Saturday, August 6, 2011

The American Dumb Bell

Did your formal education ever lead you into the dark realm of statistics? It is a horrid place to venture, full of monsters and T-tests, probabilities and snakes.

My undergrad statistics teacher was a skinny buck-toothed Japanese man who could barely speak English. He would write rapidly with his right hand whilst talking gibberish at the blackboard and using his left hand to erase what he had just written. My head was either swimming or sleeping.  I eked out a "C" in that class, mediocre in American grading lexicon.  I should have known at that point to switch my major from mathematics to  business. Or ROTC . . .

My post-graduate statistics teacher was a handsome young married professor who was busy bonging coeds on the side. He was always happy and gave out good grades whether they were deserved or not.

Normal Curve

One of the fundamental concepts in statistics is that of the bell curve, which describes a statistical mountain where the foothills on either side tend toward the extremes and the big hill in the middle holds something like 68% of the population. They are declared pretty much normal.

Now if you have witnessed the horrors of the debate about debt in the US, you recognize that the extremes have asserted themselves. The left and the right scream bloody murder about the issues, their views entrenched in concrete, totally disrespectful of any other view. The middle gets smaller. And compromise gets impossible. Intolerance rises.

The US bell curve has assumed the shape of a dumb bell.

Contributing to the polarization is the internet where every private citizen is a reporter, analyst and an activist under one hat, plastering 141 characters of personal perspective across the internet for lots of people to read. For sake of popularity and personal esteem, people have a tendency to either agree or disagree, black and white, the barrage of unbending opinion pushing people farther and farther apart. It is a grim political place, this USA. A place devoid of the kindness of diplomacy and pride in concession for the greater good.

Dumb Bell Curve
It would be appropriate to remove the Latin slogan "e pluribus unum" from US currency and replace it with "to each his own".

Now the Philippine bell curve is rather shaped like a pear, on its side. It is weighted to the end that has self-interest as its driving force. Not some nationalistic idea of republican (state's rights) or democratic (strong central government). Not a  "left" or "right" distinction, big government versus small government. Philippine political animals are pretty much all the same. They are all rich and connected or in bed with the rich and connected.  The poles of this abnormal curve are how much people work for self advantage, versus how much they work for others  - - - for the community and the nation and the public good.  

Under President Arroyo, the pear definitely got bigger at the big end.

President Aquino may actually be flattening the pear. His anti-corruption drive is producing offshoot values that bring public service back to the forefront of government jobs. He ripped one of his overseas ambassadors for not knowing how many Filipinos were in-country. He said:

“You will take the responsibility, you like the perks but when you have to be depended on, why is it like that? You don’t care,”

His appointments are appointed to do a job. They are not appointed as rewards for favors granted or received. I think people who thrive on the star power of bus massacres or fist-shaking at China miss the fundamental shift taking place in the values that anchor the nation.

Public service is back at the forefront.

The jobs are getting done.  Fiscally upside down projects are being cancelled. Laws promoting social good are being passed. Anti-corruption cases are being pursued in every venue. Dialogue is taking place with other Asian countries. A line has been drawn in the sand on the Spratleys. Investors are piling money into the Philippines.

It's a new ball game.

And it is refreshing.


  1. Unlike BenK, you call it as it is Joe. You have no agenda and no grievances against Aquino. I also don't see you as an ideological fanatic like Benign0 and Ilda. You give fair and reasonable arguments.

    And most important: if people challenge your positions, your rebuttals are respectful (a concept that seems alien to Anti-Pinoys).

    That is why I often visit your blog.

  2. yeah, i like this one. :) i enjoyed the explanation of the normal curve.

  3. I don't understand why the Get Realists are against Noynoy's Administration investigating Arroyo. How can the President change the culture of corruption if he tolerates it?

    And still, Benign0, in his eloquence will spin spin spin and spin this and tell us to "move on" and leave GMA alone. Seriously? Seriously? SERIOUSLY??? And you consider him an intellectual?

  4. Personally, I'd be more comfortable with Aquino investigating Arroyo if I detected a genuine, objective intention on his part to pursue corruption wherever it's detected. I don't.

