The incredible USS Trout story …lives on through Tim McCoy

Over the last 20 years, I have had the chance to meet a number of members of the CHARLES TIM MCCOY USNGreatest Generation. It’s been a mission (if not an obsession) of mine. My purpose for the large part has been to find and meet people who knew or were somewhere near my grandfather, Lt Cdr Minter Dial, after whom I was named. So, it was only natural that, since I was headed to Austin Texas for SXSW 2014, I connected with a USN veteran of World War II. His name is Charles “Tim” McCoy, who served in the US Navy, aboard a number of submarines, before becoming a prisoner after the USS Grenadier was sunk (April 1943).

I came across Tim thanks for an article published in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, written by Ray Westbrook.

Charles Tim McCoy

Tim and Jean McCoy (via Lubbock Journal)

Tim and Jean McCoy (via Lubbock Journal)

Tim McCoy, who is 90 years old (born in 1924), showed that he is in great mental and physical health. For two hours, I listened to him talk about his experience in the Pacific, including his captivity as a prisoner of Japanese for over two years. Anybody who has come across the book Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrad (soon to be a film, directed by Angelina Jolie), or any other book about the Japanese POW treatment will know just how horrible that experience was. During our chat, I was lucky enough to hear directly from Tim, about his participation in a truly epic and well-documented mission aboard the USS Trout.  Continue reading

Guam – A family visit and things to do on Guam island

Pacific War Museum in GuamWe visited Guam to celebrate this past Christmas with my sister and her family, along with my mother who flew in all the way from Florida. Notwithstanding the jetlag and length of the journey (it felt like half way around the world, Guam to Paris is 13,316 kilometres or 8,274 miles)*, we had a lovely visit to Guam, albeit I would say that it is difficult to justify as regular tourists since we enjoy neither hiking nor scuba diving. The other alternative is to go there on your honeymoon as witnessed by the large number of romantic Japanese couples.

On the tourism front, we hit the newly minted Pacific War Museum (near the US Navy Hospital), complete with artefacts from the Japanese soldiers who had lived in isolation in the forests continuing to believe that the war had not ended; a most resourceful survivor, Major Shoichi Yokoi, only surrendered in 1972, while a couple of stragglers held out until 1962. And if the subject of Japanese holdouts interests you, I found this chronology of other situations rather fascinating (if certainly not complete and unsure of all the facts). More here about the longest holdout, Hiroo Onoda, who surrendered in 1974 in the Philippines. We did some snorkelling in shallow waters off the Guam Hilton Hotel — which is a very good Guamanian address — and saw scores of tropical fish. There was enough to explore to get our backs scorched by the sun in short order. The ordering out of food at the local “gourmet” Indian restaurant gave us a good insight into Guamanian service and sense of ‘island’ time. After placing an order by phone, we arrived ‘as requested’ 30 minutes later, at which point, we were informed that our order would only be ready in another 15 minutes. We waited at the bar. It was 10 minutes before we realized that the ordered drinks would not be coming. Going to pay, we waited a further ten minutes before seeing that a box to the side was sitting placidly, cooling off. We finally reappeared at home with the family, aside from being well past hungry, wondering what happened to us. Dinner at Firefly, 138 Martyr Street in Agana (+1 671-688-4145), hosted by the welcoming Randy Reyes, was a good address. However, don’t forget to come with extra jumpers for greater comfort (massive air conditioning).

Got in some cracking tennis with some members of the Guam national team (thanks to Lisa Miller for setting that up) including the #1 ranked Justin Dugan, Bill and Wendell.

Nuclear Submarine Docked in GuamOur highlight “tourist” activity was getting a first class visit of the USS Frank Cable, a submarine tender, courtesy of LCDR Dr. Rod Hagerman, the senior medical officer on the ship. Parked off its stern were two submarines (photo), while a third sub was across the inlet. The tour from the Docs (not at the docks) was very memorable for all the family. And, while we were some seven decks up, we witnessed some tuna fishing, whereby for some 3-4 minutes, a tuna hunted a smaller (2 foot) fish, zipping in and out of the water, at the ship’s water line. Better than any waterpark attraction.

* The earth’s circumference is 40,075.02 KM or 24,901.5 miles at the Equator, so to be fair, we travelled just 1/3 of the world’s circumference.

Reflections on the Philippines post Christmas Holidays 2008 Visit

Reflections on the Philippines – Mabuhay Bloggers

Map of Philippines
I have written in the past that the Philippines placed highly (6th) in the World Economic Forum 2008 global gender gap ranking. The report says in the latest publication:
“…The Philippines is one of two countries in Asia to have closed the gender gap on both education and health and is one of only eleven in the world to have done so. However, the Philippines’s score relative to its performance in 2007 fell due to a drop in the perceived wage equality between women and men employed in similar positions and a decrease in the percentage of women ministers [to 10%].”
It would seem that this high ranking was largely favoured by the female President (the second Filipina President in its history) and the good representation of girls/women in school at every level. I also wonder about the impact of the relative earning power of Filipinas abroad who, with even numbers, send in $18B versus $32B for men (OFW statistics). After my visit to the Philippines over the Christmas holidays, I can make a few more observations.

Children playing in Garbage Dump
First, courtesy of my kind acquaintance Charlie Avila, I learned that 57% of the Filipino university students are women. Second, just by circulating around Manila, you can see that women very clearly have an active role in business. That said, in this activity, there is a traditional division of labour (e.g. 99.9% of jeepney and tricycle drivers are men; while, for the women, there is obviously a lot of childbearing and rearing) and, outside of Manila, the ‘latin’ machista culture dominates. And, third, during our stay in the Philippines, I read how the government signed into law the so-called Magna Carta of Women, presumably promoted by the relatively large representation of women in parliament. In the Lower chamber, there are 49 out of 240 (20.4%) women elected, while there are 4 out of 24 (16.7%) in the Upper chamber. The ‘Magna Carta for Women’ bill (#4273) seeks to provide women equal treatment before the law, equal access to information and services related to women’s health, and equal rights in all matters relating to marriage and family relations. The cynic would say that if they need to create a law, there must be good reason for its need.

Skylab PhilippinesWooden Homemade Bicycle in the PhilippinesNonetheless, although I would like to believe so, women’s equality is not necessarily tantamount to progress. Since my first visit to the Philippines in 2004, I have observed little progress in the Philippines. The standout difference is perhaps the Subic-Clark-Tarlac dual carriage tollway (funded by the Japanese). Otherwise, the infrastructure and travelling conditions remain difficult–opportunities to break the speed limit (60kph) are exceedingly rare. Driving around the countryside, you are besieged by the 3rd World poverty (cf kids playing in the burning trash). People seem either to be mulling about doing absolutely nothing or on the move going absolutely anywhere. Any transportation is optimized; single drivers are an oddity. Passengers ride on the roof or hanging out the side. Cities are chockerblock with tricycles, bicycles and jeepneys. And the forms of transportation are quite inventive. You will see rice thresher contraptions and a “skylab” (down south, pictured above right) consisting of a balancing beam placed perpendicularly behind a bicycle/motorcycle with equal portions of people on either side. You can hardly fall asleep at the wheel thanks to the ingrained–if poor–driving habits and continuous overtaking.

  
Philippines Lorry Party - All AboardAs a testament to the constant to and fro’ movement of the people — and semantically revealing — the typical greeting in tagalog is “saan ka pupunta” meaning ‘where are you going?’ Another common greeting is “saan ka galing” meaning ‘where are you coming from?’ In terms of an answer to this greeting, you can say eith
er “diyan” (just there) or “doon” (doh-on, yonder/over there). 

Keep Philippines Clean Signpost

Signposts, and I am not referring to the names of towns, lead the way. There are signs calling for healthier (washing hands, drinking clean water, etc.) and greener Keep Bagac Clean - Philippines Sign(no trash, less water waste…) living; others invoking God and revoking drugs in the same breath; yet others demanding to stop abuse of children and/or women. All these signs, of course, are mixed in with a robust cocktail of commercial enterprise. And, yet, the progress seems slow.

As Charlie said, it seems that the Philippines suffer the instability of stability (as opposed to Italy which finds stability through instability). Part of the challenge evidently lies in the continuing stranglehold of the top 100 families who stubbornly refuse to yield. A defining Filipino saying is, roughly translated, Filipinos have “a loud but short fizzle” — the firecracker (a national pastime over New Year’s eve) is a good metaphor for the Filipino character. After the smoke, not much has changed. And yet, the success of Filipinos overseas, one of if not the largest diaspora (11 million or around 11% of its population) in the world is paradoxical. Beyond the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Dubai or the Filipinas that set the standard for domestic help around the world, there are ample cases of successful Filipino professionals (medical technicians, engineers, etc.).

From my various conversations, it would seem that the Filipino education system has taken it on the chin in recent years. An experiment to convert the curriculum entirely to Tagalog lasted a couple of years, but has had a lasting negative impact on English literacy levels. What was once a sizable competitive advantage — wide ranging English fluency — has decreased without compensation in any other form.

