Archive of ‘cultural studies’ category

pop goes the world: we the people

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  4 October 2012, Thursday

We the People

Since last Monday, avatars on Facebook and Twitter have been turning black one by one, like stars in the sky winking out.

With the Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Law coming into effect yesterday, netizens are reacting in various ways to register their sentiments.

The smiling photos of some friends and tweeps morphed into black squares, which is self-explanatory, the color itself connotative of mourning and loss. Others redacted words or phrases from their status updates, citing “RA 10175”.

As the movement gained momentum, other people put up images that symbolize concepts such as dissent, struggle against oppression, and rebellion against totalitarianism.

Among these symbols is the Guy Fawkes mask. The mask is white with red cheeks, a mustache, and slim pointed beard, a mere stripe upon the chin. The mask was used as a plot element by writer Alan Moore in his 1982-85 graphic novel series V for Vendetta, later made into a movie. The film is perceived by some to refer to a society’s oppression by government. The Guy Fawkes mask was used by hacktivist group Anonymous and by activists in the Occupy movement in the United States as a symbol against repression and tyranny.

Another symbol appearing on social media avatars is the red “forbidden” sign (a circle with a slash within), often accompanied by text such as “Cyber Martial Law”; there’s also an image of Rizal with black tape across his mouth.

These and others are used as signs of protest against the loss of freedom of speech that many fear is heralded by the Cybercrime Law.

Says a lawyer whose profile picture is the Guy Fawkes mask: “I don’t like people dictating my personal choices. There are things I can say and express within the bounds of the law, then it is made illegal, which violates Article 3, Section 4 of the Constitution – “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…” This is contained in our Bill of Rights.”

Says an almost-lawyer, represented on FB by a black square: “As it is, the libel law in the Revised Penal Code is already questionable because it provides jail time for what is basically a civil offense – so you can go to jail for saying someone’s stupid. Libel is between two people, not the state.”

Other signs of outrage erupted online. Hacktivists calling themselves “PrivateX” have entered ten government and private websites so far, posting various messages, one of them beginning, “This domain name associated with gov.ph has been seized pursuant to an order issued by Anonymous Philippines…”

Among the affected websites were those of the Office of the President, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, Philippine Anti-Piracy Team, National Telecommunications Commission, Philippine Information Agency, American Chamber of Commerce, and the Food Development Center.

The Philippine National Police said it was victimized by hackers who created a false FB page for it, with status updates such as “Foul words against our police officers can be used as evidence now to file a case against you in a court of law.” The page can no longer be accessed.

This image appeared on FB earlier this week. PNP claims it is a fake page.

Other netizens put up the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance or pifa.ph almost immediately, a “website blackout protest” with this call: “Respect our right to free speech, privacy, and information. Prevent dictatorship. Protect democracy.”

Screenshot of home page of pifa.ph. 

A celebrity made this clever statement: he posted a picture of himself holding up a sign with his name on it, and below that the words, “Future Cybercriminal? RA 10175.” Other famous people took to Twitter to express their points-of-view, either for the repeal of the bill or its revision.

The Cybercrime Law has been likened to SOPA (Stop the Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) in the United States, which people protested against by blacking out their websites or entire chunks of text and content.

In July 2010, Senator Francis Escudero filed a bill decriminalizing libel. However, he was among those who signed the Cybercrime Law, and is backpedaling by filing Senate Bill No. 3288 to repeal it, admitting he did not notice the libel provision.

Senator TG Guingona, who opposed the law, filed a petition with the Supreme Court urging that the provisions pertaining to libel in the Cybercrime Law be declared unconstitutional, and warned the public that this law would suppress freedom of speech.

“The state has no right,” he said, “to gag its citizens and convict them for expressing their thoughts… Filipinos should never be left to cower in the sidelines – their thoughts and voices should not be shackled by fear and intimidation. The people should not be afraid of its own government.”

When it is government itself that curtails freedom of speech in any manner; when government itself imposes an atmosphere of fear; when government itself suppresses a fundamental right of humans, then it is acting contrary to the interest of the people and its own survival as an entity.

And when a people feel their rights are curtailed, when they become fearful and angry, when their outrage boils over, then they are moved to action.

And with action follows change.

Here’s a quote from the film “V for Vendetta”: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” *** 

Guy Fawkes mask image here.

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pop goes the world: sotto controllo

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  6 September 2012, Thursday

Sotto Controllo

Senator Tito Sotto thought he had everything under control when he gave his turno en contra speeches against the reproductive health bill.

He didn’t reckon on the rest of the populace having a brain and not being afraid to use it. After being called out by professors, writers, and many other people on his plagiarism, falsehood, and a slew of other issues, he ramped up his arrogance quotient instead of admitting his mistakes, among other things claiming that he is being cyberbullied.

