Tag Archives: game shows

Watson Vs. The Champs on Jeopardy!

A partially revealed Jeopardy! Round board in ...

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As a former champion of the show, it’s kind of an obligation.

This week, go to your local ABC station to watch Jeopardy! as Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of the show’s greatest champions (Besides Mr. D, obviously) will square off against Watson, an IBM supercomputer that apparently has the recall and reflexes to outwit almost anyone.

I was asked last year to schedule a sparring match with Watson, as a former champion.  I never got the chance, and would still love to duke a few rounds with that behemoth from Armonk.  As for me, I’m rooting for Brad and Ken this week.

Apparently, tonight Brad and Watson came out tied for first…which I guess is a victory for us mortals.  I’m still not sure if Watson can handle the interviews after the first commercial break.

 

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“History’s Greatest A**hole!” – The Finalists!

Thanks to everyone who sent their submissions!  Based on the quality of the candidates, and space/time issues for a proper poll, here are the five finalists (for sake of fairness, the contestants’ names have been left out):

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1. Henry VIII (1491-1547)

Assholes like to make history-making dick moves, and few moved their member with such ferocity as Henry Tudor, or King Henry VIII of England.  Apart from going through six wives–and countless chambermaids–to secure that elusive male heir, he decided to make himself head of a church, which helped lead to centuries of religious violence.  As we all know, all assholes think they’re God, and fat Harry was no exception. Even his portraits are symbols of douchebaggery.  By Henry’s death in 1547, Hans Holbein the Younger needed double-wide canvasses just to do His Lardness some justice. 

Fidel_Castro_-_MATS_Terminal_Washington_1959

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Fidel Castro (1926-       )

If Fidel wins this contest, I’m blaming Miami and Union City, NJ with stuffing the ballots (just kidding).  Fidel Castro is certainly worthy of this list.  His 1959 revolution in Cuba created the first Communist regime in the Western Hemisphere.  Thousands have been killed, tortured and imprisoned for defying him and his brand of Communism.  His programs have driven the country into ruin, while aid continues to enter the country just to make the US look bad.  He makes lefties swoon and right-wingers squirm, and is personally responsible for Miami and Union City, NJ.  Yet the real reason he’s on here?  According to legend (and we can’t really substantiate this) Castro made ice cream cones illegal.  Now that’s an asshole!

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3. Pol Pot (1928-1998)

Here’s a wacko that deserves a well-placed kick in the nuts.  Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge guerrillas to power in Cambodia in 1975.  For four long years, Pol Pot systematically reduced his country to the Stone Age, literally.  He changed time so that everything started at “Year Zero”, forcing cities to be evacuated for slave labor in the countryside.  Almost 2.5 million people, or 21% of the population, died on his watch from starvation, torture and execution.  The guy hated everybody: foreigners, intellectuals, the disabled, even hated people wearing glasses.  It took the Vietnamese, of all people, to end this nightmare with an invasion in 1979, forcing Pol Pot into the hills as his country still recovers from the lunacy.  They say he was poisoned–let’s hope its by Pearle Vision.

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4. Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)

It is now common knowledge among academics that the father of Jacksonian Democracy was also a bit of a scumbag.  As President of the United States from 1829-1837, he was a steadfast supporter of slavery, killed the Second Bank of the United States as a gesture to create an “agricultural republic” (or “plantation republic”, for those with less taste in bullshit) and supported the forced removal of almost 45,000 Native Americans from the eastern US, resulting in almost 4,000 deaths along the way–in defiance of the Supreme Court.  If this wasn’t bad enough, consider his temper: he fought 13 duels, killed a man in one, had bullets lodged all over his body, and even had to be restrained from killing an assassin who botched an attempt on his life.  No wonder he graces the “yuppie food stamp.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Mobutu Sese Seko (1930-1997)

Only a truly global asshole would change his name.  Joseph-Desire Mobutu took over the Congo in a bloodless military coup in 1965.  He then proceeded to create a totalitarian regime unequalled in Africa.  His personality cult silenced all opposition.  Mobutu personally embezzled $5 billion dollars from his country, forcing it into the economic shitter–which was hard considering it was the mineral breadbasket of Africa.  He renames the country Zaire, and forced the whole country to adopt African names and dress on pain of imprisonment or death.  Finally, in a real classy move, he changes his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (“The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake.”).

I will create the poll in a separate post, along with the dates of the poll.  May the worst asshole win!

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Mr. D’s Contest, Housekeeping, and other chores

ONLY THREE DAYS UNTIL THE END OF OUR CONTEST “WHO IS HISTORY’S GREATEST ASSHOLE!”  GET YOUR SUBMISSION IN BEFORE ITS TOO LATE!

53328933There’s some housekeeping issues that have to be resolved in my planning for this week.  Being that it’s getting close to the date of the state social studies test, my planning has kicked into overdrive, as well as assessments, mentoring, modeling lessons for teachers, working with small groups, etc.  I need to get back to that, but just wanted to remind everyone of  a couple things:

  1. Our inaugural contest has gotten some great word-of-mouth…the submissions, however, have not met expectations.  I have received a good handful of official entries, but I still need more to pick some good “assholes” for our poll, which will start next week.  Remember, we need a good set of “assholes”, so please get your submissions in writing by 12:00 midnight EDT this Friday, October 23.  Many have given a verbal submission, but we must have it in writing.  The details of the contest are available here, and you can either post your submission on the that post or e-mail it directly to me.  LET’S DO IT, EVERYBODY!
  2. I’ll be posting more links to informative sites for teachers, as I’ve noticed that the links are being used extensively.  Any comments or suggestions about our linked resources would be most helpful.
  3. It seems that my Cuban Missile Crisis lesson has gotten some publicity!  Neat-O-Rama, from which I featured their Roman rotating room previously, did a write-up about my lesson, as did the Spanish language blog Penultimos Dias.  Apparently, the Penultimos Dias blog generated some heated discussion over my experiment.  Check them out.

That’s all for tonight.  Tomorrow I’ll be showcasing an awesome new site about the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

 

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Mr. D’s First Ever Contest: “Who is history’s greatest a**hole?”

Author’s Note: The asterisks in the title are for those readers that might catch this on spam filters.  Check all your boxes before deleting as a rule.  Thanks, Mr. D

71276407As today is a national holiday to celebrate a truly controversial figure in history–part hero, part visionary, part scumbag–Columbus Day is also the day the Neighborhood launches its first contest. 

I’m sending this to all readers and would-be readers.  We need suggestions as to who was history’s greatest asshole.  Who was mankind’s greatest douchebag, bastard, son-of-a-bitch, etc.?  Who in the annals of humankind would you want to kick in the nuts, smack in the old kisser, and dance a Charleston on their grave?

Mr.D’s Neighborhood wants to know.  And there’s prizes involved.

E-mail or post a comment with your suggestion.  The top five will be selected, by me, to be placed on a poll on this blog.  Then the readers decide.  If your entry wins, you get the following:

(a) A one-on-one web interview showcasing your “asshole,” why you chose him/her, and some free publicity about your biz/site/blog/upcoming feature that will broadcast here at the Neighborhood.

(b) A free copy of Gotham, the must-have history of New York City from its founding to 1898, by Edgar Burrows and Mike Wallace. 

(c) A free copy of one trade/academic book featuring the latest research on your “asshole.” 

