Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I heard the moan huffed by the sullen hills
The granite hardness of my core was untouched
Have seen too much to care, to show grief for ills.
Around me I saw a thousand clones or more
My eyes closed while others blinked for cues
Golgotha hid behind a leaden mirror
I rallied the rest to raise the gloomy panel
Just by us the screen seemed heavily set
Some unexpected force we sought to intervene

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wretches Abroad

From within, glowing in all directions
The pit of the mango pulses
Touching strange forests and alien strands
Self numbed into nothing, nothingness

All senses are divested from self
A wearisome travel to borderless regions
There the life nectar freezes still
Like hail stones roll, rolling

All the feelings and emotions are roused
A burning sunburst on bare heads
Searing a presence that will not be doused
From their infinite perch stars drop, dropping

Trapped like mangy wild beasts
Scurrying in every which way
Toil animals quivering at each whip snap
Waiting for the sun to die, dying

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sea Escape

My eyes pulled down the window shutters;
Flushed the bowl, turned off the high cool,
And shut the casita door with a slam
Summer now stored in a box of pixel images

Your watch says go now, the desk awaits the keys
Keep the cockles, half shells and dry kelp
Even as the tide wanted to take it back to sea
But soon these, too, will be lost in the shimmer

No goodbyes, go as you have come
I won’t be by the parasols nor the divers’ stand
Promises now as paper boats riding the waves
Crashing, dissipating into frothy crests

I walk alone by the fringe of a churlish sea
Midst the commotion of sea birds
Fighting over wide eyed crabs scurrying
As I gather precious shells washing in

Already I have forgotten you
Nothing but the soft whisper of waves
And the sparkle of bejeweled sand
Spoil me as I bask in the motherly sun

I cannot go home ‘cause I am home
My soul is imprinted on the white sands
The call of great whales sound my coming
Mermaids on dolphins wave in greeting

The sandy depths now my garden patch
With corals and the barnacles in bloom
I cling to driftwoods and wrecked derelicts
Happily counting seashells and chasing wee fish

Monday, March 08, 2010

Characterization In Fiction

How much do I know the next person? Do I know him well enough to anticipate his actions and reactions to any given stimulus? What do I know about him that would make me predict his response to an event, a remark, a sensing…touched, heard, seen or smelled?

Where did he grow up? It would make a difference if he grew up in the maze of alleys in the slum clusters as opposed to a childhood lived behind cloistered walls of a swanky residential enclave.
Did he ever have to take a public transport or was he always driving a car or being driven around by a uniformed chauffer?

A person’s make up is composed of the physical, the social, the psychological as well as the mental. These are the factors that define his persona. Corporeal features define whether a person is beautiful or ugly, majestic or plain, amiable or quarrelsome, tough or puny...he is, also, defined by the milieu that he revolves in, his relatives, close friends, mere associates and the way he interacts with them. This will include the institutions he is affiliated with like school, social clubs, religious congregations and political groupings.

He may adhere to the etiquette required like table manners, manner of addressing other persons and other social graces imposed by class conventions. This would apply to the elegant set and to the pedestrian end of the spectrum. Boorish behavior in corner store drinking is as appropriate as using the correct silvers in a formal dinner.

Is he selective with his favors…to whom, to which group? Does he follow conventions and when does he defy them? Is he elitist or is he populist? Why does he favor one class over others? The adage “tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are” may apply.

Genetic factors may be an influence that could not be helped. He could have good genes or poor ones. People are sometimes born with innate superior intelligence, good physique, healthy constitution and a propensity for leadership.

Regional differences exist because of unique environmental factors such as dialect, culture, diet, climate, and presence of sophisticated institutions and relative affluence of the region. Environment impacts in a strong way on an individual’s personality.

However, knowing all these is not sufficient to anticipate another person’s reaction and response to a situation or to the kind of judgment he would make on vital and even on day to day issues confronting him. One can work with a set of possible reactions which would narrow down to a few given the interplay of other factors that make up the character.

On top of all the knowledge that could be had on a person one has to know the reasons behind all the aspects of his physiognomy, his social propensities and his environment. To answer these one has to pull together all these aspects as they tend to be interwoven. He is in the company of riff raff because he grew up in the slums of Tondo or he could be fascinated by low life because he grew up in a protected, antiseptic and boring neighborhood. A vain and pretty girl creates a circle of plain looking friends to make her all the more attractive because of the contrast provided by the homeliness of the rest of the gang. A young boy contemplates a religious vocation because he was in the company of priests in school who became his role models or his anxiety about his harbored homosexuality finds escape and protection from social rejection.

