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Grab that lucky charm. February 20, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Katniss Everdeen was right. Fans of “The Hunger Games” may recall how Katniss held on to her lucky charm, a mockingjay pin, to help her get through the gladiatorial bloodbath she was forced to fight in. Well, brain science is backing her up.

Turns out, the secret to optimal brain function under stressful conditions—such as combat or, say, work deadlines—is a feeling of being in control. And the feeling is apparently as good as actually being in control of your circumstances, as far as your brain is concerned.

“Even a good luck charm can help—because good luck charms really do work,” says Eric Barker in “”The samurai secret to always being at your best.” He continues: “Good luck charms provide a feeling of control, and that feeling of control actually helps people perform better with them.”

He quotes The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver:

“…people with a lucky charm performed significantly better than did the people who had none. That’s right, having a lucky charm will make you a better golfer…and improve your cognitive performance on tasks such as memory games.”

So go ahead and grab that four-leaf clover or evil eye deflector or piece of eight or even a mockingjay pin. Even if you’re not heading for the Hunger Games arena, it might get you through your next performance review.

Catching Fire. November 29, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. As someone who’s actually written a book about Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series, I was looking forward to the film version of the second novel, “Catching Fire.” But I was surprised to read the gushing praise most critics have lavished on the film in comparison to the original film, “The Hunger Games.” I really liked the first film. How much better could this be?

Last night, our friend Ben and I finally got to the theater to check it out. And I was underwhelmed. The star-studded cast certainly gave it their best shot. Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, and Lenny Kravitz were back in full form. New additions Sam Claflin as Finnick Adair and Patrick St. Esprit as Commander Thread were especially strong. And of course, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson as the love triangle at the center of the story were all excellent.

There were some great touches, like making the so-called “Peacekeepers” (the Capitol’s Nazi-like enforcers) look more like the Storm Troopers in “Star Wars” and giving them codpieces. And making the Avoxes—anyone who had offended the Capitol by trying to defend the rights of the populace, and had been enslaved and silenced by having their tongues cut out as a result—dressed in mummylike costumes that all but obscured their faces. And having President Snow (Donald Sutherland) bleed into his champagne.

But overall, “Catching Fire” struck me as a slick production, nothing like the gritty portrayal of Panem and its manifest inequalities that was the defining feature of the first film. And they chose to omit the pivotal scene of the book, in which the new Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, shows his watch to Katniss—a watch that bears a mockingjay design, a watch that explains the setup of the arena, a watch that tells her he’s an ally. Why on earth they’d omit such a central scene is completely beyond me.

The film had two highlights for me, and both were due to the brilliant talent of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, and both involved nothing more than facial expression. The first was when her beloved stylist Cinna was brutally beaten and dragged away by the Peacekeepers before her eyes as she’s heading into the arena, and her face sets into a mask of fury and resolve. And the next was at the end, when Gale (Liam Hemsworth) tells her that her home district, District 12, has been obliterated by President Snow. Until that point, she’d just been a girl looking out for herself and those she cares about. But in that moment you see her, just through her expression, transform into a warrior. Kudos to Ms. Lawrence for an astonishing achievement. But two expressions aren’t enough to carry a film.

I’ll take the first film any day.

‘Til next time,

Silence

When life imitates art. November 11, 2013

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Those of you who’ve read Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games books doubtless recall that the depraved and decadent citizens of Panem’s Capitol turned the arenas where teens were forced to fight to the death on national TV into resorts. They loved going to their favorite arenas—which, of course, were different and more horrific every year—with their families for a nice little vacation, reliving (and relishing) every moment of the unfolding nightmare that took place there, without, of course, risking their lives or their comfort.

This reminds our friend Ben of people who read and/or watch horror and murder mysteries as entertainment. What’s entertaining about being terrified? I doubt that the folks who seem addicted to such “pleasures” would be so thrilled if Charles Manson’s ‘family’ or Hannibal Lecter or a bunch of goons burst into their home and opened fire. But it’s apparently thrilling to watch other people being tortured, killed, or terrorized.

I have to wonder if we lived in a place where starvation, natural disasters, untreated disease epidemics, routine violence and torture, and repression were commonplace, we’d find these books and films so entertaining. I read just this morning that 80 people had been officially murdered in North Korea, many just for watching films from South Korea. Jews in Hungary and Christians in Egypt are being terrorized. Neo-Nazis are marching in Kansas to celebrate Kristallnacht, the anniversary of horrific Nazi atrocity. At least ten thousand Filipino lives have been lost to the latest typhoon, and Japan is still leaking nuclear waste from its devastated plant. Do you find this fun and relaxing? Why would you find any suffering fun and entertaining?

Suzanne Collins doubtless thought she was being ironic when she turned the murder of innocents into the Capitol’s Disney World. But now Lionsgate, which produces the film versions of the Hunger Games, is turning her nightmare into reality. According to today’s headlines, Lionsgate is planning to establish Hunger Games theme parks. No doubt we’ll all be given the opportunity to enter the arena with Katniss and Peeta, watch an interview with Caesar Flickerman, and be intimidated by President Snow. The real-world irony is overwhelming.

At the fringes of fandom. August 9, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. I was stunned to read this morning that Target is planning to sell replicas of the mockingjay pin worn by Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Mind you, there’s nothing stunning about Target or anyone else trying to cash in on the most popular series since Harry Potter. And I’m sure plenty of fans would love to show their loyalty to Katniss by wearing her mockingjay pin, so selling one would actually do them a service.

Here’s what’s stunning: The pin costs $999. Not $9.99 or even $99.99 (it’s 14-karat gold, so that would make sense). But $999.00. That’s more than $1,000 (once you add sales tax and/or shipping and handling) in these recessionary times, when many people don’t even have $1,000 in the bank and are living paycheck to paycheck. Assuming they’re even lucky enough to have jobs.

But Target’s apparently confident that the pins and other Hunger Games-related mechandise they’re offering will sell. You can also buy a replica of Katniss’s leather jacket, or a holographic poster signed by the cast of the movie (a steal at only $699!), on their website, www.target.com. Better rush on over before they sell out!

The sad thing is that I’m sure diehard fans will rush over and buy the stuff, whether they can afford to or not. One woman interviewed in the movie “Ringers,” about fans of The Lord of the Rings, said she’d sold her house so she could go to New Zealand for the premiere of “The Return of the King.” When asked if she regretted it, she replied that she’d do it again in a heartbeat. There are probably people out there who’d take out a home equity loan or take on a second (or third) job to buy that mockingjay pin or poster, and feel that it was money well spent. (Admittedly—but don’t tell our friend Ben!—I wouldn’t mind having a poster of Liam Hemsworth, who plays Gale Hawthorne in the films, myself. Lucky Miley Cyrus!)

But there must be a better—or at least, cheaper—way to express devotion to one’s fictional heroes than going bankrupt in their cause. There are plenty of affordable fan books, as well as serious works, out there on The Hunger Games already; search on Amazon and see for yourself. There’s a CD of the music, and the movie is due for release on DVD and Blu-Ray this month. There’s all sorts of more affordable paraphernalia, and there’s even a contest that fans can enter to win a visit to the set of the next movie in the series, “Catching Fire.” I don’t know if there are Hunger Games action figures like the ones that proved so popular after the Lord of the Rings movies were released, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

At any rate, I checked on Amazon to see if there were already mockingjay pins out there for eager fans who didn’t happen to have $1,000-plus in their pockets. And yes, there are lots of options, starting at $1.49. So please, don’t blow your budget on something you can’t afford. Leave those $999 pins to the 1% and live within your means. Perhaps you can turn your Hunger Games enthusiasm into creating something original and meaningful yourself.

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Peeta or Gale? July 12, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I had a bit of an argument this morning about what we should post. Should we talk about the potential repeal of Obamacare? The findings against Penn State in the Sandusky abuse scandal? Either would certainly make for riveting and timely reading. The thing is, I’ve been wrestling with the heroine of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen, and her choice of suitors Peeta or Gale. I agree with her, but I’m not happy about it.

Gale is tall, dark and handsome. He’s also extremely bright, innovative, and his own man, an independent thinker who’s never afraid to take his thoughts to their logical conclusion, even if that’s dangerous under a repressive regime. He has a tremendous sense of loyalty and protectiveness towards the people he loves, such as Katniss and his family. And he’s able to envision a big  picture, such as a successful rebellion in Panem.

Peeta, by contrast, is short, stocky, and blond. He is heroic, like Gale, but for completely different reasons: He’s a good, kind person, a feeling person, a moral person, someone who knows the importance of being true to yourself even under hideous circumstances. He’s loved Katniss all his life and is determined to protect her, whatever the cost to himself (and in this respect he’s on par with Gale). He’s sensitive, an artist, a nurturer. Who wouldn’t love dear, sweet, kind, good Peeta?

Well, everybody. The problem is that loving Peeta means making a moral rather than a romantic choice: You choose the best rather than the most exciting person. Katniss makes this clear when she kisses Peeta repeatedly in the Arena, but never once describes the sensation; she kisses Gale just once afterwards, but can never forget the feeling of his lips on hers.

So what is the value of moral versus romantic love? If you were a woman tossed into the Hunger Games, would you be attracted to Peeta, Gale, Cinna, Cato, Finnick, Thresh, or even Haymitch?

Katniss chooses Peeta, her opposite, her quiet, strong supporter. Her choice makes perfect sense, especially given that the two have experienced shared traumas no one else could possibly experience (except, say, Haymitch and Finnick Odair). According to Suzanne Collins, they live quietly and resolutely ever after. Would that have been your choice?

           ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

The hunger games. June 14, 2012

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Silence Dogood here, and I’m starving. It’s already 10:12 a.m., and I haven’t had anything to eat since a few mouthfuls of leftovers around 6:30 last night, just before rushing off with our friend Ben to watch “The Hunger Games” at a nearby theatre.

Watching the movie made me think about the nature of hunger, and what it meant for those of us with unlimited access to food on demand. With so much food, such a huge variety of food, and food within such easy, convenient reach at all times, how can we ever know if we’re really hungry or just tempted?

One thing I think we all know is that eating just because the food is there, because we’re bored, depressed, or nervous, because a coworker brought in doughnuts or Mom’s urging us to have a second helping, because we just saw an ad for something that looked really yummy, because our kids’ plates are still half-full and we hate to waste food, or even because it’s “time” for breakfast, lunch or supper is a bad idea. Unless, of course, you’re trying to bulk up to try out for “The Biggest Loser.”

The opposite is just as self-defeating. Pushing off meals because we’re busy, rushed, or stressed, skipping meals to try to lose weight, ignoring our bodies’ cries of “Please! Please feed me!”

These behaviors tend not just to unbalance our blood sugar and bodily functions, leading to weight gain (as the body desperately attempts to conserve every calorie in an instinctual response to starvation) and metabolic disorders. They also push our weakened bodies towards high-fat, high-sugar foods, trying to make up for the lack, resulting in overdoses of chips, fried chicken (or fried anything), candy, ice cream, doughnuts, soda, and the like. Ahhh!!! Blessed relief. But at what cost?

Over the years, I’ve come up with a few tricks for taming hunger, satisfying my body’s legitimate needs without sliding down the slippery slope of endless indulgence. Here are some that work for me:

* Stay hydrated. It’s so easy to mistake thirst for hunger. I take a big glass of water with me to bed and drink it throughout the night, then begin the morning with a second glass, followed by several cups of green tea. Whenever I start craving food, I ask myself if I really want something to eat or just need something to drink. It’s surprising how often I just need to get rehydrated.

* Eat only when you’re hungry. When and how often you’re hungry varies with your metabolism, how often you eat, what you eat, and how much you eat. Listen to your body: Do you feel a vague ache in your lower belly? Has it been hours since you last ate? Sounds like you’re genuinely in need of some food.

* Eat just ’til you’re not hungry. Sure, that portion on your plate could feed a herd of elephants. But, hey, you paid good money for that food, or you’re at Grandma’s and can’t bear to hurt her feelings. So you keep shoveling it in until you feel like a contestant on an all-you-can-eat competition. Suddenly, bulimia starts making sense. Instead, back away from the table! Eat until you feel satisfied, but are tempted to take just a few more bites. That’s the time to stop, while the food still looks good but you know you’ve had enough. This is why God created doggy bags, so you can take those leftovers home and have them for two yummy lunches or a second supper. And Grandma’s hardly likely to be offended if you tell her you’re full now, but her food is so delicious you’d be so grateful if you could take the rest home and eat it later. After all, it will remind you of her. 

* Snack sensibly. It happens to all of us: It’s not yet mealtime, but we realize we’re ravenous. This is where epic disasters can happen, when the “Oh God there’s nothing around here to eat so let’s go out and get something hugely caloric” impulse strikes. To fight it, make sure you have healthy, low-cal snacks with you at all times, and make sure you exert portion control. Eat a handful of almonds, pistachios, pecans, or walnuts, not half a bag. If you need more, pair them with half a banana or a small apple. Or pair a cheese stick or cheese square with your fruit and/or nuts.

* Listen up. If you listen to your body, you’ll know when you’ve had enough, and then it’s easy to avoid mindless eating. Just because there’s a bag or a plate or a giant cup of food or drink before you doesn’t mean you have to eat or drink it. If you pay attention to your body, it will tell you exactly when enough is enough, down to the last sip or forkful. Honor that knowledge and you’ll never be overstuffed again.

* Make healthy choices. Give fresh fruits and veggies a chance. When you really taste them, you’ll wonder what all the chocolate volcano cake and Hollandaise sauce hype was about. A delicious slice of ripe cantaloupe, with perhaps a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper; a perfect tangerine; fresh-picked asparagus cooked just to tenderness, with a squeeze of lemon and some melted butter.

No elaborate, heavy salad dressing could possibly compete with fresh Romaine or arugula leaves dipped in a little salted olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. No chocolate-covered strawberry could ever compete with a delicious, perfectly ripe, perfectly plain strawberry. No cherry pie, clafouti, or jam with a bowl of beautiful, ripe cherries. Keep it simple, enjoy the flavors and textures, and know when you’ve had enough.  

Would Katniss Everdeen approve of these ideas of moderation? I think so. You can find out more about Katniss’s menu preferences in an amazing book, The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook (Emily Ansara Baines, Adams Media, 2012). “Live simply that others may simply live” never seemed more timely.

             ‘Til next time,

                        Silence