Wednesday, November 15, 2017

SOME movie/TV series reviews

DUNKIRK” (2017), written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Now this is cinema that is meant to save cinema or the kind of computer technology frenzy cinema that proliferates Hollywood these days, or for decades now. First, check these out for authenticity. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot the film on IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large format film stock. It made extensive use of practical effects, such as employing thousands of extras, gathering boats that had participated in the real Dunkirk evacuation, and using era-appropriate planes for aerial sequences. Nolan's screenplay was a mere 76-page manuscript, which means the movie was approached as more of documentary than a dialogue-reliant drama.

          First of all, the film wasn't the usual Hollywood formula that usually ends with a victory. "Dunkirk" was an evacuation, short of defeat. There are no American in the movie because of the fact that the Dunkirk evacuation, which happened between 26 May and 4 June 1940, in the north of France, was prior to US' involvement in Second World War. America entered the war after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor the following year. The Dunkirk operation commenced after large numbers of British, French, and Belgian troops were cut off and surrounded by German troops during the Battle of France. In a speech to the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called this "a colossal military disaster."
         "Dunkirk" puts you almost right there. Sound editing shudders not like how a horror banger nails you. It's like an invisible fist punched you in the dark. And you can't strike back, the hit was emotional. The characters aren't the gun-savvy warriors that inhabit most war movies. These kids, those on land (and sea), don't even know how to shoot a gun or how to use one, actually, it seems. Yet the movie was about heroism. You don't need back stories to heighten the dramatic effects. Like where did British Army privates Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Alex (pop star Harry Styles) come from? Or what's the story behind the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy), or civilian mariner/rescuer Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his two sons? The movie tells it as it was, play by play. No qualms, no chasers, no whatever in between. You don't see lots of movies with that kind of sincerity and honesty these days.

SILENCE” (2016), directed by Martin Scorsese, stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, and Liam Neeson. The plot follows two 17th-century Jesuit priests who travel from Portugal to Japan to locate their missing mentor and spread Catholic Christianity. The story is set in the time when it was common for Christians to hide from persecution following the suppression of Japanese Roman Catholics during the Shimabara Rebellion (1637–1638) against the Tokugawa shogunate.

I could navigate this historical reading of Shusaku Endo's fiction account of Japan of the past more than Scorsese's 1988 film, "The Last Temptation of Christ" (based on Nikos Kazantzakis' controversial 1955 novel), which I labored to understand. Written partly in the form of a letter by its central character, Endo's novel explores the theme of a silent God who accompanies a believer in adversity. It was said that the Catholic Endo, who died in 1966, was greatly influenced by his experience of religious discrimination in Japan, racism in France, and a debilitating bout with tuberculosis when he wrote the book.
         I read a number of feedback and comment on Facebook a week after the movie was released in moviehouses. I differ with their views though. The movie (or book) wasn't about Christianity per se. For me, this 3-hour epic is all about, (1) religion as an expression of a people's culture. Thus, "God doesn't grow in the swamp" or "A tree that grows in one climate will not grow in the soil of another," and (2) There is nothing wrong in believing. It's how we believe and apply it in the real world that matters. Ergo fanaticism as professed by the preacher as an individual against common good as universal light.
        Despite Christianity being a minority religion in Japan, it is respected and accepted by the populace. A tolerance that isn't usually seen in a Muslim world or even in America where free observance of religion is written in the Bill of Rights. Most large Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodox Christianity, are represented in Japan today. Since the mid-1990s, the majority of Japanese wed in Christian ceremonies which has had a major impact on Japanese Christianity. I have a number of relatives who live in Japan, including my dad's sister who's married to a Japanese. Aunt Concepcion hasn't given up or renounced her devout Catholic faith despite living there since late 70s. Celebration of Christian holidays in Japan puts emphasis on sharing time with loved ones, either significant others or close family.
         "Silence" is a provocation more than a statement. I'd love to comment about the movie as art but then I watched it as historical reading more than an exercise of cinematic aesthetics although the movie isn't bad at all. If I am still teaching, I'd view this with my students as a starting point for a discussion on culture, religion, and tolerance amidst diversity.

LION” (2016), directed by Garth Davis, based on the non-fiction book "A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose. Stars Dev Patel, with Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. Indian-born Australian Saroo Brierley (born 1981), played by Patel, was accidentally separated from his biological mother at age 5. He was adopted by an Australian couple and, 25 years later, reunited with his biological mom. His story generated significant international media attention, especially in Australia and India. "Lion" is his story.

         Superbly acted and finely directed by Davis, his first feature, "Lion" managed to veer away from possible kneading sentimentality by doing away with usually lumbering narrative that spelled doom to a number of true-to-life features. Instead it did away with exploring romantic backstories and cut through the chase and brought us to the heart-wrencher: Saroo's reunion with mom. It was a celebration of life more than a dramatic tearjerker. Fine, fine writing.
         "Lion" is Dev Patel won a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this one at the 89th Academy Awards, alongside Kidman (who also got a supporting actress nomination). The movie also received well-deserved nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Patel is that awkward IT guy in the TV series "The Newsroom." But I guess, you saw "Slumdog Millionaire"? Remember him? Now you do.
          Lost children is a familiar truth in India. According to a Track Child data, nearly 73,000 children or 30 percent are still missing despite a raft of initiatives to better protect and find these kids. Up to 70 percent of the missing children found are victims of trafficking and slavery. India has one of largest populations of children in the world, with more than 40 percent of its 1.2 billion people below the age of 18, according to its 2011 Census. An economic boom of the last two decades has lifted millions out of poverty yet many children continue to be born into dire circumstances with India home to over 30 percent of the world’s 385 million most impoverished children, according to a 2016 World Bank and UNICEF report. That fact makes "Lion" a must-see.

MARCO POLO,” The TV Series. A Netflix/The Weinstein Company production. I just concluded Season 1. The $90 million first 10 episode epic was massively lambasted by critics, calling it "An all-around disappointment." Okay, critics. Chill. Even before I ventured to watch "Marco Polo," I knew and I quite expected there'll be a slew of "cinematic liberties" that'd be traipsing around historical facts. Don't we know that already? This is, after all, a Bob and Harvey Weinstein project.

