Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Helpless and hopeless

This is my column today.

There are many problems plaguing the educational system in our country, but two of these have been on top of everyone’s mind lately because they have been the subjects of intense media attention in the last few weeks. And rightly so because these two problems are indicative of what’s seriously wrong with our educational system. The problems are the erroneous textbooks for elementary pupils and high school students and the rising cost of education in the country.

Actually, what is really worse is that the government agencies that are supposed to have oversight functions over textbooks and tuition increases seem helpless and hopeless and have been repeatedly caught on television wringing their hands in frustration and openly admitting that they can’t do anything about these problems.

It’s bad enough that we have these problems. Now we have government people openly saying there is nothing they can do about them.

Let’s first discuss this embarrassing problem with textbooks with glaringly erroneous content. Antonio Calipjo Go, director of a private school in Metro Manila, has seemingly turned the advocacy into a major passion so that he is often pictured as a modern-day Don Quixote battling the windmills. He has published paid advertisements, appeared in various television shows, and written tons of articles on the subject.

And at the rate he is uncovering erroneous content in textbooks—why, he was on television again the other night pointing out yet another error in a textbook for grade school pupils—it seems he is man who does nothing but read textbook after textbook.

For this feat alone, the man needs to be commended. Who the heck derives pleasure from reading textbooks? And textbooks for elementary and high school students, at that! Unless of course if one wants a spot on the game show “Kakasa ka ba sa Grade Five?”

What is truly strange about the whole thing is that nobody has been able to prove Go wrong. Every time he comes up with a new list of errors he had recently discovered in some textbooks, the best that the authors - and the publishers of the books in question as well as the government people who are supposed to regulate textbooks—could come up with are the usual pronouncements about conducting a review of the textbooks in question. In simpler English, nothing. And then of course, there is the usual attempt to shoot the messenger. Go’s motivations and agenda have been questioned many times. I think he has been threatened with several lawsuits.

I completely empathize with the people at the Education Department. Being accused of stupidity over an oversight can be a blow to the ego. I know. I just did a major blunder in my column last Monday (more on this later in this piece). This may come across as self-serving, but for crying out loud, making a mistake once or twice is acceptable. But when the mistakes are recurring and there seems to be no structural or systemic interventions put in place to ensure non-repetition, then we do have a major problem in our hands.

The officials at the Education Department have come up with a number of excuses—but so far, no clear action plan about how to correct the problem. A high-ranking official at the DepEd who asked not to be identified actually told me that there’s really very little that can be done to correct the problem because the publication of textbooks is hopelessly tangled in bureaucratic red tape and trying to sort out the mess will require a number of systemic interventions. I guess what he was trying to say was that there’s a lot of well-entrenched corruption schemes in place and solving the problem will require superhuman political will, something that does not seem to rank high up in the list of competences for government officials in this country.

A large part of the mismatch problem between what academe produces and what industry needs can actually be traced back to problems at the elementary education level. Certain competencies and skills are strengthened at a young age. So erroneous textbooks can have far-reaching implications.

The other problem that’s been top of mind lately is the rising cost of education in this country. On account of the difficulties being encountered by many due to the global recession, there’s been this clamor for a freeze in tuition fee increases. A number of educational associations have appealed to their member institutions not to increase tuition in June. The problem is that educational institutions are not insulated from the recession as well. Many of our colleges and universities are corporations that need to be profitable. They also need to pay salaries, rising overhead expenses, etc.

But surprise, surprise, even the Commission on Higher Education has jumped on the bandwagon and has been pleading, on bended knees, with the owners of colleges and universities for them not to implement tuition increases. Their reasoning is that they don’t have the authority to stop colleges from implementing increases. When a government body supposedly mandated with oversight functions admits that it is helpless and inutile, then heaven help us, we’re screwed big time.

Come on, CHED commissioners. There is always something you can do to put pressure on colleges and universities. The President did order a freeze in tuition fee increases last year, didn’t she? So it can be done. And there are actually other things that the CHED can do if they really want to. Perhaps I am just very Machiavellian, but crisis situations such as the one we are going through right now require drastic measures.

I don’t know about you but I find it bothersome and annoying when government officials publicly admit that they are helpless and can’t do anything about a problem. To my mind, if they don’t’ have solutions and can’t fix the problems then they should just give up their posts and let someone else do the job.

***

I’ve been forewarned that there will be a time when as a columnist I would make a stupid error of fact—one that is so blatantly erroneous I would feel like banging my head against any hard surface. My column last Monday made an erroneous reference to EDSA Dos. What can I say; I didn’t know what was going through my mind at that time when I was writing that piece.

I can cite a number of excuses—I wrote it under very stressful conditions having had only 30 minutes of sleep during the previous night and while running a training program at that—but really, there’s no plausible justification. I simply didn’t bother to recheck what I wrote and just dashed it off. The funny thing was that the error hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks when I woke up Monday morning—it was literally the first thing that came to mind when I woke up after a good night’s rest. Obviously, it was too late by then. I did issue an erratum in my blog as soon as I had access to the Net.

I apologize for the error and thank you to those who pointed it out without being turning sanctimonious. There. I’m going to go bang my head against the wall again now.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Not all gloom and doom

I’ve been forewarned that there will be times when as a columnist I would make a stupid error of fact – one that is so blatantly erroneous I would feel like banging my head against any hard surface.  I just did in my column today.  And I am so mortified by it.  It actually hit me when I woke up today and I felt like I had a heart attack.

What can I say.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  There’s no justification for it – even the fact that I barely had 30 minutes of sleep Saturday night and I wrote this column while running a training program (during the times when participants would be doing workshops or group discussions).  I really meant EDSA DAY, not EDSA DOS.  And what I really meant to say was that I don’t think Cory Aquino is still affected by it all anyway and the non-declaration of EDSA DAY as a holiday makes the President look ungrateful. 

I apologize.  Sincerely. I’m going to bang my head against the wall again now.

What follows is my embarrassing column today.


Now that media has stopped sensationalizing the layoffs and retrenchment programs that some companies were forced to implement as a result of the global recession, perhaps it is time to assess the labor and employment situation in a more sober and objective way.

I’ve written in this space about the need to present a more balanced picture of the labor and employment situation in our country. I know that certain industries were hit badly—foremost among them the semiconductor industry. However, if we are to be really objective about it, the situation in our country is not really as bad as what was being projected a couple of weeks back. If we were to go by the kind of reportage that was being put out there at that time, it would seem as if the employment situation in the country was on the brink of total collapse.

