Friday, November 28, 2008

Beware of Sign

This was in Greenbelt 3 in Makati, circa 2005, at an escalator connecting the second and third floors.

Either the most brainless or most brilliant thing I've ever seen.

The sign has since been removed. Pity.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Every day is opposite day in Thailand

I'm having a hard time figuring out Thailand these days.

Correct me if any of this is wrong. I sure hope some of it is, because it hardly makes any sense.

On Tuesday, the ironically named People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which neither represents the majority of the people nor cares much for upholding democratic values, lead a mob of protesters that swarmed and shut down Bangkok's international airport-- one of the world's busiest transport hubs, with 90,000 passengers daily.

Their goal? To cause as much chaos as possible to force the democratically elected government to step down, and install some sort of new system that limits the electoral power of poorer rural voters. This new system is needed, of course, because if they merely succeeded at toppling the government it would just get re-elected at the next possible chance.

This PAD already accomplished the task it was created for in 2006, when a military coup toppled the beloved legitimate Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It re-established and repurposed itself when Thaksin's allies won a resounding victory in the first post-coup election.

Now aiming to purge the government of all traces of influence of the deposed Thaksin, PAD stormed into government offices in August and have remained there since, forcing the government to administer things while moving from one place to another.

And now, no longer content with merely shooting themselves in the foot, Bangkok Thais have moved on to shutting down their country's main international gateway, damaging Thailand's reputation and economy beyond foreseeable repair. Economic prospects are bleak, foreign investors are repelled, and obviously tourists don't want to have to deal with all this shit.

Meanwhile, at the airport, the middle-class mob is unable to see the menace that they themselves are creating by holding their country hostage. One PAD executive continued to blame Thaksin who is "willing to destroy the country". He also said "we don't want to inconvenience people", and, as if the PAD has no role in it, said "I'm really worried that the violence will increase".

Is... Is this what they actually believe?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Filipino Zone

Greenbelt 5 in Makati City is, if my memory serves me correctly, the highest of all high-end shopping malls I have ever been to.

I wandered into the place to see what's new in Manila when I was there two weeks ago (being invited to two Manila weddings conveniently scheduled on consecutive Saturdays is a great excuse to take a weeklong vacation).

It felt like I should have paid an entrance fee just for setting foot on this place, besmirching their floor tiles with my commoner shoes and breathing their air into my lungs.

Being a relatively new place, a lot of the retail places weren't open yet and there were barely any people, compounding the creepy feeling that I had this billion-peso mall all to myself.

Maybe you can't tell from this picture, but this place is crazy extravagant. Handbags that cost as much as a house. Shoe stores you could mistake for art galleries. The people who are capable of shopping here are people of a world I do not know.

It's extravagance that seems, perhaps, socially sinful. And it takes a lot for me to get to thinking like that. It's amazing, but doesn't feel right. Like Dubai, whose economy is based on building crazy stuff for the purpose of making no sense at all. What kind of people come to these shops to actually buy stuff?

And then I saw this:

Oh, ok. The Filipino Zone. It's downstairs.

That's when I knew, for sure, that this is not the place where I belong.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cebu vs. Cebu: Cebu loses

"Come on chicken, let's play chicken... Come on chicken, are you chicken... taktaktaktak," said Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, wearing a black cape and cowboy hat and holding a figurine of a rooster, mocking Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña. The costume was a reference to "Tandang Zorra", a mocking nickname Osmeña had given her. "This Tandang Zorra would like to ask the chicken (Osmeña) what is the real deal in the Filinvest deal."

So goes yet another chapter in the story of one of the most pointless feuds in the universe: The feud between the local government units of Cebu Province and Cebu City.

Let this be the point where it crossed from merely ridiculous to I-just-can't-believe-this-shit.

Given the gleefully irresponsible Philippine media, it's hard to tell how much of this feud is real and how much is simply imaginary. I mean, how can this be real-- two elected officials, responsible for millions, acting like such babies. Then again, given the frequency and persistence of the reports it's undeniable that at least some animosity exists.

It's like the left hand fighting with the right-- nothing gets done. I'd bet most people are not even aware that the city government is independent from the provincial government. The pointlessness of these inflammatory theatrics is mind-boggling. Fight fire with fire, and this whole island will burn.

I could write a long post collecting evidence and examining, point for point, why this rivalry is as stupid and destructive as it is. But what's the point? If Tommy and Gwen can't see with their own eyes how stupid they're being, the power of logic would hardly be enough to pierce their thick skulls.

What the hell is wrong with you guys. You're acting like goddamn children. Filipinos deserve better.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Worst Comic Strip in the World

Holy shit.

Divine Comedy should be studied in universities as the antithesis of humor. It not only dwells in the unfunny, but actually drills into negative territory and reaches antifunny, sucking joy from of the hearts of those unfortunate enough to encounter it.

Today's strip sinks to a new depth. Just look at it.

In the last panel is a Ku Klux Klan guy saying he's moving to Africa.

