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The Present Perfect Bias : Why unthinking thankfulness can be toxic

We made it.

After a little over an hour, my Grab ride finally brought me to my home in Mandaluyong from my place of work in Taguig. As the trip ended and the driver gave me my change, he was visibly exhausted. He let out a sigh of relief, and said, “Naka-isang oras tayo!”

I replied, “Okay na yan, kuya. Nung isang araw nga, halos dalawang oras kami. Okay na ko.”

We both laughed politely right before I got out of the vehicle.

An Hour in Traffic is Better than Two. But what is the Best? 

It’s been some days since the rides, and maybe I’m reflecting on them more than I should, but maybe I can make this thinking productive. So here goes:

Sure. An hour is better than two – especially when it means a shorter trip going home. I AM thankful. But then – should it really take an hour to get home from Taguig to Mandaluyong? And the answer, is NO. Should it take four hours to get from Pasay or Alabang or Makati to somewhere a bit farther to the North like QC? NO.

I was concerned that my gratitude disrupted my sense of what really should be : what we should come to expect out of urban planning, public transportation, and the responsibilities of private corporations to general city welfare.

Too much thinking for a solitary event? Maybe, but think about it some more.

Don’t we do it — all the time?

Other ways we justify what we currently end up with

Not just in terms of time spent in traffic. We do it when we talk about queuing up time: “Okay na yan. Ako nga dati, isang oras pumila. At least ikaw, 30 minutes lang.” We might do it when we talk about sports – particularly when we try to make ourselves feel good about Gilas — “at least, 10 points na lang ang difference. Dati 40 points!” But we should have won that game had we not played selfishly. We might do it when we don’t meet our personal eating goals: “Buti nga one cup of rice na lang ngayon at walang dessert. Dati two cups.” But in fact, you weren’t allowed to eat rice anymore!  Or maybe we do it when we compare relationships, “At least ito, hindi cheater.” But he still has to change his attitude about his temper! Or perhaps we even do it to justify how we view political choices, “okay na yan, at least ngayon mas safe na sa mga streets,” or “Buti nga ngayon mas may pakialam na ang gobyerno sa tao.”

As Pinoys, we do it when use the words, “Buti nga ngayon…” or “At least…” or “Pasalamat ka na diyan…”and other variations.

It seems that we bloat how negative the past was, in order for us to be grateful about the present.

Because there doesn’t seem to be a name for it yet (PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG!), so in the meantime, I’d like to call this the “Present Perfect Bias.”

The Present Perfect Bias 

PRESENT PERFECT

Well, I  think I’ve really escalated it a lot now. But let me push it some more. A bit (and really, just a bit) of desk research and my experience in marketing communications tell me that the Present Perfect Bias is a cocktail of some forms of the following:

Reverse rosy retrospection –

There is a type of cognitive bias that seems to put the past in a picture more beautiful than it really was. This is called “rosy retrospection. “ They call the past, “the good old days.” They sure were old, but were they really that good? Take a look at the “Make America Great Again” campaign, which tries to do this. Think about all the times grandparents say, “Nung panahon namin…” as if their “time” whenever it was, was idyllic.

My points above – are reverse. We color the past in mud, so much so that the present looks better. It really might be better —- one hour is still better than two, mind you. But it also refrains us from seeing and solving the problem.

Confirmation bias –

We try to justify our decision in such a way that we warp all the other details. “Yeah, this red cap is redder than all the other red caps.” Or maybe “this food is exactly what I wanted. Not that other one. I wouldn’t have been as full.” Or even “this President is okay, I guess. At least he’s transparent.”

You can even say it’s a way to justify purchase behavior, if you want to put it in marketing-speak. No one wants to feel the slightest cognitive dissonance in how we chose, so we make it easier on ourselves by doing mental gymnastics.

So we do the same with the past. In order to justify present behavior.

Toxic optimism –

This is where it gets dicey. There has already been much (and good!) talk about how we should stop glorifying how “resilient” the Filipino spirit is, and how buoyant our spirits are even despite floods and earthquakes and other calamities. We have this tremendous capacity as a people to look at the upside — but this has led to abuse by those in power.

We keep looking at the upside, and even do so using religious jargon and lenses, to the point that we fail to see problems as they are. So we are abused by our leaders who pacify us with mud-covered pictures of the past, and forced gratefulness.

We have this toxic optimism that disables us from being able to perceive the right problems and solving them. For that one moment after the Grab ride, I forgot that it SHOULD NOT take an hour from BGC to Mandaluyong, and that it is a problem we have to fix. Regardless if it took two hours some days before.

The Use of the Bias 

Well, of course, the Present Perfect Bias allows me to breathe a bit easier, sigh in relief a bit more, and just get to sleep sooner. It allows me to thank my Grab driver and put a smile on his face a bit more frequently.

But we have to keep balancing it with truth. As with other biases, we have to keep having accurate pictures of situations in front of our faces if we are really going to be able to solve the problems that beset our age.

Some ways to deal with it 

Here are a few personal guidelines I’m going to try to follow in checking this bias but still having a thought process that allows me to remain hopeful. If it works for you, let me know!

  1. First, we have to be aware of it.

We need to know what it is – or its other forms above, and the instances wherein we are susceptible to it: fake news to justify political errors? Relationships? Intoxicatingly optimistic people around you? Are you even using it to justify procrastination?

The first step to solving a problem is knowing what the problem is. The next and more crucial step is to acknowledge it as a problem.

  1. Let facts and hope come into dialogue.

 

Okay, so the current situation IS an improvement over the past one (one hour is better than two in traffic!). Okay, but we still need to fix this ONE hour travel time, right?

