The Flying Tamaraw

We used to have a Tamaraw — not the animal, but the car.

For those of you too young to remember, the Tamaraw was a boxy and rugged utility vehicle manufactured by Toyota in the late 1970’s. It was the predecessor of the popular “FX” (which is actually “Tamaraw FX”) model which still plies our busy streets, mostly as taxis and public utility vehicles.

Toyota-Tamaraw_600x370

I must have been around 7 years old at the time when my dad bought the Tamaraw for our business. I loved riding it because it was open and had no glass windows (like a jeepney) and I could feel the wind on my face as it cruised along. It was the next best thing to riding on the back of a pickup truck, which I jumped at every chance I could get, but since we did not own one, I had to settle for the Tamaraw most of the time.

One day, my dad was driving and I was sitting beside him, and then he told me that if we went fast enough, the Tamaraw could fly. I got so excited about that and I would badger him, urging him to go faster and faster, because I really wanted to fly, but when I wondered why we didn’t fly, he would say, “Oh, we didn’t go fast enough yet.”

At another time, I was seated at the back, at the outermost edge watching the street below zoom by. I yelled at my dad to go faster. I was so convinced that this time, we would really fly because we seemed to be going very fast. Of course, we didn’t fly and my dad gave me the same reason, “We didn’t go fast enough.”

I was disappointed and I began to wonder if my dad wasn’t just making things up. I grew older and wiser and I don’t know how long it took but one day I finally decided that the Tamaraw wasn’t ever going to fly. My dad was just playing games with me.

Despite that, I still loved that piece of machinery. It was where I first learned to work the stick shift. Manong Tony, the company driver, would let me work the gears while he stepped on the clutch. As a teenager, I would later on sneak some driving time going backward and forward on our driveway.

But eventually, we had to say goodbye to the old junk. It had outlived its usefulness and it was time to get a new delivery vehicle — with more power and reliability.

The flying Tamaraw is a fitting metaphor for my religious beliefs — instilled in me since I was very young, and which I believed with all my heart and mind. Yet, over the last few years, I found many little chinks in the story that would later on widen to show huge holes. There were just too many inconsistencies and flaws in reasoning. I don’t know when exactly it happened but one day, I couldn’t believe anymore. I could no more believe in the God of the Bible than I could in the Flying Tamaraw.

It wasn’t easy letting go, just as it wasn’t easy admitting to myself that my dad had been fooling me all along — not that I took it against him, but it was difficult nonetheless to have been believing in something so fervently and to have that belief shattered. It wasn’t easy coming out to family and friends knowing that they would most probably never understand, would probably look at me with either pity or derision, or fear that I would influence their friends, their churchmates or children.

I know those closest to me are fervently hoping and praying for me to go back. But I don’t think I can ever go back. One cannot un-see what one has already seen, nor un-hear what one has already heard. Besides, I cannot recall a time when I have been more at peace with myself — no more endless wondering about what God’s will is or why he doesn’t answer this or that prayer; no more second-guessing whether what I’m thinking of doing is from God or from the devil; no more guilt and no more fear.

I look at my religious upbringing in the same way that I remember that old Tamaraw, not with resentment but with nostalgic fondness. Both were filled with many happy memories and learning experiences. Yet there was a lesson from Jesus himself about new wine needing new wineskins, for new wine poured into old wineskins would cause them to burst.

And so I went and got a new wineskin, because the old one could no longer contain a flying Tamaraw or a talking snake.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman by profession and an educator by obsession. You may email him at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Why Our Leaders Should Be Technologists

Digital Art by Richard Base
Digital Art by Richard K. Base

If I may venture why our country is in such a dire state, it is because we have a huge lack of leaders who are technologists. Just look at our current crop of leaders: we have mostly lawyers, actors, celebrities and even ex-convicts (as well as convicts-to-be). How our government is run reflects this quite accurately. Go to almost any government office and see.

You will see “lawyers” who make you go around in circles and who burden you with a lot of procedures and requirements to follow. You will see “actors” pretending to work but are actually playing Candy Crush or chatting with their officemates — and yes, this happens even in relief operations in Tacloban as related by a volunteer through her facebook account where she says, “It breaks my heart seeing bottled waters outside the warehouse spread like garbage, rice grains scattered like no one cares, relief boxes literally being dumped by trucks without thinking that whatever inside maybe damage, reliefs outside the warehouse soaked in the rains, and you DSWD staff at the warehouse spending your day talking/chatting/seating while there are a lot of things need to be done ASAP”).

