Monday, May 31, 2010

Ode to a Conscientious Objector

In that fascinatingly repellent film, Death Wish, a man asks the redoubtable Charles Bronson what he did in the war (presumably Vietnam). "I was a C.O.," Bronson says. "A commanding officer?" "No, a conscientious objector."

What could be a more suitable day to celebrate the fate of a man who refused to fight in war than Memorial Day? Particularly if, like Olaf, apostrophized in e.e. cummings' great poem, he paid for his refusal with his life. Perhaps we should remember that, while military conscription (i.e., the draft) may be necessary during a time of national crisis, when many men might choose to object to military service for reasons of cowardice, exceptions should be made for those for whom fighting poses a genuine conflict of conscience. The battlefield is not the only place where victims of war are killed.


XXX

I sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelov├ęd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

e e cummings

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Value of Money

Some time ago an informal poll was taken asking Americans, if they saw money lying on the ground, what denomination of cash would it have to be to make them reach down and pick it up. Most of the respondents said that they would not pick up a penny. Some said that it would have to be the kind of money that folds. And a few said they would not pick it up even if it were a $100 bill. The survey could be used to illustrate a variety of things, including the relative value of money, of people's prosperity, not to mention their honesty.

A few days ago I was watching a BBC interview of Philippine president-elect Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, and I was once again informed that one out of every three Filipinos is living on $1 a day. No matter how many times I have heard it, that statistic does not sound real to me. Even after "living poor" here for two years and learning how much 1,000 pesos ($22) can buy me, I cannot think of what just 45 pesos ($1) can buy me, and if it would be enough to keep me alive.

First of all, if I were a Filipino, I could never get away with begging unless I were blind or crippled. If I were to seriously try and stretch that $1 a day as far as I could, I suppose that I would determine how much of a staple food, like rice or bread or bananas, I could secure for that amount. For 44 cents I could buy a kilo of small bananas. Pan de sal, a kind of small bun made from flour, water, and salt, goes for 4 cents a piece. And I could buy a big plate of cooked rice, with nothing else, at a carinderia for 90 cents. (Water comes free at carinderias.)

If I wanted something more substantial, a piece of fried chicken from a street vendor costs 34 cents. I could buy an 8 ounce sakto (plastic bag with a straw, to save on the bottle deposit) of Coke for 22 cents. I could even afford a value meal at McDo or Jollibee or Chow King, but even the largest town on my island has no fast food joints.

I suspect, however, that most Filipinos living on $1 a day are doing so within their extended families, where one bread winner provides for several people - children, child-bearing wives, and elderly parents. Within the safety of such a home, whether made of grass or cement, a multitude of shocks can be absorbed without causing serious hardship, including the great big one of living in a country where living on $1 a day is not only possible but necessary .

One of the most eloquent critiques of money was written by the intensely conservative poet Philip Larkin:



Money

Quarterly, as it is, money reproaches me:
'Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.'

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don't keep it upstairs.
By now they've a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

- In fact, they've a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can't put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won't in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Interruptible

I vividly remember a movie that my mother took me to see in the '60s called The Cardinal. (1) Tom Tryon played an Irish Catholic priest who eventually (the film was three hours long) rises to the title of Cardinal. Near the end of the film there is a scene in which Carol Lynley, who played Tryon's sister, is having a baby. But the delivery is complicated and the doctor can only save the mother or the child. Tryon tells the doctor to save the child, and the scene closes with Lynley's uncomprehending screams as she is dying.

I recall that I was very angry when the movie was over and I asked my mother why on earth the man would sacrifice his own sister. My mother explained that it was the official policy of the church in such cases. I felt that if it was the church's policy, the church must be stupid.

Abortion "on request" (2) is illegal in the Philippines, just as it is illegal in many other former Spanish colonies in Latin America, like Costa Rica, Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile. Whenever reproductive rights legislation is proposed, leaders of the Catholic church, despite the constitutional separation of church and state, make their position on the subject abundantly clear. Contraception, according to the church, is acceptable only in marriage and only in the form of so-called "natural" birth control. Artificial contraceptive use is officially banned. So whenever a reproductive rights bill is introduced in the Philippines, it is quickly withdrawn.

