Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Born Again Mormon

My wife is a jokester.

We sat down for breakfast last Sunday and I asked her why she was not heading off to church to begin the celebration of Lent. She is Catholic in the way most Filipinos are Catholic, at her convenience, and with a good deal of superstition thrown in.

She looked at me blankly for a half second.

"I'm a Mormon. Born again."

I spewed my rice and corned beef. The thought of my wife belonging to that straight-laced bunch of well behaved pseudo-Christian bible thumpers cracked me up. And to be a "born again" evangelical Mormon . . . well the contradictions there are just delicious. My imagination sees a room full of cleancut guys with white shirts and straight black ties cutting loose with their "hallelujiahs" and "praise the lords", maybe grooving to a band with guitar and sax player.

Born again Mormon. ROTFLMAO

Then yesterday something like a million Iglesia ni Cristo church members gathered to stage rallies in Manila, Tarlac and Cebu, the point of which is unclear but seems to cut three directions: (a) prove to members that the Church is powerful, and (b) prove to President Aquino that it is powerful, and ( c) prove to God that it is  . . . well, thankful for the blessings. This particular "sect" of Christianity, as the newspapers put it, opposes the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, as he is kind to them. The Church and President Aquino are rather like ex-lovers who are having a spat.

I think perhaps the Catholic Church is losing its grip on the Filipino heart and soul. When you hang onto 15th century values, you get a little crinkly around the theological edges.

I wonder if these other sects are any better at promoting family planning than the Catholic Church, or do they, too believe in populating the hell out of the planet? And are they also in favor of keeping women bound to abusive husbands like the Catholics?

I dunno.

For myself, I am stunned at the total failure of the sum of all churches to drill morality into the Filipino life style. What do the preachers do up there at the podium? Are they so busy admiring Christ that they forget to tell their flock to practice what He preached?

And given the proclivity of the various churches hereabouts to meddle in politics, I heartily suggest taxing them. There are rights and there are the responsibilities that go along with them. The churches claim the right to speak, but claim no responsibility for outcomes.

So tack a dollar outcome on their mouths, a tangible piece of responsibility.

Rather burns my buns, this idea of rights with no responsibility.

The more I think about it, the more I think I am going to become a born again Zoroastrian. Heaven and Hell are clearly defined. One is up, the other down. And they feed their dead to the buzzards.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Like, Dude, Dump the Beggar Economy, Yeah?

The Philippines runs a beggar economy. It is as slapdash as a cardboard house on Fourth & Main in Los Angeles, screaming for handouts, with lots of poor people cheating and crying for a freebies. Even rich folks angle for favors, little better than beggars, because they don't want to EARN their advantages; they want their riches the easy way.

The government outright gives cash to poor families. Industries from transportation to manufacturing to retail to farming lack technology and sophistication; to be blunt, buildings and equipment are pieces of junk.

As I said, it is a beggar economy.

Three recent developments fomented this blog (that's different than fermented, just as oiled and juiced are different, but not a whole lot):

  1. Respected economic organizations are warring with each other as to whether or not the burgeoning (different than bungee jumping) Philippine population growth is a good thing or a bad thing. HSBC claims the Philippines will be the 16th largest economy in the world in 2050, largely on the back of its population growth. Others beg (heh, heh) to disagree.

  1. JoeAm did a blog on agribusiness, taking the Philippines to task for wasting one of the richest lands and climates in the world. The country does this by following a socialistic model of land handouts which assure inefficient conversion of land to cash, because the poor farmers who receive the land gratis don't know how to make money with it, and don't have the critical mass to compete with modern agribusiness. The socialistic land use model is ideologically dead and plain economically stupid.

  1. News reports state that Philippine coffee is in high demand globally. Producers are hard pressed to keep up with demand. Why? Because it TASTES GOOD. Do you realize the untapped potential that exists here? The sky is the limit.

Now, I am personally for more restrained birthing, but think the number of babies birthed is largely irrelevant to economic opportunity The Philippines has a 75% chance of doing well during the next 40 years one way or another. The decision chart flows something like this:

  • Do you have lots of babies or not?

  • If yes, do you educate them or not?

  • If yes, expect people to go overseas to work, giving the Philippines an advantage with the money they send home (now something like 12 billion pesos per year). The Philippines will do well.

  • If no, expect people to labor at minimum wage, keeping Philippine labor costs competitively low. The Philippines will do well.

  • If no, can you deploy people more productively than the current beggar model deploys resources?

  • If yes, the Philippines will become a tourist, agribusiness, trade, finance, and manufacturing powerhouse. The Philippines will do well.

  • If no, you will have a bigger beggar economy.

