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My 5th Grade Field Trip (or How I Nearly Started a War with Spain)

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The last thing I ever expected to do on a fifth-grade field trip was instigate a trans-atlantic war. Then again, I doubt very many people are thinking seriously about intercontinental politics at age 10. Most of them are just thinking about cookies or something. At the start of this adventure all I was thinking about was hardtack biscuits.

Perhaps I should explain a bit of backstory. At some point, myself, my dad, and a bunch of friends joined an overnight trip to Baltimore harbor to stay aboard the U.S.S. Constellation (accidentally called the U.S.S. Constipation by a younger friend of mine who didn’t understand why that was funny.) The plan was for the ship’s crew (volunteers from the historical society) to show us around and teach us various nautical terms and concepts as well as fill us in on the history of the ship and its interdiction of illegal slavers. Then we’d pile into hammocks and cram together just like the real crew (there were like 200 people doing this, so it really was as cramped as if we were the actual ships crew.)

We started our misadventures immediately. My friend Gabriel unpacked his overnight gear in the hold where we were told we would be staying and then took it upon himself to sign our group up for night watch. Each group on the field trip had to take an hour up on deck to record random happenings in the logbook as some form of sadistic attempt to educate us about how much being a sailor in the old days sucked.

It got worse when they got to the part about having to put up with Kiera Knightly trying to seajack your boat.

Now, to explain the hardtack thing. My dad is a Civil War re-enactor in his spare time, which means that on weekends in the summer he dresses up in period-appropriate uniforms and goes camping with his buddies and their guns. Wait…that just sounds like he’s from Kentucky. What I mean to say is that he sort of takes on the part of an actor in a movie and steps into the role of a Civil War soldier for a weekend. As a by-product of this, one weekend my dad made “hardtack” a sort of bread/biscuit/cracker thing that served as rations for soldiers in the Civil War. In order to let it get to the appropriate level of authentic staleness, he let it sit in the garage for a week or so and then brought it back inside and stashed it in bags, and he always let my sister and I have one because we were young and thought that breaking teeth was fun as long as we got to eat something in the process.

When I arrived for the night on the boat, I got ahold of one of the schedules, and saw that dinner was “hardtack and stew.” I thought that meant I could finally stand out amongst my peer group as “hardcore” because I’d learned how to successfully eat the stuff without requiring hospitalization. All through the history lesson, all through the knot tying, and all through Gabriel’s sheepish admission of when we had to wake up, the only thing on my mind was the manly display of my chewing ability I’d get to show off at dinner.

Use your molars, ya pansy!

After bearing through all of the “educational” stuff people always ruin field trips with, we finally got to dinner. They brought out styrofoam bowls of some kind of beefy soup that came from a can and… saltine crackers? What the crap is this?! Saltine crackers. Oh, no buddy, this is NOT hardtack. I became very offended at the sheer guts these supposed “historical authorities” had in trying to pass off saltine crackers as the manliest cracker in the world. Not only that, but there is NO manly way to eat a saltine cracker! They embody “light tapas” and other words that don’t sound macho. My plan to impress my friends was ruined!

Hardtack. Bah!

After a few more nautical vocabulary lessons it was time for bed. Each of us had been assigned a canvas hammock hanging from the ceiling. Mine was near the aft of the ship (nautical vocab lesson: remembered. Oh yeah…) and unfortunately for me my immediate neighbor was some other kids mom, who slept with her head at my feet and the most unholy stench emanating from her feet, which she stuck in my face all night. Imagine if a fish was rotting, and then someone put lysol on it. It wouldn’t make it smell better, and after a while the lysol would smell like it was rotting too. That was what this woman’s feet smelled like. I tried to move so that my head was no longer near her feet, but by this point I was so crushed in by all the other people sleeping that I couldn’t move. I was trapped in a prison of stink.

By 1:00 in the morning, I was so thankful for my dad arriving to fetch me for watch that I fell onto a coil of rope in my excitement to get out of the hammock, scattering it across the floor and waking up a good fourth of the ship. Oops. The hour we spent on deck was pretty uneventful. Gabriel had a broken arm in a cast, so he spent most of the break writing what I’m sure was a novel in the logbook because he didn’t want to lean his arm on the rail. I took pleasure in making a nearby couple making out on the dock feel extremely awkward by peeking over the side of the ship at them every time they thought I was gone.

To the couple’s great relief it was soon time to return to our hammocks. I rebelled at the notion of a return to my prison of olfactory torment, so I instead opted to sleep on the floor of the ship (or, as the pros called it “the deck”) Several uncomfortable, but thankfully odor-free hours later I awoke and was treated to more saltine crackers and some oatmeal for breakfast. Whoopee.

