The Power of the Mind

The mind is a powerful tool: you can achieve a lot, and it begins with what you believe you can do. It is at the heart of yoga, meditation and de-stressing. They humorously say it’s just “mind over matter.” If you don’t mind, then it does not matter.

How I wish everything was that simple. In philosophy, we learned from Rene Descartes cogito, ergo sum: “I think, therefore I am.” The challenge is on what the heck you are thinking. The picture above from babylonbee.com just takes it to the next level.

It seems that just because someone, or a group of someones, thinks one way, then the rest of us have to accept their reality. It does not appear relevant what that might be. If they believe it, then so it is, and everyone else has to abide by it or be branded whatever-phobic. We are suppose to accept their reality regardless of what it may mean but the other side’s reality is then ridiculed as an antiquated view of life. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous what they believe is real, the opposite side will always be the biased one. The unreasonable one.

Let us be clear: I have no issues with them believing what they believe. I can respect that. I can accept that. If that’s what they think, then I’m fine with it but if you expect me to accept what they are thinking as truth, then that is a whole other matter. Something I hope they will equally respect.

Take flat-earth societies. If that is what they believe in despite all evidence to the contrary, then so be it. However, I will stick to a round Earth thank you very much.

Recently, a transgender female (male to female, or MTF) cyclist smashed the world record for women’s cycling. Naturally, there were those who questioned the wisdom of allowing MTF in women’s events, me included. He defended himself saying that he lost 11 of 13 races to a female athlete. If you don’t mind his pink colored long hair and dark nail polish, then you would say, yup, he is male.

In any case, there were pro and anti comments on the news article, and someone posted an article on whether or not the MTF has an advantage over females. The long and short of it is that we do not know. There are not enough studies on the matter and not enough MTF competing in women’s events to make a valid conclusion according to the article.

The International Olympic Committee appears to have a rule allowing MTF to compete in women’s events if they present a sworn statement that they identify as females and they should be taking testosterone lowering meds for a year prior to the event. The problem is that there is weak monitoring — in fact in some countries, you can just self-declare — and there is no science to the thinking that the one-year dose is enough to level the playing field.

According to the same article, there appears to be a study that found that there is a 10% reduction in performance in MTF if they do abide by the IOC rule. This covers runners and cyclists. The problem is of course what is the starting point of the reduction? The 10% reduction would mean nothing if the male performance was high to begin with.

Also, once you’ve grown up male, how much does one really lose when you take the meds? You’re already built as a male. Adding breast implants may mean nothing in terms of performance. Yes, the meds are intended to reduce bone density, muscle mass and increase fat but what is all that when you continue to train?

Lastly, wouldn’t the taking of testosterone inhibitors be like reverse doping? Instead of trying to even things out, it may end up creating new advantages for MTF.

In the end, the whole thing is a red herring. The fact remains that males are competing in female events. Period. The MTF may think they are females but the reality is that they are males thinking they are females. To reiterate, I can respect the fact that they think that way but I cannot accept their reality. To my mind, they are males. I can readily accept that among males, there are some more feminine than others. It does not, however, mean they are females.

I mean, think about it: if someone thinks he’s a dog — even walks on all fours and wears fur and a collar — then does that make him a real dog? A man in his 60s identifies as a 40s male to the point that he actually sued for recognition…and failed. There are whites who identified as blacks and even put a “black face” on. Finally, a white guy also identified as Filipino. Does that make him a Filipino? To answer that one, we look to the Philippine Constitution that follows jus sanguinis or bloodlines to determine citizenship but the point in all of these is that just thinking one way does not mean it is real.

No, not everything you think is real, is.

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No Place for God

Once upon a time, people attributed a great many things to gods in general, and God in particular. Be it good or bad, life events can be seen as a blessing from on high, or a curse upon the wicked. Bountiful harvests and victory in war were blessings while severe droughts, destructive storms, illness and other afflictions were judgments of the gods against those who offended them.

