Thursday, September 28, 2006

Comment Moderation

Vox populi: Civility in the blogosphere" addresses the issue of civility in an electronic age. Cronin notes that the "technology of blogging is a marvelous innovation." But the concern he raises is: "The pivotal issue is the atrophying of civility in the public sphere and the emergence of a brutish me-centeredness which acknowledges no social norms, no form of cognitive authority and wraps its barbs and banalities in the cloak of First Amendment rhetoric. Blaming the technology for the dubious and deviant is, of course, infantile..."

Bothered by unacceptable commentaries in your blog? And desirous of elevating the civility and relevance levels of comments in your blogsite?

Instead of completely eliminating the comments option, maybe comment moderation is the answer.

Here's one personally recommended as a model to follow, extracted completely from Donald Sensing's blog, One Hand Clapping:
Comments policy

Commenting is provided as a courtesy only. I review all comments before they appear. I do not edit comments, I only approve or delete. My criteria for approving or deleting generally correspond to the following guidelines but in the end are subjective.

Comments using profanity automatically get tossed into the bit bucket - I never see them and neither does anyone else.

No personal attacks, name calling or commercial commenting. Links to your own blog site or relevant other web pages are fine.

Please be brief and relevant to the post.

I rarely answer comments, I just don't have the time.

Many high-traffic blogs, especially those that are essentially one-man operations, inundated daily with hundreds (or thousands) of comments, of course, will find this solution quite burdensome and tiresome.

But there are enough blogs out there whose traffic levels will allow the hosts to have time to permit moderation.

Will the desired or desirable effects of moderation be reason enough to try it to improve the tenor and civility in the blogosphere?

Collective Responsibility In The Internet

The Sassy Lawyer, popular Philippine political and cuisine blogger, assesses her participation in a contest promoting SEO as a marketing tool to improve search engine rankings, and documents her reservations.

Having previously scanned through the several articles linked to this brewing issue, I agree with her reservations/ observations.

SEO (search engine optimization) was initially devised as a marketing tool for commercial websites, but since blogs now are either hawking merchandise or at the very least, carrying commercial ads on their pages which can potentially earn some money for the hosts, one can understand the interest in pursuing SEO.

But at what costs and through what means?

Reminds me of those pernicious chain letters still popular among email groups, or even many of those on-line petitions with their expanding name lists, or those perpetually circulating urban legend items.

They may pale in comparison with the fast-spreading viruses that virtually everybody disdains, but as she observed, the result is still - mess and clutter.

In the process, Sassy also reveals her preference for a MacBook which she purchased over the PC laptops at about 100k pesos. While I concede that if one is heavy on graphics and media, i.e., video production and editing (or terribly afraid of infection from viruses in the Internet) that would be one’s choice, still the price differentials are quite gaping.

Here in the US, starting at $400, one could own a PC laptop (Gateway or Dell), which would be a little over 20K pesos. And typically are women-friendly weighing as light as 3.5lbs.

In trying to break into the PC’s markets, Apple’s thrust continues to be that their products may also run Windows. And their current use of Intel chips (and I suppose chipsets) makes the transition even easier. Still, one needs to remember that MacBooks were not technically designed to run on Windows.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Useful Admonitions

Here are some short and quick admonitions on judgment quite apropos for us, bloggers, avid disciples of written words and ideas:

Then wilt thou rejoice more that thou has kept silence that that thou has made long discourses or talked much.

Then will holy works be of greater value than many fair words.

Then a pure and good conscience shall be a greater subject of joy than learned philosophy.

If it be lawful and expedient to speak (or write), speak (or write) those things which may edify
Extracted from an eminent work written more than 6 centuries ago, Imitation Of Christ by Thomas ‘a Kempis.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Another Old Elvis Treat

Through the courtesy of YouTube, here's a special treat for Elvis fans.
Young ElvisClick to view.

Blog As Personal Journal

We know that weblogs, or more popularly, blogs, are a product of the present century. Spread out and popularized through the medium of the Internet.

