Monday, October 31, 2011

The world the 7-billionth baby faces

By Winston A. Marbella


Sometime on October 31st, the world's 7-billionth baby was “born into a world of contradiction,” according to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.


“Plenty of food, but still a billion people going to bed hungry every night.  Many people enjoy luxurious lifestyles, but still many people are impoverished,” he told Time magazine.


UN demographers said the 7-billionth baby was more likely to be born in the Asia Pacific Region, where some 60 percent of the world's population lives.  If so, the baby was also more likely to be a boy, because of regional cultural preferences.


Because of advances in modern medicine, the baby is also more likely to live beyond the life expectancies of its parents or grandparents.


A gathering storm


But “this is not a story about numbers,” the UN leader told a school in New York.  “This is a story about people.


“Seven billion people who need enough food.  Enough energy.  Good opportunities in life for jobs and education.  Rights and freedoms. The freedom to speak.  The freedom to raise their own children in peace and security.


“Everything you want for yourself – seven billion times over,” Ban told the students.  He will be taking the same message to the Group of 20 (G20) summit in France of the world's wealthiest nations in November.


“The gathering force of public protest is the popular expression of an obvious fact: that growing economic uncertainty, market volatility and mounting inequality have reached a point of crisis,” Ban told the G20 leaders in a letter obviously referring to the revolutionary Arab Spring protests that toppled old regimes and the more-current Occupy Wall Street Movement for equal economic opportunities.


The 6th-billionth baby was born 12 years ago on Oct. 12, 1999.  Two more babies are born every second, and the world's population will reach 10 billion by 2100 at this pace


The UN predicts that by 2025 India will overtake China as the world's most populous nation, when its population reaches 1.5 billionth.


Experts say the world's major challenges will be poverty and saving the environment, not population growth, the favorite topic in the Sixties.


The population bogey man has fallen into disfavor.  China's and India's coercive policies to limit population growth have backfired. 


China is now lacking manpower to propel the wheels of its industries.  And both countries have shown that their massive populations have not hindered their rise as world economic powers; in fact their manpower fueled their surging economies.


Enough for all – and more 


Reflecting the shift in focus, Brian Walsh writes in Time that you could fit seven billion people in the state of Texas and its population density will only be like that of New York City, which isn't bad


In fact, writes Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University in the New York Times, between 1820, at the dawn of the Industrial Age, and 2008, when the world went into recession, the economic output per person increased eleven-fold.


Life expectancy has risen to almost 70 years on the average worldwide.  Fertility rates have dropped to 2.5 children per woman from 5 in 1950.  Population growth has fallen to 1.1 percent, half of what it was in 1960.


A billion people go hungry every night not because there is not enough food to eat but because half of the world's agricultural output rots in warehouses for lack of farm-to-market roads, or spoils in the refrigerators of the rich in the First World countries.


'A new Asian Silk Road'


Stephen King, chief economist of the transnational bank HSBC,  says trade and capital flows among emerging countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America can increase tenfold in the next 40 years.  He foresees that a “21st-century version of the original Asian Silk Road” that controlled the flow of goods from China to Europe “will revolutionize the global economy.”


A new phrase has joined the economic lexicon to reflect this reality – “borderline manufacturing” – whereby parts are manufactured in many countries and sent to a central assembly point like China to put together the finished goods.  This is now the norm in high-tech consumer devices.


“We're heading toward a multi-polar world,” says  Ganeshan Wignaraja of the Asian Development Bank based in Manila.


In A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens wrote of a world in turmoil, of London and Paris with the French Revolution hovering beyond the horizon:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....we had everything before us, we had nothing before us … the period was so much like the present period.”


It seems that it's like that all over again as the 7-billionth child was born.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A giant leap of faith

By Winston A. Marbella


ROBERT KUAN, 65, IS HAVING THE TIME of his life navigating a second career after a highly successful foray into fast food, Chinese-style. After cashing in his 50 percent equity in ChowKing for a reported half a billion pesos, Robert is now chair of St. Luke's Medical Center. He works for free, but the psychic rewards are plentiful, because he's doing it for his church.

I was fascinated by this veritable leap of faith, so I called him up for coffee. He invited me for tea instead.

Robert welcomed me to his high-rise residence overlooking the great enclaves of the rich and their meticulously manicured golf courses and polo grounds. The view would have been breathtaking had it been a sunny day. But the rainy season had come early – it wasn’t even the middle of May – and a grey pallor hung over the city like lead weights. Still, through the mist, you could see where development was heading — and a rosy future beckoned Robert Kuan.


