universal (soldier)

December 7, 2016

As an alternative, I wanted to study architecture at university but instead I took computer science at another institution: both interested me and I’m not sure why I chose one over the other. Afterwards, I was invited to teach at my alma matter.  I have since experienced a revolving door between academe and industry and at times having both feet on “contentious” worlds (perhaps, this is why I strongly feel “faith without works” is not enough).

I’ve always admired “good” design. Usability has always fascinated me and acquiring a brain injury has made me more so.  I am not a big disciple of fate but it’s only natural that I find Universal Design appealing. It seems to be a confluence of interests and experiences that is beginning to define my path.  Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn but at least it’s an option for me.

I can understand why heritage or old buildings have their accessible entrances at the back but there is no excuse for “newer” stuff – we shouldn’t be considered as second-class citizens (even when it’s not intentional).  It disturbs me when toilet doors are too heavy or they swing towards (or the space is too cramped for) our mobility devices – even if they don’t have personal experience with this, they should be made aware and conscious of these constraints.  Don’t get me started on physical environs that do not a disability toilet (or lavatories that are accessible) – rails allow us to use the facilities independently.  Some even use it because it’s more “spacious” when they don’t really need to – never mind some people with disabilities find it hard to hold it.  Toilets generally “smell” because people prefer to use it when they have to do a No. 2 instead of the standard allocated cubicle.  Moreover, some non-disabled users have the audacity to be upset when you enter (because they don’t know how to lock it) or are surprised when they encounter you patiently waiting for them to finish. Having a child of my own, I understand when parents accompany their kids when family rooms are not present.  It’s people that feel they are more important than the rest and who shouldn’t be made to wait their turn that gets my goat.

Where I’m originally from (I’m not aware of the law now but I doubt, it’s changed), an elevator was only required if there were at least five floors (I’m told that’s why our school building was only built with four).  I can manage stairs if my hands can “reasonably” hold onto the rails (it just takes me awhile and some effort) – what about most?  Are they excluded from these?

Some ramps have a “steep” incline (assuming one is in a wheelchair being pushed) – what about those who choose to propel themselves or ambulate independently?  It can not be simply for compliance sake but the spirit of is just as important as the letter of the law.  It should be because of compassion not coercion by government or regulatory bodies.

I’m not a fan of people who take disabled parking spots (when they clearly don’t need it) for the sake of convenience or because it’s nearer to the entrance (I’ve even seen one parked perpendicular occupying two slots).  They don’t want to walk “that far” – screw (pardon my language) the patrons that can’t walk.  It’s this type of insensitivity that can lead to resentment.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but one informed by my own negative experiences. Some people are just ignorant or not sufficiently exposed to the “everyday” plight of persons living with disabilities.  Our purpose should not to shame or guilt (tempting as it is given the number of a**holes) but to educate the public.

I am not an activist, by nature, (I like to think of myself as more of an advocate) but I can understand why so many rail against the traditional view of the medical or deficit model of disability.  Where I’m from, many with impairments are not educated and are kept home-bound (to spare stigma to the rest of the family in the guise of providing comfort).  Not surprisingly, I am a supporter of the social model: after all, disability is a construct or consequence of a society.  This is more pronounced as we shift from being a highly industrialised to an information-based economy. While physically we may not be the ideal, there are other ways we can contribute  – accommodations are typical but how things are designed in the first place can maximise our value-adding potential.  Trite as it may sound but the focus should be on ability and not disability.  I wonder how Darwin would have documented this evolution of species.

patience (is a virtue)

November 29, 2016

we are born with two ears and one mouth – having difficulties speaking has led me to listen more (but that deserves another entry of its own).  Common practice dictates that you should hold off for 24 hours on sending an emotionally (or alcoholic) induced e-mail, text or tweet (much like counting down from 10 or taking long, deep breaths can aid in dissipating excess emotion). If you still think it’s appropriate later on then go for it – I guess making it difficult to type has its perks and writing a post over a few days helps me to reflect and reevaluate more.  Despite my Vulcan-like demeanor, I exhibit more human behavior now. If I still really feel strongly about something, I can blog about it.  That said, my words need to be tempered by the saying: “it’s easier to condemn than to convince.”  Sure, sometimes it’s hubris but at times it’s simply therapy, expression or observation.  This is not a “manifesto” to abstain from commentary, it’s just one should be able to distinguish what one’s true purpose is.  Having a combination of these factors is not necessarily a bad thing:  it’s being conscious of what’s subjective versus objectivity that’s important.  Intentions (and motivations) need to be transparent.

A “wise” editor once told me that everything is political and that being apolitical is a political choice.  I’ve since embraced this tenet – after all, our thinking is not only a function of our genes but also of our experiences.  Sometimes it can look like I’m fence-sitting when I just don’t have enough facts or am considering the nuances – the devil is in the details after all.  The question I ask is how, if at all, does this affect me or my family?  Sure, I’ve got opinions about many things but does it really matter in the grand scheme of thing or is the motivation so that I feel better.

