Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Glass half full

As if the Iraqis didn't have enough trouble already, UN health officials report that a 15-yr old Iraqi girl died of bird flu. Iraq shares a border with the strangely appropriately named Turkey, which already has an outbreak of the disease. For crying out loud, what next? These Iraqis deserve a break.

A break from the western media would do them good, too. Despite the bleak picture of the Iraqi situation being painted by the Western press, Iraqis remain optimistic about their future. In a poll conducted by the BBC, 65% of Iraqi respondents believe their personal life is getting better, and 56% are optimistic about their economy. (In Afghanistan, it's 70% and 57%.) This reminds me of our very own Mindanao situation when the Manila media portray the place as the wild, wild west with shootouts and bombs going off everywhere, and Muslim Filipinos as violence prone, hair-triggered bandits. I've been to Zamboanga city, Pagadian, Malangas, Zamboanga del Sur, and other places there, and I've met Muslims and worked with them. They're just like the rest of us. Manila is just as 'dangerous' as Zamboanga city. Granted, in some isolated barangays, weird, violent stuff happen. But they happen in isolated barangays in Christian Luzon, too. I'm just afraid that because media portray Muslim Filipinos as hardly civilized barbarians, this reinforces some of them to behave this way; as swaggering siga-siga. "Hey, that FPJ movie portrays Muslims like that. Maybe that's how we ought to behave." Television especially is a powerful force in telling people how they should behave, how they should look, how they should speak, in order to reinforce a certain self-image. So you've got models on 'coolness' or 'bitchiness' as the case may be, and take that as a model on how you yourself should behave based on your own image of yourself. Media's excuse is that they just mirror life the way they see it. This is of course bunk. Their mirror is filtered by marketing consultants; by what sells. They're not mirroring; they're suggesting; they're dictating. And the people are buying it. Scary.
[A friend of mine called my attention to my recent posts and noticed that Ive been ranting a lot. I read back and, yes, I do sound like a very angry and very bad stand-up comic. Which just means I've practically broken almost all New Year's resolutions I made, and it isnt even February yet. Aside from the rants, I resolved not to begin a sentence with 'Ok', 'Well', 'Heck', 'Actually', or 'Basically.' I'm pretty sure Ive done that several times. Except for 'Basically'. Well, heck, ok? Basically Im just doing the best I can. Who follows resolutions anyway?]

Monday, January 30, 2006

Two shockers

The first of course is the victory by Hamas in the Palestinian elections. In a development that surprised even them, Hamas has won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Parliament, soundly defeating the ruling Fatah party. This of course is heralded as a triumph for democracy in the troubled region, but as can be expected, the self-proclaimed champion of democracy in the Middle East, G.W. Bush, isn't exactly excited to offer Hamas his congratulations. Their victory is probably perplexing Hamas leaders. "Holy Dome of the Rock, Mahmoud; we won! What the heck are we going to do now?" Now that they have to wear suits and attend Parliament, this might force them to take a more moderate stance. This was probably the direction they were looking at when their supporters marched without weapons towards the Parliament building to celebrate, where they were met by fully armed Fatah supporters. Maybe Hamas would tone down their "Death to Israel" act. After all, if they want to qualify for foreign aid, they have to show themselves to be good citizens in the world community. But I'm not betting that they give up their weapons anytime soon.

In another shocker, former NBA rebounding machine and sometime movie actor Dennis Rodman has signed up to play for the Brighton Bears in the British Basketball League. Wha-?? At first I didn't believe it, and had to do a double take. I was indeed shocked. I re-read the article again. And it's true! The British have a basketball league!

Friday, January 27, 2006

One that got away

This morning while waiting for a ride, I saw a gnarled old lady with a walking stick, wearing one of those brown dresses with a stampita round the waist you often see devotees of the Black Nazarene or the Sacred Heart, wear. She was walking hunched and slowly on the service road of the South Super Highway. On the road, not on the sidewalk. I took out the camera and lined up a shot, set depth of field, focus, exposure--I was ready to go. But in the shot was a Jollibee sign, so I waited for her to pass so I could get her as she was walking away from me. It was perfect. South-bound road was surprisingly empty, she was still on the sidewalk, the road rising in front of her, the lamposts providing a great one-point perspective to infinity. The clouds were gray, and the pollution added some mist; great atmosphere. (Sure, there was a Metrobank sign in the shot, but you can't have it all.) It was like she was walking in the gray mist to eternity. I readjusted focus, aperture, exposure. I was ready to take the shot, waiting, waiting for just the right moment. Then a car parked right next to the shuttle and ruined everything. Meanwhile, the old lady moved to the sidewalk. If I had a digital camera, I wouldve just taken pictures, click-click-click, and see if anything came out right, readjust, then click-click-click. No such luxury with the film camera since you have to spend time thinking about it. At least I do. I expect as I get the hang of it, lining up a shot would be second nature.