To the north you could barely discern the old suburb of Quezon City, where St. Luke’s Medical Center stood, of which Robert Kuan, founder of ChowKing, was now chairman of the board of trustees. To the east stood a new St. Luke’s at the Fort in Taguig, all 150,000 square meters of it, ready to minister to the health needs of an expanding metropolis. To the south lay the communities of the future, and this early St. Luke’s has staked out a property for a third medical center: “land banking,” Robert Kuan calls it.  


But first, St. Luke’s in Taguig.

High-tech medicine


As planned, the building would have cost P6.5 billion to construct. It will eventually house P2.7 billion worth of state-of-the-art medical equipment powered by technologies that will boggle the minds of most everyone except the medical technologists and cyber physicians that will operate them.


Robert began to verbalize his vision for St. Luke’s:


“You know a vision can be achieved in ten, twenty, or thirty years.  But to reach it, you have to do a lot of preparatory things.  To accurately predict where the health care market will be, you have to look at the trend of development – where the movement of commercial, industrial, and residential development is headed.” 

The way Robert looked out into the future you’d think things were just beginning for him. After earning his Master of Business Management degree at the Asian Institute of Management in 1975 (his bachelor’s degree in business administration came from the University of the Philippines), Robert put up Ling Nam with his siblings in 1976:


“After eight and a half years running it I left Ling Nam, on October 16, 1984. I talked to Tony (Tan Caktiong) of Jollibee, who by this time was on his sixth year after founding Jollibee, and I invited him to partner with me in my concept of a Chinese fast-food restaurant.  
“We agreed exactly one month later, on November 16th.  On March 18, 1985, we opened the first ChowKing store.” 

Life-changing moment


And then came the moment that would truly change his life:


“After five years, in 1989, we had ten stores.  (The dates punctuate his story like the day he was baptized, or the day he was married.  Similarly defining moments.)  My little success came to the notice of the members of the St. Luke’s board.  One of them was the president of Cosmos, William Padua, who was a very active member of the Episcopal Church, which owned St. Luke’s. 


“William had served in the St. Luke’s board since 1975, but in 1989 he decided to migrate to the U.S. to be with his children.  We knew each other well since we were both active in the Church.  He recommended me to Bill Quasha, the lawyer, chairman of the St. Luke’s board of trustees, who welcomed me to help them run the non-stock, non-profit hospital.


“From 1989-1996 (he remembers the dates without hesitation), I was just an unassuming member of the board, supporting the vision of Bill Quasha to transform St. Luke’s from a church-run charity hospital to a world-class medical center.  


“But this would require a complete change of structure, a lot of new people, and a reorientation of attitudes to care for the medical needs of people in a non-stock, non-profit organization.


“The board had set the example for servant-leadership starting with Bill Quasha, who had dedicated his life to transforming a hospital dependent on annual subsidies and a budget set aside by the Church, to a self-supporting, revenue-generating institution that could set aside an annual surplus for building centers of excellence within the hospital and making it a world-class medical center....


“Involvement in a hospital is a calling.  This calling became more evident with the passing of Bill Quasha in 1996.  The board invited me to fill his shoes.  I said that I did not make a good figurehead and that there were many others better qualified than I. 

Shared vision


“But if the board wanted me to provide a visionary leadership towards lifting St. Luke’s to a higher level, it would have to be a vision shared by all members of the board.  The board agreed, and I accepted the challenge of becoming their chairman.”


“In 1996, it seemed like a very difficult vision to achieve.  We needed a lot of capital.  At that time it cost only between five to seven million pesos to put up a ChowKing store.  We needed more than one BILLION pesos to modernize St. Luke’s to world-class standards....


“Now as we look back, we are happy to provide for the needs of the Church that started St. Luke’s some 100 years ago.  We have an outreach ministry that identifies the needs of the Church.  Some of the old churches the American missionaries built are now in need of repair, and we are happy to provide funds for them. 

Church of the Igorots


“We have a mission in Sagada that also operates a hospital to serve the communities there.  It is now called the Church of the Igorots, for many of our priests come from there.  


“When the Episcopal missionaries came, they made it a point to minister to the minorities because they did not want to compete head on with the Catholic Church.  That is why we have two churches in Chinatown – St. Peter’s for the Cantonese and St. Stephen’s for the Fookienese.”


The Episcopal priests knew market segmentation 100 years ago, I mused. 


“You know, Henry Sy once told me, 'Robert, you are very lucky.  Most people your age (he was 59) still continue to make money.  But here you are giving back to society.'


“I am very thankful God called me to serve.  I get a lot of fulfilment in what I am doing today – and the example I am allowed to share with an organization like this – the concept of servant-leadership.  I never asked what’s in it for me. As trustees we do not receive compensation.”  


Rewards do come in many forms, I said to myself.  But I did not pursue the point.  I had stayed long enough.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nightmare on Bangkal St.

