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The 2014 Christmas Gift Guide for Your One Percenter Friends

The 2014 Christmas Gift Guide for Your One Percenter Friends

It’s a question we have to ask ourselves every year: What Christmas gift should we get that one person in our lives who can afford to buy anything? In our materialist frenzy, many of us start to forget that One Percenters are every bit as human as you or me, and that makes it dangerously easy to forget to include them on our Christmas card lists. How do you think they would feel about that? Of course, that leaves the question of what the perfect present to get your One Percenter friend would be. Above all, it should be thoughtful – and by thoughtful, that means you should have put some thought into the kinds of things the uber-rich could buy themselves to live the uber-rich lifestyle. That’s why I’m here! So, without further ado, here’s a list of awesome gifts for the One Percenter in your life. After all, for you, $500,000 is merely the cost of your house, but for your One Percent friend, it could be the tenth luxury sports car for his nine-car garage!

Techinvasion 24 Karat Gold iPhone Passive Horn Amplifier
This is basically a pure gold version of one of those vinyl record amplifiers cartoon characters are always slamming down over each others’ heads. Therefore, it has a certain retro charm, at least for those who know what vinyl records are. Instead of it being attached to a 24 karat gold record player, though, this one stands on its elbow, and the iphone is shoved into the top to amplify your music and possibly your favorite movies and TV shows, which you’ll presumably be watching through a corresponding telescope. Those of us who play RPGs know that these things have to be fairly awesome by default because we’re used to seeing gold get used to make a lot of other unlikely items in our favorite video games. Right? No RPG characters ever complain about how useless their gold weapons and armor are. If not, you know the $1041 price tag probably justifies the quality of this thing. As an added bonus, if one of your friends is a soft phone talker, you won’t be forced to endure the work of pressing the speakerphone and volume buttons anymore!

Van Cleef and Arpel’s Poetic Wish Watches
A nice pair of his and her watches which might be the prettiest watches I’ve ever seen in my life. Hand-made, hand-painted with real potraits, and you can never go wrong with a nice timepiece because people rarely join the One Percent without being real sticklers about punctuality. The company’s watch harvest manager calls it a classic friendship story: Boy meets girl, romance gets sparked, fate keeps them apart, both left longing. It’s a basic plot to a soap opera romance, but since this one has characters who are stuck in time so you can’t have your heart ripped out when the bitch stepmother poisons the girl to a dramatic terror music track, it’s worth the $1,090,000 price tag.

Bulleit Woody Tailgate Trailer
This is a trailer from interior designer Brad Ford which is sort of a mini-bar you can tow behind your car. It other words, it’s a natural device you can use for tailgating, making it perfect in case your One Percent friend is a sports fan. You know what kind of lives the One Percenters lead: Always locked up in the trapping of the high life, your sports fan One Percenter just feels the urge to go out and join his fellow fans for a day of grilling and barbeque. Just imagine what kind of hero your friend would be to the other fans, pulling up in his Ferrari, pulling the $150,000 Woody Tailgate Trailer equipped with the finest scotch available, along with a selection of excellent wines from Italy and France. Then he’ll pull out the less-expensive caviar, which the rest of the fans will probably be grateful to try. I mean, your friend can’t offer them the nicest perks, right? It’s not that kind of crowd. This is the 300-level seat crowd, after all – the cheapos who are only paying $200 per ticket. Which is the price your friend decided to just set and not go any lower, since your friend is also the team owner.

Prada Skis
You know skiing hasn’t been the popular thing for about two decades. What’s big nowadays is snowboarding, but snowboarding seems so commoner; so 99 Percent. When your friend goes skiing, s/he goes skiing, wearing a pair of elegant ski blades on feet. And there’s not a whole lot which will be more elegant than this $500 pair of skis, developed when ski maker Volant teamed up with popular fashion designer Prada. They’re guaranteed to always look awesome, even after your friend slams into a tree.

Pennwick F5 Sports Car Custom Golf Cart
Its been said that golf is nothing but a nice long walk that’s been spoiled. Of course, that makes it the highest and noblest of all participation sports for your One Percent friend. But there’s one thing that spoils golf itself – those weird little carts they drive around on the greens in order to catch up to their golf balls. They look like the cheap cousin of hockey’s Zamboni machines. And hockey is so, well, pedestrian. But those carts are also necessary, so your friend has to suck it up and sit in… Those! Well, Pennwick is here to act as a salvation to your friend. No, your friend probably isn’t in need of another fancy Italian sports car, but life is always better with one, right? And for $20,500, now your friend can recreate the experience of driving the family Ferrari on the golf course. Golf carts never have to feel so 99 Percent again!

Fantasy Treasure Bra
Miranda Kerr debuted this baby back in 2011 at the Victoria’s Secret show in New York City. It features 142 karats worth of diamonds, and with a $2.5 million price tag, you can probably be sure none of them fall off during the course of a regular business day, so no commoners, you know, pick them up and try to sell them or something. Think of all the famous chests that have worn bras like this: Miranda Kerr, Adriana Lima, Kate Upton… Hey, your One Percent friends shouldn’t have to wear such pedestrian duds if they’re not driving pedestrian golf carts!

JetLev R200
For the sci-fi-loving, adventure-and-thrill-seeking One Percenter, there’s this $99,500 gift. All of us have seen the likes of Buck Rogers, The Jetsons, or The Rocketeer, and dreamed of owning such a convenient, back-held form of travel. Real jetpacks, however, are a big pain in the ass – they weigh a ton, and getting them into the air requires a lot of rocket fuel. So there’s this alternative, which grants unlimited usage as long as they have a nearby water source to keep drawing from. If that’s making you think twice, just remember: Your friend is in the One Percent, and can easily afford to truck around with a nearby swimming pool going everywhere. And if your One Percent friend is a fossil fuel power magnate, this will have the added bonus of maybe changing his mind on hydro power.

Oswald Haerdtl Candy Dishes
While on the subject of stuff from out of science fiction, here’s a candy dish that looks like a dome-shaped alien spacecraft! These beautiful candy dishes are masterworks of crafsmanship, but more importantly, they’re also light and designed in a way which encourages elegant handling, which will probably be a relief to the butler. There are three different designs which cost $314, $353, and $432 individually. The actually all look the same, but you can trust a rich, high-end designer who says they’re different, right?

Row Rina Fringed Cashmere Cape
You can think of this as a snuggie which you can get away with wearing in public. It’s a blanket, but it’s a blanket that features nice bodyline and clothing cuts like a fringed trim, shawl collar, open front, and it was made from cashmere! In Italy! All elegant things come out of Italy, right? If your One Percent friend can’t appreciate Italian nativity, they can at least appreciate the $3190 price tag. If they can’t, they’re probably not real One Percenters.

Lobmeyer Tulipmania Water Pitcher
This baby has hand-painted tulips on the side and a very special way of holding the water on the inside. Or at least it better have a special way of holding water. At least, for the $428 price tag, it better have a special way of holding water that can’t be deciphered by the photo. Maybe there’s a secret filter? At the least, you should expect it to be able to hold all different kinds of liquids, especially alcoholic liquids.

The Ultimate Battle of the Stars: Star Trek vs. Star Wars

The Ultimate Battle of the Stars: Star Trek vs. Star Wars

A short time ago in a galaxy very, very near, a young writer made the treacherous decision to boldly go where many have gone before.

Universes of geekery are very abundant. They tend to spring up from stories which already take place in their own expansive places with their own laws and rules of physics and magic: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Battlestar Galactica, and even Firefly – a show we got half of one season and a single movie out of – have all churned out amazing expanded universes. But the defining universes and calling signs to all-time geeking are still the two Star franchises: Star Trek and Star Wars. And with the new trailer for The Force Awakens out now, there’s no better time to write about this.

Actually, that really isn’t fair to those franchises. Except for the fact that they involve big spaceships, regular interaction with alien races, and the word “star” as the first word in the titles, they have virtually nothing in common. That makes it perfectly possible to have a deep love and appreciation for both of them at the same time, and boosters of both franchises tend to get along just fine and have a lot in common with each other. Unfortunately, the only things people seem to notice if they’re not into either one are the levels of devotion fans have to Star Trek and Star Wars, and that’s all the onlookers need in order to start making their geek jokes and comparing the two to each other. This mindset has become so popular that it managed to leak into the Star Trek and Star Wars fanbases themselves. Its managed to infect a lot of people who should know better, and so we get a lot of comparisons making the case that one is better than the other. And now I’ve decided to jump into these murky, dianoga-infested waters myself in another one of my popular Ultimate Battle series.

While deciding which – if either – is better, I’ll also be trying to explain a lot of the differences between the two which make them separate and unique. Also, I’ll be taking as much of their universes into account as I know about – and, being raised by one Star Trek parent and one Star Wars parent, I know quite a bit. I’ll be using every iteration of both, or at least trying to – let’s face it, I don’t know everything about either of these franchises. So let’s do this! Star Trek vs. Star Wars. One day, I’ll learn.

