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, 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.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Book Cover Completed!

Here it is! The designers have completed work on the cover of my new book, "World Peace, a Blind Wife, and Gecko Tails." I'm very happy with it. I though the designers were very creative to depict a fairly complex title. The next step is the interior layout design, and then printing. I was hoping it would be out by Thanksgiving, but it looks like it will be a bit later.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone...

... or at least the Island Locator! My colleague and friend, Mark Robertson, is the feature story of the new issue of IL. Mark is traveling now, so I'm posting this so he can see the article while he's away. IL did a nice job on the article. Pick up a copy.

Wow! What a spread! Congratulations, Mark.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Saipan is in the South Pacific

(My Saipan Tribune column from yesterday. Some links show up here because I copied the text straight from Wikipedia.)

I have previously shared my view that we need to boldly state that we are located in the South Pacific. I think it helps our marketing in that the term “South Pacific” evokes an accurate image of what we are all about – sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, lush vegetation, coconuts. I’ve also argued that “South” does not need to be strictly defined in relation to the equator. It’s just in relation to some other place that’s north of us. We are certainly in the “southern” Pacific. There is no arguing that. The word “North” is not a good word to depict a tropical island.

Nevertheless, any time I say I live in the “South Pacific,” some wisenheimer pipes up, “We’re in the NORTH Pacific.” Arrrrgh. Think outside the equatorial box! I finally did a bit of research on the matter and I am now vindicated in saying we’re in the South Pacific. This phrase needs to be integral to all our self descriptions.

Now, granted, the only place that I could find anything on a Google search for “Where is the South Pacific” was on Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia whose entries are written by anyone that wants to write them. But still, unless you’re deciding about life and death, it seems to be a pretty accurate place for information, and I rely on it regularly.

Wikipedia’s entry on South Pacific states the following: “The South Pacific is an area in the southern Pacific Ocean.” Okay, that is good enough for me, but if you need more, the article gives you three options. It states that the term, South Pacific, may refer to

  1. Australasia, an area including Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and other islands including the eastern part of Indonesia;
  2. Oceania, a geographical (often geopolitical) region of many countries/territories (mostly islands) in the southern Pacific Ocean;
  3. Strictly taken, that part of the Pacific Ocean area south of the equator bordered by Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, the 60th south latitude, the west coast of South America and the equator. South of the 60° latitude, it is part of the Southern Ocean.

We fall into the “Oceania” category. If you click on Oceania, you’ll find the following definition: The exact scope of Oceania is defined variously, with interpretations often including Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and various islands of the Malay Archipelago. Ethnologically, the islands of Oceania are divided into the sub-regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The term is also used by numerous authors and in many languages to define one of the continents.

Clearly, Oceania is a term that’s used rather loosely, but it does include the islands of Micronesia, and right there on the list in the article, you’ll find that the Northern Mariana Islands are part of Micronesia. I don’t think anyone disputes that.

It’s not that I was doubtful by my own inclination to place us in the “South Pacific,” but now I have something to help nudge anyone who is sitting on the fence, confused by the equator. At least someone else out there agrees that it’s appropriate for Saipan, Rota and Tinian to be called part of the South Pacific. There will still be the sticklers who will reference our location to the equator, and continue to say we’re in the North Pacific. But for the rest of us, the South Pacific is where we are. And for many of us, it’s okay to be in both the North and the South Pacific, depending on who we’re talking to, and what the situation is. For tourism and travel, and anyone north of us, we’re in the South Pacific.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Epidemic Strikes Mariana Islands

You may have seen the article on the front page of the Tribune today. We are in the midst of an ugly epidemic of "pink-eye." This strain appears to be highly infectious, striking members of entire families within ours of one another. It's also one of the "hemorrhagic" strains which causes bleeding on the surface of the eye. I've been seeing about a dozen patients a day with this for the past few days.

Pink eye is caused by one of several viruses. It usually takes a week or two to go away. I tell my patients that it's just like a cold. We can't cure it. You have to wait it out. But we can treat the symptoms -- pain, itching, tearing, irritation --- with a variety of medications. This is the reason people come to see me: to get relief of their symptoms.

The big danger with viral conjunctivitis of this sort is that it can cause permanent corneal scarring and vision loss. Scarring can be prevented if we catch things early enough.

The big effect of epidemic viral conjunctivitis is that it results in huge losses in productivity from the general misery it brings. And, because it's highly infectious, anyone who gets it needs to stay away from work or school for about a week.

Isolation is one of the ways to prevent spread. The virus is spread through indirect contact with tears. Someone has pink-eye, they rub their eye and open a door. You're the next person to open that door, then you touch your eye innoculating it with the virus and you get pink eye. Prevention lies in washing your hands after you touch your eyes, if you have the virus; and in washing your hands before you touch your eyes if you don't have it yet. Don't share towels or pillow cases.

