Latest Entries »

A foul stench awoke me from my near four-month coma in the blog-o-verse, the kind that stays in your mouth and mind, the kind that hangs around you like a shadow that you can’t shake. It was a stench I hoped never to torture

Earlier this year, members from both houses of the US Congress attempted to pass the equally controversial SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act, for the Senate) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act, for the Lower House) and received the same backlash from many sectors not just locally, but even around the world. Eventually, both bills were pulled in light of the increasing criticism and they have been shelved for the meantime.

Demonstrators protest the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, especially for its clause providing stiff penalties for libel. Sadly, the Supreme Court has postponed hearings on the law for next week, leaving the law to take effect on October 3rd as scheduled.

And just days ago, the highly controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act (which can be read in full by clicking HERE) was passed into law by President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, after breezing through the Upper House of Congress (Senate). The law, while aimed to address issues of cybercrimes such as cyber-bullying, cybersex, child pornography, data theft, piracy and even libel, has garnered negative attention from many sectors for its vague definitions (especially the libel and piracy clauses) and repressive punishments for each offense.

As if passing such a controversial law was not bad enough, add to this the fact that more important legislation such as the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill had yet to be voted upon and has laid on the wayside for some time now.

So what has caused the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 to sow anger and fear among the Internet-using populace, you may ask. Well, one can refer to the article published on GMA Network’s site, which makes use of information from InterAksyon.com, ABS-CBN, ANC and GMA-7 among others. You may click HERE for the full article.

To sum it up, you can go to jail for up to 12 years and pay an exorbitant P1,000,000 fine say, for posting a meme making fun of Senator Tito Sotto on Facebook. And to boot, anyone who shares your photo or even likes it can be imprisoned and fined as well. And as Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III (the lone “NO” vote in the Senate) said, even Mark Zuckerberg himself could be held liable since due to the vague nature of the libel clause, it covers all parties with any degree of involvement on the meme I mentioned as an example.

Senator Tito Sotto, after being subjected to relentless criticism over information he plagiarized from bloggers in his anti-RH Bill arguments in the Senate, has come out and admitted that he was one of those who inserted the libel clause into the law at the last minute, stating that it was meant to address cyber-bullying. Somehow, the idea that he inserted this to try and silence his growing number of critics is not as far-fetched as it may seem… And very scary, since just about anyone can use that to exact vengeance at anyone who they feel has slighted them.

What is disturbing is that a country known for its peaceful revolts against bad leaders has suddenly assumed a mantle of censorship like that of the authoritarian regimes in China, Iran and even North Korea. This is in direct contrast to a declaration by the United Nations regarding Internet freedom as a basic human right, which can be read by clicking HERE.

And with the law set to take effect by midnight of today, it looks like we are going to be in for a second era of state-sponsored censorship since we gained our independence. And unless something happens soon, I may have to give up my blog and social media accounts for good. But it isn’t to say I will take this quietly. and I hope that the good fight for our rights will continue until the draconian aspects of this law are struck down as unconstitutional. And so I leave you all with Article 3, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution to remind us of our right to freedom of expression:

“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

Until next time, if that day comes around.

Advertisements

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned the growing popularity of running as a form of exercise for many Filipinos. Key reasons include the following:

  1. You only need a minimum of equipment; a pair of good running shoes, comfortable clothing and probably a water bottle to hydrate yourself during the session should suffice. Some like to up the ante with an iPod full of their favorite exercise music, and special portable apps and devices to watch their progress and body functions.
  2. You can plot your own course on nearby roads, or even take part in the increasing number of running events within and outside Metro Manila.
  3. As a form of cardiovascular exercise, it is a great way to build up endurance and serves as a stepping stone to more advanced forms of exercise. It also burns a great deal of calories, if plotted correctly.
  4. It is less prone to injuries than many other forms of exercise, since it exploits our natural bipedal motion.
  5. It is one of the first exercises we ever learn in life.

In the last event I attended (The St. Luke’s Eye Run), I managed to improve match my old five-kilometer time in the six-kilometer group (meaning I ran faster). Hope does exist indeed.

However, concerns have grown over the increasing costs of running events. For instance, the recently concluded Condura Skyway Marathon cost me P950 to join the 10-kilometer run (which admittedly gave out cool medals in turn), while most events cost about a quarter to half that on equally good roads. And while this has been more the exception than the rule, there is a strong possibility that event organizers will raise registration fees to the point that it will become prohibitive (or at the very least discouraging) for people seeking to get fit on a tight budget. This will then force runners to pick their events and potentially demoralize participants from running.

