Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Da Highlight of SONA 2008


"Texting is a way of life. I asked the telecoms to cut the cost of messages between networks. They responded. It is now down to 50 centavos."
--Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, SONA 2008


Of the 102 times that Mrs. Arroyo's State of the Nation Address received last Monday, that announcement easily elicited the loudest and longest applause. It's only halfway to the proposed free texting that our lawmakers were advocating just two months ago, but hey, it's better than nothing, right?

Well, not so fast.

If you were among those taken in by the glorious announcement, I would ask you to reconsider before you double the volume of your text output: the 50-centavo-per-text rate is actually only a promo.

As my friend, Migs Hipolito, who first uncovered this, points out: it's only available to prepaid subscribers, you need to register, and you need to maintain a P21.00 balance before registering. After registering, P20 will be deducted from your balance, and you will be given 40 SMS credits, which will expire in 24 hours.

For Globe and Smart, this promo lasts until October 22, 2008, unless extended. Only Sun Cellular has made this a permanent offer.

I don't know which is more pathetic, really: that this announcement received the most applause, or that the annual report on the state of the nation's health became the platform for announcement of a telco's promo and the highest official of the land a corporate endorser.

Still, better than nothing, right?

Picture made with The GIMP.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

The American Scholar has an introspective essay on The Disadvantages of an Elite Education.

Elite schools -- should we count among these the elite in the Philippines? -- encourage a homogeneity of thought that is stratified along a certain class line. So much so that it's harder for its students to relate to those outside of that circle.

Recounting his experience with a plumber, the author begins:

Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League dees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.


Furthermore:

It’s not surprising that it took me so long to discover the extent of my miseducation, because the last thing an elite education will teach you is its own inadequacy. As two dozen years at Yale and Columbia have shown me, elite colleges relentlessly encourage their students to flatter themselves for being there, and for what being there can do for them. The advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable. You learn to think, at least in certain ways, and you make the contacts needed to launch yourself into a life rich in all of society’s most cherished rewards. To consider that while some opportunities are being created, others are being cancelled and that while some abilities are being developed, others are being crippled is, within this context, not only outrageous, but inconceivable.


I always felt a little underprivileged coming from the University of San Carlos (and I might add, "Talamban Campus"). No mollycoddling there. But my first few years on the job showed me that I really didn't miss all that much. Hard knocks took care of the rest.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Excerpt: Ang Pagbasol

Attempting my first story in Bisaya:

Sa mga dagkong kaliwatan, adunay isa o duha ka kadugo nga salikwaut. Ilaha Nona, ang balikakaw kadto si Tia Mila. Mag-seisenta na, tarong ug barog, usa ka maestra didto sa States, maayuhon sa iyang pipilang kaila; pero nagtiguwang dalaga, mahilumon sa mga pagtapoktapok sa mga pariente, usahay mawala sa iyang kaugalingong huna-huna. Ug di-a pa: madayganon sa iyahang istyurya, wala'y kabalaka kung kinsa'y maligsan sa iyahang mainit nga gipangsulti, ma-ong bantog ang kaisog ug ginakuyawan sa tanan.

Busa, dili kaayo kinaham si Tia Mila iyang mga kapamilya. Kung magbakasyon gikan sa States, antuson na lang sa iyang mga pag-umangkon dala sa respeto (ug, maski wala'y mo-angkon, dala apil sa pagkamahinatagon ni-ini). Karong dagko na ug nagsi-iyahay na ang mga igso-on ug ig-agaw, balhin-balhin sa pakigpuyo si Tia Mila kada bisita.

Natungnan nga ilaha Nona gapuyo si Tia Mila, ug gihangup niya kini karon sa iyang sala. Kape ug biskwit, dala ang mga paghinumdom sa mga mi-agi sa ilang kabanayan: ma-o kadto ang alatimanon katong hapuna. Ga-lugnot ang huna-huna ni Nona ug pangita ug hilisgutan sa ilang kabildo, maayo gani ug maayo ang buot sa tigulang.

Nasumpo ang ilang istorya ni-atong nakadungog sila ug dakong langas didto sa kusina. Nasabwag ang mga baso, maayo na lang gani nga plastik lamang kini, ug nag-untol-untol sa salog samtang gabuylog.

"Hoy, Teddy! Na-unsa man na diha?" Wala kapuggong si Nona ug siyagit. Gisiplat niya si Tia Mila, apan murag wala ray nahitabo nga gadimdim gikan sa iyang tasa.

"Wala, Ma!" tubag sa iyang kinamagulangan. "Si Bingo man gud, dangag kaayo!"

"Dili uy, ikaw baya to," sumbong sa iyang ikatulo.

"Na! Ayaw mo pag-away dinha, kay gisamok ninyo si Lola Mila ninyo!"

"Sorry gud, uy!" ulahing tubag ni Teddy. Nadunggan nilang gipangpunit sa mga bata ang nangatagak nga mga baso.

Nagpanghupaw si Nona: "Hay, Tia, mga bato giyod no?"

"'Sadgi lang na sila," ingon ni Tia Mila. Katingad-an kaayo pero murag layo ang pananaw ni-ini, murag dili si Nona ang gi-ingnan. "Mga bata...."

Nahimotang si Nona kay batok sa iyang gikahdlokan, hapsay ra kaayo si Tia Mila. Ug wala gahuna-huna, mi-ingon: "Hay! lisod kaayo ang kinabuhi karon, Tia. Daghan ka-ayog gastuhunon, ta-as ra ba kaayo ang mga presyo. Labaw pa giyod nga upat ang amo-ang anak."

"Ma-o ba?" ingon ni Tia Mila, pero murag wala naminaw.

"Aw, giyod! 'Sus! Si Dennis man gud. Duha ra baya to ang among gustong anak. Dah! uy! Wa man gut namatngan...."

Nitul-id ang barog ni Tia Mila, ni-gahi ang buko-buko. Gibutang ang tasa sa platito, ug gitutukan si Nona.

"Ma-o di-ay? Kinsa sa ilaha ang dili nimo gusto?"

"Tia?"

"Kinsa man? Si Teddy? Si Peter? Si Bingo? O si Lucy?"

Angel Oak endangered


A couple of months ago, I wrote about the Angel Oak, a gigantic oak tree in South Carolina. A local resident found it and left this comment:

I live near this tree and, no, you hve to see it in person to understand how big she is. Did you also realize she is in danger? The City of Charleston and Mayor Riley have approved a development on 3 sides of her small park. This development includes 600 "low end housing units" and commercial/retail space. We feel this drastic change in her environment could eventually kill her. Please sign our petition.

I'm not sure if my vote counts, seeing as I'm not a Charleston resident. But I signed it anyway.

