Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fit For A Museum

Harken back to mid-1984, in San Francisco.

Cupertino, in nearby Santa Clara County, is abuzz with new-fangled products coming out of its most prominent resident, Apple Computer.

Yes, Apple then was the flavor of the day for an entire valley that was going ape on technology. The entire Silicon Valley was in frenetic state singularly focused on emerging technologies related to the new product called personal computers.

And San Francisco, the populous and wealthiest core of all this, becomes the made-to-order market for these new-fangled tools. While consumer interests ran high for these never-before seen and experienced tools, retail sales were not really that impressive. Primarily because retail prices were not that great.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Is Man Perfectible?

Every time I cruise along in the virtual confines of my regular cyberspace travels, invariably the above question somehow manages to insert itself into my mind. Giving me pause to ponder on it. After much troubled thought, I have come to believe that how one answers that question determines largely how one views life in general and more importantly, how one views and judges the actions of men individually and collectively, including all the possible fortuitous events that happen globally.

Off the bat, the default answer to the questions appears to be in the affirmative, even conceding our fiercest faith on the “fallenness” of human nature. Man is perfectible. After all, we have been conscripted as faint but nevertheless true images of somebody larger, greater, and infinitely perfect; that much many religious beliefs will grant and hold sacrosanct.

But given the over 40,000 years history of modern man to play with, can we truly declare with one voice that man if perfectible is approaching closer to that perfectibility, or is he even trending toward that?

Unarguably, we know a lot better and more truths than our ancestors. Maybe, even wiser. We are as a species more “civilized” and discerning, and thus at our own initiatives we have consigned to history many silly default beliefs such as human sacrifices and many other gross manifestations of idolatry common and prevalent during the times of primitive man.

But are we showing a discernible and unmistakable trend toward that perfectibility which is so ingrained in our attitudes and beliefs? That maybe at times we feel them as second nature? But think just of the last century we left behind where on last tally over a 100 million people died with needless abandon in the countless wars and killings undertaken by man against his own kind.

Picture any place in the world today and try if you may to pinpoint any blessed piece of land where true peace reigns and where man is not at odds with his fellowmen. Anywhere one goes, the results are less than not encouraging even granting that at no time in history do we find more people latching on to some religion or other.

Even benign and indifferent poverty spreads unabated to all corners of the world. The most laudable human experiment that has made the US the richest and strongest nation on earth cannot even provide ready answers to help extricate itself completely from its own endemic poverty, still currently registering in double digits within its sainted shores.

So, where are we going with this?

I believe the answer is to qualify the initial question. Is man perfectible, in his life here on earth?

Since it is generally accepted that man has both immanent and transcendent existence, that revised question assumes a better fit. The nobler purpose of man is toward that transcendence that goes beyond the material or the reality which life on earth is all about. Man becomes perfectible when he focuses on the vertical plane where his transcendent destiny points him. Only then will his earthly life, however fraught with flaws and shortcomings, serving as prelude and cornerstone foundation, take on an understandable and worthy role leading to his perfectibility.

Since man cannot accomplish his perfectibility here on earth, then he simply aims for the next best thing, things that are humanly possible and doable in the context of the world of imperfectability that grips the earth to the core. Because there is no utopia on earth where perfect men and complete goodness hold sway, man should continue to aim for the stars at the behest and in compliance with the pinings of his higher nature, but in another vein, he should be ready and content to live in a world of compromises and feasibilities, a world of less than perfect, even humanly perfect, proportions..

While there are abstract and untainted standards and “absolutes” for many of the “ideals” that man has discovered over the ages, they are in reality not realistically attainable. While man can debate and devise a scenario for the most perfect government to govern diverse people, it will never come to seamless fruition. While the entire globe can collectively decide and earnestly put muscular measures in place to erase global poverty, poverty will be with us until the last day of our existence.

And this resignation to and acceptance of relative realities is nothing new. We experience it everyday in our workaday lives. When we say, for example, we have full employment, it does not mean that unemployment has been reduced to zero. The US at 4.5% unemployment is considered at full employment, because man being man, a stubborn portion of the population will not go to work even if work is available.

If one accepts these premises, one becomes very pragmatic when viewing the world and how people are realistically coping with it.

Men will learn to view and take events and actions of people based on reality-based standards whether of ethics, morality, politics, and even the waging of wars and the violence associated with them, not for the sake of simple expedience but because man’s nature is flawed and can never attain perfectibility living in this imperfect world.

Pragmatism allows people to look kindly at how events are shaping the world, and how man is interacting and playing with the cards dealt him. Not how things should or ought to be, in an abstract utopian manner.

To be continued.

Quantifying Migration Under Globalization

In a country like the Philippines, beset as it is with stubborn economic problems exacerbated by sticky and shaky political institutions, the human component of globalization figures very prominently and is quite known and accepted generally. While a vocal minority emanating from academia and the media may not cease to balk at what globalization (as personified negatively by the WTO) has wrought to many distressed local economic sectors, this least-noticed offshoot of globalization races on unabated.

