Friday, November 4, 2011

Peace: the greatest gift

IN THIS “Season of Peace” that is Christmas, be thankful for the blessing of Peace.

It isn’t a perfect Peace. None will dispute that. There are frustrating wars against communist and Muslim insurgents who persist in their failing campaigns to bend the government’s will.

In this “Season of Peace,” grieve for the 40,000 Filipinos who have died in a communist insurgency that renewed its campaign of violence a day after Christmas in 1968.

Mourn for the 120,000 other Filipinos who have perished in Mindanao since Filipino Muslims decided to right perceived wrongs against them by force of arms in 1972. Lament the thousands physically wounded and those emotionally scarred by these wars, and the millions displaced from their homes.

In this “Season of Peace,” say a prayer and try to do something for our countrymen who have suffered and continue to suffer from these wars. And remember the child victims of war.

The dreadful toll of Filipinos taken by these wars illustrates war’s perverse and preferred role as an arbiter of conflict among human beings. War is as old as man. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of war or the employment of organized armed violence dating back 12,000 years.

War is pervasive. As far as can be determined, there has been a war every year somewhere on our planet for the past 3,000 years. And this rush to war seems to have been hastened by the rise of the “civilized” state 5,000 years ago.

One report claims there have only been 26 days of peace from 1945 to 2005. The year 1945 saw the end of World War II in which 70 million persons died, history’s bloodiest death toll from any war.

That's only 26 days of peace out of the 22,000 days from 1945 to 2005. And it’s fairly certain there hasn’t been a single day of peace from 2006 until today. Mankind stubbornly refuses to give Peace a chance.

War is enduring. Sadly, war has been—and remains—a common arbiter of disputes between states and among armed groups. It’s also the least effective since it sows, as it so often has, the bloody seeds of the next conflict and the one after that.

Witness World War I, the "War to End All Wars" that ignited the bloodier World War II, which then led to the proxy wars between democracy and communism that, in turn, saw Muslims take up the sword in the conflicts that batter today's world.

And if one gazes at the 19th century, one witnesses our own revolution against Spain, one of the many wars for independence fought by enslaved peoples against European empires, chiefly those of Britain, Spain and France.

Why does man avidly forsake Peace? The answers are as complex as the causes of war. But whether one believes the Biblical comment wars begin in men's hearts, or take into account the opinion most wars are ignited by greed, one cannot escape the reality of war's stranglehold on mankind.

Filipinos should count their blessings, however. It’s worse in some places where the word Peace isn’t defined as the absence of violent action, but as a pause in the horrors of war.

Recall Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and the Sudan, and those obscure places in Europe, Africa and Asia where racial hatreds have exploded into genocide.

In this “Season of Peace,” remember to love your fellowman as you love yourself. By doing so, you give Peace more than the fighting chance it needs to calm man’s violent passions.

Peace and Love to All in this Season of Peace.

Banish war.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Philippines: lost at sea in the Spratlys

This August, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam will take delivery of her second “Gepard 3.9 Class” frigate.

Vietnam’s two Gepard (Russian for “cheetah”) frigates are now among the most advanced surface combatants in Southeast Asia apart from the Republic of Singapore’s six French-made “La Fayette” multi-role stealth frigates and the Republic of China's U.S. made destroyers and "La Fayette" stealth frigates.

The Gepard’s firepower is formidable: eight sea-skimming “Switchblade” anti-ship missiles, each with a range of 130 km; a surface-to-air missile system; two 6-barreled 30 mm autocannon; torpedoes; an anti-submarine rocket launcher and a 76.2 mm dual purpose main gun. All this Russian-made firepower in a small ship weighing only 2,000 tons and crewed by just 100 men.

Each of Vietnam’s Gepards has enough firepower to easily sink any World War II warship, including the 65,000 ton Yamato whose massive nine 46 cm main guns had a range of just 42 km.

