Sunday, June 30, 2013

Honoring Tradition

If the US is going to have secret judges presiding over secret courts, as we are being told we must, I hope that they will at least adhere to tradition (if not to the Constitution) and wear those really cool black hoods with slits for eye-holes like I remember from the old movies.

In Today's Most Shocking News Story ...

... Drudge has a breaking report indicating that Michael Jackson may have been a pedophile!!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Update on Ecuador's Trade Status with the US

I mentioned yesterday that Ecuador might suffer job losses (and American expats there might suffer hostility) if the US failed to renew Ecuador's trade preferences.

President Correa of Ecuador made a big show of saying Ecuador wouldn't be bullied and renounced the preferences. Ecuador has indicated that the preferences didn't mean much anyway.

That is belied, however, by the fact that the Ecuadorian Embassy in Washington was actually running an ad campaign to get the preferences renewed, according to The Washington Post. Here's an ad currently up on Washington's public transit system.
The initiative also featured an extensive Web site, according to a news release lauding the launch, featuring “videos, infographics, photos and testimonials from those affected in both countries – from Ecuadorian farmers to the owners of U.S. flower shops,” as well as a social-media presence. 
The message is (was?) that the trade deal was pretty much the best thing since sliced bread, keeping Ecuadorians from resorting to the drug trade, while sending the very finest fresh-cut roses, tuna, broccoli and mangoes to American consumers. 
“ serves as a forum for educating, encouraging action, and stimulating a very important conversation: ways that Ecuador and the U.S. can further develop our trade relationships for the economic and security benefits of both countries,” Nathalie Cely, the Ecuadorian ambassador to the U.S. said in the release.
The website has been taken down.

Ecuador Learns First-Hand about Leaks

Ecuador may be having second thoughts about its asylum practices. The Guardian (UK) says that President Correa is piqued about the UK embassy, where it appears Julian Assange may be running things.
The plan to spirit the surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden to sanctuary in Latin America appeared to be unravelling on Friday, amid tension between Ecuador's government and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. President Rafael Correa halted an effort to help Snowden leave Russia amid concern Assange was usurping the role of the Ecuadoran government, according to leaked diplomatic correspondence published on Friday. Amid signs Quito was cooling with Snowden and irritated with Assange, Correa declared invalid a temporary travel document which could have helped extract Snowden from his reported location in Moscow. Correa declared that the safe conduct pass issued by Ecuador's London consul – in collaboration with Assange – was unauthorised, after other Ecuadorean diplomats privately said the WikiLeaks founder could be perceived as "running the show".
Although The Guardian mentions only that Correa had revoked the safe pass, and that he claimed it was unauthorized, Univision says that's false -- that they have proof Correa had initially approved the documents, but then backed off.
In an ironic twist, Univision used metadata attached to an electronic copy of the safe pass to verify that it was composed at the work computer of Javier Mendoza, the Ecuadorian deputy consul in London (see photo above). Mendoza has acted as an intermediary for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted in Sweden in connection with sexual assault allegations, but maintains that U.S. authorities are hunting him for Wikileaks' political activities. Metadata also showed that the Snowden pass was last edited, for 48 minutes, by the consul in London, Fidel Narvaez. Ecuadorian Press Secretary Betty Tola did not directly address the pass' authenticity but told Univision today that "any document in this regard is not valid and is the sole responsibility of the person who has issued [it]," suggesting that the London consulate might have acted alone in issuing it. That does not appear to be the case, however. According to communications obtained by Univision, Narvaez wrote the pass at President Correa's request, and the consul recounted speaking directly with the president about the "unique circumstances" of Snowden's case.
After the pass was revealed publicly, sources tell Univision, Correa instructed his staff to deny any role in its creation. "The official position is that the Ecuadorian government has NOT authorized any pass for anybody," those instructions read. "Any document that exists about has no validity."
Hoist by their own metadata, one might say.

Best Personals Ad I've Seen in a While

If that doesn't work, he could try moving to the Philippines.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Reconsidering Ecuador

Since I am planning to move to Ecuador (probably Quito) later this year, I have been following events there fairly closely of late and trying to learn as much as I can about the country. The recent events involving Edward Snowden’s request for asylum there have been of particular interest, of course.

If Ecuador gives Snowden asylum, regardless of how I may feel about him or his actions or whether he deserves asylum, it could have an impact on US expats in Ecuador (meaning: me).

Here’s the situation – Ecuadorian exports are currently given tariff preference in the US under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which happens to be coming up for renewal next month. If Ecuador gives asylum to Snowden, it seems unlikely the preferences would be renewed.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, promised Wednesday that he would block renewal of the pact should Snowden be granted asylum. 
"Our government will not reward countries for bad behavior," he said in a statement, following other lawmakers who have spent years saying that the pact should be allowed to lapse, partly down to the country's links with Iran.
This matters considerably to Ecuador, since more than 50% of their exports go to the US. More than 100,000 Ecuadorians, for one example, work in the flower-growing business, almost all of which is based on export to the US).

If the US cuts off imports from Ecuador, Ecuadorians will lose jobs. With the government controlling the media, one can be certain that this will be trumpeted loudly (and every job loss, related to exports or not, will be blamed on the US).

So here’s the question: How unpleasant will things become for American expats if/when Ecuadorians start losing their jobs? This situation is making me think twice about my plans to move to Quito later this year. With luck, there will be some clarity about how things will play out before I have to make a decision.

