Thursday, October 25, 2007

Diversity for the Holidays

With Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa falling just days apart, December is indeed the “Holiday Season”. But the question is how egalitarian are we making it these days?

By: Vanessa Uy

First of all, I think the entire “consumer world” owe those people who did their Christmas shopping early a debt of gratitude for inadvertently exposing the dangers of toys with high lead content. Now, kids around the world can look forward to a safer – albeit more expensive – alternatives.

As a Catholic - by geography and not by faith – I am quite fascinated on how “other cultures” celebrate their own Holidays that fall on the Festive month of December. Despite of the relentless thrust of “Commercialization” on seasonal holidays, it’s still nice to know that the majority of people I know didn’t become jaded through the years as they celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa. Some Jewish families that I know still invite me to their Chanukah festivities despite of my criticisms on Israel’s PM Ehud Olmert’s disastrous Summer 2006 incursion into Lebanon. But that’s a topic for another blog.

When it comes to finding a “Kultur Kampf” on how to celebrate December holidays, this can be found between the various Christian sects criticizing one another on how to “properly” celebrate Christmas. As I am a product of the Catholic School System even though I’m a practicing Zen Buddhist, it’s only sensible for me to view the various demarcations on how to properly celebrate Christmas from the Catholic Church’s point of view.

When it comes to the “proper” celebration of Christmas, the Catholic Church has for a very long time viewed the various “Scandinavian” influences on Christmas like the overly generous and jolly Scandinavian Saint and the “pagan” tree that symbolizes generosity with both disdain and suspicion. The “disdain and suspicion” part is the reflection of my older friends’ Catechism School lectures on Christmas commercialization during the time when Ronald Reagan ruled the free world by the way. And when the Industrial Age came with the resulting commodification of goods services, the “Saint” and the “Tree” became the Catholic Church’s benchmarks on the extent on how “commercialized” Christmas has become. Or is this the Church’s critique on the Anglo-Saxon Protestants failure to recognize between what is sacred and what is commodified when it comes to Christmas.

While the Catholic Church is busy criticizing the “commercialization” of Christmas, the Church say nothing about how some Fundamentalist Evangelicals harbor this concept of Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and tomorrow. Like these Fundamentalist Evangelicals don’t (won’t?) celebrate Christmas because they see Jesus Christ forever locked in that moment in time feeding the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and a few pieces of fish. This is merely my observation and not a criticism on how to spend ones holidays to reiterate the obvious.

To me, the key in finding – and experiencing – diversity this Holiday Season is by opening up to the wonder of it all. Not too many people enjoy playing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party on Christmas morning just to remove the “auditory aftertaste” of those “A Very Special Christmas Albums” that benefit the Special Olympics. And I paid full price for those CDs.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Of Hi – Fi and Humanitarian Relief

In the service of informing those who ask while risking in reiterating the obvious, the article contributors of this blogspot who are audiophiles DO help the unfortunate. Do our doubters care too?

By: May Anne Uy

As one of the contributors who’s been a hi – fi enthusiasts for more than ten years, I may currently own a stereo set-up that helped CARE and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) back in August of 1998. At that time, The Third Annual Summer Against Hunger was underway. The event’s underwriters were lead by The Cable Company ( The underwriters donated up to 10% of my stereo system’s price to CARE and IRC. Looks like my pride and joy donated 300 US dollars to CARE and IRC back in 1998.

Also, each of us has around 300 US dollars each currently invested in Muhammad Yunus inspired microfinance programs in our country. Like the Sustainable Microfinance Services for the Filipino Entrepreneurial Poor which has been of great help to the small farmers living in rural areas. And also a good reason for going out to the country for the program’s biannual “stockholders” meetings.

Speaking of Burma’s / Miyanmar’s military’s bloody crackdown on dissidents, the two Burmese families presently renting in our apartment had been granted “rent amnesty” for three months. This move –to me - is like hitting two birds with one stone. Because I can help these families alleviate their suffering while exerting moral pressure (a politically correct equivalent to sticking it) to the Burmese military junta by “harboring dissidents”.

Lastly, I purchased that John Lennon inspired Darfur Crisis Relief double CD album even though I liked only three of the artists featured on that CD. I hope Amnesty International will do something about this. By the time the crisis in Darfur ends, I’ll still be very hard – to – please musically that is. I’m just a sucker when it comes to good causes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why Al Gore and the IPCC Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize

Environmentalists winning the Nobel Peace Prize, have we reached the point of waging war over arable land and other resources?