I am not a South Carolina resident but I have seen the Angel Oak in pictures. Even there, the Angel Oak looks majestic. I would like to see it in person someday. Please take all the necessary steps to ensure that your treasure survives, for all the future generations of men and women, not just of South Carolina or the United States, but of the world.



Saturday, July 26, 2008

Childbirth: The Ordinary Miracle

Writing a short story wherein the lead character is a pregnant woman, and I stumbled on this article, Childbirth: The Ordinary Miracle by Dr. Gayle Peterson. Perhaps not entirely relevant to what I was looking for, but all the same, it's a moving article.

One key point that Dr. Peterson emphasizes early on is that "the message of our society (presumably Western society in which she writes) is that the experience of childbirth is unimportant."

Dr. Peterson writes:

The experience of pregnancy and childbirth is uniquely female. Not all women give or want to give birth. However women who do give birth whatever the circumstances, are faced with the reality of one of nature's most powerful events. The fact that women can express extremely negative or incredibly positive experiences of childbirth is evidence of the generic power of the experience itself. This most basic fact, that childbirth is a powerful force to be respected, has been lost in the overall devaluation of the feminine in our society.

Women often feel alone with the responsibility of motherhood, even when they have supportive partners. Mothers are criticized quickly when things go awry in childrearing, while their positive contributions go unsung. In fact, many aspects of female development remain invisible to our culture at large. Childbirth is no exception. The message of our society is that the experience of childbirth is unimportant .


I can't speak for the Western experience but my own observations and recollections from where I grew up tell me that that isn't the case in the Philippines. In our environment, pregnancy and childbirth is largely a community experience. Yes, everyone is a nosy busybody, with his or her own guess as to the gender of the child; but that's our way of caring. Coming as we do from our agricultural backgrounds, Filipinos are emotionally healthy about these matters.

This is what is what the contraceptive mentality is destroying, whether directly or indirectly -- by viewing pregnancy as a disease, by holding economics in higher regard, by setting unrealistic standards of beauty.

Ultimately it's a matter of strength of the Filipino psyche is with its community bonds and values whether or not it can withstand the onslaught.

ABS-CBN: Government-MILF talks collapse

This news from ABS-CBN: Government-MILF talks on Moro homeland collapse.

The Philippine government and the largest Muslim rebel group failed to reach a pact on Friday to create an ancestral home for 3 million Muslims in the country's south, both sides said.

Such an agreement is seen as vital for a resumption of formal peace talks, but would not guarantee the end of a near 40-year-old conflict that has killed 120,000 people and displaced 2 million on the resource-rich island of Mindanao.


Apparently, the cause was the reopening of territorial discussions.

"The talks collapsed because the government was undoing already-settled issues. The signing ceremony set for August 5 was cancelled," he told Reuters. "They're trying to re-open discussions on what had been agreed upon."

"To everyone's surprise, the Philippine government re-visited the territorial issues which took us 14 months to resolve," the source said. "The territorial issue ... has created an impasse and led to the collapse."


Perhaps this is related to the uproar in North Cotabato, with citizens arming themselves for their possible inclusion into the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.

The problem with the agreement was that, as with many things in the Arroyo administration, its contents were never made public. Everything was done in secret, and does not take into account non-Moros who may be affected by the decision.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Firesetter on the Population Debate

Firesetter News, a blog run by a young priest in Legazpi, has a calm, comprehensive, and well-thought out arguments regarding the population debate. The entry looks at several statistical factors and how they play out into the population trends.

Some points:

1. The country's population growth rate is in steady decline, from 2.07 in 2000 to 1.728 in 2008.

2. The birth rate, too, has lowered from 27.85/1000 population in 2000 to 24.07/1000 in 2008.

3. The infant mortality rate, a key issue in the reproductive health debate, has also lowered from as high as 29.52/1000 live births in 2000 to 21.45/1000 live births in 2008.

4. Life expectancy has improved from age 67.48 in 2000 to age 70.8 in 2008.

5. Now here's the clincher, the total fertility rate (TFR) is also in steady decline, from 3.48 in 2000 to around 3.0 in 2008.

6. On the matter of HIV-AIDS cases, the adult (age 15-49) prevalence rate of .07% of the general population in 2001 has surged and then plateaued at .1% since 2003 till the present. The number of people living with HIV-AIDS has significantly decreased from around 28,000 in 2001 to around 9,000 in 2004 till the present. The number of deaths due to AIDS has also significantly lowered, from 1,200 in 2001 to 500 in 2004 till the present.


Sources for these figures come from Index Mundi.

"Number 16 Bus Shelter"

Believe it or not, that's a birth name given by parents to their child in New Zealand. Other names: Violence. Benson and Hedges. Fish and Chips. And the subject of a court case that ultimately had the child taken from her parent's custody: "Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii."

This is the story from the Canberra Times:

Parents make fools of their children by giving them eccentric names, a New Zealand judge says.

Family Court judge Rob Murfitt launched the attack after finding a girl had been named Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.

He ordered the girl, the subject of a custody battle, to be placed in court guardianship so her name could be changed.


A lawyer had reported the nine-year-old was so embarrassed about her name that she had not revealed it to her friends and was otherwise known as ''K''.

The girl feared being mocked and teased, and had a better insight than her parents, who appeared not to have given any thought to the implications of the name, the lawyer said.

Judge Murfitt, who made written findings on the issue public, cited other names such as Number 16 Bus Shelter, Violence and twins Benson and Hedges.

''Recently, for the first time in my experience as a Family Court judge, the name of a child described in text language has emerged,'' he said.


As to us over here, remember A Rhose by Any Other Name?

...more trouble on the home front...

Two more news reports pertaining to Mindanao.

First, Cotabato folk now arming themselves (Sun.Star) for fear of their inclusion in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity under the MILF. According to the report, the move is felt by many to be an appeasement strategy of the Arroyo administration. Mindanews, on the other hand, has a councilor calling for sobriety. But what's really worrying -- and annoying -- is that the word "Kosovo" keeps popping up.

Second, "Muslim Warriors" threaten Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela, Basilan if he does not convert or pay Islamic taxes (EWTN).

I don't quite know what to make of these reports. As with everything from media these days, I take it with a grain of salt, hoping they're not as bad as they're made out to be. But...I really don't know.

As part of the Mindanao Blog Conference last year, we all committed to put the best face forward for this region (does anyone remember that?) and I hope we've done so in a manner that transcends inanity. However, when things like this pop up, it makes me wonder.

Bomb on a bus in Digos

Yesterday a bomb went off in a bus in Digos, a city some 50 kilometers from Davao. The bomb exploded around noon as the bus was pulling into a terminal, killing three people and wounding 24 others. Culprits still unidentified, though extortion is a strong possibility. Buses plying intercity routes are favorite targets of these gangs.

