Monthly Archives: May 2004

Paddling Outriggers Featured In The New York Times

Nice little piece on outrigger canoeing in Friday’s NY Times – The New York Times > Travel > Escapes > Journeys: Adventurer | Outrigger Canoeing

I’ve been think about getting back on a canoe lately, it’s been far too long since I dipped my paddle in the ocean. I haven’t paddled since the typhoons hit in 2002. I had so many other things to worry about at the time, and the crew just never got back together. Maybe I should gather up the team and see if anyone is interested in starting out again.

Since the Times only keeps the articles up for a week or so, I am copying it below.

ON a balmy Saturday morning, it’s practice as usual for the New York Outrigger Club. What this group of outrigger canoe enthusiasts hears is not the crashing waves of the Pacific or the whistle of cool Hawaiian trade winds, but the shouts and calls of tourists who wave frenetically from the deck of the Intrepid at Pier 86 on the Hudson River in Manhattan. As the paddlers battle uptown against the current and pull up alongside the Intrepid for a midmorning stretch session, curious onlookers on the hulking aircraft carrier show increasingly noisy interest.

They are finally greeted with a wave and a hello from the club’s president, Di Eckerle, who rides in the six-person canoe’s rear steersman’s seat. A cheer goes up in reply, and Ms. Eckerle smiles. “Only in New York,” she says.

Though Manhattan’s waterfront is an unlikely place to find a thriving outrigger canoe scene – set as it is on a river whose obstacles include bobbing baseballs and soda cans, swells from the Circle Line ferries and gusts from choppers taking off and landing at the West 30th Street heliport – the club is a sign of the sport’s growing popularity outside Hawaii. It is just one of close to 30 clubs in the East Coast Outrigger Racing Association, which was formed seven years ago. Besides Manhattan, outrigger clubs are found in unlikely spots like Massachusetts and Texas, as well as several West Coast places where the mild climate and proximity to Hawaii make for a firmly established Hawaiian transplant community.

The outrigger canoe – whose hull is attached on one side to a float, or ama, for added stability in rough open water – has been used for transportation in the Pacific for centuries. Contemporary outrigger canoe racing has its roots in Hawaii; according to Kanu Culture, an Australian-based magazine devoted to the sport, canoe racing was a form of entertainment and pride for Hawaiian villages. In 1908, the Honolulu-based Outrigger Canoe Club became the first such modern-day club to be founded in Hawaii.

The nonprofit New York Outrigger Club, founded in 1996 by Roger Meyer, launches its canoes from Pier 63, at 23rd Street and the Hudson near Chelsea Piers. The season runs from April to October, and practices are held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on Saturday mornings, which is when beginners can receive formal instruction.

“It’s wonderful to see Manhattan from another point of view,” said Ilana Lobet, 53, an Upper West Side resident who owns a custom-framing business. She began paddling in 2002 as a way to train for the Eco-Challenge adventure race in Fiji. “I’ve lived here since 1976. Out on the water, the scene is always different.”

Manhattan is not as odd a location for a Hawaiian outrigger canoe club as it might seem, Ms. Eckerle said. “What’s always struck me about Manhattan is that it’s surrounded by water, but for many years no one thought to paddle on it. Though I must admit that we do have challenging currents and big motorized vessels that can be off-putting at times.”

Across the country in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, where the San Francisco Outrigger Canoe Club hits the beach, outrigger canoeing has also adapted to its sometimes challenging environment. “It’s actually very exciting to paddle here in the Presidio,” said the club’s president, Phil Siaris, who founded the club in 1988. “One thing you can always count on is the wind and fog, especially during summer evenings. But that’s what makes it San Francisco.” The club, one of the most established in the country, trains year-round and has 60 to 150 active members; the number tends to go up as summer approaches and the official race season progresses.

In New England, despite icicles during practices early in the season, the members of the Boston Outrigger Racing Association have a constant reminder of Hawaii: they launch their canoes from a place called Waikiki Beach. “The funny thing is, we paddled there for the entire first season before we even discovered the name of the beach, which has been around forever and ever,” said the club’s president, Joe McDougall, who founded it in 2001 to bring a small part of his family’s Big Island history back to the Boston area. “When I saw that, I thought, ‘We were meant to paddle here.’ ” Waikiki Beach is on Salem Sound, 20 miles north of Boston, and many club members commute from the city to practice.