          Yes, it is true that Marco, with his father Niccolò and uncle Maffeo, passed through much of Asia, and met with Kublai Khan. But you'd surely ask, did the powerful Mongol ruler really trust the European trader that much to believe in most of the young man's advice (especially in regards military warfare)? Did Mr Polo engineer the construction of the catapult that eventually broke into the Great Wall that spelled the fall of the Song Dynasty? Did Marco dude fight like a gallant lieutenant/combatant? It's up to you to google those out but you know. Those are all swashbuckling visual/scripting bullshit. Although the series is based on "The Travels of Marco Polo," this is entertainment, first and foremost.
         But yes it's true that in 1271, Kublai established the Yuan dynasty, which ruled over present-day Mongolia, China, Korea, and some adjacent areas, and assumed the role of Emperor of China. By 1279, the Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty was completed and Kublai became the first non-native emperor to conquer all of China. Scholars also attest that Kublai had strong attraction to contemporary Chinese culture. He in fact invited Buddhist monks in North China to sit as his advisers. Kublai employed people of other nationalities as well, for he was keen to balance local and imperial interests, Mongol and Turk. Those are all said or shown in the series. But historical cinema is a provocation. For that alone, I watched "Marco Polo." True, Netflix and Bob and Harvey lost, all in all, $200 for the two seasons hence the series is shelved. No Season 3. No prob. Who wants Season 3? But I still wanna watch Season 2. I hope I'd watch Marco doing his real professional calling this time: Trader.
        Meantime, critics who often adore politically correct efforts like "Orange is the New Black" and all those other self-deprecating depression yarns (there's a lot, including a philosophizing but morose dog in "Downward Dog") will surely thumb's down this series. But hell I care. The sets that were put up in Italy and Kazakhstan were astounding. The fight sequences that feature the amazing Tom Wu (as Li Jinbao, Marco's guru) and the gorgeous Olivia Cheng (as Jia Mei Lin, assassin mom) were enthralling. Mr Wu is so fun to watch; oh yeah, I am a huge fan of Hongkong Martial Arts cinema.
Well, at least Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj loved the series. He presented creator John Fusco and the "Marco Polo" creative team with an award, honoring their positive portrayal and global presentation of Mongolian subject matter. However, Italian TV actor Lorenzo Richelmy as Marco seems so confectionary cutesy for the gargantuan subject matter. But Benedict Wong as Kublai Khan and the always-reliable Joan Chen as the Khagan's wife, Empress Chabi fit their roles. So for the sake of sheer provocation to dig in more of history, check "Marco Polo" out. I'd rather recommend this to younger viewers than "Orange is the New Black," or "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," or "Lady Dynamite." Uh huh.

AMERICAN CRIME.” Via Netflix. The third season takes place in North Carolina. One of the sub-stories focused on runaway youths. Or homeless youngsters. Such a phenomenon still puzzles and astounds me since I wasn't born or grew up in the US. Yet in my many years here I met and spent time with many homeless/runaways, mostly very young. Some of them I met in summer camps where I taught (organized by NGOs), and in shelters via friends, others I met as I organized concerts and events, many I met in bus terminals, public parks, diners, and Greyhounds. The circumstances that made most of them run were different from realities back home in the Philippines why youngsters leave home.

         Data. The number of homeless children in the US grew from 1.2 million in 2007 to 1.6 million in 2010. The number of homeless children reached record highs in years 2011, 2012, and 2013 at about three times their number in 1983. An "estimated two million [youth] run away from or are forced out of their homes each year" in the United States. Yet the word "forced out" needs to be qualified or defined. The difference in these numbers can be attributed to the temporary nature of street children in the United States, unlike the more permanent state in developing countries. Are they running as temporary way to show their family what they don't approve of? The classic rebelliousness? Or their homes are just that messed up? I once met a group of homeless kids in New York City who told me that they only "take off" on summer time, so when it gets cold, they'd go home. Quite a number say they didn't like their mom's (or dad's) new partner.
         Street children in the United States tend to stay in the state, 83 percent do not leave their state of origin. If they leave, street children are likely to end up in large cities, notably New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco. Street children are predominantly Caucasian and female in the United States. I don't have the exact data for this but based on my own encounter, yes I do agree most of them are young women, many end up prostitutes (like what was tackled in "American Crime").
        The United States government has been making efforts since the late 1970s to accommodate this section of the population. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1978 made funding available for shelters and funded the National Runaway Switchboard. Other efforts include the Child Abuse and Treatment Act of 1974, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. There has also been a decline of arrest rates in street youth, dropping in 30,000 arrests from 1998 to 2007. Instead, the authorities are referring homeless youth to state-run social service agencies, yet many of these are cash-strapped and/or understaffed like those that I wrote about when I was in Los Angeles.
        Meantime, another set of homeless youths are college students. Thousands of students at community colleges in the US are considered homeless or "precariously housed," either because they have been thrown out of home, evicted, or sleep in a shelter, car or abandoned building. The homeless college youth accounts for over one million of the young homeless population. According to the Free Application Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA, in 2013, over 58,000 students identified as homeless on their application.
          This is a social ill that is bothersome. Is it about the government? Is it about poverty in the house? Child poverty in America is 7 times the rate in Denmark or twice than in Germany. But I believe it's not just economics. The US is not a poor country. Hence I see this problem rooted deep within the family and how children are raised or how children behave within a family setting. I can go on and on and on. I am glad though that despite imperfections in our own home, no one in my family or kinship had to run like the 17-year old Shae and Coy in "American Crime." Very real and true stories. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

STUFF that I talk about: Freedom of religion, Julian's WikiLeaks licks, Superpower band aids, “Low Intensity Conflict,” the Japanese, Gasoline talk, and other stuff (from my Facebook Page).

