probably save a lot of money in the long run. Though... I wonder about some of the "Social Media Applications". If you visit a lot of government sites like I do, you've probably noticed they usually have blogs. Boring, and they repeat what you'll find in the "Press Releases" pages of the website. Somebody's being paid to do that. (Funny, I didn't see any comments on the Homeland Security blog.) Also, government Facebook or MySpace pages remind me of adults trying to be "hep" (heh) by aping Teen Talk.

This is another project pushed by Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, picked by Infoworld as one of the best Chief Technical Officers of 2008. One of his first projects after being appointed by President Barack Obama was a work-in-progress that puts raw government data on the web. Warning: it can be a gargantuan Time Trap if you start browsing through it.

Obama is definitely internet savvy -- I'm still on his email list after signing up during the campaign; I still get pleas for support (and money) for his initiative-of-the-day. (John McCain never got past just having a website with suggested 'talking points' for his supporters.)

The Whitehouse YouTube Channel (Joined January 20, 2009) has cranked out 454 videos as this is being written. It's one of 15 listed on the U.S. Government Channel. The agencies don't draw viewers like a piano-playing cat would (the FDIC?), but there's an audience out there.

I just think it's cool to have all of this stuff at my fingertips, even out on Saipan in the middle of the ocean.

A video on one of NOAA's sites:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Choi-wan's profile

This cross-section of Super Typhoon Choi-wan reminded me (again) that I love subscribing to NASA's Earth Observatory.

The top picture is neat, but I'd never seen anything like the blue profile below it. According to NASA, the Cloudsat satellite flew over Choi-wan about one minute after the photo was taken by NASA's Aqua satellite and took radar images of the clouds. The dark grey line in the photo shows Cloudsat's path. You can clearly see there are no clouds in the eye, which is surrounded by clouds climbing more than 15 kilometers.

Taken the morning of September 15, right after Choi-wan became a super typhoon. Saipan's probably about 200 km south of the eye.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mean ends

"The habitation of these people on the island will afford most valuable ecological radiation data on human beings," (Dr. Robert) Conard wrote in a 1957 confidential internal memo. He added that "various radioisotopes present can be traced from the soil, through the food chain, and into the human beings." (Newsday)

If the Japanese or Germans had done that a dozen years earlier, we would have tried them as war criminals.

Dr. Conard is talking about the residents of Rongelap in the Marshall Islands, who were dosed with radiation by the 1954 'Bravo' hydrogen bomb test (One of 67 tests) on Bikini atoll 110 miles away. Officials claim the wind shifted and the exposure was accidental. A little local perspective: that's about the distance between Guam and Saipan. (A grain of salt for seasoning: at that time troops were sometimes intentionally exposed to nuclear tests. Still, I believe them.)

The quote is from "Cold War fallout for Brookhaven National Lab", subtitled "No one lives here anymore.", a Newsday article that accompanies the 32-minute narrative documentary "Fallout". They say your endocrine system produces less adrenaline over time when it's overused, and adrenaline junkies need higher doses to get the same effects. My outrage gland is like that, but this one got me going.

"I just don't feel that the term 'guinea pigs' is appropriate anywhere in these discussions," Dr. Victor Bond told Newsday in 2007. I dunno, I didn't get that memo.
The contamination forced the American government to evacuate the islanders. Many experienced vomiting and diarrhea, and their white blood cell counts plummeted - signs of radioactive poisoning. Two U.S. military doctors - Bond and Eugene Cronkite - advised other U.S. officials right after the blast that the United States should keep Rongelap's residents away from any more radioactivity from future tests for at least 12 years, if not the rest of their lives, determining they had had enough exposure for a lifetime, documents show. Newsday

After years of suffering, the residents left on their own, boarding the Rainbow Warrior in 1985. According to Newsday, the BNL 'scientists' were "stunned".

"Unfortunately, they were never able to understand very much about radiation and its effects on them," Conard wrote in his memoir. "They were afraid of this unseen, unfelt 'poisonous powder' and its effects, and this became a strong psychological factor. They continued to believe that every ailment and every death was somehow related to radiation exposure."

Then again, German scientist Bernd Franke found BNL urine tests showing toxic levels of plutonium. "I was totally stunned to see Brookhaven's tests were exceeding the limits," recalled Franke. "But they never told the Rongelap people living on the island. They left everybody in the dark and they violated the precepts of good science."

This all came up again when the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal awarded the islanders one billion dollars in damages in 2007. It's hard to put a dollar figure on human suffering, like an insurance company giving you $1,000 for the loss of your big toe, but they're certainly owed big time. President Bush wouldn't pay, will President Obama?

Some 117 people did get $25,000 apiece for having their thyroid glands removed. Talk about blood money. And BNL plays dumb:
At BNL, the lab's history in the Marshall Islands is one that officials say they can't address because all the main participants are dead and no records remain there. They also say they cannot find tissue samples - including thyroids - removed from Marshall Islands residents in exchange for large cash payments.Newsday

The article compares the Cold War fears that drove the research to some of the rampant paranoia after 9/11, a point that occurred to me rather quickly in reading the story. The ends justify the means? Not.

A sign prepared by BNL welcomed the islanders' home: "Greetings Rongelap People. We hope that your return to your atoll is a thing of joy and your hearts are happy."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Liar, liar shoes on fire

I've been thinking about Muntadar al-Zaidi and Joe Wilson. What do the shoe-thrower and the loose-tongued Congressman from South Carolina have in common?

