Monthly Archives: April 2009

N-words

Nigger is the N-word. It is politically incorrect to mention it. It is an unpopular term. There is another N-word today: nationalization. Before I proceed, let me first write about other political terms which start with the letter-N. Remember the post about the R-words?

NA – Nursing Association. Most of the Registered Nurses of the Philippines are working abroad. There are many Filipino Nursing Associations outside the country. Alumni gatherings are held in countries where there is a large concentration of Filipinos. UP Alumni groups pa lang eh, napakarami na sa Tate. The United States employs thousands of Filipino nurses, both young and old. Thus it is no longer surprising to hear reports of Nepalese health practitioners who are hired by provincial hospitals to work in the Philippines. We need to import doctors and nurses already.

NB – National Broadband Network. National Broadcasting Network. Noise Barrage. The NBN-ZTE was a controversial project of the Arroyo administration. The project’s objective was noble but it was tainted with corruption. It was later cancelled to minimize public outcry. It cost the political fortunes of Ben Abalos and Romulo Neri. The scandal also produced star witnesses: Joey de Venecia and Jun Lozada.

The NBN channel is a government-run TV station. It used to be known as PTV-4. It only run shows which are not critical to the administration. Only politicians and their few hirelings loyally and reluctantly watch NBN. Some Filipinos watch it to view Lotto results. Sino ang nanonood ng Dial M ni Manoling Morato? Aminin. NBN gives public broadcasting a bad name.

The most famous Noise Barrage protest action in the Philippines took place in 1978. The metro-wide noise barrage demonstrated the widespread resistance to the Marcos regime. Noise barrage actions are still effective today.

NCEE – National College Entrance Examination. Hindi ko na ito inabot. My batchmates took NSAT or National Secondary Achievement Test. During college I wrote a paper criticizing standardized examinations. I still believe that standard tests are inaccurate and unnecessary indicators of learning. Once upon a time I was an advocate of the “de-schooling society” movement.

ND – National Democracy. Those who struggle for national democracy (with a socialist perspective) are called Natdems or ND for short. Natdems are revolutionists. Natdems are Maoists. The ND movement remains an important political force in the country. It is the most consistent and formidable alternative and moral force for change in the Philippines. Others are just noisy derivatives.

NGO – Most of them are peopled by genuine and educated idealists. Many of them are sincere activists. Unfortunately, there are NGOs which are established mainly to tap the funds of big foundations or to defeat the organized party of the working classes. David Harvey warns about depending too much on NGOs:

“The NGOs have in many instances stepped into the vacuum in social provision left by the withdrawal of the state from such activities. This amounts to privatization by NGO. In some instances this has helped accelerate further state withdrawal from social provision. NGOs thereby function as ‘Trojan horses for global neoliberalism’.”

Arundhati Roy delivers the same warning about the “NGO-ization of resistance”:

“NGOs give the impression that they are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right.

“They alter the public psyche. They turn people into dependent victims and blunt the edges of political resistance. NGOs form a sort of buffer between the sarkar and public. Between Empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.

“In the long run, NGOs are accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among.

“NGOs have funds that can employ local people who might otherwise be activists in resistance movements, but now can feel they are doing some immediate, creative good (and earning a living while they’re at it). Real political resistance offers no such short cuts.

“The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in. Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary.”

Nu – Nuclear energy is a hot topic again in the Philippines because of the proposal to revive the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. I’m now convinced that it is not wise to build nuclear power plants in the Philippines, which is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Instead, the government should build more windmills, and geothermal and hydroelectric power plants. Convert BNPP into a tourist attraction, or a science complex.

Other Southeast Asian countries are also planning to build nuclear power plants. Elsewhere in the region, North Korea has successfully launched a long-range rocket a few weeks ago. Ominous signs of troubled times? Countries willing to adopt nuclear technology in anticipation of oil price surges? Nuclear energy to slow down global warming? Nuclear missiles in preparation for poverty and recession wars in the world? Am I too gloomy?

Nationalization – I refer to the proposal of prominent U.S. economists to nationalize “zombie banks.” It seems the term nationalization is getting more popular today. Some neoliberal economists insist that the proposal to nationalize financial institutions is “not Bolshevik but pragmatic” approach to deal with the economy that is “near depression.” Tingnan ninyo, sila (kayo) rin pala ang magpapanukala ng nasyonalisasyon.

Another aspect of the current N-word is related to the protectionist measures included in the stimulus plans of several countries. Buy America. Buy Malaysia. Buy _____________ fill-in-the-blanks protectionism. Before, economists are allergic to trade protection proposals. Today, they can’t resist suggesting these “unorthodox” measures.

