anxiety versus physics*

He has not called or texted me for two days now. Yep. And rather than be sucked into a miserable blackhole, I decided that tonight, at least, I will try to find out how quantum mechanics can offer me solace a logical explanation for what might be going on.

First, there’s this guy Hugh Everett III whose death was probably caused by obesity, smoking, and alcoholism. He claims that for each possible outcome to an action, the world splits into copies of itself.

You see, it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book–only you don’t choose between either jumping into the rabbit-hole or going back to reading your book by the river, because the universe splits in two so that both actions are taken.

This means that in an alternate reality, he did call or text me. It no longer matters that I happen to exist in this one reality where he did not call or text me. Because he actually did. In an alternate reality. His own choice isn’t important, because at that precise moment when he could have called or texted me, the world has already split in two.

And then there’s this Niels Bohr guy who says that “particles” exist in all states at once and that it is only forced to assume a definite state when we try to observe it. Which is another way of saying the proverbial tree in the forest has fallen only when we try to find out if it did.

This means that as long as I do not try to find out why he has not called or texted me, there would be equal probabilities to all reasons why he has not called or texted me yet. As long as I wait patiently, all of these reasons would coexist truthfully and I would not have to confront the real reason just yet.

So: he has not called or texted me in two days. No big deal. It’s nothing. Really. Now I will go publish this bullshit and be perfectly pleased with myself. Thank you, Hugh. Thank you, Niels.

* first published as “Bien Venido” at “Chairport

hillary, heckled in manila*

A lot has been said about how a student leader disrupted Hillary Clinton’s forum at the National Museum on Wednesday. Most reactions were angry, largely condescending, and obsessed on the claim that “there are other, more civilized ways to exercise freedom of expression.”

Why did he have to be so rude, when it was an open forum, and anyone can ask questions? Surely, Hillary, so smart and so contained, could address his strong feelings against the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)?

Well. Of course, she can. As what GMA News has so amiably touted her, she is a “savvy diplomat.” She is used to events like that thing they decided to call “A Conversation in Manila.” She can deftly answer any question–however cleverly crafted, or however unimaginative. She is her country’s top ambassador to the rest of the world. It’s, like, her fifth sense, or something.

Also, the forum was organized and “packaged” by the US Embassy exactly as a venue for pleasant “conversations” with a celebrity. It was a controlled environment where, as Glenn Diaz puts it in his recent blog post, the burden of civility is yours–in exchange for the privilege to participate.

These are enough reasons why a polite question asked over the microphone was not enough to protest against the Visiting Forces Agreement and the MDT. It would be like requesting an audience with Noynoy Aquino just so you could tell him off about Hacienda Luisita.

A protest is a protest because it’s an expression of indignation, of opposition. A protest gains potency, whenever and especially if it disregards the rules which ban dissent. A protest does not demand an answer or an explanation, it asserts its right to be heard and never apologizes.

Otherwise, a candid question about music preferences would do, and Hillary can leave Manila with the happy, content feeling that Filipinos are such a nice, welcoming bunch, and that here, she can forget about growing all that rhinoceros skin. ▣

* first published as “Bien Venido” at “Chairport

the great migrations of the earth

The great migrations of the earthtell me that I have nothing to fear. It is not destiny that guides birds in their first journey and return across the skies. They are swept by a wind stronger than their hollow bones, their young hearts.

Which is to say memory is not only the things we have done, the places we have seen, the people we have become. I think of you andI remember a bedroom you will paint white and green, the breakfasts we will skip, the leaky faucet we will have to fix. I remember the weight of your arm at night, the warmth of your breath in the morning, the streaks of gray in your hair.

I do not know the future, its roads of cloud and mist. I remember it.

best consumer picks this month

Daily we are flooded with products designed to make our lives easier, art and literature that would raise our intelligence quotient, and novel ideas on how the world can be a better place.

Which one would be worth our time and money the most? Every month, I feature three things that might just push the boundaries of human existence.

1. The Royal Wedding: The Official Westminster Abbey Souvenir. Was there ever a more romantic event this century? Witness how history unfolded in the comfort of your home by getting a copy of this 40-page volume on the beautiful wedding of a handsome, balding prince and a former British Airways flight attendant with a hotter sister. Tag price: P495.

2. Pacman: Kwento ng Pag-asa Tiyaga, at Determinasyon, by Manny Pacquiao. If you thoroughly enjoyed the original English version, you would definitely want to read this translation as well. Forget about hundreds of other biographies on the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer. This one is in Filipino. And since Manny wrote it himself, it promises anecdotes about celebrity mom and socialite Dionisia Pacquiao. Plus, it’s only P295.

3. Miles to Go, by Miley Cyrus, co-written by Hilary Liftin. Critics say this is yet another strong testament to the fact that not all young girls in Hollywood are dumb. Though it is unclear how much Liftin is involved in the creative process, this autobiography breeds the suspicion that Hannah Montana might just have a promising career in writing. Tag Price: P469.

BEST PICK: Miles to Go, by Miley Cyrus, co-written by Hilary Liftin.

You see, Miley was born and raised in a farm in Tennessee. Now she is a famous actress, musician, and fashion designer, who earns about $25 million dollars a year. This lends hope to all the farm girls around the world by showing them how stardom is one sure ticket to a better and happier life.

* Quoted Prices are from National Bookstore

losing in religion

Some of my greatest flaws as a person are probably offshoots of my wretched social skills—an inherent tendency to find a common interest to spark a polite conversation and avoid awkward silence, and a selfish instinct to censor myself from saying things that might be uncomfortable for me talk about.

So it was not exactly a surprise that within roughly ten minutes of my arrival here at the house where I will be staying while I tutor two Hawaii-bound kids, I made my first big mistake and quickly managed to follow it up with a second one.

You see, there was this portrait of Jesus Christ, hanging on the wall of the living room, and I needed only a couple of neurons to figure out that it was one of those Mormon church-commissioned paintings.

By the time I blurted out that I am a “brother,” and my hostess rushed to shake my hand in ecstatic fervor, I could no longer bear to break her heart and disappoint her. There wasn’t an urgent need to tell her that I have not really been able to drag my feet to a chapel in almost ten years, was there? Who was I to deny her the delusion that an old-fashioned Mormon boy has come to keep her company for two months?

For the next several weeks, she was tireless in encouraging me to prove that I was exactly the nice young man that she thought I was. She did not fail to ask me to attend sacrament meetings with her every Sunday. She often talked to me about the spiritual rewards of going on a mission and the blessings of a temple marriage—over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She even had girls my age to come over for snacks in an attempt to interest me in what I call a “date with a saint.”

Of course it was not long before she realized that I am batting for the other team that I deceived her. Somehow she finally saw through my rotten soul and promptly threw in the towel. And I bet it was not just because I sometimes smell faintly of menthol cigarettes.

Just last week, an ex-missionary came to visit with his whole family and stay for a couple of days. You know those Mormon families who are the embodiment of niceness? Those whose piety ooze from their pores and form a halo around their blessed heads? They were one of those. I am familiar with that sort because my own family used to be one. (And then my parents started to hurl furniture against each other and decided to separate out of a very Mormonish mixture of guilt and decency.)

On the very night this saintly family arrived, they held a Family Home Evening, a wholesome activity that involved hymns, scriptures, pastries, and parlor games. My hostess apparently got the memo, but somehow, somebody forgot to send me an RSVP. No surprise there. Rumors of an evil reputation travel fast.

I was inside my room when they started to sing “I know that my Redeemer lives.” You see, I was on the phone, talking to MSF, and I could have excused myself so I could join the Mormon folk and enjoy some spiritual air. But I systematically crushed this sentimental emotion, because I cannot help but observe the fact that they did not bother to check if their wayward brother wanted to redeem himself.

So is it just my attempt at dry wit? Or did I write the words “sentimental emotion” out of an entirely different reason? You see, whenever this sort of thing happens, I remind myself that I survived high school without a clique, and nearly all the friends I made thereafter do not share my political leanings.

But for a few seconds at that moment, while I was inside my room, listening to the hymn-singing and scripture-reading just outside the door, I could have sworn it would have been nice to be invited to this Mormon thing, even if my testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet has not strengthened since I was eight. I could have sworn it would not have been that bad to be with a group simply for the heck of it. Just because.

Ah. Well. I guess that qualifies as another flaw in my otherwise splendid set of personal qualities.

on the reproductive health bill

Several weeks ago, I was talking with Marat Safran Foer when the conversation somehow managed to snare us into a trap. You know that sort which involves God and a socially relevant topic? Yes, that sort of trap. The RH Bill trap, specifically.

I know I could never have won that row because I have not read the full text of the bill and Marat knew that I was merely parroting “party-line” arguments the whole time. It embarrasses me now the way poor Krip Yuson must have felt when he admitted to petty plagiarism.

Luckily, I am not Krip Yuson and I can make up for my sheer lack of originality. I read the full text of the final consolidated House Bill 4244. Then I gave myself time to think about it and realized that the bill is truly more than just contraceptives and the word of… God.

