Thursday, September 11, 2014

Celebrating Team Gilas Pilipinas' Recent World Cup Stint



Thanks to their dramatic silver medal finish in last year’s FIBA Asia Championship, the Philippines qualified to compete in the FIBA World Championship for the first time in four decades.  I’m happy that they made it.  It really made watching the World Cup more enjoyable this year.     

Next to Team Espanya, the most fun team that I’ve ever seen in the World Cup’s first round was Team Pilipinas.  And the only reasons why I think “Team Espanya” was more fun is because I adore Pau Gasol and they actually win games.  Sure, I have to enjoy Team Pilipinas since it’s my team, but I probably am not really that biased since foreign observers also enjoyed and grew fond of them.  One said that the Philippine squad displayed the most heart in the first round, while another said that they were actually more fun than Team USA.  
      
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Technically, Team Gilas Pilipinas’ efforts in the FIBA World Cup fell short.  On paper, a 1-4 record and first round exit is nothing worth celebrating.  But that is just what real fandom is all about.  Regardless of how superficial or minor that achievement is, you will celebrate it.  And when the object of your fandom is in rock bottom, you will still stick by it.  That’s why whether the Lakers win the championship or have a horrendous season, I still root for them.  That’s why even when Bleach sucks already, I still follow it.  That’s why I can forgive all of The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s many flaws and still honestly enjoy it because I love Spider-Man.  That’s why I lament when Almost Human got cancelled after only a season.     And that’s why I make a big deal out of Gilas’ performance in the FIBA World Cup.  As a hoops fan and a Filipino, I can’t help but be invested with Gilas.  That comes with the territory of being a fan.  You will never be apathetic.   You will always be passionate regarding it.   

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But adding some context on how Team Gilas Pilipinas’ World Cup record of 1-4 was brought about, you might understand why being excited about the team’s performance has some justifications. 

Coming into the tournament, the Philippines was ranked 34th in the world, and Team Pilipinas was probably the shortest and most inexperienced squad in the tournament.  They were the most underdogs among the underdogs.  Understandably, odds-makers did not expect much from the team and easily dismissed them.  Many thought Team Pilipinas was going to be blown out in most of their matches.  

Consider this: per Rappler, bookies favored 16th-ranked Croatia to beat the Philippines by 23 points during the first game.   But what happened in the first game was totally different.  Yes, Croatia won.  But only with a margin of 3 points, and they needed an extra period after regulation to hold off the Filipinos.  And that made heads turn.  These short Filipinos can compete with the rest of the world after all. 

And that first game was no fluke; against 3rd-ranked Argentina and Puerto Rico, Team Pilipinas came out of the losing end of close matches.  But those matches could have gone either way.  In fact, those 23 points?  That actually became the TOTAL amount of points the Gilas trailed in all their losses (that includes Gilas’ only blowout loss against Greece)!

The possibility of Team Pilipinas advancing to the Round-of-16 with a 4-1 record was as likely of an outcome as the actual 1-4 that transpired.  If we look at it that way, it was not bad for a 34th-ranked team which had been 40-year absent in the tournament and was the shortest squad in that tournament.  Not bad at all.      

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The Gilas’ battle cry/slogan, puso – literally translated to “heart” in English – truly defined the team.  They were short underdogs, presumed to easily lose by double-digits.  But despite facing taller, more experienced, more skilled, and more athletic opponents, the Filipinos held their own.  They never backed down.  They never showed any signs of being intimidated. 

It was actually the other way around, as throughout the tournament – even after experiencing successive disappointing losses – it looked to me that they always treated each new match with an air of confidence, insistence, and audacity that they can beat the team they will be facing.  That’s why despite going 0-4, and basically being eliminated from the tournament, Team Gilas Pilipinas was still going all out against their last match against Senegal.  Therefore, they still managed a win out of their FIBA World Cup stint.     

This team might have its flaws (leading to those loses.  Will discuss this later), but lack of effort and guts are not among of them.  They banged and fought against bigger bodies to grab rebounds (their rebound numbers are decent actually despite being undersized), played through injury (particularly the naturalized Andray Blatched), fearlessly shot the ball (especially Jimmy Alapag who became Kobe-like in cold deadliness in the match against Argentina), relentlessly ran back and forth across the court (using speed to their advantage against the bigger opponents), and displayed surprisingly energetic defense (there were many times they displayed amazing transition and zone defenses).  When they yell, “Puso!” they do mean it. 

As I continue to push my 20’s, I’ve gradually came to the realization of appreciating hard work over natural, innate capabilities.  That’s why I really like this aspect of Team Pilipinas.  This is one thing I can say that makes me really proud of them.  They really did their best, gave their all.   They showed the world the tenacity of the Filipino spirit.  They showed the world what puso means.  I can find something inspiring in that.  

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Of course, a 1-4 finish is still a 1-4 finish.  Regardless of the fact that Team Gilas competed better than the world expected – almost winning matches against Croatia, Argentina, and Puerto Rico – they still eventually lost.  Regardless of losing by 20 points or merely a point, either way, losing is still losing.  Nothing can change the fact. 

