The Return of eLf ideas

ideas of an eLven being in Canada

Monday, December 31, 2012

Putting Generosity (and Rants and Blame) into Proper Perspective

by aLfie vera mella

There's one story I read on an exchange of posts with a Facebook friend of mine. It is about a boy who apparently posted his rants on Facebook about his father's decision to give away the bonus money that he received from work to victims of typhoon instead of using the money to buy the iPhone that he had long been hoping for as a Christmas gift from his father.

Apparently, the boy's rant involved blaming the typhoon victims for having "taken away" the money that was supposed to be for his iPhone.

I have a few issues about this story.

First, if I am the father, I would prioritize first the needs and Christmas wishes of my son/children. I will buy him the iPhone, especially that he had been hoping for this for a while now. I may give something to charity but not give away my entire bonus that would leave me nothing to spend on my gifts to my own family.

Then, if I am the boy, I would "bark at the right dog"; I would not blame the typhoon victims because these people did not ask for the money from his father; rather, I would assume that it's his dad who chose to give his bonus money to these strangers. I'd instead talk to my father and let him know my feelings about what he did, but I would not rant about such resentments publicly online.

There are two types of generous people--the inward generous and the outward generous.

Inward generous are people who prioritize first the needs of their family or help first people from within their circle--family, relatives, friends--before giving extra to people they don't really know.

Outward generous are people who prioritize helping other people over the needs or wishes of their family.

A good balance of generosity, of course, is better. However, I will still prioritize the needs of my family. If I want to give to charity, this doesn't need to be a big amount, and this should come from my extra money. Also it depends on how much money I have. But in terms of percentage--a bigger portion will still need to be spent on my family's needs and not on other people's needs.

Hi, Just Call Me ALF

(On Having a Strong Presence on the Internet)
by aLfie vera mella

To many people, a strong presence on the Internet through blogs and other postings make them uncomfortable, making them feel exposed and vulnerable to many people including strangers.

Personally, I don't mind being a familiar character on the Internet world; it helps me with my many causes and endeavors--music, literary works, spreading and sharing religious or philosophical views and insights as well as encouraging or compelling others to challenge their own beliefs.

It's just a matter of how to protect oneself from possibilities of libel and loss of credibility by knowing exactly what to write and post and how to express this appropriately.

The three important concepts that someone active on the Internet really need to guide all his online activities with are LIBEL, PLAGIARISM, and SELF-INCRIMINATION. If an Internet user knows very well the respective meanings and the ins and outs of these terms, then he is well-protected whatever writings or postings he chooses to share on the Internet.

Libel - Learn how to say or write it appropriately, so you may not be sued with libel

Plagiarism - learn when and how to acknowledge information that you borrowed

Self-incrimination - learn not to share information that may be taken against you legally

Privacy: It is, after all, reserved only for private people. But once you chose a path of an artist, musician, writer, politician, public worker, or any field in showbusiness, you've automatically renounced your privacy.

However, private personal information like credit-card accounts, addresses, telephone numbers, and places where you keep or hide you treasure are better left secured in private.

New Additions to eLf's Vinyl Record Collection

Dropped by yesterday at a recordshop in downtown, Into the Music, and I got vinyl copies of Cocteau Twins' third studio album, Treasure (1984), and EP Aikea-Guinea (1985) for only C$3 and The Dead Milkmen's second studio album, Eat Your Paisley (1986), for only C$2.

Other records I got for only a dollar apiece were
* The Babys - Union Jacks (1980) (The Babys featured vocalist John Waite, subsequently of Bad English; and keyboardist Jonathan Cain, subsequently of Journey)
* Blue Peter - Radio Silence (1980)
* The Boomtown Rats - V Deep (1982)
* Icehouse - Icehouse (1981)
* John Foxx - The Garden (1981) (Foxx is the original vocalist of Ultravox)
* The Moody Blues - Long Distance Voyager (1981)
* Mr. Mister - Go On... (1987)
* Steve Perry - Street Talk (1984) (Perry's first solo album, which contains "Foolish Heart" and "Oh Sherrie")
* V Spy V Spy - Xenophobia [Why?] (1988)
* Visage - Visage (1980)

Looking Back...

When Inna was preparing for her evening shift today at the hospital, she noticed that the uniform she would be wearing was missing. She realized that Evawwen had taken and hidden it.

I asked Evawwen why he took Mom's uniform, and he answered "I don't want Mom to go to work; work makes her tired."

I hugged Evawwen as I automatically recalled some childhood memories of mine.

Back in the mid-'70s, when I was about five or six, I would sometimes hide the purse or shoes of my mom under the mahjong table every time I would sense that she would go out, so she could not go.