I don’t think the senator understands what “cyberbullying” means. It’s the sort of extremely mean behavior that can drive people to suicide, as in the cases of Megan Meier, Tyler Clementi, and Ryan Halligan, just to name a few. It’s a serious form of aggression, and the term should not be misused for its gravity to remain undiminished. Cyberbullying is not what the senator is undergoing, which is merely people pointing out his mistakes online.

“Sotto controllo” is Italian for “under control”. Too bad the senator let this issue get out of hand when an apology would have allowed everyone to move on. Remember when businessman Manny Pangilinan apologized when netizens pointed out lifted paragraphs in a speech he gave? That resulted in everyone moving on; that incident is nearly forgotten, and when recalled, what comes to mind is Pangilinan’s gracious behavior.

But how can you expect Sotto to apologize when in the first place he does not believe he did anything wrong?

As for lawmaker Rufus Rodriguez’s recent tantrum in Congress, he obviously does not have his temper sotto controllo. Ranting before that august body the other day, he raised the issue of “no quorum” claiming only 111 present when the secretariat declared there were 155, rather more than the quorum of 143. 

Rodriguez ranting in the Lower House on September 4. Image from Rappler.com here

The lawmaker raised a ruckus because he thought the RH Bill was on the agenda that day. Being against the RH Bill, his outburst was seen as a delaying tactic. But how transparently obvious and demeaning! Surely a more adroit politician could have come up with a more elegant ploy. Instead, by choosing to use blunt force rather than finesse, he’s shown the world his character.

I saw Congressman Rodriguez in action somewhere in the provinces, and he was also upset then, haranguing someone because he could not get immediate action from them on a certain matter. I was appalled to see someone of his stature behave that way. It was juvenile. Wait, I take that back – it’s an insult to juveniles. My daughters had ceased having tantrums by the time they were three years old.

No one is perfect, and stress and worry can certainly cause anyone to lose their temper. But a frequent and consistent lack of self-control, especially at work, is detrimental above all to the person who can’t keep his or her cool. How can anyone still respect a screamer? Why should their authority be recognized when they can’t even govern themselves?

Neither did broadcaster Korina Sanchez have her snark sotto controllo when on her DZMM radio show she mentioned “maiitim na mga maligno” aiming for the post of Interior Secretary, considered by many as alluding to Vice-President Jejomar Binay.

The Vice-President’s daughter, Nancy Binay, addressed the issue on Twitter thus: “Aminado naman po kami na maliit at maitim ang daddy ko pero hindi naman po ata tama na tawagin ni Korina na maligno siya.” Now that is having the situation under control. That’s class. That’s manners. Unfortunately, both are in short supply nowadays, along with restraint and delicadeza. If only we could order cases – no, container vans – of the stuff.

Korina may have been defending her man [her husband is newly-appointed Interior Secretary Mar Roxas], but does he need defending? From what? All her comment sounded like was unmitigated spite.

Filipino culture frowns upon losing temper. Not only is it considered rude, vulgar, and ill-mannered, it also leads to loss of face as it causes embarrassment to the person on the receiving end of the outburst, who will then tend to refuse to cooperate or do so only with resentment.

Self-control is necessary for anyone to earn others’ respect. True leaders speak softly and mildly, because it is their trustworthiness and ethical rectitude, their gravitas, that will ensure that they will be obeyed.

Those who cannot admit their mistakes, those who yell and fling unwarranted insults, those who cannot rein in their faults, are not true leaders.  They’re certainly not the kind the Philippines needs. ***  

Tito Sotto meme image here. Korina Sanchez and Mar Roxas image here.

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pop goes the world: a primer on the national artist award

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste

Published in two parts: Manila Standard-Today,  19 July 2012 and Manila Standard-Today, 26 July 2012

A Primer on the National Artist Award

The Philippines was plunged into mourning by the recent death of the media-dubbed “Comedy King”, actor Rodolfo “Dolphy” Quizon.

To a degree unprecedented, the nation avidly followed the 24/7 media reports and coverage of his illness, death, wake, and funeral rites over several weeks until its culmination with the interment of the actor in his massive metal casket last July 15.

The Dolphenomenon spawned renewed interest in the actor’s life and his career. Born into an impoverished family, from an early age he had to work selling peanuts at theaters to support himself and loved ones.

Given a break to learn the thespian’s craft and allowed to hone his technique in vaudeville skits, he learned to sing, dance, and act, and found he had a knack for comedy. This he parlayed into fame and fortune with his drag-dressed portrayal of gays and carefree enactment of poor men in films and on television.

Not only was Dolphy an excellent all-around actor (all too rare in these times where mere good looks without talent are enough to merit media exposure), he was also that uncommon thing, a genuinely good man, who had not a bad or mean thing to say about anybody, who welcomed all into his fold, who emptied his pockets to help those less fortunate.

