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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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Sunday, December 31, 2006

entry arrow10:09 PM | A Buggy New Year

The fireworks are starting to explode outside. To cap this merry, topsy-turvy year, here's a buggy song to bug you to the next year...




You can get more Free Flash Thoughts at flash-addict.

Happy New Year, everybody!

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

entry arrow3:24 AM | Still Memories in the Philippines Free Press

By the way, my creative non-fiction piece "Still Memories, in Ten Shots" is the last literary piece for the year for the Philippines Free Press. The issue is out right now.

Thanks to Sarge Lacuesta, and to all the photo-spirits out there.

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entry arrow2:41 AM | On Criticism

The words were nothing more than an honest description of the moment, but something in the lilt of my friend's voice suggested more. We were talking about recent books we managed to have time to read. He had just read my old, old copy of James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy. I had adjudged it as a childish New Age salvation babble for the emotionally lost, and his words tumbled out to me with a peculiar smirky ring, "Talking as a critic again, Ian?" -- in a tone reserved only when people talk about vile lawyers or corrupt politicians.

Now, criticism for me has always been an outlet for that constant searching for the "better" in things. I have this notion that criticism can sometimes (if not often) help in somehow eliminating any chance of prolonged mediocrity of things when the otherwise is a good possibility. Give me a book or a movie, and almost always there is something there that is in need of some constructive criticism, of some impetus for growing.

Critical thinking, old as time itself, has always been ideally about deciding for ourselves what is good for us and what is not. Criticism offers a chance for people to consider their way of doing things (e.g. political activists critical against a tyrannical Marcos machinery), or viewing a certain kind of existence (e.g. Michael Tolkin satirizing emotionally bankrupt socialites in his film The New Age), or help readers benefit from certain things like a good read. It is a slow foundation-building towards a personal standard; if writers were never critical of their own writing, they might still write like they did in high school ("What is love? Love is the strange emotion that one person feels..." Now that is horror). An inching toward a kind of maturity is another good way of describing criticism.

To some, however, criticism is good only when it justifies what is popular. It is considered quite severe when it dares to upset the cart -- forgivable when there is an envisioned possibility of rounding up the critics in an isolated island and blowing it up. When one writes a movie criticism, for example, one gets crucified by taunting suggestions of "setting one's standards too high for anyone to reach." Criticism in all honesty is good exercise, only made to seem ridiculous or superfluous by some people's unfortunate misconception about it.

Movie critic Roger Ebert once wrote a compelling argument about critical writing in his very revealing "A Memo to Myself and Certain Other Film Critics":

There is a gulf between people who go to the movies (the public) and people whose lives revolve around them (critics, movie buffs, academics, people in the business). For most people with [twenty-five] bucks in their pocket and an evening free, there is only one question about a movie that is relevant: Will I have a good time?

That is a problem. Movie criticism helps by putting perspective on the film. When Quentin Tarantino writes that Top Gun is homoerotic, it puts a certain spin about the way we view it. It also helps by telling the reader he might not have the time of his life watching it. I once told a friend not to watch the miserably unfunny Spy Hard. He did. And he came out of the theater miserable for wasting forty bucks.

A good analogy to criticism is that of a weed puller which gives a chance for the real thing to grow. In a society besieged all too often by the mediocre, criticism nurtures what is best by giving due recognition, and by pointing out flaws in something with the ultimate desire to correct it. A film critic feels the need to tell the public that The Queen stands aside from other current movies such as The Island or Deja Vu Day because, as Ebert writes, "it is made by someone with an instinctive mastery of the medium." Hey, even God is a critic: you must either be good or be damned to hell. The extreme to good criticism is simplistic populism, its apotheosis being that of people inquiring how a movie goes, not in the hopes of learning something new, but in the expectation of being told what they already know. Ebert calls this a "form of living death."

Ebert further writes,

Writing film criticisms is a balancing act between the bottom line and the higher reaches, between the answers to the questions (1) Is this movie worth my money? and (2) Does this movie expand or devalue my information about human nature? Critics who write so everybody can understand everything are actually engaging in a kind of ventriloquism --- working as their own dummies. They are pretending to know less than they do.

There are many possibilities in reviewing a book, a music album, a movie, an art exhibition, or a play. Critical writing may be directed at a reader with no previous knowledge of the work. It basically answers the question, "Is it worth my time?" Or it may be for somebody who has seen the work but needs to put his thoughts and opinions about it in perspective. Or a criticism may be just an honest idea broker for the reader to form his own opinion about a certain thing. Or works further by trying to actively shape those opinions -- to provide ways of setting standards of judging things.

And why am I saying all these? Well, the Metro Manila Film Festival is upon us again. Be prepared to slug through the turkeys ahead.

I heard Joel Lamangan's adaptation of ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is really, really bad. Then again, what can we expect from this overrated hack?

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Friday, December 29, 2006

entry arrow11:01 PM | Who Comes Here? Part Two

Here's another snapshot from Extreme Tracking of how people get to my blog. I find this one even funnier than the last one...

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I mean "what kind of sandwiches do youths eat"? Or "jessa zaragoza porn"? Who wants porn starring Jessa Zaragoza? And lastly (this one's for neddybear...), "Vera Wong Parfan". Ahahaha!

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

entry arrow8:00 AM | Post-Christmas Clean-up

There. It's 8 o'clock in the morning. It had taken me all night to clean my pad, which was the very definition of filth. I feel tired, but not sleepy. I have just made myself a cup of brewed coffee. The TV has been on the whole night. I wonder if I should go to sleep now.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

entry arrow3:12 PM | Scary Mary

What would you get if Mary Poppins had been made as a horror movie about a murderous and mysterous nanny? You would get this...



That's the magic of a little music manipulation, and editing.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

entry arrow12:50 PM | Fruitcakes

[a retread for the holiday]

I have no idea what to write today. So I'll write, stream-of-consciousness style, about the first Christmas image that pops into my head.

Fruit cake.

I don't get fruit cake at all, or why people insist on giving them out as Christmas gifts. When did this become a tradition? Naglihi ba si Maria sa fruit cake? ("Joseph," she probably said, pregnant and bored waiting for the Star of Bethlehem to shine on her stable, "Joseph, be a dear and take the donkey. I want some... fruit cake.") Often they come in the most dazzling of wrappers, and one year I received one enclosed in the cutest little wooden box tied up with red, green, and gold ribbons. I kept the box and threw away the cake, but not before I told the giver, "Oh, how so Christmassy! Thank you ever so much!" and did the beso-beso tango. But really now, can't anyone just be the normal unimaginative gift-giver and give out handkerchiefs or wallets or ties instead? Or books. Any book would do just fine.

Fruit cake. Sliced, their brown crumbly presence betrays tidbits of unrecalled fruit-meat, and all I can really think of in comparison is bad meatloaf, just add the tangy flavor and the smell and taste of liquor. Fruit cake is the Filipino eggnog.

Christmas for me, I think, begun with fruit cake this year -- my mother calling me up one silent, holy night, and saying she was sending over some batches she got from her sister in Canada. "Please, don't," I frantically said, "The refrigerator in my pad is not working, and the ants are quite ferocious here."

"So eat them as soon as you receive them," she said.

"Ma, I'm on a diet."

"Nobody in their right mind diets on the holidays. It's stupid. Anyway, I'm sending you some." Nobody argues with fruitcake-giving mothers on Christmas.

I ate one or two slices, each piece sliding into my throat like lead. Later, I gave one batch to a friend. "Oh, how so Christmassy! Thank you ever so much!" she said, squealing just too nicely, then gave me the beso-beso tango.

Fruit cakes.

