Thursday, November 22, 2012

Einstein's World

Words are flowing out like 
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe.

-- John Lennon, "Across the Universe"

There are two kinds of people in the world: (1) Those who care and (2) those who don't. People belonging in the first category usually get famous for doing something big, scientifically or culturally. Like Einstein, who always thought something was wrong about the trajectory of Newton's apple, just a teensy-weensy bit off the mark, y'know, but it itches something bad. So Einstein had to learn calculus -- "The language which God talks," according to Feynman, another genius but a more fun type of scientist -- to understand how tiny atoms and huge planets move around.

Even planets, like women, are hard to understand. For example, Mercury, the nearest planet to the Sun, wobbles in its orbit, just a fraction (about the ratio of a dime to, say, a million dollars), a piddling accounting error even to the strictest IMF banker, but enough to blemish the elegance of Newton's formula of how the Universe works.

In Newton's time the level of mathematics could not meet his requirement to explain the movements of the sun and planets and a block of wood sliding down at an incline in Physics class -- yes, problems that give monumental headaches to the second type of people was not enough for the Great Dweeb -- so he invented calculus, thus making fortunes for laboratories who produced migraine pills for students who have to cram for the finals.

There's differential calculus, for computing very tiny elements, like the nucleus of an atom, the amount of real beef they put on your Big Mac, the waistline of Heidi Klum. And there's integral calculus, which deals with big bodies: the stormy Red Spot of Jupiter, Schwarzenegger's philandering phallus, and the difference between J. Lo's and Kim Kardashian's butts.

So, after going through Newton's Principia Mathematica and universal mechanics, he studied Faraday's and Maxwell's theories on electromagnetism; Euclidian geometry, which did not seem to apply to the real three-dimensional world, which he discarded and replaced with non-Euclidian geometry, so he can make everything four-dimensional. He also delved into Brownian motion, which predicted the paths of small particles; and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which basically said that if you believe Mr. Brown's notion about motion, you ain't nothing but a hound-dog.

Before learning many more things, Einstein had to unlearn what schoolbooks had tried to lodge into his mind. He found out that Aristotle's approximation of the Sun's distance to the Earth (5,000 miles more or less) was off by about more than 92,000,000 miles; that the moon is not made of green cheese but of cheddar (kidding!); that the world is not supported by Atlas or by a giant turtle; that in his Space-Time universe parallel lines eventually meet in blind dates, and the sum of the angles of a triangle (whether of the love kind or of the geometrical kind) do not add up to 180 degrees.

And oh boy! what this man gave to the world! If a body is massive enough, he said, it is capable of warping the space around it, like a heavy basketball placed on a trampoline, and light passing through that warped space will bend. That slight bend, seen and eventually proved after a solar eclipse in 1919, disposed of the centuries-old discrepancy in Newton's law of celestial motion and explained Mercury's wobble. This, in an extremely simplified way, is what Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity is about. So it's not about his mother-in-law at all; that problem even an Einstein or a Hawking cannot solve. Some matters in the cosmos remain formidable.

Speaking of matters: Einstein realized that matter is just energy coagulated, that is, lazy energy that stopped moving fast enough and turned from fiery light-force into slow or inert material thing. I suppose that explains humans. Inversely, energy is matter sufficiently excited and heated to transform into a supercharged force. That, of course, resulted in the creation of the atomic and hydrogen bombs. And sex, speaking from another level of existence. In a lazy nutshell way, this illustrates Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. E = mc².

Believe me, we have skipped truckloads of scientific personalities, theories, principles, equations and headaches just to talk about -- what? (1) The people who cares, who at at the top of the heap are the scientists who spend their lives thinking about and tinkering with all things in existence, from the origin of the universe to the infinite possibilities of existence. (2) And the people who don't, who make up the heap upon which the scientists are on top of. I noticed that since the appearance of man, his technology leapfrogged by lighty-ears while his dude-attitude or sense of life remained merely one step away from the cave, near where horny dogs hump to make God's little puppies in the summertime. For instance, photography, TV and Video were developed by the heap-toppers, and the man in the heap used them marginally for the advancement of knowledge -- What did Jesus really look like? Was Da Vinci really a gay fop? Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, how heartfelt did it sound on that windy, silent field of fallen Blue and Grays? Extensively, the new technologies were used in the billion-dollar sex industries -- Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, nude celebrity photos in sleazy tabloids and magazines; pay-per-view X-rated films on TV and video, cybersex, and we expect 3-D and hologram sex soon.

