Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Confessions of a Workshop Fellow, Part 2

Rational Technology for June 3, 2006

At 45 years, the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop is the longest-running English literature workshop in the country, if not in Southeast Asia. The workshop has become a rite-of-passage for many of the country's best writers. Its alumni is a veritable who's who of modern Philippine literature.

Veteran workshop alumni comprise the board of panelists, taking turns during the workshop's three week run. For this year's workshop, the panelists were: Marjorie Evasco, Susan Lara, Anthony Tan, Danny Reyes, Jimmy Abad, Krip Yuson, and Dumaguete's own Cesar Ruiz Aquino and Bobby Villasis. Among this group, they have over a century's teaching experience and several doctoral and post-doctoral degrees from all over the world.

Given such a distinguished panel and at such a close level of interaction between them and the panelists, the workshop is at least a semester's worth of master's degree in literature. Underpinning the evaluation of the fellows' submitted manuscripts are the established techniques of criticism, peppered with references to the works of literary greats. For the aspiring writer who's just learning the craft, you can't get a better mentoring program than what the workshop provides.

Yet despite these credentials, the workshop never feels dry and academic, and least of all, snobbish. Instead, it feels like erudite dinner conversation among old friends who just so happen to be experts at their common trade. Discussions can become animated, especially when there is some point of disagreement, but the resolution is always convivial. You can just sit there and listen and learn by osmosis. (In fact, the workshop is open to guests.)

This atmosphere is due in no small part to the real friendship that exists between the panelists. The workshop is in a way a reunion for the distinguished panel members as they drop their professorial mantles and come together as friends. And, of course, they also come to visit Mom Edith.

Without a doubt, "Mom" -- Dr. Edith Tiempo -- is the main reason for the friendly atmosphere that pervades the workshop. Mom Edith remains the soul of the workshop that she started in 1962 with her husband the late Dr. Edilberto Tiempo. Mom Edith is as sharp as ever, not a detail missing her attention and quoting relevant poems and points committed to memory. She delivers all of it with ease and grace, hardly a trace of effort, and that's the hallmark of a true expert. Listen, and you'll come to understand why she's a National Artist.

But why "Mom"? I must confess that I never really understood why so many of the workshop alumni used that term of endearment, at least not until the workshop. Up until the second week, I continued to hesitate, afraid that it would be too familiar. For me, it was either "Dr. Tiempo" or "Ma'am Edith." Somewhere along the way though, all that motherly attention finally pierced through my defenses, and it's been "Mom" Edith since. I'm proud to be able to call her that.

And I feel very lucky, too. For a time, it was rumored that Mom Edith would take a break from running the workshop. I don't know. I just don't think it would be quite the same, with all due respect to the other panelists. I just feel so fortunate that I managed to catch her this time around.

For all its familial atmosphere, though, the workshop is a workshop, and its primary objective is to turn out the new generation of Philippine writers. I couldn't help but take stock of the promise of fellows that I was with: Palanca-winner Dr. Noel Pingoy, the hematologist with deep insight into the human condition and the lyrical prose to express it with; Patricia Evangelista, celebrity-on-the-rise with playful but spot-on commentary of Philippine society; Michelan Sarile, criminologist with her quiet, whispering poetry; Darwin Chiong, media executive whose contemporary poems touch on everyday frustrations; Andrea Teran, environmentalist with romantic paeans to human relationships; Ana Neri, speech therapist, whose lush poems alternate between the maternal and the erotic.

Then there are the storytellers: Doug Candano, community development project manager who detachedly weaves engrossing, sometimes terrifying yarns; Ino Habana, who is building the touch for magic realism and horror; Erin Cabanawan, book publishing exec, who writes stories catch modern provincial life accurately; and the youngest of the batch, 17-year old Larissa Suarez, who, despite her youthfulness, already writes with an experienced hand and delves on mature topics.

Sitting in session with them for all of three weeks -- laughing, joking, drinking, strolling -- one tends to forget that these are artists serious in honing their craft. These are the folks whose works will fill, even define, the literature of this generation. This, after all, is what the National Writers Workshop is about: producing artists.

And me? Ah, well, I am just a lucky philistine. But you already know that.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Oh, do grow up, Microsoft Philippines!

Imagine your once-respectable granddad caught in the throes of a second childhood and dressing up in a Snoop Dogg outfit. Oh, sure, he's well within his rights to do so. Oh, sure, some pretty young thing will find it cute. But on the whole, isn't it a little pitiful to see your granddad looking like a, well, a dork?

This is much the same way I feel about Microsoft Philippines' ad campaign for Microsoft Dynamics. Ladies and gentlemen, exhibit A:
Ostensibly, Microsoft wants to portray the CEOs and CIOs who have made the bold move to Microsoft Dynamics as heroes. And not just any old heroes, mind you, but superheroes. Complete with code names, secret weapons, and sidekicks. That would all be fine if it were all lost in the fine print. But -- oh no! -- the ad people have to get smart about it and draw in some comic-style avatars.
Some subjects look perfectly alright. See the lady above? She's respectable both as herself and as her cartoon alter ego. It's the principle of subdued costuming.
This guy doesn't look so bad, either, except now you see the hint of a cape and what's supposed to be some chest armor. What does this look say? Butler? Matador? Ballroom dance instructor? A little silly, but still forgiveable.

But then, you have this guy:
I don't know about you but he looks like he's ready for a little S&M, what with the tight-fitting latex headgear. Oh, alright, maybe he wants to hide his bald spot. What self-respecting superhero wants that secret out in the open. But...orange? Seriously!

However, this guy really takes the cake:
What immediately comes to mind is "kinky cyber-rastafarian." Whereas Orange Dude above might have wanted to hide his follicle-deficiency, Mr. Rasta here looks like he wants to compensate for his secret identity's hair loss. He really should lose the glasses, though. It's just so...ewww! Yo! Mah homie, wazzup?

Given my history with Microsoft, there's no love lost between the company and me. On the other hand, the company does have my grudging respect for its savvy in-your-face marketing campaigns; that's what made them such feared competitors in the past.

However, this new campaign is just so tacky. The whole approach ill-befits the target market. Microsoft Dynamics is positioned as a competitor to SAP and Oracle Business Applications. You want to portray an image of stability and reliability. Instead, you get something that looks like it was selling a pre-teen video game. Dudes, show a little respect for your customers! As it is, you make them look like, well, dorks.

Or maybe this really is just reflective of the Microsoft mindset?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Virtualization with VMWare

Excerpt of VMWare article for PC Magazine Philippines, coming out August (probably):
Let's say that your office runs all your desktops and servers on Windows XP and Windows 2000 but your boss has given you the task of trying out a new application on Linux. What would you do? You could either: (a) requisition a brand new PC where you can install Linux; (b) reformat an existing PC and dual-boot Linux; or (c) run Linux from within an existing Windows computer.

Option (a) is neat but expensive: budgets being what they are today, you're not guaranteed to get your new hardware. Option (b) sounds more reasonable, but it's time-consuming and contingent on the availability of a machine that you can repurpose for testing. And that leaves option (c), which sounds appealing but it sounds a bit too incredible to be real. Run Linux from within Windows? Preposterous!

Dumaguete mine

'Twas a wet and dismal morning, the sky a gloomy gray and tempestuously threatening rain with the few drops it sent my way. But I had gone two days without a long ride, so heedless of the weather, I broke out my bike and headed to Rizal Boulevard. Not too many folks out, either, except for the most dedicated morning joggers and strollers.

It's the first day of the week after the close of the 45th National Writers Workshop. The Fellows are back in their offices and schools, or enjoying the last vestiges of the summer. No more of the two-block walk to the CAP Building, no more thick green manuscripts to pore over and scrutinize, no more candies on a dish, and probably the saddest of all, no more panelists and Mom Edith to banter and spar with. Just the workaday ahead. And, of course, the memories.

I was almost afraid that Dad would turn the car left at Silliman Avenue instead of heading straight down Perdices. Fortunately, he did no such thing, and neither did I reflexively signal him to. The thought loomed large in my mind, though, and that was the reason I went jogging this morning. Workshop done, and it's time for me to reclaim my routine:

Bike in the mornings, alternating between the climb to Valencia and jogging in the boulevard. Open the store. Visit the construction site. Talk and plan out some kooky new plan that just might work with Danah and Jong. Write the weekly column for the Metro Post and the feature articles for PC Magazine. Go to Mass. Try to make this city a better place. This is my Dumaguete.

