Saturday, May 26, 2012

Excess and sobriety as reflected in correction tape

One thing having a phone camera (and a good one at that) has taught me is that the culture of excess can creep up on you from everywhere. Going overboard is most obvious in shopping, in those reality shows that involve really wealthy celebrities (but Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is still the original when it comes to this), and when spying the six or more shiny luxury cars and SUVs parked in somebody's garage when there's probably no legitimate reason to own six or more vehicles. These circumstances are observable and therefore easier to make adjustments in when called for.

But for me it all started when digital cameras became the norm. Camera film becoming unnecessary meant indiscriminate and nearly endless shooting away because your shots weren't limited to 12 or 24 or 36. Now who would be reminded of the value of sobriety, of thrift, when taking hundreds of shots -- at no extra cost -- were an option?

Also, since a dude holding up a mobile phone and taking pictures of her friends (or herself) is such a common sight nowadays, very few people probably hesitate to photograph anything, even the most mundane scene or object (a window display, a celebrity sighting, a bowl of soup...). Is it surprising, then, that "tama na" or even "huwag na" hardly occurs to anyone who feels the sudden urge to whip out the phone just because something is potential material for an instant Facebook upload?

The temptation is strong but it can be resisted. The choice, after all, is yours to be made and no one forces you to take snapshots at gunpoint. So when I was at a bookstore recently and saw the assortment of colorful correction tapes hanging from a rack, my sudden urge to take pictures was tempered by reminders of the "excess" tendency I described above. You may ask, why in the world would anyone want to take pictures of correction tape? I'm not exactly sure but in my case, it has something to do with amazement over the evolution of little things easily taken for granted. If you grew up in a time in which carbon paper, correction fluid and the Touch and Go type of correction tape (which requires typing on a small strip over the error) were still in heavy use, you know what I mean.

Seeing these implements felt strange. I had seen students use them during my brief teaching stint at a high school in 2005 and I found them fascinating. If it's so easy to delete something you wrote on a piece of paper and the error can hardly be spotted, wouldn't this make you spend less time thinking before writing, less careful in the whole writing exercise? The ordinary rubber eraser has a way of damaging paper and dirtying up an otherwise immaculately white sheet; besides, working those things can be such a hassle. I wonder...

Contemplating on this reminded me of the time my family and I moved to a new home. Packing was a challenge; deciding on which things to keep and which to discard was even more trying. I ended up taking photos of some stuff that had to be thrown or given away, and some of them would be considered vintage items by now.

Back to the modern-day correction tape. So as I decided to photograph the lot, I told myself I'd take only a few shots -- not a dozen or so that would include all angles from which the implements could be documented. And there would be no uploading on any social network!! (Blogging about the experience --with substantial insights -- would be good)

Hence, excess in the realm of documentation and information sharing for that day was kept at bay!

* * * * * * * * * *

Feel like reading a piece that dwells on another "vintage experience"? You might enjoy this one. Nothing about carbon paper and correction tape in there! But it does mention "rotary-dial"...

Detours and U-turns in history

There used to be a weekly television show called Seventh Heaven, and one episode had the inquisitive son, Simon, learning about Adolf Hitler and the Nazi holocaust. Simon, then about age 9 or 10 probably, was visibly baffled by the prospect of such atrocities happening in the past. Why didn't anyone do anything to stop it? he asked his dad in that episode. The dad's reply escapes me now, but I do remember him explaining the different facets of the issue with great difficulty.

Come to think of it, a lot of horrible things have happened over the centuries that would make anyone wonder either of two things: what could have gone wrong with people to commit such atrocities, and how could people have allowed such atrocities to happen.

Though repulsive incidents still happen nowadays (just monitor the news online for a week or two and you'll see), society has progressed considerably in many ways. But do you think we have been moving forward in terms of evaluating the worth of creatures -- whether they're persons or objects? That's something to think about.

Here's a video produced by Pro-Life Wisconsin that gives one a bit of history on events that deserve to be remembered, if only to learn from the past so as not to commit the same mistakes again. Glad to come across such materials!

H/T: LifeSiteNews

Sunday, May 20, 2012

When the sometimes-unthinking media throw the punches

There's been a lot of talk lately about the need for more tolerance and compassion. But could it be that such calls for tolerance and compassion are mere attempts to get people accustomed to the idea and the sight of indecency and unnatural behavior and pave the way for their acceptance into society? I'm referring to indecency in various forms but more specifically to homosexual activity and, as a possible consequence, same-sex unions as legitimized by civil law.

