Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Forum on community journalism

What's the story on community journalism in the Philippines over the past forty years? That was thetopic of this afternoon's forum. The kapihan, organized by Silliman's School of Communications, featured Dr. Crispin Maslog as the main speaker, supported by Vice Mayor William Ablong and theater arts maven Dessa Quesada-Palm.

Miss Silliman web site

Ian was kind enough to text me the address of the Miss Silliman web site.

Anyway, here are the portrait pics of the candidates. Can you pick out who the top three are?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Language and the Filipino World View

I owe this photo to a short lecture I attended last Friday. As part of Silliman's balik-talent program, Dr. Leoncio Deriada, gave a talk on language and world view.

So what's the relevance of the sign pictured here? It's the product of a direct translation from a Filipino syntax to English. Presumably the writer was thinking: "Ang kapilyang ito at ang kanyang paligid ay hindi para paglibangan at pagtitindahan." Or: "This chapel and its premises are not for playing or for vendors to sell."

Of course, reading that makes you want to do a double-take. Not the epitome of a good sentence, it actually hangs on both sides of Silliman's Chapel of the Evangel, all the more ironic because Silliman is the cradle of English language instruction in the country. Dr. Deriada remembers this sign from his student days. I just had to check to make sure. Yep, it hangs there still.

Simple grammar, though, wasn't the focus of the lecture, it was how language reflects and affects world view. Not entirely new concepts, at least to me, but all the same, I managed to find a few gems here and there.

  • On the gender specificity of some Romantic languages. Alright, Dr. Deriada focused on Spanish only, but I made some connections to French, and am extending it to Romantic languages, in general. These languages have a gender bias, associating strong concepts with the masculine and soft concepts with the feminine. This is placed in contrast with the Filipino world view, where gender divisions play less important roles, e.g., no gender specific term for 'sibling.'

  • Superstition as indicative of intelligence. It seems counter-intuitive, but the root of it is the ability of a person to create analogies. Superstitions are indicative of analogic thinking. On the other hand, I would also say that superstition is analogy taken a bit too far, without regard for intermediate cause-and-effect.

  • The sign of the cross merely supplanted an old Filipino superstition, the "tabi-tabi." "Tabi-tabi" is like a mild hex to warn invisible spirits that a person was passing through its territory. Religion did not really supplant the old superstitions; rather, some of its aspects were simply used to replace old symbols and gestures.

  • "Kapatid", "utol", and all the other terms in various dialects referring to siblings all have a common concept behind them: that siblings are part of a greater whole. I particularly liked this idea, and I think it goes some way into explaining how we view family ties.

    On the other hand, there were a number of things I was not too happy with about the lecture. I don't know if it was a product of Dr. Deriada's philosophy, the style of delivery, or accommodation for the limited schedule.

    Dr. Deriada opened the session with an anecdote with the punchline being: "The greatest evil in Philippine education is the use of English as a medium of instruction in the classroom." That's an old and pointless argument, made more ironic by the fact that his delivery of his lecture was in English. I'll give him a little leeway and assume that he was just using that for its shock value.

    I don't quite know what to make of the philosophy behind some of Dr. Deriada's conclusions. For one thing, the lack of gender-specificity in our terms is, according to him, supposed to indicate a greater sense of equality between men and women in the pre-Hispanic period. Well, I don't know....

    There's more, but a bit too much to take in one go. Anyway, fodder for future posts.

    In the meantime: "This chapel and its premises are not for playing or for vendors to sell."
  • Sunday, August 27, 2006

    A Silliman Fiesta

    It's Silliman University's 105th anniversary, and the school is fairly bristling with activities. The traditional booths are up on the fair grounds, accentuating the festive atmosphere of the occasion. I wish I had better pictures to share, but all I have is my cellphone camera. It can take passable daytime shots, but there's not enough people around; and in the evenings when the city is out in full force at the fair grounds, the shots are dismal. Anyway....

    The booths are something else this year: they're selling anything and everything -- from knick-knacks to henna tattoos to food, and even motorcycles and cars. Not to mention the ubiquitous phone cards from Smart and Globe. Hooray for commercialism.

    Still, it's a great attraction, and everyone, not just Sillimanians, are coming to the fair. It seems to be on an extended run, too, having started middle of last week and running until Tuesday.

    A first for me: attending the Miss Silliman Pageant night. I was too far away to see the beauties up close, not that it mattered much as there's no bikini portion (just kidding). I quite liked the question-and-answer portion as there were no exaggerated American accents. Thankfully, no repeats of the Miss Silliman candidate who foreswore any knowledge of Ninoy Aquino, either. Nope, sorry, no pics of the candidates; and no web site that I know of, which is a shame.

    On the more serious side: there are book launchings, lectures, and reunions galore. I attended a lecture by Dr. Leoncio Deriada (upcoming post) and I plan to attend a kapihan on community journalism.

    Looking forward to more of this. I think this is one of the things which defines Dumaguete as a university town.

    Saturday, August 26, 2006

    Robbie the Robot Logo for SciFi Philippines

    Oh, gee, I think I'm rediscovering my talent for vector art. This Robbie the Robot logo actually took me less than an hour to whip up. Hooray for Inkscape and Bezier curves!

    For comparison, here's a full-body photo of the original Robbie the Robot, lifted from Galactic Voyager. Only one drawing for now. My only problem with this logo is that it's black-and-white, and I can't think of any other color combination to throw at it. That's what happens when the character on which this is based on is mainly black to begin with. Oh, well.

    The font used above is Gunhead Chick, lifted from Blambot, as usual.

    Friday, August 25, 2006

    SciFi Philippines Logo Entries

    My entries for the Science Fiction Philippines logo contest. There's no prize or anything at stake, except perhaps for the eternal admiration of the local geek crowd (and conversely, the boos and hisses of the philistines who don't like the design).





    These logos were created using Inkscape, an open-source scalable vector graphics editor. Naturally, I'm running it under Ubuntu.

    More to come tomorrow, I hope.

