Tag Archives: religion

The Long Reach of Spain

Traveling in Osaka with a Spanish friend of mine, we passed by a restaurant that specializes in Filipino dishes. Nonplussed, he recognized many of the Filipino words written outside of the restaurant.

“Erm, dude, the Spanish occupied the Philippines for three hundred years!”

Ferdinand Magellan landed in the country in 1521, then later set about converting the locals to Christianity. The island of Mactan resisted the Spanish which later resulted in the Portuguese explorer’s death. The leader of Mactan, Lapulapu, was hailed as the first hero of the Philippines. The discovery of the archipelago started the Spanish occupation with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arriving from Mexico in 1565. later making Spanish Manila the capital of the Spanish East Indies. Superior technology, Catholic missionaries, and dividing and conquering separate villages helped conquer and unite the archipelago. The name of the country is derived from King Philip II, the king of Spain from 1556. Many of the provinces, cities, and towns continue to have Spanish names, such as Las Pinas, Los Banos, Camarines Sur, San Fernando, San Juan, Pamplona, etc.

Having a Spanish surname doesn’t necessarily mean a person has Spanish ancestry. The Alphabetical Catalogue of Surnames is a book of Spanish surnames in the Philippines published in response to a decree that established Spanish family names and surnames to colonial subjects. Catholic converts took surnames like “de los Santos (of the Saints)” or “de la Cruz (of the Cross),” while others took well-known Spanish surnames. Surnames were given to one family per municipality, avoiding surnames being based on ethnic background or association. The surnames available however were based on provincial capitals, secondary towns, and smaller villages. Thus, a person who has a certain surname would most likely have roots in a specific town. I myself have a Spanish surname: Reyes. Reading up on this topic, I didn’t realize that my surname had a coat of arms!

Some Filipinos however chose not to change their surnames. Indigenous Filipino names include Abay, Katindig, Lacsamana, Mapili, etc. Researching the topic, I found out that the surname Bagonggahasa exists, which unfortunately means “newly raped.”

The Catholic faith is probably the most influential and enduring legacy of the Spanish. Around 80% of Filipinos are Catholics and the island is dotted with many ancient Catholic cathedrals. The Philippines calendar is filled with religious holidays, and Christmas and Easter are celebrated as proper sacred holidays. It is not uncommon to see Filipinos wearing crucifixes and have homes decorated with crucifixes and statues of saints and the Virgin Mother. So yes, thank you Spain for that ever-present Catholic guilt! (Guilt, a key factor in developing obsessive-compulsive disorder)

One things about the Catholic faith and the Spanish influence is that through them, western culture permeated the archipelago. Customs and philosophies became more westernized in what was one a predominantly Eastern Muslim country. Slaves or “alipin”s existed in the Philippines prior to colonization. When the Spanish came, the Laws of the Indies already forbade holding Filipinos as slaves. However, seeing that native tribes in the Philippines would use slaves, some soldiers seized non-Christians and took them as slaves. Later, the encomiendas system was instituted in the country. It was a Spanish labor system where a conqueror takes on natives as slaves, while the slaves in turn get education as well as protection from their masters. Slavery was not as commercial as it was in the Americas, and most slaves were tasked with doing household chores. Later when Spain fully outlawed the use of native slaves, it opened the import of foreigners for slave use, particularly Africans. Even some Filipinos had African slaves working in their homes back then. The use of a non-family member as a house help is a Spanish legacy. With the classes between the rich and the poor remaining, especially between city and country-folk, Filipinos to this day still continue to commonly have poorly paid helpers in their households called “katulongs.”

Arts and culture have been heavily influenced by the Spanish occupation. Artists have been trained and commissioned to produce works with European tastes in mind. Juan Luna, a Filipino revolutionary hero and national artist, was famously trained in Europe. With galleons from Spain and Mexico arriving in Manila and with Filipinos being sponsored to study and train abroad, Spanish influence in the arts permeated Filipino culture. Even the art of fine embroidery was introduced to the Philippines by Spanish friars. Some folk dances as well as the fashion which had heavy Spanish influence introduced during the occupation still remain in the country.

Filipino cuisine has also been heavily influenced by the Spanish. The name themselves betray their Spanish origins: lechon, leche flan, paella, embutido, puchero. The most popular alcoholic beverage in the Philippines is San Miguel beer. Not only is the name Spanish, but beer itself was originally brought in from Spain. Food and drinks in the Philippines can mirror those in many Latin countries. I remember visiting a Spanish restaurant here in Seoul and having the empanada and thinking, “this is no different from the ones in the Philippines.” The Spanish brought with them their cuisines, and they also brought with them non-native crop plants including corn, guava, avocado, coffee, papaya, and squash. Growing up in the Philippines, I learned a folktale regarding the origin of corn. It was about a girl obsessed with her silky hair who later turned into the plant. I think it’s a more entertaining picture than simply saying it’s a plant crop brought in from Mexico.

