Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You think you can beat my Kung Fu?

I suppose no trip to Nanjing would be complete without an episide like this happening:

I was at the hotel thawing after that 10 minute walk in freezing temperature, reading a book with some Chinese TV program as background noise, when I heard the door open. I got out of bed and saw, in the foyer, this big Chinese guy in a black coat standing there, talking to the bathroom door. He obviously had the wrong room and had no intention of mayhem, I was sure. Ive never heard of anybody mugged in a hotel room in China. So I smiled and said, "You have the wrong room." He looked at me, perplexed so I said, "You have the wrong room" again and proceeded to walk towards the door to show him what room number this was. But the dude angrily grabbed my wrist and pulled me to where I was as he stared in at my face trying to figure out who the heck I was. Now I dont like being grabbed by some stranger in my own room. Do that and I'll kick your ass. Truth be told, he probably couldve kicked MY ass. He was a big guy and had 50 pounds on me. Anyway...

I pulled my arm away from his grip and yelled angrily in his face--more like his neck, but I was looking up--"THIS IS MY ROOM!" I pointed to my suitcase, my stuff on the bed, the floor, I may even have pointed at my newly-washed-with-hotel-shampoo underwear hanging under the heat ventilating air conditioner to dry. "MY ROOM! This is Three-Oh-Six!! My ROOM!" I was friggin Al Pacino and I was ready to rock.

He looked around and recognition came to his face. He walked toward the door and looked at the fire exit map and saw room 306 highlighted on it. He blinked comically, and then apologized profusely in Chinese. At least I thought he did. His body language said it all, of course. He was bowing, trying to make himself small from embarrassment. I nodded back and showed him out. I was about to return to my book when, Holy cow, how did he get in here? I checked the door and yes, you can open it from the outside. The day before I was having trouble with my hotel key, that card thingie they gave you with the electronic thingamabob on it. I can't open the door and had to ask the concierge's help with the appropriate sign language. They replaced it with a new one, but this one opened the door permanently. They had to go fix the thing and they did but imagine what kind of sleep I had that night. Every little noise in the hallway woke me up.

Nanjing. You gotta love it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Blog pages from Blogger and Typepad seem to be blocked in China. The actual Blogger site though, is not. That means one could post new entries, only the blog page itself can't be viewed. Livejournal pages are ok. I can access them fine. There must be some logic, some fundamental reason why blogspot and typepad pages are blocked, while livejournal pages arent, but I havent figured it out.

Anyway... Nanjing doesnt have a proper winter. The temperature the past week has dipped to the 6 below (C) but still it doesnt seem to want to give me the benefit of fulfilling that ultimate Pinoy childhood fantasy of walking in the snowfall. All I get out of the temperature drop is the loss of all sensation in my face, which often leads to that phenomenon of suddenly tasting something salty in my mouth and realizing that snot is pouring out of my nose without me being able to feel it. I know it's just snow and it's really no big deal and I know my buddies out there in the East Coast of the United States and in Canada are probably sick of it by now, but come on. You remember your first snowfall before it turned into a yearly nuisance you have to live with, right? How you acted like kids in it? A colleague and I were here 2 or 3 years ago in the winter when we were blessed with some early snow in late November. We were in a department store at the time checking out DVD players and he said, "Look outside." Snow. We went out. We looked up at the snowflakes falling out of the night sky, visible only when the streetlights hit it. We tried to catch a few in our tongues. Yes, we looked like idiots. My colleague was going 'Woohoo!'. We only stopped when an old man, hunched over in his coat, hands deep in his pockets, probably feeling the cold down to his bones, stopped and watched us with what looked like bemusement, and went 'Woohoo!' along with us. He looked silly, and, we realized, so did we. We smiled at him, he smiled back, we went on our way.

It wasnt as if it were our first time to see snow. We have. I remember walking down Fifth avenue in Manhattan after some serious winter weather the night before, when a huge chunk of ice fell from some skyscraper and landed two feet in front of me with a crash. I calmly walked on. Everybody else on the street didnt seem to see anything happen. I only realized later that, Holy crap! I couldve been killed! But maybe, having come from a tropical country with a colonial past such as ours, having grown up with Bing Crosby's White Christmas, having had the pleasure of putting up a Christmas tree (plastic, with white frosting) in our childhood, it just takes us back to a more innocent time so we just cut loose. Til that old man came and went Wooohoo!

