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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Looking Back

It’s so strange to see someone watching herself dance 75 years ago. The image of a 102-year-old woman juxtaposed with her youthful, beautiful, and vital self is unsettling, and makes you think thoughts that you often ignore.    

You could see through her eyes that she’s reliving it—she can hear the music and feel its rhythm, feel her feet as they strike the floor, feel the adrenaline rush of doing what she likes best and doing it good.
Someone once said not to fear growing old, because it is a privilege denied to many. That’s true, of course, but there are moments when one feels that growing old is the saddest thing that happens to us.
She’s remembering it all. It’s all in her head still. She was beautiful, she was lithe, and she was a really great dancer.
I guess that’s what our most precious possessions are—our memories. We are still 12 or 16 or 21 inside.

We’ll all grow old and die someday, but we pretend that we are immortal. We’ll see our loved ones grow old and die, or they’ll see us grow old and die, and everyone will suffer devastating loses that are too much for anybody to bear.
You’d think that that is enough for us to treat each other with compassion and love, but no. We go out of our way to be cruel and be simply mean to others, just because we can. We join clubs to be exclusive, then form a clique within that club to be even moreexclusive.
We have different religions that claims to spread love and peace, but the opposite is happening. We discriminate, or we simply kill people, who don’t worship the same gods we do. It’s a scary world out there, and the various religions with all their promises did not make the world a safer place for the billions of people out there.
At the end of the day, we are reduced to our memories of what we once were. So goddamn it, let’s all make memories that we can look back on, memories that can make us smile and say to ourselves, “Damn, I was an awesome, badass mofo.”

Didn’t mean to be so morbid, but as I said, this video of Miss Alice Barker made me think of things that we often ignore.

Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist — a master — and that is what Auguste Rodin was — can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is… and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be…. and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart…. no matter what the merciless hours have done to her. Look at her, Ben. Growing old doesn't matter to you and me; we were never meant to be admired — but it does to them. Look at her!

Jubal Harshaw, Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

Friday, April 3, 2015

There's Just No Easy Way

“How do you say, in polite English, ‘Punta muna ako sa kubeta; taeng-tae na ako!’  (I have to go the toilet; I’m about to shit myself!)?”
In a (Philippine) website that deals mostly in computer parts and peripherals, there was this thread about English grammar. Presumably, the thread starter (commonly referred to in internet forums as the TS), who was one of the regulars of the aforementioned site, has trouble expressing himself in grammatically correct English. As the site is quite popular, and the site members come from diverse backgrounds, many contributed to that thread, and competently answered the TS’ and other posters’ questions regarding English grammar. The “English” thread, suffice it to say, was one of the site’s most active threads.
Anyway, the question quoted above was just one of many. I stumbled across it one afternoon a few months ago. It appeared that the poster works for a firm run by Americans. During one particularly unforgettable meeting with his American supervisors, he found himself in a predicament that necessitated the above-quoted question.

He apparently never forgot the helplessness and despair he felt when the first “rumblings” of trouble started deep inside his bowels, and discovering to his horror that he couldn’t just very well blurt out “Sandali, taeng-tae na ako!” to the white faces around him in the conference table. He had to think of a way to let his needs known in a tactful and polite way—and in English, to boot. Ultimately, he managed to avoid being embarrassed—that is, he avoided soiling himself—through sheer will, I suppose.
Determined to never again experience the horror and helplessness he felt in such a situation, he posted his question in the “English” thread of the site mentioned above. Just in case he needed to extricate himself again, no doubt.
One poster suggested this one: “Please excuse me; I have to go the comfort room.” However, other posters pointed out, correctly, that Americans are not familiar with the term “comfort room,” as used by Filipinos to refer to toilet. “Toilet” would be the most obvious word, and was suggested instead, along with other words that bordered on being flowery (to convey politeness, presumably) and all saying the same thing, i. e., going to the toilet.
I posted my observation that a person, in such a situation, has more things to worry about than grammar; that he still managed to concern himself about what words to use while in such a dire predicament is a testament to his, well, sphincter control.
Others would just probably bolt for the door.
Besides, other people in the room would already have an inkling of what was going on, as such a condition is usually betrayed by malodorous emanations.  Bolting for the door then would be perfectly reasonable. Embarrassing, sure, but the alternative is horrifying.
My toes curl at the thought of me suffering that unhappy fate.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

