Friday, October 31, 2014


For almost my entire life I've played video games. I played Double Dragon, Startropics and Dragon Warrior IV for the NES. I played Street Fighter II, Final Fantasy III and NBA Live 95 for the SNES. I have played a bunch of games for SEGA Systems, including Night Trap and even Dune for SEGA CD. On the computer I played games like World Builder, Pool of Radiance, Pirates! and Civilization in many incarnations. Most recently I've played games like Monster Hunter, Starcraft II and Hearthstone. Video games don't take up as much of my life as they used to, as I am busy with working, family life and activism, but they still play a role in my identity and how I see myself culturally. For some their "Chamorro" identity may be rooted to visiting ranches on weekends and attending mass with their grandmothers. For me, Chamorro identity comes not just from working with my grandfather in his blacksmith shop or reading the Chamorro Bible with my grandmother, but also yelling at computer screens in Chamorro and talking to my kids about what I'm doing with this unit or with this card in Chamorro.

I've searched for ways over the past few years of integrating my life as a gamer into my academic work. I applied for a small grant several years ago to study nationalism within esports, focusing primarily on SC2. I didn't get the grant and so I never really picked up the topic again. The issues of feminism and racism within gaming and other nerd subcultures is something that always brings me back into the fold. For so many people within subcultures, there is a safety in feeling like someone the usual rules or the usual problems don't apply to the subcommunity you claim identity with. I hear nerds of all types saying that racism doesn't exist in gaming or doesn't exist in the world of fantasy. The same goes for feminism. This is hardly true, but it is intriguing to see people try to recreate their subcultural fantasies as place where those things don't have to be worried about and as a result they actually can act out the very racial or anti-feminist problems they claim not to exist.

An article from Salon caught my eye recently and so I'm sharing it below:


I’m not “that creepy guy from the Internet”: How Gamergate gave the geek community a bad name

I've been that bitter, lonely gamer looking for someone to blame. And I'm devastated that it's come to this

We’re now three months in, and the social media-based “consumer revolt” against the “progressive agenda” of the gaming press, known as Gamergate, shows no signs of abating.

I’ve gotten to know a lot of the industry personalities that Gamergate has targeted for bizarre charges of “corruption” and “nepotism” since this mess started. I’ve come to consider some of them friends, if only Twitter friends. And my frustration and anger at the hounds of Gamergate biting at their heels has increased in proportion.

But it didn’t become personal for me until Felicia Day, an actress and writer who created the popular Web series “The Guild,” dared write one blog post speaking out against Gamergate, talking about how scared she was of being targeted and “doxxed” (having documentation of her personal details revealed online) by Gamergaters, only to be immediately doxxed in response.

Not because I know Felicia Day or have any sort of relationship with her, but because I don’t. Let me explain.

One of the most obnoxious but persistent beliefs that drives reactionary movements like Gamergate is the idea that the people screaming about having a “feminist agenda” pushed on them are the true underdogs. Their opponents are a privileged elite, limousine-liberal “hipsters” who have invaded their hobby in order to oppress them.

They readily invoke the high-school language of “bullying” to characterize the opposition they face from the gaming “establishment” and the mainstream media. The relentless attacks on the women they target as “attention whores” bear all the earmarks of defensive misogyny, the nasty attitude of the nerdy, awkward guy who’s convinced “popular girls” are all secretly taunting him. And they make me sick.

Not because, as they seem to assume, I’m a wealthy, happy, polo-wearing yacht-clubber who enjoys picking on those who are less fortunate.

But because that was the trip I was on for so much of my life.

I’ve written about this before: I was the kid who probably spent fully 10 times as many hours reading books at school than exchanging words with any of my classmates. It was years before I learned to talk something like a normal human being and not an overly precise computerized parody of a “nerd voice.” People felt uncomfortable around me, disliked me instinctively. Sometimes I got pushed around or challenged to a fight; most of the time I got ignored, save the dirty looks and snickers.

And so hell yes I “retreated into gaming.” It’s not like I could “win” at anything else in life. I couldn’t play sports, socialize or even dress like I hadn’t just escaped from a burning building. The one thing I was good at, getting high scores at tests in school, was hardly a source of positive social feedback; it just made me more of a target.

But games were always there for me. A magical world where, despite the violence and horror, winning was always possible. Where enemies could always be slain. Where gaining experience always led to leveling up, as opposed to a real world where trying seemed to get you nowhere. Where the capricious unfairness of real human beings was erased and your princess was always waiting at the end of World 8-4.

Games were there when I fled the conservative Christian upbringing where I felt like a marooned astronaut on an alien planet, hoping for a fresh start. Games were there when I discovered the small liberal arts college I fled to was just a different alien planet, one where my small-town naïveté made me as much a target as my erudition had back home.

Games were there when the one thing I’d always been able to rely on, my brain, wasn’t good enough for top-tier college-level classes. Games were there when, with my grades in free fall and my future plans falling to dust, I stopped going out, stopped answering calls, stopped eating regular meals and sleeping and talking.

Games were there when the girl I was dating — a girl who, miraculously, had asked me out despite my lack of self-confidence, who had to assure me that she wasn’t asking me out as a joke — told me she couldn’t be with me long-term unless I got my life together. Games were there when I heard she was moving in with another guy, and engaged.

Games were there when I came home, defeated and broken, to my mom’s house with no degree and no prospects.

Trust me, I know what it’s like to have the most important moments of your life take place behind a glowing screen, to lose yourself in the dramas and quests of the game world when the real world seems hopeless. When the rest of your day — the fruitless job searches, the awkward attempts at socializing, the grinding sameness of being another Victim of the Recession — is dull gray and tastes like ashes.

I know what it’s like to have something so important to you that when you feel like it’s “under attack” you have no choice but to lash out. Yes, Gamergate, I know.

And you know who else knows? Felicia Day.

* * *

Day’s Web project “The Guild” was really important to me, circa 2007-2008. It’s one of those cultural artifacts I’ve lost track of since and have been afraid to revisit because it might stir up memories of a pretty dark time in my life.

It was one of the first Web series that was made by gamers for gamers — a parody of “World of Warcraft” made by someone who’d clearly actually played “World of Warcraft,” a “nerd comedy” populated by several distinct subspecies of nerd as observed in the wild. And under the absurdist tone, it was a fairly brutal look at what it was like to be in your 20s, chronically unemployed and burdened by a creeping dread that your entire life may be a waste.

It helped that Day revealed in interviews that her character, the MMORPG-addicted Cyd Sherman/Codex, was an exaggerated version of herself and her own, milder struggles with addiction and social anxiety. It showed me that not only can pretty girls like Codex fall into the same trap of depression and withdrawal from the world that I had, but even pretty girls who were working actresses and had been on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” could.

It helped, let’s be blunt, to hear my complaints about my own life, and how hard basic human functioning seemed to be sometimes, spoken by an attractive woman on-screen. It made them seem somehow more valid.

(Yes, I know what it’s like, to feel like things only “count” when a pretty girl says them. I know what it’s like to spend my whole adolescence putting attractive women on a pedestal, desperate for the validation I thought they could offer me and furious and resentful at being denied it. I know what it’s like, never quite believing that girls could ever suffer the same loneliness that I did. I know what it’s like to feel that frustration that everyone always seems to instinctively side with “pretty girls” over you. I get it, Gamergate, I know.)

