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Monday, August 29, 2011

What's A Kindle?


I was at a mall about a month ago when I saw an electronics store and I thought of buying a Kindle book light.  I entered the store and approached a saleslady and asked for one.
What’s a Kindle, she asked, with a blank stare.
I must have looked sufficiently puzzled at her “lack of familiarity” with said device, because she turned towards the other saleslady and repeated the question to her.
She didn’t know what a Kindle was, either.
A Kindle is an e-book reading device from Amazon that uses e-ink technology, I might have said, but I didn’t.
I wasn’t particularly interested in informing them of various gadgets that stores such as theirs might have an interest in.
I turned around and left the store, disgusted.
Amazon introduced the first Kindle in 2007; its latest incarnation, the Kindle 3, was released last year. Kindle is a bestseller for Amazon, and is the most popular e-book reader out there. No mass market appeal for Kindle in this part of the world, though; but it has a solid and growing market--mainly book lovers who are also comfortable with the latest tech gadgets. In other words, geeks--the masters of the universe.

I got a Kindle 3 several months ago. Personally, I think this is the greatest invention since indoor plumbing. 
I love how it looks, and its portability. It has a 4gb memory, which means I can carry around an entire bookshelf—nay, a veritable library!—in my hands.

 Plus, the e-ink technology is as soothing to the eyes as the sight of Scarlett Johansson kicking bad guys’ asses in Iron Man 2.

My only beef was, you can’t read on it without external light.
Now some people might find that strange (e-book reader you can’t use without external light), but that is the price for the Kindle e-ink technology; it has no backlight.
E-ink simulates ink printed on paper, so that means less strain to the eyes compared to a back-lighted e-book reader. Plus, e-ink consumes less power, the Kindle can go for a month on a single charge (with wi-fi off). Yes, that's right--a month.
The ink-on-paper simulation is so effective, I sometimes reach for the upper right corner of the Kindle to turn the page. I thought I was holding an actual book.
Like the actual book, you need an external light source to read, especially at night lying on your bed.
So I looked for a Kindle book light.
I tried a few stores, but the Kindle book lights I saw cost about a thousand Philippine pesos, and I refuse to pay for a teeny tiny book light that costs around 13% of the Kindle itself. The Scrooge in me balks at the idea.
There are Kindle book covers that has a built-in book light, but that cover’s price is almost half of a brand-new Kindle.  Besides, I already have a leatherette Kindle cover.
A fortnight ago, I finally got a book light that I think is priced just about right, i.e., dirt cheap.
I got one following a lead after I posted on an online forum a query on where I could get a Kindle book light that “would not cost an arm and an effing leg.”  I was desperate.
Somebody answered that book lights can be had at Ace Hardware, so I went to a hardware store (it was a different hardware store; the nearest Ace Hardware is too far from where I live).
I got a plastic job that promptly falls apart at the slightest pressure.
Also, it has the singular power of causing every person who sees it attached to my Kindle to giggle helplessly.  
The book light is powered by three AAA batteries.


My toes curl in embarrassment just looking at it.
I half-expected my Kindle to ask me to take it to my leader. Looks like a creepy and dorky alien insect, doesn’t it.
I’ve given up using this light; I just leave that damn device lying around in my room.
I once woke up in the middle of the night to see its light shining. Remarkably, it has learned to turn itself on!
There are now many choices when it comes to Kindle book lights, I am relieved to find out.
With luck, I might get an unridiculous -looking one.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Queen of Heaven

Inanna, “The Queen of Heaven,” is a goddess of Sumerian origin: goddess of warfare, fertility, and sexual love. The Akkadians called her Ishtar, a name from which Easter was derived.
Yes, the Christian holiday.

Inanna is the most popular and important female deity in ancient Mesopotamia. She is also known as a healer, life giver, composer of songs, and possessing a wide range of emotions—passionate, ambitious, jealous, grieving, joyful, timid, and generous. In later cultures, she went by different names: Astarte, Isis, Aphrodite—she was the Goddess.
She is the original femme fatale, the embodiment of the woman every man dreams about; the female that devours men, the female that attracts/scares men; the virgin harlot.
Every man knows at least one.
Throughout Sumer’s existence, her powers and deeds were glorified and extolled in myth, epic, and hymn. No one dared oppose her, neither god nor man. She was as willful as she was beautiful, as selfish as she was generous.
At the beginning of her career as a goddess (around 3000 BC), she took over the divine rulership of an important Sumerian city, Uruk, from the powerful Anu (or An), the god of heaven, also the chief god of Sumer. She sought to make Uruk the center of civilized life; to do that, the goddess had to go on a dangerous journey to Abzu, the “Deep,” guarded by Enki, its king.
This same Enki also inadvertently insulted the goddess when he organized the universe; he somehow failed to assign her the insignia and prerogatives Inanna felt was her due. Even then, no one can do that to the goddess and escape her wrath; he received a dressing down of divine proportions that he had to apologize contritely, and did some very “un-godlike” groveling before her.

She is also known to have punished cities that refused to acknowledge her as Queen.
However, the role that undoubtedly pleased the goddess the most, the role that guaranteed her the affection of every Sumerian, was her role in the “Sacred Marriage” rite—the celebration of her sexual union with the King of Sumer. This rite was said to ensure the fertility of the soil.
Dumuzi (known as Tammuz in the Bible) was the first king whom the goddess chose to be her mortal spouse. Subsequent kings of Sumer celebrated their marriage to the goddess as incarnations of Dumuzi.
With the advent of monotheism, however, goddess worship died out, although some might say not completely.
Inanna is still a powerful role model for today’s women—goddess, earth mother, protectress, sensuous, intelligent, beautiful, powerful.
Confident of her position in the world, she is acutely aware of her great responsibility and does not shirk from it. She embraces it, revels in it.
Sort of like Penelope Cruz crossed with Hillary Clinton.


My Lady looks
in sweet wonder from heaven.
The people of Sumer parade
before the holy Inanna.
Inanna, the Lady of the Morning,
is radiant.
I sing your praises, Holy Inanna.
The Lady of the Morning
is radiant on the horizon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Admiral of the Western Seas



Between the years 1405 and 1433, a Chinese admiral named Zheng He, the "Admiral of the Western Seas," led seven expeditions from China; with him was a fleet with ships so numerous the world would not see anything like it until the 20th century. 
Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty, who ordered the construction of the ships, had this idea that building such immense fleet and unleashing them to the 15th century world would establish Chinese presence, impose the empire’s control over trade among nations in the Indian Ocean, and collect tribute from the “barbarians from beyond the seas”. 

Well, the fleet did that, but the tribute-collecting was but for a short time, and on countries that were not exactly known for their naval power—at least not during that point in history. The fleet was undeniably huge, and could have posed as a serious threat to any country in the world, or even defeated any navy Europe could throw at it.
The Chinese armada included 300 ships carrying almost 30,000 sailors; moreover, the ships in the fleet had a design that was much more advanced than what the Europeans were using at the time. Some of the ships in Zheng He’s fleet even measured 400 feet in length!
In comparison, Christopher Columbus’ biggest ship in 1492 was only 85 feet long, while Ferdinand Magellan’s ships in 1521 were only around 100 feet long.  

With this fleet, the Chinese reached East Africa, where they traded for ivory, medicine, spices, exotic woods, and even specimens of wildlife native to Africa. The fleet also visited other places in Asia, like Arabia, India, Indonesia, Thailand (then known as Siam), and other places in Southeast Asia.
The Chinese armada could easily have reached Europe and established a foot hold on that continent, and could have conquered any nation that defied Admiral Zheng He’s fleet. Had this fleet conquered Europe, world history would have been very, very different. 
 The Ming Dynasty emperors who succeeded Emperor Yongle, however, did not pursue a vigorous colonial policy. China, or the “Middle Kingdom,” was then deemed by its philosophers and scholars so advanced and prosperous that “barbarian nations,” who were seen as backward and poor, could not possibly add anything of value to it. Moreover, in the Confucian worldview, it was improper to go abroad while one’s parents were still alive.
The death of Emperor Yongle in 1424 signaled the end of China’s navy. Officials who encouraged Yongle’s plans of conquest by sea found themselves without a patron. Conservative scholars, whose views were rigidly Confucian and Sinocentric, dominated China’s imperial court. With the Emperor’s death, China’s age of exploration ended. The admiral himself died in 1433, during one of his voyages.
By 1500, conservative Chinese officials who did not agree with the Emperor Yongle’s dream of conquest had made it a crime to build ocean-going ships, and ordered the destruction of existing ones. They also had the blueprints for building large ships, and the records of the admiral's voyages, destroyed, just to be sure. 

So ended the greatest navy in history, not in battle, as one might expect, but in the imperial court of the Middle Kingdom. Officials of the imperial court closed off China to the rest of the world.
The next several hundred years in the country’s history would prove that this decision was a very bad idea.
You can read more about the admiral, who was incidentally a eunuch and a Muslim, here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tabon Cave—Home of the Earliest Pinoys

Located in a large limestone formation 35 meters above sea level in Lipuun Point in Quezon, Palawan, the Tabon Caves complex is one of the most important and well-known archaeological sites not only in the country but in the whole Southeast Asia as well. Around 200 smaller caves make up the Tabon Caves complex. The main cave, called the Tabon Cave (named after a bird that digs its nest into the ground), has a mouth that measures 16 meters wide and 8 meters high. It measures nearly 48 meters long. 

H. Otley Beyer was the first to note the value of Palawan in the search for prehistoric humans in the country. Following this, a team from the National Museum of the Philippines, led by Dr. Robert Fox, discovered and explored hundreds of caves and rock shelters in the province between 1962 and 1966.
Found in the caves were many artifacts, including animal and fossilized human remains that prove the existence of prehistoric life in the archipelago. The fossils in the caves are possibly the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens’ habitation in Southeast Asia. Archaeological excavation results in the Tabon Cave reveal evidence of continued prehistoric human occupation over different periods that range from 8,500-30,500 years ago, about the time of the Old Stone Age in the archipelago.
Among the fossil evidence found were:  tibia (lower leg bone) fragment, mandible (jawbone), frontal bone, and skullcap. These remains are from possibly the oldest Homo sapiens in Southeast Asia. These human remains, dated to be about 22,000 to 24,000 years old, belonged to the earliest known human inhabitants of the archipelago.  One fossil (the tibia), is the oldest human fossil so far recovered from the Tabon Cave; the fossil dates back to 47,000 years (45,000 BC).