I don't know if I'm luckier than the other fellows or less so because I live and work here in this City of Gentle People. Am I fortunate because I am close to the memories? (Mom Edith is just a couple of blocks away!) Or am I not because of the same? (Empty seats and ghosts of familiar faces?) Ultimately, it won't matter, because...I live here, and I won't have it any other way. This is my Dumaguete.

And this is my Dumaguete, too: Lake Balinsasayo, Casaroro Falls, the caves of Mabinay and Bayawan, Apo Island and Malatapay, Valencia, Siquijor, Sibulan, Bais, Bato, Tambobo and Bonbonon. Conservative Chinese matrons and matrons-to-be and deceptively simple tycoons. Girls in tightfitting pedalpushers on motorbikes. Aggressive Indian businessmen. Friendly but hardworking Koreans. Beautiful and easygoing Persians. Life-changing sailors. And all the pretty mestiza Eurasians. The fellows have only seen a fraction of the Dumaguete that I know, and that's a little sad.

It's okay, though. Time enough for all of that. They'll come back. They always do. Because Dumaguete is theirs now, too.

Oh, look, the sun is shining again.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Futsal!

Yesterday was my introduction to futsal, and boy, did I take an immediate liking to the game.

My UA&P buddy Aris Kintanar from Cebu was in town, accompanying the Don Bosco women's futsal team as their assistant coach (the lucky bastard!) It turns out this week was the finals of the summer tournaments being held here in Dumaguete.

Futsal is a very fast game based on soccer but played indoors in a basketball court. The rules are similar to football, but the ball is bigger and heavier. The ball being what it is, the emphasis is on short passes. Five players to a team, including the goalie. A game runs for half an hour, with a halftime court switch.The women's game was interesting to watch (aside from the obvious reasons) but the men's game was simply intense. Quite a wonder I didn't see any broken bones. Well, let's hope not, though Aris tells me it does happen.

Quite a pleasant surprise to find out that there were several futsal teams within Dumaguete, some coming from the schools and some coming from the barangays. Futsal is an accessible game so you have kids under 12 years playing it. Aris tells me he's a little envious of the support futsal gets here in Dumaguete as opposed to Cebu, where basketball gets the lion's share.

The intelligent spoon

Here's an invention that spoon-loving Filipinos would simply adore:
The intelligent spoon has sensors to measure temperature, acidity, salinity, and viscosity. You can upload the recorded data to any computer for further processing. The information can be used to advise users what their next step should be; for example, it tells the user if there is not enough salt in the brine prepared to make pickles.

From Ten Strangest Gadgets of the Future.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Confessions of a Workshop Fellow, Part 1

Rational Technology for May 28, 2006

Three weeks ago I received an unexpected call telling me that I had been accepted as a fellow to the 45th National Writers Workshop. I was giddy at the honor but I didn't quite know what to expect. Today, the workshop came to a close and I find myself looking back to see how much I've changed.

At some point in my initial excitement, I resolved to blog daily about the workshop. It was a decision I quickly dropped on the first day, opting instead to listen, participate, and reflect. A workshop, especially one as venerable as the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop, is akin to a spiritual retreat for a writer and therefore very extremely personal. That needed a bit of distance before setting anything down for public consumption.

If I approached it with a reverence that seems excessive, it's because of a background that harkens back 20 years. Fresh out of high school, I wanted to be a writer but unceremoniously ended up in engineering. It was just as well because I didn't actually write very well, and I eventually fell in love with math and technology. But those writerly frustrations kept simmering underneath until they found an outlet only recently in the pages of Metro Post, computer journals, and blogs.

And then, the workshop fellowship falls on my lap. It's at once a validation of ambition, an opportunity to learn from the masters of the craft, and a challenge to do more. Excited? Yes. Apprehensive? You bet. Clueless? That, too.

Now, this is an embarrassing admission but up until the event I really had no idea what they did in a writers workshop. I applied with the notion that we would go through writing exercises in the course of the three weeks. I thought that the writing samples we sent were really just a gauge of skill. As it turns out, those samples were actually the works that would be discussed, scrutinized, and taken apart. Horrors! If I had known, I would have been more careful about the material I submitted.

In a way, calling it the writers workshop is a bit of a misnomer. It ought to be called a reading workshop because that's the primary skill that the participants pick up. Yes, the workshop does help the fellows become better writers, but it does so by turning them into better readers first. This was for me the most important transformation during those three weeks. One can't write if one can't read; and one can't write well if one can't read well.

What do I mean? Avid but untrained readers intuitively know whether a poem or story they are reading is good or bad. But what, specifically, makes that piece good, and what it makes it bad? What are the parts that work, and what are the parts that don't? More importantly, how can it be made better? This is the critical eye that one begins to pick up at a workshop, a skill that's essential to any writer.

And not just one general skill for reading, either, but three. Poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, the three areas of the workshop, each call for a slightly different approach. Poetry emphasizes imagery and metaphor; fiction emphasizes character and dramatic tension; and nonfiction emphasizes author's insight. They are almost distinct disciplines, though each can borrow the strengths of the others. Having all three in the workshop is a wonderful cross-training exercise.

It was a pleasant three-pronged irony, then: I submitted works of fiction although I work primarily in creative nonfiction, but I ended up enamored with poetry. Ah, but that's just the workshop working its magic.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Warning: religious wars ahead

Wilan Bigay, my buddy from Dumaguete, offered this translation of the code from Curt Jester into traditional VB:


Namespace DVC

Public Class DaVinciCode
Inherits HolyBloodHolyGrail

' Set values, later to be overridden by Dan Brown method
Private monksInOpusDei As Boolean = False
Private jesusMarriedMaryMagdalene As Boolean = False
Private existenceOfPrioryOfZion As Boolean = False
Private bibleCollatedByConstantine As Boolean = False
Private nicaeaCreatedDivinityOfChrist As Boolean = False
Private gospelsLaterEditedToSupportClaims As Boolean = False
Private cupMissingFromLastSupper As Boolean = False
Private saintJohnNotInPicture As Boolean = False

Public Sub Book()

While (peopleWillingToBelieveAnything And christianBashingAcceptable)
bookSales = bookSales + 1
movieHype = movieHype + 1
danBrownsBankAccount = danBrownsBankAccount + 1
historicalAccuracy = historicalAccuracy - 1
artHistoryAccuracy = artHistoryAccuracy - 1
skepticism = skepticism - 1
badWriting = badWriting + 1
If (asLongAsItIsNotTheVirginMary) Then divineFeminineSupport = divineFeminineSupport + 1
Dim mainStreamMediaChallengeCredibility As Boolean = False
Dim excuse As String = "It's a fictional book"
Dim action As String = "Spend hours writing to debunking books complaining that " & excuse
Dim seeContradictionSpendingTimeDefendingFiction As Boolean = False
For Each outlet As media In mainStreamMedia
Dim freePublicity As Boolean = True
Dim notPointOutObviousFlaws As Boolean = True
Dim dontOffendMuslimsAtAllCosts As Boolean = True
Dim christianBashingOkayThough As Boolean = True
Dim misrepresentOpusDei As Boolean = True
Dim askIsJusticeScaliaAMember As Boolean = True

Next
End While

End Sub
End Class

End Namespace


I post it here verbatim, and I make no additional comments. As we all know, programming language preference is a religious issue. People will naturally be sensitive.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Of Gospels and Apocrypha

Dean Jorge Bocobo posted a long series of comments on my previous entry "Dan Brown, where is thy sting?". I'm mighty grateful for the challenge. It's just what I need to jolt me out of the funk I'm in.

Based on my understanding of the posts on his blog and his comments on mine and elsewhere, I think Dean and I at least find common ground in acknowledging that Jesus Christ is a real historical person and the Passion as a real historical event. However, we differ in approach: Dean opines that certain aspects of Christ's life are (or could be) fiction (including the Resurrection) but nevertheless be the basis for Faith; I take it the other way around and say that Faith tells me that the events are fact until proven otherwise. (Is this summary correct, Dean?)

Against my favor, certain of the beliefs I hold are outside the realm of common contemporary human experience, though they are not contradicted by logic and philosophy as impossibilities; and, of course, charges, as yet unsubstantiated, of an ancient Church conspiracy to cover up the truth. Fair enough, these being unavoidable handicaps. This discussion, though, will only address the latter, and even then, partially, in the context of the points that Dean raised.

Now, I don't purport to be an expert on Church history, but I think Dean's points with some help from Google.

The starting point of Dean's comments are Apocrypha, viz. the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Thomas the Doubter, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. From Dean's description, they give very compelling messages and are therefore plausible. Could these be documents that account some secret life of Christ yet are suppressed by the Church in favor of the prevailing orthodox views?

