Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Facts, logic, and the problem with "good vs evil"

My niece had sore eyes last week and, like any five-year-old, kept scratching her eyes and touching everything and everyone around her to the chagrin of her elders. While we were admonishing her it hit me: the kid had no idea of the germ theory of disease. She was too young to know about bacteria and how physical contact transfers them. To her it was just us scolding her for doing things she usually did.

So I tried to explain and it helped, for a bit. She was still a kid after all.

At about the same time I was arguing online (as I was wont to do) against young’uns who were sharing Marcos memes and actually, truly believed, contrary to evidence or logic, that Ferdinand Marcos was the best president the country ever had, citing the list of stuff that supposedly wouldn’t have been built if not for him.

True story.

And it hit me as well: these kids were like my niece – unable to form valid opinions because they lacked the knowledge of someone who has read and analyzed facts and the perspective of someone who understands politics and governance. The kid doesn’t understand the concept of “hawa” in the first place, so how can we expect her to be conscious of where she puts her hands? Similarly, these kids seem to have only a vague notion of how government works, why corruption happens (and how), and how various forces, events, and decisions interact, resulting in what we have today.

Opinions are like a**#oles, everyone has them

There’s this mistaken notion that classifying something as “opinion” inoculates it from criticism. What most people don’t realize is that for an opinion to be valid it must be (1) based on facts and (2) reasoned properly. Facts are things we know to be true, and can be verified independently. And no, assertions are neither facts nor arguments. Saying it louder or more often doesn’t make it any less false.

“Boy Abunda is a terrible talk show host” is an opinion that, on the surface, can be assumed valid. But it begs the question “why?” If the opinion-holder’s response is “Boy Abunda is a terrible talk show host because he has dreadlocks” then the opinion is wrong for two reasons: (1) Tito Boy is bald and (2) one’s hairstyle is not the sole criterion for hosting ability. This isn’t to say that Boy Abunda is not terrible; it’s just that the statement, as argued, does not stand up to scrutiny.

In other words that opinion is wrong.
Wrong. So, so wrong.

Facts and logic

So when an infographic claims that “Marcos is the best president ever” then cites “facts” like “the dollar exchange rate was 1:2 during martial law” or that we were “second only to Japan” back then, it fails the basic fact check (1). The dollar exchange rate reached 1:20 (it dropped during the Marcos regime) and there is no credible source saying we were “second to Japan.” Just because someone on the internet says so doesn’t make it true.

That huge spike was the 97 Asian crisis.

More importantly (2), the dollar exchange rate and our ranking in some list of Asian countries isn’t enough to declare someone “best president ever,” regardless if he was the one behind it. That opinion is wonky at best.

And don’t get me started on that laundry list of infrastructure projects Marcos supposedly had built. While that may pass criteria (1) (although I haven’t seen anyone fact-check it thoroughly), the reasoning is spotty because it assumes that (a) none of these would’ve been built under another president, (b) these projects are actually necessary and were executed properly, and (c) these projects did not result in crushing debt and weren’t approved just to benefit Marcos’s cronies. It also glosses over the fact that Marcos was in power for 20 years – thrice longer than any modern president. Of course things will get done. But that misses the point.

No one is saying he was incompetent – the problem was he was ruthless and greedy.


But why do these memes persist?

Luis Teodoro attributes it to “lack of context,” an inability not only to reason correctly or check facts but also a failure to ask the correct questions. Like my niece who doesn’t understand why her sore eyes means her hands are off-limits too, these kids can’t fathom why, despite all the scandals and corruption, the post-Marcos presidents are still better than the dictatorship. In fact, the very na├»ve can’t help but wonder: if Marcos was really terrible, then why was there no traffic in Metro Manila during those times? Why were all those roads and buildings built? Why weren’t balikbayan boxes taxed in the early 80s?

If you’ve made that same argument (even in your head) and can’t reason yourself out of it, then please, read a lot more.

The youth today, despite (and most probably because of) the internet, are easily swayed not necessarily because they can’t think properly (although there are huge lapses in logic in a lot of pro-Marcos posts) but because they’ve been fed the wrong questions.