Good Guys
The good guys of Star Wars are known to everyone. You’re counting them off on your fingers now that I’ve said that, aren’t you? Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader… It’s a very significant list which also includes bit role players like Boba Fett and Qui-gon Jinn. The world of Star Trek introduces us to a bunch of different characters as well, and most of Trek’s iterations are designated by their ship Captains: Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer. Most Trekkies narrow the fight exclusively to Trek’s defining Captains, Kirk and Picard, while arbitrarily dismissing the others. This eagerness to fight over the best Captain unfortunately leaves onlookers with no information regarding many of the other characters. They forget Star Trek has interesting characters like Sulu and his litany of interests: Botany, gymnastics, and old weapons. There’s Spock, whose people place empirical logic above all other virtues; Deanna Troi, who has psychic abilities; Data, a robot who had difficulty understanding human concepts; Quark, a slimeball who still managed to show compassion by the standards of his culture and was often at odds with it; The Doctor, a hologram with all the capabilities of a real doctor; Phlox, a doctor with an interest in many different cultures; and Seven of Nine, a reformed member of a hostile race. Star Wars characters include Han, a smuggler turned good guy; Luke, a farmboy turned into a great warrior; Yoda, an 800-year-old Jedi Master; Jabba the Hutt, an evil gangster; and Boba Fett, a big-name bounty hunter. All of these characters have ticks and quirks of their very own as well, and many of them are ably developed through the course of the movies. The seven movies which are out so far, in fact, revolve around the life, fall into evil, and redemption of their main character, Anakin Skywalker, who becomes Darth Vader but eventually betrays the Dark Side.
Winner
I’m giving this to Star Trek. Yes, Star Wars has its share of awesome, interesting characters, but too many of the main characters lean too much on cliche. The smuggler with a heart of gold has been done a million times. The young, eager small-town learner has also been done a million times. But almost all of the main characters in Star Wars – that’s main characters, not secondary characters, so no Yoda, no Admiral Ackbar – are human men, which is an absurdity in a universe that expansive. Seriously, there are about two women of any consequence between the two movie trilogies, and while it’s better in the expanded universe, it’s difficult to find prominent non-human characters. Also, Star Wars falls back into tropes pretty often. There are wisecracking rogue heroes, comic relief characters, badass royals, and even the main villain cackles at times. (Not Darth Vader. Emperor Palpatine.) Star Trek has a much more diverse and interesting array of main heroes. Also, while every good guy in Star Wars is based strictly off their fight against the Galactic Empire, Trek’s heroes are not as single-minded; each one is different, and has culture outside of Starfleet, which means they all look into their universe and interpret something different out of it. Part of it is because Star Trek’s universe is based in the idea of exploration, cooperation, and learning rather than a fight between good and evil. It’s in Trek’s mantra: “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.” Yes, Star Wars fans may counter with the strength of Han Solo as a character, but that doesn’t work out as well as they’d like to think. After all, Star Trek has James Kirk and Will Riker.

Bad Guys
Like the heroes, Star Trek fans can easily pick out their personal favorites from a long list of villains in the Trek universe. From Kirk’s iconic battle with the Gorn in The Original Series to the futility of resistance in The Next Generation, The Wrath of Khan, The Dominion, and Nero acting independently from the Romulan Empire in the 2009 reboot, Star Trek has a galaxy of colorful villains giving life to the idea that all good guys are the same, but bad guys are all bad in their own way. Every villain is unique in their methods and motivations, and through the course of five series, the relationships between Starfleet and the various other worlds of Star Trek evolved. In The Original Series, the Klingons were the bad guys. By The Next Generation, they had reached a truce with the United Federation of Planets. By Voyager, there was a converted Borg. All the enemies of the Federation also had different methods of attacking as well. The Klingons attacked with a directness which was honest in its brutality, while the Borg learned the way their foes functioned in order to immunize themselves against any counterattacks. And when it came down to the individual, Star Trek made out with characters like Khan – who was so awesome, they gave The Wrath of Khan an update which was the second JJ Abrams movie – and Q, whose malevolence was more subdued and refined. Star Wars has one Galactic Empire, but one is all it needs – nothing in any universe encompasses and dominates everything quite like the Empire. The Empire is the command of everything in the Star Wars universe, except for a few backwoods outposts which answer to crime lords. It’s run by a single Emperor who is hell bent on becoming immortal and who is so powerful, the forces of darkness themselves are at his beck and call. The Empire builds everything it has on every form of oppression you can imagine, including slavery, kidnapping, and executions. If you don’t want to follow Emperor Palpatine, he’ll send his right hand, Darth Vader, in to force you to obey. And Vader talks you into it at the point of his lightsaber.
Winner
This is where Star Wars shines. Yes, Khan was one of the all-time legends of villainy. Q’s mind games with Picard were things to behold, and the fact that he let himself be foiled just because he thought Picard was interesting gave him a dose of panache; and the Borg were downright scary. But none of that matches the pure evil genius, unrelenting chessmaster tendencies, and indomitable will to rule that define Palpatine. He used two different identities to mastermind both sides of the Clone Wars, using his power to get the Galactic Senate to consolidate its power into an all-encompassing empire and then exterminating the Jedi, the only fighters in the universe capable of challenging his rule. That’s some serious evil right there. He tricks the Chosen One who was prophesied to destroy him into joining him and is so convinced that he’ll become immortal that he doesn’t bother to appoint a successor. Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious is the very manifestation of evil itself, and if Star Trek and Star Wars are in the same universe, Khan, Q, the Borg, and everyone else are going to be answering to him.

Annoying Kids’ Character Everyone Hated
Sometimes, mass media creators tend to forget their audiences, and that results in the creations of weird, out-of-place elements of the series canon which were made strictly to appeal to outsiders in attempts to expand the audience. And when they try to expand the audience to little kids, the results can be grating. Both Star Trek and Star Wars have done this. Trek: TNG gave us Wesley Crusher, the son of Enterprise doctor Beverly Crusher. Wesley was a child prodigy, which in TV parlance translates to “annoying know-it-all who sometimes acts suspiciously grown-up.” Throughout The Next Generation TV series, Wesley is a deus ex machina character whose purpose appears to be getting the writers out of technological jams by being the solution. The official count of times Wesley saved the Enterprise is seven, even though he had trouble getting into Starfleet Academy. Star Wars introduced a few things that might count: Chewbacca is arguably one of them, and there’s no question the Ewoks are another. But the most blatant attempt is easily Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar was meant to provide comic relief and to be an appealing character to younger members of the audience, but he ended up becoming symbolic of everything that went wrong with the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. With a clumsy nature, interruptive presence, and odd speaking dialect, Jar Jar’s introduction in The Phantom Menace was so disastrous that George Lucas phased him into greatly reduced roles in the following prequels. Jar Jar had two or three scenes and maybe ten lines of dialogue in Attack of the Clones, and by Revenge of the Sith, he was just a background character in a single, silent cameo.
Winner
Star Trek. Wesley Crusher might have been a much more effective character had he been used in a different fashion – the big complaint against him is the fact that he is a Mary Sue character, a criticism that even Wesley’s actor, Wil Wheaton, agrees with. Jar Jar managed to steal the spotlight even at a lot of times when he wasn’t supposed to, but how could it be avoided when the character was an animated klutz with a wacky accent? More to the point, Wesley Crusher didn’t offend anyone outside the Star Trek loop. He didn’t piss off three different races of people. Despite the criticisms of Wesley Crusher, Wil Wheaton seems to have a terrific sense of humor about it. He sporadically pops up on The Big Bang Theory as himself, game to mock his time on The Next Generation.

Weapon of Choice
Despite the nature of Star Trek, the crew of the Enterprise sometimes need to apply force in order to defend themselves, and in self-defence they’re equipped with phasers. Phasers are the defining weapon of Star Trek. They don’t look like a whole lot, but even the small phasers issued to Starfleet personnel can be deadly. Phasers are direct energy weapons with settings everywhere from stun to disintegrate. Phaser beams can be adjusted in both their width and output, and they can also be adjusted to a point where they’re capable of hitting a bunch of targets at once or evenly destroying large objects or amounts of material. Creative people are also able to use them to weld, cut, or even create heat sources. Lightweight and versatile, phasers are always handy in a pinch. The Star Wars universe has the lightsaber, a thin loop of plasma affixed to a metal handle. Like the phaser, the lightsaber can be adjusted for the length and power of its beam. Like the phaser, the lightsaber is primarily a defensive weapon, but creative people can use them for other purposes – they can pass as knives. The lightsaber, though, is much more of a skill weapon. They’re made strictly at home by the Jedi, who wield them exclusively because the crystal alignments which give lightsabers their power are very tricky to get exactly right, which means they also symbolize one’s mastery of The Force.
Winner
This one is controversial, but I’m giving it to Star Wars. While the phaser is definitely the more useful and practical of the two, I also appreciate the idea of skill development. If someone develops their skills to the extent of being able to properly wield a lightsaber, that person will probably be the more powerful fighter, and even with range, a plebe with a phaser isn’t going to stand much of a chance against a master with a lightsaber. While Star Trek fans in this debate like to play up the wide beam of the phaser, they also leave out a crucial detail: The wide beam is merely a stun weapon. Besides, Star Wars has its blasters as well, making the lightsaber a more unique alternative while the phaser, despite its iconoclasm, still comes off as just another laser gun among a million.