But, thinking thoroughly about this stuff, I can only see that this earth, forlorn but still lovely, simply teems with life. It's full of species intelligent and dumb, heaped top to bottom with organic lives while up above the stars die of old age and explode violently, sending more life-giving heat to distant planets. In the never-ending cycles of life and nonlife, matter and energy, what does really matter? Those who care, in their own way, are enjoying their stay, and play with God's cosmic dice. And those who don't, in their brute perception, are equally having fun. It all evens out, from Newton's Apple to the Beatle's Apple and, now, to Steve Job's Apple.

Just have fun. It doesn't take a genius to do that. Life is short. Have fun.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tintin & Schopenhauer

What does Tintin think about when sitting alone above my pillow in the dark? I found out that life can be easier if you find the right philosopher to answer such questions for you. Schopenhauer (1788-1860) believed that cats live for the moment, the present. They never reminisce about the past nor contemplate the future. That's why, he said, they are placid and contented. Unlike people, who impose unnecessary burdens upon their lives, fretting over past mistakes and scheming to set the future right, to catch the bluebird of happiness, to find the Rainbow Connection.

Tintin wakes up while it's still dark, goes to the food bowl and eats, licks and grooms herself, jumps onto the bed and lightly nudges my arm to see if I'm awake. Sometimes I wake up a little late and see her sitting on the pillow, just right over my head, looking patiently at me. I greet her and we snuggle for warmth; she purrs in delight while she sits on my tummy and I stroke her back and tickle her chin. We live for the moment: yesterday was a cancelled ticket, the present is the future unfolding second after second after second: a new present for each cancelled past. Life with a cat can be so simple and at the same time metaphysically complex.

And it is the inclination of great philosophers like Schopenhauer (hereafter simply referred to as Arthur) to make the complex as simple as possible, to make the elegant seem quotidian. To make us understand; to cast pearls before swines, so to speak. Arthur was the Great Pessimist, but not the type to see life as a glass half-empty -- to him the world is a glass full to the brim, of suffering and pain, where misfortune in general is the rule. Happiness, of course, is the exception. Happiness is merely a brief achievement of contentment, a temporary cessation of endurance or pain. Not a happy day in our life will pass untainted by the spice of sorrow, mischance, even dissatisfaction.

Certainly Arthur, a thinking man, wears the mask of tragedy; he bequeaths comedy to carpetbaggers, money-seekers, kings, pawns and bishops -- "to the crowd of miserable wretches whose one aim in life is to fill their purses but never to put anything into their heads." Yet Arthur was not a man of dark design who took delight in misery. He was blunt, he was honest, but he was not dreary. If one of life's purposes is redemption from ignorance of evil, Arthur redeemed himself by this endearing statement: "The best consolation in misfortune or affliction of any kind will be the thought of other people who are in a still worse plight than yourself; and this is a form of consolation open to every one. But what an awful fate this means for mankind as a whole!"

Using Arthur's elegant mode of expression, I say, "Tintin finds herself suddenly existing, after thousands and thousands of years of non-existence: she lives for a little while; and then, again, comes to an equally long period when she must exist no more." What applies to my playful Persian applies to the whole existence of the universe. We are made of stardust: life is cosmic.

Tintin exists, therefore she thinks. Arthur believes that Tintin my pet, with less mental complexities and expectations than humans, does not suffer boredom. Still I wonder, when Tintin sits by my side in the dark, if she can anticipate the pleasure of play when I wake up. Arthur believes that creatures like Tintin does not possess man's power of reflection, memory and foresight: in short, Tintin simply wants to play, she does not reflect that I am the chosen companion, a bigger creature she can trust and approach without fear of harm; she has no memory of yesterday's pleasure, no anticipation to meet again at daybreak tomorrow. The philosopher, in this case, is way off the mark. I believe Arthur, in his long existence, had missed the good fortune of being loved and trusted by a cat, of understanding the silent communications between a human and another species, of the enduring memories of paws and hands meeting in affection. But, in case Arthur is right, that Tintin will in a short time outgrow the playful moments and memories, then I abide. Still, Tintin will stay in my mind. We have met, and I will not forget.

November 3: Yesterday two good people have decided to share their life with Tintin in their home. It is a comfortable life, with the right food, toys, a Ragdoll playmate, a scratch post, and a great expectation that her nine lives will be blissful. Live long and prosper, Tintin my lovely.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Sublife: Birthday notes

When you are old and full of sleep...
Go back to bed, go to sleep.
-- William the Henry

For more than eight years I have been coping with the disabilities caused by a burst blood vessel in the left side of my brain, the part that controlled the physical movements of the right side of my body. After intensive therapy for more than six months, I was able to regain partially my strength --  to stand, to hobble unsteadily, to lift my arm, to remove the droop from my mouth, and to talk intelligibly if not intelligently. After six months the window for full recovery closed: for the rest of my life I will have to accept that I can no longer use my right hand and foot because my right extremities -- five fingers and five toes -- are disabled.