Hero, shmero

There are infographics and videos circulating online claiming that Ninoy was a shrewd politician who was out only for himself, the ultimate message being “he’s just as bad, maybe even worse” and that we were all manipulated so that his family would rise to power. Aquino, they say, was a “communist sympathizer” and was shot because all he did was talk – he’s no hero.

So now the average lower middle class 16 year old who gets his info online and whose parents and elders aren’t that knowledgeable either gets swayed by the idea that Aquinos = bad therefore Marcoses = not that bad / victims of bad PR. Add to that the fact that his personal life may not be all that great and he’s incensed by all the current political scandals and it’s not surprising that he can fall prey to false nostalgia. He has no idea how bad it was under martial law and some elder with a faulty memory (a taxi driver, it’s always a taxi driver) might even tell him “buti pa noon, walang trapik / mabilis ang construction / malinis ang kalsada” regardless what the conditions really were back then.

[Quick rationality check: heavy traffic is a function of car/population density. Of course there was less traffic in the past. And oh, boys and girls, Marcos created Metro Manila and it was originally managed by Imelda. How’s that for tracing who to blame?]

According to one of these posts, Ninoy Aquino should not be considered a hero – he was just some politician who didn’t have any charitable institutions, colluded with the communists, and coasted on rhetoric alone. But you can say the exact same thing about Jose Rizal (substitute revolutionaries for communists) or Martin Luther King. Heck, Rosa Parks was a hero and all she did was sit down. 

This is where the lack of context comes in. There’s a whale of a difference between the situation then and now. Today we place little value on rhetoric because everyone can talk. During martial law, the bravest thing you can do was talk. 

For a wonderful perspective on the political opposition during martial law, read this long-ish piece from MLQ3.

The problem with “good vs evil”

The easiest way to get everyone’s attention is to tell a story. And not just any kind of story – you need stories that resonate with the majority, hence the reliance on tried and tested tropes. One of the easiest stories to tell in politics is the clash between “good vs evil.” Just take a gander at all the political ads on TV and it’s a variation of malinis/mabuti vs kurakot/masama (Cayetano, Poe, Gatchalian), or painting someone as a savior (Villar, Romualdez, Binay).

It’s done this way because it works.

The problem is it oversimplifies things. Of course Binay helped people (that’s not the problem), of course Taguig improved (but what if the court rules that BGC is Makati’s). We somehow think of good people as saints in all aspects of their lives and evil people as complete sociopaths who are terrible in everything they do.

So in painting Aquino as a hero and Marcos as the devil, propagandists left a crack open for doubts to seep in. You could picture my hypothetical 16 year old’s brain working (light bulb moments everywhere): so Marcos did some good stuff while he was president – why are we vilifying him? Aquino acted all politician-y when he was a senator – why is he a hero?

The problem with good vs evil is that it’s true only in the broadest sense and the kids get confused by nuance.

Hank Scorpio was a really good boss. His henchmen have dental coverage.

Historical revisionism

This confusion primes the pump for historical revisionism. Instead of martial law being a generally terrible time for everyone except cronies and military officers, it’s now being painted as a golden era of discipline and prosperity. Instead of Ninoy being the symbol of the opposition, he’s being pictured as a noisy politician who helped the communists.

People believe this because (1) they don’t bother to check the facts (the communist insurgency grew under Marcos, because he gave moderates very little choice) and (2) their reasoning is spotty at best (in times of oppression, speaking out is the bravest thing to do, just ask Rizal).

This revisionism takes hold because people, young and old, had very little idea what happened before their time. Come to think of it, can we call it revisionism at all if nothing is actually being revised in their heads? This is the first time they’ve heard of these things and their minds are struggling to find a perspective. If all you knew about Ninoy was that he was a martyr without understanding why, then any propaganda countering that can get a foothold.

Most people have been taught the grade school version of history and never got past that.