I'm no film snob. I think digital photography is real photography in a different medium and eventually I'll be getting a digital camera. But Ijust love my new, old, clunky Olympus OM2n. It makes the sweetest sound when you press that shutter button. Action's so smooth unlike the old Russian Zenit I used once. That camera released the shutter with a jolt, so it's practically useless for long exposures unless you had a really steady tripod. I shot the first roll of film with the OM2n the moment I got it, and as expected, most of the pictures looked like crap since I kept trying to experiment with it. The second roll was better. That's the thing with film photography; you learn as you go since you'll have to wait for the prints to see if you got it right. It's pretty exciting, the anticipation. Taking pictures with film forces me to think about my shots now--there's no turning back when you press that shutter release--so whereas my first 2 rolls were gone in an instant, I'm still on my third roll (36 shots) which is a week old and has about 16 more shots to go. Developing these babies aint cheap.

The kids are showing an interest in photography, too. They want a camera of their own seeing how much fun Im having with mine. Should provide for a great father-daughter activity.

Live long and prosper

That Picto-Personality Test thing I blogged about a couple of days ago had this to say about me:

You are romantic, and when you are with your partner you like to woo them with your imagination.

Romantic eh? I hereby submit a snippet of conversation between myself and a female pal. I invite you, dear readers, to guess who is saying what.

Person A: What I'm after is a romantic relationship.
Person B: Hm. I graduated high school a long time ago so I no longer believe in that myth. A relationship should be based on logic and reason.
Person A: But there are issues in a relationship that only the heart can understand.
Person B: Then such issues are irrelevant.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Pac-Man

Every politician, every actor-politician, every actor, every news reader, every news writer, has been hailing Manny Pacqiao's victory over Erik Morales as a triumph of the Filipino people. Everybody wants to bask in the reflected glow of the Pacman. The president of the republic, in a phone call ringside--Hello, Manny in the exact same tone of voice she used with Hello, Garci--couldn't resist getting her piece of the victory, too. "Alam kong mananalo ka kasi nagdasal ako." Well, thank you, Mrs. President. If it weren't for your prayer, Manny Pacquiao would have lost. We know God listens to you and not to Vicente Fox. A triumph of the Filipino people, eh? I ask you, if Manny lost, would it have been a defeat of the Filipino people? Exactly. The victory was Manny's and Manny's alone. It was his hard work that did it and he owes nothing to the president, to the government, nor to the media hangers-on who're milking this phenomenon for all its worth. He did it on his own, and this is what we should celebrate. Celebrate Manny without getting on his already tired shoulders.

Terraforming the news

"So you're going to London?," I asked a colleague from Nanjing when I was there a couple of years back.

"Yes. Next week," she said. It was to be her first trip outside China and she feels a bit nervous.

"Don't worry about it. London's just like Nanjing," I said. British colleague looks up from his keyboard, wide-eyed. "They're both cities," I continued, deadpan. "Yes, and there's people in it," Brit bloke joins in. Nanjing colleague didn't get it, though. Language barrier. Or is it humor barrier? Maybe they laugh at different things and deadpan attempts at humor isn't one of them. Anyway...

I was reminded of this story by a news item I read that says scientists using the microlensing technique have found the smallest Earth-like planet outside our solar system. "An international team of astronomers has found the smallest Earth-like planet yet outside our Solar System." Earth-like! That means there are trees in it, too. And beaches. And weirdos trying to be the next American idol. Holy mother of pearl! I read the full article.

Turns out the planet, with the unlikely name of OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, is five times the earth's mass, and is so cold you'd see your words, in bold-face Times Roman, fall frozen on the ground the moment they leave your mouth when you speak. The article later admits, rather sheepishly since it knows it's guilty of sucking us in, that the planet "may therefore resemble a more massive version of Pluto." So it's not so Earth-like at all, is it? It's just a cheap publicity stunt to get us interested, eh? What, funding for more research running low? Shame.

