Friday, April 23, 2010

Hooked on hatha

At the start of 2010, I drew up a list of "healthy habits" I would try to develop throughout the year. One of them was to exercise more, and surprisingly (I say "surprisingly" because I am notoriously lazy when it comes to most forms of physical activity), I have been fairly successful with this resolution. Not only have I been going on evening walks around our village about twice a week on average, I actually took up yoga! There's a studio a block away from our office, the wonderfully well-run Pulse Yoga, and I have been attending their hatha classes about 2 to 3 times a week since January.

Hatha is a gentler, more basic form of yoga that Pulse recommends for beginners. When I attended the free trial session, I wasn't sure what to expect-- would they make me do a backbend straight off the bat? or stand on my head or something? Turned out some of the asanas (postures) were simple enough that I pulled them off on the first try
(the intimidating-sounding shoulder stand came pretty easily to me, in fact), while the more challenging ones were doable, if with a bit of difficulty. The instructor didn't make me attempt anything I wasn't ready for, and even with my weak knees (which I was concerned about prior to signing up for the class), I could still keep up with the rest of the students. I remember walking out of the studio that day with a sense of accomplishment. Hey, I can do yoga! Of course the following morning I woke up feeling sore and achey all over, but the feeling of satisfaction remained.

As I attend more classes, I'm getting more into yoga, and gradually feeling the benefits: I feel looser and stronger, and my breathing, balance, and posture have improved. I like that the weaker parts of my body (my knees, my upper arms) are getting worked out, and I can do some tougher poses now (2 weeks ago I managed the "plough" for the first time, and when my toes touched the ground I broke into an incredulous, proud grin). Moreover, I like the quiet "me" time I get during each session (I'm not the type to socialize before and after every class). The classes always start and end with a few minutes of silence, with us either lying down in "corpse" pose or sitting cross-legged with our eyes closed. This outer and inner quiet is very much welcome especially after a long day at the office.

I also appreciate that the instructors at Pulse are both encouraging and considerate-- they push you if you can go further, but they also adjust if you're a newbie, nursing an injury, or prone to back problems. They also correct your stances or poses, and constantly remind you to inhale and exhale. Pulse also maintains very clean facilities, and they're even thoughtful enough to put free amenities in the bathroom such as towels, hair ties, cotton buds and squares, and even sanitary napkins.

After using up 2 10-session passes (plus 2 free sessions) and purchasing 3 yoga mat towels from Aquazorb, I'm now about to enroll in Pulse's quarterly package (unlimited sessions for 3 months), which means I'm really committing to the practice of yoga. I never thought I'd one day be enjoying exercise this much, and such a... serene form of exercise too. At least that's one healthy habit I'll be sustaining for some time, and hopefully, getting better at while I'm at it.

Next goal: the "wheel" or backbend!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

When boy meets beast

I hadn't been planning on watching the clunkily-titled How to Train Your Dragon, but I was wheedled into it by a big kid, who also invited one of his (eligible bachelor) friends to join us. To my surprise, I ended up genuinely enjoying the movie... although not so much as my 2 super-awesome companions (who asked me to describe them as such). This supports my theory that grown men are children at heart (adorably and amusingly so), and also proves that How to Train Your Dragon is an animated feature that appeals to all ages.

The movie follows the tried-and-tested formula of an unlikely young hero's journey to self-actualization: Hiccup is a scrawny, clumsy teenage Viking, useless at combat but brilliant at engineering. His father Stoick (voiced by the very macho-- but not as macho as my viewing companions-- Gerard Butler) is the leader of the hardy Viking tribe that inhabits the island of Berk, which is plagued by dragons of every shape and size. Killing a dragon is a rite of passage for all Vikings, but due to his ineptitude on the battlefield, Hiccup is stuck playing apprentice to blacksmith Gobber (the very funny Craig Ferguson). However, when a lucky shot with one of his inventions hits an elusive Night Fury, Hiccup discovers he can't bring himself to kill off the injured beast. What ensues is the typical boy-meets-pet story, and as Hiccup learns more about his new friend (whom he dubs Toothless), he realizes that everything his people have known about dragons is wrong.

I guess what sets How to Train Your Dragon apart is the excellent pacing of the story. As one of my companions pointed out, there wasn't a "slow" moment, the movie moved right along. The development of the bond between Hiccup and Toothless is not too abrupt, and not dragging either. Hiccup's gradual progress in "dragon training" under Gobber is shown in a snappy montage, along with his transformation from village laughingstock to dragon-fighting bad-ass. And even his strained relationship with Stoick is handled well, not too heavy on the father-son drama, but with enough sentimentality to tug on the heartstrings. It helps too that the characters are drawn to be so cute and cuddly (even, and especially, Toothless), so it's easy to sympathize with and care about them. The script is also funny without trying too hard, contributing to the overall entertainment value.

My only beef with this film is the casting. Usually, the voice talents are what I like best about an animated feature, but in How To Train Your Dragon, I found some distracting. First and foremost, Jay Baruchel's voice-- which doesn't have a pleasant timbre to begin with-- seemed too "old" for Hiccup's youthful appearance. Second, Baruchel's voice lacked personality, depriving Hiccup of some personality as well. And third, while Stoick and Gobber had thick Scottish accents (courtesy of Butler and Ferguson), all the younger characters spoke in straightforward American accents, which just did not make sense to a nitpicker like me.

Considering the traumatic scars I still bear from the last dragon movie I saw (blast you, Eragon), How to Train Your Dragon was a refreshing and delightful reminder of better dragon films (anybody remember Dragonheart?), and how the mythological creatures make for good material... and kick-ass pets. I want my own Night Fury!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

For shame

Ateneo and plagiarism. These 2 things I feel very strongly about are at the center of an ongoing controversy, and it's got my (blue) feathers all ruffled. While I was out of the country over Holy Week, I checked my Twitter account and a tweet led me to a blog post by The Professional Heckler mocking the commencement address delivered by prominent Ateneo alumnus and benefactor Manny V. Pangilinan during last week's graduation ceremonies for Ateneo de Manila University's sesquicentennial batch. Apparently, the head honcho of PLDT and Smart Telecom had plagiarized chunks of his speech from pieces penned by US President Barack Obama, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, TV host Oprah Winfrey, and comedian Conan O'Brien.

In an email to ADMU president Fr. Ben Nebres, MVP has apologized and offered to resign from the Ateneo Board of Trustees, which I believe is the only honorable thing he can do under the humiliating circumstances. However, ADMU president Fr. Nebres seems far too forgiving in his response posted on the Ateneo website:
...this does not diminish our admiration and respect for your person and for your care and accomplishments for our country and for the Ateneo. In fact, your acceptance of responsibility and apology command our utmost respect.
I'm sorry Fr. Nebres, but this diminishes my admiration and respect for YOU as a member of the academe and head of one of the foremost universities of our country. I realize MVP is Ateneo's single biggest donor, and the school has benefited a lot from his significant financial contributions, but how can such a blatant act of deception not earn anything but censure from an institution that's supposed to mold the minds and morals of upstanding Catholic citizens?

In the first place, MVP didn't even make the effort to write his own speech-- where's the Magis in that? Sure, one could argue a busy bigshot like MVP can't find the time to scribble down a few lines of oratory, but did he even sit down with his speechwriter to discuss what he wanted to convey to his audience? If so, then what a neat coincidence that all his points had been touched on in previous commencement addresses by such popular figures. The significant amount of plagiarized text tells me that the speechwriter just Googled "graduation speech" and went at it like a buffet, sampling snippets from each piece and piling them onto the clueless MVP's plate.

As the notorious Scourge of Plagiarism, I've spotted far too many examples of patchwork plagiarism not to know and understand how the method works. Whoever wrote-- or I should say assembled-- MVP's speech was lazy, unscrupulous, and obviously had no concept of real authorship. And it's bad enough to rip off other people's work, but to spoonfeed them to an unwitting mouthpiece is just unconscionable.

But back to MVP. People (Ateneans, of course) defending him are saying it doesn't really matter that his speech contained words that aren't his own, what matters is the "message" that MVP wanted to impart to the graduates. But what kind of message is Ateneo imparting to its students exactly? That it's ok to deliver subpar, dishonest content as long as the intent was pure? That it's fine to compromise academic integrity in favor of convenience and accomplishment? That it's alright to pass off someone else's work as your own as long as you're rich and influential and cough up enough money to construct new buildings on campus and subsidize the basketball team?

No wonder kids these days can't grasp why plagiarism is wrong. Not only is it way too easy for them to copy-paste stuff off the Internet, but even the grown-ups are doing it, and getting away with it with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. We are raising a generation who does not comprehend something as basically correct as giving credit where credit is due, young men and women too lazy and complacent to churn out original work, future leaders who will become desensitized to and expert at cheating.

This is why I'm severely disappointed with Fr. Nebres' statement. It ostensibly absolves MVP of all wrongdoing, and makes it sound as if there was no shame in what had happened. As an Atenean, I for one feel very much ashamed that a fellow Blue-blood-- one of our most successful and prolific alumni, no less-- was involved in such a disgraceful incident, and I am outraged at how the good name of my alma mater has been tarnished by it.
And as a former teacher, I lament the poor example and the low standard this sets for academic honesty and intellectual creativity.

I'm willing to give MVP the benefit of the doubt and believe that he had no idea he was reciting stolen lines. I'm willing to accept his apology as sincerely remorseful. And yes, his acceptance of full and sole responsibility for the plagiarized speech is admirable. But to say that this incident has not tainted his reputation and diminished respect for him is to trivialize the gravity of the deed committed, even if it hadn't been committed by him personally.

There is absolutely nothing to respect, much less commend, about the theft of intellectual property.
MVP is acknowledging that by resigning from the Board of Trustees; I say let him. It will deliver the right message, a stronger, better message than the one he had attempted to share in his commencement address.