As I initially referenced, there are plenty of Spanish words that made it into the Philippine vernacular. 20% of words in Tagalog are Spanish or Spanish in origin. The use of numbers in counting money and telling time is also done in Spanish. I imagine a Filipino learning Spanish would find it simpler compared to other languages, much like an English speaker learning a Germanic language or a Korean learning Japanese. A common Tagalog greeting “Kamusta” was derived from “Como esta,” the Spanish greeting. Heck, many Filipino profanities have Spanish roots.

Spain also established friar-run schools. It would seem that back then, throughout the world, the best way to take the native out of the natives is through religious schools. Spain however didn’t implement what was equivalent to the residential schools in Canada. I believe the Catholics were truly invested in elevating the Filipino population and making them part of the Spanish empire and not simply making them Spanish. The schools, along with a heavy helping of religious teachings, added business and math into the curriculum. It also opened the country to higher sciences being open to Spanish empire. One of the most well-known historic institutions which still exists to this day is the University of Santo Thomas. It was established in 1611.

Once the country was conquered, the Spanish deliberately implemented incentives through the taxation system the inter-mixing of races. At the time, there were twelve recognized ethnic groups in the country, though the categorization might not be reflected genetically. The categories consider where a person was born or whether they have converted to Catholicism. This makes it quite fluid and not very scientific. Peninsulares and Insulares for example are two separate groups, the only difference is that peninsulares are people of Spanish decent born in Spain while insulares are born in the Philippines. I’m not sure what genetic genealogy testing would show in the average Filipino. Filipinos are Austronesian in origin, but I suspect there might be more Han Chinese ancestry appearing in my case rather than Spanish. Despite the cultural influence of Spain, I’m just not sure about the prevalence of Spanish blood among modern-day Filipinos despite the number of mestizos and mestizas in the country.

A group of tourists in Seoul did take notice of me one time and asked me if I spoke Spanish, to which I replied, “Lo siento. No hablo Espanol.

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The Long Reach of Catholicism

I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to Catholic school, served in church, sang in a choir, and went to church twice a week. I have nothing against religion or the religious, and when I’m confronted by my wife who is furiously anti-religion and she tells me about different churches and religions’ many contradictions, abuses, etc. I tell her that it’s not about what the church takes from me or how it “lies” to me, it’s how my religion personally brings me peace of mind. So yes, even now as a Catholic that doesn’t regularly go to church, I have nothing but good things to say about how the Catholic Church has affected me as a person. The bible is indeed a good source of hope and wisdom, and there have been many dark times when it pulled me out of despair.

I believe I am not alone in being this way. In the Philippines, the effect of the Roman Catholic church is even deeper. Though there is a separation of church and state, the church holds a strong influence on Filipinos even if they’re not religious. It takes over their relationships, their calendar, almost everything. Growing up in the Philippines, I got lucky enough to be accepted in a special school with science-focused curriculum. Students were drilled with advanced sciences, mathematics, and oddly enough “values education,” a subject which had very heavy religious components. The church is simply everywhere in the country, even in a school of science! It’s almost as if without religion, one runs the risk of having no moral values, and thus the church and being religious is so necessary. (I imagine if my school back then didn’t have a bit of religion, it would be accused of raising little heathens.)

Once again, let’s look at politics in the country. It is not uncommon for sexual issues to be at the forefront during elections. Often, it is the candidate with the support of the church that wins out in the elections, be it local or federal. On a trip to the Philippines a few years ago, I was surprised to learn it was coincidentally a few weeks into the election campaign season. One of the main topics being debated was the legality of contraception. It was 2011 and people were still debating whether women should have access to birth control pills. In country that is overpopulated with around 20% living in poverty, one would think access to birth control pills would at least help the country economically by allowing families to plan their futures, especially since abortion is still strictly illegal in the country. So yeah, it was election season and due to strong religious sentiments, the use of contraceptives was a hot debate.

But that’s not the worst of it. There was also a debate against the use of condoms in the country during my visit. Again, that was 2011. Fast forward to 2017, and the country is still debating the use of condoms, with the president openly advocating forgoing its use. In 2017, the HIV rate in the Philippines started to soar.

Being a religious country, there is a strong patriarchal culture in society. There are deeply defined roles for family members and genders. Stepping outside of these norms can be dicey. Outside of being fodder for laughter and curiosity, being gay is still considered a sin. Future presidential candidate Manny Pacquiao even compared homosexuality to degeneracy lower than animals. That’s boxer and current senator Manny Pacquiao letting his religious views lost the support of the roughly 11% LGBTQ in the Philippines. And again with its strong gender and family roles, divorce is still considered taboo in the country. The Vatican and the Philippines are the only two sovereign states that still won’t allow couples to divorce. Annulment is allowed in the country instead, but it is prohibitively expensive, can take a long time to resolve, and still results in negative stigma after the separation.

