Monday, March 25, 2013

the six dumbest characters in a galaxy far, far away


This was a piece I originally pitched to Cracked.com. They shot it down because apparently only their oh-so-wonderful, magnificent, glorious staff writers get to do editorials. Their loss is your incredible gain, particularly now that Star Wars is ramping up via Disney to potentially be a thing again.

Let’s face it: Just because you’re technologically advanced enough to clone Boba Fett’s dad, make the speed of light your bitch, or give Billy Dee Williams a purpose besides shilling for Colt 45 doesn’t necessarily mean you have the street smarts you need to thrive in a galaxy far, far away. Today, we look at the characters of Star Wars with lapses of intelligence so staggering, I’m surprised they can muster enough motor function to walk upright like a proper caveman.

Shmi Skywalker

Although Anakin Skywalker did ultimately grow up to be douchier than a Massengill factory, he was actually a sweet (albeit annoying) kid. So it’s perfectly understandable that his mother wouldn’t want him racing pods all over Tattooine and ending up pancaked on a canyon wall in a heap of flaming, twisted metal. Although I hear George Lucas was planning to add that scene the next time the movies were re-released.

So when Anakin volunteers to get behind the stick (or whatever you drive a racing pod with) to help a few outlanders he literally just met, Shmi’s chagrin is palpable. Which is why it’s somewhat surprising that, mere seconds later, she completely reverses her position. It’s almost as if her keen maternal instincts are overridden in a sudden moment of empathy or sloppy writing.

Yoda

In his twilight years, Yoda would instruct Luke in the ways of the Force, tempering the youthful Skywalker’s impatience and impertinence with a wisdom and restraint that came from (presumably) experience. But during the last days of the Republic, as the galaxy found itself facing an emerging Sith threat, Yoda was more clueless than a 1990s Alicia Silverstone vehicle.

Forget for a moment that Yoda has a speech impediment so glaring he would’ve automatically been relegated to the finest special ed classes the Dagobah Unified School District had to offer. He senses right away that something is off about Anakin when Qui Gon presents him before the Jedi Council. But rather than stick to his guns when Obi-Wan insists on training him, he just kind of shrugs his shoulders and says, “Boys, boys they will be.”

And when it comes time to hide Luke and Leia from Vader, whose chances of ever being conferred a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug are quickly diminishing by that point, Yoda sends Luke to stay with his uncle—Vader’s stepbrother. I guess he’s counting on the dark lord never wanting to swing by the old homestead one of these years for Space Thanksgiving.

The Jedi Council, in general

If Yoda was the only bonehead on the Jedi Council, there might have been some hope for these guys. Unfortunately, they were all completely asleep at the wheel as Palpatine engineered a clone army behind everyone’s backs, somehow convinced them that said army was in no way suspicious, and then had the clones do an abrupt about-face, staging the most spectacular coup d’état in galactic history.

All of that could have been avoided if a practicing Sith lord in their midst would’ve triggered just one of their spider senses. But I guess maybe that’s expecting too much of the most attuned Force-users in the whole frigging galaxy. With that level of obliviousness, I imagine there probably were credits to be made selling their e-mail addresses to a “Nigerian Prince.”

And that whole prophecy about the Chosen One bringing balance to the Force? I guess they just forgot that there was a Dark Side to the Force. And, you know, what the word “balance” means.

Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader

I get it. I mean, what guy living hasn’t done something dumb because of a girl? But Anakin really takes the taco. When he has a premonition that Padme will die in childbirth, he’ll do anything to keep that from happening. “Anything,” in this case, means selling out his principles, trying to kill his best friend, and aiding and abetting his galaxy’s equivalent of Hitler. But, in the end, Padme dies anyway when she succumbs to an incurable case of irony. The Emperor then tells Gullible McSucker that he was directly responsible for her death, prompting him to scream “Noooooo!” as he senses a gaping plot hole in the Force.

Let’s not forget that Vader was totally planning to stab the Emperor in the back if he could’ve gotten Padme to team up with him—a strategy that he would try to employ years later with Luke. Luke, of course, doesn’t go for it either, deciding instead to fight the evilest guy in the galaxy on his own terms—by not fighting him—so it’s really no surprise when the Emperor just up and starts electrocuting the young Jedi. Vader, at this point, feels pity for Luke, but instead of blocking the Force lightning with his lightsaber like he saw Mace Windu do years earlier, he decides the best way to stop his boss from zapping the shit of out his kid is to pick him up one-handed and slam-dunk him down an improbably convenient exhaust shaft, conducting a lethal amount of electricity in the process. Or he could’ve just declined when the Emperor asked him to participate in “take your son to work day.”

Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine

When Senator Palpatine wasn’t actively representing the people of his home planet of Naboo or moonlighting as a robe model, he was conspiring to seize power and rule the galaxy with an iron fist. So he devised a plan so diabolically genius that it relied on complete and utter failure literally every step of the way if it ever had any chance of success in the long run. Let’s work from the end result backwards:

At the end of The Phantom Menace, Palpatine supplants Valorum as Chancellor when the latter can no longer provide the leadership needed to end the crisis on Naboo or convince anyone to kneel before Zod. (It's Terrance Effing Stamp, gang!) But ousting him was dependent on being able to manipulate Queen Amidala to call for the vote of no confidence. You know, the same Queen Amidala that should’ve been captured in the invasion Palpatine orchestrated or, barring that, by Darth Maul. Had Queen Amidala been successfully caught, she never would’ve gone to Coruscant and appeared before the Senate. She also would’ve been forced to sign a treaty legitimizing the Trade Federation’s occupation of her planet, thereby prematurely ending the crisis our friend the Senator drummed up to seize power. But even if Palpatine was counting on Amidala escaping capture multiple times, she was going to need the help of her Jedi companions to do so. You know, the same Jedi that Palpatine, as Darth Sidious, ordered the Trade Federation to kill in the first 5 min. of the movie.

The master stroke of Operation Epic Fail isn’t revealed, however, until Revenge of the Sith, when the now Chancellor hints to Anakin that he used the Force to conceive him, undoubtedly hoping that a kid would fix his marriage to Mrs. Palpatine. But Anakin would never have been discovered, freed, and trained as a Jedi—in short, never arrived at that moment where he became the Emperor’s apprentice—if any of the people operating on Sidious’ orders in Episode I had been competent enough to do a single goddamned thing he told them to do.

But before you go thinking that’s possibly the worst plan in history of the galaxy,
consider the hare-brained scheme Palpatine hatched later on to try to turn Luke to the Dark Side. It went something like this:

Emperor: Hey, I know you’re really super invested in being a good, honorable Jedi and all that, but is there any way I can convince you to forsake everything you believe in and do a complete 180 on your principles?
Luke: Um…no.
Emperor: Shit. All I’ve got for a plan B is my wicked awesome lightning fingers.

And the number one dumbest character in Star Wars?

Admiral Ozzel

Seriously? Coming out of light speed so close to the system? What a fucking ‘tard.

Monday, March 18, 2013

decade

This week, I'll have been living in Los Angeles for 10 years. Ever the purveyor of knowledge, I thought I should share with you, gentle readers, the lessons I've gleaned from my decade as an Angelino:

1) I really should've learned Spanish at some point. 

I never took Spanish in school, although in retrospect, I probably should have. No, as I explained a few weeks ago, I took Latin and then German, both of which are now just going to waste since the only way that combo could've proved useful was while Benedict was still Pope.

I've actually tried on numerous occasions to teach myself. I'm the proud owner of a used Spanish textbook which I "borrowed" from my high school's Spanish teacher. I've also gotten my hands on Spanish For Dummies and downloaded some conversational language lab sessions. I even tried watching one of my favorite movies, The Empire Strikes Back, with the Spanish track on and English subtitles, but they talked too fast for me to single out any words--all  I recognized was gracias, si, and um...Luke. (In case you were wondering, "tauntaun" is still "tauntaun" in any language, and they subtitled the snow monster roaring as "Rrraaah!" in case you weren't able to pick up on the nuances of the puppeteer's performance.)

Nothing has worked for me so far. I think my only other option is Rosetta Stone. Or, you know, all those immigrants could learn our language if they're going to come here and take all our low-paying jobs that we don't want to do.

2) An hour drive isn't that far.

My college was about an 80 min. drive from my parent's house, and that seemed too far away and too devoid of co-eds to come home every weekend. On a bad day in L.A., I could spend that long just driving to work or, on a really bad day, watching the latest Adam Sandler movie. Seriously, what happened to that guy after The Wedding Singer?

Thankfully, in average traffic, you can usually get where you're going in L.A. in an hour or less, although the show 24 would have had you believe it's much quicker. I guess they couldn't really have Jack Bauer say, "I'm taking the 405--see you in two episodes." So, in the past 10 years, the "hour drive" has become my new benchmark for a reasonable amount of time on the road. But any more than that? Good luck ever getting me to come visit you in Anaheim.

3) People here are the same as people everywhere else.

I was warned moving to the "land of fruits and nuts" that people here would be flaky, weird, unscrupulous, cutthroat, self-absorbed, or some combination thereof. My response was, "As opposed to...where, exactly?" Yes, you meet those kinds of people here--with the same frequency you would meet them anywhere. You also meet people who are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, and many other adjectives befitting a Boy Scout. (See what I did there?)

The only real difference is a slightly above-average preoccupation with the entertainment industry...but I live for that shit--that's why I moved here!