Well, how long SHOULD it take? I should research that. What is the actual distance? A simple look at Waze or Google Maps should help me with that. What is the average time it now takes for someone like me to go back and forth? I can note that down. Does time of day affect it? In short, I need to collect as many facts as I can. Why? So I know how my facts and feelings are related.

But I do this not so I can remain pessimistic. Or to be forever guarded against any glimmer of hope.

Rather, I should do this precisely because I am hopeful that solutions can and will come.

  1. I am able to put my gratitude in a humbling context – which in turn allows me to serve.

We throw around the word “blessing” a lot these days. We just usually mean “something good happened” when affix #blessed to our post.

I could of course say, “Wow. It took me just one hour instead of two!” OF COURSE I am thankful. OF COURSE it was a blessing.

BUT – if I am able to see the bigger context of the blessings, I am humbled too, by the facts:

  • That I was given a gift! Sure, God did it. But the driver, the enforcers, guards — so many people (who might not have even known they were helping me!) did so much just to get me home. What a humbling fact.
  • BUT there are still many things to be done to get home at the right hour.
  • That there are still many more people who need help.
  • That as much as I have been given more time and insight into the problem, maybe I can use this to help others get home sooner as well.

Well… Whew! 

The present might indeed be better than the past. And we MUST be grateful for that. But if it does so in a way that allows us to justify injustices and prolong procrastination, then like all biases, this kind of view stumps us.

Perhaps most importantly, we are a people with a propensity to see the better side of the facts – no matter how grim they may be. To the point that our blind side cages us.

We need to balance this optimism bias with the humbling weight of facts.

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Note to self: Keep practicing.

There are two quotes from Stephen King’s On Writing , that I find useful when I need to inspire myself to write.

 

Image result for stephen king book on writing

The first one reminds you that you are always a writer. Whether you have the formal title, the byline, or the paycheck that goes with it, or not:

 

“Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one? God I hope not.”

 

The second is about continuing to practice, even if it feels futile:

 

“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

 

Yet, for all the pump these words can give, the prospect that not one soul is reading- and caring – freezes my fingers when they get to the keyboard. Yes, I do fear that my work might be good for nothing but the trash, but I have an even greater fear that no one would even take the time to read it and label my work as trash. Maybe it’s my insecurity and training as a communicator to always have to be heard, to always have to connect, and by golly, change a life every chance I get.

Let’s put it in pop-culture speak: Some people fear that when they sing on The Voice, that no chair will turn. I fear that there’s no chair or audience there.

But hey. I realized that in every instance, there is going to be at least one sure reader: myself.

And well, maybe that has to count for something. How is that going to be helpful – in a non-narcissistic way?

To get myself to keep writing this piece, I listed them down:

  1. Keep the engine running – take solo trips just for the sake of driving. 

Sometimes, you have to drive for yourself. Your trip, your objective, your destination. You don’t always have to ferry people back and forth. And sometimes, you just have to get the car out of the garage.

I guess it works for vehicles, for dogs, carpentry tools, and even for suede shoes. Oh, for our bodies, too of course (I almost forgot that for a while there, I ran regularly). And for our words. Keep them in use. And sometimes, it’s not for any other reason than that.

And guess what? It’s also for no other audience but yourself. Just you and the machine. It just needs to purr. You just need to bring it out.

And when you do:

2. The vocabulary, the language, reveals where you are today.

So you’re no Stephen King. Or John Grisham. Or James Patterson. (Forget Shakespeare).

But you’ve got to be able to see progress in a spectrum, and you’ve got to see yourself in a non-permanent position. Some days, your jump shot can’t miss. Some days, you can’t hit the board. But find out what kind of day it is. What kind of month it is. Or – what kind of person you have become.

We can agree that words reveal worlds. The way we use them situates us in a time and place in our growth.

Maybe we’re scared that what it reveals is trash – but hey, we need a baseline of some sort. And it’s who you are JUST NOW. Not forever.

Which brings us to the third point:

3. Your FUTURE YOU is reading. 

The point has been made that you have to keep practicing for yourself. Even if only you seem to be seeing your own work.

But which YOU is a beneficiary? Remember, your future you still has a chance to read your work. So, in some kind of a poor man’s time travel, you are giving your future self a chance to see how far you’ve come from trash – or how good you can still be since you’ve hit gold before!

It works even for past art works, past run times, or past videoke scores, I guess.

 

Maybe being an artist is sometimes having to be a rockstar and a yogi in practice. 

Image result for rockstar gifImage result for yoga gif

There are seasons and occasions wherein you do it to connect and create an impact on lives.

But there are times when you must persist — not for the audience, but for yourself.

Note to self: keep practicing. Whether it’s writing, reading, singing, watercolor, or even thinking.

(Note: images not mine) 

 

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Politics

For my Students, 4 December 2016

Note: It has been a tradition for me to do a “sign-off” as I end my classes every semester. It’s a  final encouragement for the semester, a “bon voyage” or “last hurrah from me” after they finish their final projects. This semester’s was different. Attached is somewhat the text of what I told them. I hope it helps you, too, or at least makes you think. I realize – as teaching usually makes you realize – that I need to say these things to myself, really, more than to my students: 

 

I wish the conditions in which I give my sign-off to you were different.

I wish it were as easy as my other classes where I read them “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” or “This is Water” or some graduation speech by some well-known figure. Not that any of those are bad choices (In fact, you should go read them now if you haven’t). It’s just that now, I don’t have the luxury of choosing to sign off with something arbitrary, one that works for any other year. There is a very real (pressing, urgent and even pungent) backdrop that is coloring the plateau unto which I open the gates for you. It’s the backdrop against which your first job will play against. It’s the administration, political climate, and people  unto which you will give your first few taxes to.

