Thursday, November 03, 2016

S.E.T.I: How far are we from the truth?


When I first entered college, I was a nervous wreck. I never knew what I wanted to be and just picked out courses I thought I could handle. Not only that, I had an older friend for an adviser. One of his advices was to take Political Law 2 and Philosophy 2 with him so that we could be together. This proved to be a major miscalculation on my part. These courses, by their very nomenclature are what we call pre-requisite courses. What this means is that one has to take an earlier course before them.  And, of course, Political Law and Philosophy are subjects not to be taken lightly. Naturally, I failed those classes. Fortunately enough, I finally realized what I wanted to be and shifted to the course I really wanted – Fine Arts.  These subjects were not offered in this course.  However, those two failures left me scarred and I did not want that.  So, later on in my life, I took it upon myself to study them on my own. At least have a feel for them.  While I took up Law which amounted to nothing for I did not complete it, I read and read books and articles that would introduce me to Philosophy. I have already began with the lighter stuff like Ayn Rand, Richard Bach, Antoine de St. Exupery and other literary novels which somehow led to Philosophy. Of course, there was Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World which could be a Philosophy for idiots of some sort. After those, I proceeded to heavier stuff like introduction to Philosophy, Rene Descartes, etc. 
Fast forward to today, my friend and co-teacher, Rory Cortel, was often the source of articles especially now that he is taking his Master’s in Philosophy and has successfully read his paper in Australia and Beijing where he read another of his theories on the mind-body problem. One of the articles he shared with me is Terrestrial Planets Across Space and Time by Erik Zackrisson, Per Calissendoff, Juan Gonzalez, Andrew Benson, Anders Johansen and Markus Janson.  This article is highly scientific and very hard to understand. However, I managed to get the whole point – that with the use of powerful technological instruments like transit photometry and radial velocity measurements have, in recent years, allowed the detection and characterization of large numbers of exoplanets in the same size and mass range as Earth. What this means is that there are planets in the universe that closely resembles earth, and its surroundings like galaxy formations. By the comsomologists’ calculations, and according to Joseph Schmitt, there are about 1600 to 2100 confirmed exosplanets in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, alone Using what they term as a recipe for their cosmic inventory to assess whether a planet is an exosplanet are the materials from which a planet is formed. Highest on the list are those heavier than hydrogen and helium.  There are about billions of other galaxies and naturally, there are millions of planets that are similar in condition as the earth’s.  However, in all these observations, not a single planet has been found to support life.  For example, there are planets that are much older than ours which if it had life, then their inhabitants must be much more highly developed than ours.  And yet, none of this has emerged.

This is what my take is, based on the article.  I start with the Copernican principle of a heliocentric universe which it tries to debunk.  According to this principle, neither the sun nor the stars are in a central, specially favored position in the universe, much equivalent to the mediocrity principle meaning that man is not a privileged observer of the universe. This stance gives us the notion that with the vastness of the universe comprised with numerous galaxies, it can be possible that there are planets with very much earth like qualities and based on the Darwinian principle, could have spawn life just like earth. In the article, it provided evidence that there are such galaxies based on the computations and that there are indeed planets that are similar to earth.  Now, debunking the Copernican principle, data have shown that life do not exist in these earthlike planets. What do I get out of this article? That if all variables are the same and yet does not contain life as it should have, therefore, there is only one variable left and that is the existence of a Supreme Being, a God, who created all this and placed us here on earth.  This is taken based on our, hitherto, limited knowledge.

I shall use David Hume when he said, No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion. Ergo, even if the data gathered to date do say that there are no other life forms in the universe, it is still possible that this has not been discovered yet and that just one evidence will prove the contrary. 



Friday, September 23, 2016

A Day of Reckoning!


By Rolly de los Santos

September 21 will always mark a very important event in our lives - or so I thought. I am beginning to feel that I have been disillusioned by the promise of the events in February of 1986 when we were able to topple down the strongman that was Ferdinand E. Marcos.  I witnessed the jubilations in the streets and the world sharing our happiness as we worked hard to gain our freedom.  We saw how no less than Jane Fonda brandish the L sign on American TV during the coronation night of the Oscar’s or that famous group of Peter, Paul and Mary coming over to the country and give out a free concert at EDSA as a dedication to the Filipino people for a fight that was well fought.