It's some indication how inured we are to violence when all this merits is a small box announcement in the major dailies. It's of less importance than, say, a senator arguing that the Supreme Court is wrong or the world prices coming down.

Just how are we supposed to deal with tragedies like this? Are we supposed to say: "Don't worry folks, it's an isolated incident, and besides Mindanao is a big place?" Or: "You just have to learn to manage your risk." Or: "Davao is still a safe place to be in."

All of the above statements are true, but somehow it just glosses over the realities in a way that fails to convince even me, the speaker. Life is just supposed to go on, this incident shunted aside, forgotten, and left to the "authorities" to handle. It's an event left unprocessed, and it's psychologically damaging.

Panic is never a good thing, but what bothers me is there seems to be no hint of it whatsoever. Not even outrage.

What are we becoming?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Original Davao cosplay!


Cosplay this, Manila boys and gals! This is about as original as it gets.

Seriously, now: on a lark, I decided to head over to the People's Park at 7am this morning. Good thing, too, as I caught high school students from Assumption College of Davao preparing for a native Mindanaoan dance.

I asked if I could take photos and they gamely said yes. I even videotaped their performance.



I decided to wait for their actual performance, which was being videotaped by some professional director. This video shoot was for their GJC, or Golden Jubilee Celebration.

My own video:

The dance itself is very simple, even repetitive, but there's a meditative quality about it, what with the colors and the beat of the kulintang.

Made my day.









Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Condom failure rates and the spread of HIV

After tackling the effect of condom failure rates on population growth, let's look at the failure rates on the spread of HIV.

I'll pose it as an ACM-type programming question. Ready?

Problem: Given a population of 100 swingers who have sexual intercourse once a week with different partners from the pool, assuming a perfectly fair round-robin distribution (i.e., no repeat partners until after they have had intercourse with everyone else in the pool), and assuming they use condoms; how many weeks until all 100 swingers have been infected with HIV, assuming that one of them is HIV-positive at the beginning?

Use a condom failure rate of 15% and average the result over 1,000 iterations.

Now, you can't use a spreadsheet to solve for this as it's a little more involved. You'd need to use a program. It's tricky, but not impossible. Below is my solution, in Python:


#!/usr/bin/python

import pairing
import array
import random
import sys

def swinger_infection_estimate(population,failure_rate):
 #initialize the swingers
 swingers=array.array('i')
 for i in range(population):
   swingers.append(0)
   swingers[0]=1

 # arrange the schedule
 schedule=pairing.roundRobin(range(population))


 #initialize counter
 week=0

 while(1):
   for i in range(len(schedule)):
     week=week+1
     for j in range(len(schedule[i])):
       if swingers[schedule[i][j][0]] ^ swingers[schedule[i][j][1]]:
         if random.random() < failure_rate:
           swingers[schedule[i][j][0]]=1
           swingers[schedule[i][j][1]]=1
         try:
           swingers.index(0)
         except ValueError:
           return week

estimate_ctr=0
for i in range(1000):
 estimate_ctr=estimate_ctr+swinger_infection_estimate(100,0.02)

print estimate_ctr/1000



The pairing algorithm I am using is adapted from the ActiveState round robin generator cookbook:


def roundRobin(units, sets=None):
   """ Generates a schedule of "fair" pairings from a list of units """
   if len(units) % 2:
       units.append(None)
   count    = len(units)
   sets     = sets or (count - 1)
   half     = count / 2
   schedule = []
   for turn in range(sets):
       pairings = []
       for i in range(half):
           pairings.append([units[i],units[count-i-1]])
       units.insert(1, units.pop())
       schedule.append(pairings)
   return schedule




Please check the logic of my code to see if it covers everything I've said. I would like to hear from you if you have a different opinion.

The result of these calculations: given the above assumptions, the entire population of 100 swingers will all be HIV-infected in anywhere from 81 to 83 weeks, or just a little over one and a half years. Individual sampling show full-infection estimates of up to 120 weeks (two years and four months) to as little as 63 weeks (one year and two months).

Consider now the results with no condom usage at all, i.e., assuming 100% failure rate. How long does it take to infect the entire population? It takes 50 weeks, or about a year. Under these assumptions, condoms delay the onset of full infection by 33 weeks.

Assuming a more generous 2% failure rate (unrealistic, in my view), it takes much longer to infect the entire population, around 510 weeks, or a little less than ten years. However: using the 2% failure rate of condoms in a monogamous relationship in which one partner is HIV-infected, the risk of infection is one in every fifty encounters. Assuming a weekly sexual encounter, infection is likely within a year.

Note: Please understand that I do not pose these questions to make fun of or condemn HIV victims. I do so because I believe that the claims around safe sex are fallacious, and that its advocates are grossly misrepresenting the dangers and condoning risky behavior.

Update: Roy, in the comments section below, points out an error in my assumptions with regard to transmission. At best, my approach shows the situations in which condom failure will occur, not necessarily transmission.

As far as I have searched, there are no established and proven probability rates for transmission in encounters.

A CDC document on the subject examines the issue in greater detail.

Condom failure rates and population growth

Just dashing off this quick post, possibly for expansion in the near future.

Artificial contraceptives are not a hundred percent effective. Each method has its own failure rate. Given the such a failure rate and a starting population size, what is the effect on population growth?

For this quick study, I chose condoms because they're the most popular, because they're not permanent, and they don't have any side effects, barring latex allergies. I ran the numbers through a spreadsheet and came up with surprising results.

Condoms have a typical use failure rate of 14% and a perfect use failure rate of 2%. Perfect use means that they are used correctly each and every time a couple has sex; usually this means laboratory conditions. Typical use means that they are used, but sometimes incorrectly, as happens in real-world conditions.

