Thursday, November 30, 2006

(un)Intelligent Discussion

I caught the tail end of a segment in BBC Two's News Night wherein the host Jeremy Paxman was moderating a discussion between Intelligent Design proponent Professor Andy Mcintosh and Darwinist Professor Lewis Wolpert. And as usual, I think the media has no clue what ID is all about. Neither, I suspect, do Darwinists based on that discussion. Professor Wolpert spent the interview (the part I caught) chanting the Darwinist mantra "ID is just religion" while moderator Jeremy Paxman kept asking Professor Mcintosh, "But who is the designer?"

On the News Night website, they called Truth in Science, the organization that Prof. Mcintosh represents, a Creationist group. I don't know how accurate that is. From what I caught of the interview, TIS isnt a Creationist group but an ID group. The two are different, and this is what the media doesnt seem to get. Creationism is based on a literal interpretation of Genesis (which means Creationists believe all this is created by God--a religious belief). ID is based on a scientific hypothesis based on what these scientists have observed in nature, that the complexity of life on earth could not have come from random events, that the pattern of life on earth seems to be following instructions, and where there are instructions, then there must be some intelligence behind it. That's all. Who is the designer? is not a question an ID proponent could answer scientifically since there is no evidence of the identity of this entity. It could be anybody: God, Nature, little green men, they dont know and dont profess to know. What there is evidence for is that someone did it. Just like CSI. Those forensic scientists in the TV show could look at the evidence and conclude that a death isnt random or accidental based on the evidence: someone did it. The difference of course is that in CSI, the evidence for the identity of the killer can be found. In the case of ID theory, the scientists havent found evidence of who did it. When an ID proponent says, "I believe the designer is God (or Nature, or Steve from next door)," he is making a philosophical or theological statement, not a scientific one. But anti ID people seize upon this and conflate the faith with the science. "See? He believes in God (or Steve)! Therefore ID is a religion." This is illogical and just plain stupid.

I think both sides of the debate have good arguments, but what do I know? But the fact is that when a scientific theory becomes the mainstream, it becomes intolerant of competing theories. Competing theories have to constantly prove themselves against the mainstream. I think that's a good thing. We can't blindly follow every new thing that comes along just because they sound nice or they agree with our own personal belief system. Fledgeling theories have to prove their mettle to gain acceptance. The ID people, knowing that the mainstream view controls the publications where they can gain legitimacy, have taken their case to the public, who can then decide. But they can only decide wisely if the facts are accurately reported by the media but media hasnt done its homework. Or worse, they have already taken a side in this debate.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Ho' train

They call him Sinterklaas over here and he's tall, slim, and wears a cardinal's garb. He doesnt live in the North Pole because he isnt insane. He lives in Spain because it's warm and sunny and because he isnt a whale-and-seal-hunting inuit. Somehow, when he made his way over to New Amsterdam (present day New York City), the lure of the big city got to him and he lived a life of debauchery. He gained weight from all that junk food and beer, and became a crack-dealing pimp. Not a pimp, eh? So tell me, Einstein, why he dresses up in red suede and yells 'Ho, ho, ho' all the time. From what I can tell, he still lives in Spain. He just says he lives in the North Pole to give the Man the slip, daddy-o. And he isnt the first holy man to succumb to the weakness of the flesh. Siddharta Gautama used to be a skinny ascetic from India, then preached moderation, the middle way, til he came to China and got so enamored with the cuisine (and the women) that he became an obese parody of his former self and fathered several children. At the same time. Look at them climbing all over their fat, laughing dad.

(Picture from

Friday, November 10, 2006

Salman and the sea of anhedonia

I think I may have turned anhedonic. Ive complained to more than a few people about the lack of pleasure I derive from the cuisine here, whether it be the food in the cafeteria or the shawarma shop or the faux-Chinese food, how the tastes are starting to blend into each other in an amorphous mass of sameness. Oh how I yearn for ginisang munggo. The kind with the thick slabs of those Ilocano chicharon or leftover crispy pata in it. And alugbati. I love those slimy leaves. The fact that I can yearn for munggo clearly shows that Im not anhedonic about food, no sir. The anhedonia Im talking about is an anhedonia about something I normally derive pleasure from, and that's reading. (And here I say a prayer of thanks for the fella who owns Booksale.)