At the beginning of the class, we talked about how creativity is not just for creativity’s sake. We talked about how coming together with others fans the flames of an idea and/or purpose. We talked about platforms and serendipitous meetings and even those weird words, archaeopteryx and exaptation. We talked about Steven Johnson, Elizabeth Gilbert, Edward de Bono, and if you were listening or at least 75% awake on a Saturday morning, you would remember a lot more.

But most importantly, probably, is that you remember how we talked about – no, rather, how I kept pounding and pounding into your ears the principle of creativity as a tool to solve real problems. How we must get into the other person’s head and heart to be able to serve up a solution, and not just another app she will delete after a few days, or another headache on top of the traffic situation.

This is very, very important. Not just for creativity. Not just for marketing. Not just for advertising. Not just for democracy. But for being a human being.

Today, we are being terrorized in a different way. We are being terrorized to shut up. To just go with the flow. To not jump in lest we be drowned in the maelstrom that is a comments section. Social media, supposedly the freer way to express, has been weaponized as an aid to this terrorism. Relatives and friends avoid talking about political opinions. “Good vibes” is being taught as the “greater good.” Young ones are being told they have no right to assemble peacefully and voice out their discontent because they were not alive during a certain time of history.

As an option, we are being taught to shout each other down with stereotypes, with insults, and with an attachment of the affix “tard (which to me, insults those with mental retardation, by the way)”. We mob one another into submission. Or thinking that facts are enough, we throw statistics into windows looking for food and electricity, and shove historical data down thirsty throats.

Thus, we are being taught to not see where the other person is coming from.

I hope this class, at the very least, after much of my insistence, and after so many times we tried, has taught you to locate who it is you are serving, to give her a name, to know that many times it’s a person we actually know, to be patient enough and understanding enough to know her deep fear and desire, and to be hardworking and smart and bold enough to try to solve it. Again, it is important for marketing. It is important for a democracy. It is important in being a human being.

That is the only way we will be able to discuss well again. When we are prepared with more than just facts, but empathy. When we are prepared with more than just data, but with understanding. In this our era, when Oxford has named “Post-Truth” as the Word of the Year (“an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’”), we must strive to recover what is true, but also to make the truth known in a relevant and compassionate manner. We must be able to converse again as human beings, and not as “keyboard ninjas” slashing one another covertly in comments sections.

 

We must find out why people are so scared (Think Brexit, think Trump, think Philippines) and so angry and so frustrated that they will use their sacred vote to choose and defend someone who might not seem to be as skilled or prepared or humane, but seems to understand their plight more. We can not be just intelligent and skilled, but we have to go deep into the MRT and jeep-smelling skins of our people. Why are we so angry? Why are we so distraught? Look at that anger straight in the face and ask it. Because that anger probably comes from so many years of unfulfilled oaths and promises.

So go and fight. Yes. Go to rallies – of whatever side. Be informed. Be vigilant.

But go beyond personality.

Because while we have been very good in kicking people out, we have not been equally good in dismantling the systems that perpetuate the injustice, and allow the respawning of these evildoers. The systems that continue to leave our people in different forms of chains.

So be intimate with the story of our people. Not just the surface and facts level. But the deep stench of who we are. And from there, create solutions that matter.

That’s not just for this class. It goes not only for all your classes. Again, it goes for democracy. It goes for living.

So it doesn’t really matter what your political leaning is, or who you voted for in the last elections, or what color of the political spectrum you think you might have, or what you think the Philippines will be in the next five years. The point is you care. That you inform yourselves. That you can be human enough to be more than just correct.

And that you care enough to participate, that you care enough to not allow yourselves to be shut up.

Because they will tell you to shut up.

But you have inspired me, with your Theanine drink and your Disquiet exhibit,  your heartfelt “Homeland” papers, your ingenious (and hilarious) “Catechetical Zumba,” your Chindogu, your bravery to sing a composition in front of strangers, and your determination to stay awake in my class.

So when you come to me in the future, seeking advice because you’re being told to shut up, I’ll remind you of that light within, tell you to get back right up, and get your voice heard. Because I have seen how you are compassionate and competent enough to know the story of another person, and creative enough to solve his problem.

Have a good weekend, or what’s left of it.

 

 

 

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Some time to think about Time

photo courtesy of shutterstock. Here, Father Time is a cross between Moses, the Rabbit from Wonderland, and the Reaper himself.
photo courtesy of shutterstock. Here, Father Time is a cross between Moses, the Rabbit from Wonderland, and the Reaper himself.

When you think about it, as with most units of measurement, time is nothing but a decision made arbitrarily by someone or some people long ago.

I remember the controversy that came with the passing of the millennium – or what we thought was the passing of the millennium. Year 2000 wasn’t really the 2000th year, some experts said. Someone long ago made the error of giving or taking four years. I think it was in relation to this that humanity discovered that the birth of Christ, the usual standard against which time is measured, is also off by four years. Thus, and I know this might sound weird, but the Birth of Christ is more likely dated at around 4 years Before Christ (How’s that for a Star Trek storyline?)

While it is also true that we go around the sun in a fixed amount of hours, minutes and seconds, who said that a second was going to be measured like the snap of a finger or a heartbeat or the famous “tick” and “tock”? And that minutes would bear sixty of those ticks, and an hour will bear sixty of those sixty ticks? (Runners, basketball players, swimmers, and all time-based sportspeople have probably thought about this at one time or another.) I’m sure some physicist or historian can help me out me here, but then – who decided that we should in fact measure our years by the number of times our little ball in space goes around the big fiery ball in space?

Then comes the way with which we treat years like people. “Hey, 2014, thanks!” Or “I’m ready, 2015.” I know metaphor (personification!) when I see one, but years are not people who have come and will come to run your life or dance with you or do battle with you or eat the rest of your fruitcake in the ref. This might have something to do with how we have also personified time in the metaphorical person of, well, Father Time.