Given a starting population of 100,000 fertile women, assuming they have sex once a month, assuming no gaps between delivery and subsequent pregnancy (women who have delivered babies are immediately reintroduced into the sexually active population, i.e., after nine months), assuming all pregnancies come to term, and taking a five year period, I came up with the following figures:


MonthFertile womenPregnancies
1 100,000 14,000
2 86,000 12,040
3 73,960 10,354
4 63,606 8,905
5 54,701 7,658
6 47,043 6,586
7 40,457 5,664
8 34,793 4,871
9 29,922 4,189
10 39,733 5,563
11 46,210 6,469
12 50,095 7,013
13 51,987 7,278
14 52,367 7,331
15 51,621 7,227
16 50,058 7,008
17 47,921 6,709
18 45,401 6,356
19 44,608 6,245
20 44,832 6,276
21 45,569 6,380
22 46,467 6,505
23 47,293 6,621
24 47,899 6,706
25 48,201 6,748
26 48,162 6,743
27 47,776 6,689
28 47,332 6,626
29 46,982 6,577
30 46,784 6,550
31 46,740 6,544
32 46,817 6,554
33 46,969 6,576
34 47,141 6,600
35 47,284 6,620
36 47,353 6,629
37 47,350 6,629
38 47,299 6,622
39 47,227 6,612
40 47,158 6,602
41 47,111 6,595
42 47,091 6,593
43 47,098 6,594
44 47,124 6,597
45 47,156 6,602
46 47,183 6,606
47 47,199 6,608
48 47,203 6,608
49 47,197 6,608
50 47,185 6,606
51 47,172 6,604
52 47,161 6,603
53 47,156 6,602
54 47,156 6,602
55 47,160 6,602
56 47,165 6,603
57 47,171 6,604
58 47,174 6,604
59 47,176 6,605
60 47,175 6,605



This shows that the number of pregnancies per month eventually normalizes at 6,600 somewhere in the middle of the third year. This also shows that in any given population of typical condom users, more than half will eventually be in the pregnant state.

The sum total of children to be born -- given typical condom use -- in this sexually active population of 100,000 women over this five year period is over 400,000. This corresponds to about 4 children per family, or a 200% increase in population.

Total cost of birth control for 100,000 women over the five years,at P10 per condom: about P30-M.

Using the "perfect use" scenario of a 2% failure rate, all other assumptions held constant, the number of pregnancies per month normalizes at 1,700 a little after the end of the first year. This corresponds to 14,000 pregnant women at any given time. Over a five year period, the number of children to be born is 100,000, or a 30% increase in the population.

Total cost of birth control for 100,000 women over the five years, at P10 per condom: about P52-M.

Please review my computations to see if the figures are correct.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Response to "Legalizing Prostitution"

A letter to the editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

While I hold Manolo Quezon in high regard, I find that he has not adequately thought out his position and arguments regarding legalized prostitution.

In the main, Mr. Quezon's view of prostitution is simply that of a service willingly undertaken by consenting adults as an economic undertaking. Such a sanitized view fails to take into account the harsh realities of the so-called sex industry. Consider that in many instances, women and children are forced into prostitution by violence.

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of recent statistics. However, some studies from the past can still shed light on the issues: Of the 1.5 million street children, 60,000 are prostituted (ECPAT 1996). According to the DSWD, the annual average increase of prostituted children is 3,266. The Philippines is the fourth country with the most number of prostituted children (Intersect, December 1995).

In 1997, the Inquirer carried a story that summarized: "There are 375,000 women and children in prostitution in the Philippines. Most of them, aged 15 - 20, are from semi-rural and urban backgrounds and have been victims of incest and sexual abuse."

Legalizing prostitution effectively means legalizing the framework of violence within which it takes place.

Consider, too, the broader ramifications. Prostitution nowadays is an international enterprise which constitutes a significant part in trafficking, especially of women. The Netherlands, which Mr. Quezon holds up as a shining example of legalized prostitution, is a prime destination for human trafficking because of its sex trade.

These realities are complex and harsh. Legalizing prostitution will not make them go away, and may in fact worsen an already bad condition.

Coalition Against Corruption

Coalition Against Corruption, an alliance of the business sector, civil society organizations, and the Church dedicated to fighting corruption, has a web site.

Surprisingly, I found out about it while watching AXN last night.

Do visit the site and, if you are so inclined, see how you can help.

Among the cases that CAC is monitoring:

1. Fertilizer Scam
2. Gen. Carlos Garcia Plunder Case
3. Hernani Perez Bribery Case
4. Megapacific Vote Counting Machines Deal
5. NBN-ZTE Broadband Deal
6. Lamp Post Scam
7. Malacañang Cash Giveaways

Charter Change na naman?

A few more things before I turn to lighter matters (my inner Joker is already whispering: "Why...so...serious?"):

First, Ricky Carandang thinks that there will be one last push towards a term extension for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, by way of yet another charter change, this time using the peace talks with the MILF.

From my favorite newscaster's blog:

Recent efforts by the Regime to resurrect the long dormant peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have led to pronoucments by lead negotiators Rodolfo Garcia and Hermogenes Esperon that revisions to the constitution would be required in order to give more legal and fiscal autonomy to the expanded region of Muslim Mindanao. They point to a resolution to shift to a federal form of government proposed by, of all people, Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.


This means that aside from Arroyo and her politicans, there will be a significant number of people in Mindanao who will find it in their interest to support charter change this time around. The regime can also pre-empt potential opposition from the international community by arguing that that the revisions would enhance stability in Mindanao and make it less susceptible to terrorism. In which case extending Arroyo’s term would be a small price to pay. I’m told that this the line taken during Arroyo’s recent working visit to the US. Its almost like blackmail. If you want stability in Mindanao, you must allow us to stay in power beyond 2010.


Honestly, I'm getting tired of this fight, and I'm discouraged by the continuing apathy that I perceive among the general populace. For example, see what the top blogs are all about. But as many times as it takes to "man the barricades" (figuratively speaking), I'll do it.

On the other hand, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's just broke her own record in net satisfaction rating: at -38, it surpasses the -33 in May 2005. You can probably name a hundred reasons why. Spinmeisters will claim that she's not after popularity, but they're obviously lying.

Smoke and Mirrors, Part 2

Food is a sensitive national issue, and it is one of the key points of the Arroyo administration for the upcoming State of the Nation Address. Food on every table was the promise made, and as to its fulfilment, the following claims: rolling stores, Barangay Bagsakan centers, rice buyback schemes, rice self-sufficiency at 90% from 2001 to 2007, and NFA rice at P18.25 per kilo.

We cannot yet adequately gauge the impact and effectiveness of rolling stores, Bagsakan centers, or rice buyback schemes; suffice to say, merely, that they are in place. If one happens to be a direct beneficiary of these programs, well and good.

But as to the 90% rice sufficiency claims and the P18.25 per kilo rice?

It is hardly true that all rice costs P18.25 per kilo. In the past few months, here in Davao, they have gone as high as P50 per kilo. The NFA, in fact, also sells other rice varieties at P25 and P30, all imported, with the much-vaunted P18.25 being the poorest quality.

Not only that, one can only avail of the P18.25 per kilo rice provided one has an access card, and only after enduring long lines at distribution centers. Oh, and limit to only two kilos per family, please.

The economic wisdom behind the P18.25 per kilo rice is dubious (though perhaps not so its political wisdom). Its landed cost is P30, which means that its selling price is subsidized by almost a hundred percent. This is why P10-B was spent to cover the deficit in the first half of the year alone. Who's paying for this? We are.