During the early 70’s, then President Marcos had a very big problem. His term as President was about to end because the 1935 Constitution only allows the President to be re-elected once.  Marcos was at the end of his rope, so to speak.  But he craved for power. Who would not? Not only was he the most powerful man enjoying all the perks of a booming economy, he probably thinks he had not yet amassed all the wealth he could muster. 

Not only am I one of the only few in school who has experienced Martial Law in its entirety, I am also one of those who have experienced it being hatched and conceptualized.  I was a high school student when the First Quarter storm erupted in the streets.  Student leaders were being killed during demonstrations along Mendiola and Quiapo.  The University of the Philippines was practically a war zone. On the lighter side, the President was rumored to have a paramour in the person of an American actress named Dovie Beams. However, the news was getting worse. Ninoy and most of the Senators exposed that they were being bribed to enact a law favoring the extension of Marcos’ mandate.  The  Liberal Party rally at Plaza Miranda was bombed killing bystanders and injuring most of the candidates and many more.  There was an attempt on the life of then Secretary of the National Defense, Juan Ponce Enrile.

And then by the stroke of a pen, Martial Law was declared.  Everybody was ecstatic. Finally, order was coming.  This was the general sentiment as a result of the promise of a new order, the Bagong Lipunan and its battle cry of “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.”  (For National development, there should be discipline). The whole machinery was put into place. A new political party, the KBL, was installed with a new anthem in a song composed by Levi Celerio that bears the title, “Bagong Lipunan”.  Television shows would be a platform for propaganda and very popular shows or events like a Muhammad Ali fight, (a similar occurrence when Pacquiao slugs it out in the ring and everybody was glued to the TV) would be interrupted regularly by the president’s address to the nation, etc.  However, as Lord Achton once said, “Absolute power corrupts and it corrupts absolutely.” As history would show us, those who became very powerful became despots and dictators like Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Duvalier, and Muammar Gaddafi. And our Marcos was no exception.

  After several years, the atrocities of the new order were being revealed.  Marcos, in order to gain the Generals to his side, offered them wealth and fortune. Marcos’ Rolex 12 alluding to several of his advisers have been given Rolex watches to gain their support and allow him to have full authoritarian control of the country. He created his own Gestapo, the Metrocom, a spin-off from the military’s Philippine Constabulary and took over the jurisdiction of the police force, who are supposedly the ones to take care of law and order among the civilians.  Slowly, the military was politicized giving them the idea that they can have power and stage several coup d’etats during Cory’s presidency.  Extra judicial killings were happening here and there giving another meaning to the word “salvage”. I can go on and on with a litany of abuses and atrocities committed during this period in our life as a nation but that would only eat up too much space and time.  One of the best readings would have to be “The Conjugal Dictatorship” an opus by Primitivo Henares, who just vanished in thin air and has never been found ever since.

Why do I say that I am disheartened by recent events? It seems like we as a people have forgotten everything. We seem to have a very short memory.  The facebook generation seems to be slowly being brainwashed by disinformation and the young generation seem to be biting hook, line and sinker.  How many times have I seen these young ones being able to read a very short article on facebook and  swear that this is valid research. 

First a disclaimer.  I am not a “Yellowtard”. I have always been apolitical and never supported any candidate openly. My vote is mine and mine alone and I respect everyone’s choice whether or not it is the same as mine. 

On September 14, we were given a talk on Martial Law by no other than Atty. Diokno, the son of the illustrious, one of the most respected senators we ever had, Sen. Jose Diokno.  He advocated that accepting the spate of killings that is happening now is not only peculiar but has already been done before.  Whereas during Marcos’ time, the culprit was communism, today, the battle cry is against drugs.  And many would say that this is alright for after all only those who are guilty are being killed. That only the low life addicts and pushers are being slain so that we, the clean hearted, well-meaning citizens can live in peace.  But really? How would we know that only the guilty are being massacred? That what is happening now is some sort of a soul cleansing, if we are to equate that we as a people have a collective soul? We will never know for the victims are now dead and the police are using the principle of a dead man tells no tale. How I wish I can join the band wagon and admire Duterte just like the others, but I just can’t at this time.  

