Friday, December 30, 2011

ZTE, a Goon and a Goof

Charges have been filed against ex-President Arroyo for complicity in the ZTE internet scandal. The cost of the project ballooned from an original P 150 million to P 330 million as kickbacks were built into the project. The First Goon, Mr. Arroyo, was allegedly in line to receive P 70 million to make the deal happen. Ms. Arroyo blocked investigation into the affair by ordering her staff to refuse to give testimony to investigators.

This is all encouraging, and I hope the hunt for thieves continues deeper into the government employment roster.

For me, being an avid reader of mysteries, I'm inclined to try to put clues together to make an integrated whole. Sherlock Holmes is able to discover criminals by the mud on their shoes, as he can identify 42 different muds and what part of the country they occupy. Certainly, we can do something similar.

The clues we are working with are: (1) the two cases filed so far against Ms. Arroyo, (2) the midnight raid on the Constitution undertaken by the legislature late during Ms. Arroyo's reign, (3) the midnight appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and (3) the Supreme Court abetted run for Singapore by the medically challenged Arroyo family a few weeks ago.

Let's assume the charges are true, that Mr. Arroyo used his influence to try to steal P 70 million from the ordinary Filipino, the taxpayer. Let's assume that Ms. Arroyo knew full well what was taking place.

How did they expect to get away with so blatant a theft?  They had witnesses to the left and witnesses to the right.

The only way would be if they controlled the investigators and the judiciary.

With that understanding, the midnight raid on the Constitution and other shenanigans undertaken by Ms. Arroyo to try to stay in power, the midnight appointment of the Chief Justice, and the "flight of the fugitives" all fall neatly into place. Ms. Arroyo is apparently cut of the same cloth as Marcos. Extraordinarily self-serving and displaying a confidence that is beyond the rational.  But she proved to be a goof at it, the ignominy (look it up) running ripe in the scamper for the airport.

These conclusions may represent nothing particularly stunning, and many news reports will be written around these themes as the drama unfolds. Sherlock would probably yawn and mosey over to the easy chair in his library for another dose of cocaine.

Where I want to go with this is to suggest that it would be good to get a list of all current government officials who voted for the process of Constitutional revision in that midnight vote. At the max, their affairs should put under the spotlight (wealth vs. salary, bank account deposits around that time, and other oddities) with charges filed if the evidence supports collusion in overthrow of the government. At a minimum they should be identified so voters or supervisors can get them out of office, where they remain, as foxes in the henhouse, a huge risk. And an offense to higher sensibilities.

The impeachment of the Chief Justice is probably pretty much assured. Chief Justice Corona  seems to believe he walks above the law, or certainly above propriety, rather than being the law's primary defender and upholding the exquisite sense of propriety that ought to be attached to judgeships. He wears his robe as a wolf's skin.

There is a reason judges are called "Your Honor". Or we should be able to call them that without choking on our words.

I'd argue that the Aquino Administration should let the water run downhill on this. The water being Arroyo sweat and tears. Let them fall on others who were complicit in playing with the Philippines as if it were their own country to manipulate, over the public good. If the evidence is insufficient to file charges, at least let their names run prominently on the front page of the Inquirer prior to any election in which they are a candidate. Let voters make their own deductions as to the motives and allegiances of those who would redraft the Constitution for personal advantage.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Fireworks

Christmas to me is a mishmash of religious and cultural moment, a great deal of fun piled on top of an uplifting story that must be taken on faith by those of the faith. By mishmash, I mean a glorious concoction of memories and traditions and stories and spiritual awakening.

I've been to Bethlehem. It exists. It is a grubby little town in the middle of a pile of rocks that today people fight and die for, because not all of them believe the same story. They don't have bamboo in the West Bank of Israel, so most of the houses are made of stone. They have lots of that. The old and the new are shabby, worn places. But heroes seem seldom to be born in large rich homes.

Jesus is a historical figure, rather like Joseph Smith, I suppose, who led 10,000 Mormons in covered wagons across the Great American Plain to Utah. Clearly, people trusted him with their lives, and believe he is close to God. A lot of what is attached to Jesus is mostly allegory, I suspect, or incidents embellished for the lessons therein. But it is meaningful for the importance people put on it. The first of the gospels was written something like 30 years after his Jesus' death. I've long suspected that maybe the recollections were a bit fuzzy or patched together "as best as I can recollect". But that does not make them any less profound.

The birth date of December 25 is pure fiction, as is the way Jesus looks in this glorified painting or that. His dark skin has been sent to Bello's for lightening. I also know that when I go to Hell, the destination Proud Pinoy and Pastor Earnie are convinced I am heading, I at least know I will have some hearty companionship, for John Clease and the rest of the "Life of Brian" cast will be there. Clease is among the funniest men on earth, and his "Fawltey Towers" BBC series is among the funniest cheap television shows ever done. A handful of quick-witted people and a set.

"The Life of Brian" is a parody about the life of Jesus. The wrong Jew . . . Brian . . . is picked as the next Savior, and the cast slapsticks its way all the way to the cross, upon which Brian and his compatriots break into a delightfully cheery closing song. If you can get this movie, buy it or rent it. But I warn you, it is not for those who take their religion seriously. However, the more you know about the incidents in Jesus' life, the more meaning is attached to the riot of satire that is the life of Brian.