It's not an airborne disease. There is some superstition that if you look at someone with pink-eye, you'll catch it. This isn't true. You have to come into contact with the tears, directly or indirectly.

Be careful. Wash your hands. This is a miserable strain right now.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Casinos and Public Health

(My column from today's Saipan Tribune).

I’ve thought it rather witty that those who don’t support the casino have been calling it the “casiNO,” and I’ve been surprised that we haven’t yet seen the “caSINo” signs. I also fully expect to see that the supporters, who are touting “Economic Jackpot” will soon be putting up “CASHino” signs. What spin we see when elections near!

With the signs going up, and the ballots being prepared for the vote on the casino issue, I decided to do a little research of my own on the health effects of casinos on a community.

There is actually quite a bit of experience and hard data on the issue, particularly from Canada, where provincial governments have about ten years experience with the effects of casinos on their communities. It’s recognized that casinos (and gambling in general) bring problems. The motivating factor for communities to allow gambling is always money. No one says, “Wow, this is a socially beneficial activity, so let’s bring it into our community.” They say, “We need the money, so let’s allow gambling.” When government revenues decrease, as have ours, people start to look to gambling as a way to increase government income, and it works! To the extent that governments either tax the revenues, or are shareholders in the gambling operations (such as in state run lotteries, or government owned casinos) government revenue does increase. Gambling, can indeed be an “economic jackpot.”.

Now, in order for that to happen, the casino users, MUST lose money. It’s how the casinos make profit. In order for the gambling operation to be profitable, the gambler must lose money, and so all the games and the machines are designed to make you, collectively, lose. It’s simple math. In fact, it has been said, that lotteries and casinos and other gambling operations are a way to tax people who don’t understand math.

Communities that allow gambling almost immediately experience an increase in both the number of people in the community who gamble, and the amount of money spent on gambling. For example, in Niagara, the year before their casino opened, 11% of the population had gambled. A year later, 43% had gambled. The amount of money spent per individual on gambling increased five times during this same period. That’s great news for the casino and the government, but not good news for the people who are spending (and losing) their money.

Most people who gamble don’t develop any problems (other than losing money). However, a small, but significant segment of the population will experience adverse effects from gambling. According to a study looking at public health perspectives of gambling in Ontario, “problem gamblers” are defined as those individuals that “have a continuous or periodic loss of control over gambling, a preoccupation with gambling and with obtaining money to gamble, irrational thinking, and a continuation of these behaviors despite adverse consequences.”

How many people are affected by problem gambling, and what effect does a casino have on this number? In Niagara, the percentage of residents with gambling problems before the casino was 2.5%. After the opening of the casino, the number doubled. If we apply those numbers to the CNMI indigenous population, presuming about 20,000 indigenous residents, we would end up with about 1,000 people with gambling problems after the opening of a casino. That sounds like a big problem for a small tightly knit interrelated community.

The health and social problems of gambling have been well documented, and we have experience already with this problem here in the CNMI. describes the health effects of gambling as follows:

Problem gambling, while providing additional revenues, also results in significant costs to the individual, his or her family, and society as a whole. Uncontrolled spending, the resulting debts and the strategies used to gain more money to gamble has a significant impact on many determinants of health and can cause marital conflict, child neglect, poor work performance, multiple addictions, stress-related physical ailments, crime and even suicide. Children of pathological gamblers are two times more likely to attempt suicide, have lower grades than their peers and have higher rates of substance abuse.

The cost of problem and pathological gambling does not only affect individuals and their families. Society also bears the brunt of gambling, with the overall cost to taxpayers estimated at $56,000 for each problem gambler, including cost of treatment, health-related costs, absenteeism at work and time spent in courts.

Problem gamblers are more likely than the general population to be involved in other forms of addictive behavior such as alcohol or drug abuse. Stress-related ailments such as ulcers, colitis, high blood pressure, heart disease, migraines and skin problems are also much more common among problem gamblers. Even more serious is the rate of attempted suicide, which is higher among pathological gamblers than among all other addictive behaviors. A Québec study of college students found that 26.8% of pathological gamblers had attempted suicide compared to 7.2% of college students with no gambling problem.

Crime is also an issue between problem and pathological gamblers and becomes a viable option to support gambling habits when all other resources are exhausted. "Studies show that two out of three pathological gamblers commit crimes to pay off debt or to continue gambling. While the majority of crimes are nonviolent and involve embezzlement, cheque forgery, stealing credit cards, tax evasion, fencing stolen goods, insurance fraud, bookmaking, and/or employee theft, in some cases they involve violence and armed robbery." (National Council on Welfare, 1996, p.28)

So, there is no question that casinos bring increased revenue to their shareholders and to the government. There is also no question that casinos bring social and health problems into their communities. There is no need denying the financial benefits, nor the problems. Where you stand on the casino issue depends on how you weigh the benefits against the problems. Either way, there are trade-offs. You give something and you get something. Either you give up the money, and maintain social and mental health; or you give up social and mental health and get money. That’s a definite. It’s been studied and shown in communities that have the experience with casinos. Casinos bring more money. And they bring more problems. No matter how you vote, you will be giving something up. Just have your eyes open to this fact.

