Friday, May 29, 2009

Thoughts on the Ramifications of Hayden Kho’s Case on the Philippine Free Internets


Yesterday’s public senate hearing was pretty much an exercise in futility. Some of the questions of the senators were misleading at best, and while I abhor Jamby Madrigal to hell and back, she probably asked some of the more decent questions. It was, at best, a media circus that pretty much reached its climax when the senators called in Kho, Belo’s representative, and Katrina Halili in for questioning.

That was when an ex-policeman, in righteous indignation, dumped water on top of Hayden Kho.

I don’t really care about the hearing itself. Kho could rot in jail for all I care, and I still think that Halili’s playing the damsel in distress role to the ground. But this stupid series of events is important in that it is a portent of how the Philippine government is finally going to react to Web 2.0 and the free flow of information in the modern world.

See, the most basic problem here is that within weeks, the video of Kho was made accessible to millions of Pinoys throughout the world (not just the Philippines; the sex video can be found on Spankwire, for example). From the perspective of the pedestrian, this is insufferable – just think of your wives and female children (a point emphasized by the man who dumped water on Kho). Call it a dramatic point, but it still remains a reality.

That this isn’t the first instance of the proliferation of so-called “sex scandals” from the Philippines doesn’t do anything to help this point of view, either. In all honesty, unless you spend a good majority of your life online (like me), you’d probably find readily-available pornography on the Internet outrageous, wrong and just plain gross. Logically, the correct thing to do when faced with the probable deluge of unsuitable information is to clamor for some safekeeping guidelines that will keep the casual surfer safe from online porno.

The problem in the Philippines is that the representation of Internet regulation laws is weak, if not nonexistent. And the Philippine government actually promotes this – IT companies enjoy special tax benefits from the government because their foreign investors rely on the unregulated flow of information to keep things running. Hell, BPOs can’t work on porn sites if there was a tight grip on the ‘net here in the Philippines. In other words, the government actually makes money from the free Internets.

What the Kho scandals did, though, is bring the obvious to the public eye. Pornography on the ‘net is real and widespread, and if we don’t do anything about it, people who exploit local women via digital form can and will make money from it via the web. Now, this is just me, but what I believe is that due to the upcoming elections next year, what the Pinoy government is doing is seriously scrutinizing the feasibility of erecting a means of keeping a check on what somebody living on the Philippines posts on the Internet.

See where this is headed? Knowing how half-baked the government is on planning and implementation, once they come up with their Internet regulation bill, it will be as vague as it is ineffective. This will probably lead to the creation of a new government body whose sole purpose is to police the web. This body will most likely be just as corrupt as the rest of the government is. Which makes one question just how effective and how honest this institution’s rulings will be.

And that doesn’t even take into account the procedure these guys will use. Should the senate committee come up with such an Internet regulation bill, I foresee dark times ahead for everybody relying on the Internet for their livelihoods.

Fortunately, we’re talking about the Philippines here. If the senate goes its usual pace on deciding whether or not this situation deserves looking into, there’s a big possibility that the study will go well into next year. Once the election shuffles the senate, the likelihood that any and all bills proposed late this year will be shelved for the next four years at least, until such a time when another senator looking for a way to creep into the hearts of their constituents goes through the archives during a brainstorming session.

 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

We are a Country of Ultranationalists Brimming with Righteous Indignation (II)


A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the Great Book Blockade of 2009. When I first read about this, I was just like everybody else in thinking that it was all about the government making another quick buck, except that this was money made from information that was supposedly an easily accessible commodity. Needless to say, I thought it was stupid, and proceeded to share it throughout the Internet community.

This was during the early days of the book blockade. The only people who’ve made mention of it was the origin source and Manuel L. Quezon III. And then the news hit the fan, and Facebook and Twitter got into the picture.

A disclaimer: I am not for the book blockade. I am also against any and all illegal forms of taxation. I believe that the government needs to make money, but the gargantuan amount of money involved in the salary of government heads is ridiculous. You want more money? Cut back on positional salaries, and spread out the corresponding backwash to the rest of the employees.

That said, I think the widespread reaction of the Pinoy public – or at least, the Pinoy Internet public – to the book blockade was another glorious example of the Filipino’s willingness to take up arms at the drop of a hat. What struck me about it was the fact that this time around, it was the educated masses / middle class trumpeting around (on the Internet). I’m pretty used to the masses taking up arms whenever the government screws up with this or that issue, but I’ve never seen people from the same demographic as I was screw the government over with their democratic right to protest.

I’m not putting the surprisingly strong reaction to the book blockade down. It brought things to a rather speedy resolution (faster than how things usually go here in the Philippines), and I’m very thankful. It’s also very nice to actually see democracy working smoothly for once.

But I just can’t help but wonder. If the power of the Internet-driven Pinoy community was that great, it’s a wonder people haven’t tried to levy for a decrease in gasoline prices via Facebook. Or they hadn’t called for the exposition of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo by Twitter. Heck, it’s actually a wonder that there aren’t any online petitions calling to end Jejomar Binay’s plans to run in the 2010 elections.

See what I’m talking about? The curious variable in this whole mess was that the only reason these guys went to the streets – er, what’s the Internet equivalent? – was because it involved something they held to be important. This only serves to point out the old adage of infernal dynamics: The energy required to move an object in the correct direction, or put it in the right place, will be more than you wish to expend but not so much as to make the task impossible.

Meaning people will only move when they think the cause is worth their while. But as to what my own demographic considers important, well. You could say that that’s a whole new ball game.

 

Monday, May 25, 2009

We are a Country of Ultranationalists Brimming with Righteous Indignation (1)


I was listening to the radio this morning, and these disk jockeys from DWRT were going through their usual morning yakkety yak. You know. Stuff you usually don’t listen to, stuff that becomes white noise. But when they started talking about the Hayden Kho stuff, it took all of my self-control to keep myself from tossing my laptop out of the window (yes, I was streaming from the ‘net).

You know how it is – the reason people listen to the radio en route to work is to serve as background music. Sooner or later, you just let it stream through your senses. Just like the Hayden Kho scandal(s). The entire thing is just really absurd, and Nina pointed out that the only reason the press is cashing in on this is because unlike previous sex scandals, this involved a rather upstanding member of Philippine society.

What I can’t get enough of, though, is the way everybody is handling the entire situation. The media’s trying to be as invasive as possible to get the “truth” out. En route to the studio yesterday, this reporter was trying to milk Kho’s lawyer for her take on her client’s case. Now this is just me talking, but that’s very unprofessional of the interviewer – it’s like baiting the lawyer to say something that can be used against her client.

I can’t say that Senator Bong Revilla’s helping the situation any, either. I don’t know what it is that’s been eating this guy’s shorts, but he’s been flinging uncalled-for proposals left and right. First there’s that Alec Baldwin affair that got the actor banned from the Philippines. Now he wants Kho to turn in his medical license just because he had sex? Then we’re better off revoking the licenses of most of our medical professionals. And how about our government officials? Are they getting any? Off with their positions! We live in a largely Catholic country, and anybody who has sex without marriage is a bad influence to the rest of the population.

The most absurd reaction I’ve heard to date comes from Katrina Halili herself. It isn’t enough that Hayden Kho’s apologized – she wants more. Just what more is, I have no idea. The hilarious part here is that Katrina Halili is the Filipino equivalent of a soft-core porn star – a sexy actress, so to speak. What you saw (or didn’t see) in the video of the sex scandal with Kho is pretty much run-of-the-mill with her films. What’s she got to complain about? The fact that she didn’t make a single centavo from this video? Seriously.

I don’t understand why Pinoys are so adamant about making a definite stand about issues popping up left and right. I get that there’s something about standing up for what you believe in, but there is something to be said about moderation and deep thought. I love my country, but sometimes the absurdity of its residents and leaders can be a bit too stupid.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Way of the Newspaper


Firstly, let me make a point - I love books and newspapers, and I love the medium that they use. I love the smell of fresh newsprint, and there's something cool about reading the news over the dining table in the morning. And books without leaves will ever be a problem for me - it just wouldn't feel natural. That said, let me get to the real point of this post. The printing business may have been disastrous for the environment, but the real battle for the newspaper has only just recently reared its ugly head. The upheaval of how information is disseminated through the web has taken a bigger toll on the newspaper industry, so much so that we may be looking at the very last days of the traditional newspaper format.

As of last week, several newspapers in the US have closed down due to insufficient revenues generated by a lack of interest in sales. If this trend continues, we could very well be looking at the total death of the newspaper industry the world over. We'll have to content ourselves with reading them through online mediums.

But take these two facts and mull them over:

1. Newspapers aren't selling. Slowly, all the broadsheets and tabloids throughout the world are giving way to digital media. You don't go check out the newsstands for the Inquirer, you go online and check out their website. Or if you're like me, you've got them on RSS, and that's more than enough news for you in a day. It makes you wonder how these guys still make money - well the answer comes by way of competent and intelligent advertising.

2. But wait. According to Rupert Murdoch, NewsCorp will soon be charging their readers for reading the content from their website. That's because the money they make through advertising online is so minimal that it doesn't even count as break-even.

So two conflicting facts. I don't know how publishers are going to reconcile the two facts in the future, but I don't see how newspapers can be making money online via advertising and still lose money in the process. I mean, if the free news business model is failing altogether, I don't understand why the newspaper has to go the way of the dinosaur.