Characters will always be complex. But they do conform to certain parameters although some would have a narrower range than others. Behavioral aberrations have been identified by psychologists and while volumes have been written about them, they represent only a small segment of society and may be considered as outliers straying from the normal trends. In the normality of things they are not supposed to happen.

Character is such an important component in literature and its development in fiction demands craft. A very demanding one because it only allows one to work within the parameters of validated scientific cases in psychology. Consistency of behavior, manners of speaking, value priorities, lifestyle preferences, physical and mental quirks are required to make a character believable and relatable to the reader.

Sometimes stories are interesting because they do not conform to convention. It is definitely a challenge to the ingenuity of the writer to create pivotal and fascinating individuals in his story who in present knowledge do not exist in real life. An excursion from these necessarily brings us to fantasy writing and science fiction. They become special denizens that reside only in the artist’s realm of imagination and this could challenge credibility. The reader is confronted by the plausibility of the character created. It may end in the complete distraction of the reader leading to his losing interest or, happily, the reader may suspend disbelief and enjoy the fiction.

Political Surveys - How Reliable Are They?

“I gather, young man, that you wish to be a Member of Parliament. The first lesson that you must learn is, when I call for statistics about the rate of infant mortality, what I want is proof that fewer babies died when I was Prime Minister than when anyone else was Prime Minister. That is a political statistic.” (Winston Spencer Churchill)

The use of research whether applied to marketing or scientific endeavors that better the human condition is a vital and noble occupation. Advancements in most of the things that people now enjoy have been, in one way or the other, helped out by research. It is a very powerful tool in the pursuit of new knowledge and the improvement of existing wisdom.

Like most effective scientific methods with wide practical utility, research is easily subjected to misuse though, sometimes, unwittingly by one or two of the parties involved in the research.

My own personal view is that it becomes suspect when used in politics, especially in the local context, where the motive of the fact finding is often ill intended
Is it research when the intention is to corroborate a preconception that puts in a good light the advocate? Is it research if all that it wanted was to bring out a set of results which would be beneficial to specific interest groups? Is it research if the goal was to discredit and besmirch personalities and institutions? Is it research if it falsely tries to create impressions of irreversible trends to sway constituent preferences? Is it research if it is used to help in the deception and in the cover up the ugly truth of personalities and institutions?

Of course there are legitimate political researches. You can include those researches whose results have been used to improve strategies whether logistical and or image related (although a debatable ethical area). Other legitimate uses of research are exit poll surveys (if done properly) who serve a beneficial purpose in that it establishes results in the soonest possible time so that manipulations may be preempted and the early settlement of the outcomes of the election eases the tension and allays the fears of the voting public. Political research is useful to political scientists in the study of electoral choices of different groups and the underlying reasons for their preferences. Sociologists are able to trace the evolution of social issues by studying their shifts. And for the citizen, it allows his voice to be heard and it gives him an idea of how he differs with other individuals and against sectoral aggrupations other than his own.

Good research, bad research. It all depends on the motives of those commissioning the research and the willingness of the researcher to go along with them. There is also the media who may abet the ill intentions of the research by completing the disgraceful cycle when they make the results public.
There is no arguing the right of the research to be published as the constitution guarantees press freedom and freedom of speech, but as in any of the freedoms, it carries with it the responsibility of publicizing only those that are not inimical to the public interest. The harm of malicious research cannot be underestimated as it has the power to sway people’s opinions and create strong emotions that could be injurious to a person or to a state.

Research is too complicated to be fully appreciated by laymen or even from those a rung higher. Statistics has the unfortunate association to lies. Great thinkers and statesmen have remarked about their discomfort with statistics because it has been often used by their detractors and by themselves to make vague the issues that are indefensible in plain terms.

The obvious solution to the problems of political polling is to educate the masses about research so that they may understand the full extent of the information as well as the limitations of the data being shown. They should be able to understand the limits of the inference that can be made of the data and to know the difference between data that may be confidently considered as reliable against those that show a tendency towards an outcome but cannot be relied on. This, of course, presupposes that the research is truly objective and that the methodology is the most appropriate to arrive at the research objectives and that it is free from bias in the design, the sampling, wordings of the questions, the order of questions, the fieldwork’s operations and personnel. The approach to the analyses of the data should ensure that it is exhaustive and no omissions or commissions in the analysis should favor a particular result. It should also make sure that the statistical tests and the advanced statistical methods, when employed, are the appropriate ones.

