Saturday, December 29, 2007

Injustice, Meaning and Purpose

Barbara Jamison led a seminar studying two letters from the Universal House of Justice. The first was written December 21, 2006 to the Baha'is of Egypt, and the second was written September 9, 2007 to Baha'i students deprived of access to higher education in Iran. Both of these communities have a long history of repression at the hands of the governments of their lands.

In Egypt, the constitution recognizes only Judaism, Christianity and Islam as official religions, and only citizens who declare one of these as their religion are given the state issued ID cards which gives them rights as citizens. The Baha'is are not asking for official recognition as a religion, but rather to be allowed to receive ID cards without having to lie about their religion. The case is schedule to be heard (again) by the courts in Egypt in January.

In Iran, the government has for at least three decades denied Baha'is access to higher education. The case has been taken up by the United Nations and many groups and organizations around the world have voiced their concern. Iran remains recalcitrant in its position.

The letters to these two communities both outlined the issues, the history behind the issues, and then provided encouragement to those communities in the actions they are to take while suffering under the yoke of oppression. I'll have to admit, it's not your average bit of instruction.

In the case of the Baha'is of Egypt, after outlining the history of the oppression, the Universal House of Justice calls upon the Baha'is to view their plight as a part of the injustice suffered by peoples throughout the world.

This is no time, however, to dwell on a litany of vexations your community has for so long sustained. It is, rather, an appropriate occasion for reflection on the broad context in which the recent action of the Supreme Administrative Court occur ed, that from it you may derive an ever-larger sense of meaning and purpose.

Injustice is rife. Throughout the world it afflicts every department of life whether in the home, at the workplace, or in the public sphere as a consequence of the ill conduct of individuals, groups, or governments. Lamenting the horrors it breeds, Baha'u'llah made this poignant remark: "Justice is, in this day, bewailing its plight, and Equity groaneth beneath the yoke of oppression. The thick clouds of tyranny have darkened the face of the earth, and enveloped its peoples." So grave a situation exists at a time of unprecedented change: opposite processes of chaos and of order interact in a spiral of turbulence that signals a transition in the spiritual and social agenda of the world as a whole.

Human society has arrived at a stage in its evolution when unity of the whole human race is imperative. to not appreciate this reality is to not grasp the meaning of the current crisis in world affairs. The principle of the oneness of humankind identifies the code of resolving the far-reaching issues involved. As Baha'is, you understand that this principle implies not only the ultimate peaceful goal that it signifies but involves, as well, your participation in the painful tasks entailed in attaining it. Hence, you appreciate the global connotations of instances of oppression at home or abroad and accept the responsibility of striving, guided by the principles of the Faith and in collaboration with others whenever possible, to combat injustice, for the common good.
So, the call is not to just battle your own oppression, but to accept the responsibility and the painful task of striving to combat injustice for the common good. Attention is then turned to the groups in Egypt who are supporting the Baha'is, and the ultimate destiny of Egypt.

Those groups supporting you in your current encounter are of a world-embracing vision and are themselves prepared to withstand the harsh resistance to their selfless occupation, sustaining blows of injustice in the process. As the rise of justice ensures the appearance of unity in the world, all who take on the formidable challenges of struggling for it have indeed captured the spirit of the age epitomized in the principle of oneness. to the extent that the fight for justice contributes to the establishment of a single global standard of human rights, the organizations in Egypt so engaged are working towards achieving the unification of their nation's peoples. They are thus committing themselves in large measure to the vital task of reconciling the tensions that bedevil their society and delay the attainment of its unity. Such reconciliation should not be impossible to Egypt's people, who can take pride in the celebrated enlightenment that in a glorious past ensured their unity in a flourishing society. Undoubtedly, Egypt will rise to participate, as befits its stature, in the fruition of that destiny of world peace and prosperity of which all nations dream.





Friday, December 28, 2007

Instincts and Morals

Today's presentation by Shamil Fattakhov, at the Marianas International Baha'i Winter School, covered the subject of Instincts and Morals. I'll have to admit, that somewhere along the way, I think I missed something major, but here is what I got out of it.

Instinct can be defined as an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action or a natural or innate impulse, inclination or tendency. Instincts are complex reflexes -- generally automatic actions. he asked the question, "What is the difference between the instincts of a human being, and those of an animal?" After some discussion, the participants agreed that at the level of instinct, there are no differences between the instincts of an animal and those of a human. Biologists have identified four basic instincts: the instinct for self-preservation/survival; the instinct for food; the instinct for reproduction; and the instinct for territory. All of these are related to survival, but each is a separate instinct that animals and humans possess.

So, then, what differentiates humans from animals? As a species, it would have to be the power of intellect. Humans have a higher intelligence that is an overlay onto the instincts. It's a sort of reasoning power, but also an evaluative power. It is this capacity for intellect, which is an expression of consciousness and an expression of the human soul, that allows for decision-making, free-will, and the emergence of values such as "right" and "wrong." Animals, lack this capacity of evaluating "right" and "wrong", "good" and "bad", "vice" and "virtue." And as such in their world, they are none of these. They simply exist and function at the level of instinct.

However, instinct is the source of morals, because every instinct, from the human perspective can be pursued in a way that results in either vice or virtue.

We went through an exercise of taking each instinct and coming up with the vices and virtues of expressing that instinct.

For example, the vices of "self-preservation" on an individual and a social level could include war, anger, lying, murder, exploitation, accumulation of excessive wealth, espionage, negative campaigning, backbiting, etc. While on the other side, virtuous or positive expressions of "self-preservation" could include such things as cooperation, resourcefulness, individual initiative, family, justice, hard work, good governance, and planning.

Vices related to pursuit of food could include overeating, exploitation of the environment, cruelty to animals, the proliferation of cooking shows (that one was my idea), withholding food as a means of coercion, and the like. Virtues could be health and energy, hospitality, means of sharing culture, bonding, pleasure, detachment and self-discipline, and expressions of generosity and charity.

Vices related to the drive for reproduction/sex are such things as promiscuity, prostitution, human trafficking, overpopulation, population manipulation through government policies (think "one child" policy), pornography, lust. Virtues might include love, intimacy, children, pleasure, faithfulness and fidelity.

Vices related to the territorial instinct would include nationalism, racial and ethnic discrimination, trade barriers, xenophobia. Virtues include sane patriotism, environmentalism, pride in ones culture and homeland, a sense of home and of sharing one's home.

