Saturday, December 18, 2021

On Breaking Boundaries, 14 Peaks, Cargo, The Power of the Dog, Etc.

Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet (documentary) - We humans are the main drivers of climate change and if we don't rethink/stop our harmful ways, the earth which we call home may be heading towards a point of no return. A point where undoing the damage of what we've done will be mission impossible. That's the core message of this Netflix documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborrough and featuring scientists such as Johan Rockström and Terry Hughes. Generally speaking, the documentary doesn't offer anything that we don't already know. Its message is something we've been hearing for decades already. But it's another documentary on climate change so it's a good thing. More documentaries on the climate crisis means more people getting the message. 

One scene in the documentary that struck me the most was an analogy made by Rockstrom. Imagine planet earth as a truck going up a mountain through a rough and winding road at night. One wrong move and the truck will plunge down the mountain. If the truck is to make it to the top without falling, it must have a good set of lights. In the analogy, this set of lights is science. Planet earth can survive the climate crisis through the guiding light of science. 7/10

14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible (documentary) - If you are looking for inspiration to get off the couch and go climb a mountain, this documentary by Torquil Jones should do the trick. It follows the seemingly impossible goal of a team of Nepalese climbers to make it to the summit of 14 of the highest mountains in the world in record time. The previous record was more than 7 years. 

The team summitted all 14 peaks in under 7 months. This should put Nirmal Purja (the leader) and his team up there with the likes of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Legends of the sport of mountaineering. The great Italian mountaineer and explorer Reinhold Messner also makes an appearance in the film. Purja has also written a book about the journey. It's set to be released in January next year. It's called Beyond Possible: One Man, Fourteen Peaks, and the Mountaineering Achievement of a Lifetime. 8/10

Cargo (movie) - This film offers a fresh take on the zombie apocalypse genre by setting it in Australia. It's a low-budget picture so I wasn't expecting it to go full zombie mode. If you've seen the movie The Road (a film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel), Cargo follows the same vein with the addition of zombies. It's about a father looking for a better place for his offspring. It's a film that relies on drama to propel the narrative forward. So it's definitely not for everyone. If you're expecting World War Z, you are going to be very disappointed. I also found the movie too long. I feel like a good 30 minutes of the film should've been left on the cutting floor. Martin Freeman played the main role. It was a commendable performance. 6/10

One Championship Winter Warriors 2 (MMA) - Four fighters under the Team Lakay banner saw action here. In the main event, Danny Kingad lost via unanimous decision to Kairat Akhmetov. Akhmetov dominated the bout with his world-class wrestling. Kingad had his moments in the third and final round. He was winning the striking match when he mind-bogglingly decided to clinch Akhmetov, pin him to the fence, and just stay there. I felt like he had the opportunity to disengage and try to knock Akhmetov out because that was his only chance of winning the fight. It was frustrating to watch. One of the worst examples of fight IQ I've ever seen in One Championship.

In the undercard, Kevin Belingon lost via TKO in the second round. He folded from a well-placed liver shot. With the loss, Belingon has been winless in his last four fights. Fortunately for Team Lakay, two of their fighters won early in the card. Both were making their One debuts as well. Jhanlo Sangiao submitted his opponent in the very first round. Stephen Loman TKOed his also in the first round. Two impressive debuts from two prospects. The future looks bright for these two. Can't wait to see them enter the cage again.

The Power of the Dog (Movie) - This film has been receiving awards left and right. And deservedly so. It's a well-crafted work of art. Everything about it is great - the acting, the cinematography, the pace, the story, everything. The four main leads are in their element - Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee. This is a western drama that will have the viewer thinking about it long after the end credits rolled. The film is an adaptation of the novel The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage. The movie also marks the return of New Zealand-based director Jane Campion (The Piano, An Angel at My Table, Holy Smoke!, Bright Star) whose last feature film was released back in 2009. 8/10

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Apetor Is Dead: The Untimely Death of Tor Eckhoff, Internet Celebrity and Frozen Lake Skater (And Drinker)

I woke up to a bright and beautiful morning today. It didn't last very long. In mornings like these, I would scroll through my Reddit newsfeed while sipping on hot coffee and munching on breakfast. An entry in today's newsfeed hit me particularly hard. I learned that Apetor has died. You probably have never heard of the name but the man has what can be considered as a cult following online. And I'm a part of that cult. To understand what I'm talking about, I suggest that you pay a quick visit to Apetor's YouTube channel and watch some of his videos.

Then come back here.

How will I describe Apetor's videos? He's like the internet's version of Mr. Bean. He doesn't talk. He just makes nonsensical noises. There are no structure to his videos. He's just being himself doing goofy stuff. Kissing trees, skating almost naked on thin ice, skating with a chainsaw, skating and drinking vodka, bathing in frozen lakes, eating leaves, the list goes on.

Apetor, a Norwegian whose real name is Tor Eckhoff has been making videos and putting them on YouTube for years. His unique brand of humor has earned him a sizable following. As I write this, he has 1.19 million subscribers on YouTube. 

Cause of Death

Apetor celebrated his birthday 5 days before he died. In his last video which he titled "I am Not Dead, I Am 57 Today", Apetor celebrated his birthday doing more of his goofy stuff. It's not the first time that he has done this proof-of-life video. Apetor has been battling cancer for a while and he would often post a video on his birthday as proof that he was still alive.

When I learned that he passed away, I assumed that he has finally succumbed to cancer. Well, he did not. He actually fell through the ice and drowned. According to the police he fell through the ice while making one of his videos. He was reportedly alone on Jakobs Dam. He was found by rescue divers and was flown to a hospital (Ulleval) but he didn't make it. Well, at least he died doing something he loved. It's still sad to seem him go.

"Fly high old friend. You have made millions smile by just being you even at their hardest time. May you fly high to the heavens you deserve." - by Smiley (a comment left on Apetor's last uploaded video on YouTube)

Did Keith Richards Mention Bongbong Marcos in an Interview for New Musical Express (NME) Magazine in 1990?

There's a post circulating on social media that Keith Richards of the English rock band the Rolling Stones allegedly alluded in a magazine interview from 1990 that Bongbong Marcos supplied them with cocaine, alcohol and other drugs during a musical tour in "1978 or 1979". According to the circulating post, the interview appeared on pages 22-23 of the February 17, 1990 issue of the New Musical Express (NME) magazine.

The circulating post contained a supposed excerpt from the interview published in the magazine. Here's the supposed excerpt: "Well, I remember when we had this homecoming tour in England sometimes in '78 or '79, there was this young kid who is the son of a President of the Philippines. He hang around with us for two months , riding with our tour bus and plane, staying in hotels and acting like a roadie. He provided us kilos and kilos of cocaine, expensive alcohols and other drugs, for free just to be with us. But then, his father got wind of his partying ways with us, and one day, he was forcibly taken by some Government agents during our concert in Manchester and flown immediately back to his country. That was the last time we heard of him, until we heard that his father was overthrown by a peaceful revolution in '86."

Although Keith Richards did not mention Bongbong Marcos in the supposed interview, it's pretty obvious that Bongbong is the person being described. But here's the question: Did Keith Richards really say this? 

After doing a little bit of digging, I would say that he did not. Somebody made up the story. In other words, the supposed interview is fake news.

Here are the reasons why I think it's fake:

1. If you check the cover of the February 17, 1990 issue of the New Musical Express magazine, there's no mention of Keith Richards or The Rolling Stones. This is the biggest evidence that the circulating post on social media is fake. Keith Richards is a legendary guitarist. The Rolling Stones is one of the biggest rock bands the world has ever seen. Are you telling me that a famous guitarist from a famous band was interviewed for a magazine and his name wasn't even mentioned in the cover of the issue? If a magazine contains a piece about The Rolling Stones, let alone an interview featuring a band member, you can be sure that he will be on the cover. But nope, the name nor picture of Richards is nowhere to be seen in the cover.

2. The Rolling Stones didn't have a homecoming tour in England in 1978 nor in 1979. The band had a tour in 1978 but it was a U.S. tour. A quick Google search will show that the band didn't tour in England in 1979.

3. There's something off with the excerpt. Read it again. Richards supposedly spent two months with the young Marcos and he can't even remember his name? And the English usage is screaming fake (i.e. sometimes in '79, alcohols, some Government agents).

4. The excerpt was typed. If it really is from a magazine, we should be looking at a picture of the actual magazine piece. If it's from a digital copy of the article, we should be looking at a screenshot of the article from the website of the New Musical Express. The excerpt was typed which likely means it was written by someone using his/her imagination not from a reliable or verifiable source.

There are two ways to prove 100% that the interview really happened and that it was published in a magazine. One, someone gets his/her hands on an actual copy of the magazine and take a photo of pages 22-23. Two, New Musical Express releases a statement confirming that the interview did happen and that Richards did make the statement. But I don't think there's a need. There's no doubt in my mind that the interview was completely made up.

I'm not a Marcos supporter. I'm not going to vote for him in 2022. But making up stories to make him look bad is not right. If you are going to criticize the man, criticize him using facts, not made-up stories.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

On Jack London, Jason Bourne, Extinction, In the Heart of the Sea, Etc.

Eugene Burdick on Jack London - The collection The Best Short Stories of Jack London which was published by Ballantine Books opens with an Introduction by Eugene Burdick. It's a short but meaty Introduction. The last paragraph was particularly insightful. Burdick wrote: "London's world will never exist again. The web of law is too tightly drawn, science has made us too invulnerable to the way of nature. But it is precisely for this reason that London's stature as a writer has grown. He can take that lost and savage world and make it live and move for a modern reader. For this reason, if no other, he will not soon be forgotten. It is the mark of the master writer." Burdick's not wrong.

Jason Bourne (Movie) - This is the 5th installment in the Jason Bourne film series. I don't know why they went with the character's name as the title of the movie. If I'm going to make a guess, it was probably a marketing decision. Some marketing monkeys in a glitzy office somewhere did some surveys, collected data, combed through the data, made charts and graphs and came up with the conclusion that more people will watch the movie if it's titled Jason Bourne, not The Bourne Redundancy

As to the movie itself, it was good. But it was not great. It has all the ingredients from the previous films in the series. Herein lies the problem, methinks. The franchise has become repetitive. It was cool to watch someone say "Jesus Christ, that's Jason Bourne" the first time. To hear someone make the same quip four movies later borders on annoying. And I didn't like the plot of Jason Bourne. The writers were lazy. They brought nothing new to the table. Ah yes, I take that back, they introduced something new to the plot - something about a social media platform called Deep Dream. Unfortunately, this was a completely useless subplot. It accomplished nothing. It was so detached from the main plot that if they removed all the Deep Dream scenes on the cutting floor, Jason Bourne would've been the same movie.

Destination Io (Movie) - In his review of this sci-fi picture, Nick Allen gave it 2 stars out of a possible 5. I agree with his rating. He also described the film as "genre minimalism to a fault". I again agree. Io is a movie with great ideas. Unfortunately, with the way the film was handled, these ideas weren't fully brought out. This is one of those movies that make you feel like you should be amazed but you're not. There's this feeling that there's a great movie in it but you're not seeing it. The actors gave commendable performances. The cinematography was great. Unfortunately, the film felt empty. As empty as the dying Earth that served as the setting for the film.

Extinction (Movie) - Michael Pena is a very capable actor but he looks very out-of-place in this sci-fi drama about a civil war between humans and synthetics (robots). This movie is bad. There's a reason it was scheduled for a theatrical run only to be pulled out before it's scheduled release. From the film's Wikipedia page: "It received negative reviews, with criticism for its confused and weak storyline, character development and pacing.

People say Wikipedia is not a very reliable source. In this particular case, Wikipedia is 200% correct. Extinction is beyond confused. It's rife with head-scratching scenes. There's this scene where Pena's character and his wife were being pursued by men with guns. The pursuers were literally seconds behind them. When Pena and his wife reunite with their children on a train station platform, they took the time to stop and hug. Their pursuers were just seconds away from blasting them to pieces. Yet they still have the time for hugs and kisses. It was at this moment that I mulled turning the movie off. But it was already too late. The movie was minutes away from the ending.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Movie) - Adam Sandler is a great actor. That is if he's in a movie where he's actually required to act and not play the stereotyped character he has portrayed in most of his movies. His performance in The Meyerowitz Stories is one of his best, if not his best. The man held his ground against Dustin Hoffman. That says a lot. And of course, Sandler wouldn't have shined here without the help of a great cast which included Ben Stiller, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson, and Grace Van Patten. I would also like to take this opportunity to plug Uncut Gems, another movie starring Adam Sandler, the capable thespian, not Adam Sandler, the goof from Grown Ups.

In the Heart of the Sea (Movie) - I found this movie very entertaining. In some ways, it reminded me of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It has the ingredients of a good film - a capable director in Ron Howard, beautiful cinematography, fantastic soundtrack and an A-list cast comprised of Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland and Brendan Gleeson. So I was surprised to learn that the film bombed at the box-office. It had a production budget of $100 million. It only earned about $94 million. Oof. 

Those aside, there's a web of interesting stories behind the plot of the film. The movie's an adaptation of the book of the same name (In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex) by Nathaniel Philbrick. The book tells the true story of a whaling ship sunk by a whale in the South Pacific. The story of the Essex partly inspired Herman Melville in writing Moby Dick

To those interested in reading more about the Essex tragedy, a book you should read is The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale: First-Person Accounts. The book contains the accounts of Owen Chase (the ship's first mate) and Thomas Nickerson (the cabin boy).

The Commuter (Movie) - When you sit to watch a Liam Neeson movie, you are going to get one of three things - Neeson the serious actor, Neeson the voice actor in an animated movie, or Neeson the action star. 

In The Commuter, Neeson puts on his Taken hat, gets on a train, and beats everybody who gets in his way. I expected this to be another mindless action flick but it surpassed my expectations. I won't go as far as to call it an intelligent movie but it had parts that will have you thinking. It's not that hard to like a movie where the writers actually tried to make the plot smart, original and interesting. As a bonus, The Commuter has a good cast - Vera Farmiga, Sam Neill, and Patrick Wilson.

The Birth of Jesus Christ in History and Legend (Podcast/YouTube) - In this one-hour long podcast, professional skeptic Michael Shermer talks with the American historian and scholar Bart D. Ehrman. Ehrman is well-known for his scholarly books that focused on textual criticism of the New Testament. 

His most famous books are Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Forged, God's Problem, Jesus Interrupted, and How Jesus Became God. In this episode, Shermer and Ehrman cover a lot of topics like the historicity of Jesus Christ, reconciling the Gospel accounts, the probability of the resurrection, theodicy, the problem of evil, why Muslims and Jews do not believe in Jesus, and more.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Extinct Rhinoceros and Stegodons Used to Roam Kalinga Hundreds of Thousands of Years Ago

In 2018, an international research team composed of French, Filipino, Australian and Dutch scientists published a paper in the scientific journal Nature that cast doubt on the established timeline of ancient human activity in the Philippines. The paper explained in detail the findings of the team based on fossils and stone tools found in archaeological digs in the province of Kalinga.

Prior to the discovery of the fossilized remains and stone tools in Kalinga, the earliest evidence of human settlement in the country points at 67,000 years. The fossils found in Kalinga date back to 709,000 years ago. This means that the discovery pushes back the timeline by more than 600,00 years.

Unearthed at the archeological site in Kalinga were the fossilized remains of a now extinct species of rhinoceros (Rhinoceros philippinensis). The fossilized bones contain cut marks which means that the animal had been butchered by humans using sharp tools. Also found near the bones were more than 50 pieces of stone tools.

The sophisticated dating of the fossils show that ancient humans most definitely populated the region in Kalinga where the fossils were found. That they hunted, slaughtered and feasted on the rhinoceros. However, it's not known who these ancient humans were because human bones weren't found alongside or near the fossils.

So who butchered the ancient rhinoceros? It's not known but there's a likely suspect - the Homo erectus. Hundreds of fossils of the Homo erectus have been found in Indonesia. Indonesia is not too far off from the Philippines. So the theory that they've made it to the region that is now Kalinga makes good sense.

Also found in the Kalinga archeological digs are the remains of a stegodon. This is a prehistoric animal that existed from 11.6 million years ago up to the Pleistocene period (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago).
The fossils are on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Manila.


Text and poster by Jiles Arvin A. Vergara and Jaan Ruy Nogot, NMP GPD; 
Courtesy of National Museum of the Philippines

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Tragic Plane Crash in Mt. Ugo in Benguet That Took 50 Lives (Cordillera History)

Mt. Ugo is a well-known hiking destination in Benguet. It's long and winding trails will quench your thirst for outdoor adventure. However, the beauty of the place hides something dark, something tragic that happened there more than three decades ago. An incident that is now largely forgotten. In 1987, a plane carrying 50 people crashed on the mountain. Those onboard were composed of 46 passengers and 4 crew members. Witnesses say that the plane burst into flames when it hit the slope. All 50 people onboard lost their lives. Rescuers who reached the scene said their bodies were burned beyond recognition. For a couple of days, the accident was the talk of the world, with headlining stories from the New York Times to the Sun Sentinel.

Before the great pandemic of 2020, hundreds of hikers climb Mt. Ugo every year. Most of them are unaware of the mountain's tragic past. But most of them will hear of the plane crash story once they are at the summit. There's a marker installed at the summit in memory of those who perished during the crash.

Theirs is a story that needs to be told.

On the morning of June 26, 1987, Philippine Airlines Flight 206 (PR206) took off at the Manila Domestic Airport and headed for the Loakan Airport in Baguio City. The aircraft, a twin-engine Hawker Siddeley HS 748, was scheduled to land in Baguio City before noon. However, as the plane neared the city, the pilot reported poor visibility because of thick clouds and heavy fog. Ten minutes before it was scheduled to land at the Loakan Airport, the plane disappeared from radar screens.

A search and rescue operation was immediately put together. Five hours after the plane was reported missing, the smoldering wreckage was discovered on the slopes of Mt. Ugo. This is a high-altitude mountain on the border between Itogon, Benguet and Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya. The plane crashed just 180 meters below the mountain's main summit. The crash site was inaccessible to vehicles. To get there, rescuers sought the help of the Americans. Three American helicopters were dispatched to the scene from Clark Air Base.

So that the helicopters can land on the mountain, engineers had to immediately build a landing zone near the wreckage. A path is then cut from the helipad to the crash site. Around 80 people were involved in the recovery operation. They were composed of rescue teams, doctors, nurses PAL employees, locals, and volunteers. Some of the search parties had to hike for hours from Baguio City to get to the crash site.

An unintended consequence of this disaster was Mt. Ugo's establishment as a hiking destination in Benguet. Mountaineers were among the rescue teams involved in the recovery operation in 1987. They saw the beauty of the place and word immediately got out. Climbers started visiting the place. Mt. Ugo is now one of the most climbed mountains in Benguet.

This is a Hawker Siddeley HS 748 plane that was similar to the plane that crashed into Mt. Ugo. Photo source: Wikipedia

Thursday, October 28, 2021

This Species of Giant Rats Live in the Cloud Forests of Mt. Pulag

About three years ago, I joined a climbing party to the summit of Mt. Pulag in Kabayan, Benguet. One of the things I immediately noticed about the place was the unnerving silence. It seemed so devoid of animal life. The grasslands. The patches of shrubs here and there. The cloud forests. They are magnificent examples of the region's flora. But there didn't seem to be any animal life around.

Well, suffice it to say that I had the wrong assumptions. Apparently, the cloud forests of Mt. Pulag are teeming with animal life. It's just that these creatures are masters of living discreetly and away from prying human eyes. Among these unique creatures is the Northern Luzon Giant Cloud Rat (Phloeomys pallidus). This is a large species of rodent that can only be found in Luzon. They can't be found anywhere else in the world.

Mature giant cloud rats weigh between 1.5 to 2.6 kilograms and can reach lengths of up to 2 and a half feet (tail included). Like most rodents, the giant cloud rat is nocturnal. This species hasn't been deeply studied so very little is known about their eating and breeding habits in the wild. 

Equipped with long claws and large back feet, the giant cloud rat is well-suited to living up in the trees. They primarily spend their time up in the trees but they also occasionally go down to the forest floor to either look for food or a place to give birth to their young.

In 2008, a research team from the Field Museum in Chicago conducted a biological survey in Mt. Pulag. Led by Dr. Lawrence Heaney, the team was able to catch and take pictures of a giant cloud up in Mt. Pulag.

The giant cloud rat has been seen in at least 12 provinces in Luzon. In fact, they are often hunted for food by people living in the Sierra Madre. Because the species is still quite common in the wild, they are not considered endangered nor threatened. 


Mike Peel (Creative Commons)