"We found a planet! And it's just like earth!"

"No kidding."

"Yes. It's a planet, too."

Monday, January 23, 2006

The project

One of my missions on this planet is to ensure that these two girls don't lose their sense of wonder. The strategy is to lead by example. It's fun. It gives me an excuse to climb trees and catch spiders.

It's time for the fastest growing quiz sensation...

The Picto-Personality Test

You are a person who is incredibly tranquil and values peace above all else.

When alone, you appreciate being able to do nothing if you want to, and setting your own pace for things.

You are romantic, and when you are with your partner you like to woo them with your imagination.

In the future you will be happy and live richly.

Take this Test at QuizGalaxy.com

Ev'rybody's talking about
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism,
Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, That-ism, is-m, is-m, is-m
All we are saying is give peace a chance... la la laaaa

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ludd me do

I had a rite of passage of sorts. Yesterday I made my first on-line purchase. Bought a used Olympus OM-2n camera on eBay. I've always wanted an SLR and fortunately, a lot of hobbyists are unloading part of their collections and switching over to digital photography. There were digital cameras on sale, too. A 5 megapixel CMOS digicam was being sold at 4,700.00 pesos. Quite a bargain, but I figured digital cameras would be with us for a long, long time, and film photography would slowly fade away and become the sole domain of artists and hobbyists. I figured film photography has a few more years left before it acquires a cult status and would jack up prices for collectibles like the classic OM-2. But that's not really why I bought it. I can say I bought it because I wanted to take pictures that I can control. I didnt want a fully automatic point-and-shoot that churns out "perfect" pictures everytime. But that's not quite it, either.

Remember when CDs first came out and everybody heralded it as the ultimate in audio technology? Rich sounds in a medium that would last forever, it was supposed to make vinyl obsolete. Well it turns out that analog recordings on vinyl sound much better than digital recordings and guess what? CD's would probably last you 10 years before that laser thingie causes the medium to deteriorate. In the meantime, collectors still have copies of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album playing perfectly after 40 years. Same goes for eBooks. Your best bet is still to collect books on paper. There still are books in museums that are a thousand years old. MP3s? The way they compress the whole thing is to sample the digital files even worse than they do CDs and cut off sounds beyond the range of human hearing, the very thing that gives recorded music its warmth and "live-ness." It'll do in a pinch, but really, do you want to collect or enjoy music that way? Relaxing in your favorite lounge chair with a glass of wine, and then slipping on your iPod? MP3 is for the morning commute and nothing else, a job it does well.

If you look at the OM-2n I bought, you won't be surprised that it's over 20 years old. It's solidly built, heavy and reassuring. You could brain somebody with it. Fortunately I found a hobbyist who knows how to take care of his equipment. He even took time to meet me and show me how to use the camera properly, an old fashioned way of selling things. I showed the camera to an officemate who's also a hobbyist and he was amazed at the pristine condition it was in. Not a scratch anywhere. The leather case is pretty much beat up, but that's ok. It just means that the machine has been put to use and has given its owner lots of good times. For the price I bought it with, I wouldn't be able to buy a simple, mostly plastic, point-and-shoot digital camera that won't be able to do half what the OM-2 could. It's only advantage is you can immediately see what your picture looks like. Perfect for the I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now generation. "I don't care. Just give it to me now."

Maybe I find the digital world a bit offensive. It represents a philosophy that's all flash and no substance. It makes promises it doesn't keep and lulls us into a false sense of security. They market it as an improvement, but really, all it is is convenient, if anything. The internet hasn't changed anything. All it did is make things faster. And when you're heading towards Armageddon, you don't want to get there in a hurry. Civilization doesn't move forward with convenience. It moves forward with patience and attention to the finer things. I'm all for that.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Fijacion Oral vol 1 (or musings on Shakira's Lebanese-Colombian ass)

Why is it called Latin music when all it is, really, is Spanish music? Or South American music since there's a category for Brazilian music in the Latin Grammies. Why isn't French music considered Latin music? Why isn't Italian? Or Romanian? Why isn't Gregorian chant considered Latin music when in fact it's sung in Latin? They really ought to change the name of the genre. Spanish-Portuguese music? Or Music-Performed-By-Latin-Americans-and-Iberians?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Obits and pieces

Solomon said some pretty strange things.

