Earth Hour

Friday, December 31, 2021

Last Sunset of 2021

 It has become a personal tradition to go out and watch the sun go down the horizon for the last time in the current year. The practice evokes a bit of melancholy as memories come back while watching the light of the setting sun fade out. This year will not be different. I plan to go out later today as the tints of the skies turn to orange, then to purple, and then deep blue.

This year, there will be a lot of sadder memories; however, as I lost a few friends and have some that continue to suffer from COVID-19. As the COVID-19 continues, it continues to disrupt our daily lives.    Christmas celebrations were still limited to the closest family members, and I won’t be surprised if New Year’s revelries will also be less festive. Many of my friends and relatives don’t see the end of all of these in the near future. Just when people started to go out from the almost 2-year quarantine period, the number of new cases also climbed. While the government reported that many of the new cases had not received the vaccine, I also know some fully vaccinated friends who recently got infected.

I don’t know if it has something to do with the increase in the number of infections, but I noticed that some people who go out seemed to have forgotten to observe the recommended health protocols. People do not practice social distancing in malls, and they bring their small children and elderly relatives to dine in these establishments. I am apprehensive about eating outside because I would have to remove my face mask and possibly expose myself to the virus.

As I watch the sunset later today, I wish it will bring all our worries about this coronavirus with it. Tomorrow’s sunrise hopefully brings a better year ahead, free from the ongoing health emergency concerns.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

My 2021 Christmas Playlist to Make the Season Bright

Christmas is just days away, and what better way to get into the holiday spirit than playing and listening to yuletide music.  Music is very much part of our celebrations in my country.  Pre-pandemic, radio stations and stores would start playing carols as early as September. 

However, the pandemic seemed to have put a damper on Christmas since last year. We didn't get to hear much music on the radio or in other places last year.  Even this year, we only started hearing the tunes in late November.  Anyway, it's not too late to clean our vinyl collection and start spinning and listening to our favorite records.


While I already have several Christmas records in my collection, I also bought some new ones this year.  These records will comprise my playlist this holiday season.  By the way, this article isn't a review but a list of vinyl records on rotation on my turntable this year.  The list is also not in order of my preference.

Frank Sinatra

One of my newly bought albums, Ultimate Christmas, has become a favorite. This record is a compilation of 20-holiday classics from the Chairman of the Board.  This album is like listening through Sinatra's long career and life.  

From a debonaire crooner in the 50s to a father singing the 12 days of Christmas with his children, and on the last side of this double-LP set, Sinatra becomes the grandfather wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

Mariah Carey

Since its release in the early 90s, this album has become a Christmas staple that Mariah crowned herself the "Queen of Christmas."  Thanks, of course, to the worldwide mega-hit "All I Want for Christmas is You."  This record gets a spot on my playlist because Mariah included her interpretation of several traditional tunes focusing on the real reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ, including Silent Night, O Holy Night, and the gospel-tinged Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child.

If you're spending Christmas heartbroken, skip "Miss You Most (At Christmas time) unless you want to wallow in tears while we celebrate.

Andre Kostelanetz

This album puts "merry" in Merry Christmas to the next level.  It's fun to listen to this all-instrumental album while wrapping Christmas gifts or just waiting for Christmas to come.  It has a great selection of traditional carols and contemporary music for the season, some presented in medleys.  

Since it puts the listener in a really festive mood, I should issue this warning.  Don't put this record on or stream it on your phone while shopping for gifts.  You might get caught up in the fun and spend more than you planned to.

Ray Conniff Singers

What's Christmas without the Ray Conniff singers singing holiday songs with enthusiasm in the background?  At any time of the day during the season, one could hear songs from the album (and from the "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" record) in shopping malls, the bus, a taxi, the MRT, and even in the elevator.  But I am not complaining because these singers have been bringing yuletide cheers during this festive time for generations.  Never mind if many tunes are about things we could never experience in the tropical Philippines (sleigh ride? let it snow and winter wonderland? white Christmas?)

I'm still playing this record just to get me into the festive mood.

Gunter Kallmann Choir

Sometime in the 1980s, we couldn't get hold of a copy of any Ray Conniff Christmas album.  Many record stores offered this album as an alternative, and it took over the job of bringing holiday cheers through music.  I love the selections on this album which include traditional, religious, and contemporary songs. Each track is a medley of two to three songs.  Some tracks begin with a slow song with the choir singing softly, followed by festive music with the chorus singing lively.

The enthusiastic singing of the choir is a plus. Even Scrooge would find it hard to not feel merry and bright.    

Tracey Thorn

I consider this the Christmas album for adults.  Tracey Thorn, the other half of one of my favorite 1980s acts, Everything But The Girl, covered tracks from artists and came up with a very sober holiday album.  There's also a self-penned track (Tinsel and Lights) and "25th  December," originally sung by her husband and partner, Ben Watt, on Amplified Heart.  

I think it's best to listen to this album while resting from all the season's frenzy or after the guests have left and you're sitting at the table having a cuppa.  

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald gives holiday songs a swinging treatment, and the result is simply fabulous.  Although the album does not contain a single traditional or religious carol, Ella's unique rendition of familiar ditties gave them a new level. It made them a joy to listen to. 

I first heard this record at a party hosted by a fellow record collector. It played in the background while the guests were busy chatting and eating.  I thought then that was not the way to treat Ella Fitzgerald.  I now usually put this on my turntable, sit down and listen to it from start to finish.  Given that Ella has one of the sweetest voices ever recorded, I could even listen to it even when it's not Christmas time.

The Jacksons

Here's another Christmas album playing during this season like forever. Not a single track on this record refers to the Nativity, but a not-yet-teenager Michael tells us to "Give Love On Christmas Day."  Like Ella before them, the Jackson 5 gave some old familiar tunes their unique style and the Motown sound.  The result remains funky almost 50 years later.

This album will always be on my playlist because it brings back memories of elementary school Christmas parties and presentations. Each of which usually started with the singing of a medley of traditional carols and capped by, you guessed it, "Give Love On Christmas Day."

Jose Mari Chan

This album must be the ultimate Christmas collection and a must-have on every Filipino's playlist.  Chan, a talented songwriter, and singer came up with what could be THE national Christmas anthem and a required sing-a-long during celebrations.  This song, "Christmas in Our Hearts," is so famous that it has become a meme.  I'm beginning to suspect that parents are passing the tradition of singing it to their children before they could even speak.  Some songs are not as festive as those on the other albums, but they still bring the Christmas Spirit to the listener.  

I usually put this at the end after listening to the more lively and festive albums on this playlist.

This is my Christmas playlist for this year.  If you couldn't find your favorite album here, it means I don't have it yet and couldn't find a copy.  I still have to find some albums we listen to during the Yuletide season in my childhood so expect an update as this list gets longer in the future.

For now, these albums will surely help to make this season bright.  Now time to start spinning them on my turntable.

Note: Album cover photos are from various sites on the Internet.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

World AIDS Day 2021

The theme of World AIDS Day 2021 is “End inequalities. End AIDS”.  With a special focus on reaching people left behind, WHO and its partners highlight the growing inequalities in access to essential HIV services. 

Despite significant progress, the world has made in recent decades, HIV remains a major public health issue that affects millions of people worldwide.  While important global targets for 2020 were not met, COVID-19 exacerbates inequities and disruptions to services,  making the lives of many people living with HIV more challenging.

An estimated 37.7 million people live with HIV at the end of 2020, over two-thirds of whom or 25.4 million are in the WHO African Region.  The same year, 680 000 people died from HIV-related causes, while 1.5 million people acquired HIV.

This year, the World Health Organization calls on global leaders and citizens to rally to confront the inequalities that drive AIDS and reach people who are currently not receiving essential HIV services.  These problems need a renewed effort to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030.  

Source: WHO World AIDS Day 2021

Saturday, June 12, 2021

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

It took me some time to finish this book because it's hard to read. Not because it was badly written, but because reading about what the three sisters in this story went through for years is not for the faint-hearted or squeamish. While I like reading and watching true crime stories, I had to put down the book several times because the details were just too much.  

If You Tell chronicles, the abuse three sisters had to endure while living with their sadistic mother.  The mother, Michelle "Shelly" Knotek, is someone who could go  "zero to sixty, from calm to rage, in less than five seconds."  She subjected her daughters Nikki, Sami, and Tori to all kinds of abuse, torture, and degradation. Such acts of sadism extended to relatives and friends, which eventually led to murder and her incarceration.  As manipulative as she was, she even convinced one of her daughters to participate in one of her crimes.

Gregg Olsen described the events in a raw, graphic, and sometimes sordid way.  He interspersed the recollection of people who knew Sherry, including her stepmother, her daughters, and her ex-partner. You'd be forgiven to think that the book is fiction, but it's not. It all happened. What happened to the sisters was so horrific that normal everyday objects would trigger memories of their fears and anguish. He also underscored that despite the horrific events,  the sisters remained resilient and how, through the strength of the bond between them, they became empowered to end their mother's reign of terror.  To this day, they remained in contact with each other.

I just wonder how such terrible acts could happen, and nobody could even notice it.  Especially that these events happened in a small, rural town in Washington where everybody supposedly knew each other. Of course, nobody could blame the sisters because years of manipulation and mental abuse would make them submissive to their mother.  In fact, the police and other authorities did not act when the sisters reported to them earlier and acted only after someone has died.

While the narrative is simple, the details became repetitive in several parts and did not contribute to the story anymore.  Olsen also did not completely tell what drove the mother to such heinous acts.  Was she born evil? Was her troubled past responsible for the behavior her stepmother already noticed when she was still very young?  Clearly, the book was not to psychoanalyze Shelly or her victims.  However, these are unanswered questions that should have been addressed to better understand how this monster came to be. 

If You Tell: 
A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood
Gregg Olsen
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer 
Publication date: December 1, 2019
Kindle Edition (File size: ‎ 4464 KB)


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy, Myths and Misinformation

Earlier this year, we asked our colleagues whether they would get vaccinated against COVID-19.  Almost 7 out of 10 said that they would get the vaccine once it becomes available. The remaining three were either unsure or will definitely not get vaccinated.  

Unfortunately, our survey results are better than those conducted by private agencies with respondents across the country.  One survey showed that 61% of their subjects would say no to the vaccines, another 23% were uncertain, and only 16% were willing to get inoculated if the vaccines were available at the time of the survey.  The other study had better results, with 32% of their informants willing to receive the vaccine, while 35% were uncertain, and 33% were unwilling. 

Image from

Not surprisingly, the reasons given by those unwilling and uncertain participants of our survey were almost the same as those of the other surveys. Both sets of respondents were worried about the safety of the vaccines that they might get sick of COVID-19, and the vaccine would not help them.  

It does not help that so much information, both right and wrong is readily available on social media and other online sites.  Health experts are worried about the amount of misinformation that they even called an "infodemic."

image from

Much of the misinformation focus on the vaccine's safety.  Most people are concerned that the laboratories rushed the development of the vaccine and that they did not go through all the required steps.  Authorities with John Hopkins Medicine assure that the developers of the COVID-19 vaccines did not rush on testing for safety and efficacy, and they used processes that have been developed and tested over many years.  These procedures are really to develop — and thoroughly test — vaccines quickly in an infectious disease pandemic like COVID-19.

My favorite myth is that the vaccine carries a microchip that can detect and track the recipient.  When switched on, the chip could alter the person's DNA and turn him into a zombie.  Well, sorry, but no, the vaccine will not turn anybody into a zombie.  WHO explains that the mRNA used in some vaccines only has instructions to produce a protein, and then our natural immune system responds to it.  The mRNA can't turn into DNA, nor can it change the DNA of human cells.  That means there won't be any zombie apocalypse because of the vaccine.

image from

You will not get COVID-19 from the vaccines since they do not contain live coronavirus. John Hopkins Medicine further explains that you might experience a sore arm after the shots, a mild fever, or body aches, but this doesn’t mean you have COVID-19. These symptoms are temporary, usually lasting only a day or two if you get them. These are signals of a natural response as our body’s immune system learns to recognize and fight the coronavirus.

The other fallacies that continue to circulate are the vaccine could cause infertility among women, and that those who had previous COVID-19 infections do not need to get vaccinated.

Of course, the vaccines themselves will not put an end to the pandemic.  We must all go out and get our shots.  Doing so will not only protect us but also our loved ones and our community as a whole.  Even when we get our vaccines, the Department of Health advises that we continue observing the minimum health standards, such as frequently washing our hands, wearing face masks, and going outside our homes only when necessary.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

You Can Now Hide Post Like Counts on Your Instagram Feed

Instagram has just announced that it is giving its users the option to hide like counts of posts on feeds they follow.  The decision came after testing the feature since 2019.

Instagram also allows us, its users, to choose whether we want to see the Like counts on others’ posts. You will also be able to turn off Like counts on your own posts if you want to.

According to the news online, the company wants to make their users' experience more pleasant, without the pressure that "Likes" and similar reactions usually cause. 

In a blog post, Instagram and Facebook admit that people have different views on like counts - some are bothered by them, while others use the count to know what is trending and popular online.  That is why they give their users a choice.  The company hopes that this option will allow us to focus more on our photos and content from other users.  

You can hide like counts on others’ posts through the new Posts section in Settings. This control applies to all the posts in your feed.  You can also hide like counts before sharing a post and turn it on or off anytime.  These controls will also come to Facebook "in the weeks to come."

I don't really mind how many likes or reactions my posts on Instagram and Facebook receive. I'm just happy posting and sharing my photos and activities.  But some people I know actually ask their friends to like their posts! I think it gives them fulfillment to see the little red hearts on their posts. 

The downside to this is it could lead to issues with one's self-esteem.  A friend once told me that one of her kids felt sad when their vacation photos didn't get many likes.

For some, however, they capitalize on these metrics to gain popularity and monetize their activities.  It really boils down to individual preferences and purpose. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Animal, Vegetable, Junk: An Account of Man's Relationship with Food

This book takes a long look at how we have transformed the way we get and consume our food.  Bittman -- a bestselling cookbook author, journalist, and food writer--  gives a comprehensive account of how man obtains his food, from hunter-gatherers to early agriculture and industrial farming.  He argues that the food we eat now is not the same as what our early ancestors ate.  He noted that deceptive marketing techniques made us unhealthy through the years.  How we presently produce our food is also not sustainable and harms us and the environment than good.

Bittman also touched on the politics of American agriculture.  He cited how its expansion excluded black Americans from some government programs and how current practices continue to disadvantage certain groups.  His most damning arguments include how the US Department of Agriculture continues to favor big companies and disregard the people’s and the environment’s welfare.  

Despite painting a bleak scenario for the agriculture industry, Bittman says that a systemic overhaul of the sector could still save it.  He offers an ecological solution he calls "agroecology.” However, he admits that there would be resistance, especially from those in power.  

Most parts of this book sound like a scathing criticism of modern agriculture and American politics by an outraged man. To be fair, Bittman did a lot of work and research to cover not only agriculture and food production but also the underlying socio-political issues. The effort shows in the number of references he cited and the pages dedicated to his endnotes. However, he started proselytizing his ideas in the final chapters and sounded like a propagandist for veganism and social organizations. 

A History of Food, From Sustainable to Suicidal
By Mark Bittman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Kindle Edition (4087 KB)
Published on February 2, 2021