By Winston A. Marbella


For the residents of the West Tower concominium in Makati, the smell of fumes brings back nightmares that can rival any horror flick.

The continuing litigation over the oil pipeline spill that forced the evacuation of residents of the West Tower condominium building in Bangkal, Makati, recalls similar disasters that live in the annals of corporate social responsibility as classics in the handling (or mishandling) of crisis situations.


Tower residents have filed a new suit, this time for criminal negligence, against the operators of the oil pipeline, First Philippine Industrial Corporation (FPIC), owned by the prominent Lopez family of industrialists, and oil companies Filipinas Shell and Chevron Philippines, which use the pipeline.


FPIC operates the 117-kilometer long pipeline which moves fuel from Batangas to the Pandacan oil depot in Manila.  A breach in the pipeline was found to be the source of oil products that leaked into the basement of the 22-story tower, prompting Makati officials to evacuate its residents,


The residents went to the Supreme Court for a writ of kalikasan (environment), which the court granted last November, the court also ordered FPIC to shut down the pipeline and clean up the West Tower basement on other areas in barangay Bangkal.  The residents then sued for damages prior to the latest suit for criminal negligence.


The contentious issues in the litigation will fill up this entire newspaper, so it is best to let the courts tackle them.  The Exxon Valdez environmental disaster off the coast of Alaska and the Tylenol murder cases in the United States are worth recalling for the lessons they impart.


North to Alaska


Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez super tanker ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Despite efforts to stabilize the vessel, more than 250,000 barrels of oil spilled to the sea. 

Exxon and the U.S. Coast Guard began a massive cleanup effort that eventually involved more than 11,000 Alaskan residents and thousands of Exxon and contractor personnel. In 1992 the U.S. Coast Guard declared the clean up complete.

The 1989 Valdez accident was one of the lowest points in ExxonMobil's 125-year history. According to Exxon's official account of the disaster, “We took immediate responsibility for the spill and have spent over $4.3 billion as a result of the accident, including compensatory payments, cleanup payments, settlements and fines." The company voluntarily compensated more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses within a year of the spill.

Exxon also undertook significant operational reforms and implemented a thorough operational management system to prevent future incidents. This system has been deployed globally and in the years since the accident, Exxon has had nothing similar occur. 

Full recovery

The ecosystem in Prince William Sound today is healthy, robust and thriving, Exxon claims while there were severe short term impacts on many species due to the spilled oil, there has been no long term damage caused by the environmental disaster. 

ExxonMobil contracted independent scientists who are among the world's leading experts in their fields. They studied in-depth the effects of the Valdez oil spill on the Sound's water, shoreline and wildlife. To date these scientists have published approximately 400 peer-reviewed papers relating to all aspects of the Prince William Sound environment.

Operational changes


To improve oil-spill prevention, ExxonMobil has:
  • Modified tanker routes
  • Instituted drug and alcohol testing programs for safety sensitive positions
  • Restricted safety-sensitive positions to employees with no history of substance abuse
  • Implemented more extensive periodic assessment of ExxonMobil vessels and facilities
  • Strengthened training programs for vessel captains and pilots and
  • Applied new technology to improve vessel navigation and ensure the integrity of oil containment systems.
  •  In the event another spill occurs, Exxon improved its response capability:
  • ExxonMobil is a founding member of every major oil spill response center worldwide
  • Over 1,000 ExxonMobil employees are involved in oil spill response teams worldwide
  • They hold frequent oil spill drills at various ExxonMobil locations around the world.
  • They have developed and applied new spill-detecting technology.
  • These are examples of how Exxon has reversed its less than exemplary response to the Valdez incident.


The Tylenol murders

On Sept. 29, 1982, a sick 12-year-old girl in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, unwittingly took an Extra-Strength Tylenol capsule laced with cyanide poison and died later that day. She would be one of seven people to die suddenly after taking the popular over-the-counter medication, as the so-called Tylenol murders spread fear across America, according to the History.com website.

The victims, all from the Chicago area, ranged in age from 12 to 35 and included three members of the same family. Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, launched a massive recall of its product and offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible.

Investigators soon determined that the tainted Tylenol capsules hadn't been tampered with at the factories where they were produced. This meant that someone had taken the bottles from store shelves, laced them with poison, and then returned them to grocery stores and pharmacies, where the victims later purchased the tampered bottles.

Johnson & Johnson reacted to the crisis swiftly and decisively, launching a massive public relations campaign urging the public not to use Tylenol. The company also ordered a national recall of 264,000 bottles of Tylenol and offered free replacement of the product in safer tablet form. At the time, it was unusual for companies to recall their products.


Back on top

Before the "Tylenol Terrorist" struck, Tylenol was the nation's leading over-the-counter drug and Johnson & Johnson's bestselling product and some observers speculated that Tylenol would never be able to recover from the disaster. However, within months, Tylenol was back on store shelves with a new safety seal. 