The other calamity is the growing strength of the “other” Filipinos occupying the southern islands, particularly Mindanao. Aside from hurting what is already a diminutive tourism, there seems to be a real schism between the predominant Catholic Filipinos and the Muslim population in the south.

Philippines TricycleTo overcome the handicap of the terrain and climate and its reliance on the centralizing, megapolis capital (12-15 million), the Philippines will need to overhaul its education system (as is the case, that said, for so many countries) and invest in its infrastructure (none more so than in Manila itself). With its pro-Western stance, the large and growing population and the generally genial charm of the Filipinos, there is much potential for this country. Will have to come back in another ten years to see how it all transpires. 

Corregidor – A Rocky, Whirlwind Visit on New Year’s Day 2009

Corregidor Island Map - PhilippinesThe least I can say for our New Year’s, is that it started off with a bang for us. A thriller in Manila, to coin a phrase a little literally (and litorally). For the first two days of 2009, I took my family to the island of Corregidor in the mouth of the Bay of Manila. On this my 3rd visit to Corregidor, “the Rock” in the unarguable form of a tadpole, I can begin to say that I now know the lay of the land. The island of Corregidor — the site of devastating bombing* in WWII and the capture of 11,000 US and Filipino military personnel, including my grandfather on May 6, 1942 — is a fascinating historical place [see here to read about the Battle of Corregidor]. This 3rd visit to Corregidor, armed with my wife and children, turned out to be most particular, if not spectacular. It all started out rather well. Arriving via ‘banca’ (pictured below right) from Cabcaben on the southeast of Bataan, we landed in a port of shamefully polluted waters (washed in from Manila). Once ashore, we then enjoyed a lazy afternoon at the Corregidor Inn, in which we were stay the night.

Banca Philippines - Pollution BayActivities included attempting to swim in the cold pool, having the run of an empty playground and then swimming in the warmer sea at the nearby beach. Fortunately, the water where we swam on bottomside was distanced from the banca landing spot (other side of the island). As we swam, we noticed the ever increasing wind, but cast caution aside in pursuit of gaiety and exercise. Apparently, we were feeling the perimeter effects of the typhoon off Palawan, many hundreds of miles southwest of us (364 miles to be more exact).

A little nervously, I also watched as the Sun Cruises ferry boat departed mid afternoon, returning to Manila loaded with all the other tourists on the island. We were the only remaining tourists on the island. That evening, in by now blustering winds, we met up with newly installed residents of Corregidor, Steve and Marcia Kwiecinski. Steve and Marcia decided to retire to Corregidor to pursue the footsteps, to a certain degree, WWII Battery Way, Corregidor Philippinesof Steve’s father (Staff Sgt Walter Kwiecinski) who was commander of the last functioning major gun (at Battery Way) on the island. Like my grandfather, Steve’s father (who was an uncommonly tall 6’6 and height was looked down upon by the Japanese captors), was then captured on Corregidor and imprisoned in a series of Japanese POW camps. Fortunately, Sergeant Kwiecinski survived the war and was able to share, later on in his life, some of his travails with Steve (link no longer functioning). Over drinks and dinner, Steve and I shared our stories and mutual interest in Corregidor. Certainly, one of the most interesting stories about Sgt Kwiecinski is that he was imprisoned in POW camps 12&17 in Kokura and saw Bockscar, the B-29 bomber loaded with an atomic bomb, circle overhead and then unload on Nagasaki. Had it not been for smoke coverage, the city of Kokura was to have been the initial target. For those who might wish to contact Steve in a quest to know more about the US history on Corregidor, you can use steveontherock AT gmail DOT com.

After dinner, we retired to our rooms to find our shutters fluttering on their hinges. Repairs were hastily done, but as we were to find out, to no avail. The wind was now blowing full force. The windows and shutters shook and banged and clanged all night long. Sleep was virtually hopeless. If the prior night’s new year’s experience (night of December 31) with the firecrackers going off outside our windows all night long were not enough of an experience in itself (the celebratory handheld firecrackers are a Filipino tradition), perhaps it was just practice for this next night of banging shutters.  (Photo of palm in the wind courtesy of Steve).

Palm Trees in the Wind in Hurricaine on Corregidor

The following morning, to help roust us out of any overnight fatigue, we were informed that, based on the Manila Bay Coast Guard’s decision, the ferry (capable of carrying 150 pax) would not be coming from Manila (48 kilometres away) to pick us up. This was an issue.

