Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve

The Sun Sets on 2007
from my back porch. 
(Squint and you can see the Golden Gate Bridge)
From my bedroom window.

Happy New Year everyone. More posts in 2008.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bah Humbug

Christmas itself being inescapable, I decided to at least flee the city.
I drove down to the Central Valley with a friend from the Documentary Film program.  As a shooting day, it was a bit of a disaster. He was hoping for footage of the state mental hospital in Atascadero, but, as it turned out, we couldn't film on site and couldn't get a decent angle from off site.

Not exactly worth eight hours in the car.  For me though, it was a nice little escape and a chance to see some parts of California I've never seen before. 

I've also gained a new appreciation for the difficulty of working with film. It's a powerful, accessible medium, but having to work with an enormous camera creates a set of difficulties that people working with print never have to deal with.  I can work just by looking around and writing things down later. At most, I need a small recorder and a still camera. It's easy to be discreet in a way that's completely impossible for film, and the quality of your work depends completely on your skill as a reporter and storyteller, and not at all on your equipment.  

I love watching other people's films. But I think I'm too attached to traveling light, being mobile and fast, to ever make them myself.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


People keep asking me if I’m going home for Christmas, and I never know exactly what to say. The simple answer is that my family isn’t Christian, which is generally enough to stop that particular line of inquiry dead in its tracks. But the more complicated answer is that, really, I don’t even have any idea where “home” would be.

If I close my eyes and think about the concept, the first image that comes to mind is a wooden gate my parents installed at the top of the stairs when I was little to keep my brother, sister and I from tumbling down in the dark.

That house is still there, but the gate is not, the people who live at the top of those stairs are strangers, and the neighborhood outside has changed beyond recognition. I’ve been back there a few times in the past years, and felt nothing but disorientation.

I would love to visit my parents, but it would be just that – a visit, to see them, in an unfamiliar city that holds no other attractions.  The rest of the people I love, friends and family both, are scattered throughout the various cities, countries, continents I’ve lived in over the years.

There’s a freedom in rootlessness, I suppose. I have no home-baggage tied around my neck, no particular place I’m bound to more than any other by love or by obligation. I remember years when I would happily call any city home if somewhere in it, I had a bed with sheets on it, a key to get to that bed any time I wanted, and a bicycle of my own. My material needs might have increased a bit (it’s hard to imagine being separated from my books, for example) but nothing fundamental has changed. I’m free to go anywhere I please and make a life for myself, follow my work and my desires anywhere they lead me.

But there’s something about this time of year that makes me a little jealous of those who have the security of a home and a neighborhood they will always belong in.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Head, Body and Feet; or, what I've been doing with my life

I'm pretty sure only one person will really appreciate this (and you will very quickly know who you are, my friend) but since I've been too busy and burned out to do any extra-curricular writing these last few days, I figured I'd post this:

One of the most common critiques of Rizal’s narrative of nationalism comes from left-leaning academics, who charge Rizal with elitism. Renato Constantino, for example, argues that while Rizal spoke in good faith about human rights and human dignity and used the language of universal ideals, he was essentially “voicing the goals of his class.”[1] He may have condemned the exploitation of peasants at the hands of encomenderos and friars, the argument goes, but did not question the underlying morality of social stratification.  A close reading of Rizal’s annotations in the Morga supports this analysis.  He seems genuinely outraged by the exploitation of peasants at hands of encomenderos and friars; yet while he decries the “tyranny of the oppressor” against the “poor class,” he does not question the existence of class itself. [2] Most tellingly, when de Morga explains the traditional constellation of Philippine classes as principales, plebians and slaves, Rizal simply concurs. “This is the eternal division one finds, and will find (in the future) everywhere, in all kingdoms and republics: ruling class, productive class, and servant class: head, body and feet.”[3]  It is, to say the least, difficult to imagine Rizal aspired to a sense of deep horizontal comradeship with someone he describes as being, eternally, a foot.

[1] Renato Constantino, Dissent and Counter-Consciousness (Quezon City: Malaya Books, Inc., 1970) p.135.

[2] Rizal-Morga, p. 300, referring here to Catholicism’s failure to liberate the poor.

[3] Ibid, 297, n. 2. “Esta es la division eterna que se encuentra y se encontrara en todas partes, en todos los reinos y republicas: clase dominadora, clase productora y clase servil: cabeza, cuerpo y pies.” In other notes, Rizal gives considerable attention to the question of slavery, generally condemning the practice, but noting that slavery in the Philippines was benign compared to European systems, and could more accutately be described as debt-bondage. (see footnotes p. 294.295)


I should note, also, that I got a chance to slag off Ileto, although I had to confine it to a footnote.  Let's just say I have convincing evidence that he never read the Morga. 

Did we ever have lives?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Death Squads and International Norms

I've been thinking quite a bit about death squads today -- mostly because of an interesting article by Greg Grandin I read this morning, but also partly because of correspondence with friends from Davao, partly because it's a change from working on papers, and partly because I am clearly a somewhat disturbed person.

In the article I've linked to above, Grandin does a good job of explaining the role that death squads, which he defines as "[c]landestine paramilitary units, nominally independent from established security agencies yet able to draw on the intelligence and logistical capabilities of those agencies," play in state terror campaigns to suppress dissidence.

I think, though, that he misses a key point about death squads: the role that international norms play in creating them. I've only ever come across one book that seriously engages this question, Bruce Campbell and Arthur Brennar's Death Squads in Global Perspective: Murder with Deniability. With apologies for academic-ese, the book's central argument can be summed up as follows:
Bruce Campbell poses one central question regarding the global phenomenon of death squads and vigilantism: following a Weberian conception, statehood is defined by the monopolization of the legitimate use of coercive force within a given territory. Why then, have so many states compromised this monopoly on force, devolving coercive power to private, extra-state forces by offering formal or tacit support to death squads and vigilante groups?

Drawing on literature on state violence, Campbell attempts to situate this devolution of force within the bounds of rational, conventional state behavior, arguing that subcontracting violence may be a state’s best, or only, available means of dealing with an internal threat.

As Ted Robert Gurr suggests, state violence is a response to “the existence of a class, group, or party that the ruling elite sees as a threat to its continued rule.” However, most modern states are constrained by both international and domestic laws and organizations, rendering full-scale, overt state repression a political impossibility. Death squads and vigilante groups, then, fill this gap, allowing states to orchestrate the violent suppression of dissident groups while retaining plausible deniability nationally and globally.
(from a paper I wrote last Spring, which then challenges aspects of this theory, at least as it applies to the Philippines, by introducing the element of personalistic politics, but that's more than I care to get into at the moment)
Essentially, death squads exist where external pressure makes overt state repression politically impracticable. In this sense, they represent one of the greatest failures of the "international community," which has a history of making an enormous fuss about state sponsored violence, while quietly tolerating extra- or quasi- state violence.

A case in point would be the Philippines during the Marcos era. The early period of the Marcos dictatorship was marked by mass arrests of Marcos' political opponents. These arrests were conducted overtly, generated paperwork, and were undeniably tied to the central state's policies. Consequently, foreign governments who cooperated with Marcos were compelled to censure him for his excesses.

In response, Marcos made a tactical shift to quasi-state repression. Instead of having dissidents arrested by the police and put in prison, he had them kidnapped by death squads, and disappeared or salvaged [tortured to death and left for public display]. This was clearly not a move that improved the human rights situation in the country, but it allowed Marcos to deny responsibility for abuses, a contention those who wished to collaborate with him -- including, let's not forget, Jimmy "
the Carter Doctrine" Carter -- were happy to accept.

The Arroyo administration is, of course, another example. At the same time Arroyo is (to say the very least) tolerating hundreds of murders by death squads, she is being celebrated, in some quarters, for official policies she claims seek to curtail such violence.
By pressuring states to distance themselves from abuse while failing to combat the underlying political and social conditions that create it, the "international community" creates the conditions in which death squads thrive.

So fine, condemn death squads. Of course they should be condemned. Just... don't get too comfortable about it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Winter 2001: Minnehaha falls, frozen. Me, so acclimated I'm not even wearing gloves.
I'm not going to pretend there aren't things about California that make me want to spit nails. People, for example, who actually think talking about chakras is a reasonable way to chat me up. Or endless discussions about feelings that never actually seem to result in people saying what they're feeling. Or being asked what my spirit animal is (actually, that happened in Washington, but you get the idea).

Numerous other things reconfirm that, at least when it comes to interpersonal communication, I'm East Coast to the core.

But then I read about the crazy ice storms gripping the Midwest, and remember the terrible things Midwestern winters did to my head, and realize how much worse I could have it. Which, come to think of it, is one of the few things the Midwest is consistently good for.

I'm trying to make a point of spending some time everyday barefoot on my backporch, looking at the hills across the bay, and appreciating civilized weather.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bloke Metges update

More details about the Bloke Metges eviction:
(via old friends from Euskadi and Catalunya who I ran into on the street in Berkeley, proving that this is, indeed, a small world.)
Cooking up free pizza in the wood-burning oven at Metges, 2002

I was pleased to hear that it took hours for the police to get into the building, partly because the door was well barricaded, and partly because a crowd of neighbors gathered in the street and tried to prevent the police from approaching the building.

When the police finally did break their way in, they blocked the windows so people outside couldn't see what was happening, then beat up everyone who was inside.  On a slightly better note, nobody was hospitalized, or arrested. 

Two days later, the building was temporarily reoccupied to host a farewell party in the pizzeria and cafe located on the ground floor.  

Friday, December 07, 2007

Arroyo receives human rights award. Seriously.

President Arroyo was just awarded the "Medalla de Oro" from Universidad de Alcala in Spain, in recognition of her work to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.
This makes me, quite literally, feel sick.
Yes, she abolished the death penalty. But to me, that seems a little irrelevant when she has condoned hundreds of extrajudicial executions.
This is the woman who has presided over the worst resurgence of torture, illegal detainment and extrajudicial murder the Philippines has seen since the Marcos dictatorship. The woman who is so bad she almost makes you miss Estrada, who was disgusting and corrupt but at least not on a campaign to murder the entire left.  The woman who is currently facing censure from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN SR on extrajudicial executions for her absolutely appalling human rights record. The woman whose regime is so obviously complicit in human rights abuses that even the US Senate has felt the need to make (a little tiny portion of) aid contingent on her cleaning up her act. 
As for Arroyo's claim that there are 100 cases involving extrajudicial killings being prosecuted, that is, to the best of my knowledge which is pretty damned good on this subject, a bald-faced lie.
And I can't believe she had the nerve to take credit for constituting the Melo Comission and "following its recommendations" when she has absolutely failed to take responsibility for the fairly damning conclusions of the Commission's initial report, and continues to block release of the final version.
I have yet to read anything that gives any clue as to what the people who chose to give Arroyo this award were thinking. It is either shockingly ignorant or shockingly sinister. I'm not sure which is worse.

This would make me absolutely livid on any day. The fact that it comes just as I've finished revisions on my paper on impunity in the post-Marcos Philippines -- a process in which  I've been consumed with rereading my own work, interviews I conducted over the last 2 years, and countless reports like the ones I've provided links for above -- is pushing me over the edge.

Did I mention that this makes me sick?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

It's that time of the semester again...

Continuing my series of desk portraits, here is the wreckage of my desk as I near the home stretch of a marathon last-minute paper revising session:

It may not be a system of organization that works for anyone else, but I seem to have done alright for myself with it so far.
Now, if I can just stop procrastinating and find 2000 more words I can get rid of without undermining my thesis before my eyes totally give out, I may just be through with writing about impunity in the Philippines forever. 
Well, probably not forever, but I feel like a nice long break is in order.
I am so ready for the semester to be over.

UPDATE @ 2:30: Oh, it hurts, it hurts! Every line in this paper represents hours of research and writing. The fat's trimmed off, so is a lot of the meat. I'm starting to hit bone.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Bloke Metges evicted

Free community bicycle shop in CSO Metges, 2003

CSO (Squatted Social Center) Metges  in el Forat de la Vergonya in Barcelona was evicted after 6 years. 4 people (and I don't yet know who) were beaten up in the process.

The eviction happened Tuesday morning, though I've only now gotten the news. 
This house was one of my most beloved homes, and an amazing center for resistance and organizing for the whole neighborhood.

My heart is truly broken.

Breakfast at Metges, 2003
More images
Spanish language story on the eviction. Sorry, best I could do. At least it's not Catalan.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I'm experimenting with some new features here.
A account makes sense for me because I switch so frequently between computers and browsers that it's nice to store bookmarks in a centralized location. It also gives the option of sharing links publicly -- which I've done here, in hopes that even when I don't have time or energy, (or anything of particular  interest) to write, I can still have some new content, and offer links (sometimes with comments if you actually go the the page for my account) to things I find useful, interesting or disturbing.
(Plus, it offers a fun, slightly creepy element of voyeurism for you all)
There's also a the new flickr badge, which shows the most recent pictures I've posted.  And probably more to come. The point in the semester has arrived where I have more and more work to do, and less and less will to do it, so devoting attention to extracurricular projects has been quite appealing lately.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Another weird coup attempt...

Yet another bizarre, poorly-planned coup attempt in the Philippines. This has basically become an annual event. In fact, it may have been a bit behind schedule.
I don’t really have the mental energy right now to wrap my head fully around this one, although it’s worth noting that one of the coup leaders was Antonio Trillanes, who was elected to the senate in May, while he was in prison for his role in a 2003 coup attempt.
And people need to ask why I find the Philippines so interesting?
There’s also an interesting quote in this story from the Inquirer, where AFP Chief of Staff General Esperon, (not someone who usually gets much love on this blog) attributes the coup to “messianic people” in the military “who think they can give solutions to the problems of the country while they cannot even solve the problems of their own [military] units.”
It immediately reminded me of a the work Guillermo O’Donnell and Phillippe C. Schmitter, scholars of transitional justice who assert that granting amnesty to the military for past human rights abuses “reinforce[s] the sense of impunity and immunity of the armed forces” and encourages a “messianic self-image” of the military as “the institution ultimately interpreting and ensuring the highest interests of the nation,” ultimately undermining any social stability that amnesty is supposed to buy.
All that aside, though, I have to admit that what is really sticking in my head is the whole hotel thing. Trying to overthrow the government by seizing a luxury hotel in a business district miles from military bases or government offices. What the fuck is that all about? It seems to be a popular tactic for (failed) coups in the Philippines. The Manila Hotel coup of 1986 comes to mind, as does Trillanes’ own 2003 Oakwood Mutiny which -- in a slight variation on the theme -- took over a luxury apartment complex.
(Credit as well to the Toronto star, for the best headline I’ve seen for this story: “Hotel coup fails; people had reservations”)

I’m really trying to figure out if this is a tactic that is used anywhere else.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cool-guy academics

During our discussion about Eric Tagliacozzo’s Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along a Southeast Asian Frontier, one of my classmates coined a new term: “Cool-guy academic.” Which is to say, the type of academic -- preferably as nerdy as possible -- who focuses on “cool guy” topics like smuggling, piracy, drugs, organized crime and prostitution.
And I’m sitting there thinking, “guilty as charged.” With the exception of a few papers on nationalist historiography, every major project I’ve worked on in the last few years has been about sex, drugs or violence (or some combination of the above).
So I confessed.
“Why heroin? Why not rice?” a fellow student asked. At the time, I cracked a joke about actually wanting to find a job after grad school, unlike the PhD students in history I was surrounded by.
But it is a serious question. Take drugs, for example. An incredible amount of ink has been spilled about the role of opium and alcohol monopolies in financing and consolidating the colonial state. No one’s denying this revenue was important, but some recent scholarship suggests it may be exaggerated, or at least overemphasized. Meanwhile, other, less sexy, areas like rubber plantations and tin mining are seriously under-studied.
So I’ve been reflecting on my fascination with the ugly underbelly of society. Granted, I did have the ultimate cool-guy academic as my undergraduate advisor. But it goes back a lot further than that, and I think it’s fair to say that I wanted to work with McCoy because of my fascination with the illicit, rather than developing that fascination as a result of working with him.
I’ve been this way ever since I was a kid. I read every single holocaust book we had on the shelf, and anything else with comparably dark themes, from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee to Shakespeare’s tragedies. A fascination, shall we say, for the morbid.
I’ve always seemed to want to fill my head with the most horrific information I can find. I’m not sure if that makes me a “cool guy.” But it definitely makes me something.

Monday, November 26, 2007

UN report on extrajudicial murder in the Philippines

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (now there's a job title) has just released his report on the Philippines. I realize that some of you may have actual lives, but I'm pretty excited it's out, and I know human rights activists in the Philippines are too. The report doesn't say anything that hasn't been said before, and I'm not too optimistic about it having much of an effect internationally or even in the Philippines, but it's some strong words from a credible source, and it certainly can't hurt.

And then the next day, it looked like this:

My friends, and friends' friends, are generally pretty considerate of other people's homes. They would've gladly helped clean up after the meal. But with the kitchen sink completely broken, there was really nothing anyone could do that night. So, the morning after Thanksgiving, we had to wake up to this:

And this:

Exactly how I wanted to spend my vacation.
(I don’t care to get too far into it, but the scene can’t be completely understood without mentioning that we also awoke to a blocked toilet. Let’s just say the list of that things I was thankful for that day included a sturdy pair of thick-soled boots and the fact that, contrary to my worst fears, fixing the toilet did NOT actually require sticking my hand in it.)

Perhaps this was my penance for celebrating a holiday with such nationalistic, genocidal roots?

In any case, the sink clearly needed to be fixed before anything else could be done. And there was no hope of getting the landlord to do anything about it that day. So we had to do it ourselves. Which, after a massive team mobilization, got done successfully.
Overall score:
  • Sink - 2 (breaking in the thick of food preparations; thwarting any attempts to clean as the evening progressed)
  • Us – 2. (managing to cook the meal anyhow; fixing the damned thing in the end)
That seemed like a good point to call it a draw and move on.


Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been reexamining a lot of the negative effects of the years I spent traveling, squatting and generally living in marginal ways. But it’s important for me to remember the benefits too. Living a completely improvised existence for so many years left me with an incredibly eclectic skill set – everything from writing grants to wiring a house with power stolen from streetlights. And I truly am glad that somewhere along the way, I learned my way around Teflon tape and PVC piping.
Getting in touch with my inner plumber

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Getting in touch with my domestic side. So, so many more pictures to put up tomorrow.
For now, despite the sink exploding this morning, everything's actually enough under control that I'm taking a break from the crowd and hiding out with my computer.
Next up: dinner for 30.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mt. Shasta, from I-5 in Northern California

It’s been a rare sunny day in Olympia. And cold! Four months of living in the Bay Area has made my blood thin.
On the way up here, I was remembering the only other time I’ve ever been on I-5 between Oakland and Oregon -- tail end of what was probably the most miserable trip of my entire life. I was seventeen, on the West Coast for the first time, hitchhiking south after the WTO protests in Seattle.
My companion and I were both broke, and sick from all the teargas and nerve-gas we’d been exposed to. I remember being cold, throat aflame, and with wet feet for days on end, walking and walking in the rain and finding it nearly impossible to get picked up. In the realm of small miseries, I can think of few worse than waking up in the morning and having to put back on the same wet clothes you were wearing the night before. I think it took 5 days to get from Portland to Oakland (including a disastrous detour on the 101), and I can’t recall ever being happier to make it somewhere.
Doing the same trip in reverse took about 13 hours, including a surreal stop at a casino and the requisite tire blow-out 15 miles before our destination (fortunately, the only roadside emergency I actually know how to deal with). Quite a pleasant trip, all things considered. And I’m happy for a change of scenery.
I still have to spend a few hours working every day to justify leaving town for nearly a week, but the rest of the time is mine to explore, think about food, and spend with old friends.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I've been feeling kind of stressed lately, so I'm trying to remind myself of small things that consistently make me happy no matter how stressed or grumpy I am:
  • Photobooth pictures
  • Dancing
  • Skating
  • Swimming
  • Mail (paper, though email's not bad either)
  • First cup of coffee (and second! The best thing about addictions is that you create problems for yourself that you can then easily solve)

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Personal and the Political

[I seem to have internet access again. Which does more for my mental health than I care to admit.]

I made a decision, somewhat consciously, to keep this blog personal, except for when the political became explicitly personal. Back when I first started posting, this made sense. I had other outlets for passing on news -- including membership in the news collective of a radio station that reaches 25,000+ people.

Anything I thought was important in a general way, I could get on the air or pass on directly through personal networks. Which left this blog as a forum for items not of interest to anyone not specifically interested in me. (Hence the title, a literary reference I assume few people outside my immediate family ever pick up on). I've never made any effort to reach readers beyond my family and friends, and even then I can be pretty cagey. It's never been a secret project, or completely anonymous -- there are quite a few pictures of me on here, and work that has appeared under my name elsewhere -- but I've kept it so it won't pop up if you google me, and I can be pretty stingy about giving out the url.

But lately I've been feeling short of things to say about my day-to-day life. Because, really, I'm in a set routine, and there are only so many times I can complain about schoolwork or people who try to run me over on my bicycle. At the same time, I've lost access to a wider platform for the less personal.

Meanwhile, so many things are going crazy just outside my little academic bubble. I've gotten reports of 7 disappearances in the Philippines in the last week (from sources I don't trust 100% without verification, but the evidence is pretty compelling) . A friend from Madison was beaten and arrested at a demonstration on the US-Mexico border (he's out on bail as of this afternoon, but still faces felony charges and possible deportation to Colombia, even though he grew up in the US and is a legal permanent resident). Not to mention the usual litany of horrors in the world at large.

But somehow, I still find myself trying to get information passed on through other people's websites or news shows rather than posting on my own. This is partly because I know I don't have the time or energy to update this blog consistently enough for it to function as a news source. But it's also partly because I still haven't decided whether this is an appropriate venue for that kind of material. So, I don't know. Thoughts? (and yes, commentophobes, you can call or email)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Go look at my photos...

I'm still working on getting all the tags and dates organized, but I've started putting some of my photos from the last 5 years up on flickr.
Check them out at:

Sunday, November 04, 2007

My most disjointed post ever...

“Like many people, I started blogging out of an urgent need to procrastinate” –Alex Ross, in the New Yorker, Oct. 22
While I’ve been distracted by other things:

The Glorietta blast has been ruled, officially now, an accident. I'm still not sure what to think. And I also can’t quite help being suspicious about the timing. Though only confirmed in the past days, the initial declaration of this revised assessment came October 24, after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council at Malacanang that also led to a rapprochement between Arroyo and Speaker of the House Jose de Venicia Jr. Convenient, as usual.

I’ve finally taken the plunge and purchased a computer which should, I feel it’s reasonable to hope, work properly. I eagerly await the return of the hyphen, zero, underscore and close parenthesis to my writing.

I’ve been going through a lot of my old {and recent} photographs, and will start putting them up on flickr, though probably not until my new machine has arrived. I will put up a link when it’s available.

Some previews, chosen more at less at random on the theme of “ruined buildings”:

Ruins of Tito’s mansion in Mostar, Bosnia i Herzegovina, 2002 {destroyed by war}

El Forat de la Vergonya, Barcelona, 2003{destroyed by gentrification}

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Angel Island

Angel Island. {Clearly} not by me

Friday, October 19, 2007

Fatal Explosion in Manila

An explosion Friday afternoon in a Metro Manila shopping mall left at least 9 dead and more than 100 injured. Investigations into the cause of the explosion are ongoing, but authorities have announced traces of high explosives were found on the scene and fingered the Abu Sayyaf Group as a prime suspect.

I was shocked and upset to read the news. But hardly surprised. At risk of sounding like a wingnut conspiracy theorist, I have to say: the timing of this attack is just way, way too convenient.

The already unpopular President Arroyo recently got busted for distributing sacks full of cash to legislators. These “cash gifts,” ranging in value from about US$4,000 to US$10,000 were distributed at the presidential palace during a meeting of allied politicians, with the fairly transparent goal of buying their loyalty as a new round of impeachment attempts reaches congress.

Unable to deny the incident after a few legislators spoke to the press, the administration’s attempts at damage control have bordered on the ridiculous – claiming that such “cash gifts” are standard rewards for a job well done and therefore nothing scandalous, arguing that the money came from private rather than public funds and is thus not subject to scrutiny, and asserting that President Arroyo was not actually in the room when the “gifts” were handed out and consequently should not be linked to them.

Needless to say, these explanations are a bit unsatisfactory, and quite a lot of people are quite upset by this latest episode in a long, long string of corruption scandals. And this time, the opposition is not only from the left or the middle class, but also from soldiers, who have recently been denied even the pittance of a $3 bonus they should be entitled to for combat pay because of a “lack of funds.”

In short: it’s a perfect time for a public tragedy -- preferably an act of terrorism -- which can rally the troops and the public around the president, and which will justify declaring of a state of emergency, putting the capitol under tight surveillance, banning large public gatherings and pressuring the media.

And look what just happened: an explosion in the heart of Metro Manila, at a shopping mall that caters to middle-class and upwardly mobile urban professionals (a core constituency for the anti-corruption movement).

I really don’t have any idea what happened, but it seems like the situation breaks down like this:

Could it have been the Abu Sayyaf, or a similar group?
Absolutely. There is definitely a precedent for terrorist attacks in Manila by forces in opposition to the state. This is not even the first time Glorietta Mall has been attacked -- in May 2000, a homemade bomb damaged a pedestrian bridge in the complex and injured 12 people. Moreover, the Abu Sayyaf has claimed responsibility for past bombings in Metro Manila, the most fatal a 2004 attack on a ferry in Manila Bay that killed over 100 people, and the most recent in 2005, when a bus in Makati, a mall in GenSan City and a bus station in Davao were attacked simultaneously.