And in Seasons 1 and 2 of “The Guild,” the event that sparks the central conflict is Codex’s guild mate Zaboo falling in love with her and showing up at her doorstep. The writing of “The Guild” never excused Zaboo for his stalking and his violation of Codex’s privacy, but let us see how painfully vulnerable he was. It showed Codex feeling terrified and violated at Zaboo’s behavior — as she had every right to be — but also the way her natural, justified reaction was piling hurt onto somebody who was already hurting.

Felicia Day was, in other words, exactly the kind of geek girl — a cute redhead who was on “Buffy” and posts videos about playing “WoW” — who had every reason to fear, loathe and demonize creepy Internet stalkers, but instead treated the topic with empathy. She made me feel like even though she didn’t know me, she knew guys like me, and that she understood our faults and forgave us.
Maybe that sounds like no big deal today. It’s hard for me to put myself back in that mind-set again. But the fact that someone was making something like “The Guild” — as a contrast to the lazy, punching-down humor of something like “The Big Bang Theory” — meant the world to me.

Felicia Day was one of my New Media heroes. I daydreamed that maybe the cool thing I could do to justify my life would be to someday create my own awesome Web series about my own nerdy travails and distribute it through nontraditional channels. And yes, like 90 percent of the straight guys on the Internet, I had a giant nerd crush on her.

So imagine how I felt about getting the chance to meet her.

* * *

Los Angeles is, all things considered, not a bad place to be unemployed. The line between actual “aspiring actors” and unemployed losers who use “aspiring actor” as an excuse can be pretty thin, especially as long as your parents are willing to continue to subsidize your acting classes.

And as a bonus, telling everyone and yourself you’re “pursuing acting” means you can justify random celebrity-watching excursions as “learning the craft” or “networking opportunities.”

One day, I saw Felicia Day post on her blog, sometime in the summer of 2008, that she was doing an improv show downtown, a double-header, with a reception in between the two sets. I had never been to that part of L.A. before; this being 2008, I had no GPS and had to reply on MapQuest printouts. Going was a very bad idea. I went, of course.

I got lost on the way there. Multiple times. Got lost trying to find parking. Got screamed at by one of the few, courageous jaywalkers in downtown L.A. By the time I found the place, finished arguing with the lady at the ticket counter about my e-ticket — I was the only attendee who’d bought one — and made my way in, the first half of the show was over and the reception had already started.
I didn’t realize at the time how events like this always turn out: that small shows that are advertised on blogs that are theoretically “open to the public” usually end up being social events for the actors’ family and friends. And if you attend such a show as a random member of the public, you will be the only one who does.

And you stand there clutching a paper plate and a Dixie cup all by yourself while it seems like everyone else has known each other for years, gathering naturally into raucous circles reminiscing about shows they’ve been in and seen.

You see the Celebrity of the Hour, Felicia, flitting like a butterfly from clique to clique, exchanging hugs and kisses, and you know with piercing certainty that you, standing there by yourself, knowing nobody, are the creepy guy from the Internet.  And you realize that if you tried to explain to Felicia Day why exactly you’re here — ”I’m a big fan from the Internet and I read your blog and I thought I’d just show up” — it would only make you creepier.

And you get that feeling you’ve had buzzing in the back of your skull like incessant background noise since the day you dropped out of school: that you shouldn’t be here, that you’re in the wrong place, that every decision you’ve made in your life to get you to this horribly exposed, awkward, shameful place is wrong and that you wish you could melt into the ground and die.

Then you overhear Felicia saying to her friends, “Sorry, I’ve got someone else on my radar to talk to,” and she turns around, and she’s all smiles, and casual as anything she says, “Hi! What’s your name?” And the whole night changes.

* * *

I’m sure on her end Felicia wasn’t doing anything other than being a decent human being. But just a tiny bit of decency in the right place at the right time means a lot.

She asked me how I knew about the show, and I told her in my awkward, understated way how much I loved “The Guild,” and we talked about MMORPGs and “World of Warcraft” and being gamers. We talked about acting and she talked about her struggle to get “The Guild” made as a traditional TV pilot before taking it to the Web, and about what a big deal it was that she’d gotten sponsorship from Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace.

I mentioned that I’d done improv in college and that I was currently trying to “break into voice-over.” She asked me to do a “radio voice,” like everyone does, and I did one.

And when her friends gathered around saying they’d like to grab a bite to eat before the show, she turned to me and asked, “Do you want to join us for dinner?”

And so I found myself at a table in a diner with Felicia Day and her improv troupe. And we talked and joked around and I told funny college stories and I started to remember, like an old, unused muscle memory, there was a time people had told me I was “charming” before I was a depressive sack of shit.

She took a chance on me. A chance that, as one of her fans, I knew all too well might not have panned out. I’m a creepy guy from the Internet, I know creepy guys from the Internet, I’ve seen creepy guys at their worst. I’ve seen myself at my worst.

She took a chance that I wouldn’t say something nasty or invasive or thoughtless or mean. She took a chance that I wouldn’t take a gesture of kindness as an invitation to cross boundaries, to stalk, to obsess, which I took pains not to do, and which is why I still feel awkward tweeting @feliciaday even though I’m now a “Twitter personality” myself.

And I found myself rising to that occasion, sharing geeky memes, swapping opinions on TV shows and movies and games, and actually having a real conversation for the first time after months of being a shut-in. I felt like a human being again. To quote Luna Lovegood from “Harry Potter”: “It was almost like having friends.”

It meant so much, to have someone I admired trust that I’d be a decent human being, and to find myself living up to that trust.

Go back and read Felicia’s blog post again. Her opening is about how she’s always felt comradeship with gamers, how she’s felt that seeing a gamer guy on the street means she can confidently approach him and strike up a conversation, how she’s never thought of gamers as creepy or threatening or unlikable.

That’s not celebrity P.R. copy. I can testify that, in 2008, it was completely true. I always thought the wonderful thing about being in a fringe nerd community was that sense of trust. Of closing the distance between performers and fans that characterizes “mainstream” celebrity.

My wife tells stories about being able to just walk up to writers she’s read and loved her whole life at SF conventions and grab a beer with them. I was able to get a convention of total strangers to participate in my crazy plan to propose to my wife, for free, just because I was a fellow gamer.

* * *

So how did we get to this place? How do we get to the place where people who profess to love games and love gaming send vile threats and harassment to the people who make and write about games? How did we get to the place where trust has been replaced with resentment and hate?

Well, because trust is hard. It was a close call, that night. What if Felicia had happened to not notice me, or, as she had every right to do, decide she didn’t need to talk to the weird loner standing in the shadows when she was surrounded by friends?

I don’t think I have it in me to turn into as full-fledged a destructive hater as the worst of the gamergaters. But there were several moments in that reception where I almost just stormed out, telling myself the whole night was a bust. I would’ve been mad at myself and mad at the situation and, yes, mad at her. The image in my head would’ve been of this Internet star whom I idolized hanging out being beloved by all her friends and ignoring me, rejecting me, treating me like I was beneath her.

And I might well have found that her work soured for me, and ended up being the kind of vindictive jerk who would send demeaning tweets to her and publicly accuse her of being a “glorified booth babe.”

And every time someone on the Internet does that, it gives her one less reason to trust that the random fan she runs into is going to be a nice guy worth interacting with.

Listen to the tone of the complaints Gamergate makes. Listen to the things they accuse the journalists and developers they hate of being — ”elitist,” “smug,” “cliquish.” The language of people angry because, as gamergaters keep saying, they feel they’re being kept out of a club, they’re “not being listened to.”

They’re angry that the industry and the press don’t trust the fans, don’t reach out to them. That the “gamer” stereotype has been so discredited that people would celebrate en masse at the idea of “gamer” dominance of gaming being over.

