Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Pardon

Excerpt from an opinion requested by an online news magazine:

...the timing and nature of the pardon is especially galling because it represents the nadir of a steep downward slide in morality, ethics, and plain good taste in the Philippine political sphere. We in the middle class clamored for Estrada's ouster in 2001 because of his blatant corruption, viz., gambling payoffs and insider trading. By replacing him with his then-constitutional successor, we had sincerely hoped that it would have been a change for the better. Instead, we were subjected to electoral fraud, kickback scams, and bribery.

If Estrada's removal was symbolic of our desire for a change for the better, then his pardon -- at this time and in this manner and by this administration -- is symbolic of the fact that so very little has changed.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The whole world is black


I cannot adequately express the disgust I feel at the recent turn of events. Only this picture seems to suffice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why GMA Should Not Resign

"Write in heat." So goes that sage advice to writers. And that's precisely what I did last week, in those few hours after the explosion in Glorietta, when so very little was known and speculation was rife. The perspective is so much different when you get a little distance from the subject or the event, when you have a bit more space for objectivity.

Nonetheless, it was a revealing exercise in zeitgeist. Our initial reaction, understandably, was that it was a bomb. Understandably, there was shock and fear. But surprisingly, there was also a palpable feeling of disgust -- not just a vague and generic sense of disgust, but one with a very clear subject.

Was I alone in this manner of thinking? Apparently not. "My son was not a victim of an accident, but a collateral damage of a government who wants to divert attention from the present political crisis it's facing," said the father of one of the victims. And the family went so far as to actually refuse money and offers of assistance from GMA.

Of all the countries in the world, we are probably unique in yet another matter: that, in the event of a terrorist attack, the government is immediately one of the prime suspects in the public opinion. Truly democratic countries do not need to resort to such tactics, and truly authoritarian countries do not need to hide behind such subterfuge.

And yet, despite this state of affairs, we persist in hobbling on, unable -- or unwilling -- to seek real solutions.

Not long after I put up my previous article on my blog, two people wrote in with these comments:

"Not that I like this president but... who shall we ask to govern us...? Marcos loyalists? Estrada apologists? Ramos the not-yet-satisified...? Aquino the pure...?"

and

"Yeah, and who do you think should replace her? Judging from the current crop of politicians, they all look and smell the same to me."

There you go. The reasons behind why GMA should not resign. Not because of her economic brilliance, not because of her brilliant foreign policy, not because of her compassionate domestic policy, not because of her administrative effectiveness, and certainly not because of her moral ascendancy. Simply this: we don't see any other alternative, and therefore we are content with the best of the worst.

And therefore: GMA and her cohorts can lie to us, can cheat us, can steal from us, can kill us, can ream us, and we're going to continue taking it (and we better damn well be liking it!) because hey! the other guy is going to do it to us anyway.

Such brilliant and irrepressible Filipino logic!

P.S. So who do I think should replace her? That is not for any one person to decide. That is why we have presidential elections that are supposed to be honest and fair. And we all know what happened last time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Convenience

So it was a gas leak, after all, says the PNP investigating team, and not a bomb that did it. I suppose we can all rest easy now. The terrorists aren't after us, after all; it was just the combined effusion of human excrement and diesel that did it.

It's not that I discount the possibility, however remote, that this fatal mix should rip apart a concrete floor and tear through three stories of steel and cement. After all, it's an old geek adage that, given sufficient angle and launch velocity, pigs can fly.

It's just that, coming in after four days of nail-biting speculation, it's just so...convenient. And this whole incident has "convenience" written all over it.

In the first place, the explosion happened on a Friday afternoon, coinciding with the downtime of most television network news coverage. In the Philippines, weekend coverage is usually sparse, unless it's in the order of magnitude of a coup d'etat. You can get away with almost anything on a Friday and come out smelling like roses on Monday.

And indeed, coverage of the aftermath was sparse, due in no small part to the absence of concrete information from investigators.

Just about the only peep we heard over Saturday was the mysterious phone call and text messages purportedly from the Rajah Solaiman Group, stepping forward to claim responsibility for the attack. Ultimately it was proven false, but I don't think it had much credence to begin with. Why? Because the knee-jerk reaction of a large segment of the population was that the explosion was the doing of the government.

Really, why shouldn't it? This administration has cried wolf one time too many. Every time there's a hint of a brewing scandal -- more often than not of its own doing -- a convenient security alert usually follows.

Now is it just me or did the whole thing feel like a typical trial balloon that this administration is so well known for? You've seen it happen so many times before. A government lackey says something, then they wait for public reaction, and when it turns out negatively (as it often does), they quickly beat a hasty retreat.

And when they couldn't muster public panic to replace public outrage, and with no credible patsy to pin it on, come Monday morning it turns out to be a gas leak. How convenient!

But maybe I'm just reading too many conspiracies into this.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why GMA Should Resign

Just so we're clear, this is not a call for sedition or revolution. Neither is this a demand for said resignation nor even a call for protest that would lead to such. This is -- at least I hope it is -- simply a calm, balanced, and rational exposition of why it is high time for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to resign from the presidency of the Republic of the Philippines.

As I write this, the flurry of the day's news is just winding down. It has been a grim day. Just a little bit after lunch on a Friday afternoon, a bomb exploded in a busy mall in Makati City. The death toll so far: 8 dead, more than 90 wounded. Some speculated that it might have been a gas leak, but no, the pictures of the damage point to anything but.

