Thursday, December 28, 2006

Community Blogs In Tracy

Just learned today that our local community paper, Tracy Press, has on its website initiated a listing of community blogs in the City of Tracy. And this humble blog (including my spin-off blog, Hobbies and Pastimes) were included on the list, clearly because I include Tracy as my location in my Blogger’s profile.

Clearly also, this move is a good first step. To acquaint ourselves with members of the local blogosphere. Apart from the staff bloggers of Tracy Press, two other bloggers listed are quite familiar with me, Tracy Today and Tracy Real Estate, both having been in my blogroll for quite a while.

However, I do feel a tinge of guilt being listed as a member of the Tracy community blogs because I have not really blogged anything about Tracy, whether social or political in nature or otherwise.

A big part of the problem has been because we are new residents of Tracy, having really not completely severed ties with our old neighborhood and city in San Mateo County. With the old residence already on escrow, hopefully the New Year will allow me and the wife to settle permanently at our digs in Tracy, and allow us to get to know our new environs a little better. A married daughter lives with her family also in Tracy.

Let it be said that Tracy Press, which we find in our driveway most days of the week, has been a valuable tool in our introduction to the local scene.

It is an earnest resolve then to start blogging about Tracy when the New Year rolls in.

To everybody on the list, glad to know your acquaintance and may the coming year bring in more opportunities to learn more about each other.

More power!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

About A Film

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Yesterday afternoon, while preparing to reheat overnight foodstuff for a late lunch, the wife decided to channel-surf and ended on a rather dreary beginning credits to a black and white film, quite obviously from some distant past.

After several night-time scene cutaways astutely showing a motley group of people agonizing and trying to cope with their personal problems, I had lamely asked the wife to move to another channel. Like the one showing those grand old Westerns shot in those wondrously beautiful locales in the Old West.

But she had calmly persisted, more to show who's boss rather than having a special liking for this dark film, which I did initially think was a film noir by some obscure film-maker.

Anyway, decided to bear the expected ennui and sit quietly intent on finishing the meal remnants.

Suddenly, after more dreary scenes which put together started to shed more light on the locale, a sudden bolt of recall came to my consciousness. Scenes of overhead trains, remnants of the old El in New York. Train stations scenes with familiar turnstiles and ticket booths. The different characters slowly but surely being drawn to a train station, very late in the night or very early in the morning.

And suddenly, the vague recollection from some distant past gelled into something recognizable and communicable. Thus, I blurted out: I have seen this movie as a younger man and at the end one of the soldier passengers, his right hand on a sling, is going to be knifed by a hoodlum on the train, because he is the only one brave enough to confront evil.

Indeed, the film was The Incident by Larry Peerce, and made in 1967.

For the curious, one doesn't need to rent the VHS which came out in 1989, I learned.

For this blogsite has most of the skinny, with liberal sprinkling of screen captures from the actual film, over a hundred of them. And some audio clips and the actual musical score.

It featured a cast of characters many will recognize even to this day. The soldier with the broken arm was played by Beau Bridges, son of the late Lloyd Bridges and elder brother to Jeff Bridges. A young Martin Sheen, playing the noisy but cowardly punk. A young Donna Mills, pretty and blond. Then old reliables like Gary Merrill and Jan Sterling. Even host Ed McMahon was in it. Yes, he acted before being known as a TV host. And evil personified played well by Tony Musante, a face you love to hate. He played a queer character in Sinatra's The Detective. Director Peerce is known more for his TV works, Wild Wild West and Batman.

Why was this memorable for me, thriving latently in some forgotten corner of my memory all these years?

Because it exposes in graphic clarity the classic confrontation and mortal combat between pure, pristine, and humble "good" against a pure and unmitigated incarnation of "evil".

Furthermore, it also exposes the very thin and easily breached veneer of polite and civilized society. How when we are faced with actual evil, we find ourselves not up to the challenges that we thought we could easily and proudly surmount.

We find ourselves playing uncharacteristically the role of "appeasers" of evil, exerting utmost efforts to play "safe" against evil. Both assiduously and frantically trying to parry and deflect all its attempts to harm us personally and somewhat hoping it moves elsewhere to cast its ugly spell.

In the end, in spite of being hobbled and disadvantaged by man himself, good triumphs using the same means evil uses - violence.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gift Giving: Economics Vs Intangible Values

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This is the day after Christmas. The much-anticipated day when retail stores collide with hordes of shoppers, the latter armed with tons of unwrapped gifts received but to be returned either as unexpected, unwanted, ill-fitting, or simply dispensable. And the former for their parts, ably fortified with inventory prices slashed to the bare bones, backed with everything down to the kitchen sink to lure those harried shoppers into the premises and shrewdly attempt to divest them of funds coming either from returns credits, from leftover or hoarded disposable funds, or from the now greatly favored and ubiquitous gift cards that retail stores have flooded the markets with.

In the US alone, perky TV newscasters wading into crowded stores and blending in with the packs of early-bird shoppers have been blaring all day about what this auspicious day promises to be. They authoritatively lecture listeners that retail sales for the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas will account for 25% of yearly sales, and that profits from this same abbreviated period will account for about 60% of yearly profits, making it the retailers’ most profitable period for the year. Fearless forecasts peg that total sales for this day will most likely exceed those on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the Saturday before Christmas, traditionally the best sales day for the entire year. This year sadly both dates could not break the 10 billion dollars mark for all those stores included in the reported surveys.

Thus, from a strictly Economics point of view, most early prognostications are generally upbeat. Score a big point for the dismal science. But on the downside, the same science in another vein exposes to us inefficiency in the current practices of gift giving, exclusive and apart from the ritual of massive returns of gifts which characterizes this day’s activities. And it is that by and large, when surveyed and polled gift recipients project a rather dreary unintended consequence about gifts received. For when asked about their estimates of the value of gifts received or how much they themselves would pay for the gifts received assuming they were needed by them, recipients typically undervalue the gifts or would spend considerably less for them if paying out of their own pockets. Undervalued by as much as 10% of how much the gifts actually cost, giving rise to what would be called a waste, or at the very least an inefficiency, in expenditure. Economists call it deadweight loss. Thus, had the recipient instead been given cash, he would have purchased the same for less price and get the same satisfaction. Now, to get perspective, if gift-giving in the US during the Christmas season amounts to over 50 billion dollars, and that would be a conservative estimate for actuals, we would have a loss of 5 billion dollars that could otherwise have gone to more productive undertakings, or put differently, allocated to more efficient application of resources. And we have not included here the other gift giving occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.

Remember the ubiquitous gift cards mentioned above? They appear to be an easy answer to this dilemma.

But wait.

The revered practice of gift-giving, very visible and highlighted during the Xmas holidays, is more involved than that, for one it is generally accepted as lying at a plane above the very mundane concepts and earthbound theories of Economics. Because beyond just cash or financial values, gift giving in the spirit of Christmas partakes precisely also of things spiritual, intangible and unquantifiable. We enter into the realm of sentimental values. Because in gift giving it is “the thought that counts, not the price of the gift.” The self-same mantra recalcitrant miserly givers are accused of pre-empting and hiding under.

Add to that what the economic theory of signalling may connote and assign to gift giving, which essentially claims that gifts act as signals from the giver to the recipient, allowing the recipient to gain a hoped-for balanced access to information that a giver may have for the recipient. To illustrate, in gift giving to loved ones, in a real way the actual gift of the giver makes known to the recipient how the giver feels about him or her. Thus, we popularly speak about sentimental values, which typically trump financial values of the gifts. An apt application of the trite axiom, the thought and not the price of the gift.

So what are we to make of this?

In such an obvious dilemma, I suppose a happy blending of Economics with sentimental values could work justifiably well for society collectively. But given the vagaries of unpredictable human behavior expect no abatement to the frenzied rush we call the day after Christmas shopping spree.

Just assure you give best diligent efforts to “signal” to loved ones the appropriate messages your gifts are supposed to convey – not only your showering love and attention, but also your workable understanding of their real needs and desires.

Or maybe, be the modern “old” Ebenezer Scrooge, not for his lack of moral clarity, but for the “perceived” economic benefits for being maybe not miserly, but frugal, thrifty, sparing, economical, austere, or what have you. But that’s another issue for another time.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Elvis On The Holidays

Courtesy of YouTube, here are some little offerings for the holidays:







PEACE TO ALL MEN OF GOODWILL!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

People Dying To Get to Colma, CA

A possible bumper sticker one may spot driving slowly, yes, slowly because one might miss the entire town if one blinks, along the abbreviated streets of Colma, CA.