For Laura Marlin, a longtime water-sports enthusiast who rowed competitively for more than a decade, there is something essential about outrigger canoeing that is missing from other paddle sports. “Particularly in New England, where the climate and landscape don’t resemble Hawaii at all, it’s the aloha spirit that sets the sport apart,” said Ms. Marlin, who is an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts. “When teams from all over get together to race, there is a certain synergy among the paddlers that to me says ‘aloha,’ which can mean a lot of things in native Hawaiian: affection, love, regards.”

Thirty-five miles southwest of Galveston, Tex., where the bay waters are often brown, members of the Texas Outrigger Canoe Club also try to transcend their physical surroundings. “Some people who have come from paddling in the islands find it really hard to relate to Hawaii here,” said the club’s vice president, Paul Dunham, who works for Continental Airlines. “You’re just not in paradise in the same way.” But despite that, he said, the harmony of the sport and the club’s dedication to the roots of Hawaiian culture make it more than worthwhile. Each October, the club gets together with local Polynesian groups for the Aloha Festival in the Clear Lake area near Houston.

The attraction to community inherent to the sport is commonly expressed among most outrigger paddlers, no matter where they are from. “As far as other places – Florida or wherever – I just think it’s great that they’re perpetuating the sport of Hawaiian outrigger canoeing,” said Mr. Siaris of the San Francisco club, who was born and raised in Honolulu. “They may be doing it a different way, but it’s all in the same spirit of the sport. What I try to teach the paddlers is to have respect for the canoe and for each other.”

That spirit and a bit of humor, too, also draw Mr. Meyer, of the New York club. “Every year we have a luau — and I do admit, we probably embarrass the culture a bit,” he said. “Seriously, though, I’m not a big fan of watching people emulate what they don’t understand. The most important thing to us is that there’s a lot of soul involved in the paddling culture. The Hawaiian energy and spirit is what makes the sport so attractive – here, the first thing is always the connection, to one another and to the elements.”
By Bonnie Tsui

Arctic Getting Warmer Faster

I thought I’d toss out another couple links to continue the global warming theme today. Seems the Arctic is actually melting faster than global warming predicts, possibly because of a feedback loop. Ice normally reflects sunlight, but once it melts, the exposed ocean water and land absorb a great deal more sunlight, which accelerates the ice cap’s melting at a greater rate. Maybe Lovelock is right…

In other news, all that melting and global warming is going to lead to less freshwater for human consumption. The American Southwest is currently in the grip of a long running drought, leaving water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell extremely low. In the foreseeable future, the Southwest might not be able to sustain its population, forcing all those Snowbirds and retirees into wetter climates.

Only Nuclear Power Can Save Us Now?

James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis, says that only nuclear power can stop global warming now. All other conventional methods of energy production produce too much CO2, and renewable energy like solar and wind cannot meet the world’s energy consumption needs and global warming is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Needless to say, green groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are not pleased with his analysis. But it certainly says something about our situation when one of the first scientists to speak out about global warming, and an ardent ecologist, comes out and endorses nuclear fission as the only hope against the collapse of civilization under the effects of global warming.

And unlike a recent Hollywood movie, this is not just a lot of hot air and silly special effects. The planet is warming up; glaciers are melting, ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctic are breaking up, low islands in the Pacific are becoming uninhabitable because of rising sea levels, heat waves and droughts… A seemingly unending litany of natural disasters pointing towards our planet becoming warmer and warmer.

Maybe what we need is a good old fashioned nuclear winter. I’m sure Dubya and his boys would be more than willing to launch a few dozen warheads, kick up a few megatons of fallout and dust to cool the planet a few degrees. Yee ha, stop global warming (excuse me, climate change) and teach those ungrateful Iraqis a little respect for freedom and democracy. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

Relay For Life

I just got back from the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. My company is the major sponsor for the event every year, and we had a whole contingent out in force tonight, walking around the track at G.W. High School. I answered a fundamental question of nature tonight: how long can a man bbq at the grill with nary a beer to drink? Turns out it was about two and a half hours before I said ‘screw this’ and passed the tongs off on another guy. I took a couple laps around the track, then I left. They will continue walking throughout the night, but I’ll be back in the morning to help cleanup.

The More Things Change

The more they stay the same. Didn’t I blather on just the other day about how nothing ever changes on Guam? The stories are always the same, public utilities are a mess, government corruption and of course nepotism. Well it seems Governor Camacho thought it would be a great idea to appoint a 24 year undergraduate as deputy director at DYA, a nice $50,000 a year gig for someone with no experience and no degree. Did I mention she’s the governor’s cousin?