    Thursday, August 24, 2006

    Priorities

    Not that I have much right to say anything about any of the cases because I've kept mostly to the sidelines recently but: there seems to have been more vehement reaction to former SC Justice Isagani Cruz's opinions on gay people than on the latest impeachment bid, on missing leftist leaders, or even on the nursing board exam scandal.

    I wonder why that is.

    Could it simply be that all the indignation that would have gone into the impeachment complaint had already spent itself, and that there is no more passion in the fight? In which case, perhaps Justice Cruz could simply take a page from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's playbook, mumble some insincere apology, and stick to his guns. Then this furor too will fade away even as he holds fast to his old opinions.

    Could it be that leftist students belong to a lower class of society and therefore are not worthy of the same attention as gays and lesbians? Could it be that no one really put much stock in the Professional Regulatory Commission in the first place? It's just nurses, after all, and they're all heading out of the country anyway.

    Or perhaps there's really no identification with national issues anymore, and young urban Filipinos as a whole feel much more comfortable in the roles defined by global culture. Hopelessness, resulting in identity transference?

    Whatever it is, it's not a very hopeful scenario. I'm sure that this time around, the timing was purely coincidental. In the future, though, all Arroyo's spinmeisters need to do is spring a controversial non-issue the next time another scandal hits. Shades of "Wag the Dog."

    Then again, they wouldn't even need to. In this country, there's something new to raise our hackles at every corner, but not enough will to see them through the resolution.

    Beyond Optimism and Pessimism

    As someone who writes on city development, I try to be wary of the mental traps that lie in wait. One of the dangers is seeing only what's bad in the city. It's very easy to point out the responsibilities that other people have failed to live up to. It's emotionally satisfying to take the moral high ground and launch into a jeremiad against the status quo.

    The view then becomes one of desolate pessimism, that there is no hope for the city. Hence comes the inevitable conclusion: to pack up one's bags and head for greener pastures, pastures that owe their greenness to the efforts of other tillers.

    On the other hand, there's also the danger of saying that everything is as it should be, that the city one lives in is heaven on earth, and that nothing, nothing at all, needs changing. Hence one sinks further into the muck, although that muck has been prettified by the rose-colored glasses of optimism.

    Between extreme pessimism and extreme optimism, where does one draw the line? For the answer to this, I borrow the words of GK Chesterton, who pondered on the same question over a hundred years ago:

    "Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing -- say Dumaguete. If we think what is really best for Dumaguete we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary.

    "It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Dumaguete: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Cebu. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Dumaguete: for then it will remain Dumaguete, which would be awful.

    "The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Dumaguete: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Dumaguete, then Dumaguete would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Dumaguete would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck.

    "If men loved Dumaguete as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is THEIRS, Dumaguete in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her."

    I've taken some liberties with the passage. Chesterton, of course, was not writing about Dumaguete but about Pimlico. Pimlico, during Chesterton's time, was an area of London that had degenerated into a slum, and was therefore "a desperate thing." (Perhaps there were people who did love Pimlico, because the place has shed its dismal past, and now the area is fashionable among artists and young professionals.)

    This calls to mind that old analogy, that last resort of incompetent apologists, about the small black splotch of ink on an otherwise immaculately white sheet of paper. The apologists will eagerly point out that the black spot becomes all the more glaring because of the whiteness around it. Why, then, should we focus on the miniscule stain and not the pristine purity that surrounds it?

    Because: the black spot does not belong there. Because: the black spot is an insult to the purity around it. Because: we want the sheet to be white, immaculately white, as it should be.

    In much the same way, I feel that Dumaguete is not yet all that it should be, but I love her enough to want to change her. That, I would like to think, is the underlying philosophy behind the columns I write.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Silly headlines, silly articles

    I was walking along Silliman Avenue this morning when this headline caught my eye: "Cops watch showbiz hookers." It conjured an image that was probably much different from what the editor was intending. It doesn't help at all that it's Kris Aquino and James Yap that's featured prominently on the front page.

    But then again, People's Tonight is a tabloid and what are tabloids if they're not screaming obscenities, eh?

    Not that a headline like this is anything new. In fact, in light of past reports, it's rather tame. The Philippine police is notorious for conducting sting operations against prostitutes where the operative actually has to have sex with the girl before announcing that she's under arrest. How does that go again? Oh, yes, "it's a dirty job but someone has to do it."

    On the other hand, not all silliness happens in the headlines. Inquirer's resident paranormal kook Jaime Licauco, writing on the power to materialize things by sheer willpower, recounts this story in his column today:
    In the late ’80s, I observed a poor man named Estong materialize coins from his mouth on the streets of Edsa Central in Mandaluyong City. Bus and jeepney drivers would give him, for example, 25-centavo coins. He would put the coin in his empty mouth and when he opened it, a one-peso coin had replaced the 25-centavo coin.

    And, of course, that begs the question: if Estong could materialize money from his mouth (or to be more accurate, realize a 300% gain in a matter of seconds), why in heaven's name was he poor?

    Maybe it was because he could only produce P1-coins?

    Maybe his mouth got tired easily?

    Maybe he didn't have enough brains to put in a P100 bill inside his mouth instead? (Just think, it would have netted him P300.)

    Licauco goes on:
    There are many examples of this type of materialization in daily life. A boy wishing to have a particular toy receives it as a gift, although he told no one about it. A lowly employee wanting to own an expensive camera he couldn’t afford suddenly gets one from a cousin who unexpectedly arrives from Saudi Arabia.

    Obviously, the good psychic hasn't heard of strong hints.

    Neither are editorials immune from silliness. Today's Inquirer editorial couldn't seem to make up its mind which side of the gay question it wanted to be on. But I'll let my friend Teng expound on that. In any case, the editorial was less than stellar.

    A visit to Leon Kilat

    For Larissa and for Max Limpag:
    Photos taken in Bacong, birthplace of the legendary Pantaleon Villegas, a.k.a., Leon Kilat.