More telling than the P10-B subsidy spent in the first half of the year are the foreign trade statistics from the National Statistics Office. For April 2008, we imported $69-M of wheat and $155-M of rice, up from $8-M (683% increase) and $56-M (173% increase), respectively in April 2007.

In light of all this, are we really on our way to rice self-sufficiency? If we look at the raw numbers, we are: our projected rice production for 2008 is 17.3-M tons, up 6.7-M tons from last year, which, following PhilRice projections, is 90% self-sufficiency. Time for congratulations? Look at the contortions we have to undergo because of that remaining 10%.

Furthermore, to say that we have 90% self-sufficiency this year, 95% next year, and 100% by 2010 is deceptive. A document on NFA Rice Import Arrivals from 1971 to 2007 shows that, from 1978 to 1983 and some years in the early 1990s we needed no rice imports at all; in all other years, the figures have fluctuated with no discernible pattern (although, we might add, it was only during the past three years of the Arroyo administration where we've had to consistently import over 1.7-M metric tons of rice per year.)

Covering the remaining distance to full self-sufficiency is contingent on so many factors, even ones that go beyond commitments for additional spending for the agricultural sector.

Crowing about this achievement is like boasting that one has almost, but not quite, reached the finish line.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Excerpt: Pasahe

Excerpt of a crime story I'm writing. It's also my first attempt at a story in Filipino. Very slow going as I have to check the dictionary every other word, but I'm very surprised at how natural and real it feels to be writing in what is supposed to be my country's national language. I know it sounds contradictory, but I'll explain that in a later post. I hope.

"Para. Dito na lang po."

Ito ang sabi ng pasahero. Tahimik at patag ang boses, walang pahiwatig ng hapding nadarama sa sugat nito.

Pinabagal ni Efren ang kanyang taksi, at maingat na ibinaling pakanan patungong gilid ng bangketa. Dahan-dahang inihinto sa tabi. Sumibad pakanan at pakilawa ang kanyang mata upang suriin ang kapaligiran habang pilit na pinatiliang makitid ang ulo. Walang ibang kotseng dumadaan sa lansangan, walang ibang taong namatyagan. Siya lamang at ang kanyang pasahero.

Damdam ni Efren ang tulo ng mga butil ng pawis sa kanyang noo at batok, kahit nasa pinkalakas na ang ihip ng kanyang airconditioner. Tuyo ang kanyang panlalamunan, sabik na sabik nang makahigop ng tubig galing sa kanyang bote. Ngunit nang di sinasadyang nasulyap ang boteng nakaipit sa pagitan ng upuan, nakita niyang ito ay walan nang laman.


Narinig ni Efren na bumukas ang pinto sa likuran. May anas ng kaskas ng katad ng tsaketa sa katad ng kanyang upuan. Umungol ng panandalian ang pasahero, sunod ang tunog ng yapak ng sapatos sa palitada.

Pagkatapos, ang malakas na pinid ng pagsara ng pintuan.

Takbo. Alis. Takbo. Alis. Takbo. Alis. Ito ang isip na umalingawngaw sa utak ni Efren.

Tahimik ngunit ramdam ang bahagyan huni ng makina ng kanyang taksi, handang kumalaskas palayo sa masamang tao patungong kaligtasan. Ngunit mistulang nakadikit ang kanyang dalawang kamay sa manibela. Puting puti na ang mga buko ng kaniyang daliri sa higpit nang kapit.

Mula aa gilid ng kaniyang mga mata, napuna niyang gumagalaw paharap ang anino ng kanyang pasahero, patungo sa pampasaherong pintuan.

Pilit niyang ipinagbitiw ang kanyang kanang kamay sa manibela. Mistulang sa pulot gumagalaw. Niloob niyang pinalakbay ang kanyang kamay galing manibela papuntang kambiada, ngunit nguminginig na lumalaban sa kanyang kagustuhan.

Sa wakas, naabot rin ang makinis na kabilogan ng ulo ng kambiada. Marahang itinulak ito pakaliwa, handang ilagay ito sa primera at sasabayin ng bitiw sa embrague at yapak sa gasolinador.

Ngunit hanggang maiksing galaw lang ng kambiada ang nakayanan ni Efren. Nasindak siya sa langitngit ng pagbukas ng pampasaherong pintuan. Di sinasadyang napalingon at namatyagan ang itim na tsaketa ng kanyang pasahero at ang kaputian ng polo na sumusilyap sa bitis, kaputiang napinsala ng pahiwatig ng pula.

Muntik nang nasulyap ni Efren ang mukha ng pasahero, buti na lang at napigilan ang sarili nang makita nito ang simula ng leeg. Mabilis na binaba ni Efren ang kanyang mga mata, sabay ng maikling panalanging nahalata ito ng mama. Tutok na lang siya sa dibdib.

Ipinilit niyang iniunat ang kanyang bibig sa isang napakalaking ngiti, kitang kita ang kaniyang ngipin at abot-abot sa kanyang mga gilagid.

"Tsip, pa-alis na po ako."

Di inaakala ni Efren na makapagbigay pa siya ng isang magiliw at pabayang saludo, ngunit ito nga'y nagawa niya. Pantay din ang kaniyang boses, pero parang di na maalis ang pilit na ngiti sa kanyang muka. Damdam niya ang sakit sa kanyang pisngi, ngunit di makuha ang loob na ibaba ang kanyang ngisi.

"Sandali lang po," sabi ng mama. Walang bahalang iniabot nito ang kamay sa loob ng kanyang tsaketa. Punang puna ni Efren ang umuusling itim na hawakan ng baril sa sinturon ng kanyang pasahero.


By the way, the dictionary I'm using is a very impressive English-Tagalog dictionary by Fr. Leo James English, a Redemptorist missionary. Extremely helpful and complete.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Watchmen


Coming out in 2009, but already eagerly awaited: The Watchmen Movie.

Director is Zack Snyder of "300" fame. Knowing that, I gather that the movie will be largely faithful to its comic book origins. The trailer partly confirms that, showing as it does the origin of Dr. Manhattan, the Owl rising out of the water, and the iconic shot of The Comedian astride the Owl confronting the protesters.

After "The Dark Knight", though, "Watchmen" will have its work cut out for it.

The Dark Knight


This is probably the banner year for superhero movies. Only halfway through, and we already have four coming out in quick succession (Iron Man, Hulk, Hancock, and The Dark Knight) . Not only that, they're all pretty decent films, too, staying largely true to their comic book roots.

And of the four so far, "The Dark Knight" just happens to be the best one of all. Wait, let me rephrase that: the best comic book movie yet.

One word to describe "The Dark Knight": intense.

