Saturday, July 31, 2010

It Really Fries My Bacon

What is it about dysfunction that comes so easily to the Philippines?

I spent a little time researching Philippine initiatives on climate change. I am fascinated by global warming and the climate changes it is producing, real time, in our lifetimes. Al Gore won the Nobel Prize a few years ago for his work to elevate awareness. Skeptics exist, mainly those who want to make money and are willing to sell our kids down the pike betting that the relentless uptick in global temperatures is merely balmy weather.

The Philippines sits right smack in the middle of Typhoon Alley and faces a geo-logistical nightmare to manage food, energy and water for 7,000 islands. Wait until half of Mindanao turns to desert. You might think climate change would be a priority.

And it is, in the tried and true way of Filipino bluster and neglect, useless engagement and waste, incomprehensible stupidity and zero achievement.

President Arroyo signed into law the Climate Change Act of 2009. February 9, 2009. Lots of pomp, circumstance and photos of the little lady being progressive. The Act created the Climate Change Commission, gave the Commission 50 million pesos to get started, and ordered that a “Framework Strategy” be developed within six months.

Sounds good, eh? Crisp, authoritative, competent, forward looking, driving the Philippines into the modern era of climate change awareness and response.

Ummmm, not quite.

First of all, check out this language in the Act:

It shall be the policy of the state to incorporate a gender-sensitive, pro-children and pro-poor perspective in all climate change and renewable energy efforts, plans and programs.”


What does gender have to do with rising seas, more intense storms and changing micro-climates within the Philippines?

But sure enough, there in the mandate to the Commission for development of the Framework Strategy, last item, as if they were scratching their heads and trying to figure what this rhinoceros is doing in the playpen, you will find:

Gender Mainstreaming”

Whatever the frick that means. Now I guess I had better go back and read Al Gore's writings again, as I don't recall that global warming degraded our gender sensitivity, but perhaps there was some wayward phenomenon caused by too much wind or melting icebergs in the tropics that I fail to recall.

Oh, and catch the make-up of the Commission. It is chaired by the President, as if she (he now) did not have enough to do without organizing the agenda for the nation's climate change initiatives. Rounding out the Commission are three people the President appoints. That is the Commission. Manny, Moe and Curly . . . led by Groucho in drag.

I figure it was an honor to be appointed a Commissioner and be in such close proximity to P 50 million.

There is an Advisory Board of 23 members . . . essentially the President's Cabinet members plus a throw-in or two. High level. Busy people. They need this headache like another Ondoy roaring through the Intramuros. They probably get a few spiffs from the fund, too.

The last time 23 people got together and recommended anything useful was when the camel emerged from the work of the Advisory Board on the Creation of a Horse.

But sure enough, the Strategy Framework was eventually developed. It was released in April, 2010, about six months after it was due. It contained 12 very generalized directions and zero . . . count them . . . zero specific actions.

And we wonder why PAGASA is still forecasting weather by throwing rice chaff in the air to test the wind, and predicting rainfall amounts by looking at the color of the clouds over there.

What happened to the P50 million, you figure? That is about P4 million for each general strategic direction written down on paper.

Now you sense my sarcasm getting thicker with each sentence, eh?

Keep reading.

A few weeks ago, a Commissioner blew his cork when he found out that a P105 billion loan from France, intended generally but not specifically for climate preparedness, had been dumped into the general budget without the Commission even being advised of the money's arrival. Yes, that is billion with a “b”. The French Embassy, doing a kind two-step, said the money really did not have to be used for a specific purpose and climate change was just guidance. I think the fine print included a French chuckle and a wink about the interest rate, and maybe an “oooo la la, zees peeples ees reeley funny.”

So now the Commission sits as close to dormant as it is possible to get and still have a heart-beat. Its web site reports “Site Under Construction” for any web page of significance. Broke, busted and out to lunch.

And the storms come whistling through. The seas creep upward. And Manila's water disappears until the first typhoon of the season dumps a load.

Nero, thy name is Arroyo . . .

