Monday, October 30, 2006

phoenix rising

Well, you see, there’s some bad news and there’s some good news. I’ll break the bad news first. It seems that THE BIG OZ is no more. Hard to believe, huh? I, for one, cannot fathom how they failed to ride the Dingkum-Sizzling-Spaghetti-w/-toasted-bread express train to global franchise glory.

A tragedy? Ordinarily, yes. BUT THIS IS NO ORDINARY TOWN, FOLKS. You are about to find out why, in the face of this catastrophe, I sound so chipper. It is simply this:

Not catching my drift? Not comprehending why the people in the photo are so excited? Let’s zero in on that yellow sign in the centre...

Oh, YES. Theophilus Japanese food is HERE. What the fuck is it? I have abso-fucking-lutely NO idea. But I intend to find out, people. I intend to find out…

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Thanks to the magnanimous Lone Gopher, D and SW twitched at lunchtime today. For my first outing, I opted for the genteel lunch hour, rather than the outright hostile dawn hour. I promised that I'd make it for a dawn run soon though (more birds, more species). Not good at dawn stuff, mind you. But I thoroughly enjoyed my first Philippine twitch and BECAUSE I KNOW YOU WANT TO KNOW, here's the list of sightings (also thanks to LG):

Outing #1 – Mt Makiling lower slopes (near UP forestry), 26 Oct 2006

  • Scale-feathered Malkoha – Medium/Large black bird with crazy, mostly white head.
  • Red-crested Malkoha – Medium/Large black bird with red Mohawk crest and green beak.
  • Coppersmith Barbet – Small bird with red and yellow face and mostly green body. Sounds like a coppersmith (tok-tok-tok-tok etc)
  • Bar-bellied Cuckoo-shrike – Medium sized grey/black bird with bars on belly. Noisy.
  • Philippine Bulbul – Medium sized. Orange throat, brown back, and light brown belly. Makes irritating sounds resembling cats or annoyed babies.
  • Balicassiao – Drongo. Black medium sized with “fishtail”.
  • Grey-streaked Flycatcher – Small brown bird with streaked throat and chest.
  • Brown Shrike – Small/Medium bird on broken branch. Grey or brown head (different races) dirt white chest, brown back and black “bandit-mask”. On telephone wires everywhere.
Eventually I hope to be as respected a twitching authority as this man.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

the muse

Has SW cracked the art world? Is he inspiring artistes? YOU decide.

Impressionistic? Abstract? Trés chic, daahling!

Thanks to AT for the artwork -- I am impressed. I confess to knowing very little about art (enough to make a reference to René Magritte if I'm CERTAIN that my companions know even less than me), but this, I reckon, shits all over Ken Done.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Delhi stuff

A few photos from last Saturday in Delhi, in no particular order...

...lastly: a man selling a sort of bong for cigarettes. THIS is progress.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

SW's lightweight political commentary

  1. I liked Richard Woolcott's comments on the Iraq debacle, here.

  2. Something else elicited a raised SW eyebrow in another SMH article, on Bush's comment that there are similarities between Iraq and Vietnam. The White House spinners tried to cover up thus:
The White House later sought to put the comparison in context.

"The full context was that the comparison was about the propaganda waged in the Tet offensive ... and the president was reiterating something he's said before - that the enemy is trying to shake our will," Dana Perino, a Bush spokeswoman, said in a statement.

"They know that we're a caring and compassionate people and that we're deeply affected by gross violence," she said.

"The president also believes the American people understand the importance of beating our enemy who is determined to kill innocent freedom-loving people."

1) "They know that we're a caring and compassionate people and that we're deeply affected by gross violence." Is middle America really so vapid as to swallow that?

2) "...innocent freedom-loving people." I can't believe they're still trotting out that bullshit. "Freedom-loving" -- please!

That's right. The insurgents in Iraq hate people who like "freedom" (whatever that is as defined by Bush et al) and who use violence as tactic because their enemy is caring andc ompassionate and hence deeply affected. It's that simple, people. No nuances to worry about. They hate freedom and we love it. We hate violence so they USE IT AGAINST US. Oh, the inumanity.

(I thought propaganda had become more sophisticated than vacuous statements devoid of evidence to support them. Please tell me the average US citizen doesn't swallow that.)

Do they (the Bush administration and associated spinners) really truly believe that the US hasn't perpetrated any violence in Iraq. I don't know what'd be worse -- that they believe their own rubbish or they have so much contempt for the populace that they think they can win people over with insipid utterances. Or that they've so far succeeded using this method.

