Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Psychology of Expediency

Senator Joker Arroyo was all over the radio this morning complaining about why the senators and congressmen had to be roused from their dreamy vacations just for a three-day special session that would start this afternoon. In Senator Arroyo’s own words, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is none less than someone who is a “killjoy” and argued that the President should have been more patient and waited instead until the present recess of Congress is over in just a week and a half’s time.

I know for certain that Senator Arroyo is one guy who never shies away from public duty, even if his life was on the line just like in a time gone by where he had risked life and limb just to stall the despotic aspirations of former President Ferdinand Marcos. But now, he complains and perhaps, this rare time that he complains gives us the idea that the VAT bill can wait after all and need not be rushed.

It would be of wisdom if the Senators would not in any way rush the passing of the new VAT legislation for any miscalculation on it could make or unmake its expected success as a wealth-generating scheme and may backfire in the form of extraordinary inflations and therefore rougher times for our economy instead of easier ones. In fact, so many questions on the VAT bill are still far from being ironed out like whether the rate should be increased to 12% or to remain at 10%, whether the corporate tax should be increased to 35% in supplement to the VAT taxation and whether or not electricity and petroleum products should remain exempted as VAT-able economic activities and objects.

The last time I heard Senator Ralph Recto discussed the Senate version of the VAT bill, there were still a lot of uncertainties and doubts as to what form or version could work best. So many things left unstudied and unelaborated. Perhaps, Malacañang could just say: “Hey guys, pass this animal called VAT bill and we’ll just redo and repair it later on if we have created a monster instead.” Now that seems to be workable. Rushed the tax law now and just reconfigure the Frankenstein later on.

The proposed new VAT legislation, as I have studied its nitty-gritty sections, has such great telling or effect on our economy, like inflation and productivity factors, and acceptability to the public as well as to the efficiency of its collection and yet it is being rushed like a fool in love. Haste makes wastes in elementary grade we have learned.

What I see is that Malacañang is just applying the “psychology of expediency” on the Senators by pulling every arms there is and make happen this three-day special session to hell or high water. The VAT bill may or may not become a law during this three-day convening but at least, the lawmakers got the message clear so that when it finally convenes for regular session a week and a half from now, the VAT bill may then be zoomed in record time.

There is one thing that may stall any deliberation this afternoon. House Minority Floor Leader Representative Francis Escudero predicts that not enough congressmen would be awaken from their Lenten sabbatical and a quorum in the house would not materialize, thus negating any opening of session (on the theory that the Senate could not hold sessions when the Lower House do not open due to technicalities like lack of quorum.) and if the Senators proceed to work on the VAT bill, Representative Escudero threatens to whistle-blow to the Supreme Court.

In politics, due to a lot of psychological warfare applied and effected ad well as games played and blackmails hurled, psychologists could make a damn good living among them politicians.
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Monday, March 28, 2005

Hero For Israel An Arab

In the dying minutes of a World Cup qualifer between Israel and Ireland, Abbas Suan homed in a match-tying goal that sent the Israeli fans erupting with great celebration in the stands. An Israeli Arab, Suan said later that it was sweet revenge for him after he had earned some taunting from a home crowd last month in a friendly soccer game against Croatia. The “sweet revenge” thing is a little stain in the eye but I guess those words were uttered in a “sweet attempt” to validate the citizenry of Arabs in Israel, which composes about 20% of the population in the Jewish state.

This development is something ultimately desirable in a region that was long scarred by hatred and animosity between Arabs and Jews; two people who in fact share the same semitic roots. We all remember the biblical Shem, the great grandpa of Abraham and both Jewish people and Arabs are called Semites because they all descended from him. Despite the common lineage, the two people do not meet eye to eye and is in fact constantly going after at each other’s throat since the time we can remember. Pardon the somewhat harsh depiction of the conflict but Jews and Arabs should be made more aware of their common ancestry and use this knowledge to foster more understanding and amity amongst them. Their age-old conflict seems to be ethnical in character yet in truth, they share the same ethical roots (despite the more apparent territorial causes of the wars between the two sides). This is to me a monumental irony.

With this Israel’s celebration of a soccer goal by an Arab, we could only hope that lasting peace and understanding would be hastened in the middle-east region and stifle any explosion of animosity on a global scale. That region had always been a sleeping time bomb and if the world won’t give it proper attention, in order to resolve the quarrels that had seen the bloods of thousands and thousands of men, women and children wasted on the tarmac of hate and dissension, it might soon become the flashpoint of a much graver disturbance, in a scale that can disturb world peace.
Sports then I realized can be a tool for peace and understanding. Let there be more sports in the world therefore.
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A Road Finally Ends On Terri

Terri’s parents finally ran out of legal remedy as the highest judicial body in the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court once again dismissed their appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court just couldn’t reprove the findings of the lower courts in Florida and with this, Terri may really have to go in a few days from now.

We now see perhaps the end of the road for this decade long debacle to keep Terri alive and while she still breathes this earthly wind as we speak now, I can already hear the fat lady sing.

I could not already articulate so much farther into the detailed aspects of the Terri case because everything about it has already been discussed and scrutinized by lawyers, judges, doctors and congressmen to the hilt and yet it all those still come to the same boil, that is, whether or not Terri desire to live further or not.

If we asked: Would Terri desire to go on living tied to a bed and mostly unaware of her surroundings? We did not exactly hear any categorical answer from her (except for her husband’s pronouncement to this effect) but many of us have tried to answer this question for her. Some of us said that living in that condition is not living anymore and it would be better for her to die in dignity than prolong her sufferings. I do feel also at some point that death may give her a much-needed escape from this cruel ordeal. Some of us on the other hand said that Terri may not die on her own accord being contrary to her catholic background. I also believe that life is such a sacred thing that it shouldn’t be taken away unless all things fail.

We all have the answer for her yet we are not really certain what was in her mind, or what is in her heart right now. In fact, she may have no mind anymore as we speak.

I have read thoroughly the more salient details of the Terri case and to tell you quite frankly; the facts are so enormous that it wouldn’t fit into this blog page.

With the end closer at hand, I could not help but opined that the Terri case should have been a case for hope, hope of something positive to come, hope that she might still be rehabilitated fully or partially, hope that given a few more months to live something good might happen, hope that earlier diagnosis was a mistake after all, and even hope that miracles so happen. Hope is a good thing and in fact, without hope existence in this world is much lesser than what it is.

This may sound rhetorical at the most, but this is what’s seems to be left of what could be said and done about Terri.
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Winds of Change Spreads to Kyrgyzstan

Demonstrators in the streets of Bishkek had days ago sent packing to a Russian exile its bedeviled President Askar Askayev through yet another “people power” type of revolution. The people power phenomenon continues its stride towards more freedom and democracy in the world long after the Philippines had its own bloodless street revolution.

All is not that well in Bishkek after the departure of President Askayev where rival politicians there struggle to fill the power vacuum that soon followed. Despite of this, the former status quo in Kyrgyzstan has already been set aside in favor of a new order and we only can hope that the changes there are all for the better and none leading to the spitefulness of totalitarianism that had once ruled there.

After the success of the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine some months ago and the palpable results of mass uprising in Lebanon, we see now another step towards more freedom and democracy in Kyrgyzstan and the whole world, especially the western powers, should give proper attention to it so that whatever gain that was achieved there in the name of freedom will not be lost again.
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Friday, March 25, 2005

The Universality of Jesus Christ

In these days of Lent, I could not help but empathized with the occasion, as I likewise bring myself before the solemnity of faith, in the manner that I see fit. In this connection, let me present to you an article that I have read some years ago in an issue of Newsweek Magazine. It was titled “The Other Jesus” and was written by Kenneth L. Woodward in the March 27, 2000 issue of the said magazine. I have been a voracious reader of many periodicals in the past---both local and international---and of all the articles that I have read, this one turned out to be the most memorable for me and the one that I have especially kept not only because it was about faith and religion (which magazines like Newsweek and Time rarely venture into), but mainly because it was a very informative and insightful piece of writing. There is something about this article that I could not point to, which is the reason why I always go back to it every now and then, every time I go rummaging through old issues of magazines and newspapers. I don’t know why I always do these things. Delving into old papers and documents had become an annual ritual for me that without doing it even for once, my year is not complete. I like the feeling of going through old things that I have piled in boxes and huge envelopes because they almost always remind me of past things that endear to me, that I could go all day excavating through old books and photographs and the dust coming from them gives such a unique and amorous scent. This year, at this particular point in time, when the kids are mostly home for the school break and summer provides a lot of empty hours for empty pleasures, I went backtracking again, through piles of old magazines and found this one magazine that contained the article that became my favorite of all time.

Due to copyright restrictions, I won’t be able to present here the verbatim content of the article “The Other Jesus” but I am giving you the synopsis, as best as I could. The online archives section of the Newsweek Magazine have this article stacked but it isn’t free. If you have online subscription to it, you’ll have free access to past issues.