But when did Christmas really begin for me this year? That is a little hard to answer, since I am the type of guy who insists on playing Christmas songs in July, just because I can. My CD players blares out Amy Grant singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" much too-early in the year. And when I do feel a bit depressed, there's always her cover version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," which is probably the saddest, sweetest Christmas song there is. I listen to the lyrics and cry like a nut. In July.

Or perhaps Christmas began when I first heard a Dumaguete store play Nat King Cole sing "The Christmas Song" (or Carol Burnett, or Ray Conniff, or Andy Williams, or Mahalia Jackson...) at the start of the Ber months? Or when I first spied a Christmas window display? Or when the first public decorations came creeping into our consciousness?

Or when I went to Dr. Rico Absin's annual Christmas dinner to ogle at the lights, eat the "best of Negros cuisine" and listen to some bad singer warble a version of "Pasko Na Sinta Ko"? Thank God, it didn't rain that night. I was talking to a friend as some feeling-diva of a fat guy (three costume changes in all!) hostaged us all with a spattering of new age tenor-rific songs and uncalled for Broadway melodies. Otherwise, it was a beautiful evening.

"This is overkill," says my friend.

"I tell you, this is death not by boredom but by Josh Groban."

"Are we having a good time ba?"

"I think so. Are we?"

"Maybe we can go to the kitchen to see if there's wine."

"I don't want to go. There's a dancing Santa in the living room. He scares me."

"Oh, look, the diva's finished singing."

"Okay..."

It is a hot, hot December, a freak of recent memory.

Outside, the heat melts the asphalt roads and the skies are in turns blue and brighter blue, subverting what we would otherwise have called the holiday "festivities." Sometimes it takes a little convincing of ourselves to believe in that last word -- "festivities" -- when all we really want to do is sleep and surrender to the heat.

True, we still breathe and move, and our Christmas trees are already out and overburdened with tinsels. Our Christmas lights are in place in their niches all over our house-beams and walls, or perhaps all over our lawn trees. Our mothers or wives, too, have finished their plans for noche buena -- and have detailed the battle sketches to combat the mob in the supermarket.

The ingredients for the holidays are in place, indeed -- but festive?

No, sleepy.

We do not seek to venture out as much, except perhaps to buy those darn "exchange gifts" for some generic Christmas parties. And so we trudge through the puddles and the mud to jostle our way inside Lee Super Plaza or Cang's, and spend some holiday cheer waiting in line -- forever -- for the simplest purchases, or for gift-wrapping services. Our patience runs thin as Bing Crosby sings "I Am Dreaming of a White Christmas" in the store's PA system.

In parties, too, we ban our diets and gym priorities, and take in the ultimate truth: 4,000 calories on the average for the entire Christmas season, not counting the 3,000 for New Year. Our girths are happy.

Or perhaps all these just might as well: the cold has certainly banished those annual Christmas beggars from pounding our doors searching for answers to their calls of "Mamasko mi," as if holiday generosity is easy to dispense. (It's not.) The other year, my mother insisted on giving out used clothes to The Knockers (how we called these people), instead of money. Later in the day, she found her bag of rummage all over the garbage can down the road. Also, I had my last out-of-tune child carolers from three days ago, and they had given me, ambush-style (and just as I was preparing to go out and buy another blueberry cheesecake for another Christmas party), that now-traditional rendition of "Jingle Bells," the lyrics murdered, and with tansan percussion in place of musical accompaniment. Oh lordy, lordy.

It has been such a long time since I've felt a chill for the Christmas season. In recent years, what we've had was summer carried over to the last month of the year. I once wrote here that "we wake up to these December days, and still feel April or May: the sun's still too hot -- where is winter solstice when you need it most? -- and no amount of Christmas songs from the CD player can create the kind of cool Christmas of nostalgia. I remember thicker clothes and sweaters and the welcome chill of December nights. These days I still parade publicly in my shorts. My dream Santa now wears a red Hawaiian shirt and puruntong. It doesn't look good."

Still true.

Did I begin with fruit cake?

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entry arrow2:36 AM | An Avalanche of Books

This is how one bares one's soul. By cataloguing one's books -- all of them -- online, for everyone to see (and judge). But what can you say about a library that runs the gamut from Stuart Ewen's All-Consuming Images (read for graduate school) to Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life (given by mother)? (Crazy. Eclectic. He reads that?)

I roughly have 822 books.



Whew. That was some cataloguing. Now, if only some kindred spirit can come up with something for my film collection as well.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

entry arrow10:18 AM | Headaches, Beauty Queens, and Selling Placenta Soap

I went to bed last night with a terrible, terrible headache. In hindsight, it must have been the two sleepless nights I spent cataloguing all my books -- and then uploading them into my Library Thing account. (Next goal: do the same for my film library.)

But it must have also been the sudden roadtrip to Bais I took yesterday with Mark. He was part of the caravan tapped to "endorse" Renew Placenta -- and we went there together with Miss Philippines 2005 Genebelle Raagas and Miss Earth Water 2006 Catherine Untalan. (See their website here.) They were lovely, lively, and fun -- although I took it as an embarassment that the local organizers had Cath sleep with her mattress on the floor in the tiny hotel room she was sharing with Jen and two others. Makaulaw kaayo. I didn't want them to think badly about my city, so Mark and I bought them silvanas fresh from Sans Rival this morning.

Arriving back in Dumaguete yesterday, Mark and I took the sudden free time we had that afternoon to have iced coffee and apple pie over at Chicco's. That's when the headache started, a tiny throbbing at first that progressed by the hour. I never got headaches before, so this one felt like an alien burrowing deep into my head. By the time Mark and the girls finished their motorcade around the city, all I wanted to do was go home, take Ponstan, and go to sleep. And I did. Which meant I missed out on their fashion show last night which Mark hosted. I also missed out on their late-night coffee in Why Not? But that's okay. I got my much-deserved rest, and now -- today -- I'm doing my Christmas shopping.

If I don't post for the next two days, that means I'm busy trying to catch the Christmas fever. And if you do see me around the city, you don't have to comment on it: I'm fat, and intentionally so. I've been eating like a pig in the past two weeks because I miss food, but I will go back on my diet promptly on the 26th.

Merry Christmas, people.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

entry arrow6:32 AM | Who's the Queen?

I found this gif on the Oscar Best Actress race, made by Nat Rogers of Film Experience Blog, quite funny and dead-on:



My money's still on Helen Mirren. "I'm the Queen," she says.

[via oscarwatch]

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

entry arrow12:08 PM | For Kokak, With Love

Here's a song my best friend melts to every Christmas...



She was born on Christmas Day, and swears Rudolf the Reindeer was once a pet. She's in Sydney moping, because she misses home (and me!), and is worried about two particular pets: Felix, and Aldwyn. I hope this makes her happy.

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entry arrow3:21 AM | A New Sandwich Spy

Welcome to my new skin for the New Year. I had to get a new look (this one courtesy of designer Zizi Kirihara) -- although I took liberties in tweaking some features. I added a Snap feature as well. (Don't know what that is? Put your cursor over the link.) The old design had to go: it took too long to open, the html was a beehive of chaos, and my archive was virtual hell to navigate. Let's just say that the new look is a nice way of me saying, Merry Christmas, everybody! (And yes, that's me above, when I was a more, uhm, innocent college student. I'm thinking of changing the banner image every month, to suit my always fleeting fancy.)

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entry arrow12:31 AM | Oscar Heats Up

I'm slowly doing my homework catching up on the films being tipped for the Oscars early next year. Oscar Watch, of course, helps bring all critical consensus together -- but there's nothing like watching the films themselves to firm up what I can believe to be this year's best.