FREEDOM of Religion? Many years before Donald Trump came to power and "travel ban" got into the heartland like the plague, I have read and heard about a lot of slurs--and namecalling and dissing--of the Christian faith. I myself has been told many times that Merry Christmas! is politically incorrect and culturally insensitive. A friend's child came home once weeping and wouldn't want to go back to school because she said she was bullied by schoomates for handing a Christmas card to another pupil, and was told by the teacher that it is not "correct" to greet Merry Christmas at all. Then these days, I hear of many Muslim people being stopped or questioned for their faith. Recently, children of Muhammad Ali were detained in a Florida airport and asked, "What is your religion?" Is it unconstitutional to make a Catholic or Baptist or Mormon or Seventh Day Adventist etc uncomfortable or awkward or is it unlawful for a police officer or airport staff to stop someone who may be Muslim? Is the word "unconstitutional" or "constitutional" the key? Let's see.
         The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

         More than that, America tells the world that this country is where utmost tolerance of Faith happens. I came from a country that is 80.5 percent Catholic Christian yet I see an active co-existence of religions. Almost all summer feasts are a melding of Christian and tribal/indigenous peoples rites. Non-Catholic or non-Christian students are allowed non-adherence to flag ceremony or wearing of ROTC/military uniform, some girls are okay not to wear pants or sports shorts on Physical Education drills etc. No problem. Not even up for discussion. Muslim traders freely and peaceably engage Christians in commerce in open markets. A vocalist for my band years ago who is half-Muslim sings rock `n roll on a usual rocker outfit and then wears burqa when she worships in a Muslim mosque. It is common disrespect to even ask her why. My family and clan have been dealing business with upland tribes (who are not necessarily Christian) for many many years; some ended in intermarriages as well. Muslim Mindanao island has been granted autonomy as a people. (You may google ARMM for more info.) There may have been some pronounced insensitivities leveled at other religions (beyond Catholicism) but those are kept within one's private enclave. In other words, those are not tolerated by community and society and government.
          America is 70.6 percent Christian. In a 2013 survey, 56 percent of Americans said that religion played a "very important role in their lives," a far higher figure than that of any other wealthy nation. Yet recent surveys say the US is becoming less religious. Irreligion is growing rapidly among Americans under 30, says a 2012 study. This is another aspect of people sentiment that, I believe, played a huge part in current election behavior in America. While half of the citizenry profess religion (and/or Christianity) the other half, doesn't. And since only 50 percent of Americans vote, that'd mean the 70.6 percent Christian fraction do matter in terms of voter-groundworking. That'd mean, election advocacy should focus on that cultural data. America cringes over economic woes, irrelevant of adherence or non-adherence to a church. That is a fact. Hence people could come together as one community for common benefits, beyond religion or irreligion. Mutual goodness.

         What's going on these days with Muslim nationals in America should be a wake-up call for the entire nation. We are guilty. As a cop stops a motorist who looks like Arab (hence Muslim?) then lets him go--a neighbor complains about Christmas decors in a family's own backyard then goes back to work. It is not really a question whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional, lawful or unlawful. I believe, making someone feel like an outcast or outsider due to his/her religion is downright inhuman.

SPYING ACCORDING to MR JULIAN. First, I am not saying that Julian Assange's WikiLeaks leaks are untrue. Of course those are SO TRUE. It is as clear as daylight, as clear as a zombie walker's bite off a Walking Dead cast's butt on Sunday AMC. But don't we know all these already? Especially in this era of "internetting”? I am not even talking about Homeland Security's "warrantless" cellphone searches or Mr Snowden's supposed bombshell years ago--and how about going back to McCarthyism and/or the Red Scare from 1947 to 1956, characterized by heightened political repression as well as a campaign spreading fear of influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet Union's agents. In fact, surveillances and spying on citizens is a global thingy since way back when. But let's time-machine our app to the year 1947, when president Harry S. Truman took steps to counter the Soviets' influence in Europe via a program called "Containment."

         Even during the Chinese Civil War in 1949 when the United States backed Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang against Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army, spying was a strategic weapon. US involvement was a focal issue. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) sliced down Truman's defense budget, yet he continued fighting the Cold War (against the Reds) albeit effectively. Spying were all over in ensuing years as the US and allies battled Communism's growing influence: Cuban Revolution of 1959, Berlin Crisis of 1961, conflicts in the Third World (1953 Iranian coup d'état, 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, Congo Crisis, Vietnam War, coup d'etats in Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Operation Condor, Six-Day War, Task Force 74, War of Attrition, Yom Kippur War, Ogaden War, Angolan Civil War, Indonesian invasion of East Timor etc etcetera). I can go on and on and on and cite Washington involvement/s which Mr Assange supposedly leaked as well, right? Damn, don't we know all these already?
         Then there was the so-called "Second Cold War" from 1979– 1985. Then the supposed end of the "War" when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed the INF Treaty at the White House in 1987. Those were the years when the Soviet economy was stagnant and faced a sharp fall in foreign currency earnings as a result of the downward slide in oil prices in the 1980s. What is the common denominator in those spying years? USSR/Russia and the United States. Julian Assange? Tell me what is the connection. And then he threw another diversionary bone. And damn some of us just bit it. And how Kremlin loves this! Expect some oil treaty singing soon.

         BTW Russia isn't as "poor" anymore as the time of Perestroika and Glasnost. Yet still Vladimir Putin and his cohorts don't know how to diversify. The Chinese helped them out but hey they want to up their game some more. Maybe he needs the art of the deal? I digress. Back to my NBA game. Warning: You ain't going to distract me starting March 14. March Madness, ha! Spying on my ceviche and Blue Moon is fine though. Whatsoever. Whatsover.

