Monthly Archives: April 2008

The essence of the book

What is the printed book’s “most important feature”? Jeff Bezos, explaining Kindle, has an answer:

At the beginning of our design process, we identified what we believe is the book’s most important feature. It disappears. When you read a book, you don’t notice the paper and the ink and the glue and the stitching. All of that dissolves, and what remains is the author’s world.

Read his letter to stockholders here.

PS. What I really want to know is, Can Amazon keep the Kindle’s delivery-under-60-seconds promise even in muggy Manila?

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Road closed

A city road cuts through our village. Our version of the social contract allows non-residents to enter the village on one side and exit on the other at reasonable hours; many use the road as a short cut that brings them from Quezon City to San Juan, or closer to Makati, from 5 am to 10.30 pm.

It used to be, when the road was still a two-way street, that the Christmas season would find us, the residents, trapped inside the village, with the roads clogged with transiting non-residents in a rapidly souring holiday frame of mind. Several years ago, however, the city government converted the road into a one-way street — solving most of our traffic problems overnight.

Earlier this month, the road was closed, to make way for the rehabilitation of the small bridge that crosses the creek in the middle of the village. Road Closed signs were posted at strategic locations, including the main village gate. No passing through, the signs add, naming the streets affected.

It seems that for many Filipinos, however, traffic signs are nothing more than suggestions. Up till today, many non-residents enter the village, despite the presence of the Road Closed signs. In the middle of the road, they are forced to double back (sometimes causing heavy traffic) or make a detour. Perhaps they don’t think the signs apply to them?

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Buyer’s remorse?

That, I understand, is the underlying Hillary strategy: To make Democratic delegates reconsider the inevitability of Barack Obama’s candidacy. But it seems it’s the New York Times which may be in the very act of regretting its earlier endorsement of Senator Clinton. See (by way of TPM Cafe) the Times editorial on Clinton’s expected victory in the Pennsylvania primary, published mere hours after the polls closed.

The opening paragraph of the editorial titled “The Low Road to Victory”:

The Pennsylvania campaign, which produced yet another inconclusive result on Tuesday, was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.

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Pressing the case

I find the Boston Globe to be somewhat more critical of China than its sister newspaper, the Gray Old Lady. This editorial, for example, sounds the alarm over the consequences of China’s growing nationalism. (I first read it in the International Herald Tribune.)

The Duke University incident is troubling indeed. But the money quote reaches for something altogether larger: “the nationalistic vehemence that has come into view this spring among China’s best and brightest is a troubling phenomenon. It suggests that nationalism has replaced Maoism or Marxism as the legitimating credo of China rulers…”

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A Dear John letter

Manuel Buencamino responded to my Newsstand column today with characteristic, ah, zest. He tried to refute my take on the mental dishonesty of name-calling and libel-by-label by, well, calling me names. The title of his blog post? “Teachers Pwet.” (No possessive.) Ah, yes. A real class act.

(to be continued)

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Column: Armchair radicals

I’ve been trying to upload this column since about 1pm, but something’s wrong with our office connection. Every time I tried to access Typepad, I got an error message. I guess everybody IS a critic, even our SysAd.

The column is the reason why I worked off a month’s backlog in this blog in one night (last night); I needed to clear the ground for it, so I could post it the same day it was published in the paper. I don’t know why; I just felt I needed to do it. Perhaps because it criticizes two non-public figures?

Published on April 22, 2008

I’ve read Jing Karaos’ take on the so-called Jesuit guidelines for political action, written before Talk of the Town featured Manuel Buencamino and Men Sta. Ana’s arch critique of the Easter Sunday document issued by the Philippine Jesuits’ Commission on the Social Apostolate. I’ve also read Boyet Dy’s response to the Buencamino/Sta. Ana critique, lately making the email rounds. I agree with both, but I must say I found each excruciatingly polite.

Buencamino and Sta. Ana have committed the old crime known in the free-spirited Sixties as libel by label; it will do all of us who take part in the public discourse good if we say so plainly—and call them to account for their intellectual dishonesty. (Leloy Claudio’s critical response to the guidelines, which also came out in the April 13 edition of Talk of the Town, is a different matter. It is, in my view, a sincere effort to engage the issues.)