But the most important thing to remember here is that the classic medium of the newspaper is slowly biting the dust. While this is good news for environmentalists in general, it's a different thing altogether for publishers. You KNOW they're losing money with the slow decrease in sales, and the free flow of information via the Internet is kicking their butts. Murdoch charging people to view online content that they could check elsewhere anyway is a last-ditch effort to milk the digital format for what it's worth.

Some revolutionaries are, of course, attempting to revitalize the broadsheet format with new technology. Converting the physical form of the newspaper into a digital ebook format that can be read by using PDF readers like Amazon's Kindle DX is a relatively new idea that merits consideration. Over at Least I Could Do, Ryan Sohmer postulated a model that could make the newspaper format work by bundling year-long newspaper subscriptions with free Kindles, postulating that by giving away free readers, Amazon stands to make more money with the technology by giving consumers the means to read ebooks that they can buy online.

It's amazing how the complementing products analogy works.

But even that solution isn't without its own roadbumps. Here in the Philippines, for example, it's rather easy for both government officials and your standard consumer to corrupt the business of Kindles and newspaper subscriptions. Just because consumers won't pay for information in my country doesn't mean that they won't get that information, one way or the other - PSP games are an example, much to my shame. And if you've heard of the Great Book Blockade of 2009 (which merits another post altogether), you'll know that bringing in Kindle shipments from overseas can be a very tedious and expensive affair for both Amazon and local distributors. And that's just an example of the problem with having the technology. Implementation is a bigger, more mystifying topic.

But then again, we're just in the second quarter of the year. Who knows, maybe somewhere down the road, we get to witness the birth of a totally new medium that will render both the Internet and newspapers obsolete. You can never tell these things.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Let's Go Shopping


Or not. A couple of weeks ago, some aunts of mine were visiting from overseas, so one of the first things we decided to do for them was take them shopping. However, when you're in Manila, there are only two places to take a foreigner at times like these. These two places would be Greenhills' tiangges and 168's location of pure consumerism.

Given that they were new (somewhat) to the scene, we decided to go the safe route and bring them to Greenhills.


This is Greenhills on a good day.

So there we were, looking down the tight aisles that made up the front corridor of Shopesville's interior arcade. There were three things immediately available to the naked eye at a glance: knock-off watches, bags and Crocs. But you wouldn't believe the variety. The various kinds of Crocs you can find in two separate stands alone numbered in the hundreds.

My aunt whispered that this was insane. This was, for us guys, comforting - we looked forward to a shopping spree that wouldn't last an entire afternoon and a half. First of all, my mom was with them and her stamina isn't exactly what you'll call awesome. Secondly, my aunt said that she wasn't anywhere near phenomenal when it comes to shopping. She gave us an hour, tops.

Two hours later, we were only halfway down the aisle. At the far end of the corridor was the exit, and the gateway to dinner, but it was another thirty minutes before we could even begin to consider stepping outside (my uncle was lucky - he had to step out for a smoke).

Funny how just some days ago, I came across this curious little article about shopping. The author did a good job stating a caveat about how the entire article is based on research, but I'd like to add that it takes very little mental processing to come up with those points.

Let's see. Whenever I go out to buy something, all it takes is a little bit of advanced research on my part (what to buy, where to buy, how much). Next step is going there to buy it. Whereas my sisters can end up scouring the entire mall without any idea of what to get, and end up with armloads of stuff.

My apartment in Cagayan de Oro was testament to this. I had a makeshift bed, a desk, and a fan before she arrived. When she left, I had a bench, a table, mops, a shower curtain, a shower curtain rod, and my flat's floor had brand-spanking new vinyl tiles.

Sometimes, the purchasing power isn't even the issue here - it's more of the purchasing drive.

So do women go into shopping with a tabula rasa mindset, and just let their senses decide which items to get? And are men really that impatient to simplify the act of buying things to a two-step process?

God only knows. But there are some exceptions to the rule. My cousin is one of them - we brought him to Serendra to look for swim trunks and shoes, and it was hours before he could even decide that the stores in the area didn't have what he was looking for. I know of some women who can't stand shopping for long periods of time (the fact that I can't state a clear example now is not an indication of lying on my part).

All I know is, the next time a woman tells me that it'll take her an hour to finish shopping, I'll do the smart thing and head over to the gadgets department to do a little window shopping of my own for about thirty minutes. That, or find a bench.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Stress!


Or the lack of it. The best thing about planning vacations is that it's an irony in itself since you stress yourself out planning on how you can beat stress.

That said, I guess you guys read my short midweek report about Palm Beach, which is one of the most impressive resorts this side of the country. Every time I go there, I get fatter. It is unfortunate, but that is the reality.