In Catholicism, our Lord Jesus Christ is revered as the Son of God, the most recognized member of the trinity and He is the Redeemer of Mankind. In Pope John Paul’s own words, “Christ is absolutely original and absolutely unique. If He were only a wise man like Socrates, if He were a prophet like Muhammad, if He were enlightened like Buddha, without doubt He would not be what He is (today).” The Gospel Christ is the most well-known personage of the Messiah and many of us had learn to know Him as the man who was born of a virgin, who healed the sick and made the blind see; One who brought back to life a man who had already gone dead; who once walked on water and calmed the storms in the sea; and who gave His life to humanity in order that the sins of the world may be taken away. This is the Lord Christ, as we know him.

But Jesus Christ is by Himself a universal icon that is also accepted and embraced by many other religions of the world.

For instance, Jesus Christ is one of the most revered prophets in Islam and His name is mentioned in the Quran in the most respectful of manner. Moslems fully believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary through a miraculous birth under a palm tree and that he had already spoken words when he was still an infant to the effect that He was indeed sent by God. What was a little unusual is that when there came a time that many doubted the birth of Jesus by a virgin, many Moslem scholars came to the front in order to defend and affirm this miraculous birth. If in the Gospels Jesus Christ was crucified and died on the cross, to resurrect three days later, the Quran on the one hand declared that He did not die at all and was in fact saved by Allah before He was crucified and was ascended directly to heaven. Moslems of all sects believe that Jesus Christ is the one prophet that will come back when the end of the world becomes near and will defeat the anti-Christ. To them, among all prophets and messengers, only He and Mary were untouched by Satan.

In Bhuddism, many Zen practitioners see both Jesus and Buddha as brethrens in their quest to spread the teaching of “universal love”. Parallels in their lives are reiterated as they were similarly born in a miraculous manner to chaste women, and both left home for the wilderness and were tempted by a Satan figure. Like Jesus, Buddha also work wonders and preached compassion, selflessness and altruism and had challenged the religious establishments pertaining to his time. A Russian anthropologist had once postulated that Jesus had one time in His life paid a visit to a Buddhist seminary in Bhuttan and His short sojourn there was even recorded in one of the documents written by monks there. These “findings” has gone largely unconfirmed of course, but this was clearly an attempt to inculcate the person of Jesus Christ into the context of Buddhism.

In Hinduism, Jesus takes the form of a legendary shaman that once journeyed to India and learned the ways of attaining god-consciousness. Many Hindus are drawn to the figure of Jesus as an image of compassion and non-violence—virtues that are taught in Hinduism. For them, Christ-consciousness, Krishna-consciousness, and God-consciousness are one and the same thing. If Jesus Christ had propagated the singular teaching of “Love thy neighbors”, Hindu philosophy adheres to the notion that says, “You and I are the same things.”

Jesus Christ as a revered icon is a more complicated affair in Judaism because for one, Christ had challenged its very norms and principles when He was here on Earth. For generations, the teachers of Judaism had tried to isolate Jesus Christ as a trivial revolutionary that spoke of heresy and religious rebelliousness and had caution every Jew to distance from Him. But in time, many reformists in Judaism had started to accept Jesus as an “admirable teacher” and one who personifies the sufferings and redemption of the Jewish people, through many struggles like the Holocaust and statelessness. And besides, Jesus Christ was a Jew Himself and that fact is undeniable by itself and therefore, Judaism remain to have a claim on His greatness.

This is the “Universal Jesus”; a figure that transcends not only geographical partitions but also penetrates the restrictions brought about by the differences of faiths in this world. He may not be seen in the same exact breath by every religion in this world, but a closer examination shows that He had become so revered by many that not only Christianity has a claim on Him, but also Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Judaism. All great religions of the world embrace Him as a religious icon, one way or another, in their own respective ways.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

IT’S THE WORST TIME FOR CHINA TO GO WAR SHOPPING

If the European Union would eventually lift it’s 15-year arms ban against China (as it starts a 25-state summit in Brussels) that would be a minor miracle. But then, miracles always happen. With the passage of China of the anti-secession law targeted against Taiwan, the United States had doubled its emphasis and upped the pressure on Europe not to sell those war toys to China. It was just a bad time for the Red Dragon to pass war legislation like the one it enacted especially for Taiwan last month; especially now that they are buzzing on Europe to lift its arms embargo against it. It’s like knocking one’s own head with a hammer. The echelons in the China parliament should have been more cautious and should have maneuvered to veil its intent by delaying any war-like move.

Now, EU may really need the money coming in from the all-too-rich arms market of China and may still lift the arms embargo but then the United States is vehemently stalling them by threatening to renege on its commitment to provide licenses for crucial technology transfers. And the United States had made it clear that it will retaliate against Europe not only by disallowing technology transfers but also by other means. We could only ponder what these other “retaliations” come in the form of.

So EU may have to weigh its options carefully by calculating the ups and downs of every choices that is presented before it. Sell arms to China and lose technology input or to hell with new technology and gain big dough from China. Its elementary mathematics on its hands but surely, it got its hands so full and a major headache to contend.

Free market is so good so that if Europe wants to sell, it must be allowed to sell by all means and if China wants to buy, then let it buy. But we are talking here of arms sales and it's not always the same thing. Just recently, tension had increased across the Taiwan Straits. I bet that if push comes to shove in that area and war emanates from it, EU might be blamed for everything. Besides one of the most certain consequences of major arms input to China is the altering of the balance of power in the Asian region and we know all-too-well that it’ll be bad for world.

What’s the worse time to pass an anti-secession law? China should have known it by now.
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NO FEEDING TUBE FOR TERRI DESPITE CONGRESS' HELP

Despite the rushed legislation that Congress had enacted to help prolong Terri Schiavo’s life, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia ruled that the appeal system could not interfere with the rulings of the state courts in Florida, especially on the manner of proving or disproving facts that was already determined there. And so therefore, the appeal of Terri’s parents was ruled out to be without merit.

In legal procedures, appeals of lower court decisions should not question the facts that was already determined beforehand and should only question the propriety of judgments like for example if the judge had erred so gravely by disregarding or misinterpreting evidences presented therein---this kind of error is termed as grave abuse of discretion. Appeals can also be had if the judgment of the lower court appears to be unconstitutional. Appeals could not be instituted on the premise of discovering or rediscovering new facts because presentations of evidences are not allowed on appeal.

I have not read yet the full order denying the appeal of Terri’s parents but on re-appeal, they should changed the tenor of their petition to one that will address probable errors of judgment like for example by averring that the judgment of the lower courts in Florida was not supported by sufficient evidence, on the premise that the desire of Terri not to go on feeding tubes was not established reasonably.

Trends however are against the wishes of Terri’s parents because every court there is in town had favored Terri’s husband from day one. Polls in gathered by CNN shows 56% of respondents agreeing to the removal of the feeding tubes while merely 36% were against it. The rest was indecisive.

Terri’s parents are now on the process of re-appeal and we may still go on watching over this real-life drama that is unfolding before our very eyes.
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THE HEAT IS ON IN ENGLISH FOOTBALL

Who would have thought that Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson would one day be given some brash treatment? The chief executive of the very successful Old Trafford soccer team, Mr. David Gill, made public his sentiments lately that Ferguson is not untouchable after all and he is completely “sackable”. This may hurt some pride and let focus be in disarray now that Manchester United still has the chance of catching-up with league-leading Chelsea, no matter how slim it is. Players tend to be discouraged if their beloved coaches feels gloomy and burdened.This Old Trafford team is apparently so successful in the past that it hasn’t failed to win a Premier League title at least once in every couple of season. If it falters in its run to overcome Chelsea this season, this’ll be its worst run in a long while.

This apparent picking on the English soccer great Ferguson was sparked by 100% slump in profits for the first half of the year. Reports went out that this year’s earnings for the first half of the season was merely £12.4 million, down from £26.8 million over the same periodlast year . David Gill might have that owners’ mentality that coaches always take the brunt for a team’s misfortune, when we know that this is not so. Teams go down through many other factors, like spoiled players or uninspired playing.

David Gill may just be expecting too much from a team that is doing relatively good despite the lost of many of its star players like David Beckham, Skolgaer and Barthez through transfers. What it is now is a team full of youth in Ronaldo, Rooney and Van Nilstelrooy and no matter how talented these young guys are, they still need to mature and aged in a very competitive atmosphere like the English Premiere League. Gill is a little overarching and if Manchester United loses Ferguson, it may take in more losses for it would completely alter the look and feel of the Old Trafford team now that David Beckham is dancing tango in the Spanish Primera Liga. Fans may distance themselves from Manchester United all the more if Ferguson decide to leave. What a bad time to have bad tongue and be tactless.
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Monday, March 21, 2005

Terri’s Life May be Prolonged With Senate Legislation

Just hours ago, the United States Senate had just passed a bill that would allow the replacement of the life-saving feeding tube removed from Terri Schiavo last Friday. This latest development in the long-running debate on the issue of Terri Schiavo’s condition favors pro-life advocates. There is one remaining problem however. Congress is still grasping to form a proper quorum to respond positively to this Senate move, as many Democrat legislators were dilly-dallying to act on this Republican-initiated legislation. According to a leading Democrat legislator, the Republican is using the issue as a pawn in its earnestness to please its conservative allies. Without a corresponding legislation from Congress, the bill will not become a law.

