Who, me? 17 September birthdays & celebrations

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA – When I celebrate, it's a big one, as big as a whole town. Let's board the boat and let's party! With love, let me celebrate with those who were born 17 September, and they are legion. At 69, I am of course an old UP Los Baños sentimental fool, so I'll start right there.
17 September 2009, today is the 8th in the series of what is called the Bañamos Festival, which started 2002, packaged as the 'Hot Spring Baths Festival of Los Baños' (losbanosweb.com). Today, the town celebrates its 395th Foundation Day. Yesterday, the town was called 'Mainit' because of the hot springs emanating from Mt Makiling, a dormant volcano the foot of which was a few meters away. The place was part of Bay, Laguna. Francis was here; the Franciscan friars were fascinated with the hot baths and in 1589, Fr Pedro Bautista set up public baths and renamed the place 'Los Baños' (The Baths). But it wasn't until 17 September 1615 when the overseer Luis Villa gave authority to the Franciscans to govern Los Baños as a town separate from Bay (laguna.net).

To help celebrate the day, I offer these thoughts as my birthday gift to the people of Los Baños, our town:

'Bañamos' is Spanish, easily meaning 'let's take a bath' or 'let's take a dip'. Sorry to disappoint the tourists, but Los Baños no longer has many hot spring baths – they're a few kilometers away, mostly in Pansol in Calamba City, probably the 'Hot Spring Capital of the Philippines' – I suspect that Pansol used to be part of my 2nd favorite town.

A little Web surfing and I find that 'bañar' means 'to bathe, dip, imbrue, wash, suffuse' (translate.google.com). Talk about Thesaurus.

Talk about knowledge. Today, you will find in this little town internationally recognized institutions: the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) , the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Comprising UP Los Baños are several colleges, where you can take up courses in the arts of communication and theatre, in the sciences of plants and animals, including biotechnology and computer science. UPLB, IRRI, PCARRD, SEARCA – mainly, they are the ones who have made Los Baños a University Town. Recently were added the UP Open University and the Asean Center for Biodiversity. Along with all that and on top, Mt Makiling, the town has been declared by law as a Special Science & Nature City. Talk about Science and Nature. On campus is the site of the most successful – zero casualties – POW rescue in history staged by American soldiers and Filipino guerrillas in 1945. Talk about Prestige, talk about History.

So I say, Los Baños has the evocative name, the very rich essence of a tourist spot, if not the hot baths themselves; so I suggest they develop it like this, a come-one, come-on:


Which is an invitation, and then market it – no longer as a hot spring festival, because it never was – but as a personal day to bathe, dip, imbrue, wash, suffuse oneself with the waters of the arts, the sciences and the rich history of Los Baños. Bonus to the trip: The airwash of Mt Makiling, whose vegetation and wildlife population make up the only surviving forest within reach of Metro Manila. Talk about Packaging.

Come 17 September every year, apart from me, how can I forget not to mention first the town of Los Baños where I obtained my BS Agriculture; where I overstayed at the College of Agriculture, finishing a 4-year course in 5-1/2 years, nothing to be proud of; graduating with a weighted average of 2.36 pt, something to be proud of; where at its campus I worked for about 15 years and stayed around for another 15. I have fond memories of UP Los Baños; for one, I met a girl I fell in love with at first sight, and she became my wife.

And when this day comes around, I'm the only one who can tell this joke with a straight face:

Every year when my birthday comes around, a whole town celebrates!

In fact, 17 September is historical and memorable in many ways, in people, places and events. I want to talk about them and annotate them, you will see why, not unlike when Jose Rizal annotated Antonio Morga's Sucesos De Las Islas Filipinas – and in so doing, he tried to bring out the best in the Filipinos, and what were best for them.

Historically, there was the signing of the US Constitution on 17 September, 55 delegates attending, from 12 states. It created 3 separate, co-equal branches of government: legislative, executive, judicial. I see it as very funny, because it is the President who appoints the judges, up to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is by Constitutional theory his equal! That is to say, the Yankees contradict themselves, and their Constitution makes sure that they do. Well, the Yankees aren't perfect. Legislative: Why are they still making laws after all these years; when will they stop spending billions of dollars minting laws? And we Filipinos copy their truth, justice, and their American way!

