Saturday, April 25, 2015

Cultures are stubborn

“France is stubborn. It is an idea, after all. Ideas must be defined against something. France has little choice but to define itself against the English-speaking world, rushing after money when other consolations abound. It was the French epicure Brillat-Savarin who noted: ‘I have drawn the following inference, that the limits of pleasure are as yet neither known nor fixed.’” [Confessions of a Francophile, Roger Cohen, The New York Times, 14th Apr 2015]

“Perhaps it’s the perfection of Paris in these early spring days that makes all the chat about moroseness seem facile — the sweet breeze, the wide bright sky on the banks of the Seine, the low-slung bridges with their subtle fulcrums, the early-morning silence (enveloping enough for the sound of a woman’s heels on the sidewalk to be audible), the city’s gentle awakening, the curve of a zinc roof, the flat-topped pollarded trees along the gravel pathways of the Tuileries, the etched shadows on limestone, the streets that beckon and the boulevards that summon. If this is the vapid grandeur of a fading power, I’ll take it!                  
“Of course, Britain has raced ahead . . . Thatcher-revolutionized itself, uncrimped itself, and London has become the global city par excellence, while Paris has merely burnished the credentials of its beauty. France has grown sullen in its defiance of global modernity. Well, so be it!

“Few countries would have handled the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 with such rigor, transparency and speed. Watching Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor, I was reminded that public service in France is still a high calling that draws many of the country’s best minds. It is not a mere second-best to the lucrative private sector. Once again the police — applauded by left-wing crowds in the vast demonstration after the Charlie Hebdo killings in January — showed superb professionalism. President François Hollande was measured and composed, his response appropriate at every step.”

“France is a country that works. It could work better. But it works in its way. And if it worked better, by the standards of the Anglo-Saxon world, it would also lose some essence of its particular functionality.”

It is a country that works. “Thanks to the sheer guts and vision of many of our small and medium entrepreneurs, they have persisted despite all the odds thrown their way. As the saying goes: no guts, no glory. In the Doing Business ranking for 2015 by the World Bank, the Philippines dropped nine notches, from 86th in rank in the 2014 report to 95th . . . There are 10 indicators used to measure ease of doing business. Not surprisingly, starting a business is our weakest points: of the 189 countries in the ranking, the Philippines is ranked 164th, or just 25 steps to the bottom rung . . . It takes, on the average, about 34 days to get a business permit, with the longest wait in obtaining a business permit from the local government office (six days), getting printed receipts and invoices (seven days), and registering with the Social Security System (seven days).” [Starting business not fun in Phl, Rey Gamboa, The Philippine Star, 16th Apr 2015]

But didn’t we read about this many times before or at least 3 years ago, if not earlier? “DTI launches PBR at QC, Monday, March 19, 2012. Starting a business in Quezon City is made faster and more convenient with the Philippine Business Registry (PBR) now available at Quezon City Hall . . . The PBR at Quezon City, which was inaugurated today by DTI Secretary Gregory L. Domingo and QC Mayor Herbert Bautista, is expected to facilitate the business registration process of applicants who want to set up business in Quezon City,”[]

“PBR is the integration of registration processes of five government line agencies - Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-ibig), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and Social Security System (SSS) - into a single application system, which cuts down the processing time from two weeks to 30 minutes.”

Is ours a country that works? It does if we believe press releases on a subject that has played like a broken record? “Gov’t unveils reforms in doing business,” Louella D. Desiderio, The Philippine Star, 15th Apr 2015. “The head of 12 government institutions signed a memoranda making it easier to do business in the Philippines. From the current 16-step, 34-day process, the set of reforms announced yesterday cuts it to a simple 6-step, 8-day process. Payroll-related payments will also be reduced from 36 to 13. Reforms will roll out throughout the year, starting in Quezon City, and are expected to significantly boost the country’s competitiveness.”

“The Philippine government has launched reforms aimed at simplifying the process of registering a corporation, as well as payroll-related payments to provide ease in the conduct of business in the country.

“A memorandum of understanding to implement the reforms was signed yesterday by the following institutions: Department of Finance, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Bureau of Internal Revenue, Social Security System (SSS), Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and the local government of Quezon City.”

We can be stubborn with our culture . . . but we’re not France? For example, we still have to internalize that parochialism has sunk us and will continue to sink us given how much investment, technology and innovation have advanced the Asian Tigers. But not only. In the process they have progressed ahead of us in people development, product development and market development. And now we’re looking at Vietnam and Cambodia closing in fast. Yet we still don’t realize that we aren’t doing Mindanao a favor with the peace council but are in fact doing ourselves a world of good, if Mindanao is able to contribute its fair share to the economy and in nation building?

It is not rocket science. It’s about resources, economies of scale, and the power of diversity. The US despite the racism by certain sectors, by and large, has been open and welcoming. And who are the people – that are not white men, a group that is to become the minority – that led America to advance its ecosystem reflected in the massive levels of investment it attracts and the technology and innovation that comes out of its hopper? And despite its education challenges, it continues its march forward in people, product and market development?

Sadly, parochialism will flourish in the Philippines because of how we value hierarchy – and will be left behind because of the archaic tendencies that come with it?

“France is stubborn. It is an idea, after all . . . It was the French epicure Brillat-Savarin who noted: ‘I have drawn the following inference, that the limits of pleasure are as yet neither known nor fixed.’”

“More recent work in philosophy includes various forms of realism about the world: the idea that reality is not the product of consciousness, or of human perceptual structures or languages or interpretive communities, but exists independently. We don’t make the world, as one might put it; the world makes us. Where for decades or even centuries, philosophy has focused on our representations and descriptions of the world, on human consciousness and cultural systems, many are now turning to the external features of the world that constitute the content of our experiences and the context of our social practices.” [Philosophy Returns to the Real World, Crispin Sartwell, The Stone, The New York Times, 13th Apr 2015; The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.]

“Let’s call this phase after postmodernism post-postmodernism – “popomo” for short. There are many varieties of this recommitment to the world, from thinkers across disciplines, including the speculative realism of figures such as Graham Harman and Jane Bennett; externalism in philosophy of mind, led by Andy Clark and Mark Rowlands; the “new materialism” of Rosi Braidotti or Karen Barad; Viki McCabe‘s cognitive psychology; the physicist Lee Smolin‘s defense of the reality of time; and Bruno Latour‘s anthropology.”

Thanks to my late Jesuit friend, and as my wife would say, I’m a “bone-head realist” and can relate to Sartwell’s “In graduate school I actually took to calling myself a “bone-head realist.” Yet would always look forward to dining at a couple of French restaurants in the city and in the suburbs [of New York.] On second thought, we just had a dinner to remember in a Lebanese restaurant in Montreal. It’s one of my favorites. Thanks to a Lebanese and a Syrian friend; all I need is ask.

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