Could the administration be responsible?
Absolutely. The first thing that comes to mind is the Plaza Miranda bombing in August 1971, the apex of several months of attacks all bearing (to quote Alfred McCoy’s “Closer than Brothers”) “the fingerprints of a military operation,” which killed 9 and injured 3 opposition senators at an opposition rally, and provided Marcos with the pretext for suspending the writ of habeas corpus and declaring Martial Law. I’m not saying Arroyo has necessarily reached a Marcos-esque level of depravity, but the hundreds of activists salvaged* on Arroyo’s watch bear profound testimony to this administration’s absolute disregard for human life when making decisions about regime maintenance. Furthermore, when opposition to Arroyo crested in February 2006, a conveniently timed and very ambiguous coup plot was “discovered,” which allowed Arroyo to declare a state of emergency, target opposition and independent media, and crack down on leftist leaders.

Another possibility?
The initial reports of police inspectors on the scene pointed to an explosion triggered by tanks of LP cooking gas in the mall. It was not until several hours later that authorities announced that traces of C4 explosives were found on the scene. Again, it makes perfect sense that conducting forensic work of this sort would take a couple of hours. But I’m unwilling to entirely rule out the possibility that the explosion was a freak accident that is now being cynically manipulated by the government.

I suspect we will never know what actually happened. But I can say, without a shadow of doubt, that regardless of who is responsible and why, this terrible incident has played directly into the hands of the Arroyo administration.

* [n.b.: salvage: Taglish slang for the practice of torturing political opponents to death, then leaving their mutilated corpses in public places to further terrorize the population at large – which is, revealingly, common enough to require its own word]

For footage of the aftermath of the explosion, with commentary in Tagalog, see:–-PNP

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The past is a foreign country...

Self-portrait, 1998

I've realized I have a tendancy not only to think of the past as a foreign country, but also to treat my earlier self as a citizen of that country -- a distant friend perhaps, with whom I share a past but not a present.
What a shock, and a needed one, to be reminded that we share the same body, the same brain and the same heart.

Friday, October 12, 2007


I went to a presentation today about the military crackdown of the recent uprising in Burma. Terrible, and disturbing in and of itself. But I managed, somehow, to sit and look pictures of beatings and corpses. Until one image flashed on the screen and I nearly had a breakdown.
It showed the inside of a monastery raided by the military, with broken glass, upended furniture and a pool of blood on the floor.
It wasn’t, by any means, the most graphic picture in the series. But it triggered ghosts of a trauma I thought I had managed to lay to rest.

It looked so much like images I still carry burned into my retinas that I almost vomited. I wanted to run out, but didn’t trust myself to squeeze out of the crowded room without freaking out worse, so I stayed in my chair and rode it out.
Just over six years ago, when I was 19 years old and living in Barcelona, I went to Genoa to join protests against the G8 summit. The entire experience was incredibly intense. What I remember most, these years later, is the feeling of menace. I’ve been to some fairly dodgy places in my life, but nowhere has compared to the palpable sense of danger I felt from the moment I set foot in the city until the moment I left, speeding out of the city through back roads afraid for my life. The pinnacle for me, or perhaps more accurately the darkest pit, was the raid on the Diaz school on July 21, where people participating in the Genoa Social Forum, including myself, had been staying during the summit.

I reprint below –typos and all-- an email I sent out the afternoon of July 22, 2001, which describes the situation with much more immediacy than anything I could possible write now.

hey. first i want to let everyone know that i am okay(physically at least). so are cj, shira, macia, soren,alessia and everyone from la fabrica. (sorry for thoseof you who don,t know these people, but i don`t have time or energy to write 2.
i dont know if youve heard anything about the raid on the indymedia center and the school across the street here in genoa. theres some pretty good general information about it at
when it happened i was sitting outside in front of the indymedia center, where there were some meetings going on. things had been pretty tense but it was late and i was very tired, and thinking about going to sleep. all of a sudden, somebody shouted police, and we looked up and saw lines and lines of riot police running down the street towards us. for a minute we nearly ran into the school that had been used as a sleeping place for GSF activists, but at the last minute we turned and ran into the indymedia center, just before the gate got shut. we closed the building up, and ran to the windows. i didnt get a good view, but people who were looking said that they saw the police drive a truck through the gate of the school, then run towards the building, screaming and throwing bottles. just after that the police came into the media center. they made all of us sit on the floor next to the wall, and then searched and trashed the building, taking as much legal support and networking databases as they could. the floor where i was was very tense, with the police walking up and down with sticks and yelling in italian, but after a while it relaxed a bit, and nobody got hurt. they kept us there for about 45 minutes without searching or id-ing anybody.
then they left and someone ran into the hall saying really shaken up saying they had massacred the people across the street. we ran out and there were lines and lines of riot police between us and the other building. they starting bringing stretchers into the building. they were going in and out for over an hour. people saw large black bags being carried out as well. it was hard to see much, but i know for sure that i saw one person being carried out on a stretcher still in his sleeping bag, with a bleeding headwound. it was awful. it just kept going on and on and on. and the tension kept mounting with the police as we were all screaming and crying. after they carried all of the stretchers out, and arrested everyone who could walk out, they ran back to their vans and left, leaving the building open.
when they were gone, we went to the building to tru and get peoples things out, and to try to see what had happened. there was blood everywhere, peoples bags dumped out and scattered, doors to anywhere someone could hide smashed open. everywhere it looked like people had been sleeping there were pools of blood. then the journalists came in and starting filming everything and anyone who was crying and it was even worse. i tried to keep focuse on saving peoples personal things, but i had to leave the building for a while after being in a stairwell with a bloody board lying in a huge pool of blood with a handfull of hair next to it. everywhere that in looked like people had been sleeping was covered in blood. there was blood all down the stairways and smeared all over the walls. there was a radiator with a big circle of blood on it and drips on the floor below. and the police left the building open for everyone to see it.
there were some people in the building who managed to get out by climbing onto scaffolding, and some who managed to hide. everyone has said that when the police came in everyone was just running and trying to get away, or asleep.
when the police would come into a room people would lie down on the floor and try not to provoke them, but that the police were obviosely enjoying themselves.
there still hasnt been a full list of everyone arrested and hospitalized released. crusty from petrushka in defenitly in the hospital with a head injury.
im afraid of being in this city, but the people from GSF seem to have abondoned everyone, so im staying to try and help with legal support. ive been really lucky so far and i hope it will last. people have been organizing safe places to sleep for those of us who are staying, so i should be fine.
but please, tell everyone you know about what has happened here. the media is really shutting it out and its really important that people know. anything you can do to try to raise attention (even forwarding this email if neccesary, removing the beginning bits) would be really appreciated by everyone.
take care
The end of this story is that there was no safe place to sleep in Genoa that night. The list of those arrested and hospitalized did come out that afternoon. 62 people were beaten into the hospital, nearly all of them with head trauma. Almost everyone involved in the demonstrations had fled town, with most of the organizers from the larger NGO’s regrouping in Milan.
My instinct for self-preservation is stronger than this story may suggest – though I did, after all, at least have the sense to run to the building full of journalists when the riot police showed up – but after what I had witnessed, leaving town while people were still in the hospital seemed unconscionable. It came down to just a few of us left in the media center trying to coordinate some sort of local clearinghouse for information and to get the arrestee’s belongings to safe places.
As night fell, though, it became clear that staying in Genoa any longer would’ve been suicidal. We were being tailed by police as we tried to go to a place to sleep. Some signals were made which, according to my Italian friends, were unambiguously death threats. I don’t even remember exactly how we got out of the city, but I remember almost not being able to breathe from fear until we got onto the autostrada towards Torino.
In the immediate aftermath, the degree to which I’d been traumatized was clear. The next day was the only time in my life I’ve ever gotten so drunk I couldn’t take my own shoes off. I was living in a fog I couldn’t crawl out of until I went into the Alps to sit in the forest for a few days. When I visited Torino a few years later, I recognized nothing in the city. I still haven’t been back to Genoa.
But I thought I’ve been able to put the experience behind me. It’s not something I ever talk about. I honestly don’t think I’d even thought about it in years. But I learned today, it still cuts pretty deep, and probably always will.