Okay, okay: There are also a lot of people here into kooky things like raw food and hot Pilates. (Fun fact: Pilates was named after Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect who sentenced Jesus to crucifixion. If you've ever done Pilates, you'll understand why.)

In summary, if you want to to know what I've really learned in 10 years here, the answer is: not very much.

Monday, March 11, 2013

bees do it

The word "drone" has been tossed around a lot lately and, for once, not as something my history professors did. Now it's a commonly used military euphemism for a remote-controlled killer robot, something which I suppose I can see having a negative connotation after years of propaganda by the Terminator franchise.

Some people, like Senator Rand Paul (no relation to Ayn Rand...that we know of), feel very strongly that the Obama administration's drone program is an overreach of executive power. In fact, Paul felt so strongly about it, he filibustered John Brennan's nomination to CIA director on Wednesday, ensuring that the Senate upheld its solemn, patriotic tradition of never getting anything accomplished.

I get it. Drones are scary. And we don't know much about them. I think it's time America got some answers. What are their likes and dislikes? Who was their biggest influence in high school? What are they most afraid of? Who are they rooting for on this season of "The Bachelor?" Is one targeting me right now?

And what exactly is Obama's justification for this drone program? We should demand a better response than, "Congress can kiss my half-black ass." (I'm pretty sure that's a direct quote, by the way.)

It looks like this will remain a "hot button" issue in the days ahead, primarily because that's the Air Force euphemism for what they press to launch a drone strike.

Monday, March 4, 2013

five things you need to stop sharing on facebook

Sharing is good. We learned it in Kindergarten...unless you went to a Kindergarten taught by Ayn Rand, in which case you learned rational self-interest instead: "You didn't bring enough gum for the whole class? Good for you."

The Internet has made it possible to share on a much larger scale than ever before. Because we forget this fact, or perhaps are intoxicated by it, we've developed a tendency to overshare when it comes to social media. So I've compiled the following list of things that, for the love of God, I wish people would stop sharing on Facebook.

1) amazing claims that a quick visit to snopes reveals to be false

Whether it's what Facebook or Instagram can do legally do with your personal photos or the latest celebrity that isn't getting enough media coverage for a saying or doing something shocking(ly political), if it makes you do a double take and your news feed is the only place you're hearing about it, that should be a red flag that it doesn't pass the smell test of mixed metaphors.

I can understand being so gullible in the early days of the Internet, before everyone knew about Nigerian princes and $250 cookie recipes. Now, there's just no excuse for not going to snopes.com first. (Protip: As of 12:00 a.m. this morning, laziness still does not qualify as an excuse.) A friend recently re-posted an article full of half-truths and prefaced it by saying, "I'm not sure if this is true, but it's interesting." Obama riding a unicorn to Mars, shouting as he goes, "Vladimir Putin wears women's panties!" is interesting, but I'd rather you not pass it off as potentially factual when it's as simple as visiting one website beforehand to not be part of the problem.

Some people will say, "Snopes isn't the last word in what's factual." Fuck those people--it's better than nothing. You don't like Snopes? Then at least get one independent confirmation from a reliable source. If journalists aren't above doing it, you aren't either. Or, you know, you could just err on the side of caution and not share something that seems dubious.

2) "brainteasers" that anyone with average intelligence can easily do

This one takes many forms, from counting triangles to spotting mistakes to naming cities without a certain letter in them. Often times, there's a tantalizing percentile given that you will supposedly be in the upper echelon of if you can answer. These puzzles might be challenging if you're Corky from "Life Goes On," but if your IQ is at least as high as your body temperature, then you should be able to unravel most of these riddles in under 10 seconds, and exactly no one will be impressed.

3) Harlem shake videos

Stop. Just stop.

4) the false dilemma guilt trip

"If you're not afraid to say you love Jesus, you'll re-post this as your status." Really? I will? You can predict the future? This type of "share pollution" posits a false dichotomy in which your unwillingness to re-post someone's lame, misguided idea of a badge of honor somehow equates to opposition to the thing itself. "Share this if you hate cancer." No, I'm not going to share it, because obviously I looooove cancer. Or, you know, maybe I just have better things to do than try to make everyone else's day a little more inane.

5) how great your lunch, view, weather, or significant other is

Just because life is all sunshine and puppy dogs for you, it doesn't mean you have to rub it in. Studies have shown that there is a real medical thingy called Social Media Depression, whereby people tend to compare the quality of their lives against what they see their friends posting. And unless their friends are totally emo, they're probably just posting the positive stuff, which creates an unrealistic impression that everyone you know online is better at life than you are, which leads to a lot of Zoloft. By bragging about what a swell life you lead, you're driving your friends to melancholy, making you, in fact, a horrible, horrible person. (See also #3.)