This is just the stuff we came up with -- the lists could be endless, depending on how broadly you want to address each subject. Now, the job of the human being -- the process of "becoming moral" -- is to take each of these instincts which we recognize are natural, and to weed out the vices associated with them, and to nurture the virtues related to them.

(Like I said, I think I may have missed something major in the presentation, or else my brain hasn't yet made some seminal connection, but this is what I came away with).

I found this a helpful way to think about some of the social issues we now face in Saipan. For example, there is plenty of discussion surrounding this issue immigration and federalization. The territorial instinct is a natural one, however, it's expression can have two very different directions. The nationalism and xenophobia and racism that is becoming vocal is a negative expression of this instinct. I think most of the population recognizes that it's basically a perverted expression of the territorial instinct -- it lacks elements of morality.

The whole discussion bought to mind one of the purposes of life as delineated in the Baha'i writings: to acquire virtues.

Bushido and the Traditional Japanese Moral Education

The second speaker yesterday at the Mariana Islands International Baha'i Winter School was Nozomu Sonda from Japan, who spoke on "Bushido and Traditional Japanese Moral Education." Bushido translates as "the way of the warrior," and refers to the code of ethics of the Samurai. He did a Kendo demonstration (bamboo sword), and discussed how the code of the Samurai continues to influence Japanese moral development through the practice of Kendo, which is one of the "sports" practiced by many Japanese high-school students. Bushido has its sources in Zen Buddhism, Shinto and Confucianism. The eight primary virtues of Bushido are
  1. Rectitude/Justice
  2. Courage
  3. Benevolence
  4. Politeness
  5. Veracity/Sincerity
  6. Honor
  7. Loyalty
  8. Self-Control

He explored the meaning of each of these in both the context of the Samurai and in the context of modern Japanese society, and highlighted commonalities with the virtues extolled in the Baha'i Faith as well as other world religions.

What are the sources of moral education in our traditional cultures? We've recently had hot discussion of "respect" as the foundational moral cultural value for Pacific Islanders and specifically the Chamorro culture.

People's Theatre

The first speaker of the day was Sahmil Fattakhov, a Russian film-maker and journalist with background in conflict resolution, who as a host of a TV talk show, began to explore issues of social concern through presenting skits that would escalate around some point of conflict, stop the skit at its climax, and then ask the audience members to suggest solutions to the conflicts. "So, you think the father should do this in this situation. Come on up here, and act out that part for us," and the drama would continue, using the collective wisdom of the audience. The format, which has been adopted in many places in the world, is sometimes referred to as "People's Theater." He tends to pick hot, complex topics that people generally don't talk about... things like a Albanian daughter coming home to tell her parents she's fallen in love and wants to get married... to a Macedonian (this was performed just after the war in Macedonia).


The goals of the "theatre" are sixfold:

  1. To establish the highest moral principle governing the topic.
  2. To clarify the essence of the problem or issue.
  3. To establish the necessity and possibility of its resolution.
  4. To seek to find practical positive ways of resolving the problem by means of consultation.
  5. To share experiences, enrich each other's knowledge and understanding on moral issues, and to use the accumulated wisdom of humanity to do so.
  6. To inspire the audience and to encourage the participation to act in a positive, moral way, to develop their own moral capacities.
I found the whole discussion fascinating. Mr. Fattakhov pointed out that so often, particularly in dilemma facing youth, they take action based on the feeling that "I had no choice" and that the process helps people see that every situation presents choices. Part of his work involves training communities to develop their own "People's Theatre". The five-day training includes instruction on developing skits, choosing topics, and moderating the whole process. I want to explore this a bit more. It sounded like the exact sort of thing we could use in our community. Anyone out there on Saipan interested in exploring this?

In the Company of Vibrant People

A few weeks ago, the Pacific Islands Health Officers Association (PIHOA) held their conference in Saipan. The annual conferences gather health officials from throughout the Pacific, along with big-wigs from the US who are involved with Pacific health. I didn't attend the conference, since I'm not a health official, but on the last evening, they held a reception at the Hyatt, and the Secretary of Health invited me to attend. There were health officials there from around the Pacific, people from the Institute of Medicine and CDC, researchers and demographers from US universities, a four star general from Tripler, people from a private company who continue to administer the care of the people affected by nuclear testing in teh Marshall Islands, and a whole host of similar folks. It was energizing, simply because it was nice to be in the company of a vibrant group of people who were focused on making things better in a constructive way. Sure, they were grappling with complex problems, and limited resources, but they were happy, engaged, and solution oriented. I realized how much I missed this.

I'm having the same experience right now in Guam. I'm attending the Mariana Islands International Baha'i Winter School. There are people here from the Marianas, the Federates States of Micronesia, the US, Australia, Japan, Korea and Russia, striving to understand and apply principles for a better world. In the Marians, we started holding these longer five-day "schools"/conferences about four years ago. The purpose of such schools, is summarized in the following couple of sentences:

"The world is undoubtedly facing a great crisis and the social economic and political conditions are daily becoming more complex. Should the friends desire to take the lead in informing the world, they should start by educating themselves and understand what the troubles and problems really are which baffle the minds of men. "
As I read this, I realized that to some extent, the people that I enjoy hanging out with are those that are involved in this kind of stuff -- vibrant enthusiastic people looking to understand and address issues that baffle the minds of people. This is what we're doing here in Guam this week. Yesterday was the first day, and both speakers addressed issues related to character, ethics and morals. I'm going to break up the summary of their talks into separate posts.

As an aside, I've been doing some reading recently on the reasons that religion is, to a large extent, irrelevant these days. In large part is has to do with the inabilty of religions to address modern concerns. I'd like to post a few paragraphs from the document I'm reading, "One Common Faith," but I'll do that separately as well. It's a couple of pages long.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wacko of the Week

So, I get back from my trip to find that some guy has left a bunch of messages for me, giving me his name, address, credit card number, the secret code on the card to make charges, and requesting that I please send his order as soon as possible. I have no idea what he's talking about so his last message is helpful -- a paniced sort of, "Never mind, I had the wrong number. Please delete all my personal data," and he ends by saying, "I repeat. Delete my credit card number. I'm being very stern about this."

Poor guy. It's been ten days since he left these messages, and he's likely considering whether or not to cancel his credit card, so I figure, I'll give him a call to reassure him that I'm not storing his credit card number and hopefully give him some peace of mind on Christmas.

He's got a Canadian area code. I call him up.

