Monday, March 28, 2011

Behind the bizzare names...

I personally find the above article very interesting. I think the penchant for alternative names among Filipinos resonates well with the subconscious quest for Filipino identity. While Filipinos have been in the convent for 400 years (referring to the Spanish colonization) and for about 50 years in Hollywood (i.e. US occupation), the effort to have a unique identity, away from the usual Jose, Joe, Mary or Maria, led to 'ingenuous' names emanating from just about anything - days of the week, names of planets, combination of the first syllables of names of both grandfathers, etc. - without realizing how funny or weird those names are to foreign observers. Nowadays, no Filipino in his or her good mind will name his/her baby pre-colonial names like Lakandula, Lakandiwa, Lakan, or Malakas. To them, those names are probably too archaic or non-representative that Filipinos would rather subconsciously resort to just about anything that would inspire them. For instance, my nickname is "Tsetung" but since I come from the southern part of the country, everybody seemed to pronounce it as "Chitong". I have no idea where my parents got that name nor even bothered to ask them. I know however that Mao Tse Tung declared the end of the Cultural Revolution during the year I was born. ;)

Indeed, there is no precise explanation to these names or nicknames. Nevertheless, just like the Filipino culture, the logic behind these 'playful' names may be captured in one word: FUSION. An amalgamation of different things. A historical plethora of different influences.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Miniaturism in Sleeplessness

"To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour

-William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

[I intended to be in a hiatus from blogging in view of my hectic schedule this month but since I could not sleep for no reasons, I thought I might as well be productive by writing this blog entry.]

Before I interviewed pre-screened applicants for a staff position in strategic planning in a shipping company, I usually asked them to write essays on various topics. One of the essay questions I asked was “ How would you explain William Blakes' verse based on your understanding of quantum physics?”. I know. I know. It sounds crazy. It has nothing to do with the position that the applicants were applying for and I didn’t expect them either to answer such question seriously. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t know how to answer the question myself! What I was after of is their attitude, their sense of humor, and their thinking process. Needless to say, an answer like “I don’t give a %&#@” would have stood out positively!

One of the answers which has left an indelible mark in my mind came from a fresh graduate from a university along Katipunan Avenue. A magna cum laude, he responded something like, “William Blake’s marvelous and rhetorical verse, in a way, gives an insight about quantum physics and philosophy at the same time. Indeed, the tiniest object is a reflection of the greater whole, just as a single proton of light reflects the whole rainbow of colours. If we look at a sand, we do not merely see a particle but also the world where it comes from. It is like discovering a dinosaur bone and seeing a totally different world where it once roamed. In the same way, from the same verse, by looking a flower with all its beauty, we get an insight of how beautiful heaven is. This line of the Auguries of Innocence somehow points to a truth that we do not need to see everything to know that a certain object exists and that we do not need to live till eternity to know how things will be. By extrapolating from little things, we see a whole new world and we experience infinity in a capsule. In the same token, this verse points to Plato’s idea that there is a world of forms and a world of ideas, that the world of physical and empirical things points to the world of ideas and abstract concepts like heaven for instance”.

The message of such a cerebral response kind of resonates to the unique contribution of sociological social psychology which is the methodology called sociological miniaturism – the process of knowing and understanding broader social forces by knowing simple interpersonal situations. Or as Stolte, et al (2001) coined in their journal article, “seeing the big through the small”.

Based on my limited (small) knowledge and understanding of “social enterprises as organizations with an explicit aim to benefit the community, initiated by a group of citizens and in which the material interest of capital investors is subject to limits” and borrowing from (without the intention of bastardizing!) the sociological miniaturism tradition so to speak, would it not be cool to imagineer a big dynamic third sector teeming with social enterprises in developing countries ? If there has been an increasing acknowledgement of the third sector in Europe even with its developed economies, perhaps the more that governments of developing countries should create the necessary policy infrastructure to promote social enterprises. Social enterprises would probably thrive if:

- There is political will to formalize the Third Sector through Social
enterprise-friendly policy/legal infrastructure, among others;

- A strategic framework for the third sector is in place

- A regulatory agency for the third sector- pseudo-equivalent to
SEC,implementing sector development strategies on one hand,
and enforcing social enterprise governance standards and laws
on the other.

- Local development banks to play active roles as financial
intermediaries (or incubation of social enterprises to do
micro-finance for other social enterprises!)

- Capacity building for banks to execute M&A in the Third Sector

- Promote Social Entrepreneurship Awareness, Education, and
Research; Capability building for social entrepreneurs

- Creation of networks of social enterprises

- Other Third Sector Development mechanisms

Well, those items above do not describe nor approximate heaven in William Blake’s verse but suffice it to say they are miniature visions of wakefulness during the unholy hours of the day. Okay, I’m going to sleep now… 3:32 am

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Books That Shook The World

According to Atlantic Books, London, these are the books that shook the world:

Republic by Plato
Origin of Species by Darwin
Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
The Qur’an
The Bible
The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer
Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
On War by Clausewitz
Das Kapital by Karl Marx

Monday, July 21, 2008

Karl Marx and Global Kinetics Today

15 years ago, a good friend of mine, Helena, invited me for dinner in her father’s Penthouse in Tokyo. She was excited to show me a painting by a famous Swedish painter sent to her by her mother who owns an art gallery in Stockholm. While Helena was setting the table, she asked me to take a look at the said painting which was just lying at the corner in the living room. The first thing I did was to turn the painting around to see it and I immediately told Helena there was nothing in the canvass. She then went to the living room and said, “What do you mean there’s nothing in it?” I said, “Well, I already turned the other side and there is no painting at all”. Then she said, pointing at the painting, “Norman, there is no need to turn it around. That is the painting!”

Embarassed as I was, I honestly thought there was nothing in the painting.

A lot of critics of the work of Karl Marx may have said the same. “There’s nothing in his murky, unintelligible work. Likewise, Das capital itself is intimidating to read. Francis Wheen, in his biography of Karl Marx said that, Marx probably anticipated this and that is why just before he delivered his first volume of Das Kapital to his Publisher, he asked Friedrich Engels to read Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece which portrays the story of Frenhofer working for many years on a portrait that would depict “the most complete representation of reality”. When Frenhofer invited his friends Poussin and Porbus to his studio to see the finished work, their reaction was somehow similar to what I showed in Helena’s living room. Worst, they even mocked Frenhofer that when they left, he burned all his paintings and killed himself.

Marshall Berman noted that the most delightful irony in The Unknown Masterpiece is that Balzac’s account of the picture is a perfect description of a 20th century abstract painting.“The point is that where one age sees only chaos and incoherence, a later or more modern age may discover meaning and beauty”. The same can absolutely be said of Karl Max’s Das Kapital. During his time and even during the cold war, many leaders professed to be Marxists but their programs and dogmatic ideologies represented only their convenient if not twisted interpretation of Marx’s work. It should be noted that Marxism as practiced by Marx himself was not so much of an ideology as a critical process, a continuous dialectical argument. Lenin and then Stalin however turned and froze it into dogma. In fact, citing Mikhail Gorbachev’s book Perestroika, Francis Wheen in Marx’s Das Kapital, puts it sharply on the line:

“One can even argue that the most truly Marxist achievement of the Soviet Union was its collapse: a centralized secretive and bureaucratic command economy proved incompatible with new forces of production, thus precipitating a change in the relations of production”.

What is also noteworthy is the fact that although Karl Marx only finished the first volume of his work, he actually contracted with his Publisher in 1858 that his critical expose of the system of the bourgeois economy would be divided into six books which shall then be issued in six instalments: 1. Capital 2. Landed Property 3. Wage Labor 4. The State 5. International Trade 6. World Market. This means that about 150 years ago, this great thinker already has some concepts of what we now know as globalization.

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge in their article in the Economist “A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization (2000) as cited by Wheen, acknowledged Karl Marx as a prophet of universal interdependence of nations and that his description of globalization 150 years ago is still very relevant today.

In the latest issue of the Economist, the financial crisis claims twin victims: Fannie and Freddie, two mortgage giants that the American Treasury has to save. With this move of the American government, the overriding theme in the blogosphere is : "The profits are privatized and the risks are socialized". No wonder, one subheading in the same article of the Economist is "Mark to Market or Market to Marx?

Is this the end of Capitalism? or Could it be that Karl Marx all along had the answer on the question of preventing or perhaps containing the Schumpeterian prophecy of capitalism's "creative destruction"?

If someone can just talk to the ghost of Karl Marx and thereby restore to life his seminal work to complete his magnum opus, we will probably have a much better understanding of the complex global kinetics of today and beyond.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Meirelles and His Movies

I am crazy about movies. And in my opinion, directors are probably the most under-rated in filmdom. More often than not, people (including myself) tend to know or recognize more the actors than the directors who craft the entire film.