And I get it, Gamergate, I know. That look in people’s eyes that haunts you, the one that lurks behind the fake smile of every job interviewer who never calls you back, the one in the eyes of the popular kid whose gaze slides right over you. “You’re a loser, you’re a creep, you’re not worth my time.” How after the 10th, the 50th, the 5,000th time you’ve gotten that look you just want to lash out and scream.

I’m not defending that feeling. That toxic swell of nerd entitlement that’s busy destroying everything I love. But I understand it very well.

And Gamergate doesn’t understand that this feeling, this rage, only feeds the cycle of mistrust. That every time it erupts in an entitled tantrum it becomes another reason to distrust and dislike your fans.
No one ought to be expected to just put up with death threats directed against Blizzard for the graphics in “Diablo III” or against Bioware for the ending of “Mass Effect 3″ or against a “Call of Duty” developer for a weapons patch. No one ought to have to apologize for giving ”The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” a slightly worse grade than its fans thought it deserved. No one should receive tens of thousands of abusive messages within 24 hours just for a Kickstarter campaign proposing videos to criticize games. No one should have to discuss and defend their sex life in public because they once dared make a free game people didn’t like.

And Felicia Day shouldn’t come under attack for admitting that the hatred filling gaming today, for the first time ever, made her cross the street to avoid a couple of guys wearing gaming T-shirts because being around gamers made her afraid.

* * *

After meeting Felicia I was walking on air for days — I’d met one of my geek heroes and I hadn’t screwed it up! She thought I was a nice guy! She thought my voice-overs had potential!

I started actually sending out auditions again, something I’d been slacking on doing. I decided to coast on the momentary jolt of confidence and start submitting the voice-over demo I’d made to agencies again, and this time I managed to snag one.

Eventually I was able to start getting semi-regular voice-over work, to get out of my parents’ place, to find a steady job, to get back together with my ex and move in with her and marry her. Eventually I got into the place where auditioning for “Jeopardy” made sense in my mind instead of just being another stupid lark destined to fail.

Did all of that happen just because some geek celebrity decided to be unusually nice to some random fan? Probably not. But it certainly helped.

I remember that, every time some kid runs up to me on the street demanding a photo with the “’Jeopardy’ guy.” (Yes, it does still happen. And yes, haters, I think it’s as silly as you do.)

But today Felicia Day crosses the street if she sees two guys in “Call of Duty” shirts. Today Felicia Day knows there are “fans” of hers diligently working to track her down, violate her privacy, collect her address. Today if Felicia Day saw a weird, depressed, standoffish Arthur Chu at a reception … she’d probably just walk briskly past me on the way to her car.

And that 23-year-old version of me, today, would storm out and head home, hating himself the whole way back. And today if he logged online he’d have a roar of voices from his fellow gamers feeding that resentment — telling him to blame his problems on “elitist,” “popular” voices in the hobby, on out-of-touch women who don’t understand him, like Felicia Day and Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn.

They’d tell him to vent his feelings about the “corrupt elites” ruining everything, that his energy could be usefully applied in barraging advertisers with emails and flooding celebrities’ Twitter accounts with probing questions. He’d get recruited into a pseudo-military outfit complete with “operations” and “targets.”

And the world would become just a little bit worse.

I don’t know how to fix this. I’m not much help — I’m damaged goods. I’ve got enough of my own rage to spare, and that rage is all I can fall back on when I see Gamergate hurting innocents, no matter how much I might empathize with where they’re coming from.

The people who try to break the cycle, who open the door to trust, who invite weird, creepy, lonely guys to come out to dinner just because they’re fans … they’re rare. They pay a heavy cost for taking that risk, sometimes. To some of us, they’re heroes. And we’re losing more of them every day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bota Fino' Chamoru!

Bota Fino’ Chamoru!
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety

During the summer, the Hurao Language Camp at the Chamorro Village in Hagatna held several waves along Marine Drive. This is un såkkan botasion, an election year and so waves are about as common as Japanese tourists, with candidates sometimes standing in the early morning and the twilight hours, hoping to make eye contact with you as you speed by. Hurao’s wave was somewhat different. It wasn’t for any particular candidate, instead it was for “Fino’ Chamoru” or the Chamorro language. Children held up signs with “Håyi hao?” and “Hu tungo’ håyi yu’” on them, and shouted out “Bota Fino’ Chamoru!” to those driving by. Johnny’s Sablan’s immortal classic “Mungga Yu’ Mafino’ Inglesi” or “Don’t Speak English to Me” blared in the background.

It is that time of the year, when young 18, 19 and 20 year old in my classes, who will be voting for the first time start to wonder about this new rite of passage they are about to go through. Most of my students don’t come from very political families, and so an election year feels like some frightening hallucinogenic dream, where a legion of smiling people with numbers next to their names keep asking, keep demanding a vote from you. Those that do come from political families are always excited to get their chance to vote for someone who is a family friend or whose signs they’ve helped put up before, who whose waves they’ve helped to populated before.

Classes will invariably get distracted as someone will ask for the thoughts of others on a particular candidate or on a particular issues. Sometimes students will just come right out and ask who they should vote for, unsure from the multicolored signs, that look like massacres of Guam seals and American flags, who would be the best choice. How does one pick good candidates?

When it is an election year I will routinely offer my students choices about what project they would like to take on next or what kind of exam they would like, but I will do so in a way that is meant to make them think before they vote. I will offer them two to three choices, and provide some warm and fuzzy, but in truth empty, and largely meaningless words for each choice and then ask them to vote on which they would prefer. My students of course get a little bit irked at this, they then complain that it isn’t fair since they do not know what they are voting for. That’s my cue to smile and chide them by saying, it is an election year and the same holds true in November. What do you really know about the candidates that you are supporting or that you will vote for?

How easy is it for a candidate to say nice things about all the major issues? How easy is it for them to create and for the public to consume such political platitudes? If a candidate says they are strong on this particular issue, how can you tell? How many people pay attention to all the flurry of activity in an election year and then have no idea what is going on for the months after that? If what you know about a candidate comes primarily from that candidate and their own promotional materials, how much can you trust that information to be objective?

I have two main points of advice for my students when picking candidates. If you want to pick your candidates for intellectual reasons, on the basis of their platform that is admirable, but be sure that you actually know something about those candidates. Make sure you know something about the issues involved. If you think someone is a great candidate because of their record, make sure you know their record, and not just the things they blazon and won’t let anyone else forget, but also their mistakes along the way. In Chamorro we say “I linachi-mu siha muna’kapas hao” meaning that a person’s mistakes may say more about their character than their successes.

But this route is not for most people. This route requires research, requires asking questions, requires challenging the assumptions of yourself and others in order to determine candidate compatibility. The other route, is the one most people take and that is selecting candidates on more “heartfelt” reasons. Because they feel connected to a candidate, because of a strong positive memory involving the candidate, even because a candidate attended a family event or the memorial for a loved one. My students are always surprised when I propose that these reasons are legitimate reasons when picking a candidate, but they are. Politics is not just platforms, it is also relationships and connections. On an island like Guam these sorts of connections can have great meaning for people. For example, Politicians who go to family functions often times contribute chenchule’ or ika’ bringing them into the reciprocity networks, becoming a member of one’s extended network.

But at the end of the day, I tell my students, you should, at the very minimum understand why you are voting for someone. Whether it is something that is very analytical or something very personal, at least understand why you are casting your ballot in this way.