My only curse probably is that I know what the law is and the principles from where they are based - in a democratic country, at least, and that I still believe the logic.  It is the duty of every Filipino citizen to know what are his/her rights. These are provided in the 1987 Constitution in Art III, entitled Bill of Rights.  This article embodies our basic, inalienable rights for our protection.  Paramount among these rights are: the principle that everyone has a basic right that the State cannot take away such as the freedom of expression, choice, religious beliefs, etc… “presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” as provided for in sec. 14 #s 1 and 2.   This is rooted on the principle that the state would rather let the guilty go scot free than have an innocent man suffer for something (s)he did not do.  This is very important for a person should stand trial and be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt just so we know that the person whom we are crucifying is truly guilty. There is nothing more sinister than having someone suffer for a crime (s)he did not commit.  What if (s)he has just been framed, with evidence planted on his/her person or a victim of lousy investigation? The spate of killings happening now has thrown this principle out and we will never know who are truly guilty.  My strongest fear against the absence of judicial process is that I have two sons. What if they encounter a rogue policeman and plant evidence on their person? They can easily be killed with the blessings of this government.  What if they come home after a well spent drinking spree with their friends and somehow irritates someone and reports them to the police as being a drug peddler? 

What about the right of the people against unreasonable searches and seizures (sec. 2) and the sanctity of ones abode? These rights must have gone down the drain for the present state seem to  deprive us of the right against a warrantless arrest.  As a matter of fact, it is possible that of the more than 1,000 death that occurred from day 1, there could have been instances where an arrest per se, whether valid or not, has been made at all.  All the police shall do is claim that the alleged offender fought it out with them and they even receive praises for their act. 

When Marcos was preparing the people with his plans of declaring martial law, one of the first steps that he did was to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. This means that the police force has no obligation to produce the body of an arrested person.  Hence, they are free to instill torture of physical and/or emotional pain without being checked, a violation of Sec. 19 of the Bill of Rights.  Fast forward to a few weeks earlier, we see one of the Senators, Dick Gordon, suggesting the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus as an added response to the emergency powers accorded to the President with regard to the recent bombing in Davao. 

I am not against the President.  As a matter of fact, I pray that he will succeed as the leader of this battered land. Somehow, I believe that he is well-meaning and incorruptible.  What I fear is that he does not have complete control of both the military and the police force, who at this time has not addressed the killings committed by vigilantes. For all we know, these vigilantes are employed by the same powers that be to silence what these people know.  It is very possible that Duterte may not have complete control of a police force that has not changed its ways of bribery, graft and corruption and other ill-doings these nincompoops do. Duterte has no way of checking these out.  It is still happening now.

If just for the fact that Duterte has started a new trend of Filipinos who are well-disciplined and principled as was the case during his campaign trail where people cleaned up after themselves to show that they are to begin a new era, then I am for it all the way.  If Duterte can provide the poliltical will we so need, then I shall support him with much vigor.  However, there seems to be a division happening now. The Duterte supporters seem to be very sensitive when their idol or his ways are being questioned.  They would easily cry foul and charge that the criticism is made by what they call as “yellowtards” referring to the Aquino government and the Liberal Party who , according to them,  is all out in getting the power back. There will never be a true reconciliation with this seemingly great divide.  There can never be a true exchange of ideas when one answers a criticism with a retort and character assassination.  This is why I resent what Trillanes has done to silence Sen. Cayetano.  Why declare hime out of order when he was about to get to the bottom.  It is not for me to pass judgment of the witness yet for I still have yet to hear him out. And hearing him out would mean that he has to stand the scrutiny of a rigorous interpolation. Let us move forward and let the truth be heard. 

