Monday, June 30, 2008

Rules of the Road

Manila has some of the worst drivers on the face of the earth.

Yeah, yeah, I know. That's big talk, coming from one who has almost no experience behind the wheel at all. But while I'm walking on my own two feet, chances are that you're sitting in the front seat of your own vehicle. Chances are that you've cursed at the other people on the road, wondered why the hell they do the things they do, and all in all, observed the very same thing that I'm pointing out at this very moment.

So I'm sorry to say this, but you know perfectly well that it's true: Manila has some of the worst drivers on the face of the earth.

I bring this up because of a little incident earlier today. If you weren't up that early to get to work, I'll fill you in: Early this morning, a truck figured in an accident along one of the city's major highways. It was carrying a full load of ethanol when it crashed into a post near the entrance to a tunnel, which apparently punctured one of its tanks. The next thing we knew, the area was inundated with ethanol, and we had one of the nastiest traffic snarls in recent memory.

And just to put the icing on the cake, I must point out that ethanol is flammable, that it gives off a terrible odor (especially when a lot of it has spilled out on the street), and that we're talking about the most populous highway in the city here. The result was, in a colleague's words, "the most compelling excuse to give up and go home."

I've read somewhere that the truck's driver claimed that he was trying to avoid a speeding bus, and that the police doubt him very much. I've also noted that the truck practically turned turtle during the progression of the stunt, and I find that interesting -- it almost certainly indicates that a high rate of speed was involved. Whether the issue at hand was an errant bus or a speeding truck, though, I wouldn't be surprised either way.

And in a sense, it's not just the truck from this morning. It's the jeepneys that stop to let off passengers in the middle of the road. It's the drivers who fail to signal or turn on their blinkers whenever they try something fancy. It's the taxis that decide to make a left turn from the rightmost lane, the motorcycles that weave between idling vehicles, the massive sixteen-wheelers who take shortcuts through quiet neighborhoods and tiny side streets.

It's the people who run red lights. It's the people who go against traffic. It's the people who speed through pedestrian crossings. It's the people who get up at two in the morning to race on supposedly empty streets. It's the people who invest in sirens and strange-sounding horns with no good reason at all. It's the people who think that sitting in the driver's seat puts them on a certain pedestal, a high-and-mighty position that tells them that they own the road, and that everybody else is an opposing force against whom they can compete.

Between the haphazard streetworks, the corrupt cops and the bad asphalt, we have enough things to worry about. If there's anything that should send us over the edge, it should be a lot less than a speeding truck driver who suddenly refused to take responsibility for what he perfectly knew to be flammable cargo.

You can say a lot about humanity, but one thing that you can't deny is our tendency to be completely and creatively self-destructive.

Sometimes I'm surprised that we're still kicking around.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fiction: Breath

His sandals turn wet with the morning dew as he walks. The morning air is cold; it stings at his face with a sharpness that can penetrate bundled silk.

He stops, and looks at the fields before him. The tall grass grows sparsely, disturbed by the blood and footfalls of the men who had invaded their ranks many weeks ago.

In the distance, a thin sliver of sunlight slices across the sky. He stands still, waiting for a moment of perfect silence, and watching the amethyst skies.


“Get up,” he says, chiding his fallen student.

The boy sits up, dazed. There is a broken bokken in the boy’s hand, and his expression clearly shows that the blow came too quickly for him to remember.

“Back to your seat,” he tells the boy.

The student stands, bows, and then rejoins the rest of his class - six and ten young men and women sitting upon the wooden floor in a wide circle. There are not a few nervous smiles among them.

He straightens first his robes and then his posture, sliding his unmarred wooden sword into his obi. “Your center,” he repeats crisply, “is where your entire self converges. You must maintain your balance there. Your self, and your sword – everything must be one when you strike.”

He smiles, white teeth glinting the daylight. “Who is next?”

“I am, sensei.” A girl rises from somewhere near the front of the gathering. She is young and beautiful, with shining black hair and a smile that would rival Amaterasu’s.

“Shoko,” he says.

She bows deeply. “If I may, sensei,” she asks.

He bows in response, indicating his approval. In a few moments, he faces her in the center of the gathering, their wooden swords both drawn and ready.

Each watches the other intently. There is no sound. Silence itself dares not utter a word.

There is a slight change in the breeze, and a sudden blur of motion.

There is a single muffled huff as he lands on the floor and the air forces its way out of his lungs.

She stands above him, her sword in the finishing position of the first technique. There is only the expression of supreme concentration on her face.

He glances around, sluggish and somehow dazed. Then he notices that the sheer force of her blow has broken his wooden sword.

He blinks once, and then smiles.

She begins to smile as well, but then remembers herself at the last moment. She begins to bow.

He holds up a hand to stop her. She pauses, confused expression beginning to form on her face.

Slowly, he stands and bows deeply in her direction.

A number of his students smile, despite themselves. She does not. She frowns instead, knowing somewhere deep inside that such a thing should not be.

“I thank you, sensei,” she says nonetheless, returning the gesture.

“No,” he answers, “thank you, Shoko-gakusei.”


The wind toys with the tips of the tall grass, scattering their formation every which way. It makes no sound.

He is alone. He knows that it is just him, the wind, the grass, and his memories.