It's sickening that people who endorse this crap have so much power.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

a hand in marriage

This ad from the Times of India Matrimonials also tickled me:


Monday, October 16, 2006

marry me

SW is back from the home of the zero. Probably a good thing as I would've ended up about 200kg if I kept eating as much as the food demanded. First thing: arranged marriages. As someone from a culture that doesn't go in for them, I find the idea of arranged marriages odd. In some ways I can see the attraction, mind you -- it takes one big decision off your shoulders and SW is nothing if not decision-averse. And as far as I know, arranged marriages don't fail any more than "love marriages". Wikipedia says this (among other things):
...many proponents of arranged marriages attribute near zero percent divorce rates to couple that have had arranged marriages (in contrast to a 50% divorce rate for their Western counterparts). In India, the divorce rate is very low, even in love-marriages (although for love marriages the divorce rate is higher than for arranged marriages). This is often attributed to the fact that couples who enter into arranged marriages (in contrast to forced marriages where there is a higher risk of domestic violence/dispute) are usually more "traditional" and less likely to forfeit a marriage.

Anyway, as died-in-the-wool Westerner, I found the Times of India matrimonial pages fascinating.

It was nice (to my eyes) to see that a lot of the ads included the words "caste no bar". Plenty still wanted people from the "right" caste, though --including my favourite by far. Different cultures etc etc etc I know I know I know, but EVEN IN THE CORRECT CULTURAL CONTEXT (people!) this guy wrote the book on shameless self-promotion (click on it for a bigger version).

Needless to say, I've already sent my bio-data, horoscope and photo.

Friday, October 06, 2006

I'LL take care of the excitement

SW is off to Delhi for a week for a MAJOR rice conference -- don't pretend you didn't know, don't pretend you;re not excited.

For those hanging on every word here, D and I got power back on Tuesday evening. A few poor souls -- such as Lone Gopher -- are still without the stuff.

I leave you with a gratuitous post: a photo of a page of the resort I stayed in for the management and leadership thingy I went to a couple of weeks ago. I dream of finding a job writing this sort of thing (click on it if you want it larger).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

the philosopher speaks

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a rant about my intolerance of religious intolerance. I wasn't sure whether my position was justified, so I asked Candian M to see what he thought. Why Canadian M? 1) He's a philosophy-talkin' guy (philosophy of biology to be exact, but he's general shit too). 2) Partly because of his philosophical training and partly because of his all-round good-guy demeanour, I find that, for me, he often sheds new light on issues, forcing me to see things from a different perspective.

For these reasons, and more, I'm appointing Canadian M SW's resident philosopher. Unless he emails me and tells me to retract that decision because he's invested too much time, energy and money into his education to have it jeopardised so.

Anyway - enough of the small talk, kids! Here's his response:

Regarding your blog post: I certainly sympathize. Not being religious, and feeling that religion is often a scourge we should purge, I find it hard to relate to religious fervour. I mean, I feel really out of touch with the incessant outward shows of JC love in the states. I take it that your post was expressing the same disconnect and also contempt for the bickering and blood shed that results when fervour meets fervour. And I imagine you meant for it to be a selfish rant (important, those rants), not something you expected the respective religious sides to read and benefit from. So although it didn't exude tolerance or patience for complexities, as you acknowledged, I don't think it needed to.

That said, I do of course think there are complexities that may warrant a more tolerant view. Before judging the moral worth of acts I think it's important to describe the acts accurately. I think that if one attempts to describe the current religious bickering charitably, it may turn out to be more rational that it at first appears. This may not entirely vindicate recent acts of the fervourous (e.g., Pope's comments, Muslims' reactions) but I wonder if it will slow our criticisms a little.

Here is how I start to cast a rational light on the bickering. Doesn't it seem, once you get past the surface of the issue at all, that it's not really God that is at issue here? Rather, God is just a proxy for the real bone of contention: wholly different ways of life. What Muslims and Christians are really battling over now is how life should be lived. And this is hardly trivial. Different ways of life correspond to distinct answers to the most important questions and the worth-fighting-for issues. E.g., what is the right balance for a government to strike between equality and freedom? Which freedoms are more important than others? Which freedoms are worth sacrificing for others? How should we distribute resources and why that way? Should women have their genitals mutilated? Should gays be punished? Is habeus corpus a good idea? How about torture? To what extent should the public fund health care and education? Why is religious freedom a good idea? Why shouldn't I be able to drive an SUV and drain agricultural fields into the ocean? Why shouldn't I be able to protest against people who drive SUVs and drain agricultural fields into the ocean?

