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Monday, October 30, 2006

Ghosts

It's that time of the year again when if you tune in to your TV set what you get are endless features on ghosts, ghosts, and more ghosts. Talk shows are crammed with celebrities who claim to have a "third" eye and a "sixth" sense, which allows them to see and experience para-normal events, whether or not these celebrities actually are for real or just acting out (think Mystica).

I got hospitalized once, and Barry Manilaw visited me and decided to spend the night in the hospital room. Upon my discharge, Barry promptly told me that he saw a chubby male nurse going straight into the rest room without ever returning.

It's a good thing I don't see these things or else I'll freak out. I can just imagine. One time, I walked the entire stretch from the main highway going towards our barrio via a long and winding gravel-and-dirt road, at around seven at night. When you reach the point where the houses seemed to disappear from behind you and the image of your brightly-lit house is just imaginary, you start praying.

You are alone. The lights from houses behind you disappear as you descend the road towards the valley, and darkness envelopes like a cold wind. The bushes seem to whisper; tree branches sound like they're stifling screams and the sound of your footsteps seem to magnify and create an eerie, dragging sound on the ground, as if someone has been chained. The darkness in front is unimaginable, drawing you inexorably to an unexplored abyss, especially if the moon isn't shining brightly at all.

What I really hate is that lone, abandoned hut by the side of the road as you reach a curve and a small bridge. Just a flicker of light, like a stroke of a match from inside the hut, is enough to drive you crazy. Worse, I found out later the occupant of that hut abandoned it after his son committed suicide. When everything is dark and all that separates you from that hut is a few meters of dirt, then you'll know what it feels like to be in hell.

It's still a few meters before you see the lights coming from the houses of the few people who inhabit the area. And you start running. Running for dear life, although no one was really after you. The barking of the dogs is a welcome relief, of course. Then you reach the gate, open it and go inside.

Then mom comes in and asks if anything's the matter.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bishonen


Walking along rows and rows of DVD racks in Quiapo, I picked up an 8-movie DVD made ostensibly in China. I sometimes have an anti-Hollywood attitude towards movies, such that I deliberately look for Spanish, French, South American and Chinese titles.

This 8-movie set included Peony Express and Bishonen, by a film director named Yonfan. Peony is extremely weird: it's a regional Chinese opera equivalent of a Hollywood musical a la Gigi. I couldn't finish it. The singing, with all those piercing high notes, gave me headaches. The other titles, like Hongkong Playboys, Twinkle something (I forgot the others) are extremely crappy, I couldn't get past 5 minutes before pushing the stop button.

Bishonen, however is different. It's a gay movie, and I didn't expect it to be such because it featured a beautiful Hong Kong actress (I forgot her name) who I found out later, only did a cameo appearance.

I wasn't really shocked. It wasn't the first time I saw movies that had a gay theme. First movie I saw that literally shocked and had me wanting to strangle the filmmaker was a Neil Jordan movie, The Crying Game. Something to do with IRAs. I never suspected the girl to be well, a boy, not until she was shown to have a penis! Ugh!

Next was a Daniel-Day Lewis indie starrer, My Beautiful Laundrette, shown at the UP Film Centre. I couldn't remember what the movie was all about, but he kissed some Pakistani guy (ngek, eh di ang baho nun!)

And then my Sociology teacher required us to write a review on Ang Lee's Wedding Banquet. This one was very funny, you know, the foibles of people leading double lives (straight outside, gay inside). Ang Lee wasn't yet the big time Hollywood director that he is today.

And then of course, Brokeback Mountain by the same director. Unfortunately, I slept through most of it, so I don't even know much about the movie enough to say whether I liked it or not.

Bishonen is like a feel-good romance movie for gays. It's a fantasy romance very much like most Meg Ryan flicks. It's obviously not meant for a larger audience. You see, the director Yonfan assembled Hong Kong's most attractive men and crafted a gay movie on them. And to make it dramatic, he had to kill one of the main characters at the end simply to milk the tearducts of his vulnerable target gay audience, prompting (I'm sure) some of the moviegoers, with matching sobs, to lament, "Why, why should gay movies always end up in tragedy? Can't they ride into the sunset and live happily ever after?".

It's interesting but I couldn't emphatize with the characters at all.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Cien blog

Eight months after I started blogging, I've now exceeded the 100th-entry mark. Initially, I wanted the blog to look like a collection of well-thought out and carefully crafted essays. Which, of course, is not really the case: what you get here are mostly rants, venomous vituperation and sorry attempts at musical exposition of operas, symphonies and sonatas, not to mention trips down memory lane, anything I see on TV that piques my curiousity (or catches my ire), even stream-of-consciousness material. The direction of this blog is determined by my mood swings. Hey, I do not write for the sake of writing.

