Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's resolutions

I dont do them. But this year I thought what the heck and make one, and truth to tell I have postponed this one for so long and Im kicking myself in the butt -- Im that flexible -- for allowing it to fester unattended. For 2009, I resolve to eliminate all my credit card debt. All of it, so help me God. I havent really formulated a plan on how to do that, but I suppose it'll involve a lot of not-spending on stuff we dont need (and here I insert a prayer of thanks for those intrepid free market capitalists who hawk pirated DVDs, and those internet rebels who make books available on-line for free -- way to stick it to The Man!)

Money, money, money. That's what 2009 will be all about, now that the US economy is tanking. 2008 was one hell of a year. A lot of excitement was generated by the election of Barack Obama as president of the US, but none of that excitement was contributed by me. Sure I was glad to see George W. go, but all I saw in Obama was another US president. Sure he's good looking and actually speaks English, but I didnt see him embodying any significant change in the way the Yanks do things. They will invade whom they wish to invade. The only silver lining in their economic woes is that invading another country would be more difficult, but if they think the ROI on another invasion is favorable...

The big news for 2008 is of course the recess-, no we'll call it what it is: the Depression. Over the years, the word depression has been replaced by various euphemisms like recession, slowdown, sideways movement, etc. What we have now is a depression. It's amazing that the heretical economists of the Austrian school have been warning about this for years. The boom-bust cycle is caused primarily by govenrment interference in the money supply. Economics is really a simple subject made complicated by economists who think that what theyre doing is a science. I think only the Austrian school believes that economics is too complicated to be managed; lots of variables and subjective valuation of goods and services -- for example, if I trade the fish I caught with vegetables from your garden, I value your vegetables more than my fish, and you value my fish more than your vegetables. The best way then is to let the market determine the value of goods and regulate itself with no government intervention apart from its usual role as police, protecting citizens' property, enforcing contracts, going after those who trade using fraud, etc. I myself have very limited understanding of the whole thing. But what I do understand are the fundamental laws of nature. The first law of thermodynamics state that matter cannot be created nor destroyed, which means you can only make something from something else, or put more simply, you can't make something out of nothing. The governments of the world, by decreeing that the pieces of paper their central banks print is money and that citizens are obligated to honor it, have created something out of nothing. For example, let's look at money as units of matter/energy, because at its most basic level, that's what they are. We are paid in money for the useful physical and creative energy we expend. But the money the government issues isnt backed by anything. They were created from nothing, hence the term fiat money: 'Let there be money, and there was money, and the State saw that the money will have to do.' Fiat money then violates the law of nature, and it is doomed to fail, destroying us in the process. On top of this money created from nothing is fractional reserve banking, in which a bank makes available money that it doesnt have to the market. In a world that obeys the laws of nature, banks can only make available money that they have. In fractional reserve banking, they are allowed to create credit out of nothing. For example, they only have 1 million pesos as reserve, they can make available as credit 10 million pesos on a 10% fractional reserve basis. Anyone who has gone through a high school economics course will see that increasing the supply over the demand tend to push the value of the money down, thereby requiring more money to purchase goods, that is, prices rise. Fiat money and fractional reserve banking is creating a hole that gets pushed further and further into the future until it is too big we can't ignore the hole anymore because it will suck everything up.

With that, I bid you a happy new year, which, according to Chinese astrologists, is the Year of the Cow starting January 26, a year in which we will be milked for all we're worth. (Yes it's the Year of the Cow, and not the Year of the Ox. 2009 is the year of a female ox, which is to say, a cow. Moo.)

=======================

By the way, I found this quiz over at the Ludwig Von Mises institute: Are you an Austrian? It'll tell you what school of economics your answers belong to in the 25 questions of the quiz, then it'll rate you according to your overall adherence to the Austrian school of economics. (Im 91% Austrian.) Take the quiz then browse the site. I discovered the Mises Institute this year when I learned that they -- the Austrian school, most notably Ron Paul -- have correctly predicted the financial crisis. Lots of good stuff in there for any freedom-loving individual. I dont know however how those ideas will work in the Philippine setting where we have a very well-entrenched, state-backed oligarchy and the people prefer an interventionist government.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The autocrat of the bargain bin (and Pacquiao -- woohoo!)

In the past two weeks, I have seen the following Tom Robbins books in various bargain bins:
1) Villa Incognito, hardcover, in Glorietta, in the hallway. 99 pesos. (Buy-one-take-one. The other book I got with it was Wind in the Willows for my 10-yr old.)
2) Skinny Legs and All, TPB, SM Sucat, I dont remember the store. Not Booksale. 140 pesos.
3) Jitterbug Perfume, TPB, Booksale Makati Cinema Square. 40 pesos.
4) Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas, TPB, that Glorietta hallway again. 140 pesos.
5) Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, paperback, Booksale Makati Cinema Square. 40 pesos.
I have always been a fan of his books and really, he doesnt deserve to be in the bargain bin. Im not complaining though. Villa Incognito at 99 pesos? Come on. The thing is, I can't find his books in normal bookstores. Except perhaps for Still Life With Woodpecker which I may have spotted in Powerbooks or one of those sosyal stores. Perhaps the reason for the enduring appeal of Still Life with Pinoys is because it's a love story between a terrorist and a princess. (We know how sappy Pinoy readers are.)

I like him because he writes 'guy books'. Theyre big, bold, irreverent, vulgar, and has lots of boinking in them. He's also not afraid to mix serious issues with mystical, magical stuff and revels in the comedic possibilities in the juxtaposition. Villa Incognito for example examines post 9/11 America and intersperses it with Japanese mythology. His books will make you laugh, but theyll also make you think, and along the way, theyll make you horny.

He has an easy way with metaphors and other figures of speech, but unlike Salman Rushdie who sometimes piles them on real thick until you want to yell, 'Will you just get on with it, Sal!' at him, Robbins's skill is in using them as an integral part of his storytelling style without being overbearing. And Rushdie is a bit of a prude, probably because of his Asian background, while Robbins's writing is a man walking up to a bar naked, scratching his balls, ordering a shot and a beer, and trying to pick up that slut in the corner.

The fact that his works languish in the bargain bins in Metro Manila pains me a bit. He should be in places like Powerbooks, and Fully Booked, and A Different Bookstore, and all those snobby, upscale bookstores where youll find Salman Rushdie's and Neil Gaiman's books. And dont get me started on Stephanie Meyer. My daughter has read all four Twilight books and has pooh-pooh'ed all my attempts at making her read, say, Madeleine L'Engle. But she has an excuse: she's twelve.

***

Ive almost had it up to here with those armchair boxing experts who complain that Oscar De la Hoya failed to show up for the Dream Match against Manny Pacquiao. "Oscar is old, he's slow, he doesnt have it in him anymore, blah blah blabbidy blah." Listen, experts, I suppose it hasnt occurred to you that the reason Oscar fought poorly that night was because Manny made him do so. He's thirty-five, for pete's sake. That's not old. Bernard Hopkins is in his 40's and is still considered the best fighters around. Randy Couture is forty-five and I dare you to call him old to his face. Manny was just too fast and too crafty that he made Oscar look silly. Against other fighters he wouldve still been Oscar and no one would complain he didnt show up. The Guardian's Lawrence Donegan was right when he wrote:
No one inside the MGM's Grand Garden Theatre had any reason to disagree with that, although in fairness to De La Hoya it was hard to believe anyone – not even De La Hoya in his prime – could have prevailed in the face of Pacquiao's speed and ringcraft.
Experts. Pfsh.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Oh, to be a kid again


Taken November 22. Tri-X film and Olympus XA2. Click to see full-size.

We didnt have a fountain, but when I was growing up, we used ditches in MWSS digs after the rain (or after a pipe bursts) and 'swam' in our skivvies by the side of the road with the jeepneys plying 10th avenue in Caloocan whizzing right by us. And there was the vacant lot that turned into a mudhole after it rained and we would wallow there like carabaos with our toy battleships made of pieces of 2 x 4 about a foot long and we'd nail smaller blocks of wood to it with nails sticking out (head side out of course) to simulate gun turrets and we'd ram them against each other. There would be hunting for toads and general horsing around and my mother would be furious when I went home with my clothes all muddied and that means a walloping with a wooden hanger or a rubber slipper (Spartans, the tough rubber ones), or a belt. But you bet I'd be back in that mudhole after it rained.


