Saturday, January 30, 2010

Questions, yes. Answers not so much

"The U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have published Question and Answers regarding filing instructions for the E-2 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Investor Classification", say two email links I just received.

Word-for-word blurbs that refer us to USCIS Questions and Answers where we learn... nothing new.

I doubt if either of my readers has a CNMI-approved lemonade stand they're trying to squeeze in under the new E-2 category, but in any case here's the first Q&A:
Q. Can I file for classification as an E-2 CNMI Investor now?

A. No. The E-2 CNMI Investor rule has not been finalized, so you cannot file for the E-2 CNMI Investor classification. All petitions filed seeking classification as an E-2 CNMI Investor will be returned to the petitioner until the final rule is published. The proposed rule was posted in the Federal Register on September 14, 2009 for a public comment period; that period is now closed.
Paraphrased: nothing to see here; move on.

The Dude abideth

I wasn't ready for The Big Lebowski as written by William Shakespeare. Cute idea, but a couple of examples and I was out of that website.

Adam Bertocci took it a bit further. He's right, I'm wrong: the play went somewhat viral and New York performances from March 18 through April 4 have sold out.

I have to admit that if I'm killing time on television, I'll take this Coen brothers nugget over the other somewhat mindless drek that's available. It's easy to see why it would appeal to a budding screenwriter/film-maker. I'll pass on the Shakespearean, though.

Run Leia run

I only stayed around to learn this much because of the idiosyncratic url Run Leia Run all squeezed together. It seems that Bertocci also claims to have "what remains the only site on the Internet devoted to all the hands that get chopped off in the Star Wars saga." Who am I to argue with him?

And all because (George Lucas supposedly told Vanity Fair) "That's what happens when you play with swords."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Immigrant locator

It shouldn't make much difference in the CNMI and Guam but the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement is planning on reforming its detention system.

The change that caught my eye was the proposed launch of an immigrant-detainee locator system in June. I've read countless horror stories of lawyers and family members who couldn't find detainees who disappeared into the system. Assistant secretary John T. Morton seems to have heard them also.

O'Keefe money

I'd read that the stone money brought from Palau to Yap by David Dean O'Keefe was worth less than 'traditional' money brought by canoe. The reason is obvious: he cheated.

In the same issue of as the immigration piece, we learn that something similar is happening in the case of James O'Keefe. Now conservatives are keeping their distance from the stalwart who lured ACORN into promoting prostitution. His latest escapade allegedly involved trying to tap the phones of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu.

"The truth shall set me free," he is quoted as twittering. But not pay the bail, I'd add. Whatever happens, he's done a public service. The right was energized by his expose, while politicians on the left were handed an excuse to keep their distance from ACORN demands.

I don't think so

The Yes men even tried to piggyback on O'Keefe's latest 15 minutes, claiming he played Queen Elizabeth in their latest phony website, the World Economic Forum. I believe that about as much as I believed the email copy of this press release.

No guts here, though I was pretty sure it was the Yes Men. A pretty obvious fake ("We just killed the Copenhagen Summit, we crashed many economies in 2009. Clearly the present system of rampant capitalism is not worthy of salvaging."), there was a small but real chance of some weird virus instead of more shenanigans.

Oh, this is the real site, and spokesman Adrian Monck reportedly responded that "the only defense to satire is common sense!" Umm, I had a Washington Post link I'll try to track down: the story listed some wrong-headed predictions coming out of Davos in the past.

Corporations are people too

I don't know if any corporations were in the gallery, but Justice Samuel A. Alito is a hot subject in pundit-land for the latest unguarded response to a Barack Obama pronouncement to Congress.

"Not true," lip-readers claim he muttered as the President wound down his State of the Union set-piece with the ringing words "I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities." Fine words, though the Supreme Court's decision to let corporations support or oppose political candidates is only lousy, not earth-shattering. Hint: check out the campaign contributions for any major candidate in the last Presidential election.

But it makes for some ringing rhetoric (He also has a fine cartoon and links to several others.) Let's see: freedom of speech, check; right-to-bear-arms, check (XE, nee Blackwater); I wonder if we can get corporations in the jury pool.

Ad hoc, ad nauseum

"She's a busybody, sometimes," my grandmother said, gently explaining why my aunt was upset about something.

I thought of her when I read about the groundswell of opposition to Tim Tebow doing a Superbowl commercial. Now, Tebow is a Christian-- it's as plain as the scripture on his face -- and Focus on the Family reportedly wants to air the story of his mother refusing an abortion that was recommended by doctors.