To start with, our plane back to Paris (non-refundable, non-changeable tickets) left that evening. To continue, the next available plane out was 10 days later…and one way tickets for the family would have to be repurchased. Moreover, because of the galeforce winds, the ferry would be cancelled for up to three days, meaning that we would have become more than familiar with island life, its 9 km2 (1,735 acres) terrain, solitary hotel, 130 island lodgers and the “karaoke café” on bottomside. On top of that, we would have had a surprise extra week to visit Manila, replete with extra hotel and board expenses. Once we absorbed those issues, there were still the intervening questions of the beginning of school, work, numerous medical rendez-vous and a non-refundable trip to London.

In sum, not good.

Many calls later, and helped by our travel agent Teresa and the Corregidor Inn staff, we were able to scramble a helicopter, with a pilot committed enough to fly through the typhoon winds to our island to evacuate us. Having already paid for the chopper, we were then informed that they could only take 3 pax. Sophie’s Choice is a grippingly tragic WWII film, but wrong war… and they were mistaken in thinking that my Hollywood-style looks and link to the Pacific War through my grandfather, would cause me to enjoy a replay. We were going to all go together or not at all. Of course, I dramatize a bit. All we had to do was pay for two helicopter rides. Despite my protestations that we had clearly and knowingly checked in as a family of four, our backs were somewhat up against the wall. Force majeure they kept telling me.

The solution, throwing total caution and dollars to the wind: not one, but two whopper chopper bills.

The organizing (and monopolistic) tour operator (Sun Cruises) participated in the [financial] damage fortunately. Despite some harrowing gusts, we were safely whisked away in two separate loads. And, we made our plane not without a little emotion.

WWII Battery Hearn, Corregidor Island, Philippines

Post Scriptum: In the morning, despite the commotion, we made a private visit of the island with Bryan, our kindly tour guide, accompanied by Steve and Marcia. The island is well arranged for a visit if you want to know more about the second most bombed ever piece of land in history (behind Malta). The 30-minute Light & Sound show in the famed Malinta Tunnel is not high quality, but is quite vivid and worth it as long as you don’t have to pay outright the full fare (2500 pesos or $54). The Corregidor guns are certainly impressive and story surrounding them highly engaging. For more on the battle of Corregidor, read here at HyperWar Foundation as well as the personal account of a soldier, Roy Edgar Hays, who was taken prisoner at Corregidor. Malinta Tunnel Entrance, Corregidor Philippines As for historical sites, there is a Foundation that is looking to save Corregidor’s crumbling ruins: Save Corregidor Foundation.

—-

* From Nationmaster: “Japanese bombing and shelling [of Corregidor] continued with unrelenting ferocity [after the fall of Bataan]. Japanese aircraft flew 614 missions dropping 1,701 bombs totaling some three hundred sixty-five tons of explosive. Joining the aerial bombardment were nine 240 mm howitzers, thirty-four 149 mm howitzers, and thirty-two other artillery pieces, which pounded Corregidor day and night. It was estimated that on May 4 alone, more than 16,000 shells hit Corregidor.”

Visit to Banaue via Cabanatuan in the Philippines‏

Map of Luzon, Philippines
Having boarded a 6 a.m. flight in Guam, we arrived 3 1/2 hours later in Manila at 7:30 a.m., and headed straight north by car toward Banaue, to see the beautiful Ifugao rice terraces (acclaimed UNESCO historical site since 1995). The drive, as it turned out, was 10 hours long on the nose, if a little long in the teeth. En route, we visited the city of Cabanatuan, site of several POW camps in WWII, including Cabanatuan Prison Camp #2 in which my grandfather was imprisoned for a little over 2 years (1942-1944). Nothing is left of the camp sites which were actually located 5 miles east of Cabanatuan at Pangatian, so we pressed on. A roadside lunch of fish and chicken tamarind tided us over. The drive was diverting for the perpetual overtaking of overloaded jeepneys, motorcycles and 10-to-a-tricycles, zigzagging between uniformly sized dogs, thin chickens, pedestrians and kids all ages able to walk. It was not uncommon to find young kids (6-7 years old) carrying infants on their backs. Since all the homes (and businesses) line the road, the road was the children’s principal, if perilous, playground. Other sites included the drying of rice in one of the lanes (to make the two-way road a single lane), cows, carabao (local buffalo), goats and, of course, oncoming traffic.

We arrived at Banaue at 6 p.m. and, installed ourselves at the government-run Banaue Hotel, ate at the hotel restaurant which was a mistake. The buffet of chicken wings, fish sticks and spring rolls was classified as hot, but the only true part of H0T was the o as in zero, which is shared with C0LD. The canned fruit salad rounded off the meal. Next, we scurried off to reserve our seats for the hotel’s Cultural Show, a demonstration of the local dress, music and dances. The 40-minute show was performed by mostly Elders (as pictured below). Despite one dynamic younger male dancer, the tinny drum and rustic flute (seemingly improvised) music chased us out. A suggestion might have been to present a younger, more attractive set of dancers.

