Monday, September 19, 2016

Motorized Mayhem: Three Facets of Our Collective Lack of Discipline

I have known how to drive a car since 1992. That's twenty-four years, and even longer than some of my current co-workers have been alive. I have spent the entirety of that time driving through the streets of the Philippines, and the bulk of that time driving through the streets of Metro Manila. I am generally a fairly disciplined driver, as self-serving as that may sound, and I know how to stay out of trouble as a general rule. I consider my observations here, therefore, reasonably supported by my own experience as both a driver and a passenger on public transport.

This is not the first time I've written about traffic; I had quite a bit to say about a fairly specific stretch of Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City right here. I think everything I said about the real (or at least the main) problem behind traffic at that stretch of Commonwealth may easily be applied to the rest of Metro Manila. That said, I want to add a little value to this diatribe to somehow distinguish it from what I've written before, and from what's no doubt floating out there on the internet. It's a little trite at this point to lament that traffic is bad because people have no discipline; I think anyone who has half a brain and isn't living in some state of heightened denial knows that at this point. I'm going to try to be a little more specific; I've identified three aspects of our general lack of discipline as drivers that are the most problematic, in ascending order:

3. Dogpiling, or "Monkey See, Monkey Do"

I am going to be embarrassingly honest here; on more than one occasion, I have joined a procession of counterflowing cars because I have seen how much more quickly the people in that procession get to their destination than I do. I rarely succumb to the temptation to do so these days, but I have done it and, if my need is dire enough, I could see myself doing it again, unless meaningful enforcement kicks in.

Simply put, dogpiling (as I define it here) is when one motorist's disregard of traffic laws, motorist etiquette and basic human decency gains him or her such a glaring advantage over the law-abiding motorists, most of whom have usually been sitting, frustrated, in traffic for some time, that these hapless motorists cannot help but follow suit, thus worsening the traffic exponentially. There are no doubt thousands of pictures or videos on social media that capture this phenomenon more accurately than my description ever could, and I wouldn't be surprised if, among the people reading this I have sparked recollections of what it's like to experience something like this, especially when one is the motorist who actually stays put because that's what the rules are, clinging to the unfortunate delusion that in that situation, the rules actually mean anything.

Yes, I have done it, and yes, I have been part of the problem, but I never want to be again. And the rest of us shouldn't be either.

2. "The Rules Only Apply to Other People"

This can actually be a very lengthy blog post, or hell, even a doctoral dissertation all on its own, as the thesis of a discussion of what's wrong with the world in general, but for purposes of this discussion suffice it to say that our traffic woes begin when one motorist, public or private, decides that the rules don't apply to them. Construction on the road results in limited lanes and a long line, and someone in the back decides "screw this, I'm too important to wait" and decides to counterflow.

There is a horrifying video on youtube in which a driver, tired of enduring a traffic bottleneck, takes matters into his own hands and overtakes, even in the presence of the double solid lines, which is a distinct no-no. He collides head-on with an oncoming motorcycle, with the driver doing a full-on somersault onto the asphalt. More recently, a motorcycle driven by a drunken woman with two passengers decided to counterflow and collided with a jeepney along a blind curve, with predictable results.

Laws, rules and road etiquette, the way I see it, feel abstract to many Filipino motorists, especially considering that, as my father once said, most Filipino motorists don't really know how to drive so much as how to operate a vehicle. Concepts like "zippering" or flashing lights to let the other guy go through and other nuances of polite driving are largely lost on many of our motorists, and it's worth pointing out that this is not a function of socio-economic status. I've seen plenty of drivers in expensive SUVs drive like complete pricks and have seen taxi drivers drive like complete gentlemen. (UV Express, tricycle and "kuliglig" drivers seem to have been uniformly spawned in a special corner of Hell, though).

The thing is, one of the reasons why laws and rules remain abstract until someone's bones get shattered in a collision is...



1. IMPUNITY

I realize, as someone who has done and continues to do a lot of human-rights related work, that the word "impunity" is most often associated with state-sponsored acts of terrorism like extra-judicial killing, torture and enforced disappearance. However, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary simply defines the word as "exemption or freedom from punishment, harm or loss" which makes it an apt description for the situation on the road given that many blatant violators of traffic laws often go their merry way, completely unscathed.

