Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Philippines: Cowboys and Indians Ride Again

In penning my last blog, my brain stumbled across a great visual. I said something like: "The Philippines is a lawless land. Those with power are cowboys and those without power are Indians".

Striving for example, I said the Indians were the victims of massacres and the bodies floating down the Cagayan de Oro river with all the logs. You know, the people at the wrong end of a six-shooter or chain saw.

Weapons is one area where the Philippines is thoroughly up-to-date. The modern Philippine equivalent of a six-shooter is a black automatic rifle acquired from the military in some slick way or another. The name of the weapon is irrelevant. AK-47, M-16, whatever. They all look alike from the Indian perspective at the front of the barrel. It's a big black ominous circle.

I'm going to ride with this image for a few blogs, or eternity, which ever pays most.

What is fascinating is that every Filipino is an Indian half the time. You see, every interpersonal transaction in the Philippines, under JoeAm's special "can't hide no more" social microscope, can be seen as a binary power play, a winner and a loser. Sometimes the power position is overt, explicit, loud and clear. A teacher is a cowboy, a student is an Indian. A government worker is a cowboy, a citizen needing government help is an Indian. A driver of a big black SUV is a cowboy, the pedaler of a tricycle is an Indian. A Senator is a cowboy, a voter is an Indian. Immigration is a cowboy, a traveler is an Indian. Customs is a cowboy, a trader is an Indian. A guy with a gun is a cowboy, a guy with no gun is an Indian.

Sometimes the power position is more difficult to see. The friend who ridicules another friend is a cowboy; the person being ridiculed is the Indian. The lady with the pastel white skin is the cowboy of style; the sun-baked rice worker lady is the Indian squaw of style. The shop clerk is the cowboy; the shopper is the Indian, except at Jollibee, which has managed to reverse the pattern in its single-minded drive to provide a good customer experience and make a bazillion pesos doing it.

The scene is rather humorous as people switch hats liberally. The white-skinned lady has to put away her 10 gallon Stetson and whip on a band of feathers when she goes into Social Security to stand subserviently in line to make her annual payment. The teacher, who rides to and from school on a motorcycle, must hold onto his feathers so they don't blow off when the big black Expedition blasts by. But he keeps his cowboy had pressed dearly to his chest in case he passes a student walking home and needs to whip it on to look authoritative. Everyone in line at the ATM is an Indian; the guy at the machine is a cowboy.

The generals get to wear their cowboy hats most of the time, except when meeting a general with more stars. If they are meeting the President, they wear their cowboy outfit with leather chaps and boots, silver spurs clattering away as they stride their perfect stride, 30 inches long. They do this to remind the President of all the past Army coups. But under the hat is a ring of squashed feathers.

Yes indeedy. I've watched a lot of cowboy movies in my time. Hopalong Cassaday, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger (ahahaha, and his trusty Indian sidekick Tonto; "How, Kemo Sabe!"), Zorro (the Mexican Lone Ranger), Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid (God, Redford and Newman are handsome), "Gunsmoke"(with handsome Marshall Matt Dillon and that hot barchick starring Amanda Blake), Wyatt Earp, Maverick, Brisco County. Oh, "The Rifleman", can't forget that square-jawed dude, whatever his name is. "High Noon" on the big screen. Some guy on TV with a sawed off shotgun whose name I forgot, but he starred in "The Great Escape". And that classic, "Shane" with Alan Ladd. I'm sure I missed a Charlton Heston cowboy film in the mix, but for sure he would somewhere along the line assume the pose of Christ on the Cross. "Ben Hur", "Soyent Green"," Planet of the Apes" . . . he spreads on all of them.

OMG, and JOHN WAYNE. Juices, how could I miss that 6' 5" brother from the University of Southern California. Or was that John Lucas?

It's all a little fuzzy, you understand. Seen through the very long lens of time.

The only movie where Indians star that I recall was written by Mel Brooks: "Blazing Saddles". Ah, and Dustin Hoffman in the one where the Indian rides his horse backward. You see, Indians are the subject of ridicule everywhere. That is my point. They get the wrong end of the rifle, as does the loser in any interpersonal engagement between Filipinos. The rifle may be verbal or real.

That's why courtesy is not popular in the Philippines. It is a weakness. It makes you an Indian. Your face feels best if you are a cowboy.

And every engagement, even among friends, is a contest of power. You almost never see two cowboys together at the same time. That would suggest strong self esteem and no head gear required. Most of the time Filipinos fight mightily over the one cowboy hat available to them all.

It's as surreal as the surfing scene in "Apocalypse Now".

Hi Yo Silver, away!

By the way, who rode a horse named Champion? And what baseball team did he own for a while?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Here Comes de Judge

"Here come de Judge!"

That is a line from an old American comedy, offered up by this black kid played by . . . um, who? I forget. I can't even remember who played the Judge. My God, age is stupefying.

"Here comes de judge" was also the name of my jeep in Viet Nam, dutifully stenciled on the lower panel of the front windshield. Most jeeps were named there, a part of the soldier's bizarre rituals of keeping morale up.

As I was in charge of two units, I was authorized two jeeps. The second was named "No DEROS", which means a lifer stuck in Viet Nam forever, never to receive orders to return from overseas assignment. A soldier's worst nightmare.

But I digress early on this blog . . .

Impeached Chief Justice Corona committed the cardinal sin among judges (in America). He failed to avoid the appearance of favoritism. Point one, he was President Arroyo's former Chief of Staff. Point two, he accepted her "midnight appointment" just before President Aquino took office. Even a public with no legal training can read that this line of events stinks.

