Monday, June 30, 2008

Live

Ah. You philosophy types. How you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.

As always I woke up at 4:30 this morning, to begin the weekly grind. I was on campus at 6, to avoid the 7 to 8 gridlock. I saw a guard pedal away from my building, and when I entered the foyer there was no one to greet me good morning at the reception desk. I went up the second floor and as always, I was the one to turn on the corridor lights. A jiggle of keys, I unlocked the bolt and the door knob. Having not slept well the night before, my brain went on autopilot. Turned on the AC, the computer, the water dispenser. I turned on the radio, I didn't know the volume was turned up so loud. The door opened and a guard's behatted head popped in. He said he heard the noise. I said I didn't think the volume was turned up so loud. A twenty second exchange and he went on his way. I thought nothing of it, but I don't recall guards ever being so suspicious.

I remembered to bring coffee and tea with me from home. A sip of the two-week old pasteurised milk in the fridge. Still tasted ok. I fixed myself some tea, a habit I picked up in Oz. Flip, flip, flipped the pages. I pretended to look at my notes while waiting for the cursory time to go downstairs and have my first smoke. They moved the smocket further from my building, a good one hundred meters away. I noticed there were more guards outside, looking busy with their walkie talkies. I thought nothing of it. Puffed quietly on my rollies, while looking at the cars gridlocked on Katipunan. The chaos beyond the gate was a world away from the green trees and the greener grass field.

Ten minutes, and I made my way back to the foyer. Two or three guards in the foyer. My they were busy. One asked me where I was going. "Sa Philosophy Department kayo?" I said no. I thought he was probably new, and so he didn't recognise me. After all, I've been gone for a year and half. I took my coffee cup and toothbrush and went to the toilet. Right next to the Philosophy department. On my way I saw a faculty member in a dark blue shirt close the door behind him and walked out. I attempted the beginnings of a smile, but he didn't seem inclined. These philosophy types. Always moody. Rinse, rinse, rinse. Cup and teeth were clean. A couple more philo professors were in deep conversation near the stairwell. I went back in my own department, put my face on, and prepared my paraphernalia. 7:25, I lock my department. There were more strange activities in the corridor. The guards had cordonned off the Philo department. Must be some event.

Three hours zipped by in pure language fun. 10:25, I walked back to my building, and saw my friend and colleague M. Even more people and security walking out and about. "What's going on?" M. pulled me in the sanctuary of our office. "Someone committed suicide in the Philo department last night. Do you know L***** T*****?"

All the air rushed out of my body. He was my student. M. heard he suffocated. He was taking his masters and was enrolled in my class on audit. He didn't show up regularly but it was ok, he didn't need to. I saw him last Wednesday. He seemed fine. He even laughed at my silly jokes. They always do.

Oh you philosophy types - your mind anguished by the metaphysical. Place your feet on firm ground. Live.

Edited to add:

Well. The incident has made it to the news.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Welcome Back La Gloria

Dear Madam President,

First of all, congratulations for your latest international sojourn are in order. While some may be mystified by your decision to haul half of your cabinet and various hangers-on to Washington to see a 'lame duck' US President in an election year, I see no reason why there should be this much hoopla. It is merely a chance for you, as the country's most powerful public official, to continue using your office to engage in transnational rent-seeking.

For the past few years you have demonstrated this ability with the Chinese, as per the ZTE-NBN deal and the US military machine, as per your Anti-terrorism deals. China has now surpassed the US as the country with the most number of diplomatic posts. Bravo. You are dipping your nimble little fingers between the superpower of the present and the future. You certainly avail of all possible opportunities Madam President. You do your humble subjects proud by keeping your pulse on where money is flowing at the moment - and tapping your bloodsuckers where they may reap the most.

Also my sincerest congratulations on winning for your Enchanted Kingdom (a fond name used by Uniffors) the title of Most Corrupt in East Asia for the second year in a row. Halleluiah. We do excel in some things don't we?

I commiserate with you not being able to meet Barack Obama face-to-face. He does have a wonderful voice. Were you titillated by that 30-minute phone call? I admire the audacity of this statement when you actually breathed the same air as John McCain, that "it's very important for the Filipinos and the Philippine government to continue and maintain the good relationship we have with the US today." How democratic and inclusive you were, when you actually meant a good relationship between some Filipinos and your kith and kin. But nevermind. The rest of the Filipino people place their trust in your foreign policy sojourn. Because the jurassic-age principles of diplomacy is blind to reality and assumes that the head of state supposedly acts on behalf of the 'national interest,' then the US diplomatic machine - of whichever sitting administration, can be counted on as a cash cow for the legion of vampires you cultivate in your beatific reign. Do we take this forward-planning as a sign that you will hang around past 2010? Oh my, I am getting an erection at the thought.

As you fly over the waters of the Pacific, let me be the first to extend to you, my queen, the warmest welcome.

Your humble servant,

A gnat in Malacanang

Cross-posted at Filipino Voices.

Barbarians in Our Midst

There is perennial interest from the media and the general public every time there is an incidence of violence or death related to UP's fratenities. I think the interest stems mostly from puzzlement over how some of the country's supposed 'best and brightest' could commit such inane acts. I am sure sociologists have more sophisticated explanations about how the group dynamics of these organisations work - and why they result to senseless, stupid and lethal ends. But here is my two cent's worth. And some suggestions.

These organisations have cultures and histories that are self-perpetuating. The old 'encounters' of years past continue to colour how they relate to one another. I am sure countless dialogues have been set up for these fraternities to fraternise amongst one another, but obviously they have not been very successful.

On grounds of functionality, I understand that members can avail of resources and opportunities which stem from their frat's networks. Networks that extend to public and private sources of power and authority in Philippine society. To my mind this quasi-feudal anomaly has no place in a so-called progressive university. But anyway, this culture persists as UP mirrors what is good and what is bad in our society.