Will This Guy Ever Learn?

Looks like George Lucas is re-releasing his first major studio film 1971’s THX-1138 in theaters along with a new DVD edition. This new version includes computer graphics of gigantic robot factories, and enhanced robot guards.

I just don’t know what’s wrong with this guy. Why does he have to tinker with all his old movies, adding in useless computer graphics? I remember what he did with Star Wars. The guy is agog with technology at the expense of story-telling, any idiot forced to watch the new Star Wars movies can see that.

I fully expect he will rework American Graffiti to include CG roadsters and a space battle or two. Or maybe he’ll patch in Fonzie jumping the shark.

Library System Waits For Better Days

While Seattle just opened a fantastic new $165.5 million library, the government of Guam cannot afford an additional $11,000 a year to hire an actual librarian to run the Guam Public Library. The government says that the library is not a priority right now, and must wait for the economy to improve before much needed funding can be appropriated for the library system. While a recently passed law requires the library director to be a qualified professional librarian, the current $55,000 salary is too low to entice any professionals to the island. According to the Civil Service Commission, bumping the salary to $66,000 a year would make recruitment efforts much easier. For an additional $273,000 a year, the library system could afford to reopen four branch libraries in the villages of Merizo, Yona, Barrigada and Agat that closed over four years ago due to budget cutbacks and government furlough programs.

Recent media attention on the long mothballed “Bookmobile” program that quit running almost eight years ago spurred several private companies to donate their services and get the bookmobile back on the road. Matson Navigation really stepped forward in this project, repairing the bookmobile, donating $25,000 to fund the bookmobile program, and pledging continued servicing for the vehicle in the years ahead. Kudos also go to South Pacific Petroleum Company, for donating free fuel for a year to the bookmobile, and Chugach Support Services for prepping the main library building for painting.

Hopefully these public/private partnerships will spur renewed interest in the library, because it is in a terrible state. I’ve often said it, I was aghast at the library when I first came to Guam, and it still depresses me to visit the building: it looks like they haven’t bought a book since 1973, the air conditioning didn’t work for years, mold and mildew where everywhere, the stairwell was unpainted. Basically the place is a mess, and indicative of the poor state of education and cultural facilities on the island.

Max Havoc Gets Denied Bridge Financing | The Rule Of Betelnut

At yesterday’s Guam Economic Development & Commerce Authority (GEDCA) meeting, the GEDCA board denied Max Havoc a bridge financing movie loan. The executive producer of the film, John Laing, said the bridge financing is no longer needed since principal filming is wrapping up on island. More pressing for the film’s long term prospects is GEDCA’s commitment to guarantee a $1.3 million loan. That loan has been held up because GEDCA has yet to sign off on the loan guarantee, and is a concern of the film’s producers.
Speaking of that whole movie deal, former Congressman Robert Underwood wrote an intelligent editorial on fiscal responsibility in Sunday’s paper which got in a couple digs at the whole idea of enticing movies to Guam. The impetus of his article was a recent visit to Yap, which despite catastrophic damage in last month’s typhoon Sudal, is reluctant to use some of the $50 million in cash reserves the state government has accumulated through prudent economic policy. Wow, $50 million in reserve, saved from a yearly budget of $16 million. It would be like Guam having $1.5 billion on hand, instead of perennially running in the red year after year.

He attributes this deliberate and steady stewardship of the island’s budget to betelnut.

I am serious and I think the Yapese are as well. Chewing requires time to pause and reflect. Every decision is discussed slowly and sometimes endlessly with betel nut chewing almost a ritualistic part of the process. The Yapese are a conservative people who value their resources as a collective responsibility. They are not ostentatious, nor are they swayed by materialistic display. All of the governors are credited with saying, “If you have a dollar, you can only spend a dollar.”

There is no public outcry for government to do things for them. In their recovery from Typhoon Sudal, they are grateful for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance, but there have been villages that turned back Red Cross assistance because it was aimed at only a few families and not the entire community. There are no senators making speeches about spending the money in the bank at this time of dire need. Communities have spontaneously formed work teams to ensure that everyone has some shelter and that the taro is harvested so that food will be available for at least two to three weeks.

When the Asian Development Bank recommended that the government work force be cut by 35 percent, Govs. Tun and Figir did more. The government work force went from 1,000 to 600. When crazy business ventures were proposed for government funding, they ignored them. No salmon farming or movie producing for them. Max Havoc can stay in Guam. Public works projects are limited and carefully scrutinized.

