Tuesday, December 27, 2005

From The Links

Picture This.

You maintain a blog and you write your stuff on it. Inserting pictures, graphics, etc.. Things that you find interesting enough.

But really, your knowledge about the technical aspects of maintaining a blog has been quite limited.

But weren’t you sys-admin for many years? True, but for the most parts your responsibilities leaned more on hardware and operating systems.

Anyway, you like the way some blogs, some very popular and well-visited ones, structure and present topics to their readers. A number of them simply collate or round up randomly current topics from different blogs, with the use of a sentence or two as commentary, and of course, linking to the actual blogs themselves.

Imagine blogs that simply enumerate a list of other blogs and the topics they are discussing, with the not so magical use of links or more appropriately, hyperlinks. Pretty much acting like a gateway portal.

But what’s amazing is that in many instances the portal itself commands wider and more popular readership than the blogs being mentioned and linked to. Think Drudge Report? Or Instapundit?


Sufficiently enough that I too want to try it, even without benefit of prior instruction or research on how to do this in the most efficient and expeditious manner.

And why not.

So here goes, after visiting the many favorite links on this blog.

Larry Kudlow, CBNC TV host and noted economist from the Reagan years, paints a sunny picture of the Japanese economy in his blog, entitled Rising Sun and Nikkei. Larry’s optimism is quite infectious and provides a bit of sunshine during these gloomy times, if the the MSM reports are to be believed.

Indefatigable Michelle Malkin, author of a couple of booksellers and stellar blogger for the conservatives, continues her defense on terrorism policies of the administration that are in constant assault by the more incendiary rhetoric of the liberals. For somebody so petite and looking so fragile, Michelle has over time shown the stamina and power unmatched by any on the other side.

Consummate economist, Donald Luskin, for his part, never lets a hand down when jousting with nemesis, Paul Krugman, bemedalled Economics professor and NYT columnist mainstay. A must-read for any serious student of Economics. Many lessons to learn from and also on learning ways to sharpen one’s analytical processes.

And from a small group of bloggers joined together by the common bond of language, BisayaBloggers, here’s an entry of yours truly, which is nothing more than a reprint from this site.

And from one of my favorites, PowerLine, maintained by three powerhouse lawyers, here is yet another revelation why mainstream media cannot be trusted. If it is not the Washington Post, which else, but the New York Times? Mark this too as another negative mark for MSM.

NationalReviewOnline, a gathering of some of your media eagles from Peggy Noonan, Larry Kudlow, Victor Davis Hanson, to Donald Luskin. One could spend a day going through its entries.

Now who hasn’t heard and read about Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit guru? Need I say more. Take a visit and be thrilled.

Wall Street Journal’s answer to on-line journals, Opinion Journal, brings you some of the most interesting opinions on the net. Heard about James Taranto or John Fund. Well, read them there and be informed.

The Weekly Standard’s Billy Kristol writes about paranoia in America liberalism while Fred Barnes contends with Micro Economics.

Roehlano Briones, doctor of Economics, tries to figure out if culture matters in economic perfomances. Know what his rational choice is.

And of course, Markos of Daily Kos with his cadre of Kossacks will not let the fire down in their continuing siege against all causes conservative, especially against the current occupant of the White House. This time they write about Bush’s reading habits.

Early birthday greetings to Elvis, born January 8th. The legend lives on.

TV Host Lou Dobbs has not updated his site for a while. But still do visit.

Defense and Security writer Bill Gertz writes about what the US has put on Chinese firms trading with Iran.

Victor Davis Hanson writes about Abe Lincoln and his policies as they relate to the current wars and terrorism.

Jay Rosen of PressThink shares some insights.

Lovers of New York City and its history, do not miss to visit James Lileks’ archives.

Wretchard of the Belmont Club, writing from Down Under, asks the question: Who is a journalist?

From the Philippines, Dean Jorge Bocobo of Philippine Commentary, writes about where the future leaders of the US are to be found. And mentions rotound US president William Howard Taft, who has the very distinct honor of having headed two branches of government, as President and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Joseph Phillips, actor, writer, and lover of cooking and Western films, writes about family values.

And from merry England, Albion’s Seedlings writes about cartoons and iguana on the wall.

Get your unedited political news from RealClearPolitics. You can’t go wrong.

Funny-named LittleGreenFootballs focuses on middle-eastern issues, Islam, and of course, the Dan Rather “fake but accurate” incident. Comments are allowed ; however, only those registered can do so. Unfortunately, registration is already closed. Too bad.

Drudge Report screams:
Hurricane insurance losses $57.6 bln Largest on Record.

Pamela aka Atlas contemplates on her 5th place position as favorite conservative blogress diva. Thinks Malkin should win.

Want to be a TV pundit? Jack Shafer of Slate writes on how to become one.

The Fourth Rail’s Bill Roggio responds to the WaPo post on the military’s information operations.

And finally, Michael Yon asks the question: Montage or Mirage?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Season's Greetings To One And All

May you all have a White Christmas instead of a Blue Christmas.

Let Silver Bells ring on the Little Town of Bethlehem.

Some Sketches

Click Image To Enlarge
Originally uploaded by avnerijr.

Another blast from the past

After a while, one inevitably finds that the best sketches are those that use the least number of lines.

That appears to be the secret of having natural talents.

Thus, devoid of those natural gifts, I find myself terribly burdened on how to create a good sketch with the least amount of lines, and of course, time.

I always fail miserably, though still passably encouraged to try even harder.

Some Sketches

Click Image To Enlarge
Originally uploaded by avnerijr.

What a few lines can reveal.

Personally, the most appealing cartoonists are those who with a few straight or curvy lines can create the most life-like images of their subjects.

Some Sketches

Click Image To Enlarge
Originally uploaded by avnerijr.

Pretty little miss all dolled up.

Well-chiseled and deeply-set features are easier to recreate. Thus Caucasian features come out more easily than Oriental features.

Unless, one's talents are prodigious and varied. But then, we assume that the greater numbers of those who try to sketch only have the minimum of nature's gifts.

Some Sketches

Originally uploaded by avnerijr.

Little boys are hard to do.

Creating the smooth and fine lines needed for children's features are quite difficult. One can't help admire the talents of those little known artists who inhabit the throw-away remnant spaces in the many malls of the old homeland.

Some Sketches

Click Image To Enlarge
Originally uploaded by avnerijr.
A blast from the past.

Some Sketches

Click Image To Enlarge
Originally uploaded by avnerijr.

A window through the eyes.

Sharp and clear pictures are the easiest of imitate. One simply duplicates whatever details of the features one can distinguish.

Once read in a sketching book manual that sketching is not about duplicating the real images, and it mentioned the impressionists.

Probably holds true for real artists.

But what about us non-artists?

Some Sketches

Click Image To Enlarge
Originally uploaded by avnerijr.

During some lazy afternoons, boredom becomes the lonely hunter.

What better way than to put charcoal pencil on paper and do some sketches.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Personal Look At The Current US Economy

Having now lived a total of 4 months since the start of this year in the old homeland, two points of personal observation stand out markedly in the local scenes.

First is the frenzied and incessant discourses both in media and among educated and interested local residents of the hot-button political flashpoints that have mesmerized the collective consciousness of a nation, gripped in some kind of political addiction that stubbornly refuses to be shaken off. Wherever one strays, or whatever printed materials one can come across locally, or whatever one sees or listens to on cable TV or radio, the riveting topics are about the many egregious manifestations and ramifications of politics as conspicuously played out both locally and nationally.

Next is the almost desperate and hopeless tone of the somber discourses on the state of the Philippine economy, ironically not in the usual areas of GDP, productivity, dollar reserves, etc, since their figures are quite encouraging, but more on the areas of pervasive poverty and ignorance which have cast a very large and ominous pall on the collective moral soul of the entire country. The various partylist causes and protests are a good representative, avowedly all done in the name of the poor and dispossessed. And by association, in the name of the ignorant masa, who it would appear can easily be led into causes that at first blush lack depth and careful study.

But I have observed with some degree of consternation and wonder how it is that these same sources, both media pundits and local educated elites, can discern so much about local politics and the adverse social conditions brought on by flawed economic policies and practices, yet are almost functionally illiterate about the current state of the US economy.

