Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Some People Build Shoe Hooks. I Built a Building

During my junior year in high school, I had the option of taking home economics or a shop class. Being male, I took shop. I don't remember the title of the class but the goal was to build a major project be it metal or wood over the course of the semester from beginning to end. You had to demonstrate your planning, budgeting and of course building skills to the instructor. There were only three boys in my class (counting myself) and two of them were fraternal twins and next-door neighbors. The twins decided to build a big round bale trailer that would require the metal half of the shop so naturally I decided to do a wood project to stay out of each other's way. I decided to build a three-crate overflow farrowing unit.

My parents had a 120-sow farrow to finish operation back in the 90's when the hog prices were pretty good and everyone was getting into the business. For non-farmers, farrowing is the term given to the whole breeding to birthing process with the sows. To finish a hog means to raise it until market weight and sell it to the slaughterhouse. Well to make sure the economics worked, farmers always tried to keep their farrowing buildings, where the sows gave birth and watched over their piglets until weaned, full. We farrowed sows in groups of ten every two weeks, staggering them between two different farrowing units with ten crates each. In order to make sure these units were full, we often bred as many as eighteen sows in order to make sure that we got at least ten that became pregnant. As expected, sometimes the success rate was greater than ten and we had more sows than room at the proverbial inn. In fair weather we planned to shut them off in open-air pens out in the barn, or manger, but we needed some place for them to call home when it was winter. Enter me with my shop project.

I designed a ten by twenty feet building that would be built on skids so that it may be dragged around as necessary to butt up next to our gestation barn. It would contain three crates for expectant sows and used when the weather was cold. My father approved my plans first since he obviously would have to fork over the money for materials and then I got the approval from my shop teacher who thought that the project was ambitious. A week later a pallet of lumber appeared out behind the school and I began to build. To continue the biblical reference, I became a carpenter.

Over the course of the semester as late winter turned into spring, I could be seen out the north facing school windows during shop or study halls, tacking everything together, just past the steel tube conglomeration being built by the twins. As spring was coming to a close and thus the school year, I even stayed after school to get the project done on time but with a week to go, I had finished insulating and sheathing the interior in plywood and was putting on decorative touches like making some windows and a door. Fortunately, I got graded and received my A before moving it.

We hired a local lumberyard to move the structure, which was still sitting on skids out behind the school. They were able to lift it up with a large fork life and sit it on a flatbed trailer for the five-mile ride out to the farm. In theory... and when you start a sentence like that, you automatically know something went wrong... but in theory, we were going to tilt the flat bed to allow the building to slide part way off and then slowly drive our from underneath it. But theory often doesn't work in the real world. The bed tilted and the building slid and hit the ground as supposed to but because the ten foot wide structure had four skids underneath and only two center ones were in contact with the bed and thus carrying the entire load, they snapped in half when their leading edges hit the dirt. So there sat my brand new building, tilting at a forty-five degree with one end in the dirt, the other end in the air, and my floor had a four-foot bubble in it.

I was devastated, I was upset, and I wanted to kill the delivery guy, who was a new graduate who had been two grades above me in school. He had said the building would slide off "slicker than a bean," whatever the heck that meant. We knew that there wasn't much to do except get it the rest of the way off the truck and sort out what could be done with the rest. So the delivery guy pulled forward and it fell to the ground with a bang. I opened up the door to look at what I was sure would be a floor with a gaping hole or at least splintered all to pieces and instead found myself looking at a floor completely intact and no longer with a four foot bubble in the center. As it turned out, because I had used nice long ring shanked nails to fasten the flooring to the skids, they had also held the two center skids together even though they were now broken in the center. But unless you were a raccoon and could crawl underneath, you would never be able to tell the difference.

My father got the tractor and we drug my building along side the gestation barn and worked the rest of the afternoon joining the two buildings together. By days end, my new overflow farrowing unit was plumbed in and ready to go. My father used that building for ten years with nary a problem until finally he sold the hogs and got out of the business. No kids left to help chore on them cold winter mornings. On a whim, he ended up putting an ad in the paper to see the building and by the next weekend, we had four buyers standing outside looking at it. They got into a bidding war over it and it ended up selling for around five times more than our material cost that went into it. The winner turned it into a horse paddock of some sort and for that I'm sure it worked out quit nicely. Fortunately, he had one of those trailers that the axles slide off and it lays flat on the ground so that we could just slide it right on. We of course told them about the two broken center skids but they didn't concern him much. Why should they? They hadn't bothered us.

I don't remember where that overflow building went too but I often wonder if it is still standing. I only wished I had carved my initials on it somewhere to "tag" my work. It may be a collectors item one of these days.

Friday, February 24, 2006

February Farmers Work From the Neck Down

There isn’t such a thing as down time when living on a farm. There is always something to do. Especially as we got older, my father was big into lists, especially the “to do” kind. He would write a list of things to do for the week, maybe even have another one for that particular season, and though the last one was never written down, he also had a mental one for the year. Although I have no conclusive proof, I think he had a twenty-two year list arranged by our age and ability to do tasks.

If I had to pick a slower time of the year, February would be near the top of the list. In the warmer months, there were always projects. In the early winter or early spring, there were always repairs and routine maintenance to do to equipment while the shop with its south face made of greenhouse type panels could still maintain a decent temperature on the colder days. But in February during the heart of the winter where Iowa often suffers from the most snow, lack of sunlight and bone chilling cold, it was a slower time. Not a down time but a slow time.

Although my parents were principally grain farmers, their farm consists of a patchwork of farms bought from other farmers who didn’t survive the great farm crisis of the early 80’s. These original farms were all small diverse affairs and almost everyone had livestock to support the family during lean times and provide the meat of their diets. Livestock requires fences and so there are numerous fences criss-crossing my parent’s land. I would hate to guess how much fence there was but if a gun were put to my head right now, I would say around 100 miles.

Most of the timber in this part of Iowa grows on the bottom grounds near rivers or in ditches that are unfarmable. My parents who were (and still are) ahead of their time for farmers, practiced conservation techniques even in the early part of their farming career in the 70’s. Part of this included planting trees for wildlife and wind control on parcels of land that were as my father would say, “miserable to farm,” or were just better suited to trees than corn or soybeans. But given the opportunity, trees could and would grow just about anywhere, especially in a fencerow where they were protected from tillage and mowing.