Santa and Jesus. Now there is a pair of characters joined at the Christmas tree, along with angels and elves. What a happy crowd they make.

The Salvation Army dings bells for dollars and the Catholic Church bongs mass for souls. Somewhere in the distance, loud Christmas music is spreading the joy.

Red and green are the official Christmas colors. And white, of course.

Never mind that our part of the world never gets snow and the holiday pine trees are made of plastic.

Orange is for Halloween, the anti-Christmas Holiday. It's for voodoo and magic and why am I writing about that? Superstition and fairy tales are where you find them, I guess.

We had fireworks at midnight on Christmas Eve. The little lady coughed up P 4,000 to buy some roman candles that were really wimpy, fizzling off two red blobs each, and some outta-sight rockets that shot up like professional fire-works, exploding above the house in reds and purples and whites. I'm amazed at this stuff. The biggest had 25 mini-rockets packed in a 5 by 5 cluster, like anti-aircraft rockets. Light the fuse and run. Every explosion went off like it was supposed to, with the finale being a beautiful waterfall of white crackling firecrackers. No one lost any fingers, arms or eyes this year, and the tin roof of the house did not burn.

The fireworks were made in the Philippines.

We should put those people in charge of the legislature and we might get the HR and Divorce bills passed. Or at least let them defend the Spratleys.

Surrounding that celebration was about three days of eating and people visiting in search of food and a gift. Every relative who can imagine a box on the family tree crawled up the National Highway to the rich niece's place. Not to mention the carolers who seemed to arrive at the most inconvenient time, and sang loud enough, if not always on key . . . and not exactly for the joy of it. Ulterior motive was behind the caroling . . . caroling for cash.

The Philippines is the reverse of the U.S., where caroling spreads the joy of the season to others. Hmmmm, when did I write that Filipino brains were installed in reverse ? I guess it takes money to get them turned around. (Or they have to be turned around to get money??) Chickens and eggs forever . . .

We also had a Christmas morning gift bonanza for the kid, who doesn't quite understand Santa but welcomes what he brings, mostly toy trucks and books. Anybody trying to touch his goodies is in for a snarl, "leave my stuff alone". He will be a great consumer as he gets older.

We are "haves" in a land of "have-nots". It is both a blessing and a draw on the heartstrings.

But one gift lights up a kid's eyes, so it is easy to pass the joy about. The parents are happy with cash.

The Filipino way is a family way with the Church as backdrop. Food is the center of the occasion. It's a rich and joyful holiday, even for people without much money. I think there is not as much depression here as there is in the U.S.

People who don't have anything don't have high expectations.

Not so far to fall I suppose.

Time to mosey down to the fireworks store. Gotta restock for New Year's eve.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Killer Floods and Competency Engineering

Engineers in my time wore slide rules like a six shooter pistols. They were quick draws with intricate calculations that are today flashed out by computer. The modern computer was designed by an engineer with a mind for application, comfort, speed, result.

See, that is the thing about engineers. They are both creative and applied. They have to understand the idea and they have to know how to put it into structure. That structure may be steal beams or large oil pipes or electronic wires or composite airplane parts.

The Philippines needs three skilled engineers: an Engineer in Chief, a Social Engineer, and a Competency Engineer. Men or women who understands that the Philippines is limited by shortcomings that most people don't see, or ignore. It needs solutions and structure, not criticisms, not small acts that don't correct the problem, not more bandaids.

The Congress is a fine institution. It is just incompetent at getting the Philippines up to speed in anything that matters. The President is a fine man. He is just incompetent at finding a way to get from desire to reality, where desire is a booming economy and reality is poverty and unnecessary deaths. Government agencies like Customs and Immigration and Foreign Affairs and Tourism and Trade are fine organizations, but they are incompetent at getting high value production and world class result.

Some people in government are starting to hone in on the problem. Senator Pimentel III was close when he urged President Aquino to appoint the right people to agencies that deal with disasters. He said: "We need these men by whose decisions and actions lives are saved. The worst thing is to have high-level officials merely monitoring and reporting the scenario. That's the role of the media."

Perhaps the good Senator should be the Engineer in Chief, the guy who understands that problems are generally systemic, not transactional.

The rain was an act of God. The situation on the ground, the cut trees, the houses on riverbanks, were deeds of mankind, a system built on year after year of ineffectual work. And thievery.

The flood was caused by huge rain, perhaps because of global warming. Maybe we need competency in preparing for more intense storms and rising seas and changing micro climates.

The flood damage was intensified because forests had been clear-cut, robbing the hills of their staying power. This was done because people in power cheated or were not competent. Going even deeper as to "why", one can see that these are chronic problems within a government of poorly paid people, most of whom have little opportunity to improve their condition. "Career" is not a word you hear much about in the Philippines, especially among young people who know the plum jobs go to people with connections.

The job of the Engineer in Chief is to identify when and how problems arise, at the root.

If the problems are social, or cultural . . . such as the way "loss of face" gets in the way of objective problem-solving, because people are more interested in winning (saving face) than in good results . . . then the Social Engineer needs to be summoned. He is likely to recommend supplements to the education curriculum or public service campaigns to enlighten people.

