Sunday, January 31, 2016

Iowa Dreams

Tomorrow (February 1st) is the first time that voters will actually start making meaningful decisions as to who will be the nominee for President.

Obviously, this isn't new, but it has extra significance in my eyes for one reason, and that reason is Donald Trump.

For months, I've maintained that Trump has huge support in the polls because there is no consequence to supporting him. People might not like Trump as a candidate, but they like some of his positions (namely immigration) and they like that he says what he wants. They can handwave away all of the massive negative stuff about him because it doesn't matter--claiming to support Trump is an easy way to 'send a message' and then, when it comes times to actually vote, pick a different, more appropriate candidate.

As I said, I've been maintaining this opinion for months, and, sadly, I'm not sure if it still holds.

I still think there is an element to it. Iowa and New Hampshire are big, flashy spectacles--the sort of thing that Trump revels in. Once it starts grinding down into the rapid pace of weekly primary contests and Trump can no longer employ massive, long-term media coverage and has to rely on his bare-bones organizational skills, he will start to falter. (Trump has very little staff and an alarmingly undeveloped ground game.) I don't think he will weather Super Tuesday well at all, because his campaign staff is largely nonexistent, and that's not the sort of thing you can throw money at and whip together quickly.

The problem, though, is that aside from Ted Cruz, Trump is double digits above everyone else. Even if 5-8% of Trump's support drops off due to the above factors, he's still in first or maybe second place.

Anyway, tomorrow will tell a lot, but I don't think it will tell the whole story. Even if Trump wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, I don't think he'll last through the rest of the primaries. More worryingly for the Republicans, though, is that if not Trump, who? There are still too many candidates, and the anti-Trump (and even anti-Trump/Cruz) forces are split up amongst six or seven candidates. Even if Trump falters, if the other candidates each take turns winning primaries and no clear winner is found (a fear that happened for about a month in 2012) it may lead to issues. While, as a wayward political scientist, the chance that we may have a brokered convention would be fundamentally AWESOME, it might not bode well for the party overall.

In the end, many people (myself included) think that Trump will implode, and his commanding lead vs the sheer number of other candidates mean no one has any idea where those Trump voters are going to go, so even a candidate who is polling single digits today might still be a front runner. Most of the establishment candidates (namely, Bush, Christie, and Kasich) are biding their time; their low poll numbers won't matter when people abandon Trump and look for a more seasoned politician. 

As for the Democrats, it's not quite as exciting, with only three candidates (and only two realistic ones). The Democrats caucus differently, in that non-viable candidate votes get reassigned (unlike the GOP, where people vote and then can leave). In practice, this means that Martin O'Malley voters might split in a few different ways (most polls show an even split, but you never know).

Still, the Democrat side could tell a lot: Iowa is one of Bernie Sanders' most promising states, so a loss here would make it problematic (although not difficult) to continue (his win in New Hampshire later in the month, neighboring his home in Vermont, is a shoe-in so doesn't mean much.) But even if it's a close call and Hillary Clinton still wins, he can probably spin that into a moral victory of some sort. So Iowa probably won't change much unless Sanders is completely blown out.

For both parties, the next voting is not for another two weeks, so whoever ends up winning (or has an unexpectedly strong showing) will dominate the media for those two weeks. However, it's always important to remember that winning Iowa doesn't always mean much: the winner of the last two GOP contests, Huckabee and Santorum, ended up going more or less nowhere (although Iowa gave Santorum a bit of a boost he probably wouldn't have otherwise had).


For the GOP: Trump has about a 6% lead as of this writing, and I suspect that will evaporate pretty quickly. I would put a Trump vs Cruz victory at about 50/50 for each. However, I'm more interested in the other candidates: I think Rand Paul has a chance to show off his organizational, youth-centered prowess and has a strong showing relative to his polling numbers; John Kasich will use his viability in New Hamsphire (where he's currently polling a surprising second) to gain some traction; and one of the other low-level candidates will have a surprising showing, possibly Christie. I think Carson, Bush, and Fiorina have bad nights, Huckabee and Santorum cancel each other out (and also have bad nights), and Rubio comes in either third or fourth.

