Monday, June 28, 2010

Laffet Family Reunion Along I-95

I've driven from Orlando to Virginia or Virginia to Orlando at least 50 times. The first time was when Mom moved us down to Florida from Massachusetts in 1992; the last time was when I celebrated* the second inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2005. I made most of the trips between 1996-2000 when I was attending the University of Richmond. I remember one year I made the 750 mile trip in under 10 hours. I didn't get a ticket in that run, but during my four years in college I managed to collect speeding tickets in Virginia, South Carolina and twice in Florida.

Almost every time I've done the drive I've gone through without stopping, but a few times I pulled over at a rest stop and closed my eyes for about an hour. I am no longer the kind of person that can do that. After living on Saipan for 4 years, I grumble at the thought of driving 5 miles, never mind nearly 1000.

Luckily, I now have family living in Fayettesville, North Carolina, so I can stop and spend the night whenever I make the journey.

chamorritta girlsMy cousin Diego Villagomez, his wife and three daughters live in Fayettesville. They lived on Saipan while I was there, and after a short stint on Guam, recently moved to North Carolina

north carolina bbq champThey have a cute three bedroom house with a big fenced-in back yard.

welcome cakeFort Bragg is right around the corner and wherever you find active military, you are bound to find Chamorros. Fayettesville is no different.

chamorro buffetDiego invited some Chamorros over, including my first cousin's son, his wife and their two kids, and we had a Saipan-style BBQ complete with red rice, finadeni and Bud Lite.

fort bragg pokerAfter we ate Diego broke out the cards and the poker chips.

texas holdem north carolinaAnd we played until it was dark. For the record, I did not win.

diego villagomezBefore I lived in Saipan, I never, and when I say never, I really mean not very often, saw other Chamorros or people from Saipan. Between 1982 and 2006, I saw my Dad, of course, and then a distant Villagomez family member lived in Orlando for about a year, and then I saw some Chamorros when I went to San Diego in 1998. That's about it.

Now, I think due in large part to the connections I have been able to make and hold on to on Facebook, I see Chamorros and people from Saipan all the time. I think that's pretty cool. It is something I wasn't able to experience for most of my life and I am happy now that I can.

That and I'm happy that I have a place to stay with people I love when I travel along I-95.

*I wasn't really celebrating

Friday, June 25, 2010

Washington, DC

The 2010 Orlando adventure is coming to a close.

Three days ago I was offered a job with an institution you are probably familiar with that is based in Washington, DC. I start on Monday morning. I'm not sure how they feel about having bloggers within their ranks, so for now I'll just leave it at I'm going to be working somewhere inside the Beltway.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Yes We Kan: Read Hafadai Magazine

hafadai magazineThe Yes We Kan t-shirts I designed featuring Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan appear in the July issue of Hafadai Magazine. Too bad the whole thing is in Japanese.

yes we kan

Mainland Chamorros Get It

A young chamorro living in California sticks it to Greg Cruz:
The federal government's purview

This is in response to Gregorio Cruz’s letter to the editor ("Public hearings on Interior recommendations," Saipan Tribune, June 24, 2010), where he asked, “If we are to accept the granting of permanent residency or citizenship to almost 20,000 foreign guest workers in the Commonwealth, what will happen 10 years from today?”

First of all, granting residency or citizenship to anyone in the United States or its territories is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. You or anyone in the CNMI have no jurisdiction on such matter and your acceptance is not needed. Ten years from today, if the federal government grants the contract workers permanent residency or citizenship in the CNMI, we will have a better government, where we will have checks and balances within and corruption will be minimized.

Cruz also stated, "One of the proposals suggested by a close ally to the Virgin Islands before the U.S Subcommittee hearing stated that a law granting permanent residency to 20,000 non-immigrant workers in 1982 took precedent." Once again, precedents or past rulings of appellate courts in the United States are laws of the land and the U.S Supreme Court had upheld such predicaments in the past.

"When will it end, is the real question." It will never end until such time that foreign workers are granted permanent residency or citizenship in the United State of America. The CNMI government has no jurisdiction on such matter and the federal government has the final say so. Yes, let your voices be heard to protect the status quo.

