Category: musings

Bar Review Log 3: The Grind

D-day minus 46: that’s today. Forty-six days before the first Sunday. Using a countdown for the next forty-six days seems to be more useful that just checking off days on a calendar. Now I marked D-day minus 36, 24, and 12, since I started final preparations on minus 48. Allocating 12 days for each of the four Sundays seemed to be the easiest way to distribute my time. Yet, the monotony is just like the bad news on TV: it’s inevitable. Many times I stop and ask myself after going through the whole bar coverage: “How the hell am I going to remember all this?” Eventually it comes to a point where I have no other choice but to trust in my training. It reminds me of running a steep downhill incline on a bike where one wrong move could mean broken bones or even death. “Trust your bike,” was the advice given to me.

Maybe I need to have a marching hymn – like some obscene rhyme in Full Metal Jacket. Sigh.

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Bar Review Log 2: Bar Boys

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SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers may be found in the following article.

Bar Boys: a film that follows one barkada, four young men, in their personal and collective struggles through law school and ultimately the bar exams. As shown from the poster above in clockwise order from the top left, the film focuses on the lives of Erik, Torran, Joshua, and Chris. First, we learn from the film that Erik’s struggles involve coming from a poor family, a poor grasp on English, an unreliable memory, and being unaffiliated (i.e. one without a fraternity). Second, we meet Torran, the apparent alpha in the barkada, with impeccable memory, a solid fraternity, and just the right smarts and connections to get him by law school without much difficulty. He encounters some moral conflict, however, when it comes to participating and reporting hazing excesses (he’s fine with just hazing) – which is as much conflict as he gets in the movie. Third: Joshua failed to pass the law school entrance exam and becomes a model. Throughout the film his character plays a foil of sorts to the self-enclosed realm of the three other men in law school: a reminder of things past and of the world outside. Lastly, Chris is the called the “conyo kid”  for his accented English and his roots from a wealthy family – a fact he literally says out loud near the end of the film, “dahil mayaman ako, hindi ibig sabihin na wala akong problema!” With great power comes great responsibility – thus, Chris’ father has high expectations and even required him to break up with his girlfriend to “avoid distractions.” While kind and caring in appearance, he has no qualms in showing his ruthless side when the time calls for it such as handing out failing grades to his classmates who got wrong answers and choosing to keep his honors over taking a lower grade to allow Erik to graduate on time.

The film had 110 minutes according to IMDB – quite a feat considering that those 110 minutes condensed 5 years of studying in law school and the bar exams. I have to admit that I was skeptical on how a film could condense all that – but Bar Boys managed it. According to a Bar Boys press conference I found on YouTube – the objective of the film was to show the deeply personal struggles behind the toil in the study of law: “underneath that exterior of aral-aral…may istorya yan eh – why they persist. And that’s what the film tries to uncover: ano ba ‘yung istorya mo underneath that exterior,” said the director. On that point, I could say that Bar Boys was rather successful. But as a movie, the problem with that objective is that it could well apply to anything. In other words, it was just too generic.

Every human being has a story. Every person has a past – a history – one with their own dreams and aspirations. And every struggle that involves human conflict eventually is an opportunity for personal revelation. If I could paraphrase Arendt: it is through speech and action that the actor is disclosed and revealed as a person. Why else would the Iliad have those grandiose, largely impractical speeches between two soldiers before they fight to the death? Why have poets and artists taken war as their subject throughout the centuries? Maybe they too saw that war was one way to distill the human condition. That being said, the movie ended up as a compilation of law school anecdotes. We see the challenges of poverty every day in the news as do we see the comforts of the rich or the power of the well-connected. Rich vs poor, strong vs. weak – we have seen it all. Pick any law school and there are bound to be a number of Erik’s, Torran’s, Chris’s, and Josh’s. What makes law school struggles different from med school struggles? What do those characters say about us? What does law school say about us? From Bar Boys: nothing new. It has been said that the truly great stories are those that manage to universalize some particular condition or event – one that cuts into who the particular characters in the story are (e.g. law students) to reveal some insight into who they (and, consequently, we) are as human persons.

