Three troll tales

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 28, 2018 – 12:00am

We have all had our own troll experiences and I know that they are almost always unpleasant and disturbing. No one relishes being insulted, called names, and threatened.

Everyone I know has tried to answer trolls by being civil, rational and reasonable. They initially show patience and even try to elevate the discussion. Very rarely has anyone been successful.

Trolls are the most despicable people in cyberspace. Often, they use fake names, fake accounts, post fake pictures of themselves and use the most foul language you have ever heard in your life. They also abuse you with threats of rape and murder of your family.

Basically, they try to push your buttons to make you angry or to silence you into submission. They want you to be afraid and watch your back, and protect yourself from further troll attack by not expressing views against the Duterte administration. They bully you into silence.

I have experienced being the favorite of trolls a few times. I would wake up and find my timeline and inbox teeming with hate comments because I posted my thoughts on issues that put Duterte in a bad light.

I have analyzed troll behavior for sometime. They often come in waves, always with the same message and some even using the exact same words. They are not spontaneously sent or expressed by ordinary people. These are concentrated efforts from troll farms calibrated to intentionally intimidate and to silence. It has been proven again and again that these types of trolls are paid to do this.

But I have also encountered “sincere” haters who take the time to harass people and get satisfaction from doing so.

One such person sent me a threatening letter. Amid the usual expletives, he said he would be happy to see me die. I answered him by asking him to apologize or else I would write to the company he worked for and tell them that he had threatened me. I noticed that he had listed two companies that he worked for on his page. He answered in a cocky manner challenging me to do it. I sent both companies an FB message with a copy of his threatening message to me. I suggested that their companies deserved better people to work for them.

Company no. 1 immediately answered and said they would look into it within the day. The other replied that the person was not connected with their company anymore, but his wife still was and that they would talk to her about it.

Within a few hours, company no.1 answered me to say that they had a meeting with the troll employee and decided to terminate him. I thanked them for the quick response but suggested a way for the troll to keep his job by asking if they would consider a change of mind in the event that he would apologize and promise not to do it again. They answered that they had already decided and it was the best thing to do considering that they were a service company.

From company no. 2, I got a message saying they had talked to the troll’s wife, and she wanted me to know she was very apologetic about what her husband did.

The next morning, I got another threatening letter from a young man who worked overseas. I told him that his message was uncalled for and I told him the same thing: that I would write to his boss and show the letter he sent. I also noticed that the company he worked for had its headquarters in the US. I told him I would send the same letter to the US headquarters to make sure that proper action would be taken to address what he did. US companies take these things very seriously.

He laughed and and said “sure,” as if to challenge me more and show he wasn’t afraid. So I sent the letter to his company’s email address.

I then asked him where his hostility was coming from and why he was threatening me. He said he was angry because I was always criticizing the President.

We then had an exchange about freedom of expression and I said that civility was important if we did not want our country to descend into chaos. I pointed out that we were both coming from a place of genuine concern for our country’s future.

When I sensed that he had simmered down a bit, I asked him if he thought his letter reflected the values that his parents had taught him while he was growing up. I said I was a father with a son his age. By this time, we had been chatting for about 15 min.

I noticed he had a sudden change of tone. He suddenly apologized. He said he had noticed that I had been talking to him all this time without using any expletives despite his lack of civility. He said he had been wrong about the impression he had of me. I acknowledged his feelings and said that politics can sometimes bring out the worst in anyone. We continued talking for about 20 min. I asked him if he wanted me to withdraw the letter I sent. He said it was alright and he would talk to his boss himself. He apologized again profusely. I readily accepted his apology with no fuss. Strangely, I was humbled by it. I said that this exchange was a teachable moment for me as much as it was for him. I learned that if we allow it, our humanity can shine through and destroy walls. I said I was ready to let the issue go. As a final gesture, he asked me if we could be Facebook friends. I gladly obliged and thanked him for his friendship.

Two days, later I received hate mail from an elderly gentleman who was connected with the Padre Pio Foundation. He cursed me and wished me ill will. I answered him and said that I was a believer of Padre Pio and that the Saint had affected me in many good ways. I told him his letter left me wondering why Padre Pio’s influence seemed to have affected him in a negative manner. I suggested to him that I would share his message on Facebook and open a discussion on how Padre Pio had affected people. I said I would be interested in hearing from anyone who may be able to explain how Padre Pio’s miraculous powers had gone awry with him.

After a few minutes, he wrote back and apologized. That was the end of that.

I am not sure if my proposition to have the conversation go public was the factor that made him change his mind. Probably not. I would give the credit to Padre Pio who most likely intervened and converted him.