Dates are arbitrary, something we’ve chosen to commemorate stuff we’ve done. Markers we’ve placed like hashmarks on walls to see how and if we’ve grown. A language so we can agree about meetings and about who is late or too early. Time is nothing but a human-made measurement, no more arbitrary than a centimetre or a yard.

Which brings me to my point, which I hope is a hopeful one:

The “new year” is not “coming.” It’s not “a new set of 365 days (who gave that number anyway? And then we try to fix our arbitrary mess with something called leap years.)” For again, what is time but a marker? And while markers may be helpful (and don’t worry, I seriously believe they are), they are not our masters.

Time is arbitrary. But our choices are not.

Years are not people. We are.

We choose to go on living meaningfully, because we know life is meaningful at whatever “time” of “day” it is. We choose to seize the proverbial day because we do not want to squander the chances life gives us. We understand that every breath is already a blessing, and through it we can bless others as well.

We don’t have to wait for the “new year” or the “new week” or the next “semester” or the next “quarter” or even the next “day” to feel new, or do new stuff, or try new things, or dare to live in a new way. There are no new clean slates waiting to be dirtied like laundry, only the persistence of our hearts to renew passions, loves and joys.

While it might indeed be helpful to think of this “new year” as a “new chance,” it might also be helpful to remember that if you do squander that chance, you can in fact think of any date in the calendar as your very own “new year.” Come on, the Chinese have their own. So do the Jews. It’s arbitrary. So have your own!

Let any day, any second, be a fresh start.

Because it’s not about the measurement of time, it’s about your choice.

As the song says, you can measure your life not in seconds and minutes and hours and days, but in love.

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Electric Dreams

Once in a rare while, we go to this little place in our souls.

Where we see a hamper of worn and outsized dreams from the past, where we taste our current dreams before they evaporate and melt in our hands like ice cream, where we search our pockets for future dreams we have yet to name.

When we realize that these – our dreams past, present and future – are what makes us who we are – a switch lights up, igniting our souls with a live current both delicate and dangerous.

That is probably the stuff of electric dreams.

And there is where we will all, always, see each other. For weren’t we/ aren’t we/ won’t we all be part of someone’s past, future and current dream?

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Mighty Mouse Dreams

jimmy-alapag-20140904_DAD33BFF5CD7475A8EE8DDABC323B67C

I picture the final scene in the Lion King. Where Scar is finally defeated. The hyenas are driven back into the shadows. And Simba lets out a roar.

In one moment of victory, good comes back to the Pride Lands. The Sun shines. The grass grows. The animals come back. The circle of life continues.

Or if you’re more of a Star Wars fan – maybe those moments when they blew up the Death Star. One shot brings the whole battle station down. Then in cut-to-cut (or wipes in the Star Wars editing world) scenes, in around a minute, all the light comes to the galaxy. It seems as though all the Star Destroyers crashed themselves out of depression, the AT-AT walkers just collapsed, distant planets threw their own parties, even Yoda comes back to party, and the Ewoks dance.

Yeah. In my most hopeless romantic moment, that’s how I imagine these winning sports moments. I believe in the power of sports and its role in nation-building so much that I imagine that glorious moment when one victory could so suddenly open the floodgates of all things good, and suddenly wisdom, truth and light will rain down on the Philippines.

As we say in Manila, “Asa.”

I know. One glorious Pacquiao punch – no matter how epic – could instantly solve corruption. One Azkal winning goal couldn’t instantly help us achieve all agrarian and infrastructural goals. And yes, I know, one Gilas win, no matter how brilliant, hard-fought or patiently waited-for, could instantly make our politicians as truthful as we hope they would be.

Yet, here I am again in my hopeless romantic moment. A moment that seems to be extended because of this euphoria that everyone – I mean everyone – continues to feel, too. From a Company VP to the driver, from the security guard to the tambay – everyone who has ever played basketball, and everyone whose life has been changed because of it. Here I am, raised by basketball, taught by basketball, seeing life in the context of basketball, and sometimes even seeing God in the context of basketball. Here I am fully cognizant of, and reveling in the insanity of how my people have chosen a sport so recklessly, and with the same recklessness fallen in love with it. Here I am in that hopeless romantic moment.

So as we say in Manila, “pagbigyan.”
What if — we could bottle what we love about this last Gilas win: the teamwork, the skill, the long-term planning and future possibilities it opens up, how our basketball officials came together, how we earned the respect of the world, how we put aside our own teams and cheered as one, and of course, puso.

What if— we could bottle that and use it in other fights we face?

We are a small nation. Geographically, we are bits and pieces of crumbs thrown on some small portion of the map. And in some maps, we don’t even make it. Biologically, we are Lilliputians. Either because of centuries of colonialism or our own incurable social psychosis, we allow ourselves to feel small compared to foreigners. We also make each other feel small. Our biggest oppressor is our own government. Our taxes are burdensome and are used by those who might never have put in a decent hour of work. And the money we get to keep, goes to just trying to make ends meet, if ever they do. Our public transport system is hazardous to the public, is a miracle when it is able to transport you on time, and has no semblance of a system. Even nature makes us feel small: earthquakes, storm surges, and floods the size of titans.

And yet, we dream big.

That is why we persist. That is why we force ourselves into the jampacked train. That is why we hang on to the jeepney’s estribo. That is why we take two to three additional jobs. That is why we continue to build houses after typhoons.

Because we dream big – for ourselves and our families.

What if —- like we did in basketball during these past two years (including FIBA ASIA last year)— dream big? What if, like we did in basketball, stop using our size as an excuse and instead use it to our advantage? This time though – for our country.