Now this decision chart does not consider the social ramifications (education generally allows people to live cleaner, healthier more productive lives) or ecological considerations (over-population will remove land from agribusiness and tourist rosters, undermining those industries; changing micro-climates or more intense storms may wreak havoc with water supplies and the nation's ability to keep mud out of living rooms and cities out of the seas). It also does not consider what happens if poor people get their fill of being the doormats for rich people and rebel physically, like with guns and truncheons. Or if Senator Enrile in his last days finally pulls off the coup he has been itching to get done for a half-century.

I think a small wave of enlightenment will sweep across the poorer Philippines and family size will shrink modestly. Education will improve somewhat as internet teaching comes to the fore. The economy will do well, but not spectacularly. By 2050, it will be bigger economy and maybe not a beggar economy.

For myself, I will continue to drink Philippine coffee because it IS the best.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Good God, Good News

In August of 2011, JoeAm published a six-part series on the poor condition of Philippine public schools. In November 2011, he published an article regarding the same topic He argued for an internet based educational model that would supplant the impossibly bankrupt current educational model anchored by thousands of hollowblock schools, thousands of mediocre teachers, millions of tattered textbooks, and average classroom size of 45 kids each. The large classrooms assure that the smartest students will be "dumbed down" to the slowest pace possible.

It is therefore with great satisfaction that JoeAm read an article at that quoted Senator Edgardo Angara, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture. From the article:

Angara, chair of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture, suggested the introduction of virtual classrooms to address the ever-present scarcity in physical resources especially in public schools.

"Imagine having enough virtual classrooms that we do not worry anymore about the lack of teachers, the lack of desks and the lack of books for every student," he stressed.

Angara explained Filipinos must be quick to study the new methodologies, new techniques and instruments in facilitating distance learning. To accomplish this, he said the country needs qualified professionals with a progressive vision.

Cause or coincidence, makes no difference. Good God, this good news. I hope Senator Angara is instrumental in changing the model of public education in the Philippines.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Doy Santos

Doy Santos writes as "The Cusp" on His background is economics so he brings a lot to the table in terms of understanding the mechanisms of wealth generation. Or lack thereof . . .

Hisrecent article challenges those  who are focused on Chief Justice Corona's half-baked SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilites and Income) to publish their own SALN's in as much detail as they are demanding from the Honorable Corona. The between-the-lines implication is they would be hard-pressed to do that, and would have to modify and re-jig prior SALN's to make the lies in them consistent with the current facts.
I Also read that even President Aquino's SALN history is apparently being reworked to align prior reports with the current one in a way that pretends to tell a forthright story.

But therein is the important point. The point that Mr. Santos never gets to. The bottom line truth that Filipinos either have not discovered. Or deny. Or ignore.

The culture of the Philippines is based on a distorted sense of right and wrong. That is its foundation. And you cannot straighten a crooked road if you insist it is straight the way it is.

This is a culture of favors, of cheating, of power plays. It is a culture of overabundant sensitivity to self and gross insensitivity toward others. It is a culture of blindness to the disciplines of integrity and responsibility. It is a culture of blames and excuses.

Until Filipinos far and wide, including the President and the educators, are candid enough to recognize the social system in which EVERYONE operates for what it is - warped in its sense of right and wrong, largely missing the key element of responsibility, and damaging to Filipinos and the national community - it is fruitless of Mr. Santos or anyone else to point out the flaws of others.

EVERYONE is a part of the problem and trying to blame someone else is just continuing to trudge along the easy road. The hard road would be to start a Civil Liberties Union, or a Tea Party. Take action. But no one takes it. Or no one dares take it. That would be a risky, tangible action in a society that DEMANDS subservient obedience to power and a sneaky, fuzzy, self-serving interpretation of laws.

There is a reason so many people intentionally do not follow civic rules.

Short of the courage to take explicit action, every complainant ought to hitch up his dignity and live his own life according to proper Christian, or Muslim, or other upright values. And see to it that his children do the same. Change the mode of behavior hereabouts from DEFENSE OF SELF (low self-esteem excuse mongering) to EXPLICIT ACTIONS that show acceptance of responsibility and commitment to courteous, honorable living. Like, you know, obey the rules. Hold to a sense of the Golden Rule and treat others fairly and nicely.

Get rid of the notion that I can cheat because everyone else is doing it. My God, do you know what a weak sap it makes you to coast along doing it the easy way, doing it the way that allows your friends to chuckle along with you about how cool you are when you cheat. Easy. Easy. Easy.

Not courageous and disciplined. And for sure not a good example for the kids.