A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
--------------------------------------------------Ecclesiastes 7:1-4

Solomon. The ultimate party animal. Celebrated ladies’ man. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines and said whatever his eyes desired, he did not keep from them. Erich Von Daniken even said he probably owned a flying machine and he showed the Queen of Sheba around in it. The wisest man on earth wrote some of the most depressing things in all of literature. Probably not a coincidence.

He thought about death a lot. Probably because he had such a full life. He thought about death because he’s seen it all. We, on the other hand, don't think about death that much because we aren’t through with life yet. Solomon thought about life, and his grand conclusion? It’s all pointless. Like Paul Weller said, “Oh heavenly thing won’t you cleanse my soul. I’ve seen all on offer and I’m not impressed at all.”

An entry on the Twisted blog is about the death of the writer Bienvenido Santos. A funny piece on an impromptu send-off given to him by his friends and fans. This got me looking for more obituaries. The New York Times obit section has some fine ones. They give a summary of the person’s life and achievements and when applicable, mention the… survivors?

Mr. Schoemaker is survived by his wife of nine years, Anne Faulkner Schoemaker; three daughters, Maureen, Katherine and Anne; and one son, Matthew, all of the Philadelphia area; his parents, Paul and Betty Schoemaker; three sisters, all of whom live in the Netherlands; and one brother, Paul, who lives in the Philadelphia area.

He is also survived by a son, Reed, and by his fiancée, Janet Davis, both of Skillman.

He is survived by his wife, Virginia, a researcher at the Investor Responsibility Research Center and the author of several books on corporate governance; a daughter, Dorothy, of Bethesda, Md.; a son, Daniel, of Washington; a brother, Marcus, of Washington, a senior editor at National Public Radio; and two grandchildren.

I don't know, but I dont want to see that in my obituary. (Assuming, of course, I’m not really dead but still alive somewhere and conscious and watching over you. Solomon didn't believe in that stuff, by the way.) I mean, ‘survived’… that’s a word I always associated with someone who has gone through a harrowing ordeal and made it out alive. “The earthquake struck and the roof came down on me and I was trapped in the rubble and I had to drink my own pee and eat cockroaches for three days before the rescuers came and found me. It was rough. But I… survived.

"He is survived by his wife, his children, Eanie, Meanie, Miney, and Mo, and his pet duck Maurice." What, was living with him such an ordeal, such a struggle for survival?

Those at my funeral after reading the obituary, would ask those I left behind, "Oh my God, are you allright? How did you survive him?"

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I have an eating disorder

Now that Paula Abdul has admitted her eating disorder after a spate of revelations and interventions for other celebrities for their own eating disorders (Mary Kate Olsen, Lindsey Lohan), I decided to come clean with my own struggle with an eating disorder. And I enjoin others to do so as well. (I’m talking to you, Nicole Ritchie. And you, too, Lara Flynn Boyle.) It’s only after we admit we have a problem that we can begin to solve it.

It has been a long ordeal for me. Not only the eating disorder itself, but the act of hiding it from my friends and loved ones has made it doubly difficult. I can no longer do so. I can not lie to those who love me. And so I have taken this painful step that I hope would lead me to recovery. I’m counting on you, my friends, to help me in this, my most trying time.

I have a rare eating disorder called dyslexovora. I eat dessert first before the main course.

There, I said it. I feel relieved. Like a giant cactus has been pulled from my ass. I hope that I can inspire other celebrities to come forward. Together, we can fight this deadly scourge that’s afflicting both Hollywood and the world of haute couture.