For the Democrats: Hillary wins, but only by a small margin, so Sanders can claim strength as a victory. O'Malley won't be viable (you have to get at least 15%) but I think it's possible he punches above his weight and snags higher than what he is polling, adding a bit of strength to his strategy of being a decent alternative option.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ten Things To Remember About The 2016 Election

1. That amazing thing you think is the thing that has happened for the first time ever in the history of America? It's happened before.

2. That article from an ideological-based web site you shared on Facebook is wrong and/or grossly misleading. Even those that used to be legitimate sources have fallen into the sensationalist clickbait rabbit hole. Stop sharing them.

3. If an article uses the phrase “this article completely destroys [insert candidate name]!” or “what [candidate] said is pants-soilingly terrifying to the other campaigns!” or any other combination of italics, exclamation points, and hyperbolic words, that article should not only not be shared but erased completely from the internet forever and the writers never allowed to write anything ever again.

4. Polls are good guides but don’t tell the whole story. Also, national polls don’t mean much during the primaries. If your guy didn’t win, it’s not because the pollsters cheated or the primaries were rife with fraud. It’s because polls measure certain things, and you’re probably using that information for other things.

5. If your candidate doesn’t win (I’m not naming names, but Bernie Sanders) it’s not because the system is rigged or the two-party system is garbage or that the other party bribed the local vote inspector or that Big Media was hard selling the other candidates or whatever, it’s because said candidate’s positions are well outside the mainstream of the voting populous as a whole. No other reason. And that’s OK, because that is how democracy works.

6. Just because you are passionate about politics doesn't mean everyone has to be. Honestly, about 95% of everything up until election day is going to be irrelevant nonsense that will have no bearing on how a candidate will perform as President, and most of that will be filtered through people's irrationally hyperpolitical lenses.

7. Be very wary of bias confirmation. People tend to talk/organize/interact with people who are roughly of the same socioeconomic and cultural situation, and will tend to have the same opinions regarding politics. Just because everyone you know is passionate about issue X doesn’t mean that everyone in the nation is passionate about issue X; just your non-random self-selected group of people.

8. As of right now, the rules are pretty much set for how the election is going to be run. You may disagree with the electoral college, or with how the primaries are run, or how superdelegates work, or how voting works at your local polling place, but that's how the election is going to be, full stop. All of the politicians running at all levels now know, or should know, all of the rules, and we can’t change the rules after the fact. None of these rules are surprises to anyone.

9. If you are the sort of person who completely rejects a candidate due to one mildly awkward word, phrase, or incident (see: Dean, Howard; Muskie, Ed), you are part of the reason that politics can get so awful. This isn't an apologia for candidates to get away with saying stupid things, but just keep some perspective. Even politicians are human and can slip up once in a while and still make a good president.

10. There is a pretty good chance that you read all of these items, and you thought to yourself, “Ha! Well, the other side does these things but thank goodness my side never does!” You are very, very wrong and you should feel bad about your lack of self-awareness.

Have a good year! It is going to last forever.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

2016 Starter Pack

It’s that time again, where no matter how you feel about it or whether you care or not, we’re going to be talking about the Presidential election for the next 2,000 years.

As longtime readers know, I love politics, but I tend not to blog too much about it anymore. Social media is a horrible way to discuss politics, since everything tends to get reduced down to 140 characters or an awkwardly misused meme. Blogging is a little better, but to be honest not by much. 

Still, writing about politics is easy to me, and since the production on this blog has slowed lately (2014 and 2015 were challenging years, at times, for various reasons) we’ll see if this improves anything. (Considering that my best posts tend to be about weird-ass candy and board games and my lowest-viewed posts are about politics, we’re probably shooting for quantity over quality here.)

All that is to say—I tend to keep my political posts generic and largely without bias. Quite frankly, I’m not keen on any of the candidates of any party—even my beloved big-L Libertarians—so I sort of have a detached, academic view of it at this point. I’m hoping—and I suspect—this will be advantageous to all. In reality, I'll probably very quickly offend someone.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Bloodhound Gang

I love everything about this story.

A dog--a bloodhound, no less--goes out for a tinkle and accidentally runs a half-marathon. Coming in 7th!