I also hold to an irrational dream that sees the Senate adjourn, with Senator Enrile soberly saying:

"You know ladies and gentlemen, we are all pretending an honorableness here that we aren't living up to. This trial is adjourned until we can sit in judgment as leaders who know the difference between right and wrong . . . and prove it by living the ideals expressed in our words."

This article is not an obnoxious, arrogant point of view from an outsider. It is an extension of Mr. Santos' view all the way to the heart of the matter, without hiding, obfuscating, defending or denying.

I trust that you will exert every effort not prove my point by excusing cheating behavior or blaming me for this attempt at candor. If I'm wrong, simply tell me what the truth is. I am writing what I see and stake no claim to perfect vision.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sociopathic Media

Here is a brief rundown on modern social media, which essentially are the places where ordinary people publish words of one kind or another as if they really knew what they were doing. Meanwhile, older mass media whither and die. In the dying, they desperately try to stave off bankruptcy by getting evermore radical and departed from truth. Sensationalism is not truth, you know. It is the extreme part of life, and those who direct the making of these stories, some of which, oddly enough, are called "reality" shows, are extremists of an ilk similar to Taliban warriors.

They carve out a reality that represents only a minor part of most people's lives. Charles Dickens would be left speechless at the representations made by American extremists.

So on one hand, we have the old mass media pushed to the extremes of sensationalism, as if we all ate bugs and won millions and died in a shoot out. And we have the new individualistic media where any idiot can pretend he has Buddha's wisdom and Clint Eastwood's courage.

Here is the rich mulch laden, dung fertilized garden that spawns the distortions that have become the rule, the norm, the sociopathic standard of the rich American lifestyle:

  • Chat rooms: The place for one liners and jokes and top-of-mind sharing of knowledge and ideas. It is where show-offs can shine with little one-liners. It is a good place to meet girls, too. Or boys, if that is your direction.

  • Blog sites: The place where subjects are presented with more depth and breadth. This is a place to learn and engage in intelligent conversation. Alas, too many twits view blog sites as elaborate chat rooms and a chance to show off their personal wit and wisdom, engaging in win/lose discussions rather than ADDING anything to the educational aspect of the site.

  • Facebook, etc.: A good place to show off in more elaborate terms with pictures and stories that make it seem like we are really cool people. Then we click off and go take our anti-depression pills to stave off suicide, because others do it better.

  • Twitter: The place where headlines pretend to be the whole story.

  • You tube: The place where we satisfy our perverse desire to spy on others.

  • Commercial Internet Sites: The place where people try to make money out of nothing. Dire Strait wrote the theme song, about ways to get money for nothing and chicks for free.

Doing my best imitation of U.S. Republican candidate Rick Santorum, I declare the Internet to be a medium of Satan, for it brings us porn and a way for terrorists to communicate. It lures teens into sex traps set by dirty old men posing as hot guys, and it is an easy way for married people to scrape up a date with a certified home wrecker. It is evil because it allows Barak Obama to raise millions at $5 a pop.

The nerve, not having to sell his soul to pharmaceutical companies and banks like those "real" Americans: Republicans.

The Philippines is just ramping up its internet access. The internet café is a staple of a bright young kid's life. He can play games there and hide out from the relentless drudge of schools that force feed the same old irrelevant, backward stuff from a century ago.

I can't figure out why there is no creative drive in the Philippines, no productive drive. Why the Department of Education somehow associates quality education with more hollow block school buildings and mediocre teachers. Why educators can't teach aspiration and fairness and courtesy.

Actually, I can.  And have.

That will be in an upcoming blog.

JoeAm takes his personal discovery to the core, dissecting the Filipino soul.

Gather your friends. Huddle your masses. But send the kids to the other room. This is not for them. It's gory folks. It's real gory.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

If I Were King of the Philippines . . .

If I were King of the Philippines, I would stop using agriculture as a way to help poor people directly by giving them land, which they can't turn to profits and cash, or jobs, which have no upside but a lifetime of back-breaking work. It is a dead socialistic experiment. It has failed. Dead. Dead. Dead.

First of all, understand that Philippine growing conditions are the best on the planet.  The soil and rain and sunshine are superior to anywhere in the U.S. or most other countries outside the equatorial greenhouse sun belt. The only thing missing is the determination to convert farming to agribusiness in order to generate great wealth. Wealth that would take laborers out of the mud and end this horrendously self-punitive social model that should have been abandoned when Russia collapsed.

Russia is going capitalistic. China is going capitalistic.

The Philippines hangs onto its socialistic, labor-bound version of agribusiness like Fidel Castro hangs on to his beard. And Cuba, communism. There is not a computer on any farm in the Philippines. There are damn few tractors.

Let me tell you point blank the adjectives that describe the Philippine agricultural model: stupid and bankrupt and backward.