Trees that grew in a fencerow never did very well. They didn’t provide much wind control being only one tree deep and being hardwoods, they had lots of gaps in the branches that allowed the wind ample freedom of movement. They competed with crops for moisture and sunlight, which combined with the exposure to the elements, never did to well for them or the crops nearby. Because fencerows contain a buffer of grass on either side before the tillable dirt, trees planted there did little for erosion control. So trees didn’t offer much benefit for the farmer and they did have some defined negatives. Perhaps the worst of these negatives was the winds knocking limbs down into the field causing unplanned equipment failures when the farmer ran over them before seeing them. Even if the farmer saw them in time, they would have to stop and take the time to remove the offending branch and as they say, time is money.

In case you haven’t figured out where this is all going, one of my jobs during the slower month of farming in February was to walk the fence lines cutting down offending trees that were likely to fall into the path of farm equipment. Because it was often below zero, I was allowed to wait until late morning to start so that it wasn't quite as cold. Nevertheless, I could get all bundled up in my warm Carharts, load up the truck with chainsaws, sharpeners, spare parts, etc., and set off for some corner of my father’s farming empire to hunt down rascally junk trees. I would walk along the miles of fence line cutting down any tree that might potentially fall into the path of farming, cutting it up into man sized pieces and stacking them in the fence row to later be used by the wildlife as shelter.

A lot of the trees consisted of Osage Orange also known as Hedge trees or Ironwood. As the latter name suggests, the wood is very dense and hard on a chainsaw requiring frequents stops to sharpen the change. Always a bone-numbing task without gloves. Another common junk tree was the Honey Locust, specifically one sex of the tree. I can never remember which but there are male and female Honey Locust trees and one of them has long spikes covering their branches and trunk. You had to be careful handling these trees because a slip could mean a two-inch long spike buried into your thigh, shoulder or hand... all places where I have been speared. Because the spikes are poisonous, the places would always get infected and take lots of antibiotic cream and time to heal all the while trying to work with sore appendages. Of course, the least favorite of all is a bush named multiflora rose, which is a non-native species that was introduced to America by wealthy gardeners and later to farmers as a cheap alternative to fencing. The problem is that the species is extremely invasive, almost impossible to kill and as promised, trying to walk through a patch of it is like trying to walk through rows of military razor wire. I would rather do the latter if given the chance because it would merely slice you and not entangle you like brer rabbit.

Due to the many miles of fence and the shortness of February, thank god it only has 28 days three out of every four years, I would cut down these trees on an installment plan. I tried to get through all the more troublesome areas once every four or five years. The work was honest work that didn't tax the mind too much and as James McMurtry said in his song "Painting By Numbers," you work from the neck down. This had the benefit of keeping you warm but it also had the drawback of keeping you warm and not giving you an excuse to go in early. If the ground was frozen, the walking was rough going on the unforgiving ground. If it were thawed out and muddy, it was even worse trying to slog through with ten pounds of Edina clay sticking to the soles of your boot. Occasionally if there were several big trees in a spot, we would turn it into a family affair and just pile them up where they fell and light them on fire and later roast hotdogs or simply warm ourselves up.

Over the years, I have cut down several hundred trees and thousands of scrub brush this way but I have always repaid Mother Nature. Every spring my parents and I will plant four or five thousand new trees on their plentiful supply of "miserable farm ground" mostly in native hardwoods that will outlive my children. Unlike the trees in the fencerows, the actually contribute adequate shelter for wildlife, help break the surface winds up and thrive without having to compete with crops. So though some may look at this process as ecologically unfriendly, I think of it as a win/win situation.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

President Dub'ya or Should I Say President Dubai

I have always known that President Bush is in office to serve his own interests, not that of the people and this latest debacle is a prime example. Against the backing of his party, both in the senate and the house, against the governors of the states that are affected, and against 72% of the population of this country, Bush has agreed to give control of critical parts of our port infrastructure to Dubai Ports (DP) World, which is owned by the ruling family of United Arab Emirates. When Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) called Bush politically tone-deaf, it was the understatement of the year.

First let me state that this isn't about racism, it is about national security and the defense of our nation. Had I known that any foreign country such as Great Britain or China controlled portions of our ports like they do now, I would have been just as adamantly against them too. Our ports are the last controlled point of entry into any major city in America and where the large majority of our imports arrive. It has always been a weakness in our age of heightened security post 9/11 and now instead of making it stronger, Bush wants to outsource it to a country known to harbor terrorists, two of which attacked American assets on American soil and the same country through which most of the money to finance the 9/11 terrorist strike was funneled?

What possible reason would Bush conceivably want to do this? Well much like Halliburton contracts or former Judges and Stewards Commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association turned FEMA director Michael Brown, it appears to be another good-old-boy inside job. As it turns out, the U.S. Maritime Administrator David Sanborn, who would oversea port operations and be directly responsible for everything from infrastructure to training security was hired by the George Bush a month ago from his former job working for DP World, the same United Arab Emirates company purchasing infrastructure in six of our ports. If that weren't enough of a conflict of interest, U.S Treasury Secretary John Snow, who heads the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) used to be the chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its international port operations to DP World in 2004 for $1.15 billion. John Snow directly signed off on the $6.8 billion contract service transfer to DP World.

All this is troubling for me but not as troubling as knowing that our Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was not consulted and in fact, wasn't even aware of the entire affair until last weekend. I believe that Donald Rumsfeld should at least have been consulting since the United Arab Emirates is a country with troubling ties to international terrorism. It is particular troubling that DP World would also take over a major contract extension involving the U.S. Department of Defense to managing the movement of military equipment for the U.S. Army through the ports of Beaumont and Corpus Christie, Texas, bringing the total of affected ports to eight rather than six.

George Bush said, "they need to know that our government has looked at this issue and looked at it carefully... they ought to listen to what I have to say to this," yet when questioned he said he himself only learned of the deal approved by his own administration recently. Besides, promises of thorough investigation into subjects like weapons of mass destruction don't really add to his believability when he says things like this. Other Middle East miscalculations such as the war in Iraq, the failure to recognize Hamas was going to win the Palestinian elections, the radical Islamists in Saudi Arabia and the atrocities being committed in Darfur further discredit Bush's right to be trusted when it comes to Middle East policies.

So back to my original point that President Bush is serving his own interests. Despite his own party turning against him, despite the governors and mayors of the states and cities affected turning against him, despite the overwhelming majority of the citizens of this country who are against this sale, the only thing Bush does in response to proposed legislation to stop this sale is say, "I'll deal with it with a veto." Self-serving indeed!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: The Last Day There

The dawn of my last full day in the Philippines greeted me and it was only now on my second night in Tarlac City did I realize what was wrong. The broken rooster and his harem were still up in the mountains and crowing chickens were nowhere to be heard. My wife and I threw the last of our belonging together, tip toed over the sleeping forms of partied out Filipinos and made our way downstairs. We ate a quick breakfast of cake and rice left over from the day before and quickly packed into the van that I have come to know so well over the last few years.

We drove west toward Subic Bay where my brother-in-law’s wife lived and worked to drop her and my niece off at their house. We then drove around a little checking out the old United State military base that was abandoned in 1991 during the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo that ended up burying many of the provincial towns that we passed in yards of ash. Even today almost a decade and a half later, there was still signs of that long ago eruption. The base itself and portions of the city were very clean and American looking. There were traffic signs, painted lines separating the lanes of traffic and neatly manicured green lawns. There is a large expat population here and in nearby Angles City which might explain some of this neatness.
Eventually after stopping to rest our legs at the China Sea for a short while, we turned the van towards Manila and began the long drive into town. We found a nice motel near the airport for our early departure and the price was right. For two double rooms, the bill would run around $100 and after hours spent in the van driving over bumpy roads in the heat of winter, I was more than ready to get out and spend the night. My mother-in-law however is a thrifty person and hasn’t ever passed up a chance to get a cheaper rate. So after going in to negotiate a rate while the American (myself) stayed out in the car to assure they wouldn’t get gouged, she came out and wanted to go down the road to check out more prices. I pleaded my case to the wife, said the bill was on me and convinced them to stay here for the night.

But it wasn’t that easy. Motels in the Philippines are pretty strict about occupancy in the rooms and I’m sure because of the abundance of poverty that there are numerous attempts to turn a room for two into a room for a dozen. So my mother-in-law told the clerks as my wife was paying that there would only be four of us staying. The problem was that there were five of us. So four of us went up to the rooms leaving our driver Tito Pito waiting in the hot van until the coast was cleared. Because I was an American and probably the least likely to be questioned, I was designated to go get him a little later but I couldn’t bear to see him stay out there any longer than I had too. So a few minutes after the motel room attendants disappeared, I went down the backstairs and fetched Pito. I didn’t try to sneak back in because I was more than willing to fork out the extra money for him and though they saw us they didn’t say anything. They did make several excuses to knock on our doors several times pretending to offer us this or that but I know they were looking for any extras. Due to various people showering in the first modern showers of the trip, they never did find any.
After we all got cleaned up and repacked the bags to airline standards, all five of us walked back out to the van and drove to a Japanese restaurant just off of the main drag beside Manila Bay for a last meal as a family. It was a fancy restaurant with huge live tanks where we picked out our meal before it was caught and cooked in back. There were more cups, saucers, chopsticks and various other utensils covering most of the table surface confusing us all as to the proper etiquette of eating. To add to the pressure, all during the meal the waitress stood nor more than a couple feet from the table and quickly whisked off anything that we weren’t using. I don’t know if she was hiding our eating etiquette ignorance or protecting the kitchen staff from having to do extra dishes but it certainly was unnerving. To make matters worse, of our table of asian people, I was the only one who knew how to use chopsticks and spent some time teaching the others. Blots and stains soon covered the empty spaces of the snow-white table cloth from aborted attempts to get food from plate to mouth but everyone had a good time and that is what counts… unless you have to wash the table linens.

We made our way back to the hotel rooms and got the air conditioners cranked. This Filipino had the entire room electricity tied to a device near the door where you had to insert the key fob in order to make the circuit. This prevented unnecessary waste of electricity from those who might wish to cool down their rooms during supper. While waiting on the air conditioners to do just that, I decided to open up the curtains and peer out at the night time Manila sky which I imagined would be very beautiful from four stories up. I pulled open the drapes and was rewarded with the following view of Manila, Philippines:

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: Party Like It's... Last Night?

The sun arose red through the sulfur clouds still present from last night’s festivities that burned out within an hour of midnight. Mountains of fireworks, boxes of gun shells, and multitudes of voices has been exhausted and weary sandal shod residents were sleepily shuffling to outdoor tables to eat some leftovers of last nights barbecue along with some newly cooked rice. Although our family was no exception, our meal was at a slightly hurried pace because we had a party to prepare for. Yes, another one.

Every year on New Year’s Day, my mother-in-law’s side of the family has their family reunion and this year it happened to be in Tarlac City where I was. It was to be an intimate family gathering of just the immediate family so I quickly got drafted to start setting up the tables for the 300 expected guests. If you haven’t learned by now from my writings, Filipino families are not small and there is no such thing as a small party.

The sun was out and though the temperature was in the mid 80’s, after half of winter in the frozen midwestern United States and almost two weeks up in the mountains of northern Philippines, I was soon breaking out in a sweat. The Filipinos whom I had poked fun at for the last two weeks when they bundled up in their heavy winter clothes every time the temperature dipped below 70 were now wondering if I was feeling well. Silly gringo. Walks around without a coat when it is 68 degrees, it is no wonder he gets sick when it gets up to 85 degrees. Although I could hear their thoughts, none were expressed verbally beyond worried looks at my forehead.

