Wednesday, October 19, 2005

E L V I S !

In the doldrums I currently find myself in, I am impelled therapeutically to reminisce about things that most influenced my dear lamented childhood. Of heroes and idols that harangued wakeful moments. Of heroes and idols that made flights of fancy and fantasies possible and almost realizable. Of heroes and idols whose lives youthful dreams could be hitched to

In short, of heroes and idols that we all wanted to be like when we grew up.

For me, one of the most enduring ones is that of the King, Elvis Presley. Who closer than an alter-ego I had wanted to be. In looks and of course, in singing style.

Reality does have its own inimitable ways of pulling feet to firm ground. And genetics and the ensuing years inexorably proved that true.

Still, color-fast vestiges of dreams resolute and deep simply cannot easily be consigned to the dustbin of forgetfulness. Such dreams have their own equally unwavering guiles of growing on legs and living their own little lives in one’s consciousness and reality.

Again, Elvis Presley is one of them.

Since then and over time, the legend lives on!

What started as a very inauspicious introduction to him via a run-of-the-mill pocketbook of 50’s song hits with the King’s countenance emblazoned at the back cover in somber black and white, my unending drudgery continues on. Featured on that songhits book was the raw, rough and loud rendition of the King of “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You”. It didn’t matter, I clung to his every stuttered word and tried with all my puny might to imitate, with every groan and hip-shaking move.

Many hurts and aches have come and gone brought down by the onslaught of time and untold miseries interspersed with some inspired moments. But still no end in sight for the dream that refuses to die.

Thus, I continue to be saddled with the unenviable task of gathering together what remains of a king who died too young. Continuing the journey of still trying to be like him.

I have in my possession over 4 gigabytes of Elvis Presley songs on MP3 format and permanently stored on CDRs and on hard disks in a couple of PCs, detailing songs released as singles, outtakes of many songs that never made it to the final recordings, songs collected as albums released through the years prior to and after his death. Songs performed on appearances with radio and/or TV hosts. Home recordings on very crude recording machines and media translated into MP3s. (Elvis is on record as having recorded about 700 songs. Quite a feat for a short lifetime of 42 years.)

More gigabytes of video clips of performances before and after the Las Vegas years. And clips from the movies highlighting the songs that became hits.

BetaMax and VHS tapes of his earlier movies and those videos manufactured after his death as commercial memorials of his legacy. Including now unplayable reel-to-reel tapes and 8-track cartridges that continue to deteriorate over time and humidity.

Various books, both pocket-size and the coffee table type, as more commercial attempts to capitalize on his enduring popularity. Picture clippings from various magazines and newspapers. And a boxful of floppy disks with Elvis pictures on them. A folder with the detailed anthology of all Elvis songs.

And yes, Elvis trinkets such as a refrigerator magnet, a pen that plays a favorite Elvis phrase in a characteristically unique Elvis way (“Thank you, thank you”), and an ornate and intricately-designed metallic opener, a huge beach towel silk-screened with his face on it. And yes, some cards and a tin box for a jigsaw puzzle. A couple of framed 45s of songs that hit No. 1 on the charts.

Some LP albums, boxed cassette sets, audio CDs, even Video CDs on Karaoke format. Can’t locate several 78s from the Sun Recording Studios with their familiar bright yellow labels, containing the songs now collated in the album justly tagged as the Sun Recording sessions, which has been adjudged as the definitive album on the enduring phenomenon called Rock and Roll.

And yes, a couple of sheets of Elvis postage stamps, featuring the old and leaner Elvis.

And of late, a karaoke machine which had the complementary DVD disc that contains about 14,000 songs in English, Tagalog, Chinese and Japanese. Okay, but its one redeeming value is that the songs of Elvis featured among the selections are the Elvis songs of old. Pure and pristine, raw and unadulterated Elvis. Now, who would remember these songs? Poor Boy, Treat Me Nice, Baby I Don’t Care, Love Me, Anyway You Want Me.