Well they might be. However, any document taken by itself, outside of its original context, will always achieve some degree of plausibility so as to support a specific view. This is nothing new: Christian fundamentalists have become masters at this art. I could even be doing it right now.

So what context could we speak of? First, compare the content. What makes the Gospels different from the Apocrypha? The Gospels "all see Jesus as the pivotal person, the one on whom everything depends, the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord (see PBS' The Emergence of the Four Gospel Canon). As for the apocryphal gospels:
These other gospels, many of them, see Jesus as a teacher, as a kind of figure of enlightenment, a kind of bodhisattva figure, but one whom you and I could emulate, whom we could perhaps become. And that's a very different kind of emphasis. I think the gospels of the New Testament were chosen because they do share this conviction of the importance and uniqueness of Jesus.

Now, one might object: that doesn't necessarily mean that the Apocrypha are false just because they differ from the canonical Gospels in focus. Indeed, it doesn't. But it does show the uniqueness of the Four Gospels and how they stand out from the rest.

Now, if we were to accept them wholesale by virtue of their historicity, the other apocryphal books now present an interesting twist:
In the second and third century, we know that there were many other gospels that were developed. We have a charming array of popular kinds of stories of the life of Jesus. There's baby Jesus stories; the infancy Gospel of Thomas is one of these where you have the stories of the little child Jesus performing all sorts of miracles. And obviously these are developing out of a kind of what we might call popular interest. You can imagine the stories of Jesus developing in a lot of ways much like any famous figure. I mean, let's think of a Superman character. Once you know that Superman's a great guy, what was he like as a child; the same thing happens with Jesus. Baby Jesus stories are one of these, and we get some wonderful little legends that develop this way.

So why stop with Jesus the Teacher? Why stop with Jesus the Lover? Why stop with Jesus the Magician? Why not have UltraJesus? You end up with the same problem of discernment: at some point you have to say that this story is true (or divinely inspired, if you will), and this story is not (just fanciful legend.) If we fall back to relativistic approach, then whose to say that your selections are correct and the Church's wrong?

Which is where we end up with the second context: history. The canonical Gospels and apocryphal accounts do not stand alone; they are part of the unique historical development of the Church.

It's easy for us to kick back in an easy chair, read an apocryphal account and say "this Gospel speaks to my heart, it agrees with my philosophy, and therefore it must be true" but Christianity did not develop that way! If we wanted to debate on the authenticity of certain documents, it should not be from the comfortable distance of 2,000 years but from up close, no later than AD 300. Now, if you really want to get up close, why not face the business end of a spear or the mouth of a hungry lion?

The early years must have been a large milieu of conflicting beliefs and legends and just as many subsects of the cult? Why have we come to the state of orthodoxy that we have today? Because of a Church conspiracy to stamp out heretics? Fancy that, arguing the finer points of theology and hatching plots when you're on the run from Roman soldiers who don't care to distinguish one kind of outlaw Christian from another.

Against this background, you have one Iraneus.
The Bishop Irenaeus was about 18 to 20 years old when his little community was absolutely decimated by a devastating persecution. They say that 50 to 70 people in two small towns were tortured and executed. That must have meant hundreds were rounded up and put in prison. But 50 to 70 people in two small towns executed in public is a devastating destruction of that beleaguered community.

And Irenaeus was trying to unify those who were left. What frustrating him is that they didn't all believe the same thing. They didn't all gather under one kind of leadership. And he, like others, was deeply aware of the dangers of fragmentation, that one community could be lost. And so it is out of that deep concern, I think, that Irenaeus and others began to try to unify the church, and, and create criteria like, you know, these are the four gospels. These are what we believe, these are the rituals, which you first do. You're baptized and then you're a member of this community.

It would be absurd to suggest that the leaders of the church were out to protect their power. Because to become bishop in a church in which the 92 year old bishop had just died in prison, which is what Irenaeus did as a very young man, he had the courage to become bishop, is to become a target for the next persecution. This is not a position of power, it's a position of danger and courage. And those people were concerned to try to unify the church. So it would be ridiculous to tell the story of the early Christian movement as though the orthodox were, you know, power mad, and trying to destroy all diversity in the church. It's much more complicated than that.

This analysis, by the way, was written by Elaine Pagels, who's certainly not a fan of the Catholic Church.

From a safe distance of 2,000 years, sitting in our armchairs, we can call it many things: We might call it luck. We might call it astute manuevering. Or we might call it the action of the Holy Spirit. Any which way, it's an extraordinary story we'd be hard-pressed to re-enact. But historical records of this evolution do exist, not only from ecclesiastical sources (not necessarily in New Testament) but also from the perspective of the Romans, both early Christian and Empire. Tertullian would be especially informative.

See: PBS' From Jesus to Christ

Biking camaraderie

I only recently came upon this article on our morning biking ritual on the Visayan Daily Star, written by my editor and bike buddy Alex Pal:

It was Dean Sinco, a graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle where Starbucks originated, who baptized the name of our "painitan" by the Valencia market, which we discovered by chance several years earlier. We stopped by one food stall one early morning looking for coffee, and they just referred us to this Villegas stall in the old part of the market. Apparently, these stalls in Valencia are into niche marketing. When we found this "Starbucks", we found that it served nothing but "painit" all day long--just like those "breakfast all day" joints --and that started our periodic pilgrimage to this site.

But Dominique Cimafranca, our resident IT expert, has a different interpretation of the name. "It should be "Starbuck" because the coffee costs only one buck." Well, actually, if we Filipinos refer to the peso as "buck", the bland coffee there costs seven bucks a glass (yes, a glass!). But because many of our biking buddies -- Mike Feeney, Dale, Cobbie -- are Americans, or -- in the case of Ruem Gregorio and Dean -- Pinoys who grew up in America, a buck is appreciated for its American value--51 pesos. And that's how much we usually pay for all our coffees combined.

Credit where credit is due: the "Starbuck" term originally came from IBM Philippines, where we had vending machines that sold coffee for only a buck.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dan Brown, where is thy sting?

Cartoon pointed out by Marcelle

At the height of its popularity, people would ask me if I had read The Da Vinci Code.

"No," I would say.

"Why not? Are you afraid that it might test your faith?" the last three words always pronounced half-teasingly half-gravely.

And actually, no. It was simply because I could never get past the first chapter of the book. Dan Brown's writing is simply atrocious, reminiscent of a juvenile Tom Clancy. Oh, yes, he's a bestselling author who could probably buy his own $47-million building in Manhattan, but that won't make me change my opinion.

Luckily, I have friends like Jute to give me a humorous rundown of the book. Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to access that portion of her site owing to her funky template.

So now comes the movie, and after the initial furor...I guess the general reaction I'm seeing on the web is a lot of shrugging and head-scratching. The movie hasn't come to Dumaguete as yet, and my friend tells me there's not a bootleg copy to be found from the usual sources. Even if it does, would it be worth the fuss?

Lauren of Laurganism.com calls for a ban of the movie, but not for the reasons that we think. The indomitable MLQ3 calls the movie a crapfest. He also provides links to Morofilm's reviews, as well as a step-by-step deconstruction from Howstuffworks.com.

Nothing sums it up better than a review from Filmstew:
The feeling moved quickly from one of great anticipation to one of, shockingly, great boredom...instead of the film building to a white knuckle conclusion, it was the audience fidgeting as Da Vinci passed the two-hour mark and unveiled the first of its half-dozen endings...by the time the big climactic moment of the film finally arrived, the audience burst out laughing, as if this were yet another classic bit of Tom Hanks comedy.

All of this is a bit of a letdown. I was actually hoping to see some sparks fly, if only for the philosophical discourse that was to follow, but it looks like I'll be disappointed.

O Dan Brown, where is thy sting? (And Ron Howard, too.)