What if we could bottle how we fought and worked and cheered and celebrated as a country these past two years, and unleash that, and fight and work against the giants of corruption, broken promises, and despair itself. What if we could bottle the same spirit that had the world in awe, and use it for other awesome tasks like rebuilding a decrepit infrastructure? What if we could capture that same puso and transfer it to government offices, to Batasan, and to Malacanang itself? What if the laban on the court is infused with the laban that sent us to the streets to march against a dictator?
What if?

Why not? We view life in the context of basketball, anyway.

I know, I know, the Lion King and Star Wars moments are movies. Cartoons and Science Fiction. But hey. I’m dreaming big.

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Check this out! :-)

I did work for slamonline philippines.. Hope you could check it out here:

Re-unleashing Weapon Y: Yutien Andrada

Hope you enjoy it.

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My TOP DISNEY VILLAINS

First, an explanation.

Some weeks ago, it popped up on my Facebook feed: a questionable, if not horrific list of what someone deemed to be the Top 102 Disney Songs of all time. (the questionable, if not horrific link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/azafar/the-definitive-ranking-of-the-102-best-animated-disney-songs)

from THAT link

The research was passable. There were songs from generations past. However, the criteria was shaky, at best. There were rules –what’s included, what can’t be included, etc. but it set the scope more than it justified the selection. And if you’re from my generation, you don’t take Disney Top lists lightly. Or at the very least, you shouldn’t. (Even the most masculine among us, for example, will be able to mutter, despite grudgingly, the opening lines of A Whole New World. ) Disney spoiled my generation with one epic animated motion picture after another. We were practically raised on this stuff, and so we were able to naturally look for the older ones from the past generations and grow up with appreciation for the newer ones. Imagine my indignation, therefore, when Frozen’s Let It Go made it to the Top 10. The Top 10! Let It Go! In the Top 10! Of what someone calls the best Disney Songs. Ever.
The buzzfeed piece also proclaimed itself to be the ‘definitive ranking” of the 102 best Disney songs. Definitive my foot. Not even the NBA highlight reel countdown calls itself “definitive.”

To be clear, I have nothing against Frozen or Let It Go for that matter. But I don’t think it belongs in the Top 10. Or, more importantly, if you were going to start a debate, then you should at least have the criteria for judging.

Good Lord. Even Eat Bulaga’s Super Sireyna has a criteria for judging.

Somebody has to do for Disney what Bill Simmons did for basketball: Organize the debate. The Top 10 What-Have-You will differ from person-to-person, but whatever list needs a certain criteria, so we at least know what you’re judging this against. For example, in the case of Let It Go — if your criteria prioritizes the famous (or infamous) LSS factor, then by all means, it should even be in the Top 5.

So instead of dissing that list some more, here I go. I’m going to make my own lists. Note: ListS. The first one: My Top Disney Villains of All Time. Note: This is definitely NOT the first one of its kind, but it might be the one of the first done in this fashion – for better or worse.

(Insert Thunder and Lightning and Evil Laughter and Organ Music)

from a google search... not an original artwork...

(from http://www.doctordisney.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/disney-villains-group1.jpg)

 

Who are the most bad-ass of the baddies? Here’s a set of criteria that my girlfriend helped me out with (She’s a confirmed Disney Junkie too):

1. Degree of Evilness

How do you determine if this villain is villainous enough to reach the pantheon of anyone’s list of the most dastardly? Check the crime. If the crime has an equivalent in the so-called real world, and the penalty is death in some governments, then that should tell you something. For example, killing a brother while he pleads for help from you trumps attempted murder with an apple.

However, this must be balanced by the story, the motivation, and the memorability of the deed. In the case of the butler stealing the cats, that might not sound as big as taking over the world. But remember – the cats were the story. And the butler was trusted by the cats’ owner! And the butler did it because of money! Stealing cats for money?! A lot of cat owners would say that’s more evil than rampaging through China without a clear motivation except conquering stuff.

2. Deviousness of the Plan

Is s/he mastermind material? Now, keep things in context, though. One villain might have all the tech in the world amassed through years of trying to implement the plan. Another might have relied on just the spindle of a spinning wheel. However, those two are actually at par: the deviousness to plan, the patience to hatch the plan (we did have to wait for her 16thbirthday, right?) and the clockwork that had to happen to achieve the plan were evidence of a diabolical mind.

3. Contribution to Story

Did the villain move the story forward? Was his personality, idiosyncrasies — his very presence! – necessary to the story? For example, the villain might have been threatening to burn the entire city down, but could you have replaced him/her with an alien? Or, was the villain written in such a way that he makes the qualities of the hero come out even more?

4. The X Factor

Or was there just something so hate-able in the villain? His accent, perhaps? His laugh? Did he have a laugh that you still heard even when you were already alone in your bed at night, staring at the ceiling? Did s/he have an interesting hideout? Were his/her henchmen funny/adorable/memorable? Was s/he just different? All villains want to rule the world, or some part of it. Did this villain have a different angle? Or — sure, he could have blown up half of the city, but was there a song dedicated to her? Or did s/he sing what would become one of the iconic songs that could characterize a generation?

These are the four criteria I used. Now, there aren’t any percentages here. Just so we don’t go insane. Yet.

Oh. A few additional information you might want to know: Pixar villains included. So yes, Mordu, Syndrome, and Hopper are some villains we might want to consider. Also, only villain with flesh and blood count. Meaning, they have to be actual characters. Meaning, they can’t be “Man” as in the case of Bambi. What human beings – or at least our representatives in that story – did was evil. But it’s tough to compare that with, let’s say, Sid, from Toy Story 1. Also, you can’t say, like in the case of Finding Nemo, that the real antagonist was Loss. We’ll never finish anything that way. Also, only movies released on the big screen are counted. Sequels released only on Home Video can’t have their villains nominated. Ie Toy Story 2 and 3 are counted, Aladdin: The Return of Jafar, nope. Animated spin-offs also don’t count ie Talespin.