But just as surely, we know that personal journals have been with us for a long, long time. So long, perhaps, that remaining documents attesting to this have become ageless, timeless, and never the mind.

Click to read more.

Early Journal(cover page):
Earliest Journal

Saturday, September 23, 2006

An Unusual Philately Find

Presidents PI
Seven presidents of the Republic of the Philippines on one sheet of postage stamps.

Presidents commencing from the 2nd Republic up to the 5th, but minus the incumbent’s father, Diosdado Macapagal, and deposed Joseph Estrada. And of course, minus the incumbent, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Click to read more.

A Cameo: GW Reaching Out

Courtesy of PowerLine, excerpts from a piece written by a rabbi on a rare meeting with the president in 2003:

During the 10-day period between the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement -- the "days of awe" that are the holiest on the Jewish calendar -- the president sought out 16 rabbis from around the country to meet with him in Washington. No member of the press was present. The photo below was provided to the rabbis by the White House photographer after the meeting. At our request, Rabbi Ginsburg emailed us his account of the meeting (the subject headings are Rabbi Ginsburg's) together with a digital copy of the photograph upon his return to St. Paul. We posted Rabbi Ginsburg's 2003 report as follows:

It started with a phone call from Senator Coleman the Monday night before Rosh Hashanah telling me that the President wanted to meet with a few rabbis right after Rosh Hashanah, and asking me if I could go to Washington to meet with him. Senator Coleman told me that I could expect a call from the White House.

He spoke about his need to stand firm, the need to support the forces for peace in the world, but that there are cold blooded murderers he has to deal with. He said he's not anti-Muslim, he's not anti-Palestinian. He does believe there should be a Palestinian state someday, but he's anti-Palestinians who are terrorists. He ended by saying, "This is not a political event. Keep your politics close to your vests. I just wanted to talk with rabbis during the ten days of awe" (or close to that).

When Bush woke up in the morning, he looked out of his hotel window, and it was Jerusalem in its golden hue. He talked about how humbling it is to know that millions of people pray for him every day, and the sacred responsibility that entails. We mentioned that in our synagogues every Shabbat, we offer a prayer for him and for the government of the United States. He said he prays every day that God blesses him with patience, wisdom and strength, and "I'm weak enough to know that I need God's strength and support."

I was just stunned to be sitting across the table from the most powerful person in the world, a man of true humility and belief in one God, who spent much of this hour and a quarter, speaking from the depth of his heart about his concern about anti-Semitism and his understanding of Israel's predicament. I know many disagree with policies of his. I'm sure every rabbi there had some disagreements. But there was no denying the moment, the genuineness, the power of the experience. It felt surreal.

Please read the entire piece.

Friday, September 22, 2006

G. W. Bush, His Local Critics, and His Foreign Critics

George W. Bush. Dubya. Bush. Or even simply, W.

Short words that when read conjure bad images typically coming from non-supporters, political rivals, many foreign leaders (both political and religious, but dominantly Middle Eastern), media people, and even coming from hordes of uncredentialed bloggers and commenters, and email list members.

I say typically because I find most of his supporters are quite reticent, silent, or even circumspect when mentioning those names in their discourses.

And I do mean bad images, typically through words or statements of ridicule, of pejorative charges and claims to all aspects of the man from his actions to his personal traits, etc. Thus, typically negative and damning images.

And the incessant and sustained cadence of these bad images has been liberally dispersed out there since the first days that this sitting US president sat on his office after a very hotly-contested election that saw him favored via a Supreme Court decision.

And in my opinion, the tipping point was reached during this most recent visit to the UN and US of the petty head of state from an oil-rich though still impoverished South American country, Venezuela, in the person of Hugo Chavez.

According to Mr.Chavez, the above short words can now be replaced with his following own words:

Alcoholic. A Sick Man with a lot of hang-ups. A devil (many times over). A tyrant. Walks Like John Wayne.

Given the absurdity, the silliness, the unabashed cruelty of such labels, one wonders how it has come to this. That a head of state of a country could come to US soil, spout those insults cavalierly against its people through its duly-elected president, and not face any summary recrimination or violent response.