So now that I've expressed an idea that may ruffle the feathers of some of the noisier and more vocal members of society, what I actually said may be misconstrued to mean something different. For instance, I wrote "the idea and the sight of indecency and unnatural behavior" up there, and even though what I have in mind are actions and situations, it's possible that someone may cry "foul!" and claim that I'm a bigot for saying or even implying that people who experience same-sex attraction are indecent. I'll leave it at that, partly to make anyone reading this think more about the point. There's too little level-headed analysis and too much hysterics and knee-jerk reactions going on these days; offering a challenge for rumination, therefore, could be the way out of such unprocessed conclusions that fill the blogosphere and mainstream media.

Zeroing in on a particular person and issue here, let me provide some links that can get you going on your way to rumination amid the multi-sensory assault you may be contending with as far as Philippine boxing champ and legislator Manny Pacquiao's supposed anti-gay remarks are concerned.

Instead of sharing stories that tell the details of the original incident, allow me to share excerpts and links to a few articles that shed light on the mistaken ideas that such stories started and fueled. (Besides, details of the incidents can be found in some of the links)

All of this was ignoring one big thing: Pacquiao hadn’t said all of what was being attributed to him, and that his biblical evocation had been inserted by the interviewing writer. (The writer was not completely magnanimous in clarifying these points, either.) On Wednesday, Pacquiao spoke up to clear things up. “I’m not against the gay people,” he said. “What I said is I’m not in favor of same-sex marriage.” Contacted by the Journal, Pacquiao spokesman Fred Sternberg shed a little more light on the situation: “Manny’s sponsors know him well enough that the quotes in question couldn’t have come from him, which the author of the article confirmed yesterday,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Read What Pacquiao Did and Didn't Say

L.A. bigwig developer Rick Caruso, who has mayoral aspirations, squeezed himself into the Catholic-bashing clown car. He announced on Twitter that Pacquiao would be banned from his trendy shopping complex, The Grove. The mall, Caruso wrote, "is a gathering place for all Angelenos, not a place for intolerance."

Except for intolerance of completely mainstream views on gay marriage held by millions of practicing people of faith.

Read How the Gay-Marriage mob slimed a Boxing Champ

Photos from Global Post (top) and The Guardian (above)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Crossing continents with ink & paper

It took only a short conversation about penpal-writing to prompt me to rummage through closets to get out the shoe boxes containing old letters from penpals. Reminiscing galore followed; I'll admit I spent too much time poring over those handwritten reminders of pre-internet days, delighting in pages and pages of stories from penpals I had corresponded with for several years.

Reading every letter of the dozens I had saved among a couple of hundred (maybe) beckoned, but I got my camera and quickly took snapshots instead. Remembering that I had written two pieces about my penpal experiences for two publications, I made a mental note to dig them up wherever they were. That was a week ago.

Today, I finally found one of them.

Below is "Put it in writing," the article I wrote for The Evening Paper in 1996, for which I was a feature writer for some time.

* * * * * * * * * *

There is no experience like foreign travel -- soaking up the local culture of some exotic country by interacting with the people, exploring the sights and sounds, discovering wonders that make that country truly unique. However, penetrating cultural barriers with the pen is a different experience altogether, for here, one gains much more than cultural enrichment.

The letters used to come by the bundle. In those days, they meant more stamps and postcards to add to a collection, and were always opened with joyful anticipation. But above all, of course, these letters meant the latest news from special people whom I'd never met but who, like me, were busy with their lives half a world away.

At first, each letter was a passport to a foreign country, bringing up close the panorama of a city, and allowing me to discover little by little the facts about the culture. These revelations were provided by friends who served as my "eyes," and though some of the facts could very well have been obtained from any encyclopedia, because the letter-writers were immersed in the culture, these accounts were more real, more human.

I was afforded many an interesting peek into another's culture. Before starting a correspondence with Vanessa from the West Indies, I hardly saw Trinidad & Tobago on the world map, but after a few letters, these little islands right above Venezuela became the object of my curiosity. They started acquiring a character of their own, what with Vanessa's stories of creole, pet agoutis ("a rodent with long brown fibrous hair, a protruding pink snout and which grunts like a pig"), maxi taxis (a cross between a bus and a taxi), her experiences with people from neighboring islands, and life in general as a student in the only girls' college in the whole of the West Indies.

The greeting cards bearing paintings of early 20th century Trinidadian society made her country all the more enticing. Even the stamps portrayed the islands as a tropical paradise where luxuriant flora abound. But of course, it was our exchange of stories and insights about everyday life that transformed the correspondence from mere cultural barter into a friendship.