If I were King, I would do three things:

  • First I would mandate the formation of three private domestic farming corporations in each major agricultural arena: rice, coconuts, fruits, sugar cane, corn, vegetables, and exotics (coffee, cacao, kelp). Seven business lines and 21 corporations. I would fund the start-ups with government money that would assure private investors of the backing to leverage up their own investments and get really, really rich. They'd be big enough to provide the most modern equipment, milling and packing plants.

  • Second, I would trash CARP and all the out-dated chain laws (chains because they bind the Philippines to backward ways to farm) that constrain wealth. I'd give the private agribusiness firms the right to acquire land anywhere, anytime, at any price. I'd wipe out the ridiculous local land title laws that are nothing more than engines of corruption for the connected and speed transfer of title. Any small-time farmer or laborer who cried and complained about unfair treatment would be shipped to Sulu to reflect on his transgressions.

  • Third, I would establish a modern export infrastructure, private but with government investment, that would automate transportation, record-keeping and customs processes. The goal, get goods to market fast and inexpensively, with little waste and red tape, and knock the socks off of competitor nations like Viet Nam and Indonesia.

When people knew a product was grown in the Philippines, they would associate it with the highest quality of agricultural product available in the world. The entire Asian region would turn to the Philippines for quality foods. Like Japan went from selling junk products to quality products in a decade, the Philippines would go from junk farming to solid gold agribusiness in 10 years.

If I were King, this place would for sure be damn different than it is now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

God is Context, We are Incident

My blog hatching takes place at five in the morning, in the dark, in bed, with a cup of strong coffee stimulating a half-asleep brain. The hatching process is linear, something like this.

  • I saw the priest driving down the barangay road yesterday afternoon. His car was packed full of young boys.

  • The Catholic Church can't seem to rid itself of its problems with child abuse.

  • The Church expects its priests and nuns to live artificial lives in which natural urges are stifled. So the urges squirt out in unnatural ways.

  • All religions expect us to accept on faith what they explain. They ask us to believe the unbelievable, like a man swallowed by a fish and a boat with every creature in the world on it (there are billions) and Moses living 900 years.

  • I believe in allegory, and have faith in the lessons taught.

  • That would be a good blog.

  • Christ, now I have to explain my  religious beliefs to my readers.

I believe in God as the mystery and power of the universe. He is not of human shape or intellect. He runs through us all, connecting us in a shapeless, invisible, indefinable, universal mist of unknown composition.

He does not direct our actions. Our actions are wholly ours to claim. So while there is connection, there is also independence of thought and act.
God is the context, we are the incidents.

The bible, the churches, the priests and preachers, the lessons taught. They are of man.  Most are good.

Religious literature and lessons originated as a way for man to explain the unknown. The buildings and preachers were schools that also gave comfort in a mysterious and dangerous world. They offered knowledge, pre-science. Explaining the unknown. Those holding the knowledge claimed a place above man. Rather like BongV and BenignO (but not your venerable, humble JoeAm, who has no interest in shaping his subjects in his likeness). (Horrors! God forbid!)

Churches have persevered because they were also pre-medicine and pre-law. They kept us healthy (don't eat diseased pigs) and in line (obey the ten commandments). They helped us function as a community that is not animalistic and at each others' throats, and enabled us to deal with the pains imposed upon mankind for no reason we could figure out.

Because we needed a reason, we made stuff up.

But churches have held onto their outdated knowledge while modern awareness, shaped by science, moves on. The recalcitrant churches, those that insist on being narrow, stubborn, dogmatic places, are in a position of growing irrelevance.

But God is the same as He always was.

 Church values and abuse of those values can be found around the world. They pop up in the Philippines where good Catholic Filipinos always seem to have one hand on a gun, ready to shoot anyone who would dare slap them on the cheek. Many intelligent, upstanding Filipinos have one hand on the bible and another in the people's wallet.

I hold to my faith in the lessons of the Church - how to live healthy and peacefully within the community of man - whilst taking their preachings as so much aging argument and self-serving bluster. And I view most church-goers as handicapped people, people with good intent who are bound to the devil through the weakness of their needs and our humanity.

I don't know why God imposes so much pain on people. I do know it is within our grasp to ease the suffering. It is within the grasp of man, apart from God, to be responsible, and to achieve . . .

Looking about the wretchedly poor and unhealthy Philippines, I am amazed that people here care so little to do that. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Trust, Get Real, and Sacrifice

I lost my way and wandered over to the Get Real Post blog site where I stumbled on a thought-provoking article by Fallen Angelregarding the matter of trust. He posed the fundamental question that, if President Aquino has managed only one achievement so far (banning Wala Wala), how can we trust him to lead the Philippines in the right direction?

