Archive for movies

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books: Iron Man

Posted in Comic Books, Critical Thinking, science, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to Comic Books, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books!

Featuring: Iron Man

Well, this is actually the 1st instalment of “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books”, but I plan on making this a regular segment.

So you may be wondering to yourself, why on earth would you write a series of “skeptical” blog posts about comic books!?  I mean, comic books and the characters contain within them are fictitious right!?  What is the point of taking a skeptical look at something that does not even exist!

Well dear reader…

That is an excellent question!  Please allow me the opportunity to explain.

I have always loved comic books.  I love the art as well as the stories (or in comic book lingo, the pictures as well as the words).  I have always been fascinated by the characters and stories contained within the covers of comic books.  After getting into skepticism, that fascination took on a bit of a different approach, and I started to look at comic books in a new/different way.  Specifically, I started looking at characters and events within the books and wondering to myself, “Is there any plausibility to the characters and events in these stories?”  I also began to wonder that if some of the less then plausible characters did actually “exist”, what would they look like in the “real world”?  And with that, “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books” was born!

Before we get into the meat of this blog post, I feel that I should point something out.  The world of comics is full of debates regarding the “real” origin of certain characters, the validity of certain story lines, how “the movies” incorrectly portray “our” beloved characters, or who would win between Superman vs. Batman (answer: Batman would win).  Although from time to time I may comment on these types of topics (again, Batman would whoop Superman’s butt!), they will not be the focus of this segment of the Skeptical Samurai blog.  If you want to “nerd out” (which I try and do at least once a day), on the details surrounding your favourite character(s) I suggest you check out any number of comic book forums.  There are plenty of heated debates going on there, and the contributors of those forums do a much better job of covering the specifics of characters then I could ever hope to do.  So with that in mind, please allow me the present to you, “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books”.

This week featuring: Iron Man

Before I get started, allow me a moment to acknowledge Mr. Ryan Haupt.  He wrote an entry some time ago for Marvel Comics regarding the “science” behind Iron Man.  I got a lot of my info from his articles so Mr. Haupt, I tip my kabuto to you!  From the Marvel Website:

“Ryan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Geology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz and is going back to school in the fall to get a Masters in Paleontology from Vanderbilt University. Currently, he helps research a variety of topics ranging from stable isotope geochemistry, mammalian paleoecology and oceanographic paleoclimatology. He hosts the podcast “Science… sort of” with two grad student friends where they hang out while talking about science and geek culture. He occasionally fights rabid and rogue elephant seals, but only for science.”


Iron Man, better known as Anthony (Tony) Edward Stark was first introduced by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby in 1963.  The details have changed over the years, but the origin of Tony Stark/Iron Man is essentially as follows: Tony is a billionaire/playboy/genius who owes and runs Stark Industries, a multi-national corporation that build/creates advances weapons and defence systems.  Attempting to steal his weapons technology, a group of terrorists kidnap Stark, hold him captive, and force him to construct a weapon of mass destruction.  Ever defiant, Stark instead builds a powerful suit of armour with which he defeats his captors and escapes back to Stark Industries.  He then goes on to create new and more advanced suits of armour and uses them to fight crime on a large/global scale.

Iron Man is incapable of being Iron Man without one MAJOR component…the Iron Man armour.  Iron Man’s armour has under gone many changes over the years.  From the MK 1 suit which is the suit of armour that Stark built in order to escape from his terrorist captures

 The classic MK V armour 1st seen in the 1970s through the MK VIII versions seen to the late 90s

Extremis armour based on nano technology in the early 2000s

To the newest version which is the bleeding edge armour.

And this is just a small sampling of the armour that Tony Stark has worn over the years.  In addition to each individual model of armour, there are also a variety of different “modular” additions to many of the suits that meet the needs of specific missions/tasks.  Any attempt to try and analyze each and every version of the armour (along with accompanying “modular” attachments) would require a herculean effort that would result in enough written material to create a set of encyclopaedia volumes on the subject and although that may entertain a few, there would be a lot of repetition, and lets but honest, most of you would fall asleep at the keyboard!  But fear not dear reader, because the vast majority of the Iron Man armour is a variation on a central theme, essentially, a man inside a suit of armour.  For the purpose of this blog post we are going to focus on the “Classic Red and Gold” armour, the MK V through MK VII armour seen from the 1970’s through to the late 1990’s.  The main reason that I chose this armour is because it seems to be the most well known version of the Iron Man armour, largely in part because of the release of the “Iron Man” films.  So with that in mind, let us get to it!

Could Iron Man actually exist?