I do not envy traffic enforcers; even the most dedicated, competent ones face a considerable challenge when apprehending errant motorists, as a recent online fiasco showed when a "Grabcar" passenger tried to shame a traffic enforcer for pulling over her driver by putting his picture online. A look at the CCTV readily revealed, however, that the driver was, in fact, in violation of the law and that he had rightly been pulled over by the enforcer. This is but one example of the kind of difficulty they can face; they can be beaten or verbally abused by angry drivers (this has happened) or even dragged along by other motorists (this has also happened) for simply doing their jobs. Some of them are abusive, to be sure, but others really try to enforce discipline, and are rewarded with scorn, shame and pain for their efforts. To top it off, none of them makes a whole lot of money for doing what they do.

Not only that, but often there's strength in numbers. Traffic aides try to dissuade, or to apprehend as many violators as they can at a certain intersection or, for me the most dramatic example, on Commonwealth Avenue, but in accordance with Rule #2, until a person gets caught, they don't ever believe they will, and as a result plenty of emboldened violators slip through the dragnet.

There have been plenty of good ideas going around regarding enforcement, like the closed-circuit television cameras that exonerated the enforcer wrongly accused of being a dick to the "grab" driver, and the notion of "contact-free apprehension" which means that cameras simply capture the plates of the offending vehicles, whose registered owners will feel the sting when the time comes to register their vehicles again, if not sooner. The important thing, ultimately, is punishing the offenders, and making them feel the inconvenience of having to pay a fine, especially if they get higher with each violation. This should especially hold true for PUV drivers, whether they be drivers of buses, vans, taxicabs, or my very personal favorite bane of the road, tricycles and their "poorer" cousins, the "kuligligs." The consequences for these individuals should the operators catch wind of the penalties will be very real, and could be very persuasive should they think of counterflowing again.

Ultimately it should be impressed on everyone on our roads, whether drivers of private or public vehicles, that the rules apply to everyone. It can be done; normally "barumbado" drivers suddenly turn meek as mice in Subic because they know the rules are enforced there.

There just has to be the right combination of enforcement and compliance here.

Road discipline isn't "someone else's problem." It's everyone's.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Brush with Death

I really like to eat. Not only that, but I quite like to try new things when I do.

It peeved me, as a result, when nearly ten years ago I experienced a rather violent food allergy to either crab fat pasta or fern salad, the only two "new" things I tried that night. I was rushed to the emergency room that night, and fortunately, was able to get timely treatment, which involved injections of steroids and other drugs that I had not only never had introduced into my system, but which I had avoided like the plague.

It was a life-changing experience, that, and not in a good way. I had already gotten to the age where I would have to watch how much I would eat, but now it became important to watch what I ate, as well. The good news was that I was not hit with another attack for several more years (at last three), and it was similarly unpleasant; it involved driving myself to the emergency room and sleeping in an office in the hospital (as all the beds in the ward were full) after my horse tranquilizer of an antihistamine put me out for about four hours or so.

The third attack was particularly bothersome; I experienced a violent reaction to some whole wheat pancakes with strawberry syrup, and just as I was about to board a flight for Tacloban City. What bothered me was not so much the discomfort I felt as a result of the attack but the fact that the medical staff at the airport (NAIA-3, for anyone who's curious) were at a near-complete loss as to what to do. I was the one who had to tell them to shoot me up with epinephrine. I eventually received proper medical at a clinic on top of SM Megamall. It's fortunate that my attack then was not as severe as the one that followed, years later.

I haven't, unfortunately, quite narrowed down what it is that gives me food allergy, and unfortunately, this has caused me to be a lot more selective about what I eat than I would like. My menu for the last several years can basically be reduced to less than two dozen different kinds of food. Last year, on a trip to Bangkok, I wanted dearly to try some deep fried locusts, but I didn't dare, as I wasn't keen on dying for it.

Flash forward to yesterday morning. Before I woke up, I dreamed about Jay Tan, a dear, dear friend of mine who passed away at 32, from complications related to a kidney transplant. I rarely ever dream about him anymore, and every time I do, it feels like a vaguely bittersweet thing, especially since, most of the time he just stands around and smiles, even when I try to talk to him.

