Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Of Rocks and Weeds

The bank I worked for was once owned by the British. The Brits are a fun lot, dry of wit and sharp of mind. But they are human, too. I know because one of the top Brits, a very handsome and polished guy, was busy banging the secretary in the Public Relations department. It's not that he had bad taste, for she was a doll, blond of hair, blue of eyes and cheerful of disposition; but she was married. So was he, come to think about it. I guess bent values come with ego and opportunity.

But that is just grits for the swill. I learned a lot from one Brit in particular, a brilliant, arrogant intellectual who had banked in South America before coming to the USA. He was Noriega's banker for a time, visiting him in jail to handle his financial dealings. The Brit banker believed that one should develop a set of principles that stand as guideposts through the chaos of life or business practices. And stick with them.

He did that, and I've tried to do that over the years as well. I find the discipline enlightening, if not always easy.

Some of these principles are copied from others, but, hey, wisdom is where you find it. Some examples:

Secondary effort, allowed to thrive, will overwhelm primary effort.” If we only do what is comfortable, rather than what is important, then we will soon fail. Appointing a cousin to a job is easier than finding a truly skilled practitioner, and it keeps harmony in the family, and working with the cousin is easier than dealing with someone who knows more than we do, but hiring an incompetent cousin will not get competent work done.

Ask why five times.” We often look at the superficial reasons for things. If we dig deeper, we get to the fundamentals. Only when we change the fundamentals can we get something done. To end corruption, it is important to understand the role poverty plays in forcing people to do what they must do to eat, and it is important to understand the role ineffective punishment – a Judiciary that is bogged down in a backlog of 300,000 cases – has in permitting crime to persist. Do something about these fundamentals rather than looking to stop corruption by shaking a stick at it.

If we were meant to do nothing, to stay the same, God would have made us in the image of rocks. Or weeds that stay rooted, live, and die, achieving little more than populating the globe with more weeds. To grow is to live. One reason the Philippines is a laggard nation is its hardheaded resistance to anything that smacks of criticism, change, innovation or application.

Whoa . . . What do you mean by 'application', Joe? I was with you until then.”

Application is what you do after you have listened to the criticism, agreed that change is needed and thought about what has to happen. Then you DO something about it. Alas, the Philippines is landlocked in a sea of need but couldn't find a rubber boat if Teodoro put his fleet up on the beach. The ability to get from problem to solution is absent, non-existent, gone with the wind.

Take the rampant overbirthing that drowns the islands in a sea of hungry mouths and produces young girls as commodities to sell into the sex trade.

Everyone sees the problem. There is not enough rice, not enough money to go around. Schools are overpopulated and under staffed. Good jobs are lacking. People beg, borrow and steal to eat.

But where is the solution?

The moral pinning of the nation is anchored in the Catholic faith, but the loud and self-certain elite of red clothed robes - or purple or yellow on some days, but always cheerful – somehow connect education and condoms with abortion and loss of life. These self-declared profound people offer no solutions to poverty but make birth control sound as if it emanated from the mouth of Satan himself. Meanwhile many of those precious lives the church is so “pro” are living a miserable existence. The church turns its head on all the coathanger abortions taking place in the ghettos as if these unfortunate women were so many abused choirboys calling desperately for help. To the church, these lives are worth ignoring. But a wayward drop of sperm in a plastic bucket needs their passionate prayers and protection.

And the landlocked elders of the land with heads of concrete, families of mediocre skill, and values of money do nothing.

And the youth go mindlessly from here to there texting and dancing.

No one has a clue about how to end the misery that infests the land. No one has any idea how to achieve, to improve, to grow. How to DO something. The leadership is so many babbling elders pontificating as if they were God's gift to us, and having absolutely no clue as to where to begin. They are lost in a muddle of trees unattached to any known forest. The distinction can be found in the Constitution. The US Constitution is short and pithy, providing the essential rights and responsibilities of citizens and government and leaving intricate interpretations to the lawmakers and courts. The Philippine constitution plagiarizes the US wisdoms, but tosses in a mountain load of minutiae as if wisdom were to be found in the quantity of words rather than the quality. This prized instrument of democracy becomes but another mindless set of authoritarian rules with no reason for being. And it is ignored.

The Philippines, as a collective of government and people, falls way short of its potential. It does not take a rocket scientist or Cambridge sociologist to eyeball the achievement, improvement and growth of the Philippines and say, “Hmmmmm, got a laggard here.”

For stalwart Filipinos who believe this is the way we are and it is not for an outsider to critique it, I can only say, “I agree”. You are what you are, and you need not be anything better. You need not DO anything. That is your right.

Weeds are an important part of the ecosystem.

Standard disclaimer. Wear the shoe only if it fits. There are many good and competent and well-meaning and intelligent and hard-working Filipinos. I'm referring to the others. The Philippines is also drop-dead gorgeous and I wish y'all would stop dumping your trash all over paradise.


  1. Here's a fun fact: The US Constitution - 8,014 words, not counting the signatures. The Philippine Constitution - 21,716 words, not counting the signatures, nor several pages' worth of exacting description of legislative district apportionments (which have all changed anyway).

    Brevity is the soul of wit.

  2. Say, Ben. Nice proprietary web site you cobbled together. I did not count the words, but it was fun to browse. Keep those guns firing . . .

  3. Thanks. That was my present to me, from me, for being such a good boy this year.

    I don't count the words, either.

  4. The framers of the U.S. Constitution was delegated by great men. Even to this day, our American government and its governance wants to pursue and revise its content(s). It is the most, valued written paper that the American people have written. Those worthy cause by such great men, our forefathers of this great nation, United States of America.

    The people of this great Nation, will always remain firm or steadfast, of its contents.

    As for Philippines government, they just keep re-writing its Constitution for unworthy cause.
    It leads its people into chaos and unstable society. Until then...[...]

  5. If brevity is the greatest virtue of a constitution the British one (zero words, no signatures) would be hard to beat.

    John (dry of wit, sharp of mind and not banging anyone I shouldn't)

  6. fatticus,

    Well clearly you are dry of wit and sharp of mind and I'll take you at your word for the rest.


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