Sunday, December 30, 2012

The End of the Beginning

This is the last Society of Honor blog for 2012. I would like to thank some people.

This is the year when the Society of Honor by Joe America ended its vanity period and began to have some influence in the Philippines. Articles penned here during 2012 were picked up by two mainstream newspaper columnists for wide readership. One article ended up with President Aquino as we had it reported here directly by Kris Aquino. We know articles have reached into Congress and the President's staff.

The target audience has two parts: (1) educated Filipinos who can craft articulate views on topical issues, and (2) Filipino opinion makers and leaders who can undertake or influence constructive acts. The first interact with each other to speak to the second. The second are largely silent, as they must be to remain detached from hard opinions in order to represent all the people.

This is not the most popular blog in the Philippines, nor would I ever expect it to be. Satire and literature and a foreigner's ideas are not mainstream in the Philippines. We grant the fine top-popularity distinction to Raissa Robles and her amazing, edgy, well-researched articles and her loquacious cadre of CPM commenters.

But, without question, the Society has its valuable niche as a source for cross-cultural commentary. As a place for rich ideas and a little literate entertainment.

Many new visitors to the site have a pattern. They come in on a link, get curious, then start to browse. They find another article they like and post it on their Facebook site or other venue.

From that, new readers come in for a peek.

When they arrive, what do they find? They find opinions and observations all over the board, generally dealing with the Philippines, often being reflections on cross-cultural conflicts of style or behavior. There is no single category of writing here. Readers find offbeat presentations that can be literary, analytical, humorous, irreverent, passionate, and sometimes obtuse. Once in a while, even wrong.

Our job is not to win arguments, but to have them. Being wrong is simply the risk of doing provocative business. Often we can provoke new thinking without arguments. That's good, too.

Readership is uncompromisingly intelligent. It appears to tend toward a libertarian view, but not entirely. It is mostly Filipino, but not entirely. It tends toward older contributors, but not entirely. It is mostly male, but not entirely.

The quality of discussion this year was raised by guest articles from the following contributors:

  • Edgar Lores
  • Cha Nerissa Datu
  • Andrew Lim
  • Coco Villa

Different minds, different experiences, different interests, new ideas.

These guest writers have added greatly to the site, to its variety and conceptual reach. I've thanked them individually for the articles they have submitted, but I'd like to thank them here, publicly, because they bring energy to the discussion, a certain freshness. They bring points and counterpoints outside the reach of JoeAm's knwledge or writing talent. I hope we get even more guest writings in 2013.

Put it on your to do list, eh?  Join the fray. Perhaps tweak a congressman's ear, or the President's. Or your fellow Filipinos'.

I've always said JoeAm's articles are not what the blog is about. The blog is about the joining of good thinking through commentary. Call it the chemistry of the conversation.

As the year ends, and we move into new territory, I particularly want to thank Edgar Lores for his regular elaborations and clarifications, 1.1 to 10.9. He's a genius. And he has been an anchor for the blog. I call him an anchor because he has provided the sound center-post of cogent thought that pulls JoeAm's  spontaneous, wayward and off-beat remarks back into meaning. He is the interpreter, in a way. Masterful at digging specific lessons from the sometimes esoteric commentary.

Edgar, thank you for all that you have given to this blog this past year.

If it were practical, I'd list the names of all the people who offered up comments this year. The list is  long. If I list only some, I am unfair to the rest. So I shall refrain. Y'all know the regulars, and they make for a great Society, rich in personality, rich of mind and heart.

Every comment offered to this blog is like a brick in a building. And our building was strong and elaborate this past year.

Thank you literate masons all so very much. I hope more join in the conversations during 2013.

What else did we do this past year? Angry Maude made her debut in 2012. I hardly think an angry, frazzled battleaxe cousin really counts as a guest contributor. We also named the Top 5 Blogs of the Philippines, due for a refresher in a few weeks. We awarded several Golden Bluttos, awards of great indistinction.

We recognized that kids ought to be central to the values we prize.

JoeAm narrowed his 2016 favored presidential aspirants down to Jun Abaya, Tony Guingona, and Sonny Angara, with Mar Roxas awaiting review. By the end of 2013, Joe will decide which one candidate he believes is best for 2016. The early rendition is done intentionally to improve the likelihood the discussion will have  influence in how things shake out.

We identified four institutions that work against the best interest of the Philippines: (1) the anti bloggers, (2) the political Catholic Church (distinguished from the local service-oriented Church), (3) China, and (4) the chronically corrupt.

We parsed cross-cultural attributes of American and Filipino ways of life. We engaged in politics and examined this incident or that. We ridiculed those worthy of the distinction. We joked and played satire games.

We took ourselves seriously, but not too seriously.

So I say, fellow members of our fine Society, let's get on with 2013, eh? January 2, we begin again. Happy fools among happy fools, circling the prickly pear and turning the Philippine upside right.

Be of sharp mind and good heart in 2013.

Thanks for a great 2012.

Write on.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Habits, Discipline, Passion

The Real (?) JoeAm Teaches Discipline
I don't do resolutions. I do principles.

This article overworks the pronoun "I". This is brought on by the normal tendency to self-reflect as we migrate, or are dragged, one year to another. Please excuse the self-absorption.

How does one rise to a higher plane of living, where one is claiming one's own place in the surrounding social chaos? The opposite of strong is weak, the opposite of clean is unclean, the opposite of ambitious is lazy, the opposite of successful is weak, unclean and lazy.

My boss at the Big Bank in California during a period when the British owned us was a gentleman by the name of Ernie Field. Ernie was brilliant and the opposite of shy. He trained in South America where he was the banker to Panama's dictator Manuel Noriega whom he would visit in jail to take his banking instructions. He made me a better executive during one afternoon's casual chat when he advised me to develop a set of principles and stick to them.

I did, and still do.

