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The Debate on Syria (Politics)

I am dismayed, nay, shocked at the irrelevant drivel the mainstream media puts out about the civil war raging in Syria. The verbal diarrhea has reached epic proportions, a discourse devoid of facts, historical context and factual evidence.

There are three critically important questions which must be asked and answered before any military engagement:

  1. Who is the enemy?
  2. What is the objective, or what does "victory" look like?
  3. What are the long-term consequences?

These questions are not being asked, much less answered. Yes, there was sarin gas used in Syria, this much we know. The verifiable evidence (see the video below) points to the rebels (freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on your perspective) having used them. The "intelligence" briefing issued forth by the US government contains only opinions, conjecture and innuendo but no verifiable facts.

How does a bunch of lunatics, who have been killing each other for centuries in the Middle East, threaten the national security of the United States? If some nefarious characters have the (however slight) capability to cause us harm justifies strong military response, then all male members of Congress should be arrested for rape and all female members should be detained for prostitution — they have the capability!

For further contemplation, I suggest you read this short essay on the topic: "Is The US Going To War With Syria Over A Natural Gas Pipeline?".

To gain additional perspective and to put the matter into the proper context, please watch this short video:

Thanks for reading my rant, I had to get this off my chest. I value your comments and feedback, I learn a lot from my readers. By the way, if you have an interest in protecting your privacy, I highly recommend an unbreakable data encryption program for Windows called — check it out.

Back from Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar (Immigration, Travel)

We returned from our trip on January 16 and have been very busy ever since. I had to renew a vehicle registration with the attendant smog-test (what a joke; most vehicles here belch black exhaust like evil volcanos), stenciling the engine number, purchase of insurance, etc. This was the easy part. The difficulties began at the Bureau of Immigration (BI) in scenic Mandaue City.

I have permanent residency (visa 13-A) in the Philippines, which is granted at first for a one-year probationary period.  There is an incredible amount of paperwork involved, expenses of around 9,000 pesos, and an all day spent at the BI. For the privilege of being  permanent resident, I am now obligated to pay 1,620 peso departure tax when leaving the country (which only applies to Filipino citizens and permanent residents), plus 2,800 pesos for various exit clearance, documentary and expediting fees to immigration at passport control. This fee is graciously reduced to a mere 2,200 pesos for subsequent departures within the same calendar year. Needless to say, since we travel a great deal, these fees are quite onerous.

Back to my story with the BI. The time has come for me to apply for an Amendment of my visa for permanent resident, non-probationary status. This involves an incredible amount of paperwork, expenses of around 9,000 pesos, and an all day spent at the BI. I had to return a few days following the aforementioned ordeal for an interview with an immigration officer. My appointment was for 9:00 AM, and I showed up at 8:45 to ensure I would not miss my time slot (for which there are severe penalties). The immigration officer, and attorney, showed up at 10:30 without a word of apology or even as much as "good morning".

The officer sent me out to have some copies made of some of my documents, pay some more fees for an "annual report" required of all foreign residents, then proceeded to initial every page. He asked me no questions during my "interview". He informed me that the amendment process takes about three months and I am not allowed to leave the country in the meantime, or I must start the entire process all over again.

"We have plans and tickets to travel to Europe on March 14", I said with some concern. He asked, "Why are you going to Europe?" "To visit friends", I replied. After hemming and hawing for a while, he said, "Well, I could help expedite matters..." My wallet started to burn a hole in my pocket and my face acquired an uneasy twitch. "How much will such expediting cost?", asked I, naïvely. "Whatever you think", was the curt reply. I reached into my wallet and pulled out a 1,000 peso note, not having anything smaller on me by that time and handed it to him, cursing him silently. He scratched the top of his desk like a blackjack player asking for another card and said, "Another one -- courier and documentary fees, you see..." Thus another 1,000 pesos left the comfortable nest in my wallet and my diastolic blood pressure took another leap.

I must now monitor the BI website to see when my status gets updated, then visit the BI again in Mandaue to apply for another ACR-I (Alien Control Registration - Immigration) Card at a great expense (about 7,000 pesos), all day at the BI and reams of additional paperwork. Then I have to wait for about two to three weeks for the card to be issued. No, they do not notify, I have to go to BI and check. I keep asking if is all worth it.

Bangkok WatNow, about our trip. We had a great time, especially in Phuket, Phi Phi Island and in Northern Thailand. Bangkok is a huge city, notorious for its traffic jams, so we had to learn the public transit system. Mercifully, they have signs posted in English as well as Thai. There are lots of sites to see as well as some great shopping. The air was really polluted, so we were looking forward to our flight to Phuket.

Phuket is a marvelous, magical and visually spectacular place, where huge cliffs seem to erupt from the Andaman Sea. The beaches are clean with fine sand and warm waters. We have visited many nearby islands, one inhabited primarily by primates of lower form (monkeys). We were based on Patong Beach, which is the liveliest part of Phuket Island, but had a chance to visit Karon Beach as well. Karon is the "quiet" beach -- just as beautiful but not as lively as Patong. In all, Phuket was a pleasant adventure.

Beach on Phi Phi IslandWe headed into Phuket Town to the pier to take a boat to Phi Phi Island, where we spent a few days (Ko Phi Phi Don). Very scenic, quite small but the people are friendly and the service is great. We returned to Phuket quite relaxed and ready to fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because out Thai visa was starting to run out.

Kuala Lumpur (KL) was a surprise. The city is booming, construction cranes are everywhere, the malls are jammed with people lugging full shopping bags with Gucci, Rado, Louis Vuitton, etc. logos on them. The city is cleaner than other parts of Malaysia (Johor Bahru, for example) we have seen. It is vibrant and thriving, public transportation (subways, sky trains, buses running on multi-lane freeways) is excellent.

In the Shadow of Petronas' TowersWe visited the Petronas Towers and the surrounding City Park. A marvel of modern architecture and oil industry greed, the towers are truly a sight to behold. From KL we flew Air Asia to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand.

Chiang Mai is a very pleasant, large city and the commercial center of northern Thailand. We rented a scooter and scooted all over Chiang Mai. We spent a whole day at an elephant sanctuary just north of the city, riding and swimming with the elephants. Chiang Mai has many beautiful, ornate temples well worth visiting. We spent nine fun- and adventure-filled days in Chiang Mai and got to know the place well. The days were warm but the weather cooled down at night so we did not even turn on the air conditioner.

From Chiang Mai we took a bus further north to Chiang Rai, located at the foot of the Himalayas, near the Myanmar (Burma) and Laos borders. The weather was even more pleasant in Chiang Rai. It is a smaller but still bustling city, very pleasant and livable, with many attractions and even friendlier, kinder people than in Bangkok or southern Thailand.

Elephant RideWe spent a day in Myanmar, just to renew our Thai visas upon our return. Things are very cheap in Myanmar -- a carton of Marlboro Lights (duty-free export made in Switzerland) cost 150 Thai Baht, or about US$5. One cannot even buy a pack for that in most US states.. My wife was in shopper's heaven, buying up souvenirs like there is no tomorrow.

Our stay in Chiang Rai was the most relaxing. Our hotel was superb, the service and food were exceptional. We spent nine days in Chiang Rai as well, then flew to back to Bangkok, onward to Singapore and back to Cebu.

I got back to working on my project and I am happy to say and I am nearly finished! Yey! It has come together well and also looking very good. I hope to publish it to Windows Store before leaving for Europe, God and the BI willing...