The Case for Mr. Gervais

Ricky Gervais is at it again. His latest Netflix special, Supernature, is being blasted by critics for perceived attacks against the LGBTQ+ community.

The attacks I think are expected. The problem with the community is that it operates on a zero-sum basis: anything and everything they don’t like is deemed an assault against the community and its members. I’m sure they will not like what I am about to say but in that regard, they are like the Islamic Fundamentalists who cannot tolerate any criticism of the group, or their prophet. However, if they listen, I mean really listen, then there is more to Mr. Gervais’ jokes than a simple, lazy joke against the community. Mr. Gervais has no problems with members of the community believing what they want but he takes issue when the rest of humanity is forced to accept their reality. He’s satirizing attitudes. He said so in the show and yet they all missed it. That, or they weren’t really interested in listening to begin with.

I mean if you want to believe that the world is flat, then go for it. It’s a free world but if you start forcing us to accept your flat Earth belief, then that is something we cannot do regardless of how your feelings may be affected by such rejection, especially since there is evidence to the contrary.

In his earlier show, Humanity, Mr. Gervais actually puts this in context: he saw a man named Bruce Jenner compete in the Olympics. I too watched him on TV competing in the 1976 Montreal Olympics and win gold in the Decathlon. I remember it because I was amazed that a single athlete was competing in ten track and field events! I think it was the first time that I have heard of such an event. I thought the athletes must be supermen to compete in so many events in a single Olympics; and then he decides to transition and be called Caitlyn. Well, good for him. What do we care, right? But what happens to our experience where we watched this man compete and win in the Olympics?

Mr. Gervais then takes it further: what if he starts identifying as a chimpanzee? Will it work? His point is that, at some point, his true nature comes out, or becomes an issue. In the case of Bruce/Caitlyn, Mr. Gervais identifies it as his/her cock.

There’s another comedian who made the same case in another Netflix show, and he, being African American, said what if he identifies as white? Would that he wondered help if he was stopped by the police? I don’t think he received as much grief though, not as much as Dave Chapelle and Mr. Gervais.

Mind you, Mr. Gervais moved on to “questioning” the supernatural joking about how praying for someone with cancer is nice but don’t cancel the chemotherapy. He’s an atheist; and as a Catholic, I wasn’t really offended. He said it: we can believe what we want; he doesn’t care. He just doesn’t subscribe to the same beliefs, and if you push it too far, then that’s ridiculous and he’ll take you to task. Fair game.

So, for me, some may find Mr. Gervais’ comedy offensive but if you make the effort, then you may realize it actually wasn’t and you might enjoy a laugh. And that’s all there is to it.

The old adage goes: you can’t control events but you can control how you react to it. You are capable of responding to it but I hope you think about it too.

Case closed.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I have never believed that any human being was just good or bad. He has and always will be, to me, both. At times, he can be good. Others, bad. He drifts from one to the other based on how he reacts to certain situations. Take Will Smith, for example. Everyone saw him as a “good guy” but then he goes up on stage during the Oscars and slaps Chris Rock. Now, people think the worst of him, and that “good guy” persona was just fiction for the masses. Hollywood glimmer.

Is he good or bad then? I say both. We don’t have to psycho-analyze him to get to that conclusion. Everyone is both good and evil. Even the worst of us can do good. I am sure that for all the horrors that someone like Hitler, Stalin and even Marcos have done, there are those that can, and will say that he was helped by that man, or that the man had been good to him. We are both at the same time. Always.

This is why we struggle through life making decisions every day. We generally just don’t give up and say “well, I’m bad anyway, so I might as well go crazy!” At the same time, imagine yourself eternally trying to be good all the time. It’s exhausting, and the consequences of getting caught doing bad is terrible. Take Ellen DeGeneris for example. She had that “good image” going until the horror stories about how she treated guests and, worse, staff got out. People came out with varying stories: she was good to me; she treated me terribly. Same person. She even made a joke about it how she couldn’t even have a car horn because if someone rudely cuts her in traffic and blasts her horn; people will look and say “Ellen?”

