Monday, July 23, 2007


N.B. I am posting a journal entry I wrote back yet on July 8, 2004, a part of a collection which I collectively called "JULY JAUNTS."

July literally rocks! It opens with more than just a bang. It flashes, and shines, and glows as all of America celebrates its more than two hundred years of independence. Fireworks galore, as only Americans can put up, explode simultaneously in many cities of the United States on July 4, in a flurry of bursting lights and colors, accompanied by a flourish of bands, symphonies, and concerts star-studded by all available popular icons of the big entertainment center that is America. Hotels, casinos, beaches, restaurants, parks, bayside and seaside boardwalks, and just about any available temporary refuge away from home, work, and worries are booked solid and filled to overflowing.

I must say I had been part of the crowds that clogged the freeways, and added to the mountains of trash created by those who took advantage of the long week-end getaway.

With my last early summer course over and done with at Loyola, with the cool, nippy spring weather fading into a distant memory in muggy and humid Baltimore, I definitely deserved a break from all the feverish studying, reading and writing. The timing was perfect. My niece was due to cap her fourteen years of violin lessons, and six years of formal piano lessons with a concert-recital, an occasion that was timed with her 18th birthday celebrations last June 26. It was a perfect opportunity for a quick swing off to sunny but comfortably cool Northern California, a good 5 hours direct flight away from BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport).

The traditional Filipino Hispanic inspired cotillion waltz that opened the debutante’s dinner-party was a sight to behold. The members of the court were all Americans save three who have some kind of Filipino heritage. Seeing them in their jusi barongs (a native formal attire for men) and native-Filipino-inspired gowns (all specially tailored and stitched in Paranaque), had an air of odd, but pleasant, and welcome incongruity. It was a perfect example that friendship knows no cultural nor racial barriers. The wonder is that they all endured the many long and tedious hours of rehearsals under the capable direction of a Filipino-American couple whose passion is dancing. My niece’s members of the “court,” along with other friends, prevailed upon her to put up the “cotillion de honor,” after having seen a video tape presented by her in class in a course that talked about different cultures and practices all over the world. In exchange, they promised to be faithful to the rehearsals and to help set up the party.

Put it up magnificently and well, they did. From an observer’s viewpoint, however, their performance of the Todo, Todo line-dancing sequence leaves much to be desired in terms of gracefulness, but all the same, it was worth all the long hours of practicing and pirouetting.

After the party, my niece was scheduled to join the annual Music Teachers’ Association of California convention, one of the 1,500 out of 30,000 music student-participants from all over the state who applied and passed the competitive exams, held at San Diego, CA.

That was another opportunity for me to tag along and be part of the mass exodus of long-weekenders for the Independence Day celebrations.

The trip down Highway 5 to southern California seemed less exciting than previous ones done years back. Somehow, the road seemed more bumpy, less taken care of, and the drive less pleasant. (Does all the money go to finance the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? What happened to the famed American clock-work efficiency at maintenance?) What made it exciting though, was the possibility of making a swing for Simi Valley, where just two weeks before, Reagan was buried right on the grounds of his Presidential Library. Of course, the library is opened only for serious researchers with a purpose, not gaping tourists like everyone who flocked to it seemed to be! The museum was not particularly interesting. They were just memorabilias and a massive collection of trinkets associated with Ron and Nancy Reagan’s closely intertwined lives. As an avid reader and a writing aficionado, though, I felt a certain emotional affinity with Ronald Reagan, whose speeches and personal letters definitely show a man who was very articulate, well-read, and who had a certain flair for writing. He, indeed, lived the epithet ascribed to him as the great communicator in more ways than one. Incidentally, during his state funeral, I was struck by the undeniable fact that both Thatcher and Mulroney read very finely written eulogies, delivered with perfect oratorical cadence, and couched in excellent, elegant prose that overshadowed the very plebeian, amateurish pieces delivered by Bush, Sr. and Bush, Jr. (oftentimes referred to rather disparagingly as Dubya). The highlight of the museum, at least for me, was the exact replica of the oval office, arranged exactly the way it had been during his eight years as President, down to the last details, including the view from the windows.