Mall of Asia, November 30

And marching bands. How come I never see any of those anymore? When a parade was passing by 10th avenue, we'd drop whatever game we were playing and go and watch until the whole parade has passed by and then we'd go back to the game. Parades were fun, and marching bands were always the highlight; the ones with brass instruments playing Souza, and majorettes, and colorful uniforms. No ati-atihan percussion ek for us, no sir. We had real bands.

Friday, December 05, 2008

I won something

For something I wrote. It was no big shakes. Jessica Zafra in her blog decided to put up a prize for the best story one could come up with about that piano in the forest in Harwich, Massachusetts. The rules were simple enough:
Here’s the situation: A piano is found in the middle of a Philippine
jungle. How did it get there? Write a story of 1,000 words or less (The
less the better; no minimum word count) and post it in Comments.
Fantasy, SF, romance, horror, all genres accepted. The deadline is
November 30.
Right from the start, I decided to write an entry in two or three sentences. This means I should use a ready-made story arc with known characters so I could dispense with the introductions and background. I came up with:
“Holy crap-in-a-box… Where’s my house? The aliens took everything but my piano!”, Fox Mulder cried.
Not exactly Shakespeare, and I didnt have high hopes for it. I was just having fun. I debated whether to use Fox Mulder or Roy Alvarez. I decided against Alvarez because I thought he was too obscure and most people might not get the Pinoy pop culture reference, but that meant I had to explain what Mulder was doing here, like for instance how he retired from the FBI to a cabin in the Philippine boondocks out of disgust with the FBI and all that, but that would defeat the two-or-three-sentence limit. So I left it at that. Like I said, I wasnt really going for a prize. Truth be told, writing good prose based on a limited set of rules is hard and I salute those who tried their darndest to come up with a short story that introduced new characters and plots and situations. Next to the other entries I almost felt like I was cheating.

Ms. Zafra then announced in another post that she was going to let the readers decide on the winner. And wouldnt you know it, someone nominated the Mulder 'story.' He totally got what it was about. Anyway, I still didnt think it would win, but, yes, it did. It won a special Brevity prize.* I am now the proud owner of a DVD of Penn Gillette's The Aristocrats, a documentary about the filthiest joke in stand-up comedy.

I'd like to think that this is a good omen, seeing that I submitted an entry to that Neil Gaiman contest at Fully Booked about which Im not at liberty to discuss as it would violate judging procedures -- the judges arent supposed to know anything about the authors as they read the entries. Not that knowing that one entry was written by a jabroni with a blog only his pals read is going to make a hell of a difference to them anyway, but it's the principle of the thing. I dont have high hopes for that entry either, since I suppose the judges are going to look for something more literary instead of something on the pulp-y side. I'd like to think it's good pulp, though, or else I wouldnt have submitted it. Personally, I think pulp is underrated as an art form.

==================================
*The winning entries are this one, for readers' choice, and this one, for the special Jurors prize.





Monday, November 24, 2008

My space

Ive resolved early on to limit my internet space, that is, the space that I can call my own, to this blog. I used to have a Friendster account and a MySpace account but decided to delete them. They took too much to maintain, I felt, and besides, the posse I run with IRL are pretty much internet virgins, and with grifter and the other Traveling Toreros hightailing it out of the motherland, I didnt think the 'social networking' thing was worth my while, what with the existence of that old reliable, email. (The Traveling Toreros also have a group blog.)

Then I heard about this thing called Facebook and that most of the office colleagues had Facebook accounts and so out of curiosity, I asked one of them to show me her Facebook page. I wasnt impressed. If anything, it was just like Friendster, only Facebook was more, well, insistent. Im sure you guys with Facebook accounts know what I mean. Everything you do on Facebook gets reported to everybody else on your Friends list. I found that creepy. Add to that the whole fandango of adding friends to your list. Did I forget anybody? What if I forgot to add somebody and he or she found out that I had a Facebook account? Would that person feel bad? What if somebody asked to be my friend and I dont remember who that somebody is even though that somebody gave every indication that he or she knosw who I am? Too much trouble, I thought. You have to tend to your Facebook page like a garden. I have a real garden at home, but it has the advantage of not being insistent, and the added benefit of actually giving you vegetables. So no Facebook for me, thank you very much.

Until one day, while Heartbreaker was tinkering with her Facebook page, I asked her, as a joke, to make a Facebook account for me. And she did, wouldnt you know it. I now have a Facebook page, and the entire panoply of people Ive havent heard from in years are right there within easy reach. And Ive fallen into the old pattern of checking it first thing in the morning like checking my garden whether it had new flower buds. (Truth be told, lest you form images in your head about my garden, it's not anything elaborate. Mostly I check out the critters that crawl along in it. Right now we seem to have a snail population explosion.) I still have to figure out what this thing or that thing does, but I can tell that it'll eat up a whole chunk of time if Im not careful. We'll see how it goes. If it doesnt work out, there's always email. And this blog.

Friday, November 21, 2008

More found stuff on the internets

Typealyzer. It analyzes your blog. From the site's FAQ:
How does it work?

For a long period of time, we have been training our system to
recognize texts that characterize the different types. The system,
typealyzer, can now by itself find features that distinguishes one type
from another. When all features, words and sentences, are combined
typealyzer is able to guess which type its is most likely to be written
by using statistical analysis.
And yours truly's blog has been 'typalized'. The result:

INTP - The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.
Ugh. That makes me sound so boring. And asshole-y.

I got the same results when I took a quiz thingie one of those websites.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No such thing as 'I'? Easy. Change pronouns.

This ties in with the previous post on that quiz thing where I wrote that discussions (and if I may add, the stuff Ive encountered over the internets) Ive had in the past three years reinforced my 'worldview'. Anyway, I was listening to a podcast this morning of The Forum from the BBC World Service with neuroscientist Susan Blackmore as one of the guests, and I swear it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud, which wouldve been embarrassing as I was on the shuttle with ten strangers who would think Ive gone mad had it not been for my self control. Susan Blackmore has an interesting theory: Free will is an illusion. The reason? She couldnt find it.

"If we look at the brain... there doesnt seem to be any room for a 'me' in there or for something called consciousness... There is no kind of central place where it all comes together and consciousness happens."

So she decides to live her life as if free will doesnt exist. How does she manage to do that? She substitutes pronouns, and sees herself in the third person. "Whenever a choice comes up, I dont think 'Oh I have to decide', but think, 'She will decide. A decision will be made.'" But, Susan, who is that doing the observing? Who is that going 'She will decide'? Isnt that a, holy crap, a 'me', an 'I', a self? Transferring pronouns aint gon' work.

The host, Bridget Kendall, presses her on her views. "How did you decide to be on this program?," she asked.

Apparently, she didnt. Her brain did. And she, whoever that is, who is an illusion and therefore doesnt exist, went, "That's interesting," she said, "let's see what she decides. And she decided... I just trust that there will be things that will make a decision... We are clever decision-making animals." We're choosing machines, she adds.

"We're natural dualists," she continues. "We imagine there are two kinds of stuff: mind and brain, and the mind influences the brain. Scientifically that can't be true."

But ma'am, I assume youve heard of the placebo effect? Or the nocebo effect? Mind-over-matter? Even Dr. Gregory House believes in that sort of thing. So Dr. House isnt real, but that's beside the point. The fact is, it's a two-way street. The brain does influence the mind, as any drunk would tell you, but in the same way, the mind does influence the brain. Obsessive compulsive disorders and phobias have been successfully treated by training patients to change their minds. Consciously.