You see, there are habits and there is discipline. Habits are what we learn to do because it is convenient or familiar or safe and secure. There are good ones and bad ones. Getting up as soon as the alarm rings is a good one, versus lollygagging in bed for 5 to 60 minutes. One is precise and reliable and strong. The other imprecise and unreliable and weak. And easy.

Therein lies the main distinction between a bad habit and a good habit, or an act derived from principle: the discipline to do that which is not easy.

What is discipline? It is one part knowledge, knowing what to do and why, and one part will power. Will power is the determination to do what is right, what is good, what others do not always do.

Will power is a passion not to let the bastards get us down, where the bastards are within (sloth, self condemnation, self delusion) and without (critics, naysayers, stupid people).

Should one require a new year to resolve to do that which is not easy?

I think not. One of my principles is not to make New Year's resolutions. They are not serious enough, not reflective enough of the determination it takes to do that which is not easy. It is too faddish for me.

One of my principles is to read as if my knowledge and insight depended on it.  Here's my reading pattern:

  1. One book every two weeks.
  2. A daily morning sweep of the news, repeated in the evening:

  • Rappler
  • The Philippine Blog Center
  • Raissa Robles
  • Google custom-tailored news focused on the United States, the Philippines, Business, Politics, Science and Technology

  1. Selected readings from: the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, New Yorker, Time Magazine, and Los Angeles Times.

I follow live telecasts of Philippine Senate and House proceedings when they are available. I seldom watch any other television. Maybe a part of a Laker game until that ball-hog Bryant starts dribbling all over the joint.

Another principle is to work diligently on my chosen craft of writing for power. The power of literate expression. The power of understanding the land I have chosen as home. The power of learning from the wisdom and experiences of others who contribute to this blog. The power of reaching people who can make a difference as the Philippines emerges as a bright star in Asia.

  • I crank out six blogs per week. That is part discipline and part style. I don't do the research and interviews that a journalistic blogger like Riassa Robles does. I simply leverage my experiences and readings and observations, and, yes, ignorance, about the Philippines to craft cross-cultural understandings. Or misunderstandings, as I sometimes discover.

I'm an idea-monger. There is no end game in sight. The journey is the enrichment.  The power is the antidote to growing narrow and intellectually inflexible.

I have other principles as well, dealing with money and family and religion. But there is no need to go into those. They pop up now and then in these blogs.

Now about passion . . .

That is the emotion one puts behind one's discipline and dedication. Frankly, for me, it can be a negative if I get too angry. So I have brought Angry Maude onto the writing team to deal with the harder views. She allows me to remain LESS passionate and retain the balance that is important for a respectable overall presentation. Man she is one dogmatic battleaxe. How did Ben Kritz describe her?

  • "Oh, and by the way Maude, despite striking me as a hormone-addled dipshit at the beginning of your rant, your three points you gleaned from my article are exactly the points I was trying to make. . ."

Ahahahaha. Ben K is one sweet and lovable guy. He has his passions, for sure. I think he is secretly hot for Maude.

Well, passion is important, you know? Filipinos have it in spades so I need not elaborate further on that point. You understand.

The end of the year approaches. I'll end this year's writing with a few thank yous tomorrow.

I'd like to extend good wishes to you as you exercise your own commitments for the next year. I hope you decide to develop principles that will hold you in good stead. Not flimsy resolutions, for show, but deep commitments to do the hard, fulfilling things that will help you, those close to you, and the Philippines grow richer.

Here's to discipline and passion and the ability to do that which is not easy. And to the principles that become your very own personal style.

Friday, December 28, 2012

How America Gave Us RH and the Church

This picture has nothing to do with anything.
It's just a good picture.
I hear the harsh words of the Catholic Church toward President Aquino and Secretary  Roxas about their backing of the RH Bill. It rings as a mocking echo of the anger the Church felt toward Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal in 1886.  The Church at that time went so far as to encourage a change in the governor general of the Philippines to put in place a man who would do their deed, execute the troublesome Dr. Rizal  to snuff the emerging rebellion.
The events of the time are a little confused as history has been tweaked by the players in ways that we can't fully know. We can understand how such things happen by considering Senator Enrile's book, which some argue is a remaking of history. His book may become truths for readers 100 years from now.

One of the confusions about Dr. Rizal is whether or not he recanted his allegiance to the Masons to return to the Catholic Church just prior to his death. A letter exists that suggests he did, but its authenticity is debated. Even if the letter were real, one would have to guess as to why Dr. Rizal sought to make things right with the Catholic faith.  Perhaps so that he would die as one with his disadvantaged brothers, the masses of poor Filipions abused by the Church and the Spanish. He appeared to have no regrets about dying for his people. 

"Consummatum est" he said just prior to being shot. "It is finished."

Dr. Rizal left behind left two secret messages, one in an oil lamp pointing to a second message in his shoe. But by the time his remains were dug up, the second message had disintegrated. It is worth knowing that the powers who executed Dr. Rizal were so vengeful that they did not place his body in a coffin. They buried him in the dirt in an unmarked grave.

So some things we cannot know.

Another confusion is exactly what the relationship was between Dr. Rizal and the United States. Did the U.S. play him or use him to influence the political situation? One of those masterful behind-the-scenes global power plays the U.S. is so good at?

The Philippines to the U.S. was an arm of the battle to throw the Spanish out of the Americas. The U.S. engaged the Spanish in the Philippines with the backing of certain Manila power brokers. America did not simply march in with conquest in mind.

Concurrently, Emilio Aquinaldo organized the formation of an independent Philippines and sought support from the U.S. for his new state. It would appear the U.S. reneged on a promise by U.S. Admiral Dewey to President Aguinaldo to back the Philippine State because the Americans did not think the Aguinaldo government was strong enough to stand on its own. Americans feared that if they left, the Philippines would be in play again for conquest by any number of other interested states.

