Thursday, November 29, 2007

People power? Not today

(Updated with pictures 30 November. Click on picture to enlarge.)

I know in a previous post I extolled the virtues of the leisurely pace a film camera affords you, but not this time. Not when there's breaking news.

I was peacefully minding my own business in my cubicle when news broke out that Senator Antonio Trillanes, et al. have taken over the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati. (Initial reaction: Why, Trillanes, why? Youve tried this before. It didnt work. What makes you think it'll work this time? We're supposed to do this together. Together with us, the people. And they have spoken. They dont want this.) I took my puny little point-and-shoot XA2 film camera and made my way over there.

I had one roll of 24 shots and I went through them just like that. I debated going back to the store and getting another one, but what if something happens? I was in the midst of all those soldiers, police SWAT teams, media people, snapping away. Of course the thought that they'd start shooting anytime occurred to me. I sized up the GMA 7 van if I could take cover under it. (I could.) Then the order came.



The soldiers started to move. And dagnabbit I was out of film. I just stayed put at the intersection of Ayala and Makati Avenue, when shots rang out. Everybody scampered for safety. Pop...pop...pop! I made my way back to the GMA 7 van and crouched behind it.

The Manila Pen. (You can see the GMA van where I took cover.)

Another view of the intersection.

While shots continued to ring out, and soldiers took cover where I was, I made my way back to another van and crouched behind that. Crouching beside me was a Net-25 field reporter reporting away, saying that he and another reporter got separated during the shooting. Standing over us were two plainclothes policemen, handguns drawn, trying to determine where the shots were coming from. Apparently they were clueless. The shots were coming from snipers in the building across Shangri-La hotel beside the PLDT building on Makati avenue. It was coming from their team. I could see puffs of smoke on the Manila Pen as the bullets hit. One grizzled reporter said the snipers were marking enemy positions with bullets, and I might add, scaring away 'usiseros' such as myself. They succeeded as the usi crowd disappeared. Shots continued intermittently. Then came a lull. I could see Marines trying to find away into the Manila Peninsula, retreating, regrouping, then trying again.

Last minute checking of gear

The assault minutes away... a close-to-empty Ayala looks on. No People Power today, folks.

I took that opportunity to go back to that photo lab on the walkway between Landmark and Greenbelt to have the film developed and to get another roll of film. When I got there, the Ayala malls were closed. So no film. It was about this time when a monster armored vehicle rumbled by towards the hotel. This was serious hardware.

So filmless, light failing, I decided to just head on back.

Update 5:46. It's over. General Pagbilao declares the operation "a success". Senator Trillanes has been neutralized. He is alive and well, thank God. No casualties.

Impressions on a crisis: One block away from the action, in the mall area, it was as if nothing momentous was happening. It gives the impression that Makati is composed of self-contained cells, operating independently. What's happening in one cell not affecting the others. To the mall crowd, and the office crowd, it was just another humdrum day, and they went about their business.

Another glaring observation was, how the hell was I able to get that close to the Manila Pen? The police I suppose did not take crowd control too seriously. Of course as I got closer to the Manila Pen, the crowd thinned out, but that was no thanks to the police. The crowds stayed a safe distance away except for a few intrepid souls. When the order to storm the hotel came, the generals warned the media to stay away. The generals! The rank-and-file formed a cordon around the area but we were able to cross it, and a general bawled them out. Apparently the police were 'scared' of the media and let them in, me included. The general yelled, "Dont be afraid of them! You are doing your job!" That's the only time the cops herded the crowd away. But of course the media people didnt move. It took the generals yelling at them for them to reluctantly move.

The media people felt invincible. As the soldiers rushed past them, they stayed put, not heeding that rebels in the Manila Pen might open fire on the Marines moving into position, or maybe they had faith that the rebels wouldnt open fire into a crowd of civilians. I suppose they gave each other courage, or the fear of being out-scooped was greater than the fear of being shot. Overheard a young reporter beside me on her phone: "Hello, 'dy. Opo. Malayo kami. [We werent that far away -- Jeg.] Tsaka hindi ako nag-iisa. May mga kasama ako dito." Cellphones. Arent they great?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

If I were a Yank, Id be...

Again via cvj:

Ultimate 2008 Presidential Candidate Matcher
Your Result: Ron Paul 80%

Ron Paul is known as the libertarian candidate. He opposes the Iraq war, and is conservative on social issues like abortion and gay civil unions. Paul wants to reduce regulations on healthcare, pursue nuclear energy, and reduce taxes. He opposes citizenship for illegal immigrants, and would get rid of the Patriot Act and the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Dennis Kucinich 73%

Barack Obama 72%

John Edwards 61%

Hillary Clinton 55%

Rudy Guiliani 45%

Mitt Romney 43%

John McCain 41%

Ultimate 2008 Presidential Candidate Matcher
Take More Quizzes

...although I dont want to pursue nuclear energy. I'd like to ask Ron Paul if he believes in UFOs. Take the quiz here.

