Friday, May 23, 2008

I Watched "American Idol." So Shoot Me.

Okay, so I just watched the last few episodes of this season's "American Idol." So shoot me.

I was never really that interested in "American Idol" before, especially since I always got turned off by over-confident saps who insisted that they should have been chosen during the auditions despite voices that reminded me of either screaming banshees or croaking frogs. However, one afternoon I
was messing around with my TV remote and I was able to catch finalist David Cook performing his own version of Lionel Richie's song, "Hello."

Under normal circumstances, I'd be barfing from the cheesiness of this Lionel Richie ballad. But when Cook sang it rocker-version, I was simply blown away. I knew from that time on that this guy was going places.

Every now and then, I'd try to catch "American Idol," if only to catch Cook's performance. Among all the finalists, it was only Cook's name I remembered. Oh, I also remembered Ranielle Malubay -- the Filipina finalist who got axed quite early in the game. Well, she also had a fabulous voice, but it didn't have a unique sound. Plus, the way she sang that Dolly Parton number was -- to be honest -- quite forgettable. Thus, I wasn't surprised when Simon, Randy, and Paula decided against her favor. There also was that blonde girl (God, I forgot her name!) who managed to survive several episodes before getting the axe despite her less-than-marketable voice and features. (Surprising, actually...)

Jason Castro, that dreadlocks guy, knew his music but didn't really seem too impassioned about winning. In fact, he really botched his rendition of the 70s song, "Mr. Tambourine Man" by flubbing a substantial part of the lyrics. In fact, I was quite relieved that he was booted out before he could do more harm.

I liked Syesha Mercado, though. And she did deserve to be among the top three finalists. She can do jazz, pop, ballad, blues, Broadway...and still come out of the experience with flying colors. In fact, I was kinda hoping that it would be her and Cook who would make it to the face-off.

But of course, David Archuleta happened.

Before Archuleta admirers start throwing rotten tomatoes my way, allow me to make a disclaimer. I never said that David Archuleta has no talent. He seems to be a great kid, and his voice can also be quite versatile -- considering that he's only 17 years old. In fact, I do believe that Archuleta's singing prowess is more flexible than Cook's. Honestly, Cook is truly in his element when doing alternative songs, but is like a fish out of water when trying Broadway and other genres. (His rendition of "Music of the Night" from The Phantom of the Opera was not only forgettable: I felt that he raped and pillaged that beautiful song!)

Overall, Archuleta is one very young and very talented singer. I almost felt like my heart was being ripped apart while he sang his own version of the John Lennon classic, "Imagine." Archuleta laid out all his emotions before the audience as he sang that song -- even Paula's voice was breaking with emotion as she praised Archuleta's heart-rending performance.

ut David Archuleta is too "boy band-ish."

That's my primary gripe against Archuleta. And that's not even taking into account his father's overbearing presence in his rehearsals and other "American Idol" dealings.

Archuleta also reminds me of a younger Michael J. Fox who -- despite the years and the eventual onset of Parkinson's Disease -- remains as baby-faced as ever. Others may take this as an asset, but Hollywood forced poor Mic
hael into a stereotype boy-next-door rut even as he was already advancing in years. I believe that Archuleta may end up the same way as the Back to the Future star.

Finally, come to think of it: I'd be proud to come out of a music store with a newly-purchased David Cook CD in my hands. But I think I'd be covering my face if I was caught buying a David Archuleta CD. It's a typical cool guy-dorky nerd thing. Guess who's the cool guy and the dorky nerd.

I was only able to watch the first part of the two-episode face-off between the two Davids. During the first round where they sang songs chosen by two legends in the music industry, I was electrified by Cook's rendition of the U2 hit, "I still haven't Found what I'm Looking for." I don't recall the title of Archuleta's song, only that it was an Elton John ditty. And those with trained ears would take note of Archuleta's clear desafinado (hitting a chord half a tone higher or lower than the original) somewhere in the middle of the song. I was surprised that the judges didn't catch it, and still heaped praises on Archuleta who I felt lost that round to Cook.

However, I think that Round 2 where the two Davids sang original songs was a tie. Cook's rendition was edgy and powerful -- and he hit all the notes right. Archuleta continued to belt out an emotion-ridden ballad which was commendable, but without impact. When Simon Cowell still gave the second round to Archuleta, I balked. I could actually see lines of frustration growing on Cook's face. Trust me: it wasn't only him who was frustrated.

