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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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Saturday, September 10, 2016

entry arrow3:12 PM | The Ides of the Retrograde

Late night conversations with cat.


“No, I’m not letting you out.”


“No, no, no. Plus it rained a while ago—”


“—I know but I let you out last night. I can’t have you out every night.”


“Oh, come on. Don’t tell me that. No.”




“Like I said, no.”

* * *

I read somewhere that a cat’s meow is singularly tailored to its human; every sound that a cat makes evolves to a pattern that corresponds to particularities of meaning, which, over time, a cat owner absorbs, learns, and understands. There’s a meow for I’m hungry. There’s a meow for Stop caressing me now, I want to be alone. There’s a meow for Open the door, and let me out, I need to see my beau. And the human perfectly gets each one, apparently. Cat owners know exactly what their cats are saying. But it is a non-transferable privilege. A cat’s meow apparently will never be understood by another human.

I think of this sometimes whenever I want to marvel at the bond that happens when communication between people is pure, unhindered, and clear. To have the need to pour out your soul, and to find someone willing to listen, that is a measure of a blessed life. But it is not always easy to listen, even if we seem to find ourselves to be a well-spring of expressiveness. We gossip, we use our electronic devices for an endlessness of chat, we throw our unsolicited opinions to the air where they land as explosive posts in our social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are a morass of so much talking—and people hear without really listening.

The world has become a model of iron-clad irony: in an age of so much information at out fingertips, we have learned to be suspicious of facts; in an age of so much interconnection, we have learned to be distrustful of our friends; and in an age where the means of communicating with each other have become ubiquitous, miscommunication often seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Read YouTube comments and Facebook posts, and feel the ragged viciousness that has come to define our humanity. They are enough to make anyone recoil.

* * *

It doesn’t help either that sometimes the stars are in cahoots with the demons of miscommunication, disrupting our efforts at being perfectly understood. This year, there are three instances of Mercury going into retrograde, and we are currently living through the final one, between August 30 and September 22. The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains that “sometimes the planets appear to be traveling backward through the zodiac; this is an illusion. We call this illusion retrograde motion.” When the planet Mercury goes into retrograde, communication apparently goes haywire. This is because Mercury rules communication, clear thinking, truthfulness, and travel, and so when the planet goes into this spin, all these things go backwards, they get tangled up. Your travel plans go kaput. Truth becomes obscured. Confusion reigns. And miscommunication happens: your cellphone dies on you, your important email goes into the bulk folder, your letters get lost in the post office.

My friend, the eminent writer Krip Yuson, experienced his retrograde quite early on. Even before August came to an end, his iPhone sputtered to death—which didn’t stop him from ranting about the retrograde in Facebook.

But it pays to be extra careful these days about the things we say and announce. The Duterte government—if this can be an excuse—has been, thus far, a veritable victim of the retrograde devils: every pronouncement of the President has been broadcast, interpreted, and quarreled over. More recently, even before landing in Laos for the ASEAN Summit, his words, always “colorful,” have ignited diplomatic firebombs—particularly the “putang ina” he allegedly lobbied at President Obama. It was unfortunate dirty language that was heard around the world, the perfect soundbyte for a scandal-hungry world. Some people say he has been very disrespectful, unstatesmanlike. Some people say he was grossly misunderstood—“It wasn’t a personal attack!” Reports later came that President Duterte had expressed regret for his choice of words. But later reports also came that his speech during the summit again managed to insult Obama. And even much later reports say Obama did not take any of it personally. And while Philippine traditional media and social media tossed and turned over the nuances of words, Stephen Colbert and other American TV comics suddenly made “Duterte” a familiar name in their comedy routines. The uproar continues.

Welcome to the crazier side of the retrograde.

It doesn’t have to be political, too. The retrograde can be personal, and it is best to anticipate it. We were having a birthday party at one of the swankier night spots in town for one of our American friends. Nalingaw ko sa minor cultural debate namo that night:

“Amerikano bertdey ni or Pinoy bertdey?”

“Amerikano bertdey ni.”

“Hala, sige, bayad ta.”

But you don’t have to take the retrograde seriously. For most people, it is astrological mumbo-jumbo that has no bearing on anyone’s lives at all. Phones die all the time. Emails get unread all the time. Fights flare out all the time. And this: after two months of refusing to turn on, my iPad suddenly whirred back to life today. On the fourth day of the retrograde. Which is not bad at all.

* * *

One cause for misunderstanding is, of course, the opinions we hurl at each other in the nonstop debate chambers of Facebook. I was reading The Guardian online, and I came across this quote by the playwright David Hare: “In an internet age it is, at first glance, democratic to say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That is surely true. It is however a fatal step to then claim that all opinions are equal. Some opinions are backed by fact. Others are not. And those that are not backed by fact are worth considerably less than those that are.”

Hare is apparently writing the screenplay of the film about the 2000 litigation brought about by historian David Irving against author Deborah Lipstadt for her description of him as a Holocaust denier. In this article for The Guardian, Hare evokes the timeliness of the subject matter in an age where historical revisionism is everywhere.

And I’m thinking, if anyone can historically revise the horrors of the Holocaust and make an interpretation of history that is sympathetic to Hitler, what more the Marcoses and Martial Law? The revisionism began on that some time ago, and many Filipinos have drank the Kool-Aid. Hare writes: “We are entering, in politics especially, a post-factual era in which it is apparently permissible for public figures to assert things without evidence, and then to justify their assertions by adding ‘Well, that’s my opinion’ – as though that in itself was some kind of justification. It isn’t. And such charlatans need to learn it isn’t.” The people who We are entering, in politics especially, a post-factual era in which it is apparently permissible for public figures to assert things without evidence, and then to justify their assertions by adding “Well, that’s my opinion” – as though that in itself was some kind of justification. It isn’t. And such charlatans need to learn it isn’t.”

These are precarious times indeed. The people who speak for Marcos are charlatans. Let them know it.

* * *

I have been grappling about what to do with my Facebook lately. It has become the most unhealthy of things: the venom that spews from it every second is foul, and it has poisoned, generally-speaking, my relationship with many friends, which is spilling out to real life. Every day I’m tempted to deactivate, but much of my work as a writer and as a teacher is bundled with the platform, and so I cannot. But I know I have to somehow find a compromise.

RACHEL LAW EMERY: I hope you can find a happy medium. I’ve seen snippets of the negativity and it is sometimes surprising to me to see the sources.

LORD ALLEN HERNANDEZ (computer programmer): You can start by fighting the urge to log in.

ME: My compromise now involves just parking on my profile page, and never going into the homepage.

SHAKIRA SISON (writer): Wow, this is my struggle now too. Really tempted to delete my mobile social media apps. I might give it a shot.

MAIA RAYMUNDO (biologist): That’s why I made this new one. For exactly that reason. My home feed is so refreshingly positive. #facebookdetox

JAMES NEISH (artist): I struggle with this issue a lot. I hope you don’t mind my two cents: block or unfollow people who just complain and post upsetting things; limit people’s access to your personal stuff; never ‘post to public’ unless you expect a couple of trolls; and limit your usage to just twice a day, 15 minutes at a time, maximum. Oh, and don’t use Facebook as a news source or a place to have intellectual discourse unless it’s with very good friends.

* * *

I came across this article about Facebook freakout and envy at the NPR. The writer Jon Brooks gives his own freakout as an example: “I experienced an emotional flip-flop myself around Thanksgiving of 2008, when I first joined up. For a week or so, I marveled at Facebook’s ability to connect me to people who had long ago faded into the remotest recesses of memory. But by Christmas, I was in the midst of a full-fledged metaphysical breakdown. Those scrolls [sic] down memory lane were killing me... It was the collapse of that natural partition between past and present that I found upsetting, and a few months in, after noting the male-pattern baldness of yet another long-lost pal, I figured out why: Facebook punctured the intransigently juvenile aspect of my personality that had refused to recognize the passage of time. And that, of course, provided yet another piece of evidence for the harshest reality of life: We are all going to die. OK, that was my Facebook freak-out — how about yours?”

Mine is this: some of my friends, and many of them I still love, are “monsters.”

* * *

The apocalypse doesn’t come with mountains trembling and hordes trampling the streets in a spectacle. It comes with sly slowness, baring its fangs intermittently you’d mistake it for a regular smile.

The people of Pompeii were going about an ordinary day with the earth slightly trembling now and then, thinking it was just one of those ordinary murmurs—and then the hot ashes came.

The Jews of Europe dutifully lined up to register when the Nazis took power in the early 1930s, hoping that obeying the anti-Semitic edicts would spare them future indignities. (The list of names would eventually be used systematically to obliterate them in the Holocaust.)

When the Bolsheviks finally seized power in Russia in October 1917, it was through a very quiet coup. The revolution that had gotten rid of the czar was actually begun by other people and had occurred early that year in February, leading to an interim government. But people tried to go about as usual, ignoring the signs of the coming systematic and wholesale bloodletting that would last from Lenin in 1917, to Stalin in the 1940s. “On the evening of October 25 [in 1917], Princess Meshchervsky went to the opera in Petrograd,” Douglas Smith writes in Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. “She noticed some trouble with the lights and a strange atmosphere in the theatre, but nothing out of the ordinary. Her experiences accord with most others in the city that night, for whom life, though chaotic and unpredictable, was uneventful.”

That made me pause. People went to the opera when the apocalypse came.

FLOY QUINTOS (playwright): Thank you for this. A quiet warning. The princess going to the opera...

