Sunday, July 31, 2011

For Men Only

Black Dog the pirate. The Admiral Benbow inn. Mad Ben Gunn. Long John Silver. Billy Bones. Captain Flint. Young Jim Hawkins. Doctor Livesey. Captain Smollett. Israel Hands. Old Blind Pew. Muskets afire and cutlasses a'swiping. Bodies falling. Maps and blood. Ghosts and terror. Dark duplicity. Evil hearts. Honor. Respect. Trust. Betrayal. Bravery. Victory.

Treasure Island (1883)

This is a book for boys who would be men and men who would be boys.

Everything Johnny Depp hoped to portray in Pirates of the Caribbean was concocted by Robert Louis Stevenson in Treasure Island.

There is one woman in the entire book, the mother of young Jim. She lasts about three pages.

The rest is a tale of men, of power and sweat and cowardly acts. Of fighting on the rigging and sneaking through the jungle at night.  Of guts and glory and standing man to man. Of death. Of life.

Long John Silver is a one-legged pirate, the ship's cook by day, the leader of cutthroat pirates the rest of the time. "Barbeque" is his handle. Captain Flint is his parrot.

Jim Hawkins is the young hero of the story, a boy turned man by murder and treachery. The treachery of Long John Silver. But Silver's fortunes hang by a thread, for he will hang from the yardarm for piracy if he cannot get off the island where the treasure is buried. He captures Jim and holds him for ransom. But his fortunes are snapped on the discovery of an empty hole where the treasure was supposed to be:

There never was such an overturn in this world. Each of these six men was as though he had been struck. But with Silver the blow passed almost instantly. Every thought of his soul had been set full-stretch, like a racer, on that money; well, he was brought up in a single second, dead; and he kept his head, found his temper, and changed his plan before the others had had time to realise the disappointment.

'Jim,' he whispered, 'take that, and stand by for trouble.'

And he passed me a double-barrelled pistol.

And speaking of islands.

Robinson Crusoe (1719)

When you spend 28 years alone on an island visited by savage man-eating cannibals who come only to feast from their grisly menu, you don't have a lot of dates. Women are not relevant. A fortress of live trees is relevant, and clothes of animal skin. Goats are relevant. Man Friday is relevant, a voice to talk to, whether intelligible at first or not. Connections are made of the heart, not words.

We meet Robinson's benevolent widow caretaker at the outset and end, warm, loyal, loving bookends. Robinson marries when he gets off the island. But his  wife is  dismissed in one sentence, a small punctuation mark, a comma, in the rich adventure  that was his life:

In the meantime, I in part settled myself here; for first of all I married, and that not either to my disadvantage or dissatisfaction, and had three children, two sons and one daughter. But my wife dying, and my nephew . . .

That's it. So much for married life, cast against adventure.

You read this book to enter the secret mind of every boy, not to read of squishy romance and lilac perfume and horny sex. Robinson Crusoe draws the dreams of youthful men to one place, and it is an island. 

A rebellious boy goes against the advice of his father and sets out to sea. He can't help it. He is driven to explore, to risk, to discover.

Aren't we all? We guys, that is?

Alas, the fortunes are not in his favor. He is shipwrecked and is the only survivor. But he has his brain and his ingenuity and his muscles, and he outlasts the sorrows and fears and cannibals that nearly defeat him.  It is a story of weakness as well as strength.

When I was come down the hill to the shore, as I said above, being the southwest point of the island, I was perfectly confounded and amazed; nor is it possible for me to express the horror of my mind at seeing the shore spread with skulls, hands, feet and other bones of human bodies; and particularly, I observed a place where there had been a fire made, and a circle dug in the earth, like a cockpit, where it is supposed the savage wretches had sat down to their inhuman feastings upon the bodies of their fellow creatures.

And then we have the novel about which Ernest Hemmingway wrote,

"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. . . . There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

Jackson Island is where Huck sets up camp after escaping from his brutal father. He masterminds his own death to break free. It is on Jackson Island that he meets his nigger, the escaped slave, Jim. They share adventures on the smallest of islands, a raft flowing down the swollen Mississippi River. From the misty darkness of haunted nights in the middle of the river to the wild carousings of the Duke of Bridgewater and the King of France before the two royal thieves are tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail, these two souls are joined.

By and by, when they was asleep and snoring, Jim says:

'Don't it s'prise you, de way dem kings carries on, Huck?'

'No,' I says, 'it don't.'

'Why don't it, Huck?'

'Well, it don't, because it's in the breed. I reckon they're all alike.'

'But, Huck, dese kings o' ourn is reglar rapscallions; dat's jist what dey is; dey's reglar rapscallions.'

'Well, that's what I'm a-saying; all kings is mostly rapscallions, as fur as I can make out."

'Is dat so?'

'You read about them once - you'll see. Look at Henry the Eight; this'n 's a Sunday-school Superintendent to him. And look at Charles Second, and Louis Fourteen, and Louis Fifteen, and James Second, and Edward Second, and Richard Third and forty more; besides all them Saxon heptarchies that used to rip around so in old times and raise Cain. My, you ought to seen old Henry the Eight when he was in bloom. He was a blossom. He used to marry a new wife every day, and chop off her head next morning."Fetch up Nell Gwynn," he says. They fetch her up. Next morning, "Chop off her head!" And they chop it off. "Fetch up Jane Shore," . . .

The relationship between Huck and Jim is the relationship between white and black America. Superiority and inferiority at the outset. Reliance in the middle. Appreciation. Respect a'buildin'. Union. Equality. Freedom.

Huck's simple background belies a remarkable wisdom uttered in badly spoken English. Huck, Like Robinson Crusoe and Jim Hawkins, is born to explore. He can't be tied down, even when he becomes rich.

Jim gives honor to the word nigger. Loyal, loving, kind, steadfast. His is the heart of Black America; it is not gangs and drug pushers. It is hard work and music and honor.

Mark Twain was one of the most ardent critics of those who waged the Philippine-American War.

For Men Only

In Jim Hawkins, Robinson Crusoe and Huck Finn we find the heart of man. These boys turned man can't be tied down. They must explore, risk, know and grow. They face the worst dangers imaginable. They thrive. They defy fathers and convention. They seek honor, and find it.

Woman is but an asterisk.

In these books. Of course. Only in these books.

Friday, July 29, 2011

"Outta My Face, Dude!"

Blogging is a recent phenomenon. It is journalism of the private kind, and, like the leap from black and white television to color, it introduces a whole new hue to the business of reporting and commentary.

It is micro-reporting and micro-analysis. The range of views is rich, indeed, from garbage to wit and wisdom and new information and perspectives.