Ang masasabi ko lang: Pula, pula ang kinabukasan. Sa mga nagdududa, kayo ay, ika nga ni dating Bise Presidente Spiro T. Agnew ng Estados Unidos, mga "nattering nabobs of negativism". Uy, panay N-words yun ha.

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Thailand’s “colored” protesters

Red shirts. Yellow shirts. Blue Shirts. Pink Shirts. White Shirts. Orange Shirts. Purple Shirts. Black Shirts. Be careful what you wear in Thailand today because your politics are determined by the color of your shirt. One writer suggests that tourists should wear floral shirts in Thailand in order not to be identified with any of the political forces there.

The two main conflicting groups are the Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts. The Yellow Shirts belong to the People’s Alliance for Democracy while the Red Shirts are supporters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. The Yellow Shirts are consistent critics of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted from power in a 2006 coup. Most of the Red Shirts are supporters of Thaksin.

The Yellow Shirts adopted the color yellow as their protest color in honor of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the most revered figure in Thailand. But it doesn’t mean the Red Shirts are opposed to the king. The Red Shirts are also not leftists. They adopted the color red just to differentiate themselves from the Yellow Shirts.

The Yellow Shirts accused two prime ministers last year of being puppets of Thaksin. To force change in government, the Yellow Shirts organized provocative street actions last August. They occupied the Government House for several months. They shut down Bangkok’s major airports last December, which crippled travel in the country. The Yellow Shirts agreed to end their protests when a court order disqualified allies of Thaksin from running for public office again.

A few days after the Yellow Shirts declared victory, the Red Shirts began to organize their own street actions. The Red Shirts became anti-government protesters while the Yellow Shirts quietly supported the new government.

The Red Shirts have been effectively replicating the tactics of the Yellow Shirts. The Red Shirts also occupied the Government House a few weeks ago. They were able to gather tens of thousands of protesters in Bangkok. The protesters claim they mobilized 100,000 people on April 8. They were supported by taxi drivers, who used their cars to block traffic at Victory Monument, a busy intersection in Bangkok. During the rallies, Thaksin has been addressing his supporters through a video phone.

The Red Shirts succeeded in forcing the cancellation of a major ASEAN Summit in Pattaya which embarrassed incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. There is now a state of emergency in Bangkok, but the Red Shirts are defiant.

If the Bangkok airport shutdown clinched the victory for the Yellow Shirts, would the botched ASEAN Summit lead to the disintegration of the Abhisit government? The airport crisis gave the Yellow Shirts an opportunity to deliver their message to the world.

The Red Shirts also successfully delivered their message to the world a few days ago when they stormed inside the venue of the summit, forcing the military to whisk away the heads of state of Southeast Asia and other invited Asian leaders by military helicopters. That was a symbolic and surprising victory for the Red Shirts who wanted to portray Abhisit as a leader who is unpopular and incapable of effectively governing the country.

The Yellow Shirts are not active today, but they might stage a comeback again to fight their red-shirted rivals. The Red Shirts are confronted today by a different set of “colored” protesters: the Blue Shirts. The Blue Shirts emerged when the Red Shirts began to mount a serious challenge to the government. First, the Blue Shirts said they only wanted to protect public utilities, like the airport. But the Red Shirts soon accused them of being thugs hired by the government.

In Pattaya the Blue Shirts engaged the Red Shirts in the streets. The Blue Shirts were armed with sticks and iron rods while holding pictures of the king and queen. Journalists reported that the military made no attempt to disarm the Blue Shirts. Most reports have indicated that the Blue Shirts are essentially a pro-government militia with probable backing from politicians loyal to the government.

Which are the most popular “shirts” in Thailand: Yellow, Red or Blue? All of them have core constituencies. They all believe in democracy. They all respect the king. It is difficult to ascertain which has the support of the majority.

It is important to note that an increasing number of Thais are getting annoyed by the political crisis in the country. When the Red Shirts were leaving the summit venue in Pattaya, a group of people wearing black shirts began throwing stones at them. Most likely they were angry citizens. A video was uploaded on YouTube showing how furious pedestrians drove away Red Shirts who were blocking traffic in a Bangkok street.

Perhaps the decision of many Thais to wear “neutral” colors can be interpreted as a political statement too. Twitter users have been expressing their discontent by announcing that from now on they are only going to wear orange, white and purple shirts.

There is another option for Thais: wear pink. The Pink Shirts want a political formation based on love and peace. Pop singer Jintara has a lively music video for the song “Mop see chom-poo” which preaches the doctrine of the Pink Shirts.