To be fair, it was only when I was driving home from the movie that I felt it lacked depth. Some clips had their moment of entertainment. I could relate to many of the clips of recitations, readings, and professors, but that was about it. It was akin to being shown a photo album of the years past. But at the end there it was: it was just the other end of the cover – emptiness.

I can think of two movies that might be fun to juxtapose with Bar Boys: Legally Blonde (2001) and The Paper Chase (1973). The latter was a movie recommended to me during my Constitutional Law 2 class with Prof. Pangalangan. Here’s a clip:

Among the themes in the movie was a law student’s relationship with grades. Grades: that touchy topic of law school that provokes a wide array of reactions among law students. We only get a glimpse of that in Bar Boys when Chris gives 5s to his erring classmates or the struggle of Erik to get a passing mark. The ending of the two movies likewise involves a revelation of sorts of one’s grades. In Bar Boys, Erik holds his final grade in a little brown envelope and gives it to Torran to open, who later misleads Erik into thinking he failed when in reality he passed. In The Paper Chase, we find as the camera hovers over the shoulder of the feared Mr. Kingsfield, the final blue exam booklet of Hart gets a 93 with big “A” written on the front. Later on, the scene cuts to a beach were Hart is sitting by a rock with his feet on the sand. He gets a letter with the words “GRADES ENCLOSED” in bold letters. He pauses, and he’s asked, “Aren’t you going to open your grades?” He thinks and then folds the unopened envelope into a paper plane. He climbs a rock and throws the plane into the sea.

Aside from grades, the juxtaposition of Professors Kingsfield and Hernandez is fertile soil for reflection. But I suppose that’s better left for another blog entry.

BRL 0: To begin at the beginning

BRL: Bar Review Log – the series of journal entries I will be writing as I study for the 2017 bar exam. Call it catharsis or just the need to reflect and recollect – a respite from the laborious studying of the same subjects I have been studying for the past four years.

***

The other day, 26 June 2017, was my college graduation. The day before that was the university graduation. I had always been cautious about graduation ceremonies in law school. The reason is that it all seems so conditional. The bar exam would be in around four months and that decides in the end whether I will be a lawyer. Yet that cold shroud of indifference had not fully enveloped me then. As the speaker asked the graduates to turn around and face the audience, I caught the smiles of my parents and those were enough reasons for me to be happy.

After the whole ceremony, I could still feel the tenacious clutch of law school on my sleeves. Four years is quite some time and no one leaves Malcolm unscathed. Triumphs, defeats, betrayals, displays of loyalty, integrity, baseness — I have seen all that there. My four years was as much a study of the law as it was a study of human nature and its frailty. Several times I found myself mildly scandalized by the opinions and values I encountered in law school. I eventually realized that it pays to espouse the fashionable opinions of the day which usually consist in abolishing old ways for new ones. That being the case, it follows that references to classical education and philosophy often yielded to rehashed formulations from the activist authors of the day. Cicero, Madison, Plato, anyone?

The image of the desert just dawned on me — how the Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years looking for the promised land. For me it was the other way around: I left the promised land and was now wandering the desert for 40 years in search of slavery. Ah bon, c’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?

And while I sit here typing a blog that no one will probably read. While I sit, haunted by the phantom of Malcolm Hall, I prepare to begin the long road to the 2017 bar. To begin.

Worthiness?

Earlier this week in response to the proposed conferment of an honorary degree to the Du30, reactionaries deployed their deadliest weapon: the hashtag. By the time I got wind of #DuterteNotWorthy, he was already in the news declining the degree (how anticlimactic). My news feed was also flooded by a “I’m against conferring an honorary degree…etc.” template. Years ago this would have been a chain text (pass to five friends and your dream will come true!). Some cried he wasn’t worthy while others, after the customary tirade of ad hominems, cried that he was worthy. UP, after all, boasts the badge of “Honor and Excellence” on its lanyards and baller bands! This was sacrilege (in a secular sense of course). After fomenting rage at the comfort of their twitter feeds, the reactionaries then decided to put up an exhibition in the AS steps. Surely, if these reactionaries raged over bestowing honors on a dead dictator in the LNB, a living one was no exception! A few days after the incident, the rage, and the protests, what do we have? Business as usual and a messy news feed.

The whole event passed over Manila like rain clouds – stopping by to pour, and then shuffling off into the sunset. But what struck me was how it struck my fellow schoolmates’ sense of honor and excellence. Here’s a question I’ve been mulling over since my freshman year: is there even a place for excellence in our halls these days? And I mean it: excellence as virtue – the practice of virtues. Once upon a time, people argued over the question of “WHAT IS GOOD?”. Once upon a time, when Aristotle wrote that the supreme good as acting rationally in accordance with virtue, a.k.a. excellence, areté. Now ask anyone what areté is and they’ll likely say it’s just that building under construction in AdMU. Once upon a time people knew the weight of the word excellence, and now as Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men we “use it as a punchline!”

Uncontroversial: that’s the word I could use to describe the events of #DuterteNotWorthy. It’s not uncommon in law school to have a few students just slipping through the cracks here and there to graduate. Some who deserve to pass fail and some who deserve to fail pass. It almost feels like living in a Homeric epic where profs, the mythical gods, hold our lives and balance our fates on their crooked scales. Yet we must believe, if only to create a fiction, that those who get the degree worthy. Life, after all, has many fictions. For example, one of them is that we all know the law in Article 3 of the Civil Code, but if everyone knew the law we wouldn’t any lawyers now would we? We live in many fictions – and it’s helpful to tell what are fictional and what are not.

Bad theology.

I recently came across some of my old readings from college. For the most part, I find myself scandalized when I look back at the some of the material I was required to read back then. I can’t help but also feel some sense anger and betrayal at those who required me to read them. Those undergraduate years were, after all, my formative years in that I hadn’t the faintest clue about theology or philosophy and where I took everything in at its face value. Every philosophy and theology reading was almost like gospel truth, since I did not feel the need, nor did I have the capacity, to detect their fine philosophical errors. I took it for granted that I was in a Catholic school. I thought I was safe. Ateneo, yes AdMU, is (or was – are Jesuits still Catholic?) a Catholic school so I assumed that the readings brought people closer to the faith. I was wrong. I can remember some times in my philosophy of religion class where we even talked about Dawkins, Harris and the New Atheists. My professor told us about the idea of “Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA),” which thinks that science and religion are in constant conflict. Now, I have only anger at my ignorance for those times where I just drank the koolaid, sitting in my armchair without the slightest clue of how to respond. This was pure paganism coming out of the mouth of my professor and I had no idea. When I had naively thought my professor was Virgil, hindsight was the only one so kind as to show me how mistaken I was. The anger comes not so much at having been exposed to so many errors, but also that the presentation seemed to be skewed in their favor – it wasn’t a fair fight. Aquinas, for example, was just a hiccup with an hour and a half of class time for his Five Proofs.

Then there’s theology. In Th151, which has as part of its course description “Through guided study and research activity, the course leads college seniors toward a personal interior assimilation of Christian faith in their lives. This is done through the exercise of developing a personal integral faith synthesis, centered around a core theme, and selected from a plurality of suggested doctrinal, moral, or liturgical prayer topics or themes.” Whatever that means. In that class my professor had us read Timothy Radcliffe’s What is the Point of Being a Christian? Only recently did I see Radcliffe’s name again in the news with the headline “Vatican appointee says gay sex can express Christ’s ‘self-gift’” I promptly junked his book along with Fr. James Martin’s book of finding God in all things.

Apparently, even the theology department has its own dose of the social justice bug. To have a class of young, impressionable men and women at one’s disposal is just ripe for any professor to cram his or her liberal, social-justice agenda down their throats and grade those poor students on how well they can regurgitate the same. It started with liberation theology, then feminist theology, and now queer theology – all trying to mix and match God and some leftist agenda as if it was some damned combo meal at a food court. Looking back only infuriates me since I know I was in that same position – a fresh mind without any formal training who gobbled up all their ideas like a sponge. Meanwhile, God takes a backseat while the car drives off over the cliff of social activism.