So based on these, a scan of the villains in my memory, and counter-checking it with the available villains in DisneyWiki, here are my Top Ten Disney Villains of All Time, and some honourable mentions. Next list might be the Worst Villains? Or maybe the best henchmen?

Until then, THE TOP TIER of EVIL:

 

Gothel from Tangled

 

Mother knows best?

Her motivation is familiar: to be eternally young (For many of us, that’s the same story when we use our beauty products, come to think of it). However, what she did to get it is what makes her evil.

Degree of Evilness: Very High. If not the highest. She steals the princess, locks her up in a tower for her entire known life. Poses as her mother. And even tells her “I love you most.” Then she plots murder and mayhem. All for what? To be young.

Can you imagine what she would do for power? For riches? Or for love?

Deviousness: Diabolical. The locking up in the tower is genius. The original Truman Show. But what makes it even more diabolical is that she “loved” Rapunzel.

Contribution to Story: Okay. Just okay.

Her misdeeds and misguided quest for youth is what brings conflict to the story. Yet, she doesn’t do much in terms of bringing out Rapunzel’s character. Her main quest isn’t necessarily the main quest of the movie.

X-Factor:

She does sing, after all. She’s okay. But a wicked with who wants to be young isn’t necessarily a new trick. Let’s just say she’s not as unique and memorable as a huge octopus witch who puts on make-up using sea creatures and takes your voice.

Which brings us to….

URSULA from The Little Mermaid

 

Life’s full of tough choices, ain’t it?

She might just win based on sheer X-factor alone. First, she’s an octopus. The concept, the art, and execution of her animation are outstanding. Then, she sings one of the most memorable songs in all of Disneydom: Poor Unfortunate Souls. Then, she’s got two memorable hench-eels: the precursors of Pain and Panic, Flotsam and Jetsam.

Then, she takes on the princess not in the usual way: she gives what she wants. Or so the princess thinks. The princess gambles based on love and because she’s angry at her father. So she bites at the lure. Ursula plays and preys on the poor princess’ wild emotions, making the princess think all Ursula is doing is helping out another “poor unfortunate soul.”

Then, she herself uses the voice she stole to lure the prince away — and wait — this is all because she will use the girl as hostage! So Triton surrenders the kingdom! Woah! Now that I’m older, I get to see the deviousness of this! So she’s up on the diabolical charts. Degree of evilness is also exceptional.

Story-wise, yes, she drives the story. But I’m looking for a bit more of a WHY from her. I certainly wasn’t thinking about her fit for the story when I was busy being afraid of her as a kid, but now that I can think of how villains drive stories, this might be something she didn’t have at a very high level.

Which is something this next one does:

SYNDROME.

(also from Google searching… no image is mine 😉

Best story-driver. Best backstory: I can see why he did what he did. I would have done the same thing given the situation which makes me relate to the guy. His scheme and driving force totally drive the movie theme forward (What is Super?) And from someone Mr. Incredible rejected as his sidekick to Mr. Incredible’s worst enemy who killed most of the known superhero force. Nothing short of super.

Degree of evilness: He killed Supers!

Diabolical Scheme: He killed Supers! He built a massive anti-hero threat by using all the knowledge of Supers against themselves. Built over years and years. Then he will be the Hero of the city when he “saves” it against the own destruction machine he created. Just to get what Mr. Incredible denied him years back. Super.

X-Factor: Sure, he didn’t sing. But the guy is so memorable. The weird Troll hair. The big S on his fat belly. He really looked like a kid gone amok. A kid who was told he couldn’t play that day so he rebelled and built his big lab. For a fictitious world, he was so…. Real.

SCAR

He sings. He plots. He broods. He kills his brother.

In this Hamletesque storyline set in the African Wilderness, Scar seeks power in a world that once thrust him into the shadows. And from the shadows of an elephant graveyard where not even the king treads, he hatches his plan with the aid of three helpless hyenas.

Degree of evilness: He kills the king. Who is his brother. Takes over everything by force. Even attempts to kill his own nephew. For what? Because of good old lust for power, and a sibling rivalry for the lion’s share of everything.

Diabolical plot: Taking into account that it was practically Scar against the world (the hyenas weren’t exactly the brains of the operation), and the precision with which the plan had to work (the wildebeest murder was genius. Simba had to be down there in the valley, Scar had to act genuinely concerned, Mufasa had to swoop in at the moment when the wildebeests were uncontrollable. Then, because the king survives the onslaught, Scar finishes the job himself. And then he pins the blame on Simba, who is chased into oblivion.) Too bad for him though that the hyenas never got to finish the job of killing Simba. And worse for him that Rafiki went out of his way to get Simba back.

X-Factor : Tops. Again, a singing evil lion. Right up there with singing evil octopus. Plus, he’s excellently voiced by Jeremy Irons, who just brings the excellent writing to life (actually, the whole movie is superbly voiced). His delivery of “Long live the king” is stuck in my head to this day.

Contribution to story: It’s difficult not to be an excellent villain woven in well into the story when the plot is written by Shakespeare. Disney does a good job here of using the Claudius villain as base, and building on it beautifully. Not diluting, but making it even more memorable. Because of this, Scar can be a subject even of academic discourse (Lit majors looking for topics, thank me later): Scar vs. Claudius, Scar as the antithesis of Mufasa (or Simba), Sibling Rivalry and the Game of Thrones, etc. This is a strong case for learning your Shakespeare so you can use him when you need him.

….

