Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The US of A

The U.S. is on the minds of many Filipinos these days. Not like in the hostile days of Nicole when it was figured that all Americans are sex mad rapists. Not like when the American military unnecessarily blasted Manila to rubble in WW II to drive out the rats and Japanese, at significant loss of Filipinos life. That was the MacArthur ego-fiesta, what a jerk. Not like in the Philippine American War when racist white Americans pulled every murderous dirty trick in the book to win the hearts and minds of Filipinos, by force. Not like in Mindanao where guessing is rampant about what Americans are REALLY doing there. Like maybe running drones and playing dirty in violation of the Constitution, seeking to annihilate those fine Filipinos who believe beheading of innocents is a proper way to impose a religious ideology.

No, the question is, will the U.S. be there for the Philippines?

I read a comment the other day that probably echoes the sentiment of many Filipinos. The writer said: "The U.S. is only out for its own interest". The point was that Filipinos can't depend on the U.S.

Excuse me, but that is about the most ridiculous comment I've ever heard.

Whose interest, exactly, should the U.S. put ahead of its own?

  • Philippine interests?

  • Russian interests?

  • Chinese interests?

That's the purpose of a nation. To put its own interests, and the interests of its citizens, first. To expect the U.S. to take care of the Philippines is that beggar mentality I was referring to the other day. Out of the graciousness of their hearts, Americans are supposed to pony up dollars and blood for their happy-go-lucky Filipino compadres? Why? Because of guilt that America was racist in 1898 and needs to do a make-good? Because the poor woeful Philippines needs it? Word association linkages: needs, needy, whiney, beggar, turnoff.
I will not bother to itemize ways the Philippines has not acted in U.S. interests. You know them. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The Philippines is entitled to sail its own ship.

But I rather think that now is a good time to step up, toss off the cloak of neediness in favor of a cloak of confidence, and recognize the U.S. is entitled to have interests of its own that may differ from Philippine interests and not blame Americans for every little pimple that appears on the Filipino national nose.

 "Okay, okay, Joe. Calm down, man. Put your patriotic passion back in its backpack and reason with us."

Yeah, yeah, okay.

U.S. Interests

If we use "U.S. national interest" as the fundamental guiding principle here, maybe we can figure out if the U.S. would back the Philippines. Let's do a quick scan of what we see:

  • China is aggressively seeking to acquire minerals around the world to support its massive manufacturing and wealth-building machine. It is doing this legally and forcefully, forcefully because China can act as a nation rather than a collection of corporate entities, like the U.S. China can subsidize and undercut any bidding from competitors.

  • The Spratleys and Scarborough Shoal are of high interest to China. They are "free" for the taking.

  • The trillions of dollars of "investments" China has made in the U.S. by buying U.S. debt is a two-edged sword. China can "play" the U.S. financial markets, and wreak havoc, but, at the end of the day, the value of its investment is only as good as U.S. financial strength. So China wants U.S. economic stability, because it supports Chinese stability. This is a starkly clear statement that China favors stability over disruption. Shooting at one another is extreme disruption.

  • Is China right now strong enough to force military confrontation with the U.S.? No. Not yet. China loses more than it gains in military confrontation with the U.S.  China loses the platform supporting its own wealth-building and strength-building.

  • Here's another signal. A disturbing one. China's drive to get to outer space has a strong military drive behind it. This is a nation that has not progressed to believe that China is better off in a cooperative global community. China has one foot in Maoist military arrogance and one foot in progressive capitalist ideas.

  • China's leadership is not unified. There are progressives and there are tyrants. China is pushing the edges right now because the current leadership is aggressive. But it is difficult to see how China would gain from a shooting conflict .

  • Chinese leaders are talented at leveraging ethnic Chinese pride and nationalism into a love/hate frenzy. It can spin to anger quickly and even reset what leaders do. There is a cultural emotionalism to China that makes a wrong play dangerous.

  • Perhaps China is pushing hard to claim the seas to establish a negotiating position against the U.S. It will give up the Spratleys and Scarborough for . . . what? U.S. pullback from Asia? Backing off from criticizing China's monetary policy? Something else significant?

The Number One U.S. interest is to encourage China to develop respect for other nations and  to become a cooperative and peaceful partner, even a leader, in the world community. But China is like an unruly pupil, a bully, wanting to dominate other nations. The military expansion being undertaken by China is almost warlike, never mind the rationalizations that China throws out. It is intense.

Furthermore, not only is China pushing into Asia, but China is also pushing into South America. The U.S. shudders to imagine a South America that is under China's influence as much as Asia is under U.S. influence. Consider strong U.S. commerce and/or military ties and influences in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. The U.S. can imagine a Chinese naval base in Venezuela, an Army base in Argentina.

How and where can China learn respect for other nations? Where is there a good place to put a halt to Chinese unilateral expansionism? To draw some lines, to put some limits on the bully? To work on diplomacy before the shooting, and not after. To continue to encourage China to join the global community of nations rather than stand apart.

Right here, right now, off the shores of the Philippines. And Viet Nam. And Taiwan. And Japan.