The recall and re-launch cost Johnson & Johnson over $100 million, but in the end, Johnson & Johnson was praised for its handling of the crisis. Within a year, Tylenol's market share rebounded and its tarnished image was significantly repaired.

The Tylenol murders, which inspired copycat crimes involving other products, were never solved, although various individuals were investigated. However, a positive outcome of the crisis was that it led drug makers to develop tamper-evident packaging, which had been largely nonexistent before the Tylenol Terrorist struck.


West Tower incident

The West Tower case will long be litigated, and the company's reputation will continue to deteriorate while the legal wrangling drags.

Wayne Calloway, former chief executive of Pepsi-Cola, once declared: “If I can get our reputation right, lots of good things happen.... If I get it wrong, we're in big trouble,”

The Exxon Valdez and Tylenol cases offer the Lopez company sterling examples of how best to handle a corporate social responsibility case with minimal damage to the company's reputation.  Its choices are crystal clear.


--------------------
Story location: Reputation management: How to polish your corporate apple

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Binay: ‘Our greatest shame’

By Winston A. Marbella


For Vice President Jejomar Binay, the pieces are beginning to fit.


Several days before he left for the Middle East on a mission of mercy to save our OFWs, I sent questions to the Vice President requesting his views on the people power revolutions sweeping the world today.  When he left again for another mission of mercy, I abandoned all hope about the interview. 


I should have kept the faith, for while he was on the wing, I received by e-mail the answers to my questions.  Following are the Vice President’s views, edited only to fit the space:


“...I am grateful to the President for giving me the opportunity to serve....


‘Stolen values’


“The corruption of the previous administration was not just confined to the theft of money; it went further to the theft of values. No institution of this country was spared that corruption. 


“Before anything else, we need to make the people see that they have a government they can trust. At the most basic, we need to make the people see that they have a government that is not out to lie, cheat and steal from them at every opportunity.


”...And when we talk of ‘the people’ in this country, we mean basically the poor. That’s what most Filipinos are. They are poor.


“That is our greatest shame. We may not allow this to continue further. Certainly we may not allow this to get worse, the poor getting poorer, which will happen if we don’t act now. Raising our people from penury requires a comprehensive program whose design cannot be limited to those who are positioned in government.

‘No stone unturned’


“Every brilliant idea and strategy that comes from anywhere has to be considered, and anyone who has a positive contribution should be welcome, irrespective of affiliation and provenance. All worthy inputs should be synthesized into a coherent, unbiased, workable plan of action that leaves no stone unturned. 


“...The one gain we had from the Edsa was the restoration of democracy.... The way to maximize that gain, or even just conserve it, is first of all to continue to be vigilant of that freedom....


“The second way to maximize, or conserve, it is to make the poor less poor.... Democracy means nothing if it does not also democratize the enjoyment of the earth’s bounties. If it concentrates wealth only in the hands of a few. 

‘Redistribute wealth’

“We have to redistribute wealth more equitably. We need to uplift the plight of the poor. We have to make the poor less poor....



”... the most important legacy of Edsa is the restoration of democracy.... That is something the current generation and the next ones ought to be reminded of again and again. 



“They owe what blessings they enjoy now to the blood, sweat and tears of the past. Especially the blood: Many people died to keep the torch of freedom alive.



“For the world, moreover, Edsa bequeathed the legacy of an exercise of people’s power that is unique. Specifically the massing of a throng in the streets to directly express their will, people emboldened by their outrage, people armed by their convictions. Enough to defy the tanks, enough to risk life itself to end repression.


“As we can see, that is finding echoes all around the Arab world....

‘Moral courage’


“But ... Edsa is just half the battle won. Edsa remains unfinished business. The point is for us to remain vigilant of the democracy we worked so hard to regain. The point is for us to make democracy ‘more democratic’ by democratizing wealth, by making the poor less poor....


“Protecting democracy ... requires vigilance. It also requires courage, not just the physical kind but the moral kind. It requires on the part of public officials in particular refusing to be bought, refusing to compromise, refusing to collaborate with those who show tendencies toward despotism....


“Unleashing the full potential of democracy requires alleviating poverty, if not eradicating it.... Democracy is nothing if it is not also democratizing wealth. Democracy cannot thrive in a society whose population groans in abject poverty.


Fighting poverty


 “... (A)s programs for poverty alleviation (I propose the following):


“An efficient bureaucracy that works like a well-oiled machine, starting with competent and caring front line services.


“Efficient systems and policies to make it easier for business and industry to prosper, and to attract more investment.


“The efficient utilization of national and local budgets to address the key concerns of the country – education, health, livelihood, disaster management, good local governance, and so on.


