Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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25 November 2007

When Did Star Wars Jump the Shark?

Via John Hawks, a TechRepublic geek claims to know exactly when - something about midi-chlorian in The Phantom Menace. Well, perhaps - it's something to do with becoming a Jedi suddenly becoming a deterministic genetic trait rather than the fruits of dedication to the force. Do read it if you're interested. But he indirectly hits on the fundamental problem with the Star Wars "franchise" - it's a fraud.

Those who saw the original Star Wars when it came out, and were not children at the time, enjoyed a visually astonishing film - nothing like it had ever been seen before - coupled with a cute story that didn't seem too intent on being taken very seriously. Indeed, the very charm of Star Wars was that it avoided deflating the remarkable special effects as mere comic-book gimmickry through its tongue-in-cheek treatment of its otherwise earnest storyline.

Of course it could be I'm wrong - perhaps Lucas had no inkling that his movie played like a clever spoof of various B-movie genres. Come to think of it, Harrison Ford's stiff acting, which slyly gave him a faux-Duke-Wayne persona as Han Solo, never did improve very much over the years, did it? Casting the doofy Mark Hammil as the Jedi-savior seemed like brilliant casting, giving us a farcical take on the Everyman hero. Similarly, the amateurish Carrie Fisher's poor acting made the princess-as-bitch role even more ridiculous than written. But Lucas had to keep some reins on his budget, so hiring these three was probably more necessity than inspiration.

He did spring for some serious actors in Guinness and Jones. The gravitas these two venerable performers gave to the rather ridiculous characters they portrayed (the villain in uber-black, the protagonist in saintly robes) only contributed to the satiric feel of the movie. No genre went untouched - westerns, WWII fighter pilots, religious spectacles, film noir, Ray Harryhausen epics, Errol Flynn swashbucklers, and of course Wagner's Ring. "The Force be with You" indeed - what a goof - what a brilliant, ingenious little farce of a movie it was.

But then the stories started coming out about how this was just one part in a nine(!) part serial Lucas had conceived years ago (while sitting on the bench during little league games, no doubt). Star Wars had left the door open for an obvious sequel with Darth Vader surviving at the end, which was only to be expected, but were we really to be treated to multiple prequels to this silly tale? Apparently so.

It may be that Lucas did indeed conceive of this whole epic tale prior to filming Star Wars, but it couldn't have been well thought out. Surely, if you were to invent a whole religion as part of a grand drama, you'd have come up with something a little more original and stirring than "the force be with you" as its overarching statement of faith? And if your principal villain, who has extraordinary sensory powers that span galaxies, is to turn out to be the father of your hero, surely you'd have placed some suggestion somewhere - anywhere - that the father is even remotely interested in the identity of his new-found nemesis, never mind curious as to whether he might be his son?

Anyway, I just watched Phantom Menace for the first time the other night so I thought this geek's pathetic wail of betrayal to be of some interest. This is the problem with prequels - the author is bound to explain the characters he invented in the original work, but the characters are just inventions - they don't really have a history. So the made up history is bound to disappoint - it will be a little (or a lot) too 'just so'. With Star Wars the problem is confounded because the story is silly, and not worth so much backstory. And the characters have just gotten worse - I mean, how annoying is Yoda? I'll take Chewy's fur suit over that tiresome bit of animation any day.

Udolpho's hilarious George Lucas Usenet Archives.
John Simon's review of Phantom Menace. A sample: Discussing how Lucas derives his names he notes that "Princess Leia was a good lay, at least until Carrie Fisher was cast in the part."

22 November 2007

If I Were a Republican Candidate for President...

If I were a contender for the Republican nomination for president, I'd be all over the recent decision by a Clinton-appointed judge to allow the "Flying Imams" suit to go forward. To refresh your memory, the Flying Imams were a group of six bearded, robed Muslims who scared the crap out of passengers and crew members as they boarded a US Airways flight in Minneapolis (note that this was about a month before Senator Larry Craig was playing footsie with an undercover cop in that airport's men's room, so he's off the hook in this case). So what happened?
According to a police report, the men were arrested because three had one-way tickets and no checked baggage; most had requested seat belt extensions; a passenger reported that they had prayed "very loudly" before the flight and criticized U.S. involvement with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and they were seated widely throughout the aircraft.
But according to Clinton appointee Judge Ann Montgomery, "it is dubious that these facts would lead a reasonable person to conclude that plaintiffs were about to interfere with the crew of Flight 300." That Bill Clinton was one amazing president - how could he have managed to appoint a judge who not only is (presumably) expert in the law but whose judgment of passenger dangers exceeds that of highly experienced security and airline crews?

To be fair, this ruling has not generated much coverage - a Google News search on "imams lawsuit" brings back a whopping 42 hits. But if you combine that string with the names of the major Republican candidates, you get absolutely nothing. Why is that? If I were one of these candidates, here's the statement I would release:
We sometimes forget how important our choice for President can be, and how the effects of making the wrong choice lingers long after that mistake has left office. There are few things presidents do that are more important than who they decide to put on our courts. Just this past week, Bill Clinton has continued to make us less safe by his bad choices for federal judgeships. A Clinton-appointee has questioned the seasoned judgment of a professional flight crew and their worried passengers concerned over the suspicious behavior of a group of muslim men. She is allowing these Imams to proceed with a lawsuit against the airport and airline who were only trying to keep their passengers safe. She claims that no reasonable person could have found their behavior suspicious, which is blatantly false because the pilot himself found the behavior suspicious, and if our pilots are not "reasonable" people, we are all in really big trouble. Now all our safety is endangered if flight crews and airport security must now fear lawsuits should their on-the-spot judgment later be questioned by some liberal judge in our federal courts. I feel bad that these apparently-innocent Muslim men missed their flight. But do we so easily forget that it was 19 Muslim men who not so long ago hijacked 4 jets on 9/11/2001 and murdered 3000 of our fellow citizens? Or that Islamic terrorists continue to kill and maim thousands in bombing attacks across the globe? I welcome our Islamic brethren in this country, and pledge my support and respect, but is it too much to ask that they in turn show a little patience and understanding of their fellow Americans' concerns?

I pledge that as your president I will put safety first in our airport security, and I will appoint to the courts men and women who respect the concerns of our passengers and the judgment of those we have charged with protecting our lives.
I'm sure a profession speech-writer could polish that up a bit, but any Republican candidate with the balls to come out with a statement like this could be assured of walking away with the nomination, and I'm pretty sure the general election itself. Yet no one is even willing to try? Pretty strange.

Related: An editorial at Investors Business Daily seems to be the only mainstream recognition of this particular bit of lunacy.

01 November 2007

Deterring Suicide Bombers

Suicide bombers present a tricky problem for society - any normal means of deterrence clearly is off the table. It now appears Pakistan is beset by suicide bombers. How does a country like Pakistan deter this activity? In a country like the U.S. and in Western Europe, I presume the surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities, combined with threats of mass-arrests and deportations (as happened after 9/11) will keep suicide bombings from ever being more than occasional one-off events. In Israel, they used to bulldoze the bomber's family home, but it's not clear that worked. What did work was building a wall.

In Pakistan these options wouldn't seem to be practical. They don't have the technology and infrastructure to keep track of people, and can they build a wall around the Pashtun Belt? So is there any non-barbaric means of deterrence available?