White House spokesman Scott McLellan however made it clear that “we’d rather err in life’s favor”, if ever there would be mistake in this particular Republican initiative. President George Bush, the main man in the GOP, has returned to the capitol from a break in his Texas ranch, in order to sign the bill anytime it becomes ready. The next hours this day is crucial to Terri’ Schiavo’s life since she had already missed two meals due to the stalling of the Democrats and may miss more if quorum in the House of Congress is not forthcoming soon.

The proposed bill does not contain specific language that would order the restoration of the feeding tubes that will help prolong Terri’s life for that would be tantamount to the constitutional prohibition on bill of attainders, or the passing of ultra-special laws that would benefit merely a certain person or class of persons. Instead, the said legislation would only allow the parents of Terri to seek injunctive action in the higher courts in Florida and this injunctive move would of course order the retention of the life saving apparatus on Terri pending the resolution of the appeal. Of course, this goes to say that the law would allow the parents of Terri to make an appeal to the Florida state courts.

If passed, the proposed legislation that would give Terri’s parent to apply for temporary injunction does not however ensure that Terri may be allowed to go on tube feeding from now on. If the courts could still prove that Terri had really intended to refuse further medication while on a vegetative state, then her wishes will be respected. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled in Cruzan v. Director that the constitution allows a person to refuse medication as a general right emanating from the Fourteenth Amendment of the constitution. Although in the Cruzan case the Supreme Court voted in favor of the restoration of the life-saving apparatus of the patient (when it wasn’t sufficiently established that Cruzan had indeed made known her intention to refuse medication), it affirmed however that whenever there is enough evidence that a person desires to refuse medication through a will or any form of documentation and recording, then that right and desire should be respected.

The constitutional right to refuse medication in the United States does not however validates the also-controversal issue of physician-assisted suicides which led to the conviction of “Doctor Death” himself, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, in 1999 for his aiding of a number of clinically-ill patients in committing “painless” suicides between 1994 and 1998. Refusal of medication is deemed to be a “passive” way to die while Kevorkian’s methods is an “active” mode of killing and therefore still considered as murder.

In the Philippines, there is no such constitutional right “to refuse medication” even when one is in vegetative state and our criminal laws prohibit suicides and anyone who assist in these suicides would be complicitly named as conspirators to suicide and will be penalized gravely by substantial imprisonment. Our constitution only has this to say about life: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty and property without the due process of law.” Our Revised Penal Code even punishes those who would not help a mortally wounded person in some isolated areas.

If Terri’s case happens in the Philippines, any person who would take out the feeding tube of the victim, even when the victim desires it, that person will be guilty of murder or complicity in suicide.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Pacman Is Back To Square One

Perhaps, Erik “Terible” Morales has heard the advises of Mr. Al Mendoza, the Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist which wrote that in order for Morales to escape virtual defeat in the hands of Filipino southpaw Manny Pacquiao, he has to take in Angelo Dundee as his trainer. At most, Angelo Dundee must have not been in Morales’ corner this afternoon when he bloodied Pacquiao’s countenance on the way to 12-round unanimous victory, but to be sure Morales did what Mr. Dundee would most probably advise any fighter facing a boxer like Manny Pacquiao and that is, to keep out of punching range, to move and glide, to dance away and never engage in furious exchanges of blows.

Angelo Dundee was a main man behind the success of Muhammad Ali and its no wonder that the greatest boxer of all time dances like a butterfly and stings likes a bee. In Al Mendoza’s book however, Mr. Dundee is most remembered for crafting the successful comeback of Sugar Ray Leonard from a long five-year hiatus in order to beat Marvin Hagler. Leonard did this rare feat by “not mixing up with the guy”.

In the early rounds of the Pacquiao-Morales fight this afternoon, it looked like Manny Pacquiao was dictating the pace and keeping Morales out of range; staging quick rampages that somehow made Morales take steps backward. Morales on the other hand was doing the right thing by creating enough distance between him and Pacquiao and treating the fight like the mental fighter that he is. In the next half of the fight, the Pacman got basically tired of running after “Terible” and with blood spurting from a bad cut ihe suffered in the head---gravely disturbing his peripheral view---he just run out of punches that judges couldn’t give him the win. In summary, Pacquiao could have won the fight if Morales had decided to a brawl, a no-holds barred punching extravaganza. But it didn’t turn out that way.

If Manny Pacquiao overcame the all too stealthy Morales, he would have been queued for the super-featherweight title fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, another Mexican whom he had drawn last year in a non-title encounter. But for now, he would have to treat everything like he is just starting over and slowly climb towards title contention again. It has been done before by boxing greats like Sugar Ray Leonard and Luisito Espinosa; there should be no reason why he can’t lick his wounds for now and after that, start training his sight on the title once more, and go back to rigid training.

There is one thing I see as the Achilles heel of Manny Pacquiao and that is the somewhat unfamiliarity he has to this super-featherweight division that he had gone up to---he is fighting not in his natural weight. When he started as a professional boxer, he was a bludgeoning flyweight eating up every opponent on his way, until he moved to being a junior featherweight and had similar success. But now he is showing his wares in the super-featherweight division and he fares miserably. I know of course that pro boxers nowadays almost always go up in weight divisions but what I have observed in Pacman’s case was that the shift was too fast for comfort. You know in scuba diving, when one is underwater, one is advised not to rise to the surface of the ocean so fast because the abrupt changes in water pressure will harm the body gravely and may lead to death. That’s what I felt when Pacquiao decided to slug it out with guys who were natural in heavier weight divisions. Guys there are taller, their bodies wider and their reach longer. Maybe, it will take sometime for Manny to get used to the super-featherweight division that he has chosen to fight in and by then, he’d be so successful in it that he would just mow down every opponent along his way. But for now, he needs to make time agree to his choice of a heavier weight boxing division. He needs to make the fruit ripen naturally and not seek its sweet nectar through artificial means.
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Saturday, March 19, 2005

A Passage To India

E.M. Forster’s novel “A Passage To India” is a stirring examination of the British colonial adventure in India in the early part of the last century and it wasn’t to be a surprised that the movie adaptation of this should echo the same sentiments. In our territory, we were exposed to copious writings that lament Spain’s often-cruel stranglehold of the Philippines but only the compatriots of the stricken land---the Filipino freedom fighters themselves---had penned them all. In this epic movie however, we are offered a rare glimpse of what colonialism is all about, in everything that is good or bad about it, in the eyes of the colonizer’s own subjects.

David Lean achieved what other great film helmsmen hasn’t by capping his nearly half a century long film career with “A Passage To India”, a reasonably huge saga of racial conflict set amongst the gigantically colorful background of Indian society and culture, in a time around the birth of a nation.

In this movie, a younger Judy Davies essayed the role of Adela Quested, an English maiden on a trip to India to meet her fiancée Ronny Heaslop, the British Magistrate of Chandrapore, a locality of India. She was accompanied by her fiancee’s mother, the aged but still elegant Mrs. Moore played by no other than the great English dame Penny Ashcroft. When the two finally arrived in India, Adela and Mrs. Moore became instantly fascinated with the vibrancy of the Indian way of life as they glided through the marketplaces of the mystic streets of Chandrapore. It is perhaps due to this newfound fascination that one night, Mrs. Moore went to feel the cool rural breeze and strolled too far from where she was until she had found herself inside a mosque. At that time, an Indian muslim, one named Dr. Aziz, has just ended his dusk prayers and was surprised to see Mrs. Moore entering the mosque in a white sleeping gown (Later on, Dr. Aziz would mention to Richard Fielding—a Britisgh functionary where the two women were staying---that at first she thought Mrs. Moore was a ghostly apparition.) Dr. Aziz frantically informed Mrs. Moore that she shouldn’t be in that part of the mosque since she was a women. This particular scene gives the viewer a healthy prelude to the clash of two cultures—between that of in India and the English ways---and how each one is separate and not privy at all to each other. Mrs. Moore of course apologized and this untoward meeting between the two led to a genial companionship, although it was a friendship that was deemed to be short-lived; as we were about to find out later on.

Without so much of a prelude, Dr. Aziz invited both Adela and Mrs. Moore to go sightseeing through the rustic Chandrapore countryside, more particularly to the renown Marabar caves, a huge cavern underneath a gargantuan rock formation that became world-famous not for anything much except the mysterious echoes that can be generated when one shouts into its dark spaces.