I once heard inside one very popular music store chain, a young amply-haired salesman loudly complain to an associate nearby that he wondered why many were continuing to buy Elvis records when he did not even write his songs and sang only the songs of others.

He was right of course, popularly speaking. But technically, do you know that in the initial release of Poor Boy, Elvis is credited as having written the song? Over the years, I have not found any other Elvis song similarly accredited.

And lastly, on this same blog I have a link to an Elvis site, which details particularly his early years.

Thus, Elvis may have left the building, but his legend stays on.

Redux: What’s Being Blogged

Have not updated this blog for at least two weeks and paradoxically I have been quite busy doing things. A lot of things other than updating this blog.

I have been reading online news and with more focus, other people’s blogs and at times making appropriate comments in them. And considering the volume of work out there being churned at dizzying velocities, it is no mean understatement to declare that just trying to get a good glimpse of what people are writing about is in itself quite a formidable task.

I consider all the beautiful, astoundingly complicated, intellectually superior, and articulately gifted minds out there sifting through veritable gold mines of ideas and events readily made accessible and available to most everybody in the world with the continually evolving technologies. Then, bringing to bear those blessed minds into dissecting, analyzing, and hypothesizing as quickly as those ideas and events become news or are publicly aired.

And there are many such gems and precious stones of blogs out there, all for everybody with Internet connection to discover, choose from, and hopefully learn from. Names and URLs are unnecessary in my estimation.

Let your own mind track them down and judge for itself where the real gems are. Those that are still diamonds in the rough, and those that outwardly shine but upon closer examination are actually fool’s gold.

And the entire world is your virtual playground. From the standards-setting blogs in the US, to the neophytes in war-torn Iraq, from the fast-learning English speakers in third-world countries like the Philippines, to the old-country sophisticates in Europe, or to any wired corner of the globe where English can be written and uploaded as prose or verse to the Internet.

It is quite a humbling experience for me then to ask myself:

What could I possibly write about that has not already been written, written in a much better and more interesting way?

What fresh angles to any interesting or crucial story could I possibly triangulate that have not already been eloquently dissertated somewhere?

And mold it in such a way that people will take notice?

What novel ideas or notions could I possibly concoct that would turn some heads toward my direction?

What possible gifts of language and tongue could I possibly discover and marshal in creating a story, an essay, a report, or verse that would at least be at par with the standards set by those sites who obviously have hurdled them based on their reach and readership?

These and more are questions/issues that are currently being processed by this humbled and confused blogger.

Throw in some time constraints blocking the way and what we have here is a real-time dilemma that needs some resolving.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Abject Poverty And Happiness: Do Not Compute

Let’s start with a loose definition of what “happiness” could possibly mean to as many people as possible.

Though I’m sure it is not totally encompassing or all inclusive, here’s one that possibly contains as many notions about it as we all are different in our individual thinking:

Happiness, pleasure or joy is the emotional state of being happy. The definition of happiness is one of the greatest philosophical quandaries. Proposed definitions include freedom from want and distress, consciousness of the good order of things, assurance of one's place in the universe or society, inner peace, and so forth. ...

And this came from this source:

The World Values Survey published by the University of Michigan last November had this to say about its study:

“..according to feelings of "subjective well-being"—which combined its happiness and "life-satisfaction" scores…”

The Philippines as a country got good marks in that survey.

And many Filipinos with bright-red nationalism emblazoned on their breasts proudly extolled the elated though floundering country for scoring very high. Though momentarily stunned, they found both comfort and pride in learning that the above survey/study graded the Philippines as scoring very high compared to its Asian neighbors, and better still, scoring higher than the envied richer ones.

Thus a number of local pundits, intellectual elites from both academia and media, or maybe even those inspired by their nationalistic pride, given and buoyed by the gift of tongues and words, put on their thinking caps, sharpened their wits and pens, and started the task of putting to words the grotto that will mark and showcase this enviable honor, and on which other like-minded Filipinos may worship.

