Saturday, August 20, 2005

What To Do

In theory, most if not all of life's necessary lessons are laid out in neat and nice prose that leaves nothing much for equivocation and challenge. When one reads holy or pious books, or how-to books from home improvement to human resources issues for that matter, the prescriptions or precepts for how things are to be done, and done right, are usually neatly cut and dried, making one confident and self-assured in meeting the challenges of dedicating oneself to human perfection. Resolves usually are strongest and most determined at the start. They only start to wane when one proceeds with the execution of the tasks resolved to be undertaken.

The unnerving demands of reality start to make dents the minute one is confronted with the application of lessons that one thought would be relatively easy to apply and execute. Then confusion and doubts begin to eat away at one's being, evoking questions as to whether one has the wherewithal or constitution to do certain things right.

One finds that even the most resolute of determination one could possibly muster cannot match the ambiguities and ambivalence of real life or of one's natural aptitudes. For the religiously inclined or those devotees of spirituality, it is during those angst-ridden times that one is asked to turn to the supernatural or preternatural. To put trust in things or someone, both our senses and the acquired tools of logic and reason cannot readily discern or discover. We are asked to have faith therefore in things unseen and unproved because one knows and believes they are right and righteous.

Again, it is well and good at the reasoning phase of this rationalization. The suggested rationalization that when one finds one's natural means inadequate for the tasks resolved, one can try to bring to bear the higher means at one's disposal. But once one starts with the reckoning and proceeds again with the task, the many vagaries of reality can almost guarantee the eventual failure to accomplish. It would appear that human nature with the assistance it could harness from all possible sources is still no match.

Thus many are wont to regroup, revitalize, and begin again with the never-ending resolve to do a better job at life. This I find is the case with my own longings and struggles. There is never a day when one can afford to be complacent and self-assured in most any thing that happens daily in this world, regardless of how successfully one may have acquitted oneself on a similar situation in the past. There simply are no guarantees. Even practice does not make perfect.

Plus, one also has to account for the fact that one operates in a real-life environment where one cannot even expect harmony and cooperation from one's own family and relatives. In this respect, one stands as a solitary island in the turbulent quest for human perfection.

This to me is the essence of the lesson learned that in the final analysis what is reckoned is not that one arrives at one's destination, but how and what means one utilizes in undertaking the journey.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Get To Choose: France or The USA

One eye-catching recent topic in one of the local blogs was about which of the two countries above would typically have citizenry which is more informed and more attuned to the needs of both its own and those of the entire world.

Granted that the author of the blog and its more committed readers and commentators tend to be generally and typically anti-US, expounding typically on issues where the US could be portrayed in a bad light, especially with regard to the current government, the various views advanced still deserve some notice and rebuttal.

If memory serves me right, many aspects relating to each country were mentioned and compared, with France given complimentary nods in most if not all. It has be said though that the disparaging views expressed were essentially personal views culled from personal experiences, which thus would simply be anecdotal data. Though a referenced quote to a noted writer/columnist was made. The quoted person was Paul Krugman, writer of books on economics and noted liberal columnist of the NYT. It should be noted that Mr. Krugman is inveterately anti-Bush and has gone to great lengths to discredit his administration and most anything relating to the present US economy and its established institutions.

Funny, but Mr. Krugman was not this critical of the US when he served under a different past administration. He has been called to task about many of his current political and economic editorials and which in my humble opinion, he has not been able to satisfactorily rebut. Fellow economist Donald Luskin is one blogger who is on a crusade to expose Mr. Krugman's many gloom and doom predictions.

Now, back to the comparison about the US and France.

Various aspects touched upon where in the realms of economics, politics, culture, social and personal values, and even altruism. But many facets of these aspects are quite hard to quantify, much less dissect and comparatively analyze, especially to the layman's curious mind. And it might be difficult also to exercise impartiality, making an assessment that will not be colored by one's preconceived notions and personal experiences. Worse, who would be the qualified jurors who could sit in judgment to decide on the comparison? In this milieu, one man's judgment will have to be as good as another.

Considering this dilemma, it might serve us better simply to cite and relate easily observable and quantifiable data, and allow the readers to make their own assessment.