    Monday, August 21, 2006

    Occupations

    There's nothing new with the all the stories about the hopelessness of the Philippines -- of wanting to leave for greener pastures abroad, of economic and political crises, and of the growing gap between rich and poor -- but perhaps what doesn't get enough press are all the different ways that Filipinos are coping. Here are some stories:

    The young gentleman pictured above is a sculptor and itinerant salesman from Bacolod who travels once in while to other parts of Negros to sell his wares. His sculptures are made from driftwood, each one taking him a couple of days to finish. No formal training, he says, it's just a skill he picked up. His work could stand a little bit of improvement, but as it is, it can already fetch a high price given the proper marketing and avenues for sales. Can you say eBay? But the poor fellow doesn't even have a cellphone.

    For the less-skilled urban denizen, here's a Filipino twist on what seemed to me like a predominantly American idiosyncracy: the walking billboard. I came across this young man in Cebu, promoting a fast food chain.

    And, of course, there are the traditional means of earning a living. These are fishermen unloading their catch on the beach of Rizal Boulevard after an early morning fishing trip.

    Sunday, August 20, 2006

    On a quiet Sunday afternoon

    Ever since I moved to Dumaguete, I've practically given up rest and relaxation on Sundays. That's the price I pay for being the Sunday shift cashier at the pharmacy; not that it's an unfair trade, because the rest of the week I'm generally free. But there's something about Sundays that makes me want to kick back and relax. But there are those rare Sundays when my parents are around and I can make my escape. This Sunday was one of those.

    All I had planned was a quiet read under the acacia trees of Silliman, and that I did for an hour in the early afternoon. Then Jong called me up to ask if I wanted to go biking to San Antonio. Would I ever!

    San Antonio is a town and farming community up in the hills of Sibulan, outside of my usual route. Leading this short tour was Glen Fernandez. We four -- Glen, Danah, Jong, and I -- met at Motong, then headed up west.

    The route proved to be a moderate challenge. We had a false start as Glen's usual path at Camanjac turned out to be flooded. We eventually took a detour through a river over which spanned a makeshift bamboo bridge to replace the broken one.


    It was an hour and a half going up to San Antonio. Up on top, we hit a roadside sari-sari store, where bought a liter of Pepsi and some banana-cue. This is one of the pleasures of travelling through rural Philippines. Townspeople are generally friendly and eager to talk, and yes, you can get a quick snack, too.


    Friday, August 18, 2006

    City Competitiveness

    In the business world, competitiveness is a qualification that typically applies to a company, a measure of how it performs against others in its category. In today's globally interlinked economy, that measure is also applied to countries, usually as the aggregate of its commercial activity, its manufacturing production, and its intellectual capital output. But economically, a country is also the sum total of the competitiveness of its cities, and that's the rationale behind the Philippine Cities Competitiveness Ranking Project (PCCRP) of the Asian Institute of Management.

    At first glance, city competitiveness may seem to be an exclusively economic barometer. The measure that stands out is the attractiveness of the city to potential investors, both within the city and without. But a city is not quite like a company whose purpose is an increase in shareholder value. A city is where people also where live and work, where they invest a lot of emotional attachment, and where they make their home not just with a view for their lifetime but for the generations to come after them. City competitiveness is tied closely to the happiness and satisfaction of its people.

    In the previous incarnation of this column, I covered the results of the city competitiveness rankings which came out in early May of this year. That report ranked Davao as the most competitive city in the metropolitan category, and correspondingly, in the country as well. And how did Dumaguete fare? Let's just say that we could have done much better. We didn't make it into the top ten list of the small cities category, a distinction enjoyed by nearby Tagbilaran.

    How did this state of affairs come about? Why, despite our vaunted position as university town and BPO destination, did we rank below our close neighbor? It was with questions like these that I and several other members of the Dumaguete community from academe, business, government, media, and civil society attended the PCCRP workshop held at Silliman University this week. Leading the activity was Prof. Mario Antonio Lopez of AIM, working together with the local team headed by Prof. Wilma Tejeros.

    Some of the findings pointed to things we already know about, in fact, are issues the citizens have been raising for the past several years: unreliable and costly electricity, poor interconnection between telcos, heavy traffic, and the growing incidence of crime. Some of the findings were also eye-openers: that Dumaguete, comparatively, is an expensive place to do business in, that our local inflation rate is high, and that correspondingly, the prices of our basket goods also becomes high. Some findings were also alarming: the types of graduates we are producing do not match the needs of the local economy, ostensibly because our best and brightest students have their eyes set to opportunities outside of the city.

    Some findings, on the surface, seemed contradictory unless one knows the peculiarities of the city. According to the study, we have a good road network and an acceptable vehicular density; however, our traffic management is poor. Of course, that's because of the pecularities of the stop-and-go traffic and whimsical habits of our tricycle drivers. According to the study, we have a good ratio of policemen to the population; at the same time, the incidence of crime and resolved murders is high. Draw your own conclusions.

    The findings of the study and the proposed resolutions that the participants arrived at are too lengthy to cover in one column in much detail; they will have to be fodder for future columns. Three items, though, made their impression and should serve as the common thread of discussion for the weeks to come.

    First, the need for a master plan, one that outlines the vision of the city independent of who sits in city hall. A city master plan is not one that lasts for a year, or even three years, or even six. It's a long-term plan, one determined not by political leaders but by the various stakeholders in the city.

    Which is not to say that the city does not have a master plan. It does. It was drafted last year, and presented in the forum. But the fact that many of the workshop participants were seeing it for the first time also points to its deficiency, and therefore, the second impression: It's a plan that must be transparent and known by everyone. Every citizen should hold close to the heart, because it marks the roadmap for what the city is going to be. It's a plan that requires the ownership and commitment of everyone. And since a plan is only as good as its implementation, it also therefore requires regular checkpoint of the city scorecard.

    And finally: the need to plan and realize a Metro Dumaguete. Dumaguete is one of the smallest cities in the country. Though we might hold pride of place among the towns and municipalities of the area, we cannot grow in isolation. In order to achieve economies of scale, we need to work with Valencia, Sibulan, Bacong, Tanjay, Bais, Siaton, Bayawan, and even Santander, Liloan, and Siquijor in addressing commoon issues. The degree to which our neighbors make progress is the same degree that we ourselves progress.