One of the reasons I could easily relate to children and understand them is my ability to look back and vividly remember many things I did when I was still a child myself, as early as five years old.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

No Downplaying nor Celebrating

(Some Insights on the Concept of Beauty and Ugliness)
by aLfie vera mella

I think that the adage "Beauty (or ugliness) is in the eye of the beholder" applies only to characteristics that fall in the middle of the ugliness-beauty spectrum, in which farthest left is ugliest and farthest right is most beautiful. Therefore, in extreme cases, beauty or ugliness becomes universally apparent.

Now, the challenge is to be able to describe something or someone as physically ugly in a factual manner (if she or it is really is), without ridicule, sarcasm, or condescension.

Further Challenges

* Is describing someone or something ugly automatically an act of ridicule?

* Could someone describe ugliness without a feeling of doing an act of ridicule?

* If someone describes you or a part of your body or something you made (like a project) ugly, will you feel hurt? Will you think that you are being ridiculed?

* Are you able to acknowledge if you have an ugly physical part of yourself?


* for humans to be able to acknowledge factual physical ugliness as something that need not be changed unless this affects a certain physiological function (for example, cleft palate, which affects speech, thus must be corrected surgically);

* that being ugly is not the same as being unpleasant or repulsive;

* that describing something ugly is not automatically an act of ridiculing but is simply stating a fact (ridiculing is when you start to taunt the person for or laugh at the ugliness);

* that physical ugliness is something that does not need to be ridiculed;

* that something ugly need not to be described fakely as beautiful when it's obviously not, just to patronize ugliness;

* that physical ugliness must not affect a person's assessment of skills, talent, and intelligence;

* that physical ugliness or physical attractiveness should cease to be a job requirement or a criteria in selection of job applicants.

If ugliness becomes a characteristic that need not be hidden or be ashamed of; then beauty, on the other hand, need not be celebrated. In the same manner that ugliness need not be glamorized, downplayed, nor celebrated as well, because to do so is a form of sourgraping.

Friday, December 28, 2012

To Gift or Not to Gift

(On the True Meaning of Gift-Giving)
by aLfie vera mella

Note: I wrote this article in December 2011 for my cultures-and-lifestyles column ("Sa Madaling Salita") in the Christmas issue of Filipino Journal last year. I am posting it here on my eLf ideas blogspot as a response to an anonymous comment on my article about "The Real Meaning of Love and Sharing that Christmas Symbolizes" that states that "...the problem lies when you give gifts to a person; he or she will be obliged to give gifts in return also with the same value...."

At a glance, it really looks like a vicious cycle of feeling obliged to give, in return of what one has received; however, with a deeper assessment of the situation, here is my insight about this dilemma.

Mahilig ka bang magbigay ng regalo sa iyong mga kamag-anak o kaibigan? Okey lang ’yan—basta ba bukál sa iyong kalooban at meron ka naman talagang sobrang pera na pambili ng mga regalong iyan at, higit sa lahat, hindi mo ito isinusumbat sakaling wala kang natanggap na kapalit mula sa mga taong iyong niregaluhan.

I am not a Santa Claus—someone who tends to bring gifts to everyone every time there is an occasion or a get-together. I always believe that if the invitation has been really extended with good intentions, then my presence should be enough. And I am not a “gift spectre” either [a wordplay on “gift expecter”)—someone who expects gifts during every possible occasion.

Whenever we get invited to parties or get-togethers, I am not compelled to bring food or gifts. I will bring something only if I like to, if I'm in the mood, or if I happen to have extra money around the time of the occasion. I don't condone or encourage people who host parties to expect presents from their invitees aside from their presence. In the same manner that I don't encourage people to feel compelled to bring something every time I invite them to a party I’m hosting or they get to be invited by friends or acquaintances to parties.

Their presence—not their presents—should be enough. In fact, if they could not attend for whatever reason, they should not feel guilty about it—and the host should not take it against those who failed to attend. Just give the host a heads-up that you couldn’t attend the party.

If I want something for myself or my family, I buy it with my own money and hard work; I don't expect to receive these as gifts.

People should not expect too much gifts from others. They should buy themselves their needs or whatever they like. That’s the reason we should be working—to be able to provide for ourselves and our own families.

I don’t mean to be grumpy or greedy; I’m not even promoting greediness; I’m just trying to put the concept of gift-giving in the correct perspective, because I abhor the way gift-giving has become a sort of a moral obligation in many societies. To me, giving will always remain a choice—not an obligation. Nevertheless, I am not belittling generosity—if someone loves giving gifts, then it’s her choice; but the hypocrisy begins the moment she expects something in return and when the recipients feel obligated to give something in return.

Sa Madaling Salita
Ang pagbibigay ay dapat bukál sa kalooban at hindi naghihintay ng kapalit. Kapag nakatanggap ka naman ng regalo o bigay, hindi ka dapat napipilitang magbigay ng kapalit—dapat ay bukál din sa iyong kalooban.