More and more I think that the deliberate pushing of the liberal, social justice agenda in subjects like theology is intellectual dishonesty. For example, I remember how one of my theology professors remarked with disdain at the “Pre-Vatican II days” of how it was only because of that council (Vatican II) that we can now see the priest in mass. Back then, I didn’t even know that there was an old rite to begin with, much more question the validity of a rite that I was born into. Then it was only a few days ago when I read Benedict XVI’s Spirit of the Liturgy, and this passage appeared: “The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself. The common turning toward the east was not a ‘celebration toward the wall’; it did not mean that the priest ‘had his back to the people’: the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together ‘toward the Lord.'” (195 of 582, ebook). This was never brought up by any of my theology professors. What a shame. What a waste.

Of old recordings and metaphysics

The words of T.S Eliot continue to haunt these last moments of my law school sojourn. Time and again I ask: will these four years of toil end with a bang, or whimper? For now, at least, it most likely seems to be a shrug. My classes this last semester mostly fall and end late at night, which fortunately means the drive back home is easier due to the light traffic. The classes are all review classes and, consequently, all ineluctably boring. Only at the end of these four years did I realize, however, that skepticism is a virtue when it comes to a prof’s lessons. An example: for three years we have been discouraged to answer questions with: “It depends.” Now, in one class that is the answer in several questions on recitation. So what’s the deal? For what it’s worth, this pivot did result to an insight in the profession that I will soon be joining: that it is in many ways still an art. Many professors these past three years have indulged in their teaching the law as a science that seems to lend it an aura of precision and mathematical certainty. For a large part of the past three years, studying law was mainly finding answers to questions, which, to be fair, is probably the most expedient way to formulate and check exams. But what about that skill of producing answers to questions? The writing of pleadings in itself is a craft – something that I hardly had any experience in – and something that I expect to be immersed in soon. In undergrad this production of answers was derogatorily referred to as bola, but whatever we call it – that was precisely what won Grace Poe’s case on citizenship. During those hour-long drives to school, I go through recordings of the oral arguments in Poe-Llamanzares v. COMELEC just to observe how these counsels made and delivered their argument (with, of course, the benefit of hindsight). It was truly a treasure to go through the interpellations once again.

Perhaps it is this act of production that draws the cloud of suspicion on lawyers, and perhaps justifiably so. Persuasion, after all, is a powerful skill and more so if the effects of such persuasion can contribute to the formulation of law. But the brute fact remains that some people just have a propensity to lie. Hell, even in law school people lie all the time. But I suppose nothing of that is new or even scandalous these days.

***

In light of the monotonous and dreadfully boring classes and hours spent on bar review this semester, I was fortunately referred by a friend to a book on Christian philosophy. With the abrogation of true electives such as Roman Law, it is hardly a surprise that law schools these days have turned into veritable factories that produce docile bar-takers. Whatever grandeur, culture, or grace that the law had was probably lost ages ago no matter what that damned signed says in the entrance to Malcolm Hall. Sure we’ve heard Manresa and Sanchez Roman mostly in passing (whether jokingly or not) by the older professors. But what about Homer, Cicero, Aristotle, or Aquinas? Those names were probably all relegated to some weeks of recitations in Legal Theory and then lost right after the semester ended. It was largely due to the discontent with the monotonies of classroom study and the lack of any interesting electives that I decided to read up on other subjects.

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So can one self-study metaphysics? I laughed the first time I thought about it. It seemed ridiculous. But the ridiculous ideas are usually the most entertaining ones: so I tried it. Owing to perhaps G.K. Chesterton’s biography on St. Thomas and a few chapters of the book in the picture above – I can say that I won’t be putting it down anytime soon. It is quite a relief to wrestle with ideas like this on a Sunday – call it a break from the day-to-day pressures of being “productive” or “useful”. In that sense I can savor what is left of weekends before I re-enter the workforce next year. Ciao!