Many media pundits and many of my relatives and local acquaintances are both very articulate and incisive about local economics and usually have sufficient intellectual capital to make reasonably informed judgments on the politics and its practices of other countries, most especially the United States. The same sources are never at a loss of scholarly comments and opinions about the political actions of leaders of other nations and their local impacts.

Yet one can surmise from their commentaries and other public statements that at the very least, they are most disinterested in the US economy, though fully cognizant of how interdependent the US economy is with the rest of the world.

Ironically, one could probably surmise with some certainty that the US economy and the way it works is the primary reason why many of our compatriots can find the resources and energies to move heaven and earth to try to land a visa to the US. I doubt that US politics ranks high in the reasons for emigration.

When media pundits in the local press blurt out the cliched comment when asked about their incendiary kibitzing on US affairs that, when the Pentagon sneezes, the rest of the world shakes, it is precisely its allusion to US politics wittingly and unwittingly having worldwide repercussions.

Yet the state of the US economy and its economic policies may just be as crucial or maybe even more, as any of its political maneuvers in impacting the rest of the world, both for good or bad.

Given the above, maybe detailing some concise facts about the current US economy may aid open the gate for more serious and thorough reading and learning by the locals of an economy that from all comparative analyses works, albeit warts and all; and more appropriately, an economy that "when it sneezes, the rest of the world shakes".

First and foremost, one sterling quality of this economy which many knowledgeable persons ordain will continue to carry the US through centuries and any bumps along the way, is it free markets. Considered among the freest in the world, it has garnered many enviable records along the way. To mention one, since 1991 it has registered positive GDP growth, and in decent percentages for most periods but surprisingly vibrant in some instances. This, amidst most unusual and costly times, formidable vicissitudes that could easily stagger and down any economy of lesser caliber and resiliency.

The march to progress of this economy is also reflected in ways that benefit its consumers:

Reports of increasing labor productivity among other things could gauge the overall status of the workers within this economy.

With the above, we have been shown that overall household wealth is up.

And aligned with the above, we also have been shown that per capita consumer spending is up.

Leading to the concluding data that the number of rich people in the country has also been raised significantly.

But for the coming year, now only a notch away, this lumbering behemoth faces some tough concerns on the domestic front. The more important ones are enumerated below.

The US Housing Market - Soaring prices of houses in the entire country but more pronounced and unbelievably astronomical in some hotspot areas like California, New York, and Florida, have gone unabated for many years now. Many are now judging this as a bubble, ready to burst any time now. Without a doubt, the added equities on houses have fueled more consumer spending greatly boosting overall economic activities. If indeed this is a bubble, what would happen when it bursts? Many possible dire effects are easily identifiable.

Job Insecurity - While at present unemployment is down at 5%, considered full employment level by many, there continues a growing reality of job insecurity. A very real or possible consequence of globalization, which has spawned outsourcing.

Downward Trend for Real Wages - While labor costs indices continue to show increases, real wages have actually been stagnant. Funny but inflation is being kept down by keeping track of and trying to hold down labor costs.

Public/Private Pensions - The baby boomers are ready to retire in masse. And social security could go bankrupt if not reformed.

The Health Care System - Does not cover enough citizens and rising costs have to be controlled to continue to be affordable.

This economy then has to respond to the following pressures occasioned by the above and by forces extraneous to it:

Rising Competition From the East - China and India. Economies of both are growing in leaps and bounds. Soon they will be on the same size levels as many of the big economies of the world like Japan and some countries in the European community. We have seen how the unprovisioned surges in oil demands of China have wracked havoc on world crude prices. Even the Internet, which respects no geographical boundaries, is a major threat.

Shortfalls in Pension Funding - The day of reckoning is sooner than anybody thinks. Proposed SS reforms were shelved because of strong opposition, especially the part on "private accounts".

Global Financial Markets - To be competitive this economy will have to keep costs down,

Health Care Costs - Skyrocketing costs will have to be curbed.

Some possible recommendations to keep this economy going on its merry path.

Continued Good Monetary Policies - A new Fed chief will take the helm come January. One re-alignment move this new chief will have to confront is the mistaken notion that the Fed is the elixir of all the nation's economic ills. Because it is not. Other major branches of government will have to share the burden, in such areas as runaway expenditures, reckless fiscal policies, etc.

Better Graduates (High School) - To be competitive with the rest of the world, the US will have to revisit its education programs and determine how they match up with the rest of the world. Outsourcing is both friend and foe.

Somehow health-care costs will have to be held down and/or brought to affordable levels, or at the very least better allocation of available health services will have to be implemented.

Prudent ways will have to be found on how to adequately fund pensions, both private and public, without necessarily running to the ground those companies that have to carry them. Tax hikes? Prudent ones, maybe. And reforms to the present SS system will have to be re-introduced and passed before they are too late.

And lastly, government's borrowings as percentages to GDP appear to still be sustainable over the short haul. But over the long term, more borrowings especially from foreign sources will have to be curtailed, since they may not be tenable. Those trillions of dollars in instruments held by foreign countries like Japan and China may not in the long run bode well for the interests of the US. Government deficit spending is primarily accountable for the ballooning public debt.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Cebu's Least Known Face

Most of us are quite familiar with the enticing allures that the geography of Cebu has proudly laid out for the many visitors, both domestic and foreign, who troop to the island.

A strip-lean island, surrounded in most of its long and still enviable coast lines by one of nature's most fascinating wonders, the living, breathing and growing structures humankind loves to explore and gaze at, the coral reefs.

A fly-over on the tiny island strip, charted on a north to south orientation, will readily reveal how these coral reefs have encircled the entire island in a tight embrace. Easily distinguishable by its whitened outlines, hemmed in by landmass on one side and the dark-green deep on the other. Giving Cebu a much stouter outline than the land-bound observer would normally discover.

The old native residents of the place call the place Sugbu and the residents, Sugbuanons, which loosely translated mean "to wade through" and "those who waded through". Obviously describing how people got to the island, by wading through non-navigable and shallow portions of the foreshores and beyond.

But apart from the sea level or below sea-level natural wonders of the place, I soon discovered another physical wonder way up from the low-lying land and consorting with the low-flying clouds. These are the ruggedly steep, high and jagged, mountains as one travels across from east to west. From Cebu City to the City of Toledo, and specifically to the town of Lutupan, site of the defunct mining company, Atlas Copper Mining Corporation.

Words cannot amply describe both the beauty, the jagged peaks, and the possible perils that these ominous mountains hold for the many wary travelers.

As one ambles up from the flat areas of Cebu City and approaches the mountain ranges that provide natural delineations between the west and east, a stretch of about 20 kilometers is the timid and fearful traveler's answer to what it must feel like negotiating the most winding and treacherous mountains of the Himalayas if roads were built all the way to their tops.

Suffice it to say that that stretch is called Manipis, which translated means very thin or skinny. Which, applied to the road, means very narrow and winding. Very apt description given by old travelers who used to work in the mines. Now the road has been widened a bit, but still too narrow for comfort and safety. After all, a vehicle has to stop at many points along the way since some stretches do not have enough road space to allow traffic to pass each other.

One's deep fears of heights and of falling are generously heightened and exposed in the many hairpin turns that dot that perilous stretch. Laying bare gaping and steep chasms that stretch all the way down to the bottom of the mountains, at times maybe thousands of meters down. Sheer drops that make grotesquely unimaginable the catastrophic consequences of vehicles free-falling all the way to the bottom. Sheer drops with only a few feet of God's earth protecting and supporting the mindless vehicles negotiating through them.

Time seems to stand still as one's vehicle snakes through them, cautiously taking each dangerous turn with white bare knuckles and rapidly pulsating hearts.

In the end, however, the trip ends without any untoward incident and appears well worth it, experiencing in the process some novel pleasures interspersed with great fears and anticipation.