I do not know how to adequately describe the knot of pain that I felt in my stomach when I heard the news. Thankfully, I did not have any family in the vicinity at the time of the incident; but I do still have several friends who live and work in the area. Were any of them in the midst of a leisurely lunch in Glorietta when it happened? Were any of them just walking by that sidewalk when the bomb exploded? Some messages of reassurance have come in, and as for the rest, I continue to hope for the best.

Far more than the loss of life and property in upscale Makati is the psychological blow that this incident deals to the rest of the country. For all the pockets of violence that may erupt from time to time in the countryside, the posh Ayala area has in the past twenty years been the image of security, normalcy, commerce, and progress that the rest of us aspire to. But not anymore. If it can happen there, what about the rest of us elsewhere?

What does this have to do with Arroyo's resignation? Let me put it this way: one of the first things that came to mind was the thought that it was the Arroyo administration itself that orchestrated this carnage. Maybe it was just my pre-existing biases at work? But the more I listened and read, the more I found out that I was not alone in this suspicion. A normally apolitical friend voiced the same opinion. Please, tell me honestly, how many of you felt the same way?

Should Arroyo resign on these mere unfounded suspicions?

It bespeaks of something terribly, terribly wrong when common folk like me can even entertain the idea that their government would do such a thing. It means that there's a severe lack of trust, and more than that, it means there's fear. Yes, fear. I am afraid of this government, of what it is capable of, of what it has already done.

The explosion comes at a suspiciously opportune time when scandal after scandal hounds this administration. Last month, it was the anomalous ZTE-NBN deal and its twin sister the Cyber Education Project. This month, it's the P500,000 "gifts" to congressmen, governors, and mayors. (That's not counting all the rest that came before.) Could the bomb simply have been a "diversionary" tactic to draw our attention away from these scandals? The prospects, unfortunately, are all too plausible.

But let's say it's not the Arroyo administration that orchestrated the bombing. Let's say it was the equally plausible Jemayaah Islamiyah, or even the MILF, or even political enemies and rogue military elements. What then? Should we also hold Arroyo responsible? The very same Arroyo who promised "total war" where she would crush the insurgency "in three months' time?" (Remember: it's always in "three months' time", which is about time it takes for us Filipinos to forget promises.)

And really, there you have it. On the one hand, there's the devious, callous, and self-serving logic; and on the other, there's overall incompetence and dishonesty. In either case, there's the greed, corruption, and moral bankruptcy. Oh, let's just call it for what it is: that offensive, choking, rotten stink of decay that follows her wherever she goes.

Such a person does not deserve to govern.

Explosion at Glorietta

There's a pain in the pit of my stomach as I read through reports of the explosion in Glorietta. No family in the vicinity, thankfully, but friends? Well, several. The worst part is not knowing what's going on and if anyone I know was hurt.

Sent out messages by text to check, and got a few replies in return. As for the rest? One can only hope...and pray.

Be safe, guys, and check in when you can.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Poem: Bubble Wrap

There's no greater joy than this:
a virgin sheet of bubble wrap
smelling of that new box smell
crinkly to the ear
bouncy to the touch
looking so inviting
and...

pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop! pop! pop!
pop! pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop! pop! pop! pop!
(hey! no fair! that was more than your share!)
pop!
pop!
pop!
(grab your own side!)
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop!
pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!
pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!
pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!
pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!
pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!
pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! pop!
pop!



(sigh)




pop!




(is that all of it?)



(i think you missed one)


(where? oh....)










pop!

(gotcha!)


(si-iiiiigh!)









pop!

Poem: At season's end

and now that the season is done
we lay down
our swords and shields
we strip ourselves
of armor and helmets
we take off
our gowns and crowns
and we put to stable
our stallions and mares

no more ten-gallon hats
and six shooters
and stagecoaches
or eagle feathers
and tomahawks
and warpaint
and teepees

we turn in
our badges
and whistles
and moneybags
and masks

we power down
our jet packs
and ray guns
and robots
and rocket ships

we'll put on
our serious faces
and pretend to be
Responsible Adults
you can be Mom
and I can be Dad
and we'll each have
our nine-to-fives
to pay off the mortgage
and buy pretty things
to keep up with
the Joneses

i'll get a briefcase
you'll get a power suit
(sadly not
the kind
that lights up)
we'll sip
overpriced cappucinos
and fizzy drinks
with little umbrellas
to maintain
our perky looks
and smile
our rictus smiles
because
the customer
is always right

and off to the musty bin
the toys go
there to sleep
in the darkness
while they wait
for the coming
of the season
of that playtime
without end.

will we remember?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

DIY Booklet

For some reason, the professor of my Creative Writing and Short Story classes chose me to compile our combined submissions for this semester into a book. It was additional work that I could have done without, but at the same time, it proved to be a pleasant enough diversion, so I took it.

And today, I got the finished product out.

Okay, so it was more of a booklet than a book, but at close to 120 pages, it's still a formidable booklet. It was fun figuring out ways in which to get it to print right.

For simplicity, I laid out the whole book in AbiWord. Not nearly as full-featured as OpenOffice.org or Scribus, but for what I needed, it was the easiest way to get things done.

From AbiWord, I printed out to PDF.

I then processed the PDF file using a nice utility called page-crunch. page-crunch is actually the front end to psutils, a set of command line tools for PostScript processing.

page-crunch is nifty because it allows you to regenerate a PDF document two pages to a sheet. However, it's not perfect. It has a "Produce a Book" option but it only rearranges the sheets so they come out as leaflets.

Since I wanted a center-stapled book, I had to enter the order in which I wanted the pages printed. Sounds difficult for a 120-page book? It is! That's why I wrote a Python script to generate the correct page ordering for me.