Just this: they both used the President of the United States to thrust themselves into the spotlight and become heroes to their cause. That's worth three years, er one year, nine months... whatever... to al-Zaidi. I'm not sure he expected the torture, but it sounds like he's being promised his virgins in this life; at least he's been getting a lot of marriage proposals. (I'm still impressed by President Bush's reflexes)

Wilson? Hard to tell, but the word is his campaign coffers are overflowing. It's hard to get much traction nationally when you're one of 435 Representatives. His opponent's bound to get the same windfall from the other side of course, but whatever happens he's made his footnote in history.

Let others pontificate on whether he was right. That's one of those boring Washington tempests. What's the point in arguing over a bill that's not even in its final form? You end up with minutiae like who's the liar disputing his claim to have practice immigration law. That's getting pretty far afield, isn't it?

It does show a lack of class. Granted, the Halls of Congress will never be mistaken for British Chambers. We don't do golden prose very well. Still, that kind of heckling is pretty worthless in a town hall meeting. It's totally out of place in the Capitol.

There's a trend here. The yahoos who flaunt their weapons at President Obama's appearances have also lost any perspective or claim to credibility. I understand where they're coming from, support their right.... blah, blah, blah.... and think they've completely lost it.

Civitas. Look it up.

Yes, we have no banana typhoons

Saipan just doesn't seem to get typhoons any more. I'm leery of making that statement; maybe I should knock on wood (or plastic, as Isaac Asimov once suggested).

Obviously, the Mariana Islands are still in the typhoon belt. We have storms that form North and South of us. In recent years a lot of them seem to start up just after they have passed us.

But, really, I'm trying to remember the last time I saw satellite photos of storms lined up approaching us one after another in progressive stages of development.

Uh, oh

Soon-to-be supertyphoon Choi-wan started me thinking, and I really don't have much else to do today until it goes away. You're probably going to lose your bananas, I commiserated with my landlord.

Nope, the winds weren't even strong enough to affect those pushovers, and that's probably not a good thing. In past years the weak blows 'pruned' the weak limbs and generally made the island safer when coconuts really start flying.

If Choi-wan had done one of those crazy turns and hit head-on my neighborhood would have looked like the tornado scene from the Wizard of Oz. I checked the pieces of plywood, tin and various plastic containers scattered about as a quick-check when the sun came up. Almost nothing had moved. The decrepit wood-and-tin barracks next door hadn't even creaked much in the night.

Have people gotten lax, or is it just recent arrivals who haven't huddled in a doorway watching the entire roof at the other end of a room complain as it is raised a foot above the wall that's supposed to support it. That one almost sent me fleeing into the night.

It reminds me of my brother's neighbor. He had to put up with constant ribbing because he boarded up everytime a depression popped up in this end of the Pacific Ocean. Until Supertyphoon Kim, that is. It was tracking safely well South of us when, like an 800 pound gorilla, it did what it wanted to and veered North. He retreated to his bedroom, only putting in an appearance next door when the beer ran out. The entire downstairs was trashed.

That's one reason to brave the storm, I suppose. My grand stupidity was later, when I was working for KCNM-KZMI. I used to drive up to the Emergency Management Office on Capitol Hill in the teeth of the storm to get the latest bulletins. Not smart, but I had a mental picture of people huddled around a radio in a dark room while the wind howled outside. That makes for a long night, and you just want to know 'when is this going to end?'

Not that I'm any different. We didn't put boards up, just made sure everything was secure. I didn't top off the gas tank, buy a bunch of canned food, fill the bathtub, or otherwise prepare to play Boy Scout for a few days. Just a few candles, batteries, drinking water and butane.

Gimme Shelter

In a lot of ways, I'm like the kids. They love typhoons like I used to love snow days when I was in school. No school, the folks stay home and something out of the ordinary. Well, unless the cable goes out, the internet, the power the water. Then it's 'When's the ____ coming back?'

But there's at least one solid day when the schools are still closed because of the people who got flooded out, even if the wind didn't blow. That's good practice, because we're overdue for a real storm

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The sound of one shoe dropping

USCIS* seems to be plodding away at regulations to begin the transition to U.S. immigration control in the CNMI as (re)scheduled beginning Nov. 28, 2009.

According to Immigration Daily, USCIS will publish proposed rules for nonimmigrant investors in the Sept. 14, 2009 Federal Register. The questions and answers on their website (It's a PDF) certainly look like an official document. I roamed about the USCIS site for a bit, but couldn't find it. That doesn't mean much; it's 1:00 a.m. and I gave up easily.

Expect some howling. Evidently the "E-2 CNMI nonimmigrant Investor" category will grandfather "eligible long-term foreign investors" who have that status before Nov. 28. They get two years initially, renewable until Dec. 31, 2014. After that they have to find another status under U.S. Immigration law.

As proposed, the E-2 visa is CNMI-only; travel elsewhere in the United States would have to be under another status. And... anybody with this status who leaves the Commonwealth would have to get an E-2 visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before re-entering.

The document estimates about 500 long-term investors would be affected. In a recent story the Marianas Variety reported "514 long-term business permit holders and 92 foreign investment certificate holders". As proposed, retiree investors and "Short- and Regular-Term Business Entry Permit" holders would not be eligible.

They're coming, aren't they?

This whole transition to federal control has had a somewhat surreal quality, like a community theater production of Waiting for Godot under the palms. Endless debates about What It All Means while the main character never appears onstage.

Washington Delegate Gregorio C. Sablan got so frustrated that he's suggesting yet another delay because nothing seems to be happening. This is something, I suppose, though it seems like short notice. Comments can be made until October 14, 2009.

Oh, note the date on the PDF: 9/11

* (That's "The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services")

Duly chastised, I blog. I used to write letters infrequently, and when I did they were multi-page productions because I had so much *stuff* backed up. Similar situation, this.