So while I understand that organizers need to cover their expenses for such events and seek to make a profit, they ought to consider keeping the registration fees reasonable enough for most participants as this can actually mean better profits and a more solid reputation among the growing community of runners in the country. The Milo National Marathon is proof of that, and if their standing among the community is good enough, there is no reason both the organizers and participants can help each other in a win-win situation.

Considering that heart disease and diabetes are among the top killers of the country’s population, it is time that a run for better health and well-being get past the starting blocks and make that crucial march to the finish line.

*****

Speaking of running, since attending the Greenhills Eco Run in November, I have chalked up three more running events to my name as follows:

  • The 35th Milo National Marathon in December. This is the country’s longest running (and perhaps best known) running event, due to national recognition of the Milo brand (a chocolate malt drink made by global food giant Nestlé). As such, it has always garnered a strong following and simultaneous events have been held in areas within and outside of Metro Manila. I signed up for the five-kilometer running event and I finished just half a minute ahead of my earlier time in the Greenhills run. My main disappointment with the event was the sheer number of participants resulting in high pedestrian traffic, which prevented me from pushing myself much. I did get a singlet, as well as energy drinks, water and a banana.
  • The 2012 Condura Skyway Marathon on February 5th. While being the most expensive run I signed up for so far, I was drawn to the event by a chance to run along the length of the Metro Manila Skyway (which is normally off-limits to pedestrians). To test my mettle, I signed up for the ten-kilometer run and while even more exhausting than my earlier runs, was made fun by the cool weather and the sun rising over the scenic Laguna de Bay (Lake of Laguna). I got myself a singlet, a bottle each of energy drink and water, a poster promoting the preservation of mangrove trees and even a medal. My officemate Mike B. managed to survive the 42-kilometer marathon to cop an even bigger medal in the competition.
  • The Discovery Vertical Run on February 12th. This was held at the McKinley Hill outside Bonifacio Global City. While the event is noted for its ten-kilometer vertical run (nine kilometers on surface streets followed by one kilometer of running up and down stairs), I stuck with the five kilometer run instead. I did experience breathing problems which killed my progress, but I managed to finish the run close to my earlier times and I got prizes such as the usual singlet, a Discovery Channel shirt, a ballpen and photos with a running Chihuahua. Yes, that is not a typo.
  • The St. Luke’s Eye Run on March 11th. This was held in Bonifacio Global City, in the streets surrounding and near St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City. In what would be perhaps my single most significant run yet, I managed to match my old five-kilometer time of 48 minutes within the six-kilometer run. According to my calculations, it meant I ran the five kilometers in just over 40 minutes.

And during those times, I managed to put in some practice runs after work with my mates Joeven and Mike D. (yeah, I run with two Michaels). Despite looking and feeling like a dog put through non-stop rescue missions, I did enjoy the runs to some degree and I actually experienced the euphoria that experienced runners have spoken of.

And oddly enough, I saw some benefits sooner than I had expected. My notorious paunch (or belly, if you prefer), shrunk much as shown by my shirts fitting better in the past week or so. And with my usual habit of going around the house with only a pair of shorts on, my smaller abdomen was noticed by everyone at home.

Considering my concerns over my slowing metabolism and its implications on my health, I was amazed by the gains I had made and so have resolved to extend my foray into running. I won’t be breaking any records soon, but I may be gaining something more valuable in the process.

And that will be sweeter than any medal or trophy the world can give me.

*****

With the recent chaos at work and home, my attendance at running events has taken a serious hit and I have not attended one since the Eye Run back in March. Mapping out a suitable route has been a challenge so far, but I intend to pick up where I left off.

Oh, and knowing I had the proper mid-foot strike technique while running all along helps.

*****

The recent bout between Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao and Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley ended in much controversy when the American was declared the winner via split decision. Many fans and observers expressed largely negative emotions about the outcome, ranging from shock (as shown when his mother Dionisia Pacquiao fainted upon hearing the verdict) to utter disgust and dismay at the judges’ decision, all the way to anger among those who felt the Filipino pugilist had clearly out-performed his opponent. Even Bob Arum himself, the top banana of Top Rank Promotions, could not contain his disappointment with the decision, stating that the reputation of boxing had taken a serious hit with the decision and he was determined to have the judges investigated. And with the Associated Press count showing Pacquiao throwing and accurately landing a significant number of punches more than Bradley, this has solidified the case for many who feel that the Filipino should have kept the welterweight title in his corner after his performance.

