Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hey guys, stop stealing my pictures! Thanks!

You don't all need to stop using them. You just need to stop taking credit for them.

A minute ago I searched for "Philippines" on Google News and in the image thumbnails there was a picture that I took of the Philippine flag and contributed to Wikipedia. It was on a news article about some kidnapped teachers in Zamboanga, and my flag image was being used as an accompanying photo. Completely without attribution! The site is from New Zealand, which surprised me a bit. I thought first world countries would have more class.

This is just another instance of something that happens all the time. I can't even remember all the cases I happened to come across one of the dozens of photos I've uploaded to Wikipedia. Off the top of my head I can tell you I've seen them used in The Inquirer, in Cebu Daily News, at, on ABS-CBN News Channel, on GMA News, in the Negros Chronicle, in an in-flight Cebu Pacific magazine, on the t-shirt of some fat lady I saw in National Bookstore, and tons more.

It's not that I want people to stop using the images. After all, I uploaded them to the internet for the good of everyone. But all that's needed is follow the terms that the image is licensed under.

All my image contributions are dual licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) and Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 (CC-BY-SA).

They used to be licensed only under the GFDL, until I noticed them being swiped by some news outlets and realized how unreasonable it would be to demand that they abide by the license's terms-- which would mean they'd have to include a printed copy of the 3000-word license.

That's right, they stole my image without credit, and my retaliation was to switch to a license that's even easier to comply with.

The terms of the CC-BY-SA license are really, really simple: You are free to share and modify the image, as long as you appropriately attribute it, and distribute it under an identical license. That's all there is to it.

You can put it in your website, print it in a magazine or newspaper, use it on a poster, broadcast it on television, modify it to your heart's delight, do anything with it you can imagine. You can even print it, frame it, and sell it-- for profit!

But come on guys, you need to give credit where it's due!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The biggest problem with me watching movies on the computer is that I have access to the internet. Whenever someone mentions anything that might have a remotely interesting background, I come running to its article on Wikipedia, which further sucks me into its endless whirlpool of information.

Factoring in the distractions, it took me four hours to watch Frost/Nixon.

The movie, about a series of interviews with Richard Nixon conducted three years after he resigned as US President, appeals to people with a sense of history. I have a sense of history. Those who don't are accommodated with news clips and faux interview snippets that do their best to give an awareness of the gravity of events.

Nixon resigned amid scandal in 1974, and was promptly granted a full pardon by his successor. There was no trial, no testimony, no day in court for the legal process to get out the truth one way or another. Three years after his presidency's collapse, Nixon saw the interviews as a chance at redemption; the interviewer David Frost intended them to give Nixon the trial he never had.

It's all very fascinating, as I never heard about these interviews before. From what I've seen on YouTube, a few scenes are recreated pretty much verbatim from the actual interviews-- albeit with additional pregnant pauses for the necessary extra dramatic effect. I hate it when movies are held down by reality, but the story does take many artistic liberties with history, notably adding a completely fictional drunken late-night phone call from Nixon to Frost's hotel room on the eve of the final interview. That may be the best scene of the movie, actually. That's the scene that makes it a movie.

Speaking of taking liberties with reality, Frank Langella's performance as Nixon is something noteworthy. He doesn't look all that much like Nixon, though they got him as close as possible with the slumped shoulders, baggy cheeks, and balding head. He's got a hint of an English accent in his otherwise terrific Nixon voice. And somehow his personality has more of a warm grandfatherly affability rather than the gruffness I'd expect. But despite all of these deviations he does a great job, and his Nixon is a character that's actually remarkable in its own right.

This movie was directed by Ron Howard, who has found his greatest successes in adapting other historical events and lives into dramas (see Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man). His style is careful and measured, respectful to the source material, with no missteps. The subject matter is really absorbing, at least to me, and all the while I'm wondering how much of it is based on reality. I'm guessing quite a great deal of it, considering how politely it's all presented.

Maybe too politely presented, in fact. It hits all the right notes, but not as hard as it could have. It's hard to tell whether this is due to a lack of conviction or due to a reverence for impartiality. There's no denying that it's a good movie though, I'd give it that.