Approaching the sprawling city of LA, what surprised me were the new “developments” taking place in what I thought would not become residential areas – steeply sloping hills that used to be dotted, not by upscale residential homes, but by sparse vegetation usually found in the semi-arid conditions of southern California. The trip through the Highway 405 that hugged the coastline and crisscrossed the entire city reminded me of the traffic conditions of EDSA. We spent almost three hours just getting through 405 on the way further south to San Diego. For all the much ballyhooed freeway system of California considered as among the most extensive of its kind in the world, congestion remains a formidable challenge in one of America’s most traffic-clogged cities (along with Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, Dallas, and others). Incidentally, in Baltimore, I see that there are drivers who behave more like Filipino drivers in Manila. At the 695 beltway that rings the city of Baltimore, where traffic ordinarily gets congested during morning and afternoon rush hours, there are drivers who are learning the art of “cutting” and “weaving in and out” of lanes – practices that Filipino drivers (especially jeepney, taxi, and bus drivers), have elevated to the level of skilled artistry, if not an Olympic sport in the Philippines.

I have always maintained that human behavior is for the most part dictated by need. Space being basically limited, the solution to the traffic problem depends upon the availability of more space, more resources, and more money. But more resources lead to more and bigger cars. Development necessarily entails the need for more and more roads. The vicious cycle goes on.

This model just cannot go on forever. No, not even in America, as the growing traffic problems everywhere seem to suggest. The paradigm simply has to change. Mass transit will have to part of the planning now, not in the future. But will America put a stop to its love affair with the automobile that is the modern symbol of its culture of rugged individualism, personal freedom, and mobility? Will America learn from the growing phenomenon of more and more places saying no to the dumping of garbage in the technically flawed system of landfills? Not in my backyard … even if trash is created right within people’s homes.

San Diego … a city that sits on sloping hills, a city of towering and crisscrossing highway interchanges, a hotel-studded entertainment and convention center that hugs the Pacific coastline that used to be part of what was known as Alta California (as distinct from the Baja California that belongs to Mexico), is also home to the 48 year old, but still awesome aircraft carrier USS Midway!

Hotel Circle, a cluster of well-known and lesser known hotels just a few miles south of downtown was abuzz with excited musicians from all over California that Independence Day long weekend. Watching the whiz kids banging on the piano keyboard with absolute panache and self-confidence was entertainment enough for me. It was a wonder to me whether they were doing anything more than piano playing. What struck me most was the egregious fact that the great majority of them were chinky eyed children of Asian descent. Among us, we jokingly remarked that some of those might have been tied to their pianos by their parents to make them practice for five hours a day.

Just a few miles further south of San Diego is National City, the turf of Jollibee, Chowking, Red Ribbon, PNB, and other familiar joints in the Philippines. But this is America! National City, a short hop away from the navy ports, naturally and gradually became the enclave of Filipino US navy men and their families. As we munched on chicken joy with rice (the portions here are bigger than back home), we watched as cars passed by the main thoroughfare. We saw only an occasional Caucasian at the wheels or in the passenger seat. Most of those who passed by were – you guessed it right – pinoy at pango, like us. Banners hanging on lamp posts featuring the American flag are emblazoned with “Welcome” and “Mabuhay.” And yes, posters in the Filipino eating places announce the forthcoming concert of Dolphy and Zsa-Zsa Padilla. We ended up in Jollibee after a futile search for the restaurant named “Manila’s Best.” What we found was a “turo-turo” whose fare, like almost all Filipino restaurants in America, did not look appetizing. Food oozed or was literally smothered in grease, haphazardly placed in warmers that stood behind glass lined counters. I swore that for a while, I thought I was in Cubao, or Pasay near LRT stations, desperately wanting a hot meal after a long drive in Manila-like summer weather. Hindi bale na lang!

San Diego happens to be the site of the first Catholic mission started by the prolific Franciscan missionary named Junipero Serra. Mission San Diego de Alcala definitely brought character and color to San Diego, vestiges and signs of which are still evident nominally, at least. The baseball team calls itself the San Diego Padres. Roads and places betray the religious origins of the city: Escondido, El Centro, Friars’ Road, Coronado Island, and a whole lot more.