Reportedly, I say, because nobody but the principals really knows what is in the commercial. That doesn't stop the opposition, like somebody criticizing a book or film sight unseen they're jumping right in.

They've been played. Focus on the Family will get untold publicity out of the commotion, worth far more than the $2.5 to $3 million they were willing to pay. They can't lose: if the spot is pulled they are the victim of a conspiracy. That's brilliant.

What's the harm, as long as they don't broadcast bloody pictures? (Though, I admit, wardrobe malfunctions speak more to my taste in edgy Superbowl viewing.) Then again, I don't see why People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was denied access in the past-- with the same reservations about seal-clubbing and such. PETA, in particular, is capable of the sort of humor we appreciate on Superbowl holidays.

I'm making a leap of faith here: the assumption is that CBS will screen the ad and exercise some judgment despite the television commercials I see everyday. Actually, I'm more concerned that some political hit job will sneak in thanks to the Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to market politics too.

It would be uncomfortable to think during our annual circus, but the story -- if that's what the commercial is about -- bears telling. The extremists on both ends of the abortion debate are just that. The ground in between is muddy: the mother might have died or we might have had another smug athlete.

In this case, Pam Tebow made a choice.

I'm not comfortable with abortion; I hope I never am. It is absolutely necessary sometimes. It shouldn't be used as a means of birth control and I don't trust the government to make decisions for people.

But I'm just being a busybody: we won't see the Superbowl ads on Saipan anyway.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guam's fined too

I don't follow their day-to-day travails, so I was surprised to learn that the Guam Waterworks Authority is subject to a stipulated order with the Environmental Protection Agency much like ours.

Nothing new for the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation. It is good news to see all the management positions they've been advertising.

This is the text of the EPA release on GWA:

HONOLULU -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today penalized the Guam Waterworks Authority $57,000 for failing to fully comply with a stipulated order to make improvements to its drinking water and wastewater systems.

GWA was penalized for the continued failure to meet a December 31, 2008 deadline for completing a condition assessment to determine the structural stability and soundness of steel tank water reservoirs that need immediate assessment, and for failure to complete a condition assessment of the remaining steel tank water reservoirs by December 31, 2009. Some of the tanks have severely corroded exterior walls, roofs, or valves, or are missing tank parts.

“The penalties are a consequence of GWA’s continued failure to meet the stipulated order requirements and complete the necessary improvements to provide reliable drinking water service to residents,” said Alexis Strauss, Water Division director for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “These water storage tanks are a critical component of the GWA water system, as they help ensure water pressure and adequate flow throughout the system and prevent contaminants from entering the water supply.”

The condition assessment of GWA water tanks was to be performed in two phases. High priority tanks were to be assessed by December 2008, and all other tanks by December 2009. Although GWA did an initial, visual inspection of all tanks in 2008, it has not completed the required, full structural assessments of any tanks to date. The $57,000 penalty assessed today is the second imposed by EPA in response to GWA’s failure to complete the tank assessment. On August 17, 2009, EPA assessed a penalty of $19,000 for GWA’s noncompliance with its duty to assess its high priority tanks through that date.

“Many of the tanks located around the island are in poor condition which underscores the need to complete the assessment and address the deficiencies as required by the court order,” said John McCarroll, Pacific Islands Office manager for EPA’s Pacific Southwest region.

The order provides for penalties if established deadlines are not met and for additional penalties until the work is complete. It also requires upgrades and improvements to GWA’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to ensure the proper management, treatment and delivery of safe drinking water, and proper wastewater treatment.

Auld 'Lang' Syne all over again

It's fun to have House Speaker and former Governor Froilan C. Tenorio --'Lang' -- back in the headlines. Unlike most politicians, what you see really is what you get. No bland statements here, thank you.

In fact, it's hard to keep up. "This idea of suing the federal government is not good," he tells the Marianas Variety today. I don't remember hearing that during the campaign, though. Not that he really had to take a position on anything: I penciled him in as not only winning, but being in the leadership as soon as he tossed his hat in the ring.

I wouldn't interpret it as a ringing endorsement of the feds taking over immigration either, he just thinks discussions under Section 902 of the Covenant are the way to go.

Jack's jack

In the same issue, he is quoted as saying lobbyist Jack Abramoff earned his pay, because "he did the job that I hired him to do." Pretty good, as outrageous statements go. It's also true, though he is one of the few former or current politicians who will say that now.