ME: She refused to leave Russia, Floy. She even castigated her son who managed to escape.

BEN S. MALAYANG III (Silliman President): Facts. Disturbing. Truth. Now and always?

ME: Now and always, Sir Ben. It really pays to study—and remember—history.

MALAYANG: … And perchance not to repeat its evils.

ME: Pero, sir, nobody believes in history repeating. One begins to feel like a Cassandra in Greek mythology.

MALAYANG: History itself is not a repeating recurrence. It is its edifying and evil moments that are, crafted by its repeating confluence of virtues and vices.

ANA CENIZA MONTEBON (designer): As I read your post, this popped into my head and thus I share, from John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

MALAYANG: Very nice, An!

MONTEBON: Thanks, Ben. Actually here also is the first line na wala na apil diay nako na apil copy.

MALAYANG: Bitaw. Thank you.

MONTEBON: Ako lang pud ni i-share kay so significant for our present times. [Here’s] the accompanying write up to the verse: “In the Catholic tradition, all humanity is connected in the Body of Christ, and all are equal before God; in the Afterlife, there is no more male or female, Jew or Greek. The Bible states that ‘we are many parts, but we are all part of one body in Christ’ and that ‘there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” The implication for the individual living on Earth is that he is part of a greater whole, such that the death-bell has deep and significant meaning for everyone who hears it. We are all in this life together and part of the same divine plan, so the bell does toll for the sake of all who have ears to hear it.

MALAYANG: Creatures with life—however they differ in form, vices or virtues—have one thing in common: it is their having the phenomenon of life (the “thing” called life) and life—in whichever creature it resides or occurs—is the breath of God. Snuffing out life, it seems to me, is akin to snuffing out God.

SOL CORONG (cultural worker): That’s why nakakatakot din ang listahan ngayon sa atin. Baka gamitin sa masama.

* * *

I have been mulling over Department of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade’s statement for hours now. “A state of mind adds to the problem of traffic. Let’s stop blaming traffic. If you’re late, that’s that.” I still don’t know what it means. It’s a sentence so opaquely constructed, it’s practically begging for misinterpretation.

What does it mean? “A state of mind.” That refers to individual psychology, right? Hence, the individual? Hence, you? So you and your mindset adds to the problem of traffic. “Let’s stop blaming traffic.” That means, traffic is not at fault. “If you’re late, that’s that.” That means, it’s your fault. Hence: the traffic is fine, you’re the problem.

Still doesn’t sound right in many levels.

MACKY CALO (businessman): Tumpak! Tagalog na lang kaya!

ORLANDO RONCESVALLES (economist): I think [Tugade] understands that traffic is a Tragedy of the Commons, which is a problem of unrealized expectations. In the classic tragedy, every farmer (motorist) thinks he can fatten his cow (drive fast), but, since everyone else has the same state of mind, the cows get thin (traffic grinds). Of course, the solution is to make the “victims” behave better. For the commons, it is to give or sell to individual farmers their own land. For traffic, it would be to charge motorists a fair price to drive, i.e. tolls and higher car registration fees. Singapore, Hong Kong, London, the greater L.A. area have already implemented this, with varying success. ERIKA PERALTA (writer): State of mind... Hmm, let’s say we shift our thinking/belief and turn to the opposite, which is “traffic” is not a problem. What would a person with this kind of belief do? He will leave [home] as usual, use the usual routes, get a job even if it’s relatively far from his residence, does not blame train delays, road works, etc. He takes responsibility and adjusts. Even so, he will observe that his external reality would [only] still get in the way: hours wasted on the road, pollution, commitments compromised, and so on. The individual could always adjust. But again, it can only do so much. This state of mind “works” on some levels by making us more aware of how much control we have, e.g., not giving in to road rage, making ways to travel more conveniently. But the immense beauty of good transportation system should never be reduced to a far-off “national wish.”

MONTEBON: Alicia Keys. We should perhaps ask her.

MALAYANG: Interesting read on this: Mr. Boo Chanco’s column in today’s Star.

TINA CUYUGAN (writer): I would take Tugade’s words in a better spirit if the Duterte propaganda machine had not spewed millions of tweets blaming Aquino and Roxas for the traffic and claiming that Great God Duterte would wave a magic wand and all would be well on the highways and byways.

JUSTINE CAMACHO TAJONERA (writer): You’re right. His bottom line was: it’s the commuter’s fault that he’s late. If you allotted 2.5 hours to make it to work and traffic got you there in 3 hours, you must adjust your life. Clearly, Tugade has no empathy for the Filipino commuter. CUYUGAN: Possibly because he now has a government car assigned for his use.

RONCESVALLES: But that car would also suffer traffic.

CUYUGAN: He doesn’t have to line up, though.

RONCESVALLES: Just wait till they make personal drones. We can buy them using intel funds.

CORONG: May sayad ‘ata.

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