Few people who live now in San Diego, or for that matter all over California, are now willing to give credit to Junipero Serra’s vision and mission. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), an ultra liberal and anti-Christian group recently succeeded in removing the cross from the emblem of LA county. They also have managed to remove the ten commandments from a court in Alabama. Now they want to remove the “San” from San Pedro, Santa Clarita, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Pablo, San Jose, etc. all in the name, at least overtly, of the doctrine of separation between Church and State. Funny how some people could be so allergic to what they call the dogmatist church and religions, and act so dogmatically and doggedly against any external sign and show of religiosity. Curiously enough, no one among them talks about removing the image of the goddess Pomona in the same emblem. No one talks of renaming Pomona boulevard in LA.

For all their protestations, however, history cannot be unwritten. History cannot be changed. And history shows very clearly how the very freedom they now invoke to fight against religion, was laid down in its foundations by “padres” and “friars” like Blessed Junipero Serra, even as historically, America’s founding fathers decreed the doctrine of separation of Church and state, precisely to safeguard the right of religion and religious groups to exist in what was then known as the confederate states. Take and read any history book, whether religiously inspired or not, and see the historical truth that juts out incontrovertibly. It was people like these padres, these friars, people sent as missionaries by Holy Mother the Church, that stand at the bottom, and that constitute the foundation of democratic freedom, personal liberty, and, ultimately, free enterprise.

History does not lie. And intelligent people are not blind, except those who would not see.

Monday, July 2, 2007


The much awaited "muse" does not come my way these days. I don't know why. A great many ideas about what to write on cross my mind each and every single day, but so many things stand in the way, both real and imagined.

I want to write about my favorite pet peeve - the political shenanigans in my country. But I refrain from doing so as I get so worked up I end up raising the level of my palpitations, instead of prayerful thoughts.

My readers will have to make do with rehashed thoughts, taken from my digital storehouse. I repost a journal entry dated March 14, 2004. I wrote it when the weather back in Baltimore, MD couldn't wait to be called spring, but, like us people who keep on hemming and hawing, pushing and pulling at one and the same time, it kept on falling back to winter, in nature's version of people who can't seem to get decided ever on what they want to be and do.

I originally entitled it MARCH MADNESS. The heading above was originally only the sub-title. News from Great Britain these past days are full of the recent terroristic madness that this journal entry back in 2004 also partly refers to - the infamous Marzo Once! In the local scene, well-intentioned dragons raise a hue and a cry about the dress code in Catholic churches in the Manila Archdiocese. (Thanks, Kay, for writing so nicely about it!). In the parish where I celebrate Mass regularly, people consistently arrive late - mostly during the time of the readings. Some even have the nerve to enter triumphantly and with perfect insouciance, during my homily. The British are changing their tunes today. No ... those who perpetrated the dastardly explosions were not "home-grown" terrorists, like as if it really mattered whether they were home-grown or not, like as if dying would be any less cruel and meaningless if they were not home-grown! Ahh, ubinam gentium sumus!

Here's the dated entry ...


“Man, proud man, dressed in a little, brief authority does such fantastic tricks before high heavens, as make the angels weep.” (Shakespeare)

March, at least in the so-called temperate zone, is a ripe time for all sorts of mania and madness. The weather goes raving mad, for one, ranging from summery sweltering highs to shivering, shuddering lows; from bright, brilliant sunshines, to gloomy, lowering and gloweringly menacing clouds threatening icy rain, slush, and late sleet and snow – all in rapid succession within a short span of time.

An epic struggle takes place between receding but proud winter, and hopeful, if excited spring, at this time of year, with the latter all raring to burst into glorious, glowing new life. A clash between the dark and dreary dead of winter on the one hand, and the light and lusty life-giving promise of spring takes place every day as the mercurial and the barometric sensors that plummet down as quickly as they shoot up all too clearly show.