So anyway, I printed all the pages back to back and they came out okay. Next were the table of contents and the cover, then off to our friendly neighborhood printer to get it center-stapled and cut.

Voila! I'm a publisher now!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fr. Gabino Olaso Zabala

Much will be made of the pending beatification of Fr. Gabino Olaso Zabala, one of the 428 martyrs of the Spanish Civil War who will undergo the process on October 28. The issue at hand: Fr. Zabala was known to have actively encouraged the torture of Fr. Mariano Dacanay, a native Filipino priest suspected of supporting insurrectionists, way back in 1896.

Before we engage in our new favorite national pasttime, it behooves to ask:

Is Fr. Zabala being beatified for that act of torture against Fr. Dacanay? Or is it for his act of blood witness some thirty years later?

To be sure, participating and encouraging the forced confession of Fr. Dacanay was an appalling act, but does this invalidate whatever acts of heroism he might have performed much later on? The point of many objecting to his beatification is precisely this blight -- a big blight, not a small one -- in his past. "It sends the wrong message to the world today," so they say.

I beg to differ. It's precisely the right message that we need to hear: that despite whatever dark pasts and unspeakable crimes, there's still hope for salvation and for glory. It's an echo of an earlier time, as documented in the Acts of the Apostles:

But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed at him with one accord. They threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses placed their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. They stoned Stephen as he called out, saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” He kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Saul was consenting to his death. A great persecution arose against the assembly which was in Jerusalem in that day. They were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles.


The objections, too, are another prediction come to pass:

"Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me for a denarius? Take that which is yours, and go your way. It is my desire to give to this last just as much as to you. Isn’t it lawful for me to do what I want to with what I own? Or is your eye evil, because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few are chosen."


Poem: In the Garden

In the garden
where we once held
our midnight trysts
under the glow of moonlight
and the perfume of roses
in the shelter
of the gazebo
now stands
surrounded by
poppies
carnations
and lotus flowers
a row of picket fences
painted white
like the perfect teeth
of a polite smile
(but their tips
are filed to a point)

of rosebuds there are none
only brambles.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Power Rangers Mystic Force

This morning, I flip the channel to Cartoon Network and catch my first glimpse of Power Rangers Mystic Force.

Great effects! Certainly much better than Power Rangers SPD.

Great stunts! That lateral spin with the motorcycle has to be seen to be believed.

Great costumes! Reminiscent of the granddaddy of them all, Star Rangers. It's not just the helmets and the capes, it's also the team finishing move with the exploding ball.

But...darnit! Did they really have to use brooms and wands?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Desperation

"All men lead lives of quiet desperation," said Thoreau, by which I take to mean that we're driven by small bite-sized concerns. We take the world in small chunks, befitting our limited capacity to influence people and events. By and large, this approach works. But sometimes nibbles alone aren't enough, and we need to recognize when an extra large helping of trouble becomes necessary.

Case in point: at the height of the "Desperate Housewives" brouhaha, the online petition for an apology had the highest number of signatories. By now you should already know what it was all about: one of the characters in the show uttered a derogatory comment about Philippine medical schools, then perceived, by extension, as a slur against Filipinos.


Contrast this with the relative apathy concerning the Cyber Education Project. Unfazed by the National Broadband Network scandal, the Arroyo administration announced this week that it was all systems go for the CEP, a project that would cost $460-M, significantly more than the $330-M price tag of the NBN. Was there a peep? Not a one.

(But just what is so wrong with the CEP? It's not just the price tag, you see, it's the basic premise. The CEP essentially proposes to replace teachers and textbooks with TV sets. For all the promised improvements in education, I have a sinking feeling that all it will really prepare the students for it to watch TV programs...like "Desperate Housewives." Neurosis country, here we come!)

Despite its hurtful implications, the "Desperate Housewives" comment was trivial as compared with the very real prospect of shouldering an onerous debt burden for the next 20+ years. So why do we make so much noise about a TV show (a foreign TV show, at that) vis-a-vis a very real ethical, moral, and financial problem in our own backyard?

Perhaps what underscores the difference between the two is the extent by which we perceive we can affect the outcomes. Deep down, we have confidence in the decency of an American TV network to recognize and apologize for its error -- which it did. On the other hand, we may have already given up on the most basic capacity for decency on the part of the Arroyo administration. This week, it acted true to form by "vaccinating" itself against possible impeachment.

Desperation isn't necessarily a bad thing. It implies that the situation is dire, certainly, but it also means that there's still the willingness to fight. Therein lies the glimmer of hope.

The question then is: are we still willing to fight for things that really matter, or are we simply content with miniscule battles of little importance simply because we think we can win them?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Money can't buy class

Manny Pacquiao snubbed his homecoming victory in Manila today. According to Inquirer.net:

Citing "prior commitments," Filipino boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao will skip a hero's welcome in Manila when he returns home at daybreak Thursday after skillfully demolishing Mexico's Marco Antonio Barrera in the United States on Saturday night.


Pacquiao's handlers relayed his decision Wednesday to the city government, once ruled by one of his staunchest patrons, Lito Atienza, who is now environment secretary.

Pacquiao, though, seemed inclined to pay a debt of gratitude anew to Atienza, who had seen him rise to his current status. The boxer had given his word to the former mayor to show up exclusively at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources office and at MalacaƱang after the fight with Barrera.


Oh, well, the people of the City of Manila should be thankful there won't be more than the usual run of traffic today.