Despite of all the amazing things Team Pilipinas had shown us, there were still several problems.  I would like to point out some I observed:     
  • Gilas lacked poise in pressure.  What do I mean by that?  They commit a lot of mental lapses and turnover when the going gets tough.  In the matches against Argentina and Puerto Rico, Gilas was even able to create double-digit advantages.  But they were not able to keep those leads due to lack of poise.  Which brings me to…
  • They lacked creative half-court sets.  Oh, Philippine-style “bara-bara” basketball did wonders in the tournament.   Other countries were probably not used to see such style of up-tempo basketball offense, which allowed Gilas to confuse them and obtain sizable leads in the first half of games.  It was awesome while it lasted.  However, once teams began to adjust their defenses to break down most of Gilas’ run-and-gun offense, Gilas had no effective, measured half-court plays to turn to.   This caused turnovers.  This caused bad shots.  This caused Gilas’ lead to be erased.
  • And why is there a lot of deferring to Andray Blatche in the perimeter whenever the play breaks down?  Blatche had a lot of turnovers when playing with the ball in his hands from outside.  Sure, he shoots threes sometimes, and successfully drives to the hoop sometimes.  But I think he had more turnovers than net successes.  Gilas should understand that he’s no go-to perimeter scorer.  Better make plays for him in the post.  (Again, Gilas need better half-court sets.)                
  • They need to shoot better in the three-point territory.  I observed that Gilas had a lot of frustratingly missed treys.  Because of size issues, dominating the inside is out of the question.  Filipinos can compensate by doing much damage in the outside instead.  When Argentina, en route to a gold medal, beat the USA in the 2004 Olympics, they’ve done it by lighting the lights out in the tree-point territory.  I believe future Philippine squads will enjoy greater success in the future if they improve the 30-something % in 3pt FG that they displayed in this tournament to at least a solid 40% or greater. 
  • If possible, I would love to see Gilas possess crisper ball movement.  A la San Antonio Spurs kind of finessed ball movement.   
  • With no disrespect whatsoever, but I think there are a lot of better options out there for Gary David’s spot. 
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Team Pilipinas’ best might have been not good enough at this point, but I’m expecting that Philippine basketball will only get better.  And if they sustain this fantastic puso attitude as they improve in other aspects, then the Philippines becoming part of the world’s basketball elite is not at all a farfetched fantasy.  Seriously, if there’s a combination of smarts, talent, and puso?  Philippines will definitely dominate.        

I really hope that this is indeed the start of the rise of Philippine basketball.  After the tournament, Philippines is now, if I’m right, number 24 in the world.  I hope that there will be no dive from there.  I don’t mind if its rise is not meteoric.  I don’t mind if it’s a gradual kind rise.  As long as it’s a rise.  Actually, considering Team Pilipinas’ puso identity, it is more appropriate anyway if the rise to number one is slow, steady, and gritty.  It’ll make a more satisfying story.      

And as a fan, I’ll be here cheering every hard-fought step of the way. 

#PUSO #LabanPilipinas

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Top 10 Science Fiction Books


I am not really sure what is my most favorite genre in fiction.  But if my book collection is any indication (sans non-fiction and comics), in which a majority are made up of science fiction books, then I probably lean on science fiction more. 

There are tons of brilliant science fiction stories out there, but since there is only room for ten, I definitely missed out a lot of notable and/or classic science fiction books.  In fact, I’ll inform you now: there are no works of distinguished science fiction authors Robert A. Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Arthur C. Clarke, Larry Niven, and Harry Turtledove that made this list.  It’s not that I didn’t like their works.  I did.  I’ve enjoyed them and they were actually considered for this list (especially Harry Turtledove’s).  It’s just that I find the ten books that made the list more enjoyable than them. 

It is also worth mentioning that only those I have actually read are considered for this list, and, certainly, there is a lot of great science fiction out there that I haven’t encountered yet.  For example, though I liked the movie, I haven’t read the “Ender’s Game” book yet.  Also, I understand that “Dune” is an important science fiction series but I haven’t read a single book yet.  Moreover, I haven’t read much present science fiction books, and when I mean “present”, I mean published recently in this 21st century.  Most of my science fiction readings are mostly published in the 20th century. 

Again, there is room for only ten.  And these ten, not only did they deliver very entertaining tales, but also did an excellent job utilizing the scientific technologies, innovations, or concepts that they have established in their respective narratives, stirring my imagination greatly. 

10.) “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

This Hugo award-winning story was originally a short story that has been expanded into a novel (I read both).  It has also been adapted into the movie, Charly, and the Broadway musical, Charlie and Algernon.  

It’s about a mentally-retarded man named Charlie Gordon who underwent an operation that gradually increased his intelligence, which eventually transformed him into a genius.  However, in the end (SPOILERS!), the effect of the operation wore off, returning Charlie to his initial mental capacity.  What makes the narrative of this science fiction awesome is that it’s told in first-person, through Charlie’s journal.  Hence, we were able to really see Charlie’s story unfold from his point of view as we get to really understand, feel, and be immersed in his mental development (and eventual decline) through the way he writes his daily entries. 

Oh, by the way, Algernon was the mouse in which the operation has been tested on before it was done on Charlie. 

9.) “Crosstime Traffic” by Lawrence Watt-Evans

 
Not to be mistaken with Harry Turtledove’s “Crosstime Traffic” books (which are also good reads by the way), this book of Lawrence Watt-Evans is a collection of his short stories.  Half of these are alternate reality/parallel universe-themed, while half are other science fiction and fantasy short stories that are merely there to pad the volume.  This collection of short stories made this list because of three very memorable short stories that deal with alternate realities or parallel worlds: “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers”, “An Infinity of Karen”, and “The Drifter.”   

The Hugo-Award winning “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” tells the story of a young man’s experience when he was working the night shift of a hamburger joint where travelers from different alternate realities are fond to go to.  It’s a quirky story with a surprising profound message in the end. 

“An Infinity of Karen” is a story of a widower hopping around different worlds to search for a widowed version of his wife.  I easily saw how the ending of this story was going, but it’s still a delightful read nonetheless.

Lastly, “The Drifter” is the greatest alternate reality/parallel universe story I’ve ever encountered in fiction.  Ever.  No exaggeration.  It’s really that fantastic.  The story tells of a man named Danny Royce who volunteered to try a machine that will send him to a parallel world.  At first, he thought that the machine didn’t work, for the parallel world he was sent to was just the same as the one he was from, with that universe’s version of himself having just left when he arrived.  Then later, he observed tiny differences in the details around him.  He would learn that as time passes by, he was continually and gradually travelling sideward across parallel worlds!  The differences he observed of the realities were tiny and trivial at first, but since he’s unable to stop his cross-reality travel, after some time, the differences became significant that until after months and then years, he found the realities he was in are completely unknown to him already.  The twist in the conclusion of the story was so deliciously appropriate.      