Disabled. That's how I describe myself. Not differently abled, a phrase which I hate as much as the political correctness and hypocritical politeness of this generation. As a former editor of a tabloid, I have learned to respect the integrity of words and to spit on those who disregard the precision of their meanings. To be disabled is to be physically or mentally impaired or incapacitated. In my case, my physical function is severely limited. I can no longer run, jump, climb stairs without aid, kick; my right hand has lost its ability to grasp, hold a pen, strum a guitar, draw and sketch, clap with its functioning partner. My abilities have been diminished, not transformed into different abilities. I know, though, that there are autistic individuals whose mental incapacity is compensated by astonishing feats, like extracting large chunks of information from memory -- information which enable them to recall intricate mathematical or musical combinations without effort, and without understanding. That, is differently abled. I, on the other hand, cannot do what I used to do. I am disabled.

To survive a stroke and through the years learn of the untimely deaths of friends and former colleagues bring only pain and grief, never the consolation of having outlived those good people. To lose allies, including parents, in this difficult world, is to be disabled further. Where is the consolation in that? Only the malicious and the malignant take comfort in the misfortune of other people; their moral disability exceeds my physical disability.

I live my remaining years in what I call a sublife; if I'm not careful and lose my sense of proportion, I can easily fall and become subhuman, like plundering politicians and leeching televangelists who have discarded dignity, kindness, and other values that make us human. My first taste of sublife came when I was deemed sufficiently recovered from my stroke. (Yes, my stroke. I, selfishly, do not wish to share it with others.) In the early leash of my second life, I was let out of St. Luke's, but I had to be taken around by wheelchair, because my right leg had not yet regained it's strength to support my weight. I notice that those in wheelchairs are no longer considered part of the mainstream of life. Sublifers have to depend on others to subsist, partially, as in my case, or totally, in severe cases. When you sit in a wheelchair, the average persons usually defer to you, even when they do not look at you; you are still an entity, but not complete; faceless, out of the game.

Therapy is supposed to bring you back into the rat race: to be employable again, to be competitive again with all the adjunct greed, envy, boot-licking, shoulder-slapping handshaking bribe-taking, and various contortions for positions. Or you learn to live a level down to a more quiet, sedate, comic-reading, DVD-watching, stamp-collecting existence. And sometimes type out, with the left hand, a blog of whatever runs through your mind. I remember telling a horrified therapist that the best doctors and therapists for stroke victims are those who have suffered a stroke themselves. Because then they will know exactly how we feel, so they will not call a patient lazy because the patient still refuses to stand and take the first strides to normalcy. "She is not lazy," I explained, referring to an elderly patient. "She feels she has become a burden now and she is afraid of standing and possibly falling and breaking a leg or an arm and becoming a heavier burden. Her stroke has already caused a heavy loss in terms of time and money. Her fear is not for herself but for her family." Even the fearful have courage.

Even today, I lack the sense to feel despondent. With my reckless lifestyle, I cannot blame anyone or anything else for what happened: I simply got what I deserve, and even survived to ponder and write about it. It's been a long time since I was able to shed my sense of schadenfreude: the malicious and hidden enjoyment people feel when others suffer a misfortune -- death, divorce, bankruptcy, ugly daughters, poor fashion taste, a new iPhone tossed by baby into aquarium, an expensive and mature Flowerhorn sick with indigestion. So I feel neither comfort nor consolation when, being wheelchaired to the therapy room, I pass by the Renal Section (I turn my head and look away from Oncology), where every day patients with impaired kidneys undergo dialysis to purge out the poison accumulated in their blood -- until money runs out or life mercifully ends. Former Managing Editor Fred Marquez described the process in an article he wrote for People's Tonight shortly before he died. (I paraphrase): "Dialysis is like riding a merry-go-round, you go round and round, feeling lightheaded and dizzy, until you can't pay for the ride anymore." Or the wheel suddenly stops. I can go on and on with stories of colleagues now departed, but what for? It's enough to know that the bell tolls for all. For the young, who shrugs at the fate of the old, as I once had, the Earth turns, like a merry-go-round, and the wheel stops for everyone.

Old sublifers hoard time as precious gems, so we don't count wholesale anymore. We retail day by day (but not by hours, that's for penny-pinchers). My personal math as of today goes like this: 57 years x 365.25 days = 20,819.25 days. My hair, what remains of it, has gray strays; my skin is a parchment marked by hieroglyphs of cat scratches; I walk like a pirate with a peg leg; my right arm and leg refuse to abide by the synapses. I'm worn out, jaded, a burnt-out case ready for the scrap heap, and I've lived for less what an iPad costs if each of my days is turned into a peso. Life in this context is cheap -- but still precious. I'd better stop: I'm getting morbid, and it's supposed to be a happy birthday, indeed.

Brain melted due to morbid thinking.

Before you measure the years, you measure the days.
-- Mitch Albom, "The Time Keeper"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Notes to myself

I am following what may be an obscure but a certainly effective procedure of learning: accidental education. I stumbled upon the term while frip-fripping the pages of The Education of Henry Adams, the autobiography of Henry Adams. Yes, the man has come up with a style of his own, writing about himself in the third person. By the standard of the New Journalism, this is old hat; but if we consider that this Henry Adams was born in 1838 and published his book in 1906, we kneel and touch our forehead toward the fount of such originality.

To fix the dates in our mind, we relate it to a familiar date, say 1861: In 1838 one Jose Rizal had to wait 23 more years before he could be conceived to make his own mark. People in those years wrote convoluted sentences, so prolix that the Victorian Henry James can consume more than two pages for a single sentence. When I first came upon the big block of paragraphs in a James novel, I blinked in disbelief. This was how the master told his tales, twisting and turning phrases where a simple subject-verb-predicate sentence would have sufficed.

I sifted through each line to make sure I had not just missed a turn and driven pass the merciful period. I waded through dozens of overworked commas, exhausted semi-colons, underpaid dashes, and parentheses gasping for breath until I found the treasured dot, miles away from the starting point. I'm sure the education of Henry Adams taught him not to write like Henry James.

Or like Charles Dickens. Someone told me that Dickens can discuss hats for 20 pages. That attitude, or style, can be understood if we are informed that Dickens was paid a cent per word for his stories, which were serialized in magazines. Erle Stanley Gardner, before he hit it big with Perry Mason, earned his dimes by padding his pulp fictions with sound effects. It takes no effort at all to hear his detective unload his gun: "Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!" All six shots earning 60c. Of course the gumshoe gets to reload and unload six more dimes.

Understand, I'm retelling all these by memory. This should teach me to take notes next time; verbatim quotes are more accurate and memorable. Still, I guess retelling is better than plagiarizing or sottoing.

Before I forget: Henry Adams and his third-person came up because I have just finished Salman Rushdie's latest book, Joseph Anton. It is Rushdie's autobiography, in which he includes the ordeal he suffered after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death sentence upon him for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad in The Satanic Verses. Hiding and always on the move, he must assume an alias to elude the assassins eager to get the $1 million price for his head. After trying and discarding combinations of names, he decided to become Joseph Anton, after the Polish novelist Conrad and Russian short story writer Chekhov. For ten years the fictitious Joseph Anton issued checks to buy food, books, houses for the fugitive novelist. Rushdie explains in the beginning of his book why he chose his pseudonym. And why he referred to himself in the third-person.

Reality can be as fantastic as fiction. I suppose it's how you tell it.

Another note: Frip is the sound the pages make when I frip the edge of a book to arrive at a random page, where I start reading.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Lover's Concerto

Lover's Concerto Kelly Chen version on YouTube

3:33 a.m.
Vaguely I remember having heard Lover's Concerto for the first time way back in third grade. It was 1965 and a classmate seemed to know the lyrics to the catchy tune, which had been dominating air time then. I  encountered the tune recently in a splendid HBO presentation of the film Mr. Holland's Opus. Music teacher Glenn Holland, played by Richard Dreyfuss, played the tune in 3/4 beat on piano and asked his class for the title of the song; most answered Lover's Concerto. "Wrong," he said, "it's Bach's Minuet in G." The minuet is faster than the modern Concerto's 4/4 beat.

How gentle is the rain
That falls softly on the meadows
Birds high up on the trees
Serenade the trees with their melodies...

The playful lilt and cadence of the "hook-laden" lyrics, as intended, latched onto my schoolboy memory, to be held to finer scrutiny by Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia decades later, after I saw Mr. Holland's Opus, which replaced Close Encounter of the Third Kind as my favorite Richard Dreyfuss film.

Here's a scene from that film:

Mr. Holland was talking about music, but he might as well expounding on all the arts -- painting, sculpture, dance, architecture, dance, anything that makes life worthwhile, beautiful, and, as the song says, just as wonderful.

When I go through the Lover's Concerto lyrics, I remember the laughter induced by the zany poems of Lewis Caroll and William Lear, who appear in my mind  is transmuted into simple delight by the song, particularly the Kelly Chen version in YouTube. Images from old memories made vivid by technology. Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Twitter of birdsongs. Treasures everywhere.

Monday, September 17, 2012

One perfect day

It seems that when we come of age and shed the naïveté of youth, we lose the ability to go through a single day without encountering a minor hitch or Stresstab-reaching crisis.

For example, you are with your fiancee in your car, driving in the rain when a tire blows: that's a hitch. You're changing the #%¥* tire by the side of the road when three men appear and offer to help you by, relieving you of that new but troublesome car (as soon as you replace that flat with the spare), and those extraneous cash, ATM and credit cards -- hey, nice shoes! Is that the new iPhone? -- and the Rolex, that nice gold tiepin, and that Cartier lighter. They leave the pack of Marlboro in your pocket -- they are "menthol" guys. That, I think, qualifies as a big-time crisis.

Oho! you have just passed a stress management seminar, and this present crisis can be hurdled. Yes, you may call the banks to invalidate those ATM and credit cards. The insurance company can easily handle the case of the new but stolen car immediately, if only those #&%*s haven't taken your brand-new, top-of-the-line, expensive mobile phone. Oh, the shoes can be replaced, and you can walk in the invigorating rain. What a guy! That's the attitude, dude!

"Hey! Where's my girl?" You see, the fiancee, the girl in the car, has recognized one of the #&%s who relieved the stress manager of his car, cash, cards and blings. She had a crush on that particular goon all those years in high school. In fact she realized that her ardor has not waned for that kind of guy -- tall, y'know, muscular, with that fuzz on the chin, and that bad-boy sneer that melts her soul. What else could she have done but ride away with the gang. But not before she asked one of the goons to return her newly ex's shoes. She hates those two-toned Italian wingtips.

Definitely not a perfect day. Our stress manager at least has his shoes back. He says he will take a stroll to his condo unit (located on the seventh floor of those posh locales), take a bottle of Stresstab, another bottle of Rivotril, a pad of Valium caps, and then jump into the pool down below. Hope he does not leave a messy splatter if his aim is off. That may ruin the groundskeeper's day.

It's not going hunkydory for the three #&%s, either. They got their loot, all right, but they did not expect to add their victim's ex-fiancee as moll to their peaceful gang. A dame always spells TROUBLE, all caps. That gang is doomed. And this runaway fiancee, what will her socialite friends and relatives think? Her escapade will surely distract them from enjoying the topless photos of Princess Kate, who lately has been having a series of imperfect days of her own.

If I can have one perfect day, I will give it to God, who day in and day out has to face millions of prayers and petitions from troubled souls, including that jilted carless, iPhoneless, loveless victim, even those goons and their socialite moll, and the naked princess, and Mark Zuckerberg and the billion Facebookers, not one who will enjoy a perfect day.

I believe even God must have a break, one perfect day.

I took a nap in the afternoon, and in my dream I heard a voice say: "Thank you for the offering, my son, but I cannot take that away from you. You see, one perfect day for me is Eternity."

Friday, September 7, 2012


Young Tintin

3:46 a.m.
What do kittens, alone in the dark, think about? A few minutes ago, Tintin climbed on the bed, then walked over my tummy. I gave her a few sleepy strokes on the chin, she gave me some playful bites which I thought were preludes to friendly wrestling and tumbles: I tickle her tummy while her legs kick in the air, sometimes wrapping around my fingers.

My eyes open and I notice it's getting light outside. Where's Tintin? First place I look for is above the headboard, there on the window sill where the bottom slat of jalousie was removed to give more space to generation of Ragdolls and Persians raised in our room.

Tintin just sits there on her hindlegs, quietly thinking kitten thoughts, just sitting, thinking. With a distant look, she surveys the small realm of her existence. How she has grown in 90 days! Sometimes I see her stride across the room with graceful maturity, as her ancestors did thousands of years ago, in now-forgotten African jungles or in the shades of Egyptian palaces. I imagine thousands of her forebears still lie with pharaohs in undisturbed pyramids under shifting desert sands.

My hand reaches out to Tintin, outlined by the false dawn against the jalousie. She acknowledges my greeting with gentle bites, then with some proprietary licks which seem to convey: "When was your last bath? You smell ripe, you know. Let me groom you up a bit. When mommy Mau wakes up ask her to teach you how to be presentable. Meanwhile, my love will see you through."

Tintin is asleep now, a lovely bundle in the window. So solitary, her mind so at peace. I follow her lead. Even kittens have more sense than me.