The political spectrum in Thailand today is literally bright and colorful. The traditional left, right and center political labels give way to the politics of the multicolored “shirts.” I call it Rainbow Politics. The “colored” protesters may be funny and brave sometimes but their brand of politics is not helping Thailand.

Rizal: Film Review

Note: I wrote this review many many years ago….

A commercial success during its initial public screening in 1998, this film also reaped major awards in the country and even in international film festivals. The people behind the production of this film succeeded in capitalizing on the renewed interest of the public on historical themes since the country was celebrating the centennial anniversary of the declaration of Independence from colonial rule.

The contribution of this movie to the ailing film industry was spectacular. It proved for one that actors and actresses do not have to strip off their clothes for the movie to earn money or that serious themes such as history can generate huge profit as well. It immediately showed that the Filipino public will patronize a local movie over foreign films if they are to be provided with a good movie.

The film assured the celebrity status of Cesar Montano as an actor and the sophistication of Marilou Diaz-Abaya as a director. Abaya’s Rizal was actually the first of her three successive films (Muro-Ami and Bagong Buwan) which provided the public with a movie to talk about and applaud. Through her string of successes as a director, and in no small part also due to lack of great filmmakers in the country, Abaya was to occupy a respectable position in the country’s popular culture and film industry that was once occupied by Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka.

The choice of making a film out of Rizal’s life was sound and logical from the very start. A producer wishing to balance his aim between earning money and to make a memorable film has only to extend the big Rizal cult into a movie fantasy. No person has come to symbolize the struggle for independence other than Rizal. His life story has pervaded the public consciousness in a manner that any enterprising film producer could not resist noticing. A film about Rizal is an expected box office hit since the market will be assured by the burgeoning educational establishment. That Abaya’s Rizal would be a big success was hardly surprising at all.

Perhaps the greatness of Abaya’s Rizal was the superb balance between frank storytelling and delicate use of cinema illusion. By making the trial of Rizal as the focus of the story, viewers were allowed an easy and smooth transition between Rizal’s early life and the events surrounding during and after the trial. Research was obviously well-done as the movie progressed. Abaya and the scriptwriters relied heavily on the seminal work of Austin Coates for much of the details about Rizal and his endeavors. A student familiar with Rizal’s biography, especially that written by Coates, would be amused to watch the minutest detail about Rizal skillfully and sincerely portrayed on screen. The effect on the chilling re-enactment of Rizal’s last moments before his execution is a haunting climax of a fine movie.

Nevertheless, despite the many outstanding qualities of this film in narration, research and cinematography, the film failed to circumvent the conventional portrayal of Rizal as the perfect human being devoid of any potential weaknesses. After all, doing a movie about Rizal’s life has its risks. How can you even portray a life so complex and enigmatic such as Rizal’s into two hours alone? It risks simplifying Rizal and the ideas he has espoused throughout his life.

Abaya and the scriptwriters have succeeded in making Rizal the perfect Filipino hero by unfortunately using Andres Bonifacio as the anti-thesis. While Rizal was the embodiment of a rational, prudent, thinking nationalist, Bonifacio was portrayed as a short-tempered, aggressive, reckless plebian revolutionary. Whereas the question of independence is complex, Abaya made it a simple argument between Rizal’s rational approach towards the subject and Bonifacio’s ill-conceived decisions. As Rizal was raised to the high pedestal of hero-worship in the movie, Bonifacio was relegated as the anti-hero in the story.

One can argue that Abaya was making a film about Rizal and not on Bonifacio that is why Rizal had to be overemphasized in the movie. But portraying Rizal in a good light while destroying the credibility of another national hero is no way to celebrate the Centennial much more the struggle for independence. This is a manifestation of the colonial legacy in what Constantino rightfully termed as “veneration without understanding.” This is also a classic outcome of the struggle between groups vying to shape the public consciousness over how to view the past in relation to the present.

Rizal is still the Establishment’s national hero. How we give meaning to the past is determined largely by the prevailing order of society. Abaya’s Rizal is basically a proof of Rizal’s continuing appropriation by the class whose sworn enemies are those represented by the class of Bonifacio.

In the end, Abaya’s Rizal would pale in comparison after the release of Mike de Leon’s Bayaning Third World which was a more balanced and delicate rendition of Rizal’s multidimensional life.

postblogism

Are there individuals or groups which use Friendster as an online platform for political campaigns? Very few or none. The Friendster account of Senator Trillanes comes to my mind. But there seems to be no advocacy or political group which has maximized Friendster for their virtual campaigns. Which is good.