In the end, of course, we know we have to do good and avoid evil. That’s the Catholic thing to do, and I am Catholic: born and raised. But the struggle is real. This is the reason why we invoke the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and lead us because doing good constantly every single day and night is exhausting and we cannot do it without help. Sure, even with constant prayer, we slip and fall but we also get up and carry on. Seeking forgiveness, confessing our shortcomings, and doing penance to keep doing good. That’s it really: don’t be good, do good. Every single day.

My Easter reflection this year.

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It’s a Con

I tried watching Inventing Anna on Netflix but I didn’t get farther than a few minutes of the first episode. I think it already said all that we need to know about Anna. Given that, I don’t suppose this will really be a spoiler for anyone who haven’t seen it and is still thinking of seeing it.

Her story is, I suppose, well known. Girl invents Anna and defrauds people in the process. She is a conman (conperson), like Bernie Madoff. She has a scheme and tries to let it fly. Bernie was more successful there because he actually made it run until the global financial crisis in the late 2000s. Anna was no different. Just less successful.

The series appears to imply that there is more to her. Really? I don’t think so. She is a criminal that got caught. Plain and simple. Could it have been anyone else? Of course but it wasn’t. Like Bernie, she had a plan and tried to make a go of it. Are we suppose to think that she actually thought this was a good idea and feel sorry for her and tell her “the end does not justify the means?” Don’t get me wrong, as a human being, Anna and Bernie should be seen as having that thing we call human dignity. Everyone has it, even the worst of us. Will that change how we judge what they did? Personally, I think not.

I suppose we should also ask how she got away with it and the short answer is because they (the early victims) let her. Her patron whom she milked for around US$400,000, if I remember correctly, did nothing because she says (according to the episode) she was ashamed of having been scammed but she also admitted that she was able to recover her money. With that, she goes silent. Well, there is the alleged gift-threat but she is who she is: someone with connections. Connections that Anna later used. Did the patron warn these connections about Anna? No.

She was also smart. Not Bernie-level smart but capable enough to scam others to a point. She managed to get a financier to listen by accusing him of prejudging her because of her credentials, or lack thereof. How he suddenly disregarded all his concerns, which were in fact valid, just because he was “shamed” was just, sad to say, white privilege in action. She made it look like she had the name and connections and what-not, and all caution just suddenly — whoosh! — out the window. Does that make sense to you? I guess I just don’t know how business is done in the US. She got away with it because they let her. At least Bernie got away with it for as long as he did because people were making money from his scheme…until they didn’t. Anna was all take.

Should I see the other episodes? What for? To see how she tricked other people? Again, what for? Trying to give her a backstory just doesn’t help. It’s all a scam. In fact, the journalist’s manner of getting her story, at least, from the little I saw, was in itself like a scam. Putting pressure on the people she wanted to interview. Going for pain points to get them to talk. Just like a conman.

So, the series may just be a scam to get us to watch it, and in the end, shout “damn, I’ve been scammed!” Maybe I just saved myself from falling for it.

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Pax Americana Redux

That American global leadership has faded is clear. When Donald Trump took over, the United States began to view its allies as mere freeloaders and began to withdraw from various fields, even in the United Nations. It wanted to “charge” Japan and South Korea higher rates for keeping its troops in their countries. The US presence was no longer there to keep the Pax Americana, it was now a business deal.

I have always said that whoever was to take the Presidency of the US after Trump will have a hard time. Indeed, it became much worse because of the Covid-19 pandemic but just on leadership alone, trying to bring back the US into some leadership position has proven difficult to say the least. Joe Biden is proving to be a bit of a Trump that caused one of the biggest failures in international cooperation: Afghanistan. The speed in which the country collapsed could not just be blamed on Biden. I believe it started the day the US under Bush Junior stepped into Afghanistan chasing Osama Bin Laden, and with no other objective but to serve “justice.” Having failed to do so within a year, the US had to justify its continued presence in country and changed its mission objectives but since they weren’t into it, they never got the whole nation building thing going. A clear recipe for disaster. Something they never got to fix until Trump then Biden led the troops, and everyone else including dogs and cats, out. There was no stopping the collapse of the Afghan government.