(Thanks to cvj for the html tweaks, although for some reason, they only work in Internet Explorer. In Firefox, you don't get the color-coded bar graph. Probably uses different code.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

New link

New on the links section on the right is Banzai Cat, winner of the recently concluded Unreality Bites: The Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards 2, Fully Booked's second installment of its bi-annual (?) competition for Filipino authors in speculative fiction. The award was given to him by Neil Gaiman himself who had this to say about his winning entry:
The first place winner is science fiction and fantasy and uniquely Filipino and very, very, very odd in all of the nicest possible ways. And it's a story called "Logovore" about somebody who eats words and their encounters with the people--it's almost indescribable and I've never read anything like it before and was absolutely ready to go on the world stage. I looked at that story and--it could have been fantasy or science fiction and it ought to be picked up by the best of the year anthologies.
It's not everyday we get a rising star in the links section. (And he even offered to send me, a total stranger, a copy of his winning piece. Syempre dyahe naman ako. But it's much appreciated. I promise to get the book.)


The bug bit again as I was checking out eBay Philippines and found up for bids a Minox EC point-and-shoot camera for a ridiculously low price. Nope, film for it is no longer available here, and good luck to me finding a lab that would process 8mm x 11mm film, but I just had to have it. Finding a battery for it is not as difficult as finding film. It uses a P27-something, for which I can readily substitute a stack of four SR44's. I would have to split film for it myself using 35mm film and load it in the film cassette which fortunately the seller included. And unless I can find a lab, I might have to develop the film myself. That's possible nowadays without a darkroom. All you need is a dark bag, a developing tank, chemicals, and youre all set. I can have the negatives scanned at a photo lab. Right. All I need now is time. And that, I suppose, is its appeal for me. The waiting, the anticipation, and the big payoff when all youve toiled for comes to fruition. Sure most of the time, youll end up with a dud, and in those cases it's frustrating, but still. That time in between is great and is an end in itself. Film cameras havent lost their appeal for me despite the digital revolution in photography precisely because of the slowness. Ive blogged about it before.

Other forays into Luddism this past year were my refusal to have cable TV reinstalled when we moved to a new place. I realized the absolute uselessness of cable TV when one weekend at my mother's house, I couldnt find anything on cable TV worth watching. Sure it couldve been the anhedonia, but I realized much later that TV is crap, except for a couple of shows. So nope. No cable TV. The immediate effect is the increased reading time for my kids. Theyre actually asking me to go to National Bookstore or Powerbooks now when we go out. We almost always end up at Booksale, but I do splurge from time to time and get them books from Powerbooks. I also havent bought a new refrigerator when the old one gave up the ghost. That was four months ago. I used to think a refrigerator was an absolute necessity, but it really isnt. All I had to do is instead of getting groceries once a week, I get them every other day, or everyday even. This drastically cut down on our electricity bills such that I would forget to pay them for a couple of months and not hear a peep from Meralco.

A lot of things we deem necessary living here in the city really arent. During my days working with an NGO or when I worked in construction, I got sent to communities where they didnt have electricity or indoor plumbing. To poop, or take a bath, I sometimes had to go to get water from a well. I remember one house I stayed in had the toilet outdoors and it's "walls" made from sako were only so high such that when you sit on the toilet everyone can see your head from the street. Some people even say hi. At night, the entertainment was kwentuhan, usually with tuba or Tanduay or warm beer. Cold beer was a luxury when they had ice delivered. Coastal towns usually had ice delivered in trucks for the fish they caught. A familiar joke around one of those barangays, roughly translated, went something like:
"Inuman tayo."
"Ano inumin natin?"
"Ano ako, bubuyog?"
"Ano ako, lasenggo?"
But despite the lack of creature comforts, places like that still had an abundance of social capital. Strangers are welcomed into homes and doors are kept unlocked. Conversation, singing, and jokes form lasting bonds, usually lubricated with libation. Life is slow and leisurely. One could say life is lived to the rhythm of the earth's cycles. The coconut farmers are the most leisurely of all. To us, they seem lazy, just waiting around for copra season, but really, is there any reason for them to hurry when theyre perfectly happy with the pace of their lives? I suppose it annoys city folk to see them live like that, without a care in the world, but I think we're just being asses because we depend on them for food and produce while they dont need us at all and could survive without us. If civilization broke down tomorrow, we in the city, spoiled brats that we are, won't survive. Not without them. It's just because of some twisted sense of values that we city folk are looked up to by the barrio folk. We like to keep it a secret from them how utterly helpless and dependent we are. And no one dares give that secret away.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Political Compass of the Philippine Blogosphere

First of all, a personal project Ive been involved with is winding down which means I may have more time for this blogging thing. And I think Im starting to shake off the effects of an annual bout with anhedonia which means I may actually enjoy doing this blogging thing.