It turns out that in order to “enjoy” the strange echoes, the tourist has to make a lengthy trek far deep into its darker alleys and to this, Adela and Mrs. Moore had agreed to walk into them. The reverberating echoes within the walls of the cave and the tremendous discomfort brought about by the darkness inside it had caused so much distress to Adela that she panicked and scurried outside, bruising and injuring her in that frantic getaway from the strangeness of the echoes. The British Magistrate fiancée of Adela had eventually taken note of this and immediately ordered for the arrest of Dr. Aziz. The whole commotion in the cave has led many to believe that Aziz has attempted to rape Adela and a full-blown trial soon followed. Dr. Aziz of course cried foul and bitterly denied these purely trumped-up charges and called for the testimony of the refined and amiable Mrs. Moore whom he believes would reliably tell the truth. But to the consternation of Dr. Aziz and his counsel, the court was informed that Mrs. Moore could not give her side of what really happened that fateful day in the Marabar Caves because she was already on her way to England aboard an intercontinental ship. Dr. Aziz’s counsel smelled something fishy going on and had concluded right there and then that Mr. Heaslop, Adela’s fiancée, had deliberately sent Mrs. Moore away in order to hide the truth behind the whole fiasco and to ensure the conviction of Dr. Aziz. The judge berated Dr. Aziz’s counsel for his protestations and told him to refrain from saying agitated remarks or be thrown out of the courtroom and be barred from participating in the trial. To this, the said counsel suddenly stood up and bellowed to the judge “There is no trial! You are not trying any case! This is a farce! You and I are both slaves!” and then he took off his lawyer’s black robe and stormed out of the courtroom. Outside, he imbibed the crowd eager for the outcome of the case with anti-British sentiments by shouting repeatedly “We want Mrs. Moore!”

Before there could happen a potential uprising from the Indian populace in the city of Chandrapore over the arrest of Dr. Aziz (which many Indians there had seen as the result of British racial prejudice and discrimination against the natives), the trial ended on a turnabout testimony from Adela herself. When called to the witness stand, Adela broke down after a furious questioning and finally told the whole truth about the incident in the Marabar caves, to the effect that Dr. Aziz did not in any way tried to rape her but instead she had injured herself mostly due to her own undoing. Aside from that, in what turned out to be the most memorable scene in the movie, Adela told the court that she and Mr. Heaslop were recently engaged despite of her telling him that she don’t love him anymore. And that she just felt compelled by social norms to agree to her engagement to the British Magistrate. This had caught the crowd virtually off-guarded and even the judge was tongue-tied upon hearing this unsolicited and inconsequential confession of Adela. Mr. Heaslop of course shrunk in his seat and his head got bowed due to the embarrassment.

In the end, Dr. Aziz was acquitted and he became an instant hero in Chandrapore as a parade throughout the city was organized in his honor. The movie ended with Dr. Aziz contentedly practicing his profession in the northern Indian region of Srinagar, a silent but picturesque town whose ground are mostly covered by snow and its hills and valleys are splendid to the sight, as crystal clear lakes there shine like mirrors in purity and calmness.

The film “A Passage To India” effectively captured the emotional renderings of the E.M. Forster novel and reiterated its concern for the kind of racism that the author believed to have been apparent during the decades long British colonization of India. Actually, the film gained mixed reviews from film critics all over when it was released. Time Magazine described it “a rare triumph” while not a few noticed how it fared miserably with earlier works of David Lean. Despite of its eleven Oscar nomination in 1984, it only garnered the Best Supporting Actress trophy for Peggy Ashcroft and the Best Musical Score award for Maurice Jarre.

In my honest to goodness point-of-view, “A Passage To India” may not matched the aesthetic values of “Lawrence of Arabia” but how could one expect any director to top what “Lawrence of Arabia” had achieved considering now that it is regarded as one of the three or four greatest films ever made, right there at the top with “Citizen Kane”, “A Birth of A Nation” and “Casablanca”. To be sure, it lacks the solid characterization of early Lean films like “Bridge of The River Kwai” but it somewhat made up for this weakness by showcasing an excellent cinematography and sharp camera focuses. In “A Passage To India”, just like in “Lawrence of Arabia”, the viewer would feel immediately that no shot was wasted and that the film editor had painstakingly selected the scenes with masterful precision and that by itself a rare feat in a time where most films are well-photographed in just a few scenes but so-so in the rest. And to top that, the great production design applied in the film had effortlessly captured the subtlety and nuances of colonial age India that even though the film was shot in 1984, one feels like being brought back in time many decades into the past. If one did not know that the film was actually made in 1984, you would have thought that “A Passage To India” was made in the early decades of the last century. That was how factual and realistic this movie had appeared to be.

To me David Lean is the father of modern film from where most notable filmmakers nowadays had learned their craft. The influence of David Lean is always apparent in films by well-celebrated directors like Bernardo Bertolucci, Brian de Palma, Oliver Stone and even more commercial film helmsmen like Steven Speilberg, Michael Mann and Robert Attenborough. Sir David Lean is somewhat underrated in this manner because many directors today always credit their influences to Akira Kurosawa, as if they are ashamed to admit to idolizing a westerner like them. In truth almost all modern films---from Indiana Jones to Star Wars, from Gladiator to The Lord of the Rings, from The Godfather to Goodfellas, from Platoon to Born On The Fourth of July, from Rocky to Kramer Vs. Kramer---has all the markings of the many techniques used by David Lean in his earlier works; those rolling shots of scenic backgrounds, well-focused head shots, and the dynamic camera positioning are often replicated and duplicated in every modern film today, and these kinds of shots remind us always of the genius behind David Lean. He should be hailed as the greatest filmmaker of all time.

If you had enjoyed other David Lean’s movie like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Dr. Zhivago”, your life ain’t complete without seeing this one.
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Friday, March 18, 2005

Fences.

Yesterday afternoon, I was watching the replay of a Philippine Basketball Association game played between Alaska Milk and Ginebra San Miguel in an out-of-time venue when I began to notice that the bleachers in the basketball gymnasium where the game was being played have steel fences on them. For certain, this is not really something that should surprise me but I have gotten use to watching PBA games in more modern venues in Manila where fences are not in anyway used to divide variably-priced seats (the closer the seat to the court, the higher price one pays for it.) that seeing those metal dividers had instilled some deep thought in me.

I wondered in my mind why those steel fences are needed in some modern basketball gymnasiums and the probable answer to this mental query of mine is of course to prevent game patrons from unduly relocating from one place to another—usually from an area farther from the basketball court to a nearer one. Then I asked, have we as a people became most inclined to cheat even on such trivial matter as seatings in a basketball game that fences or divisions are made necessary to control these unholy notions? I ask if this ugly notion really exist amongst us because for one, I have yet to witness anyone doing such act although I have been in many live basketball games in the past, including the Araneta Coliseum in Cubao and Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay. Decades ago, when our economy was in deeper trouble and we were still somewhat backward in outlook and attitude, I would not have been asking these questions or if for one, we were some backyard countries like Afghanistan and Rwanda (I don’t mean to debase these countries, hope I am clear on this).

What I saw in that PBA game every time the camera pans towards the bleachers is the sight of human beings fenced like they were chickens behind wire fences. And every face I saw there is deemed to be so untrustworthy that they have to be held back deliberately by a formidable division. Some of them held the wire fences while watching the game and the sight evoked to me the unseemly image of men without freedom. To think, they are indeed without freedom, economic freedom for that matter, for if they were only able to pay for the better seats, they would not have to suffer those fences. I wanted to reach out to them and free them from that unsightly situation—only if I was a millionaire and able to buy them better seats. But I am not affluent and in fact, I would have suffered those same fences if I felt like watching a basketball game because surely, I might as well have not afforded those pricey seats at courtside. But one thing I am sure of, I do not have to be fenced in order that I remain in the seat of my consignation, in accordance with the thickness or slimness of my wallet. I think these fences must be uprooted from every gymnasium there is in town for they are symbols of distrust and dishonesty. If many would cheat, the solution would be to apprehend them and throw them out of the venue or better still, drag them to the nearest friendly neighborhood police station and make them hold some other form of metal fences. But fencing people just in order for them not to cheat is a throwback to tyranny.

I wonder how much those seats costs and if they were cheap enough in order for any patron to just content himself or herself to watching the game with steel fences bothering his or her views. I might as well have watched the game on television where fences do not in any manner cover the view.

I may sound sort of overreacting but those steel fences tells us something sad and ugly about our society and the Filipino as an individual. Have we become so untrustworthy? Have we become rogue enough to always cheat on seats and perhaps on every other aspect of our modern lives?

We are a nation of fences. Houses are fenced. Offices are surrounded by high concrete walls. Hospitals are ringed or always enclaved. Even churches built high divisions around them. Schools, cafeterias, stores, markets and subdivisions are fenced. We see fences in ships and boats, in graduation ceremonies, in crime scenes, in concerts and live shows, in festivals and sportsfest, in public demonstrations, in presidential speaking engagements, in cinemas and stage plays---fences are everywhere.

There are wooden fences as well as steel fences. Sometimes these fences have barbed wires in them or some cracked bottles on its topmost portions. While some even carries electricity that is powerful enough to burn any one that has the misfortune to be caught in it.

If every individual starts trusting every other individual and when every individual can be trusted already, that’ll be the day that we need no more fences in our midst. If that day comes, nobody knows exactly.
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Blog Review Series No. 4

The Samuel Bilibit Diaries – A Blog Review
Authored by: Sam
Content Remark: Shows A Great Promise.
Graphical Features: Excellent Layout.


This early in its blog life---barely three months to this day---this reviewer could safely say that The Samuel Bilibit Diaries is a labour of love.

In fact when Criocksz G. was still in that crucial stage of choosing the name for this weblog, he had to scrutinize a long and protracted list of potential banner title that included such names as Katapusang Singgit sa Amang, Aping Daldal, Kanto Tiño, Sa lilim ng punong manga, Conversations with Jack Daniels, Blog Bath, Lamang Utak, Isipang Buntis, Panuhot, Careless Whispers, Blah blah blog, Sangplatitong Mani, Duha Singko, and Pasakalye and by this you could tell how this weblog author take his blogging seriously and that must be how every blogger should be.