Read the story, since it's cute (and has cute pictures of the bloodhound in question) but I'd like to point out some highlights:

1. The dog's name is Ludivine. That's an awesome doggie name. I looked it up and it was apparently a character in the series Les Gens de Mogador. I looked that up and it seems like a French miniseries fro the 1970s of which I can find no English-language websites. I am mildly surprised that someone from Elkmont, Alabama named their dog after a French TV show that is so obscure not even the Internet has it.

2. The bloodhound not only ran the race but also explored a little, including a dead rabbit. Bloodhounds gonna bloodhound.

3. The nut is this quote from the owner: "I can’t believe she ran the whole half marathon because she’s actually really lazy." That is everything you need to know about how hound dogs work. Lazy right up until they aren't.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Force Is Strong

[Warning: This post talks about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While I haven't posted any spoilers, it does have some spoiler-ish moments, so proceed at your own risk.]

A few weeks ago I finally got around to watching the new Star Wars movie. I am a mediocre-to-big fan of Star Wars; I enjoy the movies and the mythos, but I'm not a major fan. (For example, I have not seen the prequels yet. Someday I will, but just haven't yet.)

Short review: if you like Star Wars or even just sci-fi, you'll like it. If you're not, it's still pretty fun.

It's not a perfect movie, but it's certainly a very good one--to the point where I was genuinely shocked it didn't get a Best Picture nomination. (Don't forget that the original did in 1977.) It's a continuation of how things were left off in Return of the Jedi, albeit a few decades later.

I won't go through the whole plot, but I'll point out some of the things I liked (and the few I didn't):

  • The movie does a good job of making me care about the new characters. There's basically three new people--Rey, Finn, and Poe, each with an interesting backstory that is efficiently told, and each with motivations that makes sense. 
  • These characters aren't simply new people to fill the slots of Han Solo, Princes Leia, and Luke Skywalker; no one is simply a replacement of the other. They all fill the roles in different ways. 
  • The new big bad--Kylo Ren--is interesting. He's not simply Darth Vader II, although he's clearly of the same vein. His character isn't fleshed out in great detail, but they clearly set him up to do so in the future.
  • The two biggest items of suspense of the original trilogy (Darth Vader being Luke's father and Darth Vader taking his mask off) have parallels that are quickly dispensed with, very deliberately. It's pretty obvious very soon who is Kylo Ren's relations, and they don't insult us by stringing us along; about a third of the way through the movie it's told to us, as if it's not exactly a secret. Also, they quite pointedly tell Kylo Ren his mask is useless and to take it off--and he does.
There's a few things, though, that I didn't care for:
  • The plot is almost an exact duplicate of the original movie. I know they wanted to play it safe after the disaster of the prequels, but after 30+ years you'd think they could have cobbled something different and interesting. Granted, the plot of the original was good, so this isn't a horrible thing, but there's a pretty strong sense of deja vu.
  • Also like the original, there are a ton of plot holes. However, I'm more than willing to give them a pass on this, since I strongly suspect that some of these will be fleshed out in future movies--some are almost telegraphing a flashback.
  • The whole "planet destroying gun that sucks in the sun" thing? That's kinda dumb. Just build a new death star, eh?
At the end of the day, the movie accomplishes exactly what it set out to do: it eases viewers in to the "new" generation of characters by utilizing the old ones effectively, it presents new challenges for the rebels, and it doesn't rely on fan wank and extensive knowledge to enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


With the passive of David Bowie, my friend Louie more or less summed up how I felt:
Bowie's death for me feels a lot like Michael Jackson's death felt. His music wasn't My Thing, and I've never owned any of his music, but somehow I feel a little loss anyhow.
I'll be honest: I've never been a fan of progressive rock. (Strictly speaking, Bowie wasn't prog rock, but close enough for anyone who isn't a 40 year old still working as a clerk at FYE or an editor of Spin magazine. If you feel more comfortable, pretty much everything I say can also be applied to art rock and glam rock, of which Bowie definitely applies. The mere existence of Ziggy Stardust should plant him firmly in the prog camp.) Oh, sure, I kind of enjoyed a lot of the bands that are classified as such, but not the actual prog rock itself.

I don't quite rightly know why, either. Prog rock, with its experimental overtones, its subversion of the sorts of things in art I usually hate, and long, thoughtful lyrics. But most prog rock bands took that creativity and turned it into the exact sort of pretentious, self-important unfortunateness that I tend to loathe. 40-minute long rock operas that end up being about nothing except as an enhancement for those on acid is culturally weak. It's similar to the crude analogies one mentions about urinals: after a certain point, you're just playing with yourself.

