Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Alex!

My little brother (he hates being called my little brother), Alex, turns 30 today. Not so little anymore! Happy birthday, baby brother. May the Force be with you for the next 30.

(In this photo Alex is playing hopscotch, while I perform the ancient Chamorro throw-the-coconut-husk ritual dance.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Best Time to Plant a Tree

Instead of waiting around on Guam for my flight to Pohnpei to leave, I decided to come over to Saipan for the weekend.

Driving around I noticed that many of the flame trees are in bloom, including many of the trees I planted over the years. The tree in this photo is the first tree that Beautify CNMI planted. We planted four trees on June 20, 2006. This is the only one that survived. A week later we planted seven more down the street (a bit south of the 13 Fishermen Memorial), and then literally planted thousands more over the years.

When I see the trees I planted it reminds me that I did some good during my time on Saipan. And hopefully that good will continue in my absence.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sprint Customer Service: Pretty Much Worthless

I have been trying to get Sprint to not suck for over six months now. My account is somehow screwed up where for some reason the phone is linked to my name, but everything else is linked to someone else's account. I don't get monthly statements and every time I make a payment, it gets applied to this other person's account. I have spent hours on the phone trying to fix this and have gone through two rounds of "fixing" the problem. The last time was in March and I was assured everything was fixed.

Nope.

I got an email telling me my statement is available online, so I logged in using my name and password. The statement shows the amount I owe, but I am unable to download or see the actual statement. The name on the account is someone else's. I'm sure that if I pay again, my payment will get credited to that other account and I'll have to spend more hours on the phone, send a half dozen faxes (they don't accept email!), and basically get frustrated over a problem that should have been fixed twice already.

I tried contacting Sprint customer service (again) to try to fix the problem:
Dear Sprint:

I have not received a single statement since I started with Sprint in December. After six months my online account is still linked to someone else's phone. My name is Angelo Villagomez. I am not paying another bill until I receive a statement. And please fix my online profile. I am out of the country until July 8, so please contact me via email. I am also available via skype at xxxxxx.

Angelo Villagomez
A few hours later I got the following response:
Dear Angelo Villagomez,

Thank you for contacting Sprint. I apologize for the inconvenience as you have not received the invoices since December.

I have attached all the invoices with the email from December, 2010 to June, 2011. You can find the attachments with the email.

I noticed that your account is setup to receive the notification of your bills on your email address xxxxxxxx@gmail.com . You will not receive the bills on your email. After receiving the notification, you need to view the bills online by following the steps:

1. Sign in to My Sprint at www.sprint.com.
2. Under the Your Bill section, click See My Bill.
3. The monthly statement page displays.

If the account shows the details of another account, please contact our Technical Support Team at 888-211-4727. The representative from the Technical Team will assist you accordingly.

We value your business and appreciate the opportunity to answer your questions. Please reply to this email or visit sprint.com if we can be of assistance.

Sincerely,
Leah S.
Sprint
This email doesn't help in the slightest, but at least I got to see my six months of statements for the first time. That's at least progress.
Dear Sprint:

Thank you for sending me these invoices, but this only solves half the problem. My online account is still linked to someone else's phone. As a result, when I make a payment, it gets credited to that other person's account. I've already spent several months trying to fix this problem, all to no avail.

Can you help me fix my online profile so that I can view my statements online and make payments?

I do not want to make payments into somebody else's account.

Thank you for your help,

Angelo
And the response:
Dear Angelo Villagomez,

Thank you for your reply regarding the online account.

I apologize for the inconvenience that caused to you. I understand you have already contacted us regarding this issue.

We at e-care are not equipped with tools to handle the technical concerns. The issue, you are facing can be best handled by our technical experts. As this is a technical issue, please call our Technical Support at 1-888-211-4727 (toll free) to get further assistance on this matter. Our Technical Support has the required expertise and tools. They will assist you with your concern.

We value your business and appreciate the opportunity to answer your questions. Please reply to this email or visit sprint.com if we can be of assistance.

Sincerely,
Jarvis M.
Sprint
So basically, no. Sprint customer service is not able to provide customer service. Perhaps they only exist to help old people turn on their phones? That seems to be the limit of their "expertise."

Would it be too difficult to forward my email to the technical "experts" at technical support? Do they not have email?

I hate you Sprint. I really, really hate you.

Dolphin Rape: It Happens

Be the envy of your friends with a limited edition Dolphin Rape T-shirt!
I occasionally give a warning at the beginning of posts decent people should avoid. This is one of those posts.

I spend more time than I ought thinking about dolphin rape.

It started innocently enough. I was having dinner with a co-worker and a shark scientist in Fiji. We were discussing a recent shark bite. The unnamed shark scientist was recalling the time he had been bitten by a shark and admitted, "I'd rather be bitten by a shark than raped by a dolphin."

