Why do we need to pray?

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I was born in a Catholic family, that says a lot when we talk about religious practices. Catholics may be one of the most hardcore when it comes to praying. There is practically a pro forma prayer available for any possible thing you’d like to petition to God. Or, if you think your prayers are not enough, you can do an indirect approach and go pray to a saint to help smooth talk God to hear you. Other Christian denominations prefer a more spirited and enthusiastic way and each denomination have their own prescribed style of doing it. But prayer, despite its many forms, is still praying. It is humanity’s way to seek aid or have a talk with God (or gods, depending on your religion).

This aspect of praying bugs me for years, since I was a child. My issue with it has to do with why we pray in the first place. Do we need it, or is it another useless practice born from our superstitious nature?  

As a boy attending religion class (yes, we had those) we were taught that God loves us and that He is an all powerful and all knowing God. If we pray to ask for aid from God, why do we need to ask it in the first place? If He is all knowing then doesn’t that mean I do not necessarily need to pray for him to know that I need help? And since He loves us then why not help us then? Isn’t helping someone who desperately needs it one of the best expressions of love?

I asked this same question to a friend one day, a somewhat über religious friend, and she answered me like this:

God does know all and he does love us, it’s just that he moves in mysterious ways. Take it like this, since He knows everything, He also knows what is good for you and what is not. So, He only gives you what you need in order for you to be a better person.”

Well, she quoted a lot of scriptures and said a lot more things than what I wrote here, but it’s the gist of what she said; and for the life of me I could never remember the bible quotes.

My friend’s explanation did not satisfy me. My rebuttal goes like this:

A child of three or seven got raped and then killed by a psychopath; what part in the whole affair made that poor child a better person? A boy of fifteen along with his family gunned down or gassed in a chamber due to some sick ideology; what part in the whole damned, insane, series of events made those poor folks better persons by getting their heads blown up?”

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What followed after was a long and bitter argument that left us not talking to each other for weeks; but, that is beside the point and not part of the story. However, I advise you, dear reader, to only start a volatile topic only with someone you do not like (but still forced to interact with out of civility), so that you can use the argument that will follow as an excuse to not talk to him (or her) till the sky falls down and the fires of Hell engulfs us all.

Anyway, back to the point I am going for.

Since I did not get a satisfactory answer from my friend, I started googling about praying and most of the articles that pop up have this basically to say:

  • We pray because God commanded us to do so.
  • Praying is our act of submission to God.
  • Prayer is our way to talk to God.
  • Prayer invites God into our lives.

To be frank, these arguments did not impress me either. If we need to pray because God commanded us to do so or that He wanted us to submit to Him, then it totally does not make sense.

If our God is an all powerful God and He was the one who created us then it is a totally illogical and despotic (somewhat assholish) move on his part to give us free will and then command us to pray and submit or else…

If praying is our only way to talk to him, then why did he make it so hard? Ask anyone, it’s hard to talk to someone who does not answer back.

If prayer invites God into our lives, does that mean He is absent from it to begin with and He needs an invitation before He intervenes? If all these are true, then it sounds like God is some petulant child who wants attention and praising and some cajoling before he does anything.

I was never a religious person, but I do believe in God (see other post for my reasons… Yeah, I know, so cut it!), so it was hard for me to reconcile my belief and – in my eyes – the silly act of praying and all the meaning attached to it. For years I had this mindset that praying is just a waste of time, and boy was I wrong. 

What changed my mind? Science, baby! Science!

I know it is somewhat strange to have the two mixed up. Science and religion has been on opposing ends of the fence ever since someone had the brilliant opinion (insert sarcasm here) that the two could not mix. (Imagine a white bearded guy in a fancy antique get-up saying: “Hey guys, science totally makes our religion look shitty.”) But, trust me, the presence of science doesn’t really mean it will partypoop on religion’s parade. So, here me out first.

Have you  heard of placebos? A placebo is a substance with no medical benefits whatsoever, but still provides scientifically observable and verifiable effects to the patient. There’s a ton of research done on placebo, involving a wide array of illnesses, and it all comes down to one thing – placebo really works even though the substances given were basically water and sugar or the like. It even works despite the patient know that he was not taking medicine, but just some shit the researchers found under their lab coats. Scientists are still scratching their heads how the fuck this whole placebo thing do what it does. What they do know, though, is that it involves our mind and that it all has to do with believing – really believing – that what we take helps ease our suffering. And in some bizarre, still unfathomable way, it does make us better. It appears that our mind is hardwired to take-in our beliefs and physically manifest it in some way.

What does that have to do with prayer, you ask? Put it this way, if someone told you that prayer will help ease your suffering, and  you believe it so strongly, then chances are it will. I know, weird right?