It is not surprising then that a grateful and sentimental nation wishes to honor such an admirable man in any way it can. Thus the clamor for the conferment upon Dolphy of the National Artist Award.

This was debated as early as 2009. In a July 5 article that appeared in another publication, former NCCA executive director Cecille Guidote-Alvarez said in a radio interview that were it not for the disapproval of Dr. Nicanor Tiongson at the second stage of deliberations, Dolphy could have received the award back then.

A noted author, academician, and critic, Dr. Tiongson was once vice-president and artistic director of the CCP in the late 1980s to mid 1990s and chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.

Tiongson replied soon after saying that the “accusations” made by Guidote-Alvarez are “selective and misleading,” making it “appear that one person (in this case, myself) can actually engineer the outcome of the second stage of the National Artist selection process, when in reality it is a council of about 20 experts representing various disciplines that chooses, through majority and secret vote, the candidates to be short-listed for the final deliberations.

The selection of a National Artist is done in three stages by three bodies and it is simply impossible for any one person to influence all of them into making the same decision.”

Tiongson also said Guidote-Alvarez’s revelation was a “grave breach of the confidentiality” since she was co-chair of the 2009 National Artist Awards Selection Committee, and questioned its timing, made three years after the fact.

Tiongson also clarified that the opinion he expressed on Dolphy’s body of work “in no way diminishes my continuing admiration and respect for Dolphy as a most talented comedian and a very kind human being.”

The conflict between the two led to more questions on the award, its criteria, and its very purpose.

What is the National Order of Artists?

According to information on the National Commission for Culture and the Arts website, it is “the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts; namely, Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film and Broadcast Arts, and Architecture and Allied Arts. The order is jointly administered by the NCCA and Cultural Center of the Philippines and conferred by the President of the Philippines upon recommendation by both institutions.”

What are the criteria?

Apart from citizenship requirements, the National Artist award is to be given to “artists who through the content and form of their works have contributed in building a Filipino sense of nationhood…who have pioneered in a mode of creative expression or style, thus, earning distinction and making an impact on succeeding generations of artists…who have created a substantial and significant body of works and/or consistently displayed excellence in the practice of their art form thus enriching artistic expression or style; and…who enjoy broad acceptance through prestigious national and/or international recognition, such as the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining, CCP Thirteen Artists Award, and NCCA Alab ng Haraya; critical acclaim and/or reviews of their works; respect and esteem from peers.”

The NCCA also recognizes folk and traditional artists through the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan or the National Living Treasures Award. Established in April 1992 through Republic Act No. 7335, the GAMABA honors artists who “reflect the diverse heritage and cultural traditions that transcend their beginnings to become part of our national character” and engage in a traditional art uniquely Filipino and characterized by a “high level of technical and artistic excellence.” Their presence is required at NCCA events such as “the Philippine National Arts Month, the National Heritage Month, and other important national and regional cultural celebrations.”

Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said last month that President Benigno Aquino III “personally believes that Dolphy has contributed immensely to the arts. And in fact, in his words, he has contributed tremendously to what we call ‘art for man’s sake’.”

Since it is the NCCA and the CCP that recommends the awardees after much research and discussion, the President himself cannot give the award. Lacierda also cited the temporary restraining order that the Supreme Court issued in 2009, after a group of national artists led by Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera and Dr. Virgilio Almario accused former president Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo of “grave abuse of discretion” for adding the names of director Carlo J. Caparas, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, architect Francisco Mañosa, and fashion designer Jose “Pitoy” Moreno to the list of National Artist awardees.

The President did give Dolphy an honor that was within the scope of his powers to confer. In November 2010, within a few months of his assumption of office, the President invited the actor to Malacañang Palace to receive the Order of the Grand Collar of the Golden Heart, which was first awarded to humanitarian Helen Keller in 1955.

At the occasion, the comedian joked that he no longer wished to be given the National Artist award, and that at his age, a “National Arthritis Award” would be enough.

It is clear that the conferment of the National Artist award is a multi-layered process that cannot – and should not, like Macapagal-Arroyo tried to do – be influenced by the head of state or partisan politics.

There are strict criteria regarding its bestowal that must be honored if the award is to have any credibility. If it can be conferred without a rigorous and objective selection process, if it can be swayed by sentiment or clamor, it is worthless.

Dolphy could have been given the award upon further deliberation after 2009, if so deemed worthy by the selection committee. However, they could not do so because of the TRO issued by the Supreme Court.

At the moment, then, it is up to the SC to take the next step, so that the NCCA and the CCP can get on with its task of sifting the nominees for this supreme cultural honor. It is too late to award it to the living Dolphy; perhaps he may still receive it posthumously?