To which a local resident may emit either a faint trace of a smile or a naughty smirk depending on his or her weather-borne disposition. And the why will be explained down the line.
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But the town’s official motto is a bit puzzling to any outsider, too. It reads: It’s great to be alive in Colma.

Anyway, it is a postage-stamp-size town or city of 2.2 square miles, hemmed in from the north by Daly City and by South San Francisco from the south. Thus, when I was living in Daly City, I could actually boast that when I was jogging I was doing so across three cities, Daly City, Colma, and So. San Francisco.

In 1924, cemetery operators got together and decided to locate their “operations” in one place. Thus, that intent gave birth to Colma as a necropolis. Presently, it has 17 equal opportunity cemetery sites, now euphemistically called memorial parks, along its borders; while the entire town or city itself is 73% zoned as such. Thus, it has proper burial sites for Greeks, Italians, Serbs, for Asians like Japanese, etc. And yes, also for different furry pets in a couple of pet cemeteries sharing side by side locales with the rest.

It is no surprise that the biggest landowners are a landholding company and of course, the Roman Catholic Church. Still this burgeoning town has about 1500 residents alive and doing well, but clearly outnumbered by their subterranean neighbors now numbering about 1.5 million.

And adding to the puzzlement of the place, Colma has a bit of a personality problem too, only to the outsider though. It is both a town and a city. And that is attributable to California Law, which makes town and city synonymous. The law states that a city is either one created by a charter or one created by general law. Colma is of the latter blend. Thus for its new spiffy image the signs in front of its municipal offices read: City of Colma, while the earlier engraved signs around town read: Town of Colma. Well, 1.5 million permanent residents pay no mind and will not be confused.

Like any town or city, Colma has its own government hierarchy to represent and rule over the 1500 residents, headed by a council. And this has been so even during lean times when the residents willing to relocate there were much less. One can imagine that the early “mandatory” residents were those connected to the “operations” – gravediggers, landscapers, flower growers, headstone makers. And maybe later, cremation technicians?

Not anymore, now somberly-hued residential buildings line the boundaries of some memorial parks, many facing the neatly-manicured and well-maintained lawns of the parks. Two elementary/middle schools are located within its borders. And many businesses are thriving there, too. Ubiquitous Home Depot has two sites. There are also a couple of shopping centers, and yes, many car dealerships still abound, tracing their origins to the early days of the place.

And yes, the most popular card room in the area named Lucky Chances is located in Colma, owned and operated by a FilAm; and given its bountiful revenues, one can rightly surmise that these bounties are scattered somewhat within the local community in terms of taxes and local consumption expenditures.

Also, for the first time in memory a FilAm was elected to its suddenly-important council, in the person of Joanne Del Rosario, a sister of former Philippine ambassador to the US Alberto Del Rosario. And this she won by the slimmest of margin, in a town where 25% are of Asian origins.

Because Colma is in California, it also shares in the surging real estate prices. A burial plot can cost from somewhere between $20,000 to $over 200K for a family plot.

While talking and viewing cemeteries and the dead may appear dismal and gross to many, it does offer the curiosity angles, for the curious and the typical tourist to the place because Colma is no different from any other place. And this is apart from the beauty offered by the very attractive landscape designs, the exquisitely built structures, the nice chapels and ultra-modern above-ground mausoleums.

It also offers the celebrity angle. Tucked in one of its many cemeteries is where the legendary Wyatt Earp of the long-gone wild west is buried. And local legend and baseball icon Joe DiMaggio is buried there too in a Catholic cemetery, marked by a beaten path made by the many baseball fans hereabouts. And the burial place of songstress Tina Turner’s dog, reportedly buried wrapped in fur? Yes, one can find that there, too.

And personally, where my wife's late maternal grandmother and her father are also interred.

Credits
Credits

Monday, December 11, 2006

Coins Of The Biblical Realm

In the famous challenge to his kingship, Jesus Christ has given to us this now memorable Biblical statement:

Render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. . .

We know that he was referring to the coin of the then Roman realm under which the Jews were obligated to pay tribute.

Click to read more.

Monopoly Has No Monopoly

Indeed, the game of Monopoly has no monopoly in the issuance of high denomination currency.

Think 100,000 dollars, US dollars that is, as one denomination.100000dollars

The US as late as January 9, 1935 printed and issued such a denomination as a gold certificate. Okay, so it was not really intended for general circulation.

Click to read more.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Fortress Of Solitude Revisited

The Fortress Of Solitude Revisited
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I know that many of us do have that “fortress of solitude” that we escape to to try to steady ourselves when the tempestuous times of our lives buffet us. I am even tempted to say that maybe everybody has one, whether deliberately defined or unconsciously peered into as the self’s defense mechanism against the at times overwhelming rigors of daily living.

But it might be a worthwhile exercise for many of us to find out how indeed we develop and maintain that “fortress of solitude” that enables us to maintain an even keel and not be pushed off the precipice edging sanity into insanity.

The idyllic years of youth for most of us can be counted to yield the most nostalgic and soul-stirring experiences that continue to encumber and colonize the memories of adult life. We reminisce about the boundless energies exhibited by youthful bodies and minds, when we felt we could do everything that we put our minds to. The unfiltered and seemingly unparalleled joys of discovery of the many allures and wonders of the ever-growing world that was hurtling away from us. The unconditional love and attention liberally showered by the people who loved and cared for us as children and as adolescents. The boundless trust and confidence shared by youthful friends in many moments of unexplainable angst and exhilaration.

In this past universe, we sought to define the existential parameters where our youthful lives were spun. The unforgettable family house, most likely of humdrum quality and really quite congested, where the entire family gravitated and adeptly swiveled around trying to get out of each other’s ways. The family table where many a memorable meal and family tête-à-tête transpired without form or design. The shared and barely-appointed rooms whose walls literally had ears to broadcast any and all secrets. The many local places that became the special hangouts for idle times with friends and relatives. And the local school where many friends, relatives, and siblings all went to and vied to see who the smartest or dumbest were. And yes, the little tucked-away vacation spots, where good fun time could be had for almost next to a song, or at times even free because friends and relatives were that generous and giving.

In fine, we sought to define the house and its usually drab surroundings that was exquisite “home” to our careless youth’s simple treasures, but especially where the multifarious cares of the world were so distant as to be unreal. Where, in hindsight, we found ourselves at peace and in serene congruence with the world we knew.

Thus, when we feel the overpowering onus of life’s burdens crushing on frail shoulders, many of us do actually retrace those fading steps back to those halcyon days hoping to buy back relief and peace. Many of us do try to re-acquaint ourselves with the things that meant the world to us and which the harsh world of adulthood may have dulled or burnished over time. A close childhood friend, who was away from the old hometown for over 30 years practicing medicine abroad, inconspicuously resettled over 4 years ago and practically kept himself in seclusion apart from visits to the familiar haunts of his youth. A few months ago, we learned that he had died, from a lingering illness that he also hid practically to himself except to immediate members of his family. The trip back obviously did not cure his physical ailment, or even the heartaches that may have laden him, but what he got was the precious care that he needed to tide him over.

But then, many of us cannot take that trip back to our childhood places to get some relief. Or those childhood places may actually be no more. So, what does one access to get some instant relief?

The present community we live in? The new loving friends we have collected? Or the good people at work?

But seeking the comforting shelter of “home” during a restless or stormy night may not be all that easy. However, a trusted friend may be available even during odd hours, or a “new” family who may have replaced the family of youth and thus, may provide the ever-available access or that special place to lay one’s head for a time. Of course a spiritual person may find that solace in prayer or meditation. But times will come, when no relief will make an appearance, and we may just have to rely on our own “sterner stuff” to steady our fraying nerves till the whole thing blows over and calm is restored.

Or it could simply be an inspiring book to read. Books that provide one with the vital roadmaps in negotiating through the “vale of tears” and guide one in traversing through by exploiting the authors’ own life experiences in handling chaos in their own lives.

Yes, seek ye your own “fortress of solitude”.

For life is not just . . . a job for Superman!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Lame-duck President and the Swan-like Senator

From the Wikipedia page of Senator-elect James H. Webb:

On November 28, 2006, it was reported that at a White House reception for those newly elected to Congress, Webb attempted to “avoid” President Bush, whom he criticized frequently on the campaign trail, and declined to stand in the presidential receiving line or have his picture taken with the president.

Reportedly, the president found Webb and asked him, “How’s your boy?”, referring to Webb’s son, a Marine serving in Iraq. According to reports, Webb replied that he “really wanted to see his son brought back home”.

Bush responded,”I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing.” Webb responded that that was “between me and my boy”.