He looks into the distance, eyes neither bending nor blinking. Sixty years has given him the expression of steel.

He places one hand on the pommel of his katana, as if preparing to strike against some unseen enemy. Then he lets it slide further downward, feeling the smooth wood of the saya, and the point where katana and wakizashi cross.

For a single moment, he observes the horizon, etching the image of sky, earth and clouds into the corners of his mind.

Above him, Lady Sun watches as well.


“Still,” he warns, watching her closely, “not tense. Still yourself.”

She stands there, as still as the waters of a lake when there is no wind. Her face is iron; her expression is steel.

He taps her – sharply – against the side, startling some of the less attentive students. She does not move, save for a single moment when she closes her

“You are tense,” he announces. “Your tension will not aid you. Know how even the most stalwart of trees fall to the storm.”

He pauses, watching her intently.

Slowly, he walks up to her, bending down slightly to adjust to her shorter frame and looking directly into her eyes.


He draws back, still watching her.

There is a moment’s hesitation, and then a single long breath.


She inhales once more, quickly releasing her breath back into the atmosphere of the closed courtyard.


She breathes again, this time more relaxed and assured. Her expression does not change.

“What do you keep inside of you?” he asks, “Fear?”

She breathes.


She breathes.


She breathes once more.

He draws himself up slightly, looking at the sea of faces under his care. “Fear, want and regret,” he whispers. “The three sins.”

She stands still, breathing slowly and regularly.

“Know this,” he says. “A samurai does not know fear. A samurai does not know desire.”

He looks at her once more, content at the results of the day’s teaching.

“And greatest of all, a samurai does not know regret. Remember that, when you stand facing your enemy.”


The field still holds the scent of war - love and hate, passion and distraction, honor and glory, all at the same time.

He can hear the clashing of blades and the rustling of battered armor. He can hear the shouts of triumph and the screams of agony.

He continues looking into the distance, into the eyes of the first rays of sunlight.


“Glory to the clan,” he whispers, watching them charge.

They are resplendent in their golden armor. His former students now wield blades of the finest steel, as they dive into the thickest part of the fighting. His place is not among them; He can only watch, and hope that they had learned his teachings well.

She breaks from the throng, screaming her war cry and plunging to the forefront. A second division smashes into the front lines, throwing the enemy into disarray, and he loses sight of her.

By now, only half of them would be left. The better half.

They themselves knew. It was an honor and a privilege to know.

Only the unworthy died.

He sees her again, hair still shining in the sunlight, despite armor covered in sticky blood. She is half-blinded by the blood that spills over her eyes, yet she still fights with the ferocity of a true warrior.

He does not blink as he sees the enemy samurai strike at her from behind, sending his blade tearing through her body.

He does not weep as she falls, lost among the sea of new corpses.

“Destiny,” he whispers.

Destiny. Yes, Destiny.

Only the unworthy died.


He softens, and looks upon the miles of tall grass. He stands there, a solitary figure on an empty battlefield.


His expression is steel. Hers had been steel as well.

He pauses in slow meditation, feeling the soft breeze move across his robes.

Fear. Want. Regret.

He remembers.

Slowly, he looks over the place where she died, and begins to breathe.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Top 30 Animated Films of All Time (as Yahoo! Thinks)

Yahoo! came up with a list of the top animated movies -- of all time! -- a couple of weeks ago, and I remember thumbing through the list for about fifteen minutes before I shoved it to the back of my mind. Media lists are a necessary evil; you'll never find one that you will fully agree with, and that goes double if a publication with neither apologies nor disclaimers gets involved. It was just a list, though, and it at least made for some passing interest that afternoon.

Earlier this evening, Yahoo! decided to perform a bit of a revamp. Having taken the argument to the Internet voting public, they've since put up a revised list that reflects the opinions of all the users who log onto their fair site. Apparently 1.2 million different user ratings went into the new list, which doesn't necessarily mean diddly-squat, because we don't know who these people are, and why they write reviews for animated movies in their spare time. But hey, it's a different list. And it got the usual boos and catcalls from me.

You see, the original list went like this:

30. Bambi
29. The Jungle Book
28. Sleeping Beauty
27. Over the Hedge
26. The Simpsons Movie
25: Ice Age: The Meltdown
24. Ice Age
23. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
22. Howl's Moving Castle
21. Mulan
20. Peter Pan
19. Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who
18. Lady and the Tramp
17. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
16. Princess Mononoke
15. Cinderella
14. The Little Mermaid
13. Enchanted
12. Shrek 2
11. Cars
10. Monsters, Inc.
9. Spirited Away
8. Aladdin
7. Beauty and the Beast
6. Toy Story
5. Ratatouille
4. Shrek
3. The Incredibles
2. The Lion King
1. Finding Nemo

As it was just a list by itself, and an idle-looking list at that, I wasn't about to consider my personal choices just yet. But with the release of the newer list, I feel a little more compelled to speak about my opinions. Some movies went up in ranking, some movies slipped in the stands, and of course, a couple of new releases have come out since the original. But from the way it looks, there's still quite a few things to argue about...

30. Peter Pan
Peter Pan dropped ten places in the standings, and I'm far more willing to accept it at number 30 than I am at number 20. While it's quite watchable, it's simply been outdone by a lot of other animated features since its original release.