Here is another relevant  research worth mentioning:

Two groups of rats were put in separate cages. On the cages’ floor ran an electric wire which turns on and off every now and then. However, on one cage there was a switch which, when clicked, turns off the electric current; the rats in this cage were taught how to work the switch and know that by clicking it the pain will go away. The rats with the switch emerged in relative good health (even though they did not use the switch quite often, or never even used it at all), unlike the other group, despite the severe dose of electricity they received and even when the rats were given the same dose of electricity with the other group.

The researchers concluded that the rats with the switch faired better because they believed that they can control their situation by just using the switch. “Control protected the health of the rats with the switch, and the lack of control stripped their hapless brethren of even their own internal protectors.” 

So, again, what does that have to do with prayer? Well, prayer is our switch, it is our means to have a sense of control over our situation in life. If we believe that the mere act of praying, in some way, helps us face the adversities we have to face day by day, then something in our heads just click and it makes us feel much better. That’s why we hear so many people say that they feel better after muttering a good prayer, that’s probably it.

How about if I pray for a loved one, you ask? Well, sadly, no… It does not work like that. Of the many research done about the effects of prayer for a third person there is not a shred of evidence that points to its effectiveness.

What does that mean? It simply means, to my mind, that prayer is not so much for or about God, or for or about other people, but more about us. It appears, if I interpreted correctly the findings of science, that prayers are for the prayor and not the prayee.

In one of my odd voyeuristic moments I surfed over some prayer request websites and you know what I noticed? What people pray says a lot about who they are.

(Note: I’m talking about personal prayers here and not the kind done in front of an audience)

Prayers, as I see it, focuses the mind of the one praying and what he utters are those things that really matter to him. One can see clearly what we want in our lives by the mere act of praying. Praying forces us to confront our lives, to look deep within us and see what our hearts truly desire; discarding the inconsequential, the irrelevant, and highlighting the meaningful, the valuable.

Praying is not so much about talking to God, but more about having a conversation with ourselves, a moment where we give ourselves a time off from the trivialities of our existence and really hear what our heart whispers. Praying helps us find ourselves in the tangled mess of our own indifference.

What does your heart tell you? What do you say when you pray? Is it petty or mean, or is it something else? Find it out and maybe then you will truly know who you really are. And if you did not like what it tells about you, then maybe it’s time for a change of course.

Whatever the case may be, it seems we do need prayer. Not for God, mind you, but for ourselves. Why? Because Science, that’s why!

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Dead Son

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Dr. Mallory hated this part of his job. Telling people the bad news that their loved one passed away was something that he studiously avoided, if it can be helped. It was the emotional outpourings that drove him off. It annoyed him. He often delegated this kind of stuff to junior residents, unfortunately for him none were available at the moment to do his dirty work.

Too many years with the dead and dying and the grieving had left him with a harder constitution along with a well calloused heart.

It is not my fault, he reasoned when a friend commented on it, I am just a victim of circumstance.

He first saw a man die when he was just seven, stabbed to death by some guy high on meth. Who wouldn’t be desensitized with death with that kind of start in life. Being born poor and having a hard life can sometimes do strange things to people. Suffering was a common theme throughout his younger years. He needed to be tough to be at where he is now: a made man.

But his friend had a point, it’s part of the job to be gentle and caring. Since he was not, he made it a point to act as close to what will pass-off as one, and he was damned good at it. People liked him. His higher-ups liked him even more, promotions were as constant as the sun.

We are very sorry Mrs. Parker,” said Dr. Mallory in his best imitation of regret and commiseration. “I am sorry for your loss, Ma’am, but there was nothing we can do.” His voice was mellow, gentle, caring – perfect. He bowed his head and shook it a little to emphasize his deep regret in their failure to save the boy.

The doctor’s words was met with silence.

After several heartbeats had passed without hearing a reply he raised his downcast eyes and looked at the woman sitting on the chair: her head down, her posture a picture of complete exhaustion. Mrs. Parker’s shoulder length hair, almost all of it were already prematurely gray, partly covered her face. But the part that showed, wrinkles and all, was a tapestry of emotions – fear, regret, exhaustion, pain, sadness – woven over a fabric of love and loss.

Mrs. Parker?”

Yes, i heard you.” Her voice was flat. Emotionless.

Are you alright ma’am?” Dr. Mallory made sure to add a tone of concern for added effect.

She gave a feeble cough. “I am as fine as I can be under the circumstances, doctor.”

I am deeply sorry for your loss, Mrs. Parker. If there is anything…”

She bowed her head even lower, her hair now totally obscured her face. “Can you bring back the dead?” asked the woman in the same flat tone.

No, ma’am,” replied the doctor in his best neutral but mellow voice. Frankly, he was astonished by the question. He barely repressed his irritation. This woman is going bonkers, he thought to himself. Better notify the nurse later in case she does something odd. It is always best to cover all the bases.