Segundo Castro
Stockton, CA

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mariana Trench Meta Media

The Saipan Tribune and the Marianas Variety carry stories today about the Outside Magazine article about last year's expedition to the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

The Marianas Variety doesn't archive its newspaper articles, so I am reprinting it here:
US magazine features NMI, Marine Monument

THE Northern Marianas and the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument were featured by Outside Magazine, which has a million readers, in its July 2010 issue.

Titled “Off the Deep End,” the 10-page story of contributing editor Patrick Symmes relates how he joined the group of 10 people who went with former Pew Saipan coordinator Angelo O’Connor Villagomez on a 10-day tour of the Northern Islands.

Symmes narrates the experiences of the group on board Lady Carolina from day one, chronicling their island stops, how they survived on their fuel allotment, scuba tanks and food supplies, how they fought and survived against the waves and other harsh elements of nature, as well as with engine trouble and seasickness.

The story includes photos from Maug, Uracas, Agrigan, Pagan and Sarigan.

The expedition was organized by the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument and the Pew Environment Group but the participants had to fork out $2,000 each to cover their expenses.

Symmes said the expedition was the first circumnavigation of the Marianas archipelago after President Bush signed declaration for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument on Jan. 6, 2009.

Villagomez, who is now based in Florida, said the international exposure that the monument continues to bring to the CNMI is rebranding the islands as an ecotourism destination.

“The next step is for the federal government to build a visitor center,” Villagomez said.

The Outside Magazine article features quotes from CNMI Historic Preservation Office’s Herman Tudela, Pew Environment Group’s Jay Nelson, Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument’s Laurie Peterka, Gary Evilsizer, Agrigan resident Eddie Saures, and Villagomez.

The Outside Magazine is created for the active reader and devoted to travel, fitness, outdoor gear and sports. Visit for more information, or to get your copy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mariana Trench in Outside Magazine

According to Outside Magazine, I am an "up-and-comer with a strong marketing instinct." Those eight words will be in every job application and every cover letter I write for the next 20 years. Thank you, Outside Magazine!

On Saturday I received my July 2010 issue of Outside Magazine. This is an issue I have been waiting for for almost a year. This is the issue that contains the story on last year's expedition to the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

Patrick Symmes, Outside Magazine contributing editor and the writer of this article, did a fantastic job. I thought the story was going to focus mostly on the trip we took to the monument, but he took it to the next level and interviewed Sylvia Earle and officials from the US Fish & Wildlife Service. What could have simply been a story about going to a far off place turned into a great retelling of some of the best conservation that has taken place during the last decade.

The story starts before the creation of the monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and carries us through the creation of Papahanaumokuakea and the creation of Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

I have to say, it literally hurts when the story of the monument campaign, something that took so much effort and caused so much stress, is cut down to a few paragraphs, or as in the case of MSNBC, a single sentence. One day I'll be able to let go of that; perhaps after my book is published.

The Outside Magazine website says that the magazine will be available on newsstands June 29, but I was able to find it online. I'd love to hear your reactions to the story, so please feel free to leave comments.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Guam 1, NMI 1

While most of the world focuses on the best international teams in football during this year's World Cup, on the tiny island of Saipan in the Western Pacific, 195th ranked Guam challenged unranked Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) in the fourth annual Marianas Cup.

NMI scored in the middle of the second half and led heading into the final minutes, but Guam was able to even the score in the 89th minute.

Team heartthrob, Brad Ruszala, had this to say of today's game, "Guam sucks!"

This was the fifth meeting in four years for the two squads. The teams met twice in 2007; they drew a 2-2 tie on Saipan, but a week later Guam slaughtered NMI 9-0 in Guam. The next year Guam bested NMI 3-2 in Saipan and last year Guam defeated NMI 2-1 in Guam.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Meanwhile, back on Saipan...

Xavier celebrates, Golden Bear ships out, Jane is sick, Gordon shows off his pride, Beachcomber finds a pretty invasive and Isa makes a funny.

