Sunday, May 19, 2013

From globalization to something close to home

This blog is evolving. When I started blogging in 2005, it was to capture some of my thoughts regarding a journalism fellowship I was with. Was travelling with journalists from all over US and the Asia Pacific region to different cities (Hawaii, Shanghai, Beijing, Silicon Valley, to Bangalore and Chennai). Then the blog evolved into something that discussed globalization, politics and culture. Serious, boring stuff. In 2009, a new career track forced me to take a hiatus for four years.

Now, I thought I need to revive the blog. Some kind of a mental shadow boxing. This time around, it will a little bit more personal: reflections about life outside work, if there's any. Reading books, fiction and nonfiction, is a hobby so a friend suggested that I should regularly write book reviews. Good idea. So maybe I should focus not about the book itself, but about Filipino identity, or how we are portrayed in literature. Somehow, Filipino characters portrayed in these fictional works reveal just how other cultures perceive us, or even the way we perceive ourselves. Would that be fine? Would that be interesting?

Friday, May 17, 2013

A night in Shanghai

One night in Shanghai, we (journalist friends from India, US, Taiwan and the Philippines) stumbled upon a place called Xintiandi. There was a bar called Luna, where a rock band from Manila was playing. I scribbled these lines after that visit. That was probably five years ago?

In Shanghai’s nights
They found Xintiandi
Lurking in the shadows—
A walker in a dark alley?
Is she a Babylon
In the belly of the dragon
Or an oasis, in a desert
Worshipping mammon?
From the monsoon winds
We came through Luna’s lair
Where a priestess asserts her will
Through melodies from hell.
To the whining strings
She writhes and screams,
While the drunken throng cries
Like damned souls in flames.
To the thunder of the drums
They curse and dance;
Through the songs’ violence
Their purge their shame.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Vince Flynn needs to do some basic research on the Philippines

After the failure of US Navy Seals to rescue American hostages held by Abu Sayyaf, Mitch Rapp, CIA’s top counterterrorist agent-turned bureaucrat, has to come to the Philippines to do the job himself. He rooted out the traitors from within the US State Department and their accomplice in the Philippines, wiped out the band of kidnappers or terrorists, and foiled a larger global menace whose tentacles traces back to the corridors of money and power in the Middle East.

Classic Vince Flynn!

But my praises stop there. It’s obvious that Flynn has zero knowledge of Philippine geography.

Consider this: Abu Sayyaf snatched the hostages from Samar and brought them to their supposed lair in Dinagat Island. Seriously? Could you imagine the presence of Abu Sayyaf in Dinagat Island? Flyn’s Abu Sayyaf speaks “Filipino.” If he did simple research, he will know without much effort that Abu Sayyaf operates largely in Basilan and Sulu areas. They speak their own dialects (mostly Tausug or Yakan) and not Tagalog or Filipino.

They could never thrive in Dinagat due to ethnic, language or even religious differences, not to mention the constraints of physical terrain (unless you consider the island's natural bonsai forests as good shelter for guerillas). Dinagatnons are mostly Visayans (Surigaonons).
The supposed accomplice in the Philippines is named General “Moro.” Another character is named General “Rizal.” Both surnames are not used in the Philippines. Not anymore.

Of course, it's fiction. But fiction could use accurate background information to be credible.
Come on, Vince! You can do better than that.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Are combat sports (boxing and MMA) barbaric?

“Two people trying to beat the crap out of each other for a prize – isn’t that barbaric?”

Friends always ask these questions every time they learned I got a ticket for either a mixed martial arts (MMA) or boxing card.

If it’s true that our forefathers clubbed each other for pieces of meat or a handful of berries, prizefighting in today’s world may deserve that label.

In fairness to our cave-dwelling forefathers, they may have figured out early on that they can also get what they wanted, or at least some of it, by haggling and bargaining. Negotiations must have yielded results that were mutually beneficial. Out of this process evolved complex relationships of give-and-take that blossomed into what we now call “civilized behavior.” Nevertheless, one cannot deny that prizefighting could trace back to that early, nasty episode in human evolution.

Prizefighting actually thrives in advanced societies.

Greece had pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling with few rules) in their Olympics and while Rome had gladiators. Where do we hold the biggest prizefights covered by media and beamed to millions of homes worldwide in modern times? America. Europe. Japan. These countries have advanced economies, produce cutting-edge technologies that are changing the world, and churn out culture (songs, media, dances, fashion, philosophy, etc.) that are constantly shaping the way we live. So it’s tempting to say that the huge and glamorous prize-fighting events in these societies, beamed to millions of homes worldwide through TV and the Internet, are probably socio-cultural indicators of "greatness."

I heard another “theory.” Maybe human nature hasn’t really changed since the days of the cave dwellers. We have all the accoutrements of modernity now (smart phones, internet, jets, better plumbing, glamorous clothes, table manners, air-conditioning, morning-after pill, etcetera) but we probably haven’t gone far beyond who we really are since humans first experienced the thrill of watching fights among fellow savages. (Watch those crime reports, read the newspapers today and you will realize that lots of places in the world remain in the Hobbesian state of nature “where life is nasty, brutish and short.”)
Over time, social expectations (mores, laws, regulations, treaties, agreements, ethics, religion, etc.) have tempered human impulses. Obeying these rules and expectations, usually buttressed by State violence (i.e. the courts, cops and the army), is part of the “social contract” to prevent humans from annihilating each other. This arrangement is getting more important by the day as the the effectiveness of the tools for killing and maiming (automatic rifles, machine guns, biological agents, nukes) is improving by the minute. But it seems like there’s this subconscious and persistent – nay primal – urge for either employing or watching violence. To use Sigmund Freud’s phraseology, is this primarily to “to work off the intolerable burdens of civilization”?

Hence, we have sports competitions which are essentially simulations of combat and from which audiences derive vicarious experience and pleasure. I suppose we have ‘action’ films for the same reason. (We no longer have gladiators around – passé – because we can now watch combat and bedlam either on LED TV or the movie screen).
And of course, there’s boxing and MMA.

Barbaric? Nah, just enjoy the show. Or switch the TV off.