IT saddens me to think that some (or a lot of) people aren't aware that when a superpower aids a smaller nation—it is not one-way dole-out system. Such a thing never happened in the history of humankind. The aid comes with certain conditions that are forged via bilateral agreements, summit conferences, and treaties. Nothing is free or “I will rescue you like I am Super Mother Teresa!” in this world. Hence, no nation should exert power over the other just because the former is perceived as “super” against the latter which is seen as “weaker.” 
          There are always negotiations, compromises, then agreements for mutual benefits. Some people need to put more attention to historical data and current events more than the crisscrossing strobe lights of Facebook walls and billboards. Read and find out. Ask and listen. Life isn't a set program. It is a continuum. Years ago, the silent smiley dude from Guangzhou was just handing out Lo Meins somewhere in Haight-Ashbury. Now he's the big boss at Bank of China that just bought out your favorite 5-star hotel. The tiny nation that used to beg money from the IMF recently loaned millions of moolah to the same lending organization. There's no more Cold War, only WikiLeaks. Times change. Powers tilt. And now there are gluten-free ramens.

I WANNA say this again. If I criticize your candidate, that doesn't automatically mean I am for the other candidate. And if I say something good about another candidate, that doesn't follow that I am about to say a bad thing about your bet. I could reverse the equation next. The world doesn't always involve polar extremes. That just happens in election time--because the social order calls for votation of leadership/governance or pertinent issues. But humans are not black and white. We compromise. We negotiate. Then we agree, 4 or 7 out of 10. Then we live our life on our side of the fence—and come out on fiesta time or Super Bowl and enjoy. Enjoy!

LOW intensity conflict or LIC is the use of military forces applied selectively and with restraint to enforce compliance with the policies or objectives of the political body controlling the military force. The term can be used to describe conflicts where at least one or both of the opposing parties operate along such lines. As those who are informed would certainly concur, the 1 Percent is the “political body” that excises compliance. Such subliminal trick in the shadows (sic) is more accentuated by “divide et impera” or Divide and Rule—or gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy. The concept refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, and especially prevents smaller power groups from linking up, causing rivalries and fomenting discord among the people. Then zoom in on Social Media and how it worked toward that end before election day. Remember The Matrix? The plug at the back of our neck has taken over smart-sense.

I HAVE been receiving press feeds from the office of Narendra Modi, prime minister of India. He is an interesting leader. His policy initiative for "inclusive development" is praised by many financial analysts. "The Indian stock market's greatest hope!" says one. He is also adept at using social media. The second-most-followed leader in the world (with over 17.9 million followers on Twitter as of February 2016), behind only Barack Obama. And ranked #2 behind Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a list of 30 top-performing world leaders by a Japanese market research firm.
         Meantime, look out for India. The long-term growth prospective of the Indian economy is positive due to its young population, corresponding low dependency ratio, healthy savings and investment rates, and increasing integration into the global economy. The Indian economy has the potential to become the world's 3rd-largest economy by the next decade, and one of the two largest economies by mid-century.

         BTW, India is the 3rd largest producer of crude steel. It also has one of the fastest growing service sectors in the world with annual growth rate of above 9 percent since 2001, which contributed to 57 percent of GDP in 2012-13. The IT industry continues to be the largest private sector employer in India. India is also the third largest start-up hub in the world with over 3,100 technology start-ups in 2014-15. India ranks second worldwide in farm output. The Indian auto mobile industry is one of the largest in the world with an annual production of 21.48 million vehicles (mostly two and three wheelers) in FY 2013-14.

FACTS. Or facts to ponder. In re recent Berlin market attack. A record-setting 1.2 million first-time asylum seekers applied for international protection in the 28 member states of the European Union in 2015. That's more than double the previous year. Three main countries of origin for asylum-seekers in 2016: Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Compared with the previous year, the number of Syrians seeking protection doubled to 362,800, the number of Afghans nearly quadrupled to 178,200 and the number of Iraqis multiplied by seven to 121,500.

         According to Pew Research, Germany has been the primary destination for asylum-seekers since 2012 — a position it previously held in the late 1980s and 1990s when it received nearly half of Europe’s asylum applications. Over the past 30 years, at least 3.6 million applications were filed in Germany. That’s nearly one-third of applications in Europe for that time frame.
        In 2015, the highest number of first-time applications for asylum was registered at 441,800 in Germany. After Germany, the other top nations for accepting refugees were Hungary (174,400, or 14 percent), Sweden (156,100 or 12 percent), Austria (85,500 or 7 percent), Italy (83,200 or 7 percent) and France (70,600 or 6 percent).

OIL/GASOLINE TALK. America will not run out of gasoline. Never. Just a little bit of “Hey, easy up on driving to here and there, okay?” Even if Saudi Arabia dries up—Texas, California, Alaska and North Dakota etc still have so much reserves, most of them inactive due to environmental lobbying. The United States is the world's third-largest producer of crude oil—behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the US was the largest oil producing country in the world, following oil discovery at Oil Creek Pennsylvania in 1859. America rose to power due to oil that kicked up industrialization many years ago. Oil is power. It's just that we consume oil so much! Americans rank #1 globally in oil consumption. We consume approximately 19 million barrels on a daily basis, or 6.9 billion barrels per year. President Obama mobilized some oil fields in the West Coast on his first term to slow down a bit importation but faced massive protest from people who love to drive that vehicle but are against diggings. From being a major exporter, the US turned into importer of large-scale products (from oil). That, I believe, is one major reason why Washington let China at WTO (2001) and Russia (2012)--making globalization the name of the 1 Percenter game. China is 4th behind the US in oil production. Canada is 5th—remember the Keystone pipeline issue?

THE JAPANESE. Yes, the Japanese. Their work ethic and fun madness. When I say Work, I am talking about the #3 economy of the world—for a country that is smaller than California. And for a people that are planet earth's top 3 in life longevity. Facts. Do I know Japan that much? I don't pretend I do know a lot beyond fillet'ing a tuna for sushi or “Watashi wa, anata o aishiteimasu!” But I spent some time in Japan in the `90s and I have quite a number of relatives there who intermarried with the Japanese--like my Aunt Connie, sister of my dad. “Kon'nichiwa, oba?” Japan also occupied us in World War II—but that's the past. We forgave and forgot. In fact, Japan is on top 3 of aid givers to the Philippines these days, especially at a time of typhoon calamities. And well, Japan is near where my islands are—we shop, we frolic, we work out there.