So here goes. But a qualification first. The US is a country of almost 300 million, composed of a very diverse set of minorities, while France is a country of about 60 million, which also has its own set of diverse minorities, mostly émigrés from its old colonies. The only familiar figure on minorities I have for France is the 5% which is its current Moslem population. But the US is definitely much more expansive and colorful. Close to 70% would still be white Caucasian (mostly European), 10% African-Americans, 5% all Asians, and the rest Hispanic, give and take a few percentages.

On the population aspects then, immigrants should be considered the most discriminating and serious judges on which country would be better for them and their offspring. Can France hold a candle to the US on the countless numbers of citizens of the world wanting to step on American soil? If we want to discount this clear lop-sidedness in favor of the US, we would have to impliedly dismiss all these peoples as unqualified to determine what is best for them. If it is any help, 2/3 of the total inward remittances of Filipino OFWs to the home country come from the US against 1/3 coming from everywhere else. Thus, it might not be too much of a stretch to extrapolate that the numbers even for the Filipinos favor the US.

With regard to the cultural aspects of the issue, it could be easy to see that France could hold an advantage, being a much older and established culture. The US could only point to its humble beginnings in the 1770's. Thus, one of France's main industries is tourism, citizens of the world visiting the many revered shrines of its rich histories past - churches, buildings, historic places, etc. But would age and old structures be reliable determinants for the superiority of one's culture? Or how does one reliably quantify which family and social values merit better approval over another? Both are avowed Christian countries, anyway, though some of France's political institutions adhere to some socialist practices like its universal medical care.

With regard to the educational aspects, especially those pertaining to the educational systems and the orientation and thrust of the studies emphasized, how should one go about trying to measure such subjective aspects? Still, one can point to the thousands of young men from countries of the world eagerly desiring to get an American education, and not just in new-fangled technology courses, or traditional technical courses, or military courses, but including the more traditional courses of the arts and humanities. For aren't the many Jesuit institutions scattered across the continent, usually on the lists of top choices for prospective foreign students coming to the US?

With regard to its economics, the numbers are decidedly in favor of the US. Its economy continues to easily outstrip the performances of most of the members of the European union, France included. But how does one measure the "happiness" or "contentment" indices to determine which country has the edge? Is the length of a typical vacation benefit for workers relevant or integral in determining quality of life? Does having more leisure time necessarily equate to a citizenry that is more balanced, more socially and morally attuned? Remember quality time over number of hours? Remember also that recreation and entertainment are two visibly huge industries in the US.

One would think, however, that one who has more in life, has better chances or opportunities of living a happy and contented life, over one whose main concern may be trying to make both ends meet. Also, altruism, definitely both in theory and practice, is apt to appear in communities with more to give and share. The last tsunami experience clearly bears out the leadership roles played by the affluent countries, most noteworthy being the US with its aid components of money and goods, and vital services provided by an ever alert and well-scattered military.

You be the judge.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

For the Homesick Cagayanons: A Tale of Land and More Land

Recently took a leisurely drive through the city's newest and third bridge in Taguanao, the barrio of my birth and erstwhile pasturelands of a few of the city's old families. The area is known primarily for the Huluga caves and the archeological excavations that have yielded many ancient artifacts, including some pottery shards dating close to the birth of Christ. A human skull of similar age now sits proudly in a local museum. And this fact caused quite a stir prior to and during the building of the bridge, which physically violated the diggings site slicing through it. Various civic groups loudly cried fouled but were eventually shouted down by the government in the person of the current peripatetic mayor, both endearingly and derisively nicknamed, Dongkoy.

Went along with a cousin whose family continues its fight for some 100 has. of "titled" land, which is traversed by the bridge and the access road, now embroiled in bitter legal suits arising from adverse claims filed by groups of squatters and other long-time residents of the area. Once upon a time, the entire area was public pasturelands leased to private individuals, or so I was wont to hear.

And a good part of my own youth was spent visiting this once pristine area, blessed with easy and close access to a then raging whitewater river and underground springs. I am told I myself was born close to the spot where the Lawndale Spring resort is now in existence and where we as kids used to spend carefree days camping out with relatives. A good part of the fun was travelling to and around the place since we rode horses provided by an uncle. We had prided ourselves as the original local cowboys, at times trotting and galloping around the Capitol grounds or even racing along city streets.