It would not be good for his reputation if people will think that he failed to report something he noticed. Better yet, it would be great if I reported it and something bad will happen. It would surely mean more promotions. He repressed a smile at the thought.

Then you can do nothing for me, doctor.”

I’ll take my leave then, Mrs. Parker. Just tell the nurse in the station if you need anything.”

The woman barely moved. She just slumped in the chair and stared at the floor.

Tell me doctor, have you ever lost a son?”

I have no children, Ma’am. I never married. No siblings too, I was an only child.”

A parent, then.”

My father left us when I was young. It was my mother who raised me.” Dr. Mallory was feeling very uncomfortable with the talk they were having. He did not like opening up to people, he thought of it as something soft and wimpy. An unforgivable thing, being soft. He had learned that in life softness will always lead to despair, it was always the sharp and the tough that flourished. Hell, his mother was too soft and look what that got her. She let her husband trample her around, she didn’t even sue for alimony. She did not look for a new husband that could help pay the expenses after the bastard left them for someone younger. She did not even look for a higher paying job for, as she reasoned out to him, ‘it would mean more hours away from you, honeykins‘. He appreciated what her mother did for him but the truth still remained that in his eyes his mother did not amount to much because she was too soft. Life could have been better for them if she was tougher.

He started towards the door.

Aah. YesI remember. Where is she now?” Mrs. Parker’s voice became more subdued and more distant, it was almost a whisper, as though she was deep in her own reverie and recollecting something from her long distant past.

Who?” Replied the doctor; his hand was already on the doorknob.

Your mother.”

I really don’t think ma’am that…” he twisted the knob. The door was locked. It would not budge. But how? These doors don’t have locks.

Just humor me doctor. Spare a moment for a poor woman who just lost her son. I have no one with me now. No friends. No family. Only my son… he was my life.”

The doctor’s hands became clammy. Fuck! He practically screamed inside his head. Why can’t people just hold their shit together. His thoughts raced to the trainings he had at medical school: first rule of thumb when confronted with an insane person, never agitate them. He forced himself to smile and turned around to face Mrs. Parker.

Uh, she’s old now, so I had her live in a Home. Green Groves, it’s the best, they can take better care of her there.”

The woman was still slumped on the chair. Still staring at the floor.

How is she?” her shoulders slumped even more.

She’s fine. Great, actually. Never been happier! Lots of people her age to mingle with. Professional health workers round the clock. The best money can buy. Only the best for my mother.” His forced cheerful tone was irritating to his own ears. He hated it. I’ll have a word with fucking maintenance after this. Fuckitty fucking door!

Do you visit her often?” The woman’s voice had slightly changed. It was no longer as flat. There was a little emotion bleeding into her words.

I hardly have time to do that Mrs. Parker. But the management sends me a quarterly report along with some pictures. And I call as often as I can.” It was a lie. He hadn’t talked to his mother for months;  she had dementia, and for Dr. Mallory there was not much sense in talking to someone who hardly knows the day of the week. He haven’t even read the last three quarterly reports.

It had been awhile since he thought of her. It’s not my fault, he reasoned, I’ve been busy lately. Maybe I’ll call her later. It’s her birthday in a few days, after all.

That is good, if you did. To be alone is a wretched thing, doctor. The coldness of death is preferable to living a lonely life.” Mrs. Parker stood up.

Dr. Mallory stiffened a little, he was taken off guard by the sudden movement.

The woman walked to the window and placed her hands on the ledge. The setting sun was beautiful. Enticing in its bouquet of colors: shades of violets, blazing orange mixed with different tints of red, and luxurious golden accents all-round. Fluffy clouds were lazily floating about in the sea of colors, but Mrs. Parker did not notice its splendor, her head was still bowed down.

It was a hard life, doctor, but I shouldered on for my son. He must have the best, I always tell myself that. He must have the things that I never had and never will, but I could only do so much. But he is now gone. I have my fears that it might be so and that it will end like this, but I deluded myself into thinking otherwise. He was always a precious boy, but as he grew older I fear he grew more distant, but I never gave up on him. To finally hear those words from you puts a finality to it that gives me closure, doctor. My son was long gone, I know that now.”

Dr. Mallory felt a chill ran down his spine. The woman was giving off some weird vibe. Marbles totally gone down the drain, stupid twat! He slowly stepped back towards the door while still eying Mrs. Parker warily. His back finally hit the door, his hands on the doorknob. He tried twisting it again, but it would not give.

Tock. Tock. Tock.

Someone was knocking on the door.

“Sir?” It was a female voice. Far off, but becoming clearer.

Tock. Tock. Tock.

