Wednesday, April 30, 2008

WriteRoom for Linux

Over at my Ubuntu Living blog, I wrote about a WriteRoom clone that runs on Linux.

WriteRoom, if you haven't heard about it yet, is a word processor for the Mac whose claim to fame is its simple no-frills full-screen text editing. It received a lot of mileage thanks to Lifehacker, a personal productivity website. WriteRoom was so successful that it spawned a Windows clone called DarkRoom.

The platform-independent implementation is called PyRoom. It will run on any system that has the Python interpreter.

PyRoom, WriteRoom, and DarkRoom essentially bring us back to the future. Full-screen text editing seems so sweet after the barrage of menus and icons that's present in most word processing packages nowadays. But that was the norm for word processors back in the early days of personal computing, the apex of which I'll claim was WordPerfect 5.1.

I think a customized operating system with nothing but PyRoom on it should be mandatory for writers on a deadline.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Ever since I started blogging, my approach to medical operations have never been quite the same. Just last year, I posted my MRI scans; last week, I had a broken tooth crowned. Here are the pics. Enjoy!

As an added bonus, I also got a cast of my upper palate. Coolness!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ubuntu 8.04

Ubuntu 8.04, also known as Hardy Heron, was released just last Friday. This is a significant milestone for the operating system as it marks another Long-Term Support version, the last one being Ubuntu 6.06 LTS. LTS means that the product will be supported for five years, a basic requirement for enterprise software.

New additions to the stock Ubuntu package include Kernel-based Virtual Machines for Intel and AMD processors with virtualization capabilities, built-in firewall, granular security policy, Firefox 3, Brasero (an improved CD-burning application), an improved Totem player (with YouTube and digital video broadcast support) and Inkscape.

To download the latest Ubuntu version quickly, visit the releases page.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Philippines and Thailand: population, agriculture, and economics

Philippine population control advocates gaze enviously at Thailand's 0.663% population growth rate (2007 est.) and sigh wistfully at our own 1.728%. (2007 est.) And for emphasis, they point to Thailand's strong economy and agricultural output. "See how Thailand has overtaken us because they have a modern family planning program? We're even importing rice from Thailand now!"

In the realm of logic fallacies, this is called post hoc ergo propter hoc. Just because Thailand's population growth rate is lower does not automatically translate into a stronger economy and greater agricultural output. Comparisons of economic and agricultural figures for both countries will show why things are they way they are.

Thailand has a total cropland of 18,000,000 hectares as opposed to our own 10,050,000 hectares (1999 estimates). Thailand has nearly double the agricultural land that we do. Thailand's average annual fertilizer use is 1,802,000 metric tons, or an intensity of 100 kg/ha; our own fertilizer use is only 742,000 metric tons, or a much lower 74 kg/ha. (Because of this current administration's fertilizer scam, we ended up paying much much more for nonexistent fertilizer anyway.)

Thailand, with a contiguous land area of over 514,000 sq km, is a much larger country than our own archipelagic 300,000 sq km. What's more, they dedicate 27.54% of their land to agriculture whereas we only use 19%. Around 49% of Thailand's labor force is dedicated to agriculture, versus 35% of our own.

Roughly 10.8% of Thailand's GDP comes from agriculture, the rest even split between industry (45.3%) and services (43.8%). Our own breakdown is: 35% agriculture, 15% industry, and 50% services. We are clearly lagging behind in industry although we have roughly the same percentage of the labor force dedicated to that sector (14% and 15%).

But what of Thailand's 0.663% population growth versus our own 1.728%? Thailand's birth rate is 13.57 births/1,000 population, a little less than half that of our own 24.07 births/1,000 population. However, there are more disturbing figures for Thailand: their infant mortality rate is 18.23 deaths/1,000 live births, very close to our own 21.45 deaths/1,000 live births. Moreover, their death rate is 7.17 deaths/1,000 population.

The annotation from the CIA World Fact Book from which these figures are taken has this to say:

Estimates for [Thailand] explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected.