The range of interpretations from readers is, however,  strikingly consistent.

People fall into one of two groups: (1) those who agree with the writer and are pleased that someone so intelligent is aligned with their own thinking, and (2) those who are outraged that the writer is such a clueless twit.

Black or white.

Seldom gray. Seldom even a search for gray. Seldom a search for reconciliation. One party or the other claims to have the definitive answer. It is more an exercise in the imposition of will than discovery.

The result is a relentless pushing of people of moderate view toward the extremes. And an increase in the frequency and intensity of disagreements.

The dynamic can be observed in American politics. Outrage and personal disparagement rule the day, and the method.

Or in Norway. Or in Maguindanao. Or as nations posture over oil-rich islands in a sea with three names.

Increasingly missing is the skill of searching for harmony, the tried and true technique of identifying areas of agreement whilst setting aside areas of disagreement for more work. Missing is the art of compromise and giving of face to those willing to concede. It is a win/lose battle, for elections depend on proving to an under-educated, emotional public that you are in their camp all the way. Even if all the way means consigning the nation to oblivion.

The same tools that bring us blogging also bring us the sound bite, the news snippets out of context to their real meanings, and the cute "analyses" offered up to attract an audience, not instill understanding. These tools turn smart people into reactionaries like the Tea Party dickheads who will not budge on an issue to save a nation.

THESE are patriots? E pluribus unum?

It's wild. It's wooly. It's dynamic. It is not neat or keen. It is dirty. It is dangerous. It is nurturing extremism.

It is into that scene that Filipino bloggers write, and I write.

My perspective is that of a westerner in the Philippines. My values differ from Filipinos, so there is automatically friction when I rub against the values they hold. My style also differs from most other writers and transaction-oriented Filipinos in that I am a "visualist". I don't report facts, per se. I strive for impact: idea transfer, not data transfer.  Satire, word pictures, coming at issues from a different angle. That is what I aspire to bring to my blogs.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it is really lame, half-baked or even incomprehensible.

Do I seek harmony? Oh, yes, I suppose so, but not as a priority. I seek to have the reader bend his mind a little. To get away from transactional thinking. To search for principles and values and ways to make the Philippines productive and wealthy.

I write to learn, to get my own mind bent from time to time. To gain a better understanding of the history and motives of Filipinos. How to discern an issue from a person. How to recognize techniques of argument that are deceitful and therefore reveal that the writer is not interested in knowledge, but in winning and preserving his self-esteem, or some other personal advantage.  How to make an article meaningful and get away from the natural offensiveness of writing from a western perspective. That is very hard.

I write because it keeps my brain from rotting, and I appreciate those who challenge the ideas that come from my brain without questioning my personal integrity. I like disagreement that causes me to think, and I can change my mind with the best of them. We Gemini, we Myers-Briggs INFJ's, attach to little and drift from cloud to cloud, or idea to idea, on the fleet winged feet of Mercury.

I don't like disagreement that casts personal aspersions and cannot be disproven without subjecting oneself to charges of being a whiner. Deceitful people are skilled at twisting words. I usually go through three stages with them. One is to try to explain, which usually fails, especially if they are your typical old school, rigid, Ego-defensive Filipino type. Then to say "outta my face", which usually fails, because I dish insults back at them and all hope for a civil dialogue disappears. Then to say, "you are irrelevant" and wipe them from my existence. That succeeds every time.

For readers who stick with the issue, even if the issue is how my western perspective is unfair or naive, I say "bring it on!" We can share views and always emerge at the other end respectful of each other. Given time, we can become friends.

That is not a necessity, of course. It is just a warm side benefit earned by honorable intentions and words meant to teach or learn, meant for growth, not winning.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Filipino Dead Heads

It was a year or two ago, or maybe 25, when I was first introduced to the Myers-Briggs methodology of evaluating an individual's personality. It was used by Human Resources staff to ascertain if a job applicant's personal characteristics were suited to a particular job. For example, if the job were "sales" and the personality were "introvert", the match would not be good.

The technique was also used by lovers to examine what one's partner brought to the table.

The Myers-Briggs methodology is a simple test, not too  many questions, and a delineation of results into four different personality types, signified by eight pairs of polar-opposite letters. So, for occultist friends, I could say I am a "Gemini" and they would know I am an airhead who cannot be bound by anyone to anything for long, and like to perform and communicate. For my more cerebral friends, like those with  advanced college degrees, I could say I am an "INFJ", and they would know I am an airhead who cannot be bound by anyone to anything for long, and like to perform and communicate.

The four letters mean I am an Introvert. An iNtuitive kind of guy, rather touchy-Feely and therefore able to scribe poetry, and Judging, which means I can pen an opinionated blog from time to time . . . or every time. The trade name of these four letters is "The Author" . . . go figure  . . .

Stick with me . . . we'll get to the relevance of Myers-Briggs to the Philippines soon.

The fascinating aspect of Myers-Briggs is that the method does not ascribe "good" or "bad" to any characteristic. For in any particular circumstance, a trait can be either an advantage or disadvantage, but never "bad" per se.

Take the quality of "Introvert". I recall the ads a great many years ago where some muscle-bound guy is kicking sand in the face of a skinny 90 pound weakling wearing thick-rimmed glasses. The skinny guy is the classic icon of introvert, hiding behind sand dunes, afraid to express himself, a real wimp in the girl department.

Myers-Brigs says, "no, no, no!"

Being an introvert only signifies how a person gets his "energy". An introvert is enriched by quiet settings and exhausted in public forums. An extrovert draws energy by interacting with others and is exhausted by the boring limits of quietude. It is not a condemnation, either way. It is just the way we are.

Okay, on to the point. Filipinos.

I think if Myers-Briggs were to do an evaluation of Filipinos, a new category would have to be introduced that measured how one engages with others, not as introvert or extrovert, but whether one "concedes to others" or "likes to impose one's will on others". Maybe the fifth pair of letters could be C or W, for "concessionary" or "willful". A great many Filipinos would be tagged "W", bearing in mind that, although the tag may sound judgmental, in Philippine society as it is accepted today, it is not. It is the way of interacting smoothly in a culture that feeds on dominance.

The key question is whether or not it should continue to be accepted uncritically.

It is my statistically unfounded yet well-honed opinion that a great many Filipinos do not draw energy from being kind. They draw it from exercising power whenever the opportunity arises. Take the incidental example of the ATM. A Filipino will wait subserviently in line as others (in power) dawdle along doing their transactions. Then, when they get to the machine, they take the opportunity likewise to pull a power play. In their turn, they take endless time mulling over what to do, punch up a "balance inquiry" receipt and stare at it for a while.  They scratch, frown and refer to crumpled note paper extracted from this pocket or that. Then they slowly punch in their PIN and commands. Then do it all over again, at their leisure.