I woke up from the dream, and had a breakfast consisting of a new brand of chocolate chip pancakes (Krusteaz, if anyone is curious, which I only bought because my previous brand, Pilsbury, has apparently stopped making them) I had just bought from the grocery store over the weekend. My daughter, who had gotten up earlier than everyone else because of her how early her school bus picks her up, was complaining that her chest hurt and that she could not breathe. I thought that she had simply contracted a virus that was basically going around the house from my wife, and told her she could stay home from school.

After finishing the first piece, I began sneezing and coughing, and felt a distinct, sharp pain in my chest. I thought, then that I had caught the bug myself, and I popped some vitamin C and a flu pill. Within minutes it became exponentially harder to breathe, and my eyes began to swell, and it was then that I realized that this was no bug; this was my first food allergy attack in almost three years.

My presence of mind helped; my wife and sister-in-law rushed me to the nearest hospital, and no sooner had I set foot in the emergency room than I started to projectile vomit. I made alternate trips between the sink and their (mercifully clean) toilet. The doctor, unlike the poor excuses for professionals at the airport, were quite prompt in taking action, even as I was starting to writhe in pain from my stomach aches. This was a particularly violent attack. But that wasn't what was bothering me.

What bothered me was the dream.

I was terrified, in that moment, that Jay had come to pick me up and take me home, or "sundo" as the vernacular goes. All of my closest relatives are still alive, and I was never particularly close to my grandparents, but this guy I loved like a brother. And so it stood to reason that, at this point in my life, if anyone was to "fetch" me from this mortal coil, it would be him.

And, as far as I can remember, for the first time in my nearly forty years of existence, I shouted, out loud, in the emergency room, "I want to live! I don't want to die yet!" It felt distinctly ridiculous as soon as I said it, even though at the time the doctor and nurses were elsewhere and didn't hear me.

Well, obviously it all worked out and here I still am, though, like before, I was pumped with copious amounts of steroids, as a result of which I am now required to "taper off" for a few days, and I was given, yet again, what felt like horse tranquilizers as they kept me knocked out the whole day.

There's no moral to this story, really, or any earth-shaking realizations about the human condition, but I found it funny that, after all I've seen and even been through in this life, I could still be as terrified as I was yesterday morning, sitting on a hospital gurney, because of some lousy pancakes.

My daughter, who also went to the E.R. with me, is fine, by the way. They just gave her a pill and she was fine.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Reading in Terminals

I've never been the most voracious reader I know; I used to be a fan of Stephen King and for a brief period spanning the late 80s to the mid 1990s I kept abreast of many, if not most of his latest novels. After that it was the odd John Irving or Umberto Eco novel. I've also read most of the Conan-Doyle-written Sherlock Holmes short stories and books, and a number of Neil Gaiman's novels, even the ones that don't come with pretty pictures.

In the last decade or so, however, I have found it increasingly harder to sit through books that are more than three hundred pages long and with small font. Maybe it's because my nearly forty-year old eyes struggle with the tiny letters, or because I just didn't feel I had enough time, but soon I felt I only had time to sit through comic books or compilations, and even then, not too many of those.

That changed, however, thanks to a series of marathon travels by airplane.

It used to be that some of the most mind-numbing time I would ever spend would be the time I would spend waiting for a flight. For several years now I have been flying from Manila to some far-flung province for work, and more than a few of those flights have been early morning trips, some of them even red-eyes. It was invariably hard to catch up on the sleep I'd lose having to get up at an odd hour of the morning; if I wasn't stymied by the fact that, in waking up I had shocked my system too much for it to settle back down into sleep again, I was dissuaded by the paranoia that someone could lift my things off me while I was in dreamland. During early morning flights I always caught up on lost sleep while on the plane, and not a moment before. Most of the time, I'd travel alone, with no one to talk to, and while I would sometimes surf  the internet or play a handheld video game, it just wasn't that engaging.

But soon I found that books were the perfect antidote to the dreary, half-awake downtime I would spend waiting for flights. I finished The Lovely Bones and The Life of Pi in between flights, the latter of which I actually bought more than a year ago but could never find the time to read. Because I am a slow reader, it becomes that much easier to eat up the two or three hours I spend waiting for the plane to arrive, get ready and accept passengers. Flight delays, of which I have experienced many both coming and going (but usually going), have become a welcome development because of the additional time I get to read.