Among the nations of the world, the Philippines is ranked 72nd in land area. If all its more than 7,000 islands, many of which are uninhabitable, were put together, the Philippines would only be the size of the U.S. state of Arizona. But the population of the Philippines is ranked 12th in the world. It is close to 100 million at present, but if the birth rate continues at its present level, the population could be 158 million by mid-century.

Abortion is, as one obstetrician put it, (3) a "failure" - a breakdown of existing preganancy prevention measures, and a last resort to contravene the birth of unwanted children. In the United States, where abortions are legal, the issue continues to attract controversy. It is regarded as "murder" by "Pro-Life" advocates and its practitioners, including women seeking abortions and physicians who perform them, "murderers". Morally, it is an intractable issue. Even if a woman seeking an abortion were completely apprized of all the ramifications that "pro-life" advocates emphasize, her decision to interrupt her pregnancy is still "murder".(4)

The direct consequence of the criminalization of abortion is simple: abortions will be carried out in secret, by people, almost invariably other women, who have no medical training and only rudimentary knowledge of obstetrics and gynecology, under unsanitary conditions that endanger the lives of the women seeking to interrupt their pregnancies.

Politically, however, the anti-abortion argument is as untenable as the pacifist argument. Pacifism, in which no resistance is made to an aggressor, is only feasible when one is prepared, as few pacifists have ever been, to accept the consequences. Gandhi, for example, was a pacifist who understood that if people do not die in war, they will have to die in other, less heroic, ways. He famously told an interviewer, when the Nazi death camps were discovered, that the Jews should have committed mass suicide. Astonishing as this argument sounds, Gandhi was able to accept the condition that the inevitable prospect of pacifism in the face of such unyielding aggression as the Nazis presented to the Jews was death one way or another. The manner of death, of course, is the only matter of choice to such pacifism.

Similarly, the only anti-abortion stance that would make sense is the one in which the deaths of women seeking illegal abortions is understood and accepted as an inevitable consequence. If one is not prepared to accept the legal interruption of preganancies, one must be prepared to accept the loss of life, of both fetuses and mothers, from illegal abortions.


(1) The Cardinal (1963) Directed by Otto Preminger.
(2) Some countries have compromised when an abortion concerns the life of the woman, or when there is proof of sexual assault.
(3) In the BBC News program My Country, Brazil: O Aborto dos Otros, which aired 15 May 2010. It is estimated that over one million illegal abortions are carried out in Brazil every year.
(4) An ironic consequence of the availability of artificial contraceptives to men and women, which the Church fails to notice, is that it diminishes the number of abortions, legal or otherwise.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Morning, May 16

We all know the Wallace Stevens of his great poems, like "To an Old Philosopher in Rome" (he was writing about his old Harvard professor, George Santanaya). But the Wallace Stevens who was born, like John Updike, in Reading, Pennsylvania, and wrote a few plays, left Harvard without a degree, worked as a reporter for the New York Tribune, then entered law school, graduated, practiced law, and finally settled for Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company for the rest of his working life, is a total stranger to us. He wrote to William Carlos Williams that "my job is not now with poets from Paris. It is to keep the fire-place burning and the music-box churning and the wheels of the baby's chariot turning and that sort of thing."

He wrote poetry all his life, published discreetly until his Collected Poems appeared a year before he died. It included his later poems under the title, "The Rock," which contains the shattering "Poem At Seventy":

It is an illusion that we were ever alive,
Lived in the houses of mothers, arranged ourselves
By our own motions in a freedom of air.

Regard the freedom of seventy years ago.
It is no longer air. The houses still stand,
Though they are rigid in rigid emptiness.

Even our shadows, their shadows, no longer remain.
The lives these lived in the mind are at an end.
They never were . . . The sounds of the guitar

Were not and are not. Absurd. The words spoken
Were not and are not. It is not to be believed.
The meeting at noon at the edge of the field seems like

An invention, an embrace between one desperate clod
And another in a fantastic consciousness,
In a queer assertion of humanity.

A theorem proposed between the two -
Two figures in a nature of the sun,
In the sun's design of its own happiness,

As if nothingness contained a metier,
A vital assumption, an impermanence
In its permanent cold, an illusion so desired.

That the green leaves came and covered the high rock
That the lilacs came and bloomed, like a blindness cleaned,
Exclaiming bright sight, as it was satisfied,

In a birth of sight. The blooming and the musk
Were being alive, an incessant being alive,
A particular of being, that gross universe.


Stevens wrote these tenuous, outreaching words when he was very old, looking back on a time long since lost. But today, as I turn 52, they hold a kind of incantatory power. As if I, too, am looking back at a picture of myself at twenty, or even thirty. It's like looking at the dead.

But on this Sunday morning, here in the Philippines, I am drawn to the sentiments Stevens expressed in what many regard is his "breakthrough" poem, called, coincidentally, "Sunday Morning":


Sunday Morning

1

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

2

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measure destined for her soul.

3

Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

4

She says, "I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?"
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.

5

She says, "But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss."
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

6

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

7

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feel shall manifest.

8

She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay."
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.


Divinity must live within herself. The idea is more than a little old today. The brilliance of this day is, for me, utterly undiminished by the absence of God. Without Him, it is even more brilliant, since, like me, it cannot last. Here, in my island solitude, unsponsored, free, I feel almost happy.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dead Man's Curve


Here in the Philippines, hazardous stretches of road are designated by signs that bear a curious warning: ACCIDENT PRONE AREA. A preponderance of motor accidents in one place would provoke warnings against reckless driving anywhere else. But for Filipinos, as well as many other Asians, the road itself is prone to cause accidents. Especially if any people have died in the accidents, the area is believed to be populated by restless spirits who may be jealous of the living.

Late one night one year ago, a popular young Filipino actor named Richard Gutierrez was driving his sports car at excessive speed through one such area when, somewhat predictably, an accident occurred. Gutierrez was driving, with his personal assistant in the passenger seat, when the sports car left the road. Gutierrez sustained a cut above his eye, but his assistant was pronounced dead at the scene.

Released from hospital the morning after the accident, the actor's celebrity family held a thanksgiving mass, after which he made statements to the tabloid press to the effect that his survival of the accident with only a minor cut was no accident but divine intervention.

As if the mass thanking God for Richard's survival (and, coincidentally, his assistant's death, as it were, in his place) were not crass enough, the young actor was quick to pronounce the coincidence a sign that he was spared in order to fulfill some greater design.

The young widow of his assistant was less certain of the hand of God and hired a lawyer to look into the matter. When young Richard's prior citation for reckless driving, in the same vehicle no less, was found, and an excellent case for negligent manslaughter was in the offing (no pun intended), Richard was less concerned with the prospect of going to jail than of the damage that the negative publicity might do to his good name.

Needless to say, an out of court settlement was made to the satisfaction of both parties. Young Richard's star continued its rise in the firmament of Filipino celebrity nobodies just as God intended. But the highway curve that took the life of his assistant remains just as before, its menace undiminished by road improvement, poised to take more lives should they take no heed of the sign.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Postpartum

Vote-buying must be one of the oldest election tactics in history. As soon as one man, one vote became common practice, somebody decided that paying someone to vote a certain way was easier than making alot of campaign promises that were impossible to fulfill.

If I were unsure of the amount of vote-buying going on here in my Philippine island province before the election on 10 May, I have been provided with ample evidence of it in the two days since, as the capitol city near my home was overrun with people from the outlying areas thronging the markets, buying whatever isn't nailed down.

The amount of cash purportedly paid to every eligible voter was up to a few thousand pesos, which translates into about $50. That's alot of money for people who expect to make that much in a month. When you consider how many voters there are just on this island, it means that the candidates probably shelled out a few million pesos apiece.

Last week, Imelda Marcos, who won a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives, told a government official involved in negotiations for a settlement of the ongoing plunder case against the family, that her riches could bring an end to all poverty in the Philippines. Nobody bothered to ask her what on earth prevented her from doing so.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Hill of Beans


While watching the film Death Proof again the other night, I began to see certain consistencies in Quentin Tarantino's work: his encyclopedic knowledge of classic '70s crap music (much of it R&B, which wins him street creds); '70s crap martial arts movies; and '70s American crap TV. With these three elements, all crap, Tarantino concocts his brazenly insupportable plots that try strenuously to assure us of his virility, hipness, and cinematic genius.

I saw him a few years ago on the Sundance Channel's Iconoclasts, and he mentioned that, as a filmmaker, he had already scaled Everest. It took me a few moments to figure out that he was referring to Pulp Fiction. I doubt that anyone who has actually climbed Mount Everest would think of comparing the experience to such a crassly clever movie.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Swimmer part four

But there is no reef after all. The swimmer pursued the dark shadow in the water, counting his strokes, until he realized it was receding at every stroke. He gave up and swam in what he hoped was the reverse direction until now he thinks he has returned to his original position.

Still no boat. It has made no effort to materialize during his brief absence. Maybe there never was one. Maybe he has been out here in this radiant deep for days, even weeks? Only the rope's empty tugging at his ankle as he swam reminded him of how recently he had been anchored to his precious craft.

Surely the sun is lower than it was? For the first time he considers what it will mean to spend the night out here. He is not afraid of the dark, nor is he afraid of the sea at night. Yet out here the sharks are maybe not so timorous as they are in the shallower waters near a fringing reef. They like the freedom of a good depth beneath their bellies. Since he will be neither kicking nor struggling he has hopes of not attracting their attention. Like certain predatory humans, they are beautifully attuned to the sounds of distress. No; he will hang here quietly, counting the stars or trying to see the lights of land. Perhaps it will be impossible to resist peering into the Stygian, sparkling gulf he treads, even though the sight of a great swirl of luminescence turning suddenly in his direction might well herald his end. No doubt the strike will be shockingly abrupt, but for some reason he is more frightened by the thought of a first inquisitive tugging at the painter hanging beneath him like a bellpull. He does not want to hear his own terror pealing out across an empty ocean. At all costs he will be stoical. Fishermen say shark attacks are painless. One feels great bangings and slammings but no actual pain.

This is stupid. It is still broad daylight and the boat has only just gone. There is no possible way in which it could have drifted more than fifty or a hundred yards. A hundred and fifty at the outside . Well, he will not wait passively in the water until death in one form or another heaves up alongside to gulp him down. He will now try to swim a grid pattern. It will not be easy without any fixable starting point, but nevertheless he will try.

He heads for the sun, fifty strokes, then turns at what he calculates to be ninety degrees and swims ten more; then another and back parallel to his original course. He is pleased to find the surface of the water undulates more than he had thought. This convinces him that the chances of happening on the boat are excellent. No sooner has he thought this than, halfway along the new leg of his search pattern, he spies its prow. There is no question. No piece of water was ever that shape, black and slender and curved like a beak. With a cry he abandons the stupid grid and heads for it. Thank Christ, and about time too. That was close. God, that was close. Never, ever again will he do something so damned stupidly careless. . . .

There is nothing. No prow, no boat, not even a length of floating timber. Nothing but empty water taking its shape from him. His grid is broken and lost. He will never find his original position now. He turns and turns in despair and dejection, incredulous to think he will not be seen ever again while the bloody boat will probably be wrecked on some inshore reef to gladden a poor beachcomber looking for useful spars and panels of marine plywood.



James Hamilton-Paterson, Nine-Tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Let Us Not Pray


The Wisconsin Federal District's court's decision late last month which challenges the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer could result in a Supreme Court case. This is good news to anyone who ever found himself at a dinner or a meeting and was peremptorily told to bow his head in prayer, in total disregard of his religious proclivities. While I am certain that I was not the only person who was made to feel uncomfortable for that moment when he was told to pray, I was probably the only one who wanted to object in some way. It is an affront to be told to participate in an activity that I do not practice, and it is insulting that the person presiding should be so oblivious as to not expect anyone to take offense.

Since the Wisconsin decision, both sides in the debate have been expounding on their interpretations of the words of the Founding Fathers in the First Amendment. Whatever the meaning behind those remarkably explicit words Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, the fact remains that it was religious freedom that brought so many of the first settlers to America - the freedom to worship however they pleased without anyone restricting them because their devotions were at variance with established practice.

I have made my opinions about religion abundantly clear on this blog. But while I believe that such books as Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great are necessary, they are only a first step. Once you have settled the problem of God, you are left with the problem of what to do with the void that is left in your spiritual life - assuming you have one. I do not believe that it is like an appendix, and can be removed without ill effects. Once you have amputated the unwanted limb of religion, some kind of prosthesis should be found to replace it.