Groups inherently serve to include and exclude. When a group is created there is an effort to delineate who belongs and in which ways. The differences with other groups are magnified in order to preserve difference. Where there is difference, there are hierarchies. Aside from histories of previous rumbles, I am not aware of any rational, tangible reasons why such rumbles occur. The only thing I can think of for the moment is that the fact that these frats, peopled by young, testosterone-drunk men, must engage in overt displays of masculinity to underline their superiority as a group (vis-a-vis the others) and also to reassure each other that they have penises. As if they didn't already know. Maybe they don't, because there may not be much there (if APO's centennial oblation run is any indication). To my mind - displays of manhood and masculinity is inversely proportional to one's phallic apparatus. Awww. Poor littl boys.

I am glad that a new organisation has been set up a "watch" over these frats. I love their name - UP SAWA (Student-Led Anti-Fraternity- Related-Violence Watch Alliance). I too am "sawa na" (have had enough of/sick of) these willful acts of stupendous stupidity.

If UP's frats cannot find a place to co-exist constructively, I suggest they be disbanded. If the members of these groups truly want to contribute to social causes, then there are plenty of cause-oriented orgs around.

Hemingway, here is UP SAWA's official statement.

UP HAS NO PLACE FOR BARBARITY AND VIOLENCE

Last Tuesday, 24 June 2008, only several weeks into the start of the academic year and just after UP marked its 100th foundation year, the university bore witness once more to the rearing of the fraternity system's ugly head. Members of the Beta Sigma (BS) and Alpha Phi Omega (APO) Fraternities figured in a violent rumble for which some fraternity members sustained head injuries. While this latest incident of fraternity-related violence may fail to offend the sensibilities of the largely resigned and exasperated UP community, aspects of the incident cannot fail to provide cause for heightened alarm:

According to reports compiled by the UP Diliman Police, the rumble erupted when members of the Beta Sigma Fraternity staged a surprise attack against APO members then at the AS Walk. Considering that the ensuing violence occurred at around 10 a.m. in the busiest part of the most densely populated building in the university, the rumble can only be described as a barbaric display of audacity; and of an utter lack of consideration and sensitivity to the welfare of innocent fellow students. At the height of the commotion, Prof. De Villa of the Department of Philosophy even attempted to break the fight up, only to find himself the victim of assault from one of the malefactors. The rumble was also a product of clear premeditation, because there was a conscious effort on the part of the perpetrators to breach and take advantage of the paucity of security personnel manning the entry points of AS.

As members of the UP community, there is no cogent reason for anyone of us to take the stance of a passive spectator in the midst of this increasingly brazen exhibition of barbarity. We have a duty to defend the integrity of our institution and the safe and secure learning environment which it must strive to create as a matter of moral obligation and imperative. All existing avenues must be activated to send a clear and unequivocal message that any fraternity wishing to engage in such barbaric intramurals in the future shall face the full force of the law and the condemnation of the entire UP community:


1. We call on the Student Disciplinary Tribunal and the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs to deal with the perpetrators accordingly and expeditiously;

2. We call on all University, College, and Dormitory Councils to swiftly adopt and implement concrete measures aimed at protecting the welfare and safety of their respective constituencies, in coordination with the University and College administration;

3. We call on the network of fraternity resident members and alumni of Beta Sigma, Alpha Phi Omega, and all other fraternities to commit to helping the police in the investigation and resolution of this case, and to ensuring that such acts of violence shall never again be employed for any reason;

4. We call on all students, faculty members, and administrative staff to take small but significant steps within their personal circles to continuously and emphatically condemn any and all forms of fraternity-related violence in the University.

UP is an academic community. In this enclave of intellectual pursuit, there is simply no space for the kind of barbarity and violence that only unthinking and uncritical individuals subscribe to. We should set a clear example for all fraternities to see. We should not let UP's one hundred glorious years be tarnished by this cancer in a supposedly healthy concept of brotherhood. If we sweep this incident under the rug again, the cycle of violence will continue, and the level of impertinence and malevolence will also be elevated. It is within our capacity to deal with this latest fraternity rumble in the proper manner – with unmistakable condemnation and steadfast resolve to prevent its repetition.


UP SAWA (UP Student-Led Anti-Fraternity- Related-Violence Watch Alliance)

For inquiries please contact:

Michael Jobert I. Navallo
+639279704899
+639233330885
410-0137

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Southeast Asia Lecture Series in UP

Focus on the Global South*
UP-Department of Political Science
Third World Studies Center and the Philippine Political Science Association

invites you to

THE SOUTHEAST ASIA LECTURE SERIES

with Jim Glassman
Department of Geography
University of British Columbia


1 July 2008
10:00 to 11:30 am, Palma Hall 207
University of the Philippines Diliman
"The Provinces Elect Governments, Bangkok Overthrows Them": Urbanity, Class, and Post-Democracy in Thailand

Urban social movements are often associated with what are considered "progressive" causes, and most activists involved in such movements are inclined to describe themselves in such terms. The Thai coup of September 2006, and the ongoing street demonstrations of the People's Alliance for Democracy in 2008, pose problems for any such easy identification. Though executed by the military, on behalf of royalist interests, the coup was supported by an array of primarily Bangkok-based and middle class groups, many of them associated with organizations such as NGOs and state enterprise unions, and such groups have again been at the center of the 2008 demonstrations. Although some of these groups claim anti-neoliberal political orientations, their support for the coup, and now for the ouster of the government elected in 2007, effectively places them on the side of forces opposed to populist spending policies and in favor of specific forms of neo-liberalism—at least for Thai villagers. This lecture explores this development by focusing on the Bangkok/up-country and urban/rural divisions in Thai politics—which, though socially constructed, have taken on political substance, in part because of their grounding in regionally differentiated class structures.

