Monthly Archives: May 2008

How to disagree

Graham's Pyramid

(Via TPM Cafe) Web guru Paul Graham asks, What does it mean to disagree well

there's a lot more disagreeing going on, especially measured by the word. That doesn't mean people are getting angrier. The structural change in the way we communicate is enough to account for it. But though it's not anger that's driving the increase in disagreement, there's a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it's easy to say things you'd never say face to face.

If we're all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well. What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages

Thus, his suggestion: an hierarchy of disagreement. Loudacris at CreateDebate turned Graham's thoughts into a compelling graphic


Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Politics, Spiral Notebook

An extraordinary document

I like Maria Ressa; I've always found her way of thinking simultaneously gracious and pointed. Well, she has written an extraordinary brief on behalf of independent journalism, and it deserves to be read by everyone who has a stake or takes part in the public discourse. 

It does not only make a forceful case for allowing journalists to do their job, of letting journalists be —- in December 1999, when we were drummed out of Mark Jimenez's Manila Times, we knew it was because we were "calling it as we saw it." Maria's "Editor's Take" states the case even before the family that owns the TV network she works for and funds the news operations she oversees.

The (literally) breathtaking part:

Two years ago in a Lopez company forum, patriarch Oscar Lopez lauded our Standards & Ethics Manual. Manolo Lopez asked us to "stop being so critical" because he said that the Arroyo administration takes it out on Meralco.

I said we report what we see and could not tailor the news to fit any vested interests. If what he said was true, I asked, why not come out with it publicly? He told me, "Maria, you just don’t understand."

Last Friday, he finally said it publicly – that he believed the reason why Meralco was being targeted was because the government wanted to control ABS-CBN. He also admitted he has never been able to control ABS-CBN News.

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De Quiros-ed

Before I lose the links altogether: Conrad de Quiros gamely took up the challenge and responded to my criticism last week of his recent column on the Couples for Christ crisis with a characteristic reply —- that is, a witty rejoinder, not conceding an inch and indeed digging in (to hopelessly mix metaphors) for the proverbial mile. Since I was editing the opinion pages that day, I saw his column beforehand. It had a charming postscript addressed directly to me. I texted him and asked: The postscript is meant to be printed, right? He said yes. Read his column (his response is in the second half) here.

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Quote: Renaissance man

 "… an enduring European cultural model: the "Encyclopedic" or "Universal" man, personified by such figures as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Leibnitz, and Goethe. All cultures have their saints, their poets, and their sages; but a Leonardo da Vinci could appear only in Europe." – Mircea Eliade

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Column: The Pope and the atheist

My column tomorrow (that is, half an hour from now). Published May 20, 2008

If everything is opinion, is discourse still possible?

The Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn, addressing a conference in Lugano, Switzerland last weekend on “Truth in Science, Humanities and Religion,” phrased the problem in familiar terms. “Suppose I voice an honest and heartfelt opinion about anything, from mathematics to aesthetics. The conversation-stopping remark ‘That’s just your opinion’ is not only beside the point, but more importantly dehumanizing. It signals that your words do not deserve to be taken seriously, but only taken as symptoms, like signs of a disease.”

Perhaps this explains why, in the so-called blogosphere where opinion is the coin of the realm, there is so much incivility. The diseased are conversing, through a fog of symptoms. (I confess I have been sometimes snide myself, in my own blog.) But the dehumanizing tendency is present in other media too, and indeed even or especially in our un-mediated experiences. Perhaps out of an excess of good will, of fellow-feeling, we often act as though one opinion is as good as any other.

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Column: Judging Israel, judging CFC

In my Newsstand column today, I took issue with three much better men. I do not have Walden Bello’s number, but I do have Conrad de Quiros’ and Billy Esposo’s — so I sent them a message yesterday, warning them of my temerity.