And the results are good. Out-migration to places like Guam and Hawaii is limited. The population is stable, there are reliable public services and there is money in the bank for a rainy day. They are actively discussing whether the recent typhoon qualifies as a rainy day. Imagine the kind of discussion that we would have in Guam if we had $50 million in the bank right now.

It’s an enjoyable and erudite essay from a distinguished educator and politician. More and more, I regret that Bob Underwood lost the election in 2002. I remember at the time there was a lot of bad blood around the election because the Gutierrez wing of the Democratic party refused to endorse Underwood, which probably cost him the election. I certainly never thought Felix Camacho would be elected over Underwood. As it panned out, he has certainly been a sub-par governor, with the acrimony between him and the Lt. Governor, the legislature and the attorney general growing every week. I wonder what Guam would be like today if Underwood had won the election? I know several people would say “Not a thing. Nothing would be different because that is the way of life on Guam.” But then I think about how the world would be a different, better place if George W. Bush hadn’t usurped the presidency from Al Gore in 2000. An election can make a world of difference.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

So I asked a friend of mine last week if he had a chance to look through the picture album I posted here two weeks ago. Y’all remember that photo gallery from Dianne’s birthday boat cruise? He said he looked through it, but he wondered what Donald Rumsfeld was doing on a dive boat off the waters of Guam. That sparked my curiosity and I looked through my photos with a keener eye.

Lo and behold, I found him lurking in the lower left hand corner of this picture! Wow – well actually that’s Mike Siegel, a member of the Pago Bay Reefers (more on them tomorrow). And he normally doesn’t look like Rummy, but the resemblance in this photo is uncanny:

Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense Mike Siegel, Musician

It’s a little creepy, that’s for sure. Besides nobody was being led around naked on a leash on the dive boat (at least from what I remember), so I’m pretty sure Rumsfeld had nothing to do with our little party.

Continental Boosts Fares

Citing losses incurred by the rising price of fuel, Continental boosted fares worldwide on Tuesday.

Great. One more reason to fly Northwest. NWA Guam had a great deal on fares to the States for one week only – $770 to the West Coast, $940 to the Midwest, $990 to the East Coast. Not bad, even if I needed to overnight in Narita on the way back. Tickets had to be purchased by yesterday, and travel needed to commence by June 19. Too bad I am stuck here filling in for my boss for the next three weeks.

Max Havoc Shoot Winding Down

The filming for Max Havoc is winding down here on Guam. Only a few action scenes remain. Then the principal cast and crew are heading to Narita for more action scenes, and finally Miami, where rapper Fat Joe will be filmed. Carmen Electra arrived on Thursday for her cameo in the movie. She’s also appearing in some Guam Visitor’s Bureau advertising, and signing autographs.

A premiere is tentatively scheduled for next February, with an on island premiere in March of 2005.

Oops I Did It Again…

I swear, when I took this silly little quiz I was sure I’d be labeled an intellectual:

I am a Hippy

Which America Hating Minority Are You?

Take More Robert & Tim Quizzes
Watch Robert & Tim Cartoons

Seriously, I wasn’t expecting that result. Guess the Deadhead inside me just cannot be repressed. I do have a predilection towards tie-dyes. It’s funny how once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at right*.

At Long Last

It finally arrived in my mailbox yesterday. One year and four months after I filed my 2002 income tax return, my refund check was cut by the Department of Revenue & Taxation. Better late than never I guess, but that’s a hell of a way to run a government.

The money is slated for a number of things, I’ll keep y’all posted…

Auto Dealer Shipping Vehicles To Russia?

The Marianas Business Journal (sorry, registration required) ran a very interesting story earlier this month. Apparently local auto dealer Atkins Kroll is quietly selling millions of dollars worth of automobiles to a person in Helsinki, Finland. These vehicles, intended for the US market, are being sold in Russia and other former Soviet bloc states by the Finnish exporter, Aleksander Odrischinsky, and his company, Catamount Oy.

Government officials on Guam in mid-April began investigating this extraordinary trail of millions of dollars worth of luxury SUVs and sedans. The trail goes from Atkins Kroll on Marine Corps Drive, into shipping containers at the Port of Guam, on to Helsinki, via Korea, and across the Finnish border into Russia.

The reason that vehicles bound for Russia would need to be sourced from Guam was a mystery to Customs agents; however, a Toyota official in Helsinki explained that attractive U.S. prices and demand for certain hard-to-get models were the reasons for the Guam connection.