I've already watched Martin Scorsese's The Departed in the theater (not Scorsese's best, but entertaining enough to be a shoo-in; plus, give this genius his golden guy already), but I was not able to catch Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers because, given the choice I had then, I opted to watch the wonderful Inang Yaya instead. (Sariling atin muna!) Stephen Frears' The Queen is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful -- and Helen Mirren will win that Oscar, although I'm also leaning towards Meryl Streep's virtuoso comedic performance as a cold fashionista shark in The Devil Wears Prada. Sofia Coppola's pink-colored Marie Antoinette was boring as hell -- scratch that from all contender's list. I was hoping for The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros to have Oscar momentum after its nomination in the Independent Spirit Awards (and its inclusion in Dave Ansen's "best" list in Newsweek), but that's increasingly a stretch, given that Volver, Pan's Labyrinth, Curse of the Golden Flower, and The Lives of Others (all unseen by me) seem to be catching more fire. (Although that category always springs a surprise, so don't count out Maxi just yet. The Banquet though is a dead duck. What a stupid movie that was.) As for documentary? My heart's still with An Inconvenient Truth. And the penguins in Happy Feet will tap out the automobiles in Cars to get the top prize.

I just hope nothing mediocre like last year's horrendous Crash will prove to be the biggest upset of all.

And so the watch continues.

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entry arrow12:22 AM | Who Comes Here?

This is a snapshot of how people get to come to my blog...



Yup, it's mostly literary people I get -- or students with literature term papers. (I'm "the literary blah," remember?) But, in any case, I love the top pick.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

entry arrow12:55 AM | Sir Bien, We Hardly Knew Ye

The cost of a copy of Bienvenido Lumbera's Writing the Nation / Pag-akda ng Bansa in Kabayan Central, P1,262.25...

A Canon PowerShot A410 Digital Camera, P7,000...

A ticket to the 2006 University of the Philippines CAL Faculty Follies, P100...

A shot of the esteemed National Artist in Literature in drag...



Priceless.

I love Sir Bien! He's got a great sense of humor. One of our best...

[photo swiped from vincent coscolluela's new flywatting blog]

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

entry arrow11:00 PM | A Christmas Story For People Having a Bad Day

[emailed in by margie]

When four of Santa's elves got sick, and the trainee elves did not produce the toys as fast as the regular ones, Santa was beginning to feel the pressure of being behind schedule.

Then Mrs. Claus told Santa that her Mom was coming to visit. This stressed Santa even more.

When he went to harness the reindeer, he found that three of them were about to give birth and two had jumped the fence and were out, heaven knows where. More stress.

Then when he began to load the sleigh one of the boards cracked, and the toy bag fell to the ground and scattered the toys.

So, frustrated, Santa went into the house for a cup of apple cider and a shot of rum. When he went to the cupboard, he discovered that the elves had hidden the liquor, and there was nothing to drink. In his frustration, he accidentally dropped the cider pot, and it broke into hundreds of little pieces all over the kitchen floor.

He went to get the broom and found that mice had eaten the straw end of the broom.

Just then the doorbell rang, and irritable Santa trudged to the door. He opened the door, and there was a little angel with a great big Christmas tree. The angel said, very cheerfully, "Merry Christmas, Santa. Isn't it a lovely day? I have a beautiful tree for you. Where would you like me to stick it?"

And so began the tradition of the little angel on top of the Christmas tree.

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entry arrow1:04 PM | The Doctrina Christiana Online

I just spent the last two months discussing this -- the first book published in the Philippines (in 1593) -- among other things, with my Philippine literature classes, as we browsed over our literary history.



This copy of the Doctrina Christiana can be found in the Rare Books Archives of the U.S. Library of Congress. You can actually "browse" through it as with a real book.

Buti pa ang Kano, they have a copy of our own literary heritage. Do we have one ba? Oh, wait. Ambeth Ocampo writes in one of his colums:

This book is so rare there is only one copy in the entire universe and it is not in the National Library in Manila, but in Washington D.C. Yet, we do not have to fret because the Internet has made it possible for Filipinos in the Philippines to browse through this book and other materials from half the world away. Frankly, modern technology may have made the world a smaller place and research much simpler, but the basic tools of any historian -- curiosity, critical thinking, and openness to the material -- remain the same.

Read the rest of Ocampo's article here.

[via filipino librarian]

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entry arrow1:00 AM | Seven Days to Go Till Christmas

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Monday, December 18, 2006

entry arrow11:11 PM | Too Mysterious, Me Thinks

There is one blog whose description makes me cringe everytime I stumble on it. It says: "A personal web site where the author shares, with a touch of wit, her thoughts and opinions on all sorts of things -- may it be politics, current events, web site standards, school issues, Filipino what-the-hells, and other things which she deems important." What the hell?

Verbal diarrhea, the equivalent of nails being scratched on blackboard. Yikes.

And yes, I'm mean that way.

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entry arrow11:05 PM | Palanca Website Update

I realized that the Don Carlos Palanca Awards website, which I have been maintaining with Fernando Gonzalez -- with blessings from the Palanca Foundation -- needed drastic updates and changes. So I did. And so I guess I just set up what kind of work I'll be doing in the coming days as Christmas Break slowly rolls out: website updates. And there are a lot of updating to accomplish. Will the new Survey of Philippine Literature be up soon? Who knows?

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entry arrow4:20 PM | The Coming Inquisition

What I don't get about most conservatives is the way they have hijacked the term "Christian" for themselves, and yet deplore most innate human goodness: love, acceptance, tolerance, a sense of equity and equality, and a nurturing accommodation of God's creation. They fight all these by somehow managing to make the word "liberal" sound dirty, and then by advocating hate and intolerance. If they fear the coming of the Anti-Christ, maybe they should first start by looking at themselves in the mirror -- and see how demonic they have become. I remember reading one conservative blog once, and the writer wrote something like, "We're here to save souls, not to save the environment..." That made me cringe. It was straight out of a horror movie. Or at least Borat.

Today, the New York Times reports (here and here) that the Episcopal parishes in Virginia, in the U.S., have voted to secede from the church, to affiliate with Nigeria's Peter Akinola, "an outspoken opponent of homosexuality who supports legislation in his country that would make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant."

There's a new apartheid coming. And "Christians" are at the forefront. They won't be burning witches or heretics or blacks this time around. They'll be burning people who just happen to love a little differently. And you know what? I know many, many people who think this is a good idea.

God help us all.

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entry arrow3:49 PM | Betrayal By the Book

I am never, ever, ever, ever lending out any of my books and movies again. Ever. Kahit best friend pa kita, or my boss, or the angel who saved my life. Ever. It's so sad when you lend out in good faith something you love (and that you know you need in future researches), to somebody who promises to move heaven and earth to take care of it -- and then just as quickly forget that promise. It's a betrayal of sorts.

See, I had been commissioned to write an essay on "Literature in Negros Oriental" for a coffeetable book about my province to be published in New York. One of my main sources, Kabilin, edited by Merlie Alunan and Bobby Villasis, was borrowed by somebody I genuinely like (and still do) -- but the book's gone.

I'm in mourning. The book was quite rare, too. I bought it for P1,000, knowing that only a few (one? two?) copies were left. And it's gone.

The Silliman Library has a copy, of course. (Thanks, Ma'am Ce, for the tip!) I guess that's the only way I could go about things now. It's not the same feeling as having one all your own, though -- something that you can read wherever and whenever you want to. (I'm getting sad all over again.)

So how about my commissioned piece? I'll come up with something, but my research on my novel on the old families of Negros has really been compromised. I really don't know what to do. I just hope I'll find another copy of Kabilin elsewhere. This time, I'll never let it go.

