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Friday, May 30, 2008

Mascot Encounter

I always see people dressed as objects and mascots on the streets, often handing out leaflets. On my way to my jog in Marikina, I passed by a grown man dressed as a germicidal bar of soap. Imagine Spongebob Squarepants, only dressed like a box of soap, in pastel pink. I stopped in front of him, trying to locate his eyes. And the germicidal soap started dancing and shaking his hips, for crying out loud.

Men standing on a corner, dressed as hotdogs, french fries, bananas, burgers, soap, these things make me sad. They belong in a parade, not on the streets. When they hand out leaflets, I accept them graciously. A cousin of mine once worked as a Jollibee mascot and he says those costumes are so damn hot, uncomfortable and it takes a lot of effort to maneuver your movements, not to mention the pesky children demanding to be carried.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Puccini: Che gelida manina

Rising Polish tenor Piotr Beczala interprets one of the most beautiful arias composed for the lyric stage, Che gelida manina from Puccini's La Boheme.

Rodolfo, a struggling poet, falls in love with Mimi at first sight. He eagerly tells her about himself, his life, his dreams and what he does for a living.

"I live, in my carefree poverty, like a prince:
I squander rhymes and hymns of love.
When it comes to visions and dreams,
I build castles in the air.
I have the soul of a millionaire."

Beautiful, isn't it?

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Running Career

Since I have difficulty keeping track of running events, Jun does the secretarial job for me. He dutifully reminded me that for the next two months, we will be participating in the following events:
  • June 22: Manila Marathon Mayor's Cup, 10K
  • June 29: Mizuno Infinity Run Part 2, 15K
  • July 13: La Salle Running Festival, 16K
  • July 26: North Face 100, 21K
I told Val that we don't join events if they're not at least 10K (ang kapal!). If you notice, we're gradually building our strength and stamina in preparation for the ultimate goal: a 42K full marathon. OK, para kay Jun lang yan, kasi he keeps on putting off his full marathon ambitions for a couple of years na. As for me? asa pa-- I'll stick muna to the more achievable and realistic half-marathon.

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Random Pix

I'm finishing a box of Royce chocolates. The minute I popped one into my mouth, I thought I was having a chocolate mousse dessert: the texture is as soft as marshmallow, with just a hint of the bitter taste of dark chocolate. Best of all, it is not sickly sweet and it melts in the mouth. The picture below of my wildly-decorated piano has nothing to do with chocolates.

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Proxy Battle

As expected, the stockholders' meeting of Meralco came to a showdown between the government (GSIS) and the Lopez family. Right after stepping into the premises of the Meralco Theatre, Winston Garcia of the GSIS already got jeered at by company employees and Lopez supporters. Garcia, at the last minute managed to convince the SEC to stop the proceedings pending his appeal questioning the validity and legality of the proxy votes. The board defied the order anyway and proceeded with the meeting.

As a political move, this is probably the best time for Gloria's administration to take over a highly unpopular power utility firm, or at least take it away from the Lopez family and earn pogi points from the public. Mind you, any Presidentiable making a statement of support to the Meralco Group right now would be taking a political suicide.

The GSIS has always been used as the conduit-- due to its substantial investments-- for take over bids in the country. In fact, GSIS was instrumental in the hostile takeover of PLDT by the First Pacific Group and forcing the Cojuangcos to sell theirs shares, as well as changing the landscape of the banking industry (the Equitable-PCI merger). The GSIS usually sells its shares to the interested party or potential majority owner via cross transactions.

Expecting a battle, I'm pretty sure the Lopez family solicited those proxy votes from minority shareholders to keep a majority of seats in the board of directors. The Lopezes managed to win the majority of seats, and the government lost one. Whatever the outcome of the stockholders' meeting is, it is still going to end up in court.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Name That Tune

My neighbor across the street is playing Beethoven's majestic Ninth ("Ode to Joy"), the Moonlight Sonata and the baritone aria Largo al Factotum from Rossini's Barber of Seville on his CD player. (Hah! I think I can name every single tune). I can't believe it. So it seems I am not the only one in my neighborhood who listens to classical music.

I always thought otherwise, considering all houses here except mine have videoke machines. Week-ends here can be a torture sometimes, as my neighbors seem to be waging a contest of sorts, throwing full-throated renditions of ABBA and Air Supply at each other. This explains why Panda, Polar and now Grizzly have all decamped and moved somewhere else.

Maybe the air has become saturated with Village People, Laura Branigan and Barry Manilow, my neighbor took my cue and turned towards classical. Marc's correct in saying that the Philippine music scene appears to be stuck with the 70's and the 80's. Dancing Queen, YMCA, I Will Survive, gay anthems from the bell bottom, disco era. I always pass by the Araneta Coliseum and there's always a concert featuring has-been singers from decades past all the way back to the 60's.

Neil Sedaka, the Osmonds (of "Paper Roses" fame), Platters, the "real" Platters (apparently, the former featured members not anointed by the original members--perhaps some organizer picked out the black singers from streets in L.A., dressed them up like the Platters and sent them over to the Philippines to perform at the Araneta) and an assortment of one-hit wonders from the 80's. Even songwriters who used to work with the more recognizable 70's singers have a market here. Yes, we are the official has-been capital of the world. Johnny Mathis, where are you?

I really like it when I play Mozart on the piano and my neighbors across the street would be wailing like ambulance sirens. It makes for a stunning contrast.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why Lolit, Why?

Controversial talent manager Lolit Solis retracted her statement regarding her "sighting" of Sam and Piolo in sweet mode at the Sofitel hotel last year. The "couple" likewise withdrew the libel case against Lolit. In a TV interview, despite wearing glasses, she claimed her vision may not have been very clear during that time. What a lame answer, which only means she was under duress and may have been forced to make the retraction.

When the two male celebs enlisted fellow "christians" Angel Locsin and Anne Curtis, as well as some gay photographer plus Pokwang to provide the alibi, I threw up in my mouth. They like to invoke their "christianity" to provide a moral cover for their activities. They're just a bunch of hypocrites.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Breakdown

Here's a breakdown of work-unrelated internet stuff I usually do:
  • 30%- blogging: I spend way too much time now reading other people's journals as well as writing my own;
  • 30%- internet videos: in the following order: Youtube and DailyMotion (excellent site!) for music vids and everything else, Veoh (love this portal!) for anime (OVAs) and full-length indie movies and Boxsweeper for downloadable and free classic movies;
  • 20%- email (I only have one addy, believe me)
  • 20%- YM (occasionally), audio files, the occasional internet porn (people, I harbor carnal desires, too).
My general interests in the internet are still:
  • Classical music- 70%
  • Economics, Politics/World Events & Culture- 20%
  • Porn, Sports and everything else- 10%
In music the breakdown looks like this:
  • 65% symphonic, chamber, solo instrumental (divided as follows: instrumental-60%; 30% symphonic and 10% chamber); for instrumental- 90% piano, 10% violin and cello;
  • 35% opera- of which 70% Italian, 20% French and 10% German (I'm not exactly a huge Wagner or Strauss fan);
You snap again: "Another pointless entry, zero entertainment value."

I know.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jogging and American Idol

Late afternoon yesterday, I donned my running gear, left the house for my mid-week jog in Marikina only to turn back halfway. Dark clouds in the sky formed and it seemed like the heavens were about to pour out a torrent. It felt like a lull before a storm.

You know what, it didn't rain at all and the skies cleared as well. By that time, I was already lying on my sofa half-naked. Bummer. It's the same feeling I get every time I bring an umbrella with me and it doesn't rain.

So I spent the night instead watching the American Idol finals on TV between the two Davids. I never liked Cook, never liked his voice, but his performance in the finals was more edgy, had more personality and fire than the smooth-voiced Archuleta who predictably specialized in ballads, almost Barry Manilow-like.

At one point, Archuleta was speechless and close to breaking into tears. A note to contestants: don't do that. Unless your viewers are entirely gay or cotton candy teens, people hate cheesy, touchy-feely, you-are-my-sunshine moments on stage.

The judges, Cowell particularly, liked Archuleta better. But what do you know, the viewers disagreed and Cook won the competition.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Presidentiables

This early, you can already spot the "Presidential" hopefuls in the 2010 elections. Manny Villar, Loren Legarda, Noli de Castro, Mar Roxas and--God forbid! Erap again.

Villar and de Castro are both playing the OFW card. Mar Roxas is suddenly making populist statements about scrapping the EVAT for petroleum products. Legarda has her TV ads conveying feel-good platitudes.

I think subsequent surveys will support my pedestrian observation.

Who's most likely to make it? Too early to say, but I believe the odds are against Legarda. This time, mass voters may feel they have had enough of a woman President. The current one, Gloria is highly unpopular due to massive corruption allegations and is widely perceived to have cheated during the last elections. Gloria seems to have set a bad precedent.

de Castro loves to play it "safe" when confronted with issues, and his statements do not really have much substance.

Roxas is highly articulate and knowledgeable, but he can turn out to be another Gloria: he may succumb to dirty politics while hiding under the veneer of "economic growth" rhetoric.

Villar is like Angara: he knows his way around the back-stabbing world of politics and knows when and how to use the media for his advantage. I like his decisiveness and his views are clear and direct to the point.

I don't think that Erap will run again, however. He seems tired of politics. I don't think he is keen on a political revenge.

But then again, everything could change in a snap. Philippine politics can be unpredictable.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Killjoy Runner

There was another running event this morning at the Fort, the Pringles 5k run. Runners were supposed to be munching on Pringles while finishing the course, much like the Donut fun run in the States. I refuse to support running events that are pointless and worse, corny. Duh.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tocar y Luchar

I spent the whole night watching this amazing eight-part documentary To Play and To Fight about the Orquesta Juvenil Simon Bolivar de Venezuela (the current Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela). It is in Spanish, but I understood enough. Also the images spoke for themselves. Nobody knew what was happening in Venezuela, until this youth orchestra stepped on the world stage and blew everyone away. They take on the most demanding scores in the repertory: Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Shostakovich. My jaw literally dropped when I heard them play a personal favourite-- Gustav Mahler's Resurrection Symphony and a complicated one, the Shostakovich 10th. And what a performance it was.

The music they create sounds different even when compared to the best professional orchestras in the world, i.e. Berlin and Vienna. Maybe because these kids, many of whom come from "depressed" areas, have nothing but their music to hold on to. They mean every note they play, not just somersault over it. And it is to their credit they sound better than more professional orchestras who mechanically go through the musical scores. The sincerity comes through the listeners quite clearly.

Abaddo, Rattle, and the late Sinopoli-- first rate conductors who all held the baton of Berlin and Vienna, along with Placido Domingo, all flew in to Caracas to see and experience for themselves this amazing phenomenon.

The unforgettable images are indelibly inked in my mind: the blind kid who plays the trumpet; a young girl practicing Bach near the rooftops of a slum area; a young boy playing cello under a tree; a young trumpeter blowing his instrument in a parked "banca" along the seashore; and a concert in a small but packed chapel in what appears like a small, sleepy town.

Jose Antonio Abreu founded and pioneered the musical teaching system in Venezuela known as "El Sistema", which offers free music lessons and instruments to poor children. The scheme began in 1975, with the belief that music could act as a force for social cohesion in a country with such a wide gap between rich and poor.

The rest of the world can only marvel at the program's success. It has opened countless doors to under-privileged young people and gave them good chances at a better life.

As Berlin Philharmonic's Simon Rattle aptly puts it, "music not only enriches, but also saves lives."

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Reaching Out

A good friend is being subjected to a shame campaign a la Brian Gorrell. The offensive blog gets nastier each time. I don't really know if I want to intervene, I hardly know the other party. My concern is that the situation could get out of control.

But I know that some well-meaning effort is being made to reach out, hopefully to put a stop to the on-line mayhem.

Once, another friend asked me to "mediate" between two warring people when their relationship broke down. I have no intention of meddling with other people's lives, but as a favor, I acquiesced. I invoked Kahlil Gibran and Oprah and started putting some sense into the blackmailer's head. The threats ceased after a while.

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Monopolistic Behaviour

In the Senate hearing yesterday, MERALCO representatives admitted that system losses due to pilferage as well as the company's own electric consumption are being passed on to consumers, on top of the debt it owes NAPOCOR for failing to honor its purchase contracts.

The onerous cross-ownership provision allowed in the EPIRA-- allowing for a distribution company to partly-own a generation company, or IPPs-- defeats the purpose of introducing competition into the industry.

In full-page ads, obviously MERALCO wants to put the entire blame on NAPOCOR for the series of price hikes in electricity. But clearly, questionable pass-on charges imposed by MERALCO to its costumers due to system losses and debt owed to NAPOCOR, as well as purchasing power from MERALCO's sister companies at higher rates are part of the problem.

The government is splitting NAPOCOR and engaging in privatization activities to make the generation sector competitive and efficient. The same should be true for the distribution sector. It's about time the government do something about the abusive behavior of this distribution utility.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Oscar Moment

I'm supposed to be happy today, my phones kept ringing all day, text messages poured in from family and friends, from near and far. It's a confirmation that I have many friends (what a pathetic statement). As Sally Field said in her Oscar speech, "You like me, you really, really like me."

Muchas gracias a todos!

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Dialogues des Carmelites: Final Scene

The chilling finale to Francis Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites-- the mass execution of the nuns while singing the final prayer for deliverance, the Salve Regina--decimating the chorus one by one, to the last surviving voice. The horrible sound of the falling guillotine--zing!-- that keeps on slicing through the serene music sends chills down the spine, I swear.

This is the same minimalist but first-rate Strasbourg production I saw on DVD.



And here's the Metropolitan Opera's version starring the formidable Jessye Norman.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cooking Disasters

Marc, you are right. Capers are awful. I cooked some pasta in tomato sauce with parmesan cheese, mixed in tuna dipped in olive oil, and then added the capers soaked in vinegar. Bad idea. I ended up spitting out the capers.

Which reminds me of another cooking disaster just a few weeks back. I experimented mixing Miki noodles with pork, string beans and...and...squash! While the noodles were overcooked, the squash cubes turned out to be rock hard--I thought I was biting into a block of stone.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Simon Bolivar is Smiling

I couldn't believe my ears! A youth orchestra from, of all places, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, sounding so polished! The conductor looks like a reggae star than a classical musician. I didn't know that Venezuela has a very successful music program for young people.

In this trailer and in the next video, the twenty-something Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela interpret an extremely demanding piece, the Mahler Symphony no. 5.

Last year at the BBC Proms, they created quite a stir and wowed critics from both sides of the Atlantic. Dudamel is moving up the ladder and will take over the baton of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

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Power Bully

My MERALCO bill states that my electric consumption for April fell 3.6%, but I will be paying 5% more compared to last month. MERALCO says it has to make adjustments in its generation and transmission charges.

Yeah right. Somebody has to put MERALCO on a leash. The ERC seems to be at the beck and call of the distribution company, approving most of its rate hike petitions. It took the Commission on Audit and the Supreme Court to stop the company from over-charging its customers.

It has again filed for another rate hike for the debt it owes the NAPOCOR. Unfortunately, this debt was borne out of the company's stupidity: it engaged in a contract with NAPOCOR wherein it committed to buy a minimum volume of generated power. Meaning, should it fail to buy the minimum volume, it is still obligated to pay NAPOCOR the balance of the unused portion. And MERALCO wants its consumers to shoulder that. Amazing.

The explanation is simple: MERALCO's sister companies engaged in power generation, such as the Independent Power Producers (IPP) Sta. Rita and San Lorenzo plants (owned by First Gen, another Lopez-owned company) have to earn something, right? And so, MERALCO only buys 50% of its requirements from the cheaper NAPOCOR generated power, and the rest from other major IPPs, especially from its sister companies. In fact, power prices from these affiliated IPPs are much, much higher (around PhP4.00++kw/h) than NAPOCOR's (only around PhP2.00++).

So if only MERALCO buys all of its power requirements from NAPOCOR, my electric bill is supposed to be much lower. Retail electricity rates in the Visayas and Mindanao areas, which also source most of their power requirements from NAPOCOR, are way below than in Metro Manila and Luzon areas where MERALCO holds a complete monopoly in distribution.

Not surprisingly, the Philippines has the second most expensive power rates in Asia, next only to Japan.

I am for a full deregulation of the power sector. That is the only way to disband the price-setting behavior of the distribution monopoly, MERALCO. We need a power industry that is based on price-based competition, incentive-based regulation and open access to transmission and distribution facilities. We also need an ERC that will not succumb to pressures from MERALCO.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Sikatuna

Marc's here from Singapore for a brief business meeting, before going to Sydney at the end of the month and settling there for good. He's now a top flight business executive and a millionaire, I think. Anyway, I met up with him last night. He's now on the "heavy side" so I engaged him in a very productive walkathon tour of the Ortigas and Malate areas, bar hopping until the waiters politely drove us out, staying up until early morning.

Literally huffing and puffing, (I wasn't-- I ran a full hour at the Marikina Oval last night) I'm sure all that walking made him lose a couple of pounds.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Rare

I think it was Tarrega who once said that "the guitar in the hands of an Englishman is a blasphemy." Such was the dominance of the Spaniards in guitar music--Albeniz, de Falla, Tarrega, Rodrigo--just to name a few, that no other nationality, well except for their cultural cousins in Latin America to a lesser degree, could lay claim to the genre.

But the prime exponent of guitar music nowadays is an Englishman: John Williams.

And rarer still, is a 14-year Chinese girl plucking away at a classical guitar. Here's Xuefei Yang with Joaquin Malats's Serenata Española, guitar transcription by Tarrega.


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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sluggish

The Fed cut its rate again by 25 basis points to 2%, its seventh consecutive rate cut. But whether or not this will significantly impact on inflation remains to be seen, considering that the crises in energy, food and raw materials come from the supply side of the equation. So you still have a situation where despite weak consumer spending and falling interest rates, inflation continues to rise.

The Fed can only hope that this move will translate to better consumer spending--say improvements in housing prices and auto sales-- but with no resolution to the credit crunch in sight yet, and as consumer spending well in the doldrums due to rising gas and food prices, it will take a while before consumption will be at normal levels. Consequently, 1Q08 growth in the US was at a sluggish 0.6%.

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