Thursday, July 12, 2018

REVIEWS/REACTIONS. Free State of Jones. Fifty Shades Darker. The Founder. Arrival. The Great Wall.

"FREE State of Jones" (2016), written and directed by Gary Ross, stars Matthew McConaughey. Inspired by the life of Newton Knight and his armed revolt against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi, throughout the American Civil War. I read about Newton Knight in college. Since then, I've always been fascinated and intrigued by his story. Problem is, after several readings and interviews with professors and historians, I get mixed opinions or contrary historical account/s of his exploits or "heroism." It seems Americans are divided over his motives and actions. Such controversy has been fueled by widespread opposition among white people to Knight's alliances with slaves during the war, and his postwar marriage to a freed slave. Meantime, his allies or believers developed a small mixed-race community in southeastern Mississippi at a time when inter-racial marriage was considered illegal, except for a period during Reconstruction. After the war, Knight joined the Republican Party and served in Mississippi's Reconstruction government as a deputy US Marshal.

         Fact: Abraham Lincoln (Republican) who authored the Emancipation Proclamation as a presidential proclamation and executive order in 1863 drew support from the antislavery portion of the Whig Party, and combining Free Soil, Liberty, and antislavery Democratic Party members, the new Republican Party formed as a northern party dedicated to antislavery. Hence, it is expected that Knight was a Republican. 
         Anyhow, I saw "Free State of Jones" as a voracious student of history more than a film enthusiast. Yet it helps that you read some Newton Knight backgrounder first before you settle down on the couch for this 2 hours and 20 minutes $50 million-budgeted saga. We can't lose with McConaughey as a thespian non pareil, plus there's the always reliable Mahershala Ali (as freed slave Moses), so by virtue of sheer lead acting, this mini epic is not really a boring exercise. Yet I find some of the dialogues kinda dull speeches. Many so I won't mention. I wanted to dig in some flaws in Newt's character but the movie wasn't into that. He was a hero, period. Like you, I wanted to know where the fiction starts and truth ends, and vice versa. But maybe I am over-intellectualizing. As I said, this movie is not a boring thing. More importantly, it makes me dig deeper into the evolution of America's politics. You should as well. Something to think about.

"FIFTY Shades Darker." I don't know what words to fit in a 300-word "review." But I will. While I cook dinner. There will be a "Fifty Shades Freed," by the way. OMG. I don't know what angle or position in bed or non-bed they'd explore next. Nothing new to me. I am 57 years old with dozens of broken valentines not to know, dig? To save yourself the torment of dialogues and soap, cut through the chase and go to pornhub. Or better be, read Anais Nin's "Delta of Venus" or Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying." There's also "The Other Side of Midnight" by Sidney Sheldon, a high school reading shenanigan, that is much better that this E. L. James ersatz. Or try A. N. Roquelaure's (a.k.a. Ann Rice) books. And I mean, read. READ. Don't watch. Reading kickass erotica fires up the imagination and then boom! You know what I mean?

"THE Founder" (2016, via Netflix), directed by John Lee Hancock, stars Michael Keaton. The story of businessman Ray Kroc, and his (re)creation of the McDonald's fast food chain after a cunning "takeover" or buyout of the original San Bernardino, California barbecue store from founders Richard and Maurice McDonald. Dick and Mo McDo built their store in 1940 and 8 years later, reorganized their business as a hamburger stand, using production line principles. Kroc joined the company as a franchise agent in 1955 and subsequently purchased the chain from the brothers, then moved its headquarters in Illinois, Ray's home state. Today, McDonald's is the world's largest restaurant chain, serving approximately 68 million customers daily in 120 countries across approximately 36,900 outlets.

         According to a BBC report published in 2012, McDonald's is the world's second largest private employer (behind Walmart with 1.9 million employees), 1.5 million of whom work for franchises. But of course both giants are widely criticized for alleged wrongdoings in the line of environment, health, and labor. That's not the subject of this post though. The movie's kick is the value of toil. In Croc's words, "Persistence." He didn't inherit the store or franchise compared with the Waltons. He worked his ass off. Studied the plan, reworked it, traveled, faced investors, got turned down and then got up again. Such is the industry wisdom of the olden days when entrepreneurs actually hit the road and talked with people, face to face. 
        The movie is an obligatory bio narrative, nothing big deal. It's Keaton's ferocious grip of the character and hyper insistence that kept the film interesting. And I always love movies that talk about the past. 

"ARRIVAL" (2016), directed by Denis Villeneuve, based on the 1998 short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. Stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. The main intrigue (for me, at least) is Chiang's exploration of language and determinism. Determinism is a doctrine that says all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. It also implies that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions. The subject of Determinism is a multi-pronged intellectual provocation hence it was a favorite topic in vacant hour jousts in my college years.

         Chiang (and the movie, of course) navigated that theme via linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Adams), who narrates the story, from the day her daughter is conceived. Addressed to her daughter, the story alternates between recounting the past: the coming of the aliens and the deciphering their language; and remembering the future: what will happen to her unborn daughter as she grows up, and her untimely death.
         It's a pretty esoteric treatise but Villeneuve's deft handling of the material makes the storytelling accessible even subtly suspenseful. At first, it had the ruminative makings of a Terrence Malick bore but the movie kept me focused and wanting more. 

"THE Great Wall" (2016), directed by Zhang Yimou. I knew what's in store for me in this movie yet I still watched it. Just wanted to know how Mr Zhang squandered his huge talent with this $150 million-budgeted CGI ersatz. Who is Zhang and why I dig this dude? He's the director of non-Hollywood classics "Red Sorghum" (1987), "Ju Dou" (1990), "Raise the Red Lantern" (1991), and "To Live" (1994). 