The entire mine complex, which used to be a thriving and throbbing hub of frenetic activities, appears now quite decrepit and mute. If I remember correctly, Atlas used to be the No. 1 copper producer in the world, supplying a good percentage of the world's demands. But the general declines of metal prices during the 90s took a grave toll, so much so that in that same decade, the mine, which had operated pre-WWII, had to close and lay off most of its operating personnel. Now only a couple of hundreds are left to secure the huge place and to do some basic regular maintenance chores.

The good news is that various talks are afoot for the re-opening of the mine under new ownership, with possible financial and operational participation of foreign investors. The prognosis is very good because metal prices are again riding on record-high crests, and there appear no ready suppliers around the world to fill in the slack in the renewed demands for copper.

This will be a very welcomed development for an island that has traditionally prided itself as the gateway to the south. But which of late has slyly referred to itself in tourist brochures tersely as simply an island in the Pacific, with the obvious snub of and dis-association from the rest of the island archipelago now mired in deep social and political problems; and getting very negative press in the rest of the world.

Not a very ideal situation in the island's drive to attract more tourists, and garner more revenues for its development projects.

In Memoriam: Nilda Neri Veloso

(Nilda Neri on the right)
During the funeral services in Baybay, in Southern Leyte, I was asked to deliver a short memorial for my late aunt who was buried last November 12, 2005.

This entry is intended as a more or less permanent memorial of or testimony on the life of the deceased. Any relatives and friends then who chance upon this blogsite are invited and encouraged to lend their own words under the Comment section of this entry.

Thanking you in advance.

I am one of the sons of Amadeo R. Neri, an elder brother of our late departed aunt, Nilda Neri Veloso. I, my brother Philip, and sister Esper, who are here with you today on this most solemn occasion, are all originally from Cagayan de Oro, the same place where Tia Dedith, or Nilda to many of you, also first saw light.

With her death, we have witnessed the auspicious passing of the last surviving sibling of my father's family. And I understand the same is also true on the Veloso side.

Tia Dedith's passing marks a significant milestone - the complete transfer of legacy from one generation to another. We could say, the passing of the proverbial torch to the next generation.

Relatedly, this aspect of her passing has also been quite a revelation for me personally. Our waking up one day to confront the knowledge that we are now the older generation. That many of our cherished elders have passed on, leaving us veritable orphans.

Regarding our own unique and special relationships with Tia Dedith, these are what I can say based on my best recollections.

For most of us brothers and sisters, growing up in idyllic Cagayan de Oro during the early 50's, we may be able to say with one voice that we share the same recollections of Tia Dedith.

To us, Tia Dedith was an aunt we saw only on quite rare occasions. We formed our images of her as the youngest and best-looking sister of our father, who married an important person from Baybay. That with her husband, she split her time between Baybay and Manila. In due course, of course, we learned that she had married our late Tio Minggoy Veloso, who in his political career went on to become Speaker ProTempore of the House, aside from presiding over and tightly operating a thriving shipping business.

The rare visits of Tia Dedith to her old hometown were always welcomed and eagerly anticipated events by us, her nephews and nieces. And because of her vaunted generosity which reputation preceded her, we kids may even have regarded those visits as Christmas times for us. Since we wasted no time milling around her and doggedly continued on till our hands or pockets were filled with our generous shares of her pasalubongs.

Tia Dedith always rose to the occasion, leaving us with kind and lasting thoughts of her generosity.

When the years passed and we had developed our own travel wings, my brothers and sisters got the coveted opportunities of being able to visit with her in Manila. And at times stay with her as her non-paying quests in her hospitable house in Cortada, Ermita. Two older brothers even worked for them for some time. And as I learned last night, even my father was allotted office space in Cortada for a time.

In fine, we collectively got to know Tia Dedith better, through these intimately close contacts.

And as more years passed and the number of her surviving siblings dwindled, we individually got to know her even better - from her occasional visits to Cagayan to attend the fiesta and in turn from our visits to her in Baybay from the time she got widowed.

Today we are paying our last visit and our last respects to our last connection to our parents' generation, and eventually to that part of our past.

We take this once in a lifetime opportunity then to reflect on the long life of Tia Dedith and longingly offer her back to her God's warm embrace, laced with our equally loving testimony on a life well lived.

A life quite deserving of honor, respect, and the eternal reward promised to each one of us.

May God bless us all.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Little Bit Of Back To The Past

If one rummages through one's spent youth, what would one find in the attic or closet?

Invariably, one could find a typical assortment of discarded trinkets, old-yellowed scrapbooks and yearbooks, maybe some once-invaluable toys. Some science projects that got honorably mentioned maybe? Or little art objects created and molded by one's little clumsy hands? Maybe some remnants of a philately or a numismatist collection rendered inactive many years ago?

Well, maybe all that and more.

But would one typically find objects that required endless hours to create and prided then as great beauties deserving of some enviable place in one's little room and eventually in the cavernous hallowed halls of one's memory?

Maybe little inconsequential objects that could be likened to currency or legal tender, or even antiques, because they now possess intrinsic values frozen in time and residing in them?

And for me personally more than just invaluable memory stored in them, the strictly financial aspect of countless time invested in them, debited and withdrawn from the finite number of hours in one of life's crucial phases which we call youth.

And this is exactly what I felt during one of my trips back to the old homeland and discovering in some obscure corner of the old house that I used to call home, some of these objects that used to occupy and consume my youthful idle time with such serious vigor and passion that at times made me oblivious to time and its many youthful allures

I well remember that armed only with a several lead pencils (they were actually made from graphite) and ordinary manila folders or any blank pad available, I would sequester myself in some quiet and secluded nook, and with nose to the grind, be completely lost in the creation of those objects.

Now I wonder if I had wantonly misspent so much of my youth on such petty pursuits. And worse, because a good many of these objects have become hapless victims of time and humidity. The little unseen things spawned by the blistering humidity of a tropical place have ravaged many. Realized too late that those little insects (?) could make happy meals out of shades and lines created by lead pencils, leaving only as left-overs the paper they were etched into.

Anyway, discover them I did. And floods of memories immediately rushed out like careening waters from a broken dam. And before assigning them back to oblivion, I now commit pen and space to reliving those then priceless memories

Oh, by the way, these objects are drawings or sketches, strictly of people's faces, heads only.

My favorite subject was the Greek god-like features of Elvis Presley, who was likened to old filmdom's great profile, John D. Barrymore. It was such an easy pleasure etching on paper the prominently chiseled features of the late great rock and roll singer, with his deep-set eyes, full-blown pouty lips, great pompadour, etc.

Several of my drawings of him were saved from completely being lost. Here are those that were spared:

On the distaff side, now old and craggy Liz Taylor was the darling, not only with the puzzling eyes that change colors, but again with the perfectly chiseled features earning for her the title as the most beautiful woman of Hollywood and beyond. Here's a couple:

A little bit of ego played in it too, so here's a self-portrait:

The wife figured in it, too, feeling quite compelled to include her in the odd collection though at a much much later period:

Now, I recall several sketches of pretty local girls were gifted to their admired subjects.

The other sketches quite dutifully followed both the usual shallowness and profundity of youth, both in its crassness and idealism, its zany-ness and logic. There's John F Kennedy, local movie idol Jose Mari, Shirley MacLaine, B-actor John Saxon, clean-cut Pat Boone, talentless as a singer but beautiful Fabian Forte, local star Lourdes Medel, and Bing Crosby's youthful wife Kathryn, etc.

Lastly, harried restoration work was attempted on those saved using the much darker imprints and shades of charcoal pencils. The sketches then are not how they looked originally. And with the scary results, it may have been a great mistake to retouch them in the first place.

Oh, well!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Are We Inveterate Cliché Users In Our Blog Writings?

First, what are cliches?

Loosely, these are trite phrases or hackneyed expressions. Sometimes called bromides, which are commonplace statements or notions. But being a word derived from French, we may have to seek expert advice from a Frenchman for the word's specific connotations. But the English language appears quite comfortable with its own connotations.

Well then, test yourself and find out how unconsciously we have all become virtual slaves to cliches that have been with the language since time immemorial.

(Well, what do you know? Time immemorial. That should be a time worn cliché. Time worn. Another one?)

We can build essays or concoct conversations without maybe being aware of the cliches used.

