Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for June, 2010

Two Years Longer?

Posted by butalidnl on 30 June 2010

There is a plan by the incoming Aquino government to add two years to our basic education, in order to bring the Philippines in line with international standards.  And the proposal is to add one grade to the primary school, and one year to high school.

While I agree that the idea of adding two years is a sound one, I would suggest that those two years be added to high school.  Allow me first to digress, with a description of the way it is done here in the Netherlands. Their grade school is up to Grade 6. After which, the pupils take an aptitude exam(similar to the present NCEE); and the results will determine the kind of high school you can go to.

The highest results entitle you to go to the 6 year high school that prepares you for the university (medicine, engineering, sciences). Then, the results below this would entitle you to go to the 5 year high school that prepares you to go to “college”, i.e. not university, but courses like business, accounting, etc. Those with yet lower results get to go to the 4 year technical schools.

The advantage of this system is that the children get to go to the school which is suited to their intellectual level, and thus the danger of dropping out is much lesser than when they would be required to go through a uniform 4 year high school. At the same time, brighter students are given the chance to maximize their learning potential.

The problem with the Philippine system now is that high school is “one size fits all”, and since everyone is required to go through the same curriculum, it will tend to cater to the average student. Nevertheless, there are still a lot who will drop out.  This necessitates the giving of General Education in college, which is supposed to compensate for the mediocre high school education that most students get.

So, why not adopt the Dutch system? Let there be an aptitude exam at the end of the Elementary school, and let students be divided according to the results of the test – to the 4, 5 or 6 year high schools. The first 2 years of high school will have a uniform, “general education” curriculum; but the manner of teaching, and the overall weight of the lessons will be easier for the 4 year high school (technical).  And the 4 year high school graduate will have a trade, and can be immediately employable, or could continue for further studies.

The 5 and 6 year high schools, in effect, will be the only ones with additional years of study. But this would mean that there will no longer be “pre” courses. Thus, law will simply be a four-year college course for the graduates of the 6 year high school; similarly, medicine will also no longer require a “pre-med” course. At the same time, General Education courses in college will be transferred to the high school, so that colleges will really specialize in teaching the “major”courses themselves. And there will be more time, in effect, for these “major” courses. And this, in turn, will satisfy the requirement to conform with international standards of education.

Posted in Philippine education, Philippines | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

EVs Are Good for the Environment

Posted by butalidnl on 21 June 2010

I came across a comment in FB where the writer said that EVs are not really good for the environment. He said that we are in effect generating energy at a distance, and that could not be good, since there are inefficiencies in energy transport. Then, he said that EVs only transfer the source of pollution from gasoline to coal, and the latter is worse.

Well, I disagree with these positions, and here’s why:

Generation at a Distance
True, there is energy lost while transporting electricity from the power plant to your home or car, but we should also look at the energy savings we get from not having the energy source at every home or car. It is like the case where each home will have a diesel generator. This is not efficient, even though the transport cost for the electricity will be zero. Why? Because, for one, fuel needs to be brought to each and every house (and that costs energy). And also, the generator will be one which will produce electricity for your peak capacity; meaning that when you use less electricity, your generator will be running below its capacity, and will be quite inefficient.

With a car, it gets even worse. The car has to carry itself, and when the motor is set for your maximum power needs, it will be quite heavy. And this means that more power will be needed to carry both the rest of the car plus the engine. A hybrid or an electric vehicle has a much lighter engine. Even a hybrid will be lighter than an ordinary car because its engine is smaller – it will be built to provide the average power needed.  The battery will provide the necessary boost to power at times, but the rest of the time, the battery will be loading up, and the car will run using a lot less power. And since the engine of a hybrid will continue running at a steady speed, it will be quite efficient – any extra electricity produced will simply be stored. And using the engine always at its most efficient means that there will be less soot output due to unburned gasoline.

And then, there is the regenerative braking which only hybrids and EVs have. When you brake, using a normal car, the kinetic energy is merely turned to heat. When braking with a hybrid or EV, the kinetic energy is stored as electricity, which you could use later.

From Gasoline to Coal?
With regards to the accusation that we will be mainly using electricity from coal to run EVs, well he has more of a point. But the objection here is that this is quite a static way of looking at things.