And that was Tier 1.
If you force me to rank it, though, I think I’ll end up with
1) Scar, 2) Syndrome 3) Ursula and 4) Gothel


Here’s the second tier. Actually, what you may find here are rationalizations of why they didn’t make it to my first tier.

Remember my criteria: Degree of Evilness, Diabolical Scheme, Contribution to Story, and the X-Factor.

Gaston from Beauty and the Beast makes it to the second tier. His motivation is clear, but he’s really just a misguided, vain man. If he were alive today, he could actually be posting selfies of himself at the gym or eating those dozens of eggs. He doesn’t drive the story. It doesn’t help Gaston that the real villain of Beauty and the Beast, is actually the Beast within the Beast himself. Gaston just stands as a mirror, a foil, to be academic about it (So it was very ingenious that Gaston holds the mirror in the final scenes near the climax. He holds it for himself and sees the Beast – poetic for him being the beast, too. Also, he himself is a mirror, a foil, the opposite of the Beast – beautiful outside but rotten inside.

the guy kept looking at mirrors. google “gaston mirror” and you more or less see almost every instance he looks at different mirrors. hint hint.

Cruella De Vil also makes it to the second tier. If you’re an animal lover, you know why. She is greedy to the point that she will kill harm any life force just to look pretty (a different kind of Gothel, actually). She’s memorable (the song with her name as the title is a Disney classic). I guess she’s not just as evil and diabolical for me. And no clear motivation, either.

 

That mad moment.

Hades also makes it to Tier 2. Also Maleficent. But let me tell you why they’re just on Tier 2 and not on Tier 1. Maleficent and Hades are diabolical – both waited for YEARS to execute their plan (Hades waited for planetary alignment, Maleficent for Aurora’s 16th birthday). Both are memorable. Both have X-factors. Both tried to murder. However, they’re evil supernatural beings. They have to be evil. It’s like having the Devil as your antagonist: there’s no other motivation but to be evil. It’s a dragon-lady in a literal sense (I’m not taking the Maleficent movie into account, mind you. It’s a post-rationalization. I’m just looking at the original Sleeping Beauty), and the god of the Underworld. Why wouldn’t they be evil?

Jafar and Captain Hook –

I love Jafar. But I had to stick to my criteria. Jafar drops in the Contribution to Story, because his motivation, except power is unclear. He is not a new twist, there’s no love angle here, no clear why. He just fills in as the traditional power-hungry villain. A villain just because we needed one. BUT a MEMORABLE and fun one. Though Iago and the singing might have had to do a lot with that.

from http://images1.fanpop.com/images/photos/2500000/Disney-Villains-jafar-2508555-1280-1024.jpg — hook, jafar and cruella probably congratulating ursula.

Captain Hook, I just really had to evaluate based on the Disney version – where his being an antithesis of Peter Pan was downplayed a bit.

Whew.

So there you have it.

My top Disney villains. For now.
Let’s see if new ones come up, if I understand some other old villains in new ways, if you convince me to reconsider some, or if I change my criteria entirely.

Until then, Frollo, Shere Khan, Ratcliffe, Shan Yu and the Butler from Aristocats will have to wait… They might make it to some other list (like worst villains?) or their henchmen could.

 

If you have any other villain I might have skipped, or any other criterion I should add, or if you just have anything to say about this, please do so. After all, I am, by no way, calling this “definitive.”

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PASALAMAT. PAGPUGAY. PAGHARAP SA HAMON

There are many ways to celebrate Independence Day. Trips to Luneta. Museums. Parades. Listening to platitudes. Reading the papers. Getting depressed about our country. Waving flags.

 

And then you could also choose to see the good in our country. You could choose that that day will be the day when you said goodbye to our old crooked ways. As Chino Trinidad, the main proponent of the tribute exhibit and event, said, he hoped that that day would be the start of our choosing to remember and do what makes the Filipino so great: that the Filipino remembers, the Filipino can sacrifice, the Filipino can aspire for excellence and greatness, that the Filipino can inspire.

 

Such was the case last June 12 during the awaring ceremonies of Pagpupugay. Pagpupugay is sport artifact and art exhibit situated in the ground floor of Resorts World Manila (You can’t miss it). It started this June and will end on June 15 (which I Father’s Day. You might want to take your dad there and he might be more than happy to do a live annotation of the exhibit for you.)  The highlight was the Gabi ng Pagpupugay held right on Independence Night. The event gave honor, tribute and symbolic trophies to the different awardees: the different greates in Philippine sports who might not have even been given the right recognition during their time.

 

The list includes a pantheon of Pinoy demigods: Pancho Villa,Paulino Alcantara, Teofilo Yldefonzo, Simeon Torribeo, Miguel White,  Ceferino Garcia, Felicisimo Ampon, Ben Arda, Anthony Villanueva, Flash Elorde, Eugene Torre, Paeng Nepomuceno, Bong Coo, Efren Reyes, Arianne Cerdena, Onyok Velasco, Lita Dela Rosa, and Caloy Loyzaga. For the deceased, their families accepted their trophies, shared stories, and some even shed tears.

 

photo taken from Chino Trinidad's facebook
photo taken from Chino Trinidad’s facebook

Poignant points of the night were when the younger greats were the ones who paid tribute their lolos, to the ones who first blazed the trails (such as Chieffy Caligdong paying Tribute to Paulino Alcantara, “The Net Breaker”). And when friends introduced friends a la NBA Hall of Fame (It kind of chokes you up when jokers like Django Bustamante and Efren Bata Reyes suddenly choked up).

 

Also, there were very significant moments when the current Philippine athletes were called to the stage to be honored and joined their titos and titas, lolos and lolas. The current young boxers, Chris Tiu and Marc Pingris, and even kids who were given better lives because of Sports Foundations.