         Yes, the Japanese are earnest at work and chill at leisure! Do you know that the fun TV shows “Wipe Out” and “Iron Chef America” were all original Japanese? “Takeshi Castle” and “Iron Chef.” Hello Kitty is Japanese. “Haro, Kiti?” Many favorite Hollywood movies are remakes of mostly Akira Kurosawa gems like “Seven Samurai” and “Yojimbo.” His Kagemusha” and “Ran” also influenced a lot of those gigantic CGI battle scenes. Horrors like “The Ring” (Ringu) as well. My daughter Donna loves Japanese movies. My son Duane's many creative madnesses is shibari contemporary art. Etc etcetera. Do you know that elderly porn is a bestselling UG business out there as well? Who says the Japanese are all work and ninja? An 87-year active fisherman that I met in Shukunegi revealed to me the Secret of Life: “Sake in the morning. Sushi in the afternoon. Sex in the evening.” Anata wa watashi o rikai shite imasu ka? Hontoni? Shinken ni? Dig? Dig.
EVIL HAS NO COLOR. G7 or Third World. Left or Right. Evil Has No Nametag. Evil is Evil. News. The Republican Party's office in Hillsborough NC has been firebombed. As expected, Social Media blared with vitriol, accusations, analysis, theories and stuff. Public opinion is always good in the long run albeit annoying at times. But what irks me, and I say this with due respect to some good friends of mine, who probably said words out of disgust and sadness—is when we categorically single out or liken such darkness to certain groups of people or ideology or even economic standing. I just read some people post that such an evil act (GOP bombing) is synonymous to a Third World mindset. That a poor country is automatically connected to a gruesome display of political (if it is) mindlessness and violence. Which is of course historically inaccurate.

         While election-related chaos and killings do happen in impoverished nations, it doesn't mean they have monopoly of this evil. America has its own share of internal mayhem perpetrated by groups like Weather Underground and Symbionese Liberation Army, Japan has the Red Army and Germany, Baader-Meinhof etc etcetera. If we want to stretch that further, small underdeveloped countries don't or never invaded another country to excise pain and misery upon the vanquished—as the case with superpowers. Makes me expound deeper why at the recent Asean summit, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte presented a visual recitation of the Bud Dajo massacre during the American colonization of the islands in late 1890s/early 1900s when US media went to town criticizing him for killings in his Drug War campaign. It's a simple case of look at yourself in the mirror first before you look at me. Bilateral (friendly) agreements don't bear mutual gains if we start things off with accusations—more than we discuss how to jointly solve problems. Evil is evil. It has no skin color or social standing et al. Yet it lurks in the shadows of humanity's smiley-faced front office. We can minimize or slow its onslaught down by at least being sensitive enough not to point fingers at others who happen to be different from us. Peace!

[Religious art by  Sanjay Patel and Frederic Clay Bartlett]

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

ME, AMERICA, and The World

I AM sometimes told, when I join in Facebook discussions, that I don't know anything about America. I think it's one of those “uninformed” retorts that need to be corrected. Truth is, many countries—from East Timor to Trinidad and Tobago, Chad to the Philippines—have baseline knowledge of America more than America is aware of what's going on actually in say sub-Saharan Desert nation (unless one goes to the university and be an “expert in Kenya” or gain “doctorate in a subject called Myanmar”). I was once or twice asked in my talks before students if the Philippines is a province of India or if we speak English back home. That's understandable. They honestly don't know. They weren't told. Meantime, America—by way of its foreign policy, economic protectionism, media giants' octopus grip on “global culture,” and Hollywood—peddles or informs the universe what's going on in here, 24/7.

          Let's zoom in on me as a Filipino who talks about America a lot. First, technically the Philippines is a colony of the United States of America for 46 years—beginning with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1898 following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in Spanish–American War to the “recognition” of the independence of the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946. My hardline Leftist comrades will argue that, of course—they believe we haven't been outside the cloak of Uncle Sam. Anyhow, the education of what America was didn't just commence with the introduction of English via “benevolent assimilation” carried out by a group of schoolteachers called Thomasites dispatched by President William McKinley in 1901. We taught the kind of textbook English that prevails to date. Nope, not the kind that Moon Zappa and the Valley girls taught via Universal Studios. We still accentuate the “g” in the verbal action “ing,” for example. Our Constitution was patterned after the US Constitution although it has been considerably modified or some entries amended through the years to fit our sociocultural truths. Still, when Filipinos chide each other of “colonial mentality,” that means adherence to anything Stateside. Major survey firms like Pew Research lists Filipinos as #1 in terms of people who love America.

          History-wise and literature-wise, our early education got lots of America so that I could memorize all the US presidents, recite famous poems by Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman, and sing Stephen Foster songs at age 7. There was even a time when I could rattle off all US states and their capital cities and identify quotes by Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson. We are “so America” that our Asian neighbors ridicule us as “mere brown Americans.”
         Meantime, as a journalist (since age 14), the country's media doesn't run of supply of news and opinion of Washington's foreign policy and “invasions” (because we willingly send troops to fight with America in ALL her wars) etc etcetera. We are a super-obedient ally. If there's some that weren't shared us, it's the details of the Civil War and the Indian Wars. Obvious, I guess. So I took it upon myself to read and research those—not just via books and google/wikipedia but by actually traveling and talking with people in the heartland. As a journalist, editor and publisher in America, I also covered internal politics, Wall Street economics and so on and so forth. Everyday I get news dispatches from dozens of establishments and organizations, White House Press Office and activist nonprofits etc.
         Do I know enough of America? Nope. I still read and read and read—I even read showbiz magazines like People and US Weekly. And I watch and watch and watch. It's like a grand stage, America—especially these days of Trumpism and a Left spectrum that never fails to bite his distractions. I reckon, it's interesting to watch America these days. Even Hollywood joins in like they haven't really taken part in all these political pasodoble and rhumba. And with Social Media and Facebook and all, not to know anything about America is close to dumbness. And I don't think the rest of the world is dumb either. They just don't talk as much as we do in the U S of A.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Rituals and Holidays and Christmas

CHRISTMAS, celebrating the birth of the Christian God. Thanksgiving day, giving thanks for the blessing of harvest? Do we point the cursor at religious feasts? Spanish explorer in San Elizario, Texas in 1598 or in Saint Augustine, Florida in 1565, or the Virginia Colony or the Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia in 1619? The New England Calvinist Thanksgiving? Or do we gather and mourn this day to restoke the fires of anger in our chest, memory of that tragic day in 1637 in Mystic, Connecticut, the blood of the 700 Pequot humanity?