But he is Filipino, so he did what came naturally. He accepted the favor of an appointment and for some reason the Supreme Court acted beneficially to abet a strange Arroyo escape in the dead of night.

So I say, convict the guy for failure in judgment and toss him. Save wear and tear on the Senate. Those old people don't have enough energy for a long, deep trial.

The problem with Filipino Judges is that they are expected to issue American-style judicial renderings, adhering strictly to the law, when the law in the Philippines is defined outside what is written. It is defined according to who is powerful, and who owes whom favors. That is why cases languish for years as opposing parties jockey between themselves, between their attorneys, and with the court, angling for some edge in power. Sometimes justice rides on evidence, sometimes it rides on evidence going stale with the passing of time, sometimes it rides on the Judge getting handsomely paid for letting both parties off the hook if they have worked out some kind of deal. Attorneys aren't experts in the law. They are experts at carving out deals.

That is like the American "out of court settlement", only in the US, the judge doesn't get paid off. Often, he instructs the parties to work harder to agree to settle, so he can keep his case load moving.

Quick renderings are not a hallmark of Filipino courts. I think there are two reasons for the backlog of 300,000 cases that never seems to go away. (1) Filipino courts obsess about irrelevant details rather than keep their eye focused on the essence. (2) Attorneys don't work very hard.

Judicial reasoning in America is ordinarily very simple. The law says "x" in this case. Apply it.

Attorneys are motivated by EARNING the money that comes with a decision, so they don't waste time getting to a resolution. Unless, of course they are on an hourly retainer; then things can take a while.

Can a judge have personality? Or do they have to be so objective that they can't make a joke or snore behind the bench?

Have you ever seen Judge Judy? Of course they can have personalities.

I've been a juror on four cases, and each of the four judges was different. An elderly scholarly type, with no humor but lots of understanding. A handsome young guy who made us jurists feel like we were kings of the land. A young woman who I am sure dyed her hair. A nerd.

But they were also the same. They followed the law. Nothing else.

Let me simplify it.

The Philippines is ruled by law only on paper. In reality, it is a lawless land, ala the American Wild West, circa 1823. The Indians are anyone without power  . . . like a bunch of journalists traveling with the opposition candidate. Thus, we have the massacre and the bus hijacking and logs washing downriver with Indian bodies.

Judges rule according to their interpretation of power.

Chief Justice Corona? Let's just say he is the most short-sighted man in the Philippines. He thought President Arroyo's power was attached to his robe.

No. No. It was not.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Going in Circles

This blog has become stuck. I find myself going over the same tracks regarding Philippine culture. It is a limit of my ambition, I suppose, that I don't dig into new topics. There are several good sites that monitor important subjects such as the impeachment trial that do a better job of providing information than my factless opinion-mongering does.

My main interest is to understand the core Filipino values that generate the very different culture into which I have waded, for good and bad. I'm more interested in the framework, the social infrastructure, than the detailed acts carried out within that framework. Although some of those are juicy indeed.

I've got that framework sorted out fairly well, I think: poverty, a fundamental insecurity that shows up to make almost every interpersonal engagement a power contest, a lot of thinking that is isolated from context and veers off to dysfunction, and what I would term relentlessly inconsiderate and therefore non-productive actions. Filipinos make choices I would not make, but that is their prerogative. Like giving the Catholic Church so much power while letting the Church deny any responsibility for anything.

If I were to have a super-human power to impose three changes on Philippine society, I would impose the following:

  1. A revamping of public education, making it internet based, to free kids from the constraints of a stale program that is more focused on hollowblocks than generating a globally competitive caliber of students who are smart, psychologically healthy, and ambitious. Today, intelligent kids are dumbed down (45 kids per classroom) and opportunity is ripped from their lives; vibrant thinking and the joys of ambition are suppressed under an unimaginative, authoritarian model of instruction. It's tragic. Kids are precious but are treated here as if they were too much trouble.

  1. A revamping of the Judiciary to make it free to every Filipino, focused on quick action as a condition of being fair; efficient of process; and objective and scholarly in its rendering of law. Judges should be rated and paid according to specific metrics of quantity and quality of judicial output. Class-action lawsuits should be welcomed as a robust and legitimate legal processes. Open, fair and efficient courts would give the people an avenue for progressive action. They would not have to rely on a stuck-in-the-mud Legislature that benefits from keeping things the same.

  1. Actions from the Office of the President and Legislature that show they understand that the Philippines cannot compete globally as long as social mechanisms are hung up on a system of favors instead of competence. This "trade of favors" is the biggest, fattest, ugliest albatross in the world, holding the Philippines back from emergence as a wealthy economy. Favoritism can be broken down by enacting measures such as a fair employment law that bans hiring and promoting on ANY basis but qualification to do the job better than any other person. And continuing the anti-corruption effort.

I'm not sure who is in charge of socialization(personal interactions), so I don't have many idea about changes in that area. The popular media, I suppose. And schools could, but they evidently don't see that as a charter. Filipinos need the courage to recognize failure when it occurs -- looking earnestly for the reason WHY rather than whipping a scapegoat and thereby figuring the problem is solved -- and an ability to accomplish things without the kind of gloating that paints trees bright red. Actions, like trees, should represent themselves. I'm not a shrink, but I am reasonably sure that the psychological underpinnings of too many behaviors in the Philippines are unhealthy. There are too many blames, too many excuses, too much snarling and obedience (depending on which side of the power line you fall), too much associative pride, and too many hidden agendas.