Of course, this is music, and to each their own; I certainly don't begrudge people who enjoy that sort of music, but it's certainly not for me. I shamelessly enjoy the radio-friendly snippets of what allowed most of these prog rock bands keep the lights on, the exact sort of sell-out that true artists, no doubt, shake their fists at. But I'll listen to Wish You Were Here over Tommy any day. I got shit to do.

It seems that many artists felt the same way: the experimental album, once the mainstay of prog rock bands, largely fell by the wayside, with artists falling back on more traditional music output and cashing in their name in the process. Maybe it was the large amount of work involved, maybe it was a reduced reliance on psychedelics, or maybe it was simply bowing to the demands of the marketplace, but that era was over by the mid-80s. (The rise of punk definitely helped pound the nails in the coffin.) Which is a bit strange--in today's world, where data is free and easily attainable, long form prog rock hasn't made much of a resurgence. In a way, it seems a missed opportunity, at leas for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

Anyway, Partly because of this, I was never into David Bowie much; the few singles that got airplay (Major Tom, of course) were pretty good, and for a while I was crazy about Queen Bitch from the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soundtrack. It's clear, though, his impact transcended the genre he was in, and that's one of the beacons of cultural talent.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Results Are In! The Winners of the 2015 Miserable Crank Awards Are...

What is the Worst Government Decision?
Indiana Religious Freedom Law

What is the Worst Technological Advance?
Amazon Prime Day

What is the Worst Sporting Event?
FIFA Scandal

What is the Most Embarrassing Thing? 
Ahmed And The Clock Bomb

What is the Worst Business Decision? 
Volkswagen Emissions Scandal

What is the Worst Popular Trend? 
Confederate Flag

What is the Worst Incident? 
Paris Attacks

What is the Worst Entertainment? 
Left Shark

Who is the Worst Person? 
Kim Davis

What is the Worst Inconvenience? 
Starbucks Cups

And finally...

 Donald Trump

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Vote Now! The 2015 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Four

Today is the last post for voting for the 2015 Miserable Crank Awards. Go vote for each of the categories now!

Voting for day one includes Government, Technology, Sports, and Embarrassment.

Voting for day two includes Business, Popular Trends, and Incident.

Voting for day three includes Entertainment, Person, and Inconvenience.

Vote in each of the categories above, and then the final vote is below. Remember, this vote is for the absolute worst thing of 2015, regardless of category. You can vote for something different or re-vote for something you voted on an earlier post; it doesn't matter. Whichever gets the most votes below wins the overall award, and whoever the runner up for whatever category it was out of will win that category instead. Remember: you need to vote in the previous three posts (ten categories total) and vote below.

Remember, voting ends on Thursday, December 17th, 2015, so the polls will be open for a full week after today. 

[Voting is now closed.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Vote Now! The 2015 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Three

Here are the candidates for day three of voting for the Miserable Crank Awards of 2015.

Left Shark
You know what’s a pretty big deal? The Superbowl. You know what is also a pretty big deal? Katy Perry. Well, your mileage may vary on that, but, still, playing the halftime show at the most-watched event each year is a highlight of anyone’s career. So when Perry put on a hell of a show that featured various beach-themed elements, it was well-received…especially a dancing shark, who was clearly out of his or her depth, flailing around like a fish out of…out of something while the opposing right shark parades around flawlessly.

Ariana Grande
This year’s hot new star, the very young and talented Ariana Grande made quite a few enemies when she was captured on video at a donut shop doing two very unfortunate things: claiming she hated America (apparently based on the metric of donut consumption), and then licking donuts intended for other customers. Aside from the hygienic of the situation, talking trash about your potential customer base can be career-destroying (please see: Chicks, Dixie).

Taylor Swift/Nicki Minaj Feud
Ain’t no feud like a twitter feud, because a twitter feud is an obnoxious waste of time. Two very popular singers, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj, got into a relatively minor argument about the MTV Video Music Award nominees, where Minaj made increasingly specific jabs at Swift getting nominated instead of her, and when Swift took the bait Minaj claimed innocence. This eventually spread to a host of other nominees and celebrities with their two cents, which on the surface was fairly good-natured but still drug up issues of race, image, and sexism. Thankfully, just like anything that has even happened on twitter, none of it mattered to a whole lot. 