29. Persepolis
The first movie on this list that I haven't seen. From what I've found, though, this is a contemporary coming-of-age movie that seemed to have drawn critical praise. I'll have to see if I can find a copy.

28. Meet the Robinsons

Nope, sorry, nuh-uh. I felt that this could barely hold my attention for fifteen minutes, let alone two hours. It presents a lot of weird characters in weird situations, but I don't feel that that alone should warrant it a place on this list.

27. Mulan
This is a surprise; I wanted to see this higher on the list. I liked this movie... but that could just be me, speaking from my racial background. The fact that its theme involves heroism in the fact of unacceptance probably gives it a slight push in my book.

26. Lady and the Tramp

Worthwhile, I suppose. Lady and the Tramp probably deserves to be on a Top 30 list, although I wouldn't necessarily put it in the top half.

25. My Neighbor Totoro
I haven't seen this one either, but I hear that Miyazaki makes quite a showing on this list.

24. Over the Hedge
Ugh. This is... how shall I put it... *fluff* that was specifically aimed towards a young audience. While there are some fluffy movies that are done well, I don't think this one really serves as the best example. Why is this still on the list?

23. Cinderella
Quite old, but not bad. This was one of the better golden-era Disney movies, and I was impressed at the little twist at the end. (Now if we can only get Disney to stop the constant train of sequels, then that would be just peachy.)

22. Happy Feet
I'm a sucker for musicals. The only thing I didn't like about this movie was the fact that the story felt like two completely different ideas that just got patched together, but that was about it. I feel great seeing it on this list when it was previously ignored.

21. Monsters, Inc.

The strength of Monsters, Inc. lies in two things: its story (which focuses on the alternate themes of fear and love), and its unlikely setting (which piqued my curiosity). Frankly, I'm surprised that it lands in the bottom third of the list.

20. The Little Mermaid
I would place The Little Mermaid around this area, yes. It's a good movie, and it ushered in the last great age of Disney animation, but it feels a little formulaic when compared against its contemporaries.

19. Ice Age: The Meltdown
The Ice Age movies didn't do it for me. They were entertaining to watch, yes, but I hardly felt like seeing them again after the first screening. I suppose the list does reflect the fact that the second movie was better than the first...

18. Princess Mononoke
Haven't seen this one, either.

17. Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who
After slogging through the train wrecks that were How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat, I swore off Hollywood interpretations of the late great Theodore Geisel's works. So no, I haven't seen this, and I'm not quite sold on putting it on my to-watch list.

16. The Simpsons Movie
I do love the Simpsons, but I don't think their movie -- a mishmash of strange plotlines, clever jokes and the Spider-Pig song -- should be on this list. Comedy isn't solely measured by the number of laughs that you get.

15. Howl's Moving Castle
I read the book and liked it, but I haven't seen the movie yet. Sadly, everyone I know who's seen the movie seems to prefer the book...

14. Toy Story
Indeed. This is a thinly-veiled treatise on what it's like to be old, I think, with some lessons on friendship on the side. I feel that it also presents its imaginary universe very well, something that its sequels couldn't quite capture.

13. Aladdin
Aladdin's nice and all, but I don't think that it's aged well. It's still one of the better releases of contemporary Disney, though -- I would put it slightly lower on this list, with the possibility of slipping further.

12. Beauty and the Beast
This, I feel, is the best love story that Disney ever produced. I don't think it was enough to score a Best Picture nomination, but I think it's enough to have the movie sitting this high.

11. Shrek 2
Sorry, everyone -- I felt that Shrek 2 was loads better than the original. The universe was more developed, the in-jokes were more numerous, and it had better character participation than any of the others. The fact that it falls just shy of the top ten is okay by me; what I can't accept is why its counterpart sits at number 8...

10. Enchanted
What the hell? Does ten minutes of animation automatically make this count as an animated movie? Could we throw this back into the pool of romantic comedies, please? Maybe we'll see a list for those next time.

9. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
This is a personal favorite; I'd actually put it on a list of top films of all time. It's macabre yet poignant, morbid yet silly. It's takes a boatload of contrasts, somehow makes it all work, and is a musical, to boot. I respectfully disagreed with having this at number 17; Number 9, however, is perfectly fine with me.

8. Shrek
Absolute heresy. Oh, this started the whole wagon train going well enough, but it feels a lot less substantial that the movies that have followed its steps. The comedy was fresh back during its time and the scene in the dragon's lair is one of the better ones in all animation, but the bare-bones plot is so simple that I can't see this in the top ten. I would rather see Shrek 2 here. Really, I would.

7. Cars
I'm sorry, everyone, but this just felt so... ... ... American to me. Maybe it imparts some important lessons in the faster-paced American context, but I simply found it difficult to empathize with this movie. I wouldn't even place this in my top thirty.

6. Ratatouille
I'll be seeing this movie later this year. By then, I'll have an opinion on it.

5. The Lion King
When I first saw this movie, I expected something along the caliber of its immediate predecessors -- The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. I was, however, disappointed by the story, which is still a little formulaic in my book. The presence of nagging accusations that the characters and settings were a rip-off of one of Hayao Miyazaki's works doesn't help its case much. I would see this somewhere above the 20s, but definitely not this high.

4. Spirited Away
Geez... I've got to put together a Miyazaki marathon sometime.

3. The Incredibles
This is a great movie, and I would have preferred it to be longer. Seriously -- I wanted to see more focus on some of the characters; they didn't leave me with an impression of being well-developed. I keep thinking that there's a sequel in the works for this one, though, and I'll watch out for it. Definitely top ten material, but I'm not sure where it would go.

2. Kung Fu Panda
While I did like the movie, isn't it a little too early to put this in second place? I'd start this off around 15th or 16th.

1. Finding Nemo
I have to admit that this was a nice choice. It actually has a very simple plot, but it's not so formulaic that I can dismiss it offhand. What impresses me here is that it not only captures a parent-child relationship very well, but it somehow maintains this when so much else is happening on the screen. I don't know if I would put this at number one myself, but I think that it's a believable choice. I think that it would at least be top ten in any case.

What's my pick for the criminally-overlooked entry that should be on this list, you ask? That's easy -- The Iron Giant. Why this film constantly gets passed over is a complete mystery to me -- it's a remarkable story of friendship, personal choice and self-sacrifice; all set against the backdrop of a paranoid political era. If you ever manage to score a copy, I dare you to keep it together during the climactic ending.

And if Enchanted somehow managed to brown-nose its way onto the list... where's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The movie was wacky, groundbreaking, superbly entertaining, and it had far more animation than what Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey provided us.

Of course, this may not reflect what you think. Maybe you've seen some of the movies that I've skipped. Maybe you completely disagree with what I just said about The Lion King. Maybe you just don't like my tone of voice and are itching to sound off. Whatever the case, feel free to drop a comment and discuss your picks. We can have a nice little talk, I suppose, and maybe break out into a completely scripted song-and-dance sequence afterwards.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Storm Passes

The power went out early the previous morning, at around four or so. The first indication I had that something was wrong involved the UPS device that protected our beloved computer from random power surges -- it started sounding off every five minutes, so I had to crawl out of bed like some legless zombie and shut the thing off.

At that point, I noticed that the wind was howling outside, shaking the windows as though it wanted to get in. That, and it was completely lightless inside the house. I realized that the storm signals were inaccurate again, that Manila was in the middle of some grade-A monsoon monstrosity once more, and I wondered how it was going to affect my Sunday.

I woke up to reports that a ferry had capsized somewhere in the south, taking a lot of people down with it; my brother had received a report from his insurance company (which thoughtfully updates its managers with information like this). None of the stations seemed to be broadcasting, predictably because no one was crazy enough to go out in such weather, and when we switched on the TV under generator-power, we found that none of the channels were up, either.

With no news, no power, and no ability to head outside the house and navigate amidst swaths of fallen branches, we gravitated to the only thing that remained: boredom. That, and each member of my family decided to sleep for about twenty hours today.

It wasn't the most productive of days, of course, and I would have preferred to at least go out and see if any place was open. But I had to face facts and realize that people still remembered the huge typhoon a couple of years ago, the one that stranded half the population and made us think twice about how we treated the local hurricane news. We may be a country that is extremely used to storms and monsoons and stuff like this, but we're also rational people. And sometimes when nature decides that she doesn't like you, the best decision often involves just riding out her anger.

It's Monday tomorrow, and I have quite a few expectations about the aftermath. There'll be quite a few rescue operations in the works, for example. The local politicians will first regroup, and then when it turns out that none of them have been harmed as much as the innocent people, they'll get to their so-called humanitarian efforts and public haranguing. There'll be the usual blame-throwing: the weather bureau will probably be questioned on how the typhoon hit us instead of passing right beside us, and the local governors will be investigated on how the storm drains still haven't been cleaned properly. And of course, a few hundred street cleaners will pull on their uniforms and prepare for the longest day of their year.

In short, life goes on. A typhoon tends to make for only the briefest of lulls in our lives; we might see it as a Sunday that was completely spoiled for us, or a Sunday where we were able to get some much-needed shut-eye. But at the end of such a day, we put on our regular clothes and realize that it's time to return to normality.

Life goes on.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Writing Without Writing

Much like a few other nights, this night in front of the computer brings about one realization: "I'd like to write a blog post, but I can't think of anything to write about."

No, I'm not undergoing writer's block or anything like that; I've just been busy at work lately. As every writer who's held down a day job probably knows, this situation usually results in the "pseudo-block" phenomenon: Your mind is so full of office concerns and responsibilities during the day that you can't fit any nice story ideas in there for the meantime.

Despite how it may sound, this is nothing to worry about. All we need is some idle time, an hour or two with a good book, maybe a piña colada or two, and then we'll eventually find ourselves in front of the keyboard wondering where the heck the story came from. But I'm digressing here.

Normally I have four options whenever I can't think of anything to write:

1. White Heat. In short, I write about the first idea that comes to mind. In essence, this could be anything; I've written about weird dreams, for instance, as well as the relationship between cockroaches and tupperware. I've written about the many things that can be found in a safety-deposit box, and I've written a short story about a naked woman writer. The beauty of this approach is that it practically comes with its own creativity tag -- no one's certainly going to accuse you of being uncreative if you decide to write about, say, the relationship between Harley-Davidson and Kawasaki motorcycles... or why is it that you like yellow bananas.

The catch here is that it only works if your mind is relatively empty. I find that a mind that is empty of concerns tends to flit about from thought to thought, so you usually end up accessing some weird things that way. But if you've picked up something somewhere that you're already thinking about, then it could ruin the white heat completely. In this case, I have Banzai Cat's sword-and-sorcery discussion floating around in my head, so this kind of post was out of the question for tonight.

2. Leech. A second approach involves me going through a few of the blogs that I read, and picking up an interesting topic that I'd like to discuss from my own point of view. Lots of bloggers seem to do this -- I figure that it's one reason why we see so many memes floating around -- and the resulting post tends to bolster the discussion as well as offer your own arguments on the topic. Plus, well, you get to write something.

Those who are familiar with my ethics can probably see the issue here. I'm usually not comfortable with working on other peoples' topics -- it doesn't feel "original" to me if I don't write something purely from my own volition. I write along the lines of other peoples' discussions, yes indeed, but whenever I do so, it's usually because I feel that my own opinions should be heard. Rare is the post that I put up because I want to emulate somebody else's thoughts.

3. Short Fic. Sometimes I just pick up a half-finished, disposable plot thread from the depths of my head and start typing. Other times I grab an unfinished draft from months or years back, and finally see where it leads. Whatever it is, I end up writing a tiny piece of short fiction, and every now then then I please myself with the results.

Of course, this would require that I have an invisible plot thread or an unfinished symphony hanging around somewhere, but this is less of a problem than people might think. I have a ton of odd story ideas from any number of sources, and the sheer number of drafts that I write for my "official" fiction entries gives me plenty of reference to work with. What's more a bother is the length of some of my pieces -- sometimes I work with so many words that it's impossible for me to complete a story in one sitting. And sometimes the amount of effort needed just turns me off; after ten or more hours in the office, investing a couple more for the sake of an experimental story is suddenly a huge deal. That doesn't even count the risk of grammatical errors or strange directions, the possibilities of which go up whenever I'm half-asleep at the keyboard.

4. Cop Out. Yes, I just write about not being able to think of anything to write. It's quick, it's obvious, and -- more than anything else -- it gives me an excuse to spend five hundred words discussing absolutely nothing at all.

Does it actually work? Well, let me put it this way: Think about what you're reading at this very moment.

I assume that there's a catch to this, namely the fact that one can only write so much about not being able to write. What's more, this kind of post is an active paradox -- how could you bewail the fact that you can't think of any writing ideas when you're clearly putting them down to (virtual) paper at the moment? While I figure that I still have a few tricks up my sleeve in order to face the former consideration, I personally try not to think too hard about the latter.

And now I must sleep. Looking back, it seems that I've turned a silk purse out of a sow's ear again -- I've somehow managed to turn a lack of ideas into the five-hundred-odd words you just read. It's not exactly the best way to write a blog post, but it did work to some extent tonight.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll have to work on an idea for the next blog post.

Maybe something about yellow bananas...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Shameless Plug

So Sony Philippines has this new marketing promo, you see -- it's rolling out a new line of colored Vaio laptops in an effort to get the younger audience interested in its C Series. Now, the Sony Vaio has always been plenty attractive in my book -- I mean, it's practically representative of the sleek, streamlined look of modern technology -- but if there's anything that will get our attention, it's a series of of laptops in cute pastel colors. Oooooh, shiny.

But I'm not here to plug the Vaio. I'm actually here to mention that my brother, Jon Kevin, is in the running as a "face" model for the Vaio rollout. And apparently, the finals involve an online vote as one of the judging components.

You see, Sony is releasing its Vaio line in five colors, and has assigned a complementary "profile" for each one. As a result, you now have a White Vaio for "elegant" users, a Red Vaio for "sexy" users, a Black Vaio for "power" users, and a Pink Vaio for people who like doing their best Elle Woods impression. You also have a Blue Vaio for "stylish" users, and it's under this color that my brother's trying his best to look good.

Ironically, Kevin does look good. He focuses on his personal style a lot more than I do, and I'm glad to say that I have more than a few "blackmail" anecdotes on the number of people who crush on him. :)

Kidding aside, I bring this up because he also happens to be a very articulate person. I make no secret of the fact that I am far and away the better writer (you can stop laughing now), but Kevin is definitely the better speaker among the two of us. He has experience running seminars, he acts as a freelance speaker for corporate events, and he even taught kindergarten classes at one point. He's also a lot more outgoing than I am, which will probably be an important requirement for the Vaio rollout. In fact, this is precisely why I figure that he would be a really good choice -- not only would he probably look good as a "face" for the "stylish" Blue Vaio, but he could easily discuss and promote the product in an articulate manner.

And if you haven't been convinced as of yet, there's also the consideration that he's on local TV at the moment. Yes, he shows up on a program called The Sweet Life on QTV, dispensing advice on love and relationships. He's been appearing for about six months now, and every now and then he takes over the computer to answer relationship concerns that are sent to him via e-mail.

Come to think of it, he even has a repository for his photos and event descriptions. You need to have a Multiply account to have a look, though.

I've already posted my vote for him, of course. Whether you give Jon Kevin a vote as well just happens to be your choice. I'm just saying that I believe him to be a good option for all the reasons stated above -- so do drop by the site and give him a break.

And yes, Sony decided to go ahead and misspell his name as of this writing. I've had the gleefully interesting task of letting him know, and I'm sure that wherever he is, he's probably laughing it off right now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Conan Question

Over on his side of the world wide web, Banzai Cat asks a question: Does a local sword-and-sorcery subgenre exist around here?

The first instinct is to answer "yes". Every literary fantasy environment should have its divisions, after all. We know that there are at least a few Filipino writers who work on their own fantasy settings; some reveal their worlds bit by bit in any number of short stories, while others rush their stuff into full-blown primetime TV series. The fantasy genre has long pervaded local literature and entertainment; how can we not have a bunch of stuff that can be lumped under a "sword-and-sorcery" subgenre?

And now that I have those initial assumptions firmly in place, I have to admit that I can't think of a single example.

To be honest, Sword-and-Sorcery (which I'll shorten to the strange-sounding "S&S") doesn't necessarily lie along the same lines of literary thought. It's basically a sort-of "pulp" fantasy -- while traditional high fantasy will flesh out an entire alternate world and explain how everything works through an epic cast of characters, S&S will concentrate on individual wild-ride adventures centering around a single feature character or characters. I find a lot more action and a lot less moral stratification in S&S work; In these stories, the emphasis is removed from the setting and placed firmly on the shoulders of a hard-bitten protagonist. Think Conan, if you like. Or Red Sonja, I suppose. Or Xena, if your mind can stand to be stretched a bit.

On further thought, I realize that the Philippine context might not be particularly conducive to S&S. Our fantastic "pulp" literature actually tends towards the direction of high fantasy -- we get a lot of superheroes, for instance, who gain magical powers from otherworldly forces and proceed to use them in order to save the world. It falls in line with a fairly desperate world-view: In a way, we feel that the Philippine context is so hopeless that our fantasies involve rescuing ourselves from it.

Moreover, our creative background pushes us in the direction of high fantasy as well. For one, our local bookstores are lined with multiple-volume epics by established novelists. Our cartoon fare consists mostly of Japanese animé, none of which takes place in a purely local context. We even play more collectible card games than role-playing games nowadays -- the former promotes a lush setting more than it does an in-depth story.

So with all this in mind, I'd have to say that, no, a local S&S subgenre doesn't exist around here.

And now that begs a certain question: "So what's stopping us from writing it?"

I'm no stranger to high fantasy, of course. You've seen the Antaria setting that I've molded through past posts on this blog, and even that wasn't the first alternate-world setup that I've created. But now that S&S is in the picture, it brings up another concern: Does significant experience in high fantasy invalidate one's ability to get down to the new subgenre?

I don't know the answer to that. I suppose that the only way to find out would be to pick up a pen and try my hand at the stuff. I admit that the prospect of writing fantasy without the standard trappings of fantasy feels difficult, but it might just be worth it to explore a direction that no one else seems to have explored in the last few years.

That would be something to consider the next time I feel like delving into fantasy again... *rummages through character archive*

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hi, God. It's Me, Sean.

Sometimes I just wonder.

I have to admit that you don't hear from me very often. I mean, I'm not exactly the practicing Catholic that you would probably prefer to have. But I do get in touch every now and then, even if it's only to the extent of placing a long-distance phone call from the safety of my comfort zones.

Early this morning I sent you a short message. All I asked for was a bit of contentment -- the last few days have been pretty hectic at work, and it looks like the next couple of weeks will be quite busy for me. This is the only three-day weekend within plain sight, and I asked if you could let me kick back and enjoy the personal time, for once.

The irony, of course, was that I was heading to a whole-day Magic tournament. I'm pretty sure that you don't get offended by the little pieces of cardboard, though, and it's one of the restive outlets that I reserve for myself. People will probably roll their eyes and shake their heads, but this kind of thing helps feed the competitive streak in my soul.

In a sense, a good day was all that I asked for. Not an ignoble day, not an ambivalent day... but a day in which I could sit back and feel contented. I don't get many of those.


Halfway through the afternoon I gave you another call. At that point I had three wins and no losses chalked up at the end of three swiss rounds, and I had raised an eyebrow at my extraordinary luck. I got the feeling that you had a hand in it somewhere, so I plunked down a few minutes just to see if you were listening.

All I wanted was a good day. But I also have certain paranoid tendencies -- every time it seems as though things are going my way, I take it as a signal to slow down and raise the red flag. Nothing, I think, ever turns out completely good. Any situation where I feel as though I'm riding high on the hog only means that something's going to come and knock me off when I least expect it.

So at 3-0 with the second half of the tournament in front of me, I said a few things. I said that a 3-0 was already perfectly good in my book, I said that you probably knew how things were going to turn out, and I said that even if I lost every match from thereon till the end, then that would have still been okay with me.

Oh, I'll admit that I wanted at least a few more wins. After all, I don't spend entire days at tournaments feeling a sense of helplessness at the hands of a few pieces of brightly-colored paper. But at that point, with a 3-0 that was on par with my best performances and the chance to face some of the better players of the game for my next table, there was not much more that I could have asked for.

I just wanted you to know that I was content, that's all. It was already a good day.


So now I'm back at home, sitting in front of the computer screen, writing my thoughts on a virtual slab of paper.

I know that I gave you one last call today, and I can pinpoint it at around eight-thirty when the tournament had finally wrapped up. First prize turned out to be fifteen unopened packs of cards -- it made for a very tidy return when I sold them to an interested buyer. That, in addition to the money I made selling off the other stuff that I picked up from my wins, made sure that I came back a little richer than when I first arrived.

I've never made six wins before. It doesn't help that the number comes beside a figure of zero losses. I've received congratulations from people who I once congratulated before, and it feels strange.

When I dialed that cosmic number of yours at eight-thirty this evening, the first thing that I could think of saying was, "I've never gone 6-0 before."

The second thing that I said was, "Thanks."

It's not the 6-0, even if I have yet to come to terms with it. It was more the fact that I didn't feel happy or sad or any of those little clichés that they teach in preschool. I just felt tired, as though I wanted to go home and plop myself into a convenient armchair. I felt as though I had spent a lot of time trying my best to do something, only to be surprised at how it would suddenly come to fruition right before my eyes.

In short, I felt content. Even if I had all the worries of the world waiting to ambush me once I report to work later this week... for that one moment today, I felt content.

Sometimes I wonder why you choose to do things like this. Sometimes, well, I wonder how you decide to just let these days happen for a poor, sick nobody like me. I don't even call you on a regular basis.

But I do appreciate the gesture, and I appreciate it a lot.

So... thank you for the good day. Thank you for the nice feeling of contentment; I don't get that very often nowadays. Thank you for the fact that you're still watching me from somewhere, and whatever made you decide that I would get a day like this.

It's not a huge thing, but it's the least I can say.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Make 24 Copies

Recently, somebody on one of my mailing lists made the mistake of sending the following chain letter to the group:

Ina ng Laging saklolo (pls do not ignore)

In Honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Mother of Perpetual Help, please help our parents, brothers, sisters and other people of The world. Let us pray to the Mother of Perpetual Help. The letter started in Davao City , Philippines scattered all over the world. Please send 24 copies to your friends.

Do not laugh or delete this, for something might happen.

Alvin Patrimonio's salary increased when he mailed 24 copies to his friends and relatives. Benjie Paras just laughed it off and lost his job.

Jay Ilagan ignored the letter, but made 24 copies. He forgot though to send them, he later died in an accident.

Mr. Duterte requested his secretary to make 24 copies and sent these to his friends and relatives, he became Mayor of Davao City .

Tapusin MO lang within 10 days at huwag ipagwalang bahala. Manalangin sa Ina ng Laging Saklolo. Tandaan ninyo sa loob ng 15 days magkakaroon kayo ng sorpresa.

Thank you very much and

Now, I've been entrenched in the Internet since the last half of the 1990s, when Internet connections were only just starting to attain public consciousness in the Philippines. As a result, I've seen more than my fair share of chain letters, spam mail, computer viruses, trojan horses, and adware in the last twenty years. To say that I've grown to hate the stuff would be an understatement.

I used to launch into long tirades every time somebody sent me one of these nasty things, but eventually I wised up and realized that what I was doing was far more offensive than the chain letters themselves. So for the most part nowadays, I gently point out the error of each sender's ways, give them a nice pat on the head, and send them off.

I find that the latter approach has been far less effective than my old, trauma-inducing ways. But I am getting soft in my old age, after all.

For this momentous occasion, however, my initial response was cut short by the fact that somebody had already answered the offender in question:

Oooh a chain letter. Now THAT is a tale indeed.

I pity those who believe in them.

At that point, I couldn't help myself. I figured that I could write a far better response than something that only consisted of two lines and three sentences. (No offense intended to its eminent poster, of course -- we're of like minds, and I do respect his gaming skills.)

So after about an hour's investment, I ended up with the following monstrosity of an e-mail:

> Oooh a chain letter. Now THAT is a tale indeed.
> I pity those who believe in them.

B... but it's true! The letter says so!

> Jay Ilagan ignored the letter, but made 24 copies. He

> forgot though to send them, he later died in an
> accident.

See? Never mind that Jay Ilagan died in 1992, when Internet service in the Philippines was still in its infancy! The power of the chain letter was such that it stuck down Jay Ilagan at a time when most of the country didn't even have phone lines!

Moreover, I have information from other legitimate, believable sources that ignoring or deleting this chain letter was responsible for other calamitous disasters in recent times!

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo refused to send out this chain letter shortly after EDSA 2, and just look at what happened to her! Her involvement in spurious election results and (ironically) a massive scandal involving broadband internet - among others - turned most of the public against her!

Antonio Trillanes came upon this chain letter in November 2007, after going over the website that his followers had created. He ignored it because he had "more important things to consider". Big mistake - his revolt the next day got almost no supporters at all, destroyed a good hotel, and was crushed by the government!

And in addition to them, numerous other anonymous people have refused to send the message and have had various bad things happen to them! John Paul Walangmalay ignored the chain letter and died the next day from being run over by a speeding kalesa! Melvin Okeydokey sent out only three copies, and after two days suffered a severe concussion when a giant mutant sayote came over to his house and beat him up! Sean Uy deleted the message and realized the next morning that ALL THE BEER IN HIS FRIDGE WAS GONE!

So please... for your own future and well-being, please, please please PLEASE don't ignore this chain letter! Your very life and sanity may be at stake!

Yes, I'm still evil.

I did write an apology at the end, of course. It wasn't much of a retraction for the little piece of work that you see above... but then, I wasn't exactly too open to apology in the first place. I just wanted to make it clear that I was making fun of the message and not the messenger. If I made a bunch of people laugh in the process, then I was at least partially successful.

Seriously, though... I'm just having a bit of fun here. Apologies in advance to anyone who may be offended; I hoped that my writing would get at least a little laugh out of you.

Oh, and please don't send letters like these. No matter how authoritative they might sound, they're never accurate. In addition, there are quite a few people on the Internet who have encountered a lot of these things, and their responses are likely to be very negative, more often than not. So... do be careful about what you read and send, especially to mailing lists.

That said, that bit about the giant mutant
sayote is completely true. Honest.

Was it mean? Yes. Was it incredibly petty? Yes. Was it unbelievably vindictive? Yes.

Was it extremely satisfying? You'd better believe it was.

I'm still evil, after all.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Disclaimer: June 2008

RdL: We have to talk, Sean.

SU: So hit me already. What's this about?

RdL: Well, remember how you asked me to take a look at your blog a couple of months ago?

SU: Yeah. Did you?

RdL: Yes, and I think it's a little... how should you say...

SU: Overkill?

RdL: Overkill.

SU: It's the monthly disclaimers, isn't it?

RdL: Yes. You are writing these once every month. That makes a lot of posts. How many of these did you say you've made again?

SU: Over forty, I think.

RdL: That's a lot.

SU: I know.

RdL: And they're all original.

SU: Everything in the blog is original. I've told you -- I put together all my own stuff. Now, I know that you're a lawyer, so let me say this: Sometimes I get inspired by other peoples' works. Sometimes I even pick up excerpts of other peoples' works and use them in the blog. But everything there -- everything written there, that is -- happens to be mine. I wrote the stuff.

RdL: Except for whatever you use that was written by other people.

SU: Yes.

RdL: You put acknowledgements for them, right? A byline or a link?

SU: Links if possible. I always put acknowledgements if I use somebody else's stuff. The Internet can be a really bad place sometimes, and as much as possible, I don't want to promote plagiaristic practices. I even mention that if anybody thinks that I haven't given them the correct acknowledgements, then I'm willing to talk this over regarding fair use of their work.

RdL: So what's this about other people using your work?

SU: It goes the other way, too. I have more than a few years of work posted on the blog, and it's open to anyone who can access the site. I don't like the idea of people copying the stuff I've written, and using it for their own personal gain. It's not fair to me, it's not fair to the people who judge them based on their effort, and it's not fair to their own personal development.

RdL: You mentioned that earlier.

SU: So what I do, is that I ask them to request permission before using any of my work. It helps me make sure that it's used for the correct purpose and context that way.

RdL: How has that worked out?

SU: Pretty good, actually. I get to meet a few great people in that way. I've even seen some excellent reinterpretations of my works. The best part is that you know that these people are honorable sorts, that they're trying to get ahead by improving their own skills.

RdL: But no one's tried to steal your work yet.

SU: I'm not sure. If someone has, then I haven't heard of it.

RdL: Or they haven't stolen your work yet.

SU: Maybe I write about subjects that can't easily be reflected in alternative venues. Maybe my style is just really distinctive. Maybe the disclaimers really are doing their job.

RdL: Maybe no one wants to steal your stuff.

SU: Maybe. I cant discount anything at this point.

RdL: Well, your fears of theft would still be justified. But I still don't understand the disclaimers. Don't you already have a license posted on your blog?

SU: That's the Creative Commons License I told you about. It's this free setup, this little thing that says that you're part of an organization that advocates fair use among Net users. When I registered for it, I set my membership up so that it covers all those things I told you about -- that people can use what I've written on the blog, as long as I'm asked permission for it.

RdL: So why the disclaimers?

SU: I had the disclaimers even before I had the license. Besides, the license is always on the bottom of the sidebar, so it might not be immediately obvious to readers. The disclaimers, on the other hand, will usually be the uppermost post for the first few days of each month. And I write about ten posts per month, so they'll usually be on my list of recent posts.

RdL: They're also very creative.

SU: I dress them up so that they're at least interesting to read. What I want to know if they're legally binding.

RdL: Well, my answer is that anything can be legally binding, as long as you cite it clearly in writing. Copyright comes into being at the moment when you create the work.

SU: I think that it would be difficult to argue against my intent to protect my work at this point. There are just so many disclaimer posts now.

RdL: That's your answer, then. I don't think that you can argue one count of plagiarism for every disclaimer you've written, but you can cite obvious intent. People can't say that you intended your blog to be for completely free use... not when you've made a lot of posts to the contrary.

SU: That's good to hear.

RdL: However, I would advise that you tone down the threats.

SU: What threats?

RdL: The ones where you threaten to do things to violators -- like use a baseball bat on them, or feed them to the dogs, or other random acts.

SU: I would, but I'd settle for a legal recourse.

RdL: You mean me.

SU: Yes. You don't have as much impact as a baseball bat or a good-sized German Shepherd, but you'll do. I know a couple of people who would probably scream at the mention of your profession.

RdL: That was uncalled for.

SU: But it's fun. Hey... are you going to finish that?