Tuesday, October 09, 2012

I maliciously malign your sorry ass, you ugly frassum-wassum!

Libel, or more accurately, cyberlibel, has been in the news for the past several days now due to the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10175). To date several petitions questioning the law's constitutionality are before the Supreme Court and the court has issued a temporary restraining order on the implementation of the law as they study these petitions. From what I gather, the main point against it is not its unconstitutionality but its vagueness, that is, it could be lacking in the requirements as to form (if there is such a requirement). In other words, it is poorly written.

Now there are other issues with the law, but it's the libel provision that has netizens' panties in a bunch. It seems that in their interpretation, merely liking a Facebook status message could land one in jail. The Aquino administration has assured the citizenry that the implementing rules and regulations of the law will see to it that this does not happen. Okay. Aquino however voiced his opinion that the provisions against libel over the internet is needed. Not so okay.

Senator Sotto (him again) has been accused of inserting the libel provision into the law. He has denied this accusation, but whoever was responsible hardly matters anymore. It's there, it has been signed into law by the President, and insufficiency in form notwithstanding, I am betting the Supreme Court will find it constitutional. It is very easy to defend the logic of Tito Sotto (and President Aquino) on the need for law on libel to cover the internet:

1) We have press freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. We have freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
2) We are all equal before the law, that is,  no special privileges for any sector of society under the law.
3) Any citizen who publishes information for dissemination, whether a journalist or not, is de facto a member of the press, and therefore has press freedom. 
4) Members of the press are subject to libel laws.
5) Anybody who publishes information for wider dissemination, even on the internet, is subject to libel laws.

Netizens' claim to exemption from a law that covers other citizens is claiming some sort of special privilege not available to other citizens. Why should, for example, Mang Juan the magtataho, who doesn't have internet access because he can't afford it, be sued for defamation (maybe he wrote on a wall or something, I dont know), and John Sossy can't be liable because he wrote his defamation on a Twitter app on his iPhone 5?

Netizens lament the chilling effect of the new law, but as blogger and now government official Manual L. Quezon III has said, this is the sort of thing a member of the press has to live with -- the libel law over his neck everytime he writes something for public consumption. Why should Blogger, Facebooker, or Twitterer be exempted from the discipline the libel law imposes on somebody who wants their views out there for everyone to read?

Now lest anyone think I am a flunkie for the ruling class in whose interests the libel laws of this country were crafted, let me assure you that I am not. I affirm the citizen's right to free speech and reject the ruling class's notion that it is 'not absolute'. That's like saying the right to life is not absolute. I recognize that with free speech comes the license to offend, to insult, and even to blaspheme, in short, to be a jerk. No, I am not defending the rightness of law on cyberlibel, merely the logic of the crafters and defenders of the law, which to reiterate is this: Libel is a crime for everybody else. What makes you so special?

On the contrary. My thesis is that the libel laws of this country are absurd and inimical to the best interests of its citizens. It is a tool of the powerful to harass. It is used to silence critics. It is time that libel is decriminalized. And to be fair to our lawmakers, a couple petitions to do just that are pending in Congress. These seek to get rid of the jail time associated with a libel conviction. Laudable, but futile. The loss of jail time may dull some of the sharpness of the axe over everyone's neck. in that there will be no more incarceration, but its power to harass when wielded by the powerful is still there; a blunt axe can still hurt your noggin. When used in this way, a hapless journalist or blogger, aside from being bogged down by court appearances and legal fees, also can face punitive damages if convicted.

Decriminalizing libel is not enough. That just takes care of the jail time. A decriminalized libel will not prevent, say, the secretary of DSWD from suing a blogger for her reporting. The law on libel must be changed fundamentally. What does libeling entail anyway? It operates under the assumption that we have reputations to protect. That's silly. We don't have reputations, that is, we don't own reputation. Our so-called reputation is contained in someone else's head. It is what other people think about us, their thoughts. I'm sure you agree that we don't own other people's thoughts. Libel law therefore is control of other people's thoughts. Seen in this light, we can change how we see libel.

Malice is a given when determining libel, however, there should be no libel when the alleged libel is true. Truth must be a defense. Even if done in malice, if an allegedly libelous article is demonstrably true, there could be no libel. A person running for public office for instance cannot sue a writer for libel even if the said writer was explicit in saying that his purpose for writing the article is to destroy the candidate's credibility -- destroying his reputation -- before the voting public if what he is writing is demonstrably true.

The complainant must show actual losses. For instance, the libel caused the complainant to lose revenue or a contract directly because of the libel. That is, if an untrue article done in malice results in actual losses, the complainant can file a case. Of course this could result in cases wherein complainant will claim medical costs due to stress, etc., but I suppose we can live with that. If an untrue article merely results in hurt feelings or 'emotional distress', there can be no libel. The best weapon to fight untruth is truth; the best weapon to fight misinformation is information. And in this information age, getting truth and information out there is no longer difficult.

In summary, for it to be libel, it must be 1) malicious and untrue, and 2) show actual losses. Any complaint that doesn't show these two criteria, the court gets to throw out.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Ang Mga Liham ni Screwtape ni C.S. Lewis, Liham Blg. IV

Notes: First of all, my apologies for neglecting this project. But thanks to Senator Sotto's translation work on one of Robert F. Kennedy's speeches, I was inspired to revive it. I will provide links to the previous chapters later but for now, feel free to use the label Screwtape at the bottom of the post. As always, this attempt at translation will be tinkered with.

Letter No. IV in its original language is here.

Mahal kong Wormwood,
Yung mga mungkahi mong puno ng iyong pagkabagito ay nagsilbing hudyat na panahon na upang lumiham sa iyo tungkol sa napakasakit na paksa ng pananalangin. Hindi mo na sana binanggit na ang payo ko sa iyo tungkol sa mga panalangin niya para sa kanyang ina ay “napatunayang walang kinahinatnan”. Ang mga bagay na iyan ay hindi dapat nililiham ng isang pamangkin sa kanyang tiyuhin – maging ng isang mas manunuksong may mababang ranggo sa pangalawang kalihim ng kagawaran. Pinakikita rin nito ang hindi kaaya-ayang pagnanais na ibaling sa iba ang reponsibilidad; dapat kang matutong pagbayaran ang iyong mga pagkakamali. 
Ang pinakamainam mong magagawa, hangga’t maaari, ay pigilan ang iyong pasyente sa kanyang taimtim na pagnanais na manalangin. Kung ang pasyente ay nasa wastong idad at kakapanumbalik pa lamang sa partido ng Kalaban, tulad ng tao mo, ang pinakamabisang paraan ay hikayatin siyang alalahanin, o ipagpalagay na alalahanin, yaong mga mala-lorong pamamamaraan ng pananalangin noong siya’s paslit pa lamang. At bilang pangontra sa mga ganitong uri ng pananalangin, maaari mo siyang mahikayat na tumbukin ang paraang hindi planado, tumitingin sa kaloob-looban ng kanyang sarili, hindi pormal, at walang sinusunod na patakaran; at ang kahulugan nito sa isang baguhan ay ang pagpupunyagi na mabuo sa sarili ang isang tila baga mapagpanalanging lagay ng loob kung saan ang buo ng kanyang kalooban at talino ay walang kinalaman. Isa sa kanilang mga makata, si Coleridge, ay naisulat na hindi siya nananalangin “na kumakawag na mga labi at nakamanikluhod ang mga tuhod”  bagkus mayroong “paglinang ng kaluluwa sa pagmamahal” at palayawin sa sarili ang “pakiramdam ng pagsusumamo”. Iyon mismo ang panalangin na nais natin; at dahil sa panlabas na anyo ay tila may pagkakahawig ito sa tahimik at taimtim na panalangin na siyang gawi ng yaong mga malalim na ang pagkadalubhasa sa paglilingkod sa Kalaban, yaong mga pasyenteng mautak at tatamad-tamad ay maaaring malinlang nito sa matagal na panahon. Ang pinakamababang mahihita natin dito, maari natin silang mahimok na walang kinalaman ang asta ng katawan sa kanilang mga panalangin; pagka’t madalas nilang nakalilimutan, na siya mo naming dapat laging naaalala, na sila’y mga hayop at kung ano man ang asta ng kanilang katawan ay nakaaapekto sa kanilang kaluluwa. Nakatatawa na pinapalagay ng mga mortal na ang ginagawa natin ay ang maglagay ng kung anu-ano sa kanilang isipan: sa katotohanan, ang pinakamahusay nating ginagawa ay ang pagpigil ng kung anu-anong pumasok. 