Waiting for anything is a trying experience, especially when done without adequate sleep, but now that I've figured out how to combat the boredom it's no longer an issue.

The funny thing is, it's been a month since I've traveled anywhere by plane, and suddenly I find myself unable to sit down and read books again. Maybe I can only read in the spaces between travel.



Monday, March 24, 2014

Heck of a Day

This will be my first blog post in a while in which I just recount the events of the day past, and in a fairly sketchy manner as well.

Today I nearly missed a flight, but was able through a lot of cell phone calls and more than a few useful connections to catch it. It was a terrifying experience, sitting through traffic watching the clock tick right in front of me, wanting basically to drive through all of the people sitting still and the lights that were "inconsiderate" enough to stay red when I needed to go. I didn't even have time to park; I basically entrusted the car to someone I had never even met before. I dashed past the gates and didn't even get searched, and made a 100-yard dash to the airplane from the entrance, misjudging my speed and having to ram into the flipping fuselage to stop myself.

I boarded a plane literally five minute before it was scheduled to take off, and am pretty sure I pissed off everyone on the plane, from the passengers to the flight crew. I might have heard an American passenger make a crack about me, but I wasn't sure; I was too frazzled from the whole experience to really take anything in, and I slept through most of the flight thanks to my exhaustion. I did notice, however, that the staff did not serve me any complimentary snacks, and I cannot help but wonder if that was deliberate, though one flight attendant gave me a cup of water and a refill. 

I made it to my activity in Mindanao, and as fortunate enough both that the affair had started late and that one of my bosses who would be dropping by to "audit" me hadn't made the trip.

All's well that ends well, in short, but it could not have been cut any closer.

Here's hoping for a more relaxed day tomorrow.

What a day.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

In The Courtroom


Whatever my or anyone else's opinion of the relative merits of the work of American filmmaker Woody Allen and Filipino comedian Vhong Navarro may be, however, the fact remains that both men have recently been accused of sexual assault. Navarro has been accused by a woman with whom he apparently had a romantic tryst, one which ended with him getting beaten to within an inch of his life by the woman's apparent lover and his friends, and Allen has been accused by a woman who, at the time of the incident, actually recognized him as her father.

The similarity between the two ends there.

Allen's case, if historical reports are to be believed, is a regrettable example of the American justice system failing a victim of child sexual abuse. When the alleged sexual abuse occurred in the 1990s, the victim, then-seven-year-old Dylan Farrow immediately confided in her mother and Allen's lover at the time, Mia Farrow, who went to the extent of capturing her statement on video and attempting to file charges.   Nothing came of those charges, however, because the prosecutor assisting them apparently decided not to push through with the case.  To put it differently, Dylan Farrow never got her day in court, and neither, for that matter, did Allen.  With the statute of limitations long having lapsed on any possible criminal case against Allen, Farrow has no other recourse but to discuss her supposed ordeal, which she did in an open letter which was recently published.

In contrast, the controversy involving Navarro has already been brought to the appropriate venue, with Navarro suing the alleged victim, Deniece Cornejo and the men who beat him up, and Cornejo having sued him for rape. Since then, both parties have been widely exposed in the media, conspicuously trying to sell to the public the merits of their claims and quite shamelessly attempting to have this case tried in the court of public opinion. I was particularly irked by Cornejo's appearance on a talk show, tears on display, discussing her grievance instead of letting her lawyer handle everything by taking the matter where it firmly belongs: the justice system. Navarro's camp has been a bit more proactive on the legal front, having filed criminal complaints on his behalf against his supposed aggressors, but the attempts to influence public opinion on this case in his favor are still patent, judging by the grossly disproportionate airtime and bandwidth that have been devoted by his home network (and other networks, as a result) to this story. These efforts appear to be at least partially successful as one online survey has most respondents believing Navarro's version of the events, as if the parties' guilt or innocence is decided on the internet.

Dylan Farrow was unable to obtain relief from her country's justice system, and so she did the only thing she could. Conversely, Allen, who has not been and is not being tried in a court of law, can only respond in the same way in which he is being accused, through media and attempts to influence public perception.