Father knows best

All of this after we get distracted for a moment from the Governor's aching back by yet another fight over who should direct the Legislative Bureau. Tenorio wants former Rep. Daniel O. Quitugua in the post. It's pretty reasonable to argue that the previous Legislature can't appoint employees for its successor. At least he didn't use incumbent Glenna SP. Reyes' relation to the former Senate President as an argument.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Another shrubbery?

Short takes I've been too busy to mention:

Masseuses are worried about their reputation? Umm, I don't think it's because of The Incident.

We're shocked to learn that even student visas can be abused.

Fitial vetoes bill on re-computation of retirement benefits. Score one for the Governor. The legislature strikes again: it's been common for some guy who retired as a mechanic or tradesman to come back in a high-paying political job so he can use those years in computing benefits.

The line-item veto of gimmes like the fishing derby wasn't bad either. Too bad boat launching in Laulau Bay sailed through. Liability? What? That's not our problem. Okay, it's easier to launch boats for emergencies on that side of the island. Nice to know, since there will be more boats there. I like my fish poached. Better get busy on that environmental impact statement, too.

Residents complain about street problems, the Marianas Variety says. I've been wondering... when I drive through the older villages at night it seems a lot of lights are out. Burnout or turnout? Or is it just me? (I was searching for night views circa 2005 to compare with a current image-- this is all I could come up with.)

Their search engine is a mess, or I'd link to the Variety's story saying most of the people in line for umbrella permits were holding... umbrellas. Now I understand the name.

I usually stay away from this one, but cockfighting has been getting its share of news. Hey, maybe we could televise the fights to all of the states where it's illegal. I was going to ask the mayoral candidates what they thought about cockfighting, but I didn't want to put Angelo on the spot.

Zoning Administrator Victor Barrett resigned. No big deal, until I read later that he might have had an "island experience". Say what? That honey got some racist flies buzzing in both directions in the Variety's Comments. Surprise, surprise Gomer, a letter from Rep. Stanley T. McG Torres too. Which is funnier, his letter or the comments in response?

I'm reminded of the Knight who said ne:

And some free advice:
There are some remedies worse than the disease. -- Publilius Syrus

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What about same-sex first cousins?

Gad, this feeds so many stereotypes, I really shouldn't run it. Oh, well.

Supposedly, first cousins can marry in 26 states, but only five let homosexuals marry.

And I really don't have anything else to say. To repeat the email that was forwarded to me "Thought you might like this..."

The graphic says it's from the New York Times, but I couldn't find it in a search. The New Civil Rights Movement had it.

Just because I was curious, tracked down age of consent laws, too.

Incident* exposure

Governor Benigno R. Fitial's midnight massage by a federal detainee is turning into exactly the sort of public relations nightmare I expected.

Just when the local media's boilers were losing steam, CNMI Assistant Attorney General David Lochabay has moved to quash the subpoenas** to testify at the Feb. 17 evidentiary hearing. The U.S. Attorney's Office will likely oppose the motion; there may even be a pre-hearing hearing. That should stoke the fires for a few more news cycles.

And we still don't really "know" more than we did a few days after the Marianas Variety broke the story. "Sadly, it is hard to imagine how anyone connected to the incident could avoid the derision and stigma of the public after this media assault," Lochabay writes in the motion. True enough, but the brand is self-inflicted. I truly sympathize with any one experiencing severe back pain. But, really? A masseuse, charged with human smuggling?

Lochabay also suggests that the hearing is nothing more than a fishing expedition for evidence of crimes based, it seems, on Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O'Malley's somewhat neutral response to a reporter's question that "It's way too early to say that. Even if there were, I won't tell you."

Oh, and "agents of the Federal government have already interviewed" Corrections Commissioner Dolores M. Aldan, Lochabay added.

That brings up an interesting issue, assuming that the hearing goes forward. As Lochabay points out "the Commonwealth was, and is, in a decidedly awkward position, being a prime party in interest (Indeed, the real party in interest as it was the Commonwealth's responsibility to maintain custody of Ms. Cheng)"

That wouldn't be much problem for the three Corrections officers, but there is a real possibility of a conflict-of-interest concerning the Commissioner and the Governor (To a lesser extent, based on what we "know" from media reports) if the line of questioning marches into a legal minefield.

So, my train of thought runs exactly opposite to those saying these officials shouldn't be represented by the CNMI Attorney General. In an informal hearing such as this, what's wrong with the AG handling the preliminaries until the feds have tipped their hand? If it gets sticky, it may be in some people's interest to seek their own counsel.