Presidential eating habits

Caught today's broadcast of quiz show "Game KNB? -- quite possibly one of the few bright lights in local TV programming -- and came away with an understanding of presidential eating habits. What do you know? Some TV is actually educational.

One particularly unassuming contestant was a waiter going by the name of Jojo. He was a waiter in Dagupan, some twelve years now on the job. Host Edu Manzano coaxed him for stories about celebrities, and he let drop that he had served meals for three presidents: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, and Fidel Ramos.

So how do presidents eat out? Well, their food is kept on a separate table, and the dishes are covered. The Presidential Security Guard secures the table, and no one is allowed near it. I believe he said that it's actually the guards who take out the covers.

And -- get this -- there are presidential food tasters.

Yes, as in the days of old, when emperors and empresses feared assassination by poisoning, our presidents today still have official food tasters. The tasters sample a little bit of each dish before the meal, down to the sauce.

The food taster he met, according to the waiter, was a little woman. He asked if she accompanied the president on trips abroad, and she said no. She's only assigned to Luzon.

I don't know if this story is true, but it certainly sounds plausible. Regardless, it was a very good yarn.

Oh, and presidents are lousy tippers.

Putting up

Put up or shut up, so the old dare goes. Well, this is me putting up.

I started the story last Monday, following one of the plotlines that came out as I was writing my treatise on Filipino science fiction. I finished just yesterday evening, coming in at around 3,400 words.

Now the real question is: is it any good?

And the answer is: I don't know. As you can see from the format and the quantity, you probably have a good idea where it's headed for. So I guess we'll see in a few months' time.

I'm pretty happy with the story. If I raced to finish it, it wasn't because of the deadline (I'm three weeks early); it's because the story needed to be spun out and I wouldn't get anything else done until I did so. I left another story half-finished, one with a plotline I also liked, because I wanted to write this. It's a story that disturbed me and took me to places that I wouldn't normally go.

But I wrote it, so naturally I'm a poor judge.

And if it doesn't make the cut? Well, that's armor for future rejections.

So there. I've put up.

Editorial professionalism

I hinted at it before, but now that Dean Alfar has mentioned it in his blog, I can say it out loud now: my first ever short story is part of the Philippine Speculative Fiction Anthology Vol. 3.

Tickled pink? Absolutely! I did the dance of joy (and no, you don't want to see that.)

This I must say, though: as an editor, what impresses me most about Dean is his promptness and professionalism. A couple of days after the deadline, I got an email acknowledging receipt of my submission, and not a machine-generated one, at that.

More than that is the fact that he actually responds with a critique of the work. My first attempt for the anthology two years ago was rejected, and rightly so (although it hurt at the time.) What I did appreciate was the short email (no more than two sentences) pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the story.

Now that's the kind of editor I want to write for.

Thanks, Dean.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

More DepEd woes

More from the mailing list

This is the same DepEd that wants to have the $465 million (P21.7 biillion) Cyber-Ed Project. And yet, as the COA audit report says, it cannot even manage effectively such simple tasks as writing and delivering textbooks and using and maintaining computers:

1) DepEd failed to distribute 2.51 million textbooks and instructional materials worth at least P186.96 million. They were found “stored in the schools’ stockrooms or used as references in libraries for reasons such as, oversupply and deficient textbook contents.

2) The COA also found that computer packages worth P138.84 million in public schools were not used “due to lack of resources, facilities and technical capability to operationalize the PCs for Public Schools Project.”

3) The COA discovered that 349 computer packages worth P115.7 million were used by the school administrative offices instead of the students because they schools were not ready to implement the computerization project. (Si Sir and Ma'am pala ang gumamit, hindi yung mga tudyante).

Of the 349 units, 280 computers were found in the offices of principals and district supervisors and 13 units were defective.

Notes on the Cyber Education Project

Just when we thought we'd stopped the scam that was the National Broadband Network, along comes a renewed push for the Cyber Education Project. If the figures of NBN were mind-boggling, CEP is even more so: $465-M, as opposed to NBN's $330-M.

If you've ever dealt with any of the government-led school computerization projects, then you'll know what a big mess it is. I have and in fact, I'm in the middle of one. And I can tell you, when it comes to computers + education, government doesn't know which end it's talking from.

And now comes this super-expensive deal: will throwing money at the problem where common sense failed really solve the problem? I don't think so.

Here are some basic facts on the CEP, from a mailing list letter:

1) The CyberEducation Project (CEP) is a US$465.5 million, or P21.7 billion project aiming to set up television production and satellite broadcasting facilities in the DepEd offices and public schools. It is much bigger than the ZTE broadband project.

2) 86% of the cost will be loaned from China, the balance will come from the national treasury

3) TV shows and tech babble will not solve the basic low-tech problems of our educational system: low budget, classroom shortages, lack of books and facilities, lack of teachers, mismanagement and flawed orientation.

4) With the CyberEd's budget of P21.7 billion, the government could construct 51,913 classrooms, hire close to two million new teachers or buying 336 million chairs, or acquire 434 million new textbooks. Or the gov't could just allot the same amount to provide full four-year college scholarships to 1,085,000 students.

5) The CyberEducation Project is yet to be scrapped and is still being pursued by the Department of Education (DepEd)

Despite strong opposition from different groups, the DepEd maintains its position that the project will be necessary to address the problems hounding the education system. The CyberEd, DepEd insists, is the "best response to the challenges of basic education."

What exactly will the CyberEducation Project do? How will it work?

Using the project's "advanced" technological infrastructure, the DepEd will broadcast live TV shows daily, via 12 specially dedicated video channels to some 37,792 or 90% of public schools nationwide.