Even a country with as rich a culture as France became increasingly fascinating with Frederic's letters, but not because he raved about fashion houses or Continental wining and dining or other typical Parisian indulgences. Frederic is not from Paris but from a small town in the southern region of Dordogne, and based on his accounts, his hometown resembles more closely the countryside than an urban setting.

Over a period of six years, he has sent about 30 postcards, more snapshots, a dozen brochures about his country, and four cassette tapes of music by contemporary French artists. Then there are the experiences he has related in his letters -- quite rich and exhaustive since he travels around the country a lot and takes notice of everything -- painting a nice picture of France outside of Paris.

The postcards and other materials depicting scenic sights and marvelous man-made structures do a good job of showing a panoramic view of his country, yet it's the letters that make the correspondence a real cultural exchange. Along with facts about his country and its culture, Frederic writes about experiences in school (then later, at work), dealings with people, trips to other parts of the country as well as abroad -- in a way that reflects a non-cosmopolitan disposition. His ideas, therefore, provide a fresh perspective on the simplest matters, something no Parisian sophisticate could probably do.

Of course, in return I have tried to be as extensive in "promoting" the Philippines, whether by writing about the family-oriented quality of our society or life during Spanish colonial times. Research was often necessary lest my French pal learn the wrong things, so that after several years of giving him the lowdown on anything local, I ended up discovering just how rich Philippine culture actually is.

Friendships made through the mail somehow change the way one regards international events. One acquires a perspective that is more global, so that those events cease to be abstract, isolated occurrences across the world.

Yugoslavia still had all six republics intact when Zinka and I started our cross-continental correspondence. Ours were meaty discussions (though light in tone) about virtually anything under the sun, which zeroed in quite often on relationships, the outdoors and academic life. She was an independent girl, outspoken and held somewhat unorthodox ideas, which made her letters all the more interesting. The regularity of our correspondence, however, was broken by the Bosnian-Croatian war which broke out about three years into our letter-writing. Naturally, CNN's reports on the latest developments on the situation were always anticipated with much anxiety. Even though Slovenia was a good distance from where the fighting took place, her safety was still my concern. Needless to say, no longer was this war merely the latest of a series of global events to hit the headlines; it took on a more human dimension because of Zinka.

When she did write again months later, it was evident that she was considerably affected by the "ethnic cleansing"her countrymen were engaged in. Just another demonstration that no kind of armed conflict prompted by purely human motives can ever be justified.

The fall of communism, on the other hand, was good news not only for those finally liberated from life behind the Iron Curtain. It held a special significance for me, too, even though I had no plans whatsoever of jetting off to Eastern Europe. My German pal Anja lived minutes away from the Brandenburg Gate which separated East and West Berlin, and though it was generally peaceful, the German Democratic Republic imposed many restrictions on the people. She lived on the west side of the border, fortunately, but to get out of West Berlin -- which was surrounded by the wall -- and reach other parts of West Germany, one had to cross the border twice.

The destruction of the Berlin Wall was indeed a landmark event, and thanks to Anja, I have a tangible reminder of that turning point in world history.

"There are so many people there to sell the wall pieces but now you can be sure that the pink piece was taken out of the wall on February 18th near the Brandenburg Gate," she wrote on the letter accompanying the piece of concrete.

Not every correspondence is this exciting, or fulfilling, though. Getting better acquainted with Brazilian life through Katia seemed okay in the first couple of letters, but it became boring after that. Though Japanese culture appeals to me, it was obvious that Ryoko and I didn't have enough in common to make our letter-writing last. Then I was extremely excited by the prospect of making a friend in Iceland, but for some reason, Sigrun never sent a second reply. And I thought an Algerian guy was the answer to my understanding African culture, but when he wrote in his second letter that he worked on a vessel that was scheduled to dock at Philippine ports, I wrote to tell him I had too many penpals already to pursue our correspondence. Fortunately, he took the news with no hard feelings.

Much as penpal-writing enriches one's knowledge, it is also through this that one comes to realize his ignorance about many things:

It was around the time Filipino women became prominent because of the remarkable "exodus" of those who took jobs abroad as domestic helpers. It came to a point where "Filipina" in some countries became synonymous with "maid" and this was getting heated reactions back home. Perhaps it seemed to a lot of people that housekeeping was the Filipina's forte, but what was bothersome was the other extreme -- that some deemed the extent of the Filipina's capabilities as limited to domestic chores.

When rumors of the new Oxford dictionary carrying the definition of maid as "Filipina" came out, my scorn for what I regarded back then as a national insult went in a letter to my Trinidadian friend. "Don't worry, they're just ignorant, small-minded people," Vanessa reassured me, referring to those who tended to conjure images of a maid at the mere mention of the word "Filipina."

Now I realize that among those small-minded people was myself, for I failed to get past the petty elements surrounding the matter.

After all, there is nothing shameful about being a maid, household helper, domestic helper or whatever one calls a person tasked with keeping a home in tiptop shape. This kind of work requires training, perseverance, a keen eye for detail and a tremendous sense of responsibility, for, to a certain extent, the well-being and stability of entire families depend on how well the job is done. This could've been a perfect opportunity to share with Vanessa such ideas that go beyond cultural barriers and can be applied to anywhere in the world, had I held them then. But only after the issue died down did I fully understand that the work of a domestic helper is a profession as well, an occupation that carries with it the same dignity that any piece of clean and honest work has.

There certainly are things in international correspondence that one cannot possibly get anywhere else. Sure, sending letters abroad by air mail regularly costs money, and writing can be quite a task for some. However, the opportunities for growth and learning about life, about others, about oneself -- and for imparting this knowledge to others -- are immense, something no amount of globe-trotting can ever provide.

* * * * * * * * * *

The 16-year-old, slightly yellowing, crumpled-at-the-edges page with the original piece

Friday, May 11, 2012

The spectator

To sin by silence when they should protest
makes cowards of men.

- Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th US President

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Young heroes come out of the woodwork

Sometimes it seems that only superheroes can save the day or make the world right again. Wouldn't it be great to be able to flash the bat signal each time help was needed after some crime was committed? Or, you know, Superman patrolled the skies just in case someone was in dire need of his assistance?

But nah, that's for the comic book. We're in the real world where the most that superheroes do is have us enjoy a couple of hours in the theater watching their crime-fighting moves to save the day and make the world right again. In the real world, it is we -- not caped crusaders or science-lab-accident-products -- who act, influence, improvise, defend and fight (if necessary) to uphold the good. In other words, the promotion of truth and the pursuit of justice are in our hands.

Recently, though, I couldn't help but think of a bunch of young dudes as a Justice League of sorts. That a Marvel Comics-based flick is abuzz boosts the comparison. And how can one not think of them as some kind of heroes when they're going against the current, speaking out with a message that is -- at the moment -- not the popular one in mainstream culture, and doing so in a nation where keeping quiet is the default setting when there's the risk of ruffling a few feathers?

The "reproductive health" bill or RH bill has enjoyed "ooohs" and "aaahs" from either misinformed or lacking-in-love-for-country fellows for years, and the bill's proponents and supporters have been the noisier party in the culture of life / culture of death equation. But the tide has been turning in the United States, and whether we like it or not, when the US sneezes, the whole world catches a cold. Add to that several incidents and developments happening on our own shores that have prompted more and more Filipinos to have a say -- actively -- in what's happening as far as the RH bill is concerned. And now we have the future of the nation speaking out -- the youth... not to say that birth control is a right that ought not to be denied young people, or that it is useless to expect teens to be interested in other things besides getting laid so might as well go by low standards and feed their minds with more provocative materials for six years -- and make it super-easy for them to get their hands on condoms, OCs and every other pregnancy-prevention drug and device there is. No, none of them even implied that an RH measure would propel the Philippines to catch up with the rest of the modern world and hopefully achieve economic progress, too.

The two ladies and four gentlemen who represented a youth coalition during a press conference on May 7 showed precisely what the youth are capable of -- capable of understanding, of doing, of achieving, even of blasting when it comes to stereotypes that portray young people as cynical,self-focused dudes who couldn't care less about the future of their generation and their country. Here's what one of them said, reading from the statement of the organization he represented:

“This is a call to solidarity. The youth now calls upon the entire nation to rally behind us and demand that the Reproductive Health Bill… be laid to rest once and for all. The bill must never be passed, not just because it is uneconomic, not just because it is unhealthful, not just because it is impracticable, not just because it is flawed, but, most importantly, because it divides our people. A nation divided is easily conquered. Indeed, we face the threat of being conquered by the motives of larger, more powerful nations who dangle the promise of aid and support in exchange for the shifting of our mindsets, the erudition of our values, and the degradation of our values as Filipino families and individuals. Against this, we must stand united.”

Engineering student Kiboy Tabada is the head of UP for Life -- a system-wide alliance of students, faculty, staff and alumni of the University of the Philippines -- and it was also he who read out loud the manifesto titled Our Voice, Our Vote after all the groups had read their statements.