8.) “The War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells

 
With “The War of the Worlds”, “The Time Machine”, and “The Invisible Man”, it can be argued that Wells is the greatest science fiction writer of Victorian literature.  Among his works, “The War of the Worlds” is what fascinated me the most. 

The classic novel tells of Martians traveling to Earth in order to invade it.  These aliens, far more superior in intellect and technology, had no trouble in destroying any form of military counter-attack that humans mobilized.  There was no stopping the Martian’s path of destruction and humanity’s total annihilation.  But in a fantastic plot twist, these advanced creatures fell victim to the simplest of earthly creatures: bacteria!  Microorganisms, whose extent of harm to human beings is that of a mere common cold, proved lethal to the Martians who had no natural immunity against them.  It’s one of the most brilliant twists I’ve ever encountered in fiction (I think that this tale is so well-known already that there’s no need for any spoiler warning for that twist). 

Moreover, this related anecdote is so remarkable and legendary that it’s worth mentioning here.  Back in 1938, “The War of the Worlds” had a radio adaptation in the U.S.A. which was so dramatically narrated that it incited thousands of listeners to panic, believing that what they were hearing in the radio was actually real.  Awesome.   

7.) “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson

“I Am Legend” is a unique vampire story, in which the vampires’ origin is scientific in nature and not supernatural.  The hero of the story is Robert Neville, the last living human on Earth, as he lives in an apocalyptic world wherein every human has become a vampire.  During the day, he hunts the vampires.  But when dusk comes, he barricades himself in his home, looking forward for dawn to arrive.  

It’s a very engaging and unique story – a thrilling reinvention of the premise in style of “Robinson Crusoe.”  The story’s ending, especially, was very powerful and exemplary.  In fact, its recent movie adaptation (starring Will Smith) would have rocked if it stuck with its originally planned ending, which was closer to the book’s own.  The people behind the movie decided to revise the ending after it didn’t do well with their test audience (this alternate ending for the movie can be watched in Youtube.  Last time I checked, it’s still there).  Hence, the official ending for the I Am Legend movie was safe but underwhelming and didn’t make sense at all, wasting the solid and enjoyable movie that had been leading to that final part.   
             
6.) “Brain Wave” by Poul Anderson

This book is almost perfect.  Its only flaw is being too short and rushed.  It has a very fascinating and smart premise, and there was still a lot of room for Anderson to expand the story more.

In “Brain Wave”, Earth, in its cosmological travel, escapes from a force field that had been hindering electromagnetic and electrochemical processes.  The result of this is the tremendous increase of the brainpower of all living creatures – both humans and animals – in the world.  Morons gain average intelligence, those with average intelligence become geniuses, and geniuses become uber-geniuses.  Those that can’t handle the massive leap in intelligence went mad.  Some humans even gain mental powers. 

Because of the increased intelligence, mankind was able to answer all the questions and solve all the problems that they had struggled with throughout history.  However, with the world’s problems all taken care of, what is left for mankind to do?  Now, isn’t that an awesome science fiction premise?           
  
5.) “The Dragonriders of Pern” Series by Anne McCaffrey

This series is my most favorite work of Anne McCaffrey, who has written many enjoyable science fiction stories.  There are a lot of books in this series and I haven’t read most of them, but with the few that I’ve got to read, I easily grew fond of its fascinating premise and world. 

At first glance, one would presume that “The Dragonriders of Pern” is fantasy.  The series is, after all, about teleporting dragons and their human riders, who are emphatically and telepathically bounded to them.  These dragons and dragonriders protect the Medieval-esque world of Pern (or, at least, the parts occupied by humans) from “Thread”, mychorrhizoid spores that fall from the Red Star (Pern’s step-sister planet that has an erratic orbit) to Pern, which burrow into the ground upon landfall and devour any organic material they touch. 

In the first two books, every indication points out that Pern was a fantasy world of dragons.  But in a delightful twist in its third book, “The White Dragon” (SPOILER! You will really enjoy this twist if you aren’t aware of it), and was explained further in later books, it was revealed, that in the past, Pern had been colonized by space-travelling humans.  For two generations, the humans flourished in the planet.  Then the Red Star’s orbit finally fell parallel to Pern, which led to the humans’ first encounter with Thread.  The destruction that it brought about was staggering that it even completely broke Pern’s already weak contact with the home planet.  To combat these, the humans of Pern bred creatures that resemble the dragons of mythical legends of ancient Earth, on which humans can mount to meet the Thread in the sky and scorch them before they can reach the ground.   But through the years of alternating “Intervals” (200 years of no Thread since the Red Star is on its opposite orbit) and “Passes” (50 years of Thread, which occurs between two Intervals), their origin, history, and advanced technology were lost among the inhabitants of Pern as the world succumbed into a Medieval-esque setting and society. 

4.) “Lightning” by Dean Koontz

Besides his “Odd Thomas” books, “Lightning” is my most favorite book of Dean Koontz.  It’s not exactly brilliant, but it’s still very entertaining and wonderful.  It’s such a great, unknown book that I won’t reveal much what it’s all about.  I won’t deny you the pleasure of discovering it for yourself.  Really, it’s one of those books that work best when you have no real idea on what will go on.  You only need to know two things about it: a.) for me, it’s one of the best and most underrated stories that features time-travelling, and b.) it’s titled “Lightning” because lightning strikes whenever time-travelling is activated on the area (it’s corny, I know.  But aside from this, the other details of the story are really enjoyable). 