Politics
Okay, by this, I mean how politics are portrayed inside the franchises’ universes. Star Wars has a Galactic Senate where representatives of the various worlds go to fight with each other, but while the Senate Chamber was used extensively in The Phantom Menace, it played a reduced role in Episodes II and III and didn’t exist in the Original Trilogy. Star Wars, to paraphrase Anakin Skywalker, likes to keep its political negotiations aggressive: That is, with blasters and lightsabers. The Jedi Council is also a political entity, complete with petty bickering and so many in-house disagreements that I’ve frequently wondered if the Galactic Republic would just be better off with the Sith running it. Star Trek is a polar opposite – a lot of the stories and themes of Star Trek are driven by politics. Although Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is overwhelmingly about the politics of the Federation, the most political figure in Star Trek is arguably Jean-Luc Picard. Picard is known best for his cool rationalism. While he’s certainly willing to throw down a gauntlet, he waits until he has no other choice, and he’s always at his best trying to find common ground with whoever he’s talking to.
Winner
Star Trek. Star Trek, Star Trek, a million times Star Trek. Politics is something that runs with the theme of Star Trek: You know that if Galaxy-Class starships are ever invented, we’d be idiots to try to send them out on exploratory missions with a Captain who couldn’t broker a truce in the event of a misunderstanding. Deep Space Nine introduced moral ambiguity to Star Trek – it was the first Star Trek series to really confront the idea that the United Federation of Planets might have been an unwanted aggressor without the best interests of its worlds in mind. The factions between good and bad in Star Trek always exist, but they’re almost always political or arising from misunderstandings. Star Wars is a direct tale about the fight between good and evil, and it’s always at its best when the Light Side and Dark Side are duking it out in traditional fashion. In the movies, Star Wars’s tries at political and moral gray areas were disastrous; politics were the biggest reason The Phantom Menace was considered the worst movie in the series. While the EU books portrayed political factions much better, there’s still the little matter of the Jedi Council and its petty bickering – and they’re the few select people in the Star Wars universe who are supposed to be above that.

Alien Designs
Well-designed aliens help create the illusion of different worlds, and that helps viewers get into the story. The problem with most alien designs, though, is that so many of them are humanoid. It’s a constant in science fiction: Aliens get designed, and everyone watching and writing creates a lot of basic features which we just assume aliens are going to need because humans have them: Eyes, nose, mouth, proper limbs, trunk. They get created with human values and ideals in mind, no matter how different their world is. Star Trek actually takes this to an extreme: Most of its prominent races are created not only with humanoid forms, but also with humanoid features. Nearly all of them walk upright, have human facial and body features, and many of them tend to think along the same lines. This aspect of Star Trek has gone so far that the language of one of its races, the Klingons, has a properly developed language which millions of fans take the time to properly learn. (The Elven language from The Lord of the Rings is getting to this point.) Star Wars is catching up to Star Trek in linguistics – there is a phrase book and travel guide with a lot of languages and phrases in it, and one of the more recent re-releases of Star Wars featured writing in a language called Aurebesh. But as far as designs go, Star Wars still brings humanoid basics…. And that’s frequently about it. With a lot of the races, the proper humanoid features are a lot more muted, so while the basic forms are there, they still look a lot more like aliens from the far end of the galaxy. Remember that guy in the Mos Eisley cantina with the slanted head? Or Lando’s co-pilot during the Battle of Endor? Or that cloaked anteater-like alien which clued the Stormtroopers into Han’s location on Tattooine? Or that weird cadre of sentients in Jabba’s palace? Yeah. Still humanoid, but only in basics.
Winner
Star Wars. There are times when Star Trek comes off not as a show about explorers, but as a show about people evangelizing about the one true path of the Federation. On those occasions, the human-like appearances of the various alien races takes on a much more disturbing undertone: They’re different from us! Clearly they’re not civilized! Also, Star Wars shows us that aliens could come in a lot of different shapes, even when it’s restricting itself to humanoid forms. Star Wars gets the idea that alien races could be completely different from humans.

Types of Media
Both franchises have transcended their original mediums. Both of them have managed to invade the world of science fiction literature. They’ve also crossed into each other’s mediums – William Shatner credits Star Wars for studios being willing to take a chance with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, while Star Wars began with a show about the movie’s droids before later moving into fare with storytelling truly worthy of Star Wars: Two shows based on the Clone Wars, and more recently, Star Wars Rebels. They’ve even both gotten into the world of video games. Now, Star Wars is a natural for the video gaming world because so many games revolve around the concept of you being a one-man army and taking on the world. The games are nearly ready-made when the title of the franchise has the word “wars” in it. Star Wars is a very action-oriented franchise. Star Trek also made its way to video games, but with considerably less fanfare. You can probably guess why: There’s very little action to base a Star Trek game on, so a lot of the games churned out based on Star Trek were pretty weak. Granted, Star Wars has been one of the weakest licenses ever given to video game developers – it’s like the developers are coasting on the Star Wars tag alone. Large aspects of Star Trek games are based on mental dexterity, which isn’t a bad thing, but people don’t seem to remember Star Trek ever being a video game franchise.
Winner
Star Wars. Its been naturally integrated into more kinds of media, and has been more prominent in other forms of media. Although Star Trek has been dazzling in many forms of media, most attempts to turn it into a video game have fallen flat because programmers have trouble compromising the elements required of a good video game with the elements which make up Star Trek. Star Wars hasn’t had many of those problems, although to be perfectly fair to Star Trek, Star Wars hasn’t gotten along the best with gaming either. Yes, there are strong points like Knights of the Old Republic, Rogue Squadron, and Lego Star Wars, but Star Wars as a whole has produced far more trash than diamonds. Do I have to bring up Masters of Teras Kasi?

Overall Themes
It’s the themes of Star Trek and Star Wars that really resonate with people, inspiring them and keeping the fanbases connected. Calling Star Wars science fiction is a little inaccurate; it’s really more of a genuine science fantasy because it has a basis in mystical elements. The mystical elements of Star Wars is embodied in The Force, an omnipresent entity that connects all life in the universe. Its most notable aspect is the fact that it grants incredible, superhuman powers to anyone who is able to tap into it. It has a Dark Side, though, which tempts good guys into self-corruption. Both the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy revolve around characters who are learning to master it. The Prequel Trilogy is about how its main character, Anakin Skywalker, was trained to be a prophesied Chosen One who would destroy those who used the Dark Side – known as the Sith – but was tempted and corrupted, falling to the Dark Side himself. The Original Trilogy is about Anakin’s son, Luke, learning to use The Force, become a Jedi Knight, and eventually facing the Galactic Empire and redeeming his father. Star Trek is more science based than Star Wars, and most references to the idea of any sort of higher power are mostly there for cultural contrast. That makes a dominating theme of Star Trek that of humanism – or really, being-ism in the Trek universe – and the exploratory and political nature of the franchise brings on the virtue of open-mindedness. Most of the characters running the various incarnations of the Enterprise, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine are full of intellectual curiosities and willing to peace and diplomacy in the name of avoiding a serious conflict a shot.
Winner
So, here are the themes of both franchises reduced into very short, simple, easy-to-write sentences. Star Wars: Don’t turn away from something just because it’s hard, and you may discover a talent you never knew you had. Star Trek: Keep an open mind, and you can discover a lot of interesting people and places. Both are equally virtuous, and following just one would make you a better person; and more power to you if you try to follow both. (As I do.) Therefore, I’m calling this a draw.

