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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Italia!

My friend Titus, economist slash banker slash backpacker, sent this pictures when he went to Italy. I wonder if he goes to these places by himself.

Florence

Bologna

Venice

Siena

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Долотина: The Slavic Connection

I have always wondered where my family came from. My family name didn't strike me as Spanish, so I was pretty sure one side of my family didn't spring from the Spaniards, neither were my native ancestors issued names by the colonizing missionaries. It didn't sound well, native enough, like Katigbak or Panganiban. But it does sound European, I just couldn't figure out which part of the continent we probably sprang from.

A few years ago, a cousin I haven't seen for a long time gave me a lecture on family history. She said our great, great grandparents said that an Italian guy travelled with the Spanish friars and eventually married and settled in Dauis, in Panglao, Bohol. I remained skeptical because I thought my last name didn't sound Italian enough. I tried searching the internet for Italians with similar last names as I did and found nothing. But surprisingly, in Singapore my Greek boss asked me if I had an Italian heritage. And so the Italian connection is probably correct. After all, Greeks live next door to Italy.

Except that further research in the internet reveals the Italian guy probably descended from the Slavs of Eastern Europe. I was so surprised when I found out that I shared last names with people called Ekaterina, Galina, Kamila and Irina, all based in Russia, the Czech Republic and Latvia. In Slavic script, it appears as Долотина. Kewl.

So there you are. One side of the family probably branched out from the Caucasus mountains, as some ventured out down far south and west to Italy while the rest remained in Russia and the Baltics, producing off-springs that came in contact with the exploring Iberians, the Spaniards. The Italian-- much like Columbus (another Italian) and Magellan (a Portuguese)-- served under the Spanish crown as an assistant to the proseltyzing Spanish friars, travelled to Mexico, and with the route taken by the Galleon trade in Acapulco set out for either Manila or Cebu before finally settling in Bohol.

The thing is, the name isn't widely used in either Spain or Italy, but more widespread in Slavic countries, especially in Russia, which means that only a small number probably ventured out southwest to Italy and Spain. People, I'm reconstructing the geographic movement of the genes here.

Yes you are absolutely correct. I am not doing anything productive right now.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

It's That Time of the Year

Christmas is about sharing, loving, giving and of course...

...endless videoke singing! It is Christmas morning and I woke up to my next-door neighbor's full-blast rendition of Dancing Queen. There's three of four more houses with caterwauling Mariah-wannabes fellating the microphone. The only consolation is that no one is singing April Boy Regino's greatest hits or imitating that high frequency guy in Air Supply.

Few days earlier, my landlady bought a brand new amplifier and DVD player. Problem was, she didn't pay attention to the attendants on how to set up her sound system. And since she dislikes reading manuals, she called me up to sort out her problem.

Now that's her sound system's all set up, she's blasting like a rocket into space.

To my friends in Australia, Singapore, Germany, the US, Mars and here in the Philippines, Malipayong Pasko Kaninyong Tanan!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Axed!

The first time I used Axe Deo cologne in college was my last as well.

Beaming like a kid who just found an Easter Bunny egg, my dorm mate, Marino exclaimed, "Aha! I know that scent," to all and sundry. It didn't help that, for comparative purposes, he smelled like Drakkar Noir.

Marino is now a lawyer, I think. He went to prison on hazing charges (if memory serves me right), got out, married a socialite and got himself featured in a bridal magazine or something. According to Marc, Marino is now a raging homosexual. (Marc, baka you confused him with that namesake of yours who hails from Bacolod?)

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Early Signs

In grade school, a little girl sang on stage a weepy number called Oh My Mama. Her mom, who taught her the song, was in the audience as well. The little girl was half-sobbing, teary-eyed and was looking at her mom's direction while her mom and some audience members were singing along.

The audience was so touched some were choking with emotions and wiping their eyes. It was like watching Flor de Luna live.

I think I was the only one who wasn't impressed at all. I know, early signs of kill-joyhood.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gifts

I once gave somebody a figurine for Christmas. It was one of those kris kringle events wherein you just have to contribute to community spirit and camaraderie by giving each other gifts. She was probably expecting some sort of a sculpture. It was a sculpture all right, of some bird perched on some tree.

I can never forget her priceless expression upon opening the gift: from giddy excitement to uhm, obvious disappointment followed by forced merriment, it felt like watching a balloon deflate in really, slow motion.

I'm not really good at sending gifts. I gave Che a yellow Hello Kitty key chain, not knowing that the blasted cat doesn't come in any other color but pink. To my office colleagues I gave some of them yoyos. In grade school, I lost count of the number of times I received and sent handkerchiefs and socks during Christmas. I once gave a gift consisting of Cheez Curls and a face towel.

Hey, I got some really weird gifts, you know. At the Kalayaan Hall, somebody gave me a pair of scissors...unwrapped! I also got a baseball cap wrapped in an SM plastic bag! I think Frodo gave me surplus corporate giveaways complete with company logo and stickers. In keeping with the White Christmas theme, Titus once gave out Colgate white flouride toothpaste along with...with...adult diapers! Adult diapers!

So for this year, what would I want for Christmas?

World Peace and a Greener Environment na lang. And some Acqua di Gio.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Idol

Pacquiao pummeled and hammered the highly-favoured Oscar de la Hoya into submission in the 8th round in what appeared to be a lopsided affair.

At the end of the fight, however, Manny told de la Hoya: "You're my idol."

Predictably, de la Hoya retorted, "No, YOU are my idol."

You may now roll those eyeballs.

"Te Amo," said Manny. "NO, mahal kita", said Oscar.

OK, I made up that last bit.

Now let's move on with our lives. I have deadlines to meet.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Language Conversations II

Last night, I spoke with Ambrose via Skype. He's been in Germany for like, four years already and so I asked him if he can now speak in fluent, conversational Deutsch.

"Yes I can. I had no choice but to learn the language," he said.

"In one of those scientific conferences, I even asked some questions in German," he added, proving once and for all that he has conquered Goethe's language.

"And?" Still skeptical I asked him, "they understood you?"

"Yeah."

He's currently writing his dissertation in gasp! solar physics! I wonder if his computations can still fill up a whole cartolina or manila paper.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Exotic

At a bus stop somewhere in Guangdong, China last year, Frodo asked me to get him some cold fruit juice from the forecourt.

I got myself a refreshing but common grape juice while I got him some longan juice mixed with what appears like coffee and coconut milk.

While I was enjoying my drink, Frodo could barely drink his, giving me a look that says he's going to throw me out the window later.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanks but no, Thanks

I don't really know why some Filipinos greet each other Happy Thanksgiving on the same day as the Americans when this tradition is not theirs at all.

Before you accuse me of being a kill-joy again, let me remind you of the significance of the American Thanksgiving. It commemorates the time in the 17th century when the English colonists shared an Autumn feast with the native Indians to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. It also signals the cooperation between the European settlers and the native people.

So tell me, what is its historical significance to Filipinos?

Nada. Exactly.

We already have our own versions of Thanksgiving, we have them all year round, we call them Fiestas. Let's not be ignorant, shall we? This display of colonial mentality is annoying.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

UNICEF Run

At breakfast after the UNICEF Run yesterday, I asked Doc why temperate fruits when grown in tropical areas, require a "dormancy" period before they flower or bear fruit. His reply consisted of 'stop and go signals,' and 'protein structures.'

I did not understand a single thing.

Anyway, Jun rightfully noticed that kids who came in superhero costumes were clearly expecting to win in the Best in Costume contest when the 'Star Trek' walkathon participants came-a-walking towards the finish line. Almost in unison, people immediately took out their camera phones to snap pictures.

I did not.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Going Nuts

Yesterday, I was writing about fruits.