The first wave of EV owners will not overload electricity systems, they will merely “level it out”. They will mostly recharge their cars at night, when the rest of the grid doesn’t use too much electricity; thus, they will not cause the electricity utility to build new capacity just yet. However, as time goes on and there are more EVs, then daytime electricity will be used more often, with people recharging at work or while shopping. This will be the time when extra generating capacity will be needed. But then, the question will be: what will be the source for this new electricity? Well, chances are it will not be coal. It will most likely be something like a natural gas or fuel oil plant, which are faster to set up, and with less delays due to environmental hassles.

Grid electricity is a combination from all kinds of sources: from solar and wind, to hydro, nuclear, geothermal, natural gas, fuel oil, and then coal. The question is not whether an individual EV will use up more coal or alternative energy.  But rather if the coming of EVs in general will lead to more coal plants or to more wind, solar, hydro or geothermal plants. I think the latter will be true.

And then there’s the battery which EVs use are also used for solar installations. It’s the same technology. This means that as EVs get manufactured in scale, the price of batteries will go down, and that lower price will affect both the price of cars and the price of solar power. Thus, EVs will indirectly cause the price of solar electricity to go down. And of course, lower prices for solar power will mean that more people will install solar panels.

And there is also the matter of having a smart grid. By smart grid, I mean having software and regulators that optimize the flow of electricity, that is capable of delaying some uses when there are peaks, that is capable of storing excess capacity when needed.  An economy with many EVs will really need a smart grid to cope with the varying loads caused by the charging of autos. The same smart grid will also be needed to handle alternative energy – where the variability will not only be on the use of electricity, but also on its generation. This is the same technology, which I suspect will be put in place first to handle EVs, but which will serve both EVs and alternative energy management.

EVs in use in Europe can be set to only use “clean energy”.  Here, consumers have a choice of electricity suppliers. I expect that buyers of EVs will also choose to tap electricity that is “green”, for their household use. Since most EVs will probably be charged at home (at the beginning, at least), this means that most EVs will be running on green electricity also from the beginning. Of course, in the US or in developing countries, you may not have the chance to choose for green electricity. But perhaps this is something that your electricity net should also do.

EVs will promote and stimulate the growth of alternative energy. We won’t see this right away, or in such a dramatic way, but it will happen. Look from it from another way: how else will society shift from “dirty” gasoline to alternatives, except through EVs? It will happen, and that is going to be good for the environment.

Posted in electric car, electricity, solar, solar energy, World Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Combatting Corruption in the Philippines

Posted by butalidnl on 14 June 2010

All eyes are now on Noynoy Aquino, who ran on an anti-corruption platform and won the presidency. Now he has to get going and start fighting corruption. But his task is big, very big.  So, where should Noynoy start? How is he to address such a widespread problem?

Wealth Recovery over Conviction
I feel that the fight against corruption should mainly be about recovering ill-gotten wealth. And secondary to this would be the incarceration of those who are corrupt. I say this because I feel that the government tends to take the route of filing a criminal complaint against those suspected of corruption; which takes so long to finish, and which actually limits the government’s ability to tackle the widespread corruption in the country. Instead of taking the “legal” approach to corruption. I will suggest the “administrative” approach should be taken. Take the money back, put them in a black list for government jobs and contracts, and that’s all. No need to put anyone in jail, if the money is returned.

Government Machinery
I suggest that a special anti-corruption task force be formed to check the whole government bureaucracy and handle the complaints from citizens.  This could be made up of  officials from the Commission on Audit, the Civil Service Commission, Dept. of Local Government, and other bodies.  This task force will do its job independent of the Ombudsman’s office. It will concentrate more on “life style checks”, and on checking to see if contracts are not disadvantageous to the government; the Ombudsman could still concentrate on filing cases against officials accused of corruption.

To help make sure that the anti-corruption task force is itself not corrupt; perhaps there should be two of these, and they should also check each other.  Also put in some students, members of cause oriented groups, to help keep them honest. And then give the team members specific term limits.

And the government should also beef up its judiciary – a lot more fiscals and judges would need to be designated to handle the increased case load. Of course, this should be preceded by a thorough check of judges for their honesty.

Citizen Whistleblowers
In order to fight corruption, the government will need to be aided by “citizen whistleblowers” who would expose the corrupt officials. And by “expose”, I do not mean just accusing anyone left or right, but by presenting documentation or proof of corruption – either by the “life-style check” approach, or by the “transaction” approach. By the life-style check approach,  I mean that the citizen could prove that the official could not have earned the money needed to buy all the things he owned; and thus must have earned it through illegal, corrupt means.  And by transaction approach, I mean that the citizen could prove that kickbacks or other corrupt practices occurred.