Over time, the influence of the gods over our fate and the lives of men waned. Today, being an atheist is a thing. We have sidelined our gods with knowledge of nature and sciences. We are now the gods. We have no need for supernatural beings.

One by-product of this change is that certain laws still reflected the old beliefs. Old oaths called out to God — one Nation under God; so help me God — but the people are no longer the Christians of old. Most Christians these days call themselves Christians but rarely practice it, or limit it to the general events: Christmas and, if the Church is lucky, Easter. Otherwise, it is practically a forgotten religion.

Of course, there are exceptions. Christianity is on the rise in Africa, while Islam appears to be going strong despite the war within itself between Sunnis and Shias.

In the Philippines, we once proclaimed ourselves the sole Catholic nation in Asia but how many of us now follow its traditions and teachings? I still remember the days when Holy Week was truly holy. Other than for religious ceremonies, no other activities were allowed. Today, it’s nothing more than a long holiday.

Then Mr. Carlos Celdran passed away. He was an advocate of that Reproductive Health Act that, as expected, was opposed by the Church, and despite the conditions described above, it had a hard time passing Congress.

Mr. Celdran stepped into a church while mass was being celebrated with a sign that said “Damaso” — a reference to a hated character, a Spanish friar, in Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere (“Touch Me Not”) — and when accosted shouted (that the Church) should not meddle in politics. He was brought to the police and charged with Offending Religious Feelings that is penalized under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code.

There are those who think that the particular provision should be repealed because it was allegedly archaic. How could it be when it came with all the other provisions that penalized Rape, Murder and Estafa (swindling)? One cannot be archaic without the others. So, are we to repeal the laws against all the other crimes as well for being just as archaic?

Or is it their argument that only Art. 133 was archaic because it still focused on religion when religion is already passe? I cannot agree.

In the first place, we have given the people the right to freely exercise one’s religion (Article III, Section 5, 1987 Constitution). In so doing, it makes perfect sense to protect them while doing so.

Article 133 reads:

“The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correcional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon anyone who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful (emphasis added).”

Note that this is not an all-encompassing anti-blasphemy law. Rather, it is very limited in application: it has to happen in a place of worship (not limited to a church, mind you), or during the celebration of a religious ceremony, like a mass being held in a church, which is precisely where Mr. Celdran was when he made his “protest” that, unfortunately for him, offended the feelings of the faithful. Note, further, that it is not the Church or religion that is being protected but the religious feelings of the faithful. Again, this appears consistent with the provision of the Constitution.

Note, finally, that had he simply stood outside the cathedral with his sign, he probably would have escaped prosecution. As things turned out, however, he found himself inside and the rest as they say is history. He was convicted and the ruling was upheld by the appellate court and by the Supreme Court. Rather than being incarcerated, he went into exile in Madrid, Spain, and after a few years, passed away.

Should the Court have nullified Art. 133? I, for one, am glad that they did not. Again, it seeks to protect the feelings of men of all religious leanings and no particular faith that is consistent with the rights granted under the Constitution. Should the Court have made an exception because it was Mr. Celdran? What would that make of the principle of equal protection of the law? Is it wise to repeal the law for being archaic? Why should we when there are still men of faith that deserve to be protected from the bigotry of others? Again, 133 is of limited scope. It does not cover instances done outside a place of worship, or before or after the celebration of a religious ceremony. You can write an article attacking the idiocy of men who believe in a supernatural being without material proof of its existence, or how that belief is detrimental to society, and you will not be prosecuted under this law. Again, it is the misfortune of Mr. Celdran that he satisfied all the requisites for the commission of the crime of Offending Religious Feelings.

Does the law contravene the right of Mr. Celdran to free speech and expression? I will not be the first, and hardly will be the last, to say that the right to free speech and expression is never absolute. Again, 133 is not all-encompassing. You have to be within the four corners of the law to be convicted. Mr. Celdran was squarely inside those corners. Had he bothered to step out, he would be a free man.

