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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

entry arrow6:18 PM | Hi.









Yes, I'm still here. Will be back very, very soon.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

entry arrow4:09 PM | Twenty Years Later

In 1986, I was ten-years-old, and we lived in a ramshackle downstairs apartment somewhere in the bowels of Tubod. Dumaguete in those days was officially a city despite itself. It was verily a small town, and like all small towns, things moved slowly and people were gentler than usual.

I remember most the quiet that seemed to seep into our very blood. There was countryside softness to things, which were much simpler then. I had only started to go to school around that time, and foremost in my recollection of those days is the fog that used to embrace Dumaguete in the early mornings. I would also ride the tartanilla to school, because that was how you went around town with if you had no car. The now ubiquitous tricycle was only just appearing on our streets then, and there were so few of them we had yet to know the rough vocabulary of traffic.

Our landlord and his family -- the Mongcopas -- occupied the upper floor of that two-storey wooden house. We rented out, for a mere P300 a month, the lower floor which must have been a glorified basement then. It was sunken two feet to the ground, was mostly dark, and what passed for a CR was a separate hut only a few feet away. The apartment had no ceiling rafters to speak of, and so my older brothers were kept busy in the early days of the move power-stapling with precision and grace several packing cardboards, their plain brown side turned to us, upon the ceiling, to banish away unwanted sight of the upper floor occupants who were only too visible through the gaps of their wooden floor. That also kept away the dust from their inconstant cleaning. My mother was an irrepressible woman who could make do with anything and turn even the shittiest of circumstances into livable comfort. She was Martha Stewart of the downtrodden then.

Those were simpler times, and while those were certainly and paradoxically happier times, the family was very poor -- so poor that my mother reminds me now and then that there were nights, when I was a little boy, when I would wake her up and ask her to pray with me so that we could ask God for good meals the following day. We were a very close family, and I think it was that brush with extreme poverty that defined us, and made us better people. Where would we be now if we didn't know what it was like not to eat?

Fortunes had changed drastically those days. While my older brothers still remembered the gilded age as the scions of hacenderos in Bayawan, all I knew of childhood was a dearth of blessed things. It must have been more difficult for my brothers because they had tasted what it was like to be very rich -- the old house flowing with visitors, the car always on the go, the refrigerator constantly stocked with all imaginable food, the lives they led attended to by countless housemaids and houseboys. In the early 1980s, however, the sugar prices came down like an earthquake and Negros became a ghost of itself. My family was one of the seriously affected ones, and mother told us they had to sell everything to survive.

That unacknowledged bitterness probably made the family critical of what went on in the country. We were anti-Marcos as far as I can remember.

The landlord's family, however, were pro-Marcos -- by virtue, I think, of the father having been once a barangay captain. I remember Mr. Mongcopa as a stern but very respectable old man with gray hair. He was slightly-built, at least in my memories, and wore plain buttoned shirts and slacks every single day. And every single day, he was out in his porch, drinking coffee and reading the newspapers. When the snap elections of February 1986 came, he brought out the red and blue posters with Marcos's and Arturo Tolentino's faces on them, and tacked them to his porch walls.

One afternoon, I decided to skip classes in West City Elementary School, and walked all the way to the Boulevard, to an old wooden building -- painted yellow -- in what is now Sol y Mar, where Globelines is. It used to be known by various names then, including both Rainbow Lodge and The Office -- unassuming names for establishments that were rumored to be hang-outs of the city's prostitutes and drunkards. The Boulevard in the old days was not the gentrified version you have now: it was an ugly strip of asphalt and concrete that everybody nicknamed "the boulevard of broken dreams," and perhaps for very good reasons. I still remember the fluorescent lights that lined the Boulevard, their eerie whiteness as scabs of light that sucked at your soul, all of them curiously dim in the swallowing darkness of sea and night sky. The street was littered by countless tocino and beer stands, making the whole stretch of the Boulevard a haven for the drunks -- and the prostitutes. Nobody decent went to the Boulevard those days; it was the very underbelly of the city's lowlifes.

It was in that very place, however, where Cory Aquino's Laban Headquarters was located, in a small dark office that jutted out one side of the old Rainbow Lodge. I was only ten-years-old, and I wanted Cory to win because I had seen my mother and my brothers' faces flushed with excitement knowing that they were living through a special moment in history. In my young age, I had no idea what they were excited about; I knew Marcos only as a distant figure that did not affect my day-to-day play-making, and the specter of Martial Law was completely lost to me. What I knew for sure was the concrete conviction in my family's passion for change. It was an embracing conviction, and I succumbed to it.

That afternoon when I skipped school to go to the Boulevard, I asked the volunteers in the Laban headquarters if I could have some campaign materials -- perhaps a poster I could tack somewhere, but most of all, if I could have copies of the komiks they were giving out for free. That special graphic literature -- patterned to suit the reading taste of most Filipinos -- basically educated potential voters, in crisp illustrations and talk balloons, how to vote in the coming elections, and how to be certain that their efforts to battle Marcos would not be in vain. I still remember some passages from those campaign komiks, exhorting voters to make sure they wore yellow on election day, to make sure they practiced spelling "C-O-R-Y A-Q-U-I-N-O" if they happened to be illiterate, and to make sure they were vigilant in observing how ballot boxes were being transferred from precinct to vote-count venue. Most of my older brothers volunteered for NAMFREL, and my mother, my brother Rey, and I (because we were younger) monitored our radio to find out what was going on everywhere. Manong Rey was especially voluble in his Yellow loyalty, excoriating the evils of Marcos, and praying out loud that Cory would win. Meanwhile, old Mr. Mongcopa, upstairs, monitored his radio, too, to find out how Marcos was faring.