I think that some bickering is warranted when the ways of life that people are fighting about are a) sufficiently distinct and b) negatively impact the ways of life of others. Sure, it is a mistake for people to presume that God is a symbol for their values and ways of life. And it is a mistake to think God even exists. But do you think it is a mistake to value your way of life, and cherish it enough to protect it when threatened? Of course, answers to this vary case by case. Hell yah, worth protecting if you were Dutch when Nazis plundered your town to steel your way of life. Indeed, worth protecting with equal force, I think. Worth protecting when the Pope implies your way of life isn't rational or worthy? Certainly not with force, but maybe with a few whimpers and protests signs. Depends on context though. Would it have been worth it in, say, 1993 when Muslims didn't feel their way of life threatened so much by the west? Probably not. Back then, they should have felt their way of life (or their "belief in God" to use the mistaken proxy) more secure; shouldn't have felt insecure about their faith in it. But now, things are different. If I were a Muslim living in the middle east I'm not sure I'd feel secure in my beliefs, knowing that the states are bent on plundering the region for their own gain. When the stakes are upped like that, maybe the Pope's comments are worth a sign or two. Because every little bit is starting to add up as something that confronts you.

Of course, one of the catches with this whole attempt at charitably describing the situation is that it assumes that beliefs in different Gods map reasonably well onto beliefs in different ways of life. Maybe the mapping isn't sufficiently isomorphic to justify recent whining. And maybe we need to underline the commonalities between ways of life rather than just differences. But those are further questions to discuss only after we've granted that in the mind's of many, more meaningful things than God are probably at stake, and that by mistakenly reducing difference to differences in Gods, people are concealing more significant differences.

Okay, that was a stab at tolerance. What can I say, the Pope is an idiot and Muslims shouldn't listen to idiots.

(Though maybe Muslims have to listen, e.g., because Catholics listen to the Pope and an awful lot of Catholics go the polls in western countries that invade Muslims.)

What do you think?

What do you think indeed?

My all-too-brief response:
I knew that my rant was simplistic, selfish etc – as you point out – but you framed things in a way I’d maybe only fleetingly considered. Having said that, I maintain that I abhor the violent reactions to religious (or way-of-life) “slurs”. While at some level I can understand (but not condone) violence because of, for example, oppression (real or perceived), I really struggle with such reactions to simplistic utterances. That also goes for western thugs who beat up a drunk bloke at the pub who gives them a bit of lip (to cite one example).

And the SW resident philosopher's to that:

You can understand violent reactions to oppression, but not to simplistic utterances; I think the simplistic utterances are often part of more sustained, systematic and often concealed oppression. And so by your reasoning I think we should sometimes "understand" the simplistic utterances as well. Though like you, hardly ever do I feel I can condone violence. (I guess in the abstract, I never condone violence. But in concrete cases, sometimes the abstract doesn't mean much. That is, "no violence" is a principle for me that admits of exceptions in particular cases, such as when Nazis plunder my village and way of life).

Now (if anybody's read this far) I'm leaving this open for discussion. Which is of course a complete joke, given roughly 10 people read this thing and roughly 3 of them leave comments. But I can dream, people. I can dream.

Monday, October 02, 2006

storm boy

Friday 29 September

Yesterday, Typhoon Xangsane (Philippine name “Milenyo”) passed through Los Baños. The weather started getting violent around 7am and got steadily worse for a few hours. There was a lull at around 10am (what I guess was the eye passing over), then the wind swung around and it picked up again until early afternoon. Laguna Province, which includes Los Baños, was under storm signal 3 – winds of 100-185 km/hour. I have video footage from within my apartment, but am not yet willing to learn how to put it on this blog.

It was easily the most violent storm I’ve experienced. A lot of the water that got into D's and my apartment was simply forced through windows and doors by the wind. The gusts would blow the water up the slope of the roof of the neighboring building and it would spray off the top like fine seaspray -- and get through into the ceiling anywhere that the roof wasn't perfectly sealed. . Word is that it’s the worst since “super-typhoon” Angela, which killed almost 1000 people in 1995. The latest Philippine death toll I’ve seen for Xangsane is 21, but that’s expected to climb.