Below are passages, sentences, etc. lifted from various sources and littered with innumerable cliches.

Read and take notice.

Writing about cliches is an uphill climb, because doing so is no bed of roses.

Most common are seesaw cliches. As your self-appointed cliché collector/guru, I had my ups and downs. Sometimes, when everything was at sixes and sevens, it almost seemed as though as my dearest ambitions were going to wrack and ruin. I had moments when I was almost tempted to believe that everything was a snare and a delusion. Even my own flesh and blood discouraged me, in spite of the fact that I was their pride and joy. Or that my own kith and kin disparaged me.

For a considerable period of time it was nip and tuck whether I would sink or swim. If I had not been hale and hearty, and well equipped for a rough-and-tumble struggle, I wouldn't have come through. But I kept at it, hammer and tongs. I gave 'em tit for tat. I went after my goal hard and fast, eschewing wine, woman, and song.

I worked morning, noon, and night, and kept to the straight and narrow. The consequence was that in due course of time, victory seemed assured. That is, things began to come my way by fits and starts, and a little later by leaps and bounds. Now, I feel fine and dandy.

Now, I venture to predict that no man, without regard to race, creed, or color, is a better master, by and large. And this, in all due modesty, though I think there is no rhyme or reason to it.

Now, some words about myself.

Though I was born in the altogether and on the impulse of the moment, I'd say that it was just in the nick of time. And this is straight from the shoulder, revealing to you my true colors.

Growing up, I kept trying to combine single blessedness with wedded bliss. It didn't work. I had a sweetheart in every port, and I worshipped the ground they walked on, each and every one of them.

But I was land-poor at the end and you can take the advice of a sadder and wiser man. Better not tangle with the weaker sex. But am I hard pressed for cash? No, since I am well paid. Get paid with a princely stipend in the coin of the realm. But I do not give a hoot for money. It is after considered the root of all evil.

But I don't complain. I am as snug as a bug in the rug. I'm clear as crystal - when I'm not dull as dishwater. I'm cool as a cucumber, quick as a flash, fresh as a daisy, pleased as Punch, good as my word, regular as clockwork, and I suppose at the end of my declining years, when I'm gathered to my ancestors, I'll be dead as a doornail.

I have a finger in every pie, all except this finger which I use for pointing with scorn. Which I do always with malice afterthought. My standing offers are on the table though at time at cross-purposes and in dire straits. I keep my ulterior motives to myself, though littered with vicious circles and sneaky suspicions. My likely stories are also filled with fiendish glee.

Though behind the throne, I show tender mercies and get lost in thought and at times up in arms. I am a straight shooter with my trusty revolver. My vaunted courage is famous and that is no crying shame. I have been in the depths of despair and have desired a watery grave in the briny deep. Though I eventually want to marry and settle down.

After all, I'm a diamond in the rough, too funny for words. I like to trip the light fantastic and burn the candle at both ends. And this is no sheer folly.

Can We Define The Lingua Franca of Blogging?

Blogging has become a worldwide phenomenon, transcending geographical frontiers and delimiting borders. An astounding coterie of peoples in different countries around the globe, with differing ethnic and language backgrounds, all meet in the blogosphere in intimate and understandable two-way discourses of most topics under the sun. They congregate and flourish in countries big and small, from pint-sized Belgium to gigantic China. And the global explosion continues unabated exponentially.

But what would be the lingua franca of blogging, albeit unofficially?

A little review of the not too distant past might help us arrive at some consensus of an answer. For its birth as a new medium, blogging arguably owes its origins in the US. After all the words, weblogs, and its contracted form, blogs, were a creation of one of its own citizens, living close to technologically predisposed Silicon Valley in Northern California. Another US citizen gave us the word, blogosphere.

Understandably then because of its longevity, it is the US blogs, in most discernible categories, that are more sophisticated, widely read, and have become primal models for the rest of the world to track and follow. Most of the technologies now fueling the proliferation of blogs likewise owe their origins in the US. The top companies selling/leasing or making available the resources and media to create and maintain blogs are based in the US.

No doubt, there are blogs out there that are written in the authors' native tongues and are thus intended sectorally for those familiar with the languages. But we can deduce that the more popular and more respected ones are the ones written in English, whether they be authored by native-born speakers of English or by those whose multi-linguistic orientation allow them to also communicate using the King's language.

I well remember the widely read and eagerly anticipated Iraqi Raed who while in Baghdad during the onset of the current war, risked all to be able to update his blogs about the blistering bombing raids. All this in perfect English. Some respected blogs in the US debate relevant issues with their counterparts in countries in Europe, such as Belgium and Liechtenstein. Again using English as the medium. Many Asian countries, like the Philippines, can boast of cadres of blogs all written in either very good or at least understandable English, since at times entries are interspersed with the local languages or dialects. One can also spend time googling about blogs and their entries and the results would invariably show not only how geographically dispersed the blogs are but also that most of them are written in the locals' versions of the English language.

So is the answer: American English?

And written American English, to be specific?

I had to resort to re-reading old textbooks to arrive at some informed and adequately reasoned notions about this language we all call English.

I bet you not too many are familiar with the discussions on which of the two, spoken or written, exerts more weight on how and where the English language evolves or drifts.

We may not even be sure if there is one global entity called the English language, given the very many local dialects of English far removed from its origins which date back to pre-colonial times in the England of antiquity. There are many native-born speakers of English in many communities and countries, each distinctly speaking their own local versions or dialects of English. English-speaking USA has scores of dialects of English scattered throughout its many regions.

But first let's settle which is the egg and the chick in this dilemma. Many authorities point to spoken English as the primary determinant of language, giving it its grammar, syntax, pitch, tune, phrase, word meanings, etc. Written English is only some 2000 years in existence, but spoken English dates back to great antiquity. And many preach that spoken English grows with the speaker as he matures, interacting with the small circle that defines his environment - family, friends, community. It is this rather limited environment that defines for the speaker the kind of language that is integral to his existence, language that for him and like-minded speakers is the correct and appropriate form and usage.

So, indeed there is American English, though in reality many local variations of it culled from many distinct local flavors of spoken English, from the northeast, to the south, to the west, and those in between.

There is nothing to suggest however that there is one standard American English, fixedly determinate, definable, and monolithic.

And this conclusion could be tenable if we can discuss and accept the five simple facts about language that many liberal-minded linguists appear to agree on.

But first it must be noted that this viewpoint is not looked upon too kindly by those more conservative purists who consider language as fixed, assigned specific and permanent values in their original usage, and who generally consider changes in usage or locutions as unacceptable, implicitly comparing language to the tenacity and unchanging nature of moral absolutes.

The first simple fact is that language is basically speech. And we have shown why many adhere that spoken English is defined by the speaker in his little community, apart and distinct from the rest of his country. This is not to say that written language has no influence at all in his language, just that the influence is minimal or accidental.

Second, that language is personal. It is the experience and patterns of habit that are very intimate because it is only the sum of the individual's experiences, which is not expected to acquire all the wealth that a copious language can offer. And we are at one with the rest of the country because of our easy command of our own hometown's pitch, tune and phrase

The third fact is that language changes. It can change in sounds, meanings, and syntax, from one generation to another. While these changes may at times be imperceptible and imprecise, they can add up in time to perceptible changes and eventually to noticeable drifts.

Fourth, that users, one way or another, are isolated. Users maintain familiar and comfortable relationships that unite them into one language community. Isolation comes in many forms aside from just distance. It could come because of education, of economic status, of occupation or profession, age, sex, etc. Sometimes, these forces can exert greater influences on languages than oceans and rugged mountain terrain.

And fifth, language is a historical growth of a specific kind. True, the nature of English is akin to the laws of physics or physical reality. English simply is. But it changes much like physical reality. Land mass changes and geography is what it is today because of the geologic upheavals of the past. The same is true of the language of English.

The blogosphere has made possible certain assumptions:

a.Since it is essentially a medium catering to the written form, it goes without saying that because its use and patronage has become very pervasive and influential worldwide, the written form of the language, and in this instance, English, will in the future determine to a large extent how the language itself will evolve, grow, or change. Especially as a global language.

b.Secondly, the very phenomenon of the Internet has broken down physical barriers that used to impede the development and spread of language. The planet has become one global community and more particularly in this respect.

