2013: as fugitive as all years become

2013: as fugitive as all years become

 Marco Harder

Perhaps at the end of every year, everyone feels the urge to heave a sigh to express, however mutedly, ‘finally having gotten through all of that’, as if being alive to be able to mount such a weak expression was the only thing, the only consolation, one has left at the close of another planetary cycle. Some will come to this disposition’s defense and say that time erodes everything and that each year abrades one of so many things: youth, time, and opportunity. Such rhetoric then extends to citing entropy, and all related concepts ad infinitum, and becomes a chore to even ponder. As with all cycles, however, an end is necessarily a beginning and it is from this station that gleeful optimists make their proclamations: a fresh chance to begin anew, the perfect time for a reboot, the bow string fully stretched and primed to fire.  Such optimism and energy, when left unchecked, can be both infectious and blinding – clearly a mental cocktail bound to deliver only disappointment, if not tragedy.

Equilibrium, then, may be the ideal state but then – as a simple lab scale or see-saw will demonstrate – does this not also mean that such a state is only possible only if it stands on a very delicate and precarious fulcrum point? Paradoxically, a state of equilibrium requires uncertainty and a perpetual tendency to tip to either side: perhaps either disposition above illustrates the human tendency to prefer a terrible certainty to no certainty at all at work?


At this juncture, I don’t find it hard at all to look back and see what the last year has given me. Tersely, it is this: it has been one generous year and without conceding to any superstition, I feel thankful that the things that came my way this year did come (I think the word for this feeling and tendency is apotropaic). More travels with the Eraserheads happened this year (one of which had me on a plane on Christmas day), my Tumblr getting rebooted to contain only my work, and returning to social networking (not complete, but reasonably palpable) would be some of the more publicly noticeable events for me this year. But to my mind, the more important things deserve more than a rudimentary citation.

An old love – photography – filled most of last year’s hours. After practically shooting less than 4 rolls from 2003 to 2011 on a single camera, I went through about 20 or 30 cameras this year alone and ended up with about a dozen at the close of the year. As far as film stock has gone – yes, I made decision to keep my old workflow – I must have consumed at least a hundred rolls this year and have yet to scan 50 sets of negatives for archiving. I’ve also built my chemistry for processing black and white films and am slowly getting convinced to do color processing in my bathroom as well. The decision to keep on using film instead of building a full digital rig was due to a lot of reasons, and I think I’d need to reserve that for a separate piece altogether. My desire to take photographs has never been stronger, and perhaps because of the time and resources I have been able to afford in the last year allowed for that indulgence. The work I’ve done for the past year is something that I would consider directionless, and I hope that the following year would allow me to see where I would really want to take my photography.

My career, however, wasn’t as rosy as I had imagined it about a decade ago when I was still starting out in the profession of corporate training. Professional growth has been at a glacial pace for about three or four years, and with my temperament tending to favor dynamism over stasis, this has been causing a significant amount of stress in my life that fortunately gets countered by all the other things I do. I’ve taken steps to remedy this, including initiating a move to a totally different career altogether. I’ve yet to see how that pans out; as we speak, I still am left wondering whether they deem me psychologically sane [I kid you not: I had to take a battery of tests for a psychological evaluation for this job I’m eyeing] for the post. Should that turn out for the best, I imagine myself being in all sorts of exciting situations in spite of the pay cut I stand to take. The latter, at least I this point, I say is not a problem: money can always be earned, but opportunities for experience only waited for and grabbed when one can.

My return to Twitter was also very fulfilling. Aside from doing its primary job of broadcasting new posts off my repurposed Tumblr account, it also introduced me to very interesting characters. It was through various interactions with them (online and otherwise) that my engagement with topics both current and timeless has deepened. Through the discussions and debates I’ve had with these wonderful people, I believe I’ve kept true to my pact to be as intellectually honest as I can and continue to look for evidence against interest to check my positions on things.


The two-headed Roman god Janus (from whom ‘January’ was derived) was tasked with the responsibility of looking at both past and the future, to oversee both an end and a beginning. The myth of Janus, now that I think about it, provides way to square off the metaphor I toyed with earlier: perhaps the end of each year is the fulcrum upon which the shapeless mass that is our future balances the weight of our past. It just might be the point where we feel our regrets and dreams tilt us with equal force to their respective sides.