“Efficient stewardship of our natural resources to truly benefit our people while assuring the sustainability of the environment.


“Efficient implementation of our security objectives, with the military and the police free from political pressures, able to discharge their functions to the full, and focused solely on protecting our citizens....

“As far as unleashing the full potential of democracy goes, Makati is the showcase of pro-poor projects, programs, and institutions. We have seen the fruits of People Power in Makati through a government that serves its people well. There is no reason why it cannot be done at the national level.”


(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social and political trends into public policy and business strategy.  Comments are welcome at Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.) 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

When soldiers die

By Winston A. Marbella


As the nation goes through a period of trial and tragedy over the death of young soldiers in the Mindanao conflict, reflecting on the often conflicting natures of courage and politics may bring some insight, comfort and solace.

US President John F. Kennedy was so fascinated by the concept of courage that he wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which explored many facets of it in the immensely rich and fertile ground that politics provided for the expression of this most noble of human virtues.  


Of all the definitions of courage, the one Kennedy liked most was Ernest Hemingway’s: “Grace under pressure.”  The spiritual bond between Kennedy and Hemingway is enshrined in the Kennedy Library in Boston, which has provided a permanent home for Hemingway’s papers alongside the president’s.

Hemingway himself explored the many facets of courage in practically all of his major works.  But perhaps the most poignant and profound glimpse he gave us was the one in A Farewell to Arms: 

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.  The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.  But those that will not break it kills.  It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.  If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”


Final moment

Kennedy found many examples of the very good and the very gentle and the very brave, as well as none of these, in the arena he chose: politics.  The examples he selected “are the stories of the pressures experienced by eight United States Senators  and the grace with which they endured them---the risks to their careers, the unpopularity of their courses, the defamation of their characters, and sometimes, but sadly only sometimes, the vindication of their reputations and their principles.”

Kennedy in particular examined “the public’s appreciation of the art of politics, of the nature and necessity for compromise and balance, and of the nature of the Senate as a legislative chamber.”

“We should not be too hasty in condemning all compromise as bad morals,” Kennedy cautioned.  “For politics and legislation are not matters for inflexible principles and unattainable ideals ... that there are few if any issues where all the truth and all the right and all the angels are on one side.”

“Some demonstrated courage through their unyielding devotion to absolute principle,” Kennedy said of the eight senators.  “Others...through their acceptance of compromise, through their advocacy of conciliation, through their willingness to replace conflict with cooperation....

“For without belittling the courage with which men have died, we should not forget those acts of courage with which men...have lived.  The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of the final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.  A man does what he must---in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures---and that is the basis of all human morality.

“To be courageous...is an opportunity that is sooner or later presented to us all... (and) each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.  The stories of past courage...can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration.  But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.”


Hamlet’s dilemma

Hamlet looked into his own soul and yet could not find the courage to extricate himself from the horns of a dilemma.  In what is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquy, Hamlet contemplates avenging his father’s death by killing Claudius  Not mustering enough courage to do this, Hamlet contemplates killing himself instead, but the imponderables of what lies beyond death stops him cold, too:


To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them:

So Hamlet does nothing---and his profound indecision leads to inaction that ironically results in multiple deaths, including his own.


MacArthur’s way

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, whose historic landing in Leyte in 1944 we celebrate in October to honor his redemption of a pledge,” I shall return,” understood the soldier’s role perhaps more than any other commander, even more than Generals George Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  In a poignant address to the graduating class at West Point, in probably one of the world’s best speeches, MacArthur counselled:

“Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government....  Whether our strength is being sapped by deficit spending indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent....  

“These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution.  Your guidepost stands out like a tenfold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.”

The lines blur when the professional soldier strides into politics, which requires navigational skills even professional politicians find hard to master.  Then soldiers die---and not just fade away.
 
(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political and cultural trends into public policy and business strategy.  Comments are welcome: Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.) 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Unthinking logic of numbers

By Winston A. Marbella


Numbers don't lie.  They describe quantities.  Taken in context, they also define qualities.  And when taken by reason to their logical conclusion, they can also shape the future.

Within the year, Facebook is expected to be one billion strong.  Think of an internetworked world and what that would mean to political struggles like the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

United Nations demographers figure that the seven billionth baby will be born before the end of October.

That baby is more likely to be born in the Asia Pacific Region, where 61 percent of the world's population resides.

And that baby is more likely to be a boy than a girl, because the natural 50/50 distribution of the sexes has been disturbed by cultural preferences for a boy.

This child is also more likely to have fewer siblings than the parents, live beyond age five, and live longer than either parent or the grandparents

Wise counsel

In the run-up to the heated floor debates in the Senate on the reproductive health bill, the wisest counsel seems to have come from Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.  Commenting on a similar matter that impinges on opinion surveys, Senator Enrile said that senators, being political entities, must always listen to what people say.  But that doesn’t mean they will always adopt the popular view.