For me, the chief criteria for picking candidates is the Chamorro language. Are they able to speak the Chamorro language? Are they learning the Chamorro language? This has nothing to do with whether they are Chamorro or not, because non-Chamorros have historically learned Chamorro on Guam and I am in full-support of that. You might find this requirement to be strange or silly, but from my perspective it is critical. Chamorro is an official language of Guam, and one that has been spoken here for thousands of years. But when I look at the list of candidates this time around, there are less Chamorro speakers than ever in an election, just as there are less Chamorro speakers in general on island. I feel that those who want to represent this island should be fluent in both of its official languages and if they don’t speak it when starting in office, they should commit to learning it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Discovering Flops

When Christopher Columbus flopped at the Box Office...Twice
Scott Mendelson

Yes, today is Columbus Day, when government offices and many schools are closed to celebrate the Italian explorer who allegedly discovered America. I’m not going to get into the historical accuracy or moral difficulties of the previous sentence, but if you need a refresher go HERE. No, what I am here to discuss today is a bit of forgotten box office history involving the “reason for the season.” I am speaking of course about movies revolving around Christopher Columbus. As the old song goes, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!” So, since 1992 was in fact the 500-year anniversary of the year Columbus allegedly discovered America, Hollywood set out to “honor” the occasion with not one, but two big-budget big-screen adventures featuring the explorer. There have been any number of occasions in the last few decades of very similar films opening within a short period of each other and usually they had varying levels of success. But rare is the occasion of the dueling Christopher Columbus movies from the fall of 1992. Both Christopher Columbus: The Discovery and 1492: Conquest of Paradise sank like a stone at the box office.

As is often the case with “dueling” movies, there was one unofficial “small” movie and one unofficial “big movie.” And as is usually the case, such as with Antz, Olympus Has Fallen, and Deep Impact, the would-be “smaller” movie came out first. Christopher Columbus: The Discovery was directed by John Glen, the man best known for directing a record five (consecutive) 007 adventures between 1981 and 1989 (For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, and License to Kill). It was produced by the legendary (and infamous?) father/son duo Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who are best known for the 1978-1987 Superman franchise. While I discussed last Christmas how the Salkinds tried to morph Santa Claus: The Movie into a Superman-type superhero story, they were a bit subtler with their Christopher Columbus film.

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Yes there are early scenes of heroic sword fighting and the film did its best to somewhat shield Chris Columbus from the whole “genocide” business, but the film neither followed the Superman: The Movie template nor did it try to turn the Christopher Columbus story into a kind of would-be action/fantasy franchise. While Conquest of Paradise had a genuine movie star in the lead role (Gérard Depardieu), Christopher Columbus: The Discovery had to settle for Georges Corraface who filled in just three days from the start of filming after original pick Timothy Dalton exited the picture. Like Superman: The Movie, the Salkinds production brought in Marlon Brando in a cameo (as Tomás de Torquemada) for the low price of $5 million while Tom Selleck played the king of Spain. In the “before they were famous” category, Benicio del Toro (who had played the main henchman in License to Kill) had a small supporting role while Catherine Zeta Jones made her big-screen debut as Beatriz Enriquez de Arana.

The film was filled with such financial strife during its production that it ended up being the last picture that the Salkinds would ever produce. Sadly it was all for naught. Christopher Columbus: The Discovery opened on August 21st, 1992. The film earned just $3.1 million over its opening weekend, ending its domestic run with just $8.2m on a $40m budget. I actually saw the film on opening weekend, and I was among the only people in the theater. Even when I was twelve, it was obvious that the picture was both very bad and completely confused about attempting to somewhat realistically acknowledge the darker overtones of the Columbus story while also serving as an epic that theoretically honored the man in the title. Distributor Warner Bros. (Time Warner TWX +0.74% Inc.) was certainly not happy with said $8.1m domestic gross, although the successful launches of Under Siege (Steven Seagal in Die Hard on a Battleship!) in October and Passenger 57 (Wesley Snipes in Die Hard on an Airplane!) in November probably eased much of the sting.

So, the first Columbus movie of 1992 was a flop, surely the next one, the “big” one would do better right? The would-be “big” movie in this two-film race was Ridley Scott’s Conquest of Paradise. The film starred Gérard Depardieu during that very brief period when Mr. Depardieu was somewhat of a “name” to in-the-know moviegoers. Ridley Scott was allegedly the Salkands’ first choice to direct The Discovery, and there was threatened litigation when Scott said no and ended up directing this rival production. This $47 million movie starred Sigourney Weaver as Queen Isabella and co-starred the likes of Michael Wincott, Frank Langella, and Armand Assante. If The Discovery presented Columbus as somewhat of a dashing adventurer (one who was willing to be beheaded by his own restless crew if land was not sighted on a certain time), then Conquest of Paradise played their Columbus as a somewhat soulful and enlightened explorer, one who saw the natives as his equal if not superior to the aristocracy he had to contend with back home.

The film is a more visually-spectacular picture than The Discovery, as befits the fact that it is a Ridley Scott movie. It arguably spends less time on the voyage itself and more on the disruptive effects of the so-called discovery. There is plenty of carnage over the film’s 154-minute running time (the VHS box, which housed the film on two tapes, trumpets – paraphrasing – ‘an entire evening’s adventure, in just over two hours!’), as Ridley Scott’s films don’t tend to whitewash the whole “history is written in blood” notion. But frankly this film like the one before it goes out of its way to shield the title character from the blood that should arguably be on his hands. It is, by default, the better of the two big-budget Christopher Columbus films although I wouldn’t quite call it “good.” But then, I’m the weirdo who thinks Ridley Scott’s best film is Kingdom of Heaven, so make of that what you will.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (now a subsidiary of Viacom VIAB +0.2% Corp.), the picture was actually released the weekend before Columbus day, October 9th of 1992. Despite being the more anticipated film centering around Christopher Columbus, 1492: Conquest of Paradise opened with just $3 million over its debut weekend. The film, which received somewhat better but still mostly negative reviews, ended its domestic run with $7.1m. Christopher Columbus: The Discovery ended up on many a “worst-of-year” list. Tom Selleck won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor while the film received nominations (from the admittedly dubious association) for Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actor (Marlon Brando) Worst New Star (Georges Corraface), Worst Screenplay (Mario Puzo), and Worst Director (John Glen). 1492: Conquest of Paradise was mostly forgotten and is merely a footnote in Ridley Scott’s long career in between his groundbreaking debuts (Alien and Blade Runner) and his comeback in 2000 with Gladiator (Thelma and Louise was the artistic and commercial bright spot during the 80′s and 90′s, and Black Rain is now barely remembered despite earning $134m worldwide in 1989).

If I must make a grander point beyond “look at this bit of forgotten box office history,” it is that both Columbus films debuted in the shadow of Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven. Kevin Costner’s $424m million-grossing and Oscar-winning triumph was not the first film to view American history with a sympathetic eye towards those we arguably stepped on, but its impact was so large that it was now arguably impossible to craft the kind of “cowboys and Indians” nationalistic narrative that was generally the status quo. You couldn’t make a western after Unforgiven that didn’t at least comment on the inherent violence. Once deconstruction is out of the bag and accepted by mainstream audiences, it is challenging to go back to the old-style “hear no evil/see no evil” style of historical films. The two Christopher Columbus films happened to debut during a time when we as a country were starting to become comfortable with acknowledging that the history books weren’t quite telling the whole story about the the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

Both films attempt to straddle an uncomfortable and challenging line, as they both attempt to acknowledge the blood-drenched history of Columbus’s ultimate legacy while still crafting a film that justifies championing its title character. Like any number of films dealing with people from long ago, there is a token attempt to bring at least their protagonists’ ideologies and philosophies up to modern times. Think Mel Gibson paying his black workers in The Patriot or Brad Pitt in Troy falling in love with a captured prisoner as opposed to her being what amounts to a sexual conquest. Now a full-blown deconstruction of Columbus may not have worked either, as John Goodman’s terrific Babe Ruth biopic The Babe was savaged by critics and ignored by audiences in April of 1992 ($19m worldwide) mostly for the crime of presenting the iconic baseball player in his true-life “glory.” There may not have been a “right” way to craft a financially successful Christopher Columbus film in 1992 and there may still not be one today.