For a long time, I would end my year with a blog, not a whimper.

The preponderance of 2012 year-ender blogs on my social network feeds in the past few days had me thinking about the reason why people find writing at the end of the year especially appealing. Admittedly, most of these entries were made mostly by people who have a reasonably regular output, but my dashboard and my band’s Twitter feeds seemed to be busier than usual, a large part which can be directly attributed to blogs covering reviews of the year, both personal and otherwise. Clearly, I am not guiltless of this charge of inundating feeds and I am may even be indicted further either with being opportunism or laziness because I have only put out two entries since my 2011 year-ender review.

Nevertheless, I think this phenomenon is interesting, if only in the same way that crowd and mob behavior is a favorite area of study in psychology. I have various conjectures as to why people suddenly feel the urge to type and publish their entries online this time of the year. One of these is a general sense of thankfulness that has everyone mentally sighing I’ve made it through a year again. The past year ending provides a highly appropriate backdrop for this collective feeling of relief because of another eschatological event aborted, but I think this is the case every year.

The other reason, which in my opinion is a far stronger force than the previous one, is that there is a particular kind of mental acuity that one acquires as the end of anything comes within view. The closure of a project, the end of a lifetime, or in a few minutes, the unfastening of the past year’s calendar to make space for a fresh and new one, all seem to have the capacity to magnify our powers of recollection. I first encountered this concept in Christopher Hitchens’ foreword to Hitch-22, where he talks about how reading about his own [mistakenly researched] death in an exhibit catalog had the ability to focus one’s mind (or his at least). He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer shortly after his memoir’s publication (and died a year and a half thereafter), but reading his writings on his own disease this year [posthumously published as Mortality] afforded readers not only his mordant insights on the experience of someone living and dying with cancer, but also gave us a theater in which we can witness how things can become clearer as the light at the end of the tunnel starts to illuminate everything as it closes in, or as I prefer, as we approach it.

I rarely have this spell of clarity, focus, and concentration [I should endeavor to be able to summon it at will next year, I know] so I shall make the best of this by falling into the same trap that those I’ve sneered at a few paragraphs prior have fallen. I had hoped for a better year on this very day exactly a year ago, and as I’ve told my friends the past few days,  some parts of the year felt really bad as things were happening but  looking back, the year was stuffed with good events overall. So without further ado, here are what I deem to be the best moments and themes of 2012.

Observing change as it happens. This year saw my closest friends welcome new phases in their lives. Aldus saw the arrival of Julia, Zig wed the love of his life, and Mikey took his career in public relations from zero to sixty in record time. All these things happened right before my eyes and now, as opposed to just being a conjecture in drunken conversation, things have really become different. One can’t help but sound selfish when describing how these changes have affected the time we get to spend making music in the studio and general gentlemanly leisures, but a part of me was actually pleased to see my closest confidants grow right before my eyes. Not that they’re immature children in men’s bodies, but rather the good traits I’ve seen in them years before were magnified by fresh demands and new challenges that appeared as the fabric of change gradually draped over their respective lives.

My point on denouements making the engines of cognition and observation run hotter seems to be relevant here as well. With my friends going on with their lives, I now had to ask myself: what am I supposed to do now? My answer to this question is still imperfect, but what I do know now is that I have to get on with my own life, whatever that may look like. At this point, I can now quote Horace without irony: non sum qualis eram, i.e. I am not as I were. I did physical feats that I didn’t think would be possible. I saw my musical tastes change. I moved out of my old apartment. I rediscovered dormant vocations. These examples of change clearly don’t add up to a coherent picture of my life in the future and I have to admit, it kind of worries me. That aside, I take comfort in the fact that I’ve been able to deal with change and that if my new life suddenly appears over the horizon and takes more discernible shape, I know that I have a fighting chance of dealing with it decently at the very least.

Visiting new cities abroad. One of the great disappointments of 2011 was that I never got to travel to some of the places I had hoped to go to. This year, the pendulum swung the other way and I had the opportunity visit the US and Canada as part of a touring crew [more on this later]. I’ve now seen New York and immediately saw why people loved and hated it and met the Pacific Ocean from the shores of California [I now bear the opprobrium of not having touched its waters first on our shores, but that is something I am looking to remedy]. Going to these cities also afforded me the chance to see some of the most important works of art in history, in my opinion. If anything, these trips only reinforced the idea that traveling to a new city every so often allows one to upgrade his or her mental software, and it is never the case that one remains the same person when he returns from a trip someplace (notice again the theme of change in my person).