By: Ringo Bones

Today, anti war protestors in America carry signs that read “No Blood For Oil”. In a few years time if we don’t do anything to protect our environment, those signs will read “No Blood For Safe Drinking Water” and believe me, that is NOT a “romantic” notion for the “warmongers” in Capitol Hill or the Pentagon. Will the elected GOP / Republican Party politicians authorize an invasion and occupation of Brazil in order to save the Amazon rain forest 10 years from now? I just hope that the worlds powers-that-be will heed the advice of the IPCC and Al Gore to do their part in limiting the impact of climate change.

Growing up in the 1980’s, there isn’t a day that goes by without hearing news coverage about the swiftly declining state of our environment. From major man-made disasters like the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker running aground, to the burning of the Amazon rain forest. I always wondered why the world’s governments have waited 20 or so years in tackling our planet’s various environmental problems.

Now in 2007(better late than never), Al Gore and Rajendra Pachauri with the 3,000 or so scientists from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC were awarded for this years Nobel Peace Prize. They were awarded for their “heroic” efforts in spreading awareness on the dangers of climate change, global warming and the sea level rise. Since the announcement, a number of “influential people” namely Captains-of-Industry and some politicians have doubts whether the Nobel Committee's decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the IPCC because these two don’t deserve the prize. Some of them said that Al Gore is nothing more than a slick showman while the IPCC –to them - deserve a prize for being a well run organization but not the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Well, that’s those “influential people’s” decisions. To me Al Gore and the IPCC truly deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Because what the two are essentially doing is laying out plans to limit the impact of climate change on the global economy. IPCC and AL Gore just laid out the groundwork on how future conflicts caused by climate change will be reduced in scale and / or will be even eliminated. Just as Muhammad Yunus deserved his own Nobel Peace Prize because he laid out the groundwork for tackling the root cause of extremism and militancy namely poverty and the lack of income generating opportunities.

I’m just glad that those “influential people” that criticized Al Gore and the IPCC for receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace were not around during my time in high school. Those people would had been over me when I nominated the Afghan Mujahedin as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 1987 for their valiant efforts of resisting Soviet occupation. I even convinced my teacher and a classroom full of people on my case. This was a class project that gained a life of it’s own after President Corazon Aquino became Time magazine’s “Person of the Year”. Mind you this was before I got hold of Osama bin Laden’s or General Abdul Rashid Dostum’s dossier, or knew which from which. Perfect tense doesn’t necessarily mean perfect sense when it comes to history.

The Dot Asia Domain Name: Kickstarting the Region’s Economy?

The age of Internet domain name real estate has finally arrived. Will you be the next I.T. billionaire?

By: Ringo Bones

There’s a new domain name in our “Internet Town”, its called dot Asia (.asia). One of the latest lines of domain names named after an actual geographic location. It looks like we used up all of those little Pacific Island nations as a source of domain names.

Interested customers to the auction have 6 months to register, so register as soon as humanly possible because these things go out fast. Registration for “dot asia” has opened on: Tuesday October 9, 2007. Protection wanted from cyber-squatters?

Back in August 9, 1995, nobody knew that the dot com boom that started then will eventually go bust five years later. Now, Internet entrepreneurs are more wary on the promise of easy money. Even experienced Internet domain name developers are forever mindful that their “South Sea” domains like Tuvalu’s dot tv and Tokelau’s dot tk might mimic the “South Sea Bubble Burst of 1720”.

To me, the IT / Internet / computer industry – after recovering from the dot com bust of 2000 - has done so much good to those fresh out of college looking for gainful employment, especially those living in the impoverished parts of the world. The industry could essentially fulfil the promise of the Clinton Global Initiative of keeping every batch of fresh graduates securely employed by creating new jobs – like domain name developers – every 5 to 8 years. If all goes well, this mission would be a piece of cake for the industry.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Desperate Housewives: Desperate for Ratings?

Who would have thought that feminism and post-modernist consumerism would result in a very, very ugly dialectic? Is Desperate Housewives “Girl Power” gone wrong?

By: Vanessa Uy

Hi, my name is Vanessa and I never watched a full episode of Desperate Housewives in my entire life, though I’ve watched enough World War II movies that made me extra sensitive to racial epithets. If I had to choose between watching a season of Desperate Housewives and an instructional video from Médecins Sans Frontièrs (MSF or Doctors Without Borders) on how to treat assault rifle trauma, I’d choose the later. Besides Teri Hatcher / Susan Meyer may have a low opinion on non-Hollywood doctors like MSF or Filipino medical personnel for that matter.

