Friday, December 21, 2012

The Results Are In! The 2012 Miserable Crank Awards!

Well, the votes have been counted and the world didn't end (sorry), so here are the results for the 2012 Miserable Crank Awards!

Who Is The Most Miserable Person We Permit To Contribute To Our Society? [Personality]
Donald Trump

What Is The Most Indefensibly Stupid Business Decision? [Business]
Facebook Goes Public

What Is The Weirdest Nonsense We Continue To Allow Ourselves To Be Entertained By? [Entertaiment]
Honey Boo Boo

What Is The Most Ridiculous Government Decision Everyone Hates But No One Will Ever Do Anything Meaningful About? [Government]
SOPA

What Is The Most Embarrassing Reason To Be A Member of the Human Race? [Embarrassment]
"Illegitimate Rape" Senators

What Is The Most Unsportsmanlike Conduct Perpetuated By A Bunch Of People Running Around And Hitting Things With Other Things For Money? [Sports]
The NHL Lockout

What Is The Greatest Disruption From Allowing Us To Live A Comfortable Middle-Class Lifestyle? [Inconveniences]
Hostess Goes Bankrupt

What Is The Worst Thing Everyone Else For Some  Reason Loves But I Hate With A Passion Unparalleled? [Popular]
Fifty Shades of Gray

What Is The Most Painfully Awful Event or Idea of 2012? [Event]
Aurora Shootings

And, finally:

What WasThe Worst Thing About 2012?
Hurricane Sandy

Congratulations, weather! Your random and intermittent behavior has, once again, brought out the worst in humanity. And a great big thanks to all of our nominees. We're all looking forward to a new, productive year in 2013!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vote Now! The 2012 Miserable Crank Awards: Final Day

Today is the last post for voting for the 2012 Miserable Crank Awards. Go vote for each of the categories now!

Here is the link for Day One. [Personalities, Business, Entertainment]

Here is the link for Day Two. [Government, Embarrassing Failure, Sports]

Here is the link for Day Three. [Inconvenience, Popular, Event]

(For the cynics out there, I didn't do this to jump up my page views. Trust me, that is going to make zero difference in anything. However, in past years a lot of people have claimed that reading all 45 candidates in one page was rather daunting and made them not want to read it at all, so I've split it up into more manageable sizes.)

So the final vote is below. Remember, this vote is for the absolute worst thing of 2012, 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 (nine categories total) and vote below.

Remember, voting ends on Thursday, December 20th, 2012, so the polls will be open for a full week after today.


[Voting is now closed.]

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vote Now! The 2012 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Three

It's day three of voting for the 2012 Miserable Crank Awards. You have until Thursday, December 20th, 2012 to vote. If you haven't already, vote on the previous two posts (here is Day One and here is Day Two), and the final vote post is going up tomorrow. 


The Greatest Disruption From Allowing Us  To Live A Comfortable Middle-Class Lifestyle
Chicago Teacher Strike
Errybody's gots to get paid. Yet there's a certain expectation that when fall comes around, you get to drop your kids off somewhere where they do a lot of stuff that involves them not being in your house any more. There are entire religions based solely on this sweet, sweet relief. So when that ritual is disrupted, it can cause huge waves of panic to reverberate throughout a community. In Chicago, as teachers went out to the picket lines, parents had to scramble to renew Y memberships, suddenly get interested in that neighbor lady who is always sweet on the kids, and lower the bar on how creepy you think your uncle with a lot of free time is. Thankfully, the strike was eventually called off just in time for parents to start bitching about school property taxes again.
                                  
Encyclopedia Britannica Ends
Everybody grew up with access to a set of encyclopedias. Maybe they were the slim, embarrassing volumes parents got on the cheap through some guilt-trip-laden sales pitch by overzealous primary school organizations. Maybe they were the higher-end sets that starry-eyed parents bought for their Harvard University Graduate State School Student Wheatgrass Community College Attendee Copper Smelting Correspondence Course Certificate Recipient. Or maybe it was simply a trip to the trusty library. And maybe they were used less for looking up the occupation of Clement Atlee previous to his becoming Prime Minister and more for getting things off of a high shelf. Still, the inevitable finally happened: the iconic dead-forest Encyclopedia Britannica announced the end to its print edition this year, citing the rather obvious fact that selling something for a few hundred dollars for something you could easily look up in seconds for free on your phone was not, in fact, a particularly sustainable business model.