That is an extremely interesting question (at least to a nerd like me!) with somewhat of a less then straight forward answer.  The simple answer is, no, Iron Man could not exist.  Our current technology simply cannot duplicate or surpass the capabilities of the Iron Man armour as depicted in the comic books.  The less straight forward answer is that Iron Man could exist…well kind of.

There are many elements of the Iron Man armour/technology that are completely plausible and within the realm of current technology.  In fact, many of the parts of the Iron Man armour exist in isolation, but (for a variety of reasons we will get into in a bit) have not been brought together into a single suite of armour.  It is worth noting that a variety of different exo-skeleton suits have been designed by developers over the years.  While most of these suits are intended for single purpose use or are far from complete working models, this certainly leaves open the possibility for there to someday be a complete and functioning Iron Man (like) suit of armour.  So

Alright, so a suit of Iron Man armour is not currently feasible, but if it was, what would it be made of?

Well the most logical answer that comes to mind is iron.  Good guess, but you would be incorrect!

Although an extremely strong metal, iron is very dense and thus very heavy.  The density of iron is great when it comes to things such as protection, but the density (and thus the associated weight) quickly makes this material rather undesirable.  The main reason being is that excess weight means it requires more fuel to propel (which is an issue onto itself that we will get to shortly) and will make the suit more difficult to navigate.  It is also worth noting that as hard as iron is, it is not near as hard as some of its own alloys, such as steel, but Steel Man just does not have the same ring to it now does it (In reality Iron Man is named Iron Man as a tribute to the 1st Iron Man suite that Tony Stark created/wore when he escaped his terrorist captors in the original comic book series.  The original Iron Man armour was actually made of iron.  Subsequent versions of the Iron Man suite abandon the material iron, but the name was retained)!

So the Iron Man armour would not be made of iron, well then what would it be made of!?  Well it would most likely be made of a composite of a number of different materials.  The drawback of most single elements is that they are strong in some areas, while weak in others.  The benefit of a composite material is that it can be made and manufactured to maximize the benefits and minimize the drawbacks.  Alright, so we have established that Iron Man’s armour would be made of some sort of composite material, but what type specifically!?  Well there are a few potential candidates.

The 1st candidate is a titanium nickel alloy called nitinol.

Nitinol is, for a metal, relatively light, making it an excellent material for applications such as armour that must be capable of flight.  It is also extremely strong and has a very high heat resistance, which for obvious reasons is something that you would want in your Iron Man armour.  Another perk of Nitinol that if it is somehow deformed it can easily be reshaped and repaired, this is especially handy if say you have a suit of armour that needs to with stand all sorts of abuse!  So Nitinol would be a great material to use for the skeleton/frame/shell of an Iron Man like armour.

Another material that would most likely be incorporated into the Iron Man armour is some sort of multi changed carbon composite.  Carbon is a really cool (well cool to nerds like me!) material that can completely change its properties based on the types of bonds it makes.  Made properly it can be extremely strong and stand up to EXTREME temperature (in excess of 2300° F).  The main drawback of carbon composites is that they tend to be relatively brittle and thus are subject to increase wear and tear.  Considering the pros and cons the carbon composite they would function best on the boots of the Iron Man armour and around weapons systems that would all tend to generate higher temperatures.

The final material we would most likely see on a real like Iron Man suit of armour would be a new type of material that is composed of a single-crystal titanium.  This stuff is super cutting edge, and there is really not much information out on it (at least to the public).  However, it is making its way onto/into the newest high tech military jets, so if it is good enough for a top secret military jet I am going to assume that I would be a good candidate for fictional suite of armour!

Whooaaa!  We are just getting started!  Stay tuned for Part 2!

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…






The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies: 300

Posted in movies, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to the Movies, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies!

This week’s movie: 300

“300” spot lights the actions of King Leonidas and he leads his 300 Spartan warriors into what would eventually be known as the Battle of Thermopylae.  It is worth noting that the film “300” is actually an adaptation of Frank Millers graphic novel “300”.  The graphic novel was not only used as the basis for the script but also as a reference for how each scene was shot.  While the film is “based on real life events”, as any regular reader of the Skeptical Samurai blog will know, the phase “based on real life events” does not mean that a film is a accurate retelling of a historical event.  Often times a film that claims to be “based on real life events” will include numerous factual details about the story being told, but it will also embellish and expand upon actual events for the purpose of making a film more appealing to a commercial audience.  With that in mind, let us take a skeptical look at the movie “300” and separate the fact from the fiction.

Film: Did the Battle of Thermopylae really happen?