The “Desperate Housewives” row over Filipino doctors is about the September 30, 2007 episode of the show. In this particular show is a scene were Teri Hatcher’s character – Susan Meyer – was being confronted by a doctor with the information that she may be experiencing menopause. During the conversation, Susan Meyer (Teri Hatcher’s character) cut the doctor short and this is when she uttered the racial slur. This is the excerpt.

Dr. Mayfair: “I know for a lot of women, the word “menopause” has negative connotations. The heart aging, brittle bones, loss of sexual desire…”

Susan Meyer: “Before we go any further, can I check those diplomas? ‘cause I would like to make sure that they’re not from some “med school” in the Philippines.”

To me, this qualifies as an attack on us Filipinos. The writing staff of Desperate Housewives intentions might just be for the purpose of entertainment but we Filipinos, say that this is really underhanded. We have been offended – if not ridiculed by the said statements.

As "patriotic" Americans, I can assume that the writing staff of Desperate Housewives that their society doesn’t tolerate racial slurs -no matter how benign- and I experienced this first hand. Back in February 2001, while vacationing with my relatives in Wisconsin. I almost got into a fight with a group of African–Americans because I was telling a funny anecdote to my cousin – in a Bavarian dialect – in which a group of African–Americans misinterpreted as a racial slur directed at them. Plus I’m a pale skinned green- eyed redhead (Uzbek-German ancestry) didn’t help matters either. Fortunately, the group understood my pleas in explaining my esoteric language use and the tense situation was peacefully resolved. Understandable since obscure Bavarian dialects is not a major part of the American high school curricula.

Now, for the sake of justice, it’s my time to cast a critical eye on the TV series “Desperate Housewives”. I always view any-town-USA-gated-communities with disdain even if I’m presently residing in one. These “communities” represent the dark side of Capitalist Consumerism (or the "freedoms" of a post-modernist society). These are probably the kind of communities where the malfeasant personnel of the private security contractor “Blackwater” grew up. I think the writing staff of Desperate Housewives should undergo ethnic or cultural sensitivity training by sentencing them to do community service in San Francisco’s Castro Street district, or doing volunteer work in a Turkish-Armenian support group.

Blackwater Security Consulting: Malfeasance in Arms?

While Blackwater’s notorious September 16, 2007 incident is a day which will “Live in Infamy” for most of Iraq’s civilians, is this another case of “Ways v Means”?

By: Vanessa Uy

The first time I heard of Blackwater was back in April of 2007 when a former “Dogs Of War” neighbor of ours talks about back in the days when they “Liberated” Zimbabwe back in 1979, they weren’t behaving like Blackwater personnel. I think they’re telling the truth because they’re not afraid to post their own pictures on their MYSPACE account. Ah, to not live in fear, priceless.

Known for their close ties to the GOP, Blackwater Security Consulting was founded in 1997 by ex US Navy SEAL Billionaire Erik Prince and Al Clark. As Blackwater’s exploit’s got inadvertently scrutinized by the international media thus gaining their reputation as mercenaries. However under international law, American citizens working for Blackwater are not considered “mercenaries” when they are assisting the US military. While the Organization of the Islamic Conference recently classified Blackwater as a terrorist organization, due to it’s recent excessive use of force on innocent Iraqi civilians.

Blackwater is based in the US State of North Carolina where it operates a tactical training facility - which it claims to be the world’s largest. The company trains more than 40,000 people a year from all of the various military services and a host of other agencies.

Of the US State Department’s three major private security contractors, Blackwater is currently the largest. At least 90% of the company’s revenue comes from government contracts, two-thirds of which are “no-bid contracts”. Blackwater’s current president, Gary Jackson, is also a former US Navy SEAL.

Blackwater was one of the several private security firms employed following the US invasion of Afghanistan. Blackwater was also hired during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by the Department of Homeland Security to maintain order in New Orleans and to “apprehend looters”.

Incidents of misconduct and malfeasance of some Blackwater personnel happened way before the September 16, 2007 “shooting spree” incident. According to the US State Department, on December 24, 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee shot and killed a bodyguard who was protecting the Iraqi vice president. In the weeks after the September 16, 2007 incident, the legal status of Blackwater and other security firms in Iraq is a subject of contention.

I don’t know personally anyone of those currently employed by Blackwater who’s assigned in Iraq but could this be a case of a few bad apples ruining the whole bunch? I mean Blackwater –as a corporate entity – usually does whatever it can to maintain the professionalism of it’s personnel because I question the wisdom of running the company via some kind of Machiavellian machination. Or is their primary mission in Iraq is to rule by fear i.e. “To rule by fear is to rule completely”?

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Brookings Institution: The Real “Men in Black”?

