Thursday, March 31, 2011



Pia Toscano finally shows some soul. The dazzling beauty has always been hampered by an overly-controlled demeanor (reacting with nothing but some rearrangement of her hair do while the world whooped at the wrestling antics of Hulk Hogan, Durbin and Seacrest). Her voice is the best in that lot, full and powerful and soaring. The voice is hot – everything else cold, from the ‘couture’ clothes to the by-the-number hand gestures to her spiels in front of the judges and backstage. Perfection can grate. You can only appreciate heaven when you’ve had a taste of hell. And for all that she apes Mariah and Celine, Pia lacks the vulnerable core the two divas display in their power ballads.

Until tonight. Emerging from that wall of blazing sunset, she is stunning in a fitted, sequined gold dress – drop-dead sexy and classy, especially with that walk. (Which makes me suspect that she may be saving the dancing for the latter weeks; she’s got a dancer’s back.) “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” is a tough, tough song. Aside from Elton, Oleta Adams has a stunning version of this ballad. There’s no question of Pia nailing it. But for the first time, she allows a rawness to her voice. “… although I search myself, it’s always someone else I see. I'd just allow a fragment of your life to wander free. But losing everything is like the sun going down on me.” And you believe that bit of anguish is real, the price for the perfection this young princess strives for. This is where song and personality finally gels. For once, I believe she can really win.
Jacob sings it straight! And slays it. The other diva in the group sings another song of angst, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” and it’s all you can do to stop from rushing the stage and taking the wounded one in your arms.

He’s a serious student, Jacob is, and that Jimmy is one heck of a teacher. Not only does Jacob marshal his gift like the treasure is it (instead of hurling it helter skelter into the winds); he has actually inserted nuance into his song.

Now, nuance and Jacob have never been the best of friends; this is a tremendous achievement. Plus, he has even learned to tame those distracting facial expressions and the kitschy gestures best suited for a cabaret act – and that is probably an even bigger victory. Because it leads to a discovery – this young man is actually handsome and now that he’s done with mugging, you are pulled into those eyes where tears remain unshed. (Oh and I love the touch of red and that blazer’s fit. Getting there, my friend; getting there.)
Casey shows his tender side. And is sexier than ever. Okay, so it’s probably not easy to see a bearded, chubby guy with a nervous ulcer as a diva. But Casey has really behaved as one so far, just as enamored of his talent as Pia and Jacob are and as eager to clobber our heads with this.

The thing Casey has learned since his near-death experience is that while the funnies are a way into a lot of girls’ hearts, every romantic out there wants to see his tender side. For the long run, you do not want some Nirvana-channeling maniac or some lecher who swivels and humps. Tonight, Casey became the man you want to bring home to Mama – and not just because Mama loves Elton.

He uses only a piano for “Your Song” and the slight slouch says he’ll be slowly drawing us in. Gently, gently like a master fisher. There is that single rasp that makes you gasp and then the smile, sweet and sad and proud at the same time, as he croons, “My gift is my song and this one’s for you.” He gives us a little taste of the snarl, now as skillfully trimmed as his hair, and slides into the last line with a serenity that you totally buy. He sings that last word and softly, smoothly glides up the scale and the smile that breaks out is all about joy and nothing about pride, and it tells us Casey’s back.


Hailey Reinhart sizzles with "Bennie and the Jets". Tonight the former bottom dweller was as Casey started out weeks back – loose and sexy, using humor and impish delight rather than pouts and smoldering looks. The latter would have made a disaster of that piano-posturing-ala-fabulous-baker-boys. There is nothing pretentious about Hailey, however, and now that she knows the art of the earpiece and the even greater art of having fun, she simply sizzles.

For once, too, the costume fits the performance. A slim, lace fitted shift with lavender hues that shoot through the light framing her Boticelli hair. Its seeming demureness makes the whole thing wonderfully subversive. This is one very successful mix of contrasts. The lovely alto growls then sails blithely into rock-star levels, before dropping gently back to gal-next-door dulcet tones. It’s bad girl alright, but a mellow bad girl, gently laughing at the antics of peers -- or, in her case, most probably parents – not some rebel hell-bent on nihilism.

From the start of the rockin’ on the piano – “Say, Candy and Ronnie, have you seen them yet/ But they're so spaced out, B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets…”
Hailey is all sinuous grace and laid-back jive. I'm amazed that JLo and company once called her ‘awkward’.

