Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Healers

Fr. Fernando Suarez of the Companions of the Cross, the priest most sought after in the country today, can draw throngs of thousands at every appearance. It is said that he has the gift of healing. With a touch he can cure cancer, make the dumb speak, make the deaf hear. He can even make the dead rise, as zealously covered in a national daily (though reports of the man's resurrection had been greatly exaggerated -- he died again three hours after.)

I first heard of Fr. Suarez in late last year. He was the guest presider on a televised Mass at SM. The main celebrant introduced the unassuming young priest and praised his special charism. Was there any doubt of the following that he was sure to gather?

Fr. Suarez makes no claims to his own greatness. Neither he nor his congregation seem to have capitalized on his gift, except perhaps to hold their healing crusades which assemble more often and to greater numbers and greater attention.

Of Fr. Suarez's gift I can make no judgment, having neither seen nor heard of spectacular cures from trustworthy and temperate witnesses. But neither do I deny the possibility that, beyond the ken of science, some people may be so favored by the Holy Spirit.

It is of the sea of devotees that assembles with Fr. Suarez that I wonder: Why do they follow? Is it for the hope of instant healing? Is it for the promise of miracles? Is it for that intrinsic inclination to commingle with crowds (and the more the merrier?)

More than the marvels, is there faith? Does this faith go beyond the man and into the province of God whom he claims is the source of his power? Does this faith find expression in hope and in charity and in justice and in repentance? If not, then Fr. Suarez might as well be street corner charlatan.

In other news: the patient-to-doctor ratio in the Philippines currently stands at 30,000:1. More than a thousand hospitals have closed since 2005. From 2000 to 2003, the Philippines lost 51,850 nurses. Over 5,000 registered doctors left from 2001 to 2004. At least 6,000 doctors are studying to be nurses. Senators, congressmen, and doctors squabble over finer points in the Cheaper Medicines Bill. And pharmaceutical manufacturing companies continue to make obscene profits.

But that's okay, right? Fr. Suarez is coming soon to a city near you.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Saturday night at the People's Park

At the Davao People's Park.

Davao Food Trip: Hanoi Restaurant


Thanks to Blogie's efforts, I joined the usual gang for another episode of the Davao Food Trip last Saturday. Our host this time around was Hanoi, Davao's premier Vietnamese restaurant.

For Davao foodies, Hanoi needs no introduction. It's a well-known fine dining destination in the city, popular both for its ambience and cuisine. It has two branches, one in Damosa Gateway and the other in J. Camus St., near Apo View Hotel and Casa Leticia. (As an aside: Blogie failed to mention which branch our food trip would be and so I ended up in Damosa first. Quite a ways to go astray, but it did give me a chance to view both venues. Neither place was bustling full, but they had a good number of group diners.)

First, some words about the ambience. Hanoi's interior decoration is tastefully Oriental, low-key and subdued. The dark wood and deep red wall panels reinforce the air of class. The tables and chairs are simple and functional, not to mention comfortable, but you don't notice the bare simplicity because they all within the general environment. Hanoi can seat large groups of people, easily up to groups of twenty on interconnected tables; and it can just as easily be reconfigured for more intimate settings. The high ceiling minimizes the drift of noise within the restaurant.

And then, of course, there's the food. We had an ample selection for the night, and with it the guarantee of tickled palates and contented stomachs. For appetizers, we had cha nong, fried spring rolls, and pomelo salad dipped in vinegar.

Cha nong is essentially do-it-yourself spring rolls made from rice paper wrapper, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, mint, and roast pork barbecue. Quite tasty for a starter, with just the right tang to prepare you for the main course. And it's fun to put together!

The fried spring rolls looked to be of the variety you would find in any Chinese restaurant. The difference, though, is in the taste. Once you bite through the crunchy wrapper, you'll be surprised by the juicy and flavorful meat filling.

Now, I am not a connoisseur of Vietnamese food (never having been to a restaurant in Vietnam) so I'm not certain if it's the norm; however, from the appetizers alone, I gathered that Hanoi does tend to err towards the side of sweetness in its preparations. Not that I mind, and quite the contrary, it was quite up to my tastes. I might also add that the sweetness in no way overwhelms the savory flavor of the ingredients. To me, it all worked out.