And the media can fire up their boilers again.

* "(This trip to the Governor's house is, hereinafter, the "incident")." -- David Lochabay's motion

** I was looking for news about this motion in the Saipan Tribune, but no luck. Fortunately, Wendy at Unheard No More is all over these court papers-- I stole her link. (The uncharitable have been trashing the Tribune for its coverage. Unfairly, I think, just because they didn't get the original story.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bridge to nowhere?

Bridge Investment Group LLC seems to have made a bad bet on its Tinian casino plan. Then again, it appears they were betting against the house-- PL 110-229.

The immigration provisions of that law called for federal restrictions on alien hiring and investment that are much stricter than the CNMI laws and regulations they replaced.

According to the Saipan Tribune two-thirds of BIG's planned units were condominiums. Chinese investors were prominent in previous stories about their plans.

From the comments of spokesman Phillip Mendiola-Long, it would appear the company is hoping that the Department of Homeland Security will include Chinese workers when it issues its 'CW' rules and also issue investment rules with "lowered thresholds".

Neither seems likely. As Mendiola-Long points out, Chinese nationals are not eligible for the H-2 visa program. This year's list of eligible countries* has just been issued. The factors used in designating countries include:
(1) The country's cooperation with respect to issuance of travel documents for citizens, subjects, nationals and residents of that country who are subject to a final order of removal; (2) the number of final and unexecuted orders of removal against citizens, subjects, nationals and residents of that country; (3) the number of orders of removal executed against citizens, subjects, nationals and residents of that country; and (4) such other factors as may serve the U.S. interest.
It seems likely the same factors would apply to 'CW' workers and investors, and 22 reminders are currently awaiting trial for allegedly trying to enter Guam illegally from the CNMI. In addition, only the employment rules were re-opened for further comment, the investment rules are final.

* Argentina, Australia, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Moldova, The Netherlands, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Strange fruit

Like a lot of people, I tend to get casual about holidays. Sure, I think about why the day is special, but not much. Mostly, I take the day off.

Monday was no different. I watched football idly; was a desultory bartender later; played some pool, poorly. People were nice; said nice things about Martin Luther King, except for one ignorant drunk.

That made me more desultory: I decided to clean out my email in-box, which eventually led to a somewhat warped children's book at A JOURNEY ROUND MY SKULL. A discovery, and I like the guy's sensibility so I decided to share it with my brothers.

Every email has its subject, and I decided on Strange Fruit. Suddenly, I was really thinking about MLK.

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Billie Holiday had to scrap and scrape to get the song published. My, how times have changed.

Oh, yeah... I was checking out Organizing for America during the Presidential Election and I'm still on their list. They sent me a link to Barack Obama's speech and a transcript of it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chinese take out, column B

The hearing on Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's massage by a woman accused of human trafficking has been postponed at the request of Attorney General Edward Buckingham, according to the Saipan Tribune.

Maybe that should be alleged massage; the article refers to the "alleged unauthorized release". Buckingham has his work cut out. Both Fitial and Corrections Commissioner Dolores M. Aldan told the Tribune in a statement that they knew the "unusual situation" could be a problem.

Serious enough that Aldan is quoted as saying "I made about seven calls to the number I have for Deputy Hall and about six calls to the cell phone of the attorney general." That's something like putting up a Beware of Dog sign and letting the beast roam free.

The U.S. Attorney holds all of the cards (if not the prisoners). We don't know where the feds are going with this, and it is possible they could file charges.

While the move is understandable, personally, I'm disappointed that the hearing was postponed. The information vacuum is being filled by scurrilous speculation on the street and on the internet. Almost all of the comments on the Thursday and Friday Marianas Variety stories are negative.

Newly-hired press secretary Angel Demapan is probably disappointed too. While his first days have been "really tough", media frenzies usually have a short life, depending as they do on new developments. In this case, just about the time attentions lag, the hearing will guarantee more Front Page coverage.

Still, it could be worse. National news has been dominated by the earthquake in Haiti. And, while the Associated Press story appeared in hundreds of newspapers, most of them ran a short, somewhat sanitized version like this Washington Post blurb. I couldn't find it on Reuters and only on blogs related to Saipan.

Angelo posted the KSPN video on The Saipan Blog and YouTube. There's another version on YouTube.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Detainee Massages Governor

The Marianas Variety's Human smuggling defendant is governor’s masseuse gets my vote for story of the year. It's only January, but how can you top that?