She blinded me with Science, part 2

That a popular theory could be so wrong came to the fore once again when scientists in Germany discovered a significant amount of methane, a greenhouse gas, comes from trees. Trees! The Amazon forest produces tons of the stuff. What to do, what to do? The Kyoto protocols that seek to mobilize governments into fighting global warming has a ‘tree credit’ clause which allows countries a bit more leeway in their greenhouse gas emissions if they offset it with a reforestation program. Trees have been known to soak up carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, and so cancels out the greenhouse gas emissions of industry. Or so they thought. The anti-global warming scientists probably are snickering at this development. No the ‘antis’ don’t deny global warming. They just deny that human activities have anything to do with climate change. They believe it is a natural cyclical process that has been going on even before we showed up and they decry the waste of money that’s being poured into measures to fight it. That greenhouse gases come from trees seem to bolster the theory that the earth will go through it’s warming-cooling cycles even without our help. But does this new finding slow down the ‘It’s-all-our-fault’ climate scientists? Not one bit. There is an entire industry that has been built on it already. Reputations, egos, and the research grant dollars are at stake. According to Nobel Prize winning chemist Kary Mullis, Global warmers predict that global warming is coming, and our emissions are to blame. They do that to keep us worried about our role in the whole thing. If we aren't worried and guilty, we might not pay their salaries. It's that simple.”

Falsifiability is one of the most popular criteria for determining if a theory is scientific. This is because absolute verifiability is impossible since there is an infinite number of possible hypotheses that can explain a particular phenomenon. A scientific theory can never be proven right. It can only be proven wrong. Scientists therefore are limited to investigating theories that they can falsify. Any scientist that seeks to espouse conclusions that science couldn’t bear out runs the risk of looking like a fool, or worse, a fanatic. But that’s just what Richard Dawkins did. In a 2-part TV show in the British Channel 4, Professor Dawkins stated that religion is akin to child abuse, and that the Judeo-Christian God “has got to be the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous, and proud of it, petty, vindictive, unjust, unforgiving, racist.” Dawkins’s field is biology, specifically ethology or the study of animal behavior. One wonders what sort of scientific experiments the good professor ran to reach such a conclusion. Of course, Professor Dawkins, when he stated those things, wasn't making a scientific conclusion, but a philosophical or theological one, well outside his field of expertise, philosophy and theology being inherently unfalsifiable scientifically. His statements therefore can just as easily be dismissed as utter nonsense the way we can dismiss Pat Robertson’s opinion that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was a punishment from God. (Although as a theologian, Dr. Robertson didn't stray far away from his field of expertise, the statement was nevertheless stupid. I mean have you seen Ariel Sharon? He’s old, overweight, and is the Prime Minister of one of the most troubled countries in the world. That spells stroke in any language.)

I don't know what it is with scientists and their egos. If you really look at it, scientists should be the most humble people on the planet. That’s because science recognizes that at any time, as new data come in, they could be wrong. It also recognizes that the things open to scientific investigation are very limited indeed. And yet, the image of the scientist in my mind is one of in-your-face chutzpah, thanks to people like Richard Dawkins.

Tune in, turn on, get a facial

Albert Hoffman, the father of LSD, turned 100 yesterday. He reflects on his discovery here.

What LSD does to the human brain is to remove its built-in reducing valve function such that we experience our environment in all its raw, kinesthetic form, unprocessed and not pre-judged by our conscious self. Everything opens up; a truly mystical experience. In creative people (artists, poets, Hannibal Lecter), this non-judgemental way of getting data from the environment occurs naturally. In most of us, the reducing valve function works overtime. Our brain takes in information from the environment, filters them and determines which information are useful and relevant to our own daily lives, and discards the rest. The lack of the ability to filter this information is also a sign of mental illness.

The difference between the creative type and the crazy is this: the creative type knows what to do with the information. He uses them and channels them towards creative pursuits. The crazy is simply overwhelmed. Intelligence plays a good part in knowing what to do with the information. A study by Harvard University found that what differentiates a creative from a crazy is the former’s high IQ. That’s the only thing that’s keeping the creative from going bonkers, and sometimes he doesn’t succeed. Creative people can be nuts. Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his ear comes to mind. The stresses of daily life can overwhelm their already wide open brains such that it slips over into the twilight zone.

Knowing what LSD does, and probably knowing how many stupid people are out there, Dr. Hoffman says LSD should be a controlled substance. He called Timothy Leary’s popularization of LSD a crime. On the other hand, he is also frustrated by the chemical’s demonization all over the world, noting its success in the field of psychiatry.

Perhaps a way out of this could be a licensed “LSD parlor” where anyone who wants to alter their consciousness could go. It will be staffed by chemists and psychologists, and to qualify for the treatment, you have to pass an IQ test. A high-priced spa could offer it as one of their services along with the regular fare of Dead Sea salt scrubs and pure oxygen inhalation. Imagine the instant “Hip” factor it’ll give you in social circles. “You look great. Where’ve you been?” “Spent the weekend at my spa. You really should try their aromatherapy, kelp scrub, and LSD treatment.” You’ll not only be seen as rich, with-it, and upwardly mobile, people would know you also have a high IQ without having to tastelessly brag about it.

