Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Interesting articles of note #4

Ever wonder why most comedians are male? Well, because men are funnier than women. And they better be. Christopher Hitchens writes.

Aside from her obvious charms, I knew there were other reasons why I like Beyonce so much. And here's more reason not to like Paris Hilton.

Speaking of Paris, the French openly vilify the sins of capitalism and yet, secretly offer sacrifices to its altar.

Know your sociopaths from psychopaths here.

And the New York Times released its 6th Annual Year in Ideas:

If you like watching UFC and you're a straight female, its probably because you get your rocks off two half naked men "wrestling" each other. Here's to Sporno.

Ah, the prophets of postmodernity seem right on target, from The Matrix to the hive mind of Wikipedia, welcome Digital Maoism.

Oh this one is brilliant. The CIA fashions a Ziggurat of Zealotry to classify Muslims' potential for terrorism.

Dr. James Wilson once told his best friend Dr. Gregory House, "You need to be kind to people, because you need people." Altruism, or being kind when you don't need to, is ultimately self-serving. If creatures on Earth compete to survive, then why do numerous species sacrifice themselves for others? In the end, it's to ensure the group's survival.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

While We Were Sleeping

In the dead of the night our (mis)representatives have effectively decided to crown themselves (dis)members of a soon-to-be parliamentary government. Crickets were witness to vote-buying among our (dis)honorables.

Newsbreak outlines the plan of action upon transition and other proposals to amend our 1987 constitution:

* President Arroyo will nominate the interim prime minister. The lawmakers, with Vice President De Castro presiding, will “elect” the one nominated by the President. (This is a major point of contention among administration congressmen who are against De Venecia.)

* Despite the shift in the form of government, President Arroyo will retain her powers under a presidential setup until June 30, 2010. She, however, “may delegate” to her nominated prime minister “powers over the Cabinet.”

* At least 10 Cabinet members will be given seats in the interim parliament.

* If the President appoints a lawmaker to the Cabinet, the latter will not lose his or her seat in the interim parliament.

The highlights of the proposed amendments in the section concerning the Legislative Department are:

* Members of the parliament will no longer be representing geo-political districts but constituencies of 300,000 residents each.

* Partylist representatives won’t have to come solely from so-called marginalized sectors. They can be part of any registered national, regional, or political parties or organizations. (This returns the party list system to the original concept provided by the 1987 Constitution and the Party List Law, but which the Supreme Court re-defined in a 2001 decision.)

* The prime minister will be elected by members of the parliament from among themselves (as opposed to the interim PM that President Arroyo will merely nominate.)

* By a vote of two-thirds, the parliament will have the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war. (This does away with the provision in the 1987 Constitution that the Supreme Court has the power to review such declaration by the legislature.)

A parliament with the combined powers of the legislative and the executive. The concentration of power in a single body in government. Th possibility of (self)serving office in perpetuity. An electorate that doesn't know what a parliament looks like. A people largely unaware of their democratic rights and duties. Goons more than willing to take advantage. Good luck to us all.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rape, Hypermasculinity and Philippine-American Relations

When I woke up this morning to pick up our copy of the Inquirer from the garage floor where the newspaper man regularly throws it every day, I was pleasantly shocked by the headline; 40 Years in Jail for Smith. I was 99% sure that no American soldier would be convicted yesterday. Not because I doubted “Nicole’s” story, but because the idea of an American being pronounced guilty and serving time in our jails just seemed incredible. After all, my doubt stems from historical experience. As far as our country’s relations with the United States are concerned, we are almost always at the losing end.

When the trials began six months ago, we all knew this was no mere trial of a woman wronged. Nicole’s story is our story. Her fascination with the American soldiers, her friendship with Christopher James Mills, her seduction by these good-looking young men and her ultimate downfall.

All sorts our discourses weave their way into this rape case. The discourse of gender relations, of American militarism, of post-colonial relations, of hypermasculinity and violence.

In the early weeks of the trial, Nicole’s character was as much on trial as the accused. Had she been a prostitute? And if so, did she deserve to be raped? Was it an unavoidable hazard of her “profession?” Even if she was not a sex worker, what did she expect from drinking and dancing with these Joes? The implication that she provoked her assault in the back of that van underlies a certain view of masculinity, one that sees the male as a sexual predator, a slave to his base desires. The female is seen as the passive recipient of the male’s seduction. He proves his masculinity to himself and to his peers by subduing and conquering the woman. A woman who inflames such a desire must yield or suffer the consequences. As the expression goes, an erect penis knows no conscience. We all acknowledge that such behavior literally belongs to the Stone Age, and yet, the attack on the plaintiff’s character is almost always used as a tactic by defendants in rape cases.

The fact that the defendants are American servicemen adds yet another discourse to this story. The United States spent $400 billion this year on defense, the highest in the world and roughly equivalent to the next 15 countries combined. Militarily, it is the most powerful nation on Earth. Military might has traditionally been linked to international relations. In fact, the discipline of IR, barely a hundred years old, has been, for the most part, concerned with war. And wars are fought by men. Women have no place in warfare. They are relegated to the sidelines, presumed safe and shielded from the horrors of severed limbs and blown-up faces. It doesn’t matter that in truth, more people die of economic causes; poverty, starvation, easily-preventable diseases. But men must have their wars and their weapons of destruction. They must have these awesome displays of masculinity. Who has the biggest and most explosive gun? Who can stand the most pain? Who has no qualms to commit violence in the name of the “Motherland,” that symbol of femininity left safe at home?

