Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ambivalence about The Hunger Games

My book club is reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins which is ostensibly for older kids and is hugely popular.

I raced through the audio version and was more than a little obsessed by it and I was a little concerned about that obsession.  You see, I could have written a very similar version of this book and fortunately for my own mental health, I did not write any such thing.  I had two very different responses to this book and at first I was thinking it was ambivalence and now I realize it was the reaction I would have had as the rather brooding, morbid child I was and the relatively happy adult I am now.

The book is a deliberately distressing topic that involves children being forced to fight and kill each other like gladiators where the last one alive is the winner. 

As an adult, I liked the book as long as I was able to forget that many of these characters are children (the main characters are older which felt ok), but the second that it became clear that there were also children under the age of 16 involved, I most definitely did not like it at all.  The character development and imagery are excellent, and the plot twists were generally ok, but I mentally kept pulling out and rewriting it because I've had a lot of practice mentally creating these scenarios and it's why I had to sort of hold my experience of the book at a mental arm's length. The feeling I was getting was that of what I imagine a junkie's is.  Not wanting to go back for too long to the mental place that I was at as a kid. 

As a pre-teenager I was having crushes on girls and the occasional boy, (but mostly girls) and I had no context for understanding those powerful feelings at all.  All I knew is that I really, really liked whoever I was crushed out about and I wanted to spend time with them and I wanted to tell her how I felt even if I didn't know what I was feeling (I didn't come out until I was 20, so I really was at sea here.)

So what a better situation to tell someone you care about them than a life and death (mostly death) situation where one of you isn't going to live anyway?  At nigh as I was going to sleep, I would mentally spin scenarios where I and another girl or even several friends were in a prison or concentration camp and were being systematically tortured and killed, with all the adjunct death scene conversations.  Yes, I was a really dark kid, and am lucky to come out of it only with a tendency to get depressed (I think I got addicted to the feeling of your Serotonin level lowering when you get bad news that slowly sinks in - It feels really good for a very brief moment just before things really get awful)

When I understood the scenario of The Hunger Games, I mentally started to shake a little, in more ways than one.  The kid who wanted to experience that all over again, and the adult who most definitely did not.  Listening to the book was actually very easy and really difficult for me.

The other thing was that kidlet was really really opinionated about the plot and what should happen next.  "Well if I were writing it, then this should happen. or this, or this, or maybe this."  It was actually pretty exhausing, though I as a adult, who knows how to write, was happy to help briefly before calling time on the whole mental exercise.

My reason for holding it at bay is not wanting to go back to that dark place again.  I fear getting stuck there, even though I don't think I would.

And then of course there's the envy/jealousy factor.  Susanne Collins had the mental fortitude to turn this all into a book series.  I didn't.  Part of me knows that I certainly could have done it, but the price was and is much too high for me.

Though this does bring up.  Why do we write such things for children?  Is it because that's what they want to read?  I certainly would of read it as a kid, but I certainly would have been (actually am) a die-hard Harry Potter fan and there's a very marked difference between the incredible intensity of the Potter series and the distressing premise of The Hunger Games.  Harry Herminone, and Ron are forced to fight evil, but they are not exactly forced to outright kill other kids.  Think how different things would be if Hogwart's was in a bloody war with Slytherin?  Feels completely at odds doesn't it?

Anyway, The Hunger Games movie may become a reality in 2013 or so (Lionsgate owns the rights as of this writing).  Some rather interesting trailer-like items are on You Tube right now but I don't know what they have to do with anything.

There are other books in the series and I don't know if I'm going to continue or not.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Make Yourself Really Hard to Find - Go the Other Way

Michelle Yu was on a training hike on Mt. San Antonio.  Her plan was to climb Mt. San Antonio then go East along the Devil's Backbone and then at the Baldy Notch take the ski lift down.

For reasons no one will know, but can pretty much be only explained by being lost in the fog/cloud, she didn't go East but instead confused everyone by going North towards Dawson Peak and fell into a very steep area called Fish Fork Canyon.

Her body was located at 7900' and the lowest elevation between Mt. San Antonio and Dawson Peak is 8600'.  At a minimum she fell 700' but she could have been much higher (like 9400' or even 9600' or even the summit though that seems a stretch).  Not surprisingly the cause of death was multiple blunt trauma.

This is a good lesson in how easy it is to be confused when you can't see the area around you.  This is a route Yu had taken many times in the past.  This is not a choice she intended to make as there wasn't any obvious discernible reason to go North.  I have been totally confused when I heard she was in Fish Fork Canyon as when I looked up where Fish Fork Canyon was it didn't have anything to do with where Yu was intending to go.  It took this photo from this KTLA video broadcast to really make it clear.

No wonder it took four days to find her.  Even if I had a dog with me who said the trail went North I probably would have assumed the dog was mistaken since I know the planned route was East.

This is one situation where a GPS is preferable to map and compass.  If you're in a white out a map and compass don't really help as you can't see other features to orient on.  However even a compass would have made a difference.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Michelle Yu Search: Use the Dogs First

Tragically Michelle Yu was killed early this week from a fall during a training hike in the Mt. Baldy area.  The coroner's report is not out yet, but it's more than likely that she slipped on some ice in a narrow portion of the area called the Devil's Backbone and fell 1000'-2000' to her death.  Her body was located by a helicopter in Fish Forks canyon.

Given that the details of the search wouldn't of affected the outcome I feel that I'm not being terribly tacky in doing some arm chair hindsight looking about the search

When people go missing in the mountains near me I tend to set up a Google Alerts Search.  This time because there is more that one Michelle Yu, the keywords I used were: Michelle Yu hiker.  As a result I have read every internet post that uses those keywords and am familiar with what the news broadcasts included which included details of her route and I was able to review photos of the trail.

Though she was training alone, her route was a common one and well known.  She was going to climb Mt San Antonio then traverse via the Devil's Backbone over the the Mt. Baldy ski lift and ride it down.  She was seen at "the top."  Which was implied to mean somewhere before the traverse.

The Devil's Backbone is a narrow in places ridge with a series of very steep ravines and canyons along both sides.  A map of the route can be found here (her route is the left portion going up to Mt San Antonio and then across to the right).  Photos of the trail can be seen here - in particular page down to the 6th photo and imagine that with ice on it - yikes. While her hike was not a technical one, she was surrounded by a whole lot of rugged terrain which is why is took 4 days to locate her body.

After a day or two the broadcasts started mentioning that 4 dogs were now being used.  This totally got my attention.  "Why only now?  That's completely backwards."

I know that 30-40 people were searching for Yu and that's very admirable, but even the news casts admitted that a dog can do the work of 40 people.  Granted the terrain was too steep for most dogs, but trail was not.  Effective and judicious use of tracking dogs could have saved a ton of time.

One sheriff spokesperson called the search a needle in a haystack.  I disagree.  Yes, it's a needle in a haystack, but you can make the haystack much smaller.  I have only trained one dog to track so I'm no expert but still these questions haunt me.

We know that she was seen near the top of Mt. San Antonio and intended to traverse over to the Mt Baldy ski lift.  She never showed up.  The traverse is essentially a straight line and she was training, not on some adventure.  She was on that traverse, so it doesn't take a genious to figure out that she has probably fallen.  So why not drop two dog/handler teams via helicopter at the start of the traverse?  And hold the gung ho searchers back before they go tramping all over the track.  Have the dogs follow the track until it stops.  Then start searching there!  Release the gung ho humans and let them try not to kill themselves in the steep areas.  I know holding humans back when time is ticking is just awful, but being patient and let the dogs do their job could really pay off.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Mixed Feelings about Wiki Leaks

I am a fan of Wiki Leaks and I believe very much that information wants to be free.
The work that they do exposing suppressed information is phenomenal and disturbing.

This CNN video montage shows the US killing innocent civilians including 2 reporters.

And that's very important information that should be released.

However, honestly I have very mixed feeling about releasing diplomatic cables.  We need to provide a place where our diplomats can speak freely, and to have that compromised is worrisome.  This isn't military information that someone is trying to hide.  It's diplomatic opinions on the stability of leaders and regimes.  While I will no doubt read them, I'm not sure how that helps us, but I can guess how it hurts.  We already know China and Iran and North Korea are difficult to deal with.  Maybe releasing this information is just going to make things harder for our diplomats and I'm not sure I think we're better off knowing that the diplomats agree that those countries are a pain.