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.

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 gate. No passing through, the signs also said, naming the streets affected.

It seems that for many Filipinos, however, the traffic directional signs have the same ontological status as traffic lights: They exist as little more than suggestions. Many non-residents continue to enter the village despite the half-closed gate and the “Road Closed” signs. In the middle of the road, they are forced to double back (sometimes causing a serious traffic jam) or make a detour.

Why would a driver or passenger ignore a “Road Closed” sign? I can think of two possible reasons: Perhaps they read the sign but immediately discount it (it’s a credibility thing), or perhaps they don’t think the sign applies to them at all.

* * *

I am reminded of a comment once made by Anders Hultmann, the father of one of Claudio Teehankee Jr.’s murder victims, Maureen, writing some time after the horrible killings that helped define the post-EDSA generation. It was, if I remember correctly, about the characteristic lack of discipline of Filipino drivers. Hultman faulted us for our habitual failure to use our signal lights when changing lanes. How churlish and trivial, I remember thinking then. Today I am not too sure. He may have been on to something.

If Philippine politics sometimes looks like a multi-car pile-up, perhaps it’s partly because we practice politics the same way we drive: self-indulgently.

* * *

In last week’s episode of Che-Che Lazaro’s “Media in Focus,” the second panel of guests (PR practitioner Richard Burgos, Melinda Quintos de Jesus of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and me as a journalist-blogger) discussed the role of online media in the wake of Cebu City’s Black Suede scandal. The discussion ranged widely, from the loss of traditional media’s gate-keeping function to the make-or-break importance of trust or credibility.

I got the impression, especially after the show, that some of my colleagues in the so-called mainstream media find the so-called blogosphere a threatening thicket, a tangled web best avoided. To be sure, most of the millions of blogs accessible online make sense only to their authors and friends. (I do not know this for a fact, but take it as a reasonable assumption.) But it’s the same way with the cable multi-verse: Not every channel is National Geographic.

It would be foolish to deny one’s self the online equivalent of 500 channels, when some of the most exciting writing can be found on them.

Ethan Zuckerman, for example, is a man of many parts. Tech entrepreneur, Global Voices founder, African development advocate (his blog at ethanzuckerman.com/blog is called My Heart’s in Accra—that is, Ghana), Zuckerman is also possibly the best documentarist on the Web. He takes the most detailed notes at some of the most exclusive or forward-thinking conferences, allowing his readers a rich if vicarious experience.

His latest post, as I write this, is entitled “Homophily, serendipity, xenophilia.” If you’ve ever been struck by the like-attracts-like nature of many group discussions, which results in the marginalization of dissenting opinion, you may like this attempt to “flesh out” three very useful concepts.

To Filipino readers of a certain age, James Fallows needs very little introduction; he authored that Atlantic Monthly piece in 1987 that gave us—speaking of useful concepts—a tool to beat ourselves with. (I am referring, of course, to “A Damaged Culture.”)

He still writes for the Atlantic Monthly, but now lives in Beijing, as part of a long-term experiment to document China’s incredible transition. His posts (at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com) allow us to sort through the flood of information that is now available about China, through a top journalist’s makeshift filter of equal parts sympathy and skepticism. But Fallows, who used to write speeches for Jimmy Carter, keeps his hand in US politics. His latest post, “Most important item in Sunday’s NYT,” discusses politicians’ frustration with the conduct of campaign coverage.

There are many more writers worth following on the Web (I subscribe to 68 RSS feeds; Chinese bridge-blogger Isaac Mao told me he subscribes to over 700). In the Philippines, colleague Manolo Quezon’s blog (quezon.ph) is the indispensable political website. Some of the best writing is found in the blogs of two theater critics, the Inquirer’s own Gibbs Cadiz and the Star’s Exie Abola. And novelist Butch Dalisay posts pictures as well-tempered as his prose. Verily, a virtual embarrassment of riches.

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