Power of the Word

There was a time when every single word that comes from a world leader bore meaning. He or she wouldn’t say something unless he or she understood its implications. There was always a target audience and sound bites were designed or calculated to reach them whether they were the enemy, their countrymen, or simply the world at large.

In the days of Twitter and Facebook, and populism in general, all that has gone out the window. Populist leaders would say what they want, when they want, without regard for how it will impact their country, or just the office in which he sits. You have an American President tweeting to his heart’s delight much to the chagrin of the White House’s communication staff. When they try to do damage control, he comes out and reinforces his original tweet. In fact, he is so tweeter-happy that he even tweets about state secrets. A case of too much truth.

Not only that, he is a believer and/or propagator of conspiracy theories and alternate facts. He will hammer on something as the truth when facts show otherwise. Credibility be damned.

Over at the other side of the Pacific, you have a Philippine President who speaks in public and later tells everyone it was just a joke or a lie. Parenthetically, when people think he was joking, he comes out to assure us that he wasn’t. That makes it difficult for Filipinos, and other nations as well, to read what he is really trying to say and act accordingly.

In both countries, there is now a need for government officials to “explain” what the head of state meant, and where the latter insists on his own interpretation of what he said, then some officials would simply contradict him. That’s a problem for cabinet secretaries who are supposed to be alter egos of the president. They are extensions of the president, and while this is not a problem for some, others soon find themselves out of the government.

To this we can add a tendency towards historical revisionism. No administration is perfect but when the wrongs say of the Marcos regime during the martial law years appear to be glorified, then it tends to belittle the sacrifices and lives lost by a generation who fought those same ills. Of course, this could be expected even as political affiliations swing one way or the other; eventually, a friend of the old regime will surface as president and attempt to rehabilitate them.

We ask: how much of the drug war is real? What about the anti-corruption drive? Can we rely on what they are saying, or is it a lie or just a joke? How is our economy doing? Whose data or what sources can we rely on? What is really going on?

All this reflects badly on their leadership. With people now uncertain of what they mean, or what is real, how are they expected to plan and move forward if they cannot read what their government is trying to do or accomplish? That’s a problem not just for individuals but more so for businesses, investors and other countries. It certainly creates a lot of uncertainty and with it, loss of confidence. While some die-hard believers will carry on regardless, the rest will certainly be a lot more cautious. That caution could hurt the economy and our relationships with our allies, trading partners and neighboring states.

People and nations also tend to dismiss them and their governments. It is strange to see an American president ignored in a meeting of nations but there it was. World leaders have now turned to others for leadership even as the US focuses in on its self. Too much it seems. No one is so naive to think that any of the past US administrations have acted without considering its consequences first on the US yet they have not failed to lead the rest of the world. The current administration is not inclined to do so. It chooses to build a wall both literally and figuratively around it and live in its bubble safe from what it believes to be a climate change hoax. Coaxing it out of its shell and rehabilitating its confidence to lead will take time. Lots of it.

In the end, the victim to all of this is the truth. It’s bad enough that we have to contend with fake news and alternate facts but when leaders consciously actively engage in them, their citizens suffer and the world bears the consequences of their actions. There have been past administrations that have lied but none have done so openly and flagrantly.

Borrowing from the X Files, the truth is now just out there. We cannot trust our own governments. That’s a terrible thing to have to say.

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Fire and Ice

*Spoilers Ahead*

Season 7 of The Game of Thrones is where the show tried to tie up loose ends and set up the final season. With limited number of episodes, the entire season felt rushed. Season 8 too has limited episodes; so, it can be fairly said that plot development makes leaps and bounds compared to past seasons.

The season began killing off second and third tier characters whose stories could no longer be developed further given the limited episodes available. While we, the audience, may have hoped for the gathering of two giant sized armies that will duke it out to see who in the end will sit on the Iron Throne, then face the White Walkers, we instead are told there is one great war to fight and that is between the living and the dead.

We are also finally told — rather than us just guessing — that Jon is neither a bastard, nor the son of Ned Stark. He is, in fact, fire and ice. Most would think that the two refers to Dany, the mother of dragons (fire), and Jon, the King in the North (ice). However, it more likely refers to Jon who traces his lineage from both the Targaryens (fire) and Starks (ice). Whether or not he is also the prince who was promised is another matter but after all that he has been through for all seven seasons, one hopes that at the very least, he survives the show and manages to live happily ever after.