    Ultimately, it's a matter of vision. As Prof. Lopez pointed out, a city becomes the way it is as a product of its vision and the manner in which the forces within the city interplay. Taking this view provides a new perspective on governance: governance is no longer what a government does, but rather, what a community wants it to be.

    Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    On Komiks and Manga: Style

    Continued from On Komiks and Manga.

    It was in the 1970s that I had my first encounter with the work of Filipino artists on Marvel and DC Comics. I had a taste of Redondo in DC's House of Mystery and House of Secrets; and over at Marvel's Conan the Barbarian I had a sampling of Alcala. Fond memories those: somehow I knew they were Filipino artists based on the style alone, and a look at the credits simply confirmed it.

    There was a nagging question at the back of my mind, though: where were the Filipino artists on the superhero comics? The Filipinos of that time seem worked in the genres of horror, crime, sword-and-sorcery, and science fiction. That's certainly a wide spread for combined body of work, but the fact that the Filipinos were not as prominent from the superhero genre bothered me a bit. Why, indeed?

    I think it boils down to a matter of style. Filipino artists of that period simply excelled in depicting the strange and the supernatural and evoking a sense of foreboding. It's something inherent in our culture because we grow up with tales of the dwende, the sigbin, and the engkantos. This is not to say that Filipino artists cannot work on other genres.* It's just that, if I think like an editor for a major comics publication, it would be criminal to waste such talent drawing spandex.

    Comics isn't just about the art, it's about the total cohesiveness of plot, dialogue, storytelling, even the gutters and the lettering. Somehow, it all has to fit. And just as Filipino artists of yore had a style that met the dark moods of the stories they were drawing for, manga-style art is suitable -- and sometimes essential -- for some of the stories that contemporary authors are trying to tell. Correspondingly, a serious problem arises when Filipino artists use manga techniques when they are not called for.

    Perusing some of the recently published Filipino comics that I have on-hand, I've come up with three categories pertaining to the suitability of the style of art with the story.

    1) The style can be essential to the story, that is, the combination is optimal. If we were to change the style of art, it would totally ruin the mood.

    2) The style can be complementary to the story. A story may be drawn in a number of ways, and each combination will produce a slightly different flavor of the tale. No one style is optimal, although some styles will not be appropriate.

    3) The style can be in conflict with the story, that is to say, it is not appropriate. While this may happen to varying degrees, the story is better told in some other style. What is outside of the first two categories falls here.

    These three categories can apply to any style, but for the purpose of this essay, I assessed samples of local comics either done manga-style or with hints of manga. My test subjects: the first issue of Mango Jam, early issues of Cast, and Siglo:Freedom.

    Mango Jam is a collection of four ongoing series, all featuring strong female leads. It's a prime candidate because all the stories are done manga-style, well-executed. It gives us four samples in one go.

    The first series is Leaves of Glaz, by Maisa Deluria and Cyan Abad-Jugo. It's a fantasy tale with a medieval setting, featuring kings, princes, princesses, and a touch of romance and magic. The artwork is recognizably manga, but with a touch of Disney. Art-wise, its main weaknesses are the sparse backgrounds and the computer-generated sound effects, which detract from its overall effect. That said, given its lighthearted tone, comedic moments, and quick pacing, I would say that the manga style fits the story quite well and is therefore essential.

    The second series is Mish, Chief, by Glenda Abad and Kristine Fonacier. It's a comedy involving mischievous grade-schoolers and crazy experiments. The artwork is done mostly chibi-style, not altogether inappropriate for the characters and the subject matter. I actually think it's an optimal combination between style and story.

    The third in the set is Kali by Mia Reyes and Karen Kunawicz, and in my opinion, it's the weakest offering of the lot. The titular Kali is a young girl with martial arts prowess and the unusual ability to talk to ghosts. Thus, it's a combination of action and the supernatural. Unfortunately, the pacing isn't well done and there are spots of sloppy character artwork and nonexistent backgrounds. Kali really could have used a more realistic style with lots of spotting. Sadly, Kali falls into the third category.

    The fourth series, Twilight's Calling by Ellaine Guerrero and Nikki Alfar, is an ensemble teenage comedy about students putting together a band. With five main characters, one would think it's not easy to pull off, but it just so happens that Twilight's Calling is the best in the collection. The storytelling is very tight and the pacing is just right. In the same number of pages as the other stories, Twilight's Calling manages to introduce the characters and their quirks.

    Does Twilight's Calling fall into the first category then? Suprisingly, no. While the manga-style artwork fits well enough, other styles would have fit just as well. A more realistic approach, not too heavy on the shadows and details, would have done. I'm even thinking that Archie-style artwork could have worked for the story.

    So much for collections. Let's move on to some of the earlier issues of Cast. Cast, published by Nautilus Comics, is an ongoing series. It's a coming-of-age story for a group of friends in a Catholic high school. There's romance, rivalries, friendships, uncertainty, heartbreak, and the occasional comic relief; in short, it's a drama. Art-wise, the manga influence is fairly obvious, but there's a hint of Disney, too.

    Cast has two contradictory weaknesses: the character types are somewhat inconsistent, bordering on shojou for the main characters and chibi for the supporting characters; but on the other hand, the main characters look a bit too much alike, a serious flaw in an ensemble story. All the lead females have the same facial features, marked only by slight changes in hair style. It doesn't help that they're all wearing your typical Catholic school uniforms worn in the Philippines.

    These weaknesses lead me to think that the manga/Disney-esque combination is not the best art style for this kind of story. Cast would have been best served by a realistic style, considering the nature of its stories.

    Finally, a quick look at two stories in Siglo: Freedom, an award-winning anthology published by Kestrel Publications. Since Siglo is an anthology, it's a mixed collection of art styles. By and large, the styles fit well with their stories.

    For the purpose of this essay, the artist in focus is Marco Dimaano, whose artwork is featured in two stories. Marco's style isn't exactly manga, but it's close enough that if I were looking at it for the first time, I'd be tempted to say it was. That said, he has a very distinctive approach, marked by clean, simple lines. Almost manga, though not quite.

    Marco's first contribution is Panay 1925, the story of the wife of an ambitious politico. It's a simple story about how the wife, at first feeling lost and abandoned, eventually finds herself; it's quite effective, too, not surprising as it was written by Nikki Alfar.

