Fireworks*

The crowd, the noise, the lights coming from countless mobile phones, even the bright sky and the fireworks paled in comparison to you. That night, I saw nothing but you.

*Photos taken during the 2nd Philippine Pyromusical Competition at SM Mall of Asia on February 26, 2011.

Haircut

Babe,

Though I had repeatedly heard complaints from you these past days about your hair that ‘badly needs trimming’, I didn’t see it coming when you blurted ‘Babe, you got to cut my hair’.

The idea was ridiculous. And I would not do it. Not until I saw a reflection of myself in the mirror holding a pair of craft scissors, directing each movement of the dull, Chinese-made shearers toward your jet black, perfectly straight hair.

I closed my eyes and did a deep dive, so they say. Somersaulted, in fact.

After almost two months of being together, I am still yet to acquire that resolve to say ‘no’ to your every request and impossible-to-resist goading. I am like a husband to a woman in her first three months of pregnancy, bewitched and under her spell, doing whatever it takes just to provide whatever frivolous request his wife can think of.

And so we were in that funny position for almost an hour–you sitting on my feet, almost motionless, and me cutting your hair with the attention and supposed precision of a watch repairman, taking pictures and videos of your hair at intervals so you would have an idea as to the extent of atrocity I was inflicting on your hair. I, unfortunately, only got one mirror in my room.

I didn’t tell you this before we parted this afternoon, but I love the act of cutting your hair because you were still the whole time, didn’t move your head, so unlike me when I was seven (and occasionally of late) whenever I visited the village barber or have my haircut in the nearby barber shop, my do being nothing but plain hair shave, as you’d sardonically refer to it afterward. I would tilt my head several degrees away or toward the barber to spite him; I would do everything to enrage him so he’d dismiss me asap.

While this afternoon, as you patiently waited for your haircut to be over, I saw a docile, almost child-like, version of you which I have not seen before.

And I guess, this is what I have been looking forward to each day: knowing You, and being caught unprepared and smiling, or chuckling, by the surprises of learning new things about the person I love so much, you.

By the way, you look great in your new do. However, I insist on taking you tomorrow to the salon where I regularly have my haircut.

See you tomorrow, oh…later.

Evaluation

My class was observed twice this semester—first by the chair of the department, and last Wednesday, by the head of my cluster. The first time, if I may be very blunt about it, was a class I bombed. My ‘performance’ was below par, the students were unruly (I probably overdid my laissez faire-type of classroom management), I appeared unready with my lecture, and probably I was. But the one two days ago was different—I was confident. I felt unprepared ten minutes before my second class, panicking and finding incoherent the text I was reading at the eighth minute, and knew I was a centimeter close to totally blacking out at the fifth minute, and by the time the bell rang signaling the start of my 2:30 class, I was all perked up to commence.

Class evaluation by another more senior faculty was a controversial proposition back when I was still teaching at UP as most senior members of the faculty signified their lack of desire to be evaluated in their teaching by anyone from a different field of expertise. Junior faculty members followed the line of argument of the older faculty and also refused evaluation. As a result, compulsory classroom evaluation at UP did not materialize, but was, however, agreed upon to be done on a voluntary basis. My teaching style and skills in managing the classroom did not go through any form of evaluation except through a teaching appraisal system where students tick numerical values gauging the different aspects of an instructor’s teaching and a part where they are asked to write a short comment to include those that were not covered by the previous instrument. This helped me a little as results come out a year after, and by then I’d be least interested to care.

Ateneo on the other hand is rather proactive in terms of evaluating its faculty. I’d get the result of my evaluation by my student at the middle and end of the semester.

I was happy with the result of the second evaluation. I know the room for improvement is still unremittingly spacious, but having been told by a senior colleague, ‘If I were a college student I’d love to be in your class,’ was more than enough for now.

A note

Thanks for being with me at yesterday’s presentation. Instead presenting to my prof in Archaeology, I found myself presenting to you, trying my best to impress you.

And oh, thanks for saying ‘you did well!’ after.

It meant a lot.

The f-ing phone alarms

We woke up at 11:20 today, cuddled for a few minutes, drank our coffee together, and had peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. I suffered from a poking headache; my temple was twitching, but it was bearable as I still had enough energy to carry my babe’s bag that contained a week’s worth of laundry across EDSA and to run back to my condo.

I did a shoddy math–if we slept, based on my estimate, at 3am after watching the deeply disturbing movie, Black Swan, then we did have our well-deserved rest of eight hours minus the time I had to stand up countless of times to silence the alarms of the phones in the room.

My sleep was sporadic.

I hated the fact the these phones were equipped with snoozes, and since I was too intoxicated with the decadently pleasurable feeling brought by sleep, I did not have the practical acumen to deactivate the snoozes the first time I turned off the alarms, which forced me to leave the bed three more times. I hated the fact that we both forgot to deactivate the alarms of our phone the night before. Today’s supposed to be a weekend, the only time we can be thankful to the deity of sleep for having finally granted us eight hours of sleep. But the pesky alarms, indispensable on a regular weekday, haunted and distressed us this weekend, disturbing what should have been otherwise a nice and quiet Saturday morning.