I am not really into deep spiritual stuff, nor do I dabble in introspection, I am not really in touch with my emotional self, whatever that means (ask Oprah). From the very beginning, I strove not to sound mushy and sentimental, more than half the blogs in the planet already are, so why add to the festering gloom?

My blog is to some extent, a journal. Random thoughts do figure ocassionally, although I am far from being philosophical: in fact I think I'm shallow hehehe.

As for the visitors to this blog, I get occasional comments. Very few even from people I know, fewer still from complete strangers :) But I do know at least three people who read my blog regularly :)

But I will continue writing about stuff I really know, like classical music and opera, as well as my opinion about everything and anything. Whether or not these appeal to the 6 billion people on the planet doesn't really matter. Yes?

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Choices

I was intent to buy a brand new mountain bike and have been saving up to get myself one. In fact, I convinced Doc to accompany me to Cartimar and check out the available parts for assembly, and come up with an estimate.

Unfortunately, my brother-in-law got ill and had to be hospitalized, which means I have to help out in defraying the medical costs.

Oh well.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Political Harassment

The suspension of Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay is clearly an example of Malacañang's way of harassing political opponents. It's pretty obvious. Why should the Palace carry out the suspension directly knowing that it is the Office of the Ombudsman which carries out these functions? Why the sudden interest in Binay and why single him out? And on the basis of raked-up charges from way back? C'mmon. And under whose complaint? Brillantes? who is known to be corrupt himself? Politics is so ugly in this part of the world, sometimes I just want to throw up.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Law of Diminishing Returns

I read somewhere that the IMF projects remittances from OFW's to hit more than US$14 billion for 2006.

This makes the Philippines a major exporter of labor force as has been widely noted. The contributions of OFWs to the over-all economy are well-known and has been discussed ad infinitum. What I want to point out is the obvious diminishing returns per capita it generates over the long-term.

You see, the longer the OFW stays abroad, the less frequent he/she is likely to remit back to the Philippines. Consider: most stay abroad after completing the necessary requirements to qualify for residency. For some, getting citizenship means petitioning their relatives back home to join them overseas. And as such, they send back money less often when their immediate family has joined them abroad.

Thus, the cycle never ends. So that the much-needed foreign currencies continue to flow in, new batches of workers that fly out of the country in search of better opportunities are actually needed to sustain the level of foreign reserves we have.

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Musical Choices

Currently listening to the violin sonatas by Grieg (in G) and the ravishing but technically difficult Brahms (D minor), as well as the hypnotic Dvorak Romance over BBC radio.

Several nights ago, I requested Mahler's Resurrection Symphony over DZFE. The record played was obviously an old one: scratchy and I didn't like the interpretation at all. Barry Manilaw listened to it as well, and as expected, he didn't like it (he caught the slow movements--he probably went into an instant coma). The following day, he watched a pang-diva concert by Regine Velasquez at the Araneta. He proudly told me it only proves he's not obsessed with Sarah Geronimo. My gulay!

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Ambi

The Camarines Sur team decimated the competition yesterday during the dragon boat regatta, beating the highly-fancied Philippine National Police team. My team didn't even reach the finals. (I think the yin and yang forces were at work here. You know, there's lots of cheerfulness and camarederie in my team, so much we-are-the-world spirit, so much positive energy that a dash of negativity was probably needed to restore the balance and order in the scheme of things, thus the disappointing results yesterday). Of course I'm ranting.

Last night, the Bicolanos got featured on TV. They even claimed they haven't had the chance to train ever since they won their events in Singapore a month ago. (They were a sensation in Singapore, leaving behind the rest by a two-boat distance).

It was my first time to race on the left side. Which is a small achievement for me because in traditional rowing terms, I'm now "ambi", as in ambidextrous (or ambitious, whichever way you look at it).

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Microfinance Guru

Muhammad Yanus, founder of Grameen Bank, won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. This is a fitting recognition for someone who thought outside the box and revolutionized micro-financing. As someone who had a short stint with a development NGO, I know that the Grameen-style micro-financing scheme remains the gold standard.

Recognizing that traditional lending institutions ignore the poorer sectors which are considered too risky because of inadequate collateral and know-how in managing finances, Grameen turned this perception upside down by lending to marginalized sectors in small amounts and instituting a system that ensures payment in place of collateral. Yanus found a way to facilitate access to credit for those belonging in the lower economic rungs of society.

In addition, the fact that women comprise the main market of Grameen means the bank’s lofty ideals represent a step in the right direction as it empowers women in impoverished areas.

The well-deserved recognition raises not only Grameen’s profile but the importance of micro-financing in developing nations in general.

Here’s hoping other worthy organizations like Caritas and Medicins sans Frontieres get recognized for their quiet but trailblazing development work as well.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gospel of Thomas


I picked up an old copy of Harper’s Magazine from Book Sale in Ali Mall because of the front cover and main article: Jesus Without the Miracles. The article by a lapsed Baptist and son of a minister, Erik Reese, discusses the parallelisms between Thomas Jefferson’s Bible and the so-called Gospel of Thomas.

This revolutionary President of the US, Thomas Jefferson had at one time excised and redacted the Bible to suit his own tastes, cutting out the most important events, namely the virgin birth, the miracles and finally the resurrection. This president firmly believed that the authentic teachings of Christ were hi-jacked by orthodox Christianity, and that by stripping out the canonical gospels’ claim that Jesus was the divine Son of God (and the subsequent miracles that followed were simply invented to prove it), Jefferson thought what remained show the true value of Jesus’ teachings: as “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals ever offered to man”.

Of course, this raises a lot of eyebrows. This cut-and-paste episode is highly lamentable and questionable. If he believed the miracles and other important events were invented, what is stopping him from believing the rest of the Scripture were just a figment of some writer’s imagination as well?

The life of Jesus was certainly not important to him which he believed were fantastic, unbelievable stories spun by the Gospel authors (he conveniently forgot that Matthew, Luke, Mark and John were Christ’s apostles). For Jefferson only the teachings mattered. In fact, he reduced the New Testament to a 17th century version of the Chicken Soup for the Soul or any of Deepak Chopra’s self-actualization books.

He railed against the obvious consequence of putting too much stress on the miracles as narrated in Matthew or Luke: people are more concerned with the promise of eternal salvation from this world than with any desire to practice the teachings of Jesus. Jefferson is ostensibly driving a wedge between two non-issues. Why should the two points be mutually exclusive? Isn’t it that believers practice the teachings of Jesus because of the promise of eternal salvation?

Sin, sacrifice and salvation—the main pillars of Christian belief—became abstract concepts. For Jefferson, his version of the Bible only serves as a morality guidebook, nothing more. The other events were simply too strange to make sense. It is easy to see that had he lived during Ireneus time he would have been branded as a heretic!

The so-called Gospel of Thomas unearthed in Egypt sometime in 1945 mirrors the points raised in the Jefferson version of the Bible—no miracles, no divinity claims, only the teachings remains—coincidentally attributed to the same name, Thomas which in Aramaic means “twin”.

This gospel however, has never been established to have been written about the same time as the four canonical gospels, but clearly existed in the 3rd century because Hippolytus denounced such a text in his Refutation of All Heresies. This one, much like the other Gnostic texts like the Judas Gospel ran afoul of the early Church bishops, especially Ireneus, bishop of Lyon.

The teachings in Thomas (not established whether this Thomas is the doubting apostle narrated in John) clearly negate the canonical four in that the Jesus portrayed here is no Saviour, not a Messiah sent to save mankind. In fact the Jesus depicted here preaches a different kind of salvation: “You can save yourself”, he seems to be saying. There was absolutely no need for him to offer himself as sacrifice to save humanity.

It is so radical it has Jesus ridiculing divine intervention and the promise of heavenly compensation for worldly injustice. Which is a complete disagreement with John’s Jesus who forgives sin and promises eternal life.

And so it is easy to believe why Ireneus and the other early Christian Fathers denounced this “heretical” texts. Jesus not a Saviour? Blasphemous!

Again the question most enthusiastic “biblical” scholars of Gnostic gospels and other ancient texts ignore: What authority does Ireneus have in determining which among the various “Gospels” competing for attention during the “formative” years of Christianity should form the canon of Christian belief?

The well-hyped Gospel of Judas feature on National Geographic failed to shed light on this important issue. It simply hypothesized that Ireneus felt compelled to compile and choose those that would make sense of the sacrifice and persecution the early Christians suffered under the Romans. It was a lamentable oversimplification. That feature conveniently ignored the important fact that Ireneus was a disciple of John the Apostle. And as such, he was among the best to confirm and authenticate which among the competing accounts circulating then held true to the teachings of Jesus.

If the Thomas Gospel was only written in the 3rd century, then much like the Judas Gospel, it’s just an imagined account of the events that happened by those who might have their own agenda to pursue and were really not there to witness it, unlike the four canonical gospel authors.

If, as Elaine Pagel argues in her book Beyond Belief, the account really belongs to the same doubting Thomas, then we now have a case of Thomas refuting Mark, Luke, Matthew and John, a discord within the apostleship.

But we have to remember that neither the authorship of the Thomas gospel has been established nor has the time of writing. So that in essence, it remains a curious footnote. Very much like the Judas gospel, the Thomas gospel is yet unable to shake the status quo or the foundations of orthodox Christianity as we know it today.

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Monday, October 9, 2006

Viva Manila!

My friend Jun E. (a.k.a Johnny Bravo) took these stunning pictures of Manila Bay. For a few, fleeting magic moments especially during the summer months, the entire area turns to crimson as the sun begins its descent and fades away into the horizon. Beautiful.


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Sunday, October 8, 2006

Miriam's Back

The new TV ad for Oil of Olay featuring Miriam Quiambao will prove to be a winning formula: Miriam's morena looks, well-toned figure and even skin tone makes for a satisfying viewing pleasure. What a treat!

By the way, Manny Pacquiao's face is everywhere: ice cream, vinegar, burgers, paracetamol. Oh please, enough.

And what's this obsession over closet cases like Sam Milby and Piolo Pascual? They clearly can't sing their way out of a paper bag and people go gaga over them? Please help. I'm barfing....

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Which Body of Water is the Best?

Boracay



Canton



Shaoguan



Manila Bay



Taipei



Clearly, Boracay is the best. But nothing beats Bohol's Loboc River.

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Lolita

Coming out of an appliance store at the ground floor of the Sta. Lucia Mall in Cainta, Johnny Bravo and I noticed a mini-fashion show featuring pre-pubescent kids and teen-agers donning and promoting a certain local clothes brand. The catwalks featured mostly cute little girls sashaying in high-heels and swaying their hips trying to project a certain je ne sais qoui attitude, and not succeeding. The show was rather entertaining rather than fascinating and interesting.

What got my attention, however, was the intermission. A girl not more than 10 years old sang a sexy and sultry song way too much for her age. And guess what, she wore an all-black leather outfit with tight, very short, “hot” mini-skirt which reminded me of a dominatrix in a porn video.

What were her parents thinking? I am not being prudish here, but dressing your kid like a whore or some x-rated video mistress for a show mostly for kids and their moms is soooo inappropriate I almost dialed MTRCB’s Laguardia and the DSWD’s children’s desk to complain.

You could almost imagine the demented pedophiles-in-the-making just lurking around in the corners and salivating at the little girl.

This reminds me of beauty contests for little kids. You know, the Little Mr. & Ms and Prince & Princess (PUT NAME OF TOWN/BARRIO HERE) which I have never been a fan of, even if the purpose is to raise funds for some good cause. I find these sorry cute events pointless. Many parents enter their kids in these competitions to give life to their fantasies and illusions of being royalty, at least for a day. I remember a mom who raised a lot of money so that her four (4) year old son in the day care centre could become Prince (NAME OF DAY CARE CENTRE), complete with his “royal court”, and directing the show herself (well, she brought in the money). It was so pathetic. But since the audience enjoyed it, what do I know anyway.

There’s really nothing wrong with that. We all have our own illusions. But overdoing it such as dressing your kid like some ten-year old whore is clearly another matter.

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Thursday, October 5, 2006

CHOPIN: Piano Sonatas



Leif Ove Andsnes, Piano
Virgin Classics

Browsing through the classical section of HMV’s along Orchard Road in Singapore, I chanced upon a reasonably priced 2-CD set of Frederick François Chopin’s complete Piano Sonatas, along with 5 Etudes and 4 Mazurkas, performed by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes.

The Sonata no. 1 in C minor comes from an earlier period, possibly when Chopin was still in Poland. Traces of Beethoven can be easily gleaned, especially in the fantastic last movement marked Presto, which is a fitting contrast to the highly romantic first movement. However, the harmonic complexity characteristic of Chopin shines through.

The Sonata no. 3 in B minor however, is a bit of a disappointment for me. The first three movements are fine, Leif made the piano sing alright, but the Finale marked Presto non tanto is extremely bangy. I’m not sure Chopin intended it to be played that way. With all that banging, the rhythm slows down a bit in the middle part, maybe the pianist got fatigued, I don’t know but the inconsistency is unfortunately very obvious. I’ve heard a recording more impressive than this one, although I lost that copy, where all the banging and other virtuosic effects were saved for the last few bars for a truly electrifying and breathtaking close.

Chopin’s most famous Piano Sonata, the no.2 in B flat minor, which contains his very popular Marche Funèbre, is like a tragic poem centred around a death theme. Extremely impassioned and hypnotic at the same time, this piece reminds one of Beethoven’s Appassionata in its intensity. Leif did justice to this piece, I am convinced.

The light pieces represented by the Mazurkas are a joy to listen to, very much like Schubert’s small pieces, expressing various moods such as lighthearted humor and even somber melancholy.

Chopin’s Etudes are first and foremost, meant as finger exercises to address specific technical problems. But the melodic invention and harmonic configurations are so refined and impressive they really are works of art rather than just exercise materials. And no wonder, Chopin’s Etudes figure prominently in concert recitals and recordings, such as the 5 featured here by Leif.

Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Rumor Mill

After rowing training last Sunday, something dramatic happened during breakfast at McDonald's. Unfortunately I wasn't there to witness it. It involved mainly Mrs. Baites, Mrs. McPhee and Barry Manilaw. To keep the incident under wraps and prevent the issue from blowing out of proportion, everyone present agreed to a news black out. And so I won't be able to narrate what exactly transpired among the personalities involved.

Unfortunately, despite my absence during that day, Norman Baites' mom dragged me into the issue. You see, DURING breakfast in the same venue the following tuesday, she claimed she saw me discussing the Sunday incident with someone. Amazing. I only got to know about the incident AFTER breakfast, on my way home.

Who wouldn't be flabbergasted? I wasn't even there, for crying out loud. She clearly had an axe to grind against me, whatever.

And so Barry simply assumed that I must have sourced my information through the e-groups (which contained no reference about the incident at all). What sort of logic is that? We belong to the same e-group so we get the same mail.

And so the issue got diverted away from what really happened towards the supposed "squealers" and tattlers.

I simply had breakfast at McDonald's, and I was already accused of spreading rumours. I really wonder why she thinks I was talking about her, was it because I had puffy eyes from lack of sleep the night before, or was it because I squinted too much. Or maybe, it's because I crossed my legs like a Spanish senorito, that's why from Mrs Baites' vantage point, I must be spreading romurs aimed at destroying her reputation!

Grrrrrrr!

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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Nothing to Cheer About

I'm not in a jolly mood and no, not on account of Milenyo (is there actually a person out there named Milenyo?). The peso broke the all-important psychological barrier of US$/PhP50. For exporters and outsourced consultants dependent on foreign currencies, this is not a good thing. People cheer that this is a good development, a good sign that the economy is back on its feet and doing well. No less than Gloria Arroyo herself bragged about the country's per capita income now rising to about US$1,400. Oh please, this is only a translation effect on account of the stronger peso.

But this is deceptive. Droves of Filipinos leave the country at an alarming rate to seek greener pastures abroad, mostly from among the professional ranks like nurses, engineers and IT personnel who earn more than their unskilled counterparts. And the appreciation of the peso is caused mainly by the massive inflows of remittances from overseas Filipinos, especially with the onset of the holiday season. And not because productivity levels in the country have improved, or manufacturing output gained any steady pace, or that exports grew impressively. Nope.

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Tigers devour Eagles

Good thing UST won the UAAP crown last night 76-74 over Ateneo, in over time. Because if Ateneo won, then we'll never hear the end of how "the eagles have soared, conquered so and so..." complete with TV specials about their journey to the championship, streamers in blue screaming "We Believe" and perhaps, even a book launch, all to satisfy their alumni's ego trips. *barfs* Last time they won over La Salle, they went overboard.

Also, for the 7th time Ateneo lost the coveted FINEX Finance competition again, which it hosted, with UP dominating and winning first place, its 5th in 8 competitions. I'm so happy, so perhaps now they can shut up and stop proclaiming to everyone that their undergraduate management school is the best in the country. Ang yayabang kasi, as if naman...

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Sunday, October 1, 2006

Fumes

Doc is fuming mad, you can almost visualize the smoke coming out of his ears! You see, Meralco has yet to restore power supply in his neighborhood, and worse, his bank's ATM machines do not work, even in areas where power supply have been restored. And he is running short on cash. (READ: he's hungry :)

His text messages reveal his state of mind: he is going to write a nasty letter addressed to the bank, citing its over-all uselessness in times of need. What if there was a war, he asks?

Then we'll all run and hide in the boondocks and pick guavas for dinner, I was tempted to text back.

And then I realized I was running low on cash and needed to go the nearest ATM machine. Ack!

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