The movie had me glued to my seat and the almost three hours running time flew by just like that. It also had me cringing every time The Joker came on screen. Not that there have been many screen Jokers (Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson being the other two), but the late Heath Ledger just happens to capture the darkest core of the character.

In fact, "The Dark Knight" can largely be said to be The Joker's movie.

The Joker is the motive force throughout the entire film, from beginning to end. Everyone is merely responding to his machinations, The Batman included. And it isn't some simple grab for money or power he's after. It's anarchy, total and complete anarchy. That's what makes him so scary.

"The Dark Knight" glosses over The Joker origin story, and that's probably for the best. He comes across like an elemental force, chaos personified, the embodiment of the trickster spirit. The Joker is closest to V in "V for Vendetta"; he's everything that V should have been but wasn't.

This Joker owes its visual roots to its cartoon counterpart in the latest "Batman" cartoon. In execution, though, with the smeared on makeup and greasy unkempt hair, it's pure terrifying genius. The late Heath Ledger really makes it his own, down to the mannerisms -- the licking of the lips, the toss of the hair, the buffoonish shrug, the maniacal laugh....

As I said, this is really The Joker's movie, and it all boils down to his motivations. It's not just physical chaos he's after, it's a moral and spiritual one as well. The choices he imposes -- nay, inflicts -- on Batman and the whole of Gotham is what makes the movie so gripping. And it works because he's a genius whose complex evil plots go off with Rube Golberg-uesque perfection. Kudos to writer David Goyer and director Chris Nolan for writing such a great character.

Smoke and Mirrors, Part 1

A full two weeks before this year's State of the Nation Address, Malacañang's public relations machinery went on the offensive with a preview of July 28. If the two full-page spread ads in the major dailies are any indication, the major theme of the 2008 SONA is the promises fulfilled by the Arroyo administration since coming to power in 2001. A recent editorial of the Manila Times boasts: "In fairness to the President, her critics must admit that the lists are impressive."

Indeed, with an annual budget of P1.127 trillion -- reenacted for several years in succession -- a government would have to be truly incompetent to post no signs of progress and development. So, yes, we'll grant that the Arroyo administration has positive achievements; but as to whether they are at all impressive, we should wait until we sift through the figures. You see, when this administration quotes statistics, it often presents them without any context for consequence or comparison, the better to put it in the best possible light. That is what they call the art of spin.

For example, one of the highlights of the coming SONA will be education. "I want a school building in every barangay," Arroyo was said to have quoted in a previous address; and in supposed fulfillment of that promise, "of the 1,617 target barangay without schools in 2001, only 267 still have no schools today." Impressive, indeed. If you go through the Department of Education fact sheet released last June 3, there are other positive developments to crow about.

A closer look at the numbers, however, reveals some disturbing trends. For instance, the net enrollment rate, i.e., the actual number of primary school pupils enrolled, has been steadily going down. In 2002, the figure was at 90.29%; last year, it was only 83.22%. On the other hand, the net participation rate for high school has remained steady in the past five years, but at an impressively dismal 58.6%. All in all, there are more than 11.6 million Filipinos between the ages of 6 and 24 who are out of school.

Likewise, it behooves us to ask: what of the quality of the public schools that have been constructed? Last month, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers raised an alarm over the 2006-2007 statistics released by the Department of Education. Based on that report, in public elementary schools, one toilet bowl serves 51 pupils; worse yet, for public high schools, one toilet bowl serves 102 high school students. The actual figures in some schools are astounding: in Silangan Elementary School in Taguig, there is only one urinal for an entire population of 2,031 pupils.

Using the reenacted budget, the allocation for education last year was P138-B. Again, the figure sounds impressive; but not so when you consider that it is less than 12% of the national budget, or that it really only amounts to P12 per student per day. Of the impressive P138-B, an equally impressive P597.8-M was used in construction projects for schools that did not need them. This according to a Commission on Audit report released in June. In at least eight regions, including Metro Manila, 111 construction projects amounting to P44.135M were left unfinished, unutilized, or abandoned.

The devil, as they say, is in the small details.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Taking a blogging break

Taking a blogging break...back real soon.

Like I said, real soon.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Black Pencil Project


Sometimes change can come from the simplest of ideas. Take, for example, the Black Pencil Project.

The idea behind the Black Pencil Project is to give out pencils to disadvantaged students from grades one to three in public schools. It seems almost trivial but what we take for granted can be so critical for those who don't have the means.

From the group's web site:

Black Pencil Project is a personal initiative to help provide pencils through resources mobilizations to public elementary schools in the remote barangays accross the country. It aims to encourage localized participation and individual commitment of goodwill in support to government education programs in the countryside.

There is a logic behind the black pencils, usually this is the type of pencil prescribed to kinder up to grade 3 because of its size and grip for most public schools around the country. So logically, we're targeting only those who are entering Grades 1 to 3.

Why?

These ages are the segment where they're most excited to go to school and yet very vulnerable.

In the remote places, only Primary School is offered (Grades 1-3), so kids entering Intermediate (Grade 4- 6) will have to walk to the nearest barangay in their area to be able to attend classes.

In some areas, because of poverty, kids instead of going to school, opt to help their parents doing farm errands in particularly during cropping season which happens in the middle of school year.


Aside from pencils, the group also proposes to meet other needs, such as: pens, sharpeners, notebooks, crayons, erasers, and pad paper.

If you want to make a difference, you don't need to take it through the Black Pencil Project, of course. You can replicate this initiative within your own community. Visit their site for more ideas.

The Black Pencil Project is the brainchild of three photographers (one of whom is a close family friend from Davao). I think the idea came about in their travels to various parts of the country and seeing the need in those areas.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Starfleet Deluxe


How often is it that the creator of your favorite game from way back when you were a kid writes you? Not often, but it does happen. And it happened to me.

Last week, I got this email:

I noticed on your Village Idiot Savant blog that you liked the old PC game, Star Fleet I - The War Begins! I am the author of that game. Please reply if you get this. Thanks.

Trevor Sorensen


Trevor Sorensen? Dr. Trevor Sorensen? Oh. My. Goodness.

Starfleet I was my favorite game back in the 1980s. I got it from a college buddy in Cebu, Nino Sarmiento, also a fellow Trek fan. It probably won't excite a lot of people nowadays, what with the need for dynamic lighting and reflective surfaces, but for a Star Trek fan, it was great. I wrote about Starfleet three years ago when I rediscovered it. And it was that blog entry that Dr. Sorensen found.