Poor President Aquino, so many needs, so little money left. Perhaps it would be wise to reconsider that “no new taxes” commitment. The longer you hang onto that leaky boat, the deeper the ship sinks into the seas, and the seas are very deep hereabouts and . . . ahahaha . . . getting deeper every year.

By the way, about a year ago, I wrote a plan for addressing climate change in the Philippines. It was three pages, had specific goals and timetables, and took me about four hours. Issue a mandate and format for cities and municipalities to plan for climate change. Measure elevations and map them. Revise zoning. Evaluate dikes vs relocation for low-lying areas. Prioritize food and water sourcing. Revise building codes. Get the houses out of the runoff drainage channels. That sort of thing.

But I would not be so presumptuous or arrogant as to lay this thinking across the table for the Philippine Government to consider. Like the Anti-Pinoy web site, these ego-barons tend to resist outside thinking, preferring to bask in their own crustacean thinking . . . which is mainly focused on the glory of how well they look in their own eyes.

Truly, it is best not to turn over rocks around here. Nothing but snakes and spiders and gargantuan centipedes crawl out from under them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Silencing of the Lambs

The modern whiz-bang real-time era of videos and tweets and blogs and social networking sites and hundreds of cable television channels offering up everything from fake diamonds to porn is putting governments under duress and our social fabric under strain.

China tries fruitlessly to keep its billions of residents protected from the onslaught of information that might undermine control of its Government by Committee, trying the lawyers of Google and the patience of the Committee. Google wants to give its customers around the world unfettered access to search results. The Committee wants to avoid chaos caused by free thinking.

The US political machine is ensnarled in bitter partisan debates of sound bite and spin, where every quip is a potential candidate maker or candidate breaker. Issues are played out in press conferences and video clips on news programs, all with a slant, so left or right, you can find your partisan perspective. Truth? What is that? It is what it is defined it to be. President Bill Clinton was oh so wise when he said, beads of sweat popping out on his forehead, “It depends on what the definition of 'is' is.”

Wars are brought into the living room where we can see office towers collapsing as if choreographed by Steven Spielberg and the march of American caskets across the TV screen turning stomachs and will against the fight. Never mind that the next step by terrorists who don't care about such trivialities as the death of innocents could be the destruction of a whole city. Maybe New York. That is in the future, does not exist, does not count. Out of sight, out of mind. No, we are in the now, real time. A reality detached from . . . well . . . reality.

That, then, is the problem.

With more powerful and more immediate access to information, we find that our environment assumes the proportions of a surreal motion picture, with little dramas played out before our eyes and fictions, deceits, and manipulations so rampant that they form the new truth. Truth is a variable, not a constant. The drama of reality shows turns television into an emotional test tube where we amoebae get our chuckles and tears from the cheers and fears of others, as if we were there. As if life were meant to be that.

The educational level of discourse collapses to the lowest common denominator, about grade 8, as blog sites and chat rooms become infested with inane perspectives masking as wit and bluster pretending to be wisdom.

New expressions arrive daily, lol, and the courtesies we knew before erode, calling elders sir or holding the chair for the lady. It is dog eat dog, the intimidators and amoral manipulators in control of the agenda and the discussion. It is a confused new world. To be silenced, to be held captive by distortion - to sacrifice truth and honor and integrity to deceit and manipulation and illusion - is the way of the lamb. The way of the lamb is to accept that big brother is not some master government spying on our daily affairs, but the collective of deceits wielded by half-wits and scam artists. And to succumb unknowingly to them.

I choose the lion. I choose to walk with my eyes open, aware of the falsehoods bombarding every medium around me. I choose to remain unattached to someone else's definition of truth, or to cram my brain into some wee little box others would hold up as righteous. I choose to resist being packaged, stamped, and mailed to the rest home by minds pretending the knowledge of Jesus.

I'll walk alone, thanks, head up, enjoying the sunshine and rain equally.

Although I suspect I am not really alone.