By now you’re sick of hearing about my tiny woes, and instead are aching to hear how exactly a 10 year old boy managed to nearly start a war. Well, it began at about 10:00 that morning as the crew was teaching us how to load and fire the “parrot gun” or tiny cannon at the back of the ship. You may begin to see where this is going. Previously, they’d made the mistake of not wadding newspaper into the barrel to muffle the sound and had broken several windows on the Hyatt Hotel across the street. This time, they taught us to carefully pack lots of newspaper  into the barrel to prevent the sound from becoming too loud. This also had the effect of creating a giant flaming ball of newspaper that disintegrated before it hit the ground, but nonetheless looked like an enormous fireball had been fired from the cannon.

Pictured: 5th Grade History

This is normally ok, but in the excitement of the crew to shoot the cannon (apparently they’re as much pyromaniacs as historians) they forgot to look where the cannon was pointing when it went off. There was a (still) deafening “BOOM!,” a fireball went arcing through the air, and 100 Spanish dignitaries went diving under the luncheon tables on the Ambassadorial ship immediately in our line of fire. Plates spilled, exclamations of surprise were shouted, and suits were gotten dirty.

To my 10-year-old mind, we’d just declared war. Every story I’d ever heard of ambassadors getting shot at had ended in beach landings, bombing runs, and old people in congress giving impassioned speeches about everything. This was not exactly how I saw my field trip ending, so I spend the remainder of the trip worrying about the best ways to dodge the age requirements from the military. Not until years later did I realize that if I had joined the army I would have been killing people for something that was totally my bad. Oops.

Maybe using this would mitigate the problem?

 

 

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Pre-Adolescent Street Cred: Whatever the Cost

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Some of you may remember my previous post about criminals, which I opened with the words “Criminals are dumb.” Since writing that post I have come to quite a serious conclusion. This decision is the product of a lot of thought, and a lot of soul-searching, but here it goes.

Little boys are even dumber.

I know I’m classifying myself for a lot of my life as being dumber than people who roll joints in front of a SWAT van but I can’t in good conscience let the little blighters off the hook. My primary reasoning for this comes from the way in which the two groups choose to build up proof of their “street cred.” Criminals generally have a wealth of tattoos detailing what prisons they’ve been to, what gangs they’ve run with, and in some cases the sorts of crimes they’ve committed. No hardcore criminal is going to believe you’ve done time in Sing-Sing unless you’ve got the tat.

This one started young.

Admittedly, this is really stupid, since one of the easiest ways for the cops to ID you is if you have a sign literally etched into your skin declaring “I’M A FELON!” (note that I’m not saying all tattoos mark you thusly, just specific ones that you are hopefully unlikely to accidentally impose upon yourself.) Despite the inherent stupidity of this system, however, little boys have them beat cold on the stupid-o-meter. How do they do this? Little boys refuse to believe a story is true unless you have a scar to prove it.

Think about that for a second: the “pics or it didn’t happen” of the prepubescent and even adolescent boy is “bodily disfigurement or it didn’t happen.” You literally have to have injured yourself to the point that some part of you couldn’t grow back right to obtain credibility with these gremlins. And that presented a major problem for me, because I don’t scar.

The tribulation inherent in being a boy who does not scar plagued me all the way through my younger days. In fact, I think I ended up being even more self-abusive than most little boys in my reckless quest to kill myself just to prove I’d done it. No matter what I did, I couldn’t raise so much as a little skin discoloration to prove that I had, in fact, caught a metal drainage pipe with the lawnmower and sent shrapnel into my shin.

Over time, I developed a strange sort of background psychological complex bent on sabotaging me to the point that I just had to get a scar. I started at about 8 when within a week of moving into a house with brick stairs out front, my legs tripped me up and slammed my forehead straight into the corner of one of the stairs. Huge gash, no stitches, perfect conditions for scarring. The doctor even said it was going to scar up quite nicely. What do I get? A little tiny crease in the corner of my forehead if I crinkle my face up just right and the humidity isn’t too low.

Later in life I somehow managed to not notice that in attempting to remove some cornbread from the oven I had somehow pressed the inside of my left arm against the extremely hot metal side of the oven and burned an ugly little crescent into the side of my arm (it was the really bad kind of burn). Doctor’s opinion? “You’ll have a scar there pretty much for life. Three years later I had a tiny patch of slightly lighter skin and the first time I got a suntan it disappeared completely.

Since when does ultraviolet radiation heal you?

Over the next few years I ran the gamut of physical imperilment. I got myself hit in the face with an aluminum baseball bat going full speed, I slashed my foot with a metal grate, I even shot myself in the foot that only days earlier I’d had a 2 inch piece of wood removed from! (A good story, for another time perhaps) Nothing worked. No matter what I tried the boyhood equivalent of street cred eluded me. I’m like the convict who always gets caught by the guards every time he tries to start inking himself.

My absolute worst attempt, which I was positive would work, requires a little set up. You see, partly out of my masochism and partly because it was absolutely awesome, I was an avid street hockey player all through my childhood. We even lived in a cul-de-sac where not only did we have the perfect place to play, but also an abundance of kids and adults as into it as I was.