Divine Comedy by Steven Pabalinas appears Mondays to Saturdays in, yes, the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Worst Headline in the World

"Black in White House"

Congratulations, Philippine Daily Inquirer. This is the worst headline in the world.

It was embarrassing enough the first time they did it in January.

Every newspaper in the universe saying the same thing on their front page headline. Is there a single one out there to pull it off with less refinement? Please, I could use the laugh.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Michael Crichton, 66

I read my first real novel, Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, when I was a wee eight year old.

Watching a great movie at that age can have that kind of effect. And don't let the dinosaurs fool you, this is no kids book-- this is a hardcore 400-page grownups book. Sure, some of the other good kids had their own head start on reading at the time, with their Boxcar Children and their Goosebumps. But when you're in third grade and reading Michael Crichton... man, that's not just pulling ahead of the pack, that's playing a different sport.

Crichton was a physician with a degree from Harvard Medical School, and his intelligence shines through in his work. His writing style combines his knowledge of science with a knack for brewing suspense, blending page-turning entertainment with a scientific seminar-- and blurring the line between science and fiction while he's at it. Manchildren everywhere still believe that we can clone dinosaurs using the blood of mosquitoes preserved in tree sap (and I'm still holding out hope).

I reread Jurassic Park at least three times over the years, including once to write my high school senior term paper analyzing it. Maybe there's just something about being eight years old that leaves one vulnerable to lasting impressions-- among my favorite movies are The Lion King, Forrest Gump, and yes, Jurassic Park-- and there's a good chance that Jurassic Park also may just be my favorite book ever.

In love with reading but wary of other authors, I read other Crichton books-- Sphere, Congo, The Lost World, Andromeda Strain-- all brilliant techno-thrillers (and all adapted into less memorable movies). His more recent books-- Airframe, Timeline, Prey-- have been less magical, but still good in their own right.

I did not read State of Fear, which the news reports tell me is a thinly veiled and poorly constructed pseudoscientific farce. Disillusioned by the news, I never got around to reading his most recent book, Next.

And then just yesterday, buried under the avalanche of Obama victory news, was an announcement that Michael Crichton has died of cancer at the age 66. Very unexpectedly, at least to me! Did anyone know that he was sick? Did anyone even know that he was that old? I could hardly believe the news.

I haven't experienced any other books from authors with quite the same talent that he had, to blend scientific research with thrilling cinematic images and a compelling story. He's done his part to expand minds to the possibilities of science and potential dangers of technology, and he's left us with the ability to imagine dinosaurs roaming the earth, leaving all of us grown up kids to carry on his memory in our dinosaur dreams.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The American Election: Winners and Losers

An election unlike any other. I'm not gonna go hunting for the figures, but it was longer and more expensive and more awesome than any election that came before it. That is a mathematical fact! Made awesomer because America actually elected the right man to be President.

Here are the top 5 winners and the top 5 losers of this year's historic American election.


5. Substance
Taxes. Health care. Iraq. Education. Energy. Environment. Social security. Sure there was a lot of silliness that stands out in our memories, as there always is with an election, but both candidates had detailed policy stands and there was a lot of pressure to keep everyone sticking to the issues that matter. Including the Democratic and Republican primary season, there was an amazing total of 50 presidential debates. Fifty! You just can't have people meeting up that many times without gathering a wealth of substance to base your decisions on.

4. Diversity
One of the reasons this election was so fascinating was how colorful the lineup was. First African American president? First female vice president? First Catholic vice president? First really really old president? And, of course, Hillary Clinton went far further than anyone before her towards shattering that ultimate glass ceiling. The most remarkable thing of all is how these breakthrough candidates managed to reduce gender and race to a mere afterthought.

3. The world
It's no secret who the rest of the world wants to be America's next president. They want someone who doesn't divide the world into good and evil, does realize that the world is complex, doesn't turn to war as a first option, and talks about non-Americans with deserved dignity. Restoring America's respect in the world was a significant campaign issue. Plus, the largest campaign stop of the year was a crowd of 200,000-- in Berlin.

2. Barack Obama
In the end it was the most unlikely of candidates who emerged triumphant. Born in America's youngest state to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, spent four years of his youth in Indonesia, served three terms in the Illinois Senate, one term in the United States Senate, ran an incredible campaign, and will now spend the next four years getting America back on track as President of the United States.

1. America
Let's face it, the America that emerged after 9/11 was a monumental disappointment. It was more xenophobic, hostile, cynical, and stupid. But America is emerging the big winner in this election because they've picked the right man to turn that all around. It's an end of rushing to war based on spotty intelligence, an end to legalized torture, an end to bending the constitution for political gain. All thanks to the awakening of that unruly animal, American democracy. Has it ever been more alive?


5. Partisanship
Fed up with the fighting and hyperpartisanship of the past eight years, both major parties nominated senators known for their bipartisan appeal. This is not a collection of red states and blue states, this is the United States of America.