Now going to the decision, I cannot formulate a definitive opinion on that since I was only able to catch the first round (where Pacquiao seemed hesitant and lacking in aggression) on delayed telecast before I had to go to work. I would certainly welcome an opportunity to watch the bout from opening to last bell. But I certainly am concerned that the decision has gotten the American’s reign as welterweight champion on bad footing. And while I welcome a rematch to help address the question once and for all, there is concern that it may finally be time for the congressman of Sarangani province to hang up the gloves for good and focus on his many other interests in the country. It is a brutal sport, where people have actually died or had their lives changed forever.

But most surprisingly Pacquiao’s mother, who had long been trying to convince her son to retire from the sport, is now demanding that a rematch be set so that Manny has a chance to exact his revenge and take back the title now around Bradley’s waist. Talk about the mom making some real noise here.

As for corruption and greed in the sport, that is nothing new at all. For years professional boxing has been mired in controversy as millions of dollars are usually at stake for each big-name event and the question of where such huge amounts go is something that has long mystified experts. And with documented cases of corrupt combatants and officials fixing fights in the past, who can indeed say if the sport has truly shed its seedy reputation? So the judges throwing the decision Bradley’s way is not so unlikely after all. And understandably, as many point out, it should be investigated. But I do doubt that this alone will cause real damage to the sport, since boxing remains popular even though mixed martial arts promotions like Dana White’s UFC continue to grow in followers each day.

So while displeasure with the decision is understandable, it is not the end of the world. Should Pacquiao decide to pursue the rematch, he will still carry the hopes of millions of fans worldwide with him along the way. But if he decides it is time to retire, I will respect that decision as well. After all, he has way too much going for him as he has his duties as congressman and even has various businesses and investments in his name. And remaining as gracious as he could in his unpopular defeat, the Filipino pugilist has shown the world that winners are not always the ones with the gold on their bodies.

*****

After seeing my Mum’s posts on Facebook about her watching matches of the recently concluded French Open as well as her divided support for the NBA’s Western Conference Finalists the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, I have come to realize that I have more in common with my parents than I thought: A passionate love of sports.

Having played tennis, pocket billiards and basketball for years, Pop was always ready to share his opinions on his favorite sports and I could count on intense dialogue on those matters. He was also a follower of boxing, and his outspoken opinion on the controversial George Foreman-Axel Schulz bout in 1995 made me appreciate the sport despite my dislike for violence.

Mum, however, was more of a movie buff and I would usually find her in the room watching her favorite films on HBO and Cinemax. But when she started mentioning her admiration of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic with gusto as well as her knowledge of the sport, I learned then and there that she loved her sports too.

Congratulations are in order for Maria Sharapova of Russia and Rafael Nadal of Spain for winning their 2012 French Open singles division titles, by the way. They just proved why they are among the top ranked players in the world now. And though Rafa did it at the expense of my Mum’s hero, I bet that it will not be the last we hear of the World No. 1.

Before I became enamored with basketball and pocket billiards, there was one sport that managed to catch my fancy. And while it was sport with its own rich history, it has gained notoriety as being dreadfully boring and an opportunity for evil personalities to meet over details of their own illicit activities.

Yes, folks. I am talking about the “gentleman’s game” of golf. And despite years of shaking heads and occasional quips about my love for an older man’s game, I still find it an interesting sport for several reasons:

  1. Strategy. Each hole in a golf course is different and depending on both the player’s skills and conditions on the course, there are many ways to complete the hole in the required number of strokes.
  2. No outstanding physical attributes required. In golf, height is an almost negligible advantage and the main skills required to excel in the game are consistency and the ability to play well in almost any situation.
  3. Beauty of the golf course. Over the years, golf courses have been designed to both show the natural beauty of their surroundings and each tournament I was able to watch on late Friday evenings was proof of that.

Since golf equipment was (and remains) expensive, I ended up using my late uncle’s golf clubs and golf balls and played golf at our ancestral home. I was lucky since we had a nice large garden covered in carabao grass and another uncle of mine built a chipping green (complete with a mini bunker or sand trap) for his own use.