But I believe many of us know why. And we could probably glean the why from the surprising reaction of some Democratic operatives, the least likely sources that would defend the person and honor of the sitting president.

Listen, we ourselves as Americans have empowered those unkind kinds of people to develop the unmitigated gall and temerity to hurl such condemnable insults and inanities at such close quarters. We have with our own actions made them think it is okay and fashionable to do such things, for after all we are doing it ourselves in our own turf and with impunity.

We, Americans, have also replaced those short words with our own original versions, and tacitly given license for foreign detractors to mimic them.

Fucking liar. Fucking crooks and thieves. Genocidal Racist. A white knuckle drunk. An uptight Christian. Idiot. Hitler. Etc.

Sound familiar?

And amidst this incessant and endless harangues that could easily unravel any normal person, what and how does the unlucky man in the middle respond?

Here’s what the Anchoress reveals:

. . . .concerning one man who has never - not once -repaid them back in kind. Not in speeches. Not to the press. Not to “friendly audiences.” He came to town talking about “changing the tone,” and that’s what happened, in a perverse way. One side’s tone went rabid, the other side went nearly-silent, but this one man…kept his tone.

So to all out there, let us pause a bit and bow our heads in humble supplication.

In shame, if we are guilty of such outrageous demeanor.

And for the rest, in prayer and earnest plea that the man continues his mastery of his self-control and be accorded the necessary wisdom as he continues to wade through “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, outrageous circumstances, and outrageous detractors.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Issue of Coercive Interrogation Or Torture

In the current hotly-debated issue of how US terrorist prisoners should be treated under the Geneva Conventions, the current position of Senator McCain affords one with an exemplary model to highlight and emulate.

I surmise that the life-defining experiences of Sen. McCain started during his stint with the US armed services during the infamous Vietnam War. After his plane crashes on enemy territory, he is dragged out of the wreckage, coming out with broken arms and legs. Then beaten by his captors. And for the next five years of captivity undergoes, in his own words, torture from his captors. He also confesses to having tried to hang myself at least twice to escape frustration and despair, no doubt occasioned and aggravated by the torture inflicted on him. Torture methods that obviously were violations against the extant Geneva Conventions.

Now defying the President’s desire to study some of the provisions of the conventions for clarity with the end in view of protecting the US military, Sen. McCain takes the very high moral ground intoning that the US ought to follow strictly the current provisions and dismissing any suggestions that the US be allowed to engage in “coercive interrogation”. Examples of which are waterboarding, belly slap, sleep deprivation, exposure to loud sounds or music. Of which many would contend are not forms of torture, but rather extreme measures of coercive interrogation.

Taking these stands in spite of his own horrific personal experiences, projects to us an image of McCain as a kind of Christian saint, very loyal to the precepts of Christianity especially those that appertain to one’s enemies. Indeed, he can be likened to a Christian saint, though maybe a notch lower than being a martyr also for one’s Christian beliefs.

For the clear manifestations of his humanity, one cannot find a much better example of a good man, true both in words and deeds.

The confusion I foresee is whether an entire country should or could be expected to act as one Christian saint, practicing the time-revered precepts that we must love our enemies, that when we are struck by them to turn the other cheek, that we cannot respond violently to violence inflicted on us but only through peaceful means.

Is it feasible and reasonable to expect an entire country, especially when its own survival is at stake and being threatened, to actually proceed down the road of deferentially treating any or all of its violent aggressors, adhering strictly to high moral and ethical standards? Especially when the enemies are not so inclined to follow or be bound by any humane or reasonable rules of conduct?

While, yes, it is possible to do so, as a matter of fact, it is the most ideal way to do it following our Christian ideals, but aren’t we expecting or extracting too much from that country as to disable and hamstring its capabilities to effectively and efficiently curb or eliminate such imminent threats?

In the delicate equation between the imminent possibility of saving many lives against temporarily curtailing or suspending the personal civil rights of several individuals or groups of individuals, most of them already reasonably determined to be unrepentant perpetrators of mass murders, where could one stand?