To close things off with a high geek quotient, here's a piece of code from The Curt Jester, as pointed by Claire:
namespace DVC
{
class DaVinciCode : HolyBloodHolyGrail
{
// Set values, later to be overridden by Dan Brown method
bool monksInOpusDei = false;
bool jesusMarriedMaryMagdalene = false;
bool existenceOfPrioryOfZion = false;
bool bibleCollatedByConstantine = false;
bool nicaeaCreatedDivinityOfChrist = false;
bool gospelsLaterEditedToSupportClaims = false;
bool cupMissingFromLastSupper = false;
bool saintJohnNotInPicture = false;

public void Book()
{
while (peopleWillingToBelieveAnything && christianBashingAcceptable)
{
bookSales++;
movieHype++;
danBrownsBankAccount++;
historicalAccuracy–;
artHistoryAccuracy–;
skepticism–;
badWriting++;

if (asLongAsItIsNotTheVirginMary)
divineFeminineSupport++;

mainStreamMediaChallengeCredibility = false;

string excuse = "It's a fictional book";
string action = "Spend hours writing to debunking books complaining that "
+ excuse;
bool seeContradictionSpendingTimeDefendingFiction = false;
foreach (media outlet in mainStreamMedia)
{
bool freePublicity = true;
bool notPointOutObviousFlaws = true;
bool dontOffendMuslimsAtAllCosts = true;
bool christianBashingOkayThough = true;
bool misrepresentOpusDei = true;
bool askIsJusticeScaliaAMember = true;
}
}
}

}
}


Curt Jester also has other humorous content, including a review of The Baloney Code.

Yes, it's a real book. A parody of a parody. What could be more ironic than that?

Alien nation


More angsty goodness.

Hands


I am so ready to move on with the rest of my life.

How's that for blogly angst?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

You can't take the sky from me

For Clair, who introduced me to this gem of a series:
I'm very selective about the songs I LSS on. One song stands out in particular: the Firefly theme song written by Joss Whedon and sung by Sonny Rhodes. It's my ultimate antidote to any other song that attempts to latch on to mind.

On the downside, the theme song is so short, running at less than a minute. So I did some searching on the Net and found...a full-length version.

When the stars shine bright through the engine's trail
And the dust of another world drops behind
When my ship is free of the open sky
It's a damn good day to my way of mind
There's a barren planet you never can leave
There's a rocky valley where we lost a war
There's a cross once hung round a soldier's neck
There's a man's faith died on Serenity's floor

But I stood my ground and I'll fly once more
It's the last oath that I ever swore

Chorus
Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me
Take me out into the black
Tell 'em I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me
You can't take the sky from me

When you see a man and he's standin' alone
Well you might just take him for an easy mark
And there's many a man has tried his hand
And there's worse than wolves in the borderland dark
From the savage men to the government hounds
Try to take what's yours and tear you through
But them that run with me's got my back
It's a fool don't know that his family's his crew

Don't you tell me what I cannot do
Don't you think I've got to run from you

[Chorus]

When you've walked my road and you've seen what I've seen
Well you won't go talkin' 'bout righteous men
You'll know damn well why I want to keep to my sky
Never cry 'neath nobody's heel again
I've seen torment raked 'cross innocent souls
Seen sane men mad and good men die
I've been hounded, hated, married and tricked
Been tortured, cheated, shot and tied

You won't see no tears when I say goodbye
I've still got my family and my Firefly

[Chorus]

The full-length song was actually not written by Whedon but by folk singer and Firefly fan Michelle Dockrey of Escape Key, who also performs it on the Internet recordings. Guitar keys are available here. Download the song from here.

Template tweaks, and accidental poetry

Ahem! A few more site tweaks on village idiot savant: I've added category quick links, a feature not found in Blogger. Actually, it's quite easy to do:
I tagged my posts using del.icio.us and posted feeds on my Blogger template using Feed2JS. Alright, so it's a little tedious tagging all my past posts, but hey, you just need to go ahead and do it.

Searching through my old entries, I came up on accidental poetry. This one was composed on the occasion of the donation of some old books:

Fly, fly, my old friends, and find new homes
You have been good companions, and given me much joy in my time
Now, give joy to the some young stranger parched with thirst of mind

Our outrage as theater

Unfinished post, but I thought I'd put it up anyway. Still evolving my argument.

Peer into recent history and recall these names: Flor Contemplacion, Sarah Balabagan, Angelo de la Cruz. All of them fall represent the modern Filipino hero, the Overseas Foreign Worker. All of them have stories which mirror the lives of so many of their countrymen. All of them were focal points for outrage.

Angelo de la Cruz was driving a truck in Iraq when insurgents snatched him and two of his of companions. For weeks he lived under threat of execution as his captors used him as a bargaining chip for the only concession they could manage from the Philippines, early withdrawal of Filipino non-combat engineering troops. Between furor in Manila and pressure from the United States, Mrs. Arroyo capitulated to local pressure. The engineering battalion pulled out and the insurgents released de la Cruz, who then came home to a hero's welcome.

Sarah Balabagan was an underaged domestic helper in the United Arab Emirates. Her employer attempted to rape her, and in self-defense, she stabbed him dead. She was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Local outrage prompted appeals from the government. Blood money ultimately secured her release. She came home to a hero's welcome.

Like Balabagan, Flor Contemplacion was a domestic helper, but in Singapore. She was accused and found guilty of murdering a fellow domestic helper, Delia Maga. For the five years while her case was tried, we heard nothing of her; and in the last few months after sentence had been handed, we heard nothing except about her. The nation held its breath as the Singapore government denied appeal after appeal from the Philippine government. Unlike Balabagan, Contemplaction was not so fortunate as unforgiving Singapore strung the noose around her neck.

During their moment in the limelight, de la Cruz, Balabagan, and Contemplacion were simultaneously heroes and victims in the Filipino mind, tragic figures in a world that offered only harsh realities.

Yet: why did we care so much for them? Why were we so outraged at their plight?

After all, how much do we really know about Angelo, Sarah, and Flor? Was Angelo a devoted father, or a drunkard? Was Sarah virginal, or a vixen? Was Flor motherly, or mad? Or somewhere in between? What did we truly know about their characters? Would it have mattered either way?

If we really cared about them for who they were, then we would continue to follow their further adventures as they make their way through life (or in the case of Flor Contemplacion, of the children who survived her). But what do we really know of the whereabouts of Angelo de la Cruz and Sarah Balabagan? Or of the condition of the kin of Flor Contemplacion? That shows the extent of our caring.

Or was it sufficient that they were Filipinos? And by virtue of such, worthy of our outrage?

If so, that raises another problem. What of Guen Aguilar, Marilou Ranario, Noel Tarongoy, and all the other Filipinos whose stories followed the pattern of Contemplacion, Balabagan, and de la Cruz? Where was the outrage for them? That these names should elicit mere puzzlement only serve to highlight the contrast.

Would it have helped if the cases of Aguilar, Ranario, and Tarongoy had come before the cases of Contemplacion, Balabagan, and de la Cruz? What then would have happened to Contemplacion, Balabagan, and de la Cruz?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Biking milestones


Today I took a stab at Siquijor's Cambugahay Falls by way of the mountain road that cuts across the island from Luyang to Lazi. No such luck, though, as my body was feeling a little off. I wanted to catch the 1:30pm trip back to Dumaguete so I had to give up my quest at around 11:30am.

Still, this trip wasn't a waste. I got to try out the new Candaon Jet service, for one thing. The fare is the same as the Delta Ferry, but it's easier to get the bicycle on board. It's cleaner, it's cooler, and it's more spacious inside, too. My only beef is that the first trip from Dumaguete leaves at 7:30am, a little too late to start some serious biking.

I also got to try out the new graded shades that I had made from Santillan Optical. Since I'm biking more and more, this is now a necessity. These sunglasses have the same index as my regular eyewear, and heavily tinted and full-pressed around the eye sockets for maximum protection. I've shied away from shades for the longest time because I found them pretentious, but now I know better. And hey, they do make me look cool, right? (Got some spare change, buddy?)

In a way, the shades are a present to myself. Last Friday, I biked all the way up to Valencia without changing gears. Granted, I kept to the middle chainring but I did keep the casette at the second highest gear. And I made it.

So I thought I was ready to assault the transverse road of Siquijor. I was, to a certain extent: I spent more time riding now than walking. But I'm not fully ready yet, it seems. Looking at the map, I realize I was close to Po-o and the long downhill coast to Cambugahay. Anyway, next time.

Still, not too bad. I was travelling up the scenic Bandilaan National Park. I did close to 30km today, with 8km of that in steep winding uphill climb. And I was rewarded with a heady 15-minute downhill rush.

Cambugahay will have to wait another time. In life, we must all learn to yearn a little. (Jostein Gaarder)

Sower

To Dr. Edith Tiempo -- "Mom" -- on the occasion of her 66th wedding anniversary:


How seeds will grow the sower does not know
Cast in air, act of faith in every throw
A season's turn. Fruits of fidelity:
Green fields for harvest, new sowers to sow

From the least expressive, possibly the least talented, but not, he hopes, the least caring of her "children."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Two from the Writers Workshop

It's been a while since this blog has seen any drawings. That's part of the reason for the minor renaming: because I haven't really been sketching. But life gets boring without a sketch or two every now and then, so....