The Variety says four Corrections officers escorted a Chinese woman being held for the U.S. Marshal to and from jail so Governor Benigno R. Fitial could get a massage*. Seriously.

Nobody's talking --except the Variety source(s) -- but this has all the makings of a story with legs. I'm amazed the national media haven't picked it up yet.

They will, though this probably isn't the best way to put the CNMI on the map.

Words fail me. Well, almost. It's absolutely amazing that an administration fighting to control alien labor would do this with a human smuggling defendant in federal custody. Who came up with this idea? I don't know, but there are going to be consequences.

Read the story; 'fair use' means I shouldn't quote the whole thing. I'll just wait to hear more from the Attorney General and the feds.

Off massage

Meanwhile, some wag said it was 'work release' program.

Groan. But then, I had to keep up: "I wonder if she was wearing one of those orange jumpsuits?"

Back at me: 'Maybe they thought it was part of the federal stimulus package.'

I gave up before it got out of control.

* For those of you with dirty minds, the Variety carefully notes: "In 2006, Fitial underwent a series of operations to treat his spinal stenosis, a medical condition in which the spinal canal narrows and compresses the spinal cord and nerves." Still, the island is awash in massage parlors; some of them are even legitimate.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hate this post, please

Unhappy? Stop thinking so much.

A University of Texas psychologist says it appears that people have better opinions of themselves if they don't use their higher brain functions.

That may explain why demagogues always seem so smug and self-satisfied.

Assistant professor Jennifer Beer has some good news: "In healthy people, the more you activate a portion of your frontal lobes, the more accurate your view of yourself is; and some bad: "And the more you view yourself as desirable or better than your peers, the less you use those lobes."

Before you try to turn the logic around (like I did to start this piece), i.e. if you're so smug, you must be wrong about something, that's not what the results say. Also, 20 subjects is a teaser; something like a grant proposal for a larger study. It would be interesting to see studies in areas other than self-comparison.

Then again, maybe pointy-heads, intellectuals and other assorted geeks really aren't as good as everybody else.

Fear the fear

I'd be cautious about drawing too many conclusions from studies like that because the are based on self-reporting. Less cautiously, I'd say the press release headline Fear of anxiety linked to depression in above-average worriers is the only conclusion to be drawn from the studied silliness it promotes.

The authors recruited 94 above-average worriers and found that "Statistical analyses of questionnaire responses showed that anxiety sensitivity, after controlling for worry and generalized anxiety symptoms in above-average worriers, significantly predicted depression symptoms."

Forgive them, for they are educators and psychologists, but that's a fancy way of saying that people who are afraid of their depression ("fear of cognitive dyscontrol") and don't want it to show ("fear of publically observable anxiety symptoms") are different from other worriers. Don't those sound more like symptoms than "predictors"?

Now, I don't want to make light of the serious problems of depression and anxiety disorder. But the authors of this study? Pah, humbug.

Are we not men?

It probably won't matter to our descendants anyway, they will probably be more depressed even if they don't think about it too much. Biologist Michael Lynch tells us we've gotten too successful as a species for natural selection to do its dirty work.

He says harmful genes are building up in each succeeding generation "with significant incapacitation at the morphological, physiological, and neurobiological levels." That theory has been around for decades, but Lynch puts some numbers together to show how fast it's happening. At least, I think he does. Interested, I'm still too cheap to drop ten bucks on reading the original paper.

This is important stuff: there are still misguided believers in eugenics among us, and the debate over genetic engineering is just beginning. There are implications for health care, assisted suicide and the abortion debate. That's just off the top of my head.

At least Carl Zimmer doesn't fall into the trap of problematic statistics by predicting some improbable dollar cost.

Is that a fact?

It's nice to be reminded that the 'expert' saying x proposal will cost y dollars is probably making more assumptions than a credit-card user. Those 'statistics' are often more comfort food-for-thought than mental nutrition.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Samoa's Office of Immigration raided

Human Trafficking alleged

About 20 officers from several agencies closed American Samoa's Office of Immigration last week, removing a large file cabinet and more than 15 bins full of documents, according to the Samoa News. Photos of the raid are displayed on their home page, but there hasn't been a follow-up story.

Lt. John Cendrowski of the Office of Territorial and International Criminal Intelligence and Drug Enforcement (OTICIDE, says Samoa News) told the New York Times that "In our ongoing investigation into human trafficking, we have heard from different Asian races on how they were 'recruited' to come to American Samoa in order to earn a better living."