This next part is completely disconnected from the previous paragraph. When my mom was a kid, she was late for some sort of important event and so was running down the stairs of her house toward the front door. Unfortunately, what she thought was an open door was actually a plate glass storm door, which she managed to get her entire arm through before she realized the damage she was doing to herself. She was now stuck in the storm door, and began to try and pull her injured arm back into the house to get treatment. At the sight of this, my grandmother, in a moment of panic, screamed “NO! Go outside, you’ll bleed on the carpet!” My mother has never quite forgiven her for this.

So, back to me, one day I was out playing street hockey sans any kind of padding because I was a cocky little snot and was too good for any of that stuff. It just got in the way of my style. For the most part I actually was good enough that I didn’t fall down and since we didn’t have any kind of boards to check against, I was safe from being smashed up against anything. However, this day God decided I needed a good humiliating to make up for all my smirky smugness. While going as fast as I could the tip of my roller blade hit a tiny little pebble, which sent me flying. I landed on my (bare) shins on the asphalt pavement and proceeded to skid for around ten or fifteen feet. My legs were literally hamburger, but somehow I staggered back inside my house. I limped gingerly into the kitchen and started to make my way toward the living room, where my mom and grandmother were having a conversation.

“Mom?” I ventured, weakly.

“STAY THERE! DON’T BLEED ON THE CARPET!” she responded.

Immediately upon realizing what she’d said she turned as white as a ghost and clapped both hands over her mouth.

Rather like Macaulay Culkin, actually.

My grandmother, in spite of herself, busted out into uproarious gales of laughter at my mother that she couldn’t control for at least  five minutes. After bandaging myself, I started to silently rejoice. Here was finally an injury that couldn’t help but scar. For good measure I even accidentally got the injury dragged through a patch of poison ivy by my manic dog a few days later, which developed nicely into a tormentuously itchy, skinless patch of pain. The only thing that got me through all of the pain cheerfully was the surety that finally I’d have that longed-for cred amongst my peers, who would no doubt examine my mutilated legs and nod sagely to each other in admiring approval.

Nope. Nothing. Not even a little change in skin color. Heck, the hair even grew back after the new skin did. After failing to scar yet again I decided to give up on my insane quest and just accept that none of the awesome stories I had to tell would ever be believed by anybody in my peer group.

I’d love to say that I moved past that and realized how dumb the whole thing was. I’d love to say that the wisdom age has brought me has allowed me to renounce this frankly stupid form of validation. But then I realized that I just wrote an appeal to the internet to believe all the stories I tried to get my freinds to beleive as a kid.

And no, I still don’t have the scars to prove them.

How I Went to Extreme Lengths Not to Touch the Floor

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One of the things you expect when living in an apartment that was never actually intended to be permanent housing is that things will go wrong. What you don’t really expect is to have your kitchen floor inflate like a balloon when the air conditioner turns on. Such was my experience with my apartment and after attempting to feed myself within this culinary moon bounce several times I called to get a new floor put in. What happened next is a cautionary tale, demonstrating the dangers of poor prior planning, combined with an irrational respect for the power of police tape.

Monday morning I decided that before any workmen arrived, I needed to give my abode a serious cleaning. Months of accumulated papers, electrical gadgets, power cords, plastic cups, and books coated every horizontal surface and several of them that were nearly vertical (I impress myself sometimes with my ability to make my own life both more interesting and vastly more difficult simultaneously). The majority of the day was spent tidying things, re-organizing the bookshelves, vacuuming (or “hoovering” for all you quaint British readers out there), and doing my long overdue laundry. At the end of a long day I was finished, and quite satisfied with the results.

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Like this, only far more masculine and bereft of pink rubber gloves.

Within twelve hours it was all for nothing, however, since the men replacing the floor needed to get all of the kitchen appliances out as well as clear out the closet I use to store things that I may (but probably won’t) ever use. This meant that the apartment I had so thoroughly cleaned the day before was now covered in first aid kits, plastic bags I wanted to re-use in a vain attempt to be “eco,” and assorted miscellany I threw in the closet to avoid having to decide what to do with.

All this leads us back to the kitchen floor. Previously, the floor had been covered with a sort of vinyl faux-lineoleum which looked like wallpaper for the floor. This time, however, it was being replaced with actual tile, which meant that I was going to be banned from the room overnight while the cement-mortar stuff they use to stick tile to the floor (obviously I am not a very “handy” person, or I’d know what it was called) dried. At this point it would be a good idea to mention that all of my food is stored in a closed that is almost as far away from the door as you can get along the wall to your left as you come into my kitchen. Now, any normal person with a fully functioning whatever-the-part-of-the-brain-is-that-controls-prior-planning would have simply thought “I should get out all the food and dishes and such that I need to eat for the next day and a half before the workmen get here.” I, instead, thought “I should grab some grapes.” And so I did.

