Friday, October 29, 2010

Our Northern Islands available on Saipan

Our Northern Islands, Dennis Chan's book about the first expedition to the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument is now available for purchase on Saipan.

The book is available at the CNMI Museum gift shop, located in the old Japanese Hospital on Middle Road in Garapan, across the street from Sugar King Park.

Our Northern Islands is also available on and

I hope to share Dennis' story with as many people as possible. I would like people in the Northern Marianas to grow up knowing and learning about the 10 islands north of Saipan. I'd like people to know that those islands and their surrounding waters are fragile, something that Dennis does not really get into in his book, but something that will be written about in future books.

I remember when I was growing up my mom had a single book with a single picture of Maug. And then in 1992 or 1993 I flew over Maug on a flight between Narita and Saipan. For years Maug was an abstraction for me, but now it is a real place.

I can remember sitting on the rim of the western islet, seeing Asuncion to the south and Uracas to the north, and thinking to myself, "This is a place."

And like Mufasa telling Simba, I thought, "Everything the light touches is our kingdom."

Every single thing I could see at that moment belonged to the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.


Our Northern Islands captures the sense that the Northern Islands and the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument are a place. They are a place you can visit if you win an essay contest. They are a place you can visit as a scientist. As a student. As a practitioner bringing about a cultural renaissance.

And thankfully, they are no longer a place you can visit as a commercial fisherman.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cockfights for Camacho

illegal cockfight
Only on Saipan.

One of the candidates for United States Delegate sponsored a cockfight in a local Saipan village. I don't know which candidate it was, but since 75% of the candidates on the ballot have Camacho in their name, Cockfights for Camacho it is.

Again, only on Saipan.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Memories from Massachusetts

When I was up in Massachusetts this weekend -- oh yeah, I was up in Massachusetts this weekend -- I got a copy of some old video taken by my grandmother in the 1950s. There is about an hour all told. Here is a clip from my mother's fourth birthday party in 195X:

The music is by Richie Valens. Youtube doesn't let you upload copyrighted music, but Facebook (for the moment) has no problem with it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dolphins, Dugongs, and Whales. Oh, my!

First of all, I need to point that I am Facebook friends with Johnson Toribiong, President of Palau. How cool is that?

Even cooler is the fact that earlier this week President Toribiong, after protecting all shark species in his nation's waters, created a sanctuary for marine mammals.

Take that, Japanese whale killers!

It is inspiring for me to have leaders in Micronesia who care enough about their natural heritage to do something to protect it. Saipan is experiencing a blitz of turtle and fruit bat poachings after decades of mismanaging our marine resources.

There are many people on Saipan who would like to see the islands turn away from destruction towards restoration, but very few are willing to risk the political pitfalls doing so requires. I just keep telling myself, one day. One day.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Completely Unrelated

The government of the Northern Marianas was closed for business for the first week of October. The legislature failed to pass and the governor failed to sign a balanced budget and about 20% of government employees were told to stay at home.

Fortunately the shutdown only lasted ten days.  The legislature eventually passed a budget, which the governor quickly signed into law. The next week, the lieutenant governor commented on the savings the government shutdown realized. According to the Saipan Tribune, "Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos said yesterday that the partial shutdown from Oct. 1 to 10 saved the government an estimated $650,000 to $750,000 in personnel costs."

On the very same day, the former Secretary of Commerce, who had resigned from his position three days prior, signed a sole-source contract with the CNMI government. Again from the Saipan Tribune, "Former Commerce Secretary Michael J. Ada's private firm bagged on Wednesday a $392,406 sole-source contract from the Fitial administration to remain as the CNMI state lead for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program."

I am convinced that the $392,406 to pay Michael Ada did not come from the $650,000 to $750,000 in savings the government realized from the shutdown.  Nobody would have the gall to take away 10 days of pay from over 1000 people just to pay one guy.

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Now Open!

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef
The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef opens today at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I'm not an expert on this one, so you can read more about this coral reef model on the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History website, and the Coral Reef Alliance website.

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef
I attended the opening of the exhibit on Thursday night. It was hosted by the Embassy of Australia, and my colleague in blogging, Rick MacPherson of the Coral Reef Alliance and Deep Sea News fame, was one of the speakers. Here is his awe-inspiring speech:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Apology is in Order

I would like to apologize to Governor Fitial and Delegate Sablan. I am the source of a great misunderstanding between our highest-ranking federal official and our highest-ranking local official and I ask both men to please accept my sincere apology.

In a recent speech at the Saipan Rotary Club, Delegate Sablan accused Governor Fitial of skipping his 2009 swearing-in ceremony – the swearing-in of the first delegate in CNMI history – because the governor had, and I quote, “a meeting to go to.”

