Elections 2019

The partial results are in and it’s not looking good for most of my candidates.

Be that as it may, I refuse to call my countrymen “bobo” (idiots) for electing someone into office who does not seem qualified at all. The thing is, I am judging them using my lens. In their eyes, I am sure my reasoning would be ten thousand degrees off. We have to understand their perspective and it is that where a majority of those who ran failed.

Candidates must connect to their constituents. All of them, not just those from their own social class or spheres. The candidates we might consider “inferior” or “unworthy” have connected with the voters in ways that would ensure their victory regardless of who they are and/or what they have done. Some of this may diminish over time but it is that connection that makes them winnable.

Of course, winning is not everything but if we want to effect change, then we need to get to first base by winning in the elections. To do this, one does not need guns, goons and gold but a connection to the people that matters, the connection and not necessarily the people. Those who share your ideals and run in the same social circles as you do may understand who you are and what you stand for but as important as that may be, it is also important to connect with others. These “others” should see you and connect with you. Even if they know you are not from the same social class, they will trust you to look after them. Most of them see you as an elitist with elitist aspirations. They are of the masses. Damn your elitist ideals.

If this election has taught us anything, then it is that qualifications per se are not enough. If we want to win, then you don’t need to lose your ideals. You just need to connect to the people in a meaningful way to gain their trust. It will not be easy. They will be suspicious. They may even accuse you of just using them. Work sincerely and gain their trust. It is the beginning and you have to start now. Batter up!

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The Promise

The Game of Thrones is hurtling towards its end. With just six episodes to finish a story eight seasons in the making, the writers are cutting corners leaving a very bland taste in the mouth, which quickly turns foul.

The story thunders through two wars in quick succession: The Long Night saw the living doing battle with the dead in the Battle for Winterfell; and The Bells brought the Battle of King’s Landing to its abrupt end. I have already noted my disappointment at the Long Night in my post, The Assembled.

The only thing powerfully moving in Episode 5 was the reunion, and death, of the Lannister twins. It was so them that you loved them even as you hated them. That was how good those fleeting scenes were. The rest of the Episode though was a right royal mess. The battle between the Hound and the Mountain echoed hallow even if it was one of those build-up moments. Arya, Lady Death herself, turning away from her mission to kill Cersei was an emotional bummer. She risked death in going after the Night King, and left Gendry never to return North, then this? Cersei’s mercenaries were a joke; her Scorpions useless. What a turn from just a week ago where one dragon went down from fewer Scorpions. What the heck?

Now it all boils down to two: Dany and Jon. Fire and Ice. Who will sit on the Throne? You remember the prince that was promised? Here’s what I think will happen: Greyworm informs Dany that Jon was not in on the massacre at King’s Landing. Dany — now full on Mad Queen — sentences him to death by dragon. Drogon may hesitate but the Mother of Dragons wills it and so it is. But since Jon is Aegon Targaryen, he does not burn but stands, sword in hand now aflame with dragon fire. He is revealed as the true heir to the throne! The prince that was promised. Sure, he wasn’t the one who actually killed the Night King but it was his character that brought them together to fight the dead and end the night.

The question is will he sit on the Iron Throne? If Jon will be true to himself the way the Lannister’s were, then it is most likely that he will not. Who then will actually sit is still in the air. Tyrion, having betrayed Dany again, may not be there in the end. Bran no longer sees himself a Stark. Maybe Sansa? Quite frankly, I really don’t care anymore. The whole series is just passing like a blur and any emotional investment made in any of the characters have been lost in their hurry to end it.

Fine, end it but at least give us the satisfaction of knowing that the prophecies, no matter how difficult they may be, were never a lie. Promise us that. Give us that.

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The Assembled

This week, I got to watch Avengers: Endgame and GoT’s Episode 4: The Long Night.

Endgame Mind Games

So, everyone’s theory that the surviving heroes will use the quantum realm to time travel proved true. They have their theory pretty much worked out by Professor Hulk, and Stark…until the end when Cap decided to go AWOL and pop back up old and frail. If he popped out of this timeline, how does he get back to it to pass on the mantle of Captain America to Sam Wilson a.k.a. The Falcon?

Banner explained to the Ancient One that while it is true altering a timeline creates a separate timeline, restoring the alteration at exactly the same time should also restore the previously altered timeline. So, what does Roger’s return to this timeline mean?

Best guess is, of course, he goes back and alters a past but knowing about Henry Pym and his Pym Particles, he just might have borrowed some to make a jump to this timeline, at a time he knew Professor Hulk, Bucky and Sam would be. Of course, it would mean that this timeline will be altered but I guess they will just have to live with that. Bucky didn’t seem surprised; so, I’m guessing he knew this would happen.

Remember, this isn’t the only wrinkle in time since there’s a version where Loki gets his hands back on the Tesseract after the War of New York. We might learn more about this and other possible timelines when Disney+ runs their shows on their streaming app.