The U.S. waged a brutal war against Aguinaldo's forces during the Philippine American War. Many American politicians were outright racist at the time. You can get a good sense of American engagement from an essay I wrote a couple of years ago, found above in the right tab called "Fire when ready Gridley". The U.S. may even have orchestrated the start of the war to keep the Philippines under American auspices.

We can speculate about many things.

Perhaps Aguinaldo would have succeeded with his new state had the United States been more gracious.  Or if Filipinos had not been so argumentative and divided among themselves. We know Aguinaldo was determined to rid the Philippines of the Catholic presence as well as the Spanish masters. It is reported that the first three friars hunted down by Aguinaldo's forces were barbecued on a spit and hacked to pieces. Aguinaldo gained the allegiance of Father Aglipay, who, excommunicated by Rome, established the Aglipayan Church. The Aglipayan Church became the "church of the people" and membership exploded. The Catholic Church was on a path to oblivion.

As history would have it, American Catholics asserted themselves during negotiations on the Treaty of Paris that "sold" the Philippines from Spain to the United States. Protections for for the Catholic Church were written into the Treaty and the Church immediately turned pro-American. 

A fine record of these events is recorded by Macario A. Capili ("Macapili") in his article entitled "The day the Catholic Church almost died".

The U.S. introduced its Bill of Rights into the governing Constitution of the Philippines, including the provision for separation of church and state. The Constitution put the interests of the Philippines, as a secular State, over the interests of the Catholic Church.

So today, we have the Church, still strong, still involved, still responsible for values and acts of a nation locked in corruption and poverty. But Church leaders can only argue and preach and complain; they cannot declare laws. The Church is outside looking in.

One can easily imagine the Philippines today if the Church still had an official role in the affairs of state.

  • We would not be having this discussion.

  • RH would not be in the lexicon of Philippine political language.

  • JoeAm would either not be living here, or he would be in jail.

  • The Freethinkers web site would not exist.

  • A Muslim underclass would be ruthlessly ground into the Mindanao mud.

  • Many voices would be silenced.

So America both saved the Church and forced it out of government.

Archbishop Jose Palma
CBCP President
That is why today the bishops are on the outside, looking in. And why RH finally passed.

Church leaders still talk as if they are entitled to special privilege and authority. They act as if it is wholly proper to declare the President of the Philippines  a "threat to democracy". Or to angrily threaten that Mar Roxas will not become President of the Philippines because he backed the RH Bill.

The Church pushed her hostile, demanding doctrine to near demise in Rizal's era and she can achieve the same ends this century. An organization that condemns education, refuses to learn, and aims hostility toward good people, makes her own bed.

I wonder what history books the bishops are studying.

They appear incapable of change, humility or compassion. The political Church is once again on a path of dogmatic instruction of others and self-imposed irrelevance. The shame is that most of the Church is not political, but the entire Church will pay the price for those priests who are.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Picture of the Year

There is nothing like a good list to get one's juices stirred up. It's great when there are winners or losers. It's organized gossip. Like Time Magazine trying to filter a year of global acts down to one man. Boy howdy, Time takes it on the chin every year for the people the editors did not choose. 

Seventh Runner Up

This, my friends, is an action photo, showing the Number One idol of the Philippines, Representative Colonel Doctor Champion Champion Champion Champion Champion Champion Champion Manny Pacquiao displaying another of his skills: submachine gun shooting.  Not shown in the photo is his aptitude in chicken fighting, betting, boxing, and praying. Or soldering. Or honorary doctoring. Or law making.

It is by definition a good photo because it is of Pacquiao, and our list would be horribly remiss if we did not include this icon of Filipino public service, pride and virtue.

Plus, I don't want no hyper-sensitive Filipino congressman on my case for failing to show allegiance to their dream guy whom I, being Hollywood of origin, mistakenly take to be merely an entertainer, and a very rich one at that.

Sixth Runner Up

Oh, rats! Now Congress is going to be on my case for re-running this mocking photo by Justin Bieber of Manny Pacquiao imitating Michael Jackson's lean.

A guy can't even be a reporter around here without getting his mitt in a wringer.

Congress has a bill in the hopper to declare Justin Bieber "persona non-grata" in the Philippines for mocking National Hero Pacquiao, a guy who has virtually identical credentials to the other National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

Evidently freedom of expression to these congressmen means "you are free to express whatever I find acceptable".

Bizarre. As if their Congressional Act helps the international standing of the Philippines, once again casting the Philippines as a nation of whiners. Who is doing the most damage, Bieber, whom most people find upstanding and kind, or Philippine congressmen with zero comprehension that free expression is what helps a nation grow and stay honest.

Never mind that the poor go poor, the FOI bill languishes, the Divorce Bill suffers and other bills of import get pushed aside for this urgent vendetta. Congress evidently has nothing substantial to do.

But let's get serious.

Fifth Runner Up

This picture was not taken in 2012, obviously, but it was found by JoeAm in 2012 and he was stunned at the portrayal of an American soldier doing a good deed rather than coming off as one of the American sons-of-bitches who blasted Manila to rubble trying to get some rats out.

This is a scene from the WW II Battle for Manila.

You will note the nun in the background bringing a halo to the picture. And the rubble. And in the fore, the serious American soldier carrying a young Filipina who appears to be in shock. The beauty and the beast, eh?

Contrary to what some might lead you to believe, most Americans are genuinely good people. Her military leaders sometimes take brutal choices.

Fourth Runner Up

This picture is of importance because it shows three things: (1) the nations of the world eating all the tuna from the sea, consigning their grandkids to the enjoyment of eating seaweed and salt, (2) a very handsome hunka hunka tuna, and (3) an even more handsome hunka hunka Filipino, the latter doing what 80 percent of all Filipino men are consumed with: (a) laboring for a pittance, and (b) being happy.

For some reason, I love the laboring Philippines. Americans sacrifice their young men on the battlefield and Filipinos do it in the fields and trees and oceans and pedaling bicycles for a lifetime.