2 July 2008
10:00 to 11:30 am, Palma Hall 207
University of the Philippines Diliman
"Southeast Asia between China and the US: Neo-Liberals, Neo-Conservatives, Rising Powers, and Resurgent Militarists"

After September 11, 2001, the administration of George W. Bush showed renewed interest in Southeast Asia, putatively because of the presence within the region of "terrorists" connected to the attacks on the US. However, as during the Cold War period, US interests in Southeast Asia are shaped heavily by US interests in Northeast Asia—especially Japan and China. US interests are also conflicted, involving different political blocs, with different interests and ideologies, grounded in different specific class groupings. These blocs, sometimes called "neo-liberal" and "neo-conservative, " have agendas that overlap but also contain significant tensions. Those tensions shape not only US policies towards Northeast Asia, but Southeast Asia as well, with varied consequences throughout the latter region. I explore and analyze some of the tensions in US policies with the help of ideas from Nicos Poulantzas, whose conception of the state as part of the social division of labor can be expanded to help specify relations between US neo-liberals and neo-conservatives, as well as to indicate the reasons for limited changes in US policies over time, in spite of the tensions.

3 July 2008
2:30 to 4:00 pm, Palma Hall 207
University of the Philippines Diliman
"The Greater Mekong Subregion: Regionalization or Spatial Fix?"

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS)—a project of transborder economic integration between Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Yunnan province (China), funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB)—has been portrayed by the ADB as reflecting the natural geographic expansion of market processes after the end of the Cold War and the re-orientation of Communist Party regimes. I argue that a better interpretation of the development of the GMS is that it reflects a power-laden struggle by different investors and states to procure a "spatial fix" for problems of overaccumulation. Among other things, this means (1) that the GMS is not a "natural" market area but is socially produced as a space of investment by various political economic processes, (2) that large-scale capitalist forces from both inside and outside the GMS are central to its production and do less to integrate it internally than to selectively integrate key sites within the GMS into a broader East Asia regional economy of which they are a part; and (3) that the entire process is marked by conspicuous forms of socio-spatial uneven development, rather than by the equal opportunity for betterment sometimes suggested in neo-classical and neo-liberal literature on the GMS.

4 July 2008
2:30 to 4:00 pm, Palma Hall 207
University of the Philippines Diliman
"Global Poverty and Inequality: Measuring Trends, Interpreting Implications"

The recent explosion of studies by economists on global measures of poverty and income distribution has received somewhat less attention from non-economists and social activists than it should. There are various problems with measures of either poverty or inequality, but there are also tentative conclusions that can be drawn from the empirical evidence regarding both long-term and short-term trends.

Interpretation of the evidence, however, also depends upon the goals and assumptions of the interpreters. In this talk I argue that for groups involved in social movements favoring redistribution of wealth and income, the implications are important and point to the necessity of shifting strategies in response to shifting geographies of global inequality.

ABOUT JIM GLASSMAN

Jim Glassman is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia. He received his PhD in Geography from the University of Minnesota in 1999. His main research interests include political economy of development in Southeast Asia; regionalization in the Greater Mekong sub-region; geo-politics and social conflict in East and Southeast Asia. He has written on topics ranging from Thai democracy and politics to globalization and US foreign policy in the region. He is the author of Thailand at the Margins (Oxford, 2004), a study of uneven development and the transformation of labor processes in Thailand since the Second World War. His current research is on socio-spatial uneven development in the Greater Mekong Sub region.


ABOUT THE DECONSTRUCTING DISCOURSE AND ACTIVIST RETOOLING PROGRAMME

*This lecture is part of Focus' Deconstructing Discourse and Activist Retooling Program (DDARP). The Deconstructing Discourse and Activist Retooling Programme (DDARP) is a project that aims to revisit debates on contemporary development issues, ideologies and paradigms and introduce new frontiers in analyses and perspectives to contribute to knowledge production, critical discourse and political action. The DDARP features programmatic short-term courses (lecture series) and one-time public lectures/roundtable discussions by nationally and internationally acclaimed scholars that are leading experts in their respective fields.

The DDARP courses/lectures are designed to be broad based, cross-cultural, and interdisciplinary. Visiting lecturers come from a wide range of disciplines and traditions in the social sciences, and with varying experience and background as public scholars. The main audiences are students and the youth; the lectures are also intended to appeal to the academe, media, government officials and activists who are at the forefront of today's political debates.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mobility

Stephen Castles is the other half of one of the early seminal works on the politics of migration, The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. Listen to his public lecture here. The lecture neatly summarises the different aspects of migration, stressing a need for an interdisciplinary approach.
Crossing a national border may seem a simple enough act for an individual – a matter of course in a globalising world.

But it is actually part of one of the great dramas of our time: the contradiction between the national principle upon which the sovereignty of states is founded, and the transnational principle of global mobility.

States try to control flows of people – it is a vestige of sovereignty at a time when liberalised markets erode the power of states to regulate corporations, manage labour markets and maintain welfare states.

Employers, by contrast, want to draw freely on a global labour force. The states versus markets dilemma is escapable.

Where the policy-makers get it wrong, the result is irregular migration: 12 million irregular migrants in the USA, 3-7 million in Europe, over a million in Malaysia.

Irregularity suits some employers well, but means exploitation of workers, undermining of labour standards for competing local workers, and erosion of the rule of law.

States, however, are more concerned about supposed security threats through uncontrolled migration, economic inefficiency through survival of marginal firms, and the popular backlash against immigration.

Discourse on emigration in the Philippines is still very much framed through modern (i.e. nationalist) lenses. Every able-bodied, often well-educated, emigrant is seen as a national loss. While we may beat our chests over these perceived national losses, the globalisation of labour markets is, for the moment, inevitable (if not irreversible). When everything else has gone global - ideas, goods, patterns of consumption, culture and production, labour is perhaps the most problematic for both sending and receiving countries. Some problematics arise from issues of political identity, bounded by citizenship and its relationship with the nation-state, issues of international development and a globalised milieu of wealth-creation, issues of human rights protection and of justice.

The Philippine nation-state building project is still incomplete - and simultaneously it must find a way to deal with the postmodernising world in which it is perhaps irreversibly embedded.

The 2nd Global Forum on Migration and Development will be held in Manila on October. If it is open to the public, you might want to go.

Edited to add:

The Philippines, of course, has special mention. INTERESTING analysis and interpretation.

Asked whether he can cite instances of policy "success with" regard to migration, Castles responds: "The Philippines has had a mass emigration policy for years and years. It was started by the Marcos dictatorship deliberately to get rid of the forces of change, not to develop the country. With migration instead of development, I think it always has been in the Philippines."