As a lawyer, I believe that one should not argue that the law should be repealed simply because it is archaic. Again, what makes this law archaic when it comes with other provisions penalizing other crimes? Why single out Article 133? Then what about the Negotiable Instruments Law and all those we haven’t amended all these years? Should we repeal them as well? I do not think anyone would want to; so, please, either prove that it is unconstitutional or itself contrary to law, or respect the same even if a majority of today’s people are not as religious as others. We could say the same thing before anyway. I think we can be quite sure not everyone was as religious as the others even in the past. We wouldn’t have Noli Me Tangere otherwise.

One final note: when Mr. Celdran died, his criminal liability was extinguished. That is a principle maintained under the same law that penalized him, the Revised Penal Code. Can we then argue that the principle is also archaic and, therefore, he is still guilty even after death? Let us not take this thing too far, which is the whole point of this article anyway. For him, the argument is over. I may not agree with him or with his politics but, sincerely, Rest In Peace, Mr. Celdran.

At least he gets to know ahead of us if religious beliefs are something we really should bother with or not. Until then, however, I would rather err on the side of caution.

Amen.

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A Question of Rights

Arguing against the LGBT on the basis of religion will not resolve the issue simply because they have gone beyond such talk of God, or any god, and religion.

Once upon a time, we attributed the fortunes of man (or, to be politically correct, men and women, or just people in general) to God, or a god. A bountiful harvest is a reward, while a severe storm is a punishment. For years, people prayed to a deity for a favor, or to ward off misfortune. Answered prayers became a thing and holy men were then sought for intercession during their lifetimes and even after death because, well, they were holy, and the chances are that deities would hear them more than us mere mortals. Cities, nation states, and whole countries were founded by heroes blessed by gods, gods themselves, or the God. We were so grateful for everything that we incorporated His teachings into our laws.

But with each passing generation, men started wondering what these gods were for. Over time, men made themselves gods harnessing the power of the atom, discovering the secrets of reproduction and bio-engineering, and collecting the wisdom of the ages. The power over life, death and understanding. That fruit in the garden of Eden. If you were a religious man, then you will see this as pathetic as the wisdom of this earth is foolishness to God but that is where we are right now. People do not need God. We can do things ourselves thank you very much.

So, to argue that “male and female God created them” may no longer have such force except maybe to some countries that still embrace their faith that now find themselves in the minority except perhaps in the Middle East in one of its more radical forms. In any case, to some, gender is not fixed at birth, or sex dictated by the kind of genitals you are born with. It is, to them, a matter of the mind. If you think you are female, you identify as female, then you are female even if you have male genitalia. Taking the counterargument to extremes, one might ask that if you think you were a dog, that will make you one? There are those who think they are but what is the reality? Are we to simply accept that even if they have no dog parts, they are still dogs because they believe themselves to be dogs? If this was a class in philosophy where your perception of reality may be challenged by what you can and cannot prove, then what you have would be a right royal headache because there will be no way for me, at least, to ever accept that you are a dog just because you believe it to be. You are simply a man who thinks you are a dog.

There are less extreme cases, of course. White people who identify as black. A man over 60 who wants to be 30. Recently, a white man who identifies as Filipino! Would what they think really matter?

The same can be said of LGBT. They simply think they are one gender when they are actually the other. Some are not comfortable in either and would want to be identified as a “third sex” — non-binary — neither male nor female. But, again, the question is what is the reality we move in? Some countries have allowed this but is it right? One might say if they want acceptance, then they should learn to accept who they are. If they are female, then they are female even if they are more masculine than most females; and a man can be more feminine than most men. In other words, in looking at genders, one simply accepts that some are more masculine or feminine than others even among the same genders but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are of the other gender.

The struggle became headline news when a transgender male wanted to use the the female comfort room of a mall. She was evicted by a cleaning lady, and when she resisted, arrested by the police. She was later released without charges, and the mall owners and the cleaning lady apologized. Another incident happened on the MRT when another transgender male attempted to board the women-only carriage. Again, a lot of noise but not much else.