Iconic Spaceships
A good franchise with the word “star” so prominently featured better have some awesome star-hoppers, and in this respect, both Star Trek and Star Wars have obliged us in spades. Star Trek, of course, has the USS Enterprise. The Enterprise has been designed and redesigned many times, but the basics are always there: A large saucer, large impulse engines, phasers, and photon torpedoes. The Enterprise is over half a kilometer long and comes equipped with a method of faster-than-light travel called a warp drive. The Enterprise is an exploratory vessel, and therefore it tends to come off as a giant galactic luxury cruiser; but while it wasn’t really built for combat, the Enterprise has saved the world on numerous occasions. Jean-Luc Picard managed to save the Earth twice from the Borg using two different versions of the Enterprise. There are a lot of ships in Star Wars which might qualify as standout icons, but the most prominent one is probably Han Solo’s personal vessel, the Millennium Falcon. The Falcon is basically a converted freighter which may look like a hunk of junk, but with the capability to jump to .08 past light speed and make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, definitely has it where it counts. Like the Enterprise, the Falcon has a world-saving pedigree – Solo rescued Luke Skywalker during the Battle of Yavin in Episode IV, allowing Luke to deliver the payload that blew up the Death Star. In Episode VI, Lando led the Rebel Alliance in the Falcon during the Battle of Endor and delivered the killing shot himself. Although best known for its speed, the Falcon is no pushover in combat; it’s equipped with concussion missiles and three different kinds of laser guns. It’s large enough to have a significant range, but small enough to be a versatile and dangerous dogfighter.
Winner
I can’t decide. I tried, but I can’t. Both spacecraft are so different and so useful that it seems a moot point. The Enterprise would provide luxury and comfort to its crew members, as well as long-term sustainability for a long voyage. If there’s a rescue mission which requires large pickups, the Enterprise can hold several thousand passengers comfortably, with every nice living luxury necessary and all the latest technology available for use by everyone aboard. The Millennium Falcon has more of a brass knuckle feel – it has the design patterns of an old World War II bomber, rife with jagged, sharp edges built more for functionality than comfort. There room for the crew and maybe a handful of passengers, but it’s a tough, reliable ship which can get you much further than any of the small transport shuttles from Star Trek while still providing the firepower and maneuverability of a single-person starfighter. My own ideal would be to simply lodge the Falcon into the Enterprise’s docking bay.

Movie About Fanbase
Both franchises have received a rare designation: They’ve had theatrical features made about their fanbases! Trekkies, the movie about Star Trek fans, probably shouldn’t be labeled as a feature. It’s a documentary about the fanbase itself and the way Star Trek has influenced their lives in positive ways. I’m not sure if its director was a Trekkie himself, but at the very least, Trekkies does a very Star Trek-like presentation by trying to shed a new light on a group of people, and the director seems to have some level of respect for them. There was a movie called Fanboys which was completely fictional, and about a group of hardcore Star Wars fans trying to rush their terminally ill friend to George Lucas’s home so he could have his last wish fulfilled: See The Phantom Menace. (Fanboys takes place in 1998 or 1999.) While intended to be a lighthearted, irreverent take on sci-fi fandom, Fanboys is just insulting. It revels in every geek stereotype imaginable, and if anyone behind Fanboys cared about Star Wars in the slightest, it doesn’t show. Plus, there was the obligatory shot at how bad The Phantom Menace was in the end, which sort of takes the movie out of its era – there was a time when The Phantom Menace was the most eagerly awaited movie ever, and the thought of it being bad was outrageous.
Winner
Trekkies, the movie about Star Trek fans. Trekkies wants to show its audience how Star Trek inspires people to be their best and go further than they ever thought they could. Fanboys was an insult through and through, and not only did it spend 90 painful minutes picking on Star Wars fans, it got its jabs in at Star Trek too. William Shatner makes a cameo – which is really the best part of the movie – and hey, if you insult one group, why not insult them all? There’s a group of Trekkies in Fanboys who get into a scuffle with the main characters. Hilarity, as you can probably guess, ensues.

Well…. This is a first! We have a tie! My personal preference remains loyal to Star Wars by about a hair, but here we have definitive proof that one of these franchises isn’t better than the other. Live long and prosper, and may The Force be with you!

Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Knife. So they decided to officially call this monster Knife. Winter Storm Knife, cutting across the heart of Erie County.

Maybe it’s meant to evoke some sort of ferocity, but I can’t help but think of it as a little bit kitsch. In Western New York, no one ever refers to winter storms by their proper names. We just refer to them by the features of them that everyone remembers. There is the Blizzard of ’77, for example. That’s all we need as an automatic reference to the legendary Blizzard of ’77, which everyone born after that year knows about. The Blizzard of ’77 is the standard by which every other bad winter storm is judged in Buffalo. I was born four years after that disaster, but I’m old enough to have seen some pretty hefty storms. I have recollections of the famous ’85 blizzard, when then-Mayor James Griffin voiced his battle cry for waiting out snowstorms: “Stay inside, grab a six-pack, and watch a good football game.” There was the Gridlock Monday storm of 2000, which dropped 35 inches and forced everyone driving home at the time to abandon their cars and walk home. There was the White Christmas storm of 2001, an anomaly in an otherwise mild winter which deposited 83 inches onto the city in four days – pretty much the entire snow measurement for an entire winter.

This current arctic blast currently dropped 75 inches in a little under two days, and it kills me that this is only the second-highest snowfall I’ve ever been in. (So far.) This is definitely beer and football weather; my school has been closed every day this week except Monday, which is the one day I don’t have classes. And so, with all my homework done, I’ve settled into backburner mode, except my version of beer and football so far has been tea and basketball. I managed to get out once to take a few photos during he calm before the current, second wave of the storm hit.

There’s a travel ban in place, so there won’t be any going anywhere until it’s time to visit the grocery store. When things clear up a little bit, I might try to go outside for a quick walk, but that’s out of the question for now.

You would never know right now that most of yesterday and today were sunny. This storm wasn’t simply some snow – it was a squall; a whiteout so complete that in my community, going out to shovel meant not being able to see the street.

There’s an odd process to having cabin fever. When you first realize you’re trapped at home, it’s easy to shrug, smile, call into work, and sit back with a nice beer to enjoy your day off. Snow days rarely go beyond that first day, and by the end, you’re refreshed and happy. You start getting sick of the walls by the second day, though, and not getting to go out starts getting boring. By the third day, you just want the snow to stop so you can get to the bar across the street. I tend to look for a little bit of variety – it’s a reason I like to be outside. Although I’m not at my breaking point right now, my routine during Winter Storm Knife has involved a lot of reruns of How I Met Your Mother and Futurama, college basketball and New York Knicks games, and movies. I usually have my workout done in the late morning or early afternoon, which knocks an hour to an hour and a half off my day between the workout itself and the fact that I’m usually so wiped out afterward that I end up napping at some point.

At some point, I started having some odd thoughts. What is this sudden obsession with putting Fritos on everything now? Is someone out to destroy bacon?

In any case, the city was well-prepared for the storm. It’s Buffalo, and snow happens, and getting hit with it in July wouldn’t surprise us. Before the storm came on Monday, I had an appointment with a podiatrist scheduled, which happened to be very good luck on my part because I was able to bicycle to his office. I was caught in the rain (yes, rain) on the way back, but it was nothing I hadn’t endured during my messenger years. The news outlets had been reporting on this storm for a few days by then, and it was due to hit on Monday night. We knew what we were in for; by late evening, everyone was already tuned into the broadcast stations to see the list of the next day’s closings. I think we were expecting a big whiteout but an otherwise minor emergency; two feet, two and a half tops.

You know things are bad when the newspaper delivery lets up, and this is our third day without a morning newspaper. The owner of the Buffalo Bills started offering $10 an hour plus tickets to the football game to drop by and dig out Ralph Wilson Stadium. Then he was shamed for it while drivers were advised to ignore the offer; people gave up when the snow didn’t stop; and now it was just reported that we’re not going to have a local football game to watch while we drink this week; the game is being moved to a different location altogether.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much to tell on the macro level because no one here has been able to see much of anything. I know only what I’ve seen on TV: The Weather Channel is trapped at an inn in Hamburg. One of the local TV stations was trapped for hours at a gas station. Both are giving us periodic updates, mainly as filler: “Hey everyone, it’s still snowing!” Now we know what they must have felt like in the south last winter. All that’s left to do now is wait for the snow to let up and look for ourselves to pop up on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report soon.

Friends vs. How I Met Your Mother: The Ultimate Battle!

Friends vs. How I Met Your Mother: The Ultimate Battle!

It just had to be that this year’s finale of How I Met Your Mother was going to share space with the 20th anniversary of the debut of Friends, didn’t it? It seems pretty appropriate; the two sitcoms have been favorably compared to each other through most of their runs. Hell, its even been argued that the two of them might as well be the same show. They both star characters who live in a parallel universe’s version of New York City where there is no diversity and rent control is a thing. Both of them feature years-long story arcs about the romance between two particular characters; both are brought up in efforts to define their generations through pop culture. At first glance, there is some definite evidence that How I Met Your Mother was taking its cues from Friends. When you try to really compare the two of them side by side, though, the real differences start blaring at you, and you’re then forced into one of those corners where you have to take a Beatles/Elvis stance: You only get one pick and you have to hate the other one.

Fine. That’s not something I have too big a problem with. My problem begins with the fact that so many writers seem so eager to automatically throw the statue at Friends, mostly because they grew up watching it. It’s an interesting phenomenon; it’s one thing to believe everything was better back in your day, but it’s another thing completely to refuse to acknowledge if something may or may not be better based strictly on nostalgia for childhood heroes. So now, it’s time to look at both of these shows as empirically as possible. To prepare, I’m binge-watching DVDs and online streams of as many episodes of both shows as I can. I doubt I’ll get to them all, but I can get to an enormous chunk of both. So let’s do this! Friends vs. How I Met Your Mother. One day, I’ll learn.

Characters
Friends gave us Rachel Green, Monica and Ross Geller, Phoebe Buffay, Joey Tribbiani, and Chandler Bing. HIMYM introduced Ted Mosby, Lily Aldrin, Marshall Erikson, Robin Scherbatsky, Barney Stinson, and Tracy McConnell (she was one of the main cast characters during her brief stint on the show, so much so that her actress’s name was in the opening credits, so yes, she counts). Some of these characters share remarkable similarities to each other, at least in a few ways: Barney shares the fact that no one knows what he does with Chandler and his tendencies with women with Joey; Lily and Monica share some apparent neuroticism and spontaneity; Ross and Ted both have penchants for romanticism. Characters in both shows reach ridiculous low points – in Friends, Phoebe tried to keep one of the triplets, while Ted made Robin get rid of her dogs in HIMYM. Yet, for all the similarities, the characters all took different paths in their development. The characters on Friends developed and matured in a more subtle manner while the HIMYM gang was more up front about their changes of character. On the other hand, the differences between all the characters in the show were a lot more obvious on HIMYM. HIMYM also stereotyped less; Friends had its ditz, its romantic, its career person, and its man’s man. HIMYM frequently crossed these traits over from character to character; career woman Robin was also the show’s man’s man, for example – she loved guns, hockey, scotch, and cigars. Lily, Marshall, and Barney all shared the role of the ditz.
Winner
I prefer HIMYM. Issue one: Phoebe. I love her, and she’s one thing that could be counted on to rescue Friends when it was having trouble, but she’s a waste of space and seemed to be shoehorned in. HIMYM never felt like it was having any trouble trying to fit any characters in, even during the last season, when Tracy was added to the main cast outright. Issue two: The development arcs of Barney and Tracy showed what HIMYM was capable of at its best. Usually when a TV show runs long, all the characters start out as fully realized humans and, as the writers start to feel stretched for creativity, they start to fall back on some of the more unique quirks of the characters, flanderizing them until they’re nothing but quirks. Barney went the opposite route; he was a fully realized caricature through the first few seasons with a few glimmers of humanity; as he developed, he matured, and his better side came out as he decided to settle and form a relationship with his estranged father. (This is why I’m always amazed when critics bitch about HIMYM’s later seasons; did they really miss the old, borderline rapist Barney that much? His development made the whole series very satisfying.) And while we only had Tracy around in one season which didn’t span every episode, her development was so strong that the audience felt totally gypped by the finale. Issue three: The cast of Friends sometimes came across as so interchangeable that it could have melded together at certain times. Trying to tell them apart when they get angry or upset – which happens often enough – can be something of a chore. The characters on HIMYM never fell out of their personas and blended together to such an extent. Of course, that’s an issue with Friends, and not exactly a flaw…

Cast Chemistry
It’s very possible Friends and HIMYM were cast in two different and very distinct ways. The cast of HIMYM looks like the actors were all tested and chosen purely on the strength of their individual character portrayals before being rounded up and thrown at each other, and it turned out to work for the best. Friends seems to have been cast with character chemistry as the first thing in mind, like the actors were whittled down to a particular selection and then tested against each other. HIMYM cast the most talented actors it could find for its characters; Friends cast good actors who made each other look great. The difference definitely shows in the final products. Friends ended up casting six unknowns and making household names of not only Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross, but also actors Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt Le Blanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer. The actors flew off each other like atomic particles and were so closely bonded when the cameras were off that the emotion they felt in the final episode was genuine. HIMYM can counter using the fact that its individual performances were better; Neil Patrick Harris and Cristin Milioti could both clearly act circles around every other cast member on either show, and the others were excellent as well. The particular traits of every character on HIMYM were also highlighted more, so all six actors had to perform an exceptional balancing act to see their characters were able to merge those traits into someone whole, and not just a mess of ideas the writers could flanderize at will. They all succeeded.
Winner
This one goes to Friends. While the cast of HIMYM did everything right, it wasn’t enough to stop the emergence of Barney Stinson as a breakout character. Although Barney eventually developed into a complete character, it’s still his early Bro Code and Playbook musings which dominate HIMYM popular lexicon. In the meantime, Alyson Hannigan’s name is still synonymous with Willow Rosenberg, her character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Neil Patrick Harris didn’t make anyone forget Doogie Howser; and Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders are both still remembered purely as Ted and Robin. Jason Segel and Cristin Milioti are popular movie and Broadway commodities, respectively. The Friends cast, meanwhile, are still associated with each other, no matter how far away from the show they’ve gotten. No matter how successful Jennifer Aniston gets, when her name is brought up, she is still just another name among six particular TV actors.

Overdone Romance We Got Sick Of
In the first episode of Friends, we met Ross Geller, a very recent and heartbroken divorcee; and Rachel Green, a runaway bride. Right off the bat, from first to last, the show did everything it could to throw the two of them together. So the two of them took some pretty nasty trips in the ten years Friends lasted on the air before finally settling into their surefire happily ever after in the final episode. The drama between Ross and Rachel took such absurd turns that, at some point, you have to wonder if the writers were intentionally prying the two of them apart and teasing the audience just to prolong the romance. It devolved into soap opera territory. Everything moved right along for the two of them at first; they crushed on each other in the first season; were dating in the second; broken up in the third because Rachel decided she needed an indefinite alone period, in which Ross jumped another girl’s bones; and reconciling only to break up again in the fourth. It’s a reasonable trajectory, but it gets spoiled by the end of the fourth when Ross marries a rebound fling and says Rachel’s name at the wedding, and from there it just got absurd. HIMYM did a bold thing by introducing Ted to Robin in the pilot episode, only to clearly establish in the end that Robin isn’t The Mother. It helped free up the show to give a few romance storylines to Ted and Robin because, since it was established that Robin wasn’t The Mother, the show was able to try anything it wanted for awhile. Like Rachel and Ross, though, it devolved, and by the eighth season they were dredging up the idea of Ted still being in love with Robin, who had been established as Barney’s match for some time by then. Ted’s romantic past with Robin, in fact, hadn’t been any obstacle between him and Robin or Robin and Barney for a long time, but creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas decided to shoehorn an ending they had written for Ted and Robin seven years before the show concluded.
Winner
You know what? I’m giving the edge here to HIMYM. I know I have every reason in the world to prefer Ross and Rachel; after all, Friends didn’t tell us well in advance that Ross and Rachel weren’t ultimately each other’s other halves. It didn’t make a big show of one of them completely letting go of the other one in the final season to show us once and for all that it wasn’t meant to be, over and out, only to renege. Friends didn’t kill one of the main characters, as if she was an inconvenience to the writers, just to make it happen! But what Friends did do that made Ross and Rachel inexcusable was turn their first breakup into a goddamned punchline! “We were on a break! We were on a break!” I’d like to show Ross Geller a fucking break! Besides, between their drunken Vegas wedding, their love child, and Rachel’s final decision to stay with Ross, it’s not like they were lacking for drama.

Resonance With Times
For being a voice sitcom sparked from the grunge era, Friends certainly packed a lot of shining optimism. I’m not saying everything was always wonderful for the characters on the show. Hell, Phoebe sang “Smelly Cat,” which could have fit right into the Lilith Fair lineup. The characters, however, seemed to develop that great Hollywood character habit of failing upward. Setbacks never seemed to affect them very much, and usually they quickly landed on their feet. Friends also came off geared toward a mainstream audience; right in the first season, Phoebe has a quick fling with a physicist who is a little uncomfortable with the idea of romance and spontaneity. It was the typical trope of the time: Nerds are to be ridiculed. In addition, while Friends did deal with homosexuality, it treated homosexuality like an odd character tick; something which was bad at the time, and absolutely inexcusable now. In HIMYM, setbacks were really that; they properly set the characters back. Although it’s treated like an idealistic fairy tale, there is a very dark vein streaming through the world of HIMYM, and the characters regularly end up in compromised positions, frequently embarrassed and humiliated while trying to make the best of what just happened to them. Lily leaving Marshall to pursue her dream of being an artist is one example; Robin’s anchor job on early AM TV is another; and Ted trying to start his own architectural firm is a third. There is also the geek factor; HIMYM actually has TV’s best attitude toward geeks. Marshall, Ted, and Barney are all huge Star Wars freaks, and Barney even has life-size Stormtrooper armor in his apartment; they love to play laser tag; they’re frequently seen playing video games; and they enjoy an annual event called Robots vs. Wrestlers.
Winner
HIMYM. Although Friends featured cell phones and laptops long before they were in vogue, and it did improve its view on gays – even showing a wedding between a gay couple long before the current gay rights movement – it still set out to give viewers a look at normal, mainstream people with socially acceptable interests. It perceived outsiders as geeks or thugs in a negative way. Setbacks on Friends barely made any lasting dents in the characters. On HIMYM, setbacks were real stingers, and the characters were frequently seen doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do in mentally broken states. HIMYM also had the more accurate take on geeks – their geek interests, while prominent, aren’t caricatures, and they don’t define the characters. Rather, geek interests and tendencies are treated as side interests of the main characters, who are able to keep their geek lives and professional lives separate.