          The lead writer for "The Great Wall" is no joke as well. He is Tony Gilroy, nominated for Academy Awards for his direction and script for "Michael Clayton." He also wrote the screenplays for the first four films of the Bourne series, all great. But don't let this top notch tandem bullshit you. This movie isn't about the Song Dynasty or how two marauding white men showed up looking for "black powder," which could have been a swell plotline, right? Nope! This movie is all about Chinese warriors outfitted like Power Rangers battling antsy monsters who think like slick blow hustlers in Detroit. The white hunk who led the battle royale? Of course that'd be Matt Damon, a kickass archer warrior from Massachusetts. If you like that kinda cinema, go ahead, enjoy. Good for you. For me? At least it was fine while I do other house chores like wash dishes with my hands. 

SOME of the movies above are available on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Russia. China. North Korea. Terrorism. Stuff.

NEWS. "ISIS, Despite Heavy Losses, Still Inspires Global Attacks." The Islamic State's territory-building project is crumbling, but it still has an international reach and an ideology that motivates attackers around the world. I always say, we can pulverize terrorism's camp with "mother of all bombs" and even take down their leadership but until we alter or modify a system that breeds anger and hatred, terrorists will keep on spawning, with or without actual support from ISIS or Islamic State. The Arab Spring was a lesson. And terrorism isn't just confined to Muslims and we know that. Many act and carry out mayhem as self-proclaimed jihadists or Right-wing killers or Extreme Left urban guerrillas and lone wolves by mere internet indoctrination. Hatred peddled, wittingly and unwittingly, on Social Media is today's New Danger.

IT is quite logical that most cellphone users are those people living in giant countries. China, India, United States, Brazil, and Russia are the top 5. Japan, although relatively a small country, at #8 is understandable. It is also the #3 economy in the globe. But what perplexes me? Why people in tiny nations like Bangladesh and the Philippines use cellphones a lot (#10 and #12, respectively). They love gossiping and selfie'ing and tweeting and texting all the time. Uh huh.
DO you know that the most digitally-savvy country in the world is Singapore? Aside from the fact that its government promotes a digital agenda, they pretty much had that coming as they coursed their magnificent march to economic heights beginning at the time of Lee Kuan Yew. Finland and Sweden are number #2 and #3. The US is #5. But that know-how doesn't entirely mean they are the smartest. Or owning the most awesome cellphone or kickass laptop don't make one intelligent; it's how we use these gadgets that make us smart. Although Singaporeans, Finns and Swedes know their electronic technology it doesn't mean they are super reliant on them as do others who use them more. A good balance of technological savvy and primitive reflex is it. Computer overkill makes us zombies; non-adherence to technology makes us cluelessly isolated.

LET's TALK ECONOMICS. What is Trade Liberalization? It is the removal or reduction of restrictions or barriers on the free exchange of goods between nations. This includes the removal or reduction of tariff obstacles, such as duties and surcharges, and nontariff obstacles, such as licensing rules, quotas and other requirements. Such an economic dictum has always been prevalent in practically all regional economic summits, especially those controlled by the 1 Percent in the West (before the advent of the new China post-Mao or from the onset of Western mercantilism via Queen Isabella's galleon trades and/or Marco Polo's Silk Road trips to hang out with Kubla Khan in 1200s).

          How does liberalization, aptly import lib, affect smaller nations prior to World Trade Organization's inception in 1995? Simple. The junk or substandard or "toxic" products that bigger economies rejected were funneled to smaller nations (read Third World) on "friendlier" tariff obstacles, duties and surcharges etc. Homegrown traders, of course, gobbled them up. Consumers eager and fascinated with anything "imported" bought into them. Now since production are spread out all over the world, the evils of import lib has been minimized since why buy a lawnmower or peanut butter that were manufactured/processed homegrown anyway just because there were shipped from Helsinki or Kentucky? Nope. They don't ship them anymore as much as they do MIT educated managers and product/IT designs for production. Hence you do away with higher cost or mark-ups etc etcetera as per supposedly excised taxes and tariffs.
          Good for other countries but not good for America because of heavy imports since WTO's globalization. Your washer dryer costs more because it was made in Juarez, Mexico. Again, why blame other countries? Who invented trade liberation or globalization? What the world should do is sit down and negotiate on the basis of economic equality. We blame China for flood of products on retail, Saudi Arabia for oil pricing, Mexico for deluge of (undocumented) workers, and Russia for everything but not in the same way that we look at ourselves in the mirror.
          For one, by way of globalization, bigger economies allowed other nations (via businesses or other organizations) to develop international influence or start operating on an international scale. Thus member countries, especially China and Russia are now able to compete with the US and Europe. Rest is history. How many huge US companies maintain plants in Mexico for example while Mexico remains as the #4 top exporter of oil to the US, and that's just across the border. Saudi Arabia is boss of OPEC but Aramco, the biggest oil field out there, is owned by US and Britain. Still, American oil magnates control global oil pricing. The Saudis allowed diggings of oil but we gotta supply them arms among other concessions. Russia? Russia is top producer of crude oil but they don't use their oil the way we in the US do. They use their oil as leverage to excise influence globally. China? Okay. I have to stop.

WHY did the United States put its mighty hand on Colombia's "Drug Wars" in the `90s and not in the Philippines' current version? Why President Duterte's anti-Washington girth is so convenient, for now? Okay. Colombia is #1 in coca production (think pharma 1 Percent) and it is, to date, the #4 (or #5) oil exporter to the US. (Forget about how America loves the blow.) The Philippines? There are no poppy fields or oil reserves in the islands. BUT there were two gargantuan US military bases that spelled (military) impregnability to Washington in the region. Need I recount how significant the archipelago was in the Pacific War, Korean War, and Vietnam War? Why Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam evolved into US (or West) allies?

WHY Vladimir Putin is a genius? Russia, which consolidated its massive oil wealth (#1 globally) after USSR, is NOT a member of OPEC. But a member of World Trade Organization (like China). The world's Top Three: United States, China and Russia are not OPEC members yet the US and China control world trade. Kremlin excises power over non-allies (of the West). There is no trade if there is no oil. Why is Canada a power, too? Simple: They can trade but you don't control their oil pricing (#7 producer but non-OPEC member). And why Brazil, Mexico, and Norway are powers in their own right/s? Non-OPEC members but they can compete on the WTO table. North Korea? They don't care. They don't need Netflix or Walmarts. (And their iPhones come from kin Seoul or bro Guangzhou. Made of smuggled Campbell Soup cans tied by strings. So no tax.)