To be continued...

Friday, January 25, 2008

When I consider how my light is spent

My Thinkpad R50e's backlight died on me today. I turned on my laptop and was surprised to see why there wasn't anything on screen. When my eyes had adjusted a bit, I saw the pale ghost of an image and that's when it hit me.

Sigh. And it was working perfectly well just last night.

John Milton's poem comes to mind right now.

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."


Ah, well, the rest of it still works. Maybe I could just buy a monitor for it.

Hmmm, three years. It's been worth it.

Choice in Computing

An old article I wrote for a computer magazine. Not quite sure if it ever saw the light of day before, but I found it in my Sent box.

Choice is a consequence of freedom, and though many will claim that this
is one of the liberties they aspire to, the reality is that it can be a very terrifying thing. Choice implies commitment and responsibility; in the face of this, some people really prefer the comfort of tyranny or of a monopoly.

Please bear with me as I open on this slightly philosophical bent. It's not meant as a statement on these turbulent times (though one could take it as such), but as a reflection of the choices made possible by free and open source software.

Linux is a prime example. Linux itself refers to the kernel, the heart of the operating system. It takes care of scheduling tasks, managing memory, communicating with devices, and handling input and output.

Of itself, the Linux kernel is not immediately usable to end users like you and me. That's why it has to be made part of a distribution, a collection of the Linux kernel, the GNU tools, utilities, and other applications. Most people's experience with Linux takes place through a distribution. Among the more popular ones would be Ubuntu, Mandriva, Red Hat, SuSE, Fedora Core, CentOS, Debian, and Slackware.

One would think that having seven to ten variants of Linux was confusing enough. But that figure really hardly scratches the surface. LWN.net lists 498 distributions of various persuasions, and this list is not even complete. Some distros are for servers, some are for desktops, some are
for routers, and some are for PDAs. Some have been assembled for to meet specific needs, some have been put together just for kicks.

Too many distros? Indeed, that seems to be the case. It's this sheer number that daunts some people from making the switch to Linux; after all, a controlled environment where most choices are made for you seems so much safer. One columnist in a business daily even went so far as to suggest that for Linux to succeed against Windows on the desktop, it should unify
into one single distribution.

While all that sounds good in theory, the follow-up questions are a little hard to answer: which one single distribution will that be? what features should it have? what applications should be included? I would be careful, too, as to how I answer this question because some people can get
very passionate about their favorite distribution.

Really, it's not so much a matter of Linux overthrowing Windows on the desktop or anywhere else. It's more a matter of adapting the tool -- in this case, Linux -- to one's needs. For that reason, it's hard to envision a one tool or a one configuration that fits all. And really,
that's the beauty of Linux and open source in general: it's highly adaptable and customizable.

This is not to say that it's all-out anarchy in the world of Linux. Industry initiatives like the Free Standards Group, a nonprofit organization, are accelerating the use of free and open source software by developing and promoting standards. Projects of the FSG include the Linux
Standard Base (LSB), and OpenI18N, the internationalization initiative. The group aims to have common behavioral specifications, tools and binary interfaces across Linux platforms, but not at the expense of sacrificing its flexibility.

In practical terms, though, how does one approach the problem of selecting a distribution? Here are some steps:

* Choose according to your needs. As with any IT-related decision, the choice should be driven by the application. Do you need the operating system for your desktop applications? Choose a general-purpose distribution like Ubuntu, OpenSuSE, Mandriva, Fedora Core, or Red Hat. Do
you need the operating system to run a commercial enterprise database? Discuss with your vendors and consultants which distributions are officially supported by their hardware and software.

* Choose according to your acceptable support requirements. Can you live with best-effort community support? Maybe so, if you're a home user or a hobbyist or a DIY person, in which case, you'll want to look at community distros like Fedora Core, CentOS, Slackware, or Debian. Or do you require guaranteed technical support with levels of escalation all the way up to the developer? If you're a commercial entity running critical systems, you'll want to consider Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise.

* Choose according to your community of support. Are you in close contact with people who use Fedora Core? Or perhaps you have friends who are very much into Ubuntu or Mandriva. Perhaps that's the distribution you should start with, until you become more confident to try out others. It only makes sense because these are most likely your first level of support.