Our lives circle around phone alarms and their diaphanous but inextricably painful melody and senseless tones meant to provoke in us misanthropy and hatred for life in general. Not one of us can claim absolute freedom unless you or I allow phone alarms to take control of our lives. Human liberty is  a sham unless we continue forgoing things of more import such as a nice morning embrace or a restful sleep because we have to turn off phone alarms that are blasting off annoying strain of repetitious notes that rival that of a Harpy’s shriek.

Phone alarms are remnants of the previous century’s barbarism, of man’s wanting to inflict harm upon himself (and the people around him) while enjoying it at the same time, of our lack of urbanity, of the triumph of the matrix. All we need to is to become reactionaries and demand for what used to be truly ours–control of our time and personal relations.

However, I need to stop writing now because I have to stand up and respond to reminder in my phone that I am supposed to be heading for gym now, or how that after two hours and thirty minutes from now I should already be on a bus traveling to Makati to get some documents for a consultancy work I’m doing this month.

I should make it explicitly clear, nonetheless, that I hate myself for letting my life be ruled by these endless alarms, reminders, and notes, telling me that I should be doing this or that, at this or that hour, and should be finished doing this or that at this or that time.

Peace, Media, and Propaganda: the Unfolding Drama of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (or is it War?) and the role of American Media

It is absurdly difficult to begin a discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian without situating it in its historical continuum or tracing its origin back to the accounts made in the Bible (not that I am saying that this holy book is infallible, it is) down to the accounts made by the different international media organizations that have been covering the event, almost to ad nauseaum since it broke out in the 1970s.

To add to the complicity are intervening factors such as the participation of the United States and the other Arab states who, admittedly have high stakes in the conflict—the US protecting and maintaining its interest in this oil-rich region and the Arabs smitten by the sense of pride, of being victimized in their own territory. The precariousness and complexity of the situation have escaped too many generalizations and simplifications because the issue is never simple and straight-cut. This post will avoid touching and mentioning this very sensitive aspect by leaving it to experts who specialize in studying this volatile region. Instead the post will problematize the role of American media, especially television, and how this powerful apparatus of the society shape how Americans and other nations in the world understand and synthesize the conflict.

The conflict has branched out into so many webs of discord that a graduate student of a university in third-world country will have a hard time grasping, much less making sense of the conflict (or war) occurring thousands of miles away from where he is. But if there is something that connects him and his parochial (relative to the conflict, that is) location, it’s the media that have bridge vast expanse of voids and situate him right at the very heart of the conflict. This perspective afforded to him, however, is limited by the frame he is using, this frame obviously American by definition whose objectivity is doubtful, the ability to tell unadulterated truth is suspect, and the side taken is biased, though sometimes elegantly hidden and subtly injected into the minds of the supposed ‘intelligent’ television viewer.

Let me point out here at the onset that I am incredulous of the believed huge impact media have on their consumers, and that if indeed they have then it’s only a matter of strengthening existing biases or skewing the opinion to a direction not very much divergent from the originally held belief.

Coming from a generally Catholic background, and being raised in the culture of Sunday schools held during summers led by missionaries of the Southern Baptists, I grew up believing that the Isrealites are God’s chosen people. (Let me preclude the fact that my current belief that denies the existence of any omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent supernatural being whose whim can bring me eternal damnation or salvation, was yet to be formed that time). We were told in Cebuano by our Sunday school teacher that the people of Israel, the chosen lot, suffered from different forms of subjugations that caused their diaspora and that someday they shall all be gathered together and live in the promised land.  I thought it was a form of a rather convoluted fiction lifted by my teacher from the Bible and grossly modified to aid her in her rhetorical exercise. When I reached college in the early years of 2000, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was overshadowed by the more pressing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I graduated from university without fully understanding the conflict that arises from that narrow strip of land in Gaza, opting to leave only some barely perceptible scratches of comprehension on the surface of the issue.

Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: Media & the Israel-Palestine Conflict (directed by Bathsheba Ratzkoff and Sut Jhally) is a documentary released in 2004 that succinctly mapped out this implicit agenda of Israel, with the willing aid of the American media, to disqualify the Palestinians’ claim on the land that have been theirs for centuries.

For its framework, the documentary made use of the economic model to explain why the American people, fed by American correspondents in the region who are financed by influential people biased for the Israeli position, are duped into believing the ‘victimization’ of Israel and the demoniacal attempt of the Palestinians to retain the promised land. It used a model characterized by a series of filters built upon institutional relationships —business interests of owners of US Media, political elites, Israel’s own public relations firms, American public relations firms, Israeli consulates, private organizations, and watchdog groups that pressure and/or harass journalists.