Each classroom will be equipped with a television set hooked to a satellite disc. At the start of a subject period, the teacher opens the TV to receive a live satellite feed from DepEd studios in Manila. A "master teacher" gives a live lecture to tens of thousands of students simultaneously all over the country. The classroom teacher and students watch the program, then spend the rest of the time discussing and doing school work.

DepEd offices nationwide will also be inter-connected via the satellite network. Wireless internet connection may also be provided.

In order to attain this, the DepEd will have to install TVs, computers, and all necessary equipment in 34 schools daily for 3 years. Also, the DepEd will have to put up its own studio and broadcasting center to produce daily live shows for 12 channels covering five subjects each.

Why is there a significant opposition to the CyberEducation Project? Why is the CyberEd controversial?

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), League of Filipino Students (LFS), Senators Legarda and Angara, among others, including prominent bloggers, have expressed opposition to the CyberEducation Project. Critics are pointing out the following:

Like the ZTE deal, the CyberEd Project was signed in a hasty, secretive and suspect manner. The official copy of the Memorandum of Agreement was reportedly also lost, together with the original ZTE contract. Until now, the government still have not produced a copy of the MOA to respond to the investigations in Congress.

Details of how the project will be implemented and break down of costs have not been fully ironed out, a matter that is highly questionable for something that will cost billions.

Questionable endorsement by Neri

The project, like the ZTE deal, was also endorsed by NEDA chief Romulo Neri, and like the ZTE deal, in a questionable manner. It was reported that in past cabinet hearings and reviews, DOTC usec Formoso expressed reservations about the project overlapping with existing ICT projects and the NBN, an opinion that Romulo Neri supported.

A few weeks before the signing, Neri changed his decision and endorsed the project
on flimsy grounds.

Too expensive and impractical
With the CyberEd's budget of P21.7 billion, the government could construct 51,913 classrooms, hire close to two million new teachers or buying 336 million chairs, or acquire 434 million new textbooks. Or the gov't could just allot the same amount to provide full four-year college scholarships to 1,085,000 students.

Knowledge Channel, a similar program, but not as ambitious is technical scope, costs only $1,500 per school or only about P1.8 billion covering the same number of schools as the CyberEd.

According to experts, a satellite system will also be too costly and impractical for such use, as there are other cheaper and practical ways to conduct inter-connectivity and media sharing.

Cyber-Redundancy

The project will not utilize previous Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and projects, and will rely on its own "backbone." It will not even be utilizing the facilities and technology of the planned ZTE NBN project and will have a separate, thus redundant infrastructure.

Even NEDA chief Neri, in a report, acknowledged this fact saying that the "overlap" will, according to his computations, reach P4 billion to P5 billion. This was also the initial stand of DOTC Undersecretary Formoso.

Impossible to implement
Installing the equipment (34 schools daily), producing daily live broadcast shows for 12 channels (something that even ABSCBN and GMA will have a hard time doing), training teachers and administrators and adjusting the curriculum design to fit the scheme, will be a hard task for an agency which cannot even ensure the correctness of its textbooks and proper running of school toilets.

Most believe that this is an overly ambitious fantasy not fit for an agency which, track record have shown, is not even capable of addressing the most basic problems.

Not a solution to basic education woes
TV shows and tech babble will not solve the basic low-tech problems of our educational system: low budget, classroom shortages, lack of books and facilities, lack of teachers, mismanagement and flawed orientation.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Bike route last Sunday

Took my bike out for a ride yesterday afternoon, no particular destination in mind. I didn't really intend to go very far, but you know how it is: "Oh, I'm already here, I'll just see what's that further up ahead."

I ended up covering the Western half of Davao City.

I started in Obrero, went through the restaurant row at F. Torres. I turned north at the end, but hit a dead end. So south I went, until I hit the Bankerohan Public Market.

Oh, the bridge is just up ahead. Not very far. Okay. I'll go as far as Matina Town Square.

Oh, you know, NCCC Mall is just up ahead. Not terribly far. Okay. I'll bike over there.

Hmmm...they said if I turned right here in Ma-a Road I'll eventually hit Buhangin. Right-o!

Buhangin yet? Nope. A little further.

Buhangin yet? Nope. A little further.

Buhangin yet? Nope. Dang!

Eventually, I hit the Diversion Road. Now that I think about it, it was a scary ride because of all the speeding trucks and jeepneys. Ride, ride, ride.

Finally, I hit Buhangin, after a 15 km. stretch on the Diversion Road.

Buhangin, finally! Just a few kilometers till home. Down Dacudao Road, and finally, Obrero.

Hooray!

Total distance covered: 30km. Total time: 90 minutes, thereabouts.


Pamalandong bahin sa pagka-Pilipino

Yes, this is related to the Filipino spec fic discussion. And no, it will not be translated into any other language, at least not by me.

Ni-ining pila ka mga adlaw, nakipaglantugi ko bahin sa isa ka hilusgatan nga sa unang pagtan-aw kay walay hinungdan. Ang amo-ang paksa: unsa man daw ang mahimong tawagon ug 'Filipino science fiction?' Mabasa ninyo dinhi, dinhi, ug dinhi ang akong mga panahum.

Ang huna-huna sa uban, basta Pilipino ang nagsulat, mahimo na tong tawagon ug 'Filipino science fiction.'

Pero sa pag-usab-usab nako ug pamalandong ani, nagkadako akong kalagot ni-aning mga isip. Kay ngano man? Mabaw ra kaayo!