Banaue Ifugao Elders (Luzon, Philippines)
Another worthy side note for the Banaue Hotel were the “House Rules” announced in the room’s pamphlet. Neither visitors nor gambling are allowed in the rooms. Likewise there was a prohibition of cooking, ironing or hanging of wet clothes. Favourite rule: “Please inquire/arrange with Front Office for hotel items you may want for souvenir.” On the good news, the hotel had comfortable beds. However, on balance, it reminded us of communist style hotels. Zero charm, dour (if low consumption) lighting and minimal amenities.

Banaue Map, Luzon Philippines
The following morning, awoken by an array of roosters at the crack of dawn, we were met by the appropriately named Dawna, daughter of the notable Hangdaan family in Banga-an village (3300ft ASL), an hour’s drive from Banaue (SPOT 8 in the map above). The drive was scenic, if bumpy. The road is under improvement; the widening and paving project is as yet 1/8th complete after eight years. That would place termination around 2064. The surrounding rainforest was filled with small waterfalls, lush with greenery, if denuded of any wild animals. The last of the monkeys apparently disappeared some ten years ago.

Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
While we had been systematically warned of the “freezing” conditions at Banaue — it being 3000+ft above sea level — we were more than amply prepared for the 14•C temperatures. The lack of a sunny day did little for the photography of the rice terraces. However, the sun’s appearance when it appeared was always welcome in the mountains (see below this shot at dawn).

Banaue Mountains, Luzon Philippines

Once at Banga-an, we were challenged to a 1000-step descent to the lower village, in the midst of a vast array of rice paddies. We were welcomed with heart-warming generosity by mother of nine, Mrs Hangdaan, married at 14-years-old to her husband, a year older. We ate native rice and chicken prepared in their traditional nipa hut. We also were served a bottle of native rice wine and were caringly given a bottle of the juice to take back with us. The kids were adorned with prince and princess regalia to cap off a memorable visit. On the way back up to the main road, we witnessed the celebratory, if noisy, slaughter of a large pig for a one-week-old baby girl. The entire village was on hand to observe and feast — an event that lasted the better part of the day.
After a return drive through the same winding pass, we also hit the famed Viewpoint (SPOT 6 on the map above, 4000ft ASL), obscured in part by an afternoon fog. Our evening activity was dinner at Las Vegas (+63 (0)918-4409932), with a gracious and energetic host, Leopoldo Bustamante, better than average food and a miked stage for musically inclined guests. Unabashed, the Dials took to the spotlight like dogs to the doghouse. Oscar played his repertoire of tunes on the guitar and Alexandra accompanied me on a robust version of “Champs Elysées.”
We returned to the Banaue Hotel to find it swarming with police and military personnel. The hubbub was to prepare the surprise visit the following day of President Macapagal-Arroyo. The last time a President had come to Banaue was 2005. For her arrival, we benefitted from a tight security and tidied lobby. Since we were busy for our lunch, we declined the invitation and headed off to our next destination: Bolinao off Lingayen Bay. As it turned out, meanwhile, the President cancelled her trip — perhaps offended by our early departure.

Tourism in Manila, Philippines – Good spots to visit

A selection of sites and addresses to retain (or not) in Manila, Philippines

In our two days touring Manila, we made a few decisive visits which I will share with you in case you have planned to go to Manila. 

Ayala Museum, Manila PhilippinesOn the cultural side, we had virtually a solo visit of the splendid Ayala Museum, on De La Rosa Street, off Greenbelt Park, +(63) 757-7117. With some very well presented expositions, we very much enjoyed the magnificent permanent collection, Gold of Ancestors, including a very suave introductory film in a very comfy lounge area. The collection dates from 10th to 13th century replete with chastity belts, masks, crowns and a fabulous 3.6kg “Sacred Thread” sash. (Other blog on Ayala: restyo.blogspot). On the second floor, there is an intricate collection of 60 dioramas depicting major events in Filipino history. And on the third floor, we also enjoyed the temporary exposition of Fernando Amorsolo, a 20th century painter (1892-1972) who captured Filipino images through (admittedly sometimes a little banal) portraits.

Other sites we visited included the tour of Intramuros, Fort Santiago, Casa Manila, near Fort Santiago, Manila PhilippinesSt Augstin Church, Manila Cathedral (both churchly visits were stunted by wedding proceedings) and, the highlight-not-to-be-missed Casa Manila (pictured right) with its exceptional top floor living room and well equipped kitchen.