While war is being waged in the field, the bigger and more invasive war is waged in the million of TV sets in American homes where people spend more than four hours every day watching. Although I have the feeling that the documentary overestimated the role played by the American media in shaping public opinion, its claim on the importance of public relations and how this strategy has made impact in the direction taken by the talks between opposing sides is undeniable, PR being a highly significant method used by Israel in swaying the ebb of the tide toward their direction.

Most Palestinians intellectuals and even US intellectuals sympathetic to the displaced people in the much contested Gaza strip bewail the apparent absence of context in the reporting of American networks—CNN, Fox, etc—remaining quiet on the fact the what Israel is doing to these territories occupied by Palestinians is a blatant form of occupation. Israel also hides rather impeccably, its object of eventually annexing the area. This it does, though its PR strategists in Washington, by sanitizing the language. For instance, instead of using the word ‘colony’, the illegally built residential structures are referred to as ‘neighborhood’, the use of the word ‘defense’ to describe the action of Israel in the lands they occupy and ‘retaliation’ for the operations they conduct against demonstrators. By altering the lexicon, it successfully takes away the legitimacy from the claim of the Palestinians and gives a rationalization for Israel’s claim.

These television stations also help in keeping the political vacuum created by the conflict tightly in place. The American media portray the occupations as Israel’s response to the suicide bombings when in reality these acts tagged as terroristic by the Israeli governments are the Palestinian’s reactions to the frustrating situation they are forced in. In fact all the actions done by the Palestinians are uniformly called ‘acts of terrorism’ by American media.

Defining what is newsworthy is necessary in the coverage of events that compete for expensive air time in radio and TV or tight column inch in broadsheets. By surreptitiously tipping the balance toward one side, the Media set the agenda of the day, determining what is important and what is banal. Killed members of the Israeli army are victims of a ‘massacre’ while deaths among innocent Palestinians are ‘only a matter of few dozens’. Israeli who died in the conflicts are humanized, with the grieving family interviewed and these dead identified as brother, father, or a friend. On the other hand, Palestinians deaths remain unknown, unnamed, a mere number, a statistics.

Another interesting aspect tackled is the presumed neutrality of the US when in reality, the American government gave Israel USD 6 billion in the form of aid to buy American weapons in 2000; this excludes weapons given free by the US. In total, Israel received USD 100 billion from the US since the conflict started in 1949 until 2000. In fact, Israel is the 4th largest army in the world considering that its current population barely reaches 8 million. It is believed that Israel as a way for the US to maintain its hegemony versus the emerging power of the European Union and Russia in the region.

It is clear to me that the most damning critiques of the American media are their lack provision of an alternative view point, absence of serious examination, and the US journalism having a shameful symbiotic relationship with the powerful forces in the US government which critics describe as ‘incestuous’, the media becoming an apparatus that will ensure that some dissenting voices are not heard. This has led to a dangerous super-simplification, an either…or fallacy: Whoever expresses a divergent opinion is an Anti-Semite. And the debate ends here.

The media have become nothing but an instrument of the state; they have become expensive propaganda machines parroting if not rendering aseptic the pathological language of international politics and the content of the endless memos released to them by the state. This leads to a dangerous conspiracy that murders people in the other end of the world. If they have ceased to become platform for debates where policies are scrutinized, norms questioned, and beliefs examined, then they also lose their very reason for existing in the first place.

References

Martel, Ned. “Eager to Place the Blame for a Never-Ending Conflict”. The New York Times. 28 Jan 2005. http://movies.nytimes.com/2005/01/28/movies/28peac.html?_r=1

Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: Media & the Israel-Palestine Conflict. Bathsheba Ratzkoff and Sut Jhally, director. 2004. Documentary. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6604775898578139565#

Boredom

I spent another laid-back afternoon in my Archaeology class at UP feigning interest and keeping myself conscious lest I embarrass myself and my professor. By laid-back I meant slouching in my chair, my right foot on the back of the dilapidated arm chair in front of me, while a classmate of mine traced the rise and fall of the Egyptian civilization. It was nothing much different from last week’s talk on the grand ascent and equally epic decline of the civilizations in the Fertile Crescent and how they were overrun by the Akkadians,  Hittites, and all those tribes in history that seemed to have gotten nothing better to do but sacking villages inhabited by innocent and peace-loving people whose biggest problem was that they were painfully bored. The lecture totally beggared me with the understanding of these peoples’ motivation for fighting over a narrow strip of flood plain between Tigris and Euphrates when the rest of the world is up for the picking that time.

But I guess, that’s the irony of man’s existence–he burdens and pains himself with the non-necessary. He forces himself to do many things whose immediate importance in his life is indeterminate. He is, however, scared to admit to himself that most of the things he values, his ‘non-negotiables,’ are in fact as superfluous as his existence.

I gathered my supposed ‘non-negotiables’ on top of my armchair, took pictures of them from varying angles, and for a moment thought that my being there was redundant, a supernumerary ornamentation.