It was quite an elixir, however short lived it may have been, to soothe the incessant anguish occasioned by the festering economic and political sores that beset the country. Not to count those fortuitous events for which no personal blame could be attributed.

But given all the ills we find in the country, what possible rationalization could possibly justify such an overtly difficult finding to understand? Filipinos the happiest amidst staggering and pervasive poverty, ignorance and illiteracy?

Still, credit the Filipino’s ingenuity and resourcefulness to come up with a possible and neat justification, and for some, even some implicit gospel truths for why it is so.

One pun-ny journalist started with the question about whether happiness is a state of mind, a state of the pocketbook, or simply, one sovereign state. But in a change of pace and with gravity, declared that to the Filipino happiness is not material, but social.

Huh? Well, meaning that the Filipinos find happiness in a social gathering among his own kind, bantering and exchanging jokes, cell phone numbers and silly nicknames. I suppose they become most unhappy trudging back to their houses or hovels and grapple with boring solitude and persistent want. They could be hungry, unkempt, broke, no health insurance, etc., but as long as with barkadas, extended families and friends, they are mostly happy.

Happy, you say? Well, again happy because it does not take much for the Filipino to be happy. A little food here and there. Some tingling coins in the pocket. A movie every now and then. A few cheap drinks with friends in the corner store. Mababaw ang kaligayahan, or easily amused, his words echoed.

Yeah. But I’m not even sure if the shallowness refers to the quality or quantity of any amusement or happiness index. Please do not ask me to explain. I probably mean something like this. Though hungry, I’m still happy because I can walk to scavenge for food , while others similarly situated simply cannot even walk.

Then the same journalist proceeded to expound on two admirable traits that he had found in the Filipino: resiliency and self-sufficiency. And who is to deny that those are superbly admirable qualities? But most probably these traits are also found in most other countries in the world, especially those in want and need. And there are scores to name.

The question then is that might not these qualities be necessary and consequential results for those in want and need for a long time? That because of ingrained, pervasive, and prolonged exposure to poverty and its deprivation, the indomitable human spirit has found for itself a path to some form of deliverance. Under such onerous conditions, it probably becomes necessary for one to be resilient and be self-sufficient, unless one is prepared to be overwhelmed and die.

Now please let me hearken back to our loose definition of happiness above, and extract this part of that definition: freedom from want and distress.

I can best bring out my point on this by relating something I read recently (also saw a segment of it on TV) about two very popular but giggly movie stars who went to some obscure tribe in Africa, filming some footage for an upcoming series. Can’t remember exactly what the visit was all about, except that those two very prominent, high-profile but out-of-their-element stars were the anointed ambassadresses (one may even have been an A-list model, can’t remember).

The show described the visit and highlighted some translated interviews with some brightly-garbed though sullen-faced tribeswomen, with our two celebrities taking turns interviewing them. The TV segment clearly depicted the very crude and rudimentary existence the natives lived in that rather undeveloped place in Africa, flashing typical scenes quite familiar to TV viewers. A mud hut kept together with dried cow dung, topped with a thatched roof of some kind, dirt floor, no indoor plumbing, not much furniture, women in their crude native garbs, sullen faces both of adults and youngsters, etc.

In fine, not quite blazingly novel, thus not really newsworthy in these difficult times, nor was it eyebrow raising. Just your typical and familiar picture of abject poverty in yet another undeveloped area of the world. Untouched by civilization, one might say.

Until the time that this one particular celebrity is back in her elements, in front of a TV camera, and being interviewed by an equally popular celebrity host. That’s when it gets a little surreal. For me, at least.