To be fair, Ms. Blackmore doesnt claim to have all the answers. But her research I think has a fatal flaw in that it a priori eliminates the mind: The mind does not exist, therefore we can't admit any hypothesis that includes it. "The brain works this way, but I feel as though Im this way.... Obviously our ideas of self and consciousness and free will just dont fit with the science." I suppose it hasnt occurred to her that the science could be wrong.

So that's what Ive been getting from the science media: a sensationalist, materialist point of view. And it's rubbish. Is it any wonder then that from 31% materialist in 2005, Im now 0% materialist. It's the insufficiency, the poverty of the materialist explanation to explain experience that did it. And the paltriness of the other worldviews as well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Revisiting a quiz

Sparks points to a quiz I took in 2005 and on a lark, I thought I'd take it again to see if anything's changed. Apparently, I did. Im now hard-core: one hundred percent, as opposed to 94% in 2005. I suppose it's because of the discussions Ive had over the past three years. Nothing like dialogue to reinforce your positions or undermine them altogether, as the case may be.





You Scored as Cultural Creative

Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative

100%

Idealist

63%

Existentialist

44%

Postmodernist

44%

Fundamentalist

38%

Romanticist

38%

Modernist

0%

Materialist

0%




Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another one bites the dust

To be fair, my skepticism of major announcements in the science section of major dailies isnt a criticism of science; it's really a criticism of the way science is reported in the media, which is mostly sensationalist, and with a materialist bent. But what can we do? We rely mostly on media reports and have very little access to the actual findings. But what do I know, right? Maybe media is merely reporting what scientists are telling them, the way they want them told. Anyway...

When I first read in the pop science media that chimp DNA was 98% similar to human DNA, it raised red flags. How do they know?, I asked myself. At that time the human genome hasnt even been mapped yet, let alone the chimp genome so I thought the 98% figure was pulled out of someone's ass. When the human and chimp genomes were finally mapped in 2005, I thought that finally we would get to the bottom of this 98%. And the findings? According to this article:

To compare the two genomes, the first thing we must do is to line up
the parts of each genome that are similar. When we do this alignment,
we discover that only 2400 million of the human genome’s 3164.7 million
’letters’ align with the chimpanzee genome - that is, 76% of the human
genome. Some scientists have argued that the 24% of the human genome
that does not line up with the chimpanzee genome is useless ”junk DNA”.
However, it now seems that this DNA could contain over 600
protein-coding genes, and also code for functional RNA molecules.

Looking closely at the chimpanzee-like 76% of the human genome, we
find that to make an exact alignment, we often have to introduce
artificial gaps in either the human or the chimp genome. These gaps
give another 3% difference. So now we have a 73% similarity between the
two genomes.

In the neatly aligned sequences we now find another form of
difference, where a single ’letter’ is different between the human and
chimp genomes. These provide another 1.23% difference between the two
genomes. Thus, the percentage difference is now at around 72%.

We also find places where two pieces of human genome align with only
one piece of chimp genome, or two pieces of chimp genome align with one
piece of human genome. This ”copy number variation” causes another 2.7%
difference between the two species. Therefore the total similarity of
the genomes could be below 70%.

And, the article continues, the only reason they got that 70% was because they used the human genome as a template to assemble the chimp genome. Blek. I suppose it's also a testament to the bias towards mainstream science, the one that says we're but a species of chimp, that these findings arent widely reported, or at least discussed.


In other news, mainstream science finally comes out and says it:
On the other hand, if there is no multiverse, where does that leave
physicists? “If there is only one universe,” [cosmologist Bernard] Carr says, “you might have
to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a
multiverse.”
Which got me to thinking: In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, in what he calls The Ultimate 747 Gambit, argues that the universe is so complex it's improbable, therefore if a God created the universe, he would have to be more complex than the universe, and would therefore be more improbable. He bats for the multiverse theory obviously. But then you have to ask yourself: Which is more complex? An intelligent entity, whatever that is, or an infinite number of universes? Which is more improbable? One has to choose because the fine-tuning of the universe points to one or the other. Russian scientist Andrei Linde, a proponent of the multiverse theory, hedges his bets and thinks that our universe might have been created by some geek in a basement in another universe. But this begs the question: Where did that geek in the other universe come from?
Linde's theory gives scientific muscle to the notion of a universe
created by an intelligent being. It might be congenial to Gnostics, who
believe that the material world was fashioned not by a benevolent
supreme being but by an evil demiurge. More orthodox believers, on the
other hand, will seek refuge in the question, "But who created the
physicist hacker?" Let's hope it's not hackers all the way up.
At present, the multiverse is so much speculative fiction with a lot of math, only we have respected scientists proclaiming its merits. That's enough for some people to proclaim that the matter is settled. To be fair, scientists are dreaming up actual experiments to test whether the multiverse theory is true, although I remain skeptical even of these. For example, let's say they find 'evidence' that points to another universe, how does that prove that there are 'billions and billions' of them? But be that as it may, Im still a fan of science. Science as a tool, that is. It is when science is elevated as a worldview that I have problems with it. Not with science, but with those who espouse the science-as-worldview philosophy. Richard Dawkins, for example, is setting his sights on children's books by writing one of his own.
In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4, Dr. Dawkins said he was
working on a book that would explore children’s relationships with
fairy tales and encourage them to think about the world scientifically
rather than mythologically. “I would like to know whether there’s any
evidence that bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards and
magic wands and things turning into other things — it is unscientific,
I think it’s antiscientific,” Dr. Dawkins, left, told More4 News.
“Whether that has a pernicious effect, I don’t know.”
Wadapak!? I grew up with fairy tales and science fiction stories and superheroes,as Im sure most of us who actually read did. Did that make me insane? Dont answer that.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The new capitalist pyramid

I saw this image on several sites on the internet and I dont know who made it but it's brilliant. The new Capitalist Pyramid. I got it from here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

On prostitution

Sparks has several questions posted in Filipino Voices re my previous defense of prostitution as a profession and I answered her queries briefly in the comments section of her FV post. But first, let me just point out where Im coming from:

As a Christian, I would rather that a man or woman not engage in prostitution as Christians believe that the human body is a temple to the holy spirit of God and since Jesus drove away the money-changers from the temple in Jerusalem, I take it he doesnt approve of using his temple as a venue for commerce. However Christians believe that all are sinners, so in the eyes of God, Im no better than the prostitute, and therefore I have no right to revel in my 'moral superiority'. (Ironically, sparks is an agnostic atheist. But I take it she also is a social democrat and I suppose is amenable to the State having more powers that Im prepared to give it, which I assume includes the power to declare transactions like the one that happens between the hooker and client illegal.)

As a member of society, I live and let live. I have no right to force my beliefs on others who may not share it. I assume that my fellow citizens are free to make their own decisions for themselves and I respect their right to hold views and opinions contrary to my own, and I respect their right to do whatever they please in their own private spaces as long as theyre not doing harm to anybody else. Corollary to this, I expect my rights are respected as well by both the State and my fellow citizens. The State has no right to come between the hooker and her client since no one's rights are being violated in a transaction they both freely agreed to. What is perhaps being violated is the moral sense of those not party to their transaction, and the State has backed these outside parties by making the transaction illegal. I consider that to be an overstepping by the State of the limits to its power in a free society.

I promised an in-depth reply to sparks's post but I think my answers over at FV, and the comments of several others, are enough to respond to the assumptions sparks has as to what prostitution qua prostitution is. I would just like to add that in my original post, I made the claim that 'it is only through some sort of superiority complex that members of society, including feminists ironically, assume that the prostitute is being exploited.' I have no idea whether or not sparks objects to prostitution qua prostitution out of a sense of superiority, and I am assuming she does not absent evidence to the contrary, but if we examine her post (as well as DJB's assumption that the scantily-clad dancers in Eat Bulaga and Wowowee are exploited), we get a sense of that. At best, it is a compassionate sort of superiority, but assumes that these women werent capable of correctly weighing the pros and cons before choosing to go into prostitution. Indeed sparks seems incredulous that any woman would willingly go into prostitution perhaps because she and those in her milieu would never dream of doing that themselves. I wouldnt dream of doing that myself. But that's just me, and I have no right to impose this on others who are capable of making their own judgements.

As a parting shot in my defense of prostitution, I would like to point out that as a general rule, all men in a relationship pay for sex. Maybe not in cash, but all men have to offer something of value to be able to engage in sexual congress. In the case of the professional and the client, the medium of exchange is often cash. In the case of married couples, or sexually active dating couples, the medium of exchange is different. All human relationships are some form of trade agreement. That includes employer-employee, contractor-contractee, teacher-student, husband-wife, boyfriend-girlfriend. Therefore trade is not per se bad. It is only when the trade is between professional hooker and client that the State frowns on the arrangement. Talk about your slippery slope, the slipping illogically stops at the prostitute's freedom to trade her services to a willing client. If trade for sexual favors among amateurs is legal, why is trade between pros and clients illegal? It doesnt make sense.



Thursday, October 09, 2008

Dallying in FV

Since work has been pretty slow recently, Ive been spending some time over at Filipino Voices, and in this thread on the Catholic Magesterium's stand on contraception, as a response to Nash's comment that 'freedom of religion also implies that our laws must not be based on religious views,' [on October 6th, 2008 2:56 pm] I pointed out that our entire civilization of liberal democracy is based on religious views. Im continually amazed, if not perplexed, by efforts to airbrush this religious basis of our society from history, mostly overseas, but it's starting to make its way here via the internet and also via popular revisionist books on the subject.

Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm
basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties
are a gift from God?
” Thomas Jefferson

The idea of our exceptional place in the cosmos sprang from religious views, and without it, our civilization has no leg to stand on. True, we can invent substitutes for this but the substitutes are as non-rational as the thing they substitute. Ive touched on this very subject in a previous post wherein I wrote: "Without God there is no reason to believe we have these rights [life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and all that]. Without God our rights are no different from the rights of a chicken...It is the only rational thing to believe in if one denies the existence of the source of our rights."

The secularization trend that started in earnest in the 20th century has been a systematic movement in the West of removing God from the public sphere, and seeks to replace him with Science. Darwin's theory has been proposed as a substitute for God in answering the question, 'Where did we get our rights? Why is a human life valuable?' It says we evolved these traits of compassion and moral values and offers as proof the fact that certain animal species will sacrifice themselves for the good of their offspring. We humans, according to this theory, have extended our families to include the entire human society. It is a plausible story of course. It's reasonable, if one overlooks the fact that it's just a story not backed by actual evidence which Science demands. Indeed evidence between altruism in nature and the human moral sense is difficult if not impossible to come by. But as a worldview, one needs only to believe in the underlying philosophy of the worldview (we'll get back to this and the problems it entails in a bit). But be that as it may, it still doesnt erase the religious basis of our civilization. That's history, and it's verifiable. German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who developed the concept of the Public Sphere, has this to say:
"Christianity, and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other options . We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."
Everything else is postmodern chatter. Professor Habermas is an atheist. Another atheist philosopher, John Gray, had this to say, "In contrast, evangelical atheists have positioned themselves as defenders of liberal freedoms - rarely inquiring where these freedoms have come from, and never allowing that religion may have had a part in creating them."

It is a deliberate selective reading of history.

But what if they succeed in eliminating God from the public sphere? What then? Without an absolute source of morality, of right and wrong, this power to determine what our rights are is transferred to the most powerful institution that will fill the vacuum: the State. Our rights then become, not an inalienable gift from God, but subject to the generosity of the State. Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis, and substitute for it the whim of the State?

Cvj of Placeholder in the comments section had this to say:
I consider religion as scaffolding that can be removed once it has served its purpose… what is debatable is whether we’ve reached such a stage or whether we’re capable of doing so.
We are capable. As Ive said, the 20th century onwards has been an exercise in secularism. I replied that what really is debatable is whether or not it is wise to do so. What is scary about the present science-based secularism of the so-called New Atheists is their utopian vision. Utopia carried out by humans based on human standards dont exactly have an exemplary record. The consequences of having the State take over as ultimate authority has been amply shown in the Soviet Union, Red China, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and lest we forget, the Third Reich.

***

In another thread on the brouhaha over that British sitcom, Dean Jorge Bocobo of Philippine-American Commentary had this to say (regarding the scantily-clad dancers in Pinoy noontime shows):
No really, when the middle-aged DOM hosts of these noon day shows leer at the latest “dancer” with her wiggling pudenda [sic], I see sexploitation writ large in the light of day.
Not one to pass on the chance to defend scantily-clad women, I asked why is it sexploitation. Those dancers were not being coerced. They freely chose their profession and are being paid for it. And with that I think it is time to come to the defense of what is called the World's Oldest Profession, the prostitutes, those purveyors of venereal services that society has maligned; indeed our legal system considers their profession illegal. A prostitute is here defined as one who engages in sexual services for a fee.

The way I see it, if the prostitute is an adult who has freely chosen to engage in sexual services for a fee, she is not being exploited. Mind you this isnt condoning the practice of white slavery, wherein the women arent free. That is deplorable. Our prostitute is a businesswoman, rendering a service for which there is a demand and the State has no right to stop her from plying her trade.

It is only through some sort of superiority complex that members of society, including feminists ironically, assume that the prostitute is being exploited. They lament the plight of the poor hooker, forced by poverty into a demeaning existence. But the prostitute doesnt see her job as especially demeaning, at least those Ive spoken to. It's their profession. They have considered the pros and cons (short hours and high pay vs. harrassment by cops, the dangers of being in a vulnerable state with strangers, and the judgemental derision of society at large) and still choose to ply their trade. If the cons outweigh the pros, they are free to look for another profession.

Again I must reiterate that the prostitute Im defending is the one who freely chose her profession and isnt forced into it against her will. And to be clear, a poor girl who chooses to be a prostitute because of poverty isnt being forced into prostitution. She has other options (become a maid for instance), has weighed all options, and chose prostitution. We as a society have no right to look down on the hooker honestly plying her trade.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The head office is halfway towards a unified theory



At least that's what I suspect. Perhaps they have another room for electromagnetism and gravity and theyre working towards a theory that unifies all the forces of nature. Who needs the Large Hadron Collider?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quickies

I dont know when the mainstreaming of the Ateneo-La Salle UAAP rivalry began but when two morning shows, Umagang Kay Ganda and Unang Hirit, whose audience probably dont go to Ateneo nor La Salle, go whole hog celebrating Ateneo's victory in the recent UAAP finals, you know something's up. Unfortunately I dont know what it is, neither do I care to find out, although I suppose it has something to do with the Pinoy penchant for living vicariously through whoever's on TV or on the society pages of newspapers. It's like wearing a Brasil or Italia t-shirt -- you imagine yourself Brasilian or Italian. Mang Pandoy's grandkids can imagine themselves to be studying at the Ateneo by rooting for Chris Tiu et al..

***

First things first: I am for giving the citizen a choice of birth control methods and for that choice to be available. I believe it is a good thing and our citizens want it. I believe that this lack of choice leads to abortions, usually unsafe ones, and abortion is a greater evil than artificially preventing conception.

The Reproductive Health Bill sponsored in the House (HB 5043) has this clause under Section 21, Prohibited Acts:
e) Any person who maliciously engages in disinformation about the intent or provisions of this Act.
with the concomitant penalties (imprisonment of up to 6 months, fines of up to 50,000 pesos, or both).

I dont know, but I find this creepy. I dont know if this type of 'gag order' is typical of bills submitted to Congress, but if it is, it's offensive. It's so... Marcos. Any person who maliciously engages in disinformation about the intent or provisions of this Act... And who gets to determine what 'malicious disinformation' is? Imagine if this bill passes as is, all subsequent bills will have it. AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE POSTPONEMENT OF THE 2010 ELECTIONS AND AN EXTENSION OF PRESIDENT ARROYO'S TERM... with that malicious disinformation clause is enough to give one nightmares. Im a bit disappointed with the sponsors for finding it necessary to include this, especially with Rep. Baraquel, who I think is hot. There are other provisions of the bill I find objectionable as well, but not as objectionable as this 'malicious disinformation' thing.