He (or she) gains no enjoyment at conducting a fast transaction for the benefit of the cripples, mothers with babies, and old folks waiting in line under the hot tropical sun. He (or she) gains enjoyment by being, in the briefest of moments, in  power. The ATM becomes a wholly inefficient exercise, when its whole purpose was to make banking more efficient. Productivity snuffed in favor of personal advantage.

That power-based way of behaving then rolls through society in just about every other arena where people sort out into the powerful and the powerless, for specific transactions. The government office, the National Highway (where a person can park in the middle and claim the space), the sales desk (where little autocrats believe they are doing you a favor by selling you something),  and just about everywhere else. The guy who blasts loud noise, tosses trash, allows his dog to kill motorcyclists, dynamites national resources to get fish, jams his hand into the public cookie jar, or drives as if the road belongs to him, alone.

The pleasure is found in exercising power, not in taking care of others.

I am schooled in the western tradition, which is out of step in the Philippines. I arrive on time and find no one is there. I stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk and the guy in the big-ass truck behind me lays on the horn or swings around, nearly squashing the confused pedestrian.

So I admit I am out of step.

I draw energy from conceding to the benefit of others. In the Philippines, I would be looked at as one of those 90 pound weaklings, a really sappy Joe.

It seems to me that many Filipinos cannot relate to the enjoyment available to them by being kind, by conceding to the benefit of others .  They simply, inside, don't draw off any energy from being kind. The Golden Rule is emotionally incomprehensible to them.

They certainly don't make the connection that when people work primarily for themselves, the rest of the community is disadvantaged. It is a barrier to efficiency, to productivity, to the formation of markets that recognize need and try to serve it. Rather than steal from it.

The question, I suppose, is this power-based approach working for Filipinos? Does it remain acceptable? It begs the question, how do you ever become a wholesome, non-corrupt,  productive society if most people get no joy from being considerate of others?

For sure, Philippine standards of healthy inter-personal relations do not meet western and more modern Asian standards.  Filipinos sit hang-dog on the bench as more productive societies pass them by because every time they step to the plate, they whiff their tried and true three strikes against more thoughtful, more productive ways:

  1. Strike one. Way too many Filipinos  do not get good feelings by doing kind acts for others. They get good feelings by leveraging power. While this benefits them as individuals, it undermines productivity that benefits the whole of society.

  1. Strike two. These Filipinos are unaware that there is a different model of behavior; they have an empty spot - a dead head - where the joys of the Golden Rule ought to reside. They draw their energy from power. They know no other way.

  1. Strike three. These Filipinos will not engage in the introspection that is necessary to understand the empty zone that inhabits the place where they could, if they wanted, find pleasure in being considerate of others.  Philippine society condemns such introspection. Rather, it prefers the Teflon-like deflection of wisdom and constructive counsel with excuses and blames.

Myself, I mosey along as an INFJC and shake my head at the rampant thoughtlessness hereabouts that oppresses and suppresses an otherwise vibrant lifestyle, trashes an absolutely gorgeous landscape, misses opportunities to create markets by satisfying the needs of others, and views other-oriented kindness as a failing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

George Eliot

My current reading is "Silas Marner" by George Eliot.

George in real life was Mary Ann Evans, born in Great Britain in 1819, died in 1880. When she was young, she aspired to be a philosopher but ended up later in life penning fiction. Her novels reflect her cerebral inclinations.  I like her because in an era of trumped up morality, she lived happily with a man who was married but could not get divorced. It reminds me of the plight of so many Filipinas, held in bondage by a morality hung over from the dark ages. Mary Ann did not let the State or societal pressures define how her private life would be lived. She followed her heart, not the witless constraints of laws crafted by men of lesser passion, or the snide gossip of small-minded people.
George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

I also like her because her words are intricate, each sentence requiring a pause to digest, re-read, think, and figure out. It is a slow read. Excruciating sometimes, to wind amongst the long, complex sentences rich with rare and unusual combinations of words.

Silas Marner was a broken-hearted weaver whose hoard of gold was stolen by a drunken rascal. In place of the gold, he was gifted a baby girl to care for.

Let me take a few of the lines from the book and reflect on them.

The Squire is the father of the rascal who stole Silas' gold.

"For the Squire's wife had died long ago, and the Red House [the Squire's house]was without that presence of the wife and mother which is the fountain of wholesome love and fear in parlour and kitchen; and this helped to account not only for there being more profusion than finished excellence in the holiday provisions, but also for the frequency with which the proud Squire condescended to preside in the parlour of the Rainbow [a pub]rather than under the shadow of his own dark wainscot; perhaps, also, for the fact that his sons had turned out rather ill."

If I had tried to say that, it would have come out something like: "The Squire had no wife, so his food, though amply provided to guests, missed the missus' touch. He also had enough leisure time carved out of neglect for his sons that he could hold court at the local pub with the condescension natural to one of presumed high birth. The sons bore no mark from that neglect outside, but inside was a different matter."

The beauty of Eliot's expression is that she doesn't just say the sons lacked a mother's love and therefore became troubled and troublesome. But that the entire family was thrown into an alternate path, and that path was not good. It is a painting she paints, of huge feasts of mediocre taste, empty though full. Just like the lives of the family, without the mother.

Here is another passage that reflects the author's incredible understated humor:

"Did you ever hear the like?" said Mrs. Kimble, laughing above her double chin with much good-humour, aside to Mrs. Crackenthorp, who blinked and nodded, and seemed to intend a smile, which, by the correlation of forces, went off in small twitchings and noises."

Well, I suppose LOL or ROFLMAO have their expediencies, but George Eliot's cut on the snorts and cackles of Mrs. Crackenthorpe cracked me up for about five minutes.

The drama of the written word is no better than when Silas Marner discovers his gold is gone:

He rose and placed his candle unsuspectingly on the floor near his loom, swept away the sand without noticing any change, and removed the bricks. The sight of the empty hole made his heart leap violently, but the belief that his gold was gone could not come at once - only terror, and the eager effort to put an end to the terror. He passed his trembling hand all about the hole, trying to think it possible that his eyes had deceived him; then he held the candle in the hole and examined it curiously, trembling more and more. At last he shook so violently that he let fall the candle, and lifted his hands to his head, trying to steady himself, that he might think. Had he put his gold somewhere else, by a sudden resolution last night, and then forgotten it? A man falling into dark water seeks a momentary footing even on sliding stones; and Silas, by acting as if he believed in false hopes, warded off the moment of despair. He searched in every corner, he turned the bed over, and shook it, and kneaded it; he looked in his brick oven where he laid his sticks. When there was no other place to be searched, he kneeled down again and felt once more all round the hole. There was no untried refuge left for a moment's shelter from the terrible truth.