The next morning the work crew arrived and began dismantling the kitchen. My refrigerator was moved outside and plugged in on the porch, like the way rednecks do when they want to have a refrigerator used entirely to store beer. The stove and table likewise ended up outside and any food left in the kitchen was either in the closet or on the counter (also on the far side of the room) in the case of things like bread. At no point did the thought cross my mind that this was a problem. Instead, I sat happily on the couch and munched on grapes like a Roman Caesar.

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With exactly that facial expression.

Several hours later, the majority of the work was done and the workmen began to pack up for the night. However, the floor seal was still wet, so to remind me not to walk around on it, they put police tape across the door to the kitchen. About the same time they left, I ran out of grapes and it began to dawn on me that I was an idiot. Over the next several hours a small voice began to nag in my head, reprimanding me for not bringing more food out of the kitchen before I let the workmen in. This small voice gradually evolved until it became exactly like this herd of condescending cows.

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"All 5 food groups, fool!"

I began to contemplate ways to retrieve food from my kitchen. The problem was, all I could conceivably get to was the food on the counter, since the closet was likewise sealed off (to keep the food from walking on the floor?) I surveyed my options. A sack of potatoes? Useless without something to cook them in (or on). A bunch of bananas? No more fruit, I’d had enough of that. What I was really craving was…yes! There, on the counter was a loaf of bread. And right next to it, unplugged, was the toaster. A plan began to form in my mind…a really stupid plan.

I grabbed the longest thing I could find, which was a stubby broom handle about 4 feet long, and to this device I affixed a paperclip, which I had bent into the rough shape of a hook. Thus armed, I approached the tape. Prying two strands of the police line apart, I stuck my head and one arm through and began to reach for the bag containing the loaf of baked goodness. Due to the shortness of my tool, however, I failed to reach it. Thus began about a ten minute process of doing everything within my power to reach the bread. It was pretty much one of those moments any good film editor would just relegate to a montage.

Finally, I snagged the bread on the tip of my paperclip and managed to wrangle it through the tape and into my arms. I took a moment to celebrate quietly by silently dancing (after making sure all the windows were shuttered) and then set about retrieving the toaster. By now I’d worked out a strategy by which I could reach the counter with my hookbroom. I leaned up against one side of the doorframe and propped myself up in the air by pushing my leg against the opposite side of the frame. I then held on to the top of the frame and leaned as far as I could into the kitchen. On the first try I snagged the toaster and yanked.

I had forgotted about the crumb tray. Toast crumbs spilled everywhere as I pulled the toaster into my arms. The workmen would think I’d been in the kitchen. They’d send disapproving glances in my direction the next morning when they came back! I had to act. I snagged my vacuum cleaner from behind me and began shoving the hose through the police tape to suck up all the crumbs. The last two feet of floor space I had to use the hookbroom to sweep the crumbs close enough for the vacuum to get them, but in the end, I managed to get all the crumbs.

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"Phew!" is right, you odd little skunk-reindeer thing.

The next morning, happily munching on unfortunately butterless toast (you take what you can get, I guess.), I greeted the workmen, who were none the wiser to my bizarre adventure the night before. They put the kitchen back together, and now I’m free to eat once again.

I got another bag of grapes and went back to Caesar-ing.

Grave Robbers from Space, Dolphin Assassins, and a Planetary Shield Made from the Brain Molecules of Turks.

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I have a bit of an admission to make. Among my weirder hobbies, I am an avid lover of the worst of the worst films ever made. From recent flops like Birdemic to old classic failures like those featured on the TV show Mystery Science Theatre 3000 I love them all. Recently, I’ve been discovering some new ones, and revisting old favorites. I’m not sure what draws me to these atrocious crimes committed against the world of filmmaking. Is it the remarkable cheesiness? The obvious production failures? The ridiculous plots? Probably a combination of all three, plus a heaping helping of schadenfreude. I’ve compiled my list of the best of the worst, and hope you’ll find them as wonderfully awful as I have.

Plan 9 From Outer Space- The Quintessential Terrible Film

Most people who’ve ever explored the depths of Hollywood’s most terrifying are at least seminally familiar with director Ed Wood’s most famous failure: Plan 9 From Outer Space. Funded by a Baptist Church whom Wood convinced would be able to make a series of films about the lives of the apostles with the proceeds from Plan 9 and featuring a delightful combination of horrible writing, unconvincing acting, and technical gaffes, Plan 9 serves as an excellent first foray into the world of awful films. (Also, the church made everyone involved, including Vampira, get baptized.)