Accounts claim that Webb was so angered by the exchange that he was tempted to “slug” the president, and later when recounting the incident divulged “I’m not particularly interested in having a picture of me and George W. Bush on my wall,”

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By now, this little incident between President Bush and Senator-elect James Webb of Virginia has raced through the media tracks so many times, it has become dizzyingly blurry and confusing. Many pundits and editorial writers with spare pens and spare time to write have weighed in to add their precious bits and pieces of unalloyed and unsolicited wisdom to this fray. Silly me, that’s what media pundits are expected to do and which they do with gusto.

Anyway, most possible discernible angles have been amply covered and vivisected by pundits of widely differing political stripes. Revered conservative columnist, Mr. George Will started the proverbial ball rolling, laying the blame on Mr. Webb for exhibiting such a disrespectful attitude toward the exalted office held by widely-ridiculed President George Bush. For her part equally renowned Ms. Peggy Noonan “creamed” the buttered-toast side of Bush inferring that the president did not show presidential “grace” with his curt retort to Mr. Webb’s initial response. A credible sign of the escalating loss of grace in public discourse and demeanor, she appears to opine. And the ball has been bouncing back and forth, all across traditional media and the blogosphere. So fast and furious, a detached observer may find the overall scenery muddled and confusing.

One may wonder how in this enlightened and overly-informed world we live in, these “simple” matters appear difficult to resolve and have to be subjected to bountiful discourse and incessant hand-wringing. It would appear that most public issues cannot be plotted out as either black or white, but typically as shades of gray.

But are there still widely-held traditional values and standards that do not change and have withstood the harsh onslaught of time and strife? And don’t these “absolutes”, if we could call them such, still count to help resolve issues similar to this with judicial firmness and finality?

Anyway, why not ask the opinion of the detachedly uninitiated, out of the loop, not so sophisticated, and whatever, you know, the man on the street side of things, and see what he thinks. Take me, for example.

Thus, like it or not, here’s my rather puny take, randomly scribbled, as understood from different sources read.

It is common knowledge that Mr. Webb “dislikes” the president though for what exact reason opinions are quite divided. And judging from the way President Bush has regarded and responded to those who do not share his views or the way he runs his presidency, which is with almost nonchalant inattention to their criticism and name-calling, he has not responded in like manner. Meaning, he does not in turn “dislike” Mr. Webb tit for tat, not publicly at least.

Now, the White House, occupied and represented by the President, hosts a reception for ALL newly-elected members of Congress. If Mr. Webb so dislikes the President that he cannot stand his presence, why did he attend the affair in the first place, knowing Bush as the host will try his best to greet and exchange shoptalk with everybody present? Unless he was angling for a confrontation, a public one at that. And that he got, regardless. So, he should have stayed home instead.

For his part, the President’s retort, “I didn’t ask you that”, may not be the most tactful nor polite way of handling and deflecting any possible outburst, but cannot people see it in their hearts that anybody suddenly and unexpectedly rebuffed in that manner may not have the perfectly-scripted answer at that precise moment and thus as a result, what came out was a rather challenging and maybe, inappropriate reply. Of course, the body language and/or the tone of voice could have revealed more of the President’s real attitude toward Webb’s initial reply. But publicly, Bush has been quite circumspect in his pronouncements, even granting his apparent inability at times to articulate his ideas in as deft and artful manner as those of his contemporaries or those who had occupied his exalted office in the past.

Thus, regardless of what Mr. Webb thinks of this person occupying this most exalted nationally-elected position, and as he is now himself a newly elected public official in this same republic, he ought to convince himself to show proper respect, deference, and decorum before that presence, and most especially in any public setting. And to publicly report that he had entertained the “temptation” to physically assault the president adds more to that disrespect for the office. It would have been to the unquestioned benefit of everybody concerned had Mr. Webb kept that thought privately.

For his part, I would think that the President would be taking the high ground and elevating his and his office’s stature even more, if he would just publicly accept and apologize for that blurted retort to Mr. Webb’s initial reply to his question, not necessarily because he meant it as a brusque retort but simply because Mr. Webb may have taken offense.

Then, we can all say, Amen.

Graphics credit

Friday, December 01, 2006

An Issue Close To "Home"

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As many may be aware the almost perpetually surging housing market in the US is in its painful throes of a steeply downward spiral of home prices or values for the past several months. Some areas more affected than others, while still other areas less perceptibly so.

But the more pressing issue now has become not whether overall real estate prices are going down, but whether the downward trends can show us that we indeed had a market bubble rather than surging markets firmly founded on good solid Economics fundamentals. And additionally, whether the bottom has been reached.

And the mostly subdued discussions, whether in the channels of traditional media or in the blogosphere and the Internet in general, continue to thrive amidst market fears that the slowly emerging data suggest that the bottom, whichever place it now resides, has not yet collided with the free-falling prices.

Invariably, one curious about the real estate markets learns to ingest and try to understand such germane concepts as housing starts, home sales, median prices of homes, sales of new or existing homes, interest and mortgage rates, conventional and unconventional modes of contracting mortgages, and not quite a few delving on more Economics concepts such as whether market indicators are leading or laggard, statistics, and then some.
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For many homeowners, and there are ever growing millions (at times reported at about 68% of the household population), are necessarily quite interested and attuned to the hard-to-define vagaries of these markets. After all, for most homeowners, their homes are their single biggest and most valuable investments in their life times. And nothing could be more suspenseful and traumatic than to be silent and helpless witnesses to the observable diminution in value of ones' biggest estate holding. Silent and helpless witnesses, since individually there is really nothing much that one can do but sit and wait about for either a loud or soft thud announcing the markets hitting bottom, which most times like a lightning strike, the sound heard typically comes after the flash. And then wait out some more, with the ever renewed hope that the climb back of home values will somehow ensue in a most expedient manner.

The sub-group of homeowners most affected by all these is the group that has houses already listed for sale in this chaotically unpredictable market, never mind the many housing developers who hold unsold inventories trying their level best to dispose of their hot potatoes. Significantly slashed prices and very liberal credit terms, including seller giveaways, are said to be the choice approaches in luring otherwise hesitant or gun-shy prospective homeowners to taking the great plunge. But I suppose most homeowners trying to selling existing will not have pockets deep enough to offer those goodies, without burning themselves with actual losses.

I unfortunately find myself in this thorny predicament having initially listed our old house at the later half of September of this year. It could have sold easily were it not for the prospective buyers reneging on the terms meted out to them by their bankers. We wasted some precious time there, and not helped much by the fast coming winter time, when home sales are traditionally expected in cadence with the temperature to dip low because of the holidays. Aside from precious attention of prospective buyers being distracted by the upcoming excitement and merriment of crassly commercialized Christmas tide, available funds are instead invariably channeled toward expenditures for gifts and celebratory gatherings and outings.
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Thus, the onset of the long wait, a bit disconcerting and costly.

I do feel I hold an ace in my sleeve. The optimist in me rearing its ever helpful head.

More gravely hit by this current housing debacle has been the newly-developed areas where new housing developments have been introduced, areas once sparsely populated. But other areas, especially older ones close to and around urban centers have more stable and price-insulated markets given that because of land use saturation not many new housing developments have been introduced. Which would have invited more homebuyers from other areas or encouraged existing homeowners to trade up and which in both instances create the overall effect of increasing the inventory of houses for sale over an above the normal inventory acquired through the normal flow of people leaving and entering the area.

And my unsupported prognosis is that such is the case with Daly City, especially the old part of the city that borders contiguously with San Francisco to the north. Land tracts available for new housing are practically nil even with the continued influx of new residents. This may indeed insulate the specific area from too harsh housing price fluctuations.

The city has traditionally been defined as a bedroom community, where workers from nearby San Francisco find comparatively affordable and conveniently located domicile.

While the state of California may be considered an epicenter for this upheaval because of the astronomically higher past gains in home prices, the above-described factor may help blunt some of the rippling effects of this price temblor.

On the downside, one has to realistically consider that many prospective homebuyers may already by priced out of the market considering the very high current prices.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Defamation In The Blogosphere

Last week, the California Supreme Court came out with a ruling that will definitely be added to the scanty jurisprudence that applies to the fledgling medium we call the blogosphere. In a landmark decision on the Barrett v. Rosenthal case, the high court ruled that internet users who post (to websites and discussion groups) material created by others are immune from liability.

To translate loosely to possible scenarios in the blogosphere, blog owners (or publishers), for examples, are not liable for items posted in their blogs’ comments sections. Nor are commenters themselves liable for quoted excerpts from other sources, unless the commenter himself is actively involved in creating the original written piece.