That’s hot.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The coming Nematopia

Holy crap, we’re done for! NASA reports that nematode worms that were on the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle survived the crash. The researchers who recovered the nematodes state that the worms’ survival could offer us clues as to how simple life forms may have survived traumatic interplanetary journeys, bolstering the theory that ‘seed genes’ may have come from other parts of the universe aboard comets, landed in the earth’s primordial soup, and started the chain reaction that eventually resulted in creating we, the people. Right.

But these so-called researchers aren’t telling us everything. The nematodes were placed in coffee can sized containers and carted off to space to be experimented on. Does that tell you anything? You bet. They’re as mad as all heck. Imagine being taken from your swamp under false pretenses (or against your will), placed in a metal container with no windows, and eventually ending up in a lab 50 miles above the planet to be poked, prodded, pushed, sliced and diced to find out how we humans would fare in outer space. But in one experiment that showed an appalling lack of respect for the consequences, the worms were exposed to cosmic rays. That’s right. The same interstellar cosmic rays that the Fantastic 4 were exposed to. So are you still surprised that the nematodes survived the crash? They have superpowers! And they’re mad! NASA isn’t telling us everything to avoid a panic.

Right this very minute, those angry super-nematodes are multiplying. They already have a prodigious reproductive rate, but once again, the techno-folly of us humans is aiding this dangerous mutation inadvertently. Because of the communications explosion of recent years, there’s radiation everywhere. Especially microwave radiation from cell phone sites which have been shown to increase nematode fertility. I don't know what cell phone users are talking about these days, but it seems it turns the nematodes on and they burst in spontaneous bacchanalic reveling which always results in baby nematodes. Baby super-powered nematodes, who can create force fields at will, or burst into spontaneous combustion without harming themselves, or acquire an outer shell as tough as granite and the strength of 12 elephants, or acquire a super-intelligence of the malevolent kind.

NASA researchers have isolated the recovered canisters in vaults with walls made of 2 meters of steel in underground caves in the military base near Groom Lake in Nevada. There they are kept in suspended animation with liquid nitrogen. They have tried destroying them, but have not succeeded. The liquid nitrogen however, does slow them down. But that’s not the end of that. The Columbia debris is scattered over a very wide area and not all canisters with the mutant nematodes have been recovered. NASA fears that some of the canisters may not have survived the impact and that—Heaven help us— some of the nematodes have escaped, and are at this very minute, copulating with wild abandon, driven to heights of lust and debauchery by our text messages, Gud AM it.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Primal scream

"We're super excited. We've been looking for such a number for a long time." So says Central Missouri State University associate dean and chemistry professor Steven Boone in announcing that after years of searching, programming 700 computers, several thousand man-hours of work, mostly by undergrads who won’t even be credited in the paper, and I-don't-know-how-many-megawatt hours of electricity, they have found the largest known prime number. And it isn’t just any prime number, oh no. It’s a Mersenne Prime Number. A Mersenne Prime is not just your average daily divisible-by-one-and-itself prime number. A Mersenne Prime is a prime number that is one less than a prime power of two.

Now, is it just me, or is everyone else going, “Uhhhh… So?” I just can’t share professor Boone’s super excitement. So they found the largest ever prime number, what are they going to do with it? You can’t print t-shirts with it and sell that. The number they found is 9.1 million digits long. Enough digits in 10-point Times New Roman to circle the earth 17 times. The printing costs alone would be exorbitant, pricing the t-shirt out of the general market. The market for the t-shirt would consist solely of Paris Hilton and you know she won’t be wearing it for long.