Coming full circle. The trips to North America will always have a special place in my heart not only because they were my first visits to the New World, but also because it was where my teenage dreams had culminated. The Eraserheads had been an important part of my life – the choice to make music, among other things – and joining them on their North American Reunion Tour was nothing short of exhilarating. As a roadie, I was officially in the line of duty as I was traveling, but this also meant that my lifelong dream of working with the group had come to fruition, albeit not in a strictly musical context. Of course, now that that’s been closed off, the question of what to do next again manifests its nagging sound.

Never leaving things unsaid. At the beginning of this year, I saw a post on Tumblr showing a picture of a book [or perhaps a journal] titled The Book of Things Never Said. Whether the journal really existed or not is not important; what was crucial in seeing that post was that I knew at that very moment that I never want to die and leave a book’s worth of sentiments never mouthed. Considerations of prudence and decency of course will never make this completely possible but 2012 saw me making sure that the majority of this tome remained blank.

Call me old-fashioned, but the ideas of ‘hanging out’, ‘just enjoying what we have now’, and ‘allowing things to run their natural course’ as far as matters of romance go never appealed to me. This year, the resolve to be clear with my intentions with whomever it was I was interested in turned from strong to immovable. I’m glad to say that I genuinely fell in love twice this year and admitted it in all earnestness to the women involved. Both instances turned out to be one-way streets, but for some reason I felt that I walked away with a lot of dignity after having done so. Perhaps this is why the distinction between regret and remorse needs to be made: the former is felt after one has chosen not to do anything and the latter when one has done something.

The presence of great company. I hasten to use the word awesome to describe the people I met this year because of the cheapness it has acquired from reckless overuse from a lot of folks these days. Engaging in enlivened conversations and being in the warm company of these newfound friends have truly given me a sense of awe at the discovery that such wonderful people exist. This year alone, I found fellow heathens, a confidant, a new housemate, and several people I could just call up for a prolonged conversation over coffee about things that mutually matter.

I also permanently deleted my Facebook and Twitter accounts this year, which surprised a lot of people. Some found this measure too drastic and of course, and with this came their curiosity as to why I had done it. I just told them that I found that Facebook and Twitter cheapened personal relationships and that these two have been effectively preventing me from pursuing genuine rapport and the company of my friends. As a result, this meant that I had to physically meet people or call them if I wanted to talk or know what has been going on with them.  Truth be told, the expenses that came with these meetings (drinks, coffee, and dinner can rack up quite a bill) were nothing compared to the pleasure one gets after spending time with a person whose choice of words you can discern, affectations you can perceive, and sentiments you can infer.

Deleting these social networking accounts also allowed me to reassess which people really mattered to me. I really believe that it’s impossible for one to have a thousand friends, and opting out of these platforms gave me the chance to keep my socials to the essentials [a phrase I’ve used liberally this year], which meant that I’ve had to accept the fact that there are some people that don’t matter to me anymore [a sense of apathy that I am confident is well-reciprocated] and have decided to go on with their lives without me in tow. That’s well within their prerogative to do so, of course, but that also means they grant me the liberty to do so in return myself.

2013 will be with us in a few moments and like last year, I look forward to the new events that will unfold. This will also be the year I turn 30, so hopefully the year will be a milestone not only in terms of age but in terms of discovery. I have no clear goals for the coming year so far, except for breaking a personal record in a local powerlifting meet and finally getting some other projects off the ground, but I am quite optimistic that 2012 has prepared me well for the year that’s about to arrive.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Lip service to the butcher that cleaves the tongue: a commentary on several OPM artists’ suggestions to Lady Gaga