3.) Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton

 
Michael Crichton has the talent for writing smart fiction, and all of his books are stimulating, technical reads.   But though “Jurassic Park” isn’t my most favorite Crichton book, I think it’s the best among his most “science fiction-y” works.  It’s also probably his most popular work, too, since a classic movie was based upon it.  The concept of bringing dinosaurs back to life by means of genetic engineering excited me greatly.  It was also in this book in which I first encounter Chaos Theory (through the character Ian Malcolm), which I find very,very fascinating.           
                                         
2.) “Robot” Series by Isaac Asimov

There are other Asimov tales – particularly the short stories in I, Robot – that make use of the concept of “The Three Laws of Robotics” (1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws), and they may or may not be part of the universe of the “Robot” series of novels, but what I am pertaining to as the “Robot series” are those that involve the delightful duo of Elijah Bailey (one of my most favorite detectives in fiction) and R. Daneel Olivaw (my most favorite android in fiction), namely “The Caves of Steel”, “The Naked Sun”, “The Robots of Dawn”, and “Robots and Empire” (which featured an ancestor of Bailey alongside Daneel).  The stories essentially involve mysteries, but it also has a lot of thoughtful science fiction themes.  The “Robot” novels are all extremely clever, well-written, and engaging.  It’s definitely, for me, Asimov’s greatest work next to…

1.) “Foundation” Series by Isaac Asimov

This epic is arguably Asimov’s magnum opus.  The science of Psychohistory, which is an integral aspect to the series’ premise, is one of the most thought provoking ideas I’ve ever encountered despite of it being fictional.   For Asimov to thought out something like it proves how masterful and brilliant he is as a storyteller.    

The original Foundation Trilogy – “Foundation”, “Foundation and Empire”, and “Second Foundation” – really blew me away (I’m thankful that I was able to get the opportunity to read that in a chronological order, since I was able to enjoy its story properly).  The trilogy tells a narrative that spans hundreds of years.  It begins with the introduction of Psychohistory, a combination of applications of history, sociology, and statistics that makes the prediction of future events of human civilization possible.  For it to work, it relies on two presuppositions: a) “The population whose behavior was modeled should be sufficiently large”; and b) “The population should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses.”  Its creator, Hari Seldon, through Psychohistory, predicted the fall of the Galactic Empire, which would propel the galaxy into 30,000 years of barbaric “Dark Age.”  He then developed a “Seldon Plan” that would cushion the blow of the Galactic Empire’s fall and reduce the period of “Dark Age” into just a millennium.  The “Seldon Plan” involved the establishment of two Foundations which would preserve human knowledge and competencies, and would guarantee a “Golden Age” after the thousand-year Dark Age.  The rest of the trilogy detailed how Seldon’s “Seldon Plan” was carried out by the Foundations through the years.               

Asimov’s exciting follow-up books, “Foundation’s Edge” and “Foundation and Earth”, expanded the already rich mythology and upped the ante.  The two books revealed that the Foundation and Second Foundation weren’t the only factions in the picture.  Then, it was established the detail that Asimov’s “Robot” and “Galactic Empire” novels took place earlier in the same universe where the “Foundation” novels are set.  It also increased the stakes as it introduced a third presupposition for Psychohistory to work: “human beings are the only sentient intelligence in the galaxy.” 

The potential that this third presupposition presented thrilled me much.   Seldon assumed that only Homo sapiens are in the picture, so what would happen if non-Homo sapiens show up?  Seldon didn’t set up contingencies against aliens (as what he had done with significant anomalies caused by an individual; that was one of the purposes of why he established a Second Foundation).  Or didn’t he?  It’s a really exciting matter to ponder on.  But, unfortunately, I won’t ever know how it will turn out since, instead of elaborating about that, Asimov opted on writing two prequels – “Prelude to Foundation” and “Forward the Foundation” – before his death.  The prequels provided interesting back stories, but I would rather have a sequel for “Foundation and Earth.”          

Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Tribute to the Amazing Life of William Wilberforce



This month – August 24th to be exact – marked the 255th birthday of William Wilberforce, one of my most favorite historical figures.   Wilberforce (born 1759 and died on July 29, 1833) was an English politician who was instrumental in bringing about the end of slave trade and, eventually, the abolition of slavery in the British Empire (decades before Abraham Lincoln and other American abolitionists succeeded in doing the same in the States).  His life story, particularly his grueling battle for the abolition of slavery, is one inspiring example of someone boldly and firmly pursuing what is right despite of overwhelming opposition.  I have termed such admirable attribute as “moral badassery” and William Wilberforce is one of history’s greatest moral badass.  

I first learned of Wilberforce in my readings on John Newton – the minister who wrote the powerful, classic hymn, “Amazing Grace” – for Newton was an early influence with Wilberforce’s journey towards Christianity, which is why the latter held the former’s counsels in high regard (moreover, being a former slave trader, Newton was knowledgeable of the evils of the practice so he was a valuable consultant when Wilberforce was fighting for its abolishment).  John Newton was a great man and has an interesting biography, but I discovered that William Wilberforce’s life was a little bit more fascinating.  

Young, hedonistic William Wilberforce decided to venture into politics due to the encouragement of his best friend, William Pitt the Younger (who would become the youngest prime minister in British history), and when he was merely 21 years old, he was elected into the parliament.  Wilberforce has always been witty, sharp, and an eloquent speaker, so he was able to hold his own in parliamentary debate.  However, he was more interested in enjoying a lifestyle of worldly pleasures than in actually making a difference.  This was Wilberforce’s early life as a politician.

Then his whole life dramatically changed during his travels abroad in 1785.  It was during this time that he met Christ.  He started reading the Bible and having devotions regularly.  He got rid of his vices, and lamented the years that he had wasted in living a hedonistic, shallow life.  He considered leaving politics to become a minister.  He sought the counsel of John Newton regarding the matter, but Newton advised him that he can still serve God by being a politician – that there was a purpose why God’s will allowed him to be in the parliament.  William Pitt also urged him to remain in politics.  So with two of his most trusted friends asking him to remain in politics, Wilberforce decided to do so.  Wilberforce found God’s calling for himself: to promote Christianity and moral and social reform in the British Empire through his position in the parliament.     

Which led him to advocate for the abolishment of the slave trade.  Wilberforce, after learning and completely comprehending the inhumane horrors of slave trade, proceeded to passionately fight this evil.  He was convinced that it was through fighting slavery that he can put his Christian faith into practice in public life.  With other abolitionists, he worked to raise awareness and interest in Britain about the realities of the slave trade and fiercely debated in the parliament for its complete abolishment.
 