Of course, those are just a couple of issues where the church’s heavy hand is felt by Filipinos. The church acts like the moral center of Filipinos, dipping its toes on even non-religious issues as drug use, media.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m exclusively harping about the negative effects of the Roman Catholic Church on Filipinos, but the church does fuel a lot of the conservatism that holds the country back. Now, going back to what I was thankful for about the religion is the personal peace it offers (as opposed to the external conflicts it can fuel, but let’s talk about that some other time). Having religion growing up, I was grateful of having that sense of hope, or a the sense that a personal divine observer is out there looking out for me. Now this might sound fantastical, but living in a country that has struggles with crime and poverty, then me moving to Canada at a young age, and then dealing with the pressures of being a young adult, religion gave me hope that somehow, someway, things will always be fine. I didn’t have as hard a life as other Filipinos in comparison both abroad and at home had, so I could only imagine how much more solace they found through religion.

Personally, one thing I noticed that Filipino families are often so willing to do is to forgive. Now what do I mean by that? You know how many families often have that one bad seed? Or maybe that one argument that tears the family apart? Maybe it’s just me, but I think Filipinos are more often willing to forgive and welcome back their prodigal sons than most people. I’ve seen/experienced it a couple of times. However, I’ve seen people from other nationalities cut off family members over some ancient squabble. This is all anecdotal, of course, but it’s not uncommon for me to hear someone in Korea say that they are no longer in contact with a relative due to a past wrongdoing. With Filipinos however, one could have a long resume of sins and still be welcome to every Christmas dinner (though that person will be gossiped about afterwards). So yes, forgives, for better or for worse, has been ingrained by the church in the Philippine psyche.

Looking at all of it from the most utilitarian point of view, what does the Roman Catholic church promise? Life on earth is temporary and the afterlife is eternal. Everyone you lost in life will be reunited with you once again in the afterlife. You have God watching over you 24/7, and any challenge or setback you face is something that you can overcome because it is part of his plan. God loves you for what you are. God will protect you from your enemies and provide for your needs. God will forgive you for all of your sins as long as you ask for forgiveness. Imagine being a citizen of a recently conquered nation, someone who experienced tragedy, or simply someone in need of hope, doesn’t all of these promises sound too good not to accept? No wonder the Roman Catholic Church tagged along with Spanish colonialism. People having religion also helps to survive not only through a series of colonial regimes in the past, in modern times, it also helps getting out of bed easier in the face of long tiring and challenging day, be it due to poverty or simply just the redundancy of everyday life.

The New Testament itself mirrors many of the ideals Filipinos see in themselves, especially when one looks at the country’s national anthem, Lupang Hinirang (The Land that was Chosen): their sense of uniqueness, the value of hard work towards reaching a goal, the duty for self-sacrifice. The Church has a tradition of having a “chosen one” be it Jesus Christ or the many saints and martyrs. Filipinos have a sense of being unique, and in a way being chosen for a better future amidst its much wealthier neighbors. Now, I’m sure this is the same for many other countries as well, but this is made so much evident in the national anthem’s lyrics: The Pearl of the Orient… The Land that was Chosen… A country can’t get any more special than being “the land that was chosen,” a land whose populace would be happier and more prosperous if it weren’t for invaders. Then the song talks about oppression and rising above it much like Jesus did. And as for the duty of self-sacrifice, Land of the sun of glory and passion, the skies are alive in thy presence. Our joy is when someone comes to oppress thee, is to die for you. Compare this national anthem’s lyrics to Oh, Canada. The Canadian anthem entrusts God to protect the country and its citizens promise to stand on guard for the nation, not to joyfully die.

In closing, if I was to offer a travelers guide to anyone being around Filipinos, due to religious influence, chances are you could expect a bit of conservatism, Catholic guilt due to people’s upbringing, some judgmental attitude behind closed doors, and a patriarchal attitude regarding the nuclear family. Oh and there’s hope. There’s a lot of hoping and praying.

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Where Religion and Covid Meets

Abstinence

Back in 2017, after years of scandals and people protesting everyday in Seoul, Park Gun-Hye, the conservative president of South Korea and daughter of the former dictator Park Chung-Hee was ousted from her position, formally impeached, and sent to prison for corruption. She was sentenced for twenty-four years. The protests, which was key in removing Park, was fueled by the president’s inept response to the Sewol ferry disaster where 304 people, mostly high school students, died. This, plus her government’s push for censorship and the discovery that the daughter of a cult leader was unofficially acting as her right hand man and was privy to state secrets pushed people to the streets. It was a natural groundswell which started from journalism, to the Internet, to mainstream media and some celebrities openly pushing for her ouster, and down to the streets. The impeachment of Park Gun-Hye was even seen as a model for how some countries *cough, United States, cough* should handle massive abuse and corruption by the government.