Masculine/Feminine

Trawling the LSE's podcast section, I come across this interesting public lecture entitled "Modern Erotics and the Quest for Intimacy." If you're unafraid of looking in the dark, deep receses of your unconscious, you might want to take a listen. It is one thing to live our lives, and its another knowing how the mechanics unfold. Is all that we are and do merely motivated by a seething mass of unarticulated (maybe even suppressed) desires? It is quite freaky.

Some notes:

Henrietta Moore

New structures and character of 'femininity" - that we can 'have it all' and that its possible to 'have and be everything' - including the masculine.

New categories of young womanhood - celebrity figures. What is happening to the presentation of 'self' and of 'femininity'?

Different ways of being feminine:

1. Hyper-femininity - a way of managing and constructing oneself from consumerist sources of authority and judgment for young women - such as the fashion industry, styletto-pencil skirt wearing types

2. New version of the working girl - an educated, working woman assuming the dual set of responsibilities to the labour market and to the home.

3. The Phallic girl - involved in binge-drinking, may be involved in knifing event - aggressive and violent presentation of self and sexuality (the mean girl)

These forms of femininity are 'intensively managed' forms of femininity - in full compliance with governmentality - of policies about how women should be and their roles and duties in society.

The illusion of choice - that you can be any kind of woman you like.

What is happening to sexuality in the contemporary world? How is sexuality connected to different institutions and configurations of power - the family, the work place, the state? (INTERESTING)

Is this an era of 'Girl Power'? New forms of sexuality reforming its relationship with new patterns of consumption - of leisure.

(Glossies proliferating our magazine stands). Regulated by the language of being liberal, not being 'censorious.'

Fantasmatic relationships with social institutions.

The Phallic girl asserts her being 'equal' with men by exhibiting masculine attributes. The Phallic girl may have sexual relations with other girls - and at the same time claim she is not a lesbian. This suggests a shift in the object of choice - that sexual relations with other girls is merely leisure. Like a man, the Phallic girl can have other girls too.

Susie Orbach

The longing for intimacy is alive and well. They seek it in sexual relationships and in friendships.

Is desire in not having what you have? The arousal comes when they can't actually do it. They have the longings but not the capacity to follow through. Has desire become problematic? It gets cut off, repressed, and becomes overwhelming.

What we call 'falling in love' is intimacy - taking someone else into ourselves, a 'pyschic' connection. We expand ourselves, we change our dependencies, we change ourselves, we have a whole different relationship with ourselves and with the other.

Renata Salecl

The malaise of civilisation influences the malaise of the individual. What is the malaise of a society in the context of late capitalism?

Jacques Lacan - capitalism makes everything speed up, it creates a push to 'jouissance' or enjoyment. The proletarian is changed into the free consumer. Able to create himself as he chooses. Lacan pessimistically sees the free consumer in the end consuming himself.

The ideology of choice - that of sexuality and love. Top selling books on 'love' is focused on controlling the desire of the other. How to manipulate the other.

The idea of 'hooking up' has replaced dating (in studies of American students). Hooking up is an exercise of choice - of jouissance (enjoyment) without commitment. Hooking up allows women the illusion of equal status with men - in the sense that they can treat men as disposable objects in a similar way that they have been treated before.

Hook up is a masturbatory activity - with the other serving as a mere object for self-stimulation and enjoyment.

Researchers working in love, machines, robots and the internet - find that it is now possible for humans to have emotional relationships with their machines.

They take their machines as a life-meta. They shout at them, get angry at them etc. (INTERESTING)

Open Forum

Q: Is there a fundamental change in sexual relationships today (as compared to generations before?)

A: The only difference is that men and women are more forthcoming in their articulation of their desires.

A: Maybe sex has changed into becoming a commodity - something that must be produced and consumed, rather than an expression of emotion and intimacy.

A: A new enjoyment of prohibition - in times of the tyranny of choice (of too much choice).

Hear the rest here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Zen

For the couple of dozen of you who read my blog, thank you for coming with me on this journey. I apologise that my blog posts of late reflect my crisis of id. My emotional intelligence quotient has been failing me. I cannot self-diagnose and thus I cannot specify what is wrong.

I have resolved not to blog for a while. Writing used to be therapeutic. These days they serve to feed this crisis. However I will still endeavour to contribute to Filipino Voices. Thank you for bearing witness.



"If we try to block the stream or resist it, it will simply go around, without a pause, it will find its own way. This way is like a fallen leaf moving along in a stream. If you allow the stream to carry you, its strength becomes yours. You are one with nature. Without clinging, without attachment, leaving the past behind. Living in this moment..."

"...The search for self-realisaiton is powered by our anxieties and our fears which feed our ego, causing our frustration with our daily life. Selfishness, jealousy, anger, hate, which unconsciously serve to protect us. And in doing so, set us in opposition to everyone and everything. To awaken to this realisation is the practice of zen."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Koro

Paulit-ulit, paikot-ikot
Pilit na hinahabol
Ang puno't dulo
Mga tahi-tahing panaginip
Salansan ng mga anino
Kanino'ng palad
Kanino'ng anyo?
Gabing makinang
Lulan ng hagkan
Paulit-ulit, paikot-ikot
Sa'n ang dulo
Ng pising makislot
Ligaw ang amo
Hanapin, hanapin
Upang bigkisin
Ang natirang ningas
Sa kandila sa dilim
Gapusin, ihain
Palibutang mariin
Ang natitirang saysay
Sa kwentong matuling
Palusong sa parang
At doo'y magbibilang
Ng kung ilang ulit
Na lulubog, lilitaw
Ang buwan, ang araw
Paulit-ulit, paikot-ikot
Mga patak ng sandaling
Gumon sa mga hiyaw
Ng kaluluwang ligaw
Na naghahanap ng bukas
Na nagsimula na'ng nilagas
Ng kahapon
At ngayon
Paulit-ulit.
Paulit-ulit.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sylvia Plath - The Applicant



This is one of my favourites. Aren't you glad to have been born decades later than her? What it must have been like to be a woman then.

