Monday, March 25, 2013

Reprinting an old blog post.

I've written this blog for a few years now. I rarely think about whether there's a Greatest Hits list in here somewhere, but I am fond of one piece I originally published on Christmas Eve 2009.

No, there's no holiday theme to it. It's about death in the literal sense and metaphorically about the death of objective reality and its popular replacement with selective reality, easily found on the Internet if you know where to look. This theme has been recurring in several of my recent research projects, so I re-publish this work, hoping a few new readers might see it and those who read it before might enjoy it again.


Murder and Mortality: The Skeptical View

If you get your information from the dull and corrupt mainstream media, you cannot help but think that the vast majority of the scientific community accept the quaint ancient hypothesis that all humans are mortal. You may be completely unaware of the honest skeptical opposition to this hoary canard held by many respected researchers in the field. As a skeptic on this point, I have not made up my mind, but I have seen the sloppy work done to support the staid conventional wisdom with the flimsiest of data and woefully weak logic skills. I have never talked to even one of the orthodox true believers, the “death junkies” as they are known in the skeptical community, who has yet to show a logical argument that proves without question that I will someday die. Their arguments invariably include some weak attempt at an induction proof that would be laughed out of any sophomore mathematics class.

Are you aware, for example, that in the all the United States, there is not one state where the death rate from all causes in a single year reaches one percent of the population? And yet, even with this clearly tepid data, all the “death groupies” claim that this proves everyone will eventually die.

Stuff and nonsense!

But the worst of these people, the greediest and least believable of these “death vultures” are those who would claim that Anthropogenic Life Termination (ALT), which they label with the scare term “murder”, is a major societal problem that we should spend millions of our tax dollars trying to prevent. They are always ready to spend your hard earned dollars, either by discouraging this incredibly rare event in a public already unlikely to commit these alleged acts or punishing the people the “death pimps” accuse of these so-called crimes.

I’ve already opened your eyes to the true rarity of death, but what if I were to tell you that in the vast majority of the United States, not only is death a less than 1% a year event for the general population, but ALT accounts for less than 1% of the already tiny 1% of deaths? Yes, the alleged “murder epidemic” is actually barely a ALT hiccup if the real numbers are being discussed, not impacting the lives of even one in ten thousand people annually, and possibly less when you realize who is charged with keeping those numbers.

Why, you may ask, are these numbers so horribly masked? It’s the work of the “death community organizers”, an unholy alliance of layabout, thumb-sucking bureaucrats in the local law enforcement agencies and district attorney offices, aided and abetted by the Federal Bureau of (Mis) Investigation and in league with the powerful trial lawyers’ guilds and prison guard unions. Why, you ask, do they conspire? All of these people, many of them supposedly in adversarial relationships with one another, would all have to find honest livings if the public ever decided that ALT was a minor nuisance, if not actually a massive hoax. Add to this toxic mélange an easily duped and sensationalism loving media and an honest discussion of the true facts becomes as unlikely as a hurricane in Hampshire.

Clearly, the worst of the worst of the “death mafia” are those who rail about the alleged ALT cases that involve firearms, as though firearms have anything to do with the act, if such acts can even statistically be proven to occur! Guns were created for sport and manly bonding, handy tools designed to humanely reduce the population of disease carrying vermin such as deer and quail. But try telling that to the “death by gun wackos”.

The skeptical community is convinced that actual ALT cases have taken place in the historical record. After all, we are skeptics, not ostriches with our heads in the sand. In the Bible, it clearly states that Cain slew Abel, or Cain ALTed Abel, as we say in the skeptical community. When ALT can decrease the world population by 25%, even we skeptics agree that is something that must be dealt with. We are not unreasonable people! But perhaps the “death by gun Nazis” fail to realize that the gun hadn’t been invented yet! How do they explain that? One of their precious murders, verified in the Word of the Lord, but not committed with a gun of any kind! Obviously, they are mute on the subject.

I realize this is a lot of important information to process. Like Plato’s prisoners in the cave, you may believe the shadow world you have lived in before this moment more real that the true reality to which you have just been exposed. Oh, bitter fate that I live to give sight to the often ungrateful blind! But some of you may see the light, and spread that light to others until it envelops the world.

Go! See! Spread! Envelop! The word of truth so commands you! Remember to embrace the skeptical viewpoint at all times!

Except, of course, when I tell you something. Then you are just being a difficult asshole.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The best actor with the worst career:
F. Murray Abraham

The public has spoken and though the competition was daunting, only F. Murray Abraham showed up on more that 50% of the ballots cast, edging out Nicolas Cage, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Eric Roberts.

Their career paths are different. Cage shows up in "major motion pictures" for the most part, and for the most part they are really bad.  Gooding has pretty good taste in dramas but horrible taste in comedies, though that may be unavoidable these days given how many comedies are so low brow. Roberts didn't win an Oscar like the rest of these guys and does a remarkable amount of work, a lot of it on TV, occasionally with a minor role in a big budget film like The Dark Knight.