Then Criockz G. became Sam when he chose “The Samuel Bilibit Diaries” as his blog title. The title came about when once he was reminded that when he was a child, his mom scolded him for being a constant wanderer, saying to him “Murag ka man si Samuel Bilibit” (“As if you we’re Samuel Bilibit.”). In one of his earlier entries, Sam explained the tale behind the Visayan mythological icon. In legend, Samuel Bilibit was cursed to walked the Earth until the end of time and many believed that to this day, he is still walking among us ---along the streets he strolls by us everyday and inside the speeding jeepneys he rides along with us, towards his never-ending journey.

Read more of the review...

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

America Is Not Paying Vietnam War Victims

Earlier this month, a United States federal judge had dismissed a class suit instituted by mostly Vietnamese citizens over the U.S. use of the chemical known as Agent Orange in its war against the commies in Vietnam more than three decades ago. During the Vietnam War in the 1960’s, the U.S. Military used Agent Orange extensively by spraying these chemicals over great portion of Vietnam’s rural are in order to kill and defoliate forest coverings that are used by the communists as hiding places. The Vietnamese complainants claimed that by the massive use of Agent Orange, many Vietnamese rural dwellers were affected by its poisonous effect and became ill of numerous sicknesses ranging from diabetes to cancer. In studies made by many American universities, it was established that Agent Orange contained the chemical element known as dioxins, a highly lethal compound that is now banned from general use all over the world.

According to the ruling, the American chemical companies named in the class suit and the U.S. Military could not be held liable for the main reason that Agent Orange is not a prohibited war substance under any international law at the time of its use. This basically make the class suit devoid of any legal basis where there is no law violated, there is no crime committed. This to me amounts to escape of liability by the U.S. government by mere technicality.

Another reason for the dismissal of the class suit was that the U.S. government is immune from suit and its sovereignty could not be challenged without its consent. Meaning to say, the principle of state immunity does not allow any party to institute any action against the government on the precept that allowing these kind of suits could only interfere with the exercise of sovereignty or the functioning of the government. Simply told, governments could not be charged by any crime or tort for this would only disturb their main task of governing the state.

Under the present rules of war, Agent Orange is in no way included in the list of chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Convention on the rules and conduct of war, not even in the recent Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. Basically, Agent Orange is by nature a herbicide use in agriculture and its use by the U.S. Military was never as a weapon of warfare but as a strategic utility to clear the enemy’s cover. There have been recent calls for amendments to the rules of war since many war experts had determined that the war today is fought in a very different manner compared to decades ago where warfare is not anymore subscribe to an army-versus-army conflict but is fought with unique form of enemies like terrorists and private soldiers of despots; and therefore items like passenger airplanes like the one used in the 9/11 attack on the world Trade Center in New York and agricultural products like Agent Orange could be treated as potential weapons of war, and should be regulated and monitored.

Yet even when the U.S. Government could not be sued for war decisions, in the light of the doctrine of state immunity, the federal judge should have examined the liability of American companies who manufactured Agent Orange, and awarded some form of compensation for the harmful effect of their product. If tobacco companies could be made to pay for the direct and indirect effects of cigarettes, then why not a company making agricultural chemicals? There is a strong basis to my suggestion since in 1984, seven companies that manufactured Agent Orange agreed to pay $180 million in compensation to U.S. veterans or their next of kin. I believe that based on this jurisprudential precedence, the Vietnamese complainants should be compensated for the ill-effects of Agent Orange use by the U.S. Military in Vietnam.

Unlike the Japanese Government feigning innocence over the Imperial Army’s abuses of comfort women, the United States government should have shown exemplary kindness and consideration by indemnifying Vietnamese citizens who have became seriously ill or died as a result of the indiscriminate use of Agent Orange.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

FULL DISCLOSURE---“Much Ado About Nothing”

I am not doing this because I am being made to do so at gunpoint. I am not compelled whatsoever to do this by anything except that I am intending to do this anyway in the near future, although it wasn’t in my mind before that this disclosure would have come so much sooner than I expected.

Just a month ago, Decrepit Old Fool had make a disclosure that he was in fact one of the contributors in the much-read site “The Zen Diaries” and was I glad for that disclosure? I felt just okay and thought much ado about nothing.

But this disclosure may leave a bad taste in the mouth of some, but I guess that may be inevitable.

When I started this web log----Where Now Is The Citizen On Mars?---I had conceptualized it as a political avatar with of course the attendant expression of my own socio-political opinions and see how readers react to it. As it progresses along, it was turning into a vibrant forum for the opinion of others instead of being absolutely the portal for my own worldviews. This progress is not entirely a bad thing to me. Moderating a forum may just be one way for me to help other bloggers express their own personal opinions of the world. In this light, I had even created segments like “The Blog Review” and “What Other Bloggers Are Fretting About” just in order to help ventilate the thoughts and meanderings of my fellow bloggers.

There is another thing to the conceptualization of this blog. I had patterned it to the very famous web log titled “Where’s Raed?” whose author writes in the screen name, Salam Pax. There is so much mystery in the person of Salam Pax and everyone reading this Iraq war-themed site had been asking all along who Salam Pax was and some even thought she was one American petite woman. I do not still have an inkling who Salam Pax is until now. Maybe someone could help me find out.

So I said, if a foreigner could make this kind of blog, and be world famous, I wondered if a Filipino like me could also do that? Do we have double standards here? I don’t believe so. If others can create this sort of thing, why can’t a Filipino like me do likewise? If you surf through the international blogscene, in America most especially, you can find a dime a dozen site that has mysterious authorship and still it thrives although most of these sites, upon public demand make some sort of public disclosure of their true authorship and some don’t even bother despite the urgings of many of its readers to disclose and yet, they continue to be patronized.

Now did I fool anyone? Did I intend in any way to maliciously mislead my readers? I do not think so. If you were my constant reader, my writings here are all temperate, rational and logical that I did not in anyway have posting that would create confusion and bewilderment. Now of course, you might say I have fooled you on my true identity. But as I explained earlier, that was screen names that I used---Major Tom or Thomas Rivera---just like Salam Pax. In the local blog scene, one of my most favorite blogger is XP, the operator of the highly-acclaimed blog EXPECTORANTS!!!. If you check this site, it has no personal profile to view and there is nothing there whatsoever to lead you to know more about the true identity of XP, although XP says that many had already known his true identity. But a newbie like me has no idea whatsoever. But I did not mind this and I continue to read Expectorants!!!---I guess that’s the prerogative of XP if she do not want his true identity known, I mean, caveat emptor---or buyers’ beware.

In fact, despite the screen name or my use of a secret identity, I have really intended to tell my real identity anyway later this year, like in June, and if many would have asked for it. But I have to tell these things to you now my fellow bloggers and I think it is just about the right time.

My real name is Y.B. Masdal. I am 32-years old residing in Zamboanga although I have been in Manila lately so that explained my previous area of consignation. I have four kids and I am Christian by conversion, upon a recent spiritual awakening. My other blogsite is known as “The Daily Prophet”, it is my personal web log.

Now you might be wondering why at times, The Daily Prophet comes here and comment? That may lead you to laugh or be aghast at me. A stalker of mine says it was perversion. The explanation is like this. It was exactly because of this stalker of mine named Lieutenant Dick that I made those comments in the name of The Daily Prophet, so that she would be a little taken out of sort if Major Tom was really The Daily Prophet, I did not want her to know of course, because exactly, she is my stalker even from the beginning. My comments here as The Daily Prophet was a desperate attempt to hide my true identity when I felt that Lt. Dick was starting to realize that Major Tom is The Daily Prophet himself. Lt. Dick is smart and by the way she is a female blogger that is so well known in the blogscene. We all know her and she hides sometimes as Lt. Dick, a screen name she invented just for me. You know, I felt special somehow that despite of her being such a well-known blogger, she had went down to such low level just in order to harass me. Whoah! Am I that special?

And besides, one of the blogs I frequent is the famous blog of Batjay and Mr. Nicanor David has created there some personas that interact with each other like THE GENTLE READER and PINSAN NI BATJAY and we all like that ven though we have an inkling that all along, it was Batjay that was making them interact with each other. It’s like an artistic expression and it works so well.

For propriety reason, I would not tell you who Lt. Dick really is but I have ample evidence of who she is. If you go to her new blogsite Where Now Is The Citizen On Neptune?, a spoof of Where Is Now The Citizen On Mars?, you wouldn’t miss knowing her true identity because the manner she write there is so eerily familiar. You would know immediately who she is, with all that fuzz about bloggers being plagiarists and having screen names and pseudonyms that you thought she own the blogosphere that she don’t want any blogger to use screen names. If Jose Rizal were a blogger now, she would even point him to the Spaniards because Jose Rizal has pseudonyms. She hates that. I don’t know why she thinks that I have used a screen name to deceive people when I did not in anyway did that. Oh, this one you should know. In one of the more famous blog here where I use to comment, my screen name Daily Prophet was misused by some “unscrupulous” manipulator that it was shown that the Daily Prophet had commented something when in fact I didn’t. I did not point out already the misuse there in order the issue to die down. But if she continues to misuse my screen names, hers would be misused too. You could tell that it was not I because my tone is usually respectful. If ever from now on you could see some comments in other blogs in the name of Major Tom or The Daily Prophet and its nasty, just disregard them because most probably, Lt. Dick is behind it.