The devastation around town was impressive – trees and power lines down everywhere, buildings damaged. D and I were lucky – just some minor flooding in the apartment, most of which we were able to divert into a bathroom. We have no electricity for now (last I heard, Sunday was the earliest prediction for regaining it) but we do have running water; lots of places don’t.

At work, there are lots of people away and many stories of people with unlivable and/or ruined houses. Given that most people don’t have insurance, it’s all a bit of a mess. The mother of one of my workmates (who was already quite ill) died – not from injury, but I guess the stress of the storm was too much.

Hearing the stories and news – e.g., someone was killed on the expressway between here and Manila when a billboard fell on their car – makes you realise that there’s a fine line between a storm like this being an exciting adrenaline rush and devastation or death. That maybe sounds a little sensationalist, but it’s true. I watched the storm from the confines of a sturdy apartment building and the worst I had to do was mop up a bit of water. A LOT of people not far from me are wondering where the hell they’re going to sleep.

It looks like the world media is applying the old equation that ranks the value of lives on a sliding scale from white Americans at one end to black Africans at the other – as far as I know there’s been bugger all reporting of this outside Asia. Can you imagine the amount of press a Western city of comparable size to Manila – say New York or Paris – would get if a storm brought down ALL power and left thousands homeless?

One thing that struck me was how people at work whose homes had suffered substantial damage remained remarkably chipper. I heard of one woman whose family told their elderly matriarch that, as the rain lashed in through the disappearing roof, that she’d always wanted a waterbed and now she had one. When I told the graphic design guys to try to have a good weekend, GR looked at MP and said, “M will spend his weekend looking for his roof in the lake!” Everybody laughed, genuinely. I imagine humour would be important in a similar situation at home, but here it seems even more impressive (or necessary), given that the losses are so much bigger, in relative terms.

I just found out that G, who cleans my apartment, lost the roof off her house. Worse, some friends of hers lost their 2- and 3-year-old kids. Somehow or other they were left alone in a house, their parents stuck somewhere else. There were candles burning, a fire started, and the kids died.

Which all makes the job I’m supposed to complete today – a press release about some winners of some relatively minor awards – seem like a complete bloody waste of time. Lost your house? Tell someone who cares, bud. I gotta write a press release.

Monday 2 October

A brief update: things are returning to normal -- the streets around town have more-or-less been cleaned up. There are still quite a lot of nasty stories popping up. Apparently 19 people were killed in a landslide in a neighbouring town.

In D's and my apartment, there's no elec-trickery (latest best guess is maybe by Thursday) and water only from around 8pm - 8am. But, Belgian J&I, who are hooked up to work's backup generator, have been generous beyond the call of duty and hosted D, C (neighbour for the last year or so) and I for the last few days. We'd be fine at home -- there are obviously many people much more needy -- but things are much more comfortable at J&I's place.

Work is collecting donations to help the local community; the memo sent out this morning said:

The recent typhoon, Milenyo, has caused considerable destruction and has affected scores of families. In Los Baños, the typhoon left 20 people dead, 6 people missing and more than 2000 homes, either partially or totally damaged. In Bay, there are 6 people dead, 9 injured and more than 2000 families affected. The local social welfare office said affected families need bottled water, canned goods, noodles, candles, rice, infant formula, blankets, used clothing and medicines.

A report in the Manla Bulletin said that "the death toll from typhoon Milenyo remained at 76 with some 69 persons still missing," and that "some 230,875 families, composed of 1,163,692 persons, were affected by the typhoon, out of which 20,706 families or 104,995 people were evacuated to 198 centers after 13,072 houses were destroyed."

And, even better, there's another one on the way...

Some photos from last Thursday and Friday that give some idea below.

From my bedroom window:

From spare bedroom window:

A few from around the University of the Philippines campus here in Los Banos:

These students had collected a dislodged sign (clearly, typhoons plus signs = BIG fun) and were thrilled to see D and I had cameras -- they'd been waiting for someone to come along who could photograph them. Which reminds me, I'm supposed to email the photos to them...

Belgian I's experimental Banana plantation -- 1 of 250 trees survived.

The tennis court at work -- the winds pushed down the concrete wall that people can practice against, taking a section of the fence with it:

A couple of shots from a nearby golf course:

One of the caddies, Jeff, next to a tree that came down on what used to be the clubhouse (it's one of the least swish clubs in the Philippines -- the clubhouse was wood and corrugated iron, but it wasn't insubstantial):

The clubhouse:

A collapsed billboard on the Southern Luzon Expressway, between here and Manila -- a couple of dozen of looked as bad or worse: