Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘History’

Albert Einstein on our mightiest weapon

June 19, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, History, Science No Comments →

In a long life I have devoted all my faculties to reach a somewhat deeper insight into the structure of physical reality. Never have I made any systematic effort to ameliorate the lot of men, to fight injustice and suppression, and to improve the traditional forms of human relations. The only thing I did was this: in long intervals I have expressed an opinion on public issues whenever they appeared to me so bad and unfortunate that silence would have made me feel guilty of complicity.

Read about Einstein and the duties of the individual in Brain Pickings.

The Lost City of Z: Meanwhile, another Amazon casts a spell

June 08, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History, Movies No Comments →


How the Manila galleon trade gave rise to both the Chinese yuan and the US dollar

May 26, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Money 1 Comment →

The Silver Way is available at National Bookstores (check the Glorietta branch), Php335.

“The Silver Way” refers to the Manila galleon trade, in which spices, silk and other goods were carried on ships from China to Mexico, via Manila. It was the first transoceanic shipping line, and it replaced the Silk Road in which goods were carried overland from China to Europe. This was possible because Andres de Urdaneta (as in Urdaneta Field, Urdaneta Village) figured out the return route from Asia to the Americas through the Pacific. (When Spain and Portugal divided the world between them, our islands were in the Portuguese half so a deal had to be struck.)

The Chinese didn’t really need anything from the Americas—then as now, they produced pretty much everything—so the galleons that went from Mexico to China would carry tons of silver in payment. The trade was so profitable that every year, only one galleon would leave from Mexico and one from China, and the investors would still become incredibly rich. It was the main reason the Spanish stuck around the Philippines so long, so I have wondered why we know so little about it. (Yes, there’s plenty of the information in Blair and Robertson, the 50+ volumes. My friend has read almost everything about the galleon trade, which makes him an expert, but if he does anything with the knowledge it would imperil his lead in the lifetime underachievement awards.)

This 100-page book from Penguin Specials is a crash course on those early days of globalization. It explains how the galleon trade led to the first global currency, and why the Chinese yuan and the US dollar are cousins if not siblings. If you want to understand the current world economy, you could start here.

Monday Links: Nazi drug use, Nobel Prize in Literature bets, and a wonderful takedown of Tom Wolfe’s attack on Darwin

October 10, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History No Comments →

Workers at the Temmler factory in Berlin produced 35m tablets of Pervitin for the German army and Luftwaffe in 1940. Photograph: Temmler Pharma GmbH & Co KG, Marburg

Read High Hitler: How Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history.

The story Ohler tells begins in the days of the Weimar Republic, when Germany’s pharmaceutical industry was thriving – the country was a leading exporter both of opiates, such as morphine, and of cocaine – and drugs were available on every street corner. It was during this period that Hitler’s inner circle established an image of him as an unassailable figure who was willing to work tirelessly on behalf of his country, and who would permit no toxins – not even coffee – to enter his body.

“He is all genius and body,” reported one of his allies in 1930. “And he mortifies that body in a way that would shock people like us! He doesn’t drink, he practically only eats vegetables, and he doesn’t touch women.” No wonder that when the Nazis seized power in 1933, “seductive poisons” were immediately outlawed. In the years that followed, drug users would be deemed “criminally insane”; some would be killed by the state using a lethal injection; others would be sent to concentration camps. Drug use also began to be associated with Jews. The Nazi party’s office of racial purity claimed that the Jewish character was essentially drug-dependent. Both needed to be eradicated from Germany.

Some drugs, however, had their uses, particularly in a society hell bent on keeping up with the energetic Hitler (“Germany awake!” the Nazis ordered, and the nation had no choice but to snap to attention). A substance that could “integrate shirkers, malingerers, defeatists and whiners” into the labour market might even be sanctioned.

Read Tom Wolfe’s Reflections on Language. It’s long, but worth your time. Haay mahirap talagang magmarunong kung kayabangan lang ang puhunan mo.


All it takes is a small number of brave, stubborn people for society to function properly.

October 05, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Science No Comments →

Finally read the Nassim Nicholas Taleb essay that I bookmarked weeks ago and it’s cheered me up immensely. N.N. Taleb wrote The Black Swan, in which he blasted the bad mathematics that toppled the global financial system. Never listen to economists who cannot grasp the math. I’ve always been too lazy to pay attention to mathematics, but Math Is Our Friend and it will save us.

Read The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship Of The Small Minority. Yes, the title sounds dire, but the piece is both enlightening and comforting. Taleb can be irritating (the air of “Ang galing-galing ko”), but the arguments are persuasive. There’s a bit of statistics in it, but you’re intelligent people, you can apply the little grey cells (Have been watching Agatha Christie’s Poirot again).