Since our second day in Manila was a Monday, the selection of museums was reduced to virtually nil (most museums are closed on Monday). Instead, we enjoyed a visit to the Manila Park Oceanarium, a vivid aquarium complete with a fish foot spa treatment where Nibble fish bite off old skin from your feet. The collection of exotic fish in the side aquariums was more impressive than the main tank. A standout quirky feature was the small display of marine life capable of fereting out an existence in the foul water piped in directly from Manila Bay (on which the Oceanarium is located).

On the restaurant front, we had a lovely dinner overlooking the Bay at Pantalan Maynila with a kind server, Charlie, who shared a birthday with our son, Oscar. In the same vicinity off Rizal Park, we had a less glorious dinner at Blue Bay replete with three different sources of “live” music (1 karaoke, 1 live band and a guitar trio) blaring from all sides. Aside from the ominous warning of mosquitoes and a bill for the equivalent of 10.50 euros (690 pesos) for 4 people, the dinner provided myriad moments of laughter, if less good food. The highlight meal during our stay in Manila was at Zuni, a fusion restaurant at the upscale Greenbelt 5, in Makati. We had a quick and worthwhile set of tapas at Casa Armas, (523-0189) Bocobo St in the bohemian Malate District. A quaint little address. In case you get a little peckish (or esurient for you Cheeseshop fans), a good idea is to try the local Filipino bakery where the cookies and pastries are plain but decent (not too much sugar) and you certainly can’t beat the prices.

We also visited Mall of Asia, purportedly Asia’s largest mall. It being a few days before Christmas — which is plentifully celebrated in Manila — the mall was swarming with people. There was a rock concert and fashion show going on in the midst of the shopping. Among other curiosities, there was a long line waiting to get into the trendy Flip Flop store to buy Havaianas sandals. We also came across an Accessorize rip-off store “AksesoriZ” (oddly, there was an error on the logo on the item we purchased with the R being typed P).

Manila isn’t exactly a mecca for tourists. Traffic is generally pretty congested, even on Sundays. But, there are some good spots to visit and, if you are there, you might as well take advantage of what is on offer.

 

Review of Manila Hotel Philippines — December 2008

Manila Hotel, Philippines
A historical landmark built in 1912, the 5***** Manila Hotel is a “venue for big events and grand aspirations” as is emblazoned all over the place, including in each room over the television. As for our two nights, just before Christmas, it was not exactly a grand experience.

Unfortunately for us, we came while the hotel was under renovation which meant that the Ilang-Ilang cafeteria was more like the Bang-Bang cafeteria, as we ate amid a chorus of hammering. To boot, the food was absolutely mediocre at Bang-Bang. The other downside to the renovations was that there was no swimming pool or tennis court. Instead, we were given a voucher allowing us to go to the Pan Pacific Hotel‘s pool (5-10 minutes away).

The hotel’s large reception hall featured live music with one of the squeakiest, whiniest violins, trundling out Vienna waltzes and Christmas carols. There was also a surprising gingerbread house, large enough to host kids and made entirely of real ginger bread. Outside, Santa Claus was a regular feature.

On the entertaining side, we were witness to a steady stream of weddings (surely because we stayed Saturday and Sunday), proof enough that the hotel has its standing in the Manila community. That said, we seemed to be in Manila in prime wedding time, right before Christmas (December and June are the two high seasons for weddings). Over the same weekend, there was an ally-ally-in free wedding whereby some 270 couples were married ensemble for free as a gracious gesture by the City. And each time we went to visit a church, whether it was the Manila Cathedral or St Augustin Church, weddings were in full swing, limiting the scope of our churchly visit.

Overall, the Manila Hotel was decidedly average, even if not 5 star pricing. The final straw was that our room featured cockroaches which rendered our bill less onerous. All said, the Manila Hotel may be a landmark, but it is clearly living on its colonial laurels. Hopefully, the renovations will bring it up a notch or five.

Global Gender Gap 2008 Report – Who’s on Top?

The World Economic Forum have just released the results of the Global Gender Gap Report 2008.

Yin & YangThere are a few suprising facets to this WEF report, now in its third year, authored by Ricardo Hausmann, Director, Centre for International Development, Harvard University, Laura Tyson, Professor at University of California, Berkeley, and Saadia Zahidi from the WEF.  First, what strikes me is the tremendous dynamism in the results — from one year to another a country can change by more than 30 places (as France did jumping from 51st to 15th).  Secondly, the list of sponsoring companies for the research includes a number of banks, consultancies and a car company hardly known for women’s equality as well as the employment services company MANPOWER.