I responded that only one accomplishment understated his achievements, citing improved investment ratings and standing firm against China, and was met with the normal crescendo of unified voices questioning my thinking, motives and manhood. Then things deteriorated from there. Same o same o.

But the point raised in the article was a good one. How can you trust a man with a history (the Hacienda), a family (the "families" control most things), and who seems obsessed with ex-President Arroyo and her appointments. And seems to make mistakes about massacres or the car he drives and his position on this bill or that.

Trust is a funny thing. Most people think it only involves one person. "Can you trust him or not?"

But it involves two people. One who must give something of himself, and the one who benefits from that trust.

It is the giving of oneself that interests me. Letting go enough to trust someone.

  • It is hard for some bosses to do. They can't delegate and are always looking over the shoulder of a subordinate.

  • It is hard for some writers to do. They get riled if anyone suggests they could have said something better, and hate having editors mark up their work.

  • It is necessary for soldiers to do. In combat, you often place your life in the hands of your fellow soldiers.  Trust wins battles and is the best approach to coming out alive.

What is a citizen's responsibility in the matter of trust, specifically as it pertains to the President of his country?

I frequently fault Republicans in the U.S. because many flat out want President Obama to fail. Even though that would represent America's failure. So they can do better next election. This constant partisan carping and criticism, I think, weakens the United States and undermines security.

I was in the army and the President was my Commander in Chief, so I carry that military discipline around with me in civilian life. I am high on loyalty and the sacrifice of self that obedience (and survival) requires.

On the other hand, it is the public's loss of trust that was the constructive undoing of President Nixon, and, in the Philippines, it was President Arroyo's fall from public trust that blocked her efforts to extend her term, assuming that's what the brouhaha regarding a Constitutional rewrite was all about. So, indeed, a wary public is a part of the checks and balances that makes democracy work.

Most of my arguments on Get Real have been to this point. I believe the Philippines is weakened if the country is continually seen as one general short of the next coup. It is flat out dangerous around here for too much contentiousness to evolve.  Too many people are hard-headed, and too many have egos that believe that they are right and anyone who disagrees deserves to experience the round end of the gun (rather like Get Real is a microcosm of that facet of Philippine life).

The Philippines needs stability more than just about any other trait.

To gain investor confidence, and attract wealth. To welcome tourists and traders and keep more of their money. To assure the continuity of progress along a straight, progressive line rather than being jerked politically this way or that.  To show strength before self-serving heavyweights, China and the United States.

If President Aquino makes a mistake, do you give up all trust? If he makes several of them, do you quit on him?

Trust is sacrifice of self, by definition.

I support President Aquino because I trust his basic motives, agree with the importance of his anti-corruption drive, think the Hacienda is irrelevant to his current job, and see him as performing better than I thought he would (I thought he would be a wimp; he is not). None of his mistakes has been a ball-breaker; some of them were simply "on the job training".

Ask any ex-president about that, for there is no real training available for this ridiculously intricate job which neither you nor I could do mistake-free. Why should I expect him to be an icon of perfection?

And I support him because I don't like seeing a continuation of the coup mentality, the endless bickering and divisiveness, that keeps the Philippines stuck as a banana republic in the eyes of much of the outer world.

It seems to me that too many people are willing to risk the entire nation to bring down a guy who will be in office only six years, and who is not in any way placing the country at risk himself.

Frankly, I think they give up too easily and sacrifice not enough. It is more important to them to win their arguments, personally, than build a healthy Philippines. They promote the same hot-headed instability as in the past. They continue the failure to engage in the courtesies and compromises needed to solve tough problems.  They lock the Philippines into the category of bickering banana republic, incapable of finding a path to respectful dialogue, unity and progress.

And, yes, President Aquino contributes to the unnecessarily contentious and divisive bickering. It is one of his mistakes. He got the Chief Justice to trial; now kindly shut up and let due process proceed. Go to work on private/public partnerships or the RH bill or cleaning up Customs.  Move the nation forward.

I trust that he will and don't mind encouraging him to engage himself in these important initiatives. He does not lose my trust simply because he does not do it my way.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Greased Eels and Certain Bloggers

Responsibility is such a slippery thing. It reminds me of greased electric eels, the kind that shock you if you touch them. They are impossible to grab onto, especially if they've been swimming in that pool out back where runoff water from the kitchen sink collects like so much oily green ooze.

The ways of avoiding responsibility are as old as sliced bread, a metaphor that my friend Sancho Panza would grasp; not many others would, especially in the Philippines where humor is a bone that is missing from the Filipino anatomy. Unless it is a joke about sex, which for some reason really raises the cackles of the roosters at the tuba table and the hens in the dirty kitchen.

