on game of thrones season 2 episode 6

I had hoped to write a mid-second season review of Game of Thrones last week, but the world outside the one-meter radius of my laptop somehow managed to get in the way, and now I find myself left with only the sixth episode to blog about and a sadness that might rival Tywin Lannister’s disappointment upon the birth of his son Tyrion the Imp.

But then again the Lord of Casterly Rock had no idea the Halfman would “grow up” to become such a fascinating creature and my regrets are nothing really more than just a lame attempt at an introduction. In other words, here’s a rundown of some of the most interesting stuff in Episode 6, listed by chronological order:

1. Joffrey Baratheon may have been a character designed primarily to elicit pure contempt. Theon Greyjoy, on the other hand, seems destined to be someone you couldn’t thoroughly hate only because he’s such a sad little person. In this scene where the turncloak tearfully beheads one of the Dwarflords of Middle-Earth Ser Rodrik Cassel, one can’t help but feel sorry for this poor boy who had to suffer so much from so many personal issues.

“Darn it. I was held hostage by a nice family for years and then my own squid of a father calls me a ‘doll’ in front of my little sis. If there were any shrinks in Westeros, I wouldn’t have to let this all out on you, you know.”
“Darn it. I was held hostage by a nice family for years and then my own squid of a father calls me a ‘doll’ in front of my little sis. If there were any shrinks in Westeros, I wouldn’t have to let this all out on you, you know.”

2. Many people have said it already and I will say it again with utter disregard for redundancy: this Arya Stark girl actress is beyond awesome. Where in the Seven Kingdoms did they get her? In this scene where Petyr Baelish arrives suddenly to Harrenhal to see Tywin Lannister, Arya does her best to make sure Littlefinger does not recognize her as the the other wolf pup who got away.

“Oh my gods. Petyr Baelish. Shit shit shit shit shit.”
“Oh my gods. Petyr Baelish. Shit shit shit shit shit.”

3. And then someone threw a lump of cow feces at Joffrey’s face. And Tyrion “kingslaps” him. I never knew I was capable of such gleeful laughter.

“OH NO YOU DIDN’T.”
“OH NO YOU DIDN’T.”

4. In the book series, Robb Stark falls in love with some girl he knocked up after some battle in the south—the Lady Jeyne Westerling, with her “chest-nut curls” and “heart-shaped face.” But the TV show’s writers apparently had a better idea and invented this mysterious Talisa of Volantis who works for the Red Cross. HBO thinks it’s a superior match for the King in the North, but Lady Catelyn Stark doesn’t seem to agree.

“Robb, my dear? I will hit your head if you do not stop ogling the young Mother Teresa.”
“Robb, my dear? I will hit your head if you do not stop ogling the young Mother Teresa.”

5. As for Ygritte the Wildling woman’s first appearance in the show, Jon Snow did look positively enchanted, which is just as well. I mean, who wouldn’t?

“You know nothing, Jon Snow. As for me, I know how to move my hips and I have this sort of sexy, breathy voice.”
“You know nothing, Jon Snow. As for me, I know how to move my hips and I have this sort of sexy, breathy voice.”

6. Now the only disappointment from the episode, I guess, comes toward the end, when the show’s writers made Osha buy her escape from besieged Winterfell by sleeping with Theon Greyjoy. That was a terrible, terrible thing to do, because in the books, Osha freed herself and the two Stark boys through sheer cunning and courage.

“They made Margaery Tyrell appear as if her feminine qualities were her only means for success. Why should I be any different?”
“They made Margaery Tyrell appear as if her feminine qualities were her only means for success. Why should I be any different?”

7. And then finally—and this isn’t part of the sixth episode—but listen to this little something and tell me that these kids are simply adorable. I will kill anyone who would say otherwise.

PS.  Don’t have a torrent of Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 6 yet? Download it here.

on game of thrones season 2 episode 1

When I was a kid, we did not have cable and our television was an old machine with two rusty metal sticks for an antenna; we were lucky if the useless junk worked miraculously after a few friendly thumps. As a result, I had never grown fond of television shows as a child and I harboured the pretentious claim that nothing can be better than reading novels.

Of course, I wasn’t entirely right. I know now, because I have since discovered a combination of three things: the Internet, torrents, and the trusty VLC player. This week, I have done almost nothing but replay my pirated copy of the pilot episode of the second season of the Game of Thrones series (courtesy of MSF who gave me a link for the torrent), and I realize once more how, with today’s technology, you could replay the scenes in a story, in a way you could never do with books.

1. Consider this scene with the newly crowned King Joffrey Baratheon celebrating his “name day” by staging a fight tournament. When a contestant gets hammered to a bloody pulp and falls down from the sentries, Joffrey shouts, “Well struck!” And that smirk—it just helps you decide that he is surely the most evil of brats on screen since Tom Felton’s Draco Malfoy, doesn’t it? I must have replayed the scene a thousand times, nursing my hatred for this blonde spawn of Satan. I mean, just look at that face.

“They said I can become anything, so I became a brat.”

2. And then comes the Imp, Tyrion Lannister, and his charming one-liners. He offers his condolences to Lady Sansa Stark, whose father’s head was chopped off by orders of his fiancé, the evil child Joffrey. When Joffrey retorts that Sansa has nothing to mourn for a traitor dad, Tyrion rebukes him and defends Sansa so tenderly. Aww. Let’s have that again, shall we.

“Hello there, pretty girl. I’ll save you from Draco Malfoy. Just be patient, okay?”

3. There are a lot of crazy women on television. But none as deliciously annoying as this seemingly mad Wildling woman who was taken hostage by the Starks and into the service of Winterfell. She smiles ever so darkly even when there is not much to be mysterious about, mutters, rolls her eyes, and cocks her head to the side all the time while talking to a major character. Her name is Osha and in terms of possible relatives, you could choose between Bellatrix Lestrange and Sisa. Here is she, giving a dissertation about comets.

“The comet means only one thing: the Dark Lord has returned.”

4. The important thing with medieval courts on television is the talking. There’s the sex, too, of course, and the fighting, and the vast amounts of clothes and drapery. But the talking is a big deal—the subtleties laced with poison, the inane pleasantries, the weird sentence structure. In this scene with Lord Petyr Baelish and the Queen Cersei Lannister exchanging some very meaningful words, the venomous smiles provide perfect backdrop to their charming conversation.

“And how did you two manage to get yourselves hoisted up there in that old watchtower, Your Grace?”

5. Last, who seriously didn’t enjoy that part where Jaime Lannister is tied to a post, scared to death with the prospect of being eaten alive by Robb Stark’s oversized dog. I replayed and replayed the scene until the screen dissolved in greenish pixels. Take that, you little pansy.

“Such big teeth you have, grandmother!”

on wage hikes and ‘math wizardry’

Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte was of course only doing her job when she once boldly dared lawmakers to pass a bill that would effectively scrap the 12-percent value-added tax on oil products. When informed that such a measure has already been filed by Bayan Muna party-list representative Teodoro Casiño in 2010, she promptly apologized the following day. “Good for you, Congressman Casiño,” she says in an interview over the radio.

One can only admire Valte’s humility and her devotion to her job description as the palace’s mouthpiece. Indeed, in her own words, Malacañang “cannot speak for Congress.” In other words, if the VAT is such an annoyance, legislators have the duty to junk it and save everyone else’s time. Why should President Aquino himself meddle with laws when there are so many other things that require his attention?

Just yesterday, in a press conference, as Valte employed basic math operations to explain why the Palace does not support the P125 wage hike proposed by Congress, we once again witnessed the lady’s astonishing capacity to effectively deliver a familiar message from the President: “My hands are tied. I cannot do anything about it.”

The P125 increase is simply not “practicable” and that employers may not be able to afford it, Valte said. According to Malacañang’s computations, the proposed wage hike would translate to a P42,250 annual increase  in salaries. Multiplied by 38 million workers in the country, the hike would result to about P1.26 trillion  in additional cost for businesses—quite a hefty chunk of the country’s economy valued currently at P8.5 to P9 trillion.

“Instead of being able to help the majority, some people may lose their jobs if the legislated wage increase will be this high,” she said, almost threateningly.

It would be easy to buy this explanation—if one ignores a few errors.

In his column at the Manila Times, Dr. Giovanni Tapang of Agham pointed out that only 54.8 percent of the country’s labor force of 38 million are wage and salary workers. Out of this percentile, 8.2 percent are government workers, 4.6 percent are private household workers, and 41.6 percent (or only 15.56 million) are workers hired by private establishments.

This means that the P125 wage hike, which shall be limited to those who work in private firms, translates, not to P1.26 trillion, but to only around P0.657 trillion.

This slight mistake is enough to make one suspicious, but doesn’t the fact remain that  businesses are hardly making any profit to afford such an increase in wages? Independent thinktank IBON says Philippine employers can handle it—but only if they would agree to a cut in their profits.

In 2009, all private firms in the country had a combined profit of P1.63 billion and 3.94 million employees, according to the 2009 Annual Survey of Philippine Business and Industry of the National Statistics Office. Using these figures, IBON estimates that the total cost of the proposed wage hike will only be P194.9 billion, which translates in turn to only a 12 percent cut in profits.

Beyond these oversights, though, one might forgive Valte for neglecting to do her homework more thoroughly. It must be a very taxing job, speaking for a president perceived by many as… laidback. Look at Elena Bautista-Horn who works for a former president who is currently under arrest and witness some really unfortunate things she has to say to the public.

If anything, the consistency of Malacañang’s press releases amid brewing protests against his economic policies proves something: Aquino might be cautious about bothering businessmen and their take-home money, but he certainly does not get too worked-up about what his real “bosses” want. Neither does he fear the brewing protests of angry people on the streets.

Such coolness under pressure must be admirable in a leader. ▣

hillary, heckled in manila*

A lot has been said about how a student leader disrupted Hillary Clinton’s forum at the National Museum on Wednesday. Most reactions were angry, largely condescending, and obsessed on the claim that “there are other, more civilized ways to exercise freedom of expression.”

Why did he have to be so rude, when it was an open forum, and anyone can ask questions? Surely, Hillary, so smart and so contained, could address his strong feelings against the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)?

Well. Of course, she can. As what GMA News has so amiably touted her, she is a “savvy diplomat.” She is used to events like that thing they decided to call “A Conversation in Manila.” She can deftly answer any question–however cleverly crafted, or however unimaginative. She is her country’s top ambassador to the rest of the world. It’s, like, her fifth sense, or something.

Also, the forum was organized and “packaged” by the US Embassy exactly as a venue for pleasant “conversations” with a celebrity. It was a controlled environment where, as Glenn Diaz puts it in his recent blog post, the burden of civility is yours–in exchange for the privilege to participate.

These are enough reasons why a polite question asked over the microphone was not enough to protest against the Visiting Forces Agreement and the MDT. It would be like requesting an audience with Noynoy Aquino just so you could tell him off about Hacienda Luisita.

A protest is a protest because it’s an expression of indignation, of opposition. A protest gains potency, whenever and especially if it disregards the rules which ban dissent. A protest does not demand an answer or an explanation, it asserts its right to be heard and never apologizes.

Otherwise, a candid question about music preferences would do, and Hillary can leave Manila with the happy, content feeling that Filipinos are such a nice, welcoming bunch, and that here, she can forget about growing all that rhinoceros skin. ▣

* first published as “Bien Venido” at “Chairport

best consumer picks this month

Daily we are flooded with products designed to make our lives easier, art and literature that would raise our intelligence quotient, and novel ideas on how the world can be a better place.

Which one would be worth our time and money the most? Every month, I feature three things that might just push the boundaries of human existence.

1. The Royal Wedding: The Official Westminster Abbey Souvenir. Was there ever a more romantic event this century? Witness how history unfolded in the comfort of your home by getting a copy of this 40-page volume on the beautiful wedding of a handsome, balding prince and a former British Airways flight attendant with a hotter sister. Tag price: P495.

2. Pacman: Kwento ng Pag-asa Tiyaga, at Determinasyon, by Manny Pacquiao. If you thoroughly enjoyed the original English version, you would definitely want to read this translation as well. Forget about hundreds of other biographies on the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer. This one is in Filipino. And since Manny wrote it himself, it promises anecdotes about celebrity mom and socialite Dionisia Pacquiao. Plus, it’s only P295.

3. Miles to Go, by Miley Cyrus, co-written by Hilary Liftin. Critics say this is yet another strong testament to the fact that not all young girls in Hollywood are dumb. Though it is unclear how much Liftin is involved in the creative process, this autobiography breeds the suspicion that Hannah Montana might just have a promising career in writing. Tag Price: P469.

BEST PICK: Miles to Go, by Miley Cyrus, co-written by Hilary Liftin.

You see, Miley was born and raised in a farm in Tennessee. Now she is a famous actress, musician, and fashion designer, who earns about $25 million dollars a year. This lends hope to all the farm girls around the world by showing them how stardom is one sure ticket to a better and happier life.

* Quoted Prices are from National Bookstore

on the reproductive health bill

Several weeks ago, I was talking with Marat Safran Foer when the conversation somehow managed to snare us into a trap. You know that sort which involves God and a socially relevant topic? Yes, that sort of trap. The RH Bill trap, specifically.

I know I could never have won that row because I have not read the full text of the bill and Marat knew that I was merely parroting “party-line” arguments the whole time. It embarrasses me now the way poor Krip Yuson must have felt when he admitted to petty plagiarism.

Luckily, I am not Krip Yuson and I can make up for my sheer lack of originality. I read the full text of the final consolidated House Bill 4244. Then I gave myself time to think about it and realized that the bill is truly more than just contraceptives and the word of… God.

If ever I find myself again in the middle of a blood-boiling debate about why I support the passing of the RH Bill, I think I would be ready to do better. Here’s why:

The RH Bill addresses the lack of adequate public reproductive health services. According to a 2008 survey, less than half of births in the Philippines occur in health facilities. The same survey also reveals that 36 percent of births are assisted by a traditional attendant or ‘hilot.’ (I am not terribly good at Math, but I do know 36 percent means around “1 out of 3.”)

Under the RH bill, the Department of Health will assist local government units (LGUs) in employing an adequate number of midwives to achieve a minimum ratio of at least one skilled attendant for every 150 deliveries per year (Section 5). Also, LGUs shall establish or upgrade hospitals with adequate and skilled personnel, equipment, and supplies for emergency obstetric care (Section 6).

Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that complications occur in 15 percent of pregnancies, while 11 women die of childbirth every day. The availability of more skilled medical professionals and wider public access to medical facilities and services will surely be a step toward addressing this reality.

The RH Bill upholds the sanctity of life. Pardon the religious cliché, but according to the 2008 National Demographic and Health (NDH) Survey, those who do not use contraceptives make up 68 percent of unintended pregnancies. By providing access to family planning methods, the RH Bill hopes to ultimately curb the number of abortions.

Also, family planning methods will help parents to decide the right time for them to have another child. According to the WHO, at least two years should pass between births to reduce the risk of infant deaths.

The RH Bill will educate and prepare the youth. Section 16 of the bill requires that appropriate reproductive health and sex education be integrated in all relevant subjects from Grade Five to Fourth Year High School.

I remember that when I was in Grade Five my science teacher did a little lesson on teenage pregnancies. I am sure now that it was not in the prescribed lesson plan, but she must have done the right thing, because none of my classmates then got knocked up before college. I might be grossly mistaken but an incident like that would not have escaped Facebook. You know what I mean.

The RH Bill promotes gender and social equity. According to the 2006 Family Planning Survey, 2.6 million Filipino women would like to plan their families but they lack in information and access to do so. The same survey also shows that 44 percent of births among the poor are unwanted.

In the 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, the poorest families spend only 1.7 percent of the household income on medical care, while the richest families spend 4.0 percent.

Under the RH Bill, poorer couples will have a better opportunity and means to decide how many children they want and can raise. Women would also have more opportunities to advance their education and more time for productive work, since they would be able to plan when they will have children.

Finally, the RH Bill reinforces the right to know and the right to choose. Given adequate and accurate information, we can make sensible decisions that are best for us. By providing access to information and a set of viable options, the RH Bill would let us freely exercise this capacity to know the alternatives and choose wisely and—for devout Catholics—with a clear conscience.

That seems fair enough. And that definitely does not sound bad at all either, does it?

darwinism in the metro

Everyday we witness a number of proofs that people are somehow capable of kind acts to each other. But if my friend Queensfoil is to be believed, taking a train in Manila at rush hour is enough to restore the suspicion that humans are beasts.

To illustrate, notice the grim-faced yuppie (highly skilled in the art of elbowing fellow passengers), the wild-haired harpy (talented in verbally abusing men who would not give up their seats to a woman), the shadowy figure (gifted with sleight-of-hand instincts), and yourself (swallowed whole by a monster with multiple heads, arms, legs, armpits, groins).

I think about a time when I liked taking the MRT, and my mind promptly draws a blank. Then I think about how I managed the daily trips from Guadalupe to Quezon Avenue when I was a college student, and my thought process returns to Queensfoil, who recently compiled a helpful list of tips on railway survival. The list is terribly funny in Filipino, and I try my best translating some of them into English below:

1. One way to beat the crowd of waiting passengers in the platform is to feign disinterest. Act as if the next train is the last thing in your zen mind. And then surprise the hell out of everybody by your most lifelike version of a lion’s growl.

2. Your elbows and knees are your trusty weapons. If you’re with a kid or a pregnant friend, use them as a shield.

3. Survival may also be a collaborative effort. Befriend two or three fellow passengers and suggest that you create together a human chain to ensure no one is left behind.

4. Once inside, never position yourself in the middle of a train car. It is a mistake. You will find yourself transformed into a revolving door.

5. Forget about safety hand rails. The voice-over is an idiot. You wouldn’t need safety hand rails to keep standing.

6. Keep near the doors as much as you can; it would be easier to get off the train that way. Bear in mind that if your stop is Ayala, Buendia, or Shaw, you should place yourself by the doors on the left side.

7. When you are eager to get off the train and a fat person is directly in front of you, do not even attempt to compete. Let him be. He will clear the way for you. Remember to thank him afterwards.

I am quite sure that this is a short list and long experience will prove that there are other strategic techniques at our disposal. I can think of one or two, which involve the use of crutches and/or a priest’s cassock. You just have to have the right frame of mind. The strong conquers and eliminates the weak. Survival of the fittest.

Just yesterday, the news says the government has deferred train fare hikes but is still firm in its resolve to push through with implementation this year. One might think, whoa, this must redefine survival of the fittest.

If perhaps we take a minute to think about the impending fare hike, about the fact that single journey tickets would now be sold only in P15, P20, and P30 denominations, and that fares would now be measured by the kilometer, I wonder if maybe–just maybe–we would be properly aggressive and direct our madness toward a goal other than jostling each other to get toward the closing automatic train doors.