I say, now that you’ve found this number, for the love of all that’s holy, STOP! You know you won’t find the largest prime number. It’s impossible. Leave it be. Unplug those 700 computers and donate them to some third world country. The time, energy, and talent used in this endeavor should now be put to better use. Alternative and renewable sources of energy. Vaccines for killer diseases. Free internet that would reach the remotest barangays with computers that won’t cost you an arm, a leg, and your virgin daughter, and runs on kitchen waste. Better TV programming for GMA and ABS-CBN. (I just threw the last one in for laughs. We all know that’s impossible. But you get the point.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


We left Caloocan in 1995 and I haven’t been back since my dad died in ’98. We decided to hold the funeral in Caloocan because that’s where most of his pals were. Most of my pals, too. My daughter was 2 at the time. My aunt took her the coffin and told her, “Look. Lolo is sleeping.” My daughter said, “Sleeping? He’s dead!” Anyway, 1998 was the last time I saw the old gang, the blokes I used to run with. We had a time reminiscing, then we buried my dad and that was the last time I went back there.

Fast forward to 2005. December 31st. Family reunion. Probably the only time I get to see my cousins that isn’t a funeral for some dead relative. One of my aunts still was in touch with the people in the street we used to live in and she gave me the following update.

Morrie is in jail. Arrested for selling drugs. Morrie was sort of like the leader. He was a jolly fun guy to be with, played guitar and sang, and was a bit of a ladies’ man, especially with the nannies and household help in the neighborhood. He was always first into battle when some punks tried to test our mettle. Sometimes we didn't have to fight them because Morrie has already put them in their place. Once Morrie, Gary, and I were hanging out on the street just shooting the breeze, when this punk from the other street came out, drunk and ranting and yelling for “whoever it was who insulted my family.” There was a pretty boisterous party the night before, and maybe somebody did yell something like “To hell with the [blank] family.” In English. We were pretty drunk then. We might even know who it was, but you don’t do that. You don’t come to our street and yell for one of our pals, and threaten to bring out your M-16. And we sure as hades weren’t handing anybody over to you. Morrie went and confronted the guy to ask him what the hell his problem was. Nicely. The guy then lit on Morrie, and yelled in his face. “I’m going to bring out my guns and you’ll see.” Actually he was more poetic than that. He said, “Pag umiyak ang M-16 ko, magkakaalaman din tayo.” I’ll make my M-16 cry and we’ll all get to know the truth. On and on he went. I never left Morrie’s side. We were trying to calm the punk down. Or kick his ass if necessary. We were just waiting for his move. Meanwhile, Gary rounded up the other blokes, and around 10 of them came out, ready to rumble. They surrounded the guy. “What’s your problem, eh?” But none of them touched him. Morrie had the honor of making the first move. The punk eventually backed off. Afterwards, Morrie thanked me for not leaving him alone. As if he needed me to kick the punk’s ass.

Tikyo is a drug addict. Actually this didn't come as a surprise. We had an inkling of it back then. Tikyo was a cook who also made a living selling fresh fish to eateries and restaurants. He used to work in Italy, and his kids had Italian names. Giuseppe, Giancarlo. Like that. Maybe he imagined himself to be Don Vito Corleone. Whenever he made a few bucks, it usually meant party time. He’d buy a goat and slaughter it himself, and cook at least 3 dishes from that single goat. He’d buy cases of beer, which we augmented sometimes with gin when the supply ran low. About 6 years ago he went to our house in Paranaque and when the beer ran out, he asked to be excused and went out. Gary and I (Gary moved to Paranaque even before we did) assumed he went out to light a joint, but it turned out, he was into something else. One of his sons died of an illness the year before and he probably took it harder than we thought he did. My aunt says he looks like an emaciated skeleton now.

Junkies is dead. Junkies was the neighborhood drunk who can always be counted on to show up whenever two or three of us are gathered together in the name of beer. He was actually a lot older than we were, but he liked hanging out with us even if we made fun of him for being a drunk. He got his nickname because he bought and sold junk for a living, whatever living he could scrape out of doing that. Mostly, he lived off the kindness of neighbors. There really was enough food in the neighborhood and all he had to do was show up. “Ano, Junkies? Kumain ka na?” Have you eaten? You can also count on Junkies to run errands for you. Once, one of the guys played a nasty trick on him. We were gathered together, drinking San Miguel Beer, when Junkies showed up, right on schedule. There was singing and the usual horsing around, when this guy pees in a glass, added some ice, and handed it to Junkies, who dutifully drank the stuff. “What this? Tastes different,” he says. “That’s Beer na Beer.” (Beer na Beer is a different brand of beer.) I swear I didn't know what was going on until they told me the next day, and yes, sue me, I laughed my head off. Junkies is dead but his younger brother Baby Cake is still alive and has taken his place. His legacy continues.