Conservatives in the country afterwards saw these events and tried to emulate it. They tried to push for the impeachment of the current president on made-up charges. Coddling to North Koreans, being inept, being a criminal, anything. The charges were extremely inept since none of them were based on provable facts, and the current president was enjoying an extremely high approval rating when his opponents started to encourage the rallies. Every weekend, they rallied their supporters, mostly made up of senior citizens, to the same place where the former protests used to take place. The protests became a mixture of confused ideologies, Internet rumors, and religion. People walked around with the Korean flag, the American flag to symbolize freedom from the supposed dictatorship of the current president, and the Israeli flag for whatever reason. In some instances, there were even signs asking Donald Trump to bomb North Korea. So much for being patriotic and Christian.

I work near where these protests occurred. They’re supposed to happen only on weekends, but sometimes I would see them on Thursday and Friday afternoons as well. The place I work at is also close to a park popular among retirees. There, old people would congregate, wander about, and shop for useless wares and snake oil. I notice that the same people that walk around the park, are basically the same type of people going to these protests. Often, the people around the park would be carrying Korean and American flags as well.

See, these protests have become more like a social gathering for people. It’s a thing to do in the afternoon. I passed by these protests a couple of times and many people are just chilling. There are even snack and liquor vendors. The frustration and rage that political and religious leaders are fueling, I believe, tend to be more rooted to longing for a feeling of being in control, longing for a time when they were younger and more relevant to society… which is ironically back when the country was under a dictatorship. And really, there is no concrete reason to any of their demands.

A: Impeach the president.

B: Why?

A: Because he’s corrupt.

B: Really, why?

A: Because, uhm, *Insert this politician under him* was corrupt/caught in a scandal/etc.

B: Okay, but he was let go. That’s not the president.

A: Well, uhm, look at the economy! (and on and on we go.)

The people attending these protests are at best bored. At worst, they are stubborn, brainwashed morons. They are being taken advantage of by political and religious leaders. A few days ago, these protests and the mega church where one of their leaders con his followers became the spark that started another spike in covid-19 cases, much worse than the previous ones we had in the country. The religious leader, Pastor Jun, was diagnosed with covid-19. And even after being diagnosed, he was caught walking around, smiling, and not properly wearing a mask. Asked about the disease, he claimed that it was spread by North Koreans who aimed to sabotage his church and the movement. In Canada, this would be seen as a false claim of terrorism. It is irresponsible and illegal.

Now people who attended the rally as well as the police they clashed with, who had no choice but to be there, are now at risk of having the disease. Thousands of police officers are being tested, but tracing all of the people who attended the rally and members of the church is more challenging. Before all of this, doctors were already on strike, demanding significant change in the country’s medical infrastructure, as well as an increase in pay for working in remote areas. Just yesterday, a member of the church who was diagnosed with covid-19 escaped from his quarantine and was caught in a coffee shop. These people are insane. Things were already bad. Religious nuts, craven politicians, and brainwashed senior citizens just made it worse.

Again, South Korea is on high alert. People in Seoul are advised not to travel outside of the city. Masks are required in most workplaces and allowed to be taken off mostly only on one’s desk. Gatherings after work are discouraged. Gatherings of more than fifty people are discouraged. Church services are canceled, as well as afterschool academies. My Korean class was again canceled yesterday. I’m not sure when classes will resume. Many stores were closed yesterday. Clubs, sports facilities, karaoke bars, and PC rooms are closed. Personally, this virus has already cost me money this year, and Pastor Jun and his followers just cost me even more. The economy was going back up but this recent resurgence has brought the economy back down again.

The first case of covid-19 in the country was brought by missionaries who traveled to Wuhan and kept their actions a secret for days. It has spiked several times in many churches. And now, the latest spike is caused by one of the most politically influential churches in the country. I don’t know what it is they do in these churches that they often become vectors for the disease. I’ve gone to coffee shops, bars, schools, company buildings, and restaurants, and they don’t become vectors for the disease as often as these churches.

The nighttime landscape of Seoul is dotted with so many neon red crosses. Unless the government cracks down on these churches, which are technically businesses, this virus will spike again and again. The wonderful thing about God is that he is omnipresent. People could still talk to him at home.

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The God of the Old Testament

Buddha

Outside of my office, there are street preachers which I usually tune out. The other day however, one of the speakers came out with a particularly interesting rant:

“Don’t treat Jesus like garbage. He’s not garbage. YOU’RE GARBAGE!”

