A novel idea

Life is like a novel.
A novel is a written work of prose usually in a narrative style. Novels tell stories, which are typically defined as a series of events described in a sequence. It begins with a title that makes it different from all the rest. Like a name given at birth sets the person apart. The copyright page shows the date the book was made and its publishers. In the same vein, the love of a couple has made a person’s existence possible.

Each line on a page tells of an event, emotion or thought. Each page give meaning to the chapter and each chapter contributes to the story as a whole. Each day in a life is like another line on a page, each month a page, each year a chapter. The author cannot write a novel in one sitting. It may take months or even years to get a story told.

The first few chapters are an easy read. They introduce the protagonist and the supporting characters. Is she a sweet girl or a bitch? How did she become so accomplished or so bitter? Why are the two sisters estranged or those brothers so kind? Yes, the first few pages, that is, the first few years of life, determine the personality and perspective of the lead characters.

Is the protagonist the narrator or is someone else telling the story? In life, one can determine one’s path or have it determined by others. Is he a victim of circumstance or the initiator of wondrous deeds?

A good novel has its protagonist in lights and shadows. There are good characters and there are bad ones. They add sugar and spice, suspense and romance. There are supporting characters who help the protagonist in the face of trials. And other characters who cause these trials. Some characters are mysterious. And there are some whose true nature–are they friend or foe–will only be revealed in the end.

The setting also affects the story. Some novels are set in only one place: a small town or a busy city. Other novels have multiple settings, which takes the protagonist all over the world.

But the setting is not the most essential part of the story. It is the climax, the turning point which sets the stage for the rest of the story. But the buildup itself can be as dramatic. In fact, there are times that a reader cannot really determine if that part of the novel is the climax and not just another buildup. Will that professional dilemma change her life forever or is it but a phase? In some novels, the climax cannot be spotted or understood until the book is read.

No two novels have the same length. There are no rules in literature that dictates its number of pages or words. The only rules are that it should have a beginning, a climax and a conclusion. The story, whether short or long, is a complete one. Whether a person lives to a hundred or the age of one. That life has made an impact on the lives of others. A story can be told.

Will it be a happy ending? At this point in the novel, it is still to be wished. (538 words)


The 7 habits for highly ineffective studying

All that effort over two years of grueling course work for a masters or doctoral degree can go down the drain in one swoop if you don’t pass the comprehensive exams.

Students fret over the mere mention of the exam and at one point, I even had a student who failed to come for the scheduled exam because his blood pressure shot up that same morning (out of tension). But comprehensive exams are a reality in the higher education paradigm that all grad students have to go through to get their much desired degree.

But the good news is: STUDENTS WHO REALLY STUDY WILL SURELY PASS. The bad news is: Some students ONLY THINK THEY STUDIED; in truth, what they did was VIRTUAL STUDY and like the virtual world nothing tangible comes out of it.

Here are 7 Habits personified:

#7 The Nest Builder
You strive to make a perfect study environment before you think studying is possible. The table has to be the right size and the lighting just right. You stockpile on the readings, spending hours in the library photocopying material (not reading it). You stockpile on chips, nuts and other munchables. You even take pains to have the perfect coffee blend.

The problem–You don’t actually begin studying until everything is perfect and you are unable to study when the situation is less perfect. Thus, you are unable to take advantage of odd moments for studying, e.g. waiting at a doctor’s office, during lunch breaks or in-between classes.

#6 The Multi-tasker
Sure you can cook dinner while watching TV and doing your laundry. You can even do your homework while listening to Bruno Mars, but studying for an exam requires your 100% attention. So take off those earphones, turn off that VLC player, minimize your Facebook and start reading that boring textbook.

The problem–Too much distractions means that you are not able to make full use of your brain for studying since its attention is divided. Also, the student develops a dependency on stimulus (such as music) in order to be able to study.

#5 The Groupie
Some students think that the best way to study is in a group and they are unable to study on their own. If you are a serious student, group study may rob you of your precious study time. If your groupmates are co-dependents, you may end up being bogged down on topics you already know very well and not have enough time to study other areas.