Kung ito man ay mabigo, kailangan mong bumalik sa mas pinong paraan ng panliligaw ng kanyang hangad. Kung sila man ay umaasikaso sa Kalaban mismo talo na tayo, nguni’t mayroon pang paraan upang mapigil sila. Ang pinakasimple ay sa pamamagitan ng pagbaling ng kanilang tingin palayo sa Kanya at tungo sa kanilang mga sarili. Panatiliin mo silang nakapako ang kanilang mga mata sa kanilang sariling isipan at bumuo ng damadamin dito sa pamamagitan ng kanilang mga kalooban. Kung ang layon nila ay humingi sa Kanya ng pagkakawanggawa, hayaan mo silang bumuo ng damdaming makapagkawanggawa para sa kanilang sarili at huwag mapansin na ito ang kanilang ginagawa. Kung ang layon nila ay manalangin para sa katatagan ng loob, hayaan mo silang bumuo ng damdaming matapang. Kapag ang sinasabi nila’y nananalangin sila para sa kapatawaran, hayaan mo silang buuin sa kanilang sarili ang damdaming sila’y napatawad. Turuan mo silang ihanay ang halaga ng bawat panalangin sa tagumpay nilang bumuo ng katumbas na damdamin; at huwag na huwag mo silang hahayaang paghinalaan na ang tagumpay o pagkabigo nila patungkol dito ay depende sa kung sila ay malusog o maysakit, nakapagpahinga o pagod, sa mga sandaling iyon. 
At asahan mo na ang Kalaban ay abala rin habang nangyayari ang mga ito. Kapag mayroong panalangin, may panganib ng Kanyang agarang pagkilos. Siya ay buong mapagmataas sa pagkawalang-pakialam sa karangalan ng Kanyang kinalalagyan, at ng kinalalagyan natin, bilang purong espirito, at sa mga mortal na hayop binubuhos Niya ang kamalayan sa paraang kahiya-hiya. Subali’t kahit na matalo Niya ang iyong unang tangkang panliligaw, may mas tuso tayong sandata. Ang mga tao ay hindi nagsisimula sa tuwirang pagkakakilala sa Kanya, na siya namang, sa kamalasan natin, hindi natin maiiwasan. Wala silang kamalay-malay tungkol sa kalagim-lagim na liwanag, yaong nakasisilaw na liwanag na tila mga punyal na tumatagos sa atin at siyang bumabalot sa ating buhay ng walang humpay na hapdi. Kung pagmamasdan mo ang isipan ng iyong pasyente habang siya’y nananalangin, hindi mo iyon matatagpuan. Kung iyong susuriin ang pinagtutuunan niya ng pansin, makikita mo na ito’s isang bagay na puno ng di-iilang katawa-tawang mga sangkap. Mayroong mga larawang hango sa mga larawan ng Kalaban noong Siya’y nagpakita noong kahiya-hiyang kabanatang kilala bilang Pagkakatawangtao: mayroong mas di malinaw – marahil tunay na mabangis at di pinag-isipan – na larawan nauugnay sa dalawa pang Persona. At maaaring mayroon ding larawan ng kanyang sariling pagpipitagan (at kaakibat nitong mga damdamin ng kanyang katawan) kinatawan at ipinangalan sa bagay na pinagpipitagan. Mayoon akong alam na ilang kaso kung saan ang tinatawag ng pasyente na kanyang ‘Diyos’ ay matatagpuan – sa taas at sa kaliwang kanto ng kanyang silid, o sa loob ng kanyang kukote, o sa isang krus sa pader. Nguni’t kung ano man ang katangian ng pinaghalo-halong bagay na yaon, kailangan mong panatiliing doon siya nananalangin – doon sa bagay na kanyang ginawa, at hindi sa Pagkatao na siyang gumawa sa kanya. Maari mo ring himukin siyang kabitan ng malaking pagpapahalaga sa pagtama at pagpapabuti ng kanyang pinaghalo-halong bagay, at panatiliin ito sa kanyang imahinasyon habang siya’y nananalangin. Pagka’t kung sakali mang pumasok sa isip niya ang pagkakaiba, kung sakali mang sadyain miyang manalangin “Hindi ayon sa aking pagkakakilala sa Iyo bagkus ayon sa Iyong pagkakakilala sa Iyong sarili”, ang ating kinatatayuan, sa sandaling ito, ay gipit. Sa sandaling lahat ng kanyang pag-iisip at anyo ay isinantabi, o kung sakali mang pinanatili, pinanatili na may buong kamalayan na ang katangian ng mga ito’y pansarili niya lamang, at pinauubaya niya ang kanyang sarili sa ganap na tunay, labas-sa-sarili, at hindi nakikitang Presensiya, doon kasama niya sa kanyang silid, at kailanman ay di niya lubos na makikilala tulad na pagkakakilala nito sa kanya – isang kaganapang di natin matatantiya ay maari ngang magyari. Sa pag-iwas sa kaganapang ito – itong tunay na pagkahubad ng kaluluwa sa pananalangin – makatutulong sa iyo na ang mga tao mismo ay hindi ito ninanasa ng mas higit pa sa inaakala nila. Yaon bang tila mas malaking problema pa ang idinulot ng bagay na inaasam nila.
Lubos na nagmamahal,
Ang iyong Tito Screwtape