          Or what is Saint Patrick's Day, or what the Irish call, “Lá Fhéile Pádraig”? The death date of the most commonly-recognized patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick—who brought forth Christianity in the land? Or do we also pause and light a candle to those who perished from the creeks to the pulpit in the name of religion? Or what about Christmas Day? An exalting convergence central to the Christian liturgical year? Mistletoes and Santa Claus? Or should I turn back the pages of time that it was the Christian cross that subjugated my people and pummeled their beautiful, wealthy earth to submission?
          Or is Thanksgiving simply an Earth Fare turkey baked with Food Lion stuffings, Saint Patrick's Day is a keg of Guinness, Christmas is an ornamented tree circled by colorful gifts recycled from Goodwill, flea market, and Dollar Tree purchases? Maybe. For whatever it is, and whatever historical, political, or commercial backstory or front-story that we choose to interject with these holidays, these are simply moments of pause and ease. Moments of family, friends, community.

          So let us cease to crowd our template of dogmatic hatred with more hatred. Holidays will never be “just another day,” because “just another day” is a tedious grind in the workplace, lumbering traffic of harassed souls in the street, necks and wrists bloodied by credit card gallows, and unmitigated smoke of war in the prairie of our discontent. There must be a day or days when we just have to easy up on the psychoanalytical bombast or sociopolitical bravado of knowing too much and too deeply, lest our spirit starts to slip slide away to a swamp of numbed, synthetic existence.
          Rest the redundant bickerings with mom or dad, set up the chess set for bro and cousin, start the grill with compadre and comadre while Bee Gees music plays along, hand over a slice of appleberry cake to the new neighbor, share a PBR or Guinness with whoever happens to be without a family around that time and talk about Kobe or LeBron or Pacquiao or Kim Kardashian, nothing heavy.

          Somewhere in an island-galaxy so far away, I was born in and around a wounded humanity that bury their dead in thousands after almost 6 months of calamities, and they weep and weep days and nights—enough for tears to nourish the earth again for springtime harvest and summertime revelry. On Christmas season, they pause and take it easy for more than 30 days—and just live, just live like what life is all about. Let life and love happen while these gifts are still beating from within and without. There are no Thanksgiving or Saint Patrick's Day where I came from. But there are people, diverse people from 7,107 islands who speak 19 languages and worship a dozen or more different gods—who gather when a holiday ensues and just, well, they just gather. It's all about a holiday of hearts that talk and speak with a singular language. Maybe that language speaks about love, sumptuous turkey, or queso de bola, or best brew ever. Whatever it is, it's all good.
          MERRY CHRISTMAS to one and all!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

SOME post-election posts (or notes). Copy-pasted from my Facebook Page. I didn't update or edited these entries from the original posts. (Part 2)

ELECTION is over. But some people are still arguing about it. I ask myself, would those friends who were actually friends before all this election fray got rolling--will finally shake hands now that electio is over? I got friends here (friends that I know in person and friends that I haven't met at all) who unfriended themselves believing I have a preferred candidate or political party. They get offended that I criticize their politico or politica like the person is their god and the party their Church. Well, I criticize both and I appreciate good deeds as well. Both sides. I guess, you could say that there's more to criticize these days than those that we have to commend. We just have to present alternatives. 

          I try. But if one is a fanatic of this and that--no word that tends to question means anything. Some even say they supported my fundraise concerts--so why can't I support their bet? Well, my concerts gave help to people--and I wasn't running to be Senator of Habahaba. More so, my community projects and gigs don't support partisan politics or specific religion. It supports everything that comprises a community. Facebook maybe, just maybe, is good at revealing true colors of humanity. Whatever the color is. You see, it's just election--four or six years from now, there will be another election. Is that how short the life of one friendship?


IN this world of power tilts, surprising realigments and contradictions, Kremlin's machinations via WikiLeaks fed the fire inside the Democratic front by widening the crack between Bernheads (socialists) and Hillarysts (centrists)--thus dividing the camp so the ruling class rules again. It worked. Trump is in power. Russia entered WTO in 2012 (okayed by Congress which were generally Republican) which means Russia has a say now in sale of crude oil to the US and elsewhere. Vladimir Putin aligned with Donald Trump because, among other things, Trump eases up taxing the rich (investors = Russians and Chinese). Meantime, oil whether it is Opec or Russia is gold to the Koch brothers.

          Another backgrounder. George Soros aligned himself with Hillary from PAC days and even funded groups on the left side like Black Lives Matter and cannabis legalization to balance the brinkmanship internally and win the progressives—as what he did in the 90s in Southeast Asia by derailing Asean's march to less reliance or independence from the West (West = OPEC oil and security machinations in South China Sea). Russia and Indonesia (who's got oil) are non-OPEC members. Russian oil companies owe Chinese banks lotsa money. Before elections, Soros was in Indonesia, HQ of Asean—which was always anti-Washington (Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar etc). How does Duterte and Trump play up in all these? Russia-China-US 1 percent matrix. Beijing operates behind the scenes as always in regards US affairs—but Kremlin has a poster boy in Putin. PR-wise Russia is less evil than China these days in the eyes of American heartland. Duterte-China, Russia-Washington/Trump. Meanwhile Soros regroups. That's how I see it. Irrelevant what kind of drivel or twaddle comes out of the mouths of Beavis and Butt-head.