That was a strange parallel: one house, two floors, each cheering for either Marcos or Aquino. And yet what was even stranger was the cordiality that emanated from both families. Politics is always polarizing, but we each kept to our own niches, respecting the other family's political passions. I don't know how that happened, but the good graces were there. Until we left the Tubod house after six years of living there (to move on to a better life ahead), the Mongcopas remained good friends for the family.

And then the inevitable drama of EDSA came. The COMELEC had proclaimed Marcos the winner, the NAMFREL volunteers had then walked out, Cory was sworn-in as President in Club Filipino, and the crowd in EDSA grew by the tens of thousands. We were riveted, and while there was much rejoicing in the lower floor of the Tubod house, the upper floor slowly went quiet. When the news finally broke that Marcos had fled the country, we all cried -- it was like the biggest emotional fiesta there ever was.

I think that was the very spirit of the first EDSA: there was that consuming hunger for freedom, that teary conviction of righting wrongs. It was everywhere, that spirit. Not even just in Manila where all the significant action took place. It was there even in the countryside silences of the Dumaguete of 1986. It was there, even a ten-year-old kid could be swept away by it.

But how we murdered those joys, those hopes of 1986.

Twenty years later, and much has been said about how we squandered that singular chance to seize greatness for the Filipino nation. The Marcoses are back and living it up in grand style, EDSA -- with its permutations -- is now a parody of itself, the nation is forever on the brink of every kind of disasters, and there is no more respect for the Aquinos -- not Cory, the new Erap ally, nor Kris, the VD Queen of Television.

In the end, the glory of 1986 has been reduced to this picture (taken by Vernon Totanes) on this page.



The picture captures the sight of billboards of Kris Aquino and Borgy Manotoc -- offspring of both sides of the EDSA struggle -- both rendered plastic, inconsequential, and commercial. That both billboards should stand side by side is the epitome of the irony of all that we have struggled for and lost.

To be sure, EDSA was real. It was something to be proud of. Twenty years later, it has become a rebuke for our failures.

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entry arrow9:57 AM | Wit #1

From Juice, an independent magazine, which ran an article about gay marriage by Cavan Reagan, where Reagan said:
I know there are people who will argue that two men being in love is not normal, that nothing we do will make us normal, that our wedding threatens the sanctity of marriage and the American way.

It's OK -- those people are not invited.

Besides, in a world where Britney Spears goes on a bender in Las Vegas and winds up accidentally married and divorced days later and no one bats an eye because -- thank goodness -- at least it was a drunken marriage, not a gay one, I do not seek the acceptance of the public voice.
[via i live on avenue p]

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

entry arrow7:28 AM | Blogging's Pornography of Opinion

A great, intelligent look at the blogging phenomenon from Trevor Butterworth in The Financial Times. He writes:
Blogging -- if you will forgive the cartoon philosophising -- brought the European Enlightenment to the US. Each blogger was his, or her, own printing press, spontaneously exercising their freedom to criticise. Which is great. But along the way, opinion became the new pornography on the internet.
Read more here.

[via kottke]

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entry arrow6:16 AM | It's Good to Be Beautiful

Beautiful people don't grow up criminals. Ugly people do.

[via kottke]

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

entry arrow4:09 PM | Under Ground, It's Too Late to Think of Trees

A grotesquely untoward thing happened in the aftermath of the Guinsaugon mudslide over the weekend, and the Zamboanga parallel that occurred right after. First, there was the outpouring of genuine shock, concern, and dread which zapped through every Filipino's heart, all over the world. The Wily Filipino, for example, reacted to the headlines that rendered our Saturday mornings fraught with a new taste of tragedy: "Nothing more chilling than the words 'No survivors had been found'," he wrote. Nothing more chilling, indeed.

Barely were we finished commiserating over the "Wowowee" Ultra stampede tragedy, when we had this on our hands again. The frustration that soon comes is an earthquake of mind-numbing questions: Will we Filipinos ever be free of constant, unrelenting tragedy? What attracts the fates to our islands to play such gruesome tricks on us?

Of course, there was sorrowful pity from all of us. There was dread, most of all.

And then, just as suddenly, there was the avalanche of apathy. No, not exactly apathy, for that would make us a cruel people. It was a sense of being unsurprised, one might suppose. It was a feeling that came with these words: "Here we go again," almost as if we were admitting that tragedy was our middle name, and its death-hold our home. Had we become so inured from this constancy of death and destruction, that all we could muster now was a show of brief grief, and then a shucking of the shoulders?

I was chatting over MSN Messenger with my Sydney-based best friend Kristyn, for example. Below is the transcript of part of that conversation:

KRISTYN: Am I heartless to not be surprised, and almost not care, about the mudslide in Leyte? I mean, people here [in Australia] seems to be shocked by it -- but for me, it's just another Pilipinas nature-shock that has been repeated over the years.

ME: Ay, tell them nobody is shocked in the Philippines. This is so Ormoc all over again. If you don't take care of your own environment, bad things really happen to you. Now, if that was a volcanic eruption, I would have felt something.

KRISTYN: I know! It was weird when I just went "Oh, yeah, okay," and they were all surprised. Even mama [who is currently in Australia] wasn't that fussed.

ME: Tell them we eat tragedies for breakfast.

KRISTYN: Yeah, but I think they know that already. [Yesterday], you know, when I was online? Justin's [her husband] mum said she thought I was checking the news about the mudslide online. I was almost going to say, "What for?"

ME: Ahahaha! I bet she thinks we are such a heartless people.

KRISTYN: Mao gyud, hehehe.