Monday, September 03, 2012

Plagiarism is not theft

By now you've probably heard that Senator Tito Sotto has been exposed as a plagiarist because a speech he gave contained sentences lifted wholesale, copy-pasted, from an American blogger's blog post, one Sarah Pope. Asked for comment, Ms. Pope accused the senator of being a 'lying thief'.On the lying bit, Tito Sen's pronouncements in the aftermath certainly demonstrated evasiveness, outright condescension ('Blogger lang yan.'), and dishonesty when he initially claimed he didnt plagiarize. But what exactly did he steal?

First, let's try to define what plagiarism is. Dictionary.com defines it thus:

pla·gia·rism   [pley-juh-riz-uhm, -jee-uh-riz-]
an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author's work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author: It is said that he plagiarized Thoreau's plagiarism of a line written by Montaigne. Synonyms: appropriation, infringement, piracy, counterfeiting; theft, borrowing, cribbing, passing off.
a piece of writing or other work reflecting such unauthorized use or imitation: “These two manuscripts are clearly plagiarisms,” the editor said, tossing them angrily on the floor.

Ok, lots of gray areas there because the dictionary definition omitted the element of malice, but anyway... include malicious intent (to defraud, to mislead) into that definition and we're all set. What is clear at this point is that Sotto's staff-member did a copy-paste of paragraphs from Ms. Pope's blog post. If, as Senator Sotto claims, he made 'an umbrella attribution', that is, if he did not intend to pass off the ideas or words as his own, in my opinion he's off the hook as far as the 'representation of that author's work as one's own' bit is concerned, if just barely. Let's give the senator the benefit of the doubt. But even if he didnt make that umbrella attribution, even if he passed off the words and ideas as his own, in other words, even if he is guilty as hell of plagiarism, what exactly did he steal?

Let me illustrate. Suppose I wrote a blog post, maybe this very one, and someone else sees it on the web, copies it, tacks his name on it as author, and posts it on his own blog site. We can conclude two things: 1) He is a dick, and 2) I didnt lose anything. We can call him a liar -- and lying is not a crime unless youre committing perjury -- but we can't call him a thief because I didnt lose anything.

Suppose further that said dick copies my blog post, tacks his name onto it as author, sells it to a magazine, and gets paid 1000 pesos for it. In this case, we can conclude that he is both a liar and a thief. But still the fact remains that I did not lose anything. The magazine publisher did. The plagiarist defrauded the publisher and stole 1000 pesos from him, but not from me. In other words, he plagiarized me, but he stole from the publisher. I have no claim to that 1000 pesos, the publisher does.

Now this whole plagiarism affair in the Senate, where it seems not only Senator Sotto is guilty, has got that august body thinking of ways to protect bloggers from plagiarism through some sort of law. In other words, theyre mulling ways for making plagiarism a crime. When Senator Sotto in a privilege speech said that plagiarism is not a crime in this country, our lawmakers, true to their busybody nature, took that to mean it should be. To protect bloggers, they said.