* Choose the most popular distributions. If the first three criteria fail you, you can visit DistroWatch.com. The web site tracks the most popular distributions on the Internet. While it's not very scientific (and the maintainers admit as much) it does give you some idea as to what people are using.

* Ask. Visit the Philippine Linux Users' Group web site at http://linux.org.ph and sign up for the mailing list. Most likely you can find someone in your area who can help you with these decisions, whether for free or for a fee.

* Try it out yourself. The proof of the pudding, as the old saying goes, is in the eating. Many popular distributions are available as a free download and will install on typical PC configurations. Take it out for a spin to see what you like and what you don't like.

Choice, indeed, can be a frightful thing, especially when you're in the dark. But if you take time to understand and seek out help, it need not be paralyzing. Instead, it can be liberating.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Notespell student videos

There's a warning against believing your own press, but after seeing a couple of videos of the performances of Notespell students, I have to say "Wow!"

Videos are posted at the Notespell web site. (I'm not placing them here so you'll be encouraged to visit the other blog.)

One is a sultry rendition of Jojo's "How to Touch a Girl" and the other is a drum synchronization exercise.

Heath Ledger, 28

Heath Ledger, Actor, Is Found Dead at 28

Oh very young what will leave us is time.
You're only dancing on this earth for a short while.
And though your dreams may toss and turn you now.
They will vanish away like your Dad's best jeans, demin blue, fading up to the sky.
And though you want to last forever you know we never will, you know we never will.
And that just makes the good bye harder still.

Oh very young what will leave us is time.
There'll never be a better chance to change your mind.
And if you want this world to see better days.
Then carry the words I will love will you? when you ride the great white bird into heaven.
And though you want to last forever you know you never will, you know you never will.
And the good bye makes the journey harder still.

--"Oh Very Young", Cat Stevens

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Management by Website

As I mentioned in a previous post, I "inherited" a music studio. Not exactly in my plans, but hey, when life hands you lemons.... That's what's been keeping me occupied in the mornings, and, coupled with my classes and other errands, has turned me busy as a bee.

Most of the things I set out to do for starters have already been done. Fliers are printed, facilities are fine-tuned, and the web site is up. Believe it or not, I'm actually quite enthused with the project now, with several more adjunct ideas brewing in my mind.

I'm quite proud of the web site I made. I am now officially a convert to the Wordpress cult. It's made a lot of things easy.

What's great about the web site is that it's helped me focus on the things that need to be done. The whole exercise is about promotion but the web site has also put a spotlight on what I want the music studio to be. There are all these areas for improvement that are coming to the fore based on what we offer now and what I think we can offer. And the web site has also become a galvanizing force among the teachers, too!

Stay tuned for more developments!


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Notespell Music Studio


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I "inherited" a music studio. That's what's been keeping me busy these past couple of weeks. Settling in right now, streaminlining operations, and drumming up business. Whew!

If you or anyone you know is interested in music lessons, do give us a call. Our telephone number is 300-3555 (Davao only). And, yes, we do have a web site. Ahem!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Swinging with the EeePC

EeePC. Just how are we supposed to pronounce it? My first instinct was to call it the "Triple-E PC". My friend says it as "Eeeeeeh-PC." But the official version is just, apparently, "E-PC."

And with that out of the way....

Yes, I bought one.

I first laid eyes on it last December. At a price tag of just a little under P19,000, it hovered somewhere in the threshhold of the buy-don't buy decision. So I vacillated. When I finally did decide to make the purchase, a couple of days after Christmas, all the units at my next door
Electroworld were already sold out. The manager told me she'd call me just as soon as the new stocks arrived.

Last weekend, five more units finally arrived. A little more hesitation. Oh, wait a minute, was I willing to go through another three weeks of wondering? Decided to make the purchase: it eliminates doubt and nets me a new toy to play with. (Oscar Wilde's witticism about temptation comes to mind.)

I've had it for a few days now, so what can I say?

Pros: Nifty little gadget, very portable for those trips. It's not much bigger than a regular 100-leaf notebook and weighs just a bit more. Crisp screen, WiFi, all solid state, fast bootup. Love it, love it, love it.