One of Vietnam's two Gepard-class frigates

Challenging China
Begun in 2006, the modernization of the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) doesn’t end with the delivery of the Gepards, however. Vietnam is awaiting delivery of six improved “Kilo Class” submarines (six torpedo tubes, 6,000 mile range) and 20 Sukhoi “Su-30MK2” Flanker-C naval fighter-bombers (5,000 mile range, anti-ship missiles).

These weapons systems, all made in Russia, bring Vietnam closer to the point where she can successfully challenge China—her primary strategic foe—if push comes to shove in the West Philippine Sea. Of these three weapons systems, the Kilo Class submarines will be the most important in any future naval fight against China.

Ship-to-ship, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is overwhelmingly superior to the VPN. The PLAN has 50 frigates to counter Vietnam’s seven. It also operates 26 destroyers, 19 conventional attack submarines, three nuclear submarines, 80 missile-armed coastal warfare ships and over 200 fast attack craft.

Submarines, however, offer Vietnam the realistic prospect of tilting the odds in its favor in a renewed naval conflict over the Spratlys given China’s inexperience in anti-submarine warfare. And Vietnam will have six modern attack submarines to attack Chinese surface ships.

Unfortunately for China, over 90 percent of her maritime trade transits the West Philippine Sea. This makes Chinese merchantmen and warships easier prey for Vietnam’s Kilo submarines, also known as “Black Holes” for their ability to avoid detection.

Hence, Vietnam’s current strategy of building-up its submarine force, both to interdict Chinese shipping and to take revenge for previous defeats at China’s hands in naval battles in the Spratlys.

Vietnam’s last defeat occurred off our Kalayaan Archipelago in March 1988. In that battle, three missile-armed Chinese frigates attacked three almost defenseless Vietnamese troop transport ships defended by three lightly armed patrol boats, sinking all the transports and killing 60 Vietnamese. The Chinese lost six men but no ships. 

Other claimants' navies
Malaysia and the Republic of China (ROC), two other claimants to the Spratlys, also realize the immense value of submarines and modern warships in defending their national interests in the West Philippine Sea.

Malaysia two years ago took delivery of two Scorpène submarines built by France. These advanced subs are armed with “Blackshark” wire-guided torpedoes and “Exocet SM-39” sub-launched anti-ship missiles. They have a patrol range of 12,000 km on the surface.

The ROC, on the other hand, operates four submarines, 22 modern frigates and four destroyers. In addition, the ROC Navy is building 30 “Kuang Hua VI Class” missile boats capable of patrolling the West Philippine Sea.

The ROC is also reported to be developing a “carrier killer” called “Hsun Hai (Swift Sea),” a state-of-the-art missile corvette. This nimble sea fighter will rely on sophisticated stealth technologies to evade detection and engage PROC aircraft carriers with its eight anti-ship missiles. A prototype is scheduled for delivery next year.

It is now almost certain the PROC intends to build five aircraft carriers that will all become operational by the next decade. Since these carriers will undoubtedly be used to show the flag in the Spratlys thereby raising tensions, the naval build-ups by Vietnam, the ROC and Malaysia have sound strategic bases.

The Philippines and her Navy
And what of the Philippines and her Philippine Navy?

As we undoubtedly have the strongest claim to control the Spratly’s among the six contenders, one would expect this country to have placed orders for frigates, submarines, long-range fighter aircraft, surface-to-surface missiles and other necessary military hardware to back our claim more forcefully.

The Chinese dragon won’t bother with the Philippine eagle—unless that eagle breathes fire, too.

Yes, we are modernizing—in a way. Last March, the Philippine Navy took delivery of one Hamilton Class cutter from the United States. When this cutter was in service with the U.S. Coast Guard, it was used for search and rescue, anti-smuggling operations and patrolling the U.S. exclusive economic zone.

This ship has been renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15). It is armed with a 76 mm cannon, two 25 mm Mk38 Bushmaster autocannon and one 20 mm Close-in-Weapons System (CIWS) for anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense.