And here are 33 of the many 17 September birthday celebrants, with my notes. Alphabetically now:

(1). Anne Bancroft. American actress, she won these awards: Tony (stage), Emmy (singing), and Oscar (film). She was associated with method acting. She wrote and directed Fatso, which failed at the box office. Win some, lose some. She was 4 years old when she began taking acting and dancing lessons (Lycos Retriever). She was married to Mel Brooks for more than 40 years. A marriage made in celluloid heaven. Marriage is forever.

(2). Warren Burger. Supreme Court Chief Justice. He voted with the majority 'to recognize a broad right to privacy that prohibited states from banning abortions before the point of viability' (Wikipedia). Bad. That was the Roe vs Wade decision (1973). However, Burger abandoned Roe vs Wade in the case of Thomburgh vs American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Good. 'He was unable to work well with his colleagues' (Wikipedia). Bad. Reminds me of somebody I've known for the last 69 years.

(3). David Dunbar Buick. A pioneer American automaker, engineer and inventor, he designed and built a car in his workshop and in 1902 founded the Buick Manufacturing Company; his overhead-valve engines were the most powerful and reliable at that time. He wanted each car to be 'perfectly crafted (and) precision-built' – he was 'a gifted designer but a poor businessman' (nndb.com). Sounds familiar.

(4). John Cartwright. 'Father of Reform' of British politics, who in 1780 started advocating reforms such as annual parliaments and universal suffrage (Marjorie Bloy, historyhome.co.uk). That's why I would like a parliamentary system in the Philippines. Annual parliaments discourage corruption and political dynasties – those who practice inbreeding, a no-no in science.

(5). Charles Tomlinson Griffes. He is the most famous American musical impressionist; 'his music reflected his eclecticism, as it revealed first German, then French and Oriental influences before becoming more abstract' (Aryeh Oron, bach-cantatas.com). If you want to be the best, first you have to borrow, to imitate, to be influenced by the masters. (See also my 'Unggoy, Ka Freddie,' americanchronicle.com).

(6). Sir Francis Charles Chichester. A myopic son of 'an unloving' Anglican clergyman, he was eventually knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for being the first to sail singlehandedly around the world by the clipper route, as well as the fastest circumnavigator (Wikipedia). He did it with his yacht Gipsy Moth IV, solo, with a solo port of call, Sydney; it was 1967, and he was 65. Years earlier, in 1958, he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer; undaunted, his wife-to-be Sheila put him on a strict vegetarian diet, and his cancer went into remission. Plucky in life, lucky in love.

(7). Dolores Costello. A 'delicately beautiful blonde-haired actress' (mother of John Drew and grandmother of Drew Barrymore), she achieved her greatest success during the silent era of the movies, becoming 'The Goddess of the Silver Screen' (Wikipedia). She spent the last years of her life on her avocado farm, Fallbrook Ranch (imdb.com), which was outside San Diego (Tammy Stone, things-and-other-stuff.com). Stone writes, 'It is said that her face was badly damaged and wrinkly in her later years, but that almost magically transformed into her beautiful, youthful self every time she talked about John.' What had John said of her when they first met? Encyclopedia.com: 'I just laid eyes upon the most preposterously lovely creature in all the world.' Ah, love! Love makes the world go lovely. May you be in love all the days of your life.

(8). Francois De La Rochefoucauld. French writer and wit. Some quotes:

A true friend is the greatest of all blessings, and that which we take the least care of all to acquire.
Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us examine how happy those are who already possess it.
Few things are impracticable in themselves, and it is for want of application, rather than of means, that men fail to succeed.
Good advice is something a man gives when he is too old to set a bad example.
Many people despise wealth, but few know how to give it away.
Small minds are much distressed by little things. Great minds see them all but are not upset by them.
The pleasure of love is in loving.