These developments then would tend to make irrelevant some if not all of the accepted basic facts of language enumerated above.

Are we then near the time when one global language will be determined, agreed upon, and assigned fixed values and meanings, for universality of form and usage?

Regardless of where this is heading to, English continues to be the language of choice in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dahilayan Barrio: Eden At Your Reach?

After a protracted stay of over a quarter of century, it might come easy to decide that the US, especially sunny California, may be the yearned-for paradise away from any old hometown ensconced in a third-world country like the Philippines - hot, humid, underdeveloped, and, crowded with a lot of people I personally felt quite alienated from in terms of common interests and values.

After much thought and soul-searching I did come to the conclusion that my new adopted place was the place where I would like to spend the rest of my life, specifically the San Francisco Bay Area. Home to the fabled Golden Gate Bridge. Blessed with a most hospitable climate the whole year round, and equally blessed with the most interesting and amazingly cosmopolitan people one could find in the entire globe. Not to mention all the given comfortable accoutrements that go with living in a first-world country.

This resolute resolve had always shadowed me, even on the countless visits made back to the old homeland, the last one lasting for 3 months. At the back of my mind, I could always console myself with that comforting thought, especially when besieged by nagging difficulties during the visits. Such as the intolerable heat and humidity, the atrocious traffic, ubiquitous squatter areas or shantytowns, and more. I knew that I could always sidle back to my safe haven when the visit ended. Nothing that a quick return plane trip could instantly dissipate.

And I had always felt that nothing could drastically alter that steely resolve. But I missed to reckon that I have always been stubborn and obstinate. Label me as the guy who keeps repeating to do things until the desired results come out, unheeding conventional wisdom's admonition that those who keep repeating endlessly an action even though the desired result is not accomplished may be judged as crazy.

Thus, I had never given up the exercise for finding tenable reasons why the old homeland could be just as "good" as the acquired earthly Eden that one has usurped in moving to another country.

This had led me to the cold and calculating process of listing all the reasons why the adopted place had been considered as the perfect nest to spend one's twilight years. And matching them with acceptable alternatives in the old homeland. No stone was left unturned. Even imagined reasons got thrown into the mix.

The process has been both lingering and tedious to say the least. And after a long and hard look, some things appear to gel, determinable and recognizable but still quite hazy. But I subscribe that like most things in life, nothing is ever cut and dried, black or white. Hard fought decisions are usually arrived at based on imperfect methods, insufficient data, and yes, less than 100 percent clarity and surety. Thus, most decisions result from some combination of logic and rolls of the dice.

The same is definitely true with this comparison match-up between the old and the adopted homeland. The comparison itself has been done in a rather unorthodox manner, given that comparing very diverse locale is in itself quite subjective and values assigned rely largely on personal perception and bias. I suppose that if one looks hard enough for reasons, one will ultimately find some.

Of all the places that I have traveled in my youthful years and during more recent times, I have pinpointed one such locale that to me could comparatively match up with the one decided upon in the US. And that choice hinges on the following criteria of climate, its ability to sustain lifelong interests and avocations, accessibility, economic viability, and maybe such factors as familiarity with customs and culture. Biggest drawbacks are its distance from the rest of our immediate family, the deplorable economic and political situation in the country, and maybe the economic trade-offs inherent with living in a third-world country.

Anyway, all things considered, my choice has been the little, agricultural, remote, and rural barrio of Dahilayan, in the municipality of Manolo Fortich in the Province of Bukidnon forming part of the northern region of the island of Mindanao.

For the past 3 years or so, we have been slowly and quite imperceptibly acquiring contiguous farmlands in the above barrio which rises some 1300 meters above sea level and nestled in one the various foothills forming part of the majestic Kitanglad mountain range. The imposing shadow of Mt. Kitanglad looms large and inviting facing south from where we are located. The combination of soft rolling hills and sharp steep inclines in the terrain while at times providing daunting challenges in farming, makes for a landscape that can combat boredom and cookie-cutter looks in farm lots. No endless stretches of uniform looking plots or bland flat yards around structures.

And no fears of being isolated from the rest of civilization, since the place can be reached from the bustling northern Mindanao city of Cagayan de Oro in an hour or so, though the conditions of roads at times leave much to be desired. Especially during rainy seasons. But the eye-catching travel scenery makes up for this lack of comfort, traversing through verdant fields of pineapples, vegetable tracts, and simply virgin valleys and gullies enveloped in thick foliage. Intermittently broken up with sites of man-made structures such as greenhouses and even piggery housing. But the overall outlook of the area is still one of being untapped and unspoiled by too much intrusion of urban-like sprawl and structures.

We must also point out that the area is part of the now 25,000 has. being cultivated by Del Monte's Philippine Packing Corporation for its now varied operations. In earlier times, PPC's main product was canned pineapple. Thus an added bonus to those inclined is the famous Del Monte links some 20 minutes away from the barrio, where golf enthusiasts, both local and foreign, are wont to visit when in the area.

Agriculture in its many manifestations and variations has always been welcomed and blessed in most areas of Mindanao, which boasts of its nature-given gifts of good fertile soil and suitable climate. Thus, earning for it the dual distinction of being a rice granary and vegetable bowl of the country. All this of course, prior to the current ethnic and social unrest now endemic in most parts of southern Mindanao, where unfortunately agriculture is most suitable and once most thriving. Now pervasive poverty, widespread ignorance, and the many horrible ramifications of both are the daily realities in most provinces, where most relevant statistics are skewed higher compared to national figures.

But for this chosen barrio one of the biggest factor in its favor has been the climate, cool and temperate and almost at direct odds with the heat and humidity in the low-lying cities and towns that dot the coastal areas. And as I personally note, most like that of the San Francisco area, complete with the morning and late afternoon spectacle of white-mist fog. Nothing like the surreal ambiance brought on by nature's little cat feet (as Carl Sandburg intoned) to bring on grand and profound thoughts.

And quite integral to all the thicket of personal preferences, there is for me the added underlying purpose of the place to promote my thoughts and plans for helping this blighted land through essential agriculture pursuits, which after all has been from its existence its anointed soul and purpose.

To raise a small hand in the entire island's drive to gear up and go back to its roots which today remain stunted and neglected, that is now my focus.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Revisited: Get To Choose: France or USA?

In their utter disappointment of the USA and what it now represents as perceived by them, a good many of my former compatriots in order to push deeper their expression of this discontent and disdain had put forward the thesis both in print and blogs that France as a country was a much better choice than the upstart USA. Not only as a country but also more determinedly as a place to migrate. This need to exit is in keeping with their serious pursuit of noble personal aspirations that now seemed distant and difficult to attain in the old homeland.

To be fair and to present a more balanced view, I had gathered together in an earlier blog polite arguments not only favoring the other side, but expressing certain doubts about whether a fair and impartial comparison between the two could be feasible given the very subjective nature of many of the criteria advanced.

But present developments specifically in France may make even more evident where the favorable verdict should lie. International media have been ablaze for the straight 10th day in its unrelenting coverage of the rioting and dreadful vandalism that have gripped first the dark underbellies of French communities but which have now spread to its showcase city, Paris, the vaunted city of lights. And from media indications there appear no clear signs of the unrest abating and getting curtailed by authorities.

Needless to state, this boils down to civil rights issues of France's burgeoning minority communities, most notably its Muslim population. These invariably are the practitioners of Islam, which religion whether wittingly or unwittingly has become the wedge in Western civilization's united campaign against terrorism.

We grant that any such societal unrest where violence and destruction are inevitable consequences is always to be condemned and not condoned. Society is never served well by such cancerous onslaughts on any community's peace and security. Civilization is pushed backward by such displays of uncivilized behavior.

Thus, the world should be in unison in condemning such atrocities, where issues, whether political or social, are sought to be redressed by wanton destruction and gratuitous vandalism.

But the USA especially can't help but recall how France collectively had derided its attempts as feeble and irrational when it was laying out what it viewed as earnest and good faith justifications on why the world through the UN should move to forcibly oust the Baghdad despot.