Sometimes, I give myself a pat on the back, wondering how I was able to come up with a report based on nothing, really. I'm still writing about fruits, mostly about cherries and strawberries and I believe this time, I hit a brick wall. I'm staring at a blank monitor (er, that's why I'm blogging), yikes! I'm currently flogging myself and basically hitting my head against the wall just to extract the creative juices and get something to write about. Hey I have to write about nuts and vegetables, I don't even know where to begin. Deadliest deadline, next week! Argh!

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Vive la Liberté!

C'est mon hymne national préféré! Vive la République et Vive la liberté!!!

The French National Anthem, La Marseillaise, performed impressively by Placido Domingo, a Spaniard. And with good reason.

With all due respect to my own country's anthem, the French national anthem is by far the most beautiful and the most stirring: inspired and shaped by the mother of all revolutions, The French Revolution, the anthem's message of equality, fraternity and above all, liberty, resonates to every freedom-loving citizen from all corners of the world.


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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Master at Work

This has got to be a historic performance...

Astor Piazzolla and his ensemble performing his own composition, La Muerte del Angel (Death of an Angel) at the 1984 Montreal International Jazz Festival. As I have repeatedly pointed out before, his music is being performed across three genres-- tango, jazz and classical-- with increasing frequency, from tango clubs and jazz fests to hallowed classical concert halls, firmly putting him in the pantheon of the world's greatest musical giants.


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Common Sense

So what's the difference between de la Paz and other government officials spending taxpayers' money when they're abroad?

Nothing really, except that the policeman was an amateur compared to wily Senators and Congressmen. Lawmakers usually travel with their wives and friends on "conferences, speaking engagements, seminars, etc" to represent the country while splurging in shopping sprees at the same time. They probably spend the same amount-- or even more-- as the police officer had intended to, but hey, they use credit cards, traveler's checks, wire transfers! They do not bring cold, hard cash! He probably didn't know that you can't just bring in as much cash-- especially in foreign currencies-- as you want without alerting the airport authorities. Somebody slap him with a travel book, por favor.

Was the PNP planning on buying contraband Soviet-era weapons from Moscow gangs so it had to bring in loads of euro cash into Russia? Hmmm. Hardly, because the police officers were supposed to attend an Interpol conference.

But the most galling explanation came from a friend of the beleaguered police officer who claimed that part of the money was his because he asked dela Paz to buy him a watch in Russia! For crying out loud, for making up such a stupid explanation, no wonder dela Paz got caught!

Owhkay. First, you don't go to Russia to buy Rolex or Patek Phillipe. You go to Switzerland or any of the duty-free shops around the world. Second, mister policeman, your explanation came too late. It seems like you took your sweet time in looking around for someone to support your alibi. Thirdly, by choosing to bypass the banking system in favor of a Malate money changer to exchange the PNP millions for euro cash means the Central Bank can trace your highly suspicious transaction.

You know mister policeman, you could've gotten yourself a Rolex had you tried to use some common sense.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Old Habits Die Hard

As usual, I vowed to wake up at 4 a.m. to write my report.

And as sure as the day is long, I woke up when the alarm rang at 4 a.m., and promptly returned to sleep at 4:01 a.m. Damn.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pinoy Dining Habits

You know you're a Pinoy...

when you sip the contents of Coke or Sprite from a cellophane plastic with a straw;

you don't mind eating pansit or noodles with rice;

you wonder and complain loudly why the rice comes in last in a Chinese lauriat dinner;

you eat ice cream "sandwiched" in a bun;

you order green mango shake inside an Italian restaurant;

you combine peanut butter with bago-ong or fish paste (kare-kare, yes?)

you don't drink wine to accompany the food, you drink wine to get smashed;

you have sinigang several times a week;

you always have sawsawan (mix of condiments) consisting of soy sauce, vinegar, calamansi and those infernally hot chilis;

you hesitate to eat the last remaining morsel of food on the table;

you look for "toothpick" after the meal even when dining outside;

while dining abroad, you have difficulty explaining you want an extra order of "plain rice";

you go to the restroom when it's time to pay the bill; (OK, hindi lahat)

you feel no remorse whatsoever when you gleefully point out to people that they have gotten fat;

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Changing of the Guards

So who do I think is going to be the next US President?

OBAMA.

Coming in the heels of an on-going economic crisis, Obama does seem like more capable of handling the economy than his Republican counterpart whose main strength lies in foreign affairs.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

D' Opis

Here's a vid taken inside the office, con mis compañeros de trabajo. As I have mentioned before, the decrepit place resembles a barangay health centre more than an office setting. Courtesy of Marvs and Barnz.


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Fish tea

I never realized how fish-crazy the Japanese are until I finally opened Jun's pasalubong from Japan, the powdered Green tea.

For some reason, the taste and the aroma reminded me of, well, fish.

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CHOPIN: Ballade No. 4

One of the most beautiful compositions in the piano repertoire, Chopin's 4th Ballade, interpreted splendidly by Stanislav Bunin. The music strikes a balance between a languid nocturne rich in melody and a virtouso display of technical prowess.

Again, Chopin like Rachmaninoff, was an exile, and his music-- especially in the difficult passages-- evokes visions of leaving bodies. His music is a creation of a severed soul, always trying to reconnect with his past through his Mazurkas and Polonaises, as well as his Ballades, like this one.


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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tribal Pix

My "tribe" for the past two-and-half-months. Pix courtesy of Barnz.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lunch Out

I haven't seen Frodo since the disastrous Mizuno run last April. Anyway, we met up and had lunch in Cubao earlier this week. He said he once had a meeting with a client inside Starbucks.

"He asked me what I wanted and so I said Espresso," he said.

I didn't think much about it until...

"I was surprised my coffee came in a tiny cup and was extremely bitter. I had to ask for hot water," he explained.

Ohwkay.

Anyway, he plans on striking it out on his own and leave his current job, having sealed a lucrative deal with a supplier.

"I have reached a point where I don't want to be stuck in my job, which is becoming routine," he rationalized.

"Are you sure about your decision?" I played the devil's advocate.

"Things are going to be difficult in the coming years," I said.

At this point, I noticed he was wearing those "elevator" shoes that make him look four inches taller.

"Are you wearing those shoes again?" It was a rhetorical question, but I had to ask.

"Of course not."

"You're lying."

And then our discussion turned towards the prospects of the property and construction sectors.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Corny Cemetery

I didn't know that there is a Cemetery of Negativity somewhere in Baguio.

Ohwkay. Apparently you go there to bury your negative "feelings," ya know, instead of poking dangling dolls with needles, or sending your supposedly-significant other with roses dipped in black ink, you bury these thoughts in the Cemetery of Negativity.

Whoever came up with this corny concept deserves to be buried here...alive!

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SCHUMANN: Fantasiestucke Op. 12

The legendary Argentine pianist's magnificent and sensitive reading of Schumann's Fantasiestucke Op.12. Martha Argerich presents a wonderful palette of colors and evokes a whole gamut of emotions in the listener, giving justice to this composer's difficult masterpiece.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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Moving On

The coming week will be my last week at work, after only about two-and-half months since I started. Two of us will be leaving at the same time, we plan to submit our resignation letters together.

I feel a bit sad, of course. Despite the aggravations caused by a highly insensitive management, working with my colleagues has always been a blast. I will definitely miss them.

But then again, I have other things to think of, like my consultancy which I plan to take seriously from hereon. Professionally, I don't see myself growing with the company. There's just nothing for me there. Working for a company that considers its employees as "cost items" rather than as "contributors" is a recipe for disaster. I cannot work for a company that pays minimum wages to some employees and ask them to work six days a week in poor working conditions, with hardly any benefits other than the minimum prescribed by law. The high employee turnover is an indicator that the company doesn't really care much about its employees.