Kate Hepburn Gets a Starring Role in My Family Tree

I’m continuing onward with my genealogical research. I have come up with a number of kings and queens (if you go back far enough, that’s pretty much inevitable, I guess), but you really know you've hit the big time when you come up with somebody who was important enough to be played by Katherine Hepburn.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was my great x24 grandmother, and The Lion in Winter provides a highly romanticized version of her very difficult marriage with Henry II of England (as portrayed by Peter O’Toole) and their even more difficult relationships with their sons.

Kate as Eleanor
Eleanor is most noted (other than for providing Hepburn with one of her four Oscar-winning roles) for having been the Queen of both France and England – she was married to Louis VII of France before marrying Henry (she and Louis went on the Second Crusade together).

It’s interesting to note that the marriage to Louis was annulled by the Pope on grounds of consanguinity, but she then married Henry, to whom she was more closely related than to Louis. This is one of those things that make you go “Hmmm”.

Something new I learned was the origin of the name Eleanor. She was named for her mother, Aenor, and was referred to as a child as ‘alia Aenor’ – Latin for ‘the other Aenor’. In English, this became Eleanor.


It's raining at the moment -- really, really hard. Not a big piece of news -- it rains often, which is perhaps why they call this 'the rainy season' (though I wouldn't want to jump to conclusions). It often rains hard, too. What it doesn't do is rain long.

In Chicago (and in Phoenix, San Francisco, LA, Austin, and other places where I've lived or spent substantial amounts of time) there are occasions when a rain lasts only a short time, of course. But as often as not, it seems, if it rains, it rains for several hours, or perhaps all day. I cannot recall it ever raining all day here, and don't think it has often rained for more than an hour or so. After which, it will be even more muggy than before.

None of this is very important or insightful, I agree. Just something I was thinking about.

I'm not sure what this pic (it's looking out the front door of my apartment) is supposed to prove. If you enlarge it and look closely, you can probably see the raindrops making ripples, which shows that it is indeed raining. Alternatively, you can take my word for it.

Update: It stopped after about an hour.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ecuador and the Free Flow of Information

One of the places Edward Snowden may end up is Ecuador. Since I am probably headed to Quito as the next stop on my world tour, I have been following events there fairly closely.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have mixed feelings about Snowden, and am awaiting further developments before trying to resolve them.

I have no mixed feelings at all, however, about the hypocrisy of Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa. With giving asylum to Julian Assange in Ecuador's London embassy as well as offering asylum to Snowden, Correa is posturing as the great defender of free speech. When it comes to the freedom of Ecuadorians to criticize him, however, Correa takes rather a different stance:
Correa's administration is in the process of rolling out a controversial new media law that restricts press freedoms. The law’s article 47, for instance, creates a Council of Content Regulation with the power to sanction press outlets that fail to report issues the state considers news. Ecuador’s El Comercio newspaper warned the law was a “coup against liberty.” 
Alberto Acosta, a former Ecuadorian minister of energy and mining, summed up the irony in atweet: “My support for Snowden and Assange … what they did would be penalized in Ecuador by the new media law.”
This could bite Ecuador in the butt. Ecuador's current preferential trade agreement with the US is set to expire, and this increases the likelihood that it will not be renewed.
Business leaders fear that giving Snowden asylum could prompt the United States to take retaliatory measures, with a preferential trade deal set to expire at the end of July unless Washington renews it. 
"We don't have the luxury of taking the wrong steps," the head of the Ecuadoran Business Committee, Roberto Aspiazu, told AFP. 
"What would we gain from giving political asylum to Snowden -- confirming Ecuador's international image as an anti-imperialist country? I don't think we need that." 
The United States is Ecuador's main trade partner, buying 40 percent of the Andean nation's exports, or the equivalent of $9 billion per year. 
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Tuesday that the US State Department had contacted his ministry about the case.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Isabella of Angouleme

Isabella is my great x23 grandmother, and was Queen of England as King John's wife from 1200 to John's death in 1216. Wikipedia says of her
"At the time of her marriage to John, the blonde and blue-eyed 12-year-old Isabella was already renowned for her beauty and has sometimes been called the Helen of the Middle Ages by historians."
Yeah, she was twelve -- got a problem with that?

This is at least the third time one of my female ancestors has been described as the most beautiful woman of her times (although Isabella is supposed to be the tops for the whole era). This no doubt accounts for my good looks. Too bad about the rest of my family.

The pic indicates that she was pretty hot (if I may speak thus about a great-grandma). I wonder about the pic, though, because she's definitely not a blonde.

John had his previous marriage annulled in order to marry Isabella, who was already betrothed to another French nobleman, which set off a war with France, thus the Helen comparison.

John's first wife, Isabel FitzRobert, Countess of Gloucester, was his second cousin (both were descended from King Henry I, she through one of Henry's bastards illegitimate offspring what's the proper term these days?), so they needed a papal dispensation to marry. They got the dispensation, but the pope said that, while they could marry, they were not allowed to have sex (!). I presume they ignored this provision of the ruling, but there were no children, so maybe not. John later used the consanguinity as the basis for his annulment.

Isabella, by the way, after John's death, went back to France, where she married the son of the nobleman to whom she had been betrothed originally.