RUSSIA! RUSSIA! Of course President Trump and the Russians had a deal. They are compadres. Don't people know that? It's clear as sunlight even before the D maneuvered himself to GOP kingdom come. Then he won and what do we expect? But I see all this as more of crude oil issue. As long as the US chugs in 20+ percent of total global consumption, oil will still be the top-tier issue in America irrelevant that we are #3 in production. Meantime, Saudi Arabia stays as #2 exporter to US in last 20 years, irrelevant of Arab Spring's possible blowback and ISIS threats in Middle East. President Obama stuck with Saudi Arabia/OPEC pricing despite warnings of production cut. Vladimir Putin saw that opportunity, sure. This dude is a genius in reading signs. So why not help Trump? Right?
          But then Russian steel companies were already here even before Trump loomed and Obama and Congress (that time) already let Russia in WTO in 2012. So they can always compete trade-wise, irrelevant of Trump. Just like when China entered this globalization wagon by way of Clinton/George W in 2001. Now that the Russian fiasco pulled Trump deeper (all time low in public approval for a US president plus embarrassing schism in White House), now we turn to Saudi Arabia again. I saw that coming.
         The Kingdom was whining over arms promised them (among others, in exchange for US/UK oil drillings) to fight the ISIS or Muslim extremism especially in Yemen which Obama cut. Obama's Defense appropriation was unprecedentedly huge so when Trump upped it some more, it's not surprising. Defense or military power are compelling negotiating chips. What's weird is, why is it Trump is balking on NATO's (esp. Germany and France) proposal in re pooled resources vs global terrorism and his issue is money? Shows that Trump doesn't know what he's doing or people around him are at odds what is it that's good for Washington.

         BTW that ISIS crap in the south of the Philippines was obvious. It's gotta be ISIS otherwise how else can Washington justify repositioning itself in South China Sea without it's military clout? That's why (Philippine) President Duterte turned to Moscow. Beijing will not bite Washington's bone vis a vis Defense dare. They're busy spreading out business globally. Also, the world underestimates Vlad Putin. He knows how to work things out. He is a master spy thinker. And he's got oil first of all. Repeat: Oil is power. I don't think ISIS is going to shake his butt anyhow the way terrorism pummels top European allies. At this juncture, Putin is more influential globally than Trump is which is sad for Americans, especially that Trump just pissed Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.
         Meanwhile, I do understand this anti-Russia brouhaha. It's easier to hate them than the Germans or Japanese, for example. Thing is, while we are busy reading the news and discussing shit on social media, the Russians just got in (in the way the Chinese did). And they got in few years before 2017.

I DON'T get it why some people still hail hallelujah WikiLeaks. Julian dude has always been Kremlin's leverage. Where is he? Ecuadorian embassy. And who's a friend of Ecuador? China. Both Russia and Ecuador got oil. Both countries are beneficiaries of Chinese credit or investment. The US and Ecuador used to have close ties, especially in combating drug trafficking etcetera, until President Correa offered political asylum to Julian Assange in 2012. Ecuador and Iceland (where WikiLeaks was formed) have extradition treaty with the US but refuse to honor it. The Chinese leadership isn't like Vladimir Putin. They don't bully, they offer business. And Assange is business to Beijing. Meantime, he is Russia's negotiating chip.

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT. It's just something that makes Social Media alive. Imagine if Russia is Greenland or Trump is as cute as Trudeau? Facebook will be boring. No one to diss, nothing to ridicule. Long time ago, we'd probably leaf through morning paper for 10 mins and watch evening news for 15, eat breakfast and supper, check out "Bewitched!" or baseball, sleep. Wake up, drive kids to school, go to work, pay bills. I mean, did we talk much about Russia during Cold War as much we do these days? Escobar was handing out moolah to poor Colombians and selling coke to Americans, and blood spilled in the street like monsoon flood, yet did we ever care beyond a glance? New Wave and hair bands were more fun dalliances in those years. Ellsberg before, Assange today. Same story yet the Mighty MIBs, on 1 Percent payroll, are still doing it. Tomorrow they will be whistleblowing what the world already knew but choose to ignore in favor of ice cream and funnel cakes or Buds.

          In these times of Netflix and politics, these are okay distractions from funk and blues, as long as hey did they do something about mortgage and stuff lately? Truth is, whether Trump sits still or gets out the door, another target practice will be onstage. And we will still be feeling the pain in our gut. At least yes I enjoyed "My Sharona" and "Turning Japanese Sa!" in those years. Yet there were massacres in Bologna and El Salvador, airport attacks in Rome and Vienna and a Beirut bombing that killed 299 American and French servicemen. Three important political figures were assassinated: Anwar Sadat, Benigno Aquino, Jr. and Olof Palme yet people didn't argue or unfriend. Instead they forgot their ism fixation and partyline allegiance/s and merged as one, somehow.

MORE on these so-called Trials or Justice System. TRIAL by the mob, media overkill, or public perception don't really work in American jury system. Throw in the best in Defense lawyering in the likes of F. Lee Bailey, Gerry Spence, or Johnnie Cochran? Done. They will exploit what's in front of them to the hilt and win. I don't know who Bill Cosby's lawyers are but history repeats itself for a reason or two. Cochran (in O.J. trial): "I don't fight. I win." Who bailed out Imelda Marcos in her racketeering etc New York trial in 1988? Her BFF Doris Duke. When the fact is, Imelda's $5 million bail money was just coffee dough in the Marcoses' stash lounging in a Swiss bank. More so, her I am the victim the Filipino people are my children I love them tearjerker worked in front of the jury weaned on daytime soap. The media don't hand down verdicts, you see. The jury does.
         Like, can you imagine if Pablo Escobar was brought to Miami to face trial? He had to be wasted because he had to be wasted, period. Meantime, Colombia is still #1 in coca/cocaine production 24 years after his death. Who benefits? You tell me. This makes Julian Assange a genius. He had it all figured out from the get go in Iceland in 2006. He may not have the jury although he won the truth-deprived left side of the road. He got more and better than his "enlightened" public exalting his WikiLeaks. He's got Moscow and Beijing behind him. Genius!