If the failure is competency, then the Competency Engineer needs to be summoned. The DENR can't seem to stop the clear-cutting of trees. But that is the job. Why are they failing?

Define the job. Train or get the best people to do the job. Stop filling jobs with wives and cousins and friends and people owed favors, or who have the power to offer favors for cash.

President Aquino understands part way. He said: “But the problem is many are still violating (the logging ba). So we have a fact-finding team that will determine the violators and we will file cases and hold them accountable."

Punishment of the negligent does not fix the problem, though, does it? It is just a part of the excuse-making and blaming that avoids the real problem.

What is fascinating to me is knowing that the problem is two-fold but can be moved forward with only one solution. A solution you never hear about from legislators or the Administration or government agencies.

  1. Today the culture is steeped in cheating and corruption because it is the only way people can grow richer. People need to see opportunity to get wealthy by playing it straight. That is why a Fair Employment Act is so critically important. To build opportunity into the system. To establish "career" as a real word in the Philippines.

  1. Incompetent people are lodged in important jobs. A Fair Employment law that bans hiring and promoting on any basis but capability can fix this. It will take a little time, but the incompetent people will soon be shown the door.

  1. Define the job precisely and succinctly, including measurable objectives.
  2. Track performance.
  3. Fire the people who are not measuring up.
  4. Train and hire people who can get the job done well.

You won't fix the root problem by now and then jailing someone who got caught cheating.

The root problem is lack of opportunities for enrichment earned honestly. The poor structure is an entire culture built on favor, not competence. One law can change this.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays

I'd like to wish my loyal readers the best for the Holiday Season, and beyond. May the good cheer of the Christmas season be bright and warm for you and your loved ones, and may 2012 be such that you look back, a year from now, and say, "my, that was a rich year."

Best wishes.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

President Aquino, Jesus Christ and Richard Nixon

    I know it is their right to speak freely, but I can't figure out those who criticize President Aquino for every breath he takes. The Philippines has a fine President, the best in years. Not corrupt. Earnest. Good thinking. Getting stronger by the day. Improving the economy. Improving the investor climate.  Taking the initiative to build non-corrupt industries. Improving the reputation of the Philippines internationally. Building a stronger relationship with the United States and being firm with China. Engaging with other Asian countries. Reducing rice imports. Clamping down on corruption.

    What exactly do you seek in a leader?

    Jesus Christ is not returning to lead the Philippines to Higher Glory.

    Those who criticize President Aquino because he did not fly into an emotional panic and jet to flood-torn Mindanao to wallow in the mud for a photo op want exactly WHAT in your president?

    He delegated to his disaster pros. They have been working hard. He stayed on top of things.

    He should not have gone South so the media could have a photo-op for an easy ratings-boost. He becomes the center of attention wherever he goes. That would be counter-productive in the frantic turmoil of saving lives. Let the media work on being news reporters rather than sensationalists.

    He did not abandon his other responsibilities and even had the kindness to pay his respects to the people who work on his behalf, at their Christmas party. You want him to WHAT exactly, run around like Chicken Little claiming the sky is falling? Or he must become a torn up suffering soul, shrinking back to his house to weep at the tragedy of it all. THAT is what you want for a President?

    Give me a break.

    Philippine disaster preparedness, warnings and recovery are much better today than they were when Ondoy struck and awakened the Philippines. I think it was the sight of that actress Reyes sitting stranded high on her roof that struck terror in the hearts of star-struck Manila. Or maybe it was the ridiculousness of Teodoro running around panic stricken looking for his rubber boats.

    But the weather people mighty quick ran out and got some Dopplers. And warning systems were firmed up. And response protocols were firmed up. It has been a priority of the Aquino administration to do better, and the effort shows.

    Filipinos talk about Filipino Pride, but I don't see much of it when it counts. I see emotionalism and irrationalism and the failure to be proud of the President who is not seeking photo ops, but is seeking to improve the Philippines.

    The critics are the ones who, to me, look silly. Look weak. Look panicky. Look emotionally lost. Look desperate.

    President Aquino looks like a leader, acts like a leader. Gets things done like a leader.

    It's an apple in a crate of oranges, but for my own amusement, I ranked him vs. recent U.S. American presidents on overall capability and results. Here's my assessment:

    1. Bill Clinton
    2. Ronald Reagan
    3. Barak Obama
    4. George Bush, Sr.
    5. Gerald Ford
    6. Jack Kennedy
    7. Noynoy Aquino
    8. Jimmy Carter
    9. Lyndon Johnson
    10. Richard Nixon
    11. Gorge Bush, Jr.

    He could climb even higher if he pursued new laws that cast the Philippine social framework in more modern terms: (a) HR Bill, (2) Divorce, and (3) Fair Employment. But in terms of the economy, international relations, defense, corruption and other important domestic programs . . . he is moving the country forward nicely.

    I'd say toss a little of that usually misguided, overabundant Filipino Pride in his direction and let him get on with good works.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Death to Americans"

This article follows from a prior article about the Catholic Church that questioned Church involvement in Philippine politics without the Public having any way of holding the Church accountable for its acts. The Church is not an elected or appointed agency, but is deeply engaged in influencing elected representatives and constructing Philippine laws and values for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It has more clout than your ordinary influence peddler.