If ever I find myself again in the middle of a blood-boiling debate about why I support the passing of the RH Bill, I think I would be ready to do better. Here’s why:

The RH Bill addresses the lack of adequate public reproductive health services. According to a 2008 survey, less than half of births in the Philippines occur in health facilities. The same survey also reveals that 36 percent of births are assisted by a traditional attendant or ‘hilot.’ (I am not terribly good at Math, but I do know 36 percent means around “1 out of 3.”)

Under the RH bill, the Department of Health will assist local government units (LGUs) in employing an adequate number of midwives to achieve a minimum ratio of at least one skilled attendant for every 150 deliveries per year (Section 5). Also, LGUs shall establish or upgrade hospitals with adequate and skilled personnel, equipment, and supplies for emergency obstetric care (Section 6).

Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that complications occur in 15 percent of pregnancies, while 11 women die of childbirth every day. The availability of more skilled medical professionals and wider public access to medical facilities and services will surely be a step toward addressing this reality.

The RH Bill upholds the sanctity of life. Pardon the religious cliché, but according to the 2008 National Demographic and Health (NDH) Survey, those who do not use contraceptives make up 68 percent of unintended pregnancies. By providing access to family planning methods, the RH Bill hopes to ultimately curb the number of abortions.

Also, family planning methods will help parents to decide the right time for them to have another child. According to the WHO, at least two years should pass between births to reduce the risk of infant deaths.

The RH Bill will educate and prepare the youth. Section 16 of the bill requires that appropriate reproductive health and sex education be integrated in all relevant subjects from Grade Five to Fourth Year High School.

I remember that when I was in Grade Five my science teacher did a little lesson on teenage pregnancies. I am sure now that it was not in the prescribed lesson plan, but she must have done the right thing, because none of my classmates then got knocked up before college. I might be grossly mistaken but an incident like that would not have escaped Facebook. You know what I mean.

The RH Bill promotes gender and social equity. According to the 2006 Family Planning Survey, 2.6 million Filipino women would like to plan their families but they lack in information and access to do so. The same survey also shows that 44 percent of births among the poor are unwanted.

In the 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, the poorest families spend only 1.7 percent of the household income on medical care, while the richest families spend 4.0 percent.

Under the RH Bill, poorer couples will have a better opportunity and means to decide how many children they want and can raise. Women would also have more opportunities to advance their education and more time for productive work, since they would be able to plan when they will have children.

Finally, the RH Bill reinforces the right to know and the right to choose. Given adequate and accurate information, we can make sensible decisions that are best for us. By providing access to information and a set of viable options, the RH Bill would let us freely exercise this capacity to know the alternatives and choose wisely and—for devout Catholics—with a clear conscience.

That seems fair enough. And that definitely does not sound bad at all either, does it?

different programming this holy week

When you meet someone you haven’t met for a long time, there are a damned lot of things you can talk about. I mean there’s bound to be some juicy thing you could milk for conversation. I know this, because although I am offensive and self-absorbed, I am never a terrible bore.

This is why, yesterday, someone paid me a small visit in my filthy dark cell. Victor looked okay this time, healthier than the last time he needed my help, and I saw he finally gave up on the goth costume. And the retard wanted a bit of chat. For entertainment. And advice.

“So what do you think. Hmm,” the twerp said after spilling his guts. It was something to do with a person he calls Marat Safran Foer. I felt a familiar urge to pound his face into jelly, but there was a hint of worry underneath his gruff tone, so I played nice tried to be nice.

“I thought we’re clear that I am not your agony-fucking-aunt. And I hate it when you use the funeral-director voice on me.”

“No, Greg, you’re right. You’re not my agony aunt. You’re a figment of my imagination. You’re my alternate personality. You don’t exactly have a choice but to work with me, do you?” He sounded pleased this time. He smoothed a crease in the sleeve of his sissy-white shirt and smiled at me drily.

“It sucks to be your make-believe twin. Or whatever it is I’m supposed to be. Why don’t you just write about this, this thing? Ah, yeah, you did. And then you ended up writing crap that made Linda Blair throw up in her grave.”

“Linda Blair is still alive. She lives in Missouri and has a movie this year.” Then the poor dude just stared stupidly at me like a cretin, and I knew then that I just outdid myself in crushing his ego in not more than four sentences. If I knew how to be guilty, If I had been programmed to be nice to him, I would have said sorry. But, man, it was a chance for me to be out of this godforsaken cage again.

So I said nothing and just stared at the empty space above his head, until he stood up from his chair and walked out the door without another word. He didn’t bother to lock me back up on his way out and left the set of keys on my bunk bed.

From the looks of it, his condition is serious. First time I ever saw him like this. Which means I’ll be around town for some time.

Oh, boy. I’ll be having myself a lot of fun.