So there's that: the secret behind Thailand's population management "success story."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Behind the numbers, barking up the wrong religion

At 2.04% per annum, the Philippine population growth rate is already at its lowest. This number has in fact been steadily decreasing in the decades since the 1960s. (1960-1970: 3.01% p.a.; 1970-1980:2.75% p.a.; 1980-1990:2.35% p.a.; 1990-2000:2.34% p.a.). And yet there are sectors which are patently unhappy with this figure, saying that this rate is still too high. Projecting into the future, we are warned that, at present growth rates, by such-and-such year we will have so many more Filipinos. The thing is that it's easy to perform geometric progressions on a desk calculator; what no one has the courage to do is to say that there should only be X number of Filipinos, and no more. And no one has that courage because no one has that wisdom or foresight, or that right, for that matter.

Rather than panic at such a high growth rate (ostensibly in comparison with other neighboring countries with invariably more progressive views on contraception), we should look deeper into the number. What truly does the 2.04% comprise?

A quick look into the tabular breakdown of the census data shows that in twelve of our seventeen regions, the population growth rates are much lower than the national average. The five regions that posted growth rates higher than the national average were National Capital Region (2.11%), Central Luzon (2.36%), CALABARZON (3.24%), SOCCSKARGEN (2.41%), and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (5.46%).

High population growth is to be expected in the NCR because this is the region of the highest economic growth (32.5% of the Philippine economy in 2006). Economic growth translates to job opportunities, which in turn accounts for migration; remember that migration is also a factor in population growth. Similarly, CALABARZON accounted for 12.3% of the national economy and Central Luzon for 8.4%. NCR, CALABARZON, and Central Luzon are the top three largest regional economies, and also the fastest growing.

The real anomaly in this picture is the ARMM. ARMM's economic performance is middling, and yet it posted a whopping 5.46% growth rate, more than double the national average. What accounts for this miraculous performance? Is it something as miraculous, let's say, as the over 100% voter population growth rate in some Lanao del Sur towns between the election years of 2004 and 2007? (All in all, Lanao del Sur posted a 44% voter population increase between 2004 and 2007.)

But let's say that the Census numbers are indeed correct: what does that say? The biggest population growth rate contributors in the Philippines are not the Catholics but the Muslims! And this is true for the rest of the world: Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide because of higher birth rates. In 2006, countries with a Muslim majority had an average population growth rate of 1.8% per year (when weighted by percentage Muslim and population size).

In the population growth debate, it's easy to target the Catholic Church because of its vocal stance against contraception. In actual practice, it is Muslim families who make more babies (and Allah bless them for it.)

Those who decry outdated morality as an obstacle to a "sensible" population control policy would do well to direct their protests to the other great medieval religion...if they dare.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mister Wolf, please guard my sheep....

In the wake of fears of a rice shortage, it was inevitable that attention should turn once again to population control / family planning. After all, the reasoning goes, with fewer mouths in the country to feed, there would be more to go around for everyone. And, naturally, the bitter blame goes to the Catholic church for spoiling government efforts in promoting modern contraceptive methods.

Let me repeat part of the last statement: "blame goes to the Catholic church for spoiling government efforts in promoting modern contraceptive methods."

Excuse me? All of a sudden, because we have now dragged the Catholic church into the fray, the government suddenly becomes trustworthy and competent enough to manage a multi-million dollar population control program?

Modern contraceptive methods, being, as they say, modern, require use of both chemical and physical means; which is to say, they must be invented, tested, and paid for. Modern contraceptives cost real money. No wonder, then, that a recent U.N. study shows that the country needs about $2-M for contraceptives yearly from 2007 to 2010 to provide them for free or at subsidized prices to the poor.

And, naturally, proponents want to hand that much money to the government, the same government that wants to spend P2.806-B on ghost fertilizer deliveries? The same government whose job it was to make sure there was adequate production of rice to begin with? Why the sudden bequest of trust? Is it because the $2-M per year ($8-M in all) is so trivial an amount compared to the $329-M the government wanted to spend on a broadband project that we can count on it to be honest?