The Number Two U.S. Interest is to honor its contract to defend the Philippines. This does NOT mean the U.S. will act as the Philippine military proxy and put its warships into the Spratleys to chase out Chinese intruders. But it means the U.S. will talk the Philippines up as a nation warranting China's respect. And the U.S. will apply diplomatic pressure to keep China from being rash. And, should shooting start at China's initiative, the U.S. will shoot back.

A person can go nuts trying to draw alternative scenarios as to what can happen.

  • If the Philippines forces a military confrontation, say by trying to stop the Chinese coral raids going on now off Palawan, there will be a military face off. The U.S. will likely play it soft, diplomatically,  to get both contestants back into their respective corners. Chinese expansion will stop. That's good for the U.S. and Philippines.

  • If China shoots at Philippine boats, military or civilian, the U.S. is likely to move its own ships behind Philippine ships. China will stand down. That's good for the U.S. and Philippines.

  • If the Philippines starts drilling on islands or in areas China claims, China will forcefully put a stop to it. The U.S. will enter the fray (diplomatically) to calm both sides. The drilling will stop. Chinese expansion will stop. It's a good result for the U.S. but not the Philippines.

  • If China starts drilling on islands or in areas the Philippines claims and the Philippines takes action to stop it, the U.S. will add its voice to get the drilling stopped and the parties separated. The result is of  benefit to the U.S. and the Philippines.

  • If the Philippines does nothing, it will lose its rightful territory and resources because the U.S. has no cause to act. Chinese expansion will continue. It's bad plan for the Philippines. I would think even the U.S. would not like that plan.


It is hard to see how the Philippines can gain much because in the stopping of China (the primary U.S. interest), Philippine oil drilling also stops, at least for a time. However, the Philippines clearly LOSES if it does nothing and allows China to push out. And so does the U.S.

The U.S. will urge Asean to push forward on a code of conduct to allow open seas, ensure demilitarization of disputed zones, and promote negotiated settlements on commercial development. 

China will not accept the U.N. maritime rules put forward by the Philippines. The Philippines can try to secure U.N. endorsement of its 200 NM territorial boundaries without Chinese agreement, which at least isolates China. However, the U.N. is unlikely to rule on such a matter because of China's resistance.

 China is pushing. The U.S. is tap dancing until after the presidential election and developing strategy. The Philippines is fretting.

I personally believe it behooves the Philippines to act firmly. But that it is best to withhold from direct confrontation of China until after the U.S. presidential election.

The fundamental guideline is to imagine the seas within 200 NM as land. Would the Philippines allow China to put military troops on its shores?

If Chinese military ships entered the picture, my message to China would be clear: you are using force to occupy Philippine territory and we will use every means at our disposal to get your fighting ships out of Philippine seas. Use the "occupation" word liberally. It is about as offensive as you can get without firing a gun.

And I'd stop Chinese fishermen from ripping up the coral. That is extraordinarily offensive and the entire civilized world would back the Philippines on that. Replicate the stand-off over Scarborough Shoals but don't allow the affront to continue.

In other words, the Philippines should push back. 

U.S. and Philippine interests are fundamentally the same. Both lose if Chinese aggressive expansion is not stopped.

Roles: China = crook, Philippines = bad cop, U.S. = good cop.

The only way the Philippines could be the good cop would be if it slipped back into a beggar role that asks America to represent its military interests. The U.S. won't do that because it would cross with their number one aim, to bring China into the global community of nations as a cooperative participant.

The Philippines must stand tall. No choice. It can play its bad cop role better if it upgrades its military tools. You know, learns to swear and knock the crook upside the head.

Mr. Aquino is doing fine as far as I can tell. I'd only suggest he use the "occupation" word so that the Chinese understand how offensive their military incursions are.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Harold Hebbenmyer is Joe America?

What's in a name, eh?

Would you read this blog if it were written by Harold Hebbenmyer?

Would you read it if it were by Jose dela Cruz?

And what kind of image do you conjure up in your mind when reading these off-the-wall commentaries? Do you imagine that old bearded geezer in the right column? Or a guy slightly younger with the kind of impish smile a satirist like Jonathan Swift might wear? You know, always carrying around an inside joke.

I'll bet he wears glasses, right? Anybody who reads as much as JoeAm does has gotta wear specs.

What do you figure JoeAm WANTS, anyhow? You think he is a malcontent rabble rouser, a rebel, a discontented, frustrated Tea Party kind of guy who wants to remodel the Philippine social environment? Or maybe an intellectually engaged know-it-all going nowhere in particular, like a tenured college professor of no great ambition? Somebody with a silent agenda, maybe setting himself up with the credentials to tell the Philippines who to elect as president in 2016?

Do you figure he is making money from all the advertisements over there . . . er,up ther. . . er, by selling book rights?

Well, by jumpin' juju beans, I'll TELL you who JoeAm is!

He's what you get when you take all the values of the Philippines, all the values of America, all the preconceptions and biases of both countries, mix them up, rip them to shreds and throw them out. What's left standing is Joe America.