Wala untay sapayan kung kita-kita lang dinhi sa atong nasud ang ga-sulat. Ang naka-apan ani, lagyo na ang pagpanaw sa Pilipino ug katag na ta kaayo. Ang uban dinha, maski na dinhi gumikan sa Pilipinas ang ginikanan, didto na sa laing nasud nagdako. Lain na ang panghuna-huna. Layo na ka-ayo ang kamatutuon.

Kung ilahang pagka-Pilipino ang ilang paksa, dili ko molalis nga tinuod Pilipinong sugilanon kini. Pero kung bahin ug laing tawo, laing lugar, ug laing tinuhoan? Mahimo ba nato ning tawagon ug Pilipino kay hitungod lang nga gikan sa Pilipinas ang lolo ug lola nila?

Dinhi mogawas ang pagka-itoy-itoy natong mga Pilipino. Kay nailhan man kunuhay sa mga langyaw, world class na kunuhay? Ay! Hawod giyod!

Tana-awa kining mga pananglitan:

Si Jasmine Trias, nga gipanganak ug nagdako sa Hawaii, Pilipino kay maayo mo-kanta. Mabuhay! (Di ba kasabot nga American Idol gani siya ni-sikat?)

Si Batista. Pilipino man daw, kay iyang Mama gikan sa ato-a. Mabuhay! (Liwat siguro sa kabaw.)

Si Lou Diamond Philips ug si Rob Schneider. Pilipino pud daw kay na-a silay lolo ug lola nga Pilipino. Mabuhay! (Liwat sa...ambot lang.)

Pero asa man sila gika-ilhi? Unsa man ang gihimo nilang Pilipino nga dapat ilhan nato?

Ang nakama-ot nato, kusug ra kaayo ta mangankon sa mga kalampusan sa uban. Maski na kumingking lang ang pagka-Pilipino sa lain, maski na wala man lang na sila nakatungtong dinhi sa yutang Pilipino, basta ning-dato, basta ning-daog, basta gwapa, basta ma-ayo mo-kanta og ma-ayo mosayaw, basta gi-ila sa laing nasud...Pilipino sila! Ato-a na sila! Hawod giyod ang Pilipino! Mabuhay! Mabuhay!

Sa pagdali-dali nato ug pangankon, wala man lang man ta naghuna-huna nga gina-ilad na diay ta? Ang uban, mo-ingon "Fil-Am." Ang uban, mo-ingon "Half-German, half-Filipina." Half-Italian...half-Australian...half-Canadian...maayo ra ba kung maputol-putol nimo ang tawo.

Pero ana-a, kay na-a man daw bahin sa ilaha nga Pilipino, simhot dayon ta sa ilang utot, ug mo-ingon pa -- "Ay kahumot!"

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Filipino Science Fiction, Part 3

Because of sheer volume of output, science fiction is generally considered to be an American genre. But good science fiction transcends national boundaries. It's universal.

Look at Stanislaw Lem, author of the excellent Solaris. Lem is Polish and wrote the story in Polish, but in no way do we consider Solaris to be a simply Polish science fiction novel. We are so drawn into the suspense of the story that nationality becomes an insignificant distinction. Solaris is a haunting psychological thriller that explores universal human condition, as well as a fantastic addition to scifi canon.

So what then? Should we stop writing Filipino science fiction in favor of scifi of the more universal sort? Certainly Filipinos should aspire to write good science fiction, but I don't know if it's possible for Filipinos to altogether stop writing Filipino science fiction. In a sense, any science fiction that a Filipino writes still is Filipino science fiction.

There's an old admonishment: "write what you know." That's just as true in science fiction as it is in any other genres. Never mind that we're writing about the human race in the year 40,000 or about an alien virus. Being Filipinos, any work we produce will be infected with our Filipino sensibilities. The closer to our true sensibilities, the better the work. The best way to express a universal human truth is to express the truth that is closest to us.

Returning to Solaris, astute readers will notice a subtly different flavor to the narrative and the characterization as compared with American scifi stories. There's a brooding quality to the entire novel. The primary focus, you see, is not in the exploration of the planet but in the protagonist's relationship with his back-from-the-dead wife. This is something that we might attribute to the Polish-ness of the author.

If a universal truth by way of a Filipino truth is the aim, then some science fiction stories must necessarily be written in Filipino, that is, in Tagalog, Bisaya, Iloko, etc. We may write perfectly grammatical and impeccably idiomatic English, but some emotions and sensibilities can only be authentically expressed in our own language.

Solaris, again: the novel was written in Polish and Lem has gone on record to say that he was never truly happy with any English translation of this work. This hasn't stopped Solaris from being a moving tale for English readers, but one wonders how much more insight and depth we might gain if one reads it in the original.

In the end, we go back full circle. At the heart of the argument: a Filipino science fiction story is a science fiction story that expresses some fundamental truth about Filipinos. By varying degrees, the other accidents follow in due course.

How can you express the truth about Filipinos if you are not Filipino yourself?

How can you express a deep truth about Filipinos authentically if you do not do it in the language of thought of the Filipino?

How can you draw out the truth about Filipinos in fiction if not with the use of Filipino characters?

Filipino Science Fiction, Part 2

Let's tackle the technological angle, a class of plot device that, as said earlier, is deemed difficult to write for. Is it really? Consider this thought experiment: imagine yourself to be an uncannily prescient Filipino scifi writer in 1977.

