Eclipse

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Eclipse by Richard North Patterson was the book I finished this month. I actually started this a few months back but I was very busy so I couldn’t sit down to finish it.  It’s a very compelling book and very relevant to our life now.

This book really makes you ask yourself some tough questions. What price are we all willing to pay to maintain our lifestyle? How do we measure the value of human life? How do we balance business, politics, environment and people?

The book talks about a fictional country called Luandia. It was very well described and I can imagine the events as actually happening.  It is just so sad that a country who has rich resources would go to ruin.  You’d really think that the discovery of oil would help everyone in the country. However, as we all know, only a handful get to benefit from it.

The recent turmoil in the Middle East and Africa really highlights the fact that being oil-rich is no guarantee for progress and growth. Governments have a huge responsibility in putting things in order. Companies also have a responsibility to conduct their business in a manner that is respectful of the people and of the environment. These words are easier said than done. Relationships are complicated. Politics and business are complicated. There’s no easy fix. There’s no easy way.

It is very easy for me to sit here and blame governments, blame businessmen, blame criminals. But we all play a part. We’re all interconnected. One person alone didn’t cause the problems nor can one person alone solve the problems. But one person can influence the people around him. And they can then influence others. It’s like the concept of pay it forward. Let’s all pay it forward. Let’s all make small changes with our lifestyle. Let’s all be more mindful of how we use our resources. Let’s all call for clean governments. Let’s all support businesses that conduct their business in an ethical manner. I am hopeful that together, we can all institute change. These problems may not be happening in our own backyards but we all share the same Earth and protecting their part of the Earth is protecting our part as well.

 

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Apple launched the new iPhone last week and I’m sure there are thousands of people who can hardly wait to have their own.  I can appreciate how technology has improved over the years and the role that it now plays in our lives.  What I can’t understand is the compulsion that we have to always have the best and newest technology, whether we need it or not.

I’m willing to bet that only 10% of iPhone users need it in their lives.  Very few people need to be connected 24 hours in a day.  Very few people need access to the internet or their email immediately.  Most messages can wait.  In fact, we’re bombarded with so much information that we cannot fully absorb these and might even be missing out on the really important things because we are so preoccupied with superficial stuff.

I’m very much concerned with our consumerist culture which makes us want to buy, buy, buy.  Companies have fed this culture by developing products that make us want to acquire more and more.  And what happens to the gadgets that are still useful?  Trash.  So much trash is generated in the manufacture of these products and they end up being trash themselves in a matter of years.  Most of the gadgets can be considered consumable now and will be obsolete or have to be replaced in a few years.

Of course these gadgets make life more convenient.  But the lives that are being improved by these stuff are already easy and comfortable.  I would rather that technology be used to really help people whose lives are in dire circumstances.  But then there is no profit in that, no recognition, no fame.

But what if every person why buys an iPhone when they have a perfectly working phone, instead use that money towards causes that try to eliminate poverty, hunger, illiteracy?  I’m sure that money would be better spent and would really help people.  Isn’t it better to upgrade people’s lives than upgrade our gadgets?

I’m hoping that technological advances could be used for more practical purposes.  Hopefully engineers can figure out ways to protects crops from drought and flooding.  Hopefully they would find ways to bring clean water and electricity to remote areas that have no access to it.  Hopefully they would create houses that can withstand floods, typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Our lives are so comfortable that we forget that there are only three basic needs, food (and water), shelter and clothing.  Everything else is extra.

Holocaust

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I read the book, Holocaust by Gerald Green last month.  It was very poignant, powerful and disturbing.  While it was a work of fiction, I felt what it was like to live in Germany during those years.  After reading this, I am again reminded how fortunate I am to live in a relatively conflict-free area.

In school, we learned about the holocaust but it wasn’t in great detail.  I could never really understand how a whole nation could get it into their heads that they are the superior race and all other races had to be eliminated.  This book has really opened my eyes to the holocaust, both from a soldier and a Jew perspective.

The book gave some background into how relatively good people can be corrupted into changing their whole mindset.  How ordinary people look the other way when others are subjected to terror because they cannot afford to sacrifice their own way of life.  It also showed how much courage some people had and how they fought even if this would ultimately cause them harm or even death.

I don’t really know who to blame for what happened in Europe during those years.  On one hand you could say they the soldiers, the officers, the police, the people, had no choice.  They had to follow orders or else they would experience grave consequences.  On the other hand, how could you live with yourself, with your conscience knowing that even if you don’t directly do harm, by not doing anything, you are letting evil happen.  You could also say, what’s the point of saving one life, one family when millions died.  Like the starfish, it matters to that family.

I can understand soldiers killing soldiers during war.  But to kill unarmed, naked civilians, that is really unforgivable.  Their only crime was being born a Jew.  We have no choice into what family, country or religion we are born.  Why is this a crime?

It also amazes me how Jews would willingly follow orders and think the best of the situation.  It is very admirable but at the same time sad.  They are able so survive on very little.  It was mentioned in the book that you only need very little to survive.  But even survival was not an option for most Jews.  Very few fought back and most just accepted their fate.