Its armament makes it more powerful than the BRP Rajah Humabon (three 3 inch guns), the Navy’s World War II vintage flagship. But we’ll only have one Hamilton Class cutter, which is also termed a frigate.

BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a lightweight compared to the heavy-hitting Gepards and the PLAN's Type 052 destroyers.

The del Pilar and the Humabon are the most powerful units in the Philippine Fleet. Backing up these ships are about 13 corvettes and 40 patrol boats. None of these ships are missile-armed, so their survivability in a naval battle or even a minor skirmish is seriously in doubt.

Were this country a bit richer, the Philippines would probably have trod the same road as Vietnam and shopped the world for the best available arms to meet our unique needs. Alas, this is not meant to be.

Despite its paucity in naval fighting power, the Philippines has an ace-in-the-hole: the mighty United States Navy.

On June 23, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged U.S. support for Philippines amid escalating tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea. Brushing aside a Chinese warning for the U.S. to stay out of the row, Clinton said that U.S. national interests in freedom of navigation and respect for international law were at stake.

“I want to underscore our commitment to the defense of the Philippines,” Clinton said, adding the U.S. would honor its 1951 mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. She said Washington would stand by its old friend.

While the U.S. “. . . does not take sides on territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, but we oppose the use of force or the threat of force to advance the claims of any party,” she said.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto del Rosario said the Philippines is relying on U.S. help to strengthen its naval capabilities. The unequivocal U.S. pledge might serve to diffuse tensions with China for now, and this was probably its intent.

China's eternal nightmare: the US Navy's 10 Nimitiz-class supercarriers, one of which is the USS Ronald Reagan.

China, however, has shown a stubborn streak in its push for hegemony in the West Philippine Sea. And there is reason to doubt China’s sincerity when she states diplomacy is her preferred tool in solving the Spratlys’ impasse. Her relentless aggressive actions seem to belie this claim.

Only the U.S. or a military coalition among the other five claimants will suffice to keep China in check. And the Philippines can learn from recent history the folly of appeasing aggressive states such as China. Remember Neville Chamberlain?

History must not repeat itself at our expense.

* Published July 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How kids can avoid the danger of back-breaking backpacks

(Published in Enrich, magazine of Mercury Drug Corporation, in 2010)

THERE OUGHT TO BE a law against having elementary and high school students lugging most of their heavy textbooks and notebooks to school five days a week. The good news for students and their parents is there will be such a law—if and when the current 15th Congress comes around to approving it.

In August 2009 during the 14th Congress, Congressman Carmelo Lazatin of Pampanga filed a bill that would limit the weight of bags children in both public and private schools are required to bring to class daily.

This legislation or House Bill 06644 has been pending with the Committee on Basic Education and Culture since that same month. Its full title is “An Act Limiting the Amount of Weight of Bags Carried by Children in School and Implementing Measures to Protect Schoolchildren's Health from the Adverse Effect of Heavy School Bag”.

Far too heavy school backpacks

Lazatin cited complaints from parents in his district who said they discovered their children were carrying bags about 40 percent of their body weight. He noted several international studies that recommend schools limit the weight of loaded bags to a minimum 15 percent of the body weight of students.

Carrying a backpack weighing more than 15 percent of body weight renders a child unable to maintain proper posture while standing and causes him to bend forward, making breathing more difficult. Ideally, a backpack and its contents should weigh less than 10 percent of a child's body weight, according to some sources.

The problem of heavy school backpacks isn’t unique to our country, however. It’s also a grave problem in the USA, Asia and Europe. According to medical sources in the USA, one of the major causes of potential injury to American school children that often goes unnoticed is the school backpack.

Back Pain

A study by the American Physical Therapy Association found over 50 percent of children surveyed carried backpacks heavier than 15 percent of their body weight, the suggested weight limit. Children that carry more than this percentage can develop serious back pain and other problems that require treatment.