Over at Placeholder, cvj has posted an interesting snapshot of the Philippine blog community (from which I nicked the title of this post) based on the Political Compass website. It's a work in progress and cvj promises to keep updating it as more data points come in. The Political Compass quiz shows you where you are in 2 axes: the vertical axis maps where you are socio-politically, and the horizontal axis maps where you are socio-economically. Among his findings so far:
Another pattern that can be detected... is the farther one is to the left on the economic scale, the less authoritarian that person tends to be.
The post has prompted an observation from newspaper columnist and political satirist Manuel Buencamino of Uniffors:
I've always associated communism with totalitarianism hence authoritarian. So I don't understand how those of us who don't buy anarchy or self regulating economics end up being less authoritarian.

Isn't it ironic that those who subscribe to economic freedom prefer to have the socio-political aspects of life regulated while those who want economics regulated prefer socio-political freedom?

Could it be because there is a false dichotomy here, separating our stomach from our minds?
One can make the observation that authoritarians, whether communists, Fascists, neo-cons, or national socialists are all basically variants of a form of government wherein the State has a loomingly large role in the lives of the people. The Filipino blogging community I suppose is wary of an all-powerful State, and with good reason. However, in the Philippine setting, wherein a tiny minority control most of the nation's resources, the Filipino bloggers still recognize the role of the State in seeing to it that the powerless are protected from the depradations of the small but powerful oligarchy. The fact is that it doesnt, and on the contrary, the State allies itself with the oligarchy and this frustrates the bloggers no end. (See also Sparks's The Philippines' Low Intensity Democracy.)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Faux risotto

Reading a traditional risotto recipe, you'd think chefs and recipe books were handling VX poison gas in the love and care youre instructed to handle it with, a food of love thing as Emeril Lagasse says. You select only the finest Arborio rice, or some other exotic (and expensive) variety, saute your herbs and aromatics, saute your rice til it becomes translucent, add warm--never cold--wine. Then ever so carefully, ladle hot broth sloo-o-ooowly, a little at a time, and keep stirring, and adding broth, and stirring, and adding broth, until your rice turns a creamy consistency. Then you add your cheese. Chop up a few herbs, then BAM! It's at least a 30 minute commitment, which is why I rarely make the stuff. The tradition is intimidating.

One day I decided to cook lugaw and grilled chicken for lunch. I marinated the chicken in coconut cream and red curry overnight, and they were ready to go. At around 9 am, I soaked Japanese rice in water. I heard it made them fluffy. At around 11:30, I started the flame for the grilled chicken and prepared the lugaw: chopped garlic, onions, and ginger and sauteed them. Then I added a couple of chicken bouillon cubes (for a cup and a half of rice), pepper, and some dried herbs. For some reason, I decided to saute the drained pre-soaked rice as well until they were good and ready, about 5 minutes. Then I dumped water on the whole thing, straight from the tap, until I felt I had enough for lugaw. If I have to guess, I suppose that's 3 parts water to one part rice. Then I covered the pot and went ahead and grilled the chicken, turning often since the coconut and curry marinade will burn.

I checked on the a few minutes later and lo! The Japanese rice absorbed a lot of the liquid. I debated whether or not to add more water, but damn if it didnt look like Italian risotto. I tested the rice for doneness and it was perfect--not too soft. The rice held its shape well. I stirred it, then took out my 4-year old aged cheese I bought in Utrecht, grated it and stirred a cup of cheese into the pot. I found some chives, chopped that, and BAM! Risotto with no fuss. And it rocked. It tasted fantastic with a rich, creamy texture. And I didnt have to hover over it for 30 minutes. It took care of itself.

By this time the chicken were ready. I took a few tarragon stalks from the backyard and laid the freshly grilled chicken on top of them. This gave them a subtle flavor of tarragon. Voila! Lunch. The kids ate every last grain of risotto.

Real life

I remembered commenting on some blog a couple of months ago that our blogs arent our lives for which I was corrected by the blog's owner; some blogs are indeed a huge part of bloggers' lives. Fortunately (or not), this blog isnt my life. If it were, it would be more boring than it already is. I'd like to post regularly, just for exercise, but that's something for the future. Real life keeps getting in the way.

To be fair to real life, it's not all chasing the next paycheck and getting those bills paid. Sometimes real life is fun. And sometimes, real life is beautiful.