SINCE there's so much talk about China and Russia which are traditional Communist powers (agrarian and proleteriat, respectively), and are currently spreading out influence in Southeast Asia, in place of America and Europe's (England, Netherlands, Spain, France) historical protectionist hold, many think the region is Communist/Socialist by itself. No. I'd say the region is more religious/cultural than ideological. Yet there were significant instances when Communism, Chinese/Maoist styled mostly, tried to slip in particularly in British Malaya (Malaysia) and Indochina (Vietnam, Cho Chi Minh time) or via Sukarno’s Indonesia or Ne Win's Burma (Myanmar) as well as during Pol Pot's horror reign (Cambodia).

         An interplay between nationalism, internationalism, and communism was/is prevalent in the region. To understand that better, try to define "nationalism" Eastern style than via Western thinking and maybe zoom in on Thailand (Siam), the only country in Southeast Asia that wasn't invaded or colonized by a foreign power. Internationalism, Eastern way, is not globalization (WTO design) or globalism, by the way. Credit the Chinese for shrewdly cocktailing (active verb) Eastern internationalism and Western/US globalization and then look at them now.
         Meantime, you may ask, why is it Asean (the organization) is tight, especially economic wise? And why West's 1 Percent emissary George Soros is perennially focused in the region like a modern day Marco Polo (to the East)? Then we need a few beers to discuss the Asian Tigers and Asian Cubs of the 1990s. And I will tell you why it isn't about China or Russia why Southeast Asia and/or Philippine president (and Asean head) Duterte acts the way he does via a vis Washington and European Union.

DON'T superpowers influence national elections in other countries where their 1 Percenter interest thrives? I believe that is a no-brainer. Russia got in WTO in 2012 even before this Trump/Russia fiasco came out. With the Chinese' staggering investment in the US and vice versa, don't mutual "interference" happens? Don't their respective emissaries meet up secretly in some backroom of a steakhouse and discuss business? Don't we know that? Then a 25 year old youngster touched the issue. Boom! Jailed. Wanna be rescued as well by the Russians? It's both sad and dumb. One breaks the law in the name of a political/economic truth that has always been the case since the politico and the trader became BFFs.

I DON'T think communism/socialism still exists in its traditional template or model. Especially in the economic sense. It's interesting though how the Chinese (traditional agrarian socialism) modified (or interfaced) their communist principle with Western-styled capitalism. How is that? For one, the Central Committee still commands the loyalty of its workforce (disciplined via Maoist production style adherence) in terms of quota/product delivery yet their marketing mojo is old school capitalism. Their capital spread out globally in just less than 20 years (since their entry to WTO in 2001).
          Meantime, the Russian Marxism (proletariat socialism) still works due to their focused or grip of the culture but Kremlin's problem is diversification vis a vis marketing. Russia is "rich" due to its massive deposit of crude oil and natural gas (and how Vladimir Putin brilliantly fills up the gap between OPEC deals) but like the Saudis they are stuck with their ancient dictum (Saudi's religion, Russia's politics). These days though the capitalist 1 Percent is blurred. It's now a combination or partnership of all these guys. Diversity, you know.

IF you ask me, I believe China hasn't really changed despite their obvious embrace, or modification, of capitalism Western style. The Chinese are still essentially governed by a tightly-disciplined, production line-styled adherence to their government and socialist principles yet they adapted big time with changing global truths and facts, and see them now. Capitalism, Maoist version. America's Left that are aligned with Bernie Sanders' socialist democracy, of course, believe that their guru could do better. Maybe. But again this is Corporate America, whoever or whatever governs. It is not the template or system, it is the people and the socioeconomic structure where it is housed that ushers a political governance. China.

BEIJING's socialism, or should I say the Chinese version of democratic socialism, is what works in these current times when the 1 Percent rules the roost. Many progressives gravitate to Bernie Sanders' version because it is very ideal. It hasn't been done, at least in corporate America. Or in its strictest sense, democratic socialism, which relies heavily on workers hands and face to face interaction, hasn't really been tried within/around current computer technology reality. Think Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Pakistan, late 70s) or Olof Palme (Sweden, early 80s).
          China's socialism is realistic than idealistic--because it works. It's staring at us. First, it compromised with WTO's austere regulations when they got in 2001. Then they regrouped and slowly ushered their own shrewd version of globalization. More so, they recognize the 1 Percent because the 1 Percent isn't just the cloud, it is the sky unfortunately. They work around Western protectionist capitalism till we don't know anymore where's 1 Percent in the Chinese side of economic Milky Way.

         I mean, they knew that Russia's oil will start to boil as OPEC roils over Arab Spring and ISIS blowbacks. But Kremlin isn't high on diversification like the Chinese do. So Beijing lent Russian oil magnates money so they can keep digging as China keeps on investing in other industries. America's young has begun to dismiss the 1 Percent and its wasteful shenanigan that kills the environment so China offered its 1.3 billion-strong non-complaining humanity to do the factory work. So there. Now they are spreading the love globally. But this is "love" not nirvana love ruminating in a haze of herbal smoke, trapped in dreamful inertia. This is "love" that pays the rent in a swirl of sweat, pro-active with a timeline. Chinese socialism in the time of apps.

DO you know that more recent terrorism related attacks and deaths in Western Europe were more widespread in 1979-80 than they are these days? Number of attacks then was 1,615 against 2015-16's 604. Deaths were tallied at 719 then; 383 in 2015/16. Number 1 cause of death in those years? Suicide, which accounted for 433. Terrorism, 1. Western Europe, yes. But it's a compelling indication of what it was then and now in our midst. It's interesting if we could sit down and figure things out why. By the way, the data above was from the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database. Not my data or alternative fact. Western Europe: Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Switzerland, and United Kingdom.