Then, after all the duplicity and deceit, the darkness and despair, the struggles with sanity by a simple man with a good heart . . . we are introduced to Eppie, the throw-away baby who toddled on a snowy night onto Silas' hearth where he used to count his gold. Silas mistakes her hair for gold at first, but finds something much, much more valuable.

And from that moment on, we understand that George Eliot - Mary Ann Evans - knows of love.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Rise of the Indignant Filipino

I think one of the values we mere humans strive mightily to attain, but fail at, is that of dignity. An alien arriving on our planet would see the shortfall clearly just by looking at our bodies. Soft gangly extremities emerging from a blob of a core with no discernable beauty. Fingers that look like 10 big worms. Splotches of hair serving no useful function. Many people with lice in that hair, or other bugs and diseases crawling about the blobby gelatinous body. Emissions of various gases, liquids and solids. It is not a pretty picture.

Then there is our method of solving problems, which is even uglier. People who don't know much about anything slash and trash talk their way to some kind of hopeful win. Not reconciliation, not knowledge, not solution. But win. Each of us is so arrogant in the views that we hold that we can't comprehend we might be wrong. What emerges is the kind of ugly tear-down debate that you see in the US about the debt ceiling, or what you see if JoeAm and Ilda have the unfortunate occasion to arrive in the same blog thread at the same time.

But I have always liked the word dignity, for it suggests there is a higher plane of behavior that we ought to subscribe to, and aspire toward. Integrity fits well with dignity. So does honor. And courage. And humility, to the extent it does not introduce obsequiousness or subservience.

As with batteries and magnets, polarities sometimes cause an instrument to work well. And in the case of values, indignant is the angry inside-out expression of dignity. Where dignity is a calm, quiet passion of manner, indignant is its angry and abrasive counterpart. Applied to errant behavior, it can clean things up. Like soap, I suppose. Or Lysol.

Can you buy Lysol in the Philippines? It is a powerful antibacterial wash useful for sanitizing bathroom fixtures. It will also clean your nose if you get too big a whiff of the stuff.

Being indignant is rather like scrubbing something with Lysol, but you apply it to sanitize human failings.

Indignant means angry, up in arms, offended, in a huff, resentful, incensed, put out, annoyed, piqued, cross.

This mood is on the rise in the Philippines. It was good to see Bishops fretting before the Senate Blue Ribbon Panel, brought there by tax-payers being indignant over fancy cars given out by PCSO. PCSO is the government's lottery funded "Special Ops" department that exists outside the normal oversight of the Department of Finance. The Bishops are leaders of the Catholic Church, normally granted polite and uber-respectful "hands off" treatment. Alas, the Bishops of this era seem to relish challenging the secular government, getting down and dirty, as it were. . . and so they were summoned . . . not like God's representatives on earth, but like children who had misbehaved.

It was good to see Senator Santiago's indignant blast aimed squarely at PCSO in a tirade that must go down as one of her more accomplished rants.

Well, the testimony revealed that the cars were in fact not all that fancy, and they were being used to help a lot of people. A better use than most of the cars on the road, I would suspect. Only one of the priests seemed so close to President Arroyo that politics may have entered the equation, a legitimate reason for some pique directed toward the Church.

One of the priests characterized the happenings succinctly. I'm sorry I can't provide his name or exact words because I was sitting watching with awe instead of taking notes. But he said, with no little regret: "Things have changed."

Yes, indeed, and that is my point here.

More Filipinos are starting to watch the nation's institutions with a critical eye and speak up with an indignant voice. Filipinos have historically been subservient to an autocratic government and powerful private and religious institutions that hold little compassion for the burdens and limits they impose on ordinary people. Now Big Brother's cameras are turned around. They are probing the errant ways of the . . . heretofore . . . mighty.

The impetus for this is twofold:

(1) The internet is influencing the influential. One-third of all Filipinos access the web, a great many engaged in social media . Their complaints reach the press, and from them, the masses. Complaints also reach government officials, and from them, the lawmakers.

(2) President Aquino's loud, visible hunt for corrupt officials has opened the door for scrutiny of all government deeds, even his own. He probably had no idea about the power of the dynamic he would unleash, a flame-up of civic expression that toasts his own toes from time to time.

No longer are Filipinos constrained to being indignant over glitzy actors gone bad, or bad girls and bad boys like Nicole and Private Smith playing out a contrived micro-drama in major fashion on the front pages of the Inquirer for three years.

Now their annoyance is turning to matters that matter.

They are indignant about 7,000 hectares of stripped coral. About DENR's poor management of the forests and the washing away of cities, resulting to a crackdown on unlicensed logging. About President Aquino's soft work schedule. About the handling of the bus massacre. About Willie's abusive practices towards children; advertisers revolted and television stations are introducing new policies regarding kids appearing on their shows. About PCSO. About a zoo that causes animals to suffer.

This pinpoint, collective anger can be a culture-changing force in the Philippines.

I hope it is. I know indignant Americans substantially ended racism and gender discrimination in the US, and powered a lot of changes in civic regulations, from anti-smoking laws to regulations mandating improved vehicle gas mileage.

The Philippines is becoming less and less a closed society, demonstrating the kind of growing social awareness that we saw emerge in the US in the 1960's through 1980's. I mean, anti-smoking laws in the Philippines? That is downright modern. Divorce? Amazing.

As an aside, I observe that President Aquino is not the pawn of the Catholic Church that I thought he would be when he went off on his famous prayer retreat before deciding to become a candidate.

President Aquino is hugely responsible for the change in who is watching whom . His multiple inquiries into corruption fulfill a campaign promise. His critics call it a vindictive witch hunt against former President Arroyo, almost as if they were for doing nothing about corruption or pardoning the past president even before the inquiry starts. But no matter. President Aquino's effort is much broader and substantial than a one-pony show, examining potentially corrupt acts of present and past lead officials of DENR, LTO, Ombudsman, Customs, Military, Governorships and Judiciary. Now add PCSO and the Zookeepers. It would be a horrible expression of indignity to go only after underlings and let the top official, if she is shown to have been corrupt, escape the rigor of inquiry.

The rise of indignant expression is rather like a light bulb going on in slow motion, one of those with a variable switch that gets brighter as you turn it up.

