Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Two videos

Saw 2 videos of note over the weekend. But first... There’s this scene in Richard Linklater’s School of Rock where Dewey Finn was giving a lesson on “The Man” that I thought was spot on:

Oh, you don't know The Man? Well, he's everywhere. In the White House, down the hall. Miss Mullins, she's The Man. And The Man ruined the ozone, and he's burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank.

There used to be a way to stick it to The Man. It was called rock 'n' roll. But guess what. Oh, no. The Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV!

How right he was. I was born before MTV and I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with how music gets to us these days. Before MTV, the music was everything. We didn't care whether or not Joni Mitchell had a hair stylist, or whether or not Crosby, Stills, Nash, or Young had serious blingage. All we cared about was the music as it came out unadorned, unencumbered, unmade-up, and uncoiffed from our radios. Whenever we did get to see them live, it was an event, even if it was just on TV. RPN used to have a show called In Concert where the top rock bands of the day played live on TV. They showed the same shows over and over way into the 80’s (the concerts were recorded in the mid-to-late 70’s) and sometimes even used them as filler whenever a glitch prevented a scheduled program to air on time. Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Chicago, CSN&Y, James Taylor, T. Rex, The Who… they didn't pose or preen for the camera. There were no slick quick cuts or special effects. The announcer calmly and coolly called out their name—“Ladies and gentlemen, the J. Geils Band”--, they came out, and they played. Music videos changed all that. MTV came out in the 80’s and changed everything. Now it’s all about flash. It’s all about slick corporate packaging. It’s an entirely different medium where image is king, talent optional. J-Lo and Gwen Stefani should be kissing the feet of the person who invented music videos.

Today’s music videos have congealed into such a homogenous mass that it’s difficult to tell one from the other. Music videos use their own visual language and as languages go, most music videos have been reduced to repeating hackneyed clichés. Because of this, a new video would be hard-pressed to stand out. Sometimes, to stand out, a video opts for minimalism. That’s what James Blunt’s video “You’re Beautiful” did. The song is about this guy who saw a beautiful woman and fell for her but she’s with another man. But he isn’t worried. He’s got a plan, the lyrics said, even while acknowledging that he’ll never be with her. So in the video, he sings in the rain, takes his shirt off, takes his shoes off, takes out stuff from his pocket, and arranges them in a neat line in front of him with his wet pair of shoes in the middle. I recognize what looks like a wallet and a guitar pick and other things that probably mean something. He sings “I’ll never be with you” one last time, then jumps into the sea from a great height. Perhaps it isn’t something one is supposed to get; it just aims to haunt and perplex with Blunt’s falsetto-laced vocals. Right. Verdict: I don't get it.

The other video is INXS’s Pretty Vegas. It doesn’t do anything to stand out. Like most videos, it’s chock full of clichés: quick editing, rapid changes of scenery and camera angles, the lead singer preening in front of the camera. I would’ve killed it with the remote except that the friggin’ song rocked! The song came out of the Rockstar:INXS TV show, and wasn't written by resident INXS songwriter Andrew Farriss but by former Elvis impersonator J.D. Fortune, who won the competition to replace Michael Hutchence as the band’s lead singer earlier this year. (Hutchence killed himself in his London apartment in November 1997, just a few blocks away from where I was staying at the time.) If the competition for the final three performers was close (Pinoy West End veteran Migs Ayesa, and rocker Marty Casey were the other finalists), it was this song that probably clinched it for Fortune. Migs Ayesa proved weakest in the song-writing department, opting to write sappy pop tunes, and was promptly axed out of the final three. Pretty Vegas sounds like an INXS song, and Fortune, I swear, is possessed by Michael Hutchence in parts of it. He certainly captures the spirit of the band’s early years with his performance. Verdict: the video is nothing special but the song saves it.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


I would like to see the stats on the sales figures. Im just curious. This morning, the shuttle to work took a different route to avoid the gridlock on the west service road of the South Superhighway, when I noticed a billboard for something called White Cat detergent, and smiling down upon us lesser folk who have to go to work on the shuttle, was a gigantic Kris Aquino in yet another celebrity endorsement gig. Corporations and ad agencies seem to think Kris has what it takes to move products or else they won't keep getting her services. She's hawked everything from corned beef, to budget cars, to beer, and now laundry detergent. I have to admit that the image of Kris doing the laundry wouldnt register in my frame of reality, but marketing and ad execs spent years studying the inner workings of the Filipino consumer and concluded that Kris Aquino is the gal for the job.

I dont have strong feelings either for or against Kris Aquino. I havent seen any of her movies, and I havent seen any of her TV shows.* But she seems to be doing very well indeed. You dont get paid peanuts for gigs like these.

When Kris's San Miguel Beer ad came out, it had negative ratings from the people at the office. The build-up was great, the general consenus said, and they were expecting San Miguel to reveal another one of those relatively unknown but beautiful models and launch them into the stratosphere like they did with Angela Luz, Rachel Lobangco, and Ina Raymundo. But when Kris made her appearance, the reactions ranged from disappointed groans to 'Why her?' I saw the ad a few days later, and let's just say it didnt make me want to order San Miguel Pale Pilsen the next time we went to the regular after-office haunt, which is what an ad is supposed to do.

Digression: Used to be San Miguel Pale Pilsen ads featured fiestas, blue collar workers, fisherfolk--remember the FPJ ad where he was helping pull in a fishing net? In short, it was masa-oriented, and those inumans were always fun. Now they have yuppies, fashionistas, and Ferraris. Not exactly my idea of drinking buddies, but that's just me. I generally like inumans where my buddies dont have to worry about spilling their sawsawan on their Diesel shirts. At least San Miguel Pale Pilsen ads dont try to target young people like that insidious Colt 45 ad that overtly targeted 18-year olds. "Kaya mo na 'to," it said. Yes of course. Let me just ask Nanay for my pantoma since Im only 18, still in school, and dont have a job yet.

Where were we? After a little googling, I found out that White Cat detergent is the biggest selling detergent in China. We havent heard of it here, and so the ad people probably thought that Kris Aquino would remedy that in a hurry. The positioning of the product is quite strange to my untrained eye. With Tide and Surf going for the masa appeal with their ads, White Cat seems to be targeting the--what? I have no idea. The fashion-savvy, I-know-who-Manolo-Blahnik-is labanderas?

I found this piece on White Cat's signing of Kris Aquino on the Manila Standard Today website, written by Isah Red.

The cat is finally out of the bag

The mood was calm yet pulsating with eager eyes and salivating mouths. The much talked about endorsement of the number one talk show host has finally transpired in one of the welcoming function rooms of Mandarin Oriental. The popular Kris Aquino was presented with an offer to give her two thumbs-up to a detergent that is so economical and an ace performer in the laundry industry, Whitecat detergent.

It has boldly stepped into the market and will prove yet that it is a world-class competitor. Spearheaded by Willie Ang, together with Jenny Sy as the CEO and Louis Sy as the vice president, they have set up a momentous event in launching their product under RMCE Manufacturing Inc. to the Filipino market.

As the contract signing was ongoing, Kris looked very pleased by the warm reception of the press from both TV and Print, while the other guests were very pleased with the American breakfast served with complimentary drinks of coffee and freshly squeezed juice, pastries such as turnovers, freshly baked croissants, brownies, and sweet apple muffins.

Whitecat started in Mainland China. It’s famous for its cleaning properties such as Zeolite, a binding agent that removes stubborn dirt on soiled clothes. White Cat is set to break new grounds in cleaning clothes without compromising quality.

So watch out for Kris Aquino and Whitecat detergent, a tandem that homemakers will surely come to love.

And with that stellar piece of journalistic poetry, I end this blog entry.

* Addendum: Being aired on weekends, the clicker did chance upon The Buzz once. I remember that episode because the cameraman seemed to have been obsessed with Kris's back. Presumably on the director's instructions, the camera angles almost always featured Kris's bare, pale back as foreground. Im not one to second guess the execs over at ABS-CBN. Im sure being the media giant that they are, theyve conducted studies that showed Filipinos have a keen interest in Kris Aquino's back and showing gratuitous views of it would increase ratings. I remember being fascinated by the creativity of the cameraman's shots; these shots havent been tried on Philippine television before as far as I can tell.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Willie Pete

It's not nice to laugh at such matters but sometimes war is so ridiculous you just can't help it. The new wrinkle in this ever-continuing saga called Iraq revolves around the use of white phosphorus by US troops during the fighting in Fallujah. White phosphorus (WP) was first used extensively during the Vietnam war to transform wide areas of hostile territory into a close approximation of the very depths of Hell. It's nasty. If it touches flesh, it'll burn and keep burning til it reaches bone, and even then it'll continue to burn until deprived of oxygen. A documentary on Italian TV alleged that WP was used on Iraqi civilians in Fallujah; a charge the Pentagon denies, claiming it was only used to illuminate the battlefield. Field reports from the Marines in the area showed that this illuminate-the-battlefield ek-ek was pure bunk. The Pentagon then turned around and admitted that, yes, we used it as a weapon, but against enemy combatants. The opponents of the war, predictably enough, will not stop at yelling, 'A-HA! Liar, liar, pants on fire.' They aim to humiliate G.W. into submission. Good luck. They aim to do this by pointing out the hypocrisy of the US in condemning Saddam's use of chemical weapons while using one themselves.

As it turns out, WP is both a chemical weapon and it isnt, according to how you use it. There are legal niceties involved and the Pentagon has a lot of legal outs, due in part to the ambiguity to which WP's use can be classified as illegal. Thank God for conventions. What would killing people be like without internationally accepted conventions, eh? We're not savages.

Memo to terrorists from Rumsfeld: "We may be bombing the heck out of you, but we're satisfying all conventions of civilized warfare. We're not going to use anything illegal and to show our good faith, we'll stop using WP and use our regular munitions instead. How does thermobaric weapons grab you? Please be assured that you'll be just as dead with these items as with the ambiguously lethal WP. Thank you. P.S.: Sorry about the civilian casualties. Unfortunately, this stuff kills them, too. But having killed your fair share of them, you already knew that."

In the meantime, as all this brouhaha about the use of WP simmers down, there's still the mainly unaddressed and underreported problem with the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions dating back to the first Gulf War. I wonder, how many Filipino workers in Iraq and Kuwait have come home with symptoms similar to Gulf War Syndrome?

There's no such thing as a clean war. No such thing as a holy war. War is heck. Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide: The real enemy cannot be destroyed. The real enemy is war itself.

Monday, November 21, 2005

That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane, and Lenny Bruce is not afraid.

2B? Nt2B? What was the question?

In another sign that the world as we know it is ending, a British mobile phone service is planning to condense classic works of literature into ‘text-speak’ claiming that it would be a big help to students. Im sure it will be. We had Cliff’s Notes, they have Nokia. But what I find interesting is that a whole new language managed to emerge right from under our very noses. Oh, I haven’t been living under a rock; I know about text-speak. Ive seen blog pages and Friendster pages written entirely in text-speak. What I never realized is the level of sophistication it has managed to gain ever since I got my first ‘Gud am ü’ message. (To which I replied, ‘Damn you too, you puwet.’)

For instance, check out this classic piece of literature in text-speak:

Jack-oposnLeadrTaksR'sSuportersAway. MystryBeastOnIslandCauzsPanicBtSimonFindsOutTisOnlyAParachute.
Jtries2kilRbtR's savd ByShipDat c's emergncySmoke.

Entire web pages are written, entire meaningful conversations are being exchanged, using this language loosely based on English. In a way, it's inevitable. Languages have always evolved from more complexity to less complexity. As people draw closer, as technology transforms this planet into one community, shared experiences makes it easier for a language to change from a low context language to a high context language, where meaning is not solely dependent on the words themselves, but on the shared history and experiences of the conversants. Chinese is such a language. Grammatically, it's one of the simplest languages in existence. It has done away with tenses and prepositions, conjugations and inflections. It's a language made of pictographs where a character represents a simple idea and to form complex ideas, all you have to do is put these pictographs together. As a high context language, everything Chinese wants to say isnt in the characters, but in the shared experiences of the Chinese people. They get it because they have a psychic connection with each other. English, on the other hand, is highly complex. It has to be. Being a low context language, the words have to carry the burden of meaning, and you do that by having precise rules of usage. You learn to cook in English by reading a cookbook with all its precise measurements and descriptions. You learn to cook in Chinese by watching a master at work and imitating said master, trying to assimilate his experiences until they become your own.

Which brings us to text-speak. It seems that people who have meaningful conversations using this language have to have by necessity an empathy with each other, and with the cultural context theyre living in. The words themselves don't carry the meaning they wish to convey. You have to supply that yourself, and if youre not empathetic, if youre a words-as-building-blocks-for-logic person, you won't get it. You won't see the connections. Ive blogged about this difficulty once, claiming that text-speak isnt a medium for any meaningful conversation, but perhaps Im just not the kind of person to use it. Im a fuddy-duddy, and Im out of touch with the prevailing zeitgeist. Other people seem to be doing fine. In a way, a weeding out is beginning. Evolution is selecting people who 'get it' for survival. With the greater use of the internet and SMS to get dates, only those who can use it well, those who can find meaning despite the meaning-impoverished text messages, have a greater chance of getting laid.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fly, flu, flown

Speaking of bird flu, the Philippines has so far been spared of any major outbreaks of the H5N1 bird flu virus. We had one case in Bulacan of avian flu, but that was a sissy strain; the kind that only manages to inconvenience poultry with hacking coughs, wheezes, and rales. Being smack dab in the middle of the East Asian Migratory Flyway, it's a wonder why there are bird flu cases elsewhere in the region, notably Indonesia and Thailand, but not here. It has also travelled westward from China into Europe. Why?

I was p0ndering this question on my way home one night when I took a route home that I dont normally take: I passed through Roxas Boulevard. Then it dawned on me. When I was knee high to the tutubing karayom, that expanse of Roxas Boulevard from Buendia to Paranaque was estuarine mudflat and sea. The fabled Manila Bay sunset was visible all the way from Baclaran to Luneta. Now it's reclaimed area. It's Blue Wave and The Mall of Asia. The reason we havent gotten the bird flu is because migratory birds from the Eurasian mainland have nowhere to land. The Tambo mudflats where migratory birds make their winter home to breed is shrinking, giving way to urban sprawl and its concomitant garbage and pollution. This is most probably happening all over the country. Who wants to raise kids in that kind of neighborhood? Certainly not the Great Egret (Egretta alba) or the Striated Heron (Butorides striatus). Metro Manila's migratory wild bird sanctuary is confined to an ever-shrinking area along the Coastal Road in Paranaque, and being Paranaque, if rampant squatting doesnt do it first, it won't be long before some housing project or another will force the poor critters to nest elsewhere. Anywhere. Like, say, for instance, Indonesia, bringing the dreaded H5N1 with them.

(P.S.: We do have places for the birds to land like the Candaba swamps in Pampanga and Olango island in Cebu, but environmental pressures are being exerted on these areas by we the people. Candaba and Olango are being marketed as eco-tourism areas so things bode well for them. The Coastal Road in Paranaque, Im not so sure.)

A close encounter of the feathered kind

The kids were out with their Ate Joy whom I sent on an errand and I was doing some yardwork, when I heard frantic chirping of a Brown Shrike. Nothing unusual about that. They usually show up this time of year to spend winter in warm and sunny Paranaque. I looked up at the malunggay tree and sure enough there was a shrike there. But the chirping didn't come from the bird in the tree. It came from the ground. Which was strange because these birds don't usually go to the ground. I looked for it among the tall grass (which I really should be trimming right about now; maybe I could hire someone) and there it was. I approached it slowly, careful not to scare it away, to take a closer look. It hopped. I moved closer. It hopped again. There was obviously something wrong with it or else it would’ve flown away. Cool! The kids would get a kick out of this, I thought. I moved closer and it tried to hide among the grass, and I very gingerly picked it up. A nice specimen: yellowish-tannish breast feathers and that characteristic mask over its eyes. And it had what looked like whiskers over its beak. It didn't look ill; it was clear-eyed and alert. And it didn't seem to have any injuries. Its wings were folded neatly the way they’re supposed to be folded, so I knew the wings weren’t broken. Maybe it was just stupid. I put it in my cap and waited for the kids.

Brown shrike (Lanius cristatus).
Photo by Romy Ocon from The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines website

They came back a few minutes later and I said, “Look at what I have!” showing them the bird in my cap. Then, flash of much delayed realization: BIRD FLU! Mother of pearl, maybe the bird has the dreaded H5N1 virus! So right at the heels of an excited “Look at what I have!” was a panicked “DON'T TOUCH IT!” a split-second later. My girls’ expressions went from Tatay-is-so-cool to Tatay-is-so-strange in that same split second. “Come on, let’s let it go,” I said.

We went to the back of the house and let it go under the avocado tree. I held it in both hands and tossed it in the air so it could fly away. It didn't. It just landed — plop — on the dry avocado leaves on the ground then proceeded to try to hide under the tall grass. A couple of shrikes was in the avocado tree and were chirping loudly and our bird chirped back. One of the birds in the tree was probably saying, “Quit fooling around, Maurice; let’s go.” To which our bird answered: “Whoa! Dude, how’d you get up there?” The bird in the tree probably shrugged his shoulders (if birds had shoulders) and said to the other bird: “I told him not to eat those morning glory seeds, but he wouldn’t listen.”

It was noon, it was hot, so we didn't stick around to find out what happened and moved back into the house to have lunch. After lunch, the kids and I went back to the yard to see if our bird was still there where we left it. It wasn't. We looked everywhere and we couldn’t find it. “Where is it?,” my younger daughter asked.

“It probably flew away with the other shrikes,” I said.

“Ah.” We went back into the house.

The cat probably ate it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

One minute youre ordering the deaths of entire neighborhoods...

... and the next minute youre a punching bag for civil servants.

The BBC reports that 2 Iraqi court clerks beat up on the erstwhile ruler of Iraq, Saddam 'Da Man' Hussein for insulting 2 Shia saints. How humiliating is that? This used to be a guy who, with a snap of a finger, can have your entire family killed, and here he is, a forlorn, bedraggled shell of the ubertyrant he once was, eating knuckle sandwiches from government employees. Say what you want about the Bush war, but the world is better off without him. But did removing Saddam do any good? Yes it did. For Iran.

In the 80's, the Saddam's Baathist party had the full backing of the White House in its proxy war against Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran. It supplied them with materiel, moral support (Rumsfeld paid him a visit once), and one may surmise, top secret intelligence as well. The war turned out to be a stalemate with millions killed on both sides (most of them Iranians). Saddam already used poison gas on the Iranians, but that didnt cause too much of a fuss. "Hey-ell, Martha, he's a bad dog, but he's our dog." Saddam prevented the Iranians from dominating the Middle East and as long as he did that, he was one of the good guys.

Until he woke up one morning and said, "Im bored. Let's invade Kuwait." That quickly put him on Washington's excrement roster. Disrupt the world's oil supply, will he? The sumbitch is goin down! And he did. It was a turkey shoot when the allied forces made their move, placing vast tracts of the Iraqi landscape under invisible clouds of radiation from the use of depleted uranium ordnance that's still killing Gulf War veterans and Iraqi and Kuwaiti civilians to this very day. (Reporters covering the depleted uranium story saw children playing among the wreckage of Iraqi tanks, while the Geiger counters they were carrying were buzzing like crazed cicadas.)

Then came the September 11 attacks. After the invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration looked for whatever excuse they could to invade Iraq, and they found one: Weapons of Mass Destruction. And they found one Iraqi who was sure that they existed and that Saddam was making more: Ahmed Chalabi, the wealthy Shiite head of the Iraqi National Congress, who has never set foot in Iraq for 45 years. Never mind that UN weapons inspectors like ex-Marine Scott Ritter were testifying that Saddam no longer had the capability to create WMD's and if indeed he had managed to hide some of them from the inspectors, they would have been useless by now. (Apparently, these chemical and biological weapons have an expiry date like my vitamin supplements.) Never mind that that Saddam-Nigerian uranium information was shady at best. GW sent the troops and demolished Saddam's army, the force that was keeping the Iranians at bay. Iraq's population is mostly Shia Muslim like the Iranians and therefore natural allies. I bet the Iranians are just waiting for the US troops to leave Iraq, licking their chops, then they can exert influence on the internal politics of the new Iraqi government. Already, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is talking tough, pledging to push the Israelis nto the sea, and has re-launched Iran's nuclear program. Thanks to George W. Bush, things are falling in place for them.