Bayard Rustin said, “If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence.” Are we ready to face the consequences of the violence brought about by the President’s war on drugs?  Does the end justify the means? Are we to consider the innocent who were killed in the crossfire as collateral damage?  Lastly, as Atifete Jahjaga said, Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.For true democracy to work, there must be a free flow of ideas and when there is a free flow of ideas, there will always be a clash of ideas resulting in a healthy debate. When the populace can speak their minds at no cost of peril on their person, we get to see the right equation to solve our problems.  

Is it Really Yours? An article on plagiarism in school

                As teachers, we usually give out projects to the students. Especially now that the grading system has been transformed into a new system whereby a product (project) is required for each subject as a separate grading component. As such, teachers are on the look-out for unscrupulous projects which are submitted by either lazy students or those who just cannot get the lesson right.  In either case, these students turn in a project, be it written or otherwise, which are not of their own creation. They present a project made by somebody else and pass it as their own or make direct quotations verbatim and not citing who the author is or giving an idea made by somebody else and pass it as their own.  As teachers, we should be vigilant and cautious that no student does this in our own subject. We have a term for this. We call it plagiarism. According to Wikipedia, plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "stealing and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" and the representation of them as one's own original work.[1][2] The idea remains problematic with unclear definitions and unclear rules

                As a precautionary measure, our student handbook categorically forbids any student to turn in something which is not his or hers.  The handbook has also scheduled a penalty for such an act.  I have been in the academe for more than thirty years and I have witnessed how students have violated this part of the student handbook. When I was still the Lower Level Coordinator, which I believe is the counterpart of today’s SFO or to be more direct, the Student Prefect of Discipline, I have had, in one or two occasions, been confronted with a case of plagiarism.  There was even a case where almost the whole class was charged with the offense. I do not exactly recall now how the turn of events went but I know that the students received a spanking (figuratively, of course) for what they did.

                How should we handle a case of plagiarism? What we should always remember is that we are a school, a learning institution entrusted with the education of the young. We are not dealing with professionals who have a sense of full responsibility for their actions. These are minors to whom we have been given authority to form their education for them to have a well-meaning, well-lived future.

                Having said that, what is my opinion on erring students? My personal belief with regard to plagiarism committed by students is very simple.  For the school to focus on being punitive sanctions does not address the problem. It would even seem that teachers are trying to get back on the students, some sort of vengeance, if you would.  A harsh observation but could be a possible argument used by the offending child’s parents against the teacher.  More than anything else, it may even send the wrong signal to the student. Let us take an offending child meted out a three-day suspension because of the said misdemeanour. What does (s)he think after the sanction has been served? (S)He might think it was relatively easy.  After all, a three day suspension is nothing but a reprieve from the classroom. Hence, said student is off the hook easily and still has not learned to do the assigned task properly. What would I have done?  I would simply just hand back the project, tell the student that he/she turned in a wrong paper or project and give him/her time to repeat and do it correctly. I will tell the student that I know for a fact that (s)he did not write/create the project and tell him/her why. If it is a term paper, I will tell him the parts which are plagiarized, show him where it could be found (remember, the burden of proof lies always on the accuser) and teach him/her the proper way of doing the project. If after this, the student still turns in a paper or project that is not his/her own, I hand the same back and refuse to accept the work until it is done properly.  It may be a long, tedious process but I would have taught the offending child an important lesson in life rather than giving him punishment for a deed which (s)he is bound to repeat again and again for after all, it is just a matter of serving a three day sentence and for something nobody taught him/her to do properly.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Marriage

The Marriage - Diptych
Oil on Canvas
40" X 30"
The Marriage 1
Oil on Canvas
20" X 30"
The Marriage 2
Oil on Canvas
20" X 30"


Friday, April 22, 2016

My wife turned sixty on April 20. Just because this is another milestone in her life, the kids decided to give her a surprise party, and surprise she was. On April 16, we told her that as usual, we shall all be staying in a hotel, this time at Hotel Celeste in Makati, a no frills hotel, quaint and simple but clean.  What she didn't know was that we have also invited her close friends from way back in her high school, probably, elementary days. and relatives to grace the occasion.  To even spice it up a notch, I composed this prose and poetry for her, asked our good friend, Redjie to do the voice over and have Mickey do the visuals.  I am reproducing it here for keeps.


