Sunday, February 28, 2010

Slow motion tsunami watch

Yesterday's magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile gave us time enough for two panic attacks, and I'm not going to the beach today.

A patrol officer announced the first tsunami watch at about ten o'clock last night. Sort of: I saw the lights and heard a marble-mouthfilled underwater voice. But the employees called soon after, then some customers. 'Are you open? Will you be open?'

No irresponsible lout, I pecked my way to the trusty Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. The site loaded in my browser more slowly than a government payment, and I soon learned why. A big one. We love lists and this comes in five on the top ten since 1900. (Hawaii was particularly nervous. Number one was from Chile too, I think, and it had a killer tsunami.(Evidently yes, at least it was just confirmed via CNN breaking news overkill.))

Still, the Pacific Ocean covers a third of the world. Chile is in the Southeast, we're in the Northwest. Even using the ballpark figure of commercial jetspeed without a TSA check beforehand, I could count on a good night's sleep before giving it much thought-- though there were early reports of 3-7 foot waves close to the quake.

Three feet in Hilo, Hawaii, the cable networks said at about 10:00 our time (Except CNBC; they were featuring Akio Toyoda falling on his sword before the U.S. Congress.) I should have recorded their boring beach pictures, it would be useful as one of those 'therapeutic' video relaxation programs.

So, at about 1:00 this afternoon I'll be at home. I live in Garapan, but up a hill. Safe enough. My neighbors went crazy when a police car went around again this morning. Massive chatter, I saw people with suitcases and bottles of water. None of my business.

If I had the ambition or energy, I'd head over to Old Man by the Sea or Jeffries Beach and try to grab a photo from a safe height. Hmm... Laulau Bay from the old Chamorro Village might be interesting. Nah, I'll play a computer game.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dirty dancer not deportable

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is at it again, deciding that nude dancing is not "categorically" a crime of moral turpitude and cause for deportation.

The story caught my eye because it might be of more than passing interest to some people locally now that immigration has gone federal. Well... it didn't hurt that they put 'moral turpitude' in the subheading. That woke me up better than a cup of coffee, almost guaranteeing a string of my favorite adjectives: vile, wicked base acts, depravity.

I was disappointed, sorely. The decision didn't even discuss the 'lewd act' that one Victor Ocegueda Nunez committed to get convicted of indecent exposure (I looked).

This all came up because Ocegueda, an illegal immigrant, was petitioning on hardship grounds to remain in the U.S. with his wife and children. Ah, but two moral turpitudes and you are out. The first was a petty theft conviction. Surprisingly draconian, or as Judge Stephen Reinhardt puts it with more judicial precision: "Go figure." That left the indecent exposure conviction and a descent into sophistry.

Instead of the facts of the case we are treated to an analog of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It's easy to see why the Ninth Circuit gets slapped down so often.

Ordinarily, I would probably disagree with dissenting Judge Jay Bybee. Reading between the lines, it wouldn't be a stretch if he thought all dancing was lewd and lascivious. Still, it's hard to argue with "Whatever Ocegueda did to get himself convicted of indecent exposure, we can be fairly confident that it involved more than being a nude dancer at a bar or a 'tasteless prank'." This is California, folks.

Now I'll have that coffee.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Dilatory in posting, I've been chided. Shrug, I've been busy. Not that it matters, the local newspapers bickering, more Tiger balm for the masses, bankers back to being bankers. Politics, politics and another offensive in Afghanistan (Obama's War, according to a PBS piece).

I drive a lot lately. If the Department of Public Safety is cracking down on aggressive drivers, it's on other streets in other villages. A recent study claimed that most motorists weren't as competent as they thought. The evidence is out there every day.

I've always been bemused by the 'slalom' drivers here. With the distances involved, how much faster can you get anywhere cutting in and out of traffic? My tentative conclusion is that it's some sort of compensation. 'Sure, I'm still going to be late, but look how hard I'm trying to make up the time'. Nobody's watching but your superego, of course. I guess that's part of being socialized: act as if your disapproving aunt is judging every move, even when you're alone.

