May 2006

Two TV ad spots caught my attention last night while watching (in agony, I must stress) the American Idol finale. Both are about that staple of a fridge drink (besides beer, o'course), Coca-cola.

Now, we all know how catchy Coke ads are; how easy they embed in the subconscious and coax us to reach for a can, like Pavlov's bell on his mutt. No need for a shrink to vouch this, just ask yourself: Why do we find Polar bears cute albeit dangerously big and carnivorous? Because they drink Coke on TV. Why do we sing on hilltops with friends eventhough it sounds ridiculously cheesy? Because thousands did, singing something like 'I'd buy the world a Coke' on TV. Ah, the impact of the corporate push on pop culture: public consumerism. I'll ditch the itch of writing a blog about the economics behind pop soda and stick with deconstructing the two Coke ads I mentioned catching on primetime TV last night.

First ad was about a pretty girl and a dorky guy sitting on opposite ends of a bench in some gentrified neighborhood (Brooklyn, perhaps). It starts with the guy mimicking a Nokia ringtone, much to the girl's chagrin. The guy, who passes off as a struggling performing artist, finally reaches for and twists open a Coke in lieu of a mobile phone from his duffel bag and says 'Hello?' The girl, who passes off as a snotty (but pretty) brat, finally slips an 'I-don't-believe-this' type of smile from the obnoxious antics of the guy. Then the mood shifts into a serious state with the guy handing over the Coke to the girl, dropping cooly the line: 'It's for you.' Aawww!(watch it here)

I bet if it were a real situation, the guy would earn points for creativity and probably the girl's phone number, too. Of course, by now, using the same pick up line would end up in a dud like using the all-too-worn-out 'Gee, I lost my number, can I have yours?'

The next ad was about the recently-launched Coca-Cola Blāk. Now this ad is definitely for a different, more mature (adult contemporary, perhaps) audience/market. But my curiousity was stirred, I must say. So I googled it up and found a Coca-cola company press release describing the product as follows:

Coca-Cola Blāk is an invigorating and stimulating blend that has a perfect balance of the effervescent taste sensation of Coca-Cola and natural flavors, with real coffee."

Now much has been said about the side-effects of drinking soda, particularly because of its caffeine content. Caffeine, of course, is a stimulant popularly found in coffee. As a stimulant, it makes the heart work overtime that may take effect up to six hours depending on amount of intake. For an average coffee, dig this: it takes about sixty cups a day to provide a fatal dose. So combining Coke and coffee would perhaps result to more than what an Energizer bunny could handle, yeah? An instant solution for an instant heart attack, maybe. I wouldn't know, I haven't tasted one. But I'd dare not. Which makes me think what the f**k those guys at Coca-cola were thinking?!?! They haven't even addressed the outstanding popular belief pertaining to Coke having corrosive properties — that if you drop a grimy coin into it, in two minutes the coin will be sparkling clean.

And what's up with the name 'Blāk'? They probably thought if chocolates have 'dark', and cervesa has 'negra', then they'd have 'black' for soda? C'mon! Let's hope, in the age of political correctness, the African-Americans wouldn't feel a pinch of slight.


If my allegiance to LA Lakers took a sudden (albeit, temporary) shift to LA Clippers in dire hopes of seeing a Los Angeles team play in the 2006 NBA Finals (a face-off against Miami Heat if it were up to me, anyway), it was further challenged by Phoenix Suns' 127-107 Game 7 win last night.

Ah, the night's supposed festive mood broke into silent despair (save for the long and heavy sighs).

Why did Clippers lose? The odds favored them early on, qualifying for the playoffs and winning the postseason series with swift resolve.

Well, ultimately, it boiled down to experience. At least that's what I think. Phoenix had Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson in the early '90s and the franchise now has Steve Nash who just earned another MVP award. But what of the LA Clippers? The franchise was on a dry spell for years (30, to be precise) that challenged that of Atlanta Hawks' until this season. Honestly, I hardly knew anybody from the team or how it played to win (e.g. Suns have Nash and his brilliant fast-break offense while Phil Jackson has his triangle offense, to name a few) until Kobe Bryant failed to lead LA Lakers to the Playoffs. There were the occasional buzz of a possible Lakers-Clippers Playoffs but as history bitterly unfolded, neither teams qualified .

The question in everyone's mind (at least those pining for a Clippers win) is why Sam Cassel, the team's clutch player, clammed-up in such a crucial game as Game 7 firing more missed shots than his 11-point performance? Which was a bit odd given how he was the only one with a Game 7 experience — a fact that was overemphasized by the NBA commentators one too many. Perhaps he was still reeling from warming the Clippers bench in the last quarter of Game 4 and watching in horror how Phoenix pulled a surprising upset. If that was so, then it is Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy to blame for the Playoffs blunder. It was he who benched second pointman Elton Brand in Game 1 when the guy was on fire, shooting hoops like a seasoned pro, and sending the wrong and inexperienced player (what's his name, again?) to wrap up and lose a 3-point advantage Game 5.

Argh! What a complete waste of opportunity for the LA Clippers. And to think Amare Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas were at injury bay! OK, so Phoenix Suns need respect. I'm now humbled… until next season, at least.

I thought watching TV series such as 24 and Lost and a host of films of gore and violence (Natural Born Killers comes to mind) or playing Rated R Xbox games are enough to desensitize and prepare myself for Paul Greengrass' opus United 93. I thought wrong.

Truth be told, I was just prepared to watch a silverscreen version of TV documentaries about the passengers aboard the ill-fated, Los Angeles-bound United Airlines flight 93 that was supposed to hit the US Capitol on September 11, 2001. I reckoned it would be another attempt to dissect the events and to put closure to America's most infamous modern day tragedy. Again, I thought wrong.

United 93 is a keen, sharp, and honest fact-based film that reenacts the harrowing events of 9/11 in real-time. Its near-accurate account of events ensures that viewers remember the tragedy, like piercing a scar to reveal a deep wound.

United 93The film begins with the four terrorists preparing for their mission and tracks them inside the airport where the unsuspecting victims-slash-passengers are introduced. From there, the film cuts to the otherwise normal morning operations of 'situation rooms' as, gradually, planes are discovered to be hijacked and crashed into New York's World Trade Center and Virginia's Pentagon buildings. As the film focuses onto the hostaged United flight 93, the passengers discover (through airline phone exchanges with family members) that they are onboard a plane on a suicide mission, and taking part in a series of orchestrated terrorist attacks. Despite the overwhelming shock and fear, the passengers decide to collectively fight back and attempt to take over the plane to safety in vain.

Catharsis is absent. The film makes sure of this. Although inevitable tragedy is expected in the end, it is equally inevitable to find oneself praying for a different outcome. I know I did. Quite stupid, actually, but it just goes to show how moving United 93 is.

Greengrass effectively breaks the line that demarcates the events from the viewers; he draws them into the chaos that resembles the film and lets them feel how the events unfold through compelling hand-held camera shots (as compelling as Blairwitch Project's first viewing). These shots are best seen inside the FAA headquarters, the air traffic control towers in New York, Boston, and Cleveland, and Airforce command post where the bulk of confusion, miscommunication, and misinformation occurred. There is no let-up in the depiction of helplessness and frustration among aviation and military personel, which, given the film's near-accurate account of events, is highly disturbing; that in times of crises, the flow of communication knots around and bogs down to failure. More disturbing to the point of exasperation is the image ingrained in the subconscious from Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 of George W. Bush sitting idly by — devoid of any feelings or action — in a Florida classroom for seven minutes after being informed of the attacks in the WTC. By the time the FAA manager (Ben Sliney, who played the part as himself) finally makes the call of placing the entire US airspace a virtual no-fly-zone until all planes are accounted for, there were heavy sighs of relief and whispers of consolation thrown about the theater air (including mine).

Perhaps because real people portrayed most characters, the film stays true to the real drama and emotions that otherwise might be glossed over by often farcical Hollywood acting. But as far as characterization is concerned, the film remarkably depicts the terorrists in the most objective and straightforward portrayal. There are no flashbacks or hints about Al-Qaeda, Osama bin-Laden, Afghanistan or Iraq. Only individuals blinded by a cause, who regard their fellow passengers as collateral damage or irrelevant players in a dangerous game with a grand design and purpose. This is where the film earns its laurels. It could have easily manipulated, inflamed, and exploited the viewers' innermost fear and hate, and yet it doesn't try to explain or put meaning into the events or make a political statement out of them (no American flag fluttering boldly in the end, and the like). It just puts the viewers there. And it allows them to determine what reactions to best harbor and express: perhaps to find significance and purpose in the deaths of those on board United flight 93, or maybe to even pluck themselves out of apathy and indifference, or to just remind them that in times of adversity and trepidation, they could set aside fear, rise up to challenges, and become heroes themselves.

Still hurting and in denial from LA Lakers' recent humbling (read: big time) loss to Phoenix Suns (61 percent field-goal shooting!) in the Western Conference Playoffs, I'm coursing my Quan (a loosely defined attribute uniting athletic skill or knowledge with love and respect — or something only Cuba Gooding Jr. completely understands) into something relevant: Kobe Bryant and his jersey.

Over the weekend, Kobe announced his plan to switch jersey numbers, from No. 8 to No. 24. Apparently, he sported a No. 24 jersey shooting hoops in high school back in Philadelphia. His spectacular performance there led him to an equally spectacular career in basketball, thus the desire for a switch in numbers. He wanted the switch for this season but didn't get to apply in time.

"It’s time to start a new chapter," Bryant said over ESPN, "(for the) second leg of my career."

So he got sentimental and wants to commemorate his roots, big deal! But if this is his segue to nailing another championship next season, then I'm all for it.

In fact, I've taken the liberty to consult this switch with my numerologist over an email, just for kicks. She says No. 24 is better than No. 8 especially in physical activities such as playing sports. No. 24 translates to No. 6, which is highly considered as lucky; Pursuit to good outcomes require no-sweat, luck comes without working for it. In contrast, No. 8 means exerting a good deal of effort to get good results.

Now if my numerologist's summations are correct, then, we'd see Bryant in jersey No. 24 next season, winning games effortlessly.

"I’m really excited about it," Bryant said. "I’m pumped up about it."

Thanks, those are reassuring enough. Game 7? What Game 7? 

Browsing through The Independent today, I came across Rob Brezesny's Free Will Astrology. Actually, it was G who, after giving up on the paper's tough crossword, took notice of the horoscope and pointed out this week's forecast according to the stars. Under the sign Libra, which I belong to, reads:

Espertantina, a town in Brazil, celebrates May 9 as Orgasm Day. As much as I'd love to import this enlightened holiday to my home country of America, it might be difficult in the foreseeable future. Why? Because religious fundamentalists have been spreading their infectious mental disease, seducing people into mistrusting their bodies' natural urges. Meanwhile, the advertising and entertainment industries try to sell us the glamour of being in a chronic state of titillation without satisfaction. I'm calling on you Libras to do what you can to resist these cultural trends. The astrological omens say this is an auspicious time for you to seek out, cultivate, and honor your own orgasms."

In short, I'm supposed to mark May 9 as a dreadful day when I won't be getting any; I won't get laid; No carnal pursuits, or else!

Hmmm, that 'else' must be something damning for all those born between 23 September and 22 October to abstain from sex. What to make of this? I dunno. What I'm sure of is I'm not marking my calendar just yet..

If there was such a thing called 'A Day of Absence' to commemorate by when I was in high school, it would have saved a lot of students the trouble of coming up with lame excuses and trips to detention for skipping classes. But yesterday's 'Day of Absence' was not some silly stunt born out of adolescent boredom or academic burnout. It was actually called 'A Day Without Immigrants,' when immigrants boycott work and school for a day in protest of bills passed in both the US House and Senate early this year that make felons of illegal immigrants and make immigration enforcement and citizenship process stricter for them. From Long Island to Long Beach, Lower East Side to Los Angeles, huge street protests were organized to show the economic importance and influence the immigrants (legal or illegal) have in the daily grind of the American economy.

The country, founded and labored by immigrants over centuries, is engulfed with unemployment, crime, and (the current favorite of an excuse) terrorism — social problems that are conveniently blamed on the influx of immigrants out to chase the proverbial American dream or cross to greener pastures.

I will not chew out a mouthful on the issue because it's all over most, if not all, media organizations anyway. Besides, my opinions may be deemed biased because I am an immigrant-in-waiting (so to speak). What I would like to do is raise a crucial point that may be a twig in a branch of the issue; well, it's actually more of a question: Where are the Asian immigrants? After all, they are stakeholders of this issue, too.

Perhaps because of the recurrent border protection concerns with Mexico and Cuba, the issue is fixed on the Latino community in the US. True, of the 11.1 million who are in the country illegally, 78 percent are Latino but whatever happened to the 13 percent who are of Asian origin? Based in Immigration records in 2000, the largest group of undocumented Asians were Chinese (23 percent), followed by Filipinos (17 percent), Indians (14 percent) and Koreans (11 percent). So where were they in all of these protests across the US? Surely, as one of the most persecuted and discriminated immigrant races in US history (eg Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917), Asian-Americans (numbering almost to 15 million now) could at least sympathize with and rally behind the cause of their Latino counterparts.

The debate, of course, is still hot whether the 'Day Without Immigrants' national protest served as a catalyst favorable to the immigration cause or only resulted to fear of (and therefore all the more reason to pass measures to curtail) the expanding clout of immigrants in the American public; but this issue definitely warrants a more pro-active role among the Asian-American community. This is a perfect time to disprove the popular belief and misconception that Asians are a passive lot. This is a perfect time to prove that Asians sincerely embrace the political and civil liberties Americans claim to be champions of. This is the time to be present, to speak and be heard, and to be counted. In a chance to contribute for change, absence in this political exercise won't make others grow fonder of them. 

Wearing my 4-year old lucky Lakers shorts, I sit on the edge of the TV couch, panic stricken, ready to throw a Buster Bluth fit as the game clock winds down to 0.7 of a second in the 4th. The Los Angeles Lakers trails Phoenix Suns by 2, and Steve Nash is in possession of the ball. Damnit! Why does he have to be so darn good? As I knuckle under yet another display of Nash's brilliance, a miracle pops up in the form of a quick steal from Smush Parker. Parker quickly passes the ball to Kobe Bryant. Bryant runs a fastbreak, heads to the paint, and wildly throws the ball in the air as he entangles himself in a Tim Thomas and Shawn Marion tight defense. And then… swoosh! The ball sinks in. The buzzer blares. And the game extends to a 5 minute overtime.

Bryant hugs Parker by the head and says something like: 'You did good, you motherfucker!' (go ahead, turn on the TiVo, re-watch the game, and read Bryant's lips). And just as the Suns threaten to upset the game in overtime, Nash makes another turnover and forces a jump with Luke Walton. At 6'8", Walton, of course, reaches the ball first and taps it to Bryant. With a fraction of a second remaining, Bryant beats the buzzer with a 17-footer, sinking the ball and nailing an improbable 99-98 victory boosting the team's chances (3-1) in the first round Western Conference playoff series.

What a thrill ride of a game! Bryant repeats his game-winning bucket against Phoenix in game 3 back in 2000 (2.6 seconds remaining, 97-96 upset). Deja vu? Wait until Bryant half-raises a fist in the air, juxtapose a Michael Jordan winning moment montage, presto! A likeness to greatness, indeed.

Of course, Jordan is Jordan and Bryant still shakes off his indiscretions-past (read: rape charges, admission to adultery, and, by Phil Jackson's appraisal, 'uncoachable' persona). But it's hard to equally shake off the brilliance that is Kobe, especially with his recent 81 point scoring — second all-time high in NBA history — against Toronto last January.

He was 25 when he earned his 10,000th point, making him the youngest to achieve such feat in NBA history. And with former teammate Shaquille O'Neal, he enabled the Lakers franchise three consecutive NBA championships (2000-2002).

Sure, he can be a 'ball hog' at times, but come crunchtime, who to better trust the ball with and ensure a game-winning shot than Kobe Bryant?