Third  Runner Up

I wish Transparency International or Pulse Asia or some other influential rating agency would evaluate all the countries in the world on the scale of Most Photogenic to Least Photogenic.

I don't care where you are in the Philippines, you can wake up, wander around for an hour, and come home with photos, one of which will prove to be absolutely stunning.

This is that photo for 2012, Bohol, obviously, a rice field, obviously, and a home or cottage.

The Philippines has to be in the top ten, eh? There are so many good shots I have largely given up on the camera and taken to simply absorbing the most gorgeous place on earth. And the most poignant. And on occasion the most tragic.

Second Runner Up

Storms rake the Philippines regularly. We'll set aside the earthquakes, volcanoes and coup temperments for now and focus on the wind and rain.

Filipinos deal with storms in phases: (1) preparation if they are lucky enough to hear that a big one is coming, (2) hunkering down during the rain and wind, (3) emerging to a landscape of destruction and too often death, (4) finding relief, (5) surviving, and (6) rebuilding before the next one hits.

This is a picture of relief delivered in the Filipino tradition, the powerful overwhelming the weak to get their handout. I will leave it to you to guess what share of the crowd is genuinely needy and what share is out for a freebie. If I have become a cynic, it is because the local training is exemplary.

This is a picture that says a lot, and leaves too much to the imagination.

First Runner Up

I'm always looking for new photos of President Aquino because he is always popping up in my blogs.

This one is fantastic because it is how he deserves to look for all the good work he is doing to raise the Philippines out of an era of corruption and self dealing into one of honest work and achievement. He is not merely doing traditional acts of governance, he is doing those acts which will remake the Philippine social and governmental framework forever.

Arresting plunderers. Tossing errant Chief Justices. Hammering out a Mindanao agreement. An RH Bill. Anti-Disappearing Bill. POGI Bill (FOI) coming down the pike. I expect Divorce to be delivered, too. These are all modernization acts, acts that CHANGE the Philippines for the good, sometimes done in the face of crusty old men who would hold the Philippines to its backward days forever.

I like the picture because this is how I imagine President Aquino would look upon arriving back in the Philippines after traveling to Norway to get his Nobel Peace Prize.

JoeAm's Favorite Photo of 2012

Yes, it has to be a people shot. Showing the side of the Philippines that the antis simply won't recognize. The heart and dedication and effort of good people in the face of incredible obstacles.

The occasion is the aftermath of typhoon Bopha. I look at the activities from the perspective of the woman on the stretcher who has given her trust, and the safety of her young child, to the men of the rescue unit. Her ride is loud, it is bumpy, it is cold and wet, it is filled with tension. Yet she is calm, for her baby.

I'm sorry, I don't know the men or the situation or the woman.

But I think it does not matter much. The photo is for the thousands and thousands of unnamed good samaratan Filipinos who emerge during or after a tragedy to begin making some sense of it. Some kindness. They dig for the bodies. They rescue those holding onto life by a thread. They put themselves at risk. They labor as only Filipinos can labor. Long hours, sleepless nights, little food and precious little monetary reward. You know, frankly and with cynicism and satire aside, I think Manny Pacquiao is one of these guys, at the core, which is why he is so loved.

Too many congressmen do not appear to be of this style, frankly. Nor some Associate Chief Justices. Nor some governors.

The contrast is stunning.

Jesse Robredo would be there, for sure. In the water. It's the REAL Philippines, y'know? Where people of good heart, and often little wealth and little power, step up to help others in even greater need . . .

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ambrose Bierce: The Letter P

The real Ambrose Bierce?
Our good friend Edgar Lores has reminded us of the import of the letter P. Indeed, the letter P is one we would have a hard time doing without.

Here are some excerPts from "The Devil's Dictionary" by our long-gone whacko American friend Ambrose Bierce.  If the words dance unintelligibly on the lip, keep reading, and by the end, you, too, will be speaking in a high-minded way that amazes and confounds your listeners.  You don't even have to know what you are talking about.

PAIN, n.  An uncomfortable frame of mind that may have a physical basis in something that is being done to the body, or may be purely mental, caused by the good fortune of another.

PAINTING, n.  The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.

PARDON, v.  To remit a penalty and restore to the life of crime.  To add to the lure of crime the temptation of ingratitude.

PASSPORT, n.  A document treacherously inflicted upon a citizen going abroad, exposing him as an alien and pointing him out for special reprobation and outrage.

PAST, n.  That part of Eternity with some small fraction of which we have a slight and regrettable acquaintance.  A moving line called the Present parts it from an imaginary period known as the Future.  These two grand divisions of Eternity, of which the one is continually effacing the other, are entirely unlike.  The one is dark with sorrow and disappointment, the other bright with prosperity and joy.  The Past is the region of sobs, the Future is the realm of song.  In the one crouches Memory, clad in sackcloth and ashes, mumbling penitential prayer; in the sunshine of the other Hope flies with a free wing, beckoning to temples of success and bowers of ease.  Yet the Past is the Future of yesterday, the Future is the Past of to-morrow.  They are one--the knowledge and the dream.

PATIENCE, n.  A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.

PATRIOT, n.  One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole.  The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.

PATRIOTISM, n.  Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name.

In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel.  With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.

PEACE, n.  In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

PERSEVERANCE, n.  A lowly virtue whereby mediocrity achieves an inglorious success.

  "Persevere, persevere!" cry the homilists all,
  Themselves, day and night, persevering to bawl.
  "Remember the fable of tortoise and hare--
  The one at the goal while the other is--where?"
  Why, back there in Dreamland, renewing his lease
  Of life, all his muscles preserving the peace,
  The goal and the rival forgotten alike,
  And the long fatigue of the needless hike.
  His spirit a-squat in the grass and the dew
  Of the dogless Land beyond the Stew,
  He sleeps, like a saint in a holy place,
  A winner of all that is good in a race.