Cons: Cramped keyboard, cramped screen. Considering how big my hands are, it's really comical to see me typing away on the EeePC. But hey, I'm managing somehow (like I'm doing right now).


It's not a complete replacement for my trusty old IBM Thinkpad R50e, but for the places where a 2 kilo laptop is just clunky, the EeePC can't be beat.

So did I change the default OS to Ubuntu? I'll admit I was tempted to, but in my old age, I've gotten lazy and conservative. I really didn't want to go through the whole adventure of getting the hardware to work with the software, so I stuck with its customized Xandros. What I did do was rearrange the tabs and the contents to suit my working style -- not easy to do, sadly, but still manageable with some help from wiki.eeeuser.com.

Growing Up

Two events occured over the Christmas holidays that made me pause to think and reassess life thus far.

First, I turned 38. It wasn't anything that I was paying particular attention to. Oh, I knew it was coming, but in the rush of things I pushed it to the corners of my mind. When it finally came as it did, I think it took me a bit by surprise.

Not that there's anything particularly special about the age itself; after all, it's not a round number that signifies another decade. But it places me just two years before that monumental marker for middle age, the big four-oh. I've crossed a threshhold of sorts and frankly, it's a little scary.

For one thing, I realize I'm no longer a creature of potentiality but rather a being of actuality. Those unexplored possibilities that I might have become are slowly closing off one by one. Ahead is the road made real by the choices I have made -- friendships, finances, fiancees, and yes, foolishness -- and there are fewer branches from which it diverges. There is no turning back. One can only go forward. Locked and loaded, so to speak. Inevitably one asks: "Did I make the right decisions?"

There are waypoints that we set for ourselves when we're starting out: embark on a career at twenty; save up for a car by twenty-five; get married and have kids by thirty; promoted to manager by thirty-five; and so on and so forth. Where I am now is just about where one takes stock of oneself with regard to this plan.

So there's the inherent danger in this exercise: one can't look back without a twinge of regret (no matter how one tries to deceive oneself with platitudes about living with no regrets.) Temporally limited as we are, there's always that road not taken. What if? And then there will be the inescapable comparisons with one's contemporaries: some will have fared better, others worse. Looking upwards, looking down, you can't help but ask: what if?

On the other hand, this fear is tempered somewhat by confidence. This is hardly yet the end of the race, just the halfway mark. Following the average, I'll have another twenty to thirty years ahead of me, or, if I'm lucky, forty to fifty. Of possibilities there may be less, but it also does mean there will be less confusion at quarter-life. And, of course, there's the rich wine of experience from which I have already drunk. Nothing more to do but to move onward.

Two events occured over the Christmas holidays that made me pause to think and reassess life thus far. The first, as I have already mentioned, I turned 38. The second? The birth of my nephew Jerrard Luke, 8 lbs, 54 cm, pink, bald, and cute. They say he looks like me.

When I look at him, I see a creature of possibility, and I smile because, well, life goes on.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Talecraft contest at Gaisano Mall

Short plug: Talecraft contest at Gaisano Mall of Davao City on January 12, 2008. Contest will be at the Spazio area on the 3rd Floor; activities start at 1:00PM.

From the Talecraft web site:

Talecraft will be holding its first Story-Creation Contest in Davao City on Saturday, January 12, 2008 at the Gaisano Mall of Davao! So, all you Davaoenos out there, make sure you REGISTER for the contest on or before January 9, 2008. We will still be accepting registrants after January 9 but contest slots are limited, so register early!Our booth

MECHANICS:
Create a story on the spot using Talecraft. For information on how to play Talecraft, go to the About page. You will be judged based on both your story and your delivery.
There will be two categories:

* (A)For players 12-16 years old
* (B)For players 17 and up

PRIZES:
Category (A): 1st Prize - A Talecraft deck plus a big gift bag of sweets and treats. 2nd Prize - A Talecraft deck plus a medium-sized gift bag of sweets and treats. 3rd Prize - A Talecraft deck plus a small gift bag of sweets and treats.
Category (B): 1st Prize - A Talecraft deck plus two gift certificates that each entitles its bearer to a free dinner at Tsuru Japanese Restaurant. 2nd Prize - A Talecraft deck plus two gift certificates that each entitles its bearer to a free lunch at Hanoi Vietnamese Restaurant. 3rd Prize - A Talecraft deck plus two gift certificates that each entitles its bearer to a free breakfast at Casa Leticia.

HOW TO REGISTER:
Email us the following information:

* Full Name
* Age
* Current Occupation
* School/Office
* Contact Information

Send above information to: talecraft-at-komikasi-dot-com

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Salem Witch Trials

This is a report for my class in English and American Literature. The text in question was "The Trial of Martha Carrier" but I expanded the discussion, out of necessity, to include the backdrop of the Salem Witch Hunts. It's a fascinating and well-documented tragedy, well worth a read especially in light of recent recurring events.

The stories in Cotton Mather's "Wonders of the Invisible World" are truly hair-raising. If you want to write horror, you should read through some of the accounts, especially of the person he identifies only as G.B.


Between February 1692 and March 1693, in colonial Massachusetts, over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned on charges of witchcraft. Of these, 29 people were convicted. Ninteen were hanged, one was crushed to death in an attempt to force a confession, and at least five died in prison. This tragic incident of prolonged community hysteria is what we now know as the Salem Witch Trials.

The trials had their origins in Salem Village. Betty Parris, age 9, and Abigail Williams, age 11, daughter and niece, respectively, of Rev. Samuel Parris, started to have fits "beyond the power of Epileptic Fits or natural disease." The girls screamed, threw things, uttered unintelligible sounds, crawled under furniture, and contorted into strange positions. Other girls and women in the village soon began to exhibit similar behavior. The local doctor could find no suitable explanation for the ailment.

The first three people arrested for the allegedly afflicting Parris and Williams were Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and one Tituba. Good was a local vagrant, Osborne was a social outcast for marrying her servant, and Tituba was a foreign-born slave. Owing to their low status, these three were easy targets for the accusations. They were interrogated and sent to jail in March.

Other accusations soon followed. Martha Corey, Dorothy Good, and Rebecca Nurse were arrested in Salem Village, and Rachel Clinton in Ipswich. Suspicion fell on Corey because she voiced skepticism about the credibility of the accusers; her arrest and Nurse's caused some alarm as they were members in good standing with their churches. Good was arrested based on a confession from her 4-year old daughter. Clinton was arrested on an unrelated case.

By April, the hysteria had risen to a fever pitch. More people were arrested, among them a minister. Their cases were brought before high ranking members of the Governor's Council. More accusations and arrests followed in May, among them Martha Carrier.

Up until the end of May 1692, all proceedings were purely investigative. However, in June, with over 62 people in jail, Governor William Phips convened a Court of Oyer and Terminer to hear their cases. First go on trial was Bridget Bishop: the grand jury convicted her on June 2; she was hanged on June 10.

Between June and July of 1692, grand juries endorsed indictments against all other accused. A fortunate few were given reprieves, but many were hanged forthwith. The trials continued through August and September following largely the same pattern. Under duress, some people confessed to being witches.

Martha Carrier was tried on August 2, along with several others, and hanged on August 19. Her trial was one of the five recorded for posterity in Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World.

Wonders of the Invisible World is written in plain, simple language. Its matter-of-fact tone is remarkable considering the gravity of the cases and the fantastical nature of some of the accusations.

Martha Carrier's record is illustrative of the charges levelled and proceedings used against those accused of witchcraft. The cases were built primarily on the testimonies of the alleged victims, in particular, on their accounts of having been tormented by the "Shape" of the accused. This "Shape" is a spectral form of the witch, by which victims could supposedly identify their tormentor. The courts even had a special term for this: "spectral evidence."

"Spectral evidence" was a controversial method, even at the time of the witch trials. Several prominent citizens cast doubt on its validity, among them Increase Mather, Cotton Mather's father. Increase Mather wrote Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits in October 1692. There was also an anonymous tract Some Miscellany Observations on our present Debates respecting Witchcraft. However, the use of "spectral evidence" ultimately prevailed.

The narrative of The Trial of Martha Carrier begins with stories whereby Carrier and her family, through the use of magic, allegedly caused bodily harm to the victims and their cattle. As it progresses, however, it becomes more lurid and bizarre. Added to the mix are stories of mind control and visions. Rounding off the account were confessions to complicity and tales of witch meetings and deals with the devil.