As to its purpose of the National Artist award, that remains part of the ongoing discourse. But if we agree that a nation’s art contains and reflects its heart and soul, then it is essential for us to honor its creators, either through such an award, conferred by the state, or through popular acclaim, manifested in the tears and laughter that accompanied the beloved Dolphy to his final rest.   ***

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pop goes the world: dressed in mixed messages

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  7 June 2012, Thursday

Dressed in Mixed Messages

An advertising campaign designed to sell clothes backfired when social media users lashed out at the offensive message they said was embodied in the ads.

Fashion retail store Bayo’s “What’s Your Mix?” campaign, launched a few days ago, featured “mixed-race” models. Each image carried taglines purporting to reveal the exact lineage mix of each model – “50 % Filipino, 50% Australian,” “80% Chinese, 20 % Filipino,” and so on. Other nationalities featured, said to be mixed with Filipino, were British, Indian, and African.

A “manifesto”, as the chunk of advertising copy beside Fil-Aussie model Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s photo was called, emphasized the point of the campaign : “This is just all about mixing and matching  – nationalities, moods, personalities, and of course your fashion pieces. Call it biased, but the mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood is almost a sure formula for someone beautiful and world-class.”

Bayo ad with “manifesto” here.

I don’t get how mixing races equates with mixing a long-sleeved floral blouse with denim cut-offs. It’s doesn’t make any sense at all. An advertising campaign seeks to inform people about a product and persuade them to buy it. Bayo’s confused effort, instead, was a turn-off.

The Internet provides, among other things, something that mass media did not have before – instant feedback. Much of the commentary posted online was negative, citing issues of racism and colonial mentality.

On Twitter, user @radikalchick’s take was that “100% think the Bayo campaign is tanga. It has lost what it had going for it when Lea Salonga was its endorser. #stopbuyingBayo.” Aina Banaag said the campaign was “completely off and racist;” “Joshua”: “The message is…you have to be mixed race Filipino to be beautiful? WTF?”; Grace D. Calara: “To Bayo: I’m 100% Filipino. I am proud of my race and I consider myself beautiful. I don’t need to be of mixed lineage. #bayosucksbigtime.”

Others pointed out that the message was confusing because the text of the “manifesto” was badly-written and difficult to interpret.

Twitter user @butnotquite said, “Had they fine-tuned that copy, this could have actually worked. As it is, it’s just patronizing and divisive.”

@JimLibiran: “It should have been tested in FGDs (focus group discussions). It must have been conceptualized as a Pinoy pride thing targeting the moneyed mixed-race Pinoys.” “Lloyd” said:“…Wonder what message it will send to teenage girls. #worried.” Mark David Dehesa: “Intent vs. execution gap = miscommunication.”

The story was posted yesterday on online tech news portal Mashable. The advice given by international commenters was to steer clear of using race to sell products.

Said Brian Perkins: “That first paragraph is cringe-worthy, though. “We always have a fighting chance of making it in the world arena of almost all aspects.” Except creative writing, apparently. Before that it says you’re pretty much going to be beautiful and world-class if you’re mixed with Filipino. LMAO. You can mix and match all you want, but please don’t mix race with ad campaigns like this – it’s not a good match.”

Bayo ads with other mixed-race models here.

 Another Mashable reader, Michelle West, said: “Don’t use race as an advertising tool. It just comes off as creepy and/or patronizing. These things happen when advertisers make the wrong, or overly sweeping, assumptions about how their target audience sees or wants to see themselves.”

Was it just misinterpretation? People’s reactions show that race, identity, and beauty are still sore issues in the national psyche, and advertising folks seem to be unsure how to handle them.

Writer Yvette Tan tweeted, “Because people seem to be having fun with percentages, I’m 75% Fujianese, 25% Bulakeña, 2.5% Spanish, 2.5% Mongolian, and 100% bagsak sa Math.

“That being said, let’s not be too harsh on Bayo. The campaign failed. It was a stupid move, but one borne out of ignorance, not hate.”

Bayo used to be all about simplicity. The brand name itself is the Visayan word for “dress”. Nothing could be more direct to the point. Their clothes are classy and no-frills. But with intense competition coming not only from fellow Filipino brands but also from trendy foreign ones such as the upscale Zara and Mango and the cut-price and uber-popular Forever 21, it seems Bayo felt the need to stand out with what they thought was an edgy, novel concept – but one that unfortunately had the opposite of the desired effect.

Remember the Bela Padilla-FHM cover flap last February? The fair-skinned Padilla was shot against a background of dark-skinned beauties. It took Internet flak for being racist and the issue with that cover was pulled from newsstand shelves.

It’s a big, sad, and sorry lesson for Bayo.