When the US retreated into itself, the EU, in a way, stepped up. With Angela Merkel of Germany as informal leader, it weathered the worst but Brexit happened and Merkel is now retired. The original triad of the United Kingdom, Germany and France is lost, and without Merkel, France appears feeling a bit more independent.

Now, China is getting aggressive in the South China Sea, and Russia in Ukraine. Will Biden be up to the challenge? Is the US up to it? China has certainly taken huge technological steps (thanks to some stolen secrets from the slumbering US) upgrading its weapons including a hypersonic missile. It knows what it needs and it is building its capabilities. The leadership may not be up there yet if the scrimmage with India is anything to go by but give it a few years and things will definitely change. Xi Jinping is all about power and may be painting himself into a corner with it with nationalist youth who cannot bear the idea of China losing more face not after their Hundred Years of Humiliation. There will be no stepping back for him.

Vladimir Putin of Russia too is all about power. He has no plans of relinquishing it and is making himself a modern Tsar. He already annexed the Crimea, and aligning himself with autocrats the world over. Two centuries back, one might think they were the old monarchs lording it over their serfs. The idea is outdated but the idea is addictive. It may be too addictive that some would not mind spilling blood to preserve it.

Which brings us back to the old US of A. Pax Americana was never perfect. Nothing ever is. Certainly the US used it to its advantage most of the time at the expense of another state but it was what we had, and for a time, it worked. Weakened and isolated by Trump, the road back for Biden has not been easy. In fact, Biden may not be the man to do it. For all his talk, we have not seen the resolve necessary to meet the current situation. Is the pandemic too much of a distraction? Is his age a factor? Whatever it is, Pax Americana, peace under the protection of the US, is no longer viable. We all need to find our own way in this world. Being friends with the US alone is no longer an assurance. The world must now rely on collective action rather than the overwatch of some other nation.

Today, I am in Rome, Italy, and seeing its monuments, reading about its history, and experiencing its culture, I am reminded that it was once the most powerful empire in the world but even Rome fell. In fact, none of the former empires from Akkadia to the British have survived but we have, and we shall all carry on. The challenge has always been how to do it together.

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On Awards

Recently, things got interesting. Maria Ressa, CEO of Rappler, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with a Russian, Dmitry Muratov, for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression. The award was a first for a Filipino and, normally, would be a big thing, and yet F. Sionil Jose, a writer who has been nominated for consideration of the Nobel committee but always passed over, believes she doesn’t deserve the award because he doesn’t believe that the press in the Philippines is not free, or is being censored, and it does not appear to be a personal attack against Ms. Ressa (unlike some of the attacks now made against him after the publication of his views).

To be honest, I don’t recall reading any of the works of Mr. Jose or Ms. Ressa, and, for some reason, I can’t stand listening to Ms. Ressa. Sorry, I never get to finish any news item on TV or cable with her speaking in it. I can read news articles about her but that’s about it. Let me just put that out there.

So, is this just sourgraping by Mr. Jose? Maybe. Maybe not. At least Mr. Jose was aware people might say he is, and explained that, to his mind, freedom of expression, and of the press, is not under attack in the Philippines unlike in the martial law years of Ferdinand Marcos. However, it may be recalled that Rappler has, time and again, been blacklisted by the Philippine government, and Ms. Ressa and Rappler charged and convicted of cyber libel. That conviction is now on appeal.

TV and radio broadcaster ABS-CBN was forced to close when its franchise was not renewed by Congress then peopled by friends and allies of the administration, and the National Telecommunications Commission refused to issue a provisional franchise despite having done so in other cases. It now lives and survives in cable and the Internet. So what? Well, it appears that the assault against Rappler and ABS-CBN began right after the publication of news items critical of the President and his administration. Some say the Philippines is under martial law lite: less brutish maybe but same effect.

