Monthly Archives: July 2008

Back to school

I haven’t updated this blog since April for several reasons. I thought I could do some blogging while doing my research on automated elections and electronic voting machines last April and May at the University of Oxford Internet Institute (OII). But I only managed one short piece. I needed all the time I could spare for the research. (My final output: four working papers – check here — and two early drafts). When there was time to spare, the spare time wasn’t enough either for the OII library, Oxford’s Social Science Library, the museums of Oxford and London and other attractions. So blogging had to wait.

Deaths in the family. When I arrived on June 4, I went straight to the Lung Center, where my 91-year-old mother Anastasia was in the Intensive Care Unit, due to pneumonia. Unfortunately, she probably picked up drug-resistant varieties of the disease from the hospital itself. After a month in the hospital (we took her out of ICU so her children and grandchildren could spend more time with her), she succumbed from the disease. We buried her on July 1 beside my father, Pio, who died 10 years ago when he was 84. On their tombstones we put two epitaphs: “A principled man who led a simple life”, and “A devoted woman who lived to help others”. Both had enjoyed a full life. A few days before my mother passed away, a dear cousin, Bienvenido Verzola Jr., “Manong Tron” to us, and whom I considered an elder brother, also died from cancer. He was the incumbent mayor of his hometown, Luna, Apayao, and was well-loved by his constituents. He was buried July 2 in Luna.

I have also gone back to school. I enrolled in my old alma mater, the University of the Philippines, for an MA Economics course. Many have asked me, “why economics?”

Why, indeed? I had been studying the social impact of new information and communications technologies (ICTs) for decades. I had even written a book about this topic, Towards a Political Economy of Information (full text available here). In the mid-1990s I started work on environmental issues and, starting 2000, basically went on semi-retirement from ICT work to volunteer for farmers’ groups, I worked for years with the sustainable agriculture network Pabinhi and also became coordinator of SRI-Pilipinas, which promotes the System of Rice Intensification. I think I have found a conceptual thread that ties all of my work together. This is the phenomenon of abundance. I decided to go back to school to learn everything I can about abundance, and to distill my own insights about this phenomenon. More about abundance in future blogs.

At 55, I struggle with my courses: Statistics, Math and Microeconomics. My mind doesn’t absorb as fast or retain as much. But I take the courses very seriously, because they are immediately useful to me. The Stats course is important for our election audit work at Halalang Marangal. We have a standing proposal for the Comelec to use double-entry accounting in election tallies, and to conduct a post-election statistical audit to double-check the automated election results. The Math and Micro courses, I need for studying the political economy of abundance, a personal project I have began to embark on. The pace of the Math course (Econ 206) is blazingly fast. I try to study in advance, but each lecture leaves me feeling way behind. The textbook is not very useful for those who want to learn from the book. But I am gradually acquiring some tools for my study on abundance, so I am not complaining. When the semester is over, I will let you know how things turned out.

By the way, one of my election pieces (Automated elections: voting machines have made mistakes too) made it to the top ten downloads at the Social Science Research Network. Nice reward for the hard, hard work that went into that paper. My Oxford pieces were also cited in Dan Mariano’s July 23 Manila Times column entitled “From ‘Hello, Garci’ to ‘Hello, IT'”.

Finally, a pleasant surprise for me: former President Fidel V. Ramos cited my work on intellectual property rights (IPR) in his July 15 speech at the 17th Annual International Conference of the Asian Media Information and Communication Center. I like the part that he quoted: “Advanced countries think nothing of pirating our best scientists, engineers, technicians and other professionals. They also pirate our genetic resources.” He missed the best part though, where I said that advanced countries complain when we pirate their software, though we never take the original copy away, but they themselves pirate our best professionals, taking the original away and leaving nothing behind. You’ll find the full article here.

In the meantime, I think I can now spare an occasional hour, to keep this blog updated. Thank you all for your patience.