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entry arrow2:31 AM | Eight Days to Go Till Christmas


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Sunday, December 17, 2006

entry arrow10:49 AM | Sunday Readings

I just took note of my last two posts. Death scenes in horror movies? Salo? Oh, why am I being gruesome this Sunday? Is it because there are seven days left till Christmas and I have yet to feel some chill in the air, enough to get me going through some semblance of the holidays?

Anyway, for more enlightening (and very human) reading, here's Veronica Montes talking about The Nutcracker and cookies, Ned Parfan getting alarmed by substandard Philippine literature textbooks, Gibbs Cadiz getting excited about uploading his videos to YouTube, Noel Vera struggling to stay awake while watching The Nativity Story, Laitera deconstructing Mystica, John Bengan contemplating Waking Life and graffiti, Alfonso Dacanay listing his ten favorite Filipino children's stories, Gabriela Lee talking about coming home for the holidays, Wilfredo Pascual writing about assorted journeys, Larry Ypil quoting Eduardo Galeano on worms, orgies, and spaghetti, Jun Lana giving a heartbreaking interview with a friend about his love life, and Resty Odon contemplating food supplements.

Have a great last day of the weekend, everybody. I'm staying home to watch more movies. (And maybe do some Christmas shopping before the unwashed hordes invade.)

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entry arrow9:49 AM | Watching Salo

Last night, I finally got to watch Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salò o le centoventi giornate di Sodoma (or just Salò). I wanted to see it, partly because, as a cineast, one has to see these things as part of one's film education, and partly because, well, I'm a pervert. (Actually, that last one was Mark's smirk-with-raised-eyebrows no-bullshit assessment, which made me guffaw.)

And partly because it's still banned in the Philippines, I think. (Other countries have banned it as well.)

My dearest Francois has always told me to avoid this film like a banquet of shit. "It's utterly demeaning," he said, "and has no intrinsic human value." Which, of course, made the movie for me. How demeaning? Here's a partial list of things you will see in this movie: rape and humiliation, sodomy, and assorted torture by fire-branding, eye-gouging, tongue-cutting, and scalping. You will see penises and breasts being consumed by fire, and see one young woman forced to eat bread with nails inside. In one famous scene, a girl is forced to eat fresh shit, and the scene segues to a banquet where the main course, of course, is shit.

This is a shot from the gruesome finale:



IMDB gives a plot summary of the film: "Set in the Nazi-controlled, northern Italian state of Salò in 1944, four dignitaries [called Masters, and variously a Duke, Bishop, Magistrate, and President] round up sixteen perfect specimens of youth and take them together with guards, servants and studs to a palace near Marzabotto. In addition, there are four middle-aged women: three of whom recount arousing stories whilst the fourth accompanies on the piano. The story is largely taken up with their recounting the stories of Dante and De Sade: the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. Following this, the youths are executed whilst each libertine takes his turn as voyeur."

Bill Mousoulis, in Sense of Cinema, tries to situate Salò in the pantheon on film classics, and says: "The film stands on its own as an anti-fascist and anti-power statement, if a somewhat raw and confronting one. Never have abusive power and bourgeois decadence been given such full reign within a single film. The question is: how do you attack fascism? By being against it, or by showing it in all its "glory"? In this sense, Salò is a clear precursor to serial-killer-study films such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1986) and Sombre (Philippe Grandrieux, 1998) in the way its gaze at its subject is unflinching and detailed."

(You can read the rest of his article here.)

But maybe the fact that I knew that that huge platter of shit was actually made from chocolate and diced orange peelings somehow spared me from some extreme (read: nauseous) reactions to the film. Or maybe my expectations of Salò's debauchery was just a little too high. Or maybe, after a recent glut of extreme films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the remake) Turistas and Hostel and Korea's The Audition and The Isle that took torture and mayhem beyond Pasolini and De Sade, I've just become (horrifyingly) innured to shock.

One must take note that Pasolini -- otherwise a genius of the cinematic arts who directed such films as The Gospel According to St. Matthew, The Hawks and the Sparrows, Love and Anger, The Decameron, and The Canterbury Tales -- was murdered after completing Salò. A just end? "It is," I remember Francois telling me.

That said, I don't recommend anyone watching Salo. It's deadening cinema.

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entry arrow1:36 AM | Sunday, Bloody Sunday

These are the ten best death scenes in horror movies, ever.

Happy Sunday!

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

entry arrow6:15 AM | Obscure This

I had a poet friend once who was quiet snobbish about his own writings, prefering to be obscure rather than be "compromised" by Palanca awards or by literary editors "who have no taste." I remember rolling my secret inner eyes. (I kept a poker face when he pronounced all that.) Then this quote from Conrado de Quiros came to me: "Writing obscurely [is] just a good excuse to write badly. You could always blame the reader's lack of depth for your incomprehensibleness."

How true.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

entry arrow5:30 PM | Some Things

1.

I grew up reading Michael Crichton -- how I devoured his pageturners such as The Andromeda Strain and Congo and Disclosure -- but starting with the disappointing The Lost World, he seemed to have gone ... wimpy. And didactic. (Although you can make the argument: wasn't he always?) The last straw was his startling polemic about the non-existence of global warming State of Fear. He has written a new novel called Next. And now, this? Michael, Michael... what happened to you?

2.

So the rumor, which I found initially funny, is really true. Being circumcised is a great thing.

3.

My online time is consumed by monitoring the awards fever. Yes, I'm an Oscar junkie.

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entry arrow5:50 AM | The Poetry of Clay Masks

There is a passage from Byrd Baylor's wonderful book When Clay Sings that seems appropriately -- and properly -- a summary of things for the groundbreaking exhibit that opened more than a month ago in Mariyah Gallery along Larena Drive in Bogo Junction. The passage from the children's book goes this way:

They say that every piece of clay is a piece of someone's life. They even say it has its own small voice and sings in its own way.

That seems evident in the myriad stories that struggle to break free (and do) from the clay masks adorning the exhibition spaces of this pint-size Dumaguete gallery that has, of late, become the virtual melting pot of local visual arts. In many ways, the whole show is a coming to form by most of the artists taking part in the exhibition, some of them formidable names constituting the very life of Oriental Negrense's art scene.

The exhibit, titled Cara y Cruz, features works in terra cotta (and, in one case, in plaster) by Kitty Taniguchi, Dani Sollesta, Hemrod Duran, Jutsze Pamate, Mark Valenzuela, Rene de Guzman, and Cris Byro. In works that vary in terms of stories and themes, the only commonality they have is their individual take on the concept of masks and mask-making. The challenge for each one seems to be to form out of clay their artistic mold on the concept of identity, which the mask is particularly metaphoric for.

"The idea of masks has always intrigued me," says Ms. Taniguchi. "Masks have been utilized throughout history to either hide or enhance our identities, sometimes in serious and sometimes in playful ways."

This take on the inherent contradictions of masks is at the heart of the exhibit. The Spanish term "cara y cruz," of course, pertains to the old betting game among traditional Filipinos involving the gamble of a coin toss, but it is also an old expression to suggest baliktaran or being balimbing, which is to say to change one's behavior for a particular advantage. It is ultimately about contradictions.

In Cara y Cruz, the masks offer a play on the concepts of double identities -- the masked and the unmasked personas in each one of us -- as well as the ultimate goal of transformation which masking finally affords. This is, according to the artists, the ability of masks to render to the wearer a chance "to go beyond one's real self."

Most of the works have been molded out of San Carlos clay, which when finally baked, produces a strong, full texture that can seem almost wooden. That texture helps in setting the tone and the theme of the masks in the exhibit -- there is an earthiness to the works that make them both intimate and off-putting all at the same time.

In a simple diptych "Gargoyles," Ms. Taniguchi sets off the difference between a Venetian ball mask and a traditional Japanese mask, which somehow completes a wider story about East versus West. Here, she is deliberate in her message about intricate contrasts somehow still mirroring each other, and at the same time also devouring each other. One mask is resplendent in its Baroque intricacies -- bulbous eyes set off by a pair of beaded eyebrows, and curlicues that become goat horns; this is versus a smaller mask, set beneath the first one, that is Zen-like in simplicity. It is Buddha versus the Devil.

In "Uwak," Ms. Taniguchi seems to combine her old Babylonian aesthetic with something more native. Here, she takes on the mien of birds, with a mouthless mask featuring a protruded beak and angry eyes. She has created a work that rejoices not in the flightiness of feathered creatures, but in their ferocity. It is an angry work, also haunting, that nevertheless moves forward Ms. Taniguchi's current fascination with crows that populates her more popular later paintings.

Mr. Sollesta, on the other hand, makes a virtual map of his travels by "compiling" in a grid-like manner, his impressions of the countries (and the people) he has visited and encountered, rendering them all as different masks -- some quaint, some horrific, some lovely -- in an outsized work he titles "Images of Travel." The work is a masterpiece of visual art narrative.

The works by the other artists in the collection are equally compelling, but Mr. Valenzuela's "Camouflage 1" and "Camouflage 2" are perhaps the most unsettling in the whole exhibit, and thus may be closest to aesthetic success.

Terra cotta is where Mr. Valenzuela has finally come to finding his mature artistic voice. A young artist known primarily for his conceptual paintings and sketches, he has found a fullness of tone and theme in his sculptural works, starting with this set comprised of masks in varied degrees of disturbing. (In a future collection, he will be tackling dolls in terra cotta, rendering them monstrous and disjointed in what could be a critique of a mechanized and cosmeticized world.) In "Camouflage 2," Mr. Valenzuela lines up in vertical order a series of cut-up faces, some with only eyes darting out stares of accusation, and some with mere mouths all the more disturbing because they leer with stuck out tongues. The whole work is an elongated parade of Frankenstein face parts. What story does it tell? A commentary on societal schizophrenia? Or the murderous and deceitful multiplicity of our everyday masks? Who knows?

Because, in the long run, staring right into the clay eyes of each work, they frighten you with this possibility: that these masks can also be our own autobiographies. We look at them "looking out" at us, and then we can easily imagine slipping them over our faces, becoming whatever common monster -- or saint -- we wish to be for the moment. Masks after all is all about "becoming."

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

entry arrow4:11 AM | What We Could Have Become

What we have in Dumaguete is so much potential for greatness. What is utterly lacking is vision -- the ability to think beyond the boundaries of a small city, to dream big things for ourselves, while still being able to preserve a way of life that does most of us here great service: Dumaguete's charm, for one thing ... its quaintness, its intimacy of place.

But a small place does not necessarily have to be a "small" place, if you get the drift. Dumaguete can become so much, yes, but it is still bogged down in the very Filipino disease which the late National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin used to call a "heritage of smallness."

In that incisive essay (a favorite literary text for many collegiate Philippine literature classes), Joaquin wrote that Filipinos -- but, for our purposes, specifically Dumaguetenos -- "think small." Our ways consist of insignificant gestures, our perspective is narrow, our dreams are self-defeating in their utter lack of grand ambition. Which may be why we are trapped in the tyranny of having an isang kahig, isang tuka life.

Joaquin wrote:

This is a country, perhaps the only one in the world, where people buy and sell one stick of cigarette, half a head of garlic, a dab of pomade, part of the contents of a can or bottle, one single egg, one single banana... So much effort by so many for so little. Like all those children risking neck and limb in the traffic to sell one stick of cigarette at a time. Or those grown-up men hunting the sidewalks all day to sell a puppy or a lantern or a pair of socks. The amount of effort they spend seems out of all proportion to the returns...

The Filipino who travels abroad gets to thinking that his is the hardest working country in the world. By six or seven in the morning we are already up on our way to work, shops and markets are open; the wheels of industry are already agrind. Abroad, especially in the West, if you go out at seven in the morning you're in a dead-town. Everybody's still in bed; everything's still closed up. Activity doesn't begin till nine or ten -- and ceases promptly at five p.m. By six, the business sections are dead towns again. The entire cities go to sleep on weekends. They have a shorter working day, a shorter working week. Yet they pile up more mileage than we who work all day and all week.

Is the disparity to our disparagement?

We work more but make less. Why? Because we act on such a pygmy scale. Abroad they would think you mad if you went in a store and tried to buy just one stick of cigarette. They don’t operate on the scale. The difference is greater than between having and not having; the difference is in the way of thinking. They are accustomed to thinking dynamically. We have the habit, whatever our individual resources, of thinking poor, of thinking petty.

I want to illustrate.

I remember the battle for the old Dumaguete City Master Plan, which was hatched by the previous administration (and promptly trashed by the new mayor when he came to office -- more for political reasons than for the plan's lack of merit). The Plan was drafted into a firm blueprint by acclaimed (and now retired) U.S.-based architect Manuel Almagro (he who helped restore the Statue of Liberty for its Bicentennial in the 1980s). It called for a massive re-imagination of the city. I used to ask the previous mayor, in my previous capacity as editor-in-chief of NegrosNews, what his business model was for the city. "All thriving cities have a business model," I told him. He smiled and said, "A University Town model, of course." And proceeded to unveil what he meant.

Part of the Plan called for strict implementation of zoning guidelines (still non-existent, or at least inconsistent in our present context), and for even distribution of the traffic of people, of commerce, and of institutions, from the downtown area to outlying areas. "It's wrong to have half the city still be in the boondocks," he said. "Still basically agricultural when it shouldn't be. All that empty land going to waste..."

The Plan was an ambitious blueprint for the future of the city. Without doubt it entailed sacrifices and battles -- clearly a headache in the short run, but sound in the long run. A small part of its complex revisioning was to create a paseo in place of what is now Perdices Street -- our city's Main Street, the commercial artery that services everybody. The paseo in the Plan called for a beautiful brick walk traversing the street with benches and trees, and a clock-tower at both ends -- which meant siphoning Perdices Street off its traffic of snarling vehicles ... and which also meant that for anyone to shop in the center of town, one had to walk to both ends of the strip to finally get a ride.

"A shopping promenade!" I exclaimed. I had seen such complexes in my travels abroad. The best one for me was in Kichijoji, in Japan, and I was happy that Dumaguete could hatch such a plan equivalent to its finally entering the modern world.

Of course, that notion made so many people -- especially those in the political opposition -- cry foul. They said things like, "What? Me walk along Perdices Street? What if I have bags full of groceries after shopping in Lee Super Plaza? I have to walk all that way before I can get a pedicab?" And so on and so forth -- all comments stinging, particularly now, with such ignorance and lack of foresight.

Later on, I realized that perhaps it was virtually impossible for these people to see the beauty of the design. If they were well-traveled (which they were clearly not -- perfectly explaining their extremely insular philosophy), they would have understood that such cosmopolitan design is increasingly the one being adopted by so many of the world's best cities. Manila, under Mayor Lito Atienza, is doing that right now, with some modifications -- and in the process reviving old and long-abandoned commercial centers like Tomas Morato. This is so in Tokyo, in Singapore, in Shanghai, in many of Europe's best commercial centers, and in many American cities as well. There is now an increasing trend to "mall-ify" city neighborhoods -- to create promenades out of traffic-choked streets, to trend-ify the facades of shops, to make people relax in the middle of a stressful urban landscape.

This was the wave of the future. Almost in our grasp. Killed by stupid politics.

So today, the plan for the Lo-oc Marina and Boardwalk is no more, among other disappointments.

Perdices Street still remains ugly Perdices Street -- with all the requisite nightmares of unplanned urbanity. The fact that traffic through the street now goes one-way has, in fact, paradoxically made it a nightmarish version of the Master Plan's paseo: most people going the opposite way still has to walk the street's entire length before they can actually get a ride home. I live in Tubod, for example. To get a ride from downtown, I still have to walk -- grocery bags and all -- to the corner of Silliman Avenue to flag any available cab. In fact, to make sure I can actually get a cab, I walk all the way to Openas. That's walking halfway, to get to the destination.

Those people who cried and brayed and hawwed, have no vision whatsoever. And many of them are still in the City Council. Many of them we have elected to office again and again. We can rest assure we will forever remain mediocre.

Our tragedy springs from the fact that despite so much potential, and despite the singular visions of quite a few individuals, we maintain to rest in our sense of vapid complacency, of not having any initiative.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

entry arrow8:30 AM | A Shot of My Current Desktop Wallpaper

Mice...



...in a threeway.

Let's begin this week (the last before school breaks for Christmas!) with a little humor.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

entry arrow7:23 PM | Darwin's Nightmare

The wonderful YouTube seems to be a veritable gold mine of documentaries, some of them Oscar-nominated. These are films we in the Philippines only get to read about, but are largely unseen in our movie screens, even our video outlets. The latest find is the ecological film Darwin's Nightmare, directed by Hubert Sauper. (See IMDB information here.)



The clip information goes: "Through interviews with the Russian and Ukrainian plane crew, local factory owners, guards, prostitutes, fishermen and other villagers, the film discusses the effects of the introduction of the Nile Perch to Lake Victoria, how it has affected the ecology and economy of the region (the introduction of the Nile Perch into Lake Victoria has caused the extinction of hundreds of native species, see Nile Perch for more information). The film also dwells at length on the dichotomy between the huge amount of European aid which is being funneled into Africa, and yet at the same time the flow of munitions and weapons from European arms dealers flows unendingly into the continent, often on the same planes which transport the Nile Perch meat to European consumers, feeding the very conflicts which the aid was sent to remedy."

This is the first part:



The rest of the film is archived in YouTube as well.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

entry arrow12:54 AM | Fur Balls We Love

When Mark suggested we were getting a pet for the summer, I said no. I was 30, and I very quickly surmised that at that age, having a pet became an unnecessary throwback to childhood. In a sense, it felt very much like regression. I even remembered Scripture to back my hesitation: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things" (from I Corinthians 13:11). Pets, without doubt, were the province of children.

In the depths of all these, there was a nagging doubt that it was a kind of responsibility I had no wish to undertake. Pets were never playthings for me; owning one was tantamount to accountability with a life. Could I possibly care for one? I've had plants dying on me before: the act of watering proved too much, so how much more something one had to shelter, feed, groom, and play with? What time I had, I told Mark, could not possibly be eaten up more by the care of little animals. It was a definite "no."

The next day, I found myself the owner of a frisky little rodent, a guinea pig we named Verushka. She had the most beautiful black eyes, the kind that melted reservation. Guinea pigs, we soon quickly learned, were high-maintenance pets. They necessitated constant cleaning and care, and while we had a surfeit of love, we soon found out that what was also necessary for the well-being of any pet was research. Guinea pigs needed wood to chew on. They needed a flat surface in their cages to prevent incidents of broken bones. There was a vast amount of information to absorb -- but all these we found out only after Verushka died.

She was with us only three months when Mark noticed that she was not eating that much anymore. She loved vegetables, consuming vast amounts of kangkong we bought for her from the local grocery. Suddenly, she had no appetite, and her gait was increasingly becoming uneven. She seemed to drag her hind legs around, and sported the emaciated look of something that was sick. Nothing seemed right. The bad things snowballed, and in the next few days, we found ourselves frightened by what was happening before our eyes. We drove around the city trying to get in touch with the proper veterinarian, only to be met with incompetence in the City Veterinarian Office and the impatient run-around by private ones. On our way to the last clinic we knew existed, Verushka gave a tiny cry, stood up, stiffened, and fell dead.

We were in the middle of the highway in the middle of the afternoon, but there we were, two grown men, crying like there was no tomorrow.

Sometimes, I feel that my initial hesitation to owning a pet sprang from that fear of watching something you so earnestly love die. A pet is an investment of emotions. It can become a repository of all our gentle humanity, so when it is gone, a part of us die as well.

I have always known this to be true. I had many pets growing up, and the various houses we rented through the years became veritable zoos. There were several dogs from childhood until late adolescence, some of the shaggy kind, and others plain street mutts whose lack of thick fur was considerably made up by their deep capacity for loving. There were several Wiggles and two Sugars (we had a tendency to repeat names over the years), and there was a particularly loving mutt I did not hesitate on calling Gizmo, after the lovable critter in the movie Gremlins. There were a hundred cats as well, so to speak -- the matriarch Minggay, several daughters all named Mingky (one of which was the subject of an abandoned comic strip project I had when I was a kid), a Blackie, and a Louis. Louis was a white tabby, Minggay's grandson courtesy of the most regal Mingky we had. Once I found Louis and Minggay copulating in our old house in Tubod, and such was my childish moral wrath that I screamed upon that discovery. My poor mother had to assure me that this was the way of other creatures: between them, sex preceded kinship. It was a way of the natural world that must have altered, in some fundamental way, my perspective on everything.

There was one Christmas when I was in college when my best friend Kristyn gave me a black rabbit. Because I was in a playful mood, I quickly named the creature Rabbit Stew -- and presented it to my mother, who quickly said, "Not another pet. They break my heart."

It was not out of cruelty that mother said that. She was, after all, the foremost caretaker of all the creatures we have sheltered and loved. It was, I have since realized, her way of summing up the grand narrative of human attachment to domesticated animals. In the end, she knew that pets die. She could not bear another heartbreak over the merest mortality. In some places I know, this seems to be one of the ultimate reasons why parents permit children to care for animals -- to teach them, in telescopic intimacy, the gravitas of death.

(Mother and Rabbit Stew, which she quickly nicknamed Bibit, soon grew so close the rabbit would actually wake her up in the morning by jumping on her chest to beg for food. When Bibit eventually died, my mother's heart was broken anew. We never had another pet again.)

Soon after Verushka's passing, Mark and I had to learn to cope with the frank sadness of an empty cage. Which led to our "adopting" two grayish Siberian dwarf hamsters we named Sushmita and Aishwarya, which ultimately became shortened to Sush and Ash the moment we noticed the hamsters we had were, in fact, boys. Then there was a Syrian teddy bear hamster we named Shandi. Then there were the white mice we named Alicia, Shiloh, Chiyo, Pumpkin, Ken, Watanabe -- and four new babies, one of which is such a docile female we have recently christened it Cynthia.


This is Shandi.


This is Ash.


This is Cynthia.

There are two cockatiels a friend gave us, and which we named Silly and Billy. Then there are the fish we have since collected: a black gold fish named Kimorah Lee, a betta named Jay, three mollies named Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, and Elvis Presley, a golden pleco named Cinderella, a rainbow shark named Katharine Hepburn, assorted swordtails named the Brady Bunch, carps named Oxana Federova and Cher, and several others we have since ceased naming. Of course, there is also a dog named Lara Dutta. Verushka has spawned in us a want to spread that suddenly discovered capacity to love.

A pet, I have since found out, is an extension of our capacity to be human: we were all born God's stewards, and in many ways owning a pet becomes a microcosm of that responsibility. In return for the little loving we give, these pets somehow manage to absorb the stress of our days, melting all our sadness and tiredness away with just that tiny look from their little black eyes and the squiggle of their little noses. It's a great way to live.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

entry arrow7:34 PM | The Wages of Fashion

Last October, we were shooting scenes from around Oriental Negros with Patricia Evangelista and television scriptwriter Flexy Sarte for Living Asia Channel. During a brief stopover in sleepy Bacong town (the setting for Alfred Yuson's Palanca-winning novel The Great Philippine Jungle Energy Cafe), we went inside the oldest church in the province, whose old bamboo organ --the source of its pride -- now lies in unfortunate disrepair. Something caught my eye on our way out. It was this poster tacked on the heavy entrance doors:



[Click here for a bigger image.]

It was a fashion advisory for church. Kini ang insakto is Cebuano which means "This is the correct dress." Dili angay iso-ot sa pagsimba means "This is expressedly forbidden for church."

Cute, I said. How Urbana and Felisa! Not that I advocate trashy fashion for church wear. But to wear that kind of parish-prescribed dress? Must devout Catholic ladies look like lolas to gain entry to heaven?

I stole the poster. (Yes, I did. From a church.) Why not? It made me laugh.

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entry arrow12:22 AM | ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Ze Movie

Yes, it's directed by Joel Lamangan (Oh, God). But let's hope that the campy originality of Carlo Vergara's vision shines through this adaptation of a beloved comic book. (How beloved? I'm taking it up in my Philippine literature classes this term, and my students love it.)

A minor quibble: wouldn't it have been better if the real-life inspirations played the roles of Vilma S., Nora A., Sharon C., and Dina B.? Or to get at the queer heart of the matter, at least these actresses' top gay impersonators?

Anyway, here's ze full trailer from Regal Films...



And here's a short documentary of the making...



Zaturnnah!

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

entry arrow1:19 AM | A Study of Evil

"Obedience is better than sacrifice."
-- I Samuel 15:22

Sometimes, when I despair about the state of the world -- complete with images of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, Marcos, and Arroyo flashing in my head -- I think about the lowest levels of depravity we sometimes unwittingly allow ourselves to wallow in. There is scientific basis for this.

In 1963, the psychologist Stanley Milgram decided to do an experiment that would test the capacity for evil by the most normal of human beings. He called this controversial experiment "Behavioral Study of Obedience." The results of that study stunned the world, and gave us an unsettling view of the darkest depths of our psychology.

Stanford University's Philip Zimbardo wrote of that experiment:

Milgram recruited more than 1,000 participants from all walks of life to be a part of his studies. They would arrive individually in the lab and be told they were helping psychological science to find new ways to improve memory through punishment and thereby help in the education processes.

Teacher, the role assigned to the participant, helps the Experimenter, who is wearing the white lab coat, symbolic of his status, to connect the Learner, a lovable middle-aged man, to the electrical shock apparatus; the victim is in an adjacent room. On the first trials, learning is going well, the word associates are being recalled, and Teacher says, "Good, fine."

But then the Learner starts making errors and punishment begins, first small, then ever escalating. As it does, the Learner begins complaining, then yelling and screaming. The Teacher is upset, having never imagined it would come to this. Turning to the Experimenter, Teacher dissents, indicating he or she does not want to continue, which is cast aside as the Teacher is reminded of the contract agreed to previously. More shock, more yelling, complaining of a heart condition, and insisting he wants to quit. "Who will be responsible if something bad happens in there to the Learner, Sir?" asks the Teacher. "I will; please continue, Teacher." At 375 volts the Learner screams, there is a loud thud, and then only silence from the shock chamber thereafter. Teacher is now really distressed (the women often cry, the men wince), says the experiment should be terminated because the Learner has stopped responding.

Not so easy. "Remember the rules," reminds the Experimenter, "Failure to respond is an error, and all errors must be punished immediately with the appropriate level of reaction, Teacher." And there are five more higher levels possible to the extreme of 450 volts.

Before starting his research, Milgram invited 40 psychiatrists to predict the percentage and type of person who would indeed go all the way in this study that he described to them in detail. In their collective wisdom based on their medical training in dispositional, individualistic analysis, they concluded that fewer than 1% of the Teacher-Participants would go all the way, and they would be the sadists.

So the psychiatrists were all wrong; everyone's predictions were all wrong. Not 1% compliance, but 65% compliance -- two thirds of the subjects went all the way up to the final level. That quantification of evil went as high as 90% or down to 10% compliance across 18 studies in Milgram's research program -- each study varying one aspect of the social situation.

This explains why there can be absolute acquiescence by the most normal of people even in a deluge of so much palpable evil, and sometimes even contribute to its perpetuation: there were the ordinary Germans in World War II, the Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge bloobath, the Spanish during the Catholic Inquisition, the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution, and so on and so forth...

This scenario is more or less echoed in Alex Gibney's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (see the IMDB data here), which for me is a powerful indictment of corporate greed in recent history.



According to one description, the movie "takes a look at one of the greatest corporate disasters in history, in which top executives from the 7th largest company in [America] walked away with over one billion dollars, leaving investors and employees with nothing. The film features insider accounts and rare corporate audio and movie tapes that reveal colossal personal excesses of the Enron hierarchy and the utter moral vacuum that posed as corporate philosophy. The human drama that unfolds within Enron's walls resembles a Greek tragedy and produces a domino effect that could shape the face of our economy and ethical code for years to come."

The writer of that note happens to have posted the entire movie over at YouTube. This is part one:



Watch the film, and cringe with horror over the ordinary gestures people do to create evil -- and even relish it.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

entry arrow11:25 AM | A Quick Overview of Pinoy ChickLit

Say what you will about ChickLit, I do read my fair share of it (...although not lately, I wonder why). There was a huge controversy a while back when Tara FT Sering won a National Book Award for the Y/A novel, which some other literary friends considered as too Cosmopolitan to be in the category. (And then there was that incident in a literary conference where Vince Groyon dismissed the whole genre as not being literature at all.) While I do agree with Carla Pacis's contention, I cannot readily endorse the non-literariness of the whole enterprise (here's Bevz Asenjo writing about the ChickLit allure in her Friendster blog), because there are a few books that are certainly well-written. Most of all, they do not apologize for being entertaining.

That's why I miss Summit Books. When the books with their trademark pastel illustrations first came out in every newsstand all over the country, they created a minor revolution, because suddenly they subverted what everybody was saying about book publishing in the Philippines: they made money. Who said Philippine literature has to be all about nationalist fervor and what-not?

These are the books that caught everybody's fancy...







Consider those names, some of them Palanca-winning authors... Andrea Pasion, Tara FT Sering, Tweet Sering, Claire Betita, Melissa Salva, Mabi David, Maya O. Calica, and Abi Aquino. A formidable bunch that churned out one book after another.

But the flow seems to have dwindled to a trickle somewhere. (Tara, where are you?) Today, however, it is PSICOM Publishing -- the current purveyor of popular literature that includes The Philippine Ghost Stories series -- that is taking up the slack, although I have yet to read a single title. Here are some books from Katrina Ramos-Atienza, though:



And here's another from a great friend and writer, the Palanca-winning Anna Sanchez-Ishikawa:



Sure, they're about the icky stuff. I like the icky stuff. So do you, admit it.

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entry arrow10:44 AM | An Inconvenient Truth

I've always wanted to see the movie, but I doubt Davis Guggenheim's An Incovenient Truth, documenting Al Gore's powerful plea for environmentalism (see the IMDB information here), will ever come to a Dumaguete screen.



But here's a YouTube pirate doing his best to spread the word. This is part one:



The others are here: 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

What can I say...in the name of planet Earth, hurrah for copyright infringement!

UPDATE

Conrado de Quiros writes about the movie in his latest column, and sees its horrifying resonance in the last three supertyphoons that have lambasted Philippine shores of late. Think global warming can't touch you? Well, what was the last cold December in memory?

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

entry arrow11:11 AM | A.R. Enriquez's Works Now Available as eBooks

The award-winning writer Antonio R. Enriquez has formatted his essays, short stories, and novels into e-books, adding that "hopefully, these works would be given a second life in the electronics world. Pulp, their source of life, is fast dwindling as the forest is disappearing."


Antonio Enriquez with 2001 Nobel Prize writer V.S. Naipaul in Bangkok

Enriquez went to college at Silliman Universiting graduating Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing in 1968. His novel Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh (1981), was published by the University of Queensland Press in Queensland, Australia, and won the Grand Prize in the 1982 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature. Another novel, The Living and the Dead (Giraffe Books, 1994) was shortlisted by the Manila Critic Circle Award in the 1995 National Book Awards. His novel Subanons, which won the Don Carlos Palanca Grand Prize in 1993, was published by the University of the Philippines Press in 1999. His other short stories that won the Palanca are "The Icon" (third prize, 1969) and "Spot on Their Wings" (first prize, 1973). He was also selected as a SEAWrite Awardee, and has also received the Hawthornden Castele International Retreat for Writers Residence grant, Scotlang, March 2002. He is now residing in Cagayan de Oro City and is writer in-residence for Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City.

His works are now available at his website.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

entry arrow10:51 AM | Call for Submissions to First Person Queer

This just emailed in. Some of you might be interested...

First Person Queer: Who We Are, Where We've Come From, Where We're Going
Edited by Richard Labonté and Lawrence Schimel

For publication in Fall 2007 by Arsenal Pulp Press

We're looking for short (under 1500 words) first person essays from across the spectrum of queer experience that depict the diversity, the complexity, and the excitement of contemporary GLBTQ life. We want to be surprised, and to surprise our readers, with intensely personal experiences from writers of diverse genders, ages, races, and orientations, informing us about unusual aspects of our lives.

Comprehending queer codes, exulting in nonconformity, expressing gender deviance, confronting assimilation, having to "pass": write about the theory of your life. Discuss sissyhood, parenting skills, sexual experiences (play or work), urban pleasures, personal choices: write about the practice of your life. We've all got a story to tell. Share yours. Express your "I".

Topic and tone -- witty, reflective, satirical, learned -- are open to your imaginations, as long as the writing is real. What's going to make us sit up and pay attention are essays that go beyond the traditional tales of coming out, first love, breaking up, the death of a lover, the acceptance -- or not -- of parents. These are important stories, and intriguing twists on them will be considered, but they've been done; we're unlikely to include more than one or two.

So: offer us something different, something less easy to categorize. Give us a glimpse of an instructive physical moment or a transcendent emotional passage from your dyke, fag, tranny, bi, or otherwise queer life. Prose or graphic/comix narratives, no poetry.

Submit your work by email, as an attachment in .doc format, with author's last name and story title in the file name: Surname-Title.doc, to Richard Labonte at: fpqueer(at)gmail (dot)com.

Please include contact details and bio in the .doc file, not just in your email; submissions that are considered will be separated from the emails.

Deadline: 28 February 2007.

Payment: a small honorarium and one copy of the book will be paid. (Please note that payment is in Canadian funds.)

As an anthology for a Canadian publisher, preference will be given to submissions from Canadian writers. But the anthology is open to submissions from all writers, and is actively interested in non-North American writers.

About the Editors

Richard Labonte has been the editor of the Best Gay Erotica series since 1997, and of the anthologies Country Boys and Hot Gay Erotica. He writes the syndicated review column "Book Marks" for Q Syndicate and also the Gay Men's Edition of Books to Watch Out For. For many years the general manager of A Different Light Bookstores, he moved home to Ontario, Canada in 2001, where he lives with his husband, Asa Dean Liles, and their dog Zak.

Lawrence Schimel is an award-winning author and anthologist who has published over 80 books in many different genres, including PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality (with Carol Queen), Best Date Ever: True Stories That Celebrate Gay Relations, The Drag Quen of Elfland, Things Invisible to See: Lesbian and Gay Tales of Magic Realism, The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica, Switch Hitters: Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica and Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica (with Carol Queen), and Two Boys in Love, among others. Since 1999, he has lived in Madrid, Spain.

Together, Labonte and Schimel are the editors of The Future is Queer, also published by Arsenal Pulp Press.

About the Publisher

Arsenal Pulp Press is an independent Canadian publisher located in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has published titles such as Queer View Mirror edited by James Johnstone and Karen X. Tulchinsky, Out/Lines: Underground Gay Graphics From Before Stonewall, With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Writes Porn edited by Amber Dawn and Trish Kelley, and the Little Sisters Classics series, among many other queer-interest titles.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

entry arrow8:41 PM | Scorpio Nights and Summer Time

I was watching one of those DVDs newly-acquired from the ever-faithful pirate along the Capitol highway, and chanced upon a sexy Korean movie, Summer Time, which was released last 2001, directed by Jae-ho Park and written by Jeong-hak Lee. (See the IMDB information here, and a review here.)



Save for a few scenes and the half-hearted (agonizingly mishandled) ending, it is a virtual copy-cat of Peque Gallaga's jarring erotic masterpiece Scorpio Nights. A photo-copy, really.



Does Peque know about this?

I don't know whether to be enraged or delighted. Enraged, because of the usual reasons. But also delighted, because -- after all these years of prognostication that Filipino cinema is dead and left behind by the rest of the world, especially Korea -- here is proof that many of our films do create impact, enough to be emulated (or pirated) by other filmmakers abroad.

In the long run, the original is still the better version of the story. Gallaga's film (see the IMDB data here), a controversial affair that blurred the borders between art and pornography, is gritty and well-made, going beyond its shocking display of graphic sexuality and finally becoming a damning mirror of the society it reflected. Park's version, on the other hand, does not escape its masturbatory nature and sinks ever lower.

Still, I'd prefer it if Park and Lee had acknowledged their source. It's just not right.

[brief update: whoopsie, turns out everybody's been talking about this since forever.]

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entry arrow7:53 PM | A New Look for the Philippines Free Press

There's something about the new Philippines Free Press that's making me buy an issue every single week.



Perhaps it is new literary editor Sarge Lacuesta's sumptuous choice of fiction, poetry, and essay. (The latest historical fiction by Mads Bajarias was brilliant!) Perhaps it is also the new design, courtesy of the old Today team, that has incorporated into the new layout a crisp look that is both aesthetically pleasing and also easy on the eyes. Here is a snapshot of the Literary Page:



But whatever it is, congratulations on the new look, Philippines Free Press.

In any case, here is Dean Alfar's original forward of Sarge's call for submissions:

The Philippines Free Press has a new literary editor, Sarge Lacuesta, and he's asked me to tell you that he's looking for kick-ass short stories. If you have well-written fiction, send it to him for consideration. I can't speak for him in terms of what he's looking for (you could check out back issues under previous editor Paolo Manalo, but Sarge's taste might differ), but I can tell you what is obvious: literary fiction. Now before you roll your eyes and sigh, this isn't necessarily social-realist fiction - in fact, Sarge is open to spec fic, for as long as it is well-written (having contributed "New Wave Days", a great piece, to Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.1 himself). So this is a great opportunity for you, me and everyone else who is pushing for more genre stories (for instance, I'll be delighted if a strong sci fi or interstitial piece is published there). Go and submit: sargelacuesta(at)gmail(dot)com.

Go submit something, and be part of a long literary tradition...

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