To advertisers, the message is crystal. Colonial mentality is out. Stop trying to make it trend. Stop using controversy rooted in insensitivity to promote products. Stop indulging “facism,” “ageism”, and the glorification of youth and Western standards of appearance. Be real. Be natural. You’ll be more appreciated. *** 

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pop goes the world: la-la land

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  10 May 2012, Thursday

La-La Land

Los Angeles, California – From the fresh, wide-open spaces of Iowa, it’s a jarring shift to the cacophony and color of LA. It is late spring and the days are warm, the nights chill. Buildings and homes of wood, adobe, and concrete line the roads and blanket the hills. Cars zoom on cracked roads. Garish neon lights spell “open”, “cerveza”, “deli”.

The 134 in Los Angeles. 

It’s a bustling, vibrant city, like Manila but sped up a hundred times faster. Scenes flash by like in a film.

At a ritzy bakery, two well-groomed men complain about the two queues that have formed in front of the pastry cases. “What’s with the lines? Is this a tourist destination now? I’m going to the Glendale branch.” “But it’s way hotter here in Burbank!” “Did you see that woman, she cut the line! Stupid hag.”

Downtown, a Latina crosses the street in front, an iguana slung over a plump shoulder. She smiles to herself.

In a deli in Westwood, a blonde in her sixties argues with a man whose cap is on backwards. “I need financial help!” she says, swigging white wine. It looks like it is not her first glass. He remonstrates with her, sotto voce. She becomes more agitated. “Then sure, let’s stay here! I’m ordering more wine.” He tells her they must leave. Staggering, she gets to her feet. She is wearing a baby-doll nightgown, with a black lace peignoir as a robe, and knee-high boots. She adjusts her scanty clothing by tugging downward on her neckline to expose her sagging, wrinkly breasts.

She tells her story in a deli. 

And so on.

LA is, after all, home to Hollywood and the big-name studios that dominate commercial filmmaking. But in real life there are no actors, and there is no director to yell “Cut!”

There are no retakes. You have only one chance to get it right.

The city is hyper fast, jigging on dope and speed and it’s getting to me. On the way home after a day of sightseeing, there’s heavy traffic on the freeway and cars stutter to a standstill. I suffer a bout of hypertension.

Back where I’m staying, my host says it could instead have been a mild panic attack from the stress of travel and prescribes aromatherapy.

He draws me a hot bath and hands me a precious bottle of vintage Tasmanian lavender oil, instructing me to pour two capfuls of the oil in the water. “Lavender relieves stress and anxiety,” he says. “Immerse yourself.”

A bottle of vintage Tasmanian lavender oil. (Visit naturalextracts.com) 

The scent of the oil, borne on the curling steam, suffuses my senses as I ease into the hot water. I sink into the fragrant pool. I hear my heartbeat, amplified by the water, at first rapid, slowing to a regular thump-THUMP. I am more aware of my body, and myself. I calm down.

Minutes pass. I hear my friends outside the bathroom door. “Do you think she’s alright?” “She’s having fun,” my host says.

When the water is lukewarm I emerge from the bath, relaxed and ready for sleep. More of the oil is rubbed into my spine. A soothing slumber claims me.

When I wake, my host’s longhair cat, Meeps, twines himself around my ankles and leads me to the kitchen screen door. We stare through it at the garden beyond. The trees and foliage are lush, almost tropical in their exuberance. I do not know their names but I enjoy them anyway.

Meeps at the kitchen door. 

Yes, this is also LA – a place where people advocate exotic healing remedies, let plants grow wild and riotous in their gardens, and shelter wanderers in their homes and anoint them with flower oil and bless them with peace.

The jacaranda trees sport majestic purple plumage in the Los Angeles springtime. 

Then one morning I read news of the Andi Eigenmann-Albie Casino bar brawl and the Raymart Santiago-Claudine Barretto-Mon Tulfo airport fight. A video of the latter shows the celebrities and their entourage engaged in a screaming, kicking, and punching melee. They are actors, but this time they’re not acting. In both instances, you can almost smell the testosterone and the rage. LA does not have a monopoly on drama.

My host would have said only one thing. “Throw them all into a lavender bath.” ***

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S in May 2012, without effects or edited with Instagram and/or Snapseed.

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pop goes the world: a little patch of paradise

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  3 May 2012, Thursday

A Little Patch of Paradise

Waukee, Iowa – It’s a town of less than 14,000 people, about twenty minutes from Des Moines on the freeway, and is as close to Heaven as a bit of earth can be.

It’s my first time to visit the Midwest. I am here to spend a few days with physician Amerlon Enriquez, his wife Eva, and their two children. Amer occasionally contributes to MST’s Diaspora column, and has been based in the US for nearly twenty years. He and his family have been Iowa residents for almost ten.

It is springtime, and God has laid wall-to-wall carpet in emerald green. Grass and trees growing in endless profusion, rolling from hill to hill. Lilacs fill the air with a heady scent. Fresh-mown grass is another common fragrance. Soon, Eva tells me, roses and hydrangeas will poke their colorful heads above the ground.