Monday, June 14, 2010

BP Oil Spill: Day 55

Remember the good ol' days when we thought that only 200,000 gallons of oil per day were gushing into the Gulf of Mexico? Turns out BP lied to us. That figure has now been revised to as high as 1.7 million gallons of oil per day. That's a whole lot of oil.

I compared the previous amount of 200,000 gallons of oil per day spilling into the Gulf of Mexico to the volume of the New England Aquarium's big tank. So how big is 1.7 million gallons? And how much is 1.7 million x 55 days?

My math puts the total volume of oil dumped into the Gulf of Mexico since the start of the BP disaster at 88,000,000 gallons, which may be too low. Some estimates have the volume of oil spilled well about 100 million gallons.

So how big is 100 million gallons?

100000000100 million gallons would fill the Rose Bowl. Actually, 100 million gallons would overfill the Rose Bowl. That's a lot of oil.

Or is it?

The CIA says that the United States uses 19.5 million barrels of oil per day. 19.5 million barrels x 42 gallons/barrel equals 819,000,00 barrels per day. That means that every single day the American people pump as much oil into the world's atmosphere as BP has dumped into the Gulf of Mexico over the last two months. That means that in 2010 the American people will pump nearly 365 times more carbon into the atmosphere than BP has currently dumped into the Gulf of Mexico.

(This is the part where John Gourley would call me an enviro-extremist)

So if BP is to be held criminally liable for the oil they are dumping into the Gulf, aren't the American people 365 times more guilty for the carbon they pump into the atmosphere? Every year?

The thought is too depressing to even contemplate.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dick Steele

The Republican Party of the Northern Mariana Islands announced today that Republican National Committee Chairman Richard Steele plans on traveling to Saipan to campaign for the Republican candidate for US Congress, Juan Babauta.

Richard Steele?

Who the hell is Richard Steele?

I thought the RNC Chairman was Michael Steele? You know, the guy who used donor money to pay for lesbian strippers.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Great Feedback

Yesterday I sent the Under the Pala Pala list a sneak peak at my upcoming book, Battle for the Mariana Trench. I really appreciate everyone who has given feedback. Here are just a few:
"I like it. I cannot wait to read your book."

"Thanks for sharing. Actually, it sounds like most families or at least I should say mine."

"I like it! Easy to read and fun. I would find the middle name of Jack Villagomez and print it! That'd be great! All would know of the deception."

"I like it. It explains a lot of the stuff that we see as mainlanders. Anytime you write or publish make sure that you consider/evaluate your audience - who would be interested? Who would buy it? In your case, if you get every member of the family to buy a book, you would be on the way to the bestseller list!"

"Good one!"

"I've lived here over 45 years and I am still very puzzled as to the motivation of this society at large. It's obvious that familial relationships play a large role in societal interactions. It's also obvious that the society seems to stagnate when the family attempts to address any dilemma outside of the family relationship. A vision of themselves as members of anything larger than their culture or clan, i.e. the human race, seems a difficult concept to assimilate among the Chamorros and Carolinians. You are in a unique position to attempt to explain the social forces that cause action or inaction on the part of the members of this society. I wish you good luck."

"Interesting and enjoyable article or I should say chapter. Family history, relations and genealogy are in order and I am surprised you manage to keep it straight."

"I cannot wait for your book!"

"I was going to ask you how your book was coming along, and I was wondering what it was all about. I'm looking forward to reading it"

"Looks pretty interesting. Good Luck!"

"This is the kind of stuff that needs to be written and printed. Publications such as these, if properly maintained in the archives, give future historians the opportunity to “touch” the people. May I suggest that you expand on your family section, if you have geneology, to describe some of the origins of the Villagomez family."
I am not going to publish any portions of my book on this blog. If you want to get a sneak peak, you will have to sign up to Under the Pala Pala, or purchase the book when it is released..

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Yes We Kan T-shirts

yes we kanDo you want to be the envy of all your friends? Then you need to get one of these limited edition Yes We Kan t-shirts featuring new Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

yes we kan naotoDon't want the t-shirt, well how about the coffee mug?

