Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Still indulging in Idolatry

Nearing the last of my 6 hours at the PAL Ticketing Office in Cubao yesterday morning (I was there to pay for the cheap plane tickets I had booked online under their "Real Deal" promotion, which turned out to be a Real Pain in the Ass), my high school kabarkada Mishy showed up with her sister Pao to relieve Mishy's husband Kim, who also happened to be waiting in line. In exchange for letting them sneak in line by adding their transactions to mine (I was way ahead of them), they kindly gave me a ride back to the office (where I really didn't get that much work done).

As we were chatting, Mishy suddenly asked me why I don't watch American Idol anymore, to which I replied, I still do. I also expressed surprise that she presumed I had stopped indulging in my favorite TV guilty pleasure. Mishy laughed her Mishy laugh and said it's because I don't blog about it. And I realized that indeed, unlike in previous years (see this and this
and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this and this), I haven't posted a single AI-related blog entry this season. So I promised Mishy and my fellow Matt Giraud fangirl Pao that I would blog about AI, and this is me fulfilling that promise.

Season 8 of American Idol has run the usual course: glimpses of potential during auditions, slip-ups and meltdowns during Hollywood week, strange picks by the judges (Nick Mitchell/Norman Gentle?? who were they kidding?), and surprisingly good and disappointingly bad performances from the semifinalists. Of course AI attempted to shake things up this year by 1) adding a 4th judge, songwriter Kara DioGuardi, an insufferable know-it-all who won't SHUT. THE. EFF. UP. and suffers from "pop culture dyslexia"; 2) bringing back the Wild Card round where the judges get to put their favored contestants through to the Top 12; 3) unexpectedly (unexpectedly, my foot!) turning the Top 12 into the Top 13; and 4) introducing the judges' save, granting them the power to rescue a finalist from elimination.

As with previous seasons, I had my early favorites: bespectacled widower Danny Gokey, big oil-rig man Michael Sarver, dueling pianist Matt Giraud, sultry, soulful redhead Jesse Langseth, Goth rocker/Broadway actor Adam Lambert, hilarious drama queen Nathaniel Marshall, visually impaired Scott McIntyre, and college kid Anoop "Noop Dawg" Desai, the only contestant in Idol history to casually throw around a big word like "impetus" on the otherwise low-IQ show. Of course not all of them delivered the goods and made it far, and in fact very few have made a significant impact on audience consciousness the same way past contestants like Fantasia Barrino, Bo Bice, and Chris Daughtry blew us away.

But while this batch of AI finalists may not be the most talented or the most popular, I do think that they're the most... NICE. There are no fragile egos or abrasive personalities (save for some sass c/o Lil Rounds), they all seem to really get along with each other, and I get the sense that they give the producers little grief in terms of behavior and work ethic. I suppose that also implies they're all a bit boring, but collectively they have enough charisma to still keep me interested.

This week AI is down to 5 finalists, so here's my take on the Top 5, in order of personal preference:

Matt Giraud - I've liked Matt G since his audition. I even remember texting someone, "I like the piano player. There's something really sexy about guys who look good in just a white shirt and jeans." I really dig Matt's faux-Timberlake vibe, from the hip wardrobe choices (he definitely gets my Best Dressed Finalist award) down to the erratic falsetto (note to Randy: please stop referring to a falsetto as "the false"). The only thing that bothers me is that strange... THING right smack in the middle of his forehead. I first thought it was an unfortunately located zit, but when it didn't go away a few weeks later, I concluded it must be some sort of... growth? Whatever it is, it's kinda distracting, but it still doesn't change my adoration of Matt. Nor did Simon's undeservedly scathing critique of Matt's rendition of The Fray's "You Found Me" (note to Cowell: The Fray IS current, duh).

Kris Allen - Kris is my second favorite of the lot, not only for the very obvious reason that he's so goshdarn cute, but for successfully pulling off what Jason Castro couldn't manage last season: simply sing, and well. I applaud Kris for choosing songs that aren't "screamers", and for not ruining them with too much melisma and Regine Velasquez shrieking. His style reminds me a bit of Jason Mraz, and during Disco Week his slowed-down, acoustic version of "She Works Hard for the Money" made me seriously reconsider switching from Team Matt to Team Kris.