(9). Francisco De Quevedo. Spanish poet, satirist, novelist and wit. In his best known novel, La Vida Del Buscon, 'he sought to entertain, to ridicule, and to hold up fraud and dishonesty to scorn' (bookrags.com). With his humor, he became the scourge of doctors, judges, bankers, barbers, poets, women, bores. Sample quote: 'In short, not only are things not what they seem, they are not even what they are called!' (nutquote.com).

(10). Jennifer Dickson. Canadian photographer, artist whose 'lasting legacy is likely to be the body of work she has been producing since 1980, depicting gardens as set-aside places, as sacred places' (Maureen Korp, 1997, books.google.com). She reminds us that that is why there was a Garden of Eden.

(11). Hans Freudenthal. Dutch mathematician, the one who single-handedly prevented Netherlands from travelling the worldwide path called 'new math' (Wikipedia). The Freudenthal path to math education is 'based on problems taken from day-to-day experiences rather than on abstract math rules' that later proved to be 'unsuitable for most students' (if.uu.nl). I can appreciate that; excellent writing deals with common experiences seen with uncommon eyes expressed in extraordinary terms. Math is critical thinking or logical thinking, which of course is useful. But I myself find creative thinking extremely useful – and enjoyable and, yes, even when I'm teaching, I learn more when I'm enjoying what I'm doing.

(12). Chaim Herzog. Diplomat, soldier, scholar, politician, journalist, lawyer and legislator, became President of Israel in 1983. When he was Israel's Ambassador to the UN, 'he denounced the UN's infamous resolution equating Zionism as racism' (jafi.org.il). That was an oversimplification.

(13). Damon Graham Devereux Hill. 'One of the persistent drivers in Formula One history,' he became world champion; he is the son of 2-time World Champion Graham Hill (ndtv.f1.pulse.com). Persistent and consistent, he had 22 wins and 1 championship, 1996 (talkf1.co.uk). Quote: 'I am very much aware that if I am getting good press at the moment, I could just as easily be getting bad press. I cannot have the good and forget the bad. You have to accept it both ways.' Frank A Hilario cannot accept bad press; he has to fight it – by being good.

(14). Phil Jackson. The winningest playoff coach in NBA history, with 9 NBA titles (6 Chicago Bulls and 3 LA Lakers), with a 0.725 playoff winning percentage the highest in history (nba.com). In one coaches' meeting, Jackson shared what his own coach when he played the New York Knicks, Red Holzman, had shared: 'It wasn't about how great a star was himself. It was about how great he made the players around him' (Adam Fluck, 27 August 2009, nba.com). He earned the nickname 'Zen Master' and had unorthodox coaching techniques (nba.com):

Jackson has remained remarkably consistent – self-possessed, focused and confident. These defining qualities have been put to best use in his role as coach. Firm but not severe, Jackson neither babies nor bullies his players. Instead, he gives them the opportunity to learn for themselves how to succeed, and a structure in which they can win as a team.

Without a team, it's a lonely battle all the time. Ask me about it!

(15). Samuel Johnson. Lexicographer. He loved making love and drinking. But, writes Christopher Howse (12 September 2009, telegraph.co.uk):

Johnson chose to spend long periods without drinking because he tended to drink too much. Modern audiences are disappointed by his parallel abstinence from sexual relations outside of marriage. What to him was hard-won virtue commanded by Christianity is, in a Hollywood view of life, a fault.

Thank God, I'm not one of the modern audiences!

Samuel Johnson is the most quoted English writer, next to William Shakespeare; the latter part of the 18th century is often referred to as the Age of Johnson (James E Kiefer, justus.anglican.com). In his youth, 'he developed a fondness for disputation, and often, as he admits, chose the wrong side of the debate because it would be more challenging.'

Take it from me: If you challenge yourself all the time, you'll never be bored – and you'll never be boring! When I write, I challenge myself searching for other ways to say it, or come up with an entirely different view of it. That is why you will be hard put to put two essays of mine side by side and say they are written with exactly the same formula or format.

Samuel Johnson entered but left Oxford when his family ran out of money. Then:

He wrote a short poem, 'The Young Author,' dealing with the dreams of greatness of someone just starting to write, and the almost certain destruction of those dreams. The moral is: 'Do not let yourself hope for much, and you will be the less disappointed.'