The much awaited spring is a time for renewal, excitement, promise and endless possibilities. It could, alas, also be a time for disappointment, pain, and uncertainty. Will spring make good the hope it engendered all through the cold of winter? Will spring come in and make the most awaited and popular cherry trees burst forth into breathtaking blossoms in Tokyo and Washington, D.C.? Will spring dispel the slumbering ideals of a people whose hopes may have gelled into silent cynicism and quiet desperation, turned gelid and cold by the anemic and icy dedication of people who once were live and burning flames of idealism and brilliant leadership? Will the onset of spring in late March erase forever the unsavory reputation of the “ides of March” that brought Julius Caesar to his dreaded doom? Will all the muck-raking and mudslinging that seems to be de rigueur before elections (in the U.S. and in the Philippines) lead to a May-time of gladsome thanksgiving and celebrations or to a numbingly real November that soon paves the way to another “winter of discontent?”

Madness of Marzo Once

The series of well-coordinated explosions that rocked three separate trains over in Madrid, Spain on the eerily timed late winter morning of March 11, 911 days after the infamous 9/11 massacre made mince meat of a hopeful world’s best efforts at living a normal, peaceful life. The “ides of March” have once-more sealed the fate of a month now more known for madness and mania than for anything else. The cold-blooded massacre’s “success” was only surpassed by its utter madness. With all due respect to T.S. Eliot, March, not April, has become “the cruelest month,” (cf. The Wasteland) cruel in many ways more than just one. March began the war in search for weapons of mass destruction last year, a further addition to the piling reasons for mankind to do more of what, ironically, in people’s linear thinking style, war was designed to do – to keep peace. Did you get it right? To keep peace. Here we are face to face with the madness of Marzo Once. But here, we are face to face, too, with the madness that made Marzo Once and all the terroristic bombings and killings taking place all over the world, even as I write, a very attractive solution to a problem that the world has not fully defined.

The Madness of Linear Thinkers

A well-meaning father, seeing his two sons quarreling one day, asked a typical linear thinker’s brilliantly logical question: “Who started this fight?” Of course, the stronger of the two brothers, the “top dog,” immediately quipped: “It all started when he hit me back!” Linear thinking is a worldwide brain epidemic that has attacked the most intelligent people in the world: from presidents to priests, from businessmen to bums. Every problem must have a cause. To solve a problem one must root out the cause and eradicate that cause. As the two kids unmistakably show, even with adults like us, it is always somebody else’s fault. And the stronger one almost always wins, even before the fight actually starts.

In a system, such as every family, every society, every community is, the question as to who is at fault is immaterial. In a macro system such as the worldwide society, the simplistic search for who ought to be punished and banished, at some point becomes ludicrous. Should the people in the third world now be punished for air pollution and the consequent global warming because they have no sufficient legislation in place? Should people in corrupt governments and societies replace one government after another by putting up one revolution after another, thus, creating a banana republic in the process? (as what happens in Haiti which could very well happen in the Philippines, too!) Should everyone disappointed and despondent now in both countries flee like rats would escape a sinking ship? All this reminds me of the ultimate linear question that made Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ ultimately earn millions at the stills. “Who put Jesus Christ to death?” “Who is responsible for his being put to death on the cross?” Linear thinkers have a ready answer for it, depending on what side of the faith universe they are. The Jews wouldn’t have any part of it. The Romans, for the most part, (in Italy) have long since thrown their faith out in the Tiber to really care a hoot about who’s ultimately responsible. The media are only busy hyping the ante so that the controversy could earn them the coveted almighty dollar. The theologians and Biblical scholars have got their hands full answering the same questions put to them ad nauseam. The pseudo-theologians and the soft-liberal pastors that dot the American religious landscape all have a series of “theological issues” to raise against the movie. The extreme rightists lose no time propagating the movie, if for nothing else, to propagate their brand of Christianity that bases itself a whole lot on feelings.

Melange Mania

In the mélange of culture, races, ethnic groups, religions, creeds and political groups of various persuasions that constitutes the changing face of America, every question, every issue, no matter how small and insignificant occasions, a group of impassioned supporters pro and con. People talk about the GIRM (General Instruction on the Roman Missal) but people continue doing what they think is best. The magisterium is pretty clear on a whole lot of issues, but the culture of pluralism almost forces people to adopt their own positions. The GIRM is clear on the exact manner of giving communion, but as usual, the “soft liberals” have their own version. The ultra-rightists, who appear more to be followers of the heretic Jansen than catholics have their own determined way of receiving communion, prostrating themselves like Veronica at the foot of the priest (why don’t they carry a portable communion rail?). Now, here’s hoping you don’t get me wrong. I am not a stickler for details just for the sake of details, but at the rate we are getting polarized into two irreconcilable camps (the extreme left and the extreme right) I begin to sense a lurking danger. What happens now to the living and teaching Church – represented by the official Magisterium? If every theologian of both persuasions can decide for himself what is the orthodox teaching on any topic, then what do we make of the voice of the living Magisterium?