Upos

Itulog mo na lang kasi. O ikain. Hindi mapapawi ng hithit ng sigarilyo ang tawag ng kawalan. Ano ba'ng mainam na gamot sa 'yong karamdaman? Hindi mapakaling diwang naglalakbay, multong nagpaparoo't parito sa 'yong tahanan. Hindi mapawi ng ingay ng labas ang maigting na katahimikan sa 'yong kalooban. Kahit ano pa'ng panandaliang aliw, bakit hindi matakasan? Ano ba? Bakit mo kasi kinausap. Sinabi na'ng magtigil eh. Magtigil. Gumising ka na. Mamumuti ang mata mo sa kakahintay sa panaginip. Lintek na kamalayan. Bakit hindi magpirmi sa kasalukuyan? Sa ngayon, sa nandirito. Tama na'ng lakbay-diwa. Tama na.

Monday, June 16, 2008

China’s Grand Strategy: From Rule-taker to Rule-maker?

Here is the concluding section of my last paper. A paper which garnered a measly 69 percent - a credit. Either my professor did not understand what I wrote or she's afraid my implications may be right.

Belatedly, US officials have noted the country's financial insecurity vis-a-vis China. "We are so dependent upon decisions made in other countries' capitals" says Senator Hillary Clinton. In a discussion she had with a retired general, she was given the nightmare scenario of the PRC finally invading Taiwan with the US unable to defend the island because Beijing might well say "Fine. You do that, we will dump your dollars. We will flood the market. We will not buy any more of your debt (Mason 2008)."

The United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission cites as issues of concern China's trade surplus with the US. As of November 2007 this was at $163.8 billion. Its foreign currency reserves is at $1.43 trillion, 70 percent (or 1 trillion) of which are invested in dollar denominated assets, mostly in US sovereign and corporate bonds (USSC 2007).

As the US domestic economy falls into recession, China will have saved more than enough for the rainy days coming ahead and may be better able to weather the economic storm in its primary export market. The PRC will also have enough foreign reserves to continue importing vital commodities such as crude oil. And as the US dollar continues to fall in value, China may well decide to unload its holdings to switch to more stable currencies, such as the Euro. Various Chinese officials have already said as much (Fallows 2008). Because Chinese business interests are also state interests, any pronouncements of such kind are always treated as political threats. Former World Bank chief economist and US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has used the term 'balance of financial terror' echoing the nuclear stand-off between the Soviets and the US during the Cold War (Fallows 2008). If China does decide to unload its US dollars en masse, will it be shooting its own foot? In turn, how will the US react?

Due to the credit crunch brought on by the sub-prime crisis, Chinese financial institutions have also been taking advantage of the 'fire sale' in the heart of the American financial capital, acquiring shares in long-standing US financial institutions such as Blackstone and Morgan Stanley (Straszheim 2007). Meanwhile, the collapse of Bear Sterns, with which China’s Citic Securities had cross-investment deals to the tune of $1 billion, has been a learning experience for Chinese players to tread more cautiously. Nevertheless, China’s financial instruments will continue its global expansion (Zhao 2008).

In September last year, the PRC created the China Investment Corporation (CIC) to further venture into the weird, wired world of global capital markets. This new economic policy arm will take charge of China's gargantuan foreign currency reserves. European and American politicians have already expressed worry that the CIC will purchase shares in other countries’ sensitive industrial sectors - and may be used as political leverage in the future. The CIC’s chief risk officer quickly allayed any such suspicions by saying that “The claim that sovereign-wealth funds are causing threats to state security and economic security is groundless…We don't need outsiders to come tell us how we should act (WSJ 2008).”

Given such patterns it is apparent that China is well on its way to flexing its financial muscles and has been successful at playing the high finance game. One would think that the PRC has been taking pointers from Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations – that the path to global leadership and power entails owning and operating the international banking system, controlling hard currencies and dominating international capital markets (2002).

Liquid, Liquefied and the Diaspora to the Rescue

Emmanuel of IPE Zone points the massive outflow of portfolio investments from the Philippines this month. He hearkens it to the Asian financial crisis of 1997. To 'counter' the net exit of hot money, the Filipino Diaspora tops last year's first quarter record by 14.5 percent. It is amazing to me how the multitude of Filipinos labouring overseas - unnamed and unmobilised, can nevertheless mount a unified response. Imagine the thousands of phone calls from family coursing through networks of telecommunications all over the globe. A mother complaining about the soaring prices of food at the palengke. A brother asking his kuya to send 10 percent more for his tuition this June. Buffeted by formless enemies, the Diaspora, just as formless, comes to the rescue.


For a backgrounder on the 21st century's 'Casino Capitalism', read:
Taming Capitalism
Dependency, Debt and the End of Resistance

Also, Kenneth Surin's explanation, written a decade ago, is just as salient today.

"Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labour-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face "No admittance except on business." Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced. We shall at last force the secret of profit making (Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Vol. 1.)"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Filipino Voices

I have been officially welcomed to Filipino Voices - a virtual watering hole for concerned citizens of this country. Many thanks to Nick, our administator.

Now I just have to find my writing mojo.

I Heart Hagner!

Speaking of doggies, here is the latest progeny of my dog Rune. This mutt looks just like his mum...except for the his colouring. Presenting...Hagner. Hag-hag for short. Nyahaha.




Photos by the best cinematographer I know, Pelikula76.

See also:
Puppy Love

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Self-Love

A clip from one of the first great postmodern auteurs Richard Linklater - Before Sunrise.



Jesse: "Well, I kind of see love as, uh, this escape for two people who don't know how to be alone, you know? Or, I mean, you know, it's funny. People always talk about how love is totally unselfish, giving thing, but if you think about it, there's nothing more selfish."
----

Indeed. What can be more self-reflexive than falling in love? Is there some truth to those theories in psychology that say we are attracted to people whose qualities we admire? That is, qualities we value in ourselves. Subconsciously we fall in love with people who mirror us. If not, we are attracted to people who are our exact opposite - in which case we chose them because they complement us. They have something we covet, something we wish to have by simple proximity. Who was it who said that there is an instantaneous kindling of 'interest' in someone whom we know is attracted to us? We grow attracted because the notion that someone finds us desirable makes us feel good - a valuation of self .

