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Friday, July 29, 2016

Against Stupidity, The Gods Themselves Despair

Empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It’s the capacity to go inside the head of another being – be it human or animal – and experience what that other being experiences. If you lack this ability, it would be difficult for you to be compassionate to others. For example, if you see a person slaughtered like an animal in the streets and your first thought is, “Pusher kasi e” (even if you literally know nothing about that person) and feel something like unholy glee bubbling up your stomach, then you feel a sort of pride that you made the right choice in the last election, meanwhile not feeling anything about the person whose blood is staining the ground, and the sound of that person’s parents’/loved ones’ heartbreaking cries makes you think, “Kung walang kasalanan yan di yan papatayin!” (If he’s innocent he wouldn’t have been killed!) And an image of your idol’s smug, smirking, and gloating face flash before your eyes and you feel a sort of thrill that is almost sexual -  well then. You might have a problem.
And, if you’re an adult that has gone through life not fully understanding (and doesn’t particularly care to know) the meaning of such nebulous concepts as “due process,” or “innocent until proven guilty,” or you think that “human rights” are for sissies who are “out of touch with reality,” then there is no hope for you.
One would just hope that you do not breed.
It’s one thing if you’re just an uneducated smegma, but it’s another thing if you are an idiot by choice, and is not even aware that your stupidity is so ingrained the gods themselves despair.
But perhaps the rest of us can still do something for the children. Maybe there is still hope that the next Filipino generation might not be a generation of psychopaths. Worth a shot, right?
So how could one develop empathy and compassion? Encouraging them to read is one way.
That’s why I encourage kids to read literature and explore the world. It’s a small step. But it’s a step in the right direction.


For example, it is extremely difficult to not feel empathy after you have read “The Little Prince,” or “The Old Man and the Sea,” or “Flowers for Algernon.” And “To Kill a Mockingbird”! Let’s not forget Atticus and his kids Scout and Jem.
And so we come to my point: literature should be taught at all levels. Because literature is not only about language.
It’s about life.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Things Cyberpunk

“The sky above the port was the color of television, turned to a dead channel.”

So begins William Gibson’s seminal cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer (1984).

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that features advanced technology vis-à-vis a dystopian society – a kind of high tech world juxtaposed with a broken-down social order. Or in other words, high tech/low life.

Think Star Trek suffused with the despair and helplessness of “The Grapes of Wrath,” then throw in the gang wars and mob bosses of the “The Godfather,” and instead of governments, mega corporations rule the world, each fighting for supremacy.

William Gibson is considered to be the founder of cyberpunk. However, many writers before him had written all sorts of proto-cyberpunk novels, most notably Philip K. Dick, he of the “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” fame, the novel that served as inspiration for the classic cyberpunk film (and one of my personal favorites), “Blade Runner.” (Read up on Philip K. Dick – many of his works were later adapted for the big screen, including “Total Recall”.)


Besides “Blade Runner,” (and “Total Recall”) other notable cyberpunk films are The Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, Judge Dredd, Robocop, and Gattaca. In video games, Deus Ex: Human Revolution – incidentally one of the best video games out there of any genre – is the best example of this. Shadowrun: Dragonfall is also good – immersive, and with a very satisfying tactical combat gameplay.

The novel that brought me to cyberpunk, however, is Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, where the protagonist is a katana-wielding pizza delivery guy/hacker named Hiro Protagonist (get it? “Hero” and protagonist”).  

Recommendations: Diamond Age, another Stephenson novel; Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (technically, this novel belongs to biopunk, a subset of cyberpunk dominated by themes of biotechnology).



The future is already here - just not evenly distributed. 
                                                                                                         William Gibson

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Simply Surreal

Yes it’s a very real possibility that he might win. 
But you know, it would have been nice to have a leader that would make us proud. To have a statesman – a statesman who knows how to deal with world leaders and win us friends in other countries –  lead us. Someone who could make us want to shout out to the world, “Yes this person leads us. This person embodies our aspirations, our ideals as a people.”
It would have been nice to have someone who could bring out the best in us, and teach us compassion and empathy. Someone who could be an inspiration to our youth. Someone who could balance the budget, who could straighten out our fucked up, labyrinthine tax and banking laws, and improve our abysmal educational system. Someone who could get to the root causes of criminality, to actually do something about them and not just slaughter petty criminals and call it justice.
That would have been nice, you know?
It would have been funny, but these people would affect the lives of millions of people.
It troubles me.
It also troubles me that a lot of people seem willing and eager to embrace Martial Law, and welcome curfews! Simply surreal. Somebody please tell me it ain’t true.
But I suppose we will survive this. 