"Why the haste to force uncertainty into reality when you have in your hands the opportunity to give the Filipino people what they really, direly need: quality education and employment opportunities, genuine rural development, and the protection of the integrity of the Filipino family and society? Opposition to the RH bill would not have lingered if the arguments against it were not valid, if the chances of detriments were slim, and if the strong need for it were justified," he continued.

The five other youth leaders representing CFC-Singles for Christ - Youth for Christ (Raymond Ibarrientos), Youth Pinoy! (Eilleen Esteban), Federation of National Youth Organizations (Lea Dasigan), Columbian Squires (Allen Paolo Guballa) and National Capital Region Youth Ministry (Peter Pardo) delivered their respective groups' statements, after which came the open forum. Expectedly, there were questions about the validity of their claims, especially after other noisier groups who enjoyed more mainstream media mileage had been giving the impression that the youth sector is unmistakably behind the birth control measure. Singled out was the National Youth Commission, the youth office of the government, whose programs and direction are all geared toward promoting the coercive RH bill and all that it stands for.

The replies from the youth panel were candid and simple:

“The National Youth Commission–opisina lang ho ‘yan ng gobyerno, and what we all know is [the government supports the] RH bill, kaya po [‘yang bill ay] nandoon at hindi naibabasura” (The National Youth Commission is only an office of the government, and what we all know is [the government supports the] RH bill, that is why that bill is there and is not being junked), said Esteban of Youth Pinoy!

“We are here on our own volition. We have the blessing of the CBCP but we have come here representing our organizations, wala po kaming pera, wala po kaming funding mula sa malalaking institusyon (we have no money, we have no funding from big institutions). At naniniwala po kami na kaya kami nandito ay malaki ang stake ng future namin dito sa bill na ito, na gusto naming maibasura (And we believe that we are here because our future has a big stake in this bill, which we want to be junked)."

A lot transpired during the press conference, and you can get the lowdown on what happened from this article (links to the statements of the different youth groups can be found there as well). The Our Voice, Our Vote Youth Manifesto can be read here, but allow me to quote from it:

We are for population management and development and we, too, dream of progress. However, genuine progress can never be achieved until our government genuinely invests in our people. Our population is an asset. Government must treat it as an asset... While the RH bill posits itself as a comprehensive attempt to relieve itself of a particular ill, it is this very claim of comprehensiveness that blinds it from its cons. We cannot afford to gamble our future. We cannot afford to legislate what constitutes harm to our people.

It's no coincidence that the day these youth decided to declare their stand against the divisive measure that is the RH bill was also the resumption of Congress. Much depends on the legislators, which is why the youth who believe in the capabilities of the Filipino people and are asking the government to have the same faith and to empower the people, are working to have their true sentiments known.

Then on the eve of the resumption of Congress, some brilliant lights shone on a part of the UP Diliman campus. No, there was no UFO in sight, but the flicker of candles on one side of the sunken garden that for some minutes showed why there is indeed hope for this university that has been dismissed -- until recently -- as simply "going with the flow" as far as RH legislation was concerned.

A group of students quietly but firmly expressed their rejection of a proposed measure that ignores the real needs and the capabilities of the Filipino people and which yields to the subtle demands of foreign powers. And while such quiet demonstrations of protests and while more and more young people speak up just as the youth alliance's representatives did this week, there will be no need for caped crusaders or gravity-defying superheroes. They can simply stay on the silver screen (or the comic book page) and let us humans carry out the pursuit of justice and the promotion of truth. With allies like the six young fellows who stood quietly strong as they made their pronouncements, the job can undoubtedly be handled without superheroes.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Planet Patrol -- how Life has been

The news just keeps going up on the weirdness index. Or maybe adjusting to the changing times (and to "unconventional" human behavior) simply needs to happen faster?? The things some people do can be so horrific, then such things eventually become acceptable, favorable and even lawful in some quarters... so that some success in battling such things is seen, we of course rejoice. We rejoice over successes that should be the guiding principle in life in the first place!

So, here's a roundup of news (and a commentary) that happened in April --

Three abortion facilities close down, and other results of the 40 Days for Life Spring Campaign!

Filipina lay worker honored for fight for the unborn

Dad rescues 'brain dead' son from doctors wishing to harvest his organs -- boy recovers completely

Report of Mexican woman expecting nine babies a hoax

Australian father of seven to spend 8 months in jail for protecting unborn

The culture behind the Cartagena scandal

And here is a video that people from the church that the late US President Ronald Reagan belonged to, produced to celebrate his birth anniversary last year. I have watched it several times myself. Now I wish I were mature enough to have paid more attention to current events and the pro-life goings-on during his time so as to appreciate his admirable character more while he was still alive.

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