Even the kind of love that is not romantic - the attachment we feel for friends and family for example, are susceptible to marketisation. How many parents see their children as embodiment of their lives' investments? Don't our parents expect a 'return' from us once they retire and once we finally join the labour force? Increasingly as we grow older, don't we see friends and acquaintances as potential networks with which we may advance ourselves in some way? Are we today constantly making rational calculations as we relate to other people?

I would like to go back to my youth. When my parents were sources of unconditional love, when friends were snot-nosed playmates interested only in a loud and rambunctious game of patintero and when romantic love was, well, felt more in the gut rather than the head. I can only think of one example of an irrational, totally innocent kind of love these days - that of and for my dog.

See also:
Of Postmodern Sex

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Why I Heart PoMo

Discovery of the day - Donald Mackenzie, a scholar who specialises in the social science of finance. Wow there is such a thing. Here is where the hard science that is applied mathematics bleeds into the human science that is sociology. For example this essay entitled "The Material Production of Virtuality: Innovation, Cultural Geography, and Facticity in Derivatives Markets" has me itching to consult my best friend who has an MS in Finance, just to cut through the jargon.

I have been obssessed with the political economy of debt since the 1997 Asian financial crisis - mainly because it spelled the beginning of the end for this country. In my old discipline, so preoccupied with 'security', threats are always seen as physical. But for an archipelagic nation with no national enemies (i.e. other sovereign countries), our biggest external worries are the intangibles - things we cannot mount an army against to exterminate. Soaring prices of basic commodities, financial turmoil etc. etc.

Oil prices go up almost every day now. Last I checked it was P55. Tomorrow will it be P56? Jeff Frankel explains the sharp rise of agricultural and mineral commodities due to low interest rates which in turn encourages speculation.

Here Frankel outlines the ways in which low interest rates drive prices up - low interest rates increase tendecies to hoard storable commodities (i.e. oil), and decrease incentive to produce today - speculating that prices will increase tomorrow. Frankel then suggests that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is a major hoarder - keeping production to 12.5 mbpd in the forseeable future, i.e. hoarding his Kingdom's oil underground. The monarch's quotable quote: "I keep no secret from you that when there were some new finds, I told them: ‘No, leave it in the ground, with grace from God, our children need it’." Now who can argue against his logic? Flashback to a snippet of a conversation I had with a Kuwaiti I met in Bond, who kept harping on the GCC's 'oil weapon.'

Butch has twice asked me why I thought oil prices were going berserk. In the modern old world prices are determined by supply and demand. But here is an excellent example of how today's weird world of high finanance - conducted entirely in complicated maths and in virtuality - is nevertheless causing real-world misery.

See also:

Third World Financial Crises

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Haloscan Gedemmit

I have solved the mystery of my missing header whenever I try to install haloscan on this new blogger system. I have my 1,415 comments of the past five years back! Apologies to those whose comments were lost in the past five months. Now the only problem is I can't seem to fix the damn header image - it keeps on spilling out of the damn border on the right. Any ideas?

ETA:

Nevermind. I fixed it. Yay!

Wolves and their Flock

La Gloria is scheduled to meet El Dubya on the 24th of this month to discussion cooperation "on a broad range of areas, including ASEAN, Burma, counter-terrorism, defense reform, food security, and regional economic integration." Perhaps they will do an 'accounting' on Bush's war on terrorism front in the south. We are after all the largest recipient of US military aid in Asia since 9/11. Maybe El Dubya will ask her about her special relationship with China recently. Maybe they will play golf. In the meanwhile, big-name journalist Ces Drilon's kidnapping by the ASG sort of flies right smack in the face of these joint military efforts of the past few years. I do wonder at the timing. Maybe certain elements of the armed forces - the same ones who sell ammo to the enemy - informed the ASG in advance. Makes the case that our generals need more funding.

Read also:
A Tale of Two Letters
The Biznez of War
Why It Sucks to be a Filipino Muslim
Rape, Hypermasculinity and Philippine-American Relations

Monday, June 09, 2008

Angst

It is one thing to read about an acadamic piece as the excerpt below, it is another knowing that we are living it. Because I spent sixteen months without ads hounding me every time I leave the sanctuary of my home, I now feel oppressed by billboards and signs that cover every imaginable space in the city.

Manila is tarpaulin heaven.

Ha. Anyway, here it is, a (quasi) public good provided by moi, for your private consumption.


Globalisation, Class, Consumption and Civil Society in South-east Asian Cities by John Clammer Urban Studies, 40(2), pp 403-419, 2003

In Manila and other large Philippine cities, some analysts suggest that the middle class has diluted the old exclusive elites, but in doing so has moved from its orginal demands for political and economic democratisation to demands for public goods,
especially education...

This 'new urban enivronment' is their natural milieu. They wear ready-made clothing, eat in fastfood outlets, read fasion magazines and organise their lives around consumption. The public domain to such people increasingly seems a boring rrelevance, filled either with problems (the urban poor, crime) or with political venality and quite beyond their control. An enclave mentality is the result, with not only the elites but also the new middle classes effectively opting out of the public shpere which, as a result, degenerates even further...

To understand the nature of public space and the role of the new middle classes within it, attention then needs to be directed to three factors.

The first is clearly the economic - the productive forces that have given rise to this class, its position within the total economic constellation of each society (the co-existence of an affluent urban middle class with extensive and rising urban poverty) and its economic links to and dependency on the state, the corporate world and indeed on international capitalism.

The second is the political, and in particular the tendency of the mass of the new middle classes to support authoritarian regimes in the interests of their own stability and reception of public goods.

The third is cultural and involves both the ethnograpy of the emerging cultures of the middle classes...and a critical perspective on that culture, especially insofar as it is largely a culture of consumption and of highly selective participation in any wider public or collective culture.

