Book #1: My American Book. Embracing Science Embracing Faith
December 17, 2007, American Chronicle
A newsmagazine has just given birth to a book by one of its writers; the newsmagazine is American Chronicle based in Beverly Hills, California, USA; the book is by a Filipino based in Manila in the Philippines, Frank A Hilario. The book: Team ICRISAT Champions the Poor, published 2007 November by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) based in Andhra Pradesh, India. The book comes with an inside back pocket with a CD, which contains the book itself in portable document format (pdf), that which opens with Adobe Reader. Excellent! Print and pdf in one package: I like to think that that is ICRISAT´s way of saying, ´You can´t have too much of a good think.´
It is a think book. In a letter-size format of 128 pages, my book is my own selection of 22 essays (and a bonus of 1) all published by the American Chronicle:
"The Yankee Dawdle. On Discovery Sorghum, The Great Climate Crop" (February 4) – While the Yankee George W Bush twiddled his thumb, sweet sorghum was awaiting discovery of the world as the great climate change crop – according to The Gospel According To Frank.
"An Inconvenient Truth: William Dar, The Filipino As Global Manager" (February 26) – Can the Filipino ever be a world-class science manager? Here is one who has shown everyone that yes, the Filipino can: William Dar, an Ilocano from Ilocos Sur.
"Primate Change? Or Climate Change? You Choose! – The Blogal Village Voice" (March 3) – My plea for bloggers to upload and be counted in the campaign for the fight to mitigate climate change. Blogging is the freest speech I have ever seen, where you can easily insult or easily inform, easily enrage or easily enthuse.
"The Children Of Maidanek. Or, Drawing Gas & Drawing Butterflies" (May 20) – Q: How is it that the children waiting for their end in the gas chambers of Adolf Hitler had the insight to draw butterflies on the walls that would suffocate them to death? A: Butterflies are free!
"Al Gore Of Science. Being About William Dar & ´Science With A Human Face" (June 24) – Al Gore is a non-scientist educating us on the perils of petroleum; William Dar is a scientist educating us on the promise of plants as sources of substitute petroleum fuels. The substitute is better!
"UP! Pinoy Chairs UN Scientific Body On Desertification" (September 12) – A great honor for a Filipino to be elected by his peers as Chair of the United Nations´ Committee on Science & Technology focused on drylands turning to desertlands.
"Being A Different Kind Of CV. Globally Yours, William Dar" (September 21) – An attempt to write a complete essay based largely on the data listed in a curriculum vitae, a first. William Dar is of course the Filipino Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) based in India, ICRISAT being rated Outstanding 2007 by the World Bank for total performance in 2006.
"The Telugu Paradigm. Understanding VASAT, The Illiterate's Internet" (September 25) – Here is an essay on a piece of the Internet that begins with the farmer asking a question, not a scientist providing the answer before the question has ever been asked – a unique bottom-to-top approach to knowledge diffusion.
"To Catch An Insight. Forget Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis" (September 27) – How do you translate, transform or rewrite technical language into plain English? First you try and catch an insight. (As in, go fly a kite.)
"'Survival Of The Fittest" Revised. To The Breeders, To Make Much Of Time" (October 1) – Instead of plant breeders looking for the best performance among varieties in a batch, I suggest that they look for the best performance of a particular variety in a particular site, so that if you have 13 varieties on test in 13 locations, you have 13 best performers to recommend to 13 sites. That´s fast-tracking research for development.
"Learning From Microsoft R4D. The New Paradigm For Research" (October 3) – Research for development, R4D. Microsoft is demand-driven, or should be; it conducts research intended to develop a product or service. This is instead of trying to conduct research for research´s sake, the development coming later if it proves appropriate, a waste of time, intelligence, money, efforts.
"The Turning Point. Know That Silent Water Runs Deep" (October 4) – My little story of Adarsha, an Indian village where the people learned the value of cooperation in water conservation, the missing link in the fight against drought in the Ranga Reddy District, Andhra Pradesh, India. The drylands of the world can learn from Adarsha.
"GMA´s Indian Summer. Writing The Philippine Story" (Revised Edition) (October 6) – When my President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visited India in early October this year, the Philippines and India signed many an agreement, including on the development of biofuels. Plants instead of petroleum.
"The Knowledge Initiative. 'Let Knowledge Come From Everywhere'" (October 6) – Currently, there is a US-India program called ´The Knowledge Initiative´ wherein Indian nationals learn from their American counterparts such as drought management, food processing and so on to enhance the industrial development of their country. I propose that the Philippines procure the same arrangement with the United States.