Polarization Madness

I have always maintained that the Church is harmed immensely by both the ultra conservatives and the ultra progressives. Both have their own brand of theology. Both think that their theology is parallel to the Magisterium. Both think that they have the ultimate word on a whole lot of things. Both are rigid … and rigidity is associated with death – as in rigor mortis! When theology thinks and behaves like it is above the Magisterium, then theology loses its meaning, its purpose, its very reason for existing. For some ultra conservative groups, legitimate devotion is made a stepping stone for some strange teachings (when will these groups ever tire of re-setting the scheduled and dreaded “three days of darkness?”), substituting unhealthy fear for love of God and healthy attachment to the living community of believers. For many ultra progressives, the Holy Father is not “postmodern” enough, not in touch with reality, not in pace with the modern ways of the world, and therefore still lives in the Middle Ages, etc.

A frightening prospect lies behind both extremes. The implication is shuddering to think of – that the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised to the living Church is no longer in what we know as the Church. Push it a little further and the ultimate implication is unmistakable … the true teaching lies now in this little, funny group who preaches the modern version of “fire and brimstone,” or that happy, fellowship-inspired group who makes of the Mass nothing more, nothing else, and nothing less than a time to sing together, a time for horizontal mirth-making, with a few “pious readings” thrown in for good measure, and please … no mention of any Papal encyclicals, for God’s sake! (And avoid all talk of those strange topics called “hell” or “purgatory” “sin,” or “abortion.” Just wait for next year’s Pro-Life march at the national Mall!) By their “additions” or “deletions” to and from the official orthodox teaching, through overemphasis on one aspect or under emphasis on some others, both groups ultimately do harm to the integrity of the faith. A scholastic philosophical dictum comes to mind here: goodness comes from the totality and badness comes from whatever detracts from that integrity (Bonum ex integra cause; malum ex quocumque defectu.)

Munching Mania

The U.S. Secretary of Health made an appearance on national TV two weeks ago with this ominous sentence: “We are just too darned fat, ladies and gentlemen.” Well, he was talking to about 130 million Americans, 65 % of the total population who are, … well, just that - “too darned fat.” There was immediate response from the fast-food giants – (everything in America is “big” … ever wondered why one of the biggest food stores is called “Giant?”) something that the business world has been doing for decades now all over the world … downsizing. No more supersize fries; no more supersize soda. Afraid of being sued again for enabling people to get fatter than they would like, they made a mad rush toward more realistic portions.

Paranoid Madness

Martha Stewart made the “wrong move at the wrong time.” For not telling the truth when the right time asked for it, she was booked mercilessly and stands to spend “vacation time” in jail. The multi-millionaire and undisputed “domestic diva” for more than a decade, who wanted to save a measly 51,000 dollars by dumping her stocks, now has lost millions – and still counting! Paranoid America is booking everyone for every imaginable infraction of the law. What Giuliani did to beautify and put New York City back in its former glory, federal America now is doing. A pervasive paranoia now seeps through the cultural, religious, political atmosphere. (The Church has a lot to contribute to this paranoia with the pedophilia scandal). After 9/11, one cannot anymore do whatever one wants. Travelers, including those with the once respected “laissez passer” document, can be subjected to on the spot checks, and be handcuffed, if for no fault of their own, their name matches any of the thousands in their huge data base. As a student here, I have to prove to the government that I am really enrolled full time in school. The SEVIS on-line computer tracking system for students put in place just last year has an intricate system of monitoring which makes the school accountable if one of its students has been doing other things. For me to go out of the country temporarily, I will have to “inform” the government. Going back in, everyone is fingerprinted and photographed, and once back, has to report once more to the same office.

