Rizal and the art of living

In an earlier time, philosophy was understood not as the theoretical subject that we know today, but simply as the art of living.  The philosopher’s concern was the practical task of creating a self — an unforgettable human being, a meaningful life — from the raw material supplied by chance. People like Socrates, Montaigne, Nietzsche, … Read more

The bombs of Christmas

To many people in the outside world, there is no longer any question that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein has become a menace not only to the international community, but to his own country above all.  Here is the head of a nation who uses his country’s earnings from oil exports not to feed, clothe, or educate … Read more

A rapist’s smirk

Something about the way Leo Echegaray looks on television and in his newspaper photos makes it very difficult to summon sympathy for him as a man about to be executed.  He wears a faint smirk on his face.  It may be the sneer of contempt of a prisoner for a public that he stubbornly believes … Read more

When siblings meet

Rare is the Filipino family nowadays that has none of its members living abroad.  We have long become a nation of emigrants and, though our own diaspora may not come close to that of the Jews and the Chinese, we know that a good part of our national soul now resides in distant shores.  We … Read more

Home is where our people are

Los Angeles.  For the first time ever, I am taking part in a uniquely American celebration — Thanksgiving Day, that special day in November when Americans go home to feast on turkey and cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie and corn.   I had absolutely no idea what this day meant to this country until I decided … Read more

The infrastructure of learning

Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Late one evening, after watching the 3hour-long film “Beloved”, I discovered the well-lit Au bon pain across the Harvard Yard.  It was close to midnight, but this favorite haunt of undergrads cramming for an exam or taking a break from their endless papers was still very much open. In one corner sat a … Read more

Dogtown: memories of the 1904 World’s Fair

The idea was to bring the whole world to St. Louis, Missouri.  That world included the major civilizations of east and west, and the remaining savage societies that were then undergoing, to western eyes, the civilizing tutelage of colonialism.  The 1904 World’s Fair opened on April 30 and closed seven months later on December 1, … Read more

The “Seinfeld” election

St. Louis, Missouri.  A “Seinfeld” election is an election about nothing, precisely how one political analyst saw the 1998 US midterm election. The allusion, so very American, would not be lost on Filipino fans of the Jerry Seinfeld show, a hilarious sitcom that recruits the most powerful emotions in the name of the most insignificant … Read more

The great American election

Denver, Colorado.   The great American election has eluded me as successfully as the great American cuisine.  I just cannot find it in the streets.  What I have seen much of are the ads on TV.  The evening newscasts are full of them, and perhaps to many Americans, these political ads constitute the sum total of … Read more

Narratives of German unification

Dresden.    When German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visits Manila this week, he and President Ramos will likely tap the now exhausted vocabulary of  people power to establish a common ground for their dialogue.  Whatever EDSA meant to Filipinos in 1986, it roughly corresponds to the symbolism of the Berlin Wall’s collapse for the Germans in 1989.  … Read more