I was (for no good reason I can think of) reading an article about a fight at a low-life bar in Scottsdale called Martini Ranch, when this item about past problems at the place jumped out at me:
Tyrice Thompson, 27, of Laveen died after being stabbed five times in the back, hip and arm after an early morning altercation on Jan. 27 inside Martini Ranch. 
Ian MacDonald, 26, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. MacDonald acknowledged being involved in a fight but denied stabbing Thompson, authorities said. 
Thompson played receiver for the Sun Devils from 2003-07.
So the guy attended college for at least four years (probably a fifth scholarship year as a red-shirt) and gets a job afterward as a bouncer in a sleazy bar. I'd love to have the NCAA explain to me a bit more about this 'student-athlete' concept they peddle so hard.

Foreign Policy

It's good to see that the 'reset' in American foreign policy in the past few years has resulted in countries like Russian and China being much more cooperative.

Snark aside, I have mixed feelings about Edward Snowden. I'm grateful that he has revealed the extent of governmental bugging of citizens, but I will reserve judgment until I understand better his motivations. It's hard to believe that a person devoted to individual freedom and governmental transparency (which is his pose) would seek refuge in places like China and Russia (or his rumored destinations in Cuba or Ecuador).

My Absence

I took a few (okay, several) days off. I hope the spambots who read this blog didn't miss me.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Myth of ‘No Divorce in the Philippines’

It is often said, as this article states, that the Philippines is the only country in the world in which there is no legal divorce. Malta had previously shared that distinction.

The fact is, though, that the Philippines allows for divorce; the country simply chooses, for whatever reasons, to fool itself into thinking that it doesn’t by the simple expedient of not using the word.

The Philippines officially recognizes two solutions for a failed marriage: legal separation and annulment. Although the term is the same as is used by the Catholic Church, the annulments are granted through a civil process.

Though the grounds for annulment mostly echo church rules, there is a catchall category called ‘psychological impairment’ that is so broad that it can cover almost anything, the Filipino equivalent of ‘irreconcilable differences’.

The annulment process is outrageously expensive (estimated cost: P250,000 to P1,000,000 -- $6k-$25k), and way out of the reach of the average Filipino (the average Filipino’s solution is to simply ignore legality and move in with someone else), in part because a psychologist must be paid to testify about the ‘psychological incapacity’ (this can be done whether or not the respondent has even been interviewed by the psychologist, which is an indicator of how seriously anyone should take the whole charade). If one wishes a church annulment as well, in order to be allowed to remarry in the church, you can add more expense on top of that.

Nonetheless, the incidence of annulment is rising, with the number of cases doubling over the past decade. Certainly the number of cases (10,000 or so per year) is still very small for a country of a hundred million people, but given that probably well over 90% of the populace are totally frozen out by the costs, the numbers seem to indicate that annulment is not that rare among the well-to-do. At least two senators, for example, Loren Legarda and Pia Cayetano, have received annulments, and the wife of a third, Ralph Recto, was also formerly married. There may be others in the senate, but these three come to mind. The president’s sister, actress Kris Aquino, is currently seeking an annulment.

I doubt that the word ‘divorce’ will be allowed anytime soon, since the Church will oppose it for theological reasons, and the lawyers (and psychologists) have a financial interest in maintaining the status quo. And here’s the president on the subject, in an article entitled “Aquino: No to divorce, yes to remarriage after legal separation”:
Aquino, however, said he recognizes that "there are unions that no matter what interventions are done, no matter what counseling is done, they really cannot stay together and there are dangers to either one or both parties." 
For cases such as these, legally separated couples should be allowed to remarry, Aquino said.  
"Legal separation, it will be very, very stringent, you really have to ascertain that there really are irreconcilable differences … At the end of the day they should be allowed to remarry.”
Even by the standards of politicians, that’s a particularly weasel-ish position. If anyone can explain how his version of separation differs from divorce, I would love to hear it.

But apparently that’s the way Filipinos want it – they want to have divorce, but also want to pretend they don’t.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Showbiz/Politics Connection in the Philippines

Being famous is always helpful in launching a political career, going back to the days of Congressman Davy Crockett, so it’s not surprising that actors and other celebrities gain office in many countries (Ronald Reagan leaping first to mind).

But I don’t think any country can come close to the Philippines, where half of the current Senate has significant showbiz/media connections, and a third have been actors or broadcasting personalities.

Eight of the twenty-four senators have been actors or hosts of broadcast shows:

  • Ramon (Bong) Revilla – Movie and TV actor (his father is also both an actor and a former senator).
    Senator Revilla
  • Jose Ejercito, Jr. (aka Jinggoy Estrada) – Movie actor (another whose father was a popular actor, who is also a former president and current mayor of Manila).
  • Pia Cayetano – Her father (a senator) had a TV show called Compañero y Compañera. She took over hosting the show upon his death, and now co-hosts a radio version of the same show with her brother (also a senator). She also has hosted other radio shows.
  • Alan Peter Cayetano – (see above)
  • Vicente (Tito) Sotto – Co-host of the longest-running variety show on Philippine TV. His wife (Helen Gamboa) is an actress and singer.
  • Loren Legarda – Before entering politics, she was a popular TV news presenter.
  • Bam Aquino-- He worked for ABS-CBN Foundation (ABS-CBN is one of the Philippines’ two major TV networks, and a media conglomerate). He also hosted a TV show. His cousin Kris (sister of the president, daughter of the former president) also is a movie actress and hosts TV shows.
  • Lito Lapid – Popular movie actor.
Another four senators have strong connections to the TV/movie industry:
  • Ralph Recto – Married to Vilma Santos, one of the country’s most popular actresses ever (my wife was the world's biggest Vilma Santos fan). Vilma’s a governor these days, but continues to have movie and TV roles.
  • Sergio Osmeña III – His wife is a Lopez, the family that owns ABS-CBN and numerous other media properties.
  • Grace Poe-Llamanzares – Both adoptive parents were extremely popular actors (her father ran for president in 2004). Before election to the senate she chaired the Philippine movie and TV ratings board. Her half-sister is an actor/singer.
  • JV Ejercito – Father was a popular actor and president, numerous other family members are in entertainment (and politics).