Unfortunately, despite of Wilberforce’s efforts, abolishment of the slave trade was an unpopular view.  The British Empire’s economy heavily relied on slave labor in the colonies.  Wilberforce’s opponents argued that abolishment would be economic and political suicide for the British Empire, since if Britain abolishes slavery, other European nations’ economies and power would increase exponentially since they would be still free to sustain their economies with slave labor.  Even those that agree with Wilberforce of the fact of slavery’s immorality had to side against him for they think that abolishment was impractical and bad for the Empire. 

His opponents slandered Wilberforce of being a spy or a traitor.  They accused him of working for Britain’s enemies, that his purpose of calling for abolishment of the slave trade was for inciting a feeling of rebellion among the people and for the destruction of the economy.  Wilberforce had to endure all of these hurtful words.  In fact, Wilberforce really loved his country.  That’s why he wants to end slavery since he can’t bear his country conducting such heinous thing.      

Year-in and year-out, Wilberforce continued to fight – and lose – in the parliament for the abolishment of slavery.  Of course there were definitely times when Wilberforce was discouraged and was exhausted.  Who wouldn’t be?  But he didn’t surrender.  He didn’t quit.  For him, giving up was not really an option.  He knew what the right thing to do was.  And if doing it is the right thing to do, then there’s actually no choice at all but to do it.  Even if it’s difficult and draining.  Wilberforce understood all of that. 

At last, after years of fighting and employing shrewd politics, Wilberforce and co. enjoyed their first victory with the passing of the Foreign Slave Trade Bill in 1806.  Then in 1807, the Slave Trade Act – which completely banned the slave trade in the British Empire – was finally passed.  After 20 years of fighting – experiencing many crushing defeats all the way – Wilberforce was finally victorious.  Understandably, tears flowed freely on Wilberforce’s face during the parliament passing of the bill. 

But Wilberforce’s battle wasn’t over yet.  As a Christian and a conservative, Wilberforce political views and objectives were grounded in his faith and love for God.  Aside from fighting slavery, he was also involved in pushing for moral revival and social reforms.   Moreover, though the slave trade was abolished in 1807, slavery itself was still practiced.  For many more years, Wilberforce worked with abolitionists to completely eradicate the practicing of slavery in the British Empire, and in 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed.  Three days after knowing the passage of the Act through the parliament was guaranteed, William Wilberforce died.              

To fight for the right thing despite of how hard the consequences to oneself are and how gloomily insurmountable the challenges are – such awe-inspiring display is constantly demonstrated by superheroes like Captain America and Spider-Man.  Much more awesome with William Wilberforce since he’s a real-life person.          

It’s really difficult to do the right thing and completely invest one’s life for its cause.  More so if it’s unrewarding and the results are constant defeats.  As if fighting for it isn’t worth it.  But through the life of William Wilberforce (as well as through the lives of other great Christian figures of history), we learn that whatever we are called to do, no matter how tough it can get for us, we can trust God that he’ll see us through until we accomplish it.  We will never burn out as long as what we do is for God’s glory.  No matter how impossible it might seem at the present, God assures us that our faithfulness will always result to victory in the end.  As what Romans 8:31b famously says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
      
What I have written about William Wilberforce is nothing but a small piece of his rich life.  It would be better if you proceed to personally be acquainted with his life story yourself.  My suggested readings are “Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery” by Eric Metaxas and “Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce” by John Piper.  There’s also this great William Wilberforce biopic titled “Amazing Grace.”  It’s a wonderful film; it has great acting and beautiful production value.  It stars Ioan Gruffudd – who played Mr. Fantastic in the Fantastic Four movies – as William Wilberforce and the charismatic Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock Holmes himself! – as William Pitt.  Most importantly, the movie’s essentially faithful to Wilberforce’s actual biography.  It’s a real must-watch.  

So read the books or watch the movie, or, better, do both.  I recommend that you thoroughly learn more about this great man and hopefully be encouraged by his life and faith.  A man like William Wilberforce is worth celebrating and emulating.  

Friday, August 29, 2014

JCM Opening Program


I was given the opportunity to accompany by piano two recital performances during the official launching of Joy Campus Ministry (JCM) in Bicol University last August 26, first was a cover of Mandy Moore's version of "Only Hope" and the second was a violin duet of "Canon in D Major."  Unfortunately, we weren't able to bring an actual piano to the venue, hence I had to use this defective keyboard which has several faulty and dead keys.  The performance, in respect to my playing, wasn't as good as the practices.  Nonetheless, it was still fun playing with talented musicians for the glory of God. 


Floodgates band also performed.  Here were the first two songs of the set (no videos available of the rest)... 


Monday, August 25, 2014

Top 10 PC Games I Had Played in My Pre-Teens and Teens


In a past list, I already covered the vintage PC games (which run in Windows ’95) that I played during my childhood.  This time around, I’ll be tackling the favorite games of mine during another period of my life – when I was 11 to 16 years old, late elementary to high school.
     
“Top 10 PC Games I Had Played Which I Even Cut Classes For” could be an alternate title for this list.  I was so into them, that I could cut classes so I can play them.  Ah, those were the days.  It was in Grade 5 when I learned to cut classes so I can instead go play PC games in Internet cafes.  And when I was in high school, I was habitually cutting classes to hang out with my high school gang in the Internet Cafes near my school (and when I mean “near”, I mean hundreds of meters away).  Heck, the name of my high school posse was “Cutting Classes Club.”  Boys will always be full of mischief.  LOL.  Thank God, it never really got too serious enough that put our academics in peril (though we got into some minor troubles with our school nonetheless).

Anyway, these are the games that I was so into that I opt to play them during most of my free time, and often even compelled me to skip classes so I can play them.    

DISCLAIMER: Screenshots are not mine.  I just Googled them.     