Gleaning from the few reactions from the blogosphere, they appear to be mixed, some favoring the decision while another side frowns on its possible unintended repercussions. The decision appears to be making a clear delineation between traditional media and the new media with the latter represented largely by the blogosphere; and what appears to be with the latter being favored with a more watered-down application of the laws of libel. That is, journalists in traditional media (or MSM) are being held to higher standards as compared to their step cousins in the blogosphere.

Maybe a little backgrounder may help in plumbing the profundity and cultivate a deferential appreciation of the legal facets that all interplay in this latest decision.

A quick visit to this site will provide a primer of basic facts in the understanding of defamation as it applies to the blogosphere.

A basic fact to remember is that slander is spoken defamation, while libel is written defamation, the latter applying to bloggers and commenters in blogs.

Here we speak strictly about what is legal or not, with no references as to whether adjudicated written material contribute to civility in public discourse or promote charitable interaction in the polity.

Thus, of curious interest to bloggers may be some leading examples in California jurisprudence regarding what would be considered libelous or not:

The following are a couple of examples from California cases; note the law may vary from state to state.

Libelous (when false):

• Charging someone with being a communist (in 1959)
• Calling an attorney a "crook"
• Describing a woman as a call girl
• Accusing a minister of unethical conduct
• Accusing a father of violating the confidence of son

Not-libelous:

• Calling a political foe a "thief" and "liar" in chance encounter (because hyperbole in context)
• Calling a TV show participant a "local loser," "chicken butt" and "big skank"
• Calling someone a "bitch" or a "son of a bitch"
• Changing product code name from "Carl Sagan" to "Butt Head Astronomer"


Lastly, note also that public figures are held to different standards from your typical folks where libel is concerned.

A public figure must show "actual malice" — that you published with either knowledge of falsity or in reckless disregard for the truth. This is a difficult standard for a plaintiff to meet.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Songs Tag

Got tagged in a musical way over at Tubby’s Comments. And am honestly quite clueless about this business of tagging, so am taking the safe route and just playing it by ear by copying the format.

Click to read more.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Day In The Life: US Election Day

Voters' Precinct
A Chronology:

November 6th, Monday 11 a.m.

Had a bit of dilemma about the Election Day scheduled tomorrow. Since I had moved to another city in another county and had not transferred my voter’s registration, I will have to drive 70 miles in order to vote.

So decided with the wife to drive to Daly City, San Mateo County, a day earlier so as to have time to vote the following day. And since we had some other businesses to transact, this was the best thing to do.

Drove the truck and got to Daly City at past noon. Got to the old house that we are trying to sell and started to settle in, with the barest of amenities since we have already moved our stuff out of the house that is now at escrow.

However, we weren’t prepared for the phone call of the real estate agent basically telling us that there is a material hitch in the sale – the prospective buyers are not amenable to the monthly amortization quoted them by their bankers. So things are on hold.

Anyway, did not allow this to faze me, so proceeded with the intended chores that I knew awaited me – trim the yards since we had not been to the house for over a month.

With nothing much to do in an empty house except for the basic appliances, focused on getting some sleep early.

November 7th 8 a.m.
Walked to our voting precinct, situated in a nice park and nestled close to a little hill. (Pictured above). Were gaily welcomed by the poll watchers, composed entirely of minorities – an African-American, A FilAm lady, a Sino-American lady, and a couple of Hispanic Americans scattered in what looked like the main meeting room of the park clubhouse. A quite typical setting in this part of California.

While we have voted for countless number of times on the same precinct number, this time the wife’s name was missing. Funny because she is the one who was born and registered a US citizen. And the poll watchers could not explain why. Just remember that these poll watchers are paid volunteers, who come in only during election time and maybe, a little time for training. Anyway, that was easily solved because she was handed a provisional ballot.

For the first time, we were asked whether we wanted to vote electronically or by paper ballot. But there was only one electronic machine and though it was early and voters were just starting to trickle in, we did not want to be delayed. We decided on the usual paper ballot which when completed is fed into an electronic sensing machine.

Since we carried with us our thick 191 page General Election booklet issued by the California Secretary of State and the accompanying Sample Ballot booklet of 20 pages, the ensuing voting was easy and quick, aided by the sample ballot already marked.

This time around the sample ballot looking much like the actual ballot was four pages long, with each the size of two bond papers joined together. This was only a state-wide election, but the many propositions sure added more heft to the ballot.

November 7th, 1 p.m.
Started the drive back to our new place hearing not much radio coverage of the elections, which campaigns have been very hotly debated and contentious over the last several months.

But then remember most precincts nationwide do not close till 8 p.m. Except that while it may be 8 p.m. in the east coast, it would still be 5 p.m. in the west coast.

So got home and attended to usual chores attendant to taking any trip that far and long. Even had time to put on the old sneakers and sweat pants for a quick jog around the park quite visible from the house.

It is now November 7th, 9:21 p.m. and so this would technically be live-blogging.

Voting has now finished in all of continental USA. I still have to hear from TV or radio about far-flung Hawaii.

Anyway, as expected the Republican-dominated Congress is slowly changing composition with Republicans losing seats. But as it stands as of this minute, the Republicans still have to lose 3 seats in the Senate to give away control. However in the House, the Democrats are already enjoying a 6-seat margin.

But there are still many races to be tallied. Remember in the west coast, the election ended only about an hour and ½ ago.

Update:

November 7th 9:45 p.m.

It looks like even this early, barely an hour and 40 minutes after the polls have closed, Arnie the governator of California has clinched his re-election. A strange combination this Arnie, registered a Republican but with a Kennedy-Shriver wife which can't get any more Democratic than that.

But the fight to watch is still that in Virginia were both candidates are literally running neck-to-neck. This is between Republican George Allen, once projected as presidential timber, and Democrat James Webb, one time Navy Secretary.

November 7th, 10:38 p.m.
It looks like a couple of Senate contests are too close to call, eventhough for at least one race initial count has completed. Two issues may come into play. One is that if the margin is very little, the losing side has recourse to an automatic recount of all votes. And the second is that the absentee ballots will have to be manually counted. And in some states, it is reported that absentee ballots are counted a day or two after election day.

But overall, Democrats still have the opening to wrest control of the Senate, too. After all, right now they need only 3 seats to get it and at least two races are leaning either way.

November 8th, 7:57 a.m.
The Republicans continue to hold control of the Senate but their control may end if the two contested races fall toward the Democrats. Even this late, the Missouri race is still up in the air with the Republican candidate (Talent)holding a lead of a couple of thousand votes; while the Virginia race has the Democrat leading but will surely be contested. And the history of recounts has shown that rarely has the count been overturned. Whatever the result of the recount, the presidential aspirations of Virginia's George Allen has been dashed to pieces.

One harangued Democratic timber who surely is sighing in relief is Sen. John F. Kerry, since many had predicted that his most recent "botched joke" gaffe could derail the expected Democratic landslide in Congress.

Last Update:

November 9th 8:25 a.m.
Putting an end to this account, NBC has announced that the Virginia Senate seat goes to Democrat James Webb, giving control of the Senate to the Democrats. But I still have to hear if defeated candidate, George Allen, has given his concession speech.

Earlier yesterday, Pres. Bush punctuated the proceedings by formally announcing the resignation of Defense chief Rumsfield. Noticed that during the almost hour long TV appearance, the Prez appeared quite animated, and surprisingly, very self-confident.

Thus, Election 2006 is now part of history, specifically that history of the 6th year of a sitting president mid-term elections where since post-war, the incumbent's party has always lost considerable seats in Congress. Is this worse than the past? Let the punditry roll.

Ironic that this late, I still do not know the fate of the local officials that I voted for, being many miles away. Specifically the FilAms who I voted for.

Lawyer and former Mayor Mike Guingona, who has now become more publicly visible with his appearances as host on the Filipino Channel, was seeking re-election to his Daly City council seat.

Together with a FilAm lady named Anette Hipona who was seeking a first term. Now, what could be more Filipino than that last name?

And lastly, well-credentialed Anthony Fel Amistad, who was seeking a county seat. I believe his second run for it having failed the last time.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Of Sex, Wealth, and Imperialism

jihadists_rally
Graphics Credit
Are these the Delphic reasons that will usher in an impending demise of western civilization?

Might be. But not necessarily because western civilization suffers from the above shortcomings.

What about reasons to explain the seeming unexplainable irrationality of fundamentalist Muslim extremism, inextricably unique and laden with the signature traits of its ever-abundant cadre of suicide bombers?

One former fundamentalist Muslim extremist believes so.

His name is Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a former disciple of Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, the bearded jihadi who appears in Bin Laden's videos.