It bothers me that I see the politics/media/Hollywood relationship growing, with children of politicians frequently entering the media as a career, among other manifestations. I don't think politics-as-a-branch-of-showbiz has been healthy for the Philippines, and I doubt it will be any more so for the US.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Art Director’s Nightmare

The ‘frame’ within which a magazine can put its cover picture is limited by the logo. So the magazine’s art director will sometime cheat a bit by allowing the pic to cover a portion of the logo. It’s a time-tested technique and can often make the cover stronger by making the pic seem to jump out at the viewer.

But sometimes things go wrong.

My Mom Lied to Me about Carrots

News Flash!: Kids don’t like vegetables. Actually, a lot of adults, me included, are rather tepid on the subject as well.

In order to get kids to eat their veggies, moms tell all sorts of lies (e.g., “Peas taste great!”). A common story in the fifties, when I was a kid, was that carrots are good for our eyes, with a corollary that eating carrots will help with seeing at night. My mom used these stories on me, as I recall. I can’t remember whether I believed her or not; most likely I didn’t care, because it didn’t make the carrots taste any better.

As is often the case with stories of this sort, there’s a little bit of truth in it; carrots contain a lot of vitamin A, which is helpful to our vision. The night vision part of the story, though, is total BS, but it has an interesting story behind it.

During the London Blitz in World War II, the Royal Air Force had a secret weapon – radar. The help of radar enabled RAF pilots to shoot down a substantial number of attacking German bombers during the night-time raids. In fact, they shot down so many that the Germans got suspicious and began trying to find out what was behind the British success.
They even tried to convince kids that
carrots made good popsicles, but I
don't think these kids are falling for it. 

Fearful that the Germans might find out about radar and possibly develop their own version, the Brits came up with an alternative story – their pilots were eating carrots in order to improve their night vision.

To fool the Germans with this bit of hokum, the Brits had to act like they believed it themselves, so they began putting out posters urging people to eat carrots in order to see better during the blackouts. This served two purposes, it misled the Germans and it helped ease wartime food shortages by increasing the consumption of carrots, of which they had plenty.

By the way, much of this stuff is covered at (get ready for it) The World Carrot Museum.

When Is It Fair to Criticize a Philanthropist’s Choices?

For the most part, I think the answer to the question is ‘never’. If donors want to give money to causes or institutions they favor, it’s none of my business. The exception might be donations to clearly evil causes – I would look askance at someone contributing to the Ku Klux Klan, for instance. But short of that, do as you please.

Having said that, I will immediately contradict myself, and raise a question about a recent donation I heard of, by a guy named Fred Uytengsu, who gave eight million dollars to the University of Southern California to build a new swimming facility at their campus  
In front of a crowd spilling over with Olympic swimmers, divers and water polo players and teeming with NCAA champions and All-Americans, USC Athletics celebrated its ceremonious groundbreaking Friday (Nov. 2) of the $16 million Uytengsu Aquatics Center, made possible by the record $8 million lead gift by former walk-on swimmer and 1983 swim captain Fred Uytengsu. 
Uytengsu, whose gift is the largest ever to Athletics from a former student-athlete, joined his former swim coach and USC legend Peter Daland as well as USC President C. L. Max Nikias, Trojan swim great John Naber, Athletic Director Pat Haden and current women's water polo player Madeline Rosenthal as speakers at the hour-long event. Uytengsu was accompanied at the event by many in his family, including his wife Kerri (who he met as an undergrad at USC) and two of their children, Ashton (a 2009 USC graduate) and Kayla.
Why does this annoy me? After all, the guy, his wife, and his kids attended USC and he was captain of the swim team in the eighties. One might argue that donations to schools are better focused on the supposed purpose of the school (by which I mean education) rather than sports facilities, but still, I can understand his motivations.

But here’s what bothers me about it: Fred Uytengsu is a Filipino. His father founded Alaska Milk Corporation, and Fred currently heads the company, which is the country’s largest dairy products company; until last year, the Uytengsu family continued to own most of the company. They sold their share for $300 million.

I think that if a person is immensely wealthy in a desperately poor country, that he might feel that his contributions should best be focused on the people of his country. It’s not as though there are a shortage of worthy causes that Fred probably sees evidence of every day – schools, daycare centers, homeless and hungry children.

And it’s not as though Southern Cal is itself a struggling institution. With an endowment of $3.5 billion, they should have no trouble building a new swimming center without his help.

I’m going to make a statement I can’t prove, but that I think is probably pretty safe: USC’s endowment is greater than the endowments of every college and university in the Philippines combined. 

The three most prestigious private universities here (and therefore the ones most likely to garner donations and endowments) are Ateneo de Manila, Santo Tomas, and de la Salle. I can’t find anything about endowments for the first two, but DLSU, according to Wikipedia, has a total endowment of $6.5 million (less than 1/500th that of USC).