TAXES. Taxes are such an issue. But it's not entirely that bad if taxes translate to increased social program accessibility—like in the cases of Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Japan where total tax rates are around 50 percent and more per capita income.
        Fact check to Donald Trump. The highest taxed nation is not the US. Argentina (but I desist from discussing that for now). Tax rate per capita in the US is 24 percent. But Canadians are taxed lesser at 21 percent. The Canadian province of Manitoba has a 0 percent corporation tax rate for small businesses. In most surveys however Canada ranks No. 1 overall for providing a good quality of life. The country is tops for its well-developed education system, job market. In fact, Canada was rated in the top five in all but one of the nine attributes – affordability, where Asian countries dominated.

         Meantime, wanna know that in rich Qatar, tax rate is just 11.3 percent! Lamborghinis and Ferraris rule the parking lots out there with camels. No kidding. But seriously where I'd pursue business (in case I end my American journey)? Singapore. A low tax ate of 18.4 percent. Many companies from around the world choose Singapore as a base for their Asian operations.


FREEDOM of speech. I know. We know. No one stops no one from speaking their mind. So I will—and continue to invite unfriending, of course. I couldn't wrap my mind with this absurdity of absurdities. This is directed to Democrats or progressives/liberals who boycotted the election because they were overcome with anger and grief that Bernie Sanders wasn't chosen to carry the Party banner against Donald Trump—or to those who voted the 3rd candidate as a form of subtle protest that their bet didn't make it instead. I posted time and again that the pre-election signs or forecast were pretty much even. Hillary Clinton needed the Sanders votes. I assume that Sanders supporters knew that—and the larger assumption or certainty is Trump will clobber Clinton if the other half of the Democrat throng don't participate. It was either Trump or Clinton, it's as simple as that.
         Now I don't see the point why Sanders supporters are so noisy that Trump is the new President. I wonder wouldn't they be noisier or less noisy if it's Clinton? For me this not just a crack on the left side of the road—the damage is a lot worse than that. It also magnifies a national problem that is even beyond what the current protest is shouting. Their fear of hate, racism, misogyny etc under Trump is overtaken by the fear of a collective weakness to fight hate, racism, misogyny because those who profess to fight them are more concerned with individual end than the welfare of the majority.

         A divided people is a divided country, tempest in the yard is the ruin of the house. Yet since the Conservatives/Right seems tighter and bonded, I could see that if their President fails to deliver what he promised, it's them—those who voted for him—will be the power that'll bring him down not those who didn't. Why? Because they are united as a people.

SOME post-election posts (or notes). Copy-pasted from my Facebook Page. I didn't update or edited these entries from the original posts. (Part 1)

DID presidential candidates “play” the voting public? I believe the word isn't “play.” Maybe as Jeff Beck (the guitarist, not the other Beck) said, politicians “lie.” They lied because they knew it'd be easy to lie than to sell facts—facts that will against them. Elections are about winning—whatever it takes. And in American elections, always a very few percentage show up. Lowest was the 46 percent in the Clinton/Dole race in 1996. This last one was the second-lowest. So candidates are actually talking to a “few” captured audience—that is why catchphrases and sloganeering worked. Like rahrah in a ball game. 

          Trump promised these, Sanders promised those—cakes from polar extremes. Yet the story behind it all is—OIL. Oil is more than gold. Saudi Arabia is slowly but surely losing clout with America and West. The Saudi-led OPEC countries have been threatening to cut oil output as Russia and non-OPEC members battle them for pricing. Two weeks ago, OPEC agreed to reduce its own production by 1.2 million barrels a day. This developed following Russia's previous announcement that it had already announced plans to cut output by 300,000 barrels a day next year, down from a 30-year high last month of 11.2 million barrels a day. Mexico also pledged to cut 100,000 barrels, Azerbaijan by 35,000 barrels and Oman by 40,000 barrels. The US' main oil imports come from Canada, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Russia and SA are the world's top #2 crude oil producing countries; the US accounts for nearly 20 percent of the world's total oil consumption per day.
          There is no such thing as making America great again. It is just a matter of handing over the baton to the next leader who can negotiate better with oil giants. All the Mexico talk is bull. Mexico is still the US' #3 trade partner and it's a next-door neighbor plus a huge population that is an economic force than illegal nuisances. Russia could be the #2 exporter of oil to the US which will make the Kochs happier since they could deregulate pricing et al by virtue of Russia's entry to WTO in 2012. And China despite Trump's anti-China rhetoric is still the China whose crap clogs US retail and been lending money to all corners of the world, especially to giants like Brazil and Venezuela and yes, Russia. Trade balance, military spending (while Pyongyang continues to bait Washington to keep on spending on military hardware), pharmaceutical 1 percent's machinations in Afghanistan and Myanmar/Indonesia (Asean) via George Soros etc. 

          The Assange leaks were obvious—yet it could sway elections. But don't people know that it's all Russia while the dude lives in an Ecuadorian embassy? Ecuador and China have lotsa investment deals. Trump is dealing cards, not running a country based on new policies that should go beyond stone age protectionism. What has done so far—Carrier and the Mexico transer and appointment of environmental czars who makes folly of climate change. Is that making America great again? It's the same scribblings on the white board. But well, these win elections especially that candidates are talking to only half of the populace.


ONE very effective campaign game changer that worked for Trump was the WikiLeaks Hillary email fiasco. Julian Assange is a genius—a genius hacking xxxxxxx harlequin. Right on time, right on target. He knew that a huge throng of Democrats (mostly Sanders believers) will easily bite his candy—they did. I know of a number of Democrats who switched to either Trump or Johnson or decided not to vote at all after the email leaks came out on crunch time. I believe that jacked up Trump votes easily. After the fact, I am more interested to observe how Washington deals with Kremlin/Russia than question or protest Trump's victory. He won, period.