I hope it cranks ever brighter. For it will carry into the private sector, too. And it has the potential to create the forces that can clean up the Philippines and make its institutions more productive and responsive to those being served. It may cast enough light that Filipinos will see clearly the path to a better Philippines. Wrongs do not have to be tolerated. Like smoke in public places, or trash out the bus window, or 25 minutes of commercials per television hour, or dogs killing motorcyclists, or negligent practices in the seas. It doesn't have to be that way.

Thus, the Bishops squirm, PCSO officials swear and sweat, and Willie snivels and complains much like a crying kid; government officials far and wide cease the small graft and resign before the big graft grabs them by their blobs. Tobacco companies throw giant hissy fits. Nabobs run about scouring and cleaning up their books, and hopefully, their acts.

The indignant Filipino rises.

Hail to the modern, socially aware Filipino.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Filipino Attorneys: Warriors on an Empty Battlefield


No band of brothers in the army should be more important than their domestic warriors in the courtroom, defending the essential civilized principle of right over wrong.

So why is the Philippine battlefield so unearthly quiet? As if one side has departed the fighting field?

Perhaps there is a reason attorneys are the most maligned group of professionals in the world, next to used car peddlers. Here is what Jonathan Swift, acerbic king of all satire writers, wrote about attorneys via the mouth of Gulliver, who is explaining the British legal system to his master, the leader of the Yahoos who occupy an island upon which Gulliver has landed:

"Here, my master, interposing, said it was a pity, that creatures endowed with such prodigious abilities of mind as these lawyers, by the description I gave of them, must certainly be, were not rather encouraged to be instructors of others in wisdom and knowledge. In answer to which I assured his Honour, that in all points out of their own trade they were usually the most ignorant and stupid generation among us, the most despicable in common conversation, avowed enemies to all knowledge and learning, and equally disposed to pervert the general reason of mankind in every other subject of discourse, as in that of their own profession."

Well, satire is not to be taken as a literal truth, but rather as an instructional exaggeration. Swift's Gulliver is suggesting what seems to be in fact an all too real limitation of Philippine lawyers, en toto, as a profession. Inside and outside the courtroom, where they perform, and maybe even "act", they appear to have no conscience, no guiding light, no drive to right the abundance of wrongs that surround them.

If I were to focus on two collectives as remarkable failures in Philippine society, I would name the Catholic Church and the nation's attorneys as Numbers One and Two, respectively.

The Church is the caretaker of morality and wisdom in a nation that cheats at everything, allows abuses toward women to persist, and is birthing itself into oblivion.

Attorneys who pledge to uphold the law stand idly by as that law is broken at every strata of society, in every venue. No matter that damages line up like so many lotto customers at a multi-million peso draw. Attorneys are stalwart . . . at performing Notary Public duties that keep the Philippines plastered in odious, officious paperwork.

I guess passion is not something that can be taught at Ateneo.

Indeed, the nation is one large damage. It is rank with pollution of every sort, abusive to women who cannot escape from the bondage of a marriage gone brutal, and who receive no education about birth control; it is corrupt from the top to the bottom of most government org charts; and it is negligent at enforcing rudimentary consumer safety laws, slaughtering Filipinos by the thousands via vehicle accidents, poisons, lousy health care, rickety ferries and substandard housing.

"Unsafe at any speed" should be pasted across the flag.

"You are too much, Joe!" you may be thinking.

No, I am simply expounding on the deductions I draw from assorted sunken ferries with hundreds dead, my young neighbor inhaling pollution every day and passing into the grave with lung cancer, the teenage motorcyclist I saw dead on the National Highway, tripped by a dog, the hundreds of people killed by mudslides every year, the journalists in graves for doing a an important job protecting free speech, the hundreds of candidates shot during the national election cycle, the guy across the street who died on the way to the hospital because his acute appendicitis was diagnosed as malaria, the fact that NPA collection-racket gangsters marched through my home in Mindanao whilst I was happily away, the reports of girls sold into the sex business, and the obstinate, warlike tones emanating from two of the keepers of values, the extreme Muslim faithful and the Catholic Church. One rolls heads for dollars and the other argues for the status quo where quo status means women are abused and abandoned whilst the nation births itself into unforgiveable poverty. In the dark, crowded, stinking alleys of squatters villages, "right to life" means nothing.

No, I am not too much.

Philippine attorneys seem to me to be absent from the battlefield, away without leave, and their comrade citizens have been bludgeoned back into hiding, deep within the forest, by an army of self-serving power mongers with plenty of weaponry.

THAT is too much.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Drawing Empty Spaces Upside Down

I once had a friend who aspired to be an artist. She went to art classes during time off from her real job, which was being a veterinarian to the dogs and cats of the rich and famous. She was thoroughly amused with her art assignment one weekend. Her instructor had given the class the task of drawing a chair, upside down.

The aim was to destroy normal perspective and look at the chair differently. Indeed, the students were not actually supposed to draw the chair itself, but to draw the empty spaces in and around the chair. From those empty spaces, upside down, the chair would emerge.

My friend completed her task and it was astounding. When you turned her drawing upside down, so that the chair was right side up, she had created a startlingly accurate sketch of the chair. She had defined the chair by isolating it from its surroundings.

Now I mention this because it is an example getting beyond convention to find the essence of a problem. It takes a stretch of the mind and ability to conceptualize a different solution to a given challenge.

Conceptualizing seems to me to be a skill largely missing in the Philippines where people like dealing with the gritty and the nitty, what they can see, what has happened before, what is practical or expedient. It is a country focused on transactions, on trees. On chairs, not the space around them. Not the abstract and the obtuse . . . not the undefined . They don't quite get frameworks or standards or plans or principles.

Philippine gardens for the most part are lines of plants, often in pots. They are not unrestrained, sensual expressions of passion and love for nature. They are flowers in a row.

It is this absence of conceptual reach that allows Filipinos to fail to see very important things. For instance, they are not able to draw the connection between rude behavior and poverty. 

They don't know what the meaning of their country is, except they know they are proud of Pacquiao when he fights. 

If I were to say " A country is its morality, the principles of community that allow people to get along safely and happily", eyes would glaze over. Computers would click off to a different internet site.

Filipinos appear not to grasp the very profound principle that morality is the bedrock of nationhood, and nationhood is not an individualistic principal, with Muslims claiming one morality, Catholics another, crooks another, the Mayor of Davao City another, and Juan dela Cruz his own. Nationhood is a shared set of values that underpin the way people look out for one another. 