Every Christmas time, when Gary and I sit down over a few—ok more than a few—beers, we always reminisce about the good old days in Caloocan. Christmas time was when Morrie would round up a few of us who can sing, and we’ll go caroling. We had a guitar and we’d sing O Holy Night and a couple of others. We were good. This was attested to by the fact that we made money, which we wisely spent later on bottles of gin, 7-up, calamansi, and ice, a drink we fondly called a Set, which we mixed in a teapot. We also had enough money to buy a few dishes from the local restaurant. Everyone was invited to the nightly mini-parties. There was singing and horsing around and the occasional fisticuffs between drunken revelers who always patched up their differences the next day. And woe to the thief, cat burglar, purse snatcher, or ne’er-do-well running from the law or the neighborhood patrol who happens to choose our dead-end street to duck into whenever the entire gang was there. (Morrie once brought down a burglar by hitting him with a chair, and even tried accompanying the neighborhood patrol to the police station with the guy, an outing that was cut short when one of the patrol guys pointed out that a knife was sticking out from a wound just below Morrie's ribs. They took him to the hospital instead, where he promptly passed out.)

I often wonder how many more years we have til our topics would turn to those of us who are dead, the way our uncs and their pals do whenever they get together to reminisce. (Junkies doesn’t count. It’s a wonder he lasted as long as he did.) “How’s Barry Boy?” Dead. “How’s Louie Boo?” Dead. “How’s Sexy?” Dead. “How’s Jego?” Dead.

Do you want to live forever?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Looking In

The month of January was named for the Roman god Janus--god of gates and doors, as well as the god of beginnings. He is a most peculiar god, having 2 faces: one looking forward and another looking back. This is supposed to depict the god looking at both the past and the future at the same time. It’s always wise to get one’s bearings by contemplating on things past before regarding things future, yes? Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan... Janus has everything pretty much covered.

Or does he? There is one direction where Janus isnt looking: Inward. Looking inward is a lost pursuit these days. We’ve all got work to do, bills to pay, dreams to chase... Who has time? And looking inward? That is probably the most unproductive thing a anybody can do!

“Know thyself,” Socrates said. An unexamined life is not worth living. But why would we need to? Things happen and we react. Our past shaped us, probably even more so than our genes did, and there is nothing we can do to change the past. Our self is just a sum total of all our past experiences and memories.

And besides, exactly how does one look inward? How does one ever truly know onself? Can we trust our own perceptions of who we truly are? On our own? Without our biases or our most-of-the-time skewed image of who we truly are? More often than not, if we even deign to try to be honest with ourselves about who we are, we’re wrong.

Eastern philosophy makes a big thing about knowing oneself as one truly is, without opinions, without biases, without sensory input of any kind. “He who knows others is wise; he who knows oneself is enlightened.” So says the Tao. But it takes years of training to achieve this so-called enlightenment. Supposedly, after sensory input and the tyranny of memory is set aside, all that the adept is left with is the self, the pure consciousness of one’s consciousness without any content. Right. I’ll take your word for it, Swami Banananda.

There is an easier way. A way available to every one of us. And that is knowing ourselves through the eyes of others. A meeting of our own perceptions of who we are melded with the perceptions of someone we trust. Someone we love. Think of your eyes: Your eyes see everything that is visible. Everything, that is, except your eyes. The quickest way to shatter our own illusions about who we really are is by interacting with others; sharing who we are with others. Easier said that done. We’re naturally protective of who we are. Or rather who we think we are. We tend to share with others who tend to reinforce our own image of ourselves no matter how fictitious this image is. Such is our nature. It takes an almost heroic step to give yourself over to somebody, to trust that somebody with ourselves. You might not like what you see reflected in that person’s eyes, but at least you’ll know. And knowing, in the immortal words of G.I. Joe, is half the battle. We’re not prisoners of our past. We’re not robots whose thoughts and actions are constrained by our programming. We’re humans. We’re free. We can change despite of the conditioning ingrained in us in our walk through life. If that person you chose to share with truly cares about you, who you really are doesn’t matter as much as who you can become. Knowing who you are now is but a springboard to better things.

We were built that way, I guess. To need others. The fullness of our humanity can only come to fruition as part of something bigger than ourselves.

(Schmaltz originally written for the ersatz company newsletter, January 2004.)