Forgive Kristyn and I our "irreverence," if you can call it that. Something bordering "flippancy" may be another description. Deaths, we know, are not something to joke about. Tragedies much more so. And yet -- there is certainly that undeniable welling of resigned knowingness that seems to be everywhere.

The tales to tell are certainly macabre, but we cannot seem to help ourselves to mixing everything with irony. Sketches of the Village Idiot Savant has this to say: "The news carried stories of a schoolteacher buried in the mudslide sending text messages calling for help. The messages finally stopped at Friday 7PM. It's a poignant story, but I'm wondering: is it possible? I would have thought that under all that mud, about 30 feet of it, you couldn't get a signal. Just thinking."

But of course, there is also an informed, frustrated anger. ExpectoRants gives up: "This blog is on leave for at least two days, or one week at most. I am in mourning, mourning the death of hundreds or thousands. (Isn't big-scale logging through the years to blame in the landslides in Leyte? It's clear as day to me. It's not overpopulation, it's not the rain or La Nina, it's not the minor earthquake, it's not the arrangement of the stars. It's wanton logging, legal or illegal.)"

All I can do is nod to all of that.

Perhaps because we have seen this happen before, in the very same province no less, that to have a another tragedy coming from the said thread just strikes most of us as bizarre, and even stupid. On 5 November 1991, if you care to remember, a flash flood struck Ormoc City in Leyte, killing approximately 8,000 people and leaving an additional 50,000 homeless. The number of people who died -- a larger number than those who perished in the World Trade Center in September 11 -- was so huge that bulldozers had to be used to fill the mass graves.



The picture above -- of drowned bodies gripped in fatal panic -- is a testament to that senseless catastrophe. (More here, if you can take it.) In 1991, we did mourn. And we did promise that these things will never ever happen again: we knew, from the flood of postmortem analyses made, that the waters rose because there were no trees to stop the gush, to absorb the danger. The environment must be cared for, we vowed.

But our tragedy as Filipinos is that we are a forgetful lot -- and a largely uncaring one, too. Our promises soon faded, and one hundred years after the fact of Spanish colonization, we have reduced the rainforest that was the blanket we call our country to a bald-headed archipelago. According to the Center for International Forestry Research, the remaining forest cover in the Philippines is a shadow of its former self. It has steadily decreased, from 34% in the 1970s to 22% in 1987 -- and what remains is concentrated around Palawan, Mindanao, and the uplands of Luzon. The Visayas is a virtual desert devoid of green. And finally, according to the CIFR, the greatest danger lies in severe erosion problems that spring from "vegetation removal."

Most Filipinos do not care about the environment. That's why we should never ever be surprised if the environment strikes back to kill, or maim, us.

In Dumaguete, for example, you can only rant silently as you witness countless tricycles and cars emitting noxious black smoke into the air. Sometimes you wish the DENR, or even perhaps the LTO (or City Hall!), has a cellphone number you can report the plate numbers of these toxic vehicles to. But then again government people are rather notorious for just sitting on their asses and wait for the official day to finish so that they can go home to their stupid telenovelas. (If you are a government bureaucrat, and you are offended by this generalization -- shouldn't it be time you to do something in the name of the people?)

In Dumaguete, stores and restaurants are still fond of wrapping everything in plastic or styrofoam, rather than paper bags or other perishable materials. For the longest time, I always take it as a duty to decline having my newly-bought goods wrapped in plastic bags (in VideoCity, for example). But I don't see anybody doing the same thing. If you go to the local landfill, you will see that the mountains of trash over there are largely a freaky collection of Lee Super Plaza shopping bags. That should make you think. In Manila, it must be the same: their mountains of trash the blue color of SM bags.

In Dumaguete, it's not a surprise to note that most people have forgotten there is a river called Banica dying from the city's refuse and squatters.

In Dumaguete, the corners are littered with unbelievable amounts of trash from people (like you) who think they're just giving MetroAides the opportunity to sweep the streets. Sometimes, you want to shout to these ignoramuses: "Baga mo ug nawong!" But, of course, you don't.

In Dumaguete, the night streets are home to swarms of cockroaches and unbelievably fat rats, subtly telling us that underneath our pavements and feet, the city's sewers have become breeding grounds for untold diseases.

In Dumaguete, it is too easy to build a stupid overpass over a street where it's easier to cross the normal way than to climb the steep path of the new infrastructure project. And worse still: the sacrifice of an old acacia tree for such a white elephant. They're still finishing the construction now, but every time I see that overpass over Hibbard Avenue, it becomes my paragon for the stupidity of people. Trust me, if ever they do the usual political game of painting politicians' names on the newly-painted walls of that overpass, I know some good people who can earnestly throw buckets of red paint.

I will repeat what I told Kristyn in our chat: if you don't take care of your own environment, bad things really happen to you. Guinsaugon is not a freak accident. Guinsaugon can be us. Guinsaugon is us.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

entry arrow8:55 PM | I Am Sad. Therefore: I Am.

We are biologically hardwired for unhappiness. This is the theory laid out by Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis, and Darrin McMahon in Happiness: A History. The New Yorker reviews:
People who have scant control over their lives are bound to place tremendous importance on luck and fate. As McMahon points out, "In virtually every Indo-European language, the modern word for happiness is cognate with luck, fortune or fate." In a sense, the oldest and most deeply rooted philosophical idea in the world and in our natures is "Shit happens." Happ was the Middle English word for "chance, fortune, what happens in the world," McMahon writes, "giving us such words as 'happenstance,' 'haphazard,' 'hapless,' and 'perhaps.'" This view of happiness is essentially tragic: it sees life as consisting of the things that happen to you; if more good things than bad happen, you are happy.

I don't know how to react to this. Am I supposed to say, heck, I'm unhappy. I'm being true to the heritage that is my evolution?

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

entry arrow10:03 AM | An Appeal

Here's some information if you want to help the Red Cross in its race to help the Leyte mudslide victims.

[via manuel l. queson III]

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entry arrow9:06 AM | Something Out of the Blue

When I was in college, my best friend gave me a rabbit for Christmas -- a cute little critter, all black.

I decided to name it Rabbit Stew.

My mother, aghast, decided to nickname it Bibit.

I so love animals.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

entry arrow6:36 PM | Mother of Lies

Wanggo Gallaga has some dish on the witcheries of Mother Lily.

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entry arrow12:10 AM | Forgive Me For This Early Saturday Morning Perversion...

... but I just came from a birthday party in Luyo sa Payag, where we consumed Coke Light, chicken cordon bleu, some kind of macaroni soup, a chocolate cake shaped like a teddy bear, and binakhaw, and I am currently (and gloriously) procrastinating: I have to write two articles and design a poster for Usapang Puki before I go to bed, and it's already midnight.

I frankly need this jarring (and strangely amusing) image to keep me awake (and sane):



How delightful. Where can we order that contraption?

[courtesy of dennis diclaudio]

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Friday, February 17, 2006

entry arrow10:43 PM | There is a Reason Why His Initials Spell N.U.T.

This is Nestor U. Torre's "review" of Brokeback Mountain: a pastiche of sorts, where no actual review is made, only a collage of movie trivia and stolen items from movie magazines. This guy -- supposedly the foremost film critic in the Philippines -- should retire and plant camote.

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entry arrow1:06 PM | Top. Gun.*

This is the best of the Brokeback Mountain parodies. Even better than the geriatric love in Back to the Future III. Then again, I've always told my students in Literary Criticism (when we start delving into Queer Theory) that Top Gun has got to be the most homoerotic film ever made. And not just because it stars a paranoid closet queen. 'Nuff said.

[via the goluboy chronicles]

*and if that doesn't say anything, I don't know what will

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

entry arrow11:19 PM | You Know You Want to Race...



Then you are ready to join ...



You know you want to. Read the guidelines and download the application here. Deadline is 15 March 2006.

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entry arrow10:45 PM | 24



Taylor Hicks, Mandisa, Ace Young, David Radford, Sway Penala, Ayla Brown, Chris Daughtry... Go, go, go! Rickey has more on American Idol's Top 24. I'm just so glad the Brittenum divas didn't get in. (Although I would have loved to see their hissy asses kicked by America.) Then again, they're felons.

Who's Going To Be the Next American Idol?
Ayla Brown
Becky O'Donohue
Ace Young
Bobby Bennett
Brenna Gethers
Heather Cox
Bucky Covington
Chris Daughtry
Katharine McPhee
Kellie Pickler
David Radford
Paris Bennett
Kinnik Sky
Lisa Tucker
Gedeon McKinney
Jose 'Sway' Penala
Mandisa
Patrick Hall
Kevin Covais
Taylor Hicks
Will Makar
Stevie Scott
Melissa McGhee
Elliott Yamin

But really, tell me anybody, why are we watching this again?

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entry arrow10:01 PM | Weekly Grocery Lists for Ennis Del Mar & Jack Twist, Summer 1963, Brokeback Mountain

WEEK ONE
Beans
Bacon
Coffee
Whiskey

WEEK TWO
Beans
Ham
Coffee
Whiskey

WEEK THREE
Beans al fresca
Thin-sliced Bacon
Hazelnut Coffee
Sky vodka & Tanqueray gin
K-Y gel

WEEK FOUR
Beans en salade
Pancetta
Coffee (espresso grind)
5-6 bottles best Chardonnay
2 tubes K-Y gel

WEEK FIVE
Fresh fava beans
Jasmine rice
Prosciutto, approx. 8 ounces, thinly sliced Medallions of veal Porcini
mushrooms
1/2 pint of heavy whipping cream
1 Cub Scout uniform, size 42 long
5-6 bottles French Bordeaux (Estate Reserve)
1 extra large bottle Astro-glide

WEEK SIX
Yukon Gold potatoes
Heavy whipping cream
Asparagus (very thin)
Organic Eggs
Spanish Lemons
Gruyere cheese (well aged)
Crushed Walnuts
Arugula
Clarified Butter
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Pure Balsamic vinegar
6 yards white silk organdy
6 yards pale ivory taffeta
3 Cases of Dom Perignon Masters Reserve Large tin Crisco

[from the goluboy chronicles]

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entry arrow6:46 PM | Word Flood

Never usually succumb to the usual this-is-who-you-are quizzes flooding many blogs, but this one -- from banzai cat, sundialgirl, and notes from the peanut gallery -- looks and sounds interesting...

If we can reduce Eating the Sun to a flood of words, it will be...


I notice the prominence of "sex" somewhere in this box. I am such a pervert.

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entry arrow1:18 PM | Cleaning Away the Thursday Morning

Fell asleep last night, so I had to postpone my regular nighttime house cleaning to this morning. Which is as well. It's a new experience, doing your dusting and sweeping with the light of day. And singing along with my playlist as well. I love my playlist. Arranged and played alphabetically, it goes from ABBA's "Dancing Queen" to the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields's rendition of Pachelbel's "Canon," with Sir Neville Marriner conducting. You can never get bored with the variety of music. And that's all for now. Back to the dust, and the mildew from last night's merry rain. Tada!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

entry arrow7:49 PM | American Divas

"My heart has been broken."

Are Derrell and Terrell Brittenum for real?

Hissy bitches.

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entry arrow12:06 PM | Bored

1.

I'm honestly bored with this blogskin. But just the thought of tweaking html again makes me absolutely tired. I miss white, simple templates with a singular defining image. Like a sunflower. Or coffee beans. Or an apple.

2.

I'm watching Tyra. Why would anybody be scared of pennies? Snake phobia, yes. Even I can understand dolphins. But pennies?

3.

Hehehe:

A man and a woman were driving down the road and arguing about his deplorable infidelity. Suddenly the woman reaches over and slices the man's member off. Angrily the woman tosses it out the car window.

Driving behind the couple is a man and his 10-year-old daughter.

The little girl is just chatting away at her father when all of a sudden the penis smacks the pickup on the windshield, sticks for a moment, then flies off.



Surprised, the daughter asks her father, "Daddy, what the heck was that?

Not wanting to expose his ten-year-old daughter to anything sexual at such a young age, the father replies, "It was only a bug, honey.

The daughter sits with a confused look on her face, and after a few minutes she says, "Sure had a big dick, didn't it?"

[from fhm via i worship the god in you]

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

entry arrow12:17 AM | Heart on Your Sleeve

And just like that...



... it's Valentine's Day. Keep it safe, y'all.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

entry arrow8:15 PM | No TV?

I've thought about it, and I've thought about it some more. I've decided I'm not watching ABS-CBN ever again. It's not just because of the Wowowee stampede tragedy. It's from a slow realization I've had that ABS-CBN has basically screwed and roasted the nation over slow fire for, well, years. Ah, fuck it, I'm not watching GMA either. Ah, screw it, I'm not watching all of local television anymore. Masa panderers, all of them.

A TV channel that can effectively push a pawn for the Vice-Presidency, first of all, must be evil. And any channel that can make newsmen out of the Tulfo brothers is the very threshhold to hell.

Then there's the programming.

Too many television shows, for example, are using the plight of the poor as excuse for entertainment, in the guise -- of course -- of "helping them out." (I'm not even going to try to expound on that. So many bloggers and columnists have already touched on the noontime shows' unwitting contribution to the "dole out" mentality of the population.) Paradoxically, shows like these "glamorize" the poor's lives, their dirt poor living being the sole reason why the camera is staring at them in the first place. Carmen Guerrero Nakpil (or was it Gilda Cordero Fernando? or was it Barbara C. Gonzalez?) reflected on this idea recently in an Op-Ed column, using the growth of the railway slum population with Home Along Da Riles as prism and catalyst. (Unfortunately, I cannot find the link to that article anymore.)

My own epiphany about TV's vampiric take on poverty came about when Jerome Salas, the recent winner of Search for the Star in a Million, edged out the singing competition (despite the terrible voice and the lackluster stage presence) -- all because he made the judges' middle-class hearts soften when he mentioned that he wanted to join the contest because, among other things, he no longer had any pairs of underwear left. I remember turning to my buddy after that moment, and telling him: "They made him win, because he doesn't have underwear anymore?"

I want TV shows that edify. Or at least be realistic about stories revolving around poverty, without coming close to "romanticizing" it. (The way Lino Brocka did. Although admittedly, sometimes he tended towards third-world overkill. Remember the horrible Sharon Cuneta-starrer Pasan Ko ang Daigdig?) Or at least entertain us without making bobos of us all. Sure, we can laugh at the barely-scripted adlibs and asides from our curiously overlong sitcoms, but don't you get that feeling afterwards that you've just wasted away precious time over absolutely nothing? Why don't our sitcoms, by the way, have any discernable story arc? No punchlines, no tension, all forced comedy -- with a gazillion cast members gathering in firing squad formation to deliver just one (mostly unfunny) line, and works for the laugh via quick slapstick. (Usually a punch, or a face.)

Where is our Oprah? (And please don't say Kris Aquino, or Boy Abunda.) There was a moment when GMA's Sis riveted us with its surprisingly intelligent gab fest -- but soon diluted itself quickly into a mini-variety show complete with a horoscope-reading drag queens. (That tendency to quickly deteriorate into masa mush was what killed, if you remember, the original Game Ka Na Ba? ABS-CBN reformatted the popular game show into a mess I cannot even begin to describe, and soon quickly left the air. It was a horrible "next level." It is the same with the popular dramas, most of which TV producers stretch out for the advertising mileage, so much so that they become convoluted and hysterical.) I remember Sarah Jessica Parker saying that she had to let go of Sex and the City, because they were running out of good stories to tell. Better to leave at the top of the pack, than to leave whimpering to the gallows. I wish sometimes that Filipino TV producers have the same tact.

Where is our Lost? Our Sex and the City? Our Will and Grace? Our The Sopranos, or Six Feet Under? Our The Office? In Russia, television is now all about lush adaptations of Dr. Zhivago, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Master and Margarita, The First Circle, and The Golden Calf. In Poland, it is the entire Decalogue by Krysztoff Kieslowski.

There are moments of brilliance that soon cannot sustain themselves. About two years ago, ABS-CBN launched a spirited late-night drama Buttercup that promised to be an intelligent St. Elmo's Fire for the Filipino televiewer. After a promising start, it became trite and predictable, right down to the effeminate caricature courtesy of Onemig Bondoc.

Sometimes I wonder where our brilliant writers are in all of these... And I do know many of them who now work for television. The reply from many of them is always the same: the "edifying" concepts I've mentioned simply do not sell daw to the typical Filipino audience. And television is all about ratings, di ba? But it just so happens I don't believe in that bullshit. When Oprah made the move to stop becoming a copycat of Jerry Springer or Donahue, and instead focus on enlightening fare, she was warned that the concept would flop. Guess who's laughing all the way to the bank now. ("What about Points of View?" you say. "Brilliant gab show. Nobody watched it." I will retort: "Four words: Studio 23. UHF channel.")

Then again, I am unapologetically burgis -- so really, this is just my burgis two-centavos' worth.

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entry arrow12:45 PM | Where is the Philippine Literature Website?

Now that I finally have DSL, I am finishing the long-delayed resurrection of my Survey of Philippine Literature website. It's about time, don't you think?

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entry arrow11:45 AM | The Valentine Your Favorite Sharon Cuneta Love Song Poll!

Come now, admit it. Given that Valentine's Day is but a day away, you're probably listening to all your Sharon Cuneta love songs right now as you read this. So here's the poll...

What's Your Favorite Sharon Cuneta Love Song?
Hiram
Mr. DJ
P.S. I Love You
Kahapon Lamang
Sana'y Wala nang Wakas
Pangako sa 'Yo
Kahit Konting Pagtingin
Ikaw
Maging Sino Ka Man
Ngayon at Kailanman
Langis at Tubig
Init sa Magdamag
Sinasamba Kita
If You Walked Away
Kahit Maputi Na ang Buhok Ko

Happy Valentine's Day!

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entry arrow12:14 AM | Love for the Lonesome

"That's the way love goes."
-- Janet Jackson

One of my favorite lines from a poem comes from Danton Remoto's elegantly sad "The Way We Live." It is not a love poem, but a poetically-rendered chart of modern living. So why am I writing about it just in time for Valentine's Day? It defines for me, perhaps, what drives people to seek comfort in other people's arms.

Opening first to stanzas exploring the various ways with which we set tempo to our modern, cosmopolitan lives, the poem leads to this epiphany:

Of listening to stories at Cine Cafe:
the first eye-contact,
conversations glowing
in the night,
lips and fingers touching,
groping for each other's loneliness.

That last line -- about "groping for each other's loneliness" -- somehow always gets me, and not usually because I am a regular sentimental schmuck who sees poetic distillation of pathos and bursts to knowing tears. It gets me, because it somehow refines to naked essence the formula with which we have trapped ourselves in trying to connect with other people in what can be described as an Age of Disconnection. I always tell my literature classes when we come around to discussing Danton's poem, that one of the saddest pictures indicative of the sorry state we live in is when I once saw a couple of college friends seated opposite each other around a cafe table, the drone of traffic about them, both of them wrapped up in silence and with the marvelous dexterity of their fingers on cellphone keys -- busy texting each other.

Consider that picture, and consider the "connections" we so long want to foster through the blind, bottle-in-the-ocean means of mIRC chatting, Internet personals, blogging, Friendster and Downelink, etcetera. This is increasingly an Age of Disconnection, chiefly made up of loneliness, its symptoms still in the margins but rising steadily as cities grow, as cosmopolitan alienation mounts, as technology becomes even more sophisticated to a degree wherein nobody has to leave their own houses, or rooms, any more. (Japan, the most densely populated country in the world and also the most technologically-advanced, there is now a phenomenon called hikikomori where increasing numbers of young men and women have retreated to their apartments or bedrooms for years, to come out only once every few months to buy new CDs to download to their iPODs.)

That gets me: how we "grope" -- such a powerful verb that denotes longing and furtiveness -- to find connection, if only to fill-in our unsaid, unacknowledged loneliness: basically two emptinesses defying the negative space to make up even just a shred of fulfillment.

But you might say this is a harsh way of viewing the world. "Love still exists and abounds," you can very well retort. I do not doubt you that. In fact, if there is any comfort at all in this observation, Valentine's Day in the Philippines is fast becoming an industry, a regular sell-out celebration of all those roses and cards and hotel rooms and tickets to dinners at the swankiest restaurants all over every city. Love abounds -- but disconnection also seems to be keeping even strides to it as well. Sometimes, when I am out on a Valentine dinner myself and I happen to scan the candle-lit room, I see that there are just too many couples becoming the very illustration of Remoto's line. Sometimes that saddens me.

And sometimes, the very same thing shatters me.

I still remember, after all these days, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain -- the perfect Valentine's Day film date if you can ever have one. Bring a box of Kleenex because, while it is a movie about the transcendence of love, it is also about the tragic consequences of loneliness and disconnection, and how often we choose to forego of love because society often cruelly dictates that some connections are just "not right" at all. Everywhere in the world, the film has sparked much debate, loathing, and loving -- more often because it breaks ground in the fact that it is a gay cowboy movie, and the first one of its kind to be a serious contender for moviedom's top prize: the Oscar. (It has also become a surprise hit, becoming the heart-tugging favorite of the unlikeliest demographic: straight women, the same crowd who made Titanic the most-watched film of all time.)

Like I've said before in this blog, I saw Brokeback Mountain more than a week ago. Finishing it, I found the weight of its tragedy and love story, as well as its cinematic silences, too heavy to bear. It made me almost catatonic. I stopped whatever it was I was doing. I did not write. I did not go out much. I replayed and replayed the DVD, to the point where I could almost smell the snow-capped mountains of Wyoming themselves.