And the reason that citizens would come forward with well-documented charges of corruption is that there would be reward that would be taken from the confiscated property. Let’s say that the government would offer citizens 5% of the confiscated property, tax-free, for evidence that will lead to the confiscation of a corrupt official’s property. This should be incentive enough for many to try and expose people.

The whistleblower should present real evidence, though, in order to avoid that innocent people get accused. There should be receipts, documents, photos, etc. presented as proof. The citizen – whistleblower should be able to present his case through the internet – giving him full anonymity.  There will be a lot money to earn by exposing corrupt officials, and I expect that there will be a lot of submissions.

Posted in Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Campaign on Issues

Posted by butalidnl on 9 June 2010

It is election day today, for the national parliament of the Netherlands. And the campaign that was just finished was truly one in which centered on issues, and solutions to problems. It is amazing, that when compared with elections in the Philippines, or even those in America, the Dutch seem to be quite mature and sober in campaigning, and in choosing which parties will rule them for the next four years.

The Central Planbureau (CPB, or national planning bureau) determined that the next government should reduce the budget by Euro 20 billion in five years, so as to meet the Maastricht treaty’s requirement of maximum 3% budget deficit. So, all the parties drew up their party electoral programs with this in mind. And they really made decisions on where to cut programs, restructure, or where to spend more. And these programs were approved by party congresses and presented to the CPB for computation as to what the effects will be on things like employment, purchasing power, etc. And then, the programs were presented to the public.  The implications of the programs are diverse, and they affect different people in different ways. So, the people need to look into party programs to find out which party to vote for.

One instrument that people use are the computer programs on the web, which asks people for their positions, and compute which party best fits with them. Sites like that of the Stemwijzer (there are actually a lot of sites like this) are quite popular; and very many people choose their party (partly) on the basis of the advice of these sites. My daughter, who used to vote for the Green Left party; did the test in the Stemwijzer, and a number of other such sites, and found out that the Labor party would best fit her various positions. Her boyfriend, however, got a similar result, but didn’t go for Labor, but chose instead the second choice that was offered. It all depends. Of course, the Stemwijzer and other such programs sometimes comes out with strange results; like when people ended up with recommendations to vote for the Animal Party (2 seats in parliament) – this was because if you say yes to certain positions of the Animal Party (which is a one-issue party, and which has similar stands to Labor or Green Left in other issues) you end up with the recommendation to vote the Animal Party. Luckily, there are second and third choices, which you could decide to take.

The other way to get to know party programs (or at least their most relevant aspects) is to listen to debates among the party leaders. There are numerous debates, three of which were televised.  And they really got to debate on their programs, the implications for various segments of the population, and why the other parties got wrong policies. Yesterday,they also debated about possible coalition governments; and the leaders were asked why people should vote for them and not the other party. A whole lot of people made their decisions on the basis of these debates.

And the various media also did their own analysis of the various party programs. One program, Network, did an analysis of the VVD (Liberal) party’s program’s effect on a mother on welfare. So, there was this mother who cried on TV, saying the VVD program will take away from her 200 Euros a month, and that they were quite cruel for proposing to do that. This incited the VVD leader to storm out of the program and demand an apology. But, Network didn’t apologize, since it really believed that the VVD program will be disadvantageous for single mothers on welfare. Of course, the issue is not clear cut, since party programs very often take away things in one part, and give compensation in another part, so we can never say for certain if it is true or not.

The various newspapers and magazines also had their own analysis of the various party programs. So, even without reading a single program, you can really get a good idea of what the various parties are proposing to do.

As for advertising, only the VVD and the SP (Socialist Party) aired advertisements on TV throughout the campaign period. They seem to have the most campaign funds. However, on the day before the elections, it seems that a whole lot of parties had advertisements. Radio and newspaper ads were rather sparse. Posters were only put at the designated places, or on the windows of the various parties’ supporters.

Public campaigning is usually done at public sites, e.g. the open market or the town square. And many parties also engage in house-to-house campaigning.

