Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One thousand pesos for free

Paging the owner of a lost 1000-peso bill. Repeat, the owner of a lost 1000-peso bill. Your money has been found in the plants beside the parking lot of The Walk, Asiatown IT Park, Cebu City.

Your money has been found.

Thanks a lot!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Do they even know what they're talking about

A few thoughts on the move to change the Philippine constitution, and yesterday's much-ballyhooed protest against it.

1. No one wants term extensions

First of all, they're saying that they oppose moves to amend the constitution because they are against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo extending her term in office. "I don't want Cha-Cha because it would prolong her stay in power," said Necitas Feliciano, a 59-year-old garment worker. "We want elections in 2010 so that we can get her out."

This may come as a shock to the people in the streets yesterday, but no one is promoting the term extension that they're protesting. Not the President, not the Vice-President, not the Senate, not the House of Representatives.

President Arroyo has repeatedly and consistently said she will block any moves from her allies to extend her term. No one in congress is even seriously considering the proposal. I hesitate to even call it a proposal because no one is proposing it.

Of course, you can always baselessly accuse people of having a hidden agenda, but then how can anyone get anything done at all? This is all scare tactics. They said the same thing about Erap. They said the same thing about Ramos. They said the same thing about Cory.

2. Those acronyms are horrible

Years of dumbing things down with acronyms like "cha-cha", "con-con", "con-ass", "no-el" trivializes democracy. It's like they deliberately contracted in that manner to make it deprecating. They put labels on things then talk about them so much that people forget what they mean. Now people permanently associate "cha-cha" with extending term limits, which is just silly.

3. Not every constitution is sacred

They pretend like the constitution is something that descended from the heavens and served our republic for a century, rather than whipped up in a few months by a constitutional convention in 1986. The reality is that the constitution does have problems that hold us back.

Here's a fun fact: Every Philippine president in the past 40 years has tried to overhaul the constitution.

4. Shutting down Makati wasn't necessary

The rally that shut down the arteries of the Makati central business district yesterday attracted just 6,500 people. Just how many people does it take to close down Makati Avenue and Paseo de Roxas anyway? This rally could have been held indoors.

Here's a prudent quote from Lyndon B. Johnson: We must preserve the right to free assembly, but free assembly does not carry with it the right to block public thoroughfares to traffic. We do have a right to protest, and a right to march under conditions that do not infringe the constitutional rights of our neighbors.

It's not so much that I'm a big fan of the Arroyo administration. To be honest I don't even think overhauling the constitution is a good idea. But when the weapon-of-choice is stupidity I feel obliged to come to the defense.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

How can Manny top this?

This wasn't a fight that Manny Pacquiao was supposed to win. This was supposed to be the ridiculous dream fight so mismatched that he could go down in a loss and no one would think the less of him for it.

But after eight lopsided rounds, a beaten and battered Oscar de la Hoya threw in the towel.

And Manny made it look so easy.

Next he should fight, like, two people at a time. Oscar de la Hoya plus a midget. Just to throw in a bit more excitement. I mean, after Oscar de la Hoya... how can he possibly top that?

Favorite quote:

"It's nothing personal," Pacquiao said after the fight. "It's not about Mexicans and Filipinos. It's about putting on a performance and making people happy. It is not my ambition to beat all Mexicans. I love Mexicans too."

What a guy.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Obama snubbed the Philippines? Please.

Excuse me for being an entire month late in throwing my two cents into this issue, but the story that Barack Obama supposedly snubbed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is sounding more and more ridiculous with each passing day, which is doubly infuriating because I'm totally aware that I'm the only one still paying any attention. Despite the fact that this falsehood has ceased to be a ripe issue and has tragically lapsed into the realm of conventional wisdom, allow me a moment to sort out the facts as a sort of token honoris causa to sanity.

So here's the premise: Following the presidential elections in America last November 4, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, along with every other world leader who isn't a total dick, makes a phone call to Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next President of the United States. And like every other person who had just been elected President of the United States at the time, he was a tad too busy to take phone calls at three in the morning, even if it was the leaders of every other country in the world at the other end of the line.

Apparently in the thin-skinned bizzaro world of the Philippine opposition this amounts to a snub.

Two days later Obama got around to the first batch of around 10 return calls to world leaders who congratulated him, and much to the delight of cynics the Philippines was not one of those lucky chosen few. This is apparently enough to conclude that "Snubs show Obama is no RP friend" and plaster that statement as the headline of some front page analysis.

Now it's worth mentioning the sort of nonsense Amando Doronila put into this particular linked article because it reflects the baloney that people on that side of the bridge trick themselves and the casual public into believing. He said the Philippines is not on Obama's radar, he says it's a speck on his map, he calls our leaders humiliated, and he conjures up a story about Obama's staff not knowing where the Philippines is. He implies that Obama will never give a return call, calls the Philippines a sidelined leper, and then closes by saying, this is a quote, "Obama is not our friend". It's unclear whether Doronila is being maliciously crooked or merely an affable naive old man.

But what the cynics don't realize (or pretend not to notice)-- and amazingly I have yet to see a single person point this out-- was that the countries Obama returned calls to that week were basically the members of the G8 plus America's southern neighbor Mexico and their best-friend-down-under Australia and their Middle-East-mistress Israel.

Let's be real. Those that demand or expect the Philippines should be included in that top tier of countries Obama makes return calls to are either extremely presumptuous or simply don't have a clue.

In fact, Arroyo did get a return call from Obama on November 17, making her the first Southeast Asian leader to get such a call, a fact which would make a lot of Filipinos feel all fuzzy inside had only someone bothered to point it out aside from myself several weeks after the fact. The only other Southeast Asian leader Obama has called up is Indonesia's president on November 24. Does this make Malaysia and Singapore lepers too, or does Obama get the benefit of the doubt this time?

Other people who Obama has returned calls to in the weeks after he called Arroyo are the leaders of Argentina, Chile, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Haiti, Afghanistan, the Palestinian Authority, the European Commission, and United Nations. Just yesterday he made calls to the leaders of Denmark, Greece, Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, and the Netherlands.

Anyone who was spreading intrigue or prematurely declaring a new dark age of Philippine-American relations needs a good kick in the ass from the boot of perspective.

Unfortunately it's the cynics that have won this round, not by being correct (clearly) but by barking the loudest at a time when people gave a damn and couldn't know any better. They've succeeded at their goal of undermining respect for the government and making people feel just a little bit worse about their country and the people in charge of it. So who, really, is no friend of the Philippines?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Beware of Sign

This was in Greenbelt 3 in Makati, circa 2005, at an escalator connecting the second and third floors.

Either the most brainless or most brilliant thing I've ever seen.

The sign has since been removed. Pity.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Every day is opposite day in Thailand

I'm having a hard time figuring out Thailand these days.

Correct me if any of this is wrong. I sure hope some of it is, because it hardly makes any sense.

On Tuesday, the ironically named People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which neither represents the majority of the people nor cares much for upholding democratic values, lead a mob of protesters that swarmed and shut down Bangkok's international airport-- one of the world's busiest transport hubs, with 90,000 passengers daily.

Their goal? To cause as much chaos as possible to force the democratically elected government to step down, and install some sort of new system that limits the electoral power of poorer rural voters. This new system is needed, of course, because if they merely succeeded at toppling the government it would just get re-elected at the next possible chance.

This PAD already accomplished the task it was created for in 2006, when a military coup toppled the beloved legitimate Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It re-established and repurposed itself when Thaksin's allies won a resounding victory in the first post-coup election.