Specially relevant is the issue of how and what is a leader of an entire nation, tasked primarily to protect and provide safety for his huge number of constituents, supposed to decide on issues similar to this?

We of course have precedents. Done during wartime quite similar to the current one, the two atom bombs dropped on Japan were precisely for the purpose of preventing more casualties on both sides of the conflict. A few hundred thousand bomb victims in favor of maybe a million or so combatants on both sides because of the projected protracted combat.

And adding another stubborn wrinkle to all these is the accepted practice of states or governments having the rightful authority to execute certain criminals and transgressors, whether members of their own citizenry or not, who are determined whether judicially or not to be guilty of grievous crimes/transgressions. Can't spies be summarily executed during wartime?

Thus, while an individual may feel compelled and bound to follow the commandment not to kill or murder, the government in many countries or states is legally authorized to disregard that particular admonition. And of course, an individual has the inherent right to self-defense when so seriously threatened.

So, shouldn't this self-defense exemption also apply to a collective individual like the state?

Many man-made nuances are cobbled together in many specific instances to justify the forcible termination of a life. But the final analysis is that we are taking away the liberties of a man, including his right to life. Only the circumstances change. Thus, can it be any different when subjecting a person to coercive interrogation?

The realities on the ground are harsh and troubling. But isn’t there a crying need to get past beyond ideals and best case scenarios for man collectively to be able to progress and get beyond the many bumps and irritants that litter his path?

Is the far greater cause of insuring the peace and harmony of humanity worth more than strict adherence to standards that anyway are made renowned more for their breaches than their being earnestly followed?

Or does it have to be morality and ethics, first and foremost, or nothing else?

Come to think of it, many of the great and moral personages of man’s history gained prominence, renown, and adherents because there were immoral or amoral men or groups who felt compelled to silence those people by doing violence to them, taking their lives forcibly before their times. By violating high moral standards.

And on the other side, we can also point to a good many great men, who when judged by today's moral and ethical standards would have failed miserably in many of their undertakings.

And the world appears none the worse for these unacceptable behavior. Or none the better, judging by the turmoils we are in presently.

This clearly shows that man’s path to the future from the past did not and does not come pure and simple. All good and admirable, with no deviations from the strict moral and ethical codes that most civilized people acknowledge and resolve to follow.

At best, it can be portrayed as markedly spotted with different moral and ethical shades of gray.


Here's a rather comprehensive categorization of coercive interrogations, which includes our common understanding of torture:
"coercive interrogations" can be loosely categorized as follows:

1. Interrogation that involves physical torture.

2. Interrogations with clear implication of threat and harm with an overt physical component - the so-called torture-lite (e.g. hooding, sleep deprivation, nudity with sexual humiliation, loud music, cold exposure). This often involves a physical component but is usually not defined as physical torture as it is deemed as causing no real physical harm but is rather much more harmful psychologically. Thus, it probably would not be defined as physical interrogation but is clearly a case of extreme coercive interrogation.

3. Interrogations with clear implication of threat and harm without an overt physical component - also under the rubric of torture-lite. Examples could include drawing on individuals phobias in an effort to terrorize a detainee; threats of severe harm or adverse consequences to self (e.g., death, physical torture); sexual humiliation drawing largely on cultural norms; defilement of religious objects; forced listening to baby cries, etc. Each of the above results in extreme physical arousal, not deemed to cause lasting physical harm, but can be very psychologically damaging.

4. Interrogations that may cause psychological harm as they involve severe or "oppressive" threat, disparagement, shaming, bullying, deception, etc. This is where the "shock the conscience" rule comes into play. Not considered legal for U.S. interrogations as they may lead to violations of 5th and 14th amendment rights related to due process and self-incrimination. This is a very gray area in the law that is constantly evolving and resulting in changes to Miranda. Confessions may be excluded on the basis of such interrogations.