Emotional Impact
In any good TV show, we need to be able to sympathize with the characters; otherwise, when we laugh, we’re laughing at them instead of with them. Therefore, it helps to have great ways of projecting times and scenes of deep emotions. Friends axed one of the most insufferable tropes that came to define sitcoms in the previous decade – the Full House music, which replaced real emotion with gagging melodrama. Otherwise, emotion was conveyed by the actors and the script, both of which did fine jobs, and music which was performed by professional musicians. Occasionally, the camera would zoom in very slowly on the troubled character or the character would be isolated. HIMYM, being a more surreal show than Friends, would frequently use surrealism to convey a sense of sadness. It was also privy to using its stilted structure to do the same, allowing it to move back and forth between conversations about the character and the affected character. The portrayals of the characters and the music was frequently a big help as well. Friends, however, conveyed its emotion in a straightforward fashion while HIMYM usually had a joke or two waiting to be used to lighten the mood a little bit.
Winner
HIMYM. The trouble with trying to provide emotional heft strictly through the affected characters is that it’s like describing the symptoms. Sure, you can sympathize, but there’s no real relation unless you’ve personally been there yourself. HIMYM’s surrealism is more than a quirk; it’s an effective way to paint a very exacting picture of what the characters are experiencing. In one episode, for example, Robin learns she’s barren and can never have kids. Instead of simply saying it, the episode cuts to a pair of kids in a living room which are ostensibly Robin’s as Robin narrates to them. Then they fade away as the room is replaced by snowy Central Park and the sofa is replaced by a park bench which Robin is sitting in, drinking a carton of eggnog, contemplating what she just learned. One later episode of season eight, “The Time Travelers,” so brilliantly captures the true essence of Ted’s loneliness that I have trouble watching it: Ted, Barney, Robin, Marshall, and Lily meet in MacLaren’s for a night or Robots vs. Wrestlers Legends. Ted is busy the following day and unsure whether or not to go, and debates the pros and cons of going with Barney as well as future versions of themselves. This might sound odd, but it’s a sort of surreal vision the show has come to be known for. Marshall and Robin get into a fight about who named a drink served by the bar. Soon, Coat Check Girl – a guest character from one of HIMYM’s first episodes – walks in. Ted recognizes her and starts to wander over to talk to her, but is stopped by two future versions of Coat Check Girl. Both warn him that a relationship with her would be doomed, and he gets distracted long enough for the real Coat Check Girl to leave. Finally, he returns to Barney and says he’s out for the night, and in an understated and very eloquent monologue, Barney tells Ted the cocktail incident is a five-year-old memory and the rest of the night was a product of his imagination, and Ted was debating whether to go alone the entire night. Ted leaves, and Narrator Ted imagines his past self running to The Mother’s apartment and delivering Ted’s now-famous “45 days” monologue to the unseen Mother. The effect is heightened later; of note, “The Time Travelers” is the final episode which involves any interactions with the unseen form of The Mother. Four episodes later, after years of teases, the conceptual Mother ceased to exist, and the actual Mother was finally revealed. Although the reveal was simple – even anticlimactic – it worked because of the sense we received for Ted’s sadness over the course of the season and the fact that the story’s endgame was now in sight. Ted himself wasn’t aware of it yet, but the audience knew he would be meeting his perfect girl within – in the show’s time – just a couple more days.

Opening Theme
Friends opens with one of the greatest opening themes of all time: “I’ll be There for You” by The Rembrandts. The song is a definite by-product of the 90’s, and it has the rough, unvarnished edges of the traditional grunge sound. It’s a pretty downcast song, too, describing a lot of bad, serious situations before launching into its memorable hook, which promises that, no matter what happens, they’ll always be there for you. It’s one of those theme songs that transcended its opening theme status and became a heavily rotated radio hit. HIMYM opens with an iconic “ba, ba ba ba ba” going along with its title card, but what most people don’t know is that’s the very tail end of a legitimate song called “Hey Beautiful” by The Solids, a band the show’s creators play in. Like the Friends theme, the song is a definite product of the times in a musical sense. The lyrics don’t make nearly as much sense – I’m surmising the second verse is about the song’s narrator trying to gather the courage to talk to a girl he spotted and thinks is beautiful, but the phrasing is a little random and haphazard. It’s a great song, though, and it’s one of the few millennial rock songs which, while it relies on the slow-driving, smoothly-laid harmony and melodramatic vocals, still lets the background music massage the scene instead of dominating the song and destroying rock music for a decade to come. Also, while the synthesizer is used throughout, it’s used in a minimalist fashion.
Winner
Friends. The HIMYM theme was an early version of a trend that’s setting rock music back decades. The Friends theme is a great song, and its message about optimism and togetherness through even the toughest of times is more resonant now than it was when Friends was the show to watch. Also, “Hey Beautiful” isn’t the most technically sound song, either. Even with better lyrics, its time signature changes are less than subtle. Face it, there’s a reason you didn’t know “Hey Beautiful” was a full song until you read this.

Format And Structure
Although every story has a beginning, middle, and end, Friends and HIMYM both got around to showing their beginnings, middles, and ends in different ways. Both of them also used heavily serialized formats. Friends took its cues from most every sitcom that came before it, which means it tells its stories in a straightforward, linear fashion. While this makes the typical episode of Friends easy to follow, it also makes it a bit more difficult to jump in the middle of an episode. Since the show is serialized, a big secret revealed in an episode with series-changing ramifications could easily be missed. When Friends performs flashbacks, it does them smoothly, skillfully weaving them into the main structure of the show. HIMYM uses a flashback as the very plot of the show. It’s prone to jumping and stilting around a lot more; a frequent device seen on HIMYM is to place the audience into the middle of a scene and then go back and explain how the characters came to that point. HIMYM tells stories in a much more freewheeling manner. It will use surrealism, roshamen viewpoints, intercutting, and flashbacks and flashforwards in order to get the point across. Both shows demand your attention, but HIMYM will go out of its way to make sure it has it. HIMYM also based its entire existence on a large story arc, which demanded bold risks from the creators when it worked and ended up sticking around for awhile. Some of those risks were good and allowed the show to keep revealing hidden depths to its characters; some were bad and allowed them to prolong the show (Ted and Robin, ahem).
Winner
HIMYM. The format keeps finding different ways of telling stories to emphasize small moments which impacted The Narrator’s life. Not only is it an effective way to keep interest in a story, it frees up the writers to splice other scenes into the narrative, make concurrent callbacks, and even reformat the entire show, which is what happened in the final season. Furthermore, the ultimate story arc allowed the creators to gradually reveal the show’s big secrets about how Ted met The Mother. Think about it: What did we know about Ted meeting The Mother in the pilot? They met at a wedding. That was it. After the first season finale had Marshall and Lily break up, most of the the subsequent season finales peeled back more big secrets about the wedding and the meeting. At the end of season two, Ted and Robin broke up, which we knew would happen, since Robin was established in the pilot as not being The Mother. In the season three finale, Ted proposes to Stella, but she isn’t The Mother. Season four, Ted tells his kids that The Mother was in an economics class he taught by accident. In season six, it started really heating up; the groom, long believed to be an offhand friend of Ted’s like Punchy or Ranjit, was shown to be Barney. In season seven, it was the bride’s turn to be shown onscreen; it was Robin. The season eight finale gave us our first glimpse of Tracy McConnell. And the series finale the next season, well, I’ll be nice and just pretend it never happened.

Running Gags
Every good sitcom has its share of in-jokes which, despite being an eternal theme in the series canon, can be easily picked up and appreciated by newcomers. Friends and HIMYM are no exceptions. In fact, they even share very similar running gags: One is that Barney and Chandler both work mystery jobs which no one else on their shows knows. It works better for HIMYM, though, because Chandler eventually gets promoted while Barney – who seemingly drags in endless oceans of money for nothing – reveals that his “eh, please” response to everyone else’s job inquiries is really an acronym for Provide Legal Exculpation And Sign Everything. Basically, if his corporation is ever caught in one of its more unseemly activities, Barney is the one set up to take their fall. Another is they each had a character with a musical career. Friends gave us Phoebe, who sang some of the darkest, weirdest folk songs you will ever hear with an earnestly upbeat attitude. HIMYM had Robin, a former teenage pop star in her native Canada named Robin Sparkles who had one minor hit and was so embarrassed about it that she told outrageous lies to her friends to try to hide it. They both had catchphrase-spewing ladies’ men as main characters – Joey and Barney. Beyond those, Friends introduced us to Ugly Naked Guy, a nudist from a neighboring building. HIMYM had The Bro Code and The Playbook. There was Fat Monica on Friends, and HIMYM had Lily’s odd sexual fetishes. These lists aren’t even close to exhaustive.
Winner
This should be even, but I’m giving the edge to HIMYM for a few reasons. First of all, Phoebe’s songs are only written to highlight her ditziness, and sitcom ditzes are a dime a dozen. Robin’s singing career gave her backstory an interesting twist, and her reluctance to ever talk about it added a dimension to her character. Second, Ugly Naked Guy was originally a hidden character who was there strictly for laughs. At some point, though, Friends decided it had to break that rule and give Ugly Naked Guy screen time. There’s a sacred law of sitcoms which have hidden characters there strictly for laughs that says you never, ever show the character. Never, because it would ruin the mental projection of the character the audience built for itself. It’s why all the Maris jokes from Frasier worked so well – they never showed Maris, and we were given unlimited depth to project how awful she was. Third, Friends turned “We were on a break!” into a catchphrase for Ross. It’s with that one Friends torpedoed any chance of winning a battle of running gags.

Friends just got its ass handed to it. Yes, Friends was great when it was good; upon my repeat viewings, it holds up much better than I expected it to. It was one of the major cultural voices of its generation, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a Cheers knockoff which became popular because it came along at the right time. How I Met Your Mother was something that came flying out of the blue, combining the surrealism of Scrubs, flying hijinks of Malcolm in the Middle, and yes, the emotional gravitas of Friends itself with a groundbreaking story structure. Friends was a product of its time. How I Met Your Mother turned out to be well ahead of it.

Be a Better Halloween Candy Giver

Be a Better Halloween Candy Giver

The premise everyone associates with Halloween also seems to be the one everyone is the most prone to screwing up. You can easily liken it to playing soccer or playing piano in that respect: It’s one of those things which you can very easily figure out what to do. Hell, it’s such such a stupidly easy thing to figure out in just doing the act in and of itself that it’s virtually instinctive. The problem is that so many of the people doing it take the skill for granted, and so they end up royally sucking at it, and they see no need to try to improve. For a society that claims to place a ton of value on the well-being and innocence of its children, we sure don’t care very much about giving out decent treats on Halloween. So, in the interest of being a good public servant, I’m now going to give readers a good list of what to give away and what not to give away for Halloween, along with a few quick guidelines on how to give.

1 – It’s okay to expect kids to say “trick or treat” and “thank you.” It’s not okay to expect a “please.” The “trick or treat” is basically a substitute way of saying “May I please have some candy?”

2 – If you must comment on the costumes, it’s a bad idea to make assumptions of exactly what people are dressed as. You can get away with turning it into a question if you really want to, but you don’t want to risk offending some poor kid because said kid looks like a completely different character than who s/he is claiming to be.

3 – There’s no such thing as an honor system on Halloween, especially if you’re giving away good candy. Unless you have an unlimited supply of self-replenishing candy, you can’t afford to leave a large bowl of candy on your doorstep with a note asking kids to take only one or two pieces. If you’re not personally supervising, kids are going to take as much as their palms will allow, and many have no qualms about diving back in for seconds. If you want to monitor how much candy the kids take, you have to personally sit on the stoop yourself, so don’t try to plan anything that will force you to leave a bowl sitting outside.

4 – If there’s a particular kind of candy you don’t like, don’t pawn it off on any kids. Why would you give them anything you don’t personally approve of?

5 – Along those same lines, don’t use Halloween as an excuse to just pawn off leftovers, either.

6 – Unlike a lot of other people who write out these things, I’m willing to personally endorse giving out healthier treats. What I’ll never endorse are pennies or religious literature. Pennies don’t buy anything, and not nearly enough people give them out on any given Halloween night to make them amount to anything; religious literature is not only tasteless, it turns you into a hypocrite as well. If you’re giving out tracts, guess what: You’re still participating in this Pagan holiday you claim to be against.

Good Candy

Mini-candy Bars
These are absolutely gold. All the taste of a full-size candy bar wrapped up in a smaller, more affordable package which can easily be bought and given away in bulk.

Peanut Butter Cups
These are the very best. No matter the size, peanut butter and chocolate is always a winning combination.

Nerds
A definite crowd-pleaser with 80’s aficionados, Nerds are nice little pebbles of candy which usually combine a pair of fruit flavors.

Peppermint Patties
Not outright healthy, but they don’t do nearly as much damage as a lot of the other candies I’m including on this list. The regular-sized York patties only have two fat grams and 140 calories, so if you’re a health nut looking to maximize the best of both worlds, these are by far your best option.

Junior Mints
Bite-sized, more liquidated versions of the above.

Starburst
Another tasty option which is friendlier to your body, Starburst candy really does unleash a gush of flavor into your mouth which you can still taste afterward.

Lifesavers
These are one of the few fruit hard candies that are served in packages which include a handful in a single serving. They’re delicious, juicy, and it’s easy to eat them in spite of their hard texture.

Necco Wafers
An unusual choice for people with more unusual palettes, I always did like these things. They’re simple and can be popped quickly and easily.

Raisinettes
No, Halloween isn’t a good time of year to let your instincts to good health rule you, but it’s easy to get away with it simply by cloaking the raisin in a nice veil of chocolate.

Boston Baked Beans
These fall under the “simple pleasure” category, offering a small shot of sugar covering a regular peanut. Boston Baked Beans are actually a great substitute for peanut M&M’s, except without the chocolate between the candy coating and the peanut. nd while no one should complain about receiving M&M’s of any kind of Halloween, let’s face it: The peanut flavor is dominated by the peanut.

Bad Candy

Candy Corn
Look, I realize these are a sign of the season, but they’re nothing but sickly-sweet sugar packs with a little bit of food dye. They taste nothing like traditional autumn harvest foods, and have nothing notable about them except those dye jobs. They don’t even really look like corn unless you stack them a certain way.

Now and Later
These seem to be ostensibly taffy-based candies. Every time you try to bite down into them, though, they turn out to be hard as diamonds, and then when you finally get them thawed, they take forever to chew and get stuck between your teeth for hours.

Bite-sized Candy Bars
These are nothing but less-satisfying versions of any of the bigger ones. The only reason they exist is because some evil corporation was trying a new way to save money. Plus they’re all wrapped up individually, which makes them a big pain to try to eat in succession.

Bubble Gum
Good for your teeth, so goes the advertisement (the sugar content argues otherwise), but that’s if you take the time to chew it. No one wants to spend ten minutes wearing out the flavor in a piece of gum when there’s chocolate sitting right next to them. Also, a lot of the gum has the texture of concrete as well, and that’s no good for anyone when they try to take that first bite down.

Jawbreakers
These have the same problem as bubble gum. They’re tough to eat, and they take an awful lot of time to finish off. Without trying to place too fine a point on it, the name Jawbreakers isn’t some exaggeration, either; it’s pretty easy to chip or knock out a tooth with one of these things in your mouth.

Tootsie Rolls
These are supposed to be chocolate-flavored taffy, but your standards for good chocolate would have to be awfully low for these things to qualify. They taste more like chocolate imitation than anything, and the texture reeks of harder candy corn than taffy.

Smarties
There are a lot of candies that should just be advertising themselves as nothing but generic, processed sugar pops, but no other candy is as blatant about it as Smarties.

Jolly Ranchers
These things can’t even be categorized. They’re another thing you can’t chew. And by that, I don’t mean you eventually can chew them, like Jawbreakers and hard candy, or that they’re soft candies like Now and Later which just got hard. No, Jolly Ranchers were made to be sucked, and they can be stuck in your mouth for upwards of 20 minutes.

Lemonheads
If your favorite cleaning product was broken down and processed into dried sugar, these are what it would taste like.

Dots
More processed sugar trying to masquerade as fruit flavor, there no no fruit to be had anywhere within. They just baked the sugar, injected some food coloring, and somehow put them at that weird medium where they’re chewy but still very hard to chew to the point where they keep getting stuck in your teeth.

Learning English Again for the First Time

Learning English Again for the First Time

I love my language, and I get a kick out of thinking, toying with, and explaining the little quirks and nuances about English most of us don’t usually bother thinking about. I don’t believe offical recognition of English as an official language is an idea which is entirely without merit, either. But one of the things that drives me crazy about the people who want to promote that latter viewpoint is that they are frequently barely capable of properly speaking English themselves. I don’t just mean throwing a few emoticons into their regular text messages, either; we all do that. I mean that in regular, ordinary speaking and writing, they keep making juvenile mistakes which aren’t exactly major, but still enough to make me question their intelligence.