The cramped work spaces, the storeroom atmosphere, my China-made PC that is so dangerous because you could get electrocuted just by turning it on, and to top it all...I bring my own drinking water, for crying out loud. The list goes on and on. The so-called "clinic" is nothing but a makeshift compartment the size of a shoe box. It has a bed and a cabinet alright, but if you take a peek inside you won't see any medical supplies or any nurse on duty. It is a complete mockery of the system, obviously "for show" should labor officials happen to make an inspection on the working conditions of the employees. I refuse to believe that top management is unaware of this. The selective "blindness" is unbelievable.

The culture of inefficiency is deeply-embedded that it would probably take a lifetime to overhaul the vicious cycle of indifference and complacency. The worst part is that nothing is being done to address it.

I do not wish to be a part of this organization anymore. I have to go.

I'd treat my short stint with this company as a bad dream, nothing more.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Keynes is Back!

With governments taking the unprecedented move of bailing out large banks responsible for the financial mess worldwide, it seems like Milton Friedman's laissez-faire economics will be taking a back seat. It does seem like the government has to intervene when markets fail and avert a systemic risk.

I have serious doubts however, that the Keynesian interventionist model will work in a developing country like ours wherein the government, time and again, has proven to be highly inefficient and corrupt.

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Bouncier

Haven't seen Jun and Jen for quite some time so we had dinner last night in Megamall. Our conversation always turns to how people have gotten fat (because I haven't).

Both have gotten bigger and "bouncier". I was the only one with cheeks that did not resemble an airport runway. I was wearing a tight-fitting shirt (size "small") and an even tighter shorts (joke!). We had a cholesterol-laden night courtesy of crispy pata and kare-kare generously slathered in peanut butter and fish paste. Jun and I each had 2 cups of rice. Had chocolate cake and cappuccino afterwards. And so we all vowed to resume jogging and swimming sometime in the very near future.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Power Trip

In all my years of working in the corporate world, this week has got to be the fastest turnover I have seen so far.

My boss got fired, his replacement lasted a week, and another colleague will be leaving tomorrow. Our USB ports have been disabled, internet access is limited, we have no external e-mails, cell phone calls have to be requested. The ink for the printer takes ages. The list goes on and on, I often wonder whether my office operates in the present century.

I thought I was the only one making plans of leaving. It turns out three have already preempted me. We're being squeezed dry I believe this is already deliberate and putting up with so much aggravation is not really worth it. The level of inefficiency is frigging unbelievable, it is practically accepted as the prevailing corporate "culture."

I have been able to "detach" myself from so much office politics I suspect some of my colleagues think I'm indifferent. Not at all. There's no use getting worked up every time assholes engaging in "power tripping" give you a hard time. It is just not worth it.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Muy Triste

Astor Piazzolla's sublime Oblivion, arranged for Piano and Cello (Julian Lloyd Webber).



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Friday, October 10, 2008

Sick Leave

I'm on sick leave since yesterday. I'm currently nursing a nasty fever coupled with recurring headaches.

Apparently, the stifling office environment plus drastic changes in temperature outdoors were just too much for my frail body. I think I should go back to regular jogging and probably, rowing.

Yup, I plan to quit my job soon. The cramped, noisy and weak-aircon environment as well as the red-tape laden bureaucracy that could make some government offices look like Disneyland are just too much for me to bear. I got sick, right?

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Credit Freeze

The current credit freeze taking place in the US is wreaking havoc across the world.

Again, the US being an US$11 trillion economy means that financial troubles within its borders can have serious ramifications on the other side of the globe. The world is so much linked with each other that no country can stay immune from the bloodbath coming out of Wall Street.

Philippines banks' exposure to mortgage-backed US securities is reportedly around US$300 million only, but curiously the GSIS hasn't made a disclosure as to the extent of its sub-prime exposure. I shudder at the thought, considering that pension benefits of government employees are at stake here. If it is significant, then we really have a big problem.

Another pressing issue would be the expected global economic slowdown. Slower US consumption spending is a major concern because the US is everybody's biggest market. When that market dries up, then expect business failures and rising unemployment figures.

Coming from a high-oil price environment, the last thing that is needed right now is the unavailability of capital. If businesses are unable to borrow to fund working capital needs for example, then how are they suppose to carry out their daily operations?

One main difference, however between this crisis and the last Asian financial crisis is the fact that Asian banks' balance sheets are pretty much stronger, having learned from that debacle, except for a few, of course.

Lemme digress a bit. I wonder how much losses Temasek, the Gulf States and China's sovereign funds are booking on account of the financial meltdown in the US. Marc, watdayyatink?

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Disrobing Wall Street

I always thought those analysts in Wall Street were mostly over-rated consultants who can sell just about anything, including your toilet bowl, by packaging it through elaborate bullshit couched in high-falutin' language to impress clueless investors.

When I hear them talk on Bloomberg or CNBC, I feel like punching them in the nose, because they're basically just quoting each other. Of course I'm sourgraping, they're earning millions for saying something that really amounts to nothing! Ugh! Bye Lehmann. You deserve it. It amazes me that they were able to market mortgage-backed securities that were tied to sub-prime assets.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Puccini: La Boheme

Puccini's immortal classic finally makes it to the Philippine stage with the Philippine Opera Company's production of La Boheme. I was fortunate enough to watch portions of the dress rehearsal last Wednesday evening, courtesy of Ms. Lorna Lopez and Ms Karla Gutierrez of the POC.

I arrived at the onset of Act III when Mimi, in her touching aria Addio, senza rancor bids Rodolfo farewell. This number quickly becomes a heartbreaking duet between the lovers and finally turns into a marvelous quartet as Marcello and Musetta bring their quarrel outdoors. The stunning contrast created between the warring couple and the sentimental one in an ensemble number is just marvelous: it is without doubt, one of the finest quartets in all of Italian opera. I just hope that next time, the performers would keep this in mind.

Also, I couldn't stifle a smile when Colline in a touching aria, bids farewell to his overcoat, which he goes out to sell.

I missed out on Che gelida manina and Mi chiamano Mimi in Act I, two of the most beloved arias for tenor and soprano as well as the big crowd scene in Act II that culminates in Musetta's highly popular Waltz.

From what I have seen so far, I'm sure the production is all worth the trouble with competent performers as well as an inspired conducting from Helen Quach. I'm pretty sure the orchestra will rise up to the challenge during the regular run. Performances on Friday through Sunday this week at the CCP.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Geekish

For some reason, one colleague seems to regard me as a walking encyclopedia, a geek.

I did give him a brief lecture about Nazi Germany, the split between North and South Korea, the differences between Jews and Christians as well as the recent financial turmoil in the US. GASP!

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A Day in the Office

An office colleague is being paired off for a blind date this Friday, and so he searched her Friendster profile, curious about her "looks."


The matchmaker--also a colleague-- claims her friend is "slim and sexy," professionally accomplished and would be a perfect match for him. He told me she looks like, uhm, Mel Tiangco (no offense to Mel).

He's not exactly thrilled with the idea because last time he went out on a date with a lady bigwig, he kept on spacing out because she reminded him of...of...uhm, Caridad Sanchez.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

My First Leave from Work

This is the first time I took a leave from work since I started more than a month ago.

This is a whiff of fresh air for me, sort of an imposed break, considering that my office resembles a barangay health center more than a corporate setting. The din created by non-stop ringing of the phones, agents shouting at the top of their voices, the broken air-conditioning, the non-existent facilities, the crowded, storeroom atmosphere and worst of all, my mono-block chair. Yah, the company's too cheap to provide me with even a decent chair where I can park my ass. I've been given an impressive PC to work on, it is not yet working, however. Some brand from China I have never, ever heard of.

God knows how long I will last in this environment. Thankfully, I got a new foreign project and I think I will prioritize this one rather than my job. I keep getting really bad headaches because of the stifling environment-- hot, stuffy and very noisy. This is the only job so far wherein I have to take a paracetamol before going to work. I wonder how people here can last as long as they did.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Finally!

Me in Guangzhou, finally I'm able to upload it. No audio, however.