You might write about a future where everyone who wanted to could start their own interactive TV channel. Let's say that everyone is happily minding their own business. And then an insensitive journalist says something bad about Filipinos. How do the Filipinos react? They flood their personal TV channels with insults and death threats to the point where the journalist has to kill herself. The story wouldn't be so much about the personal TV channels as it would be about our own hypersensitivity to criticism, and how we react to it.

Or you might write about a future of self-contained megacities, floating up in the air, where one could get anything one heart desired: food, clothes, education, entertainment, etc. And yet, at the end of the day, the Filipinos who kept it running still had to go back down below to their dirty, crowded, and crime-widden warrens. The story wouldn't be so much about the floating megacities as it would be about the social imbalance and cultural heritage that forces this status quo.

Fast forward to 2007 and the parallels should be clear. Now: Do you really need to know the inner workings of the Internet and blogosphere to write the first story? Do you need to know about the economics of malls in order to write the second?

Hindsight is 20/20, one might say, and prognostication is easier in the reverse. So how about something more fanciful? How about that other staple of scifi, an alien invasion?

If you were writing with a Western bent, your protagonists will repel the aliens with guts and technological knowhow. But what if you were writing with a Filipino slant? The story might train the spotlight on the Filipino leaders scrambling to curry favor with the new alien overlords. It might examine the fawning hero worship of the aliens by the general population. It might end with the Filipinos coopting the invaders by mating with them. It's not very flattering, but the depiction rings far truer than if we have the Philippine Air Force sending their Broncos to bomb the mother ship.

If my take on Filipino science fiction seems a bit too much a reflection of Filipino society, it's because in any genre it is impossible to write decently about the Filipino-ness of a protagonist who is in all aspects divorced from Filipino society.

Take Johnny Rico, for example, the hero of Heinlein's Starship Troopers and arguably the first protagonist of Filipino heritage in any science fiction story. What made him particularly Filipino, aside from Heinlein's last-chapter revelation? That he was a Filipino was simply a tacked-on by-the-way. The way he was written, he could just as easily be replaced by a blond blue-eyed Aryan. In the movie version, he was.

That leads us to the corollary to criteria 4:

4a) Filipino science fiction is essentially social science fiction

This, I suspect, is true of any science fiction story -- or for that matter, any story -- in which one insists on imposing some national or cultural boundary.

To this, there are two other corollaries that follow from this:

4b) There cannot be only one Filipino character in a Filipino science fiction story.
4c) Satire forms an important component of Filipino science fiction.

The proof of these is left as an exercise to the reader.

Filipino Science Fiction, Part 1

What makes Filipino science fiction Filipino? Does such a classification even exist? These are questions that form part of an ongoing online discussion about the nature of Philippine speculative fiction. While the topic sounds frivolous, delving into the answers may reveal insights not only in the genre but about the nature of our Filipino-ness.

Three obvious criteria immediately spring to mind:

1) science fiction stories written by Filipinos;
2) science fiction stories written in Filipino; and
3) science fiction stories with Filipino protagonists

We could quickly and vigorously assent to these concretely qualifiable distinctions and be done with it. But such simplistic definitions are feel shallow and unsatisfactory: they stem from mere accidents rather than from the core essence.

Suppose a Filipino writes a compelling and scientifically feasible story about the society of our evolved human descendants, say, in the year 40,000. The setting is so far into the future that, if the story is well-written, there would be no traces of existing cultural idiosyncracies. There would be nothing uniquely Filipino about the story other than its authorship. If this is the only criteria to call this science fiction story Filipino, then we're done.

Authorship alone isn't as neutral as we think, however. The problem with the year 40,000 is that its too far off as to be safe and sterile. If we bring the time frame closer to the present, we'll find that nationalist sentiments, no matter if they're misplaced, eventually come to play. A Filipino who writes a well-researched and well-executed story about American scientists fighting an alien virus in New York City will likely be derided by his peers as derivative.

Suppose, then, that that Filipino writer rewrites his story in Filipino, Filipinizes all his protagonists, and relocates the alien virus outbreak to Makati. The translation does not add anything new to the story. His characters and setting will simply be tacked on. Worse, the story loses its authenticity to Filipino readers who, in general, think so little of their country's own scientific and technical capabilities.

This lack of confidence in Filipino scientific capability is perhaps the reason why what few Filipino science fiction stories there are often encroach into the territory of fantasy for their plot devices. Some Filipino writers justify this shortcut on account of our supposedly dismal science education, but this is a lame excuse for poor storytelling. Scifi stories that were part physics and chemistry lessons had their heyday in the juvenile literature by Asimov and Heinlein. These days, its sufficient for the science to be plausible only as far as to support the readers' suspension of disbelief.

Science fiction, after all, is not about the science but about the fiction. Good fiction comes from good plot, good narrative, and ultimately, good characterization. Good fiction has something to say about the human condition. It may use an alien virus as an allegory for our primal fear of death and disease; it may use our descendants in the year 40,000 from now as stand-ins for us to reexamine our notions of justice and mercy.

Good science fiction uses some jarring strangeness, explainable by science, to put the human condition into stark relief.

Applying that notion to the more particular Filipino science fiction, we arrive at the hopefully more satisfactory criteria:

4) science fiction stories that express some fundamental truth about Filipinos

But what fundamental truth, exactly? And more importantly, how do you marry its expression with some strange but plausible conjecture? This is what makes good Filipino science fiction particularly difficult to write -- it requires both an intimate understanding of one's culture, as well as wild and playful leap of the imagination. Then again, that's the case with all good science fiction.

Update: I've changed criteria 2 from
science fiction stories set in the Philippines;

to
science fiction stories written in Filipino;

because setting is far too close to character (criteria 3). I've also removed some lines to correct an inadvertent tautology pertaining to the central argument.