This might prove difficult with him bending the knee to Dany — in more ways than one (wink wink) — and having a bastard son of the late King Robert Baratheon, Gendry, roaming about. Of course, being a bastard might diminish his chances to sit on the Iron Throne. That and the fact that he appears to have no ambitions to rule might make him less of a threat to Jon but this is Westeros after all where anything can happen, including The Wall falling. People thought that the White Walkers would just walk around it when the seas freeze with winter on hand but when you have an ice-fire breathing zombie dragon, magic walls are not a problem.

Then there are the Starks. As I guessed, Littlefinger was outplayed by the Starks. Honestly, he never had a chance with Bran being the Three-Eyed Raven. The thing is, Jon may have bent the knee to Dany but the Starks have not. The Wolf Pack might just hail a new King in the North, maybe Sansa, the lady of Winterfell, as Queen in the north especially with the revelation of his lineage. In other words, being a Targaryan, he may not be so welcome in the North, not as King anyway.

Finally, there’s Cersei. Current occupant of the Iron Throne and chess master extraordinaire. Thinking three moves ahead of her rivals, she hopes to outsmart even Death. She has sent Greyjoy to recruit a mercenary army with gold from the Iron Bank. She hopes that Dany’s Dothraki hoard and the Unsullied foot soldiers will be depleted after the war with the White Walkers that they will be in no shape to fight what remains of her army and the mercenaries.

The only problem here is Theon found his balls and decided to take on his uncle to free his sister. Cersei’s plans might get upended. Gendry too, who we did not see in the finale, might try to make it difficult for Cersei to rule peacefully, that is until the wites invade Kings Landing.

We also see that soft side to this woman who can just be as brutal as any man in Westeros: for all her talk of killing her brothers, she could not bring herself to do so regardless of whatever betrayal or treason they commit, or she believes they committed, against her.

So, here’s my prediction for the final season of GoT: first, Theon is successful in saving his sister. He may die in the process but his effort will complicate matters for Cersei.

Second, Cersei will eventually march her armies to the north to join the battle against the wites. Jon did say that there is only one battle and it will be between the living and the dead, not among the living. Whether this is because of the loss of her mercenaries and, with that, a humungous debt to the Iron Bank she may no longer be able to pay, or, or maybe and, her love for her siblings, I think she will. She is with child, or so it seems, so it is difficult to imagine that the show runners will kill her off but, again, Westeros can be a cruel world.

The White Walkers can be killed by fire and we know she has a way with fire…wildfire that is, if she still has some in store that is. It took a lot to kill the Sparrow and everyone with him.

Third, it was hoped that Dany, Jon and Tyrion will ride the three dragons into battle. They are one less dragon now; so, it is highly unlikely. Tyrion too appears to be on the fence now that he had seen Dany and Jon together. He did not look happy. Tyrion, whose lineage may also be far different from the Lannisters and might be more Targaryan may likewise lay a claim to the Iron Throne. My guess: he will sit on the Iron Throne with Jamie as his Hand. If Bronn survives, then he would likely be there as well. Cersei? Not likely. How she goes is hard to see now but I don’t see her living through season 8.

Last, what about Jon and Dany? It is no secret that I have been rooting for Jon to do one thing: survive to live quietly somewhere. I hope it is not too much to ask. He will lead the armies against the White Walkers. The King Slayer himself will fight by his side. Two dragons versus one gives them an advantage. They have dragon glass and, if I am right, all of Westeros on their side but, after all that, this man who lives for one thing only — defeat the undead — has no desire for power. He is willing to bend the knee to Dany. He is the reluctant leader. He even joined the Night Watch.

As for Dany. Her children are her dragons. It remains to be seen if she will have any left after the great war with the dead but I would like to think that she too might be inclined to live in peace away from all the troubles of ruling, something Tyrion might be more suited for. If she bears a child by Jon, then she might have more reason to retire.

They may not end up together but I hope they live out the rest of their lives in peace. Fire and Ice might be Dany and Jon respectively but, if I am right, then Jon is himself both fire and ice, which simply means that they have or he has done their/his part and it is time to leave. He is destined for greatness for sure but their future is difficult to see clearly. Westeros is really quite unpredictable when it comes to nice guys. Separated from the wolf pack, he may not be so safe. Together though, he may have a chance.