Well, guess what! In a shocking twist of fate and fortune that could only ever happen to me, upon transferring to my old college, too long had passed since the last time I had taken a proper English course, and so it was time for me to be a good student again and force myself through a whole new English class. And for a person who has been writing semi-professionally for 15 years, knows the language extremely well, and constantly complains that most people complaining about how English isn’t our national language suck at speaking it themselves, I’m rather clueless in knowing exactly what the hell I’m doing in a lot of the problems I’m given in that class. I’m not having some overwhelming amount of trouble, mind you; what’s going on is that when it comes to knowing what’s what in the English language, I’m not quite as smart as I thought I was.

English literature courses rely on cranial flexation in order to understand the theoretical and abstract from any given piece of literature. This is usually music to my ears; the theoretical and abstract are things my own brain gets along with just fine, better than a lot of the course material I’m required to study, in fact. I’ve written interpretations of a lot of movies, TV shows, and literature. You’d think finding and deciphering a theme would be second nature to me by now. As an author who is increasingly writing short stories, though, I am also well aware of the fact that when a writer sets out to write a piece of literature, we frequently write it with just the story idea in mind. Many authors will write up a guideline to help themselves flesh it out, but I feel like that would restrict me on the atmospheric level – I’m only trying it just now, and it doesn’t seem to be going well.

In other words, we have stories to tell. We don’t often write anything up with any idea of what themes can be culled from it; as long as the story itself gets told, I doubt most authors really care how their work is interpreted, and I’m sure most would read an interpretive essay with interest on the reader’s conclusions and how they came to those conclusions. The story I’m currently writing is about a luckless romantic trying to impress a girl he likes, and ending up in a fistfight with Mike Ditka in the process. Read that sentence again, and answer this quiz question: Do you think, with a story like that, I’m really giving a shit about themes or interpretations? I’m not. I’m just going with the flow of the situation, and hoping it turns out halfway decent.

This is kind of my specialty when I try to write fiction. Invent a character, invent an unlikely situation, and figure out how the character would adapt to the situation. I’m also working on a mystery story revolving around a hitman who also acts as a sort of detective for people who live under the law, but that one isn’t going quite as well. In the past, I’ve written works about a rock musician who had an out-of-body experience (that one was inspired by the story of Motley Crue member Nikki Sixx, which he talked about in the band’s autobiography); a guy who found a hidden treasure that made him rich beyond his wildest dreams and exactly what happened after he found all that money; a conversation between God (yeah, that God) and a suicide bomber, and others. I also wish I could write them faster, and that I could figure out where to send them without so much difficulty.

Themes were never the concern with any of them. Sure, I’ve tried to write a few of them within some sort of context, but context is something broader than theme, at least once the rules you’ve established for your fictional world are set up.

In layman’s terms, I think of the unusual situation, and set out to write a story about (mostly) ordinary, regular people in those situations. I tried writing a couple which vaulted off that form of literature – one was a science fiction story that worked nicely, the other is that mystery I mentioned about (I wish I knew how to be good at writing mysteries) – but mostly, that situational stuff is probably my niche.

Besides that, I’ve also got to worry about the subjects of sentences; the verbs of sentences; predicates; sentence fragments; and all those other little goodies that drove us crazy in elementary school which no professional author has ever used. Learning these has given rise to the personal realization that I’ve forgotten everything I’ve ever known about them.

To think that, during the past two semesters, I was learning calculus and needed my formal understanding of basic algebra to return to me. What should happen in that instance but my old algebra lessons actually coming back to me, and not being so cluttered or confusing that time. In fact, I was remembering my algebra – a subject I took twice in high school and four times in college – perfectly, and without any of the confusion or clutter that made it such a pain to learn. My second semester, when I took a class in human movement which involved physics, recalling my geometry took a little bit longer, but I still managed to do it when one of my professors was giving me help. Now here I am, fully taking a subject I studied and passed, and having trouble recalling rudimentary aspects of it, even though it’s something I’ve been doing now for a very long time and excelling at. I’m not very fond of my brain right now.

You Know What’s Worse than Working?

You Know What’s Worse than Working?

We take employment for granted in this country. We’re apparently under the impression left in our heads by all those Warner Bros. cartoons we watched as kids, that finding work is as easy as walking into the first store with a “hiring” sign, yanking it out of the window, telling the manager “Here I am!” and getting put on the job immediately. Every job has a single applicant, and employers are so desperate for help, they don’t even bother with an interview.

To what little credit I can offer this overly simplistic viewpoint, I have seen – and even worked – jobs which have operated in this very same fashion. Unfortunately, the only jobs that work in such a way are commission-based, door-to-door sales jobs which force you to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, on the hope that the mathematical law of averages swings into your favor. In other words, they’re scam jobs where the returns on your investments are practically nonexistent. Any real job, in which you can make an actual wage and maybe have a few benefits, requires going out and doing the legwork – filling out applications and hoping you get called for an interview, after which you’ll be made to wait a week or two for your potential employer to give you any kind of word. I regularly read job-hunt books, and most of them say the same thing about that scenario – if the employer says he’s got a bunch more interviews, you’re on the backburner; he’s already hired his guy, and he just wants a few people as backups in case the person he hired decides not to show.

I like to believe most people in this country are aware of this, at least on some level. Unfortunately, even then, the Warner Bros. version of the typical job search tends to prevail in the American imagination. Even in the job search books I’ve read, almost every author makes one of two assumptions: Either that the reader is already working and just looking for an improvement, or that a part-time job is growing on a nearby jobby tree to be easily plucked. Since I returned to Buffalo, I’ve been forced to say no to three jobs I was offered that were totally in the bag, offering reasonable pay and benefits, due to distance. Now that I’m a student, such packages don’t come along every day, but I’m still in the hunt for a part-time position because I want to pursue my career schooling full time. I’m having a difficult time finding a proper part-time position which can get me an income and help me pay off my debts.

I find something a little disturbing in the fact that finding a position like this is so difficult. Finding part-time work shouldn’t be hard. There are people, after all, who are able to find long-term employment after being out of the workforce for years. I managed to go to plenty of interviews, but they all ended with the same message: “We’ll call you back no matter what.” In other words, they’ve made their desired hire and I’m never going to hear from them again.

There has to be some kind of trick to getting whatever job you happen to be interviewing for at the moment, and the people I envy the most are the people who have managed to figure that trick out. You know those people: They’re the ones who are able to hop from job to job, staying on whatever job they’re working for two or three months, then quitting, then, when you talk to them, tell you about how they didn’t like this or that store policy or how their manager was a major douche, so they quit their job and found work someplace else literally the very next day. The jobs they’re constantly drifting in and out of aren’t even skill jobs which require training or education, either; they’re regular, ordinary part-time jobs with a wide glut of people competing with each other to get into. I don’t know what’s more amazing about the people who are able to do that; the fact that they’re able to so callously go in and out of work so easily, or the fact that employers, even after presumably looking at their work history and seeing there’s a better-than-even chance they won’t be around for a very long time, still hire them, apparently convinced they’re the magic employers who have found the secret formula to taming the common job players.

Meanwhile, there’s me, and I plan on staying wherever I get hired for at least the next couple of years so I can finish educating myself. I’ll stay on for longer if I find a job in a media industry – which encompasses my old degree – or the health industry, which is what I’m currently pursuing. I work very hard and haven’t been properly fired since 2006. I’m perfectly capable of leaving my nonconformist tendencies at home whenever I’m on the job. I’ve been praised for being friendly and professional nearly everywhere I’ve been, and the ultimate testament to friendliness and professionalism is that I managed to reel in over $7000 while working to solicit donations from people who watch PBS in Buffalo. These were phone solicitations too, which basically meant I was working as a telemarketer to take these donations. I’ve been able to fit in and get along with every co-worker I’ve ever had, so it isn’t like there are any major issues that anyone should be worried about.

I’ve pinpointed interviewing as my trouble spot, and that’s partly because I’ve received so much conflicting advice over how to deal with interviews that, at one point, I tried following all of it. As you can probably imagine, that didn’t work out very well. So I recently ditched around, oh, say, probably 90 percent of the interviewing advice I’ve ever received and started just going strictly by the basics: Keep my personal life out of it, research the company, avoid asking about salary or benefits, things of that nature. Still, I want to be one of those people who can get any job on the planet and hop from one to another with no trouble. I’m not saying I would hop from job to job at the slightest inconvenience. I’m just saying I hate not having an income and am in search of any infallible secrets which could help me attain one. I have a life I really want to get back to living, you know.

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