It turns out dolphins are quite amourus creatures and more than one has been known to well, get up close and personal with a human. Jessica Alba and Jimmy Buffet are reported dolphin rape victims. This discovery has lead to months of laughs, even if dolphin rape is no laughing matter.

The reason I bring this up now is because I now know that I would rather be raped by a dolphin than go through another urinary tract infection. Yeah, so my big medical emergency was a condition that teenage girls get the first time they have sex.

I started not feeling well on my first day in Palau. I had headache, body ache, and my skin was sensitive to the touch, but I just passed it off as jet lag. The second day was no better and the third day was considerably worse. Then on the fourth day I had to pee every fifteen minutes and my urine was noticeably cloudy.

Colds and flus come and go, so I hoped this would, too. But my condition didn't improve on Friday or Saturday. I left for Guam on Sunday, and Sunday was miserable.

Using my limited medical knowledge and Web MD, I self-diagnosed that I had a urinary tract infection. I made an appointment to see a doctor on Monday and bought a gallon of cranberry juice at K-Mart.

The doctor seemed skeptical that I would have a urinary tract infection, seeing as they rarely occur in men. There are a couple of STDs that produce symptoms similar to UTI (thanks, Web MD), and I'm sure the doctor thought I had one of them. The way to differentiate between the two is with a pee test. A person with UTI will have bacteria in their urine; a person with chlamydia won't.

I had bacteria in my urine (phew!), along with some blood and pus for good measure.  On a side note, I didn't notice that I had blood in my urine because I am color blind.  The light pink tint was invisible to my homozygous recessive eyes.

"How did you manage to get this? Were you having anal sex in Palau?"

Um, no. I am an ardent supporter of equal rights for all members of society, but no. Just no.

"Now you know how a urinary tract infection feels."

Yeah, no kidding.

So the doctor prescribed me an antibiotic and scheduled me for some lab work to determine what was living inside my urinary tract. That required me to drive over to the lab, pee in another cup, and wait around for three days to find out exactly what I had.  I was supposed to leave for Pohnpei yesterday, but the doctor recommended I not put 2000 miles of open ocean between the nearest modern medical facilities and my bladder.  There was a chance the infection could spread or that I had one of those exciting new strains of E. coli that are resistant to antibiotics.

By now it hurt to stand. When I wasn't lying on a bed it felt like someone was sticking a finger into my abdomen.  It was more than irritating, but not quite painful.  Or maybe I'm just that tough.

That was three days ago. The lab results show that I've got E. coli somewhere in my urinary tract and that it is not the strain that is resistant to anti-biotics. All my symptoms are gone except for the abdominal pain, which is unfortunately incessant.

The doctor has given me the all clear and I'm getting on the next plane to Pohnpei.  The campaign to save the world's sharks continues.

I just hope there are no dolphins there.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Stranded on Guam

I'm stuck on Guam for about a week (oh whoa is me, I'm sure you're thinking). I was scheduled just to swing through between trips to Palau and Pohnpei, but I developed a condition that required me to stay close to modern medical facilities and here I am. My time wasn't wasted, though. I've made the rounds with my buddy, Carlotta. Here we are talking sharks in one of the Guam senator's offices.

There are only three flights to Pohnpei each week. I'll be on the first flight once I get the all clear.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This Explains So Much

There is a story in this morning's Saipan Tribune that subtly explains about half the problems being faced in the Northern Mariana Islands today. The story concerns the investigation into a campaign rally allegedly hosted by the Attorney General in his official capacity and held at the governor's residence:
The governor, in an interview on Friday night, said OPA's report on the investigation it conducted on Buckingham's presence at the gathering indicated that Buckingham violated the law.

But Fitial said Buckingham did not violate any law.

The governor said he need not release the OPA report, released in December.

“Buckingham did not violate any law. The report says that he violated. So I proved that he did not violate,” Fitial said.

When asked by Saipan Tribune how the governor arrived at the conclusion that the AG did not violate any law, the governor responded: “Because there's no law barring what Buckingham did.”

This, he said, was contained in his response to the OPA report.

He said OPA responded back.

“Very, very disrespectful,” Fitial said, when asked about OPA's response.
If I were older or perhaps more politically correct, I would say that this issue is one of island cultural values slamming up against Western ideals. But I'm not old and I have a hard time holding my tongue, so I'd never say that.

In Saipan, people in positions of power often think that their word should carry more weight than the word of law.  This likely comes from the strict father figure image of the traditional Chamorro family.  In Chamorro families, morality and values become defined by giving respect to the father figure.  A good child is one who follows father's strict rules, while a child who beats the drum to his own beat ends up voting Democrat and posting blogs every time someone kills a Napoleon wrasse.

