Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dethroning the god of Consumerism in Advent.

Listening to the Catholic podcast In Between Sunday (, they talked about Affluenza, which some of you may know, is a critique of consumerism, advocating for simple living. It made me reflect on things I hardly noticed before, and how this consumerist culture can harm us physically, mentally and spiritually, perhaps without us noticing it.

Advent, the Church says, is a time of longing, waiting and preparing for the Lord's return. This is in direct contrast with the ambiance felt at this time, a time when consumerism takes its festive robes and charms us to a point where overconsumption is tolerated, where months before seemed unwise to do so. It seems to me we are all affected by it, I was certainly affected by it. And the effects of this overconsumption can affect us beyond Christmass, and the way we spend our money.

I don't remember the time when I was a day without a meal, when I suffered hunger by mere necessity, or when my basics needs were not covered. I assume that many in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world share my experience. If you are like me, then all we can do is acknowledge the great privilege that we have, and best of all, do our best to not abuse it and share it with others. Every time we overspend in things we don't really need, let us remember those that are struggling to fill their stomachs, or heal their wounds. We live in a culture where cars and cellphones are looked as necessities while they live in one where food and medicine haunts and taunts them as a luxury.

Reflecting over my symptoms of overconsumption, I could clearly see the effects of it in my daily life. One need not to be wealthy in order to binge on materialism, for there is an easy way to do it for every budget. Before living with the Augustinian, when I worked, I certainly wasn't. I was making $8.75 an hour, working 32 hours a week. I can still remember the thrill of the payday. What I usually did on those days was to wake up, pick up my check, and drive to whatever store and buy whatever item(s), and then finish it off with a lunch in a restaurant. It feel good, too good. Indeed, an addiction. And this went on for many years. Why is that? As a Catholic I certainly knew that money and material possessions would not offer me happiness. And what I felt was not happiness, rather an influx of short-lived energy followed by guilt and emptiness. Indeed, an addiction.

On months that I didn't have much money left after paying the bills, I thought and maybe even said (and I heard many express the same when found in similar situation.) "this is a bad month". A bad month? I had my basic needs covered, food on my table, water, heck even cable t.v. and internet, and I said that it was a bad month?! What right did I have to say that it was bad when millions around the world consider me lucky for having my basic needs covered and much more?How could I possibly face God in my prayers to tell Him that I had a bad month just because I couldn't buy me a new unnecessary item, eat unnecessary and unhealthy amount of food, after watching cable t.v that afternoon and checking the internet before going to bed? How could I miss the obvious, that is, that the sole deciding factor on those occasions, when I felt that money was short, on whether I had a bad month or not was the ability to indulge in unnecessary consumption? Indeed, an addiction.

Living now in the community has helped me see this addiction. As Augustinians we have to make vow of poverty. I get not much money every month, enough to cover my needs. At first I thought "this sucks" (that is, receiving little money), but now I'm learning to appreciate the simple life. And may we all learn from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, "Live simply that others may simply live". Let us make this goal for advent. Our little gift to our family, and most importantly, to Jesus. Amen.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Monastic Squad of Mp3 Awesomeness!!!

file:///F:/06-Sha%20La%20La.MP3 (right click to listen the rad awesomeness)

The Monastic Squad of MP3 Awesomeness!!!

I find it intriguing how funny random things appear in life. The stories of these disturbing pictures began with an e-bay transaction gone wrong. Not so long ago, I decided to look on e-bay for a small mouse for my new laptop. Something cheap but useful. I found one from a buyer from China at almost $3.00. These are the kind of things you buy on e-bay, things that don't concern so much the quality of the product but the almost immediate satisfaction of a vane need. Whatever works when you are not concerned with the brand tag but more with the price tag. The mouse arrived two weeks later, and it works wonderfully. And so I decided to buy another for someone else. After all, it's just $3.00 right?