If the description above isn’t graphic enough, there’s a film at:

Monday, October 08, 2007


I listen to classical music so rarely that I sometimes forget how much I love it.
But an afternoon spent trying to drown out background library chatter has reminded me that certain pieces, like Satie's Gymnopedies, can transport me in a way that almost nothing else can.

When I got home this afternoon I was inspired to play my violin, for the first time in longer than I care to admit.
At times, I'm frustrated by the limits my diminished motor skills impose. I simply no longer have the kind of precise muscular control I had when I was 15. I struggle through music I mastered as a teenager, and it's hard to imagine having the drive -- or the time -- for the consistent, disciplined practice it would take to get back up to a reasonable level of proficiency.
It's still a joy, though, just to play. To draw my bow across the strings and hear the bright, clean sharpness of a perfectly-tuned E string, the murky complexity of a minor scale, or the exacting precision of a Bach Minuet.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The eucalyptus grove -- my favorite place on the UC Berkeley campus.
I wish these photos could capture the smell of sunlight hitting the leaves drying on the forest floor.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Oh, I am so bad.
Looks like I'm back to posting about how I don't ever post.
School seems to do this to me.
What can I say? By and large, I find what I'm doing in school interesting. Which is why I'm here. But it doesn't make for great narrative. As in -- I actually spent a fair chunk of my day in a very involved discussion about how to best diagram the fluid and variegated nature of the plural society that existed (according to some, but not all scholars) in the Burma Delta in the early twentieth century.
Actually though, today was a rather more interesting day than usual. I had the opportunity to have lunch with Zainah Anwar, the executive director of Sisters in Islam a feminist group based in Malaysia. Apart from offering a very interesting vision of Islam, one that manages to be both iconoclastic and devout, she was a fun person to get to hang out with for a bit. I am planning to write a profile of her for a class assignment, so more on her later.
I also had the chance to attend a screening of Agent Orange: A Personal Requiem by Masako Sakata, a visiting scholar from Japan at the J School. Her husband, an American Vietnam veteran, took ill and died, quite suddenly, at the age of 54. Masako's search for insight into the underlying causes of his death pointed increasingly to his exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Eventually, her own personal quest to survive his death led Masako to travel throughout Vietnam, meeting Vietnamese villagers who suffer from diseases they believe are caused by the dioxin in Agent Orange, and whose children suffer from horrible birth defects, even 3 generations after the war.
It was a difficult film to watch -- lots of long, lovingly shot cuts of terribly deformed children -- but very moving, especially because Masako's personal journey is so much a part of the story.
Unfortunately, the film is unlikely to get much distribution in the U.S., but keep an eye out for it.
...And now that I've cracked the guilt barrier about posting, perhaps I'll be writing more.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It never gets any easier.
A friend...can I say friend? For someone I once wanted, had, lost? Someone who did terrible harm to people I love?
And I hesitate, because it seems wrong to speak ill of the dead, but worse to speak falsely.
So, I’ll say he never had a chance. He was utterly destroyed by this world. Broken, beautiful, desperate, angry and lost.
I wish I was more surprised, and less heartbroken.
In all honesty, I never thought he’d make it to 25.
26. Suicide.
Words fail – RIP Shane Russell Martin.

Friday, September 14, 2007

walking home, bone tired, the air tastes of rosemary
this city has its own consolations

Friday, September 07, 2007

2 weeks in.

I feel a lot better about school than I did a week ago. My schedule is more or less set, about half my classes are in the Journalism school, and I have keys, computer access, a mailbox, a webpage, and even a locker there now. It’s a good thing I have so much practice at being a squeaky wheel.

There are a lot of things about grad school that still make me uncomfortable. Or, to be more precise, about academic culture, in which so much of what goes on seems to be purely self-referential.
I’ve gone on about this before, but it hasn’t stopped bothering me that there often seems to be a tendency among academics to be completely divorced from reality, to the point of being concerned more about the field than the subject.

I don’t want to think this comes down to a lack of faith in knowledge in the abstract. There is, and I think will always be, part of me that is inspired by any pursuit undertaken out of genuine passion, even if it’s not demonstrably useful. After all, it’s pretty hard to justify art in concrete terms, but I’d hate to live in a world without it. And you could definitely make a case for even the most esoteric study of literature or prehistory as rooted in a desire for insight into the human condition.

But I’m very discouraged by a lot of work and talk that seems to be motivated by one-upmanship, making a name for oneself, and the other petty vices of academic politics. The academy can seem like an airless world, where whatever spark of curiosity students start off with is more easily extinguished than ignited.

It makes me more certain I was right to kick and scream until I got more access to the journalism school. The field of journalism is definitely not innocent of back-stabbing, self-aggrandizement, intellectual laziness and a thousand other crimes great and small. But because of the very nature of the profession, the public, the wider world, is always at the forefront of journalists’ minds.
And people here, so far, do seem to be very concerned not only with trying to explore, understand and explain the world, but also with the impact their work has on society as a whole.
After a few hours discussing what someone said about someone else’s article about pre-modern history, it’s refreshing to go to a class with people who write, or intend to write, about Asia, and be forced to examine how media coverage of non-violent vs. violent protests feeds into social instability.