We can argue all day long on the morality for and against modern contraception, but to propose that someone actually GIVE money to this this government to run the program? It's about as wise as asking wolves to guard sheep.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Weekend Warriors

Migs had this capital idea for a paintball match for this weekend. Was I in? You betcha!

There are two paintball galleries in Davao, both from the same owner. One is in Matina Town Square, and the other at Crocodile Park. Migs managed to score a discount for our games (ordinarily P5 per paintball) so that was an added treat. Along for the match were Andrew, Winston, and Jun.

The deadliest shot of the game proved to be Andrew, who took out Migs and Winston although he was the last man in our team. He also managed to bruise Migs with a shot to an exposed area.

As for me? I shot blindly till my bullets ran out.

Even more puppy pics

The puppies are coming along well. They're beginning to outgrow their Japanese spitz stepsisters (who are also the essence of cuteness, as you can see.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

I wrote about it before and last night I finally got to see The Forbidden Kingdom. A rather serendipitous thing, too: a friend called up from out of the blue and asked if I wanted two tickets to the Davao premier. Did I? Did I? Is the Pope Catholic?

All in all, Forbidden Kingdom was a fun and lighthearted romp, a welcome change from the dead serious fantasy epics that Hollywood insists on churning out these days. There's the requisite wuxia action and the tried-and-true brand of Jackie Chan humor. But there's something else, too.

Kingdom reminded me of The Neverending Story, what with its teen-lost-in-fantasy-world storyline. Happily, said teen was not as annoying as I thought he would be; in fact, I found the role pretty cool.

I also loved its reverential homage to the old kung fu films that I enjoyed so much when I was younger. No more of those, unfortunately.

Go watch!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Crime and Punishment

The Philippine Star today carries the headline: "$2-M Extortion Raps vs Nani to be pursued." (No link provided as the Philippine Star is notorious for dropping their pages quickly.)

Ho-hum, color me unimpressed. We all know how this will end up: as with Erap and the Magdalo 9, in conviction...and pardon. I'll bet Hernando Perez won't spend more than a week before Arroyo exercises another executive privilege.

Relevant portions of the article:

The case was the first major corruption scandal under the Arroyo administration, and the first involving a Cabinet secretary.

Giving weight to the money trail, the Ombudsman denied for lack of merit attempts by Perez to have the charges dismissed after Jimenez withdrew his complaint.

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez also ordered that Perez be charged with falsification of public documents for his non-disclosure in his 2001 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) of his and his wife’s $1.7-million bank deposits.

Charged with Perez before the Sandiganbayan for extortion and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act or Republic Act 3019 are his wife Rosario, brother-in-law Ramon Arceo and business associate Ernest Escaler.

“After a perspicacious review of the records, the undersigned found nothing that would indicate that there is reason to disturb the earlier findings of the special panel,” Gutierrez said.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Farewell, brother

I will see him one last time
On that cold November morning
When the proud flags fly low
When the trumpets sing slow

Photos from Democratic Underground, via Stumbleupon.

Sowing and Reaping

He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
--Luke 12:17-21

Hidden in the mostly unsensational business pages of last Monday's Philippine Daily Inquirer was former NEDA chief Cielito Habito's insightful commentary on the rice crisis. Dr. Habito makes three important points: 1) the National Food Authority is doing an ineffective job and may actually be distorting market prices; 2) outrageous bukol between NFA's purchase price from the exporter countries' published prices; and 3) rice cartels who loan money to farmers and are able to dictate their prices at harvest time.

What this all means is: 1) our taxes are squandered by the NFA's misguided price stabilization policies; 2) someone is making money from rice importation at our expense; and 3) while we may already have sufficient rice production, prices are being controlled by factors outside operating market forces.

