Monthly Archives: September 2008

Why was McCain seemingly so angry at Obama during the first debate?

One possible answer, from a gripping behind-the-scenes account of the White House bailout summit last Friday.


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Drama king

After good friend Gibbs Cadiz won much-deserved PBA honors for his blog, the newspaper's editors asked around for a "short news feature" on him. Was only too happy to help train the spotlight on the Inquirer's own "drama king."

The story is available on both and Gibbs' well-read, well-written blog (which has all the links). And, well, here too.

Published on September 28, 2008

Inquirer drama critic Gibbs Cadiz has a deep passion for Philippine theater. How deep? In 1991, in his very first job, he used his first-ever paycheck to buy season’s tickets to Repertory Philippines.

“The first ticket I bought was for the musical ‘Stop the World, I want to get off,’ at Rep’s Insular Life Theater in Makati,” he remembers.

That abiding passion was recognized last Sunday, in properly dramatic fashion, when Cadiz, a desk editor of Inquirer Lifestyle, became the first arts and culture honoree of the Philippine Blog Awards. Because the PBA ceremony at One Esplanade had no provision for that most theatrical of traditions, the acceptance speech, Cadiz wrote one and posted it on the blog.

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Either John McCain's gambling instincts have overwhelmed him (another day, another political stunt), or he wants (after a week of missteps on economic issues, the latest polls, and, not least, his campaign manager's continued lobbying work) to cut and run. Delay the debate? He must be desperate.

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Column: The unbearable lightness of Republican hypocrisy

Published on September 9, 2008

SINGAPORE—It is in the Republican Party’s best interests to lose the November elections. Years in power have so debased the party of Lincoln it has corrupted even language itself (an incomparable instrument in Lincoln’s care, and an indivisible part of his legacy).

Consider Sarah Palin.

John McCain’s running mate is attractive and easy to like: Tina Fey with a moose gun. (Life magazine ran an uncanny cover featuring the “Saturday Night Live” comedienne and McCain, still in Straight Talk Express mode, a few years back.) Palin seems like the kind of All-American go-getter we’ve all met: naturally courteous, pleasantly assertive, earnest and self-sufficient.

She is also a liar. Or, alternatively, her acceptance speech was a concatenation of lies.

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Ethan Zuckerman, Michael Holroyd–and Arnel Pineda

It's already been two and a half years since I started reading Ethan Zuckerman, but the Global Voices co-founder remains my favorite blogger. (He was in Manila in 2006: a big bear of a man, but open and friendly.) His blog posts, even the more technical ones, always strike me as deeply humanistic. To mis-appropriate famous jurist Felix Frankfurter's categories for measuring Franklin Delano Roosevelt: I sense through Ethan's writing a first-class intelligence in a first-class temperament. 

He reminds me of one afternoon I spent in the British Council's library, in its old digs in New Manila, when I stumbled on Michael Holroyd's introduction to the last volume of his exhaustive (exhausting?) life of George Bernard Shaw. This, I remember thinking, responding to Holroyd's massive, deeply appealing intelligence, is what the humanities are about. (And that is why I collect Holroyd's reminiscences. I have Works on Paper and Mosaic; I'm looking for Basil Street Blues. But that, as biographers and bloggers alike would say, is another story.)

Last month, Ethan wrote a moving meditation on the bridging of cross-cultural divides, with the now-famous Arnel Pineda, the new lead singer of Journey, in the role of makeshift bridge.

I’ve been researching stories that help demonstrate how the Internet has helped people make connections across cultural boundaries… and the ways in which it’s fallen short of its potential to do so. One of the stories that’s fascinated me is the story of how Filipino singer Arnel Pineda became the new lead singer of US rock band, Journey.

He explained what he saw in the story.

