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.
karaoke%20madnessKaraoketempFront2952
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.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Blog Writing : On Uncharitable Criticism/Name Calling

*Credits
There definitely are enough treatises out there detailing rules and standards for good writing style in blogging. And this would hold true with regard to the select words, ideas, and phrases to use to attract and invite readership to one’s blog. Teasing and goading those restless search engines to up rank one’s site in their search results.

There are even those which dispense recommendations on what subjects to write about for optimum exposure and penetration in the blogosphere.

Other works have ventured out into the world of proper etiquette and rules of conduct in blog writing.

But is there enough literature out there that addresses specific issues, say, concerning criticism, beyond just the tone and degree of civility in dealing with them?

With regard to uncharitable criticism which continues to be on the rise in the blogosphere, do we believe too readily what we hear or read about others, especially with regard to things that tend to bolster and validate our own pre-conceived notions about people and ideas?

Taking into account that we often render judgment on others – with prejudice, whether consciously perceived or not. Yet we are viscerally aware that frequently our judgments are influenced by our temperaments, tastes, moods, ambitions, and yes, even self-love.

Thus, it usually is the better path to refuse judgment on one person based on negative criticisms one hears from another. Many an innocent man’s name and reputation have been besmirched, not only when he is absent and unable to defend himself. But also when the man concerned refuses to stoop to the level of exchanging incendiary rhetoric or validating errant charges leveled against him.

We as a species are quite predisposed to feeling superior and justified when we criticize others. And in the process we are apt to exaggerate the faults of our neighbor. And trot in false courage and justified glee, knowing we have cavalierly humiliated or derided another.

And if inordinate interest in the criticisms is generated, it typically fuels and inflames more uncharitable talk.

Thus, still an effective way to show disapproval of back-biting is to seek shelter in the golden rod of silence.

We accept that everybody makes mistakes. And the human critic may very well “know” better than the others. But even then, that same critic may not discern the innermost motives and intentions of the person being criticized. In this light then, one has no right to reveal and delve on the faults of others, except to protect the innocent, to help the guilty person himself, or for the public good.

More importantly, we ought to remember we ourselves may object to being the object of such criticism if directed against us.

Speak now of the criticized one as we would want others to speak of us when we are criticized.

We ought to be more willing and predisposed to think well of others than to think evil.

And let us aim to leave all judgment, as much as we are able, to one where judgment resides.

For while man proposes, He alone disposes.

Friday, October 13, 2006

No Macbeth's Lament

Scanning through the global news, one can see that the world’s on fire. No, make that, in conflagration. Or in an uncontrollable firestorm? Brush fires are ablaze every which country one looks. Tinderboxes or powder kegs smoldering. Sparks flying over seared political and social landscapes. Not much need to elaborate, to convince any reasonable person.

So laments are in order?

Superficially, definitely yes. But a little cursory in-depth (like reading between the lines) and honest reading of news as reported ought to consign laments to some obscure closet. Or at least, unwelcome and undeserved.

But in a world of half-empty or half-full rivalries, it decidedly appears that the half empty crowds are on top of the heap. They hold sway. They define discussions –and more importantly, they are influencing societal opinions and values. Or could, at least, in many respects.

Consider this one specific instance.

Poor Uncle Sam

While initially not much attention given by high-powered media, the news came out that the US now “officially” has a population of 300 million people, pushed largely by immigration comprising significantly of illegals. Making it the third most populous nation in the world!

This count could easily be challenged. For after all, who can count the illegals reliably? Government officials cannot even reliably count those clandestinely crossing the borders in number batches that can be sorted and counted easier than counting populations in urbanized areas.

The world’s most populous country, China, is suspected to show an undercount of its population, given the understandable dread held by its citizens in honestly declaring numbers of children beyond the proscribed number allowed by the government.

Thus, it should be quite as easily to also project that because the extrapolation is that there are 11 million illegals in the country already, then the “unofficial” count of US population ought to be over 311 million already.

And what’s with this milestone? For one, it has garnered for the country the “honor” as the ONLY industrialized country to register population increases. Made significant because peoples from all over the globe continue trooping in record numbers to avail of opportunities of bettering their lives, economically, politically and etc.

We assume then that those who are here, especially those who account for the increases, are indeed bettering their lives – at least comparatively speaking, i.e., compared to their old lives in their old homelands.

A good and laudable development, and a cause for some celebration, right?

But examine what dire prognostications the report highlights.

And make your judgment.

Here’s a sampling, whether this news is “a milestone for sure but is this a cause for celebration or anxiety?”

“….it is unsustainable, they say.”

“On a global scale the average US citizen uses far more than his or her fair share of the planet's resources…”

“there was also a global perspective to America's rapacious model of consumption”

“The US - with five per cent of the world's population - uses 23 per cent of its energy, 15 per cent….”

Monday, October 09, 2006

On Leaving The Old Homeland

Emigration is now so commonplace that people tend to take a lot of things for granted. Reading this tells us how the world has been revamped and reshaped as a result of continuous population movements from the time man got serious recording his history.