What possible explanations could there be to these accusations? The stories bordering on the fantastic could simply have been made-up, crafted with malicious intent or resulting from the growing mass hysteria. But what of the very real misfortunes, such as loss of cattle or swollen wounds?

One must remember that the colonists were relative newcomers to the New World, and were in fact in the middle of the harsh and arduous task of taming it to their needs. Resources were likely to be scarce. There would have been many as-yet-unknown poisons and pests. These could account for the mysteriously dying cattle and the incurable infections. From these, it would be only superstitious step into accusations of witchcraft.

What of the motivations? What could possibly compel someone to make up stories that could lead to someone's death? Community hysteria may have something to do with it, as fear feeds on fear. However, The Trial of Martha Carrier gives us another clue in its third section: Carrier was apparently involved in a land dispute with her neighbor and accuser Benjamin Abbot. Whether the other plaintiffs may have borne similar grudges against Carrier the narrative no longer reveals.

An examination of the four other cases covered in the Wonders reveals similar patterns of domestic squabbles. In some cases, it involved the sale of cattle and fowl; in others, simple misunderstandings. Frequently, the outspoken and sometimes violent characters of the accused worked against them. Delving deeper into other sources, the real reasons come to light: George Burroughs, whom Mather hesitates to name, was formerly a minister who left his post over a salary dispute; Bridget Bishop was a tavern owner involved in an inheritance squabble; likewise Susannah Martin; Elizabeth How was involved in a quarrel with some neighbors.

Trial also gives some possible insight into the character of Martha Carrier. If one strips away the fantastical elements, one sees someone who was frequently involved in quarrels with neighbors. Trial indicates that Carrier had disagreements with at least three people. Such a shrewish personality fosters grudges. Fatally, for Martha Carrier, it could have gone to the extent of a false accusation when the opportunity presented itself.

The witch trials were not without opposition from more clear-thinking sectors of Massachusetts society. Mather wrote Wonders in September 1692, using the records of the Clerk of Court Samuel Sewall, as justification for the trials.

The Court of Oyer and Terminer was finally disbanded in October 1692 amidst reversal of public opinion concerning the witch trials. With several people still in jail, though, the Superior Court of Judicature convened in January of the following year to hear their cases. Hearings lasted until May 1693. Most were acquitted; those found guilty were pardoned. Thus ended the tragic and shameful episode of the Salem witch trials.

The specter of shame would haunt the community for several more years to come. In 1697, the General Court declared a Fast Day for the victims of the trials. Sewall and several trial jurors publicly apologized. In 1700, a reprint of Wonders of the Invisible World came out, this time with critical annotations. Judicial decisions were reversed, and excommunications were lifted; survivors and surviving kin were given monetary compensation.

What caused the witch trials? From our modern viewpoint, it's easy to ascribe the trials to ignorance and superstition. Indeed, these factors cannot be discounted, given the origins of the settlers. Belief in witchcraft has always been part of Old European folklore, and even prior to Christianity, there have always been draconian laws against evil magic. The Inquisition in 1232 criminalized witchcraft, and protestants willingly took the cudgels even after the Reformation. Pockets of Italy, Germany, and France have seen sporadic witch hunts. Around 30,000 to 50,000 suspected witches were executed over a 500-year period.

Considering that the settlers were religious refugees from England, it's easy to see how this zeal carried over into the New World. Furthermore, their Calvinistic orientation colored their outlook so as to be fearful of the works of the devil.

On the other hand, there were other aggravating social factors that contributed to this mass psychosis. The settlers had just come from decades of war against the native American tribes, and even then, their position was still precarious. In the face of an expanding population, they fought over scarce resources. They also had to contend with political tensions back in England that affected them locally. The witch trials may unwittingly have been a cathartic exercise for the population to deal with their frustrations (especially since, being Puritans, they frowned on all forms of entertainment.)

First accused were a homeless vagabond, an outcast woman, and a slave; understandable since they had no one to speak for them. In this manner, the witch trials may also have been a way to weed out the social undesirables. As the trials progressed, some may have taken the opportunity to get back at rivals in, say, a land dispute. The character of some -- shrewish and quarrelsome, as is present in any community -- could have lent credence to the charges.