So again I will admit that it’s Fred’s money to do with as he pleases, but perhaps he might reflect on that old saying my mother used so often: charity begins at home.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Notre Dame Sees the Light on the Morality of Contracts

When Notre Dame tried to strong-arm its way out of its deal to play Arizona State University in Tempe in 2015, I posted about it here.
It’s very discouraging, as I said then, that the most highly-visible putatively Catholic institution in America has so little regard for its honor that they felt they could just ignore a contract.

In the face of a threat of legal action by the Arizona Board of Regents, Notre Dame was forced to back down. It’s again a shame that it took that sort of threat to make them keep their word, but then, if Notre Dame had any ethical standards at all, they never would have tried to abrogate the contract in the first place.

Of course, I realize this is not a religious issue. This is big-time college athletics, which means it’s business. But every business I was ever involved in had higher standards than Notre Dame has displayed.

No doubt they are used to everyone kowtowing to them and giving in to whatever they want. I’m glad to see that ASU didn’t do that. I was also glad to see ASU’s athletic director get this little zinger in:
“Any time you go into a new conference like Notre Dame, it poses problems. If we’re going to represent certain standards, we’ve got to abide by contracts. It’s a good thing we were able to work it out for both parties.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Philippine Business Practices in an Emergency Situation

I’ve posted several times before about the incompetence of many/most Filipino businesses. Often, as in this most recent example (a case of a guy who can’t get a restaurant to give him a bottle of A-1 Steak Sauce that actually has any steak sauce in it), it’s funny.

But, at other times, the story is far less amusing, as in last week's plane crash in Davao that only through sheer luck did not end in tragedy.

A Cebu Pacific flight from Manila crashed (to be more precise – it skidded off the runway) on landing at Davao. The circumstances tell a lot about how things are done in the Philippines. Here are some passenger comments:
Jacones said the flight crew and the pilots seemed to have been stunned by what had just happened that they failed to immediately attend to the passengers. 
“They (cabin crew) apparently lacked crisis management training because they acted so poorly to the situation. A few of us passengers [were] the ones who tried to calm down the rest of the passengers,” he said. 
Some 15 minutes later, a pilot came out from the cockpit and addressed the passengers. 
“He told us that it was the heavy rain, and that they lost sight of the runway lights,” Jacones said.  [… ] 
Passenger Menard Dacono, 26, a Filipino business development manager working in Singapore, said when they reached the airport, not one official from Cebu Pacific faced them. 
“No one from the airlines offered an explanation,” Dacono said.

And here's a first person account in timeline form by a passenger. We’ll pick it up immediately after the crash (and I've added emphasis on a couple points):
6:57pm.The scene from inside the cabin was like a scene taken directly from a Hollywood crash movie flick. It was eerily dark with only the emergency exit lights on. We could hear the sound of the rain and wind gushing outside, and the loud cries of babies on board the plane. Nobody talked for a few seconds until my wife shouted “OPEN the doors” then people suddenly broke their silence. The smoke inside the cabin was enough to stir panic among the passengers reeling to get out of the plain. Yet we were instructed by the cabin crew to stay put, as they would wait for further instructions from the captain.
What? Really? You gonna wait for this freakin’ plane to blow while we were still inside? The initial responses from the passengers were a total mayhem. Everyone wants out. People were crying, some were trying to use their mobile phones to contact their loved ones outside, which I just realized could have been disastrous as it could ignite a flame that could blow us all off to the heavens. 
1 min, 2mins, 5mins gone by and we are left to ourselves trying to figure out what to do next. Some members of the cabin crew were crying as well as they try their best to calm the passengers down. No ambulance, no fire trucks and no help from outside on the first few minutes of the crash. 23minutes after and with only smoky air to breath, not only oxygen, but patience, was running dangerously low as well. 
It took the courage of one person, whom we only know as Captain Bok from the Philippine Navy, to stand up calm everyone down. He knew what he was doing and he was in control when even the cabin crew looked like they were really at a lost on what to do. Capt. Bok gave clear instructions for everyone to sit down so that we can leave row by row to prevent the plane from tilting over. He was the clear definition of a “guiding voice”.
And then after they’re out of the plane:
7:50pm.There were only 2 vehicles that ferried the passengers from the grounds to the terminal. One was a private van most probably owned by somebody working on the premises, and another ambulance. The passengers are left out standing in the rain waiting for a ride. From the moment of impact, it took more than 5 minutes for the fire fighters to reach the scene. There were no medical first responders; in fact there were no one else. I can just imagine what would’ve happened to us if the plane did blow up and there were serious injuries on site. It would have been a mess. 
8:10pm.All the passengers are now safe at the baggage conveyor section, eagerly awaiting guidance or any support from the Cebu Pacific management. But lo and behold, again there was no one to face us. Wow, in the movies you could see an outpouring of support for people who have just been to such traumatic experiences. But for us…no food, no warming blankets for those who were dripping wet from the rain, no drinks, no nothing! Not even the sight of the cabin crew consoling passengers. There were even no seats for us to rest our shaking bodies so most people just sat on the conveyor itself. And then I remembered, yes this is not Hollywood.
The incompetence involved here is phenomenal. First, of course, the pilot should not have tried to land if he couldn’t see the runway lights. I was once on a flight when the pilot aborted the landing because of weather conditions – this was in Austin and we were very close to landing when the pilot pulled up and took us to Houston because the cross-winds were too severe. Nobody – not the airline, nor the crew, nor the passengers – likes that decision. But this case tells us why it’s necessary.