This system of values has been extended to the church, where the priest or the bishop acts like a father to the flock, but also to politics, where political leaders are de facto father figures for the community.

I clearly think that system is horse shit.

And that is not disrespect. That is Freedom.

One more reason to go to Palau

I got a message from someone in Guam this morning asking to confirm that these photos on the Gone to Guam blog were taken on Saipan. Yup, that's Obyan Beach. And yup, that's a dead Napoleon wrasse. The blog was posted on June 12, 2011.

The Humphead (Napoleon) wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus, was listed on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – for more information see: http://www.cites.org/) in October of 2004. It was listed because it is considered to be actually or potentially threatened by current exploitation levels or disturbances if these persist.

The species is assessed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The total global catch of this species is estimated to be no more than 400 mt annually (Sadovy et al. 2003), yet despite this low volume, severe declines are noted in all places for which data are available and where management is not effective. The global populations of this species have declined 50% in the last 30 years. The threat to this species is so great that it is one of the only reef fish protected by name over a range of countries, including Palau, but not the Northern Mariana Islands or Guam.

I dove often and frequently on Saipan between 2006-2010. I saw exactly one Napoleon wrasse. On a recent trip to Palau, I saw about 15 at Blue Corner and 2 at Helmut Wreck.

Family and cultural connections aside, where do you think I would prefer to go diving? Where do you think tourists would rather spend their money?

The species is not protected in the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, but it should be. And, yes, I care more about the natural heritage of the Chamorro people than the ego of a single fisherman.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kilili Being All Awesome Again


Now this is what I'm talking about. From Delegate Kilili's email update:
Stamp will provide funding for Monument wildlife refuge. In May, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Areas received testimony from the Interior Department that the National Wildlife Refuge System has a $3.3 billion backlog of deferred maintenance and is short of operational funds. Parts of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument are in the Refuge System. So, I decided to introduce legislation authorizing a semipostal stamp to raise funds for wildlife refuges nationwide. Semipostal stamps are sold for more than the value of the postage and the difference goes to worthy causes. The breast cancer research stamp was the first semipostal and has raised over $70 million to date. My bill, to provide for the issuance of a Wildlife Refuge System Conservation Semipostal Stamp, H.R. 2236, was introduced with 23 original co-sponsors, both Republicans and Democrats, which shows the importance of wildlife refuges nationwide and the interest in finding alternative means of funding in these times of tight budgets.
That's the kind of creative thinking the Marianas needs right now.

Kudos to the delegate.

Red Eye

I just jumped off the mini-island hopper from Palau, Yap, and on to Guam. I've written about the Continental Island Hopper in the past, the string of flights that bounces across Micronesia from Guam to Honolulu. My flight this morning wasn't part of the hopper per se, but it did stop in Yap, and half the plane had to deplane to allow for cleaning.

When they reboarded the plane many of the Yapese people boarding for Guam were wearing flowers on their heads and around their necks. Nothing like the smell of ylang ylang to remind you of home. It is good to be in the islands again.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

World's First Shark Sanctuary

I'm in Palau this week to attend a meeting of the Association of Pacific Island Legislators. Even though I have wanted to visit for years, this is my first time here. As I got off the plane I was greeted by four big posters with sharks. Is there any doubt that Palau is home to the world's 1st shark sanctuary?

What a great idea! The Saipan airport should have something similar welcoming guests to the gateway of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument -- and they should do it before Guam does.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Bimini

Did I mention I got to go to Bimini, Bahamas last weekend? I was escorting a government official from a country in the Pacific to meet scientists and tour the Bimini Biological Field Station -- Sharklab.

I'm not really at liberty to get into specifics, but in addition to meeting in the lab we were able to go out into the field -- in this case on the water -- to see some of the research.

Awesome!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

South Miami Beach for a day

I had a short business trip to Florida and The Bahamas last weekend. Thelma's daughter AJ was on this side of the planet, so we met up at the airport and hung out on South Beach for a few hours.

As you may or may not know, South Beach is a top optional beach, and yes, this is a gratuitous man boob shot. That's how I bring sexy back.

Keeping track of my family relations is more difficult than understanding cricket. AJ's grandmother is my first cousin, Margarita, who I haven't seen in about 20 years. I knew Thelma, AJ's mom, better. Thelma's a year or two older than me, so she was the cooler, more awesome, older cousin. Not much has changed.

And no visit to Miami would be complete without a little Blue Steel.  Actually, this looks more like a WTF Blue Steel.

