Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Op-Ed, Today/abs-cbnNEWS.com
December 27, 2004

In Holland, there is a place called Soesterberg, a village located on the road between the municipalities of Amersfoort and Utrecht. The name of the village in Dutch means "mountain of Soest," which is rather interesting: among Soesterberg's highest peaks are the speed bumps on its main road and perhaps a few neighboring landfills.

In Amsterdam, a most gratifying coffee to have is called koffie verkeerd. The grind and the beans used may be different but the mixture follows the same principle as the Italian cafe latte or the cafe con leche of Spain. At any time of the day, this Dutch coffee tastes just right. In Dutch, koffie verkeerd literally means "wrong coffee."

Mordechai Vanunu, whistle-blower of Israel's secret nuclear weapons program and imprisoned for 18 years, has been called traitor and madman and even more terrible things by the Israeli government. Recently, despite remaining under house arrest in Jerusalem, Vanunu was elected rector of Glasgow University in Scotland. The traitor-and-madman was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 by Nobel Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, who received the award in 1976 in recognition for her work for peace in Ireland.

In The Book of Embraces, the writer Eduardo Galeano reminds us that Napoleon Bonaparte, the most French of Frenchmen, was not French and that Joseph Stalin, the most Russian of Russians, was not Russian. "North American blacks, the most oppressed of peoples, created jazz, the freest of all music. Don Quixote, the most errant of knights, was conceived in the confines of a prison."[1]

Wasn't Che Guevara declared "completely unfit for military life" by the Argentine military?[2]

"You look nervous," says the hysteric. "I hate you," says the lover. "The economy is in good health," says the Philippine government. "Everything is under control," says the Philippine military.

"Metaphysics must flourish," wrote the great materialist Charles Darwin in 1838.[3]

The World Bank is fond of homilies. Just recently, the Bank exhorted the world once more to pay attention to the consequences of environmental degradation. "Climate change is a critical challenge for humanity," said the Bank. "Like most things, it will hit the poor hardest."[4]

The main cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels. The main solution to the problem is to switch to renewable energy. Seventeen to one: the ratio of World Bank funding for fossil fuels and renewable energy, in favor of fossil fuels.[5]

The World Bank last year: "The global economy is working!"[6] This is a bank which stands for the truth.

At the end of 2003, the wealth held by millionaires world-wide reached $28 trillion, a figure greater than the annual gross domestic products of the US, Japan, Germany, France and the UK combined.

In North America, the wealth controlled by individuals "jumped 45 percent from $2 trillion in 2001 to over $3 trillion in 2003.

Class struggle: how the seriously rich separate themselves from the merely well-off.

DaimlerChrysler is selling its new SLR sports car at $450,000 and there's a long hoi-polloi waiting list. Soon, Volkswagen will introduce a sports car priced above $1 million. Watchmakers Patek Philippe, Rolex and Breguet are selling watches priced at over $200,000. But who needs pedestrian emblems of affluence when one can choose limited edition watches running in the millions?

Owning a 30-meter yacht used to be a hoot; now it's just a boring buoy. For the loaded, like Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft Corp., interesting is a 120-meter yacht which cost $250 million to build and which "will cost more than $100 million a year to run." Among its many impressive qualities, Allen's cruiser also has a basketball court, a music studio and a personal submarine, which is said to be capable of plumbing for prolonged periods of time the new depths of today's global economy.[7]

One evening in the final month of another short-lived year, right outside the house of the feisty TV reporter Maki Pulido, in the center of one of the fetid hearts of Metro Manila - that hopelessly poisonous metropolis built on fumes and peopled with souls drifting with nihilism and despair - in a tiny and impossible patch hundreds of flickering fireflies appear silently and circle an Ipil tree. A reminder, perhaps, that the grace of life is not so easily quelled.[8]

[1] Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces, W.W. Norton and Company, 1992. The first sentence after the Che paragraph - "You look nervous," says the hysteric. "I hate you," says the lover. - is also from Galeano. The sentence is an excellent opening for the comment on Philippine politics.
[2] Jorge Castaneda, Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara, Bloomsbury, 1998
[3] Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch, Vintage House, 1995
[4] Energy Security for Development, speech delivered by Jamal Saghir, World Bank Director of Energy and Water, at the opening of the Energy for Development conference in The Netherlands, December 13, 2004.
[5] Jim Vallette, Daphne Wysham and Nadia Martinez, A wrong turn from Rio: the World Bank's road to climate catastrophe, research and policy brief by Sustainable Energy and Economy Network/Institute for Policy Studies/Transnational Institute, December 2004
[6] "Poor but pedicured," George Monbiot, The Guardian-UK, May 6, 2003.
[7] "Individuals whose ship has really come in find bigger ways to flaunt it," Robert Frank, Wall Street Journal-Europe, December 14, 2004.
[8] In fact, according to Maki's husband, Boyet, in the infinitesimal patch, around Ipil trees and banana trees, frogs were also breeding, needle-bodied dragonflies were abuzz and slugs and snails slithering about.

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