Nationhood means values like honesty. Forthrightness. Fairness. Integrity. Honor. Commitment. Responsibility. Hard work. Bravery. Consideration. Compassion. Sacrifice. Forgiveness.

Where do you see people in the Philippines rise up for these principles? They rise up when they are offended. They rise up to cheer a hero. They rise up when a cause is before them, black and white. 

There is a reason the court system in the Philippines is so ineffectual. No one rises up for fairness. There is a reason the Philippines dropped out of Iraq and is not in Afghanistan. Commitment to any alliance is a one-way street, "what's in it for me", not "how can I help the cause of democracy and freedom in a world beset by terrorists who would kill innocents." There is no commitment to a profound principle, to defend a way of life against those who would put a sack over someone's head, and chop off the sack with a machete if the mouth within it protested.

"What's in it for me?" This question is asked silently and aloud millions of times a day. It drives almost every activity in the Philippines.

Too many people are pulling to go down THEIR path, accepting no other as correct. The values listed above mean little. Honor means bluster. Cheating for self-gain supersedes honesty, fairness, integrity, consideration and compassion. Commitment means "what I can get away with". Responsibility is denied by face-saving excuses, victim-playing and tearing down others. Forgiveness is supplanted by getting even. Sacrifice is made in personal terms, laboring in the rice fields under the heat of the sun, not in giving terms, like charity. Or serving in Afghanistan.

On few occasions does principle rise to take a higher ground than "what is convenient for ME".

The prognosis is not good. No nation easily changes its core culture.

The US took over 100 years to substantially eradicate racism on its legal books, but discrimination still simmers in the hearts of many.

Japan energized its economy after World War II by importing top American "Management by Objectives" gurus and learning a new way to think. People were instructed to change and so they followed a core value, obey, and did.

Not in the Philippines. Filipinos are too pride bound in who they are to do that sort of thing. To change would be to criticize "what we are", and that would be insulting - resulting in loss of face - to admit that what we are is less than what we ought to be. So it is more comfortable to stay the same, to put up the defenses, the excuses, the blames . . . to hold the changers at bay.

Here are two ideas, two concepts, detached from common belief. Can you, dear reader, grasp them? Why can others seemingly not grasp them?

Envisioning the growing of foodstuffs as agribusiness rather than farming. Agribusiness sells product into world markets for a profit. Farms grow plants. The Philippines runs farming as an employment sources for the indigent. Not as a competitive industry. When the Philippines grasps the concept of "markets" it will understand that the best way to take care of farmers is not to give them government largesse in the form of subsidies, free land or protection from global producers, but to wrap them within the strong arms of ambitious competitive practices.

Seeing nationhood as a commitment to shared values rather than to unrestrained "freedom" that allows individuals to undermine the common good because it is personally convenient. There is a connection between Ampatuan thinking and the guy who launches a bag of trash out the bus window. They don't care about others. What a huge conceptual failing. What a huge national failing. I see a national failure of values with every piece of trash that hits the ground.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Like President Aquino

I've seen enough. I'm rendering my evaluation.

I like President Aquino.

Bear with me and I'll explain in a wending way why.

We know Filipinos are greatly interested in their own welfare, or that of the family, and maybe that of the clan. The well-being of the city grabs some. A few think about their province. A strikingly huge number have no idea of what a nation is about.

The difference between the US and the Philippines is very simple. One stands for values that enhance the community called America and the other stands for short-cutting those same values for self-advantage.

The Philippine Constitution has the right words. Important words like "Public Trust". But in real life, they don't get applied because they run against the grain of self-advantage. Even Filipinos tell me "don't trust a Filipino".

The people march when insulted, when their self esteem has been dinged, but they don't rise up FOR principle. Only one person I know of is marching squarely for principle, and, thankfully, he is the President of the Philippines.

Excuse this small digression. I'll circle back.

Filipinos fail to grasp the connection between rude, inconsiderate behavior (trash out the bus window) and non-competitive industries. Competitive industries work to get the inefficiencies out, and nothing is more inefficient than running around cleaning up after thoughtless people. Nothing is more inefficient than an employee who arrives late or texts on the job, and snarls at customers because they are troubling his leisure. These are examples of little corruptions, all adding up to a huge mass of non-productive behavior.

Nothing is more inefficient than a government agency, like Customs, that does not grasp what its value-based charter ought to be. Collection of taxes is seen as value creation. It is not. It interferes with value creation when it is excessive, as it is. Paperwork is considered by Customs to be diligent. It is not diligent when it interferes with value creation. Promoting competitive trade practices is value-creating. No one in National government evidently understands the distinction, how to add value by energizing trade in the Philippines. If they did, they would not allow counter-productive Customs practices to continue.

Nothing is more inefficient than poor families growing plants for food. Agribusiness is efficient.

Nothing is more inefficient than the gross failure of Philippine courts to dispense justice, when powerful people who create relentless damage go about completely unrestrained because un-powerful people have no voice in the courts. No attorneys will work for them and risk crossing paths with power (attorneys evidently have all been corrupted in spirit or wallet, or are simply happy doing Notary Public work). There are precious few advocates for the righting of wrongs. The entire economy is snarled up in uncorrected damages, like a fishing line gone snarly haywire.

Back to the point.

To get rid of these inefficiencies, you have to build a core integrity. The US was fortunate to have some visionaries who drafted her Declaration of Independence and her Constitution. And the people subscribed to it. The people . . . most of whom were recent immigrants. They wanted one thing: opportunity, and the freedom to pursue it fairly. And that is what the framers of the Constitution gave them. A set of words, and beyond that, a set of values.

The Philippines until now has only had the words.

Do you know what I like about President Aquino? He is not a thug but he has a good sense of what corruption looks like. Oh, sure, it is easy knock him about for being a part of a "family" with a ditzy sister and a housewife who was president and a hacienda that did not get dispensed. But the loud critics of his "family" overlook that his father was murdered because he had righteous values and returned to the Philippines to pursue them. I give the President credit for being influenced by his mother AND his father.

I don't care who he dates or what kind of car he drives or even if his lieutenants botch a bus massacre. I don't care what time he gets to the office in the morning or what his sister is doing. I don't care if the people from Hong Kong think his grimace looks like a smile.

I care that he has a fundamental grasp of right versus wrong and the knowledge that he has to make a statement about it. I care that he understands the importance of living thoughtfully, not just preaching good words from the pulpit then sneaking about for self advantage, as did his two predecessors.

His anti-corruption initiatives are impressive so far, and I hope they continue. Only when the masses understand that cheating is not a proper thing to do will businesses become competitive and the streets become clean.