Or, in Simple Words
Giving is a choice, so is giving back. Either is not a moral obligation. The real concept of giving is the transfer of something without an expectation of reciprocity—and receiving the gift without feeling obligated to give something in return. Both should be rendered without any feeling of guilt, coercion, or gain.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Real Meaning of Love and Sharing that Christmas Symbolizes

Christmas symbolizes and celebrates loving and sharing. Yes, that seems to be a universally accepted concept of Christmas. However, we should really be able to process that concept to make it more realistic and specific. I mean, let's not be hypocrites; what's wrong with expressing the spirituality of love and sharing through materialism? After all, how else could we express our love to our loved ones? Isn't it with material things also? By providing for them their needs, isn't it a material action? And isn't it an expression of love? By providing them shelter--house with amenities--isn't this an expression of love and concern? When we give them gifts on Christmas, whether simple or expensive gifts--isn't this an expression of love as well? When we spend money to be able to host a gathering at our homes, so we could invite loved ones and friends, isn't this an expression of love and sharing?

I think the problem lies in the notion that anything material is evil--which I clearly disagree with. While I acknowledge and agree that the true spirit of Christmas is loving and sharing, I remain firm in my stance that the best extrinsic application of these virtues remains to be through material things, and there's nothing evil or wrong about it. I think that everything boils down to responsibility, sincerity, and financial wisdom.

I mean, there's nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas with our families and friends through gathering, partaking of foods, exchanging of gifts, and having fun; as long as we are able to do all these within the limits of our financial abilities and resources and being responsible in having fun (especially those who love drinking, and by 'drinking' I mean "drinking alcoholic beverages"). This, I think, is the actual modern meaning of Christmas--in complement with the traditional concept of Christmas as "loving and sharing"--for, to reiterate--there's no other way to express and put into practice the "love and sharing" but by spending money and providing what our loved ones and friends really need.

This concept extends also to the practicality of life itself. Yes, many parents say that the best "gift" that they could present their children with is love, but, come on, realistically, how could parents express this love? By working hard and smart to be able to provide their kids with good education, food, clothes, daily needs, etc. All these are material things, but these are not evil. Some will argue that quality time with our children is also an expression of love; but then again, how do you spend quality time with your children? Watch movies together, eat meals together, watch DVDs at home together, play together? Don't all these activities involve also spending? Of course, they do. So, there is really no excaping materialism when expressing love.

I am simply removing the stigma that many people feel about money and material things. They automatically associate materialism with evil and immorality, and that is what I find unfair and illogical.

We should stop the indoctrination of guilty feelings and hypocritical suggestions that anything material is evil.

A person works hard and smart, she spends wisely, then she deserves to celebrate...responsibly!

Again, while loving and sharing may be the underlying spirit of Christmas, let's not demonize the material things that become indispensable and inevitable to be able to really express the virtues of love and sharing.

What's more important, I think, is the sincerity, frugality, and responsibility that should accompany the idea of loving and sharing that many people are holding in high esteem.

As in the song, "Give love on Christmas day..." But the question remains to be "How can you translate that love to make it realistic? By a kiss, by a hug, by sweet words? Of course, not; these are not enough. We give love to friends and even strangers by sharing portions of the material things that we have, and to our loved ones by providing the things that they need--shelter/house, food/nourishment, school supplies, education / tuition fee and school allowance, little pleasures like TV, cable, computer, Internet, and other gadgets, etc. And there's nothing wrong about all these. The only guide is this--spend within your means and needs.

That, to me, is the real--I mean 'real,' as in reality--meaning of that love and sharing that many people are raving about during occasions like Christmas.

Final Note
And for the sake of exemplification: As told in the Christian story, didn't the three kings express and show their love for the baby Jesus Christ by presenting him three respective gifts--gold, frankincense, and myrhh? Is this not a material expression of the three kings' respect and love for the baby Jesus Christ?

Some Lessons I Learned from 'Home Alone'

by aLfie vera mella

Watching Home Alone (1990) on DVD for the nth time, with my almost-four-year-old Evawwen.

Many people to this day think that the root cause of Kevin's having been left home alone was his stubbornness and his having answered back to his mother and some family members during the dinner on the night of the family's trip to Paris that caused his mom to let him spend the night at the attic, making them forget all about Kevin in the morning.

The fact is, the really bad guy in the film is Kevin's brother, Buzz, who kept on bullying his little brother and who provoked the fight between the two of them during the said dinner that turned into a mess, in which everyone turned their ire on poor Kevin (who was simply defending himself from Buzz's bullying) instead of calling the mischief of Buzz or, at least, assessing first the situation as to who did what before punishing Kevin.

When Kevin's mother asked him to spend the night at the attic, she said "I don't want to see you for the rest of the night!" To which Kevin responded with "I don't want to see you for the rest of my life!" This particular scene really broke my heart for Kevin. His mother's words were really hurtful to the heart of a young boy such as Kevin, and his mother didn’t even acknowledge Kevin’s remorse when he said “I’m sorry….”