Now, I don’t really know who the speaker was referring to, but as I know, Jesus (despite not being garbage) preached humility and lowered himself to wash the feet of his disciples. I also remember Jesus saying blessed be the poor and the meek. Jesus was never proud. In fact, pride is one of the seven capital vices. So while I’m not saying that it’s right to say that we should treat Jesus like garbage, it’s probably safe to say that Jesus would be the last to accuse anyone of being garbage.

But then again, looking at the signs surrounding the preachers I see in the country. They’re very heavy on the condemnation.

“Believe or you’ll go to hell!”

These are people who are heavy on the condemnation. They spend more time preaching and condemning people on the street than actually doing good works. I sometimes wonder if anyone is ever converted by the regular blaring sermons on the street. I seriously doubt it. This is like the religious equivalent of negging… undermine someone’s self esteem in order to make them seek out your approval. That, couple with threats of eternal damnation.

But why do it then? Why do it if it’s not working? Simple. Because it’s easy.

Or rather it’s easier than actually following Jesus’ example. If you’re religious there are two common arguments to reaching heaven: believing in God or doing good works regardless of believing in God. There’s injustice in reaching heaven simply for believing in a deity. A Buddhist could be a much kinder and generous person than me, but just by virtue of me believing in God, I would go to heaven and they would rot in hell. The problem with reaching heaven simply for doing good works however, is that it makes religion irrelevant. Why study the Gospels and listen to a preacher? I don’t need to do all of that in order to do good deeds. I’d just spend my time volunteering or something.

And that right there is the key. It is easier to claim rights to the kingdom of heaven simply by believing in God and making everyone else feel like sinners. It is much harder to follow Jesus’ teachings and simply be good to others.

Another thing that’s key in ignoring Jesus’ teachings is simply devoting one’s self to the Old Testament, the old God. See there are two main Gods in the Christian bible. There is the vengeful God in the Old Testament. And then there’s Jesus, the God of the New Testament. The thing about following the Old Testament is that he is more exciting. There’s more condemnation. There’s more us against them. There are more sinners being wiped away by flood and fire. Compare that to the New Testament where all sinners are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice. Outside of the crucifixion, it doesn’t get extremely violent and judgmental until Revelations. The excitement brought by the jealous, judgmental, and sometimes incomprehensible God of the Old Testament brings a tribal sentiment much like sports. “We are going to heaven. You suck! You’re going to hell!” It must feel very good. And it’s definitely much easier than giving out soup to homeless people.

This reminds me of the newly appointed religious advisor in the Trump administration, the grifter Paula White. She was recently “praying against President Trump’s enemies.” Praying against… like she’s sending a vengeful spirit to curse people, like voodoo magic or something. I ask why aren’t people, religious scholars in particular, not speaking out against this. But then again, I realize that the God of the Old Testament seems to be more popular than Jesus these days. I mean, it’s easy to invoke Jesus by name. But in everything else, condemnation, tribalism, curses… everything is Old Testament.

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On Making Art

Framed

With my work framed, the illusion of a fake movie leaflet for a fake Japanese animation about Canadian residential schools is complete. A friend of mine is not a big fan of these works. I don’t think she really likes it when I stray away from my traditional drawing styles. It’s hard enough to sell my current work as it is. It’s even harder to sell my works especially if I’m making fake movie posters or action figures.

The problem is what sometimes works in my mind doesn’t really translate into the image. Or I have trouble putting myself into the viewers’ shoes, especially since there’s often a lot of context I’m putting into the work which viewers may not particularly know nor care about. Let’s look at this work in particular.

The work is titled “Residential School,” but the idea of a residential school is way too subtle. There’s an obvious reference to religious boarding schools, but it would be rare to find someone who would assume that the girl in the center is an Aboriginal. The work is one from a series of posters inspired by Canadian history. I resent that not much of Canadian history is known outside of Canada, especially when a lot of our neighbors’ histories (particularly our neighbor in the south) is told in books, movies, and are part of the global consciousness. I think the horrors of residential schools and the silent genocide of Aboriginal communities should be told just as much as the plight of the slaves or the persecution of the Jewish people. But then again, borrowing imagery from Ghibli Studios might be a bit too tongue-in-cheek and not many people might see it nor appreciate it when/if they do.

Also, I’m not sure if there are many people who like Japanese animation, are appreciative of Canadian history, and are willing to pay good money for fake leaflets that cater to both.

My Japanese is non-existent. My wife speaks Japanese and she’s confused by Japanese I use in the image. They translate in the most basic Google-translate sort of way, but I don’t really mind. The characters make for an interesting visual. The Japanese names don’t mean much either.

“Himax” and “Colby Digital” are rip-offs of “Imax” and “Dolby Digital.” But I doubt if anyone would notice that. “Blamco” is a fake company name I once used for a line of toys I made. Again, no one would know this.  “Taken” is a reference to the Liam Neeson movie. Children were very much kidnapped by the Canadian government.