I’m hoping a balance between the two will keep me sane. And honest.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Q: Who assigns a thousand pages of reading in the first 2 weeks? Excuse me, 994 pages. Wouldn't want to get overdramatic here.
A: One of my history professors, who shall go unnamed. Grad school is awesome.

On the other hand, I will no longer have the pressing problem of what to do with my free time in a city where I still only know a few people.

And it's kind of nice to get back into a familiar routine, even if that routine involves spending a lot of time in the library hating life.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Grad School...

So, I start grad school on Monday. Academically, I don’t expect it to be too big a jump, since I was taking mostly graduate level courses last year. But it still feels like a huge step to be taking, and the past few days haven’t been very reassuring.
I’m in an odd position, because I’m doing a program that almost nobody else has ever done. Both the Asian Studies program and the Journalism school promote their dual degree programs, but neither seems terribly prepared for students to actually enroll in them. Asian studies doesn’t quite know what to do with me, because I’m a journalism student. On top of that, I’m doubly isolated by being a Southeast Asianist in a program that’s dominated by Chinese and Japanese studies. On a more positive note, though, it’s a very small class [4 students this year, the other 3 studying Japan], so we do all have access to a lot of personal attention, and my advisor in the program seems very supportive.
The journalism school, on the other hand, appears to have written me off completely. I won’t start taking their sequence of intensive reporting classes until next year, so apparently, I do not exist to them. Which means, for example, that I was not invited to attend the orientation session and get to know the faculty and other students. I only found out about it because I happened to stop by the school looking for some information, and noticed signs pointing the way to “New student orientation.” Which, by then, was pretty much over. Fantastic. And then I was told that I’m “not really a journalism student yet.” Which was the first I’d heard of this, and a bit of a surprise, considering that one of the major selling points of the dual degree program is that students are supposed to have full access to both departments [which in the case of the J school includes career services, a lot of really nice equipment, and other perks I’ve been eagerly looking forward to] while studying here. So, once again, I find myself having to fight with the administration of the Journalism school before even getting started. A situation, eerily, and unfortunately, reminiscent of Madison. And a great way to get started.
Do other people have to do this? I feel like my entire academic career has been marked by epic battles between me and the administration.
I’m trying to stay positive, though, and look at the school’s disorganization about dual degree programs as an opportunity to design my own course of studies the way I want it.
Provided, of course, that I don’t mind butting heads with bureaucrats at every step of the way.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Visiting the DC area has become an exercise in disorientation rather than nostalgia. Getting off at my old metro stop, there is almost nothing I can recognize. The supermarket down the block from my parents’ old house now has a Starbucks in it.
I spent most of a day walking through the city, barely able to navigate neighborhoods I lived in as a teenager, getting hungrier and hungrier because all of the places where I could think of to eat aren’t there anymore.
Virtually no one that I grew up with lives there now, and of those who do, a (to me) shockingly high percentage of them live with their parents, even if they have “grown up” jobs. The rest have basically become, to their discomfort, the shock troops of gentrification -- living in marginal neighborhoods where they can still afford the rent, finding their presence as young, mostly white, artists and activists makes those neighborhoods more attractive for development, at which point they (along with the rest of the neighborhood) can no longer afford to live there, and have to move somewhere else and start the cycle over.
There’s something a bit sad about realizing that even if I were so inclined, nothing in my near future makes it look economically feasible to settle down where I grew up. I mean, it certainly doesn’t cost more to rent in DC than in the Bay Area, but it’s not like there are interesting old fixer-uppers to buy in reasonable neighborhoods. They’ve all been torn down to build condos and McMansions.
It seems like most of my friends feel this way. That, or they’re from small towns where moving back is impossible, not because of an influx of money that has priced them out of the market, but because as manufacturing and family farms dry up, there is simply nothing to move back to.
I wonder which feels stranger?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dancing Prisoners

Prisoners in an overcrowded cell, La Trinindad Prison, Benguet

I'm usually pretty well insulated from the latest internet sensations, but given my interest in prisons and prisoners in the Philippines, friends have seen fit to alert me to the youtube phenomenon of the dancing inmates of Cebu jail.
[For those even more clueless than I am: a thousand or so elaborately choreographed inmates dancing to an odd assortment of music from the eighties, most notably Michael Jackson's "Thriller."]
And I really can't decide what to think.
Part of me can't help but love it for being so bizarrely, quintessentially Filipino. In a country where daytime television shows open with routines by groups with names like "Viva Hot Babes" and the "Sex Bomb Dancers" and cabbies unwind after their noon to 4 am shifts by tunelessly moaning along to schmaltzy pop songs at sidewalk eateries cum videoke bars, the sight of a thousand orange jump suited inmates dancing in unison to the Village People makes a certain kind of sense that I suspect it probably wouldn't anywhere else in the world. [I miss my hyphen key]
Not to mention that the lead role in some of the ensembles is danced by a bakla [neither transvestite, transgendered or drag queen quite precisely translates, but you get the picture], in prison and surrounded by a thousand or so inmates, and no one seems to find this the least bit odd.
And then, of course, I'm always in favor of dancing, and of things that help to humanize prisoners in the eyes of the public. And just about anything is better than sitting in a cell all day.
And yet, I suspect there's some back story here that we're not getting. I did a somewhat desultory search [hey, i'm also trying to move, write, establish residency, etc.] and really couldn't figure out if participation was voluntary or compulsory, how many hours of practice people were doing a day, how people were chosen for roles, or really any details at all.
More than anything else though, I'm afraid these videos trivialize the problems of prisons in the Philippines and in the third world in general. [the larger problem of the entire concept of prison systems is too big an issue to tackle right here and now]
It's possible, and I sincerely hope, that the prison in Cebu is an exception. But when I visited prisoners in the Philippines, I was confronted with brutalized, hungry, ill inmates kept in conditions so appalling that thinking about it still shakes me up. A few excerpts from a report I wrote last summer:
The prisoners lack even basic necessities. They are not provided with soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent or other toiletries. Each cell is given food rations, which they are responsible for cooking for themselves. The rations are insufficient and sometimes arrive only every other day. Some of the prisoners report that at times they have nothing to eat but rice and salt.... Overcrowding also increases the physical hardship in the prison. The cells do not have enough beds for all of the prisoners, so some double up and the rest ... sleep on the concrete floor. The cells themselves are exposed to the elements. One wall and the ceiling are just bars facing an open corridor. Benguet province is one on the coldest parts of the Philippines, and in the winter months the temperature can be close to freezing. The prisoners are only allowed to leave their cells once a week for a 15-minute sunbath, which is cancelled if it is raining at the scheduled time. Consequently, colds, flu’s, and fevers are rampant in the prison. Medicine to treat these problems is not easily available.

