On Selfies

Towards the end of “Samurai X” – OK, “Rurouni Kenshin” – the dojo was supposed to have its pictures taken by a photographer in the village.  In the group, it was only Sannosuke who was averse to the idea of still pictures, claiming that the camera will “suck the soul” of anyone who may gaze into the lens.  He or she will be frozen, he claims.  A lot like a mechanical Medusa of sorts, that the blinding flash of the light will momentarily turn you to stone.

I’m not sure about the statistics of Instagram, but I bet that a majority of the pictures there are selfies.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s word for 2013 was “selfie.”  Their definition: “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or web cam and uploaded to a social media website.”  But we all know that there’s more to the selfie than just merely being a photograph.  It’s not an ID picture, but a filtered, saturated, “artistic” self-portrait.  It’s the self-image – in the strictest sense of the word “image” – that we want to project.

The selfie is the closest approximation we have to show the world how we see ourselves in the mirror.  The touch-ups, the angles, the filters and the colors and the hues are touches of personality that a clear eyesight prevents us (perhaps even betrays us) from seeing in the real world.  There’s a somewhat obvious subtext to the selfie: the way we see ourselves, is the way we want to be seen.

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The Binay Card

By now, much has been said about the whole Binay imbroglio.  Binay’s own camp weighed in, which makes this all the more interesting.

I’m not the biggest fan of Binay – not by a long shot – but the guy has always been consistent about playing the victim.  In the minds of the Binays, it’s the family against the world.  A cursory view of the chatter around this controversy shows that the Binays and their supporters may not take too kindly to netizens.

And then there’s the pink war elephant in the room, one that has always been the choice weapon of “oppressed politicians.”  Dasmarinas Village is the seat of the wealthy and the powerful: the Binays need not appeal to them.  The Binays need not appeal to the Filipino Internet community, either: the previous elections show that the promise of a crust of bread is more important than the thoughts and musings of the upper crust.  Erap didn’t win second place in 2010 – and Nancy Binay didn’t become a Senator – on the basis of things like “social media sentiment.”

They are getting away with it as we speak.  To follow their way of thinking, why should their constituency be bothered at all with the rules of people living in posh subdivisions or the ranting and raving on social media?  If anything, Binay – and the political mindset that precedes and perpetuates public figures like him – thrives on things that are far more real than Tweets and hypertext.  It’s a political mindset that thrives on weak civic culture: that voting is enough, that the highest manifestation of political activity in the Social Media Capital is to Tweet and blog about it (or take up a name and head to Disqus calling out “lefties” and “Yellowtards,” for example), and the millions of reasons not to join the public sector because “politics” is a bad word.

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The Turkey and I

Besides the family dog, the first pet that I truly had was the turkey.

I was about eight when Dad and my uncle bought a couple of turkeys home.  For some reason, I took to feeding the turkey not as a chore, but as a “mission” of sorts.  Feeding leftovers to the neighbor’s pigs was one thing, but taking care of the turkey was another.  I even made the turkey gobble on cue: all I had to do was stand in front of it, jump around, and imitate Taz from “Tazmania.”

Until that fateful day when Dad decided that the turkey was fat enough to be killed.  I was inconsolable: for much of the day I looked at my relatives as cold-hearted pet-killers.  Eventually I relented: after a gift of a plastic robot and a talk with Dad over the facts of life, I sat down to one of the best pets I ever had.

It wasn’t exactly a good meal, though: my pet turkey ended up as adobo and afritada, not the roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce of our 20th century colonial masters.  It wasn’t bad – a rather earthy, gamey chicken – but a bit sinewy and rubbery.  That’s the first and the last turkey we kept.

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Yolanda: Notes on a Disaster

Twenty-three years ago, Typhoon Uring (international codename: “Thelma”) turned Ormoc from a peaceful port overlooking the Camotes Sea, to a wasteland of despair and death.  The flash flood of 1991 gave way to the most haunting images left behind by Typhoon Uring: entire houses flattened by floodwaters, and streets ravaged by rubbish and debris.  Almost 5,000 people died from the flash floods.  An estimated 3,000 were declared missing, and P600 million worth of property were damaged by a storm that was, for a time, deemed the worst of them all.

Perhaps the most haunting images of all were rotting bloated corpses: like statues etched in blocks of impure marble and clothed with tattered rags, it seemed that the sculptor wanted to capture drowning and despair in their most literal forms.

And here we are, in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (international codename: “Haiyan”). Most storms hit the same places in the Philippines’ eastern seaboard.  The Eastern Visayas region – Samar and Leyte in particular – is no stranger when it comes to typhoons.  Yet at the same time, the region is no stranger to the poverty and vulnerability that comes with generations of underdevelopment.  Eastern Visayas is a place of extreme wealth in the hands of a few, and despondent poverty for the multitude.

The chatter in Philippine social media today spares no barbs for the Aquino administration, international humanitarian agencies, and even reporters from here and all over the globe.  Everything from politics to donation protocols to media coverage was put in the spotlight.  The images of hope – a street child donating a peso, a dirt-poor 80-year-old woman donating a half-open packet of milk to those starving in Leyte, lone helicopter pilots doing airdrops on their own, ShelterBox volunteers – are often shadowed by the criticisms of an angry public, mostly spared from the devastation of Yolanda.  “Donations are not being distributed fast enough,” one says.  “Politicians are hoarding donations for them to put their names on the bags,” says another.  That storm of opinions, brewing and swirling in Twitter and Facebook, did in words what Yolanda did in gales and storm surges: to shake the very core of our being.