Man, just stand up, and own up . . .

Overall, the nation's laws are good, but enforcement is really shitty. It would be wise to work purposefully to instill the kind of responsible, disciplined, considerate, modern behavior you see from overseas Filipinos, but not at home. This requires that officials hold people to account when they misbehave.

Fundamentally, I think people in power (old rich people) don't want to change all that much, either because they lack vision and aptitude to build things, or because they are risk averse.  The main hope for improved social awareness and developmental progress rests with the blogging and social networking community as it engages in self-discovery and pressures the power people into working harder for the betterment of the Philippines. Mainstream media are starting to pick up ideas from the on-line community, so perhaps constructive thinking will percolate up and spread, and all the dysfunctional, nonsensical, inconsiderate, illegal stuff will stop.

I hope so.

Catch you later.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Readers Get a Twofer

Some days the subject matter comes too fast. I could write two or three commentaries a day. Or more on good days like today.  But people can only take so much of Joe Am before running screaming for the hills.  I figure that is what happened to Paster Ernie, Proud Pinoy and Gabby D, who have not commented since the beginning of the year. I'm betting they resolved not to put up with so much s**t in 2012 and to take that notorious slinger JoeAm off the register.

But that is beside the point. I have two critical observations today, and will jam them both into this blog.

First of all, I thought U.S. President Obama's State of the Union Address was about the biggest bunch of muddled ideas ever put together by a smart man. The speech was pedantic in its delivery, preachy and contrived. It contained so much practicum that the key points got mixed in the muddle. And I detest when they cart regular citizens into the chamber to give them a moment of glory, and try to attach their own cause to the case of a citizen who undoubtedly deserves notice, but should not be used as a stepping stone to the President's success at relating to the rest of us denizens. I hated it when Bush did it, and I hate it now. I don't care about Warren Buffet's secretary. I guess we are supposed to feel "associative pride" for these common characters carted into the peanut gallery for the cameras to pan to on script.

It was a case of the speech trying to do too much, and failing at everything as a result.

But I will still take this good, earnest and intelligent man over any of the four remaining Republican candidates: (1) a rich, stiff opportunist who can't trust be trusted in what he says, (2) a radical and inarticulate libertarian who is so far down the correct path that he would jerk the pragmatic system into chaos as he pursues his idealism, (3) a fundamentalist conservative who would send the U.S. back to the religious dark ages where the Philippines now resides, and (4) a philandering, amoral snake-oil salesman with the values of worm.

My second criticism is local, to Biliran Island. My brother in law has extraordinary basketball skills, honed on the dirt playgrounds of Zambales and shown off locally several times a week at the local concrete court. I am sending him to college here where he is getting trained up as a seaman. I encouraged him to try out for the college basketball team. He said he had already explored it, but can't try out because he is not six feet tall. The school requires all its players to be at least six feet tall.

Now that sent my blood pressure on a rampage for sure. It is so consistent with thinking in the Philippines. The trees are more important than the forest. Capability doesn't matter. Artificial standards are what matters. And the standards are levied in an authoritarian manner which does not allow appeal.

That is the Philippines in a nutshell. Hire a cousin, not someone with skill. Recruit a tall, slow guy to play guard on the basketball team. Forget concepts like fair opportunity and make sure to block whatever talent DOES exist. Idiots. And this is a university that is teaching social values to young Filipinos.

The Philippine "shortness" problem exists at the positions of center and forward, and there is damn little the Philippines can do about that except increase cross-breeding with African or Nordic giants.  A team of five guys between the height of 6'0" and 6'4" is rather like Princeton U., which floors (or used to) a team of geniuses of limited height who employ a slick, brilliant offense that only they understand . . . but they never make the NCAA finals because there are no giant geniuses in the U.S..

At least they can be proud that their players are smart.  My guess is they are also taught values like opening opportunity up for people rather than shutting it down.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Macho Strut

Men all around the world do the macho strut. It is not unlike a peacock flaring his gorgeous tail and strutting his stuff. The grandest flourishes are in the bull rings where matadors spin their brilliant red capes and taunt and stab el toro in the neck with spears until he is dead. Or on the race track where motorcyclists and auto drivers speed hell-to-high-leather for a glass of milk and a kiss from some blond bimbo they will try to bed after the victory party. Or those American cowboys who ride bucking broncos with fire in their eyes and gonads of steel. The riders, that is. I personally have a "Staying Alive" saunter that is a subdued version of John Travolta's famous bop down the sidewalk to the beat of the Bee Gees when they were young. I learned that walk when I was a high school jock, firing basketballs at a little hoop in the face of lesser men. Get 'em down and keep 'em down. It's attitude, man . . .

In the Philippines, the best saunters are those done by ex-military men and old power brokers like Ampatuan Senior who still pack a gun. They may lead with their gut and the strut might be an arthritic, drunken wobble, but you know not to mess with them.  Cock-fight chicken-owners also have a unique walk, a slight tilt to the right or left, depending on what side they tuck their cock.  I don't know if it is macho or not; it is outside my cultural grasp, and I have no desire to reach that far.

Young Filipinos don't know how to strut. I've never seen anyone under 30 walk with authority. That may give a hint as to why the nation is run by old farts whose idea of progressive comes with a recollection of what Manila was like when the Japs were in charge.