...Much of civil society is indeed of middle-class creation in south-east Asia as elsewhere. However it is precisely this middle-class sector that is most susceptible to political co-option and manipulation by the state, given its own demands for expanding public goods rather than public culture or public spaces.

Ascribing the lack of vitality of civil society simply to some reified 'middle class' and its lack of political aspirations in any wide sense is clearly inadequate, since it only provides a weak account of why such politicisation is diminished amongst the middle classes when it is often high amongst the underclasses.

Anthony Giddens has argued that the basis of depoliticisation is not economic or social threat, but changes in the conception of the self in 'late modern' society, eventuating in the abandonment of public politics...and the corresponding rise of 'life politics.' For Giddens, this situation is a situation particular to the (over)developed world in which a form of socially sanctioned narcissism (concerned with self-identity and fuelled by consumption) drives out wider issues.


The moral of the story? Resistance is futile. Do not fight the power. It is ultimately useless. Know your place. Do your duty - work and consume. There is only one true path to happiness - our gigantic malls.

Mantra for the Rest of the Year....

Conceptual Innovation

+

Methodological Rigour

+

Rich, Substantive Content


Thank you for the tip Mssrs. Przeworski and Salomon.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Weird Wired World

Over coffee and cake, my little brother's eyes light up as he waxes poetic about his internet shop and gaming. There is a real underworld of zombie players, from little babies to full grown adults, who answer to the siren call of joints like his. For the life of me I still cannot quite understand the attraction. I was never into gaming, the closest I got to addiction was playing the Sims, and I didn't really even play - I just liked building, designing and decorating houses.

Apparently this little underworld is a lifestyle of sorts. He jokingly talks about the cult which often congregates in the shop across his. The players who come to his place come in groups. It is a social thing - this gaming. Where before boys congregate in the plazas to play basketball, socialise and test their mettle as young men, these days they battle it out in front of flickering screens.

I have been witness to this ritualistic behaviour. It is rarely ever quiet, with a lot of good-natured heckling. There is an entire generation of young people out there whose idea of leisure involve hand-eye coordination and tremendous cognitive mapping skills. The popularity of online gaming is such that it has spawned a real industry. I still can't quite wrap my head around the fact that the virtual economies of games like DotA have spilled into reality. The fact that someone will actually shell out real money to purchase a virtual sword to be used in a virtual world is mind-boggling. I noted the same bizarre thing when I tried to send a virtual gift to a friend the other day on Facebook. The pink birthday cake cost $1 dollar. I thought the price tag was just there for kicks. Imagine my surprise when, upon clicking on the image, I am prompted for my credit card details.

Like the fuzzy world of high finance, there is real value created in the virtual. In the case of Facebook, the $1 dollar birthday cake's value rests not on its utility but on its representation. It carries with it symbolic value - a code that lets the receiver of the gift know that the sender values their friendship. The difference between 'real' gifts and the Facebook cake is that the entire set of friends networked around the two also know of this symbolic gesture. Oddly these kinds of symbolic exchanges mirror pre-modern practices. For example Papua New Guinean tribes' highly ritualistic pig festivals - from the animal's slaughter, preparation, cooking and finally how it is eaten - communicate to the entire tribe a multitude of things. It serves to emphasise hierarchy by apportioning the best parts to the perceived most powerful member of the tribe and worst bits to the least important. It serves to reaffirm kinship ties between and among members - kinships which are almost always based on real economic ties. In today's weird wired world, the same principles still operate. Symbolic exchange is still embedded in real economic losses and gains.

Apparently betting is quite popular in gaming. Throughout the years my little brother has invested quite a lot of his lunch money (and I suspect a number of his "lost" cellphones) in practice playing and bets. The Philippine gaming industry is not yet as developed as South Korea's - which can actually support professional gamers. I have heard of cases where there are actual fights and fatal injuries where players are unable to cough up the money.

My brother talked about hackers inflitrating RF online and infecting its entire virtual economy. When he launched into technobabble (something about .dlls and .tlls or some such thingamajiggy), I was obviously lost in translation. Apparently this hacker (or hackers) opened up a discussion board somewhere and leaked the holes in the game. He said he suspects this guy (or guys) may be seeking employment in the same company that runs the game as a security person. How anyone can secure employment by keying in codes is almost mystical to me.

I suppose just as mystical is achieving rockstardom via YouTube (hat tip to Butch). First was Charice Pempengco. Now here is Arnel Pineda's 'journey' told on CBS' morning news:



On the way home from our jog this morning we saw a bright bold sign on one of the corner stores. Along with the requisite tingi-tingi goods sold in the sari-sari, they now sell mp3s at 2 Pesos per song.

French Film Fest 2008

The foreign film fest season has begun. From this month all the way to December, denizens of the city will be treated to films they will usually only encounter at their friendly neighbourhood pirate. See the French offerings and screening schedule at the Alliance website. Hopefully its still free! They will also be screening Brillante Mendoza's Serbis. Hopefully no cuts.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Recuperation of the Filipino National Consciousness

National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario, aka Rio Alma, will deliver a lecture about literature and its primary role in the formation of Filipino identity titled "Reklamasyon ng Pambansang Gunita," (Recuperation of the Filipino National Consciousness). This will be held on June 7, 2008 at 1:30 pm in Room 201 of the College of Arts and Letters in UP Diliman.

Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA) sponsors the lecture as an opening event of its annual poetry workshop. LIRA, an organization of poets in Filipino, was established in 1985 and has produced respected poets like Michael Coroza, Jerry Gracio, Roberto and Rebecca Añonuevo, and Vim Nadera.

This lecture is open to the public. For details, contact En Villasis at 09224596365 or visit http://liraonline.org.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Why Do Some Countries Remain Poor While Others Grow Rich?

This is a question that has never stopped nagging me since the very first time I left this country eleven years ago. It is one thing seeing it on television growing up, it is another being in the First World yourself. Explanations by the likes of F. Sionil Jose - which basically say we are poor because of our culture - is simply unsatisfactory. Being a materialist, I believe culture (i.e ways of doing) is fundamentally determined by the material circumstances (i.e. the environment). The question of whether culture produces reality or reality culture is something that I have agonised over for quite a while now.