Sounds good?  Let’s get those suggestions in.  Here are a few ground rules:

  1. Your entry should include the name of the “asshole”, the dates of birth and/or death, and a short paragraph as to why this person is an “asshole.”  Please include your name, your e-mail and your website, if you have one.
  2. Your entry can be from any place, at almost any time.  However, we will include only people active up until the fall of the Communist bloc (1989-1992).  No recent personalities.  No Bush, no Obama, no bin Laden.  Got it?   I’M BEING VERY STRICT ABOUT THIS.   
  3. Do not include deities, mythological beings, or any folk hero/talltale hero/legendary figure who has little concrete connection to an actual person, i.e. Robin Hood, El Cid, Achilles, etc.
  4. Please include factual information about your “asshole.”  When possible, state a source.  I’m not looking for MLA or APA stylebook shit, but I do want some real info to back up your claims of asshole-ity. 
  5. Do not include the unholy Trinity of evil: Hitler, Stalin, or Mao.  They belong in a different category entirely.
  6. All entries are due by FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2009. 

All entries will be reviewed by me.  You will only get an e-mail response if your entry was chosen for the top five.  Winner of the poll will be notified on this website once dates for the poll are finalized, soon after the entry deadline.

Any questions or concerns, please let me know.  You can submit your entry either by e-mail or by posting a comment to this post.

Please spread this to anyone you know.  Let’s make this a great contest to find our number 1 “asshole” in history!

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Bread and Circuses: Reality TV and the Decline and Fall of American Society

 

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“The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things — bread and circuses!” – Juvenal, 2nd century C.E.

The status of a society or civilization is based largely on their attitude toward self-absorption and indulgence.

While the Romans saw asceticism, sacrifice and gravitas as civic virtues, their imperium could withstand any obstacle imaginable.  Yet their downfall can be just as swift, according to the Roman satirist Juvenal.  Get them into circular arenas to watch animals and people disemboweling each other, usually after gorging on dormice and buggering slave boys, and the barbarian hordes saw just another bunch of saps in bed sheets. 

The British ruled the waves with a stiff upper lip, a love of “king and country”, and a host of underdeveloped countries that couldn’t fight back.  Yet get them in a fight with European powers (You know, the ones that DON’T use spears and arrows), especially in the 20th century, and they slog through a morass of self-doubt and defeatism.  No wonder we had to bail them out of two world wars.

Unfortunately, it is the inevitable fate of the United States to suffer the fate of all great civilizations.  I have been loath to admit the decline and fall of our great society, especially since I had hoped America would learn from the mistakes of Rome, Spain, Britain, Russia and the like. 

Yet American society has become soft.  Instead of dormice and slave boys, its fast food and online pornography.  And our gladiator games?  Reality television.

You heard it here.  Reality television signals the demise of American society.

If you look even more closely, the more popular reality programs are, in fact, shaped almost exactly like a day of games at the Roman amphitheater.  Where Spartacus wielded his gladius against men and beasts, well-coiffed men and women now wield microphones, chef’s knives and sewing machines against their foes, to the thrills of the people.  Let’s take a look more closely:

(1)    Opening Act –The Freakshow/Execution of Criminals:A day at the games usually began with opening acts like women, midgets or small children fighting each other, usually accompanied by the execution of criminals—later Christians—in cruel and unusual ways.  Today it’s the freakshow early auditions for American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance or America’s Got Talent.  The judges get a good laugh, the viewers get to see the lack of talent in most of America, but most are cast to the proverbial lions rather quickly.

(2)    Second Act—The Beast Hunt: This is the part of the games most people remember. By mid morning, lower-level gladiators are hunting all sorts of wild beasts in a freakish safari conducted on the sand of the arena.  The modern version includes the “theme shows” on American Idol, ridiculous immunity challenges on Survivor, the quick challenges in Top Chef or Project Runway, or that weird skills challenge Gordon Ramsey does in Hell’s Kitchen.  They force contestants out of their element, and further cull the weaker challengers from the herd. 

(3)    Third Act—The Group Stage/Mid Level Gladiators: Later in the day, close to noon,  the mid-level gladiators, mainly local boys, come out in quasi-choreographed set pieces often based on real battles.  Usually squads of gladiators face off all around the arena, providing a cornucopia of blood and gore.  Those who can’t hack it are killed fairly quickly, often by their own team members.  The team aspects of shows like Survivor, Project Runway or the Apprentice bear this out.  In each, the worthless members are ignored, cast aside, or openly sacrificed for the betterment of the stronger players. 

(4)    Fourth Act—The Main Event: By this stage in the games, the day is scorching hot, and the arena stinks of rotting flesh and blood.  This is when your top-flight talent has their bouts, usually one on one or in pairs, before a crowd that hungers for more blood.  There are obvious modern examples: the fights in The Ultimate Fighter or The Contender come to mind.   The final rounds of the talent shows like American Idol also evoke a mano-a-mano ethos.  Yet the essence of this is the tribal council of Survivor.  Here, two people are fighting verbally for their lives as the council votes to extinguish one of them, much like Caesar appealing to the crowd to judge a fallen combatant in the arena.

(5)    Toss UpSurprise battles/Sea battles: It isn’t just the reality competitions that often add a “twist” at the last minute.   Due to the fickle nature of the Roman audiences, games promoters had to come up with new gimmicks almost constantly.  One of the more popular “twists” was the sea battle, where the amphitheater was flooded to allow warships filled with gladiators and ordinance to have at each other.

The modern reality program, especially the competition, offers many other similarities to the great bloodfests of millennia past.  For one, there is an acute sensory overload.  Roman audiences were on top of each other in the roasting heat, with the smell of B.O., blood, rotting flesh and excrement all around them.  Today’s television viewer is barraged by graphics and lights that pound the retinas into oblivion.  I’m convinced the opening credits of American Idol cause seizures somewhere.

Furthermore, there is an emphasis on the “fine kill”, the slow death, the drawing out of the effusion of blood.   Roman crowds hated quick deaths: it spoiled the entire show.  A truly great gladiator could keep his victim suffering for a long time, drawing out the agony until the crowd yelled “hoc habet!” (“He’s had it!” in Latin) and the death blow finally struck.  Take a look at any judgment segment of a reality show and you can easily spot the similarities.  It may not be a literal gore fest, but it is truly an emotional bloodletting.  The constant commercial breaks, the open weeping, the judges lashing into their hapless victims—all meant to draw out the inevitable “elimination” as long as possible for the public’s amusement.

The insatiable need for this visceral entertainment feeds on itself.  Go to any part of the Mediterranean touched by Roman civilization.  Most of the ancient buildings have disappeared completely save one—the local amphitheater.  The arena did a big part in pacifying far-flung provinces and extending Roman control over these vast areas.  Turn to any channel nowadays and there is at least one, often multiple, reality programs on its schedule.  Remember back when MTV’s The Real World was seen as this weird show about people living in a loft in New York?  The newest season of the old warhorse just started and no one cares, thanks to the vast array of up-tempo reality schlock to choose from.

Finally, these two institutions share an ominous distinction.  They both work to make their societies reject the very values that make them great in the first place.  The games were such a drain on Roman economy, society and government that more and more of the empire’s resources were spent on entertainment, to the detriment of more important matters.  This did not get lost on the tribes along the frontiers of the empire, who sought to exploit the weaknesses in the imperial system to infiltrate and eventually subsume the empire itself.

I’m going to sound like an old crank, but reality television is but the apex of a constant drive in our culture of consumerism and greed.  The constant need for instant gratification, immediate fulfillment and emotional stimulation over intellectual growth has spawned this explosion of programming.  In all this hubbub about Jon and Kate, the American Idol voting controversy, etc. we have become attached to what amounts to a society within a society, outside of the events and institutions that actually affect our lives. 

Take my better half, for example.  Whilst I was watching coverage of the unrest in Iran and the Michael Jackson death, she was downstairs watching another show on Bravo for the umpteenth time.  It wasn’t until bedtime that I actually told her that Jacko was gone.  If there’s no ticker feed on the bottom of the screen, she’d be cut off from the world–and I don’t blame her, the poor thing.  With the amalgam of crap on television, it’s no wonder she seeks the comfort of other people’s misery.

Sacrifice.  Respect for law and order.  Respect for government and its institutions.  Working for the betterment of all.  Protection of individual liberty.  These ideas are being flushed down the toilet in our society–and Mark Burnett, Simon Fuller and the rest of those bastards are running to the bank.

It won’t be long before we see fights to the death resurface on TV.  Once the UFC starts arming their fighters and going to the death, we as a society have officially checked out of existence. 

I’ll be saving the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech for a society that has grown a pair and can say no to its own implosion.

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Mr. D and the Jeopardy! Experience, Part IV

Todd Covert, who ended my reign as champion.

Todd Covert, who ended my reign as champion.

The Tuesday of my second show was bright and sunny.  It did not take long for storm clouds to gather.

I entered Sony Studios with the confidence of Muhammad Ali after dancing with George Foreman in Zaire.  Whatever was coming, I was ready.  Let’s see what this new batch of contestants had in store.

As we did the usual rigamarole of last session, I perused the group.  All of them, in my mind, were beatable.  By the rehearsal, however, there was one wild card–a local contestant named Todd Covert.  If anyone was capable of taking me down, it was him.  But that would have to be decided later.

The contestants for my first title defense were drawn.  The first was a demure, retired teacher from Groton, Connecticut named Mary Tuohy.  The second was Todd.  Crap.  Oh well, maybe the board will break my way, as it did last week.  Hopefully, even the Daily Doubles will finally work out to my advantage.

The entire show was a joust between Todd and I.  Mary didn’t even buzz in the entire first round.  By Final Jeopardy, we were both neck and neck, with Mary finally chiming in for some questions.  The category: “Historical Shakespeare.”  I owned this.  Even if you didn’t read all the plays, a cursory knowledge of the plotlines of the histories, coupled with an extensive knowledge of medieval British history–both of which I had–could get you clear.  Yet once again, it was unsure whether Todd or Mary could handle it, too.

“In ‘Henry VI, Part I’ this woman is described as ‘a holy prophetess new risen up'”

Shit. 

The one goddamn history that I never even glanced at.  Screw these late Lancastrians.  So I guessed.  If I reasoned it out, especially the time period, I should have written the right answer, which was Joan of Arc.  I used my balls, and went with Isabella of Spain.  I bet the farm.  Do the math.  In all fairness, Todd would’ve beaten me anyway since he could bet $1 more than my doubled score.

So I lost.  Todd ended up becoming a multi-day champion, so it was no slouch on my part to lose to him.   I had a great time, and its an experience I carry everywhere, especially my classroom.  One thing I like to do is create Jeopardy!-like games for my students to play–culminating in a 5th-grade trivia contest attended by much of the school.  We didn’t have time for it this year, but it is happening again next year. 

So that you can do the same, below are some links to Jeopardy templates you can use in your classroom:

Amy Johns at Fayette County Public Schools has a great site with game show templates: http://teach.fcps.net/trt2/links/powerpointgames.htm

You can also try Elaine Fitzgerald’s site at: http://www.elainefitzgerald.com/gametemplates.htm

The following website has links to templates that are both browser-based and PowerPoint-based, in case you want to work outside of Powerpoint: http://www.shambles.net/pages/learning/games/jeopardy/

If you want to see how I did question by question on Jeopardy!, go to http://www.j-archive.com  It has all the games cataloged since the first syndicated game in 1984.  My games were the 25th season, Oct 10 and Oct 13, 2008.  See if you can do as well.

Anyone who wants to discuss the game show process further, especially people in the Neighborhood who will appear or plan to appear on Jeopardy!, can certainly post or e-mail with any questions.

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Mr. D and the Jeopardy! Experience, Part III

Jim Davis, the two-time champion I played against that fateful afternoon.  A great guy.

Jim Davis, the two-time champion I played against that fateful afternoon. A great guy.

Mr. D, for those who missed last week's post.

Mr. D, for those who missed last week's post.

The beginning of my television debut did not go well.

To start, Johnny Gilbert mispronounced my name.  He had to retape my intro during the break.  Not an auspicious beginning.

Since it was the end of the taping day, the lights and audience had increased the studio’s temperature considerably, and I was flopping sweat all over my clothes.  The makeup people placed tissues on my podium so I can strategically daub my forehead when the camera was not on me.  For the first ten minutes, I needed them.

After answering the first question, I went on a cold streak.  By the first commercial break, I was $1400 in the hole.  It was no longer a matter of winning.  It was now a matter of getting out of this in the black, with some degree of dignity.  The last thing I wanted to do was talk to Alex Trebek.  Besides, the years have not been kind to him–his makeup looked almost clownish at close glance.  Must be a lot of divots to fill in.

Yet I returned Alex’s banter about my die-cast Ferrari collection, which got a laugh.  It relaxed me, somewhat. It was just a game, I remembered.  Don’t look at the score and have fun.  By the end of round 1, I managed to pull myself to $400, with returning champion Jim Davis (a really nice fellow, by the way) with $2200 and Hannah Lynch with $8000. 

The hardest category had to be about Thomas Hardy.  We hardly got any of those right.  The only reason I had a correct answer of “Return of the Native” was because I remembered the Monty Python sketch about Hardy writing it as a sports event.

By the second round, I was in a zone.  The sweat had subsided, and I only flubbed on one question early.  By the end of the second round, I was in second place with $13,600.  Jim had $12,400 and Hannah had the lead with $17,200.  Now it was more like it.  Even if I lose, I can lose with dignity and not look like a complete ass. 

Yet, as I was doing the math, it dawned on me…I could actually win this.  It all depended on the Final Jeopardy category: “Biblical AKA.”  I knew a thing or two about the Bible.   The problem was that I was Catholic, and Catholics have a distinct disadvantage to our Protestant brethren when it comes to Biblical knowledge, insofar as Protestants actually read the darn thing.  So it had to be something that was not the Psalms or the Beatitudes or any of Paul’s letters–an obscure, yet knowable Old Testament factoid that could flub anyone.  

Plus I had to bet the farm since it was the only way I was going to win.

Up came the question, “This second king of Israel was the ‘sweet singer of Israel.'”  Easy, it was David.  Yet it seemed too easy: any half-practicing Episcopalian or lapsed Catholic could figure this one out, I thought.  So it was up to the final showing, and hopefully things will break my way.

When Jim’s response was read–“Who was David?”–two things happened.  First, I sighed relief.  Then, I heard Hannah quietly click her tongue.  Holy shit.  Had she flubbed it?  Is she faking it?  Alex came to me next, and my massive wager which put me in the lead, for now. 

Last was Hannah, and she answered “Who was Solomon?”  I didn’t hear anything from then on.  Not even the fact that Alex Trebek just announced that I was the new Jeopardy! champion.  It seemed too matter-of-fact, too easy.

The crowd exploded.  As Alex shook my hand, he told me that after my poor start, they were thinking of calling an ambulance for me.  Funny.  At any rate, there I stood, next to Hannah and Jim and Alex Trebek, while people were hurredly getting forms for Jim and I to fill out.  Jim didn’t leave empty handed–he was a two-day champion with over $62,000.  It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, and we chatted all the while afterward, as my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and Jim’s wife all gathered with me at the door to the green room. 

That day was a roller-coaster ride, and my win was probably the most dramatic of the day.  Even watching it now, it seems so odd.  But it happened.  I was a Jeopardy! champion.   The rest of the week, until my next taping day on Tuesday, was a victory tour in my mind.  Even though I couldn’t, it was hard to not tell everyone my good fortune.

Part IV, and the last, will be my dramatic exit as champion, and some sites so teachers can play game shows in their classroom.

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