An Iowa landscape.

Iowa has a large farming community, and is one of the country’s top producers of corn and pork. Stuffed toys shaped like pigs and corn ears fill souvenir shops, along with John Deere tractor merchandise, homemade fudge and jam, and other tokens of an agricultural nature.

Massive silos reach into the sky, giant steel fingers filled with corn to be turned into food products, animal feeds and biofuel. The prosperity of the state shows in the miles and miles of perfectly paved roads, clean streets and sidewalks, and well-maintained public buildings.

Silos dot the Iowa landscape.

These infrastructural achievements are even more impressive when you learn that the entire state, which has an area of 145,743 square kilometers, almost as large as the combined area of Luzon and Visayas at 165,765, is maintained by and for only a little over three million people.

In contrast, Metro Manila is crammed with over eleven million people in an area less than 639 square kilometers.

Iowa has one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates; while a few companies are laying-off people, others are constructing new office buildings (such as hospitals and insurance firms).

People are friendly. You pass them on the street, they make eye contact, smile, and say hello. When Amer and his family first moved into their house, the next-door neighbor came over with pie.

Iowans take pride in their surroundings, keeping their homes and gardens immaculate. Paint is never peeling, lawns are always mowed, windows do not remain broken.

The front porch of a well-tended Iowa home.

They care for their environment – great expanses of woods are preserved so that deer can come up to Eva’s yard and nibble at her plants and raccoons can run across her lawn, and long stretches of freeway and roads are kept unilluminated to reduce light pollution. At night, you can go out on Amer and Eva’s deck, look up, and see stars sprinkled across an expanse of velvet black.

I have not seen stars in the Manila night sky in over a decade.

The people are so trusting, none of the stores have armed security guards out front like ours do. A store will be manned by only one to two people. Sometimes the storekeeper will go out back to fetch something, leaving you unattended for minutes. Come the corn harvest, farmers leave their sweet and crunchy produce out beside the road, with a sign setting out prices and an open cash box for payment – all also unwatched, unguarded. It could be cords of firewood or baskets of fruit, same thing.

They have a rich sense of history. Grand Avenue in Des Moines is lined with houses dating back a century or more. They are not torn down but sold to people who will preserve them. Old buildings are re-purposed; a Masonic temple lavishly decorated with marble, wood panels, and decorative tile was converted into a performing arts center. Other buildings from the 1800s are now offices. Also from that period are the red-painted covered wooden bridges featured in the film “Bridges of Madison County”, all lovingly maintained. Where now our own architectural gems, such as the Art Deco-style Jai Alai building?

Dr Enriquez on Roseman Bridge.

What is it about their culture that has resulted in their creating such a pleasant community? Honor, honesty, and hard work are among the significant values that guide them, as well as discipline, thrift, and respect for nature. Perhaps the state’s small population also makes it easier for their people to conform to the societal norms that continue to serve them well.

The Capitol building, Des Moines, Iowa. (Edited with Instagram) 

Living close to nature, espousing traditional values, defending the environment and preserving history – this is a good way to live.

Amer and Eva have asked me to come back soon for a longer visit. I will try my best to do so, because I have left a wee bit of my heart here in Iowa, in their little patch of paradise. ***

All photos taken May 2012 with an iPhone 4S.

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pop goes the world: leaving on a jet plane

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  26 April 2012, Thursday

Leaving on a Jet Plane

San Francisco, California – It was the old woman’s first time on a big plane, she said.

It was a Boeing 747-400 with an upper deck where business class passengers could lie down to sleep, unlike us cattle in economy, herded three in a row where in business class they sat two. Before taking this Manila to San Francisco flight, she’d only flown to Davao and back.

On board a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila to San Francisco.

Over the twelve-hour flight, the old woman told me her life story. She was migrating to join her daughter in Sacramento. She had five other children; all of them were college graduates, two were in South Africa, one in the USA, the other worked on a cruise ship, two were in the Philippines taking care of her husband, who had had a mild stroke.

“He had a mistress,” she said darkly, as if that were explanation enough for his illness.

She told me about their properties, two lots in Valenzuela that she bought “back when land was a lot cheaper than it is now,” and several more in Nueva Ecija. One of her sons had their old home torn down and a new one built at a cost of seven million pesos.

Perhaps she was nervous and wanted to allay her anxiety by chatting. Certainly she was an extrovert; it never occurred to her that I wanted to be left alone with my book. I listened to her, making noncommittal noises at the appropriate moments.

When the flight attendants went around with the debarkation and customs forms, she turned to me and said, “You told me you’re a writer. Please help me with the forms. My daughter said the chances are my seatmate would be Filipino, and to ask them to help me if I needed anything.”