Among other things, Taleb says:







So Edmund Burke is correct. And Tolkien.

After you’ve read the Taleb essay, watch this bit from Dr. Who, the episode where the Doctor is convincing Vincent Van Gogh not to commit suicide. It made me verklempt (Yiddish for emotional).

A reader asks: What was so wrong about Martial Law? Help us answer the question.

October 02, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, History 11 Comments →

When I read this comment from a reader, my first instinct was to say something sarcastic. And then it occurred to me that this letter sums up the rift in our society at present. It asks: What was so wrong about Martial Law? And if we have no negative memories of the period, why should we care?

We need to answer this question respectfully and dispassionately, at the most personal, relatable level, without political lectures and economic models. With your indulgence, I have taken some of the comments from the previous post and added them here. I am also posting a column I wrote on the anniversary of the declaration of martial law 20 years ago. Please post your reactions in Comments. And please post the question on your social media sites and ask friends to answer it, too. Thank you. I apologise to those whose answers are redacted or not published. Our intention is to keep the discussion calm and civil.

Here is the comment from swanoepel.

batang martial law ako pero minsan ang sakit basahin mga nega article ex raissa robles at yung pinagkakalat ni senator hontiveros. kasalanan ko ba kung noong martial law eh maganda buhay ko at wala akong matandaan ng kanegahan nong time na yun maganda business namin at walang crime sa lugar namin napaka peaceful natatandaan ko pa after school nood lang ako ng mga old movies sa channel 9 ng Silveria ni dolphy at SuperGirl ni Ike Lozada yung may mga patay na bumangon takbo mga tao sa simbahan then eat bulaga(lets get physical dance contest) flordeluna Iskul Bukol See True etc puro magaganda natatandaan ko at wala akong matandaang gulo at may free klim milk pa nga tuwing sabado ng umaga sa plaza at sa school naman may libreng merienda everyday lugaw at ginataang mais at yung logo na BAGONG LIPUNAN kaka inspire maging honor noon dahil may mga gift pack pag graduation at I remember pag luluwas kami manila ang ganda ganda ng maynila at ang airport may balcony pa para makita pagsakay sa eroplano parang mga artista mga hinahatid sa airport noon at talagang well dress. Paano naman kami Sen Hontiveros yung mga walang nega experience sa ML?

Here are the reactions of friends and readers.


I was nine when Martial Law was declared, and I vaguely remember that when it started there was nothing on TV, then a fellow (whom I later learned was Kit Tatad) made some sort of announcement that upset the adults.

The early years are a blur. We were middle class at a time when the middle class was minuscule, my father was making his way up the ranks in a company that imported machines, my mom was a housewife, my grandmother lived with us, we three kids were in grade school. Imported things were rare and a treat to receive, and one had to go to the PX stores in Dau, Pampanga to get them and they were expensive. There were only four TV stations, and we would listen to radio dramas in the afternoon.

I did not know anyone who disappeared — back then.

By the time I was in college in the early 1980s, it was a different story.

What I do remember most about Martial Law in the ’70s was that there was always a sense of foreboding, that the shiny good stuff was a thin veneer over something worse — kind of like the art projects we would do in grade school where we would cover an Oslo paper with crayon colors, then cover the whole paper with India ink, then scratch out a drawing, letting the colors come through. I remember the Potemkin villages — the colorful and pretty walls that Imelda would have put up to hide the slums around the airport, so that visiting businessmen would not see them. (The airport itself was quite nice, and you could wave to all those relatives as they walked across the tarmac to climb up the stairs into the planes that would bring them to another country where they could make a life for themselves away from here. They all wanted to get away from here. Most of my mother’s cousins left.)

My clearest memory was of a regular family dinner in the early days, asking “what is Martial Law” and having all the adults suddenly shush me up and whisper that I shouldn’t ask such questions where I could be heard — such talk could only take place upstairs in the bedrooms at night after the family had retired. They were afraid the maids would hear. The maids who were from Leyte. Leyte was where Imelda Marcos was from. They were afraid the maids would report us. All these years later those fears seem ridiculous — those lovely ladies still work for the family after all these decades, but at the time no one knew and everyone was scared and nobody trusted anyone else. There were too many whispered stories of what happened if you were overheard.

We learned to fear people in uniform. Avoid them at all cost. Approach anyone else for help but not a man in a uniform. We would see men caught for breaking curfew or for wearing their hair long pulling up weeds at the landscaped areas along the walls of Camp Crame, and we knew that on the other side of that wall there were much darker things happening. What exactly, we kids did not know, but we knew it was bad — it was like the boogieman under your bed or in the closet at night.

Every Sunday the family would visit friends in Greenhills, and as we kids played, we would hear more whispers when we went near the grownups — we’d hear names of people we read about in the papers, of land someone was forced to sell. Then my parents would hurry us all into the car and my father would drive like a crazy person to make it home in Pasay City before curfew. If we did not hit any red lights, the trip took 15 minutes.