As for me, I see enough social ills and health problems on a daily basis in our community. I don’t want to see any more. If we follow the pattern of other communities that bring in casinos (and there is no reason to think we won’t), within a year of casinos we will have twice the number of people suffering from problem gambling and the economic and mental devastation it brings to their families. From my perspective, the money just isn’t worth it.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

This is Sick.

You can now hire a lying service. No kidding. Here is some of the text from the "Alibi Network." It blows my mind how nonchalantly this is all portrayed.

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We all encounter sensitive situations in our life. These may include family problems, social issues, work or financial difficulties. When you don’t want to involve your close friends and relatives for privacy reasons it is time to contact Alibi Network. Let us be your Privacy Partners.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

"Then They Came for the Baha'is"

(The following is from US Congressman Mark Steven Kirk's speech. I have family in Iran who are dealing with the repercussions of the Iranian government's treatment of Baha'is.)

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the stage today to address students at Columbia University, his government was working at his direction to find and expel students from Iranian universities—solely based on the religion they practice.

There is a little-told story from Iran—a story we thought would forever stay buried in the darkness of 1930s Europe. This story is about a religion founded in Iran in the mid-1800s that has become Iran’s largest religious minority with over 250,000 members.

As the representative in Congress for the Baha’i Temple of North America, I know that the Baha’i faith preaches peace, tolerance and diversity of thought—values we embrace on the North Shore. But in an oppressive Islamic dictatorship like Iran, Baha’i values pose a clear and present danger to the regime.

In March of 2006, just a few months into Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the Command Headquarters of Iran’s Armed Forces ordered the police, Revolutionary Guard and Ministry of Information to identify all Baha’is and collect information on their activities.

Two months later, the Iranian Association of Chambers of Commerce began compiling a list of Baha’is serving in every business sector.

In May of last year, 54 Baha’is were arrested in Shiraz and held for several days without trial—the largest roundup of Baha’is since the 1980s. Then in August, Iran’s feared Ministry of the Interior ordered provincial officials to “cautiously and carefully monitor and manage” all Baha’i social activities. The Central Security Office of Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology ordered 81 Iranian universities to expel any student discovered to be a Baha’i. A letter issued in November from one university stated that it is Iranian policy to prevent Baha’is from enrolling in universities and to expel Baha’is upon discovery.

This year, the safety of Iranian Baha’is continued to deteriorate. This year, 104 Baha’is were expelled from Iranian universities. In February, police in Tehran and surrounding towns entered Baha’i homes and businesses to collect details on family members. The First Branch of the Falard Public Court refused to hear a lawsuit “due to the plaintiffs’ belonging to the Bahaist sect.”

In April, the Iranian Public Intelligence and Security Force ordered 25 industries to deny business licenses to Baha’is. The Ministry of Information threatened to shut down one company unless it fired all Baha’i employees. Banks are closing Baha’i accounts and refusing loans to Baha’i applicants. Just last week, the Iranian government bulldozed a Baha’i cemetery, erasing the memory of thousands of Iranian citizens.

The U.S. State Department’s 2007 Report on International Religious Freedom paints an even darker picture.

“Broad restrictions on Bahá'ís severely undermined their ability to function as a community. The Government repeatedly offers Bahá'ís relief from mistreatment in exchange for recanting their faith.

“Bahá'ís may not teach or practice their faith or maintain links with coreligionists abroad. Bahá'ís are often officially charged with "espionage on behalf of Zionism”…

“Since late 2005 Bahá'ís have faced an increasing number of public attacks…Radio and television broadcasts have also increasingly condemned the Bahá'ís and their religion…

“Public and private universities continued either to deny admittance to or expel Bahá'í students.”

We have seen this movie before—the opening scenes of one of the most horrific episodes in human history. What happened to our solemn promise of ‘never again’ made in 1945?

Never again would the international community stay silent about laws banning one group from attending school. Never again would we ignore orders to register with the government and report on your family’s whereabouts. Never again would we welcome a leader who has ordered a religious minority to be subject to secret police monitors and nightly round-ups.

When President Ahmadinejad rose to address the student body at Columbia—a school extolling the virtues of tolerance and diversity—why was there no mention of Baha’i student expulsion in Iran?

This is a defining moment for our new century. The lessons of the 20th century gave us all the warning signs of what will come if we do not speak out. The Iranian President has spoken – will we?

“Then they came for…” the Baha’is -- we pray the poem ends differently this time.