From his email sig, I saw that Dr. Sorensen is now Professor and Project Manager of Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

I promptly wrote back, thanking him for the game. And big surprise, he wrote back again:

Glad to meet a member of the Fleet! Did you ever play Star Fleet II - Krellan Commander? It is also text-based graphics for the PC, but is much, much richer game with planets, planetary invasions, many ship types, fleet tactics, etc. I can provide you the zipped files if you like although I think it might be available from Underdogs. The exciting news is that a few years ago two programmers and I got together and made a Windows-based version of Star Fleet, which is a cross between SF I and SF II. It's called Star Fleet Deluxe and has the same basic navigation, ship resources, and combat systems as SF I (and your heavy cruiser is the only UGAS ship to be seen), but also has multiple Krellan ship types (battlecruisers, destroyers, freighters), planets (on which you can establish sensor and logistics bases), colonies (UGA planets), and upgraded starbases. Anyway, I am enclosing the SFD files and manual. I hope you like it.


Oh. My. Goodness.

Dr. Sorensen did send me the files and it ran beautifully under Wine in Ubuntu (after one little tweak in the video settings). See screenshots.



It was a real trip down memory lane. The controls were largely as I had remembered them. Function keys for Course Computer, Navigation, Shields, Phasers, Torpedoes, etc. My fingers moved over the keyboard instinctively. Just like riding a bicycle.



Gameplay was largely the same, though now, as Dr. Sorensen mentioned, there was greater variety in the enemy ships. Planets and planetary bases were also added to the game. Part of the mission is to destroy Krellan bases, and you can replenish supplies from the bases that you establish.



The GUI is a mixed bag, though largely positive. I sort of miss the pure keyboard control, as now I have to click on the screen to enter numbers and confirm commands. On the plus side -- and this is a very big plus -- I can now navigate with ease to any quadrant and sector.

Sounds have been changed, but mostly for the better. I miss the "Halls of Montezuma" theme whenever the space marines try to take over an enemy ship, but the fight sound effects -- complete with fisticuffs, opening doors, sneaky feet, and grunts and screams -- brings a level of suspense to the procedure.



The AI is also significantly improved. Now the computer does a lot of things for you. Previously, I would have to manually enter the shield settings because the computer always evenly distributed shielding on all four sides of the vessel. But now, the computer maximizes shields in the direction of the enemy. You'd still have to keep an eye on the shield settings, though.



There's a sad story behind Starfleet Deluxe, the details of which I've excised from Dr. Sorensen's email. There were plans to release Starfleet Deluxe three years ago, but unfortunately, the lead programmer passed away. Hence, the release plans stalled.

Fortunately, they did complete a playable game, and I'm very happy and honored to have been given the chance to play it. Ah, the memories!



Even with enhancements, though, most people will probably shy away from the game because of its lack of snazzy sounds and graphics. And that's a shame, because Starfleet, in my opinion, continues to be the best starship battle simulator out there today, even twenty years on.

Many thanks again, Dr. Sorensen!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The 20th Kansas in the Philippines

Just finished reading "Guardian" by Joe Haldeman (better known for his "Forever War" sci-fi novel.) "Guardian" is a strange book. It's labelled as science fiction but is 85% historical and 14% fantasy and maybe 1% science fiction. It is an engaging read and I couldn't put it down, but ultimately, it felt uneven.

The central character is Rosa, a Southern woman who escapes with her son from an abusive husband. She builds a life for herself in Kansas, but then is forced to escape once more with gold rush prospectors when a detective comes after her.

An interesting passage concerns the Philippines, which I am reproducing here:

An interesting thing happened while we were gone. There were lots of soldiers and sailors in the area. Daniel saw a Kansas flag and left Chuck to go talk to them.

They were headed for the Philippines, following the 20th Kansas, to which Daniel would have been attached in Topeka, had I signed for him to join under-age. So he wouldn't have gone to follow the Rough Riders to glory in Cuba, after all. The Kansas troops were shipped overseas to, as the man who talked to Daniel put it, "go kill niggers in the Philippines."


Thank God Daniel hadn't gone with them. The truth of the Filipino insurrection was decades in coming, mainly because it was too horrible to accept: American soldiers killed at least 200,000 -- women and children as well as soldiers -- and Kansas was at the front of the slaughter.

Pressed into my diary at this point is a later article from the Anti-Imperialist League Journal. Yellow and crumbling, it dropped into two pieces when I unfolded it. It quoted letters from the 20th Kansas: a captain said, "Caloocan was supposed to contain 70,000 inhabitants. The 20th Kansas swept through it, and now Caloocan contains not one living native." A private under him repeated that he himself had torched over fifty houses, killing women and children.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Unconventional hero


Not a big Will Smith fan, especially not after he ruined "The Wild, Wild West", but I had to go see "Hancock" anyway. And boy, I was pleasantly surprised.

I still don't like Will Smith but where Hancock got me was in its story. It still uses the conventional superhero tropes, but since it was not based on a comic book, the story managed to surprise me. I don't want to give anything away so let's just leave it at that.

The problem with Hancock is that it is advertised as a comedy. In reality, it's not. It's actually more of a drama with comedic elements. That's why the movie comes out a little uneven. Most of people's complaints come from this unevenness, but if you view it counter to expectations, it feels more whole.

My only real complaint is Will Smith himself. Onscreen, he's not Hancock, he's just Will Smith. Worse still, it feels like he's channelling his character from "The Pursuit of Happyness."

Awesome in its...awesomeness


Ah, now this one, I really liked. Great animation, stylish visuals, smooth direction, and a story that hews closely to the classic wuxia plot (but with a nice twist to the main character.)

I suppose what really got me was the voice casting and performance, vis-a-vis the visuals. I knew for a fact that Jack Black was doing Po, but I had forgotten all the others. Throughout the movie, I was wondering who played who, and that's a testament to the quality of the voice acting and the character animations. I could even conveniently forget that Black was playing Po. (The only actor I recognized was James Hong -- he of "Big Trouble in Little China.")

Special mention also goes to the highly stylized opening scenes, reminiscent of Samurai Jack. They could just as easily do a movie in that fashion.

Wanted...for excessive plagiarism

Five minutes into "Wanted", I was already comparing it to "The Matrix." That, unfortunately, is the fate to which the movie is consigned: comparison after comparison to its predecessors.

Don't get me wrong: "Wanted" is fun and entertaining with its stylish violence, so frenetic and kinetic that you really have no choice but to, as they say, switch your brain off. (Warning: some spoilers ahead.)

Ah, but what comparisons can we make? What immediately comes to mind:

  • "The Matrix", as has already been said, with its ordinary joe-turned-superhuman assassin storyline

  • "Shoot 'Em Up", for its ridiculous over-the-top violence

  • "Tomb Raider" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith", for its Angelina Jolie

  • "The DaVinci Code" for its secret society

  • "Minority Report" for its crucial plot

  • "Empire Strikes Back" for its plot twist (don't know about you, but I saw it coming from a mile away)

  • "Fight Club" for its unbearable moralizing

    Possibly the only innovation "Wanted" really brings is the "curving bullet" schtick, and even that is overdone to absurdity in Fox's last killing shot. Compared to that, Lito Lapid's "split-bullet" technique is more believable.