What I wasn't expecting is this : Sunglasses MP3 Player!!! Apparently, whoever sold the mouse to me, got himself or herself so utterly confused that they sent me an mp3 player instead of a mouse. When I first received this rad and cool-wannabe glasses, with its ridiculously cheap-looking plastic, but best of all, with awesome "flip up lens" and "Extended Binaural earphones with stereo sound"(not kidding) I thought: WTH? Why in the world would I want this? I thought it was some sort of practical joke from my parents, since I asked them for an ipod nano for Christmas. Yeah they probably are having a good laugh about it, and saying"oh, so you wanna be cool and hip with an iPod?, why don't you try this rad awesomeness instead?". But the box came from China, and maybe my e-bay seller ran out of mouses and thought the sunglasses would be a pretty cool replacement. As part of the product features it says: "This product employs imported lenses, with trendy shields UV, glare and diffused light, allowing you to enjoy music in the sun without disturbance". Yes, if by trying to look trendy but failing miserably into dorkyness does not disturb you, then the claim is perfectly logical. And so I brought the glasses to the Augustinian community where I live, and we had a good laugh about it. My vocational director told me something like "those look like someone trying to be cool but failing". My pre-novitiate brother, who we will call "Joe"(pictured in the second disturbing picture), tried them. The vocational director then said "Yes, you look dorky" Indeed. I wouldn't be caught dead wearing this, and just entertaining the thought of wearing it to school robs me of every possible self-dignity. And since we were playing poker while we tried them on (and oddly enough, danced with them on) we entertained the idea that the loser would have to lose his self-dignity by wearing it one day to school, but the prospects of losing being so great, we abandoned the idea completely.

Worse of all, it came pre-loaded with songs. 3 actually. Two pop songs in Chinese, and the best, a song called "Sha La la" that is just laughable with its synthesized audio vomit. "Sha-la la la la, Sha la la la in the morning, sha la la la la, sha la la la in the sunrise" (I uploaded the song as a file, right click to listen, preferably while you read this). The song is now stuck to my head. And unfortunately I'm now stuck with this product, as the possibilities of me returning it seems unlikely, for whatever reasons.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ugliest College around: City College of San Francisco.

By the end of my Critical Thinking class, our teacher was making comments on the ugliness of the buildings at CCSF. Everyone in unison agreed as he mentioned each building. First he mentioned the Architect who designed these buildings, oddly enough a famous and good one (I can't remember the name). He then mentioned the Science Hall, which was the most acceptably designed building. It has some interesting designs, but overall is very uninteresting and dull. The mosaics on the walls are beautiful, but they are idiotically blocked with some huge pillars in front of them. Here is a link to the photo of the building at flicker:

Then comes the worst architectural nightmare at CCSF, the Cloud building. A bended rectangular block covered with some depressing windows. The design screams of the 60s or 70s, and when I pass by it, it looks like some abandoned hospital in some forgotten and cold part of Eastern Europe. When the teacher mentioned this building, all of the student expressed their disgust with a simple and weirdly passionate "ugh!", coming out in a rush as if it was a restrained passion, just waiting for the right opportunity to make its expression. Here is the link to the photo:

The other abomination comes in the form of a "cracker box" as my teacher said. The horribly dull Batmale Hall. Truckloads of cement diarrhea dumped in a blocky mold, to later stick on windows that tried to mirror balconies but end up being fake ones, probably for the sake of teasing. This building is so horrible that photographs of it are scarce, probably because everyone tries to avoid the hellish images it conjures up:

There are many other abominations, like the horrible bungalows that tries to mirror the worst classrooms of third world countries to a point that it insults them, to the Spanish-ish designs of the building next to the Health Center, that looks like modern architectural yellowish vomit that was slightly molded to a design. But there is one building under construction. Perhaps a promising one! And it doesn't look that bad. But it is dull, modern, and simply bizarre. The good thing is that is being built as very green and efficient building. But there is worse, the color is Orange. Yes Orange! A good color could have saved this building and give it an acceptable design. But no, that would be too good for CCSF. The link:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Psystar fails at getting a bite out of the Apple.