As seen in the trailer, Plan 9 sold itself as a thriller about zombies attacking the people of Earth. It also sold itself as starring “shock star” Bela Lugosi. However, while filming the movie, Lugosi unfortunately died, leaving quite a few important scenes to be filmed without him. Rather than re-write the scenes to feature one of the other zombies he’d cast, Wood opted instead to have a chiropractor he knew stand in for Lugosi and just cover his face with a cape (he’s in the trailer doing this, inexplicably right after the trailer announces that Lugosi is in the film and shows a picture of the real actor, who looks quite different than the chriopractor.) This also led to confusion as no one who watched the film realized that Lugosi and the chiropractor were the same character, defeating the point of including him in the first place.

Among a slew of mistakes, such as spaceships obviously held up by strings, characters just standing around inexplicably as zombies approach them, and characters obviously reading from scripts in their laps, Plan 9 commits the egregious error of just making no sense at all. The best way I can figure to explain what’s happening is that aliens from space want to save the galaxy from a weapon Earth will create soon, so they start waking up the dead in hopes this will alert us to the weapon we’re going to make and get us to stop.

Huh?

Also, Plan 9 features one of my favorite narrators, who frequently “predicts” things he claims happened in the past, says “my friends” way too much, and generally leaves things less clear than they were before he tried to clarify them.

Also, there’s this:

Glen Or Glenda- Ed Wood’s Semiautobiographical Lump of Ouch 

Many film fans know Ed Wood through his association with Plan 9 From Outer Space.  Still others know Ed Wood through Johnny Depp’s portrayal in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood. However, in addition to his sci-fi magnum opus, Wood also created the bizarre docudrama Glen or Glenda, about a transvestite struggling for acceptance in an uncaring world. While this premise has the potential to become a thought-provoking, deeply profound exploration of rejection and society, it instead just turns out being awkward, confusing, and hilarious.

Wood himself was a closet transvestite and chose to play the main character in Glen or Glenda, originally known by them much blunter title I Changed My Sex!, which no one in the film actually does.The film opens with the first narrator, played by Bela Lugosi, called The Scientist saying random things about mankind at large which mean nothing. The scene abruptly changes to a crime investigation where an inspector seeks the truth in the case of an apparent suicide by a transvestite. To get answers he seeks the advice of the film’s second of two warring narrators, Dr. Alton. Alton spends the bulk of the time speaking to the inspector, but occasionally decides to break the fourth wall and address the audience. Meanwhile in a desperate attempt to prove that he is the actual narrator of the film, the Scientist occasionally breaks in with more nonsensical babble that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie at all. Alton also proves to be a poor source for information, making obviously false claims such as that hats cause men to lose their hair.

Alton tells the inspector the story of a transvestite named Glen, who through a series of events comes to realize that he secretly wants to dress up as a woman. His revelation comes to a head when he is confronted by his girlfriend, who believes he  is cheating on her. Then, this happens:

What you see at the very end of that video is the movie realizing it’s gone insane and desperately trying to get back to the plot it abandoned to watch cows. That scene is never explained, and neither the cows nor the command to “Pull the String!” have anything to do with the rest of the movie, even metaphorically. Glen eventually comes out to his girlfriend, who decided she’s fine with continuing to date a man who dresses up like a woman and wants to be called Glenda, even going as far as to give him her sweater.

The movie has a second, shorter part about a hermaphrodite who joins World War II in women’s underwear, but it’s nothing compared to the first half of the movie and also has no connection to the main plot.

Day of the Dolphin- The Only Movie Ever to Terrify Audiences With the Threat of Dolphin Sex

I got interested in this movie after seeing it poster, and more specifically the most awesome tagline ever written for any movie ever which adorns the poster.

Just looking at this poster has been known to cause hemorrhages of awesome.

Surprisingly, I found it on Netflix, where it was described as both “Dark” and “Suspenseful.” It is, in fact, neither of those things, instead being hilariously awful. Day of the Dolphin revolves around Jake, a grouchy scientist who wants nothing more than for everyone to just leave him alone so he can train his pet dolphin Fa to speak English.

Yeah, you read that right. He spends his time teaching his dolphin to talk, to the point where the dolphin spends a good chunk of time yelling “Pa, Fa want something!” in a high pitched voice (apparently provided by the guy who wrote the script). The first 2/3 of this movie briefly sets up this premise, then this happens for basically 45 minutes.

The monotonous, dialogue-less dolphin dancing is only briefly interrupted to threaten the audience with the horrifying images of dolphins having sex. While not actually shown on screen, the film dangles the threat in front of us through long, protracted scenes of two dolphins nuzzling each other while romantic music plays, all the while giving each other what my friend refers to as “come hither” glances.

After the horror of the first half of the movie, I was eagerly awaiting when things would get good. I couldn’t wait to see how Jake accidentally trains his dolphin to kill the president! Oh. Wait. He just teaches him to talk? Then someone else just tells the dolphin to put a bomb on the president’s boat? That’s it? So how do they stop the plot?

Oh.

By just telling the dolphin NOT to do what the other people told it to do.

What a rip off! I was expecting the underwater mammal version of The Bourne Identity and instead I just get a bunch of people telling a confused dolphin to do things while threatening me with dolphin love?

