Monday, August 01, 2005

The Manila Times
July 31, 2005

Revolution is radical some say, a complete break from the conventional - the successful culmination of tremendous, sustained bursts of emotion and imagination. Perhaps. A revolution can take many forms: leaps in technology, mutiny in thought, a revolt against certainty, the reengineering of the moribund.

All imagination is invention.

Patent application: the Elite Filipino Insurrection Machine - a device fueled by fear of popular fire; changes governments, reinvents decomposing leaders, changes many things without too much changes. Health effects benign - anesthetizes the poor, placates the rich; absorbs revolutionary emissions.

Invention and the fabricated narrative: meet Rudolf, smart man born in Paris in 1858, the son of Prussian immigrants. He studied to become an industrial engineer and by 1880 was already building steam engines as an apprentice. The engines, however, were so spectacularly inefficient that they wasted nearly 9/10th of their fuel - a fact which so disturbed young Rudolf that he began building alternative models.

An eminent thermal engineer, a connoisseur of the arts, a linguist, and a social theorist, Rudolf developed the theory that revolutionized the concept of the combustion engine.[1] By 1897, the first such engine "suitable for practical use" was operating at a remarkable 75 percent efficiency.

In 1900, at the Paris Exposition, Rudolf's invention won the grand prize - a revolutionary engine fueled by 100 percent peanut oil. An engine that, despite the innumerable design variations that would follow it, would forever be associated with Rudolf's last name- Diesel.

Rudolf Diesel intended biomass - plant crops, not petroleum - to be the fuel for his engine: to provide farmers, communities and small industries "the opportunity to produce their own fuel and to compete with the large monopolies that controlled energy production at the time."

By three letters, the supposedly modern term 'biodiesel' is a superfluous word. Until the 1920s, seed oils and vegetable oils were used as fuel for the engine that would be fused with Diesel's name - a name that today is ironically associated with machines emitting humongous amounts of noxious smoke fired by cartel-owned, finite fossil fuel byproducts owned largely by cartels who have usurped the name and aim of Rudolf Diesel.

Not too long after Diesel's engine showed commercial promise, oil giants peddling cheaper petroleum derivatives took control of the fuel supply market in the US and Europe and derailed the blossoming biofuel industries. [2] With the help of the vile newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, American oil barons also killed off hemp, an essential crop long used in the paper and textile industry that was found capable of producing high-grade fuel. [3]

The call today to replace oil with biodiesel is not as revolutionary as others think. But people can certainly continue to be radical - for the root meaning of radical is 'to go straight to the root'. Back, that is, to the basic intention of Rudolf's invention.

Reality is the factory of imagination. Or is it the other way around?

Technology is never neutral.

Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor, "one of the greatest and most productive" such geniuses of his time. Edison held over 1,300 U.S. and foreign patents and counted, among his more popular inventions, the phonograph and the first commercially practical carbon filament-based incandescent lamp. Edison also invented the Kinetoscope - a modernized peep-show contraption - and a projecting machine called the Kinetograph.

The movie-making machine was later named the "Wargraph" - and produced interesting hits. Among the machine's early battle blockbusters were films called Advance of Kansas Volunteers at Caloocan and Rout of the Filipinos - both shot on June 5, 1899, and Col. Funston Swimming the Bagbag River, shot on September 23, 1899.

The long lost Rambo Prequel Series? The Edison movies were reenactments of America's forcible annexation of the Philippines and depicted easy imperial conquest: the films portrayed perpetually defeated Filipinos and rendered "scenes that bolster[ed] the American public's confidence about winning the war." [4] A war that would take the lives of hundreds of thousand of Filipinos in its first few years alone and which would last - contrary to the US government's official declaration in 1902 announcing the end of major hostilities - till 1914. Next attraction - Mission Accomplished Redux.

Edison's studio "provided the necessary fiction to sustain" the conquest. Long enough until collective amnesia began to set in. Soon, "Americans would only remember a ten-week war with Spain while a fifteen year war in the Philippines would fall off the pages of history textbooks." [5]

And the Filipinos? We're still trying to remember what we've forgotten. Or, perhaps, imagine what it is that could still be.


[4] Nick Deocampo, Imperialist Fictions: The Filipino in the Imperialist Imaginary, from Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream, 1899-1999, ed. Angel Velasco Shaw and Luis H. Francia, New York University Press, 2002.

[5] Abe Ignacio, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel and Helen Toribio, The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons, T'Boli Publishing and Distribution, 2004.

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