Now aiming to purge the government of all traces of influence of the deposed Thaksin, PAD stormed into government offices in August and have remained there since, forcing the government to administer things while moving from one place to another.

And now, no longer content with merely shooting themselves in the foot, Bangkok Thais have moved on to shutting down their country's main international gateway, damaging Thailand's reputation and economy beyond foreseeable repair. Economic prospects are bleak, foreign investors are repelled, and obviously tourists don't want to have to deal with all this shit.

Meanwhile, at the airport, the middle-class mob is unable to see the menace that they themselves are creating by holding their country hostage. One PAD executive continued to blame Thaksin who is "willing to destroy the country". He also said "we don't want to inconvenience people", and, as if the PAD has no role in it, said "I'm really worried that the violence will increase".

Is... Is this what they actually believe?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Filipino Zone

Greenbelt 5 in Makati City is, if my memory serves me correctly, the highest of all high-end shopping malls I have ever been to.

I wandered into the place to see what's new in Manila when I was there two weeks ago (being invited to two Manila weddings conveniently scheduled on consecutive Saturdays is a great excuse to take a weeklong vacation).

It felt like I should have paid an entrance fee just for setting foot on this place, besmirching their floor tiles with my commoner shoes and breathing their air into my lungs.

Being a relatively new place, a lot of the retail places weren't open yet and there were barely any people, compounding the creepy feeling that I had this billion-peso mall all to myself.

Maybe you can't tell from this picture, but this place is crazy extravagant. Handbags that cost as much as a house. Shoe stores you could mistake for art galleries. The people who are capable of shopping here are people of a world I do not know.

It's extravagance that seems, perhaps, socially sinful. And it takes a lot for me to get to thinking like that. It's amazing, but doesn't feel right. Like Dubai, whose economy is based on building crazy stuff for the purpose of making no sense at all. What kind of people come to these shops to actually buy stuff?

And then I saw this:

Oh, ok. The Filipino Zone. It's downstairs.

That's when I knew, for sure, that this is not the place where I belong.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cebu vs. Cebu: Cebu loses

"Come on chicken, let's play chicken... Come on chicken, are you chicken... taktaktaktak," said Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, wearing a black cape and cowboy hat and holding a figurine of a rooster, mocking Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña. The costume was a reference to "Tandang Zorra", a mocking nickname Osmeña had given her. "This Tandang Zorra would like to ask the chicken (Osmeña) what is the real deal in the Filinvest deal."

So goes yet another chapter in the story of one of the most pointless feuds in the universe: The feud between the local government units of Cebu Province and Cebu City.

Let this be the point where it crossed from merely ridiculous to I-just-can't-believe-this-shit.

Given the gleefully irresponsible Philippine media, it's hard to tell how much of this feud is real and how much is simply imaginary. I mean, how can this be real-- two elected officials, responsible for millions, acting like such babies. Then again, given the frequency and persistence of the reports it's undeniable that at least some animosity exists.

It's like the left hand fighting with the right-- nothing gets done. I'd bet most people are not even aware that the city government is independent from the provincial government. The pointlessness of these inflammatory theatrics is mind-boggling. Fight fire with fire, and this whole island will burn.

I could write a long post collecting evidence and examining, point for point, why this rivalry is as stupid and destructive as it is. But what's the point? If Tommy and Gwen can't see with their own eyes how stupid they're being, the power of logic would hardly be enough to pierce their thick skulls.

What the hell is wrong with you guys. You're acting like goddamn children. Filipinos deserve better.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Worst Comic Strip in the World

Holy shit.

Divine Comedy should be studied in universities as the antithesis of humor. It not only dwells in the unfunny, but actually drills into negative territory and reaches antifunny, sucking joy from of the hearts of those unfortunate enough to encounter it.

Today's strip sinks to a new depth. Just look at it.

In the last panel is a Ku Klux Klan guy saying he's moving to Africa.

Divine Comedy by Steven Pabalinas appears Mondays to Saturdays in, yes, the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Worst Headline in the World

"Black in White House"

Congratulations, Philippine Daily Inquirer. This is the worst headline in the world.

It was embarrassing enough the first time they did it in January.

Every newspaper in the universe saying the same thing on their front page headline. Is there a single one out there to pull it off with less refinement? Please, I could use the laugh.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Michael Crichton, 66

I read my first real novel, Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, when I was a wee eight year old.

Watching a great movie at that age can have that kind of effect. And don't let the dinosaurs fool you, this is no kids book-- this is a hardcore 400-page grownups book. Sure, some of the other good kids had their own head start on reading at the time, with their Boxcar Children and their Goosebumps. But when you're in third grade and reading Michael Crichton... man, that's not just pulling ahead of the pack, that's playing a different sport.

Crichton was a physician with a degree from Harvard Medical School, and his intelligence shines through in his work. His writing style combines his knowledge of science with a knack for brewing suspense, blending page-turning entertainment with a scientific seminar-- and blurring the line between science and fiction while he's at it. Manchildren everywhere still believe that we can clone dinosaurs using the blood of mosquitoes preserved in tree sap (and I'm still holding out hope).

I reread Jurassic Park at least three times over the years, including once to write my high school senior term paper analyzing it. Maybe there's just something about being eight years old that leaves one vulnerable to lasting impressions-- among my favorite movies are The Lion King, Forrest Gump, and yes, Jurassic Park-- and there's a good chance that Jurassic Park also may just be my favorite book ever.

In love with reading but wary of other authors, I read other Crichton books-- Sphere, Congo, The Lost World, Andromeda Strain-- all brilliant techno-thrillers (and all adapted into less memorable movies). His more recent books-- Airframe, Timeline, Prey-- have been less magical, but still good in their own right.

I did not read State of Fear, which the news reports tell me is a thinly veiled and poorly constructed pseudoscientific farce. Disillusioned by the news, I never got around to reading his most recent book, Next.

And then just yesterday, buried under the avalanche of Obama victory news, was an announcement that Michael Crichton has died of cancer at the age 66. Very unexpectedly, at least to me! Did anyone know that he was sick? Did anyone even know that he was that old? I could hardly believe the news.

I haven't experienced any other books from authors with quite the same talent that he had, to blend scientific research with thrilling cinematic images and a compelling story. He's done his part to expand minds to the possibilities of science and potential dangers of technology, and he's left us with the ability to imagine dinosaurs roaming the earth, leaving all of us grown up kids to carry on his memory in our dinosaur dreams.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The American Election: Winners and Losers

An election unlike any other. I'm not gonna go hunting for the figures, but it was longer and more expensive and more awesome than any election that came before it. That is a mathematical fact! Made awesomer because America actually elected the right man to be President.

Here are the top 5 winners and the top 5 losers of this year's historic American election.


5. Substance
Taxes. Health care. Iraq. Education. Energy. Environment. Social security. Sure there was a lot of silliness that stands out in our memories, as there always is with an election, but both candidates had detailed policy stands and there was a lot of pressure to keep everyone sticking to the issues that matter. Including the Democratic and Republican primary season, there was an amazing total of 50 presidential debates. Fifty! You just can't have people meeting up that many times without gathering a wealth of substance to base your decisions on.

4. Diversity
One of the reasons this election was so fascinating was how colorful the lineup was. First African American president? First female vice president? First Catholic vice president? First really really old president? And, of course, Hillary Clinton went far further than anyone before her towards shattering that ultimate glass ceiling. The most remarkable thing of all is how these breakthrough candidates managed to reduce gender and race to a mere afterthought.

3. The world
It's no secret who the rest of the world wants to be America's next president. They want someone who doesn't divide the world into good and evil, does realize that the world is complex, doesn't turn to war as a first option, and talks about non-Americans with deserved dignity. Restoring America's respect in the world was a significant campaign issue. Plus, the largest campaign stop of the year was a crowd of 200,000-- in Berlin.

2. Barack Obama
In the end it was the most unlikely of candidates who emerged triumphant. Born in America's youngest state to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, spent four years of his youth in Indonesia, served three terms in the Illinois Senate, one term in the United States Senate, ran an incredible campaign, and will now spend the next four years getting America back on track as President of the United States.

1. America
Let's face it, the America that emerged after 9/11 was a monumental disappointment. It was more xenophobic, hostile, cynical, and stupid. But America is emerging the big winner in this election because they've picked the right man to turn that all around. It's an end of rushing to war based on spotty intelligence, an end to legalized torture, an end to bending the constitution for political gain. All thanks to the awakening of that unruly animal, American democracy. Has it ever been more alive?


5. Partisanship
Fed up with the fighting and hyperpartisanship of the past eight years, both major parties nominated senators known for their bipartisan appeal. This is not a collection of red states and blue states, this is the United States of America.

4. Cynicism
McCain can rightfully say that he has split from Bush on policies, but what they do have in common is a culture of cynicism. A skeptical, scornful, pessimistic attitude that was nurtured by and prevailed throughout Bush's presidency-- leaving America with a chronic lack of trust in their government. A central theme (the central theme?) of Obama's campaign was the promise of a leap beyond the hostility caused by Bush-- never to use faith as a wedge to divide, never to claim a monopoly on patriotism. That's the change America wanted. Change we can believe in.

3. Conventional wisdom
Who knew that a woman and a black man would be the last ones standing in a field of white male Democratic candidates? That having Bill Clinton active on Hillary's campaign trail would do more harm than good? That a town hall format debate would result in John McCain's weakest performance? That foreign policy would be buried under other priorities at a time that the US is waging two wars? The one rule to rely on in this contest is to make no assumptions.

2. John McCain
The independent-minded hawk that ran for president eight years ago was not the same candidate that showed up for the 2008 general election season. He took a gamble of pleasing the conservative wing at the cost of alienating independent voters, and it did not pay off. Not only did John McCain lose the election, he lost the maverick luster he had before getting the nomination.

1. George W. Bush
With his approval rating wallowing in the mid-20s, Bush spent the past week in hiding, and has had just one public event with his party's nominee since March. His reputation is so darkly stained that the mere suggestion that a candidate is Bush-like is instantly recognized as an attack. After all, who'd want to be associated with the man credited for two wars gone bad, a crumbling economy, a nationwide loss of faith in the government, and a worldwide loss of faith in America? Nobody, that's who. Bush's legacy is sealed. Goodbye and good riddance.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

That Marcos guy was really something

It's always insightful to take a look at the past through a thick lens of perspective.

Ferdinand Marcos has been demonized endlessly, pretty much to the point that he's our very own Philippine equivalent of Hitler. Call it Mike's Corollary to Godwin's Law: Get into a Philippine political discussion, and sooner or later someone's going to make a comparison to Marcos. It's the kind of environment where you're not even to admit that the guy had an idea worth looking into.

Marcos, the first president to win reelection in the independent Republic of the Philippines, delivered his second inaugeral address at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on December 30, 1969. Despite the awkward grammar of the speech's title ("To Transform the Nation — Transform Ourselves"), it was an awesome speech with soaring rhetorical flourishes, delivered in straight English unimaginable coming from today's Filipino politicians. No mention was made of specific programs, but he spoke in broad timeless themes that resonate to the present.

The full text of the speech is available at Wikisource. I'd love to watch a video or even to hear the audio of the speech being delivered, but none seems to be available on this internet of ours.

The speech begins with a crushing damnation of his predecessor's administration:
Four years have passed since I took my first oath of office as President of the Republic of the Philippines. We have traveled far since then. On that year and hour when I first assumed the presidency, we found a government at the brink of disaster and collapse, a government that prompted fear before it inspired hope; plagued by indecision, scorned by self-doubt, its economy despoiled, its treasury plundered, its last remaining gleam shone to light the way of panic.
Now, this sounds pretty weird to modern ears. Didn't Diosdado Macapagal leave behind a relatively positive legacy? Wasn't he a modest man that managed to dodge the stain of corruption? Aren't we taught that this was the country's golden era of prosperity? Who are we supposed to trust anyway?

I have this idea that it's the muddle of politics and ambition that clouds people's judgment. It's decades of mindless partisanship that causes politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together for common sense solutions. It's not quite a lack of goodwill-- everyone wants what is best. It's a lack of focus, and a lack of perspective.

Marcos goes on to point out the destructive habit of complaining and tearing each other down:
Too long have we blamed on one another the ills of this nation. Too long have we wasted our opportunities by finding fault with each other, as if this would cure our ills and rectify our errors. Let us now banish recrimination.

There are too many of us who see things as they are and complain. let us rather see things as they should be and inspire. Let us dream the vision of what could be and not what might have been,

There are many things we do not want about our world. Let us not just mourn them. Let us change them.
Regardless of the legacy Marcos left behind, I don't know anyone who would disagree with this assessment. He was right on the money, hit the bulls eye, pinned the tail right on the donkey.

We can't say he was all too effective in reforming our culture's work-ethic though. The very reason this speech resonates to the present is because the Philippine culture is still plagued by the very same problems. On one hand you could see this as an encouraging sign that this mentality is not a problem that has actually gotten worse over the years. Then again, of course, it does not seem to have gotten better.

Marcos continues his speech in broad themes, then ties his presidency into these themes by promising a healthy dose of leadership by example, the change we need. Pretty ironic:
The presidency will set the example of this official morality and oblige others to follow. Any act of extravagance in government will be considered not only an offense to good morals but also an act punishable with dismissal from office.
It's almost poetic in it's accuracy, and Star Warsesque in it's blatant foreshadowing. Almost as if he planned his ouster from be beginning! I may be on to something here. It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. The closing line of his speech brings a tear to the eye, doesn't it:
Thus, we prove to our posterity that our dream was true that even in this land of impoverished legacy, the wave of the future is not totalitarianism but democracy.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Font We Can Believe In

As inane as a discussion on the issue of election typography may be, it's an essential part of the visual identity the campaigns have labored over to present their candidate to the public. It's everywhere, and it's going to shape people's perceptions over the next 26 days.

The centerpiece of Obama's typographical presentation is his campaign's consistent use of Gotham, a font characterized by it's use of unembellished geometric forms. Notice how the "C" is carved out of a perfect circle, and all the letters are seemingly constructed in the simplest way possible with fat straight lines.

The Gotham typeface was designed by Tobias Frere-Jones in 2000-- yes, this very decade. It's simple, elegant, makes good sense, yet only emerged eight years ago. It's new, fresh, masculine, and not at all pretentious. The fat strokes and round curves are friendly while still having a strong sense of credibility.

Obama's campaign uses this font for big bold messages like this one, and they can easily modify the message to adapt to the day's headlines. It's probably most recognized as "Change you can believe in", but the next day it could be "Judgment to lead" or "Stand for change" or whatever. Notably, whenever Obama speaks at a campaign stop the campaign puts it in front of the podium where the candidate's name would be in a typical campaign. This gives the campaign theme more emphasis than the candidate's funny name.