I used to think that it was “simply” a matter of quality over quantity.  But to paraphrase the Pulitzer-prize author, Jennifer Egan, one needs to write regularly, even badly at times, to be able to ultimately write well.  In this vein, I pour my writing into one document – not everything makes it to be published under my blog; not everything is meant to be shared with the rest of the world (some are best left as “inner” dialogue – look at the trouble Homer’s gotten into throughout the years).   That said, perfect can be the enemy of good so it can also be helpful to get something out there and not “oversanitise” or self-censor everything.  From experience, some comments can be constructively critical and useful for refining your thoughts and others you need to consider with a grain of salt (public spaces can be a great boon but also a huge bane at the same time – wisdom of the crowd vs. trolls and haters).

reality bites

November 26, 2016

i’m not exactly a die-hard fan of Nigella (it must be because I’m watching episodes of her shows lately on DVR) – guess I’ve never really held an individual or a team over the rest (maybe it’s just my nature or how I was brought up).  But like an artist who releases a seminal record; her “Bites” series I truly applaud.  I’ve seen her other series (“Nigellisima”, “Forever Summer” and parts of “Feasts” and “Express”).  I’m not really obsessed with her but can understand why some are (and why individuals with OCD or with time to spare might not).

I think it’s her love of books, cooking “philosophies” and her dry sense of humour I find alluring.  It’s not only her volumes of cook books but her hand-scribbled notes and her ability and willingness to make a recipe her own that differentiates her. Our mutual fondness for chilies and thyme does not hurt.

Maybe it’s the Asian in me (political correctness aside) that agrees with her that French cooking tends to be about the chef and Italian cooking tends to be about the food.  I tend not to discriminate based on the cuisine: tasty is tasty I, generally, will try it first before I form an opinion.  Bizarre foods (I’m Filipino after all) are not necessarily a deal-breaker but previous pets or experiences (like most) delay or inhibit my gastronomical adventurousness.

My palette is a result of my overdeveloped sense of smell and the ability of my tongue to differentiate (it did not hurt that my father exposed me to a lot of “unusual” things), it’s simply a fact and not really a result of other things like snobbishness. I can be very particular about how something tastes; it’s not be difficult or uppity but simply being a “slave” to that reality.

I can see why my “niece” says that American cooking shows (by and large) seem artificial and contrived to her. There is something authentic about Bites.  Like the shows of Anthony Bourdain (in my mind, it’s a travel show with food in it to better understand the culture – I would probably still watch it even without the food due to the writing ), maybe it’s the “naturalness” that lends itself to being genuine.  The kitchen should not be like a display home (unless one is a neat freak):  in my mind, there’s nothing wrong with it being orderly but it should feel used and not antiseptic.

I consider Heston (and Alton Brown – perhaps it’s the geek in me but as a student I wasn’t fond of Chemistry) a star but pretence is a result of creativity (and not vice-versa) but not only is Nigella a “domestic goddess”, I find her very practical (as evidenced by the “shorter” time most of her recipes take).  In a world of food snobs and food porn propagated by Instagram, I still believe that the proof of the pudding (the pun was unintentional), is in the eating. Sure, presentation is vital (as we also eat with our eyes) but taste is still paramount.

i’m still here

November 22, 2016

it is like a balancing act (walking on a tightrope as it were) between acceptance and “raging against the dying of the light” – I think the latter is too negative and implies merely fighting (which is not always the most appropriate metaphor).  I do not claim to get the mix always right but at least I’m more conscious of it. I try hard and exert enormous effort despite not always succeeding: it is partly a function of my inherent stubbornness and my will to be better.

The reality is people with ataxia mostly do not improve: the point of physical therapy is to stave off or delay degradation. Aside from my daily exercises, I will endeavor to do the home program that my neurophysio gave me more regularly because it is supposed to be highly beneficial for my condition.  My appointment with my neurologist and the report from my physio prompted me to reflect (not to mention the PT students going on holiday).

Not having a “name” for my condition is a double-edged sword: not knowing does not “box” me in a fixed category on one hand; on the other, I struggled at first because I wanted to learn as much as I could so that I could take appropriate actions to delay (or better yet eliminate) it.  Not to be too fatalistic but all people are dying since their birth:  some are just more accelerated than the “average”.

brave, new world

November 13, 2016

it’s quite “easy” to be an armchair quarterback and we can offer analyses until we’re blue in the face. Most people are obsessed with the wedding and not the marriage – sure I can be “calmer” as I don’t live in America but it also has repercussions for the rest of the world.  The reality is that the US election went as it did – I’m now more focused on the First 100 Days of the presidency as a harbinger.  The real question is what now?

America looking more inwards is an opportunity for the rest of the world.  Sure it will be difficult but, in my opinion, it’s not really fair of us to expect them to be the world’s “policeman” (despite in the past assuming and cherishing that role).  Maybe it’s time for us to say thank you and wean ourselves from our dependence.  We should accept whatever help they offer but not expect it – it’s neither their duty nor responsibility.  Instead of looking externally to save us, we should also look to ourselves to alleviate misery:  sure a helping hand would be great and much appreciated but what would it do for our “pride” if we can participate in the “solution”.