The dueling Christopher Columbus films, presumably destined for box office glory on the 500th anniversary of his most famous voyage yet both doomed to box office failure and cultural irrelevancy, are fascinating examples of a box office match-up when both participants lost and when Hollywood vastly overestimated audience interest in a specific kind of film. In 1992 we were both unwilling to embrace a whitewashed Christopher Columbus biopic yet arguably not ready for a completely warts-and-all portrait. 22 years later, I’d argue we’re sadly still not ready for the latter.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bombing the Public Square

I am a big fan of Bill Maher and his show Real Time on HBO. I have actually been a fan of him since his Politically Incorrect days and even remember him making his comments that lost him his original show so long ago. He has been spearheading this election season a campaign he calls “Flip a District.” After receiving thousands of suggestions from people across the US, claiming their incumbent Congressperson as being the most useless and whose absence in Congress would make their state a better place, he chose Rep. John Kline from Minnesota. Kline, a Republican is not one of the loud and aggressive and sometimes hardly sane mouthpieces that dominate Fox News, such as Louis Gomert and Michelle Bachmann. He doesn't say the sometimes ridiculous things his fellow Republican became notorious for. But he votes alongside them and practices the age-old art of incumbent invisibility. He says little, stands for less, but collects lots of money from major corporations whose agenda he is quietly eager to support. For Maher, Kline, the quiet, unassuming politician is the real problem with democracy in America.

Bill Maher’s mixture of libertarianism and liberalism makes him a very interesting critical voice. He expounds basic liberal principles, but is not invested in the “niceness” that is often associated with liberal voices. Liberalism in the United States and its colonies for instance, is often associated with a softness and a tolerance.  Conservatives tend to the more aggressive voices. Conservative is an ideology that cuts people off, that divides and delineates and protects a particular “truth” or “true people.” Liberalism is based on ideas of unity, community and oneness.

These impulses are not neatly divided between Democrats or Republicans, both of these impulses are used by people in all possible parties. Is a community something that is always growing and expanding, where we reach out to those less fortunate and help the needy? Or is the community something that should be reserved for only those who deserve it, only those who are truly members and no others? Many people may make a big deal about conservatism being about protecting core values and liberalism not, but I think this misses the point in both ideological movements.  

What makes Bill Maher interesting however is the way he is not afraid to name names and to establish a framework for seeing the enemies of everyday people. He is also not afraid to speak in the name of truths that most liberals would find unpopular or political unviable. When Barack Obama was attacked as being “elitist” so many liberal democrats, the President included, rushed to argue that he wasn’t elitist, that he was a down to earth guy, just like Joe Six Pack or Josie Tupperware party. Maher scoffed at this strange shame and argued that any thinking person should want an “elite” President, someone who isn’t like your average person, but someone who is the best of what a society can offer. If that means they can’t bowl that well, who cares?

Maher had a clash recently with actor Ben Affleck, who is a regular on the show. Affleck, while most known for movies such as Argo, Gone Girl, Dogma and The Town, is, by Maher’s own admissions one of the best celebrities he has on the show. Affleck, a avowed liberal, reads up on contemporary issues and politics and usually handles himself well on a Real Time even though he might be surrounded by politicians, activists and authors. The clash in question was over Islam and its relationship to liberal dogma. The debate began with Maher talking to another guest Sam Harris, a noted atheist writer about how liberals have failed in terms of criticizing Islam and its influence in the world. Maher is also a famous atheist who recently created a documentary Religulous, which criticized most of the major religions including Islam. According to Maher, Islam is the only religion today that “acts like the mafia, that will f—king kill you, if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.” Harris added in, “We have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam at this moment is the motherlode of bad ideas.”

Their overreaching point was that liberals, not wanting to appear racist, do not do enough to condemn Islam as a violent and oppressive force in the world today. As Harris complained, liberals today act as if condemning Islam as a religion means you condemn all the people who are Muslim. Liberals need to be able to make a distinction between the religion and the people and too many people are afraid of being attacked for conflating the two.

Affleck pushed back against the points of Maher and Harris in way that left the blogosphere divided for a few weeks over who was right. While Maher and Harris pointed to examples of Islamic countries today being the most oppressive in the world, where basic human rights are under fire, Affleck defended liberals who do not condemn Islam in this way, because of the need to see the people in the religion as individuals, and simply paint them all with the same religious fanatical brush.

Affleck’s strongest part of the argument was when he tried to recalibrate the discussion around different variables of violence or oppression, rather than those his opponents were presenting. Muslim countries, those both enemies and allies of the US are places where women’s and gay rights are dismal, and also places where freedom of speech, especially when it connects to religious issues is strictly monitored. But Affleck chided Maher saying, “What is your solution? Just condemn Islam?...We’ve killed more Muslims than they’ve killed us, by an awful lot. We’ve invaded more Muslim countries than they’ve invaded ours, by an awful lot.” Affleck brings up a very good point and one that is lost in almost all discussions of the violent and oppressive core of Islam. What good are the freedoms that America espouses its peoples enjoy (in contrast to Islamic countries), if they are also the country most likely to bomb another country and restrict the freedom of others? What good is it to have a free and open public square in the United States, if it is also the one that so easily and almost thoughtlessly can go around destroying the public squares of others?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine Monument

Mr. Obama’s Pacific Monument

It’s safe to assume that most presidents have big ambitions and visions of lasting Rooseveltian achievement. Though, in recent history, the millstones of Washington’s pettiness and partisanship usually grind such dreams to dust. There are exceptions, which happen when presidents discover the Antiquities Act.

This is the law, used by Theodore Roosevelt and many successors, by which the executive can permanently set aside public lands from exploitation, building an environmental legacy with a simple signature and without Congress’s consent. This is how President Obama last week, in addition to everything else on his plate, created the largest marine preserve in the world.

He used his Antiquities Act authority to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles to nearly 500,000 square miles, a vast change. The monument is not one area but the ocean surrounding several coral-and-sand specks of United States territory that most Americans have never heard of and few will ever visit, like Wake and Johnston Atolls and Jarvis Island. The ocean there is relatively pristine and now will stay that way. Commercial fishing, seabed mining and other intrusions will not be allowed.

The monument is not as large as it could have been; Mr. Obama chose not to extend its boundaries out to the full 200-mile territorial limit for all the islands within it. Still, environmental groups are uniformly praising him for going as big as he did and for defying opposition from Hawaiian fishing interests whose loyalties lie with the producers of canned tuna. That industry has other places to fish; it will not suffer. But, at a time when the world’s oceans are threatened by rampant pollution, overfishing and climate change, the benefits of Mr. Obama’s decision will be profound, particularly if other countries now follow the United States’ excellent example.