Coping with heavy loads presents another problem since children tend to lean forward or arch their backs, causing them to develop poor posture. A study conducted by the Hong Kong Society for Child Health and Development in 1988 showed close to five percent of Grade 3 to Grade 6 students developed back problems such as mild to serious spinal deformities due to the heavy bags these students carried to school daily.

In Europe, a study conducted in 1994 among Scandinavian students revealed a high probability for spinal problems in school children who carried backpacks, no matter how they carried them. That brings up another major problem about backpacks: how to carry these correctly.

The same Scandinavian study found that 54 percent of the children who carried their backpacks on one shoulder complained of back pains, and that 45 percent of the two-shoulder pack wearers also complained of back pains. It also showed that girls were more likely to experience backpack-related pain than boys.

Probably because it’s more “ma-porma,” many students sling their backpacks over one shoulder. This can, however, cause the student to lean to the other side to compensate for the extra weight, resulting in back pain and a strained neck and shoulders. Children who sling their backpacks over one shoulder or who use one-strap bags that put weight on only one shoulder might become victims of scoliosis (a sideways deviation of the spine) because of the uneven weight distribution. Medical sources say constantly slinging a backpack over one shoulder could cause damage to one’s spine.

Be on the lookout for these warning signs that your child’s school backpack might be too heavy for him or her:
  • He experiences pain while wearing the backpack.
  • There’s a tingling sensation and numbness in his arm or arms.
  • He struggles to put on or take off the backpack.
  • A change in his posture when wearing the backpack.
School Backpacks for Light Loads Only
It should be remembered that school backpacks, at least those commonly used in this country, aren’t mostly designed to carry heavy loads. A backpack with wheels (“rolling backpacks”) or mounted on a two-wheeled trolley is a better choice for lugging heavy school loads weighing more than 15 percent of the user’s body weight than the very common backpack.

What passes off as a normal school backpack is the frameless and non-rigid type suitable for carrying light loads weighing less than five kilograms. Many of these backpacks also lack adjustable hip belts that distribute weight across the body and padded shoulder straps for more comfort.

To carry more than five kilograms safely and comfortably means a student has to use either a backpack with an external frame or an internal frame. These types of backpacks are rare in the Philippines, however, and many of those available are made especially for backpacking, hiking and other outdoor activities for adults.

Framed backpacks are more often used by soldiers who tend to carry heavy loads. Soldiers also use large backpacks that can carry loads over 10 kg. This heavy weight is mostly supported by padded hip belts as the hips are stronger than the shoulders and thus able to bear more weight safely than the shoulders and spine.

Backpack Safety
Since your child is in school for eight months in a year, it’s wise to avoid the dangers that come with back breaking backpacks. Therefore, school backpacks must be properly used to avoid injury to your child. Have your child practice “backpack safety” by:
  • Carrying not more than 15 percent of his body weight. Use a rolling backpack or a two-wheeled trolley for heavier loads, or if he regularly has to bring heavy loads to school.
  • Making him use both straps to balance the load carried and to avoid spinal injuries. He must avoid slinging a heavy backpack over one shoulder.
  • Buying the proper backpack. This means buying a backpack appropriate to your child's size. Oversize backpacks are no good since they tempt a child to pack more than he can carry. A backpack with an adjustable hip belt, adjustable shoulder straps and a padded back would be ideal if available.
  • A backpack with two or more separate compartments (rather than one large compartment) will distribute a load more evenly.
  • When packing books, it’s better to pack the heaviest books at the back, that is, on the side that touches the child’s back, so the shoulder straps and hip belt work more effectively to prevent unnecessary back strain.
They’re Not Roman Soldiers
Over two thousand years ago, the legionaries of the Roman Empire were among the toughest fighting men in the ancient world. These soldiers marched from one end of their vast empire to the other carrying everything with them on their person or on their backs: weapons, food, water, utensils, clothes and other necessities.

