Signs

To recap last week’s column: the reproachful writer, dangling dangerously close to despair, asked for a sign to show that God was not asleep. As if in response, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck that afternoon. Buildings swayed, groceries fell, houses crumbled; thankfully, no one was injured. Such an event should have been sufficient to strike terror and bring one to one’s knees. Instead, aforementioned writer laughed with delight that he should receive an answer.

And yet, having been steeped in Giovanni Guareschi’s Don Camillo in his youth and adopting that priest’s spirituality, the writer went on to address God further: “An earthquake? Thank you, but how very Old Testament! Since we’re following this theme, now you have to give THREE signs!”

What an idiot I am.

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God Answers Back

Spirituality is a deeply personal aspect of how we live and for this reason it’s not something I’m inclined to bring up in ordinary conversation. For what I’m about to relate, though, it may be necessary as a preface.

To begin with, I am a practicing Catholic of the Roman persuasion and a traditional one at that. As such, the center of my spiritual life is the Holy Eucharist. I try as best as I can to go to Mass every day, a commitment made easier by the fact that my places of work or residence have always been walking distance to a church. All else flows from that: my participation in the other sacraments, my recitation of the rosary, my daily Gospel reading and reflection, and moments of mental prayer. Some days, even weeks at a stretch, it may be a struggle, but these are always what I return to.

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Scandal and Silence

On August 25, the former nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, released a lengthy and explosive statement implicating high-ranking prelates, all the way up to Pope Francis himself, of conspiracy to cover up abuses perpetrated by a former cardinal against priests and seminarians spanning decades. Not only that, Archbishop Vigano’s expose also reveals the inner workings of Vatican politics and how a powerful and well-entrenched cabal of insiders controls appointments and communications with the Pope.

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Self-Censorship

The thing with writing is, you never really know the final form until you set your work down in actual words. For myself, the process begins long before I lay my hands on the keyboard, imagining in my mind what it is I am going to write. Often this leads to moments when I stare vacantly into space, my fingers twitching against invisible keys. My wife, who notices these things, at least knows that I am writing in my head. And yet, for all this extended preparation, the outcome can be vastly different from what I originally envisioned. Such is the way of art.

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A Textbook Story

One day someone asked me to endorse the textbook for a course that was to be taught to all university freshmen. Okay, I said, but I’d like to go through the book first, just so I knew what it was I was endorsing.

As I flipped through the pages, I was somewhat put off by the incongruous presentation of the material. Not that there was anything egregiously wrong with it, but the chapters felt like they didn’t flow smoothly. I initially shrugged it off. After all, they would have been using some variation of the same textbook, and this did come from a reputable publisher. If that was what the department wanted to use….

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On Textbooks

This little story is from my time as assistant dean, but it’s been three years, so I guess it’s fine to tell it now.

An officer of the student body approached me with a letter they had drafted. They were raising the issue of teachers who were requiring their classes to purchase textbooks that they themselves had written. I read through and handed it back to her.

“No,” I said.

“No? But…why?!”

“Because it doesn’t quite cover enough of what’s going on. Give me an hour, and I’ll show you what you can really bring up. If you like it, you can make it the official student body position.”

What follows is my version of their complaint (apologies if it’s a little long) —

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Leaving Academia

I stumbled into university teaching back in 2008. I was three years out of my last corporate job, a year out of managing the pharmacy in Dumaguete, back in Davao bouncing around with no real plan, and I finagled a part time gig at Ateneo which a year later became full time, master’s degree included.

I stumbled out of university teaching back in 2015. If I trace it back to its proximate cause, I stronglyu suspect it was when they asked me to become OIC assistant dean of computer studies the summer prior. Silly me, I accepted.

If it hadn’t been for that year-long stint as OIC assistant dean, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to take a paid semester off. One doesn’t equate to the other, of course, and I certainly never planned it that way. But this is how it happened:

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Proverbs 26:11

“As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.”

Such was the phrase that turned over and over in my mind when I heard that A– had seized speakership of the lower house. Surprisingly, the thought came neither with anger nor with dismay but with bemusement. Three years down, this is the change that you all voted for?

As with many such biblical expressions, the proverb is fraught with meaning. I looked up its history and usage. Apparently in ancient times, dogs were considered unclean as they were scavengers of the dead. That a dog should consume its own vomit, this doesn’t need a long stretch of imagination — it is meant to evoke shame and revulsion.

The image of the fool is more interesting. Unlike our common modern association with diminished intellectual capacity, “the fool” in Proverbs is a person lacking moral behavior and discipline. Contrast this with “the wise”, who behaves righteously.

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Data is the New Oil!

Last Thursday my team and I attended a short seminar entitled “Data is the New Oil” at my old stomping grounds, Ateneo de Davao. I suspected it was a seminar aimed at students, more breadth than depth, and it turned out I was right: the coverage was practically textbook chapter one with a smattering of marketing rah-rah. But it was only an hour, it was happening during lunch, the speaker was from prestigious Carnegie Mellon, and it was in the good auditorium where the airconditioning was cool, so why not?

In the days leading up to the seminar, though, I was turning the title over in my mind. Data is the New Oil! What a tragic analogy!

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