Tip–Group study only works if: 1) there is a shared seriousness in the study effort; 2) there is an agenda every time you study as a group; 3) each person is previously assigned to cover an aspect of the topic for the day; and, 4) you benefit from each other’s expertise.

#4 Hooked on Highlighters
Now for some bad news: A highlighted page is NOT proof of hours of study well-spent. Yes, you highlighted the important points in yellow, the less important in blue; pink for quotes and orange for new ideas. Question? Has your brain processed the information or the color coordination?

Tip—Highlights may be useful for preparing for class discussions but not studying for the comprehensive exam. Taking notes of the readings will not only aid retention, but also force you to process what you have read. Never take notes in verbatim, try to put the reading in your own words; in this way, you will also have ready answers should this topic appear as an exam question.

#3 Munch Monster
Take that hand out of the cookie jar or that bowl of peanuts! Now! Not only will this action prevent you from gaining those unwanted calories, it will also free your hands to take down notes on your laptop.

#2 Whining and Cramming
Would you like some cheese with that whine? Another reason to avoid study groups is that it could end up as group whine sessions. Unfortunately, whining does not have the power to increase knowledge. Grow up and take time off to study even if it means suspending one’s social life for a couple of months or a little more. Cramming only gets you through final exams not comprehensives where its not just a matter of memorizing data but being in tune with current issues as well.

#1 Exam Fats not Fit
Exam fitness is not the ability of reading all the readings and memorizing all the data. That’s like eating a lot but not being conscious of nutrition. While memorizing some data is unfortunately inevitable (..yes, it becomes harder after 35), the more important part of studying is understanding and synthesizing knowledge.

Reading all those textbooks is not enough, you should also practice for the exam. Review past exams and try to answer them on your own or try to anticipate the questions and draft possible answers for them. In this way, should a related question come up in the exam, you would already have the basic structure for your answer instead of composing it there and then. So instead of an 8-hour exam, you can reduce it to half the time (and still pass)!!

p.s. Instead of relying on my memory alone, I also ask outside help. Tell your guardian angel to help you remember the answers, he is far more intellectually equipped than you are.


Halloween has been hollowed out. Hallow is the same word for “holy” that we find in the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father), ande’en is a contraction of “evening.” Thus, the word Halloween itself is a shortened form of “All Hallows Eve,” the day before All Saints Day.

But these days, the purpose behind it has been lost, it has become a ghoulish celebration bereft of meaning or worst glorifying evil. It’s like celebrating New Year’s Eve without a New Year’s Day. Delete the saints and our beliefs about the dignity cum destiny of human beings, and the only thing left is pagan superstition regarding the dead.
How do we bring back the “hallow” of Halloween? By linking it back to the two feasts that follow it: All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. A ghost or headless horseman, may be scary, but he is a testimony to our mortality (or perhaps, condemnation, if this life is not lived as it ought to be). And if you insists on coming in a “bloody” costume, keep in mind the first Christian who were either beheaded, eaten by lions or skewered all in the name of their faith.

By the way, if you are looking for an appropriate (but short) prayer for your visit to the cemetery tomorrow, here is a suggestion:

V. Do not remember my sins, O Lord.
R. When you come to judge the world by fire.

V. Direct my way in your sight, O Lord, my God.
R. When you come to judge the world by fire.

V. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon him.
R. When you come to judge the world by fire.

V. Lord, have mercy.
R. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Our Father…

V. And lead us not into temptation.
R. But deliver us from evil.

V. From the gates of hell.
R. Deliver his soul, O Lord.

V. May he rest in peace.
R. Amen.

V. Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come to you.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And also with you.

Let us pray. Lord, welcome into your presence your son, N., whom you have called from this life. Release him from all his sins, bless him with eternal light and peace, raise him up to live for ever with all your saints in the glory of the resurrection. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.


Meeting Steve Jobs iLive

I distinctly remember going with some New Media classmates at Columbia U to the NYC MacWorld in 1999 for the sole purpose of seeing Steve Jobs in person. That was the year Jobs introduced the iBook with the AirPort, which marked Apple as the first producers of laptops with wifi capability. The event had the added bonus of imagining the young Steve Jobs, since his talk was preceded by a cameo of Noah Wylie, the actor who played him in “Pirates of Silicon Valley” (see embedded video).