Allison Iraheta - This funky-haired kid gets my Best Raw Talent award (and the recipient of the Randy Jackson I-Can't-Believe-You're-Only-Sixteen Award). I also think she is the most genuine teenage finalist AI has ever seen, genuine as in not "manufactured" by a stage mom a la McPhee, or cloyingly precocious (and has a famous grandma) like Paris Bennett,
or Star Search-ed like David Archuleta and Lisa Tucker. Allison is modest, goofy, and occasionally unintentionally funny, topped off with just the right amount of awkwardness. Plus, I agree with Mishy that she projects a confidence onstage befitting a veteran performer, and certainly rare in teens. And I agree with Paula (anyone else notice how much more sense she's making this season? they must be putting less moonshine in her Coca-Cola cup) that Allison has one of the most distinct voices in the competition.

Danny Gokey - Danny reminds me of Martin Nievera. Not so much looks-wise (he's more Robert Downey Jr. mixed with a little Brendan Fraser), but more of the built and the overall aura. And the way they sing. I can so imagine Danny belting out "Be My Lady" or crooning "Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin", haha. I liked Danny early on in the season, but his grieving widower back story got old real fast. And am I the only one who wishes his best friend Jamar Rogers had made it into the Top 13 too? That dude had flair.

Adam Lambert - And then there's Adam. Oh Adam. I dub thee Glambert, for thine banshee wail maketh me wince, as does thine flamboyant stage presence. I admit he has the most polished and pitch-perfect vocals among the Top 5, but the judges keep pimping him so much, I stop focusing on his voice and instead start harboring a sense of injustice on behalf of the other finalists. I get turned off when something-- no matter how good-- is force-fed to me, so Adam Lambert is like the carrots my mom makes me finish during dinner. I actually like carrots, but let me choose to eat them on my own, and not by the heaping spoonfuls either. Glambert is truly talented, will probably win the whole thing, and seems like quite a nice guy (though the phrase "magpakatotoo ka sister!" pops into my head whenever I see him), but I think he only deserves about half the praise the judges keep heaping on him (Season 4's Constantine Maroulis got flak for being "too Broadway", when Glambert is even more so). If it really comes down to what is an increasingly apparent Adam vs Danny finale, I'd rather root for the Gokey.

Monday, April 27, 2009

No picnic: a review of Clawdaddy's Great American Picnic, Bonifacio High Street

10 signs a restaurant is not being run well:
  1. The waiters and waitresses are all running around the restaurant like headless chickens.
  2. The specialty of the house is crab, and they've run out of it even if it's only 7PM.
  3. In the middle of taking your order, your server tells you he'll be back in 1 minute. He doesn't come back until you ask another server to hunt him down.
  4. Waiters keep bringing dishes you didn't order to your table.
  5. You're almost done with your meal, and the pitcher of lemonade that comes with one entree still hasn't been served, even after you've asked for it 3 times.
  6. They run out of clean glasses.
  7. The food quality is disappointing: undercooked, overfried, and all served at room temperature, including the soup. Lukewarm oyster chowder? Gross.
  8. There is only 1 washroom stall for each gender, AND they're shared with the adjacent restaurant.
  9. For a restaurant that expects its patrons to get their hands dirty, they have ridiculously small sinks in the washrooms.
  10. When your bill arrives, you find they neglected to charge you for one appetizer (but you're so thoroughly disgruntled you don't bother to point out the oversight).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Problematic possessives

I came across a student's sister's blog post deploring American Idol's misuse of the possessive apostrophe in some text that they flashed across the screen during one episode, identifying contestant Kris Allen's family as "Kris' family", sans the s after the punctuation mark. Now I must admit even I, a former English teacher and the biggest grammar Nazi I know (no, that WASN'T a size joke), get confused by the rules on when and when not to use the s after the apostrophe for words and names ending in s. In my defense, it IS tricky to figure out. Different sources have different takes on it, and I don't know which one/s to believe.
  • The eminent tandem of William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, the authorities behind The Elements of Style, exhorts us to "Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's... whatever the final consonant." For whatever reason, the sole exceptions to this so-called "First Rule" are ancient or classical names, such as Moses, Jesus, Achilles, Isis, etc. which only need an apostrophe, no s. Most modern style guides still enforce this strange rule.
  • Moreover, according to Wikipedia, both the Chicago Manual of Style and the Oxford Style Manual say that the apostrophe alone is used after words ending in sibilant sounds that precede "sake", such as "for goodness' sake" or "your conscience' sake". The American Heritage Book of English Usage also states the same rule. The University of Minnesota's Style Manual seems to echo it as well, further dictating that "For the sake of euphony, add only an apostrophe to nouns ending in s or ces followed by a word beginning with s." An example given was "for Professor Evans' service".
  • And then I distinctly remember learning in grade school that monosyllabic nouns ending in double s use 's (e.g. boss's, Tess's), but monosyllabic nouns ending in only one s use only an apostrophe (e.g. bus', James'). Was I misguided by my teacher and our textbook? Or is my memory muddled and did I just pick this up somewhere, like Lynne Truss's (or is it Truss' without the s?) delightful book on punctuation Eats, Shoots and Leaves?
I confess that in this quandary over the troublesome little apostrophe, I have taken the easy way out, simply omitting the s after the apostrophe when a word ends in s (if you scan through my blog you will notice I stopped using "Hanks's" and "Bens's" quite a ways back). I figure, since most modern style guides seem to condone this "alternative" practice, I'm not committing any crimes against punctuation. Of course I wouldn't go as far as the good people of Birmingham, who early this year decided to erase ALL apostrophes from their street signs because they're "confusing and old-fashioned". That's a bit much, innit?

