September 30, 2005

My Country's Bride

My Country's Bride
by: Julsitos

Filipinas, Filipinas,
Where art thou, my country’s bride?
Have you gone deep into slumber?
In your shame you do now hide?

For today your children’s ember
has lost their glorious past.
For none shall burn or remember,
in the season of your last.

And where we stand we see her skin
bare and soiled and bleeding,
left with tattered rags, waif-like thin,
her eyes, sunked in, unpleading.

We walked to her, and spoke our grief
our cheeks now wet with tears.
She glanced at us not with relief
but with regret for past arrears.

“What have you done?” she sadly said
bitterness past consoling,
“My house you burned, my seas are dead,
our name is worth to nothing.”

“I gave you much with all the things
that other nations envy,
yet your birth is a curse that brings
nothing but death and folly.”

“Now you see that Fate’s own hand
has turned its wheels on you,
you gnash your teeth, seek to demand
the things I can’t undo.”

“Suffer you must from all you’ve done,
in penance, wisdom springs,
for when the time all this is gone,
plant the seed that future brings.”

“And hope from it, you shall then learn,
that all things have a price,
vow from it never to return,
to ways that we despise.”

We looked at her with disbelief,
for how in sorrow could we cope?
She left something for us to live,
With her final gift called Hope.

September 16, 2005

Read The Classics

This was a running commentary I found in Writer's Digest Forum in the Internet about Oprah's Book Club. It's because in 2002 Oprah suspended her Book Club for she became disgusted with the politiking by publishers egging her to publish works by new authors in the hope of giving her imprimatur so as to create huge book sales. She was also unsatisfied with the quality of some of her recommended books- books which book critics often described as "shmaltzy" and too melodramatic.

So, she went into a 10-month hiatus after which she decided to bring her book club back- but with a mission. That mission is to promote the classics. By that she meant, Steinbeck's "East of Eden" (1.6 million copies sold after endorsement), Buck's "The Good Earth", and Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina." Because of this, a lot of people were split on whether to support her effort or denounce it as being a bane to contemporary literature. Her supporters say it's good for literacy while her detractors say it killed the chances for new authors to shine through. In my opinion, new authors don't like it because the "sense of entitlement" for Oprah's support has been lost. Better luck next time.

Below are two arguments why people should enjoy the classics as much as modern literature. All because of Oprah.

Date: 3/11/2003 3:19:31 PM
Written By: william adams
Subject: what value?

Why are these works invaluable? What value do they have for me or the typical American?

Will they help get me a job flipping burgers? They certainly won't help me get a real job.

What about the time they take from learning useful subjects? That can have a significant negative impact on our lives. Do you want our homeland defense people to be experts in classics or experts in stopping terrorism?

Why is a background in classics essential? For someone planning to teach them they might be. For the real world they are irrelevant. Isn't is a vicious cycle of abuse to learn classics just to teach classics to other victims so they in turn can teach classics to still more victims?

Classics are best read by retired people who do not need practical information and have time to read what they want to read for enjoyment (although very few would pick classics if there were a good beach novel handy).

Date: 3/11/2003 3:52:47 PM
Written By: Kim G.
Subject: Re: what value?

By my estimate, over 50% of Americans are functionally illiterate. (I taught entry-level college grammar ["This is a noun; this is a verb"] at a major state university, so I have some experience with this. Of 40 students who made less than a 15 on the ACT in English, I had 3 valedictorians and 20 more straight-A students.)

Literacy is crucial - reading is the most important subject a student learns in school. Because I read, I can teach myself international relations, basic accounting principles, biology or chemistry - even calculus. (I took calculus - I have yet to use it.)

Reading is the best way to improve grammar, vocabulary, and comprehension (in the spoken language as well as in the written). Reading is infinitely more interesting than memorizing vocabulary words, spelling, and diagramming sentences. I often learn new words through context, instead of having to grab my dictionary. Reading has taught me to think, to reason.

Why read the classics instead of some other genre of fiction or non-fiction? The classics provide us with an insight to different cultures and schools of thought that no other source can provide. History books are written by the conqueror. The classics were written by people who lived it.

I read Anna Karenina a couple of summers ago, and I learned more about Russian history and Russian thought than I ever learned in history class. If you think that a knowledge of Russian history is unimportant, think again. Russia's "no" vote in the UN is extremely important to this country right now. France's history, as I've learned it from reading A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Pimpernel, speaks volumes on France's decision to oppose action against Iraq. International relations, including winning the war against terrorism, requires a detailed understanding of foreign culture, and the classics provide unique insight into understanding other countries.

On other fronts, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath teaches us about the Depression in a personal way that history books fail to achieve. Any Dickens novel will teach you about social reform and human rights. Austen and Eliot speak volumes about social history - the culture of the 19th century in England, including women's rights and roles. You get the same lessons on American culture from Hawthorne and Melville.

If more people read Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm or Bradbury's Farenheit 451, our current situation in America would be dramatically different. 1984 is startlingly prophetic and can show us that complacent democracy becomes socialism, and complacent socialism soon becomes communism. What more valuable lesson can Americans learn?

Will reading any of the classics help you get a job flipping burgers? Absolutely - you'll fill out the McD's application correctly, using proper grammar. You'll ace the interview too, because you're functionally literate.

Will it get you a better job than that? Will it help you earn the privilege of a college education? Undoubtedly - what a marvelous entry essay you'd write! You'd "wow" your professors with proper grammar - a rare trait in most college students.

The classics have their place, for students, retirees, professionals, and writers. I don't write for a living. I practice law, and my legal education and practice are greatly enhanced by my education in the classics.

Well, she spat out beautifully the reasons (practical and otherwise) why there is a need to rediscover the classics. For us Filipinos, there is a need to drive students to learn not only Western classics but also Asian and Filipino ones. Fortunately, we have a lot of good writers like Sionil Jose and Nick Joaquin, who are on their way in becoming Filipino classics, but sadly though, people here are more inclined to watch Kuba than to read their works.

I just hope we have an "Oprah" who will spark the same excitement for the classics and in that way, our functional literacy will increase. And perhaps when that time comes, we would be able to wrench this wretched nation of ours from the abyss of stupidity, ignorance and apathy.

September 09, 2005



It is true that Americans love to complain and I think that because, for the most part, they have been spoiled living in a country where life is relatively easy. However, at times like this, for example, it is with good reason that they DEMAND help from a government whose role is to support the people. Yes we complain a lot but hey this is the richest country in the world and naturally you would expect more. Living in a rich country has a price. Our cost of living is much, much more than yours so obviously we demand more. We pay higher taxes, higher insurance premiums, ever increasing mortgages, astronomical medical care, etc. etc. Compare it to dining at a ritzy restaurant, staying at the Four Seasons or flying first class...would you still expect the same kind of treatment as you would get at McDonald's for example? Of course not. When one pays more, you expect better, if not best. Having an experience comparable to third-rate or third-world would just not be acceptable. Believe me, you would complain too if you were in the same shoes.

Just remember that it is your right as a tax-paying citizen to demand more from a government that is there to supposedly look out for your best interests. It is not being unpatriotic or uncooperative to question your leaders. They should always be held up to a higher standard so that they can strive to be better. They'll never be perfect anyway so why settle for less?


I think there's a difference (a big difference) between aid and survival. The former speaks of external help for the flood victims while the latter means self-preservation by whatever means possible. Aid is expected while survival is inherent. By being in such a comfortable country where taxes are high resulting in equally higher expectations, it is natural that survival skills and self-initiative have been gradually washed away because one tends to transfer his or her responsibility of living towards the state. And that responsibility is called public welfare. From education, to healthcare to the last cup of Starbucks Macchiato, the citizens of a first-world nation naturally expect the state to provide them of the basic needs. That phenomenon is unlikely to happen here in the Philippines as long as the feudal set-up remains. Since people cannot expect any decent service from GMA, fixers, pre-need companies and health plans thrive in our squalor. But there, it's only natural that during any crisis, victims have to rely on their government for every need- may it be rolls of toilet paper, teddy bears, Pepsi-cola and Oreo cookies- because they rightfully expect that their taxes cover such amenities.

If the government fails them (like the current Bush administration), what then will Americans do? Naturally, sit on their thumbs and complain incessantly. Being rudely awaken from their utopian reverie was such a sudden shock that their initiative to survive (and improvise) was lost. It was probably sheer panic that prompted them to trek to the refugee centers. You can hear it from victims themselves telling CNN that the only thing they have are the clothes they were wearing. You mean they just rushed out of their homes with nothing on their hands thinking "Oh, the government will provide me with everything in the centers, so I guess I ain't gonna bring no provisions whatsoever besides, all my canned goods were blown by Katrina ?" or And once there, they begin to complain the lack of aid and food. Because such is the pressure of welfare being carried by the state, a mere delay of any service during a crisis is prompted by a howl of protest. And rightfully so! Shame on FEMA! In this case, the delay of aid was so obscene that it will have repercussions in Dubya's political future. The public's expectation for an instant result was acute since the situation in New Orleans was rapidly deteriorating into a Somalia-like experience (blacks shooting, blacks looting, etc.) with a blend of Niger (blacks dying on their cots.) This was compounded by Dubya's inadequacies in addressing the problem.

I am not sure how in "deep $#!t" George Bush is in but it is apparent that this will be a very painful lesson for his administration. And perhaps a painful lesson for all Americans knowing that even with their paid taxes and high expectations, their government has failed them in their hour of need. More importantly, probably it was for the public welfare for the Bush administration to order budget cuts for levees or to cast a blind eye over predictions that New Orleans will be flooded in the near future. So much for expectations.

September 05, 2005

The Reading Habits of Goldfishes 2

When one reads non-mainstream non-bestselling book for fun, does it make him or her an elitist? Well, that is so far from the truth mainly because there is no fine line between popular fiction and literature.

What may be popular fiction now can become high literature in the distant future. So, I don't think it's logical for critics to be dishing out "elitist" comments just because their cerebral hemispheres can only accommodate works by Mitch Albom, for what they're reading can become tomorrow's Steinbeck and Faulkner. This shows that there is no point really in comparing today's bestsellers in favor of ancient tomes or non-mainstream books, because both of them are literature in their own right. Both of them should be read without prejudice against the other.

Although Da Vinci Code, Lemony Sicket's, Sandman series (Hugo Prize winner) and Harry Potter have yet to win any major book award, suffice to say that they don't need awards to prove that they are great pieces of literature. Public acclaim and glowing reviews say it all. On the other hand, it doesn't mean that award-winning works are dust-covered has-beens that no one ever cared to open and that only stuffy bespectacled professors enjoyed reading. Even if some of them are way too cerebral for my taste, most are really good reads with rich complicated plots. A few of them are: Groyon's "Sky over Dimas" (2003? Palanca Prize Winner), Martel's "Life of Pi" (Booker Prize Winner), and Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" (Pulitzer Prize Winner.) And yes, their equally-glowing reviews are as extensive as that of Harry Potter's. If only we give them a chance, then perhaps they will become bestsellers soon. Oprah did her share by choosing the "Grapes of Wrath" for her Book Club hence, resurrecting an old classic to the light.

Besides that point, just because one enjoys reading popular fiction (Dan Brown, Danielle Steele) does not mean he or she is incapable of enjoying literature by Victor Hugo or Alexander Dumas. While it is God-given freedom in choosing to remain stagnant in the popular fiction section, there is joy to discover the non-popular works of the classical authors (Boccaccio to Hemingway) and critically-acclaimed writers (Coatzee to Ishiguro.) And one is never handicapped to savor the richness of the classics. If one does enjoy reading the classics which only a few cared to take a second look, does it make you an elitist? A non-conformist maybe, but an elitist? Never. Expanding one's horizon is never an elitist pastime, while the reverse may be true. By choosing to have a narrow shelf of reading material, one closes out on other genres of literature, thereby becoming a snob of popular fiction.

For those snobbish commentators who prefer to wallow in their Chickensoup world, I'd like to ask how many books (or genres) can one read so as not be labeled "elitist?" Probably in their case, just one. And the Bible doesn't count. It does not make anyone stupid by reading a single book all his life, but it certainly does not make that person smarter either. Reading is a matter of addition, of enriching one's brain, but never subtraction. Reading is a matter or repetition, tome after tome, and the more you read, the more is one's understanding of the world at large and of the human psyche. Conversely, by not choosing to read other works, stereotypes, biases and prejudices are formed and from ignorance, fear is born.

Last Sunday, I met a couple of high school friends for another of those "weekend" get togethers. As usual, Powerbooks in Greenbelt was the obvious choice- mainly because of the cool airconditioning and partially because one can spend the entire time reading their books. While browsing through their shelves, I spotted a curious volume. Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis"** is a totally cool autobiographical graphic novel about the evolution of Iran's Islamic revolution and life under Ayatollah Khomeini. I was enthralled by the honesty of her work showing that not everyone in Iran supports the regime and that the revolution was well deserved. The point is, I wasn't aware that the ordinary Iranians hated the regime had it not for Persepolis. I thought that the shah was good and the Islamists bad (as what Clavell's "Whirlwind" and Western media like CNN wants us to believe.) I didn't buy the book but finished it in the cool confines of PowerBooks.

Check out Craig T. Fehrman's article, "Comfortable Books and Creative Reading". It explores the war between popular fiction and creative literature in America. And it talks about on how the Internet is affecting it all. A good article. Less inflammatory. Cheers!

**click on Persepolis link for an excerpt from the graphic novel.

September 03, 2005

Katrina On the Loose

It's Day 5 of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that blew into the Louisiana area devastating everything in its path. Here are some observations:

1. Eating their Humble Pie!
For years now, the USA has been a stumbling block to the Kyoto Protocol making the treaty impotent thus resulting to continued production of greenhouse gases by the world's largest producer. And with John Bolton railroading USA's butt into the upcoming UN reform report which forces Kofi Annan to water down the articles pertaining to global warming and greenhouse gases for the USA's benefit, George Bush has crystallized the perfect example of what greenhouse gases can bring- a Category 5 hurricane. By being a such an impediment to the reduction of these ozone-depleting gases, US has itself to blame for Mother Nature's fury, and frankly, they deserved every strength Katrina gave them.

2. The earth is flat!
Many residences in cities like New Orleans, Mobile and Biloxi have either been flattened, washed away, or have been blown to smithereens. Not one post have been left unsundered. But really, don't Americans use concrete for their houses? If those were in the Philippines, houses will still stay on their foundations mainly because we use concrete. Though it's flooding up to the second floor, but still, the house will survive. But unlike in the States where everything is taken cared for by insurance companies, here, we have to suffer the damage of every flood.

3. Whiny Americans!
Unlike resilient and self-sufficient Filipinos who have endured decades of government neglect, these whiny American flood victims do nothing to help their situation. They sit on their assess whining why their government hasn't sent them their foil-covered, steaming fried-chicken-and-fries meal and woolen blankets. They were so comfortable in their American-dream kind of living that they have forgotten how to survive. They just sit their on their cots complaining for the lack of aid and food supplies, and how they are racially discriminated blah-blah-blah. A total load of bull.

Did we hear people dying due to starvation and dehydration during the floods in Quezon? None, only dysentery. But to hear Americans (who live in their first-world utopia where an unfinished meal gets wastefully dumped in the trash) whine about not getting food and water is simply ironic. Here, a land of plenty stripped bare of its comfort zone sadly reveals a career-driven population clueless on how to survive. Weren't they able to stock canned goods in their houses prior to the hurricane? Didn't they brought with them at least some food knowing that there will be a lack of it? They depend too much on George W. Bush for their toilet paper.
They must be too confident that in America no storm will ever blow their house away. Well, it's too late to find out.

4. Waiting for Godot.
When 9/11 struck, G.W. Bush was seen staring into blank space while holding a children's book during a Florida photo-op. When Katrina struck, G.W. Bush "instead of flying to Louisiana, flew to San Diego to party with his business peeps." That's according to Michael Moore. It's already five days and it's only now that aid has arrived- in America at that!! Were the authorities still in shock that it took them several days to realize that people were dying in New Orleans? Soon, people will criticize that the Bush administration has done "too little, too late."