I made these doodles during the workshop proceedings. Second week, and things are falling into a rhythm of regularity. I can manage to keep only one ear cocked on the discussion and the other on my sketchpad.

The sketch below was inspired by the poem "After Hours" by Andrea Teran.

And this sketch was inspired by the short story "A Drawing of Hell" by Larissa Suarez:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mad science!

Sacha writes in her wiki:
Andrew Hessel, Tara Hunt, Chris Messina and I were chatting about biotechnology and open source. Andrew mentioned DNA vaccines, which can stimulate the production of antibodies - so some cells do pick up new genetic material and do something with them, and scientists haven't quite figured out how that works yet. He went on to say that if biotech really took off, we probably wouldn't see the creation of a homogenous master race, but rather an explosion of biodiversity. Imagine all the people who want to have horns or blue skin or whatever else...

Oh, the horror!

No, no, it's not so much that I don't trust biotechnology. With time, these techniques will become safe and in widespread use.

But until they isolate the gene that provides good taste, this is one technology that must never fall into the wrong hands!


Besides, horns and blue skin? Bah! The first application will be a spammer's dream come true, if you know what I mean.

Fortunately, Sacha has much better sense than that:
Along the lines of self-modification: I probably wouldn't hack anything externally, but a better memory would be really cool.

So to her, I dedicate this next song:

Don't go tryin' some new fashion
Don't change the color of your hair, mm-mm
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

I said I love you, and that's forever
And this I promise from the heart, mm-mm
I couldn't love you any better
I love you just the way you are

Why you shouldn't buy bootleg DVDs

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason why you really shouldn't purchase bootleg DVDs.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Faith as based on fact

Imagine this: you've just received, brand new, a Nokia 9500 Communicator. You plug in your SIM card and fire up the cellphone, and voila! You're good to go. You call a few of your friends to boast of your good fortune. You even send off a few pictures taken with its built-in camera via MMS. Then you realize that you still have to enable its built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, but that's beyond your scope of experience. So what do you do? You read the manual, of course, and in short order you're connected to the nearest access point.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is an example of faith at work.

What does faith have to do with a cellphone? Well, it's like this: you yourself don't really know the inner workings of the Communicator and as a brand-new user you're only familiar with the basic phone features. But you follow the instructions on the manual -- written by someone you don't personally know but whose authority you trust -- and you get the advanced features to work. Therein is an implication of belief.

Talk about faith and the immediate association that comes to mind is God. But that isn't so. Faith is a human act that we practice as a matter of course. We believe that the world is round. We believe that when we dial a number we'll reach the person at the other end. We believe that when we follow the instructions on a manual we'll get the results we're looking for. This is faith on a natural scale, necessary for daily survival.

Let's dissect this process of faith, using the example above.

In the first place, we begin with practical sensible experience. We see the cellphone, we can flip it open, we can press the buttons, we can see the displays, and we can hear the beeps. We don't know the circuitry or the software of the cellphone, but we do know at least a bit to use some of the basic functions.

Then we have the purpose to which we're aiming, but don't quite know how to reach. We want to connect wirelessly to an access point, something out of the range of our experience.

In the face of this difficulty, we turn to an authority. In this case, it's the manual. We don't quite know who wrote the manual but we trust it implicitly. In all likelihood, it's been written by a technical writer, not by the actual designers of the phone itself. Nevertheless, we're quite willing to go along with the instructions because we believe them to be true.

Why should we believe the instructions in the manual? Most telling, of course, is that it bears the same logo as the phone and came from the same box. But there's also the communal and historical aspects of this belief. Possibly hundreds of other Nokia 9500 owners have followed the same instructions with positive effect. Similarly, earlier generations of Nokia cellphones also worked according to the instructions given.

We then apply the instructions on the cellphone, putting our faith in the anonymous author of the manual to the test, as it were. If the writer did his job and we followed instructions properly, then we should be able to get a connection; if otherwise, then we don't get a signal. Assuming that we did follow all the instructions of the manual to the letter, then justifiably our faith in the writer would have proven to be misplaced. Then, it's an angry call to the customer service center.

At no point would you take an action on your Nokia 9500 knowing that the instructions were bogus. It's a very expensive cellphone, after all. To be sure, the writer of the manual could have made a mistake, even maliciously inserted some errors, but we work on the assumption that his instructions were correct. In any case, our experience upon application will bear it out.

It's an imperfect analogy, but the same principles of operations would be at work with supernatural faith.

So what is the cellphone analogous to? God? That's probably the association that comes to mind, but no.

The cellphone stands for ourselves. We have experience with ourselves, and we have experience with the world. We don't know everything about ourselves, but we do know enough to fulfill some of our basic longings.

God is the ultimate end which we're aiming for, that connection to the access point, if you will. He is something out of the range of our human experience, though we feel some intimations of this objective. It's hardcoded longing in our souls, as it were.

If you say that there is no God or that we cannot make the connection to God, then that's another story. That's outside the scope of this argument, unfortunately. You can stay with the basic functions of human beings. But you'd be missing out on a lot....

To reach our objective of God, we turn to an authority. We make an act of faith that what this authority says will lead us to our objective. This authority is not the designer of the product, i.e., the human being, but we believe that he's studied the product and has conferred with the designer of the product, who also happens to be God.

Here we might hit our first difficulty. Talked with the Designer himself? Yes, it sounds alright between technical writer and cellphone designer, but between a human authority and God? It sounds preposterous! But this is a condition that we must accept, otherwise how can we truly believe that the instructions this authority gives will move us towards that end which is God?

At this point, we should already rule out all "authorities" who do not claim a direct line from God. We might commend them for their honesty, but we can be certain they won't have the answers to making that connection to God.

Why should believe this authority and not another? In the early stages of our relationship with the authority, it might be because of the communal and historical aspects of this authority. Is there a community of believers around this authority? Has this authority been proven historically? It's a good first test.

The real test, however, is in the application and in the results. Are we making that connection to God? Here's where it becomes a little difficult. With a cellphone, you get instant feedback; with a human being, you don't. It's extremely hard to say when you're both the operator and the machine.

But this is not an insurmountable difficulty. We have feedback mechanisms in the form of conscience and reflection. Yes, these can be hard to use, but it does grow easier with practice (30 minutes a day is the recommended period). Can the conscience be mistaken? Yes, and that is why we have to form it and exercise it. But for a fact, we will never be mistaken in following it; it is the imperative.

And if we're not making that connection to God? Then it's one of three things: either we didn't follow the instructions of the authority to the letter (in which case, follow the instructions to the letter); or we're not reading the instrumentation properly (in which case, reflect some more); or that, sadly, the authority we're listening to is mistaken. Before you jump to the last conclusion, though, you would have to double check on the first two; most problems come from failing to follow instructions properly and failing to read the signals properly.

This essay, out of place as it may seem on this blog, is my attempt to trace the action of faith in order to show that faith cannot be based on fictional premises. We may be wrong in our faith, but we cannot logically adopt it if we know that it is wrong. This is my response to the supposition that fiction is a valid basis for faith.

Note that I have not identified any specific Faith in this discourse. I leave it up to readers to act according to their conscience. But if any readers need help, they're free to call up the customer service center I subscribe to.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Pruning

Yesterday's Gospel reading was very apropos in light of the upcoming movie release of "The Da Vinci Code." There is an undercurrent of fear that the message of the book and the movie will cause some to lose faith in Jesus Christ and in the Church.

And most likely, it will, but mainly among Christians who were ready to let go of it anyway. Tragic, but necessary. Our Lord has already warned us of this.
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit" (John 15:1-2).

Filipino Librarian highlights the inadequacy of the response of the local Church hierarchy. But look! In contrast, the members of Opus Dei are using it this as an opportunity to respond creatively to clarify issues. Dean Jorge Bocobo says essentially the same thing, and further adds that Opus Dei will most likely see an increase in numbers.

Dean and I will fall on different sides of the three issues that he raises but I will agree with him that this will lead to a rationalization and catharsis. Very few people understand why only men can be priests, or why priests of the Roman rite have the discipline of celibacy. But more on that at another time. I hope this period of confusion will lead people to question and discover more about their faith.

Not all will accept the answers. Unfortunately, people will fall away because of The Da Vinci Code and the growing environment of spiritualistic materialism that it represents.

Nothing new, really.

After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Culinary hallmarks of our cultural identity

The Philippine Daily Inquirer continues coverage of the spoon incident in the same vein that they did last Sunday. There is no mention of the report from CSMB nor follow-up reports from the Canadian press. They still treat the matter as discrimination against Filipinos based on the way we use the spoon, despite indications that was not the reason for the disciplinary action. And this time, they've devoted a full page to the subject.