His critical pronouncements may not be novel to many, nor far from the thinking of those who eruditely study Middle Eastern affairs.

But we are hopelessly predisposed to giving more credence and creditability to statements if they originate from the “horse’s mouth” so to speak.

Thus, with regard to the Sex angle, first.

Dr. Hamid takes pain to dissect a core difference between Sunnis and Shiites in this particular regard. Sunnis are typically the suicide bombers and not Shiites, though admitting that both are predisposed to gratuitous violence and mayhem. The reason given is that Sunnis are essentially sexually repressed and frustrated individuals in their lives, credit that to very strict religious precepts taught from very early on. Thus, the negotiated promise of a certain number of virgins and consequent heavenly sexual gratification in exchange for martyrdom is one deal very hard for them to refuse. Shiites suffer from no such repression. After all in their culture they are allowed “temporary marriages” lasting from an hour to past 95 years. Ample enough opportunities for release of sexual frustrations.

Now on to Wealth.

We can forget about the argument that these suicide-prone extremists are so because of ignorance and poverty. Here is the lowdown, “most of those who do the killing are wealthy, privileged, educated and free” Of course, there are countless of the poor and needy who are also so predisposed, but many are passively predisposed.

So why are the wealthy so predisposed? Well, comes the next angle.

Imperialism.

Dr. Hamid intones, as clear and simple as it gets:

"..the deliberate and determined expansion of militant Islam and its attempt to triumph not only in the Islamic world but in Europe and North America. Pure ideology. Muslim terrorists kill and slaughter not because of what they experience but because of what they believe."

They do it because they strongly believe so. This with their other messianic “voices in their mind”. Like that the rich oil fields of Saudi Arabia were destined by Allah to be the prophetic instrument for Islam world domination. The resurgence of the caliphate from a distant era. Or the apocalyptic prophesy that the current Iranian president is reported to be seriously engrossed in – the expected re-incarnation of a numbered grand imam?

The West better get up to par on this, and quickly. Or it may be too late. Remember these are not just faddish and whimsical preoccupations.

These people truly believe that it is their way, or no way.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Body Language In The Electronic Media

Body language is a broad term for forms of communication using body movements or gestures instead of, or in addition to, sounds, verbal language, or other forms of communication. It forms part of the category of paralanguage, which describes all forms of human communication that are not verbal language. This includes the most subtle of movements that many people are not aware of, including winking and slight movement of the eyebrows.

Paralanguage, including body language, has been extensively studied in social psychology. In everyday speech and popular psychology, the term is most often applied to body language that is considered involuntary, even though the distinction between voluntary and involuntary body language is often controversial. For example, a smile may be produced either consciously or unconsciously. (From Wikipedia)

The other night, Bill O’Reilly had an interesting segment in his hour-long program, O’Reilly Factor, about body language. He had a resource expert, a young personable lady, interpret the body language exhibited by four very public personalities who figured separately in TV appearances with the unabashedly self-confident O’Reilly. These were President Bush, Sen. John Kerry, Oprah, and David Letterman. Oprah and Letterman had the tables turned, they were interviewing O’Reilly, if such is possible given the latter’s very assertive manner in those one-on-ones.

Personally, I snickered a bit during the lady’s serious presentation, not because I had doubts that body language can be discerned and interpreted beyond the measured words that the speakers were expressing during their TV appearances. It just feels too uncomfortable listening to a rather young woman, with college just a few years behind her, passing critical judgments on the physical mannerisms of these experienced and public-scrutiny-hardened older personalities.

Per Wikipedia definition above, arguably body language does reveal a lot about the speakers beyond what they have planned or rehearsed to express publicly. And I am surmising that the art of studying body language draws pretty much from the same justifications that a lie detector test banks its findings on. A peep into the unconscious and unrehearsed mannerisms a speaker may uncontrollingly exhibit, both outwardly and inside their bodies.

And by and large, I am sure we can agree that we do typically factor in body language in making overall judgments about statements of speakers. And at times, how we interpret statements may be guided more by body language than the words actually expressed

It has been brought out by some blogs that with regard to the now infamous statement of Sen. John F. Kerry, the not too subtle trace of a smirk after the sentence may have exacerbated rather than mitigated the claimed “botched” joke.

It may also be worthwhile to note that prior to oral speech, many scientists agree that man first communicated with body movements and gestures. Thus, the now universally accepted wave of the right hand to acknowledge people was not always so. It is claimed that when early man chanced upon another man on any path, the raising of an empty right hand was a generally accepted warning to the other that one is unarmed and does not have any hostile intention toward the other, rather than as a friendly wave of Hi or How Are You.

In fine then, going hand in hand with man’s personal and face-to-face interaction with his fellowman, body language has been a quite reliable tool to impart the speaker’s inner motives and attitudes beyond the words that he articulates to impart his message. And as a species, we are the better for this. No doubt, many a violent confrontation or serious misunderstanding may have been averted because of this effective communication combination. Body language, which reveals more of the speaker’s true state of mind and intentions may have at countless times emerged to the rescue to save the day.

But we have now entered into another medium of communications, where body language may not be able to come into play. Electronic communications do not now allow face-to-face confrontation in our many everyday interaction. It may even be worse than the use of the telephone where at least the tone of voice is decidedly part of body language, too.

But it appears that the only body language available under our new context is the body of the messages we are sending out, be they emails, blog posts, online chats, and commentaries.

So what are the evidently patent ramifications?

Absent traceable and detectable body language, how do we fare in our current interactions with others in the new medium?

As always technology has tried and continues try to help us keep pace. Thus, for one, we have those little tiny icons called Emoticons that can be liberally used and spread to decorate and enliven our text messages and express somewhat a snippet of the mood of the sender. But usage is still very limited and serious electronic communicators may not be too inclined toward something still considered quite fluffy, or flippant.

And the common text additives, like HaHaHa, or HeHeHe, , or even HEH may have countless times served to diffuse what could otherwise turn into an unfriendly situation.

The obvious area of concern is how our messages are coming across, influenced as they are by the writer’s style of writing, his facile command of grammar or its absence, and of course, his mood at the time of writing; and greatly influenced also by innate reservations, inhibitions, and even fears one may have toward his intended reader or readers.

But what may be undeniable is that communicators in this electronic medium will now have to exercise greater diligence and circumspection in delivering their messages. And as we are often times cautioned, let us not be too quick to hit that send button. Type, edit and reread, and think twice before sending. Or maybe even have another if one is around proofread the message to be sent. Remember this time body language may not be around to save the day for us. Once sent, it cannot be retrieved or undone.

Two new factors also figure in the quality of the messages being sent. These are the remote distance between addressee and recipient, even though as in instant messaging, the conversation may be carried on real time much like a face-to-face conversation. And the other is the anonymity offered by the new medium to both addressee and recipient of messages/conversations.

I learned from personal experience about this too sadly, in spite of due diligence and extra caution. We cannot be always a 100 percent sure or right. At times our physical condition or moods at the time of writing may make slip-ups easier to make and harder to detect.

Thus it might also be a greater part of discretion, to be prepared and expectant of the need to offer well-rehearsed and well-intentioned apologies should we later on discover or be brought to our attention that we have crossed the bounds of propriety, or decency, or simply, good discretion.

After all, to err is still human.

Graphics credit

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John F. Kerry In The News

While it is still red-hot, allow me this rare opportunity at political punditry as the US mid-term election ushers its last 7 suspenseful days.

Campaigning in California, Sen. J. F. Kerry said the following before an audience of largely young college students:

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

In a nano-second, the whole world of media and blogosphere exploded like an unexpected IED.

The debris has not settled and cleared yet, since the ensuing crossfires from all sides continue to be exchanged. Sharp explosive retorts delivered in assumed righteous indignation and equally assumed justified anger fill the air.

So, let’s all move way from the scene of carnage and take a long and detached view.

Even if we assume that John Kerry hates or despises the military to the core of his soul, he is not going to articulate that publicly whether with subtle or not so subtle intent, or even comic inference. That would be as close to a political hara-kiri as one can get especially in these waning days of the frenetic campaigns. He is not the polished politician that everybody labels him to be if he does not know this.

So, let us take it for what it obviously is. He simply misspoke, using a badly constructed and limply delivered sentence. And culling from his subsequent pronouncements, an equally bad analogy of comparing not studying hard to the situation of a president who is waging a failed and protracted war in Iraq.

So, why is this happening to him?

He is supposed to be the clever and polished debater/speaker as proclaimed and shown during his last run for presidency.

Maybe, he was just plain tired and not thinking too sharply?