What are you willing to die for?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 21, 2018 – 12:00am

No one is exempted. We will ALL die.

Everyone should be thinking and talking about death even before it happens. For one, it will make us feel more comfortable about it when it finally happens to someone close to us. And it surely will. Even if we die first, we will have prepared our friends and loved ones better for our death.

We will not know how we will die. No one knows unless you are on your deathbed. There are infinite possible ways to die. That is not so much my concern. We can’t help it anyway. It is not our choice.

I am writing this article to ask a specific question about death. Answering it may give us clearer direction in our lives. It may even make life more meaningful and purposeful.

The question I am asking is this: if you had to, what are you wiling to die for? Are you willing to die for something?

This thought has been on my mind for the past months. I keep wondering why some people choose to voluntarily risk life and limb for causes, for other people, for principles. I think of soldiers, patriots, missionaries, first responders, workers and doctors in refugee camps, teachers and humanitarians in war-torn places, etc.

Why do they do it?

Almost nobody wants to face death even if it is inevitable. But to walk towards death voluntarily for causes bigger than oneself is admirably and defiantly heroic.

Many people say that the first law of life is self-preservation. But Joseph Campbell, one of my favorite writers, says that is only the second law. The first law is that all life is One.

Ironically, life goes on because there is death. Death, though involuntary, is a necessity. Creatures must die for other creatures to live. When Jesus voluntarily chose death and willingly sacrificed his own life, He was doing it for very important reasons. He was willing to die to save mankind. One might say He saw a collective Self that was bigger than his own self! A hero always dies for something greater than himself.

When I ask myself what I am willing to die for, I think of people, things and values that are important for the world and for mankind to continue to evolve. If human life needs to be sacrificed to save these, then so be it. Some of my reasons are very personal. Others may seem too ideal for some of you readers. To me, they are not.

1) If I have to, I am willing to give up my life to save any member of my immediate family. When my children were still babies, I was understandably very protective of them. During those times, I would constantly make sure they were safe and I would imagine what I would do if they were suddenly in great physical danger. What would I be ready to give up? I knew that I would gladly give up a limb without question to save them. I would even give my own life if the need arose.

I still feel that way except that I know they can take care of themselves now that they are already fully grown. But if a situation came up that required me to give up an organ, or even my life to save theirs, I would still do it.

2) In 1986, many of us who were at EDSA were more than willing to face tanks, soldiers and, yes, even death to fight for what we believed in. I remember those moments. Before leaving the house with Lydia to go to rally, we would hug and kiss our kids with the thought that we may never see them again. Politically, push had come to shove. The line had been drawn and crossed. We all heard THE CALL, and we responded. Thoughts of personal safety were set aside. We knew that we were needed in the fight. It was our defining moment. We were willing to die for our country.

Would I be willing to die for this country again? Now that we are moving closer to another dictatorship, I ask this every day.

I am very bothered about a lot of things happening these days since the new regime took over. I was never the type to just stand by the sidelines and just watch as things go to pot. I am a dyed-in-the-wool liberal democrat. I believe in respecting human rights, democracy, justice and truth, and value them enough to fight for them. Maybe my weakness is I often care too much and so I take it upon myself to do something.

Sometimes, I feel like copping out. It is so convenient to say that I am too old for this. I can also say that I have already done my part in the past. The duty to fight for this nation is now in the hands of the millennials. It seems like a sound rationale and a good excuse. Except that it is not true for me.

As a Filipino, I can’t find real excuses or any rationale that says I am excused from fighting the evil that confronts us today. I am a Filipino, an artist and expressing myself is a huge part of what I do. My nature to speak out will always defy any force that stifles or limits my self-expression.

3) I believe that art is worth dying for.

I admire people who live their lives in pursuit of their art especially during times of persecution. Art can save you from losing your authenticity during such times. As Joseph Campbell put it, “Art is the set of wings that will carry you out of entanglement.”

I admire people like Rizal, Picasso, Charlie Chaplin and many Brazilian and Latin American artists who were exiled because they spoke their truth. They were poets, singers, painters, writers. Through their art, they challenged the existing order at a time when their governments were highly intolerant.

I also watched a movie on the plane (I can’t remember the title) about a prominent and well-admired European painter who stood his ground against the Communist takeover of his country decades ago. The Reds were forcing all artists to abandon their own views and embrace socialist art “in the service of the people.” He refused. As a result he was stripped of his prestige, privileges, and even his livelihood. He struggled on until he eventually died sick and starving. His art was his life’s work. It was his vehicle to express his truth and he never wanted to give up. In the end, his lonely stand was validated by history.