A NEW York Times article infers that China may be oversharing. Sharing stuff. Ride sharing. Bike sharing. Then there's start-ups on share umbrellas, concrete mixers and mobile phone power banks. One wants to share basketballs. What is wrong with sharing? How can we over-share? This is socialist/communist China, after all. You know the story? Hint: Homegrown ride sharing in China drove Uber out of the giant country, uhh giant market. That is why. And that's the story.

DO you know that the world's top two oil companies in terms of revenue are Chinese? China National Petroleum Corporation ($428.62 billion/year) and PetroChina ($367.982)? China is "only" #6 in oil production. America's Exxon Mobil (#3) earns $268.9 billion annually. That is why the Chinese got money to help Russia dig up its massive oil deposits (and others elsewhere, mostly non-OPEC members). At least, Beijing commits $360 billion on renewable energy through 2020. NOTE: The US (eg Aramco etc) has more oil on its disposal yet the Chinese oil dudes are richer? That's beside the fact that American companies do essentially dictate oil pricing, globally. Yet the Chinese got more moolah? So who is smarter?

NORTH Korea is our favorite punching bag. Villain royale! Their leader's hairdo worse than President Trump's. Nuke devils! But then check this out. Aside from the fact that many of their basic services are a lot better than ours, it's not like many Americans are scared of visiting that communist nation. Uri Tours, headquartered in Kearny NJ, brings thousands of tourists there each year. I mean, you may even participate in a marathon officially sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations. They got funnel cakes and organic leeks out there as well.

          It is popularly known that North Korea bans religion. But then Pyongyang University of Science and Technology is run by evangelical Christians. Founded seven years ago by a South Korea-born American, the school has thrived because of a deal with the leadership. It provides children with an education they cannot get elsewhere — computer science, agriculture, international finance and management, all conducted in English by an international faculty. And you know they don't ban the utterance of "Merry Christmas!" in this school.
          Let's be kind to one and all. And they'll be kind with us, too. And stop believing in all those media links fed by Murdoch and Soros. You see, going to another place that isn't our comfort zone is a no-brainer. Common sense. If your agent says, no dissing their bosschief leader, don't. Respect the sonamagun. At least pretend since it's not like he's gonna share his kimchi with you in an official dinner, anyway. Who do you think you are? Jared K? LOL! If your host says, weed is cilantro and coke is Coca Cola there, and that's what those are, believe. Don't argue. Don't fight. Don't get jailed. Don't be stupid. Otherwise don't go. Yet there are more to enjoy in places like North Korea than you know. You know what I mean, right?
THE kind of "licks" that WikiLicks lick/ed out to the public seemed so new yet these are old stuff. Long time ago, scribes like Antonio Pigafetta for example wrote shit detailing gruesome shenanigans by the white explorer somewhere else beyond Cracker Barrel. Imagine, if there's already an iBook that time? Or Facebook? Meantime, awful things happened in Islas de Filipinas for 300 years and then when Spain and USA were wrestling each other who'd wrest power over the tiny country, more awful things went down. Same during the Pacific War. And so on and so forth. Those were "open" secrets. No need to lick them. Surveillance and spying are widespread especially during the Cold War. Or politicians carelessly talking (or exchanging correspondence/s) with whoever that they shouldn't. 

         Only difference is, these "licks" weren't sold to the public like merchandise. We "buy" them or buy into them. We say, "OMG! That was awful!" And then we discuss and debate these in Social Media. Chat argue fight explain elaborate chat again etc etcetera. Unfriend unfriend unfriend more. And then boom! We already spent so much time online. We just forgot that we overdrafted again and oh well! We've been "licked" again!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

STUFF, or Global Stuff (some of my past Facebook posts that you maybe failed to read)

OIL and STUFF and all those deals. There is no such thing as rich country to poor country dole out. Or "I will save your ass from the fires of hell" superhero pledge by a superpower to a tiny struggling nation, without some kind of agreement. Nothing in this world is free. And oil and other natural resources are an imperative in those deals. They say, for example, most internet hackers are based in Nigeria. Or maybe they also hack heads there literally, right? So we "help" them. 

          Truth is, Nigeria is ranked #15th among world's top oil producing nations. Nigeria is also the United States' largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa. Many also say Mexico is where illegals and bangbangers emanate from. Fact: Mexico is the 11th largest producer of oil in the world and has the 17th largest oil reserves in the world, and it is the fourth largest oil producer in the Western Hemisphere behind the United States, Canada and Venezuela.
          Meantime, most of Mexico's oil go to the US and since the country's diggings have slowed (maybe drying up?) it is still a major market for America. US Gulf Coast refiners have been cashing in on rising fuel demand from Mexico, shipping record volumes to a southern neighbor that has failed to expand its refining network to supply a fast-growing economy. I mean, they got Apple and General Motors factories and plants out there. Hence, Mexico needs strategic energy supplies from the US to continually provide business worth more than $15 billion a year to refiners such as Valero, Marathon, and Citgo.

CHINA, TAIWAN. Some perceive that the One China Policy still works. If it is still being practiced, then it's passe. Since 1949, when Kuomintang revolted against the mainland and retreated to Taiwan (then Formosa), relations have been muddled until two high-level talks in 2008 took place. Among others, the two "Chinas" negotiated/compromised on issues of direct maritime shipping, chartered cargo flights, direct postal service, and co-operation in ensuring food safety.
          Meantime, cross-strait investments have greatly increased in recent years. Predominantly, this involves Taiwan-based firms moving to, or collaborating in joint ventures, in Mainland China. The collective body of Taiwanese investors in Mainland China is now a significant economic force for both Mainland China and Taiwan. In 2014, trade values between the two sides reached $198.31 billion, with imports from Taiwan to the mainland counted up to $152 billion. In 2015, 58 percent of Taiwanese working outside Taiwan worked in Mainland China, with a total number of 420,000 people.
          Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwanese multinational electronics contract manufacturing company headquartered in Taiwan, maintains six of its largest factories in mainland China. Foxconn is the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer, and the third-largest information technology company by revenue. 