WHEN it comes down to it, it is fine that followers of two political polar extremes stay glued to their belief—as long as the crack isn't so wide so that compromise and negotiation are still possible. I believe that it is much better than when people are seemingly bunched on just one side. That'd eventually allow dictatorship or autocracy—even if at the get go one-person governance commands majority allegiance. Those who will oppose him/her become rebels whether we define them as Right or Left. Yet as in the nature of humankind, I don't believe all of us will agree as one—although universal good and evil seem to tread a parallel balance like black and white. We are not like that. We are either half-weirdo or a bit saintly. Many times the insane becomes cool and mutate into a rock star--and the sane turns out boring and never get a date. Humans are that unpredictable and contradictory. So Trump voters and Hillary believers, it's okay to argue—as long as somewhere somehow you'd all line-dance to the Bee Gees' “Night Fever” on syncopated cadence.


IF majority or all of those who voted for Trump are racist, sexist and xenophobic as their leader, and then the leader won--then something is really ailing with America. Really bad. Not the government or President-elect per se but it's own people. These are Americans as in heartland America. And if we study the demographics, these are mostly Americans who got ran over to poverty in the last ten or 20 years. That hardship pulled their American-ness out of the hole--because they found a voice. They don't see their America anymore in retail stores, in media, in a politically-correct pop culture, in basic structures of society--especially when America masterminded the entry of China then Russia to WTO and let globalization dance for the 1 Percent. So when a despot like Trump came out swinging, they heard some of their muffled voice in his rhetoric. They don't see good life in another Democrat. They don't see good like in another Republican like Bush either. They see it in someone who promises a new order by spouting an anti-GOP girth and fuck the corporations/let's reclaim America bombast--who also didn't have a public office portfolio which only fired up his line. That's how Adolph Hitler rose to power--by appealing to the disenfranchised German majority who's been relegated to the background. And he rescued the economy in the next 4 or 6 years--before got totally insane.        
In America, in the polar extreme of disgruntled America--are those who opted for Bernie Sanders who promised his throng a sociopolitical system that hasn't been tried in the US (not even with FDR's New Deal in mid-1900s), the same "voice" that Trump sounded albeit on a different sociocultural spectrum. A new system. Those voices communicated with a disgruntled mass--polar extremes but those were the words that many wanted. Hillary Clinton is a centrist. So they didn't see her as their messenger or deliverer--it's more the ethnic communities who liked Clinton. The difference though in terms of Trump/Sanders voters, Trumps went out to vote but Bern people opted not to--which is tactically flawed. Truth is, it's either Trump or Hillary for president--but by dividing the Dem's vote, that'd only catapult the GOP bet to presidency, which happened. Meanwhile, I observe many arguments and discussion on Facebook--and I can say both sides exude both rude and disrespectful tact. That was a nasty election--and not just because the Conservatives are nasty--it's because it is general nasty. And social media gave people somehow the "license" to talk ill of these candidates and their followers. I am called moron and idiot and stupid by Bern followers and "go home to your Third World dump!" (my country of birth is not 3rd world) by Trump fanatics although all I did was present facts. Bottomline, it comes down to who got a mass base that was intact despite partyline schism, Donald Trump. While the Democrats need to go back to the drawing board how to instill partyline allegiance from its mass base and leadership. It's after all a united front that instills power, whether it is by means of democratic elections or revolution. Which the Democrats/progressives failed to show. That for me is worrisome.


FACEBOOK is fun as long as you don't take it seriously. It's like these: Hey, Trump has lots of dandruff, that's not good for a president. I just voted, look at my face. I saw this lady on Sam Edelman boots that looked like wading boots. My mom is a nasty little rightwinger bitch! You know that I just read Hillary emailed Michelle this awful squirrel casserole recipe? Assange just hacked my ex-husband—Julian is my hero! By the way, I will be cooking Beef Bourguignon tonight but I guess, uh, no. My deadbeat boyfriend couldn't even hold it for freakin' three minutes! I think I will break up with him tonight. Bernie would have waived my parking tickets. Look at my new socks—recycled from spring rolls wrappers. President Kirk is a moron! Namaste to y`all! Dafuq with what?


WHAT's good thing after an election? Time to bring out the notepad and list down what have been promised. Time to REALLY figure it out if those make sense--and then begin the true duty or responsibility of a citizen. Expectation check. Time for deliveries. Since the truth is, whether you voted for Trump or Hillary or still meditating a Bernie mantra--you are going to pay the rent this month, swipe a debit card for gasoline, and provide yourself and family health insurance. Let Life resume! Taco, please!


AFTER the primaries, it seemed very clear that whoever the Republican Party's bet was, it is still very likely that that candidate will beat a Democratic Party rival. Why? The problem isn't the GOP. The problem is the Democrats' mass base--it is already cracked. In the same way that rank `n file Conservatives are angry with President Obama's administration, a huge chunk of the other side (mostly Bernie Sanders followers) also feel betrayed by the outgoing president's two-terms. But then the Right remained tight—not exactly the hierarchy per se, but their voting bailiwicks are formidable—and even spread through some states that were first thought as majority Dems. 
          Meantime, the GOP in Congress built a wall against Obama's signature bills in re immigration reform and gun control et al. Those stayed as is Bush's time. Also, within the Dems, Sanders should have acted as a party stalwart and not a so-called people liberator. Instead of rallying his supporters toward Clinton's side to ensure the defeat of Trump, he distanced himself. Trump's victory of margin isn't a landside, it was close. Which means, if Bern people voted for Hillary and not the 3rd option—or they didn't boycott the election, the Democratic bet would have a better chance of winning. At this point, the Democratic Party needs a lot of regrouping and rethinking—on how to at least narrow the gap or vacuum in their house and backyard. Meantime, inhale exhale—and enjoy some tacos.


TRUMP is what he is. Hillary is what she is. Bernie is what he is. Obama is what he is. Frank Underwood is what he is. These are individuals with their respective "I am what I am" that stays in them--that is why they ran as President of what is supposedly the strongest nation in the world. We can't just change them no matter how we namecall or judge them. But what must change is people's attitude and behavior on election time. The only way to winning is via a united front. And a united front makes a strong nation--irrelevant who sits as President. A united front installs a leader--a united front brings down a leader. However, a divided throng only brings forth a bad Taco. That is the truth.