How well we recall the emphatic lectures given by French officials on why the US should heed its anti-war advices, France being the competent authority on such matters. It pointedly referred with obvious pride to its own efforts in dealing with its own minorities, which are comprised largely of Muslims. Now, we are once again treated to the cliché that sometimes the past may come back to haunt and bite you.

Now new converts in media are singing the tune that this flashpoint may signal and usher in more similar disruptive incidents in other countries of Europe which have now been rudely awakened from their somber slumber of denial to this gnawing threat. We read earlier snippets about this in the Netherlands. We know that good ally, England, has minority populations in its own shores in conditions mirroring those in France. What about Germany? And those little safe haven countries trying not to court world notice with their own homegrown social issues?

The future does not look well, especially if the rest of the world continues to be scattered and fragmented in the urgent drive to erase world-wide terrorism which is a direct threat to all of civilization, in all countries.

And like it or not, or whether PC or not, we have to unstintingly bring our efforts to bear on the breeding places of terrorism where our fact-finding fingers have inexorably pointed to.

We must address that cancer before it critically metastasizes to bring down the global body politic.

An Acknowledged Phenomenon In The Blogosphere?

Punditry or opinion writing has always found comfortable and adequate expression in the blogosphere from its inception. Its continuing phenomenal growth can be argued as being powered and sustained by this innate desire to opine and to search for proper media to express them. OpEd pages are arguably the most read or visited sections of any printed or on-line paper.

We can surmise that there must be countless sharp minds, honed through many years spent in either academia or profession, floating out there in the firmament, many with time, talents, and pen to spare, to devote to this punditry. And the blogosphere has been picked as their proper and easily accessible forum for such grand cerebral exercises. Where every eager participant is allowed free and ample clean slate to create masterpieces.

It can also be argued that many opinions expressed in the countless blogs sprayed across the broad extent of the blogosphere are about the things that are socially, politically, or economically impacting the different countries in the world.

From my many incursions into blogs, I can safely say that many are of this orientation and motivation. Forming opinions about what is wrong about the country and what steps to be taken to bring it back to the righteous path of prosperity, equality, and equity.

In my old homeland, it has almost become the favorite national pastime for pundits and opinion makers to dissect and analyze all the political and economic ills of the country and to mentally erect their individual theories on the best paths back to recovery and prosperity. It may help rationalize this by pointing out that the country at present suffers from what might rightly by judged as record negative findings in the areas of poverty, corruption, social discontent, etc.

Thus, dissertations about these readily grab the rapt attention of many readers because these dire conditions directly affect many of the same readers. On the part of these attention-yearning pundits, a veritable field day ensues to try to come up with the most riveting prose that can both stir the emotions and the minds of many to devote eyeballs to their sites or papers.

Some go beyond by framing their theses in gilded books of both hard cover and paperback. Without question such products enjoy brisk sales nowadays. Many consumers are interested to devote time and money to purchase their works, so they can sob and heave in the warm embrace and comfort of astutely interwoven prose and buzz phrases or ideas.

And the local blogs and media are littered with such punditry. Many are adulated, widely read and listened to, and accorded high places in the hierarchy of important and influential people in society.

But to me, there is one other equally patriotic and noble group that does things less flattering, less attention grabbing, less appealing, and maybe less valuable before the eyes of the general public. But most probably, can show more and better results. This is the group that most likely decided early on that the best approach to the path to recovery and prosperity was to put shoulders to the plow, investing whatever meager time and resources to the many little economic activities that when taken together equal the local economy. And in the larger context, the entire country's economy.

These are the people who believe in the cliché that change to be meaningful and sustainable must begin one man at a time. That to effect change, we begin with each person, giving each the opportunity and the means to economically uplift himself.

These are the people who believe that trying to singularly grapple with the entire onus of the country's ills, both real and perceived, is to guarantee failure. That to wait for a miracle may be wistful thinking, at best. Or that to expect great followings simply because your hypotheses stand tenable to great logic and scrutiny may be unrealistic.

These are the people who believe that thinking grand schemes and plans are good in theory and on paper. But may take generations to translate to implementation or good results. Or may likely all fall by the wayside due to indifferent neglect or inattention.

These are the people who believe that solutions are never neat and easily categorized, nor capable of being put to cadenced and orderly prose. Good ones are usually messy and randomly chaotic, and typically do not follow standard expectations.

These are the people who accept that workable solutions do not necessarily invite good public attention and approbation, nor produce spectacular results. It is sufficient that they end up with good and productive increments that taken on the long haul can produce meaningful changes.

One wonders if this group can get sufficient attention for and coverage of their endeavors in the same blogosphere that appears to idolize the other kind. Their number could be just as numerous and pervasive as the present anointed darlings of the blogosphere.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

In A Bind On What To Blog

Urgent businesses, both personal and otherwise, brought me once again to the old homeland left behind over a quarter of century ago. Having spent three months reacquainting with already unfamiliar haunts just a little over two months ago, I had thought that the transition would be an easy cakewalk the second time around. After all, three months are a sufficiently long period of time to spend to get familiarized with one's immediate surroundings. Even medical practitioners are quite agreed that the human body itself requires only from 3 to 6 weeks to reacclimatize. Thus, the rest ought to follow suit.

But already the end of the second week of my new sojourn would indicate to me that the disconnect and disorientation have been just as sticky and tenacious as the first time around, or any other time around for that matter. In fine, getting used to the new locale and taking on habits and chores corresponding to the new environs have never been an easy task. Such matters as which news, or political issues, or social concerns (local vs US), should I sink my teeth on take on unruly challenges that normally would not even be given second thoughts by the locals.

After all, my life essentially is now that life in the adopted country that I have chosen to embrace and where my immediate family roots are now well in place and thriving. It does not matter much that I still maintain a decent residential house in the city in the Philippines, where I grew up, got educated in, and worked for a quite. That I still maintain bank accounts in local banks, or that I continue to maintain and cultivate investments in local enterprises would in my judgment render to me only remote relevance and importance. This, albeit being profoundly conscious that deep down, I pursue all these because I subliminally identify with the place and its people and am morally constrained to exert my level best under the circumstances to assist in its earnest efforts to economically uplift itself. The added burden of having close family relatives and acquaintances still in the place and quite literally in a mortal struggle to make ends meet makes its case more compelling.

That I have to spend more time here is not the issue. The bone of contention rather is how one can continue without confusion, puzzlement, and conflict, living the new life adopted over the old life that was abandoned many years ago. Thus, should I concern myself with the quirky nuances of local politics, or festering social issues currently impacting the local scenes? Or should I rather continue with the acquired routines and attitudes now seamlessly enmeshed with my new life? It is rather amazing to realize that deep and subtle changes in practically all areas of human living are manifested in attitudes and in values, apart from the typically visible and tangible metamorphosis that one goes through when uprooting one's family from one country to another.

The Internet or the World Wide Web has of course become the phenomenon that allows every participant the open world of options and choices catering to every conceivable individual preference. Thus, keeping in touch and participating with family activities or discourses from 7,000 miles yonder is no problem. Neither is keeping close touch with the politics, the social activities, etc. or what have you, of one's new milieu any great concern. After all, the Internet has made the global environment one big interdependent community. International events are no different with the ready accessibility and ubiquity of local events.

But the in-your-face distractions of critical local events sprouting all around are difficult to effectively ignore and discount, regardless of how hard one may try. Much the same way that getting some sleep would be next to impossible amidst blaring radio sounds in the background.

And this has been my dilemma. My regular incursions in the blogosphere continue to affirm this confusion. Should I focus precious limited time on reading up on US blogs dissertating on issues relevant to the US, or should I go to local blogs agonizing on the myriad of social, political and economic maladies besetting the nation? Which at times could be at cross-purposes, or maybe exhibiting downright shades of conflicts of interests?

The uneasy compromise that I have grudgingly applied is for me to limit my interests and concerns on local events, and maintain the aloof attitude of a distant and disinterested observer, deaf and somewhat powerless to even formulate opinions on the pressing issues. And to continue marshalling efforts and resources toward the adopted country which offers many grand promises not only for me but more importantly, for the younger members of our family who have hitched their lifelong stakes in a country that arguably offers the best possible opportunities for living.