Ive always enjoyed reading ever since I can remember and my mother tells me Ive always enjoyed reading ever since before I can remember. And growing up I never lacked for a supply of stuff to read. My aunt was a librarian in a school in Mendiola and she'd come to our house with stacks of books discarded from the library and give them all to me. And there's always the school library. Even during my street punk days, I never stopped reading, so much so that I earned the nickname Genius from the rest of the gang. (The other nickname was Bonifacio, because, the guy who gave it to me, one of the more senior ones in the old gang, said I was 'sugod ng sugod'. But I wasnt sugod ng sugod. They were always ahead of me when we 'attacked'. I guess he gave me that name because he thought someone who read as much as I did shouldnt even be hanging with them.)

I bought two books over the weekend: Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown and David Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Shalimar I bought because, well, it's Rushdie, man. I have always been in awe of this guy, whose works are NEVER in Booksale and therefore require considerable monetary commitment, ever since I bought my first Rushdie book, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which led me to his other works. In fact I credit Salman Rushdie with killing all illusions I have of ever becoming a writer of fiction. (Dan Brown later saved those illusions. The trick, Ive learned, is never to go for greatness when mediocrity would suffice.) A.H.W.S.G. I bought because of the sheer audacity of the title. Ive heard of this book before and ignored it because I normally dont go for memoirs. What makes these people think their lives are any more interesting than those of the rest of us that they would foist it upon the world at large? Besides, memoirs are almost always depressing. But I gave this one a shot.

I started with A.H.W.S.G., and right off the bat it didnt seem right. As I flipped through the pages, I noticed overly long and elaborate Preface and Acknowledgement sections, the length of which screamed Manic-Depressive, plus a section on how to enjoy the book which said the Preface and Acknowledgement sections werent necessary for the enjoyment of the book. Ok, I'll take your word for it, Dave.

It read well enough at first. By the time I got to the cancer, my heart sank. Another depressing memoir. But I read on because Eggers does write well. But when he began describing what he and his mother were watching on TV (while he was holding her bleeding nose), I went, Come on. Do you have to describe what's happening in that episode of Gladiators? It must be a metaphor for something--something I dont get because Im stupid so I read on. But he went on to describe another TV show. I closed the book. See you later, Dave.

I picked up Shalimar the Clown. And it was everything I expected: Rushdie at the top of his game. His words flow like liquid poetry. The narrative just takes you along paths of Rushdie's choosing. He's erudite, he's funny. Usually, I just go along for the ride, but this time something was amiss. The rhythm was growng repetitive. It wasnt a Bollywood musical number anymore. It was a drone. I was drowning in a sea of metaphors. It was an explosion of figures of speech. Im fine with figures of speech. In fact I used a couple in this very paragraph. But to be deluged in it, to be overwhelmed with poetic narrative gone berserk... I went, For the love of God, Salman. Will you just get on with telling me what happened? I closed the book, defeated.

I understand my reaction to the Eggers book, but to the Rushdie book? Have I lost the ability to enjoy myself? Maybe it's the weather: it's cold and it's wet. Perhaps it has something to do with being alone in a foreign land where at this time of year, the sun rises past seven in the morning and it's already dark at five pm. Because this isnt normal to a tropical islander like me. I lack energy. Im gaining weight, and the weight isnt evenly distributed. It seems to be massing in my tummy, my butt, and my jaw. I have fat jaws.

Maybe I miss the family. I find considerable pleasure reading the back of a box of Sunny Boy instant milk powder when I can hear the kids playing. Im not anhedonic at all. I just need to be enjoying myself to enjoy myself. I turn the TV on and fall asleep to CNN.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I dont know if the people at Fashion TV are immune to irony but this morning, in a segment called Fashion and Music, where they showcase music-video-inspired fashion trends, they chose, of all videos, Pink's Stupid Girl, which pokes fun at the fashion industry, albeit not directly. It directly pokes fun at, among other things, the superficiality of women who choose to define themselves with the fashionable clothes they wear. In fact, as a parting shot, the video shows a little girl, on being faced with the decision on whether to play with Barbie dolls and everything they stand for, or a football, wisely chose the latter.

FTV is arguably one of the stupidest channels on cable. It's a tribute to superficiality. Even their rare interviews with fashion people are superficial. The entire fashion industry is a scam targetted primarily at the middle class, with all their class insecurity; their fear of being accused of being baduy, of being masa or jologs, and therefore not one of the Beautiful Ones, the in-crowd, the alta sociedad, hence their penchant to follow the trend and suppress their individuality, in hopes of dressing up like what they think the upper crust dresses like. Only the upper crust, the really rich ones, dont dress like that. The upper crust doesnt care. They can show up at parties dressed in the frumpiest clothes and they won't give a hoot. They dont have a single class-insecure muscle in their bodies.