From Cross-stitching to Explosions

Misis Djyli is the username of a young housewife who, for the past few months, had been uploading her cross-stitching projects on YouTube. It’s her hobby, and clearly she loves it—you can hear the happiness in her voice as she presents her cross-stitches. I am not an expert on cross-stitching, but hers look beautiful, at least according to the few comments on her YouTube channel.  
Here's one of her earliest uploads:

Almost nobody watches her cross-stitching videos, but it didn’t seem to bother her—she just kept making and uploading them.  
Her latest video, however, has currently over a million views, and it does not show her cross-stitching. It shows her town being bombed, and her normally happy voice is gone.  She is crying and sounds very afraid on the video, and you can hear a baby crying in the background. The woman, you see, lives in Ukraine. She lives in a town called Kramatorsk, and the town was recently attacked by Russians (or perhaps ethnic Russians who call themselves Russian freedom fighters) using bombs or maybe rockets.

It’s kind of shocking to see two sides of this person—in her old videos, she sounds cheerful and pleased with her cross-stitches,  and in her latest, she’s terrified, and crying.  She’s so afraid for her child. This is a stark contrast from her old videos, where she sounds calm and perfectly content, and then this—a normal, average person being affected by war. She must feel so helpless.

For sure, the coming days for her and her family will be tough. I hope they make it through the hard times, and Misis Djyili can make another video of her cross-stitches.

I don’t understand a word of what she is saying, but I hope to hear her normal voice again. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Warning: Spoiler Alert

I was watching that “I see dead people” movie years ago when this so-called friend called me up and asked me what I was doing. I said I’m watching this movie with Bruce Willis in it, and there's this kid who sees dead people.
He said, “Oh yeah. Saw that. Bruce Willis is the ghost.” Then he laughed. I played it cool, but I was seething. I thought of Cthulhu and considered summoning him. 
I don’t remember what he said afterwards, what he called me up for, or even what we talked about, but every time I see him (which is about once or twice a year, thank heavens) I imagine him being gnawed on by a good-sized rancor.
I remembered this incident because I just finished reading “Fight Club,” Chuck Palahniuk’s novel. Nobody called me up to spoil anything for me, but I did see this shirt on some website:

This shirt is diabolical
I was only on the first few pages of the book when I saw this, so the whole time I was reading, this was flashing on my head, like a neon sign: Tyler Durden is not real Tyler Durden is not real. Over and over.
Didn’t matter, though—I had a good time reading the book. Still, it would have been quite an experience had I not known that bit about Tyler Durden.
I've read years ago George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, and I could have revealed massive spoilers to my friends when the TV series came out. But I didn't (pats myself on the back). I'm awesome that way.
Unlike my good-only-as-rancor-food former friend, who, had he been a book reader, would not have hesitated to call up (or text) every one he knows and tell them about Ned Stark or about The Red Wedding. Thank god the only thing he reads are labels on cheap gin bottles. 

Spoilers like these probably won’t affect the price of rice in the Philippines, but for someone like me who still feels galactically pissed off at that TV executive who cancelled Firefly, it can be infuriating. These little things can all add up. 
And they all comeback to bug you at three in the morning.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Typhoons and Earthquakes in the Philippines

The Philippines has more than its fair share of disasters, and not because the country is particularly cursed or anything, but because the entire archipelago—purportedly composed of 7,100 islands—lies on a region in the Pacific Ocean called the “Ring of Fire” (actually, the area is shaped more like a horseshoe, although to be fair, “The Horseshoe of Fire” doesn’t have the same impact as the “Ring of Fire”). About 40,000 kilometers long, the “ring” runs from the southern tip of South America, up along the coast of North America, across the Bering Strait, down through Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia (the Ring of Fire’s western edge extends into the Indian Ocean), and to New Zealand.  The “Fire” part of the Ring of Fire is because a string of 452 volcanoes dot this line, like a malevolent game of connect-the-dots.