There were two break-ins that I recall happened during Martial Law, and there were some thefts in our neighborhood. People say there was less crime back then — but I think they should remember that there were way fewer people back then too, so fewer criminals.

I remember the Noise Barrage in 1978 — we piled into the car with my dad and drove around honking the horn and it was exhilarating when we heard so many others making noise too. It felt so good not to whisper, be quiet, be careful, trust no one.

It was the same feeling I had many years later when we heard Marcos and his family had fled.

These days I am starting to get this uncomfortably familiar feeling. These days I find myself again watching what I say. I find myself telling friends to “shush,” to temper what they say on social media. Be careful. You do not know who will read you. You don’t know what will happen next.


Although I was apolitical, my two younger brothers were members of the Ateneo student government and were briefly detained. Also, when I was at Harvard in the early 1980s, Imelda was reported in the US papers as buying whole shows of expensive art—she was starting her Renaissance, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art collection, some of which was later recovered by the government. She was also using government money to buy million-dollar real estate and jewelry for herself and her family. By then Swiss accounts using government money had been opened for herself, her husband and their trustees. They had installed dummies in the key industries, which later settled with the new government. It was an era of unbridled greed and corruption.


Halos parehas pala na experience natin nung Martial Law, ah. Grade 2 ako nung na-ideklara ang Martial Law. Actually hindi ko masyadong naiintindihan kung ano yun. Nakita ko lang ang picture ni Marcos sa dyaryo tapos walang pasok ng ilang linggo kaya masaya ako. Lalo pa akong masaya dahil panay cartoons ang palabas sa Channel 9. Wala kasing ibang channel nun time na yan. Pagbalik sa school ang naalala ko, tinuruan kami ng “Himig ng Bagong Lipunan”. Sa totoo lang, ang ganda ng kanta, nakaka-proud!

Sa Don Bosco ako nag-aral, dalawa kami ng kapatid ko dito, apat sa U.P., isa sa St. Paul’s Q.C. at yung bunso bubwit pa. Six boys at 2 girls kami sa pamilya. Naalala ko rin yung logo ng New Society. Actually, sa advertising ako nagtatrabaho ngayon at sa perspektibo kong ito, ang husay ng kampanya ni Marcos at ang logo niya ay da bomb! Favorite graphic design ko pa rin yun. Ganun rin ang routine ko: school, bahay, sa hapon, nood ng “Anak ng Bulkan”, “Magnificent Bakya” sa Piling Piling Pelikula. Kapag half day, “Eat Bulaga”!

Tahimik nun for a few years. Parang maayos naman. Isang hapon, pag-uwi namin ng kapatid ko galing sa school, may naka-park na dalawang Metrocom sa harap ng bahay namin. Hindi ko alam kung naalala mo ang METROCOM. Yan yung “special action force” ni Marcos para sa Metro Manila. Anyway, medyo kinabahan kami ng konti kasi bakit may MTEROCOM sa bahay?Pag pasok namin, pinaakyat kaagad kami ng kasambahay sa kwarto namin. Nakita ko na may kausap yung parents ko at yung taga METROCOM. May kasamang kaibigan na abugado yung parents ko.

Maya’t-maya, naka-alis na yung taga METROCOM. Umakyat kaagad yung parents ko at dali-daling tinawag kami para mag rosaryo. Gawain namin yan every evening kasama ang lola ko. Walang paliwanag sa amin at derecho lang kami sa pagdasal ng rosaryo. Medyo na weirdan ako dito kasi hindi namin alam kung anong nangyayari. Ang napansin ko lang ay may kulang sa amin. Yung isang kapatid kong lalaki na nag-aaral sa U.P.. Patapos na sana ng rosaryo, sa bandang recitation ng “Hail Holy Queen’, bigla na lamang bumuhos ng iyak ang nanay ko, pati na rin ang lola ko. I have never seen my mother cry because medyo hindi siya emotional na tao. So nagulat at kinabahan ako.

Finally, tinipon kami ng Father ko at inexplain niya kung bakit dumating ang METROCOM. Yung isang brother ko na wala sa bahay ay nahuli pala at na-detain sa Camp Crame. Sabi ng METROCOM, nag-participate daw kasi siya sa isang “lightning rally”, illegal assembly daw yan. Yung father ko ay duktor. Nagtrabaho siya sa mga kumpanya na pag-aari ng mga Lopez, wala naman kinalaman ito sa paghuli sa brother ko pero yung kaibigan niyang lawyer ay kilala niya yung Heneral na nag-OIC sa Meralco. Yung Meralco, sa mga Lopez yan at sinequester ni Marcos. Anyway, sabi ng tatay ko, makikiusap sila sa Heneral para tignan ang kaso ng brother ko. Parang bangungot yung nangyayari nun kasi wala naman akong hinala na may subersibo sa pamilya namin. Kasi yung pagturo sa amin sa Don Bosco ay yung “Old Society” magulo at ang mga kabataan na nag-po-protesta panay komunista.