Second, the cabin crew appears to have been almost as bad as the pilot. Why in God’s name would it take so long to evacuate the plane? The damned thing might burst into flame at any moment. The pilot takes fifteen minutes before he even talks to the passengers? What the hell was going on in the meantime?

Third, the airport apparently has no idea how to deal with an emergency, either -- slow response by the fire crews, no response by medics (it’s not covered in the quotes above, but there were ill passengers, including a pregnant woman, who could not get medical attention, and medical crews sent from the city were refused entrance to the airport), and no provisions even for transporting passengers from the runway to the terminal (heaven knows they had long enough, given to inexcusable delay in getting the passengers off the plane).

And fourth – Cebu Pacific’s ground crew went into hiding.

While the pilot and crew should be punished (if what we’re reading is true), and probably will be, the failure to properly train the crew in emergency procedures is totally the fault of the airline’s management.

The airline, however, is owned by John Gokongwei, the third-richest man in the Philippines, and run by his son.

Therefore, here is what will happen:
  • The pilot will be nailed to the wall
  • The cabin crew will be fired
  • A report will be issued whitewashing everybody higher up

Sunday, June 9, 2013

World’s Dumbest Guy

William Gaertner. Okay, there have probably been a few dumber, but this guy deserves to be well up on the list.

Doesn't look much like Catherine
Zeta-Jones, does she?
Today, I was reading something that reminded me of the musical/movie Chicago, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, and ended up following links to the two women who inspired the principal stage characters. The character called Velma Kelly (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie) was based on a woman named Belva Gaertner.

Belva was 32 or 33 in 1917, already married and divorced once, when she met William, who is described as “20 years her elder and a wealthy industrialist.”

(An aside: They were married in Crown Point, Indiana. I saw a Facebook posting by my friend Vanessa the other day mentioning that her parents were married there. Apparently, according to her posting, Indiana had no waiting period for marriage, and Chicagoans frequently crossed the line into Crown Point to marry).

William subsequently had the marriage annulled, because Belva’s divorce was not final, then remarried her. They then separated, and Belva proceeded to murder a boyfriend, Walter Law.

So William Gaertner should be wiping his brow at this point and saying, "Boy, I dodged a bullet (almost literally) that time," right?

Nope, after her acquittal, Wikipedia tells us that Belva and William were married again in 1925. Whether they had been divorced or just separated is unclear. Anyway, they’re back together. But a year later, William divorces her again, saying that she is alcoholic and abusive (he apparently had not noticed this previously).

So now he's finally through with her? No again. By 1930, they are back together (whether married a third, or fourth, time we don’t know).

Some guys are slow learners, I guess.

Update (15 July): Added a picture of Belva.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

More on Government Databases

It was just a few weeks ago that I posted this item, about a proposed new federal database that would include biometric info about every American. The stated purpose of the database – to ensure that employers don’t hire illegals (it’s a part of the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill) – is good, as I said in the post.

But I also worried whether such a database would be open to abuse, and whether it might be expanded to include all sorts of other information about us (tax data, political donations, etc).

I worried as I posted it that it might be considered paranoid. While I don’t think of myself as a particularly paranoid person, the problem is that none of us are very good judges of our own mental states.

I feel considerably less concern about whether I’m crazy now. In light of the fact that the feds are listening in on our phone calls and reading our Facebook posts, I think it’s quite reasonable to assume that they would use such a database to advance their own purposes – whether those purposes are ‘national security’ or protecting the incumbent party.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Race in Period Literature

I was reading a favorite blog about mystery books (The Passing Tramp) the other day, when an author I’ve read a few times came up in regard to a delicate subject. The author is Leslie Ford (real name: Zenith Brown), and the subject is race – specifically, negative depictions of racial minorities (blacks, in this case) in books from another era.

The Tramp points out that at least one publishing firm specializing in reprints of Golden Age mysteries refuses to touch Ford’s books:
There are those like Leslie Ford, whose ubiquitous and unconscious racism automatically eliminates her from our consideration [for republishing], customer requests notwithstanding.-- Tom Schantz and the late Enid Schantz of Rue Morgue Press
I’ve only read two books by Ford, All for the Love of a Lady and The Bahamas Murder Case. We will eliminate Bahamas quickly because I don’t recall that there were any black characters in the book. All for the Love of a Lady I read a couple years ago, so forgive me if my memories are hazy.

It was set in Washington (as were many Ford books, apparently) during World War Two. I remember enjoying immensely the insights into the thought processes and practices of the era – victory gardens, trading ration stamps, upper-class people discussing the adventure of riding buses, etc. As a mystery, I recall it as mediocre. As the title might indicate, it was almost as much a romance novel as a mystery, with much of the attention focused on saving the marriage of the couple at the center of the mystery.

But we are here today to discuss race. Ford’s characters are upper-class Washingtonians – all have servants, the servants are black, and the depictions of them, while not nasty or excessively negative, are very patronizing and condescending. Reading the passages of conversations between the central characters and their cooks and maids had me shaking my head in dismay on a number of occasions.