Adam Sandler's Career
Adam Sandler hasn’t had a great year. Well, he hasn’t had a great decade, industry-wise. His movies haven’t fared particularly well lately (although they tend to still make money), but this year’s Pixels was particularly galling; it was seen as an inventive different take on what Sandler usually does (although, as it turns out, not that much different)and still bombed. More telling, several Native Americans walked off the set of a film currently being shot because of disrespectful jokes concerning Native Americans, the actors apparently not having ever seen an Adam Sandler movie before.

Bill Cosby
One of entertainment’s most iconic performers, Bill Cosby—who ushered in an integrated television show (I Spy), revived the sitcom (The Cosby Show) and proved that unorthodox educational methods, race, and mainstream America could get along quite nicely. Of course, if they hadn’t gotten along quite nicely, Cosby would have finished the job with a glass full of roofies and sexual assault. While the charges are—as always—alleged, the number and volume of accusations reached a point where they could not be effectively ignored.

Stephen Rannazzisi
Comedian Stephen Rannazzisi, known primarily for his role in the basic cable fantasy-football themed sitcom The League and nothing else, has long contended that his backstory (and, in no small part, a reason for his initial success) included being in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Fast forward over ten years later, and when reporters sussed out that the story was highly likely to be untrue (he claimed to work for Merril Lynch, which had no offices in the building) he confessed to making the whole thing up. With The League all but wrapped up for filming, the only immediate consequences was losing out on a sweet advertising campaign for Buffalo Wild Wings. Actions have consequences, and those consequences sometimes means not being paid in spicy chicken wings.
Donald Trump
Where to start with who is, as of the time of this writing, the frontrunner for the nomination to the Presidency by a major political party in America? Maybe we can stop at his announcement speech, where he threw Mexicans under the bus, or maybe we can stop at him calling out John McCain because he was captured  or maybe we can stop at him giving out rival Lindsey Graham’s home phone number, or inferring that Megyn Kelly was menstruating when moderating a GOP debate. And that’s just up through August! 

Kim Davis 
After the Supreme Court declared that gay marriage was legal in all 50 states, some individuals, it should be said, did not agree. Most people relegated their frustrations via poorly-thought out Facebook status updates or reserved anger until Thanksgiving dinner with distant relatives. But Kim Davis is nothing if not an overachiever; she extended her outrage into not performing the duties of her job, which, as the county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, is to, in part, issue marriage licenses. In refusing to issue same-sex documents (but also not resigning her post), she started a firestorm of protest across the nation. 

Walter Palmer
Big-game enthusiast and (apparently) highly lucrative dentist Walter Palmer decided to travel to Africa to bag him a lion. What Palmer didn't know--or chose not to find out--is that Zimbabwe is a soulless mass of corruption and sleaze, and relying to "local guides" to help him snag his trophy probably was a bad idea. So when he bagged the famed lion, a beloved tourist attraction in the fields of Africa, the international outrage was swift and loud, and conservationists took a long hard look in the mirror. And the world wrote poems and sang sad songs about...wait, what was the lion's name again? We all knew it this past summer like he was our best friend, right? 

Rachel Dolezal 
Rachel Dolezal was the head of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. So imagine everyone's surprise when it turns out that she was, um, white. Dolezal claimed that she "identifies" as black, which, while a little weird, most people can navigate through after a while, but one can't get past the rather obvious lies she had to create to get to where she was at. This, sadly, included accusations of people discriminating against her because she was black (which, to repeat, she was not), and it took almost six months before she would publicly declare that she was born white. 

California Drought 
For years, California was seen as the paradise of America—it’s where all the rich and glamorous people live. Even the industry is glamorous, being a major producer of wine and pistachios. This all came to an end, however, as a massive, months-long drought hit the Golden State. After the water tables were depleted and the poor people curtailed their usage, the major farms who decided to grow crops next to a desert suddenly found themselves in hot—well, not water, I guess. Crop insurance will make sure most of them will stay in business to cause this to happen again in a few years, so it looks like it all worked itself out. Well, when it starts to rain again.