If I learned some lessons from the film Home Alone, these include

1) Be careful with the words you say to your young children especially when you're in a fit of anger (Kevin's mom have uttered many hurtful words to Kevin and then had the temerity to get surprised when Kevin answered back with similar resentment);

2) Don't let an older kid of yours get away with bullying a little sister or brother; always play fair; always assess the situation and really recognize who is at fault (Buzz always bullied Kevin, and their parents seemed to let Buzz get away with all these; always picking on Kevin instead maybe just because Kevin was the younger one). Age or experience is not always an indication of maturity or wisdom;

3) Don't let relatives say bad words to your kids (The uncle who shouted "...little jerk..." to Kevin was really rude and immature. He was the same uncle who expressed a sarcastic lack of concern for Kevin when he made fun of Kevin's having been left home alone instead of comforting Kevin's mom. Bad uncle!)

At least, near the end of the film, Kevin's mom said sorry emphatically. That served as a resolution on the part of Kevin's mom.

However, I remain focused on the dinner on the eve of the trip: Most often, we could see the humanity of a person in a worse situation. I don't buy the excuse that we should easily forgive someone for his bad behavior because "he was simply in a stressful moment."

To me, the goodness or evilness in people is best observed not during happy moments but rather during bad situations. For instance, a person who decides to share his ration of food during a war is better than a person who gives to others only on Christmas.

Why Is Christmas More Fun in the Philippines?

by aLfie vera mella

‎"Do They Know It's Christmas?"

Of course, many people do...and those people include me and my family.

Many people criticize Christmas as being commercialized--of course, it is! Or, claim it as only for the religious--of course, not!

Christmas has become not only a religious ritual; it has long become also a secular cultural event that people of diverse beliefs and race may celebrate as a choice.

And, yes, Christmas is a commercialized celebration--which involves gifts, foods, drinks, festivities, new gadgets!, and merrymaking. So as many other holidays like Halloween, Valentine's, and even birthdays. And so what? There's nothing wrong with celebrating an event in a festive and material way.

Let's not be hypocrites by denying that--while the season signifies sharing, giving and receiving--Christmas will always be a material and commercial event. If you worked hard to prepare for it, then you deserve to celebrate!

Just spend within the limits of your abilities and resources and be responsible in having fun. That's the true spirit of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrates the season!

Christmas is not for all.

Yes, it's not.

One should not be surprised by this. To assume that Christmas is for all is to be delusional, ignorant, and oblivious of the fact that there are countries and peoples who don't celebrate Christmas for various reasons that include religion, cultural root, and economy. Some people don't celebrate Christmas because it's not recognized in their respective religions. Some don't because it's not even a part of their culture. Some would like to but simply couldn't because they don't have money.

More Fun and Festive: Meteorology and Economy
The reasons the celebration of Christmas and other similar holidays are very festive and very material in countries like the Philippines—much, much more festive and more material compared with celebrations of events here in Canada—are

First, Canada is a winter country—as well as much of North America and many countries in Europe—therefore, in December and January, snow is heavy and the weather is literally freezing cold—up to -35 degree Celsius. This means that people could not celebrate the event outdoors. As much as many people wanted to have a wild and crazy festive fun, complete with fireworks and firecrackers, there's no way that they could do that outside their houses when the temperature is enough to freeze their hands and noses. It's not that people in winter countries are cold-hearted (pun intended); but the frigid weather just prevents them to celebrate with a bang. In fairness, many celebrate also with sincere warmth in the company of close family members there in front of the fireplaces of their homes.

Second, Christmas and other similar events are usually celebrated in "developing countries" in a much, much more material manner because it's a form of escapism. It's the chance of many people to pamper themselves with a year's worth of hard work and savings—to escape the reality of having to live in a country where the line separating poverty and average-class is very unstably thin, whereas the line separating the poor from the rich is obviously wide.

A Sad but Eye-Opening Reality
To say that Christmas is for all—for the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich is a big lie. The truth is, Christmas could be really fun only for the average-class up to the rich people, all of whom could spend something for the celebration. To the poorest of the poor, Christmas could serve only as a reminder of how miserable their lives are, especially when they realize once again that they couldn't even afford to eat a bowl of rice nor drink a cup of hot chocolate on Christmas Eve.

That's a sad reality of life.

May this reality serve as an eye opener to those who could afford a decent living for them to be always thankful of what they have, to continue to work hard and smart to maintain that economic state, and to be able to give a portion of what they have to people who have no money to celebrate.

Ultimately, may this serve as a wakeup call to people who think that Christmas is for all; because it is not. Christmas is only for people who can afford to celebrate it. Just consider yourself lucky if you're one of those who could afford to celebrate Christmas. And you don't need to feel guilty after all, simply because your ability to celebrate an event should just be an extrinsic translation of your hard work, gregariousness, and financial wisdom.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Death Is the End Of

To the anonymous person who dropped by here on my eLf ideas blogspot and left a very inspiring comment, thank you!