Now I do not feel right apologizing but I will apologize just the same to you who might have felt something bad. Major Tom is just a screen name as well as Thomas Rivera and let’s admit it, in the blogscene, screen names are all abound. I am Y.B. Masdal.

In truth, I have great esteem and respect for my readers and many of you must have felt how I speak to you with enough candor and respect. I made sure that I help them get exposure and when they comment in this site, I make sure that I return their comments and visit their blogs and react also to their views and opinions, unlike other forum moderators who does not respect her readers by giving a visit and making comments to their blogs, even just a simple encouragement would have been enough. I am not like that and I make sure that my readers have the same attention. I have no prejudice and discriminate in favor of more famous blogs only. For me every blog is equally important in their own right and unique by its own. This Lieutenant Dick says in her blog that some sites are “plain gibberish and immaturity talks.” I mean, being gibberish and immature is not a crime and if a writer wants to be that way, that’s his or her own freedom of expression. Apparently, Lt. Dick is not only self-appointed blog censor, but she is also a self-styled dictator. You think she owns the local blogworld? I think we do not need censorship here and Lt. Dick must be brought down for interfering in the personal rights of other bloggers. And if she is brave enough, she should also make some disclosure like I did. I am sure she won’t and her name is not Roderick Ramos because Lt. Dick is a woman. If some Roderick Ramos actually appears, that’s always possible and can easily be done but I doubt it because we do not know anything about a certain Roderick Ramos in the blog scene and how come “he” knows many things about blogging. But as a Christian, let’s us just forgive her and ignore her disturbed soul. She’s a catholic-hater by the way and we just hope and pray that Satan can give her a colder room in hell when Judgment Day comes. But if she won’t let up, then I won’t let up also because I have top defend my self, my blogsites, and my life for that matter. Stalkers tend to be psychotic and God knows what they can do.

I will continue to use Major Tom despite you knowing that I am Y.B. Masdal in reality. My other blog The Daily Prophet, is entirely different from this forum site because it’s more personal and I want to make some healthy separation between Mars and The Daily Prophet site. I have other blogs and you can reach them by just checking the links in The Daily Prophet.

This disclosure is a little risky for me since many of you might shun me from now on but I assure you that I will go on even if I only have one reader a day because a reader is worth writing for like most of you guys here, you know who you are and I feel so blessed that my readers here are all intelligent, witty, rationale and smart souls who all have smart sites. If you check out all these people, you’d be so surprised how good they are although most of them are newbies like me. I hope you all stay guys. If you all have questions about me, feel free to ask.
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Star Wars---Now A Darker Jedi Story

Great news for those who had for once or twice, or even for many more times in the past, thought of themselves as Luke Skywalker and sway those laser swords like they were threading dangerously on Death Star.

George Lucas had announced some days ago that the final installment of the Star Wars prequel series would be released in the states as early as May. That would mean, we on the Asian side of the Pacific might be able to troop once more to every Dolby-enhanced theater within our reach sometime early June. If the wallets get fatter by that time, some of us may sneak into some THX premiere.

The title of the upcoming Star Wars movie is “Return of the Sith”, and Lucas described it as the “darkest” among all episodes, including the one where Darth Vader finally shredded his now-famous and dreaded helmet and got killed by his own son. What Lucas meant by this? Perhaps, the “Return of the Sith” may contain more doses of violence than we are used to get or maybe it contains now some sexual explicitness (considering Anakin gets to grow up into full adulthood here and get to marry Princess Amidala).

My take on this is that perhaps George Lucas has carved out a more serious and somber script for this new episode, meaning to say, the plots gets a lot of “tragedy” treatment and less of those wham-bang-thank-you-ma’am kind of action scenes that kids love the most. This may be both good news and bad news for every Star Wars soul out there. Bad news to those who have been accustomed to the fantasy-driven and adventure-packed previous episodes but good news to those who have grown mature enough to savor movies not by its graphical qualities alone but upon the “essentials” of movies like for example a compelling plot and good characterization.

All in all, Star Wars fanatics may just be gleeful enough that for the summer, they have something big to look forward to. I do not know if I can be called a fanatic but I have seen every episode (Well, who hasn’t?) not just once but at least thrice for every installment. For me, the storylines behind these sci-fi epic series evokes more than just the hero-and-villain/master-and-slave conflict; they actually run upon a whole ingenious concept of good and evil, where discipline and persistence and the belief “in the force” makes the Jedis more cunning and iconic as against the grandiosity of evil in the person of Darth Vader. It is the modern day depiction of man’s quest for justice and equality by pursuing the road less traveled (the Jedis seem to owned nothing but their clothes on) that in the end, the good of the “force” translate more than the power and wealth that the evil empire sought to claim for themselves but could not in the end. Star Wars is like any bible story---it’s the triumph of good over evil in this world.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Uranium Enrichment In Iran To Halt.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami issued a statement yesterday to the effect that for the meantime Iran would be ceasing its uranium enrichment program. He said: "We are ready to cooperate with the world to give more certainty that Iran is not moving toward the creation of nuclear arms."

This is the right way to go for Iran and certainly the world could learn a thing or two from this act of modesty and restraint from a country that is more known today as being part of the “axis of evil”. The world today takes a step forward towards a nuclear-free world, or at least a world far from the threatening hands of a nuclear holocaust. It may not be as big a step as we wanted it to be but at least, we could see now what “right direction” means for Iran and other so-called “rogue states”.

A day earlier, the international political scene was pleasantly surprised to hear that the United States was finally backing out of its opposition to Iran’s entry to the WTO. This was considered as a “major shift” on international policy considering that the United States had never been known to flip-flop with its agenda in the global scheme of things, not in the issue of terrorism and much more in the aspect of nuclear threat in the world today. But there it was, the United States condoning the wishes of its European allies to finally allow Iran membership into the world’s largest global economic grouping known as WTO. I should say also that the world could learn from this unexpected but greatly appreciated move of backing out by the all-powerful Uncle Sam.

When asked if Iran’s decision to stopped uranium enrichment was rooted on the U.S. backing off from its WTO opposition, President Khatami dismissed it as plain ridiculous and likened it to trading a lion for a mouse. He said that the reason for the halt in uranium enrichment was mostly based on moral grounds and nothing else. A senior Iranian official clarified that WTO membership is not really that important to Iran since aside from oil, its other main exports are basically insignificant items such as pistachios.

But I think, the Iranian official is just saying that in order to maintain any remaining leverage it has in its negotiation for more trade with Europe. One of its conditions for abandoning the nuclear program is increased exports quota of non-petroleum items to European countries and an enhanced technology transfer from Europe to Iran. Clearly, Iran is taking serious efforts to enter the global trade and to this, WTO membership is an inevitable prerequisite.

All in all, we hope that all is well that ends well. If we can urge a country like Iran to go nuclear-free, then perhaps countries like North Korea, India and Pakistan may follow suit. These countries should be ashamed of themselves and should instead emulate Iran and the United States for knowing how to take some steps backward in times when they are needed, and know that restraint and moderation is a major plus for world peace, and humanity in general.
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Here We Go Again.

In the song titled “Sonnet”, Richard Ashcroft of the highly commendable English alternative rock band “The Verve” crooned in its refrain these words:“here we go again and in my head it is done…”
"Sonnet" is one of the most affecting song I have ever heard and its sentimentality is made even more profound with the cunning way the guitar wailed in the background, set to a rhythm that is wisely unhurried and meaningfully scattered over its heartrending words, like rainfall on a tin roof. The song goes on to say that “nature has its way of warning me. Eyes open wide, looking at the heavens with a tear in my eye.”

When I heard the news about the jailbreak yesterday afternoon (as I was about to rest from a whole day of driving), I could not help but utter desperately in my mind the often-used phrase “here we go again”. Some of the 129 Abu Sayyaf members detained in Camp Bagong Diwa in the city of Taguig went amok shortly after dawn yesterday and staged a very violent jailbreak where three jail guards were instantaneously killed in the ensuing firefight. It was also reported that two of the breakers were slain shortly after. The incident was familiar and the story remains the same. Some jail guards felt a little lax for once and allowed a detainee to grab his firearm. How loose can security get to this sort of prisoners like the suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf?

The clock already stood at 11 PM last night but the crisis wasn’t over yet as negotiations finally broke down, in negation to the major headways gained earlier in the afternoon. Apparently, one of the latest requests of the detainees was unreasonable enough to wreck whatever compromise was agreed on beforehand. This particular “requests” was not mentioned in the latest newscast on TV last night. Earlier in the day, an accord for the surrender of the jailbreakers was reached and the compromise would have included “no bodily harm” to the surrenderees, respect for their human rights, speedy disposition of their cases, redress of their “grievances,” and access to the media after their surrender. Police Senior Superintendent Leopoldo Bataoil called the compromise a “win-win situation”. With three jailguards dead, the superintendent does not seem to appreciate fully well what winning truly means.