Regrettably, making this priority choice has been quite easy and unequivocal from purely personal interests' point of view.

I personally find that because of the added perspective and hindsight benefit of being able to competently compare the old life with the new, the former and most everything integral to it have been found gravely wanting and disappointing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

E L V I S !

In the doldrums I currently find myself in, I am impelled therapeutically to reminisce about things that most influenced my dear lamented childhood. Of heroes and idols that harangued wakeful moments. Of heroes and idols that made flights of fancy and fantasies possible and almost realizable. Of heroes and idols whose lives youthful dreams could be hitched to

In short, of heroes and idols that we all wanted to be like when we grew up.

For me, one of the most enduring ones is that of the King, Elvis Presley. Who closer than an alter-ego I had wanted to be. In looks and of course, in singing style.

Reality does have its own inimitable ways of pulling feet to firm ground. And genetics and the ensuing years inexorably proved that true.

Still, color-fast vestiges of dreams resolute and deep simply cannot easily be consigned to the dustbin of forgetfulness. Such dreams have their own equally unwavering guiles of growing on legs and living their own little lives in one’s consciousness and reality.

Again, Elvis Presley is one of them.

Since then and over time, the legend lives on!

What started as a very inauspicious introduction to him via a run-of-the-mill pocketbook of 50’s song hits with the King’s countenance emblazoned at the back cover in somber black and white, my unending drudgery continues on. Featured on that songhits book was the raw, rough and loud rendition of the King of “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”. It didn’t matter, I clung to his every stuttered word and tried with all my puny might to imitate, with every groan and hip-shaking move.

Many hurts and aches have come and gone brought down by the onslaught of time and untold miseries interspersed with some inspired moments. But still no end in sight for the dream that refuses to die.

Thus, I continue to be saddled with the unenviable task of gathering together what remains of a king who died too young. Continuing the journey of still trying to be like him.

I have in my possession over 4 gigabytes of Elvis Presley songs on MP3 format and permanently stored on CDRs and on hard disks in a couple of PCs, detailing songs released as singles, outtakes of many songs that never made it to the final recordings, songs collected as albums released through the years prior to and after his death. Songs performed on appearances with radio and/or TV hosts. Home recordings on very crude recording machines and media translated into MP3s. (Elvis is on record as having recorded about 700 songs. Quite a feat for a short lifetime of 42 years.)

More gigabytes of video clips of performances before and after the Las Vegas years. And clips from the movies highlighting the songs that became hits.

BetaMax and VHS tapes of his earlier movies and those videos manufactured after his death as commercial memorials of his legacy. Including now unplayable reel-to-reel tapes and 8-track cartridges that continue to deteriorate over time and humidity.

Various books, both pocket-size and the coffee table type, as more commercial attempts to capitalize on his enduring popularity. Picture clippings from various magazines and newspapers. And a boxful of floppy disks with Elvis pictures on them. A folder with the detailed anthology of all Elvis songs.

And yes, Elvis trinkets such as a refrigerator magnet, a pen that plays a favorite Elvis phrase in a characteristically unique Elvis way (“Thank you, thank you”), and an ornate and intricately-designed metallic opener, a huge beach towel silk-screened with his face on it. And yes, some cards and a tin box for a jigsaw puzzle. A couple of framed 45s of songs that hit No. 1 on the charts.

Some LP albums, boxed cassette sets, audio CDs, even Video CDs on Karaoke format. Can’t locate several 78s from the Sun Recording Studios with their familiar bright yellow labels, containing the songs now collated in the album justly tagged as the Sun Recording sessions, which has been adjudged as the definitive album on the enduring phenomenon called Rock and Roll.

And yes, a couple of sheets of Elvis postage stamps, featuring the old and leaner Elvis.

And of late, a karaoke machine which had the complementary DVD disc that contains about 14,000 songs in English, Tagalog, Chinese and Japanese. Okay, but its one redeeming value is that the songs of Elvis featured among the selections are the Elvis songs of old. Pure and pristine, raw and unadulterated Elvis. Now, who would remember these songs? Poor Boy, Treat Me Nice, Baby I Don’t Care, Love Me, Anyway You Want Me.

I once heard inside one very popular music store chain, a young amply-haired salesman loudly complain to an associate nearby that he wondered why many were continuing to buy Elvis records when he did not even write his songs and sang only the songs of others.

He was right of course, popularly speaking. But technically, do you know that in the initial release of Poor Boy, Elvis is credited as having written the song? Over the years, I have not found any other Elvis song similarly accredited.

And lastly, on this same blog I have a link to an Elvis site, which details particularly his early years.

Thus, Elvis may have left the building, but his legend stays on.

Redux: What’s Being Blogged

Have not updated this blog for at least two weeks and paradoxically I have been quite busy doing things. A lot of things other than updating this blog.

I have been reading online news and with more focus, other people’s blogs and at times making appropriate comments in them. And considering the volume of work out there being churned at dizzying velocities, it is no mean understatement to declare that just trying to get a good glimpse of what people are writing about is in itself quite a formidable task.

I consider all the beautiful, astoundingly complicated, intellectually superior, and articulately gifted minds out there sifting through veritable gold mines of ideas and events readily made accessible and available to most everybody in the world with the continually evolving technologies. Then, bringing to bear those blessed minds into dissecting, analyzing, and hypothesizing as quickly as those ideas and events become news or are publicly aired.

And there are many such gems and precious stones of blogs out there, all for everybody with Internet connection to discover, choose from, and hopefully learn from. Names and URLs are unnecessary in my estimation.

Let your own mind track them down and judge for itself where the real gems are. Those that are still diamonds in the rough, and those that outwardly shine but upon closer examination are actually fool’s gold.

And the entire world is your virtual playground. From the standards-setting blogs in the US, to the neophytes in war-torn Iraq, from the fast-learning English speakers in third-world countries like the Philippines, to the old-country sophisticates in Europe, or to any wired corner of the globe where English can be written and uploaded as prose or verse to the Internet.

It is quite a humbling experience for me then to ask myself:

What could I possibly write about that has not already been written, written in a much better and more interesting way?

What fresh angles to any interesting or crucial story could I possibly triangulate that have not already been eloquently dissertated somewhere?

And mold it in such a way that people will take notice?

What novel ideas or notions could I possibly concoct that would turn some heads toward my direction?

What possible gifts of language and tongue could I possibly discover and marshal in creating a story, an essay, a report, or verse that would at least be at par with the standards set by those sites who obviously have hurdled them based on their reach and readership?

These and more are questions/issues that are currently being processed by this humbled and confused blogger.

Throw in some time constraints blocking the way and what we have here is a real-time dilemma that needs some resolving.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Abject Poverty And Happiness: Do Not Compute

Let’s start with a loose definition of what “happiness” could possibly mean to as many people as possible.

Though I’m sure it is not totally encompassing or all inclusive, here’s one that possibly contains as many notions about it as we all are different in our individual thinking:

Happiness, pleasure or joy is the emotional state of being happy. The definition of happiness is one of the greatest philosophical quandaries. Proposed definitions include freedom from want and distress, consciousness of the good order of things, assurance of one's place in the universe or society, inner peace, and so forth. ...

And this came from this source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happiness

The World Values Survey published by the University of Michigan last November had this to say about its study:

“..according to feelings of "subjective well-being"—which combined its happiness and "life-satisfaction" scores…”

The Philippines as a country got good marks in that survey.

And many Filipinos with bright-red nationalism emblazoned on their breasts proudly extolled the elated though floundering country for scoring very high. Though momentarily stunned, they found both comfort and pride in learning that the above survey/study graded the Philippines as scoring very high compared to its Asian neighbors, and better still, scoring higher than the envied richer ones.

Thus a number of local pundits, intellectual elites from both academia and media, or maybe even those inspired by their nationalistic pride, given and buoyed by the gift of tongues and words, put on their thinking caps, sharpened their wits and pens, and started the task of putting to words the grotto that will mark and showcase this enviable honor, and on which other like-minded Filipinos may worship.

