Friday, March 29, 2013

The Wisdom of Willy

While I was fumbling for the keys in my pocket this morning, two NJ Lottery tickets fell out. I had forgotten about them. I don’t buy them often, but every now and then – usually at moments when I see a couple singles in my wallet while buying some small item – I’ll plunk down two bucks for two Pick-6s. I prefer the Pick-6 because the payout is always over a million dollars and sometimes is as much as 20 million: life-changing amounts, unless you already have 20 million. Also, the odds of winning are merely akin to being struck by lightning, as opposed to the Power Ball odds of being struck by a falling Boeing 787. I doubt I’ve ever spent as much as $50 in a year on them (more commonly $20). Was either of today’s rediscovered tickets a winner? No. In fact, somehow not one of the 12 numbers matched a single number from the drawing. This seems improbable enough that I think it ought to pay something – but it doesn’t.

Game theorists will tell you that playing the lottery is irrational. (Ruder ones actually will call it “a tax on stupidity.”) In a strict mathematical sense, of course they are right. The chance of being a winner is too low to take remotely seriously. The more you spend, the more you lose. While game theorists disapprove of all gambling against house-odds for similar reasons, they see state lotteries as the worst legal type of gamble. You’re better off (or, rather, less bad off) betting in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. State lotteries pay out as prizes only 30% of the cash collected. A private casino slot machine typically pays back between 82% and 98%. A roulette wheel pays 35-to-one on a wheel with 37 (French) or 38 (American) numbers.

What of the handful of people who do win big lottery prizes? According to a recent Tru.TV documentary The Lottery is Cursed, sudden riches can ruin their lives. Twelve such tales are described here: .

Yet, the theorists miss something. What they miss is this: $20 per year will not impact my life in any noticeable way. (I can skip a lunch, if I really want to make up the difference, which probably would be good for me anyway.) A lottery win would make an enormous impact. For the cost of a truly negligible amount of money per year, the chances of winning a fabulous amount are better than zero – not appreciably better, but better. People do get struck by lightning, after all. (On the other hand, if you’re spending more than you can afford to throw away, I agree with the number-crunchers.) $1 is the price of a dream, and people pay for dreams all the time – that’s why there is an entertainment company called DreamWorks. Not all decisions can be (or should be) made purely by calculating relative probabilities.

As for the curse, I’ll risk it. While the cautionary tales on Tru.TV are edifying, I think it is possible, with a little wisdom, to evade the curse’s clutches. Remember the words of Willy Wonka: "But Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted...He lived happily ever after."

A little known but very good gambling flick set in the 1950s: The Big Town (1987). Matt Dillon to Diane Lane when she says she can change: “the odds are against it.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

Will the Joker Have the Last Laugh?

I’m not normally a fan of prequels, either in print or on the screen. After all, I know how they will end: they’ll end where the original novel (or script) begins.  Still, while I don’t seek them out, I don’t make it a hard-and-fast rule to avoid them. A few even can pleasantly surprise, e.g. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or (sort-of) the 2009 Star Trek reboot. I haven’t seen the prequel to The Wizard of Oz (1939), but Oz the Great and Powerful (presently in theaters) has generally positive reviews and seems likely to help Disney’s bottom line.

So, after some hesitation, I picked up Cold City by F. Paul Wilson, a prequel to the 15-novel Repairman Jack series, the full set of which I own. In The Tomb, the first novel of the series proper, we meet the central character fully formed and at the top of his game; we are provided with just enough back-story to make him understandable. Jack is a sort of urban mercenary who unintentionally runs afoul of the nefarious schemes of a secret society that (sometimes through unwitting agents) is actively seeking to bring about the end of the world as we know it. There are a lot of similarities between the Repairman Jack novels and the novels of HP Lovecraft, though Wilson has a more readable style and his dialogue is much more appropriately colloquial. I recommend Cold City only to existing fans. Newcomers are likely to be baffled by the inside references. For the old fans, though, Cold City is a fun treat; we get to see the young, inexperienced, freshly-dropped-out-of-Rutgers Jack discovering the path to his future career and lifestyle, and often bumbling along the way.

