Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fools!

I feel obligated to come up with some kind of April Fools post, but I've been feeling a lack of creativity lately. (Hence, the lack of posts over the last week.) Also, I'm tired.

So perhaps that will be my joke--you all thought I was going to post something great (well, I hope you think it's great) about April Fools and come up with some kind of amazing joke, but the truth is, I'm just going to treat it like any other day. After all, every day is possible to play a practical joke on someone, not just April 1.

But in the spirit of things, I am going to post my favorite prank. Christopher Walken and Dana Carvey are rather fantastic.

Now get out there and play some pranks on people! And remember, no one likes a Stiffly Stifferson.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hunger games: True to story, but still hungered for more

To be honest, the extreme amount of hype surrounding the release of The Hunger Games kind of pissed me off. I got the impression that people (including the media) were trying to turn it into the next Twilight craze, and while I enjoyed the books I wanted absolutely no part of sure-to-exist creations "Team Peeta" or "Team Gale." And I was afraid all the frenzy surrounding the franchise would take away from my own experience. So I was a little reluctant to see the movie yesterday, but I also kept my expectations low.

Thankfully, I wasn't terribly disappointed. Of course, it's to be expected that any movie will not follow the book it's adapted from exactly, even if that book happens to be written like a TV script. (Author Suzanne Collins apparently was a television writer. Who knew?) But the movie did a pretty good job of sticking with the story and trying to include as much detail about the novel and character interactions as possible. I did find that the movie ran incredibly long, and they could've used some of the people they had on screen more effectively. But more on that later.

Anyway, that being said, there was quite a bit lost in translation. And quite frankly, given the book's writing style I had kind of thought that impossible. I didn't feel as invested in Katniss' story as I was while reading the books.

Let me go back for a minute: For those of you who haven't read The Hunger Games, (pretty much anyone over the age of 25, although with everything being Hunger Games-themed I'm sure that audience is dwindling) it's a young-adult trilogy of Katniss Everdeen, a girl living in a post-apocalyptic world called Panem, where residents of the outlying districts are forced to send two tributes, one boy and one girl, to a gladiator-type contest broadcast on national television called The Hunger Games, where they kill each other off until only one tribute remains. Oh, and the tributes must be between the ages of 12 and 18, so they're basically children. Katniss volunteers to be a tribute to save her sister, Prim, so she is sent off with her male counterpart, Peeta, to train and fight to the death in an arena. What Katniss doesn't realize is that her actions will set off a string of events that threaten to unravel the life she's always known.

Anyway, I liked the books. But that's it. I didn't think they were anything spectacular, and the writing style lacked the vigor and imagination I was hoping for. But the storyline was extremely compelling, and quite interesting. After all, how many novels are about children killing each other in arenas? The writing is from Katniss' point of view, so I had a great time imagining the arena and various characters, even if her inner monologues got tiring.

The movie did not live up to that imagination. There was more that could have been done with the characters of Cinna and Haymitch, and less with President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland, a choice I was originally not happy about but have since come to terms with.) Lenny Kravitz did a nice job as Cinna, but it was hard to really gauge his ability because he spent so little time on screen. And Woody Harrelson as Haymitch also did a good job, but again, he could've played a bigger role.

That being said, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss and Josh Hutchinson as Peeta were excellent and got just the right amount of screen time. I particularly enjoyed Hutchinson as Peeta, and while I didn't have a specific description in mind when I was reading the books, I thought the movie adaptation was perfect.

Spoiler alert: This would be so much happier if all of the characters except the last three
on the right didn't die. Photo from Vanity Fair.

So, is this a family-friendly flick? The series is for pre-teens or teens, but I wouldn't really take my children to it. Not that it stopped anyone from leaving their 10-year-olds by themselves in the theatre. Unfortunately, this seems to be the way of the world now, and while I could go on and on about the moral decline of parenthood, I'll just say that I honestly don't think children under the age of 14 would be able to fully understand what's going on in the books and the movie(s). The undercurrents of war and politics can make for some raw emotions, and unless your junior is a boy/girl genius and/or has actually suffered the effects of war, it's hard to imagine him or her fully grasping the meaning of such a state.