Thank God, they’ve found me! “Yes! I’m here! Open this damned door!” he hollered back.

Tock. Tock. Tock.

Sir?”

He woke up drenched in sticky sweat. He was slumped on his desk, disoriented for a moment. He looked around him: on his left was a wall lined with diplomas, certificates and awards, on his right were ceiling to floor windows that framed the setting sun – bathing the room in a somber color of deep, almost red, orange. He was in his office. Relief flooded him. Fucking dream!

Sir?” Someone was knocking on his door. It was his secretary.

He cleared his throat before answering. “Yes,” said Dr. Mallory gruffly.

I am sorry to disturb you sir. There is a call waiting for you. It’s from Green Grooves, they said it was important.”

Ok, patch it through.” He took the phone out of its cradle and pressed a button. “This is Dr. Mallory, what can I do for you?”

Dr. Mallory, this is Arthur Pikes, the Director of Green Grooves.” The speaker’s voice was deep and courteous, but the tone he was using had a familiar ring to it: consoling, mellow, gentle, caring. “I am sorry sir. Mrs. Mallory, your mother, died a couple of hours ago. She was feeling off for several months – we sent you the report awhile back – we did the best we could…” But Dr. Mallory no longer heard the rest of what Mr. Pikes said.

He bowed his head. A soft sob escaped his clenched lips. The phone fell from his hands and hit the armrest of his chair, it went on loud-speaker. The kind and caring – well practiced – voice of Mr. Pikes rang throughout the room. “May I extend my heartfelt condolences for your loss…”

9 Side Effects of Love and the Science Behind It

Love is one of those central things in life that affects us all in one way or another. It has been a subject of poems, novels, songs, movies, etc., but it is only recently when science put its weight in and delve into the hidden secrets and workings of love. This list is all about the side effects of love and the scientific explanation behind it, in the hopes that someone reading this may find some kernel of understanding that may help him in his own quest for love.

 

9              It May Kill You

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                One of the chemicals that causes the effects that we call “love” is a little organic compound called Phenylethylamine (PEA for brevity); it is a derivative of the amino acid phenylalanine and under the category of monoamine alkaloids and is naturally produced in our body. One of its jobs is to cause the release in our brain of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine (AKA noradrenaline). Dopamine, as we all know, affects the pleasure center in our brain; norepinephrine, on the other hand, is what makes it dangerous and may potentially cause death.  The chemical norepinephrine along with its sister epinephrine (AKA adrenaline) are responsible for the flight or fight response mechanism in our brain which causes the heart to beat faster and use more oxygen, and increasing the risk of heart attack for those who are already old or has serious heart problems. So, if you do not have any heart problems you do not need to worry, just enjoy that giddy feeling of having butterflies in the stomach, also a side effect of norepinephrine.

8              Makes You Act Stupid

            

               Some of us, in our time, had committed incredibly idiotic things in the name of love. It may range from simple breach of normal behavior down to the Romeo and Juliet extreme variety. Those that say they never did were probably never had been in love. It is one of those things that go in pairs: coffee and cream, milk and Oreos, love and stupidity. The culprit in this particularly nasty side effect is Phenylethylamine, the chemical we mentioned above, as well as adrenaline.

                These two chemicals are very much in abundance whenever someone is feeling “in love”, and their combination makes the most stable and logical minded among us act like Borat Sagdiyev all in the name of love. Phenylethylamine is a neurotransmitter which speeds up the flow of information between nerve cells and is released in the limbic system. Essentially, the limbic system is responsible, among others, in controlling our basic needs as well as our emotions, behavior and sensations of pain and pleasure. Now, when you throw in PEA into this part of our brain it’s like putting it into hyper drive complete with nitro boosters, making the compulsions to satisfy our “need” out of control. Adrenaline, on the other hand, is the neurotransmitter responsible in the “flight or fight” mechanism in our sympathetic nervous system, when it is pumped up into our brain it makes us particularly impulsive and irrational. It basically tells our brain to better do something quick because we are in a life and death situation.  When, adrenaline is sprinkled into our already PEA dazed brain it makes everything go supernova; a drug concoction worthy of a Rock Star’s stamp of approval. So, when you want to give the one you love some flowers to get into her good graces you will be compelled to do it, at all cost, because the compulsion is too strong. Like what happened to this man. This throws Anakin Skywalker’s actions into a new light.

7              Love Addiction

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                Love Addiction is a “human behavior in which people become addicted to the feeling of being in love.” We may even have experienced a form or two of this kind of addiction but there are some people who are suffering its extreme form, you may even know of someone who is. Love addiction is an unhealthy form of obsession whereby a person gives unhealthy amount of time and effort to the one he loves to the extent that he will seriously neglect to take care of himself and his own well being.