I know I have never faced anything as hard as this. The closest thing to this I have experienced was in 1985. We were banned from radio and TV, and were not allowed to use government owned venues for concerts.

Before the ban, there were also attempts to win the APO over to the Marcos side through lucrative sponsorships and endorsements from crony establishments. The dictatorial regime was desperately trying to win the propaganda war around the time before the elections. We were young and famous. We were also building our own homes and securing our future. We thought about the generous offers. They were tempting. We discussed and even argued among ourselves. It would have been a big boost to us financially if we had accepted it.

In the end, we said no. Our music and career and personal lives at that time were closely linked to the struggle against the dictatorship. We were fighting on the side of the Filipino people to regain our freedoms. And we weren’t going to sell out.

We live in brutal times once again. I feel events will eventually lead us to some sort of showdown between forces of tyranny versus the forces of freedom and democracy. I know this time around, people on opposite sides may not be as polite as the players were in EDSA. There may be real danger of violence.

And so I ask you: Are you willing to make great sacrifices and maybe even die for this country?

As or me, I will be honest. I do not know the answer until I am literally faced with the situation. I ask you to open yourself to the question as I continue to find my own answer.

I love World Music

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 14, 2018 – 12:00am

I am a big fan of music. Everyone knows that. Through the years, I have listened, enjoyed, grooved on, examined and analyzed all types of music. I never went to music school but my intense interest taught me a lot about music and how to write songs and understand what makes songs tick. I have also learned to appreciate musical patterns in chords, themes, motifs, styles, etc. I can sit down with schooled musicians and not get lost in the conversation.

During the past years, I have grown a bit tired and weary of Western pop music. By this, I refer to music mostly from the US and England. In the past two decades or so, I feel it’s lost much of its rawness and vitality. There are so few artists now who can speak with authenticity and still manage to shine despite the given dictates and demands of commercialism.

Because of this, I have opened myself to other music from different parts of the world. I am always trying to look for “organic” stuff. By this I mean music that is original and new. In the ’70s. I could find “organic” artists like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Santana, Steely Dan, etc., who made you wonder where they came from and what music they listened to.

They all seemed unique. They were very original. They were like prophets who said important things. Their songs hit us on a gut level. They were mostly writing not to please anyone but to express themselves. They did not cater to an audience. The people bought into them.

There are very few artists these days who can make music like the great ones did. For me, a lot of it had to do with the emergence of music videos. All of a sudden, the world and music business changed. Overnight, gloss was suddenly more important and started to lord it over substance. Bad music could now look “good,” and good music could look “bad.”

Discovering music from Brazil was one of the best things that ever happened to me, musically. Often we discover foreign sounds only when they hit the US charts. That’s how I discovered Jobim and Sergio Mendez. In 1992, I went to Rio de Janeiro to attend the Earth Summit. I discovered more artists and completely fell in love with Brazilian music. I felt I was at the very source of it. Music was everywhere. I saw one guy playing his guitar at Copacabana Beach. In a few minutes, some people had joined in and started playing percussion with cans and bottles while dozens danced and sang with them. I saw so many brilliant artists. Some of them I even met. Many of them I “met” because I bought their records.

It was like discovering a new planet, listening to artists like Joyce (Moreno), Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Chico Buarque, Maria Bethânia, Jorge Ben, Milton Nascimento, etc. Their beats were new, their chords complex. The sounds were varied and the percussion was simply out of this world. Yes, they sang in their native tongue (Portuguese), which made their songs sound more authentic to me. They seemed immune to Western pop conventions. They were reveling in their own music and culture. It was refreshing, wonderful and inspiring.

Since 1981, I have bought 13 more albums by Joyce, and a few more of Caetano Veloso and other Brazilian artists.

For almost two decades, I almost stopped following and keeping track of the US Top 40. I liked just a few new artists but continued to follow my old favorites. I did not buy any Top 40 CDs for years. Instead I began exploring music from other countries and continents. From Africa, I liked Fela Kuti, Olatunji, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. From Mongolia I learned about throat singing and bought an album by the group Huun-Huur-Tu called “60 Horses is My Herd.”

When I would go to record bars abroad like Tower records (before the company closed down), I would ask shoppers in the World Music section what countries they were from and which artists from their own countries they could recommend for me to buy. It was the best way to discover new artists.

I bought more music from Latin artists from Cuba, Mexico, Argentina. I also listened to some old and new Indian music, from Ravi Shankar to Bollywood artists. From Russia, I had an album called “Time Machine” given to me by artist Andre Makarevich whom I met at a conference. It was at the time Gorbachev was still promoting Perestroika and Glasnost. The USSR was on the verge of disintegrating. The title of one of Andre’s songs was I Want to Defect. I also bought an album by a Russian pop group called Karnak. From Estonia, I met the Urb brothers who were former political prisoners, and we exchanged albums. There was so much to discover.