Finally, my last issue with the movie was the literal headache it gave me. The camerawork seriously leaves something to be desired. I did not need to see so many different shots zooming in and out all over the place during the first minute of the movie. And the first-person camera effect (think Blair Witch Project) was completely distracting and made me nauseous. Thankfully, it was only used in one scene--perhaps the director, Gary Ross, realized it was in bad taste. The number of close shots was also overdone, perhaps in an attempt to literally draw the audience into the characters' various facial features (or flaws, if you look carefully enough and are feeling particularly judgmental) but it got very tiring after a while. So be warned.

Overall, I did enjoy the movie. I would recommend it to anyone who has read the books because it does a good job of staying true to them (I think it helps when the author is also a screenwriter for the movie), and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the series. I'd still say to read the books first to get a better idea of the world of Panem, but for someone who really wants to hop on the Hunger Games bandwagon, it's perfectly acceptable to see the movie and then read the books. Just don't do it around your children, unless you want to give them the stuff of nightmares.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Baby names for the traditional and eccentric

Surfing around Yahoo, I found a little gem on baby names. I'm not in the market for baby names, but I like name origin and that kind of thing, and this article happened to be the top 10 illegal baby names from around the world--a little twist.

I won't list all of them here, but a couple of my favorites are Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced "Albin" --don't ask me how or why) from Sweden, and Chow Tow from Malaysia. Perhaps my very favorite though, is from a comment by someone about a mom who sadly tried to name her twins Fish and Chips.

[sic] ridiculous, Fish and Chip would be great names for twins, especially if they were NBA players...'Fish Jones brings it down court... ally oop to Chip Jones, bam, Fish and Chip fry'em again...' --Glenn
Thank you, Glenn for providing some amusement at the expense of those twins.  Not too much though, the name was blocked by a judge.

Personally I stick with traditional names. Call me boring and old-fashioned, but I like a name that most people won't make fun of. Children do enough damage teasing their classmates without needing to add "your name's like fruit!" (I'm thinking of you, Apple Paltrow-Martin.) Sometimes the name speaks for itself, as in the case of New Zealand's rejected name Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii. I mean seriously, give it a rest. There are better ways to give your child that uniqueness you never had than by christening them with a name they'll never live down.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day, the other half of the drinking holiday

Did you know that there's more to St. Patrick's Day than getting completely wasted on green beer and wearing green? Here's a brief history of the most Irish of days, from and the Huffington Post:

  • The Irish have been celebrating the holiday, which honors the patron saint of Ireland, for 1,000 years.
  • The first St. Patrick's Day parade was not held in Ireland, but in the U.S. in 1762. (This comes only as a mild surprise to me since so many Irish immigrated to the U.S.) According to, Irish soldiers serving in the English army marched through the streets of New York in order to connect with their Irish roots.
  • Chicago's famous dyeing of its river green allegedly came from Savannah, Georgia.
  • Contrary to popular belief that Irish are raging drunks on St. Patrick's Day, Irish law mandated until the 1970s that all pubs be closed, because the holiday was celebrated as a religious one.
  • 26.1 billion pounds of delicious corned beef and cabbage were consumed for St. Patrick's Day in 2009.

Also, you don't have to wear green. There is the option to wear orange, as well. Because St. Patrick's Day is a Catholic holiday (celebrating a saint) and Catholics are represented by green on the Irish flag, it's the more popular color. Orange represents the Protestant sect. However, Protestants don't celebrate saints days.

There is also a legend that if you wear green you will be invisible to leprechauns, who will pinch you if you don't. Now we know where the obnoxious people who go around looking for people to pinch come from.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A thank-you letter can say more than it implies

This was recently picked up by Boing Boing, but I saw it beforehand on Twitter (finally, I feel like I have the inside scoop!). A local weatherman visits a classroom to talk about meteorology and weather stuff, and this kid writes him a thank-you letter.

Here's the photo of the letter. I couldn't help but notice that he wrote it on the back side of the page, with the holes on the right side. That always used to bother me as a kid, and actually still does a little today. But, he's a kid, so he can be forgiven.
The smiley face at the end is a nice touch.
Honestly, this kid is going to be like the guy in the Coke Zero commercials who adds "And?" to everything. A 200-story castle and unicorn servants...who happen to ride gold-encrusted Harleys AND throwing out presents of peppermint candy filled with world peace? Right up his alley. I eagerly await the day he becomes a weatherman.

This drawing is better than anything I can do now.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bullying lessons to be learned from the Awl

I haven't read too many articles on The Awl, simply because I find the vocabulary to be rather fanciful and the overall tone a little snooty for my taste, but this was a very interesting article about bullying--always the hot topic. I perked up a bit because I took the headline ("How to Bully Children") a little to literally and thought it might give me a handy guide for making small, rude, annoying children go away. Alas, it was not meant to be. But reading into the article, I still discovered some interesting points.

I wasn't exactly bullied in school, but there was a girl in elementary school who liked to single me out for whatever reason. But it wasn't all that terrible because I had friends, even if they were also friends with this girl. And I had a friend who was bullied terribly, for reasons I never really understood why. (She turned out okay though, since she's now a model. Literally.)

It's probably because I finished elementary school (and in fact, high school and most of college) before bullying became "cool" in the sense that it was THE thing to talk about, but I never received anti-bullying classes. We had "conflict management" where we learned to sort out our differences with classmates by telling them how we felt using the "I" statements. That was enough for me, because the one thing I learned to do with my elementary tormentor was to leave her alone and avoid her as much as possible. It was pretty much pointless to tell her to stop bothering me, because I knew she wouldn't--she had too many friends who were my friends, and she simply didn't like me. And in a closed environment like an elementary school, it's not like you can get lost in the crowd.

So that's why I found the Awl's article about a writer observing a classroom being "taught" (I'll explain the quotes later) how to stand up to bullies completely ridiculous. Don't get me wrong, the article itself wasn't a problem, it was the nature of the subject. And the author knew it.

If you didn't read the article, it's a first-person account of the author tagging along with a couple friends as they visit a classroom to talk about bullying. The friends go through some steps and role playing where they pretend to be bullied and then deal with the situation in a positive way. Then they have the kids practice on each other. The writing got on my nerves a little bit with all the "likes" the author put in in an attempt to sound real, but that's beside the point.

Here's a little excerpt of the idea:

“Now we’re going to do role playing,” Linda says as she hands out little slips of paper. “One of you is the one being bullied, one of you is a coach they go to for help. The slips of paper let you know what you’re being bullied about.”
I visit Caroline and her seatmate. His name is Andrew. He looks like a nice solid person, and he has dark eyes and a great smile. If he were 45, I would probably try to go out with him and the fact that I don’t mention this to him is what I believe is often referred to as personal growth.
Andrew unfolds the slip of paper in his hands and reads it to Caroline: “You’re too short to play kickball.”
Caroline looks at me. “I don’t know what do say because I’m not short.”
“Ok,” I say. “That seems reasonable.” I don’t understand this either.
“I’m not short,” she tells him.
“You’re not supposed to say that,” Andrew tells her. “You’re supposed to say, ‘Stop bullying me,’ and walk away.”
“Stop bullying me,” Caroline says, and, not getting up from her chair, pantomimes a walk. She smiles shyly into her hand. “I just pretended to ‘walk away.’”
“Are we done?” Andrew asks me, and because I know he will actually take my word for it, I tell him yes and good job.
And when the author asks the kids if they'd ever be bullied in real life, this is their response:

“Does anyone ever bully you?” I ask Caroline.
“Not really,” she says. “I am just not that nerdy of a kid.”
“What about you?” I ask Andrew.
“No. I'm too big.”
“What would you do if someone did?”
“I don’t know,” Caroline says, “Because they wouldn’t.” Andrew seems to be trying to imagine being bullied and failing. He shakes his head and shrugs.
“What would you say to someone who said you can’t play kickball?”
Caroline says, “I’d just say, ‘Shut up, I’m playing.’”
Andrew nods. “Yeah. And it would never happen.”
“Would you ever say to anyone, ever, ‘stop bullying me’?”
They look at each other. Andrew says no, he wouldn't. Caroline adds, “You’d sound really stupid.” 
 That seems to be the problem right there. It's stupid, and everyone knows it. All of the ideas around stopping bullying by bringing awareness to the issue and saying "stop bullying me" simply do not work. I don't understand where the adults who decided to use this tactic got the idea from, because they clearly must have forgotten childhood. I am sure there are some children who would be shocked into silence by such brazen action, but I would be willing to bet the majority would not. And that's based on my extremely limited interaction with schoolchildren, but I remember elementary school fairly well. And I won't even get into middle or high school.

This isn't to say that I think talking about bullying or dealing with it is a waste of time. It certainly is not. I can well remember my own hurt over the teasing I got in elementary school, and I'd classify that as fluff bullying, if such a thing exists. I know there can be real pain caused by the words and actions of others. And if there isn't a support system to help those people in the form of peers, parents and teachers, there's a real problem.

I think that's the most important issue--getting kids to stand up for their peers. It's hard for adults to understand sometimes that they can't always step in and save the day--it just causes more teasing because then the person being bullied is labeled a teacher's pet or worse. Kids need to see what is happening to their friends and report it, if it's a serious situation (ie violence) and comfort the person being victimized. Maybe include them in their game of soccer or four square. Something to make the victim NOT feel as if they're a loser, rather than standing by the sidelines and assuming it's going to go away. If bullies see that their victims are being included in the classroom, then they'll be the ones ostracized and might actually shut up.

Not to brag, but I stood up for my friend and made sure I still talked to her in class and hung out with her after school--which we did,  A LOT. And it was my parents who taught me to always be nice to others, even if everyone else in class picks on them and I wanted to be "cool" by not associating with said victim. And it didn't kill me! Not all my friends liked this particular girl (rather obvious I guess if no one wanted to hang out with her except me) so I made sure to arrange play dates that didn't involve conflicts of interest, if I could. And if I couldn't it's because it was my birthday and I didn't care.

The point is, there are other ways to stand up to bullies besides telling them "It's not cool to bully me" and walking away. I don't think kids are going to stand there in shock and miraculously leave their victims alone, and I'd hardly expect them to. You just sound stupid.

I could go on and on about this, but I won't. I won't even mention my reaction to learning that the kids in class didn't even discuss the insults (or put-downs, as the anti-bullying instructors called them) they were supposed to write down from the TV shows they watched, as mentioned at the beginning of the article. (It's weakness and stupidity, I think. If you're trying to prove that our culture is endorsing bullying by example of all the different TV shows people are insulted and cowed into submission on, you can't very well say "Oh yes, they exist, ok, let's move on!" and expect there to be change. It won't happen.) If you want to have a change in the bullying culture, it's not going to come from people politely asking you to leave them alone. It comes from having the confidence to stand up for yourself and having the support of your peers and school community to help you get that confidence.

It's OK to be Takei

We all know and love George Takei for his Star Trek days, his campaigns for gay rights, his Facebook photo postings and his hilarious videos. At least, I hope we all at least know of, and hopefully like, George Takei and all that he does. Since he's been such a news staple lately, I've decide to compile some of my five favorite George Takei moments, in no particular order.

1. He turns "Don't say 'gay' into "Say 'Takei.'" Because it's okay to be Takei.

2. A continuation of his discussion with Tennessee lawmakers, but this time he compares them to Dorothy's friends in the Wizard of Oz. And his mention of the movie Twilight being "so Takei" is hilarious.

3. His happy dance. It's so happy!

4. The photos he posts on Facebook. These are just samples.

It's true. Daylight savings sucks.

5. He was on Murder, She Wrote! Granted, the episode was a little racist when he played a janitor who spoke broken English. But you could get away with a lot more during the 80s.
He's a crazy trash-obsessed janitor who helps solve the case!