While all of this is fiction, the series brings to mind the thought that there really are people trying to bring about the end of the world as we know it. For some, the motive is religious, for others ideological, and for others philosophical. I don’t go in for convoluted conspiracy theories about prominent assassinations or terrorist acts, by the way. I think those acts, by and large, are just what they seem to be on the surface (9/11 for instance), and I think they were, by and large, committed by the people who seem to have done them. But conspirators are precisely who seem to have done most of them: for example, the plotters against Lincoln, the original bombers of the World Trade Center in 1993, the Weather Underground revolutionaries who bombed the US Capitol in 1971, and the Aum Shinrikyo cultists who launched a coordinated sarin gas attack against the Tokyo subway in 1995. We shouldn’t let the nutty conspiracy theorists out there make us deaf to the real conspirators, who rarely are entirely quiet about their intentions. Some groups have narrow aims; others seek broader chaos, while still others seek the end of civilization. That’s not hyperbole. The Church of Euthanasia is not suspected of doing any harm to anyone, but it does openly advocate suicide (“suicide, abortion, cannibalism and sodomy”) in order to save the planet: . I think we can assume that plenty of less mild-mannered folks (the Unabomber, for one) favor a more activist approach.

“OK,” one might say, “there are always fringe elements who will resort to violence. They can do some damage, but society as a whole is too robust to be seriously affected.” There is something to this. The wars of civilized nations and natural disasters (such as the Indonesian tsunami or Hurricane Katrina) do far more harm than any terrorist ever has done. Society at large always has survived and recovered. There is a new ingredient being added to the mix, however, and the sarin incident in Tokyo might well have been a prequel of things to come.

Manufacturing techniques radically different from traditional industrial processes are becoming available. 3D printers allow customized parts and products – including working machines – to be made to order. New methods allow the assembly of new chemicals a molecule at a time, rather than by old batch brewing or processing techniques. They allow us to tinker with individual cells and viruses. More importantly, the cost of these techniques is dropping. Home 3D printers already are available and affordable. While the home versions are limited in sophistication, authorities are worried that they already are good enough to home-produce functioning handguns. The printers quickly will get better and cheaper.

The cost of production facilities always has kept so-called NBC weapons (nuclear/biological/chemical) the domain of nation-states – and of manufacturers with an interest in the stability of nation-states.  Nuclear weapons will remain that way, since upgrading uranium never can be simple or cheap. True, a single stolen weapon somehow might get into private hands, but, while the results of that could be horrific, it still would be a one-off local event, survivable by broader society. No one ever will produce Bombs from scratch in his basement. The real risk is biological and chemical. The production techniques used by the Aum Shinrikyo cultists in 1995 were primitive and the product wasn’t very good, but the attack sickened thousands and killed 13. Had they a better product and delivery system, would they have hesitated to kill millions? Is there any shortage of wacky individuals and groups who would do the same? They’ll soon be able affordably to whip up what they need with their home printer and chem-kits.

It took 15 novels for F. Paul Wilson’s fictional secret society to create the chaos it wanted. Perhaps we face a similar delay before any real ones can do the same. Let’s hope so, anyway.

The Joker explains his special brand of anarchy
Tokyo 1995

Friday, March 15, 2013

Copious Coppolas

Since The View from the Couch post (below), thirteen more DVDs have wended their way through my player, competing to retain their places on my overcrowded shelf. Results follow.

You’re a Big Boy Now (1966). This flick was Francis Ford Coppola’s UCLA thesis.  Like so many interesting films, it transcends its time even as it is firmly rooted in it. Beautifully shot in NYC, it is the story of 19-y.o. Bernard who is having a hard time growing up. He is infatuated by the narcissistic and cruel actress Barbara Darling (Elizabeth Hartman), who enjoys nothing more than crushing his already shaky sense of manhood and self-worth. All the while, he ignores the real treasure Amy (a young Karen Black) who cares for him. Barbara’s sadism is given an explanation, though not actually an excuse. Meanwhile, Bernard’s parents, while urging him to grow up, in fact hold him back. This coming-of-age film is clever, funny, off-beat and sports a quintessentially 1960s soundtrack by John Sebastian performed by The Lovin’ Spoonful. Shelved.