That was true in the era of the Dictatorship of the Press, in the in/human form of the Editor in Chief. With the invention of the free website, the blog, the unpublished writers have their revenge – they can now publish themselves. I wrote about this in 2006, in 'The Messiah Phenomenon' (americanchronicle.com).

Out of Oxford, with no hope of the academic career for which his native talents suited him, Johnson sank for 2 years into a deep depression, a despair and inability to act, wherein, as he later told a friend, he could stare at the town clock and not be able to tell what time it was. He feared that he was falling into insanity, and considered suicide.

I know how that feels, except that part about considering suicide. I went into depression myself for many years, more than 40 years ago; at one point I almost lost my mind – Dr Vitug saved me from myself. On my birthday, I begged God to remove this thorn from my flesh as a birthday gift, but he said No. Years later, I acknowledged my weaknesses, and that was when God took good care of me. I had an epiphany. Now I have learned how to count my blessings – what I can see, and what I can't.

About trust in God, should a man try to deceive himself into thinking that he feels it, to feel trust by sheer will power? Johnson said that a man 'ought to behave as if he did trust God, and that means obeying God.' He said:

This constant and devout practice is both the effect, and cause, of confidence in God. Trust in God is to be obtained only by repentance, obedience, and supplication, not by nourishing in our hearts a confused idea of the goodness of God, or a firm persuasion that we are in a state of grace.

The Bible says: 'Faith without works is dead!'

(16). Edward William Lane. English scholar. The Edward William Lane Arabic-English Lexicon is regarded as the best in the world (studyquran.co.uk). 'His personal character was elevated and pure, his strong sense of religious and moral duty being of the type that characterized the best circles of English evangelicalism in the early part of the 19th century.' Maybe so, but I don't like what he did with the original of the story of 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves' – he translated the magic words not as 'Open, Sesame!' but as 'Open, Simsim!' I grew up with 'Open, Sesame!' and I can't just let go of that. 'Simsim' is the Arabic word; Lane should have given us the English word 'Sesame' – the 'magic' sound is important. The sound of 'Simsim' is without power. So much for translations.

(17). Jeffrey Kenneth MacNelly. Political cartoonist, 3-time Pulitzer-prize winner. Dave Barry says of him, 'He could see what was funny, and he could draw it so that you could see it too. I doubt there has ever been a cartoonist who combined so much artistic talent ... with such a wonderful sense of humor' (suite101.com). As a writer, I often try to see what is funny, and tell the story so that you can see it too. Failure to be funny should not be for want of trying.

(18). Marquis De Condorcet. French enlightenment philosopher. According to George Dvorsky (sentientdevelopments.com):

Condorcet advocated for a liberal economy, free and equal public education and constitutionalism. He also advocated for the primary of reason as the way to liberate humanity from the church, authoritarianism, and nature. ¶ He was a brilliant mathematician and political scientist; he forged the two disciplines together and became the first person in history to effectively use mathematical principles to study social science.

I say: A liberal economy is only for the liberals! I say No to free education as it encourages the job mentality: Go get an education, then go look for a job. Employment education is at the expense of entrepreneurship, of self-reliance. And: Liberating humanity from the church is the height of man's conceit.

Right now, they're using mathematics to study society – in the Philippines, they call it Pulse Asia or Social Weather Stations. So why doesn't the President simply eliminate the entire presidential cabinet and put on call Pulse Asia and/or Social Weather Stations before GMA makes a decision to get on with the affairs of the State? That goes with Congress; that goes with the Supreme Court. Society can be measured in statistical terms – if you want to limit the measurement.

(19). John Willard Marriott. Highly successful hotel magnate, who considered his associates 'the secret of his company's success' (marriott.com). He constantly reminded his managers: 'Take care of your employees and they'll take care of your customers.' Francis Laurel of YKK Philippines told me his grandfather, President Jose P Laurel had only one advice to his son, Francis' father, when he went into business years ago: 'Take good care of your people.'

(20). Roddy McDowall. British actor and photographer, he was 'much loved by old and new stars alike' in Hollywood; he was famous 'for his kindness, generosity and loyalty' so that 'friends could tell McDowall any secret and be sure of its safety' (Hal Erickson, amctv.com). Would you like to try me with your secrets?