Yes, there are tedious well-articulated requirements imposed not only by the homeland of the émigré but also by the prospective host country – such as passports, visas, authenticated certificates of one’s circumstances of birth, marriage, etc; and even financial requirements. Quite daunting and at times costly hurdles.

But beyond these, I suspect many immigrants are not predisposed to confront and resolve issues relating to the intangible things required of them beyond the legal requirements for entry and permanent residency.

And the Philippines as a country for one is in such a vulnerable situation, gleaning from the number of its citizens leaving the country, literally in droves, either as temporary workers or as immigrants. I had intimated in a previous blog that FilAms in my very limited circles of relatives and acquaintances willingly give up only that part of their Filipino-ness that allows them to get by in their new environment, but tenaciously clinging to those that do not grate on or openly conflict with the social or political milieus of the adopted country. And this accommodation has not much regard to years of residency or citizenship. In other words, the length of stay does not necessarily dilute this concessionary view.

We could easily come up with a generally acceptable definition of what an immigrant is and one which would be generally acceptable:
An immigrant is someone who intends to reside permanently, and not a casual visitor or traveler. Immigration means "in-migration" into a country, and is the reverse of emigration, or "out-migration.

And we could pick from the following acculturation strategies (created by John Berry) that are opened to immigrants as possible choices:
1. assimilation – replacing one’s previous identity with that of the new host society.

2. integration – refers to the capacity to access aspects of the dominant culture, while simultaneously retaining an ethnic identity.

3. separation(segregation) – the group also retains its own culture, but does not want to have contacts with the dominant one. And segregation refers to society’s policy of exclusion.

4. marginalization – implies losing one’s cultural background, but being simultaneously denied access to the dominant culture.

While many may have criticized the model above as relying on simplified assumptions, critics concede it does amply define the capacity of immigrants to make choices.

Given the above, where do we stand as immigrants in other countries?

But first, of late attention has been focused on Mr. Jim Paredes, a third of the popular Filipino singing group, Apo Hiking Society, who with his entire family migrated recently to Australia. Attention deserved not necessarily because Mr. Paredes typifies the Filipino immigrant, but more because Mr. Paredes is a high-profile celebrity in a country that celebrates and enshrines celebrity-ness in its workaday life. And a little consequent furor erupted when a local article from a personal interview came up with a headline adjudged not factual, stating that Mr. Paredes had given up on the old homeland.

Then the other day, I got hold of the October ’06 issue of Filipinas magazine where in a feature Mr. Paredes journalizes his and his family’s experiences in Down Under. He delves essentially on the more mundane aspects of living in a new community in a new country, “concessions” he and his family have had to accede to, like doing housework, marketing for foodstuff, eating new food, etc.

Because he chose to delve more on the inner or interior changes of the family’s personal behavior, rather than aspects of its social behavior, his following statement on emigrating proved both interesting and revealing:

You got to leave things behind, and the most important thing to leave behind is the mindset you had back home.

Taking and understanding mindset in its strongest sense could mean a lot of giving up.

Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

A mindset, in decision theory and general systems theory, refers to a set of assumptions, methods or notations held by one or more people or groups of people which is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviours, choices, or tools. ...

How much of Filipino-ness does one leave behind to be able to adapt well to the new environment?

While it may not translate to giving up on a country, it could entail a lot of giving up on one’s ethnic and cultural uniqueness. And as the integral demand of assimilation process of acculturation above, not only giving up but replacing one’s previous identity with that of the new host society.

And once one elects citizenship of the host country, the issue of allegiance starts to kick in it being a requisite in the oath of citizenship which succinctly defines the duty a citizen owes to the country. Acting as yet another thorny issue to be delved into and resolved by the immigrant.

And in our continuing search for the identity we are assuming or want to assume in our adopted country, one notices some reservation or reticence a Filipino may harbor in this journey toward self-actualization.

Thus, one can notice that many FilAms view with askance at the idea that he is expected to assimilate, resulting possibly from a dread that may have been engendered by the oft-quoted charge other compatriots have leveled about other Filipinos becoming more American than the native Americans.

Given the seeming complexities detailed above, an immigrant may opt for integration as the more acceptable path. Or maybe try to get lost or seek comfort in the hazy and often controversial world of multiculturalism, which in the US critics have blamed for cementing disunity in the community and slowing down education growth among minorities, among other things.

The question is somehow how the rest of the population views this choice. Thus, while integration allows equal access to everybody without regard to race or color, the continued retention of one's ethnic identity could appear as coming out from the separate but equal playbook, and encouraging division along ethnic lines. And perpetuating the uncomfortable practice of having hyphenated Americans.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

On The Economic Front

Words could have bigger impact than numbers

Thus, intones the bannered headline of a short economic report on current developments in the US economy.

The report details the fear that certain data on falling prices could be easily misunderstood, I suppose even by those who are savvy on economic issues. This I say because sadly, I can surmise that the common perception is that the typical man on the street may not be nuanced enough to understand these developments.

We are wont to bewail the lack of focus and emphasis on economics in our secondary education, at least with the basics such as how the economy works in general, or as some dismissively rue, simply how to maintain and balance checkbooks.