"Hi, Is this James?"
"Who's this?"
"This is David Khorram. You left some messages with me about 10 days ago and called later to let me know you had the wrong number and to delete your credit card information."
"Yeah, so?"
"I just wanted to call you to let you know that I deleted your information."
"Well, even if you didn't I already called my credit card number, eh. And they're looking out for any monkey business, eh, so you better not use it."
"I know how concerning it can be to think that you might get unauthorized charges and go through the hassle of canceling your cards, so, like I said, I'm just calling to reassure you."
"Well, if you use my number, I've got some dirty tricks that I'd have to use on you."
"Look, buddy, the reason I'm calling is to give you some piece of mind."
"Like I said, I have some dirty tricks up my sleeve, eh."
"Alrighty then, well, I wish you a Merry Christmas."
"Well, I don't wish anyone a Merry Christmas."

How do people get this way?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas at Grandma's

Since Mara's mom moved to Saipan in June, we've had a grandmother around, which has been nice. This year, we spent the morning at Carol's then went to the Aqua for lunch, and back to Carol's to watch a movie for the afternoon.

Speaking of Home...

We're building a house.

Part of the flurry before we left for Bali was finalizing a property transaction and signing the construction contract for a new house. We bought some property on Navy Hill about three years ago, and designed a beautiful home with the help of our architect friend, Chris Fryling. Then we decided that it was too expensive to build. Two years later, living in a home that just doesn't meet the needs of our family, we realized that if you have a family of six, everything is going to cost more than you expect, and so we bit the bullet and decided to built it.

Our contractor is Hugh Hargrove, who has built quite a few homes on the island, and is the local "pool guy" (having built the PIC water park). The house is designed as a "green" house, taking advantage of simple things like north-facing windows, large overhangs over the southern exposures, venting of appliances to the outside, etc. But, the most important feature is that it's being built out of a type of insulated concrete. The stuff is called Radva. It's basically blocks of Styrofoam that are shaped and then sprayed with a layer of concrete. It's been around for a long time, and is proven to be typhoon proof. Because it's insulated, the power bills are minuscule -- like around $100 a month for a 4000 sq ft home with central air.

In my opinion, every new building on Saipan should be built of Radva. It makes no sense not to build with insulated concrete. The cost is slightly higher than building with concrete block, but the recovery is fast. Hugh has a factory in Papago that makes the Radva. Some of the other Radva buildings on Saipan include the homes of Chuck Jordon, Mark Blackburn and Pamela Brown, Ted Parker and Kathy of MINA fame whose last name I can never spell.

So, hopefully in about 12-18 months we'll be in our new place. It has a beautiful view of Managaha and American Memorial Park. Here's the model.


Back from Bali

We got back early yesterday morning, after flying all night. I'm off tomorrow with the two older kids to Guam for a week. More on that later.

Bali was an interesting experience. Mara and I have been probably 10 times. The last two times were with Arman and Nava. This was our first "vacation" style trip since we've had four kids. I had a great time, mostly because I enjoyed just being with my family without all the distractions of daily life. I didn't have much personal need for a vacation, so I wasn't really expecting either a lot of stimulation, nor a lot of doing nothing, and the trip was a nice combination of both. It rained a fair bit, so we spent lots of time inside, with me making up stories to entertain the kids. We spent a day in Kuta at the Water Park, which was the highlight for the kids, then went up to Ubud, which is the cultural center of the island. In years past, we would go out to the cultural dances, but this time, the kids were falling asleep early (Bali is 2 hours behind Saipan), and so as darkness would fall, we would call it a day. We ate a lot of good food, drank lots of fresh fruit juices, swam a lot, and just hung out.

Some members of the family were going a little stir crazy with this slow pace in Ubud, so we headed back down to Kuta for the last few days. But there, the hustle of the city, and the inabilty to cross a street without risking your life began to wear on us, and so we decided to go to Nusa Dua, which is a tropical resort enclave of some dozen hotels. It was built for upscale tourism, and there are no street vendors (no streets really, it's a little like being in a hotel Disneyland), no traffic, no shops -- just miles of manicured hotel grounds. We splurged and checked into the Grand Hyatt for two days of decompression. What an amazing property. It has 750 rooms, five swimming pools, 958 employees, six restaurants, two dozen or so shops, all spread out over 41 acres on the beach. I'd never been anywhere like it. It would take us 20 minutes to walk from our room to the lobby. We arrived the week after the UN Climate Conference, portions of which were held at the Hyatt. We didn't discover it until our final hours there, but there are some nice restaurants and a grocery store in the "Bali Shops" compound across the street from the hotel.

It's nice to be home now. I do want to put in a plug for the folks at BaliHotels.com who did a great job of finding nice rooms for us in Kuta as our plans morphed. They provide a great discount over the rack rate, and were very responsive in finding rooms during the holiday season.

It's nice to be home.

Photos later.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm wearing Balinese underwear

It was such a whirlwind trying to get out of Saipan, that I forgot to pack underwear.

We're on vacation. (But we do have a housesitter with three large dogs, so don't try to break into our house.)

Check back after the first of the year. We're having a good time.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Stand Up Comedy 101 - The Funny

In my last post I discussed the Set Up. Here I'll summarize The Funny, as described by Judy Carter, in her excellent book, The Comedy Bible.

The Funny

Once you have the set-up -- the serious part -- you just need to think about how to express this in a funny way. The quickest and easiest way is through the “act out.” The Funny has two elements

  1. The Act Out. This is where you act out the premise. You act out the situation in the set-up. As Judy says, “Instead of talking about someone or something, you perform it. You turn into the people or things you mentioned in the setup – actually act them out.”

It doesn’t have to be a grand performance. You just take on the attitude of the characters in the set-up. Here again is Robin William’s set-up, with the act-out to follow.

“When you have a baby, you have to clean up your act. You can’t come in drunk and go, ‘Hey, here’s a little switch. Daddy’s going to throw up on you.’”

Here is another example of a simple act-out by Steve Wright. The unstated attitude is, “You know what’s weird about babies?”

“[Premise] Babies don’t need a vacation. But I still see them at the beach. It pisses me off. [Now, here comes the Funny.] When no one’s looking, I’ll go over to a baby and ask, [act-out] ‘What are you doing here? You haven’t worked a day in your life.’”

Now, here are Judy’s set ups with the act outs. Notice that the premises have been elaborated, with more specific detail, giving a richer set up.