And yet – the book is a product of its time. As nearly as I can determine, using other books and movies as my guide, as well as memories of my own childhood ten or fifteen years later, the depictions by Ford of white attitudes are accurate. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

And if the author shared the attitudes of her characters (as it seems likely she did)? Then shame on her. She was hardly alone, but as the Tramp points out, some people were already beginning to call for change.
Look at the uproar in 1939 over the refusal by the Daughters of the American Revolution to allow Marian Anderson to sing at Constitution Hall.  First Lady Elanor Roosevelt resigned her D. A. R. membership over this shameful exclusion.
But I don’t see why that means her books should not be reprinted, read, or enjoyed. There are a great many authors and artists whose private lives or political/social views one might find offensive. Ezra Pound was a fascist, and a damned fine poet. I don’t let Wagner’s anti-Semitism get in the way of my enjoyment of his music.

But, as an artist, Leslie Ford is not in the same category as Pound and Wagner. Her books are, the little I have read, enjoyable, but nothing great. If she ends up forgotten, it will be unfair, but there are so many other good mystery writers of that era that the loss will not cause me any sleepless nights.

Still, if I come across any of her books in used book stores, I will snap them up, and will read and enjoy them without an ounce of guilt.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Can We Call It Terrorism Now?

As I mentioned in this post about the recent London attacks, we still have those in the US (including the President) who refuse to admit that we are being attacked by terrorists. The Obama Administration still considers the Fort Hood attack to be an instance of workplace violence, but Nidal Hasan is not cooperating with them.
The admission by Army Maj. Nidal Hasan on Tuesday that he attacked Fort Hood in 2009 in defense of “the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban” has suddenly undermined the Obama administration’s previous contention that the murders of 13 soldiers at the Texas base constituted an act of “workplace violence.”
By ignoring Fort Hood, of course, the President can claim, and he does, that there have been no major terrorist attacks in the US during his administration (I’m not sure where the Boston Marathon bombings fit in that narrative).
Hasan’s legal argument, which is being considered by the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, may reignite the political furor over how the Obama administration has classified the shootings, as well as arguments about whether the mass shootings constituted the first major Islamic jihadist attack on the US after 9/11. As recently as May 23, President Obama said no "large-scale" terrorism attacks on the homeland have occurred on his watch.
While Obama’s cynicism is annoying, the more serious problem, in my opinion, is the refusal to face the fact that the West, and western values and traditions, are under attack from Islamic extremists. It is fair to say, I think that we are not at war with Islamists – but they are at war with us.

Critics Are Mysterious Creatures

I like to read, but I don’t like what might commonly be referred to as ‘serious literature’. When I’m serious about my reading, I read nonfiction – mostly history.

I read fiction for fun, so I want to be entertained by a book. My fiction tastes fall into two categories – humor (mostly P. G. Wodehouse) and mysteries. I prefer books from what mystery aficionados call the Golden Age – generally defined as between the wars, but I stretch it through the forties and into the fifties. My favorite mystery writers are John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie, but there were many, many other greats at that time; which is why it’s called the Golden Age.

Critics and reviewers hate the books of that period, and current works that follow the same style, condemning them for being ‘mere puzzles’. Modern mysteries of which they approve are mostly about a detective following around a psychopathic serial killer while exploring the angst caused by the detective’s unsatisfactory sex life and the difficulties he or she faces in reconciling the detective trade with the social ills that justify the serial killer’s actions. Boooring!

The critics’ disdain for mysteries, though, is nothing new. I recently came across this review of a book by Anna Katherine Green, an early practitioner of mystery writing, in Literary Digest in 1903:
". . . it is not a story of any psychological value. The 'clews' are everything and the character development is nothing."
I enjoy mysteries in which at least the principle characters are sufficiently developed that they become people I care about, but I’m not sure why the reviewer would think that a mystery novel should have ‘psychological value’ (whatever that phrase might mean). Nor do I understand why the presence of clews (however spelled) in a mystery novel would be offensive.

If I were to read a romance novel, I would expect it to be rather romantic in tone. Most sci-fi I've encountered has a lot of scientific stuff in it.  So what should a reviewer or critic expect to find in a mystery novel?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Customer Service in the Philippines

The incompetence of Filipino businesses is often mind-boggling to foreigners. Much of the time we just shake our heads at it, or laugh at it (we mostly laugh when it happens to somebody else), or (if it happens to us) occasionally go off on a crazed rant, as in this tale of empty A-1 Steak Sauce bottles.
My steak arrived at my table, and I reached for the A1 Steak Sauce bottle which was already on the table when I arrived. It was empty. So I asked the server for a bottle with some steak sauce in it. She takes the empty bottle, apologizes, goes to another vacant table, takes the bottle from that table, and replaces it with my empty bottle, and returns to my table with the other bottle. I give it a shake; nothing. I open it and try to pour some on my steak. Nothing. 
So I repeat the process. And so does she. She takes the 2nd bottle goes to another vacant table, replaces the bottle with the empty one, and brings me YET AGAIN, ANOTHER EMPTY BOTTLE. At this point, I'm on my 3rd empty steak sauce bottle, and my steak is getting colder than it was when it was first served to me.
So he asked for the manager, and from this point, we follow the standard Filipino rules for dealing with complaints: 1) Deny; 2) Excuse; 3) Shift the blame (to the complainer, if possible).

Denial being an impossibility in the instance, the manager moves directly to excuses: “Well sir, you can't fault the server, the bottles are not transparent glass so they can't see if they're full or empty."

Ah yes, the ol' brown glass excuse. Which, of course, doesn’t explain why the waitress put empty bottles on the other tables. When this is pointed out, the manager moves to shifting the blame: "Well sir, most of our customers don't use the steak sauce, it's mostly there for appearance.”