The Journal was unable to reach Catamount or Odrischinsky, but on April 27 spoke by phone with Vesa Tikka, general manager of Toyota Motor Finland Oy, which has 60 dealer outlets and a national office in Helsinki that sold 27,000 Toyotas and 50 Lexus vehicles in 2003. Tikka described Catamount as “a company that is selling cars to Russia – a small company that is very active in this, boats as well.” Tikka said he thought Odrischinsky was managing director of Catamount. Vesa said the route to Russia through Finland is not unusual. “All Lexus and Toyota vehicles would be going through Finland, even if going to Russia.”

Tikka said that the Lexus LX 470, GX 470 and RX 330s that were shipped from Guam to Finland in April are SUV models that are not yet available in Finland or Russia. He said the RX 330 will be available in Finland at the end of 2004. The April shipments from Guam also contained 20 Toyota Camrys, which in Finland each sell for about 35,500 Euros, the equivalent of about $42,000, compared to about $20,000 on Guam. Tikka said the shipments of new cars into Russia must be an issue for RussiaÂ’s authorized Toyota dealer. “This must bother the dealer in Russia. I can imagine, yes,” Tikka said.

“He buys cars wherever he can find them,” Tikka said of Odrischinsky.

The whole thing is a little off color. Because the cars are not registered on Guam, sale of the vehicles does not register on monthly reports used by the Guam Automobile Dealers Association. When questioned by the Marianas Business Journal, AK management basically said their business dealings were nobody else’s business. How long this arrangement has been going on is unknown, but it has caught the attention of Guam customs officials.

Shipping documents show that Odrischinsky made shipments of 17 vehicles in February, 31 in March, and 50 in April. AK wouldn’t reveal the number of cars sold to Odrischinsky, or say how long the large car buys had been going on, and the Journal was only able to look at a selection of shipping documents. Export figures from the Guam Department of Labor show that automobile exports in 2003 were $3.73 million, up a remarkable 84% from the previous year… Auto industry experts said the Toyota and Lexus vehicles going from Guam to Finland could be described as gray market vehicles. A gray market is a source of supply from which scarce items are bought for quick delivery at a premium above the usual market price, usually by a speculator.

Guess AK struck upon a lucrative business deal. Too bad it looks like that gravy train is drying up. Toyota officials in Japan are looking into the deal, and are concerned because vehicles bound for the US have different emissions and safety specifications than those destined for Europe. And Odrischinsky doesn’t seemed particularly interested in continuing to deal with Guam anymore either. Contacted via telephone for an interview, Odrischinsky indicated that he would cease dealings with the island due to the ‘unfavorable’ article published on May 3rd. He went on to claim that the vehicles are not bound for Russia, but would not divulge their ultimate destination. In fact, his quote is taunting. “I’m buying the cars, that’s true. I’m a big exporter to the ex-Soviet bloc, that’s true. But that’s not the destination of these cars. I do export all over the world. These cars are not going to Moscow… You’re on the right track. They come to Helsinki, but, there you’ve lost the trail,” he said.

This sort of thing is hardly unique to Guam. Forbes ran an excellent article in April about middlemen trafficking in US goods through foreign markets, with the goods often ending up in countries subject to U.S. embargo, like Iran and North Korea. It is an enticing business, with the middlemen charging exorbitant fees for flipping cargo through intermediate ports like Dubai to these sanctioned destinations. “Interviews with private business people and U.S. officials, along with court documents, reveal a simple scheme. Companies located around the world sell goods–from cigarettes to medical devices and PCs–to buyers in the U.A.E. Dubai traders repackage the items and send them along by air or ship to agents in, say, Tehran, Pyongyang, Damascus or Islamabad.” Forbes highlights the more dangerous end of this illicit trade, with innocuous parts designed for medical equipment being repurposed for nuclear weapons development. Apparently Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan, who created that country’s nuclear weapons, used this process to seed countries around the world with prohibited technology to further their nuclear ambitions.

Now, I’m not saying shipping overpriced SUV’s to Finland is comparable to sowing the dragon’s teeth of nuclear weaponry to rogue nations, but it is part of the same continuum. And the primary motivator is both cases is money – a desire to increase profits at the expense of someone or something else. AK can say what they want about their business dealings, but they made a decision to ship their Toyotas to a foreign market, on a fellow Toyota dealer’s territory, in order to make a quick buck. It might not be illegal, but it certainly presents an ethical challenge.