Given my limited knowledge about the directors, there is one however whom I like and who seems to stand out among many. His name is Fernando Meirelles, a Brazilian film director, who offers the world masterfully crafted tales about the darker side of globalization.

In his film “City of God” for instance, it’s interesting how he seems to be intimate with the subject of poverty and hopelessness, and of how he was able to realistically depict the angst-ridden mind engendering other people and society as a whole. "City of God," his portrayal of poverty, drugs and crime in the slums of Rio de Janeiro of course, won a lot of accolades worldwide but his other film "The Constant Gardener," is equally an outstanding work. Based on a book of the same name by British author John le Carre, the film is about a British diplomat's meandering journey to Nairobi, Berlin, London and Sudan to unearth the truth about the death of his wife, who is killed when she was about to expose the world's largest pharmaceutical firms for testing a tuberculosis drug that is killing innocent African patients. "Disposable drugs for disposable people," a doctor tells the diplomat. "Pharmaceuticals are up there with the arms dealers."

I would like to think the story emanates from the much-publicized real-life conflict between multinational drug companies and Third World countries trying to produce their own generic versions of AIDS medications.

Talking about globalization issues, Meirelles also worked on "Intolerance," a movie with multi-country settings with diverse characters: a 16-year-old Brazilian genius, a Chinese worker, a Filipino terrorist, a Kenyan runner, an American educator, and a young woman from the United Arab Emirates. The movie has not been released yet I think and I can’t wait to watch it. It would be interesting to see how Meirelles is able to intricately weave the stories of these characters into a film. Something to look forward to indeed!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Spider Web as Global Structure

I hate spiders. They are ugly eight-legged invertebrates with webs that trap insects. The web is also used to help them climb, form smooth walls for burrows, build egg sacs, wrap prey, and temporarily hold sperm, among other applications. Disgusting, right?

When I was working for an oil company, the Chairman and CEO always called his managers in his office to discuss his out-of-the box ideas about the business. This was in the second half of the 90’s when the industry was just recently deregulated. I was heading the corporate planning at that time and I thought the guy was really brilliant and very much ahead of his time. I was particularly amazed of how he tinkered on how to change the industry structure by changing the rule of the game altogether. Likewise, he loved playing on how to structure his companies as if they were a bunch of clay he could easily form and deform, integrate and disintegrate. In his mind were concepts like consolidation, bundling and unbundling, scalability, flexibility, alliances, and networks based on the idea of Tao. Although there were a number of legal entities (companies), the structure was designed as if there was only one independent organization represented by triangles within a big triangle – a radical departure from the delayering (or flattening) of the organization plantilla of the re-engineering era. As a matter of fact, he wanted to implement a structure as if it was a spider web where the spider can laterally see what is going on within the web and can respond to opportunities or problems speedily. I disagreed to him about the spider web structure not necessarily because I didn’t like the web-structure per se but more because of my shallow (partial) understanding of a leader as spider seeing and running around! At that time, it was a crazy idea and I would have the difficulty communicating and persuading the rest of the organization. We settled for the “triangles within a triangle” instead, although I must say for most people, it was still a rather weird stricture at that time.

Just like in that oil company, people generally find it hard to imagine a new world where many of the assumptions about political structures, authority, and legitimacy may well be changed. Norman Davies in his book Europe: East and West, says that one must attempt to imagine an entirely new type of political organism which has overlapping jurisdictions, multilayered/multinational authorities, and multiple concatenacity (i.e. members of one concatenation will likewise belong to other concatenations at the same time). I thought that Norman Davies is actually describing what my boss conceptualized 12 years ago for his complex organization just as Jean-Fran├žois Rischard was suggesting network governance in his book High Noon. In my previous blog entry, I asked who will play as Ms. Luz in a networked and interdependent world. A possible question at this juncture is who will be the spider in such an imagined spider-web structure in the new world order. I realize though that asking such a question emanates from our conventional concept of legitimacy and authority where the spider or Ms. Luz may represent a person, a country, an organization, or the power politics involved – a world based on a zero-sum game. If I were to wear the lenses of a non-zero sum game (with a positive instead of gloomy vision about the world), perhaps the spider represents the self-managing process and/or the information that generate from and empower the concatenations.

With this in mind, perhaps a spider is not a scary idea afterall!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Manila in the 30's - Queen of the Pacific

This was forwarded to me with the subject "Manila we never saw". And I thought, did the Queen sleep for a very long time and woke up only to find out that she is sick? Or was she on a comatose? Indeed, those somnolent years that ensued until now make me wonder...