4. Cynicism
McCain can rightfully say that he has split from Bush on policies, but what they do have in common is a culture of cynicism. A skeptical, scornful, pessimistic attitude that was nurtured by and prevailed throughout Bush's presidency-- leaving America with a chronic lack of trust in their government. A central theme (the central theme?) of Obama's campaign was the promise of a leap beyond the hostility caused by Bush-- never to use faith as a wedge to divide, never to claim a monopoly on patriotism. That's the change America wanted. Change we can believe in.

3. Conventional wisdom
Who knew that a woman and a black man would be the last ones standing in a field of white male Democratic candidates? That having Bill Clinton active on Hillary's campaign trail would do more harm than good? That a town hall format debate would result in John McCain's weakest performance? That foreign policy would be buried under other priorities at a time that the US is waging two wars? The one rule to rely on in this contest is to make no assumptions.

2. John McCain
The independent-minded hawk that ran for president eight years ago was not the same candidate that showed up for the 2008 general election season. He took a gamble of pleasing the conservative wing at the cost of alienating independent voters, and it did not pay off. Not only did John McCain lose the election, he lost the maverick luster he had before getting the nomination.

1. George W. Bush
With his approval rating wallowing in the mid-20s, Bush spent the past week in hiding, and has had just one public event with his party's nominee since March. His reputation is so darkly stained that the mere suggestion that a candidate is Bush-like is instantly recognized as an attack. After all, who'd want to be associated with the man credited for two wars gone bad, a crumbling economy, a nationwide loss of faith in the government, and a worldwide loss of faith in America? Nobody, that's who. Bush's legacy is sealed. Goodbye and good riddance.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

That Marcos guy was really something

It's always insightful to take a look at the past through a thick lens of perspective.

Ferdinand Marcos has been demonized endlessly, pretty much to the point that he's our very own Philippine equivalent of Hitler. Call it Mike's Corollary to Godwin's Law: Get into a Philippine political discussion, and sooner or later someone's going to make a comparison to Marcos. It's the kind of environment where you're not even to admit that the guy had an idea worth looking into.

Marcos, the first president to win reelection in the independent Republic of the Philippines, delivered his second inaugeral address at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on December 30, 1969. Despite the awkward grammar of the speech's title ("To Transform the Nation — Transform Ourselves"), it was an awesome speech with soaring rhetorical flourishes, delivered in straight English unimaginable coming from today's Filipino politicians. No mention was made of specific programs, but he spoke in broad timeless themes that resonate to the present.

The full text of the speech is available at Wikisource. I'd love to watch a video or even to hear the audio of the speech being delivered, but none seems to be available on this internet of ours.

The speech begins with a crushing damnation of his predecessor's administration:
Four years have passed since I took my first oath of office as President of the Republic of the Philippines. We have traveled far since then. On that year and hour when I first assumed the presidency, we found a government at the brink of disaster and collapse, a government that prompted fear before it inspired hope; plagued by indecision, scorned by self-doubt, its economy despoiled, its treasury plundered, its last remaining gleam shone to light the way of panic.
Now, this sounds pretty weird to modern ears. Didn't Diosdado Macapagal leave behind a relatively positive legacy? Wasn't he a modest man that managed to dodge the stain of corruption? Aren't we taught that this was the country's golden era of prosperity? Who are we supposed to trust anyway?

I have this idea that it's the muddle of politics and ambition that clouds people's judgment. It's decades of mindless partisanship that causes politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together for common sense solutions. It's not quite a lack of goodwill-- everyone wants what is best. It's a lack of focus, and a lack of perspective.

Marcos goes on to point out the destructive habit of complaining and tearing each other down:
Too long have we blamed on one another the ills of this nation. Too long have we wasted our opportunities by finding fault with each other, as if this would cure our ills and rectify our errors. Let us now banish recrimination.

There are too many of us who see things as they are and complain. let us rather see things as they should be and inspire. Let us dream the vision of what could be and not what might have been,

There are many things we do not want about our world. Let us not just mourn them. Let us change them.
Regardless of the legacy Marcos left behind, I don't know anyone who would disagree with this assessment. He was right on the money, hit the bulls eye, pinned the tail right on the donkey.

We can't say he was all too effective in reforming our culture's work-ethic though. The very reason this speech resonates to the present is because the Philippine culture is still plagued by the very same problems. On one hand you could see this as an encouraging sign that this mentality is not a problem that has actually gotten worse over the years. Then again, of course, it does not seem to have gotten better.

Marcos continues his speech in broad themes, then ties his presidency into these themes by promising a healthy dose of leadership by example, the change we need. Pretty ironic:
The presidency will set the example of this official morality and oblige others to follow. Any act of extravagance in government will be considered not only an offense to good morals but also an act punishable with dismissal from office.
It's almost poetic in it's accuracy, and Star Warsesque in it's blatant foreshadowing. Almost as if he planned his ouster from be beginning! I may be on to something here. It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. The closing line of his speech brings a tear to the eye, doesn't it:
Thus, we prove to our posterity that our dream was true that even in this land of impoverished legacy, the wave of the future is not totalitarianism but democracy.