Newspaper Clips -- The Chicago Tribune KidNews
Cripes, Crichton, What A Find!
`The Lost World' Writer Stumbled Upon Dino Career
May 20, 1997|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune.
In 1989, as he looked forward to the birth of daughter Taylor, writer Michael Crichton was struck with the urge to buy stuffed animals dinosaur stuffed animals. The toys helped him understand people's love for prehistoric beasts. So he decided to write a dinosaur story and out came "Jurassic Park," which was later made into a monster hit movie. Eight years later, "The Lost World," the sequel to Jurassic Park, is about to open in theaters. Join us as we get to know the man who brought dinosaurs to life.
KidNews: Is it true you started writing when you were in the 3rd grade?
MC: I did begin in the 3rd grade, with a long script for a puppet show.
KidNews: What subjects did you write about as a kid?
MC: I wrote adventure stories hunting sharks and lost cities.
KidNews: Were your stories always as good as they are now?
MC: They were pretty bad, trust me. I can't even read them now. But I kept trying. Eventually I got better.
KidNews: Did you fantasize about dinosaurs in elementary school?
MC: I liked dinosaurs, but no more than the average kid.
KidNews: What surprised you as you researched "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World"?
MC: I postulated (that means came up with a theory) a very large Velociraptor. After the book was published, one was found!
KidNews: Why did you include kid characters in "Jurassic Park"?
MC: I wanted to show that the makers of the park were indifferent to safety. Having kids at risk was the easiest way to show it.
KidNews: Were any of the characters in "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World" Michael Crichton in disguise?
MC: I like Malcolm best. Like him, I tend to be critical of technology.
KidNews: Did you think kids would read "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World"?
MC: The fact that young people started reading the books was unexpected. I didn't think kids would be interested.
KidNews: What ideas would you like kids to think about as they finish reading or watching "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World"?
MC: Science is exciting. Knowleged is power. Wisdom is needed to wield power.
KidNews: Will you ever write about dinosaurs again?
MC: Probably not.
KidNews: What did you like to read as a kid?
MC: Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and Edgar Allan Poe's spooky stories and a lot of non-fiction.
KidNews: Do you have any advice for kids?
MC: Learn everything you can. Never assume you won't need certain information. The world is going to be radically different in 10 years.
When I was in elementary school, there was no TV, no jet airplanes, no personal computers. All that came later. So, don't be so sure about what you should and shouldn't have to learn.
Hatching A Baby Rex
Microwaves And Computers Give Birth To Baby T Rex
May 27, 1997|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune.
When Steven Spielberg decided to make the nurturing side of dinosaur families a key theme in "The Lost World," it was up to special-effects wizards Stan Winston and Dennis Muren to make it work. They had to find a way to hatch a baby Tyrannosaurus rex, without laying an egg. (You have to watch the flick to see the creature for yourself, but the pic above shows Mama rushing to her baby.)
"Steven wanted to use the baby to show T rex was more than a killing machine - to show it was a protective parent, as well," Winston says. "The question was, how were we going to help convey that feeling? How were we going to make this baby look like it was crying and breathing?"
Making the 4-foot-long animatronic hatchling move without wires or rods was the key. "The puppet had to receive signals clearly, so it could respond to the puppeteers without wires. And it had to respond smoothly at 45 different points of motion," Winston says.
That meant individual controls would activate movement at 45 spots on the hatchling's robotic body. Winston and his team created new microwave radios and motors to make that possible - motors so strong and yet so small they could be hidden within the body of the baby T rex and still be fully functional.
"It was a huge, breakthrough in what we do," Winston says. "We're very proud of that baby."
But even the best of new robotic technology can't make all of Spielberg's dinosaur dreams come true. That's where the Industrial Light and Magic's computer graphics come in.
"Our work starts where Stan's leaves off," Muren says. "We have to ask how the legs move, how it jumps."
How did Muren and his team imagine the baby T rex?
"When we looked at the baby T rex designs, we could see it was youthful," Muren says. "It could walk and run, but it would be clumsy. And it would look at the world through primitive eyes. It might cock its head when it saw something, trying to figure it out."
Muren fed the details into computers and programmed them to simulate bigger movements, like running, leaping or ripping flesh from a meaty bone.
"Once Dennis works his magic," Winston says, "the baby T rex has full life. That's when the two worlds of anima-tronics and computer-generated animation come together."
When It Came To Creating Film's Flying Fairies, Computer Wizards Were Left To Their Own Devices
October 21, 1997|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune.
In 1917, a 12-year-old girl named Elsie Wright and her 10-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths rocked England when they revealed photographs of fairies. Photographs they had taken themselves. Photographs that experts said were real!