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The time for Hillary to quit

Is right after winning Pennsylvania. The bloodletting in the Democratic party has gone on long enough.

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Column: “Zhengyou”

I wrote the first third of this column in Shanghai, in my room (1010, as it so happens) at the famous Park Hotel in the center of the city. I thought that allowed me to use the privilege of the dateline.

Published on April 15, 2008

SHANGHAI—Of the many facts thrown our way about China’s impressive growth since Deng Xiaoping “opened” China in 1978, I found the following bit to have the most bite. When the 22-story Park Hotel in this city was built in 1934, it was the tallest building in the Far East. It remained the tallest building in Shanghai until 1988. But in the past 20 years, Wang Jianjun told us over dinner one night, some 4,000 buildings taller than Park Hotel have been built in Shanghai.

I have not had the chance to verify this startling statistic for myself, but it is not difficult to believe. This teeming megalopolis is a sprawling forest of skyscrapers.

Of course, Madame Wang is an official of the government of Shanghai Municipality, and it is her responsibility to present one of the world’s largest cities in the best possible light. (She was editor in chief of the 2007 Shanghai fact book.) She spent a considerable amount of time talking about Expo 2010, which Shanghai will host. But she also parried political questions with great skill and explained the official line with genuine conviction.

For instance, to the essential question about the sources of Shanghai’s extraordinary progress, she pointed to three factors: the reforms that opened up the Chinese economy, the continuity of a central government that provides stability, and the hard work of the people of Shanghai themselves. It was almost convincing.
To the inevitable follow-up question (Surely the history of Shanghai, already a famous port in the 19th century, must have had something to do with its present progress?), she gracefully accepted the premise as a given, but eventually returned, forcefully, to the talking points.

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Column: Fragile (emerging superpower inside)

I wrote this column, in its entirety, on my phone, inside a chartered bus, en route from Shanghai to the lake town of Hangzhou. Naturally enough, I ended up with a terrible headache. (Talk about a sense of vulnerability.)

Published on April 8, 2008

BEIJING—Is China already a superpower? At a forum in Bangkok early this year, William Dobson of the influential Foreign Policy magazine fielded the question with flair. The question gave him an idea, he replied. Perhaps his magazine can devote a cover story to the subject—and be the first to give China the coveted, contentious label.

In fact, others had beaten him to it. Newsweek published a special issue on China late last year, with Fareed Zakaria’s introductory essay describing the world’s fastest-growing economy as a “fierce but fragile superpower.” The piece was based in part on Susan Shirk’s pioneering book, “China: Fragile Superpower.”
Many signs point to China’s looming preeminence. Only last week, it was reported (by the state-owned China Daily) that the country had overtaken the United States in number of Internet users. (I haven’t had a chance to verify this piece of news, but surely it is only a matter of time, perhaps only of months, before the assertion becomes undisputed fact.)

The construction of the Olympic complex here is on an unparalleled scale; the main site is essentially a new city, rising to the northeast of the Forbidden City. The complex is the express undertaking of a great power taking its rightful place on the world stage. It brings to mind not the declaration of successful nationhood of the Seoul (1988) and Tokyo (1964) Olympics, but the revelation of a new national epic, like Berlin in 1936. To be sure, everyone you talk to says no state funds were used in the project, but it is difficult to overstate the patriotic pride many of the Chinese have invested in the Games.

In purchasing power parity, China already ranks third in the world. In part, this is a direct consequence of the greatest improvement ever engineered in the quality of life of a people: by most accounts, some 500 million Chinese citizens have been lifted out of poverty in the last 30 years.

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One tree, many shadows

One_tree_many_shadows Beijing, April 2: There must be a million trees in the capital, but as someone in our group helpfully pointed out, quite a number of the trees were newly planted — apparently to spruce up the city in time for the Olympics. The effect is decidedly charming; there’s greenery everywhere. But as in this photo of a lone tree and many shadows, the questions linger.