***

Another thing Im disappointed in is the lack of t-shirts of all-around opening up in this recent trip to Nanjing. Theyre gone, I tell you! My notebook has one single, solitary entry, and not a very god one at that. It's as if the Nanjing local government hired consultants to edit all T-shirts in English, correcting them for grammar and clarity. Im sure they still exist but not in the numbers they were in last summer.

***

The wife has informed me that DNA results are back from overseas and my brother-in-law has been positively identified.



Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Olympics have begun!!!

So fucking what?

And that, folks, is the extent of Olympic coverage that will be featured on this blog.

(Although since Im headed over there next week, I won't be able to ignore it no matter how hard I try.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hay nakoh

CNN International has deemed this newsworthy.
The Philippine government and the private sector are offering 9.5
million pesos (US$220,000) to any athlete who brings home the country's
first-ever Olympic gold medal.
It's just sad. Achievement for achievement's sake Im sure is still alive in the Filipino soul, but this just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It says 'We need money'. And we do, no doubt about it, but come on. A little class never hurt anyone; a little Olympic spirit.

The news item said that out of the 9.5 million, the government is putting up 5 million; more than 50% of the 'incentive' is our money. But what it's actually doing, like the private sector, is buying ad space on the gold medalist, if there is one, to bolster its image. "Nagpapasalamat ako sa prisidinti. Tsaka kay Pers dyintilman." Anak ng pu-. I understand the amount put up by private business. But for the government to buy ad space like this? That they feel the need to do something like this? Mother of pearl! The desperation!

Why oh why, dear people of the Philippines, do you give these government bozos the time of day? Why do we treat these people with reverence? Just this morning, there was news of a three year old kid kidnapped in a mall being reunited with his parents. A few days before IIRC, in an interview on TV, the father issued a plea to the viewing public to help him locate his baby. Several people saw the accompanying video and one of them, a private individual, recognized the kid in the company of street children, and alerted the authorities who then returned the kid to his parents. The father was interviewed on TV and asked if he has any messages for those who helped him and this is what he said (paraphrasing), "Nagpapasalamat ako sa lahat ng tumulong. Maraming tumulong sa amin. Special mention si Congressman Ruffy Biazon. Salamat po." (Im thanking all those who helped. There were a lot of people who helped us. I'd like to especially thank Congressman Ruffy Biazon. Thank you.) I went, Wha-??? What about the fella who found your kid? Didnt he deserve 'special mention'? Im sure Rep. Biazon offered moral support and all that, perhaps even more than moral support, but what exactly did he do to reunite the kid with his parents? What did he do to merit 'ad space'? I'll tell you what he did: he got elected congressman. In the eyes of most Filipinos, he is more important than some jabroni who actually finds your missing child.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Time and timelessness

I shall here try to solve a paradox. By paradox I mean something contradictory but nevertheless is true. The dictionary says
a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.*
But that isnt quite it. For this case, paradox is closer to what physicist Neils Bohr calls a great truth:
A great truth is one whose opposite is also a great truth.
But first:

Three weeks ago, I suppose it was, we came from shopping for groceries one day, my daughters and I. We didnt buy a lot of stuff, just two plastic bags, so the load didnt merit taking a taxi. We took a jeepney instead and a tricycle after that. Usually, when taking a tricycle, I never -- and I want to stress this point -- never -- ride inside the cab when Im with my two daughters, preferring to ride outside behind the driver. That is because I dont want one of them to take the uncomfortable, tiny extra seat. If youve never ridden a tricycle before, in the tricycle's cab, aside from the seat for two people, there's this uncushioned... protruberance... on the side where the unfortunate third person sits, hunched over and scrunched lest he or she steps on the toes of the two passengers comfortably seated, more or less, as much comfort as one can obtain riding a tricycle. Anyway...

On this day, as I said, we were on our way home, and for some reason, I chose to ride inside. I was about to take the seat behind the driver, changed my mind, and took the seat inside, which forced my younger daughter to take the tiny extra seat in the cab, something, I stress this again, I never do. Somebody else took 'my seat' behind the driver and another fella with him. (Tricycles usually dont leave til their full -- three inside and two behind the driver.) There was also a boy of about three seated in front of the driver, the driver's son presumably. So all-in-all there were seven of us in that tricycle.

Having just rained, the road was wet, and at the time, there wasnt much traffic. The lack of vehicles on the road I suppose encouraged our driver to gun his machine. We were moving at a pretty fast clip when on a curve to the right, I heard a loud pop on the back wheel which I thought was the rear tire blowing (not the tire, it turned out). I instinctively grabbed my daughter seated in the tiny seat. I knew there was something wrong. Next thing I knew, I felt a violent jolt, then the tricycle was on the curb on the opposite side of the road, where the cab continued to lurch to and fro quite roughly -- it was like slow motion -- then we stopped quite close to a wall. I made sure that my daughters were all right and jumped out of the cab, and asked the visibly shaken driver how his kid was. Then I felt a sharp pain in my head about a couple of inches above my left ear, and realized I was bleeding quite freely. Blood was pouring out of my head and onto my shirt. By this time other tricycles, were around, their drivers asking if we were all right. One of them gave me his towel to stop the bleeding. I wasnt worried about me. I knew scalp wounds bled profusely even if the wound isnt serious. Probably because there was blood pouring down my neck and onto my shirt, I received the most attention. The other drivers were saying to our driver "Dalhin mo na sa clinic yan!" And I had to assure them Im fine and I dont need the clinic. The bleeding stopped quite easily after a minute of pressure with the towel. I pointed to the other passenger, the one seated beside the driver -- what was supposed to be my seat -- and told the driver to see to him instead. I took a look at the chap sitting on the curb, and holy crap!, he was pale. He was obviously in a lot of pain and couldnt stand. Apparently, when the driver tried to stop the tricycle by jumping the curb, the guy behind him hit his leg on a concrete Meralco post. "Asikasuhin mo yun," I told the driver. The other drivers had to help him up. Man was he pale. They carried him to the tricycle. The others urged me to hop in as well, but I said I was ok. I was. The bleeding stopped, and aside from the pain, didnt feel dizzy or nauseous or anything. My daughters, although shaken, were uninjured. The poor baby had a bruise on his face and was too shocked to cry. Another tricycle took us home. The driver told us he saw what happened since he was right behind us. We were moving very fast, he said, and tried to flag us down. Apparently our first driver was new and wasnt used to the road yet. He told me if we needed anything, to go to their association's leader. He told me the tricycle's number just in case (no. 69). When we got home, he didnt want to accept payment but I insisted. Later that day, around 7 pm, our first driver came to our house with our second driver and asked how my daughters and I were doing. I said we were fine and asked about the injured guy and his baby. (Baby's home crying and injured guy still in the clinic for observation.)

I was thanking God through all this for taking care of the kids. A lot of things couldve happened. If there was a car headed in the opposite direction when the tricycle headed over to the other side, we wouldve been done for. When we were lurching all over the place, I thought we would flip. We didnt, and I thanked God for that.

But there's something about the whole thing that puzzled me. Why didnt I take the seat behind the driver? I spent the rest of that day thinking about it and is still on my mind now. Was I warned somehow -- by God, by an angel -- not to take that seat and sit in the cab instead? But that would mean God knew what was going to happen. That would mean the future is fixed, and I have a few problems with that. First, the obvious one: a fixed future means we're not free; free will is an illusion. In a fixed future where we choose B from a choice of A, B, and C, the 'freedom' we have to choose A or C doesnt exist. We will always choose B because that's what we're destined to do. Or stated another way, if God already knew that you were going to choose B, then there is no way you would choose A or C even if you feel from the very depths of your being that you couldve done so.

