1.3 meters of Panic

March 11, 2011. Japan was rocked by an earthquake that hit 8.9 on the Richter scale. Fires followed. Later, tsunami that reached up to 33 feet hit land.

An earthquake of that magnitude will certainly reach other lands and affect them in one way or another. So, some provinces in the Philippines were given an “Alert Level 2” by the PHIVOLCS. This list includes the place where I live. It’s not a time to start evacuating or to be doing forced evacuations, according to SOP, but some people from select places were told to evacuate.

See, according to a representative from PAGASA who spoke on the radio, the alert levels can be interpreted as “Ready. Set. Go!”. This relates to evacuation. On one, everyone should be ready for anything. On two, everyone should already be set and prepared to run, if the need be. On three, people should already be fleeing.

This is the information they kept on repeating during the radio program. At the same time, reminding people not to panic. However, there is this little curious information that I only heard once. It is about the estimated height: 1.3 meters.

Exactly how high is 1.3 meters? How much damage can a wave of 1.3 meters do? Why are we being given that much of an alert level?

This is not just some rant or an attempt to vent out the worry I’ve felt because of these alert issues. It is a call to the authorities to give accurate, proper, and complete information so as not to ensue panic.

What happened today was very similar, if not exactly the same, as what happened during the Haiti quake. An alert was raised, local government officials moved about to give out information, the police sirens were wailing about, and people were trying to get to higher ground.

It was midday when I got
Is this really something that people should be made to panic about? No matter how much you say, “Don’t panic”, there will always be people who worry too much. A worry which will soon spread like the domino effect.

If this will always be what we get at times like these, people might get tired. Soon enough, they might just stop listening altogether just like the ones the boy who cried, “Wolf!”, were calling to.

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The Fall of Traditions

Traditions are a significant part of what makes a culture. It is like one of the colorful threads that weave together to form the pattern that is a nation’s culture. And this culture is also a very significant component of a people’s identity. Sadly, some of these traditions are gradually declining in practice. And some of them are already but a part of history.

Religion is, more often than not, a strong identifier of a nation. In our small town, it used to be that the people cared more about religion and its traditions. I remember those nights, when I was small, when we would pray and sing hymns and praises in honor of a saint. After that, we’ll have a procession from one house to the next with the image with us. We’ll be doing that every night until the days are fulfilled.

Now, I no longer see that happening. Though, I can still hear the prayer leaders singing hymns and praises and praying the usual prayers. But the difference is clearer than a transparent sheet. This time around, they do it in the middle of the afternoon. A time which is hardly any good if you wanted more people to join in.

When I was small, us kids were encourage to go with them, to pray with them, to learn about the traditions of our place with them. Now, it’s just the old people, the prayer leaders, a few people.

Worse still, they’ve reached the point when they no longer send the image from one house to another. Instead, they let it stay in one house and the prayer leaders will just go their. My mother told me it was because they are already getting old and are old enough to reason that they tire easily. It’s not exactly some sound reasoning given that, usually, the houses in our place are hardly even five meters apart. But, yes, they are already old.

That’s just one of those that are gradually nearing non-existence. There also used to be theater in our place. A tale of kings. I’m rather certain I never understood what that story was all about because they used a deeper form of the local dialect and I was too small then to understand such. It used to play around the time of the local fiesta, about the end of May.

Now, I cannot see even a shadow of it. Even if it was a small town production, I know I can give them credit for the costumes and the effort they give to make the play successful. But theater has died in our town.

I have also heard of stories, read some, and watched some on TV and movies about a courtship practice called the harana. It’s when the guy visits a girl’s house with a song to sing to her. The guy throws some rocks into the girl’s window to get her attention and open up, then, he starts singing and playing his guitar while she watched him, and he tries to win her heart with a song.

No, I can never say for myself if those things ever happened because it was already dead when I was born. Or, they never really happened that way.

Perhaps, if I look deeper into the history of the Philippines, I’ll find more of these things – traditions that were once integral to the lives of Filipinos. And if I do, it’ll be sad as it can only mean the undoing of centuries worth of traditions, history, and culture.