              The culprit for this kind of behavioral dysfunction maybe traced back to a combination of past psychological trauma (e.g. abandonment issues or low self-esteem problems) and the chemicals Dopamine and Serotonin. Dopamine, being the chemical that makes us feel happy, is an essential ingredient in love, while serotonin has the effect of making us obsessed towards the one we love. Unfortunately, for those who are susceptible to addiction it can have horrifying consequences. Because dopamine gives us that sense of pleasure or heady rush of happiness, and serotonin makes us obsessive-compulsive, some people crave to have it and have it more and as constantly as possible; the kind of thing any junkie will find familiar and sympathize with. Love addiction has become so rampant in recent years that several treatment centers have cropped up to cater to the demand for therapy for sufferers. If you are one, try checking this out.

6              Women Becomes

More Masculine

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             Have you noticed those times with couples in love where a woman seems to be more aggressive or competitive or have a higher sex drive than normal? We have seen so many examples in movies or experienced it firsthand that sometimes we just take it as part of the backdrop and never really question why. Well, some scientists did ask why and found out it has to do with the hormone testosterone. This change in testosterone production in women helps make certain behavioral changes that will make them in sync with their male partners, some scientists speculate that it is nature’s way to ensure that a couple will stay together in a longer period of time so as to increase the possibility of pregnancy. Some of these behavioral changes involve subtle things, like more tolerance for male idiosyncrasies thus allowing for a less stressful and more harmonious relationship, or to the extremes (check this video out for a more graphic example).

        This increase in testosterone levels is a good thing for men because it triggers an increase in the sex drive of their partners, ergo: they will have sex and lots of it.  However, this increase in testosterone production only lasts for a short period of time that may range from a couple of months to several years; fondly called by scientists as the “honeymoon stage” in a relationship.

5              Men Becomes

More Feminine 

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                Unlike number 7, love has an opposite effect in men. When a man is in love his testosterone levels drop significantly. This change in hormonal production, often times, becomes the butt of jokes between male friends when a man becomes less manly and becomes more domesticated or mellowed down. It has even been constantly used as a gag in romantic comedies whenever a super testosterone pumped man becomes suddenly as soft as a kitten when his love interest comes in. Well, now you know the science behind it.

               Women need not be bothered with the thought that their man becomes less manly for with this decrease in testosterone levels means that there will also be a corresponding drop in their men to look around for a different  tail to chase. Basically, there is a trade-off when it comes to love, men will have more sex and women can be assured that their men will not be looking around to have it with someone else. However, this change in testosterone production is only present during the honeymoon stage in a relationship; then it’s back to square one.

4              Makes Us Smarter

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                It turns out that falling in love makes us act idiotic but staying in love may actually make us smarter. If someone is in a loving and long term relationship our body produces less cortisol, the stress hormone, this is not the case when falling in love where the cortisol levels are much higher.  The reason for this decrease in cortisol is oxytocin (the chemical responsible for trust, bonding and long term loving relationships) which in certain cases inhibits the release of cortisol.  Cortisol is a very bad thing for intelligence; in essence, it can cause impaired learning and inhibits memory retrieval of already stored information. While cortisol is bad for intelligence, oxytocin on the other hand makes a person more open to receive new information and facilitate learning and memory specifically for social information.

3              Losing Friends

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                This is one of the side effects of being in love that really makes life harsher for those that are around you, aside from the puke educing public display of sickly sweetness that most people “in love” do. A research done by the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University confirms the thing that we all suspected for sometime already, that being in love destroys friendship: two close friends, in fact. The reason for this is time allocation. When we are in love we focus more time and attention to the one we love thus having less time for anything and anyone else.

2              It Makes Us Pee

Less Frequently

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                This kind of side effect can only manifest in long term loving relationship since it involves oxytocin which due to its similarities with vasopressin (it primarily functions are to retain water and to constrict blood vessels), it can reduce the excretion of urine a little.

1              Better Orgasms

and Harder Erections

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                This may be, for some, the greatest side effect of love – better sex. The mechanism behind orgasm, especially for women, involves not just sexual stimulation but also the need to feel comfortable and secure with the sexual partner involved. Because oxytocin actually causes us to feel those kinds of “feelings” it allows us to enjoy more having sex with the one we love. It turns out that oxytocin also aids in the constriction of blood vessels thus allowing for a harder and longer lasting erection both for the penis and the clitoris. Because oxytocin allows us to be trusting, especially to our mate, it may lead to a more adventurous sex life because it makes us comfortable to do things with our partner that we might be uneasy to do with someone else. Since the presence of oxytocin also triggers the release of dopamine in our brain it means we get more fun and excitement out of sex with the one we love than with others. So, in a way, when we are in love we may have limited our sexual partner to just one but it also means we get better sex out of it. In this case, like most others, quality is better than quantity.