I have no problems with their quest for equal respect, and their fight against discrimination but this does not necessarily mean that we have to create a special class of individuals who deserve special, not just equal, rights. If you apply for work, then your age, gender or sexual orientation should not work against you assuming that you are otherwise qualified for the work. However, fat people have just as much a right not to be made the butt of jokes as any other person. So, if you want to protect one, protect everyone. It may be the end of comedy as we know it but it will achieve that which they seek.

Putting the idea of “living in sin” aside, one might even consider granting them civil unions with right of succession, to inherit from your same-sex partner, which is, for now, not recognized for intestate succession. I will not go so far as to justify the union as “love is love” because that tag-line has been coopted by pedophiles to justify their “misunderstood” attractions. I just think that people who supported one another in life deserve some rights over the properties of their partners in death. This is as far as my religiosity will take me. I leave the rest to God…even if you don’t believe in Him.

I cannot imagine my life away from my God. So, for me, there will be limits to what I can allow or accept. Even as a lawyer, it will always be a struggle to balance this earthly life with my spiritual life. However, my default mode will always be my faith; so, if we are ever to understand each other, we must at the very least respect each other. At the same time, I am not God or even just a god because what I know is foolishness to God. I know nothing of the secrets of the universe regardless of what our scientists may discover and teach us. We shall never know the truth of life no matter how detailed our genetic researchers take to their tasks. The power to kill will always haunt us and sometimes even destroy us. We are not gods. Understand that. Be willing to accept that. Then maybe you will accept you as yourself. Let’s start with that.

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MAGA

There was a time when the USA sought to force its way over the rest of the globe. They thought the world owed them their allegiance because they came in and helped win World War II. A great many nations did appreciate their help. What they cannot stand was the bullying that the US practiced to get its way. This was true in both business and diplomacy.

Over time, the US realized that such a practice was not helping. Those they plugged into places, or helped into power, soon turned their backs on America, and the troubles they wrought were so much worse than the problem they were trying to solve at the start. There was still a measure of bullying to be sure but it had come to know that might is not always right when it comes to economic or diplomatic relations. A more rational America began to emerge. A strong leader whose strength may be backed up by military might but whose leadership is now grounded on consensus and respect. It sought to gain peace not with a hammer but a common voice that led the world to come to an agreement to address climate change and nuclear disarmament.

Then came Trump who abruptly walked the US back from its commitments in the belief that for America to be great, it had to be the bully once more. He was focused on what the US was, believing that that was a great time for America, and to an extent, he was right. The US economy thrived when it was a bully but it was not well respected as much as feared. Trump thinks that fear is good, and in practicing this belief, he has damaged the image of the US to a point where it is generally ignored. Where the US once led, it is now just floating along on the side.

“America First” is costing the US more than just dollars and cents. American companies thrived when it took advantage of globalization. What didn’t work so well was the trickle down effect. It didn’t. At least not to the point where people felt the economy working for them. The bad thing was that the US was still reeling from the Sub-prime Mortgage Crisis and the Global Financial Crisis that the former gave birth to. Even as business was able to improve, greed got the better of many a businessmen, bankers in particular, and they triggered a landslide of epic proportions. Even as President Obama raised its state back, there were still many who suffered terribly enough for someone like Trump who tried to remind mostly white America of the times that America was once on top conveniently hiding the fact how it did so, to step in. The image of a great America was enough to propel him to the presidency. Then he got to work and all hell broke loose…

Make America Great Again is a rallying cry based on a failed policy…and a great many Americans have been blinded by promises of greatness without responsibility. That cannot be good. When America wakes up from this nightmare, it will have more than its economy to worry about. It will have to rethink its place in the world.

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Something fishy

The talk of the town in the latter part of this month is the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese fishing vessel.

As far as I can tell, the facts are as follows:

1. The Philippine fishing boat was anchored within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

2. At or around midnight, with only the cook awake, another vessel was spotted on a collision course with the anchored vessel. The rest of the crew were fast asleep.

