Not Quite a Book Review

In a speech she gave to the National Society for Women’s Service, Virginia Woolf commented on how strange a thing it was that “there is nothing so delightful in the world than telling stories.” This quote made it’s way into a recently released memoir called The Rules Do Not Apply, recommended to me by a coworker at Sunpreme (that's the bifacial solar panel supplier in Sunnyvale).

The Rules Do Not Apply was written by Ariel Levy, an LGBTQ staff writer at the New Yorker. It is a memoir with all the wisdom that 38 years can supply written by a woman of privilege who felt that she lost it all. It is fast, delicious narrative. Most of all, it is shamelessly entitled, so much so that it speaks volumes of how the wealth of the American coasts have created large swaths of microcultures that cling to the notion of misfortune because of its scarcity. Here was a bright, fast living New York woman, receiving food deliveries, writing for a living (a privilege in itself), enjoying the bubble of densely populated coolness that minions like me can only yearn for. She was/is a lesbian and financially independent. Between all the words glowed the pride of her freedom from the shackles of the female past. “Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary,” she writes. “It’s also a symptom of narcissism.”

For those not familiar with the significance of the New Yorker magazine, it is the intellectual high-brow rag for New York insiders. So much so that the jokes are hard to understand. It is also one of the glowing crowns of arrival for a creative writer to have their kind words formed into print by that rag. It is the epitome of elite New York literati.

This takes me back to the Virginia Woolf quote about telling stories. I have a story about meeting the fiction editor of the New Yorker once. My late professor, Leonard Michaels, had one of his books reprinted by the Arion Press, probably the last functioning printing press in our country. This editor was there. We exchanged a few facts about how we knew the writer (she, obviously, published him) and it turned out that she was a Comp Lit major from Cal. I was an English major from Cal. In age, we might have been one year apart. I left the immediacy of the moment and saw this woman as the path not taken, the pinnacle of the power I could have achieved if I had slogged it out as a writer and settled for editor instead. “What do you think about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” I asked her.

“I don’t,” she said. And there it was, the arrogance of the literati, living off the last of the intangible perks the dying industry has used to make up for poor compensation. “What do you do?” she asked.

“I work at a hedge fund,” I said.

“You probably make a lot less than you used to,” she said (this was after the financial crash.)

I didn’t answer. I thought it best not to engage in this one.

The party was in an old, lived-in apartment in the Upper West. Moisture trapped books lined the wall. Antipasti and soft drinks were offered up in the kitchen. I took my plastic plate and put it down in a spot with more oxygen. In the time it took for me to greet someone else, a German cockroach might have crawled on and off my plate and scurried back down into its netherworld behind the baseboard that didn't quite accommodate the slope of the floor.


Two Stories

Many decades ago, there was a little boy who saw a man walk on the moon. He was too young to remember but at the ripe old age of seven he already knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. He took matters into his own hands and wrote a letter to MIT. I imagine that it went something like this, “Dear MIT, my name is R…. I want to go to MIT and study to be a rocket scientist. Please let me go so that I can grow up and put a colony on the moon.” They wrote him back, let him know they read the letter, said thank you and told him to apply when it was time. Fast forward 10 years and he did all the things that kids with such dreams might do—his homework, his handmade calculator project out of recycled relays, the dissection of a fetal pig in 11th grade, AP Physics and his college applications. When he visited MIT for an on-campus interview, they started the discussion with that disappointing preamble:

“Well, you have an excellent record but we have many strong applicants,” said the admissions officer, “but something really set you apart….” Out came the letter from first grade, now-faded pencil lead diffused into lightweight wide-ruled recycled paper. They kept his letter all those years and he got accepted into MIT. While he didn’t become a rocket scientist, I understand he’s now raising complex debt instruments for (can you guess) rocket companies.

My second story is not so happy. I heard there was a shooting in the Philippines. This time it was a rich boy who did the shooting. He was rudely blocking traffic and infuriated the driver behind him. They somehow got into a physical fight and the rich boy took out his gun and shot the other driver twice. I did not hear whether the driver died but I assume that his condition is near fatal. The rich boy was not the son of a landed family or a major conglomerate. He is the son of a drug smuggler. I imaging he and his family leading white gloved lives with nice cars (typically over the top cars, especially for Philippine conditions), servants preparing his meals and picking up after him, calling him “sir” while his family ships in crates of pseudoephedrine to recreate the probinciano version of Breaking Bad. Just to fill out the picture, some time in the past, his father ran over and killed a fisherman on a bike because he was driving too fast.

Duterte’s bodycount of alleged drug dealers is approaching ten thousand since he took office. Until now, I didn’t get a sense of the kinds of people who were on the receiving end of this witch hunt. When I hear drug dealer, I think of Eric Stoltz in Pulp Fiction—cute, funny, a little lost, sprinkled with LA selfish. I don’t think of a spoiled son in a nice car posing as a little prince with a homicidal habit. It’s impossible to agree with Duterte’s policy of encouraging vigilante killings but, for the first time, I have a vision of the culture he is trying to eradicate and I can understand his distaste.

There’s no poetry in this post and nothing incremental about Sunpreme…except that they have really good green tea in the kitchen. Stay tuned for more on Sunpreme nextweek, especially since I received so many comments on my last column. It’s past midnight here in California. Next week, I’ll tell you the brand of that tea.


Invoking The First Amendment

I have a confession, one that may not go over well in this geography. I am a fiscal conservative, a believer in free markets…and capitalism. I detest regulation and I feel the weight of excessive regulation almost daily as if it is borne in the atmosphere like the sulfuric particles that impede our oxygen supply in the heavy Makati air. I didn’t vote for Trump but I didn’t vote for Hillary either. I wrote in my candidate, someone who would represent the thoughtful center, someone who I thought would represent me.

Because my fiscal views are consistent with the political right, I have found my way into these communities in the Bay Area. One of them asked me not to criticize President Trump.

“But…I write a column,” I replied. “Do you mean that I shouldn’t write what I really think?”

There was some backpedalling, a lowered voice, and some reference to the First Amendment. That reference piqued my interest. It looked it up. Here it is:


An honorary Filipino

I open this column with a tale of my error as a columnist. It took me nearly two hours of an interview with Charles “Chuck” McDougald to find out he was a Green Beret. He mentioned a tour of duty in Vietnam, his involvement with Veterans organizations, and even his acquaintance with John McCain (Republican nominee for President in 2008). But I didn’t pull the thread. After all, I didn’t seek out Chuck’s story because his service in the US Special Forces but because he fought the Philippine Dictator Ferdinand Marcos alongside many of the people associated with the paper over the years.

Like many projects, it started with a small gesture. McDougald, a young war veteran enjoying the Philippines, started a file. An employee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila at the time Martial Law was declared, he ingested the sense of suspicion with which the American residents in Manila felt towards Marcos and McDougald decided to keep a file. He collected clippings and other documents over a 10-year period that allowed him to piece together the background of a brilliant risen fabulist—a child of Japanese collaboration, an acquitted assassin, and a false war hero. These are all tales that rose in the Filipino consciousness culminating in Cory Aquino’s graceful assumption of power in February 1986, tales than have fallen away into history by now.

McDougald went to print with his research just three months after the People Power Revolution, although he was nearing completion of his manuscript in late 1984. While completing his research in the Philippines, he was detained by the Marcos government at Camp Crame before being deported to the United States. The book, The Marcos File, came out in 1987. Its middle section, which refutes one by one, Marcos’ 35 claimed war medals, was published in as an expose in Mr. and Ms Magazine in January of 1986. The expose was part of a campaign to discredit the Dictator in the months leading up to the seminal election.

“I did a lot of research on that…I spent 3 months alone in the National Archives,” said McDougald. He research each of the 35 instances of claimed heroism and proved that Marcos could not have been in the places that he claimed to commit the heroic act.

McDougald, having dedicated the better part of two decades to the Philippines, is married to a Filipina. He is active in US politics and recently completed his third 2-year term of service as Chair of the San Mateo County GOP Central Committee. He supported Trump in the 2016 election and was a delegate to the

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