In my mind, our police have not learned fully from the past mistakes it had committed on the matter of detaining prisoners like these Abu Sayyaf suspects. Last year, eight escapees were killed while being pursued after 20 suspected Abu Sayyaf detainees staged a jailbreak in Basilan. In 2003, the Indonesian terrorist suspect Fathur Roman al-Ghozi made fools of his jailers by planning his escape from his very own cell using a slipped-in cellphone. How a cellphone could be in the hands of a high-profile detainee like Al-Ghozi evades my mind completely.

Jailguards should have known better this time considering that there are many occurrences in the past that tend to show that Abu Sayyaf suspects are almost always inclined to seek escape from prison, even at the most violent of manner. Since those prisoners weren’t ordinary criminals, as we usually know them, our police authorities should have treated them with paramount stringency and vigilance, short of putting them under maximum security. In that manner, not one of them could ever attempt to grab some jailer’s side arms, as each one would be clamp with heavy chains whenever they are out of their cell. We already know from past events that these terrorists are most inclined to do a Hannibal Lecter whenever a window of opportunity for escape presents itself. Not even when Dr. Lecter was clasped within tons of chains that his jailer could ever feel secure. The police should have treated them like the Hannibal Lecters that they always turn out to be.

Of course, this is not to encourage human rights abuses. With my suggestion of maximum security, these kind of detainees should of course be allowed ample time to convene with their counsels and visits from their loved ones under very guarded circumstances as well as the observance of all other rights and privileges the law gives to a person under detention for the commission of a crime. When their minimum rights have already been observed, every other security measure should be utilized to put a perfect clamp on them.
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Monday, March 14, 2005

Blogging In The Free World!!!

Last week alone, two blogging milestones have happened---upping the tempo of the pace bloggers have taken in recent months. The blogosphere is like a machine humming with so much power that when it finally runs, it could not control its own inertia. That’s how blogging is nowadays. There is a whirling pace within us that catches us somewhat off-hand not realizing what really happened until we see it actually happening. There seems to be no turning back now and bloggers all over the world should keep on pushing and pushing until we see the limit in sight---if there is such thing as a limit to blogging.

According to a news report from CNN, lawmakers and online journalists in America have most recently called on the Federal Election Commission, otherwise known as FEC, to keep its hands off political forums on the web like Wonkette.Com and FreeRepublic.Com. Fourteen members of the House of the Representatives have said that blogs foster a welcome diversity of viewpoints and they should be treated with the same stature and rights like common journalists have. Apparently, there was some move within the U.S. judiciary to classify these online political sites as political organizations, or something related thereto, which would make them the subject of election regulations, especially on matters of political contributions. In 2001, FEC had determined these online forums as not amounting to “coordinated political activity”, and therefore not subject to existing election regulations.

At times, people in the high-ups are just plain inadequate or perhaps just hopelessly lazy. How could they generalize so easily on matters like blogs and blogging and determine things like they are the same apple in the same basket. What FEC should have done is to examine each political blog one by one and find out whether or not they are of “concerted political activity” or not. I am sure that many political web logs are credible and legitimate enough to withstand any scrutiny although nobody could exactly discount the fact that some sites in the Internet may just as well be paid hacks and political mercenaries. Here’s an easy test, if a political web log starts to paste on their pages some segments that says “Bush Is My Man!” or “Gloria Ang Ating Bida” then who’s to doubt as to their being paid pundits? Would it take a genius to distinguish these things? I don’t think so.

The other blogging milestone I have referred to above was the issuance of a White House pass to blogger Garrett M. Graff, the 23-year-old writer for a web log known as Fishbowl D.C. Mr. Graff is said to be the first blogger ever to have been treated just like any regular journalist covering presidential activities and to be allowed inside the White House briefing room. When he was asked how it felt on his first day of coverage, he just said: "Our first impression this morning? As glamorous as the beat itself may be, there's little glamour to be found in the briefing room. The conditions of the briefing room, famously built over the old White House swimming pool, um, leave something to be desired."

Remember that name. Garrett M. Graff is making blogging history even as we speak now.

In the Philippines, we may still need to see some brave souls that will push the level of blogging by a step higher---just like in America. The first person to enter that Malacañang briefing room as a blogger journalist is surely to be remembered as a blogosphere hero and will be remembered in many years to come. Any volunteer?
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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Hybrid Cars : The Future of Transport

In America today, there seems to be a major push for the use of alternative energy in cars and other motorized transport. A car that uses a combination of gasoline and fuel cell as power sources is termed as the “hybrid car”.

Three days ago, the Internal Revenue Service has announced that all purchaser of the hybrid car can avail of tax deductions that amounts approximately to within the $2000 figure. The tax relief can go as high as $4000 if the car purchased is powered solely by electric power.

This development may usher a completely new era in the way we transport ourselves through miles and miles of urban passageways and thoroughfares. Apparently, two facets of realities had called for the promotion of the use of the hybrid cars by the United States Government. One is the ever-rising prices of crude oil in the world market and the threatening climate phenomenon known as greenhouse effect.

On a transport that runs halfway by electric power, one can get more mileage per gallon of gasoline on a hybrid car and this means, less use of petroleum products that causes volume and volume of carbon dioxides to be spewed into the environment, thereby bringing more harm to the ozone layer and helping to invigorate global warming.

Are hybrid cars the future of modern transport? Most probably it is. Last year, sales of hybrid cars reached nearly 90,000 units and are predicted to rise to the figure of half-a-million units in eight years.

But despite of that, every aspect of the technology surrounding hybrid cars is not yet smoothened through the hilt and still has a long way to go. Consumer surveys are still collating information as to the reliability of these cars in terms of complaints received and problems encountered per 100 hybrid car sold. The usual snags include complaints on the limited stretch of miles it can reach per instance of use (interstate commute is unthinkable at this time) and the availability of parts and servicing centers.

Just this month, General Motors had caused the destruction of some 800 units of prototype models of EV1 electric cars that it had tried to test-market since the 1990’s. Slow sales and lukewarm response from the consumers had caused GM to decide the crushing of the said electric cars and the scrapping of the manufacturing unit that produced its parts and components. According to a GM spokesman, there is just not enough demand for a car that could merely run for 140 miles with each plugging into a home-installed electric recharger. This news shows that wide-acceptability of this mode of cars remains years away.

But GM’s EV1 is purely an electric car that has no gasoline component to it. The hybrid car on one hand combines the power generated by internal combustion in order to produce electricity that in turn, powers the transmission system of the car. Hybrid cars seems to be more promising with more mileage per gallon on it and without the often-annoying need to recharge it in some space-consuming plug-in contraption at home, unlike cars that runs purely on battery, like the EV1. And with the tax incentives, more and more buyers are wont to snatch it from car display centers across America and perhaps, in many countries all over the world.

The concept of the hybrid car is not entirely new to us. The MRT running through our avenues are powered in fact by electricity. Bullet trains that we see in Japan and Europe use electricity to course the magnetism that propels these amazing modern carriages to mind-numbing velocity. Submarines used by First World countries are now powered by a hybrid of diesel engine and nuclear power—just like aircraft carriers.

If OPEC remains adamant and continue to artificially propel oil prices just about every time, sending third world nations like the Philippines reeling into a spiral of crisis after crisis, then every soul should be praying that in the future, our cars should not need gasoline anymore, as well as our factories, power plants, aircrafts, ships and every mechanized thing there is to be found. OPEC should ought to note that. First World countries, with their huge and highly evolved economies, would most likely be immune from the effect of every oil crisis, or its effect on them would certainly be manageable. It is the poor countries that always get the bad rap brought about by the indiscretions of this group of international blackmailers known as OPEC.

OPEC ought to know that.
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Cool Stickers.

Speaking of cars, I was driving through Quirino Avenue when I suddenly got trapped in a familiar traffic bind. I turned on the stereo and America was singing "Sandman". I whistled through the song when suddenly my gaze caught the back of a van just in front of me and imbedded on it was the sticker with huge letterings that read: “DON’T FOLLOW ME. I’M LOST”.

I could not help but giggle inside of me and a grin was pasted on my face. It was the coolest and funniest car sticker I have ever seen. I wonder why I haven’t got that.

Reminds me of the Senator Miriam Santiago-Defensor’s take on stalking. I had thought why would the van owner think that I would be following him. He is just full of conceit and overly-aware I guess. I get to remind myself that the sticker was just meant to be a joke. Perhaps, he is really a kindred soul to humor me like that. It’s both funny and eerie I think. But at times, it ain’t funny no more. What would you feel if somebody goes on following you everywhere you go? I guess stalking makes our existence limited and our movement becomes too restricted. I guess the anti-stalking bill should be fast-tracked. Or perhaps we could buy more stickers that says, “DON’T FOLLOW ME. YOU ARE VIOLATING THE ANTI-STALKING LAW.”

Oh, this entry is a little bit mindless. You may not comment on it.
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Friday, March 11, 2005

The VAT Increase And World Bank's Meddling

World Bank was recently the object of disaffection among many senators and congressmen, especially that of Senators Edgardo Angara and Juan Ponce Enrile.