Sociologist Dr. Michael Tan goes to great lengths to describe Filipino eating habits, explaining that this is part of our culture. One line, in particular, was very striking:

Dining rules become dining habits, and we forget their origins even as the habits become “us”, part of our identity.

Now, let's follow the logic here: These habits become part of our identity. Any attempt to change these habits affects our identity. Therefore, repression of these habits is "intolerance" and "discrimination" and ought to be condemned, right?

But is there an authoritative list of these habits that are part of identity? Apparently, there is. Not just one, in fact, but several. They are on the Internet, posted on web sites and circulated via email. They are usually entitled "You know you're a Filipino when..."

nativeswish.com, for example, has a comprehensive list, from which we have the following excerpts. In the interest of brevity, we can focus on habits relating to dining:

You wave a pom-pom on a stick around the food to keep the flies away.

When you are in a restaurant, you wipe your plate and utensils before using them.

You ask for the bill at a restaurant by making a rectangle in the air.

You use paper outlines when buying shoes for friends and relatives.

You play cards or mahjong and drink beer at funeral wakes.

Everything you eat is sauted in garlic, onion and tomatoes.

You put hot dogs in your spaghetti.

You eat mangoes with rice --- with great GUSTO!

You eat fried Spam and hot dogs with rice.

You love sticky desserts and salty snacks.

You eat your meals with patis, toyo, suka, banana catsup, or bagoong. Assorted sauces that guarantee freedom of choice, enough room for experimentaion and maximum tolerance for diverse tastes. Mga paborito: toyo't kalamansi, patis at kalamansi, suka at sili, bagoong, alamang, Balayan bagoong na pinigaan ng dayap, sukang Iloko, sukang galing sa tubo, at iba't iba pang kumbinasyon!

You prop up one knee while eating.

You love to eat daing, dilis, tuyo and tinapa. Adobo, kare-kare, sinigang, paksiw, nilagang baboy at iba pang lutong bahay na pagkain: home-cooked meals that have been passed from generations to generations, who swear by closely-guarded cooking secrets and family recipes!

Your pantry is never without Spam, Vienna sausage, corned beef and sardines.

You think sandwiches are snacks, not meals.

You think a meal is not a meal without rice.

You eat more than three times a day.

You eat with your hands.

Home is where one can let is all hang out, where clothes do not make a man or woman but rather define their level of comfort

Kamayan style: forget about the spoon and fork. And forget about the so-called table manners! To eat with one's hand is.....ah, like heaven!


We must take great pains that non-Filipinos be made aware of the items in this list, lest they offend our sensibilities with their ignorance of our culture. They must not laugh at us, they must not chide us, and they must not criticize us when we do these things because to do so is to insult our identity as Filipinos.

And let's not get started on the sections concerning luggage and traffic. Those are part of our cultural identity, too, right?

So forget Rizal, forget Mabini, forget Bonifacio, forget Luna, forget our entire history.... The hallmark of being Filipino now boils down to a few dozen simple rules circulating on the Internet about what it means to be a Filipino.

Thus begins the descent of our culture into triviality and insignificance.

Related posts:
Justified Outrage?
Psychology of Our Outrage
Epilogue?
Epilogue? 2
Double Standards

Purveyor of Toothpaste


I have avoided writing anything about the Dumaguete Writers Workshop. I'm not even taking down any notes. I plan on just soaking it all in, and letting the ideas ferment. I just feel that it's too close to write about.

Patricia Evangelista's column today, "Sun, sand, and pens", provides a snapshot of the fellows, including me:

The fellows are an interesting bunch. There’s Doug Candano, who discourses on international politics and literary criticism one minute, then scratches his head and stutters confusedly the next when someone mentions Judy Ann Santos. It’s interesting to wonder how such a cherubic face can produce the subtlety and darkness that characterize his work. There’s Larissa Suarez, the baby of the group, 17 years old and fresh out of high school, whose wide-eyed innocence belies the astonishing grasp of human emotion shown in her work. Then there’s Mitch Sarile, the madonna with the mischievous smile, whose advice solves most of my financial woes at one go. “When there’s free food, eat. They’ll think you’re a pig, but at least you’re full.” Photographic evidence (co-starring orange-flavored cookies, variations of pizza, and heavily spiced sisig) will attest to my utter belief in her philosophy.

There are poets Andrea Teran and Darwin Chiong, whose love for adventure has them posing beside No Parking signs in the dead of the night to the tune of Ana’s clicking camera. There’s Erin Cabanawan, whose quiet calm hides a dry wit that permeates even her stories.
Dumaguete-based Dom Cimafranca plays tour guide, toothpaste supplier and babysitter, showing an unwavering patience to the volley of questions that range from where-to-eat to who-to-meet. Also Inno Habana, the pretty boy in a baseball cap with a penchant for horror.

And then there’s Ana Neri, the 27-year-old Cebuana beauty with the face of a 17-year-old. Sometimes we catch her on her cell phone, whispering good night to her daughter. At the breakfast table, she passes Vitamin C to the sniffling Inno, and for good measure dispenses the pills to everyone in the table. Last but not least is 41-year-old Noel Pingoy, “Doc,” the quiet, unassuming cancer specialist whose writing can wring tears from the toughest critic, and whose idea of a writing workshop involved five-inch-thick books and a board exam.


What she forgets to mention is that I also sell phone cards, vitamins, cold medicine, and Extra Joss. Hey, gotta make hay while the sun shines. No sense in being a starving artist.

Hee.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Double standards

Dean Jorge Bocobo's recent post on the premature and misplaced celebrations on the repatriation of 138 OFWs was food for thought. At first glance, it is cause for joy now...at what cost in the future?

View it as noblesse oblige from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to Her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, along with all the connotations of a noblesse oblige gesture.

Few newspapers carried the list of offenses for which the Filipinos were jailed in the first place, with the major papers merely saying that they were light offenses.
What constitutes a light offense in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, anyway? Some papers said it ranged from theft to prostitution. A Sun.Star article had this to say:
The "minor offenses" are usually violations against Saudi Arabia's conservative religious laws such as talking in public with a person of the opposite sex with whom one is not married.

Isn't that a little extreme? But it's the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after all, and visitors must abide by their rules, medieval and oppressive as they might be. Culturally, it's not in our place to judge.

But wait! How different is that from being forced to eat the way Canadians eat, as opposed to eating the way Filipinos eat, i.e., with spoon and fork, when in Canada? (Granted, that isn't the issue anymore, but we are talking about Filipino perceptions following the incident.)

Following the logic that we used in the spoon-and-fork incident, shouldn't Filipinos assert their cultural right to speak with a person of the opposite sex with whom one is not married? After all, we do that on a daily basis here in the Philippines.

Why is it racist cultural repression when a school punishes a boy uses the wrong utensils, but it's not when a country punishes for talking? Granting that the latter is indeed racist cultural repression worthy of condemnation, why has no one raised his voice to condemn it?

Maybe it's because Canada is a western country and Saudi Arabia is an Islamic regime. After all, charges of racism apply only in the west, right? And we non-western cultures have got to stick together.

Maybe it's because they call a person a 'pig' in Canada but in Saudi Arabia they throw them to jail. After all, name-calling is much much worse than several months in prison, right?

Maybe it's because in Canada they have a free press to play up a mother's complaint, whereas in Saudi Arabia, they don't.

Maybe it's because this is the first time the spoon incident happened in Canada, whereas in Saudi Arabia jailing people for talking has been happening for years and years.

Maybe it's because in Canada it had something to do with a spoon....

Maybe...maybe...maybe.... I don't know. Di ko ma-gets kung bakit. Kayo, baka alam niyo.

Epilogue? 2

Admirable is the restraint in the response of Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (CSMB) to the infamous spoon-and-fork incident at Ecole Lalande. Relevant excerpts:
The CSMB would like to use this space to support the principal, the staff and the school team of Lalande primary school in Pierrefonds/Roxboro, who have been overwhelmed in the last few weeks by the turmoil caused by the way an educational intervention involving a student during the noon lunch hour was handled. Both the staff and the principal of the school felt and feel that they have been directly challenged and are hurt by the comments and the intentions that have been imputed against them.