The anti-corruption push is just one step, but it is a big one. It is a step toward real Filipino pride based on principled behavior. Not some gushy pride meant mainly as an excuse to paper over the affairs of country-mates who are not really very productive or kind people.

That is why I like President Aquino. He has taken the entire nation, and its values, one big step forward. Is he perfect, in the apparent mold of his critics? Nope. That's okay, Abraham Lincoln had warts, too (chortle).

I hope the Ombudsman carves through government agencies with a huge machete, indignant that people in power would have the audacity to abuse the people's trust. Like a hot machete through butter, eh?

I hope Filipinos broad and wide see the President's example as a refreshing VALUE and start to stand up for productive enterprise, start weeding out the trash-throwers and cheats and abusers of decency and courtesy. Those ill deeds are a sneaky form of corruption, undermining the productivity and integrity of the Philippines. Apply the same pressure on them that the President is applying on those who have had the audacity to rip off the Philippines - read Filipinos - for big dollars.

I hope upstanding principles become something to be FOR, something to ACT OUT, not something to cheat around or give lip service to. I hope it comes to represent the real Philippines, a nation gone a'missing for way too long.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Science of Deceit

Dr. Cynthia Boaz, representing a publication called "Truthout", wrote a commentary published July 2, 2011, entitled "14 Propaganda Techniques Fox 'News' Uses to Brainwash Americans". My masters degree is in Radio and Television Arts, and we did a number of critical "content analyses" of news broadcasts during our course work. So I found the list of techniques identified by Ms. Boaz to be very instructional. We found examples of news bias in 1966 when we examined television news reporting. But the situation has deteriorated since then, perhaps reflecting the failures of my generation to instill a passion for objectivity over entertainment in news reporting.

Tea Party sippers and other conservatives will rebel immediately against the article. But I am quite confident they will be appeased if they simply switched out the references to Fox and replaced them with "Keith Olbermann" or other worthy liberal substitutes. The point is not really Fox news, or left over right, but the descent of American political discourse and news reporting into a science of deceits. Accordingly, the list of 14 untoward techniques is profound at detailing the methods of deceit. They are listed below, cut and pasted exactly as Ms. Boaz wrote them, but without her surrounding commentary. Her complete article can be found here.

When you find yourself frustrated with a response to your remarks, check this list and see if the respondent is using one of these sly techniques. I find it amazing how these techniques are natural to some people. In the Philippines, numbers 4, 5, 7 and 14 are in everyday use.

1. Panic Mongering. This goes one step beyond simple fear mongering. With panic mongering, there is never a break from the fear. The idea is to terrify and terrorize the audience during every waking moment. From Muslims to swine flu to recession to homosexuals to immigrants to the rapture itself, the belief over at Fox seems to be that if your fight-or-flight reflexes aren't activated, you aren't alive. This of course raises the question: why terrorize your own audience? Because it is the fastest way to bypasses the rational brain. In other words, when people are afraid, they don't think rationally. And when they can't think rationally, they'll believe anything.

2. Character Assassination/Ad Hominem. Fox does not like to waste time debating the idea. Instead, they prefer a quicker route to dispensing with their opponents: go after the person's credibility, motives, intelligence, character, or, if necessary, sanity. No category of character assassination is off the table and no offense is beneath them. Fox and like-minded media figures also use ad hominem attacks not just against individuals, but entire categories of people in an effort to discredit the ideas of every person who is seen to fall into that category, e.g. "liberals," "hippies," "progressives" etc. This form of argument - if it can be called that - leaves no room for genuine debate over ideas, so by definition, it is undemocratic. Not to mention just plain crass.

3. Projection/Flipping. This one is frustrating for the viewer who is trying to actually follow the argument. It involves taking whatever underhanded tactic you're using and then accusing your opponent of doing it to you first. We see this frequently in the immigration discussion, where anti-racists are accused of racism, or in the climate change debate, where those who argue for human causes of the phenomenon are accused of not having science or facts on their side. It's often called upon when the media host finds themselves on the ropes in the debate.

4. Rewriting History. This is another way of saying that propagandists make the facts fit their worldview. The Downing Street Memos on the Iraq war were a classic example of this on a massive scale, but it happens daily and over smaller issues as well. A recent case in point is Palin's mangling of the Paul Revere ride, which Fox reporters have bent over backward to validate. Why lie about the historical facts, even when they can be demonstrated to be false? Well, because dogmatic minds actually find it easier to reject reality than to update their viewpoints. They will literally rewrite history if it serves their interests. And they'll often speak with such authority that the casual viewer will be tempted to question what they knew as fact.

5. Scapegoating/Othering. This works best when people feel insecure or scared. It's technically a form of both fear mongering and diversion, but it is so pervasive that it deserves its own category. The simple idea is that if you can find a group to blame for social or economic problems, you can then go on to a) justify violence/dehumanization of them, and b) subvert responsibility for any harm that may befall them as a result.

6. Conflating Violence With Power and Opposition to Violence With Weakness. This is more of what I'd call a "meta-frame" (a deeply held belief) than a media technique, but it is manifested in the ways news is reported constantly. For example, terms like "show of strength" are often used to describe acts of repression, such as those by the Iranian regime against the protesters in the summer of 2009. There are several concerning consequences of this form of conflation. First, it has the potential to make people feel falsely emboldened by shows of force - it can turn wars into sporting events. Secondly, especially in the context of American politics, displays of violence - whether manifested in war or debates about the Second Amendment - are seen as noble and (in an especially surreal irony) moral. Violence become synonymous with power, patriotism and piety.

7. Bullying. This is a favorite technique of several Fox commentators. That it continues to be employed demonstrates that it seems to have some efficacy. Bullying and yelling works best on people who come to the conversation with a lack of confidence, either in themselves or their grasp of the subject being discussed. The bully exploits this lack of confidence by berating the guest into submission or compliance. Often, less self-possessed people will feel shame and anxiety when being berated and the quickest way to end the immediate discomfort is to cede authority to the bully. The bully is then able to interpret that as a "win."

8. Confusion. As with the preceding technique, this one works best on an audience that is less confident and self-possessed. The idea is to deliberately confuse the argument, but insist that the logic is airtight and imply that anyone who disagrees is either too dumb or too fanatical to follow along. Less independent minds will interpret the confusion technique as a form of sophisticated thinking, thereby giving the user's claims veracity in the viewer's mind.

9. Populism. This is especially popular in election years. The speakers identifies themselves as one of "the people" and the target of their ire as an enemy of the people. The opponent is always "elitist" or a "bureaucrat" or a "government insider" or some other category that is not the people. The idea is to make the opponent harder to relate to and harder to empathize with. It often goes hand in hand with scapegoating. A common logical fallacy with populism bias when used by the right is that accused "elitists" are almost always liberals - a category of political actors who, by definition, advocate for non-elite groups.