But here comes Facebook. Facebook is a better social media tool and more popular than Friendster. Everyday, hundreds if not thousands of individuals and groups are creating Facebook applications for their various causes, campaigns, interests, events. Everyday, Facebook users are sharing their pictures, thoughts, plans, and conversations with their fellow Facebook friends. It is both funny and mysterious to know everything about what our friends are doing or thinking.

Because of its limited functions, Friendster is used mainly to establish connection with friends and relatives. On the other hand, Facebooking is more than just for renewing friendships on the internet. Blessed souls are using Facebook to announce rallies, upload pictures of rallies, and create online account of advocacy groups. Become a fan of a political group. Support a virtual campaign. Read progressive articles and critical notes of activist leaders.

To paraphrase Eduard Bernstein: The final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing; Facebook is everything. It seems that things, individuals, causes, and events that matter need to be Facebooked. Everyday life is transformed into a Facebook wall. Experience becomes a Facebook page. It is ῢber cool to be on Facebook.

Susan Sontag’s famous essays on photography can help clarify for us our experience with virtual reality. Sontag’s original quote:

“…having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in a public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form…Today everything exists to end in a photograph.”

That quote can be read today as:

“…having an experience becomes identical with blogging about it, and participating in a public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in Facebook…Today everything exists to end in the internet.”

Sontag adds that individuals convert and miniaturize their experience into images; individuals continually search for the photogenic. Today we are converting our experience into blog and twitter posts. We search for facebook-able aspects of our lives. A thing is beautiful if it is seen on our Multiply page; the activity is memorable if it is on YouTube; the article is insightful if it received many blog comments on the internet.

Sontag observes that photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention: The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene.

Isn’t blogging (and facebooking as well) an act of non-intervention? The person who intervenes cannot blog; the person who is blogging cannot intervene. To some extent, mobile technology has made it possible for individuals to act and blog at the same time. But it reflects more on the quality of political acts which are popular today and the level of participation of individuals in political interventions. If there is mass unrest; if there is a class-based confrontation of forces, would you encourage the participants to blog (and to Facebook) during the crisis? Would you blog if you are part of an insurrection? Would you tweet if the police is chasing after you? Aba, tumakbo ka muna. But we blog and tweet during rallies because most of the time we organize only small, cute, and media-friendly political actions.

You cannot blog on a moving train, este jeepney caravan for justice and agrarian reform. You cannot blog during a lakbayan. You cannot blog the raging revolution while participating in it. A blogger must know how to stop blogging and lead an attack.

If there is a real political “event” in the city, the history-makers would have little time and perhaps energy to waste on blogging. Between organizing the next day’s rally (or hopefully, welgang bayan) and posting rally pictures on Facebook, which is more urgent?

That activist teachers and leaders can post rally pictures and reflections on Facebook reveal many things: the political event is over (and I who posted the pictures participated in it); the repressive state didn’t feel threatened by the action and so the internet and mainstream media were not censored; the activity created a predictable political impact but not strong enough to alter the disposition of forces in society.

In the film ‘The Last Castle’, Robert Redford who plays a disgraced general belittles the military artifacts collected by a prison warden. He wryly points out that “Any man with a collection like this is a man who’s never set foot on a battlefield. To him a miniball from Shiloh is just an artifact. But to a combat vet, it’s a hunk of metal that caused some poor bastard a world of pain.” Have you encountered bloggers or facebookers who collect “artifacts” but have never set foot on a battlefield? I support this cause, I’m part of that campaign, I’m a fan of that oppressed group, I signed the petition….

Should we celebrate the increasing number of leftist blog and Facebook posts? Yes and no. I already explained before the potential of political blogging. Today let me add this observation: our blogging and facebooking activities can be used by the ruling class to indicate and to preach a believable state of normalcy in society. Ofcourse in a semi-feudal and semi-colonial society like the Philippines, there is no such thing as a state of normalcy. There is always a state of war. But the educated segments of society can be distracted by seducing them with the freedom to blog and to facebook. As they enter virtual reality, they would probably fail to notice the reality of class struggle in the offline society.

How and why?

Sontag believes that “A capitalist society requires a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anaesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex.”

Sontag adds that “The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in images. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself.”

Let me end this post with a quote from Antonio Negri about the worst form of all utopias:

“To think that technology rather than the act of human transformation can eliminate classes is the worst of all utopias. The fact is that social movements can never be crystallized, can never become institutions and can never be reduced to a technical apparatus.”

Global unemployment woes intensify

The worsening unemployment rate in the world is perceived by most people as the primary and most recognizable indicator of the global economic recession. This explains the proliferation and increasing popularity of websites which provide daily news updates on job layoffs. Many unemployed individuals are also documenting their daily struggles by creating blogs.