5. Interrogations that may cause psychological harm as they involve threat, disparagement, shaming, bullying, deception but are considered to be within the legal toolbox of interrogation within the U.S. criminal justice system.

6. Non-harmful interrogations - basic questioning of prisoners.


Here’s a report from ABC’s Brian Ross, which among other things pointed to some successes with the coercive interrogation methods used by CIA.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

That Empty Gnawing Space

I note with morbid tepidity the glaring empty space in the short continuum between the last blog I posted and the present time. And I continue to be nonplussed on what to do with the two diametrically opposing forces that have conspired to cause some kind of paralysis on my part.

The prickly gnawing feeling that wants to articulate and take issue with many of the unfolding events and the equally scratchy nonchalance that cries, why should I care.

Wake up! The world is afire with consuming troubles and sticky stripes that clamor for some solicitous attention and resolution. Why not raise your iota’s worth of earnest musing, with the yeoman’s hope that that candle lighted may in unison with others, bring some illuminating spots on the mottled pages of man’s plight?

But the other equally formidable force shouts in equally forceful gale, why should you care, nobody typically cares enough to sublimate his narrow personal interests and vanities for the greater good.

We appear consumed with promoting our own selfish interests. We would rather vie and see who can write or argue better. And be esteemed as such, rather than in the darkness and drabness of anonymity raise our puny selves to act and do something positive and constructive about the problems.

Man appears not only bound to repeat his dismal history, but may actually appear destined to commit his collective future to perdition and annihilation. Nothing appears in the horizon bright enough to result in any meaningful change in the misguided direction it is now locked into.

Listen! Even the soft saintly words of a holy man have been unscrupulously twisted to enrage a good many clueless devotees of Islam. Enraged enough, to wish that holy man an abominable death such as by execution, hanging, or even beheading.

What’s happening?

I doubt there is any one person that can give an acceptably comprehensive answer.

Life in all its simplicity and inequivocation appears to have become so complicated and entangled, as to be tiresome and its concerns, worthy of being dismissed altogether.

I know that man as a species is always hopeful and I wrote so in an earlier blog. Hope springs eternal!

But hope appears like a fastly fading light, that traveling at great speed is fast getting away from man’s ken and grasp.

Well, maybe the next day brings brighter prospects.

Nothing like a good night sleep to freshen one’s mental attitudes.

And maybe, too, the planned extended trip to somewhere north where the cold winds blow, and the skies appear closer to the heavens.

Till then.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Slice Of Life In These United States

When our sizable family migrated to the US over a quarter of century ago, the statistics then showed that house owners stayed in their homes for an average of over 10 years before moving on to other houses/locations.

But the intervening years have seen that drastically reduced to less than six years. Credit that to the phenomenal surges in the housing markets and the rapid development of outlying areas, giving rise to what is derisively referred to as urban sprawl.

Our own experiences show that we have lived in three residences over the last 26 years, getting an average of 8 plus years per residence. Not bad. However, we have always maintained the original residence that we had purchased all this time. Home-grown sentimentality made us quite reluctant to part with it.

But now inevitability has set in so we are now prepared to part with it. Thus, for a good part of the current year, we have been moving out stuff that we have accumulated all these years. Stuff the entire family, parents and kids, have stowed away in the little 1100sq.ft two-storey building that was home for the growing years of the kids. In the same neighborhood highlighted in this previous post.

Selling an old house is a rather involved and at times a tedious process, especially much older houses that predate the passage of building codes that now apply to and cover modern buildings.

For this purpose, I have seen myself in the past two weeks immersed in various types of house work/repair to get the place ready for market. Not unlike a late-term bride, getting all dolled up and ready to be marketed to her prospective groom. Serious cosmetic touch-up of the exterior, with sealant and paint. Sprucing up of the interior with a fresh coat of paint and deep grooming of the carpets in the rooms. And of course, a new layer of impressive and shiny wood laminate flooring for the living/dining area to add crucial points to its overall ambiance.

And now, here she is all set to go – to the highest bidder!

Does anybody know how skewed the housing markets are? Try guessing how much this little shack can command in the present markets.