The Ladies Man (1961). Jerry Lewis made some very good movies as an actor and as writer/director. He is funny as the Delicate Delinquent (1957) and convincing as the ruthless talk show host in The King of Comedy (1983). The Nutty Professor (1963), written and directed by himself, is a true comedy classic. He also made stinkers, such as Way…Way Out (1966) and the almost unspeakable Slapstick of Another Kind (1982). The Ladies Man is neither…and both. Lewis shows real directorial skill in this film, with a superb purpose-built set, solid camera work, and good choreography. None of this is enough to overcome a script that doesn’t rise to the level of weak. Jerry Lewis is big on physical humor, but all slapstick (slipping, colliding, breaking) is not in-and-of itself funny. It really isn’t. It needs some context – not a lot, necessarily, but more than is offered here. In The Ladies Man, Jerry goes to work as a sort of errand boy in a houseful of women with acting ambitions; this set-up is never exploited for anything more than so-so bits and gags – with one excessively maudlin message as a lagniappe. If you want an intelligent, funny, and heartfelt comedy about a boarding house full of aspiring actresses, choose Stage Door (1937) with Katherine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Lucille Ball. Unshelved.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010). Nicolas Cage (born Nicolas Coppola, Francis’ nephew) never just walks through his parts. He always puts effort into them no matter how inane they may be. When he ran into financial difficulties some years ago, he began to accept roles that were very inane indeed. We probably all do things for a paycheck of which we are not proud, but not all of us have the results recorded on film for all time. Perhaps he was hoping for better when this role was offered. If so, his hopes were dashed. The concept for this movie sounds promising enough: dueling sorcerers, a search for a successor to Merlin, a love story spanning centuries, the evil Morgana le Fey loose in modern day NYC, and a bumbling young lad challenged to face his destiny – all brought to us with high budget special effects from the folks at Disney. What could be missing? Oh yeah, how about a script to go along with the concept?  What there is of one is so flawed that Nicholas couldn’t save it. Despite all the whiz-bang action, the film manages to be boring. Unshelved.

Woman Times Seven (1967) – As the title clues us, vignettes of seven women comprise this 1960s movie, which once again shows that a film lives or dies by its script. All of the seven women are played by Shirley MacLaine. The stories are set in Paris and Rome. Was Cesare Zavatinni (the screenwriter) trying to be funny? Poignant? Sad? It doesn’t matter, because the film isn’t any of those things. Only one of the women is believable: the one who thinks she is being followed by an admirer (today we would say “stalker”); the audience learns, though she never does, that he is a detective hired by a jealous husband. All of the other characters are crazy or cartoonish, and not very amusingly so. There is also something unsettling about every one of them being financially well-set. You’d think one out of seven wouldn’t be. The theme is love and betrayal, which certainly can be fodder aplenty for a movie – but not this movie. If you’re a Shirley MacLaine fan and like the vignette format, try What a Way To Go (1964), which is, at least, funny. Unshelved.

Nine Lives (2005). Also a series of vignettes about women, though this time with nine different actresses and a creditable script. Nine Lives has an excellent cast including Sissy Spacek, Elpidio Carillo, Amanda Seyfried, and Glenn Close. The characters span the social spectrum. One is in jail, one is hospitalized, one is an unwelcome guest at the funeral of her ex-boyfriend’s wife, another has a path-not-taken moment in a grocery store when she encounters an old flame, while yet another wavers between suicide and murder. The stories overlap a little near the end. Love in the various tales takes different forms. Seyfried’s character, for example, plainly gives up an Ivy League college opportunity (though she denies it) in order to provide help to her parents, who need it (though they deny it). Glenn Close picnics in the cemetery with her young daughter (Dakota Fanning), combining an affection for what was with an affection for what is. All nine characters are credible, and, as in real life, they don’t always wrap up their issues neatly. Shelved.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Written by Wes Andersen and Roman Ford Coppola (son of Francis), this is an off-beat comedy set in 1965 at a summer camp on the New England island of New Penzance. 12-y.o. Sam, a foster child, runs off with like-aged Suzy to a remote corner of the island which they dub Moonrise Kingdom. This raises the ire of Suzy’s parents, Sam’s foster parents, and Social Services, who call in the help of reluctant police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). The writing and direction are quirky. It is all a bit odd, but it works. Christopher Orr in The Atlantic argues that romantic comedies are a declining art form (not in numbers but in quality) because they rely on lovers overcoming adversity, but in the 21st century we no longer normally put formidable obstacles in the path of any two people who want to get together. The rare modern romcom that succeeds, he suggests, is one that stretches for obstacles, such as Silver Linings Playbook in which the characters are obstructed by their own mental health issues. Moonrise Kingdom would support his argument. After all, you can see why parents and some other authority figures might balk at letting 12-year-olds in love run off together. Shelved.