A year to wait if all this comes to be. Until then, we speculate, we debate, we play our own Game of Thrones…

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Living in Fear

In the past week, the Philippines saw a number of anti-drug operations carried out by the police in various locations. Around 80 people were killed during those operations. One stood out: a young boy of 17. The police say he shot at them with a .45 and was killed when they returned fire. However, CCTV footage allegedly shows that the boy was accosted by two police officers and followed by a third who took him to a secluded spot. Witnesses allege that the boy was intimidated, given a gun, told to run, and shot. The death has caused an uproar on social media. A rally has been scheduled on the 21st of August, the day when the country recalls the death of Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr. The event that spelled the beginning of the end of the Marcos regime.

However, there are two sides to every story and the truth, they say, is somewhere in the middle. One side has the boy as an innocent victim of police abuse in the War on Drugs; while another view says that the boy is far from innocent and was in fact involved with illegal drugs. Some versions of the latter story has his father as the dealer and the boy, a runner for his illegal drugs business. Some say he is, himself, a dealer, while others have him as a mere user. Even if this story is true, whatever version it may be, does that fact prove the alleged CCTV and eyewitness accounts wrong? Hardly. At most, it only shows that he was not the innocent people think he was but how does that change the whole thing?

Even if someone, anyone, is known to be a pusher, runner, dealer or user of illegal drugs, does it make it right to bring him to an isolated spot, give him a gun, order him to run and shoot him? Even assuming he is guilty, is it necessary to kill him? What’s the point?

In the first place, if he is actually known to be involved in illegal drugs, then wouldn’t it be easier to find witnesses and other evidence against him, prosecute him, and send him to jail?

Further, if they want us to believe that he was armed with a .45 and took a shot at them, then they first have to convince us where in the world he hid it considering the way he was dressed at the time. If they will also insist on such an out of this world idea, then we will have to question their ability to comply with police procedures because we have to ask: didn’t they search the boy before they walked away with him? There were two with him followed by another. Three cops who failed to observe simple police procedures? It is easier to believe that they were in fact intentionally disregarding police procedures taking the boy away as they did that night. That’s the suspicion anyway.

Finally, did they think that killing one person will put the fear of God in other pushers, dealers, runners or users? I think not. They live with that fear every single day of their lives and in all probability have accepted it. So, who actually fears such unnecessary killing? It is the innocents. Now they fear the police who they see as out of control, picking people off the streets and shooting them to add another statistic to the War on Drugs. Reuters, the BBC and Al Jazeera all posted articles showing how police officers (and gun for hires) are getting paid for every kill in the War on Drugs. Scratch one more to the tally.

Was that the whole point of the killing then? When the president says that if they kill 32 a day, they solve the drug problem in the country, was this their contribution to the 32 required? Was the boy killed for a scorecard? Was he killed just for a few pesos?

Here’s the thing: somehow, somewhere, someone is going to say enough is enough and take action. That action can be as simple as a non-violent protest march to, God forbid, violent revolution. What it will be depends largely on how much more the country can take. An article on the Internet says that to eradicate inequality, you need large scale famine or pestilence to kill off large swaths of the population. That, or violent revolution of the Russia or China kind. We don’t have pestilence anywhere. Violent revolution though may just be around the corner.

Something else to be fearful of…

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The Vow

One distinction that the Philippines holds is that it's the last country where divorce is not allowed. A lot of people think that it should not be so but I for one believe that it should be so and, yes, my being a Catholic has everything to do with it.

The long and short of it is how much importance do we give our marriage vows? I would like to think that before we go through such a life-changing decision, we have given it more than a just passing thought. When we speak of marriage vows, it is something from which a whole lot of other commitments spring. We think of the family that we are about to start, the children you will raise, and all the responsibilities of being a spouse and/or parent of another human being. Before we promise to love and hold someone for the rest of our lives, we should think about who we are marrying, our readiness to begin a life with that person, and our available and possible future resources. That's a lot of thinking required. Unfortunately, some people simply marry out of hope that one or the other is their perfect match, or they will change along the way to be the right person for you. That is a recipe for disaster of the highest magnitude. Just picking a boyfriend can be as easy as a date and we fail to consider everything else out there. For example, you do not have to immediately commit your self to just one person to try him or her out as if they were some car you're trying to buy. Dating is not promiscuity. Dating, when carried out in a mature manner, opens your eyes to possibilities and empowers you with the ability to choose responsibly.