CLIMATE CHANGE and OIL. Oil and energy companies have become more politically aggressive and desperately upfront as ever in denying climate change--despite the obvious lessons of Katrina and Sandy, and elsewhere. These 1 Percent Oil Gods took out GOP renegade Bob Inglis, muted the McCains and got Mitch McConnell with whip money as support to his candidates. And so the environment has rang loud as a partisan war. I don't believe so. It's just that Congress lobbying focused on instilling fear of losing primaries than pro-climate voters. Meantime, without Republican help, Democrats in Congress have managed to log major victories in their own fight, such as the 2015 renewal of key tax credits for the solar and wind industries. Obama also kicked up the Clean Power Plan. But a true victory can only happen if and when a bipastisan Congress wills itself to act, especially in the GOP-dominated Trump era. One sign of hope is last year's creation of the the Climate Solutions Caucus, a group of 20 House members equally divided among Democrats and Republicans.
          People support is utmost of course if we chuck partyline hatred in favor of unity. Some Democrats claim that the Republican mass is blinded into acceding to whatever the Right says. Wrong. A 2016 poll conducted by researchers at Yale and George Mason University found that three in four registered voters believe the Earth is warming, and more than half believe humans are causing it. The poll's biggest shift occurred among conservative Republicans: The number of those saying the climate is changing jumped by 19 percent from two years earlier.
          Even the powerful Charles Koch has begun to see the light, says a Rolling Stone article. A top executive at Koch Industries said, "Charles has said the climate is changing. So the climate is changing. I think he's also said, and we believe, that humans have a part in that." In the issue of the environment, it is not wise to be a hardliner. We have to reach out to the opposite fence and work things out. Those who stick it out to their spot is as guilty as those whom they blame as the culprit.

NEWS. China unveils $1 trillion plan to shake up the economic order that was once dominated by the West. In stark contrast to President Trump's "America First" mantra, Beijing's "One Belt, One Road" plan aims to remake global commerce in China's image. The Chinese give jobs to world's workforce and also lay out a massive alternative energy program to help cushion climate change. Somewhere somehow someone earns big. That is fine--as long as the rest earn some and benefit as well. So why complain? Enjoy!

LO MEIN WORLD. All these while we are whining. [1] Along the jungle-covered mountains of Laos, squads of Chinese engineers are drilling hundreds of tunnels and bridges to support a 260-mile railway, a $6 billion project that will eventually connect eight Asian countries. [2] Chinese money is building power plants in Pakistan to address chronic electricity shortages, part of an expected $46 billion worth of investment. [3] Chinese planners are mapping out train lines from Budapest to Belgrade, Serbia, providing another artery for Chinese goods flowing into Europe through a Chinese-owned port in Greece. [4] The massive infrastructure projects, along with hundreds of others across Asia, Africa and Europe, form the backbone of China’s ambitious economic and geopolitical agenda. [5] Etc Chinese etcetera.

ENVIRONMENT and STUFF. And hey what about the environment, right? Climate-change deniers abound. Fact: Fifteen of the 16 hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the 21st century. Check these out as well: Drought-fueled wildfires in Southern California; rising sea levels in New York, Norfolk, Virginia, and Miami Beach; melting glaciers in Alaska; bleached coral reefs in the Virgin Islands. Etc etcetera. Earth's warming, and the shitty weather it causes, is outpacing the once-brilliant findings scientists used to predict our future.

          Long before G7 met in Paris last year to address the problem, Germany has already been powering up to 87 percent of the country using renewable sources. Meantime, China leads in pushing global green energy investments. Beijing committed renewable investment plans totaling $286 billion to Europe, up 5 percent from $273 billion in 2014. America should also focus on this matter, especially after Katrina and Sandy. I believe that US' 20+ percent consumption of oil can still be lowered irrelevant of plants and factories continually fed with oil. Such a discipline should also start with the people, per household. I still find it weird that some people criticize the big guys in re environment yet they'd kick up that SUV 10 miles away just to score a can of coconut oil or earth-friendly condoms or drive the distance equivalent to 75 human steps to throw garbage located in the same apartment compound.

OIL FACTS. I am perplexed to know that not many are aware that the United States is not a major oil exporter. Or are people biting all the "alternative facts" these days so easily? Enough with the links! America is not even in the Top 20 of countries that export the highest dollar value worth of crude oil (2015 data). Top 3 are Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iraq. Despite the US being #3 in oil production (8.45 million oil barrels/day), we are #2 in oil imports ($132.6 billion a year or 16.5 percent of total global oil imports). Of course, the US is also #1 in oil consumption, a whopping 20+ percent of earth's oil consumption a year.
          Ergo, whatever we have isn't enough to quench our insatiable thirst for more oil. Yet unlike China that is #1 importer of oil and #5 in production, they got jobs. Oil goes to manufacturing. And then when they got the money, they started spreading investments all over the globe, as their factories and plants stay chugging. They got the money, they got the honey.
          Meantime, US crude oil production fell by 6 percent in 2016 to below 9 million b/d. Yet, with OPEC compliance at a reported 90 percent and above, and with oil prices range bound at $51-57, US oil output should rebound this year. At nearly $54, oil prices in 2017 to be about $10 higher per barrel than they were last year. President Trump is expected to roll back regulations that would have hampered new output in the years ahead. What would that mean? Two controversial pipeline projects, the Keystone XL and Dakota Access, could be back.

          US oil and gas industry is expected to boost spending this year by about 35 percent, and rig counts continue to climb. Since the OPEC production cut deal end-November, our oil rig counts have increased by 125, and at 602, are at their highest levels since October 2015. The feeling is that OPEC and its non-OPEC partners will agree to another cut starting in July.
          What does that say? Russian oil coming in. How do we suppose to get the $1 trillion infrastructure to work and open up new jobs without oil? And without plants and factories cranking up exports, how do we fix the trade deficit? This is not just an issue to Trump's White House and Republican Congress, I believe. This is an American issue. We have strong environmental lobbying yet our magnificent oil consumption remains unabated. No, this is not 1859 anymore or shortly after the oil discovery in the Oil Creek area of Titusville, Pennsylvania--that kickstarted America's march to superpowerhood. These are the times of contradictions. We need to look at us in a mirror and figure out what's wrong, really.