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Bird, man

Bird_man_2

Beijing, April 3: As vendors from out of town (quite probably part of what is referred to as the city’s floating population) harried our group to sell (fake) Olympic souvenirs and the ubiquitous Little Red Book (Mao’s thoughts were being sold for 50 yuan per book, but were eventually bargained down to 10), a man stood quietly on the side of the street, admiring the birds he was selling.

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Column: Barbarians at the gates?

Published on April 1, 2008

The controlling metaphor to describe the work of journalists is gatekeeping. The image suggests not only the making of distinctions (this story should be denied entry; that story should be allowed through) but also the power of definition: The news is what editors or producers or reporters say it is.

But when gates are falling down all around us, what is left for gatekeepers to do? (I am reminded of the old dig at Microsoft’s closed, monopolistic thinking: The open alternative, it was said, is No Gates, No Windows.)

In an increasingly open media environment, the reader or the viewer or the listener or the user defines what is news: The news is what I’m interested in, when I’m interested in it. That last condition is telling: When we access the news has important, indeed industry-changing, consequences for the news profession. It raises yet another question about underlying assumptions: If a gate is open all the time, is it still a gate?

To journalists of the old school, this emerging world is deeply unsettling.

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Column: Spanking the bishops

Published on March 25, 2008

It is always a writer’s privilege to receive letters or other feedback. But the comments I got last week, for the column devoted to Manny Pacquiao’s “unconvincing but legitimate” win over Juan Manuel Marquez, were more gratifying than usual, because I got the sense that many of them came from new readers, drawn in by the (largely) non-political topic.

Perhaps they would enjoy this addendum, which I was not able to include last week: AP’s Greg Beacham called the Pacquiao-Marquez rematch a great fight. “The WBC super featherweight title bout is sure to be remembered as one of the year’s most entertaining fights, from Pacquiao’s third-round knockdown to Marquez’s fantastic final rounds, and a career peak for both courageous competitors. By the 12th round, it was close enough to go either way–and that’s precisely why it was so great.” (I am quoting from the version carried by the International Herald Tribune.) And then came Beacham’s money quote from coach Freddie Roach: “The fight was very close, but I thought the knockdown was the difference. If it would have gone the other way, I would have accepted it, because with a fight like that, the difference is almost nothing.”

* * *

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Pacquiao-Marquez scorecard

The other day, I found the scorecard I kept while listening to the Pacquiao-Marquez rematch on dzBB. I thought, What the heck? Maybe I’ll post it.

Round Pacquiao Marquez Total
1 9 10 9-10
2 9 10 18-20
3 10 8 28-28
4 10 9 38-37
5 10* 9* 48-46*
6 9 10 57-56
7 10 9 67-65
8 9 10 76-75
9 10 9 86-84
10 10 9 96-93
11 10 9 106-102
12 9 10 115-112

*After watching the (much) delayed telecast, I changed my mind and gave Round 5 to Marquez; thus, my final score was 114-113 for Pacquiao.

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Column: Manny Pacquiao’s lesson in legitimacy

I got rather interesting feedback about this column; I got the sense some readers had stumbled into my column because it was about Pacquiao.

Published on March 18, 2008

A crisis it isn’t, but there is no denying the reality. A cloud of doubt hangs over boxing icon Manny Pacquiao’s split-decision victory over Juan Manuel Marquez. Can Philippine politics learn anything from Pacquiao’s legitimacy issue?

A large fistful, actually, starting with the following paradox: Pacquiao deserved his win, because the fight could have gone either way.

I had wanted to put together an argument for a media boycott of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s deputy spokesperson, Lorelei Fajardo, whose media relations philosophy can be summed up simply enough, as deliberate ignorance. (Like Scott McClellan, formerly of the Bush White House, Fajardo is deployed to meet the press precisely because she is out of the loop.) But this will have to wait.

I am a boxing fan, and it is not often that one can come to the defense of a warrior like Pacquiao. Allow me.

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Closing time at the Forbidden City

5_pm_inner_court_forbidden_city_2 I took this snapshot as our group was being herded out of the Forbidden City, in Beijing, at a little past 5 pm, last April 3. (I had time to take two shots, before we were all shown the door, or rather the gate, directly opposite the one in the photo; this is the second.) Something about late afternoon sunlight —- yes, even in China —- always speaks to me.

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