10. Invoking the Christian God. This is similar to othering and populism. With morality politics, the idea is to declare yourself and your allies as patriots, Christians and "real Americans" (those are inseparable categories in this line of thinking) and anyone who challenges them as not. Basically, God loves Fox and Republicans and America. And hates taxes and anyone who doesn't love those other three things. Because the speaker has been benedicted by God to speak on behalf of all Americans, any challenge is perceived as immoral. It's a cheap and easy technique used by all totalitarian entities from states to cults.

11. Saturation. There are three components to effective saturation: being repetitive, being ubiquitous and being consistent. The message must be repeated cover and over, it must be everywhere and it must be shared across commentators: e.g. "Saddam has WMD." Veracity and hard data have no relationship to the efficacy of saturation. There is a psychological effect of being exposed to the same message over and over, regardless of whether it's true or if it even makes sense, e.g., "Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States." If something is said enough times, by enough people, many will come to accept it as truth. Another example is Fox's own slogan of "Fair and Balanced."

12. Disparaging Education. There is an emerging and disturbing lack of reverence for education and intellectualism in many mainstream media discourses. In fact, in some circles (e.g. Fox), higher education is often disparaged as elitist. Having a university credential is perceived by these folks as not a sign of credibility, but of a lack of it. In fact, among some commentators, evidence of intellectual prowess is treated snidely and as anti-American. Education and other evidence of being trained in critical thinking are direct threats to a hive-mind mentality, which is why they are so viscerally demeaned.

13. Guilt by Association. This is a favorite of Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart, both of whom have used it to decimate the careers and lives of many good people. Here's how it works: if your cousin's college roommate's uncle's ex-wife attended a dinner party back in 1984 with Gorbachev's niece's ex-boyfriend's sister, then you, by extension are a communist set on destroying America. Period.

14. Diversion. This is where, when on the ropes, the media commentator suddenly takes the debate in a weird but predictable direction to avoid accountability. This is the point in the discussion where most Fox anchors start comparing the opponent to Saul Alinsky or invoking ACORN or Media Matters, in a desperate attempt to win through guilt by association. Or they'll talk about wanting to focus on "moving forward," as though by analyzing the current state of things or God forbid, how we got to this state of things, you have no regard for the future. Any attempt to bring the discussion back to the issue at hand will likely be called deflection, an ironic use of the technique of projection/flipping.

Here is a restatement of the technique headings which you can easily copy for reference. I suggest you remove the "Fox" context from the definitions and simply define what they mean to you.

1. Panic Mongering
2. Character Assassination/Ad Hominem
3. Projection/Flipping
4. Rewriting History
5. Scapegoating/Othering
6. Conflating Violence With Power and Opposition to Violence With Weakness
7. Bullying
8. Confusion
9. Populism
10. Invoking the Christian God
11. Saturation
12. Disparaging Education
13. Guilt by Association
14. Diversion

Saturday, July 9, 2011

When a Dull President is What the Doctor Ordered

I recall having an argument with the main writers at Anti-Pinoy right after President Aquino won the election. The day after the election, the Philippine Peso strengthened markedly against the US dollar, more than the global trend of a weakening dollar would suggest it should. To me, there is nothing more factual than markets speaking , but the Anti-Pinoy people refused to accept this as a "fact" worth respecting.

They claim the President of their country is lackluster and lazy. Dull. They pound him at every opportunity, for every reason, big or small.

Methinks they cannot smell the roses for lack of a sense of what flowers contribute to the landscape of bees and honey.

The World Bank has just commented on the Philippine economic circumstance and cited an increase in money flowing to Philippine reserves. Here is what World Bank said in its latest quarterly update on the Philippines:

“The Philippines may already have moved to a new ‘normal,’ one with more robust and less variable growth. Such a growth pattern contrasts with the pre-Global Recession perception of the Philippines as a ‘high beta’ country with a weak fiscal position, and with recurrent political crises exposing the country to shocks and volatility."

A high beta country has a great deal of volatility because its finances are being yanked around. It certainly appears that under the less dull President Arroyo, money was being yanked around. The latest PCSO scandal suggests she was using that organization as her private piggy bank to award fancy cars to priests who supported her and to other mysterious "security" uses. It is one of several major financial scandals during her term, from ZTE to fertilizer to paper bags of money given to congressmen. None of these is a "country-breaker", but it did undermine trust. Because few trusted President Arroyo, few trusted how she managed the county's finances.

"Recurrent financial crises" are, I suppose, not dull, and more to the liking of the AP collective. More to write about, I suppose.

Today the peso strengthened to 42.88 pesos per US dollar.

Before President Aquino was elected, it ranged between 48.98 and 47.42.

Rating agencies have upgraded Philippine debt. They do not do this absent a change in fundamentals.

I might note, one of the four "c's of lending is "character", and the "character" of this government is vastly improved over its predecessors.

You can bet the Anti-Pinoy gurus will be able to make up an Anti-Aquino reason as to why the numbers don't mean anything. But, undeniably, something meaningful is happening.

And the World Bank knows what: (1) Stability, and (2) an intense anti-corruption drive. A botched bus massacre or the hours the President works or the troubles he has getting his communication team organized or who he dates have little bearing on what makes investors choose where to invest. Stability has bearing. Trust has bearing.

I write this knowing I am poorer today because the Philippines is richer. Much of my savings is lodged in US dollars. I could certainly root against President Aquino or try to undermine his success. It is to my advantage to have an unstable "high-beta" Philippines.

But I want him to succeed, frankly. A stable government is one that can begin to solve the many problems facing Filipinos. I said shortly after he was elected that I feel more secure in the Philippines today than under President Arroyo. That was just a personal sense that the new government was not interested in revenge or intimidation, but in stability and an end to the corruption that has plagued the government for years. Dull it may be; thuggish, it refreshingly is not.

I have never been able to grasp exactly why the writers in the Anti-Pinoy crowd want him to fail. Or why they make such a loud noise as if it is pre-ordained that he WILL fail. The only reason seems to be that they are following the time-worn Filipino tradition of rationalizing the facts to save their own Ego-bound faces. They are what they criticize.

President Aquino isn't failing, for investors. No matter how many shades of off-color those with an agenda throw against the dull progress being made, the Philippines is moving in the right direction. Only those with an axe to grind would claim otherwise.

Dull, stable and trustworthy is positive. Investors prove it with their money, not their lip.