I personally believe that this utter dearth of understanding of basic economic phenomena can be collated and proved from polls after polls directed at how the citizenry perceive the overall economy.

Thus, this heavy reliance on words rather than numbers has been with us for a while and extends beyond the issues propounded by the article.

The current situation is decidedly a good subject for discussion.

Consider the following developments.

Unemployment hovers around 4.7% and this level may be as near as the country can get to attain that full employment equilibrium as Keynes enunciated.

The DOW-Jones indices are treading on uncharted territories, breaching highs recorded in the past. Though we should not mistake their accomplishments as reflective of the overall growth and health of the economy, they do reflect the vibrancy of and confidence in the economy.

While the overall housing market may be slowing down after its almost decade-long phenomenal surges in numbers and prices, we should not lose sight of the fact that overall house ownership has also steadily increased in the same period, across most ethnic and economic status lines. And the continued influx of future immigrants will no doubt continue to press on harder on the housing markets to perform.

The size of the US economy continues to grow at very healthy rates, in spite of all the turmoil it has had to go through. One economist pointed out the US economy grew during the period of a few years at a size equal to the total Chinese economy. Astounding!

And we got blessed with an extraneous boost when crude oil prices started plummeting, and so gas prices are now rapidly going downward.

In the area of challenges, first we had the tech bust beginning of the new century, which when reckoned accounted for a few trillion losses in value of stocks, mostly tech stocks.

Then we had 9/11, which according to some estimates had the country, NYC being a crucial part of it, reeling from a loss of over 11 billion dollars during the first year. Then the two wars which to this writing we continue to wage, regardless of which side we may find ourselves staking our support.

Then we have to contend with the other global economies that are determined to challenge our dominant positions in world trade. And we should not forget to add the hate/dislike factor that some countries have tacked on to these challenges. With enough hate/dislike that some of its citizens are only too willing to do us harm both in person and our assets abroad.

And these moves related to global terrorism have made necessary precious treasures from our economy to be expended for our protection and security. Which expenditures could have been channeled to more productive and/or creative endeavors to grow the economy even more.

But still in the final count, we continue to exhibit those inspiring developments in our economy.

And on the political front, no serious economist will deny that government administrations do not really have control or influence on the overall economy, except maybe to step aside and allow the established and stable economic institutions to run their courses,. Still, one should be realistic enough to concede that the citizenry does give some credit to the sitting administration when these good things happen.

And of course, some blame when the economy goes bad.

Are we so inclined?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Just The Truth Please, Google Watches

“The reason why we are so willing to talk (or write) is, because by discoursing together we seek comfort from one another . . .
Avoiding superfluity of words, Thomas a’ Kempis.”

No doubt, talking, communicating, discoursing with each other is one predisposition quite difficult to curb or supplant. We long for company. We are by nature social beings. We are not complete unless and until we become part of the social structures around us, be they family, clubs, friends, gangs, office mates, and yes, even fellow bloggers.

This new medium of blogging allows us to pursue this yearning in a much more efficient and universal way, traversing beyond geographical frontiers and great distances.

And now also beyond just keeping touch with our little worlds, this new medium takes on a myriad of functions, not only in our social milieus, but also in such other narrower or more specialized areas as politics and business. This medium now transcends all aspects of human living. In all aspects imaginable. Namely, in education, news gathering and broadcasting, and still more countless others.

So pervasive as to be confusing and overwhelming.

And thus, aside from information overload, the more critical issue of where the truth lies in this swirling universe of data, opinions, news, images, etc. becomes truly a critical concern.

While in the pre-electronic stages, man could search through fewer sources, “bibles” that could be regarded as universally reliable in discovering and discerning known truths, such as why not, holy books and works of great men, in this now indefinable universe, where any eager beaver with typing skills and Internet access can add to the exponentially expanding chest of electronic knowledge base, learning the truth can truly be a very daunting task.

Take a cursory test, and browse through, for example, sites that do round-ups whether of political news/developments, or fitness programs, or sports, or science news, or even with uncontroversial subjects such as, say fishing. Or results of war?

One can readily get the impression that the world of knowledge and information has become one big “he said, he says” game. The head or tail odds game of learning where the truth lies. 50-50 chance of being right or wrong. (Though many would opine that truth usually hides somewhere in between two very opposing views.)

Regardless, the advent of electronic media has as a largely unintended consequence made arriving at the truth a more difficult task.

But let us not be disheartened, the maid of truth is not done yet. She continues to find ways to elevate her ways to man’s consciousness. With able assistance of the same tools that allow for the quick dispersal and access of available knowledge, we might be in the threshold of yet another milestone in the continuing flux that electronic technologies are bringing us.

Google predicts that in the very near future, we may be developing what it calls “truth predicator” software. While this eventual reality is not expected to unquestionably mark out truth in every and all statements made publicly available, we should be able remarkably increase the probability that readers/hearers can arrive at the truth.

As Google declares, “We (at Google) are not in charge of truth but we might be able to give a probability..”