Few of us will see these benefits directly. But out there beyond Honolulu, living in splendid isolation, are sharks, rays and jacks; coconut crabs; moosehorn, staghorn and brain corals; humpback and melon-headed whales; green and hawksbill turtles; bottlenose and spinner dolphins; and untold millions of boobies, curlews and plovers. All these, and countless other living things, will be better off.

Republicans will complain, but they should remember that it was President George W. Bush who created the monument. Mr. Obama only expanded it. Building an environmental legacy is an idea with bipartisan appeal.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Paluman Marianas #2: I Sihek

Eight years ago on my blog, I started a series titled "Paluman Marianas," meant to feature different native birds of the Marianas and my drawings or paintings of them. I only did one, for I Tettot or the Marianas Fruit dove, and never got around to posting another one. I have plenty of drawings and paintings that feature Guam's birds, in fact with my daughter Sumahi, I've added quite a few more. Sumahi loves to draw in general, but I've tried to teach her as much as I can about the native birds of the Marianas. She can name many of them, probably more than most kids nowadays. But sharing this part of our heritage with her reminded me of my long forgotten series of Paluman Marianas. I wanted to add another one today, #2: I sihek, the Micronesian Kingfisher.


Micronesian Kingfisher - Guam
Information courtesy of

The Micronesian kingfisher (Halcyon cinnamomina cinnamonina) is one of the world's most endangered bird species. In the 1980s, the Philadelphia Zoo took part in an emergency rescue operation to save the last 29 wild kingfishers from extinction on Guam and bring them back to the United States. The species is now extinct in the wild. The only remaining kingfishers-58 in all-are in United States zoos.

Today, the Philadelphia Zoo and several of its staff members play important roles in the conservation of the kingfisher. Beth Bahner, animal collections manager, is the studbook keeper for the Micronesian kingfisher (the studbook is the record of the history of the captive population). She is also the species coordinator for the AZA's Micronesian Kingfisher Species Survival Plan (SSP). In these important roles, Ms. Bahner helps manage the captive population of Micronesian kingfishers, deciding which animals should mate to keep the very small population as diverse and healthy as possible. Dr. Aliza Baltz, the Zoo's curator of birds, is the SSP's vice-coordinator and Barbara Toddes, director of nutrition programs, is one of the SSP's nutrition advisors.

The Zoo's work with the kingfisher dates back to 1983, when the Guam Bird Rescue Project was launched. The Philadelphia Zoo played a major role in the rescue and identification of the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) as the primary culprit in the demise of Guam's birds. Philadelphia also took the lead in the development of a captive-breeding program for the Guam subspecies of the Micronesian kingfisher (Halcyon cinnamomina cinnamonina), one of three bird species removed from the island for captive management. All but one pair of the 29 kingfishers captured on Guam between 1984 and 1986 came to the Philadelphia Zoo for quarantine and acclimatization.

At the time, no known record existed of this species in captivity. Thus, the Zoo's husbandry techniques had to be developed based on limited information about their natural history and past experiences with other unrelated species of kingfisher. Fortunately, initial efforts proved successful, and the program got off to a good start. The first captive hatch occurred at the Bronx Zoo in 1985 and the first successful parent-reared chick was hatched at the Philadelphia Zoo later that year. Taking advantage of the fact that we knew the origin of all of the wild-caught birds, Beth Bahner became the official AZA studbook keeper for the Micronesian kingfisher in 1986, compiling and tracking the history of the population for purposes of demographic and genetic management. In 1988 the program was elevated to an AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP), and by 1990 the population had grown to 65 birds in 21 institutions.

In the winter of 1990-1991, a freeze in Florida left zoos unable to obtain Anolis lizards, the mainstay of the captive diet. That year brought high mortality, including the loss of eight breeding-age females, which temporarily halted population growth. It remains unknown whether or not the absence of lizards contributed to this decline. The coincidence, however, led to an evaluation of feeding practices and nutritional analysis of the diet. Since then, the program has continued but at a slow pace, with hatches and deaths effectively canceling one another out. Population growth has been stymied by high mortality in birds in the two-to-six age class, with no one cause predominating. As of December 2002, the current population consists of 58 birds in 11 institutions.

The Micronesian Kingfisher SSP is now working with the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to update the Endangered Species Act Recovery Plan for this species. The primary goal of this program is to reintroduce this species on Guam (that is, release captive-bred birds back on the island). This depends, however, on our ability to maintain a captive population capable of sustaining such a reintroduction and having adequate controls in place to limit predation by the brown tree snake. The plan now is to return birds to Guam in 2003 for captive breeding, in the hope that the birds' natural environment and foods will help resolve some of the problems plaguing this population.

Despite the setbacks, staff members of the Philadelphia Zoo's animal department still hope one day to see the return of Micronesian kingfishers to Guam. The Philadelphia Zoo now holds five male and three female Micronesian kingfishers, all ranking within the top 10 most genetically valuable birds for each sex. The birds are currently housed in off-exhibit facilities in the large and small greenhouse propagation facilities, built specifically for the Guam Bird Rescue and the Hawaiian Bird Projects.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Between Chinese and Japanese

October 2, 2014 12:00 am JST

Yamaguchi dies at 94

YASUNOBU NOSE, Nikkei senior staff writer

Yoshiko Yamaguchi © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Wartime actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi, who later served 18 years in the upper house of the Japanese Diet, died of heart failure at her home in Tokyo on Sept. 7, her family announced. She was 94.

     She grew up in Japan-occupied Manchuria, which is now northeast China, and debuted under the Chinese screen name of Li Hsianglan (Ri Koran in Japanese) in 1938 as a member of the Manchuria Film Association. She broke out in Japan with the 1940 film "Shina no Yoru" ("China Nights"), starring opposite Kazuo Hasegawa. The song "Soshu Yakyoku" ("Suzhou Serenade"), which she sang in the film, also became a big hit.

     When she held a concert in Tokyo in 1941, there was famously a line for tickets that circled the theater more than seven times.

     After the war, she appeared in several films credited as Yoshiko Yamaguchi, including "Akatsuki no Dasso" ("Escape at Dawn") and director Akira Kurosawa's "Shubun" ("Scandal"), with actor Toshiro Mifune. She was also in several American films and stage productions.

     In 1951, she married Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, but they divorced about four years later. In 1958, she married a Japanese diplomat and temporarily left the entertainment scene. She returned in 1969, hosting a TV show, on which she reported on current affairs such as the Vietnam War and the Palestinian issue.

     In 1974, she was elected to Japan's upper house as a Liberal Democratic Party candidate. She served three consecutive terms until 1992, during which she held several portfolios, including parliamentary vice minister of environment.

     Among her books are autobiographies "Ri Koran wo Ikite" ("My Life as Li Hsianglan") and "Ri Koran -- Watashi no Hansei" (Half My Life as Li Hsianglan), the latter of which she co-authored. Both books tell of her life growing up with two homelands -- Japan and China -- during turbulent times, and were adapted into TV dramas and a musical.

Many stories, one life

Yamaguchi said her first memory was of a Chinese person being beaten to death by a Japanese soldier next to her home in the Manchurian city of Fushun, and served as an ominous precursor to the era of war in which she would grow up.

     Born in the Japanese puppet state of Manchuria, she became a singer for Mukden radio station before working in movies. Behind her early life loomed the national policies of militaristic Japan.

     She remembered that in those days she already felt guilty about having to pretend to be a Chinese actress named Li Hsianglan. "It was agonizing, really agonizing," she said about that time.