Many of us confuse the “idea” of America for the country – in my dealings US citizens aren’t the government and it’s not right to think they’re interchangeable.  They should be viewed as an “exemplar” and not a “savior” despite recent history.  Why do we continue to pin our hopes on a single country and not more appropriately on a consortium of nations?  Sure, we can’t discount leadership but should it only always come from one source? In my mind, we depend too much on someone else to solve all of our “problems.”

You’d think that after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the markets would factor in all eventualities but they crashed nonetheless.  It’s this type of fingers-in-the-ears and hopeful thinking that contributes to the growing disdain for globalisation and interconnectedness.

As David Brooks rightly points out: there’s a rise of “ethnic nationalism” worldwide partly due to “elitist condescension”. We need to stop making others feel stupid to show off our intellect or schooling.  It shouldn’t be about telling people what to think but enabling others to think for themselves.  It’s not always about being “right” and sanctimonious about it.  Case in point, it’s not that political correctness per se is wrong but it’s the shoving down other people’s throat while acting smugly that leaves such a bitter taste in the mouth for some.  We can learn a lot about human psychology.

My supervisor once taught me the phrase: “Local maxima, global minima”.  It’s unrealistic to rely on altruism when self-interest is hard-wired in our DNA.  Sure there will be some where character and principles will override baser instincts but they are few and far in-between.  Why are we even surprised when most people don’t act as we expect?  Admittedly, I’m occasionally guilty of this optimism – I’m just more conscious of it now.  Not to be one of those but I think we need to review how we educate our young: just basic literacy and numeracy are no longer sufficient.

Like Dr. King said: “The arc of history is long”; but one has to wonder: is this merely a hiccup in “experiment” of America or the beginning of the end of the project?

me, myself & I

April 13, 2016

movies like “The Big Short”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “2oolander”’ and television shows like “Billions” and “House of Cards” remind me how much narcissism is prevalent in our society.  Media often reflects back the world we live in. I most of the time (in my view at least) can overshadow community. We still look to “exceptional” individuals as “saviors” when we should also “empower” everyone to contribute to changes ourselves (no matter how miniscule in the grand scheme of things).  We should not solely have to rely on others to improve our lot but also allow for “grassroots” changes.   We should not only embrace a “top-down” approach but additionally combine them with “bottom-up” methods.

Like all technology, social media can be a double-edged sword:  at one end it is a tool for empowerment, at the other spectrum it feeds the “outrage machine”.  We do not need to know all the minutia of your daily lives:  we do not benefit from what you are doing 24×7.  The majority of expressed opinions are often unconsidered – relative ease has trumped reflection, emotions override thoughts.  Immediacy and convenience are at times not desirable nor appropriate. Do not get me wrong:  providing a voice to the voiceless is good but one needs to consider the source/context and weigh the different perspectives. It is sad that some people hide behind anonymity and screen names to hurl abuse:  a case in point is the withdrawal of such luminaries as Stephen Fry from Twitter – context can alter perceptions.  Unfortunately, akin to what Churchill said about the shortcoming of democracy, social media is in the same boat.  Like most prescription medication, the good hopefully outweighs the bad effects.

making lemonade

February 23, 2016

This is not to discuss the merits or detriments of adding two more years to the Philippine educational system but instead a prompt for reform.

My inclination is that at the end of each (of course, this depends on an institution’s constraints) academic quarter the students will be able to demonstrate a particular life skill. This can be developed in conjunction with the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) and identified professionals – who nominate a single skill that would prove invaluable to the individual. Aside from literacy and numeracy, these other skills can help the person navigate life “better”. I think we need to revisit the knowledge necessary to survive and thrive in the world today (and not just consider the industrial revolution).

This may be “tricky” to implement but, in my mind, worthwhile. Unlike the U.S. that can subsidise meals, we need to consider other options for a poor country like the Philippines to encourage student participation in schools instead of keeping them home to help. Sure, it may not be instant or obvious but children can be developed and encouraged to have the capacity AND (not exclusively or) the choice to help their parents.

This can not only lead to a more robust democracy but also assist the individual with their daily life. We need to do whatever we can to incentivise persons to participate in the educational system. School should me much more than acquiring a piece of paper.

School (specifically K to 12) must not only be viewed as a means to get into institutions of higher learning so one can eventually get a job but to arm individuals to face the “real” world. Education should not only be a status symbol but to help close the gap – in my humble opinion, total equality is unrealistic because we are still mammals and subject to hierarchy; the key is like Sutton & Pfeffer (both teach at Stanford) say, we should not only prize intelligence but wisdom too.

I’m advocating a portfolio approach instead of the more popular exams-based assessments. Sure we need to evaluate if students are learning but we can go about it more creatively as highlighted in Graham Brown-Martin’s book: “Learning Reimagined.” It may not be easy but I think it’s worth it to look at successful alternatives to traditional forms of learning and adapt them according to local needs.