"Biofuel Islands. 'We Are Producing The Fuel Of The Future'" (October 9) – The Philippine National Oil Corporation is into the production of biodiesel from Jatropha curcas. The intention is good; the problem is that jatropha is poisonous and it is still a wild, untamed plant, its stable yield in terms of extracted yet unknown.
"The Color Yellow. Run, Al Gore, Run" (Run, ICRISAT, Run!)" (October 14) – Al Gore and the UN panel on climate change win the Nobel Prize for Peace for their work on global warming. The color Yellow signifies that for mankind the next traffic change will be either for Green" (for Go), or for Red (Full Stop).
"What´s In A Name? IGNRM. A Phrase Or Some Other Name Would Be Nice" (October 17) – The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics adopts ´integrated genetic and natural resource management" (IGNRM) as their ´overarching strategy´ for institutional, team work. I try to explain in by playing with the letters IGNRM that when pronounced with 5 vowels and 1 consonant (OAOUS) and positioned exactly right means the exact opposite of what is meant.
"Science Parks, Stops. Being A Proposal For Innovation Teams" (October 17) – Team ICRISAT has made excellent use of the idea of a science park by inventing what it calls a business incubator, that which is science partnering with entrepreneurs partnering with cultivators of crops with active local government advocacy.
"Talking To Strangers? Bill Gates Dotting His i´s, Crossing His Peas" (October 18) – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds an African project on legumes, a strange field for a nerd. Thanks, Bill!
"Choosing Joy. Being How To Interpret Science Language" (October 22) – I guarantee you will find happiness in working with technical language and transforming it into popular language if you choose joy in the first place – first learn to love what you´re doing even before you do it, or you´ll never do it right and that will add to your misery.
"Seeds For My Sweet. Sorghum For My Honey, Satisfaction Guaranteed!" (October 26) – I compare sugarcane and corn and sweet sorghum as sources of bioethanol. Sugarcane is sweet, but sweet sorghum is sweeter.
"Academe As Anti-Poor. The University Of The Philippines A Hundred Years Hence" (October 27) – Unless my alma mater, the University of the Philippines (UP) understands poverty in its many senses, UP will always be in essence anti-poor. A bonus essay is ´BioPower To The People! The Song Of Sweet Sorghum.´ first published in frankahilario.com May 1. It is about the initiative of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics called ´BioPower´ – the growing of biofuel crops that fit the circumstances of the poor: poor soils, poor access to capital, poor access to information, poor markets, poor distribution of benefits. I call sweet sorghum ´a rich man´s choice of a poor man´s crop.´ Go and multiply!
The 22 essays in the book (and 48 more) were written between February 4 and October 27 this year all published by the American Chronicle. The 23 essays in my book are my love letters to my readers as well as these people of diverse and differing gray matters in the United States and in these Pearls of the Orient Seas, my country, the Philippines:
Al Gore, who awakened me to the danger of change – climate change;
George W Bush, who awakened me to the danger when people refuse to change;
Joseph Estrada, who awakened me to the danger in appearances;
Gringo Honasan, who awakened me to the danger in militant peace;
Antonio Trillanes, who awakened me to the danger in militant adventurism;
Intellectuals of the University of the Philippines, who awakened me to the danger in militant nationalism;
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who awakened me to the danger when people depreciate you for the size of your body and don´t appreciate you for the size of your mind.
Along with quite a few others of the male species:
Edward de Bono, who with his book The Mechanism Of Mind taught me not only critical thinking but more so creative thinking;
Rudolf Flesch, who with his book How To Write, Think And Speak More Effectively taught me to think beyond self-imposed borders of the mind;
Peter Drucker, who with his insights not only in the management of men and minds taught me to think of information as intellectual capital;
Jose Rizal, the national hero of my country, who with his genius showed the world, even before Mahatma Gandhi did, the matter of peace as the way to move people in the path of progress.
My book is about believing in a greater cause than money, greater than US President George W Bush, greater than the mightiest country in history, greater even than science: Global Warming. Each of the essays – for essays they are, very personal – shows warmth not so much coming from the writer as much as it is coming from the sun that will keep temperatures rising until we set it, the Sun of Climate Change.
You might think of my book as a multi-country enterprise, reflecting the intellectual geography where it´s coming from. Using your Mercator map, if you triangulate American Chronicle in the USA, me in the Philippines and ICRISAT in India, what countries do you find included? Asia of course, and Africa, where you find millions upon millions of the poor. Science is not good enough if it´s not good enough for the poor.
No, I don´t write for the poor. Of course not – they can´t read me. I call it an ´American book´ first, because all 23 essays (except 1) have been published by the American Chronicle, and second, because it´s in English in the American idiom, that which I have adopted as my first language of writing.