Apple Maps
What kind of year would it be without Apple making some smug, ill-conceived business decision, papering over the massive mistake without including some glossy feint about how superior their overall product is? After kicking the vastly superior Google Maps off of their system and installing an embarrassingly inferior Apple Maps application in its place, the iPhone suddenly became (slightly) less indispensible. While it obviously wasn't a horrible product, it was clearly not as good, and the childish power-play of the competing Google operating system  at the expense of the consumer seemed like something Steve Jobs would never do. OK, I tried really, really hard to not laugh while writing that. Jobs would have been all over that shit.

Hostess Goes Bankrupt
Everyone knew about Hostess. Everyone has had a Twinkie, or a Ding Dong, or a Hostess Cupcake or ten, or any of the other well-known snack cakes made by the long-established baked goods company. Sadly, time finally caught up with the company; after declaring bankruptcy a few years ago, a reorganization failed to make any headway. An ill-conceived baker's union decision to reject a deal, the company folded for good. Thankfully, the actual Hostess brand--along with their popular products--will no doubt be sold off during the liquidation process, but there's going to be a sad delay when the Twinkie is not going to be part of a nutritional breakfast. It...it used to be, right?

Droughts
Sure, when one thinks of droughts they think of it in terms of how awful it is for farmers (and, if we are feeling particularly cosmopolitan, Africa). Farmers have it tough enough as it is, what with getting up at four in the morning in the searing heat and being forced to carry those huge sacks of cash from their government subsidy checks all the way to the bank in enough time to make it back to the homestead to bitch about Uncle Sam getting off their backs. But it's easy to forget that the drought hurts everyone; food that used to cost small amounts suddenly become more expensive, since most of it has turned into dried-up husks out on the prairie. It sucks about the farmers and everything, but would someone please think of the Hot Pockets and beef burritos?

The Worst Thing Everyone Else For Some  Reason Loves But I Hate With A Passion Unparalleled
Nate Silver
Nate Silver became the darling of punditry in 2008 because he accurately predicted 49 of the 50 states in the Presidential election that year. Somehow charming himself into the New York media elite, he managed to snag his own entire section of the New York Times online website and kept tabs in the much less predictable 2012 election. While he's certainly a good numbers and a capable stats guy, his feats are not exactly all that impressive--plenty of people besides himself also got 49 of 50 right in 2008, after all. While he did make some bold (and what turned out to be accurate) predictions in 2012, his other predictions (namely Senate seats) were much less impressive. His importance has been enhanced less by his abilities and more of his media savvy, which makes him out to be more lucky than skillful.
                                                    
Magic Mike
It's not exactly a trade secret that sex sells. Regardless of whether you are trying to sell clothes, jewelry, taco-shaped ice cream, or donations to the United Way, you can get people to pony up more cash if you routinely show a little cleave. Up until recently, however, this tactic has purely been in the domain of attracting men, saturating the ad world and the television screen with hot women to move money from wallets. Not anymore! Magic Mike's secret--a movie about male strippers (or about drugs and friendship and Remembering Where You Came From; I don't really know)--was the hit of the summer, getting droves of women to see the movie, with the unspoken chant of "Now it's finally our turn" and the men adding "to clean the theater seats before you leave."

Fifty Shades of Gray
Reading is fun, kids, and there isn't much justification for not encouraging everyone--of all ages!--to read. However, one can certainly draw an unseemly line at what amounts to librarian-endorsed smut. Sure, literacy has a long and glorious history of fighting against censorship and pushing the boundaries of creativity, but there's still something unseemly about the bodice-ripping trash that many people appear to enjoy. Books such as Fifty Shades of Gray--a "book" whose "plot" centers primarily around BDSM fantasies and women with low self-esteem hot enough to justify two (I hate to add the sadly accurate "best selling") sequels--certainly get people to read. But it is also a reminder that just like movies, television, art, culture, and politics, there's always a base-level percentage that is always just trash.

Call Me Maybe
This year's ear-invading pop anthem, "Call Me Maybe" isn't, really, that bad of a song. Sure, it's trite and corny, but it's quite catchy and you could do a lot worse in this world of synthesized emotions and factory-farmed teen stars. What does irritate me, however, is the perpetual insistence that every cultural reference needs to be framed in this manner. Simply stating "[verb] me, maybe?" has replaced wit as an acceptable form of humor.