And yet, the horribleness is so gosh-darned funny!

The Man Who Saves The World – How Brain Molecules and Blatant Copyright Infringement Saved the Galaxy From Wizards. 

Apparently, during the late 70s, Turkey had some kind of embargo against importing foreign films, which meant that Star Wars didn’t make it inside the country. Sensing profit to be made, a group of Turkish filmmakers decided to plunder Star Wars for all of its special effects scenes and then make their own sci-fi movie. The film opens with a nonsensical narration explaining how human beings started a huge war, and then decided that to prevent invaders from nuking the planet Earth, they would make a shield composed of “human brain molecules” (which is actually just the Death Star shown in still shots whenever the shield is mentioned.) The rebel attack on the Death Star is explained as “invaders attacking the shield.” Then, when the attackers are repulsed, the film just shows the X-wings flying backwards away from the death star (an effect achieved by just playing the film backwards.) Superimposed over random space battle footage are the film’s two main characters, a pair of Turkish space pilots who eventually crash land on a desert planet where an evil Wizard plans to destroy earth by wrecking the “brain shield.” Apparently, the only way to do that is to use a weapon made from a human brain (whatever, just go with it) so he sets out to capture the heroes. After a whole lot of waffling about, the main characters are captured, then escape, leaving the secondary main character to die behind holding off the Wizard’s forces (including a character just called “Evil Blue Robot”)

Enraged over the death of his friend, the remaining pilot engages in a training montage which puts Rocky to shame.

After learning the deadly martial art of “flailing awkwardly at a rock while having an aneurysm.” the hero discovers that a mystical sword has been made by people called the 13th clan (never explained or mentioned again) thousands of “space years” in the past. Though the sword is guarded by ninjas, the hero kills them, takes the sword, and storms the wizard’s palace.

He fails, and someone else dies. The hero then melts down both the sword and his brain (again, gotta just go with it.) and turns them into a pair of shoes and some gloves, with which he returns to the wizard’s palace and KARATE CHOPS HIM IN HALF!!

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!

The film then ends with a long, confusing speech about how the human brain is the most powerful weapon in the universe. Judging by the whole karate-chopping-the-villain, I’d have to say that the human hand is actually the most powerful weapon but whatever. When you save the world after having melted your own brain down to make new shoes you earn the right to make up whatever weird crap you want.

So that’s my list of top terrible movies. Though sometimes painful to watch, horrible old movies are a source of endless enjoyment (especially if you have sarcastic friends.)  If you’re interested, check out Mystery Science Theatre 3000, an old 90’s show which is basically just people making fun of horrible movies. Hope you’ve enjoyed it, and here’s one last word of wisdom from our old friend The Scientist.

Quick-Chops, Electroshocks, and The Overwhelming Power of Dance

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Earlier this morning I got the chance to watch a little bit of this documentary on advertising that PBS made back in 2004. While I haven’t watched all of it, I did get through the first section of it, which talked heavily about the saturation of advertising in modern America. Basically, the documentary argued that because advertisers are all trying desperately to break through to us, we’ve become very jaded towards advertising and it’s stopped working.

Actually what they said was “Consumers are like roaches. After a while, if you spray them too much they build up a resistance.”

That would make marketing this quite a challenge, then.

Have we as a culture “built up a resistance?” On the one hand, yeah. Duh. If I wasn’t capable of filtering out the thousands of ads I see in a week than I would be the proud owner of several dozen cars, at least 4 slap-chops, some Oxy-Clean, lots of other detritus, and probably that Chihuahua from the Taco Bell commercials. It takes an especially clever ad to get through to me and make me want to buy something purely because of the ad.

When televised commercials and consumerism first started to take hold in America, the major selling points of the ads were how much better the product advertised was than other products. You still see this to a degree in paper towel commercials. You know that ubiquitous segment in every paper towel commercial where each brand claims to be 10 times as absorbant as “a leading competitor?” That’s how most old commercials worked. They’d show you their product, tell you why it’s better, and then maybe display the logo on the screen using newfangled film editing techniques. That sort of advertising has slowly evolved in two drastically different ways. And both of them are horrifying.

The first, and most obviously terrifying of the spawn of early advertising is the infomercial. I’m going to include an example here from our good friend and unfortunately deceased Billy Mays:

The infomercial, as seen above, seeks to sell a product on the product’s own merits, as evidenced by the dozens of text overlays with things like “Mince!”, Dice!”, and “Ham!” The whole two minutes is focuesed on showing you the chopping device chopping and mincing it’s way through as many things as they can shove in front of the camera so that you, like my easily swayed roommate who watched this with me, will be thinking of all the many ways you could use something like the Quick Chop in your everyday life. By the time the screen came up that was supposed to tell you how to order my roommate was practically drooling over the prospect of ordering one. His reaction when he discovered the number to call had been eliminated looked something like this:

Now how am I supposed to dice potatoes?