10 Most Stunning Official Residences

10       Seri Perdana (Malaysia)

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Seri Perdana, the Official Residence of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, does not have the same historical significance, in terms of years, like the rest in this list since it was only built in 1999. However, what the Seri Perdana lack in age it more than compensates in terms of sheer magnificence and elegance. The Seri Perdana complex’s architectural plan is a unification of the finest of Islamic, Malay and European influences producing a unique composition that is more of an artwork by itself. The complex, which occupies an area of 17.2 hectares, was designed in such a way that it follows the contour of the landscape thus making it blend with its verdant surroundings and enhancing its beauty, creating a graceful symmetry that makes one think of the gorgeous buildings in the planet Naboo.

9     House of Pizarro (Peru)

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The House of Pizarro, as the Government Palace of Peru is also known, is the Official Residence of the President. When Francisco Pizarro founded Lima in 1535 he built his “palace” (a two-story adobe building) on the same place where the Government Palace now stands, thus the moniker House of Pizarro. The original House of Pizarro was badly damaged in fires and earthquakes, thus requiring numerous repairs, reconstructions and remodeling through the centuries; the current structure is a reconstruction that was done in the 1930’s. Built in the French neo-baroque style of architecture it commands a striking elegance that commands the attention of any passerby, giving a taste of the old world in the new. It is open to the public, making it one of the best tourist destinations in Lima.

FUN FACT:

The location of the building itself is of historical significance to the Peruvians: the house of Taulichusco (the ruler of the Rimac Valley in the 1500’s) was there before Pizarro demolished it to make way for his palace, and it is where General Jose de San Martin declared the independence of Peru in1821. Pizarro was assassinated there by the son and supporters of Almagro (his co-conqueror of Peru whom he had executed) in 1541.

8     Prague Castle (Czech Republic)

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If there is a word that can be best used to describe Prague Castle “stunning” would be one of them, “huge” would be another. Recognized by Guinness as the biggest ancient castle in the world, Prague Castle covers a jaw dropping area of almost 70 000 square meters. The first building constructed in the Prague Castle dates back to 870 B.C., with later structures constructed over time, making the castle buildings represent almost every architectural design of the past millennium.  It was the seat of power of the Kings of Bohemia and several Holy Roman Emperors;  now it serves as the Official Residence of the President of the Czech Republic.

The castle complex has several churches and palaces, most of them are converted to museums open to the public, and one of these is a museum crammed full of toys from ancient Greece to Barbie dolls.

FUN FACT:

The Toy Museum’s Barbie collection is one of the biggest in the world, with a sample of almost every Barbie doll produced. The Second Defenestration of Prague, which started the Thirty Year War, happened in Prague Castle. It was said that the men who were thrown out of the window survived because they fell into a dung heap.

7      Rashtrapati Bhavan (India)

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The Rashtrapati Bhavan (Hindi for President House) was intended to be the Viceroy’s House of British India in New Delhi but after the Independence of India in 1947 it afterwards served as the President’s residence. Construction started in 1912 and completed in 1929, it boasts a classical design that harmoniously melds the best of British and Indian architectural styles. It is built in a vast area that covers 130 hectares and has not just the buildings but also lush gardens and soothing open spaces. The entire structure itself was constructed using 700 million bricks and three million cubic feet of stones, and topped by a big dome inspired from the Roman Pantheon.

FUN FACT:

Hardly any  steel is used in its construction.

6     Apostolic Palace (Vatican)

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The Pope is not only the Head of the Roman Catholic Church but also the Head of State and Government of the Vatican, an independent country inside the city of Rome, and his Official Residence is the Apostolic Palace. The Apostolic Palace maybe the most recognizable in this list next to the White House due to the current media fanfare of Papal Elections and Catholic Church scandals, but many non-Catholic’s does not know that it is the Official Residence of the Pope and not just an annex of St. Peter’s Basilica. It is officially called the Palace of Sixtus V, in honor of Pope Sixtus, who started the construction, in 1589, of the current version of the Palace which came into disrepair during the Avignon Papacy.

The Palace has not just the Papal Apartments, where the Pope actually lives, but also the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Library (of Angels and Demon’s fame), the Sistine Chapel, etc. The Palace houses priceless artwork and codex’s collected over the two thousand years of the Church’s existence, most of them are available for public viewing, making it worth a visit while in Rome.

FUN FACT:

The Apostolic Palace maintains a cattle enclosure within the palace itself, producing fresh milk for the Pope and other palace residents.   The current Pope, Pope Francis I, refuses to use the Papal Apartments and instead stay in far less luxurious accommodations in a guest room in a Catholic dormitory within the palace complex. He is the first Pope in over a century to not live in the Papal Apartments, he is said to be doing this as an example of humility and simplicity to the Catholic flock.