It appears that it is in that context that the Nobel committee awarded Ms. Ressa the Peace Prize. In their estimation, Ms. Ressa has checked all the boxes to make one worthy of the Prize. Anyone can dispute this, of course. I myself disagreed with their decision to award one to Barack Obama when he had just began his presidency of the US in 2009 but, in the end, it is for them to give out regardless of how we may feel about it. Mr. Jose can argue against awarding the prize to Ms. Ressa until he turns blue but he cannot substitute his own wisdom for theirs. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t work that way.

I mean, if it were so, then the Philippines would have won all the titles of Ms. Universe from all the protestations Filipinos raise whenever it loses. No, my friends, it just doesn’t work that way…

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Trumped

When the US was under Trump, Donald J., I always said that whoever was going to be the President after him would have his, or her work cut out for him/her. The Trump era was so self-centered (in more ways than one) that the reputation of the nation as a credible world leader fell to its lowest. His attitude towards his allies was strained at best, and he was all googly-eyed for authoritarians Putin, Xi and Kim, traditionally seen as the “enemy” with whom he always boasted that he had a great relationship. Well, except maybe Xi what with the trade war and all…

Then Joe Biden comes along, beats Trump (regardless of whatever else Trump and his ilk may say), and takes over. Biden proudly declares that the US is back. People seem to be looking around and saying, “explain.” People thought this would mean that the US would be less of an ass, and more a good neighbor. So far, it’s not happening. Case in point: Afghanistan.

To be fair, Biden did not lose Afghanistan. The US never had it to begin with. Bush Jr. sent troops there to find and kill Osama bin Laden, head of the terror group Al Qaeda who was then residing in Afghanistan. He warned the Taliban who were then lording it over the land not to interfere, or else. Well, the Taliban just kicked the Russians, or the then USSR out of Afghanistan, and was not in the mood for another invasion.

Worse, the US couldn’t take out Osama early in the campaign; so, they had to change tack and think of a new justification for their stay. Be that as it may, they did not seem to be motivated by any love for the Afghan people; so, whatever they did was always half-hearted. How can it be any different when the US just generally saw them as the enemy. It was Vietnam all over again. They seem to have that “shoot them all, let God sort them out” mindset.

Then came Obama whose main weakness seems to be foreign affairs. Maybe he couldn’t be blamed for this since he was trying to get the US out of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the global financial crisis that we were all in at the time. Note that it was also during his term when the Philippines confronted China in the South China Sea that the US tried to resolve by getting into an agreement with China for a mutual de-escalation, and when the Philippines pulled out, China did not, and fortified itself.

Back in Afghanistan, nothing really happened, and Biden, who was then Vice President, was advocating for an end to the campaign and pull the troops out. Instead, the Surge happened. This was intended to protect the Afghans from militants, and already far from the original program.

Then Trump came along and one of the most bizarre things happened: a US Administration negotiated with the Taliban for the US pullout. What made it more unbelievable was the fact that the then Afghan government was completely left out of the negotiations. Negotiations that had terms like the release of prisoners held by the Afghan government. That’s how “self-centered” the US was at the time of Trump. Everything was transactional. “America First” simply meant whatever was advantageous to the US and everyone else be damned.

Parenthetically, it appears that the Afghan Taliban was not in the list of terrorist organizations of the State Department. However, it appears to be listed with the National Counterterrorism Center. Perhaps the State list is the main basis because, well, the US has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists and if Trump did it, then the Taliban must not be on the list.

Now that Biden was President, he simply implemented what he was advocating before, which, in a way, was now made more certain with Trump’s agreement with the Taliban. What was probably surprising was the speed by which the government collapsed before the pullout was even completed.

Honestly, I think the Afghan government would have folded one way or another. The fact that it was engaging the Taliban in talks in Qatar, if I remember correctly, already showed that it wasn’t on solid footing. The Taliban has been busy improving its position via targeted assassinations, and PR tours over the years that local governments just gave up without a fight in most cases. The US and its allies supposedly trained the Afghan soldiers but without their presence, the Afghans did not have the resolve to stand up against the Taliban.