So what do we do?
For my niece, we just kept chiding her whenever she’d scratch her eyes – that’s how you get a kid to do things – but we try to process the scolding after. The kid needs to know why her elders are acting the way they do. Hopefully, she grows up with a better understanding of why things are and she can make proper decisions (based on fact and reason) on her own.  

The same thing for the generation that doesn’t understand why we of a certain age throw fits whenever they praise Marcos and martial law online (especially when they use false info): we talk and teach and hope they get better when they grow up. ###

Friday, June 19, 2015

That's the point

In any argument with a Duterte supporter who likes him because he encourages killing petty criminals you'd get variations of the following ideas: petty criminals deserve it, Filipinos need discipline more than democracy, and my personal favorite "you can't eat human rights." These memes* form the core of the pro-Duterte (or, more accurately, the pro-vigilantism) argument. At the least the ones I usually encounter.

They also miss the point.

The first idea begs the question: so who gets to decide? Followed by what if they're wrong? A US case was overturned recently and the convict on death row was exonerated following new evidence. Partida, they had due process. Imagine the kind of mistakes the Davao Death Squad can (or does) make. What if they come for you? Will you honestly hold your hands up and say you deserve it?

The second meme makes a wrong assumption: that discipline and democracy are mutually exclusive and that discipline equals dictatorship. Rich European countries are democracies and they (as any Pinoy there will tell you) are "disciplined." Instilling a sense of discipline does not require you to gleefully trample on human rights.

The third idea just makes me want to slap people. You can't eat a lot of things, that doesn't make them any less important. More importantly, does killing petty criminals put more food on the table?

It doesn't. But it provides a false sense of safety and security that the middle class craves, at least until they find themselves on the wrong end of a motorcycle gang's shiny guns.

What Duterte supporters miss is that human rights aren't hindrances to peace and order and economic growth, human rights are the goal.

It's all about rights

Modern society is all about rights. Think about it. A criminal (the ones you want the death squad to murder) is someone who impinges on your basic right to life (murder), liberty (kidnapping, slavery), and the pursuit of happiness (loud videoke at midnight). Your rights, as protected by the law and its proper implementation (due process), are what we want to preserve. Just because someone is suspected of committing a crime doesn't mean he loses those rights immediately.

The whole point of due process is to ensure that we, as a society, make sure that it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that criminals are impinging on others' rights before we all agree to limit theirs. Dutertards want to shortcut this process believing that it'll make life easier for everyone.

But does it really?

Missing the point

Years ago ABS-CBN had an often-brilliant satirical sitcom called "Abangan ang Susunod na Kabanata" which had a sociopathic congressman's son as a character. In one episode he talked about eliminating poverty by opening fire on squatters. "In one minute, no more poor!"**

It's funny because it misses the point. And if I need to explain why, then I want nothing to do with you anymore.

It's only ok if a fictional psycho does it.

The war on poverty isn't a war on the poor. You don't get rid of it by eliminating them. You do it by elevating their income (education, opportunities, etc.), the same way you eliminate crime by preventing people from doing illegal activities. A crime is an act and poverty is a condition -- you don't solve either by eliminating the people involved.

*I'm using the term correctly. Look it up.

**In hindsight it's really dark but it's so absurd (and the character played perfectly by Anjo Yllana) that it gets a lot of laughs. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fair fight?

Guess what Bong, the riding public doesn't give a rat's ass if you and your fellow operators lose money because of Uber. For years we've had to put up with old cabs with leaking LPG tanks and irate drivers who negotiate prices or, worse, refuse certain fares. All this time taxi operators have been collecting a set "boundary" -- rent paid by the driver for using the vehicle -- regardless whether said driver makes money or not. (This is on top of the money he spends on gas).

This feudal policy has resulted in drivers working 24 hours straight, fueled by Cobra yet still barely awake at intersections. Drivers who, as rational agents, have resorted to using what they have (i.e. the scarcity of cabs during rush hour) to get what they need (add-ons to the fare or shorter trips).

Dear passengers, it's not that your taxi driver is greedy; He's like that because he has only a few hours a day to reach his quota. He refuses to take you to / through heavy traffic because it's an opportunity cost for him.