Mention of shifting desert sand made me think of  Ozymandias, my favorite Shelley Poem:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Tintin on Leena's bag
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Silver, Big Boy, and Ding -- survivors

Silver, British Shorthair, and Pogi with no hair

If you enter our bedroom, tiny Silver with her thin legs will stand up and emerge from her niche, then walk, lurch, stumble, stagger, fall on her belly with a small "plop," get up again, till she reaches your feet, friendly, trusting, undemanding, affectionate. And she will be perfectly happy if you offer her milk or boiled chicken if she is hungry. If you observe for a while, you will notice that this tiny but resolute survivor can easily fit into my palm, just a fragile pulse of life which I hope hope hope will grow strong, and play, and live beyond kittenhood.

Silver is too small for her age, three going on four weeks, born to Shorthair mom Ruby, a day after Persian Mau's new baby, still unnamed, arrived with three other siblings. The other day, Leena was trying on some appropriate name for the bigger Persian baby, talking to the newcomer: "Big boy ka 'no, di tulad ni Silver linggit." I interjected, "Why not call him Big Boy then." That should have settled it, but when I told Melay of the nomination, she exclaimed, "Ano?! Babae din siya." We are now thinking of giving Big Girl the name Oggy, after the blue cat of the Cartoon Channel. We will decide if the name is suitably androgynous to fit. 

"Big Boy"; Silver -- born just a day apart

To differentiate between Silver and the-one-who-must-still-be-named-correctly, Melay for the while calls the latter "Dams," short for Damulag, to emphasize the contrast in size between her wards. We don't know why Silver has not developed to full size, why her short tail is bent (Leena says Silver is "bobtailed"), and whether she can outgrow her frailty, but I'm definite she belongs with us. She is family.

Here's the family record: Starting about 7 p.m. of 2012 July 28, Persian Mau started giving birth. The first child died of birth defect, second to emerge was "Dams," the third was stillborn, and the fourth lived for two days and succumbed to another genetic abnormality. In cases like these we deflect the thoughts of so many deaths and focus on the blessing of the one who lived. Three for the Rainbow Bridge (located under our mango tree) and one for our hearts. So far.

Melay and baby "Dams" (Tintin)

The following day, at about 7 p.m., Shorthair Ruby gave birth to wee Silver in another room. The vet, Leena, and Melay kept vigil for the next arrivals, but it became obvious by early next morning that Silver is destined to be an only child. We did not know then that Silver, like the famous Steve Jobs, will be transferred for adoption a few hours after her birth.

However, it's not that the father and Ruby sent her off: Silver lacks a newborn's instinct that often can be fatal -- she cannot smell the life-giving milk in her mother's breast. When Leena saw that she could not find and feed on the milk and natural vitamins that nourish breastfed children to health and growth, she took the hungry kitten to Mau in our room. Mau, the loving mom even for kittens not her own,  licked the new arrival and added her to her diminished brood. Still, Silver cannot breastfeed from wetnurse and surrogate mother Mau, so Leena and Melay took turns feeding her by baby bottle every two hours for some sleep-deprived weeks. It takes a lot of love and patience.

So it has been to this day: late night up to noon, Leena answers to Silvers shrill quest for sustenance and companionship. When Leena goes to the office, Melay takes over until Leena returns. We noticed that when no one is in the room, Silver does not cry out even when hungry.

Feeding time for Silver

There's this stoic attitude among cats that I deeply admire; they do not gripe, they ignore their disabilities and adjust to what is left of their capability. So, Silver with her spindly hind leg -- her bent tail which lack the proper function to balance her movements -- still struggles through all the strenuous process to approach and greet anyone who enters her sanctuary.


Another survivor who has joined our family is Ding, a pusakal (pusang kalye) picked up two weeks ago by Neneng at the height of Habagat, the non-typhoon which was almost as destructive as Ondoy. Ding, then a thin, wet and hungry creature was shivering in the guardhouse at the entrance to our street. Neneng saw him and decided to bring him home, where he was dried off and fed. By the manner he devoured his food, Ding apparently was at the point of starvation, shown by the the ribs sticking out of his frail body. Today he seems to have filled out; at night he nestles on Neneng's neck for warmth and blissful sleep.

Ding, less than one-month old

I don't know if cats have a concept of courage, of fortitude, but their forbearance is admirable, even inspiring. The ancient Egyptians had the correct appreciation of cats, which were even deified in the times of the pharaohs. When I think of pets, my mind seeks out part of a poem in Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass":

I think I could turn and live with animals,
They are so placid and self -contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied -- not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious over the whole earth.