True, Intel and other semi-conductor companies retrenched hundreds of people last month. News stories about the layoffs were presented as if they were atomic bombs. The truth is that the decisions to retrench were not made overnight—many of the companies put in place exit plans for their employees, provided career counseling, and some even conducted training programs to soften the impact of the retrenchment on their people.

These things didn’t make it to the news reports.

I don’t mean to belittle the effect of the retrenchment on the affected employees or their families. I am sure that the loss of employment posed consequences for most of them. However, it is also important to point out that things weren’t as bad as what many would have us believe, precisely because we needed to give people reason to hope and investors the motivation to continue projects that would generate or at least sustain employment.

I had the chance to interact with Secretary Marianito Roque of the Labor Department last week at the general membership meeting of the Bankers Council for People Management where he was the keynote speaker. Either Roque has changed his repertoire of talking points from the gloomy to the upbeat, or the media have not been fair to the man and were only quoting his previous statements selectively. The Roque that I interacted with last week was far detached from the Roque that I saw on many television news reports and read about being quoted in many newspapers the other week.

He didn’t seem like the Secretary of No Labor of Unemployment anymore.

According to Roque, the jobs that have been lost so far and those that will be lost in the next few weeks or months as the result of the global recession are “recoverable.”

He cited facts and statistics to buttress his argument. For example, the jobs that were lost in the 1997 Asian financial contagion (87,000, he said) were double compared to the total number expected to be lost in the current recession (34,000 tops, he said).

Roque admitted that the effect on the country’s export sector has been major, with semiconductor and electronics firms taking the hardest blow. However, he noted that the business process outsourcing industry is posting a 25-percent growth, which should translate into some 100,000 additional jobs (clearly more than the 34,000 jobs that are projected to be lost). What’s more, he said that the agricultural sector is still posting growth rates. Banana plantations are hiring people, the abaca industry is enjoying an upsurge in global demand (we own 80 percent of the global abaca market), and pineapple and tuna remain viable industries.

What about dwindling opportunities for migrant workers? The honorable secretary pooh-poohed the doomsday scenario painted by the usual bellyachers. He said that our overseas workers do need not to feel threatened because with the sole exception of Taiwan, the other countries have not really started laying off migrant workers. Taiwan allegedly has reversed its initial reaction to the global recession when Taiwanese businessmen realized that sending Filipino workers home would have severe effect on their manpower quotas and have now opted to retain foreign workers at minimum wages instead. Roque said that the country has a total of—hold your breath now— 400,000 unfilled job orders for abroad. Qatar alone has issued 120,924 visas for Filipino workers.

So as you can see, the employment situation is not really all gloom and doom. The question is: How come this information is not out there side by side with the bad news?

***

Today is a holiday for students—and their teachers and their school administrators, of course; but it is regular working day for everyone else. According to Malacañang, the reason why the anniversary of Edsa Dos (EDSA DAY - bong) is not being officially commemorated this year through a holiday is because the business community has already complained about there being too many non-working holidays for 2009.

Since when has this administration been concerned with popularity or being at the right side of things? And what does it say of us when we subject holidays to the pleasures or displeasures of a particular sector? Granting, for the sake of argument, that there are already too many holidays scheduled this year, the question that still needs to be answered is: Why was Edsa Dos the one that was bumped off the calendar? Is giving in to the business sector a valid reason to cancel the declaration of a special holiday?

To be fair, the Palace is right—the business community, or at least those from the business process outsourcing and manufacturing industries, have indeed complained about there being too many holidays this year. In case people forget, holidays increase overhead as companies have to shell out extra for holiday pay. And truth be told, there are more than enough holidays already and there will probably be more non-working days since we happen to be visited by typhoons on a regular basis. In addition, we also have this predilection of sending employees home during heavy downpours when streets get flooded and traffic gets hopelessly gridlocked.

Still, the non-declaration sent a number of loose tongues wagging. It’s indicative of the sorry lack of credibility of this administration that everything it does is subject to speculation and given political color. One of the theories that I heard being floated was that the non-declaration was made to spite former President Cory Aquino on account of that unthinkable apology she made to Joseph Estrada. (What follows should have been deleted! - bong a.) What has Cory Aquino got to do with Edsa Dos? If there’s anyone who benefited from Edsa Dos, it is Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as she rose to power on the strength of that uprising. So if there is anyone who should feel slighted by the snub or who comes across as ungrateful, it should be the President herself.

I’ve written about the many implications of not having clear-cut policies on, or in many cases, a failure to observe policies related to the proper implementation of holidays. What we have now is yet another manifestation of this problem. My problem is that it seems the declaration of holidays has become the sole prerogative of Malacañang, something that has become subject to the whims and caprices of the people who walk the corridors of powe

Thursday, February 19, 2009

25 Random Things

I posted this in my Facebook account after being poked and tagged so many times to do it. Since a number of bloggers also tagged me for this meme, I decided to post it here too.

1. I can be obsessive compulsive about certain things such as finishing tasks on time, or producing outputs that are more than what is expected. Sometimes people kid me that I have the tendency to go overboard with certain things. For example, I think at least 10 people have tagged me for this 25 random things (in Facebook and in my blog) but I didn’t want to do it until I had the time to give it a real effort. Fortunately, midterms sa Benilde so I had time to do it while my students labored over their exams. Hehe.

2. I love pets and I don’t discriminate. I love dogs and cats (I have a black Labrador – Altus; and a white pusakal- Fluffy); I also have an aquarium with parrot fishes and an albino oscar fish, a pair of breeding African lovebirds (they produced a lone offspring which died of loneliness, I think). I used to have other animals – crayfish in a bowl, green turtles, hamsters, etc.

3. I am a sucker for lost causes. I seem to be a magnet for clingy, needy, dependent individuals who take up so much of my time.

4. I keep a crazy schedule. I have a fulltime job as senior executive of a major universal bank – a job which is stressful enough as it is. I teach evenings at the De La Salle College of Saint Benilde (this term, I teach four times a week), write a column for the opinion page of the Manila Standard Today, does regular management consulting work for three companies, and is chairman of the board of trustees of the Remedios AIDS Foundation. In addition, I am active in various professional and civic organizations. I’ve been promising myself that I will slow down and give up some of these commitments…but it seems my system needs to be reacquainted with the mathematical concept called “deduction.”

5. I am single now. Been single for almost three years. This doesn’t mean I don’t have a love life or a sex life, though. Given my schedule and my commitments, I think it wouldn’t be fair to be in a romantic relationship with anyone.

6. I collect art. Yeah, I know it sounds expensive but I see it as investment. I have more than 50 pieces now – but mostly young artists and a few established names, none worth six digits yet, mind. Am trying to save up for them. I have a Baldemor, a Bencab, a Martinez, a Cacnio, two Baddons, two Yap-Baguios, a Gonzales, a Pingol, a couple of de la cruzes, etc. I am now saving up for my first Belleza. I have recently bought abstract pieces – an Enhambre and a Cristobal. These are in addition to a collection of Asian art pieces such as masks, sculptures, etc.

7. I am a packrat. I have boxes and boxes of stuff that really should have been thrown away a long time ago (yes, including love letters from significant others back when I was in College and test papers of students from another decade). I have tapes (yes, cassette tapes!) from my College years such as the soundtrack of Princess Bride and Hooked on Classics, Deodato, Tadao Hayashi, etc).

8. My major luxury (in addition to my art collection), are books and cufflinks. The last time I moved house, my books alone took up 80 boxes. I am not much of a jewelry person. Although I have about 8 watches, most of these were given to me as gifts. I only have a couple of gold chains (most of my necklaces are costume jewelry – leather straps with ethnic pendants such as semi-precious gems). But I like wearing cufflinks. 80% of my shirts have French cuffs that require cuff links. Did I say I love cufflinks already?

9. I like shirts that have white collars and cuffs. I don’t know why.

10. I go for scents that are “woodsy” and “earthy” – with a hint of oak, cinnamon, etc. My all-time favorite scent is Grey Flannel, which unfortunately is not anymore readily available in the market.

11. I have recently become a MacBook convert. I still lug around my trusty ASUS laptop as back up, but most of my work is now being done on my new MacBook. I hope to be able to shift 100% to Mac in a couple of weeks.

12. I grew up under the care of female figures who were diehard Noranians. Thus, I know practically every movie Nora Aunor has made in her whole lifetime. I grew up promding promdi and was into John and Marsha, Big Ike’s Happening, and Filipino movies. I think my mind got a bit warped from watching too many Joey Gosiengfiao and Cloyd Robinson movies as an adolescent (Temptation Island! Underage! Bomba Star!).

13. My favorite colors are blue and orange. Most of my shirts and ties are in these two colors. There was a time when I also collected blue bottles – but I stopped when I filled a whole cabinet of them. Now the bottles occupy the ledge at the staircase in my house. I would have to give these away eventually, the way I gave away a large part of my angel collection a couple of years back. Pack rat nga e.

14. I used to be able to sense supernatural presence, but I guess I closed my “third eye.” It’s a long story. Here’s the quick version: I was a blue baby and until the time I was 7, was visited everyday by the local albularyo who would perform rituals and recite incantations in Latin. When she died, I could recite all the prayers (one more thing about me: I used to have photographic memory).

15. I’ve had three major surgeries – all done within a span of three months in 2007. I had a mastoidectomy (they had to clean an infected mastoid bone – the one that connects the ear to the brain), a tymphanoplasty (they fixed my eardrums), and then I had surgery done on my lower back. Now I have fear of going under the knife again and I hope I won’t have to ever again.

16. I like teaching. I really do. I get a lot of fulfillment from watching the way students’ eyes would light up when they get it. I like the interaction inside a classroom although I will admit to having a short fuse when students don’t engage their minds before opening their mouths. I get irked when it becomes obvious that my students are not even thinking but simply talking mindlessly!

17. I like deep, profound, longgggggggg conversations. I used to do this a lot with my friends and with my students. Last time I did this with Sonny, CV, Raven, Chesca and Marvin, we ended up at 2am.

18. I am Kuya in the family and sometimes it seems to me that I play this role even to my parents. I tend to spoil my siblings – I rarely say no to them. But they also fear me a lot. I have a really wonderful relationship with them – except with one brother whom I have not spoken to for almost one year now.

19. I read a lot. I carry a book with me everywhere because I hate being stuck with nothing to read. Every time I come across a book that someone recommended or wrote a glowing review of, I get the compulsion to go and pick it up at the bookstore even if I have a reading backlog that extends from here to forever. I have hundreds of books that I haven’t read yet – I keep telling myself these are retirement books, stuff I am saving up to read at my old age.

20. I don’t like visual porn such as videos or pictures. I prefer stories.

21. If there is something that I wish I don’t have, it would be hyperacidity. I have a terrible case of acid reflux and some days the pain is terrible. I love coffee and it is sad that I can’t drink the stuff anymore. Sigh.

22. The person I would consider the love of my life passed away under very tragic circumstances 15 years ago – a victim of a mysterious crime that has not been solved to this day. To this day, the password I use in my computer and in all my email accounts is a greeting addressed to “my angel in heaven.” So in effect, every time I open my PC or my email accounts, I send a greeting.

23. I have difficulty sleeping. Turning off the computer in my mind is such a difficult thing to do I end up tossing and turning and doing all kinds of things just to be able to sleep. When all else fails, I take a pill. I also have a terrible case of claustrophobia. I can’t sleep without lights on. I can’t ride an elevator alone. The one time I got stuck in an elevator during a brownout, I almost died.

24. I come from a family of chefs and artists but I seldom cook or make art nowadays. But when seized by the right mood and inspiration, I can whip up a really mean pasta. I also have a special recipe for chicken pandan and fried spare ribs that my students seem to like. No, I don’t see myself being inspired to cook anytime soon so don’t bother.

25. Last, I guess I will admit to being incurably romantic. Yeah, go ahead and snicker. But I do like cuddling up to someone, or reading a book while curled up in someone’s lap, or going off on long walks with someone that makes the walk worthwhile, or having brunch that end up as afternoon merienda because you both woke up late and spent a good part of the meal reading the papers or just talking or teasing each other…or….

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dad at 13

This is my column today.

As I write, I am trying to rack my brains trying to remember what I was doing when I was 13 years old.