Isolation is just another distortion, the temporary inability of people with integrity to connect and hold their ground against the unwholesome flood of ulterior motive.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Anti-Pinoy: Deceit or Honor?

The Anti-Pinoy (AP) community blog site is the brain child of US resident Filipino BongV. The site was enriched when, exasperated by the editorial restrictions on the FilipinoVoices (FV) community blog site, Benign0 and BenK joined BongV with the aim of building a more open and robust counter to the FV site. Benign0 is a Filipino who works in Australia. He founded the “Get Real” web site and its seminally critical view of Filipinos, Philippine society and Philippine governance. BenK, like Joe America, is an American transplant who lives full time in the Philippines.
The hallmark of the AP site was “no censorship”. It has been a brazen, boastful, attack-minded site largely critical of Noynoy Aquino. Indeed, President Aquino remains the main subject of much AP commentary.
The articles for the most part are intelligent, the comments wide-ranging. However, AP largely promotes an agenda rather than search for new understandings from dialogue. Much of the time the conversation reduces to personal insults and chat-room repartee. Amongst the rubble are gems that make visiting the site worthwhile.
AP broke new ground when it removed Joe America's comments from the site on July 17, 18, and 20, 2010. He had been arguing against the grain for respect for the President as a democratic or patriotic principle, a view that got him labeled pro-Aquino, a critique that missed the point entirely but fit into the simplistic slander and tear-down mode of arguing. He did not swear, name-call, or in other ways abuse readers. He only disagreed and tried to state a point.
The remarks were later returned to the site after the discussion threads had grown crowded and stale, and where the comments were out of sync with the original sequence of remarks. It wasn't exactly banning Joe; it was diluting and harassing him, possibly in hopes he would storm off. As the AP founders did, from FV.
Now, I must be consistent here and say that it is entirely the blog editor's right to edit comments. AP is a private blog site that will rise or fall according to it's content. I don't view the deletions as censorship, as there are many outlets of expression open to me. It is just blatantly hypocritical and illustrates the vendetta-minded approach that anchors much of the commentary on AP. Amusing to me, the AP operating method is consistent with the dysfunctional old-school Filipino style of “my way or the highway” intimidation, thuggery, and reaching for the gun. Or the blogger's equivalent, deleting posts.
Another amusing thing is, you can go back and read my comments and they are rich with compliments toward BongV, Benign0 and BenK, because I think they are all bright, thoughtful, capable people and writers. They cause me to think. I don't read them because I always agree with what they say, but because them help me comprehend the Philippines and my engagement with the oddities (from a Western perspective) of Filipino society.
BongV's strength is his ability to acquire information on the internet and post reams of historical, definitional, or insightful analysis in a short time. He is acerbic, occasionally witty and personable, but evidently very bitter about how he was treated when he was in the Philippines. He can dish out criticism but perhaps can't tolerate the same treatment aimed at him. Perhaps I entered his personal cross-hairs and was shot.
Benign0 has, in my view, the deepest Filipino mind on the internet. He doesn't just look at the events, he looks at the reasons, the dynamics that create them, and the personal failings that are behind the dysfunction that is rampant in the Philippines. He sees things that the rest of us don't, and is very skilled at putting them into words, words that often sting for their ability to slice and dice right into people's vulnerabilities. I've had to concede many an argument to his superior perspectives.
BenK is much like me, a pragmatist who enjoys writing and experiencing a culture that is different from the one he experienced in the US. Whereas I blow off into the winds on words that go astray searching for literary clout, he stays practical and constructive. He deals with issues as issues, and only when it is the only resort will he label an idiot an idiot.
Frick, Flack and Frack.
Gotta respect them, appreciate them, no matter the number of flies in their assorted ointments. Keeping to the positive tenor of my remarks, there is no need to mention the many maggots born of those flies. . .
AP: Deceit or honor? Some of both, I reckon. But a site that executes, by editorial fiat, personal vendetta's that are not linked to any publishing criteria such as obscenity or irrelevance? Wow, how the icing has dripped from the AP cake. At least FV published standards that guided its decisions. Disagreement with a post was not one of them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Anti-Pinoy Thugs

Words are great fun, eh? One of my favorites is “epiphany”. Elegant, ephemeral, artistic, profound. Angels singing hallelujah against the brilliant rays of the rising sun, casting elation across a big internal sky of fluffy white clouds. Cool word.