    Because of the effective simplicity of his artwork, Marco's almost-manga approach isn't quite as obtrusive for the historical piece that it's used in. I can read it through the first time without feeling too bothered; however, subsequent readings tell me that the style isn't so appropriate for a story of this setting and theme. It would have been better served by a realistic approach.

    But for his next contribution, Pasig 1998, the art style fits perfectly! This story, also written by him, tells of a frustrated teenager who finds solace and release in the world of arcades. It's a contemporary drama, but with fantasy and sci-fi elements as the lead character imagines himself as a superhero, a ninja, and a cannon-toting killer. Because of these imaginary sequences, the Marco's almost-manga style works. Perhaps the theme would accept some slight tweaks in style, tending towards a bit more of realism, but it's a fairly limited margin for adjustment.

    A single artist featured twice in the same anthology using roughly the same style. One story works very well, the other story is acceptable but could be better served in another fashion.

    Reviews of these works are only one reader's opinion, though; I'd be interested to hear in counterpoints to my observations. Given this spread of works, though, and looking at how appropriate the manga style is to each one, I go back to my original hypotheses:

    Some of today's stories, even Filipino stories, are best told in manga style. On the other hand, manga is not appropriate for all stories. It must be used judiciously.

    Above all, it is the overall cohesion of art and story that must reign supreme.


    *In fact, I have copies of Alfredo Alcala's stint on the Batman in the 1980s. However, as I remember it, the stories were more about mood and less about the action.

    Sunday, August 13, 2006

    On Komiks and Manga

    One of the blogs I follow regularly is Gerry Alanguilan's. Gerry is a comicbook artist, formerly the inker on Superman comics and currently creator and publisher of the quirky Elmer. More importantly, Gerry is also the custodian of our unique heritage that is komiks by way of his Philippine Comics Art Museum.

    A few days ago, Gerry posted a long essay on "The Filipino Comics Artist and Manga". I thought it was an important piece because it tackled the differences between komiks -- Filipino comics done in the manner of traditional Filipino artists -- and manga -- comics done in the Japanese fashion. To a wider extent, it also touched on the Filipino identity, one which finds expression in comics. That's why I'm a little surprised that there's not much feedback on the issue on the local comics-oriented blogs. Perhaps all the action is taking place in discussion forums elsewhere; unfortunately, I don't participate in those.

    Gerry's analyses deserve some comment. As a longtime reader of comics and komiks, here's my attempt at a response. Mind, it's helpful to read Gerry's original post before you proceed.

    Now, it seems like such a trivial discussion, this thing between komiks and manga. What's the fuss? They're both only comics and they're both kid stuff, after all, right?

    Not exactly. Comics as an art form are an important part of a nation's culture and heritage. They may not get the same level of academic credibility as poetry or sculpture or painting; in fact, comics are very masa and that's why they're crucial as art. Comics represent the tastes and sensibilities of the larger cross-section of the people; that, in turn, reflects their identity.

    The conflict stems from the entry of manga into the Filipino comics scene. Manga originated from Japan and is distinctively Japanese. It's become very popular worldwide and has taken deep roots in a dedicated fanbase. The Philippines is a significant part of that.

    Spurred on by the popularity of its close cousin anime, the manga art style has become so popular that almost all of the new Philippine comics that have come out recently have been done in that vein.

    Gerry laments: manga, a foreign influence, is edging out our native comic art styles. Are we in danger of losing yet another part of our identity and our culture?

    Quoting from the essay:
    ...as a Filipino artist, I find it inappropriate to use a style that is so uniquely a product of Japanese culture and history, and indeed any art style that is the product of the culture and history of any other country, to create comics and then call it “Philippine made comics”. I only make a distinct example of manga because as I have carefully demonstrated, it is the strongest and most recognizable "group style" in comics

    And a little later:
    In this kind of environment, few people will ever be inspired to create something new and fresh. Few people will try to walk their own path, busy as they are being careful to follow the footsteps of others. We will never be originators, inventors and innovators. We will never be trend setters that set the standard for other people to follow. We will always be the followers.


    I can appreciate where Gerry is coming from. Comics, as I've said, do form part of our identity, and to disregard our native forms would be a great loss.

    For the most part, though, Gerry focuses on the art styles. There are other dimensions that Gerry doesn't cover. While I don't profess to have the definitive word on these aspects of comics, they might be worth investigating in order to get a more complete picture.

    First is the matter of the audience. Comics get published because they have a potential market of buyers. Perhaps more accurately, comics of a certain type get published because the publishers think they have that potential market. I think that rule applies to manga-style Philippine comics as much as it does to the traditional komiks.

    The first manga-style comic to hit the bookshelves was Culture Crash, and it was very popular with its audience. To this day, fans remember it with some wistfulness. Culture Crash ultimately folded, more as a a result of business decisions rather than a lack of readers. What's surprising to me is that it lasted as long as it did. Culture Crash featured no ads whatsoever, so presumably all their income derived from sales. If someone has a more complete story on this, I'd love to hear it.

    These days, you have other manga-style comics. The art of Mango Jam clearly has some Japanese influence. So does Cast, to a lesser extent, possibly through the circuitous route of W.I.T.C.H.. A newcomer, Neo Comics, introduced two titles, Epics and Fables.

    Honestly, I don't care much for this current crop of local offerings. That, however is beside the point. These comics see the day because their publishers and advertisers think they are addressing a particular demographic; whether the demographic actually exists and can sustain the comic is a matter for a very hard lesson. A case in point is the extremely short-lived Fantasya, which featured a mix of both manga- and komiks-style art.

    Why does this demographic exist? With two generations that's been heavily exposed to anime, there's a strong Philippine affinity for the Japanese art style. While many Filipino artists have been heavily influenced by anime, so have Filipino audiences. A publisher, expectedly, would hope to profit from the association.

    Unfortunately, we no longer have the thriving komiks industry we once did to see how manga fares vis-a-vis other Filipino comics styles. But I am fairly certain, though -- what with the steady bombardment of animation on TV and related merchandising in the shops -- that any vacuum in local manga would quickly be filled.