Friday, October 05, 2007

FHM sideline...er, porn

For Nikka Jo, mistress of headline porn

Quote embellishing a full-page photo of a teensy-weensy-bikini-clad model in the October issue of FHM Philippines:

I may be half-German but I am the conservative Filipina who has her values intact.
Following Inigo Montoya, I say: "My friend, I do not think that word means what you think it means."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Desperate Housewives flap

Uh-oh, looks like the Philippine Defense Squad dot Com is whipping itself up in a frenzy again, this time over a remark by Teri Hatcher's character in a Desperate Housewives episode.

Before the emails and blog posts really start flying, it's helpful to look at the issue in view of past patterns. Will a simple apology suffice, or do we want to take this to the logical and ultimate conclusion that we so often demand? Which is, of course...

...to fire Teri Hatcher

...to fire the writers of Desperate Housewives

...to take Desperate Housewives off the air entirely, including both local free TV and cable TV

...to erase all trace of Desperate Housewives from the Philippines, including bootleg DVDs

...to swear to never ever watch the comings and goings at Wisteria Lane or even discuss it ever again

O ano, mga DH wannabees? Kaya ninyo?

Clouds

As I stepped out of the house this morning, I looked up and saw this cloud pattern covering the entire sky. It brought a smile to my face. What a way to start the day!

Another fine example of God showing off.

Checking the classification over at the University of Illinois taxonomy, I would say that these clouds are altocumulus.

Altocumulus may appear as parallel bands (top photograph) or rounded masses (bottom photograph). Typically a portion of an altocumulus cloud is shaded, a characteristic which makes them distinguishable from the high-level cirrocumulus. Altocumulus clouds usually form by convection in an unstable layer aloft, which may result from the gradual lifting of air in advance of a cold front. The presence of altocumulus clouds on a warm and humid summer morning is commonly followed by thunderstorms later in the day.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Rewrites are painful

The good news: I finally sold a short story, and it should appear sometime in December.

The bad news: I have to trim it down from 5,222 words to 4,803 words.

Ouch.

I must say, of the writing process, the revision must be the most painful. It's necessary, yes, because the first pass is never perfect. But to get from the draft to the final version, you have to go through everything not once, not twice, not three times, but umpteen times.

It's no fun doing it again and again. But each time you go through it, you see a little bit that needs changing. And then another one. And then another.

If trimming was all that's involved, I could have just taken out the adverbs. I actually managed that in my second pass.

The problem is that every little word change also changes the story in subtle ways. As I excised seemingly innocuous phrases, the mental image of the scene would also change. So I have to go back for the next iteration.

All in all, it took two days for the rewrite, and it wasn't a major one at that. Tiring? Absolutely! But it also felt rewarding. As a learning experience, it did show me how much time to allocate for revisions.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Seven Days

If you knew you only had seven days left to live, how would you live it?

That was an essay question posed in an Ateneo de Davao philosophy class. It's the kind of topic designed to elicit all sorts of warm, fuzzy feelings -- of how you should be nice to other people, how you should take time to enjoy every moment. In short, it just begs to become a Hallmark Card moment.

And that type of response, of course, just feels artificial, dishonest, and stupid.

The honest response, of course, would be to feel absolutely terrified. Too terrified to think about actually doing anything, much less taking time out to be nice to everyone. Besides, it's simply bonkers if you think you could change everyone's opinion of you in seven days. You go as you as you came.

But assuming one could rationally plan it out, here's my own top seven:

7) Scuba diving with great white sharks in the Great Barrier Reef
6) BASE jumping from the Eiffel Tower
5) HALO jump over the Pacific
4) Mountain biking down the Grand Canyon...without brakes.
3) Ride a bathysphere down the Mariana Trench
2) Smoke pot and shoot up on crack.
1) Complete all the Nethack quests.

And if I should buy the farm before my seven days are up...Dammit! I demand a full refund!

Names

Land of Homemade Names is a New York Times article on how people in Zimbabwe choose baby names. Pleasant, short, and worthwhile read that will bring a smile to your face, moreso because it's a contrast to how we tackle the issue in the Philippines.

From the article:

In southern Africa, a child’s name is chosen to convey a specific meaning, and not, as is common in the West, the latest fashion.

“For instance, if it was windy, the name may be Wind. If it was rainy, it may be Rain,” said Matole Motshekga, the founder of the Kara Heritage Institute, based in Pretoria. “If there are problems in the family, they will use the appropriate name. So you cannot just name someone out of the blue. It has to relate to something.”


Which reminds me of an old joke:

Brave: Chief, me'um want to know where Indian names come from?
Chief: Indian name comes from first thing baby sees. Like your brother -- Sitting Bull. Or your sister -- Running Doe. Why do you ask, Shitty Little Black Dog?


Stacko nights at Spro

Saturday nights are game nights at Spro Coffee Shop, something that I can look forward to at the end of the week. Among the games that we play, nothing beats the cheering and in-your face jeering and nail-biting suspense of Uno Stacko. The picture above shows why.

Funny how it all started, actually. One Saturday night I brought my Guillotine deck, and that got some newfound friends from the MTC academy playing.

A couple of Saturdays later, I brought my Uno deck, which I played with some blogger pals and then with the MTC gang. That's been a favorite ever since.

Finally, I couldn't resist the lure of Uno Stacko. Though it seemed pricey, I bought it anyway. Brought it to the coffee shop, and we all took to it like ducks to water.

Saturday nights at Spro are usually very noisy now.