To quote Samwise Gamgee:
“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
That there's some good in this world, Mister Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.”

You know what’s tragic, though? That the country has no “the way it was.” We’ve always been a basket case.

And now we have come to this. Our history has paved the way for the rise to power of somebody like Duterte.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Being "Bayot"

Is “bayot” an insult? I’m wondering because last night I heard Rodrigo "Digong" Duterte on TV saying this in reaction to Mar Roxas’ expression of disbelief to his (Duterte’s) incredible claim that he could eradicate criminality in the first six months of his presidency, if and when he gets elected.
The way he said it, his body language, the tone, his facial expression – all convey his meaning, that bayot (gay) is something so hateful and disgusting that he reserves that judgment to those who dare question the pronouncements of Emperor Digong. Well, to be fair, that is probably his most benevolent method of answering his critics. I suspect he has far more “creative” methods of silencing them.
I can just hear his followers saying, “Buti nga bayot lang e. Dapat sa iyo pinapatay.” (You should be thankful you're just being called bayot. You should have been killed.) And they’re right. They will inform you this, with unholy glee and righteous anger, with blazing, fanatic eyes and hands gesticulating wildly (or maybe pounding furiously on the keyboard), while pointing out that Davao is heaven on earth. After all, Duterte’s critics are - to hear those people drunk on Duterte-flavored Kool Aid describe them – stupid, ignorant, uneducated criminals, and deserve to be raped and murdered, including their families (I wish I were joking).  
And another thing – is that man capable of answering criticisms without resorting to insults and veiled and not-so-veiled threats? You know, I seriously doubt it. After years of being THE Optimus Maximus of Davao, it probably hadn’t occurred to him that others might be right, and he – dare I say it? – might be wrong.
He still hasn’t given an unequivocal answer though, on how he would rid the country of criminality within six months. That would be a feat for the ages. I get that political promises are a synonym for excrement (bovine, human, and whatnot) but this promise is so laughably far-fetched and prodigiously absurd, that it deserves to be in a class of its own.

We all have a sneaking suspicion of what he is up to, and it is troubling that his followers are okay with it. They welcome it, in fact. You could hear their collective panties dropping when Emperor Digong announced that he would bring back curfew – that endearing facet of Martial Law.
Is the Philippines this broken that we welcome people like this self-styled demigod to hold the highest office in the land?

Yes, I fear it has come to this.    

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Adjective Order

Adjective Order is one of those obscure English grammar rules that nobody told us about in college. A summary on how it works:
Look at these two squares.



How would you describe the objects? The image on the left you’d probably describe as a big, red square, because that’s what it is, right? Now, what if you describe it as red, big square? Does that sound right to you? It sounds quite a bit off, doesn’t it?
It’s because there is a specific order of describing things that for some reason English speakers have established as the proper way.
When you are describing a noun using two or more adjectives, the adjectives are usually in a particular order. Opinions come first, e.g. gorgeous, ugly, etc., before factual ones.  
There are several levels of order. The Cambridge Dictionaries Online lists ten:

Order                relating to                     examples

1                        opinion                         unusual, lovely, beautiful
2                        size                               big, small, tall
3                        physical quality            thin, rough, untidy
4                        shape                            round, square, rectangular
5                        age                                young, old, youthful
6                        color                             blue, red, pink
7                        origin                            Dutch, Japanese, Turkish
8                        material                         metal, wood, plastic
9                        type                               general-purpose, four-sided, U-shaped
10                      purpose                          cleaning, hammering, cooking


EXAMPLES

She was wearing a beautiful new red dress.
The countertop has ten small round plastic bottles.
He bought some interesting Russian iron ornaments at the flea market.
She is selling her beat-up 10-year-old German car.
It happened during a miserable scorching afternoon.\

An obscure rule, but I think the majority of us follow this unconsciously without realizing that there is actually such a rule.  
Protip: Just remember OpShACOM (Opinion, Shape, Age, Color, Origin, Material)


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.

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