August 25, 2005

The Reading Habits of Goldfishes (Part 1)

I went to meet a friend at Glorietta a few days ago just to unwind from the daily grind. It was somewhat turning into a routine... well, a routine I'm beginning to enjoy- meeting at a bookstore preferably Powerbooks, eating a light dinner at one of the restaurants in the Makati area, and lounge around a bit.

Before I walked over to our rendezvous, I took a short side trip to National Bookstore to scour for books from the sale bins. It's not everyday that this bookstore shells out 20% mark down on books, or better yet, 50% discounts on selected items. I headed to the bargain bins and started looking for choice titles while shoving my elbows against fellow bibliophiles on the prowl for sale items. I found two for half the price. They were Arturo Perez-Reverte's "Flanders Panel" and James Hilton's "Lost Horizon." I was glad to have found those, because normally, those books are priced way above my literary budget. Observing my surroundings, I was gladden to see fellow Filipinos browsing through shelves and bins for good reads- books by Ayn Rand to C.S. Lewis, Isabel Allende to Dan Brown.

I remembered a comment from my previous entry wherein I said that Filipinos have a "narrow sense of reading preference" where only mass-marketed books like Dan Brown, Sidney Sheldon, Mitch Albom, Paulo Coelho, or Michael Crichton were appreciated and patronized by many. That person reacted by saying that to choose what titles to read is a matter of personal choice and I agree with her whole-heartedly. It's anyone's choice whether to read tomes as simple as Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince or as complicated as Dante's Divine Comedy, as popular as Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code or as obscure as Ananta Toer's Buru Quartet. It's all up to the reader what he or she likes to read. Period.

Some have a narrow reading range, while others have broader ones. It's indeed a matter of choice. It's also a choice whether to stay within your literary comfort zone (comprising the works of a single author or genre) or learn to discover other good works by different authors. It's OK I guess to stay loyal to the collection of Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson, but wouldn't it be richer and enlightening to try the stuff others wrote? Not sounding too sanctimonious about it, what is there to fear by trying out other novels and non-fictions? One may or may not like it, but at least you tried to like it.

When I was in Elementary School, every one of my classmates was feverishly reading The Hardy Boys and Choose Your Own Adventures. I rented one Hardy Boys novel from the library and unfortunately, I can hardly finish the book. I returned the book half-read and went back instead on reading Herge's Adventures of Tintin and Steiger's History of the Orient (a 1920's book owned by my father.) It was probably the first and the last Hardy Boys novel I have ever read.

Several years later, I began reading the other novels that were tucked among the shelves on the foyer of our house. I picked up Clavell's Gaijin and surprisingly it was an enjoyable read, much to the delight of my dad. From there on I was hooked, and began to look for the rest of his Asian saga- King Rat, Shogun, Taipan, then Noble House. I began reading Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot series (thanks to the library) to which I derived great pleasure in guessing who the murderer was.

When College rolled by, I was introduced to the glory that was Booksale, Powerbooks and National Bookstore. It was sheer enjoyment whenever their month-long sale arrive- scouring under those pile of books for good reads. There were several "lemons" which I thought were interesting enough but ended up as shallow and convoluted pieces of trash. There were fortunate ones like David Davidar's "House of Blue Mangoes" (P250), Eco's "Name of the Rose" (P100), Toer's "Child of All Mankind" (P75), and Saunders' "Pastoralia" (P70).

There are several books bearing Oprah's seal which I constantly see among Booksale "below P100" items (Midwives, Vinegar Hill, Poisonwood Bible, etc.), and I know that they are good heart-warming tales extolling the human spirit. They are good picks but they'll have to take a rain-check because I for one have developed an allergy for All-American apple-pie eating, Dixieland accented, angst-ridden, politically correct novels. For me, it's more exciting to read those books situated in exotic Asia or in historically-rich Europe, or in adventure-laden Africa, than in bland, pimple-ridden whiny whiny suburban white America. But then again, I might just eat those comments later on if this Dave Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"(P50)novel in front of me proves to be a very fulfilling read. So far I have finished James Hilton's "Lost Horizon" (P90) which was an uber-classic; an atmospheric Shangri-La for cold mid-afternoon readings.

The problem with Filipinos' "reading range" lies not in the slim variety of the works, but in the willfulness of choosing other books. There are lots and lots of cheap good books out there and they are crammed into bargain bins and Booksale shelves. And there are also expensive shrink-wrapped books up on display at Powerbooks and National Bookstore. So, there's no reason to complain why one cannot find another good title besides Five People You'll Meet In Heaven, unless it's Five People You'll Meet In Hell.

The commentator then followed up with an Ad Hominem saying that reading non-mainstream, non-bestselling books is an elitist pastime. Ah, ok, that my friend will be dissected on the next installment.

August 16, 2005

SONA 2004: A Rejoinder

Last August 2004, I commented on the insipid and statistic-laden SONA of GMA by writing an alternative one below. How relevent is this still remains to be seen. Things were a bit clearer and level-headed last year than what it is today, but I'll let you be the one to decide.

Actually, the SONA of President Arroyo was not the original speech she intended to deliver. It was a hastily written draft made by Dinky Soliman replacing my speech. Damn, that Dinky! She must have sensed that what I've written can capsize this administration. Capsize my foot! So, she crumpled and threw away my 11"x8" piece into the paper shredder, and with an evil glint in her eyes, she mocked, "Now, your nefarious plan, whatever it is, will never ever happen." The last thing I remembered was her elephant feet tramping away from the Office of the President.

This was the jist of my original SONA, since I didn't save any drafts:

1. To curb the unbridled population rate, we shall adopt a 4 children policy in which a parent or parents can have a maximum of only 4 children regardless of custody. For which after the fourth child has been delivered, attending physicians are hereby authorized and deputized to ligate the mother's fallopian tubes so as to prevent unnecessary pregnancies in the future. This will be with consent signed by the husband and by the mother-in-law.

Should the couple have more than four children on or after the promulgation of this bill, the parents of the unfortunate spawn can have two options:
a. put the child into adoption
b. the family can raise the child with a proviso for payment of an annual Nuisance Child Tax which amounts to 10 times the parents combined income taxes.
c. the family who cannot comply with the Nuisance Child Tax for a maximum of three years, will force the child to commit seppuku with Dinky Soliman acting as a "second" and such ritual will be placed under the auspices of the DSWD.

2. All public utility vehicles including but not exclusive to jeepneys, taxis, buses, FXs, calesas, Tricycles, Trisikads, etc., will be confiscated. Sixty percent of which will be nationalized and refranchised for public use while the rest will be disassembled and smelted into recycled steel by the National Steel Corporation.

3. All police officers and personnel shall undergo 2-months physical and skills retraining at specified military installations in compliance with the 32-inch waist line memorandum. Certification from such retraining is obligatory for reentry into the police service. All police officers and personnel shall have a tamper-proof portable electronic BlackBox to record all apprehensions of law violators. This device shall be turned over to an NBI representive who will electronically feed it into the NBI database for future reference.

4. All residents of Mindanao with Muslim descent shall be transmigrated to designated cities and municipalites all over the Philippines, with the provision of land parcels of equivalent land values of their former residences. Farms, buildings and other Mindanao-based assets shall be confiscated and recompensated by means of high-yielding government bonds of equivalent market value. Each city and town must not have a Muslim population more than 15% of its total population. This act shall be made under the authority of the AFP.

Non-compliance to the act shall be deemed subversive, therefore, subject to forfeiture of any civil liberty and protection of justice. Liquidation shall be executed through the modus operandi of the newly deputized Davao Death Squad.

Muslim Lands and assets remaining in Mindanao shall be put up at a nation-wide public auction under the auspices of Christie's and Southeby's. Proceeds shall go to government agencies, specifically the DPWH, DOH, DSWD and DAR. Mosques shall be transformed into Christian churches pending auction by the Iglesia ni Christo, Mormons and by the Catholic Church.

5. There will be a creation of a body for the shift from presidential form of government to a federal type. A federal state is currently defined as a state comprising of not less than 3 provinces sharing enthnolinguistic similarities and can generate enough revenue for self-sustainment. Rules and regulations on this matter are still pending.

Current nominations for federal states are:
a. State of Ilocandia (Region I + Batanes, Cagayan, Isabela, Kalinga-Apayao, Ifugao)
b. State of Bicolandia (Region V + Northern Samar)
c. Ilonggo Republic (Region 6 + Palawan, Romblon)
d. Republic of Cebu (Region 7 & 8)

Thank you My dear Filipinos. Good Morning.

August 12, 2005

Logic of Discounts

Filipinos just love bargain shopping whether it be clothes, food, pirated dvds or books. In these wallet-bleeding times, finding good discounts among the sale items are doubly rewarding. It gives one a feeling of euphoria just like when one hits the lotto albeit in degrees far lower, or when one hoodwinks another person. Of course, shelling out half of what you should normally pay increases the "value" of that item two folds. Hmmm... I guess there is a mathematical proof as to why all those discount items we have found creates twice the excitement just like finding a cache of hidden treasure.

It follows that if: (pardon my algebraic ignorance)

v = intrinsic value of the desired object
p = retail price

[p = v]

... this means that at a certain price, a desired object has a corresponding base intrinsic value. For instance, a Rolex watch has a high retail price giving it a higher intrinsic and market value than other cheaper watches.

if p is ½, what is v?
[½p = v]
[(2/1)½p = v(2/1)]
[p = 2v]

Ergo, if the item on hand shall have a 50% discount, its intrinsic value doubles. That explains that mongoose instinct why people get giddy when they find some high-value item that has been marked down. And that partially explains why Ukay-ukays flourish everywhere despite the possibility of contracting a complete set of body lice, fungal infections and body odor. And also explains why weekend Madness Sales click with Filipinos nationwide even if it means risking horrendous traffic and a horrible shoulder-to-shoulder experience.

Nonetheless, as they say, the thrill is in the hunt.

August 11, 2005

Thank God for Lemonade!

Thank God for independent CDs like Orange and Lemons or else this country is on a direct collision course to the graveyard of bubblegum pop of Otso-otso. Ever since the demise of primo uber-kool band, the Eraserheads, the rock-pop arena stagnated into a cesspool of inane pop and OPM ballads lorded by South Border, Christian Baho...este... Bautista, or Sex Bum... i mean Bombs. Must be Tourette Syndrome kicking in. Some managed to become classics like Barbie's Cradle, but on a whole the music scene was on a plateau.

The music of this uber-kool indie band is likened to those of the British pop of the 60's and the Pinoy pop of the 80's with lots of electric guitars and percussions. Think of it as the Beatles crossed with the Eraserheads with a soupcon of Hotdogs. And amazingly, a lot of young people like it. Why? It's because their tunes are fresh and non-formulaic, and it does not grate in their ears. Pure pleasure. And as of this writing, the band has been making the rounds among Manila record shops and major malls, and a couple of their tracks have been making the airwaves for weeks already. And I hope more people get to hear them for the big reason that they're really a fantastic band.

Their 2nd CD entitled "Strike Whilst the Iron is Hot" speaks a lot about the album. Most if not all of their songs are eclectic, hankering to the tunes of the yesteryears yet the retaining their hip flavors and lyrics. All of the tracks are a keeper- with just one or two digestible audio fillers in between. The theme whirls around on opportunities lost and that pepetual problem of love, infatuation, courtship and break ups. My favorite tracks are Pabango ng 'Yong Mata because of the Eraserheads flavor of the music, Heaven Knows (This Angel has Flown) because of the emotional content of the song which perhaps the best in the lot, and The Nerve because it reminds me of something personal. Nonetheless, they're all good.

Chris Ramos of Yehey Entertainment site gives us a review of some of their tracks:

Their first single “Hanggang Kailan” sounds more like a great composition evoking the likes of Rey Valera and Hotdog than a pretty decent Wild Swans or Housemartins impression. There are only a few things that are
more distinctly Pinoy pop than the line “umuwi ka na beybeh.” Another impressive song is the epic 6-minute “Lihim,” which – you guess it – is about an illicit love affair and is flavored with impressive orchestral flourishes (just like
“Hanggang Kailan”). Give or take that there’s a New Wave purist or two who
thinks that Strike… is inferior compared to its predecessor and may have the
impression that Strike… is OnL’s “sell-out album.” Which is an idea with a lousy
pedigree because OnL are artistic songwriters who have every right to grow. And
grow as songwriters is exactly what they do here. For the most part, their songwriting craft and technical musicianship is unsullied and transcendent.
Two other standouts here include “Pabango Ng ‘Yong Mata”
(“luha, kusa na lang dumadaloy/sa mga pagkakataon/nagpapaalalang tayo’y tao
lamang”) and “Heaven Knows (This Angel Has Flown)” which
both deal with loss.
The price? P250 is not bad. In fact, it discourages piracy since it's quite affordable for most people who appreciate this non-syrupy British wannabe band. I believe if they will continue their spate of good tracks, they will become classics too- the way Eraserheads and Hotdogs have become.