10.) TEAM FORTRESS

What makes Team Fortress unique from other first-person shooter PC games from Valve Corporation is that there are different playable classes to choose from.  Each class has a different set of unique skills and weaponry, with each class having different strengths and weaknesses; thus, there is a “rock-paper-scissors” philosophy that players had to consider in choosing what classes to play.   There is a need for a team to find the proper mix of classes, to be as diverse and balanced as best as they can be.  This makes the game’s teamwork aspect more cerebral than Counter-Strike.  Nonetheless, despite having a more sophisticated gameplay, Team Fortress wasn’t nearly as popular in my gaming circles as other first-person shooter games like Half-Life or Counter-Strike

9.) NBA LIVE

 
NBA 2K, in the present, has emerged as the premier NBA video game series, but back in my time, the NBA Live series was more popular.  If I remember it correctly, I started with NBA Live 2003, and the last version of the game that I got to play was NBA Live 2007.  I got to play the NBA Live games in both PC and Playstation but I was more comfortable playing it with the former. 

8.) HALF-LIFE

 
Half-Life is considered by many gamers as one of the greatest games of all time due to its mentally stimulating gameplay and brilliant story.  However, my affection for Half-Life wasn’t due to playing through its mission-narrative, where most of the praise is, but in its free-for-all multiplayer option wherein players battle each other, every man for himself, competing who will get the highest kills and least deaths.  I remembered that we really loved the part wherein a red button can be pushed after a period of time, which will start a countdown for an explosion covering the map, and everybody had to race to the bunker since anybody outside the bunker is automatically killed by the blast.   

7.) BATTLE REALMS

 
Despite the bugs, especially the capability to immediately destroy any structure by just selecting it and pressing “Ctrl+D”, Battle Realms was one of my most favorite strategy game to play back then.  Its Asian theme, the colorful variety of units from the four playable factions/clans (Dragon, Serpent, Wolf, and Lotus), the gorgeous graphics, and the multi-linear story of the mission mightily appealed to me.  It was also the first strategy game I played that I had encountered the concept of “hero”-type units, which is a major reason why this game is so memorable to me. 
      
6.) RAGNAROK! ONLINE

This is the first and only MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game) that I got so engrossed with.  I don’t know what is its status now, but when this game first entered the country, prepaid cards are required to play it.  Hence, this is probably the game that has made me spend the most amount of money, for buying the prepaid cards and for paying for the Internet café sessions to play it.  Still, I really had fun with this game.  It was my first experience with MMORPG that I was greatly fascinated with the concept of maintaining a character in a virtual world.  Also another selling point was its animation style: cute, anime-style characters existing in a stunning 3D environment, which I found very appealing and delightful.  Eventually, after some time, I grew tired of the non-linear, repetitive gameplay, plus the expensive cost of playing it, that I quit Ragnarok! completely.         
 
5.) WARCRAFT III

I had never played the Warcraft games prior this; Warcraft III was my first encounter with the Warcraft franchise.  From the first time I got to play this game, I loved it right away (beating my two opponents during that first game helped much in making me immediately love the game).  It’s definitely one of the smartest strategy game ever created.  Heck, it’s probably even more complicated than StarCraft.  I adored greatly the fantasy world and mythology that Warcraft III established (which World of Warcraft is enjoying now), and its story (from the campaigns) blew me away due to its depth, awesome characterizations, and superior narrative. 

Most importantly, Warcraft III also served as the platform for the revolutionary game Defense of the Ancients, popularly known as DOTA, which probably has become more popular than the Warcraft franchise itself. 

4.) COUNTER-STRIKE

 
Counter-Strike was arguably the king of all first-person shooter PC games.  In Counter-Strike, players get to choose whether to play for the “Terrorist” team or “Counter-Terrorist” team.  Each round starts with all players spawning at the same time and having the opportunity to buy weapons and equipment (if they survive the round, these are carried over to the next round).  Each team should accomplish its respective objective (depending on the map) or wipe out all of the opposing team’s members to win a round.

3.) STARCRAFT

 
StarCraft is probably the most successful and most famous real-time strategy game ever created.  Along with Counter-Strike, this game was one of the earliest PC games that became popular.  Its sci-fi concept of three races – Terran, Protoss, and Zerg – competing for dominance in that particular sector of the galaxy was very interesting.  It’s as challenging and stimulating as Warcraft III, but StarCraft is higher in this list since it was my first encounter with the real-time strategy game genre of such scope and versatility.  Prior StarCraft, the only strategy games I was most familiar with were turn-based strategy games and simulation games; Metal Marines was my only real-time strategy game experience, and its gameplay is not even close to the complexity of StarCraft’s gameplay.  Hence, my great fondness for StarCraft.    

2.) STRONGHOLD

 
The economic aspect of real-time strategy games, i.e. the gathering and management of resources, are often merely secondary to its army-building aspect – the former being simply a means to accomplish the latter.  It was in Stronghold that I first encountered a real-time strategy game in which both aspects are equally exciting and important to the gameplay.  Its “mission” feature even had an economic campaign as well as a military campaign. 

Stronghold is set in during the Medieval period in England, in which as a lord, you have to develop a flourishing economy in your land and at the same time build and maintain a strong military.

The game completely charmed me that even when my peers didn’t get into it, I was satisfied of playing it alone.      

1.) COMMAND & CONQUER: RED ALERT 2

 
It’s not the most sophisticated real-time strategy game around, it’s actually quite simple compared to StarCraft and WarCraft III, but it’s my most favorite for I tremendously enjoyed its simultaneously down-to-earth and wacky premise.  It also had Tanya, who was so hot and badass that she became one of my most favorite fictional female characters ever.  Moreover, most importantly, it was probably the PC game in which I was most good at.  So there. 