As a Catholic, the moment I choose to make a marriage vow is the moment I decide that there will be no other partner-for-life for me other than my spouse. That's big. That means I renounce all my rights to be with any other person other than my spouse. 'Till death do us part. It is a life-long commitment. You are intended to die with it. I do not think many people realize just how heavy a burden that vow really is. They treat it lightly, fail to appreciate all of its consequences, and seek a quick fix if it doesn't meet their expectations. It is, if you'll forgive me, an irresponsible and cowardly way to live one's life. When we marry on a whim — just for fun as it were — or are "forced into it" or just desperate to be in a relationship, the responsibility for entering into marriage is ours, especially, when we should understand that we don't even have to get married under such circumstances no matter what. It is truly our life and we live it. If we choose to marry, then man up and live with it.

Granted, people can make mistakes. They may cause their spouses harm. The current state of Philippine law does not leave them without recourse. Under the Family Code, a spouse can file for legal separation or annulment. The main difference between the two is that in legal separation, the marriage bond is not dissolved such that the spouses remain to be man and wife of each other, while in annulment, one of the parties is deemed psychologically incapacitated to enter into marriage, or his or her consent is vitiated that there is no marriage at all to begin with. To be sure, it is a lengthy and expensive process but that is the price we have to pay in order to dissolve something that shouldn't be dissolved in the first place.

In the Philippines where a majority of the population still consider themselves Catholic, it means a lot considering that if you want to remarry in a church, then you need an annulment of your previous marriage from the State and the Church but, for the most part, getting one from the State will do. Still, the Vatican, the only other state not to have divorce for obvious reasons, has endeavored to make Church annulments more accessible to Catholics. Those steps, however, will never amount to a quickie divorce some sectors would want to see in the Philippines. The Vatican will never give you that.

People, however, want a quick fix to their apparent problems. Divorce, they say, solves a lot of problems but fails to see all the other problems it may give rise to. The latter don't matter for as long as they have their means of escape.

That's the thing, isn't it? It's an escape. Instead of people working to resolve an issue, they want an exit mechanism to jettison all manner of responsibility for their failed relationships. It takes too much to try to work it out so it's better that we just abandon the whole thing and try to start over; hopefully, we do better the next time around. No responsibility whatsoever.

The Catholic Church does not see it that way. Not to my knowledge anyway considering that I am no priest but if you ever wonder why the Church cannot go against it's teaching against abortion, then you are really missing the point. We are free agents. We can do as we please but our choices have consequences. Therefore, before making a choice, think of all the possible consequences. Abortion, like divorce, is a quick way out. A chance to escape responsibility. An out for a messy situation we find our selves in. Yes, there are other factors involved and one in particular stands out: life! Whether it be abortion or divorce, there will always be an impact on life and how we live. In the end, that's where the interest of the Church lies: in our life. A life worth saving. How we live it tells if we get saved or not. Jesus already did the hardest part about human salvation: He lived, died and rose from the dead. Everything else is now up to us.

Nobody said life, or making a life, was easy. We always have to act responsibly just like in making our marriage vows. Quick fixes are often messy affairs. You can't fix life like that. Never like that. When you make a marriage vow it is meant to be forever and any problems you experience along the way, take the time to fix it. It will be worth it. Life's like that.

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Uber Problematic

It's the big concern of the day: whether or not Uber, which described itself as a "ride sharing" app, should be granted more franchises by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). I think Uber users, including me, would naturally say yes. Uber has provided a much needed service to the long suffering public that beats existing public transport facilities. The problem, however, is that Uber (and Grab) allowed new drivers to operate without a license making those drivers into what we in the Philippines call "colorum" or an illegal public transport. Not cool.

An argument has been made that Uber should not even be regulated by the LTFRB because it isn't a public utility or a company providing a public service. Uber's business model is a peer to peer ride sharing app, which would be a private contract between the driver and the passenger. A modern day carpool. "Hey, I'm going to this place, want to come along?" Had it remained true to being a purely ride sharing app, then I would agree that the LTFRB should not interfere with Uber; however, Uber is a business. When it collects payments from the passengers for specific trips, then it becomes a public utility for which it too must be regulated. Yes, you need the app in order to hail a ride but the app is available to the public. All you need is a smartphone. This is the source of all the objections from taxi operators: Uber is a ride hailing and not a ride sharing service. In other jurisdictions, Uber drivers were even deemed employees of Uber. As far as I can tell, there hasn't been a similar finding in the Philippines. For now, each driver gets his own franchise that is processed through Uber, which provides the network; so they are also called a Transportation Network Company (TNC) by the LTFRB. Essentially, Uber is providing public transport services.