There are no bull fighters in the Philippines, and no bronc riders. There are lots of macho drivers, but they are on the National Highway, not the race track. And, come to think of it, they are more crazy than macho. Some Filipinos try to saunter to the beat of "Hotel California", but The Eagles are no Bee Gees and it comes off as a bunch of drunken ghouls sashaying in drag down the median strip of Roxas Boulevard. They also do a nice cha-cha to Waray Waray by the One Man Band, always at the highest decibel the 1950's amp can crank out. But a cha-cha is not macho.

Trust me on that one.

So I don't hold a lot of hope that much will change in the Philippines. The old farts hold the reins of power and right behind them are their sons and daughters, aging just in time to keep the Philippines locked in the stone ages, or whenever it was that the mountain tribes made the mistake of wandering down to the lowlands to find fatter pigs. Not much has progressed since then.

Most nations strive for strut. They are a representation of their leaders, after all. The leaders are mostly men other than that Thatcher battleaxe in Great Britain. And a few other broads tucked nicely away in lesser nations.

I'm not sure what music North Korea is strutting to, but my vision of Walt Disney's "Fantasia" comes to mind, where Mickey Mouse is doing battle with brooms that keep cloning themselves and hauling more buckets of water to the cellar. It is surreal slapstick done to a serious symphony, which is rather like North Korea.

Iran does the "Strut of the Fanatics", where you look into the eyes of the leaders and you see the kind of glassy stare reminiscent of that dead fish my wife likes to eat, the dry smelly ones. Scary, man, scary. The fish, too.

Syria has stopped strutting and is doing the "Collision of Murderous Malcontents". No one knows who is on first base or if what is on third or first. Abbot and Costello could do an good impression of Arab fanatics, I think. Arabs can't strut because of the physical deformity of the hips that crops up when carrying too many rockets, strap-on bombs and IEDs.

Myanmar until this past year did the psychopathic strut, with generals hiding the nation in the closet with hands over their eyes, the people babbling and drooling and doing what they were told. I don't know who there had the balls to man up to democracy, but that place has changed night to day. Soon, Myanmarinians will be authorized to strut to the Bee Gees, too. Respected on the streets of New York and Washington D.C.

Russia and China strut arm in arm to the "March of the Goons", still channeling Chairman Mao and that thug Stalin whilst pretending to engage constructively with the real men of the world, the US and Germany. Britain and France are locked into a knock-down drag out fight as to which is more refined and which still has any influence at all in the world, but they both prance rather than strut. Both Prime Ministers are rather like puffed up peacocks, now that I imagine them clearly circling each other at the latest Gang of 20 economic dance.

America under Obama has toned down its strut. Bush had the country stomping about like a muscular, mechanical Arnold Schwarzenegger in the days of his steroid use. The mechanics were guns and bombs. Now America is rather like chump boxer Floyd Mayweather on "Dancing for the Stars", a ship way out of its water. It is a strut where the attendees of Tea Parties and Occupy Camp-Outs are forced to stroll up the aisle together pretending to be from the same country. Not pretty at all. Not pretty.

Meanwhile, my impression of America as an ideal democracy has strutted itself right down the toilet.  President Newt Gingrich? Give me a break. He has the character of a neurotic hyena on meth. Put Sarah Palin up as his VP, elect them, and I vow never to return to that land of lost values and class. I'd rather visit Myanmar and have a more wholesome experience.

That particular tree of poisonous apples will shake out in the next few months.

The macho strut is rather like the egg and chicken, if you think about it. Strut goes hand in hand with confidence, or its best friend bluster. You can develop confidence by strutting properly, and you can strut properly if you have confidence. Since we don't know which came first, nothing is ever lost by learning to strut like a real man.

So go to it, my good fellow  . . . go to it. Walk the confident walk . . . plant your presence with authority . . .

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mormon Extremists

One of the top U.S. presidential candidates, Mitt Romney, is a Mormon. Mormonism is considered by some students of religion to be one of the four  Abrahamic faiths, along with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Like Islam, Mormons view the Old and New Testaments as sacred texts, but not the final divine word. Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith, like Islam's Prophet Muhammad, is considered to be the "authoritative vessel of God's word".  (Richard Land, Southern Baptist Convention).

The behind the scenes election debate is whether or not Mormonism is a Christian religion. It is behind the scenes because differences in faiths are hard to explain to kids and hard to discuss with rigid religious adults.

Now I don't know if you have ever had the opportunity to travel through Utah, one of the western states in the U.S. If you have, you understand the beauty of the state, from its snow-capped mountains to its rugged rocky canyons and pristine lakes. And it is clean because Mormons dominate the population. In the 1800's, Joe Smith led about 10,000 people to Utah. They travelled on horses and in covered wagons. They settled in the promised land and have been procreating and proselytizing there ever since. I'm surprised they did not re-name the state New Israel . . . or Joe.

If I were a Mormon, and I'm glad I'm not, because they are very hard-nosed about tithing 15% of your income to the Church . . . but if I were, and I saw the abuse being tossed at poor Mitt Romney, I would declare an empanada against the heathen faiths and launch a fat war.

Ahahahahahahaha . . . Oh, my  . . . wheee, oo o o!

Fat war, get it? Fatwah?

But back to the point. Utah should go independent because the laws of Mormon are incompatible with the laws of the United States. I mean, already, the oppressive American infidels have outlawed bigamy, which the Prophet Joe had no problem with. It's like outlawing the 71 virgins, or is it 72, I lost count, of the Muslim faith. Or making Muslim women wear cowboy hats instead of sheets.


I mean, Mormons could acquire both Utah and Nevada so that they would have their own physical representations of Hell and Heaven on earth. Adjacent Nevada, with its sin city Las Vegas, would represent Hell. Utah, with its famous Tabernacle Choir is full throaty blaze, would be Heaven.