I am going to spare you the details of my quick trek down memory lane and just be really candid and admit that although I am sure I didn’t have sex with anyone when I was at that age yet, neither was I really that innocent or naïve about matters relating to the birds and the bees. Sure, I was also preoccupied with schoolwork, and bicycles, and ballgames; but I also remembered having raging hormones at that age. Come to think of it, what 13-year old wouldn’t be?

It wasn’t the topic of our every conversation, but I remember that most conversations I had with my friends when I was 13 eventually meandered on to, what else, sex of course. The Internet was still a fragment of someone’s imagination, but there were lots of books and magazines and betamax tapes with adult content that we had access to. Before you start accusing my parents and authority figures of permissive behavior, let me hasten to add that all these were done behind their back. Necessity is truly the mother of creativity and this rule may have been invented with boys going through puberty in mind.

I know that as much as possible, we want our kids to remain childlike and the thought of imagining them being “tainted” with malice and being capable of sexual behavior is somehow disconcerting. But it’s an escapable fact of life. Kids have feelings. Kids have needs. Kids are sexual beings. The sooner we deal with these facts, the better for all of us.

Even more disconcerting is that the onset of puberty seems getting younger and younger. Kids seem to indulge in sexual behavior at an earlier age today. I did a quick informal survey among some of my students and learned that many of them got their first exposure to sexual behavior in grade school.

Anyone out there who needs validation should check out the story of Alfie Patten, the current hot item in the Internet. He is a 13-year-old boy from Britain who has been dubbed by media as “Babyfather” because that’s what he became last week. His 15-year-old girlfriend gave birth to a daughter they christened Maisie Roxanne.

The story of a 13-year-old boy fathering a child is something that has shaken many people out of their wits.

I think, however, that what really heightened the impact of the story and made it incredible were the pictures of the young boy cuddling his daughter that were splashed on the front page of some newspapers. Videos of the family can also be found in the Internet. In all of these, the 13-year old looks so much younger—one would estimate his age to be around 7 or 8. He looks like he is cuddling his younger sister rather than his own daughter. He really looks like a child, someone who should be tossing a soccer ball around or reading storybooks rather than worrying about the cost of diapers and infant formula.

Additional reality check: He is 13 now, so what this means is that he got his 15-year-old girlfriend pregnant when he was 12.

Britain and the rest of the world are now going through a major soul-searching effort. As can be expected, there’s a lot of finger-pointing happening. The general drift of the discussion out there is that the story is symptomatic of what is wrong with the world. Unfortunately, that seems to be the only point of agreement. There is now a whole divergence of opinions regarding what exactly is wrong with the world or what is causing whatever is wrong with the world.

On one side, you have the usual Bible-thumping people saying that this is the result of what they consider too much permissiveness and liberalism in the world. They’ve gone on to blame people who advance the cause of sex education, etc. In their reckoning, the world “taught” these kids to have sex under the guise of protecting them.

On the other side are those who think that this is the result of inadequate or bungled up sex education programs. According to them, if these kids knew exactly what they were doing and what the consequences would be, they would have had second thoughts about it. Or at least used some precautions if they couldn’t restrain themselves.

Everyone has been hyperventilating about the moral and social implications of the story that no one seems alarmed that the identity, the pictures, and the videos of the young dad, his girlfriend, and the days-old baby are out there to begin with. Everyone seems concerned about the future of the young father and his daughter they’ve lost sight of one immediate concern, which is protecting their rights as children. This kind of hypocrisy is absurd.

Britain’s Tory Leader David Cameron spewed quite a mouthful about how the pictures got him “worrying that in Britain today, children are having children.” He went on and on about how the story is an indictment of society and did all that chest-thumping gobbledygook. I agree that there are social and moral implications of the story, but shouldn’t we, first of all, get riled up about the kind of exploitation being done to these young kids?

It appears that the young dad’s parents are cashing in on the story. There are various reports about the kind of money that certain media organizations have paid to the parents for the story. Media organizations are spending millions of pounds for the right to sensationalize the story. Why aren’t there enough people who are riled up about this, as well?

If we are to be serious about playing the role of grownups to these kids, shouldn’t the first consideration be ensuring the welfare of the kids rather than going into major hysterics about what the neighbors would say or how it would change the norms of the community? Or do we think that these kids deserve punishment for their indiscretion?

I am just as disturbed as everyone else over the fact that a young boy became a father at 13. But I am more disturbed with the kind of discussion this story has sparked. Most are stuck in the “how can this be,” “what kind of kids are these,” “what kind of society are we creating” mode.
The way I see it, no amount of hand wringing and flailing around addresses the real core of the issue, which is that kids today are becoming more and more acquainted with their sexuality at an early age.

Regardless of how many novenas we storm the heavens with, it seems God just won’t delay the onset of puberty until our kids are in their twenties. What do we do about it? Do we imprison their minds and force them to live in the dark in the vain hope that doing so would protect them or do we educate them, empower them and give them the necessary tools required to deal with possible situations?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Love in the workplace

This is my column today.

The generally accepted norm in the workplace when it comes to matters of the heart is that romantic relationships are not the company’s business.

Romantic relationships are personal in nature and business organizations cannot interfere with them, unless of course there are negative consequences that affect the workplace.

Many among us may secretly enjoy the occasional gossip about an office love affair gone awry, but I still have to meet a manager or supervisor who derived some form of enjoyment from being forced to manage the complications brought about by feuding lovebirds. I tell you, these kinds of problems are the worst.

I’ve met far too many human resource managers who would gladly volunteer to mow the company’s front yard lawn than serve as counselor, mediator, arbiter, or just plain conciliator for a bickering couple, particularly when there are third parties, in-laws, properties, financial problems, and yes, a child on the way in the picture. Arrggghh!

We all like—or want to—assume that if people expect to be trusted with major responsibilities related to their work, then they have to show some competence in being able to manage their personal affairs. As much as possible, we want to believe that since the people who are in the workplace are of legal age—with many of them close to retirement age, anyway—they should be in a better position to manage something that should be instinctive and intuitive.

After all, falling in love and being in a romantic relationship is hardly rocket science. It afflicts everyone after all - straight, gay, bisexual, tall, short, fat, cross-eyed, etc.

Unfortunately, all these are easier said than done. If there’s anything that I have learned from (ahem) many years as human resource management professional and counselor is that most everyone is not immune to irrational behavior when it comes to matters of the heart. There’s no need to quibble over the answer to Tina Turner’s impassioned refrain. What’s love got to do with it? My dear, everything!

