Friday, April 26, 2013

Movie Review: "The Hunger Games" (2012)

Yes, I realize that it took me a while to read the book and now to finally see the movie.  I have... "issues" with movies based on books because some directors take a bit too much creative license.  For example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy changes so many plot elements that I sometimes felt as though I was watching an entirely different story by the third movie.

But I must admit, "The Hunger Games" surprised me.  While the movie doesn't have all of the knowledge you get in the book by hearing Katniss' thoughts, all of the basic and important scenes, characters, and dialogue made the transition from book to the screen smoothly, leaving me feeling as though the book-verse and movie-verse were in harmony for this particular story.

If you've read other reviews, you know that the acting, special effects, costumes, music, ... are excellent.  But I want to stress that for the length of the movie, I didn't see Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson on the screen - I saw Katniss and Peeta.  I had no idea that Elizabeth Banks played Effie Trinket - I used IMDB to look up who played her because the actress became Effie.  That's how good these actors are.

The movie does perform better than the book in illustrating the dichotomy between the citizens living in the Capitol and the citizens living in the Districts. The citizens of the Capitol applaud the arrival of the Hunger Games every year, either ignorant or indifferent to the suffering of the participants and their districts.  The Districts treat the Hunger Games in one of two ways. Either they train their children to participate, knowing that they only have to win to live a comfortable life. Or they hope that their own children don't get chosen and support the unlucky families whose children do. In the Capitol, the masses possess such abundance of food, and money that they focus on outward appearances, contriving outrageous hairstyle, outfits, and make-up.  Yet friendships, love, and loyalty mean little to them.  But in the Districts, people enjoy friendships, love, and loyalty while struggling to survive on little food or money.

If you are planning on both reading the book and seeing the movie, I suggest that you read the book first.  You will understand more about the situation, and yet you'll still be entertained by the move.

Overall, I give this film 10 stars (**********) out of 10.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Rant: Selfish Mothers

Clipart by Picsburg -
I had a post ready for today that discussing the evolution of answering telephones, but then I heard about this post on Huffington Post, where a mother takes about her 5-year-old's diary.  The title of this post, "What I Found in My 5-Year-Old's Diary", caught my attention because I truly could not imagine what a 5-year-old would write that warranted this level of attention.

Turns out, it's not what the child wrote, it's what the author, and biological maternal parent, did that warrants all kinds of attention.

This female person - because I refuse to call that woman "mother" - listened to her daughter ask for privacy around her diary.  This little girl kept her diary key on a special ring, and even bought a special pen to write with.  No blurring of intentions or mixed up signals - the girl wanted a private space to write down her secrets, her thoughts, and whatever else came to mind.

Pop Quiz:
   You have a 5-year-old daughter who wants to write privately in her diary.  In response, you:
a) respect her privacy and never look in the girl's diary
b) ask her daughter for permission to look in the diary
c) read the diary without asking permission,
    but keep the contents of the diary private
d) read the diary without asking permission, take pictures of some diary pages,
    and post the pages on the Internet
If you answered "d", then you get to join the author of the post in the Parenting Hall of Shame. Because, sadly, that's exactly what this person did.

The article contains the woman's recounting of her daughter desire for privacy, her own insecurities, the violation of her daughter's trust, and then actual photos of pages from her daughter's diary.  After all, I guess if you're going to violate your kid's trust, do it in spades.

What makes this even worse, is that after several commenters point out that this person just broke her daughter's trust, the woman "explains" that she had a bad childhood and sad diaries, that she just had to make sure her daughter didn't have a sad diary, and that she made the world better by sharing the love and joy in her daughter's diary.

The selfishness inside this woman astounds me.

The entire article and her comment revolve around this woman and her insecurities, around the demons from her childhood that she clearly has not dealt with.  How dare she inflict her daughter to such a deep invasion of privacy, not only reading the diary but then publishing it on the Internet, because it made her feel better.

Parents do not abuse their children's trust and then attempt to justify the action because it gives said parent a warm fuzzy feeling.  If you can't find happiness on your own, please, for the love of all that's good in this world, do NOT have children.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Freaky Friday News: April 19, 2013

After a week of bombings, media stupidity, political propagandizing, and  an enormous explosion, I decided that I needed to look at the funnier side of life.  Or at least less grime.  So, here's Freaky Friday News!!

Do You Believe in Bigfoot???
Or do you have "irrefutable" proof?  Is so, then Olympia Beer wants to hear from you.

In a new marketing campaign, Olympia Beer set up a contest with a grand prize of $1 million (given in 40 year installments of $25,000) to whomever can produce irrefutable proof of the Northwest's favorite furry monster.

(Sorry, Elmo.)

This makes me wonder if there's something in the water.  First, the Gates Foundation announces a contest to design a new condom.  Now a beer company from Wisconsin wants people to find Bigfoot.  What's next?  An oil company willing to pay for a televised interview with Mother Nature?

Montana Approves of Gay Sex!!!
Okay, maybe "approves" is too strong a term.  But as of yesterday, April 18, 2013, homosexual intercourse is no longer considered a felony, as Governor Steve Bullock signed a law that removes the law criminalizing homosexual intercourse.

The twist to this story?  The Montana Supreme Court declared the felony law against gay sex as unconstitutional 16 years ago, meaning that no one enforced this law since 1997.  But each time a bill came up to remove said law from the books, the legislative branch of Montana rejected it.  Now, common sense has won out and the rest will soon be history.

Chip Clark/Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, via Associated Press
Another Step on the Evolutionary Trail...
Literally.  Scientists discovered that part of the genome of the coelacanth (pictured above) contains a DNA sequence that encourages limb development.  That's right, folks, a clue as to how fish developed legs and arms.

We thought the coelacanth died out 70 millions years ago, until a Japanese fisherman found one in his net in 1938.  Now we know that this fish lives about 500 feet underwater, feeding on both surface dwellers and deeper-dwelling fish.  But speculation holds that coelacanth lived in brooks and ponds millions of years ago,  and might be one of the first fish to walk on land.

If you want more information on this, here's the link to the article in Nature.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poem: Rebirth

April is National Poetry Month.  Here's my contribution.


Tattered clothes blow in the breeze
Created by passing missiles
Fumes follow, poisonous and slow,
Seeping into the air like a hungry cobra

The clothes surround an old man
Body gaunt, heavily scarred
Close to skeletal
Eyes covered in white film
Hands gnarled from holding
Too many bows
Too many spears
Too many swords
Too many guns

Faltering, almost feeble
the man stumbles around
Almost blind,
Almost deaf

until the missiles hit

Echoing off the abandoned buildings
The boom shatters windows
hurts eardrums on everyone
Except the man

He stands up straighter,
his stumble becomes a walk

Now, gunfire sounds in the distance,
screams as women and children run to escape

The white covering his irises falls away
revealing pale blue eyes of a predator

The violence closes in on him,
stray bullets playing hide and seek
among the rubble and the homeless

A spray of blood from someone the bullets found
Bathes the man
Muscles grow in the skeleton as scars smooth away
Shadows replace the tattered clothes,
Dressing the man in almost black
The perfect camouflage

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The New Great Distraction: North Korea

Both of my kids discuss what happens at school with me, and lately that discussion includes fears about North Korea.  It turns out that kids at school are worried about North Korea bombing us, here in metro Atlanta.  Mind you, it's 11,352.31 km (7,054 miles) between Atlanta and Pyongyang, and the North Korean military doesn't own any missiles capable of traveling that distance.  But why let logic calm your fear?

I know why the kids worry about North Korea; their parents worry about North Korea and talk about it either with the kids or in front of the kids.  So the question becomes, why are the parents worried about North Korea?  Seriously, the U.S. is one of the only super-powers in the world, and North Korea isn't even in the running.  Yes, they have a strong military, but the country isn't large enough to be a threat.  So why are we focusing on North Korea as if it's the next U.S.S.R.?

Because if we focus and obsess over North Korea, we won't be discussing the domestic problems facing Americans.

For example, did you know that Exxon Mobile's Pegasus pipeline burst a pipe on March 29, flooding a neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas?  I did an informal survey of about a dozen people that I know, and no one heard of this.  No. One.

This lack of information stems from the fact that Exxon Mobile is running a campaign to censor the media and keep this particular screw-up out of the news while politicians debate the Keystone Pipeline.  Exxon managed to convince the FAA to declare the area a no-fly zone, meaning that you need permission to fly over the oil spill.  Exxon also continues to feed the community misleading information.  In this news release, Exxon claims that "No oil has reached Lake Conway." But in the video below, we see Exxon pumping water from a contaminated pond into the lake during a storm, supposedly to keep the cove from flooding more houses and the highway.  Look carefully, you will see the water shooting over the boom on the lake.

Video streaming by Ustream

So far, Exxon admits to recovering over 19,000 barrels of oil and water.  That's just under 800,000 gallons, and they aren't done yet.  You can read more information this situation through citizen journalists here and here.

The other domestic problems that those in power want us to forget?  How about the billions of dollars that oil companies received from the federal government in tax subsidies?  Considering the price of oil these days, $90-100 per barrel, the oil companies practically print their own money on a daily basis.  So why does the government continue to subsidize them?

Also, the powers that be want you to ignore the continuing police brutality in New York; this time a 19-year-old had his face smash against pavement for "resisting arrest" even though the police already had him on the ground.  If you want to learn about previous reports, read the article "Top 5 Worst NYPD Brutality Moments" from 2008.  The list doesn't include at least three incidents that happened since 2008, or the behavior of the police during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

There are even more "hidden" problem here in the U.S. that the powers that be want you to ignore, from the slow change of several large cities into police states to the PTSD that continues to ravage our armed forces to the problem of errors in drone strikes.  Or the miniature cell towers that the police use to track people and illegally record phone calls.

The question is, do you really want to see what's going on?  Or do you prefer to live in ignorance?

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Jeremy Spoke In Class Today"

My senior year of high school, a gifted student at another local high school brought a handgun to school and shot himself after English class because he wasn't making an "A".  He died.

As part of a gifted class, the teacher asked us if we understood what happened.  She wanted to know why a bright young man would choose death over a failing grade, though to be clear here, I don't know if he was failing or simply getting a "C".  And our answer to the teacher?

At times, anything less than an "A" felt like failing since we were the "gifted" students, the brightest and (theoretically) the best; we had to get perfect grades.  The pressure to perform perfectly infected every advanced or gifted class in every grade of high school.  Simply passing was never good enough; even getting a "B" was shameful.

"Jeremy" by Pearl Jam, a song about a kid who kills himself at school

In just over a week, both of my kids will be taking the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), a state-mandated test that supposedly measures their abilities in math, reading, language arts, social studies, and science.  Georgia has used the CRCT since 2000, in response to No Child Left Behind.

Personally, I despise the CRCT and its attendant hoopla.

The school system makes taking the test and exceeding standards a big deal, starting in third grade.  "If you don't pass, you cannot go to fourth" is a comment heard in elementary schools around Cobb County, and probably around Georgia every spring.  And the third graders suffer from the pressure.

The teachers also suffer from the pressure, with the threat of newspapers publishing the scores on a per teacher basis (e.g. Los Angeles), parents believing that their kids need to "exceed expectations" in every subject, and more than a week of teaching time lost during the testing period.

Meanwhile, parents complain that the schools "teach to the test" and don't go beyond the curriculum enough. They want Little Johnny and Little Suzy to speak Spanish, learn how to type, and become a chemist during the school year.  They also want the school day to either be longer (for the kids to learn more) or shorter (because the kids need more time at home to relax), more school days or less school days.

In the end, the kids, teachers, and school systems spend an extraordinary amount of time and money on tests to prove that the kids have learned memorized a minimal amount of knowledge.  And time that could have been used to help the kids develop their creativity, explore a special interest, or just play more.

Because we don't need any more kids to think that grades and test scores are more important that life.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review: "Midnight Blue-Light Special" by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptid, #2)Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Midnight Blue-Light Special" dishes out a new helping of Verity Price and the Cryptid society of Manhattan. While I enjoyed the first book in this series, the second book knocked my socks off. Gone are the discussion about weapons and tango; instead Verity tries to save her people in Manhattan (and by "people" I mean the Gingerbread men and dragons, gorgons, and other cryptids) from the evil Covenant of St. George.

Three questions haunt Verity for most of the book:
1. What is her relationship with Dominic?
2. What will she choose - dancing or protecting cryptids?
3. How will she save the cryptids?

During the majority of the book, Verity waffles over whether or not she can trust Dominic, and what she's going to do with Dominic regardless of his choice. Dominic himself appears sporadically in the story, telling Verity what he can and leaving her clues to things he cannot in good faith outright tell her. I must admit, I found Verity's waffling over Dominic a bit much after about half the book, because Dominic sent what seemed to me to be clear signs of his honesty and trustworthiness. But I also know that emotions make people paranoid, and Verity comes across as someone who is in too deep, emotionally speaking.

The career decision is more of a background question that Verity contemplates during her infrequent down time. Verity loves dancing, and has loved dancing for her entire life. But Verity also feel a responsibility to the cryptids, to her friends and colleagues. I love how the author presents this choice, where Verity will lose something important whatever she chooses.

As for saving the cryptids, I will be silent, because I had no idea how Verity would keep the Covenant from beginning a purge and either destroying all the cryptids in Manhattan or forcing everyone to abandon their homes. I must admit, the answer was not something I expected.

If you enjoyed the first book, I think you will be even more pleased with this sequel. In general, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy.

You can read my review of the previous book, "Discount Armageddon", here.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 5, 2013

North Korea: It Takes 2 To Tango

One person can dance alone, but it takes two to tango.  And tango we are, with North Korea vying for control of the dance with the U.S..

Whether you watch the news, read the local newspaper, or scan news article online, I'm certain you've read about the escalating situation between North Korea and the United States.  But I ask you to read between the lines when you look at this conflict.  U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that North Korea's rhetoric is "probably all bluster", and that attacking the U.S. would signal the end of North Korea. [From Reuters]

If the U.S. is so much stronger than North Korea, then why keep antagonizing the Asian country?  Why escalate the situation unless the U.S. wants another war?

The U.S. didn't have to hold military exercises in South Korea last month, using stealth bombers.  The U.S. doesn't have to move missiles to Guam.  And the U.S. can just shut up and stop making statements about North Korea.  In fact, that might be the fastest way to stop the rhetoric.  But the U.S. is choosing to escalate the situation, avoiding the high moral ground and going for the low ground with hostility and belittlement in their posturing.

If the U.S. wants to make the world a better place, why not talk to the Saudi Arabian government about not paralyzing a 24-year-old man for a crime he did 10 years ago?   Why doesn't the government close Guantanamo prison?  More importantly, why doesn't the U.S. learn from its own mistakes?

Back in 1983, Reagan and his rhetoric about the Soviets, calling them "the Evil Empire",  led to an escalation in the Cold War, an escalation that included a series of military maneuvers in Europe that "employed sophisticated concealment and deception measures to thwart Soviet early warning systems and to offset the Soviets' ability--greatly bolstered by US spy John Walker--to read US naval communications."[The CIA Library]  Between the talk and the military activities, the Soviets believed that the U.S. was about to launch a surprise nuclear missile attack, and they almost attacked first.

Now, U.S. officials seem intent to make the same mistakes in a very similar situation, supposedly acting for the good of all while pushing North Korea towards war.  North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, already leads from a shaky position; if he loses faces publicly, he will be assassinated, or otherwise deposed.  If we treated him with respect and let him win a few rounds of rhetorical exchanges, we have a chance to defuse the situation without bloodshed.  But as long as the U.S. continues with its rhetoric, peace doesn't have a chance.

Freaky Friday News: Unicorn Licenses

Los Angeles County Gives a Young Resident a Unicorn License Last month, a resident of Los Angeles county, Miss Madeline, sent a handwritte...