My reaction is different, if not quite opposite. Much of it comes from far too much time on the road after midnight, or later after the bars close. There's a simple rule if someone is weaving, driving erratically, too fast or too slow: keep them in front of you.

That last one might take some patience, but it's a hard-earned lesson. I once passed some yahoo stumbling down the road at 15 miles an hour and immediately found myself in a bad Fast and Furious remake (ok, that's redundant). Who knows what will push the road rage button when someone is making all of their decisions with their brain stem? It's all about control. If you're in front of me I have it, behind me and I'm a potential victim.

They're the worst, but drunks aren't the only problem to get before me. Cellphoners and text-punch-drunks come in a close second. I added the ubiquitous, pestilent white tour van years ago. Now, of course, any Toyota* is on the list.

Driver's education wasn't a big thing back in the day, but I remember learning about defensive driving. I vaguely recall a film with horrible, twisted corpses in horrible, twisted wreckage.

So, when I wonder whether that guy is going to pull out right in front of me at five miles-an-hour, he usually does. If I consider that gal likely to cross over into my lane for no reason, she often does. Dogs, cats and rugrats are alarmingly oblivious to tons of steel whizzing by.

There are some vivid images imprinted in my brain. I was crawling up the hill to the college (I still think of Dr. Torres Hospital and call it hospital hill) in a long line moving at the speed of a truck-full of gravel. There were only two lanes and the shoulder barely existed. Coming the other way, drunk at eight in the morning, was a fellow who veered into the gravel 'just a bit'. He over-corrected and zigged straight at the car in front of me. In stop-motion I saw (and see) his wide eyes as he zagged and over-corrected again, I see the driver in front of me looking over his shoulder equally wide-eyed with his mouth in a cartoon oval of surprise. Three's the charm, so his last over-correction took him just past me and he piled into the next car. The last image, less vivid, is the man behind me leaning away from the inevitable collision.

Luckily, no one was hurt-- drunks seldom are, anyway-- but there was nothing any of us could do. Out of our hands, luck of the draw. I'm doing my best to never be in that helpless position again.

* Some 'independent expert' was quoted as saying that while one of the Toyota brake fixes seemed expensive at millions of dollars, it was actually *only* a buck or two per car. That would be one explanation for him not working for a car company, their logic being that if you can save a dollar or two on each car it's millions on the bottom line. (I hope Nissan executives had bad dreams for awhile because of the evil psychic juju I was generating when I discovered my Sentra had a nylon timing belt.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Quash, anyone?

KSPN-2, the local cable news channel reported tonight that District Judge Alex Munson has quashed the subpoenas for Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and four Corrections officials to appear at a Feb. 17. evidentiary hearing. They haven't posted the streaming video yet, but it can be accessed later through their home page.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said it requested the hearing to discover whether Qing Mei Cheng's transfer under escort from prison to Fitial's residence could have affected her trial on human smuggling charges.

More later... going out the door.

CNMI paper implies First Amendment Retaliation

The Marianas Variety suggests, without making a specific accusation, that political retribution is behind the CNMI Department of Public Health pulling its advertising.

That would be troubling, if true -- and illegal. For example, in a quick search for First Amendment Retaliation by governments I found cases from Mississippi and Puerto Rico.

If possible, the newspaper's relations with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and his administration have become more strained since his re-election, capped by their reporting the governor's controversial massage by a woman who was in federal custody.

I'm hesitant to say more, because the piece is more editorial opening salvo than news story. Tomorrow is another day.

However (heh), I did rummage through some back issues that were squirreled away and DPH doesn't seem to be the only government agency that is migrating away from the Variety and staying with the Saipan Tribune.

Evidently, the Variety learned this Friday, which makes the bare-bones reporting more understandable. Additionally, the paper claims that "Variety reporters covering the executive branch are also not getting replies to their requests for information and comments."