Dr. Habito closes his commentary thus:

So is there in fact a rice shortage? If you believe government data showing rice production growth of 10.1 percent in the fourth quarter and 6 percent for the full-year 2007, then we ought to be swimming in surplus. A retired government statistician sent me calculations based on the government's rice Supply and Use Accounts (SUA), showing that we are in fact self-sufficient in rice even now.

Why, then, are we frantically looking for rice to import? Is it because certain people have millions of reasons for doing so? Is the President being misled into believing that huge rice importations are critical to her political survival? Or worse, is she in on the profitable secret?

Keep all this in mind as the Arroyo administration plays up our "rice crisis" to maximum political gain. Once again, Arroyo's strategists are resurrecting their favorite catchphrase, "emergency powers" to cope with the rice crisis. Even if the emergency powers are not put into effect, they might as well be as the state brings to bear the full weight of the hammer of the law on small fry traders -- all for pogi points and without addressing the real issues.

Remember, too, the hand behind all of this, that the same hand that claims to be heroically staving off crisis is the very same one that squandered P728-million pesos to pay for overpriced fertilizers and ghost deliveries to farmers. Remember for what purpose the diverted funds were used for.

From Committee Report 54 of the 13the Congress (transcribed by Tatlong Tala) :

The Senate Committees on Agriculture and Food, and Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (Blue Ribbon) have concluded that agricultural funds intended for farmers were diverted by Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante for the 2004 electoral campaign of President Gloria Arroyo.

Testimonies and corroborative statements of DA officials, 13 farmer groups (see attached list), Commission on Audit officials, Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin, and alleged "runners" of Bolante concluded that farmers did not get a single "farm input or implement" in 2004. At least two LGU officials testified that their districts did not receive any fertlizer in spite of records showing that deliveries had been made. Several Congressmen also denied having made requests for fertilizer assistance or receiving fertilizers.

The fertilizer fund appropriation was implemented only in 2004, incidentally during the election season. Funds were released from February to May 2004 or during harvest months when fertilizers are of no use because planting time starts in November. The DA's Rice Program (known as GMA or Ginintuang Masaganang Ani) director Frisco Malabanan testified that fertilizer requirements for 2003 totaled only P28.613 million for the entire Philippines - compared to the P2.806 billion released in 2004.

Remember all this in the reaping.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Update to a previous post.

After four weeks, I'm happy to say that the two surviving puppies are doing well. Their eyes are already open, and they're scurrying about in their makeshift nursery.

Ah, life.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Jeepney Feet

Shrine of peripatetic worship
That one cannot enter unbowed
In forced humility, we contemplate the feet
of silent fellow pilgrim strangers
and they, too, gaze at ours

(Taken on a jeepney ride to Toril, April 4, 2008)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Job fair at Gaisano

A swarm of people yesterday at Gaisano Mall of Davao, owing to the job fair. Not a bad idea holding it at the mall: it's accessible and it has the space, and the mall makes a killing from the additional sales arising from increased foot traffic.

It also becomes a one-stop location: all the relevant government agencies are represented. Now, if only it didn't have such a big banner announcing that the fair was brought to you by Speaker Prospero Nograles. Sigh. Can't escape patronage.

On the other hand, makes me worry about the possibility of stampede.

Forgot to take a photo of the horrendous messianic Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo poster. Will do that later.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Buffets and Rice Crises

As a break from the day-to-day routine, the family decided to dine at Hanoi Vietnamese Restaurant last night. The eighth of the month is buffet night, and being one of the better food spots in Davao, it attracted quite a sizeable clientele. At P395 per person, it's a little pricey but well worth it considering the variety and quality of the offerings: barbecued pork, mixed vegetables, spare ribs, deep fried fish, spring rolls, and indeed, the reason why many people flock to Hanoi at this time of the month, crabs.

Now, it was with some measure of guilt and confusion that I approached the buffet table. Wasn't all this display and consumption in bad taste, considering that there's supposed to be a rice crisis in the country? That the restaurant was filled to capacity with ordinary Davao folk assuaged the guilt somewhat; quite another matter to be feasting in the midst of famine, and for the moment, at least, there's no sign of the latter. Thankfully.