In any case, these decisions were made for my own benefit and not with the audience in mind. The use of the name “Taken,” a small part of the credits, is for my own amusement, not to provide more insight to the viewer. This method of making art doesn’t normally produce compelling, saleable artwork, but if the purpose of the work is get over my depression, to just be active, or to just make images to amuse myself, I think it’s a job well done. Make art! Make art because it makes you happy or because you simply need to. Making art in order to sell them fine, but really, it should be the least of your motivations.

With that in mind, it’s great to see my work framed. Framed to ultimately end up hung on my own wall years from now.

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On Hell

Puppeteer

If God was real, I believe that he loves us so much that he would never send us to hell. Hell, if it exists, is a special place for monsters. We are not monsters. I think a person has to work hard to get to hell. People don’t normally stumble their way into hell.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Could be Tomorrow

Lungs

I’m off to Vietnam this week. I don’t know much about the country and its beautiful people, so I’ll talk about The Handmaid’s Tale instead. What a wonderful, wonderful adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s work (a Canadian treasure)! Good job, Hulu! What’s really interesting about the book and the show itself is that if there’s ever a more apt book to adapt for the times, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Being a work of “speculative fiction,” much like books like The Road or Blindness, it doesn’t need much fantasy in order for something to become our reality. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, religion and military dictatorship just needs to marry together, something which humanity has experimented with several times before.

And it’s not like we’re that far off from Ms. Atwood’s fiction. The world is becoming more and more militaristic. Many countries’ police officers are starting to look more like military forces. There’s a loud growing movement of conservatism with their adherence to religious dogma and a distrust of science and news media. And more and more, dictatorial rule seems to be coming back into fashion with many people blindly supporting strong men. Even my father pines for the days of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law and praises the likes of Duterte. The show did a great job of incorporating current trends and technology and making it part of the narrative. It almost screams at the viewers, “this could be you! You’d better do something about it” It’s not enough that we trust our collective goodness as a society. Our hubris, our confidence that several others will do good despite of our inaction, will lead to our eventual downfall. I’d like to believe more Americans are sensible, and yet Donald Trump and his ilk run the country. I was impressed at how friendly, welcoming, and seemingly sensible everyone was the last time I visited the Philippines, but they’re the same people who would deny their neighbors are being killed for their vices, even if it happens almost every day. My workplace is surrounded by people who yearn for the days of dictatorial rule in Korea.

It is scary. It really wouldn’t take much.

 

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The Message with Sally Yates

Copies.jpg

I was going to write a love letter to Manitoba, but recent news has got me upset. What happened with Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was not the Saturday Night Massacre. Nixon was more subtle by comparison. The Trump administration had the constitutional right to remove Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates from her position for not following Trump’s executive order to ban Muslim immigration from seven countries, but there is absolutely no reason to tar and feather her by saying she “betrayed” the country and that she is “weak on borders and weak on illegal immigration.” The statement they issued was petty and vindictive, and they flaunt their authority over the justice system, completely ignoring the federal court orders to have the immigration ban stayed. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates cannot act on the executive order when federal courts are against it and the Supreme Court has not made a ruling on its legality.

As the top lawyer of the United States, it is not the attorney general’s job to agree with everything the president does. To do so would make the position technically moot. This also isn’t the first time an attorney general or a deputy attorney general has acted against a sitting president’s orders. James Comey famously went against the president’s wishes just a few years ago. Of course, many attorney generals go along with the administration’s wishes. After all, they get their by the administration’s recommendation. Eric Holder was extremely partisan and didn’t go after the big banks after the Obama administration mentioned that they weren’t looking to prosecute them. But while they are partisan appointees, their job is to uphold the law and make sure that the executive branch acts within the scope of the law. It is not the attorney general’s job to do something which they believe is illegal or somehow bend the rules to make them legal. They definitely can, and can be rewarded for being loyal partisan actors, but it’s blatantly unethical to relieve someone of their position for not doing something which they believe is illegal.

This constitutional duty to not blindly follow the leader but to follow the letter of the law as well as what is ethical is what allows me to sleep at night despite knowing that Trump has the nuclear codes. He may order a country to be bombed simply because a citizen there annoyed him on Twitter, but it is the officer’s as well as everyone else in the hierarchy’s duty to not follow his order if they deemed it illegal, immoral, or unethical. It is their civic duty to do so; and to follow the president’s order in such a case would be a dereliction of duty. This is what Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to do, to carry out an act which is in her opinion, an opinion based on a lifetime of working for the justice department, is both illegal and indefensible. It was her duty to refuse the president. And for that, she got sacked.