For all its good intentions, a proposed plagiarism bill is not only unnecessary, but it could be inimical to the free flow of ideas. It is the nature of ideas to have sex, to combine with other ideas and spawn new ideas. Ideas, in other words, are sluts. It is possible to overprotect the so-called 'intellectual property' of some person or corporation such that it is prevented from boinking with other ideas. There is nothing new under the sun. Every so-called new idea came from something else. The Lord of the Rings borrowed heavily from Der Ring des Nibelungen. Darna was 'plagiarized' from Wonder Woman. In an episode of The Simpsons, Itchy and Scratchy studio head Roger Myers had this to say:

“If it weren’t for someone plagiarizing the Honeymooners, we wouldn’t have the Flintstones. If someone hadn’t ripped off Sgt. Bilko, there’d be no Top Cat. Huckleberry Hound, Chief Wiggum, Yogi Bear? Hah! Andy Griffith, Edward G. Robinson, Art Carney! Your honor, you take away our right to steal ideas, where are they gonna come from?”
There is of course a difference between taking ideas from someone else and doing something creative with them, and maliciously taking ideas with intent to defraud. I suppose it is the latter that the ladies and gentlemen of the Senate want to protect bloggers from, but there is no need for that. We already have laws against fraud. A law criminalizing plagiarism will only result in confusion and claims of plagiarism that could lead to unjustly impugned reputations and court backlogs. The issue of plagiarism is something for ethics committees and not courts of law, something for society and not the State. The blogging community has dealt with plagiarism with the age-old method of shaming scoundrels in public, be they unknown Joe Schmoes or 'literary giants'. Even if I suspect more than a few bloggers would welcome a plagiarism law, I say they would be better off without it. The plagiarist after all is harming himself more than anyone else.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Beasty Accompany

(Or 'It's been a year since I had something to say and I still don't')
(Or 'Is this plagiarism?')

iPad Fat Toward Mow 
iPad fat toward mow aching cafe-ing a Hassan 
Bunny beanie co-signer main tinder Hun 
Harlem conga youngling Zion nag cat tugboat
Moneyed fire ants a yore aye awning lore mayo 
iPad fat toward mow, hark a myna goo glue Hun 

Jicamas easy narra coy pegged act Hun 
Genie doff hatter corps pad tea walla Hun 
Harlem conga youngling Zion nag cat tugboat
Moneyed fire ants a yore aye awning lore mayo 
iPad fat toward mow, myna hark guitar agog. 

Ahh, myna hark guitar agog 
Aah, myna hark guitar agog 
iPad fat toward mow, ohh 

Myna hark guitar, ahh
Agog agog, ahh

Sun anemone pad fat toward mow 
Hang molar bees knack abolition core
Moneyed angle hat nanny toyed ought to owe 

iPad fat toward mow 
Ahh, myna hark guitar agog
iPad fat toward mow
Ahh, myna hark guitar agog

A Wee Thing More
Oolong give up hangs a sheriff
Surf add teething in a nothing
Shunner eye dinner mag workers
A thong a whitening Porky Pig

A whit nothing eye wagging wag monk alley mutant
Panarcho-core no manner laggy gang punky kingdom
Mug parquet land man

Angle sang Porky Pig
Hyperion lung Sagan
Napalmed allower Hun
Kayak sour thing a whit
Tie away mug be Gaean

Oh-oh-oh, ahhh a wee thing more
Up I saw Sawyer go
Oh-oh-oh, ahhh a wee thing more
Up I saw Sawyer go
Ahh, ahh, ahh... Ohhh

Bonus: Bucket Bag Onion (also recorded by Beasty after being recorded by Dinner Boner Bee)

Bucket bag onion
Honey beg coil orgy camp vagueness stand
An umlaut tamaraw airing defrags a sour ant
Anion gutter neon
Dumb damning curly bungee bar
Bastard coffee link cursing tar

Erehwon core, bucket bag onion
Dumb damning coiled a Mayan tinder Hun
Kale an anon Porky Pig maw
The hills are a coin dug mama halls o'yore
Bug Mulan hunky time a killer law

Bucket bag onion
Convention I know who hotels Aqaba
Corps Peggy caker usurp gnaw
Moneyed lumber lurkers Anglo of Coney cay knocker tower

Erehwon core, bucket bag onion
Dumb damning coiled a Mayan tinder Hun
Kale an anon Porky Pig maw
The hills are a coin dug mama halls o'yore
Bug Mulan hunky time a killer law