Ultimately, we go back to Betty Parris and Abigail Williams. Surely two young girls could not have been so malicious or believable. What caused them to go into epileptic fits such as the local doctor had never seen before? Modern science speculates that they may have inadvertently ingested hallucinogenic drugs as may grow in a culture of moldy rye bread. Such a condition, never seen before, may have triggered the initial panic. From there, the conflation with belief, fear, imagination, opportunism, and mob mentality served to aggravate the situation until it all came to its tragic and shameful end.

References

  • Starting point reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials
  • Starting point reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotton_Mather
  • Text of Wonders of the Invisible World: http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/Bur4Nar.html
  • Timeline and biographies: http://www.salemwitchtrials.com
  • More About Salem in 1692, Jennifer M Wilson (http://www.jennifermwilson.com)
  • Who Burned the Witches?, Sandra Miesel, Crisis Magazine (http://www.crisismagazine.com/october2001/feature1.htm)
  • Lesson Plans and Lecture Notes on Salem Witch Trials, Anthony Perno (http://www.perno.com/history/lessons/witch.htm)
  • Review: Taj Minar

    This post is part of The Usual Suspect's Davao Food Trip. Thanks once more to Blogie for organizing it.

    Taj Minar bills itself as a fine dining restaurant, and on this point it largely succeeds. The ambience of the place truly lends the air of fine dining, what with the subdued and tasteful interior decoration. Elegant wooden tables and woven tablecloths, fine china, and glass goblets: you get the works. For the place alone, it wouldn't be a bad choice for your intimate loaf-of-bread-bottle-of-wine-and-thou.

    Well, maybe you better make that chappati bread, cup of chai, and thou.

    Our host, Mr. Zafar Khan, had prepared for us a set meal consisting of papadam (a wafer-like appetizier), rice biryani and vegetable curry, and chicken korma. For dessert, we had carrot halva and chai tea. Did the meal capture the Indian flavor that I had come to expect? To a large extent, it did. The spicy tang of herbs and oils was there, and the besmati rice added to the authentic touch.

    Two comments, though: first, Taj Minar seems to be struggling as to the right level of spiciness. This is a tough challenge as different people have different expectations. Mr. Khan acknowledged as much when he asked us whether the spiciness suited our tastes. (For me, it could have been spicier.) When you dine at Taj Minar, be sure to specify just how much zing you want in the food.

    And second, the cooking is a bit too oily for my liking. This is definitely something that Taj Minar will have to address, especially with a health-conscious demographic among fine diners.

    The best part of the lunch, though, was the chai tea. It was...perfect. It's tea the way I want tea to be. It took a while to make (which is the crucial element in the best teas) but when it was served, it was fragrant and aromatic and relaxing. It's worthwhile going back even if just for the tea alone.

    Hitting the Ground Running

    And just like that, 2008 is already upon me.

    Note absence of entries from this blog over the past few days, including the obligatory New Year's greetings. Cause: 1) no Internet access from home, as even Smart 3G has been acting funny the past couple of weeks; and 2) busy, busy, busy. I've hit the ground running, so to speak. I think that's a good thing.

    For one thing, I seem to have inherited a music studio all of a sudden. To make a long story short (and it is a very long story): tenant defaulted on payments so Mother and Sister decided to take over the business. By filial fiat, I am the appointed manager. The deal sucks big time, but what can you do, eh? It does spice up the start of the new year so I'll give it a go.

    For another, I've had to do class reports, including a presentation on the Salem Witch Trials. On January 2. This is my fault, as I volunteered to do it. On the other hand, the Witch Trials is such a fascinating and well-documented piece of history I just could not help getting sucked into the topic. Beware: I will post the paper on this blog.

    Which leads to an observation: my classes have really taken a toll on my blogging. It's not so much the time element, although that is also a factor. It's more, I think, because my creative energies are going into my classes. All the research and reading are already satisfying my intellectual needs, hence, time away from blogging.

    And then there's the whole family in Davao.

    And I've just started with the gym. I literally have hit the ground running. (Good news: no problem running 30 minutes on the treadmill and 20 minutes on the stairmaster.)

    That, in a nutshell, is how the first week of 2008 has gone.


    Happy New Year to one and all.