Sunday, May 22, 2011

The ballad of Brave Last Dave:
A sad story getting sadder.

I like the obituaries. I always have. Most people think it's morbid, but when someone dies you haven't thought about in quite some time, it gives you a chance to reflect. One of the most popular posts I've written this year was my tribute to Sir Henry Cooper, the British boxer who was the first to knock down Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in his pro career.

When I rejoined the Internet back in the late 1980s (I was on something like a chat room in 1974, so I gots a little seniority), one of the first newsgroups I joined was alt.obituaries, where people from all over the English speaking world posted obits. I met my friend Amelia from New York there. I'm not on the group anymore, but I joined their deadpool this year under the name Brave Last Dave, using a list gleaned from the people who the tabloids predicted would die in 2010.

I contend obituaries aren't morbid. Deadpools, on the other hand, most certainly are. Predicting who will die in a calendar year is by definition morbid. My excuse is that the predictions aren't my own, but instead a test of the tabloids' power of predictions.

My nom de mort is Brave Last Dave. After getting very lucky, catching the very first celebrity death of the year with Anne Francis, the only other hit I've had is Miss Elizabeth Taylor, who was also on 23 other people's lists, so not much of a coup there.

My contention is that the tabloids kind of suck at telling you who will die soon. My standing near the end of May in the deadpool bears this out.

I have two hits out of the 40 people on my list for a total of 13 points. The points are a combination of how old someone was when they died - younger people are worth more points - and some bonus for having a name that was on very few other lists. So far, I haven't had any bonuses for solos, duets or trios and given how well known the people are on my list, I doubt that I will get any.

The average number of points for people who have at least one hit is 27.1 points and the median is 22. The average number of hits is 3.2 and the median is 3. In other words, I'm at the bottom of the pool and my odds of a miraculous turnaround stink pretty bad.

My list has some politicians (the elder Bush and Bill Clinton, but not G.W. Bush or Jimmy Carter) and some British royalty, but it leans heavily on people who were famous before I graduated from high school, especially people who were on TV in the 50s, 60s or 70s. There are some young out of control folks on the list (Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, for example) and they have a dislike for the fat (which explains the inclusion of Rush Limbaugh and Kirstie Alley), but it's very light on aging rock stars or athletes, so I have no chance to score points when someone like Seve Ballesteros or Phoebe Snow dies.

The people who join these deadpools usually put some thought into their choices, so I didn't expect to come in and sweep the field, but I do find it interesting just how bad my list is doing versus people who are putting in some effort.

The shorter version of this post is this.

The tabloids suck at tell the truth and they are even worse at predicting the future.

But we kind of knew that already, didn't we?