Reality:   Yes, the Battle of Thermopylae is a real life historical battle that took place between the Spartans and the Persian
army.  The battle took place in either August or September (depending on which scholar that you ask) of the year 480 BC.  Here is an artist’s rendition of what it would have looked like in 480 BC

And here is what the area looks like today

Film: Did just 300 Spartans really take on the Persian Army?

Reality:  Well, sort of.  As the story is told in the film it is a single brigade of just 300 Spartan warriors took on the entire Persian
army.  Well it is true that there were only 300 Spartan warriors, there were not alone.  More, specifically, the Spartans had the help
of multiple neighbouring Greek communities.  Greek historian, Herodotus estimated that the Spartans had the assistance of approximately 5000 additional soldiers.  Diodorus Siculus, another Greek historian, estimated that approximately 7000 additional soldiers helped the Spartans fight the mighty Persian army.  It is still impressive that such a comparatively small number of  warriors managed to remain competitive against the entire Persian army, but to portray the Battle of Thermopylae as a war between 300 Spartans and the entire Persian army is simply inaccurate.

Film: The Persian Army numbered one million soldiers!

Reality: Not quite.

Although ancient texts indicated the Persian army was one million soldiers strong, modern historians estimate that the number was actually closer to somewhere between 70,000 to 300,000.  Still quite impressive numbers, but quite far removed from the one million soldiers as portrayed in the film.

Film: The Spartans fought wearing only a helmet and a shield for protection/armour.

Reality: This is completely untrue.

Here is the Spartan warrior (specifically King Leonidas) as represented in the film “300”

Here is a statue of King Leonidas, which represents what a Spartan warrior actually looked like

Notice a difference!?

The Spartans wore body armour.  As most ancient warriors (and even modern warriors know) effective body armour is one of the best ways to ensure that you survive in battle.  Seeing as the Spartans were some of, if not the most, skilled warriors of the time period (if not of all time), they were well versed in the most modern (for the time period) weapons, armour, and battle tactics.  Accordingly the Spartan soldier was covered head to toe in armour.  Add a shield, spear, and short sword and you have one formidable warrior!

The Spartan armour (expect for the helmet and the shield) was removed from the graphic novel (and the film) for purely aesthetic reasons.  As stated by author graphic novel writer/artist Frank Miller (in an interview from Entertainment Weekly), “I took those chest plates and leather skirts off of them for a reason. I wanted these guys to move and I wanted ’em to look good. …Spartans, in full regalia, were almost indistinguishable except at a very close angle.”

Film:  Leonidas is held over a cliff by an elder for assessment/inspection.  The film indicates that this practice (that is the assessment/inspection of the young) was common place in Sparta.  If a child was deemed to be acceptable he is returned to his parents.  However if he was deemed to be unacceptable he will be discarded into the pit below and be left to die.

Reality: Surprisingly, the above representation appears to be true.  For lack of a better term, the Spartans practiced what would be known today as eugenics.  Eugenics is the practice of attempting to improve the genetic composition of a given population
as a result of direct human intervention.  This can be attained by a variety of different means, in the case of the Spartans it meant the killing of infants who had been deemed “unfit”.

When most people think of the term eugenics, they think of Adolf Hitler and the holocaust.  Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party where under the delusion that the Arian race was the “master race”.  In line with this train of thought, Hitler and the Nazi party killed millions of innocent people in the holocaust of World War 2.  If we use as an example of eugenics, Sparta should be considered as somewhat an exception to the rule. In the simplest terms, Sparta was a militarist state.  Emphasis on military fitness/preparedness began at birth.  From the time a child was born to the time he entered the military a Spartan warrior was tested to ensure that he met the proverbial grade.  This was to ensure the strength of the Spartan army, and the Spartan nation.  In order to promote this strength, infants deemed as not up to the Spartan measure would be discarded.  Accounts vary; some suggest they were left by
hillsides, while others suggest that infants were thrown off a chasm located on Mount Taygetos.

Film: While addressing his soldiers Leonidas yells “tonight we dine in hell”.  When told to surrender their weapons Leonidas
provokes the Persian army with the phase “come and get them”.

Reality: As seen in the movie 300

“Tonight we dine in hell!”

“Come and Get them!”

Our best evidence, specifically the writings from Greek historians such as Herodotus and Plutarch, indicate that King Leonidas did in fact speak these words.

So this begs to obvious question, how could the words spoken by King Leonidas’ on the battle field have gotten back to the people of Sparta if not a single Spartan warrior left the Battle of Thermopylae alive?  Well, as discussed above, the Spartans were not the only warriors at the Battle of Thermopylae.  The Battle of Thermopylae took place over a period of several days, on the final day of the battle Leonidas actually instructed some of the non-Spartan troops to retreat (Additionally, some sources indicate that several Spartans may also have escaped with their lives).  The exact reason for this is not clear and is most likely lost in the sands of time, but these soldiers would have returned to Sparta, and this is the most probable source of how King Leonidas declarations where passed on to the denizens of Sparta and eventually become something of legend.

Film: Xerxes, King of the Persian Empire, was a towering 9 foot tall, bald man, with an insanely deep voice, who paraded around in nothing more than jewellery and a loin cloth.

Reality: Not quite.

In reality, Xerxes, better known as King Xerxes the 1st, was quite different than the character seen in the film “300”.  In the film Xerxes looked like this

In reality he would have looked more like this

Similar to why he removed most of the armour from the Spartan warriors, Frank Miller has stated that he imagined Xerxes in the manner that he did, for visual effect.  More specifically, he wanted to portray Xerxes as the god-king that he claimed to
be.  Making him 9 feet tall, with a baritone voice and an eccentric wardrobe helped to accomplish this goal.  As pictured above, in reality Xerxes had longer brown/black hair with an accompanying beard, was of average height, and to the best of our knowledge did not have insanely low baritone voice capable of shattering glass!

Film: The Spartan army was betrayed by Ephialtes, a hunchback who tried and failed to join King Leonidas’ army, by alerting the Persian forces of a trail that allowed them to bypass the “Hot Gates” and thus negate the advantage that the Spartan army had created by funnelling the Persian forces through a small channel.

Ephialtes, better known as Ephialtes of Trachis, is based on a real character.  However his depiction in the film “300” is far from accurate.

Similar to other changes, noted above, in the graphic novel (and subsequent film, Ephialtes character was changed in order to emphasize a point in the film.  In this particular case, Frank Miller transformed Ephialtes into a deformed hunchback, who’s family had smuggled him out of Sparta as infant prevent his death by the hand of the Spartan elders would have deemed him as “unfit”, in order to highlight the Spartan practice of eugenics.  Ephialtes returns around the time of the Battle of Thermopylae and expresses his wish to join the Spartan army.  After demonstrating that he is incapable of properly protecting his fellow Spartan
warrior, King Leonidas is forced to deny Ephialtes request.  It is this rejection that fuels Ephialtes desire for revenge and ultimately results in his betrayal of Leonidas and the Spartan army, or so one would be lead to believe by the film.

Ephialtes did betray the Spartan army.  However, he was not a disfigured outcast, who was seeking revenge on King Leonidas as depicted in the film.  Instead he was a commoner who had no previous interactions with King Leonidas or the Spartan army, and for reasons that ultimately remain unclear, he betrayed Sparta. Greek historians indicate that there where at least two other men who also betrayed the Spartan army, but it was Ephialtes that informed the Persian army of the trail that allowed for the bypass of the “Hot Gates” which ultimately lead to the defeat of the Spartan army.

Film: The Spartan army battles against the specialize Persian fighting unit, The Immortals!

Reality: The Spartan’s did in fact fight against the Immortals.  However, the Immortals portrayed in the film
where much different than their reality based counter parts.

In the movie the Immortals look like this

In reality the Immortals looked something like this.

The Immortals received their name, not because there were not some mythical/super natural fighting unit, but instead because they always keep a force of men 10,000.  If one died or was wounded there was always another man to replace them, it was as if the
military unit was immortal, hence the name.  The Immortals also did not wear steel masks and heavy armour as depicted
in the film.  Instead they wrapped their faces in cloth, wore light armour, and used wicker shields.  It was there characteristics that ultimately lead to the Immortals defeat.  Put simply, the lack of effective armour and shields was simply no match for the Spartan war machine, and the Immortals were defeated with relative ease.

So there we have it…

As we have learned before, just because a film is “based on real life events” does not mean that it is an accurate description of a
historical event.

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…


The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies: The Crow

Posted in Critical Thinking, science, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to the Movies, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies!

This week’s movie: The Crow

This is one of my favourite movies of all time.

I am not going to dissect the entire movie (as this is not the type of movie that really lends itself to Fact vs. Fiction treatment!), but
instead i am going to focus one particular aspect of this film.  Specifically, the tragic death of Brandon Lee.

Brandon Lee was born Feb 1st/1965 and died tragically Mar 31/1993.  Brandon was accidently shot while filming a scene for the film “The Crow”.  As a result of the bizarre circumstances surrounding his death, as one might expect, a variety of different claims began to surface regarding his death.  In honour of Brandon Lee, let’s take a skeptical look at some of the claims surrounding the late actor’s death.