Playing God

Almost three years ago I wrote an article, “On human-whatever-species-else hybrids” and in it I posed a question that states, “Can the evince of both species features be manipulated?”. A year later, I wrote another article on a similar topic, “On human-avian hybrids“. In it I managed to cite the “latest” on research on human-animal hybrids.

nucleus of a cow eggThe two articles somehow contradicted each other as one cites the creation of a 32-celled human-bovine embryo while the other one cites a quote that leans to the impossibility of combination. Today, almost two years later, the top search result on Google on this topic is an article from two years ago. The article is not even about a group which aims to create recombinant species but for medicine – their goal is “the development of new therapies for debilitating human conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke”. Clearly, not much progress has been made in this area of science.

Then again, we can’t know about “top-secret” and “highly confidential” information using the surface of the web.

So, now the question goes down from whether it will be possible to control the evince of the species features to whether it will be possible to create a complete recombinant creature. As from before, there can be two sides to ask from.

First, the highly biblical people. Recombinant lifeforms are creatures which are never mentioned in the Bible. Therefore, if we ask some of them, as I have done, they will simply cite verses in the Bible that states something about creatures reproducing according to its kind. Also, they will cite about there only being one Creator and that Creator is not among humans. Therefore, it won’t be possible for recombinant creatures to have existed or to be created.

Second, the highly scientific people. From the 1960’s, when recombinant DNA technology first emerged, various research by numerous teams have been conducted that lead to the improvement of knowledge about DNA and its applications. It used to be that every attempt at recombination was a failure. But further research discovered significant components of the DNA that lead to the possibility of injecting foreign genes to an organism, either to add to its intrinsic value, to its aesthetic value, or, in a very straight-forward thought, to try to learn more about it and improve techniques.

As with combining different species, Leslie Pray of Nature Education in the article Recombinant DNA Technology and Transgenic Animals states,

The first actual recombinant animal cells weren’t developed until about a decade after the research conducted by Berg’s team, and most of the early studies involved mouse cells. In 1981, for example, Franklin Costantini and Elizabeth Lacy of the University of Oxford introduced rabbit DNA fragments containing the adult beta globin gene into murine (mouse) germ-line cells. (The beta globins are a family of polypeptides that serve as the subunits of hemoglobin molecules.) Another group of scientists had demonstrated that foreign genes could be successfully integrated into murine somatic cells, but this was the first demonstration of their integration into germ cells. In other words, Costantini and Lacy were the first to engineer an entire recombinant animal (albeit with relatively low efficiency).

Since these early studies, scientists have used recombinant DNA technologies to create many different types of recombinant animals, both for scientific study and for the profitable manufacturing of human proteins. For instance, mice, goats, and cows have all been engineered to create medically valuable proteins in their milk; moreover, hormones that were once isolated only in small amounts from human cadavers can now be mass-produced by genetically engineered cells. In fact, the entire biotechnology industry is based upon the ability to add new genes to cells, plants, and animals. As scientists discover important new proteins and genes, these technologies will continue to form the foundation of future generations of discoveries and medical advances.

However, as is always the case with new technology, various questions, ranging from the purely scientific to the ethical and moral, arise to challenge such knowledge. And, to quote from the same article above,

Interestingly, not long after the publication of his team’s 1972 study, Paul Berg led a voluntary moratorium in the scientific community against certain types of recombinant DNA research. Clearly, scientists have always been aware that the ability to manipulate the genome and mix and match genes from different organisms, even different species, raises immediate and serious questions about the potential hazards and risks of doing so β€” implications still being debated today.

Yes, they talk of “mice, goats, and cows” but, apparently, I was wrong and, in the world of science, more specifically, in biotechnology, it may not be long before we could see people and institutions such as the ones described in James Patterson’s Maximum Ride. The question is, are we willing to take the risks that inevitably come with playing the role of the creator?

Adding Insult to the Injury

The sun is up again, the skies blue once more and it seems that the planet has begun moving on from the storms. Although, it seems to have moved a bit too far because of the heat being just a bit too much. However, let’s not talk weather this time. Let’s talk about how the local government responds to the tragedies that the world is trying to get through.

Homes, properties, and resources have been lost due to the typhoons and floods. A lot of communities were left with close to nothing and most of them does not have much to look forward to.

FM Romualdez on relief operationThe basic response to such tragedies are relief operations – be it from the government or the private sector. These include giving out groceries, clothing, and other necessities that would, most probably, not be available to the afflicted. Our community was hardly affected by the floods. We did have flooding during the rains and afterwards but it was very much minor compared to what other communities have suffered. Nevertheless, ours was one of those that the government attended to.