No doubt, today the United States has the largest penis of all. This penis knows no conscience. It is confident in its subjugation and conquest of others. What it cannot take by wooing and soft words, it takes by force. Such is the story of American imperialism from turn of the 20th century to today.

Was Nicole completely faultless? Did she know she was courting danger by having a few drinks and dancing with these killing machines? Could her rape have been avoided had she behaved more prudently? Had she been born elsewhere, had she not grown up in our post-colonial context with our post-colonial mental maps, then perhaps she would not have consorted with these men. Ours is a story of seduction and false promises. Our culture today is replete with evidence of surrendering to the seduction of a “superior” race. Our indoctrination in the early days has been: All things American is what you little brown brothers must aspire for. American education, government, culture, the American way of life. We are but extensions of the original. The Eve to his Adam.

Was it Nicole’s fault to find these GIs, the baby-faced Smith, seductive? Her mental map dictates that his Caucasian features are attractive and that his twang is adorable. Her mental map dictates the desirability of marrying an American GI, or any Caucasian foreigner for that matter. Like so many of the other girls in the provinces whose mental maps and parents dictate that their only option out of abject poverty and destitution is to marry or prostitute themselves to the seduction of a better life “abroad.”

For the first time in history, the American ambassador is a woman. She hosts cultural events and attends basketball tournaments. She is an attempt to soften the face of the US in the Philippines. She is cordial, smiles a lot and likes to take photos with kids.

Yesterday the US embassy had this to say about the guilty verdict:

The U.S. Embassy notes the decision of the Philippines court in the case of the four U.S. service members accused of involvement in the alleged rape of a Filipina citizen on November 1, 2005.

With their acquittal on criminal charges, Carpentier, Duplantis and Silkwood will return directly to their military unit. Their Commander will now take action regarding the completion of the U.S. military's own investigation of this case. The U.S. will continue to abide by the Visiting Forces Agreement through the completion of all judicial proceedings, including any appeals.

This has been a difficult and emotional matter for all involved, and for their families and friends. The U.S. Government has adhered throughout to the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which provides the framework for U.S.-Philippines cooperation on legal cases involving U.S. service members.

Just now as I write this, the breaking news on Inquirer states the US' formal request to seek custody of Smith. The fight continues.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Humans and Nature

As I sit here inundated with images of people victimized by typhoon Reming, I wonder how many of the casualties and destruction to property could have been prevented. Were these people aware of the danger they were in? Did they not think of evacuating to some place safer? Were they not warned? And if so, did they pay heed? Or did they opt to take their chances with nature, fatalistically crossing their fingers and themselves, hoping for the best?

The Bicol region is no stranger to the caprice of nature. It is often the entryway of many typhoons. Have they not devised emergency measures to mitigate the effects of such calamities in the past few decades? Storm after storm, the TV networks chronicle the same results; people killed senselessly and infrastructure and agriculture destroyed.

The incidence of poverty in this country seems to coincide with the perennial path of these forces of nature. In the 2000 Poverty Estimate of the National Statistical Coordination Board, these regions are included in the 44 poorest provinces in the Philippines.

Region IV: Marinduque, Quezon, Romblon, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro
Region V: Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate, Sorsogon
Region VI: Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Negros Occidental
Region VI: Bohol
Region VIII: Biliran, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Western Samar, Leyte

Fatalism, is a means to adapt to things beyond human control, things like earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, volcano eruptions and typhoons. Fatalism implies living in constant fear of nature. Nature is seen as both provided and destroyer. Its vagaries cannot be understood rationally and so one must learn to live with its desires.

Our people have all sorts of customs and ceremonies in relation to the environment. Often it seems that we plead with it. We pray for rain, we pray for sunshine. We pray for good harvest. We offer sacrifice to nature’s gods. We see ourselves as an integral part of our environment, a decidedly pre-modern view of nature that seems to persist even today.

One of the prerequisites of the march to modernity is Science. Science destroys humanity’s organic relations to nature. Nature is objectified. It is a thing, separate from us human beings. If it seen as an object, then it may be manipulated to suit our purposes. It can be poked and prodded and tamed. With the advent of the sciences, human beings no longer lived in fear of nature, mystified by its seemingly irrational manifestations. The history of capitalism itself is the history of man’s mastery of his environment. Curiously, in other places in the world where capitalism threatens to stretch the limits of nature, people gone back to espousing “environmentalism” and green politics.

If poverty is caused by fatalism which is caused by pre-modern views of the natural world, then what can be done to end poverty in these provinces?

Of course we cannot claim that fatalism and backward notions of nature are the only factors to be considered. There are many others. But culturally, fatalism certainly explains how tragedies wrought by Milenyo and Reming keep occurring in the same provinces year in, year out. Fatalism also explains many other things.

Now flash these images of people pleading for help from their families elsewhere, their families abroad, the local and national government. These TV networks seem to maliciously underline their abject helplessness and we are enjoined to help. As the montage of cadavers, ruined houses and lives unfold, one wonders when calamities such as these will cease making sensational journalism and sensational TV.