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Shai Hulud October 1, 2016

Posted by Janjan in Armchair Politics, Geekery & Nerdoms.
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N.B.  Herein lie spoilers.

I was reading Frank Herbert’s “God Emperor of Dune” around December of 2015.  My father was in the hospital at this time, and in a few weeks, would leave this earthly realm.  Perhaps because of the specter of Papa’s passing hanging heavily over our lives, I found myself engrossed with the book, as an escape from the sadness and worry.

The book is the third installment of Herbert’s Dune series.  It chronicles the last years of the reign of God Emperor Leto II Atreides, who, in the previous book, merged with the animal deity of Arrakis, the terrible sandworm and had become some bizarre amalgam of man and sandworm.  He had literally become man and god, entombed in one flesh, monstrous in size and horrific in countenance.

As God Emperor, Leto II established absolute dominion and tyranny over the galaxy.  Tyranny in the sense that everything from the ecology of worlds, to the establishment of religions, to the control of the Bene Gesserit breeding program was completely within Leto II’s exacting control and scrutiny.  Rebellions were quickly quashed by his fanatically loyal Fish Speaker army, and not even the wiles of the Bene Gesserit nor the intelligence of the Bene Tleilaxu could measure up to the wisdom Leto II possessed through the countless lifetimes of cellular memories stored in his powerful prescient mind.

I read this book months before the Philippines’ elections and now under the Duterte administration, I can’t help but compare some parallelisms between what Leto II established and what I think President Duterte is trying to achieve.

The word “totalitarian” has an ugly ring to it, and rightly so.  Despite the many attempts to establish autocratic governments, history has proven time and time again that dictators, even with the best of intentions, eventually fall to power’s temptation.  The corruption inherent in sinners and saints eats us within, and as the adage goes, “Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.”  This is not to say that there have been no exceptions, however.  Lee Kuan Yew’s success with Singapore is oft cited as basis for the legitimacy of totalitarian leadership.

This was likewise the point cited in God Emperor of Dune.  Tyrannical as it was, Leto II’s reign established three millenia of absolute peace, order, and abundance in the lives of the humans under his rule, to the point of obsessive-compulsive attention to detail.  For 3,509 years, humans knew no famine, no war, no ignorance, no pain.  Opposition and subversion were quickly suppressed and everyone was made to toe the line upon the pain of torture and death.

This was not to say that Leto II was a cruel creature driven by egotistical concerns, far from it. Upon reading the narrative, as well as the thoughts running in the God Emperor’s head, the reader understands the love and compassion Leto II held for humanity, and that this was all part of a very long and well thought-out plan for humanity’s ultimate survival as a race, as foreseen by Leto II with his prescience, in a vision called the “Golden Path”.

The absolute control served as a countermanding force that created stored up potential energy via repression and suppression of mankind’s innate need to take control of his own life and destiny.  It created within us an unassailable drive to survive at all costs, the trouble which lay beyond the reign of the God Emperor (and told in subsequent books of the Dune series).

This seems to be the rationalization and battle cry of President Duterte’s supporters: There is a method in his madness.  For all his blustering and bravado, behind the President’s potty mouth lies a mind as razor-sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, capable of lobotomizing the criminal tendencies lurking in the dregs of the Philippine subconscious and carrying us forward to Golden Years of freedom and safety.  At the cost, it seems, of swallowing whatever bitter pill the President prescribed for our cure, without question, without struggle, and without protest.

Fundamentally, the dividing line between his supporters and detractors lay on the amount of trust one reposed on the President.

If indeed the story of the God Emperor is applicable to the Philippines’ plight is one that remains to be seen.  While many elements are there, we ask if President Duterte shares the wisdom, foresight and detailed planning that Leto II poured into his vision of the Golden Path.

Nevertheless, everything goes according to Leto II’s plans in the book, and we finally see the wisdom behind the tyranny and fascism in later installments of the series.  We see that despite the great chaos and violence that humankind inflicted upon itself in the great war between the Bene Gesserit and the Honorable Matres subsequent to Leto II’s rule, humankind went out and survived all the far reaches of space, even with the mysterious Old Man and Woman doing its best to obliterate humanity.

I  can neither conclude nor hope that the Philippines will share the same plight as the novel’s.

But this much I can say though.  Leto II planned his own demise because he knew that for humankind to grow, they had to destroy their God Emperor… destroy their own God.  He planted the seeds for his own destruction under the hands of Siona and his own beloved Duncan Idaho, through revolution and assassination.