See:

Are We Poor Because We're Lazy or Lazy Because We're Poor?
In a Wowowee State of Mind
The Philippines as Open Pussy Country?
Excising Cinderella, Maria Clara and Inang Maria From Our Minds
AbsurdiTV

In explaining poverty I prefer being a materialist. In getting this politico-socio-economic unit out of poverty I prefer not being overly deterministic (i.e. we can still make choices that are not necessarily constrained by the economic).

Here is Dani Rodrik, an author I have only read, not heard or seen, delivering a short presentation that attempts to answer this question. I am surprised at how unassuming the man is. And how humble.



In the end its simple. Get the economics and politics right. And culture? Ah. Its probably that sticky, gooey glue that is lodged in between.

Outline:

1. Global income distribution
2. Decomposing global income inequalities to within - and between-countries components
3. Understanding why some countries produce so much more output per worker than others

Important points:

"Would you rather be rich in a poor country or poor in a rich country?"

- Most of Rodrik's students would rather be rich in a poor country. But in actuality, the poor in a rich country are better off.

- World inequality has gone from almost exclusively a "within" country to mostly "an "across" country phenomena.

- What produces GDP per worker?
a) factor endowments - natural resources, people
b) "efficiency factor" - how these endowments are organised in a society

a+b = total factor productivity

What accounts for the differences across countries? Factor endowments or Efficiency?

Illustration: Turkey vs. US factor productivity. Turkish factor productivity is only 1/3 of US. Why?

- Economic Dualism in Turkey: a modern industrial sector (high productivity) and a traditional agricultural sector (low productivity)

What are the social and structural bottlenecks that keep the two sectors from closing the gap in productivity?

a) Poor institutional environment - government effectiveness, political stability, over-all, regulatory mechanisms, "rule of law" (i.e. predictable, consistent) (the organisation of society)

b) Macroeconomic instability and overvalued currency - an overvalued currency tends to lower labour productivity. An environment with a competitive (i.e. low) currency value tends to move labour and capital to the more productive parts of the economy.

c) "Innovation" doesn't necessarily mean heavy investments in R&D. Innovation in a middle income country is success in removing the impediments to the structural transformation of the country.

----

What needs to be done is to organise society in a such a way that maximises wealth production per person - this is the economic part. How to do this 'organisation' is fundamentally political and bounded by our culture.

Oh. And I will take Rodrik's explanation over Jose's any day.

Refreshed

I went to UP today, to have a couple of things done at the shopping centre, and to have some isaw with Butch. I always feel good whenever I pass through. There were plenty of students walking around campus. It's probably reg week. I had never noticed before, but amazingly UP students look exactly the same a decade ago. Its not the uniform t-shirt and jeans they throw on carelessly. Its not the little details - funky earrings, a loud hairdo, and an occasional tattoo. Its not the walk that screams "I don't care, but I'm cool and I know I'm smarter than you ." Its not the walk that screams angas. Its the look on their faces. Its pride. This is perhaps the most priceless thing I took away from this university. Regardless of background, class or creed, UP instills in each and every one of its students pride. And its a pride earned entirely through merit. To my alma mater - a happy centenary.

Reality Bites

Nightdreamer twits, "What are most lives but a series of incomplete episodes?" What a postmodern thing to say. I've heard it all before. "This is the end of the season, you will meet a new set of characters." We are the children of this mediatised age. We make references to songs, to films, to television - forms of media that reflect to us our reality. Do we really live lives of fiction? Are we but characters in our scripts? That to me is a frightening prospect. For who writes the script?

I caught a nihilist bug in Australia. The set of values associated with that is woefully inadequate for survival in a still modernising Philippines. We cannot afford anomie just yet. To survive in this country - we need to convince ourselves there is something to hope for. To hope means believing in the future. To hope means believing that our actions matter, that there is progress, that we move forward.

Hunger is frighteningly real. My car's gasoline bills are frighteningly real. Grocery bills are frighteningly real. Inflation is frighteningly real. To give up that we cannot do anything to ease tha pain in our wallets, to give up that we have any say at all about what happens to our lives, is to concede that all we are are sheep - fed, fattened and readied for the slaughter.

I didn't like the nihilist I found in me. She was a selfish, unhappy little bitch.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Well

Its amazing
The rope is unspooling
So spectacularly
The narrative has left
Inexpressible regret
Inexpressible and yet
The song in words remains
Rhyme, rhyme, sing, sing
There is no escaping
No comfort in drink
Or smoke
Or love
Where is the bottom?
It didn't used to be this deep
When will I hit it?

Sidestepper - Deja



Monday, June 02, 2008

Sleep

Shed skin tonight
Leave nothing but bone
Peel each layer with abandon
Look deep, fear not
Lick those wounds tonight
Remember the flavour
The sweet, the bitter
The fiercely tender
Longing, malingering
Abandon hope tonight
Anticipate the scars
There will be no saviour
No solace, no surcease
No more, no más
No stopping fracture tonight
The end is no closer
The end is none sooner
The end is no clearer
Shut those eyes
Take leave of senses
Abandon the waking
Dream of sleep tonight
Dream of sleep.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Muse

Memory soothes the senses
Balm on cracked lips
On a dry day
On a dry spell
On a dreary blinding morning
Memory forgives sins
Of lost chances
Of failed attempts
At fancy plans and ordered moments
Extraordinarily brief
A little box of snippets
Of a most precious communion
Of a passing of time
In double vision
Twice as clear
Twice as muddled
Sharply drawn charcoal lines
In swimming technicolour motion
Memory mourns joy
In the precious few seconds
Of a clear bright blue sky
A brave face to the horizon
Memory borrows sorrow
In return, the ordinary
In return, the simple act
Of drawing breath again tomorrow.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP

I fell in love with Karen O in that MTV performance of Maps. Here is "Isis" from their latest EP Is Is. Enjoy.