And this is not the failure of the Biden Administration. It is the failure of the US and its allies from the beginning. Biden was just the guy who had the unenviable task of writing finis to the misadventure that was the longest war they ever fought.

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Context

We do not live in a vacuum.

Back when I was in high school, a priest asked our Religion class what we thought of this: if God was all-knowing and sees what we eventually be, would He still permit someone like Hitler to exist? I honestly don’t recall what I thought at the time but his answer has stuck with me through the ages. He said that even knowing that someone like Hitler was going to cause such death and misery for an entire world, God would still allow him to exist because somewhere along the way, Hitler would also be able to do good, or cause others to do good.

From that time on, that has been my way of viewing people: no one is 100% good or bad, ever. Everyone is capable of doing good and evil, and even people we consider as “bad” like say Stalin or Hitler have done some good for some. The lives of the saints show us that there are things in their lives we would consider bad, evil even, but somehow, somewhere they still do manage to do good. For most, however, the good is lost or forgotten given the attention given to the bad they do but its somewhere out there, and there will be people out there who would know that. “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones” (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar).

So, when I hear that Toni Gonzaga interviewed Bong Bong Marcos, son of the late Ferdinand Marcos, on what he learned from his father, or what his father taught him, that was still how I viewed it. Someone that many in the Philippines consider a very bad man because of the Martial Law years could still have done good for his family. To them, as in most families, they would have simply viewed him as their father or spouse as the case may be.

He may have also done good for others. Many in the North consider him a great man who has improved their lives. I have a professor in college who will always be grateful to his family because they helped defray medical expenses of her mother. So, yes, I am sure he, and his family, was able to do good.

So, what was wrong with Ms Gonzaga’s interview? What was so wrong in highlighting what good the late President did, or see him in a different light? Nothing, and everything.

It has so much meaning to so many people: on the one hand, it is a feel-good piece. On the other, it glosses over truly terrible things suffered by so many. Personally, I think it needed context. Ms Gonzaga should have told her audience who Ferdinand Marcos was, not just to his family, especially his son who she was going to interview, but also to the many victims of the Martial Law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. This should not be seen separately but in connection with all that was known of the man who was President at the time of the Martial Law years. One or two lines wouldn’t do it. It had to be carefully explained to all would be listeners; otherwise, this was just what the critics call it: propaganda for the upcoming elections.

In the end, it’s her project. She says she doesn’t have to explain herself, and maybe she really doesn’t have to, in which case it will be up to the rest of us to remind everyone that whatever was said and done was only part of the story and there is much more to the man who taught his son whatever it is he thinks he did. We are not without our own abilities including the right to criticize her piece, and show everyone all the other parts that was forgotten.

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The Joyful Mysteries

Are they?

As a Catholic, I pray the rosary everyday and part of it is to reflect on the Mysteries but where the Sorrowful Mysteries are sorrowful; the Glorious, glorious; and the Luminous, luminous, the Joyful are, well, a bit off.

Take the Annunciation, the greeting leaves Mary troubled. Most women would welcome news of a pregnancy but her situation was truly problematic. What would Joseph say?

The Visitation. Mary, now pregnant, goes to help Saint Elizabeth. They are filled with joy but this is not just a social visit because St. Elizabeth herself is pregnant with the future St. John the Baptist.

The Birth of Jesus! Christmas! But the King of Kings is born in a manger. And while wise men may come to visit bearing gifts, the angel had appeared to shepherds out in the field to witness the birth of the King.

The presentation at the Temple fulfills a faithful’s yearning but brings sorrow to Mary.

Finally, the finding at the Temple. Like Murphy Brown, Joseph and Mary forgot their child. Well, they assumed He was with relatives. They were already on the way home when they realized He was missing, and when they did find Him, His words were beyond them.

None of these are just straightforward happy occasions. The Visitation is the closest to just a happy-happy, joy-joy moment but not quite. So, what do I make of this?