  • [set up] Piercing is stupid. It’s painful enough just to being in a relationship hurts so much, working for a stupid boss hurts, paying taxes hurts. There is no need to add to it. in a relationship. There is no need to add to it. [act out] “Oh gee, I’m just not feeling enough pain in my life. I think I need to pierce my tongue.”
  • [set up] It’s hard being pierced when you go through metal detectors at the airport. [act out] “’Buzzzz!’ [security guard] ‘Please remove all of your jewelry, miss.’ [pierced person] ‘Oh, OK! [Then act out, removing a lot of rings in weird places.] Can you help me with this one/’” {imagine where she’s pointing}
  1. The Mix-Up. Although any joke can end with the act-out, you can get point out another dimension of the subject with this tool. Judy Carter states, “A good mix is where a comic connects two elements that people don’t associate with one another. The laugh comes from the way the comic connects them. It’s the ‘surprise’ element that causes laughter.”

Mixes generally start with “Can you imagine if” or “What if” and are almost always followed by another act-out.

Here is an example of a mix by Dennis Miller.

“I view a visit to the therapist in much the same way I view a visit to the hairdresser… When I leave the office my head looks great; around an hour later, it’s all f'd up and I can’t get it to look that way on my own. ‘Excuse me, doc, can I get a little mousse for my id?’”

He mixes therapist and hairdresser, and follows it with an act out of himself talking to the therapist, incorporating elements of the mix. The humor is in the surprise and the juxtaposition of unlikely elements.

That's it. That's the basic structure of putting together a solid joke for stand up comedy: The set up followed by the act-out and the mix-up. Join us on Wednesday to try out your ideas and to see the first few bits that the other comics have developed. December 12, 7:30 PM at Marianas Eye Institute on Beach Road.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Stand Up Comedy 101 - The Set Up

We had our first comedy meet-up on Wednesday night -- a great start! Five committed soon to be comics were there, and we reviewed some of the basics. I had summarized some of the key segments from Judy Carter's The Comedy Bible, which we're using as our guide. Everyone is ordering a copy, and we'll get together weekly to review our work. Our next meet-up is on Wednesday, December 12 at Marianas Eye Institute at 7:30 PM. We will be performing our material to get feedback from one another.

Here is the first part of the material I summarized. It's all taken from The Comedy Bible, which I highly recommend.

****

Humor is about insight, seeing something in a unique way. Developing as a comedian is about finding your perspective and your voice.

Any comedic material has two parts

  1. The Set Up
  2. The Funny

The Set Up

The Set Up is the serious part of the joke. It’s just an observation or an insight about something, expressed with a certain attitude. In fact, the set up consists of three elements

1. The topic. This is simply what the joke is about – babies, money, lint, baldness, whatever.

2. The attitude. The energy that drives a joke is the attitude of the comic regarding the topic. There are dozens of attitudes, but for the beginning comic, there are four that work the best: something is either weird, hard, scary or stupid. Ingrain these four attitudes in your mind. You have to feel this attitude while setting up the joke, and the best way to invoke the attitude is to start the joke by simply saying:

  • You know what’s really weird about __________? (babies, money, lint, etc.)
  • You know what’s really hard about ___________?
  • You know what’s really scary about ___________?
  • You know what’s really stupid about ___________?

Seasoned comics may not use these specific words, but they invoke the attitudes and imply the words. When Jay Leno says, “What’s the deal with the President?” he’s really saying “You know what’s really stupid about the President?”

3. The Premise. This is the answer to the “attitude” question. Here you are going to share your insight or observation about what’s weird, hard, scary or stupid about the topic in a very specific way. The premise is not about you. It’s a statement that your audience can relate to. A good premise is insightful and original. It’s where you get to express your unique view about something. But remember, it’s not supposed to be funny. It’s a serious observation about the world. It shouldn’t have the words, me, my, or I in it. After the audience is interested in your global observation, you can make it more specific to yourself, but it has to start broad.

Here is an example of a set up, used by Robin Williams. He doesn’t start with the question, but he is implicitly asking, “You know what’s hard about having kids?”

“When you have a baby, you have to clean up your act.”

There is nothing at all funny about that. It’s a serious observation that he has made about parenthood, about having a baby.

When you develop comedy, you start by making observations about the world. The comedic mind is alert during the mundane acts of life. Some things may strike you as weird, or hard, or scary or stupid. Just write them down. This is the soil from which the joke will grow. You don’t have to see it as funny. You just have to realize you’ve made an observation about something.

Judy Carter, in her book, the Comedy Bible, takes a topic, “Body Piercing,” and gives examples of premises on that topic. Here is what good set-ups look like:

  1. Piercing is stupid. It’s painful enough just to be in a relationship. There is no need to add to it.
  2. It’s hard being pierced when you go through metal detectors at the airport.
  3. It’s weird to see older people with nose rings.
  4. It’s scary that nose rings are now an acceptable business accessory, like cuff links or a tie clip.

Notice, again, there are just observations, statements of her opinions, her view of the facts.

Judy gives a whole checklist of making sure your premise is good, and gives examples of “hack” premises, and how to fix them.

In my next post, I'll discuss "The Funny."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

World Peace, a Blind Wife, and Gecko Tails


My book is about four weeks away from being released. It will be listed on Amazon, and I've already had an advance order for 160 copies that will be used in a university sociology class. Book mark my blog, or send me an email, and I'll let you know when it's released.

Here is the description from the back cover:

Award-winning columnist and Mariana Islands eye surgeon, David Khorram, brings together the most popular pieces from his Saipan Tribune column, Better Living. Whether exploring the spiritual side of prosperity, describing the raw joy of someone regaining sight, or recounting the humor of an island phone call, Dr. Khorram manages to reach the mind, the heart and the funny-bone. With this book in hand, expect to laugh out loud and to ponder life's big questions.

"I use this book, along with Tuesday's with Morrie, to give my students something meaningful to read."
Kirk Johnson, PhD, University of Guam
"Intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful and wise, David brings gentle humor to higher thinking. A joy to read, his insights offer a rich model for living well."
Senator Maria Frica T. Pangelinan
15th Northern Marianas Legislature

"Somewhere inside David Khorram's head, three wise men have collided with the Three Stooges."
Lt Cmdr Randy Clark, retired
United States Coast Guard
"Dr. Khorram shares glimpses of life that bemuse and inspire. This delightful medley entertains us while opening our eyes to the bigger picture of what it means to be human."
Daniel Lamar, MD
"Consider this the Chicken Soup for the Soul of Micronesia."

Bob Coldeen, Author of Bumps in Paradise


DAVID KHORRAM, MD
. As a young eye surgeon, Dr. David Khorram left the offers awaiting him in American's leading medical centers, and boarded a plane for the South Pacific, never to return. Starting in exotic Pago Pago, David has traveled, worked and lectured in villages, hospitals and huts throughout the Pacific. As a writer, he is the recipient of a Governor's Humanities Award. The founder of Marianas Eye Institute, Dr. Khorram is listed in Guide to America's Top Ophthalmologists. David, his wife Mara, and their four energetic children live on the island of Saipan, in the Marianas archipelago.