Seceding would be fine with Nevada, I am confident. It would rid them of that bastard taxing agency the IRS and they could employ lustier, more well-oiled strippers without worrying about obscenity charges.

Unfortunately, Mormons are too well educated and too well off to brainwash teenagers into performing self-demolition bombings. Besides, it would reduce the missionary work force. They would have to use other means of warfare.

I'm thinking they could cut off water supplies to California.  That is like cutting off oil.

Or they could kidnap any Americans or other foreigners risking a drive across Interstate 70 and hold them for ransom, just like the real Muslims on Mindanao do. Their faith would prevent them from beheading the prisoners if they didn't get the money, but they could soak them in the Great Salt Lake until they turned into pickles. There is more salt in that lake than in goose liver.

The problem for me is that, contrary to those untrustworthy, wild-eyed Arab Muslims, I have never met a Mormon I didn't like. For one thing, they work hard, are honest and live clean. They don't even drink coffee, so they are certainly more pure than JoeAm, whose eyes flutter because of the excessive caffeine, not to mention the dancing his heart does.

If they asked me if they could do bigamy, I'd say "sure, no problem". A few years ago, I would have considered converting. But today, I am a one-woman man. . . and it has nothing to do with the fact she occasionally looks over my shoulder as I type.

But I digress.

For sure, if Mitt Romney does not get the nomination, it means America is not right for Mormons.

It will be time to find a spiritual war-monger to lead the flock to revolution, and secession. Just like the real Muslims in Mindanao are doing. Maybe they could recruit and convert Ron Paul, who looks enough like a wizened wise old fart, and given his attitude about no war and legalized drugs most certainly would be for bigamy and free love.  Mormons don't do turbans, but straight black ties are popular, and I'm confident Paul has a few of those in his wardrobe. Or Newt Gingrich is not a bad choice, either, as he has already flitted from woman to woman like a bumblebee in a rose garden . . . and he has never found a viewpoint he could not argue glibly.

Yes, yes. There is real promise here.

Praise the Joe!*

  • Small Print. (For the unpracticed literary mind, that "Joe" can be read three ways: (1) As coffee, often called "Joe" as in "I'm gonna grab a cuppa Joe!",  (2) As Joe Smith, Mormon Prophet extraordinaire, and (2) As Joe America, the blogger you wake up to each morning, exclaiming as you sign on and click to the Society of Honor,  "I'm gonna grab a crapper Joe!")

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Heroes, Pride and Seamen

I see President Aquino has joined the chorus of praise for Filipino crew members who helped rescue passengers from a sinking cruise ship. Several hundred crew members were Filipino and, unlike the captain of the boat, they apparently did not abandon ship and leave the 4,000 passengers to their own misery. They stayed on the job and helped people off the boat.

Famed blogger BenignO, I am confident, would not consider the seamen heroes. Their job is to protect and serve passengers, and that is what they did.

And I wonder of the good and the bad of attaching nationality to the brave work done by the seamen.

  1. Should I, if I were Filipino, feel pride in what Filipinos did, to work hard to get passengers off a sinking ship?

  1. Should I, if I were Italian, feel embarrassment for what the Italian captain did when he, in cowardly fashion, abandoned ship?

  1. Should I, as an American, conclude that all Italians are cowards on the basis of what this one guy did?

  1. Should I, as an American, conclude that all Filipinos, including the President, are brave and heroic on the basis of what a good many Filipino sailors did?

For what reason would the answer to any of the questions be "yes"?

What does nationality have to do with it at all?

The crew members worked hard and displayed great strength of character to stay in danger in order to help others out of danger. They deserve to be honored.

But not as Filipinos.

They deserve to be honored as individuals who mastered the weaknesses of our humanity, who displayed the discipline and sacrifice needed to put others above their own safety.

To claim some of the credit for what they did is needy and needless, and distracts from the real honor that ought to be bestowed on the seamen. It also insults the brave seamen from other countries who are not being waved about as flags of pride for their countrymen. This tragedy should not be leveraged as a competition between nations to say who is most heroic.

Let the crew members feel the pride, individually, for what they did, individually.

For each seaman who stood firm, I say "Nice going, dude! Thanks for representing our human potential better than that chicken-shit captain. Have a drink on me!"

My thanks to AJ for the perspective on this, and for the explanation of "associative pride".

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Punishing Kids

The Philippine House of Representatives has passed a bill banning corporal punishment (striking) of children. The bill is now with the Senate for consideration.

Physical abuse of children is reprehensible because kids do not have the strength or maturity to defend themselves.

But let's detail abuse in various forms and consider what is the most prevalent abuse in the Philippines today:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Deprivation

What is physical abuse meant to do? Get a child to obey, mostly. It is punishment, like shouting, only heavier. From that, the child is supposed to learn to follow the law, or rules, or commands. Any abuser is likely to argue good intent.

The fear is that physical abuse will cause excessive pain (broken bones) or emotional damage causing social dysfunction, aggressive behavior toward others, insecurity, or any number of psychological maladies.

Physical and emotional pains are commonly understood.

But what is this thing called "deprivation" abuse?

It is: "punishment caused by withholding stimuli which are normally needed to assure good physical and mental health".

For example, the CIA uses deprivation to encourage enemies to reveal secrets. They put the subject in a small white room with no furniture, no noise, and no reference to time. Lights are turned off and on every few hours, simulating the passing of days. In short order, the prisoner becomes disoriented, loses track of time, panics and quickly goes mad enough to start blabbing.