Gender Gap
Those quibbles aside, the research shows that there is a “…a strong correlation between competitiveness and the gender gap scores.”  And the report indicates once again the strength of the equality movement in Scandinavia, with Norway coming out on top this year ahead of its neighbouring Scandinavian countries.   Here is the list of the top 10 for 2008.  Noteworthy for being absent from the top 10 (I should say again) are the United Kingdom (13th) and the United States (27th, behind Cuba) which scores highest in “economic participation and opportunity.”  And, fairly astonishing for being in the top 10 are the Philippines and Latvia.  The report voluntarily overweights the importance of having female leadership — as a way of providing visible role models (which clearly boosted the Philippines).  How much credit for France’s rise goes to Ségolène Royal (and Carla Bruni)?.  A

Global Gender Gap Index

Rank 2008
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Country

Norway
Finland
Sweden
Iceland
N. Zealand
Philippines
Denmark
Ireland
Netherlands
Latvia

Score*

0.824
0.820
0.814
0.800
0.786
0.757
0.754
0.752
0.740
0.740

Rank 2007
2
3
1
4
5
6
8
9
12
13
*0 to 1 scale: 0=inequality, 1=equality

The report establishes the following “top line” numbers, indicating that on balance things are tending to get better, although there were nearly twice as many countries where the gap was widening in 2008 versus 2007 as opposed to the prior year.  The big conclusions of the report are that the world has again shown progress in closing the gaps in economic, political and education; however, it has actually lost ground on the health gaps.

Gender Gap 2008 Report

The criteria for selection are worth citing:
Male & Female Signs“The Report examines four critical areas of inequality between men and women:
1. Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
2. Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
3. Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
4. Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio”

Meanwhile, tailing off the bottom of the list are a host of countries without need for comment: Saudi Arabia, Chad and YemenIndia (113rd) landed basically on par with Iran (116th).  Japan wallowing in at 98th is a blemish…especially when you find higher up Mongolia (40th), Kyrgyz Republic (41st) and Russia (42nd).  Italy lies at 68th, not exactly brilliant.  Meanwhile, I thought Turkey (123rd) might have ranked higher.

Here is the writeup from the BBC and from TIME (with a good and lively analysis).  If nothing else, the research and report allow for some debate and exposure to this very important issue.

You Started It! — Fawlty Towers and Wars Declared by US Presidents

You started it!

Series 1 Episode 6 – The Germans, Fawlty Towers
—————————————-
When Sybil is out of action in hospital, Basil is left to cope with his shabby hotel (in Torquay) in her absence. What could go wrong when there’s a fire drill scheduled, a moose’s head to hang and a party of German tourists due? Quite a lot really, but it will all be fine as long as… you don’t mention the war.

Many people quote “The Germans” as their favourite episode of Fawlty Towers and, while I would pick another (The Rat), those sequences between Mr Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and the German tourists are certainly among the most memorable of the series.

Direct quotes from this episode:

Basil [who keeps making Freudian slips about the war]: Is something wrong?
German Guest: Will you stop talking about the war?
Basil: Me? You started it! [referring to WWII]
German Guest: We did not start it. [referring to the conversation about the war]
Basil: Yes you did, you invaded Poland.

Speaking of starting it, I was challenged in a conversation a little while back as to which political party in the US was more responsible for starting wars. The supposition was that the Republican hawks were more prone to engage in war than the Democrats. When I mentioned a few top of mind wars (WWI, WWII, Korea…) as having a Democratic president at the outset of the war, it led me to investigate further. In the last 38 years, each significant engagement/war has indeed been started by Republican presidents (you also have to bear in mind that a Republican president has been in office 28 of those 38 years).

There should be at least four qualifiers before attempting to come to a conclusion. (1) What would be more interesting perhaps is to look at which party was dominating Congress at the times when the meaty decisions/approvals were made… (2) A second consideration is whether the war can be judged to have been a “good” or “necessary” war. (3) What was the outcome? And (4), who was responsible for carrying out and/or ending the war?

Anyway, I have put together a list of most the more significant wars since the 19th century (and I have chosen to include all the recent wars). A more rigourous and comprehensive study would have to go into all the wars (definition of “war” needing to be clarified). I have not touched the wars with the Indians for example. The list of all military wars/engagements involving the USA has been made over on Wikipedia here. In any event, if you look at the associated presidents below, it is not exactly conclusive as to which party is more likely to declare war.