Radio New Zealand reports that "The Office of Criminal Intelligence, the FBI and the Department of Public Safety raided the Immigration Office last week searching for files of 750 Asians, including Chinese, Korean and Filipino citizens."

Samoa News says the Independent Prosecutor's Office obtained the search warrant.

This timing is particularly bad for American Samoa, with Radio New Zealand also reporting that "A four member team from the US General Accountability Office is due in American Samoa next week to study the territory’s customs and immigration systems."

It also complicates matters for Rep. Gregorio C. Sablan, who told the Saipan Chamber of Commerce Saturday he was working on legislation to amend the 'federalization' law.

Opponents of federal control often point to American Samoa's system as an argument for local control in the CNMI.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

California shaking

There was a 6.5 magnitude earthquake about 3.5 hours ago offshore of Eureka, California, but the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says there is no threat of tidal waves. has some pretty good coverage, including photos. The station reports power outages and property damage but no casualties.

I'm more interested than usual because I grew up just over the border in Southern Oregon. The 1964 Crescent City tsunami was big news in the area, though the reference is misleading in this context.

I've read that 'tsunami' is Japanese for 'harbor wave', and that's basically what hit Crescent City. It sits at the end of a north-facing bay that funneled wave energy from the Great Alaskan Earthquake. Damage from that quake led to the creation of the West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning System.

BE attitudes

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos deserve a little celebration: it's been a rough four years.

Monday's inauguration caps a first term that was all tunnel, with not much light at its end. But the problems can wait another day or two; it's bad form to squabble when there are guests in the house.

In a classy move, the Governor took the first drive towards rapprochement by going to the house of erstwhile opponent Rep. Heinz S. Hofschneider, meeting with him and House Speaker Arnold I. Palacios, according to the Saipan Tribune. Hofschneider and Palacios returned the gesture by going to Fitial's residence. The rest was nuance.

"We want the feds to know we are working together," Fitial is said to have said. "It's time to get over this," (the election) Hofschneider told the Tribune in a separate interview.

"The political season is over. This is a time for partnership for the people of the CNMI," Inos said. "We wish nothing but success for the Fitial administration as they face the challenges of the Commonwealth," Palacios said.

The Tribune was so impressed by Inos' 'partnership' idea that they attributed it to all four men in the main story's lead sentence.

On the other hand, the Marianas Variety chose not to publicize inauguration events, except for a nod to Palauan President Johnson Toribiong on page six. Maybe that's some form of of the saw 'if you can't say anything good, don't say anything at all'.

Unless it's in the editorial, though even there the ongoing soap opera at Northern Marianas College took top billing. There's more than a touch of irony in editorials headlined 'A house divided' that sound like the election never took place.

Fitial's Administration is chided for fanfare the CNMI can't afford, but warned about relying on "contributions" (the quotation marks were not added) from the private sector. In Friday's Tribune, Inauguration Committee co-chair Teresa Kim was quoted saying "No government funds have been expended."

On a very basic level, what's the difference between campaign contributions and contributions to inauguration events?

In any case, here's the gubernatorial inaugural schedule. Questions about separation of church and state make Red Masses controversial in some jurisdictions, not so much in the Commonwealth.

The RSVP black-tie VIP Ball at the Saipan World Resort and suit-and-tie People's Ball at Fiesta Resort should help keep the fanfare-- and expenses -- down.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Don't swallow the label

Wow, I'm shocked: food labeling can be misleading. Restaurant foods measured by researchers at Tufts University had 18 percent more calories than claimed and frozen meals came in 8 percent over what was stated on the label.

Not that it concerns me, particularly. I'm dreadfully thin, probably because of my unfortunate habit of usually eating only twice a day, exacerbated by shifting my drinking habits from exuberant to moderate.

My weight gain is minimal even when I slip into a three-a-day regimen. I credit my current slogan 'everything in moderation, including moderation.'

Don't believe everything you read, caveat emptor, and similar bromides apply anyway. I do read labels, only to check relative levels of salt, glucose, sucrose and various fats. I wouldn't believe the absolute claims for a second.

Which, I suppose, makes the story a cautionary tale for those of you caught in the diet-drama of listing every food in every meal. If, like the lead researcher, you follow the package recommendations and still gain weight, try a different diet.

There is a bias in favor of under-reporting anyway, because the portion size must be as-advertised.