To this day, I still have a hangover of that event evinced by the fact that I “force” my Online Journalism students to watch the 2-hour long “Pirates” movie, which to their chagrin does not include Johnny Depp.

Despite the 300 patents under his name, the genius of Steve Jobs does not lie in technology alone. Rather, it is his ability to envision the direction of communication technology and the ability to share that vision.  That particular talent can be seen from Jobs early days, epitomized with the “magic act” presentation of the Macintosh in 1984, which we can easily label in McLuhan terms as the technology that changed the world.  (As an aside, Steve Jobs perfected the “iconic” appeal by getting rid of that ridiculous green bow-tie and exchanging it for that standard black long-sleeved shirt and denims.)

He didn’t always invent the technology, but he knew how to make use of them. A case in point is the now ubiquitous WiFi internet. This technology was actually developed by AT&T and an Australian government agency, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), but it was Steve Jobs who saw its potential and ask Lucent Technologies to develop a port for the iBook (see The Economist, Jun 2004). During that MacWorld launch in 1999, he didn’t just announce the new technology, he dramatized it! Starting with getting all of us to imagine the convenience of getting the news off the computer wherever we were. He lived the journalism mantra: “show don’t tell” and got us to participate in his vision.

While other great persons have come and gone, the direct impact of Steve Jobs in our everyday lives will make him harder to forget. We will always remain thankful that persons like him come and make our world a better place. It’s been an insanely great ride Steve!

(Background info on embedded video– here is Noah’s take on the event.)

“photoshop” is now a verb?

Since I will be teaching layout and design next semester, I decided to brush up on the tools of the trade, i.e. Adobe Photoshop and In-design. The Adobe CS series (now at #5) has given designers wonderful capabilities for multimedia design and layout that publications today are only limited by the designer’s imagination.

When it comes to news and the reporting of facts, however, I think there should be another limit: ethics, i.e. that the design still presents the truth.

Unfortunately, in the Philippines, “Photoshop” is now a verb and unethical designers can “photoshop” anything into what they would like the public to believe is real. Advertisers do this all the time, thereby blurring the lines between what is ethical and what is not, when it comes to enhancing the beauty of their models. While, we can take it for granted for advertising. It is practically unforgivable for news photos and websites purporting to report truthful facts.

Just recently, there was a lot of hullabaloo over the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) facebook page that showed a photo of three of its officials at a typhoon-affected site. Only, as astutely pointed out by the Controlled Chaos blog, the officials were “photoshopped” into the picture. Unfortunately for these officials, it no longer matters if they really went to the site (NCR Director Rey Tagudando did actually inspect the site in question and he has an ANC on-site interview to prove it) but because of their “enterprising” photographer or webmaster, their credibility is now under fire. Worse of all, its become an international embarassment, having been picked up by no less than the online blogosphere of the Washington Post.  I think that government Public Information Officers should be the first ones to undergo ethical training, their bosses should contact the UP Journalism Dept. ASAP. #

Ethics is not a ‘relative’ science

Rome–The foundation of human rights, democracy, and cooperation among peoples and religions is threatened by a growing assumption that there are no ethical absolutes, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Not recognizing that certain ethical and moral principles are naturally part of being human has “enormous and serious consequences on the civil and social order,” Pope Benedict said in a meeting with members of the International Theological Commission.

Commission members, appointed by the Vatican, have been working on a document on the foundations of natural moral law and, specifically, on how those principles form the basis of a “universal ethic” that can be recognized and shared by all peoples of all religions.

“It is not an exclusively or predominantly confessional theme,” the pope said, but is one that is important for all people and for their ability to live together in peace and mutual respect.

Pope Benedict said the commission’s report is an important part of a project being promoted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to encourage universities, associations and individual scholars “to identify useful lines and convergences for a constructive and effective deepening of the doctrine on natural law.”

The Catholic Church teaches that natural law, whose basic norms are reflected in the Ten Commandments, is not moral and ethical principles imposed on people by religion but is rights and wrongs that are part of human nature and can be identified by the use of human reason.