ALL THAT OIL. Years ago, China was only consuming around 6 percent of the world's total oil supply, annually. The US is almost steady at 20 percent, #1 globally. China is now using up 11.7 percent, #2 worldwide, which is a no brainer. Those plants and factories that also catapulted them into a manufacturing giant, following their entry to WTO in 2001, needed humongous supply of oil. Whatever reserves they got (China is #4 in oil production) weren't enough, they had to import. However, China is still ranked #2 at 6 million barrel of crude oil importation per day behind America's 9 M barrels. Lotsa oil!

          Of course the Chinese government are aware that their bad Pollution Index graph are due to their industry not really their people's reliance to fossil fuel. For example, main transports in China are still public utilities, trains and bicycles. Most of these infrastructure/s were started at the time of Mao Zedong. More importantly. Beijing has embarked, especially in the last decade or two, on a massive investment campaign all over the world. In a way, they have spread out factories to other countries, opening up jobs out there and most importantly, the Chinese also helped developed oil deposits of these nations so they may less rely on imports. And this is the key: China has embarked on a $360 billion alternative energy campaign through 2020--renewable power sources like solar and wind. It's still business, of course. The country’s National Energy Administration laid out a plan to dominate one of the world’s fastest-growing industries via renewable power sources.
          What's interesting is, such a plan or program is the opposite tack of what Donald J. Trump's Cabinet, mostly inhabited by climate-change doubters, is poised to pursue. And do you know that Russia's oil magnates owe a lot of money from the Chinese? Since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, energy relations between China and Russia have been generally marked by cooperation and a regard for mutual geopolitical and strategic interests. However, due to some pricing tilt/s and speculations in the oil market, some frictions ensued. But that'd be another story.

ALL THAT MEDIA. If we go by sheer deduction, ALL media outlets are controlled by the Establishment. All newspapers and TV networks and radio stations are dependent on advertising money and investments from people (who usually support a politician or political party). There are outlets that are “independent” but they don't get wide exposure as do major outfits. Sadly, some of them are simply internet “nuisances.” Ergo, why believe in media, right? No. I believe that thinking is defeatist and negative--and only makes the power that moves “media” win. Makes them control the flow of “information” to serve their greed.

         I still “believe” in media because I believe in writers and journalists who make media alive. I kickstarted and nurtured my journalism in a world that wasn't as free as America. In the 1980s at a time of dictatorship, the Philippines was ranked #1 by Amnesty International in terms of journalists killed. I had many friends and colleagues that got wasted. I survived it. What does that say? Journalists write irrelevant of a controlled media. Irrelevant of the 1 Percent/Establishment. There is still a heated fight in the newsroom between editors and board members, reporters and marketing chiefs. As in there is a fight in Congress between those who accede to 1 percent lobbyists and whips and those who don't. There is a fight between good and evil wherever we go. But life is not black and white. It is not good here and evil there. It is muddled. We gotta weed through the brush to know the truth.
         Bottomline, it is NOT what is fed us in the news that matter—it is us. Do we believe it? Do we allow these “alternative facts” sway us? Are we ourselves controlled? It's no brainer. Social media is as dirty and bogus as mainstream media if we follow (today's) equation. But we are here, aren't we? We are wallowing in Facebook and saying what we gotta say. First Amendment Royale! I molded my journalism in a society where writers were tortured and killed because they wrote stuff. Anti stuff. But I dug in. Because I believed. People like us who post political stuff everyday should ponder and dig in as do journalists—irrelevant of New York Times or CNN or Fox or Facebook. Because we are not driftwood in the river—we are the river.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

TEACH your children, teach your parents

TEACH your children, teach your parents. I raised my kids on a pretty much "Do whatever you want to do but you gotta face up to consequences of your decisions later" dictum. I needed to freely give that confidence and trust for them to pursue whatever they want to be. I didn't teach my son how to be an artist, or my daughter what's economics and law were all about, or sat down with them and corrected their school essays. I simply showed them how things are done but on a playful, easy mode. Yet I cannot call myself "loose" or nice, I was in fact very strict. We walked all over the open market and let them choose what's up for dinner, hand them little cash/school allowance and allowed them to buy whatever they please and budget their money, put the VCR and TV on and gave them the freehand in choosing shows and movies that they want. They washed their dirty plates, fixed their beds, kept their bookbags ready, tidied their shoes etc even before school-age. The eldest took care of stuff and the younger ones obeyed. 

         From First Grade onwards, I was the proud dad who pinned their medals and honor ribbons every year, no fail. I am still the proud dad to date. I am very thankful that all my kids are relatively doing better or fine than what I see around (that sometimes worries me). Now I have grandchildren on these days of electronic overkill and computerized reflex. Things seem so easy. But parenting wisdom and strategy don't change just because the world changes. My grandchildren, like their parents, will use those hands and limbs working as well as their minds and brains pondering. Computers will not do the parenting. It is the heart of a parent that does and fulfills that sublime responsibility. That's what we can give our kids/grandkids beyond money and financial "security." The ability to maximize their potentials and continue nourishing their gifts--out there and in here. They have to create their future from scratch and the raw. Nothing is handed on a silver platter, or should I say, an iPhone app. It's all within us--inside and out.

LOVE POEMS and all those aftermidnight sweet shenanigans. To say that I keep more than 2,000 love poems in e-folders and hard-copy file/s is an understatement. The current body of work doesn't include poems that I categorize as “angry poems,” or poems that I read in my featured-poet reading gigs. (I don't normally read love poems in my shows.) Somewhere I left poems that I scribbled on loose yellow pads, concert handouts, napkins, newspaper margins, “blue notebooks,” chocolate wrappers, brown grocery bags etc etcetera. Some I retrieved, some I didn't. I travelled, handed poems to friends and strangers, and left. I just write poems, period. A pet dream or plan is to gather what I managed to keep and compile them into a 5-volume book of love verses and short prose, “Love Poems, Compromises and Negotiations.” It's like a box-set that includes drawings, songs (CD), various merchandise, and a card line. It's overwhelming, I know. 