Sukker Uffro

PESSIMISM, n.  A philosophy forced upon the convictions of the observer by the disheartening prevalence of the optimist with his scarecrow hope and his unsightly smile.

PHILANTHROPIST, n.  A rich (and usually bald) old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience is picking his pocket.

PHILOSOPHY, n.  A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.

PHYSICIAN, n.  One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our dogs when well.

PIANO, n.  A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor.  It is operated by pressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.

PIETY, n.  Reverence for the Supreme Being, based upon His supposed resemblance to man.

  The pig is taught by sermons and epistles
  To think the God of Swine has snout and bristles.


PIGMY, n.  One of a tribe of very small men found by ancient travelers in many parts of the world, but by modern in Central Africa only.  The Pigmies are so called to distinguish them from the bulkier Caucasians --who are Hogmies.

PITIFUL, adj.  The state of an enemy of opponent after an imaginary encounter with oneself.

PLAGIARIZE, v.  To take the thought or style of another writer whom one has never, never read.

PLAN, v.t.  To bother about the best method of accomplishing an accidental result.

PLATITUDE, n.  The fundamental element and special glory of popular literature. A thought that snores in words that smoke.  The wisdom of a million fools in the diction of a dullard.  A fossil sentiment in artificial rock.  A moral without the fable.  All that is mortal of a departed truth.  A demi-tasse of milk-and-mortality.  The Pope's-nose of a featherless peacock.  A jelly-fish withering on the shore of the sea of thought.  The cackle surviving the egg.  A desiccated epigram.

PLAUDITS, n.  Coins with which the populace pays those who tickle and devour it.

PLEASE, v.  To lay the foundation for a superstructure of imposition.

PLEASURE, n.  The least hateful form of dejection.

PLUNDER, v.  To take the property of another without observing the decent and customary reticences of theft.  To effect a change of ownership with the candid concomitance of a brass band.  To wrest the wealth of A from B and leave C lamenting a vanishing opportunity.

POCKET, n.  The cradle of motive and the grave of conscience.  In woman this organ is lacking; so she acts without motive, and her conscience, denied burial, remains ever alive, confessing the sins of others.

POLICE, n.  An armed force for protection and participation.

POLITENESS, n.  The most acceptable hypocrisy.

POLITICS, n.  A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.  The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

POLITICIAN, n.  An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared.  When we wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.

POSITIVE, adj.  Mistaken at the top of one's voice.

POSITIVISM, n.  A philosophy that denies our knowledge of the Real and affirms our ignorance of the Apparent.  Its longest exponent is Comte, its broadest Mill and its thickest Spencer.

POVERTY, n.  A file provided for the teeth of the rats of reform.  The number of plans for its abolition equals that of the reformers who suffer from it, plus that of the philosophers who know nothing about it.  Its victims are distinguished by possession of all the virtues and by their faith in leaders seeking to conduct them into a prosperity where they believe these to be unknown.

PRAY, v.  To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

PREDILECTION, n.  The preparatory stage of disillusion.

PRE-EXISTENCE, n.  An unnoted factor in creation.

PREFERENCE, n.  A sentiment, or frame of mind, induced by the erroneous belief that one thing is better than another.

An ancient philosopher, expounding his conviction that life is no
better than death, was asked by a disciple why, then, he did not die.
"Because," he replied, "death is no better than life."

It is longer.

PREJUDICE, n.  A vagrant opinion without visible means of support.

PRELATE, n.  A church officer having a superior degree of holiness and a fat preferment.  One of Heaven's aristocracy.  A gentleman of God.

PREROGATIVE, n.  A sovereign's right to do wrong.

PRESCRIPTION, n.  A physician's guess at what will best prolong the situation with least harm to the patient.

PRESENT, n.  That part of eternity dividing the domain of disappointment from the realm of hope.

PRESENTABLE, adj.  Hideously appareled after the manner of the time and place.

In Boorioboola-Gha a man is presentable on occasions of ceremony
if he have his abdomen painted a bright blue and wear a cow's tail; in
New York he may, if it please him, omit the paint, but after sunset he
must wear two tails made of the wool of a sheep and dyed black.

PRESIDENT, n.  The leading figure in a small group of men of whom-- and of whom only--it is positively known that immense numbers of their countrymen did not want any of them for President.

PREVARICATOR, n.  A liar in the caterpillar estate.
PRICE, n.  Value, plus a reasonable sum for the wear and tear of conscience in demanding it.

PRIMATE, n.  The head of a church, especially a State church supported by involuntary contributions.  The Primate of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury, an amiable old gentleman, who occupies Lambeth Palace when living and Westminster Abbey when dead.  He is commonly dead.

PRISON, n.  A place of punishments and rewards.  The poet assures us that--

  "Stone walls do not a prison make,"

but a combination of the stone wall, the political parasite and the moral instructor is no garden of sweets.

PROJECTILE, n.  The final arbiter in international disputes.  Formerly these disputes were settled by physical contact of the disputants, with such simple arguments as the rudimentary logic of the times could supply--the sword, the spear, and so forth.  With the growth of prudence in military affairs the projectile came more and more into favor, and is now held in high esteem by the most courageous.  Its capital defect is that it requires personal attendance at the point of propulsion.

PROOF, n.  Evidence having a shade more of plausibility than of unlikelihood.  The testimony of two credible witnesses as opposed to that of only one.

PROPHECY, n.  The art and practice of selling one's credibility for future delivery.

PROSPECT, n.  An outlook, usually forbidding.  An expectation, usuallyforbidden.

  Blow, blow, ye spicy breezes--
      O'er Ceylon blow your breath,
  Where every prospect pleases,
      Save only that of death.

Bishop Sheber

PUBLISH, n.  In literary affairs, to become the fundamental element in a cone of critics.

PUSH, n.  One of the two things mainly conducive to success, especially in politics.  The other is Pull.