But now change brought on by time and man has altered the looks and lay of the land. The bridge and the access road now cut across like a sharp knife or stampeding bulldozer literally pushing aside and burying telltale vestiges of the past. Though at the present time, the bridge and the service road at both ends have not really generated the traffic expected that gave it their raison d'etre, their very visible presence have brought on both intended and unintended consequences.

Whether as a result of or because of the new bridge, they all remain to be seen. Some more nakedly self-serving than others. The former mayor, under whose administration the idea of a new bridge was broached, is now said to own, conveniently registered under other family members' names, large tracts of land in the area. And his family is said to not even be old Cagayanons.

But most others are definitely veritable toss-ups. Pedro Roa, Jr. has large holdings traversed by the new road on one side of the bridge. A half-sister, Araceli, subdivided certain tracts on the other side, closer to the city side. Of course, my cousin who inherited the property from his father. has his litigated piece neatly sliced by the road and littered with houses galore on both sides. Structures made mostly of hollow blocks. Unquestionable signs of permanency and obstinacy. Our very own Nene Pimentel lays claim to his own legacy there, fed by his greasy pork barrel, with the still under construction Convention Center, which straddles the range opposite that of Lumbia. The still skeletal remains of the building, ongoing for the last two or three years at least, tell the visiting onlookers that it may as well be a rusting white elephant, though continuing to exhibit some visceral movement. Visceral because a small skeletal crew continues to slowly pile away formed pieces of reinforcing bars and tons of concrete.

But without a doubt, from its vantage point one has a commanding view first of the great canyon hacked by the persistent river now many meters down the gorge. Then one can survey the city's newest growth area, the Lumbia area, boasting of the many posh subdivisions, XU high school, SM, Pueblo golf course, even a first-class memorial garden comparable with St. Peter's hoped-for accommodations for the sainted ones. And many more to come. The transfer of XU grade school for one. Maybe another phase for the already operating call center.

Definitely it was intended or expected that real estate prices in the area would quickly soar and they have. Thus, no need to get excited or rushed about where to buy bargain lots. I suppose there are no more. For the Aggies, I had asked about Porta Coeli. Does anybody remember? The area that Baging Arguelles was slowly able to parlay into one big tract that stretches all the way down to the river? I am told, it is still in the family, whole and undivided. Baging and family are now back in Negros. So, go figure what thoughts you want to think about its use.

The bridge itself looks quite inconsequential, short and narrow traversing a rather thin slice of river. The road is cemented, and looks better than the existing city streets. The meandering access to the elevated plateau where the convention center sits looks massive and enduring. But why so, in the middle of nowhere? Legacy, my friend. The fading billboard mutely tells it so.

And thus, my little sentimental journey back to the past ended, still undimmed and showing rays of mild expectations that the new area opened would provide for housing and space for an already burgeoning population.

What I've Found Out

Spent the last three hours surfing the net inside an Internet café full of boisterous teens, groping at things and realities that appear to me to be difficult to unravel and understand. Though the hours seemed long, I was deprived only of the use of 45 pesos, unbelievably cheap for one used to the high costs of technology.

Sites visited were mostly along the lines of email lists and web blogs of assorted persuasion and orientation. Though quite unscientific and maybe even, illogical, I had wanted to spend the time toward finding out more about the things and realities that continually irritate me like a mote in one's eye during my moments of solitude.

Understandably, the blogs I went to provided no discernible relief except to inform me that many people, educated and quite learned, continue to exercise visceral hate and/or dislike for certain things, people, country, etc, to the point of allowing their rather creative minds to be closed to any attitude, suggestion, or even inkling, that might suggest that they need to rethink their ideas about those things. One gets the sense that to do so would be tantamount to admission of signs of weakness, inferiority, or even disrespect. In my estimation, they have thrown acceptable logic out of the window, and replaced it with their own reasoned-out worldviews and absolutes. Mind you, these are the same people who will extol and embellish to the high heavens the perceived virtues of spouses, members of the family, children, loved ones, or anybody close with which they share the same attitudes and biases. My doubts about them and what they might write extend to their abilities to be impartial with things that might also affect me. Thus, reading them requires a bit of caution and justifiable reservations.

Anyway, the three hours spent were in my estimation quite purposeful and fruitful, since I did find out or discover if you may, new enlightenment about things and relationships that I am inexorably attached to on a daily basis. Enlightenment which may not have direct relevance to the last paragraph.