About the DPA’s new diamond ad campaign for millenials

There was an article I read a week ago about how the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) was rolling out a new advertising campaign for its diamonds. The article is entitled, “The diamond industry is aiming its new ads at millennials who aren’t that into marriage.” The bottom line of the article is that since lesser people are getting married, lesser people are buying engagement rings, ergo lesser sales for the diamond companies. What a tragedy. Gone are the days when you heard that slogan of “a diamond is forever.” Apparently now it’s: “Real is rare. Real is a diamond.”

It’s an amusing article for a couple of reasons. For one it shows how diamonds really had nothing to do with marriage until De Beers said so. It all boils down to what the advertising firms want us to want. And yep, we just keep drinking the kool-aid.

Another reason I found it amusing was that it dealt with fairytales:

The [ad] agency learned that millennials associated diamonds with a “fairytale love story that wasn’t relevant to them,” said Thomas Henry, strategist at Mother NY, in a statement. “We needed to bring this powerful symbol into the modern world by acknowledging that perfection is no longer the goal for a great relationship.”

After decades of Hollywood romcoms all selling their own 90-minute “fairytale love story,” the diamond industry finally turns out to be the poor guys footing the bill. Hollywood was just too good at selling “happily-ever-afters” that made us forget what was (ironically) real in the first place. It was the finger pointing to the moon but, as the great Bruce Lee warned, we concentrated on the finger and “lost sight of that heavenly glory.”

An alien coming to earth for the first time would not altogether be wrong if it referred to marriage as a “fairytale.” It was an institution, nearly universal among our societies, that unites two strangers, a man and a woman at that, in a permanent and lasting bond  for the rearing and nurturing of children. It was ,and is still, set against a backdrop of “free” sex and unlabeled relationships, of how the videos in the article described as the “wild and kind.” It is not perhaps new that we juxtapose what is “chaotic” or “wild” with what is poetic. G.K. Chesterton had already made that objection in his time when there was the notion that being in revolt was poetic. It is only in a dying and decaying society where we romanticize death and decay or in Tolkien’s terms where ,”Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons.” The chaotic, the wild: these are situations that happen all by themselves. Anyone who has studied the 2nd law of thermodynamics knows this: it is entropy. Things, relationships, people – if left to themselves eventually decay irreversibly. There should be nothing surprising, therefore, of the sight of a fruit left on the ground decaying and rotting away. But if that same fruit were, after several years, found intact and ripe, now that might be poetic. Of the infinite possibilities where an endeavor might have gone awry, and yet it does not – that is poetic. Perhaps this is why Chesterton said that the most poetic thing in the world is not getting sick.

Take the notion of marriage. The promise of “forever” or the idea that love transcends the bounds of space and time never fails to stir the depths of the human soul (here’s to you, Interstellar). In the USA the statistics of the number of marriages that end in divorce are, what, around 50%? Whatever it is, it doesn’t take a divorce law to show how marriages end up sour (just take a look at the Philippines). There could be a million reasons why a relationship does not work out. Yet with all that, two strangers take their chances and enter into marriage. Now while Hollywood and the DPA are selling that moment, who could disagree at the magic of the first few minutes of the movie Up? Here’s the clip in case you didn’t see it yet:

A powerful clip. It’s fascinating because the magic (if you would call it that) comes not at the moments of joy of the couple (moments without any diamond rings, if I may add), but when we perceive their time speeding up, where one second turns into a decade, and then we blink and find that the two are now old, but still together. The scene where Ellie fixes Carl’s necktie is an example and my personal favorite. The thought that routine, while labeled by some as completely unpoetical, is turned on its head and becomes even romantic.

It was, therefore, quite accurate for millenials to refer to marriage as “a fairytale love story” and to reject it as not being relevant to them. At least they called it as it is. Marriage perhaps is a fairytale, but it might also be the only fairytale that’s real. Now, it’s quite another thing for advertising companies to make this rejection of the fairytale a fairytale in itself. I take it that the “real is rare” idea is just glorifying extramarital relations and injecting a demand for diamonds in the equation. So, are we going to keep drinking the kool-aid now?