It was quite an elixir, however short lived it may have been, to soothe the incessant anguish occasioned by the festering economic and political sores that beset the country. Not to count those fortuitous events for which no personal blame could be attributed.

But given all the ills we find in the country, what possible rationalization could possibly justify such an overtly difficult finding to understand? Filipinos the happiest amidst staggering and pervasive poverty, ignorance and illiteracy?

Still, credit the Filipino’s ingenuity and resourcefulness to come up with a possible and neat justification, and for some, even some implicit gospel truths for why it is so.

One pun-ny journalist started with the question about whether happiness is a state of mind, a state of the pocketbook, or simply, one sovereign state. But in a change of pace and with gravity, declared that to the Filipino happiness is not material, but social.

Huh? Well, meaning that the Filipinos find happiness in a social gathering among his own kind, bantering and exchanging jokes, cell phone numbers and silly nicknames. I suppose they become most unhappy trudging back to their houses or hovels and grapple with boring solitude and persistent want. They could be hungry, unkempt, broke, no health insurance, etc., but as long as with barkadas, extended families and friends, they are mostly happy.

Happy, you say? Well, again happy because it does not take much for the Filipino to be happy. A little food here and there. Some tingling coins in the pocket. A movie every now and then. A few cheap drinks with friends in the corner store. Mababaw ang kaligayahan, or easily amused, his words echoed.

Yeah. But I’m not even sure if the shallowness refers to the quality or quantity of any amusement or happiness index. Please do not ask me to explain. I probably mean something like this. Though hungry, I’m still happy because I can walk to scavenge for food , while others similarly situated simply cannot even walk.

Then the same journalist proceeded to expound on two admirable traits that he had found in the Filipino: resiliency and self-sufficiency. And who is to deny that those are superbly admirable qualities? But most probably these traits are also found in most other countries in the world, especially those in want and need. And there are scores to name.

The question then is that might not these qualities be necessary and consequential results for those in want and need for a long time? That because of ingrained, pervasive, and prolonged exposure to poverty and its deprivation, the indomitable human spirit has found for itself a path to some form of deliverance. Under such onerous conditions, it probably becomes necessary for one to be resilient and be self-sufficient, unless one is prepared to be overwhelmed and die.

Now please let me hearken back to our loose definition of happiness above, and extract this part of that definition: freedom from want and distress.

I can best bring out my point on this by relating something I read recently (also saw a segment of it on TV) about two very popular but giggly movie stars who went to some obscure tribe in Africa, filming some footage for an upcoming series. Can’t remember exactly what the visit was all about, except that those two very prominent, high-profile but out-of-their-element stars were the anointed ambassadresses (one may even have been an A-list model, can’t remember).

The show described the visit and highlighted some translated interviews with some brightly-garbed though sullen-faced tribeswomen, with our two celebrities taking turns interviewing them. The TV segment clearly depicted the very crude and rudimentary existence the natives lived in that rather undeveloped place in Africa, flashing typical scenes quite familiar to TV viewers. A mud hut kept together with dried cow dung, topped with a thatched roof of some kind, dirt floor, no indoor plumbing, not much furniture, women in their crude native garbs, sullen faces both of adults and youngsters, etc.

In fine, not quite blazingly novel, thus not really newsworthy in these difficult times, nor was it eyebrow raising. Just your typical and familiar picture of abject poverty in yet another undeveloped area of the world. Untouched by civilization, one might say.

Until the time that this one particular celebrity is back in her elements, in front of a TV camera, and being interviewed by an equally popular celebrity host. That’s when it gets a little surreal. For me, at least.

In very comfy surroundings, with feet crossed atop a very hospitable couch, in front of a very admiring audience, she declares how lucky and happy those native women were. That we, the USofA audience, could learn a lot from them, from their simplicity, their seeming innate happiness, the admirable simplicity of their idyllic lives, etc. In short, we should rather imitate them and not exploit our environment the way we in the civilized world do.

Okay. I had then suggested in my mind that maybe she (the celebrity) should stay with them for a month or so, and not just a day or two which they actually did. Then maybe she can understand with some reasonable depth how difficult it is to live in very crude and unsanitary conditions, bereft of all the bountiful goodies that we normally take for granted in the civilized world.

Grocery stores to purchase relatively cheap, wholesome, clean, and nutritious food. Indoor plumbing to take care of proper waste disposal. Shelters with clean and comfortable floors for us and our children to live under. A house that is comfortable and sufficient for shelter and protection from outside elements. Maybe medical services to take care of our ailments, whether petty or catastrophic. Etc. Etc… The usual trappings that advancing civilization has blessed us with.

My simple but clear point is that people living in prolonged and pervasive poverty cannot possibly know any better. Not even any better to understand what happiness could possibly be in this world which has been blessed with the advances that civilization has wrought. If you, your family before you, and the families before them have always known poverty and its many deprivations, how could you possibly understand what life could be for you and your loved ones, the same way those who are sharing and partaking of the blessings understand what possible happiness and contentment could be derived? How could aspirations for a better life be germinated and nurtured under such arid environment?

Ignorance is definitely not blissful in this instance. Neither could any outsider rightly claim that there is no ignorance involved in any decision about happiness and contentment emanating from under such dire circumstances.

After all, do we not normally correlate and tie up poverty with ignorance or illiteracy?

Hopefully this has provided some explanation why.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Google: My Personal English Assistant

Here's another entry that was originally intended as a comment to another very popular blog. Again, I have decided against it and have instead posted it here:

This discussion on English as a language is both enlightening and challenging.

And it’s probably because English is arguably a formidable language to study and learn, littered as it is with very many exceptions to its many perplexing rules on grammar. Even mighty MS Word’s spelling and grammar tool is at best below average, if we have to judge it on stricter “standards” of grammar and its many subfields such as syntax .

We grant that it is a very dynamic language even within its many variations, or dialects, if you must. To illustrate, newly coined words and usages get added quite often. Thus, there is no guarantee that groups who are native speakers of English can rightly claim collectively superb understanding of and proficiency in it. I would hazard the guess that even so-called expert wordsmiths or renowned linguists will commit errors in their everyday use of it

Thus, a “workable” understanding and proficiency in English ought to generally suffice. Don’t ask me what the parameters of “workable” are. I do not profess to know. Except, as one example, we do not claim, “we have an accent” when in fact we are either simply mispronouncing words or using incorrect grammar or syntax.

BTW, has anybody tried putting the entire Comments section of this one blog entry through MS Word’s spelling and grammar wringer? I did. And saw many red-colored underlines. Including for my particular comment entry. Of course, many are not really errors. Blame it on the spellcheck’s naiveté and latent obsolescence.

It is a big challenge then not to negatively depict other English speakers, even if one can personally acquit oneself in the knowledge and proficiency of English.

Me? I put great faith and trust in my personal English assistant. Google. I’m sure many do, too.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hope For A Listless Country

In the country’s short historic span, we had at the turn of the last century the Thomasites. Then in the 60’s we had the US Peace Corps. Judging from what the country appeared to be collectively in those times, we did well. Not that we should attribute all the successes then to those two movements. There were other agencies, both local and international, which joined hands for the common efforts. Should we view it in any other wise?

Maybe it’s time again to shed some of our nationalistic pride, some of which may be falsely premised, accept our shortcomings and seek assistance, whether locally or outside. All in the name of the poor huddled masses who continue to face bleak futures. And presents, too.

The current government and its infrastructures may be so compromised and emaciated at this time to be able to effectively address the pernicious issues of pervasive poverty, ignorance or illiteracy.

The Philippines is a rich country, blessed with bountiful resources, both natural and human. Except that wealth is too concentrated on a very few. An ethnic minority accounting for only 2% of the population has control of over 80% of the economy. Add to that a few other Filipino families and that completes the distribution of most of the wealth in the country.

A country divided unto itself may not be in a position to right itself. Unless the entrenched wealth holders themselves take the cudgels to initiate the reformation.

But if patience has been stretched too much and too thinly and time is not anymore a viable option, then we should seek outside assistance.

Who? What? Where?

For the answers, let the dialogue begin.