Thug” is nice, too. Dumb. Physical. Heavy, like the clubs used.

Anyway, I had an epiphany the other day as I was engaged in a bit of spat with the Anti-Pinoy blogsite founder, who uses the screen name “BongV”. Now I hold a great deal of respect for BongV, as he is a quick-draw internet maven able to provide reams of relevant information on any issue, he is a successful professional in the US, he operates charity endeavors benefitting kids, I agree with a lot of his observations about flaws in Filipino society, and I particularly appreciate the historical basis he provides for the current state of the State.

But I have been troubled by the Anti-Pinoy method which generally tends to gang up on and name-call anyone who disagrees with the AP line of thought. Try patriotically to support President Aquino and you will be filleted and fried.

The epiphany came when BongV issued a threat to me. It was a small one, nothing serious. Something on the order that if I wanted to play the game (of disagreeing with the AP line), I better be prepared.

My response was that this was simply old-school Filipino way of reaching for intimidation first and the gun second.

Suddenly, all the dominoes clacked into place, ringing up five's and multiples thereof at every combo.

The AP crowd behaves just like the Filipino government and power-based society the AP writers criticize. Clannish. Rich with intimidation. Ego-bound. Unable to listen or hear contrary views. Unwilling to put in place an architecture for building, always willing to tear down.

If ever there were a black pot, it is AP. Precious little refined consideration that the world is populated by individuals who have different backgrounds, thoughts, needs, and points of view. Little give, lots of totalitarian push.

Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of good thinking on AP. And the site inspires good thinking (along with some bad thinking, I fear). It has gotten richer and deeper and less shrill with maturity, while rival FilipinoVoices has dwindled through lack of commitment and passion.

But the method is exclusionary, not inclusionary. It drives out opposing views through insult. It doesn't teach, it lectures. It has set in place a dividing line between AP and FV. It does not welcome dissent. AP's passion is painting people black or white, for us or against us. The passion is spent bringing well-intentioned people down rather than applying the energy to hearing, respecting, and incorporating different views in a wholesome community.

Frankly, the site is so . . . so . . . so . . . Filipino.

How would this observation go down on AP? I'd be labeled a crybaby for seeing and saying what I see and say.

I dunno.

Indeed, sometimes I whine with the best of them. But I see a lot of hypocrisy in AP, an operational method that mirrors the power-mongering dysfunction that they criticize, of not being open to new perspectives and approaches, of being unable to articulate an agenda for building.

Too many thugs, not enough diplomats perhaps. Too many agendas to push and not enough exploratory science. Too much looking back and not enough building for the future.

A site in its teens, pimply and full of itself; not yet in adulthood but, indeed, growing . . .

It is a fun place to visit if you like to risk a verbal “Wipeout” now and then.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Of Snakes and Wives

I've been remiss in writing here. Part of it is the distraction of building a home, where my wife is the informal general contractor and I am the chief nag and bone-picker. I don't know when our roles got reversed, she started wearing the pants, and I got relegated to second fiddle in the fief. Or third. I think the kid is second. Maybe I'm fourth, as we have a housekeeper . . .

It started benign enough, me the pompous, well-organized American, her the smiling and docile Filipino. But, as in most marriages, it takes a couple of years to get to know the real person, to get past the showmanship of dating and the out-of-body effort we give in the early years, prepping and preening and doing our farts outside, as if we never had gas. Then reality sets in, slowly, like a glacier grinding down the hillside inching huge boulders into sand. One day the realization sets in that we have gotten rid of the plastic covers and are dealing with each other real time, face to face.

Sometimes it ain't pretty.