Once word got out, hundreds of ordinary people flocked to the woods near the Wrights’ home, hoping to see the magic of fairies for themselves. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes) and one of his friends, illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini, traveled to meet Elsie and Frances, hoping to unravel the mystery.
When director Charles Sturridge (the man who brought us the Emmy Award winning television special "Gulliver's Travels") decided to make the story of Elsie and Frances into a movie, he knew he'd have to make a little magic of his own.
"When you watch a magician, particularly Houdini, who was a miraculously good magician," Sturridge says, "you see things and you cannot imagine how they're done. Your brain says, `It's a trick.' But there is another bit of you that admits you've just seen something astonishing."
Sturridge wanted "Fairy Tale: A True Story" to appeal to both sides of human nature. To do that, he needed special-effects wizard Tim Webber. "We wanted to make the fairies totally believable as creatures," Webber says, "but much more real."
These fairies are an amazing mix of live-action actors dressed as fairies and computer animation. Webber's biggest challenge was helping the fairies take flight.
"We tried to get them flying right, different from anything you've ever seen fly before," Webber says. But there was nothing like a fairy to study and duplicate. Even the laws of gravity might affect a tiny fairy differently from any other flying creature. "The movements we tried to achieve were basically completely new."
So Webber and the rest of the computer animation team at London's Framestore digital-effects facility looked to nature for clues. "We wanted to give them a sort of darty, almost insect-like feel," he says. "So we settled on a cross between a dragonfly and a hummingbird."
After feeding details of motion from these creatures into the computer, Framestore blended the movements with human features.
Director Sturridge says: "One of the things that distinguishes this story from any other remotely connected story is that basically, it's true. We wanted to find a way of presenting fairies just as real."
You'll have to decide whether "Fairy Tale: A True Story" hits the mark. The movie, rated PG, opens Friday.
Have Ghoulish Goals For Halloween? Our Special Effects Are . . .
A Scream Come True
October 21, 1997|By Lori Bonne and Kelly Milner Halls. Tribune photos by James F. Quinn.
Heart set on haunting, but short on cash? We asked Arnold Goldman, owner of a company called Monster Makers, for his favorite makeup tricks. Arnold, who runs one of the top mail-order spook shops in the country, totally got into giving us cheap and easy special effects.
TEETH AND GUMS FOR PEANUTS (OR IS THAT PEANUTS AND GUM FOR TEETH?)
Step 1: Buy ordinary shelled snack peanuts.
Step 2: Select several nut halves.
Step 3: Chew at least five pieces of pink bubble gum until it's no longer juicy.
Step 4: Take it out of your mouth and roll it into a 3-inch-long bubble gum "snake."
Step 5: Dry your real teeth completely with paper towels or gauze (gauze works best). You really, really, really need your teeth to be bone dry or the gum won't stick.
Step 6: Stick the bubble gum against your dry teeth.
Step 7: Press your peanut teeth into your bubble-gum gums.
OUT FOR BLOOD (EDIBLE AND WASHES OUT OF CLOTHES)
Step 1: Take one bottle of clear Karo syrup
Step 2: Add two bottles of red food coloring.
Step 3: Mix thoroughly for realistic-looking, non-toxic "blood.
Tip: This makes a lot of blood. If you want less, just pour a smaller amount of syrup into a bowl and add drops of coloring until you get the bloody color.)
MUMMY IN A BOTTLE
(that's a liquid latex bottle)
Step 1: Buy liquid latex at a hobby or costume shop.
Step 2: Apply a decent layer of petroleum jelly to your face. Don't skip this step! Liquid latex is very rubbery and difficult to remove from the skin if you don't have that coat of petroleum jelly underneath it.
Step 3: Dip strips of white paper towels in liquid latex.
Step 4: Pull your hair back and apply the strips to your face.
Step 5: Repeat Step 4 until your face and neck (except for eyes and lips) are covered.
Step 6: Creep out your eyes and mouth by painting them with ordinary grease paints.
Who's Laughing Now?
"South Park" Draws an Unintended Audience: Kids
January 27, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune.
Even before MTV announced the death of "Beavis & Butt-head" (translation: no more new episodes), cable competitor Comedy Central had a show that could kick "B&B" butt, according to some animation fans. Comedy Central had "South Park."
Four fictional 3rd graders - Cartman, Kenny, Kyle and Stan - from the not-so-fictional South Park, Colo., exploded onto TV screens last August. It quickly became a megahit. (A whopping 4.5 million people watched the "South Park" Christmas special last December.) But the people behind "South Park" want you to know something: It's a cartoon, and it's hot - but it wasn't created for you.
"It's a monster hit for us," said Tony Fox, a senior V.P. at Comedy Central. "But we consider this an adult show, written for adults."