A few days ago, we received goods from either a senator or a city councilor. (The people here can’t seem to agree which.) The package was of rice, noodles, and canned sardines. But this didn’t make the people happy or as thankful as one who received some aid should have been. However, I can’t blame them. Neither can I blame myself. I might sound like I’m simply complaining. We may be called ungrateful but the goods we received might as well be taken as an insult to our situation. We may not be rich here but we intend to live decent lives and eat decent food.

I can say all those things because the rice we received was almost too close to inedible. It’s possible that the rice came from one of those NFA warehouses where they store rice imported at a very unreasonable price reeking of corruption and injustice to the masses. And, was it from two years ago already? It’s no good cooking and eating it pure. Even a 1:2 blend with commercial rice wouldn’t suffice to conceal its taste and smell.

Or, maybe, the person can’t care less about how the people will react to the goods received so long as he/she can have the claim to have given out relief goods to “aid the victims of the disasters”.

Today, we received more “tickets” to one of those operations. This time, it’s from the district representative. But it doesn’t look so good either. The sort of “informant” came around here this morning giving out the tickets. He also told us that “the goods are ready but we can’t start because the congressman is not yet yet here”. You know where he is? As we heard from the local radio news, he is at some subdivision enjoying the fiesta.

So, as of this writing, it’s already past lunch. People have begun flocking to the gym to line up for the goods. I expect they’d be the same goods, though, the amount may vary. We may receive the same kinds of things as that last time that the he gave out goods, plus the cloth bag with his name, title, and face printed on it. But that would be a good thing because the guy knows how to give decent food.

Update (February 12, 2011, 9:30pm): We did get the same things as from before: about twice the rice that the senator or councilor gave, twice the noodles, and half the canned sardines. And, yes, in a bag with the name, title, and face of the congressman in it. And it was decent.

But it’s not all good. The gym was too crowded and hot. Outside, it was even hotter. But that didn’t stop the people from staying and waiting for the representative. People started coming back at around 4 pm. It was a long wait in the heat. As an aftermath, someone was rushed to the hospital after an attack stroke.

Update (February 14, 2011): I still can’t get a final word as to whether it was the senator or the city councilor who sent us the goods first mentioned.

Update (February 17, 2011, 5:30pm): It can’t exactly be called a final word but someone informed me that it was actually both of them – the senator and the city councilor, that is.

The Psychology of Suicide

The death of Angelo Reyes has been a shock and a tragedy to a lot of people for different reasons. To some, he has been a great person whose name was tarnished by the allegations of corruption against him. To others, he was such a loss simply because of the information that he could have possibly held which could have possibly been very helpful to uncovering the real story behind the funds spending of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. While to a few, they’ve lost a significant part of their lives: the man of the house.

While it is evident that it was a suicide, there are still various ways that it could have been a murder. But as it stands, it can definitely be such a wonder that a former army general and, also, a former Secretary of Defense would succumb to the call that is suicide.

According to Wikipedia,

[suicide] is often committed out of despair, or attributed to some underlying mental disorder which includes depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug abuse. Financial difficulties, troubles with interpersonal relationships and other undesirable situations [also] play a significant role.

Before this event, the news programs were always buzzing with the events in the senate and the investigating committees who are looking at the funds spending of the AFP with Heidi Mendoza, a former auditor of the COA, being the major player, or, as they call it, the “whistleblower”. This “revelation” opened pathways and checkpoints for the investigators to look at. Inevitably, this included the former general Angelo Reyes.

As is evident, it can be concluded that what he did was triggered by “despair… which includes depression”. The recent allegations of corruption and misuse of government funds could have definitely pushed him to committing suicide.

However, the depression could’ve also been an aftermath of more potent factors. One, it could’ve been that he was not guilty of any of those allegations and hearing them being said of him was just too much. His nerves betrayed him that day by his parents’ grave when he shoot himself to death. Or, two, he was, unfortunately, guilty of having misused the people’s funds, seen the evidence against him, and concluded that there was no way out. To avoid persecution and disgrace, he thought that he was better off dead.

Tragic as it may be, it is not always that suicide simply means an intent to kill oneself. Sometimes, these people who commit suicide intend to send a message of a cry for help, an expression of hopelessness, or a wish to escape. And in the end, like in most, if not all, cases of suicide, the truth is buried with the dead.