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Obama and the Oil Spill

Posted by butalidnl on 5 June 2010

President Obama is not doing all he can to fight the oil spill in the Gulf; he is doing all he can to make sure that BP is doing all it can to fight the oil spill. And there is a difference between the two. BP is always going to find ways to minimize its expenses in connection to oil spill. Everything boils down to a cost/benefit calculation; and the costs of fully responding to the spill are a lot more than the cost of facing up to legal claims because of the spill. So, BP’s beancounters (cost accountants) would advice its board not to do certain things, because it will be cheaper to simply wait for the legal claims than to address that problem.
Anderson Cooper at Louisiana marshes
Take the case of the oil spill which is clearly in the marshes in Louisiana, as illustrated by Anderson Cooper’s visit there (see left). The oil is clearly there, and despite the media making a fuss about it, BP seems to have simply left it untouched. Why would BP leave it untouched? Well, BP’s beancounters probably figured that the cost of cleaning this up would be much higher than what they would pay if the state of Louisiana filed a law suit; thus, the order comes out – leave that piece of the spill be, and let the government sue them.
There is really nothing the government can do to force BP to clean up that marsh. At least, nothing until the government decides to take on its responsibility to protect the people and the environment.
The government has the responsibility to protect people and the environment; BP has the responsibility to pay for any damage it caused. This does not cover the same things. BP will pay for any damage, but this will first have to go through the legal process AFTER the damage has been done. The government is the one who should make sure that the damage is not done.
Fire Department
The oil spill can be compared to a fire raging in a city. The city doesn’t have a fire department, so it is forced to rely on the owners of the affected buildings, who have a private fire department. The fire rages far beyond the capacity of that private fire department, but the government just sits back and says that “its responsibility is to “sit on the neck” of the private fire fighters to see to it that it does it job. Logical? Hell no! But this is just what the government is doing with the oil spill.

Well, I suppose that we should first question the fact that the city got built, but that the government didn’t set up a fire department, or that buildings were not required to install basic fire safety equipment.  With all the wells that have been set up in the Gulf, this accident is something that was just waiting to happen. It was irresponsible for the US government not to have set up a “fire department” capability to respond to oil leaks.

BP’s job is to address the oil spill at the lowest cost to its shareholders. Of course, it skimps on paying affected fishermen and other businesses. Of course, it will do the absolute minimum to clean up the marshes and even the beaches. Of course, it won’t go about building sand barriers and such to stop the oil. These things cost money. BP knows it could get away with not paying for all of them; so, why do it? Let there be damage first before paying; there is no money to be saved by prevention. And even perhaps some of the damage will not get passed on to them.

The govenment’s job (or it should be its job) is to prevent damage to people and the environment. This is not BP’s  job, and it never should have been made so. The government’s role is to address the spill itself, but also to prevent damage from being done. I’m not saying that it will be more efficient per se; but at least it is part of the job description of government. They will be held accountable for damage prevention, in a way that BP will not, and cannot be.

Of course, having said that the government should do the job of clean-up does not mean that BP would not pay for it. Let the government do it, and let BP pay for it (and not only “legitimate claims, but reimburse the government for the work, with a fine put on top of it).

What Should Obama Do?
What should Obama do then? Well, the first thing he should do is to assume direct responsibility for the spill, instead of merely the responsibility of pressuring BP. The government: federal, state and local should get the power to do what they can to stop the spill from polluting their beaches, marshland, etc. The federal government especially should take care of the spill BEFORE it reaches land; making sure that it does not reach land.

The US Coast Guard has already requested that Dutch and Norwegian ships that specialize in skimming the oil while it is in the high seas come to help. They should reach the Gulf sometime next week. But those ships are not enough; anyone else with skimming equipment should be mobilized – there are enough offers for help from other countries. The government should not assume that the US has most of the resources to deal with the spill. It is quite obvious already that they don’t. So, it should request help from other countries, instead of being perpetually worried about the cost. Would a fire department worry about the cost of a neighboring fire department that comes to its aid? So, the US government should make the clean-up effort a truly international undertaking.

I think Obama should just stop being mad on TV, or always scolding BP. This doesn’t help. He should just simply take over control of the clean-up, clear and simple.

And after this crisis is over, the US should take steps to form its own “fire department” – a US oil spill rapid action force should be formed. And the oil rig owners in the Gulf should be assessed for its services – based on the number of rigs they have in the Gulf. The US should also come up with agreements with other countries to cooperate in oil clean-up operations; much the same way that fire departments agree to help each other.

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