(21). Cardinal Joseph Caspar Mezzofanti. He was master of 50 languages. He is the one who told a traveler from Holland (how-to-learn-any-language.com):

Sir, when first the day my eyes were cast upon your beautiful address, I was quite enraptured by your great kindness. It so raised up my mind and heart, that, although master of fifty languages, my tongue remained speechless – But lest I should seem an ingrate, I beg you just to read my heart.

The language of the tongue is not as important as the language of the heart.

(22). Stirling Moss. He is considered 'the greatest driver never to win the title' (Formula 1) (Alan Baldwin, published in stirlingmoss.com). He lost the 1958 title to Mike Hawthorn after he asked that his rival be reinstated and 'gave evidence on Mike's behalf and said no way should he have been disqualified.' Winning is everything – to the real winner.

(23). Frank O'Connor. Irish-American short-story writer who wrote differently – that is, creatively – he wanted his individual expression within a traditional sense of his community. He lamented that 'the short story remains by its very nature remote from the community – romantic, individualistic' (frankoconnor.ucc.ie). Most short story writers write for their friends, or for themselves only.

(24). Samuel Prout, English water-color painter. When he went to London in 1803 (1911encyclopedia.org):

A new scene of activity opened up before Prout. He now endeavored to correct and improve his style by the study of the works of the rising school of landscape. To gain a living he painted marine species for Paiser the printseller, received pupils, and published many drawing books for learners.

To gain a living – the artist must eat. To gain respect – the artist himself must study to become better.

(25). John Ritter. Actor and comic, he landed the role of Jack Tripper in the comedy series Three's Company and made it a hit. This was about 3 attractive girls who shared an apartment and 'fell in love with the goofy and accident-prone boy next door' (biography.com). Andy Meisler said of John's secret (nytimes.com):

Fred Astaire had it. Cary Grant had it. It is that rarest of on-screen attributes: the ability to break new ground, to grow artistically, while appearing to the public as effortlessly entertaining.

'To break new ground, to grow artistically' is to explore, to experiment, to be creative. I always do that; anybody can do that. 'While appearing to the public as effortlessly entertaining' is the tricky part, as the best writing is the hardest thing to do: you have to review, revise, reconsider, reorganize, restructure 5 times or more. I always do.

(26). Rita Rudner. Stand-up comic, 'known for her hilarious wit and clever, quotable one-liners (pbs.org): 'I know I want to have children while my parents are still young enough to take care of them.' 'I love being married – it's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.' Las Vegas Online Entertainment Guide says, 'Rita Rudner has a secret weapon – a lethal wit wrapped up in a soft-spoken delivery – and she knows how to use it' (lvol.com). I do a Rita Rudner once in a while, so watch out.

(27). Albertine Sarrazin. Born in Algiers, adopted by French parents, a novelist; her troubled early life 'led her into teenage rebellion and delinquency' (answers.com). She spent 9 years in prison and had 2 years of literary celebrity before her early death. Her first novel is about flight from prison; her second is about life in prison and planned escapes. Her 3rd novel is about 'not being in prison, a subject she found harder to handle.' She can't handle freedom; she's confined to rules. Rules are made for managers, not artists.

(28). Owen Seaman. Poet and Editor, Punch. Here are 2 stanzas from his poem, 'Pro Patria' (english.emory.edu):

And we, whose burden is to watch and wait –
High-hearted ever, strong in faith and prayer,
We ask what offering we may consecrate,
What humble service share.

I say: If it's not humble, it's not service, it's not shared.

To steel our souls against the lust of ease;
To find our welfare in the common good;
To hold together, merging all degrees
In one wide brotherhood.

'To find our welfare in the common good' – unfortunately, we always try 'to find our welfare' and stop short of 'the common good.' Our brotherhood is indeed wide – as wide as our mouth. :)

(29). Bryan Singer. American 'sci-fi mega-director' who so loves his sci-fi genre he is starting his own sci-fi web series (Meredith Woerner, io9.com). He 'has built his reputation on making films that are essentially lengthy, verbally dexterous flirtations with the darker side of human nature' (Rebecca Flint Marx, moviefone.com).