The Roman Army discovered that for its soldiers to march and fight, they could only carry 30 kg or less. That was about 40 percent or more of their body weight, and Roman legionaries (mostly men in their 20s) were renowned for their strength and toughness.

Today, we have reported instances where Filipino students regularly carry to school books and gear weighing up to 40 percent of their body weight.

That’s a 40 kg child hauling 16 kg of gear. Filipino students aren’t Roman legionaries. Why then should they bear the same physical burden?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Light up your life indoors

How many hours a day do you spend under the sun? If you’re the average office employee, that time would be limited to some one to two hours on a sunny morning when you rush off to work; the few minutes during your lunch break if you eat outside your office and the one hour from 5:00 to 6:00 pm when leave your office and head back home.

That’s about three hours or less of natural and healthy sunlight, and it jibes with studies in the West that show most people spend 90 percent of their lives indoors.

And sunlight can indeed be healthy—it activates Vitamin D, for example—as long as it’s absorbed in moderation. The corollary is that most city dwellers spend most of their days indoors. That means our eyes rely mostly on artificial indoor lighting (which can sometimes be too dim) to get things done. Our eyes, therefore, tend to live in darkness everyday.

But how bright should artificial lighting or illumination be so it doesn’t harm our eyes? How healthy is artificial lighting for our eyes? And is there such a thing as “healthy artificial lighting?”

Good sunlight
Moderate and regular exposure to “good sunlight” (generally accepted as sunlight before 10:00am and after 4:00pm on a sunny day) does have healthy benefits. One of these benefits is that sunlight helps stimulate the production of more red blood cells thereby increasing the blood’s oxygen content. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are also antiseptic and can kill some germs on our skin, according to some sources.

Moderate and regular sunlight exposure might actually protect the skin by increasing its natural resistance to the harmful effects of ultraviolet light instead of aging damaging the skin. And, as many of us already know, ultraviolet light converts cholesterol in the skin to Vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for the proper absorption of calcium by the body and thus in the prevention of osteoporosis.

A number of scientific studies support findings that natural daylight helps hospital patients recover faster, improves their mood and helps promotes well being. One striking discovery is that the health of patients close to windows tends to improve quicker. As you can see, sunlight in moderation is healthy.

Lux and lumens
Technically speaking, full or the brightest sunlight has an “illuminance” of some 100,000 to 120,000 lux per square meter at the Earth's surface. “Illuminance” is the total visible light (or “luminous flux”) present in a given area. It’s measured by the metric unit called “lux.” A lux can also be defined as one lumen per square meter. The lumen, in turn, is the metric unit of luminous flux.

The 120,000 lux generated by brightest sunlight is intense and should be since it floods immense areas of the earth’s surface. The family living room, however, needs only a very tiny fraction of this total: an illuminance of just 50 lux. That 50 lux can be achieved by a single compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) of 40 watts that produces 1,650 lumens and is available at hardware stores and major retail outlets.

In contrast, offices need more illuminance (up to 500 lux on the table surface) and therefore more lights for the good quality lighting employees need to work effectively at their computers and at clerical work. Factories obviously need more illuminance in their work areas than do offices for safety reasons.

Christine Sicangco, a professional “lighting designer” and one of the pioneers in this now expanding profession, said there isn’t a hard a fast rule as to the degree of illuminance in a room or how bright a room should be.

“If I were to do the lighting design of a family room, my use of lights would depend on who the occupants are or are they elderly or young; their lifestyle; their needs and the tasks they do,” she said. “You also have to take into account the height of the ceiling and the reflectivity of the walls.”

As an example, she noted that today’s kitchen is morphing into a living room and family room since family members tend to congregate here regularly for meals and chit chat. Children also seem to like studying in kitchens (probably because it’s a yummy food source).