When I first heard of the case of Psystar vs. Apple, I had mixed feelings about the matter. Psystar, funded by brothers Robert and Rudy Pedraza in South Florida, hacked the OSX operating system and proceeded to sell clone-pc pre-installed with Apple's OS, at half the price of a comparable Macintosh. They paid Apple for every copy of OSX sold. Of course, Apple was not about to sit back and enjoy the show, and counter-attacked with a 35-page lawsuit. And, unfortunately (or fortunately?) Apple won.

The brothers claimed that Apple was creating a monopoly, that they could not tell us how to use a software we bought. That once we buy a product we use it as it pleases us. If we buy a book, for example, we have the freedom to write notes, highlight passages, or even erase whole paragraphs if we liked to, and we could always have the freedom of selling the modified book. Apple claimed that when one "buys" their software one does not own it, but one is given a license, and doing what the brothers did violates such agreement. Of course, this is an oversimplification of the debate, but it is not my purpose, this time, to indulge in the details.

What I'd like to indulge in is in the "what if?" . What if Psystar had won the lawsuit? Let's review the positive of having numerous "hackintoshs". Maybe one of the reasons why Apple has a small market share compared to Microsoft is because they have very expensive hardware. Not all of us geeks (indeed, not myself) can delight in the luxury of overspending in a beautifully designed shell. In the end, what matters is the inside of the hardware, specially the Operating System. Granted, Apple has one of the most (if not the most) user-friendly OS out there. Its almost ("almost" a key word here) invulnerability against viruses is certainly a huge plus, and it even makes sense from a economical point of view to invest in a Mac since you wouldn't have to pay for an Anti-virus. On the other hand, Windows is getting more secure, and there are many free Anti-viruses (including Microsoft's own Security Essential) that can protect your computer without the added cost. So what are you paying when you buy the $1,000 plus price of a Mac? A status? A beautiful design? A membership to the hip and modern club of technology users? While certainly some buyers with enough money can spend their money for such vane reasons, many do so because of its OS. The rest of us without enough cash to join the party are left with only the desire, mildly brewed by the uncertain thought that "someday I'll save enough to buy one". And so, Apple is forced to a niche market. If they allowed themselves to open up, and let third parties companies to provide hardware, maybe they could potentially expand their market and be a more serious and threatening competitor to Microsoft. They could still produce their over-priced and over-prided circuitry beauty that could satisfy their niche market, while letting third parties make the mass-appealed hardware that we can all afford.

On the other hand, it can be argued that the niche market is Apple's market. If Apple let Psystar get away with their revelry, an almost certain flood will overcome the market with different kinds of "hackintoshs", and thus threatening the only market they have. And Apple is doing incredibly well with this market, so why try to fix what is not broken? Yes, the prospect of expanding its market is a tempting one, but not to the extend of harming the only one they have. They should hold to what they have, and continue to do the current profitable bussines instead of venturing out to uncertain territories. Besides it goes against Apple's philosophy of innovation, which is not only present in their software but in their hardware. They had become the leaders in these innovations, and the market seems to follow a trend invented first by Apple. If they let third-parties to produce hardware for their OS, the control they currently have on the innovation of both hardware and software can be damaged, and Apple may not be willing to take the risk. Of course, one can offer counter-arguments to these reasons, but I'll stop for now, and give the chance to the reader to express their opinion on the matter.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Music I've been Listening Lately- Relient K, Hawk Nelson, The White Stripes, U2

I probably love music a little too much. It can be disconcerting to admit that I feel anxious if my mp3 player is not with me. My favorite genre is rock, preferably Christian Rock. And this is what I have been listening lately:

Relient K, Forget and Not Slow Down: Years ago, I heard of Relient K and the mostly excellent reviews the band was getting and I bought their album "MMHMM". Somehow it didn't click for me. I could tell that it was quality music, perhaps too good for me to appreciate at the moment, as it wasn't as conventional as I foolishly liked it to be. Looking back, as my vision in music has wildly matured (at least I like to think that it has) I could see what a fool I was! I absolutely love their new album " Forget and Not Slow Down". I find it hard to express their style, but it feels like the style of rock you'd listen in the 90s'. Very laid back and with a sunny ambiance filling their melodies, all topped with Mathew Thiessen's Piano following and guiding the guitars. Simply beautiful. And it gets better with their thoughtful lyrics.
My favorites:
Forget and Not Slow Down.
I Don't Need a Soul.

Hawk Nelson Live Life Loud: For some reason, liking Hawk Nelson and enjoying their music can be a little embarrassing. Don't get me wrong, the guys are great musician. But I felt their music is directed towards younger audience. It is pop-rock, nothing more and nothing else. But their music was fun, and I enjoyed it. I feel that with this album however, Hawk Nelson has greatly matured. While no one would call the lyrics masterful poetry, it is evolving towards more mature and thoughtful in nature. It can start a little cheesy, with the opening track featuring cheerleaders screaming "Someone throw your hands up, If you wanna take a chance then ya gotta sing a little louder, let's wake this crowd up". Fun, but surely not a track you want to hear when your adult friends are around. My favorite (and I absolutely love this song) is "Meaning in Life". Pop-rock at its best. The simple lyrics are sung with a honesty rarely found in pop music, giving it a extra depth of emotion, all beautifully topped with string arrangements while the final chorus hits in: " hey yeah, gonna find a new beginning, lately I'm tired of the life I'm living, Find a way to make a change in the lives of all of us who need to find meaning of life". For all of us who have been in the same situation, it is easy to relate. This track is quickly followed by "Alive" an up-tempo celebration of salvation.
Never Enough.
Meaning of Life.

The White Stripes, Elephant: I have heard many good things about the White Stripes, specially Jack White as one of the best guitarist around, which is good to see a extremely good guitarist in this era of modern rock. The White Stripes are an influential part of the garage rock revival, which can sound unconventional to some. The Album was recorded using antiquated recording gears. This is very interesting music, and while it can be an acquired taste, I really like it. White's guitar can be very rough, using lots of distortion. As the Rolling Stones said, "Don't pay attention to the notes; White is not a clean soloist. He's a blowtorch". He is also obsessed with Blues, which is very apparent in this Album.
Black Math.
I Just Don't Know What to do with Myself.
I Want to be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart.
You've Got Her in Your Pocket.
The Hardest Button to Button.
Little Acorns.
The Air Near My Fingers.

U2, The Best of 1980-1990: U2 has become one of my favorite bands. "No Line on the Horizon" is probably my favorite album of 2009, so I decided to check their earlier stuff. Not disappointed. I really like their ambient and atmospheric sounds of their 80s offerings, specially songs that originally appeared on "The Unforgettable Fire". I absolutely love Edge's churning and scratching guitar. He is a great guitarist and I think he is under appreciated at times. And Bono's voice is one of the most gifted you'll find in rock music.
Pride (In the Name of Love).
New Year's Day.
Sunday Bloody Sunday.
The Unforgettable Fire.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New changes, Homesick, and God as my motivation.

Back in July, I was excited of how my life was turning out to be. Something was close on the horizon, something that could change my life. I always liked big changes. My adventurous soul was made to explore and experience. The "how it would feel like" or the "this would be a great story to tell when I get older" seemed to push me at times to take big steps, sometimes foolishly and without much thinking. My life on the East Bay was simply lovely. I love the East Bay, specially Contra Costa County. Back in July I was preparing myself to the next big step: moving to the Augustinian Community in San Francisco. I gave the notice months in advance at my job, and my last day of work (marking the new beginning) was looming closer. Looking back now, it is easy to see how foolishly you want these new steps to happen, anticipating anxiously as the foot of destiny decides to take it.