Runaway Blimp 
There was a modest amount of slow-moving and extremely avoidable danger late this year when the military lost control of a blimp. That’s right—a blimp. No, this isn’t the Miserable Crank Awards from 1906. The blimp—apparently used to detect missile attacks, which is not a joke—became untethered, dragging a mile-long length of cable and causing property damage, knocking out power, and forcing the delays of airline trips. If ISIS has penetrated the US to the point where missile attacks are likely in the panhandle of Maryland and central Pennsylvania, we’re in big trouble.

Starbucks Cup
Poor Starbucks. The ubiquitous coffee chain that shows up on every street corner (literally) has tried, in recent times, to make some waves. They bombed earlier in the year by encouraging patrons to engage in a dialogue about race—because the one thing people want when they’re picking up their coffee is not convenience or price but to slow everything down and discussing a highly contentious issue that has nothing to do with serving ground up beans. After that fiasco, they decided to play it safe with unadorned Christmas cups—igniting the ire of (an admittedly extremely small) number of Christian groups who felt they were erasing the holiday—er, I specifically mean Christmas.

Twitter's Like Icon 
The highly popular social media application Twitter—tailor-made for quick access and even quicker consumption—has long been able to remain popular due to the ease of sharing and promoting content. So imagine everyone’s surprise when the historically pleasing “like” option, where one simply taps on a tweet to signify approval without actually having to rely on human-to-human interaction, went from the familiar star to the more awkward heart. Not a big deal to most, one assumes, but stars are universal—no, literally, they are what make up the universe. Hew3arts, on the other hand, carry certain connotations that people go to twitter to specifically avoid. 

Clickbait—the obnoxious attention-grabbing articles with sensationalistic headlines that compel people to read an internet article—have been around for a while; hell, they’ve been around since the first internet opened up in, like, 1980 or whatever. But it’s been honed down to a craft at this point, with ad revenue being maximized via things like slideshows and link farms, and the ease in which these articles can be shared in social media, especially Facebook, acts as a force multiplier. Sites such as Buzzfeed have grown exponentially this year because of tactics like these, so it appears as though we’re stuck with it for CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE ON. YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT COMES NEXT!

[Voting is now closed.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Vote Now! The 2015 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Two

Here are the candidates for day two of voting for the Miserable Crank Awards of 2015.

Lilly for Target
Do you know a way to get a bunch of bored housewives mad? First, you get them all excited about a product line that is supposed to be hip but is really just the rehashed commercialization of modern middle-class kitsch. Then, you announce the day it's going to be released. Then it sells out in days so most of them can't get their hands on it. Then it turns out a bunch of people bought all the stock and resold it on eBay for higher prices. Then you make these customers realize that their irrational demand for mediocre products makes them no better than the rubes at Wal-Mart they think they are superior than. 

Exchange Rate Fixing Scandal
The Forex scandal--Forex standing for "Economic Term No One Understands"--hit the international markets this past year. Forex deals with the exchange rates between banks. As should come as a surprise to no one, there was a scandal of manipulating these rates for their own gain, using loopholes to set rates before the actual rates were revealed. This year, the banks themselves pleaded guilty and paid heavy fines for their role in the matter. 

Volkswagen Emissions Scandal
The German automobile maker, heretofore as having a reliable if mildly expensive reputation, took a huge hit when it was revealed that the emission sensors on their vehicles were rigged, claiming they created significantly less pollution than they actually did. The head of VW was sacked and a settlement was reached but not before they took a huge hit to their standing in the industry. 

THERANOS! sounds like a futuristic company, the sort of thing Lex Luthor heads. And for many, it was sold like that. A medical company that does...something with blood testing managed to net millions of investor money and billions in worth and snags former Secretaries of State and Senators on their board. Except that it turns out their devices have not only not been scrutinized by any agencies or peer reviews, but, it appears that absolutely zero data has been released showing that the thing actually works. 

Radio Shack Files For Bankruptcy
Remember the 80's? Radio Shack sure does, because they've been there ever since...well, even since the 80's ended. It's always been an enigma how the place managed to stay open so long; in a world with massive leaps in technology and huge cuts in the cost of manufacturing such things, Radio Shack remained wedded to selling overpriced audio equipment, cheaply made remote control cars, and weirdly pushy sales clerks. About the only thing they were successful at in the last two decades was monopolizing the zip code gathering industry. Finally, after decades of question marks, they finally filed for bankruptcy this year, hoping to reorganize into something resembling Best Buy right before Best Buy goes out of business. 