    Continued in On Komiks and Manga: Style

    Saturday, August 12, 2006

    Linux Friday at Dumaguete Science High

    Yesterday was Linux Friday as I gave a short introductory session on Ubuntu to Diane Pool of One Candle Schoolhouse, her two IT assistants, Ian and Loida, and Vic Jauculan of Dumaguete Science High School.

    It was a pleasant bit of serendipity, actually. Last week, I promised to take Diane and her people through Ubuntu. Apparently, they have a stronger interest now that they have more computers and are more sensitive to licensing issues. This week, Injong Fortunato of DTI told me that they had turned over computers under the PCs for Public Schools (PCPS) to Dumaguete Science High School.

    What to do? Well, put the two together, of course.

    I promptly introduced myself to Vic, the IT lab administrator of Dumaguete Science High, and offered sessions on Linux. Vic was quite receptive to the idea and now it looks like all my Fridays until the middle of September are already booked.

    The PCPS machines deserve a bit of comment: they're all running Fedora Core. I suspect I might even have been the source for those CDs as I burned a set for the implementing organization some months ago. Standard KDE desktop, but the implementors were nice enough to include a stripped-down version of Encyclopedia Britannica (accessed through a Java application) and a local copy of the Wikipedia.

    I'm a little surprised, though, that the PCs were handed over without any training to the schools. Vic said he had gone through some Linux classes some months back, but too long ago for him to remember the specifics.

    Yesterday's session was purely introductory. I popped in the Dapper Drake live CD and took them through the basics: accessing applications from the menu, OpenOffice.org, exporting to PDF, locating work files in the home folder and desktop, and saving to USB memory devices. That approach gave me a renewed appreciation for Ubuntu's simple user interface, something I already take for granted. It really does help novice users manuever much more quickly.

    At the same time, the session also brought into relief the usual issues that I face when running introductory lessons like this. Questions pertaining to system administration -- adding new software, networking, and dual-booting -- usually crop up. This is from students who already have some experience with Windows. It gets a little troublesome, actually, because it diverts attention from what I want them to focus on, which is the end-user experience.

    Overall, though, the folks were very happy with the stuff that I took them through. Diane was positively giddy over the drawing functions of OpenOffice.org and ecstatic about the Gimp. Vic was quite impressed with the science teaching software like Kalzium and Kig. Looks like I'll be doing more sessions with them.

    Friday, August 11, 2006

    Street Justice

    There's much to be said for the Davao City of recent years. What was once a notorious haven for criminals and NPA rebels is now one of the cleanest and most disciplined cities in the country. It's a status recognized by the Asian Institute of Management which voted Davao as the most competitive city of 2005.

    Yet behind this bright and gleaming surface is a dark shadow that stalks Davao's reputation like an inescapable specter. At what price did Davao's much vaunted peace and order come? Some people credit it to Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's iron hand. Some people, in barber shop talk, credit it to a vigilante group known as the Davao Death Squad.

    Officially, the local government denies the existence of any such organization. No arrests of any vigilantes have been made, and there doesn't seem to be any effort on the part of local police to investigate. Mayor Duterte blames the attention to an overactive press. But hard figures bear it out: in February alone of this year, 45 people were shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen in plain clothes.

    There's minimal outrage, and it's not surprising: almost all of the victims are known criminals and drug dealers. In fact, there's an air of smug satisfaction among the people I talk to. The general sentiment is: "Finally, something's being done."

    And this is the part that disturbs me: extrajudicial killings seem to have become a fact of life in Davao City. If it traces its heritage to a more violent past, it doesn't bother people nowadays. There's a cold-blooded pragmatism at work: it's ridding society of undesirable elements, and therefore it must be acceptable, even good.

    But it's not good, and by no means should it be acceptable. These extrajudicial killings, rather than strengthening society, are in fact weakening it. Street justice is in itself the sign of the breakdown of order.

    In the first place, vigilante justice is an indication that the normal modes of enforcing law and order no longer function. It means that the police are unable to apprehend criminals; that the courts are not able to prosecute them; and that the penal system able to hold them. Thus springs the justification for vigilantes to take the law into their own hands.

    In the second place, the unwillingness to investigate and prosecute vigilantes is indication of further breakdown. When the authorities turn a blind eye to these activities, there is tacit approval that borders on complicity. It's either that, or evidence of police and court inutility.

    And finally, when ordinary people deem this as a desirable solution, it means that they, too have lost faith in the proper system of justice as administered by the law. It's a poison that's worse than any drug because it distorts our sense of values. Where does one draw the line?

    Street justice is a quick solution, yes. That is its primary virtue. That is its only virtue. The main problem with street justice is that it is arbitrary -- that wouldn't be so bad if it weren't also very permanent. Who makes the decisions on whom to eliminate? Who decides what crime is deserving of the penalty? Who are the vigilantes beholden to? And that's exactly the point: you don't know and I don't know.

    We might applaud now that because the targets are criminals, but what happens when the gun is pointed at us? Who's to say that it ends with drug dealers and thieves? Who's next? Journalists? activists? political opponents? business rivals? Who's to say that the loaded chamber won't stop at our turn one day? You don't know, and I don't know.

    If the so-called death squads were limited to Davao City, it would only be a theoretical problem for the rest of the country. But it's not. Death squads have become such a successful means of creating a veneer of peace and order -- much applauded by way of a deafening silence -- that it's being exported to other cities.

    Dumaguete, if last week's reports are to be believed, has just become a recipient.

    Be outraged, be very outraged.

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Er, how was that again?

    This sign, found at the ground floor of Banilad Town Center, made me look twice. Several times, actually, as I pondered the depth of meaning that the author was trying to convey.

    Actually, it reads like it was written by The Sphinx from the movie Mystery Men. Who could forget lines like:

    We are number one. All others are number two, or lower.

    To learn my teachings, I must first teach you how to learn.

    You must lash out with every limb, like the octopus who plays the drums.

    He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions.

    You must be like wolf pack, not six-pack.

    If you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack.

    When you care for what is outside, what is inside cares for you.