No doubt. After all, these kids have faced down things like flammable flatulence. They have foul mouths. And they do some rude stunts (like, a baby loves to do a mean impression of David Caruso's career- he takes a huge dive). The comedy is razor-sharp - and plenty of people get picked on.
Comedy Central has aggressively marketed the show as an adults-only program. They gave it an MA-TV (mature audience) rating. They air it only after 10 p.m. each Wednesday night - a school night -- regardless of continental time zones. And they sell "South Park" merchandise only in adult -oriented stores and on the Internet - never in toy stores.
Even so, kids are finding their way to "South Park."
"I like the way they're so crazy they're funny," said Ana S., 10, of Illinois. Her mom doesn't watch the show, but doesn't mind that Ana and her brother and sisters do. "My mom doesn't believe in censorship."
Chris G. of Virginia, 11, said his dad thinks the show is "hilarious."
"Maybe it is a grownup show," Chris said. "But it still appeals to kids. I watch it all the time, and so do some of my friends. But then again, I have an offbeat sense of humor - that's what my 5th-grade teacher says."
Eight-year-old Vanessa H. of Colorado said: "I guess it isn't written for kids, but it doesn't matter. It still makes me laugh, especially when Kyle plays `kick the baby' with his little brother Ike." She also loves the "South Park" tradition of killing parka-clad Kenny every week, only to have him re-emerge in the next episode.
Said 14-year-old Casey J. of Montana: " `South Park' is a little too advanced for some kids to understand, but then again, my parents probably wouldn't like it. They'd probably think it didn't reflect the real world. But from a kid's point of view, it does."
So some kids are watching the show behind their parents' back. Others watch it alone because their parents are OK with it, but find it too disgusting to sit through themselves. Then there are parents like Tracy M.'s. Tracy, 13, of New York told us: "My mom likes it. She watches it with me." (By the way, Tracy said the show doesn't influence how she acts - at school. "It's not going to make me talk like that at school, because I know not to." As for what happens outside of school, when parents aren't around? "Parents would be very surprised if they found out how their kids really talked.")
Do you watch "South Park"?
Are your parents OK with it? Let us know!
Got a hankering for Mr. Hankey? Then you'll be glad to know a Mr. Hankey chocolate bar might be around the corner. "On my desk right now is a sketch of a Mr. Hankey choco-bar," Comedy Central president Doug Herzog tells Entertainment Weekly. "It's the nuttiest bar around! ... Whether or not we have the guts to go ahead with it remains to be seen. "
March 26, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls | Special to the Tribune.
You should save your money!" How many times have you heard that phrase - especially for kids who get cash gifts during holidays and birthdays? You probably even think it's a good idea. A big chunk of change would come in handy if, say, you wanted to buy a hot new video game. But how do you save money when you don't have much money to begin with?
How often has a nickel fallen from your pocket and you kept on walking? If you're like most people, it happens a lot. Coins don't seem like serious money, until you gather a few. "I started collecting dimes and nickels in a bottle," says 8-year-old Vanessa H. "My mom would give me all her dimes, and I kept whatever dimes I got as change." Six months and half a bottle later, Vanessa had collected 632 dimes - enough to buy a $60 video game, with change left over to start the collection again.
Dressing cool is easy and cheap, if you shop in the right places. "Thrift stores have a wide variety of new and older stuff, even '70s hippy clothes," 17-year-old John L. says. "I found this one velvet shirt for $15. The same shirt was $55 (at a regular store). Check the Yellow Pages under "Thrift Shops."
See cheap flicks
If you hit the flicks at least once a week, being an early bird counts. Most movie theaters offer a $2-per-ticket discount for shows that begin before 5 p.m. And $2 a week, 52 weeks a year, saves you $104.
Stomach Window Lets Scientists Examine Moo Goo
April 07, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune.
If you are what you eat, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign know their cattle very, very well. Because these cows are no ordinary Bessies. These are moos with a view.
As many as two dozen Holsteins (cows and steers only; no bulls allowed) at the UI Department of Animal Sciences have been surgically fitted with a stomach window called a cannula.
A cannula looks like a ship’s porthole. A plastic-like cylinder is inserted in a cow and the hole is plugged with a stopper in the same material. When a day's ration of cow chow hits the rumen - the first part of a cow’s four-part stomach - scientists like Professor George Fahey Jr. roll up their sleeves and dig in.
"We open the windows, remove some of the contents and study how efficiently the feed is being digested," Fahey says. From that sample, researchers determine how much food has been converted to energy and how much will move on through the bovine body as moo poo.
What's the point of being elbow deep in chewed-up moo goo? "Today's dairy cow produces 90 to 100 pounds of milk each day," Fahey says. "Twenty-five years ago, they produced only 30 to 35 pounds a day." Studying what Bessie eats and how she processes it makes economic sense.
When it comes to making meat, Fahey says cows gain 1 pound of body weight for every 7 pounds of food they eat. Pigs gain 1 pound for every 4 pounds of grain consumed. And chickens rule the roost, gaining 1 pound for every 2 or 3 pounds of chick chow. "Ideally, our research will one day help us create a cow that could convert food as efficiently as that chicken. But it hasn't happened yet."
Does wearing the window hurt? "It doesn't seem to bother them at all," Fahey says. "They are up and around just hours after the surgery. The hardest part of the whole procedure is trying to convince a 1,000-pound cow to settle down on an operating table."
Once customized, the cows heal quickly and go on to live fairly normal lives. "They can graze, run, mate, and even give birth like any other cow. Some live as long as 12 to 15 years," Fahey says. "And remember, most of these cows are more than just lab animals. Most of them have been raised by students and university staff from calves. We wouldn't want them to suffer."
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has taken no official position on the use of cannula in cows, spokesman Peter Paris says. But the group prefers that researchers use procedures that are the least invasive as possible.
And consider the alternative. Before the cannula was invented, the only way to study a cow's digestive process was by making it an ex-cow. "The cannula save researchers countless slaughter experiments," Fahey says. "They save countless bovine lives."
(For more information, contact the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Agriculture at 217-333-2361.)
Elephants And Toilets? Runwaway Cars And Mickey's Gloves?
You Must Be Dreaming!
April 28, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune.
It was a quarter to 10 when 9-year-old Jessica finally hit the sheets. And what a day it had been. She didn't get her homework finished. She forgot to take out the garbage. And her best friend was mad because calling had slipped Jessica's mind. Jessica tossed and turned before she finally started to dream... about an elephant?
Makes sense, says California-based dream expert Elizabeth Strahan. "Everything you see in your dreams represents a part of who you are." So if Jessica wants to understand the elephant, she should ask herself some questions.
"She should think of five adjectives for the elephant," Strahan says. If Jessica thinks "big," "dumb," "gray," "slow" and "forgetful" when she describes her Dumbo in the dark, "maybe she's fighting with her slow, forgetful side," Strahan says. "Maybe she's in conflict with herself."
Laurel Clark at the School of Metaphysics in Missouri couldn't agree more.
"We've been researching dreams for 25 years, and we've discovered every dream tells us something about our own attitudes," she says.
If the therapists believe that dreams help people weave together their past and their present, what about their future? Can dreams foretell things yet to come? Perhaps, according to Michael Maione, historian at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., where President Lincoln was shot.
"Lincoln had dreams that foreshadowed his own death," Maione says. "He told his Cabinet about one the day he was shot, and it was recorded by Gideon Welles, his secretary of the Navy. He reportedly told his long-time friend Ward Hill Lamon about a second, more detailed dream of people weeping because the president had been shot."
Do all experts agree that dreams are windows to the dreamer's soul? "I think most of us believe that some dreams can have a true psychological meaning," says Dr. Russell Rosenberg. He's the director of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and Technology. "But that's probably not the only reason we dream. Some dreams are purely nonsensical. Those dreams may be our physiological way of discarding information gathered during the day that is unwanted or not needed - sort of like taking out the trash."
Even so, expert Strahan believes, "we should all explore our dreams - just to see what the exploration wakes up inside us."
SHE KNOWS HER STUFF FROM A TO ZZZZZZZZZZ
Dream expert Elizabeth Strahan answered our pressing questions.
KidNews: Why do people dream?
E.S.: We don't know exactly why, but we know that all people dream. It's built into our hard drives.
KidNews: Do most people dream in color?
E.S.: Life is in color, so yes, we normally dream in color too.
KidNews: Do animals dream?
E.S.: We don't know if animals dream or not. They seem to experience rapid eye movement as we do when we dream.
KidNews: Do boys and girls dream differently?
E.S.: They dream differently because their interests tend to be different.
KidNews: Can you control your dreams?
E.S.: People tend to want to control their dreams. But I think we shouldn't even try. We should listen to our dreams.
KidNews: How common are recurrent dreams?
E.S.: They are relatively common with people who aren't paying attention to what they feel. Recurrent dreams say there is a problem you're not listening to.
KidNews: Why do we sometimes wake up tired after we dream?
E.S.: Because the dream comes from your physical body. It responds to dreams in the same way it relates to everyday experiences. If you have a pleasant dream, you wake up refreshed. If you have a dream where you worked out a problem, you might feel relieved.
More questions? E-mail Elizabeth Strahan at email@example.com
For 25 years, experts at the School of Metaphysics, head-quartered in Windyville, Mo., have been studying what people dream and why. Every spring, they invite sleepy citizens to call their dream hot lines. "It's our way of sharing what we've learned," says school spokeswoman Laurel Clark. During this year's dream week (it's over now), KidNews asked a few kids to call and reveal their weirdest dreams. This is what interpreter Sharka Glet said:
Kelly M., 8, dreamed that while he waited in the car for his parents to buy a loaf of bread, it suddenly drove away without them. All he could see was a pair of Mickey Mouse gloves on the steering wheel, driving the car.
Interpretation: The car represents Kelly's physical body. Because it drove away with no one in the driver's seat, he's probably afraid he can't control his body. He needs more purpose, more physical activity to help him gain confidence.
Ann H., 10, dreamed that her sister's leg was stuck in the toilet. Her sister tried to flush. Ann stopped her. She was afraid that with one swish of that handle, her sister would be lost forever.
Interpretation: For Ann, the toilet represents her desire to release private thoughts. Her sister represents Ann's fears. She probably needs to open up, but she's afraid that if she does, she'll lose something important.
Godzilla Is Coming
May 05, 1998|By - Kelly Milner Halls.
The big, bad monster comes roaring into movie theaters on May 20. And we're making him our KidNews cover guy on May 19. (No, you won't actually see him, cuz he's being kept under wraps. But we'll provide a sneak peek.) In the meantime, here are some tidbits to get you in the mood.
Companies are seeing green (as in $$$)
When "Godzilla" (PG-13) stomps into theaters, Sony-TriStar hopes you'll consider him the greatest nuclear mutant ever to hit the screen. Big companies hope you'll love Godzilla enough to take one home.
At the annual Toy Fair in New York, "Godzilla was everywhere," says Edward Summer, publisher of the Dinosaur Interplanetary Gazette (find it at www.dinosaur.org/ godzilla.htm).
That means big business is paying big bucks for the right to use Godzilla's name or likeness on their products.
But could this flood of Godzilla goodies backfire and hurt the movie's popularity? "Not likely, " says Lakshman Krishnamurthi. He is the marketing chair at the Kellogg School of Management in Evanston. "America has come to expect this kind of blitz. If it didn't happen, the public would probably think the studio was a little stupid."
According to Krishnamurthi, "The companies marketing Godzilla have to take advantage of public awareness. It's like buying a ticket on an airplane. The plane takes off, whether you're in the seat or not."
Dozens of companies - including Trendmaster, Tyco, Hasbro Koosh and CAP - have Godzilla tricks up their sleeves, but nobody's talking. Summer is willing to let you in on one secret, though:
"The new Godzilla doesn't look anything like the old Godzilla," he says, "so you're bound to be surprised."
Hungry for more Godzilla? We got gobs.
- An animated "Godzilla" TV series is in the works. The weekly cartoon, by Fox Kids Network, will feature a kinder Godzilla - a defender of humanity who wards off aliens, monsters and evil scientists.
- Want to know tons about Godzilla? Random House has you covered. "The Official Godzilla Compendium" by J.D. Lees and Marc Cerasini ($16) is bulging with enough photos and factoids to make your head spin. Even "Godzilla" special effects wizard Volker Engel has a copy.
- If you'd like to experience the thunder without leaving home, dial in these top-notch Godzilla Web sites:
1. Godzilla '98 movie page at www.movie-page.com/1998/godzilla.htm.
2. Sony's official movie site at www.godzilla.com
3. Dinosaur Interplanetary Gazette. GodzillaMania! at www.dinosaur.org/godzilla.htm.
What a Line!
Listen to TV Parents and Kids.
C'mon do You Chat Like That?
May 19, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune.
After nearly a decade of kid-free programming like "Seinfeld," "Friends" and (until recently) "Mad About You," TV families are making a comeback. But is there anything familiar about these Tinseltown talkers? When it comes to the family chat, do actors say it like it is? Or is TV's kid-to-parent dialogue way off base?
"That depends on the show," says 13-year-old Doug W. of Ohio. "If I talked to my parents about farts the way the kids do in `South Park,' I'd be grounded for the rest of my life. But my mom really likes `7th Heaven.' That show is real."
But 14-year-old Kerry H. of Colorado disagrees. "Real? `7th Heaven?' Come on. They're always saying things like, `Mom, I really learned a lesson from making that mistake.' Who talks like that? Everyone knows `South Park' is kind of exaggerated. But `7th Heaven' comes off like, `this is how life really is.' I just don't buy it."
"7th Heaven" producer Brenda Hampton says Kerry is right. "For some people, our show is as much science fiction as ‘The X-Files,’ because to them, the show is too good to be true. But writing for television is a creative process. We tend to write what we wish we had said in a given situation."
Exactly, says "Home Improvement" writer/producer Bruce Ferber. "It's a balance. We start with `real,' but we know we have to make it funny. So we inject humor where it will work best. And it's often our actors who let us know when it works and when it doesn't work."
Twelve-year-old Ann M. of Illinois says "Home Improvement" is the most realistic family show she has watched. "And I think it's because the kid actors don't go overboard. They seem real, so the show seems real."
Ferber says Jonathan Taylor Thomas gives the show an advantage when it comes to getting real. "He is as smart or smarter than the character he plays on the show. So when this guy is doing the lines, he understands them. He adds a lot to them. The whole process is collaborative. Actors are not in this day and age."
Not puppets, perhaps, but some actors are animated. "Because our show is a cartoon, people are more forgiving if we depart from realistic behavior," says "Daria" story editor and co-creative supervisor Glenn Eichler. "We have it easier than a live action show in that respect. If it strikes a familiar chord with people, that's great. But we don't have to worry as much."
The bottom line, Eichler says, is that TV writing is built on the writers' imagination. "The dialogue between Daria and Quinn and their parents is partly based on conversations I had with my parents, partly based on conversations I have had with my kids. But a lot of it is based on the traits we've given each character."
For 15-year-old Jesse D. of Colorado, it comes down to this: TV doesn't have to be about real life.
"I don't think the way my parents talk to me will ever wind up on network TV," Jesse says. "But isn't that the idea? I watch TV to get away from real life. I mean, if it was just a bunch of home videos of my parents getting cranked because I didn't get my homework done, what would be the point of turning it on?"
A Lesson In Lunacy
Colorado School Shares Name And Fame With `South Park'
May 26, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune.
For years, going to a school with the name of South Park didn't mean much more than homework and hot lunch to the students. Then came Kenny, Kyle, Cartman and Stan.
Now, because of "South Park," Comedy Central's animated series for grownups, going to a South Park school definitely gets attention - for better or worse. The students sometimes find themselves knee-deep in cartoon controversy.
We tried to ask kids at South Park Elementary schools in Deerfield, Ill., and Fairplay, Colo., how they felt about sharing their school name with cartoon crazies. But the principals didn't think that was a very good idea. The show is for adults, they said, and they didn't want their students to comment for our story.
Then there's South Park High School, which is right across the way from South Park Elementary in Fairplay. (Fairplay is in South Park Valley, and the town used to be called South Park, but that got changed for reasons we won't even go into. But everyone calls it South Park, so we will too.) Kids at the high school were able to talk to us. As journalism teacher Wendy Herrin put it, "It's good to give kids a chance to speak their mind." This is what kids said:
"Our star quarterback was named Stan last year, just like the Stan on the show," said Brian H., 16. "And Trey Parker, one of the show's writers, grew up near here, in Connifer. But we don't really talk like the kids on the show."
Said Kay S., 14: "We wouldn't dare. And that's why I don't really like the show. They exaggerate so much. I mean, come on, we don't have 3rd graders who cuss."
Scott H., 17, almost agreed. "True, nobody cusses that much. But I think the show is pretty cool. It's a lot like where we live. And it doesn't bother me, because the town needs something to talk about."
And talk they do. "There are pretty mixed feelings about the show around here," said South Park Chamber of Commerce volunteer Pat Pocius. "But love it or hate it, everyone has something to say."
That includes school bus driver Mary Jo Eggloff, who's said to be the inspiration for the "South Park" bus driver. "I think that kind of disrespect isn't good," she said. "It doesn't need to be glorified. And if any of my kids talked that way, they'd probably end up getting thrown off the bus."
Living in South Park means telephone snickers for teacher Herrin: "It's been strange trying to order supplies out of town. Every time I call to try and get something, they say, `South Park? Really?' They think I'm pulling a prank."
But the show is worth it, Brian H. said. "The show appeals to our generation because it's not censored like all the other shows. There are no barriers. And when I went to a student government conference in Washington, D.C., and told people I was from South Park, they knew right where it was."
"Yeah, suddenly being from South Park is cool," Scott H. said. "That's not too bad considering most of us spend our free time out in the pastures gathering cows."
Rain Forest Kids Try Everything Under the Sun to Beat the Heat
August 11, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune
It's August in North America, so chances are you're hot, hot, hot. You're probably even dreaming of back-to-school breezes that blow in with the fall. But what would you do if the weather never ever chilled?
Mark Plotkin has been there. He's an ethnobotanist, a scientist who studies how people use plants. His studies have taken him to the Amazon rain forest of Suriname, where summer never really ends. Plotkin has studied the people who live there, the Tirio Indians, for 20 years. He can tell you what life is like for the Tirio kids who live there.
"All year long, they rise with the sun to the sound of tribal hunting dogs barking," Plotkin says. "The kids wake at dawn so they can go to school, hunt or work their gardens before it gets too hot."
How hot is too hot? According to America Online's Virtual Planet, the average temperature in Suriname is 81 degrees. "Let's just say the heat can be oppressive," Plotkin says.
To beat the blazing effects of the sun, the Tirio use a little local magic. If sunburn strikes, tropical vinegar eases the sting. Aromatic leaves and saps drive off most biting bugs. And when all else fails, the people hit the waves.
"Indians will bathe in the river three times a day, just to cool off," Plotkin says.
Is it dangerous to splash and dash with exotic tropical fish? "There are plenty of piranhas and electric eels," Plotkin says. "But they don't bother you. Stingrays are much more worrisome. The Tirio shuffle their feet to scare them off."
When it's too hot even to swim, the villagers move their kids and their pets inside thatch huts, climb into suspended, woven hammocks and doze until the sun moves on. "They'll even sleep under wet towels to beat the heat," Plotkin says.
Still, Plotkin says, Tirio kids say living in the Suriname rain forest is cool, even when it's hot. "It's all they really know," he says. "It's the way it's always been."
IT'S NOT EXACTLY RAINING CATS AND DOGS
Ever wondered how Fido would fit in on the Amazon?
"He'd be a very different dog," says ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin, who has visited rain forest Indians for decades.
"They don't really keep cats," Plotkin says of the rain forest's Tirio Indians, "but they do keep dogs. In fact, they depend on their dogs for survival, for hunting."
But according to Plotkin, the dogs aren't really pets. They are hunting companions, kept lean and mean and hungry to sniff out their kill.
"They don't come in the house," Plotkin says. "And they don't even get individual names."
So do rain forest kids go without critter cuddles? "Not at all," Plotkin says. If during a hunting expedition, a mother animal is accidentally killed for meat, the Tirio will raise her young. "So Amazon kids often have baby macaws, baby peccaries and baby spider monkeys as pets."
What do kids feed their pets in the Amazon? "Annoying ethnobotanists," Plotkin says. "Or table scraps if no scientists are in town."
Want to know more? Check out Mark Plotkin's Web page at ethnobotany.org. And watch for his kickin' documentary film "Amazon" to hit an IMAX theater near you.
Minding Your Manners
Does it Matter? Or has Being Polite Lost its Charm?
September 22, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls. Special to the Tribune.
As you shove and tumble through your school hallways, it's pretty clear the concept of manners is the last thing on the average kid's mind. But has being polite really lost its charm? Has good taste gone sour for generation next?
"Being polite hasn't lost its charm," says 15-year-old Javan S. of Colorado, "it's lost its meaning. When I open the door for my girlfriend, it feels weird because she's used to opening it herself."
Psychologist and author Alex J. Packer says it's true that "a lot of traditional manners of the past based on women being the weaker gender would be considered sexist today." But he adds: "I think the basics of manners remain constant."
What are the basics?
Syndicated columnist Mary Mitchell, better known as Ms. Demeanor, says good manners, "are simply good human relationships. They never go out of style," she says. "Good manners are acts of kindness, an attitude of respect for others. Good manners come from the inside."
If practicing good manners is as simple as being kind, why are so many people rude? "Sometimes kids are rude because adults are rude, because they are not being taught good manners," Packer says.
Peer pressure might also play a part. Twelve-year-old Philip S. of Chicago says, "I'd rather be nice. But if I don't come across as tough all the time, I'm gonna get whipped. It's like it's not cool to be polite."
In his book "How Rude!" Packer says some kids equate having manners with acting fake. "But why think of it this way when you could perceive it as `being tactful,' `being kind' or `being clever'?" he asks.
After all, Packer argues, why say, "I wouldn't go out with you if you were the last person on Earth," when you could say, "I'm sorry but I already have plans. Thanks for asking."
Young adult author and family therapist Chris Crutcher agrees. "Sometimes being tough gets more immediate rewards," he says, "but being tough is usually some manifestation of fear, and sooner or later that comes out."
Thirteen-year-old Tracy M. of New York says TV also plays a role in making impolite behavior appear cool. "TV makes it look fun to be rude," she says.
Mitchell agrees; TV isn't a good guide. "It's had a terrible effect on young people. They see nasty behavior championed," she says. " ‘Seinfeld’for example, gave us a perfect example of rude living - barging into others' homes. Kids adopt the behavior because they think it's OK."
Think she should lighten up a bit? Perhaps, Crutcher says. "There is certainly a place for rudeness when it comes to comedy, and most kids know the difference between TV and real life."
Still, knowing which is the right fork for each course doesn't mean you're well-mannered, Crutcher says. "If we're going to be (sincere) about manners, rather than just be `Manner Robots,' it will be evident. Our manners kick in - at least when we really mean them."
GROSS! Why disgusting is irresistible.
October 29, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls | Kelly Milner Halls,Chicago Tribune
If you hear there's something gross around, chances are you'll wanna see it. If it stinks, oozes or pulsates, half the neighborhood might come running. But why? What makes "gross" almost irresistible to mankind? And how do we define exactly what "gross" is?
"It's hard to define gross," says William I. Miller, who wrote "The Anatomy of Disgust," "because it will often vary from one culture to the next. But what is constant is that each culture will find something disgusting."
Sylvia Branzei, author of the cool "Grossology" books, says: "Anything that makes your nose turn up and your stomach clinch is gross." But she agrees what triggers that response can depend on who you are and where you live.
For example, most U.S. citizens would gag at the thought of eating insects. But some people in Africa, Australia and South America enthusiastically gobble bugs. Still, children's author Eric Elman says, some bugs are universally disgusting. "The one thing that comes close is the cockroach."
Human waste is another candidate for internationally gross. Miller says disgust sets up societal rules. "It says, 'Thou shalt not touch this; don't get near it.' It tells us something is dangerous."
Of course, calling something gross or "off limits" frequently backfires. "Any time you tell somebody not to do something, it becomes desirable in a way," Miller says. "Just look at Adam and Eve. Nothing was off limits except for that little fruit. So they had to have it."
You'll love the stuffing out of our turkey tale!November 25, 1999|By Kelly Milner Halls | Special for the Chicago Tribune
When it comes to naming man's best friend, some turkey owners say, "Move over Spot. It's time for a fine feathered friend."
Why turkeys? It's a matter of heart, says John Sturgeon of Atascadero, Calif., who raised the birds for 15 years. "They are not very smart," he admits, "but they are canny and extremely loyal."
Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Clark raised her favorite turkey, "Thanksgiving," from a hatchling. Last year the plump, 24-pound hen was named the Arkansas State Fair's Junior Reserve Grand Champion. Clark went home with a trophy, a four-year college scholarship and $3,700 cash.
Her affection for the birds is a little more practical than John Sturgeon's. "I try not to get attached," she says. "I only have them about 12 weeks before they go to auction." Once auctioned, turkeys like Thanksgiving either wind up as breeding stock or high-priced eats. (Jennifer's winning bird will breed.)
But Clark admits the young chicks did bond with her. "Even as babies, they definitely recognized me," she says. "Every morning, when I went outside to feed them, they'd start running around and flapping their wings."
One of Sturgeon's birds got more excited than that. "I had a female named Irene that developed a crush on me," he says. "I would take my guitar outside to the pasture and sing to the turkeys. Irene would tremble and quiver."
Cross species affection is possible, says Frank Jones, a University of Arkansas poultry expert. "But I'm not sure how much would be actual behavior and how much would be human perception."
Then again, maybe Irene was drunk. "Hey, it happens," says Sturgeon. "Every summer, when the plums get ripe, hundreds fall to the ground and ferment." After pigging out, "the birds get drunk," he says. "They walk sideways. They stagger. They gobble erratically and eventually flop to the ground."
Drunk or sober, Sturgeon says turkeys will always be his bird of choice. "When Ben Franklin said our national symbol should be the turkey, not the eagle, he was right. The turkey is, without a doubt, the noblest of birds."
Noble if you can deal with manure, Jones says. "I doubt seriously that you'd be able to house-train a turkey. But (that) affection isn't unusual. Even most commercial turkey growers come to sort of like working with the birds."
Do live turkey owners still eat the traditional holiday feast? "Sure," Clark says. "I was raised to see livestock as livestock." Even Sturgeon admits the habitually hateful turkeys in his flock wound up baked or broiled.
But one thing is clear. Turkeys are easy to love -- inside (our stomachs) and out.
Forget Rudolph -- real-life critters win glowing reviews
December 23, 1999|By Kelly Milner Halls | Special for the Chicago Tribune
Think St. Nick is the only guy with a fondness for Rudolph? Think again. Reindeer ranchers say these arctic bucks and does are playful little dears.
Take 13-year-old Lance T. His family keeps reindeer Holly and Nicholas at its Trees & Treasure Christmas Tree Farm in Quincy, Ill.
"They're fun to be around," Lance says. "Their hooves really make a clicking sound when they walk, just like in 'The Night Before Christmas.' "
Gordon Poest, who wrote the book "Raising Reindeer for Pleasure and Profit," did his research firsthand -- and says reindeer-raising is fun.
"Two things really surprised me about reindeer, when I first started raising them," he says: "How smart they are and how playful they can be."
"Follow the leader" is a favorite reindeer romp. "They'll also play with anything movable in the pens -- anything they can push around," Poest says.
Lance T. is pretty sure his reindeer are Earth-bound. "But if they could fly, I'd be the first one to take a ride."