But really, what choice does she have. The Muslim ban is clearly a disaster and several federal court orders agree. It was an executive order that was hastily made without consultation from the president’s own top advisors. His own Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, does not support the order, and believes it endangers the troops he’s been recently made in charge of. As far as I can tell, the only people who were certainly in the room when Trump drafted the order was Stephen Miller, a young political operative with a racist history, and Steve Bannon, a publisher of a Web site frequented by neo-Nazis. They’re not exactly the people with the most expertise regarding immigration and national security. But then again, neither is Trump. The woman Trump fired had more years serving the public, more years keeping the country safe, than Trump.

And to those defending the Muslim ban, calling it a mere travel restriction, even Trump calls it a ban. And whatever name you call it, and even if you only limit it to those seven countries, it still affects Muslims. It still goes against the notion of having no religious test for the country. It flies in the face of common decency. The measure doesn’t make the US safer. It makes it harder for the military to gain allies in those seven countries and serves as a great recruitment tool for ISIS. But then again, what do expect from the great military expertise of Trump, Miller, and Bannon?

Sally Yates’ firing goes along with the message that the Trump administration is sending out. From journalists and employees at the National Park Service, to long-time government employees and officials- if you’re not with the Trump agenda, you should be fired. This is an amazingly flagrant display of authoritarianism.

It’s been a really dark few days. Even Canada has not been immune to Trump’s brand of intolerance. Quebec has been marred with tragedy, with the shooting of a mosque. And while some detractors will point out that Quebec has had a history of intolerance long before the Trump phenomenon, the shooter has been a part of the same alt-right movement which supports Trump.

It’s going to be a tiring few years. I believe the wave of bigotry will continue to wreak havoc long after we stopped getting daily bad news from Trump. There will be frequent protests and frequent outrages. Luckily, it is exactly during these times when people can become heroes by fighting injustice. Sally Yates will now be remembered as a hero. Honestly, I doubt if many people knew her name before she stood against Donald Trump. Now it’s time for people to go against him, take advantage of the growing rage against the US government’s recent actions, and make a name for themselves. If not because it is the right thing to do, but it is also good politics.

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Goodbye 2016

puppet

2016 was not the most horrible of years, but it was one I’m not that very happy with. There are many celebrities who have died, but that’s all part of life, and I’m sure all years have their share of wonderful people dying that year. Personally, I happen to like Scott Weiland, but I can’t really blame 2016 for his death. There are disappointments over politics, but I believe the worst that the Trump election could be is still yet to come. He’s still a person with his own will and conscience. He can make the next four years good or as bad as people fear he would.

That and I have to remind myself that I am a Canadian. It doesn’t do me too much good to follow American politics too closely. I can disappoint myself with Canadian politics just as well. (Why did Trudeau have to approve that damned pipeline?)

I haven’t done too many art shows this year, but that’s a mixture of luck, with not many art shows coming my way, and with me not being as aggressive with my work. Work-wise, not much has changed. But I’m content where I am. I’m just glad I’m not struggling as many people are. And as for personal matters, I only have myself to blame for any failings last year.

I met a couple of scumbags last year too. Boy, were they scumbags!

As for good things, two nieces were born last year. My sister as well as my sister-in-law both had daughters. It’s good to see their families grow. My sisters are making sure their lives in North America are turning into a particular Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song. My good friend, Alicia, visited me last year.  We went to Japan with her and her boyfriend. It wasn’t without its bumps, but it was good to see one of my oldest friends. I happened to save someone who fell on the subway station while they were here too. I guess that’s something.

I also found one of the best beaches to go to last year.

Here’s hoping that 2017 would be better. So far, with Canada losing to the US in the Junior Hockey championship game yesterday, it’s not off to a good start. But perhaps that’s just an early glitch.

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Killing Catholics

Rat_King

The problem with Twitter is that it’s a vortex that gets you sucked in to arguments where you’re trying to convince people who have no interest in being convinced. This happened to me last night for the better part of an hour, arguing about the Philippines and their outrageous leader, President Duterte. The last time I visited the Philippines was 2011. Back then, like many people, the country’s problem with poverty is quite apparent. But the problem is not only that. At the time, I also noted that the country had a tendency to elect leaders based on populist appeal, with several people banking either on their celebrity appeal or regional political dynasties. I also noticed that there is not much concern about the separation of church and state, and thus some, if not the majority of people, don’t mind if religiously-inspired policies affect them negatively. So last night, I ended up arguing based on the Filipino Catholic background, the pretense of doing the purge for law and order, and the two-tiered justice system when it comes to Filipinos and their worship of celebrities.