This is the logo that Obama was using early in the campaign, and he has had the advantage of having a great logo right out of the gate. Rather than splashing the typical tired elements of the American flag together, he has this great emblem, simple and instantly recognizable, that alludes to the sunrise emerging over a manicured cornfield. It's consistent with Obama's message of hope and sensible optimism.

The logo uses two typefaces designed by Eric Gill in the 1920s-- Perpetua for the main body, and Gill Sans for the web address. Perpetua is an elegant serif typeface that suggests formality and sophistication that's also plainspoken and down to earth, fitting for the candidate.

What's striking about the logo is that it doesn't scream vote for me, doesn't really project strength, doesn't threaten other candidates. Along with Obama's sunrise emblem, what it does say is plainly "I'm Barack Obama and I'm running for president in 2008. Think about it". As the first African American with a real shot at winning this thing, he can't afford to be viewed as an angry black man.

Sometime during the primaries earlier this year the Obama campaign shifted to Requiem, a font by the same type foundry as Gotham. It's described on the designer's website as being inspired by a sixteenth century writing manual, saying it "celebrates the fertile world of Renaissance humanism". Hmm.

The shift in font was not dramatic and casual observers may not have noticed it, but it certainly indicates a deliberate shift in the campaign's intended message.

For one, the thicker strokes and use of small caps instead of lower case lettering gives the Obama brand a more masculine appearance. Maybe a deliberate move to avoid the wimpy Kerry-Edwards logo of 2004 (and remember who won that election!). The new appearance is bolder, and with Obama thoroughly introduced to the public there is less of a risk of being seen as the threatening black man.

John McCain's campaign font of choice is Optima, a stately font that tries to establish itself as a middle ground between serif and sans-serif. Though technically classified as sans-serif, there are subtle "flares" at the ends of strokes, giving it the slightest hint of serifs.

As dignified as the Optima font normally is, McCain's brand uses a bold variant that gives off a different impression. The distinctive curves become less subtle and once I noticed the "flares" I couldn't unsee them. Notice the 'A', for instance, that curves inward at the top and bottoms. And the 'I', that has a noticable squeeze at the middle. The end effect is less classy-- and, dare I say it, less presidential-- than it should be.

The signature star emphasizes McCain's strongest selling point, his military background. Also, Optima is the font used for the names engraved into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Coincidence?

Another thing to note is that McCain has been using pretty much the same logo ever since he started his campaign-- and he's been using it through the dark ages of his campaign in mid-2007 when it was reduced to a barebones operation and seen as little more than a joke. Perhaps not as many people were paying attention to the race back then, but with his dramatic rise from the ashes early this year it was an opportunity he could have taken to overhaul his entire brand. But he didn't, and the same logo pushes forward, emotional baggage and all.

Of course, in the end all this talk and analysis of typefaces as a reflection of the candidate isn't really fair. For one, it assumes that they actually participate actively in the decision-making process that forms their campaign brand, which is almost certainly not true. But it is an element, and individual elements add up to a larger message, so it can's be discounted completely.

Would you vote for a guy that set his name in Comic Sans?

Think about it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Biden-Palin debate: These guys are good

Just finished watching the 90 minute debate betwen Joe Biden and Sarah Palin and I've got to give them a lot of credit: These guys are really good at talking the talk.

I certainly would have tuned in to the debate, popcorn at the ready, for the entertainment value of it all, hoping (and expecting!) to experience the sheer joy of a total train wreck-- especially with Biden's tendency for manic-obsessive running of the mouth and Palin's newfound reputation as an airheaded cliché dispenser. But after 1.5 hours of constant talk from these guys, I can't recall a single full-blown gaffe. Come to think of it the whole thing was kind of boring. They've been trained to utter perfection on getting their campaign's standard lines through.

I've given some job interviews myself in the past weeks and seen lesser people crash into a brick wall at even the gentlest of questions, but these two are bulldozers, smashing their way right through the questions and going on and on and on like they've been doing it their whole lives.

Another thing they're good at, I must say, is maneuvering their way around the questions they're actually asked. They can quickly dispose of the moderator's attempts to steer the direction of the debate, then go on reciting the lines they've rehearsed. Here's an example, where moderator Gwen Ifill asks them to elaborate on their weaknesses:
IFILL: The conventional wisdom, Gov. Palin with you, is that your Achilles heel is that you lack experience. Your conventional wisdom against you is that your Achilles heel is that you lack discipline, Sen. Biden. What is it really for you?

PALIN: My experience as an executive will be put to good use as a mayor and business owner and oil and gas regulator and then as governor of a huge state, a huge energy producing state that is accounting for much progress towards getting our nation energy independence and that's extremely important. But it wasn't just that experience tapped into, it was my connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom... [blah blah blah]

BIDEN: You're very kind suggesting my only Achilles Heel is my lack of discipline. Others talk about my excessive passion. I'm not going to change. I have 35 years in public office. People can judge who I am. I haven't changed in that time. And, by the way, a record of change... [blah blah blah]
Basically Gwen Ifill gave a dressed up version of the old job interview question, What's your greatest weakness? It's a question I've asked applicants before, partly to get an idea of how a person thinks of themselves, and partly because I've exhausted my creative questions and fallen back to the standards (Anyone who's serious about the interview should have an answer at the ready).

Biden gave a quick line sidestepping the moderator's question, then gets back on the issue of change and talks about the bills he wrote and the stuff that John McCain has voted against. Palin didn't give even one sentence addressing the issue of her weakness, but instead went on talking about experience as a positive. Maybe she wasn't listening, or didn't understand, or simply decided not to respond directly?

In any case, in practice these answers sounded totally natural and a casual watcher wouldn't give a second thought to them. So it caught me off guard when, after a lenghtly rhetorical spew from the candidates, Ifill said "Governor, Senator, neither of you really answered that last question about what you would do as vice president". Aside from calling them out on it that one time, she mostly let it pass.

Oh, as for who won the debate? Joe Biden had the better answers and clearly had a better grasp on the stuff they were talking about, Sarah Palin held her ground with her folksy charm offensive (2 darn rights, 2 doggone its, and 1 hockey mom), and both candidates scored points simply by not being an embarrassment.

Friday, September 26, 2008

An excess of sportsmanship

Sometimes it feels like there's just too much sportsmanship between Ateneo and La Salle, believe it or not. That is, there's too many people trying to take the high road and show how mature they can be.

Minutes after Ateneo crushed La Salle yesterday and won the UAAP basketball championship, I was reading some forum and La Salle people are all "good job guys, we lost to a great team!", and Ateneo people respond "kudos to those la sallites who know how to take a loss!". What a way to ruin a rumbling college rivalry with an undercurrent of goodwill. I want more trolling and rage! Bring out the big guns and fireworks guys-- you just won, it's time to rub it in their faces!

Ok ok, civility and respect is important in real life. But if we're gonna get along, there's gotta be a way to channel our natural human bloodlust into something meaningless. Sports is that outlet to let our raw human instincts run wild. Beating the crap out of someone in basketball is our modern metaphor for beating the crap out of them in real life.

That's what makes this picture so awesome. It's been sitting around on my hard drive(s) since 2002, the last time Ateneo won the championship over La Salle. At the close of Game 1 of the finals, after two potentially game-winning buzzer beaters by Mac Mac Cardona are blocked by Larry Fonacier, Wesley Gonzales comes along to complete the tableau:

Wahaha! That's right, take it, bitch!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jeepney kid

The jeepney conductor on my ride home from work today was a young kid. Maybe he was 10.