Or maybe, we were just bored. We were in Nanjing after all, and we take fun wherever we can find it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


My entries are in serious need of a rewrite. But the thought of going through every entry and proofing, editing, and rewriting then fills me with ennui. And something else. My blog entries are like globs of turd. My turd. I have great pleasure in getting turd out, but after the initial interest I have with them, admiring color, shape, and consistency, I dont want to go back to them after a certain period of time has elapsed. But I'd like to think they'd be good for something. That they'll eventually decompose, nourish the earth, and help a few seeds grow.

Friday, December 02, 2005

She blinded me with Science

I was going to write something about the Darwinism-Intelligent Design (ID) debate, commenting about how both sides seem to be yelling in a language that is alien to the other side, but Scott Adams beat me to it. From here in the islands, the debate over introducing ID in the American public schools’ science curriculum is amusing, to say the least. These Americans, ha-ha-ha. What a country, eh? Here, if the Department of Education says ID would be introduced in science classes, the general reaction would be, “Whatever, dude. What’s for dinner?” Over there, they act as if the very future of the planet depended on the outcome of the debate, and that the world would stop turning if the other side won. What Ive decided to write about instead is about the scientific community as seen by someone from the outside, namely me.

I used to be under the impression that scientists agreed on the definition of science. Boy was I wrong. The definition of science is still a hotly debated topic in the rarefied air that philosophers of science breathe. During the recent Kitzmiller et al vs. Dover School District, the expert witness for the plaintiffs, Robert Pennock, admitted that there is no single definition of science that everyone agrees on. It’s boundaries are fuzzy.

But there is an authority that determines whether or not a theory is scientific or not, and that is none other than the scientific community itself. Make that the mainstream scientific community. They get to say whether you’re in or out. In this way, science is a lot like art. “What is Art?” Philosophers haven’t figured out a definition yet ever since the first Cro-Magnon stenciled his hand onto the wall of his cave by blowing a mouthful of pigment on it, and asked “Ugh. Take a look at this. Is it art?” Art is what the Art Community says it is, that vast network of academics, gallery owners, art collectors, and critics. They get to say whether or not your work deserves to be displayed in the Louvre or flushed down the loo.

Instead of museums, the scientific community makes use of a device called the peer-reviewed journal, a sacred document. Once your work and your name appear within its hallowed pages, you’ll know that you’ve arrived. The scientific community has given you its imprimatur. You’ve been anointed and deemed fit to be called brother. The honor of being chosen to be a reviewer of articles for publication is not given lightly. You have to have solid mainstream scientific credentials, that is, you have to agree with the mainstream opinion, to qualify. And you do not, under any circumstances, abuse this privilege or there will be hell to pay. Consider the case of Richard Sternberg, a scientist who happens to edit a scientific journal affiliated with the very mainstream Smithsonian Institution. Sternberg committed the mortal sin of allowing the publication of a non-mainstream view: an article by Stephen Meyer that was sympathetic to Intelligent Design. What followed was recrimination by the keepers of the flame, seeking to tarnish his reputation.

The mainstream scientists and their followers in the lay community believe—wholeheartedly believe—that science is above petty disagreements and tantrums. It is above the worldly dispute over turf or, heaven forbid, the competition for research grants. It is a noble calling where the pursuit of the truth is paramount. Fame? Bite your tongue! And science is indeed that noble a calling. But alas, science is composed of scientists. And scientists are composed of people. People just as petty and as trivial as the rest of us. I suspect the scientists know and accept this; they just don’t talk about it. Kary Mullis, Nobel Prize winner for chemistry minces no words. In writing about the AIDS establishment he said: “What people call science is probably very similar to what people called science in 1634. Galileo was told to recant his beliefs or be excommunicated. People who refuse to accept the commandments of the AIDS establishment are basically told the same thing. ‘If you don't accept what we say, you’re out.’”* That is basically true of all established scientific beliefs. The lay followers of mainstream science, too, will not hesitate to attack anyone who even hints that their heroes have feet of clay.