     In China after the war, she was put on trial as a traitor to China due to the belief that she was Chinese. She was able to prove that she was Japanese, and narrowly escaped execution. These struggles early in her life likely translated into her on-screen performances, often characterized by a calm demeanor and penetrating gazes.

     She maintained her captivating, starlike beauty even after leaving the stage and screen. She was known for her clear, lyric soprano voice, and her frequent laughter. But those who talked with her could not help but feel that she was also full of conviction and strength.

     Her home was filled with books on Manchuria and the history of the Showa era (1926-1989), which she said she read from time to time. Last year, when I spoke with her, she asked about herself, "Am I Japanese or Chinese?" Throughout her life, she never shied away from her position as someone torn between two lands.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nightmare in Malesso

The article below comes from the Liberation Day commemorative booklet published in 1994 on the 50th anniversary of the retaking of Guam by American forces during World War II. It covers the story of the men of Merizo/Malesso' in the south, who fought and killed the Japanese in their own village, liberating themselves prior to the US return. For the past six months I've been working with one of the last survivors of this fight against the Japanese, Mr. Jose Mata Torres, featured in the article. Hopefully in the next few weeks we'll be publishing his memoirs of the war titled Massacre at Atate. Until then, here is the article telling the story from a slightly different perspective, written by the late PJ Borja.  


Men escape nightmare in Merizo


So near, yet so far.

In July 1944, the ships of the U.S. Navy could be seen off Merizo, almost as close as the waves rushing over the reefs that fringe the southern village.

For Juan Atoigue Cruz, just 16 years old then, those ships were the stuff of dreams.

"I would think about, make this idea for myself, for me to swim out to the ships, maybe go out there in the dark. Then I'd think, they'd never see me in the dark if I swam out ...," he said in a recent interview. At that time in the occupation, Cruz was a slave laborer for the Japanese troops in Merizo preparing defenses against an American invasion force.

Little did he know that his wish to be aboard one of the ships would come true. On July 21, 1944, led by the late Jesus Barcinas, Cruz would be in a canoe paddling to one of the Navy ships off Merizo. With them were Jose Mata Torres, who is still living, Juan Meno Garrido, Joaquin Manalisay, and Antonio L.G. Cruz.

The men were escaping from Japanese soldiers who were becoming more and more brutal to the people of Merizo - Imperial Army troops all around the island were brutalizing Chamorros as the American forces prepared to retake the island. Women were being taken from villages and raped; beatings were more frequent.

But the soldiers, their brutality turned more evil. In Yigo, 51 men were killed in two different incidents; at Fena in the interior of southern Guam, a dozen Chamorros were executed; at Tai, in early July, three men were beheaded, soon to be followed by the Rev. Jesus Baza Duenas and his cousin Edward.

Merizo was not spared its share of tragedy. On July 15 at Tinta, 13 men and three women were massacred by Japanese soldiers; 14 people survived but only because soldiers who were tasked to kill the wounded were caught in a heavy downpour in the hilly area and they decided to return to their encampment. They were chosen for death because they were former members of the Insular Guard Force, or considered pro-American or rebellious to the Japanese.

A day later at Faha, 30 Merizo villagers were massacred by Japanese soldiers using grenades, machine guns and bayonets. There were no survivors.

The Faha victims, Cruz said, were chosen solely because of their physical size. He remembers one of them quite well: Vicente Acfalle Champaco, who was 6-foot, 7-inches tall or more. "They called him 'Carabao'," he said. Champaco was the owner of the canoe that would take Cruz, Torres, and other Merizo men to freedom.

Meanwhile hundreds of villagers were ordered to march to Manengon where the Japanese were incarcerating Chamorros to prevent them from assisting U.S. forces. in Merizo, people gathered their belongings and the Japanese made them leave food and other items at Tintinghanom.

After about three days' march, villagers were encamped for the night at Atate, up the Geus River valley.

Torres, Cruz and other boys earlier that day were sent back to Merizo to forage farms for chickens, pigs and vegetables; whatever they found, they were to bring them to Atate, Torres said.

Meanwhile, Jose Soriano Reyes and other men were ordered to go to Tintinghanom to also retrieve some food for the people at Atate. But at Atate was a large pit that villagers were earlier forced to dig. "My God, it was big - 50 feet by 50 feet square," said Cruz. "I was forced to work there one day and I helped dig some of that hole."

Reyes, who had heard through the grapevine the massacres at Tinta and Faha, was convinced that the pit was for the Merizo people now at Atate. He recruited about five men, some of whom were very scared, to attack their guards at Tintinghanom.

Despite being unarmed, they succeeded in killing the guards and taking their weapons. Shortly afterward, arriving at Tintinghanom were Cruz, Torres and other boys carrying food from the village's farms. "When we arrived there, we saw a guard they had killed, killed by Joe Reyes, and then Joe shot and killed the one guarding us. He was a big man, that guard," Torres said.

Killed by the same shot was 16-year-old Gregorio Santiago. "The bullet that hit the Japanese went right through him and hit Gregorio," Cruz said. Injured in the brief fight was Jose Garrido, who received a slight bullet wound on one of his elbows.

That fight over, they traveled toward Atate. Just before the camp, Reyes stopped the men and boys, who numbered about 15 or 16, and began planning the attack, Cruz said.

"He was telling us, assigned us to different places, to what place and what part of the camp, and then to kill the Japanese guarding there," Cruz said. Key to the attack was seizing the rifles of the guards after they had stacked them.

At the sound of a signal, with only Reyes armed with a gun, the men attacked the camp with sticks and crude clubs. "We fought them with our bare hands, but we killed them," Cruz said.

They managed to kill maybe eight guards but not before one of them shot at Reyes, Cruz said. "He had his rifle behind some boxes, and he shot Joe (Reyes)."

The shot missed Reyes. Unfortunately for the guard, at the time he was trying to shoot Reyes, the leader was hurriedly showing another man how to load and shoot a rifle so it could be used in the fight. "He was still behind the boxes but Joe just picked up the rifle he had and shot him. I think he shot him in the heart."

Torres said the attack on the guards at Atate was something they just had to do despite their fear. "We had never done anything before, until we thought they were going to kill us, kill us all - it's either them or us.

Only one Japanese guard survived, the civilian teacher of the village called "Wasi Sensei", Cruz said. He fled into the jungle.

After the fight, the Merizo men regrouped. Jesus Cruz Barcinas, a village leader, was in the jungle gathering food but hurried back to the camp when he heard shots. He was told that the reason for the attack was because the Japanese were thinking of killing all of the villagers there - thus the reason for the pit. "Sus (Barcinas) then asked for volunteers to go out to the ships, so we could get help for the people in the camps," Cruz said.

Cruz volunteered - for a very basic reason. "You know, in that time, you don't think about much - I just wanted to stay alive. If we didn't kill the Japanese, they were going to kill us."

Barcinas and Antonio L.G. Cruz had kept a canoe ready for such a situation for a year and a half. Though owned by Champaco, the boat was confiscated by the Japanese who gave it to Antonio so he could catch fish for them.

Always thinking ahead was Barcinas; he had anticipated a Japanese invasion of Guam in 1940 and had his children practice evacuating their home as though under attack. When Barcinas learned that the Japanese had given Cruz a boat, he told the man to take care of the canoe - it would be needed someday.

That day had arrived, but Barcinas and the volunteers still had to hike over hills and through jungle trails to reach the canoe. The boat was located at A'an, in the area where Naputi's Store is now, about 100 feet toward the Inarajan side of the village, Cruz said.

