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Scarlet Letters, Once More Without Malice

Nathaniel Hawthorne was once a political appointee. He worked at Salem Custom House, Massachusetts, USA, from 1846 to 1849.

Political climate change eventually hit him, and he was devastated when he lost his job. Six weeks after he was fired, his mother died. Advised by a friend to put all his heartaches into the written word, he published, in 1850, The Scarlet Letter, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The book, categorized as historical fiction, catapulted him to literary prominence.

The book hardly told a story that might have reflected his own life, or at least parts of it, such as on the one where he experienced one misfortune after another.

Instead, the book was a crushing indictment of hypocrisy that gripped society of which he was part.

Hester Prynne, the key character of the novel, moved around town wearing a scarlet “A” on her dress, in much the same way that detainees today wear orange t-shirts. She was being publicly humuliated for giving birth to a child of unknown paternity, adultery being illegal at the time when, and in a place where, the story was told.

Hester tried all she could to keep the identity of her child’s father a secret. Towards the end of the story, however, in a plot that could have inspired Jose Rizal’s caricature of Father Damaso in Noli Me Tangere, guilt-stricken Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the local pastor, would come forward as the heretofore anonymous biological father of the child.

Hawthorne did not say in his novel what the letter “A” meant. But the characters, as well as the general public that was portrayed in the story, have assumed it to mean as “adultery.”

Today, from Salem to the West Philippine Sea, there are letters that continue to put us to shame, although some are far less malicious than others. I review them below.

A and M & M

In many cultures, adultery, as a crime, applies only to women, oftentimes married women. But men who are partners in crime, as it were, should be equally guilty (that’s how Dimmesdale felt). And by some tragic coincidence, at least one Catholic Priest, in fact, has been murdered for being a willing partner of not one, but quite a number, of women, if Rodrigo Duterte and his Mahiwagang Matrix is to be believed.

Using government resources and exposing the coward that he definitely is not, Duterte went on to shame the dead. (Unlettered boxers know the rules of warfare better: they do not hit the opponent who is down, much less dead.)

A, A Joke

I, among many, started this joke by taking this swashbuckling showman too seriously. He got my vote. Didn’t know that the joke was on me.

Reminded of his bravado to invade Spratlys on a jet ski, he quipped: “Joke lang yon… Naniwala pala kayo.”

But not all should be lost. People are dying. Hopefully the whole world might soon start living.

There is more by which we can enjoy this ride. Examples:

1) We profess our love for the native land. But we also flirt with neighbors in a way that compromises our capacity for serving national interests.

 

2) Where there is robbery, we see barter.

3) Where there is treason, we notice nothing.

4) When foreign loans with relatively high opportunity costs are in the bag, we do not mind because, as Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia puts it: “we need more friends.”

With friendship as basis for defining national interests, how can we go wrong? More Bee Gees, please.

M & M, Again

If taking too much liberty with tasteless banter is a disease, then Malacanang is sick.

It ceased decades ago to be an entertaining sight, to say the least. Malacanang, in fact, is Metastisizing.

“We enjoyed it,” the lip-locking master, with a triumphant voice, defended his actions, as if there was a need for it. The woman enjoyed it. The crowd erupted in an orgiastic show of approval. So who are we to put more meaning than there could have been to it?

“You know, I’ll tell you what… during the campaign in my mayorship days, I kissed every woman there, lips to lips,” he explained.

“Done without malice,” Harry Roque, the Presidential Microphone, assured the public.

Did he mean to suggest some kisses can be malicious? But a kiss is a kiss is a kiss! “Le seul vrai langage au monde est un baiser,” says the French poet Alfred de Musset. The only true language in the world is a kiss. Let neither pauper nor king demean its splendor.

A kiss, says Andréa Demirjian, author of “Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about One of Life’s Sweetest Pleasures,”can be so many things: sweet, loving, awkward, intense, transporting, disappointing, boring, sublime, life altering… Kissing not only feels good, it’s also good for you. It relieves stress and releases epinephrine into your blood, making it pump faster, which may result in a reduction of LDL cholesterol. A kiss a day can keep the doctor away, she advises.

Now we know why Duterte (and everyone else upon whom the lives of many depended) should do well to get daily doses of smackeroo.

For something that is divine, only kill joys can see malice in it.

On second thought, was Roque wary of a cobra kiss that kills, or of a Judas kiss that gives away principalities in the service of another? This could go as far as to remember Helen of Troy who, according to tsismis, got entangled in a 1-minute kiss that led to a 7-year war.

Shades of “what-are-we-in-power-for” kind of entitlement? “Nonesense,” we can almost hear Salvador Panelo, the Presidential Counsel, chiming in. Really, he seemed to be saying, people should not think idly, like what tambays do. The great kiss was something great grandfathers often do with their great grandchildren. Cute, I would say.

F, Under Seige

PNP reported that hundreds of priests have applied for permit to carry handguns outside of their residences.

Like me, they are men of little faith. Fear for them has overshadowed their faith; in a way, fear has become their God.

That’s what happens when priests break their vows. They fear leaving offsprings behind, fending for themselves. They fear leaving their treasures behind, and the promise of worldly pleasures they bring.

OP, Now OPI

It used to the called Office of the President. Now it is called Office of PI.

Duterte said The Kiss was nothing more than a showbiz thing. Like superstars who have seen brighter days in their lives, he needed a spark to get people’s attention, with hopes of herding them back to watch his movie. Kiss In Korea? No, the title of the film could have been Pelting With The Rock.

There is nothing new in Duterte calling for the demise of the Church founded on Peter (the original General Bato). Prominent leaders, both in old and modern times, especially those who felt capable of serious thought and powerful enough to control followers, have, at varying degrees of failure, tried to debase the Catholic Church. What seems to be new here is use of public funds to wage his war against the hierarchy of that Church, whose followers are now probably confused, feeling like they are torn between two lovers.

UP, Rebranded

The guess is that the Eskolar ng Bayan are UP in arms–or dicks–against the one with Utak Pulbura, levelling their guns at the otherwise adorable face. The source of “kung hindi ngayon, kelan…” protests is at it again, now rebranding itself as the Urinal of the Philippines.