Mania for more Roads

A recent study showed that traffic has steadily worsened in the major cities all over the United States. L.A.,Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas are among the worst. So, too, are Chicago, SFO and Houston. More roads are being planned. Again, linear thinking mode has set in. Space is basically limited and no matter how big America is, soon, with the rapid growth of population, with the lavish life style getting more and more lavish and comfort-bound, there will be more and more demands for bigger and bigger houses, bigger and bigger cars, and more and more roads. More roads will fuel more development, more trash, more demand for natural resources, for more space. Soon, we will be back to where we started. The model just cannot go on like this forever. Sooner than we think, America will have to think more along the lines of mass transit, instead of each one having a car. Fossil fuels are not increasing by the day. They are not replenishable. Already, the prices of gasoline, arguably the cheapest in all the world, has gone up steadily over the past weeks and months, and expected still to go up like mad.

Mania for Cults

America is a haven for all sorts of newfangled cults whether home grown or coming from foreign shores. At this point in time, there are at least 630 known cults being watched by the FBI and by relevant Church authorities. (Ever wondered why these foreign cults love to go to the first world, and not to other third world countries? Because there’s oodles of money here, and plenty of gullible people to invite.) A number of them are no less than destructive (remember Waco, Jim Jones, and that group that all wore expensive sneakers before they all followed their leader to mass suicide?). Some others look as benign as sheep being led to the slaughter, flowing robes and all. What’s common among them is the gradual process of subtle deception that at some point makes the unsuspecting proselyte reach a snapping point after which he or she would have a progressively lower level of cult awareness. Through a variety of very smart and subtle tactics designed to work over the long haul, like meditation and prayer, they work towards a gradual involuntary form of slavery, where the candidate becomes mesmerized and enamored through the mechanism of idealization, of a leader or guru, as the case may be, who soon assumes, or is accorded, an ideal “fatherly” or “motherly” image. Emotional and psychological deficits unaddressed since childhood, get capitalized by these very smart leaders who start out by not rustling feathers. Other tactics go by the very popular low-carb or healthy options that attract immediate followers – to go vegetarian or vegan – something not bad in itself and actually healthy, but which over the long haul, may lead to the candidate’s being robbed of protein. The protracted diet then contributes to overall vulnerability and further suggestibility. Weekends of prayer meetings then turn into weeks of indoctrination, until one loses all sense of perspective about daily life and daily reality. The conditions for subtle abuse are created. Soon fatigue, loss of identity and confusion set in. The person soon becomes a card-bearing member of the cult and becomes a perfect come-on for others, who like them, may still be looking for something they missed in childhood – an ideal father or mother figure. Mind control is the ultimate aim of this very subtle cultic madness.

Some Christian sects are not beyond using the same tactics, by the way. Once one is in, there is a very real, strong, and pervasive control system that makes it hard for the member to go against the grain or sing a different tune. (Some even have a way of checking not only a person’s weekly attendance for worship, but also how much one gives to the collection box!). Similarly, some so-called covenanted communities may also be led by very controlling and manipulative “elders” who never step down from their office, and who have a way of controlling even the feelings of their members, and certainly, their behavior. (Some ultra conservative leaders of groups in the catholic Church capitalize a lot on fear of eternal damnation, and talk endlessly of reparation for sins, thus making their hearers and followers always feel unnecessarily guilty for not praying all 20 mysteries of the rosary, or not doing the overnight adoration, or not fasting three times a week, to cite just a few examples.)

Ultimate Madness

The many fantastic tricks we do before high heavens, ultimately boil down to the ultimate madness. The “who” question that wanted to put imputability and blame to whoever was responsible for the death of Christ, was really the wrong question. It was not primarily “who” but “what.” Sinfulness, such as only free human beings like us can do, along with human weakness, the “broken nature” part of our being human, is what is behind all this ultimate madness – the unacknowledged and repressed anger that shows itself as perpetual apparent goodness, the deficits that accrued from our less than perfect life history, all normal parts of growing up human but which unfortunately never reached the level of awareness and acceptance. This is the answer. Having found the answer, there is no longer need to ask the “who” question. For all of us, who “have fallen short of the glory of God,” as St. Paul puts it, have all been busy making “the angels weep.”

Dundalk, MD - March 14, 2004