From the "The Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce, housed in the Gutenberg Library   

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blogging for Donuts

Remind you of anyone in particular?
The Philippines rises,
the priests object.
The state is run by good men,
the priests condemn them.

This is a time warp, a reason warp. It is Jose Rizal logic, to execute the best to preserve the dogma of the past.

Post Mortem

If you feel as I do, you are experiencing genuine pride in the work done by compassionate legislators, and President Aquino, in the face of rather withering fire from CBCP leaders and certain outspoken priests. You may also feel relief, as I do, that we are through with the need for intense engagement on the matter. It is very possible that our dissection of issues and work to influence the outcome of the RH debate gave important support to pro-RH legislators, and perhaps even nudged President Aquino to step up for the Philippines on the matter for the second time (the first was in his SALN SONA speech earlier this year when two words, "planned parenthood", provoked a great cheer). 

This was a job well done by the whole of the internet community. 

Given the information and research on the side of pro-RH, and the advocacy of notable civic backers from Human Rights Watch to the WTO, one wonders how the priests can be so out of touch with those who seek to build a modern Philippines. It's as if they prefer the ring of "banana republic". And the enduring threats and complaints about the good and earnest men of State, President Aquino and Mar Roxas, two people of sincere conscience and honest means. 

Does the Catholic Church really believe it can gain by attacking the nobelest of secular governance?

What's Next?

When we are back at  the advocacy writing, it will be interesting to see where our collective Philippine blogging force goes. I rather think that FOI is well along the way to passage, and the only matter is to fine tune it. Like argue for no "right of reply" provision.

I liked Springwoodman's suggestion on Raissa's thread that the judiciary needs attention.  New Chief Justice Sereno has hit some bumps, some of her own making, some the responsibility of apparently childish and envious associate justices. The matter of decentralization of authority to the courts is big and needs to be parsed. Two more big issues are: (1) how, practically, to get the court dockets unplugged, and (2) how to build good case law when past decisions seem not to have law at the foundation.

How cases are handled by Justice and prosecutors warrants investigation, too. Do police units have CSI capability? How good are investigative skills compared to American or European standards? I have no idea. I like that newly appointed PNP Chief Cop Alan Purisima gave a direct order to his subordinate cops: "If you are corrupt, leave." And I like that he wants to focus on professionalism in key areas rather than rotate people and tasks so that not much quality work gets done.

Another area of potential exploration is foreign direct investment and the lack of depth in Philippine manufacturing and commercial markets. Business processes are still a rat's nest of odious officiousness, paper based harassment chasing away new investment money.

And of course we have the 2013 elections to deal with. I think I may ride with Johnny Lin on his sense of the candidates. Or at least key off what he says. There is no need for this outlier to try to catch up to his photographic memory of the candidates, their escapades and their achievements.

Blogging Strategically

My game plan for 2013 is to be provocative and persistent in writing about subjects pertinent to pursuit of a strong, vibrant, wealthier, healthier Philippines.

But there is another direction I'd also like to pursue. It seems to me that if you are a blogger, you can either:

  • Type your brains out in isolation, envious of the success and brilliance of other bloggers, and get mostly nowhere,


  • Back each other up and become a force, a legitimate "Fifth Estate", more powerful than the rag press or TV sensationalists.

Earlier in 2012, I established the Philippine Blog Center to centralize and update references to top Philippine blogs, in a small way unifying them for ease of access. It is picking up readers because it is useful. It is a one-stop blog sweep that should go on anyone's daily read list, along with Rappler, general news sweeps (Google or other compilations), and any favorite publications.

I think we bloggers can do more to build each other up.When we see a good blog done by a compatriot of the internet wordwars, we ought to plug it. Link to it. BUILD THE OTHER GUY UP.

Well, if we respect the work being done, that is. I no longer link to the anti blogs in my own articles. I don't think they are as honorable as they could be.

Next year I intend to actively direct readers to Philippine blog articles that I believe are consistent with my own aims, to build a healthy Philippines.

I'd hope other bloggers would also see that they gain as individual bloggers if the whole community gains. As a community, we are each, individually, much stronger than we could possibly be as a bunch of rabble independents.

Here's to making Philippine blogging a legitimate "Fifth Estate".


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

People Ragazine

Mark it. December 17, 2012, the day the Philippines finally ACTED to respect the vision of Dr. Jose Rizal for a kinder, more compassionate Philippines free of the oppressive cloak of the Catholic Church.

Dr. Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896.

It would be glorious if President Aquino could sign RH legislation into law on December 30, exactly 116 years after the Philippines decided an intelligent, compassionate man was not a proper fit for the Philippines. Official action that day cast the Philippines into the dark and the legislature's official action on Monday pulled her up into the light again.

Senator Pia Cayetano

In respect for the Lady Senator's fine handling of the final amendments to the RH Bill, JoeAm officially withdraws the afore-assigned "Five Golden Bluttos" gifted to Ms. Cayetano for brusque behavior and replaces them with "Five Golden Popeyes". Crisp, authoritative, knowledgeable, determined.  Professional. Her work was superb. Congratulations on your notable achievement, Senator.

(You were lookin'g good, too, fighting that wisp of hair with a glint of defiant determination that had Senator Sotto babbling like a star-struck comedian. Not that we notice superficial things like that.)

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago

May your husband fulfill your every expectation. Even the nuns in the gallery got a chuckle out of your slyly ribald point of argument.

COMELEC Commissioner Grace Padaca

"Five Golden Popeyes" to you, as well, for hammering home what you believe should be done about vote-buying. If your view gets seated as acts of government, it will force candidates to run on capability and platform. You said:

  • “Implement the laws against vote buying because this curse is giving us leaders who have lots of money but too little of the qualifications we need to grow as a nation. Begin teaching our children in schools about elections so that when they vote for the first time, they'll have other ideas of elections than money politics and peal campaigning."