You also may have noticed the cleverest part of the infomercial. About 2/3 of the way through, Mr. Mays switched over from demonstrating the Quick Chop, which he’d told us was $19.95 already, to showing us all sorts of other cool things we would get with our purchase. Wow! Did you see that? He offered to give us a cheese grater too! Wait, he wants to give me TWO cheese graters? Holy Hors D’ouvres Batman! NO WAY! TWO Quick Chops and two cheese graters? All for the same price as 1 Quick Chop? That’s incredible.

Before you run off to buy your amazing new kitchen gadgets, think about just one thing for me. Why on earth would you ever need two of the same chopping gadget if the first one was really as spectacular as it looks. That’s the kicker. What you don’t hear in the infomercial is that the reason the company can afford to give you all this stuff for 20 bucks is that its dirt cheap to make. You aren’t buying high end kitchen gadgets here, you’re getting whatever the company could afford to make for less than 20 dollars and still have cash left over for profit. That’s the trick of the infomercial, and that’s why you should never be my roommate when making purchases.

On the other side of the coin, you have the early advert’s other child. For lack of a better term, I’m going to refer to them as Emotionally Manipulative Ads (EMAs) Watch this ad if you are confused.

Most of you probably recognize this ad. It was wildly successful at selling iPods and has become on of the more famous ads of the last 10 years. But wait, what’s an iPod? The commercial never says, or even shows the product other than in vague silhouette. Is “iPod” the dance everyone seems to be doing? Maybe its the thing they’re holding that connects to their heads? But…what does it do?

If I’d never heard of an iPod before I would have come to the conclusion that the iPod was some sort of electrotherapy device that caused people to flail wildly whenever they turned it on. That’s not the point of EMAs. EMAs create a feeling or emotion inside of you and try to make you want the product on “feeling” level. Apple wants you to watch that ad and associate the iPod with happiness, bright colors, high energy, dancing, and the awesome and upbeat Fratellis song playing in the background. They don’t care if you even know what the product is. You’ll figure that out later when you go to the apple store and start asking around for the thing in their commercial that makes the black people dance. After your hilarious misunderstanding with the African-American store employee, he’ll show you an iPod and you’ll buy it because you want to dance too.

These kind of ads are everywhere these days, and they, unlike most infomercials, work on the average consumer (not my roommate.) People are much less aware of being emotionally manipulated than they are of products making overblown claims about themselves as they have for decades. No longer to ad associates try to sell you a product based on its own merits. They’re selling you a culture. Corona beer? Joyful partying on a beach in the Caribbean. Lexus cars? Relaxing luxury and soft comfort. Nike shoes? Hardcore commitment and serious athletics. Canada? Harmless cheer and better healthcare. Whoops, that last one might not be a brand. Starting to see a pattern? What about beer takes you to the Caribbean? Why does a shoe equate to hardcore athletics? Why are Canadians so darn nice? None of those things necessarily equate with the product that is being sold. However, by associating the product with desirable characteristics the advertisers hope that we’ll make that connection too.

Oh, Canada...

Both infomercials and EMAs have the same goal: getting us to buy the product. Obviously. But where do we draw the line with pithy sales pitches and emotional manipulation? When does it become unethical to make my roommate want to buy two Quick Chops and cheese graters when he already owns knives and a grater? When does associating a music player with joyful happiness cross the line into making a product something it isn’t? Easy.

 

When you’re selling Furbys.

AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

 

 

 

The Quest for the Perfect Couch

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Earlier this August most of the residents of the block of apartments I live in moved back to dormitory housing for the start of their college school year. I was one of three people in the whole block that wasn’t moving, and as a result I got my pick of the random stuff left behind by the people moving out (EPIC LOOT!). Apart from the several pots, pans, toasters, bookshelves, and spatulas that I scrounged, I was particularly interested in acquiring a second couch. At the time I had one couch and an armchair that my housemate had left behind when he moved out to go to Florida for Law School. He obviously expected to only need beach chairs where he was going, since the armchair was rather nice and I wondered briefly why he would leave such a nice piece of furniture behind. However, as anyone who’s ever had people over to watch a movie or play a board game knows, one couch is never enough. One couch creates an awkward crush of humanity squeezing onto the couch, isolating the people on either end from each other, and usually ends up with the host (read: me) sitting on the floor so that there’s room for all my guests to be comfortable. Now, I don’t particularly mind sitting on the floor, but presented with the chance to rest my hindquarters on a more agreeable surface for the duration of a motion picture I will definitely choose to sit on it.

Also, the floor is lava.

 

Faced with this dilemma, I set out to find myself a smallish couch. I had 2 major criteria for couches, and they were (I thought), rather simple ones.