Which is peculiar on its own (are A-1 bottles really that attractive that you'd put them out as decorations?), and translates as “Why do you want steak sauce anyway, huh?”

On a Philippine expat forum I frequent, odd customer service incidents are the source of great amusement. Here are a couple I enjoyed recently:
I was trying to buy a set of tires for my truck, there were about 6 kinds on display there the same size that I needed, so I asked for 4. After a lot of looking around the back, they came out with another 2 to match the display one, and an odd one. So changing my mind, we eventually found out that they only stocked 3 of each kind! I had to make do with 2 pairs. 
I can understand a need to limit inventory, but why three of something normally sold in sets of four? Dumb question -- because it’s the Philippines, of course.
My favorite purchase is something like screws or pop rivets.  I'll ask for a box of whatever size I want and the reply is always "Sir, we sell them by the piece."   I ask how many are in a box, get the same answer.  So I ask for two thousand screws and next thing you know there are four sales girls counting out screws.  one by one....  Now you actually see the box, so you grab one and show them how many screws are in the box and get out of the hardware store before lunch time.
Pretty much everything here is sold by the piece. I have a cold at present, and when I bought some cold medication yesterday, I was asked how many I wanted. I said six, so the pharmacy clerk picked up the blister pack of ten, got her scissors, and cut off six for me.

I don’t mind buying individually instead of a package in such cases, although it’s nice to get the dosage instructions from the package. If you ask, though, the pharmacy clerk will tell you how many to take and how often. Though the first time I shopped in a drug store and asked the dosage, the clerk answered, “One every six hours … I think.” She turned to another, who nodded. It didn’t fill me with confidence.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fun in Court

One of the more amusing things about the trial of Apple for price-fixing (I posted about how it might affect the future of books here) is that it will require Apple's lawyers to call St. Steve of Cupertino a liar.
In its papers, lawyers for Apple have accused the government of basing its case "on mere allegations, faulty assumptions and unfounded conclusions." The Cupertino, Calif.-based company has denied claims that its agreements required publishers to force Amazon to charge more for e-books. 
The agreements "required no such thing," the defence papers say. "They set forth the terms of Apple's business relationship with each publisher; they placed no constraints on how a publisher should deal with other retailers, including Amazon."
But the problem is that that doesn't quite jibe with what Jobs said about it:
The former Apple CEO "conceded the price-fixing conspiracy when, the day after publicly announcing Apple's forthcoming iBookstore, he explained to his authorized biographer that Apple had told the publishers, 'We'll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30 per cent, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that's what you want anyway,"' the government says in court papers.
Should be fun seeing how they dance around that one. But then, I'm easily amused.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Don't Believe Everything You Read

It's freezing today in Cebu -- near zero. Don't believe me? Here's proof:

-17.8C = 0.4F, by the way.

Well, OK, you caught me -- I'm lying. I suppose the equipment malfunctioned. The same page now says 32C (about 90F). Too bad, I was looking forward to playing in the snow this afternoon.

The Greatest Conjunction of Headlines Ever!

To Commit Crimes on a Really Big Scale, It Helps to Be a Government

There are few organizations on earth more thoroughly corrupt than the International Olympic Committee. It is, after all, a sort of super-government – most of the members of the committee are appointees of the various member governments – and we don’t need Lord Acton to tell us that governments are inherently corrupt; simple observation is sufficient for that. Super-governments, such as the IOC or UN, therefore, can be reasonably expected to be the same, only more so, and they generally meet our expectations.

To switch subjects slightly, for only a moment -- under the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin, Russia has become an example of what Al Capone might have accomplished had he had bigger ambitions. Here we have an entire vast nation being looted by a criminal gang that barely tries to disguise itself as a government, and unwilling to limit itself to the usual levels of graft expected of most governments and reluctantly tolerated by their victims citizens.

So, while I normally would assume that an article claiming that thirty billion dollars had been stolen might involve a good deal of hyperbole, it gains plausibility when we learn that it is about next year’s Olympic Games in Russia. With the IOC and Putin working in tandem, pretty much anything is possible.
Opposition leaders Boris Nemtzov and Leonid Martynyuk released a report claiming that more than $30 billion of monies allocated to Sochi projects has gone missing. The Games will be the most expensive ever at a total cost of around $50* billion, which Nemtzov insists is more than the previous 21 Winter Olympics combined and vastly higher than the original $12 billion budget. 
"We account this irregularity for corruption, fraud, sloppiness and unprofessionalism," Nemtzov told a Moscow press conference.
These are members of the opposition, so it’s very likely their report is not unbiased. But here’s another report from a few months ago:
Little gets done in brave new Russia without the right palms being greased with the right amount of rubles, and the impending arrival of the Olympic five-ringed circus seems to have sent the avarice into overdrive. 
Transparency International, a global anti-corruption watchdog, started looking closely at the Sochi Olympics once the building projects got underway and budget predictions of an initial $10 billion skyrocketed. ... The organization's research has found that any public project in Russia is affected by corruption that adds approximately 30 percent to the overall cost. 
"With Sochi, you can say it is more like 50 percent or higher,” chief researcher Yuli Nisnevich told Yahoo! Sports. "It is an opportunity that the corrupt simply cannot resist."
Let the games theft begin!

* For comparative purposes, the last winter games, in Vancouver, cost seven or eight billion. The much larger summer games in London last year cost $14.4b.