I had no idea how to exactly articulate what I felt. I felt mute. What to say, after all, about the best-reviewed film of 2005? Based on a short story by Pulitzer-winning author Annie Proulx, the story charts the lives of two young cowboys Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) who meet one summer herding sheep in the beautiful mountains of Wyoming. One fateful night of discovery changes their lives -- even after coming down from the mountains, and even after their respective marriages to other people, and even after the silence of the years since then. When they finally meet up once more, they are surprised to find there is still that consuming passion between them. And yet, given the moral restrictions of both time and geography (Wyoming, after all, is where Matthew Shepard was murdered in the 1990s for being gay), they chose to keep the relationship a secret -- without success, because contraband secrets always have a way of spilling over our lives and disrupting everything in it.

The film is what you would call a typical doomed love story fashioned out of Romeo and Juliet, this time with a gay twist and the Marlboro man put in to upset that longtime icon of American maleness. But how exactly did a small movie about love-torn cowboys manage to become the most-talked about film of the year? And why did it render me silent? If you remember, the film critic Erik Lundegaard provided me with the answer.

Be careful with Brokeback Mountain. It can consume you. It will certainly become a landmark of sorts in your mind's geography, and you will wonder how one small and quiet cowboy film can render you meditative, and silent, and envying how people can love with such passion, and how people can grapple heroically, and with tragic consequences, with loneliness and despair.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

entry arrow6:15 PM | Prenster

I don't know when Friendster died for me. (Does anybody remember my frantic swooning over the site more than two years ago? I'm embarrassed by that now.) Maybe it was when I reached my 500 friends limit, and just got tired of the idea of having to open another account like most of my friends. Maybe it was when I got deluged by all these requests for testimonials. Maybe it was just online fatigue. Maybe it just got too popular, even the kids in grade school got accounts. Maybe...

Friendster's lame now. And Amanda Egge sort of blames the Philippines. Ha.

I just check it for birthdays now. And to occasionally stalk. That's about it.

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entry arrow5:47 PM | Wow

My best friend has a new column in Australia...



Hehehe. This makes me extremely giddy.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

entry arrow12:10 AM | Some Things

1.

To all Dumaguete workshop fellows over the years: Mom Edith was in the hospital recently because she had mild dengue. Your prayers for her quick recovery would certainly be nice. And I really hope you can visit this summer. That should cheer her up: all her children at her feet.

2.

Dominique Cimafranca has an interesting take on the Wowowee tragedy and the existence of a caste system in the Philippines.

3.

Bennett Miller's Capote was a strange, perhaps even nauseating, experience. I like it, but it left me with dread -- the same kind you get when you've drank too much coffee on an empty stomach. More than a snapshot of the famous literary lion in the middle of researching and writing In Cold Blood (Salon has a good article about its writing), it is also an indictment of writers -- how we can be vampires of real lives, to make our own fiction or non-fiction. Sometimes I feel that way, and sometimes it shames me. Just sometimes.

4.

What do you know? Let's take a look at my list. Bennett Miller's Capote. (Liked it.) Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. (Loved it.) George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck. (Admired it.) And Paul Haggis's Crash. (Hated it.) This leaves me Steven Spielberg's Munich as the only still-to-see in my Oscar best picture list. How's your score card?

5.

In Salon, philosopher Daniel Dennett argues that America is drowning in religion -- and that faith needs to be analyzed with the tools of science: "I'm proposing we break the spell that creates an invisible moat around religion, the one that says, 'Science stay away. Don't try to study religion.' But if we don't understand religion, we're going to miss our chance to improve the world in the 21st century. Just about every major problem we have interacts with religion: the environment, injustice, discrimination, terrible economic imbalances and potential genocide. In our own country, the religious attitudes of people are clearly interfering with the political discussion. So if we fail to understand why religions have the effects they do on people, we will screw up our efforts to solve these problems." True.

6.

Ari is back! Pupu-platter has a post on the history of gold in the Philippines.

7.

Manuel L. Quezon III considers the Imeldific connection to the Ultra tragedy.

8.

With the film adaptation of Dan Brown's (highly stupid) The Da Vinci Code fast coming our way, the Opus Dei is in virtual panic. Can you say image problems?

9.

I should just stop procrastinating, stop blogging, and go back to finishing my story for the Fully Booked contest.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

entry arrow1:04 PM | A Eulogy of Roaches*

By Bienvenido Lumbera

Blessed are the cockroaches.
In this country they are
the citizens who last.
They need no police
to promulgate their peace
because they tolerate
each other's smell or greed.

Friends to dark and filth,
they do not choose their meat.
Although they neither sow
nor reap, a daily feast
is laid for them in rooms
and kitchens for their pick.

The roaches do not spin
and neither do they weave.
But note the russet coat
the sluggards wear: clothed
at birth, roaches require
no roachy charity.

They settle where they wish
and have no rent to pay.
Eviction is a word
quite menacing to them
who do not have to own
their dingy crack of wall

Not knowing dearth or taxes,
they increase and multiply.
Survival is assured
even the jobless roach;
his opportunities
pile up where garbage grows.

Dying is brief and cheap
and thus cannot affright.
A whiff of toxic mist,
an agile heel, a stick
--the swift descent of pain
is also final death.


* wiser people like the sassy lawyer and mlq3 have said, and documented, everything I need to say about the Wowowee stampede tragedy, so perhaps the better recourse for me is to post poetry that holds a mirror to why these things happen in our country

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entry arrow8:40 AM | Some Things

1.

I just got this in the mail from my wonderful Chicago-based friend Tedo, and it gives me the goosebumps...