After my two helpers, John and Rap, and myself got the tables squared away, chairs set up, place settings readied and napkins fanned out properly as shown by my catering business owning Uncle, someone finally thrust a ice cold San Miguel beer in my hand and I sat down in the shade for a bit until guests began to arrive. Shortly before lunch, the guest of honor arrived sprawled out in a cardboard box on a bed of tinfoil with skin so red that it looked as if they had been roasted… and they had. The lechon baboy or roasted pig was here and soon crowds of hungry Filipinos were sneaking over for a look and to break off a piece of the skin to munch on while waiting for lunch to start.
I have searched high and low for a recipe for this dish since the failure at last year’s Filipino Independence Day Hijacked Into a Birthday party but without success. Everyone keeps their recipe close to their vest because I think there is too much fame and glory that goes along with a perfectly roasted pig. But from the conversation in halting Tagalog and English, I think I learned the secrets. There are no secret ingredients. Before the pig is cooked, the skin is loosened from the flesh and boiling water poured between them. The water is drained and the pig is skewered on a rod set high above a hot charcoal fire and constantly rotated. When the skin becomes tight but before it starts turning colors, it is brushed now and then with oil to turn it into that red, crispy skin that is a delicacy among Filipinos. Indeed, you have never had a near death experience unless you have found yourself in-between the lechon and 300 Filipinos immediately after grace is said.

As I stood their admiring the excellent cooking masterpiece and sipped another San Miguel, a Filipino wearing a white apron suddenly came towards me drawing a huge machete like knife and raising it in the air. The sun reflected off the blade temporarily blinding me and I didn’t catch sight of it until it was too late. With a meaty thunk it plunged through the spine of the lechon nearly severing the head from the torso. Another meaty thunk and it was free. The knife was sheathed, the head was carried over and gently set on a silver platter in the center of the buffet table and an apple appeared and was promptly lodged in the open mouth. As if on cue, steaming vessels of food containing everything from stewed chicken’s feet to rice were whisked out and set into place. Grace was said and I immediately sensed the danger I was in as the crowded surged towards the lechon behind me.
I was able to duck back to the cooler where I grabbed an ice-cold coke in a glass bottle (the glass bottle industry is still alive and well in the Philippines and glass bottled pop is the best) and slipped between some shrubbery and the barbecue grill where sinuman was grilling away and made clean my escape. Sinuman is tilapia (a perch like fish) that gets shoved mouth first onto a bamboo skewer, wrapped in a banana leaf and is steam grilled over coals and if very delicious.

With my heart still beating from the near death experience, I was going to sit back awhile and wait for the crowd at the buffet table to thin out but my wife was in the midst of it and I could here her calling my name and waving a plate that she had secured at me telling me to hurry up. I rolled up my sleeves, joined in and ate enough food to make a medium sized army proud, all washed down with a couple more ice-cold glass bottles of coke.
Soon, only a few stewed chicken feet, a handful of rice and the gleaming bones of a denuded lechon were all that remained. Tables were cleared, dishes were done and just when I thought I couldn’t eat another mouthful, a giant tub of ube ice cream was brought out for dessert. Ube is a yam like root crop that evidently makes a very delicious dessert for I ate a large bowl full of it. It melts downs in the gaps right?

After the tables were cleared and the dishes washed, for the second time, a space was cleared for the games. There were standards games such as singing, dancing and trivia contests along with others like musical chairs but there were also some uniquely Filipino games such as the egg race and the blindfolded banana feed. In the egg race, females pushed an egg up a male volunteers pant legs, up through the inside of the shirt and out the neck hole. To the amusement of the watching crowd, some eggs strayed close to some sensitive male parts causing the males to squirm and the females to blush. Because I was the only one wearing shorts, every female wanted to be my partner but in the interest of keeping things fair, I withdrew myself from the competition and instead joined the second game.
In the second game both sides were blindfolded, separated, mixed and given a banana. The object of the game was to find your partner and feed each other the banana. My partner was my aunt Daisy and on go, I shouted out at loud as I could in English her name. Without moving a single step, within seconds I found a banana stuffed down my throat and the banana in my hands disappear down someone else's throat. I grabbed the hand of the other banana holder, held it up high and peeled off the blindfold happy to see that it was Daisy. Since everyone else was trying to out shout each other in Tagalog, which got confusing, Daisy and I easily swept up the competition.

The afternoon wore down, guests started leaving and soon perhaps only twenty or so people remained so the biggest Filipino party aid known to man was brought out. A television hooked up to a karaoke machine was wheeled out and fired up. Everybody knows that karaoke sounds better to both the singer and the listeners when liberal doses of alcohol are consumed and despite a few San Miguel here and there, everyone was stone cold sober. It was harsh. Exhausted from the previous night and running on about four hours of sleep, I snuck into the house and up to the bedroom which felt like the very oven the lechon had been in early and in the late afternoon hours, tried to ignore the cat like karaoke screeching going on below and grab a nap.

When I awoke a few hours later the sun had mercifully withdrawn and a slight evening coolness had replaced it. A few diehard souls were still singing their hearts out on the microphone and alternately issuing challenges to the American to see if he could beat their high scores. Now I fended them off the best I could but time eventually wore my defenses down and I relented. I punched in the number of my secret weapon, took a healthy swig from another San Miguel and began to belt out Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” Much to my surprise and my hurting ears, I scored a 99, which impressed my hosts mightily and brought out suggestions that I might have been holding back. I would have liked to say that I quit while I was ahead but sadly I didn’t. For several hours we battled it out back and forth as I started singing songs I barely knew and butchered badly. Finally I admitted defeat, found my wife and crawled to bed but not before stealing another piece of skin from the lechon head on my way inside. It is after all, the Philippines and when in the Philippines, do as the Filipinos do.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Pregnancy Gymnastics For the Love of Ice Cream

After our birthing class and before the Japanese sushi style birthday party, my wife and I hit the local Menards to load up on enough supplies to finish up the nursery with the exception of replacing the carpet. We started out through the store picking up six feet of overhead closet shelving plus supplies to create smaller shelves down each side. We bought a couple gallons of Menards finest house brand paint and a five-gallon bucket of drywall compound to texturize the walls and hide smaller imperfections. That was just getting warmed up.

We loaded up on enough baseboard trim to completely circumnavigate the room, curtain rods for the windows, a couple rolls of painters tape, a texturizing roller brush, two pairs of 30 inch bifold closet doors and an assortment of fasteners and other hardware. By this time we had a cart and one of those lumber trolleys loaded down and were convoying it back towards the front of the store and the cash registers. We made a slight detour to apply for the credit card so that we could partake of the 10% savings going on and then paid for our purchases.

Back outside with two carts piled high with lots of long objects, the longest clocking in at eight feet long, we wheeled them up to my tiny Honda Civic two-door coupe and it was only then did I begin thinking of whether or not it would all fit. Because it was a balmy 20 degrees with a flurry of snow coming down, I thought how unpleasant it would be driving the thirty miles home with open windows or an open hatch.