Claim:  “The Crow” was released without the approval of Brandon Lee’s family

Reality: I remember when the trailer for this movie 1st came out.  I was so excited!  Shortly after the trailer was released, i began hearing “rumors” that the lead actor had actually been tragically killed while filming a stunt and the movie was being released ithout the consent of the fallen actor’s family.  You see kids, back in the day, prior to the proliferation of the internet, one did not have immediate access to info.  When a story “broke” sometimes you would not hear about it until days or even weeks later and when you finally did get the info it could be difficult to verify it.  Sadly, the “rumor” that Brandon had tragically died turned out to be true.  However, the second part of the “rumor”,  that the movie was being release without his family’s consent, could not have been further from the truth.  The director and production crew actually contemplated not even releasing the movie.  In addition to fears that releasing the movie would be in “bad taste”, the issue of how to market a movie in which the lead actor was deceased (and had died while making the film) was also major concern.  However, because Brandon had been so proud of the film, the Lee family felt strongly that “The Crow” should be released.  Both Eliza (Brandon’s fiancé) and the rest of Brandon’s family wanted the movie released as a final tribute to Brandon.

Claim: Brandon’s death was no accident.  Instead, it was the result of a “curse”
passed onto him by his late father, Bruce Lee.

Reality: Legend has it that Bruce Lee had some sort of “curse” on him.  Those who propagate this myth are not clear regarding who put the curse on the Lee family, how it affected the Lee family, or how it was passed on from Bruce to his son, Brandon.  All that seems to be said with any certainty is that the curse killed Bruce, the curse was passed onto his son Brandon, and ultimately it killed him as well. Let us look at the notion of a family “curse” a little bit closer shall we.  Those of you who regularly read the blog will most likely know what i have to say about the possibility of a “curse”.  For the uninformed, it is quite simple actually, there is no such thing as a curse.  The possibility of a cruse defies our current understandings of the natural world.  In order for a curse to exist, there would have to be extraordinary amount evidence refuting most (if not all) of what we currently know about the natural world.  But, for the sake of arguement, let us put the above aside and assume that a “curse” is a real possibility, and let us assume that the “Lee family curse” is a reality.  Contrary to popular belief, Bruce Lee was actually born into a rather well off family.

At the age of 18, for circumstances i will explore/expand upon in an upcoming blog post about the film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Bruce (real name, Lee Jun-fan) moved to the United States.  Despite moving to America with only $100 in his pocket, as a result of hard work and perseverance Lee managed to get a university education (although he never graduated), run a successful martial arts club, become a fixture in the California martial arts community, and eventually become a television and film star.  With that information in mind, the notion of a curse seems rather silly.  I mean aren’t curses supposed to be bad!  We should all be so fortunate to have such a “curse” in our lives!

Those that propagate the myth of a “Lee family curse” will quickly dismiss the above and information, claiming that both Bruce and Brandon died under mysterious circumstances and this is more than enough to prove the existence of a curse.  Sounds compelling at first, but upon further investigation, the circumstances surrounding the death of both Bruce and Brandon Lee are far from super natural.  In regards to Bruce, our best evidence tells us that Bruce died as a result of an adverse reaction to an over the counter medication, which lead to cerebral edema (swelling of the brain) and ultimately lead to his untimely death.  No super-natural explanation is required to explain Bruce’s death, a little bit of logic and reason tells us that Bruce died tragically as a result of a extremely adverse reaction to an over the counter medication. Unlikely and rare, yes, but impossible, far from it.

Much like his father, Brandon’s death was not the result of some sort of super-natural curse.  Instead it was the result of another set of tragic circumstances.  The reports change slightly depending on which account you read, but essentially what happened is as follows: In an attempt to make a close-up shot of a revolver seem more real, dummy rounds are typically used to filled the cylinder of the gun.  As seen in the following picture:

When looking at the business end of a revolver one can easily see whether or not there are actually rounds in the cylinder.  Using an unloaded gun could easily be spotted by viewer and could arguably ruin an otherwise realistic scene.  That where dummy rounds come in.  Dummy rounds are used to load the revolver for close-ups to give that “real life” look.  These types of rounds contain a bullet, but no actually charge (which is required to actually fire/propel the bullet forward).  Unbeknowst to anyone on the set that day, the bullet from the dummy round broke off and became logged in the barrel of the revolver.  Fast forward to later in the day, the same gun is loaded with blanks, which contained a charge without a bullet.  I think you can see where this is going.  During a scene, involving a stunt where the character Eric Draven (played by Brandon Lee) was shot, the revolver was pointed at Brandon and the trigger was pulled.  Because the gun, had a bullet in the barrel with a blank with a charge in the cylinder, when the trigger was pulled, it ignited the charge which then propelled the broken bullet from the dummy round forward, ultimately killing Brandon.  Similar to his father, the notion of a Lee family curse sounds compelling at first, but upon further investigation both Bruce and Brandon’s deaths were the result of tragic circumstances.

Claim:  The scene in which Brandon Lee was fatally shot was left in the final cut of the movie.

Reality:  False.

Contrary to popular belief, the above clip is NOT the scenein which Brandon was fatally shot.

Instead, Brandon was killed while filming a scene that involved the assault of his character’s fiancé and the “death” of his character.  In the scene, Eric Draven walks into his apartment to find his fiancé being assaulted.  The original script/scene involved one of the thugs (specifically a character called Funboy) shooting Lee’s character in the stomach through the bag of groceries that he was carrying.  Re-watch the movie, the above scene will not be found in the film.  The scene was shot as described above, and footage of Brandon being shot and fatally wounded did exist, but for obvious reasons this footage was not used in the final cut of the movie.  In fact, again for obvious reasons, the director and production crew felt that it was in bad taste to “re-shoot” the same
scene, and instead re-wrote it and re-shot it.  The scene was changed to have a different thug (specifically a character by the name of Tin Tin) kill Eric Draven by fatally wounding him with a knife.

So what happened to the original footage?

This is less clear.  Some sources indicate that the footage was immediately destroyed.  Others indicate that the footage was seized
by local police (who were conducting an investigation to rule out the possibility of foul play) and remains as evidence.  Others maintain that the footage was viewed as evidence, and after ruling out foul play, was destroyed.  In reality the truth most likely somewhere in the middle and without having access to police records/evidence (which for obvious reasons we cannot) this question may go unanswered.

Claim: Michael Massee,

the actor who played “FunBoy”, was never heard from again after the movie was released.

Reality: False.

I remember hearing all sorts of stories regarding what happened to Massee and many rumors still persist to this day.  Some say he went insane.  Others say that he took his own life.  These accounts could not be further from the truth.  Massee was understandably devastated over the death of Brandon Lee.  While he was not actually responsible for Brandon’s death (as previously discussed, Brandon’s death was the result of a set of tragic circumstances and was ruled an accident by law enforcement) it was ultimately him who pulled the trigger on the faulty prop.  He took a year off from acting and essentially, in his own words “did nothing”.
Coming to terms with what happened he got back to acting and remains a regular in television and film to this day.

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

The Skeptical Samurai Guide to the Movies: G.I. Jane

Posted in movies, science, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies!

This week’s movie: G.I. Jane

and the trailer

G.I. Jane is a movie about a fictional character named O’Neil (played by Demi Moore).  O’Neil is selected by a U.S. government official to represent her fellow female military personal in a set of trials to establish that men and women are equals (in the
military sense of the word) and should be able to serve/function side by side in combat roles.  O’Neil soon learns that she has been selected to participate in Navy SEAL training, which arguably involves some of the most intense military combat training in the world.  What she is not aware of is that her U.S. government contact does not expect her to complete the training.  O’Neil is essentially a sacrificial lamb for her government contact.  O’Neil was not intended to finish the training.  O’Neil manages to overcome all odds and not only complete the training but carry out a successful tactical operation and save the life of her command master chief in the process.  All and all, G.I. Jane is a very inspiring movie.

After viewing the film, one is left to wonder…

Could a female in today’s armed forces become a Navy SEAL?

After viewing the movie, one is left with the impression that it is entirely possible for a female to become a Navy SEAL.  One would assume that in today’s modern world that any individual could apply to become a Navy SEAL as long as he or she was able to meet the requirements as set forth by the Navy SEAL program.

A quick review of the Navy Seal website reveals that this is simply not the case.

Taken directly from the requirements section of the Navy SEAL website (under the category “other”):

It is clearly stated that you must be male to apply to the Navy SEALs

This raises the obvious question…

After completing the required training, why can’t a woman become a Navy SEAL?

Taken from the Navy SEALs blog:

“Sure, the women of today have been a lot tougher than before. There are many women who have excelled in fields that used to be dominated by men. In terms of physical capabilities, many women can endure the toughest obstacle courses ever made.  Women can also be great snipers.  However, SEAL authorities have given out a number of reasons why women can’t be allowed to join the training. First, men and women cannot stay in a single house together.  Another point is that women have special needs on hygiene, especially during their menstrual period, and fighters might have to stay and hide in a foxhole for a week during battles. Basically, a woman’s physiology proves inappropriate for battle conditions.

Many say that women can’t be in the battlefield, but there is surely a role in the SEAL operations that would be ideal for them. If the United States is to stay as the world’s most competent and powerful military force, we should find the best person for every job, regardless of gender. “

So there you have it.

Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, regardless of whether or not it seems just, G.I. Jane (or someone like her) simply cannot (currently) exist.

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

The Skeptical Samurai Guide to the Movies: Finding Nemo

Posted in Critical Thinking, movies, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to the Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2011 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies!

This week’s movie: Finding Nemo

I am not going to dissect the entire movie, as this is not the type of movie that really lends itself to Fact vs. Fiction treatment.  Instead, I am going to focus on one aspect of this film.  More specifically, I am going to focus on the opening sequence.  In the opening scene we are introduced to Marlin…

…a nervous wreck of a clown fish who, to the disappointment of his friends, cannot tell a joke to save his life.  We learn that Marlin’s nervousness is a direct result of a traumatic incident involving his deceased wife, Coral. 

In the film, Coral, Merlin and their young (who are just eggs at this point) where viciously ambushed and attacked by an “evil” barracuda.  The result of this encounter was that Coral and all but one of the children perished.  The boy with the gimpy, I mean lucky, flipper…


The above events set the stage for the rest of film.      

And let us stop right there.  It is this opening sequence that requires clarification and correction.  I mean we cannot allow an entire generation of young and old alike be mislead regarding the mating habits of Amphiprion, or clown fish as they are more commonly called, can we!  The skeptical samurai will not stand by and watch as Disney/Pixar poisons the minds of all those who have watched this movie!  The truth must be told!

In the words of Sheldon Cooper…


You see, Amphiprion

are sequential hermaphrodites.  Most people know what a hermaphrodite is.  It is a classification that signifies that an animal has sexual characteristics of both a male and a female.  But what many people do not know is that there are different classes of hermaphrodites in the animal kingdom.  The designation of sequential hermaphrodite is used to identify animals that are born as one sex, but have the ability to change into the opposite sex at a later stage in their life cycle. 

Clown fish live together in groups consisting of 1 female and a number of males.  The female is the oldest within the group and is the lone breeding female.  Despite several males in the group, only one will mate with the female, specifically, the eldest male.  The rest of the younger male clown fish will not mate with the female.  Now, if for some reason the female is removed from the group (as the result of death, predation, etc) then the oldest/breeding male will become a female, and the oldest non-mating male will become the new breeding male.  Order, balance and mating hierarchy has then been restored for the clown fish.    

So with all of that in mind…

For the film to be an accurate portrayal of what would have actually happened in nature Marlin should have become Marlene and Nemo would have become a sexually mature male…

And well…

You can figure the rest out! 

But at the end of the day I guess we are having this discussion in relation to talking cartoon fish, so I guess we can let it slide.

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

The Skeptical Samurai Guide to the Movies: Grown Ups

Posted in Critical Thinking, movies, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to the Movies, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2010 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies!

This week’s movie: Grown Ups

I watched this movie the other night with the wife and the bulldogs, and while far from a cimenatic masterpiece, I found it rather funny.  It was exactly what you would expect from an Adam Sandler movie, some good yuks with lots of head + groin trauma. 

I am not going to dissect the entire movie (as this is not the type of movie that really lends itself to Fact vs. Fiction treatment!), but instead i am going to focus on one particular scene.  Specifically, the scene where each of the “Grown Ups” pee in the pool at the water park and are horrified to learn that the pool contains the infamous “urine-indicator chemical” that turns the water a dark blue (the scene is actually briefly shown in the trailer attached above).

I remember hearing about the “urine-indicator chemical” myth as a kid.  I never heard this myth propagated by my parents, but i did hear i time to time from life guards and other forms of aquatic supervisors.  Despite these warnings, i never saw the mysterious “urine-indicator chemical” in action.  I do recall a few friends who claimed to have a distant cousin or a friend of a friend that experienced the urine-indicator chemical, but no 1st hand accounts. 

So after watching “Grown Ups”, i thought to myself: “I wonder if the urine indicator chemical actually exists?”

It turns out that the urine indicator chemical does not exist.  It is simply an urban myth. 

There are numerous websites/articles out there that have dispelled this myth.  In fact some pool/aquatic companies have gone so far as to address this question on the FAQ section of their website! 

Although the urine indicator chemical does not exist, the creation of such a chemical is entirely possible.  The main difficulty in creating such a chemical would be ensuring that the chemical was specific enough to eliminate false positives.  So while there would be some complexities, the creation of a urine indicator chemical is within the realm of possibility/reality. 

So where is the mythical urine indicator chemical?  I mean, someone must be developing it right?  I mean, this is a huge issue that could potentially affect the fate of mankind!