Unemployment has taught many people to identify the valuable things or persons in their lives. Individuals are learning to appreciate again the support and comfort provided by family and friends. But sometimes unemployment also defeats the spirit. An Egyptian politician blames the high unemployment rate for the phenomenal rise of suicide cases in Egypt.

Because of the deteriorating economy, workers are encountering difficulties finding a stable career in a fundamentally altered job market. A Palestinian worker in Canada echoes this frustration by castigating companies which are “looking for individuals who know everything but are willing to work for almost nothing.”

In Hong Kong a controversial subsidy plan of the government for university graduates has been met with severe criticism. The subsidy plan proposed by the financial secretary allows corporations to pay university graduates as low as HK$4,000 (US$516) per month, half of which is a government subsidy. Several Facebook groups have been created to protest this policy. The most popular group wants the financial secretary to be given a monthly salary of HK$4,000.

There are worries that Japan is already experiencing an "employment ice age" which would create another “lost generation” of young Japanese with no full-time employment. At least 87 companies canceled 331 informal promises of employment to university students last year. More than 500 temporary workers stayed in tent cities last January after losing their jobs.

In Germany many job hunters are forced to work for shorter working hours in exchange for government wage and social-insurance subsidies. Curiously, a Singapore employer has interviewed unemployed investment bankers from London who are seeking work in the city state.

Saudi women who have lost their jobs are faced with limited working opportunities because of sexual harassment in the workplace. Social media tools are being used too for job applications, like Twitter Job Search.

Perhaps the hardest hit by the continuing loss of jobs are poor nations which depend on the remittances sent home by their migrant workers. Today migrant workers are returning back to their countries in large numbers after losing their jobs in the United States and Europe. This reverse migration can be a source of conflict in Third World nations that cannot provide adequate employment and social services to their citizens.

News reports have noted that increasing numbers of overseas Filipino workers, including professionals, are returning home. There are Filipino residents of California who are now moving back to the Philippines after losing their houses and jobs. It is feared that many Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong are being replaced by locals. In my previous column, I mentioned that a Philippine airline has increased its flights in the United States and Canada, which can be interpreted as a sign that more and more retrenched Filipinos are forced to go back to the Philippines.

In the past, Brazilians of Japanese descent were migrating to Japan. Today, “Brazil is the new Japan.” Brazilian immigrants in Japan are returning home because of the crisis. At least 40,000 Brazilian immigrants are planning to leave Japan. Japanese media have reported that many Brazilians have been living in the streets of Japan since the financial crisis erupted a few months ago.

According to the International Labor Organization, the Middle East and North Africa region recorded the highest unemployment rates in 2008. One of the worst affected by the crisis is Dubai. Dubai’s population is expected to decrease by 8 percent this year as foreign workers continue to leave the city; one blogger contends that Dubai’s population will decrease by as much as 25 percent.

Schools in Dubai are receiving numerous applications for school transfer certificates as children of foreign workers return to their home countries. One school lost 10 percent of its Indian student population.

Except for Bhutan and Maldives, all countries in South Asia depend on remittances sent by their migrant workers. Economists are alarmed by the disturbing trend of migrant workers who are suddenly returning home in South Asia, especially in India and Bangladesh. As Malaysia prefers to give jobs to locals, it cancelled thousands of visas it had approved earlier for Bangladesh migrant workers. The number of workers leaving Nepal has also decreased.

Governments should present creative and effective stimulus programs if they want to preserve the social order. In China about 6,000 workers in Baoding, in Hebei province, went on strike as their factory was sold and they would be soon be out of jobs. Thousands of them are going to Beijing to present a petition about their rights. There are worries that their action might snowball into a disruptive political activity.

In Egypt a wave of strikes has erupted in the last three months. The culture of strikes, even among the non-politicized segments of the working population, has been reintroduced in the country.

If unemployment continues to worsen, the Chinese and Egyptian models of protest could haunt every ruling party in the world.

‘Merika ngayon

“To live then, is to be other. Even feeling is impossible if one feels today what one felt yesterday, for that is not to feel, it is only to remember today what one felt yesterday, to be the living corpse of yesterday’s lost life.” – Fernando Pessoa

This quote captures the feeling of what is like to live in the modern world. This is how I feel here in post-industrial United States. Sabi nga ng mga Pinoy, mabilis ang oras dito sa Amerika. Trabaho, bahay, trabaho, trabaho. Or as succinctly put forward by an educator: Same shit different day.

That is why I always watch the short video clips of Merika which starred Nora Aunor. Before continuing, please watch these YouTube videos first: here and here. It will only take a few minutes.