Angel (1984). Unapologetic trash. A 15-y.o. prep school girl moonlights as a hooker and befriends the oddball (and generally likable) street people on Hollywood Blvd. A psycho is prowling the streets and killing prostitutes. The film has a few cute moments, and the effort to win the audience’s sympathies works to the extent that we’re happy when Angel grabs her landlady’s gun and goes after the killer. Angel spawned two atrocious sequels that should be avoided at all costs. Though the original film is not without a certain guilty pleasure appeal, there are too many flaws in the production, casting, acting, and direction for the DVD to be shelf-worthy. It’s a closer call than one might think, but Unshelved.

Sucker Punch (2011). I never saw worse reviews for a movie than for Sucker Punch: "two hours of solitary confinement, which feels more like dog hours" (Michael Philips, Chicago Tribune); "Movie lives up to its name" (A.O. Scott, New York Times); "What happens when a studio gives carte blanche to a filmmaker who has absolutely nothing original or even coherent to say" (Lou Lumenick. New York Post). There was the odd exception, e.g. Betsy Sharkey of The Los Angeles Times: "utterly absorbing romp through the id that I wouldn't have missed for the world." I didn’t see the same movie as the mainstream critics. I saw the same movie Betsy did. Critics complained that the plot doesn’t make sense. While I understand the confusion, the film does make sense: wrongfully committed to a high security asylum by a corrupt stepfather, "Baby Doll" seeks freedom while indulging in two layers of fantasy rife with elaborate videogame-style imagery. The key to the story (this is not quite a *spoiler*) is what we are told it is right at the beginning: “the mystery of whose story it will be.” It is this, not the lobotomist’s hammer, that is the sucker punch. Shelved, but I realize a majority of viewers won’t like it.

The Best of Burlesque. This collection contains 7 hours of material filmed mostly between 1950 and 1955, an era when the classic burlesque houses still reigned. Within a decade they were all but gone, replaced by the go-go bar. One of the DVD features is called Too Hot to Handle. It is a record of an entire burlesque show, with the live band, the singers, and the comic acts - some awful, some funny – along with the dancers with their sets and routines. The DVD also contains a long list of shorts (some in 3D) featuring headliners and relative unknowns. Tempest Storm's act is very traditional but amazing. Corky Marshall does a funny dance/monologue routine about a nervous stripper on her first gig. The 1950s were the bad old days in any number of ways. Most of the social changes since then have been in the right direction. Yet something was lost along the way, too. Even if you’re too young to remember the decade, this collection can evoke some nostalgia for a time when the sleaze had more style. Shelved.

Chump Change (2000). This witty, well-written, well-acted (and occasionally silly) flick won several film festival awards in 2000 and 2001. Then it disappeared from view until quietly released on DVD a few years later. It deserved more confidence from the producers. Stephen Burrows, who wrote and directed, portrays an actor/comedian/screenwriter who goes home to Wisconsin after being overwhelmed by Hollywood. There he unexpectedly encounters a woman played by Traci Lords, who is charming in this atypical role. He discovers she is renting his mother’s house while his mother is on an extended vacation in Iceland: “You’re not my mother.” “You’re not my son. At last, closure.” This is hardly the first film to make fun of big bad Hollywood and it won’t be the last, but it is one of the more pleasant. Shelved.

Love Object (2003). In this truly creepy low-budget film, shy and troubled Kenneth buys an ultra high-end sex doll. She is named Nikki. His “relationship” with her actually helps his confidence enough to develop a real relationship with a pretty coworker named Lisa (Melissa Sagemiller). Uh-oh, Nikki is jealous and starts causing trouble. Or is Ken bonkers and causing the trouble himself? When Lisa discovers Kenneth is weirder than she ever imagined and tries to back away, he develops a plan to turn her into a doll with embalming techniques. Twisted, but that’s precisely what the movie is supposed to be. Shelved

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008). No, this is not a late addition to The Thin Man series, though it does involve detective work: the search for a secret show being held somewhere in NYC by Where’s Fluffy, the favorite band of teens Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Dennings). The movie takes place over the course of a single 24 hour period in which Nick and Norah meet for the first time, break up and make up with each other, make up and break up with their respective old flames, seek out Norah’s drunken girlfriend before she gets into trouble, scour the New York club scene (the bouncers don’t seem strict on the over-21 rule in this pic), and search for Where’s Fluffy. This film doesn’t try to be anything deeper than a breezy teen date-flick, but it succeeds at being that. Likable. Shelved.