Subtle is not something that goes down easy here. Or nuance.

Going native, I have taken to making excuses for every flaw my wife comes up with. Given that she is an ardent critic of behaviors large and small, I have been forced to dig deep within the creative cranial crevices to find someone to blame things on. This morning, for instance, I tracked mud into the house as I walked upstairs to get my hat. My flip flops, which for some reason are called "slippers" here, had assumed a fine patina of local mud from my morning wanderings in the garden. Said mud was transferred to the soles of my size 12 feet, and from there to the freshly washed tiles. Fortunately, I was able to blame the mud on the maid, who had returned my hat to the bedroom instead of leaving it on the downstairs closet door knob, within easy reach from the outside door. If she had not been so diligent, I would not have tracked mud about. It was clearly her fault.

Blames and excuses are an art. Every eel has a portfolio of them.

It all makes the hooha surrounding the Freedom of Information Bill to be so much hypocrisy in the linen closet, for what good is information if the use of it is going to be slippery and deceitful and filled with half-truths, manipulations, smoke and mirrors, statistics and other lies? It is like putting clean sheets on the bed but crawling into them all muddy.

People hereabouts don't have a portfolio of principles by which to live. Like honesty or honor or courage or candor or courtesy. And so government operates that way, too. People have one principle, and only one: "How can I make myself look better?"

The problem is acerbated (that a fancy word that means "made worse") by a certain blindness toward ways to improve oneself in real, instead of showboat, terms. Introspection is a dirty word in the Philippines. Therapy is shameful. Self-help means grabbing another huge plate of pancit. The only introspection to be found here is within the covers of Cosmopolitan Magazine where you can find such gems as "10 Ways to Get Him Horny", or "How to Get Rid of a Thigh Full of Cellulite on a Working Woman's Budget".

Which is interesting, now that I think about it, for I have never seen cellulite on a Filipino Woman's thighs. I think Filipinas have the prettiest legs in the world, but they usually hide them under 46 layers of totally Catholic clothing.

It also reminds me of a line from "Six Days and Seven Nights", as a drunken Harrison Ford expounds on island life to a snooty Anne Hesch, "Ya wanna know how to make a guy horny?"  Pause for effect and a raised eyebrow from Ms. Hesch. "Just show up."

I've stopped doing book reviews here because my readership declines by half. But I will tell you that the funniest chapter in the history of novels is Chapter VIII of John Connolly's book "The Unquiet". In this chapter, our noble sleuth Charlie Parker meets the fat secretary and wizened attorney of a dust laden legal shop in Portland, Maine, up near Canada. It is a murder story, but I laughed out loud - roared actually - earning a criticism from my wife, and an excuse I could easily lay out, blaming Mr. Connolly.

Mr. Connolly also penned these great lines as Charlie is talking to a different attorney in a different chapter:

Charlie: "You're not interested in the truth?"

Lawyer: "I'm a lawyer. What has the truth got to do with anything? My concern is the protection of my clients' interests. Sometimes, the truth just gets in the way."

Charlie: "That's a very, um, pragmatic approach."

Lawyer: " . . . Be serious. The law doesn't require the truth, only the appearance of it. Most cases simply rest on a version that is acceptable to both sides. You want to know what the only truth is? Everybody lies. That's it. That's truth. You can take that to the preacher and get it baptized."

Some bloggers operate within a similar ethical framework.

Some judges, too.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Down with Free Speech

I'm opposed to free speech.

Let me pretend, for the sake of this discussion, that I am a full-fledged Filipino citizen. I know for Proud Pinoy that is like running your teeth across the blackboard, but please extend yourself for about five minutes.

Let me start my argument with two case studies of free speech then discuss this "liberty" and why I think it is important that our notions of democratic principles evolve .

  • Case 1. Manila, Philippines. 2012. Court employees band together to protest the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Corona.

  • Case 2. Oakland, California, U.S.A. 2011 and 2012. "Occupy Oakland" protestors intentionally confront Oakland police.

Case 1

By definition, the courts ought to be the most rational of civic institutions, the place where our personal biases and emotions are set aside in favor of a rational dissection of the law and the case being adjudicated. The scene of court employees marching in an emotional political protest against the checks and balances that assure a strong democracy is surreal indeed.

To understand the protests, one has to understand the emotional esteem issues that underpin many interpersonal engagements in the Philippines. Consider what loss of "face" means to a lot of Filipinos. Simplistically put, it is this chain of events:  (1) Personal integrity is questioned. (2) This cannot be allowed. (3) Grab a gun.

What is happening regarding protests by court employees is that they are taking the Corona impeachment personally. They have lost sight of the fact that checks and balances are what make democracy work.