But the Civic engineers in all their clever wisdom, created a split back rear seat which allowed me to fold down the larger of the two sections and angle everything up towards the front passenger seat which had to be slid completely forward. With all the other stuff filling in the crooks and crannies, this left just a small space in the remainder of the rear seat for a passenger and enough space between a pile of supplies and the drivers side door for a driver. My wife’s car doesn’t have this feature and my car is a stick which she doesn’t like driving. My wife is five months pregnant and no longer able to sneak into narrow spaces very easy. Houston, we have a problem.

Fortunately my wife had been very petite in a life previous to pregnancy and though a series of contortion acts, she was able to squeeze in through the passenger door to the back seat where once seated she had plenty of room. I shut the door and did my own contortion act getting my broad shoulders squeezed into the drivers compartment and finding the stick buried somewhere out of sight under two bifold closet doors. Houston, we are cleared for takeoff. From the backseat, my wife said that she needed some ice cream. Houston, we have another problem.

I drove the car across the street where there happened to be a little ice cream parlor, which is one of those with approximately thirty flavors of ice cream and parked the car. I had no hope of getting the appropriate flavor, cone size, etc. so it was another contortion act as I delivered my pregnant wife out of the back seat. Loaded up with a Hershey Kisses ice cream cone, I redelivered her back into her backseat slot of space and did my contortion act to regain my position at the wheel, and once again took off.

We would have to repeat this procedure once again at and after the sushi party but my wife was a real trooper. Both of us wouldn’t trade that little car for the world. It is completely paid for, is just getting broke in, gets excellent gas mileage and I have only come across a few objects that I haven’t been able to fit into it in it’s career. Sure, I once had to unpack a television set in twenty below weather in a Best Buy parking lot to squeeze it into the front seat and drive 60 miles home in fourth gear because fifth gear wasn’t available, but it has been worth it. It cost two thirds less than most SUV’s and those few times when I needed something bigger to haul, even a SUV wouldn’t have been enough. But the best thing of all, I have a wife that lovingly understands all this and is willing to do a sort of pregnant gymnastics once in a while to be able to spend our money on more important things like a Hershey's Kisses ice cream cone in the middle of winter after a late night Menards shopping trip.

Jump the Moon

Suns and moons
Baby rooms
It's beautiful here tonight
No better way
To end a day
Than with you at my side
Jump the moon
I'm asking you
To be my Valentine

Passing through
Skies of blue
Dancing in the sun
Every day
Has a way
Of melting into one
Jump the moon
I'm asking you
To be my Valentine

Where it went
How it's spent
Wonder where it's gone
Time flies
In your eyes
By the light of dawn
Jump the moon
I'm asking you
To be my Valentine

Yellowed pages
Full of sages
Saying what they see
Love like ours
And ticking hours
Last for all eternity
Jump the moon
I'm asking you
To be my Valentine

-Ed Abbey, Valentines Day 2006

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

A Constitutionalist's View of Wire Tapping By Bush

The issue of wire tapping and the secret program to do so authorized by President Bush is here to stay. It will probably remain on the radar until it has been decided by the courts, perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court. There are only two possible outcomes, President Bush is correct that he has the authority or he is wrong, in which case, the penalty could be impeachment. I hope we don't get to that point because two impeached presidents in a row is not going to look favorably on American citizens.

Let me start with the Constitution first. President Bush hasn't to my knowledge specified exactly where in the Constitution he says he is given the powers to wire tap, but conservatives like Rush Limbaugh point to Article II. Under this Article, the drafters of our Constitution lay out the powers of the President. It consists of four sections with the Section II dealing with his powers during times of war. That Section states in its entirety:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

I think we can agree that one would be hard pressed to find anything close to resembling the power to wire tap without warrants. So one must look further into the Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment for further clarification. The fourth Amendment in its entirety says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In my opinion, I think this states quite clearly that the President would need a warrant to search our effects. Yes it doesn't state wire tapping specifically but it wasn't even a blip on the radar screen back then. But for sake of argument, let us say that even the fourth Amendment doesn't apply to the wire tapping issue. Then we must fall back to the tenth Amendment where in its entirety is says:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

So the issue of wire tapping and warrants is now our decision and in 1978, we (i.e. congress) passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA. In Subchapter 1, 1801, section A of the FISA law, it states in its entirety:

1) Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year if the Attorney General certifies in writing under oath that—
(A) the electronic surveillance is solely directed at—
(i) the acquisition of the contents of communications transmitted by means of communications used exclusively between or among foreign powers, as defined in section 1801 (a)(1), (2), or (3) of this title; or
(ii) the acquisition of technical intelligence, other than the spoken communications of individuals, from property or premises under the open and exclusive control of a foreign power, as defined in section 1801 (1), (2), or (3) of this title;
(B) there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party; and
(C) the proposed minimization procedures with respect to such surveillance meet the definition of minimization procedures under section 1801 (h) of this title;

Now you can see that section B deals specifically says ANY communication in which a UNITED STATES PERSON is party to, is not available for wiretapping. It also goes further in Subchapter 1, 1805, section a.3.A dealing with targets electronic surveillance can be issue for by saying:

the target of the electronic surveillance is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power: Provided, That no United States person may be considered a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States

So to me, wiretapping a U.S. citizen or even a wiretap involving a U.S. citizen is not acceptable. But by the time we get the warrant to wiretap, the phone conversation will be over says President Bush, the Attorney General and even my own Senator, Chuck Grassley. Well the FISA laws deals with that specifically too. It says:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, when the Attorney General reasonably determines that—
(1) an emergency situation exists with respect to the employment of electronic surveillance to obtain foreign intelligence information before an order authorizing such surveillance can with due diligence be obtained; and
(2) the factual basis for issuance of an order under this subchapter to approve such surveillance exists;
he may authorize the emergency employment of electronic surveillance if a judge having jurisdiction under section 1803 of this title is informed by the Attorney General or his designee at the time of such authorization that the decision has been made to employ emergency electronic surveillance and if an application in accordance with this subchapter is made to that judge as soon as practicable, but not more than 72 hours after the Attorney General authorizes such surveillance. If the Attorney General authorizes such emergency employment of electronic surveillance, he shall require that the minimization procedures required by this subchapter for the issuance of a judicial order be followed. In the absence of a judicial order approving such electronic surveillance, the surveillance shall terminate when the information sought is obtained, when the application for the order is denied, or after the expiration of 72 hours from the time of authorization by the Attorney General, whichever is earliest.