You can say, "Whaaa...? He gets excited over a book of film reviews?" You bet. Because, if you haven't noticed it by now, I'm a big fan of the thumbs-up guy Roger Ebert (or as Mark calls him, "Robert Egert," hehehe). That he is the only film reviewer who has ever won the Pulitzer Prize should say something about the man. (He also wrote the screenplay for the cult classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the brilliant boob-fest from the genius of Russ Meyer.) I really just think that Ebert makes intelligent, passionate, thought-provoking reviews that are actually accessible (read: readable), compared to the mumbo-jumbo of the reviewers from The Village Voice and The New York Times who seem too self-conscious about their status as culture arbiters. Do not even mention Nestor U. Torre or Michael Medved. (The only other film reviewers I read with passion are Pauline Kael, who's sadly gone, and the bitchy-witchy duo of The New Yorker's Anthony Lane, who's just being an irreverent Englishman, and Premiere's Libby Gelman-Wexler, who is of course Paul Rudnick channeling a Manhattan socialite who cares as much for her Manolo Blahniks as for the new Terrence Malick).

But you know what excited me more? Tedo managed to snag Ebert's autograph in the fly of the book. It says:

To Ian,
Movie lover.
[signed] Roger Ebert
12.17.05

Ahhhh! Ahhh! Ahhh! Thanks, Tedo!

2.

On the aftermath of the Ultra stampede tragedy, the always-sensible Michael Tan has some good insight on mob rule, Filipinos, queuing, and civilization.

3.

Here's the leak on the American Idol top 25, courtesy of Rickey.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

entry arrow9:30 AM | Carol Banawa in American Idol?

Because here are the pictures that seem to prove she auditioned in Austin, Texas.









And according to the rumor mill, the judges passed. Simon supposedly said, "You're good, but boring.

Ouch.

The Chikadora has more, well, chika.

In the meantime, over at rickey's, things are abuzzing about the new season, with one Filipino guy by the name of Jose "Sway" Penala supposedly making it to the top 24. (But he's also generating some controversy as well.)

I know, I know. Blast American Idol. Why are we drawn to this thing again?

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

entry arrow2:14 AM | The Silence and Brokeback Mountain

I can tell you the reason for my silence of the past four days. Sure, there was work. But to be honest, a movie made me weep, that's all. This MSNBC article by Erik Lundegaard is probably the best review I've read so far of Brokeback Mountain. It somehow crystallizes for me what I earnestly feel about the movie.

Because, like my friend James, I am still in shock and in a kind of terrible awe coming from that date with my DVD copy. I am in some kind of possession that has rendered me sleepless for three nights now, unable to even articulate what it is exactly about the movie that has struck a deep, deep chord in me. It is not the familiar gay narrative even. It is certainly something far beyond the tiresome debates of sexuality. It is not even the spare dialogue -- with Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana adapting the rugged simplicity of Anne Proulx's words -- peaking to what has now become the catchphrase for the lovelorn: "I wish I knew how to quit you."


But that last scene got me: Ennis del Mar -- played with such internal intensity and immense control by the Oscar-nominated Heath Ledger -- opening his closet in his cramped trailer home, and tearing at the sight of their (his and Jack's) well-worn Brokeback Mountain plaid shirts hanging from wire hanger, the only thing about -- and from them -- permitted to be that close. His silence and his tears spoke more to me than anything else. And by God, I cried, too -- damn Brokeback Mountain.

Lundegaard writes:
When I finally saw Brokeback I found it nearly perfect. It's more than a love story; it's really about loneliness, which is a more universal emotion anyway. Some of us haven't been in love; some of us don't believe in love. Everyone's been lonely.

It's ambiguous enough to argue about endlessly. Heath Ledger's Ennis del Mar feels like the man in the film -- in the one sex scene, he gives rather than receives -- and he's taciturn and bottled-up in the way of men. He talks with his fists, and sometimes he talks too much, but he's gentle with women and never has a harsh word for his daughters. One could argue he's what we want the American man to be. As Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times, "I don't know a single straight woman who hasn't been involved with a man as emotionally thwarted as Ennis, the man who can't tell you how he feels because he may not honestly know." Exactly....

But Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist actually outmans Ennis. Jack won't be circumscribed by society. He stands up to his father-in-law, he stands up to his father, he stands up. He tries to live his dreams. Forget everyone else. Forget Ennis, too. If Ennis won't have the ranch with Jack, Jack will just have it with someone else.

Ennis isn't strong like that. He's so scared of who he is he begins to disappear within himself. An early shot shows him leaning against the boss-man's trailer, head down, cowboy hat covering his face. It's cowboy cool a la James Dean. Throughout the film Ennis keeps that cowboy hat covering his face but with each frame it becomes more tragic -- a man too scared to be seen. Don't look at my face because you might see who I am. He gives himself a smaller and smaller spot on which to live his increasingly shrunken life. The movie begins with youth and wide-open vistas and ends in middle-age in a tiny trailer. The one scene that broke my heart is wholly ordinary: Ennis, alone in a cafeteria booth, head down, picking at a piece of pie. He's alone, and will remain alone, no matter how many waitresses try to drag his ass onto the dance floor.

This is why the movie is striking a chord with the non-gay community. Ennis resonates because he reminds us of some part of us. Life has such possibilities, and from lack of courage or weariness or outright fear we allow it to shrink us into this small, sad space doing this small, sad thing. Don't look at my face because you might see who I am. The film does what it's supposed to do. It's specific but it's universal.
But forget all reviews, all the Oscar nominations, and all that has been said about this movie, if you plan to see it soon. You might expect too much from it to be able to appreciate its deliberate quiet and its slow reach for its epic of love and ultimate tragedy. Because this is, most of all, a movie about meditation, about silences. And once you let yourself be pulled in by its story, Brokeback Mountain will remain a landmark in your mind's geography: how one small and quiet cowboy film could render you meditative, and silent, and envying how people can love with such passion, and how people can grapple heroically, and with tragic consequences, with loneliness and despair.

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