Marianas Eye Blog on CNN

No kidding. I woke up early this morning and looked at my blog's tracking tools and noticed that I've already had around 40 visits this morning. That's high for me this early in the day. I check out the referral sources, and I notice that a bunch of visits are coming from the CNN website. There is a story on CNN titled, Fear of Losing Culture Fuels Immigration Debate, and at the end of the story there is a button called "From the Blogs." My piece, that I'd written for the Saipan Tribune, on Understanding the American Mind got picked up by CNN, and is listed on that section. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

December in Saipan

These were all taken on Sunday. I forget it gets cold anywhere. My kids have never seen snow.





Monday, December 3, 2007

Saipan Comedy Players

If you think you might be a little funny, join us on Wednesday night at Java Joe's at 7:30 PM to launch the Saipan Comedy Players (or whatever we eventually decide to call ourselves -- Club V is starting an open mic night, which they're calling "Laff Adai" so that's taken).

We're going to talk a bit about stand-up, how to be funny by constructing a good premise (which isn't funny, but just an observation that everyone can relate to), and then using tools like "the act out" and "the mix up" to make the funny part work. We might even do a few on-paper exercises.

The goal over the next few weeks is for each of us to develop a 5 to 10 minute stand-up act that will be performed as a fund-raiser. Everyone is invited to this meeting, even if you're just curious. Don't worry... but come prepared to eventually face your fear.

Committed future comedians include Brad Ruszala, Jeff Turbitt, Angelo Villagomez, Galvin Guerrero, Rick Jones and me. How about some women? How about some more ethnic diversity?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Understanding the American Mind

(My column from the Saipan Tribune, Nov 30)

America is a nation of immigrants. Almost everyone who lives on American soil traces their roots back to some poor foreigner who arrived on American shores, often with little more than a desire to purse a dream and a new life. Some, like my father, came with skills; many came with only determination. Most did not speak English. They came in waves, from around the world, and they continue to come. America became the great melting pot, each culture contributed its share to the culture of a new nation, while giving up parts of themselves to be a part of the new creation called America – a creation that continues.

The American Dream – that idea of limitless possibilities – of being able to succeed based on your own individual merit and effort – is a sacred idea in the American mind. It’s the story of the underdog, who against all odds, makes it: the guy who shows up at the dock day after day, to find work, doing anything, loading cargo, and who one day becomes the owner of the shipping line; the domestic cleaner who saves and invests her meager earnings, and before her death gives a gift of millions to a university; the kid from the ghetto who studies hard and becomes a brilliant scientist; the peanut farmer who becomes President.

These two ideas – a nation open to immigrants, and a land of dreams built by little people through hard work -- are intertwined, and deeply ingrained upon the American conscience. Any idea or act that somehow goes against these concepts strike a deep visceral chord. We cannot even begin to understand the federal policy makers until we understand these two concepts and their place in the American mind. The ideas have a history hundreds of years old in the American consciousness.

On the other hand, these two ideas are not so deeply ingrained here. In fact, in our recent history, the very ideas themselves are foreign to us. We have not had any significant immigration. Sure, we have contract workers, but not immigration in the sense of allowing people to put down roots and build for generations and to be a part of our society and government and culture. Unlike for most Americans, immigration is not part of our personal heritage.

Although life in the private sector rewards effort with success, the single largest employer – the government – relies to a large extent on a system of “who you know” rather than “what you know.” There are ceilings on advancement. And a new person in power can result in a complete change in your situation that has nothing to do with your merit. It’s the relationships that matter more. The icon of the immigrant who beats all odds to succeed, is not a dominant part of our family histories.

Thus the bewilderment with the federal perspective. We do everything we believe is required to protect our culture, which itself is not a dominant value of the ever-morphing American culture. We allow workers to enter, but not to immigrate. We pass laws that favor the hiring of our own ethnic group over others. We “reform” our labor laws, requiring aliens to exit periodically, for the expressly stated purpose of preventing them from growing roots and becoming part of the political landscape, the power base. It all makes perfect sense, and resonates with our core value of cultural preservation. We don't want to become politically alienated. We strive to protect our ethnic control over the institutions of power. But the American value and the local value smack hard against one another.

Never mind that in many ways, America is conflicted about immigration and race. The inconsistency does not negate the deep pride that many feel in having come from humble immigrant roots. And never mind that the aliens that are here didn’t arrive with promises of immigration. They have contributed greatly, and the American values seeks to find a home for them.

This is all worth bearing in mind when we sit at a table discussing issues with the representatives of the federal government. They are the sons and daughters of those immigrants who were once disenfranchised workers coming from a foreign land, and who entered America, whether literally or figuratively, beneath the lamp of the Statue of Liberty, on whose pedestal are carved these words:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

Let's Get Naked

I enjoy making people laugh. I think all of us do. A lot of people tell me that they enjoy my humorous writings. I had a friend who took some classes at an improv theatre, and they helped make him funnier. So, I figure, I should be able to improve my funniness. As I'm prone to do, I did some research and bought a few books about how to be funny.

The first one arrived, and it was a shocker. First of all, it says the essence of humor is insight. The funny people are the ones that have the ability to see the world a bit differently than the rest of the people on the planet. They see the ordinary things in unusual ways. And there is a formula by which an insight becomes something funny. "That's good," I think to myself, "because I think I already see things differently, so I can learn to better turn those insights into funny stuff."

Now the shocking part: if you really want to develop as a comic, even if it's just writing more humorously, you have to master stand-up comedy. Stand-up is the essence of comedy -- turning insights into laughs, and getting immediate feedback from the audience. Anyone who does any kind of humorous work has experience in stand-up. If you master stand-up, you can do any kind of comedy. "Okay," I think to myself, "that sounds a little scary." Well, that's not all. The book is about developing your comedic muscle, so the exercise on day one is to book yourself for an "open mic" for a month from now, even if you don't know jack about stand-up today.

I'm at the point in my life where I get a kick out of doing things that scare me to death, and live through them. Doing stand-up would be one of those. I've never really thought about it before, but now that I've been considering the possibility for the past week, it's got to be one of the rawest forms of nakedness there is -- standing all alone on a stage, with just a mic, and an audience daring you to make them laugh. I'm in!