In very comfy surroundings, with feet crossed atop a very hospitable couch, in front of a very admiring audience, she declares how lucky and happy those native women were. That we, the USofA audience, could learn a lot from them, from their simplicity, their seeming innate happiness, the admirable simplicity of their idyllic lives, etc. In short, we should rather imitate them and not exploit our environment the way we in the civilized world do.

Okay. I had then suggested in my mind that maybe she (the celebrity) should stay with them for a month or so, and not just a day or two which they actually did. Then maybe she can understand with some reasonable depth how difficult it is to live in very crude and unsanitary conditions, bereft of all the bountiful goodies that we normally take for granted in the civilized world.

Grocery stores to purchase relatively cheap, wholesome, clean, and nutritious food. Indoor plumbing to take care of proper waste disposal. Shelters with clean and comfortable floors for us and our children to live under. A house that is comfortable and sufficient for shelter and protection from outside elements. Maybe medical services to take care of our ailments, whether petty or catastrophic. Etc. Etc… The usual trappings that advancing civilization has blessed us with.

My simple but clear point is that people living in prolonged and pervasive poverty cannot possibly know any better. Not even any better to understand what happiness could possibly be in this world which has been blessed with the advances that civilization has wrought. If you, your family before you, and the families before them have always known poverty and its many deprivations, how could you possibly understand what life could be for you and your loved ones, the same way those who are sharing and partaking of the blessings understand what possible happiness and contentment could be derived? How could aspirations for a better life be germinated and nurtured under such arid environment?

Ignorance is definitely not blissful in this instance. Neither could any outsider rightly claim that there is no ignorance involved in any decision about happiness and contentment emanating from under such dire circumstances.

After all, do we not normally correlate and tie up poverty with ignorance or illiteracy?

Hopefully this has provided some explanation why.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Google: My Personal English Assistant

Here's another entry that was originally intended as a comment to another very popular blog. Again, I have decided against it and have instead posted it here:

This discussion on English as a language is both enlightening and challenging.

And it’s probably because English is arguably a formidable language to study and learn, littered as it is with very many exceptions to its many perplexing rules on grammar. Even mighty MS Word’s spelling and grammar tool is at best below average, if we have to judge it on stricter “standards” of grammar and its many subfields such as syntax .

We grant that it is a very dynamic language even within its many variations, or dialects, if you must. To illustrate, newly coined words and usages get added quite often. Thus, there is no guarantee that groups who are native speakers of English can rightly claim collectively superb understanding of and proficiency in it. I would hazard the guess that even so-called expert wordsmiths or renowned linguists will commit errors in their everyday use of it

Thus, a “workable” understanding and proficiency in English ought to generally suffice. Don’t ask me what the parameters of “workable” are. I do not profess to know. Except, as one example, we do not claim, “we have an accent” when in fact we are either simply mispronouncing words or using incorrect grammar or syntax.

BTW, has anybody tried putting the entire Comments section of this one blog entry through MS Word’s spelling and grammar wringer? I did. And saw many red-colored underlines. Including for my particular comment entry. Of course, many are not really errors. Blame it on the spellcheck’s naiveté and latent obsolescence.

It is a big challenge then not to negatively depict other English speakers, even if one can personally acquit oneself in the knowledge and proficiency of English.

Me? I put great faith and trust in my personal English assistant. Google. I’m sure many do, too.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hope For A Listless Country

In the country’s short historic span, we had at the turn of the last century the Thomasites. Then in the 60’s we had the US Peace Corps. Judging from what the country appeared to be collectively in those times, we did well. Not that we should attribute all the successes then to those two movements. There were other agencies, both local and international, which joined hands for the common efforts. Should we view it in any other wise?

Maybe it’s time again to shed some of our nationalistic pride, some of which may be falsely premised, accept our shortcomings and seek assistance, whether locally or outside. All in the name of the poor huddled masses who continue to face bleak futures. And presents, too.

The current government and its infrastructures may be so compromised and emaciated at this time to be able to effectively address the pernicious issues of pervasive poverty, ignorance or illiteracy.