You will see “celebrities” who want to take credit for work done by others, who want their faces and names stamped on projects funded by people’s money. And of course, there are always the ex-convicts and convicts-to-be who are very good at finding ways to line their own pockets.

For the past few years, and particularly in the last decade alone, technologists have been at the forefront of changing how people act, interact and live — and their impact is felt not just in their locality but all over the world. How many people are now dependent on Google, Facebook and Twitter? How many billions and trillions of transactions take place using the internet, cellphones and tablets?

It is clear that the leader of the future, who will have the most influence and impact, should be a technologist. The leader himself may not be a scientist or an engineer per se, but he must have the heart of one. He must be keenly interested in technology and what it can do. Because above all else, a technologist wants only one thing: to solve problems.

And boy, do we have a ton of problems in our country.

How can technology solve our problems? Let me give 3 examples.

  1. Garbage. Do you know that there are some European countries who have solved their garbage problems to the point that they have to import garbage from other countries because they have none left to burn for their own use? On April 30, 2013, The New York Times reported that the City of Oslo in Norway has developed a way to convert “household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests” to heat and electricity. Other cities in Sweden, Austria and Germany are also building such plants.

    Can you imagine what this one technology alone can do for our country? Where is the Philippine delegation to Oslo to study this? At the very least, even if we find the technology too expensive or impractical, we can work out some sort of deal to export our garbage to them. That would be a win-win situation.

  2. Prosthetics. Traditional prosthetics are prohibitively expensive. People who lose a hand, foot, nose or any other body part may find it economically impossible to replace these. A prosthetic hand that can grab things, for example, would cost somewhere between US$20,000 to US$30,000 (around PHP1M or more).

    However, we have an already existing technology called a 3D Printer which is changing the game in prosthetics. The Huffington Post recently ran a story about a dad who used a 3D printer to print a prosthetic hand for his son who was born without a left hand. His estimated cost was around US$2,000 for the printer and around US$10 for the materials (total cost of around PHP100,000). The plans and schematics for the hand were downloaded free.

    The Guardian UK also published an article about affordable prosthetic facial parts that can be generated by 3D printing instead of the more traditional and expensive method of making a cast and mold. A traditional prosthetic nose, for example, might cost P200,000 but a 3D printed one would only cost P20,000. That costs even less than an iPhone.

    Now, what if we had 3D Printers in every public hospital? How many more of our poor, disabled countrymen would now be able to afford prosthetics? How many lives would benefit? They might even be fit for some jobs now instead of being reduced to begging in the streets. Hello, Mayors and Congressmen. Are you paying attention?

  3. Water. The recent devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda showed how precious and important water is in the affected areas. However, water is also heavy, bulky and difficult to transport. Since around 2009, a British company call Lifesaver Systems (which is currently actively involved in disaster relief for the Philippines) has developed portable water containers with built-in filters that are so fine that you can literally fill the container with filthy, muddy water and it will produce clean, drinkable water.

    Those in calamity-stricken areas no longer need to wait for bottled water to arrive. They can simply use the container and get water from the nearest river (or any water source, no matter how dirty). A video demo shows the company’s CEO mixing a tank of river water with mud, sewage and garbage. He then takes a pitcher of the foul mixture and puts it in a Lifesaver Bottle. He pumps the bottle a few times, opens the top and pours clean water in a glass that he then drinks himself.

    Perhaps, instead of spending millions on election paraphernalia, our leaders could instead invest in these life-saving technologies. After all, nobody (except you and your relatives — and not all of them, mind you) really wants to see your smug faces splattered all over our walls, streets and lampposts, and the best preparation for disaster is innovative planning and willful action not some pretty speech on national television.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Filipino Freethinkers.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman by profession and an educator by obsession. You may email him at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Just Shut Up And Do The Work

Photo Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer via Compfight cc
Composite Image: Original Photos by Katie Tegtmeyer and zt_kw via Compfight cc

A week has passed since Yolanda’s visit, and though our country is known for its hospitality, we wish she had never dropped in at all.

In the past few days, local and international media have been bombarded by different stories, video clips and sound bites. There are heartbreaking stories of mothers or fathers having to watch their children die before their eyes; of people driven to loot and plunder out of sheer desperation; of countless bodies and debris littering the streets — streets that only days before had been full of life and energy and the hustle and bustle of ordinary life. Now there is only the haunting stench of death, sadness and despair.