But if I'm going to get naked like this, I want others to join me. Any takers? We can get together every few days to go through the steps together. One of the first things that the course requires is finding a "comedy buddy" because you can't develop material by yourself. You need to bounce ideas off of other people and get feedback on your thoughts. So, even if you don't have the guts to get on the stage, you can be a comedy buddy, and help the rest of us develop our 3 minute stand-up routines. In a month or two, we'll put on what may be Saipan's first Stand-Up night. If you want to get going now, order the book, The Comedy Bible, by Judy Carter.

So, who's going to join me? Boni? Brad? Jeff ? Angelo? Mark? Russ? Anyone else? This is an open invitation.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Flame Tree Arts Festival - Airconditioned

You missed a great event if you didn't make it to the Brilliant Star Holiday Bazaar today. Artists, performers, crafts, raffles... it was like the Flame Tree Arts Festival without the heat. The Multipurpose Center in Susupe is a great venue for events like this. Here are some of the artists, vendors and performers, (two of whom double as bloggers).



















Thursday, November 22, 2007

Brilliant Star School Holiday Bazaar

The annual Brilliant Star Holiday Bazaar is happening this Saturday. We'll be there, on and off, for much of the day. It's a great place to pick up gifts, or even to just stop by for lunch and entertainment.

I hope to see some of you bloggers there. I've been out of the loop for the past few weeks, finishing up detail work on the book. I miss seeing folks. Are the monthly blogger meet-ups dead? I haven't even seen Angelo since his return. Are you ready to start running again?

Thanksgiving at the Khorram's


Friday, November 16, 2007

Easy Grammar Fixes

This was the title of my Saipan Tribune column for today. You'll recognize that I plagiarized from my own blog, but I did come up with some original material too. I enjoyed twisting the piece. Let me know what you think.

***

I've been learning a lot of English lately. Granted, I grew up speaking this language, but I never really paid much attention in grammar class. So, all my life, I've wondered about certain words, which is pretty ridiculous for a college graduate. Now that I'm having people edit my writing for a book I’m completing, I'm learning all kinds of things! My eyes glaze over when they start throwing around rules with words like "subjunctive clause," "gerund," and "object of a preposition." So I look for easy shortcuts to remember this stuff. There are a few grammar mistakes that are very common, but that are actually very easy to fix with some simple tricks.

When should I use “Whom” and when “Who”?

Here is one that confuses a lot of people. When do you use "whom" and when do you use "who"? Here is the easy way to get it right. If you can answer the question with the word "him," then use "whom." If you can answer the question with the word "he," then use "who."

"_____ did you go to rob the poker place with?" "I went to rob the poker place with HIM." So, you would use "whom." (The proper way to phrase this question is "With whom did you go to rob the poker place," but it sounds kind of snooty to most people, so they don't. But if you remember the him/he thing, you'll get it right, even if you put the "with" in the wrong place.)

"_____ went to the pawn shop?" "HE went to the pawn shop." So, you would use "who."

The rule has to do with being the object of a preposition, but my mind can never figure that out in a pinch. Just stick with the him/he thing and you'll always get it right.

“Its” or “It’s”

"Its" vs. "It's" can be confusing because most of the time, when we want to make something possessive, we add an apostrophe and an "s". If we want to say that the coconut belongs to the tree, we write, "It is the tree’s coconut." So, we mistakenly believe that we need to write "It is it’s coconut." We put an apostrophe on the "its." That is not correct. "Its" is a possessive pronoun, just like "His" (which also ends in an "s" but doesn't need an apostrophe to indicated possessiveness.)

Sorry, I’m using confusing words like “possessive pronoun.” Here is the easy answer. The word "it" only has an apostrophe when it's a contraction of "It is." (Did you notice I just used it).

So, the above sentence -- "It is the tree's coconut" -- could become "It's the tree's coconut," or "It is its coconut," or "It's its coconut."

Bottom line: If you can replace "its" with "it is," then use an apostrophe. If not, don't.

“I” or “me”?

There is often confusion about the phrase “You and I.” Some people grow up getting constantly corrected for saying “You and me,” that they think they’re always supposed to say “You and I.” Not true. It depends on how the phrase is used. The easy way to figure out whether you should say “I” or “me” is to drop the “you and.” So, for example, is it, “You and me spit pugua,” or “You and I spit pugua”? Drop the “you and.” Which one is correct, “Me spit pugua,” or “I spit pugua?” Obviously, it’s “I spit pugua,” so you would say “You and I spit pugua.” What about this case: “She drank diet soda and ate a hind leg of pig with you and I?” Drop the “you and.” Which is correct? “She drank diet soda and ate a hind leg of pig with I,” or “She drank diet soda and ate a hind leg of pig with me”? Get it? So, here you would use, “you and me”: She drank diet soda and ate a hind leg of pig with you and me.

Farther or Further?

This one, I just learned. Use “farther” when you’re talking about distance. Use “further” when you’re talking about time or amount. “The rotting dog is farther up the road.” That’s correct, because we’re talking about distance. “I’d like to give my CUC bill further thought before paying it.” That’s correct, because we mean “more thought.” The mistake people commonly make is to say “further” when they mean “farther.” “We need to go further to avoid the E. Coli on this sandy beach.” That is not correct, because we are talking about distance, and so we should say “farther.”


Toward or Towards?

This one is easy. Both “toward” and “towards” are correct, mean the same thing, and are interchangeable. “Come toward the crazed chicken,” means the same as “Come towards the crazed chicken.” So which should you use? Easy – if you speak American English, use “toward.” If you speak British English, use “towards.” What about us? Since we’re basically under the American system, we can say, “Come fan toward the crazed chicken.”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pink Eye Epidemic Quieting Down

It seems like the epidemic that struck Saipan about a month ago is starting to quiet down. We're still seeing a steady trickle of cases, but nothing like the huge numbers we were seeing at first. Here is the worst case I saw. Yes, that stuff on the left side is the conjunctiva (the white tissue on the surface of the eye -- here really really red) actually coming out from between the eyelids. She couldn't close her eye because of the tissue hanging out.

Sofia, Bulgaria Today


Wonder what it's like in the capital of Bulgaria today? I've been working with Velin, a graphic designer there, and he sent me this view from his balcony.

Bulgaria is north of Turkey and Greece and borders the Black Sea. It has a population of about 7.5 million, a life expectancy of 72 year, a literacy rate of 98.6%, and an average income of $2,740 per year.