When Uber first appeared in the Philippines, I did not use it because there was no law or regulation allowing it to operate in the Philippines. Back then, I would use Grab or Easy Taxi, cab hailing apps, instead. Grab didn't have sedans back then. Like Easy Taxi, it would just partner with existing taxi operators and share commissions when a passenger is picked up through the app. As a ride hailing service, participating taxis are still regulated by the LTFRB as any other taxi service. Uber gets around that. Naturally, taxi operators didn't like that.

The LTFRB later issued Memorandum Circular No. 2015-016, which finally legalized Uber operations. Among the requirements set out in the MC was that the TNC that now includes Grab, was supposed to screen drivers and ensure that they have professional driver's licenses. I have ridden a lot of Uber cars. Some Uber drivers were new to driving! I very much doubt that those newbies have professional driver's licenses. Grab sedans are better. Whether it's a car or cab, Grab at least appears to have kept its pool of drivers pretty professional as far as I can tell and for whatever that's worth. Still, I am generally happy using Uber or Grab.

Then there is the all important franchise. A driver must have a franchise to operate. Without it, he becomes a colorum. That's where it really gets dicey for the public.

I for one believe that the LTFRB acts for the interests of the public and not the taxi operators. We all have our complaints against regular taxis. How abusive some drivers are picking passengers, raising prices or haggling fares instead of relying on the meter; and how icky their cabs can be that sometimes reek of stale sweat because the drivers sometimes sleep in their cabs for siesta or power naps in hot humid days and nights, not to mention all the gunk you see inside. There have also been cases of robbery, kidnapping and rape perpetrated by cab drivers and their accomplices. When the LTFRB pushes back on a TNC, it is not saying be more like the taxis, which would be crazy given all what I just said, but the TNC should comply with the MC. That is where the protection of the public lies: in complying with the MC.

Is the LTFRB wrong in delaying the issuance of new franchises? Not necessarily. If they found that there were violations of the MC, then they are well within their rights to withhold the issuance of new franchises. Can the LTFRB do better in processing new applications and/or investigating complaints? That goes without saying. I'm sure they will say they have limited staff and/or resources to do it but that is really no excuse. They have to do what it takes for the public to be served. Hire, fire, automate and acquire. Just do it as Nike would say.

Uber prided itself as a game changer — a disruptor– and it is. It provides a valuable public service no public service utility provider can equal at the moment. However, it cannot operate outside the law. Operating illegally is not how you operate a legitimate business. This is not unique to the Philippines. Uber is facing a lot of pushback in other jurisdictions and I heard that they recently stopped operating in Macau. Air BnB is in the same boat.

The Philippines needs Uber but we cannot have Uber operating illegally. For now, the LTFRB has decided not to arrest illegally operating Uber, and Grab, drivers. We also heard how the LTFRB appears to have lost the accreditation papers submitted by Uber and Grab. I think we will all find our way through all this mess.

Keep calm and hail a ride.

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A Catholic Identity

When Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household'” (Mathew 10:34-36), you know the teachings of His Church will be hard to accept for those living in the world. Indeed, the conditions for discipleship are quite heavy as we continue to verses 37 to 39: “Whosever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

I am sure that the struggles of living in the first to third centuries are just as hard as in the 21st and 22nd. There were, as there are now, practices, beliefs and traditions that would be in conflict with Jesus’ teaching. Some of those practices, beliefs and traditions of old — their lifestyles — still linger today. It wouldn’t be hard to picture those living at the time of Jesus trying to marry their lifestyles with those teachings, and, in a way trying to water down the teachings so as to accommodate or excuse that which they cannot do without. My guess is that these watered down or deviant beliefs would eventually be labeled heresies precisely because they are not consistent with Jesus’ teachings and the traditions of the Church.

That’s the same struggle we go through in this day and age. We may look different, act different, or think different but those same lifestyle issues still exist today; and, unsurprisingly, people today also try to water down Catholic teachings in order to accommodate or excuse their lifestyle.