Inward foreign currency remittances coming from human labor exports (OFWs, for short in the Philippines), including from many long-time Filipino ex-pats scattered throughout the globe, account for at least 12% of the country’s GDP. Unchecked in its continuing upward trend dating back many years, the annual figure now stands at US$13.6 billion for 2006, with 60-65% originating from the US alone. More are unaccounted because they do not go through established financial channels.

But all this time, we have not really known what the global total was for this unexpected phenomenon brought about essentially by globalization. From a WorldBank source now we know that the current annual total stands at US$276 billion (for 2006).

To lend perspective to this huge global total, this amount is a lot larger than the annual trade imbalance the US has with one of its major trading partners, China, which accounts for 26% of the US total trade imbalances with the world.

Not surprisingly, the report further reveals that India tops the list with about US$27 billion, which is double the figure for the Philippines. Understandably, in a country with over one billion people in population, its overseas citizens’ sheer numbers translate to more inward dollars or foreign exchange.

Here in the US, we have known that Mexicans here, both legal and illegal, send a total annual amount more than its oil revenues, and now we know that that same amount is also more than its direct foreign investments. “Remittances "are larger than direct foreign investment in Mexico, tea exports in Sri Lanka, tourism revenue in Morocco, and revenue from the Suez Canal in Egypt," World Bank economist Dilip Ratha said in a recent report. “

But this traceable phenomenon is not unique only to some countries because it is happening in most countries in the globe. From Albania and Latvia, to Poland, to unknown Moldova and from populous countries like Mexico.

While the astronomical money figures will singularly astound the world, one cannot help think that they represent the value of adult human labor done in foreign countries. One cannot help consider the many aggravating personal circumstances being inflicted on those who perform the labor. Where young productive mothers and fathers are wrenched away from their families for long periods of time on end and transported to foreign countries to earn their living. Families chopped to pieces and missing their heads, physically absent to care for and to nurture their vulnerable families.

Thus, while the impressive cornucopia of liquid cash coming from abroad invigorates local communities with former residents working abroad, there are serious trade-offs involved. True, many local communities across the globe have seen many economic transformations, from new spanking houses to new small businesses sprouting, and maybe even better citizens out of former residents who return to their homelands. But one doubts whether one could assess the telling blows on the families of those affected until maybe a generation later.

And worse, because this shift in population self-perpetuates until the home country is able to correct the very imbalances that brought about the mass exodus, such as dismal lack of domestic jobs and necessary economic and social infrastructures needed to bring about or sustain an economy of growth.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Old Thoughts, New Medium

Gripped in odd moments of human helplessness, it is not unusual for man to awkwardly start a conversation with his God. Sometimes in self-effacing candor he may look at his own tattered self as still like unto the image of his God though recklessly warped it may have been defaced. Indeed, all creatures are likened unto God from whence all emanated. And yet, God is not like us, no more than a sketch of any man is like that man. We stumble badly when we use our finite minds and language to describe the grandeur and perfection of that divinity to which we crave for ultimate unity.

We discern that the least perfection we find in our species speaks volumes of the ultimate perfection of that uncontainable model that interrupted his timelessness to transport us to finite time and space. Still, we admit that however generous and helpingful our pious platitudes may seem, they are simply dim, inadequate, puny, obscure and faint shadows of revelation of the awesome substance of that infinity. He who has no name is one who cannot be contained either in words of language or deep mystical musings.

Yes, we acknowledge God is good, and we like to think that somehow in this all too upside down world we now find ourselves in, that good would somehow manifest itself and bring some needed relief to a much-burdened humanity. We pine for the abundant generosities bestowed in times past. Godly love that showered us when least expected. His benign mercies easing the many vicissitudes that seemed formidable. So now we are desperate for a renewed round of tangible manifestations of his goodness.

And that is when we miss the mark completely. For that infinite goodness that we hanker for is not one prone to bring and give, but rather to demand and take. His goodness is expressed not so much as what it brings to us, but rather that it aims to take our hearts away from us. This captivating lover entices to wrench our hearts away from us. It aims to light up our timid hearts so that like smoldering torches it can scale the heights of its own goodness. Thus inflamed, no journey will be long enough, no peril too dangerous, and no obstacle too formidable. Giving birth to the needed courage, daring, wisdom, and strength to overhaul our adversities.

Look inward. The solutions are right there, not in projective victimhood. Nor in utter surrender to perceived inevitabilities of overwhelming human or institutional failings. Escapist exercises in endless rhetorical debates and mental gymnastics will not be sufficient, either.

Don’t look around, rather look inward. We grant that our very nature willingly inclines toward talking and discoursing with one another, but remember that seldom do we return to our own solitude without grave prejudice to our own conscience.

The more I converse with man, the less I find myself a man when I return. No truer words said.

Religiosity From The Past (Part Two)

Following up on the initial entry which was about my maternal grandmother, continuing to rummage through the remaining stowed items in the new house has unraveled yet another interesting remnant from the past. This time an old devotional/prayer book owned by my late mother, again written in the language of her milieu, Spanish, and made in Germany. I had asked the wife how this new find got into our possession, but immediately recalled that my mother had lived with us here in the US for about 10 years prior to spending her remaining years in the old homeland. Then it dawned on me that among the few things that she brought from the old country were the prayer books, rosary, and novenas that were her constant and ever dependable companions.

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