So those who are supposed to represent our highest institution of rational, apolitical impartiality - the courts - are throwing a personal tantrum. In the name of free speech, of course. They toss aside their obligation to remain objective, unemotional interpreters of the law.

Now I don't think court employees should be stopped from protesting by any legal or police action. But I think the rest of us, acting through the social institutions available to us, ought to make clear that we think our court employees ought to have a better understanding of their role in a well-functioning democratic society.

By "our" in that sentence, I mean to make clear that government employees work for the people. We are the boss. We have, through our representatives, designed and built the government institutions and processes. The checks and balances. Our employees must tread carefully if they decide to criticize these decisions, institutions and processes. That would be like a tool worker at Mitsubishi Motors standing outside the shop foreman's office with a sign protesting the way the assembly line is run. He'd be out of a job 10 minutes later.

Given their attitude, I figure the court employees are about one battalion short of a coup.

We ought to tell court employees to respect the law they work to uphold, sit down, and shut up. Let the legal process work its way through and stop imposing their personal pride issues upon the rest of us. Their "free speech", a personal right undertaken in a court robe, is undermining respect for law, and the neutrality, independence and impartiality of the judicial arm of government.

Just as I should not sit here and type "Corona is guilty", they ought not to shout "Corona is innocent". It is wrong for them to be complaining about the process of "due process" because their feelings are hurt.

You see, free speech isn't about the right to blabber any old thing. It is why I cannot scream "bomb" in the airport terminal or shout obscenities in a school yard. Free speech needs to be responsible speech.

Court employees engaged in a political protest are irresponsible to the "liberty" the rest of us are entitled to:  independent, impartial, well-functioning courts.

Case 2

I'm back to being a U.S. citizen.

The Oakland branch of the "Occupy Wall Street" protest has staged a series of confrontations challenging the local laws and police. They were offended by harsh treatment of protestors by police at the outset of their protests and have changed their mission. They are no longer concerned about unreasonable pay for corporate CEO's, or abuses of power by banks. They are, like court employees, taking up a personalized agenda. They are obsessed with "police brutality".

The problem is that their idea of free speech is undermining the reputation and power of those hired by government to protect and serve the rest of us. The police department. So, in the interest of promoting values they believe in . . . namely a a police department that lets them do whatever the f*** they want . . . they are fine with undermining the values that protect the rest of us. Those of us who believe obeying the law is important.

Again, the problem is that the Occupy protestors disregard the impact of their free speech on society's well-being.

In this case, I fully support arresting those people who decide free speech means they can break the law by gathering where they were instructed not to gather. And I support the police department knocking heads with their batons if the protestors get physical. Refusing a lawful order to move along is a physical act requiring use of force. The alternative is to allow the seeds of anarchy to sprout, to root, to spread.

As a citizen, I did not elect the representatives who appointed the Occupy leaders. I elected the representatives who employ the police.

If the police were out of line, there are methods in place for me, the citizen, to punish offenders. If the Occupy protestors are out of line, there is no method in place for me to punish offenders. Frankly, I want a police department that can be brutally forceful when challenged.

Free speech does not mean sealing the speaker off from the laws of the land. It does not mean anarchy is permitted under the Constitution.

A Fundamental Liberty: Responsible Speech

I suggest that we adjust our understanding of free speech with a simple asterisk, a notation that "free" means "responsible", it does not mean unrestrained, and it does not mean that individuals or even organized groups can act recklessly, where recklessly sacrifices the well-being of others.

A smoke bomb over the White House fence is not free speech. Court employees marching undermines the neutrality of the courts. Occupy protestors taunting police undermines our safety.

New laws should not let protestors hide irresponsible, dishonorable behavior behind the honorable intent of the free speech law.

We all need to work hard to discern when the scales of partiality penalize the greater good. We need to use existing laws, new case laws or social media to help the irresponsible few understand that they are not entitled to damage the rest of us.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Kick in the Shorts

This morning my attention span is like that of a kid after he has watched three hours of Sponge Bob Square Pants.

  • U.S. President Richard Nixon resigned his presidency in disgrace for having lied, robbed and deceived to stop those who had the courage to investigate his shenanigans. In the Philippines, Chief Justice Corona and his large team of crack legal minds seems intent on pulling the same stunts. Any legalistic rug to sweep things under . . . as if right and wrong did not matter . . . to a judge . . . in the Philippines.

  • The U.S. does not want bases in the Philippines, the Philippines does not want U.S. bases here, the Philippines wants the U.S. to stand strong in the face of China's penchant to play the bully, the U.S. wants to stand strong in the Face of China's advancing militarism, the Philippines wants cast-off military hardware from the states, the U.S. is dumping gear as it cut's costs. Ahhh, harmony at last. Let's kiss . . .