3. The cook began to wake the crew. They saw the vessel coming and hit the rear of the fishing boat. The boat began to sink.

4. Some of the crew were able to board a launch and approach the vessel that hit them to ask for help. The others were in the water holding on to drums to stay afloat.

5. The vessel turned on its lights but soon turned it off and the left. The Filipinos were able to identify the vessel as Chinese because of the light configuration. The Chinese later admitted, retracted, and admitted again, that it was their vessel that hit the boat, while fishing, and left the crew to fend for themselves.

6. The Filipinos on the launch rowed out about 5 nautical miles until they saw a Vietnamese vessel from whom they sought assistance.

7. Using the radio of the Vietnamese, they were able to call for help. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese vessel picked up the rest of the crew from the sea and cared for them. The engineer stayed on the boat to save it.

8. All 21 crewmen, the engineer and the boat were able to return to the Philippines.

The experience was bad enough but what happened after seemed completely surreal. Granted, there may be a question on whether or not the collision was intentional, it doesn’t seem disputed that the Chinese vessel left the crew at sea with the sinking boat.

The Chinese admitted that it was a Chinese fishing vessel that struck the fishing boat but they claimed that it was trying to avoid 7 or 8 other Filipino fishing boats that was trying to “besiege” it when they accidentally hit the anchored boat. They said they wanted to save the crew but were afraid of being set upon by the other boats.

The Philippine government isn’t much help. They downplayed the incident as nothing more than a maritime accident aping the Chinese line on the matter. The Presidential spokesman also casted doubt over the crew’s statements about the incident because of alleged inconsistencies in their statements, which is surprising coming from a lawyer but maybe not so surprising because it came from this particular lawyer. Anyway…

Any lawyer worth his salt would know that no two eyewitness accounts will ever be 100% consistent. If it did, then it would have been surely 100% scripted. There will always be some discrepancy but the main story remains the same. From what I read, it appears that there was some time between the Chinese vessel being spotted until the collision occurred. Certainly enough time for the cook to rouse his fellow crewmen from sleep and they had time to see the Chinese vessel ram them. Whatever else may be inconsistent, the fact remains that the vessel hit them while they were anchored, and left them.

If, as the Chinese claim, there were other Filipino boats in the area, then why did the crew have to row some 5 nautical miles out before they were rescued, not by another Filipino boat but a Vietnamese one? Another sad/silly/hilarious statement arising from this fact is that the Philippine government said that it will waive suing the Vietnamese vessel for trespassing. I hope so because they did save our fellow Filipinos; however, the same thing should not be said of the Chinese vessel that rammed the Filipino boat. Remember, the Chinese admitted that it was their vessel that struck the Filipino fishing boat, going so far as to actually name it, and that it was fishing within the Philippine EEZ at the time.

Worse, police in full battle gear suddenly laid siege on the fishermen’s homed as if they were common criminals instead of the victims of a “maritime accident.”

On the other hand, it certainly does not help to rabidly growl and bark at the Chinese or at our own government. If we have to take action, then it certainly should be at the very least, a rational approach.

This incident is just one among many. So, someone — the Philippine Government does not seem to be interested — has to build the case against the Chinese, continue to protest each and every infraction by the Chinese, then build an international coalition against China to shame them. China wants to project itself as a responsible State on the world stage. It’s reputation will suffer if we press them on this. Some say China should not lose face so that some concessions can be had from them but it may be too late for that since they have already illegally occupied what is rightfully ours. If anything, then it is our face that needs saving or preserving.

Remember, this is an offshoot of their baseless Nine-Dash Line that was trashed by the international tribunal. The Chinese presence in the Philippine EEZ is patently illegal. That alone should give us the right to damn well put them in their place.

To paraphrase Jose Rizal, “ang taong hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling bayan ay masahol pa sa hayop at malansang isda” (those who do not love their own country is worse than an animal and spoiled fish). We do not need to declare war to fight the Chinese but we do have to fight.

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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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