Lip service to the butcher that cleaves the tongue

A commentary on several OPM artists’ suggestions to Lady Gaga

Marco Harder

May 2012

It has been said that being a spectator in the face of injustice is just as terrible as the crime, but the task of description becomes too slippery when, one is faced with this scenario: a crime violating ideals rooted on abstract notions of freedom and people walking that thin ambiguous line that separates the perpetrator from the accessory.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has made no secret of its disapproval of Lady Gaga’s concert tonight, under the premise that the singer-songwriter promotes ‘an attitude towards godlessness, which is offensive to many religions’. Other groups such as the Intercessors for the Philippines, the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, Bible Mode Baptist Group, NFS Ministry, Metro Manila for Jesus Movement and Tribes and Nations Outreach have all been reported to commit to assembling in protest of Gaga’s concert in the Philippines, using similar suppositions on which to mount their disagreement. I have a broad back, and I don’t particularly mind; fine, they can take to the streets if they want to.

This incident, however, doesn’t serve to imbue these organizations with even a slight patina of seriousness, and if anything, it has only added to the ever-growing pile of humiliating defeats they have suffered in their persistent attack on secular society and values. Malacanang, when asked about the matter, has succinctly said the most crucial point in this argument: that it is in no position to prevent the concert from happening. Say what you will about the seasonal pandering offered by public officials and electoral candidates to clerics of all colors, but this recent pronouncement is commendable as the Philippine government has made the politically inconvenient but morally sound decision to keep the Jeffersonian wall that separates the church and the state bolstered and well-patrolled.

It was also reassuring to see that the online community was quick to pick up on this. That said, online discussions on the matter have, quite predictably, focused primarily on the ostentatiously risible silliness that local godfolk have engaged in once more. I say this because while I was prepared for (and frankly quite used to, to put it rather politely) the satire and reaction pieces that this spectacle were bound to elicit, I was gobsmacked to find statements from Filipino artists and performers providing unsolicited editorial and compositional advice to their American counterpart and have found no commentary on this facet of the arguments so far.

This was more than enough for me to ask the tangential – but I daresay more important – question that seems to have fallen off everyone’s radar: can these artists be really serious about endorsing censorship through their self-pitying and clergy-pandering recommendations? To me, these were unbelievably fatuous statements to make and are a genuine affront to secular and artistic values, simply because the business of entertainment and the enterprise of art are hinged on the principle of absolute freedom of expression. To hear such suicidal, surrendering commentary from those who stand to greatly profit from this liberty is akin to seeing cattle gleefully walking into an abattoir.

The article cited above features comments from the plump, untalented, unfunny, and indisputably incurious clown Martin Nievera, who to me is barely a musical force powerful enough to ask for an opinion. In any case, he stated in Tagalog that if it were to him, he would change his lyrics if it were truly offensive and recommended that Lady Gaga ‘adjust’ them to ‘our Christianity’, with the possessive article presumably making that very common error of assuming that everyone in the Philippines identified as Christian. While this doesn’t surprise me considering his track record for revising lyrics at will, I have to say that for all the money he’s milked this industry, he fails to see the implications of his statement. Singer Arnel Pineda on the other hand seems to be sitting on the fence, but his statements make him appear to be in favor of making lyrical compromises should a situation face him as a performer and composer.

To listen to these people – who make their living through music – whimper and say these things is nothing short of infuriating. As I have said, the absolute freedom of expression is the only guarantee that can allow culture to flourish. An important corollary also needs to be considered, that it also must be noted that any form of censorship, however slight, is malleable enough to be made an excuse for censorship of anything and therefore everything. I find it very disappointing that while the article also showed that there are still Filipino artists and performers willing to uphold this fundamental principle, some are more than willing to be complicit to the crime of violating our freedom to express ideas, musical or otherwise.

In this sort of polemic, writers often make a hackneyed reference to medieval times, but one does not need to go that far to see that this encroachment on civil liberties had carried on even in recent history. This incident takes me back to my cursory reading of the US Senate hearings in the ‘80s that brought forth that black sticker on records warning parents of explicit, violent, or sexual lyrics in the record. Various musical luminaries such as Frank Zappa and John Denver made testimonies in this hearing, essentially saying one thing, that no censorship of any form should be allowed. The Washington wives’ club led by Tipper Gore [i.e. the Parents Music Resource Center] eventually had their way and the stickers now inundate practically all records but the fact that artists in the US back then knew the implications of such censorship measures affirms the argument that the fight against censorship and for the freedom of expression is a fight worthy of our time and energy. It’s a real shame that there are still these people in this country who claim to be artists and/or profess to uphold its values while making these capitulations to religious nutbags, whose audacity to try and influence public policy have only become more fortified by the willingness of some to be intimidated by the delusional, apocalyptic fanatics that form the ranks of these groups.