Given the Church's aggressive commentary on the HR Bill, I wonder how far priests are allowed to go to threaten citizens who support the Bill.

The question in this article is how to define what speech is allowed under free speech. At one end of the spectrum is complete freedom of speech. Under unrestricted freedom, we would be allowed to walk into a public theater and shout "fire", or onto the airplane ramp and shout "any bombs on board?" We would be allowed to call other people names, or even lie about them. Accusing them of being prostitutes, for example, if they look at us the wrong way. We would be able to show porn on public television.

Well, no, no. That is not what we mean by free speech. That is irresponsible.

Then there is the other extreme. The Syrian end of the spectrum, or the Chinese. If you tweet a remark the State does not like, you could find yourself locked up or tortured or dead. Or take the Iranian model of free speech.

No, no. That is not what we want. That is not free at all.

Somewhere along the continuum of high restrictions and "anything goes" is a line. Or, rather, a series of lines. The lines are laws that define what is permissible without harming others. Slander, libel, security restrictions (airports), obscenity. These are lines. Obscenity has subordinate lines. What is allowed for children, for example, and something more liberal for adults.

A lot of laws in the US define the limits of free speech.

It is tricky business.

Should an Occupy Wall Street protestor be allowed to shout "Down with Big Business!"? Should he be allowed to shout "Kill all CEO's!"?  Should he be allowed to shout "Death to America!"?

Flag burning is not illegal in the United States. It is an accepted expression of opposition. It is illegal in the Philippines. In the U.S, interpretive renditions of the National Anthem are allowed; in the Philippines, the song must be sung as a march. Different national sensitivities draw lines differently.

The trick is to define where one person's freedoms or well-being are threatened by another's exercise of free speech. An insecure nation sees danger everywhere, and suppresses more expressions.

The U.S. is among the most confident and open of nations. Still, questions abound. Is it an exercise in free speech to block access to a port, as the Occupy people are doing in some U.S. ports? Or is that acceptably benign civic disobedience? Or is it stage 1 of anarchy, with mobs defining what is right and wrong?

In the US, the court system is actively ruling on such matters daily, establishing the "case law" that supplements written laws formulated by government agencies.

But in the Philippines, the courts are tied up with 300,000 backlogged cases. Courts are inefficient and perhaps bound to allegiances other than law. That is, to personal favor or cash.

Case law is not as elaborate or as rigorous as that found in the U.S.

Can a Muslim in the Philippines shout "Death to infidels!"? I don't know. I'm sure Muslims have no idea, but could justify shouting it with no conscience about how it would impact the lives of good people.

Catholics may be included within that definition of "infidel". Or me, as an American. I may be considered a death target. The object of the death threat. Is that okay, in a land of cheap murder-for-hire?

Are Filipinos allowed to shout "Death to America!"? Are they allowed to shout "Death to Americans", which is specific toward people walking in the Philippines today. Is the Philippines different than Iran, for instance? Are they allowed to threaten me with a gun, as did a drunk neighbor a couple of months ago? ("No" is the answer to that question; PNP officers were on that guy like a flea on a mangy Filipino dog.)

Is it ever permissible to incite violence toward groups of people, or individuals? Are Syrian protestors permitted to defy bans on assembly? To throw rocks at police? To shoot back?

If I say the Catholic Church is wrong on its stance on the HR Bill, are priests allowed to consign my soul to Hell for eternity?

It is a threat, for sure. Not simply death on this planet, but punishment worse than death for all eternity.

Does the Catholic Church have to respect people of other faiths, or non-believers? Or can it wave the threat of Hell beyond death, like a 45 caliber pistol, in my face. Can it wave that particular weapon in the face of the President? Of congressional representatives who vote on the Nation's well-being?

Am I allowed to consign a priest to Hell? Or all priests?

Or am I expected to be a little more sensitive, a little more merciful, a little more respectful?


Monday, December 19, 2011

Hi Tech, the Real Religion

No subject is too deep, too complex, too intricate for JoeAm's lavish opinion mongering. No idea is beyond the grasp of his far-reaching guesswork.

This month I've written about the Bible, about bamboo, about President Aquino and Filipino social failures. Before that I dealt with education in the Philippines, the Occupy Movement in the US, and pasted various commentaries about the Filipino condition onto the Big Internet Clipboard in the Sky. Or wherever it may reside . . .

It's time to deal with technology.

Hi-Tech is a strange phenomenon. The pace of change is faster than the human mind can comprehend. Faster smaller better. We wake up every morning knowing that this computer we are typing on has become a creaky, decrepit instrument of the past, lacking the power to process the newest gaming software or grab all the information that is available to us in the Cloud.

I can do an image search on Google and get 10 million pictures delivered in .38 seconds, of which my brain can only process about 50 looking for one I like. And it takes me way longer than .38 seconds to pick one. Without question, the electronic processing of information is bigger than any of us. Far bigger. It is alive, expanding as we sit here. Controlled by no one individual or corporation or government. Even computers themselves are doing the creation, filling in the programming code or drawing the graphics that no man has the speed or power to do.

"Relax, Joe. It is not a sentient being. It has no soul. It is just a lot of processes working at the same time."