Is the Brookings Institution – which is primarily an economic security study concern – responsible for the excruciatingly slow scientific progress of space exploration 50 years after Sputnik I?

By: Ringo Bones

In the 20th Century it took us only 44 -or so- years from the first airplane flight to an airplane flying faster than the speed of sound. Why can’t our existing space programs progress just as fast? Ever since that National Geographic documentary about space exploration in which a Brookings Institution report was published. This report advising NASA against reporting findings on the existence of extraterrestrial life to the general public, every coffee shop and internet café in the Far East are now a buzz about the Brookings Institution’s true purpose. But first, here’s a primer on that said institution.

The Brookings Institution is a non- profit public policy “think tank” based in Washington, DC. As the United States of America’s oldest “think tank”, Brookings is devoted (primarily?) to public service through research and education in the social sciences, particularly in economics, government and foreign policy. The Brookings Institution’s stated principal purpose is “to aid in the development of sound public policies and to promote public understanding of issues of national (i.e. the US of A ‘s) importance. Brookings was founded in 1916, when a group of “reformers” (or is that government officials of limited legislative powers dissatisfied with the incumbent administration) founded the Institute for Government Research (IGR), the first private organization in the US devoted to analyzing public policy issues at a national level. The Institutions founder, philanthropist Robert S. Brookings (1850-1952), originally financed the formation of three organizations: The Institute for Government Research, The Institute of Economics, and the Robert Brookings Graduate School. The three were merged into the Brookings Institution in 1927. The Brookings Institute is currently headed by Strobe Talbott a former Clinton administration appointee in the US State Department.

The “mystique” surrounding the Brookings Institution began in 1958 when the United States Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under the new Space Act to replace its 1915 predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA. Throughout the 1960’s, under US Government behest, NASA adopted a very unusual non-disclosure policy that prohibited their management from releasing information concerning the discovery of sentient extraterrestrial life capable of space travel. The policy was created and fashioned after the Brookings Institution report entitled “Peaceful Uses of Outer Space”. In that report, the Brookings Institution recommended prohibition of disclosure with a warning against the revelation of the existence of extraterrestrial life to the people of America and the world. Brookings Institution thinkers feared (vicariously?) social, economic, and religious upeaval could result. Many now believe that the Brookings Institution’s conclusions were based on the now famous events, which transpired in October 30, 1938, the public reaction to Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” and the local panic that ensued.

In the 21st Century, humanity’s level of sophistication has surely rose “a few notches” since that 1938 radio broadcast. To me, it’s quite “difficult to understand” how a futuristic agency tasked with the goal of space exploration -like NASA – can be handicapped by a fear, which originated before most of us were born. Are civilian astronauts / “space tourist” immune to the US Government’s “behest” to keep quiet about “ET”? Maybe this is why none of the billionaires are setting up their own space programs in frenzy.

Does extraterrestrial life exist, is the moon landing “staged’? To end the speculation, civilians should be allowed free access to space despite of the dangers and fiscal costs. Sometimes I wonder after all this time there is no photo of the Apollo 11 landing site taken by a space probe –preferably commissioned by a non- US Government entity (Will China or India suffice) - orbiting 100 kilometers above the moon.

In my opinion, it seems like the people in charge of the Brookings Institute were still living in an “Aristotelian Mindset” when they fashioned their “Peaceful Uses of Outer Space” report. It’s a pity that the great literary giants in Europe during the late 15th Century onwards didn’t write “science fiction” the way Gene Roddenberry makes conjectures about “alien civilizations”. I mean, if only William Shakespeare wrote a “story” about how to properly interact with the native peoples of the “New World”, the native people’s interaction with the European Colonizers would surely be more equitable.

In Brookings Institutions defense, they are seldom –if ever – taken seriously by the various US administrations that came and went since the end of World War II. Brookings even made it into then President Richard Nixon’s famous “enemies lists”. Brookings even warned the US Government back in 2000 that if the proper financial reforms aren’t done, a credit crunch – as what is currently happening –can occur.

Basing on the existing facts about the case, the Brookings Institution cannot be held wholly responsible for arresting the development of space travel because they merely work in an advisory capacity. Their “Space” policy may be found wanting but at least some of their ideas keep “minor wars” from getting out of hand while Wall Street goes about like its business as usual.

One very weird fact about the Brookings Institute that I’ve just learned recently is that they were never mentioned – in passing – on Chris Carter’s X-Files TV series. One of my Internet acquaintances tried to Google the two, but the search results points to the X-Files episode where FBI agents Mulder and Schully were assigned to investigate the allegedly supernatural incidents in a gated community called Arcadia.