I’m interested in the story because it seems like a realization of the highest aspirations some of us had for the internet when it entered the public consciousness in 1994. Here was a space that promised a common ground, a level playing field for people around the world to share their ideas and talents. (Needless to say, it’s never been truly level, as barriers of language, education and access make it likely that many geniuses living in rural Africa will go undiscovered.) The internet hints at a truly globalized world, one where the best person for the job has a chance at it, no matter what her accident of birth; a world where the best idea, invention or performance might win out despite the origins of its author.

Of course, that quasi-verb "seems" tells us there is more to Arnel Pineda's story than the clear triumph an Internet pioneer would have liked to see. As we say in Tagalog, abangan!

(Stick around for the comments, too; a Filipino, apparently — and unfortunately — using a handle instead of a real name, affectingly translates an evocative phrase.)


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Column: Protect the high court

Published on September 2, 2008

Last week, Sen. Joker Arroyo raised an intriguing proposal: Perhaps the Supreme Court can suspend its hearings on the controversial Memorandum of Agreement  on the ancestral domain issue in Mindanao to “give the Executive the elbow room to prosecute the military campaign against the MILF renegades and make a thorough and unimpeded restudy of the MOA.”

Truth, it has too often been said, is war’s first casualty. One way to understand Arroyo’s proposal is to argue that ambiguity is a close second to truth. When government soldiers are dying on the front lines, government should offer its troops certainty, not debate.

“The environmental circumstances—a war going on and at the same time a Supreme Court hearing ongoing—is neither healthy nor conducive to the national interest,” Arroyo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“It will … be disheartening for our troops to be fighting while we argue over the MOA that brought them into war.”

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Column: What’s the Inquirer’s agenda?

Published August 26, 2008

They make for painful reading: Letters from ordinary citizens or “observant readers,” accusing the Inquirer of grave bias. A post in Bong Montesa’s blog summed up their point of view in a telling question: “What is the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s agenda?”

Letter-writer Vicente Chuidian of Pasay City wrote to complain about the newspaper’s alleged bias against Court of Appeals Justice Jose Sabio.  I must confess that I am a little put off by the pseudo-objective point of view he adopts: “But a content analysis of its stories, news columns and editorials on the Supreme Court investigation into the alleged bribery involving Court of Appeals justices seems to indicate that the Inquirer is obsessed to ‘cut down’ Justice Jose Sabio. For there is a common thread that an observant reader can discern—a uniform ‘spin,’ if one wishes to be judgmental—from its reporting.” I will explain why I find this kind of objectivity false, but Mr. Chuidian does raise a valid concern, and in doing so he is doing all of us a service. But the issue is not justice; it is journalism.

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Another month, another backlog

Sometimes, the busy-ness of this particular intersection in Metro Manila can surprise even this particular newsstand vendor. All of a sudden (it feels sudden to me),  it's three weeks since I last added new papers to this newsstand, and more than a month since my last column update. My bad. Let me make up for it.

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The old hometown

When I went back to Cagayan de Oro last month, I failed to take pictures (although some kind soul from the Development Communication program of Xavier University's College of Agriculture did take some photos of the discussion with DevComm majors I took part in, including the first one below). In October 2006, however, when I spent considerably more time in the old hometown, I did take a few.

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Column: On peace, we are all experts

Published on August 19, 2008

Last week, I found myself in Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, attending a thrilling forum on population and development hosted under the auspices of Archbishop Antonio Ledesma. Afterwards, I met with a group of earnest Development Communication majors, to talk shop about journalism. While waiting for the students to arrive from another building, I loitered in the corridors, and saw, posted on one bulletin board, an open letter written by veteran journalist Froilan Gallardo. Now editor in chief of SunStar Cagayan de Oro, Gallardo had written the letter to express his frustration over national media coverage of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on ancestral domain.

I was not able to take notes, and I have not been able to find the letter online. But I do wish to respond to one point I remember being raised in the letter. I share many of Gallardo’s concerns, but one complaint about Manila-centric media (it may well have been an aside) I found unsympathetic. It ran like this: Now that the contents of the MOA had been divulged, everybody (the Manila-based pundit class especially) suddenly seems to be an expert on Mindanao and on the peace process.