People like you are whom help me stay on the path I have chosen...especially on moments when some critics couldn't understand the vision I am sharing and when some criticisms also shake me a bit.

But as I always say, I remain the master of my fate. I don't pray, kneel, prostrate, kowtow, or submit myself to anyone.

I will answer your questions one of these days. Don't worry, there are still so many days ahead of us. The world will not end--at least, not in a million years--so to think ahead as far as that is useless, pointless, and laughably foolish.

Yes, the lives of some people are sure to end--that's inevitable--death is the end of every human's life. That should not be surprising.

But, the world itself--it will just continue to revolve around Sun and be a significant part of Solar System for a very, very long time--at least for millions of years more. And if Earth implodes or an astral body bigger than Earth collides with it and leaves the Earth in smithereens (not anymore able to support any form of life), then it should not be a concern. Relative to that span of time, human life is very short. I'd rather spend my time, energy, and knowledge for worrying or focusing on things and issues that interest me more and which lay ahead in my own generation. I think logically; and I confine my logic within a measurable, or at least estimable, frame of time. I don't put my life or fate in the hands of the unknown or unseen. More so, I don't subject myself to blind faith. I am better than that. I'd rather use my senses. I have a clear sense of purpose.

Between instinct and analysis, I choose the latter. After all, so-called instinct is borne out of a long-developed familiarity with certain circumstances. Therefore, instinct is simply a long-practiced habit. There is no such thing as magic.

"I am optimistic, but I am realistic."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Respect for the Rainbow Society

(On the Homophobic Culture of the Filipino Community)
by aLfie vera mella

A few schoolmates of our eight-year-old Gabby have been teasing him 'gay' for a while already. Admittedly, at his young age, Gabby is already showing signs of being gay. He is effeminate. He loves playing with toys usually associated with girls. He enjoys more being in the company of girls; and when he's with them, he suddenly transforms into this animated and shrilly-voiced person.

Although we don't discuss this (homosexuality) yet with him directly, we ensure that he knows that we support him in his passions—like knitting, gardening, interest in flowers and botany, and dancing. In fact, we enrolled him at Royal Ballet of Winnipeg and, only about three months of lessons, he landed a role in the upcoming show The Nutcracker. Many kids auditioned, and he was among the number who got roles.

In the Filipino culture, homosexuality is a laughing stock for many people. Many Filipinos—adults and kids alike—would make fun of especially gay people. When they see a gay walking, many couldn't help themselves but utter something funny, derogatory, or even downright insulting. Some even get to the point of physically hurting these individuals.

Raised in a Non-Bigot Family
I am glad that, even as a child, I never teased a single homosexual in my life. In fact, I have many homosexual friends, and they know that—that when I'm with them or when I'm in conversation with them, I interact with them without taking their sexual orientation as a novelty.

Here in Canada, many people are already advanced and well-evolved in their ways of dealing with homosexuality. Besides, discrimination is a very serious matter here. However, there remain many people who still make fun of homosexuals.

Now that we are aware that Gabby is being teased by some kids, or even by some adults, we are not taking this matter lightly. We continue to be vigilant. We always remind Gabby that regardless if a person is gay or not, this person does not deserve to be bullied.

I don't need a psychologist to know that such teasing could leave an enduring emotional scar in the mind and heart of kid. For one, Psychology and Psychiatric Nursing were my favorite subjects in university, when I was finishing my degree in B.S. Nursing, 20 years ago. Secondly, I finished a two-year certificate course in Social Psychology here in Canada.

The Resolution
Having said that, the first thing that we decided to do to deal with the matter was, Inna reported to the school principal the kids who were teasing Gabby, and the principal talked to the kids.

And now that some kids still keep on teasing Gabby, Inna is talking again with the principal to ask that this matter should be elevated to a higher level: If the same kids keep on doing what they are doing, parents should be asked to talk with their kids and make them stop. If they persist, the school should sanction a suspension or any form of disciplinary action on these kids. If they are stubborn and keep on doing that, it's time to elevate the matter to higher authority—that is, consult legal advice or even a governmental agency that deals with such matters.

Homosexuality Is Not the Problem; It’s the Culture of Some People
The bottomline here is, whether Gabby is really gay or not, he doesn't deserve to be teased and treated like that, especially that he is a very kind, soft-spoken, and quiet boy.

That's the problem with many Filipino parents—they justify their children's teasing gay kids by saying "Eh, paano naman hindi tutuksuhin ng anak ko ang anak mo e babakla-bakla naman kasi talaga! [Why wouldn't my kid tease your kid gay when he is really acting like one!

Obviously these parents are discriminatory (based on gender or sexual orientation). They think that homosexuality is a bad thing, making them think that it's okay to make fun of or bully gay people.