Royal Baby
The usual rumblings over the uselessness of the royal family aside--last year's wedding fed into the usual plaints of sucking the news away from war-torn countries and famine to cover a bunch of rich unemployed folks wearing comically outdated uniforms--the announcement of Kate Middleton's pregnancy, as usual, vaulted to the top of the tabloids. While there's a tiny justification for the news--it's the next baby to pop out in a long line of monarchs that did, in fact, affect history, after all--the royal family has (quite rightly) been relegated to the celebrity depths of the news. Although it's tempting to simply ignore the royals, it's worth it for the entertainment value alone; you'd be hard-pressed to see the likes of Katy Perry dress up like an SS officer at a customer party.

The Most Painfully Awful Event or Idea the Year

Italian Cruise Ship Disaster
Cruise ships are supposed to be pleasant experiences, but tell that to the poor folks on the Costa Concordia. With an itinerary of stopping at several Italian ports, the captain decided to treat the passengers to a closer look at the coast, but instead hit a reef and forced the evacuation of all 4000+ people on board. It ended up partially capsizing and causing the death of over 30 individuals. Hardly a proper way to spend your vacation, but it's the only way i can think of that makes the stomach flu the more appealing choice to ruin a trip. 
                      
Aurora Shootings
During the premier of the hotly anticipated Batman movie, a man in Aurora, Colorado decided to show up and start shooting people. One could go into the psychological reasons as to why this might happen, but all you really need to know is that he dyed his hair Crayola-level red-orange for the trial, apparently in a bid to garner the batshit crazy faction's support from the jury. Sadly, this incident led off a series of various shootings in other states around the nation, presenting an unfortunate cocktail of hatred, violence, and mental issues in one unexplainable mess.

Hurricane Sandy
Another year, another geographical disaster. This time, Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, including New York City and New Jersey. It caused billions of dollars of damage in the world's financial capital, and--we can all pretend it doesn't matter if you want, but it does--it hit a week before the Presidential election. You have several things to consider: Obama's role in the disaster cleanup, New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie's assistance in that effort, Mitt Romney's no-win tepid response, Mayor Bloomberg's originally effective response followed by a series of very bad decisions, and finally the actual destruction of New York and New Jersey's infrastructure, including the subway system that holds the Big Apple together. While the response of the nation was pretty charitable, it doesn't stop the fact that there was massive disruption in a large swath of the United States population in a region that's starting to get sick of disruption. 

The Benghazi Attack
The September 11th attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi ended up with a dead ambassador and a huge embarrassment for the Obama administration. When the attack was first announced, the administration attributed the cause to the release of an American-produced anti-Muslim video. However, it was also alleged that this was a planned attack that the administration had ignored the warning signs of. In either case, the destruction of the embassy, the death of the diplomat, and the allegations on both sides (especially being so close to the Presidential election) made this a saddening event on each side.

Treyvon Martin Shooting
A case that manages to combine all sorts of social issues into one very awkward package: you have gun control, race relations, police procedures, social media, prosecutorial misconduct, and a high dose of symbolic emotional responses, the Martin case--where Hispanic George Zimmerman, in his duties as a neighborhood watch patrolman, shot and killed African-American Treyvon Martin in what he claims was self-defense--has the high probability of coming out with zero winners regardless of the outcome.


[Voting is now closed.]

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vote Now! The 2012 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Two

It's day two of voting for the 2012 Miserable Crank Awards. Remember that voting closes on Thursday, December 20th. If you haven't already, vote on yesterday's post, and do not forget that there is another vote for each of the next two days.

The Most Ridiculous Government Decision Everyone  Hates But No One Will Ever Do Anything Meaningful About
SOPA
A heavy-handed attempt by large media conglomerates to combat copyright infringement, the Stop Online Piracy Act. It became a cause many internet web sites--most notably Wikipedia and Reddit, but also lots of other well-established sites--immediately became concerned about. The main issue most technology advocates had with the bill was that it would effectively stop all user-created content to be allowed on the internet, since as written any violation of copyright from anyone would result in the entire site being shut down. On January 18-19, many sites held a blackout, with their home pages being nothing but a short message detailing the proposal. Thankfully, the bill was withdrawn, and internet users could go back to uploading pictures of cats and making fun of Wal-Mart shoppers with reckless abandon.  
                                   