I have already written years ago an article solely about RA2, so if you want my more thorough insights about it, just go read that.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

'Attack on Titan' is the 'Game of Thrones' of Anime



First of all, for the record, I’m not really a fan of Game of Thrones.  Yet.  I know it’s one of the hottest shows in TV right, but I still don’t follow it.  I’m still postponing my jumping into its fandom, not only because I am already into a lot of TV series right now, but because I intend to read the books (which I haven’t get the chance yet) before really immersing myself into that show.  Also, honestly, its reputation for having so much gratuitous nudity and sex – almost borderline pornography – does turn me off a bit (really).  Nonetheless, I am aware of what makes Game of Throne, well, Game of Thrones: a fantasy of superior-quality, unapologetic violence, a complex plot, shocking game-changing twists that just come out of nowhere, and the penchant for killing well-developed characters that the audience had already grew fond of.  And all those elements are present in Attack on Titan, which I’ve just recently watched (at the present, it has one season with 25 episodes).    

Among all present ongoing anime series, AoT is the most stimulating to watch.  There’s a rich amount of emotion in its narrative, the drama and action are very engrossing, its management of its characters are extremely well done, and it incites a lot of insight.  In AoT, I’ve never found this kind of depth in an anime since Code Geass.  Really.  AoT is just that amazing.   

In the world of Attack on Titan, or Shingeki no Kyojin in Japanese (which means “advancing giants”), the remnants of humanity live in a country protected from Titans by three tiers of gargantuan and extensive walls – Wall Maria (outer wall), Wall Rose (middle wall), and Wall Sinna (the final and innermost wall).  For a century, the first wall, Maria, was able to hold back the Titans, ensuring humans to enjoy peace.  The status quo changed when a colossal 60-meter Titan broke through Maria’s wall, allowing the Titans to invade human land.

Titans are nude, genitalia-less giants of varying heights that have dumb, crazy looks on their faces – sometimes with filthy, nutty smiles – as if they are high, psychotic hobo-baby hybrids.  The description I made in that last sentence seems to make the Titans look weird and silly, but they are actually terrifying.  They are mindless but they have a zombie-like drive to go after humans.  Their sudden appearance in the world brought humanity to the brink of extinction.  However, they actually don’t hunt, kill, and eat humans for the sake of food – it seems they have no need to nourish themselves with food – since they just vomit out the corpses they have devoured; it’s just that murdering and eating humans are their innate impulse.  They are nigh invulnerable, for they have a quick healing factor and any body parts they lose will only regenerate.  The only way to kill them is to cut through their nape severely. 

To fight the Titans, humanity has their military, which is divided into three parts: the corrupt and useless Military Police; the Garrison Squad, who are in charge of guarding the walls; and the elite Recon/Survey Corps, who go beyond the walls to Titan-infested lands, hence, are the most competent soldiers to fight Titans (and in which group the main characters of AoT chose to join in). 

The military’s soldiers are armed with swords (for slashing Titan’s flesh, especially the nape) and 3D Maneuver Gears (or “Vertical Maneuvering Equipment”), which are like the stuff in Sky Commanders (a GI-Joe rip-off back in the days), only cooler.  The equipment enables the soldiers to swing around buildings and trees a la Spider-Man, giving them more mobility and better access in combating the Titans in high heights and slashing their napes. 

Attack on Titan tells the story of the struggles and lives of these soldiers – particularly, the trio of Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackermann, and Arminn Arlert; their batchmates from military boot camp; and the other members of the Survey Corps (wherein Eren and his batchmates decide to join after their graduation) – that have to face the hazards and carry the burden of going against murderous Titans in behalf of humanity’s protection and advancement.  Like Game of Thrones, the story of AoT is heavily character-driven.   It develops its characters very well, put plenty of personality and likability on them to get the audience invested in the characters as much as the story.  Thus, the audiences are really affected and even pained whenever these characters are killed in action.  It has established a feeling that no character is safe.  Everybody is fair game.  Everybody can get killed without moment’s notice. 

Heck, in an early episode, the main character, Eren, even got killed – he was eaten by a Titan.  Of course, a few episodes later, in a well-executed twist (for the record, all plot twists, though not all unexpected, have been well-executed), it was revealed that Eren was not really dead, that he actually has the ability to regenerate and transform into a Titan, and with his power manifesting for the first time, he burst out from the Titan that had eaten him.  The narrative was centrally being moved forward through Eren, but the whole thing was done in a way where you will never expect that he will actually come back.  At that point on, I really thought he was permanently dead, that he was a red herring and not the real main character.  It was awesome.  It was in Eren’s “death” where I actually went “Holy Tilda Swinton (go see Orphan Black to get the reference), this anime is so Game of Thrones-y!” since it was as if done in a Ned Stark manner.             

An interesting facet of AoT is how effectively it conveyed the cruelties and realities of war.  Yes, it has produced badass battle sequences.  But, again, because of the well-done character developments, deaths that rose from these battles have meaning and impact.  Us that are watching can easily empathize on the surviving characters that are scarred from the horrors they have gone through.  It also tackled the realistic principles in war, that death and sacrifice are necessary and should be willingly done for the sake of the greater good.  One memorable quote in the anime was, “Someone who can’t sacrifice anything can never change anything.”          

I appreciate AoT’s fast pacing; it seems a lot has happened already in its 25 episodes.  But, still, I just can’t get enough of it.  I do not know when the next season will be, and it needs to come fast.   AoT, for me, is best experienced in an anime format; therefore, I won’t read the manga as long as I can help it, so that I can enjoy any plot development in the anime without any foreknowledge of it due to reading the manga.  But if its new season doesn’t get here soon enough, then I’ll probably be led to check on the manga to get my needed AoT fix. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

I ❤ 'Orphan Black'



The title says it all.  I love Orphan Black.  It’s a truly awesome TV series.  At this point, my fondness for it is the same I had for True Detective.  The story is extremely absorbing, and Tatiana Maslany is simply brilliant.  It’s something understandably worth being excited and invested about.    

Orphan Black is about a group of clones (all played by Tatiana Maslany) that have become self-aware of their real identities and have banded together, along with some allies and confidants – informally called the “Clone Club” – to seek answers for the mysteries of their biology and origins, deal with the various threats to their existence, and face the struggles of their remarkable lives. 

