felix felicis

felix felicis: June 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013

Book review backlogs

Summer break gave a lot of time to catch up on some nice fiction fix. Here’s a quick review on the some of the books I’ve read over the summer (because I already gave a separate review on the other’s [i.e. The Great Gatsby and The Hobbit] I’ve finished).

Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishment was just really exhausting—the plot, the language and the characters. I felt like they were all drowning in a quagmire of despair and because I was too engrossed with the story, I, too, was falling on that same pit. I had to close the book for a day or two just to recover from all the angst and hopelessness Raskolnikov was feeling lest I be as nega as him too. But even with an exhausting plot, I felt that Raskolnikov’s story of redemption was something that’s really inspiring. He did something gravely wrong and while he escaped the physical constraints of being jailed, his guilt feelings hounded him all throughout the story. Towards the end, Raskolnikov was weighing things out—whether to admit his offense or not. I’ve always thought he made the right choice when he chose to spill things out—it made things easier for him. But of course, that’s a spoiler. Anyway, it wasn’t much of a happy ending but I’d like to believe it is justified.

My brother’s currently reading it before we finally return it to the owner. I’m planning to read it again when I get my own copy, when I’ve got more time to spare and when I feel that I’m emotionally stronger. Hahaha!

5 out of 5.

Paper Towns John Greene
This was the in-between book for Crime and Punishment. While I’m resting or trying to appease my shackled brain because of Dostoevsky’s asdfgjkl novel, I read Quentin Jacobsen’s diary story of how he met, befriended and loved Margo Roth Spiegelman, his childhood crush. The story was simple, nothing really exceptional except that it’s true most of the time. We spent so much time and effort for the people we like and then one day, when they get away, our lives take a dramatic turn. Or we expect something extraordinary to happen in our seemingly ordinary lives that we grab every opportunity to just walk away and leave everything else behind just so we can find a more suitable “life” we have. In the process, we end up hurting people close to us and eventually ourselves. Ahhh, but it’s all coming-of-age. Transition. We look for our better selves and we hope to find it in a much better condition. Char.

I posted on a separate entry the quotes I loved from the novel. If you need an easy read, this is recommended. I’ve been meaning to read Greene’s more famous novel The Fault in our Stars. Brother has a copy. I’m thinking of stealing borrowing it.

By the way, Quentin was eventually friendzoned by Margo. I think. Ooops, spoiler.

3.75 out of 5.

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
I bought a copy out of curiosity. I thought I should give Bradbury a second chance even if he boggled me when I was in high school. Hmmm, I guess he did not fail me. I loved every bit of Fahrenheit—Guy Montag’s the guy, er the man. The story was set in a dystopian future, with firemen burning houses instead of preventing fires. Books are banned and people are encouraged to live their lives glued to a giant TV screen. Guy’s a firemen living with his ghost-like wife, Mildred. He meets his “weird” neighbor Clarisse one night and then everything else began to change—eventually, he’s running for his own life.

Fahrenheit made me appreciate books more. It inspires me to collect them and stack them in a library where other people can read it for free. I don’t know what I would be doing if I’m living in world like Guy’s—they burn books and book readers because their ideas might spawn action or rebellion. My house could have been burned for keeping way too many books or I may have succumbed to the pressure and decided to feed on TV shows. I don’t really know. Anyhoo, this is recommended reading.

5 out of 5.

Bared To You Sylvia Day
I veered away from staples and decided to read a book laced with so much romance. It killed me. Golay. Day’s Bared to You is the first installment of the Crossfire trilogy. The story revolves around the passionate and all-too consuming love affair between magnate Gideon Cross and socialite Eva. They both have scarred pasts and they have to overcome it before their relationship falls apart. Plot and X-rated scenes are way too much for me so I skimmed over the pages until I get to the semi-open ending.

If you like E.L. James’ 50 Shades series, this might also be a thing for you. But if not, might as well skip this.

1.5 out of 5.

Up next…
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Fault in our Stars by John Greene

I hope I find time to read fiction again. Gayatri Spivak ate my precious weekend just so I’ll be ready for my semi biglaang presentation in class. It all paid off naman. Prof said it was a good report (hay salamat po!) and congratulated me for getting by her highfalutin language. This week, Ileto and Said’s Orientalist theories are on my tab plus a myriad other essays in need of understanding. As said, I think I’m coping with these truckloads of readings but I really miss my fiction fix. Until next time I guess. Hehehehehe!

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June’s first half was kinda toxic

Ok, so there comes a week or a month or even a day when you’ll feel like everything’s just crashing in and you just have to do certain things just to get through it all. This month’s first half was just like that. Workload piled up and school’s starting again. The necessary adjustments had to be made—schedule, priorities and all.

I was especially agitated that most of the things are not working the way I thought of them. I had to revise submissions more than once and deal with all the negativities that come with it. I also had to cram up some readings because I guess my Professor was way too excited to start the class immediately. Or I wasn’t just prepared. And then I had to deal with weight-watching issues because it’s already affecting the way I feel about myself. Hahaha. Char.

Anyway, I’m glad I made it through this week. I also had the chance to punch the stress away last night. Yes, literally. But no worries, it was all for clean fun. Haha! I’m also starting to cope with the work and school sched adjustments—I resolve to comprehend tons of readings faster. Hahaha! I guess these stressful experiences are thrown our way to shape us up and make us better for more challenging days ahead. I’m saying bring it on! Hahaha. Choz.

Oh, but the pimples are starting to show up. T_T The pimple remover thing should work wonders again.

Have a great weekend ahead.

Leaving you with Muse’s Madness just because I feel like listening to it recently.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Life is unfair. But we can always level the field once in a while.

It’s always nice to read or listen to inspiring graduation-related speeches. Yes, there are uninspiring ones. Those that were haphazardly written and delivered and those that don’t really challenge you to become better because the quotations used we’re already cliché and because they don’t really come from the heart (read: politicians who are gunning for a re-election or running for whatever public position). But that’s not the point of this entry.

Inspiring speeches are those that evoke memories of days long gone (as if I was gone from the university that long now). Those that make you remember the very reason why you strived hard to make it through college: you want to make a name for yourself and eventually rule the world in whatever way you can.

I listened to another one this afternoon. It’s Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke delivering a baccalaureate address to Princeton graduates. He shared ten observations and suggestions “about the world and your lives after Princeton:”

  1. Life is amazingly unpredictable.
  2. “Wherever you go, there you are.” If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won't bring you much satisfaction.
  3. Those who are the luckiest in many respects also have the greater responsibility to work hard, contribute to the betterment of this world and share that luck with others.
  4. Those most worthy of admiration are those who've made use of their advantage or were able to cope with their adversities.
  5. Cynicism is a poor substitute for critical thought and constructive action.
  6. Economics help kill ideas that are completely logically inconsistent or wildly at variance with the data.
  7. Money is a means and not an end.
  8. Failure is an essential part of life and learning.
  9. Develop your definition of success with a partner. In making that choice, beauty, romance and sexual attraction shouldn’t be the only standards. You have to be each other’s support system.
  10. Call your mom and dad once in a while.

All these were already said by other speakers in their own speeches but what made it more compelling was the fact that it reminded me of the lessons that I should continue to learn. The whole point of the speech was that life is not really fair. There are many rooms for failure than for success. But as a person armed with a higher education and a slightly better condition in life, you will have to use those as your ticket to push for more accomplishments. In the event that you’re able to do better, you have a greater responsibility to contribute and pay things forward. Mr. Bernanke quotes the Gospel of Luke to further drive this point, ““From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded" (Luke 12:48, New Revised Standard Version Bible).””

You can listen to him speak here.

It’s nice to be back at Princeton. I find it difficult to believe that it’s been almost 11 years since I departed these halls for Washington. I wrote recently to inquire about the status of my leave from the university, and the letter I got back began, “Regrettably, Princeton receives many more qualified applicants for faculty positions than we can accommodate.” [Footnoted: Note to journalists: This is a joke. My leave from Princeton expired in 2005.]  
I’ll extend my best wishes to the seniors later, but first I want to congratulate the parents and families here. As a parent myself, I know that putting your kid through college these days is no walk in the park. Some years ago I had a colleague who sent three kids through Princeton even though neither he nor his wife attended this university. He and his spouse were very proud of that accomplishment, as they should have been. But my colleague also used to say that, from a financial perspective, the experience was like buying a new Cadillac every year and then driving it off a cliff. I should say that he always added that he would do it all over again in a minute. So, well done, moms, dads, and families.  
This is indeed an impressive and appropriate setting for a commencement. I am sure that, from this lectern, any number of distinguished spiritual leaders have ruminated on the lessons of the Ten Commandments. I don’t have that kind of confidence, and, anyway, coveting your neighbor’s ox or donkey is not the problem it used to be, so I thought I would use my few minutes today to make Ten Suggestions, or maybe just Ten Observations, about the world and your lives after Princeton. Please note, these points have nothing whatsoever to do with interest rates. My qualification for making such suggestions, or observations, besides having kindly been invited to speak today by President Tilghman, is the same as the reason that your obnoxious brother or sister got to go to bed later–I am older than you. All of what follows has been road-tested in real-life situations, but past performance is no guarantee of future results.  
1.     The poet Robert Burns once said something about the best-laid plans of mice and men ganging aft agley, whatever “agley” means. A more contemporary philosopher, Forrest Gump, said something similar about life and boxes of chocolates and not knowing what you are going to get. They were both right. Life is amazingly unpredictable; any 22-year-old who thinks they know where they will be in 10 years, much less in 30, is simply lacking imagination. Look what happened to me: A dozen years ago I was minding my own business teaching Economics 101 in Alexander Hall and trying to think of good excuses for avoiding faculty meetings. Then I got a phone call . . .   In case you are skeptical of Forrest Gump’s insight, here’s a concrete suggestion for each of the graduating seniors. Take a few minutes the first chance you get and talk to an alum participating in their 25th, or 30th, or 40th reunion–you know, somebody who was near the front of the P-rade. Ask them, back when they were graduating 25, 30, or 40 years ago, where they expected to be today. If you can get them to open up, they will tell you that today they are happy and satisfied in various measures, or not, and their personal stories will be filled with highs and lows and in-betweens. But, I am willing to bet, those life stories will in almost all cases be quite different, in large and small ways, from what they expected when they started out. This is a good thing, not a bad thing; who wants to know the end of a story that’s only in its early chapters? Don’t be afraid to let the drama play out. 
2.     Does the fact that our lives are so influenced by chance and seemingly small decisions and actions mean that there is no point to planning, to striving? Not at all. Whatever life may have in store for you, each of you has a grand, lifelong project, and that is the development of yourself as a human being. Your family and friends and your time at Princeton have given you a good start. What will you do with it? Will you keep learning and thinking hard and critically about the most important questions? Will you become an emotionally stronger person, more generous, more loving, more ethical? Will you involve yourself actively and constructively in the world? Many things will happen in your lives, pleasant and not so pleasant, but, paraphrasing a Woodrow Wilson School adage from the time I was here, “Wherever you go, there you are.” If you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won’t bring you much satisfaction. 
3.     The concept of success leads me to consider so-called meritocracies and their implications. We have been taught that meritocratic institutions and societies are fair. Putting aside the reality that no system, including our own, is really entirely meritocratic, meritocracies may be fairer and more efficient than some alternatives. But fair in an absolute sense? Think about it. A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement, and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate–these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world, and to share their luck with others. As the Gospel of Luke says (and I am sure my rabbi will forgive me for quoting the New Testament in a good cause): “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48, New Revised Standard Version Bible). Kind of grading on the curve, you might say. 
4.     Who is worthy of admiration? The admonition from Luke–which is shared by most ethical and philosophical traditions, by the way–helps with this question as well. Those most worthy of admiration are those who have made the best use of their advantages or, alternatively, coped most courageously with their adversities. I think most of us would agree that people who have, say, little formal schooling but labor honestly and diligently to help feed, clothe, and educate their families are deserving of greater respect–and help, if necessary–than many people who are superficially more successful. They’re more fun to have a beer with, too. That’s all that I know about sociology. 
5.     Since I have covered what I know about sociology, I might as well say something about political science as well. In regard to politics, I have always liked Lily Tomlin’s line, in paraphrase: “I try to be cynical, but I just can’t keep up.” We all feel that way sometime. Actually, having been in Washington now for almost 11 years, as I mentioned, I feel that way quite a bit. Ultimately, though, cynicism is a poor substitute for critical thought and constructive action. Sure, interests and money and ideology all matter, as you learned in political science. But my experience is that most of our politicians and policymakers are trying to do the right thing, according to their own views and consciences, most of the time. If you think that the bad or indifferent results that too often come out of Washington are due to base motives and bad intentions, you are giving politicians and policymakers way too much credit for being effective. Honest error in the face of complex and possibly intractable problems is a far more important source of bad results than are bad motives. For these reasons, the greatest forces in Washington are ideas, and people prepared to act on those ideas. Public service isn’t easy. But, in the end, if you are inclined in that direction, it is a worthy and challenging pursuit. 
6.     Having taken a stab at sociology and political science, let me wrap up economics while I’m at it. Economics is a highly sophisticated field of thought that is superb at explaining to policymakers precisely why the choices they made in the past were wrong. About the future, not so much. However, careful economic analysis does have one important benefit, which is that it can help kill ideas that are completely logically inconsistent or wildly at variance with the data. This insight covers at least 90 percent of proposed economic policies. 
7.     I’m not going to tell you that money doesn’t matter, because you wouldn’t believe me anyway. In fact, for too many people around the world, money is literally a life-or-death proposition. But if you are part of the lucky minority with the ability to choose, remember that money is a means, not an end. A career decision based only on money and not on love of the work or a desire to make a difference is a recipe for unhappiness. 
8.     Nobody likes to fail but failure is an essential part of life and of learning. If your uniform isn’t dirty, you haven’t been in the game. 
9.     I spoke earlier about definitions of personal success in an unpredictable world. I hope that as you develop your own definition of success, you will be able to do so, if you wish, with a close companion on your journey. In making that choice, remember that physical beauty is evolution’s way of assuring us that the other person doesn’t have too many intestinal parasites. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for beauty, romance, and sexual attraction–where would Hollywood and Madison Avenue be without them? But while important, those are not the only things to look for in a partner. The two of you will have a long trip together, I hope, and you will need each other’s support and sympathy more times than you can count. Speaking as somebody who has been happily married for 35 years, I can’t imagine any choice more consequential for a lifelong journey than the choice of a traveling companion. 
10.  Call your mom and dad once in a while. A time will come when you will want your own grown-up, busy, hyper-successful children to call you. Also, remember who paid your tuition to Princeton. 
Those are my suggestions.    They’re probably worth exactly what you paid for them. But they come from someone who shares your affection for this great institution and who wishes you the best for the future. 
Congratulations, graduates. Give ’em hell.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