Torres said the attack at Atate ended about 5 p.m. on July 20, and it took the men until 1 a.m. to reach the shore.

The journey was like a bad dream - being chased in the dark by an unseen enemy. Torres said the experience that night was fearful. "Here we were, we had already killed some Japanese, and we didn't know how it would all end. There was a lot of trauma, and sometimes you don't want to think about it. I was scared the whole time."

Once at the coast, the men had another obstacle - a camp where the Japanese stayed in the village, about 100 feet from the canoe. To get to the boat, the men crawled on the ground, careful not to alert the 75 or so soldiers nearby, Cruz said.

Once at the boat, the men lifted it and took it to the shore, their task in evading the Japanese assisted by darkness. But their voyage to freedom was to be delayed. "Oh, it was a very low tide, we had to carry the canoe maybe two hundred feet out to the water," Cruz said.

He noted it was a big canoe - "it can carry maybe 15 men" - perhaps because of the size of its owner, the 6-foot, 7-inch Champaco.

Once in the channel, the men paddled furiously to Cocos Island, where they spent the night, waiting for the dawn so they could see the ships outside the Merizo lagoon.

Cruz said during the night - actually it was the morning of July 21 - the men kept busy. There was no time for sleep or dreams.

Four of the men went about the island checking for any Japanese presence and found none. The group also gathered coconuts to eat at sea.

Torres also noted that the boat was looked over. "We spent some time fixing the boat, fixing the outrigger. It had been unattended for a bit, and we had to make sure, see if it was sea-worthy."

Torres said that during the night, the men also watched something to the north. "We saw that there were these flashes of light, like lightning. We didn't know what they were, but now we know that it was the Navy (shelling Japanese positions in support of the Marines)."

A little after dawn, with the tide high, the men pushed off Cocos and their voyage to freedom continued.

They approached what appeared to be a destroyer, but their attention was captured by a plane. "When we started going out there, there was a plane behind us, and then it started going down, down, down, and I knew it was going to shoot us. So I took out my two feet and put them on the side of the canoe and when the plane is still coming, on top of us, I threw myself down and stayed under the canoe," Cruz said.

When the canoe got to within 50 feet of the ship, the vessel steamed off, sailing toward Orote Point. "Oh, that made me feel bad. But with what we did, we had made up our minds that we weren't going to go back, go back to Merizo again. We were going to continue, to go out in open ocean, regardless if they don't pick us up," Cruz said.

"We weren't going to turn back, nai, because the Japanese were going to kill us if we turn back to Merizo," he said.

There were other ships, though, plenty of other ships, the men said. Torres said it seemed that there were hundreds and hundreds of ships; Cruz watched the first ship sail away, but taking its place were ships of every size and shape. "That one went to Orote, but there's a lot of ships. You can almost walk on the ships and reach the harbor, the harbor in Sumay."

Determined, the men paddled toward another ship, and this time, the vessel approached. Once near the ship, its crew seemed to hesitate to pick them up, but then someone, probably an officer, issued an order and the men were allowed to climb onto a net and then aboard the vessel, the USS Wadsworth. It was about an hour and a half since they had left Cocos, Cruz said.

"It's hard to say how I felt," Cruz said. "But when I saw that ship coming, I guess I'm lucky I didn't have a heart attack - I was just so happy - and I knew that I was going to be free; I was going to be a free man."

On board, the crew of the Wadsworth was anxious to get information from their counterparts aboard the canoe. "When we got on the ship, they were asking us, 'Did you see the Marines?'," Torres said. "We said, 'What Marines?'. They told us that the Marines were landing." The men sailed aboard the Wadsworth and were soon transferred to the USS Clymer, a transport ship.

The men, who were under-nourished, were checked by Navy doctors, fed, given a hair cut, and issued dungarees. Sailing off Agat, the men stayed aboard for about four or five days, helping the Navy staff with information about the island, Japanese defenses and the areas were civilians were located.

On the 22nd, the Navy had picked up a second canoe and five more men from Merizo - Jesus Cruz Anderson, Tomas Tajalle, Felipe Santiago Cruz, Jesus Cruz Castro, and Joaquin Cruz Barcinas, who was the youngest brother of Jesus Barcinas. All, except Castro who joined them later, survived the massacre at Tinta.

Days later, after the two groups were taken ashore to the secure Agat beachhead, four more Merizo men on a canoe were rescued - Frank Anderson, his son John, Joe Mansapit, and Joe Quinene.

The four men from the second canoe had lived to tell about the massacre at Tinta, but those in Jesus Barcinas' group did not know anyone had survived the attack. "Sus Barcinas was shocked, because he knew his brother was at that cave ... in Tinta. He didn't know his brother was alive," Cruz said.

"He looked down and he saw his brother Joaquin on that small boat, you know, by the side of the flagship, he was just... "He didn't know that his brother was still alive. He was crying and when his brother got up top, they started hugging, crying."

Yes, the stuff dreams are made of.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Typhoon Dependency

In this picture, former Governor of Guam Manuel Guerrero is seen talking to US Navy officers during the rehabilitation period following the devastation caused by Typhoon Karen in 1962. Typhoons Karen and Pamela were not only devastating in a physical sense, in that they caused a great deal of damage, they were also devastating and transformative in a social sense, in that the island that was rebuilt after them was very different than the one that had just been obliterated. After both of these typhoons, the US Federal government assisted in rebuilding, even to the point where not only did people start building concrete homes, but new division through new subdivisions were also formed. The days of wooden homes and tin roofing was over for many people after these storms as the reconstruction money allowed them to build new and sturdier homes.

But the changes from these typhoons goes even further. When Chamorros receive aid from the US, it helped to reaffirm a particular type of relationship that Chamorros felt they had and have to their colonizer, a wholly unequal one, where one suffers and the other liberates. Just as the Chamorro suffering in Mannengon in 1944 is liberated by the US Marine, the Chamorro suffering in the wake of Pamela or Karen is also liberated by Uncle Sam, albeit in primarily financial ways. The aid that the Federal government offered during the rebuilding of the island following these typhoons helped to both solidify this subordinated relationship, but also help it to evolve and take on new more relevant forms. It is not so much that Karen or Pamela were like the Japanese pummeling the poor Chamorros into submission. It was more that whatever particular problem Chamorros had, Uncle Sam had the answer, and the solution was always to be found through more dependency. 

In 1962, most of the programs people on Guam take for granted today were not offered to all people on Guam, including Chamorros. While a discourse already existed that insisted that the United States was responsible for the freedom of Chamorros, there wasn't yet that irritating idea of Chamorros constantly suckling on Uncle Sam's teat. The US Navy had loved to promote that idea prior to the war in right afterwards, but Chamorros themselves still saw themselves as being self-sufficient and robust. Typhoons and war changed all that and we have what we exist in today, pervasive, depressing notions of crippling Chamorro dependency. So much of it start in innocuous ways, with Chamorros getting help from the Federales after a typhoon, and then naturalizing this acceptance and naturalizing this relationship.

It is sort of strange to be talking about typhoons like this when we haven't had a very serious typhoon in 10 - 12 years depending on how you rank the most recent typhoons we've had. So many of my students have no conception of what a typhoon is or what it was capable of.

My students seem to think that typhoon means, you get a day off from school. They seem to think it is a day when their grandparents freak out and make everyone come over and put up shutter and taken down tarps. They seem to think that typhoon means the governor takes pictures talking to Naval officers while wearing a windbreaker.

I wonder everytime we get a scare like we did recently over Vongfong, how the island would handle having a typhoon nowadays. 


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