To begin with, affairs of the heart are so much more complicated today than ever before.

In the past, some form of courtship over some period of time was the norm. Regardless of whether the courtship was overt or covert, the people involved tended to display some behaviors that would tick off other people, which would provide some kind of social pressure on the couple involved. Today, relationships end, some badly, others in horribly acrimonious ways even before anyone knew the couple involved was “going out” to begin with. The workplace is suddenly made hostage to a situation fraught with tension—sometimes open animosity— without having any clue as to the dynamics of the relationship. It’s like treating a problem without a clear diagnosis helped by some historical background.

And then there are the relationships that challenge social conventions: Same-sex relationships, sexual dalliances, extra-marital affairs. Let’s not even get started with relationships based on some political agenda such as those initiated with the sole purpose of jumpstarting one’s mobility up the corporate ladder, or those based on some economic, or horror of all horrors, neurotic agenda. The “usual” romantic relationships are often complicated enough despite social approval, think how much more difficult these “other relationships” are to manage.

The thing is, romantic relationships cannot really be legislated. Regardless of how many policies a company comes up with admonishing people to be responsible for their personal conduct, there’s just no way that many people can be made to deflect pheromones or suppress raging hormones.

Most studies point out a disturbing fact today: There are a lot of romantic relationships happening in the workplace. There are a lot of sexual relationships taking place in the workplace as well.

Why? The workplace today is not anymore the sterile place that it used to be. And sadly, we made it that way thanks to work-life balance, efforts to energize the workplace, programs designed to make the workplace safer and more inclusive, teamwork interventions designed to tear down interpersonal walls, etc. There’s also the increasing number of hours people spend in the workplace. Most studies show that people tend to spend more time in the workplace today. For example, with traffic conditions getting worse, forcing people to spend four-to-five hours of their day in traffic, the only time available for social networking is really at work.

Small wonder then that the workplace is now emerging as the place where one meets potential dates. If we come to think about it, where else? Thanks to advances in recruitment and selection strategies, workplaces now present a pool of possible dates already pre-selected—in possession of traits and qualities that are congruent to one’s own.

And given what we do to make the workplace fun, non-threatening, socially safe, and more accepting of diversity, it seems human resource management and business organizations have become matchmakers by default.

What are organizations supposed to do then? Be more creative, of course. A Reuters report last week cited a Japanese company that paid time off to employees after a bad break up. It’s called “heartache leave” and amusingly enough, the number of days varies according to age. “Not everyone needs to take maternity leave but with heartbreak, everyone needs time off, just like when you get sick,” the company CEO was quoted as saying. According to the Reuters report, staff aged 24 years or younger can take one day off per year, while those between 25 and 29 can take two days off and those older can take three days off because “women in their 20s can find their next love quickly, but it’s tougher for women in their 30s, and their break-ups tend to be more serious.”

Most companies now put in place a “love contract policy” designed to limit company liability from sexual harassment suits after a love affair between two consenting adult goes awry.

And even in Metro Manila, there are now love clinics that specialize in these matters. I guess it is a reflection of the times we live in that we now need to work so hard for sometimes even requiring professional help in the process for something that used to be -or supposed to be at least—a many-splendored thing. Belated Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy valentines day

It must be age. Or simply because I happen to be romantically uninvolved at the present.  Or just plain laziness.  Whatever.  I'm staying home the whole day today, catching up on my reading.  I already left house very early in the day to attend the graduation ceremonies of my students anyway, and even attended the reception at Kamayan.  

My friend JT, very typically, rubbed it in by sending me this valentines day greeting (if you can call it that):  HAPPY STATUS AWARENESS DAY.   

Anyway.  I recently discovered this wonderful gadget called a card reader that simplified the ways in which the contents of cellphone memory card can be downloaded directly into a laptop. As a result, I was able to empty the memory cards of my cellphones. I discovered quite a number of photos that I didn't even remember taking.  Some of them were quite interesting, such as these ones. 

The first photo comes from a set taken in 2007 at the Mall of Asia.  I was waiting for some colleagues to finish their shopping when I saw this old couple in an intimate moment.  They were holding hands and were really sweet to each other.  I stole some shots using my cellphone cam, which was a difficult task because I didn't want to be too obvious about it and intrude into their private moment.    
The next photo was taken last year while stuck in traffic at Leon Guinto.  I spotted this 
couple doing their thing on the sidewalk.  I took some pictures. Here's one of them.   

Cheers to all the lovers out there!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Including the excluded

This is my column today.

One of the most difficult challenges in the world today is how to be more “inclusive.”

Put another way, the challenge that face many among us, particularly those who have the means or the power to build all sorts of walls around them, is how to be more accepting of diversity issues and in the process include the excluded.

Sociology might tell us that we have a collectivist culture; that we tend to do things in groups rather than as individuals. Unfortunately, this also seems to apply in the way we tend to exclude others “who are not like us” using the flimsiest excuse or reason.

As it is, our social structures already provide more than enough demographical divisions that are sadly often used as walls to insulate or isolate people, or put them into specific hierarchical classifications. It is as if some people are made of better stuff than others.

There’s economic status, of course. Let’s face it, despite all that gobbledygook about how everyone is supposed to be equal in the eyes of God and insofar as the law is concerned, we all know that that’s not really the case most of the time. There are certain entitlements that the rich have access to and they do try to ensure that these perks are kept to people within their circle. Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of clubs and venues that are “for members only?” Suddenly, it seems everyone has gotten into the act of being exclusivist in this country.

Why, even my own professional organization has jumped into the bandwagon and has established some kind of “fellowship” within our ranks. Some of my colleagues now brandish special letters after their name—letters that are supposed to denote membership in a higher order, as if having additional letters after a name adds IQ points or increases qualification. It’s reflective of this exclusivist phenomenon now plaguing the world.

There are many possible explanations for this but I suspect that one of the top reasons would be the desire to uphold some exalted status that I presume is best achieved when membership to a group is kept to a minimum and when admission is made stringent and difficult. In some cases, the admission requirements are made impossibly difficult that lives are often wasted such as in the case of Greek letter organizations.

