Sunday, June 29, 2008

Recycling Saturday at SM City Davao

Every last Saturday of the month, SM City Davao holds a recycling fair, gathering junk shops from around the city in their parking lot. Folks bring in their stuff to sell, usually on a per-kilo basis. Computers go for around P15/kilo.









Friday, June 27, 2008

The Ties that Bind

All throughout this week in Davao, the weather was mild and pleasant. Sunny, but not overly so; a touch cool, in fact, in the afternoons and in the evenings, the perfect temperature for napping and sleeping. Gone for the first time were the heavy rains that would swoop so suddenly into the city and cause minor floods. The weather since Saturday has been perfect, leading us to think that all was right with the world.

Of course, it wasn't. Owing to the vagaries of weather, at the very moment we saw a break in our own bad spell, Typhoon Frank raged across the Western Visayas.

As I write these words, I still find it hard to come to grips with the extent of the destruction and loss of life that Typhoon Frank left in its wake. The death toll now stands at over 622 (not counting the as-yet-unrecovered bodies from the Princess of the Stars); in Iloilo alone, over half a million residents have been badly affected by the storm.

But these are just numbers, figures for the head to process but unable to move the heart. The way to the heart is the imagination, and for that it needs stories and pictures. Not knowing anyone particularly close in the area, the storm remains a distant fact.

This is where the media ought to have come into play: to tell the stories. Alas, the cameras and the headlines were all pointed towards the Princess of the Stars. Likewise an incident of tragedy wrought by Typhoon Frank, it had the added benefit of morbid spectacle, hence the inordinate fascination and its hold on the imagination. The focus on the watery tomb, unfortunately, has left little room for the plight of the desperately living.

Where traditional media has failed, the Internet is filling the void. It has been through the blogs, through Flickr, and through Youtube that I finally see the extent of the devastation. On the blogs are stories: of families breaking through the roofs of their houses to escape the rising waters, of a man lashing himself to an electric post to keep from being swept by the wind, of office workers stranded in the mall and wondering in anxiety about their loved ones, of friends whose possessions were left covered in mud. On Flickr and Youtube are the pictures and videos that otherwise escaped the broadsheets and the broadcasts. It is the people who have been affected who are telling these stories.

Our sense of country has always been a tenuous one, dispersed as we are across many islands. Like it or not, media has been our daily link to the lives of our distant brethren. It is the words and the pictures that bind us and move us. If the proxy voices fail us, then it is time to tell the stories on our own.

Solstice Moon

Found this photo via the Astronomy Picture of the Day. It was taken by Anthony Ayiomamitis, an astrophotographer. I though I'd post it here because it's just...breathtaking.

NASA calls the extra-large moon the effect of an optical illusion.

In this well-planned single exposure, a telescopic lens makes the Moon loom large, but even without optical aid casual skygazers often find the Full Moon looking astonishingly large when seen near the horizon. That powerful visual effect is known as the Moon Illusion.


More on the Moon Illusion here.



The Other Tragedy

With all the attention focused on the MV Princess of the Stars, the tragedy that has befallen Iloilo and other parts of the Western Visayas has been pushed into the background, and unfairly so. I only got an inkling of this from a blog post from my buddy Spidamang, who posted pictures
Picture taken from Spidamang's blog.


Spidamang writes:

Last Saturday afternoon, Typhoon Frank gave Western Visayas an ass kicking of epic proportions. A lot of towns were inundated. While the City just went about their normal businesses. Nobody was expecting to get hit, and obviously not this hard. The whole night was a blur as everybody was concentrating on keeping themselves and everything they could save dry. The waters rose by five feet in just 15 minutes on our apartment.


Spidamang says that he's one of the lucky ones. Accounts that Manolo Quezon has compiled point to much worse situations.

ExloreIloilo.com issues this report, along with an appeal for help (reproduced here in almost its entirety):

Around 80+% of the city went underwater during the weekend affecting 48,836 families or 244,090 persons. The worst hit district was Jaro, where the flood waters were reported to have reached a high of 2 meters, submerging almost the entire district. Residents with one-storey houses were forced to spend the night on top of their house’s roof while the rain still poured down. Meanwhile, in Iloilo Province, among the most affected towns include: Oton, Miagao, Leganes, Pavia, Zarraga, Leon, Janiuay, Leon, Pototan, Dumangas, Barotac Nuevo, Ajuy, and Carles. Initial reports by the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council tallied 115,149 affected families or 569,142 persons.

The aftermath of the storm had left a thick layer of mud all over the city and province: Inside homes, buildings, on roadways, and open spaces. The damages in agriculture and infrastructure in Iloilo was estimated to have reached more than P500M (P1B for the whole region). Ongoing rescue operations and disaster management in Western Visayas had earlier reported a death toll of 213 persons for the whole region, 135 were from Iloilo.

Iloilo needs your help! There are still thousands of families who lost their homes and are currently living in evacuation centers or in makeshift houses beside streets and bridges. These unfortunate people need food, water, clothes, medicines, etc. Any form of assistance extended to the affected families of Iloilo City will be deeply appreciated.

At the end of the day...

A bit of instant poetry from Ric de Ungria:

that's why at the end of the day
you realize there is no end to this day
and that you just have to
call it a day

for night to come!


Received through the Davao Writers Guild mailing list.

Ric, by the way, is the indefatigable leader of the guild, one of the many people I am very happy to have met here in Davao. He is also a multi-awarded poet. No fancy airs about him, though (but happily I can say that of all the multi-awarded poets I've met so far.)

The poem was a response to the lingering question why Sun.Star sometimes botches up our pieces when it finally goes to print.

The resignation somehow also sums up how we feel after the recent disasters that hit us.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Absent President

Given the timing, one can't help but suspect that the real reason for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's state visit to the United States is to root, ringside, for Manny Pacquiao when he goes up against David Diaz. The courtesy call to President George W. Bush happens as formal necessity when a state leader visits another country. All this is mere speculation, of course, but in light of the circumstances and behavior, it makes one wonder.