Also, the study used a gadget unknown to me: the dreaded 'bomb calorimeter'. It seems this nifty device is used to burn a measured sample and calculate the heat that is produced. Now, since we know that fire in your belly is just a rhetorical device, it can hardly measure what happens in your digestive tract. has a pretty good summary in plain language. The author includes some tables showing the conversion factors for various 'food components' when they are 'burned' in our woefully inefficient furnaces.

He also offers a warning: the energy in dietary fiber can be overestimated, "there are climate, varietal and other factors that contribute towards differences in the nutrient density of fruits and vegetables" and "feeding regime, animal genetics, climate and systems of animal husbandry also affect the nutrient density of meat and milk and consequently products derived from them."

This is just a goof for me, in any case, like trying to tell whether artificial sweeteners really have two-thirds of the calories in "Carbohydrate expressed as monosaccharide equivalent."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

post apocalyptic

My BS detector needs a little fine-tuning.

Some media wonks are jumping all over the Washington Post for publishing a Fiscal Times story which promotes a debt-reduction commission as news instead of opinion.

It's our fault, of course. The internet is slowly killing newspapers and magazines as we have known them. The old advertising-driven model is broken as content is distributed and aggregated on the web free of charge.

Rupert Murdoch is leading the charge to increase revenue as he tries to find a way to squeeze some dollars out of the sites that 'steal' stories from his media holdings, but he has got a lot of company.

At the same time, newspapers in particular are slashing costs by cutting staff. Ironically, newly unemployed editors and writers end up on the net competing with their former employers.

Perversity squared

But there is still a news-hole to be filled. Enter Fiscal Times (whose staff includes a couple of former Posties) and other special interest organizations. They are more than happy to provide content under the imprimatur of the Washington Post.

Which brings us back to our story and my BS detection. I read it, uncritically and quickly, a week ago and didn't notice a thing. After all, it was in the Washington Post. Yes, I knew better; I usually try to keep tabs on who is filling my head with trivia.

Mea Culpa

Look again. The article is full of attributions that are not quite exact, and conclusions without support. As Politico helpfully tells us, there is no mention of opposition to the proposal. (A wound that could easily have been healed with a sidebar even if the story was left untouched.) Worse, the Post had to wipe this egg from its face:
Correction to This Article
The article by the Fiscal Times, about growing congressional support for a bipartisan commission to address the nation's debt, contained a statement supporting the concept by Robert L. Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition. The article should have noted that the Concord Coalition receives funding from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Peterson, but not his foundation, also funds the Fiscal Times, the independent news service that prepared the article.

Logical trap

Now, as I've admitted, that is my fault. Michael Kinsley points out an interesting bit of journalistic trickery in The Atlantic: the appeal to authority.

How many times have you seen a story quoting an 'expert' from the University of Ulan Bator or Bemidji State College (not to pick on either fine institution)? Sometimes that is understandable: you go to the nearest institution for an interview.

Sometimes it is more insidious. Reporters are not supposed to express their point of view. Ah, but if you cast your net wide enough, you can find an academic or spokesperson to express it for you.

That may be harmless, or not. There may be a point of view that needs to be presented more clearly or you may want to express your point of view.

But Kinsley goes too far: you can't cut out all of the extra words. Particularly because I don't trust stories just because they are in the New York Times or the Washington Post. In some ways, the internet can be used to make superior stories: the extra information that bloats them can be condensed: for example, instead of "Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the Rules Committee", just write the name and link to a short biography.

I need that information, just to keep the papers honest. I don't want to think 'no, I hadn't heard of Fiscal Times, but if the Post says they are experts...'

And you don't want to get me started on 'highly placed sources' who 'are not authorized to comment.'

One of the principal marks of an educated man, indeed, is the fact that he does not take his opinions from newspapers—not, at any rate, from the militant, crusading newspapers. On the contrary, his attitude toward them is almost always one of frank cynicism, with indifference as its mildest form and contempt as its commonest. He knows that they are constantly falling into false reasoning about the things within his personal knowledge,—that is, within the narrow circle of his special education,—and so he assumes that they make the same, or even worse errors about other things, whether intellectual or moral. This assumption, it may be said at once, is quite justified by the facts. -- H.L. Mencken

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Of drunken mice and men

I don't think it was caffeine that left me shaking my head after this web adventure.

It all started so innocently, with a story that caffeine worked better as a reward for male than for female teenagers.