Academe is in a better position to enlighten people and to promote a more democratic, more inclusive and therefore more empowering social environment. Unfortunately, the academic community happens to be even more blatant and more elitist when it comes to preserving its various enclaves and promoting exclusivity. It’s one of those major ironies in this world that the very institutions that are tasked with the social mandate of pushing equality and enlightenment and in tearing down the walls that promote prejudice are the ones that are notorious for practices that perpetuate these. Given the major advances in andragogy (i.e. the science of learning) such as recognition of higher-level intelligences, one would expect that academe would have already broken its ivory towers and pedagogical enclaves. Not so.

It is within this context that we discuss the recent argument over the plan of Southwestern University in Cebu City to confer an honorary doctorate degree on human kinetics on Emmanuel “Manny Pacman” Pacquiao. The justification being proffered by the officials of the Southwestern University is that Pacquiao deserves the honorary degree on account of the immense honor he has brought to the country as a boxing champion of global renown.

A number of academics immediately became purple-faced. One noted academic was so livid he was reduced to spewing hysterical protestations.

The idea is so repulsive to many academics because of the old paradigm that says academic degrees must emanate from—and only from—scholarly pursuits. It’s the old paradigm that views learning as a purely cognitive process illustrated in hackneyed metaphors that denote pain and extreme difficulty such as “burning the midnight candle.”

To these people, the only measures of academic qualification come from reading textbooks and being able to regurgitate theories and frameworks.

Someone actually said that Pacquiao’s accomplishments, while outstanding, are not within the purview of scientific triumph. This argument smacks of narrow-mindedness of legendary proportions. Do universities and colleges have sports programs purely for entertainment purposes then? Last I heard, human kinetics was a valid science! It’s been quite some time since kinesthetic intelligence was recognized as a higher form of intelligence. If achievements in athletics, in particular, exemplary feats such as those achieved by Manny Pacquiao, do not qualify as valid or scientific accomplishments, then the Education Department should exclude physical education subjects from the curricula.

I continue to have reservations about promoting boxing as a competitive sport without the necessary safety equipment, but I do not—cannot—question the fact that boxing is a sport that requires higher intelligence. I can understand how ordinary people tend to see it simply as an advanced form of fisticuffs, but academics should know better. The kind of mental calculations and the level of analytical thinking that goes into each punch cannot be undermined.

The other argument has to do with Pacquiao’s age. There’s this outmoded paradigm that certain honorifics should recognize a lifetime body of works or achievements. This is the reason why many are awarded National Artists posthumously, which, if we come to think about it, is such an utter waste. While this is still some wisdom in honoring the memory of the dead, surely it is better to show appreciation while the person is still alive to savor and bask in it. This is probably why Lea Salonga won’t be receiving the title of National Artist anytime soon despite the fact that no other artist, living or dead, comes close to what she has accomplished.

I think all these are just excuses to preserve the status quo. Some people are simply uncomfortable with breaking traditions, particularly when doing so requires that they stretch staid rules and break conventions. It’s really just intellectual snobbishness and elitism perpetuated by people who think of themselves as superior.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Can you relate?

While waiting for my class to begin, I decided to pop the DVD into my MacBook and promptly got hooked on "The Big Bang Theory."  I don't remember laughing as hard over a sitcom since...well, probably Absolutely Fabulous.  Big Bang Theory is about four nerds trying to cope with the mundane aspects of life.  

I was a certified nerd in College (I probably still am today, hehehe) and could relate with many of 
the situations in the sitcom.  I'm probably Sheldon.

Sigh.

 

Guilt



This was my column yesterday.

Too much attention, most of it fully deserved, is now being heaped on The Reader—both the film starring Kate Winslet, David Kross, and Ralph Fiennes, and the book written by Bernhard Schlink and translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway. Winslet won an acting award for the film at the recent Golden Globes Awards and is a shoo-in for the Oscars. The book was an international bestseller and was one of Oprah Winfrey’s picks for the year.

I read the book over the holidays and looked forward to the film mainly because I wanted to find out if another art form would be able to provide better treatment of such a complex material. I watched the film over the weekend and while I was awed with the astounding filmmaking, I came out of the experience more troubled—and with more questions. Of course it can be argued that this is probably the exact reaction that the film intended to create among its audience. If so, then the film succeeded.

The Reader is not a film that makes your heart soar after watching it. Instead, it opens up a lot of questions about collective guilt and responsibility. It makes us come to terms with the fact that events like the Holocaust are really difficult to explain and understand, and that despite the number of years that has elapsed, catharsis remains elusive.

What follows may be a spoiler for those who haven’t seen the film on DVD, so if you haven’t watched it and you intend to do so devoid of any preconceived bias, I suggest you stop reading now.

The Reader is first of all a love story— except that it’s a love story fraught with complications. He is 15 when it started; she was twice his age. Right off, the first stirrings of guilt are created as the audience is made to suspend judgment on the moral and psychological complications of the relationship and instead empathize with the situation the lovers find themselves in.

He reads to her the classics while she provides his sexual initiation—in erotic scenes that evoke memories of The Summer of ’42. The more observant viewers will note the “hints” that are subtly provided and which provides context to the complications that come later. She dislikes any form of text be it books, menus, or maps; she prefers being read to. This raises a number of questions. There’s also too much attention focused on her “uniform.”

In the book, there is a scene that gives readers a heightened sense of awareness about her situation. While traveling in the countryside, he leaves her in the morning in search of breakfast leaving a note behind to explain his absence. He returns to find her in a state of panic apparently because she thought he had left her. “But I left you a note,” he tried to explain. This scene is cut from the film.

She disappears from his life and when she reappears much later, the story takes a turn into a psychological-crime-suspense thriller. This time, he is a law student and she is on trial for one of the most atrocious crimes ever committed by mankind: Abetting murder as a Nazi guard at Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

The complications reach fever pitch at this point when she grapples with issues of pride and shame—not only about her role in the Holocaust, but also about her own literacy. He wrestles with his personal demons—on one hand, the desire for justice, his yearning for her, his duty to reveal what he knows, etc. Guilt, betrayal, shame, complicity are just some of the issues that make this part of the movie riveting.

The last part of the film brings the lovers to where they started—he reading to her the classics through cassette tapes that he sends to her in prison. There are two scenes that attempt to provide closure to the issues. First is his attempt to rekindle his relationship with his estranged daughter. And second, his anguished conversation with the main witness at her trial—the Auschwitz survivor whose book on The Holocaust sparked the trial to begin with.

