Monday, August 29, 2005

Bar Blues

It was this time a year ago that I was gearing up to take a second swing at the Philippine bar examinations. I'm a lawyer now, but the anxiety is still there, albeit in a (slightly) diminished form given that my wife is now up to bat. I guess being married for four years creates the ability to feel sympathetic tension in more ways than one, particularly since this is a matter I have firsthand experience with.

There's so much going on in her head and in mine right now. I'm smarting a little from the fact that the Supreme Court, where I work, has denied my request to serve as one of the supervisors during the bar exams. An understandable decision, given that my wife's taking the exam, but it doesn't make me feel any better about not getting the additional money the gig would have brought.

Guided by a prepare-for-the-worst mindset, Theia and I are currently hatching a financial plan that has us saving up for her second shot at the bar before the ink on her last booklet of the first one has even dried. Excessive? Possibly. But experience is a brutal teacher, one whose lessons tend to linger longer than most.

Theia has a lot going against her in her bar campaign; a lot more than I did during either of my attempts. She has had to nurse a newborn baby. It doesn't help that we've had one yaya crisis after another, unlike when I was taking the exams. Back then our household help averaged at least eight months. From my experience, though, I know that doesn't count her out by a long shot. A great deal of the bar is preparation, but there's so much else that goes into passing it that simply cannot be underestimated.

Anyway, I pray for my wife. I pray for my family, which will be directly affected by the outcome, good or bad, of this exam. i pray for my children, one of whom we hope to send to school next year.

Is this a post or a prayer? Maybe a little of both. God is everywhere, after all, why can't he be online as well?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

On Self-Loathing

Lately I've found myself perturbed by the increasing aggressiveness with which peddlers of skin-whitening products push their ware. For the benefit of anyone fortunate enough not to have seen any of this latest wave of commercials, the campaign consists of ads where the previously dark users of the product become so fair-skinned that even their good friends fail to recognize them. Print ads from the same company which appear semi-regularly in the pages of Inquirer Libre discuss the virtues of having white skin, going to far as to suggest that it improves one's chances of getting a job!

These ads make me sick.

I think it's safe to say that nowhere is our national self-loathing more evident than in the way our women try to alter the color of their skin. I know a lot of educated women don't fall for the garbage being peddled to them every time their favorite shows cut to commercial, but that there are those that still do really floors me.

There are so many dermatoligical products to sell that, while not necessarily helpful to one's self-esteem, at least have the decency to keep from eroding one's national pride. Products to remove pimples, old scars and all kinds of skin imperfections make fairly good sense, as do those that make skin "softer and smoother" as the tagline often goes, and I'm sure they could make the drug companies a lot of money.

It depresses me, though, that the product they seem to market most assiduously is their skin whitening cream, or soap, or whatever it is.

My wife is brown-skinned and beautiful for it, and though I wouldn't have it any other way, apparently she grew up thinking that her fair-skinned elder sister is better looking than she is, and that white skin is in and of itself a component of beauty. I still roll my eyes at the thought of it. It's funny how she only seems to really appreciate the beauty of her skin color only now.

I honestly don't have anything against fair-skinned girls; I went out with a few and even carried a torch for one for a long time (though it had nothing to do with her complexion), but I feel deeply perturbed by people who slavishly use products to alter their natural skin chemistry just to change the way they were at birth.

It's like every woman who does this to herself is a MICHAEL JACKSON of sorts.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Power of the Smile

It's really a pity I didn't know about the existence of weblogs three years ago: I would have almost certainly started a journal chronicling the growth of my son, who is now three. I wouldn't necessarily have given a blow-by-blow account of his development, but I certainly would have etched into cyberspace the little vignettes that I have often shared with friends and family at the occasional gathering.

Now that I've been blogging for a little under a year now, I think it would be criminal for me to not write so much as a few paragraphs on the joy of having a baby in the house all over again.

Don't get me wrong: being father to a toddler is still as exhilarating as it can be exasperating. I often swell with pride when other parents express amazement at how articulate little Raphael has turned out to be. I've made it one of my goals to acquiant him with the alphabet, and so far I think we're making good headway. He's got letters A to O down pat, with X and S thrown in for good measure.

But there's something about my youngest, baby Tala, that just drew me to this keyboard: her smile.

At barely two months, this kid has become extremely generous with her mirth. When Apel was that age he smiled too, but catching sight of one was something of a feat. He didn't exactly do it on request.

I don't know if it's the formula I've put this one on, but she seems to smile whenever someone enters the room. It's the most amazing thing, and in this troubled time, one of the best things to look forward to on any given day. It's things like this that make me truly cherish fatherhood.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and see if I can get some more of that little sunshine in a bottle. For anyone with kids, enjoy this little aspect of parenthood because it's absolutely free, and will make you realize that whatever struggles you might have to endure to make ends meet for your's worth it.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Nothing Like a Political Crisis to Bring Out the Writer...

The current political circus has had me reading the papers a lot. I generally don't waste time with the front page any more, because all of the posturing by the parties concerned (on both sides) is usually more irritation than it's worth. I don't seek refuge in the traditional men's corner (namely the comics and the sports page). What really grabs my attention these days is the editorial pages.

In particular, I've taken a liking to the musings of one of Philippine journalism's oldest living veterans, Philippine Star publisher Max Soliven. I used to read Teddy Benigno, too, and really felt bad about his passing, which left a void I don't think has really been filled. I also like to read Amado Doronilla of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, whose career as a journalist has proven similarly durable, but his dour, serious style contrasts rather sharply with Soliven's wonderfully sardonic undertones.

It's a funny thing about Soliven: I used to hate that guy's columns, because it seemed that for the longest time, all he could talk about were his freaking trips abroad. I lost interest after the second or third time I read about one of his jaunts to Europe.

But if there's one good thing all this brouhaha about the administration has brought about, it's the fact that Soliven is writing again, and I mean really giving his two cents' worth on all the shit that keeps hitting the fan day in and day out. His writing is intelligent and funny, and I love that from the tone of his writing, he simply cannot be branded as partisan to either side.

Other writers, like Conrado de Quiros of the Inquirer, or Emil Jurado of the Standard Today, tend to foam at the mouth when they discuss politics, so charged up with their convictions that their columns feel less like opinion pieces and more like diatribes.

Soliven's column is by comparison so much more sober and a lot like the writings of another pillar of Philippine society: Senator Jovito Salonga. These guys don't wear out on their sleeves whether they're for or against GMA, or Erap, or whoever's hogging the front pages. They just call things like they see them, give their own take on where things are going, and sit back and enjoy the ride. Between the two of them, they've seen times that are way worse than these, and yet you don't see the veins sticking out of their necks as they scream their indignation at one faction or another.

At this time, we need people like Max Soliven and Senator Salonga. Sober. Contemplative. These guys are the true patriots, not the shrieking zealots and certainly not the wolves in Congressmen's clothing.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Apparently, every year since 1985, some groups have tracked how much money movies gross in the United States. The figures grow inevitably, mostly due to inflation, but sometimes due to genuine improvement in attendance.

This year, for twenty straight weekends in a row, the collective grosses of movies in the U.S. (most of them Hollywood products) have been less than they were at the same time last year. As of now the grosses are running something like seven or eight percent behind.

In my honest opinion, what's doing Hollywood in is sequels, and movies created with sequels in mind. I know this is an old, old song, but apparently nobody's listening, so I'm going to sing it again, once more, with feeling.

The good news is, the Star Wars franchise, at least as far as the big screen is concerned, is at an end. It's nice when a film series is finite, like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the Star Wars movies, or even the Harry Potter films. This way they don't run the risk of rehashing ideas for the next installment because each film serves as a piece of an already fixed puzzle. Even Sony has taken the hint and announced that there will only be six Spider-Man movies, a promise I sincerely hope they keep, because this will clear the marketplace for newer, fresher ideas.

The bad news is that some franchises have been revived, and others have gotten off on the wrong foot. Yes, I know Batman Begins was a good movie, but by resurrecting a franchise Warner Brothers has set a dangerous precedent for series that have died natural deaths. More on this later.

Fantastic Four's success is, to me, a recipe for disaster. Given that they were able to muscle in on the box office with a half-assed script, half-assed direction, and half-assed casting, the dunderheads at Fox and Marvel films might think they can pull it off again. I cringe at the thought of them starting principal photography on the sequel sometime next year. THERE ISN'T EVEN A SCRIPT YET!!! Well, if we're lucky, the sequel will tank and nip the franchise in the bud. Or...the next film could be better...yeah, right. (Well, there was X2...)

Not to mention that a whole bunch of other franchises are now waiting in the wings, like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Madagascar, and the Wedding Crashers.

I know studios are about the bottom line, and that sequels have been around almost as long as movies have because they've proven time and again to make money, but nobody can deny how much they are killing creativity. Studios that have franchises should just make X number of films and content themselves with DVD and pay-per-view figures in the years afterwards rather than bleeding a franchise dry, letting it lie fallow and then bleeding it dry again, and so on and so forth. Make room for other kinds of movies, people!

While I have to say I'm intrigued about the new Superman movie, I still feel pissed off at Warner Brothers' gambit to resurrect the franchise. Why? Because unlike the Batman series, which was going along quite well at the box-office until Joel Schumacher's gayness ruined the fourth movie, the Superman series died a natural death, meaning that it simply succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. Superman III made a little over half of what II did, and IV made the merest fraction. Another franchise that suffered that fate was Planet of the Apes which had something like five sequels before it went dead, only to be "re-imagined" by Tim Burton in the 2001 debacle. Burton's film flopped because he faced the monumental task of resurrecting something people had lost interest in more than twenty years earlier. Bryan Singer faces a similar challenge. One can only wonder if he's up to it.

I miss the days when the top movies were one-shot deals like Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks is a guy who never seems to care much for sequels, and yet majority of his films in the last ten years have been bigger hits than a great many franchises. Saving Private Ryan is a wonderful film that will stand the test of time and will have the distinction of having been made purely for the love of filmmaking. The same can be said of Catch Me If You Can and Apollo 13. He doesn't have a monopoly on good movies that don't obsess over the grosses of potential sequels. Remember how, in 1999, an inherently sequel-less film, The Sixth Sense, went on to become the second highest grossing of the year and an Oscar Best Picture nominee? Stand-alone movies, or finite franchises, are good for the industry. Franchises that go on and on are not.