The regions along this line experience volcanic eruptions and periodic earthquakes—majority of them small, hardly-felt tremors, and the few devastating ones that kill thousands and cause tsunamis that can kill even more.
Besides being right on the edge of the Ring of Fire, the Philippines is also practically next door to an area in the Pacific where typhoons regularly spawn.
And, as luck would have it, the country is right in the typhoons’ path—a sort of doormat for typhoons as they make their way towards the Asian mainland.

This means that besides molten rocks and earthquakes, the Philippines also experiences weapons-grade winds that can tear down homes, uproot trees, cause storm surges, as well as torrential rains that can trigger flashfloods, landslides, and destroy crops and properties.
Approximately 80 typhoons develop in this region yearly, and about 19 enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR). About six to nine of these typhoons make landfall, making the Philippines the country most exposed to typhoons.   
No wonder our country is among the world’s most disaster-prone countries.


Right On Top of Plates

Tectonic plates, I mean.
These are part of the Earth’s mantle—massive, irregularly shaped slabs of solid rock just under the planet’s surface, upon which large section of the Earth rests. They are called tectonic plates by scientists.
There are about 8 major plates, and dozens of smaller ones, each carrying a piece of the world on top, making our planet seem like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.
Tectonic plates vary greatly, from a few hundred to thousands of kilometers across. The Pacific Plate and the Antarctic Plates are the largest. Each plate’s thickness also varies, ranging from less than 15 kilometers to about 200 kilometers or more. The plates constitute the lithosphere, which is a layer of rock on the top of the Earth’s mantle.

Beneath the lithosphere is a partially molten rock layer called asthenosphere. Driven by forces from deep beneath the earth, the plates slowly move across the planet’s surface, interacting with other plates, diverging, colliding, and slipping past each other. The edges of these plates, where they bump and grind against other plates, are the sites where earthquakes commonly happen, and where many volcanoes are active.
These movements also influence the form of the planet’s surface. Where the plates meet, mountain-building occurs—besides earthquakes, volcanic activity, and oceanic trench formation.
According to the plate tectonics theory, Earth’s outer shell is divided into several plates that glide over the rocky inner layer above the core called the mantle. Actually a modern version of Alfred Wegener’s Continental Drift Theory first proposed in 1912, this theory explains how the Earth’s continents move around the planet. Tectonic plates probably developed very early in the Earth’s 4.6-billion-year history. They have been drifting since, pressing against each other, then separating again, like some fiery and explosive dance that has been going on since the beginning of time, in the process forming and shaping the world as we know it.
The plates move about the same rate as the growth of your fingernails, so the world that we know today is different from what it was millions and millions of years ago. And millions and millions of years from now, the world will wear a face unrecognizable to us.
Most of the boundaries between individual plates are hidden beneath the oceans, so they cannot be seen. They can be accurately mapped, however, from outer space by measurements from satellites. 
Plates change over time, like many features on the surface of the Earth. Plates that are composed of denser materials, like an oceanic lithosphere, can sink under a lighter continental plate, and can eventually disappear completely. There are actually plates that are in danger of disappearing.
The Philippines, as we have mentioned, is in the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the oceanic Philippine Plate and a few much smaller plates are subducting, or sliding under, along the Philippine Trench. Moreover, scientists consider the Philippine Sea plate as unusual, because almost all the boundaries of the surrounding plates are converging.
This means that the country is being squeezed by two large tectonic plates—the Pacific Plate and the Eurasian Plate.