Cornejo and Navarro have the benefit of a trial system now working for them, not to mention an assemblage of lawyers ready to do their bidding. Why they would choose the tri-media and social media as their battleground, considering that neither of these can put anyone in jail or adjudge anyone liable to pay financial compensation? I would hazard a guess that it is because in a court of law they would have to face the whole ugly truth, not all of which may be to either party's liking.   And so they give their own airbrushed accounts of what happened to the public.

 The problem with attempting to try a criminal case outside a courtroom is that it can result in utter disaster for the actual court case. One need only refer to the infamous Vizconde massacre, which resulted in the incarceration of Hubert Webb and several of his friends for over a decade and a half, their eventual acquittal, and an ultimately unsolved multiple murder. That case, which involved a truly grisly crime and not some sordid he-said-she-said affair, was one of the most highly publicized in the last twenty five years or so, but one thing I distinctly remember about the reports that circulated in the media in the 1990s was the general sentiment they pushed and eventually generated that Hubert Webb was as guilty as sin. Apparently, the prosecutors and investigators handling the case believed in Webb's guilt beyond reasonable doubt as well, so much so that they didn't bother to build an airtight case against him, instead relying almost solely on the testimony of a "star witness" who turned out to be a drug-addled dud.  The worst part of it was that nobody won that case, least of all lady justice. If Webb and his cohorts had, indeed, committed the crime with which they were charged, they should still be in jail right now. If they had not, they should not have spent a moment in jail, let alone fifteen years, which they will never get back. Either way, the perpetrators of the massacre, are free as birds even after the mass media had conditioned most people's minds that the perpetrators had been caught, tried and convicted. 

If the people involved in this case really want justice, they should keep whatever it is they have to say where it belongs: in court.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Book Review: Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church

All hyperbole aside, the recently-released book, Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church, should be an extremely important piece of investigative journalism. In its pages, longtime Church-beat journalist Aries C. Rufo lays bare some of the best-guarded and most downright scandalous secrets of one of the oldest existing organizations in the country, the Catholic Church of the Philippines, revelations which touch on ultra-sensitive topics such as sexual indiscretions and financial mismanagement, among others.

This compilation of reports is no string of blind items, either; Rufo gives very specific names, and dates and places, and whenever possible, his sources as well. From disclosing  the sexual improprieties of Bishops of Dioceses in Makati and Malolos to the financial depredations of Bishops responsible for large amounts of money, to allegations of corruption that go all the way up to the top, both of the Church and the Philippine government, Rufo pulls no punches whatsoever, and does not hesitate to point out the irony inherent to the Church's excoriation of corruption among government officials while it remains distressingly tolerant of similar, if not even more reprehensible practices among its own ranks. 

The book is told through a series of anecdotes regarding various parishes and Church offices, starting with the sexual controversies, following it with the financial scandals and the political scandals, and almost finishing off with a "best practices" anecdotal discussion on how cooperation between the Church and the government can actually work for the betterment of the public, and ending the main discussion with a chapter on how a bishop falsely accuses a nun of theft.

The book is a relatively slim volume, with only about 182 pages of content with the remainder disclosing Rufo's bibliography, which consists largely of his own work, but Rufo's anecdotes are well-chosen in terms of impact and relevance. However, it is precisely because the subject matter of this book is as important as it is to Philippine society that I cannot help but be particularly harsh on the manner in which it is presented.

Rufo's biggest problem in unveiling his stories is that for all of his declarations, and those of Rappler Chief Marites Danguilen Vitug to the contrary, the book reads, in many instances, very much like the demolition job of the Catholic Church that this book's detractors will no doubt claim it is. A lot of the stories in his accounts explicitly named eyewitnesses, including, in some instances, people directly involved in the controversies narrated, and their accounts are utterly compelling. I had heard some of the stories told in those pages before, some of them described abstrusely, but reading them here, with all of bloody details so to speak, was another experience entirely,  and were it not for the author's consistent need to interject his own opinion I would have been completely immersed in the text.