Orphan Black has always been in my radar, and I was really intrigued by how the show is generating a lot of buzz – especially about how awesome Tatiana Maslany’s acting is in her portrayal of multiple characters – but I did not immediately check it out because of the crowded TV series lineup that I’m already following.  But I finally get the chance/time to marathon on its two seasons when the majority of TV shows I’ve been watching went on their breaks.  At season one’s first episode, my interest was roused.  At episode three, I became a fan.  And at episode four, I fell in love with everyone of Maslany’s characters and with Orphan Black as a whole.            

Indeed, what I’ve presumed about Orphan Black from the implications of the buzz it was generating is right: the primary cause that makes this show a must-watch is Maslany’s amazing job of putting depth, uniqueness, and personality to each respective clone.  What I mean by that is seeing her performance is enough reason already to watch Orphan Black.  One amusing example of such display of wonderful acting is whenever a clone has to impersonate one of the others, for the expected fakeness and clumsiness of such charade, whether in subtle or evident manners, are so authentically portrayed.  You can’t help but be impressed and enamored of Maslany’s versatility.  Truly, her Emmy snub is an injustice. 

Most of the characters (there is terrific acting from the non-Maslany characters as well) in this show are well-developed and likable; everyone has fascinating complexity in his or her motivations and characterizations.  Among the characters, the most enjoyable are, of course, the clones, who each have their distinctive charms.  Moreover, I find it delightful whenever the clones are interacting, working together, bonding, and just being “sisters”; there’s something heartwarming about it.  The awesome “clone party” at the season 2 finale made my eyes a little bit misty.   

As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s first-rate entertainment.  It’s also very thought-provoking since its themes tackle the different aspects, implications, and moral questions of human cloning.  The suspense is intense, the mystery is gripping, the plot is smart and engaging, and there are several instances where the humor effectively made me laugh out loud (especially whenever Allison and Felix are involved).  There are a lot of fun things about this show.         

So Orphan Black is now part of the growing group of ongoing TV series I’m following.  But it will definitely be among my most favorite ones, of which new episodes I would look forward to the most. I have high expectations for this show – introduction of new clones, more great character developments, consistent dosage of creative twists, sustaining the overall excellent quality of the show, etc. – and the momentum that it set in its first two seasons made me optimistic that it’s going to be more fantastic in season 3. 

2015 (schedule for season 3) can’t get here soon enough. 

Miss the Clone Club much...

Sunday, August 03, 2014

RE: ASM #4's Introduction of Silk


Unbeknownst to Peter Parker, the irradiated spider that gave him his Spidey powers was able to bite another one after it had bitten him.  This other recipient of spider powers was some girl named Cindy Moon, who has been locked down by Ezekiel (an important Amazing Spider-Man character back when J. Michael Straczynski was the writer for the book in the 2000’s) in a bunker all these years to prevent Morlun (another important character in Straczynski’s ASM run) from going after them.  Per the “Original Sin” event (wherein the supposed secrets of the Marvel Universe has been revealed in an attempt to introduce new characters and retcon old ones), this fact has finally been made known to Spider-Man.

    
Afterwards, Spider-Man proceeded to bust her out of her bunker. Hence, after getting glimpses of Cindy in the past issues, she has finally made her full appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #4.   


And the first characteristic we learned about the character is she can swear like a sailor.

We, through Spidey’s commentary, also get to evaluate her powers.  She’s faster than Spidey, but apparently less strong.  She also has a more potent spider-sense.

I like how Spidey describes it as “Matrix/bullet-time good,” made the whole initial-display-of-powers process interesting.  

Aside from the spider-speed and spider-sense, she can wield organic webs from her fingertips, which are more versatile than Spidey’s web formula.  At one point, Silk got to catch Spider-Man by making a web with a barbed tip, much to Spidey’s amazement.  She even used it to construct herself an impromptu costume.

Since the “Spider-Woman” and “Spider-Girl” names are both taken, this new Spider-character’s name is “Silk.”  Frankly, “Silk” doesn’t work for me.  It sounds boring, dumb, unremarkable, and lacked impact.  Also, I hope this improvised web costume of hers isn’t a permanent look, which I find unexciting and dull.

As mentioned earlier, Ezekiel hid Cindy Moon to keep Morlun away.  For mere moments after Spidey freed Cindy from her bunker…

So one of the purposes of this character’s creation is to put the epic “Spider-Verse” into motion, and she is, obviously, going to play an important role in it. 

And in the last page of ASM #4, we understand Morlun’s “Spider-Bride” remark a little bit better.    

Whoa.  Silk is going to be Spider-Man’s new love interest?  This development – their spider-senses giving them a special empathy for each other, compelling them to be drawn to one another – is the most intriguing thing about Silk’s addition to the Spider-Man mythos.    

So, overall, my first impression of Silk is… well, I’m not yet sure.  I would have definitely welcomed her warmly if there is no Spider-Woman character already, or that she was meant to become the new Spider-Woman or Spider-Girl character.  The “Spider-Bride” angle and the “Matrix/bullet-time good” powers show some promise for this character.  It is possible for something awesome to happen out of all of this. 

On the other hand, there are aspects I don’t like.  Again, I would have been excited if she was going to be a new Spider-Woman, but she isn’t.  At this point, to me, it feels like that this character’s conception has been gratuitous.  The Marvel Universe (Earth-616) is getting crowded with Spider-types already, and this present Spider-characters population kind of sips a little out of Spider-Man’s uniqueness as a character.  More so with Silk, since she shares the same origin as Spidey’s.  Furthermore, it feels like Spider-Man’s characterization has been cheapened with Silk receiving better spider powers from the same irradiated spider that bit Peter.  

I hope Dan Slott (current writer of ASM) would properly develop this character well and would have a brilliant justification for her inclusion in the Marvel Universe or, at least, in Spider-Man’s world.  I think I will be satisfied with, at least, significant character depth and smart plot purpose for Silk.  These would probably make me love this new character eventually.  But if she was created merely for the sake of having something shocking to reveal for “Original Sin” and as a catalyst to kick off “Spider-Verse,” then I would probably dislike her instead.   For now, it’s still too early to really tell.