Of this group, only F. Murray Abraham starred in Blood Monkey.  This is one of many roles that gave him an edge the other actors couldn't match.

Did you know one of his early roles was as the apple in the Fruit of the Loom commercials? Clearly, he understood the concept of "hey, it's a paycheck" long before he won an Oscar for Amadeus.

One can only hope he will make a film with Halle Berry in the near future and I can be sure to miss it.

Thanks to all who stopped by and voted.

Friday, March 15, 2013

New poll: Good actors with stinky careers

Okay, regular readers will recognize the format from earlier this month. A list of actors is over on the sidebar, good actors with stinky careers.

What is the criterion for voting? Well, it's completely subjective, but think of it this way. You have two actors, X and Y. If you loved X's best work more than you loved Y's best work AND you think X's worst work is both worse and more plentiful than Y's worst work, then X beats Y and you shouldn't give Y your vote. If you have some actor Z who you think is better than X but hasn't fallen as far, maybe you should give both of them your vote.

Rule #1
No Old School!
I was thinking about the category and someone brought up some actors from an earlier era. This person did not mention Vincent Price by name, but it's hard not to think of him. Good work in fine films and then... his later career.

I discussed this with several people and it was unanimous.

We love Vincent Price. We would never want to show Vincent Price the least amount of disrespect. We even loved him when he was overacting in cheese.

So out of respect to the legendary Vincent Price, we have a list of actors who are all alive, who have been in good projects and done good work, but their careers leave something to be desired.

In alphabetical order, F Murray Abraham bats first. From Amadeus to Shark Swarm and BloodMonkey.

No, I am not making those titles up.

I readily admit that I didn't think of him first. That honor goes to friend of the blog Mike Strickland.

I also did not originally have Nicolas Cage on the list. It was my sister Karla who mentioned him first. His best stuff is wonderful.

His worst stuff is awful and plentiful.

My friend Art recommended Vin Diesel.

I can hear your question. Wait, Vin Diesel was in something good?

Saving Private Ryan. Find Me Guilty. Boiler Room.

And then... well.

Here's the guy that first sprang to my mind. Cuba Gooding Jr. Seriously, the phrase "new Cuba Gooding Jr. comedy" is as off-putting as "direct to DVD". But his best stuff is really good.

People sent in a bunch of suggestions, and these suggestions made me think of Eric Roberts.

Remember when Julia Roberts broke into the business and people referred to her as Eric's cute kid sister?

Eric did some very good work early on, including a strong action film called Runaway Train and he looked like he might hit it big after Star 80. He won awards from respected film critic societies.

Then, his career happened.


Last on the list: Will Smith.  He was so good in Ali and he was a lot of fun in the first Men In Black. I liked The Legend of Bagger Vance, though I may not be in the majority.  But then there's Wild Wild West and the later MIB stuff, Independence Day.

In any case, these are your six choices. I apologize to all the folks who nominated people who didn't make the cut. I used The First Rule Of Blogging - a.k.a. You're Not The Boss Of Me - to make the list, but it was nothing personal.

Make your choices. The poll will be open until next Friday. You can vote for multiple actors. (I know I will.)

May the best actor with the worst career win.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

New poll nominations:
Good actors with stinky careers

Okay. Fresh off Halle Berry's win making her the go-to gorgeous actress who has done good work and a whole lot of stink, we now start the nominating process for the guys.

I'll admit sexist bias here, but "pretty" isn't a big part of the qualification process here.  What I'm looking for is actors who have done good work - winning some major award is nice but not necessary - and have also appeared in many, many stinkers.

Just to be clear: Casper Van Diem, Dolph Lundgren, Adam Sandler. They don't count because they don't have any good work to speak of.

So here we go with our starting line-up, the guys I'll call The Big Three. All of them Oscar winners, all their careers filled with the dubious.

F. Murray Abraham
Won Oscar in: Amadeus
But then he showed up in: so many films on the SyFy Channel I think even he has lost track.

Cuba Gooding Jr.
Won Oscar in: Jerry Maguire
I also loved him in: Boyz N The Hood, A Few Good Men, Outbreak
 But then he showed up in: Daddy Day Camp, Boat Trip, Rat Race, Snow Dogs, Norbit, ...   

Nicolas Cage
Won Oscar in: Leaving Las Vegas
I also loved him in: Raising Arizona, Red Rock West
But then he showed up in: Vampire's Kiss, Ghost Rider, Knowing, The Sorceror's Apprentice, ...  

Okay, these three guys are into the semi-finals, no problem.  Do you have anyone else that you think deserves to join them.  One stinky film in a good career is not enough, so Samuel L. Jackson showing up for Snakes On A Plane won't put him on the list.

Nominations close Thursday night. Put your suggestion in the comments. The poll will start on Friday. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pretty Actresses, Stinky Careers:
The undisputed CHAMPEEN!

Okay. I came up with this category of attractive actresses with stinky careers with one name in mind.

Is Halle Berry the "I win" card?

A majority of correspondents said yes and she was the only name on a majority of ballots.