Listening to pop songs in another language really gets me excited. Although one can detect Western influence in a majority of them, their cultural identity remains strongly intact.

During the last five years, I have made songs with strong Latin influences. I also wrote songs that were directly inspired by Caetano Veloso and Joyce. I still want to write a song similar to the Urb Brothers’ Moonsong, which I like a lot.

I feel liberated, being freed from the dominant influence of US and British pop music. I do not care to listen to the newest, nor the latest songs on the radio, like I used to. I have avoided being influenced by music everyone else listens to. I have become a snob, in a good way.

World Music is one of the topics I touch on when I teach at ADMU. I introduce my students to music beyond what they are used to. Their first reaction is mostly shock, which immediately turns into surprise and delight. I see them get really interested. Some of them actually expand their musical tastes and follow some artists I expose them to.

The world is so rich. It is a pity that most of us appreciate music that only comes from the usual sources, through the usual channels. Commercial music, to me, often means something already preselected for us by the big, greedy establishment and pushed down our throats.

I like discovering new sounds and artists from all over the world. Their music can touch us in a way that can be a real life-altering experience. Someday, I hope more Filipino music can be heard and liked by people from other parts of the world. But for that to happen, like the rest of the world, we must speak authentically about our own experiences, sing our own songs and dance to our own tunes.

World Music is a big party. There is no dress code. We must learn to come as we are.


As the world turns: Predictions for 2018

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 7, 2018 – 12:00am

I thought that I would be freed from this task of making my yearly projections for 2018. But, just like every year since five years ago, Nostradamus, the master of predictions, has once again forcibly entered my dream state and whispered to me what to expect for 2018.

I can’t help it. His spirit has overtaken me. I have become a humble vessel of good tidings and bad omens which, in the end, may or may not be nothing. To warn you, the accuracy of my predictions yearly has been dismally low at best. Therefore, please tread cautiously. In an era when alternate facts, and fake news rules, read this at your own peril.

1) Every single person on earth who is still breathing will be one year older by the end of 2018.

2) Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will be outed and exposed as extraterrestrial beings. Scientists will confirm that they are ETs from a planet with a superior civilization. Surprisingly, Rody Duterte will almost make this list. But in the end, he will fall short. But they will all agree that he is someone who is “out of this world.”

3) North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, in a act of defiance, will suddenly and finally quit the United Nations. The headlines will be read, “Un quits UN.”

4) A new Mayan calendar will be unearthed that will predict the end of the old Mayan calendar.

5) Astronomers will discover two small moons very near Uranus. They will be called “Urscrotum.”

6) After race, skin color, sexual preference, social status, educational level, the next big discrimination will be about blood types, zip codes, types of phones and Zodiac signs.

7) WiFi companies will create technology that can be attached to humans so people can be used as data access points. They plan to attach these to celebrities, which will increase their following more than 10,000 times. The simplicity of this invention is truly amazing. When you need to reset the WiFi, simply insult the celebrity access point so he/she “turns off.” After a minute, flatter him/her so he/she “turns on” again.

8) Filipinos will hardly show any shock when China occupies 20 more islands and shoals in 2018. It will hardly be news. Life will go on as usual in the new People’s Republic of the Philippines.

9) Internet trolls will form a union and ask for a raise from their financiers. They will be turned down. As morale sinks, they will stop their strategy of threatening people with rape and murder, and will withhold saying mean insults. In place they will be very mild and say things like, “I hope you have a bad day,” “I will unfollow you,” “Wow… Labo mo.” And when they really want to be mean, they will say things like “I fart in your general direction,” and “Your mother is old.”

10) As people become immune to fake news, someone will register the name “FAKE NEWS” to make outright lies and false stories appear somewhat “official” in the hopes that blatant lies become “respectable” and more credible.

11) Bato will retire early in 2018. He will be placed by Papel or Gunting!

12) Polong Duterte, the vice mayor of Davao, will completely resign from politics. He will have a career change and will become an actor. His first movie will be a remake of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

13) Filipino psychics will make their usual predictions about the usual tragedies, the deaths of unnamed but famous persons, and the marriage of unnamed personalities. All will claim 100 percent accuracy at the end of 2018.

14) Archeologists will be astonished to discover Neanderthals still living on earth in great numbers. By looking at the results of surveys, and reading Facebook accounts, they will realize that there are actually close to 16 million Neanderthals living in the Philippines alone.