Perhaps a fitting close to this piece would be to take the argument further, since Nievera and Pineda seem to have aborted it prematurely in their heads, at the point just where they conclude that they’re willing to yield and allow censorship if a religious group cries foul. In light of their toadying, I’d like to give them the challenge that has prompted me take an absolutist position against anything that treads even with the lightest step on the freedom of expression. I happen to think that as elementary as its formulation may be, it still is the most persuasive counterpoint to any support of censorship: name me someone who is good enough to make these judgments as to what is good and otherwise. I don’t hear any names cropping up now, and I don’t expect to soon.

Notes on a profoundly illiterate article on religion.

Notes on a profoundly illiterate article on religion.

Marco Harder

May 2012

It has become a ritual of sorts for me to actively seek out material that would allow vinegar to foment in my person, but it has become quite a luxury to find something that could prompt me to write a proper, and in a way formal, response to the matter at hand. This morning proved to be one of those fortuitous days, and what you see in the meretricious glare of your screens is the resultant riposte.

Andy Uyboco’s piece titled Middle Ground posted on the Filipino Freethinkers website is, to say the least, doggerel from someone who appears to have not educated himself well enough in the diverse pool of faiths, as well as arguments for non-belief, from all over. Inevitably, this leads to another point of ignorance from his side of the street, which is failing to see the firmament of the atheistic position: that it is not just the rejection of a belief or the existence of deities. Rather, this is a consequence of the idea that there has been no evidence adduced so far that has demonstrated the existence of one, and therefore suspending the hypothesis [i.e. an extant deity] is absurd, irrational, and most importantly, unnecessary. I sure hope this illuminates a lot of things for the author, as I suspect that his incomplete understanding of the position us nonbelievers have taken may have a lot to do with the inchoate drivel I read this morning.

To his point regarding the challenge he put forth to atheists to imagine the possibility of having a higher [and presumably sentient being], I can’t help but wonder: can this person really be serious about what he’s asking, as if it weren’t easy enough to realize that god, being a hypothesis, is in itself an exercise in conjuring what could otherwise be only be inscribed using ontological methods? That said, I can easily imagine all these things he mentioned [i.e. a being that ‘…does not necessarily have to love you, nor listen to your prayers, nor conform to ANY concept of god that we currently have…’] should he wish to impose his persistence on the argument: there could be a being that kick started all of this matter into motion, but has either refused to intervene or has sublimated altogether post hoc, i.e. the deistic position. There could be a being that exists, cares for what we do, and positively enjoys watching us suffer [a sufficient explication of this possibility concerning an evil god and its implications was done by Stephen Law, and does deserve your reading time, if only to provide an alternative, though not necessarily more plausible, argument known as maltheism]. There could also be an afterlife, if he insists; only that in my proposal, there will be no one waiting for us when we get there.

Clearly, I could come up with all of those and more but the question remains whether we should maintain the notion that such statements stand up to the same intellectual rigor that we subject all other claims to. If they don’t, we simply should move on from the question, form the best conclusion given the evidence, and only return to it when developments in the evidence or arguments in favor of it present themselves. I’m not quite convinced that the Pyrrhonic principle which imbues all assertions with equal and equivalent probability [which the author seems to espouse] still holds water in the face of the ever-growing mounting evidence that further bolsters the atheistic argument.

Another laughable claim that he makes is that ‘most atheists speak out on issues that involve rejecting the Christian god and Christianity.’ This is pardonable, if only for the fact that he readily admits that he has only known nonbelievers who have come from that group, but this does not acquit him of the charges of misrepresentation and the lack of mordant insight. Misrepresentation because to imply that the recent rise in the prominence of nonbelievers is largely a phenomenon in Christendom is nothing short of fatuous. Maryam Namazie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali come from Iran and Somalia, respectively – both of which are highly dense with Islamic fervor both in society and government. Want of insight because the author has failed to see that the opposition to religion comes from the fact that most acts of hatred, bigotry, and abuse – slave trade, parochial racism, capital punishment –that we know have all been motivated, endorsed, or tolerated by most faiths, and thus to say that attacks are primarily Christian-centered is absurd. Anyone with a decent internet connection can easily validate and research these facts, a privilege we have which leaves us no elbow room to make sloppy claims like those made in the piece.