On meeting new friends, inspiring younger girls and giving back

Still on mini- throwbacks, just because I wasn’t really able to update my blog.

We celebrated Ate Mitch’s birthday last May at a certain girls’ shelter somewhere in Quezon City. It’s a halfway house for girls who were once physically or sexually abused or were rescued from the streets. I was only planning of donating a Bible but it turned out I would want to see these girls and spend some time having fun with them. It turned out to be a very good decision.

The party started at 1PM. We were first oriented by the one of the shelter’s staff. She’s like the girls’ nanay. She told us that the girls are very friendly but quite clingy. Our guy friends were not allowed to touch them because it might evoke trauma from the past. We are also not allowed to ask about their lives outside the shelter unless they freely share those stories with us.

After the orientation, Ate Mitch gave a talk on why we should be proud of being a girl. She told the girls that everyone was fearfully and wonderfully made and that we should be happy with what we have right now. During the talk, she asked the girls to write what makes them happy about being a girl and what makes them sad too. We’re glad that most of the girls filled the happy side. Of course, there were those who filled the sad side, saying they don’t like being a girl when they can’t do simple things boys are capable of.

Because it’s a birthday party, we gave each of the girls a chocolate cupcake with a lighted candle on top. And then, the gifts started pouring in! We gave them a bag filled with toiletries. The other one has a Bible, a marker and a letter from the sponsors. The girls were so happy with the goodies they get to keep. They were especially happy with the lotion and the cologne inside the bag. But most of all, I felt they were happy and excited to receive those letters from the sponsors. One girl even said, “Ate sino si Kuya ____? Ang galing naman nya mambola! Haha. Joke lang po!” Funny this one. Later on, the other girls who’re not really good with reading asked us to read the letters for them. Awww. :3

The party did not end there. We get to eat more food, play, have a mini-fashion show and a nail art session before we finally ended. It was just one fun afternoon! I’m really thankful that I get to meet these girls and spend an afternoon with them. I never really got the chance to talk to each of them but seeing those smiles captured in the lens was enough to realize that they are still blessed. They may have scarred lives in the past but today is more important. As long as we find the time to share our love and care with them, I think the wounds will slowly heal and help them lead a better life.

Oh and did I tell you this was my first photo gig? Hahahaha! Yep. I was the official photographer of the event. Here are some of the photos! 

Here's our birthday girl!

Writing out the reasons why they're happy to be a girl.


Still writing out the reasons why they're happy to be a girl.

They're happy because we visited them! Awwww :3

Neon-colored bags filled with goodies!

Happy Birthday!

Cupcake overload!

Another goodie bag. Bible's inside. 

Fashion show prep.

Still for the fashion show.

Nail art time!

Painting their nails.

Yummy cupcake literally within a hand's reach. Hahaha!

Hide face!

Sexy backs. Daw.

The girls and the team go wacky.

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Time-warped in Vigan

It’s June already and I haven’t had much time to update my blog. I already told you about sand surfing in Laoag and trying out pottery in Batac. I think it would be fitting to share the many wonderful feelings I had when I finally saw Vigan in the flesh. It’s just one of those moments where I felt like I was brought to a different era and everything’s moving slowly. The sound of the horses’ hooves against the cobbled pavement was music to the ears. I can’t help but take every picture that I can to preserve its beauty. One good thing about our visit was that it coincided with a celebration of some sort. There were a lot of shops that sell souvenirs and native products. My eyes were feasting with all the vivid colors that flashed before me. I promise to go back. This time longer than the day’s visit we paid. J


Bell tower of the Church.

Vigan Plaza Hotel.

Arzobispado de Nueva Segovia.

Old houses are plastered with "seemingly new" faces.

Vigan Church.

Because they're Kings, they get to have their own parking areas.

Trykes to bring you in and out of the metro.

The streets are slowly lighting up.

President Quirino hails from Vigan.

Let's move!

I think I need a seat.

Candy-colored totes for the fashionistas.

Toys for the good boys.

Benches and doors.

Cheap souvenirs for your loved ones.

Antique shops abound the famous street.

Syquia Building 1929.

Close look at one of the structures.

People come and go but this building stays.

Something to cheer you up when the sun's scorching hot.

Calesas are King of the cobbled road.

He tried to charm us with his crepe flipping skills. The Bailey-spiked chocolate flavored crepe was good. 

Old and beautiful.

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