After reading this book, I question why people seem to not have learned anything from history.  The bombing and shooting in Norway shows that there are still people who feel that others have no right to live.  I don’t think racial discrimination will ever be totally eliminated no matter how politically correct people try to be.  However, being a bit biased is yards different from killing innocent people.  We should all try to be tolerant of each others’ beliefs.  We are all different and we all have things to learn from one another.  Live and let live.

Stagnant

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Classes have again been suspended last Tuesday due to the typhoon and strong rains.  Afternoon classes were also suspended yesterday in anticipation of bad weather.  While I think erring on the side of caution is preferable, even I could see that yesterday’s weather wasn’t bad and it was a mistake to cancel afternoon classes.

Anyway, this post is not about cancelling classes.  I just want to highlight the fact that classes have been cancelled maybe 6 times since the start of classes this June.  So now there’s discussion again about changing the school calendar.  I’ve heard talks about this since I was a student and it hasn’t happened yet and I really don’t think it will.  It wouldn’t be fair to have your summer vacation during the monsoon season, right?  My thoughts on this is to just extend the school year, shortening the summer vacation to ensure that students still get the appropriate number of school days.  Let’s incorporate the days that will surely be missed due to typhoon cancellations and avoid make-up classes on Saturdays.

Now, about floods.  This is the biggest problem every time it rains.  Sometimes, rain as short as 30 min bring floods and it really shouldn’t.  Every year we have typhoons, and every year the government is helpless about the floods that result.  While I admire the evacuation plans and emergency training being done, I think we should address the cause of floods and eliminate flooding totally.  We can’t do anything about the rains but I’m pretty sure we can do something about the floods.

Everybody knows the main cause of floods are the blocked sewage systems.  So why is the government not doing anything to clear this?  We also know that bulk of the pollution comes from the informal settlers living along the water ways.  We know how dangerous their situation is and how much they contribute to the problem however they are still not resettled.  While I can understand their situation, it’s still not right to let them stay there, endangering their lives and bringing harm to others.  We need political will to really clear these areas and ensure that it stays clear.  Unfortunately, I think the politician who can do this hasn’t been born yet.

Another big problem caused by heavy rains is the heavy traffic.  Aside from the reduced visibility, drivers have to avoid flood prone areas and hence they’re all using the same roads.  As an aside, there was a motorist who, upon seeing a flooded road, continued driving on resulting in his car floating.  Upon being interviewed, he was very upset saying that he should have been informed that the road was impassable.  This is another trait that we all have, laying blame.  I’m not a driver but I know that if there are no cars on a flooded street that I probably shouldn’t take it, or ask around first to see if my car can make it.

Anyway, going back to traffic, a lot of roads have huge, gaping holes.  This is because they are poorly made so after a heavy rain, there are more potholes than roads.  This has something to do with the famous corruption in the Philippines again.  Politicians get kickbacks for having the road repaired every year so construction companies use substandard materials since they would earn more that way.  And the Filipino people are awed by the fact that their beloved politicians have worked to have their roads repaired.

Another cause of traffic are the road constructions and improvements.  While some of these might really take a year or so to finish, like what’s being done now along Quezon Avenue, why not start the construction before the rains fall?   At least it would be halfway through by the time the rains come.  The project along Quezon Avenue started in June, just in time for the rainy season and for the start of school.  It has also been delayed of course, due to the typhoons.  They could have started in January, right?

I’m sorry about all the rants but it’s just so tiring having the same problems year in and year out.  We know what the problems are, we kinda know what the solutions are but we’re not doing anything.  We’ve become stagnant.  It’s easier to be an observer, a commenter, a blamer, a complainer.  We have to break out.  And while we can do some things as individuals, in this case, the government has the bigger task of fixing the situation.  Here’s hoping that they will wake up soon and do something instead of talking and pointing fingers.

 

The End

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I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 yesterday.  I’m a big fan of Harry Potter, both the books and the movies.  I’m a bit sad that it has ended and there are no more new movies/books to look forward to.  But as with all good things (and bad), it must come to an end.

I’m not going to write about the movie, or the book.  I’m actually going to write about the ending, or rather, dying.

Intellectually, we all know that dying is part of living.  It is the logical outcome of life and we would all die in the end.  A lot of people are preoccupied with eternal life though, doing all they can to live forever, like making horcruxes and storing bits of their soul in them to be recovered later.  But even ordinary people take extreme measures to prolong their life.

I sometimes watch a show titled Obsessed  where ordinary people with obsessive compulsive tendencies are treated.  There was a man who was obsessed with staying alive.  He goes to the gym about 8 times a day and pops about 30 pills everyday, all these to ensure that he stays alive long enough for scientists to find a cure for aging.  His treatment was not so successful as he wasn’t really open to changing his outlook.  He did reduce his time at the gym, instead of 8 times, he only goes like 3 to 5 times.  For the therapist, the treatment was a failure.  For him, it was a success.  He wasn’t really open to the idea of changing and we really can only change if we want to, the motivation has to come from within.  It doesn’t matter what the world says, if we don’t want to change, we can’t.

That man was an extreme case but everyday, I think we do things that will prolong our life.  We exercise, eat healthy, take vitamins and use products to control the signs of aging.  Of course we should keep ourselves healthy as this will ensure that we can enjoy our life.  But if we spend most of our time calculating calories, browsing the internet for the new magic pill, blowing our money on products that promise to keep us looking young, then I think we have a problem.

We will all die.  We must learn to accept this.  Everyday, someone dies.  But life goes on.  We can’t dwell on the possibility of death.  Sure let’s take care of ourselves.  Let’s prepare for the future.  But let’s also be in the present.  Let’s enjoy today.  Let’s make the most of our time here.  Let’s help someone, let’s spend time with our family, let’s enjoy our food, let’s spend some time doing what we enjoy.

In the end, what really matters?  Would it matter if you lived to be 40 or 60 or 100?  Would it matter if you had wrinkled skin or grey hair?  Would it matter if you had a million dollars in the bank or dozens of properties and cars?  I think what matters is the legacy we leave behind, the memory that people will carry in their hearts, the impact that our life has left on earth.  In the end, I’d rather be surrounded by friends and family than by possessions.  As they say (I forgot who), live your life as if it were your last.  One day you will be right.

Kudos Basureros!

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Last March, I wrote about the garbage segregation project supposedly being implemented.  They’ve threatened not to pick up the garbage that’s not segregated but I’ve never seen it happen.

Well, they made some changes this month.

About two weeks ago, I was surprised when the garbage truck came by on a Tuesday.  Their schedule for pick-up was Wednesdays and Saturdays and we have not been informed of any changes.  We asked the collectors and they said that the schedule has been changed to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  They said that Tuesdays and Saturdays were for biodegradable waste and the non-biodegradable waste will be collected on Thursdays.  I was happy about this news as it would really force people to segregate and just bring out the appropriate trash.

My hopes then were dashed as I still see all sorts of trash taken out during garbage day.  I walk everyday after bringing Yumi to school so I can see (and smell) the garbage along the streets during garbage day.

Last week, some people from the baranggay came around informing us of a meeting about garbage segregation to be held at the baranggay hall.  They then again reminded us to segregate and only bring out the correct type of garbage on the assigned day.

So yesterday was biodegradable day.  As always, I walked around and again saw all sorts of garbage, even among my neighbors.  Imagine my surprise when I heard the collectors talking to our neighbors and I saw them bringing back in their house boxes and other non-biodegradable trash.  They actually followed through!  This is amazing and the first time I’ve actually witnessed such a thing.

I admire the basureros as I know it’s difficult for them to talk to people and actually implement the rules.  I know it’s such a small thing but it’s a start.  I guess there’s still hope for our country if this is done consistently, everywhere.  I just hope that this will be sustained and be the start of even bigger projects to solve our garbage crisis.

Keep up the good work!

Who’s counting?

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I only discovered the Duggar Family about a month ago while channel surfing.  I was very amazed by their story and the challenges they face with 19 children.  I did see that they’re doing very well and are living quite comfortably.

About 2 weeks ago, I came across a special feature about a family here with 22 children.  Their lives cannot be more different than the Duggars.  They live in poverty.  The parents only finished up to grade 3 or 4.  None of the children have graduated from high school.  They’re pinning all their hopes on one daughter who’s now in third year high school.  It was a very sad story indeed.

I think the major difference between these two families is education.  I have nothing against big families as long as you are able to provide for your children in a manner they deserve.  I think family size is a personal decision and there is no right or wrong way of going about it.  I do, however, consider education as necessary.  I’m sure the Duggars knew what they were doing in bringing forth 19 lives.  They have at their disposal ways to control the number of children they would have.  This other family though, I think, didn’t really know how they could stop having children.  Of course abstinence is key but do we really expect a married couple to not have sex when it’s the only free recreation they have?  They said they didn’t want to have so many children but didn’t know what to do.  They didn’t have the tools to stop getting pregnant.  And that’s just sad.

One thing that really struck me was what one of the children said when asked what her dreams are.  Her dream is to eat three times a day.  You can’t get more real than that.  That really puts things in perspective as to what real problems are.  For us, eating three times a day is the bare minimum, something not to think about.  Sometimes we eat even 5 times or more a day.  If we eat less than 3 meals in a day, it’s by choice.  We forget that to others, survival is a bitter fight.  What we would consider as problems are just inconveniences, something that wouldn’t matter 5 years from now.

The disparity really makes me think how one’s situation in life is sometimes brought about by pure luck.  I do believe that each of us has the capacity to better ourselves however, our life situation dictates how difficult the journey would be.   We really have to deal with the deck we’re dealt.  Hopefully, we’ll learn the tools we need to survive and flourish along the way.

Life isn’t fair.  It would be up to us to somehow try to balance it out.

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