Note:  It has been verified today, 2012 August 27, that "Big Boy" is a girl. So we gave her a name which we think will meet her approval -- Christine Grey, or Tintin. It's apt: she has 50 shades of lovable traits.

Silver is stronger now (January 2013) and will be six months old on the 29th. Here's a recent photo I posted in Facebook:

Silver reading Rushdie with me

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Shalala in the Morning

3:48 a.m.
My insomnia seems to be a bit off this morning, but then again I remember Leena remarking as she turned off the nightlight: "Wow! It's already 12:12." She watched to the end Mr. Popper's Penguins. I, too, like Jim Carrey films, my favorite being Liar, Liar.

I can't remember when exactly I became aware that someone is not telling me the truth, and the reason for the lie. For smarter persons, that moment is an early awakening to the realities of how this planet works, and they easily adapt and adjust their way of life and thinking. Smart people get rich early in life.

It took decades of being pummeled by lies and half-truths before I even wondered why most of us accommodates the inexact: the misinformation, the ignorance, the lack of fact. I almost said "the lack of faith," and I remember reading somewhere that "Just because someone is willing to die for his belief does not mean he is right."

My old and sleepless mind can't grasp who first expressed that observation, which shook me some from my dumbness. It might have been Voltaire, but the sentiment seems modern, more in the line of Oscar Wilde. Whatever.

Then I thought of Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black telling alien-scoffing Will Smith something about the progress, or, to be exact, the regression, of human learning: "People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

That statement is a revelation, in this age of terabyte programming and smart TV. But I have already observed that our technology is light-years ahead of our morality or life-values. 

Back in 1998 Erap became  president. That would indirectly affect my position at People's Tonight. First, Joe Burgos, a veteran newsman I admired since the early 1980s, was persuaded to come out of retirement to become CEO of Philippine Journalists Incorporated, which owned People's Tonight,People's Journal, Taliba, Women's Journal, and the defunct and discredited money-losing broadsheet,Time Journal. When Burgos and his retinue of veterans arrived, he apportioned them to each publications, giving respect and precedence to the original personnel. At Tonight, associate editor Franklin Cabaluna was promoted to Executive Editor, a jump of two ranks and payscale. I was propelled from my supervisory post of copy editor to Managing Editor, ascending three ranks up with corresponding payscale, which enabled me to amass loads and loads of stamps and books.

After a few weeks, when Burgos and his appointees were settled in, I was summoned to his office. He asked me what task I performed when I was copy editor. I told him I edited and did the layouts for the two op-ed pages, including the editorial, written every day by the publisher. I also edited and did the layout for story I chose for the back page, and some minor stories for the other minor pages. That's a lot of work and responsibilities for a minor position; he saw that. It was my first conversation with a newsman I admired. I'm sure I could learn a lot from him, and I did, about fairness, integrity, and honesty -- which Erap did not possess.

"Can you," he said, "write a mock editorial about our anti-smut drive and submit it in our meeting tomorrow? Of course it will not be actually used." The test of ability has come, and my future role will be determined by the quality of my writing.

Next day before the 3 o'clock editors' meeting I gave him my assignment, my opinion about lurid films and tabloids that featured nude photos, thus outselling our publications by a huge margin.

My mock editorial about smut films and tabloids pointed out that Man has made giant leaps in technology since the time he discovered fire and made the wheel, leading to spacecraft that sent our species to the moon, and voyagers that went through and beyond our solar system, beaming back clear and colored images of giant Jupiter, a giant multi-layered orange marble with its huge stormy eye; of beautiful Saturn floating inside its rings; of big blue Neptune, its axis inexplicably tilted out of alignment, and hazy pluto which distance kept shrouded in mystery, exuding inexact information about its vague and lonely isolation.

The point is, for every step Man took forward, he took two steps back. For example, when printing was developed about 3000 BC, on cloth in Europe and India, on paper in China, tracts about religion were disseminated. That seems ok, but then sexual tales with erotic images followed. Same thing happened in painting, photography and sculpture; then, with new technologies like Betamax, VHS on to CDs and DVDs, our culture was inundated with X-rated movies. Every quality and mordant film was matched by thousands of lurid ones. Man is light-years ahead in technology, but in morals and ethics, he's just one step away from the cave. 

We are primordial creatures. I sincerely hope we are not the best species the universe can provide.

(To be continued next insomnia, if ever...)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lyrically yours

3:04 a.m.
In one or two biographies of the Beatles, John Lennon was quoted as saying that he wanted to be a millionaire by the time he became twenty-one. When I first read about that in Hunter Davies' paperback I was in high school, and I thought, "Why not? Me too. Should not be too hard to do." 