Okay, but as a whole it is stronger than any sentient being, wiser, and has its own personality. It gets bugs and viruses and even from time to time blows up. It can be poked in Virginia and a nuclear experiment in Iran dissolves. A young man can sit in a cave in Colorado and watch a bomb from the sky pulverize 20 Afghani terrorists like so much red dust thrown to the wind. A brilliant young Chinese hacker sitting in a shiny office building in Shanghai can prowl through secret CIA documents or copy Boeing airplane plans. You, too, can spy on Iran or the US of A or Russia using Google Earth's friendly space cam.

What do you call this power? It is more than "The Internet". That is just a connection of clunky computers. It is more than "The Cloud". That is just a bunch of clunky computers with a lot of memory. It  is not limited by wires, but flies unseen through the air. It has the five senses, sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, as well as predictive ability beyond the human mind.

It is closer to God than any human has ever become. All seeing. Powerful. It will last until the death of the planet. It is beyond human control.

I want to worship it.

What do I call this elegant combination of hardware and software, satellites and cameras, sensors and detectors, and memory large enough to store all human thought?

"Your Highness" comes up flat. This is bigger than a king.

"Divine One" is nice. I wonder if the good Pastor would approve of that. Probably not. My typing those words has probably, in his eyes, just condemned me to Hell and only his prayers can keep me out.

"Your Intricate Bigness".

Ha ha, that is funny. But it disparages the glorious elegance of the entity.

"Your Exquisite Connectivity"

"Supreme Processor"

"Mighty Ion"

"Oh Grand Silicon Savior"

"Your Stupendous Binary Eloquence"

And For sure we need religious rites to certify that our faith in the processing power is true. Candles are out, for the Catholic Church burns so many that it is a primary source of global warming. Incense is nice, but India is likewise polluting the globe with odors and faith.

Our Christmas tree is pretty this year, so I'm rather thinking the LED lights that make it burn and blink so brightly are what we need. But what symbol?

The cross is superb, but taken. Halos are taken. Crowns and jewels and martyrs and fat guys in loincloths are taken.

I tell you, building a religion is difficult work.

What about a book? I think we could compile all the "Computers for Dummies" tomes and put together a pretty good story. We could whip up a little allegory, a psalm or two. Put in a forecast of doom at the end as a stern warning that we ought to respect that to which we bow and for sure listen to the preachers. We will refrain from mentioning the profits. . . oops, I mean prophets.

We're getting close here.

Praise the Chip and pass the UBS Cable!

Halleluiah Brother!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why the Philippine Democratic Stool Wobbles

Any milk-farmer worth his salt knows you make a stool with three legs, because it can't wobble. Even if one comes up a little short, the three-legged stool remains firmly planted.

A four-legged stool is prone to that startling buck and wobble, likely to scare bossy and result in her moving her rump into the face of said milk farmer.

Now the Philippines, in theory, is structured as a three-legged stool, like that of the American system it generally copies.

  • Executive
  • Legislative
  • Judicial

The problem in the Philippines is that there is a fourth leg:

  • Catholic Church

This leg is written out of government in the Constitution, but Church advocates pulverize the Constitutional dictate by saying the Church is entitled to free speech, like any other institution.

So priests argue politics from the pulpit and threaten the President with ex-communication and receive free cars from a government agency and threaten their congregation with doom in Hell if they back the RH Bill. Their speech is active, for sure. It imposes very heady, life-threatening, responsibility on others.

And the State's stool wobbles because the People have no means to impose responsibility on the Church.
They can vote the President and the legislators out of office, and pressure the Congress to impeach wayward judges.

How do they tell the Catholic Church to sit down and shut up? To deal with things spiritual, and not things political. To render unto Caesar that which is Caesars?

Now somewhere, there ought to be a way to distinguish speech from action. Like, I can be for gun rights, but clearly see it is not appropriate to go out and shoot someone I disagree with. It is okay for the Catholic Church to advocate for natural birth control methods among its congregation. But when it suppresses the rights of non-Catholics to education and prevents them from making informed choices, it has meddled where it ought not.

The Catholic Church has influence, but takes no responsibility for result. There is no way to hold the Church accountable for its actions. That is the problem with it having so much influence in the Philippines.

The US model holds churches accountable for staying out of politics. If they meddle, they lose their status as tax free organizations.

I'm in favor of drawing a clearer line as to what the Catholic Church is allowed to do in the Philippines.

It is allowed to talk. To teach. To argue.

It is not allowed to threaten. To bribe. To take gifts from the State. Or to extend favors to governmental officials. It is certainly not appropriate for a top official of the Church to pay a visit to an impeached Chief Justice as a way to insert the Church into the normal balancing of the three branches of government.

It is not absolutely not appropriate for the Church to threaten Non-Catholics with consignment to Hell. That is a form of emotional slander. It crosses the line.

The punishment would be to summon top Church officials to the Palace for a lecture, to make sure that the Church understands that it is allowed to exist in the Philippines with the blessing of the State.

But it is not a fourth leg of the State's democratic stool and it needs to be more respectful of the democratic process.

It needs to take responsibility for that, at least.  And it needs to stop threatening non-Catholics.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Democracy Is a Verb

This spat between the Executive Branch of Philippine Government, opposed to the Chief Justice, with the engagement of the House of Representatives, is delightful. Really good television, excellent for newspaper sales. It is juicy. It stars people we know. It is knock down drag out. People are seriously bent out of shape. It doesn't get much better than this.