One of Velin's dreams is to spend a New Year's Eve on a tropical island.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The CNMI's New Labor (and Immigration) Law

This controversial bill was signed into law yesterday. The most contentious section of the new law provides for an exit requirement. All non-resident workers must leave the CNMI for six months every three-and-a-half years. The business community has been fighting hard against this. Many rely heavily upon non-resident workers, and the prospect of being without key workers for a six month period, and the cost of filling the gap, have been concerning.

Why the clause? Today's Saipan Tribune gives the answer, quoting the Governor.

Fitial said the exit requirement is designed "to prevent the aliens from making the CNMI their home and making them eligible for permanent resident status [under future federal immigration law]."

There you have it.

Its vs It's

Wow, maybe I should start a grammar column. This one is per Boni's request.

"Its" vs. "It's" can be confusing because most of the time, when we want to make something possessive, we add an apostrophe and an "s". If we want to say that the leaf belongs to the tree, we write, "It is the tree's leaf." So, we mistakenly believe that if we say "It is its leaf," there should be an apostrophe there on the "its." There isn't. "Its" is a possessive pronoun, just like "His" (which also ends in an "s" but doesn't need an apostrophe to indicated possessiveness.)

The word "it" only has an apostrophe when it's a contraction of "It is." (Did you notice I just used it).

So, the above sentence -- "It is the tree's leaf" -- could become "It's the tree's leaf," or "It is its leaf," or "It's its leaf."

Bottom line: If you can replace "its" with "it is," then use an apostrophe. If not, don't.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Whom vs. Who

I've been learning a lot of English lately. Granted, I grew up speaking this language, but I never really paid much attention in grammar class. So, all my life, I've kind of wondered about certain words, which is pretty ridiculous for a college graduate. Now that I'm having people edit my writing, I'm learning all kinds of things! My eyes glaze over when they start throwing around rules with words like "subjunctive clause," "gerund," and "object of a preposition." So I look for easy shortcuts to remember this stuff.

Here is one that confuses a lot of people. When do you use "whom" and when do you use "who"? Here is the easy way to get it right. If you can answer the question with the word "him," then use "whom." If you can answer the question with the word "he," then use "who."

"_____ did you go to the store with?" "I went to the store with HIM." So, you would use "whom." (The proper way to phrase this question is "With whom did you go to the store," but it sounds kind of snooty to most people, so they don't. But if you remember the him/he thing, you'll get it right, even if you put the "with" in the wrong place.)

"_____ went to the store?" "HE went to the store." So, you would use "who."

The rule has to do with being the object of a preposition, but my mind can never figure that out in a pinch. Just stick with the him/he thing and you'll always get it right.

Friday, November 2, 2007

International Day at Brilliant Star

One of the highlights for our family every year is the International Day Festival at Brilliant Star. The kids all dress up in international costumes and the classes give cultural performances. Community guests are invited to perform as well. It's held on October 31, and the skies parted for three hours for the event. It's part of the goal of the school to imbue kids with a sense of global understanding. I thought it was very cool this year than many of the children, and a few of the parents dressed in costumes not of their own culture. Several of the Korean parents, in particular, were sporting Indian costumes. Our boys dressed in Thai costumes, Nava dressed in and island dress, and Jaleh in a traditional Korean costume.

Here's Arman


And Kian,


And Nava,


And Jaleh,



And some of their friends and classmates,



The Press Corps:

Teeth Whitening

(I seem to have fallen off of the blogging wagon this past week. Here is my column from today's Saipan Tribune. Thanks to Bev for sharing this information with me while I was at the SDA clinic last week.)

How’d you like to have a nice white smile? I was getting some complex dental work done recently and one of the dental hygienists, who’s a friend of mine, stopped by to chat. She mentioned to me that their clinic was offering teeth whitening. I’d never heard of it. I asked her to tell me more about it.

As it turns out, there are products available through your dentist’s office that can significantly whiten teeth and brighten a smile. Whitening procedures work best on teeth that are yellow. If the teeth have a brown discoloration, the whitening works moderately well. Teeth that are blue-grey tend not to be affected significantly by whitening procedures.

The option that is most widely available (and that is available here on Saipan) is the home whitening kit. The kit consists of a whitening gel and a custom-made set of mouth-guards (or “trays”) to fit over your teeth. You place the gel in the mouth-guards and place them in your mouth for several hours a day. Over the course of one to two weeks, you can see significant results. The gel can make the teeth temporarily sensitive, so some people place the gel for two or four hours a day, whereas other people wear the mouth-guards while sleeping at night.

In order to get ready, you need to go to the dentist to have an impression taken of your teeth, so the mouth-guards can be prepared for your teeth. It usually takes a few days to make them, at which time you can pick up the kit and start whitening.

One of the dentists that I was seeing mentioned to me that he had recently had the whitening procedure, and by golly, his teeth were pearly white.

You don’t have to whiten all your teeth (and certainly not the backs of your teeth), but only those teeth that are a visible part of your smile. If you have any artificial teeth – crowns, bridges, etc. – keep in mind that these teeth will not be whitened. If you wish, after the whitening procedure, you may have the artificial teeth re-done to match the color your new white teeth.

Discoloration of teeth takes place over years, so after a whitening procedure, you can expect that your smile will remain white for years to come.

The cost surprised me, because I expected it to be at least $500. All the dental clinics in Saipan offer the home whitening kits, and the prices range from $200-$395. Currently, there are two clinics that are offering whitening for $150. That’s a pretty good deal for a bright new smile. If you’re considering whitening your teeth, now would be a good time. Your dentist can let you know what kind of results to expect with your smile.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saipan Casion Act - Read It!

(Here is my column from yesterday's Saipan Tribune.)

I have previously written about the public health effects of casinos on a community. I addressed the broad topic of casino gambling. However, the issue before the Saipan voters is not simply “Should casino gambling be permitted on Saipan?” The real question before the voters is about a very specific Act: the Saipan Casino Act. Do you know what is in the Act?

If you are planning on voting on this initiative next week, you should, at the very least, read the Act. You have to know what you are voting for, and the only way to know is to read the Act. The Act is about 30 pages long, and covers a lot of specific details. It’s irresponsible to cast a vote on an issue that you’re not informed about. This is an important issue.

I know of people who are conceptually in favor of casino gambling on Saipan, but when they read the Act, they realize that they do not support the details of the Act, and decide to vote against it. It’s not about “Yes Casino.” The vote is about the details contained in the Act. So take a look at the Act. It is available at the website of the Commonwealth Election Commission, votecnmi.gov.mp. According to the website, copies are also available at the public library. If you can’t get access to a copy, stop by my office and we’ll print a copy for you.

