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?

* 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


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:


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.