The Philippines is a rich country, blessed with bountiful resources, both natural and human. Except that wealth is too concentrated on a very few. An ethnic minority accounting for only 2% of the population has control of over 80% of the economy. Add to that a few other Filipino families and that completes the distribution of most of the wealth in the country.

A country divided unto itself may not be in a position to right itself. Unless the entrenched wealth holders themselves take the cudgels to initiate the reformation.

But if patience has been stretched too much and too thinly and time is not anymore a viable option, then we should seek outside assistance.

Who? What? Where?

For the answers, let the dialogue begin.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Dictates Of Conscience

"Conscience dictates” or "The dictates of conscience". An impassioned plea usually heard to justify a rather unpopular stance, or when one is confronted with an option that resembles a Don Quixote-like quest. Or other such similar situations.

It does typically make one feel good, and more importantly, important and justified to declare that one is simply following one's conscience. For who after all in his right mind would publicly admit that he acts against his good conscience? It's a mantra accepted by most without much equivocation and hesitation. Sometimes, even without much forethought and afterthought.

I heard this again today and decided to give it a little afterthought, feeding it with what I have learned over time about conscience as a religious or spiritual concept.

Without delving much into the intricate facets that surround what conscience is, suffice it to say it is the inner voice in each one of us giving counsel as what is right and/or wrong in particular situations, or in our daily living of life. For those religiously inclined, it is that voice which is the logical and consequential manifestation of the principles of Eternal Law coming from the Supreme Creator, or higher being, if you wish. These principles are filtered under and assimilated into the natural laws that govern knowledge and reason. The instructed and informed will of man then acts accordingly based on these.

Given these august origins, it is easy for one to believe in it as some kind of monolithic, unchangeable, and universal source that will be one and all for each and every human being possessed of it. That the guiding principles it dispenses are one and the same for everybody. Thus, your conscience is as good mine, and the rest of the world, for that matter.

Truly, that could be a very stupendous thing. Everybody acting uniformly, in complete accord with the "dictates" of conscience.

But harsh realities tell us that is not so. Is it then because those who do not follow the "dictates of conscience" are all evil people, consciously and maliciously going against it?

If we accept this hypothesis, then we each individually may say that God must have created very many evil people, all those people who in our personal judgments do not follow the "dictates" of conscience as we know and apply them.

Is your conscience just as good as mine? Or, is there a universal conscience indiscriminately applicable to everybody?

I have not given those intractable questions much thought.

But this much I can deduce from what I have personally studied about conscience as a religious concept.

That conscience is a very personal and individual thing.

Is it the reason maybe that it is always couched as an "inner voice", rather than a big booming voice on a loudspeaker for everybody to hear and understand?

Your conscience is as personal and distinct to you as your DNA, though as members of Homo Sapiens we all belong to the one group that possesses it. Many of us emulate other peoples' looks, goals, actions, desires, aspirations, etc., but we do not become those persons. We are still distinct entities. The same is true of conscience. You are born with it, develop it through life under the nature and nurture plan, and use it in each individual distinct way. In fine, your conscience is simply the bottom layer of a tiered hierarchy that starts at the top with the Eternal Law of the Creator.

That your conscience is as different as the next person in the same way that you are as different a person as the next person. Each individual conscience is formed, informed, developed, and used as each individual so "dictates".

Do all consciences have "good" as their goal?

We have learned that a conscience can be an erroneous conscience. One possessed of ignorance, especially one of invincible ignorance, may possess a conscience quite different from those who are not. And may even possess a conscience considered false by the rest. You see, the will gets its signals from reason. But under invincible ignorance the reason of the individual can err, and thus the signal to the will may be erroneous. Now remember the will is hardwired always to do "good", even though the good perceived by reason may not be the correct good.

Given the above then, would it not be preferable to say:

“……..the dictates of MY/YOUR/HIS/HER conscience? (Take your pick.)