What Senator Enrile seemed to be saying was that the elected representatives of the people have responsibilities beyond merely reflecting the prevailing viewpoint.  They also have responsibilities to guide, to lead discussions, to educate, in the long road to arriving at a democratic consensus that takes all issues under wise deliberation.
 
The bill allows, among other things, the use of abortion-inducing drugs that prevent fertilized human ovum from attaching to the uterus, causing it to die, and other artificial means of contraception opposed by the Catholic Church.

Overheard, not read

Opponents of the bill, in particular Rep. Roilo Golez, have questioned the accuracy of the survey because of the faulty screening of respondents who were polled even if they had not actually read the bill but had merely heard about it.

How can anyone who has only heard about the bill possibly give an intelligent comment? Golez asked.

A more pointed comment came from a Catholic Church official who said morality is not subject to a majority vote.  The survey if true, he said, only means that the church has to work harder to explain the bill’s morally wrong provisions better.

The bill’s opponents, fearing a congressional juggernaut inspired by pork-barrel-like incentives, have raised fears of an impending “tyranny of the majority.”

The concept traces its roots to ancient Greece, which used the word ochlocracy (“mob rule”) to describe a rampaging, unreasoning majority imposing its tyrannical will over a minority.

Modern thinkers have coined similar terms, “the tyranny of numbers” being one of them.  The author David Boyle has written a book using the phrase for its title, adding a biting subtitle, “Why counting can’t make us happy.”

Boyle tells the story of the 18th-century prodigy Jedediah Buxton in his first trip to the theater to watch a performance of Richard III.  Asked whether he had enjoyed it, Buxton replied that the dances had taken 5,202 steps to complete and that the actors had uttered 12,445 words.

Sound and fury

Boyle says in dismay: “Nothing about what the words said, about the winter of our discontent made glorious summer; nothing about the evil hunchback king.”  He continues:

“Buxton is in some ways a fearsome symbol of the modern age, in which we count everything but see the significance of nothing.

“...we encounter such ‘calculating’ man-machines almost every day: the  academic who refuses to pass judgment on any problem, no matter how urgent, because there hasn’t been enough research; the politician who is so obsessed with opinion polls he no longer trusts his gut instincts...”

Or, we might add, so obsessed with numbers he has lost all sense of time, whether or not it is midnight in the garden of good and evil.

Blinded by numbers
 
“The more we count, the less we understand,” Boyle asserts.  “Microscopic differences in definition create big effects.

“We have reached a point where measuring things doesn’t work anymore.  It is a counting crisis, born out of using numbers to distil the sheer complexity of life into something manageable.”

Boyle concludes: “The closer you get to measuring what’s important, the more it escapes you.  Because number-crunching brings a kind of blindness with it. 

“When we measure life we reduce it.”

(E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Reality bites from early hypertension

By Winston A. Marbella


It's a shock when first it hits you: You are hypertensive.


From hovering at the borderline 130/90, your blood pressure shoots is to 145/100.


Your blood test shows your cholesterol breaking the threshold.  Your blood sugar is pushing beyond the borderline.  And your uric acid is beginning to make itself felt in pain in the joints.


These are symptoms of an aging body and your first reaction is, of course, denial.  It's a blip, an aberration, and you try to convince yourself that it was just the lechon (roast pork) you had for lunch and the porterhouse steak you had for dinner.


You have your blood pressure taken again after a day: not much change.  You start walking to get back in shape.  Still borderline.


Then after a particularly stressful day, your blood pressure shoots up again.


You visit your doctor again.  He warns that unless you behave, change your bad eating habits, and exercise regularly, he will put you on medication.  Your resolve to cooperate hardens.


Winston Churchill, who always enjoyed a dash of alcohol after dinner to aid digestion, took comfort in his belief that a good brandy was an efficient gout slayer.


Lifestyle ailments


The doctors have a generic name for all of these afflictions: they call them lifestyle diseases.


Why? Because our modern lifestyles seem to aggravate them.


Stressful jobs, sedentary lifestyles, poor eating habits, overweight – put them all together and you are a candidate for intimations of mortality from the onset of early hypertension.


What to do?  Simply the reverse: reduce stress, eat healthy, exercise more.


Sounds all too easy.  Just thinking of exercising more is stressful.  That, and overhauling your diet from high-fat, high cholesterol fast food to salads with fat-free dressing.  Even more stressful.


In fact doing all of the above (reducing weight, eating healthy, and exercising more) seems to be diametrically opposed to reducing stress.  But deep in your heart of hearts, you know it's not.


Goat food


There are days when I feel like I'm eating goat food: all veggies.  But you learn to cope.


