Monday, June 30, 2008

Essential Energy

The good news is, the much vaunted Los Angeles traffic has significantly subsided, due largely to the $5 a gallon price of gasoline. Many people are taking public transportation and needless trips are being assiduously avoided. There is a glut out there of Hummers, pickups and SUVs. I hope this is the opening part of the nightmare of all those oil exporters.

We have been spoiled here in the US. Fuel has always been abundant and inexpensive. Why we have not come up with cheaper alternatives to oil is because of its widespread availability. So when oil hits $140 a barrel, the first thing George Bush does is not to call upon the American people to conserve, he makes a trip to Saudi Arabia and practically begs the Saudi rulers to increase production. The response he received was rather embarrassing even the so-called liberal media tried hard to downplay the affront to national pride.

We need to develop other energy alternatives. For a nation that was able to harness the awesome power of the atom, it is a wonder why we continue to depend on other countries for such a critical commodity as energy. Some countries use nuclear power to generate as much as 75% of their electricity. There are all these great spaces out there that could be used to utilize solar and wind energy. In Guymon, we have built quite a number of wind vanes in the last few years.

I was happy to see a wind farm close to Palm Springs, CA that was at least 500 times bigger than our modest plots.

Solar panels that are so much more efficient compared to models from 2 years ago are now available and are surely competitive next to the ridiculously high prices of oil. So instead of drilling for oil in the pristine Arctic reserves and possibly despoil the beauty of the area and since all the oil up there won’t cover for even a third of our needs anyway, and it will take at least 10 years to get that oil to our gas pumps, why don’t we apply the same national resolve to find other cleaner alternatives that are found in great supply. Energy-independence is fundamental.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Today is a big feast in Baclaran, where the Redemptorist shrine to the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is venerated.

The Christ Child has run to his mother for comfort, frightened by the vision of two angels showing him the grisly manner how he was going to be killed. The specter completely terrifies him that in his haste to seek his mother, he almost loses his right sandal. See how tightly the child clings to his mother’s thumb, entirely dependent on her for protection. Mary holds him securely in her arms but her eyes are focused squarely on us, a reminder of the gravity of the sacrifice her son was performing on our behalf.

How millions of Filipinos show reverence to a 700 year old icon that purportedly originated in Crete is a mystery. Every Wednesday, the Church in Baclaran is packed, as in hundreds of other shrines all over the country where supplicants in a blighted land appeal for her perpetual help.

The icon is my reply to those who attack the Catholic Church for “worshipping” Mary. The Cretan artist successfully depicted a secular scene that does not impart any divinity towards Mary. The case rests with this image.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Bacolod City has more than half a million inhabitants, bigger than Amarillo and Lubbock combined. I was surprised to find an ad in the community billboard of the cable channel : Congratulations Engineer So and So and Family for acquiring a work visa to Australia, Bon Voyage!

In years past, families would hang banners or take out ads in the community paper announcing a topnotcher in the medical board exam or the Bar. Either standards have fallen terribly or there are now other more practical achievements that our society chooses to recognize.

Half of the households in Bacolod City (about 40,000) are referred to as “informal settlers”, a technically accurate euphemistic term for squatters. Talk to these parents and you will hear of dreams consisting of seeing their children work aboard cruise ships, “caregivers” all over Europe, a collection of nebulous job descriptions in the deserts of the Middle East. This is where it has come to a stop, the na├»ve understanding that all these migratory movements were but temporary arrangements that would end when the economy would get better.

Well it’s all over, with oil at $135 a barrel and with a liberalization-crippled economy that is completely dependent on loans and importation. How can we be proud of our economy that hardly adds any value to products? It has become clear these past months that most of the trumpeted growth in the economy was brought about by overseas remittances. We will see inflation and stagnation in unprecedented numbers when those abroad will decrease their contributions from sheer economic necessity. For those in other countries, it will no longer mean postponing yet again the trip back home or holding off from purchasing a newer vehicle. Health insurance premiums, college funds and retirement are what’s at stake here.

Yet the informals seem to be happy. They complain about the government-subsidized rice that is fleetingly available and only in limited quantities, they grouse about the high cost of electricity and they grumble over the long distances they need to carry their containers of potable water but you won’t hear anything about the frightfully inadequate quality of education their children are receiving and the glaring absence of meaningful healthcare anywhere. You won’t find too many big dreamers here.

So, this is where it ends, If We let it end here and now. All those broken families, all those rapes and molestations and incest, all those executions, all those drugs and alcohol abused, all those celebrations and funerals missed, all those nights of utter desolation, loneliness and heartache.

If We let it end with the proclamation of Erap Estrada of his 2010 election candidates chosen for their integrity against the line-up of GMA that will resoundingly guarantee the continuation of our nation’s decline. Because if this is the best we can come up with, applying for that elusive visa may not be a bad idea at all.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fruits and Orchards

Verse VIII of Fruit-Gathering, written by Tagore goes like this:

Be ready to launch forth, my heart! and let those linger who must.
For your name has been called in the morning sky.
Wait for none!
The desire of the bud is for the night and dew, but the blown flower cries for the freedom of light.
Burst your sheath, my heart, and come forth!

Almost a thousand years ago, Rumi wrote:

Come to the orchard in Spring.
There is light and wine, and sweethearts
In the pomegranate flowers.

If you do not come, these do not matter.
If you do come, these do not matter.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

At The Passport Office

A US passport is good for a period of ten years. You have your picture taken at the post office and a postal employee will authenticate all the required documents and you mail it to the nearest processing center. The whole deal takes very little time, people have to work to make a living in this country.

In the Philippines, our passports are good for five years. This is another one of those small gestures with which we show our gratitude to the millions of our “modern heroes”, a rich source of revenue to our foreign affairs office. Applying for a passport is a big deal, be prepared to spend a few months in certain cases especially if the place where they keep a record of your birth certificate had burned down or something; and don’t get too frustrated tipping people everywhere if you want your application to prosper.

It used to be easy to renew a Philippine passport. It has become more complicated, again. We have a genius for adding layers of bureaucracy that essentially add nothing but inconvenience to a system that is groaning to be streamlined in the first place. Anyone applying for a renewal must now present oneself for a “personal appearance” at the main office in Manila in front of a clerk in a window who pastes your photograph in the form and watches you sign your name. This took place in a crowded room crawling with a cadre of “Liaison Officers” appointed expressly to facilitate the procedure. Just like in lieu of a baggage carousel, we continue to have hundreds of porters in less prosperous airports, we create livelihood opportunities for people to participate in a grossly inefficient scheme that drains productivity.

Looking at the sweating throngs of people waiting outside the building, I thought of all the lost productive hours for what was fundamentally a stupid system that was heavily unfavorable to those who didn’t have a connection to a general, a bishop, a judge, a politician. You will never see influential public servants and his extended family and friends in these premises.

And it is the same elsewhere, try getting a drivers license, police clearance, land titles, court orders, marriage license, medical attention in a government hospital--if you are poor and unconnected, and the overwhelming majority of Filipinos belong in this category, you invariably feel violated by a government that preferentially operates in a manner against the public interest.