Well, not quite. 

My research indicates that no researchers or companies are currently developing the urine indicator chemical.  For that matter, as best as i can tell, no researcher or company has ever even attempted to create such a chemical!  Which raises the obvious question, why hasn’t such a chemical been created?  Well, because kids (and some grown-ups) are going to urinate in pools!  Sadly, it is just the cost of doing business when it comes to public pools.  If such a chemical existed, all public pools would most likely be bright blue (similar to the scene in the “Grown Ups” trailer)!

However, it is worth noting that many pool supply companies (and the people who buy their products) continue to prey among people’s fear of this mythical indicator chemical.  But can you really blame them?  Would you want people urinating in your pool!?  Signs such as the one below can be purchased from most pool supply companies. 

So what have we learned from this?

1)      Urban myths are typically (but not always) considered myths for a reason

2)      Hollywood lies to you

3)      You can urinate in pools without fear of being exposed by the mythical urine indicator chemical.  But please, for the sake of those around you, don’t be that guy/gal!      

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…

The Legend of Saigo Takamori

Posted in Critical Thinking, martial arts, movies, Samurai, skepticism with tags , , , , , , on November 16, 2010 by theskepticalsamurai

I discussed the film “The Last Samurai” in a recent blog post (  In that post I discussed the fallen samurai Saigo Takamori,

who was the basis for the character Katsumoto in the film “The Last Samurai”.

Much is known about the life of Saigo, but much mystery surrounds his death.

As discussed in a previous blog post Saigo was a high ranking samurai of the Satsuma domain.  He fought on the side of the Imperial army and helped to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate, which resulted in the formation of the Meiji government.  Saigo was highly involved with the, newly formed Meiji government and became a bureaucrat.  However, over time he became increasingly frustrated and unhappy with the policies being put forth by the Meiji government and resigned from his position. 

After his resignation, Saigo returned to his hometown of Kagoshima.  While in Kagoshima, Saigo established a private military academy.  This academy soon became the home for thousands of other samurai who had also left positions within the Meiji government.  Although not the original intention of the academy, Saigo would eventually go on to help lead the members of this academy into a war against the Meiji government.  As outline in my previous blog post, this is referred to as the Satsuma Rebellion.  In the final altercation of the Satsuma Rebellion, Saigo lead the remaining samurai of the Satsuma domain into the Battle of Shiroyama, where Saigo (along with the samurai he lead) perished.  And this is where the legend/mystery of Shiroyama begins…

It is known that Saigo was one of the last samurai involved in the final charge of the Battle of Shiroyama.  It is also known that Saigo was mortally wounded by gunfire from the Meiji army.  But, this is when things start to get a little less clear.    

There several different  surrounding his death. 

The 1st (and most popular) tale of Saigo’s death, has the fallen samurai, aware that death was imminent, managing to get himself to his knees and commit seppuku in order to ensure an honourable death.  Historians argue that this scenario is highly unlikely, as Saigo would have been so badly wounded he would not have been physically capable of positioning himself in an upright position, much less having the physical strength and mental capability to perform the ritual of seppuku.  Many historians feel that this story is simply a romanticized version of Saigo’s death, and most likely did not actually happen.

The 2nd most commonly told tale of Saigo’s death, has Saigo, realizing that he did not have the strength to commit seppuku, requested that one of his subordinates end his life, again ensuring an honourable death.  Most historians argue that, similar to the above story, this tale is not true.  Again, due to the severity of the wounds he sustained, historians argue that Saigo would have quickly slipped into state of  unconsciousness, and would not have had the ability to make such a request. 

The 3rd, final, and most likely tale of Saigo’s death, is that, seeing that his leader had fallen, one of Saigo’s subordinates would have cut off his head, preventing it from being captured by the enemy side (the Meiji army), thus ensuring that Saigo had an honourable death.

It is also worth noting, that around the time of his death (and for that matter for decades after his death) a legend persisted in Japanese culture that Saigo had not perished in the Battle of Shiroyama.  Those that believed in (and propagated) the legend thought that he had gone into hiding and that he would eventually reappear to fight against injustice suffered by the Japanese people.  This legend persisted for decades after the actual death of Saigo, despite several reputable sources (both Japanese and Foreign) that witnessed his burial shortly after the Battle of Shiroyama.

So what should we take from all of this?

Due to the passage of time, the legend of the death of Saigo will remain just that…a legend.

History, or more accurately our memory/account/retelling of a historical event, is not always 100% based in reality.  Instead, a memory/account/retelling of a historical event is often (but not always) an amalgamation of fact mixed with fiction, and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we are honest about what fact is and what is fiction.

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…