I embellish my fresh greens with apples, pineapples, even a banana.  They all seem to improve the taste of pure greenery.


High-fiber pasta and multi-grain bread replace the high-fat, high cholesterol tapsilog.  For breakfast, a change of menu from goat food to horse food: oats.  You begin to feel as strong as a horse and as cuddly as a billy goat.


Before you know it, you are ten pounds down.  You feel lighter, and therefore can exercise more with less strain on your heart and knees.


A doctor on Talk TV said the heart has to pump more blood through one kilometer of blood vessels for every extra pound you carry.  If you cut 10 pounds from your weight, that's 10 kilometers less to walk, I figured,


But physiology is not mathematics: it doesn't equate that way.  The doctor says I have to reduce weight AND exercise more to put myself back in shape,  Eating healthy also makes sure you don't ingest food that harms you – only those that make you healthy.


Psychic rewards


That is the physical part.  It's really the destressing that does wonders to your psyche.  Reducing your food intake makes you feel like an emaciated mystic.


You have more time to enjoy a book, or savor a scintillating conversation with friends you have taken for granted all those years of the rat race inside a maze with no exit.


You begin to enjoy again the simple things in life, like stopping occasionally to smell the flowers.  You learn again to forgive yourself for your foibles, and your friends for theirs.  Nothing short of an earthquake can shake your unconquerable peace.


You enjoy the first whiff of Christmas in the air during your early morning jaunts.  When you oversleep, you just hop over to the mall and enjoy an air-conditioned brisk walk.


You learn to cope better and enjoy the simple things you have stopped noticing.  Last week, I dropped by a favorite bookstore to browse.  I discovered a book called “How the Mind Works” as I stooped down to grab the Time and Newsweek cover stories of Steve Jobs.  That was one beautiful mind.


Then I had a double espresso while multitasking: enjoying my iPod and reading.  “Self-indulgent,” the social commentators have described the Baby Boom Generation.  That is not exactly true.  We just look it.


Remedies


We have to create more jobs.  One way is to spend the economic stimulus package of some Php72 billion.  But even the national outlay for projects has remained largely unspent in the first semester, grinding our growth rate down to 3.4 percent.  That will have to wait until President Aquino figures out a way to cut thievery from graft and corruption.


But fresh graduates are entering the job market at four percent a year.  We lack jobs.  The challenge now is how to stimulate the bureaucrats to spend the stimulus package to stimulate the economy.  My stress begins to grow again.


Unheralded death


Our hearts cry out for one of the street children who made a living out of opening taxicab doors and helping themselves to whatever they can find there.  Then they throw caution to the wind as they cut through traffic to escape.


In one of those daring escapades, one child of the street died in a collision with a vehicle.  Then the Occupy Wall Street Movement all over the world hits you in the gut.  What have we done lately to narrow the gap between the rich and poor?  


But this is not stressful worrying because we care enough to look for solutions.  Anything we can do even for one child of the street will be good enough. 


Miracle food


Luckily, several school teachers care enough to grow healthy greens in the empty yards of public schools.  Then the home economics teachers whip up a hearty vegetable soup to feed the hungry children.  The rest of the harvest they send home to mothers to cook or to sell.


A CNN program, “Eco-Solutions,” reported that this is happening now in half of our 80,000 public schools.  The rest is up to us.


That's when we realize there's more to life than simply living.  We begin to care for others. We feel the personal impact of John Donne's sonnet:  “No man is an island entire of itself; /... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; / And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street preoccupies Manila

By Winston A. Marbella


MANILA – As the world's major capitals erupted in widespread protests against capitalism, corporate greed and rising unemployment, the International Monetary Fund and his senior economic team prodded President Aquino to fatten his PhP72-billion economic stimulus package by another Php20 billion to create more jobs.


Several left-leaning groups joined the international protests called Occupy Wall Street in mid-October, as former national treasurer Leonor Briones cautioned the Aquino administration against downplaying the local protests.


Briones, who teaches public administration and governance at the University of the Philippines, said the protests sweeping the United States and Europe could spill over to the Philippines if progressive groups succeed in linking the global campaign to local social issues like poverty, unequal distribution of opportunities between rich and poor, and controversial reductions in the budgets of state universities and colleges.


Aquino's budget secretary, Florencio Abad, said the president's senior economic advisers had asked for an additional Php20 billion pesos for the economic stimulus package to create more jobs.


Sen. Edgardo Angara said the “protests against rampant unemployment now hounding the Western countries could occur here if we don't create jobs and continue the practice of underspending.”


Angara was referring to a slowdown in the economy in the first semester because of a reluctance of the Aquino government to spend for infrastructure and other projects until it had reduced graft and corruption.