I will quote a few of the paragraphs of the Saipan Casino Act. These are just a few of the sections of the Act. They will give you an idea of the type of detail that is up for vote next week. Read the Act in its entirety, or gather a group of people to read and discuss it. It’s the only way to know what you’ll be voting on.

Here are a few paragraphs:

“Commission. The Mayor [of Saipan] shall within thirty (30) days after the effective date of this Act, appoint seven (7) members of the Commission. At least two members shall be Carolinian Descent. At least four members shall be of Chamorro Descent. At least one member of the seven Commissioners shall be a woman.” (Article II, Section 1a)

“Subpoenas – Oaths. The Commission shall have the power and right to issue subpoenas and to compel the attendance of witnesses at any place within the Municipality of Saipan…” (Article II Section 3)

“Casino License. There shall be one casino license allowed in the Third Senatorial District [Saipan] and its shorelines, seaports and within the territorial waters of the NCMI that surround Saipan and the Islands north of Saipan, which purpose is for the control, operation and management of casino gaming activities.” (Article III, Section 1)

“Grant of Casino License. The Commission, upon this Act becoming law, shall issue the casino license only to the Northern Marianas Descent Investment Corporation (NMDIC). The license shall be perpetual... The incorporators, directors, officers and shareholders of the NMDIC shall be persons of NMD. NMDIC shall issue shares of common stock duly subscribed in Five Hundred Dollar (US$500.00) par value per share and preferred stocks duly subscribed in one dollar ($1.00) par value per share to natural NMD persons only. No natural person of NMD shall own more than one (1) share of common stocks and twenty-five thousand (25,000) of preferred shares.” (Article III, Section 2a)

Public Land. The Department of Public Land (DPL) or any future entity responsible for the administration of public lands in the Commonwealth, upon this Act becoming law and at the request of NMDIC, shall issue, public land to NMDIC. NMDIC shall hold leasehold interest to all public land issue by DPL and pay one dollar ($1.00) per year for the land or lands issued by DPL for as long as NMDIC is in business.” (Article III, Section 8)

“Initial Operating Cost. In the event the Delegation is not able to provide funding for the initial operating cost, the Commission and the Treasurer may incur debt from any government agency or private entity to fund the initial cost of their operation. The debt is not public debt, but shall be repaid.” (Article X, Section 7)

The issue is certainly not, as some have attempted to couch it, “Are you in favor of economic development on Saipan,” nor is it even “Are you in favor of casino gambling on Saipan.” It is, “Are you in favor of the details of the Saipan Casino Act.” Become familiar with the content of the Act. Ask questions. It’s the only way to form a responsible opinion.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Life's defining moments

Last night I gasped in horror as my front four teeth fell out of my mouth, and realized how much effect a bicycle ride down Glouchester Hill when I was nine years old has had on my life.

It was a cool sunny summer morning, and I was out on my bike, as kids used to do back when the world was safer, having finished playing with a friend. Glouchester Hill was a wide wide avenue in a quite neighborhood of my hometown, with huge trees lining the sidewalks, bringing the entire street into their shade.

I raced down the hill, swerving from side to side on the quiet car-less street, when the pedal on the right side caught the concrete. My bike swung sharply to the other side, where the left pedal caught the concrete and stopped my bike dead. I kept going however, flying over the handlebars, landing mouth first onto the concrete, sliding a good 7 feet before coming to a stop at the end of a bloody path I'd lain on the road. Then my bike arrived, pouncing on me. There were all kinds of bits of teeth and tissue around me. I just started screaming.

After a few minutes, one of the people in one of the houses came out and scooped me off the road. They recognized me, as was common in a small town. They called my parents and drove me to the hospital. I was generally okay, just pretty bloody. But my mouth was a mess. Lacerated lips and broken teeth, and for the rest of my life (so far), I'd be dealing with the effects of that bike ride.

They tried to save the front top teeth by putting them back into my head and wiring them in place with braces that I wore for a few months. They didn't bother doing anything for the chips. My parents were cautious of me engaging in anything that might damage my teeth again, so for entire summers I would stand at the edge of our neighbor's trampoline, watching every kid in the world jump and do flips, but not being allowed to get on. I begged my parents, and finally when I was in Junior High, they wrote the "waiver of liablity" note that the neighbors required of parents and I went one morning, full of joy, to jump. I think I was on the thing for a total of 5 bounces, when the other kid jumping hit the tarp just before I did, and as I landed my knee bounced up, struck my mouth, and sent that tooth spinning onto the ground. I picked it up, carried it home crying, preparing myself for a round of "we told you so's."

Once again they tried to save the tooth. This time, they stuck it into my head and instead of braces, they put some goop across the front, attaching it to the adjacent teeth, and the whole school year kids were always telling me I had gum stuck on my teeth.

In high school, the tooth finally died. They pulled it, and for cosmetic reasons fitted me with this huge retainer thing that had one fake tooth on it. I hated wearing it, and for most of my senior year I went to school with my front tooth missing. It was a great look on the lacrosse field.

In college, they figured my mouth was done growing so I got fitted with a bridge across my front three teeth, with an adjacent crown to take care of the chips. It was nice to finally look normal. But I would occassionally still have bad dreams of being without my front teeth.

In medical school, something got loose, and I had to go in and have the bridge removed and replaced.

Later, on Saipan, we discovered that my mouth had not actually been done growing when the bridge had been fit, so I had some work done to improve the appearance.

Last year, during a routine check up, it was discovered that one of the teeth under the bridge had died and that the bridge would have to be sawed off, the crown removed, and the three-teeth bridge converted to a four-teeth bridge, or get dental implants. I spent a year ignoring this, but on Wednesday, I went in for the three hours of sawing and grinding to get the bridge and the crown off. It included a new experience for me -- hearing my tooth get crushed between pliers as they were trying to remove it. Dr. Reedstrom gave me the best dental anesthesia I'd ever had, and it was all a pretty peaceful experience... well, except for the sound effects.

Dr. Reedstrom fitted me with a nice looking temporary bridge that will be in place for a few weeks until my gums heal. They warned me that I have to be gentle with it, since the glue is only temporary. Which brings me to last night, brushing my teeth, and gasping as I saw my four-teeth bridge drop into the sink. I picked it up, put it back on as fast as possible, and was surprised there was no pain from the underlying tooth nubbin with its raw nerve being exposed for those 10 seconds.

This morning Dr. Pierson fixed me up with more glue and I'm a happy camper as I await my permanent bridge.

All from a ride down Glouchester Hill on a sunny summer morning as a nine year-old kid.