This clearly gives latitude for President Bush to authorize wiretaps up to 72 hours at which point he needs a warrant. I believe this is absolutely necessary to protect our country from terrorists. I find if ironic that during President Bush's 2004 campaign, he made the following statement about wiretaps and warrants on April 20th in Buffalo, New York:

Now, by the way, anytime you hear the United States government talking about wire tap, it requires-a wire tap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.

To borrow his own terminology used against Senator Kerry, Bush has flip flopped on this issue. Even his own party is turning against him. The following four Republicans had this to say:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) “The FISA Act was-created a court set up by the chief justice of the United States to allow a rapid response to requests for surveillance activity in the war on terror. I don’t know of any legal basis to go around that.”
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) "There is no doubt that this is inappropriate.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) “WALLACE: But you do not believe that currently he has the legal authority to engage in these warrant-less wiretaps. MCCAIN: You know, I don’t think so…”
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) “I am troubled by what the basis for the grounds that the administration says that they did these on, the legal basis…”

In conclusion, President Bush is in very hot water and from what I can determine from reading all the documents referenced by ultra-conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, and has no legal authority from FISA or the Constitution to permit wire taps involving a U.S. citizen even if the call originated from an overseas country unless he gets a warrant within 72 hours. President Bush should publicly step back from wire tapping and issue an apology admitting he was wrong. If he doesn't, then he needs to be held accountable and impeachment is sadly one of the available tools to do this. I hope it doesn't come down to this because I would rather have Bush making the decisions over Cheney.

Edited Addendum:
Records showed that the court had rejected none of more than 11,000 requests for warrants from 1979 through 2001. Since then, it has rejected just four of more than 5,200 applications. That means only .02% have ever been denied. Since it is basically an automatic rubberstamp and is retroactive for up to three days, what is President Bush's reasoning for not doing it?

Friday, February 3, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: A Day Unlike Any Other - Part II

Upon arriving at my wife's uncle's house in Tarlac City, she went inside to visit and take a nap before the New Year's Eve show really got cooking and I helped out outside by preparing food (enough for an army) for the upcoming feast in their open air kitchen. My job was to skewer about fifteen pounds of marinated pork onto bamboo sticks to later be grilled over the barbeque grill. By the time I had finished this task, my hands were cramped from repeatedly dipping them in the ice-cold marinade to grab strips of pork and tired from shoving them onto the sticks. For once, rather than ask if there was something else I could do, I snuck out into the courtyard to check out the evening.

Fireworks were continually bursting overhead, down the street and some of our relatives were returning fire from the courtyard. I watched them shoot one rocket that was a dud and instead of soaring into the heavens, it barely even cleared the fence out front and disappeared into the alley. I heard a few quick exclamations of surprise, the scurrying of sandaled clad feet over pavement followed by a loud bang. Laughter filled the air almost as much as the smell of burnt sulfur. What a contradiction between the ears and the nose.
The grill was fired up and soon the smell of sizzling meat added to the sulfur. A pot of rice was bubbling in the kitchen along with a few other pots. The older members of the family were now sitting at a table in the courtyard sipping Coca-cola and talking in their native language. The younger children were out in the roadway, which was more like an alley to me, being children. I was somewhere in between listening, observing and taking pictures. Two of the younger ones, Rap and John would come back to check on me and tease me. Rap, whose mother is a cousin of my wife and had been staying in the same house as me most of the time, had formed a special bond to me. He could read and speak English as well as Tagalog but he wasn't yet proficient enough to converse in English. Never the less, he loved my blue eyes and all during my stay in the Philippines he would refer to me as "Blue Eyes" or once even as "Blue Jesus Eyes." Last trip it had been "hey Joe" and this trip "blue Jesus eyes." I could live with that.
About a half hour until midnight, the members of my host family began setting off fireworks at a steady pace using lighters and burning twigs or bamboo shoots that were lit from the barbeque grill. Burnt sulfur now hung so thick in the air that breathing was difficult. Some members of the party put on bandanas to filter it out. Having no such thing, I just breathed through my mouth and tried not to think about my lungs. The roar of the fireworks had grown for a low continuous roar to a more intense roar. In fact, since flash photography no longer worked due to the heavy sulfur fog hanging everywhere, I found that the light from the shelling going on overhead was more than sufficient to take adequate pictures.

I felt like a war correspondent as I ducked this way and that snapping pictures and videos at a furious pace. Stray rockets were shooting this way and that overhead and multitudes of cherry bombs, larger sonic boom bombs, roman candles, flares, and plenty of black cats were exploding everywhere on the ground. Several of the larger fireworks went off near enough to me to slam me with the concussion wave. I was wishing I had brought some earplugs. Right at the start of this new onslaught we suffered our first and only casualty that night. A piece of mortar shell from an exploded firework fell from the night sky and slammed into the hand of young John gashing it shallowly but enough to draw blood. After my wife bandaged him up, I return to covering the event but kept under nearby palm trees hoping that the leaves would slow any more fragments down before plowing into me.
At a quarter until midnight, there was a slight perceptible lull in the fireworks and at first I didn't know what it meant. My hosts took it as a cue to carry out this metal stand of sorts that would hold about two dozen rockets at the same time pointing in all directions and set it up in the middle of the street along with some large flares. I knew the cause of the pause. Everybody was bringing out the big guns for the final showdown..., which started five minutes later. Now Filipinos are late to every thing in their lives. I had determined that early on during my first trip to the country but tonight I learned one exception to the rule. New Year's Eve. For that they were ten minutes early.