Because the principles are “accessible to every rational creature,” the pope said, they are a secure basis for dialogue and cooperation among all peoples and for the building of societies in which human dignity and freedom are protected.

Unfortunately, Pope Benedict said, modern societies have lost sight of natural law and too many people are convinced that society or the majority of a society’s citizens is “the ultimate source of civil law.”

“Then the problem becomes not the search for what is good, but for power or rather the balance of powers,” he said.

“At the root of this tendency lies ethical relativism, which some people even see as one of the principal conditions of democracy because relativism would guarantee tolerance and mutual respect,” the pope said.

However, Pope Benedict said, history has demonstrated repeatedly that the majority can be wrong and that only reason and openness to perennial moral principles can guarantee a just society.

“When the fundamental needs of the dignity of the human person, human life, the institution of the family and equity in the social order — that is, basic human rights — are in play, no man-made law can subvert the norms written by the creator in human hearts without society itself being dramatically attacked in what constitutes its necessary basis,” the pope said.

Natural law, he said, is “the true guarantee offered to everyone” so they can live in freedom, have their dignity respected and not be manipulated or exploited by the more powerful.

Pope Benedict said there is a need “to mobilize the consciences of all people of good will,” whether or not they are Christians, so that natural law is recognized as the only certain basis for regulating social life.

The pope also congratulated members of the theological commission on their document, “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized,” which was published in April.

The document, which emphasized the importance of baptism as the ordinary means of salvation, said the traditional concept of limbo – as a place where unbaptized infants spend eternity in happiness but without communion with God – seemed to reflect an “unduly restrictive view of salvation.”

Pope Benedict told commission members, “I trust that the document may be a useful point of reference for church pastors and theologians, and also a help and source of consolation for faithful whose families have suffered the unexpected death of a baby before it could receive the cleansing of regeneration” brought by sacramental baptism.#

Reposted article by University of the Philippines Chancellor 

The University of the Philippines (UP) was established as the first and only national university of the country in 2008 (RA 9500) for a number of well‐founded reasons. UP with its seven constituent universities, offers the most diverse and widest array of established graduate and undergraduate degree programs of any Philippine university today. It employs the highest concentration of full‐time PhD faculty members in the basic and applied sciences, mathematics, engineering, social sciences, arts and the humanities. It is the primary generator of new scientific knowledge and the leading producer of newly trained Filipino scientists, researchers, scholars, and artists.

 Read more

Siliman University visit

It was my first time to visit Silliman University in Dumaguete last November 7, I was given the opportunity to go there by Anvil Publishing, because they wanted me to promote my book, “Internet 101” during the convention of the Philippine Association of Communication Educators (PACE) being held there. I was with two other Anvil authors, the famed director cum historian Nick Deocampo of Mowelfund and film Prof. Jag Garcia of La Salle University. In the photo below, we are flanked by the officers of PACE including Prof. Chichi Fajrado-Robles of Ateneo, Dr. Rosario Baseleres of Silliman, my colleague in UP-CMC Dr. Odette Portus, and Prof. Marco Polo. After our morning talk, we were given a tour of the university and I was really impressed by their archive collection of ancient books, magazines and even letters from soldiers during World War II.

Photos: The first school building in Silliman has been preserved and now functions as their Anthropology museum (see photo above). We were also taken to see the university’s mini-zoo that houses nearly extinct Philippine animals such as the spotted deer. We also entered their aviary for flying mammals, aka bats. Its certainly not a fearful creature as movies make them to be. In any case, I didn’t exactly relish the idea of being in an enclosed space with flying rodents. 

Close encounters with a veteran journalist

Singapore–Had my picture taken with veteran war journalist Peter Arnett, who was the guest speaker at the welcome dinner for delegates at the World Journalism Educators’ Conference see previous post).

Arnett, who is now teaching at the Xantou University in China, was fired by CNN and the National Geographic for his comments on Iraqi television in which he stated that the US war in Iraq was a “failure.”

I was hoping that he would talk about the “behind the scenes” of getting historic interviews with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Instead, he used the platform for reminiscing his glory days as a reporter from the Vietnam war to the Gulf War to the war on terror. He also lacked reflection on lesson learned from such coverages.

