Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tom Hanks and Community Colleges, Part 2

Actor Tom Hanks wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled, I Owe It All to Community Colleges.” It caused a stir among community college students. They compared their experiences to that of the actor’s and reflected on areas where their colleges fell short and ways to overcome those deficiencies. This is the final part 2 of the article. You can read part 1 here.

Much like Tom Hanks, Tyrone couldn't afford to pay tuition at a 4-year university. “In high school I missed out on an opportunity to earn a full scholarship to continue playing sports and further my education. Community college was the best option for me for a variety of reasons. I was accepted into CSULA and CSUNY, but wasn't ready to stop playing basketball, a game I loved. I carefully weighed all of my options and decided to attend San Jose City College (SJCC). Along with a good education, SJCC also offered an excellent basketball program, funneling athletes to big-time programs for sports. I was determined to accomplish my goals, although frustration set in during the freshman year. I didn't think I was going to accomplish my goals. But I stayed humble and refused to let doubt set in. I finished my freshman year with a high GPA. I will be receiving my AA-T in communications, graduating, and transferring to a 4-year university as a student-athlete. My experience at SJCC has been amazing! I haven't had a single teacher who didn’t want the best for me and for my fellow classmates. All my teachers not only taught me subjects but also how to live a meaningful life.”

Image result for Tom Hanks Chabot College community college Larry Crowne

Lisette believes that by attending a community college, she has fared better than her school mates who moved to 4-year institutions right after high school. “They constantly complain of noise and round-the-clock parties in their dorms. On average, freshman change their majors four times, wasting time and money. I have faced no such distractions at my community college. There is no time to waste. I am taking classes that will help me transfer to a 4-year institution. As Tom Hanks said, taking general ed classes give students an idea of courses they may like or dislike. After my first semester at SJCC, I realized I enjoy business and a bit of law. Taking these classes has given me insight into my purpose in life.” One area in which SJCC is lacking is in counseling. “To begin with, it is almost impossible to make an appointment with a counselor at a time that is convenient for the student, let alone a specific counselor the student desires to see. And when an appointment is scheduled, they are doled out in 30-minute slots. Every time I see a counselor, the appointment is rushed. At times it feels as though the counselors do not take the student seriously. I would like all the counselors to be evaluated on their performances, based on student feedback.  Those who score highly should continue; the rest should be terminated.”

This Fall 2015 semester is the last at SJCC for Naomi. “I am sad to be leaving, but also excited to be moving on to a state university. I loved attending City College, the same college my sister attended!” She is grateful that her parents encouraged her to attend SJCC. She started at SJCC as a junior in high school in the Fall of 2012. She took an American Sign Language class for two consecutive semesters. The following year, her senior year, she was able to attend SJCC full time because she had taken the California High School Proficiency Exam. That meant she was able to complete her senior year of high school and her freshman year of college at the same time. “This allowed me to jump a year ahead of most people my age, which thrilled me. This could not have happened had I not gone to a community college. Community college is also where I met my boyfriend in a history class! Additionally, I have had the opportunity to take some really interesting classes as well as some fun PE classes. I met some awesome people, and connected with some really great teachers. Tom Hanks says of the community college that he attended: ‘That place made me what I am today.’ I completely agree. I have learned valuable lessons and life skills from my psychology classes. I am also sure I will see more benefits, although it may be later in my life.”

Regarding improving SJCC, Naomi thinks that adding more sections of interesting and elective classes, as well as a wider selection of classes, would be a start. “That will give students a more well-rounded education, beyond just the required GE classes. When I register for classes each semester, I see a lot of classes that look very interesting, but often there is only one or two sections of that class and they are at a time that does not work into my schedule. This is true for many students. If there were more sections of these classes, and if they were promoted better, classes would fill up and more students could get a broader education. This can become a reality if full-time teachers at SJCC consider teaching some new classes. If there is a wider selection of classes, then there is more opportunity for students to try new subjects, have more job opportunities, and make SJCC a more appealing school.”

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Feminism and Far From the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature for almost twenty years in a row in the early 1900s but like Tolstoy, he never won it. Yet his novels continue to be read and made into movies, while those honored by the Swedish Academy during that period remain mostly unknown. (Rabindranath Tagore, the 1913 laureate, is an exception.) Can anyone name a book by the Spanish writer Jacinto Bonavente, winner in 1922 when Hardy was also a nominee?


The movie version of Far From the Madding Crowd playing in theaters now offers a hint to Hardy’s relevance. Written in 1874, the novel is about an audacious, free-thinking young woman named Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), an anomaly in her time who tells her shepherd suitor Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), “I don’t want to be another man’s property.” This is her response to Gabriel after he tries to win her over with, “I have 100 acres and 200 sheep.”
Land and sheep were the quintessential symbols of affluence in 19th-century England but they made no impression on a feminist determined to chart her own course.
How inspired would people around the world be if an Afghan woman could use the same words to a proposal by a wealthy landlord in 21st-century Afghanistan!

This is the second time Far From the Madding Crowd is getting the cinematic treatment. The first was in 1967, directed by John Schlesinger and featuring Julie Christie, Terrence Stamp and Alan Bates. Christie’s Bathsheba was more fiery and temperamental although the movie was slower-paced, but Mulligan’s is closer to the book, no less fiery but tempered by a touch of the vulnerable and the tragic.

When penniless Bathsheba inherits a farm from her deceased uncle, she becomes wealthy and free from the daily grinds of earning a living. Gabriel, on the other hand, loses his sheep after a catastrophe hits his farm and ends up as the manager of Bathsheba’s estate. He still nurtures his love for her but Bathsheba is indifferent. “I am too independent for you,” she informs him. All commerce and purpose, she is determined to take her inherited fortune to the next level, and declares to her farm hands, “It is my intention to astonish you all.”

Dependable Gabriel throws himself into his work, grazing sheep, growing grain and keeping the farm not merely solvent but profitable. (Schoenaerts’s brooding Gabriel reminds one of Alain Delon and Steve McQueen but it will require years of honing before he reaches their level.)
Bathsheba is in control of her destiny, or so she thinks. As she gallops across the plains of Wessex on her horse, she evokes the image of her kindred spirit, Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, separated by a mere half century. From Wessex in England to Tara in Georgia is but a single leap of imagination.

A Valentine’s Day prank Bathsheba plays on her wealthy neighbor reduces the proud William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) into a whining lover. “I can offer you shelter and comfort,” he tells her but Bathsheba is both candid and ruthless in her response: “I have no need for a husband.” “You have to admire my persistence,” Boldwood insists. “If you will marry me out of guilt and pity … I don’t mind!”
Lovelorn Boldwood is losing his senses. “I seem to cry a lot these days, someone who has never cried before!” he laments.

Something unexpected has to happen.

Enter Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a vain and shallow Sergeant whose scarlet uniform is as revealing of his superficiality as his lust for gambling and pleasure. (It is easy to dislike Sturridge the moment he shows up in the story. Whether it is due to good acting or bad is difficult to tell.)
Bathsheba melts as he tells her she is the most beautiful woman he ever saw, raising that ancient question: Why do bright and beautiful women fall for rogues and lowlifes? Hardy is suggesting perhaps that virtue is inevitably drawn to vice, as moth to flame.

Gabriel warns Bathsheba. Troy is not worthy of you. He will ruin you. It will be a terrible mistake if you marry him.

But that tryst with the sergeant in the fern-filled woods and his passionate kiss has turned Bathsheba irrational.

Disillusionment comes soon after the hasty marriage. Troy gambles most of Bathsheba’s money away. He has become used to her charms and is bored. One day he finds his former love begging at a village fair. He was set to marry her but the wedding came asunder when Fanny Robin ended up at the wrong church on the day of the wedding. (Make a mistake in finding your church and your life falls apart? Surely a weakness in the plot.)
Troy deserts Bathsheba.

Gabriel nurses his sorrow in silence even as he occasionally smolders but Boldwood is devastated by Bathsheba’s impetuous, reckless decisions.

The moment of truth arrives for Bathsheba when Gabriel saves the farm almost single-handedly before a storm can destroy it. As the scales fall from her eyes, she begins
to understand the value of loyalty and the meaning of love.

When Troy suddenly reappears in Bathsheba’s life, Boldwood takes the law into his hand and does what he must to save the woman for whose love he is willing to sacrifice everything.

Bathsheba is a changed woman by now, battered by a love rectangle created by forces beyond her control. She has seen too much and suffered too much, yet she knows this:
She will not let the man whose love for her never wavered leave for distant shores. She is determined to redeem herself.

And so she does.

Director Thomas Vinterberg has done a fine enough job with his cast but his best claim to fame may lie in the guts he has shown in bringing a 19th-century classic yet again to the screen, knowing full-well it will never be a blockbuster. It is worth retelling a great story, the Director seems to be telling the Hollywood hit-hunters, even if the box office returns merely cover the expenses. For this principled stand, he deserves our thanks.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

A Man With No Plan - Manny Pacquiao!

The oft-repeated saying in boxing is that a boxer has a plan … until he gets hit. That’s why it was so disappointing to see Manny Pacquiao abandon any semblance of a plan that could secure him a win against the wily Floyd Mayweather, even though he was not hit.

Where was the dynamo who was supposed to swarm Mayweather with punches too rapid for the eye to see? Manny is no Ali but the huge disparity in the sheer number of punches thrown and connected by Mayweather made this an embarrassing no-contest, no matter what the pundits may say.

Pacquiao is known to throw hundred punches per round. That boxer was nowhere in evidence in tonight’s PPV extravaganza that is expected to generate about a billion dollars in revenue, after every cent is counted.

I saw the fight with a group of Filipino friends (no mystery who I was rooting for!) and a pall of gloom descended after the fourth round – Manny’s best round – when it began to dawn on us that Pacquiao was being outclassed by the unpopular Mayweather, who slipped punches with an ease that was painful for Manny’s fans, both at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and outside.

“I thought I won the fight,” said Manny after the fight. “He’s moving around. It’s not easy to throw punches when he’s moving around so much.”

Really? You didn’t know that, Manny, even though all the boxing fans around the world knew? What about Freddie Roach, your coach?

That’s another thing.

At the corner, Floyd Mayweather, Sr., Mayweather’s coach, was infuriated with his son for his supposed lack of action. That’s what motivates fighters. What are you doing, the dad scolded the son between rounds, disgust and anger written all over his face. This, when Mayweather was clearly ahead on points!

Freddie Roach, on the other hand, seemed hardly engaged with his charge. There was no emotion, no anguish, no sense of a loss looming to inspire a spirited and furious attack by Manny. If the origin plan fell by the wayside for whatever reason, weren’t you supposed to come up with another, Freddie?

If Pacquiao could convincingly carry the last two rounds, rounds 11 and 12, he would still have a chance but Mayweather handily won both, extinguishing any flickering hope his opponent may have harbored.

The highest-grossing fight in history was billed as a fight between good and evil but in the end it came down to a contest between superior skills against merely good skills. Floyd Mayweather will never win any popularity contest, given his record of domestic violence and reckless personal life, but in the ring he proved to be the more nuanced and effective boxer in every department, and for that he deserves recognition as one of the best ever.