I find it regrettable that Rufo is not content to let the evidence speak for itself, which it does rather eloquently in many instances; he seems to feel the need to push things along with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. He casually tosses around phrases like "throwback to the Dark Ages," and constantly chooses instead to skip to the conclusions to be drawn from the incidents rather than patiently build his arguments with his anecdotes. In short, he cannot help but  constantly dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s for his readers. "Hey look, everyone! These people are eeeeeviiiiil!" Though this book may be a work of non-fiction, it is still propelled by narrative, and as such Rufo should still respect the cardinal rule of effective narrative: SHOW, don't TELL.

Given that the book is written in English, it seems fairly clear that Rufo's intended readership is considerably more educated than the kind who get all of their knowledge from reading tabloids. For all of that, however, he does not seem to give his readers any credit whatsoever, virtually bludgeoning them with his constant editorials throughout the book that basically leave the reader very little room to make up their minds for themselves on the state of the local Catholic Church. Now, personally, I am not a fan of people dictating to me how to think, whether it's a priest or some journalist with an axe to grind, and so I could not help but take some umbrage at Rufo's attempt to manipulate my sentiments on the matter.

Ironically, it is in discussing the much-mooted Reproductive Health issue that Rufo actually goes relatively easy on the Church and instead insinuates that the Philippine government went the "extra mile," so to speak, to ensure the passage by the legislature of the RH Law. While he refrains from ascribing impropriety to the Church in this portion, he nonetheless remains decidedly unkind to their anti-RH stance. There's very little actual reportage here, and nearly everything Rufo says has already been amply covered by the mainstream media. This inclusion of this episode in the Church's troubled history, while admittedly important, nonetheless seems like an afterthought, or worse, like the act of kicking someone when they're down.

Worse still, Rufo completely wrecks the flow of his book, in which he discusses, in succession, the various scandals of the Catholic Church involving sex, politics and money, then offers a hopeful chapter on collaboration between the Church and the government, by ending with a chapter on a bishop allegedly harassing a nun whom he has accused of theft, which, on its face, is little more than a he-said-she-said account of a single incident involving two people. Considering that, in the preceding chapters, Rufo tackles issues involving institutional decay brought about by the alleged licentiousness and greed of Church leaders on an appalling scale, this relatively petty incident feels decidedly out of place and, again, like an afterthought. To my mind, it would have been better for Rufo to end with the chapter discussing the encouraging cooperative efforts between some local dioceses and local governments, but it is almost as if he suffers from some form of verbal diarrhea and cannot help but end the meat of his discourse with a cheap shot rather than words of encouragement.

On top of all of this, it seems painfully obvious that this book was not properly edited or proofread, with Rufo mixing up the words "foresight" and "hindsight" and, much later in the book, actually inventing a President of the Philippines who never existed before: Ferdinand Ramos. Considering that the book isn't even very long, it should not have been too difficult a task to edit its content and catch gaffes like that.

To my mind, however the real tragedy of this book is that, when stripped of what distinctly feels like an anti-clerical agenda, it actually makes for some very engaging, and more importantly, informative reading.

Personally, I have long believed that the biggest problem of the Church was the presence of a few rotten apples in high places rather than flaws inherent to the institution itself. The Church has had its fair history of villains in its two millennia of existence--it is the only institution that I know of, after all, that actually put a dead man on trial, corpse and all--but it has endured all this time because it is bigger than any of its vicars or their foibles.  While it is true that institutions are formed by people, and the presence of arguably less-than-altruistic persons in the Church hierarchy may have, over time, resulted in some pernicious practices becoming fossilized, such negative institutions may likewise be demolished by people and rebuilt from the ground up, if necessary. All the Church needs to remain relevant, even in today's society, is the right leaders, as Pope John Paul II demonstrated after a fashion and as Pope Francis I is currently starting to demonstrate, particularly in this era where the Roman Catholic Church is finally starting to accept responsibility for the iniquities perpetrated by its clergy on the faithful.

The anecdotes Rufo shares with his readers, if one is able to see past his heavy-handed commentary which borders on pontification, shed light on the human frailty of several members of our local clergy, and hit home how important it is to shatter, once and for all the myth of the clergy's infallibility. Whether or not the Church and its apologists choose to accept this truth, the fact of the matter is that the Catholic Church is an institution in dire need of repair, a former bastion of morality that has seen its moral authority erode considerably in the last few years in the wake of one scandal after another.  Like the rest of us, our priests are human, and their sexual and financial indiscretions should be measured and judged by the same legal and moral standards as those applied to the rest of us, if not more stringent standards altogether. More importantly, however, true healing between the Church and its disillusioned faithful can only begin with real accountability, not the summary sweeping under the rug that the Church all around the world has done with most, if not all of the indiscretions of its clerics.