At this point, allow me to disclose that I am not a priest, theologian or even an extraordinary Catholic. I was born and raised a Catholic. Graduated from Catholic schools and universities, except for my law degree, which I got from a state university. I was married under Catholic rites, and in all probability will die a Catholic. So, by way of disclaimer, whatever I write here is not the official stand of the Catholic Church on the matter but my own appreciation of Catholic teaching. I hope that is clear.

One particular issue that is prevalent today is gender identity. In today’s thinking, people are not bound by their genetic genders but are supposed to be free to choose their gender; so, even if you were born with male XY chromosomes (as against the female XX), or, to be blunt, with a penis, it really doesn’t matter because if you identify yourself as a female, then you can be a female, your Y chromosome or penis be damned. Under this theory, male and female genders, or masculinity or femininity, are nothing more than social constructs and as such, may be abandoned. Without having to be Catholic, I am afraid I have to disagree with a theory such as this. As a Catholic, it becomes totally unacceptable.

In the first place, one should readily accept that there are masculine females and feminine men. Not all men are manly, or females girly. It would, therefore, be wrong to simply think of individuals in terms of their masculinity or femininity. Various cultures recognize a broad, and quite acceptable, class between male and female as in some North American native tribes, or those referred to as asog in the Philippines.

However, this does not necessarily mean that you are any less male or female. If you are a gay man, then the fact that you are effeminate does not make you any less a male, even if you don’t see yourself as a man. Even if you decide to “transition” into a woman, genetically, you are still male, even with all the hormone treatments you decide to take.

Let’s take the idea to extremes: there are those who think, or would like to think, that they are dogs. Some even wear fur designed to make them look like a dog. They walk around on all fours, and eat and act like a dog. Does that make them a dog? No, they are still people. We can say the same thing about males or females who transition to females or males. Do the physical changes they go through take away the fact that they were born male or female? No, it does not. It may change the way they look but not what they were at birth. Gender identity is, therefore, an escape. It denies what you actually are in favor of what you believe. Psychologically, that can’t be good. I think acceptance is the better solution.

Moreover, gender identity makes a distinction between your spirit and your body. Your body is not you. Not if you think you are something else entirely. Your body is a mere vessel for your spirit. Unfortunately, it seems that once in a while the stork makes the mistake of putting the wrong spirit in a vessel and you have males thinking they are females, and vice versa. Therefore, we, being free spirits, can believe ourselves to be otherwise, and, as the theory goes, it is so.

This is where Catholic teaching may really be challenged. In my simple Catholic mind, when Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth, He was both God and man. He was completely a God as He was completely a man. Therefore, to think that our bodies are nothing more than mere vessels is contrary to what Jesus himself accomplished when He came to earth. He sanctified us. People. He made us holy. Not just our souls but the body that is in His image and likeness as well. To say our bodies are disposable would belittle that which made Jesus a man. Remember, we see the body as the temple of God. It’s a package. Body and soul. That’s us.

All this may be viewed as backward or outdated. On the other hand, it is just an example where Catholic teaching is different from worldly views. The world would allow it.  In fact, in some countries, children as old as ten are allowed to choose their identity. 10! We don’t let them contract marriage but they can choose their gender. Wow. However, the very idea is contrary to what the Church teaches. We do not really choose our gender. Man and woman we are born. That’s just how it is, and it’s not as if  it’s based on nothing but faith. It’s based on human experience. The world will try to convince us otherwise; to join them in their belief that gender is something we can choose for ourselves. That is not something the Church can accept. Pope Francis himself was very vocal about that. He sees it as an ideology that seeks to annihilate man as an image of God. (Pope Francis vs. Gender Ideology, The Catholic World Report, August 13, 2016.)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Church can just condemn those who are trying to convince them to adopt this concept of gender identity. No, the Chruch is still a Church of love and compassion. Judgement is for Jesus when He returns as King. For our part, we can only lovingly engage these people to rethink their position. People may condemn us for our teachings they think is so outdated and violative of human rights but we don’t get to do the same. We are Catholics. That’s who we are.

 

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Syria on my mind.

On June 28, 1914, shots rang out in the streets of Sarajevo killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. His death would plunge nations into the First World War. Millions died.

Fast forward to 2017, Syria is in the middle of a civil war, a war against terror, and a proxy war all wrapped in a single bloody conflict. I will not pretend to fully comprehend its complexities but, for our purposes, suffice it to say that you have those against the Assad regime, you have Assad and his army, and the terror group ISIS in a three-corner fight of sorts. Russia and Iran support Assad, while the US and the Western nations support various groups seeking the ouster of Assad, or hope to be independent like the Kurds.