    Hmmm...I'd like to see that on Mythbusters.
  • Not Smart enough

    I've been hitting the theaters a lot lately, what with blockbuster after blockbuster coming out in succession. Since it's a Friday afternoon and I'm winding down already, I thought I'd put out quick reviews. Here goes the first one....



    To start off, I'm a big fan of the Get Smart series. I caught daily reruns while vacationing back in the States so many years ago. I also saw the Don Adams movies, my favorite being "The Nude Bomb." When they announced the Steve Carell remake/re-imaginining/re-whatever, I certainly was looking forward to it.

    After having seen the film, I'm now wondering: is it possible to laugh so much at a movie and still sort-of-kind-of not like it?

    To be sure, Get Smart (2008) has its share of laugh-out-loud moments. But in the end, Steve Carell just isn't Don Adams.

    Adams' Maxwell Smart is a real idiot whereas Carell's is moderately intelligent yet bumbling. Adams' Smart has incredible luck and aplomb; Carell's is a little less confident. Adams' Smart would never scream; Carell's screams a lot. His fellow agents look up to Adams' Smart; Carell's fellow agents don't appreciate him enough.

    The 1960's Get Smart was a sharp satire on James Bond, but for this generation, that was done (and overdone) by Austin Powers. The new Get Smart couldn't have gotten away with it anymore, so it ended up playing it more straight than I would have liked.

    As Maxwell Smart says: "Missed it by that much!"

    Hurting Ourselves

    Who would have thought that, at the height of the fury against the company, Sulpicio Lines, Inc. would have the temerity to sue the weather bureau? That, it seems, is merely par for the course. Just a few days prior to their daring legal manuever, Sulpicio had hinted that they might sue God Himself for the disaster -- it being an Act of God -- and that, perhaps, might have come to pass if not for the immediate vehement admonition of certain bishops.

    Though the strategy smacks of insanity and desperation, there is some method to the madness. The tactic is dilatory, and in the Philippine legal system, justice usually boils down to a war of attrition. Whoever lasts longer wins.

    Consider that Sulpicio Lines holds the highest death toll of any shipping line in the world -- more than 5,300 people -- but continues to operate since its first and biggest disaster, the MV Doña Paz, in 1987. Perhaps in any other place, the MV Doña Paz incident -- 4,375 dead -- would have sunk its owners, but no, not Sulpicio Lines, which continued to sail strong after the inquiry exonerated it despite its massive overloading. Two more disasters followed: MV Doña Marilyn (around 250 dead), MV Princess of the Orient (around 150 dead). And now, of course, the MV Princess of the Stars (around 800 dead).

    We may be quick to blame Sulpicio Lines for the disasters, but surely, equal blame goes to those who permit the shipping line to operate.

    Immediately after the most recent incident, the instinctive reaction was to shut down Sulpicio Lines. But wait a minute! Sulpicio runs roughly forty percent of inter-island transport operations. Shutting down the company would adversely affect the economic flow of the country. And so, by executive fiat, Sulpicio's cargo ships sail once more; how much longer until passenger demand becomes so irresistible such that human traffic becomes permissible again?

    Even if Sulpicio never ferries a passenger again, haven't we learned from the environmental disaster that we just narrowly missed with the MV Princess of the Stars? The MV Princess of the Stars was carrying 10 metric tons of highly toxic pesticide which could have contaminated not only our waters but outside as well. Fortunately there wasn't (and doubly so, because endosulfan is both a neurotoxin and an endocrine disruptor). By allowing Sulpicio to sail its ships again, we are merely playing Russian roulette.

    Consider, too, how a company like Sulpicio can manage to hold the country's economy hostage. Forty percent of maritime traffic is quite substantial: are there no other sea freight lines that can fill in the vacuum? Apparently not.

    In situations like these, the measures are often merely punitive rather than remedial. We can punish Sulpicio but only until it begins to hurt us. For all intents and purposes, Sulpicio is untouchable. Why is this so? Because the shipping industry in the Philippines is effectively a cartel. There are only a handful of shipping lines that operate in the country, surprising considering how vital it is to an archipelagic country. There is no competition, there is no flexibility, and correspondingly transport prices are high.

    One way to begin to remedy this problem is to build more ports or expand existing ones. More facilities means more space for competition. However, as we have seen in recent and not-so-recent events in Dumaguete, this is all but impossible to achieve. Ports are subject to local politics, and often go the route of the status quo.

    The status quo is the cartel, and the cartel permits Sulpicio to keep right on sailing.

    Tuesday, July 01, 2008

    When bloggers die

    Spurred by headline on the conviction of the killer of Julia Campbell, I paid Julia's blog a visit just now. It's still up and will probably be so for the rest of the lifetime of Google. And that's just right, I think. It's a fitting memorial to a blogger and a dedicated soul.

    That leads me to bring up a somewhat morbid but necessary question: what happens when bloggers die?

    The answer, of course, is: it depends. Depends on what? First of all: was the blog hosted on a public platform, e.g., Blogger or Wordpress? Or was it self-hosted on a commercial web server?

    It's a practical consideration. Think about it. Blogs on publicly hosted platforms last practically forever (barring an exception that I'll go into later) -- or as long as any company continues to host them. Self-hosted blogs will last only as long as the subscription does: when the contract ends, the blog goes down and the domain name goes to some SEO.

    From the point of view of web immortality, hosting on Blogger or Wordpress is probably the better deal.

    Regardless, as a blogger, you should think about what happens when you shake off the mortal coil. Like all things of value, financial or emotional, it should figure in your will. Whether it's self-hosted or publicly-hosted, you might want to pass it on to someone you trust. After all, a blog is part of your persona, and, as in the case of Julia Campbell, it's something that the world will remember you by. You'll want to leave it in good hands.

    Personally, I would like to post an announcement on this blog about my passing, when that happens. A simple thank-you-and-goodbye message, more like. For that to happen, I would have to include the account name, password, and final message in the will.

    And, of course, someone I really trust.

    Another story comes to mind: sometime last year, a friend died under very tragic and violent circumstances. There were dark suspicions and bitter accusations all around, and it all came to a head not long after her interment. The battleground, sadly, was the comments section of her Multiply blog. Friends who thought they were defending her honor just added fuel to the fire. It was sad because it seemed that peace continued to elude her even in death.

    Fortunately, someone (not me) had the good sense to write the folks at Multiply. Pretty soon, her account was deactivated.

    Still, that's one more memory gone.

    What about you? Any thoughts and suggestions?