Let it be known, I am happy with my decision. I still want to be a priest and my wishes to be one hasn't diminished, but probably even increased. But I thought the move will be easier for me, at least emotionally. It hasn't. I was even worried about my Dad, who seemed to take my move not easily, as his eyes grew sadder as the date was around the corner. My past experiences told me that I would accommodate to the situation easily, just as I had done in the past, when the big changes made a visit to my home. But then I moved. Yes, I was excited, but my excitement was sweetly calmed by the luring melody of melancholy; its song filling the gray air with haunting silent cries. My soul sighed the heavy air as I gave my father a hug, saying goodbye as he ventured to his way back home, his old home made new by my absence.

I would enjoy the visits, as I do, and every chance I have I visit both of my parents, who conveniently live close to one another. But with the joy of a new visit comes its old friend, melancholy, the sweet and sour melancholy, making me company as I wait the train back home to San Francisco. I miss them and they miss me. Every wait for my train back to San Francisco is nostalgically endured. Night and Melancholy are best taken together, as the new morning always seem to drive melancholy away. And so, my melancholy seems to last as long as the night does, and it diminishes with the new morning that declares to the air "business as usual" and I put my backpack on to study, this time not for me, but for God and His people. Nobody said this would be easy. After the short-lived excitement (aren't they always fleeting?) dries up the new water of hope and perseverance fill my soul. After the many goodbyes these precious waters given by my Lord are my only medicine. Study to God and His people. It is funny how, when I studied for myself, I got not so great grades. I was happy with a B, not disappointed with a C, and absurdly glad with a D. But now things have changed. I don't pay for my own study, the community does. I feel a commitment to them and most importantly, to God. I'm not happy with a B and I fight for the A. The semester is not done but I have good grades, and for that I can only thank my good God. So when people say "do it for yourself" it doesn't hold the value as it once did. I reply, "yes for myself, but most importantly for God, because for Him, only our best efforts". And my hope is that all of us believers (including myself) will live by this simple thought "for Him only our best effort". We would probably fail most of the time to give our best effort, but when we do we find Him not mad and ready to strike at our feebleness, but ready to pick us up with a smile, encouraging to give our best, and best of all, giving the strength to do so. We, ourselves, cannot be the only end to our motives. This is the case for me, when I studied for myself. But when our motivation is God, the desire for the best comes naturally. And I end with St. Augustine: " Almighty God, you have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you". Amen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sometimes I just hate public transportation...

I have been paying attention to my classes. Spent hours reading the Republic V, just to assure myself I was ready for the big test. Paid attention to the fallacies mentioned, and actually enjoyed answering the examples, as if it was a pop-quiz. This morning (Wednesday, October 28 2009) I had two tests, to which I was considerably prepared. The first was on Plato's Republic V, the other on fallacies, one after the other. I had to get to school on time. No problem right?

Of course, the public transportation nightmare is probably well known for those of us stuck in a big city. There's just no easy way out. If you drive, you have to endure chaotic traffic, and if you miraculously arrive on time to your target destination, the seemingly insurmountable task of finding a parking spot presents to you. When you finally endure the urban stress nightmare, you are probably late, worried that you will get a ticket in the only parking space available 3 blocks away. Then there is the bus. Most of them packed at peak hours. If you are lucky to find a seat, you have to make sure there's no piss, vomit or saliva anywhere near your seat. But most often than not you'll end up standing, holding to dear life, the bus driver frantically driving for he or she is already late. Even on an empty bus you are not sure what to find, and so it is advisable to keep your eyes open. Once, late at night, I was seating on an almost empty bus in San Francisco. My shoes felt slippery all the sudden. That's funny I thought, I don't remember raining outside. Of course not. I looked down and there was saliva all over the place, from the floor to the sides. I had never seen that amount of saliva in my life. It was as if someone vomited saliva, if such thing is possible.