I can't argue with "confusing" though.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bookworm's progress report #2, 2009

So much for picking up the slack. It's been almost 2 months since my first progress report of the year, and I have only finished 2 books, which brings my running total for 2009 to a pathetic 4 books, or a book a month. Not good.

* * *

Maybe it's because I'm not American, but I don't quite "get" Bret Easton Ellis. His characters tend to be reflections of the decadence of American culture, twentysomethings leading lifestyles of wanton privilege, nonchalant promiscuity, and reckless substance abuse. The Rules of Attraction circles around 3 college kids-- Lauren Hynde, Paul Denton, and Sean Bateman (brother to American Psycho's Patrick Bateman), who attend parties more often than they attend class, and in a drunken/stoned whirlwind of events, end up in a bizarre love triangle (yes, I just used the phrase "bizarre love triangle"). I think there's supposed to be satiric humor in it all, but I didn't quite get the joke. I also was not amused by any of the dozens of supporting characters, whose names I couldn't even keep straight, as they went in and out of the 3 protagonists' bedrooms and/or lives.

I may not have liked the content so much, but I must give Bret Easton Ellis credit for having a very singular writing style. He has a knack for taking the reader right into the drug- and booze-addled heads of his characters, regardless of how sympathetic they are. Not as demented or disturbing as American Psycho, but just as heady a trip, The Rules of Attraction is as close as I'll ever get to know what it feels like to snort coke. And I just don't think I'm cut out to be a cokehead.

* * *

I couldn't have chosen a more stark contrast to The Rules of Attraction for my next read. Set in 1870s New York, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence is a refined tale of romance restrained by the pressure to conform to norms set by a straight-laced, high-brow society. Young lawyer Newland Archer is engaged to lovely, sweet-natured May Welland, a match that brings together 2 of New York's most prominent families. Then May's scandalous cousin, the independent and strong-willed Countess Ellen Olenska, returns from Europe, and Newland's world-- and all of upper-crust New York-- is turned topsy-turvy. With his emotions waging battle against his ingrained sense of moral obligation, Newland finds himself both observer and subject, critic and victim of the wagging tongues and hypocrisy of the elite circles he runs in.

The Age of Innocence is as much social commentary as it is a love story: one gets the impression that the author is mildly critical of the overly prim and proper New York standards depicted in her book. However, that criticism is tempered with a familiarity with, if not fondness for, the very customs and courtesies she seems to be panning. This novel
reminds me of a delicate glass vase, with painstaking details exquisitely etched by Wharton... details barely concealing the thorny stems of the roses within the vessel.

I don't quite get why this particular work won Wharton the Pulitzer when it doesn't strike me as being substantial enough, but I suppose there is beauty in all that is left unsaid in the story, and in that the true depth of the characters lies in what is not spoken. It is perhaps this subtlely, and how it masks so much more, that lend The Age of Innocence its magic. Beneath the veneer of sophistication, gentility and manners simmer passion, intrigue, and conspiracy, and as I reached the last few pages of the book, I was glad Wharton never fully strips off that veneer. She doesn't have to.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mad men after my own heart

I've been getting my weekly dose of House every Monday, watching episodes from Season 5 on AXN. I have expressed my adoration of House (both the TV series and the character) several times in my blog (here and here and here and here and here), and though critics have panned Season 5's storylines and character development, I'm still enjoying it. While I do miss House's dynamic with his original 3 "ducklings" Chase, Cameron and Foreman, I like his new trio of apprentices well enough. Moreover, now that he has more people to deal with on a regular basis, his interpersonal skills (or lack thereof) are brought to fore, and it's interesting to see how he handles-- and screws up-- his relationships with his colleagues.

Just tonight after having watched another episode of House, it hit me that most of the TV characters that strongly appeal to me share many similarities: they tend to be highly intelligent, overly confident, socially maladjusted, emotionally stunted, morally ambiguous, and helluva sexy (at least to me they are). There's House, there's Alan Shore from Boston Legal, and there's Don Draper from Mad Men.

For the uninformed, Mad Men is the award-winning drama series set in an advertising agency in the 60s. The whiskey-swigging men are dressed in dapper suits, the women's tiny waists are cinched by big skirts, the office atmosphere is charged with chauvinism and sexism and infidelity, and everyone smokes like chimneys. At the center of it all is the dashing, mysterious creative director Don Draper, brought to life by actor Jon Hamm. Hamm has one of those "old" faces, not old as in decrepit, but old as in old-fashioned-- he looks like he belongs in the Hollywood of decades past, and not in contemporary show business. He's also classically handsome-- not just cute or hot, but handsome in a way very few men are, especially in this day and age (Gregory Peck will forever be the epitome of handsome for me). That Hamm is so good-looking is only part of the appeal he brings to the character of Don Draper though. He manages to walk the precariously fine line between charming and slick, confident and cocky, brooding and dark... all the while looking damn fine in a 3-piece gray suit with matching tie and pocket square.

Draper is married to a beautiful but bland blonde, a Barbie doll trophy wife who stays at home and takes care of their 2 young kids, and though he is obviously a devoted family man, he also carries on affairs with various women. While this aspect of him is morally questionable, on the other hand he is admirably ethical when it comes to work, and of all the men at his firm, he treats the women at the office with the most respect. Then again, Draper hides a secret from his past that no one knows, and this secret again reveals a flaw in his character that seems at odds with his inherent decency.

It's that contradiction that fascinates me so, and it's the same paradoxical quality that draws me to brilliant but abrasive personalities-- not just in TV shows, but in real life as well. Yes, most of my dearest friends are smart SOBs and bitches (and there's no use denying it, Yang). I suppose I am drawn to these types because I myself am
highly intelligent, overly confident, socially maladjusted, emotionally stunted, and morally ambiguous (I'll hold off on the helluva sexy). Unfortunately, I think this also translates into an attraction to inappropriate men (right, Maddy?). Now if only any of them looked remotely like Jon Hamm, or even a young James Spader... but I digress.

I read this passage in someone's blog right before I started composing this post: "There's nothing offensive about him at all. But there's nothing that impressive about him either." Given the choice, I suppose I would rather be offensive yet outstanding than just pleasantly plain and forgettable. Of course it would be ideal if we can achieve excellence without compromising our ethics or becoming nasty. But let's face it, the straight and narrow can be so dull, and there will always be something amusing-- and alluring-- about nasty. As long as it comes in small doses, like every Monday night.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dry spell

How about this insane, intense heat, huh? Anyone else feeling that summer seems to be working in overdrive this year? CNN Weather reports Manila temperatures at around 29-34 degrees Celsius, which seems grossly underestimated to me because every time I step out of the house it feels like stepping inside a furnace.

It would seem rational to blame the scorching weather for the drought my blog is currently going through (ok, that doesn't make sense, but it sounds rational, don't it?). But I actually have some very reasonable and acceptable excuses for not having posted anything new in the past 2 weeks:

  1. I was vacationing in Japan with my family all of last week.
  2. I've been busy sorting, editing, and uploading vacation photos since our return.
  3. I took considerable time planning how to distribute pasalubong to my busy friends.
  4. I was sidetracked by certain online sensations (both bad and good).
  5. As much as I hate to admit it, I am becoming addicted to Twitter.

I doubt I'll get my blogging groove back this weekend too, because I'm meeting up with some friends and I'm due for a haircut and pedicure (priorities, priorities). I promise (to myself more than anyone) I'll return to regular blogging business next week. 'Til then, bloghounds.

Friday, April 03, 2009

4 years of not-so-first thoughts

Today marks the beginning of my 5th year of blogging. Have I only been doing this for 4 years? Seems like longer...

My sister and I once saw Arianna Huffington (founder of The Huffington Post) guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to pimp the book, The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, and in the interview she shared some tips on blogging. They were actually some sound tips, but one thing she said that got me and Hanks laughing was, "First thought, best thought. Don't overthink it, don't overwrite." "You don't follow that," Hanks had ribbed me, and thereafter every time she would see me laboring over a blog post or editing an entry for the nth time, she'd razz me about breaking the rules of blogging.

I take a lot of pride in my writing, which I consider the only real talent I have, so the idea of putting out a poorly composed blog entry is completely unacceptable to me. So I carefully reread and revise several times before (and sometimes after) clicking the "PUBLISH POST" button. I admit this meticulousness sometimes robs a post of its spontaneity or "freshness", but I'd like to think that for the most part, my anal tendencies pay off and I still manage to come up with pieces that are interesting or amusing enough to keep my 4 or 5 faithful readers adequately entertained (thanks, fans!). More importantly, in everything I write, I try to preserve my "voice", that signature Ailee style with which my bloghounds have come to identify me. A friend recently told me that reading my blog is like hearing me talk to him in person, which is one of the best compliments I receive about my writing. I hope he's not alone in recognizing my "voice" in the pages of my blog.

I may violate the "don't overthink, don't overwrite" rule, but at least I stay true to Huffington's first rule of blogging: "Write about your passions." I always blog about things I feel strongly about, whether it's a controversial current event, or a really good (or really bad) movie or book, or teaching (and my students), or my family and friends. Not all my chosen topics are very popular, but I believe my passion about them shows through my writing. After all, writing IS one of my passions too.

I don't claim to be an outstanding blogger, and there are a lot of truly great bloggers out there who give me severe writer's envy, but I am pretty proud of my blog in as far as it is representative of me, my ideas, opinions, principles, and feelings. AND my penchant for overthinking and overwriting. :)

Happy Birthday blog. I promise I will take care of you for many more years to come.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Chip on my shoulder

Anyone remember the delightful, "divalicious" creature named Malu Fernandez? Yeah, I wish I could forget too. But it's hard to wipe such muck from my memory when more unsavory scum like Hong Kong journalist Chip Tsao surface from the depths of their bogs and remind me that horrible human beings walk amongst us.

In case you haven't heard, Mr. Chip Tsao writes a column for HK Magazine, and in his March 27 piece called "The War at Home", he refers to the Philippines as "a nation of servants", and describes how he delivered a "harsh lecture" to his "domestic assistant" Louisa over the Philippines' audacious claim over the Spratly Islands.

I sternly warned her that if she wants her wages increased next year, she had better tell everyone of her compatriots in Statue Square on Sunday that the entirety of the Spratly Islands belongs to China.

Grimly, I told her that if war breaks out between the Philippines and China, I would have to end her employment and send her straight home, because I would not risk the crime of treason for sponsoring an enemy of the state by paying her to wash my toilet and clean my windows 16 hours a day. With that money, she would pay taxes to her Government, and they would fund a navy to invade our motherland and deeply hurt my feelings.

You can imagine the outraged furor this offensive passage ignited, not only among Filipinos in Hong Kong, but here at home. The online copy of Tsao's article has had to be removed from HK Magazine's website due to the deluge of angry reactions being posted, and the Bureau of Immigration has barred Mr. Tsao from entering the country. There have been TV news interviews of incensed Filipino labor leaders in Hong Kong, as well as statements given by irate Philippine legislators.
Yesterday's news reports say Tsao has already issued an apology for his politically incorrect piece, but the sizeable Filipino community in HK is still organizing a protest rally this Sunday.

My brother has already blogged about this issue, and my comments to his blog post reflect my views on the matter. To quote myself (with edits):

The fact that our country's biggest export is human labor says a lot about us as a nation, both negative and positive. Seen from one perspective, there is some truth (no matter how sordid) to what Chip Tsao wrote, we are indeed "a nation of servants". The term "servant" stings so much because of the stigma attached to it: implications of lowly menial labor, even vestiges of slavery. For a country with a long, painful history of being colonialized by 3 different countries, being labelled "a nation of servants" will definitely rankle.

But if everyone were to regard honest work, no matter how lowly or menial, with the respect it deserves (for there is dignity and value in all honest work), then they would realize being "a nation of servants" is not as bad as it sounds.

I'm not defending Chip Tsao here. Far from it-- I think he's an arrogant, imperialist, racist SOB. When he called us "a nation of servants" he undoubtedly meant to convey condescension, and the whole tone of his article
was patently discriminatory, derogatory and debasing. However, I think the reaction to Tsao shouldn't be "we're not a nation of servants, you asshole!!", it should be "what's wrong with being a nation of servants, you asshole?!" We serve not because you're better than us. We serve because we can, and we're better at it than you. Asshole.

And then it would be awesome if all the domestic helpers in Hong Kong went on strike for a couple of days just so everyone sees how indispensable Filipino "servants" are. Hah.

There's political incorrectness, there's insensitivity, and then there's outright indecency. The kind of blatant bigotry demonstrated by Chip Tsao should not only offend our sensibilities as Filipinos, but as decent human beings who recognize the intrinsic worth of our fellow man regardless of race, nationality, social status, and occupation. To harangue and humiliate another person-- and insult an entire nation in the process-- just to make a point about some tired old dispute over a bunch of islands is a sorry display of superiority by someone whose contribution to society is churning out journalistic crap. No wonder his toilet takes 16 hours to clean.