And second, God knowing the future like that is not supported by scripture. Several times in the Bible, God is surprised, God changes his mind, God tests somebody as if he didnt know the outcome. The most famous test of course is that of Abraham when he asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. When Abraham passes the test, God says, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God..." (Gen 22:12). "Now I know..." When did God know that Abraham passed the test? Only after Abraham passed it. Nowhere in the Bible does God claim omniscience. What about prophecies? A lot of prophecies are contingent upon what people do. Thus sayeth the Lord, your city is toast. But if the people repent, the prophecy doesnt come true. And God isnt at all bothered that what he says doesnt come to pass, as if he'd rather be wrong than to have to obliterate people. And besides, what's the big deal about prophecy anyway? If for example I announce today that at 10 am tomorrow, Im going out to get myself a sandwich from Ministop, I made a prophecy. And when tomorrow comes, and at precisely 10 am, I go out and get a sandwich from Ministop, I made that prophecy come to pass. That sort of thing would be easy for God and it wouldnt mean that the future is fixed. See I take what one might call a quantum mechanical view of the future. In quantum mechanics, everything is a possibility until a consciousness, like us for example, fixes one possibility, which at the same time reduces the other possibilities to zero. The future doesnt exist as a certainty, but as possibility, and God doesnt know the future as a certainty, but as possibility, and it takes us, by our choices, to fix a possibility into a certainty. That's how God created things. It's kind of like the Matrix. "The problem is choice," Neo said. God built this 'problem' of choice into the system.

So if it didnt come from the Bible, where did we get the idea that God knows the future as certainty, that the future is fixed, that we're all destined to this or that? Possibly from Greek philosophy. But those who espouse this classical view say that even if God knows the future as fixed, it is not he who fixed it. We are still free and our choices are real choices and not illusion despite the fact that God already knows what we choose. There is an apparent contradiction here. As I have stated earlier, if God knows we will choose B, then choices A and C werent really available. But this is a contradiction only if God is in time, that is, if God experiences time the way we do: as a series of events one after another, past, present, future. If we place God outside time, then there is no contradiction, since past-present-and-future is meaningless to him, that is, he doesnt know what will happen, he just knows. And this view has support from physics as well, specifically cosmology. The standard view of the Big Bang says that time had a beginning. If God created the universe, all dimensions of it including time, then by necessity, God exists outside time. If he is outside time, he doesnt know the future for the future doesnt exist. He just knows.

But what of the verses in the Bible wherein God changes his mind, or asks the people to reason with him? I suspect that if God chooses to intervene in this Matrix, he places himself in time. That is, he then becomes subject to past, present, and future. To communicate with us, he is then constrained to use references to the past, the present, and the future. "Now I know..." And he is telling the truth. When he comes here, when he says "Now I know" that's exactly when he knows it, that is, our now, and he is genuinely surprised and genuinely grieved and genuinely pissed at what we do even though paradoxically when he chooses to live in that timeless realm in which he hangs out sometimes, he 'already' -- and already is in quotes because in the timeless realm, already doesnt mean anything -- he already knows. Paradoxically as well, in this realm with time, the moment we do something, the moment we choose something, that is the time God knows about it.

So what happened that day on the tricycle in light of the above? Simple. It was a coincidence. A lucky break, happenstance, a fortuity...that God knew about 'beforehand'.

What, you expected definite answers from me?

=================================
*Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More thingies from the web

The Blog Readability Test. What level of education is required to understand your blog?

blog readability test

Not bad. That's the intended audience. However I found the following disappointing for the Nothing blog.

blog readability test

High school? For the high-brow topics we choose to feature in its august pages? What a travesty!

But get this: I dont know whether it's good or bad but CNN International has the following result:

blog readability test

And the Philippine Daily Inquirer? See for yourself:

blog readability test


Make what you will of those results.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Clouds

I just found this nifty little Java app called Wordle that creates word clouds. From the site:
Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.
You can key in or copy-paste text or enter a URL in the Create link.

Wordle generated this cloud for yours truly's blog page.


I tried sampling the nefarious Traveling Toreros' blog pages, too, and here's what Wordle came up with:

Grif's




The ultimate Hooterman Tin Tin's





And the nothingness blog





And for good measure, here are some word clouds of blogs I visit, chosen primarily because these blogs have lots of words in them.

Manuel L. Quezon III's





R.O.'s expectorations.


And finally, Dean Jorge Bocobo's.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Elections as market failure

Rom of 'The Almighty Motherfucking Hammer of God' blog* has a bone to pick with the electorate and Chiz Escudero.

In a comment section in one of Manuel L. Quezon III's blog entries, I asked whether elections could be considered an instance of market failure, in the same way that the market failed to put Sulpicio Lines out of business after five successive sea disasters, and so failed to prevent a sixth one in the Princess of the Stars. One way to prevent market failure, as some economic experts propose, is for the state to regulate the market. They suggest this without batting an eyelash, I imagine, and with a straight face. Obviously, this assumes the government can be trusted and it further assumes that the government knows what it's doing. In turn I would assume that these economists arent from the Philippines, or if they are, they dont go out very often.

Elections are indeed an instance of market failure. And yet we dont want them regulated. We are at a quandary here: in other aspects wherein the citizens exercising their free choice could result in market failure, we protect them by regulating the market, but in elections, we dont dare. And it is because of our abiding faith that elections are 'sacred' and that we dont want it regulated the way we regulate the choices of citizens in other aspects of their social life, like their choice of power distributor for example (in which the government guarantees that the choice doesnt exist). It is sacred because most people think Elections = Democracy. In fact most people's political involvement begin and end with elections. They abdicate sovereignty all to easily, having done their 'democratic' duty.

Elections most emphatically dont equal democracy. Elections, I am convinced, is a trick. It's appeasement to make us sheep think we have a say in how government is run. How many times have the people been ignored? The elected officials do what they want anyway, albeit throwing us the proverbial bone once in a while to keep us placid. If markets are to be regulated because we dont trust the citizens' sovereign choices, we should regulate elections using the same logic. After all, Hitler was democratically elected. In Palestine, the radical Hamas won more seats than the moderate Fatah in parliament, and closer to home, more people voted for Erap Estrada than for any other president in the history of Philippine presidential elections, and yes I believe that it's possible that Gloria Arroyo might have had more votes than FPJ, even without Garci's padding of votes. I say let's treat elections for what it is: an unscientific poll. It's certainly not sacred. Regulate it. I dont care.

Consider the following thought experiment: Qualify the electors, as I once proposed in another thought experiment. This won't guarantee that the winner would still be the best choice since there won't be a mechanism to vet the supply side, that is, the candidates, and it won't prevent politicians from gaming the system, but how worse could it be than what we have now? And while we're at it, let's get rid of this ridiculous idea of regularly scheduled elections, at least for president. Nothing more divisive has ever been invented than regular elections. It keeps politicians planning and scheming until the next regularly scheduled one. Let the president serve until we decide otherwise. The power of the people is not in choosing their leader; the power of the people is in kicking them out. Because although people only have a vague idea of what's good for them, they have a clearer idea of what's bad for them: lack of opportunities, curtailment of freedom, hunger, unemployment, rising prices of prime commodities... The people have numerous ways of kicking incumbents out, regularly scheduled elections being just one of them (which this experiment says is a bad idea for reasons already stated). They could also call for impeachment through their 'representatives' in Congress, or stage a revolution, bloody or not. In this experiment, we choose something akin to a people's initiative for a recall be institutionalized using the same number of signatories as the people's initiative for constitutional amendments already in place. If the appropriate number of verified signatures for a recall is reached, only then will we call for new elections.

I think it's time we realized elections, at this stage in our development as a people, is a joke. Elections != Democracy. We are democracy. Regulate elections, the same way we regulate markets. Or else, to be consistent, leave the domestic market alone. (For the record, Im not a 'pro-market-forces' guy. At this stage in our development, there is a role for the state. The ideal state is a counterforce to the excesses of the corporations. No Im not a pro-market-forces guy. Im more of an anti-government guy. How can I not be? How can you not be?)