Now various organizations are choosing side, backing the judiciary or the President, uttering their punditry. Anger and indignation are ripe across the land.

One offical, whose name skipped past me in yesterday's flood of information on the subject, said, essentially, "This is democracy at work".

Bingo, Brother. Indeed, democracy is not the three separate branches of Government. Democracy is what they do. The laws they pass, the leadership they provide, the arguments they have.

Democracy is a verb, an action. Not an entity. It is not the President. He is a small player on a big stage. It is not the Senate, they are just a bunch of generally fat old well-to-do people from good families seeking to be profound. It is not the highest judges in the land, they are ponderous, professorial people who do their business on a toilet like the rest of us. It is not the House, which is a rabble of popular red-nosed clowns in search of a wildly cheering tent; a former dictator's wife, the son of a former President, a superstar boxer, and a bunch of names that are the same as the streets in Manila. The old people in the House are generally thinner than in the Senate.

My two favorite verbologists are Senator Santiago and Justice Secretary de Lima. Are they sisters, or what?

I like them because they can coin a phrase, and because their thinking usually is profound. It means something. It makes sense. It is refreshing.

Secretary de Lima is being roasted by many for her characterization of Cheap* Justice Corona (* blatantly plagarized from MR) as "a walking constitutional violation". Rather than roasting her, they ought to cheer her. Where else do you get the truth unvarnished, as eloquently put as a nuclear poem.

I've held Senator Santiago in high regard since she declined to join President Arroyo's expensive New York bash, and later characterized it as probably not the best way to spend taxpayer money. True, she did get a tad hysterical in describing the American VFA as a "humiliation, a humiliation!", but she made up for it by chastising the priests who bummed free cars off a government agency.

President Aquino is starting to gain my admiration, too, as being a Man of his own, rather than a puppet for others to yank. His decisions are big-time. Blocking the Arroyos from fleeing the country. Giving the nod to impeachment of the Cheap Justice. Building up a military capability to defend Philippine interests in the West Philippine sea. (I project that American ships will be back a Subic in five years, a smaller force than before, but a nice kick in the pants for the Subic  retail trade. Or panties, as the case may be.) His democratic actions are decisive and clear. He just needs to get in the face of the Catholic Church, those pompous robed superiors who never accept responsibility for anything.

The Philippines is acting as a big democratic boy now. It is out in public, in our faces, in plain sight. Not behind the scenes or stabbing in the back with armies and coups and overthrow of the Constitution in the dead of night. It's at the microphone, in the camera, in print black and white, all spokespersons blazing.

This is democracy at its finest.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Is Marriage Dying as a Useful Social Institution?

"Times are a changin' . . ."

Who wrote that? Bobby Dylan? I think I hear his nasal twang in the background . . . crooning about life and girls like a lovesick foghorn.

The factuals amongst you will be impressed that I have a statistic for you this morning instead of an opinion. A recent survey in the United States reported that the percentage of married adults has declined to 51%. It was 72% in the 1960's.

That is a fact.

The analysts figure an increase in divorces brought the number down, but it is not the whole story. The divorce rate has held steady recently, but the married rate continues to decline. And it is the youngsters who are establishing the trend, living together outside the confines of official marriage.

Why is that? Why are they establishing households, maybe even having kids, but choosing to do so outside the legal instrument of marriage?

Here I must shift from facts to guessing. You can guess along with me, as one man's hunch is as good as another's, and a woman's hunch is often better.

For one thing, women in the U.S. are equal to men in every way, under the law. And many have taken up careers on their own. They no longer bind themselves to a man as a housewife with no basis for "survival" outside that marriage. Women are fully independent, and can be assured of doing fine either inside or outside a marriage.

Indeed, in that frame of thinking, marriage becomes a legal headache. It forces whichever worker is making more money to give their money to the partner in the case of a split-up. And it forces attorneys into the household.

Who needs them?

It is that simple.

Kids interject a complication, and marriage certainly provides a firmer legal foundation for whichever parent ends up with the kids after a split. But single-parent houses in the US are becoming common. They are no longer looked at as an aberration carrying the stigma of failure.

There are two kinds of legal foundation in the US. Written law and case-law established through an iteration of legal decisions.

It does not matter if a paper marriage exists or not. Living together establishes a contract, just as a verbal agreement is an agreement as solid as one stated on paper. The legal foundation exists to determine who is responsible for paying for a child in a defunct relationship, whether a marriage rite was performed or not. A written "marriage contract" is not required.

So why marry? To signify the commitment of one's heart? To sign, seal and deliver it?

I rather suspect that if the heart is true, a piece of paper will not affect it one way or another. The marriage ceremony is merely a show, more for the parents and guests than the couple getting hitched.

I know unmarried couples who have been together for 30 years as I was cycling through three marriages. Perhaps their commitment was STRONGER because they knew their relationship depended on THEM, and was not just some shared vows said before the congregation.

That brings me to the Philippines.

I think the Philippines is on this matter more advanced than the U.S., for it is common in the Philippines for man and woman to take up living together outside the official bond of marriage. Why? Poor people don't have the documentation or the money to execute a marriage according to the terms required by the State.