Stay tuned for a few photos from The Bahamas.  And I should have a number of travel photos over the next few weeks.  Today is day one of a four week work-related trip.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Sharkwater Saipan


This is the kind of stuff that makes me proud to be from Saipan. Check out what Kathy Pagapular's 6th grade class at San Vicente Elementary School were able to accomplish with the help of Sharkwater's Rob Stewart and some other very dedicated adults. I hope this inspiring video goes viral, and I'd appreciate anything you can do to put it in the blogosphere, Twittersphere, or Facebooksphere.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Laura Bush on marine reserves

Laura Bush has an editorial in the Wall Street Journal for World Ocean's Day:
Our ocean frontiers are disappearing, and it is up to us to conserve the most important wild areas that remain.

Our first national park was named not after a mountain or forest but for a mighty river: Yellowstone. For centuries the world’s waters have connected us. Explorers, traders, scientists and fishermen have traveled our oceans and rivers in search of new resources and a greater understanding of the world. This Wednesday, as we mark World Oceans Day, we must intensify our efforts to better understand, manage and conserve our waters and marine habitats if they are to remain a vibrant source of life for future generations.

Great progress has been made in protecting our environment over the past several decades, but too little of that progress addresses 70% of the world’s surface—our oceans. Less than one-half of 1% of the world’s oceans are protected in ways that will ensure they stay wild. Too often overharvesting depletes what should be a lasting bounty of fish. In some parts of the oceans today up to 90% of large fish are gone from natural ecosystems.

Our oceans are also where much of our trash and pollution end up. Plastics and other pollutants difficult to break down are killing fish, turtles and birds. Currents in the Pacific have created a plastic garbage dump twice the size of Texas. A few years ago, I visited Midway Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and was shocked to find debris killing birds that could not distinguish between plastic refuse and squid.

We are at risk of permanently losing vital marine resources and harming our quality of life. Overfishing and degrading our ocean waters damages the habitats needed to sustain diverse marine populations. Perhaps the most vital function our oceans serve is that of climate regulator—they produce oxygen, reduce pollution, and remove carbon dioxide. If we don’t protect our oceans, we could witness the destruction of some of the world’s most beautiful and important natural resources.

Fortunately, Yellowstone offers a blueprint for protecting our oceans. President Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park in 1872 at a time when large wild areas on the frontier were at risk. The founding of Yellowstone sparked a 50-year period during which many of the national parks we enjoy today were created. Our country began to see the value of setting aside large territories that would remain wild forever. Our national parks play an outsized role in maintaining healthy and diverse wildlife populations far beyond their boundaries. Many of the elk, deer and wolves seen throughout Western states trace their lineage to populations in Yellowstone.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. established a modest program to conserve some of its most important marine areas, called the National Marine Sanctuary System. In June 2006 and again in January 2009, the U.S. expanded the concept of parkland and wilderness preserves in the sea when President Bush designated four marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean.

The first of these, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, encompasses a 100-mile wide area of nearly pristine habitat northwest of Honolulu, Hawaii, and was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2010. A second area, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, includes the world’s deepest canyon and is home to some of the oldest and most resilient forms of life on the planet. The other two monuments are the Pacific Remote Islands dispersed throughout the Pacific Ocean and the Rose Atoll in American Samoa.

These four monuments cover more than 330,000 square miles and add up to the largest fully protected marine area in the world, larger than all of our national parks and wildlife refuges combined. They support vast numbers of fish, breathtakingly beautiful coral habitat, and a remarkable abundance of sharks—often seen as markers of an ecosystem’s health.

These monuments will remain open to shipping and other uses that will allow the economies and cultures of nearby American territories to prosper. But they will also remain a wild resource, a place where scientists can make new discoveries and where a variety of species can thrive. The U.S. was able to protect these areas because they fall within the Exclusive Economic Zone that surrounds our territories, and because the U.S. provides the means to manage them.

America is not alone in its efforts to preserve marine treasures. Australia has expanded its protection of parts of the Great Barrier Reef and the United Kingdom announced the designation of the Chagos Islands Marine Reserve in 2010. Dedicated conservation organizations, such as the Pew Environment Group, are sounding the call to action. Their efforts have supported the designation of more than half the world’s protected marine waters.

In the coming years, protecting our oceans will be even more important. Nearly half of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of an ocean, and that percentage will rise as more people settle in coastal communities. Today there are few waters outside the reach of human exploitation. Our wild ocean frontiers are disappearing and, like we did with Yellowstone, it is up to us to conserve the most important wild areas that remain. Doing so will preserve something that is all too easy to destroy but impossible to replace: natural, undisturbed incubators of life.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Once Were Bloggers

rick macpherson
There was a time when I blogged. A lot. Blogs have faded in popularity as social network sites have grown. Oh well. Whatever that means. Even so, I ran into fellow blogger Rick MacPherson at a meeting last week.

And you can't really tell from the first photo, but I'm rocking a sulu.