By the time the two Davids got to Round 3, I felt that Cook's daring and in-your-face piece was sure to get the judges' nod. I was especially confident about Cook winning that round when Archuleta
decided to remain in his comfort zone and sing his earlier masterpiece, "Imagine." This time, I felt like strangling Cowell when he berated Cook's song as "average" and not the best selection for the American Idol finals. I dunno what this guy has against Cook, but he surely made a lot of enemies that night.

True enough, the rest of America decided to make their own stand and -- as history would have it -- chose David Cook as their new American Idol. Producers of the show were even overwhelmed at the volume of viewer response in the voting. I may not have the exact numbers with me, but it was said that Cook won over Archuleta by a whopping wide margin in terms of votes.

For once, I agreed with these Americans. In your face, Simon Cowell!

In fairness to Simon, though: he did apologize to David Cook for his comments against him the night before. So: there's still hope for Cowell. Either that or it's the end of the world as we know it.

I only got to see the synopsis of the last part of the American Idol finals through the nightly news, and I found out that Filipino American Idol wannabe Renaldo Lapuz had his own share of the limelight by belting out his now-famous "Best Friends Forever." He may not have garnered a spot in the finals, but Renaldo has surely created a niche for himself in Hollywood with his flowing silver-and-white garments. That's Filipino talent -- and ingenuity -- for you!

As for David Cook, I hope this guy doesn't get remade by Hollywood. He's got talent, he's got the face, and he's quite realistic about his new title as American Idol. When he faced the press exactly after his victory, he said something about his winning as a springboard for his rise to stardom -- or it can be plain "crapshoot." Gee, I love this guy already...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Website Watch 7:

Now here is a website that caters to my advocacy for animal welfare: The great thing about this website is that you don't have to donate actual cash in order to help animals living in rescue shelters. All you have to do is to click on a button there, and affiliated advertisers will be funding for the needs of these animals. Visitors can also buy items being sold there. Here's a screenshot of the said site:

I wish that our local animal shelters, as well as Philippine animal welfare advocates as PAWS and the SPCA would get this same idea and create a local counterpart of this site. It's a brilliant idea, and this would be a great help in improving facilities and feeding in our animal shelters.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I Like 2: Squishable Whale and Bunny

Check out and get a load of plump, round squishable animals to hug and throw around!

I fancy the squishable whale and bunny, though.

There are other squishable animals there so simply take your pick and get some super-sized fluff.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Focusing on Trivial Problems

Manila Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales made a statement recently that raised the ire of the gay community. He believes that gay people shouldn't be made to participate in the Santacruzan because "they are insulting the purity of the devotion."

For the benefit of my non-Filipino readers, the Santacruzan is a colorful religious procession held every May in many areas of the Philippines. This said procession is actually a reenactment of the finding of Jesus' cross by Queen Helena (locally named Reyna Elena) and her son, Constantine (locally named Constantino). Apart from the usual rosary-praying and singing, the Santacruzan also features the most beautiful belles of the community, all led by Reyna Elena (said to be the most beautiful -- or the richest -- of the lot) and Constantino who is usually depicted as a child.

Not to incur the ire of our local tourism people and the Roman Catholic Church, but I'm not much of a fan of Santacruzans. You see, more often than not, the Santacruzan turns into a parade of beauties rather than a solemn procession. Call me a killjoy, but if I'd like to see a parade of beauties, I'd rather watch a beauty pageant than a Santacruzan. Besides, there are some parishes who choose their sagalas (these are what the "beauties" are called in the Santacruzan) not much for their beauty but for the generous donations given by their respective families. So technically, people watch these Santacruzans more for the elaborate gowns than the ones wearing them.

Considering that our local parishes allow this mardi gras to propagate in the guise of the Santacruzan, why should gay people be left out of it? The Santacruzan is a spectacle -- not a religious activity. Thus, the gay community will be very much at home in this venue. Plus, they hit two birds with one stone. They get to strut their stuff in front of an admiring crowd, they also get to show their religiosity.

I mean, honestly: let's not be hypocritical about it, Cardinal Rosales. Don't tell me that there is a difference between gays and straight females in outlandish outfits parading in a Santacruzan. The end result of this spectacle is the same. If ever there is a difference, it must be because the gays get more attention than the straights.

At this point, I do agree with gay rights activist Prof. Danton Remoto who says that Cardinal Rosales should focus his attention on the more prevalent moral misdemeanors occurring in society today. He'll have a heyday just from praying for all errant souls in government -- if ever they do have souls.

Gays in the Roman Catholic religion, especially in Santacruzans, are very trivial, and are the least of Cardinal Rosales' problems.

Sigh...I miss His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin...

I Like 1: The Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder, 60 Minutes

Ooooohhh...if anyone out there in the Great Beyond would be so kind to donate to me this ultra-uber camcorder called the Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder, 60 Minutes, then by all means, feel free to do so! I saw it on, and methinks that the pink one is really cute...

I super-like this little gadget's features: a whopping 2 GB memory (no need for memory cards and stuff), simple uploading of videos with its handy USB arm, one-touch video recording, and you can directly upload your videos to AOL Video or YouTube with it. It's also quite small and non-bulky, it can fit snugly in a small bag. I'm not that impressed with the two AA batteries, though. I wish it could just be recharged cellular phone-like. Nonetheless, it's one cool tech tool -- and I wish I had it...


Insights on the Impact of the UP Charter

Allow me to share an article by Prof. Michael Tan of the UP College of Arts and Letters (Diliman) who has a regular column in The Philippine Daily Inquirer. It discusses the impact of the newly-approved UP Charter, primarily on the said university's faculty members. It clearly mirrors my own experiences when I was a junior faculty member of the UP Division of Humanities at UP in the Visayas Tacloban College. However, I have to disagree with Prof. Tan on the issue of bullying by senior faculty members being a minor problem. In UP Tacloban, it is a major problem.


UP's Brain Drain

“Congratulations on your salary increase.”

I got several text messages of that type last week when the new charter of the University of the Philippines (UP) was signed into law. I was surprised because the messages came from friends outside UP, including two Americans, suggesting that they were following the issue. When I brought this up with fellow UP faculty members, they in turn shared quite a few reactions to the new charter, and several—the younger ones in particular—said I should write about some of the issues in my column.

First, congratulations are in order for president Emerlinda Roman, who will be remembered in history for shepherding the bill through a not-always-friendly Congress, some of whose members opposed the charter mainly because of personal grudges. There was also opposition from some UP constituents, who feared the new charter might mean the commercialization of the university.

I have some fears, too, but it’s not so much about commercialization than not being able to tap the full potentials of the new charter especially with our human resources. The new law gives the university even greater autonomy than it used to have, including the area of salaries. Before the new charter, all our salaries—teaching staff as well as non-academic personnel—were tied to the government’s standardized salary scale, which meant that an instructor would get a gross salary of about P15,000 per month while a full professor (a position that takes about 30 years to achieve, if you’re lucky) gets a little more than P30,000.

The new charter allows the university to raise these salaries based on its financial resources, which comes from the government’s allocated budget as well as grants and other income. This is why my non-UP friends were texting in, thinking that new salaries automatically went into effect.

But salary adjustments are going to take time, as the university thoroughly reviews the options. I can see why our officials have to be careful because they can’t afford to just give higher salaries this year, and then adjust downwards in succeeding years if funds dwindle.

People within and outside UP tend to associate the new charter with these dreams of higher salaries, mainly because they think it will solve the problem of UP’s brain drain. For years now, we have been losing faculty to other good schools like the two around the corner on Katipunan Road, one on Taft Avenue in Manila and that one in Pasig City, where salaries are at least double those at UP.

But, there’s more to UP’s brain drain than salaries. In truth, many of our professors have found ways to supplement their salaries. I haven’t heard of anyone selling "tocino" meat yet, but insurance policies, yes, and paintings and antiques and real estate. Being a UP professor can also mean consultancies and invitations to teach part-time in other universities. You need permission to do some of these sidelines, but UP tends to be fairly lenient here, as long as these don’t interfere with UP duties.

Higher salaries, I hope, will mean fewer of those sidelines, but there’s more to keeping our faculty going. The bottom line is that UP needed a new charter to deal with what it had become, a strange and difficult hybrid. On one hand, we are larger than many mega-corporations with huge potentials and resources. On the other hand, we are hobbled as a government institution with bureaucracies that breed turfing and patron-client relationships and a tenure system that sometimes leads to complacency and lethargy. To some, maybe even large, extent, it’s these organizational management issues that contribute to our brain drain problem.

The ones who suffer most are our young faculty members, who eventually leave out of frustration. In the words of one faculty member who nearly left when she was younger: “It wasn’t the salaries, but the lack of nurturance.”

New faculty members are full of ideals, but also want guidance. Many have no inkling of what it takes to teach. Many of us had to pick up teaching skills on our own. Only in recent years, to the credit of the current administration, has the university intensified its orientation and teaching seminars for new and junior faculty and explored new teaching tools, including the Internet.

There’s more, though, than workshops on teaching methods. Younger faculty members need space to exchange ideas, and to innovate, but when they do this, the older ones sometimes react negatively, seeing these as demands or threats, rather than as opportunities to learn. Nothing pleases me more than passing on my course outlines, lecture notes, books and films to younger faculty members and then seeing them update and revise and create totally new modules.

Younger faculty members leave, too, when they see their careers in UP as a dead end, blocked by older ones when it comes to promotions and other perks, such as opportunities for further studies, or attending workshops and symposia. The best ones who have left were those who had languished in lower ranks. A few came home from overseas studies with a postgraduate degree but had to wait for years before a promotion.

The current administration has done a lot to correct these injustices. In the last three years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised when my department hires someone new and recommends him for a particular rank, and then gets a notice from university officials asking us to give a higher position because the new hire graduated cum laude or has a master’s degree.

All these—promotion, mentoring, collegial camaraderie—are part of nurturance.

Fighting cynicism
I think you can see here that the problem of younger faculty members leaving sometimes has to do with the senior ones. The bullies are the easy part; you simply ignore them. I worry more about the others who have tired out, or worse become jaded and cynical. The old system gave some security but little incentive, so professors ended up playing safe and teaching the same courses for years on end with little or no innovation, and certainly, even less willingness to let the younger faculty members learn to teach those courses as well.

Frustrations grow, too, when older faculty members become administrators and try to improve standards or enforce university rules, and end up being reprimanded for doing so. If they leave, with their years of experiences, the loss to UP can be great.

There were, even under the old charter, many reasons to stay in UP, especially greater academic freedom. But there will be greater incentive to stay if we see greater professionalism, where rules are enforced consistently and fairly and a meritocracy that rewards commitment and innovation, rather than “loyalty” (read: sycophancy) and conformity.

Some time back an administrator from one of the other good schools asked me if I had anyone to spare to teach in his university, even on a part-time basis. Before I could answer, he went, “Hey, please don’t send X or Y or Z.”

The other schools know whom they want, and don’t want. Do we know whom we want at UP?


If you want to read this article yourself, simply click on this link.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Faces of Philippine Public Service

I just saw this on, and I just had to share this with everyone. Reminds me of our government solons.

Was looking for a crocodile version but cannot find any, so I guess this will do. Yes, laugh all you want.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Website Watch 6:

There are simply no words to describe it. It's a subservient chicken. Do with it what you will. Here's a screenshot to give you an idea:

If you're mad at your boss, check out the subservient chicken. If you and your boyfriend/girlfriend split up, check out the subservient chicken. If your parents disowned you, check out the subservient chicken. If you lost your job, check out the subservient chicken.

To sum it all up, if you're mad at the world -- even at yourself -- then vent out all your anger at the subservient chicken. Come out of the experience with a smile on your face.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Can't Get Enough of Avatar!

I blame it all on my officemate, Camille.

Prior to Camille's influence, I already found out about Avatar: the Last Airbender from my daughter's K-Zone. At first I couldn't understand how a boy with arrow tattoos and his flying six-legged bison could create such a fuss among kids who watched it in Nickelodeon. I thought that it was just another one of dem anime cartoons.

I was promptly corrected by Camille who explained that Avatar may look anime, but it's actually an American-made cartoon. Hmmm...interesting.

To further enlighten me on the subject, Camille let me borrow her DVD of Avatar. I watched it -- and I was hooked.

The synopsis of the story is actually stated in the beginning of each episode. The world of the Avatar is divided according to the four major elements: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdoms, the Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation. Remarkable individuals with special powers over their respective elements abound from each nation, and they are called benders.

One day, the Fire Nation suddenly decides to declare war over the three other nations, and only one person can stop this invasion from becoming successful: the Avatar. The Avatar is actually a series of reincarnations of an individual with expertise in bending all four elements. Unfortunately, as the Fire Nation was beginning its initial onslaught for world domination, the Avatar vanished.

A hundred years later, the Avatar and his flying bison named Appa were found and reanimated by two kids from the Southern Water Tribe: Katara, a water bender, and her older brother and warrior-in-the-making, Sokka. The Avatar is actually a twelve-year old kid from among the Air Nomads -- a tribe that has long been extinct because of the Fire Nation purging -- so he turns out to be the last air bender, Aang.

Aang, Katara, and Sokka soon begin their quest to understand what the Avatar has to do to stop the war initiated by the Fire Nation. As they go on, Aang realizes that he has to master all four elements to conquer the Fire Lord Ozai and finish the war. Thus, the three search the world for bending masters of each element.

Since Aang is already an air bender, he still has the water, earth, and fire elements to master. Katara eventually becomes his first teacher in the art of water bending. Soon, they come upon a blind child from an illustrious Earth Kingdom family who can "see" through vibrations she feels using her feet in the person of Toph. She becomes Aang's earth bending teacher.

One time during training of fire bending, Aang accidentally burns Katara, and this causes him to become fearful of fire bending. Nevertheless, all of them realize that he still needs to learn that skill -- and Prince Zuko steps in.

Prince Zuko is quite a colorful character. Not only is he voiced by half-Filipino Dante Basco (the same guy who voices for Jake Long in Disney's The American Dragon: Jake Long), his character is in constant flux between good and evil. He is Fire Lord Ozai's only son and successor to his throne, but he was punished and banished by his own father for being more humane. To restore his dignity and honor, he searches for the Avatar high and low to capture and bring back to the Fire Nation. Acting as his conscience is his uncle, Iroh -- formerly a decorated and feared general and Fire Lord Ozai's older brother. He lost his will to battle after he lost his only son in his last battle in Bah Sing Seh -- the strongest Earth Kingdom stronghold. In Book 1 (Water), Prince Zuko is bad to the bone. By the end of Book 2 (Earth), Zuko somehow comes to the crossroads of his destiny and he has to choose whether to continue his loyalty to his father or to side with the Avatar and his friends. But by Book 3 (Fire), Zuko emerges a changed man who joins Aang and his group in defeating his father and restoring balance to the world. And -- wonder of wonders -- he turns into Aang's fire bending teacher.

There are other beautiful (and nasty) characters all thrown into the Avatar fray like Zuko's war freak sister Azula; Suki, leader of the Kyoshi warriors; Momo, Aang's flying lemur; Princess Yue of the Northern Water Tribe; Jet, leader of the freedom fighters...etcetera, etcetera, but each character is well-textured and certainly adds color to the entire story.

Avatar is already in its last episodes (I'm reduced to seeing Book 3 online only -- poor me), but it just gets more exciting as each episode goes on. It's certainly more thrilling to watch than our local teleseryes with stories that move too slow for the sake of advertisements.

Avatar is one cartoon that I'm sure, even adults will enjoy. Just check out all the fancy moves the benders make. According to its creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the bending moves in the cartoon have their roots in actual Chinese martial arts. The flowing moves of Tai Chi were used for water bending techniques while the more stable yet strong moves of Hung Gar were employed for earth bending. The fast jabbing style of Northern Shaolin, meanwhile, constitutes the fire bending moves. On the other hand, the circular movements made in Bagua make for great air bending moves. (Thanks to for the information.)

Even the script of
Avatar is noteworthy. Sokka's the joker of the group, and his one-liners simply crack me up. Even Momo who merely makes a croo-croo sound has his own hilarious moments. Katara is the more serious one, and her character denotes a girl trying to be the motherly, mature grown-up as a way to protect her friends. She can be affectionate, but her lines are not mushy. When Zuko finally decided to join Aang and his group, I half-laughed, half-pitied him when he collapsed to the ground (after an unfortunate accident with Toph) and exclaimed, "AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!! Why am I so bad at being good?!"

Give Avatar a try. Trust me: it will be worth your time.