We, I’m sure, would have expected that kind of extemporaneous speech gaffe to come from a less gifted politician. Like a George W. Bush? Who, by the way, in his response, referred to the troops as “plenty smart”.

Since many of the people who read and analyzed the above Kerry statement believe that he was referring to the military as “stuck in Iraq”, including parents of soldiers, veterans, and many of their neighbors, he should just apologize to those inadvertently slighted. And get this entire thing behind and move on.

That shouldn’t be hard to do, even for a highly educated, intelligent, and experienced senator. Unless, there really is something more that Kerry is not publicly stating.

Four Horsemen of US Apocalypse? - Deficits. Medicare. Social Security. MedicAid.

If the United States government conducts business as usual over the next few decades, a national debt that is already $8.5 trillion could reach $46 trillion or more, adjusted for inflation. That's almost as much as the total net worth of every person in America - Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and those Google guys included.

This dire prediction comes from the GAO chief himself, the top government accountant.

Need perspective? Start tallying: all the houses owned by every American in every town and city, all the balances in deposit accounts, all the private vehicles, all personal valuables, etc., minus whatever every individual owes a third party - his bank, his neighbor, the garbage company, etc. I’m not sure if we should also include government assets like public buildings, freeway systems, parks, monuments, etc. But the current national debt of 8.5 trillion is dizzying enough to try to figure and comprehend.

BTW, there is an on-line US national debt clock that keeps track of this. If you are one who finds value watching grass grows, this one is a little better it grows faster and quicker.

Scary? Let’s add more scare factors, all originating from the same source, the GAO chief, Mr. David M. Walker, who is on a stumping tour till 2008 barking his message to any “boring” American audience willing to hear.

. . .just the interest payments on a debt that big would be as much as all the taxes the government collects today.

And every year that nothing is done about it, Walker says, the problem grows by $2 trillion to $3 trillion.

Medicaid and Medicare have grown progressively more expensive as the cost of health care has dramatically outpaced inflation over the past 30 years.

. . .a bigger deficit means a greater portion of each tax dollar goes to interest payments rather than useful programs.

Social Security will begin to run deficits during the next century, and ultimately would need an infusion of $8 trillion if the government planned to keep its promises to every beneficiary.

Unfortunately, the apocalyptic messages are hard to refute negatively.

So is the sky falling?

First, let us see. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid translate loosely to government-subsidized social safety nets and government-provided health care. Aren’t these shades of the hallmarks of many European economies many progressives are prone to extol and desire?

Okay, so it is reported to us that Italy is on the brink of economic gridlock and the nascent Central European economies are reeling from heavy impositions coming from the EU parliament. And many EU economies suffer from anemic growth rates. But still, the world continues to spin and European countries continue to magnetize hundreds of millions of the world’s tourists to their shores.

All’s well? No really.

But what can be done United States-side?

GAO chief has short prescriptions for the looming fiscal crisis: Some combination of tax increases and benefit cuts.

Did he forget: bitter medicine for curbing runaway government spending to tame the Federal budget deficit?

What can he prescribe for the other twin, our trade or current account deficit?

There appears no easy and short answers and solutions on the event horizon.

Let’s pray Mr. Walker’s life span approximates that of the biblical Methuselah giving him ample time to extricate us from all these woes.

To his eternal credit, Mr. Walker refuses to lay total blame on any one administration, including the current one, but warns that if nothing is done expeditiously any claim by the current president to any legacy will be tainted by his inaction.

Mr. Walker ends: the status-quo is not an option!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

OFWs: What They Can Do

Rediscovered my following essays originally posted to an email list group way back in late 2003. But on rereading are just as apropos now as then, especially with the recent selection of Dr. Mohammad Yunus, the father of micro-finance, as the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Applying Applied Economics to Overseas Filipinos Case

Please allow me to put a different spin to all the inspiring inputs that you and the others have detailed in your and their posts.

But before anything else, having originally come from Mindanao, I would suggest that ascribing Filipino traits on a regional basis, in reality might be more conventional lore than fact. Thus, I believe it would serve well for all of us to point to them as simply Filipino traits, rather than qualities attributable to a particular regional area and its inhabitants.

With the foregoing set aside, I am of the mind that the individual overseas Filipino's ideal relationship to the old homeland, solely on the tangible level, can be plotted out using our standard double-entry accounting system. And in the process one can apply the practices of Applied Economics to bring relevant economic theories into actual practice.

For this particular purpose, the purely OFW Filipino may not be properly included since his/her intent is simply to earn abroad and spend locally. In the final analysis for them, no Philippine resources are permanently removed from the old homeland, since the "local investments" on each OFW are compensated with "earnings" returns.

But as you most eloquently advanced, most overseas Filipinos, most especially those who opted to permanently reside abroad, got to their present status initially or even subsequently using Philippine resources. Resources needed to file, apply, and get approval for their migration papers; transport/plane fare and related expenditures; financial resources needed for the initial months of job hunting, adjusting to new living conditions, etc; even skills and educational capabilities acquired in the old homeland, using local educational services, etc.; and more etc.

In fine, each affected overseas Filipino begins his new life in his new environs, owing a debt, a considerable debt to the old homeland. A debt, nonetheless, since it is reflected as a diminution to the overall value of the local economy. And for that reason, the country is rendered that much poorer and that much unable to provide for its own needs. In simple terms, the Philippines is poor because collectively it has very limited purchasing power. And this dearth of purchasing power is magnified and exacerbated by the millions of Filipinos who have participated in the ongoing exodus.

Fortunately, most of the debt can be quantified to a degree, even the skills and educational capabilities acquired and brought to bear in the new homeland to earn a living and participate in that country's prosperity. Is it not incumbent then for each concerned Filipino to make that accounting and to earnestly attempt to balance the books, if only for the sake of fairness and fair play? Love of country does not even have to be factored in. It's simply payment of debt, pure and simple.

To gauge the level of awareness to a similar issue, I once asked a group, directed specifically to those who opted to retain Filipino citizenship and thus, were still Filipino nationals and thus subject to all the Philippine laws pertinent to them, if they were still paying Philippine income taxes that were STILL REQUIRED THEN for every year of stay abroad. Only one took the challenge and answered in the affirmative. Admittedly, it was a hard and bitter pill to swallow. (Update: OFWs are now exempt from paying Philippine income taxes while earning abroad.)

In applying Applied Economics, the matter of sending consumer goods in balikbayan boxes to the old homeland may also be considered a rather counterproductive move economically. For every can of Spam sent, there is one less local luncheon meat product that may not be sold and consequently not produced, resulting in reduction of local capital inputs and labor requirements for such an item. Resulting further in lesser potential taxes to be collected. Needless to state, this is multiplied in the hundreds of millions of countless consumer items sent over all these years. An instance where the balikbayan box may be made tenable economically is when instead of consumer goods, capital goods are put into it, and thus will be used to produce more value and aid local productivity.

Why the dollar remittance should still be the preferred choice of contribution

Aside from being the most used and most acceptable currency in international commerce, the dollar is also most helpful to the Philippine economy. It not only keeps its international reserves in dollars, it also earns more through the process of foreign exchange conversion transactions. And if dollar remittances are channeled into the local banking system, as they should all be since it is required by law instead of through other "alternative" or black-market outlets, then the banking industry is that much more funded to lend money hopefully for more capital and productive projects. More dollars into the country also mean that the country is that much more financially able in importing hopefully again more capital goods for more production, rather than for more consumption.

These are a few of my personal but general and random thoughts on the matter of overseas Filipinos.

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It is very encouraging to get a positive response from this kind of talk, which as Ernie intimated is not as dramatic or eye-popping as the continuing saga of giggly (blank) and her well-rounded antics, and if I may add, not as consuming as all the political rumblings that have now taken hold of the entire country's consciousness. And even more so, because it originates from somebody who continues to cultivate his stakes in the old homeland, which in my agnostic view, is the more heroic stance rather than the more popular perception that leaving the country is, regardless of the motives or the urgencies. Pardon this little bit of heresy.

Lest we forget, what I say here, or most anybody else for that matter, cannot be anything new or earth-shaking, since most of these ideas should now be part of conventional wisdom and thus within reach of any thinking and well-meaning individual. Like prayers, what may be needed is to keep repeating and harping on them until action ensues.

In my own little ways, I do try to put into action as much as I am able to the ideas I enunciate here and thus, I do feel a certain comfort in bringing them out into the open. Thus, to pursue this line of discussion, here are more ideas and paths of action that are humbly recommended for the benefit of both homebound Filipinos and those overseas.