Somewhere (2010). Sofia Coppola (Francis’ daughter) wrote and directed this film about a spoiled self-indulgent movie star who lives for expensive toys (such as his Ferrari), luxury hotel suites, shallow affairs, and tawdry (but pricey) entertainment – until the daughter he barely knows (Elle Fanning) shows up. It takes a while, but Elle evokes parental feelings and values in him that he didn’t know he had. At the end he walks away from his Ferrari, leaving the keys in the ignition. This film received mixed reviews, but those who liked it liked it a lot. It won some film festival awards. I’m just not the right audience for it. If I had any kids, perhaps I would be. But I don’t and I’m not. Unshelved.

Hey, I’m getting better. I unshelved 5 out of 13.

The Lovin’ Spoonful play the 1966 soundtrack to You’re a Big Boy Now. (The dialogue is audible in the actual film.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

On Being an Ass

George Washington University in DC is a downtown campus. In 1972 I was a young student there. One day I stood at the corner of 19th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue and waited at the light to cross the avenue to the Peoples Drug Store (now a CVS). Among the several other people at the corner was a young lady named Valerie. She was in the same Classics 72 (ancient literature) class as I.

“Hi,” she said. “Do you have The Golden Ass?”

She was referring to the Roman novel by Lucius Apuleius (c.150 AD): The Golden Ass, also known as The Transformations of Lucius. Insufficient copies of the Robert Graves translation (which was and still is the best) had arrived at the college bookstore. This was long before online books, so some students had to read it in the library.

“Yeah, I sure do,” I said. “Come to my dorm room and grab it any time you want it.”

It was only then that I noticed frowns from some of the other pedestrians.

Language and manners have changed a lot since then. The exchange likely would go unnoticed today, even if laced (as it might well be) with present participles beginning with “f.” 1972 was still the era of hippiedom, and in many ways it was freer and more laid-back in sexual behavior than today, at least in my age group. (Boomers got uptight again in the 80s.) Yet, in retrospect, I realize what a comparatively soft-spoken bunch we were about it. While there were exceptions (there always are), most young people then rarely used sexually-laden descriptors or cusses in everyday casual speech – not because we consciously avoided them, but simply because they weren’t ingrained in our general habit of speech. A good example of this is the animated film Fritz the Cat (1972) which I recently re-watched (and reviewed in an earlier post). The film received an X-rating then and today still rates an NC-17 (as “X’ was redesignated in 1990) for graphic sex, violence, and general offensiveness. Yet, this is almost entirely because of the imagery and action, not the vocabulary; if, for some reason, a radio station chose to air just the sound from the movie, very little would need to be bleeped to meet FCC guidelines for free broadcasts. Lots of PG-13 movies aimed at kids in the 21st century have far raunchier dialogue, and arguably the animated TV show The Family Guy is fundamentally cruder. Any of Quentin Tarantino’s R-rated flicks has the whole of Fritz out-cussed in the first five minutes. (I like Quentin, by the way, if only because we look enough alike that people have asked for my autograph. Pace, Quentin: I don’t pretend to be you and act rude.)

Many folks are not comfortable with contemporary trends in speech and entertainment. A blogger on Psychology Today recently complained about not being able to find something on television to watch with her 9-year-old daughter. She tried the Oscars only to encounter the We Saw Your Boobs song. No one likes to admit to being a prude anymore, so she phrased her objection to this in PC terms about the politics and evils of sexualization. Yet, sexualization is precisely the thing to which prudes object. Sexualization is not a bad thing per se (do we really still have to argue this?), but neither is prudery. Embrace it. There are times for either. No excuses are necessary. There really are things that one fairly might not want a 9-year-old to see or hear. So, I do sympathize with her plight, if not the specific reasons for the objection.

Strangely enough, while our speech is more blatant today than four decades ago, behavior (for all the angst in the popular press about youth hook-up culture) is not. The average age in the US for initiating sex has been rising for more than a decade, the teen pregnancy rate is lower than at any time since 1940, and the average reported lifetime number of sexual partners is dropping.