1. The couch must be free of insects.

2. The couch must not be smelly.

Unfortunately, I had chosen the two criteria that fit approximately zero couches in the world owned by single college students and graduates in the halfway-house that is my apartment block. I hunted through building after building, room after room, desperately trying to find one couch that didn’t play host to colonies of bugs. I at one point almost settled on a tolerable colony of moths before I realized that there were wasps hatching out of the dead ones. I hate wasps. Anything that is born by punching through the body of its host after feeding on them for their whole gestation period is quite freaky to me. And yeah, I know I’ve just labeled anyone born by C-section creepy. Just don’t tell me about it if you’re one of them and we’ll get along just fine.

Anyway, my second criterion was also impossible to meet. Every couch in the whole block seemed to have held on to a strong odor passed on to it by its previous owner like they were a possessive relative desperately trying to hold on to something to remember a dead loved one by. BO, Doritos, girly perfume (not objectionable in and of itself, but not something I want to smell like after sitting on my couch), and even what I suspect was probably baked beans emanated from couches across the block.

Then… I saw it. A white couch, with no bugs living in, on, around, or next to it. It smelled like sweet nothing. I nearly cried. I placed it in my apartment, smiled with satisfaction, and sat down.

About then my housemate called and said that the armchair he’d had in our apartment actually belonged to a friend of his who was coming by later to get it. As soon as I hung up with him said acquaintance walked in the door and reclaimed his chair. Upon turning to leave, glanced at my new couch and stopped. I, being quite pleased with my new furniture, was about to recount my harrowing tale of couch-questing when he laughed and said “Hey, awesome! He grabbed my couch for me too!”

I needed several hours to compose myself after he left.

The next day I decided to try one more time to find the couch that I so desperately needed (which basically meant at this point that I was so tired of failing that I wanted to give myself one last chance to succeed. I’m like a couch gambler.) I spent about an hour looking everywhere I could, and finally decided that I was just fated to sit on the floor for eternity. Just then, one of the other 2 people who hadn’t moved out came out of their apartment. “Hey man,” he said in a voice I can only describe as angelic, “do you want a couch? I’ve got a spare I’m about to get rid of.”

It didn’t stink.

It had no bugs.

It was sort of blue.

I said yes, thanked the man profusely, and then dragged the couch back to my apartment. My ex-housemate called a few hours after I put the couch in. I, fearful he was going to tell me another friend of his was about to come and steal my couch, let him go to voicemail.

Sorry, Tim.

I'm stil too afraid to listen to the voice mail.

This Post Will Flood This Site With Tween Girls

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Yesterday I was intrigued by an article scrolling across my ReTickr feed which declared “Justin Beiber Did Not Invest With Steve Nash.” Intrigued, I perused the article.  The point of this is not that Justin Beiber is either a poor or an excellent investor, the point is that Fortune Magazine felt his investing choices of enough note to devote an article to. In a world where every aspect of celebrity’s lives are examined and picked apart, from their love lives to their go-to ethnicity for adopted children, one of the last places America has not turned to those least qualified for advice is in the world of finance.

Finance is a complicated field. Stock traders and financial analysts spend their days poring over sheets of data and information regarding the state of the economy (though today more of them spend their time hunting through the plumbing to find where it went after its flushing.) More importantly, the people who choose to spend their lives picking investments and stocks that they expect to perform well in the future do so using a lot of math. How did Beiber apparently decide not to invest with Nash? A pickup basketball game.

Presumably while screaming "SHOW ME THE MONEY!"

This is a dangerous precedent. Among the people in the world who could possibly be entrusted with your money, celebrities are probably the absolute worst people to allow anywhere near it. Think about it. Would you let this person near your money if they walked in off the street and said “I’ve got the best investment lined up for you!”

And this one was KNIGHTED!

Celebrities are generally famous for having acting talent, having musical talent, or having attractive physiques. Notice that none of those things were “being fiscally responsible.” Financial analysts are generally not spending a lot of time entertaining people, singing, or working out. Why? Because the financial world is so complicated that they have to spend all day watching the news, watching stock prices, and frantically yelling into the phones “SELL SELL SELL!!!” (or since everything is automated I assume now they frantically yell that into an ethernet cable or something.) Point being, celebrities don’t have the time to become highly knowledgeable in what a good investment is and when to invest in it. Asking a celebrity for advice on where to put your money is like asking ZZ Top to instruct you on shaving.

“Now wait a minute!” I hear your voice exclaim. “The article you linked to said Justin Beiber has a team of financial analysts telling him where to put his money.” True. However, the article also says that his advisors are trying to make him the next Michael Jackson. Clearly these people have no idea what they’re doing. That is quite possibly the worst plan ever concocted. Not only did Michael Jackson nearly lose his huge ranch in a loan default after nearly going bankrupt, but just think about what Michael-Justin Jackbeiber would look like!

I'm so sorry.

THIS is what will happen if you start listening to celebrities or their financial advisors. They will use the money for horrifying plastic surgery on Justin Beiber to turn him into Michael Jackson.