Nora’s acting performance in the film is superb. Mata pa lang panalo na. The scene above the Empire State Building is very poignant. Filipinos who feel isolated in America could relate to the scene: Nora at the top of the Empire State gazing at the whole of New York, a foreign city, an alien land. What was Nora thinking? That at the very moment of attaining professional success (and receiving her precious green card), she finds herself utterly alone, lonely? There she was; at the top of the world but alone. There is no Tom Hanks, the sleepless widower from Seattle, who would join her atop the Empire State. She is a stranger who has no significant connections in that country.

Everything around her is unfamiliar: objects, places, the people and their language, their clothes, their dreams, their troubles, their faces. She is detached from her surroundings. She is an anonymous dot in the big and dreary land. She is a spectator; someone who observes others playing inside the ice skating rink of Rockefeller Plaza. She is a salingpusa in America.

At the New York airport Nora was accompanied by her two friends. Only few words were exchanged while they waited for the time to board the plane. What follows is a very touching moment: Nora queuing at the boarding gate while glancing back at her friends. The scene reveals the painful emotions felt by many Overseas Filipino Workers when entering and leaving airports. It contradicts the deceptive message of the film, Love Actually, which celebrates the illusory happiness of passengers upon entering the arrival gates of Heathrow.

Meanwhile, others struggle hard to survive. Onward with the journey. Step by step, paycheck after paycheck, the American Dream is just a few years away.

Wednesday afternoon

Last January I went back to the Golden Gate bridge. Alone. I had to go there, I had to cross the bridge. Because it is there. We are always looking at the bridge from the Golden Gate park. I was curious to see how the bridge looks back at us. We are often mesmerized by the sight of the bridge; but does the bridge feel the same way as it takes a glimpse of the rolling hills of San Francisco? And so I went there on a Wednesday sunny afternoon. When I reached the middle of the bridge, I looked back. I took a snapshot of the distant San Francisco city. So here is how the city appears from the vantage point of the bridge. It was not really a breathtaking scene. The best place to view the city is through the Twin Peaks.

The beautiful Golden Gate is something to be looked at and appreciated from a distance. Its purpose is to transport people in the Bay Area. It was not built so that we can use the perspective of the bridge to judge the towns it serves.

I went there to experience the feeling of crossing a world-famous bridge. I ended up feeling strangely relaxed but melancholy. As I gazed back at the city enveloped with fog, I immediately remembered that I only have few meaningful ties with it. It’s not my city. It’s not my future. But why am I living there?

My home is far away. At that brief instant, I wished I was in Quezon Bridge above the polluted waters of Pasig: Where Quiapo is just a few steps away; Divisoria can be reached by only one jeepney ride; and where protesters cross the bridge to reach Mendiola or Liwasang Bonifacio. Instead, I was there (or here). At the Golden Gate, where everything is not a few steps away; where there are no jeepneys; and where everybody is not talking to everybody.

I left my heart, my friends, my life, my future in San Francisco del Monte.

"Cities become shadows that explode or disappear according to decisions that their dwellers will always ignore. The outer experience is cutoff from their inner experience. The new attempted urban meaning is the cultural and spatial separation of people from their product and their history. It is the space of collective alienation and of individual violence, transformed by undifferentiated feedbacks into a flow that never stops and never starts. Life is transformed into abstraction, cities into shadows.” – Manuel Castells

Pictures of my Golden Gate trip can be seen here.

Surviving the recession

The global economic recession is spreading gloom and despair everywhere, but the human spirit cannot be easily defeated. Many are trying hard to cope with the crisis. Bloggers are offering survival tips to their readers. Businesses around the world are adopting new strategies. Some are even profiting from the crisis.

In Japan small and medium enterprises which process raw materials are profitable today. Fast food outlets, e-commerce service providers, and the pachinko gaming industry are doing well too.

Many companies are hoping to make money from the stimulus plans in their countries. Part of Thailand’s stimulus plan covers the distribution of checks worth US$55 to every low-income worker. The beneficiaries can use the checks to purchase items at McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and 18 other major business outlets in the country. KFC even awards 20 pieces of free chicken to stimulus beneficiaries who exchange their checks for store coupons.

Some airlines are increasing their flights to service returning migrant workers. For example, Philippine Airlines increased its operations in the United States and Canada, which can be interpreted as a sign that more and more retrenched Filipino migrant workers are now returning home.

Condom sales are on the rise too as people want to prevent pregnancies during the recession. This is good news for condom makers but bad news for countries with declining birthrates.