1968 Paperback Edition

Looking back, I wonder about the refulgent optimism of youth. Lennon wanted a million pounds so he could drop out of school and not have to work for the rest of his life. He made it. I was about 16 when I bought and read the Davies book.

My goal was smaller in scale: I needed a million pesos to buy the entire stock of very early Batman comics a music record dealer kept in several crates in Angeles City. When I turned 21 I found myself in college, stretching my allowance to make ends meet. Not rich, no comics even.

I did not know the basic ingredients of success back then, in 1972. Neither did the professors, I noticed.

To be rich you must have (1) a tremendous amount of talent, and (2) a more tremendous will to use it to attain your goal. I did not have either.

John could sing and compose tunes, John was creative in his guitar play, John had the courage to drop out of school, which he felt was hampering his plan. He formed his band, met Paul and George and (3) worked liked hell to earn some money. It took some time before (4) they earned their luck that launched them to fame and history.

John has been dead at 40 since December 8, 1980, but his music still brings in big royalties. He's dead but still earning much more per annum than the majority of living stiffs who go to 9-to-5 jobs, like high school teachers.

George Harrison died of cancer in 2001. If you're a member of the bestselling rock band in history, death does not stop the income from pouring in.

Paul McCartney still lives. He sang Hey Jude at the London Olympics at the opening ceremony. He has been a millionaire since he was 21.

Lennon reminds me of the young Chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, who at 15 trounced old champions and became the youngest grandmaster then. He dropped out of school so he could spend all his time absorbing tons of books about anything concerning Chess. He had heaps of talents and he used all his time and energy on the game. In short, he had ingredients 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the recipe.

Some people still managed to snag ingredient 4 to escape the rat race of drudgery. Lotto did it for them, like the security guard who won the P163 million jackpot. Lucky people do not need talent, will to succeed, nor hard work. Luck, like death, is a great equalizer. 

I think billiards' Bata Reyes has #1, #3 and #4. Manny Pacquiao, too, but his ability is so great and the box office demand for his ability to pummel people down to the canvass is so huge that he became a billionaire in a few years. Now he is a congressman: on record his wealth surpasses the wealth of Senate President Enrile and other politicians who took decades to acquire theirs. Score one for the working man.


Back to my high school days. To give you a perspective of the value of a million pesos in the early 1970s, I will cite the microeconomics of a struggling high school student. At that time, board and lodging at the dorm of the exclusive Chiang Kai-shek College -- a bed and three meals a day -- cost only P90. That's right, less than the cost of a big Mac and fries at McDo or Jollibee, junk shops which did not exist back then. Jeepney fare was 25 centavos, fresh egg was 30 centavos, postage for regular mail 15 centavos, a Forecast bet for Jai Alai was P5, and Chess books were already expensive. I remember dreaming of the The Games of Robert J. Fischer, a hardbound edition which Popular Bookstore was selling at P90, exactly my dorm fee for a month. I can't remember how I eventually acquired that book: it's in 
P90 in 1972
my library now, one of the few books from my early days to have survived. 

Chess books cost more today. I remember asking my daughter in New York to buy me Series 5 of Kasparov's My Chess Predecessors. Cost me about $37, I think, and more for the shipping from there to here in QC.

Obviously, having no significant talent to exploit, I settled for less than a million to just having enough to buy the things I need in life, mostly books. After five years of a B.S. Mechanical Engineering course at UST, I went home to Angeles City. Jobless, I helped for a while at the family sari-sari store. It's a drudgery where you can find yourself just getting old and wasted in the vicious cycle of buying and selling canned goods and detergent bars. Earn money, spend your life. I shudder when I think of the epitaphs for businessmen.

"Here lies Sir Knight Juan Mercado. Sold 2,000,000 cans Ligo Sardines, 50,000 cases Ajax detergent bars. He got rich but forgot to live." Mourned by doddering Knights of Columbus and the jolly good fellows of the local Rotary and Chamber of Commerce.

Here's mine: "He was of no consequence, but he was pogi for life." c'',)

Is there a shortcut to wealth at all? Lotto, of course. And politics, drug dealing, jueteng operations, cornering the telecommunications, water and electricity monopoly and other big crimes.

But does it make you happy, all that wealth? I don't think so.

Since it will take another long insomnia to blog out the reasons why with great wealth comes great responsibility and misery, I'll just provide the simple one-way test to determine if you are happy at any time in your life.

Just ask yourself, "Am I happy now?" The only right answer is an immediate "Yes." Any other answer means "No." If you try to rationalize, you are in a state of denial.

Isn't life fun? Only if you know how to play.