The question is: where were you, taxi operators, when all this was going down? Did your organization do anything to improve the quality of taxis in the metro? Nope. You were happily collecting the cash. And now that there's a solution that filled the gap in the market, you come crying to Congress.

Fair fight?

All this talk of wanting a "fair fight" just falls on unsympathetic commuter ears. Taxi operators have been screwing both drivers and passengers for years, resulting in a deterioration of service and a general mistrust of taxicabs.

And while theoretically taxicabs are accountable for any violations, the entire process for lodging complaints just turns the average commuter off. Meanwhile, the Uber app allows the user to rate drivers and submit comments immediately after the ride. This type of feedback is more useful from a customer service standpoint than an administrative or criminal case. If a driver pisses off enough passengers, he'll eventually get booted out of the system.

Fix the problem

It's like the Metro Manila Film Festival. We sympathize with local film producers who don't want to compete with flashy Hollywood productions but we can't bring ourselves to support another installment of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll." People want quality in general, and we're not getting that from what you're showing us.

So as much as we'd like to help the local taxi industry, the fact that I'm still getting rejected at rush hour and some drivers insist on debating politics or (I swear this is true) practicing a stand-up routine, makes me reach for my phone when I want to get somewhere.

Let the better man win

Limited market

But if you think about it, Uber isn't really a threat. The fact that it requires both a credit card and a smartphone data plan automatically narrows the market. And while upscale office workers and expats have glommed onto it, the general public will still need taxis to take them to the airport. Your tita, (the middle class one) will still fall in line outside Glorietta 3 to get a cab the traditional way. (That, or she calls R&E's landline to make pasundo)

In fact, the number of taxis is way greater than private Uber cars that it doesn't really matter that much. Fix your service and we'll gladly ride cabs again.

If you can't beat 'em

Rumor has it that Basic Taxi has just acquired 60 new sedans to register under Uber. Let's just hope that they treat their drivers the way good Uber partners do. Eventually they'll learn that treating drivers like actual valued employees / partners instead of serfs results in a better experience for everyone.

Monday, June 08, 2015

It doesn't matter

The Manila Standard commissioned a nationwide survey on K to 12 and it showed that majority of Filipinos thought that it can't be done. And while I do trust surveys in general, one has to remember that it only tells you the responses of people (statistically meant to represent a certain population) to the questions they were asked.

What it doesn't tell you is if the respondents do know enough to form a proper opinion on a certain issue.

"Don't know enough"

The Standard's survey has a "don't know enough" option but, honestly, how many people will admit that they don't know enough. (I've been to enough barbershops to know otherwise) But seriously, how do you know that you know enough? Your average respondent probably has a relative in a public school, and is sort of aware of what's going on in the news. But is that enough?

The survey asks if "The government is very ready to implement in full the K to 12 program next year" and 63% disagreed with only 5% admitting that they don't know enough. Which begs a couple of questions: one, is there a difference between "ready" and "very ready" (handa versus handang-handa?) and two, what is the basis of their opinion?


Unless properly defined, there can be a huge gulf between being "ready" and "very ready." One could say that meeting the minimum requirements makes one "ready" and exceeding them merits the "very." I can imagine someone reasoning out that the government isn't "very ready" because some classrooms for senior high school haven't been constructed yet. Or that until the displacement issue of college instructors has been adequately addressed, the government cannot say that it is handang-handa.

Bottomline is that a certain number of that 63% who disagree with the statement probably don't think that the educational system will collapse in 2016. They probably know that something has been or is being done to prepare, they just can't bring themselves to say that government is "very ready."

But does it have to be?

Degree of readiness

Anyone who has planned a school event in college or got married (with all the trappings) knows that one can never be 100% "ready" for something like that, what more a gargantuan reform measure involving 47,000 schools and 650,000 personnel. In organizational development terms, a change involving 50,000 people is huge. How do you classify something 11 times that? More importantly, how do you become "very ready" for something that has never been done before?