5     Palácio Nacional de Belém (Portugal)

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If America has the White House and South Korea has the Blue House, Portugal has first dibs on pink. Palacio Nacional de Belém is the President of Portugal’s Official Residence and its walls are all in pale pink, and it looks oh so pretty in it.

Built during the 16th century by a merchant it was later purchased by the Royal Family of Portugal to serve as their vacation home to escape the hustle and bustle of Lisbon. In following years it was used as quarters for visiting foreign delegations until the monarchy was abolished in 1912, passing its ownership to the government who used it as the Official Residence of the President, but most did not use it preferring instead to use their own private residences.

FUN FACT:

The Most Serene House of Braganza is the official name of the now defunct Royal House of Portugal.  It is related to the Royal House of Windsor (changed from House Saxe-Coburg and Gotha by King George V during World War 1) through Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; he sired the last four monarchs of Portugal.

4     Palais de l’Elysée

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The word French has become synonymous with sophistication, luxury and grace. It is no surprise that the Official Residence of the French President embodies all three and more. Built in 1722, the Palais de l’Elysee has changed hands from commoners, to noblemen, to royalty. It was even once the residence of the Marquise de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louie XV. It was also once the residence of Napoleon Bonaparte. An excellent example of the French classical style, it is crammed full of all the glitz and glamour that comes with the trappings of royalty, from a majestic rounded courtyard, gold plated doorknobs, to paintings and statues made by European masters.

FUN FACT:

Napoleon Bonaparte signed his abdication there when he was defeated in the battle of Waterloo. There was once an underground passage, long since demolished, that connected the Élysée and the Tuileries Palace, and it was used by Napoleon III to discretely meet his mistress.

3      Blue House (South Korea)

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For many westerners and, some easterners, the mention of South Korea brings images of a dancing tubby guy in dark shades wearing a glitzy suite of some sorts and shouting “oppa gangnam style”, all the while a horde of hot girls in tight short dresses dance in the background. South Korea enjoys new-found international fame as the cool and hip sister country of the odiously tasteless warmongering North and its more odious despot with tasteless hairstyle. And also, kimchi. But, aside from all that, we practically do not know anything more about South Korea, for starters, most people don’t know what’s South Korea’s counterpart to America’s White House.

While the Americans have the White House, the South Koreans have the Blue House. Blue, is the official motif of the Official Residence of its President, called Cheong Wa Dae (청와대) in Korean which literally means the pavilion of blue tiles. The Blue House is an excellent example of the elegance of Oriental Architecture with its gentle slopping tiled roofs, down to its magnificent pillars. The design is based on that of Korean Royal palaces which seem befitting since it is built on the sight of a Royal Villa (built in 1104 B.C.).

FUN FACT:

The Main Building and its two annexes are covered with a total of 150,000 traditional Korean blue roof tiles. The blue roof tiles are well-known for their unique color and their outstanding durability. Following techniques similar to that of making fine pottery, they last for over 100 years and do not become discolored.

2      Kremlin (Russia)

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Who, in this God’s blighted land, does not know or heard of the Kremlin? Not only does it get blown up in Ghost Protocol, it enjoys more silver screen fame than most Official Residences, mostly in Hollywood movies, second only to the White House. For several decades, during the Cold War, the Kremlin was the boogeyman that lurks in the shadows of the western powers’ darkest fears. The name itself triggers nightmares, to most westerners who lived through those times, of nuclear holocausts and bitter world ending wars.  Those who lived behind the Iron Curtain had, at most, a love hate relationship with it. Dreading its all encroaching fingers that may find its way around ones neck, and glad to have it, in the few and far between times, it sends aid to fill ones empty and dry stomach, or removes from post a particularly atrocious local Soviet official.

The Kremlin, is a huge fortified complex in the heart of Moscow. Unlike most Official Residences, the Kremlin is a fortress complete with thick walls and tall towers, making it the most imposing Official Residence in this list. It has served, in one form or the other, as a fortified settlement since the 2nd century B.C. but was only come to be called as the Moscow Kremlin in the 14th century. What makes this place worth a visit, aside that of appreciating its marvelous architecture (included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO) and Cold War memorabilia are its museums (eight in all) that has tons of beautiful historical artifacts from Russian Tsar Regalia to fabulous paintings and fresco’s that decorates its magnificent cathedrals.

FUN FACT:

The word Kremlin means fortress. The Kremlin is said to be haunted by its previous occupants. There are several accounts of ghost sightings of Stalin, Lenin, Ivan the Terrible, among so many others. There is even an urban legend making the rounds that the ghost of Stalin usually appears when Russia is in deep crisis, wanting to bring order to the country. It seems even in death Stalin continues to be a bloody nuisance.

