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 Over the years, the word depression has been replaced by various euphemisms like recession, slowdown, sideways movement, etc.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.