Unfortunately, that does nothing for my confusion: Is there or isn't there a rice crisis?

The phrase has been bandied around for the past two weeks, and if the television and news reports are to be believed, it is one of catastrophic proportions. On a daily basis, the morning news interviews the man-on-the-street who never fails to bewail the steadily rising price of the Filipino staple, rice. Even the Inquirer web site now has a special section dedicated to The Rice Problem.

The government says that there is no rice crisis but the way it's overreacting makes one think that there is one. Thus far, government has threatened to take over food warehouses, jail hoarders for life, and appointed the Catholic church to manage distribution centers. The "rice crisis" comes at a most convenient time when the administration can demonstrate its proactiveness and divert attention from its unresolved (and perhaps unresolvable) misdeeds.

Maybe we're not using the correct terminology. A crisis is a point of traumatic decision, a time of testing, an emergency. While we are going through a difficult period, we are not quite at that point yet. A news report on Haiti's own food crisis should provide some perspective, from the International Herald Tribune:

U.N. peacekeepers used rubber bullets and tear gas to chase away hungry Haitians who stormed the presidential palace Tuesday demanding the resignation of President Rene Preval. The riots over soaring food prices turned into looting as terrified residents huddled inside.

After dark, the looting spread. People broke into stores and factories on a road to the airport, witnesses said, amid blackouts reported from Port-au-Prince's center up through its densely populated hills. Frightened residents barricaded themselves behind locked doors.

Now that is a crisis. In comparison, we're just bellyaching.

Which is not to say that there isn't a problem. There is. If rice prices continue to go up unchecked, devolution to a Haitian scenario is a possibility. So why are food prices going up? In the main, it's another effect of turbulence in the global economy. But there are other factors as well: our transport is costly and inefficient, trader speculation, theft, graft and corruption, conversion of farmland into commercial and residential areas, and preference for biofuel instead of edible crops.

The last two factors deserve more consideration. Lest we forget, food is not a commodity that can be stored indefinitely like gold or oil; while you can stock up on food, the ultimate determinant to its supply is the means of production. If you reduce those, you also reduce your future food supply. However, over time, food, a basic requirement for human survival, has become increasingly dissociated and insulated, and ultimately overshadowed, by high-finance economics, one that values commerce and industry over agriculture.

So there they are, the morbid thoughts that occupy a corner of my mind while waiting at the buffet line. Should I feel guilty? Perhaps a little. It tempers the appetite a bit that others should go hungry while I have my fill. But then again: the ultimate sin against food is waste, and food is not just for survival but also for celebration. In the midst of all this worry and sadness, it's only right to grasp for some happiness now and then.

I'll eat while I can.

HP's EeePC killer

Discovered via Slashdot: HP 2133 'Eee killer' mini laptop is official.

The article calls it a "race to the bottom" but I like to think that it's technology coming up with the right sizes for everyone. For day-to-day mobile use, ordinary users don't really need multicore CPUs, gigabytes of RAM, Blue-Ray, and gazillions of disk space. There's battery life and weight

This is the sort of thing that Mark Shuttleworth predicted a couple of years ago: instead of maintaining a high price point and developing hardware to match that following Moore's Law, we can now maintain a hardware technology point with decreasing costs. And that still follows Moore's Law.

Back to the HP2133, early specs indicate that this will have a sleek exterior (pretty), bigger keyboard (good) Via C7-M 1.2GHz CPU (not good), Windows Vista Business edition (not good) or Novell SuSE Linux (slightly good), 2GB of RAM (very good), 120GB hard drive (very good), 56K modem (yawn), 802.11b/g WiFi (ho-hum), Bluetooth adaptor (slightly good), and up to four hours of battery life (very good).

