Few tears are likely to be shed over it, but membership in the Brutal Dictators Club was reduced by one this month. Augusto Pinochet, not to be confused with magical puppet Pinocchio, has shuffled off this mortal coil. By dying, Pinochet has escaped justice for a violent and oppressive regime, as well as for having a gigantic, uncontrollable moustache, I bet.

Although I’m happy to see a sadistic fuck get dropped into the cold, cold ground like so much unwanted Christmas fruitcake, I’m kind of upset that he couldn’t hang on just a few more weeks. Starting in the New Year, I’m taking part in yet another demented pastime: The Death Pool. Pinochet was going to be my star pick. Now, he’s just worm-food; and, as a Chilean, his corpse is probably too spicy for them to truly enjoy.

If you don’t know what a death pool is, pay attention. You choose a number of celebrities you think are likely to die in the upcoming year. (They have to be genuinely famous; your HIV-positive neighbor might be a star down at the truck stop bathroom, but unless he’s Lance Bass, you can’t pick him.) If the Grim Reaper claims one of your picks, you score points based on his/her age (younger victims score more points) and how many other entrants made the same pick.

“If your list has room for only one Golden Girl, make it Bea Arthur. She looks like hell warmed over.”

Why such a macabre hobby, you ask? Well, you may have noticed that the writers here at PIC are pretty big on fantasy sports. It’s fun to draft your own team and track their progress over the course of a season. Apparently, it’s even an adequate substitute for a job and/or girlfriend. My problem is, I like to gamble, but I know precious little when it comes to sports (although my team, the Rapin’ Wheels, somehow made the playoffs of the PIC football league).

So, a death pool features all the cool aspects of a sports fantasy league, but doesn’t actually require any knowledge of sports, beyond “Magic Johnson still has AIDS,” or “NASCAR drivers are more likely to die than pro tetherball players.” Just as my colleagues provide you with their expert fantasy picks, I’m going to do the same. Only instead of football teams, I’m picking the top-rated cadavers-to-be of 2007. Use them in good health, so to speak.

These top ten picks are totally solid. If any of the following people manage to stay alive over the course of 2007, it’s because of a deal with Satan, a healthy diet of Jack LaLanne juices, or else some kind of life-prolonging cybernetic implant. Fidel Castro, I’ve got my eye on you.

1. Gerald Ford

Death Odds:

Assassination – 1.3%
Old age – 39.0%

Former Presidents are almost never bad picks. Ford survived two assassination attempts; perhaps someone out there wants to get it right the third time. Ford is a big supporter of the Boy Scouts, and God knows there are plenty of gay atheists who might be holding a grudge for being excluded. Plus, the man isn’t exactly doing
squat thrusts at his age.

Ford is 93, has had two strokes, and wears a pacemaker. I wouldn’t expect him to last long, and if his wife Betty gets so depressed she slides back into alcoholism, I’ll give her good death odds as well. If only there were some kind of treatment center where she could get help….

2. Saddam Hussein

Death Odds:

Hanging – 80%
Hit by ice cream truck – .0000001%

Seeing how he was sentenced to death, picking Saddam is a no-brainer. The only question is, will the wacky Iraqi be able to avoid hisexecution for a full year? Justice is a slow process. Personally, I have no idea how long it takes to file an appeal for the charge of being totally evil.

Iraqi law requires executions to happen within 30 days of the end of the appeal process; however it also forbids the executions of people aged over 70 years old, a status Saddam Hussein acquires in April. I say pick Saddam, and you won’t be caught between Iraq and a hard place.

3. Bea Arthur

Death Odds:

Loneliness – 12%
Desiccation – 29.75%

If your list has room for only one Golden Girl, make it Bea Arthur. Sure, Estelle Getty is older and has Parkinson’s/advancing dementia, but have you seen Bea Arthur lately? She looks like hell warmed over. All the performers on those Comedy Central Roasts talk about her sex life, but at 82, that would be like fucking a crack in the sidewalk.

To be frank, I’m not sure how history’s oldest and most sarcastic hermaphrodite made it this far, but thank you for being a friend.

4. Elizabeth Taylor

Death Odds:

Murder – 8.9%
Terminal Chlamydia – 4%

They say that getting married takes a few years off one’s life. If that’s true, Liz’s 19 or so husbands have probably taken their toll. Plus, she’s kinda old, and she hangs out with Michael Jackson. That can’t be healthy

The collectible plate industry has deep pockets, and I wouldn’t put it past them to attempt foul play, so they can release the Liz Taylor Memorial pieces they’ve been sitting on for so long.

5. Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt

Death Odds:

Poison – .000001%
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – 2%

The spawn of Brangelina isn’t in any particular danger, unless she’s forced to watch her daddy’s work in Troy. But I make this pick based on its risk/reward ratio. She’s not even a year old, and no one else will think to pick her.

It’s not likely, but if Angelina confuses the baby formula with the silver polish, you’re looking at some serious points. This may seem morbid, but nobody said making these picks was going to be pleasant. And points are points, now matter how many adorable helpless infants need to die for

6. John Madden

Death Odds:

Busmobile crash – 4.9%
Hoagie-induced heart attack – 78.4%
Quantum Vacuum Collapse – .004%

Here’s all you need to know about sportscaster John Madden: He’s over 70, he’s overweight, and he regularly files half-time reports in which he samples new tailgate party foods, such as deep-fried ribs filled with cheese. The poor man’s heart must take more abuse than Tina Turner and David Gest combined.

If all that weren’t enough, Madden has a deep-seated fear of flying. This was never a problem for B.A. Baracus, but Madden has to criss-cross the country in a giant bus. I’ve always been told that flying is statistically safer than driving, so it’s only a matter of time before his Maddencruiser plunges off a mountain following a Broncos game.

7. Verne Troyer

Death Odds:

Electrocution – 5.5%
Traffic accident – 11.2%
Alcohol poisoning – 50%

Or, take a counter-example. Fat guys are always at risk of a heart attack, but people as tiny as Mini-Me are in constant danger of being blown into traffic by a strong gust of wind, or being stepped on and smushed. And that’s in addition to whatever medical condition they have in the first place.

If you happened to see the Surreal Life, you’ll know that Verne Troyer likes to put away the booze. That’s dangerous enough for someone who weighs like 30 pounds, but he also tends to pee in random, indiscriminate places, and there are a lot of electrified subway rails out there.

8. Muhammad Ali

Death Odds:

Vietcong – .00007%
George Foreman – .00000003%
Parkinson’s – 72.7%

The Louisville Lip has been a favorite of death pool pundits for years, but like a journeyman prizefighter, he just won’t stay down. That said, he’s in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s and I have to think that a lifetime of rope-a-dope punches has rattled his brain in ways I can’t even predict.

Ali is famous for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. So, it’s safe to say he’ll probably object to fighting in Iraq in the increasingly likely event that he’s drafted at age 65. But don’t worry. There’s always a chance that, in a death that would redefine irony, he might get fatally stung by a bee.

9. Gary Busey

Death Odds:

Drug overdose – 44%
Motorcycle accident – 29%
Drowning in a bowl of soup – 5%

Here’s a pick that’s had a few close calls in the past. And if you saw Busey’s mugshot, you might be forgiven for thinking that he was already dead. This poor guy’s mind is so fried, everything he says sounds like it might have come from a classic Ultimate Warrior interview.

Everything I know about Gary Busey (and that includes his reality show) suggests that he’s still snorting coke and zooming around on a motorcycle. That’s bad for him, but great for you, if you’re not afraid that he’ll hunt you down for picking him in the first place.

10. Osama Bin Laden

Death Odds:

Discovered dead – 15.5%
Execution – 2.4%
Polar bear attack – 2.4%

Many think that Bin Laden is long dead already, but no points can be claimed until the body is actually found. So, get cracking, troops in Afghanistan! Assuming that Osama is alive and hiding out in a Cave of Mystery™, he’s still vulnerable to mortar attack, hypothermia, starvation, and rabid goats, all of which are probably too good for him.

Death pool contestants are reminded that it is against the rules to pad your own scores by killing any of the people on your list. However, in the case of Osama Bin Laden, an exception will be made. If you see him in your neighborhood Starbucks, have at it. The government may be offering a bounty of a million trillion dollars, but only I can offer valuable death pool points.

Essential New Word of the Week:

delino [dE’lino] n

Not much to say about this week’s Essential New Word. It combines “deli” with “casino.” Because, honestly, if you’re engaged in some marathon blackjack session, there’s nothing better than a nice corned beef sandwich every couple of hours to keep your mind sharp. That’s why I see a need for the delino.

I don’t remember where, but I once saw an actual delino, and I was blown away. It won’t be long before the Vegas strip is dotted with luxurious places offering good odds, and even better shaved meat. Just try not to get mustard on the cards.