The cave complex also yielded flaked stone tools and other tools common during the Pleistocene Era (1.6 million to 10,000 years ago). Other cultural materials found were jar burials, estimated to have appeared during the late Neolithic, and continued on to the Metal Age. Porcelains and stoneware, which shows evidence of local trade with China during the Song and Yuan Dynasties, were also discovered in the caves. There were also bones of elephants, giant tortoises, wild boars, deer, and other animals. All these excavations show the more than 50,000 years of Philippine prehistory, as well as early relations with south and East Asian countries.
The Tabon Caves today sits atop a cliff overlooking the South China Sea. At the time of the occupation of these caves (8,500-50,000 years ago, during the last glacial period), the environment around the cave was very different; the seacoast was about thirty kilometers away from the caves. People who occupied these caves may have made foraging trips to the sea to fish and gather mollusks, but they did not bring their catch back: archaeologists did not find any sign of seashells in the cave floor.  As evidenced by the animal remains and the stone tools, the people who occupied these caves were mainly hunters. The sea reached its present level only about 6,000 years ago, when the caves were no longer inhabited. 
There are 29 explored caves in the Tabon Cave complex, which the National Museum maintain and manage.
Only one, however, is open to the public.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hypocrisy? What Hypocrisy?



The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) closed down on Tuesday the main gallery where the controversial "Kulo" art exhibit is on display.

In a statement, the CCP said threats to persons and property influenced the management's decision to close down the gallery.


One of the artworks displayed in the gallery — artist Mideo Cruz's piece, a mixed-media collage called "Poleteismo" — was criticized as "blasphemous" and then vandalized last week.
Read more here.

Unbelievable. I am not a fan of this particular piece of art (and I am not even aware of this Mideo Cruz fellow’s existence prior to this), but my objection to this man’s “art” is purely aesthetic, and not because I think the “artwork” is “blasphemous.” 
If they don’t like it, why pay attention to it? Why exert such efforts to draw attention to it? That artwork has been in existence since 2002, and was exhibited all over the frigging place before being brought to the CCP.
And look at this, a lawyer (and a Catholic organization) is even threatening to file a criminal complaint ”against those behind the exhibit.” And the politicians are not far behind. One senator even promised to "give a hard time" to the CCP board, and is asking for a "review" of the CCP's funding. Priest, nuns and laymen staged demonstrations. Commenters in various internet forums are clamoring for the heads of Mr. Cruz and of the entire CCP board. A veritable mob has formed. 
What a world we live in. The country has many more pressing problems; there is a severe shortage of schools (what few schools we have were even damaged by recent floods), rising criminality, rampant poverty, unemployment, and on the other side of the globe London is burning, US stock markets are in a tailspin, and here we are concerned with an artwork that’s nobody even heard of until now, and done by an obscure Filipino artist!
Ironic that media played a role in the subsequent censorship. This is sensationalism at its best.   
I remember reading an anecdote about Noah Webster, which goes something like this: Two society women approached Noah Webster at a party and congratulated the eminent lexicographer for not including “dirty words” in his dictionary; whereupon Noah Webster exclaimed, “What! My dears, have you been looking for them?”  
Surely we have better things to do than look for “dirty words”?
I don’t know which is worse, censorship or hypocrisy.
The tragedy is that we are not spared from either.
And oh, I almost forgot--ignorance, the scourge of civilization.
Our society reeks of it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In the Mood for Bonnie Raitt


I have always loved Bonnie Raitt. I first saw her on the concert movie “No Nukes,” which was one of the first movies I saw as a kid. I was still in shorts at that time. I saw her perform “Angel from Montgomery” and man I was lost.
I wanted badly to have the album of the concert, so I saved up on my allowance, and I think it took me about a week to finally come up with enough to buy me a cassette tape of that concert. Well, it turned out “No Nukes” was on two volumes (this was before the DVD era), so I still came up short. Finally I got enough money and a happier kid in Sampaloc, Manila you couldn’t find.
Then high school and college and other things came along and I sort of forgot about Bonnie. Well, not entirely.
Anyway, a month ago I got a John Lee Hooker album (another boyhood favorite; yes, I was already a strange banana even as a kid, surprise) and I was listening and there was John Lee Hooker jamming with Bonnie Raitt.  They were doing “I'm in the Mood,” and holy crap, I thought I died and gone to blues heaven.
Afterwards, I did what any man would do in this situation: search for it on YouTube. Found and watched it, then clicked on Bonne Raitt’s version of “Love Me Like a Man,” which I liked so much I posted it on Facebook. I also searched for “Angel from Montgomery.”

And so that was the day I spent a whole afternoon listening to ten (or so) different versions of “Angel from Montgomery,” including Kristen Stewart’s from the movie “Into the Wild,” which isn't bad.
Ain’t the Internet great.  
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