One hopes that a better story and a better ending lies in store for the Filipino people.  I pray for President Duterte and the desert storm rising in our way.  May we live to find ourselves treading our country’s Golden Path.



What Makes a Nerd? July 27, 2014

Posted by Janjan in Geekery & Nerdoms.
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I was just hanging out with some friends I rarely ever get to spend the time with, even though I truly enjoy their company.  We made up for the lost time by spending around 4 hours in lively conversation.  All four of us were nerds.

Afterwards, I posted on Facebook about how I enjoyed the company of fellow nerds for the diversity of topics, when a lot of people liked my status, people whom I knew were not nerds.  I guess I was pleasantly surprised that nerds now are socially accepted by society.

There was a time when it was a crime to be a nerd and unfortunately, I was born in that time.  Back in the day, it was a social stigma to be called a nerd.  It implies someone who was a social outcast; someone who did not belong to the cool crowd.  I guess times have changed and people seem to look up to nerds now.

There are many nerd role-models who have paved the way.  People like Steve Jobs, Neil Grasse de Tyson, Stephen Colbert, and George R.R. Martin.  There are also nerds who break the stereotype and are actually quite attractive, such as Danica McKellar (“Winnie” from the Wonder Years, now a mathematician), Asia Carerra (a pornstar who has played piano at Carnegie Hall and studied at Rutgers University), Jude Law (a theater and film actor who plays Dungeons & Dragons), and Natalie Portman (a famous actress who studied pyschology and can speak 6 languages fluently).

So what exactly is a nerd? 

By strict definition, a nerd is someone who enjoys learning for the sake of learning.  A book-worm or a grade grind.  (Caveat though… there are some nerds, such as myself, who were not always strong in academics).  Most nerds are geeks (people who are fanatics of some pop culture phenomenon) but not all geeks are nerds.

Just for kicks, I thought about writing the characteristics that I personally think would qualify one to be a nerd.  If you have most, if not all, of the characteristics below, then congratulations!  You are a nerd.

1.  A nerd is someone who loves learning for the sake of learning.

Nerds prize knowledge, first and foremost.  We were those kids who grew up reading encyclopedias, newspapers and prestigious magazines like Time, Newsweek, Readers Digest or Scientific American not because it was part of our academics but because we were very curious about how the world works.  While we have our respective areas of interest (mine were pop culture, dinosaurs, birds, mythic deities, medieval Japan and medieval Europe, to name a few), generally speaking, nerds love to consume a wide variety of topics.  Notice that I used the word “consume”.  Because that is what is information for us… it’s food.  Nerds are lifelong scholars.  We love to read and learn from the world around us.

2.  A nerd has an impeccable command of the English language.

Of course, I generalize since an overwhelming majority of all the people I know are native English speakers (I’m sure there are nerds who speak other languages more impeccably).  Because, by and large,  we consume a huge number of books on a regular basis, the English language becomes second nature to us.  This is true for us Filipino nerds.  You will find that we prefer speaking English over our own respective Filipino languages.  We don’t even need to study the rules of grammar to be able to write and speak English properly.  We also try to refrain from using slang or street English because we find it unwieldy and vulgar, although ask us to switch to Ebonics, cockney or even l33+, and we could do so with flair.

3.  A nerd has a wide grasp of current political, cultural and scientific trends.

Nerds love to keep up with news and current trends.  We like knowing what’s going on in the world so we could have an opinion on matters.  If the trend interests us enough, we do further research on historical facts which led to this phenomenon.  Pop culture is something that fascinates us universally, not only because it is something that interests us but also because we like observing why this became popular and understanding why people have made this into widely-accepted cultural trend.

4.  A nerd is reclusive.

Most nerds avoid crowds.  Even the most extroverted among us are very picky with the company that we keep.  Even with our own crowd, most nerds rarely make the time to hang out with their own fellow nerds.  With the group of people I mentioned, it has been many months since I last hung out with them, even though we all live in the same city.

5.  A nerd has low tolerance for stupid and/or shallow people.

We cannot stand people who perpetuate stupidity, inanity, or who are, by nature, shallow and flighty.  We cannot stand small talk.  We avoid people whose world view is limited to what they see on soap operas, reality TV shows, neighborhood gossip or Facebook.  It’s like listening to a child babble on about things that they understand with their limited experience in life.  We just want to get back to our books and learning.  Life is too short to spend time on people who don’t know better.