Differently Colored Dress
Moving swiftly across the internet, the popular image of a dress showed up in everyone's feed. Why a dress? The dress was either blue and black or white and gold, depending on...well, no one knows. Heated debates broke out about the color of the dress, and disagreements still linger to this day for people who dare to repost the image. The real winners, of course, were science-based web sites, who got all excited because they could post an article people would actually read.

Man Buns
It's the new hairstyle--for men! After years of hipsters keeping their hair short, they've liberated themselves and grow out their hair. Except with a combination of EXPERIMENTING WITH APPEARANCES AS STATEMENTS, SMASHING SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS, and NOT WANTING TO SPEND TIME ON THEIR HAIR, they've popularized the man bun. Man Bun: For when you don't want people to respect you because you're dressed like a unemployed lumberjack, you want them to not respect you because of your choice in hairstyle. 

Llama Escape
Nothing breaks up a workday then sitting in the break room watching the television and following a bunch of llamas escape and run through an Arizona retirement community. Where were they going? Who knows? Probably back to Australia or wherever llamas are from. 

Confederate Flag
After a racist asshole opened fire in a church in South Carolina, there was a renewed push to remove the confederate flag from official state emblems and flags across the deep south. For most of the nation who has decided to move on past 1865, this was both a no-brainer and a non-issue. Sadly, for many in the south, and a surprising number of northern folks, the Stars and Bars was suddenly held up with a high level of esteem and pride, as if they had them themselves just walked off the battlefield of Chancellorsville. Most people just can't understand why waving around the flag of racists and, yes, official, recorded-in-the-history-books losers was something they'd want to do in the first place. There are plenty of awesome Southern things that can be pointed to with pride, like Coke and the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Go Set A Watchman
After decades, the long-awaited sequel to one of the most iconic books of American history, To Kill A Mockingbird was finally released. Well, maybe not long-awaited since no one really knew it existed. And really not a sequel as much as it is a first draft. And maybe it wasn't really ready to go because the author didn't really seem like it was something that should have been published. And maybe it was published only because the estate pushed for it to be published against her wishes--or her wishes are unknown because she is elderly and senile. In any case, have fun writing that book report.

Paris Attacks
The year started off poorly for the residents of Paris, France. An attack on a popular satirical media house—Charlie Hebdo—sparked international outrage and a focus on the world stage of preventing further attacks by militant Islamists. Almost a year later, a coordinated attack by ISIS on a Paris concert hall and other venues left over a hundred dead. The attack highlighted several issues, from appropriate response to security concerns to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. 

Mass Shootings
2015 saw a significant increase in the number of high-profile mass shootings, from the racially charged shootings at a church in South Carolina, an assault at a military center in Tennessee, an attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, and a religion-based attack in California. These attacks brought attention to a variety of issues ranging from gun control to mental health. 

The worst fears of most airline travelers were realized earlier this year, as one of the pilots on a plane with the Germanwings airline intentionally crashed the plane into the Alps, carrying around 150 passengers and crew. All of those on board perished. The co-pilot had a history of severe depression and thoughts of suicide, and the parent company Lufthansa was left trying to answer questions as to how something like this could slip through all off the operational protocols. 

Refugee Crisis
After years of civil war, millions of Syrians fled their war-torn country as refugees, traveling the globe and attempting to settle in faraway lands to escape the violence. This influx brought with it logistical nightmares—but also a significant amount of political and cultural strife, as European nations began balking at accepting Muslim immigrants at a time when both Muslims and immigration were hot topics. Most (though not all) of the leaders in Europe opened the borders as the right thing to do, although not without opposition; after the Paris attacks, the issue spilled over to the United States, where opinions were sharp, varied, and vocal. 

Nepal Earthquake
Earthquakes are rotten disasters to deal with; they are impossible to prevent, they create unique structural challenges, and the cleanup after the fact is monumentally difficult and expensive. When it hits one of the few nations on earth that is notoriously difficult to access, it makes it all the worse. Tens of thousands were injured, and half that number dead, while most of the world offered help that it was practically impossible for Nepal to take.

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