Weight, though, is 1.27kg and target price is GBP300 (or P21,000 to P25,000 once it hits Philippine shores). That's not too good.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Monday, April 07, 2008

Charlton Heston

The great Charlton Heston passed away over the weekend. He will be missed.

If there's any genre that I will forever remember Charlton Heston for, it's in fantasy and science fiction. "Planet of the Apes", "Soylent Green", "Omega Man"... but to these I would also add "Ten Commandments" and "Ben-Hur", surely ranking among the best of fantasy films despite their origins.

I cried during the leper colony scene of "Ben-Hur". No actor can get me to do that with just a gesture (Judah Ben-Hur clinging against the rock, hiding from his mother and sister.) Awesome!

His films will always be with us.

Charlton Heston died of complications from Alzheimers. He was 84.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Blogger Outing: Campo Agua

It was Jojie Alcantara's idea to call for a bloggers' outing, owing largely to the fact that she had never joined us in any of the food trips or food tours. In the year since Mindanao Bloggers first came into being, Jojie has been a very helpful presence, going so far as to sponsor some of our activities; but schedules never really matched. So Jojie organized two outings: one to Campo Agua, and the other to Crocodile Park. My schedule could only afford Campo Agua, so it was to that I went.

Campo Agua is in Sirawan, a small area a little off the Toril town proper. Campo Agua is a converted fish pond that has the aspirations of a resort, but might be described for now as a work-in-progress. It's best known for two things: its fishing motif and its wading pool / play area for kids.

Campo Agua also goes by the name of Sure Catch. I'm not sure but I think I'd actually been to this place three years before. Its main attraction is fishing: you fish for your meal in the fishpond. They stock the pond with tilapia and hito so technically it's a "sure catch." They weigh your catch and that's how much you pay for (and if the fish aren't biting, you can still get them the usual way -- through the waiter.)

No fishing for us today, though. Our gracious host Kenneth Valderrama already had a meal prepared for us. The meal consisted of the aofrementioned tilapia and hito, plus some sisig. The fish was delicious!

Be that as it may, getting to Campo Agua was a little adventure for me, as well. Since I didn't have use of the car, I took a Toril-bound jeepney from Roxas (across Ateneo de Davao) and got off at the town proper. From there, I hired a tricycle to take me to Campo Agua. Jeepney fair was P20, and the tricycle was P15 (and I added P5 as tip as I was the only passenger). It was a good chance to see the outskirts of Davao. The trip was a good hour, and I still managed to arrive before the rest of the party.

The gang who went:
  • Blogie

  • Migs

  • Andrew

  • Winston

  • Dominique

  • Chikai

  • Maria

  • Lovely

  • Davao FAT 2008: Bryan's Grill and Cafe

    This post is much-delayed, the event itself having taken place on March 16. I am only now able to commit it to the blog.
    Our very last stop for the Davao Food Appreciation Tour 2008 was Bryan's Grill and Cafe. Now, Bryan's is a bit of an anomaly in the Davao food scene: it's not exactly a restaurant, and it doesn't sit with other establishments in our restaurant rows in F. Torres or Damosa Gateway. Instead, it shares space with a mansion-turned-bed-and-breakfast in the quiet subdivision of Palm Village in the mainly residential Bo. Obrero (very close to where I live, incidentally.)

    It's an anomaly because the food that Bryan's serves ranks up there with the best of local fine dining.

    Proprietor Bryan Bajado is a graduate of the Center for the Culinary Arts and his love for food shows. For this last stop of the FAT 2008, Bryan prepared samplers of all his best dishes.
    For appetizers, we started out with grilled pepper-crusted sashimi and sausage.

    For salad, we had a combination of shrimp cocktail and Caesar's salad.

    For the main course, we each had a sampler plate of Angus beef and mashed potatos, chicken in pasta, and salmon.

    And for dessert: blueberry cheesecake and strawberry cheesecake.