Uyboco also mounts a challenge to believers, presumably to evince an air of balance and fairness. He puts forward to theists the dare to question themselves and see whether the deity they believe to exist ‘could ever be accurately described in ancient texts — and open your mind to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you have put your god inside a box too small to contain him, or her, or it.’ The statement you have just read clearly does not lie diametrically against the corresponding challenge given to nonbelievers like myself. The distinction that he fails to make is this: the question for theists presupposes that such a being already exists and the question is merely a matter of expanding the working definition and adumbrating the idea more precisely, while the atheists get handed a question that cannot be falsified and therefore sketchy to begin with. Why can’t the author spine up and ask his fellow believers the fundamental question to begin with:  where is the evidence for your assertion? It’s quite a lot to ask for middle ground when one party can’t even be trusted to be intellectually honest.

Frankly, I must admit that I am at a bit of a loss as to how to end this essay, as much as I am confounded by the odd reference to a Zen saying involving one’s digits and the moon. While its conventional exegesis has its merits, I propose looking at the aphorism from a mildly obtuse angle: is it not true that the observer changes the observed and is incapable of measuring two values simultaneously with any relative accuracy? By going for the moon, ’Middle Ground´ totally misses checking the instrument of its observation which, as shown by its arguments, is far from being perfectly true and tempered.

First off, a proper introduction.

First off, a proper introduction.

February 2012

In the face of a myriad of blogs, living and deceased,  I now am in front of you, dear reader, bearing a portent of yet another serving of online fodder. If circumstances were more fortunate, you would have probably read these words on pulp [a medium I find to be one of those things that can easily, but oddly, be described as ‘cheap’ and ‘expensive to produce’] but given our current limits you now are treated to this meretricious and flickering [albeit imperceptibly] electronic display of lights that translate to sentences in your head.

I am Marco Harder and I decided to start this blog after realizing that at some point, one would have to start thinking independently and that inevitably, conclusions that I eventually come to will have to be tested in the battle of ideas. I would like to think that I am a trained rhetorician, but I find very little opportunity to speak about the subjects that I care deeply about and while my friends possess considerably above-average intellectual mettle, some of them are not as bent towards disputation as I am. Not so much because they actively shun such tendencies but rather because I simply am more or less always in the mood for a good spar between conflicting opinions.

Because of this, it dawned on me that I might as well go about this business in the manner I am used to, which is doing things myself.  I decided to allot some online space and some of my time to get my ideas out there simply because I don’t see enough opportunities available for me to present my views on things. It may be argued that there is a dint of vanity in this effort as regards the motivation to put up such a blog, as one can easily see that creating one is a subterfuge to attract attention and thus afford me shot or two in a more public, more mainstream channel. However, I shall let you be the judge whether that is indeed the case, although I personally wouldn’t mind if I eventually find myself ventriloquizing my thoughts to a bigger audience.

Speaking of position, I feel that I should make it clear that the other main reason for this thankless job of self-publication is is that the idea of exposing my own positions to contrary opinions genuinely thrills me. In Letters to a Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens gave the most mordant and sobering description of the outcome of debates I have ever encountered: in disputes and arguments, he says, either party very rarely gets persuaded away from his original assertion. Rather, the likeliest conclusion of these dialectical affairs is that both combatants walk away from the debate thinking how they could further refine their arguments for their respective positions. Thus, it is under the umbrage of this principle that I mount my other – and personally, more compelling – purpose for this blog, which is to present and argue my case on topics that interest me at a given moment and have it subjected to critical appraisal. Obviously, I now perpetually run the risk of having my assertions and opinions repudiated but I think that the realm of knowledge and ideas should never be exempt from the rigor and stress tests under which we put regular objects to determine their resilience and in some ways, their value.

I do hope that you find this little online engagement to be entertaining. While I have limited time due to the other persuasions to which I devote as much passion as I do to ideas,  I will try to regularly churn out pieces that are at least worth your time, and at hopefully your opinion at best.

Marco Harder