It is benign physical abuse, but extreme mental and emotional abuse.

It is also deprivation to withhold food, clothing, shelter or education from a child.

My concern in this article is withholding education because most people appear blind to it, as abuse.

If a child is denied proper instruction on social values, the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic, and applied skills or knowledge, he will suffer. The degree of suffering is measured by the gap between the health he could have had if properly educated and the health he ends up having (no teeth or way too many babies, for example), the opportunities and wealth missing, or the emotional well-being stolen from him. It will simply take longer than a "white room" to get the dysfunctions to show. Poverty. Joblessness. Sickness and physical pain. Depression. Aggression.

Maybe that is not punishment to the Department of Education, or to the Congress, or to the President. Because the pains don't appear during the school years; they come later, rather like delayed stress syndrome from combat. But the root cause is lack of education.

I think it is abusive in the extreme to withhold education. And stupid to neglect the effects.

The abuse happens to millions of Filipino kids who attend public schools every day.

The Philippines averages 45 kids per classroom, suppressing a student's opportunity to learn to speak well and learn well. Teachers are of modest skills, a deficiency which withholds first-class knowledge from students. Instruction is by rote, withholding from children the ability to think and organize independently.

The emotional damage is deep and long-lasting, reflected in adult hyper-sensitivity, social dysfunction (envy and anger, primarily), and incompetence.

The rationalizations abound.

  • "We don't have sufficient budget. We do all that we can do."
  • " It isn't really abuse; no bones are broken."
  • "The Philippines has an excellent school system compared to some other countries."
  • "Look at how many Filipinos can speak English."

It's like walking past an 11 year old girl who is being beaten by an adult man and doing nothing about it.

  • "I didn't want to interfere."
  • "He is probably the parent."
  • "He might have a gun."
  • "She probably deserved it."

I suppose Congress will ban whacking of kids physically and pretend to walk a moral high ground. Politically they have done what they need to do to show they have childrens' interests at heart.

Meanwhile, the tragedy of so many children deprived of a quality education will remain unspoken. And the children will pay a very steep price, indeed. Deprived of knowledge. Deprived of skills. Deprived of wealth. Deprived of health.

Adults are doing that to them. The President, the Congress and the Department of Education are complicit in this abuse.

For myself, I am tired of walking by and doing nothing about it. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rain and Peace

It rained yesterday. You could hear it coming from two opposite directions, one the roar of trillions of drops bearing down from the mountains, crashing into tree leaves like so many bomblets blasting new paths through the forest; the second the shriek from my wife caught a block away yakking with one of her friends.

My wife made like a purple streak, Olympic speed, across the field, through the gate and into shelter. The roar of the train hammering across our tin roof was deafening.

Fifteen minutes later the sun was cutting through the billowing grey-white clouds, heating the wet to a heavy blanket of humid suffocation

Everything is green here, until it reaches the ocean blue.

This is the Philippines.

The place where, if you get wet, you just dry out.

The place where green is for some reason missing from the flag.

The place where water and land meet to form a way of life different from the normal world. Where ambition fades like a flower smashed down by sunlight, and laze is the mood of the day.

I don't even own a jacket anymore. Dressing warmly means putting on a shirt with sleeves.

I'm down to my last pair of shoes, and when they go, it is flip-flops at the mall, the bank, the church. One half the reason is that they don’t make size 12 shoes in the Philippines. The other half is that I am not about to pop for Customs fees that are more than the cost of the shoes. The third half is that I am comfortable bare of toe. And at this stage of life, I am master of my own destiny.

We are nonsense, we people. I regret the lack of brown pigment in my skin, protection from the tropical sun that I wish I had whilst dodging the pointy parts of my wife's umbrella as she goes to ridiculous extents to stay pasty pale.

Fortunately, she fails, as the sun is everywhere, and she is a delightful rich brown, the color American women would die for, and which she hates.


Beauty is more than skin deep.

Fan palms that would cost $150 in the U.S. grow like weeds here; I have to take my machete to them to keep them from overrunning the paths. Spiders like to hang over the paths, too, about face level. Ferns emerge in the shady damp corners of the yard as if I had planted them there, lush and lovely. At $25  each in the US, I figure I have several thousand dollars worth of ferns laying about. The huge timber bamboo shimmer in the breeze, 50 tall feet of gentle rustle that psychologists have discovered brings peace and calm to people.


The stuff of houses and fences and furniture, and peace.

I wonder why the Chinese are so blasted pompous and dogmatic. Their bamboo must be defective.

I have come to like the Philippines a lot.

The place has grown on me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Checks and Balances and Sludge

I wrote a lengthy blog on the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona, but sent it off into the cosmos, bits and bytes strewn across the great ionic wasteland. I was only saying what everyone else was saying.

If I step back, I would cite the following observations, those of an outsider, easily dismissed:

  1. Democracy remains healthy when checks and balances keep it steady. Impeachment is a legal process, a check, a balance, against an officeholder who may have placed his well-being, or the well-being of his friends, above that of the people. If the accused did no wrong, the process will bear that out. The process ought to be respected. It is the law. It is healthy.

  1. Judges must at all costs retain an aura of impartiality. Attorneys are advocates. They need not retain an aura of impartiality. Judges who accept midnight appointments ought to know full well how that appointment will register with those who want judges who are better than the rest of us at maintaining balance, objectivity, perspective, and calm. The former chief of staff of the appointing president was made Chief Justice. The APPEARANCE of favor is gross and unsightly. An apolitical appointment would be a professor of law or a well-respected working judge, or any number of people not tainted by appearances.