Arguably, every overseas Filipino must be feeling sorry for our beleaguered country; but I say, especially for those of us who have not undertaken any accounting and balancing of the book on homeland balance sheet, to feel instead a tinge of remorse. Feelings of sorrow could usually lead to bouts of depression and emptiness, or the like, but remorse normally leads to "restitution" to get into the path of resolution. Admittedly, many may feel a sense of helplessness toward really being able to assist. But this is not so, as we individually do have the means to be counted as able. And we will not necessarily be talking here about altruism, patriotism, charity, and other ennobling emotions, but strictly on the order of good and smart economic sense.

I for one am of the firm, though minority, belief that in the order of priorities set toward improving conditions in the country, Economics should take more precedence than Politics. Good governance cannot be expected to stand tall and stable under faltering economic conditions that have left many of the citizens, those who have not left the country, both hungry and angry, and of course, ignorant. Recent reliable stats peg the country's extreme poverty levels at 40-50%, with areas in Mindanao, especially in ARMM, registering 65% or more. It definitely could be worse now.

There is a common truism in macroeconomics that may be termed the rising tide theory and which is apt to our discussion. Simply stated it premises that while a rising tide will raise everything within its wake, the same may be said about raising the economic conditions of a place. A rising economic prosperity brings better education, more informed citizenry, better future expectations, and collaterally and inevitably, better governance.

What to do?

The Philippine Foreign Currency Deposit system has been in effect since the 1970's, though promulgating regulations may have changed over time. It is a known fact that dollar deposits are part of the deposit services of most CB-authorized unibanks, which are the commercial banks. Can euro-denominated accounts be opened, too? This I do not know but given the suddenly surging value of the euro against the dollar, one is inclined to believe it may soon be available, if not already. The ratio now hovers around 1:1.2 in favor of the euro.

What may not be common knowledge at this current time is that dollar deposits in the Philippines earn considerably more than, say, the US. A number of reasons may be attributable to his disparity but suffice it to say that such is the case at present.

Can the banking system in the Philippines be trusted? I can speak only for the two biggest private commercial banks since I worked with them for a time; and one was established in the 1800s. But the banking system should be one of the last bastions of stability and reliability in any country. Absent this and that country would be anathema, both locally and abroad.

These accounts can of course be opened while in the Philippines, but given the well-scattered branching of Philippine banks where overseas Filipinos congregate, it should not be a big stretch to assume that if there is a demand, these foreign subsidiaries of Philippine banks will only be too glad to open such accounts for such overseas clients.

No spare money to deposit?

Filipino community leaders abroad have always been unanimous in their praises for that model minority immigrant Filipino household that has out-earned most minority immigrant groups, and in some places, even outdistancing the majority group's gross take-home. That is the earnings side of the issue, now its time to upgrade the savings side of it. Americans are notorious for having an embarrassingly low propensity to save, and I suppose that necessarily includes the minority groups. This is where that spare money could originate.

The paycheck-to-paycheck reality, which admittedly is experienced by many, in my estimation, is borne more out of insufficient knowledge or tepid determination rather than due to compelling necessities. A lot of unnecessary expenses can be pared down, and for this the typical Filipino family, whether at home or abroad, is most adept and adaptable, or at least is malleable enough to be taught so or even forced to by circumstance.

A while back and here in the San Francisco area where the cost of living is arguably highest in the entire USA, I once tracked my actual living expenses, groceries and all, against periodic welfare payments made to recipients. I was quite amazed to realize how closely my family could have survived on those welfare payments. Just closely though, but not quite. Still, a surprisingly sobering revelation.

What are the advantages?

The expected advantages are legion. Here are some. Right off the bat after such an account is opened, more investible capital is injected into the economic mainstream, restricted only by the reserve requirements due this type of deposit liability. In other words, banks have a good portion of this deposit available for lending out to hopefully, productive endeavors.

Should the depositor instead desire to lend the money himself to a trusted relative, a partner, or whatever, to capitalize a business, the bank service of deposit hold-outs can be resorted to where a good portion of the deposit can be used to collateralize the loan, optionally including the partner/relative as co-maker. The dollar deposit remains untouched while the loan is released as a peso credit for both servicing and repayment. From experience, loans of this nature are normally much cheaper to secure and service compared to other types of loan.

What if the overseas Filipino needs funds from the account?

Just as the modes of inward foreign remittances to the country are quite easy, known and expeditious, so would the outward foreign remittances be. Again, once the demand is there, you can bet those foreign subsidiaries of local banks would be most willing to service them for a fee.

It is a sad commentary to point out that in the hinterlands of Mindanao and other blighted areas of the Archipelago, the local banking system which is supposed to fuel the engines of economic development, while continuing to maintain their presence there, have in droves retreated their local investments away from those areas into more urbanized areas where the expectations of profit are better. It has deteriorated to a point where they are not even able to plough back to their local economies, the same exact amounts of deposits that they rake him from those areas. At the very least, this is a huge slap against their avowed mission of pooling local deposits for investment locally. As illustrated above, this retreating trend needs not be irreversible since this new breed of depositors could determine to a degree where and how their deposits will be invested.

Amidst all these, results of studies upon studies about the poor and its predilections remain unheeded. By and large, THE POOR DO NOT NEED DOLE-OUTS. What they need is access to capital. The poor is not averse to paying back just debts/loans, they just need to be guided and taught how. Experts on micro-finance worldwide will only be too glad to furnish proof for these pronouncements.

So there you have it, on the rather long side. And we did not even touch on donations, contributions, or other normally commendable philanthropic devices that appear to be the path of choice nowadays. What we have envisioned is a gifting, that is not really a gift but an investment with expectations of reasonable returns, and which will keep on giving.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What Political Description Fits You Best?

Take this shortest political quiz from this site and find out where you stand.

My results show the following:
Political Quiz

ACCORDING TO YOUR ANSWERS,
The political description that fits you best is...

CENTRIST
CENTRISTS espouse a "middle ground" regarding government control of the economy and personal behavior. Depending on the issue, they sometimes favor government intervention and sometimes support individual freedom of choice. Centrists pride themselves on keeping an open mind, tend to oppose "political extremes," and emphasize what they describe as "practical" solutions to problems.

The RED DOT on the Chart shows where you fit on the political map.

How People Have Scored
Centrist 33.26 %
Right (Conservative) 8.73 %
Libertarian 32.64 %
Left (Liberal) 17.45 %
Statist (Big Government) 7.92 %

Other Political Philosophies

Right (Conservative)
Conservatives tend to favor economic freedom, but frequently support laws to restrict personal behavior that violates "traditional values." They oppose excessive government control of business, while endorsing government action to defend morality and the traditional family structure. Conservatives usually support a strong military, oppose bureaucracy and high taxes, favor a free-market economy, and endorse strong law enforcement.

Left (Liberal)
Liberals usually embrace freedom of choice in personal matters, but tend to support significant government control of the economy. They generally support a government-funded "safety net" to help the disadvantaged, and advocate strict regulation of business. Liberals tend to favor environmental regulations, defend civil liberties and free expression, support government action to promote equality, and tolerate diverse lifestyles.

Libertarian
Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence. Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility, oppose government bureaucracy and taxes, promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the free market, and defend civil liberties.

Statist (Big Government)
Statists want government to have a great deal of power over the economy and individual behavior. They frequently doubt whether economic liberty and individual freedom are practical options in today's world. Statists tend to distrust the free market, support high taxes and centralized planning of the economy, oppose diverse lifestyles, and question the importance of civil liberties
.

It figures, for me. I am a registered Independent. Estimates show that 10% of the electorate are Independents.

Update:
Find out where Prof. Greg Mankiw stands.

Some Short Thoughts On The Upcoming US Elections

The US holds mid-term elections this coming November 7th, first Tuesday of the new month. A mere eleven days from today.

Positions up for grabs are from US Senators down to the lowest elected city official. Thus, there are technically no national referenda, but simply state-wide positions and issues to be contested and decided by the electorate. Though, during these very crucial and contentious elections, it might as well be an election or referendum on the current national/federal government.

All the issues being hotly tossed about, dissected, criticized, or defended are those that go beyond state boundaries. Issues that affect the entire nation, like the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, illegal immigration, national or homeland security, ethical issues such as stem cell research, and of course, the state of the nation’s economy. No local issues with just local impacts here.

As individual voters then, it is quite easy to feel some degree of hapless confusion and helplessness in being able to affect the country’s direction based on the balloted choices for the upcoming elections. True, pundits like to deal on the long-term effects and repercussions that certain choices on the 2006 elections will have, still this sense of helplessness is felt especially in states where the odds and results are pretty much determined beforehand. Which candidates are assured to either retaining their positions or assuming their new positions.