I take full responsibility for Governor Fitial missing Delegate Kilili’s swearing-in and I hope that both leaders can forgive me. It was my fault that the governor was not there for Kilili’s historic day and I would like to clear the record.

You see, for the better part of 2008, I, along with many others, tried to convince President George W. Bush to use his presidential authority to invoke the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate a Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. The Saipan Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, divers, environmentalists, fishermen, indigenous leaders, a majority of businesses on island, and over 6000 local residents urged the governor and other local leaders to support the monument, which after some initial hesitation, history will show, they ultimately did.

President George W. Bush very inconveniently chose to designate the monument on the exact same day and at the exact same time that Delegate Kilili was being sworn into Congress. Governor Fitial was forced to miss Kilili’s swearing in ceremony because he was with Ike Cabrera, Agnes McPhetres, and me at the White House watching President Bush protect more of the Earth’s surface than any other man who had ever lived.

governor fitial george w bushThe reason Governor Fitial missed Kilili’s swearing-in is because he was with the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument and President Bush. That is the meeting he “had to go to.”

If someone is to blame for Governor Fitial missing Delegate Kilili’s ceremony, it is me. I take full responsibility and apologize to both the governor and the delegate.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Implement the Audit Recommendations

The Department of the Interior deserves to be commended for funding the recent audit of the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs. The Fitial Administration applied for and was awarded the grant, so they deserve a pat on the back, too.

The audit recommendations provide a comprehensive roadmap for improving services and cutting waste at both government departments. All of the recommendations should be implemented immediately. It would be a shame, not to mention a waste of taxpayer money, if this audit is ignored.

Representative Diego Benavente gets a gold star for the constitutional amendment that shut down the government last week. The constitution amendment was on last year's ballot and approved by voters, but Benavente got the ball rolling when he introduced the measure and guided its passage in the Legislature.

The budget that passed is not perfect, but it is better than no budget at all. The CNMI continues to dig itself into a hole, but at least with an imperfect budget, the digging has slowed.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Carnival of the Blue 41

October is here, I just turned 32, and another edition of Carnival of the Blue is online.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Books About Saipan

The collective Saipan bloggers frequently get emails and Facebook messages from people looking for information about Saipan and living in the Northern Mariana Islands. Many of the people that contact us are either looking into working here or have already accepted a job.

One of the questions I get the most is, "Is there a book about Saipan that you would recommend?" Well, yeah. In fact, there are. And thanks to, I was able to create this nifty little widget:

Friday, October 01, 2010

Government Shutdown Stories

I hope that the newspapers and the bloggers and the writers take notes of all the things that are going on in Saipan this week. The conversations that are taking place over coffee and the decisions on how to weather the storm are going to be historically important one day soon. This weekend marks the date that the whole deck of cards imploded.

The guys who were elected into office last November are dealing with issues that are more complex, more difficult to deal with than they are capable of handling. Between the 29 legislators, the four mayors, and the governor, I'm not sure if there are a dozen college degrees. I know there is not a single lawyer; and I'm pretty sure not one of them has an advanced degree. Most of them have worked for the government their entire lives and have no real world experience. It is no wonder things are the way they are.

It is amazing to me that no one saw this coming. Like Zaldy Dandan points out in Friday's editorial, tens of thousands of private sector employees have lost their jobs over the last few years and nobody in positions of power batted an eyelash.

The next disaster is when the NMI Retirement Fund goes bankrupt. Sure, there are some people who have earned their retirement, but most of the retirees I know retired in their late thirties and early forties. You can't expect a paycheck for doing nothing for the rest of your life. Things that seem too good to be true often aren't true. It is only a matter of time before that ponzi scheme collapses, too.

If you are a retiree, I'd start planning now. Get the training that you'll need when you have to go back to work in a few years. Or get back to work so that the transition won't be as difficult when the retirement money dries up.

But in the meantime, I hope someone writes down what is going on this week. The Marianas Variety did their job and found that several lawmakers were celebrating Stanley Torres' birthday down in Garapan just hours before the government shutdown (but it's really a government slowdown).
fitial discoSOME elected leaders, including lawmakers, partied on Thursday night, hours before the CNMI government shutdown that was a result of the Legislature’s failure to pass a balanced budget for fiscal year 2011.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial was among those who joined the birthday celebration of Rep. Stanley T. Torres, Ind.-Saipan, at Godfather’s Bar in Garapan.

“As of 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 30, Governor Fitial and Representative Torres were at Godfather's. Stanley was dancing on the dance floor and the governor was in a corner booth, surrounded by friends and laughing,” a resident told this reporter.

“What a slap in the face to their constituents — they are partying in public as the clock ticks toward a government shutdown that is 100 percent attributable to their professional failures,” the resident added.
I hope the stories next week describe how people are coping and what they are going to do. Is this going to lead people to leave island? Is someone going to move out of government service and start a business? Things like that would be interesting to know.