The neighbors in every direction fired up every automobile, jeepney, motorcycle and even a police car, anything with a horn or siren, and proceeded to blare them in a continuous chorus. My hosts passed out noise makers to those not working sirens or horns and we all proceeded to blow them until we were literally blue in the face. Have you ever seen someone blowing on a horn while setting off fireworks as fast as the lighter could be worked with the other hand? I have and it can be done quite efficiently. The only thing slowing them down was that the neighbors who had been chased in the street by our stray rocket were now exacting their revenge by throwing one sonic boom firecracker after another from behind their fence into the street where we stood. As I took pictures with one eye, I kept the other eye trained towards their darkened driveway looking for the flash of sparks from a lighter signifying another incoming bomb. At the point, I would dive back behind the safety of the fence and plug my ears until the concussion wave had passed.

Imagine a neighborhood of a hundred thousand families packed into small houses with small yards close together. Imagine that all these families had a large arsenal of fireworks and were all setting them off at the same time. Imagine yourself in the middle of all this. Imagine yourself in the middle of the firework display that is shot off at the largest firework display in the country for the 4th of July. This was about four times more intense. Flashes of hot white light would illuminate the alley making all shadows as sharp as razor blades and as black as ink. Through the heavy smoke I could barely make out figures up the street running this way and that trying to stay out of the line of fire. The machine gun litany of explosions overhead was so quick it was almost impossible to discern even the slightest of pauses of silence.

I found myself wanting to hide in a bunker somewhere until it was over but couldn't. I was drawn forward into the street by the rush of all the citizens the Philippines who in one mass of unity from the youngest to the eldest, ran and jumped, yelled and screamed, laughed and gyrated around wildly in the street among the explosions lost in their joy. I couldn't help myself. I pocketed my camera and with arms waving above my head and a sulfur induced gravelly scream coming from deep within my chest, I ran out and joined them. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was welcoming in a New Year... Filipino style!

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: A Day Unlike Any Other - Part I

New Year's Eve day was a bright sunny affair and upon waking up with the broken rooster, I noticed there was a slight intensity to the fireworks that were going off at four in the morning that I hadn't noticed before. There were much larger ones going off more frequently sending thunderous roars echoing up the steep valleys of this mountainside town. A hint of burnt sulfur hung in the air. The favorite day of all Filipinos had begun.

I spent the morning packing my luggage because only parts of it would make the upcoming trip with me and the rest would follow later. I carefully wrapped all my souvenirs in dirty laundry to prevent breakage and eliminate any unnecessary searching. I mean who in their right mind would want to riffle through someone else's dirty laundry? With bags packed and carried downstairs, there was little to do but eat and take a nap so I did both.

When I woke in the early afternoon, I noticed another increase in the firework explosion levels. Barely a minute would pass by before another explosion would fill the vacant air with noise. My mother-in-law, youngest brother-in-law, my wife and I caught a ride to the bus station in the town center and within minutes had grabbed seats on a Victory Liner that would take us to Tarlac City in the lower provinces where we would spend New Year's Eve. In America, getting tickets on a bus at the last minute on a very popular traveling day would be all but impossible but in the Philippines it was very easy. You just got on the bus and if there was an available seat, you were good to go. About fifteen minutes later, the bus backed out of the station and we were on our way down the mountain.

The bus conductor came by asking how far we were going and punching out tickets accordingly with the appropriate price. The four one-way tickets for the entire five-hour journey cost me $16.00 U.S. The bus made several stops along the way dropping off passengers and picking up others. About fifteen minutes into the trip the bus stopped and only the driver got out to spend several minutes picking up some fresh produce at a roadside stand. He would make another solo stop for several minutes just outside of Tarlac City to deliver the produce to his wife who met him at their front gate. Not only did he give her the produce but he walked her inside and lingered for a few minutes longer before coming back out to the bus and taking us the final kilometers. Nobody seemed to mind, which reinforced that I was in a world much different from my own.

It was much warmer when we got out of the air-conditioned bus around 8:30 at the Tarlac City station. Unlike in the mountains of Baguio City where jeepneys are the backbone of mass transportation, in the lower provinces tricycles rule the earth. A tricycle is your basic small motorcycle with a sidecar attached and has a top speed of perhaps twenty miles per hour. Walking out to the street in front of the bus terminal, the view was full of them buzzing this way and that like a mad swarm of mosquitoes. Several of the other passengers were already at the curb trying to hail a tricycle to take them to their final destination but weren't having any luck. But as soon as this white guy stepped up to the curb, immediately a dozen tricycles swooped in and jockeyed for position to be the one to get my business.

Now all during my trips, I have seen tricycles with four or five passengers crammed inside the sidecar or hanging onto the side, often times with several sacks of rice or crates of produce stashed on top. So despite their size, I assumed that they must be quite roomier than they actually looked. As my wife and I stuffed ourselves into one of the tricycles with our suitcase and handbag, I suddenly knew what an unhatched chick felt like. My head was pressed between my knees, which were pressed against the luggage and my wife had wedged herself into the remaining available space, which wasn't much. I was very happy that she was petite or I would have had to strap her on top. In a high pitched mosquito like whine that made me want to wave my hands past my ears to shoo it away, the motorcycle driver revved the engine, released the clutch and we crawled out into the rest of the swarm heading this way and that on the road.

At the first little uneven crack in the road, the bottom of the sidecar bottomed out on the axle beneath in a spine-crunching bang causing me to slam my head against the ceiling. The driver immediately slowed down and looked to make sure nothing was broken before gunning the engine and going full throttle again. Every little bump, all three thousand four hundred and thirty seven between the bus station and our destination, caused the little carriage to smack hard against the axle. If I hadn't been wedged like an embryo in my little egg like sidecar, my spine would have been in pieces but the tightness of the quarters actually worked to protect me. That or my wife absorbed the worst of the blows.

As we navigate the narrow roads and alleys for twenty minutes, I felt as if I were a courier delivering a message to a general on the front lines during World War I. Evidently Filipinos tire of lighting huge fireworks when nobody is around so as soon as a tricycle made it's way down their street, they made a point of setting off the largest explosive available in the road right as we drove by. Firecrackers, flares and small bombs were bursting everywhere causing you to instinctively duck and at least three times during our ride, a blinding white light would flash for a painful split second before one of the sonic boom firecrackers went off within feet of our tricycle. The concussive pressure wave would slam my exposed side like a wide board and the resulting boom would send me into a temporary deafness followed by ringing in my ears. My wife screamed reflexively each time but there was nothing to be done except grin and bear it because I couldn't move my arms to plug my ears or wrap them protectively around her. We were wedged that tight.