So, what about the movie itself? Epic. Sure, there were problems here and there like the fat shaming thing with Thor, and why the skies went dark after the aerial bombardment by Thanos, but they did string it along just fine that it didn’t feel like it ran for three hours. That’s how good the storytelling was. Joss Whedon started great and the Russo brothers ended it by kicking it up by leaps and bounds. A perfect ending for a new beginning.

The Night Ends

Teased for seven seasons, the battle between the living and the dead finally happened and, unlike Endgame, this felt like a disappointment.

First of all, you could hardly see anything. I’m sure that went with the feel of the story but it can only go so far.

Second, the battle made no sense at all. You are up against a guy who can raise the dead. Battles result in a lot of death, and they decided to throw everyone out of walls of Winterfell? They had catapults but it was hardly used.

They had cavalry but they just threw them away. I mean it was night and they could hardly see the enemy. The Dothraki are light cavalry, they could have looked for the flanks of the dead, or the front line to feed intel to the catapults and have those bombard the lines with fire. Once softened, the Knights of the Vale can charge in. That’s how it’s usually done but, no, the Dothraki charged with flaming swords and all only to be decimated, and the Knights fought on foot.

The surprise ending was great although one had to wonder how Arya managed to sneak in when the entire courtyard was surrounded by white walkers and wights.

The rest of the episode, however, was just so disappointing. Sure, some great scenes here and there but, overall, it felt rushed. I thought it would take a couple of prolonged episodes to tell the story right but they did it in one and it came up short. Sadly, my dark horse, Theon Greyjoy, did not make it and Cersei was a no-show. I understand this is The Game of Thrones, not a Song of Ice and Fire, and there are only six episodes, so the real end comes when we see who sits on the Iron Throne but still the battle with the Night King was supposed to be a big thing. After seven seasons, I guess it wasn’t. Now, we are just supposed to shrug this off and move on the next battle.

I may be among the minority here but I really did expect more.

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Right and Wrong

It is completely idiotic for someone to target someone else just because the latter is a Muslim, regardless of what the Koran says. We Christians certainly cannot say that we follow the Bible to the letter. We pick and choose. That’s the way Muslims are too, in a way. Not all of them are blind adherents of the Koran. We cannot lump everyone into a bag labeled “Bad” just because they’re Muslims. Even our own teachings prevent that.

We admit that ours is not the only way to salvation; otherwise, we have arrogated upon ourselves something that our God freely gives to whomever He pleases. If we think otherwise; then our God would truly be a terrible god. If God discriminates between Muslims and Christians, then He wouldn’t be much of a loving god, would He? And if we are supposed to have the same God, then we shouldn’t think too highly of our selves. The parable of The Prodigal Son taught us that (Luke 15:11-32).

We live our lives by the Word made flesh. In that we are not perfect even as we struggle to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Regardless, the good Lord gave us that ability to choose between right and wrong. I think, given the opportunity, we would rightly choose what is right. That is if we truly dare to call ourselves Christians…

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Philippines, my Philippines

The Philippines is in trouble. It doesn’t take a genius to know that China’s aggressive moves in the cluster of islands known to the Philippines as Pag-asa (hope) on the South China Sea, or as the Philippines would say, West Philippine Sea, has deprived the Philippines of actual use over the territory. Despite a more China-friendly approach to foreign policy, China has run roughshod over the Philippines…who now seems to act a lot like China’s bitch. Harsh?

Some say the problem for the Philippines started when, like a bull in a china shop, it kicked out the Americans who were holed up in Subic and Clark bases. From these bases, the US would project its power and might over the surrounding waters including, of course, the South China Sea. China back in the 80s and 90s did not have the navy to or even the economic means to match the US in its neo-colonialist best.

In a bit of nationalistic fervor, the Philippine Senate rejected the US bases agreement in 1991. The agreement would have extended the US presence in Subic Navy Base for another ten years even as it surrendered Clark Air Base in 1992. But, like a bull in a china shop, there was no Plan B, and the china got its revenge. Without the US so close, and the Philippines weakened by, well being the Philippines (fine, Marcos’ failed cronyism), China grew a couple and moved forward.

Then globalization came and everyone took advantage of China’s dirt cheap labor, which made the Chinese very rich indeed. The Chinese, being the astute Chinese that they were, forced all the foreign companies coming to their shores to play by their rules, even forcing technology transfers these companies wouldn’t have considered had it somewhere else to go. Chinese labor was that cheap companies were willing to lose a little — that turned out a lot — to gain a lot. Even if companies had to ship goods from across the Pacific, it was still cheaper than doing it from the US. All that money and technology the Chinese used for their own ends. They became a superpower.