I can imagine Steven slobbering in his seat as many guys were around America. "You sing sexy!" It's just that GP rating that stops Tyler from rushing Hailey on stage. The best thing about Hailey’s appeal is its accessibility – that’s not to be taken as easy. Plus, Hailey’s the kind of sexy that women can like. When so many of us are hyperventilating over the guys, every sister’s vote counts.
James Durbin rips through Saturday Night and it’s more than alright. Now, lessee, what did James have to learn? Little pitch wobbles gone, check. He’s shown he can jive, now he gives a little grease lightning, of the 70s era. Ripped jeans, t-shirt, boots, and what seems to be a modified Mohawk minus the shaving.

Starts from the audience, swaggers down the stairs, leaps, prowls the floor, goes back up, hurls the mike stand, leaps on the piano, jumps down and then flips on his back and gyrates. Whatever disabilities he has, physical mobility and grace aren’t among these. All that, and he's as musical as ever, nary a rough patch as he pierces the stratosphere.

He somehow tamps down the after-performance hamming, so that’s probably a lesson learned. Don’t alienate people by acting too confident; though really, with James, it’s just like a kid let loose in a candy store. And bless him for his faux pax.
Scotty sticks with Country Comforts. It’s a big part of Scotty’s charm that he can make fun of his less-than-astronaut-level brains, though I seriously doubt that's even true, given the canny way he’s transformed challenges into so many brownie points. So, the athletic lad from the Texan mansion read “country” and cantered off with the song, coming out with the guitar, giving another masterfully-phrased performance – he instinctively knows when to speak-sing.

Shoutout to Granny can’t hurt him – and sticking with those verses despite the advice will make everyone from the suburbs onwards loving him. Plus, he’s holding those higher (yeah, it’s relative) notes better, weaving them into the song instead of treating them as levels to reach. And there is a sly, quiet humor there that says Scotty knows the act can be hokey but he’ll give it as much dignity as he can muster. Which is amazing for 17 years old. Which is why everyone from 7 to 70 loves the guy.


Naima Adedapo is Still Standing. I loved that she had the guts to turn Elton’s song into reggae and can’t for my life understand the judges’ objections. But I’m afraid America may agree with them.
Lauren Alaina is no Candle in the Wind. Well, she did bring softness and left some of the brass behind. Nothing wrong with her voice. It’s just that the facial expressions didn’t quite match the song. And the simpering with Ryan… aaah, but she’s 16, for god’s sake. And they screamed for her. She’s not going.
Thia Megia mislays Daniel. What are we to do with Thia? Great voice; she can even get the nuance and emotions right -- much, much better in this department than Lauren. But that face and her movements are just so bland she doesn’t even get off the ground. There is no presence. It’s a pity. If she’s around next week, she should ditch that hair and get a pixie cut.
Stephano Langone and his not-so Tiny Dancer. He’s still beautiful. He opened his eyes tonight. He has a really cute butt. He has good high notes. He has a really cute butt. He needs to enunciate better. He has a really cute butt. He doesn’t quail under the whip. He really has a cute butt.
Paul McDonald wasn’t the Rocket Man. I love Paul and still want him around. But this one fell flat. These kids should listen to Jimmy. They really should.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Wonks chugging coffee by the barrel in Washington and London all-nighters will probably welcome this news: Even geniuses revered down the ages can be taken down a peg or two.

And so they can take heart that while Libyan cities burn, and Egypt’s not-quite-there-yet democracy totters on yet another cliff, and Middle East gazillionaires throw money at their people as fast as they haul the same to jail, a demigod is undergoing a shakedown in the rarefied corridors of science.

Biologists at the University of Sidney say studies they’ve conducted indicate that Charles Darwin -- Lucifer’s son according to Creationists -- was wrong in his theory about invasive species.

That, instead of being absorbed by host communities – as marauding humans are wont to do – amphibian invaders are more likely to establish themselves.

So do, apparently, the Johnnies-come-lately of the digital world where “yesterday” is considered old.

The phrase “a battery of lawyers” may go the way of the dodo if scientists continue to pump up software and hardware.

Already, analysis that took months and millions of dollars a few decades back – we’re talking 1.5 million documents -- can now be had for less than $100,000. That’s probably not too bad a thing. Think the charming “Watson” of Jeopardy fame and you’ll see the merits of interface sans the BO and bad breath of nerds lost in the depth and breadth of libraries.

“Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents.”

Not sure why the article stops at lawyers. The paragraph just cited could as well make journalists an extinct species, too.

Except that, maybe, people are just so darn ornery. They live to embarrass scribes and talking heads and other seers -- even when we do the job fine, thank you, in the era of the breaking news, where forecast coverage waivers tend to last half a day.

Trouble is a relative word. Those of us troubled by clergy threatening fire and brimstone on users of condoms and other aids meant to prevent a life yet to come, should probably take heart that their brethren may be taking greater heat.

Unlike dirty little secrets of the bed, however, secrets of the purse are a little harder to hide in places where the rich and famous like to announce their works of charity.

Which is how the whole of Mexico learned that a huge popsicle-colored church in Pachuca was partly built through donations by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, described by the New York Times describes as “the executioner” and “commander of the ruthless crime syndicate called the Zetas.”

“Long dependent on gifts, but often less than discriminating about where they come from, the church is grappling with its role as thousands die in turf wars among rich, and sometimes generous, criminals.”

Yeah? Jose Rizal could have told them that.

But the church isn’t the only entity in bed with feral dogs. And it’s not just Wikileaks that’s dragging rot into the light, though it’s a pity that Hilary Clinton forgot Julian Asange’s baby as she praised a lil brave outfit that puts “real news” out there.

Clinton: "Al Jazeera has been the leader in that are literally changing people's minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective. In fact viewership of al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."

Gotcha, ma’am.

Al Jazeera airs arguments, in between very dramatic footage that more delicate Western agencies forego. ‘Leaks’ just exposes classified information that everyone can then parse till kingdom come. As opposed to controlling armies that can strafe everyone till kingdom come.

Bodies turn to dust. Words live forever, especially on Google, when “erased” posts from 2007 can come back to haunt its author. And so Charlie’s Libyan papa merits “orange” despite his jets and bombs and little germs cooked up in secret labs while Asange, who can’t even control two gals, gets a big, big red.

Al Jazeera, Leaks – and Jon Stewart. They kinda go together.

Oil-rich Muslim royalty spawned the first. The platinum blonde, who looks like a bastard of some Aryan prince, continues the Aussie tradition of churning out charming thespian rogues. And Stewart, of course, is the equal-opportunity Jewish smartass. The thing they do best is unnerve the powers-that-be though Stewart in the age of Obama is struggling to remain outside of the establishment that loves him.

The venerable NY Times, of course, has slipped a couple of times in the last decade or so, from mistakenly publishing literary fiction on its new pages to falling for tales of weapons of mass destruction,

It’s still a great read but the newspaper has fierce critics. And so its smug story on how the Mideast flare-up is hurting the Russians got an angry reply from the Angry Arab News Service.

Says The Times: “Russia will lose $4 billion because of the unrest in Libya and the subsequent United Nations embargo, Sergei V. Chemezov, the director of the Russian state company in charge of weapons exports…

Over all, unrest in the Middle East has toppled or threatens to topple several governments that are longtime customers of Russian military industries, Mr. Chemezov said, and the total losses could reach $10 billion.”

Fine; after all it’s quoting a Russian not some American redneck or a senile retiree from the Cold War.

But here’s the Angry Arab’s riposte:

“Of course, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain purchased far more weapons from US than from Russia. Even Libya:
"Libya also has obtained weaponry from the European defense contractor BAE Systems; the American defense company Raytheon; a branch of Saab of Sweden; and Beretta, the Italian gunsmith, according to Jane’s."

This made me whistle -- until I discovered that pressing “Jane’s” took me back to the Times. So much for blasting propaganda. Everything comes around.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


The very existence of flame-throwers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I'm just not close enough to get the job done. -- George Carlin

FIREFIGHTERS are just the opposite. They hate fire. They live to put out fires. Every firefighter's wet dream is a world without flames. Other people flirt with fire. Firefighters go to war, sometimes zigging and zagging through inferno to save people.

Sometimes they die. Those who don't have other dangers to confront.

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD) cites studies that show firefighters at risk for various kinds of cancers, more so than most of the population.

IOHSAD executive director Noel Colina said the November, 2006 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine discussed a study of 100,000 firefighters by the University of Cincinnati, which found members of the profession face "greater risk of getting cancer - including testicular, prostate, skin, brain, rectum, stomach and colon cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma and malignant melanoma."

This was further affirmed in October, 2007 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as it classified occupational exposure as firefighter as Class 2B carcinogen or “possibly carcinogenic to human”. According to the IARC, firefighters are often exposed to toxic combustion products, including benzene and formaldehyde, which are released during fires.

“The study tells us that toxic compounds, aside from being released into the air, can also accumulate on the clothing and equipment of firefighters, which can cause elevated risks of of testicular cancer, prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” stated Colina.

The Bureau of Fire Protection of the Philippines had 14,995 personnel nationwide in 2005, according to Colina. These do not include the thousands of volunteer firefighters. The Association of Volunteer Fire Chiefs and Firefighters of the Philippines, Inc., founded in 1987, has 35 volunteer fire brigades with around 1,500 firefighters and paramedics and a complement of around 100 firetrucks, water tankers and rescue units.

I'm actually surprised at how small the number of volunteers seems to be, because they're who we see swarming all over a fire scene while residents wait for the arrival of government units. I'm also not too sure if the Association is a unified body of volunteers. There used to be separate volunteer groups -- by the Federation and Amity; listening to elders discuss the political and philosophical differences of both groups was an interesting past time.

There is no question that cancer is a serious problem among firefighters. It is serious enough for the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to launch a study to examine the potential for increased risk of cancer among firefighters.

The announcement, released April 2010, said:

This multi-year USFA supported NIOSH study will include over 18,000 current and retired career firefighters. The project will improve upon previously published firefighter studies by significantly increasing the number of individuals for whom health data will be analyzed. A larger study provides greater statistical reliability. The study will also improve on past studies by analyzing not only deaths from cancer, but also the incidence of certain cancers that have higher survival rates than others, such as testicular and prostate cancer, as well as deaths from causes other than cancer. This will improve researchers' ability to estimate risk for various cancers and to compare risk of cancer with risks for other causes of death.

Cancers aren't just the only health risks that firefighters face. More common is cardiovascular disease. This problem is alarming enough to have prompted the publication, "Preventing Fire Fighter Fatalities Due to Heart Attacks and Other Cardiovascular Events" by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

"Sudden cardiac death represents the most common cause of a fire fighter fatality," according to the publication. It said a study that spanned 1995 to 2004 showed that sudden cardiac death accounted for 44% (440/1006) of on-duty fire fighter fatalities.

In addition to personal factors that may predispose an individual to coronary artery disease or other cardiovascular diseases, occupational exposures can significantly increase a firefighter's risk, notes the free online encyclopaedia, Wiki.

For instance, carbon monoxide, present in nearly all fire environments, and hydrogen cyanide, formed during the combustion of paper, cotton, plastics, and other substances containing carbon and nitrogen, interfere with the transport of oxygen in the body. Hypoxia can then lead to heart injury. In addition, chronic exposure to particulate matter in smoke is associated with atherosclerosis. Noise exposures may contribute to hypertension and possibly ischemic heart disease. Other factors associated with firefighting, such as stress, heat stress, and heavy physical exertion, also increase the risk of cardiovascular events.

Colina says, "the government, through its appropriate agency, should inform and educate firefighters of the risk they face." (There was nothing though about cardiovascular health in the IOHSAD press release.)

IOHSAD backs the recommendations of the International Myeloma Foundation on cancer prevention among firefighters:

1) Firefighters should have their turnouts professionally cleaned routinely, and to avoid wearing or storing their turnouts in fire station living areas

2) Firefighters should shower as soon as they return from each fire to remove the soot and ash

3) Fire departments review and update guidelines for use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

4) It is advisable for departments to equip fire engines with exhaust removal systems; if not available, avoid idling the engines indoors without adequate ventilation

Whether the BFP can hew to these standards, given the sorry state of equipment of its crews, is anybody's guess. It's hard to imagine close attention being given these serious prescriptions when the biggest headache among firefighters these days is finding high enough ladders for multi-story buildings and/or long enough hoses to reach homes in communities where streets are nothing more than alleys.

(For reference: Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development, 406 Ramagi Building, 1081 Pedro Gil Avenue, Paco 1007, Manila, Philippines, + 63 2 521 1216)