The conversation between the two survivors deftly summarizes the moral dilemma presented by the plot. The Auschwitz survivor (played by Lena Olin with extreme coldness and palpable moral superiority) asks him what he is seeking: “Forgiveness for her or to feel better about yourself?”

The Reader is yet another take on the horrific events around the Holocaust, only this time, the central figure is one of the perpetrators of the crime. And this is what makes the premise complex, and at times, disturbing. The story allows us to make allowances for certain human frailties; we’re even allowed to empathize, perhaps even pity Winslet’s character.

I am sure there will be a lot of discussion and debate about the moral implications of the film. There will be those who will see the film as some kind of tacit endorsement of Nazi crimes.

The metaphors and issues presented —illiteracy, inter-generation relationship, complicity and soul-searching, the degrees of guilt and absolution—all make for a compelling experience, but do not really come together in the end; perhaps because they really are not meant to. Forgiveness and absolution are concepts we like to throw around but we know they are truly elusive when viewed against major tragic events such as the Holocaust.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Slumdog millionaire

I watched two films over this weekend: The Reader starrring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and David Kross, and Slumdog Millionaire starring Dev Patel. I meant to write about both films for my column tomorrow, but I got carried away with my reactions to The Reader. Before I knew it, I had already written enough for a column. So my column tomorrow will just be about The Reader.

Which doesn't mean Slumdog Millionaire is less affecting compared to The Reader.

A friend told me last week that he had watched Slumdog and immediately felt bad because he know the film would create a splash at the Oscars. "Maiiwanan na naman tayo ng India" was his lament. I still had to watch Slumdog at that point, so I held back on the commentary.

I got to watch Slumdog Friday night and was promptly blown by the visual feast. I had one word for it: Kaleisdoscope that actually works. How the director, the cinematographer, the production designer, and the editor managed to produce a coherent piece from a material that always threatened to get out of hand was a feat that would be difficult to duplicate. The acting was uniformly affecting - the three actors that played Jamal's character were all brilliant. Someone should give Dev Patel an acting award.

What I really, really liked about the film was the very strong Indian flavor that permeated it, one could almost taste and smell India in the whole thing. It was colorful, frenetic, dazzling, chaotic, etc. Mumbai, the City, was a very strong presence in the film it probably deserved top billing as a character in the movie. I've never been to Mumbai (I hope I get to visit India again in this lifetime and actually get to Mumbai) but I felt a strong attachment to the city just by watching Slumdog. The only thing missing was a song-and-dance routine in the middle of the film (the director wisely placed it at the closing credits).

Slumdog works because it is Indian to the core. And this is what I've always been telling my friends: If we want to build a name for ourselves out there in the world, we must do so as Filipinos (shades of Kidlat Tahimik and Grace Nono) not as copycats of Whitney Houston and Beyonce.

And by the way, I just have something to say to the people who are picking on our local film industry for not having produced something in the league of Slumdog. Note that we did produce Himala, which was recently adjudged top viewer's pick as best Asian film. But Slumdog is one of about 300 films that Bollywood produces each year. Our film output is about 50 a year, and mostly indie films. Bollywood produces more films because they have a loyal audience that patronizes Indian films.

It's a chicken and egg situation, I know. I just want to point out that we too have a responsibility in the whole scheme of things. If we want our local film industry to produce great films, we have to support the industry by actually watching local films.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Despair and liberation

This is my column today.

If we are to believe the daily dose of bad news issued by the Department of No Labor and Unemployment, we are still losing a lot of jobs every day and a lot more will be lost in the next few months. Oh, they do go through the motions of assuaging our fears and frustrations by saying that some jobs are available. And then they go back into prophet-of-doom-and-gloom mode by declaring that the number of jobs that will be lost will far outnumber the available jobs, so far.

I have already ranted about this kind of defeatist attitude in the past. Difficult times like these require transformational leadership. Instead, we seem to have leaders who may as well be progenies of Ziggy, the cartoon character with the “We’re not gonna make it, we’re going to fail” mantra.

Fortunately, we still have the likes of National Economic Development Authority Secretary Ralph Recto who seems to be the only Cabinet member in this administration with something else between his ears other than a pretty face. Recto has been almost singularly deflecting the doomsday scenario that’s being put out there—not necessarily by looking at things from the proverbial rose-colored spectacles, but simply by embracing a more positive attitude.

In one press conference, Recto adroitly deflected the usual pessimism of the media people by asking if anyone among those present were harboring fears of losing their jobs anytime soon. No one answered in the affirmative. He then stressed what should be obvious to everyone: The layoffs are not as pervasive as what many would like us to believe. The number of layoffs does not comprise a sizable percentage of our workforce.

Of course, if our leaders continue to think that their job description is to simply count jobs that are created and lost on a daily basis rather than do something proactive about them, the layoffs will continue. It’s the basic phenomenon called self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

***

So what if former matinee idol Rustom Padilla now wants to be called BB (pronounced Bibi) Gandanghari? Exactly what is he taking from everyone else, what hurt, or offense is he inflicting on the rest of the world?

I ask these questions on account of the rather virulent reaction from the usual hecklers who also incidentally self-identify as the guardians of morality in this part of the world. I trawled the Internet recently for reactions to BB Gandanghari and found that while there were indeed a sizable number of people whose opinions can be summarized in the phrase “if that’s what makes him happy, so be it” there were also quite a number of people whose reactions ranged from hostility, scorn, disdain, and even derisive mocking.

I suspect though that most people in this country simply gave the matter cursory attention, perhaps found something amusing in the whole thing, and then shrugged it off as just one of those things that happen in the real world. Unfortunately, these people, the ones that comprise the majority, aren’t vocal about their reactions. Thus, as in most anything else in this country, the ones that are noisy and have access to a megaphone go to town with their hatred and prejudice.

I was also initially taken aback at the circus that attended BB Gandanghari’s grand entrance a couple of days back. I think that the event merited better media coverage than, say, the President’s trip to Davos, or for that matter, the series of salvaging that rocked Metro Manila and even Cebu in the last few days.

To be fair to media people, it does seem as if BB Gandanghari has this penchant for making herself the object of media attention as if she needs it as some kind of validation. (The keen reader will note the deliberate use of the pronoun “her” when referring to Gandanghari. That’s how she self-identifies now and I choose to respect her choice). She could have made her return from New York a little bit unobtrusive and unremarkable instead of turning it into a spectacle. She could also have avoided the gossip shows and the paparazzi if she wanted to. It looks like she invited the attention and it seems she has reasons for doing so.