    Arturo's Bed and Breakfast, where Bryan's is nestled, is a family enterprise. It's an elegant house that's been converted into a small hotel. I do mean small: they only have three rooms to let. Dining took place beside the swimming pool of the house; that may not be the usual idea of fine dining, but it actually feels cool and comfortable, like having a private party at a rich aunt's place.
    In line with the fine dining theme, Bryan's food is a little pricey but is very much worth it.


    Major achievement for the week: putting together a radio ad for Notespell Music and Arts Center.

    In the scheme of things, it's not that big of a deal, except perhaps for its novelty. This is, after all, the very first time that I'm doing this so there's a great deal of tension and stress around it.

    Being a cheapskate, I used one of our students for the voice talent and did the mixing myself using Audacity on Ubuntu. The technical aspect of the story is up on Ubuntu Living while the production aspect is up at the Notespell web site.

    I've also had to spend a lot of time revamping the Notespell web site to time it with the radio ads. Slight change in the URL to, cleanup of some of the articles, and more focus on the services offered.

    The radio ad is currently playing on MIX105.9 at various times of the day, seven days a week, throughout April. Not such a bad deal, actually: P5,000 for the entire package. And I saved P3,000 by doing all the production work myself.

    Thursday, April 03, 2008

    Overseas murder

    It happens with such regularity that I'm beginning to wonder if we're ever going to break this disturbing pattern. Efforts to save Vecina from death will continue, so says this article from GMA News. It fits right up there with so many others. Is anyone keeping track of how many and why? Isn't anyone getting tired?

    This is the pattern:
    • Filipino goes to work in another country;
    • worker kills a citizen of that country or a fellow Filipino;
    • worker is arrested by local authorities;
    • Overseas Worker Welfare Administration provides legal assistance (optional);
    • worker is tried, convicted, and sentenced;
    • furor and tears in the Philippines because of lack of government oversight;
    • president or vice-president visits country to ask for clemency (optional); or
    • where available, blood money is paid (optional);
    • depending on outcome, worker is repatriated or executed;
    • rinse (from memory), and repeat

    By the way, it is never the worker's fault as the worker was either: raped, abused, or swindled.

    Or, in this particular case, insulted.

    In the present case, the maid killed the six-year old son of her employers and slashed and stabbed the elder brother and sister. Surely in our own country that counts as a heinous crime for which the victim's family would be screaming for blood. Why one standard abroad and another standard in our own country? But then the article helpfully adds: "Earlier reports indicated she reacted violently to insults hurled at her by her employer's family."

    Perhaps before we even send workers abroad, we need to ensure their emotional and psychological stability? Perhaps our workers are not prepared for the culture shock that meets them when they go abroad? They think they've escaped poverty here in the Philippines, only to find themselves in an alien land where their dignity is worth even less.

    But of course, such a proposal would never fly. After all, it's yet another added burden for the New Hero. Far better to fly our government officials back and forth to beg for mercy and to wring our hands and think of ourselves as victims.

    Wednesday, April 02, 2008

    Blogging can ruin your life!

    Yes, blogs can ruin your life, so says the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The article itself isn't nearly as sensational as its title makes it out to be. But this sort of feature deserves some comment because of its context.

    First of all, anyone on the Internet these past couple of months will likely already know what triggered this coverage. Such a reaction only bespeaks of the immaturity of traditional Philippine media. Rather than addressing the core issue, newspapers and broadcast stations have been attacking the medium instead. All this points to how much of a threat mainstream journalists see blogs to be.

    Yet another example: last Saturday, I caught the replay of ANC's debate competition, Square Off. This was Ateneo de Manila vs. San Beda. The issue: this house believes that blogging is harmful. San Beda spoke for the government side, and Ateneo spoke for the opposition.

    The core of Ateneo's argument was that blogging is a discursive medium: blogs permit interaction between the author and the readers. Furthermore, blogging is a medium for free speech and should be protected. San Beda's argument, on the other hand, revolved around the lack of accountability of blogs. Core arguments aside, Ateneo did present their case better and so, I am glad, came out the winner.