The circumstances are these: the Philippines has just been badly hit by a powerful storm, and while the aftermath nowhere near the magnitude of Myanmar, it's the worst that's happened in the last two years. Many towns in the Visayas region, in particular, Iloilo and Bacolod, are badly affected. Worse still is yet another maritime disaster that claimed close to 800 lives.

Much has been said and will continue to be said of Arroyo's absence in this moment of crisis. The proper, polite, and politic response, one thinks, would be to rush home and take charge of the situation. Her business and diplomatic appointments would have understood in light of the tragedy. But Arroyo is beyond that, it seems, and the most that we can hope to get is a televised tongue-lashing via videoconference. How so very presidential!

The response is largely in keeping with Arroyo's mode of behavior. She is more reactive than visionary, and even then, the reactions are calibrated towards insubstantial and shallow populist posturing. Rice crises? Go after rice hoarders. Oil crises? Go after the petroleum companies. Power crises? Go after Meralco. Maritime disaster? Go after Sulpicio Lines. All well and good, so long as she's not at the center of the controversy; for when she is, the response is to stay mum and dig in behind the impious fetish of "rule of law."

Even before 2010, Arroyo already has the distinction of being the longest sitting president of the Philippines since Ferdinand Marcos. What will she have shown for it? Whatever economic gains we have, if not offset by global crises, are largely either the result of policies in place before her term or the survival response of individual Filipinos. The last time Arroyo showed any semblance of vision was in 2005 -- before the election scandals -- with her program of BEAT THE ODDS, now conveniently forgotten in light of the dismal record.

Arroyo, it seems, is happily content with backhanded compliment from Bush, that he is reminded of the great contributions of "Philippine-Americans" whenever he eats dinner at the White House: in short, that we are a nation of waiters and cooks.

And she would be, for after all, she is already thinking of Sunday, when she is at that ringside seat in Las Vegas, all ready to share in the klieg lights of adulation that are meant for Pacquiao.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sunday afternoon at the Museo Dabawenyo

Blame Migs (yet again!) for this little adventure. Migs posted on the Mindanao Bloggers mailing list if anyone wanted to visit the museum with him last Sunday. Owing to the day, Davao Museum was out, but Jojie Alcantara helpfully pointed out the newly-opened Museo Dabawenyo. So it was that Migs, Ria, Andrew, and I descended on the museum last Sunday.

Museo Dabawenyo just opened last May but isn't even inaugurated yet. That will have to wait till the upcoming Kadayawan. However, it is ready for visitors even now. Though the displays are still a little sparse, it's worthwhile trip to get a feel for Davao history and Mindanaoan culture.

The museum is divided into four wings. The ground floor right wing is the Indigenous Peoples Exhibit, which holds native musical instruments, weapons, and handicrafts. The ground floor right wing houses the Moro Peoples Exhibit, the centerpieces being very impressive brass thrones and Moro armor.

On the second floor, the right wing contains some memorabilia from the more recent Japanese and American periods. The left wing is for modern Davaoño art exhibits.

As I said, the exhibits are still a little sparse. The museum is looking for additional donors.

Museo Dabawenyo is located along Pichon Street (formerly Magallanes Street) in Davao City. It is open Tuesdays to Sundays, 9 am - 6 pm. The entrance is free.

See Ria's entry for more impressive pictures.

Marketing Tires


Ah, tires: unless you're a ultra-hardcore car geek, they're really nothing to get excited about. Tires is tires, after all, right?

Which is why I was curious as heck when Goodyear sent me an invite for their Davao sales rally last Saturday. More than the product itself, I wanted to see, well, how they would market a product as boring as a tire.

Why did I get the invite in the first place? Because, low hit count notwithstanding, I'm technically part of "new media", and new media seems to be one of the new marketing avenues of the company. Smart move (not so much in inviting me as in targeting new media in general.)

This being a marketing event, the target audience was primarily press. Now, vultures that they are, the press will readily descend on anything that remotely sounds like a story. Hold the event in a swanky hotel and offer a buffet and you're guaranteed coverage.

The centerpiece come-on was the unveiling of the Ford GT40, a popular late-1960s sports car with a limited production run in 2002. Now that was one sweet looking ride! Too bad we couldn't take it out for a spin.

But...but...but...what does the Ford GT40 have to do with Goodyear?

Well, it was using Goodyear tires (specifically, the Goodyear Eagle F1 -- see, their marketing has got me doing it, too!). So there.

Even more marketing: emphasis on safety, driving programs for women (a little condescending, I thought, but hey...), a local "Highway Heroes" contest, customer satisfaction guarantees, corporate bragging rights (well-deserved as their Las Piñas plant produces tires)....not a bad spiel, actually.

Another interesting angle was the tie-up with the Tuason Racing School. It's all part of a symbiotic ecosystem: Goodyear gets media mileage from the racing school, and Tuason gets sponsorship. Not a bad deal, not bad at all.

Oh, yes, let's not forget: the race girl in the knee high go-go boots with stratospheric heels.

What were we selling again? Ah, right. Tires. But really, that's for the retailers to flog.

Friday, June 20, 2008

'Isnaji pocketed much of P5-M ransom'

"Hero or Heel?" asks the cover of the more respectable national tabloids, and just above that, a picture of Indanan Mayor Alvarez Isnaji. As if to conform the latter, the PNP held a press conference this noon to announce the indictment of the mayor and his son.

Is it a reflection of my own cynicism that this should be the cause not of shock but of mirth and merriment? Do others feel the same way?

In the first place, such a revelation belies the fervent protestation that absolutely no ransom at all whatsoever was paid. Does this now make liars of the Oreña-Drilon families? Of ABS-CBN? Or -- gadzooks! -- the heavenly angel Senator Loren Legarda? Alas, we may never know.

Of the P5-M ransom that the Oreña-Drilon family was alleged to have paid, Mayor Isnaji was alleged to have pocketed P3-M. Shocking? Remember that, as far as, "bukol" goes, a going rate of over 100% is now the norm -- allegedly -- among government officials. (P5-M, in comparison with the other "bukol", is peanuts, but then again, Isnaji would merely be a small-time operator.)

So what happens to the P3-M? Was it recovered? Will it be returned? Or will it, like the envelope money given to Fr. Ed Panlilio, suddenly find its donors shy?

If Isnaji, a mayor, should find the time to engage in such lucrative extracurriculars -- and have the resources to do so -- what does that say of the other local government officials in the ARMM? Of Mindanao? Of the Philippines, in general?

Oh, and by the way, guess what ticket Isnaji ran under during the last elections?

The administration's Team Unity.

Ha. Ha.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian


It's been ages since I've read the Narnia books so when I went to watch "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian", it was like stepping into the story fresh. That, I think, was a good thing. Rather than viewing this as an adaptation of the book, I thought to look at it as a sequel to the first film. Now, this being both an adaptation of a book and a sequel, what's the difference? It's really one of expectations.

"Caspian" comes some two years after "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", but with the same set of actors portraying the Pevensies. The kids have grown somewhat, none more so than Georgie Henley whose turn as Lucy was both joyful and authentic in the first film. They get to see more intense action, and they get to act a little more grown-up, which is whole point of the film.

On the surface, "Caspian" is all about action. The plot takes us through three major battles: the assault on the Telmarine castle, the one-on-one between Peter and Miraz, and the last stand at Aslan's How. Each battle is done masterfully -- even though you know how each fight is going to turn out, it's still going to keep you at the edge of your seat. The human element is also very much apparent, none more so than in Peter's face as he comes to grips with the consequences of his decision. "Caspian" is well worth a repeat viewing just for the battle scenes alone.

But underneath it, "Caspian" is also about steadfast Faith and Hope and the Christian message is not lost in the movie. The Pevensies -- Lucy excepted -- Prince Caspian, and the Narnians go through the cycle of daring and despair, thinking to achieve all by sheer power of their cunning and their strength. They almost succeed, but each time only up to a point. Things go so badly that they even fall prey to an unthinkable temptation. It is when all seems hopeless that help finally comes.

Two minor touches worth mentioning: first, Susan's attachments and her doubts begin to manifest themselves, hinting at the fate which will befall her later on; and second, it is Edward, fallen and redeemed, who shakes them out of their folly.

After the film, I flipped through my old copy of "Prince Caspian" to see where the adaptation deviated. Quite a bit, it turns out. Because of the emphasis on the action, there was a drastic shift in the timescale of the plot. While this may offend the purists, I think it was ultimately for the best: the book is the book, and the movie is the movie, after all; and it was by deviating from the letter that the movie remained true to the spirit.

Rating: 5 Fighting Mice!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Nosebleed Gang


Photo lifted from Charles


Saturday's Davao Bloggers Party was a blast insofar as the number of like-minded connections that I made. I finally made the personal acquaintance with the Remo, the Bone Doc (triple entendré intended) and we got to chatting about people we knew. We shared the table with fellow book lover Floraine and the statuesque Leigh. A little later, we dragged in Jenny and Charles. I think we were possibly the noisiest table that night.

Not content with the party, we went for some drinks at Flanagan's, an Irish pub along CM Recto. We merged with Bidul, Blogie, Bong, Cathara, Leah, and Rodney. Conversation revolved around art, pornography, Ces Drilon, countryside development and other topics that could make your nose bleed.

Hence...the Nosebleed Gang. (That's Remo's idea.)

Many thanks to Ria and the Usual Suspects for organizing the gig.

Incredible Hulk


Barely two months since "Iron Man" and we already have a quick follow-up from Marvel studios in "The Incredible Hulk."

Now, "The Incredible Hulk" may not have gotten as much press as "Iron Man," but in both story, pace, and atmosphere, it's very much a close kin. A brief cameo by Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark is both a nod to the relationship as well as a possible sign of a much bigger story to come.

"The Incredible Hulk" captures the feel of the original TV series. There's the opening sequence, which tells briefly of the origin of the Hulk, clearly reminiscent of the introduction in the series (and a good way to retcon the tepid Ang Lee "Hulk"); and there's also the transformation scenes, with the focus on Bruce Banner's eyes glowing green. More than these nods is the lonesome fugitive life that Bruce Banner leads; this is what it picks up from the TV series.

Though I was initially ambivalent about Edward Norton, he did pull off the trick. Tim Roth, whose performances I usually enjoy, was just so-so. Liv Tyler is always pleasant to see. But the breakout peformance was William Hurt's, in the role of General "Thunderbolt" Ross: the transformation was so complete it was impossible to see Hurt underneath the moustache.

Two green thumbs up, and looking for more!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Moro-Moro

There's a point in any long drawn-out crisis that, once crossed, signals its devolution into farce. In the case of the Ces Drilon kidnapping, it's arguable where exactly that point was; but cross that line we did. But really, what's new?

Now that Ces Drilon, her crew, and her guide are free, we can perhaps indulge in a little armchair analysis without fear of jinxing any hostages.

Was it the moment that Indanan mayor Alvarez Isnaji became a hostage negotiator? For after all, in what is clearly a criminal matter, what influence does a mere mayor really wield? Does the mayor hold a position of respect and authority that bandits should lend weight to his words as regards a hostage; but not enough so as not to have gone into banditry in the first place?

As kidnappers, the bandits have also been exceedingly coy. It took several days before they put forward their ransom demand for P15-M. Were they shrewdly feeling out the situation to arrive at the right price? Or was the demand the victim of another news embargo? Questions and suspicions remain as to how much overhead negotiators add on to this demand, a practice alleged by past hostages. Regardless, kidnapping in the Philippines has evolved to such high art that we now make distinctions between ransom -- which everyone will disavow -- and "board-and-lodging" -- which somehow seems more acceptable.

Or perhaps it was when the relatives of the victims came forward in the media, begging the bandits to release their loved ones. Now there's no shame in tears, but under the glare of the cameras and broadcast throughout the nation, the hint of performance and exploitation becomes stronger. Why must we always grieve and lament out in the open? Why don't we have any sense of decorum? At the same time, we certainly must think that we have the kindest-hearted bandits who should be so moved by emotion.

Friday noon, the deadline for the ransom -- oh, excuse me, the "board-and-lodging fee" -- came and went; instead of the worst coming to pass, the deadline was extended...indefinitely. I'll leave you to ponder the Filipino oxymoron that is the "indefinite deadline"; but I will say that it was then that I had to laugh out loud. Once more, the lack of resolve murks up the light.

And there you have it: farce. This is not the first time that bandits in the area have ventured into kidnapping. (That very word -- "bandits" -- in this day and age, in a country with such ambitious aspirations, should be cause for raised eyebrows.) Think of all the previous instances: of the daisy chain of reporters and overly optimistic evangelists who blithely walked into their lairs to interview and even "convert" the bandits; of the demand, acceded, for a movie action hero to visit; of kidnappers and their victims holed up in a hospital because of the craving for a Coke; and of police and soldiers who failed to guard the back door of the hospital, thereby allowing said kidnappers to escape...with their victims.

Unfortunately, the farce does not end when the hostages are released. See how it takes a life of its own: Mayor Isnaji, the chief negotiator, is now a suspect; Prof. Dinampo, the guide, once believed to be a suspect, is a apparently not; and though no ransom was paid, the local government apparently allayed the bandits with promises of "livelihood programs." Said promise will have to wait, of course, until Mayor Isnaji comes out of his interrogation with the CIDG.

I'd like to laugh, I really do, but then I think of Fr. Rey Roda, Martin Burnham, and all the other redshirts like you and me. And then it's not so funny anymore.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"Mama"


Yet another Colors for NDS sketch.

This is an illustration for the short story "Mama" that I am editing for this week's Dagmay. It comes out this Sunday.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gym Buffs


I've posted this before, but not in its Youtube version. This was our group project for the animation class I took at Foundation University way back in 2005. (Has it been that long?)

It was a two-week rush to get this done, and I suppose what's incredible is that in the end, it's only a 35-second video. But it was fun doing it, and ours was the only group that managed to string together the entire gag. Well, some parts were left without any inking or coloring, but it was my idea to put them in anyway.

The team that stayed with Foundation did come up with a more polished version (one that included falling teeth) but I don't have access to that anymore.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Chains

Did this in Colors for the NDS.

Color, briefly, is a homebrew program for the Nintendo DS. Its interface is extremely simple but its use of the pressure-sensitive touch screen makes everything intuitive.

I'm really more of an sketcher and illustrator rather than a painter. Color has always been my weak point, as I tend to see lines and structures. But Colors for NDS has been a great introduction into painting, and now I'm beginning to see in terms of lines and shades.

My work still doesn't hold a candle to some in the Colors gallery, though; but I'm sufficiently inspired to want to keep working.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cloak of Silence

My hotheaded pal Hoovenson has had several run-ins with Born-Agains holding prayer meetings -- at 4AM -- in their subdivision. This 'cloak of silence' should be just perfect for him.

Scientists have shown off the blueprint for an "acoustic cloak", which could make objects impervious to sound waves.

The technology, outlined in the New Journal of Physics, could be used to build sound-proof homes, advanced concert halls or stealth warships.


The bad news: probably still a few years off.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Roots of Patriotism

As I write this on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of Philippine independence, the temptation is strong to dwell on the many hardships before us. Exorbitant fuel prices, rising food costs, low wages, a crumbling educational system, corruption in the high places, unchecked criminality, and a selectively toothless justice system: are all these worth our independence? The late Manuel L. Quezon's boast comes to mind: "I would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by the Americans." Ah, the prophetic irony!

But when you get right down to it, are a strong economy, a law-abiding citizenry, and a bright and glowing future all it takes to make a country? Are these ideals worth fighting for, even worth dying for? Are these even ideals at all? To be sure, these are good things to which we must strive, but if that is all there is, then there's no fight that's needed. One only needs to line up for a ticket and a visa for greener pastures -- patriots need not apply. That largely has been our country's default solution of late: run, run away.

If abandonment comes all too easily, it's because the idea of a country is so hard to visualize, much less internalize. A country, after all, is nothing more than a political fiction; we might profess our love for it, but what is it exactly? Is it merely the geography bounded by imaginary lines? Is it ancestral heritage? Is it history? Is it the people?

It's hard to be inspired by mere latitudes and longitudes on a map; a map, after all, is merely an abstraction. Ancestral heritage edifies only those on the fortunate side of an ethnographic and historical accident; more often than not it devolves into a narrow xenophobia. At best it disenfranchises; at worst, it leads to ethnic genocide.

History? History is the end result of a love of country, rather than its cause. True history is experienced, passed on, and imbibed, rather than force fed through the filter of prevalent political ideas.

Is it the people, then? In our lips and in our minds, we have made our people our ultimate virtue, what with our protestations of devotion to our "kapwa-tao" and "kapwa-Pilipino"; but not so in our hearts and in our deeds, not always, at any rate. Divided as we are along class lines, we often treat each other execrably, whether in the Philippines or out of it.

So what is a country? A country, I believe, begins with a tangible experience -- a "what-is." That "what-is" finds its beginnings in the land: not the land demarcated in maps, but the very land you grew up in, the land of your childhood, whose soil is beneath your feet, whose fragrance is on your nose, whose sounds are in your ears, whose blemishes you embrace. Patriotism can only take root in this sacred connection, so long as it is not traded cheaply for transitory shekels.

It is through this land that one finds a connection with people who share the same experience. It is in this that one finds one's heritage -- not as some ethnographic accident that divides, but in a shared experience that unites. And out of this union in love of country comes history.

From the experience of the "what-is", the imagination must process it into a "what-it-will-be." If one truly loves, one does not love blindly but with open eyes. The eyes should see the defects, but the imagination should see the transformation.

For all their faults and infighting, our founding fathers -- Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo, Mabini, Paterno, et al. -- had this strong sense of "what-it-will-be." Where else does a revolution spring from? For all the perceived failures of their revolution, this at least is what they bought us: the opportunity to imagine freely and to act freely for our own "what-it-will-bes" from our "what-is."

If we do not, then the failure is really ours.

The unthinkable

A quick check over at Manolo Quezon's blog on the Ces Drilon abduction showed the general pulse of the blogging public: a combination of shock and worry over the kidnapping, some outrage at ABS-CBN's response, and a touch of schaudenfraude here and there. In sum, the normal exchange of ideas and innuendo in the Philippines' most active political blogs.

But there's one thing that's missing: any real uncertainty that Ces Drilon will make it out of this adventure alive. It's as if it were already a given that she would be released eventually.

I think that, more than the kidnapping, more than ABS-CBN's blackout, this blasé cavalier attitude is the most disturbing aspect of this event.

Why shouldn't Ces Drilon come out of this, not only unscathed, but with a killer scoop? Because she's one of the country's premier reporters and a very visible high-profile personality?

And that's precisely the trouble: apparently, we expect that the immunity we convey to the modern gods in our pantheon occurs not only in the judicial system but in the underworld as well. In doing so, we blind ourselves to real dangers that Abu Sayyaf poses; we treat this as another game. Thrilling, yes, but a game, nonetheless. Moreover, we give our tacit assent to the ongoing complicity of the government and the military with the local leaders of the Islamic insurgency.

"Of course Ces Drilon will make it out alive! (As to her crew -- what were their names again?) Even the Abu Sayyaf cannot risk the bad publicity it will bring? Besides, the management of ABS-CBN are already in negotiations, possibly for ransom though they keep on denying it. Neither can the military afford to lose such a personality."

Really? How can you be so sure? And by the fact that you're so sure, what does it mean?

And what if -- God forbid! -- your expectations are dashed? What if all they recover is Ces Drilon's bullet-ridden body? Does this mean that it is now time to get serious -- for real this time! -- with the Islamic insurgents? If so, why only now?

A real unicorn!

Unicorn Deer
Unicorns are no longer so fanciful, apparently. Discovery, by way of an Associated Press wire, reports on a 'unicorn' deer found in Italy. Particularly interesting is the central position of the horn. Could this have been the source of the legendary unicorn of old?

From the article:

A deer with a single horn in the center of its head -- much like the fabled, mythical unicorn -- has been spotted in a nature preserve in Italy, park officials said Wednesday.

He is believed to have been born with a genetic flaw; his twin has two horns.

Single-horned deer are rare but not unheard of -- but even more unusual is the central positioning of the horn, experts said.

"Generally, the horn is on one side (of the head) rather than being at the center. This looks like a complex case," said Fulvio Fraticelli, scientific director of Rome's zoo. He said the position of the horn could also be the result of a trauma early in the animal's life.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The shoe on the other foot

ABS-CBN star reporter Ces Drilon and TV crew abducted by Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

NUJP calls for "sobriety among colleagues in the media in reporting about the incident so as not to aggravate the situation and endanger Drilon and her companions."

Does that mean that in other occasions, when it is not a high-profile journalist who has been abducted, the media does not report with sobriety?

Don't get me wrong: I hope Ces Drilon, Prof. Dinampo, and the two other media crew are released unharmed. It's just that I'm bothered by the seeming hypocrisy of the network and the journalists' association.

If these were any other victims, the media would be all over the story like vultures. Woe to anyone who stands in the way of press freedom! But when it's one of their own, privacy, caution, and care are the words of the day.

The question is: will this incident affect the conduct of media in other similar situations in the future, star reporters or no?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Too close to home

You never realize how bad things are until it hits too close to home.

Tonight I got a call from a friend.

"What's up?" I said with my usual good cheer.

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news," he began somberly. What he said next totally floored me.

The home of our former manager got broken into just this noon. The robbers stabbed the people inside, one of them our manager's 3-year old daughter and the other her 70-year old mother-in-law. Then they torched the house to cover their tracks.

Tomorrow it will be all over the news, the reporter feigning concern yet barely able to contain his callous glee.

It almost always looks unreal...

...until it hits too close to home.



Please pray for the souls of the departed. Keep safe.

The Strange but True Account of Don Miguel de Saavedra

A work-in-progress of a short story that I'm submitting for a Talecraft contest. Not yet done, still has to go through severe editing (I have a 1,000-word maximum limit). Will probably take it down once it's complete. Anyway, for your reading pleasure, here's what I have so far:

The Strange But True Account of Don Miguel de Saavedra in His Last Days

1654-VI-23

Fray Guillermo:


Tomorrow it will be seven years since the fateful events that I now relate to you transpired. In the main, the story as it has been recorded in journals and letters is true; all save for one account. It is a grave injustice to let it stand. I can bear it no longer. How can I look upon myself if I remain in shameful silence?

My tale concerns Don Miguel de Saavedra, widely reviled as a coward and a traitor. I can assure you that he is neither, for I have seen his valiance and bravery. Such is the weight I have borne these years for my complicity in untruth!

Don Miguel, as you know, was born in Buenos Aires. Taking up a career in the army, he took a commission to the Filipinas. He arrived in 1638 or 1639 (there are conflicting records of this) and was stationed with the garrison in our settlement in Cebu. Under constant threat of Moro raiding parties, it was a difficult position but from the accounts of his compatriots there, Don Miguel was an able soldier.

Alas! if Don Miguel sought fame and fortune in these islands, he had certainly come to the wrong place. Don Miguel led several expeditions among the Joloans and the Caragas in which distinguished himself. That disastrous adventure in 1645 of which we all know so well was his undoing. The inquest eventually cleared him of all charges, but his disgrace was complete. He was reassigned to Samal with the intent to repatriate him to Argentina.

It was a wreck of a man that I first met in Samal. As you know, aside from my priestly duties I also serve as doctor to the garrison. The captain requested that I examine Don Miguel upon his arrival. Physically, he was in excellent health; but he said little and eyed everyone with suspicion. He was like a wild animal in a cage, wary and ready to spring at a moment's notice.

But most surprising of all were two companions who never left his side. One was a young man of about twenty, and the other a young girl. They caused a stir for from the look of them they were Moros! The young man, in particular, face marked with deliberate scars and tattoos, was a fearsome savage.

The captain objected to these companions, but the flash in Don Miguel's eyes said he would brook no argument. They were his servants, he said, and they had been brought into the Faith. No one dared to confirm this claim.

At first, Don Miguel and his companions kept mostly to themselves, but the natural warmth of the Kapampangan indios gradually coaxed them out of their solitude. How strange it was to see a European -- even a criollio -- mix so freely with the natives! It seemed that Don Miguel preferred their company to his own compatriots.

Don Miguel and the young Moro, whose name he said was Enrique, taught the indios a peculiar way to fight with a knife. It was like a dance, with low swooping kicks and rapid slashing arcs. He said he learned it among the Cebuanos. Our soldiers laughed it off, saying it was nothing to their muskets; but as always, bravado masks fear.

We had, it turned out, much reason to fear in those days. Galleons long anticipated were overly delayed; and ultimately, they never arrived at all. And yet there were no storms for it was not the season. Rumors started among the people: fishermen would report seeing men-of-war over the distant horizon. They did not carry the Spanish flag. It was not until June 1647 that what we dreaded most came to pass: it was then that the Dutch arrived.

Without warning the Dutch ships swooped down on neighboring Abucay. The situation was dire: our scouts reported eight ships in all. With little resistance, they bombarded the fortifications and landed marines on its shores. From Samal we could see the black billowing smoke. It was terrible! Terrible! Fleeing villagers reported that the schismatic devils had burned down the church and slew everyone in sight.

What to do? After Abucay, Samal was certainly next. We had no warships in port, and the nearest ones from Manila were two days away -- if they ever arrived at all. We held council with the garrison captain. The decision was clear: we had to run into the hinterlands.

Yet in the face of it there were objections from the Kapampangans. Fearful they were, yes, but also furious. In Abucay they had blood relations, now likely dead from the hands of the Dutch privateers. A Captain Aguas hatched a bold plan: under cover of darkness they would assault the Dutch. With what? the garrison captain laughed. With their bancas? If need be, said Captain Aguas. It was sheer bold madness, but Captain Aguas rallied some eighty brave souls around him, among them Don Miguel. As for myself, I elected to stay in the garrison to tend to any wounded.

As they made their preparations, Don Miguel entrusted the Moro girl to my care. There was a loud argument with Enrique, but they used a language I did not understand. Don Miguel apparently wanted Enrique to stay behind, but the youth was adamant. Finally, Don Miguel relented.

They launched into the night, silent and grim, these eighty Kapampangans in their flimsy bancas. Some had muskets and pistols, but most carried only bolos and knives. How many would return I did not know. I prayed to Our Mother in Heaven for their safety; but I confess I found in me no faith, only futility.

The slow hours passed. Overnight, Samal had become a ghost town. A few women huddled in the garrison infirmary for they, like me, had decided to stay behind. As for me, I was so consumed by worry that I held vigil on the beach with the Moro girl.

In the distance I heard a sound as of thunder. It was cannonfire. Then another, and another. They came in such rapid succession that I lost count. Bursts of orange flame pierced the night. I knew not how long the exchange lasted. As suddenly as it began it ended. Once more all I could hear was the crash of the waves on the shore and the swaying of the coconut trees in the breeze.

Overcome by despair, I fell weeping on the sand. The Moro girl, true to her warrior heritage, betrayed no emotion except for the tight clasp of her small arms around my neck. I held on to her for comfort, all the while searching the sea for a sign, any sign.

At last it came, the small dots of fishing lamps swaying across the waves. But were they our contingent? Or Dutch marines come to complete our destruction? Part of me wanted to run to the safety of the garrison; but I had to know.

The lights came ever closer until I heard voices. Kapampangan voices! The Moro girl and I rushed into the surf to meet the bancas. I waved our torch as I cried out in joyous welcome.

Just as quickly my joy turned to sorrow. In the flicker of the torchlight, I saw blood on the faces of the wounded, wrenched in agony. The most serious of all: Enrique, head cradled in the lap of Don Miguel. Enrique's left side was ripped by shrapnel. His clothes lay in tatters, blackened by a mix of wood, powder, and blood. The Moro girl ululate balefully as she reached for Enrique.

This, as I gathered later from various accounts, was what happened: Captain Aguas and his men in their silent bancas approached the Dutch warships undetected. With the main force in Abucay, the ships were guarded only by a handful of sailors. They clambered up the towlines and surprised the crew. They slit the throats of unsuspecting victims until their assault was uncovered, at which point it became an all-out melee.

Finally, the Kapampangans






--Fray Raphael

Applying to grad school in the US

Most students who attend graduate school worry about money. Online masters degree programs may offer an easier and less expensive alternative to the traditional classroom. If students need to work while going through graduate school, then online education gives them the flexibility that they need to hold down a job. Students can complete their coursework around the demands of their work schedules.

A friend of mine sought advice on how to apply for grad school in the US. Would it be better, he asked, if he found a job first? That way, he could earn enough money to pay his way. Since another friend (and former student, if you can believe it), Roy Patrick Tan -- ahem! make that Dr. Roy Patrick Tan -- had taken that road before, I passed the query on to him. What follows is a succinct explanation of the who, what, when, how, and why.

Some excerpts:

Most US schools start their school year around September, but of course you will need to submit your application earlier than that. Some will require application submission as early as December of the prior year. So be sure you know the requirements for the schools you choose to apply to early. In general, the more prestigious the school, the earlier you have to submit your application.

Many people are not aware that a large number of graduate students in the US actually get free tuition and a small salary by being a graduate teaching assistant, or a graduate research assistant. I would definitely recommend the teaching assistant/research assistant route, if you can get it. If you come to the US on a student visa, on-campus employment is basically the only kind of employment you're allowed to get anyway. (If you come on a working visa, it's different, but I don't think you'll get time to study).


Read more from Roy himself.


Monday, June 09, 2008

A Summer Symphony success!

Inna rockin\' the audience

Notespell's "A Summer Symphony" was a success! Thanks to all the teachers, students, parents, and special guests who made it possible. The Notespell students really rocked the audience; if our music was heard throughout the hotel, we had every reason to be proud of it.

More pictures available at the Notespell Recital 2008 photo album. Videos coming soon!

Many thanks to Migs Hipolito for hosting the event.

Deep Blue H1


Dr. Mac Tiu, my literature teacher, unveiled to me his latest purchase: a Deep Blue H1 ultramobile PC. He had been eyeing an EeePC for the longest time but took his time in deciding; and off the cuff, I'd say it was a good thing.

The Deep Blue H1 gets a lot of things right. The external design looks sleek and professional. The screen looks sharper and crisper than the EeePC's. It's slightly larger and heavier than the EeePC, but negligibly so.

Deep Blue H1 ships with the Linpus distribution. It's a funny name for a distro (the "-pus" really gets to me) but I have to say it has a pretty slick desktop; even better than EeePC's modified Xandros.

The real attraction points for many people: 1GB memory, 40GB hard disk, and low, low price of P17,000 (for the Linux version.)

From the looks of it, the Deep Blue H1 is really made for Windows XP. It shows in the Windows XP version (pricier at P22,000).

Specs of the Deep Blue H1:

Processor : VIA Esther 1.0 GHz
Memory : 1GB DDR2
Video : 7.0-inch Wide TFT, WXGA (800x480)
Harddisk : 40GB Mobile
Audio : Built-in speakers
Ports : 2 x USB 2.0
LAN : 10/100Mbps
Wi-Fi : 802.11b/g Wireless LAN
Weight : 1.20 kg.
Features : Card reader
Web camera
Touch pad with left & right buttons
Up to 4½ hours battery life

More on the official site.

Aside: I lost my EeePC! My sister sold her Mac and sequestered my computer in the meantime. Time for a new purchase? Hmmm....

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Stowaways!

Stowaways Could Ruin Mars Missions, so says a story from Space.com. It's a little more mundane than it sounds: some scientists are concerned that the decontamination process of the probes prior to launch may not be thorough enough; as a result, the explorations may provide false readings.

But what if: the probes were actually seeding life to other planets?

Before I fly off into speculation, a little bit about the science first. The element in question is Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), the molecule responsible for transporting energy through the cells of all terrestrial organisms -- us included.

New research adds to these concerns with evidence that ATP — an energy-storage molecule vital to life on Earth — could survive for months or even years onboard a martian probe.

Andrew Schuerger of the University of Florida and colleagues used a martian simulator to measure the degradation rate of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This complex organic molecule transports chemical energy through the cells of all terrestrial organisms. It undoubtedly has found its way onto every spacecraft that has ever flown.

"It turned out that under normal equatorial Mars conditions the ATP was a lot more stable than we anticipated," said Schuerger.

If ATP stowaways can survive as long as Schuerger's team observed, they could wind up in life-detection instruments, thereby confounding efforts to detect organic molecules inherent to Mars.


If ATP can survive, why not bacteria? Or viruses? Under the right conditions, in a few thousand years, these could evolve into some form of life we could recognize. But what are the chances of that?

In Schuerger's lab sits the Martian Simulation Chamber (MSC), a half-meter-wide cylinder in which temperature, pressure and radiation levels are controlled to mimic conditions on the Red Planet. Special attention is given to reproducing the ultraviolet light from the sun, which easily penetrates Mars' ozone-less atmosphere and is particularly damaging to biomolecules like DNA.

In previous work, Schuerger and his colleagues placed different bacteria samples in the MSC and found the organisms could not survive more than a few hours in simulated martian sunlight.

"We expect a spacecraft surface will be sterilized on the first day after landing on Mars," Schuerger said.

The short life expectancy of terrestrial microorganisms on Mars is reassuring, but Schuerger and colleagues wondered what would happen to the "dead bodies" and other biological residues that may contaminate the surface of a space probe.


Stilll...what if?

One of the commenters to the article raises an alternate possibility: solar winds carrying off bacteria from the upper atmosphere. If there was some hardy strain that could survive space travel, life could actually be more common than we think it to be.

And...what if...we were the result of an accidental contamination on a probe to the third planet from Sol?

Interesting plot ideas.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Brooke White's youngest fan


Meet my nephew Jerry, Brooke White's youngest fan.

My sister was trying out various songs to see what Jerry would react to. Classical music was first, of course -- I suppose we were all hoping for the Mozart effect -- but the little guy just kept on crying. And then she tried some of the songs from the latest season of American Idol.

Whaddya know? Jackpot.

Of all the singers, though, it seems that Brooke White was the one Jerry responded to most of all. He stops crying when Brooke's rendition of "Every Breath You Take" comes on.

I'm not entirely sure if it's because of Brooke White or because of the song. I have sung it to him several times -- quite badly, I assure you, so no need to drag Simon Cowell in for a critique -- and each time he calms down.

Maybe I should try the original Police version next time.

Regardless, Brooke White's other songs seem to have a similar effect, but by far, the favorite is "Every Breath You Take." (Picture above is of Jerry sleeping with the song playing in the background...in a loop.)

Microscopic view of Mars dust grains

Apparently the Phoenix probe is equipped with a microscope. Shown here is the closest image ever of a Martian dust grain. This picture is just a test run, however, as Phoenix only took photos of dust grains that fell on its surface. For the real thing, Phoenix will analyze Martian soil samples.

From the Phoenix team press release:

A microscope on NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander has taken images of dust and sand particles with the greatest resolution ever returned from another planet.

The mission's Optical Microscope observed particles that had fallen onto an exposed surface, revealing grains as small as one-tenth the diameter of a human hair.

"We have images showing the diversity of mineralogy on Mars at a scale that is unprecedented in planetary exploration," said Michael Hecht of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena. He is the lead scientist for Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) instrument suite.



Thursday, June 05, 2008

The day Davao stood still

Unusually heavy rains fell on Davao at around 4:30PM today, bringing the normally smooth-flowing traffic to a standstill. I work across the busy intersection of C.M. Recto, J.P. Laurel, R. Magsaysay, and Jacinto and saw the traffic jam firsthand. Traffic is only starting to move now, but slowly. Some areas look to be flooded hence the severe slowdown.




Update: Traffic started moving again at around 8:30PM, a welcome relief. Passed through Magsaysay and then through Sta. Ana and into Obrero without much difficulty.

That would have been the end of the story if a beautiful damsel in distress hadn't called, but she did. It seems taxis were scarce where she was. So I picked her up along Gen. Luna, then drove her home to Bangkal via Bangkerohan and MacArthur Highway.

Traffic along the bridge was surprisingly light: I suppose after the rain, everyone just wanted to go home. Ditto for MacArthur Highway, up until Buffet Palace where the water had not subsided and cars had slowed to a crawl. We took a detour to Quimpo Boulevard instead where traffic was moving at its usual weekday pace.

Coming home I took largely the same route but skipped the bridge and turned into San Pedro instead. Traffic normal and no sign of flooding. Driving was a breeze.

Aside: where the water was deep, though, was along F. Torres. Not deep enough that cars couldn't cross, but enough to cause me to worry. Plus, there were all those uncovered drains. Shudder. Decided to turn back and head along Quimpo.

Dumber = longer life span

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple...

The Discovery Channel website has a feature on flies, specifically: Dumb flies live longer than clever ones. In the test, researches from the University of Laussane boosted the intelligence of successive generations of flies using Pavlovian methods. The downside of the experiment: the more intelligent flies' lifespans averaged 30% less than their dumber natural cousins.

I wonder if this applies to humans, too?

This story reminds me of Idiocracy. The movie suffered from poor marketing and distribution and so fell largely below the public radar. The middle and last portions of the movie also had bad editing, indicating that it was rushed, but the beginning was actually thought-provoking:

As the 21st century began, human evolution was at a turning point. Natural selection, the process by which the strongest, the smartest, the fastest, reproduced in greater numbers than the rest, a process which had once favored the noblest traits of man, now began to favor different traits. Most science fiction of the day predicted a future that was more civilized and more intelligent. But as time went on, things seemed to be heading in the opposite direction. A dumbing down. How did this happen? Evolution does not necessarily reward intelligence. With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most, and left the intelligent to become an endangered species.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

June rolls in

Whoa, what's that sound? It's the rumble of June rolling in: of looming dark clouds threatening rain, of inching, honking cars dropping off the kids at school, of bags rattling on rough pavement. It means that summer's over, and with it, just a little less than half the year.

That's the thing with living right across a school -- or worse still, across your old high school. Your body clock somehow becomes attuned to the school calendar. June feels like the start of a whole new year. And the new year always gives me pause to take stock, a decidedly melancholy exercise.

So where exactly am I?

January, February, and early March saw me wrapping up my classes at Ateneo. All in all, it was a unique learning experience and out of that I got new perspectives and new friends. I guess I'll have to get used to being called "Kuya Doms", that being more tolerable than "Sir Doms" or "Sir Kuya Doms."

I was fortunate to be grouped with a very bright batch of AB English majors, all of whom graduated with flying colors. It's a thrill to see them take the first tentative steps out of school and into the horribly misnamed "real world."

That said, I don't think I'll be re-enrolling this coming semester. I've already gotten what I needed out of the classes, I think; the rest would just be formalization. I don't think I'm really meant to get a higher degree.

The classes made me re-evaluate one of my major goals, that of being a writer. After going through Great Literature, I feel even more overwhelmed. A mere byline seems so paltry in comparison to works that have lasted over 500 years.

That's part of the reason I haven't written a whole lot these past few months. Time to fix that.

Which is not to say that I haven't written anything at all. In a flash of effort, I managed to put together a 4,000-word short story for the Ateneo Writers Workshop. The work, I know, wasn't perfect (I have a problem with the "Filipino sound" of my dialogue); but Don Pagusara said it made him laugh hysterically, so it's a promising piece. A couple of re-edits necessary.

Had a turn at editing Dagmay, the Literary Journal of the Davao Writers Guild. I must say it's something I really enjoy doing. Maybe I'm not meant to be a great writer, but I know I can be a great editor. Editors seem to be what the Philippines is missing. More on that in a later piece.

The start of the year also sprang a surprise in the form of a new business. Something totally unexpected, and not without its share of annoyances, relating mostly to personnel. On the whole, though, it's really coming together.

Tried to find a job with some tech outsourcing companies, but realized it really just wasn't for me. They're looking for programmers, and though I do program, that's not what I am. It didn't help at all that I didn't sound like I was financially hungry for the work. Truth is, I'm not, not right now anyways; but I will sign up if it's intellectually challenging.

Started with the gym, slacked off for a couple of months, but back on track again. Got bloated in the meantime.

And then, there's Baldy, Mr. Handsome Guy himself:

A real bundle of joy.

Gotta get me one of my own.