So yes, the story does make for a good human interest piece. It is not something that happens everyday, that’s for sure.

Here was a former matinee idol, from a relatively prominent political and showbiz family, with brothers renowned for the kind of, uh, mischief associated with alpha males of the animal kingdom. Here was a really good-looking guy, the object of the sexual fantasies of many women and yes, gay men, and who married one of the prettiest actresses of her generation. And then one day, he decided he’s had more than enough of the duplicity and decided to out himself in a grand way. He joined the celebrity edition of the local franchise of the television show Big Brother and in a rather lugubrious turn, confirmed what has apparently been whispered about in show business circles for so long: He was gay. It was soap opera material.

I just wish that people do not lose sight of the important issues in this particular soap opera. This is not just about the way she behaves or dresses up now that she has decided to be who she is. It is sad that many people are stuck with the gross exteriors of her make up, or the clothes she is wearing, or the way she flicks her wrists or pouts her lips. It is first of all a story of personal liberation and of the painful and often brave personal choices and decisions we make in our lives.

Many people are stuck with the lurid and the dirty insinuations of who she has slept with in the past, the state of her anatomy, etc. They forget that while those things are an important aspect of a person’s identity, they do not solely define her.

Bb Gandanghari's pic filched from http://www.kablogie.com/2009/01/bb-gandang-hari.html

Monday, February 02, 2009

Flash Gordon

This is my column today.

It’s been quite some time since I last heard Senator Richard Gordon deliver a formal speech. Like most everyone else, I’ve only been catching snippets of the Atenista senator in television coverage of some Senate hearings, which unfortunately, often shows the senator in various stages of agitation and exasperation. Needless to say the images are often unflattering because quite frankly, very few people look good—or for that matter, dignified- when they are about to commit the equivalent of verbal homicide.

If it is any consolation, at least Senator Gordon has not been caught throwing a monstrous tantrum, flailing around like a spoiled child, and striking blindly at anyone within reach. Or, okay, at least not yet.

I have forgotten just how eloquent and engaging he is or can be as a public speaker. Or how infinitely more intelligent—at least sensible—he is compared to the other people who walk the corridors of power in this country, including his colleagues in the Senate who swagger around with their giant egos but often mouth gibberish. Or for that matter, just how inspiring it is to listen to a public figure who actually knows how to work a crowd, not through some cheap song-and-dance routines and through dubious smoke-and-mirror tricks, but through sheer logic, sincerity, and passion.

I had the privilege of being at a gathering of human resource professionals last week, which featured Senator Gordon as keynote speaker. The Richard Gordon that I witnessed last week had a wider girth and was, well, older, compared to the man that was the toast of the town almost two decades ago when he transformed Subic Bay into a showcase of what the Filipino can do once he sets his mind to it. But everything else was the same —the passion, the oratorical prowess, and most of all, the overwhelming faith and affection for this country and for its people.

A number of questions were running through my mind during the first 20 minutes of his speech, which, by the way was delivered extemporaneously. Why isn’t this guy out there as a possible frontrunner in the 2010 presidential elections? Why can’t we have more politicians like him—people who actually believe in this country and its people and look like it too? And even more telling, how come competent people like him with the vision, the burning passion, the competencies, won’t probably get elected into the highest seat of the land?

Let’s face it. There are very few politicians in this country that can hold a candle to the man in terms of manifested passion, overall intelligence, eloquence or oratorical skills. I mean, just how many politicians can deliver a finely textured rendition of Lord Alfred Tennyson, at a moment’s notice and completely from memory? Not that being able to recite The Charge of the Light Brigade or Ulysses automatically qualifies anyone as superior, but it sure is a good indicator.

And certainly, fewer still are strategic thinkers who can formulate a compelling vision of a desirable future. It’s sad, really, really sad that many of our leaders cannot see beyond the present. As someone once said, action without a clear vision is just passing time.

There is absolutely no doubt about it: Gordon is infinitely more qualified to run for the highest post in the land compared to other monkeys that threaten to turn the 2010 presidential elections into a circus.

Why then is Richard Gordon not being considered seriously as Presidential timber? The answer dawned on me during the last twenty minutes of his address last week and it was a disheartening realization as it is a reflection of the state of the maturity of our voting population.

Gordon is not out there as a frontrunner in the presidential derby because he doesn’t seem to have the billions required to finance an expensive presidential campaign; or if he does, he knows only too well that he would have to recover the “investment” one way or the other, most likely through shady deals, if and when he gets elected into office.

He is not a front-runner because he is a stickler for discipline and the rule of law, unlike other politicians who have no compunctions about campaigning early and already spending hundreds of millions in television ads a good year and a half before the actual elections.

In a brazen display of self-importance, Bayani Fernando has decorated our major thoroughfares with giant tarpaulins of his grim visage, in the process assaulting millions of Filipinos everyday. Wherever he goes, he has a brigade of pink-shirted men and women distributing campaign materials.

Senators Manny Villar and Mar Roxas have been campaigning hard since last year. They have upped the ante by producing slick television advertisements that extol themselves as the panacea for our country’s many ills.

While it can be argued that Villar and Roxas are wealthy individuals who are supposedly—although this is met with well-deserved skepticism—spending their own money, they are clearly violating electoral laws by launching their campaigns very early on. Pray tell, what kind of message are Villar and Roxas sending? That they are above the law?

Gordon is not a front-runner because we are a people who don’t like leaders who tell us sobering truths. We prefer leaders that entertain, make politically-incorrect and sexist jokes, make promises that cannot be implemented anyway, and in general, make band-aid solutions to major problems that require surgery and chemotherapy. We certainly don’t like candidates who tell us unequivocally that we are all part of the solution, that our problems are best solved if we all practice good citizenship and do our bit in making this country work. Thanks but no thanks but we’d rather have candidates who fancy themselves as in possession of superhuman powers that they can solve our problems all by their lonesome selves.

I am not saying of course that Gordon is the best man for the job, but he certainly deserves consideration. All I am saying is that in an ideal democracy, he should be a front-runner out there. Unfortunately, we’re stuck in this rut where landing on top of surveys is seen as blanket substitute for qualification, where money is considered the ultimate advantage, where populist strategies win over the principled, etc.