Is conductor the right word? I'm talking about the guy that hangs off the back end of the jeepney and performs various redundant tasks that are just a small step up from useless. Sometimes he sits inside the jeepney instead, and you can usually tell him apart from the passengers because his clothes are ragged and his fingernails are caked with dirt.

He collects the jeepney fare and gives back change, a task often done by the driver himself.

He yells the jeepney route at pedestrians on the roadside, duplicating the function of the paint on the jeepney's front and side.

He also tells passengers to compress themselves when the jeepney gets filled to capacity, duplicating the role normally performed by common sense.

Back in Negros they don't even have these guys hanging off the back of the jeepneys, if I recall correctly. They're not necessary. And Dumaguete's people are far too gentle to employ people to shout at bystanders. In any case, they're all over the place in Cebu.

Anyway. I don't really mind these jeepney guys much... The job is a dead end, and the role they fulfill hardly registers a blip on the radar, but a blip is better than a bum on the sidewalk. But the kid hanging off the back of the jeep was probably around 10 years old, far too young an age for a kid to be working in any capacity. It's kind of interesting to watch, like a talking parrot or a dog standing on it's hind legs. But shouldn't he be in school or something? Is he going to have a future? Or is this his future?

It does put a dent into the belief in better days ahead.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Google's creeping ownership of my internet

I just realized how far-reaching Google's control over my internet is.

They handle my email, my feed reader, and my blog which you are reading this very moment (plus the ads I put on it and the service for tracking visitor statistics).

Thanks to YouTube they provide me with pretty much all the videos out there. With their search engine, of course, they're my portal to the rest of the internet. 

And now they have my browser.

I feel like a person that just looked into a mirror for the first time in a long time and realized how fat I've become. And I know I should go on a diet, change my lifestyle. But the strawberry milkshakes are so damn good.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Here's my latest act of vanity:

Modeled after the "Change" poster by Shepard Fairey.

This image will come in handy for my campaign poster when I run for president. Or my t-shirt design when I become an idolized communist guerrilla fighter.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A disgusting performance by Recah Trinidad

If you've been following my entries you'll know I have little love for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, but I was stunned by the utter backwardness of the piece I came across just today.

"Team Philippines: Who’s the biggest flop of all?", written by Recah Trinidad.

The whole direction of the editorial is to make the Filipino Olympic athletes currently competing in Beijing look like bumbling incompetents falling over themselves. He refers to "dismal Philippine failures", and asks "who's the dumbest among the early Filipino losers".

He stupidly calls swimmer Miguel Molina "mediocre" and "lucky he did not drown", apparently because he performed 32/100 of a second off of his own Philippine record in the 200m breaststroke.

He stupidly faults our 17 year old wildcard entry in weightlifting, Hidilyn Diaz, because beating her own personal best apparently didn't lift her above 11th place.

He stupidly chides long jumper Henry Dagmil for not making the Olympic qualifying mark "despite repeated tries", as if jumping 8.05 meters is something that could be expected from anyone.

The lack of medals is obviously disappointing to the public, but to paint our Olympians as losers? What mindboggling disrespect! How many medals have you won? Who the hell do you think you are? Let me tell you: You're a discredited fringe bigot peddling a piece of garbage article with no other intent than to humiliate the athletes representing the country we love.

The sheer idiocy of this jackass speaks for itself. I mean, even though I often disagree with The Inquirer's slant, how could this imbecile have slipped into the ranks of their columnists? If it were up to me I'd fire him on the spot.

Absolutely shameful, Recah. Just sickening.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Philippines at the 2008 Summer Olympics

The 2008 Beijing Olympics officially opens today, with an opening ceremony that promises to be the incredibly magificent spectacle that only the might of a billion-people-strong communist giant can give. Just look at that beautiful monstrosity that is their Olympic Stadium... Look at it!

It's screaming "OMG China is awesome".

The Philippines has 15 competitors this time around, which seemed a shockingly small number until I realized it's only one less than the delegation to Athens in 2004. They'll be competing in 17 events across 8 sports.
  • Mark Javier (Archery - Men's individual)
  • Henry Dagmil (Athletics - Men's long jump)
  • Marestella Torres (Athletics - Women's long jump)
  • Harry Tañamor (Boxing - Light flyweight)
  • Rexel Ryan Fabriga (Diving - Men's 10m platform)
  • Sheila Mae Perez (Diving - Women's 3m springboard)
  • Eric Ang (Shooting - Trap)
  • Miguel Molina (Swimming - Men's 200m individual; 200m breaststroke)
  • James Walsh (Swimming - Men's 200m butterfly)
  • Ryan Arabejo (Swimming - Men's 1500m freestyle)
  • Daniel Coakley (Swimming - Men's 50m freestyle)
  • Christel Simms (Swimming - Women's 50m freestyle; 100m freestyle)
  • Tshomlee Go (Taekwondo - Men's 58 kg class)
  • Mary Antoinette Rivero (Taekwondo - Women's 67kg class)
  • Hidilyn Diaz (Weightlifting - Women's 58kg class)
Only one boxer? I thought that was our forte. Anyway, we've got one boney-faced guy competing in the light flyweight class, and Sports Illustrated apparently predicted him to actually win a silver, so he must really be something.

Our Manny Pacquiao will be carrying the flag in the opening ceremonies, though not competing in any event.

The Inquirer had a nice article briefly profiling the athletes individually, summing up their past performances and achievements. They also give a quick forecast on each one's medal chances, saying that 11 of them have "almost zero chance" of winning a medal in Beijing. Pretty demoralizing, though brutally honest. They gave Eric Ang (Shooting) and Tshomlee Go (Taekwondo) some hopes of winning a medal, and Harry Tañamor (Boxing) and Mary Antoinette Rivero (Taekwondo) good chances of winning a medal.

There are a total of around 10,500 athletes competing in 302 events in Beijing. That adds up to about 1 medal for every 12 competitors. The Philippines has never won a gold medal. If Team Philippines could get just one person to win a medal-- any medal, anything to get this country on the medal scoreboard for the first time in 12 years-- that certainly would be an achievement to be proud of.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lifting VAT on oil helps the rich

Taking off the consumption tax on oil products in the Philippines, as Senator Mar Roxas has been pushing for, is a bad idea.

Higher-income households are the top consumers of all goods, especially oil products, so they'd benefit most from a tax reduction-- and that's just not right in a country with such a wide gap between the rich and the poor. Of course, some of the benefit would eventually trickle down to help the poor too, indirectly, but basically it would be a tax cut for the rich that hurts government revenue and sinks the country deeper into debt.

The well-off are the top consumers of oil products. That's why the United States (Population: 300 million) is the world's top consumer, eating up more than a quarter of the world's oil. That's more than the next five countries combined-- China, Japan, Russia, Germany, and India (Combined population: 2.8 billion).

If you look a list of countries ranked according to oil consumption per capita, the relation to wealth is so apparent that you could mistake it for a list based on GDP per capita. Look at the Philippines' positions, for example... Oil consumption per capita ranking: 127. GDP (PPP) per capita ranking: 128.

Oh, and the country at the bottom end of oil consumption per capita? The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Among the poorest of the poor.

What does need to be done is to channel these VAT revenues into spending on things we need like infrastructure and education. I'm not a fan of the idea of direct subsidies for the poor, but if that delivers the benefits to those that need it most then it is at least a step.

I'm not saying anything revolutionary here, this stuff is just common sense. The IMF agrees with me, at least.

Mar Roxas called suspending the VAT on oil a "win-win" solution for both the transport sector and for consumers, but a conflict between those two is obviously not the issue. It would be a big lose for government revenue, which the VAT was made to address, and making an exception that favors the rich more than anyone else does not make sense.

You know, Roxas really does seem like a nice, cool, smart guy. To see him positioning himself for a presidential run by championing an empty populist cause is unfortunate. He should know better. I think he does.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dark Knight

The Joker is the role of a lifetime that Heath Ledger, against all expectations, was perfect for. With all the emotional tributes and eulogies that followed his unexpected death, you may have started to wonder if he deserved all the attention-- and you may now put those doubts to rest. That guy had talent, and The Dark Knight is his triumphant last hurrah.

The Joker is the best thing in the movie. Whenever he's onscreen you're mesmerized by his presence, and whenever he's offscreen you're wondering what that guy is up to. It's also a credit to skillful direction of Christopher Nolan-- who, to my knowledge, has yet to make a movie that's not some kind of masterpiece-- that the movie takes such an outlandish villain and keeps things both engaging and believable, grounded in the world that we live in and identify with.

And believability is an important, essential trait! It's what made Batman Begins such a sweeping upheaval. It makes all other superhero movies look almost silly by comparison-- especially the old Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher line of Batman films. It branches boldly away from the old guard of comic book films, taking its superhero and convincing us that while comic books are where superheroes are born, film is where they thrive.

The script is serious to a fault, however, at times sucking some of the joy out of sequences that a typical superhero film would have relished in. But that's the direction this movie has chosen for itself, and it does it with class. Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman-- all give measured, perhaps understated performances that breathe depth into the world.

But it's the Joker who stops the show, and I would really like to know how Heath Ledger fit into the equation: was he cast for his ability to portray such a haunting villain, or did his brilliance suddenly shine forth when the cameras started rolling? He doesn't just breath life into the role, he disappears into it-- and I don't mean simply behind the makeup. I couldn't recognize the gay cowboy in there even if I tried. There's a genuine fear and exhilaration he brings to his scenes, ensuring he'll live on in our memories long after his name rolls on the credits for the last time.

Another installment of my should-have-posted-this-a-week-ago series.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oh look, Shariff Kabunsuan is gone

The Philippines lost a province last week, and now it's down to an even 80. The Supreme Court has voided the 2006 creation of Shariff Kabunsuan province out of Maguindanao:
The Supreme Court has declared the creation of the province of Shariff Kabunsuan in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao void and ruled that the power of ARMM’s legislature to create provinces and cities is unconstitutional.

The SC, in an 8-6 vote, declared void Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act 201, which created the province of Shariff Kabunsuan, which was carved out of Maguindanao province.

"Only Congress can create provinces and cities because the creation of provinces and cities necessarily includes the creation of legislative districts," the 33-page decision penned by Justice Antonio Carpio reads.
Why news like this doesn't get more attention is beyond me. This is interesting stuff! It's literally reshaping the Philippine map, not to mention putting a governor out of a job and thrusting an entire provincial bureaucracy into limbo, yet the story didn't even make the front page.

Did anyone even know about the creation of Shariff Kabunsuan from Maguindanao in October 2006? What about the creation of Dinagat Islands province from Surigao del Norte later that year?

Incredibly, The Inquirer even got their headline of their article wrong, saying that the Philippines is down to 79 provinces instead of 80 (it has since been corrected). Now that's just sloppy. Perhaps even more disheartening is knowing that only me and a handful of other map-hungry dudes caught the mistake.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The optimism deficiency

A few days ago I was talking about the Philippine media's fetish for cynicism and misery and despair, and Jon Limjap responded that focusing on the negative is part of the Filipino psyche, one of the factors that prevents us from progressing. That pretty much sums up what the blog entry originally intended to say. I had chopped off a big chunk when I realized it was just unfocused ranting.

I was reminded of this reality again when reading this snippet in the epilogue of Barack Obama's book, which sums up the theme of his 2004 speech:
The audacity of hope.

That was the best of the American spirit, I thought-- having the audacity to believe despite all evidence to the contrary that we could restore a sense of community to a nation torn by conflict; the gall to believe that despite personal setbacks, the loss of a job or an illness in the family or a childhood mired in poverty, we had some control-- and therefore responsibility-- over our own fate.

It was that audacity, I thought, that joined us as one people.
While the problems America faces have parallels with the problems of the Philippines, the attitude of the people, as Obama describes here, could hardly be more different. A sense of control and responsibility over our own fate, a belief in better days ahead... these are not Filipino characteristics. Dare I say, they are the opposite.

I wish I could say otherwise, but Filipinos are fatalistic, declining ambition and conceding that their destinies are predetermined. This, combined with a general pessimism in the face of prosperity, cynicism in the face of hope, and doubt and fear when confronted by challenge-- it's not a healthy combination.

In the fifty years or so that the Philippines was a colony of the United States, they may have given us their music, their movies, their language, their constitution, but they didn't instill in us their spirit.

Maybe we just need someone that can make us believe again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Benjamin Diokno gives fiscal advice, for some reason

ABS-CBNNews.com's current headline story says "RP fiscal position shaky, unstable". Which certainly would be alarming if it were real news! Thankfully, despite it's strange position as ABS-CBN's "top story", it hardly qualifies as a current event. There are a dozen variations of "Diokno said" in that article-- and in fact the entire thing is constructed from the building blocks of Diokno's opinion given at some lecture he gave at the University of the Philippines last Friday.

Diokno was Secretary of Budget and Management during the Estrada administration. This is a fact not mentioned in ABS-CBN's article, as simply crediting him as a UP economics professor apparently gives the story more credibility. Estrada's term was characterized by economic mismanagement and by the corruption that led to its downfall.

The budget deficit was the government's single biggest problem during Estrada's administration. With Benjamin Diokno at the helm of the Department of Budget and Management, the government ended 1999 with a budget deficit of P114 billion, dramatically overshooting its original target of P68.4 billion. In 2000, the government set a deficit target of P62.5 billion, and the International Monetary Fund set its "worst case scenario" deficit at P126.5 billion, yet the country managed to overshoot even that, ending with a full-year deficit of P136.1 billion.

The IMF set a worst case scenario, and the actual deficit ended up even worse.

After Estrada was ousted, Senator Joker Arroyo had to admit that "The government is bankrupt, its coffers are empty".

And now Benjamin Diokno is giving advice on fiscal policy? Seriously?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The other side

When the Philippine peso was strengthening last year, inflation was kept wonderfully low but you couldn't hear enough of stories about suffering exporters downsizing their businesses, and families of OFWs with decreased buying power. Now that the peso is weakening and pushing up inflation, all you hear about are stories of families being dragged into poverty by rising prices of goods.

Personally I preferred it when the exporters and OFW families were the ones "suffering". So, where are the stories of them reaping the windfall of cash now that the peso is on the decline? There are two sides to every economic trend, but media's focus is steadfastly on the negative. Thank God that, in spite of everything, the economy is not as bad as they say it is.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya

Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya (known in English as The Man in Her Life) is an examination of human nature, and it questions the very meaning of what it means to be in love. Pretty deep stuff for a Filipino movie, and this one does at least emerge as a solid effort.

It's the story of Ramon, a school principal, and Selya, a young teacher abandoned by her lover Bobby. The two are set together by Ramon's caretaker Nana Piling who believes that a man in his position should marry and procreate. Oh yeah, Ramon is gay-- but that don't have to get in the way, does it? His homosexuality is kept hidden from Selya, giving way to all sorts of misunderstandings, and the relationship is threatened by former lovers and social pressures. When Bobby unexpectedly returns, Selya must confront her own prejudices and choose who will be the man in her life.

The film is not so much a study of sexual orientation as it is of human accommodation. The characters are affected by a traditional society that pressures them, forcing them to make the best of the situation as they can.

When Selya marries Ramon it's not because she loves him, but she needs him. Her previous boyfriend Bobby, despite being irresistible, could not satisfy her. Bobby didn't a real meaningful relationship, didn't want marriage. When Selya looked at Ramon she saw companionship, sensitivity – in many ways the opposite of Bobby. Was this love? Perhaps not. But for Selya it was good enough.

Ramon married Selya for different reasons. Being the gay principal of a school, he was the subject of all sorts of gossip from his students, and the people of the village were equally as intolerant. His caretaker thought it best for a prominent person such as himself to be married and to have children. If there was anyone Ramon loved it was his gardener Carding. Surely he was aware that the bond with Selya wasn't love. But for Ramon it was good enough.

Obviously this isn't an ideal marriage, but they both provided something the other was looking for. In the end, Selya was forced to evaluate their relationship and decide between Bobby and Ramon.

The ending is presented as a happy one, but how can either decision really be happy... Selya was in love with Bobby when he left her, but when he returned she decided to stay with a man that she could never really love. Can you ever really justify that? I guess some people would put practicality over principle, but that's not me. Something to think about.

It's nice for once to have a Filipino movie that doesn't allow itself to be shaped by the mold. It didn't bow to political correctness, concentrating instead on the realities of their provincial life. Selya and Ramon are trapped in social conventions based on ignorance and hostility, and they choose to make the most of what they have.

Adapted from a May 2004 essay.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Morgan Freeman says "motherfucker".

From the beginning, Wanted makes it clear that it is a comic book movie more hardcore than the rest. The violence is more graphic, the profanity unrestrained. And Morgan Freeman-- an actor so deeply associated with his wise paternal caricature that a few short years ago he played the role of God-- finally gets his chance to be the badass.

Wesley Gibson is a jaded "accounts manager" trapped in a meaningless job and disenchanted with life. He knows exactly what his tomorrow is going to be like, because it's going to be exactly the same as today, and exactly the same as yesterday. His boss is a monster, his name gets zero Google results, and he's doomed to a life that amounts to nothing forever and ever... Until Angelina Jolie comes along and gives him the chance to unlock his dormant superpowers, and step into his murdered father's shoes as the greatest assassin the world has ever known-- An unparalleled enforcer of justice (and vengeance?), curving bullets through the air and all sorts of crazy shit like that.

Curving bullets? Oh yes, yes. This could be just any other regular action movie if it weren't for the wacky superpowers these people have. It isn't ever explained why he has these powers (not that I care), except that he was born with them, and we're all the more entertained because of it. Reality, after all, is just one useful measure of complexity, so why not take things a few crazy steps further. By the time people suddenly start defending themselves by shooting the incoming bullets in mid-air, I'm just sitting back and enjoying the ride.

A bullet curves around the room in a full circle, a car jump flips sideways over another car, an assassin's bullet kills a man from miles away, the wings get shot off of flies, and thousands of rats strapped with explosives are used as a base-infiltrating weapon. The movie is totally idiotic, but loads of fun, and totally worth it.

Plus, you get to see Angelina Jolie's bare butt for a two-thirds of a second.

And Morgan Freeman says "motherfucker".

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Man from Earth

Imagine if a man from the Stone Age was inexplicably gifted with immunity from aging, and just kept on living until the present. That's the premise of the The Man from Earth, which I watched last night on my laptop (with any feelings of guilt evaporated by the movie's producer, who has thanked people who've raised its profile by distributing it over the internet).

The movie tells the story of a man who was born 14,000 years ago and survives until the present day, currently living as a professor under the name John Oldman (note the clever pun!). He moves from place to place assuming various identities every 10 years or so, or whenever people start to notice that his appearance hasn't aged a day. When his colleagues throw an unexpected farewell party and pressure him to give an explanation for his sudden departure, he gives in and takes the risk of revealing his identity to the stunned group.

A very clever premise! In fact, half of the appeal is in the concept, the idea of someone who's lived for thousands of years, an idea which they take and explore for 90 minutes. The entire movie takes place in a small house, and plays itself out through intelligent conversation among the group. Yes, they take that mind-blowing premise and milk it into a long conversation.

Perhaps this would have been a very different movie if it had the proper budget of a major studio motion picture. But would it be better? Take, for instance, The Island, which took an awesome idea and buried it deep under thick layers of action and special effects. No, this movie isn't the slightest bit interested in the glitz and adrenaline. It just wants to take its idea and get you thinking about the possibilities. What if this guy was a disciple of Buddha? What if he was friends with Van Gogh? What if-- and this is the real bombshell-- what if he was Jesus? All this talk doesn't lead to anything significant, but it's fascinating with the way it tugs at the imagination in all sorts of directions.

The idea of taking an impossible concept and elucidating it to tickle the mind reminds me of The World Without Us, a "speculative fiction" book by Alan Weisman, exploring what would happen to the environment if the human race suddenly disappeared-- how houses would deteriorate, cities would crumble, and lifeforms would evolve on an Earth without people. Well, no I haven't actually read this book, but it's a very cool concept. Just think of it, and the conversation it could make.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

MV Princess of the Stars

The waters were calm last night when I boarded the overnight ferry from Dumaguete to Cebu. Crossing the gangplank, my eyes briefly glanced upward at the lifeboats on top of the boat. Slipping into my cot I saw the bright orange life vests right in front of me and let out a reflective sigh. I had planned to depart the previous night, but the weather was not good, and the news on TV was far worse.

The MV Princess of the Stars, an enormous ferry owned by Sulpicio Lines en route to Cebu from Manila with more than 800 people aboard, capsized off the shore of Romblon amidst the height of Typhoon Frank. The shore was just 600 meters away but there were very few survivors, and the death toll is more than I can really put into perspective.

An alphabetized list of passenger and crew names is available at the company's website. I looked through the list of names, perhaps checking if any were familiar (none were). The death toll is merely a number, but seeing the long list of names helps give a scope of the tragedy. You start to realize that the number of dead is staggering, and each name represents a lost human life, yet you haven't gotten a third of the way through the list.

These were people that did not expect and did not deserve to lose their lives as they did. People who put their lives into the hands of Sulpicio Lines and trusted, just as I would, that if the company lets the ferry set sail despite the typhoon warning, then surely they must know what they're doing. Sons who kissed their mothers goodbye in Manila, texted brothers to greet them upon their arrival at the port of Cebu, had plans for the coming weeks, and plans for the rest of their lives that will never come. I wonder if they had come to terms with their fate as the ship overturned amidst the monstrous waves and terrified screams of children, hoping to strike one clear chord to reach the ears of God as they slipped the bonds of earth.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Firefox 3.0

Firefox 3.0 makes it's triumphant debut today, with a hyped up attempt to break the world record for most downloads in a single day. They're expecting the number to easily surpass 5 million. Go get it.

The location of the download was actually leaked to me yesterday, but on their server was a friendly note politely asking people who stumbled upon this secret trove not to start downloading until they say that it's time. Being a considerate bloke, I complied with their wishes.

I like to think of Firefox as an example that successive improvements can bring software infinitely close to perfection. I've been using the browser since before version 1.0, when it was still called Firebird. With each successive version they've fixed bugs, closed memory leaks, corrected annoyances, and added features (while consciously avoiding adding too many features!) until it's arrived at the sleek, polished product it is today. Firefox 2.0 has the bar set so high that I could hardly see what could be changed with a new version without approaching feature bloat or having change for the sake of change.

So anyway, what's new in 3.0? The biggest noticeable change is to the new location bar, informally dubbed the awesome bar, which now lists page titles above their addresses in the pull down menu. It looks clunky compared to the old URL list, but it may just be something that takes some getting used to. More impressive was the improved auto-complete feature that suggests pages based on page title rather than just the address.

Other noticable changes from my first impressions:
  • The back button is strangely bigger than the forward button.
  • The rest of the buttons have slightly different icons, not necessarily better.
  • History opens in a window rather than a sidebar.
  • There's an extra seperator line in the Boomarks menu of the menubar, so two lines seperate my personal bookmarks from the rest of the menu
  • The icon for broken images is different.
  • The Firefox icon is exactly the same.
  • The "About Mozilla Firefox" says 3.0 instead of
Ok, that's all the changes there are in Firefox 3. At least that's what I could detect from a few minutes of using it. Well yeah I'm sure there are thousands of backend changes and improvements too.

Also, most of my Firefox extensions are incompatible with Firefox 3.0, with no currently available update. With that, I switched back to Firefox 2. *toink*

Friday, June 13, 2008


I go have my laundry done perhaps twice a month, going to the laundry place to drop off and pick up my clothes without saying much of a word, and yet the lady behind the counter greets me by my first name when I come in through the door. Or even when not greeting me out loud, she knows what name to write on the plastic bag, and which bag to give me when I come for pickup.

How could they remember me out of the hundreds of customers that pass through these doors? Did I do something to pique their attention? Could that be a shrewd, knowing smile that I detected?

I imagine them in the back room with all the washing machines, sorting out my dirty clothes and picking at my peculiarities. Noticing my bland taste in clothing, scrutinizing any unusual stains, calculating my underwear-to-pants ratio, noting my limited inventory of bedsheets, or perhaps that I don't send my towels to be washed often enough.

Sometimes I wish I was less aware.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

An attempt to manage the news

It's a special thing when the media honors a gentleman's agreement not to report on a particular story, even if it means withholding information from info-addicts like myself, for a good cause. An example of this was when the notoriously uncivil British press agreed not to expose Prince Harry's adventures of active combat in Afghanistan a couple of months ago. It's like if someone placed a juicy smoked sausage in front of a hungry rottweiler's nose, and the dog obeyed when told not to eat it. It's an awesome trick, and when it happens you can't help but stare and smile at the achievement.

But when the Philippine media outfits received ABS-CBN's request to keep the story of news anchor Ces Drilon's kidnapping hush-hush, it was so unevenly implemented that it left ABS-CBN looking very exposed. Some outfits were accurately treating the story as Monday's big current thing, others treating the story like some small thing, and yet others acting as if there was nothing. If this was supposed to be a secret, it was very poorly kept. Once the information gets out there's just no stopping it, and those that try just end up looking a bit silly.

My reaction to this is... hmm, no, not hostility-- but there's at least a dash of pointed suspicion. What exactly does keeping the story quiet achieve, and would they do the same in other cases if the victim was not one of their own?

I first heard the news of the kidnapping on Tuesday morning with a small article tucked away at the side of the Inquirer's website. Ces Drilon kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf! I don't even turn on the TV that much, and I still recognize the name. She's the news anchor of a program on ANC, isn't she? A story like this isn't normally tucked away at the side or ignored. The Inquirer eventually had the kidnapping as their top story with their issue on Wednesday, a full day late, with an accompanying article explaining that ABS-CBN requested a news blackout.

This is the same media that so insistently tells us of how important they are, with sweeping phrases like "freedom of the press", "the public has a right to know", and my personal pet peeve "the truth shall set you free" (cue the violins and choir of angels!). If there was an extraordinary benefit to be had from their attempt to cloak this particular kidnapping from the public, I'm not seeing it. A blackout lulls the people, especially the people of Sulu where the kidnapping took place, into a false sense of security.

It may seem like a natural move to try to control the flow of information when people's safety is at stake, but when the media gives itself the responsibility of deciding which facts we need to know, it puts stress in their bond of trust with the public.

Would the media agree not to report on a famous person's kidnapping if that person were not part of the media? When the government requests discretion in reporting on an issue are they going to take heed or cry suppression? What about information involving national security? Or damaging speculation on the economy?

I'm not going to pass judgment, but these are questions the media will have to reflect upon, lest they risk drifting into hypocrisy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Siquijor, Siquijor

The island province of Siquijor is the third smallest province in the Philippines in terms of both land area (343.5 km²) and population (81,598), behind only tiny Camiguin and Batanes. Almost all travel to the island is through the port of Dumaguete City, where pump boats and fast ferries bring passengers to and from Siquijor almost hourly. A trip costs just 160 pesos. It takes just 30 minutes. And it's kind of weird that I've never been there until last weekend, making it the 13th island of the Philippines that I've had the pleasure of setting foot on.

I didn't realize I would be going to Siquijor until an invitation came on Saturday afternoon to go on an overnight vacation the next day. And why not... I didn't really have anything else planned, and there was no hurry to get back to work thanks to the Independence Day holiday being moved to Monday. It's a happy success story of the government's holiday economics policy working exactly as conceived.

We departed from Dumaguete on Sunday afternoon at 3:30PM.

In a 24-hour period I got to pass through the sea ports of Siquijor, Dumaguete, and Cebu-- it helps one to appreciate how much more pleasant a quiet port is. The port in Siquijor is clean and simple. The island province is significant enough for the government to have spent the resources to make a port that's clean and functional, but not nearly big enough for the hordes of people to stink it up.

We stayed at Villa Marmarine, a beach resort in the town of Siquijor not too far from the port. It didn't have a swimming pool, but it does what it can, and the cottages are nice enough.

The resort isn't the most luxurious, but it does what it can to give a pleasant experience, like this dining area on an elevated ledge with a view overlooking the sea.

The sand at the beach is light, fine, and powdery-- though speckled with corals and pebbles and seaweed. You'd need to wear slippers while swimming in the water to protect your feet from all the rocks and seaweed. The rock wall near the beach is kind of nice, helps give the feeling of being in a wild undeveloped place (in the good way).

For dinner on Sunday night we went to this cool dome thing high up on a hill overlooking the town of Larena. It's a bizarre sensation to suddenly encounter this awesome done when you expect to be on a quiet rural island. From up here you could look down at the town, and in the far distance the faint lights of Dumaguete's boulevard are visible. It must be a wondrous sight during the day, but at night all that's visible are the lights.

Umm... Mabuhay! ^_^

Hmm, not a bad set of pictures considering I didn't get to see much else aside from the pier, the resort, and the dome thing. It would have been better to get the chance to actually go exploring the island and seeing the sights.

They say that Siquijor is infamous as a hotbed of sorcery and witchcraft. I... don't really have anything to say about that, but it feels necessary to mention it.

Someday I really do need to go back there and actually see what there is to see.