Right to Feel Does Not Necessarily Extend to Right to Act on This Feeling
Okay, if deep in their hearts they believe that homosexuality is bad, then it's their right to feel that way; BUT, it is not their right to express such bigotry by teasing and hurting homosexuals just because of their homosexuality.

In the Philippines, making fun or bullying homosexuals seems being taken lightly by many people and even by the law itself. That's the reason many people perceive Filipino culture in general as homophobic. That's why people who bully homosexuals get away with their evil ways.

Here in Canada, the Law deals with this matter—discrimination of whatever nature—very seriously. If you discriminate someone based on whatever factor, you can really get yourself in legal trouble.

In Simple Words
All the victims or parents of the victims need to do is deal with this properly by acknowledging the situation, documenting the time and place of the incident, identifying the perpetrators, and reporting the matter to proper authority. Then do a followup to know what the school authority is doing to address the matter or if the bullies keep on doing what they have already been asked not to do anymore.

Homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). It can be expressed as antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, or hatred; and may be based on irrational fear.”—Wikipedia

Monday, December 17, 2012

Hey, Hey, Hey...Hold Your Reins

(On Dealing with the Evil in This World))
by aLfie vera mella

Some people think that, just because I've been expressing messages of apologies for those whom I might have offended by some of my atheistic views, I am already renouncing my atheism and starting to be a God-believer. That is not the case. I never apologize for my ideas. Such apologies are for the very bold and passionate ways that I sometimes express my ideas, which offend those who could not take these with a wider angle of understanding. And because many of these people are my friends, relatives of mine, and at least acquaintances, I do this out of consideration and courtesy.

But it should remain clear. I don't believe that God or any other kind of living god or supreme being exists. These entities, to me, are simply images, symbols, or personifications of various human traits and values. If believers take offense in that, sorry but I am simply expressing another way of showing my concern to life, humanity, and the world in general. There is no one way, truth, or path--all of us should have their right to believe in what we want to believe in. To express and criticize is different from to impose and ridicule.

The Evil that Lurks
While I express my sadness and disappointment for the victims of the recent mass killing in Connecticut, I remain stout and clear with my insight that the most likely reason of the killing was severe mental illness of the killer that had afflicted him for so long, compounded by several other factors that included easy accessibility to deadly weapons and his displaced hatred and frustrations.

This has nothing to do with God or religion or his lack of theistic faith or otherwise.

Clear Sense of Purpose
Many are offering their prayers--nothing is wrong with this--prayers are words that can give a sense of hope and a feeling of belonging and importance--that's all. No magic in this that could directly stop anything. It does not move mountains; it does not part oceans.

As far as I am concerned, what society (in general) needs more than prayers is the realization that evilness is a human tendency, and that each person differs in how he deals with this tendency and with how he reacts to such emotions. And the more imbalance the mental state of the person, the more prone he is to act terribly.

Specific Courses of Action
Therefore, a suggested useful courses of action are

1) to acknowledge that the abnormal and horrendous actions and extreme hatred emotions are not caused by lack of spirituality or lack of faith in a god or possession by Satan or a devil; but rather, these extreme actions are caused primarily by a form of mental illness that was either undiagnosed or left untreated;

(Many people attribute 'unexplained' bursts of hysteria and extreme hatred to demonic possession, making the situation worst and medically untreated; superstition is counterproductive)

2) to acknowledge that if there is easy accessibility to deadly weapons such as guns, people afflicted with mental illness who want to displace and project their anger, self-hatred, and frustration have a greater chance of staging a murderous rampage;

(If a severe mental illness is observed in an individual, his family's or community's acknowledgment would cause them to ensure that this person has no access to such deadly weapons and that his actions are monitored)

3) if there is a member of a family who is showing signs of a mental illness, to acknowledge this and deal with this properly by seeking professional psychiatric help--for diagnosis and for treatment;

(Acknowledgment, acceptance, and then dealing with this by seeking psychiatric help--not quack or superstitious intervention, which is denying the real cause)

4) for the government of any country whose rate of mass killings are high (like the United States), its leaders should prioritize free health care, strict gun laws, monitoring, and systematic security.

These are just some of the ideas that have been brewing in my mind amidst such sad human affairs.

Whereas many others find hope and comfort in prayers, faith, and the belief that there is a grand plan behind all these horrible events, I rather find systematic and clearer ways that humans may apply in their lives to deal with the evil in others.

By 'evil,' I mean evil deeds (regardless of cause) and evil humans among us all.

Sa Madaling Salita
Ang tunay na dahilan kumbakit maraming masamang tao sa mundo e hindi ang kawalan nila ng pananampalataya sa pinaniniwalaang mga diyos ng iba't ibang relihiyon. Ang totoong pinagmumulan ng kasamaan ay ang sakit sa utak ng ilang tao na nagiging dahilan ng kawalan nila ng kontrol at pagkakaroon ng matinding galit sa kanilang sarili at sa kanilang kapwa tao.