False modesty aside, as one respected member of an email list intoned, my usual social interaction in the home city of my birth has been with people considered part of the upper strata of society. People educated in the best possible ways available and considered members of the affluent and/or influential elite in the city. The false modesty exclusion covers my insinuation that I, too, belonged to that sector. And I do since truly as far as I can recall, most everybody else around me, at home, in school, and in social gatherings, have invested me with membership to that group. Whether justified or not is beside the point.

I find then that this precisely has been an integral part of my problems, not because it was wrong to associate with the group but because this gave me a rather skewed reflection of realities, absent exposure and association with the other sectors. The local assumption was simply that this favored group not only was the un-appointed spokesperson to articulate the hues and cries of the entire city, or country, but that only this group could know, articulate, or reflect society in general. But reality dictates that such is not the case. The lower strata of society have as much claim to this primacy, and maybe even more since they definitely are more in numbers.

Almost to the man, members of the considered elite have been quite unanimous in their negative prognostications about the state of the country, and this is quite congruently reflected in the ways they live their lives. Almost without ambitions tied up with staying in the old country. Bogged down with deep inertia about what to do with their lives to help themselves and others. And I do not have to go far on this, since regrettably some of my own relatives can be counted. Where the inaction, or call it paralysis, has reached to a point, where almost a parasitic relationship exists between those who have or can with those who largely through their own volition do not have or can’t. Parasitic in the sense that not only a sense of victimization but also that of entitlement to unqualified assistance because things are bad, have pervaded many people's thinking. If one's interaction is limited to this sector, it is easy then to acquire the same sense of frustration and desperation about the way things are.

But my little realization whispers to me that such is not the same in the lower strata of society. In a real way, they are thinking of, are motivated with, and moved to action to, the realities facing them as inevitable challenges, some more difficult than others, that they have to meet head-on. If they have skills, regardless how menial or inconsequential they may seem, they know that using those skills will help alleviate their present dire conditions. Seeking employment using those skills will be one way to go for them.

Thus, you find them everywhere. Newspaper boys and other street hawkers, risking life and limb every moment of their day, to earn a few pesos. Carpenters, masons, even gardeners, laundry persons, and maids, networking with their friends so they can be connected with households or businesses in need. Agricultural workers working for 70 pesos for every 8-hour day to keep body and soul together. Contractual workers everywhere, easily distinguishable by their clean and well-ironed uniforms, littering all big malls, doing service for peanuts and gratefully pocketing small tips so long as not seen by their employers or given outside their places of business. And countless others, too tedious to mention or detail, who toil day in and day out for measly wages and equally meager benefits if any, to bring home to their anticipating families. All in all, their number is legion.

A good and relevant question to ask is how these intrepid groups are taking it. Have they as one collective group become surly, grouchy, criminally inclined, unscrupulous, mean, and impolite, cheating, suicidal, desperate, etc.? Surely, there will be those who may fit any or most of the descriptive adjectives used. But as a group, or as they interact with their "masters" on a regular basis?

My own personal observations after my stay so far would belie any negative behavioral connotations about this collective group.

I have not witnessed as much diligent practice of basic courtesies, respect, and even humor, as I have witnessed in this group. I would find it hard to imagine that all this is all made up, fake, belabored or a show. My own personal observations with people I have met and dealt with over the years would assist me to easily expose genuine behavior from one contrived. Quite recently, I was privy to one such incident where an unintended inadvertence in a very innocuous email one-liner, had confirmed for me that a proffered public demeanor was meant to convey something the sender was not.

This then is my little epiphany. And thus, I have good reasons to believe and hope for that as more individuals, unmindful and oblivious of what others might say, search for ways and commit sweat and energy to better themselves and the people around their immediate circles, this country can be turned around, from the grassroots up, and not the other way around.

Let's end with a cliché. Light that solitary candle in the midst of darkness. No need to aim for a big candle, a little one will do. Just make sure it's a candle intended to light the way, and not a self-promoting sparkler whose light lasts only momentarily and shines only on the giver.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

From A Frequent Though Casual Observer: What's Being Blogged?