Indeed, people move easily from one "unofficial spouse" to another, and are called husband and wife even if unmarried. The children in some families are an absolute splatter of different parentage, and kids are moved to uncles and aunts as if they were the real parents, without official adoption. The kids are pushed toward such money as may be available.

In a poor family, there is also a certain gender equality. Both husband and wife don't make much money. They are equal as to wealth and means. Ain't got none.

So marriage is not required to protect the financial interest of one, over the other.

Marriage in the Philippines is only required for "show". It is the ritual, the surreal public fantasy that holds that the married couple is not sinful when having sex because they received God's blessing from the church. In fact  . . . no, that's wrong . . . in JoeAm's estimation, if one's heart is in the right place, God will understand.

No public show is required. No piece of paper is required. No Church is needed to certify God's blessing.

And attorneys can't help at all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

JoeAm's Bible Lesson: Isaiah 1-2

Now I am guessing that most readers believe I am an atheist, for I roundly condemn the Catholic Church for holding the Philippines back. And, indeed, a good Pastor is praying regularly for my misguided soul, mainly because I believe God and his Son have a sense of humor and a depth of perspective that is missing to humorless by-the-book religious fundamentalists.

I believe in God: the Mystery, the Power,  and the Interlinking of Souls. In different terms, that would be the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son.

I also believe the ways of God's religious mankind are sinful and fraught with rules that lack reason and good foundation in scripture. The organized church is an institution of Man that seeks to provide order for the chaotic masses. It can be either well-intended or manipulative, depending on what is in the hearts of its leaders. And it relentlessly declines to credit God with giving us the brainpower to learn, to create, and to change.

Finally, I also believe that simply because God consigns us to the ultimate fate of the Revelations, we do not need to speed its occurrence by unrestrained birthing and the ignorant abuse of our planet. We are given the brains to sustain a healthy life and ought to do a better job of applying them.

But that is just preface to today's Bible lesson.

Isaiah Chapters 1 and 2

How is the Bible to be read? Literally, as truth? Or figuratively, as allegorical lesson? It is founded on historical truths but seems detached from logic. Is God all-powerful? Why, then is he so vengeful?

Isaiah begins in Chapter 1 providing the time and geographical settings. It is the time of the kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, in the land of Judah, which we might consider as a "Greater Israel" encompassing Israel and Lebanon, and parts of Syria and Jordon.

Now our Lord is highly perturbed, for his children have misbehaved. Their cities are corrupt, their land abused (sound familiar?), they have allowed foreigners to rule them, they have offered sacrifices without meaning, and they have lived the sinful lifestyle of Sodom and Gomorrah.

He calls for them to straighten up and fly right. For the pious Catholics, I would cite verse 1:13.

Bring no more vain oblations. Incense is an abomination unto me, the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies. I cannot away with, it is inequity, even the solumn meeting.

And 15:

And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

The constructive guidance is in 17:

Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

What does that mean to you? To me, it says consider the troubles of others FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE and give them relief. It does not mean condemn a woman who does not want to be a baby factory. It does not mean to indenture women to abusive husbands.

And God is ruthless, as we find flash floods ruthless.  Consider 19 and 20:

If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land;

But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

Whew! That's clear enough! And the rest of the first chapter recites the destruction God will bring to us, the misguided.

Chapter 2 recites the prophet Isaiah's vision for Judah and Jerusalem. In 2:2:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it.

And God will judge the people, and there shall be no more wars. He warns of outsiders who bring their sinful ways and idol worship to Judah.

Material man is roundly condemned in verses 20 and 21:

In that day a man shall cast his idols of sliver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats:

To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

And I don't know about you, but verse 22 strikes the fear of God in me. It says (to me) that maybe I ought to be responsible to the Truth of God. Not the wayward ideas and ideals of mankind:

Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

The rest of the Book of Isaiah continues to recount the punishments and glories that await, respectfully, sinful or obedient man.

I recommend you read at least Chapter 4, which includes the sledge hammers of 20, 21 and 22/23:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink; which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!

I frankly don't know what God some Filipino leaders worship, or which Bible they read.  I've observed a lot of double-speaking, vain, less than righteous Filipino leaders. Corruption doth not grow in a bed lacking nutrients.

Perhaps they skipped Isaiah, eh?

Or maybe they don't believe God will punish the sinful, or they can trick God with a death's day appeal for forgiveness?

That suggests an Ego bigger than God's . . .

Perhaps they just skipped Isaiah . . .

A Short Blog On Pots Who Accuse Kettles

I see impeached Chief Justice Corona is  accusing President Aquino of becoming dictatorial. He says the President wants a court made up of Aquino toadies who will bow to his every wish.

That is interesting, that the Chief Justice thinks so many judges would be bound by political directives instead of the law. He reminds me of the husband who overlays his own cheating values on his wife, and accuses her of cheating.

I rather suspect that the Chief knows bowing to political winds, because he has bowed to them.

I wonder what other judges will think when they realize he is saying they are so weak they will certainly bow to political pressure. That is, he is saying that President Aquino cannot construct a court of law-bound judges.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Kid and President Aquino

Most of us look at kids two ways. Our own are darlings. Those belonging to others are loud, unruly pests.

My latest (I have three daughters in the U.S. dealing with that place) is three years old. He is a conniver, a manipulator, a person with motives of his own, and he is not afraid to use them.