The education of the electorate is a good thing but it may take a long time in progressing. I would favor the creation of a group made up of professional researchers, political scientists and those in media responsible for the publication of the results of surveys who would scrutinize all research projects that are to be commissioned and those non-commissioned but subscriber supported surveys(syndicated researches) before they are allowd to go on field. This is not censorship of the content of the survey. It endeavors to make the surveys fair to affected parties and personalities by ensuring that it has undergone a rigorous check that will result in findings that are with integrity.

Quackery and Hucksterism

“What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising? Unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public; ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public.” ~Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 1964

There has been a preponderance of products claiming to aid vital organs from harm caused by lifestyles that are characterized by excessive indulgence in eating, bohemian living and other unsafe and immoderate diversions. So now we have products that address renal problems, cardiac diseases, diabetic ailments, optical deficiencies and a few more dubious cures that are probably in the drawing boards or pending applications to the BFAD by wellness (pharmaceutical?) companies and advertising agencies. I would think that there would be multinational pharmaceutical companies who would be more responsible and circumspect in this regard. I could only surmise that their parent companies abroad would not allow products with spurious claims be identified with their company, also, the legislation in the more advanced countries would be more stringent on products of this nature. The products that are in the market offer no proof at all to back up their claims. A nebulous caution said and flashed in a millisecond; “No approved therapeutic claim” seems to be the only absolution needed to free them from any blame arising from the products’ non-function, the misperception that it is all they need to cure their illnesses and the possible dire effects arising from this belief.
The frequencies of the advertisements by which these products are now aired are just a little less intense than those applied in detergents and shampoos advertising. With this kind of incessant repetitions I would presume that the claimed and speculated medicinal efficacy of these products have been drummed in effectively in the audiences’ minds. They are now happy in the belief that they can indulge just a bit more on things that are high cholesterol, carcinogen suspect, high sodium, and the overly sweet. Worst, they may even think that these products would be sufficient to substitute for the physician prescribed expensive maintenance medicines. While some of them may not be as blatant as to promise overtly a cure for sickness, they create through masterful advertising, the perception that they are truly efficacious. I think we should be on guard about perceptions because perceptions are most often mistaken for truths. By all appearances the ads, in spirit, are designed to make the consumer believe that the products being touted are truly effective despite the hurried caution that it is unproved.
Note that at the end of these advertisements a phrase is flashed in a split second saying “No approved therapeutic claims”. Does it mean that whatever is claimed or what has been the intended perception of the advertisement did not pass the scrutiny of the vettors and is meant to be a caveat to prospective buyers?
I do not understand why there is a need for such a caution. If there is a need to caution the consumers about certain products why allow them to be marketed at all. Sin products like cigarettes and alcoholic beverages are more responsible because they do not hide the fact that their products are harmful and that the consumers should consume them moderately, as in the case of alcoholic drinks and an outright admission to their being hazardous to health, as in the case of cigarettes. Sin products are more truthful than the products bearing “no approved therapeutic claim” blurb.
It seems that the early marketers of these easy cures tested the waters and when they were not rebuffed by the authorized guardians of consumer rights they became emboldened to invest on media intensive campaigns. Many products of the same ilk and bearing the same caution followed soon after.
We now have what I would call snake oil cures for ailments for every known ailment. Our poor consumers are predisposed to believe these dubious panaceas because of the prohibitive cost of conventional medicines. The penurious state of most of our consumers makes them easy prey to these unscrupulous merchants.
Shouldn’t the Food and Drug Administration and/or the Ad Board (self regulatory body of the ad industry screening advertisements prior to airing) have disallowed the airing of advertisements of products with unsubstantiated claims in an area that is potentially harmful to people? All they did to protect consumers was to put an intentionally indistinguishable blurb at the end of the ads saying “no approved therapeutic value”. I think consumers deserve more serious protection than that.
But then, who is to complain? The wheels of industry turn exceedingly well; the companies’ get their sales, media and ad agencies get their revenues from services rendered, government get higher tax yields. Happy days! More than usual, it’s only us, the consumers who get the shorter end of the stick.