And why not Filipino, my country´s national language? Because English is the richest language in the world, because only in English can you have the full measure of science – with apologies to German, which is Greek to me – only in English can I have the full measure (my cup runneth over) of my Catholic faith, only in English can I express myself completely, convincingly, competently, creatively. Years ago, on some occasions when I was asked to speak before a group, while the previous speakers went into the Filipino (Tagalog) mode, I used to say, ´You have to excuse me, for I too am a victim of colonial education.´ If English is colonial education, so be it; I find that it nourishes my brain and nurtures my soul – I would not have known about the two other sources of Roman Catholicism other than the Bible, and these are the Magisterium and Holy Tradition, if I didn´t read English. And contrary to what in my country the activists claim, I don´t have to speak your language to help you.
My book has its many faults, my many faiths and its many firsts:
About its many faults, you´ll have to find out for yourself – ask ICRISAT for how you may have a copy of the print or CD copy (the electronic file is almost 14 MB already in pdf); try firstname.lastname@example.org. (The best way to browse a book is through a computer.) The book design is mine; the multi-dimensional cover is by Smitha Sitaraman of ICRISAT – for which I thank her, since it quietly and nicely mirrors the myriads of little stories and little fillips of the mind you will find inviting you to read on in all the pages.
About my many faiths, the list includes the speed and quality of work one can do with the personal computer, the priceless treasures one can find in the Internet if one is intent, the infinite capacity of the human brain to see all things new, the goodness that men (embracing women) can do if they will.
About its many firsts, I´ll be very glad to recite them for you:
(1) My American Book, letter-sized and all 128 pages of it is, if I may say so myself, an American-Indian-Filipino collaboration, I believe a Third World first in publishing a volume of essays in science.
(2) My book is science with faith, not in the sense of Christian Science, but in that my science story is tempered with my Roman Catholic faith; it is East and West, and ever the twain meet. Science, because there must be a reason for everything. Faith, because I believe, and you cannot reason out a belief. I believe in science; I believe in God and I believe in family, and you can´t take that away from me.
(3) Each of the 23 essays in my book is a brainchild of my wild imagination, each unique as to treatment of the topic or perspective taken. And each one has ´a surprise ending,´ Franciscan style. Creativity permeates it, tying up all the elements in ways that describe and delight, that edify as well as defy the conventional thinking on the subject.
(4) My book formally introduces a new genre of science writing, that which I refer to as the Franciscan essay – Francisco is my full name and Franciscan reflects my Catholicism (as in no divorce in court, no condom in class) – the essay being a blend of the certainty of science with the credulity of faith, a blend of seriousness with playfulness – technical jargon translated into the popular much with confidence, often with humor, forever with an offbeat style.
In my book, you will find Robert Frost, who taught me to take the road less travelled. Norman Mailer, who taught me to write with heart. William Shakespeare, who taught me to appreciate the English language more than anyone of my teachers. John Kennedy, who taught me to ask what I can do for my country and not ask instead what my country can do for me, like the Manila complainers, mendicants, oppositionists do. Ray Bradbury, who taught me that to write is to ´Live forever!´ William Dar, who is my Al Gore of Science. Santiago R Obien, who is my Wizard of Rice. Bill Gates, who is my Wizard of OS (as in operating system).
I wasn´t thinking of a book out of my essays; I did not choose ICRISAT as the subject of my essay; rather, a good friend everyone calls SRO, for Santiago R Obien, suggested it, knowing about my essaying. I had written about SRO in the American Chronicle (´The Wizard Of Rice who cultivated minds´) and SRO liked it enough to suggest, ´Why don´t you write about Willie Dar?´ whom at that time I didn´t know from Adam.
And so I did. The first essay was a long one, more than 4300 words, ´The Yankee Dawdle. On Discovery Sorghum, The Great Climate Crop´ published 2007 February 4 (americanchronicle.com). By that time I had been writing for American Chronicle exactly a year; it was my 22nd essay for this online magazine. Quite a few more essays later, sometimes on ICRISAT science but more often not, the Institute´s Director General William Dar challenged me to write even more and collect them into a book that ICRISAT would publish.
That I did, and that it did. That is how my American book was conceived and delivered, thank you very much!
I´m glad ICRISAT found me because I liked the science I found in it, which Team ICRISAT has summarized into ´Science with a human face" (its mantra) for a ´grey to green revolution" (its motto).
My essays, where are all these coming from? In my book, some of the wit and without come from the Reader´s Digest – love at first sight; I´ve been in love with this creature since high school, and that´s a long, long time – would you believe 50 years? From the great copywriter David Ogilvy comes my long-windedness, from the great playwright George Bernard Shaw comes the irreverent wit, and from the great story teller Oscar Wilde, imagination.
Oh yes, with Ray Bradbury I imagine we will live forever!