To light a kitchen/living room/family room ensemble, an illuminance of 400 to 500 lux (similar to office lighting) would be appropriate considering the many activities that take place here. She said her kitchen is one of these triple function rooms; it’s lit by six paired 26 watt ceiling CFLs for “general lighting,” which makes for a brightly lit room. She uses “dimmers,” however, to regulate the brightness of her general lighting.

One can also use traditional fluorescent lamps for general lighting. But select the newer “T5 lamps” that last longer and are cheaper in the long run rather than the old “T10” lamps with ballast still found in many Filipino homes. In the case of Sicangco’s kitchen/living room/family room ensemble, two 28 watt T5 fluorescent lamps should give about the same illuminance as the CFLs she currently uses.

Sicangco’s living room is an altogether different affair, however. She sees her living room as a place to relax. Hence, the room has no bright ceiling lights such as those in her kitchen. Instead, her living room light sources are generated by floor lamps with low watt CFLs and accent lighting, which together add up to some 50 lux, and make for a relaxing setting.

But if you want more light in your home, don’t use more powerful ceiling lights or add more CFLs or fluorescent lamps to your general lighting. Use “task lighting,” according to Sicangco. Task or job lighting consists of table and floor lamps (with CFLs) that only illuminate the area where they’re needed and not the entire room. That saves money by cutting electricity costs.

“Why would you want lighting that generates over 500 lux?” Sicangco asked. “”It’s a waste of energy and you won’t need it that much.”

Over illumination
The conventional wisdom that more artificial light is better is a myth, according to some sources. Mounting medical evidence shows “over illumination” could actually be bad for your health. Among the ill effects attributed to over illumination are more headaches, increased worker fatigue and more stress.

Good lighting contributes greatly to person’s sense of well-being and can positively affect office worker satisfaction and productivity, according to the International Association of Light Designers (IALD), an international association that promotes the virtues of professional lighting design.

IALD says lighting designers are resource for innovative, practical and economically viable lighting solutions. They understand the role of lighting in architecture and interior design and rely on their extensive experience and knowledge of lighting equipment and systems to enhance and strengthen design.

A new and sustainable form of generating illuminance harnesses sunlight. Called “daylighting,” this “green” concept means lighting an indoor space with daylight from windows and skylights and not relying solely on artificial lighting.

Daylighting saves energy as it uses less electricity, and could avoid the perceived adverse health effects caused by over-illumination from artificial lights. Some experts believe artificial office lighting plus daylighting can attain an illuminance ranging from 2-3,000 lux without significantly increasing energy costs. Daylighting is also another solution to the challenge of using artificial lighting to duplicate the visual advantages of sunlight.

Most offices, however, continue to turn to artificial lighting to produce the clear visibility needed for safe and efficient work. This approach ignores a growing body of evidence that seems to suggest artificial lights can cause health problems due to under-illumination (research shows poor lighting can cause depression) and over-illumination (clinical studies show excessive levels of artificial light could lead to health problems).

The need to bring the healthy benefits of sunlight indoors has led to a marketing gimmick in the West called “full-spectrum lighting.” Although current medical research tends to disprove the most outlandish full spectrum lighting claims (that it replicates sunlight and purifies the air, for example), this phenomenon highlights a growing consumer concern indoor lighting should be “healthy,” or about as important to a family as the healthy food they eat.

Scientific articles about full-spectrum lighting compiled by the National Research Council of Canada Institute for Research in Construction, a Canadian government research and development agency, conclude that full-spectrum lighting does not confer any benefits as regards performance, mood or health compared to typical cool-white fluorescent lighting.

Sicangco concurs with this conclusion. “I don’t think full spectrum lighting is healthy,” she said. “If you need Vitamin D, go out into the sunlight.”

Good indoor lighting protects your eyes from the dangers of under- and over-illumination. It also helps protect you and your family members from accidents, and the visual risks associated with old age. But if you want your lighting to do more than just light up a room, you’ll probably need the services of a lighting designer.

But if you do experience problems you think are being caused by too much or too little lighting, see your doctor for advice.