 

We might not have all been varsity players. But we must have taken up some sport or two. Joined some MILO camp growing up. Or was taught how to swing a tennis racket or how to run. Or we would cheer and jeer and coach from the couch when we watch any sporting event. We might not have been “athletes,” but we applaud greatness when we see it. We might not have represented the flag on another land, but we rise to the same anthem they fight for. We might not play their same game, but they paved the very roads we tread on today. We might not wear the same jacket, but we are all Team Pilipinas.

 

And the very least we can do, when someone fights on our behalf, is say thanks. And remember.

 

Because one day, we will need to call upon their greatness, and like they would want us to do so, believe that that greatness is in us, too. Not just in sports, but in the many fights our country needs to fight.

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Kalayaan in a time of Kurakot

Holidays like yesterday reminded me of my college days, when I was also taking up my Minor Degree in History. I have forgotten many of the research techniques, names and dates, but I don’t think I can forget the different way with which my teachers made me see our history and our people.

We used to celebrate June 12 with parades. Then flags were made more available even through Takatak Boys. Then today, social media affords us a chance to declare our affection for our country, remind us of our duty, and even display cute pictures of how we celebrated Independence Day by celebrating freedom from our diets.

If, however, you felt pressured and obligated to celebrate Independence Day with the same fervor as your Facebook Friends, take heart. Here are some sobering thoughts to help us put June 12 in a bit of a more level-headed context, but also inspire us to act concretely and daily.

independence day 5 peso bill 2

  1. Independence in Tagalog is NOT Kalayaan.

Some well-meaning statesman or politician must have translated it as thus. The US, for example, has no problem with loss in translation, since they know what they celebrate: independence on independence  day. For us, however, we run into all sorts of expectations from just one day.

I remember, in Grade School and High School, a favorite essay questions (worth 10-15 points, mind you), is “Ngayong araw ng kalayaan, tunay nga ba tayong Malaya?”

I don’t know about you, but that formed me to expect too much from the celebration, and it expected a greater deal of patriotism for me than what I was ready to give. The reality is – we are INDEPENDENT.

Sure, Independence can lead to freedom. It is a necessity toward freedom. However,  the word FREEDOM just puts a lot more pressure on us than there actually is. FREEDOM is a very loaded word: it belongs to discussions that have to do more with God, Love and Justice, than it does to government-mandated holidays.

I am NOT SAYING that we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves to work for freedom. All I’m saying is that FREEDOM is our goal. Freedom is what we work for – daily. All I’m saying is  – don’t get disillusioned and angry at our country just because you can’t find it.Don’t call the holiday meaningless just because you don’t feel “free” as a Filipino.  It’s not meaningless to celebrate Independence Day, because it should remind us that our Independence was already won for us, and now we must work for our Freedom.

 

  1. It was a declaration. Not a celebration.

When the scene on the 5 PESO bill (the newer generation might not be able to relate. Gosh.), was first played out, we were in the middle of a war. In fact, Emilio Aguinaldo had just come off declaring one of the first Martial Laws our country will experience. Mabini, for one, didn’t think we were ready to hoist flags and declare anything. Yet, we did.

The trials of our country wasn’t ending at that time. Sure, there were bright spots in the military campaign, but it was probably due more to the fact that Spain itself was weakening as a world power. In December of the same year we declared our independence, (Dec 12,1898), we were sold to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. The following year, the Fil-Am war was going to be played out. So by no means were we independent yet. Yet, we declared that we were going to be.

So don’t be disheartened if you feel that the country is not in the shape you want it to be yet. I agree, we must be incensed by evil and cry out against it and combat it everyday, but don’t throw in the towel just because it’s been tough.

Simply because independence, while not perfect, or achieved in its fullness, is something we declare. It is something we shout to the world: that though we are not perfect, we desire to be better. Though we are crippled by malaise our own hands have wrought, we will heal. That though we have courted darkness, we will struggle to turn our faces to the light. We declare.

Just as in 1898, our Republic was not perfect. But Aguinaldo and our heroes believed and declared who we could be. So heroism in our context today is, when you think about it, that same declaration done daily.

So when you’re asked the question, “Why celebrate June 12 when we’re still in the middle of our fights against corruption?” The answer is, we declared it in the middle of a fight way back in 1898. And today, we resolve to continue to declare it in the midst of whatever fight we find ourselves in.

  1. JUNE 12 is an arbitrary date.

It’s a lot like Christmas. Jesus wasn’t born on December 25. Scholars say he was born sometime during the summer months. So when was Jesus’ real birthday? And if his real birthday wasn’t really on December 25, then why are we kind and compassionate only during that season? Which gives more reason for us to say that every day should be Christmas day, that every day should be a day of love, giving, and charity.

So it is with June 12. It could have been July 4 – when we were freed by the Americans after their occupation and the Commonwealth government ended. It could be that date when Lapu-Lapu’s troops stopped Magellan’s. It could even be February 25, that date when the power of the people stopped the mayhem and madness of evil. But for some reason, we chose June 12. The load of celebrating who we are fell on the shoulders of this one date.

Which leads us now to this: Declaring our Independence and our love for our country shouldn’t be on just one date. It is something we should live out everyday. The flying of the flags is necessary, I guess. And it’s cute, too. However, the very arbitrariness with which we selected the date tells me that the date itself is not what’s special. It’s what we celebrate. And that it should inspire us, whatever the date on the calendar may be.

 

This Independence Day gives me hope. It tells me to steady myself, that this seeming onslaught of corruption is happening in just the first quarter of what’s going to be a long basketball game that we can still win. The celebration this year allows me to think of patriotism and freedom as a scale. That though we are not yet there, we desire to be fully free. And we will declare that with our deeds. Daily.

june-12-2014-OUCHPiNoy