He belongs no where.

He is going no where.

He just is.

It's all rather zen. You see, JoeAm is a push up. He is a good intellectual romp on the treadmill for you. Or the stair climber. A hard-pumping bike ride up the hill and a free-wheeling coast down. A good jog on the beach, occasionally stealing a glance at what's passing in a bikini. He is a guy exercising his life, his brain, his imagination and sharing what he discovers. He is a guy doing crossword puzzles without any squares. Telling punch lines without any jokes.

Let me ask. What do YOU want to be when you grow up and up and old?

Do you want to be lively and fun or a dull drudge people put up with? Do you want your mind to get sharp as the sharpest tack or flatten out into a dull kind of pasty grey gruel? Do you want to wallow in self-pity and an inconsequential zero-ness or do you want to kick a rock down the slope to see if the mountain follows it?

Joe Am chooses to kick rocks.

Every day he kicks one.

There is a discipline to this. To get up every morning, find a new path up a new mountain. Strain over the big boulders, up vertical cliffs, across deep gorges. Ever higher. Through rain and wind and sun and more sun. Then find just the right rock. Roundish and about a foot in diameter. Roll it to the edge just like so . . .  and kick . . .

That's what he does.

The great thing is when others are on the ridge with him, pointing and laughing as the rock tumbles. Watching to see if it shatters or makes a landslide or hits a moose. Many like to kick their own rocks, and that is spectacular. Let the good times roll!

The "Joe" in Joe America comes from all the Filipino kids shouting "Hey, Joe" as he ambles along. They laugh, he laughs. He loves it. Maybe in secret "Joe" means "white turd", but what does Joe care? Some of the kids yell "Daddy!" Maybe that means he is a sexual animal, or maybe they want some of his money. He doesn't exactly know what it is supposed to mean. So he ignores those kids.

The "America" name comes from wanting to point out that he brings a bias, a background, a perspective to Philippine issues that is likely different than a Filipino view. And it is the difference that most are interested in, he suspects. The difference between Western and Filipino norms and ways of thinking and doing. How does an outsider view the Philippines? What should a wise Filipino aspire to be? American in style and thought, or Filipino? Or his own person?

Joe somehow thinks Harold Hebbenmyer simply would not do the job as well as JoeAm. It's like short people can't dunk and tall people can't get under the kitchen sink. A guy named Hebbenmyer simply CANNOT discuss Filipino issues with any kind of credibility.

Joe America can.

He does.

We all understand that a rolling rock gather no moss, eh?

And a big, round rock just sitting there, inert, on the mountain?

What a horrible waste of discovery . . .

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Separation of Church and State

Although it is true that much of Philippine law is based on U.S. law and Philippine court cases refer often to U.S. legal cases, the two sets of laws originated in very different historical and social settings. By sets of laws I mean the respective Constitutions and the respective case law originating in relevant court decisions.

The difference in "religious framework" between the two nations is clear in reading the Preambles to the Constitutions for both nations:

  • United States: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

  • Philippines: We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society, and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.

The U.S. seeks the "blessings" of "Liberty", the Philippines  "independence and democracy" with the "aid of Almighty God".

How many times is "God" mentioned in the U.S. Constitution? 

Well, the U.S. was founded to enable Americans to ESCAPE the tyranny of religion imposed by Great Britain, not to mention taxation that the locals believed was punitive. So the writers of the U.S. Constitution intentionally marked out God.  The Philippines, fully saturated with Spanish religious passions and doctrine, believes it is only whole with God's help. The respective Constitutions will therefore have distinct meanings and interpretations.

Both Constitutions deal with:  (1) the separation of church and state, and (2) the right of people to worship as they wish.  On separation of church and state, we read:

  • United States:  . . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.(Article VI, Clause 3)

  • Philippines:   The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. (Article II, Section 6)

On freedom to worship, we read:

  • United States:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...." (First Amendment)

  • Philippines:  No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. (Article III, Section 5).

A letter from Thomas Jefferson, a principal writer of the U.S. Constitution, to the Danbury Baptist Association formed the foundation of U.S. case law supporting the "wall" of separation between church and state. Jefferson wrote:

  • I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their "legislature" should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

This document has been cited in numerous court rulings that represent the case law that restrains the Church from interfering in politics at risk of losing certain privileges (the privilege not to pay taxes, in the main).

The Philippines lacks this essential benchmark demarcation. Therefore, there is no clear restraint upon churches that wish to engage in political activities. Indeed, precedent in the Philippines strongly supports church engagement in politics. "Friarocracy" extends from the days of Spanish rule all the way past foreign occupancies, a dictatorship and various iterations of the Constitution to reside heartily in the fabric of Philippine politics today.

The term "inviolable" used in the Philippine Constitution to describe the term "separation" means "not violable; not susceptible of violence, or of being profaned or corrupted; incapable of being injured; not to be infringed or dishonoured" [wiktionary]. It is a soft term, easily challenged as anything other than a firm wall. Indeed, a synonym is "holy". Clearly, there is no wall in the Philippines.