Or, in Simple Words
The evil in the world is not a battle of believers versus atheists. It is not a question of having faith or a lack of this. It is more an issue of acknowledging what the problems really are and then finding direct ways in solving these.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Santa Claus and Rudolph Are in Town (Of Course, It’s Christmas!)

(On Distinguishing Reality from Fantasy Without Taking the Fun Away)
by aLfie vera mella

A coworker asked me if I encourage my kids to believe that Santa Claus is a real being. I said, no. I prefer to discourage children to believe that there is a real Santa Claus roaming around the world on his reindeer-powered sleigh during Christmas Eve to give gifts to (take note!) nice children. (So, sorry, you naughty ones!)

Separating Facts from Fiction
Even as a child, I have never believed (thanks to my father, who have taught me to be analytical at an early age) that there was an actual Santa Claus who had the magic to be able to be by the Christmas tree of every home during Christmas Eve ('omnipresence'); the ability to make sleds and reindeer fly ('omnipotence'); and the ability to see ('omnipercipience') and to know ('omniscience') if every child is being naughty or nice. Obviously, all these attributes were derived from the concept of the God according to Christianity and other related religions. I wouldn’t let my kids grow up believing something fictional to be real. This is not healthful for the mind. It weakens the child’s sense of perception. It retards the development of his ability to separate facts from fiction and fantasy from reality.

Santa Claus as a Symbol of Giving and Wishing
However, I will still introduce to my kids Santa Claus, Rudolph, Mr. Snowman, and other fantastic and mythical characters, not as real-life beings though but only as symbolic characters of Christmas. I will teach them to appreciate these characters as symbols of virtues: Santa Claus, as a symbol of giving and wishing; Rudolph, of hard work and learning to gain self-confidence; and Mr. Snowman, for resilience and positive thinking.

Oh, you would break the hearts of your kids for telling them that Santa is not real, some will say.

Of course, not. More important is to make my kid develop early in life a sense of logic and analytical thinking and the ability to discern fact from fiction. He could still enjoy Christmas; he could still expect gifts from us; we could still go to malls and have his picture with the Santa character there taken. He could still tell to that Santa what he wishes (it’s just like sharing what the child wants to a respectable elderly). We could still have an image or a stuff toy of Santa displayed in the house…just like how he has pictures and toy figures of Star Wars characters, Transformers robots, Superman, Spider-Man, and other literary and movie characters. Even though my kid knows that Chewbacca, R2-D2, and Jar Jar Binks are just characters from Star Wars, he still gets excited to see them when he plays with his toys and watch the films. Every time he watches Optimus Prime, Shockwave, Bumblebee transform, he could still get charged up by this. These characters need not be real just to be able to elicit awe and excitement. What should count more are the positive aspects these characters represent. This is the same with the concept of Santa Claus, Rudolph, Mr. Snowman, and other characters of Christmas. They don’t need to be “real” in the eyes of the child to be able to excite him and make him wish for good things during Christmas time or any other time of the year.

Even Adults
As it is with many adults, I could still get scared by watching horror films without necessarily believing that werewolves, ghouls, or blood-sucking vampires exist in real life. I could still make Christmas wishes, not necessarily because I believe that all these will come true but simply because there’s no harm in wishing for something good and possible, but within the boundaries of logic and reason. I enjoy watching Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Clash of the Titans, and Star Wars, getting lost in the excitement of every interesting scene, despite the knowledge that these are only fantasy-fiction films, not true-to-life stories. Why? Because I am able to separate fact from fiction and reality from fantasy without eliminating the element of fun and imagination. And that’s how I wanted my kid to grow up—logical and analytical but still creative and imaginative.

The Last Leaf
In the greater scheme of things, people have the choice to regard Christmas as either a religious festivity or simply a cultural event that highlights the importance of giving, sharing, wishing for good things, and fostering compassion and camaraderie among fellow humans regardless of race and beliefs.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Covering The Camerawalls’ "Canto de Maria Clara"

(original rearrangement by haLf man haLf eLf)

This is my band haLf man haLf eLf's performance of "Canto de Maria Clara," which took place on November 1, 2012, at Millennium Library in Downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, for the library's Skywalk Series of performance by musicians with Classical influences. In this performance, haLf man haLf eLf was comprised by Christine Mazur (acoustic guitar, violin, cello, vocals), Dave Labovich (mandolin), Janice Bamforth (cajon), and aLfie vera mella (piano, bellkit, floor tom, vocals).

The Original
"Canto de Maria Clara" ('The Song of Maria Clara') is a song by the Philippine New Wave / Indie Pop band The Camerawalls, included in their debut album, Pocket Guide to the Otherworld, released in 2008. The lyric of the song came from a Spanish-worded poem written by the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal. The music was composed by bandleader / chief songwriter Clementine Castro of The Camerawalls. 