  • It rains more in Biliran Province than it does in Zambales Province.

  • The two cities whose names continue to stump my cranial spell checker are Tacloban and Olongapo. The latter has lots of yellow Jeepneys, the former yellow multi-cabs. Both have decent functioning hospitals and several gun stores.

  • Hospitals in the Philippines kidnap patients if they have not paid their bills. That is, they don't let them check out, holding them hostage until some long-lost uncle with a few thousand pesos coughs up the money. Meanwhile, the bed meter is running . . . I tell ya, the thinking is different here . . .

  • My neighbor shot a dog yesterday. I don't know what kind of cannon he used, but it took only one big loud shot and the chicken-loving dog was dead. Another (poorer) neighbor was seen dragging the carcass down the path toward his outdoor kitchen. My neighbor used to be a security guard for the governor who for some reason never was hassled when he was in office.

  • Biliran Island is being discovered by outsiders. It has stunning tropical vistas and urban essentials like banks without the extortion-racket rebels or terrorists. Why do some people continue to believe these gangs are upstanding idealists instead of outright perverted murderers?

  • Don't trust China. The Chinese have bigger egos than well-laden Filipinos, look down their noses at brown and white races, not to mention blacks, would rape the planet for ore and wood and fulfillment of other desires, and seek to arm themselves to the nuclear teeth.

  • Where did Japan go?

  • Now that our house is built, sitting like a huge gray rock in the green forest, we are starting to work on the garden. One of these days we'll paint the outside of the place so that it does not look like Rapunzel's dungeon. Inside, it's the Queen's elegant quarters. The Queen being my wife.

  • We have not yet built out the masters bathroom. We use the other second floor bathroom. We are thinking of converting the master's space to a sitting room with log-burning fireplace. No one told me it snowed at 408 feet elevation in the Philippines. Gads, it is cold here. We have to use a real blanket instead of a thin sheet. My wife wears socks to bed (don't tell her I told you).

  • America is a crazy place. Occupy thugs fight the police and throw smoke bombs into the White House lawn, in the name of good American values. Republicans believe democrats are not "real Americans". Top-line politicians include the caliber of Sarah "The Mouth" Palin, Newt "Ethically Challenged" Gingrich, and Ron "Ross Perot" Paul.

  • The U.S. is fine with a Catholic president (JFK), but will not elect a Mormon. Especially if he is challenged on the "trust" and "flip flop" issues. I mean, if you think his religion is a bit of a flakey one, and he is flopping like a bangus on dry land, do you really want him leading the troops? That black socialist with experience under his belt and bin Laden's hide on his wall is a better bet.

  • President Aquino is good for the Philippines. His decisions are rational. His motives are good.

  • Where did Mar Roxas go?

  • Where did the Constitutional re-write go? Oh, you say it is no longer a political imperative? President Arroyo was an aspiring dictator, thwarted by democratic freedoms of expression. "Praise the Philippines and raise the investment ratings, Bubba."

  • If Chief Justice Corona remains in office, it will be really depressing. To think, this is an acceptable standard for the top jurist in the land. I shudder. Especially after the nation displayed the good sense to rid the place of an aspiring dictator.

  • Philippine kids get a really bum deal, which is probably why they grow up to drive the Philippines in bum directions.

  • I like the idea of dissolving Customs and starting from scratch. The rot is so deep, the patient is terminal. Man, pull the plug.

  • A local restaurant gives in-house customers the fresh bread and gives the day-old stuff to take-out customers. What a way to win repeat customers, tricking them like that.

  • Most retailers in the Philippines believe we customers should be thankful that they are willing to sell us their goods. It is the royal model, otherwise known as backward thinking . . .

  • Did JoeAm really post a blog that said Filipinos have their brains installed in reverse? Did he really make this same accusation to his wife? Does he still have his gonads??

  • "Can't we all just get along?" Rodney King during the racial wars in Los Angeles (1994?) that broke out after the police beat King mercilessly with their batons. The incident was captured on video. It began the "video-cam" era that now serves as mainline news for CNN and the BBC and other TV stations that can no longer afford to hire enough real reporters.

  • News as a journalistic exercise is dead. Now it is called "Reporting for Ratings", and we get the same mind-dulling reports on gore and damage from all the stations. America has been dumbed down. Past tense, I am sorry to report.

  • The Philippines has not yet smartened up so it can't be dumbed down. There are flickers of intelligence arising now and then, however, so I have great hope . . . It's rather like watching the trash fire starting to burn. There is a moment when it decides to erupt in flaming glory, or to fizzle out completely.

Dear Senators. Kindly keep the flame alive.