Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for July, 2014

Of Potatoes and Toothpaste

Posted by butalidnl on 27 July 2014

The conflict in Ukraine today seems complicated, with Russia occupying Crimea and instigating rebellion in parts of Ukraine’s east. Actually, it is quite simple: Russia is wasting its efforts and resources in a futile war.  It is sure to lose in both Crimea and Ukraine’s east. Why am I saying so? Because while arms may be the  spectacular components of this struggle; the decisive, long-term, factor would be the availability of less obvious items like potatoes and toothpaste. Russia will fail because of its failure to provide adequate food and consumer goods; and not because of anything in their political and military strategy.

The Russian rebels concentrate mostly on the military and political aspects of their operation. But they fail miserably in terms of public administration and the economy. While they occupy areas of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in Ukraine, economic activity there is crawling to a halt. The rebels operations are financed by Russian ‘help’ and by looting stores and banks. Agricultural production is slowing down; meaning that food shortages would start to be felt soon. The people will literally be running short of potatoes and toothpaste.

Even Crimea, which Russia has occupied, will have a similar problem at a later date. Crimea is a peninsula conencted by land to Ukraine, and separated by a narrow sea strait from Russia. The EU has prohibited the importation of goods from Crimea; and Ukraine has cut its trade with it. While Crimea produces enough wheat, it has to import its potatoes – this time from Turkey. And its supermarkets are running short of toiletries, including toothpaste and deodorant. Crimea’s link to Russia is not really suited to large-scale importations: shipments are mainly by ferry boat or air. And to add to Crimea’s problems: it is completely dependent on Ukraine for its gas, water and electricity.
Russia’s failure to annex southeast Ukraine has meant that Crimea will remain isolated, and that supplies of many consumer products will continue to be scarce and expensive.

ISIS faces a similar problem – it controls a wide area in Syria and Iraq that is landlocked. Its neighbours are not trading with it. Money is not really that useful if others do not want to sell you anything. This ‘Islamic State’ is destined to dry up and fade away with time. (But ISIS could survive as a terrorist guerilla organization for some time, though.)

Unfortunately for Gaza, Israel is adequately supplied with enough potatoes and toothpaste. Gaza, on the other hand, is completely blockaded and depends on Israel for many basic commodities. Thus, Israel can do very much what it wants to do to Gaza. The future of Gaza is bleak.

Afghanistan (which is also landlocked) under the Taliban lasted for decades, one would say. True, but the Afghan economy was never really cut off. Trade went on with its neighbours: Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan during the whole time that the Taliban was in charge of Aghanistan. When Pakistan joined the US fight against the Taliban, it meant that the end was near, since Pakistan was its main trading partner. The arrival of the US military simply hastened the fall of the Taliban.

Politics is not as complicated or unpredictable as it seems. A simple analysis of the economy would predict the outcome most of the time.

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Why do Filipinos keep on Electing Idiots?

Posted by butalidnl on 11 July 2014

Why do Filipinos keep on electing idiots to public office? This is a question often heard in the country, especially whenever an official does or says something weird. A short, objective, answer to this would be: No, we don’t; most Philippine officials are not idiots. I think that if we would be able to get the IQs of all Philippine officials, at all levels; we would find out that their average IQ is significantly higher than that of the overall population.

The perception that we are being ruled by idiots (and the related perception that we must be idiots for electing them) is quite widespread. This is due to a number of reasons:

First, any political system that selects its leaders (mostly) on heredity (read: political dynasties) or other criteria than on intelligence or performance would naturally result in some officials with below average IQ. In medieval or feudal times, we remember stories of mad kings and other royalty. Nowadays, this happens quite rarely.

Second, everyone (even those with very high IQs) make stupid or inappropriate statements (or do stupid things) from time to time. In the TV series ‘The Big Bang Theory’, the character Sheldon, who is a genius, is continuously making grossly inappropriate statements. This demonstrates that a lot of bright people can act quite ‘stupid’.
These days officials are increasingly living in a ‘glass bowl’ – always with the possibility of surreptitiously taken video clips and witnesses – and news travels quite fast with social media. So, it is but natural that officials slips are noted more these days. The public should learn to live with most of these ‘slips’.

Third, peoples world views differ; and often they view those who hold other views as strange or even stupid. In the debate over the RH bill, many of those who were against it did so from a very traditional Catholic point of view. They all sounded quite archaic and so ’19th century’ to those who were in favor of the bill. In another example, Bayan Muna representatives would be viewed as having ‘looney’ ideas about many issues. I think both groups of people are quite intelligent.

Fourth, many politicians play for an audience. Be it Duterte threatening to kill all smugglers in Davao, or Mar Roxas carrying sacks of rice after a raid; these are all intended to convey a message. Some actors with showbiz backgrounds tend to be even more theatrical – like Revilla who ‘sang’ during his privilege speech.

Fifth, people’s prejudices come to play. There is, for example, an assumption among many that celebrities are brainless and have no place in politics.This is demonstrated by the aversion of many to the plan of Kris Aquino to run for the Senate. Kris is certainly quite intelligent – she is the daughter to one president and sister to another. The questions people should ask should be: ‘what are her political views? will she work full-time as senator?’
It is intellectual snubbery to assume that candidates without academic credentials, or who are showbiz personalities, are dumb or idiots.

Though many politicians are quite intelligent, a lot of them are not performing their functions well. Lito Lapid’s difficulty with debating in English should not be the issue, but rather his absence in most Senate sessions. Pacquiao’s being one of the ‘most absent’congressmen should similarly be made the issue.  Many mayors don’t even live in the municipality they are mayor of. Being a public official should require a full-time commitment to their work, be it as mayor or senator.
This is where the public often falls short: they prefer to vote for a candidate’s promises, but don’t vote them out of office if they don’t perform.

Another issue altogether is the matter of corruption. Some of the most corrupt are also the most intelligent. Marcos is the classic example of this; Arroyo a (relatively minor) recent example. It takes intelligence to be truly corrupt. An unintelligent corrupt official will readily be caught;  the bright ones are able to steal for years and years.

The challenge for the public is to elect officials who are not only intelligent, but also diligent and honest. This is tough. But I believe we can do this, eventually.

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