“They cannot tell us how we will pass the law. We will pass the law according to our judgment of what it should be.” These were the strong words let off by Senator Enrile against the “pakialamerong” World Bank.

Huhmmm, what we see now are quarrels in the high places. We thought only children could bash each other with such passion.

Apparently, what started the mean tongue was an urging by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to speed up the new VAT increase from 10% to 12% now pending in the Senate. The president mentioned to the lawmakers that the World Bank wanted “high-quality” VAT legislation and administration, which according to her would mean higher VAT rates.

And so the lawmakers’ temper exploded due to what appeared to be an undue interference by the World Bank. Surely, the senators and congressmen did not want to be told on what to do, for they should know better. Nobody wants to be told on what to do, isn’t it?

I think this rumpus should not have become such a strain in the senses if only parties examined the root of the whole hullabaloo. Speaking after the recently concluded Philippine Development Forum, World Bank Country Director for the Philippines Joachim Von Ambsberg had only expressed the willingness of many donor agencies to put more money in terms of aid and grants to our economy only if certain fiscal restructuring are implemented by the government in the soonest possible time and this would include the newer “high-quality” VAT legislation, as well as better tax administration and tax collection by our revenue collecting agencies. In some view, this may be meddling but I guess we can give the benefit of a doubt to Mr. Ambsberg since his choice of language were not actually threatening or disrespectful at all to our lawmakers, but merely an expression of commitment and intention by donor countries to further give assistance to this ailing economy of ours.

Now we ask, is the new VAT measure really a result of arms wrestling and intermeddling by World Bank? It may be or it may not be but I guess, every other entity that is aware of our problem on the burgeoning budget deficit would have to advise or suggest to us to find more revenues and income sources. Our burgeoning budget deficit stood at nearly 200 Billion pesos even as we speak now.

We are like a house that spends 100 pesos a day but whose income is only 80 pesos a day. So we keep on borrowing 20 pesos a day to cover the differential and as we borrow and borrow, our debts increased just as well, and with interest payment growing exponentially, we become imbedded in a financial hell if we do not do something radical any moment now. So anyone who observes the manner of expenditures in our house, especially the neighbors who we approach for help every other time, would surely say “hoy, tutulungan kita uli pero gumawa ka naman ng paraan para ma-augment yung revenues ng bahay niyo.”

So gagawa nga tayo ngayon ng paraan.

And so we come to the need for more tax legislation. Last year we had to implement a newer version of the so-called “sin taxes” and this year we are embroiled in this endgame on the matter of increasing our revenues through the VAT system.

The house version of the new VAT system found rough sailing when it finally reached the Senate floors. Apparently, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means headed by Senator Ralph Recto rejected the version of the lower house which would have increased the VAT rate to a uniform 12% rate. There were actually two versions submitted to the Senate. The other version would have broadened the tax base dramatically, meaning to say items and services not covered before may be already covered later on.

Senator Recto had made it clear that a general increase in VAT rate from 10% to 12% would be highly inflationary and would harm the economy more than it benefits it. He proposed that instead of increasing the rate to 12%, the new VAT system should remain at 10% but the tax base would just be broadened dramatically to include such items or taxable subjects as electric cooperatives, professional services (such as that of doctors and lawyers), petroleum products and many other items and services exempted in the present VAT system. Senator Recto also proposed the increase of the corporate tax rate from 32% to 35%. All in all, the senator concluded that the Senate version would generate nearly 80 Billion pesos in just one year and do away with the difficulties of administering a VAT system that would maintain variable tax rates. The house version includes variant of rates that would increase annually until they reaches the maximum 12%, and this according to some analysts, is hell in terms of the difficulty in administration.

If in fact, Senator Recto could prove by mathematical computation that the government could actually get sizable revenues without increasing the tax rate, then his proposal would be just as palatable and would make President Macapagal-Arroyo grin just the same.

Yet despite the formulation presented by Senator from Batangas, Malacañang is still hell bent in pushing the 2% general increase in the VAT rate. Many sectors have also come forward in order to point out the fickleness of the Senate version. For example, semiconductor companies in the special export zones have expressed their apprehension that making electricity a vatable item would highly hamper their production. The Philippine Chamber of Commerce on the one hand pointed out that increasing the corporate tax rate would discourage more foreign investments and drive away business from our country while the Tax Management Association of the Philippines (TMAP)---composed of corporate auditors, lawyers and executives---said the government could raise the VAT rate, but should not cover goods and services regularly purchased by low-income and middle-income earners. Senator Recto’s version is too broad to include even sardines and instant mamis, as well as generic medicines---items mostly patronized by the poorer sector of our population.

I guess there is really no perfect formula for a better VAT taxation but one thing is sure, the government of President arroyo needs it in order to achieve its target of reducing our deficit to a zero figure by 2010, the year her administration ends. Under the “narrowing window” principle espoused by World Bank’s Joachim Von Ambsberg, the Philippines should bite the bullet now and make the “painful” changes while the economy is growing at more than 6% of our GNP. Mr. Joachim believes that the populace now has more income in their pockets than years ago with the expanding economy and any inflation brought about by this “painful” tax legislation may be cushioned somewhat by the growing economy. He believes that the changes may be painful now but if the government would not make the painful moves now, and allow the deficit to grow into uncontrollable figures, the poor will suffer more in the future. If we do not resolve the problem of a ballooning budget deficit at this point in time, there there would be fiscal hell in the years to come for our economy.

What Mr. Ambsberg is saying is that the people may suffer some now but if it would not take any sacrifice, the pain would be more unbearable in the future.
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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

CHINA AND TAIWAN MAY BE INCHING TOWARDS A FULL-BLOWN WAR

In February this year, Central Intelligence Agency Director Porter Gross issued an assessment that reported the highly noticeable build-up of the Chinese mainland military arsenal, especially the increase in the number of missiles pointed at Taiwan’s direction. The CIA analysis of the tension between China and Taiwan seemed to be prophetic to say the least as we hear now the latest news on this ever-reverberating conflict across the Taiwan Strait. Yesterday, the Chinese Parliament in Beijing began to roll a proposed enactment that could become the justification for a military action against Taipei. The bill banners the “One China Policy” that China wants the international community to maintain. It would mostly reinforce its claim of sovereignty over Taiwan and would include provisions that call for “non-peaceful” solutions if peaceful means could not stifle the growing secessionist sentiments in Taiwan. Meaning to say, once the said bill is enacted, China would by then have the enabling mechanism to validate its initiation of an armed attack against Taiwan if all “negotiations” or “peaceful means” fail.

For me, this is one big step closer to a full-blown war. In 2003, the Taiwanese parliament had initiated moves to hold national referendums calling for among others, the dismantling of all Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan. China called those initiatives as a veiled move towards Taiwanese independence. The rising tension that resulted from that particular heated exchange from the two adversaries was fortunately cooled down when U.S. President George Bush had implored Taiwan not to proceed with the planned referendums. President Bush had warned Taiwanese nationalists that holding referendums at that time was highly flammable and may escalate the tension to unprecedented levels.

Ever since the year 1949, Taiwan had always been considered by China as a renegade province when the nationalists forces of Chiang Kai Sek was drove towards the shore of Taiwan after the red soldiers of Mao Tse Tung had finally put a clamp on every territory in the mainland China.

Should China really pursue reunification with Taiwan? Does China really have the proper and sufficient claim over the island of Taiwan?

Contrary to popular notions, Taiwan had not always been a Chinese territoriality. Its original inhabitants were aborigines of the Austronsian race, just like Guam or Saipan. Its first conquerors were not even from China but Portugese seafarers who established a trading station there in 1517 and proceeded to name the island as Formosa. Dutch traders took their turn in using the island off the coast of Mainland China in 1624 and soon after, Spanish soldiers had in turn put up a fort somewhere in its northern regions. It was only in 1661 that a fleet of Chinese soldiers under the Ming Dynasty set foot on Taiwan and took control away from the Dutch colonizers. In 1895, Japan wrestled the island from China and ruled it until the end of World War II.

What I am trying to say here is that Taiwan had not been a Chinese region by origin in the first place but more of an Austronesian island that is separate and distinct from China mainland. Its first people and primary culture were not of Chinese roots. Due to these historical facts, China might not as easily brandish the most perfect of title over its claim on the island formerly known as Formosa. Its hold over it was initially by conquest and then by mere legal fiat afterwards when Japan ceded back the territory to China by virtue of a treaty after World War II.
If China insists on reunification with Taiwan, it would just become a modern day colonizer subjugating a people that are not willing to be under a governance not of their own liking and China would then be pressed to rule the island by means of repression and aggression. It’s not worth it. I think China should hear the desire of the people of Taiwan and give them the self-determination that every people deserve.

Conquerors and colonizers in history have always learned their lessons only too late. The Taiwanese people may not as easily fold up to a power it long considers as a bitter enemy. If China would eventually overcome the whole island by sheer military might, a prolonged rebellion could possibly ensue and things there might get so ugly. It’s not worth it I stressed again. China is faster becoming the largest economy in the world but choosing to become a despised aggressor might just jeopardize this great potential.
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