Normally, the Syrian conflict should be just that: a conflict between Syrians but the presence of Russia, who actually resurrected its mothballed aircraft carrier to join the conflict, the US and its allies, and Iran, is making this a quagmire worthy of 1914 Sarajevo. While Russia and the US rely mostly on their air and special forces to assist their chosen sides, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards openly cross the border to fight for Assad, or against ISIS. The US and Russia may have thousands of troops in or around Syria. Iran has tens of thousands.

Worse, the conflict is starting to draw in other players. Israel bombed Syrian positions when wayward Syrian rockets flew into its territory. Parenthetically, Israel has also sent overtures to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which is in its own struggle against Iran for dominance in the Middle East. The Saudis, despite the fact that Osama Bin Laden and al-Queida — the terrorists behind 9/11 — were KSA-linked, is also pro-US. The US is also traditionally pro-Israel. The US also recently approved a billion dollar arms deal with KSA and its president’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal entered into by his predecessor, which KSA dislikes, and his threat to abandon it are all common knowledge.

Recently, the KSA and the United Arab Emirates (UAE or Emiratis) with Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar supposedly because the latter praised Iran (and Israel) and supported terrror groups like ISIS. Qatar denied the accusations but, curiously, the emir of Qatar thereafter called on Iran to congratulate its president for his re-election, which naturally pissed off KSA and the Emiratis. Turkey, which is fast becoming distant from the West, is siding with Qatar. The US president, contrary to what US diplomats were saying about the rift claimed credit for KSA and the Emiratis move to stop terrorist financing from Qatar. Russia appears to be sitting on the fence on this one having interests to protect with both KSA and Qatar; however, it appears to be more sympathetic to Qatar as its diplomats and state agencies have been meeting with their Qatari counterparts after the rift. Still, its energy needs require it to keep itself on the good side of KSA.

Then we have the US Senate passing a bill threatening Russia with sanctions for interfering with US elections. It still has to be approved by the US House of Representatives and Trump but, essentially, it seeks to penalize Russia’s energy program and anyone who assists Russia in said program. This does not sit well with the European Union (EU), especially Germany, who have companies involved in those programs. The EU sees the action as contrary to the agreed approach for joint action of the EU and the US when it comes to sanctions against Russia. It’s bad enough that Trump is alienating his Western allies in NATO. This can openly break the tenuous relationship between Trump and the EU-NATO. Germany has already voiced its concern that the EU can no longer rely on the US for leadership. Trump, with his America First byline, couldn’t care less it seems.

Finally, China and Russia, whom many have interpreted to be the biblical Gog and Magog, have recently decided to create a roadmap to military cooperation, among other things. Russia may no longer be as influential as it was at the height of the Cold War but nobody can deny the growing influence of the resurgent China whose efforts to create a new Silk Road is allowing it to create a sphere of influence from Asia to Africa and Europe. If we stick to the biblical interpretation that China and Russia are Gog and Magog, then they will bring with them a third of the earth. At the moment, Turkey and the Philippines appear to be among those willing to join them.

So, we have the US with KSA and its allies, China and Russia with Syria, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and the 1/3 of the world, the EU acting independently of the US and without the U.K. due to Brexit, and, somewhere out there, Israel, which freely bombs anyone that threatens, or it perceives to threaten, its existence.

Even if Syria is not our generation’s Sarajevo, it is certainly one of the falling dominoes leading to an unimaginable war. With all these interconnections, it is not difficult to imagine someone rightly or wrongly deciding to go after Israel and with that one move pull in the nations with all those strings binding them together into another world war, and where nations are armed with nuclear weapons, it just may be the real war to end all wars.

In a land full of oil, it just takes a wayward match to set things on fire. Some may say that it has all been prophesied and it will be impossible to stop it but I am a man of Faith and, therefore, believe that it does not necessarily have to end in Armageddon. My faith may be the size of a mustard seed but I believe it can move mountains, and we are promised that whenever two or more of us agree on Earth, then so shall it be in Heaven. If God can be persuaded by Lot to stay His hand from judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah, certainly places that seem to deserve God’s judgment, then we can also cry out to our Father to spare us from that terrible judgment.

Yes, Syria has me worried but I still choose to be hopeful about our future.

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