          So to get things started, me and Cindyrella, are working on a card line first. I'm supposed to work on watercolor or ink or acrylic art rendering of these poems. But I am not yet there. I will. I need to get ruffled bigtime or jump off Chimney Rock waterfalls and then be motivated. Just kidding, of course you know I'm kidding. I will probably sit downtown and begin doodling or sketching on a drawing pad. Meantime, thank you Cindyrella—for getting these one project off the ground.  

SOME of the MADNESSES of a PASCKIE. These are just some of what I call moondances of my little life. Rock journeys and sublime madnesses. I was kind of “silently” all over back in the Philippines in my younger life, and then “more silently” all over in the US in my older life. Right now, at 55, I am just quiet (sort of). Some may disagree and say "silence" and "quiet" are understatements but I am. I am mostly love poems these days.
         I was a member of the media liaison staff of the Philippine Commission on Good Government, directly under the office of the President (Corazon Aquino), in late 80s. PCGG was tasked to recover ill-gotten wealth by the Marcos family. As a theater dude, I was part of PETA-Kalinangan Ensemble in the 80s—which also brought me to grassroots theater teaching and direct contact with countryside folk and urban poor. Of course, I used to write for We Forum/Malaya, a vanguard in alternative journalism in Asia, progressing from circulation hand, proofreader/translator to beat reporter—which helped me gain desk editorship and later editor in chief status in other papers. How many publications I edited and co-published, I don't know anymore. It was a frantic, my pace. I also sat for consulting teams for political candidates, including presidential aspirant Raul Roco, somewhere in my young life—while I put up (musical/poetry) events in Manila, few years before I decided to leave for New York. 

         I was still writing reviews for Philippine Daily Inquirer, largest daily in Manila that time, when I was editing a Filipino/American newspaper in Manhattan, while I co-organized events and concerts in the city. When I rested my Filipino community forays in NY, I moved to Asheville and published/edited The Indie (plus two others) from 2000 to 2011 (on and off). My peace advocacy work for Traveling Bonfires won me a citation from Western North Carolina Peace Coalition in 2004, mainly as recognition of my work as producer/organizer of “Bonfires for Peace” concert events in town and elsewhere in the region (including Baltimore and Washington DC).
I took a two-year “Asheville respite” in Los Angeles (2007-09) and handled the Southern California bureau of Philippine News—as I continued producing Traveling Bonfire shows and activities out there. Of course, these are just a few "bonfires" off my energy level in those years. There are more, a lot more, that even remembering them isn't that easy. I jumpstarted my journalism career at age 14, and then what about the trips and visits in so many places? Yet I feel I haven't really “retired,” I am just trying to “rediscover” the past in my memory and put them all in books--while I frolic in Facebook. LOL!

WHAT IF I AM SUPER RICH? Many times I think, what if I am a millionaire or billionaire? Will my life be altered or changed or different from others? No. Being just like "others" makes me happier than being the contrary "not like anybody rich brat" who rides in a limo or lives in a mansion by a seaside in Big Sur. I would put my money in a foundation (to help poor communities) and hire people to take care of that money in whatever way they choose how--make that money earn so that money would help more people. Managing money sucks. I just want to write and farm tomatoes and watch a TV series or two. My kids may take out loan from that banked money and work to gain mileage to pursue their own version of happiness, although they need to convince me hard before a loan is handed to them--like submission of a business proposal. 

         I'd continue writing and writing. And writing, My work will be my Trust Fund or inheritance. If I was Prince or John Lennon or Hemingway and Stephen King--I'd enjoin my kids to take care of whatever I creatively produce/d, make money out of them, and divide whatever amount among themselves. But again they need to submit business proposals with compelling ROIs (return of investment).
         In my life, I've never really worried so much about money but that doesn't mean I didn't stress about it. I do. Just like you and them. Though I must admit I got more stress when I got more money than I needed on my hand (when was that? LOL!) But I traveled far and wide with technically $10 on my pocket, and just stayed the way I am, and I survived. Didn't steal, didn't sell drugs, didn't take out loans. Just being a pasckie. At 55, I know I've proven that to myself. Money doesn't change everything. I don't owe anyone money (banks and Kingkong got nothing on me!) but I owe my kids and loved ones more time of togetherness. Hence the "journey" should end, I am 56 this month! I miss my family so much.
         I don't want to leave earth with $15 million in my bank sitting there ready for my kin to quarrel with each other about. If I am Warren Buffett's grandson, I'd ask grandpa to build more water pumps and schoolhouses and children's orphanages and hospitals somewhere with my inheritance money--and tell his lawyers to freakin' leave me alone so I can write another love poem and play with my dog and tend to my okra backyard garden in peace and quiet.
         Now I need to prepare to head downtown and enjoy some rock `n roll music and beautiful humanity. If I am a son of a millionaire, I am sure my family wouldn't let me sit there, right? That, I don't like. Moral of the rant: Not having lots of moolah is alright. A peaceful life, not being angry and not being hateful and not being such an ass, is already wealth. See you in the park, superhomeys!

I HAVE been discussing and deliberating and debating—and writing and writing and writing—about politics all my life that I can't help but get bored sometimes with the same subject/s. Yet I do enjoy speaking minds with older people like me who at least got comparative opinion/s about the past and the present or younger people who equip themselves with historical vantage views or they read stuff, they try to know beyond their own “independent advocacies” and super-smart political correctness. Otherwise it's all one-line quips and dismissive sloganeering and “I need to say something” whinings although there's nothing significant to say other than accentuate the “right” to say something. We gotta say something because we got something to say, right? 
         Otherwise it's waste of energy. Just listen and learn and read and observe and then say something next time. Hangin' with kids and pet dogs and cats and pterodactyls or bergaunsaurs or just, I don't know, cooking for dragonflies and Facebook-playing with my photos maybe, are more productive and creative and fun. And sublime. Feel me? Now I gotta go downtown and grab a beer, play pool with Kermit, or just watch people on dreadlocks and reflectorized skirts. And write about them, of course.