Many have addictively latched on to the idea of blogs and blogging because the underlying concept has snowballed across the globe into one indeterminable blob of written work splattered across the wide firmament of the web. From most accounts filed from extensive surveys, many continue to hitch up to this idea, adding something like a few thousand new blogging sites each minute (or is it every day? Who really knows. As a result the blog world has exponentially grown faster giving the vaunted and awesome Moore's law quite a run for its money in the area of phenomenal growth.

It is the current rage and most everybody with some exposure to information technology, big and small, important or unimportant, have deigned it proper and "cool" to be an active part of it. Free access and availability of sources and resources for putting together one's own blog creation have hastened and accelerated its growth.

To a point of satiation? Who knows. Where do we reach the point where the law of diminishing utility and/or value starts to kick in? Do we need a billion blog sites for us to be able to justifiably say we have sufficient divergent choices in the pool to get well-rounded views of the world, both of the physical and of that ether which exists in the minds of men? Who knows.

Suffice it say that at this point in time, blogs are an assorted coterie of writings ranging from the mundane to the sublime, from the real to the ethereal, from the most personal to the most public, from the well-prepared to the hasty unedited prose, etc., etc. Thus to reduce to as simple as simplicity can dictate, a blog is said to be nothing more than a personal journal of an author committed to updating his/her site regularly. Its very loose definition allows justification and comfort to most anybody maintaining and/or navigating through one's own created blog or one done professionally. It's pretty much like art, as many may adjudge it but not necessarily in the classical sense. What it is is pretty much dependent on the judgment of the beholder. And in this instance, the beholder is a rather liberal and accommodating judge, given to giving much latitude in its interpretation.

Thus, when one goes around the blog world, the dizzying swirl of divergent writings in equally divergent styles, format, orientation, purposes, etc., creates a mental labyrinth quite formidable to unravel and to make sense of in one's unending quest for understanding and wisdom.

Is there a common thread that allows it to be easily lent to some definition and categorization, so that one can readily understand and discern that one blog is similar to another, and/or to the million others already born or being birthed. If not similar, then at least that they all share the same methodology, rules, standards, etc., much like the other more classical bodies of human prose and/or verse. No doubt, we can search for them, navigate through them, or read through them, in one new common medium - the web or the Internet, two terms now quite interchangeable. But other than that, they are mostly a motley aggrupation of seemingly very dissimilar works.

Until such time that such issues are adequately threshed out and resolved, I have been pushed to decide to continue travelling through the thick world of the blogs, laden with all my stubborn doubts, nagging questions, unexplained confusion, etc., which irritate me to no end during my regular incursions.

I will thus continue reading avidly about political issues from across the globe, culled from all possible political orientation. Hard issues that affect a local country or those that impact on the entire globe. I will continue to encounter riveting treatises, written in most admirable fashion, logic and articulation; or those pretty much like pedestrian prose, complete with typos and simply, grammatical and/or syntax errors. This I do because I find this world most fascinating, most interesting, and most difficult to discern.

But I will also encounter those really personal journals, some vying to outdo the others in pushing the proverbial envelope; like narrating uninhibited sexual encounters, vivid descriptions of physical attributes both personal or those of loved ones. Details that traditionally or simply belong to one's innermost privacies. Or subjects considered taboos or anathema in polite conversation.

I will also occasionally indulge myself in reading from very narcissistic authors and/or commentaries, those who have found easy fora for self promotion, giving vent to their unbridled love of self and prodigiously extolling their perceived special gifts, whether in writing or in other fields. Some will frame their high-strung and erudite arguments or treatises with a plethora of high-brow references to acclaimed authors and their works, hoping to bring any recalcitrant reader into awe-full submission, if not to God-awful reverence for or admiration of their well-honed minds.

And again, suffice it to say that the blogosphere takes all kinds. Think about it, search for it, and you most undoubtedly will find it. Want movie reviews? You will be inundated with them ranging from fledgling critics (such as those who simply had the fortune of seeing the particular movie and others), to the avowed ones who earn their living doing them and either rightly or wrongly, are so recognized by society at large.

In fine, this simply is the current state of the blogosphere. Though it definitely continues to be a medium in a perpetual state of transition. Anyway, go play in it, and get exercised exhilarated, enlightened, or maybe even confused and dumbfounded. Remember, different strokes for different folks.

Just make sure to keep a cautious watch of your sanity. Or maybe check it at the door upon entering.