When Marx wrote his famous line about religion being "the opium of the people," he wrote that line in the context of his definition of religion, which he called "the cry of the soul in a soulless world." Marx knew that religious faith provided millions of people with some kind of explanation or reason for existence. For one thing, it provides a sense of relief that there is an explanation or reason at all for being alive.

When I was a boy, prayer was nothing more than yet another means of making me feel miserable. Since I felt nothing when I prayed, I felt that I must not have been doing it right. What could a boy possibly say to his parents and teachers when he talked to God and God did not answer? When I received my first communion, I waited until I had returned to my seat and, still kneeling down, I removed the host from my mouth and examined it. A fellow student saw me commit this heinous act and reported me to one of the nuns (how quickly we all learn to inform on one another!). The nun wondered if I had got Jesus on my fingers.

I harbor a personal grievance against the Christian derivative known as "Born Again," since they got their hands on the 14-year-old son of a woman very dear to me and turned him into a perpetually prayer-spewing, Bible-thumping freak. I even tried to suggest to him a more civilized manner of prayer - the very one suggested by Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount: "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Worship can be a public activity, but prayer is purely personal. Since the boy evidently trusts and derives ego-gratification from his fellow freaks, he did not take my advice, and continues to make a complete fool of himself for Jesus.

There are quite enough reasons for hating religion without the U.S. government trampling on the First Amendment in its name.

Choose or Lose

At the height of the Watergate hearings, I saw a bumper sticker that proclaimed "Don't blame me. I voted for McGovern". At the time, though I was not eligible to vote, I could not understand what satisfaction a citizen of a democracy could derive from not having voted for a president who had disgraced himself and the office of president. It was like a passenger on the Titanic telling everyone that he had not bought shares in the White Star Line.

In fact, I have never found the least satisfaction in voting itself. I did not even begin to vote until I adopted a genuine political conviction, only because it took me that long to penetrate the layers of lies encrusted on Socialism. I am not so cynical as to believe that it makes no difference who one votes for. But I have never cast a vote without having serious misgivings.

Voting for a candidate that most closely approximates to one's views (to the extent of the approximation), who represents a party whose platforms do not sharply diverge from one's understanding of reality, is about all that anyone living in a democracy can hope to expect. People who claim to "go with their gut feelings" when they vote are probably just dyspeptic. I have never even voted with the expectation that my choice might be the winner. It is probably a better idea to vote against one's emotional reactions, since they are likely to be conservative.

"We see the need of engaging in politics," wrote George Orwell in 1948, "while also seeing what a dirty, degrading business it is. And most of us still have a lingering belief that every choice, even every political choice, is between good and evil, and that if a thing is necessary it is also right. We should, I think, get rid of this belief, which belongs to the nursery. In politics one can never do more than decide which of two evils is the less, and there are some situations from which one can only escape by acting like a devil or a lunatic. If you have to take part in such things - and I think you do have to, unless you are armored by old age or stupidity or hypocrisy - then you also have to keep part of yourself inviolate."*

Elections are being held in England tomorrow (Thursday) and on Monday here in the Philippines. The British election is understandably more important than the Philippine election, since there is a great deal more at stake, even for Filipinos. Every election in the Philippines since the 1980s has been so fraught with the potential for disaster that I await the results in five days with a kind of morbid fascination. This is to be the first automated election, but the voting machines are not functioning properly in tests and have been producing false results. A parallel manual count has been proposed, but too much money has already been spent on the Chinese-made machines (nearly 80,000 of them), and there is not enough time to retrain all the election staffers. Add to all this the distinct possibility of power outtages everywhere in the country, and you have the makings of what this country has always threatened to fall into - absolute chaos.

But whichever oligarch wins the race for Philippine president, I believe that he should be the one who has the most expected of him, who has the most to live up to, and, ultimately, the most to lose if he fails. Based on this criteria, the winner should be Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III. If he isn't the winner, I hope that Filipinos will have the intestinal fortitude, which is dicey in a hot country, to tear this country apart.


*Orwell, "Writers and Leviathan," 1948.