  1. President Aquino did not make this ill-appearing appointment. President Aquino did not hold a midnight raid on the Constitution or hand out bags of cash to legislators. President Aquino did not try to run from the country on the apparent pretext of medical need. President Aquino is charged with the heavy responsibility of stopping these kinds of shenanigans. Doing nothing would be absolutely irresponsible. Why would anyone argue that he should do nothing?

  1. The Philippine judiciary is fundamentally a poorly run mess of inefficient, ponderous, political, corrupt incompetency that does not even give most people access to its services. It is a disgusting institution masked as righteous by old farts and fartresses of little humility. It is an institution that has no idea about accepting accountability for its condition. It also has some good people within its ranks, but they are overwhelmed by the weight of the sludge that is the system of favoritism and self-dealing.

  1. Many, many Filipinos are inherently defensive and see ill motive in any criticism. They fail to find respect for any person making any criticism. Court workers who march against the legal process of impeachment show themselves to be Filipino in character; they would undermine the very legal process they are charged with protecting and advancing to try diminish the legitimate critics who have hurt their feelings. They should refer back to item one, checks and balances, and acquire the dignity of someone who respects legal processes, which are contentious by design.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thought Fool

What is it like, a cross-cultural marriage of American to Filipino, of old to young?

I exclaimed to my wife the other day that "I may have a large ego, but I am thoughtful".

She exclaimed back, "thought fool?"

That is one of the pluses and minuses of the deal. We regularly misunderstand each other, causing great bouts of rolling on the floor in laughter and just as many arguments.

I asked the guy at the Manila airport where check-in is for Tobaclan. My wife cracked up as the guy's face went blank. "Tacloban, babe, Tacloban".

A few days later she peeked up from her magazine and asked what are "pork lips?"

Huh? After a minute of describing these machines that run around on wheels and lift things, I understood what she meant.

"Fork lifts."

We have determined that our ears are mutually defective.

My wife has the patience of Job, just like all the rice workers who plop one planting after another into a pool of mud all day. Only she has to listen to my relentless complaints about Filipino rude behavior, outta-control dogs and pollution, and illogic. She is my escape valve, the person who listens (or pretends to), and allows me to vent the steam that would otherwise poison my enjoyment of the Philippines. She accepts that my perspectives are right half the time and wrong half the time.

Hers, of course, are right all the time. She is Filipino, with face to defend, even if it means scratching the eyeballs out of mine.

Well, no, that is not an accurate characterization. She is not physically violent, but her tongue can carve a husband better than that Chooks for Chicken guy lays waste to a bird carcass.

The rest of the time she is sweet as a Snickers.

She keeps the floors spotless, the pantry full, her husband stuffed and the kid in order.

That is another difference, though, come to think about it. I try to explain things to the kid. Give him a little direction and some context. She orders him about like a drill sergeant with a burr in his briefs.  She figures the only context the kid needs is a shout in the ear and threatened excommunication. Or maybe a spanking, I forget which is which. President Aquino knows.

But it doesn't matter. The kid is sneaky smart, and at age three has figured out how to manipulate both Mom and Dad.

The neighbors and townsfolk can't figure us out. They try hard enough, staring as if we were just off the saucer from Mars. Rumor has it, started by the wife of a mason I hired, that my wife is a prostitute and is running around with the electrician. Also, we only have one kid because  I can no longer "get it up".

Now I wonder how it the world she gets her information, but I think her spy is named Envy. She couldn't be further from the truth but you'd never convince her of that.

We are an odd couple, for sure. I'd stare at us if I saw us. One is 4'9" and the other 6'4", one is Filipino and the other American, one is under 30 and the other over 60. We've earned our attention. And it is the enjoyment of the difference that gives us so much humor and occasionally, ummmm . . . tension. So if others share the moment, too, what should we care?

The way I figure it, no one has the market on the correct way to be, and those who try hardest to hammer others into their singular way of living are far from correct way. I like to think our differences are like the elegant spices that turn regular food into fine cuisine.  Sometimes the dish isn't so tasty, but we just wait for the next meal.

The distinction between American and Filipino has eroded within our household. We are just us. The kid certainly has no idea about it as he wanders about blabbing half in Visayan, half in English, and a small percentage in Dad's swear words.

Come to think about it, that's one of the things that separates me even from highly patriotic Americans. I think people around the world stand equal, and nationalistic fervor is rather like the neighbor's envy, artificial and too often built on insecurity.  Yes, it is necessary to bind together to defend one's way of life. No, it is not necessary to consider other peoples as somehow lacking in authenticity.

That said, I think certain principles are good. Like hard work and responsibility and ingenuity and honor and courtesy and as much dignity as we can conjure up as we mingle amongst those with different standards. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

10 Ways to Get Rich

I had a brief exchange with brianitus a while back about women in the Philippines, and how women in the cities have more liberated values than women in rural areas. In the cities, many husbands and wives both work, achieving a little better stability in case one loses a job, and improving their income. If they are both professionals, they can build a very good, modern lifestyle

Indeed, this is a perfect example of the Philippines THE WAY IT SHOULD BE. With people being resourceful and thoughtful and modern. Women who accept that they need not be baby factories. Men who accept that the wife is a partner, not a property.

The discussion led me to ponder exactly how poor Filipinos can climb out of poverty on their own initiative. Here’s my list:

  1. Pursue a husband/wife partnership with dual income and modern standards of gender equality, family size and education.