I think I see what he means; our profession, such as it is, is vulnerable to the perils of parachute journalism and the instant commentary. But if what he meant is that some opinions on the MOA fiasco are more privileged than others, then following the implications of his thought to their extreme but logical conclusion, we would have to conclude that Hermogenes Esperon, the new peace adviser, should have the last say on the issue. I doubt if Gallardo will accept that conclusion; he will certainly not abide by it.

But that is the consequence of his notion that, on such a basic and decidedly political issue as peace in Mindanao, we should leave the discourse to the "real" experts.

On peace, everybody is an expert. That is to say, everyone’s opinion matters.

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Column: Sex in Beijing

Published on August 12, 2008

It was already spring, but at night the wind was sharp, even wintry. Leaving the Foreign Languages bookstore after finding all three volumes of “Three Kingdoms” (I had been looking for this classic Chinese novel for a long time), I started to cross Wangfujing street, all bundled up in my suddenly inadequate suit. A lovely lady in a fur coat, looking to all the world like a heroine in a Korean “telenovela”  — almond eyes, alabaster skin — approached me. I thought she was going to ask for the time.

“You like videoke?” she said. “Very near. Pretty girls.”

“No, thanks,” I said, and started on my way to the McDonald’s branch right across the street from the bookstore.

At night, a portion of Wangfujing turns into a promenade. Despite the weather, there were still many strollers, some obviously tourists like me taking in the sights.

She followed me. “Pretty girls. Very near,” she said again. Then, even before I could say no a second time: “You want massage? Or sex in your room? Only 400.”

Unfortunately, after a couple of days in China, I was already in full tourist mode. Thus my instinctive, almost involuntary reaction was to compute. (Did she say 400 yuan? That’s about P2,400).

Korean Heroine must have seen the momentary flicker in my eye.

She followed me across the street. “Only 400. One night, 1,000. Very pretty girls.”

I said “No, thanks” again (and again). But she thought she had seen me rise to the bait, so she kept fishing. “Where are you going?” she asked.

“McDonald’s,” I said, and immediately felt foolish for answering.

“It’s very near. Wait here,” she said. “I bring pretty girl. If you don’t like, it’s okay.”

No, I said again, feebly, in the wintry wind. “It’s very near,” she said. “Wait here.”

By then we had reached the McDonald’s branch, which had an anteroom on the first floor. “Very near,” she said. “Pretty girls.”

No, I said, my voice becoming firmer inside the restaurant’s foyer. “No, thank you.”

Korean Heroine snapped. “What are you?!” she said indignantly, almost shouting.

I, whatever I was, watched her stalk off after new game.

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Another reading of Solzhenitsyn

Last month, I marked the passage of a writer for the ages by appropriating a line from one of his novels and applying it to the ancestral domain controversy in Mindanao. But I was working in the office with a quote from one of the many wire stories on the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. When I got home, I looked him up in Pritchett (a photocopy of the 1,300-page Complete Essays, bound in two volumes — possibly the most important thing I have in my library, but that's another story), to see what my favorite critic had written about the Russian dissident.

Pritchett, as it turns out, thought very highly of Solzhenitsyn. "As a novelist Solzhenitsyn is very much in the powerful tradition of the nineteenth-century Russian novel as it appears in the prophet-preacher writings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, now one, now the other; as a polemical writer, in the tradition of Belinsky and Herzen." And again: "And now [apropos of Cancer Ward] we see Solzhenitsyn's mastery as a novelist: he is able to see the consoling contradictions of human nature and how they fertilize character." And yet again: "The density of Solzhenitsyn's texture owes everything to the ingenious interlocking of incidents that are really short stories. This is the form in which he excels."

But Pritchett's review used a different translation of the key passage from First Circle ("a secret government") I dared to use in my column. The difference is slight, but instructive.

"… a great writer — forgive me, perhaps I shouldn't say this, I'll lower my voice — a great writer is so to speak a second government, that's why no regime anywhere has ever loved its great writers only its minor ones."

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