I’ve heard it said that there isn’t an overarching discipline to study science. There is a Philosophy of Science, but there isn’t any Science of Science. I beg to differ. We have a science of science. Several, in fact. Sociology is one. Anthropology is another. These discipline are apt because the scientific community is just that: a community. A community with its own rules, with its own culture, with its own way of dealing with other communities with which it interacts. The way a community changes and evolves also applies to the scientific community. You have an established order of things at its core, and competing new orders in the fringe seeking acceptance. The core has its own metaphysical underpinnings; its own paradigm with which it interprets the world; the competing order has another. The established core will do anything it can to protect itself from its competitors in the fringe. It is not a fair fight. The established core has all the advantages. It controls the schools and other avenues of communication. There are battles for control throughout the community, Darwinism vs. ID being just one of them**. Others include the battle between the Fossil Fuel theory of Oil (the mainstream view) vs. the Abiotic Theory of Oil. Then there’s the debate between the causes of global warming or the It’s-all-our-fault theory (the maisntream view) vs. the We-have-nothing-to-do-with-it theory. And so on down the entire perimeter of establishment science. What I'd like to see therefore is a comprehensive study of the scientific community as a community; how it deals with issues within, and how it adapts and changes to pressures from without; and how its rules change in response to these. It might clear up a few things about what science really is.

*In 'Case not Closed', Chapter 18 of his book Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, 1998.

**The Darwinism-ID debate is interesting because of the savvy use of social and political maneuverings, especially by one of the leading advocates of ID, The
Discovery Institute. They have correctly chosen their field of battle in such a way that they can win. They know that mano-a-mano with the establishment, they don't have a chance. The mainstream view controls the scientific journals and as mentioned above with the Sternberg episode, are not shy about making an example out of rogues who dare defy them. What they did instead was take the battle outside. By transforming the debate into an Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech issue, incredibly, they have placed Darwin in the unfamiliar position of having to engage them in public, whereas before they simply ignored them. The general impression now among those outside the scientific community of a battle between 2 equal competitors and not one of a David vs. Goliath.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Two Blogs

Aside from the web logs of the merry bunch of geeks I like to call my pals, Ive been regularly checking out the web logs of 2 other people, both famous, both successful. After I get my fair-and-balanced dose of what's going on in the rest of the world (CNN for mainstream media news and GNN and World Net Daily for guerilla news--the latter 2 news sites tend to cancel each other out), I check out the following blogs:

Dean Francis Alfar's Notes from the Peanut Gallery. I dont exactly remember how I came upon this site. I think I was blankly clicking on links on other blogsites just so my click finger had something to do after my brain post-prandially shut down. What a find. In it youll find a record of Alfar's life and thoughts on a whole gamut of things like writing as a creative endeavor, the foibles of running a business, being a dad, and exterminating cockroaches. It has links to his works and sometimes you get a glimpse on how stories form in his mind. He isnt at all stingy with his ideas, probably because he's confident that there's more where they came from (or probably because he can unleash the power of a famous lawfirm on you--I dont know). I found out later that Dean Alfar has won 8--eight!--Palanca awards including this year's for best novel, and I went 'ah'. He has parlayed that creative talent into running successful media companies called Kestrel Studios and Kestrel IMC. The only other person I know who's done that is Carlo J. Caparas who parlayed his komiks writing talent into Golden Lion Productions which had a string of hits with their massacre movies. The titles always followed the formula "The [place] Massacre: [Short ejaculatory prayer]" Like Caparas, Dean Alfar is also into komiks. I'd like to see these 2 get together and chat about komiks. (Carlo J. Caparas's komiks novel Somewhere I think is one of the best in his genre. Alas, I also think he did his best creative work as a writer. He understood his particular medium of short four-to-six page, six-panels-a-page chapters. As a film director though...)

Jessica Zafra's Twisted. I must confess I wasnt a fan. Ive read only one piece she did for Today and it was something about her plucking her hair out by the roots, and it involved a man. It was well written, but I found it sad. I never read another piece after that until I found a piece she's written for the Standard while on a plane. I also saw her on TV once. She had a TV show, but I didnt get to be a regular viewer because I thought one of her co-hosts looked too happy to be there, and after a few minutes of watching, I knew why: He knew how lucky he was to be there. But I was fascinated by her fans, some of whom worship her as a goddess. She has touched something in them. Or maybe she has put her finger on some lost undercurrent of culture which she generously dispenses to those seeking some. I found out about her site while browsing through an internet forum and decided to take a look. I can see why she has a following. Her pieces are witty and entertaining. I dont see anything in it so far that would merit undying loyalty, but perhaps she cultivated that during Twisted's run in print. I daresay we can classify Jessica Zafra as a cultural icon; someone who's grown bigger than her work. I havent figured out what that culture is exactly though but that's no mean feat for someone who writes for a living.