Justin Bieber

No awards for you, pal, and kindly DO NOT APOLOGIZE to the Philippines for mocking Manny Pacquiao's face flattening fall to the canvas. If you apologize for getting in a good dig, you make it difficult for the rest of us who are here writing at the edge of Philippine proprietary. Which, as you have noticed, is extraordinarily sensitive.

"Five Golden Bluttos" Each

To Representatives  Carol Jayne Lopez (Yacap party-list), Seth Jalosjos (Zamboanga del Norte), Amado Bagatsing (Manila), Antonio Alvarez (Palawan), Mark Aeron Sambar (PBA party-list), Alfredo Garbin, Jr. (Ako Bicol), and Isidro Lico (Ating Koop party-list), who sponsored a legislative bill to make Justin Bieber "persona non grata" in the Philippines. That is, they want him banned from coming from the Philippines for publishing that photo up there, and others like it. Bieber is a Floyd Mayweather fan.

Holey Representative, Batman, but you yokels make Filipinos look like the biggest bunch of pussys* in the world. The kind who can dish it out, but can't take it. THIS is your definition of pride and dignity? To officially slap down a kid who was making a joke? Your overbearing, humorless acts are infinitely more damaging to the Philippines than Bieber's off-key attempt at a joke.

*Street language for "extreme wimp", used here for literary effect. No gender disparagement or gross sexual reference intended.

How Do We Get A Nobel Peace Prize for President Aquino?

Who nominates people around here anyway? This is far more than for the Mindanao peace agreement, which is a profound accomplishment. It is for walking the firm but high road with China and bringing social modernization to a very peaceful Philippines. There is not a single coup plot cooking on any of the 7,000 islands, unless you count the shrieks emanating from the CBCP. Election murders are becoming passé. This is the remarkable remaking of a national attitude.  Advocacy for women's rights and the rights of people to government information solidify President Aquino's good governance agenda and assure long-lasting, orderly progress for a nation long held back by outdated values, clannish rivalries,  poverty and associated angers.

This is the Nelson Mandela of Asia folks, sitting right over there in the Palace. The Abe Lincoln of the Philippines. Dont let other people's need for stereotypes confuse you. Boxers aren't the only winners around here. You don't need a chicken under your arm to shine. This guy is an exclamation point for the Philippines.

Manny Pacquiao

Retire, dude. You've made your point, and your millions. Focus on your health and how to leverage your good standing in the Philippines for the betterment of the nation. Give back to those who have given so much to you.

Women of the Philippines

Congratulations. Go in good health.

Men of the Philippines

Are the priests "real men"?, I am inclined to ask. They seem like girlie men to me, hysterical and bitchy. No offense to women intended. Governor Schwarzenegger penned the expression. It is a movie term, useful only in the context for which it is useful.

The rest of you guys get out there and follow Madam Santiago's instruction.

Mar Roxas

Hey, my Good Man, you are up for review by JoeAm as a serious presidential contender in 2016. Keep up the good work and don't let UNA's whining distract you from your job of rooting out crooks who might conveniently also be political opponents.

Monday, December 17, 2012

About Americans

Guest Article
By Coco Villa

American Cowboy
Talking about Americans and American culture one can talk about different layers. A visible outer layer with things such as clothing, language, food, and housing. A middle level consisting of norms and values and beliefs in what is right and what is wrong. Deep inside is the core that makes them tick, things you don’t know too well and when others tell you, you get confused or irritated. The visible layer can be seen daily on TV, the invisible layers are the subject of this blog.

All the following statements are unscientific and just reflect my personal observations and thoughts. I worked half my career for American companies, living in Michigan, in the Mid-West and around Atlanta. I spent holidays in Florida and California.

Let’s first ask if it makes sense to talk about Americans as such; does the stereotypical American exist?

STATEMENT 1:  Americans do not exist

1.       To describe a population statistically you need two parameters, the average or mean and the dispersion or variation. When you compare parameters between the US and Europe, it is remarkable that the US has much more variation, the normal distribution curve being very flat. As the USA has a large population there are always plenty of people at the excellent side, but also plenty of people far below average. The average is not always above the European average, even if the number of top notchers in America is larger. For instance, the difference between a degree from a second class college in the US and one from an Ivy League university is enormous. Not so in Europe. Out of the top 10 universities in the world, eight are American and two are European. In the top 200 you find more European universities. Same for museums, income, housing . . .

Filipino Cowboy
Conclusion: the large extremes of the flat distribution differ so much that it is impossible to talk about a typical American. You always have a large section of the population with the opposite characteristics.

2.       I lived in Detroit, and in Metro-Detroit alone you can make a world tour, from Germany through the Middle East to black Africa and China . . . all in one town. Appearance changes, food changes, even languages. You find extreme wealth on one side of the street, poverty at the other side and a lot of police in between. When travelling, one cannot compare Texas with New England, Florida with Alaska, the bible belt with San Francisco, the rural plains with New York. Nature is different, dialects are different, norms and values are different, surviving strategies are different.

Conclusion: the differences are too big to talk about one American culture.

3.       America often has the best athletes, the most gold medals, but also the most obese citizens. You see the typical California girl on roller-skates and the couch potatoes with a 6-pack in a rusty pick-up. Noble price winners and a high percentage of illiterates. Astronauts and plenty of citizens with no clue how the rest of the world might look (and Fox isn’t telling them, either).

Conclusion: the typical American does not exist.

4.       Immigration is so high and millions are not fully assimilated yet, Cubans in Miami, Mexicans in the South, Chinatowns, Filipinos everywhere . . . providing a lot of cheap imported labor. Top universities and top industries attract the best scientists from all over the world, making a lot of the American human capital imported capital. A lot of raw materials and goods are imported below reasonable market prices and foreign debt is enormous. American wealth is imported wealth.

Conclusion: American success is imported success.