But a problem arises when there are conflicts between national interest and the interests of different faiths.

How to resolve them . . . How to resolve them . . .

I personally like the eloquent way U.S. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who became the first Catholic U.S. President, explained how he would deal with potential conflicts between his faith and his oath to defend national interests:

  • I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute—where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote—where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference—and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source—where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials—and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. [...] I do not speak for my church on public matters—and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise. But if the time should ever come—and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible—when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

Now lets head back to the Philippines where President Aquino is today facing one of those tests, faith against national interest, on the RH Bill. His way of dealing with it is through signals, citing "responsible parenthood" in his 2012 SONA, then stepping back and letting legislators wrestle with the beast, faith versus national need. Don't look for President Aquino to resign because his conscience is conflicted.

Well, legislators' LOCAL NEED for re-election trumps national need, so they have been dragging their faith-bound feet, or as I would look at it, sticking their faith-bound heads in the sand, whilst the Philippines heads directly toward certain chaos and confrontation rooted in over-population and poverty. Like, say, during the next severe economic downturn, when the left-wing rabble rousers will rise and raise the angry cry "monopoly capitalist American puppy", rile up the masses of poor and starving people, and bring down the state.

Therein lies the difference between the definitions of "separation" in the U.S. and Philippines. One sees separation as a firm wall, the other a wall with a big door in the middle. And through the door stomp outspoken priests who do not seem to have national interest first and foremost in their minds.

In the U.S., it is considered good to be "of faith", but one can push religion only so far. It is fine for a President to go to Church. It would be wrong for him to step to the pulpit and recruit Americans to his faith. It is fine for a Priest to step to the Legislative podium to open a session in prayer. But he cannot speak from the Church pulpit in favor of one candidate over another without risk of punishment.

In the Philippines, oddly enough, there is more "freedom" than in the U.S. Indeed, the Catholic Church and Iglesia Ni Cristo operate as clan leaders, instructing their flock on the "correct" vote on various political contests. And candidates actively seek church endorsements, thus selling their favor-trading souls and votes to the God of their choice, the God of their district.

The purpose of laws is to protect us from ourselves.

In the Philippines, laws do not protect broad, secular national interest from narrow religious doctrine.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Two Ships of Fools

"Gulliver's Travels" is generally thought of as a children's book. That's because people read a simplistic  adaption with its funny drawing of little men tying up a giant Gulliver. The real story by Jonathan Swift is a lengthy, biting adult satire and head-on criticism of British royalty and government, not to mention lawyers and anyone else Swift could get his scathing humor upon. Well, Swift was Irish, so a bit of poking of the lordish Brits is expected. The story is classic intellectual insult of the 10th degree. Hard reading, I might add. I'd take it five pages a day with a John Grisham novel on the side for casual reading.

Sometimes I feel a political bitterness similar to that Swift exudes. It has cropped up on two occasions this past week, one dealing with America the other with the Philippines. It lacks humor, I fear.

I'll take America first.

The American Ship of Fools

I have for some time thought Mitt Romney, as Captain of the Good Ship America, would represent the nation as George Bush did. As a ship of fools. I find Mr. Romney both stiff and pedantic, as well as unprincipled. Willing to shift a viewpoint because he might get more votes, not because it is good for America.

Aspiring Captain Romney
He has been predictably nasty in criticizing President Obama, whom I hold up as an intellectual and leadership giant among American presidents, the lagging economy and a few gaffes being simply the realities of a difficult job. One of the criticisms of the President that Mr. Romney makes is that President Obama is an "apologist" for America on the international stage. As if President Bush had the right tack, unilateral arrogance and unmitigated sneering at other countries. And he suggests Mr. Obama doesn't understand business, as if the only people who do are vulture capitalists like the Snobster.

Well, Mr. Romney is learning that playing the diplomatic game requires exactly the kind of respectful nuance that President Obama gives other leaders and nations. Starting his tour of Europe, the Mittster succeeded in offending all of England by sneering at the preparation the Brits have made regarding the Olympics. After all, Mitt ran the Olympics in Salt Lake City a few years ago, so he knows how to do it. British Prime Minister Cameron shot back that it is easier to run an Olympics "in the middle of nowhere". So you know Romney blew that one big time. And given the box he has built for himself that look a lot like a political coffin, he cannot apologize for his poor choice of words.

He also failed to remember the name of a British dignitary standing right next to him. And an aide started the whole trip off by suggesting (black) Mr. Obama can't really understand Brits like (white) Mr. Romney can. Boy howdy, that raised a stink across America, white and black.

This U.S. presidential campaign is nasty. It reflects the anger building in America as more and more people are pushed into extremes by loud, manipulative name-calling entertainment scavengers like Rush Limbaugh. Although an ardent capitalist, I turned against the whole Republican method, manner and madness a couple of years ago when the Chair of the Republican Party suggested that Republicans are the "real Americans". Then what the hell was I doing in Viet Nam with my independent ass on the line, Mr. Steele?

They are idiots, the whole party. Unprincipled in their closed-minded extremist principles. Dealing for their own advantage, not the public's. I would almost swear they were schooled in the Philippines. A lot of democrats are also scurrilous and skunky, congressional leaders Pelosi and Reid amongst them. They play the vindictive card as if they trained on Mindanao.

If Mr. Romney is elected President, the U.S. is gone for good. Destined to the historical waste heap of arrogant superpowers, sooner rather than later.

The Philippine Ship of Fools

You know I support President Aquino, right? I think he is good for the Philippines. His anti-corruption stance has slammed the door on big ticket theft. The economy is ticking along nicely, whether by accident or design, who knows. But the stability is by design. The increase in debt ratings to near investment status, the roaring stock market, the glowing international press. That can be placed squarely on the reputation and deeds of Mr. Aquino.

  • "A good guy. Not corrupt. Honest. Sincere."

Then let me ask you, have we been tricked? Led by the bright yellow glow onto a ship, a rusty barge, filled with Filipino and transplanted fools?


    First Mate Abad
  • Is it true that the allocation of development funds (pork) is blatantly political, rather than business-like and objective, to build a better Philippines? If so, do Secretary Abad and his financial people not understand that this is a form of corruption? It is the nasty trade of favors that sets aside the PEOPLE'S INTEREST in favor or the favored? Does the "good" Mr. Aquino not understand that this is the same value stream that leads to corruption? Funds to the favored? I don't like the Arroyos either, but why punish the decent Filipinos who live in their districts by withholding development funds?

  • Is it true that the investigations of Ms. Arroyo and Mr. Corona were amateurish and incomplete? If so, what the hell is Ms. De Lima doing on the roster of Supreme Court Chief Justice nominees? I thought we were interested in competence. Is this another one of those "favor" deals?

  • Is it true that Chinese fishing boats are ripping up coral just off the coast of Palawan, and the Philippine  Coast Guard is not permitted to try to stop it in favor of "diplomatic discussions"?  Have you ever tried to have a diplomatic discussion with a bully in heat? Because that is what China is behaving like. The Administration won't undertake specific acts to defend Philippine soil . . . er, seas, resources, whatever? Do I hear the grunting sound of a nation rolling over?

  • Is it true that SALN reports of legislators are "off limits" to public inquiry? Giving the authors the time to doctor the paperwork of these documents that assure a properly manipulated "transparency"? In other words, transparency only counts when it can be used to nail an opponent, like Mr. Corona? Do you grasp how CORRUPT that thinking is? To HIDE transparency documents?

The legislators are behaving like that paragon of transparency, Mr. Mitt Romney, who refuses to release his tax reports for years prior to 2010. Running and hiding. THESE are people who represent us, or want to?

And thus, we go full circle on our destiny-bound Ships of Fools . . . to the rocks, to the rocks . . .  where the sexy sirens of greed and self interest call seductively for our kind trust, generous handouts, and enduring penchant for being played as fools  . . .

Thursday, July 26, 2012

An Intellectual Appetizer . . .

It's a Nano Nano World

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have developed a new solar cell for residential and office windows that can generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside. The polymer cells generate electricity from infrared light, not visible light. So they are 70% transparent, which mean they are much like the tinted windows you pay extra for.

The leader of the project, a guy with the snazzy name of Dr. Yang Yang, says the solar cells can be produced at low cost. His team pulled researchers from multiple disciplines: the California NanoSystems Institute, the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and UCLA’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The energy capture and conduction are manufactured by "solution processing", which I think means melting and stirring exotic metals and plastics.

Here are more people involved, which is really the main point of this snippet: Paul S.Weiss, Fred Kavli, Rui Zhu, Chun-Chao Chen, Letian Dou, Choong-Heui Chung, Tze-Bin Song, Steve Hawks, Gang Li, and Yue Bing Zheng. It's no longer Whitie's world.

Here's the Full Report, and It Is the Last We Will Hear of These Dead Filipinos, Because They Are Poor

Fifteen people on their way to a wake for a dead clan member were killed when their speeding truck lost its brakes on a downhill road, smashed into a cement barrier and flipped over in the central Philippines, officials said Sunday.

Eight other people, including the driver, were injured Saturday night when the truck rolled over twice and landed in a shallow creek in Caibiran town in Biliran province.

Caibiran Mayor Eulalio Maderazo said many of the victims, including children, were hurled off the truck or crushed underneath it. Relatives traveling separately on two motorcycles saw the truck roll over and called police.

"The impact was so strong some of the passengers were thrown off the truck," Maderazo said by telephone, adding that provincial officials would provide coffins and financial help to the impoverished families of the victims.

He said most of the passengers were members of a dead woman's clan and were traveling to attend her wake in Caibiran in mountainous Biliran, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) southeast of Manila.

Many accidents in the Philippines are blamed on poorly maintained vehicles and roads, ill-trained drivers and weak law enforcement.

Note: This happened last week near where I live.  I compare this short news blurb to the international uproar about the tragedy of the Movie House shoot-out in the U.S. and I wonder, where is the outrage in the Philippines?  Joe

Of Birds and Dogs

How do homing pigeons find their way from point A to point B, hundreds of miles away?  How does a dog, dropped in the middle of nowhere, come straggling up to the house two days later, dirty and exhausted and happy to be home?

Two ingenious scientists, Le-Qing Wu (damn!) and J. David Dickman at Baylor College of Medicine, discovered exactly how the birds find their way about. This research identified that birds have magnetic receptors in their beaks, and other animals have them as well, in other parts of the body. They pick up magnetic forces from the surrounding environment.

The researchers took pigeons, put them in a dark room with adjustable magnetic fields, and locked their heads in place to neutralize any possible inner-ear adjustments to changing position. The two smart men identified 53 neurons in the birds’ brain stems that had greatly enhanced activity based on changes in magnetic power and direction. They concluded that the birds would take to the air and fly in a direction and distance that that would put them in their magnetic comfort zone.

I wonder why doesn't Ford just sell a pigeon with each new car instead of a GPS device.

The Case of the Swimming Rat Heart

Scientists have figure out how to make a creature, a jelly fish, from silicone and rat-heart cells. It isn't technically alive, but it swims. Creepy.

The goals is to develop a bioengineered system that could, for instance, work as a heart pacemaker that requires no batteries. They'd use the natural contraction and expansion of muscle tissues. Kevin Kit Parker, bioengineer at Harvard University co-authored the study said: "What we're trying to do is become really good at building tissue . . ."

One problem with the manufactured jelly-fish muscle right now is that it can't go out and eat. So that is the next step, getting it to absorb its own nutrients. It also requires stimulation from electricity in the water, and the researchers will work to get it to self-stimulate. (I'd just suggest they put in a teenager-sex hormone, send it to the bathroom, lock the door and see what happens.) Finally, the thing can't turn, so they have to engineer a maneuvering mechanism into the creature, an internal decision-making packet, the researchers call it.

John Dabiri is co-author of the study and a bioengineer at Caltech University. Seems to me he and Parker are big kids having a very useful and fun time playing with slime.

The Philosophy of the Gun

Philosopher professor Evan Selinger of Rochester Institute of Technology in the U.S. puts a different spin on the old maxim of the National Rifle Association (NRA) that is always used to justify widespread gun ownership. The NRA claims that: "Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

So don't blame the gun, and change gun laws. Blame the person who uses the gun irresponsibly, and jail him.

Professor Selinger says this argument ignores the affect a gun has on the person holding it.  He cites French philosopher Bruno Latour who says:

  • "You are different with a gun in your hand; the gun is different with you holding it. You are another subject because you hold the gun; the gun is another object because it has entered into a relationship with you.

Selinger adds:

  • To someone with a gun, the world readily takes on a distinct shape. It not only offers people, animals, and things to interact with, but also potential targets. Furthermore, gun possession makes it easy to be bold, even hotheaded. Physically weak, emotionally passive, and psychologically introverted people will all be inclined to experience shifts in demeanor.

The impact is akin to what we feel when we are in a museum, more world-wise. Or when we are on a university campus, more intelligent and intellectual.

Inanimate structures enter into who we are, and can change what we think, feel and do.

The gun and the person are not separate.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

JoeAm's "Top 5 Most Influential Bloggers in the Philippines"

I have spent several days reviewing every blog site I can get my link-clicker on. It is amazing how many blogs are out there dealing with the Philippine condition. All  you do is take one blog roll and it leads to another and another and soon you have about 100 sites on hand. Half of them are expired, some are lazy and slow, and others are active.  Lawyers, educators, politicians, satirists, priests, journalists, retired Americans, screenwriters . . . a wide range.

I'm sorry I can't do justice to the quality writing that is out there. There are some great commentaries, generally lost in the internet woods, I fear. There are just too many sites to keep up with.

A lot of the sites are what I would call vanity blogs. Infrequent articles, not a lot of audience or commentary. Just the writer taking the opportunity to spout off about something. Often eloquently.

Well, to pick the top bloggers, it is important to have some criteria, some guidelines, some standards. What makes one blog site "better" than another?  It is not the political or social agenda some take up (anti-Aquino or pro-RH, for instance). There's nothing wrong with having an ideology and passion.  It has something to do with being pertinent to the Philippine condition, being well-written and thought provoking, and, indeed, being popular. The more people it reaches, if quality and pertinence are identical, the better it is.

Of course, if it is trash, more chat-room than intellectual, it is not "better" than a less popular but more substantial set of articles and comments.

Get Real Contributor
I think reader comments say a lot, actually, about the quality of a blog. That's why, by definition, I only have considered the "engaging" blogs, those which welcome dialogue and foster discussion. One-way reports may be news or commentary, but it is not the kind of rich blogging I'm trying to recognize.

It is easy to find sites that address the Philippine condition. It is sometimes difficult to say which is more important. Popularity or quality. Take the case of MLQIII who rarely blogs, but offers extraordinarily well-researched and thoughtful pieces. Where do you put him?

I have concocted a scale to sort this out It is called the "JoeAm Influence-o-meter". MLQIII ranks low because he simply is not out there enough.

And what about Rappler? Is that a blog site? Or sites that repost what others have written?  Friend manuelbuencamino's articles appear on perhaps five or more different blogs. Well, I put Rappler in the category of a "news and commentary" site, not a blog site. It is not built on dialogue. And sites that collect and reblog posts from elsewhere do not offer the original thought that makes up what I call a "well-written" article.

Rappler is on my daily reads, but it is not a blog site where dialogue is prominent.

What about sites like Get Real Post that have intelligent commentary but also a lot of chat-room interplay and insults, and which even encourage personal attacks if it advances the agenda? Is there a penalty for that?

You damn betcha.

If you are building, you are building. If you are tearing down, you are not building. Indeed, insult is aimed at driving away commentary, so it would be the opposite of "engaging". Furthermore, a part of JoeAm's influence evaluation has to do with the fundamental goal of building a BETTER Philippine condition. Not replicating the venom and vendetta that makes a WORSE Philippine condition.

Here are JoeAm's "Top 5 Engaging Filipino Bloggers":

Raissa Robles
  1. Raissa Robles offers by far the most active blogging site in the Philippines. Inputs range in the thousands for some article. Some of the comments are "toss-offs" but many offer important perspectives that build on the original article. There are so many comments that she has to employ a decimal system of indexing them. The articles are topical, varied and well written. Many have just the right kind of "edge" to provoke healthy discussion. Without a doubt, Raissa is the number one blogger in the Philippines.

  1. Noemi Dado is the principal behind three blogging sites: (a) blogwatch.ph, (b) blogwatch.tv and (c ) momblogger.  The .ph site offers high quality articles, well-written and pertinent to the Philippine condition; comment is rare. The .tv site offers timely social/political news, advocacies and commentary; it ran a daily account of the Corona trial, for instance; comments are light. The momblogger site deals with family issues and health, a "wholesome" perspective; it has a little more commentary. I have no idea why Noemi runs three separate efforts rather than one integrated effort. The main drawback to the persistent run of articles is the lack of vibrant discussion. The advantage is the volume of very timely and topical articles, well written, including advocacy pieces that are most enlightening. Dividing the effort over three sites seems . . . oh, unfocused. [N: Sorry for the original misspelling; I call my daughters by the wrong names, too. Joe)

  1. Ellen Tordisillas is a journalist with a viewpoint and she offers them on two sites: ellentordesillas, which is commentary on the Philippine condition from several contributors, and The Vera Files, which is more or less an investigative journalism site ("Truth Is Our Business"). The articles are timely, topical and well written. Commentary is sometimes rich, often thin. She gets articles from numerous contributors. Again, having two different blogs seems to dilute the impact, and duplicate some content.

  1. Benigno operates Get Real Post with a stable of good writers who follow his anti-Aquino agenda and pull in fairly active discussion. Ilda, especially attracts a good amount of commentary. The site includes active business, entertainment and technology sections, as well as articles about the Philippine condition. GRP gets dinged for tolerating abuse in favor of its agenda, the outcome of which is active commentary from "friends" and little of the constructive oppositional discussion that leads to fresh thinking. It may be my bias speaking, but the site seems to be getting smaller and tinnier, not deeper and richer.

The Real Joe Am?
  1. The rest of us. I don't see anyone else close, but maybe I missed something fro the trampling of the blogging herds. BongV at AntiPinoy is off in his strident statistical land.  Cocoy can't quite seem to get ProPinoy untracked, perhaps because it is not a primary effort for him. Joe Am is unique in style and American perspective, and is on the rise, but doesn't yet have broad reach. There are some excellent topical sites out there: for economics, for updates on the Judiciary, for satire, for perspectives from priests. They aren't active enough to sustain much power on their own.

I'm amused by the vision of blogging as being similar to the Philippines itself. Very tribal (fractionalized) and ego-bound. Missing is the unity, the community, that makes it a powerful force. The defunct Filipino Voices came closest to representing an integrated community of bloggers without political agenda, where wide-ranging comments were offered. It died from lack of editorial attention and jealous in-fighting amongst the participating readers and writers.

Perhaps we'll see some enterprising soul take several the existing blogs and put them together in a new influential force that might give Raissa come competition.

Or I'll just have to persuade Boo to write some more fine critiques and leverage JoeAm to a broader audience.

"My Mind is a Blob"

When I was teaching high school for one frightful term, education was moving to a "New Math" which involved set theory; unions and intersections and ways of looking at mathematical truths. I never quite got the hang of it, beyond drawing circles, nor did anyone else, for the schools quickly tap-danced away from that teaching trend as too theoretical. And I tap danced away from the blackboard and into army green.

But the set concept has good application as we try to understand one another and the East/West cultures that sometimes collide. I don't think "collision" was a New Math term . . . but it seems to fit for East/West cultural overlap. The union of our cultures - the place where values are the same -sometimes seems small. The place where they collide seems huge.

All of us, both East and West, are alike in one way. We are limited in our ability to understand that which we have never experienced. That is, we both pack our ignorance. Usually, we simply don't have enough good information. We only see what we see, which is sometimes shaded by seeing only what we WANT to see. Or what others TELL us to see.

"Uh, Joe. You're getting kinda thick here. Watchu drivin' at?"

Grossly generalized opinion: Americans are more adept at accepting their own ignorance. Filipinos deny theirs. Americans learn, adjust, grow. Filipinos resist change. (Exceptions abound.)

I think most of the writers at Get Real Post (GRP) believe in what they write, about the limitations of Philippine culture and the incompetence and vindictiveness of President Aquino. I believe the yellow hordes supporting President Aquno also believe what they say, that this is a good man doing a lot of good things for a good nation. The opposing parties are firm in their respective views. Rigid.

But JoeAm can believe what he writes, that there is a bit of "beggar soul" in the cultural habits of the Philippines. And he can believe simultaneously that the Philippines is a rich, wholesome, interesting place to live, a nation that may be on the way to its welcome place as a respected, productive economic force. He can argue either point on a different day, or even merge them as one.

Each viewpoint - one by GRP, one by the hordes, and two by JoeAm - is a true slice of the pie, but none is the whole pie.

The error is when someone insists he has the whole pie.

The question is, do we draw hard and fast lines about our ideas and opinions. Are they thick lines that can't be dented or re-drawn with new information? Are they brick walls? Or are we flexible, fluid, open minded.

Often, the need to save face or maintain reputation leads people to refuse to see or acknowledge new information. They look for information that reinforces their beliefs and skip over information that might oppose their beliefs. They defend a position long after the validity of that position has been called reasonably into question.

You look at all the good things happening in the Philippines now. The call center boom fueling high-rise construction in Manila. New casinos coming in. A strong tourism program. Debt ratings up two ticks in a year, and likely heading to investment grade next year. Corrupt people heading for jail, or like 31 DENR people, getting fired. Strong peso. Booming stock market. International reports largely positive. It is hard to sweep that under any kind of rug.

Yet GRP scribes CANNOT acknowledge the good trends at risk of losing their entire platform. So they keep flailing away, one arm whipping in the air the other whacking at a rock, throwing up arguments that get ever more bizarre or off the point. How do you spell desperation? "GRP".

I'm a believer of soft lines, myself. Indeed, mine are so soft and flexible that the label "hypocrite" or "inconsistent" thrown my way by the thugs at GRP holds up as true, in a certain light. I have no problem with changing my mind if shown new information or the errors of my ways. That is not commonly done in the Philippines. Many a Filipino would find my tappy feet and flip-flopping mind to be weak. About as un-macho as you can get.

Well, you see, I don't see what words have to do with manhood, and I see little need to ridicule someone who tells me my arguments are half baked or out to lunch or nutso. I'd only want to grasp why we look at the same object but see different colors and shapes.

A great many Filipinos pride themselves on superior knowledge. Unbending, self-certain knowledge. They are relentlessly argumentative, throwing up diversions or tangents or truths apart from the real discussion, to prove the certainly of their standing.

Losing an argument does not go down well in the Philippines.

Ridicule follows in short order. Humiliation is thrust down other people's throats with glee.

It is not exactly a forgiving society.

And yet. And yet, in a different reality, it is. It forgives Enrile, a coup master, it forgives Ms. Marcos, the wife of a failed dictator, it forgives a corrupt Estrada and lets him run for President again. But that is partially because these people are MASTERS of word wrestling, of shaping realities to their liking and benefit. And they are masters of the "Get Out Of Jail" trade of favors.

  • Mr. Estrada: "Yes, Glo, I won't criticize you while you are in office, even if you try to become a dictator.

  • Ms. Arroyo: "Okie dokie. Here's your get out of jail free card."

It is like listening to VP Binay defend getting P 200 million in pork for play money. There's no stated purpose for the money. Just "here, have some, because you are our Number 2 guy". These legislators and rulers act like this is just a Monopoly game and they can buy Boardwalk or all of Makati on a whim. They act like they EARNED the money, that's what bugs me about it.

It is figured that Binay will run for President. I hope he gets pulverized. He defines his realities too slickly. I don't trust him.

Well, this all seems artificial to me, the Filipino hard-headedness and slippery arguments. This need to hold onto views, even if incorrect, because one's ego is vested in the argument. The twisting of realities by tangential arguments and half-truths.  Surreal. Absurd.

So my own personal challenge is to wade through the artificial realities that are thrown up everywhere in the Philippines, from biased newspaper reports to emotional tantrums from a certain senator to GRP propaganda. I choose to find my own reality and refuse to line up to follow an ideology, or political party's view, or a given religious faith. Mine is a blob of a reality, a truth that shifts and drifts according the information available.

I don't like being cemented in place. It doesn't feel right.

I prefer to fly, and welcome it when others straighten out my occasionally crooked trajectory.

It is not a humiliation to be wrong. It is merely an unfortunate information warp in the space time continuum.

In other words, a mistake.

My bad.

Grow. Move on.