Note: This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, "Disaster Management for Filipinos"

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Harnessing the Anger of Trolls

"If you want to do something evil, put it in something boring."- John Oliver

John Oliver, host of the HBO comedy show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” made one of the most brilliant rants in the history of internet. Not only was it funny and made people laugh, but it also made them outraged about something a great majority are clueless and apathetic about: net neutrality

The rant was directed against the US Federal Communications Commission’s proposed net neutrality regulations, which was deemed so egregious it forced activists and corporations to be on the same side. The FCC, however, invited the public to post their comments on their website.
And this made Mr. Oliver appeal directly to the trolls and lurkers and other internet commenters out there to “seize their moment” and let their outrage show using their most potent weapon: the keyboard.
   "For once in your life, we need you to channel that anger, that badly spelled bile that you normally reserve for unforgivable attacks on actresses you seem to think have put on weight...or politicians that you disagree with...or photos of your ex-girlfriends getting on with their lives...or non-white actors getting the part of fictional characters... We need you to get out there and for once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction. Seize your moment, my lovely trolls. Turn on caps lock and fly my pretties, fly! Fly! Fly!"
Is John Oliver’s call on internet commenters as rousing as Theoden’s speech to the Rohirrim, as stirring as Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech to the British? Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it apparently worked. FCC’s website “experienced technical problems” after thousands upon thousands of faceless commenters flooded the website with their outraged comments. Website's up now, but the point was made.
They heard you, John Oliver.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Nothing To Lose

I was reading this article about a so-called “healing priest” and it struck me that even in the 21st century, people are still gullible enough to trust “faith healers.”
There are a lot of reasons for this (poverty and miseducation among them), but in this day and ageyou’d think that people would think twice about trusting those who claim to heal all kinds of diseases through prayers and faith alone. Mind you, the “healers” would make it clear that their healing powers did not come from them, but from a “higher power.” These mysterious power source would range from the Baby Jesus (or the adult one), “Mama Mary,” from a magical dwarf (I’m not kidding), a mysterious hermit, or even from an old lady who claims to be a reincarnation of Jesus.
Filipinos lap these up. Even today, there are many people in the country's rural areas that still believe in anting-anting (amulets). It’s not a coincidence that people in areas that are mired in poverty and with low literacy rates are the ones that have the most superstitious beliefs. But even those who are supposed to be college-educated also believe in all sorts of anting-antings and in the supernatural and the paranormal. 
Like these faith healers. Although many had been revealed as nothing but con men and charlatans, they are still flourishing in this country. What's more, they do not lack for patrons, even from those who are "educated," and from the middle class.
Maybe it’s also a cultural thing? The inhabitants of the Philippines after all practiced a form of animism and other indigenous beliefs during pre-colonial times. Believing in magic healers is not that too great a leap for a people who, until now, believe in kulam
There are also those who turn to faith healers as a result of desperation. "What have we get to lose?" is often what they tell themselves to justify their decision to trust these sleazy purveyors of false hopes. But it is this attitude, this desperation, that these con men count on.
And, it pains me to admit this, our inherent gullibility. 

Reading about this healing priest reminded me of James Randi’s Paranormal Challenge, where a million dollars is offered “to anyone who can demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria.” 
James Randi, a stage magician, enemy of charlatans, and a "debunker" of fantastic claims, had said: 
"There exists in society a very special class of persons that I have always referred to as the Believers. These are folks who have chosen to accept a certain religion, philosophy, theory, idea or notion and cling to that belief regardless of any evidence that might, for anyone else, bring it into doubt. They are the ones who encourage and support the fanatics and the frauds of any given age. No amount of evidence, no matter how strong, will bring them any enlightenment. They are the sheep who beg to be fleeced and butchered, and who will battle fiercely to preserve their right to be victimized."

The challenge was first offered in 1964, and so far, no one has won the prize.

The article I linked above is about the aborted deal between one of the country’s top corporations and the foundation headed by a certain Father Fernando Suarez, a “healing priest.” The deal was about a 33 hectare land in Cavite (a province a few kilometers south of Manila) to be donated to Fr. Suarez’s foundation.
A Catholic priest, Fr. Suarez had planned to build a giant statue of Mary on the donated land, a statue that, if built, will rival Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer in terms of size. This giant statue would reportedly cost about a billion Philippine Pesos (around 22 million USD).
The Philippines is among the poorest countries in the world, and is often ravaged by typhoons and other natural disasters. A statue that would cost this much to build in a country like ours is nothing short of obscene.
This is not just your run-of-the-mill religious devotion; this is fanaticism of the nauseating kind. 

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