A mildly interesting five-minute read, until a comment referred me to the blurb Coffee may increase drunkensess (I don't know what they were drinking) from

Now, because these folks tout themselves "as the coffee industry’s leading information portal" I was puzzled that they used Red Bull as an example, particularly since an undetermined portion of its effects comes from taurine (and a smidgeon of cocaine, supposedly). Bad enough, but the next paragraph appeared to just be plainly wrong
According to researchers at Temple University in Pennsylvania, the combination of caffeine and alcohol may actually decrease cognitive and reflex skills. The FDA is currently looking into the validity of this study and reconsider allowing the addition of caffeine to alcohol based drinks.
Ignoring the fact that the Food and Drug Administration probably has more important things to do, I concentrated on the folks at Temple. Well,, more exactly, and they had the much more accurate headline "Drunk? Coffee Won't Get You Sober". Now we're getting somewhere, and I gleefully read on to see why and how these scientists administered caffeine and ethanol to mice via 'intraperitoneal injection' to make the amazing discovery that 'coffee makes you a wide-awake drunk'.

But that's getting ahead in my story. The WebMD story relies on an email from Thomas Gould, one of the authors of the study. He basically comes to the same conclusion that I have in my extensive research on the subject: "coffee may reduce the sedative effects of alcohol, which could give the false impression that people are not as intoxicated as they really are."

Good enough, though probably not enough to satisfy John McCain or the ghost of William Proxmire. We already knew that. Ah, but the researchers went further, claiming to have measured learning, anxiety and general locomotion. I give them the last one, but those first two called for another internet search to Behavioral Neuroscience. What if the mice were just looking for their car keys?

It's the caffeine, surely, but I get obsessive sometimes, and I really wanted to see how they assigned such human concepts to mice. (Note to Rupert Murdoch: unlike many academic publications they didn't charge; otherwise I wouldn't have bothered) The paper didn't say, though that may be settled science: maybe one of the 35 mouse-fondlers in their references has already provided the definitions.
In conclusion, caffeine has been shown to reverse some of the behavioral effects of ethanol, including sedation and deficits in attention, but the current study demonstrates that caffeine was unable to reverse ethanol-induced deficits in avoidance learning. However, ethanol reduced caffeine-induced anxiogenesis. Although coconsumption of ethanol and caffeine may increase alertness during intoxication, and decrease the awareness of intoxication, there may be no equivalent rescue of learning. Thus, drinkers may consume more alcohol when they are also consuming caffeine (O’Brien, McCoy, Rhodes, Wagoner, & Wolfson, 2008), producing greater intoxication and leading to greater decrements in learning.
Sounds good to me. Now tell me about the rabbits.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Shaken, but not stirred

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says a teeny (two-tenths of a foot) wave was measured in Honiara, the Solomons about an hour-and-a-half ago following a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

There are no reports of damage from the PTWC or from the United States Geological Survey, which kindly posted this map. The USGS got two reports from the nearby city of Gizo saying there was moderate shaking. Ah, the wonder of the internet.

The PTWC does say, however, that the tsunami "may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter," but "no threat exists for other coastal areas" in the Pacific.

The quake was relatively deep; USGS says 30 km, PTWC 33 km.


Evidently news travels slowly there, but the Solomon Star is reporting that local tsunami may have damaged 500 homes and either the waves or the earthquakes caused casualties. One man injured himself trying to flee to higher ground.

The Washington Post has an Associated Press Report that 2-3 meter waves hit Tetepare and Rendova Islands. According to a dive shop owner, people on the nearby island of Gizo headed for the hills because they remembered a 2007 tsunami.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Jesus shoots Santa

I stayed away from the Jesus shoots Santa story when it came out. People get so upset over things like that and... well, you know... it was Christmas.

I did like the added touch of Rudolph being laid out over the hood of the pickup truck.

Still, I'd put it aside and meant to drop the link. Just a chuckle in passing, like a Danish cartoon about the Prophet.

Yep, a Somali reportedly tried to take an axe to cartoonist Kurt Westergaard for his 2005 drawing of Mohammed with a bomb where his turban should be. As a proud secular whatever-you-want-to-add, I thought it was mildly funny. I also thought Muslim reaction showed a scary level of intolerance and ignorance.

I can deal with religious differences, but not the fundamental, foreign attitude that you can tell me what to print.

In the article, 'authorities' cite the obligatory 'ties to Al Qaeda'. Oh? Is this another battle in the War on Terror? What a Red Herring.

As a society, we need to stop thinking in slogans and ponder the much larger problem of a religion whose adherents condone or 'understand' murder. That is the battle we are facing for the foreseeable future.

The standard disclaimer applies: of course, not all Muslims...

If you're interested, here's some video of the Christmas tableau: