Saturday, 27 June 2009

Michael Jackson’s Greatest Role

Some will remember Michael Jackson for his music. Some will remember him for his unique style.

I choose to remember him as Captain Eo, battling the evil Supreme Leader with nothing but his ragtag team of muppets, a whole bunch of sub-Star Wars special effects and some smokin’ dance moves.

To paraphrase my friend Rob, there just aren’t enough e’s in cheesy for this.

Fun fact: the annoying elephant thing is played by Tony Cox, who went on to play the sidekick Marcus in Bad Santa.

And check out those credits! George Lucas. James Horner. And Francis Ford Coppola? Really?

Well, I guess Jack doesn’t seem like such an anomaly anymore…

Friday, 26 June 2009

Michael, Farrah and (not) Jeff

Michael Jackson RIP The King of Pop is dead. Long live . . . who?

Pop music lives on, but without an obvious successor to the Pop crown. That Timberlake fella’s just a bit too normal and balanced.

Jackson will be remembered for a few good albums, but mostly for the chimpanzee, the oxygen tent, “Wacko Jacko”, the bizarre behaviour, the accusations, aspersions and gossip.

It’s hard to feel anything but pity for this man who remained a boy in so many ways. And it’s very hard to shake the sense that he’d been dying before our eyes for the last two decades.

In a perfect world Jackson’s life would be a stark warning about the dangers of growing up in the celebrity spotlight.

Unfortunately, his lasting impression will probably be a vague whiff of salacious scandal and a dodgy telemovie starring Jaden Smith as Young Michael and Marilyn Manson as the adult.

Farrah Fawcett RIP Media coverage of Jackson is beyond comprehensive right now, far overshadowing the other tragic celebrity death of the moment, Farrah Fawcett.

Farrah’s battle with cancer (detailed in not one, but two recent documentaries) has been big news for years now, but she’s hardly getting a look in.

One is reminded of Jimmy Stewart’s death in 1997 which rendered the death of legendary actor Robert Mitchum all but forgotten.

Jeff Goldblum FINEWe haven’t forgotten you, Farrah.

Then, just to throw a bit of bizarrity into the day someone somewhere took the idea that “things happen in threes” as an instruction, and announced that Jeff Goldblum had plummeted to his death from a cliff while filming in New Zealand.

This got as far as being officially announced on Australia’s Today show before being revealed as a hoax and denied by a bemused and very-much-alive Jeff Goldblum.

Richard Wilkins, you’re an idiot.

What a day. It won’t quite live in infamy, but we won’t see its like again for a while. Hopefully.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah Every few years a film comes along and is touted as the saviour of the local film industry.

“This is the one,” say the breathless critics and industry lobbyists “that shows what we really can do.”

Samson and Delilah is the latest unfortunate to be tarred with that brush, although it was probably unavoidable given its Camera D’Or win at Cannes. And while it’s a good film, it’s far from the pinnacle of creative achievement.

Largely played as dumbshow, we track the movements of the eponymous young aboriginal couple through their awkward courtship, tribal excommunication, hopeless struggle to fit into a white world and something that might be redemption depending on how you choose to look at it.

As a movie it’s not dissimilar to Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, although here the sleepy town of Alice Springs is the unforgiving wilderness and the outback represents the comfort and safety of home.

The main difference for this film is the role played by the majority of those sitting in the audience. The impact of European culture on aboriginals is a central theme, both in terms of passive neglect and active exploitation.

It’s an important point to make, although it wasn’t entirely successful.

A pointed dig at the indigenous art industry for growing fat off the back of a starving community is justified, but one can’t help feeling the film-makers here are indulging in a similar sort of behaviour.

3.5 out of 5

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Atheism ≠ Philosophical Materialism

AtheistPhilosophical Materialism is an interesting worldview. It’s the belief that …

… all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions; therefore, matter is the only substance (from Wikipedia).

This belief is obviously anathema to theists, because it defines out of existence any notion of a supernatural God.

It also has its share of philosophical problems. It’s an easy target for philosophical deconstruction and reasonably easy to paint as irrational.

For this reason theological arguments often conflate materialism with atheism, because the philosophical issues with materialism can be used to conclude that atheism is also irrational.

In fact, most arguments of the atheism-is-irrational variety boil down to this particular point.

But the argument fails right out of the gate. While all Philosophical Materialists are atheists it obviously doesn’t follow that all atheists are Philosophical Materialists. That’s a simple rookie error.

Like most atheists, my position is simply that theism has roundly failed to make its case.

I don’t reject religion because I think the material realm is all there is. I reject religion because once you scratch the surface of any religion it becomes clear it’s been created by humans.

Of course I can accept the possibility that there is something beyond this physical realm. I just don’t claim to know anything about it.

And here’s the thing: unless you can present some pretty extraordinary evidence to the contrary, you shouldn’t claim to know anything about it either.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Coming Soon: Agora

This should spark some interesting debates when it’s released later this year.

Depending on who you ask, the story of Hypatia (here played by the lovely Rachel Weisz) and the destruction of the ancient library in Alexandria in the 4th century AD is either one of the most egregious examples of how religious hegemony can wreak destruction on civilisation, or … no. That’s about it.

Any other views are more or less apologetics for Christianity and the vague hand-waving that goes along with proclamations that they’re not really that bad anymore.

I’d take that view slightly more seriously if we hadn’t seen Dubya’s Christian troops stand passively by while the National Library in Baghdad was destroyed in 2003.

It’ll be interesting to see how the movies portray Cyril (a.k.a Saint Cyril of Alexandria) given he’ll undoubtedly be the villain of the piece. After all, he’s still considered one of the Fathers of the Catholic Church.

With a bit of luck we’ll get a Papal condemnation and picketing from idiots who haven’t bothered to see the film, but are blindly following the edicts from the pulpit. No great stretch that, of course.

Let the games begin.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

This Is What

This is what I’ve been doing instead of blogging.

And instead of reading. And answering the phone. And talking to anyone.

This is one of the most addictive games I’ve ever seen.

Thanks to Rob for the tip. Now, any ideas on how to get my life back?

Monday, 8 June 2009

Mind Body Wallet

MindBodyWalletUmSpiritThe Mind Body Wallet Spirit festival.

An annual (or thereabouts) celebration of woo-woo of every stripe. Everything from personal horoscopes and psychic readings to spiritual healing and magic potions.

On Saturday fellow skeptics Catherine, Elliot, Jack, Dahli and I went along to soak in some of the rarefied atmosphere.

I should point out we weren’t there to take the piss. Or start arguments. Or be assholes. Or convince anyone that they’re wrong. For my part, I’m genuinely interested in the worldview of people who believe this sort of thing, if only because it’s so different from my own.

No, we were there to represent the skeptical community and record a few bits for the Pseudo Scientists podcast. And for me, I wanted to find out what makes these people tick.

We began by talking to a lovely lady from Christocentric Light, a group that combines new-age type beliefs with Christianity. They’re big on dream interpretation, so we got chatting about a recurring dream I have where I’m in an elevator which starts going sideways before leaving the building altogether. Apparently that means I feel I’m stagnating (hence going sideways) and to fix this, I should try to make the elevator go up.

(I wanted to point out that my dreams are probably an effect not a cause of the apparent stagnation, so manipulating my dreams won’t necessarily help in my real life. But Catherine helpfully suggested I push the “Up” button instead of the “Sideways” button. That was such a brilliant suggestion I decided to leave it there.)

We then sat down to record a bit for the podcast, only to be interrupted by a lady from Psionics, a group who could teach us all about astral travelling. All we had to do was sign up for their $1,200 course and we could travel all around the world and throughout the universe. Bargain. Unfortunately my question about how you know you’re really travelling and not just dreaming was evaded and unanswered.

After a break to taste some tea (during which I noted that every single tea I tried apparently had more anti-oxidants than all the others) it was back to the circuit.

Dahli took part in a muscle test which “proved” the power of scalar energy, a magical force imparted to the wearer of a quantum/nanotech/bio-vibrational amulet. And while this was going on, Elliot and I got talking to some Christian Scientists.

Christian Science is all about healing through prayer, so Elliot asked the very reasonable question why (if this stuff had been rigorously studied as they claimed) they weren’t publishing it in medical journals and winning Nobel prizes. They even claimed success in the field of regrowing missing limbs! Sadly they didn’t know which one of their many magazines that particular article was in, but they did assure us it was true.

Memo to Christian Scientists: the question “if God heals, why doesn’t he regrow missing limbs?” is so common it’s a cliché. If you’ve got evidence for that one, stick it right up front of your stand. Just sayin’.

A little more wandering and we decided to call it a day and headed out for the obligatory photo op. Check out the next Pseudo Scientists podcast for a complete wrap-up of events.

SkepticsAtTheWoo This festival is an amazing collection of woo-woo all the one place, and it’s a little overwhelming when you’re going in with a deliberately skeptical eye.

I can appreciate that a lot of these people genuinely believe they’re helping with their magic potions and rituals, and it could even be argued they are helping if someone goes in looking for that kind of thing.

But at the core of it all is a huge industry cynically making lots of money off the credulous and the vulnerable.

This was my conclusion about what makes them tick. It’s definitely more Wallet than Spirit.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Simon and the Chiropractors

Simon Singh Back in April 2008 British journalist and author Simon Singh wrote an excellent opinion piece in the Guardian, in which he called “bullshit” on the British Chiropractic Association and some of their more outlandish claims.

Singh had taken exception to claims like those in this leaflet which says…

…chiropractic care has helped children with the following symptoms: Asthma, Colic, Prolonged crying, Sleep and feeding problems, Breathing difficulties, Hyperactivity, Bedwetting…

…and rightfully pointed out that no evidence for this kind of Chiropractic efficacy actually exists. Then, he eloquently took the BCA to task for promoting “bogus” treatments.

And what was the reaction of this respectable association? Did they produce the evidence they claim they have, thereby soundly trouncing Dr Singh’s claims?

No. Of course not. They sued him for libel. After all, Singh is right. The evidence doesn’t exist.

In the US, chiropractors and other alternative practitioners know better than to try this sort of thing. Over there the law would require them to prove their treatments are effective. They can’t do that, so they don’t.

But English libel laws are different. They’re heavily weighted in favour of the plaintiff, so the burden of proof is on Singh to prove that chiropractic isn’t effective, rather than on the BCA to prove that it is.

It’s a tough call, but not impossible. What makes it tricky is that the presiding judge latched onto the word “bogus” and interpreted that as implying a knowing deception on the part of the BCA. Now that’s pretty much impossible to prove.

Singh has appealed that ruling and we’ll be watching the outcome of with great interest.

If the ruling is overturned then Singh has an excellent chance of beating the libel charge. What’s more, the likely exposure of chiropractic as a largely ineffective treatment will have the BCA regretting they ever brought the case to trial.

If it isn’t overturned then Singh probably doesn’t have much of a chance at all. Worse, the precedent set will be a huge blow to freedom of speech, and a huge setback to the much-needed skepticism of (I’ll say it) bogus claims like those of the BCA.

Jack of Kent is tracking the details of the case closely, and Sense about Science has a petition with a very impressive list of signatories.

Let’s hope reason prevails.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Dead Pool 2009 – May Update

Celebrity Dead Pool now has its own blog!
Find it at Celebrity Dead Pool 

Welcome once again to the macabre world of Dead Pool 2009.


Let’s kick off first with a late-reported death from April.

Venetia PhairOn April 30, amateur astronomer Venetia Phair passed away at the age of 90. Phair was brought to prominence in 1930 aged just 11, when she named the newly-discovered planet Pluto. Phair was remembered again recently when Pluto was demoted from a planet to a dwarf planet. Shame about that.

Still, Walt Disney pinched the name for Mickey's dog a few years later. And that’s still cool. Right?

Dom Deluise On May 4 comedy legend Dom DeLuise died of kidney failure aged 76. Best known for his roles in just about all of Mel Brooks’ movies, I still remember him for the opening scene of The Muppet Movie, where he played the sleazy agent who convinces Kermit to go to Hollywood.

So we have Dom to thank for the Muppets. Well, why not? Let’s go with that.

On the 15th, as previously mentioned legendary Australian actor Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell passed away at the age of 86.

Dolla On the 18th US rapper Roderick Anthony Burton II (aka “Dolla” … twice as good as 50 Cent etc etc) was shot and killed in Beverley Hills. Of course if the precedent set by 2Pac is anything to go by, this means a glowing career of successful albums, Grammy awards and unverified sightings in Hollywood nightclubs.

On the 21st we farewelled actress Joan Alexander, best known for her role as Lois Lane in the radio serial The Adventures of Superman in the 1940s. Tragically taken in her prime at the age of 94 this is clear evidence that the curse of Superman strikes again!

Millvina DeanAnd finally, on the 31st the world lost Millvina Dean, the last survivor  of the Titanic disaster in 1912.

Of course, it’ll be some years before we farewell the last survivor of the Titanic disaster of 1997.

The current score for this year’s pool still stands at a draw, with Benn and Ty sharing the lead on 14 points.

Stay tuned for further updates.