Take California, for example, where I have resided for many years. This huge populous state is decidedly “blue” and thus, expected to vote Democratic. Not strangely enough, I have not heard much about the reelection campaign of one of the Democratic dynamic duo representing the state, nor from the virtual unknown Republican challenger from the opposite side. I am supposing, and I would be right on this, that it is as good a given that those two senators (Senators Feinstein & Boxer) will resume their exalted positions in the next Congress.

More than the hot contentious issues being debated and the hair-thin close races in many states, which have spawned ugly negative ads not seen in past elections, the main bone of contention for this election is the control of Congress. Which party is likely to wrest the majorities in both houses?

Right now, the Republicans hold sway in both branches of government, and one could say, even that of the third branch, the judiciary, through recent appointments successfully pushed through by the current administration.

But polls are showing the Democrats holding the upper hand in many contested states, as the election date draws nigh.

This will be the defining starting fight for this new century. Who will have control of the Congress, especially for the next two years, the remainder of the term for this lame duck administration? The president ends this second and last term and his sitting vice president has adamantly declared that he is not interested in the presidency.

Thus the presidential elections of 2008 will truly be a free-for-all, with no incumbent holding any kind of in-power advantage. And this will be the main event.

But on a much lowlier scale, I find myself for this election at an awkward position, having started a move of residence from one county to another. Thus, technically, I am still registered to vote in my old county, San Mateo, though I have spent considerable time in my new county trying to settle in.

Thus, for the few remaining precious time, I may have to acquaint myself with the candidates on the ballot, and the score of initiatives or propositions that will accompany the election.

And I must confess that the usually great fervor and honor felt during elections are a bit dissipated for this present exercise.

But I continue to be hopeful that collectively, the country will make the right decisions. Given the very pivotal role the country plays in the globe, it cannot afford to be complacent and nonchalant in its decisions and actions.

And as a last parting thought, the US in the midst of these very unsettling times both domestically and globally, finds its prominence and dominance challenged in all areas – politically, economically, and even militarily. It finds itself diminished in most areas even as it feverishly tries to defend itself against both just and unjust charges.

But these are not necessarily bad for the US. Maybe it is about time that other countries put shoulders to the plow and take up the slack. The US cannot be world’s policeman, defender, and deep-pockets country for eternity. Thus the emerging economic dominance of China, India, Singapore, and Australia, with the established participatory roles of Japan and the still consolidating EU, may augur well for a global future that today appears bleak and desolate.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Teaching The World To Sing

Karaokeamazin-grace_1886_48545929It is a well regarded belief that the world defers to the human singing voice as the most wonderful, and maybe most enigmatic, musical instrument of all time. The world appears not able to get enough of it. Even when assembled hordes of musical instruments in a philharmonic orchestra hum in unison to the tune and cadence of a musical composition, almost always the human singing voice is added as the central focus. Thus we have the solos, whether in popular music or in operatic arias.

And to this day, the dulcet human voice still is the center in most musical renditions. On Broadway. In the many arenas of heartland USA where concerts are held.

Man has at times elevated singing to profound heights, at times catapulting it to almost spiritual or mystical crests.

And time was when most men, those who couldn’t find or afford public forums or those not possessing the gilded voices of a few blessed individuals, would resort ingeniously or resourcefully to other means to satisfy their cravings for practicing the high art of singing. Be it in the homely bathrooms, in the solitude and privacy of their own abode. In isolated places where one could only count the lowly animals as likely audience. And most other places and arenas, where one is shielded from public scrutiny by solitude. Resulting in most instances in one having to sing a Capella, with nary an audience other than the echoes of one’s voice bouncing off one’s own ears. That is, singing without any appropriate accompaniment, the necessary companion for singing.

But because to sing properly and adequately, one needed the services of other people. People who could play musical instruments to accompany one’s singing. No doubt many otherwise promising songsters of the past may have been frustrated in their ardent desires to discover, develop, and practice on their singing. If only to perform decently during family gatherings or during outings with friends. Or to be quite frank, to appeasing one’s at times insatiable ego pursuing its own capricious whims or warped sense of self-expression. And why not?

Anyway, in the late 70’s this public and universal craving started to be addressed in an inauspicious manner. People in the business of music, whether selling recorded songs or selling musical instruments, started looking for ways to make available to the public at large devices that would allow even those who were not musically literate to have access to services which were necessary for singing, whether personal or public – the musical accompaniment.

Recorded accompaniment which did not have need for live performers. In comparison, one is reminded of those now ubiquitous synthesizers, which in their most technologically advanced stages can create virtual orchestras. But all absent the attendant necessarily exorbitant costs required to cobble together those electronically intricate adaptations, and all within reach of your typical consumer, the one used to singing in the bathroom a Capella to satisfy his innate craving for musical expression.

Thus, came along the sing-a-long, or now more popularly referred to as karaoke, devices in varying sizes and dizzying arrays of technology.
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KaraokeMikesKaraoke%20Machines
But its origin is somewhat unclear and not clarified, though unquestionably, the word itself, karaoke, is Japanese in origin and the more popular perception is that indeed this started in Japan.

But a credible challenge, though not really brought into the forefront and publicly asserted, is that of a Filipino inventor who held a couple of patents to a device(s) that pretty much mimics the present-day karaoke machines.

And the corresponding timelines may reveal a bit as to who can fairly claim authorship.

Compare and make you own conclusions.

Regarding the history of karaoke, here’s what Inventors.About.Com has to say:

Roberto del Rosario - Filipino Inventor: Roberto del Rosario is the president of the Trebel Music Corporation and the inventor of the Karaoke Sing Along System in 1975. Roberto del Rosario has patented more than twenty inventions making him one of the most prolific Filipino inventor. Besides his famous Karaoke Sing Along System Roberto del Rosario has also invented:

• Trebel Voice Color Code (VCC)
• piano tuner's guide
• piano keyboard stressing device
• voice color tape

Roberto del Rosario - Noted Patents:
• Patent No. UM-5269 dated 2 June 1983 for audio equipment and improved audio equipment commonly known as the sing-along system or karaoke
• Patent No. UM-6237 dated 14 November 1986 audio equipment and improved audio equipment commonly known as the sing-along system or karaoke

Roberto del Rosario described his sing-along system as a handy multi-purpose compact machine which incorporates an amplifier speaker, one or two tape mechanisms, optional tuner or radio and microphone mixer with features to enhance one's voice, such as the echo or reverb to stimulate an opera hall or a studio sound, with the whole system enclosed in one cabinet casing.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say in turn, batting for the Japanese as the originators:

Karaoke (Japanese: カラオケ, from 空 kara, "empty" or "void", and オーケストラ ōkesutora, "orchestra") is a form of entertainment in which an amateur singer or singers sing along with recorded music on microphone. The music is typically of a well-known song in which the voice of the original singer is absent or reduced in volume. Lyrics are usually also displayed, sometimes including color changes synchronized with the music, on music video to guide the sing-along.

Karaoke has been a popular form of entertainment beginning first in Japan, then the rest of East Asia, since at least the 1980s, and has since spread to other parts of the world. Karaoke engenders quite a bit of culture specific to its enthusiasts, and this culture, unsurprisingly, varies from country to country.

The karaoke industry started in Japan in the early 1970s when singer Daisuke Inoue (Inoue Daisuke) was asked by frequent guests in the Utagoe Kissa, where he performed, to provide a recording of his performance so that they could sing along on a company-sponsored vacation.


That aside, karaoke, in its many manifestations and spin-offs, has rapidly spread world-wide, and has electrified both the entrepreneurs and consuming public.

Now, it is both commonplace and ubiquitous. In nightclubs, in bars. And it has even spawned a business industry all to its own – businesses where the main product is karaoke singing. And karaoke singing contests, too, have evolved.

And like most things touched by and tinkered with electronic technologies, the karaoke machines have undergone tremendous evolutions in its short life span from the 70’s to the present time. From the crude lumbering sing-a-long machines to the sleek hand-held portables that one can now purchase most anywhere consumer electronics are offered. Of course, for the avid cannot-be-satisfied technophiles, there are very sophisticated and technologically-loaded machines that can do much anything that can be done in studio, save duplicating the voice of the original recording artist to be copied, mimicked, or imitated.

Or maybe not, in the very near future at the very least. Because I read about a machine that can now translate one’s recorded voice to come out much like the recording artist one wants to imitate.

After all, it is now commonplace for speech patterns to be tracked, analyzed, and recorded. Thus, the next inevitable step would be to duplicate those patterns. Of course, this news came from Japan.

So expect pretty soon to be able to not only avail of the unique musical arrangements that your favorite recording artists record in, but also electronically imitate his vocal cords.