    Case in point: Somebody point me to a link where he has expressed the same level of outrage over 1,910 shipping containers disappearing between Manila and Batangas between January and May of this year. You know, the time period he was president and his preferred former basketball commissioner was in charge of Customs.

    As a matter of fact, somebody point me to something where he's said anything about the issue at all, outrage or not.

    I don't have to have grievances. All I have to do is look at hard numbers and results.

  5. @benk

  6. GabbyD,

    You just OWNED BenK. Congrats!


  7. And that article has the words "President Aquino said..." exactly how many times?

    Yeah, that's what I thought.

  8. why does it have to have "aquino said"?

    the secretaries are their own people, AND they reflect the will of the executive. (these two things arent contradictory, even tho it may seem so).

    also, aquino isnt investigating arroyo. the DOJ is.

  9. Kapow!!!

    GabbyD 2, BenK 0

    Keep knocking him down bro.

  10. Nice line of commentary here whilst I was napping amongst the bamboo. GabbyD, you said what I woulda said. Indeed, it is the breadth of the anti-corruption initiatives that leads me to believe this is no "witch hunt". And it is the sign of a good administrator, not a bad one, to let his deputies do their jobs.

  11. No, I vigorously raise the red flag of b.s. on all y'all for your selective appreciation. This customs issue is EXACTLY the sort of thing he based his entire campaign on - it literally defines the situation that "Walang Korupsyon, Walang Mahirap" purportedly means to correct. And when the deputy speaking is the one upon whom much of the suspicion is leveled for the situation, that makes it appear as though the One who accepts the mantle of being the leader of the anti-corruption campaign is himself being selective in its application.

    The existence of wang-wangs probably didn't result in the loss of P3.6 billion in government revenue. This situation did. And for damn sure somebody's going to end up a little more "mahirap" than they need to be because of it, somewhere down the line.

    Look, you guys can enjoy the warm and fuzzy feelings all you like. I'll watch the numbers, and watch how the rhetoric translates into measurable results. I'm not betting it will.

  12. i think we can agree that there is lots of things a president ought to do. we agree that making customs a more efficient place is part of that.

    what i just demonstrated above is that the admin is cognizant and certianly IS NOT ignoring customs.

    but i agree, this is a first step. only a first step. but give them that, at least. (this is the unfairness i've always wondered about in your criticism. to say that they are ignoring it is plain wrong).

    now, i have no idea if angeles (?) is the guilty party. i certainly havent read any. but the commissioner is tasked to run customs and investigate anomalies. give him a chance.

    i wont bother to ask you for a link. but if u have inside info to share, it would be helpful to everyone. right?

  13. GabbyD,

    Most eloquent, and respectful. If this is your new argumentative style, I like it . . .

  14. GabbyD wins by knockout!

  15. hey, BenK: you already know what the conclusion is when governance is decided by popularity vote --- he/she who is child of former president wins!!!!

  16. UP,

    You are speaking of George W Bush, perhaps?

  17. No, I think he is speaking of John Quincy Adams.

  18. Good post Joe. Another bell curve would show that slowly but surely the nation is moving away from cynicism and back to idealism. A nation can only move forward when it is fueled by idealism. Look at America, it stalled when it moved away from idealism, when its political leaders turned cynical, relying on polls and the flow of campaign financing rather than the ideals the nation was founded on to guide their actions. America is in a shithole of debt, and pulling the whole world down with it, and both democrats and republicans cater to their constituencies instead of facing the problem and finding a solution. Red state versus blue state instead of stars and stripes. Anyway, you may think of me as a staunch Aquino defender but the truth is the man is not as important as what he stands for. I campaigned and voted for him because of all the candidates it was him more than any other who understood that economics and all the other problems facing the country will never be solved unless we united behind something that is bigger than just filling our stomachs. There is a difference between being cash-strapped and poor. The former can be remedied, the latter will not be solved by all the money in the world because it is an attitude. That is what this president is trying to change, that we measure ourselves not in the number of toys that we have but by our nobility.

  19. MB, glad you enjoyed the article. And I agree that foundational values are more important than the "transactions" that rile people so (the most trivial being what kind of car the man drives; good Lord). And the US is certainly at risk, not just from debt (also transactional), but from loss of the foundational value that the union is more important than the candidate for office.


Please take up comments at the new blog site at

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.