  1. Study hard in school and supplement the rote education with mind-bending reading that will modernize the way you introspect and organize the way you act.

  1. Attend church for spiritual and moral enrichment but use birth control to avoid being dragged down by too many kids. Go to confession once the kids are grown: "Father, I have sinned mightily for the past 20 years . . ."

  1. Get a well-to-do foreigner to live next door; the entire neighborhood will somehow step up one rung. Hell, get your daughter to marry one. Or nail an old-timer of your own. He won't live long and he'll give his money to you.

  1. Get an education in something that is needed, like call center management or engineering, not hotel and restaurant management or nursing or computers.

  1. Form or join a cooperative that employs modern methods of production (like, uses equipment). This applies not only to agriculture, but to construction, fishing and retailing. Get bigger than a Mom and Pop enterprise as fast as you can and make real money.

  1. Go to Canada to work. It’s cold but you don’t have to deal with a suppressive culture, and it is a worker’s market, not an employer’s market. That is, you’ll get paid real money. And you will rid yourself of the suppression of the depression of poverty that overlays the Philippines like killer kelp in a warm bay.

  1. Learn how to run a business the way Americans do. Planning. Risk assessment. Efficiency. Marketing. Then find a market, a product and an investor. If you are on Biliran Island and have a crisp business plan, contact Joe America for investment backing.

  1. Rally to get the Philippines to pass a Fair Employment Act that bans the hiring and promoting of friends, family and favorites over capability. That way you can build a career with promotions and salary increases that recognize the value of your work.

  1. Find Yamashita’s treasure or a sunken Spanish galleon. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Risk of Objectivity

It struck me (once again) this morning how much we tend to bind our self-esteem to ideas and opinions. Once we have offered a view on something, we defend it. Indeed, we stoke the fires by censoring the information we acquire and receive. We read the articles that support our take on an issue and wave them about for others to read. We skip over opposing views or try to trash them, to make them worthless.

The official name for some of those tendencies when they are done without thinking is "selective perception". Beyond that, we tend to filter out within our brains the arguments and facts that support our view, and forget about those that oppose it. This is called "selective retention".

What does this mean to publishers and bloggers? It means that if they stick to a hard line view, as do the Anti-Pinoy and Get Real blog sites, they can build up a clientele of like-minded readers who enjoy the perspectives there. Because the reader base is fired up and supportive, the publishers increase the stridency of their views and everyone is happy.

The problem is, they are not objective, they harass and drive away opposing views, and they end up wrong about half the time.

These natural bias-building inclinations are not unique to the Philippines. Look at the fundamentalist religious movements around the globe. Same principle. Or look at the Tea Party or Occupy movements in the U.S. Same thing. The uprisings of the Arab Spring. Same thing. People are rallying around causes that reinforce their own preconceptions. That often include only half the truth.

Publishers and bloggers who try to tread a balanced line risk becoming irrelevant because about 50% of the time they are offending one set of readers or another.  If they write a particularly hard-hitting article favoring a given perspective, they risk losing readers who believe something different. And if they write the opposite hard-line article, they risk losing the rest. Readers flit off to find views that are better aligned with their thinking.

My leanings tend to the liberal, I suppose. But I have also blasted the Occupy movement as being a step closer to anarchy than to freedom. So Occupy supporters may take offense and stop reading. Or as I relentlessly pound on the Catholic Church of the Philippines, I risk filtering out Catholic readers. And my blog effort seems somehow to become less genuine for that.

With this as background, I find that I particularly admire the articles on the blog site Blog Watch:Citizen Media, an effort of Noemi Dado (and separate from blogwatch.ph) . She is decidedly in favor of women's well-being and supports the HR Bill. But she makes sure to publish opposing views, including those by the Catholic Church. Yesterday, I read an article by Gloria Arroyo critical of the lack of energy and single-minded focus of the Aquino Administration. Blog Watch didn't wrap the statement in editorial commentary condemning Ms. Arroyo's point of view, although readers are certainly free to add their perspectives in the comment section. The article was allowed to stand on its own merits. And remarks or writings by the Aquino Administration are also presented on the site, and allowed to stand for what they are.

I've written two articles that have been published on Blog Watch: Citizen Media. One is on education and another on the Philippineclass structure. Both articles had their genesis in dialogue here at The Society of Honor. Not all blog sites welcome views by non-Filipinos. Indeed, to win some blogging awards in the Philippines, you have to be Filipino. Ideas of themselves aren't what is important, even if they are about the Philippines; nationality is important. It is a form of selective perception.

In naming my blog site "The Society of Honor", I was actually stating an ideal, the wisdom and high-mindedness of striving for objectivity instead of promoting an agenda. That's where the term "Honor" comes in. I've found that is harder than it seems, because, as sole writer and editor, I am fully susceptible to the forces of selective perception and retention.

I rely upon readers to hold me to a straight line when I wobble. That is the Society I refer to in the blog name. I'd like to build a readership who can respect opposing views, but have the candor to disagree, as I strive to do the same. By way of example, I appreciate the stance of Mariano who articulately, in his cynical style, criticizes President Aquino even as I praise him. He never finds a need to bolster his argument by calling me a moron. And I appreciate Brianitus giving my chain a yank when I over-ranted about Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Indeed, it is this striving for balance and a 100% reading of all perspectives that will assure that you and I both remain open-eyed, open minded, and as close to 100% intelligent as we can get. Rather than limiting ourselves to a 50% level of intelligence by selectivity in what we observe, remember and say.