Published on May 13, 2008

Spare a thought for Israel, which marked its 60th anniversary as an independent state last week. Much of the coverage I’ve seen made it a point to mention the parallel narrative of the Palestinians, who refer to the founding of Israel as the nakba, the catastrophe. That is only right; that tragedy is Israel’s original sin.

I only wish as much attention was paid to Israel’s robust democracy, which has weathered repeated attempts by hostile nations to destroy it.

I remember reading Walden Bello’s vivid dispatches (some of them published in the Inquirer) from Lebanon in August 2006, during the Israel-Hezbollah War. There was no mistaking where the good professor’s sympathies lay, but his keen eye for detail often made up for his bias. It is difficult to argue with facts “on the ground,” as both military strategists like to say.

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Lebanon 3

As usual, Michael Totten makes uncanny sense of the escalating violence in Lebanon. Writing in Commentary, he describes the coming of what he calls the third Lebanese civil war.

“Hezbollah is not mounting a coup,” Charles Malik writes from Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal. “They do not want to control ALL of Lebanon. They have no interest in controlling state institutions.”

This is mostly right. As long as Hezbollah gets what it wants, taking over all of Lebanon is unnecessary, as well as most likely impossible. But this is still a coup d’etat of a sort. What happened is, literally, a blow against the state. Until this week, Hezbollah existed both inside and beside the state. Hezbollah now exists above the state, the parliament, the police, and the army.

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Dogberry on Sassy

As some of you may still remember, I figured in an online fight with Sassy Lawyer some time ago. (The post I wrote defending Deannie Bocobo is the Newsstand page with the most number of views, if the three tracking systems I use are any gauge. Apparently, readers like a good scrap.) Since meeting her at an ANC show and exchanging small talk at the lobby afterwards, I have sort of lost track of Sassy, at least online. Now Exie Abola has resurrected an entire cluster of synapses in my aging brain, with his cogent column today on Sassy’s “philistinism” in the matter of Amado V. Hernandez’s Birds of Prey. It is, unfortunately for Sassy, a complete evisceration.


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More about used books

As it turns out, my copy of Picked-Up Pieces is with good friend Exie Abola. That means one less excuse, I mean book, to scour the used books bins for. For a good scouring, I would recommend Buy the Book, a bookstore in Walter Mart Pasay Road where Powerbooks sells assorted used books. Last month, to give a for instance, I bought seven books: The Meaning of Recognition by Clive James (hardback), The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (in one of those big fat paperback formats I like very much), an immaculate Monte D’Urban by the unfortunately neglected J. F. Powers, A Serious Way of Wondering by Reynolds Price, State of Denial (the third volume, hardback, of Bush at War) by Bob Woodward, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (still in its shrink-wrapping) by the eminent Gordon Wood, and — not least, at least as an experiment — A Case of Two Cities, a gritty crime thriller (hardback) set in Shanghai, by Qiu Xiaolong. Total damage: About P1,100 (a third of it for the latest James collection). The week before I had seen a copy of The Meaning of Recognition in Powerbooks Greenbelt, retailing for something like P1,800. So, yes, I felt good. Then I started to read Welty, and realized I had seriously underpaid.

The first story I read was “A Piece of News,” which includes the scene of a young, slow-witted woman encountering her name in a newspaper for the first time. Damn thing blew me away.


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Used books

We all have our reasons, I guess, for frequenting used books bookstores. Mine has a strong element of serendipity: Would I have even known about Alec Wilkinson’s affectionate if not entirely sympathetic memoir of the great editor and fictionist William Maxwell, if I had not bumped into “My Mentor” while combing through the bins in Baguio last December? But it isn’t all discovery either. I am also looking for particular books: books I’ve read before and would like to read again, books like Reflections without Mirrors, by Louis Nizer or Picked Up Pieces, by John Updike (I used to have a copy, but I can’t find it anymore).

If you see any of them, give me a shout out.