I always found it very ironic that the only Catholic country in the Philippines would openly insult the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the representative of Christ in the planet. By condoning the extrajudicial killings, the president and his followers are going against the very teaching of Jesus Christ. Love thy neighbors, thou shalt not kill, etc. I’m not a theological expert, but I always thought that one of the foundations of the Catholic Church is the concept of forgiveness. And while many of the president’s supporters are quick to defend him and forgive him for his brashness and errors as a leader, they don’t extend that same spirit of forgiveness to victims of the killings. It would seem that the country is not as religious as many people would have you believe. After all, why would the country elect and give high approval ratings to a person who promised to kill several people and so far has made good on that promise. Duterte on his campaign had two major political goals: A) kill thousands of drug dealers and users and B) reform the country into federalism in order to spread the country’s wealth and resources among its different regions. So far, he’s only killed people. Killing people is not only against the Catholic Church, it also won’t put food on people’s plate.

Now, the president claims that he is doing things for law and order. He even mused about instating martial law to quell lawlessness. Forgetting the abuse of the Marcos regime and the horrors of martial law, his supporters say that martial law wouldn’t be a bad idea; after all, it is well within his rights in the Philippine constitution as the leader of the country. Looking at the Philippine constitution, it is well within his rights. Article VII, Section 18 states that he may take command of all armed forces and suspend habeas corpus to prevent or suppress lawless violence. That’s well and good. But the last time I checked, the Philippines is still quite orderly. There is no lawless violence. In fact, it is the president who is encouraging lawlessness with statements like, “Please feel free to call us, the police or do it yourself if you have the fun… you have my support. Shoot him (the accused) and I’ll give you a medal.” Article III, Section 1 of the Philippine Bill of Rights states that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.” Yet, people conveniently shrug when people get shot without spending their time in court, examining evidence of their guilt, or facing their accusers. There is nothing lawful about this anti-drug campaign. And as for people saying that the murder are done by phantom “killers” and not by the government or the police, and that the president regrets such extrajudicial killings, let me quote that again, “Please feel free to call us, the police or do it yourself if you have the fun… you have my support. Shoot him (the accused) and I’ll give you a medal.”

When arguing these things, I got accused of being prejudiced against the Philippines, of seeing the country as some sort of backwards banana republic and not a sophisticated metropolitan society. The problem with prejudice is that it also applies to the poor and those with drug history. The killings only seem to apply to the poor. Doing a quick search on Google, it’s not that difficult to find Filipino celebrities with histories of drug abuse. I doubt if they would be affected by this anti-drug campaign. No one is gunning for them. Drug use is often brought on by poverty. And the prejudice against the poor leads to the rather nonchalant local attitude towards the killings. Crimes against the pretty people on this page (https://kami.com.ph/29157-filipino-celebrities-involved-illegal-drugs.html) would elicit national outrage, but there’s not so much outrage when the victims are poor, young drug users and their families have to deal with the aftermath.

The most inane argument I get is that I’m not a true Filipino; I’m not in the country and thus have no say in such things. I am not familiar with their problems. True, but I am also unfamiliar with the problems of impoverished family members of drug users. While my opinions might insult Duterte’s supporters, the unfortunate consequence of supporting Duterte is the murder of people. Their opinions and support kills people. One does not need to be a Filipino citizen to realize this. You don’t need to be in the Philippines to see the hypocrisy in regards to Duterte versus religion, the law, and prejudice. The thing is, I actually have high hopes for the country. There are even some things that I agree with Duterte about (his stance on contraception and birth control for one. And I actually think federalism would benefit the country. ). But this zeal for a strong man worries me. Civilization and law evolved as such. First there was the literal strong man in very primitive groups. This was the man who could physically implement his personal view of law and order in his small community. Then came more democratic tribes; this was when communities established rules and mores, and power was not centralized into one figure. Perhaps there was a council of elders and influential members of the community. Later on, law and order became more complex, and we now have the many checks and balances of current systems in different countries. This devolution to needing a strongman leader is a sign of a more basic urge, a return to a primitive way of looking at things, a need for simplistic solutions to more sophisticated, nuanced problems. This is not the Philippines moving forward.

Of course, with Twitter and the Internet, I find myself arguing against unmovable converts. The same goes with Trump supporters and proponents of Brexit. Ironic that in a platform which allows for the free access to different opinions, we all tend to gravitate to information and “facts” which reflect our own opinions. Perhaps, at the risk of sounding arrogant, this is Duterte’s supporters and the Dunning-Kruger effect.

And speaking of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but I believe true Canadians are immune to the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not that Canadians are smarter than the average person, but compared to our southern neighbors, we’re not as adamant with our opinions. We tend to be more pliable. Just as Catholics have an enduring place in their hearts for guilt, Canadians have an enduring place in their hearts for self-doubt. It is the part of us that says, “I believe this, but maybe I’m wrong.” So with that in mind, maybe I’m wrong about the Philippines. But for now, it looks like a total disaster.

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