Sen. Ralph Recto, an economist, said, “We need to spend the budget properly and as fast as we can.”


Inclusive growth


The International Monetary Fund mission chief in the Philippines, Vivek Arora, said, “The Philippines has to address the twin challenges of growth and making it more inclusive (of the poor),” a recurring issue in the worldwide protests.


Anoop Singh, IMF director for Asia and the Pacific, said the government needed to rechannel public resources to vital areas by reducing tax incentives to favored business sectors and using the savings to increase cash and food subsidies to the poor.


Under this program, the poorest households are requested to send the children to school while the mothers are asked to visit health centers regularly.  But the government has enough funds only for the poorest of the poor.


Small spenders


Budget Secretary Abad said the additional Php20 billion would depend on the ability of government agencies to spend the original Php72 billion stimulus, a skill they did not show in the first semester.


The president's economic managers, which include Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Economic Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga, and central bank governor Amando Tetangco, had recommended a Php90 billion stimulus package, but the president approved only Php72 billion because he was “concerned about absorption.” Abad said.


The economic team will know by mid-November if they need the additional Php20 billion, he said.


“When growth is limited to 4 percent or less and more people enter the job market faster than more jobs are produced, you'll have more problems,” Recto said.  “So we must accelerate spending.”


Because of underspending, the growth rate of around five percent nosedived to 3.4 percent.


Angara said, “The more important priority is to have growth through spending because this is the way to create jobs.”


Recto added, “We only have to be prudent in spending the taxpayers' money, make sure it is spent efficiently, but this is not a reason to slow down growth.”


He also cautioned the government against alienating the middle class by imposing more taxes and withdrawing the subsidies for mass transport systems.  “You should not contract the middle class,” he said.  “Note that most of the protesters who joined the Occupy Wall Street activities come from the middle class.”


Vanishing middle


The continuing erosion of the middle class is reflected in figures from the automobile industry, which show a slowdown in sales for entry-level vehicles but an uptrend in luxury cars.


Marketing researchers have been noticing this trend in recent years: The middle class has almost disappeared, with a few joining the upper socio-economic classes while most have slid down to the lower-income groups.


This trend has also not escaped the notice of Citibank, which announced a slew of new products and services targeting those with assets from half a million pesos to five million pesos.  This high-flying group, called “emerging affluent,” also earns the same amount – half a million to five million pesos - a year.


Culturally insensitive banks like Citi, and the affluent markets they serve, are exactly what infuriate the Occupy Wall Street protesters in the autumn of their discontent.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Winds of change blow in October

By Winston A. Marbella


Winds of change are sweeping the globe, and they come properly in the month of October.


October is the month when the prevailing southwest monsoon which brought the rains is slowly overwhelmed by the cold Siberian winds from the north, and the early morning chill brings a whiff of Christmas in the air.


On October 31, we will celebrate Halloween.  That day also marks when the world's population hits the 7 billion mark, according to United Nations demographers.  This quantitative milestone does not seem all that significant until we link it to a worldwide uprising of sorts in mid-October against corporate greed – a qualitative sea change.


In the world's major capitals – from Tokyo to Toronto, from Wall Street to Times Square – people rose in unison to decry crass materialism as the root of all evil today.


“I have no problem with capitalism,” said Herbert Haberl, 51, in Berlin, according to wire service reports.  “But I find the way the financial system is functioning deeply unethical.  We shouldn't bail out the banks.  We should bail out the people.” he said, referring to the financial crises sweeping the world today.


Return to values


The simultaneous rallies in the world's major capitals echoed a familiar refrain to put back the quality of life over a grab-what-you-can scramble for the world's material resources.  The fact that the world's population will hit a milestone in October drives home the point.


The biggest crowds gathered in Madrid where tens of thousands chanted to live music, including a rendition of Beethoven's “Ode to Joy,'” which sings praises to nature.  The almost surreal harking back to simpler times brought back glimpses of William Wordsworth's sonnet, “The World Is Too Much With Us,” which contemplated man communing with nature once again.


Also in October, American Catholic nuns returned two small bells seized by US troops from a church in Meycauayan, Bulacan 112 years ago during the Philippine-American war.  The two small bells were turned over by the Sisters of Mercy based in Omaha, Nebraska, to the Philippine Consulate in Chicago.


Bells returning


How the Sisters of Mercy found the bells is a small mystery on its own, reported the Omaha World-Herald.  SOM archivist Monte Kniffen found the bells while rifling through the contents of a box in the archives last July.


The box contained items from former convents in California.  Kniffen said the bells might have been turned over to the convents by a family or a small museum. 


If we connect the dots, we might see that the coming home of the bells adds significance to the winds of change sweeping the world today.


John Donne wrote:  


“No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main;
... any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for 
  whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


(E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.)