War of 1812
Begun and ended 1814 by James Madison (Democratic Republican, precursor of Democratic Party ironically)

Mexican-American War 1846-1848
Started and ended by James Polk (D)

Spanish-American 1898

Started and ended by McKinley (R)

Philippine-American War 1899
Started and ended by McKinley (R)

WWI 1914-1918
Started and ended by Woodrow Wilson (D) who declared war on Germany in April 1917

WWII 1939-1945
Started under Roosevelt (D) 1941
Ended under Truman (D) 1945

Korea 1950-53
Started and ended by Truman (D)

Vietnam
Started officially in 1959 under Eisenhower (R)
Escalation under JF Kennedy (D)
War ended by Nixon (R)

Invasion of Grenada 1993 under Reagan (R)

Persian Gulf War 1990-1991
Started and ended by Bush Sr (R)
(note bombing of Iraq in 1993 by Clinton)

Afghanistan Invasion 2001-
By Bush Jr (R)

Iraq or Second Gulf War 2003…
Started by Bush Jr (R)

The only conclusion I feel like making is that, despite all the civilizing that we human beings have been doing, the net net is that military conflicts, whether borne of need for power, zeal or fear, are an ugly and consistent part of our existence. And, for sure, there are necessary wars. If the world were run by women, would it be entirely different? Female Presidents, Prime Ministers, Queens and Empresses throughout the ages have been known or associated with wars (see here for a list frm womenhistory.com). Solutions to avoid an escalation in wars would include heightened education, international integration and, most importantly, increased prosperity. However, given the current and foreseeable economic crises and the hardships and pressures that will inevitably arise, it would seem more likely that we are in store for more conflicts than less in the near future. And, that’s when I take refuge in Fawlty Towers, and return to viewing Manuel being clobbered on the head about his Siberian Hamster [aka rat].

Your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Beijing Olympics 2008 Medals Recap with Per Population Analysis

Beijing 2008 OlympicsThe Beijing 2008 Olympics have come to an end today Sunday, August 24th. It is hard to imagine that 303 events are crammed into the past 15 days. The kick-off and finale were works of art (if well ‘orchestrated’ in the most generous of terms). And, true to form, China hauled in the largest number of gold medals (51), followed by the USA (36), unaccustomed to playing second fiddle. Aside from chronicling the winning countries in this post, I have chosen to analyse the results according to population. There are many striking facts to these results — the best of which I will attempt to highlight.

Herewith the Top 20 winners, ranked by number of golds. The standout performance after the Chinese clearly belongs to Great Britain with 19 golds.

Olympics 2008 Beijing Medals Table
I choose a second table below to demonstrate the number of medals won per population member (a medal per pop measurement). In the below chart, I have taken the Top 30 (this time), ranked by the most medals from the smallest pool of people. The chart shows the total number of medals won (2nd column), the ranking according to the total number of medals G/S/B (3rd col), followed by the percentage of golds won out of the country’s total medals. Finally, I cite the country’s 2008 population (according to the US Census Bureau). In the last column, you have the population divided by the number of medals, showing — by some way of voodoo statistics — the pool of people that ‘created’ the winners. The Bahamas (2 medals) take the honours here with 1 medal per 153,000 citizens, followed by the miraculous Usain Bolt’s Jamaica (11 medals) and then Iceland (1 medal) taking the bronze place (considering its tiny population). Slovenia, Australia (6th place overall in the total medals haul as well) and New Zealand round out the top 6. Of the top medal scorers in the table above, GB scrapes in at 26th with 1 medal per 1.3 million citizens.

2008 Olympics Medals per Pop
For the record, under this calculation, China landed 68th (13.3mm/pop), the US came in 45th (2.8mm/pop), Russia was 37th (2.0mm/pop). India was plum last of the medal winners with 383 million per pop.

And, for another viewpoint, the non-medalling countries with the largest population (a sort of hall of shame, if it weren’t for the political and social strife):

Pakistan 172 million (6th largest)
Bangladesh 153 million (7th)
Philippines 96 million (12th)
Congo Kinshasa 66 million (18th)
Burma 48 million (26th)

And among the major upsets that I observed from a US standpoint anyway, the US getting only a bronze in baseball and having both the US men and women failing to qualify for the 4x100m. There were many others certainly. However, aside from having a war begin and end within the timeframe of the Olympics (with Russia’s invading Georgia’s [30 medals] South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and China’s internal silencing and manipulated PR campaign, the largest other surprise that I can come up with is the low level of doping scandals. Lo siento Rafa, but Nadal escaped again… along with surely many hundred’s of others.

All in all, a fairly vivid affair. And, for the foreign companies that invested in advertising to the Chinese, presumably a winning gamble. Your thoughts?