Well, that’s the thing about Catholic happiness isn’t it? It never is a straightforward matter. It comes with accepting things we don’t understand. Surrendering ourselves to His will. It comes with serving others no matter who we are. Elizabeth is surprised why the mother of her Lord has come to visit her. It comes with humility. Some will be wise enough to find Him, while others need to be guided to Him. Faithfulness has its rewards even if it comes at a cost. It is in serving God wherever we may be. Never fearing even if others appear to have “forgotten” us.

Our joy is in the Lord. These Joyful Mysteries are about Jesus and how He works in our lives, and how we should respond to Him. Otherwise, if it were just a straightforward thing, then we might lose focus and fail to see God working in us and that would not be joyful indeed. For losing sight of the Light will eventually lead us to darkness, and that is never the plan of God for us. True joy is in Christ and Christ living in us. Our response completes that Joy. That’s the Mysteries part right there.

God bless!

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On Images

Statues are falling all around the world.

One byproduct of the rise of Black Lives Matter is an aggressive assault against images that represent repression. Former slave owners whose statues stood tall and proud in plazas and universities suddenly found themselves attacked, brutalized, vandalized and, at times, violently removed from their pedestals and unceremoniously dumped. The statue of King Leopold of Belgium has seen the same treatment. Then there’s St. Junipero Serra in San Francisco, USA. There are those who find these actions unacceptable, criminal; however, there are those who find the same necessary. The removal is seen as a way of correcting the social injustices made possible by these great men of history.

Of course, there are those who see this assault as an attempt at whitewashing the past. Choosing as it were to highlight the negative over the good he has done. However, history today may be seen as whitewashing the past: highlighting only the good and pooh-poohing the negative. Slavery? Why focus on that? This man gave much of his wealth to support education, culture and society! Focus on that. Never mind that his wealth came from slavery and all the misery it brought to the unfortunate victims. Better they say to see them simply as great men rather than mere mortals like us. Is this wise?

There are those who say we should be forgiving because these people were living at a different time when slavery was not seen as the evil it is now. But isn’t that the heart of the problem itself? It is that way of thinking that justified generational racism that lives to this day. Why shouldn’t we see them in a new light when we are supposed to be more enlightened? Shouldn’t we precisely condemn their wrongs so we can truly determine who is in fact a “great man”?

And this applies equally to our saints. We all know that saints are mortals who rose above themselves to be shining examples for the rest of us. Kings, soldiers, mothers, nuns, priests, good-for-nothings and ordinary people become saints but there are those whose lives are more controversial than others. The case of St. Junipero Serra in San Francisco in California, USA, is one such case. A missionary, he is known to have saved native Americans but he is also seen as part of certain abuses that came with the mission life in California. Of course, the Catholic Church defends the saint but that is no different from, say, Oxford University defending the statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes for the longest time, and although a decision has recently been made to have the same removed, it appears that it will stay for at least another year until a commission has come up with a decision. The fact remains that, regardless of whatever else they may have done for society, there are still those who will view both St. Serra and Mr. Rhodes as instrumental to a period of oppression. I do not think the Church should ask for an exemption just because this man was a saint. The fact remains that there is a portion of society that sees him differently, and the Church should also take that into consideration. If need be, then we can move his statues into churches and chapels where he is better appreciated than in public where some may be offended in the same way statues of “great men” are moved to museums where a better understanding of their part in history may be appreciated by all. People may better appreciate their contribution when it is properly presented in its context that must also accept the bad with the good.

We are all human after all, and while we all strive to do good, we can be just as bad at times. I think that this is all part of our continuing enlightenment. Whatever injustice we may fight against, there is always something that may not be too flattering in ourselves. One can rage against slavery the most common form of which is the enslavement of Africans but it should be understood that the industry was not exclusively ran by whites. There were Arabs and Africans who were complicit in the slave trade. And various civilizations had their own versions of slavery. The Philippines had its alipin. Slaves. Let us, therefore, not be self-righteous. North to South and East to West, we all have something to answer for when it comes to oppression and slavery. We are — everyone of us — a Cecile Rhodes, King Leopold, and St. Junipero Serra. We must tear down, vandalize and correct that which is wrong in us. They are us.

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