You get the idea.

torture victims [since released] in La Trinidad

18 year old torture victim [since released]

this little corner was the designated "bed" of the prisoner above.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I really don't have enough information to know whether these dance routines, and the attention they've gotten, are a good thing for the specific prisoners involved in them, I suspect that it's going to make serious debate about prison reforms in the Philippines even more difficult than it already is.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I have mostly been doing things that, while important, don't make for very interesting reading.
I got a new [old] bike yesterday, I sign a lease tomorrow, and will start moving to the East Bay after that. I finally made up my mind and made plans to go out to the East Coast for about a week in August.
Otherwise, I've been trying to explore the city, get a feel for the social scene, catch up on correspondence and generally enjoy having time in which I can do such things without feeling stressed or guilty about unfulfilled obligations.
I've been reading a lot as well. On my desk right now: Andrei Makine's Dreams of my Russian Summers, and Miranda July's No one belongs here more than you, very different books, both of which I've been enjoying.
I thought about putting up a picture of my bike, but decided I'm not feeling like that much of a nerd today. Maybe some time in the next few days, I'll try to take a picture of it somewhere more interesting than the hallway.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

At last...

My desk, upon completion of my article on Basilan
Now I just need a place to live...
[Because as nice as this desk is when it's not totally overrun with books and tapes and papers, it's in the wrong city]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Writer's block. A fancy word for procrastination?
I just know that I'm having to rip every single word of the article I'm working on out of me like I'm pulling a tooth.
I often wonder if everybody sometimes hates doing the things they love quite as much as I do.
I spent some time this afternoon biking around, trying to clear my head. I think it's going to be good for me to live in a place where I have easy access to open water. It always makes me feel less nuts. Even in Manila, I would go down to the bay when I felt like I couldn't handle the city any longer. It's still polluted and congested, but if you close your eyes and listen to the water against the rocks, you can almost forget

This is actually probably the most awkward shot I took of the bridge, but the only one that came out reasonably in focus. I'm excited that I'll have access to fancy professional digital slr cameras once the semester starts!

Transcribing, transcribing, transcribing

"If I look at the provisions of the antiterror law, I would not trust even the most upright government with them, much less a government which has actually a very questionable track record with respecting human rights and the civil liberties of its citizens."
Interview with Atty. Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez, Director of the University of the Philippines Institute of Human Rights, on the new antiterror law in the Philippines. [modeled guessed it...the USA PATRIOT ACT]

"At the very least, there was a certain measure of shame before....The brazenness now is really something else, and that is actually particularly alarming as far as I’m concerned. ... Before, if you raised concerns, at the very least the government would attempt, even on a very shallow surface level, to make some sort of conciliatory gestures. It would not say, ‘well, sue us,’ which is the attitude right now, by many many officials in government."
Gutierrez on impunity under the current administration

"There were human rights abuses before. Illegal arrests, torture, detention. But what is different now under Arroyo is the extent of killings of political activists. In fact, there’s an ugly joke going around that they don’t anymore have to feed them. Because during the Marcos time, and Ramos and other administrations, they would arrest an activist, or torture him at the most. But at least they were alive, they kept them in detention later to be released. But now, they’re not arresting them anymore. They just kill them."
Prof. Ronald Simbulan, UP Diliman, on the rise of human rights abuses under the Arroyo administration.

Some quotes that may not make it into anything else. Just to give an idea of what I'm doing with my time these days.
One of the lovely things about doing research in the Philippines is how generous people are with their time, once you've gone through the rigmarole of getting in touch and establishing some sort of credentials.
Even busy people with titles will sit and talk to you for hours on end.
The thing is though, you've got to transcribe it all later. And trust me, after hours of listen/stop/type/rewind/double check/repeat, dozens of pages, aching wrists and watering eyes, you start to wish for a few thirty second sound bites.

Friday, July 20, 2007


"My street" in Quezon City

Apparently, I am now a real Californian, having slept through my first earthquake last night. I've been horribly jetlagged, wasn't able to fall asleep until around 4 am, and the quake came through around 4:45, so I must have been completely passed out.
I've generally been feeling a bit disoriented since I got back. Somehow, the disruption to my body flying east in always much worse than flying west. I set an alarm for 11 am, and still didn't manage to get up until after 1 pm when someone called and woke me up. And I could fall asleep right now if I let myself.
I went to the grocery store yesterday and felt like a slack jawed yokel. I had a moment of slight panic faced with the selection of thirty different kinds of olive oil. I was only away for three weeks, there are big modern grocery stores in Philippine cities, and I was in the neighborhood coop here, not some fluorescent lit behemoth chain store, so it shouldn't have been such a shock, but it was. Even the best appointed grocery stores in the Philippines, while they may have a wide variety of products, do not have anywhere near the variety of brands. You can buy vegetable oil in a pouch, a small, medium or large bottle. Perhaps, if you're lucky, you can find a bottle of olive oil. But that's the extent of it.
So there I was, standing in front of an entire shelf full of olive oil, utterly at a loss. In the end, I just grabbed the smallest bottle and called it a day.
Complaining aside though, while I'll never dispute the charms of shuffling through a public market with tarp roof 3 inches shorter than me buying deliciously fresh produce off of blankets and carts, it was certainly nice to be able to push a cart around a bright clean store and pull food I've been fantasizing about for weeks off of the shelf.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Arrived in California earlier tonight.
It was actually supposed to be yesterday, but the flight was overbooked, they were offering a free roundtrip ticket between San Francisco and Manila to anyone who could fy out the next day, and I had an extra day on my visa, so...
Looks like I'm going back next summer, maybe even for some vacation time.
I'm a bit too jetlagged to write much more, and using a borrowed computer in someone else's room, so I'll write more later.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Photos from Zamboanga

Blogging as work avoidance.
In any case, here are some photos in the thirty minutes I was able to spend as a tourist in Zamboanga city. Not the best composed, but I was conspicuous enough without waving a camera around all over the place.
Fort Pilar

Rio Hondo Mosque

The very tip of the Zamboanga Peninsula

Near the Zamboanga City port. If this photo were a bit higher resolution, you could see Basilan in the background. It's the second island away.