As she shrugged her heavy black knit coat on, and adjusted her gray knit cap on her hair, I filled out the blanks on the forms for her, referring to her passport for some of the information. She was born in 1938, and her given name was “Maria”, simply that.

“Sign here,” I said.

“Thank you, anak,” she replied. “How lucky I was to be sitting next to a writer when I needed one.”

“You’re welcome, Nanay,” I said.

The plane taxied to a stop. I bade her good luck and farewell, and sped to the door. It wasn’t open yet. People were milling around, waiting. I crept too close to the door and the flight attendant, who was on the in-plane phone, gently nudged me back under the telephone cord.

From the deck above, other passengers were descending and joining the crowd around the door; their arrival caused waves to ripple and eddy within the mass. A strident voice cut through our anticipation. “Would you let us through, please?” It was a middle-aged blonde. She sounded annoyed. We Filipinos stared at her. There was no need to say anything; all one had to do was push one’s way through the milling group. The waves of people parted as she passed, then closed again upon itself.

Filipino culture stays the same no matter where the Filipinos are. We assume that young people will defer to their elders, and that in an unfamiliar situation, a Filipino will help a kababayan.

Our concept of personal space is carried within us, so that we don’t mind if we are gently jostled as part of a crowd, unlike Westerners who require about a couple of feet of personal space around them (refer to cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s studies on proxemics).

We think of ourselves as family, so that we can share stories about our personal lives and not feel it an intrusion upon our privacy, and address each other – even perfect strangers – by kinship terms – “mother” and “child”.

When you are Filipino you are part of something bigger than yourself, wherever in the world you may be.   ***

Photo taken 20 April 2012 with an iPhone 4S, edited with Instagram effects.

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pop goes the world: the internet curtain

 POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  19 April 2012, Thursday

The Internet Curtain

Iran is planning to cut its citizens’ access to the World Wide Web through the roll-out of its own national Intranet.

Various reports published on the Internet on April 9 quoted from a statement said to have been released last Thursday by Reza Taghipour, Iranian minister for Information and Communications Technology, announcing the establishment of a national Intranet and the “effective blockage of services like Google, Gmail, Google Plus, Yahoo and Hotmail, in line with Iran’s plan for a “clean Internet.”

The plan’s first phase was set for May this year, in which Google, Hotmail, and Yahoo! would be blocked and “replaced with government Intranet services like Iran Mail and Iran Search Engine.”

In August, the plan’s phase two would “permanently deny Iranians access to the Internet.”

The next day, Iran denounced the report as a hoax.

In a “strongly-worded statement,” their Communications Ministry decried the original story as the work of “the propaganda wing of the West and providing its hostile media with a pretext emanating from a baseless claim.”

In March, Taghipour did say that Iran will indeed build a “Clean Internet”, a closed system like a corporate intranet that is easy to monitor and control.

It was not clear whether there would still be access to the rest of the Internet or if the Internet would be running parallel to the “Iran-tranet.”

Iran already heavily controls access to the Internet, with many foreign sites blocked, although it is not the only country doing so. There’s the “Great Firewall of China” monitored by an “Internet police” force said to be 30,000 strong. Forty countries around the world are filtering Internet access to varying levels, according to findings of the OpenNet initiative. Thankfully the Philippines is one of the countries which shows no sign of Internet censorship.

Censorship is “the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body” (Wikipedia).

In the Iranian context it is being used as a tool by the state to impose control.

First, their use of the word “clean” (in other articles, “halal”) to describe their own system implies that they consider the WWW “unclean”. Iran’s current leadership deems dirty the magical hodge-podge that it is the Internet, a carrier of filth that will defile and contaminate the culture they are creating through the imposition of their own standards, regardless of the needs and desires of their people.

We are in the 21st century, looking forward to a future in which humans use advanced technology to enhance their lives and their enjoyment of it. Yet there are corners of the world where the darkness of dictatorship still reigns with an iron fist, where the leaders believe control of a populace through censorship and curtailment of freedom of speech and information will enable them to extend their own agenda further.

We are seeing a country in the act of creating and forcing a new cultural mindset upon its people. Its women and other minority groups already suffer from the curtailment of rights. Now, they’re spreading the pain to the entire nation.

Iran may soon shut its door upon the world. Like China and other countries that screen the Internet to any degree, Iran thinks keeping the world from its people will make them swallow the state version of the truth.

Yet the truth will out. Sooner or later, it will. *** Email: jennyo@live.com, Blog: http://jennyo.net, Facebook: Gogirl Café, Twitter: @jennyortuoste

Woman in Iran on Internet image here.

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pop goes the world: holey week

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 12 April 2012, Thursday

Holey Week

Last Good Friday, two photos spread all over Facebook and other Internet sites. Both elicited comments of outrage. Only one made it to the traditional news.