Yes, I better get on time to school. Not having a car, the bus is my only option. If you live in San Francisco, that seems to be the best option. The green culture that is prevalent here encourages you to use the bus. And they even have this messages board on the bus stops that let you know when the next bus is coming! Of course, it is not unusual for the bus to come late, but someone dropped the ball big time this morning, for my bus was not a few minutes late, but freaking 30 minutes late!!!

Seriously muni?! (and this is where my rant starts). Gosh it darn it to heck! I don't know if you realize that people have work to do, classes to attend, a freaking life to live, but if you ask us to depend on you to move on with our lives, then you better show us that you give a darn! It is not as if this was the first time, but this the first time that YOU NOT ONLY SHOW UP 30 MINS. LATE, BUT DO SO WHEN I HAVE MY FREAKING HUGELY IMPORTANT TEST!!!! I mean, I only have 3 tests in the whole semester, what are the chances that in the exact date and time of one those important tests you will decide to send time to hell and damn us all in your irresponsibility?! You got to be freaking kidding me! Ohhh, and I absolutely hate those electronic message boards. Not only are you satisfied with screwing us up by waking up late, but you have to taunt us with these freaking electronic jokes! At first, when I arrived to the bus stop, it showed that the next bus was coming in 14 mins. Great! I thought they should come every 8 mins but since this is an important day for me, it is expected to come freaking late!! Not too bad, I will only get a few minutes late, but probably have ample time to complete the test. Sat down, listened to music, few more minutes I looked up to the message board and what do I see? The 14 mins. magically turned into 17 mins. that's what happened!!! Now I'm pissed, but still, a few more minutes won't kill me academically. Few more mins. of waiting, I look up again, and instead of the mins. going down, it went up to 18! GOSH IT DARN IT TO HECK! I'm going to be late. I can get an F in my class if I miss this test. The teacher doesn't give us second chances. If I get a F my gpa will go down, and that F can haunt my academic record for the rest of my academic life. UP TILL NOW I HAVE EARNED WITH GREAT EFFORT AN A IN THE CLASS!!! Thanks muni! Here I was reading my material for freaking hours, fighting for the A I had in the class, for it being ruined because you decided to be late at peak hour, and when most of the students use the bus to arrive at 9 am to college! BUT NO, YOU DECIDED TO ARRIVE AT 9:05 AM AT MY BUS STOP!!! AND IT TAKES 35 MINS TO GET YOUR BUTT TO COLLEGE! what the heck?! And of course, since you were late, there was a truck load of pissed students inside your bus, all of them stuffed, because only one bus passed when 3 should have.

I get to my class at 9:40 am, the test finishes at 10 am. I have to read a fragment of the book, analyze it, present the thesis and its reason, and a lengthy discussion of the topic. By the time I read the fragment it was 9:45 am, and I rushed writing whatever came to my mind in 15 mins. The teacher gracefully accepted to give me 10 more minutes to finish the thing. What I wrote was almost bullcrap, as I was mad as hell, not concentrating well, and rushing my thoughts into words, without having time to check that everything made sense, and worse of all, my next class was right after this one. I also had a test for that one! Of course, I arrived late to my second class, and the students were already returning the test! I missed it! The teacher cannot give any second chances, but he gracefully comforted me saying that I was doing well with the material, and that this wasn't the only test we are going to have on it, that I should more than make it up in the next test.

I know is not fair to put the blame solely on public transportation, but I hear from too many who had similar nightmares. I could always be more prudent, but the only way to never be late using the stupid things is by being 30 mins. earlier in their bus stops, and then you have to wonder if you are not being paranoid and a control freak, but that's how the system forces you to use it, that's how broken systems can make you. So given the options, I hate when people say,"don't blame the bus, blame yourself for not having prudence". Oh yeah?! maybe you are right, but I hardly see anyone being so paranoid and control freak that they have to freaking be 30 mins. earlier whenever they go!!!