    Indeed, who could forget? Ummm, forget I asked.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    Say no to Jumba hosting

    Ordinarily, I expect good customer service from the various online providers that I subscribe to. For the most part, I have not been disappointed. I usually get the account activated or the product shipped not long after I give my credit card details and submit my order.

    This week I finally got a major letdown by way of Jumba, a web hosting service working out of Australia.

    I've been searching for a new and more affordable host and Jumba seemed to fit the bill. Jumba offered hosting at AUD29.95 per year, which comes out to around USD22, or little over PHP1,200. Sounds too good to be true? It was.

    Despite their very professional looking website, and despite a subscription form that listed various countries including the Philippines, Jumba apparently does not take customers from outside Australia. I wish they could've told me that before they got my credit card details.

    When I sent in a customer service request, I got a trouble ticket. I got an answer within a few hours of my email, asking for a piece of information I had forgotten to give. Promptly I replied back. After that, nothing more.

    I could understand that it was over a weekend so I waited till Monday. Still no reply. Finally, I buzzed their online chat support. It took several tries, and t'was only then that the rep on the other end told me that they didn't support countries outside of Australia.

    So now I have to go back to my credit card company and make sure the friggin' company didn't actually bill me for the service that I never received.

    Prospective Jumba subscribers: just say No.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    The Romance of Subversion

    The Kino video editing workshop I ran last Saturday wasn't quite the success that I hoped it would be. Kino, k3b, ffmpeg, vcdimager, and my own Thinkpad had their share of glitches so that I ended up with demos that were less than smooth.

    At the same time, there were only eight of us in the session, a very significant drop from the over thirty who attended the very first one. I suppose everyone else had better things to do, or didn't find what they were expecting to find in a small Linux users group ("free consulting"), or had just given up ("I'll just use my pirated Windows"). Or maybe I really just lack the charisma to pull together a LUG. Whatever.

    Still, giving that little workshop for seven other guys -- whom I'm very thankful came, by the way -- made me think a bit about the early Christians.

    Yes, we've all heard that old saw comparing operating systems to religion. So here's another comparison: promoting Linux in a Windows world is like being an early Christian in the Roman Empire.

    At the height of their power, the Roman Empire had already established itself in much of the known world. It provided order, working institutions, and an iron grip on its citizens. And while it was quite tolerant of small sects that were no threat to its imperial power, at some point it came down hard on the Christians because they were becoming a threat to their political power. That would have signalled the phase when Christians went underground, meeting in as small and secret cells with the threat of persecution over their heads.

    Of course, there's no threat of persecution in promoting Linux (unless you're in a position to make decisions, in which case, watch out), but I couldn't help but feel the thrill of the romance of subversion. So there we were, just eight guys, getting together to exchange ideas on something we genuinely liked, going against the grain that the world was running in. Apart from the appeal of the message, was this some in some measure how the early Christians felt? The thrill of doing something new and something not quite in line with the rest of society?

    I don't know if ONeLUG will survive given these numbers, but I'm already committed to keeping it alive as long as I can. I just wish we had someone with more charisma and organizational skills.

    Regardless, Saturday wasn't a complete loss. I did manage to show the essential features of Kino so I did meet my basic expectations. We even put together a very creepy video of Joel Balajadia maniacally assaulting an LCD projector. And we've already set a date for the next meeting and I have a volunteer for another lecture.

    Gotta keep the faith, y'know.

    Friday, August 04, 2006

    What, me worry?


    I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist.

    There was something about Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's pose in the Inquirer's front page today. What is she saying? I wondered.

    I thought about it a bit, and...well, there you have it.

    See also Jon Mariano's post on Arroyo's "supermaid" concept.

    Hay, pa-cute kasi.

    Hello

    It seems that the reports of the demise of the Metro Post have been premature. After last week's announcement, there was a sudden outpouring of support. So, yes, that means the paper lives!

    I'm taking this reprieve as an opportunity to effect a change in column name. I've asked my editors to rename it to -- what else? -- Village Idiot Savant. This is the first piece, intended for August 6, 2006.


    "Hello." It's a simple five-letter word of two short syllables but it's taken on a universally understood meaning that transcends cultural barriers. It's the common greeting of our age, as easily adaptable for casual meetings as it is for formal introductions as well as electronic communications. As much as it is a salutation, it's also an invitation; it means "I am open to you, I am ready to listen."

    One would think that its origins started with the telephone, the greeting being one that it's synonymous with, but that isn't the case. While the telephone served to make the greeting popular, it was in use in the English language well before the telephone's invention. Alexander Graham Bell initially thought of using "Ahoy!" instead. It was actually Thomas Edison who proposed "hello."

    The word's etymology is hard to pin down exactly as there are so many phonetic analogs in other languages, all with roughly the same usage. In Spanish, there's "hola." In Russian, there's "allo." In Portuguese, "ola." In German, "hallo." In Hungarian, "hallom" (I hear you.) In English alone, there are various conjectures: a contraction of the archaic greeting "Whole be thou" as well as the biblical "Hail."

    Preceding "hello" were "hullo" and "hallo." "Hullo" was in common use as a greeting before "hello." Additionally, it was also used as an expression of pleasant surprise. "Hallo" and its variants "hollo", "holloa", "halloo", and "halloa" were used in hunting to signify that the quarry had been spotted.

    Perhaps it's something in the phonetics of the word. It's quite distinctive and it's easy to hear. It's also quite easy to shout out loud. That was the reason Edison proposed it as a telephone greeting. "Hello! can be heard from 10 to 20 feet away," he said in a letter to the president of a telephone company.

    And there are other uses for "Hello." The very first program you create in a computer language that's new to you is traditionally "Hello, world." Among the younger set, it's an expression of mild disbelief and annoyance: "Hello-ooo?" For maximum effect, you're supposed to tap your hand to your head once and fling the hand outwards in exasperation as you say this.

    "Hello" is the opposite of "goodbye," and while that word has its own history and etymology, I only bring it up in the context of my previous column in the Metro Post. Last week, I bade goodbye as I thought it would be the very last issue of the paper. But good friends who have already bidden their fare-thee-wells sometimes change their minds and tarry a bit longer and trade more stories. That's exactly how I feel right now.