Instead of reducing the workforce, some companies in the Philippines are adopting shorter workweek hours. Because of low occupancy in their buildings, some landlords in Manila are lowering the rates for office space. A Japanese company in South Korea used its savings and accumulated profits over the years to protect the living of its workers.

Retail chain Ponto Frio in Brazil has an ingenious campaign to attract customers. The store provides free insurance to shoppers in case the latter become unemployed in the future.

Roshni Mahtani, founder and editor of http://www.theasianparent.com, suggests that small businesses can save money if they give up office space, use open source software, replace traditional phone connections with Skype, hire interns, conduct virtual meetings and maximize social media marketing.

How are individuals around the world coping with the recession? The crisis is obviously affecting the physical and mental health of many workers. This explains why gym and yoga studios are overcrowded in Singapore. Singaporeans who want to release the economy-related tension, and those who have been retrenched, are now spending more time on exercise.

A Bulgarian weekly asked its readers how the crisis is affecting them. Some answered they have stopped watching TV since the news is depressing. Some have more time to read these days while others have taken more interest in the rest of the world.

A worker in Qatar discovered that the financial crisis can somehow solve shopping addiction. She now spends less time buying consumer goods due to delayed paychecks.

In Brunei bloggers are criticizing bankrupt individuals who wanted to receive surplus funds from zakat collections. The paying of zakat, one of the pillars of Islam, is an act of giving up a percentage of one’s wealth to the needy. Many were surprised that Bruneians with big credit card bills, automobile loans, and personal loans attempted to tap the zakat funds.

There are those who are so overwhelmed with money problems that the only solution they can think of is to commit suicide. It is sad to learn that more than 70 diamond polishers in Gujarat, India, committed suicide after losing their jobs.

Others have chosen to fight. Investors, mainly in Antigua, who lost their money after U.S. billionaire Allen Stanford was charged with investment fraud banded together and formed a coalition to recover their wealth. The Stanford Victims Coalition created a website to update other members about their case.

Because of the recession, some are learning to appreciate the basic laws of doing business like providing first-rate service to customers. A Brazilian popcorn seller has won recognition for his creative ways of doing business. He has already given many lectures on entrepreneurship.

Agriculture is popular again among Japanese youth and celebrities as more people search for economic activities that have stronger foundations than the financial sector.

Cambodia has reaffirmed its reliance on agriculture to promote economic growth. A Lao economist believes that the “agriculture-based, self-sufficient nature” of the country’s economy will protect Laos from the global financial crisis. The economist added that “people who live in industrialized countries live in fear of losing their jobs because they can’t grow vegetables and raise animals as people can in Laos.”

In Jamaica leaders of 21 private sector bodies have formed a pact of cooperation to offset the impact of the worsening global economic conditions. They have relearned the value of creating a “social partnership dialogue” between the government, opposition, labor, business and civil society.

Many bloggers are advising their readers about the importance of innovation, creativity and the cultivation of inner strength. The last point is crucial since the prospect of solving the global economic malaise in the near future is dim.

Italian Films: Christ stopped at Eboli / The Bicycle Thief

Christ stopped at Eboli

The film was an adaptation of Carlo Levi’s autobiographical novel about the years he spent in Eboli, a remote village in southern Italy. Levi was an anti-fascist intellectual who was exiled to Eboli because of his political activities during the 1930s.

Because of its detachment from Rome and other urban centers of Italy, Eboli was a perfect place to rehabilitate, silence, or punish subversive intellectuals. There the radicals wouldn’t be able to convert the backward peasants into enemies of the state. When our hero arrived in Eboli, two communist organizers and a disgraced priest were already living in the village.

The film depicted the everyday life of peasants in a poor village in Italy. Through Carlo’s eyes, we were able to see and judge the customs, beliefs, dreams, economic practices, and political education (or lack of it) of peasants in the far-flung southern Italian village.

Carlo attributed the poverty he witnessed to the inability of the state to improve the welfare of its citizens. He was right. But the same lack of empathy, the same unwillingness to study the conditions of peasants in Italy’s south, can be seen also among Rome’s urban-based middle class intellectuals. Carlo was one of these political creatures. He fashions himself as a renegade intellectual yet he was naively ignorant of peasant life. He may be a sincere anti-fascist activist but his activities were divorced from the daily lives of ordinary Italians.

He was proud that he possessed a scientific knowledge of the world. This intellectual superiority became visible when he mocked the superstitions of the natives. Notice his reliance on pills and modern medicines to cure the sick without studying the traditional medical practices in the community.