My Tito Alex took up golf in the years after his interest in basketball had waned, and it was through him I learned the basics of the game. At one point, he took me to the Binictican Valley Golf & Country Club in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and played a few holes with him and his friends (where not surprisingly I did poorly) and even met local professional Mario Manubay. Later on, he took me to a driving range in Manila, where I was particularly hard on myself after I could not strike the balls cleanly off the tee. Despite this, my interest in the game stayed, and I was soon after the likes of Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Nick Price and Seve Ballesteros among others. And when the Johnnie Walker Classic took place at The Orchard Golf and Country Club in Manila in 1995, I stayed glued to the TV for all four days of coverage, which would be won by the popular American golfer Fred Couples. I also looked forward to staying at my Mum’s house from time to time, as she had cable TV and it had extended coverage of the major golf tournaments as well. My playing time for golf decreased as I pursued basketball due to its popularity with my peers, combined with difficulty in accessing any nearby golf courses.

Little did I know that my love of golf would become an asset, until I started working for the EA Games account years later. It started when I installed a copy of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006 on my work computer to try it out. I was instantly hooked from there. Eventually, I tried out the console versions of the game, and soon found myself becoming the unofficial “game master” for all the Tiger Woods PGA Tour games. It even landed me the post of Resolution Specialist, where I served as a support agent to my colleagues taking in calls or answering emails. And especially when a player with a Tiger Woods PGA Tour concern was on the line, I would be tasked to handle the customer as needed.

Tiger Woods captures his 73rd PGA Tour win at The Memorial Tournament. He is now tied with tournament sponsor Jack Nicklaus for the second most career PGA Tour wins, trailing only Sam Snead’s 82 wins.

The arrival of Eldrick “Tiger” Woods on the PGA Tour in 1997 gave golf an even greater popularity with people, as his mixed background in a predominantly “white” tour combined with his prodigious skills, made him the sport’s equal to Michael Jordan. The increased coverage also meant that I was less and less looked down upon for my interest in a sport traditionally considered as “boring” and for the wealthy folk only. He would rack up endorsement deals one after the other, becoming an ambassador for a sport that was growing in audience. And along the way, he would win, win and yes, win again.

So what would my opinion be about Tiger Woods and his infidelity to his now ex-wife Elin Nordegren, you may ask.

Personally, I do not condone his actions. The many affairs he had during his marriage are inexcusable for any man, even for someone of his stature. He treated women as if they were tournaments he won almost week in and week out, and did not value the relationship he had with a wonderful woman and the two darling children she had borne. In that essence, Woods failed horribly as a husband and a father.

But at the same time, it does not take away from the fact that he is a great athlete. He conditions himself unlike any golfer before or after. He spends long hours honing his game. He has changed swing coaches and caddies to stay on top of his game. He plays intensely from opening to closing, front 9 to back 9, first hole all the way to the 18th. He speaks well of his competition but lets his game do the real talking. In that aspect, Woods is definitely the best active golfer in the world and is in shape to dethrone the “Golden Bear” Jack Nicklaus as possibly the greatest golfer of all time.

So after a three-year rut during which the scandalous affairs broke out in the media, he managed to capture two tournaments wins this year alone. He is now tied with Nicklaus for the second most PGA Tour wins all-time (73), only trailing Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour titles. Does that mean Tiger is finally back in the hunt for his next major?

The US Open is just around the corner. This is where Woods can prove he has consigned the demons of his three-year rut to history and march toward the all-time PGA Tour career and major win tallies.

But somehow, even if he does not succeed, he has several more years to do this. Snead took 30 years to reach 82 wins, while Nicklaus complied 73 wins in 25 years. Woods got to 73 wins in just 17 years, a full eight years less. Therefore, the math favors this predator.

Now, if only this predator could somehow stay tame off the course as he should. Oh, and thanks for proving golf is not such a “boring” sport.

After yet another unintended spell of dormancy amidst myriad distractions, I have decided to re-ignite my writing bug and get to my under-maintained-yet-overly-faithful blog. I’ll start with a recap of my activity from the past three-plus months. And here we go.

*****

Back in late March, Zynga launched its first-ever voice based teams for gameplay and technical support. Previously, only the Billing department provided this service to their players. With the monumental launch of this new line of business, I was nominated by several of my supervisors as a pioneer for the team, owing to my experience with handling phone calls in two of my previous accounts. Despite mild resistance, I accepted after learning of a good bonus to be added to our payroll and recalling the fond memories I had of my former line of work.

I was dispatched to the CityVille/Cafe World team when the service went live. Although I was averse to having to handle two key titles (and being the farthest thing from a fan of Cafe World was no helpful either), I bit the bullet and went about supporting my colleagues who had come from Cafe World and were learning their way with CityVille. In turn, I made it a point to try and learn what I could from my colleagues who had handled Cafe World. And slowly but surely, my confidence began to rise and I managed to revive my phone agent skills that had gone dormant in my tenure with Zynga.

The biggest challenge of being in the pioneer team was that of unstable schedules, as it jeopardized our chances of being able to file vacation leaves. As misfortune would have it, on the weekend my Pop planned his overnight birthday outing in Zambales, three my other colleagues had planned some serious things of their own. With the leaves denied, I was frantic. I managed to convince my supervisor to let me go out for the weekend (as someone was available to cover my absence) and two of my other officemates managed to push through with their plans. However, it left one of us to stay at work since no one could cover for him and I made a personal vow that he (and another teammate who managed to cover for me during my absence) would get paid back somehow. Oh, and I will go to the vacation weekend shortly.

With our schedules having stabilized for the time being, it has been a welcome change and I am hoping to get a more favorable schedule when the metrics for measuring our performance have been formally implemented. In the meantime, I stand on the lookout for opportunities that may help my personal career path finally escape the tar pit it has been in for so long.

*****

My sisters, niece and I posed for a picture at scenic Potipot Island Resort during Pop’s weekend birthday bash.

With my absence request approved, I was in for one of the best weekends of the year (as of this post). For the last weekend of April, Pop planned an overnight beach outing in Zambales with the family.

It began on the morning of Saturday, April 28, when we headed to Pop’s house to rendezvous with our other siblings and cousins on our way to the beach. We arrived in Angeles City before lunch and left in a rented van headed for the Subic Bay Freeport Zone outside Olongapo City, Zambales. After about two hours on the road, we arrived at All Hands Beach and sat down to a hearty lunch getting together with other relatives including my Tito Alex, who was manager of the day-to-day operations at the beach resort. We spent the afternoon  and early evening bathing in the cool waters followed by some kayaking and beach volleyball. From there, we headed to a house rented for the evening, which happened to be the residences formerly used by the American soldiers. As it was still early, my cousin and I decided to rent a basketball at the nearby office and play a pickup game. Despite having to cut the game short due to my being out of shape, I managed to beat him and had a good workout overall. We ended the evening exchanging stories and relaxing to the quiet of the wooded surroundings.

We got up early the following morning (Sunday, April 29) and took the long drive to scenic Potipot Island Resort in the northerly town of Candelaria, Zambales. Pop and Tita Lydia decided to head home instead, to allow us more time to have fun. From there, we hopped on a boat and took the short ride to the island. After a long search for an available table, we found one near the docked boats and proceeded to a quick lunch before going for a dip in the clear waters of the South China Sea. However, the noticeable piles of garbage did lessen the natural beauty of the island and  it left me to wonder what had happened since my first visit there a few years ago.

With the sun setting, we took the long ride back home and managed to stop for some treats along the way, including a hearty dinner at Shakey’s Pizza in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone to celebrate a successful weekend. And upon arriving in Angeles City, we rested for a few hours before finally heading back to Manila in our own car.

*****

And this past weekend (almost a month to the weekend in Zambales), we got together once more for a round of laser tag at Greenhills’ LazerMaxx. As luck would have it, our cousin Petite happened to have free passes for a round of laser tag good until the end of May only so we got together for the event. In yet another intense 15-minute session with us being split into three teams of three members each, we would finish in second place and kill-wise, I ended up right in the middle of the pack as with our last session. We then headed to KFC for a hearty lunch before I rushed off to work afterward.

And so, with a pair of epic weekends in stride for April and May, my summer was not so much of a bummer after all.

*****

Recently, we moved to a more spacious unit within our present condominium of Narra Heights after having resided in our previous unit for the past four and a half years. Despite our hectic schedules and the ensuing inconveniences we met, we have now started to settle into our new unit. Although it is noisier outside as it is facing the street, it does afford a more interesting view of the city from the veranda. And being on the second floor (as opposed to the third floor) as well as closer to the gate, the walk to home base is certainly less strenuous.

*****

Due to my previously erratic schedule at work, I haven’t been able to run as often as I used to and I have ended up missing many a running event over the past months. I feel myself gaining back the inches I lost, and I am desperate to find a trail of my own to blaze.

Wish me luck, folks.

*****

Kevin Durant has led his Thunder past the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs en route to the Finals. Can he give the team a Larry O’Brien Trophy too?

The NBA Playoffs have been a hoot. The Oklahoma City Thunder, led by stars Kevin Durant, Paul Westbrook and James Harden, stunned the long time powerhouse San Antonio Spurs in six games to reach their first NBA Finals since moving to Oklahoma (with their last trip to the finals in 1996 as the Seattle Supersonics, where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games). After losing the first two games to the Texan trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, the young guns of The Sooner State won the next four games in improbable fashion to win the Western Conference Finals series. This leaves some questions for the Spurs, who in spite of their championship experience are sporting an older lineup that may have just a couple of seasons left in the tank.

Over in the Eastern Conference Finals series, the Boston Celtics were in nearly the same place as they hold a 3-2 lead against the Miami Heat. After the trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh gave South Beach a strong 2-0 lead, the Beantown Boys rallied their way to huge wins in the next three games. With the crucial Game Six at their homecourt of TD Garden, the Fab Four of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo counted on their experience of winning the title in 2008 to take them to the NBA Finals once more. In the meantime, LeBron James would likely suffer even more torment if his season ends very soon, as his perceived failure to lead his team to victory becomes a hallmark of his career.

But with their season at stake, the King James of old finally came out with guns blazing. He would torch his conference rivals with a 45-point outburst on enemy turf to win Game Six and even the series. And in Game Seven, the Heat survived a solid first half from the Celtics and with the game deadlocked at 73 points apiece to start the final quarter, Miami’s Big Three scored the team’s remaining 28 points (with James contributing 31 points and 12 rebounds, Wade adding 23 and Bosh scoring 19 for the game) to win the game 101-88 and secure their second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.

This once, I’m considering backing up my bets with real money. I’ll know for sure soon enough.

*****

Tiger Woods may finally be back in the hunt.

This past weekend, the former World No. 1 golfer captured his second victory of the year at the Jack Nicklaus-sponsored The Memorial Tournament by two strokes, made possible with three birdies on his last four holes including a spectacular chip-in birdie at the 16th. With the win, Woods ties Nicklaus for second place on the all-time PGA Tour wins tally with 73 total, just nine shy of the late Sam Snead (82). After falling to a low of 50th in the world rankings, his two wins this year (he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March by five strokes, his first since the 2009 BMW Championship) have pushed him to fifth place among the PGA’s global talent. With the U.S. Open approaching later in the month, Woods may have finally exorcised the demons from the marital scandal involving him and his now ex-wife Elin Nordegren and his hunger for golfing greatness looks insatiable once more.

The question will be answered at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, California in just over a week. And the world will be watching whether he snares Career Major No. 15. Click HERE for my blog entry on my love for golf and a more detailed analysis of Tiger Woods’ chances.

*****

Pawn Stars features (from left to right) Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison, his dad Rick Harrison and his grandfather Richard “Old Man” Harrison, who own a pawn shop in Las Vegas.

I have become heavily hooked on History Channel, especially for shows like Pawn Stars, American Pickers, American Restoration, Ice Road Truckers, Top Shot and The Universe. So much so that I did not shed a tear upon the removal of Discovery Channel from its standard lineup (even though I will miss Adam and Jamie’s antics in MythBusters). Along with Discovery Channel and sister channel Animal Planet, several other channels have now been made exclusively available to those who sign up for SkyCable’s DigiBox (a proprietary channel decoder box, apparently another sneaky way to make more money off couch potatoes like myself). Since the current cable TV arrangement in our condominium means that upgrading to the DigiBox will force all other tenants to upgrade, I am seriously considering signing up with another cable provider that can give me the channels I want without the added hullabaloo of gimmicky gadgets and excessive fees.

That is, after I get my TV fixed so that we still have options.

To return to my History Channel obsession, I found myself hooked on its most popular show Pawn Stars. The show focuses on the daily operations of the family-owned Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, Nevada. The main stars include Richard “Old Man” Harrison, his son Richard Kevin “Rick” Harrison, grandson Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison and Big Hoss’ childhood friend Austin “Chumlee” Russell. They go over items with clients and discuss the history of these items, as well as haggling prices with them as in a typical pawn shop business, but also features interpersonal conflicts between the cast members. In some cases, they even call in experts from other fields to help verify items that they are unsure of.

American Pickers (marketed as The Pickers outside the US) features the adventures of partners Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they travel across America looking for antiques and collectibles from collectors, hoarders and the like. They receive leads from Danielle Colby-Cushman, who manages their head office in Le Claire, Iowa. Interpersonal conflicts also feature in the show as well as their locating and haggling for prices of the various items of interest. On occasion, they also consult local experts to appraise pieces that they are unsure of its real value.

American Restoration (marketed as Kings of Restoration outside the US) is a spin-off to Pawn Stars and features Rick Dale, who featured as having restored many items for Rick Harrison of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop before. The show features him and his staff working on various restoration projects, with the usual interpersonal conflicts. Key members include his son Tyler, his brother Ron, his girlfriend Kelly and workshop employees Kowboy, Kyle, Bob, Ted and Brettly (Kelly’s son). The history of the items is also discussed in the show, and haggling does take place, although much less often.

The Universe is a show featuring the many amazing aspects of the universe and the objects within using computer-generated imagery, with many prominent experts in the fields of astronomy, cosmology and astrophysics sharing their knowledge. Subjects such as space exploration and time travel are also discussed, making for a highly interesting show.

Ice Road Truckers is a reality show featuring a group of truckers who make a living transporting various items along the dangerous Dalton Highway in Alaska, as well as the usual interpersonal conflicts. I quickly grew to like Lisa Kelly, a native of Alaska who made her mark as the first female trucker in the series and soon became one of the top truckers in the series and its spinoff series IRT: Deadliest Roads (which feature the truckers traveling on dangerous roads elsewhere in the world e.g. India, Bolivia and Peru).

Top Shot is a reality competition show featuring contestants from various fields across the US, who engage in various shooting challenges. Competitors are eliminated one by one until only one remains, earning him a $10,000 grand prize and the title of “Top Shot”. The show is hosted by Survivor contestant Colby Donaldson. Various weapons are used, from bows to handguns to SMGs to sniper rifles and all others in between.

When watching shows such as Pawn Stars and The Pickers, I cannot help but feel sympathy for the stars of the shows when the clients begin to haggle with them excessively. Often, they expect to be paid at an auction level price when in fact, they have to ask for a lower price to be able to make a reasonable profit when reselling these items (which the client in term can misconstrue as being shortchanged or cheated). In an episode of The Pickers, after they buy a carnival banner for $700 and end up getting an offer of as much as $10,000 from one buyer, Mike and Frank go so far as to visit the original owner of the banner and give $5,000 to help towards rebuilding the old amusement park outside New York City that he now owns.

On the other hand, Ice Road Truckers highlights the challenges of trucking in the climate and terrain of the northernmost US state and gives me renewed respect for truckers who travel without fanfare to make commerce possible. And The Universe is the perfect show for the astronomer in me, as I get to learn more about the vast space that we inhabit and its many unique features.

But National Geographic is not down yet. They still have Cesar Millan in The Dog Whisperer, and that makes the end of my work week truly enjoyable.

*****

The rainy season is upon us. With Typhoon Mawar (Ambo) dumping heavy rain only days ago causing serious flooding and three reported deaths, we can only expect more wet days ahead of us. Time to get the dusty boots, raincoat and umbrella out of our closets.

While I enjoy the sport of basketball and the exploits of superstars such as Michael Jordan, a disadvantage of the Filipino race is the tendency to be on the shorter side with regards to height. True, the melting pot that is the Philippines has been greatly influenced by the different people who have inhabited the islands throughout history. However, it seems that being among the taller nationalities was one of the attributes that somehow got lost in the gene pool.

Fortunately, there are sports that Filipinos have excelled in that do not have height as a major advantage. One of these sports is pocket billiards (or pool, as it is more popularly known), which has many variants such as eight-ball, nine-ball, ten-ball, rotation (where balls are pocketed in numerical order with a race usually to 61 points), and straight pool (where players call the ball and pocket of choice and a predetermined number of points declares the winner). And in the various disciplines of pool, Filipino players have come out and proven to be among the finest in the world.

Before the rise of Efren Reyes, the "Philippine Invasion" of the lucrative pocket billiards tour in the US was led by Jose "Amang" Parica. He would inspire many of his countrymen to successfully compete in professional pool leagues around the world.

Despite this, pool equipment remains expensive for all but the higher-income bracket and I was fortunate enough to have a pool table at our ancestral home. My earliest memories of the pool table involve my Pop challenging his friends to matches on occasion, and with bottles of beer in tow matches would easily extend to the early morning hours. Back then, I would wake up in the middle of the night and find him in the midst of a surprisingly competitive match. And being a young kid who tended to associate the sport with keeping Pop away from the kids, I was not naturally drawn to pocket billiards.

But years later, after studying in the big city and then being brought back to the province, I would end up giving the pool table a try. At around the same time, pocket billiards was gaining increased coverage on national television and a wave of Filipino cue artists would soon make their mark internationally as part of the famed “Philippine Invasion” of the US billiards scene. And while this was led by Jose “Amang” Parica with his early successes in the 80s and early 90s, a new star would soon emerge in Efren “The Magician” Reyes.

Efren "The Magician" Reyes, widely hailed as the best living pool player in the world, was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America's Hall of Fame in 2004 in recognition of his achievements in the various disciplines of pocket billiards and unparalleled shot-making and defensive abilities.

Coming from modest roots in Angeles City, he grew up in the pool halls of Manila where he served as an attendant racking balls for patrons and would even sleep on top of the tables at night. Earning the moniker Bata (The Kid) to identify him from an older peer with the same name, he honed his skill to the point that he would soon become arguably the greatest pool player on the planet. He would break through by capturing the 1994 US Open 9-Ball championship, and he would go on to compete in many big money events against the finest players in the world. He would reach truly global fame in 1999, when he would capture the World 9-Ball Championship besting a field comprised of the world’s top 128 players. He has remained competitive since, and has also won titles in other disciplines such as eight-ball and straight pool to boot. His recent induction into the Billiard Congress of America’s Hall of Fame is further testament to the level of respect he has gained among the sport’s fellow players and analysts.

So with the rising star of The Magician showcasing the competitive nature of the Filipino, I decided to try playing pocket billiards as well. And soon, I was hooked on pool.

I would learn many neat techniques and tricks from Pop, as I took every opportunity to challenge him at the table. And during the rare times I was able to play with him while he was downing a few beers, his skill was such that I affectionately called him the “Drunken Master”.

When I reached college, I would find myself quite often at the pool hall owned by an uncle of mine (Pop’s cousin, actually) and I had fun with the kangaroo tables wherein the balls would be dropped off at the foot of table making recovery of the balls simpler. But on days this was closed, I would end up playing at rundown pool halls where the tables were uneven and the cloth was in terrible shape, balls were damaged or missing and worst of all, the cue sticks were often warped or damaged otherwise. This spurred me to get a personal cue stick and just a few years later, I would own my first cue stick. However, as this was soon badly damaged, I was soon forced to get my second cue stick and make sure it would get better care this time around.

Aside from christening my new cue stick “Tara”, I also got a few extra items for extra preparation:

  •  A pool glove, which is like a typical synthetic cloth glove except the ring and pinkie fingers are exposed. This is to make sure a smooth action when using a cue stick, as the stick itself has a tendency to get “sticky” due to humidity and other factors. While many players resort to using talcum powder as a workaround, it can be messy and hard to apply. This was popularized by players such as Earl “The Pearl” Strickland and Jeanette “The Black Widow” Lee.
  • Cue tip chalk, to guarantee good solid contact with the cue ball on any shot. I initially had three when I started out, and I should get some new chalk soon.
  • A cue tip chalk holder, to avoid misplacing the chalk. It consists of a receptacle to place the chalk, which then has a magnet that allows it to be attached to a special clip when not in use.
  • A good cue stick case, to protect my valued equipment. Initially it was a soft leather case but Pop replaced it with a stiffer case covered with a velvet-like purple fabric to afford better protection.

With that, I would soon take Tara everywhere with me and she would do well as a cue stick (even though I was not always the better player on any given day).

With the move from Discovery Center (Pasig City) to Market! Market! (Taguig City), more space became available for the unique amenities in the office. And just my luck, once of these happened to be a quality Brunswick pocket billiards table along with tournament quality Aramith Belgian billiard balls (with the trademark spotted cue ball to show the spin applied on it by a player). This is where I have spent many hours at the office, as it addressed my earlier concerns of a lack of an accessible venue as well as the pricey rates for use of such facilities. And I have gained respect from a number of people at work for my surprising skills on the pool table as well as my knowledge of the sport and its various disciplines.

Pocket billiards has even played a crucial role in restoring the relationship with Pop after years of acrimony, as it has become one of the few activities we actually do together. So much so in fact, that he has invited me to play pool each time I have visited my hometown of Angeles City on special occasions.

And with the recent influx of major pool tournaments in the country with international players in attendance, the Philippines has become the new “Mecca” of p0cket billiards. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the finals of last year’s Predator 10-Ball Championship at a nearby mall, where countryman Dennis Orcollo knocked off Finnish star Mika Immonen to capture the title. Seeing the level of play the professionals engage in has made me even more interested in the sport, and I am hoping to have Pop watch one of these tournaments with me in the future.

And with more and more Filipinos picking up a cue and trotting off to the nearest pool hall for a few racks, it looks like we will keep our foothold in the sport for years to come.

And to Amang and Bata, thanks for proving that the Philippines is definitely not behind the eight-ball.