===========================
*Formerly known as Smoke. Yes, I too wonder how long she'll be able keep the title without tiring of it eventually. :-)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The t-shirts of all-around opening up

Sometime in 2003 or 2004, I forget when exactly, I was in Nanjing, and on the side of the bus was a sign that said:
Nanjing: The city of all-around opening up
which is an announcement to the Nanjingites that their city was ready to be part of the world-at-large, to welcome foreigners -- investors, tourists -- to their great city, the capital of nine dynasties, and the capital of the Chinese Republic under Dr. Sun Yat Sen. And open up they did. I first came to Nanjing in the late 90s and back then, foreigners were a novelty. I was mistaken for a Japanese, a European, and a Sri Lankan, the latter by a taxi driver who kept looking at me (I was at the back seat, of course) while driving, speaking in Chinese to my colleague from Taipei (that's how I know he mistook me for a Sri Lankan -- my colleague told me). About a year later, I came back to Nanjing with colleagues from Europe and the US, and the Nanjingites, whenever we go out together, had a field day. They stared, aghast, at the novelty of several blonde people. "I dont think I'll ever get used to this," said a colleague from Belgium, as kids were following him and adults stared at him wherever he went. And he looked normal. Imagine the stares for another colleague with blonde hair with blood red streaks. Eating at posh hotels wasnt a problem; they spoke English there. But outside, even at McDonalds or KFC, all youll get from the crew were blank stares when you tried to order (they didnt discover queueing then). Fortunately they had pictures. In restaurants, we just pointed to the food ordered at the other tables if the menu didnt have pictures.

Soon after that, Nanjing undertook what looked to me like a contruction boom on a massive scale. This was after Beijing won their bid to host the 2008 Olympics. And with this construction boom, Nanjing became the city of all-around opening up. We started seeing foreigners everywhere, from all races, probably from western companies that set up shop there. Gradually, the Nanjingites got used to them and soon they wouldnt even merit a curious glance, let alone a stare. The crew at McDonald's and KFC spoke English; not perfect, but passable and understandable.* College educated Nanjingites understood English, if spoken slowly or written down, even if they had difficulty speaking it.

As their opening up the outside world proceeded apace, English became common in ads, song lyrics, magazine articles (even just a phrase), store signs, but mostly on t-shirts. This last one provided me with endless entertainment as I took to t-shirt reading to pass the time. They had the most creative t-shirt signs Ive ever seen and it was a puzzle figuring out what some of them meant. One day, in the office, a female colleague wore a pink sweater with a cartoon cat drawn on it and the sign 'Romantic Pussy' in big letters. Since then, I hunted down t-shirt signs in earnest, and wrote them down on a notebook whenever I can.

Aside from Romantic Pussy, I saw a t-shirt with the words 'Chunkily-penised boys' on it. What, is this a sign of the burgeoning sexual revolution among the young Chinese? The youth seemed sexually-active and uninhibited. Everywhere we looked, we saw couples engaged in activities that we Pinoys would practice in darkened movie theaters or bedrooms, but they do it in broad daylight, in parks, in fast-food stores, on buses, on the streets. Romantic pussies and chunkily-penised boys engaged in lip-lock and tonsil hockey. There's also this trend where boyfriend and girlfriend dress exactly alike, t-shirt-and-jeans, announcing to all their commitment to each other, through t-shirts with signs like 'I am her boyfriend' and 'I am his girlfriend'. Solo shirts also are full of romance and profession of love such as the enigmatic 'I love you. The Brane', which I assume says, I dont love you for your looks. It's your mind I find fascinating.

Other t-shirt have a patriotic bent. There's this intriguing T-shirt that said on the back, 'I love Tibet' a radical sign to be sure, inviting police questioning at least, until one sees the sign on the front that says 'I love China more than ever'. There is also a sign that says 'I love China up' which had me wondering what it meant. China up? Probably means that China is on the way up. Which it is.

Some have a mathematical bent: 'Fascinating. 100% divided by 100%', or 'Feel 100 to be different'. Others convey a positive attitude and a love of life, probably brought about by the economic boom: 'Good memory. Today, tomorrow, always', 'Io, why wouty?'. And lest we miss that Christianity has a strong foothold in China, we are reminded by this t-shirt that says 'Jesus of Mind'. Or this one that says, 'God save sweet love the rice ascend'. (God's love will provide for us even if the price of rice continues to rise?)

Others are just baffling. 'I have a goodness of a queen, sweating empathy, and a daughter', 'Sides, it stores to the thread de the air, the heat, retaining her than general', 'Party. Do you to me? Earth'. These had me puzzling over their meaning, but perhaps I was reading too much into them. And I just heeded the advice of another t-shirt that said 'The answer is fairly obvious so you shall really guess it'.

They just mean what they mean.

==========================
*Or they did. For some reason, McDonald's and KFC crews' English skills have deteriorated. I surmise that it's because the crew who spoke fluent English were assigned to Beijing temporarily for the Olympics. The Burger King crew's English meanwhile is impeccable.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The soul of the machine

In an interview, cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter had this to say about Ray Kurzweil's 'singularity', that point in which machines achieve the holy grail of computing, artificial intelligence, and takes over evolution from us humans:
Well, to me, this “glorious” new world would be the end of humanity as we know it. If such a vision comes to pass, it certainly would spell the end of human life. Once again, I don't want to be there if such a vision should ever come to pass. But I doubt that it will come to pass for a very long time. How long? I just don't know. Centuries, at least. But I don't know. I'm not a futurologist in the least. But Kurzweil is far more “optimistic” (i.e., depressingly pessimistic, from my perspective) about the pace at which all these world-shaking changes will take place.

In any case, the vision that Kurzweil offers (and other very smart people offer it too, such as Hans Moravec, Vernor Vinge, perhaps Marvin Minsky, and many others — usually people who strike me as being overgrown teen-age sci-fi addicts, I have to say) is repugnant to me. On the surface it may sound very idealistic and utopian, but deep down I find it extremely selfish and greedy. “Me, me, me!” is how it sounds to me — “I want to live forever!” But who knows? I don't even like thinking about this nutty technology-glorifying scenario, now usually called “The Singularity” (also called by some “The Rapture of the Nerds” — a great phrase!) — it just gives me the creeps. Sorry!
Douglas Hofstadter still believes in AI, mind you. I think he more-or-less holds a materialist mind is brain view. His objection to Kurzweil's technological approach is one of method. "A key element in this whole vision is that no one will need to understand the mind or brain in order to copy a particular human's mind with perfect accuracy, because trillions of tiny “nanobots” will swarm through the bloodstream in the human brain and will report back all the “wiring details” of that particular brain, which at that point constitute a very complex table of data that can be fed into a universal computer program that executes neuron-firings, and presto — that individual's mind has been reinstantiated in an electronic medium." Hofstadter thinks this can't be done without first understanding the mind/brain. And in this he says we have a long way to go.

If indeed trillions of nanobots swarm through the bloodstream and create an electronic replica of the human brain, and we succeed in somehow copying all the wirings, I would think all we'll come up with is a computer, not a human mind at all. The problem I see is this: in a classical computer, a bit must be either 0 or 1. Kurzweil's nanobots will be limited to 0's and 1's because I can't imagine these nanobots operating in a quantum level. Even if the nanobots can, for example, copy a certain subatomic wiring in the brain, it'll have to contend with virtual particles, that is, particles that arent really there, but could possibly be there (or not there). Therefore, being limited to 0's and 1's it won't be able to capture everything about what a mind is. For example, humans arent limited to 0's and 1's. We can have states of both 0 and 1, or neither 0 nor 1, or it can simply refuse to decide between 0 and 1, or simply not care. Hofstadter believes that we will one day understand the mind. [And perhaps, with the development of a quantum computer (already in its infancy), we might begin to approximate the human mind. In the meantime, allow me to be skeptical of this new venture in computing.]

The interview also has Hofstadter saying something interesting. When asked to explain his claim that the "I" is 'nothing but a myth, a hallucination perceived by a hallucination', and its conflict to such things as his compassion, he says, "I can't explain this completely rationally." It is interesting because here he is admitting that reason itself can't account for his beliefs, and yet we are asked to believe (not by Hofstadter particularly, but by science ideologues in general), that the rationality of science is our way to 'salvation.'