I had wondered why they were getting 'scooped' on stories that are essentially press release journalism.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Obama rasa

Everyone wants a crack at President Barack Obama: demonizers to tell him off, while acolytes would probably be happy just to touch a hem on his garments. Personally, I'm still trying to figure out who is and exactly what the hell he's up to.

Some think they will get their chance this March when he stops over in Guam. My term: I haven't seen anyone phrase it that way, but Guam's still a prime coaling station. Check the oil, kick the tires, stretch your legs and it's on the road again.

Oh, yeah; "he will speak with U.S. service members on the island," according to press secretary Robert Gibbs. Stalwart young men and women, clean cut (no t-shirt slogans and signs) and in the forefront where America's homeland security begins. This sounds like a script borrowed from the latter-day George Bush.

That's not meant to be as flippant and cynical as it sounds: it's what I'd do -- I could probably write the speech. The Guam activists and CNMI politicians looking for meetings and visits will very likely be disappointed. 'Bulwark' will be used once, 'defense' and 'security' several times. Japan will be mentioned, very diplomatically because of the new government's hardened stance on Marines in Okinawa.

It's been a cold winter in Washington figuratively and literally. Time to slide away from the domestic ruckus for a foreign policy War On Terror set-piece. "We're good guys," Indonesians will be told. (Like most of our Muslim allies, their draconian laws will be glossed -- though if anyone drops the word 'madrasa' into the comments I'll attempt to throttle them digitally) "WE are the good guys," he'll assure Australians... and we really wish you'd pony up some troops.

There will be pictures of shy, smiling students and Obama's kids will probably meet a koala. I predict... success.

Somewhere, I picked up the essentially useless nugget that, unlike airliners, Air Force One lands with enough fuel to get out of Dodge. They don't exactly keep the motor running, but that's one of many precautions. I'm sure that's part of the reason for the Guam stop, as is adjusting to different time zones. You don't want your President sounding incoherent due to jet lag.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ai adai in court

The lawyers have had their day in court, and now the CNMI Supreme Court says the Northern Islands will have to elect their mayor, again.

Not that it matters to anyone except the candidates and the employees either would hire. As far as I know an Acting Mayor is still appointed when the Mayor actually leaves Saipan; most of the 'residents' vote here. The office's main function (besides employment) seems to be offering quick marriages.

My main interest in the case stems from Judge David Wiseman ordering disqualified voters to unsecret their ballots. Jaw-dropping, though mitigated by the argument that, after all, they committed fraud by saying they had lived in the Northern Islands at some point. Still, once you've broken the rules once, well, why not lie about your vote too?

The Marianas Variety just printed the press release on this one.

Guest host

With District Judge Alex Munson off-island, Wiseman was the Designated Judge, ordering that the latest group trying to reach Guam illegally "shall not be removed from the Corrections facility without an order from the court or direction from the U.S. Marshals Service." The Variety mined that nugget, which the Saipan Tribune missed.

This one could easily have turned tragic, from the narrative printed in the Variety. Inexperienced people in rubber rafts, leaving in the dark and with only the vaguest idea of where they were going is a recipe for disaster. It's comic now.

Slow motions

The masseuse that was loose --though under guard -- continues to dominate local headlines. More in the Marianas Variety, which gave the U.S. Attorney's argument to hold a hearing front page coverage Monday with the headline (Gov. Benigno R.) "Fitial’s massage by detainee a personal service".

That's a quote from the motion, which just makes it the opinion of Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O'Malley. I've actually heard a misbegotten soul argue the opposite, though it seems that line of reasoning would have about as much chance as a landlubber putting to sea in a rubber boat.

A day later, the Saipan Tribune offers up the more factual "US govt: Federal court has authority to order evidentiary hearing" on page six. To be fair, maybe the Tribune couldn't get a copy of the Friday motion until Monday. Both stories were old news anyway: from Florida, Wendy Doromal got a copy of the motion and posted a pdf Friday.

In any case, these motions and the evidentiary hearing are just preliminaries. Watch your local newspaper for more.