Here is a very beautiful live performance of The Camerawalls of their song "Canto de Maria Clara," complete with a guest rondalla group (a group of bandurria and octavina players). 

The Musical Connection

When my former band Half Life Half Death had a grand reunion concert in the Philippines last February 3, 2012, The Camerawalls was one of the bands that performed with us, along with The Gentle Isolation and Your Imaginary Friends.

I've felt a connection with the music of The Camerawalls, obviously because we work around the same music genres.

Back in Canada, through the suggestion of my current haLf man haLf eLf bandmate Chirstine Mazur, who really fell in awe of the Philippine national hero (Jose Rizal), we included The Camerawalls' song "Canto de Maria Clara" in our repertoire. As everyone should know, the lyric of the song actually came from a poem written by Rizal and the music was composed by Clementine Castro and his band The Camerawalls.

And being true to my concept of deconstructing and reconstructing a song to make it befitting our own style of music, we rearranged that Camerawalls song first before we made it a regular on our setlist. In the past, I had the penchant to cover a song to the note. Now, my goal is to be able to make the song even more complicated (instrumentally and structure-wise) to fit our brand of Baroque Pop or Classical New Wave.

"Canto de Maria Clara" originally follows a 3/4 time signature (waltz beat) all throughout, from beginning to end. To make our version musically progressive, to fit my band's musical aesthetics, I made two significant changes:

Hawaiian Strumming
First, I added as the intro a 4/4-time signature Hawaiian-ukulele style of strumming, to break the monotony of the waltz beat and to start the song in an upbeat manner, then slowing down to the main body of the song. The intro of the song "The Hurt" by the Hawaiian group Kalapana might come to mind.

Also, the lap-tapping in the intro of our version of "Canto de Maria Clara" was an impromptu element during practice that I thought of just to give our mandolin player, Dave, the count and the tempo; but it turned out to be sonically attractive (at least to my taste) so we decided to make it a permanent part of the song. Listening to it now, I realized that it recalls the intro of The Smashing Pumpkins' "1979." This was not a conscious action on my part, but the Pumpkins' being one of my favorite Alternative Rock bands, I'm sure that the influence simply came out naturally and subconsciously.

I subconsciously incorporated the intro of The Smashing Pumpkins' "1979" into the intro of our version of "Canto de Maria Clara." The song comes from the Pumpkins' third studio album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. "1979" is my third-favorite Pumpkins song; first is "Drown" (from the OST of the 1992 film Singles); and second, "Today" (from the second album, 1993's Siamese Dream.

Philippine Folk Song
Second, to make the instrumental part longer and to add more progression, I thought of inserting into it the main melody of the kundiman (Philippine folk song) "Paruparong Bukid" ('field, farm, or prarie butterfly'). This way, we are able also to give the song a Filipino flavor.

Here's a YouTube video of an instrumental version of the Philippine folk song "Paruparong  Bukid," to give those who don't know the piece an idea which melody we did use for our version of "Canto de Maria Clara." The piece befits the Spanish-worded "Canto de Maria Clara" very well because "Paruparong Bukid" itself was not originally Filipino; it was a 1939 Tagalog translation of the Spanish folk song "Mariposa bella."

"Paruparong Bukid" is a Philippine folk song made in 1939, which was actually a cover of the original Spanish folk song "Mariposa bella," composed in the 1890s.

Final Note
haLf man haLf eLf's version of "Canto de Maria Clara" depicted in the video above is still a raw version. When we finally get to record our studio version of it, the song will definitely be more beautiful and well-structured and orchestrated.

Here's the original text in Spanish of Jose Rizal's poem, "Canto de Maria Clara."

Dulces las horas en la propia patria
Donde es amigo cuanto alumbra el sol,
Vida es la brisa en sus campos vuela,
Grata la muerte y más tierno el amor!

Ardientes besos en los labios juegan,
De una madre en el seno al despertar,
Buscan los brazos a ceñir al cuello,
Y los ojos sonríense al mirar.

Dulce es la muerte por la propia patria,
Donde es amigo cuanto alumbra el sol;
Muerte es la brisa para quien no tiene
Una patria, una madre y un amor!

And to complete the musical connection, here's The Camerawalls' Clementine Castro and haLf man haLf eLf's Christine Mazur, performing the song together at 2nd Street Jazz Club in Los Angeles, California, USA, on November 9, 2012. Christine went to a one-week trip to L.A. last November to meet up with Clementine to play some gigs and work on some musical projects. Based in the Philippines, Clementine is currently in the U.S. for a vacation. He has relatives and friends there.

Christine first met Clementine in the Philippines last January; she went with me and my family on our vacation to the Philippines. Christine went back home to Canada not only with good memories and insights about the Philippines but also with new friends and musical connections. I've known Clementine way back in early 2000s when he was still a member of the Philippine New Wave band Orange and Lemons. 

Thanks to Clementine Castro of The Camerawalls for giving us the permission to cover this song of theirs.