Jenna Coleman!    Jenna Coleman is an English actress who was made famous by playing the roles of Clara Oswald in Doctor Who and Jasmine Thomas in the soap opera Emmendale.
Jordan Brewster! Jordan Brewster is a Panamanian –American actress who portrayed Mia Toretto in the Fast and furious, Fast Five and Fast and Furious 6 and 7.
Renee Zessweger! Renee Zellweger is an American actress and producer who was became famous with her roles in various films notable of which are her character in Jerry Macguire, Nurse Betty and her award winning role in Bridget Jones’s Diary.

What does Jenna Coleman, Jordana Brewster and Renee Zellweger have in common? They are all celebrities? They are all beautiful? No, neither their being celebrities nor being beautiful has anything to do with the question.  They are all born under the sign of Taurus, the bull.  The bull, a male bovine especially that of an adult, uncastrated, domestic kind.  As such, it is a symbol of virility, tenacity and unspeakable strength.
On April 20 many moons and stars ago, in an unpretentious town in the heart of Manila known as Bacood,  Trinidad Ancheta rewarded  her loving husband Nicasio Toto with their fourth child, the second girl in a brood of six. Together with her siblings Polly, Abet, Lilia, and the younger Marilyn and Angie, this child’s character would be formed into what it is today. Her family might not have lived in opulence but they were not living in dire straits either.  AS a matter of fact, their family owned several vast ancestral lands up north in Bangui, Ilocos Norte where the first windmills were built.  They were happy and contented amidst their modest living.  Her classmates in both elementary and high school will witness her friendly nature, that effervescent personality, enigmatic at times but always ever pleasant nonetheless.   Their humble beginnings made each one of them aspire for nothing less than perfection.   And perfection she did get on her 29th birthday when she was united with her handsome prince with whom she would bear four children, their four angels, Kraiganne, Mizel, Keshia and Jasper. Together they weathered the storms, faced life’s inequities, wept at each other’s misfortunes and glorified by each and everyone’s accomplishments.
Thirty-one years after that 29th birthday and here we are celebrating another milestone in that little girl’s life. She is now sixty years old, a milestone which marks all her accomplishments as a true friend, a dedicated daughter, a favourite sister, a sweet wife but most of all, a loving mother.  Yes, she is a Taurus but none of the violent streak of a raging bull, only the soft, tender lovable character that she is.
If we are to check on what the astrologers say about a Taurean, we shall find that a person born under the sign of Taurus is one who will not venture into the unknown and lead the way.  They must have misinterpreted the stars for Nitz is a natural leader, the one who leads the entire family to progress and possibly the person who will lead her children to no less than perfection and possibly to greatness. Tonight, as we celebrate her birthday, her husband wrote her a poem and it goes like this:

For tonight She Turns Sixty
Tonight, the angels descend
       to sing melodic songs
together with  the chirping of a  bird,
      released from her cage
the hooting of the owl
     satiated by a hearty meal
and the steady call of the cicadas
     after being burrowed for 17 years.
A seeming cacophony of discordant notes,
faint at first until they get louder
     and the air is filled with heaven’s harmony
     all made lovely
for tonight she  turns sixty

Armed with nothing but her ubiquitous smile
      more radiant as ever,
better than the child who first experiences rain
     after a long dry spell
or when she first held  snow in her tiny hands.
As if granted of a wish by her fairy
     she smiles triumphantly
For tonight she turns sixty

She is my morning coffee
My sunshine after a well slept night
She is the light that illumines my path
     on a bumpy, dark, dangerous road.
She is my queen, my glory,
     my present and my distant future.
Together we shall  forever be happy
     washing away the doldrums of idleness
     laughing our way to a journey of happiness. 
Join me and my family as we all sing 
     Happy birthday with all your might
For she turns sixty tonight