It would be pretentious of me to know how these people, our countrymen, must feel. I have never personally experienced tragedy of this magnitude. Yet I do what little I can and give what I can give. We know a few people who have friends and relatives in the affected areas and we do what we can for them. I have nothing but admiration for those who are able and willing to go to the front lines, risking their lives to lend their much-needed assistance.

Some people have used the disaster as an opportunity to pontificate. Since I have a good number of contacts on both sides of the fence, I see all sorts of status updates. On the one hand, there are those who triumphantly proclaim God’s absence, or the uselessness of prayer. On the other, there are those who trumpet God’s goodness for saving this person who was their friend or relative or even their own lives, or those who point to their intact church building and proclaim it as a symbol that they are indeed the chosen ones, and being totally insensitive to those who have lost their loved ones, their homes and their dignity.

Let me make this appeal to both camps: This is not the time to pontificate, to debate or philosophize — not with the pain so close and the wounds so tender. The same appeal goes to those who constantly criticize the president or this or that official, or media outlet, or whatever. The victims don’t really care about your opinions, your anger or your criticisms. All they care about now is food, water, clothing, shelter and the long road ahead for their lives to return to some semblance of normalcy.

The less time you spend on your rants, the more time you have to think of how else you can help, because if we take the aftermath of Typhoon Pablo as an example, these people will still be needing our help many months and even years from now, when the hype has died down and the media has moved on to its next darling.

Now is the time for comfort and healing, for care and compassion. Whatever our ideological, religious, or political differences, we are one in our humanity. There will be time and opportunity enough later on to argue and philosophize, but not now.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a friend who is part of an organization that gives a series of leadership seminars that empower people to take responsibility and ownership of their lives. I myself have attended these seminars and can attest to their effectiveness.

Recently some of the facilitators of that organization (who are also my friends) left to form their own group and give a similar set of seminars. I asked my friend how they felt about it and if there was any bad blood between the two organizations since it looked like they were set up to compete with one another.

Her reply surprised me with its sincerity and humility, and gave me a very deep perspective. She said, “You know, we don’t think about competition or bad blood. There is no place for anger and resentment. There are still millions of Filipinos who need to hear and learn these things we are teaching. There is so much work to be done. Let’s just do the work.”

Indeed, there is so much work to be done. Let’s just shut up and do the work. Volunteer. Give money or food or water. Support your charity. Suppress negativity and generate as much positive energy as possible. Our fellow humans need all the help and encouragement they can get.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman by profession and an educator by obsession. You may email him at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

My Voodoo is Better Than Your Voodoo

Aling Conchita peers out the window of her small hut to see if the albularyo (folk medicine man) had come. Cloves of garlic hang from door and windows to keep the aswang (a type of Filipino monster) away. She walks over to her 6-year old grandson who is burning with fever. She thinks about how he had urinated on an old tree in the field without asking permission from the spirits. And now, they were angry and had struck down the boy with fever.

If I were to ask what you thought of Aling Conchita’s practice of hanging garlic, or of believing that the fever came from evil spirits, most of you might dismiss them as the products of superstitious and uneducated people.

Just a few days ago, I read about an official of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) declaring that incidents of demonic possessions were on the rise in our country (although he could not give exact figures). He attributed these to people not attending mass, idolizing or worshipping other things, disowning God and not praying. His advice? Wear sacred objects such as scapulars, rosaries or holy medals, preferably those blessed by a priest.

Photo by Sarah Stierch
Photo by Sarah Stierch

Now I would daresay that many who dismissed the first example would not be so quick to do the same to the second, especially my Catholic friends. My Protestant friends wouldn’t have any qualms with demonic possessions but would surely scoff at the idea of wearing various trinkets to ward off these demons. They would say you only need to command these demons to go away in Jesus’ name. My Muslim friends would probably be skeptical of both and would bring the poor sod to an imam for him to implore Allah to drive the spirit away (Oh yes, I have heard of exorcisms done in Allah’s name — and one story from an eyewitness to the procedure).

In my skeptic mind, it is simply a matter of one mythology trumping another. We have simply replaced the old superstitions with newer ones. We have thrown out the old rituals and incantations and invented new ones, but they are superstitions, nonetheless, with the latter having no more evidence than the former. We smirk at the idea of hanging garlic at our windows, yet we invite our local cleric to bless our new home by sprinkling holy water, oil, etc. We laugh at people who wear anting-antings (amulets) yet we cling to our prayer beads, holy books or statues and believe they will ward off evil beings.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why reports of demon possession usually occur in rural areas where education and information is less accessible? Have you ever heard of a demon possession occurring in Abreeza Mall or SM? Or in the posh villages of Ladislawa or Monteritz? At the very least, these demons should schedule their visit to newscasters or TV show hosts where their powers will be fully revealed on national television (and worldwide on Youtube). One would think these demons could do better than to simply prey on some unknown youngster in a far-flung town.

On another note, if idolizing or worshipping other things induce demonic possession, then shouldn’t half our congressmen and senators already be having massive fits right now? And some of you would wonder, why only half?

Have you ever heard of a scientist being possessed? If disowning God opens the door to possession, then why hasn’t any demon thought to possess Stephen Hawking? That would be a sight to see: him floating around in that wheelchair with his head spinning round and round. Why haven’t Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, James Randi or other famous atheists been possessed many times over?

Almost all the reports I’ve heard of alleged possessions occur to believers or families of believers. Now, why would that be the case, I wonder? In fact, why would a demon want to possess anybody? The logical result of demonic possession would be more faith and prayers for the family and witnesses, right? What demon with half a brain would want want that? Aren’t these creatures supposed to be highly intelligent, crafty and cunning?

I grew up believing in angels and demons — in fact I believed in them until only a few years ago, when I decided that the lack of evidence for them no longer justified such belief. I find it rather strange how long it took for that to happen. After all, I stopped believing in Santa Claus, Superman, fairies, unicorns and elves before I turned 10. Yet, we live in a culture where grown men and women believe in invisible beings playing tug-o-war with our souls (aside from giving us good parking spaces or tempting us with scantily-clad bodies).

Think about it.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Filipino Freethinkers.

Andy Uyboco keeps a pet demon in his ear. If you want to know what it says about your love life, send him an email at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Giraffe Your Face

funny-giraffe-nom-pics_437x600By now, most of you on Facebook probably know the Giraffe joke (which isn’t really about a giraffe). For those who don’t have Facebook or rarely check their accounts, let me explain. A few days ago, a message went across the social media site saying:

Try the great giraffe challenge! The deal is I give you a riddle. You get it right, you get to keep your profile picture, get it wrong & you change your profile picture to a giraffe for the next 3 days!

Here is the riddle: It’s 3am, the doorbell rings & you wake up. Unexpected visitors! It’s your parents & they’re here for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread & cheese. What is the first thing you open?

If you get it right I’ll post your name here. If not, you have to change you profile pic to a giraffe!

Since it was a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to give it a go. When I thought I had discovered the trick, I answered, “The door.”

“You’re wrong,” replied my friend. “The correct answer is ‘eyes.’ Change your profile pic to a giraffe.”

Now many people accepted that answer and probably thought, “Yes, that’s right because, when you wake up, you open your eyes first.” They then replaced their profile pictures and for the past few days we have seen giraffes multiplying on Facebook like a zombie infestation right in time for Halloween..

But the answer did not sit well with me.

I re-read the riddle and stuck to my answer. The correct answer is “door” and I’ll show you why.

First, there is the matter of chronology – At the time the question was asked, you had already woken up and you already knew that the visitors were your parents. It would not be possible for you to know all that before you had woken up and opened your eyes. The most logical assumption is that you had asked who it was and they had answered behind the closed front door. So your eyes should have already been open at the time the question was asked.

Second is the matter of tense. The question “What is the first thing you open?” is in the present tense, implying that at this moment that you are already awake and know that it is your parents who have rung the doorbell, what is the first thing you open? Certainly not your eyes because they should be open by now (even if they are only groggily half-open).

If the question were phrased this way, “What was the first thing you opened?” then “eyes” would be an acceptable answer. But this was not the case.

That is why my conclusion is that the given answer is wrong, or that the riddle was poorly written and constructed.

Now, some people might say I’m over-reacting to this, or that I’m over-thinking this and I should just be a good sport and have fun. Well, I probably am over-thinking this, but that’s the thing. I AM having fun when I analyze and write about even senseless jokes like this, because I believe in extracting lessons from everything, even in things that do not appeal to us.

I have fun when I teach people how to think better. I have fun when I show people a different point of view — even if they don’t agree with me.

So you can have your fun and your giraffes. I’ll keep my face.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman by profession and an educator by obsession. Send comments and questions to andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me

 

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