Which brings us back to those islands in the South China Sea. China, with all that money, is willing to lend some to the Philippines to build its infrastructure. Its loan terms are less attractive than say Japan’s but that doesn’t seem to kill the deal because it seems “the Philippines needs friends.” What for exactly is not certain. Maybe a balance against post-neo-colonialist US but somehow it’s not working out too well for the Philippines. The Philippines managed to win a major score at an international tribunal that declared China’s claims over the South China Sea absolute hogwash and yet the Philippines is still down. It’s neighbors, Indonesia and Vietnam, actually manage to hold China at bay. The difference lies in the power to enforce its will. Both Indonesia and Vietnam has a navy capable of defending its interests. Not so the Philippines, and the most laughable thing about its situation is that China is now offering to fund its naval buildup. The country that is taking the most from the Philippines, is going to fund its navy! How terribly effed up is that? I mean this does not even include the invasion of Chinese workers and the chaos their presence is causing in the housing sector. China is dominating the Philippines and the best the latter can do is wag its finger and say “Bad China! Bad China!” But all the while its tail is wagging.

Oh Philippines, my Philippines.

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Those itchy fingers

Today, I woke up to the news that US President Trump has withdrawn the US from the Iran nuclear deal reached during the Obama era with France, the UK, EU, China and Russia. This at a time when the US wants to talk to North Korea about denuclearization.

It seems Trump’s idea of a nuclear deal is a zero-sum deal where Iran or North Korea is expected to capitulate completely in exchange for no sanctions. That, or war…and Trump is on the record in saying he has the bigger button.

The same zero-sum approach has been used in the UN where its ambassador regularly reminds its allies and aid beneficiaries that it expects them to vote with the US on issues before the UN or Security Council. It has not always worked but they do it anyway.

For its allies, the US pulling out of its international commitments — the first being the Pacific free trade agreement followed by the climate change deal — gives them reason to doubt its ability to keep its word on anything already agreed on. The US still has influence, for sure, however, how much influence is up for debate. I wonder what the next administration will do to restore its credibility?

Then there’s North Korea. Seeing what it is seeing now, I wonder if it still wants to do a deal with the US.

With the US retreating into itself, Germany seems to be taking over the West. For the rest of world, it seems China is gaining ground. The world is indeed changing and it may not be for the better.

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Heroes in the age of populism

Marvel has just released its latest offering: Avengers: Infinity War, and it quickly earned the distinction of making the highest grossing opening for a movie ever. The one before that, Black Panther, is now the third highest grossing movie of all time. The thing about these movies though are not really the heroes but the villains.

Black Panther introduced Killmonger, King T’Challa’s cousin, who ruled Wakanda for a brief moment on the promise of making Wakanda/Africa great again. Sounds familiar?

The Avengers are facing Thanos, a galaxy traveling being bent on collecting the Infinity Stones for the purpose of killing half of all living things in existence for the sake of the other half. It is his belief that with the universe’s limited resources, he cannot allow life to continue running as is and deplete it or cause the ruin of entire planets. He has seen the effect on his home planet, Titan, and vowed never to let it happen again even if it meant killing half of those living. Again, sounds familiar?

What sets these villains apart from say the Red Skull and Hydra in Captain America: The First Avenger, or Aldrich Killian and Advanced Idea Mechanics in Iron Man 3 is that Killmonger and Thanos are more complex characters. You simply cannot label them as “evil” and leave it at that.

Killmonger believes that the resources of Wakanda should be used to better the black man’s plight and is willing to go to war for it. Anyone from Asia or Africa can identify with his cause. Indeed, we wonder what the world would have been like had Africa not been enslaved or Asia colonized.

Thanos, for all the blood he spilled across the universe, is actually torn by the sacrifice he has to pay to get the Soul Stone. A soul for the Soul Stone. Many lives are lost but one in particular is too costly even for the Mad Titan. His heart breaks but pays the price anyway.

The world today is filled with politicians with promises of a new tomorrow but none are more worrisome than the populists whose solution to anything and everything is war, death, destruction or exclusion, hyper-nationalism, isolationism, and protectionism. To some, these populists with their views are god-send. People who have suffered or felt excluded find their messages comforting. But what of the blood that is spilt in their path to this new tomorrow? Many turn a blind eye. Many stay silent. All for the hope that their lot in life will actually improve.

To some Killmonger and Thanos are the real heroes but that age-old adage that “the ends do not justify the means” loudly rings against such illusions. This truth should always guide us if we want a truly better world. The Good Book phrases it differently: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Killmonger lost his life pursuing a mad dream. The story of Thanos has not been finished. He achieved his goal of collecting the Infinity Stones and killing presumably half of all living things according to his plan. We have to see what it shall bring. We know that the Avengers will come avenging. What we don’t know is whether or not Thanos thinks it was all worth it.

One cannot escape comparing Thanos with the Christian God with the sacrifice of a child and what amounts to a judgment of those living but the good Lord does not kill half for the other half. The thing is, with all the Infinity Stones, his solution to kill lacks imagination. With the ability to bend reality or even time itself, there has to be a better way. There may be another motive behind his actions (if you want to know more, then read the comics/graphic novel version) but whatever else it may be, it can never reflect the love of the Father. Had we been stuck with the God in the Old Testament, then they might get away with it but the God of Love and Mercy is different.

Heroes are not only measured by their motives but the means they choose to achieve those ends. Life — all life — is precious. Saving our world cannot be at the expense of others. There is another way. Always. To close your mind to that makes you the villain.

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