Your event or wedding planner has the benefit of having done it before, with the previous outings as benchmarks. If he's any good he has a checklist of things to do and a rolodex of suppliers who can help do it flawlessly. The government isn't winging it when it comes to K to 12, but no one, here or abroad, can actually claim that they've done something like this before.

Butch Hernandez, in an Inquirer op-ed piece says
"it is rare that conditions will be exactly the way they should be, especially for something as complex as education."
There is no such thing as being "very ready" for this and only the ignorant (or biased) will demand that an organization be 100% prepared today for something to be implemented next year.

Access to information

I have trouble taking opinions based on incomplete or erroneous information seriously, which is often the case with K to 12. While all the info is technically out there in the public sphere via press statements and datasets in the DepEd website, very few people have actually read and understood all of it.

During TV Patrol's June 1 (school opening) telecast, Noli de Castro asked a field reporter about classrooms for senior high school, which were under construction. Although he didn't say it out loud, you could see the former VP wondering "bakit kaya ngayon lang ginagawa yan."  What the reporter and De Castro failed to mention is that senior high school (grades 11 and 12) will begin next year and the fact that the classrooms are already being constructed is a good thing.

It's not a bug, it's a feature.

But your average citizen who gets his news from kapamilyas would think otherwise. He would think that all public schools are crowded when, in fact, it's the same 10 or so congested NCR schools that get featured on TV every June 1. No major network covers the school opening in Pavia, Iloilo or in Makati, or in most rural areas where things generally run smoothly and the classroom ratio is ideal.

We end up with a population that thinks we're barely coping with basic needs nationwide based on what media tells them, so when asked if we're ready for K to 12 they answer no. But in reality the correct answer is they don't know enough to form a proper opinion.

Basing policy on popular opinion...

... isn't exactly wrong. But basing your planning on the pulso ng masa definitely is.

What that survey tells us is what some people think, which is different from what actually is. An outsider evaluating DepEd based on limited information and without proper context cannot trump actual planning, data, and results by people who have been implementing the program the past five years.

What people think is just a matter of opinion. What matters is if the government is, indeed, ready. And that's a matter of fact.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


In the five years that I haven't touched this blog the internet and social media have changed so much that sites like this (where user-generated content means stuff written and/or curated by someone who cares) have been replaced by pictures and status updates to friends. A decade or so ago you had professionals writing websites and amateurs running blogs. Today, websites are just repositories of what the professionals write in blogs, and amateurs can be found everywhere.

While it's not an entirely accurate description of the landscape (that requires a bit more thought), it's enough for me to adapt a slightly modified strategy for running a blog. Of course the regular content will still be there but in order to "get it out there" one needs to share in on Facebook and Twitter, and maybe Instagram a relevant photo. Just five years ago this was the social medium; today in order to pimp this you have to share it on the medium that the audience really reads.

Which actually brings me back to how this thing started. A decade and a half ago, email groups were a thing. I'd write something everyday and post it to the different groups I belonged to. Eventually enough of them would transfer to the missingpoints e-group and the rest is history. (I know it's a cliche but I'm too lazy to think of something clever)

I haven't been writing enough so I need this, again, to get back up to speed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hells yes

Dulaang UP will re-stage Orosman at Zafira and we will be there every weekend watching. It. Is. That. Awesome.

That is all.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Right now even the New York Times knows that a couple of ghost writers lifted parts of Oprah's, JK Rowling's, and Coco's graduation speeches and incorporated it into Manny Pangilinan's. Savvy businessman that he is, he handled the situation perfectly: appearing contrite, offering to resign, and still keeping the identities of the plagiarizers secret.

Five years ago I was teaching a literature class and had the students review a novel for their final project. I remember allowing them to search online reviews and discussions if they needed additional insights. What I got was a significant number of students submitting cut-and-paste reviews.

I found out because a lot of them were written in near-perfect English (a facility that the plagiarizers didn't have) and because a couple included the book prices and availability information from Amazon. I went ballistic on the school's yahoogroup (it was, and still is, a small school) and failed every plagiarizer on sight.

I still automatically fail anyone who submits cut-and-pasted work.

I also wrote this.