I think what has happened is that my pompous bluster has ceded to her head-like-a-brick insistence that she knows best. That she usually does is beside the point. She is a traditional Filipino, engaging her interests first and the rest of us get her kind attentions in their proper order. Sometimes the order is never.

But I can always tell she loves me, when, after a fight which oft extends into the night, she cooks bacon and eggs in the morning.

Another reason she wears the pants is because her fundamental skill at managing things is beyond compare. She was a poor kid who barely eked out a high school degree, what with the years off tending to this kid or that field along the way. Had a benevolent uncle not emerged during her formative years, who knows what might have happened. But she deals with construction people with humor and demand, and they respect the little lady. She gets things done.

Oh, sure, she has the typical Filipino style of dealing with things as they happen rather than thinking ahead and planning them. Damn if I can get her to set times for appointments, as people drift in and out of our place on their own schedules, and because everybody is loosey goosey, no one has difficulty with the non-structured agenda except me.

So I go out and wander amongst the bamboo on our property, admiring the snakes to be found there, and let her tend to the chaos. The prettiest snake is some four feet long, black of body and yellow of head. He looks right at you, and I am inclined to want to pet him like a tame dog, but something in the back of my head says that is not such a hot idea. So we both just amble on, remote but wary friends.

Sort of like me and BongV, I suppose, as we both eye the other as the snake, but one worth respecting.

But I digress.

My wife.

One should never mistake quiet for shyness. This quiet cutie will read riot to the hardware store owner for sending out cement a grade below that ordered, making him take the whole load back. I think her next step would be to go for the gun.

As I said, she is a fairly typical Filipino.

Ooops, will finish this later. She needs someone to take care of the kid while she gets her nails done. I don't know where the housekeeper is today. Probably out having her hair done . . . brb

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Vanities of the Philippines

Okay, I've got it. Crystal clear, thanks to a few slaps in the face on and the brutal but perceptive views of The Judge.

Here's my blatantly unstatistical take on things, generalizations so gross that they should be used for nothing other than make you think.

Filipinos come in three basic styles: (1) The Vain, (2) The Worker, (3) The Modern Man.

The Vain

This is an ego-bound person of little consideration for others. It is his way or the highway and money is his prime motivation. Civic duty means little, even if the Vain holds public office; self-gain is what is important, not the people's well-being. We often think of this as a class of oligarchs, who, indeed often fit the picture. But they have already made big money, that's all. The Vain belongs to a much broader class of Filipino and can even be found on common blog sites. You can identify them by their resistance to ideas from others, protecting their home turf as if they were some Ampatuan on a verbal binge. They collect into clans for comfort. In addition to being closed to opposing ideas, they are vengeful. Those on line use name-calling or other deceits to try to demolish anyone who would have the gall to oppose their thinking. Those on land occasionally reach for a gun. If these on-line people had money, they would be ego-bound oligarchs too, although they would mightily contest this observation. You see . . . their MOTIVATION is the same. Self protection, self build up, tearing down the perceived competition. Win, even if the cost is a poorer Philippines.

The Worker

This is a more innocent and committed soul. By innocent, I mean he knows he has no power to leverage, but must feed his family, so he crawls out of bed every day to work the fields, clean the highways, pedal his tricycle, man the call center, or carry the bricks. He laughs easily, especially at the shortcomings of his friends or co-workers, but has a serious edge to what he does. Feeding the family with no assured future is serious business. He may cheat a little around the edges, for, after all, his life is full of drudgery and you grab ease where you can. But he is fundamentally a good man. He is the heart and soul of the nation.

The Modern Man

I haven't really met very many of them, but I think there may be quite a few around. Or they are at least developing, in other countries, perhaps, or through the wisdoms to be gained on the internet. The Man is driven by achievement and fair play; competition, skill, honesty, confidence and consideration of others are the hallmarks of this Filipino. He is a principled person, not afraid of change, and includes kindness toward others among his principles. The Man is often a woman. He is the future of the nation.

Where do you put yourself?

C'mon, be honest now.