Filed under Notes on Readings, Spiral Notebook

Funny girl

I was looking for a copy of the speech by Emmanuel de Dios on fostering a culture of secular morality, when I stumbled onto a copy of Robina Gokongwei’s remarks at the recognition ceremony for graduates of the UP School of Economics (of which De Dios, incidentially, is dean). I was with the Manila Times in its last few months under Robina’s stewardship, so I found out for myself how naturally funny she was. Judging from her speech, she still is.

The first theory is the ubiquitous law of supply and demand. The reason I failed to graduate from UP was that I was kidnapped on the way to School in September of 1981, and guess what, right on the day I was supposed to take Porfessor Canlas’s exams. Contrary to the 2000 movie “Ping Lacson, supercop”, I was not jogging on the grounds of UP wearing a mid-riff when I got kidnapped … I didn’t have the body then to wear that outfit and never will.

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Israel at 60

The “Israel problem” remains vexing, especially in relation to the suffering of the parallel nation of Palestine, but those who believe in liberty and order may want to raise a glass in honor of Israel’s thriving democracy, now entering its seventh decade. BBC is marking the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence with a wonderful 30-minute documentary about life in Jaffa, a port city where Arabs and Jews live in peaceful coexistence.

After the short-lived Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, someone who visited Beirut as part of an international monitoring team wrote a front-page commentary in the Inquirer — I forget who, but I’m sure with a little research in the office I can find the actual page. I remember being dismayed at the casual contrast the writer made between the inevitable tumult that lay in wait for Ehud Olmert’s inept administration and the outpouring of adoration already falling on Hezbollah’s collective head. The writer seemed to have discounted the main reason for the turbulence in Tel Aviv: that it was the noise of an open and democratic society, loudly calling its leaders to account. Of which other country can that be said in the Middle East?

A Haaretz columnist interviewed on BBC, for a spot news report earlier today, described his country’s central narrative as one of “tragic success.” I think he got it exactly right — but the obvious must be belabored too. That Israel is a genuine democracy also means that Israelis can — and do — judge themselves by democracy’s own exacting standards.

“Jaffa Stories” airs again at 11:30 pm tomorrow (Friday) night, and at 5:10 pm on Saturday (Manila time). The BBC website is a bit of a mess, so here are two links to essentially the same thing, but you get video (the outtakes from the documentary) only in the second link. Must be a British thing.

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Column: Should journalists vote?

Published on May 6, 2008

A year ago, on his Sidetrip blog, Howie Severino raised an essential question. The problem the multi-awarded TV reporter recognized had started as a practical matter: Many journalists working on Election Day do not have time to vote. Perhaps, he wondered, there was an opportunity here, ready to be seized.

“This leads me to make an unoriginal proposal—if journalists are not going to have time to vote anyway, why not make that a principled omission rather than the result of a scheduling problem? In other words, journalists can refrain from voting as a statement of nonpartisanship and devotion to unbiased reporting.”

My immediate reaction to Howie’s question was personal. That is to say, I saw it as an identity issue. Like many other Filipinos, I wager, I see myself as a voter too, somebody who does not only take part in each electoral exercise but actually looks forward to casting his ballot. (The lesson of 1981 and 1984 remains clear to me: In the Philippines, election boycotts don’t work.) Besides, I remember thinking then, after rereading Howie’s blog post yet another time, surely all journalists have the duty to meet this minimum requirement of good citizenship.

Could I have gotten things wrong?

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Column: Blogs to read

Published on April 29, 2008

A city road cuts through the village where I live. 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, between 5 a.m. and 10.30 p.m.

It used to be that when the road was still a two-way street 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.

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The man with the blue guitar

Man_with_a_blue_guitar I didn’t think I’d find Wallace Stevens in China, especially not in the heavily touristed water village of Zhouzhuang, but there he was, a shearsman of sorts, not at all bent over but standing upright with his blue guitar. They said, “You have a blue guitar,/ You do not play things as they are.”/ The man replied, “Things as they are/ Are changed upon the blue guitar.” And, yes, the day was green. (Read Miranda Gaw on one of Stevens’ most famous poems, long or short.)

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