Frank A Hilario: 'For I so love the word that I give my begotten blog, so that all who may believe in it shall have a lasting laugh or two.'

I also write lengthily; sometimes I also verbally and dexterously flirt with human nature, but never the darker side. I always wear rose-colored glasses, that's why.

Otherwise, let me just say I'm both a sentimental and an experimental fool. And I won't stop – I enjoy what I'm doing.

(30). Ben Turpin. American comic, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Curiously, his birthdate given is usually 17 September, 'but various years ranging from 1869 to 1874 are listed in various sources and claimed by Turpin himself at various times' (knowledgerush.com). Kindred spirits, I say. I have 2 birthdays myself, 11 November 1939 and 17 September 1940, and I claim one or the other depending on who wants to know? The first one my father Lakay Disiong gave me officially; the second one my mother Baket Satur gave me truly. My father delivered an affidavit to Mrs Bautista that I was older than I was so that I would qualify to enter her Grade 1 class. My mother delivered me.

(31). Virgilio Barco Vargas. As President of Colombia, he tried to reason with the guerrillas. 'For 3 decades, rebels of various left-wing hues have contributed richly to Colombia's chaos' (encyclopedia.com). He was 'The President with the biggest war on drugs' (Joseph B Treaster, nytimes.com). He was fighting war with war. That is no way to peace. You can't defeat the drugs menace by eliminating the pushers; you can only do that by eliminating the drug users, all of them. I like the slogan of the old World Wildlife Fund: 'When the buying stops, the killing will too.' When the drug buying stops, the drug selling will too.

I was searching for info on Barco when the pop-up ad for me to 'Join Philippine's largest online survey community' came into view – Planet Pulse. That set me to thinking about Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations, those who think they can get to know what 57 million adult Filipinos are thinking by canvassing the opinion of 5789 respondents, using the telephone and now, maybe the cellphone.

Now, Planet Pulse will 'make it count' – and maybe make Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations look like the Flintstones – by asking people online, and that would be, say, 1,234,567 mouse clicks received in 15 minutes and not only 5789 mouths listened to in 15 days. May I remind Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations that the Age of Information has been right here right now for the last 20 years? Those two talk about bringing information to the public; now, talk about being left behind 20 years by information technology! PA and SWS are already extinct as dinosaurs and they don't realize it yet.

No, I didn't join Planet Pulse – I don't believe in such surveys. I am the one whose article the magazine
Mr & Ms published years ago with the title (mine), 'Pollstergeists don't scare me, I'm afraid.' I'm afraid I have forgotten the date.

(32). William Carlos Williams. Poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, doctor. Experimenting with techniques of meter and line, 'Williams sought to invent an entirely fresh – and singularly American – poetic, whose subject matter was centered on the everyday circumstances of life and the lives of the common people' (poets.org). That's what I have been trying to do with my writing since 2006 at least. My problem is that of all people I know, I'm not common!

(33). Hank Williams Sr. American songwriter and singer, 'he brought country music into the modern era, and his influence spilled over into the folk and rock arenas as well,' including and 'especially the aura of emotional forthrightness and bruised idealism' (rockhall.com). I write like that myself, if not in songs. I am forthright, I am idealistic, and I do get bruised.

Among other compositions, Hank Williams Sr wrote and sang 'Your Cheatin' Heart' and 'Cold, Cold Heart.' And what do they say? 'New fans of his music have asked why could he put so much of his life into his songs?' (voanews.cn). Then the fans in Voice of America answer their own question: 'There is no easy answer to that question.'

Ah, but there is: Hank Williams Sr was true to himself. He made himself transparent in his songs. He wrote as he thought; he composed as he discerned; he sang as he felt. His songs were all Hank Williams Sr, nobody else.

So, my advice to writers: Yes, an excellent way to creative writing is to be true to oneself first.

And my advice to birthday celebrants: Be yourself and, along with that, be sure to count your blessings, party with your blessings. Careful now; if you can count your blessings on the fingers of only one hand, you don't know how to count!

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