Reading, Fast and Slow (or the Top 6 books I’ve read in 2015)

(Apologies to Daniel Kahneman, who wrote Thinking Fast and Slow, the inspiration for the title of this blog entry. The same book is also mentioned below.) 

Some books grab you by the balls and never let go unless you’re finished with them (or, for that matter, finished with you). Other books are far less dramatic, allowing you to dip into several pages on occasion, while in between meals, naps, or commutes. 

This, more or less, illustrates my life as a reader in 2015. Continue reading

Book Review: The global Filipino and the goat

When Jose de Venecia Jr. was a boy, he was almost killed by a goat.
The enraged beast — the head of the herd that he was leading out to pasture — charged at him without any provocation, flinging his body into the air.
De Venecia avoided serious injury — and perhaps even an early death — after being saved by his belt. The billy goat’s horn snagged the leather strip fastened onto his waist, missing the target by just a few inches.
Whatever epiphanies de Venecia derived from this incident are not indicated in Global Filipino, his authorized biography, written by Brett Decker, a speechwriter and a newspaper editor.
But the anecdote — however incredible it may sound to friends, foes, and frenemies — serves the books purpose.
The goat attack and many other stories help drive narrative action, encouraging readers to actually go through the whole volume, a 400-page work that includes a 15-page Philippine history chronology, praises from presidents Aquino, Ramos, and Estrada.
No such remarks came from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for obvious reasons.
In early 2008 — the same year the book was published — her allies unseated de Venecia as House Speaker despite years of unwavering and critical support.
But that’s how the game is played and no one knows this better than de Venecia, who was able to unite all political parties in the late 1990s in what was then known as the Rainbow Coalition.
But in 2008 — when Arroyo deemed him useless — he may have recognized that the jig was up and that he was old and rich enough to publish his biography.
Unknown to many, de Venecia’s biggest contribution to the country may very well be his move that asked allow local lenders to accept US dollars.
Proposed in the mid-1960s and later approved by both the US and the Philippines central bank, the move continues to benefit the country by making it easier for overseas Filipino workers to send money home.
De Venecia’s dollar remittance proposal earned him a belated recognition from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in 2005, the book says.
Besides commendations — presidential or otherwise — the book also carried blurbs from 20 other heads of state including South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and the United Nations’ Kofi Annan.
What purposes do these blurbs and written testimonies serve?
That our man from Pangasinan are in the good graces of leaders, both global and local, including the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who may have considered him close enough to be a crony.
To this day, de Venecia denies the appellation.
Never mind that a company he once controlled — Landoil, which, among others, built ports and drilled for oil in the Middle East — was able to borrow a $120-million loan that was guaranteed by the Marcos government.*
After failing to collect from projects that were derailed when the Iran-Iraq war erupted in 1981, Landoil was eventually unable to pay its debts.
And just like any lucky guy, de Venecia got another break.
Landoil’s unpaid debt was covered by the Filipino taxpayer through Philguarantee, another government entity.
Decades after the goat attack, it seemed that de Venecia’s good luck remain in ample supply.
The Philippine Supreme Court later sustained a decision — rendered earlier by an anti-graft court — that cleared Landoil and de Venecia of any wrongdoing regarding its loan from the Marcos government, the book says.
His good fortune doesn’t stop there — it apparently extends to the spiritual realm.
Divine Providence has deigned to favor de Venecia and his family by allowing them to witness a few miracles, the biography says.
In December 2004, after his daughter Kristina Casimira, or KC, died in a fire at their home, de Venecia and wife Gina sought spiritual refuge at the convent of the Pink Sisters in Quezon City.
Unknown to both grieving parents, the prioress, Sister Hermenegildes, already instructed a younger sister, Incarnita, to offer prayers for KCs soul.
Except that she didnt tell anyone that her prayers for KC accompanied a personal petition. “[S]he had asked for a sign that KC was already in God’s bosom. In her prayer the young nun asked for a new pair of shoes. Her only pair was tattered and needed to be replaced,” the book said.
On January 25, 2005, the fortieth day of KCs death, the devout sisters prayers were answered. She received a pair of shoes, an indication that KC de Venecia was already in heaven. “In the pale glow of the convent light, Sister Incarnita’s eyes caught sight of a brand-new pair of shoes. They were Manay Gina’s birthday gift for Sister Hermenegildes, but they were a bit too big for her. She decided to give them to Sister Incarnita. They fit her perfectly,” the book says. “Mother, Mother Prioress, cried Sister Incarnita. You don’t know it, but this is the sign I have asked from the Lord to indicate that KS is in good hands! The shoes were delivered to the convent on January 24, the eve of KCs fortieth day of death, the day which, for the faithful, marks the ascension of the soul to heaven.”
None of these supernatural events reflect badly on de Venecia.
After all, these help embellish the latter half of the book, which resemble fairly well-written brochures filled with platitudes.
Take de Venecia’s speech during the Global Interfaith Dialogue in the United Nations in 2005. “There can be no peace between the great powers without peace between the major religions. And there can be no peace among the religions unless there is a dialogue among the religions,” the book says, quoting its subject, who, from all appearances, feel mighty important to emphasize the obvious.
It may be argued that the lackluster text may only be the result of de Venecia’s kind of politics — safe, centrist, and therefore traditional.
But one thing’s for sure, no one knows what would have happened to Philippine politics if the goat had a better aim.

*In 1987, a year after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, family members, and cronies left for Hawaii, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) filed Civil Case No. 20 against de Venecia.
The case alleged that he took undue advantage of his links with Marcos to secure Landoil loans, a transaction considered behest.
The $120 million-borrowing reportedly satisfied any two or more of the following conditions: that it was either given under duress, undercollateralized, spent for other purposes, endorsed by senior government officials, used by persons associated with Marcos, and/or bankrolled programs or projects that were not deemed feasible.
To settle the case, Landoil entered into a compromise agreement with the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) in 1988.
Under the compromise, de Venecia agreed to transfer 45 percent of Landoil shares to the PCGG and the company’s claim against a foreign insurance company that agreed to cover its losses arising from non-payment for its Middle East projects.
As of late 2007, a blogger familiar with the matter said that only P13 million has been reportedly received by the PCGG even as Landoil has allegedly received payments from its insurer. (Landoil reportedly demanded $700 million in compensation but it supposedly reached a settlement with its insurer.)

From the Erratum Dept.
On page 138, it says that To control inflation, de Venecia proposed a solution: reduce the reserve requirements for banks.
A professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an expert at the Asian Development Bank have been consulted about this point and they both agree: the proposal is wrong.
It either should have been corrected and/or edited.
Cutting bank’s reserve requirements — the amount of cash it stores in the vaults of the BSP — will increase the money supply in the financial system. A higher money supply in the system leads to increased inflation, the very thing that de Venecia’s proposal intended to reduce.