    And so...hello!

    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Little Shrub of Horrors

    Jove Francisco blogs an amusing story about an experimental shrub named after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. "Where's the shrub?" was a recurring theme in Jove's entry as he and the whole press corps were made to wait for the presentation with much pomp and circumstance.

    Where's the shrub, indeed? Since Jove did not post a picture of the plant, I thought I might search the Internet for some inkling of what it might look like. These are the pictures I found:








    Pictures from Morris Hill Regional District High School and Crescent City Chronicles.

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    First chapter up

    I put up the first chapter of my novel-in-progress. It's available at http://fugitiveplanet.blogspot.com (Update: link removed, site taken down). See this post for details on what this craziness is all about.

    Note that at this point, I have no idea how the story will turn out, or whether I will even be able to finish the 25,000-word requirement. I have the framework of a story in mind, and I think I can make the concept work. Whether it actually will is anybody's guess.


    Update: I've decided not to pursue this. Some other things came up and I will not be able to participate.

    Second class patients

    Yesterday's Inquirer carried a story on medical tourism. I read it, and I got very upset.

    Medical tourism is defined as travel with the intent of receiving health care in another country. There's nothing wrong with the practice itself. People who can afford it go to hospitals with the best specialists and the best facilities, even if it's in another country. Quality is the underlying factor, and it's the patient's right to see the doctor whom he thinks can provide the best care for his ailment.

    But there's something seriously amiss once medical tourism becomes an institutional policy of the hospital -- or the country -- providing such services. Along with this institutional policy comes promotion as well as different classes of service. The underlying message now is no longer one of health care but of cost and profit.

    At the extreme, such a plan might only be acceptable if the hospital has excess capacity and nevertheless commits to deliver equal care to its patients. It becomes odious when medical tourists are favored over citizens.

    Particularly upsetting about the Inquirer story was the comparison between the services and the quality of care afforded to a Micronesian and to a Filipino. The Micronesian, because he has a higher health insurance, gets the "full treatment." The Filipino only gets the most basic services.

    One doctor said a look at one private hospital would show the discrepancy between the treatment of local and foreign patients.

    One floor has an unusually more efficient air-conditioning system and ambiance compared to the other floors. It’s exclusively for foreign patients who are accorded “five-star” treatment.

    Unlike local patients whose meals are served in plastic or aluminum plates, theirs are elegantly served on real plates, replete with garnish.

    Doctors and nurses are also instructed to be “extra attentive even to their littlest needs,” say, a Micronesian complaining of a minor cough in his hospital suite, the doctor said.

    “Usually, doctors rush in only if the blood pressure is low, if there’s difficulty breathing, or chest pain,” he said. “That’s because they really have to prioritize considering the many patients that they have to attend to.”

    In the case of foreigners, they rush to attend to “whatever the complaint is.”


    If I'm upset, it's because I've seen the basic service that hospitals give to Filipino citizens. Last year, we rushed my father to the hospital because of sepsis. We were in the emergency room, and the nurses and doctors looked on blankly as my sister and I struggled to keep my father conscious. Then, the doctor, without personally checking my father, prescribed medicine to lower blood pressure when his blood pressure was already low. Fortunately, we caught it in time. That's basic service for you.

    More painful is the present experience of one of my friends.


    Once medical tourism becomes institutional policy, what's to prevent automatic discrimination against Filipinos? "Pinoy? Ah, wala yang pera, doon mo 'lagay yan sa basic service. Uy,foreigner! Sir, let me kiss your feet."

    First, we lose our doctors and nurses to foreign hospitals. In the future, we won't even get proper health care in our own hospitals because the doctors and nurses that remain are busy with medical tourists.

    Yet another way of cashing in on the almighty dollar, something that we're trading our souls for every day in an exchange rate that's forever diminishing.

    Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Man the typewriters!

    Uh-oh, here we go again.

    No, no, my calendar isn't askew. I know it's August and not November, which is supposed to be when the official NaNoWriMo event runs. However, I can't resist a challenge, and a challenge was exactly what I got from Charo yesterday. This August NaNoWriMo challenge comes courtesy of the creative writing SIG of Mensa Philippines.

    Charo's letter, in part:
    Hey guys! The (Mensa) Creative Writing SIG I'm with will be having an
    August NaNoWriMo activity. It's like the usual NaNoWriMo except that
    it's on August (er... tomorrow!) and it's good for at least 25,000
    words.

    If anyone else wants to join -- and I really doubt it -- drop me a note. I'll clue you in where to sign up.


    Ah, it's only 25,000 words anyway, half of the full NaNoWriMo. I'll consider this as practice. It'll be a cinch.

    Famous last words, I know. Oh, well. Once more unto the breach.

    Update: decided to cut my participation short. Some things came up and I apparently won't have time.

    Just a stretch of mortal time


    Why are you seeing this entry on this blog? Oh, nothing special. Just marking an occasion. And I really like the song.

    I am here to tell you we can never meet again
    Simple really, isn't it, a word or two and then
    A lifetime of not knowing where or how or why or when
    You think of me or speak of me or wonder what befell
    The someone you once loved so long ago so well

    Never wonder what I'll feel as living shuffles by
    You don't have to ask me and I need not reply
    Every moment of my life from now until I die
    I will think or dream of you and fail to understand
    How a perfect love can be confounded out of hand

    Is it written in the stars
    Are we paying for some crime
    Is that all that we are good for
    Just a stretch of mortal time

    Is this God's experiment
    In which we have no say
    In which we're given paradise
    But only for a day

    Nothing can be altered, there is nothing to decide
    No escape, no change of heart, no anyplace to hide
    You are all I'll ever want, but this I am denied
    Sometimes in my darkest thoughts, I wish I'd never learned
    What it is to be in love and have that love returned

    And if you really must know, it's because I'm a romantic deep down inside. Most men are. That's just about all the answer you'll ever get out of me.

    Aida is a popular opera by Giuseppe Verdi in 1871. It was remade into a popular Broadway musical by Tim Rice and Elton John. Written in the Stars was taken from the musical, following Elton John's signature style.