    Being a blogger, my biases should be obvious. But I've also tried to see how I might have pushed the government case. The only arguments that I could come up with are: 1) accountability; and 2) competence.

    Accountability because, under cloak of anonymity, bloggers can dispense their vitriol and lies without any restraint; and competence because bloggers are essentially untrained journalists, and one does not hand over a potent weapon like media to untrained hands.

    I know: both are pretty weak arguments; and moreso because the same criteria could also be applied to traditional media.

    Is traditional Philippine media any more accountable than bloggers? Philippine media is essentially governed by self-policing bodies. If they are accountable at all, it is to their advertisers, which would actually make them worse because they are beholden to commercial interests.

    Is traditional Philippine media any more competent than bloggers? They may be, because ideally they undergo training in ethics, style, and coverage; but a quick glance through the lifestyle section of the two top dailies quickly demolishes this argument. What's the selection process for the privilege of writing in a national daily again?

    What do most bloggers write about anyway? On the whole, it's the most trivial of things (by mainstream standards), matters that would otherwise escape notice. Any malice that may be ascribed to bloggers certainly represents the fringe, the exception rather than the rule; and in any case, bloggers have a refreshing earnestness absent in mainstream media.

    Perhaps the root of the real harm that bloggers cause, the reason why blogging could be considered harmful, is naivete. Then again, better be idealistic than jaded; for it is idealism that breaks down walls and crosses oceans.

    Long live free speech.

    Tuesday, April 01, 2008

    The "2000-year old" rice terraces

    Just how old are the Banaue Rice Terraces? The almost universally accepted estimate is "2,000 years old," a factoid repeated in web sites, travel brochures, and even books and scholarly journals. It is a fact repeated blindly without question or doubt, though also without any scientific or historical basis.

    The 2,000-year old claim is, I believe, preposterous, and for two reasons: first, there is no other corroborating evidence of Ifugao culture extending to that period of time; it is as if the whole of Ifugao culture was focused on the Rice Terraces and nothing more.

    Second, because I have some idea of how that claim may have started. The aforementioned age is a hoax.

    So how old are the Rice Terraces? The Ifugao government web site points us to more scholarly work towards determining their real age:

    Keesing says that the rice terraces started at the end of the 16th century or the beginning of the 17th century when the early Ifugaos migrated from the Magat valley. Fr. Lambrecht has theorized that the rice terrace originated in the 17th century after the immigration of the Ifugaos driven by the Spaniards from the Magat valley (1591-1594). Harold Conklin (Atlas of Ifugao - 1980) relates the Ifugao pattern of land use in the natural physical environment.

    Quoting further from Conklin:

    "The richer Ifugao valley could not possibly have reached the contemporary configuration in less than four or five centuries. A preliminary series of radiocarbon dates from excavated settlements and pond fields sites tends to confirm this view; early dates for Banghallan in central Bunne (Burnay) range from the 7th to the 11th century and terrace sites in the higher-elevation districts of Amganad and Lugu date from the 16th century. In this last district, for example, remains of a post used in original-embankment formation accidentally exposed by a landslide in 1961 have been recently been given a carbon-14 date of AD 1555 = 60 years by the university of Georgia Center for Apllied Isotope Studies (UGa-2512)"

    The Ifugao rice terraces are indeed old, around 400 years, but not 2,000 years old.

    So where did the 2,000-year old estimate come from? A couple of years ago, I made the acquaintance of a famous Manila photographer. This photographer was a pioneer in promoting Ifugao culture in the 1970s; he and his wife made several visits to Banaue before it became a popular destination. Over time, he became a well-known authority in the area.

    Story has it that, when someone asked him how old the rice terraces were, he pulled an impressive sounding figure from the air: 2,000 years. And before long, such a "fact" was reprinted in local brochures and picked up by scholars everywhere.

    There's no malice on the part of the photographer -- though he's a bit of a character -- the real stumper is why no one ever really questions the 2,000 year figure. And the answer sounds impressive.

    But it's also untrue.

    Happy April Fools!