As I said at the beginning of this review, this book should have been an important piece of investigative journalism, but because Rufo drops the ball on too many occasions, it just feels like a wasted opportunity. Fortunately for Rufo, deconstructing the Catholic Church is very much en vogue these days and therefore his book is quite likely to find an audience, one which, I hope, can grasp the important message diluted by his consistent soap-box lectures and his muddled prose.

Or in the alternative, one positive offshoot of this book could be that another, better-written one may one day come along.

2.5/5


Saturday, June 08, 2013

So the Cosmic Scheme...Makes Sense for Once?

I rarely find myself waxing existential, but two separate, unrelated events that made headlines this past week, one of which involved tragic, seemingly random death and the other of which involved what was arguably a near-death experience for several dozen people have really gotten me thinking about life and death.

The first event was the explosion of a condominium in Taguig, which blew out both of the unit's walls, one of which fell into the street below and struck a delivery van, killing its three occupants. Investigation of the incident is ongoing, but even granting that there was foul play, an angle which, right now, is looking less and less likely, there was no way that whoever was responsible for it could have possibly targeted the victims. They were simply, as the cliche goes, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The second was the botched landing of a commercial airliner, which skidded off the runway of the Davao International Airport, one which resonates a little more personally with me as I personally know one of the passengers of that ill-fated plane. It was a harrowing experience for everyone on the plane at that moment, and had one or two more elements gone wrong as well, it could have been their last experience on this Earth. As it happened, though, all of them survived.

Investigations of both incidents are ongoing, and it's not for me to say who is to blame for either of them, but  what I can't stop thinking about is how outrageously random the three deaths were, and how the survival of everyone on that plane was nothing short of a miracle.

I can't imagine that the people in the van that was crushed by the wall of the exploding condominium got out of bed that morning imagining that anything even remotely like that could possibly happen to them; considering what happened, and the way it happened they probably never knew what hit them. As sudden, horrifying deaths go it was probably one of the most merciful they could have experienced.

The plane ride was another story; one of the passengers of the ill-fated flight blogged about how things had already gone wrong before he even boarded the plane. Also, as a semi-frequent flyer myself I confess to have had more than one moment of fearing if the plane would ever land safely. No matter how safe today's aircraft are, the fact remains that flying travelers are suspended 30,000 feet above the air, something that becomes rather vivid when one looks out the window, and even more so when the plane flies through air turbulence, or in heavy wather. There's plenty of room for paranoia for people disposed to it.

In short, unlike the guys in the truck who were clobbered by a slab of concrete falling out of the sky, the passengers of the flight had plenty of time to contemplate their fate and to work themselves up into a proper panic.

I don't have answers, or even any particularly intelligent questions, but sometimes things happen in this world that really just get me wondering.  I do believe in God and if I ever professed that I didn't, it was more out of a sense of childish spite, a way of somehow getting back at God for not giving me what I was asking for at a given point in time, and declaring "this is how I hurt you: by refusing to believe in you." Even as someone who believes, and who is ready to interpret a given facts to support that belief in the same way that non-believers are glad to interpret the same set of facts to support the opposite, I confess I was utterly confounded by this series of events, and it really got me thinking that the Lord truly does work in mysterious ways, especially when he doesn't.

On the face of things, if God chose whom to take and whom to spare, it's more logical that three men should die, while the hundred or so people on the airplane should live, but considering how many people have died in airplane crashes, shipwrecks, or typhoons, it seems a little odd that God's apparent machinations were better suited to human understanding this time around. The slab of concrete could have theoretically missed the van had things been just the tiniest bit different, and the on the other any of a dozen different things could have gone wrong with the flight that would have ended with the plane crashing and the passengers all getting killed, but it was not to be that way.

From going all existential, I find myself waxing cliche because all things considered, there's really naught left to say but: when it's your time to go, it's your time to go.