Monday, January 26, 2009

There Will Be Blood

Anticipating the announcement of Oscar nominations last week, I decided to take a look back at the list of last year's nominees and watch the year's last remaining best picture nominee that I have yet to see-- There Will Be Blood.

This is one of those quiet movies that's made with the very intention of lording over the awards season, and I get this nagging irritation whenever those kinds of movies end up hogging all the nominations (and lately, yes, they do). Movies should be made to, like, entertain and stuff, right? The awards should be incidental. So it's comes with another nagging irritation that I bring myself to watch the movie and grudgingly admit that perhaps it deserves all the praise it got. Maybe more.

First off, throw away whatever preconceptions you may have about the movie based on the title. It's a shitty title, maybe intended to throw you off, or to discourage the casual masses from getting interested in it.

The movie is about an man named Daniel Plainview (played mesmerizingly by Daniel Day-Lewis), who builds himself up from a lowly prospector to an enormously rich oilman. The name "Plainview" must be some sort of cruel joke, because hardly anything about this man is in plain view. He schemes his way around problems, uses people around him like props, and lies effortlessly and convincingly, all in his quest for oil and wealth. He has a voice of velvet and just as comforting, with a manner of speaking so genuinely that you know there has to be some sinister trick behind it.

Does that make any sense, what I just said right there? Daniel Day-Lewis makes it make sense. His performance is amazing, and he deserves-- beyond a shadow of doubt-- the Oscar that he won for it. How many actors can disappear into their character so effectively that people start to question their sanity? Regardless of his mental health, he further cements his position as one of the greatest living actors in the world.

The other star of the movie is the music, which takes on a life of its own. It's troubling, haunting... doesn't complement the emotion of the scenes, but brings with it an entirely different and unexpected atmosphere.

As with most movies that beg for awards, this one runs on for quite a while-- total running time of 2 hours and 38 minutes. In the end, it won Best Actor and Best Cinematography, along with 6 other Oscar nominations. Heck, maybe it should have won Best Picture too. It's better than No Country for Old Men.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Flubbed oath

"I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
That's not so hard, is it? So how is it that two Harvard Law School graduates, heads of the judicial and executive branches of the United States government, managed to bungle through the most important moment of the day's $150-million inaugural ceremonies?

An inauguration is like a wedding: It's a success if nothing unexpected happens. It may be just a formality, but Barack Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts fumbling through the presidential oath of office was an awkward vibe for the hundreds of thousands in attendance and the millions watching around the world.

Perhaps I'm the only one that noticed, but the first error came even before the oath taking began. Roberts said "Are you prepared to take the oath, Senator?". Obama actually resigned from the Senate on November 16.

Then for the oath itself. First Obama jumped the gun in repeating the oath, stepping over Roberts words halfway through the opening line. This seems to have thrown Roberts off his stride, and he then proceeded to replace the phrase "President of the United States" with "President to the United States", and misplaced the word "faithfully" in the text of the oath.

Obama recognized the mistake and abruptly stopped midway through repeating the line. Then, like my French teacher at an oral exam, he gave a beckoning nod and a pregnant pause, which prodded Roberts to nervously stammer through repeating the line properly. Which was pointless, because Obama repeated the line with the misplaced "faithfully" anyway.

It doesn't stop there. Obama's inaugural address opened by saying "44 Americans have now taken the presidential oath", which is not entirely accurate. Though Obama is counted as the 44th president, Grover Cleveland served as president for two non-consecutive terms and is counted as both the 22nd and 24th president.

But by then I was hardly listening, still flabbergasted that the simplest and most important part of the day's painstakingly choreographed ceremony was garbled by both of the two people involved.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Philippine peso, from 1950 to 2009

A 60-year history of the Philippine peso packed into one happy graph:

What we have here is a chart showing the historical exchange rate of the Philippine Peso against the US Dollar from 1950 to 2009. (Data from 1950 to 1997 from Penn World Tables; Data from 1997 onwards from Oanda, using exchange rates on January 1 of each year)

It's just really weird that I haven't seen a graph like this available anywhere else on the internet, because there's so much that can be learned from it. Look at how all the significant movements in the graph can be traced to events in Philippine history (which is, looking back at it, composed almost entirely of bad news):
  • 1961: President Diosdado Macapagal allows the peso to float on the free currency exchange market, unpegging it from the US dollar to stimulate economic development. Its value sinks from P2 to P3.7 to the dollar.
  • 1970: I can only assume this is due to the First Quarter Storm, where a series of heavy demonstrations and protests and marches take their toll on the country. The value of the peso slips from P4 to P6 to the dollar.
  • 1983: Ninoy Aquino assassinated, and Marcos' shit hits the fan. The country rapidly deteriorates, culminating in the EDSA Revolution. Value of the peso dives from P8 to 20 to the dollar over a few years.
  • 1989: A series of ugly coup attempts threatens the Aquino administration, including a bloodbath in January 1989. Peso descends from P21 to P27 to the dollar over two years.
  • 1997: The Asian Financial Crisis occurs, and I can't understand it no matter how many times I check Wikipedia, but the peso crashes from P26 to P41 to the dollar in a single frickin' year.
  • 2000: Economic mismanagement and political instability during the Estrada administration, plus charges or corruption leading to an impeachment trial. Peso nosedives from P40 to P50 to the dollar.
And finally there's 2005 to the present, the only time in history that the Philippine peso has significantly strengthened in value, albeit with a sharp rebound in 2008. I'm at a loss to attribute this to any single event, but history has shown that movements of that scale do not happen without a reason.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Analysts expect peso to weaken, but what do they know?

Well, the analysts all seem to agree: The peso is going to weaken further in 2009. And judging by their forecasting track record, I'd say this almost certainly means that the peso is going to strengthen.

That's a two-year graph of the peso's exchange rate against the dollar-- from January 2007 to January 2009 (thanks Yahoo! Finance).

Take a look back at analyst forecasts for the peso in the past two years and compare it to the actual results in the graph above:
  • Standard Chartered Bank: Peso is also expected to weaken to an average 50 to the dollar this year. (Jan. 2007)
  • Standard Chartered Bank: Peso will weaken in the second quarter due to poor investor sentiments and election anxiety. (Feb. 2007)
  • Valentino Sy: P38 at end-2008. (Oct. 2007)
  • BSP Gov. Amando Tetangco: Peso expected to pick up strength in 2008, hit levels above P40 to the US dollar, probably at P38 to P39 to $1 (Nov. 2007)
  • BNP Paribas has also predicted the peso to rise to 37 this year and further to 30 next year. (Dec. 2007)
  • Ex-BSP Gov. Jose Cuisia Jr. expects the peso to firm up at 38.50-39.00 to the dollar by yearend. (Jan. 2008)
  • JPMorgan: P38.5 by yearend. (Jan. 2008)
  • Citibank: "It will be 35 to $1 by yearend and we’re looking at 39 before the (first) quarter is over" (Feb. 2008)
  • Standard Chartered Bank: Expects the peso to hit P43 against the dollar by yearend
  • Citibank: Projects the peso to end at 45-to-$1 level this year. (Sep. 2008)
God bless them, they do their best with what they have, but to call their forecasts off the mark would be merciful. Not only have these analyst predictions been hit and miss, but more often than not they're just completely incorrect. It's as though reality bends itself just to prove them wrong.

Perhaps one of them should predict that the economic crisis will never end.

And that I will never win a million dollars.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Burn After Reading

"Keep an eye on everyone. See what they do. Report back to me when... I dunno. When it makes sense."

That quote comes three-fourths of the way into Burn After Reading, and perfectly sums up everything up to that point. It comes from a CIA director to one of his subordinates, as they try to sort out what has happened so far. This is also the best line of the movie, because it shows that after the chain of vaguely connected but apparently pointless events we're made to witness, there's someone out there that's just as perplexed as we are.

CIA analyst Osbourne Cox quits his job after being demoted. His wife, who is having an affair and planning a divorce, copies a bunch of his personal and financial files onto a CD, which finds its way to the floor of a health club. The employees at this health club discover the CD and, assuming its contents are top secret information, try to blackmail Cox for money. When that fails, they try taking it to the Russian embassy.

I fear I'm making the story sound more orderly than it actually is. I could go on describing the other subplots and subsubplots, but there would be little point to that. There are many more plot threads, strangely intertwined in ways that vaguely suggest an overarching story, though there really isn't any. I think. Who knows.

The characters are interesting to watch, at least... Quirky, scheming, and kind of dumb. It's like they came up with these fleshed out ideas for characters, gave them jobs and starting positions, then let them run loose and see what happens. Brad Pitt has been in such serious roles lately that he seems a strange choice to cast as a bubbly gym instructor, but he plays the part nicely.

The movie closes with a final conversation between that CIA officer and his director, brilliantly putting the audience's thoughts into words:
"What have we learned, Palmer?

"I don't know sir."

"I don't fucking know either"
Well there you have it. Was this a good movie? I don't know. It was fun, but... I really don't fucking know.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In Bruges

In Bruges is the most unattractive movie title I can think of. How can you even tell someone you're going to watch In Bruges... It's awkward to even say it in a sentence. What is Bruges anyway? Colin Farrell lays it out for us in the opening narration: "I didn't even know where Bruges fucking was. (long pause) It's in Belgium."

Hitmen Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken are sent to hide out in Bruges (in Belgium!) to await further instructions after Ray's first job-- where he accidentally killed a little boy. They pass the time in Bruges seeing the sights of the "best-preserved medieval city in Belgium", while Ray is wracked with guilt over the child he killed. I found it strange that he's all broken up about the kid but feels nothing about the priest he shot up first, but then again I won't pretend to be able to relate to their line of work.

There's more to the plot than hanging around in Belgium and feeling guilty, but I wouldn't want to give it away. The best thing in the movie is experiencing the plot unravel, one twist at a time.

Also of note is how pretty this city of Bruges is, considering I've never even heard of it before. Ray may think it's a shithole, but as the movie went on and showcased more scenes of Bruges it got me wishing I could go sightseeing there myself someday, and wondering how a place that looks like a fairy tale could have escaped my awareness.

Colin Farrell won a Golden Globe for his performance in this movie, and it's rightly deserved. At one point he breaks down into tears completely, and that's the money shot... It's like hearing a great drum solo-- no one usually pays attention to a good drummer, but when he's allowed to let loose with a solo everyone has to sit back and wonder at how good he is. Colon Farrell is good.

The biggest problem with the movie is the title, and just getting myself to watch the movie was a struggle against my instincts, which insisted that a movie called "In Bruges" has to be some weird, inconsequential, possibly foreign language film. The public must have been turned off by the title as well, and since its release last February the movie has grossed just $7.8 million in the US. And that is such a shame, because it's actually really, really good.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Where Do Philippine Senators Come From?

I liked this recent post at and wondered what a Phlippine version would be like, so I baked up this delicious pie chart. It may not be as informative or useful due to the much smaller number of members in the Philippine Senate (and the messy nature of Philippine politics), but it's something:

This shows the most recent prior elected office that the 23 current Philippine senators held at the time of their first election to the Senate. Take note that it only accounts for elected offices-- appointed government positions (like Mar Roxas as Secretary of Trade and Industry, or Ping Lacson as PNP Chief) are not reflected.

Seven of the current senators (Roxas, Aquino, Arroyo, A.P. Cayetano, Escudero, Villar, Zubiri) came from the House of Representatives. Two of them (Pimentel and Enrile) are even ancient enough to have been assemblymen in the Batasang Pambansa, the parliament that replaced Congress during Marcos' administration.

Two senators came from governorships (Lapid and Revilla), and two came from city mayors (Estrada and Gordon). Remarkably, Kiko Pangilinan's most recent elected office before becoming senator was councilor of Quezon City from 1988 to 1992.

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly?), the largest chunk of the pie consists of senators who had never before held any elected office whatsoever before winning their election to the Senate. Don't hold it against all of them though... Many of them held prominent positions (Pia Cayetano was a lawyer, Legarda was a broadcast journalist, and Angara was president of UP). Others had appointed government positions (Biazon was AFP Chief of Staff, Santiago was Agrarian Reform Secretary, Madrigal was Presidential Adviser for Children's Affairs, Lacson was PNP Chief, Honasan was Chief of Security). Only one has no record of positive accomplishment to speak of (Antonio Trillanes, terrorist).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

It's a joy to see a great director to take such a bizarre premise and decide to make a real movie out of it.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells the story a man who was born with the body of an 85 year old and grows up in reverse-- looking and feeling one day younger with each passing day. Benjamin Button begins life looking like a living corpse, and as time passes he begins to resemble an old Brad Pitt, and then a young Brad Pitt, and then an adolescent, and finally an infant.

A few weeks ago I read F. Scott Fitzgerald's original short story, which the movie is supposedly based on but has little in common with other than the title and premise (oh hey, the short story is public domain now, go read it yourself). Given this premise it easily could have been adapted into a straightforward comedy with a token touch of drama (see Jack), but it clearly presents itself as being something much deeper than that.

The movie's buried themes have to do with what it means to live and what it means to die. And there's a whole lot of death in here, often mercifully understated to the point that it feels commonplace. When Benjamin's adoptive mother dies two hours into the movie, it hardly has time to shed a tear before moving on. In fact, the final death toll is... hmm, everybody.

The story touches on so many issues of live, love, coincidence, regret, death... you can be forgiven for momentarily forgetting that the guy is aging in reverse. But if there's a single underlying motif to the life of Benjamin Button, you'll have to dig it out of the movie on your own-- it dances around different ideas about curiosities of life and the mysteries of mortality, always feeling reflective but never too sure what to reflect about.

With a running time of 2 hours and 47 minutes, it's a half-hour longer than Bicentennial Man, which is itself a too-long movie that spans a 200 year lifetime. That's a lot of time for reflecting on everything. Benjamin Button drags on his life story longer than he needed to, as is the tendency of movies with ambition these days, but I'm willing to look past this and appreciate a well-made movie's willingness to explore every facet of the man who ages backwards. After all, when are we going to get another chance?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gran Torino

Great actor. Great director. Handsome man. Loving father.

Clint Eastwood just gets better with age, dictating the atmosphere of the screen and dominating every scene he's in. And he's in pretty much every scene in Gran Torino.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is an old war veteran living in a Michigan neighborhood that's increasingly dominated by immigrants. His wife just died, he's indifferent to his sons and their families, irritated by his church's efforts to reach out, and annoyed by all the changing the world's been doing without him.

There's also a plot in this movie involving his Asian neighbors and an Asian gang, but the main attraction here is just seeing all the shades of Clint Eastwood's character-- most of which involve being a badass.

Clint's performance is a character with character, and long after the movie's events have been seen and forgotten it's the character that will stick with you. It's just as well that so much of the movie focuses on him, because the rest of the cast is made up of unknown actors and their performances are... Well, there's a reason they are unknown.

Walt is a remnant of an time that's come and gone. That's how his family sees him, and it's an image he both grudgingly lives up to and pushes back against. He's a grizzled old Republican that sits on his porch with a beer and a shotgun, wincing at the outfits young people dress themselves up in these days, and narrowing his eyes grimly at the neighborhood chinks and gooks and spooks and zipperheads (I had to look that last one up).

Now at the age of 78, Clint's voice seems to be capable of only that dour growl, yet this has just served to amplify personality rather than diminish it. Who else can, at his age, still get a shotgun pointed at a dude's head and credibly say "I blow a hole in your face and then I go in the house and sleep like a baby," with a deep surly growl that lets you know he means business. "We used to stack fucks like you five feet high in Korea, use you for sandbags."

I'm far too young to know Clint Eastwood for the roles that made him famous. It has been 38 years since Dirty Harry; 43 years since The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; and 54 years since his first acting role. That I can even speak of him with a splash of nostaligia for roles concieved decades before I was born is a tribute to his durability.

The lead section of his Wikipedia article calls him-- with citation!-- an enduring icon of masculinity. Is there a greater honor?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Harry Potter and the One Book That Didn't Line Up Right

For nine years I have regretted buying Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in paperback. It was the only one available in paperback at the time, and it's been the black sheep among it's big hardbound brothers ever since.

Every time I'd walk into a National Bookstore or Powerbooks I'd see the hardbound edition and briefly consider it, with my conscience nagging me from both ends. It's just 800 pesos, but still... it's 800 pesos.

It has always ends up with me reasoning that it'll be a long time before I've run out of new things to buy and started buying slightly different versions of things I already have.

This rule goes out the window when I see a second-hand-but-good-as-new copy for 200 pesos.

Ahh.... that's much better.