5.       Social mobility in the US is much lower than in many other countries. Getting higher-up is more difficult. The prison population is higher than everywhere else in the world. Gun violence is a multiple of all other nations.

Conclusion: the American dream only exists as a dream and it is not based on reality.

STATEMENT 2: Americans exist

1.       Once you understand one American airport you understand all American airports. If you have seen one Wal-Mart, you have seen all Wal-Mart’s. One language is dominant and can be used everywhere, one type of road sign, one type of doorknob everywhere. On Fridays the throughput time for all TGI Friday restaurants is 47 minutes, the time between entering and exiting the establishment, based on one optimal process, applied in every TGIF restaurant.

Conclusion: uniformity is so high that it only can be realized in a single nation, America exists.

2.       Being a country of immigrants, immigrants are common and well accepted. Most immigrants came with the same dream. The integration processes are well developed and build on that dream: “In the States you can achieve everything”. But you have to share American values such as hard work, caring for yourself, and loving the country. These values are repeated daily in every morning show and in every school. Every newspaper has a daily success story.

2,384 New Americans Arriving at Ellis Island, 1903
Conclusion: When even immigrants share the same dream from day 1 and then participate in the same patriotic parades, America exists

3.       On a civil war site I overheard a mother telling her kids: “ You know why the civil war was the bloodiest war ever fought? Why? Americans were fighting Americans and Americans soldiers are the bravest in the world!” (The fact is that the lack of hygiene killed more soldiers then bullets.)

Conclusion: chauvinism is widespread, America exists.

4.       For most Americans the world is split in two parts, America at one side of the border and the rest of the world at the other side. This mean you only need two sets of adjectives, one to describe Americans and one to describe the others. Differences between the Pygmies in Africa, Danes in Denmark or Chinese tai-pans in Hong Kong are minimal compared to how they differ from a true American.

Conclusion: it’s all about perception, America exists.

5.       The rest of the world recognizes an American straight away. Some arrogance with a sympathetic smile, a straight forward language with a clear accent, informally dressed, self assured but easy to approach. The rest of the world sees Uncle Sam as the ultimate policeman in the world, the ultimate superman to come to the rescue, needed or not. The rest of the world is envious for America's success.

Conclusion: if the world says that America exists, who am I to object.


1.       Individual / Group

The Americans are focused on individual development and not on connecting with others. “I am responsible for my own success, the American Dream gives me all opportunities, the sky is the limit”.  They live in a crossfire of commercial impulses, often loosing the traditional cocoon of family, guild, and neighborhood. The Filipino’s main consideration is the opposite. “I am responsible for my family, and if I am more successful than my parents or siblings, I will (have to?) share with them.”

American Diplomat
If you go alone to a confrontation in the US, it signals that you are powerful and can make all decisions yourself, but if you go with a negotiating team, you are weak, you need support. Here it is the opposite. If you go with a large team all can see that you are important, that you have the means.

When I was new in the Philippines, I had to pay my water bill the first time. I worked the whole day and I intended to send my helper. I didn’t know where I had to pay, so I asked my neighbors but I couldn’t get a clear answer. The next day I asked my colleagues at work and eventually I got the location explained. Only later I understood how stupid I had been. Every tricycle drivers goes 100 times a month to that place, they know for sure. My neighbors, like my helper, did not understand why I didn’t trust her, why I had to control her and even worse why I had to take away the added value of the driver and his pride. Here people rely on “group knowledge”. In the States this is unthinkable, relying on others. You have to know yourself.
2.       Inside out / Outside in

In the Philippines, the description of a persons surroundings is more revealing than the description of his character.

Americans define themselves from within, what they are, “Only I know who I really am”. Filipino’s (as Asians) do the opposite, they look at their relatives to know who they are, at their friends, their countrymen. “How my behavior is perceived makes me who I am”. Loosing face or losing esteem is to become a lesser person. After losing face, an American is still the same, it only means that he has to sell himself better the next time.

American children sleep alone in bed and their being ends where their toes feel the sheets. Filipino children sleep in clusters and their being starts where the others are not. It creates a different perspective. American children from a young age sit in their room alone, and even with a multitude of Facebook contacts, they are alone. Filipino children are together, even behind a screen in an internet cafe.

3.       Missionary / Detective

Americans (as Westerners) are missionaries. When they go somewhere they have to find out what can be improved, come up with a solution and convince the others to implement the improvement. Asians do the opposite. When they go somewhere they look for what they could copy and use to their advantage. Filipinos with their mixed heritage are confused. As Asians they would like to copy, but they want to be big boys, too, and like the Americans, find solutions for themselves. (Even worse, now they call copying plagiarism.)

Obesity is a bigger health crisis globally than hunger, and the leading cause of disabilities around the world.” (The Lancet, British medical journal)  Plenty of American NGO’s offer solutions to eliminate hunger. Where are the Philippine NGO’s fighting obesity, explaining the benefits of hunger?

4.       Escalation policy

Filipino Congressman
Americans have a very elaborate way to escalate a conflict: 1. speak louder, 2. use rougher language, 3. stand closer, 4. use obscene signs, 5. touch the other person, 6. push him, 7. hit him, 8. hit as hard as you can, 9. fight for life or death, 10. shoot.

Filipinos stay friendly at levels 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,8 and 9. Only a good observer might notice some nervousness.  The only escalation they know is 10: shoot. (Sometimes they shoot already on level 5.)
5.       Confidence

People are confident when their phenotype, the way they behave/culture, is close to their genotype, the way they are/nature. Americans have no problem in behaving the way they are. They affirm whenever they can that they are the biggest, the best. For Filipinos it is the opposite. They behave very politely to equals and superiors, but once “individually” in a car, they are the rudest drivers one can imagine. Triple lane, even fourth lane driving in a 2 lane street is common, blocking all traffic in either direction.

Americans always have the ultimate solution: 80% of the painkillers worldwide are consumed by the Americans, 5% of the population.