5.  A nerd has a sophisticated sense of humor.

Because we follow so many cultural tropes and have a greater facility for wordplay, a typical nerd has a more sophisticated and witty sense of humor that involves a lot of puns and cultural cross-references.  Oftentimes, people don’t get what the joke is, but our fellow nerds do.

6.  A nerd is open minded and usually tolerant.

You seldom see a nerd who is set in his ways, unless that nerd feels passionately about a given issue and forms his or her life’s philosophy around it.  But even then, most opinionated nerds have already heard and studied the arguments from all sides of an issue to make an informed choice on their stand in the matter.  By and large, however, because our curiosity makes us see things from different points of view, most nerds are very open-minded, accepting and tolerant of other people’s opinions, quirks and foibles.  It’s also probably because the rest of the world sees us as eccentric that we are more understanding of other people’s oddities.

7.  A nerd will argue to the death.

While we are very open-minded, most nerds are, however, passionate about the knowledge they have acquired and will debate vigorously when their theories and hypothesis are challenged.  Most of the time, nerds argue without taking the debate personal since we firmly believe in the concept of truth and that what is held true has to be tested against prevailing evidence to the contrary to arrive to an even deeper understanding of truth.  In fact, any typical internet gathering of nerds will end up inevitably in heated arguments, even among nerds who consider themselves as close friends.

8.  A nerd respects a dedicated person more than an intelligent one.

While we nerds sound snobbish based on the traits we describe above, most of us are, however, not snobs.  Or at least, not in the way you think we are.  People seem to think we only prefer to be around our own kind… to be among nerds and geeks.  While we do enjoy our own company, we do not however want to be with other nerds and geeks exclusively.  Doing so is incestuous and makes us into boorish intellectuals, which we cannot stand.  Perhaps more than stupidity or shallowness, we nerds find obnoxiousness more annoying.  Arrogant people create walls which prevent a nerd from learning from the world in general, and to us, we love learning no matter if it comes from a fellow nerd or a simple man or woman who has seen and done much in life.  Also, because intelligence is a trait we take for granted, we are not easily awed by someone who displays intelligence with nothing else to back it up.  Regardless of your IQ, you will impress us, however, if you show dedication in what you do.  We nerds have a huge respect for people who show both passion and discipline in the performance of their work because we learn a lot from observing and following you.


I think these key traits are what defines me and my fellow nerds.  If you relate to these, then I welcome you, fellow member of my tribe.  When and where can we meet up and have coffee?

Spider-man Too May 15, 2014

Posted by Janjan in Geekery & Nerdoms.
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I finally got to see the movie Spider-man 2 last night and got my heart broken all over again, like it did when I read about the death of Gwen Stacy back when I was a teenager. I liked the movie. It was good enough but there were parts that dragged. Andrew Garfield and Emma Thompson are really good actors, and listening to them banter was like watching a Woody Allen movie where everyone had really smart lines to say. It makes me wonder sometimes. Nobody talks like that in real life, do they?

In a way, the Andrew Garfield version of Peter Parker is a social commentary of how far nerds and geeks have come. Acting non-withstanding, I think the Toby Maguire version of Peter Parker was more true to the comics in the sense that Peter Parker was a social outcast. The jocks bullied him and the popular girls mocked him. The comic book Peter was as pariah as it gets.

toby vs andrew

The Andrew Garfield version of Peter, however… he’s the hipster nerd of the Millenial generation. He was picked on by bullies in the movie more because he was a miscreant. He was too cool to fit in, and the popular kids secretly wanted to be him, with his rebel-without-a-cause attitude and his neat skateboard tricks. The comic book Peter Parker was true to my experience. He could never be considered cool. He was the nerd’s nerd, complete with pocket protectors and Poindexter scientific mumbo-jumbo.

I guess this is a statement as to how far nerds have risen above the social strata of this generation, far higher than we nerds from Generation X. And honestly, I think the Millenial nerds should be thankful to us, and to all the nerds of generations past, for winning the fight for social acceptance and respect. Along the way, we somehow figured out the formula to make nerdery cool. Somehow, along the way, nerds became part of the hipster movement and at this point, I realize, I was a nerd *sunglasses* before it was cool.

For that, my people profoundly apologizes to the rest of the world. *smile*