Yet the devastation caused by Yolanda was just the exclamation point to the tragic story of Eastern Visayas: mired in hardship and poverty for decades, perhaps even generations.  Samar and Leyte became the poster provinces of rural poverty in the Philippines.  Yolanda barreled through the Visayas and not only uprooted trees and destroyed buildings and claimed lives: it also exposed the extent of poverty and underdevelopment in a place that needed aid and support way before the strongest typhoons of this year started brewing.

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Yolanda: Donations

So instead of spreading toxicity over the Internet (which we can do WAY, WAY later, not today, pag may time, so to speak), I’d like to take this time to help get the word out on donations.  There’s already enough awareness spread out there, so it’s time we ramp it up and donate.  And donate smartly.

If you haven’t donated yet to help out those affected by Yolanda, please consider sending donations over to UNICEF, the DSWD, or the Philippine Red Cross.  Other aid organizations are found in the GOV.PH website, and all over Facebook.  If you’re reading this from overseas, please consider making donations through the Salvation Army, Doctors Without Borders, the International Medical Corps, or even through iTunes.

Whenever you can, please try to donate money: while this may be a good time to donate old clothes we’ve outgrown or medicines we don’t use, I think that the pressing needs of our suffering countrymen demand a smarter, more useful donation.  Try to talk to your HR about giving a donation (no matter how small) as a salary deduction.

From what little I know of development work (I’m not an expert), donating in cash is more useful for the following reasons:

  1. Cash is easier to hold on to and to transport than, say, boxes and bags of shoes.
  2. Donations-in-kind are more expensive to transport, to sort out, and to distribute than, say, boxes and bags of clothes.
  3. Those in the ground would know more about the needs of the victims, and with the cash they can procure and purchase goods more efficiently than we can if we gave in kind.

I came across this Greatest Good Donation Calculator from the USAID CIDI; hope it lends you some perspective on how much the costs of a gift-in-kind can be, and why a monetary donation may be a smarter gift to give.

Cash donations also help fund the rebuilding of these communities in the future.  Despite the specter of graft and corruption plaguing the Philippines, making these donations means getting more relief and projects out there and funds the humanitarian and rebuilding efforts.  Crowdsourcing the flow of international aid is something that many Filipino netizens are doing a lot of lately, so public transparency is there.

Off-tangent, I hope that these discussions on social media about where all the aid is going can spark interest on the nature of aid, humanitarian work, and the challenges facing aid.  For those of you who want to get to know more about aid, there are some great blogs out there that discuss the topic of humanitarian aid from aid workers’ perspectives: Good Intentions are Not Enough and Tales from the Hood come to mind.

And here’s an absolute essential: the Google Person Finder.

So yes, you don’t have to feel helpless, small, and significant in donating whatever cash you can this payroll (or right now, if you can, or maybe someday soon).  A little goes a long way.

Oh, and one last thing: when making donations let’s keep in mind that it’s not about us, it’s about them.  And at the risk of sounding a little too touchy-feely about it, I strongly believe that there’s truth in saying that when it comes to giving, it’s about being the giver that others need, not being the giver we want to be.

Hope you can share!  Not this post, but a donation to the victims of Yolanda.

Postscript: The view on the relief efforts and all the chatter in social media, that will come later.

The Big Against The Small

“It is therefore in the body of the wrestler that we find the first key to the contest.”

- Roland Barthes, “The World of Wrestling,” Mythologies

When you break wrestling down to its essentials, the general context of wrestling is quite simple and straightforward. Some compare it to David and Goliath, but I’d rather much compare it to Samson breaking down the pillars of the Temple of Dagon. Before this all descends to the Bildung and frisson of analyzing simple things, it’s quite simple: in a match between the good guy and the bad guy, the good guy gets kicked and slammed around first before he mounts a comeback and beats the bad guy. This may last for as short as a quick 5-minute match, or throughout a whole storyline.

For those enthusiastic about pro wrestling trivia, this pattern emerges throughout the history of the spectacle. Take Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan. Or Shawn Michaels and Vader. You can even go back as far as the match that started it all: the muscular, chiseled George Hackenschmidt versus the athletic and toned Frank Gotch. In a post-”wrestling-is-scripted-not-fake” understanding of professional wrestling, it’s easy to see why passionate wrestling fans all over the world think that the WWE brass is screwing over Daniel Bryan in favor of the Big Show.

But isn’t that the very basic foundation pro wrestling is built on: the battle of big and small? And isn’t that applicable to things like, say, life itself?

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Dear Xavier Kid Who Bagged Groceries

In the interest of “sober perspectives” – which again is ironic considering the nature of the word “sober” and my often incoherent rambling – please read this article from The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

You’re a very fortunate kid, and I don’t mean that in the stereotypical and undeserved “rich kids of Xavier School” sense.  I mean it in the sense that you had an opportunity many of us – admittedly – never had, and that’s to spend four days being a grocery bagger at SM.  I’m pretty sure that years from now, everyone who read your article will hold you accountable for whatever promises you made for blue-collar workers.

Many people have criticized you over the past few days, many people had more than a few things to say to you.  And – admittedly – at first I was irked by the lessons you learned in that stint bagging groceries.  Perhaps what irked me the most was the innocence of it, or maybe the naïveté of it.  I’m old, maybe a bit jaded, had one too many groceries bagged over the years that I tend to forget the importance and value of these people in my life.

I thought about it, and I had a change of heart.  Maybe I don’t agree with the entire idea of immersion entirely, or perhaps with the lessons you learned.  But I’m glad you learned a lot from immersion, but there’s also that other place we need to be immersed in: life.  I don’t claim to hold a monopoly on the right way to view it, or the proper way to see it.  But hear me out for a bit, if you will: I’d like to share in your lesson, too.

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