We made it to our destination intact (both us and the tricycle axle) and after "hatching" or extricating ourselves from the tricycle, we paid our fare and limped up the driveway. For the privilege of feeling like an unhatched chick rolling down a mountainside, I paid $0.60 U.S. which was $0.20 more than what my mother-in-law paid her tricycle driver who had been right ahead of us the entire time. As an American, you must learn the language and the prices or prepare to pay more. Shell shocked and tired, I greeted the awaiting relatives who were preparing food enough for an army for the impending celebration that evening. By the light of the fireworks now exploding in a steady roar overhead and all around, I looked at my watch and saw that it was now nine o'clock... three hours until midnight.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: Dogs, Cats and Pinikpikan

The subject I am going to write about today in my series on the Philippines is perhaps one of the harder subjects for me to write about but one that I feel is necessary to give you a sense of the country. I love the Philippines and the time I have spent there but there is one glaring difference in our cultures which revolts me somewhre deep inside and perhaps separates a third world country from mine. The subject I wish to discuss is the Filipino attitude towards animals.

Before I begin, let me preface my comments by saying they are only my observations from the part of the country I have visited and without further research, I have no way of knowing if they prevail throughout the country. God gave man dominion over animals and so I have no moral problems with what they do, however, I could not do such things myself and feel civilized.

Let me start by talking about the issue of pets. Because poverty is prevalent everywhere within the country, pets are considered a luxury and few people have them in the sense of what Americans would think of pets. Most households do have a dog or a few cats running around outside but they aren’t cared for in the way that I am used to. Dogs are pretty much ignored and run around outside keeping a watch on things. They have no doghouses, beds, very few collars or tags, and are fed scraps. Cats, while sometimes run around inside, are mostly kept outside and likewise have none of the “common” accessories like toys or litterboxes. They too are fed scraps. I never saw a bag of dog or cat food around nor did I ever see them sold.

The rule of thumb seemed to be that these animals around the house got scraps if there were scraps and went hungry when there were none or scrounged for themselves. Signs of malnutrution were prevalent everywhere. The dogs all have mangy looking fur that is falling out and dull in color, not the sleek shining coat of the dogs that I have cared for in my youth. If you were to get close to one, the most awful stench that you could imagine invaded your sensory organs accumalated from a lifetime of neglect. Most of the time you couldn’t get near them because they did not receive attention like pets in the States and instead skittered out of arm’s reach from a lifetime of conditioning.

Everywhere I went, I saw female dogs that looked as if they had just finished nursing a litter of hungry calves. They walked the streets aimlessly with sides sucked in tight to the ribs and every vertabrae showing down their back. I never once saw a puppy and have no idea where they were kept or what happened to them post weaning. I also saw very few male dogs. This, with something I have related before, led me to believe that the puppies were sold for income and probably more than a few were eaten. There is no profit in keeping a male dog around the house but if bred, a female dog can provide income to the family. My younger brother-in-law once mentioned that dogs do get eaten in the Philippines but it is not common and not done in legalized fashion. Rather it is a black market affair with the dogs disappearing in the night never to be seen again. He told me that his previous two dogs had been taken had probably been eaten. His current dog, one of the few males I have seen, named Richard was probably too old and ugly to be eaten. All this was told to me in a matter of fact manner without a lot of emotion.

In my wife’s family, Richard seemed to get fairly regular scraps and though his fur was dull and mangy, he wasn’t as skinny as most dogs. However, the two cats in the family were a different story. The two cats, actually kittens, had been acquired perhaps a week or two before my arrival. When I first saw them, I couldn’t help but notice how skinny and tiny they were compared to American kittens of the same age. They were obviously underfed and the entire time I was there, I never saw them given any scraps of any kind.

As my time went by the cats, which stayed on the balcony at night and roamed the house by day, kept getting thinner and weaker. They would mew weakly in hunger only to be tossed out on the balcony out of the way. One evening, I saw one of the kittens snag a piece of chicken about to be cooked for dinner off the kitchen counter and disappear out the window. The next morning, it was walking around with a full belly but his companion was absent and was never seen from again. I am fairly certain that it finally succumbed to starvation and I looked around for the body for confirmation but never did find it. The chicken “dinner” saved one of them but I feel that was just a temporary salvation because the entire rest of my stay there, the other cat went back to just skin and bones and during my last couple days was so sick that it was crapping frequently around the house. Having raised lots of farm cats in my lifetime, I knew the reason for the discolored and frequent messes meant that it was very sick and probably on it’s last legs. It was alive when I left but I doubt that it is as of this writing.

I felt between a rock and a hard place with the care of the cats. I was a guest and a foreigner and felt that I had no right to tell someone how to raise their animals. I mentioned it to my wife who said that they were getting fed but from their protruding skelatons, I could see that it certainly wasn’t enough to substain life. Also, because my hosts are not rich and work hard to feed themselves and their guests, I didn’t feel comfortable with blatantly taking food and feeding their cats. I did try to sneak some food to them once in awhile from my own plate when I could do it unobserved but most times, when the opportunity arose, the cats were not around.

The cavalier attitude that I saw shown towards pets also extended beyond to other animals. One notable example is a delicacy known as pinikpikan. Pinikpikan is a chicken created by first stringing up a live chicken by its feet and beating it with a stick over several hours until the chicken well bruised. Only then would it be whacked over the head to be killed, careful not to break the tenderized skin and cause external bleeding. It was then cooked whole with all internal organs intact over an open flame to burn off the feathers and cook the meat. The blood in the tissues as a result from the slow beating is said to give the meat a very tender and excellent taste. My hosts never made it and I never ate it but I did hear about how it was made several times and saw one of the victims recently deceased being grilled. What disturbed me most was the relish that the “recipe” was told to me as if it was actually a fun thing to do on a boring afternoon.

I am a softie when it comes to animals. I rarely hunt because of this fact. When I have had to take the life of an animal in the past, I always make it quick and as painless as possible. I would want to die the same way. So for me, it was hard to witness these events. I deal with it by remembering that I am a guest in their country and what is strange or disturbing to me is perfectly normal and acceptable for them. Coincidentally, I didn't see any Philippine chapters of P.E.T.A. during my trip