1       Hofburg Imperial Palace (Austria)

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The Hofburg Imperial Palace, in Vienna, is one of the oldest continually used seat of government in this list, having been the official residence or offices of empires and republics since 1279. It once functioned as the Imperial Residence of the Holy Roman Emperor and, later on, as the Imperial Palace of the Austrian Emperor until the end of the empire in 1918. Nowadays it is used as the Official Residence of the President of Austria.

What makes this Official Residence really worth a visit, aside for ogling politicians (if you’re into that), is that the Hofburg Palace Complex has several free-standing and interconnected buildings that houses, among others: several museums, the Imperial Treasury (displays the Imperial Crown, Orb and Scepter of Austria, and the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire), the National Theater, and the Imperial Library.

What the Hofburg lack in silver screen fame is more than compensated in its reach history. For more than five hundred years it has served as the center of power, culture and the arts for much of Central Europe, not to mention the occasional royal scandals and debauchery. There is almost everything for any tourist to make it worth a visit. For artsy folks, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, one of the museums in the Hofburg complex, houses one of Europe’s leading art collections with pieces by Caravaggio, Dürer, Rubens, Raphael, Rembrandt, and other renowned European masters.

FUN FACT:

Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France who wants her people to eat cakes according to the rock band Queen, was born here on November 2, 1755; she got her head cut off. In a twist of bitter fate, Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the guys that had Marie Antoinette and her family’s head cut off, courted her great-niece Archduchess Marie Louise, daughter of Emperor Franz I, in the Zeremoniensaal of the Imperial Complex.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUNG:

 

evil-thoughts

No true evil comes to being overnight, it is born out of one bad decision after another.

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

- Mahatma Gandhi

And a day will come when you will wake up far from the innocence of youth;
when light no longer shines from your eyes;
and goodness no longer flows from your heart.

That day, when it comes my friend, you will be truly evil and salvation becomes a long forgotten dream. So watch your thoughts, that is where the fight against evil is fought.

Eulogy: Gino Zambrano

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In life there is nothing more final than death. Death brings pain that transcends the physical; it brings anguish that crushes the spirit through our suffering hearts that grieves for the departed.

Death brought by violence – brought by the lurid, demented, maliciously hateful mind spawned by evil – causes not only suffering of the heart but also a hunger for justice to be served, even to the point of committing ruthless retribution. It is painful to have someone that we hold so dear die so badly.

Such is the pain and the hunger kindled by the death of Gino Zambrano for those who knew and loved him. Such is our loss. Such is our pain. Such is our thirst to avenge his death.

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He was still in the prime of his youth, only 26; so young and taken from us so early, gunned down so senselessly. A rising politician. A lawyer to be. So much promise, but alas, that promise could no longer be realized. He was taken from us, but our memories of him will always remain and will nourish us in our times of loneliness, in our times of despair.

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Gino was a gentle soul.

A kind soul.

A loving soul.

He was a peaceful man, always wanting to end a conflict harmoniously, amicably. We had served together in an election campaign once, he kept his cool when everyone else, including me, were already spouting expletives and clinching our fists ready to introduce it to someone else’s face.

Gino was a great guy to be with, always smiling, always kind. He always had this huge toothy grin and an infectious excitement for the joys of life. That is the picture that always comes to my mind – a happy Gino.

He was not a perfect man, to be sure, he had his own set of faults that all humanity is bound with from our first breath, but he came very close to be one.

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I do not presume to know what Gino would have liked us to feel, or to be, or to do; only the Lord and Gino really knows that now. But knowing Gino, he would not have liked it for us to feel bad for him; he would not have liked it for us to do bad for him. He was a good guy. A great guy! It would not be an apt way to honor his memory by doing something he did not stood for.

He stood for justice.

He stood for goodness.

He stood for love.

Let us honor him by seeking justice out of our love for him; not vengeance out of our anger for his untimely death.

Let us honor him by doing good, by being good; not by repaying an evil deed by an evil deed.

Let us honor him by loving and continuing to love.

Let us honor Gino by being the man that he was and by striving to be the man he could have been.

Let us honor Gino by living a life of value for others and for ourselves, just like he had lived a life that gave value to ours.

Two Roses

To those that grieved his passing:

Do not pity the dead. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love and who had failed to live a life worth living.

Gino certainly lived with love and we loved him back in turn. Gino certainly lived a life worth living and we can only aspire to live as he had lived.

May God grant him peace.

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This is for airing the things that we often forget and yet never truly forgotten, the things that we seldom give importance and yet fills our lives with more meaning and vibrance. This is for those thoughts that are rarely spoken aloud and yet in its hushed whisper it shouts out to our minds and resonates in our hearts.

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