The CSMB must also point out that the educational intervention in question was not aimed in any way at the practices of any cultural community. It was strictly limited to the way a child was consuming lunch on that particular day and had nothing to do with the way of eating or the utensils used.
The CSMB has invited the parents of the pupil to enter a dialogue to clarify the facts, the misunderstandings, and the interpretations. It has wishes to intervene thoughtfully and soberly on the issue. It must first and foremost be remembered that the disclosure of any information regarding the students that have been entruested to its charge may constitute a breach of confidentiality. Its overriding concern is to preserve a respectful educational link with the choild and openness to dialogue with the parents.


Note the absence of recriminations, in particular, any details on the behavior of the child that were at the root of the incident, as opposed to what other follow up stories have already reported, or for that matter, any mention of the child's identity at all. This is a principled stand, and for that the board deserves admiration.

Whether this explanation satisfies some is another matter entirely.

As a postscript, I might recommend the young adult novel Nothing but the Truth by Avi, which best approximates this incident and precedes it by a full 15 years.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lessons from the Most Competitive Cities Study

Rational Technology for May 14, 2006

"All development is local. A growing body of evidence shows that business growth is most supported at the local level." This observation was made by the USAID mission director during the presentation of the Philippine Cities Competitiveness Ranking Project (PCCRP) of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).

This is self-evident for us who live in a small town like Dumaguete, an implied creed to live for our daily struggles. But it's good to be reminded of this in stark terms every now and then. Given our continued history of patronage, e.g., "this project made possible through the office of Congressman so-and-so" or "GMA CARES", we might sometimes think that our efforts don't matter. Well, our efforts do matter and in a much more significant way than largesse from the national government.

So indeed, if, to paraphrase the saying, growth begins at home, where do we begin? The report offers this philosophy on competitiveness:

"City competitiveness is the ability of a city to create and maintain an environment that sustains more value creation for its enterprises and more prosperity for its people."

While there are several factors affecting city competitiveness (enumerated in my last column), "...foremost is the leadership value of local government officials, followed by the presence of a strong support system (business alliances and responsive civil society). Other factors influencing city competitiveness include the quality of human resources, presence of good infrastructure, and a stable peace and order situation."

The report lists down the following best practices:

1. Basics form the bedrock. Roads and bridges, power, water, and telecommunications have a significant impact on the development of a city.

2. Quick, simplified response from the local government brings down the cost of business.

3. Accurate and timely collection of statistics is valuable. Data builds into policymaking, resulting in regulations and ordinances responsive to current and emerging needs.

4. Ideas should move people to action. The constituency must be engaged through online availability of development plans, text facility, radio programs, pamphlets, meetings, and participatory governance.

5. The key to getting people to change their behavior sometimes lies with the smallest details of their immediate situation, such as health, cleanliness, etc. This principle is explained fully in Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point."

To what extent do we adhere to these best practices? I think the report, available on request from AIM by the local government, should be the basis of a self-examination. It takes a mirror such as this to show us where we excel and where we can improve. Senator Francis Pangilinan, in the keynote speech at the survey results presentation, had these words of wisdom to offer:

"Cities must become pockets of excellence... Each city is not competing against other cities; it is competing against itself. It must surpass its own self."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Epilogue?

Browsing news as delivered by Google turned up a news item from Canada.com entitled Incident might have been a mistake I'm quoting from the relevant portions:

The school has been inundated with emails, some of which were threatening, Rathe said. Montreal police were told of the threats and a security guard was posted outside the school Friday.

But the board has never revealed exactly why Luc was punished. Cagadoc said she was told by the lunch monitor that it was linked to him eating with a spoon and a fork.

According to a schoolboard source, Luc had been eating slowly that day. The lunch monitor warned him that there were only five minutes left to finish his meal. In response, Luc began shovelling food into his mouth, alternating with his spoon and his fork. He dribbled food and the other children laughed.

"When I approached the (monitor) the following day she didn't mention that to me at all," Cagadoc said. "If she had told me something like this ... I would have reacted differently."

Cagadoc, who speaks limited French, said her conversations with the monitor and school principal were in English. Bergeron, she said, told her that: "Here in Canada, this is the way we eat, you should learn the ways Canadians eat."


Sigh. Now they tell us. I guess the only thing that I can say is:

Use the fork, Luc.

Psychology of Our Outrage

Continued from Justified Outrage?

Outrage. It's a very strong word, but I think it rightly describes the reaction of many Filipinos on the infamous spoon-and-fork incident in Canada. Outrage, in the sense that I use it, means 'to cause to become very angry,' and many people are angry, indeed.

But: why are they so angry?

The simple answer is that it's a case of racist discrimination. Racism is bad. Racism is one of the last remaining evils in the world that must be rooted out and obliterated. Of course we should be outraged! Moreso because this incident of racism is directed against one of our own, and by extension, against us and against Filipino culture. What could be simpler?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it's not as simple as that. Our anger is shaped by other factors, and it's important to understand these factors because they have much to say about us. To be sure, there are overtones of cultural discrimination, but I believe it extends much deeper than that.

We don't want to admit it, but the world at large is racist in one way or another. It is a shortcoming brought about by the limitations of human existence in time, geography, and culture. Suspicion of the Other is the rule rather than the exception, and who is more other than they who do not look like us and do not act like us? The only people who can truly claim to have transcended racism are those who have lived everywhere, have known everyone, and have completely divested themselves of their own cultural identities.

In its limited form, this instinct for bias is akin to patriotism. This bias is good because it permits us to love our own people and culture first. It ceases to be so when it own obscures our view of what is good in others and what is bad in ourselves. It becomes worse when it breeds intolerance. It becomes a sin when it causes us to lose sight of the humanity of others. It becomes a crime against humanity when it leads to the systematic oppression of a people.

Aided by accidents of history and culture, we are racists to varying degrees. But not all racists are created equal.

In respect to this, the so-called Western countries (and I qualify the term becuase it is ethnocentric in favor of Europe and therefore 'racist') find themselves in a peculiar situation. Most of these countries built their empires on slavery and colonization, in clear violation of their Christian foundations. This contradiction is especially acute when viewed in relation to the United States which was formed on the creed that all men are created equal and yet up until thirty years ago had to contend with segregation.

Driven by Western guilt and self-recrimination, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Now the developed Western nations extol the virtues not just of tolerance but of absolute equality. Racism has become one of its few remaining taboos, along with sexism, orthodoxy, and pedophilia. Thus, one of the worst things that you can accuse an American or a European of is racism.

Unconsciously or not, we have seized upon this weakness and turned it into a weapon against them. When they wrong us in the very the principles that they hold most dear, we immediately have the moral high ground. It is very effective in three ways: (1) it is the perfect weapon for fueling outrage, because outrage requires moral indignation; (2) it is isolates the targets from their kin, who are just as indignant, making them easy prey; (3) it provides the accuser with moral comfort and support owing to the expectation of sympathy. Dean Jorge Bocobo calls this victimology, and we have raised this to a high art.

This answers in part, I believe, the question as to why so many Filipinos are angry over the spoon-and-fork incident. Crying racism is an easy, effective, self-fuelling, and psychologically comforting response. Indignation fuels moral superiority, and a morally superior person can do no wrong, or so we think. Whether this actually achieves the purpose of righting a wrong is another matter entirely; sometimes the purpose goes no further than moral indignation, blinded as we are by our own righteousness.

Satisfying as this response may seem, it is ultimately damaging on so many levels and we should take care how and why we resort to it.

The most obvious, of course, is crying wolf each and every time an incident like this occurs, and moreso if the cause was unverified. If this is going to be our standard response to the international community, how long before our audience wearies of our cries? What happens when a case of real merit and real urgency arises?

Our moral indignation can also blind us to the steps that we take to redress ourselves. Perched on our pedestal of moral superiority, any action can seem permissible. Picketing. Name calling. Death threats. Once that invisible line is crossed, we become no better than our adversaries. In fact, we can become even worse.

Just as moral indignation can blind us to our actions, it can also blind us to our own shortcomings. We risk falling into a damnable hypocrisy. With regard to the case at hand, some writers have pointed out to the irony of this inordinate attention to the eating habits of a Filipino-Canadian boy when there are so many children who go hungry in the Philippines.

This hypocrisy is something that we must constantly be on guard against, because it operates insiduously in our society on a daily basis. Witness how a criticism against a Filipino trait, when made by a Filipino, becomes a self-deprecating joke, e.g., "you know you're a Filipino when...you slice your meat with the edge of your spoon"; but the same criticism, made by a foreigner, becomes an act of racism, e.g., "you should not eat with spoon and fork". Yet in both cases the object is effectively the same. How ironic!