That brings us back to the Romans and to what Valerie was free to grab. Ancient Romans were a pretty randy bunch, and weren’t as concerned about labeling or limiting themselves as are folks today. As a scandalized Edward Gibbon politely phrases it in Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), “of the first fifteen emperors, Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct.” Such flexibility was not merely an imperial prerogative. Walls and vases in ancient Rome often were painted with what by modern standards is pornography. The small town of Pompeii had at least ten purpose-built brothels – some researchers propose 35 on less certain evidence – while the number of freelance professionals (male and female) in taverns and the like is anyone’s guess. Phallus artifacts were everywhere, used for everything from shop door chimes to drinking straws. Yet, the surviving literature is surprisingly mild. Classical authors don’t hesitate to mention the dalliances of real or fictional characters, but they rarely bother with clinical detail in the modern fashion of, say, Fifty Shades of Grey. Apuleius is almost an exception. In The Golden Ass we do get intimate details of Lucius’ encounter with the slave girl Fotis, but even Apuleius presents the events humorously with metaphors of military maneuvers and combat. Alas, Lucius’ and Fotis’ date doesn’t end well. Fotis picks the wrong rubbing ointment from the collection belonging to her witch mistress, and accidently turns Lucius into an ass. Well, many of us have been made an ass in similar circumstances, and without magic potions.

Just as a tangential note, Lucius Apuleius in real life was a priest of Isis – also of Aesculapius. This fact, along with the apparent knowledge of magic evidenced in The Golden Ass, prompted the relatives of his heiress wife after her demise to charge him with black magic. They claimed he used it to win his wife’s affection and then to do away with her in order to cheat her relatives (themselves) out of their rightful inheritances. Apuleius’ testimony, if we can believe his record of it, was funny and sarcastic. This being classical Rome rather than the Middle Ages, Apuleius was acquitted by a skeptical judge.

All of this suggests we may have something to learn from the Romans (and from hippiedom). Maybe if we went back to doing more, we’d feel the need to talk about it less, especially in inappropriate venues. PT bloggers then could find something to watch with their young daughters.

The Academy Awards 2013

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Human Silage

An ad for a hardened condo in an abandoned missile silo where one can survive the collapse of civilization in comfort caught my eye the other day. (See

The desire of some folks for hardened shelters is nothing new. My father was a builder, and several of the custom homes he built in the 1960s had fallout shelters. This was back when schools ran regular bomb drills so students and teachers would be ready should World War III arrive during school hours. It was also a time when school doors were unlocked and unguarded, a .22 rifle was a common gift for a 12-year-old, and many schools (including mine) had rifle clubs that held target practice on campus. We worried about different things in those days.

A few of the shelters built by my dad were elaborate; they sported generators, self-contained plumbing/sanitation, kitchenettes, and filtered air exchangers. Most, though, were just reinforced concrete boxes built into a corner of a basement, and looked more like solitary-confinement prison cells than anything else. Nowadays people tend to use them for wine cellars. I still have a government pamphlet detailing various shelter plans and illustrating happy families enjoying their lives in them. A quick Google search shows this pamphlet is online. It can be viewed here: .

This wasn’t unmitigated silliness. The Cold War was in full swing. While neither side was crazy enough deliberately to initiate a nuclear war there was always a risk of miscalculation. Some smallish proxy war or confrontation could have escalated as each side underestimated the other’s likely response. Such a thing had happened before, after all. No leader of any major power in July 1914 wanted a general European war, yet a month later they all had one. Fortunately, the weapons of the day were limited, so the death toll was a mere 18,000,000. By the 1960s the casualties from an accidental full-scale war would have exceeded that in the first few hours. Bomb shelters and fallout shelters (technically different, depending on how hardened against blast effects they are) were, however, mitigated silliness, because surviving the apocalypse in a concrete box is not as much fun as it sounds.

Today, the world remains a violent place, but the Cold War is behind us and the probability of a truly civilization-destroying war is low. Yet concerns about an apocalypse still worry many people. If fallout shelters are much rarer features of new homes today, it is because they are deemed insufficient for the task. Only fortified rural retreats will do. Doomsday Preppers is a popular TV show. Silo condos like the one in the ad sell out as soon as they are available.

For myself, I live bunker-free. I’m willing to gamble that civilization will survive the remainder of my natural lifespan. Of course, if I’m wrong and the zombies arrive at my door, I’ll be in trouble. Where is Milla Jovovich when you need her?

Peter Scott Peters: Fallout Shelter (1961)