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Thursday, September 11, 2008

BRAHMS: Intermezzo in A Op. 118 No.2

Words are never enough to describe the beauty and the tenderness of this piece.

Colleen Lee's sensitive rendition of a Johannes Brahms masterpiece, the Intermezzo in A, Op. 118 No. 2.


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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Life Is Fair

My new job isn't really that stressful. In fact I find it extremely easy. Since I have an assistant, I kinda like the feeling that I don't have to do everything myself anymore. I do the conceptualization and the supervision, but that's peanuts. I can do that with my eyes shut.

Considering that my position is just a notch above a staff's and I know more about my field than the entire office, I leave the airheads and the insecure to their illusions and their ridiculous, unworkable ideas while I choose to keep my mouth shut. Hello? You pay me slave wages, I'll give you slave quality. Life is fair. My long term goal remains my own consultancy firm where I am my own boss.

But I'm lucky my boss is very open-minded and receptive to my suggestions. He gives me free rein in our section.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Duh Coverage

I had planned on watching the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics Sunday night live via satellite. But Solar Sports had a brilliant idea-- a light bulb moment-- to enhance the viewing pleasure of the viewers.

Solar delayed the supposedly Live Telecast so that it can cram as many commercials as possible and extend the coverage well beyond midnight. Worst part was when we had to sit through and listen to the commentaries of the hosts who seemed to have a contest as to who had the most trivia about Michael Phelps. The winner? I pick Bobby Yan. He probably prostates himself before a framed picture of Phelps he downloaded from the internet. Pathetic. Also, I bailed out and decided not to watch when I realized I couldn't sit through the long, long commercials.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

RAVEL: La Valse

Maurice Ravel's brilliant tribute to the Viennese Waltz: La Valse. The waltz gradually emerges from a haze, barely recognizable in the beginning, with snatches here and there of the melody, but slowly becoming coherent and finally revealing itself in all its grand glory. The music pays tribute to Vienna at the height of its power as the centre of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire.





Interpreted splendidly by the Russian pianist Pavel Nersessian. I have never heard of him, but most pianists who attempted this had massive difficulties with this finger-breaker, especially towards the end where the dissonance can be disconcerting.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lousy Night

What's up with Filipino programming nowadays? Why do the two giant networks rely on imported, or should we say, branded reality shows? Can't they come up with something more original?

Currently watching Philippine Idol. Or more likely, a third-world version of the US original. The Pinoy Dream Academy on the other channel isn't any better. Both are disappointing. What a waste!

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PC Crash

A trojan horse embedded inside a corrupt codec file almost wreaked havoc on my computer again.

I tried cleaning my files via Kaspersky, but my trial period already expired. I had to purchase the on-line version. Cost me US$40 which is good for one year. What the heck. 40 dollars is nothing compared to the aggravation caused by a virus-infected PC. The annoying worm and pop-ups have since disappeared. However, my OS seems a bit slower. I am only able to do a quick scan, my PC hangs when I do a full scan. And if left unattended, the PC crashes. But at least, I can now surf the net once again, watch videos and do stuff on MS Office.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Job

So how was my first week at my new job?

It was OK. I've held jobs far more stressful than this one, which of course, pays a lot,lot more than this one. My colleagues all seem very nice, though. I haven't detected any high-and-mighty types...yet.

By the way, this is the only job so far that requires me to report on a Saturday morning. *yawns*

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Beijing Olympics Opening

Currently watching the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics on TV. Wow! The presentation surpasses expectations: it appeared like 3-D animation. Bravo Beijing!

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Humble Pie

About a month ago, I started worrying about the state of my financial affairs. My foreign projects dried up and local clients weren't exactly knocking on my door, either. One big project went up in smokes. It is the third quarter of the year already and things haven't really improved a bit. This hasn't happened to me before. An ominous sign.

After so many years of self-employment, I have finally thrown in the towel and will start work on Monday. An 8-to-5 office job. I have been out-of-the-loop for quite a while, adjusting to corporate life once more will take some time.

Until the middle of this year I was earning in US dollars and way above the local rates. It was a fact I was so damn proud of because I was my own boss: no Monday morning blues, no boss to report to, no nosy officemates. Working from home and armed only with my laptop and phone I conducted projects that cut across timezones. You see, I used to thumb my nose down on local wages, I called it "slave wages." But things have changed. I have learned to swallow my pride and will be taking on a job that doesn't even pay half what I used to earn. How the Mighty has fallen. It is a humbling experience.

Although some of my colleagues went on to become senior officers or have gone abroad for greener pastures, I seem to be stuck here. And for the first time, I was unable to send something to my parents back home.

Anyhow, I guess I really have no reason to complain. I need to learn to count my blessings and to cease comparing myself to others.

By the way, today is an auspicious day: 08-08-08. (My cell number has triple 4's, I am starting to believe that my unlucky streak this year may be due to this triple combination- whatever). So I wish everybody the best of luck. Hopefully, in the coming months things will be better for me.

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Semi-State

War is again brewing in Mindanao, thanks to the government's stupidity. The MILF has started to seize some areas in Mindanao based on a proposed agreement with the government for an expanded autonomy in identified Muslim areas without any proper consultation whatsoever. Can you blame those people in Cotabato if they start arming themselves because the separatist MILF has started to flex its muscles and has begun to take over their areas? Yikes!

The hopelessly-titled Bangsa Moro Juridical Entity proposed to expand the current ARMM to include areas in Lanao and Cotabato that opted out of the ARMM during the plebiscite. The basis for identifying which areas are included in the entity, as I understand it, is "ancestral domain," meaning those areas historically governed by the Sultanate of Sulu in the 18th century. As such, no proper consultation with those living in the 21st century was necessary. Ugh!

In addition, the autonomy that will be granted is almost like one step away from statehood, as the new entity can maintain its own police and military forces and enter into bilateral agreements and economic cooperation with foreign countries.


Whoever came up with this proposal should be cited with treason: This is like handing a huge area of Mindanao to the MILF on a silver platter and helping it create a separate Islamic state, whether the people here like it or not.

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de FALLA: Danza Ritual del Fuego

My seatmate in Spanish, Isabel, gave me the piano score of Manuel de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance. My brother found the music eerily strange. It does sound like somebody's about to be sacrificed.

The excellent Spanish pianist Alicia de Laroccha interprets this piece, recorded at the Prado Museum in Madrid.


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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Running, Rowing, Cycling

I missed out on a couple of running events lately: La Salle, North Face, Milo, whatelse...the Manila Marathon. Last event I joined was the 15K Mizuno Run Part 2 and that was like a month ago. I couldn't really train for these events and jog in the evenings because of the rain.

Anyway, some events were so poorly-organized, like the 1st Mizuno and the Manila Marathon (I heard), I dread joining some of them if I'm not sure of the organizers' track records. Drinking from a balde (bucket) or from a garden hose just because you have no choice and you cannot risk dying on the road isn't worth all the trouble.

Should I return to competitive rowing? I don't know, waking up at the crack of dawn to paddle in the murky waters of Manila Bay didn't seem to bother me before, I got used to it. I might persuade John, Jun and Jen to row and swim afterwards one week-end. Raul's already up for it.

I've competed in China and Taiwan but I hope there's gonna be another overseas event but please, NOT in China, I've been there twice. Singapore perhaps? I've been to the city-state and watched dragon boat events held at the Bedok Reservoir, but my team hasn't competed there yet. If there's a plan to compete in Singapore, I might sign up for it. The team's going to Taiwan this October, but I haven't been training for more than a year now, so I guess I'll take a pass on this one.


I haven't fixed my bike yet, so biking in the countryside is still out of the picture. I still hate those hideously-designed cycling shirts and shorts filled with corporate logos. But I do want take cycling seriously and travel all the way to Laguna and Batangas with Doc. i miss those days in high school when Ambrose and I would bike all the way from Camp 14 in Del Monte to Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon, passing by wide pineapple plantations and navigating through treacherous, steep gravel roads snaking through the Agusan Canyon towards the other side. 'brose, do you bike around in Germany?

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor

One of the most disturbing symphonies I have heard is Dmitri Shostakovich's Eight Symphony. I can't even begin to describe it. Shostakovich was hyped by the Soviets as the bard of communism. Listening to the third movement, it seems to me that the symphony was supposed to praise the achievements of Soviet Russia. Since the music was composed during the worst days of Stalinist oppression, it is hard to believe that Shostakovich remained unaffected by it all. In fact, the resulting music sounds really creepy, as if the Russian army were about to March into Eastern and Central Europe, subjugating its peoples and erecting the so-called Iron Curtain.

So did Shostakovich really endorse Soviet Communism through his music, or was he a musical dissident that presented disguised challenges to the oppressive system he was supposed to endorse? The debate still rages more than 30 years after his death.

The third movement marked Allegro non troppo has an obsessive, primal crotchet pattern that demands a high level of musicality, concentration and precision of ensemble. The viola starts out the ostinato, then the violins and incredibly the trombones and tuba all hurtle through the performance to create an atmosphere of triumph but redolent of fear and paranoia as well.


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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Back to School




Picture this: a tough gangster, the most feared in the country and who's expected to take over as "boss", pretends that he's only 17 years old and goes back to high school to get his diploma. Tough call. Oh man, it's a riot, right from the start. Makio, the Yakuza heir-apparent, messed up a potentially lucrative deal simply because he's a little "slow," he had trouble with simple arithmetic. He can't even write his name properly. Crazy. And so the Yakuza's top boss, Marlon Brando's counterpart in the Godfather, threatened to by-pass him for the position unless he gets his high school diploma.

Yap, I've been watching episodes of the Japanese comedy drama, My Boss, My Hero which I download from Veoh. Feels like watching anime, with lots of crazy sub-plots. I like the fight scenes as well- fast, furious, kung fu- like - it's not the Asero-type at all, you know, post-production explosions and lots and lots of slow-mo crap.

I'll try to watch the entire season. It's a pleasant, funny ride so far. I watched the third episode without subtitles *triple gasp!* hello?... I had to guess what it was all about but I think I managed to get the gist.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nocturne

Chopin's most beautiful nocturne, the Opus 27 no. 2 in D♭. Haunting and dreamy, it's like watching the moon caress the garden on a balmy but cloudy evening with its fading light.



Lang Lang on the piano at Carnegie Hall.

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VAT

I watched parts of Gloria's State of the Nation address yesterday and I agree with her on the issue of retaining the VAT. She said VAT collections go a long way in funding social services and creating job opportunities. OK, ok, that was of course meant for a broad audience, and so the motherhood statements that ring hollow.

Removing the VAT can have dire consequences for the country. I hope those militant groups who engage in drama and empty rhetoric realize that. Let's analyze this one properly without getting too worked up or emotional, shall we?

VAT collections account for a huge chunk of government revenues. Removing this means we're back to huge budget deficit days. Incurring huge budget deficits in turn means lower credit ratings, thus higher interest rates on existing and prospective sovereign loans, loss of investor confidence resulting in a weak currency and inflation, putting pressure on the already-high gas and commodity prices on account of global supply constraints.

In order for investments and capital to flow smoothly into the country, the country must show a strong revenue base consisting of direct and indirect taxation (VAT, customs duties, etc.), as well as a determined tax revenue collection effort (as a % of GDP, we lag behind our ASEAN neighbors).

By the way, why do IBON Foundation surveys get noticed by media? Are you kidding me, that blasted NGO's surveys use the most biased and the most unscientific methodology in the country. Ridiculous results! Huwag na kasi patulan, lumalaki lang ulo ng mga yan!

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Underrated

I'm probably one among the few people who haven't seen the Dark Knight yet. I heard Christian Bale's really good, I mean after all he's one of those severely underrated actors. I still remember his old Disney, Oliver Twist-like movies where he plays a street urchin who suddenly dances and breaks into song; or the boy who got separated from his parents in the unforgettable Empire of the Sun by Steven Spielberg where he managed to survive by himself amidst the chaos of the war, or the cold-blooded, calculating psycho in what else, American Psycho. In contrast, the mere mention of George Clooney or Ben Affleck makes me want to puke each time. I avoid their movies big time.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Overcharging Bully

The ERC shouldn't just focus on the unfair imposition of system loss charges by Meralco to its consumers, but should reexamine the items included in the computation of the Rate on Return Base formula as well. This is used by the distribution utility firm to set its rates. If I'm not mistaken, the formula includes the company's income tax obligations to the government. In other words, even Meralco's taxes are being shouldered by its electricity consumers.

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Himantayon

I've been laughing my brains out the past hour or so, courtesy of Himantayon, a Cebuano website that claims to "chronicle the limits of our humanity"- whatever that means. I don't exactly know the equivalent of himantayon in Tagalog or English, the adjective observant, even when added with the adverb keenly doesn't seem to capture its essence, or the Tagalog pakialamero (nosy) is just darn too negative. So Marc, help out, how do we define it?

What I like best about the website is that humor and popular culture are captured casually in crackling, good old-fashioned Cebuano. I speak Cebuano fluently-- it is after all, my native tongue-- but it is the Northern Mindanao variety which is light-weight compared to the richer, more archaic and antiquated (for my ears) language spoken in Cebu, the kind I get to hear only on AM radio stations.

I remember feeling amused when I heard someone say "nalisang ko" (I was confounded) since it has a very poetic ring to it. Very much like listening to a Provençal dialect, I imagine: you don't understand it, but it sounds pretty all the same

Marc, have you seen this site, nagsige ra ko og katawa :)

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marathon Challenge

Oh my gas! TinaC, one of the most generous and nicest people in my dragon boat team, sent over a video clip of me playing the piano last year in Guangzhou. I'm still unable to upload it, server glitches, I think.

She says I can only start to call her "Ate" after I complete my first full 42 kilometer marathon. Hwahwahwa. More than four hours of non-stop running, gasp! I might as well climb Mt. Everest. Well, who knows :)

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Stereotyping

Walking inside the mall, it is sometimes very easy to spot what sport people are into based only on how they look. Basketball players are the easiest and virtually a give-away: they're almost always tall. A swimmer usually is dark or tanned and has a V-shaped body; a dragon boat rower has a mismatched pair of arms and shoulders- one side is bigger than the other; while runners are basically skin-and-bones types-- you could almost mistake them for famine victims-- there's hardly an ounce of flab in their bodies. If they're not the "Kenyan" types, then look "down there"... no not that one!... lower, the legs-- usually its bigger and muscled.

I swim, but I do not have the curves of a swimmer; I used to row and one side of my body was bigger than the other; and I run, which means my legs now resemble a construction worker's.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Torpor

With prices of just about everything going up, inflation hit double digits for the first time since, I don't know, the 1980s. People are tightening their belts: the main avenue near my neighborhood feels eerily deserted late at night, and traffic isn't as bad as before with less cars and trucks in the streets. I almost thought it was Holy Week again.

The overhead trains, especially the MRT along EDSA is horribly overloaded, even during non-rush hours, sardine-style. It's a good thing Pinoys generally do not smell bad.

It has been raining for a couple of days now. It's gray and dreary. I think I'm gaining weight. I can't do my usual jog because of the rain. Swimming doesn't appeal to me just now.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sadako Experience

When my brother and his girlfriend watched the movie The Ring which featured the character we now see in our nightmares (courtesy of the movie), ya know, 'Sadako,' they only had the vaguest idea what to expect.

And so they watched the Sadako-starrer... at home. At night. Around 9 or 10 p.m. And so when Sadako, in her trademark all-white sleeping gown, her long, jet-black hair covering her chalk-white face and hiding a murderous, bloodshot eye, started to crawl on towards the TV screen, they both fell from their seats, half-expecting Sadako to come out of the screen to strangle them!

When I first saw it in the cinema, the audience reaction was an experience in itself: the girls behind me were screaming their guts out, ahead of the actual scary part. Anticipating the shock factor probably prevented them from having seizures and heart attacks.

Which reminds me of the time when my brother and I first saw The Exorcist on the big screen. At night. It was a special screening to benefit a beauty pageant contestant. There were no posters, no information at all about the movie. We thought it was an action movie starring Chuck Norris. When Linda Blair's face turned a full 180 degrees, we just knew there was no way we would ever sleep well that night.

Sadako, after all these years, I still remember you!

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Centre Court

Finally, Nadal beat Federer to claim Wimbledon in a heart-stopping marathon battle that came close to five hours! Winning Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year puts Nadal in the history books as well. He's officially the new king of the centre court.

I have always rooted for the Spaniard over the Swiss, because the latter's clean, elegant almost ballet-like style didn't appeal to me, in contrast to the former's brute force: wild, feral and almost sexual, watching Nadal play is like witnessing a lion let loose in the Roman dungeons.

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Da Who?

I used to work for a foreign securities broker which had a counterpart office in the UK. One London trader was a Swiss who spoke French. His name was Francois. I think it was Marc who said that somebody once sent a fax message to the London office, addressed to a Mr. Franz Wa.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Hair Cut

When I was a kid, the dominant hairstyles sported by boys my age were inspired by only two themes: (1) the airforce and (2) coconuts. I'll explain.

The airborne style is either a semi-kalbo ("shaved") or a flat top. Usually, mothers prefer this cut for boys who love to play outdoors because they do not have to deal with lice later on. We called it airborne because according to the movies we have seen, air force pilots sport this hair style.

It is the second style that defined my hair as a kid: the coconut husk cut. Yes, just imagine a coconut husk-- the same one you scrub the wooden floor in your house in the province-- and put it over my head. That was how I look like as a kid. Our town barber must have gotten his inspiration while scrubbing the floor. He must have thought that bangs would best complement my round face and chinito eyes.

I think I looked like Lang Lang as a kid, except that I was never a chub.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Finger Pointing

Sulpicio Lines is now turning the tables on the sea mishap involving its domestic passenger ship, Princess of the Stars by laying the blame on Pagasa, the national weather bureau and curiously, Del Monte Philippines for its toxic cargo on board. It claims that Pagasa's faulty weather forecasting caused the sea accident.

If there's one common denominator that binds economists, meteorologists and psychics together, it is forecasting. Although the first two rely on empirical evidence and mathematical models, psychics depend on personal "vibrations,"the crystal ball and tarot cards.

Forecasting is always a hit-and-miss scenario. Madam Auring probably predicted Muhammad Ali's win by sheer luck and now rely on cheap gimmicks for publicity. For economists, have you noticed how many times the IMF, World Bank, ADB and other think-tanks revise their economic projections? In fact, I think the weather bureau had more hits than misses compared to economists. (This reminds me of the Prophet of Boom in the nineties, the Harvard-trained Bernardo Villegas who was so optimistic in his projections that he already defied logic). How many times have the weather bureau advised the public to bring umbrellas for an expected rain shower, only to have the blazing sun shine brightly? Lately, one Bicol governor castigated the weather bureau for sounding the alarm of an impending typhoon in his area, which missed it entirely when the typhoon veered towards another direction.

My point is that forecasting techniques in meteorology (and economics) are far from accurate, it's somewhere between science and good, old-fashioned guesswork.

In addition, ships are equipped with weather forecasting equipment as well as satellite weather feeds and the ship's engineers have been trained to deal with weather disturbances to facilitate navigation. Actually, sailing ships need not depend on the national weather bureau, really. They're capable of doing forecasts themselves. The fact that no other shipping vessel sailed that day means that the accident was clearly a result of a judgment mistake by the crew.

Frank/Fengshen was supposed to track the westward route, until it changed its mind and turned northwards and accelerated its destructive force as well, which unfortunately, was the path Sulpicio Lines was taking, on the opposite direction.

And putting the blame on an agri-business company for the toxic chemicals on board is really mind-boggling, claiming that the ship didn't know that the chemicals have high toxic levels. Really, so if a cargo contained chemicals for the manufacture of shabu, Sulpicio wouldn't know? or wouldn't care?

Sulpicio, do the right thing. Claim responsibility for the accident and stop pointing fingers at Pagasa and Del Monte to deflect the heat away from the company. After all, it was clearly a bad judgement call on your part, which unfortunately cost human lives and may bring down the company to bankruptcy.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Mizuno Run 2: Doing It Right This Time...Almost


As Nadal and Federer advanced at Wimbeldon, Spain finally beat Germany to emerge as Euro 2008 Champions and Pacquiao knocked out David Diaz in Las Vegas, I ran 15K at the Mizuno Rush to Infinity Part 2 at the Fort. OK, this run isn't exactly in that same league, but you get the drift.

Mizuno decided to hold this second fun run to make up for the disastrous one held last March where most runners ended up dehydrated. This one was seamlessly organized, except perhaps for the long queue at the Finish line. Water was plentiful, in fact mineral water and Rush were generously given out to the runners, not just some water taken from buckets.

My main complaint is that some runners had the audacity to take short cuts. I saw several cross the greens at the Heritage Park while others didn't bother entering the Park at all; some didn't turn right towards the treacherous McKinley hill which has the infamous 45-degree incline at the turn-around. Why bother signing up for the 15k if you have no intention of completing the route?

My "training" generated some dividends, I didn't feel as tired out as before, and I didn't feel the need to walk at some of the more sloping stretches. I didn't bother looking at the time, I always had problems with speed, I may have endurance but I do not have the speed.

And so my legs now look like a construction worker's. Jun called from Iloilo to inquire about the Mizuno Run. He ended by saying that their two bitches at home seem to be copulating. I told him the dogs might be lesbians.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

China's Growing Might

I think that the general economic boom experienced by the BRIC economies led by China partly caused the current mayhem in oil and commodity prices. When China finally saw the light and embraced industrialization via the capitalist model, you have 1.3 billion people pursuing that objective. Even if only 20% of the population were really productive, that is still a massive 260 million people. China, I believe, is a US$4 trillion economy (in purchasing power parity terms) and it has registered an average 10% annual growth over the past years-- which is an additional US$400 billion added to the gross domestic output every year-- almost the size of the entire Philippine economy.

The sheer size of the Chinese labor force plus rising productivity levels have caused demand for just about everything-- from oil to food stuffs-- to spike drastically, putting pressure on supply stocks everywhere. The huge oil and steel requirements of the Chinese, for example, have crowded out other smaller countries' requirements. Frodo says that he doesn't have enough roofing material supplies for his clients because everything has been gobbled up by the Chinese. The end result is rising prices because of supply constraints: production capacities are just not enough to service China's massive requirements.

This is just China. Add Brazil, Russia and India into the picture. China's boon is the rest of the world's bane.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Suman Fit

It's a just a few more days before the 15K Mizuno run at the Fort. I've been "training" the past few days, running a full hour at the Marikina track & field oval. I planned to run two hours but I couldn't get past the one-hour mark, it's difficult especially when you're running around in circles, at some point you'd want to just drop and lie down on the verdant soccer field. A lot of runners sporting uniforms from various races (Adidas, La Salle, Sta. Lucia, among others) were probably training for the longish run this Sunday as well.

When I got my race singlet last Friday, the organizers already ran out of medium sizes. The "large" ones were just too large for my frame, so I decided to get the smallest size. The fabric happens to be stretchable, so I can still force-fit myself into the uniform-- by inhaling deeply and holding my breath for like, forever. I probably looked like suman but I figured I could still lose a few pounds from all this running anyway. It means there's a helluva lot good chance that I could fit snugly into the small-sized race shirt come Sunday.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cinematic

On my way home after my early evening jog, I was walking along the pavement outside the Marikina Sports Centre when I saw a girl striding on the opposite direction bump into a light post. I know you'd say that I'm probably imagining these things but she was looking in my direction (maybe she can see hairs sticking out of my nose--Gross, oh snap!) I'm not kidding! If you prefer a pleasant imagery then imagine a Pond's TV commercial where the guy bumps into a post when a beautiful girl passes by, now switch the roles. (Friends, you may now hide under the covers).

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Political Theatre

The day after Drilon and company were released, Sen. Loren Legarda was interviewed live on 24 Oras with Mike Enriquez and Mel Tiangco. She was clearly intent on hogging the limelight, always comparing Drilon's ordeal with Arlene de la Cruz's whom she claims, "napalaya ko." Obviously, she wants to make it appear that Drilon was released mostly through her efforts without paying a single cent to the Abus. She preceded Drilon upon stepping out of the plane and was always beside her during press conferences, wearing white to symbolize peace (she could've held a white dove in her lap as well, to be released a few minutes later).

Problem is, it has been clearly established that Drilon and her cameramen were not released through her efforts, no matter how well-meaning these may be, but through ransom payment. It only makes the lady Senator look stupid. Really. She's been ostensibly kept in the dark as to the real negotiations taking place. Her naivete led her to make statements that only lent credibility to the earlier claims of the government and the Isnajis.

To a certain extent, the Isnajis and the well-dressed lady Senator have something in common: they're all opportunists. The Isnajis saw the perfect opportunity to make some millions (whether or not the elder Isnaji was really the head of the bandits) while Legarda used the hostage situation to boost her career in politics.

Pathetic, no?

As for the Lady Vice Governor who acted as the Drilon family's negotiator, she had the good sense to have a picture of her and the Isnajis counting the bundles of cash taken and handed this over to the police. She claims she didn't want to be "double-crossed" later. In contrast to Legarda's political theatrics, that was a smart, tactical move.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Pan de Cielo

At the Market! Market! in Taguig, I stopped by a kiosk selling bread and pastry. An odd-looking, yellowing bread loaf caught my attention.

"What's the difference between this bread and the rest?" I asked the sales girl.

"That's an egg loaf, it's more delicious so you need not use a spread," she replied.

So I bought one and brought it home. I opened it and gingerly took a bite, expecting a heady rush and shouts of Hallelujah just like when I first tasted the über delicious 'pastel' from Camiguin.

It tasted exactly like...uhm, bread...sans the stars and the Hallelujahs.

Damn those sales people.

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Twists and Turns

Suspicions of ransom payment have been confirmed. The "board & lodging" fee paid for the initial release of the assistant cameraman wasn't PhP100,000, but a whopping PhP5 million (according to police, only PhP2 million were given to the bandits, the rest were kept by the Isnajis). The ugly details of the negotiations are starting to come to light. Which means I was right when I speculated that the amount only served as a down payment, and that the two duffel bags seen being loaded onto a military pickup delivered par avion by a special SEA Air flight MOST LIKELY contained the balance of say, PhP10 million, leading to the release of the captives.

I guess the government had to allow Drilon's family (confirmed no less than Drilon's uncle, former Finance Secretary Edgardo Espiritu) to pay the ransom despite its no-ransom policy because it is now giving the Abu Sayyaf bandits a dose of their own medicine. The government's response involves (1) detaining the Isnajis who the police claim were part of the abduction and (2) launching a full-scale military offensive and manhunt in Sulu.

It is less clear to me whether the Isnajis were involved in the planning of the abduction from the beginning or whether the elder Isnaji was really the bandits' leader all along, although Drilon herself wondered why the Isnajis were making decisions FOR the bandits during the negotiations. Both father and son may simply have seen an opportunity to make a fast buck, a kickback from the ransom payment. Whatever the case, the fact that the bandits trusted the Isnajis enough to designate them as their negotiators means that these Abus probably know the Isnajis very well. They may have worked together in the not-so-distant past.

Enter Misuari. He helped to identify the suspects from police sketches and he even provided the alias of the elder Isnaji, "Larin-larin", who according to the police, was the Abu Sayyaf leader's name. Misuari seems to be distancing himself from his former MNLF colleague who may have formed a loose, friendly alliance with the bandits. After all, the elder is the current Indanan Mayor where Abu Sayyaf elements obviously roam and operate freely. Misuari's information has pushed the Isnajis deeper in trouble.

The Isnajis actions' were clearly highly suspicious and not above-board at all. If it can be proven that they kept PhP3 million out of the PhP5 million initial ransom payment from Drilon's family for themselves, then this fact alone should seal their fate behind bars.




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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pay Now, Bomb Later

The release of Ces Drilon and her cameraman after 10 harrowing days in captivity has triggered a lot of questions whether or not ransom was paid in exchange for the hostages' freedom.There's no doubt anymore that money did exchange hands, albeit in small amounts, since according to Secretary Ermita, a "token amount" ranging from PhP2,000 to PhP10,000 may have been given to the kidnappers. Earlier, the Isnaji father and son tandem who acted as negotiators and emissary FOR the bandits admitted paying PhP100,000 to cover "board & lodging" expenses of the kidnapped crew.

This board & lodging explanation by the younger Isnaji is ridiculous. There's no hot water and air conditioning in the jungle. The more plausible explanation is that the amount served as down payment, a gesture of reassurance that ransom will certainly be paid. (This is only my view, so don't arrest me.)

And there's one item that really struck me as strange: the Isnajis were negotiating ON BEHALF of the Abu Sayyaf. They were appointed by the bandits to act as negotiators. True enough, both are now tagged as suspects. I have mentioned in a previous entry that bandits, extremists, local officials and law enforcers are kith and kin in these areas. I mean, Indanan town near Jolo has a small population, everybody knew everyone else. The Abu Sayyaf probably even helped the local officials win their posts. So yeah, the Isnajis have a lot of explaining to do.

While police and the Palace deny claims that ransom was paid, an unscheduled commercial airline flight of SEA Air was spotted by a GMA TV camera taxiing on the tarmac of Jolo's airport. The lone passenger was reported to be a lawyer carrying two duffel bags which was immediately handed over to a military official and loaded onto a pick up. What was so "special" about the contents of those bags that a special flight had to be arranged so that it can be delivered "express?"

Your guess is as good as mine. If the bags contained the ransom money, then the government's strategy in dealing with this ordeal becomes very clear: securing the safety of the hostages first by paying ransom and pursuing the manhunt shortly thereafter, sort of a Pay Now, Bomb Later policy.

Given the military's dismal track record in tracking down and subduing the bandits who know the terrain and the sea around them very well (they can easily escape to Malaysia), the end doesn't seem to be in sight.


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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rants

I wish some bloggers will stop putting music on automatic playback on their sites and profiles. You know, when loud rock music blasts from your PC's speakers immediately upon entering the site, prompting you to spill the barako coffee on your keyboard while trying to locate the tiny "stop playing" button somewhere, if that button widget is visible at all. The owner thinks the song happens to be sooo cool he or she just had to share it with everybody else.

I have plenty of music clips on my blog as well, but at least you're given the choice whether or not to listen to the audio file or watch the video.

Also, commuters on overhead trains who play mp3 music or watch TV from their phones without headsets obviously think everyone else cannot possibly dislike their choice of music or channel. It only proves that: (1) OK you have a gadget that doesn't play polyphonic ring tones and everybody on the train envies you; (2) your music makes you look kewl, never mind that it is disco; but (3) you have no respect for other people's private space and that (4) you are just a pompous, pretentious ass.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Madame Butterfly: Un bel di vedremo

Long before the US bases were established in Central Luzon, the image of the Ugly American knocking up local women and leaving behind countless Amerasian children had already been captured by playwrights and opera composers at the turn of the twentieth century.

Puccini's Madame Butterfly (1904) chronicles the story of a young Japanese girl in Nagasaki, Cio-cio San, who got wed to an American serviceman, Pinkerton, who married her for fun. He subsequently went back to America but promised to take her with him for a new life in America upon his next return to Japan.

In the meantime, she bore his child, got shunned by society and her relations for being a single mother, while slowly sinking into poverty and constantly looking forward for the husband to return.

When he did in fact return to Japan, he brought with him his American wife. This forced her to give up her son to Pinkerton and his wife so that he can have a better life in America. Realizing there's nothing left for her, Cio-cio san took her own life.

West End and Broadway remade this Puccini opera via the Lea Salonga starrer, Miss Saigon, updated to seventies-era Vietnam, in the same way that another Puccini opera, La Boheme has been remade as Rent in Broadway.

Here's a solid interpretation from the Chinese soprano Ying Huang singing "Un bel di vedremo...", a scene where the anguish and the yearning of waiting mixes with anxious joy.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Board and Lodging

The big news this past week was the kidnapping of Channel 2 reporter Ces Drilon and her two cameramen in Sulu. Obviously, the fact that journalists, foreign and local, had been the favorite kidnap targets of Abu bandits did not deter her from doing a story in such a dangerous place where separatist rebels, Muslim extremists, homegrown bandits, local officials and police are kith and kin. Remember Arlene de la Cruz who also got kidnapped many years ago? Drilon knew fully well the risks of doing stories in these areas as well as the obvious fact that the government doesn't have the resources to stand up to the kidnappers. In her personal drive to carve a name for herself, she ends up being the headline banner story instead.

ABS-CBN says it is sticking to its "no-ransom" policy. Curiously, one of the cameramen was released reportedly after payment of a US$45,000 fee to the rebels for "board and lodging." Is this true? I mean
  • Ces and company didn't exactly camp out in Abu Sayyaf territory voluntarily, they were held against their will;
  • Lodging probably meant underground bunkers or cave dwellings, while being served with saba bananas and ripe jackfruit;
  • Even Oprah wouldn't pay close to US$10,000 per day for fun and adventure in the jungle of Sulu, especially without mosquiteros and arinolas (chamber pots).
Management may wish to call it by any other name, but it is still ransom. It allows them to actually pay ransom while declaring to all and sundry that it is not ransom.

Acceding to the bandits' request is self-defeating: giving them huge amounts of money means they can recruit more young people into their fold and buy more weapons to advance their terrorism and banditry agenda. Paying board and lodging, er, ransom may provide a momentary relief by giving freedom to the kidnap victims, but will ensure that future kidnapping and terrorist activities will continue to take place in that forsaken part of the world.

UPDATE: Board & lodging paid for the release of the assistant cameraman was PhP100,000, an initiative of the local government in Sulu and not the station's. The group has been released close to midnight last night.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Slammed

After paying my phone, internet, cable and electricity bills this afternoon, a giant sledgehammer fell from the sky and slammed on me.

After regaining my consciousness, I reached for my pockets and felt really, really poor.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Back to School

Jun the scientist is taking his Masters degree and he's been required to take one undergraduate subject. When he entered the classroom on the first day of classes, the entire class fell silent: the students thought he was the professor.

Which reminds of Marc who kept on ditching his swimming lessons before because he couldn't get over the fact that his classmates were mostly children.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Carpalism

It's been a week already since I did that pianist impression while taking a bath and my left wrist still bothers me. Jun the scientist says that I may have a condition called the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

"Carpal whaaat?"

I know, carpal rhymes with scalpel, and the words 'tunnel' and 'syndrome' put together make the whole thing serious.

It is a condition common among concert pianists (at least I have something in common with them) and those in professions that require repetitive movement in the hands, causing the median nerve in the wrist to be compressed when the canal where it passes through decreases in size. Which results in a numbing and burning sensation, or what Jen calls a 'shooting pain'.

Bending the hand 90 degrees is painful, so is lifting heavy objects. The pain and the discomfort have subsided but I can still feel that it's there.

I've been massaging the area everyday and I used all frozen food in my ref already as cold compresses.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Verdi: Requiem Finale- Libera me

Much has been said about Karajan's association with the Nazis, and this fact has blighted his legacy ever since. It was like a scarlet letter hanging around his neck. But paradoxically, he was instrumental in pushing the careers of professional black singers in opera as well: Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Grace Bumbry and Cole Porter (that is as far as I know). Perhaps this was his way of making amends with the past, in the same manner that the heirs of Richard Wagner make it a point to invite Jewish conductors to perform at Bayreuth. Maybe so, but it seems to me that he did this out of artistic integrity rather than personal magnanimity. The artists mentioned are of supreme excellence, you can hardly fault Karajan for his choices.

Here's an example of that, Karajan conducting at La Scala, with Leontyne Price singing the finale, "Libera me (Deliver us O Lord)" from Verdi's Manzoni Requiem. Price fearfully paints a fiery picture of The Last Judgment, her voice scales the depths of hell with terrifying reality, and ascends the heavens with angelic, sustained pianissimi that floats above the the turmoil and violence in the chorus and the orchestra. Her interpretation remains unmatched.



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Friday, June 6, 2008

Friends

Gloria finally signed the Cheaper Medicines Act into law. This allows for parallel importation as well as overriding MNC patents over critical drugs.

The Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce got a drubbing from the Senate for releasing a statement criticizing government's moves that will amend the still-flawed EPIRA and fast-track the privatization of NAPOCOR assets, opening the generation sector to even more competition. It claims this will only drive away foreign investors.

Yeah, right. The current EPIRA contains questionable provisions allowing for cross-ownership between generation and distribution companies. The main reason we have high power rates is because Meralco buys a huge chunk of its electricity supply from its sister companies which charges higher rates.

In a nutshell, this business group wants the government to take its hands off Meralco. The motive? They stand to benefit from the status quo (such as the take-or-pay provisions with IPPs) because they have substantial interests in these IPPs. From Senator Miriam's probing, one member apparently IS a First Gen partner/investor. See? Apparently, the Lopezes have "friends".

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Takeshi Moments

As if passing through a hanging bridge made of slabs of driftwood and rotting abaca ropes weren't enough, you had to duck and dodge rocks pelted at your direction and avoid a hail of arrows raining down on you. And then you realize that the other side really begins with a road paved with hot coals.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Limits

In an attempt to diffuse the brewing tension over Meralco's passing its system losses to customers, it launched a publicity campaign starring Judy Ann Santos which tried to justify this policy. Curiously, the ad was paid for--if I'm not mistaken-- by First Gen, a Lopez-owned holding company that owns the IPPs that Meralco gets a substantial, more expensive generated power from.

Unfortunately, the ad won't erase the fact that system losses reflect Meralco's operational inefficiencies and not the consumers'. The consumers should not be penalized for something that they have nothing to do with.

Previously when the controversial PPA (Power Purchase Adjustment) was still in force, system loss charges along with franchise taxes and the adjustments attributed to the take-or-pay provisions entered into with Independent Power Producers or IPPs, were all bundled and forced down the throats of consumers. Bundling effectively allowed Meralco to pass on system losses to its costumers discreetly. With the GRAM (Generation Rate Adjustment Mechanism) replacing the PPA, system loss charges are not included anymore, and so Meralco was forced to state it separately in the electric bill. Thus, it has only been recently that this unfair policy has come to the attention of consumers.

The computation of the allowable RORB (rate on return base) remains a bone of contention. Meralco claims that including income taxes (and perhaps, even employee pensions) as part of the operating costs that have to recovered is a standard practice among utility firms around the world. I totally disagree. The company should shoulder the tax payments. It is part of THEIR cost of doing business, NOT the consumers. No wonder that the country has the second most expensive power rates in Asia.

The ERC should act in behalf of the consumers, and not on the behest of the Lopezes. It seems that the monopolistic behaviour of Meralco is testing everybody's limits.

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