When you think pretty actresses with stinky careers, think Halle Berry.

Tomorrow, a new poll, this time for the guys. The prettiness doesn't factor in quite as much - and as you will see, I'm not just saying this because I'm a heterosexual male - but the idea that they have been in quality films with excellent performances mixed in with a WHOLE LOT of the stinky stinky. The "quality films with excellent performances" removes many people from contention - and yes, Adam Sandler, I'm talking about you - but the list is long, the competition fierce and there may not be an undisputed CHAMPEEN.

Join me tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Allan B. Calhamer 1931-2013

Not every reader of this blog is going to have a moment of instant recognition looking at this picture. Even less will immediately recognize the name Allan B. Calhamer.  The picture is from a game called Diplomacy and Calhamer is the author of the game, first self-published in 1959, then picked up by Games Research and later by Avalon-Hill, now owned by Hasbro.

A quick and by no means complete explanation of the game. Seven players vie for domination of Europe on a map that represents the great powers before the First World War. The turquoise pieces in front are the French, black is Germany, green Italy, red Austria-Hungary, yellow Turkey and white Russia. (Not visible: England is represented by dark blue). The two different shapes represent armies and navies. Like Risk, the units move around the board, occupying spaces on the map. Unlike Risk, there are no dice. All the players write down their moves and once read out, the actions are resolved simultaneously. If two units want to move into the same place, the one with the greatest support from adjacent units will succeed.

You can't win the game or even survive without allies. Will the French and English join together to thwart German expansion westward? Or will the German make an ally of one its Western neighbors at the expense of the other? Each country has its advantages and disadvantages, but two elements are found in every game of Diplomacy ever played: alliances and back stabs.

The game never became a gigantic hit like Monopoly or Risk. I doubt it sold as well as Stratego. Its fans may not be legion, but they are steadfast. The most famous adherents are John F. Kennedy and Henry Kissinger. Calhamer went to Harvard and studied law, but he made his living as a mailman and raised a family near Chicago. Unlike some other famous American game designers of his generation, Sid Sackson and Alex Randolph, Calhamer never published another game.

Knowing my interest in obituaries, my friend Jodi wrote to me this morning reporting that Calhamer died late last month. Jodi loves Diplomacy and plays often. For me, the strategy is fun but the backstabbing hurts a little too much. Until I read the obit, I knew nothing about Calhamer's life. The idea that the author of one of the masterpieces of 20th Century games put bread on the table as a mailman is both sad and admirable. It reminds me of the great American chess players of the era before Bobby Fischer hit it big who made their livings selling insurance or working in an office. Wallace Stevens, the modernist American poet who won the Pulitzer in 1955, the year he died, worked as an executive in an insurance company.

And so, here is to Calhamer, whose greatest work was not the ticket to fortune or fame, but instead the undying admiration of a small group of people, themselves often dismissed as geeks or nerds. If you have ever played Diplomacy, whether you loved it or hated it, if you thought about the design, you realized very quickly that it would be impossible to improve on it.

This is because Allan B. Calhamer, mailman, was a genius and Diplomacy was his masterpiece.

Best wishes to the family and friends of Allan B. Calhamer, from a fan.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pretty Actresses, Stinky Careers:
The Official Ballot

Okay, so it's time for a poll. The category is pretty actresses who have good performances to look back at and some serious cheese that is hard to ignore. I want to thank the folks who helped with the nomination process. I trimmed back a few because IT'S MY BLOG and YOU AREN'T THE BOSS OF ME!

Wait, that's actually only one reason. Hmm.

In any case, here are the nominees in alphabetical order.

Jennifer Aniston

I liked her in: Office Space, The Iron Giant

But she was also in: Just Go With It, The Bounty Hunter, etc.

Some people liked Friends. I didn't. Still, she fits both the requirements and so she's on the list.

Halle Berry

I liked her in: X-Men

But she was also in: Catwoman, Gothika, etc.

I won't lie, she's the reason I put this list together.

Sarah Michelle Gellar

I LOVED her in: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

But she was also in: Scooby-Doo, Southland Tales, etc.

Easily my favorite actress on the list, but the writing may have a tiny amount to do with it.

Nicole Kidman

I liked her in: Billy Bathgate, The Hours

But she was also in: Australia, Bewitched, etc.

She definitely will give Halle Berry a run for her money.

Milla Jovovich

I liked her in: Dazed and Confused, The Fifth Element

But she was also in: Resident Evil parts 1 through n

Jennifer Lopez

I liked her in: Out of Sight

But she was also in: Gigli, Enough, Maid In Manhattan


Charlize Theron

I liked her in: Arrested Development, The Legend of Bagger Vance

But she was also in: Aeon Flux, The Road, Sweet November

There are many strong options here, so you are allowed to vote for as many candidates as you want.  The poll will be open for a week, so make your voice heard.

Vote early, vote often. I support your right to vote in Internet polls, even though it is obviously an entitlement you clearly don't deserve.

(Ha, ha. Scalia reference.)