One photo was taken by Karlos Manlupig, who uploaded it to Facebook and tagged it “Public”. Inside a church, a uniformed security guard points a rattan baton at a shirtless man whose back is to the camera, his profile blurred to preserve his identity.

(see photo in my previous blog post here)

Here’s the caption Manlupig posted: “FILTHY HYPOCRITES. As I was shooting in Davao City’s San Pedro Cathedral during the observance of Good Friday, I noticed a Tagalog-speaking man instructing this security guard to throw out a half-naked man who is (sic) silently kneeling and praying inside the church, saying that the churches in Manila prohibit persons with mental disabilities and vagrants to enter its premises.

“The security guard then assaulted the poor man without any warning, poking him in the ribs several times using a ‘ratan’ truncheon…I immediately took several burst shots of the detestable incident.

“Suddenly, an old man with a Bible in his hand tapped me on my shoulder and told me that it is improper to take photos of the incident and that it is also improper to take photos inside their heavenly church.”

“What the hell is wrong with you people?” the aghast photographer asked.

In less than three hours of the upload, the image had been shared on Facebook 1,967 times.

The second photo shows a pretty young girl in sexy shorts and sleeveless floral top, her eyes covered with sunglasses, clinging to a cross, in a manner and position construed by viewers as “sexy.”

It was taken in Barangay Lourdes Northwest, Angeles City, where a traditional senakulo was held. The young girl wasn’t the only one who posed that way that day; two other images on the Internet are of a woman in a body-hugging black maxi dress, pink shawl, and sunglasses, and of a young man in a blue shirt and khaki shorts.

Another photo taken there shows two women in a “jump shot.”

Image here.

The majority of the comments on the photos scored the security guard for being cruel and unkind, and the cross-posers and jumpers for behaving inappropriately, showing “disrespect and impropriety.”

Only the incident of the girl on the cross was picked up by traditional media. That of the security guard in Davao was not.

This question, accompanied by the photos, made the rounds on Facebook: “Which of the two was worse?”

A Mindoro-based physician answered, “Both are disgusting! Both are a mockery!”

These two incidents reinforce the perception of our society as a “hypocriciety”, as I wrote about in an earlier column. Religion in this country has been trivialized. Churches and other places of worship are treated as tourist destinations, in the sense that people who visit there behave as tourists would in secular places such as museums or parks.

Worse, the incident of the security guard and the shirtless man shows that poverty and mental illness are stigmas that negatively influence a person’s standing in society; that our culture allows the marginalized to be treated without compassion and respect.

And for this incident to happen inside a cathedral on a Good Friday underscores the idea that Christianity is only lip service to a great many believers.

Poor shirtless man, scorned and repulsed by those who should have helped him. Jesus Christ himself said, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

“Blessed are the poor,” Jesus also said, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s too bad that they can’t get a decent break here on earth.

Believing is not doing. There are gaps in our sensibilities, great big holes through which common sense has evaporated, leaving a mindset which sees nothing wrong with this sort of behavior.

Can our society change for the better? Or is this decline into desensitization an overwhelming, unstoppable juggernaut? Is there a force strong enough to turn the tide?

Public opinion might do it. Reality, after all, is socially constructed, created by people. If enough people want to bring about change, with awareness and determination they can.

I hope so. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing more images like this next year, if not worse. ***

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“father, forgive them”

Photographer Karlos Manlupig was taking photos inside San Pedro Cathedral, Davao City, today, Good Friday (6 April 2012), when he chanced upon this incident and took a shot which he posted on his Facebook page.

Here’s his caption for the photo:

FILTHY HYPOCRITES. As I was shooting in Davao City’s San Pedro Cathedral during the observance of Good Friday, I noticed a Tagalog speaking man instructing this security guard to throw out a half-naked man who is silently kneeling and praying inside the church, saying that the churches in Manila prohibit persons with mental disabilities and vagrants to enter its premises.

The security guard then assaulted the poor man without any warning poking him in the ribs several times using a “ratan” truncheon…I immediately took several burst shots of the detestable incident.

Suddenly, an old man with a Bible in his hand tapped me on my shoulder and told me that it is improper to take photos of the incident and that it is also improper to take photos inside their heavenly church.

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE??? Tama si [redacted]. Banal na aso, santong kabayo.

NOTE: I opted to post this blurry picture to preserve the identity of the victim.

Within less than three hours of posting, the image has been shared on FB 1,967 times.

Photo by Karlos Manlupig at his Facebook page here. The image is tagged “Public”.

I have sent Karlos a message on FB asking for more details, and am waiting on his reply. Meanwhile, I am posting this here, as a reminder for all of us what NOT to do.

I am reminded of Jesus’ own words (KJV):

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Matt. 23:27

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matt. 25:40 KJV

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 KJV

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