The middle class is the only strata of society that isnt in on the joke that is the fashion industry, despite the blatant hints that some fashion designers are giving them. Open your eyes, people. The designers are giving you a clue. Watch a fashion show on FTV. After the parade of models whose sole purpose is to tell you what to wear next season (while also telling you that youll never look that good), the designers come out and take a bow. If theyre one of those designers whose consciences dont permit them to be cruel to the middle class who're giving them their rent money, who're kind enough to let the middle class in on the joke if only they'd get it, theyll show up in t-shirt and jeans, or in the frumpiest, grungiest outfits they could find. That's their way of saying, "Gotcha! It's all a joke, get it?" Designers like Valentino, who show up impeccably dressed are the cruel ones. They know theyre making fun of you and revel in the fact. They have no compunctions about taking the middle class' hard-earned cash.

But after all that, I have to confess I'll tune in to FTV again like I do everyday. Two words: Underwear models.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Return of the Puppy Lovers

Not quite. The Puppy Lovers were the legendary band of rogues who terrorized the late, lamented, Carlos Palanca Street haunt, the Blarney Stone. Every Thursday night was quiz night, and they would come in at around 7-ish while it was still Happy Hour, order their Happy-Hour-priced beer, and nurse them until the quiz started at 9:00 pm (Happy Hour ended at 8.). By then they had their game-faces on, surveilling the competition and plotting strategy. They so terrorized the owners of that august establishment with their cheapskate ways and the ease with which they handled the quiz questions, that the owners saw it fit to pad the quiz with questions submitted by the House Team, a downright despicable bunch of expatriate Brits--a kind of leakage in reverse. But even with the unfair advantage, the Puppy Lovers would kick alien ass with astounding regularity, so much so that they so endeared themselves to the owner/chef even though he knew that they wouldnt generate that much sales. On the contrary, since the prizes sometimes consisted of various bottles of booze that the establishment normally purveys, it is quite possible that with the Puppy Lovers, he ends up paying them instead of the other way around. Perhaps, the Puppy Lovers' reputation as a quiz-force to be reckoned with attracted other people to the pub--other teams with the hope of toppling the Lovers, and if I might reluctantly add, the House Team, from their places of honor, or at least to bear witness to the battle of wits and trivia the likes of which they have never seen before. These other teams are mostly composed of expats as well: Aussies, Kiwis, other Brits. And they order a lot. So owner/chef is happy. Even after the Blarney Stone morphed into O'Reilly's under new ownership, Thursday Quiz Night continued to generate heat.

Anyway, Monday night was quiz night at Míck O'Çonnor's pub and with the British colleague knowing of the Puppy Lovers' reputation, and my role in building the legend, he invited me to come and see what the Dutch competition was like. We went through several team names before we settled on Pimpin' Aint Easy, Biatch. So our four-man team of one American, one Curacao-born-and-raised Dutchman, one Brit, and one Pinoy hunkered down, fueled by beer, and forged ahead to do battle. Round One was general knowledge. Eight questions and we shot them all down. My reputation preceded me, and with that first round, I caught up with it. Pimpin Aint Easy, Biatch was at the top of the leader boards.

And it was all downhill from there. The old teams, who had at least twice as many members as we did, knew they were in a fight. Especially the teams in the Premiere League, the ones with the highest point totals for the year. Round 2 was geography and history where we got 5 of 8; entertainment 5 of 8... the closest we got to a perfect 8 was in the other general knowledge round when we got 7. By then the Premier League teams were coughing up 8's from their asses. In short, we didnt manage even a podium finish, landing fourth behind the perennial champions.

"That wasnt bad for a first try," Dutch said.
"Yeah we did quite allright," Brit said.
"Man, you know now I totally believe you when you said you went to Amsterdam and visited the museums and never went to the red-light district," Yank said.

Self-congratulations all around. The team was pretty proud of itself! "What the hell's wrong with you?," I asked. "We LOST! We're LOSERS!!" I have to admit, the high standards the Puppy Lovers have instilled in me in the art of useless information are pretty tough to live up to.

We'll get 'em next time.