Yet the ultimate irony here is that our indignation at racism is not our own but borrowed from our oppressors. When we cry racism is it because of "Noli Me Tangere" or "Mississipi Burning?" When we raise our voices in indignation, is it because of "El Filibusterismo" or "Schindler's List?" Are we driven by the memories of the Battle of Balingaga or "The Tuskegee Airmen" and "Glory?" We play by the rules defined by another culture, the same whom we accuse of racism: isn't that the ultimate act of racism?

All these acts compounded chips away at our collective psyche, further contributing to the deterioration of our national soul. We become forever victims to the machinations of powers and intentions beyond our sphere of control. We play the underdog repeatedly until it becomes the only part that we can play.

Then who is to say that we do not deserve the treatment that we get from our neighbors?

Why do I blog?

Response to Madame Chiang's writing prompt on why I blog:

My blog started out on the promptings of my girlfriend. And it helped that I was already writing a column for a local paper to jumpstart the content. I guess it just so happened that a few other people were interested in what I had to say.

Now, it's not so much as wanting or needing to be heard as it is a writing exercise and a sometimes futile attempt at search engine optimization (oh, yeah, now I'm getting about $0.01 a day!) But at the same time, I've found that it helps as a platform to voice out on issues I feel strongly about. And, of course, now there's a growing community that I feel greater kinship with, and that's another good reason to blog.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Justified outrage?

A little over a week since the story first broke, local papers have finally caught on to the story of a Filipino-Canadian boy punished by his lunch monitor for eating with a spoon and fork. Militant groups staged a rally at the Canadian embassy. The Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement of support for the boy's mother, saying that the incident constituted an affront to Philippine culture. The Philippine Daily Inquirer carried a Sunday editorial entitled Pigs in Canada. All this for what has been construed as an act of racism.

In all honesty, I was waiting for something like this to happen. It was just so...predictable. After all, what else can unite Filipinos of various opinions and political leanings better than an act of criticism by a non-Filipino against our Filipino-ness?

Now don't get me wrong. Based on the story from the West Island Chronicle, the original source, the principal's response to the mother could simply have been handled better, as was befitting a person of his position.

What I would like to know is whether the reaction of the Filipino (and Asian) community at large is commensurate to the report of the alleged offense. Does this warrant what amounts to a diplomatic protest and death threats to the principal, for example?

Let's look at the most serious accusations. The lunch monitor was said to have told the boy that his manner of eating was 'yucky and disgusting.' The principal was said to have told the mother that his son ate like a pig. Here are excerpts from the article with said passages:

“Mommy, I don’t want to eat anymore,” [the mother] says [her son] told her at the kitchen table April 11. “My teacher is telling me that eating with a spoon and fork is yucky and disgusting.”


And

When she questioned Bergeron about punishing students for their table habits, she says he replied that, “If your son eats like a pig he has to go to another table because this is the way we do it and how we’re going to do it every time.”


Note that in both cases, these were indirect quotes from the aggrieved party. The West Island Chronicle, at the very least, should have attempted to verify with the principal and the school whether such comments were made.

Am I calling the mother and the son liars? Certainly not! But I would have expected that in an emotionally charged situation such as this, the newspaper ought to have gone for a more balanced report. And I certainly would have hoped for more thorough investigation before the international lynch mob came out in full force.

What the principal is quoted as saying is:

“I don’t necessarily want students to eat with one hand or with only one instrument, I want them to eat intelligently at the table,” he said. “I want them to eat correctly with respect for others who are eating with them. That’s all I ask. Personally, I don’t have any problems with it, but it is not the way you see people eat every day. I have never seen somebody eat with a spoon and a fork at the same time.”


which is quite a reasonable statement, except for the last sentence in which he displays his own ignorance. But that is circumstantial evidence, at best, and too weak to support the supposition of the offense.

What is intriguing is that after one follow up story, the West Island Chronicle dropped further mention of the matter. What has kept the issue largely alive are the various letters to the editor (many in condemnation of the school, though some in support) and stories from international media about reactions to the incident. Yet from the local news, nothing more.

So I ask again: is this continued outrage and the level of response justified in the context of (1) awareness of the facts regarding the offense; (2) the seriousness of the offense; (3) the stature of the person who committed the offense; (4) the actions taken to repair the offense?

If the offense is indeed deemed grave, what punishment would satisfy? An apology from the principal and the school? Expulsion of the principal from his job? Closure of the school? A public beheading? Severance of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and Canada? All of the above?

Or are we just being silly? Or worse still, are we the ones now comitting the worse offense? What does this say about us?

See also:
Philippine Commentary
Manuel L Quezon III
Caffeine Sparks

Continued in Psychology of Our Outrage

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Writing for PC Magazine Philippines

So it looks like I have a more or less regular gig writing for PC Magazine Philippines. So far, I've written four articles for them, two of which have already seen publication. The first was a piece on Mark Shuttleworth, the next one was a long article on supercomputing technologies today. An article on photoediting with The GIMP should come out shortly.

Excerpt of my next piece:
Asterisk started life as a cheap voice mail system written by Mark Spencer in 1999 for his startup company Linux Support Services. The Linux company eventually folded in 2001, but Spencer saw that the future was bright for what was to become the open source PBX project. Spencer teamed up with Jim Dixon of the Zapata Telephony Project, and together they formed Digium, a company that provided products and services around Asterisk. Spencer continues to be the lead maintainer for Asterisk.

System requirements for Asterisk are modest and really depend on the number of simultaneous call that need to be supported. Hobby systems with no more than five concurrent channels can run on a PC with a 400-MHz x86-compatible processor and 256MB RAM. More realistic workloads for small businesses with up to 15 simultaneous connections requires PC with 3-GHz x86-compatible processor and 1GB of RAM. Other factors for the choice of hardware are support for voice encoding, call conferencing, and filtering.


Hmmm, I'm on a roll as a starving writer. Yeah, yeah, looking at my tummy, it doesn't look it, but it's true.

Davao: The Most Competitive City in 2005

Rational Technology for May 7, 2006

Davao City -- This visit to my original hometown was wholly unplanned. After my northern adventure to Ilocos, I had planned on returning to Dumaguete posthaste. However, my editor at PC Magazine Philippines requested me to give a presentation as part of their roadshow. Free ticket and a modest speaker's fee? Sure thing!

And as is usually the case when I land in Davao, I get stuck for days, and sometimes weeks. Not that I mind, though. There's simply so much to see and do within the city that it never seems boring, and yet it doesn't have the hassle of a metropolis living like Manila or even Cebu. Yes, Davao is a pretty fine place.

Coincidentally,
AIM released the results of their Philippine Cities Competitiveness Ranking Project (PCCRP) survey for 2005. Davao ranked as the most competitive city last year, the second time it has won that distinction, the first time being in 2002. Davao ranked first in the cost of doing business, second in the dynamism of the local economy, third in infrastructure, fourth in quality of life, and sixth in responsiveness to business needs. It ranked much lower in human resources and training, coming in 11th place, but this did not detract from the final results.

Granted, a significant portion of the survey was based on perception, but isn't that what largely counts, especially to someone who lives where he does? It was timely that I was in Davao when the report was released. I could confirm for myself that things are more or less as was claimed. Foremost to mind when I think of Davao now is that it feels so young and alive. Take a walk downtown and you can just feel it. Even the venerable San Pedro St., which I had given up for dingy and decrepit so many years ago, is vibrant once more.

The AIM report classified the cities by size into metropolitan, mid-sized, and small. Trailing Davao in the metro category were Las Pinas, Makati, Marikina, and Muntinlupa. Cebu was shut out of the list, owing largely to corruption in local government.

And what about Dumaguete? Clearly we're not in the same category as Davao owing to the differences in size. Instead, we were ranked along with the small cities. The ten leading cities in the category were, in alphabetical order: Dagupan, Legaspi, Koronadal, Naga, Olongapo, San Fernando La Union, Sta. Rosa, Surigao, Tagbilaran, and Tagum. Sadly, we didn't make the cut.

We did very well in terms of intrastructure, coming in second place to Ormoc's first. We were also seventh in human resources and training (the top three spots going to Dagupan, San Fernando La Union, and Olongapo). However, we took serious hits in linkages and accessibility, essentially transport (16th), cost of doing business (17th), and the quality of life (17th). The two most damaging, though, were the responsiveness of the local government to business needs (21st) and the dynamism of the local economy (27th).

Given these results, we can take one of two courses of action: put on our blinders, froth at the mouth, denounce the survey as irresponsible and inaccurate, and go on doing what we were doing before; or, we can study in-depth what the report has to say, use that to identify our shortcomings, and take concrete steps to making it to the top ten list in the coming years. Our choice.


Download the full report from the AIM web site.