In his critique of the Turing Test, software pioneer Mark Halpern had this to say:
The AI champions, in their desperate struggle to salvage the idea that computers can or will think, are indeed in the grip of an ideology: they are, as they see it, defending rationality itself. If it is denied that computers can, even in principle, think, then a claim is being tacitly made that humans have some special property that science will never understand—a “soul” or some similarly mystical entity. This is of course unacceptable to scientists (and even more to aspirants to the title “scientist”).
And here is one of cognitive science's champions, claiming to have no rational way of explaining something. Rationality, Im sure Hofstadter will agree, can only get you so far. The problem of rationality I suppose is its dependence on language. Language in fact is an analogue of reason itself. But humans have experience beyond language, a subjectivity that they cannot convey to others. How many times have we described an experience as 'beyond words'? Or try this: describe how a sampaguita smells like to another person who hasnt smelled one before. This 'beyond words' experience is something that has to be captured by the machine that has to follow a program that uses language.

So can machines think? Will they be able to? Sure, why not? I just dont expect them to think like humans. Artificial intelligence is just that: artificial. Mark Halpern (ibid) offers agnosticism as the most rational approach: "What I would urge on them is agnosticism—an acceptance of the fact that we have not yet achieved AI, and have no idea when if ever we will. That fact in no way condemns us to revert to pre-rational modes of thinking—all it means is that there is a lot we don’t know, and that we will have to learn to suspend judgement. It may be uncomfortable to live with uncertainty, but it’s far better than insisting, against all evidence, that the emperor is well dressed."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Change you can believe in... Not!

I do not share the enthusiasm of a lot of my countrymen on the upcoming elections in the United States of America. My reason is, no matter who wins, it won't change anything for us. Republican or Democrat, America will work for American interests -- which they should. I dont buy into the conventional wisdom that a Democratic victory this year would substantially change America's foreign policy towards its former colony. I say horsefeathers to that one.

Reports such as this only reinforce my views.
The award for the most bald-faced lie on the House floor Friday, however, goes to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who insisted that the bill "does not allow warrantless surveillance of Americans." She is wrong. It does.
The broader spying powers given to the executive branch by the compromise bill require intelligence agencies to "target" foreigners. But if those foreign "targets" happen to call or e-mail Americans, those communications are fair game. And since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is only permitted to review the broad targeting procedures government eavesdroppers use to determine that a target is abroad, and not the substantive basis for authorizing surveillance of any target, anyone is a potential target.
The bill, in other words, allows the government to conduct "vacuum cleaner" surveillance -- sweeping up international traffic willy-nilly -- then filter it for anything that looks interesting. Indeed, many believe that licensing such surveillance is precisely the point of this legislation. If so, "warrantless surveillance of Americans" could well become routine, whether or not they are the formal "targets" of eavesdropping.
Now why would they do this? They control the House and the Senate, and if polls are correct, theyll control the White House as well. It comes as no surprise therefore that they would want this sort of power. How does Obama feel about this 'compromise'? He thinks it aint bad at all.
In the past 24 hours, specifically beginning with the moment Barack Obama announced that he now supports the Cheney/Rockefeller/Hoyer House bill, there have magically arisen -- in places where one would never have expected to find them -- all sorts of claims about why this FISA "compromise" isn't really so bad after all. People who spent the week railing against Steny Hoyer as an evil, craven enabler of the Bush administration -- or who spent the last several months identically railing against Jay Rockefeller -- suddenly changed their minds completely when Barack Obama announced that he would do the same thing as they did.
Add to this Congressman Ron Paul's accusation that Nancy Pelosi removed a section from a bill passed by Congress "which would have barred the U.S. from going to war with Iran without a congressional vote".
“She [Pelosi] removed it deliberately,” Paul says. “And then, the astounding thing is, when asked why, she said the leadership in Israel asked her to. That was in the newspaper, that was in ‘The Washington Post,’ that she was asked by [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and others not to do that."
So you see, boys and girls, nothing will change except theyll have a better looking and articulate president.


...

I didnt want to blog about the Princess of the Stars because 1) other blogs do this sort of thing better than I do, and 2) my brother-in-law might have been on that boat and I guess I didnt want to jinx his survival. Then my wife sent an SMS from Masbate yesterday and she confirmed that her brother was indeed on that boat and is still missing. I hope she's wrong. I hope he never went on board. You can never really tell with my brother-in-law. He's, shall we say, erratic. He'll tell you he'll do one thing, assure you in fact, then turns around and does something else.

I havent seen him for years. The last time was over 10 years ago when he dropped by the house and asked if he could stay for a few days until he could get back on his feet, and I said sure, and had him do stuff around the house, which he was glad to do. Not heavy stuff; just the usual: go to the palengke, cook, stiff like that. It was fun having a regular drinking buddy on the weekends too. He offered to paint the bedroom. I said he didnt have to do that, but he insisted, so I said ok. He did a decent job, and left the next day. I found out later that he took a gun I kept on top of the aparador with him. (It wasnt loaded, so relax, Gunless Society freaks.) We didnt hear from him for years at a time: he's back in Masbate, he's in Cebu, he's in Davao. There were even rumors that he was dead, but a letter would appear and it would be from him. He couldnt come back to the house probably because he was too embarrassed, but I wouldve welcomed him I think, but he kept in touch with my wife. I didnt mind not hearing from him. In fact the less I heard from him the better.

And now...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Education

Meme, schmeme

Dont you just love it when scientists and philosophers get snarky? The most famous snarky scientist is Richard Dawkins, who, his insipid The God Delusion nothwithstanding, can otherwise be sharp, witty, and entertaining when speaking live. Must be the accent. Someone who can out-snark Dawkins is the philosopher and professor of mathematics David Berlinski. I would pay to see these two go at it in a debate on evolutionary theory or religion.

Add anthropologist Greg Downey to that list. In this post in the Neuroanthropology blogsite, he eviscerates memetics. He does so by first establishing his Darwinist credentials, then he lets them have it (them in this case being Susan Blackmore and Daniel Dennett).
Finally, I resent the argument that Dennett makes, that all those who resist memetics are ‘anti-Darwinist’ or afraid of the implications of Darwin’s ideas. I’m more than comfortable with Darwin’s contribution to evolutionary theory, especially natural selection, and I think his works (not just Origin of Species) were remarkable, but I don’t adhere to ‘Darwinism’ as if it were a scholastic faith.

It’s not ‘Darwinism’ that I support, like it’s a cult or a form of thought that I must follow religiously; I believe that ‘Darwinism’ is only useful in that it is a theory that provides hypotheses to be tested, a powerful explanatory framework that explains some (though not all) phenomena. That is, when Dennett argues that some people are insufficiently Darwinist because they don’t want to apply ‘Darwinism’ to the world-wide web or Hoover Dam, I feel like he’s treating ‘Darwinism’ as a one-size-fits-all ├╝ber-explanation. That’s not science — that’s a cult. In fact, most people who study evolution argue that there a LOT of things that must be added to ‘Darwinism’ to get modern evolutionary theory (like, say, ooooh, genes…).

Emphasis in the original. Im not the biggest fan of evolutionary psychology, having called it a font of science fiction once, but I admit the reason I think it's a crock is probably because how it is popularized in the media as some sort of theory of anything. (Why do men like blondes? Evolution. Why do men like brunettes? Evolution. That sort of thing.) But thank God for scientists who can save the science from the cranks.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

If you could fight anyone, who would you fight?


Jose Rizal was Jack the Ripper. He was Adolf Hitler's and Mao Zedong's father. He was gay. And he was the best these islands ever produced. Had he been alive, would he have been president of the Republic? Like his friend Sun Yat Sen in China? I dont know. Aguinaldo's men assassinated Antonio Luna and murdered Andres Bonifacio. I'd like to think he wouldnt have dared do that with Rizal. The turmoil will come after he leaves, as it did in China, since no one came close to him in intelligence, erudition, and charisma.

If I could fight anyone, I'd fight Jose Rizal.

Happy birthday, JP.

[Photo from http://www.historicaltextarchive.com/USA/twenty/filipino.html]