He takes his guidance from four adults, mainly. His father (age old), his mother (age young), our housekeeper (age 19) and his lola (age indeterminate), who lives in the small house on the other side of our lot.

His lola and the housekeeper don't have a lot of clout with him. They assume this three year old is an extension of the "boss", the man with the money. So they mostly just protect him (the kid, not the father) from disaster as he roams about slamming doors or throwing toys or insisting on playing when he is supposed to be eating.

My wife is Filipina, so she interacts with the youngster on the standard superior/inferior model, one that is reactive to the kid's shenanigans. She is superior when she shouts and he is superior when he ignores her. The kid understands that he is in power until his mother hits the volcanic stage, at which point he deploys one of his two defensive weapons, grovelling or crying. They work in superior fashion, and in a few minutes, he is back in control again.

Now for myself, I believe that a kid needs consistency of message. You listen and obey, good things happen. You choose to disobey, you pay the price. The most severe price is a flick on the wrist with my thumb and index finger which the kid learned very young he does not like. In between bad behavior and "the flick" is a warning. I start counting in my most authoritative voice: "One . . . Two . . . Three!"

He moves on one.

Now, my wife counts and he doesn't move. Not at one. Not at three.

That's because she is a softy and doesn't like to cause him pain.  She has not fully understood or bought into the intellectual concept of constancy of punishment/reward.

When she is reactive and makes like Pinatubo, there is hell to pay for anyone in her path. I lay low even if it was not me misbehaving.

But until she gets to eruption, the kid plays her like a piano. Or air guitar, which he is quite skilled at.

It is interesting how the kid has sorted out that his mother and father behave differently. I attribute it to all the Gain powdered milk that my wife has force-fed him over the years. The manufacturers, who I am sure are not cows, load that milk up with all kinds of cranial steroids and healthy chemicals (although I suspect they are just vitamins with snazzy names).

Side note:  I don't believe any of the advertising here, as there is no requirement that advertisers certify that what they are saying is anywhere near the truth. Why, I can get teas that will keep me virile until I am 98, some product with an X in it that will cure everything from high blood to rabies, and juices certified by Manny Pacquiao to allow me to beat to a pulp anyone with a Mexican surname.

Concepts are important.

Filipinos do not grasp them easily, I think. Filipinos are good with the trees but not the forest.

Therein lies the problem in the Palace. It is reactive, playing the small-time win/lose game, rather than doing the difficult, big-picture things necessary to achieve planned goals. The HR bill is looked at as a tactical matter: the Church opposes it, so this objection must be dealt with. The bill is not looked at as an essential way to raise the Philippines up to modern standing in the world, or a way to work on poverty. If the President focused on what he is trying to do - modernize the Philippines and get the place respectable and wealthy - he wouldn't hitch the nation's economic wagon to a 12th century mule driven by monks in robes.

That's a concept.

If my kid can grasp it, how come President Aquino cannot?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Filipinas, Just a Loud Step Away from Liberated

Most interpersonal engagements in the Philippines are measured by the polar standards of win or lose. Gain face or lose face. Exercise power or be subservient. Act rudely or shrug when someone else is rude.

Indeed, this polarity applies to women in the Philippines.

They win, serving as managers, senators, businesswomen, and even President of the Philippines. They have a firm hand in managing the family. They direct the placement of kids into schools  or with relatives or nanas like a conductor leading a large orchestra. They cook, clean and work the rice fields. They truck off to Dubai to work.

But they also lose, being hounded as sinful if they want a planned family, and being locked to abusive, neglectful husbands without recourse to divorce. And when they lose, most are passive, subservient.

The irony of the female condition in the Philippines is that women also anchor the Catholic Church, the institution that keeps them bound to archaic moral standards and laws about 50 years outdated.

I think Filipinas are unusually strong and aware, dedicated to the chekka news network and following the drama of political and entertainment shenanigans like a bee chasing pollen. They are stylish, a condition jammed down their throats by television commercials and magazines. They have the courage and strength to work in Dubai or marry a foreigner, for the practical gains. They like to learn, and they cruise through various Philippine dialects and English like a seal through water.

But they hold to the drawbacks that influence all Filipinos. Subservience . . . to their government, to their Church, to the laws that treat them unkindly. They also possess Ego . . . to a way of doing things that cannot change, for they must defend "the way things are" to the core. Most appear not to grasp the big vision of Filipina as fully liberated.

Inspired by a big vision, Filipinas would DEMAND liberation. They would unify, organize and shout the loud shout of women offended that they are treated so poorly.

They would stand up to the chekka news network, the place where backbiting and social pressures are applied, and decide that two kids is quite enough, thanks. They would take neither advertising nor the opinions of friends as gospel.

Many are doing this, I know. Too many are not.

I can't say there is a lack of courage. Filipinas are plenty courageous.

But there appears to be a lack of a sense of the wholeness that comes from being independent, from letting no other person define who this particular "Filipina" is.

There seems to be subservience when there ought to be outrage.

President Aquino's face should be red with shame that he is doing so little to bring Filipinas into the modern world. Congress should also be red-faced, especially that Sotto guy.

Filipinas are letting these official men define them. Letting them snort their sexist jokes at the nara-wood tuba table under the Congressional mango tree.