Anyway, midweek I thought of how people unwind from stress. And then I thought about how I unwind from stress. I figured since everybody's stressed nearly all of the time, we'll all have ways of cooling off - and some of these ways are similar to each other.

  1. First is the out of town trip. We leave the confines of what is recognizable in order to break the monotony of our days. You don't even have to leave your work behind - you can bring your work with you and actually be more productive so long as the environment is different. A change of pace, a change of atmosphere is all you need to break free from the daily grind and relax.
  2. We hear about guilty pleasures, but what do they really do? These aren't just things that we enjoy at a basic level - people underestimate the curative powers of guilty pleasures precisely because of the word "guilty." So something that's supposed to take away stress adds unnecessary stress because of just one word association! Guilty pleasures are pure love, and should be enjoyed to the fullest.
  3. If you're stressed, find a hobby. Hobbies ranging from swimming to gaming to bodysurfing in big concerts. Personally, I swim, watch things on the Internet, and read books. Or I play games. I used to write a lot, but ever since that became my stable day job, it kinda lost the charm. But you get the picture, right?
  4. Spending time with other people isn't just one of the better ways to unwind, it could also be one of the cheapest ways there is. Keep that in mind every time you think of hitting the malls by your lonesome when you think of chillaxing.
  5. The best way of unwinding after a long day? Sleep! I used to think that sleep was a bother back when I was a kid - I mean, I could stay up late and level up my characters in FF6 some more! Or finish reading that book! Or secretly watch porn! Honestly, bedtime back during my early adolescence was annoying. But now that I'm well past my mid-twenties, I realize that Shakespeare wasn't kidding when he wrote those lines about sleeping and dreaming in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

There're lots more ways of cooling down that I haven't listed down here - the thing is, some of them just tend to be more specialized than most. Google's latest announcement about how they use goats to mow their lawn is an example.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Better Place


A couple of weeks ago, a friend showed me this video on TED.com, and I was very impressed by what Shai Agassi was saying all throughout his presentation - that all it takes to reduce car-related emissions to zero within the next decade is a bold step forward.

You can watch the full video after the jump.

What strikes me the most is that Agassi and A Better Place isn't trying to overcome the shortcomings of an automobile powered by something that doesn't respond from combustion. That's always been the biggest problem of electronic cars, from what I've heard my friends point out - just how will these perform when compared to what gasoline and diesel-powered cars are capable of today.

Agassi says that the only way to find out is to take that big step forward, and that's exactly what he's doing. If you look at his business plan, it's economically viable - you replace one expendable source of energy with another, which means that on the most altruistic POV you help the thousands of employees dedicated to keeping petroleum products available on the streets keep their jobs.

But to say that this is a 100% way of keeping the environment clean is still being too optimistic. I pushed the idea to an uncle of mine who used to sell automobiles in Canada, and his primary worry was that that would only create a completely new pollutant in the form of non-biodegradable and potentially toxic car batteries past their prime.

Of course, this is all just in my head. I'm sure elsewhere, the wheels are turning for this revolution in mobile technology, and given half the chance, Shai Agassi and the folks over at A Better Place might actually make this work. A huge part of me wishes that they do; I really don't like how much visible smog there is on the horizon every time you drive around Manila in the middle of the afternoon.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Like a Train Wreck


In my previous Manny Paqciao-related post, I featured a photograph of the train wreck that was Oscar de la Hoya. That was, for all intents and purposes, one of the most impressive boxing shots in the history of forever. That was, also, the real wake-up call of just how dangerous an opponent the Pacman was.

Last Sunday's PPV match-up of Manny Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton only did what most people thought wasn't possible - cement Manny's reputation as a fighter at the top of his game even more. I mean, what the hell.

Let's review the facts. On Hatton's camp, Floyd Mayweather Sr. was directing things from the background. This guy's one of the most capable trainers in the sport, and was partly responsible for the showstopper that is his son. If ever there was a guy you can pit against Freddie Roach in a battle of wits, Mayweather Sr. would be it.

There's also the fact that Ricky Hatton is a brawler. I was looking forward to this match because I hoped for an impressive fight between the Brit and the Pinoy. After the DLH fight, a boxer who could go toe-to-toe with Manny would be more than just welcome entertainment, it would be a must, and we all thought that Hatton was that guy.

But one round into the fight, Hatton was down twice, and Manny was outclassing him punch for punch. We all know that Pacquiao's a great fighter and all, but this was pretty much a joke, evidenced by the almost serene sleep by Hatton after that bad-rad left hook. My brother said parang binigyan ng unan (it was like he was handed a pillow).

I leave you all with a video of how the Pacquiao-Hatton fight should have gone - courtesy of Fight Night 4 on the XBox 360.