In any case, as a reporter he is still to be admired. He won the Pulitzer for his coverage of the Vietnam war. He has been accused of being “unpatriotic” since the Gulf War, since he was the only reporter to debunk the US State Department claims that there were little civilian casualties. During the war in Iraq and the initial attack, he was embroiled in the “Iraqi baby milk plant” controversy, because after being allowed inside the milk plant, he did not want to repeat the US military view that it was a cover up for weapons of mass destruction.

He was proved right by the investigation of the Iraq Survey Group, which visited the facility in May of 2004, found that it was inoperable and had been out of operation for some time prior to the invasion. The plant was searched extensively and no evidence was found of WMD production, although the production facilities and factory floor were littered with remnants of baby milk production, including large piles of powdered baby milk that had congealed into solid masses. #

Pampanga: An issue of Church & State

By now, most of the local candidates would be celebrating their victory or launching their electoral complaint (there are the winners and there are the cheated) as Comelec winds down its canvassing and starts officially proclaiming winners.

Perhaps, no province feels more victorious than those from Pampanga, who are busy celebrating the success of their “People Power” of sorts. Despite the well-oiled political machineries of two traditional politicians, the people’s candidate—Fr. Ed Panlilio—had managed to win the gubernatorial seat by a sheer margin of 1,147 votes.

Fr. Among (as he is known) managed to capture the hearts and imagination of the Pampangueños by his simplicity and sincerity. He received support from many simple folk in Pampanga; from OFWs and US immigrants; and, from Pampagueños living in Manila. Even my tailor dropped everything (including the suit he promised to finish for me before the elections) to be a volunteer watcher for Fr. Among.

I can understand why Pampagueños have much to celebrate. Here, finally was a candidate that had no self-interest in these elections. Here, finally was a candidate who had no dynasty to establish. Here, finally was a candidate who was really concerned for the poor. I am happy for them.

At the same time, I cannot say that I am happy with the fact that in their seeming hopelessness, they had to resort to breaking the healthy separation of Church and State in seeking a worthy candidate.

The general problem with Filipinos is that we assail bishops and priests when they speak out on moral issues and claim that they are not respecting this separation when these issues are inconvenient for us. At the same time, we assail them when they do not intervene in political issues, when having them assert their authority is also convenient for us.

Take the case of the late Cardinal Sin. Those people, who called on his support for the People Power EDSA Revolution, were the same ones who claimed he was interfering in the country’s affairs when he sought the ban of certain films or when he spoke against the use of contraceptives or the indissolubility of marriage. Will Fr. Among soon find himself in a similar situation?

The reason for the separation is a no-brainer: the material welfare of citizens ought to be looked after by the State; while the spiritual welfare is looked after by the Church. Thus, any moral upright citizen can and ought to seek political office. But the latter is a post especially appointed by God alone, and therefore is a precious gift that should not be easily exchanged.

Technically speaking, the Church should not be partisan in any elections, leaving its constituents the freedom to choose their candidates as their conscience dictates. Neither should it dictate the type of government a State should adopt nor its educational system. However, because of the moral dimension of some events, Church leaders are expected to give its constituents guidelines on how to act, such as the guidelines for the elections issued by the bishops. Similarly, Church leaders have the right and duty to make clear that a law is unjust because it is contrary to human rights. For example, bishops were vocal about their desire for the abolition of the death penalty because of the country’s faulty justice system. We also find them vocal when Congress tries to pass laws that are contrary to God’s law such as divorce and abortion or local governments sanction events that are considered immoral or un-Christian, such as the Aswang festival in Antique.

By accepting the candidacy and subsequent election as governor, poor Fr. Among has prioritized the ephemeral temporal good of his constituents above their eternal spiritual good. A priest, when he is ordained, vows to follow Christ. He ought then remember that Christ himself rejected the Jews desire to establish him as their political messiah against the abusive Roman government. Instead, he preferred the cross and the eternal salvation that it wins for those who believe in Him.

In my view, Fr. Among is the biggest loser in these elections because of the path he has chosen. I can only hope that he will use this one term to put in place a trustworthy government so that he could cede this temporal office to upright lay persons in 2010 (reprinted from my column in The Philippine Chronicle, May 26 column). #