Japan Prime Minister Naoto KanThis blog was started in 2004 when I was applying for the JET Program, hence the url When I was preparing for the interview I studied the culture & history of Japan, including memorizing the name of the prime minister at the time, Junichiro Koizumi. I know that a lot of new JET applicants read this blog, so I am going to offer a study tip: the name of the new prime minister is Yes We Kan!

yes we kan

2010 World Oceans Day

Today is World Oceans Day, but I don't feel like celebrating. I feel like mourning.

Sure, there have been some ocean victories in the last year. A few months ago the British government created the Chagos Protected Area, the largest marine reserve in the world. It protects many tropical habitats and species, and does so on a scale much larger than any protected area to proceed it, but it seems like the only shining example in what has been an otherwise dismal year for the world's oceans.

The Gulf of Mexico seems headed for annihilation. As I was flipping through the TV channels Sunday morning I chanced upon Admiral Thad Allen of the United States Coast Guard telling Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer that the Deep Horizon well is expected to continue gushing oil "well into the fall." If my math and my calendar reading skills are correct, that means we're not even to the halfway point yet. BP has created an environmental disaster on par with the Dust Bowl of the Dirty Thirties. Deep Horizon isn't Barack Obama's Katrina; Deep Horizon is Barack Obama's 9/11.

Also, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora met back in March, they voted not to protect several critically endangered species, including blue fin tuna, polar bears, Nile crocodiles, 8 species of sharks and several species of red and pink corals. They reasoned that protecting endangered species would be too much of an economic strain on fishing nations, which is a short-sighted view of things; extinction will certainly put more of an economic strain on fisherman than regulations.

Back in Saipan things are dour, too. The US Fish & Wildlife Service still hasn't moved forward with plans for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. There have been no public meetings, no draft regulations, no educational programs, no increased enforcement, nothing, nada, zilch, zero, zip. And after I spent hours drawing up testimony and traveled to Washington, DC with Agnes McPhetres to build support for a Mariana Trench Eco-Discovery Center, Representative Gregorio Sablan withdrew H.R. 3511 for fear that the Republicans would criticize him. Make that reason #52348798 to vote for a Democrat in the upcoming election. The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument as it stands is nothing more than a paper park, some meaningless lines on a map. Only the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument and Pew Environment Group, with their programs and their work with national and international media, have helped to fulfill the promises of the monument. The federal government is not delivering on their side of the deal.

As if all this wasn't bad enough, Al Gore, probably the most famous and prominent environmentalist alive, is getting a divorce.

As I type this about 32% of the Gulf of Mexico is closed to fishing, an area about the size of Minnesota or Nebraska. The way I try to comprehend this is by relating it to my own experiences. I spent much of the last several years promoting the creation of marine protected areas. My biggest success was the 12,000 square mile marine protected area (MPA) contained within the Islands Unit of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

gulf of mexico fishing closureThe BP oil disaster has created a marine catastrophe area (MCA) nearly 7x as large as the Islands Unit. I can remember sitting on the rim of the Maug crater last year and thinking that I had helped protect everything that the light touched; the Islands Unit extended literally as far as the eye could see in all directions. It sickens me to think that BP may have destroyed that much ocean seven times over.

Happy World Oceans Day. I hope 2011 gives us more reason to celebrate.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Amelia Earhart eaten by Giant Coconut Crabs

A story on MSNBC suggests that Amelia Earhart was eaten by giant coconut crabs on the Kiribati island of Nikumaroro.

nikumaroroThe story claims that evidence has been found on the island that she may have died there, but I don't believe it. Any evidence would have long washed into the ocean. The highest point on Nikumaroro atoll is probably about 5 meters and in the 70 years since Amelia Earhart went missing, large storms or tsunamis would have washed over the entire island taking any evidence with them. Also, any "evidence" on the island is more likely to be marine debris rather than something left on the island for over 70 years. Remember my trip to Maug? Islands in the Pacific are drowning in marine debris. Although I've never been there, I'm sure Nikumaroro is no different.

Additionally, this claim runs counter to my claim that Amelia Earhart spent her last days in a Japanese jail on Saipan. The proof is in the blog, baby.