Hindi ko sukat akalain ng yung brother ko ay komunista, at least yan ang dating sa akin. Tumahimik na lang kaming lahat at doon ko naramdaman ang takot. Kasi pag-nabansagan kang aktibista, komunista, kalaban ka ng pagbabago, ng New Society eh bawal na bawal yan. Hadlang sa progreso. Lumipas ang mga ilang araw, finally na-release yung brother ko. Siyempre pasalamat kami na buhay siya kasi ang daming tsismis nuon tungkol sa mga dinudukot ng militar at hindi nalang nahahanap. Ang kuwento ng brother ko ay kakalabas lang niya ng library sa U.P. nang biglang may mga estudyanteng nagtatakbuhan. Hinahabol ng mga pulis. Nadamay yung brother ko. Ini-explain niya na galing lang siya sa study gorup at palabas lang ng library pero dinala pa rin siya sa Crame.

Cut long story short, blinotter, pinahawak sa kanya ang isang karatula na kinumpiska sa rally at kinunan siya ng litrato. “Ebidensya” na ginamit laban sa kanya. Hindi sila kasi pinatawag sa abugado at kung sino man. Kaso kaagad. Nabigyan rin ng “conditional release” siya ng militar, sa tulong ng pakiusap ng kaibigan ng tatay ko at regalong Johnny Walker Blue. Sa conditional release ng brother ko, officially nasa “listahan” na siya ng militar, kinailangan niyang mag-report once a week sa official custodian niya sa Crame. I-re-report niya kung ano yung activities niya at sino ang mga kinausap niya nung liggo na yan. Bawal rin siya bumiyahe sa labas ng bansa kaya hindi namin nakita yung sinasabi mong maayos na airport na may viewing deck.

Nakabantay na rin ang tatay ko kasi naging personal physician siya ni Mr. Lopez Sr. Kapag may balak lumabas naman ang brother ko outside ng Metro Manila ay kailangan niyang magpaalam sa militar. Kelangan niya sabihin kung saan siya pupunta, sino kasama niya at ano ang pakay niya. At pagdating sa patutunguhan niya, kelangan mag-report siya sa Military Provincial outpost para verified na tutoong pumunta siya sa lugar na ipinaalam niya. Pagbalik sa Maynila, kelangan mag-report uli siya sa Crame na nakabalik nga siya. So isipin mo lang ang hassle kapag luluwas kaming pamilya para mag-bakasyon. Mula noon, sinabihan kami ng father namin na wag na wag namin ikukuwento kung anong nangyari sa kapatid ko at mag-iingat kami sa pananalita namin sa publiko lalo na kung tungkol sa gobyerno.

Yan po lamang ang experience ko sa Martial Law. Naging maayos pa rin naman pero may malaking halong takot. Tahimik ba ang buhay nun? Mga ilan taon rin maayos pero unting-unti medyo napansin rin namin na bumalik ang criminalidad sa baranggay namin. Ilang beses kaming ninakawan, yung brother kong nakulong ay minsa’y na-hold-up pagkagaling niya sa Crame, at nung pinasukan ang bahay namin at ni-report ng nanay ko sa pulis, ay aba siya pa ang binasahan ng “Miranda Rights”, yan yung binabashan karaniwan sa mga kriminal tungkol sa mga karapatan nila; “Ikaw ay may karapatan sa abugado, may karapatan kang manahimik dahil baka magamit ‘to laban sa iyo, etc..”. Siyempre umurong na lang ang nanay ko. Dalhin ka ba naman sa isang kwarto at paligiran ng mg pulis.

Masaya naman ako para sa mga ibang nakaranas ng kaginhawaan nung Martial Law. Na walang naging masamang karanasan na masama. Pasalamat rin ako na ito lang ang naranasan namin. Komunista ba yung kapatid ko? Sabi niya hinde. Pero merong siyang mga kaibigan na namundok at napatay. Well sabi naman ng iba, life choice mo naman yan eh. Karapatan mo rin naman wag pakinggan yung mga kuwento dahil naging maayos naman ang buhay ninyo. Karapatan mo rin naman magreklamo na naiingayan ka kay Risa Hontiveros. Pakiusap ko lang ay sana maalala mo lang kung ilan ang nag-buwis ng buhay para magamit mo ang karapatan na ito. Mabuhay kabayan. Nuod na tayo ng Eat Bulaga! Buhay pa rin siya!