Carlo may have observed at first that his worldview was different from the villagers. During a solar eclipse, one of the villagers warned that it was a punishment from God. Carlo quietly interjected that it was perhaps a result of Italy’s gassing of Abyssinia (referring to the invasion of Ethiopia). He might have been disappointed to hear villagers talk about life in America than about politics in Rome. But later he might have detected the wisdom of native thinking. When one of the young boys of the village was drafted by the army, an elder complained: “Why go to Africa, if you have one here?”

The film’s political themes were symbolized by animals which inhabit the village. While discussing Mussolini, Carlo saw a large pig. After reaching the cemetery which marks the farthest place Carlo was allowed to wander, he saw a free bird flying in the air. While a goat was being butchered, a villager criticized the counterproductive Goat Law passed by politicians in Rome. Chickens and humans live together inside the dingy house of the priest. Carlo’s companion was an abandoned dog.

Carlo impressed everybody with his miraculous healing powers. But the villagers were unaware that it was they who gave Carlo the proper education in life. Witnessing at first hand the plight of peasants in the village, Carlo was able to understand the social and historical conditions of the oppressed in rural Italy. During his conversation with the town mayor, he was able to articulate the reasons why peasants join bandit groups (“They defended their civilization through banditry”).

The film highlighted the neglect suffered by Italian peasants. Carlo was a visitor in the Eboli village, but not a redeemer of peasants. When he wanted to paint a portrait of his housekeeper, the lady refused arguing that the painting might imprison her. Carlo couldn’t understand this primitive reasoning. But the housekeeper was correct. Carlo did “imprison” her and the rest of Eboli when he wrote a book about the poverty he saw in the village. He might have good intentions but the peasants didn’t need pity. They needed change.

So who will lead the crusade for reforms? Not Carlo, not the mayor, not the priest. Maybe the two exiled communists. Are we sure it was only spaghetti they were exchanging everyday?

The Bicycle Thief

Postwar Italy. The ravages of war are still visible. Unemployment is high. The film is about Italy, poverty, modern society, family relationships, humanity. It is a simple yet powerful and realistic film. A man needed a job. He got one but he needed a bike for the job. Unfortunately, his bike was stolen. Together with his son, he searched for his bike in the city.

The Bicycle Thief is not entertaining, it is enlightening. It is not subtle, it is direct. It is effective in revealing the painful essential truths of modern living. The film brilliantly captures the complexity of poverty and the contradictions it engenders in society.

Notice the Third World poverty spectacles which were shown on the film: an army of unemployed fighting over a few available jobs, water scarcity in the city, street vendors, black market for stolen goods, pawnshops, inadequate public transportation, prostitution, child labor, and unhelpful police. The film presented a different Italy. It is unnerving because these poverty images are still visible today in the world.

Observe how the film described inequality and hypocrisy in society. The working-class churchgoers need to be clean before being allowed to attend the mass. Food is distributed only after one has attended the church service. It is a clever way of blackmailing the hungry and dirty poor in the name of God. When father and son went to a fancy restaurant, the boy realized his situation in life when he noticed his difference to the rich boy on the other table.

Note how the poor spend their days and plan their future. Sports is a popular form of entertainment – perhaps to forget the troubles in life. The wisdom of an elder (seer) is sought to solve simple and difficult problems. Art, especially traditional art, struggles to survive during difficult times. Poverty drives people to affirm their faith.

Social institutions become more relevant in protecting individuals. Union organizing is a viable option. Families and neighbors stick together to defend each other from outsiders. The original bicycle thief was vigorously protected by his friends and relatives when he was confronted by our hero. It is a remarkable scene. It shows how the poor are always pitted against each other forgetting that the true enemy is the inequitable social structure. But the social structure has no face while the bicycle thief is recognizable. And so they fight for the crumbs while the monopoly guy enjoys his wealth.

The film teaches us that instead of simply ascribing a criminal personality to those who commit poverty-related crimes, it is better to understand the social conditions which drive desperate individuals to break the law. Sometimes (or often), crime stories we hear or read in the news have deeper meanings which we should try to find out.

The film can also be interpreted as the story of a child who learned that his father is a flawed hero. The child witnessed how his father bullied an old man inside the church just to find out the name and address of the bicycle thief; the child was slapped hard in the face by the angry father; and he witnessed at the end of the film how his father tried to steal a bike. The bicycle thief becomes the bicycle thieves in the end.

What was the father thinking during the closing scene? That he was a useless provider in the family? That he was a pathetic father? The he was a worthless individual? Or was he musing about the injustice of losing his bike?

The Bicycle Thief is a film about human frailty and the failure of modern society. It is unsettling to watch the film because the stories it depict are familiar to everyone who is exposed to the cruel realities of poverty.