NYC Soda Ban
It's tempting to just throw New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's entire performance this year in this slot, but we'll just take a representative example. Somehow, someone convinced the mayor that the worst thing going on in New York city was obesity  and that a ban on soda is a good solution to that problem. Yet another example of the alarmingly increasing low-scale government control of our lives, Bloomberg pushed through the ban on any sugared drink over 16oz. A solution in search of a problem, it is a nearly impossible to enforce law that will have zero impact on calorie consumption, all the while causing the regulatory costs of doing business to skyrocket. Next up: prohibiting the sale of unicorn meat and regulating fairy dust.

Pussy Riot
No one is under the impression that Russia is any sort of Valhalla of liberty, but the case of Pussy Riot was particularly jarring. The all-girl punk rock band (or whatever passes for punk rock in Mother Russia) was thrown in jail for holding a protest against President Vladimir Putin inside a Russian Orthodox cathedral. The girls were charged with "premeditated hooliganism" and most got two years in prison. This was not only a blatant attempt to curb free speech and a draconian , it also displayed the growing power of the church in Russia, which used the case as a way to establish laws against blasphemy. Granted, this is a huge leap forward from the days in which you were sent to the gulag for enjoying your allotted weekly slice of bread instead of eating it in the name of the people's struggle, but it's lamentable nonetheless.

Petraeus Scandal
If there is one person you kind of want to keep their pants on, it's the head of the CIA. General David Petraeus--long thought to be Presidential material--got caught in a complicated affair that involved multiple women and mysteriously came out the day after the Presidential election. (The chances!) While there were a few voices claiming that his private life is just that, more realized that if there is someone who really shouldn't be in a position to be blackmailed, it's the nation's top spook.

Fiscal Cliff
A mostly manufactured crisis, the fiscal cliff is a direct descendant of last year's debt ceiling negotiation failure, and reinforced by the failure of the Supercommittee that ended up doing nothing. Everyone wanted to punt the problem forward until the new president was determined, and now both sides are desperately trying to claim that they have the upper hand. Sadly, the consequences of yet another failure will end up meaning reasonably massive tax increases for pretty much anyone combined with a drastic cut in spending for various programs. While there is still time left for a compromise, if nothing come to fruition by the end of the year there will be a few days of panic and the only true losers are the citizens. So, as you can see, after the tumultuous election season we had this year, things are finally back to normal.


The Most Embarrassing Reason  To Be A Member of the Human Race


Kony 2012
A prime example of the feel-good cause célèbre that is ultimately a failure, the entire Kony 2012 campaign proved that social media doesn't prevent completely balling up what could have been a halfway decent movement to get behind.  The creator--one Jason Russell--created a primitive if slick video addressing the evils of Joseph Kony, the admittedly brutal Ugandan leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, especially his recruitment of child soldiers. Glossing over scant details and misrepresenting the facts, it certainly tugged on one's emotional heartstrings--and yet drew the ire of nearly everyone who would have benefited from its message with its irrational focus on the creators and a complete dismissal of the real problems facing Uganda. When the pressure became too much, Russell ended up stripping down naked and rambling incoherently at passersby, which more or less sums up the complete disaster of this campaign.
                                                        
"Illegitimate Rape" Senators
When Todd Akin, senatorial candidate for a Senate seat in Missouri, managed to mouth off about how "legitimate rape" was a thing (under a woefully misunderstood notion of how the female body works), the GOP pulled their funding and encouraged others to abandon him. While Akin maintained his polling in the usually reliable Missouri delegation, many simply tried their best to beat back the PR nightmare. Not to be outdone, a few months later Richard Mourdock in the even more reliable Indiana Senate race somehow managed to answer a debate question effectively stating that rape could be "God's Will." Neither men seemed particularly repentant about it, while the Republican Party as a whole--while the leaders clearly expressed disagreement with both men--tended to be tone-deaf to the damage it had caused. Neither candidate ended up winning their completely winnable seats, and, fairly or not, these two Senators acted as a proxy for the perceived misogyny of the Republican Party.

Elmo
Accusations of sexual harassment or assault are never to be taken lightly, even more so when it is against a minor, and even less so when the assailant works for a children's program, and even less less so when that person is literally Elmo from Sesame Street. Originally, the allegations were refuted as a simple shakedown of a vulnerable party, but subsequent allegations made it much more serious and couldn't be dismissed with a payoff. The normal jokes about poor Tickle Me Elmo aside, it's a sad situation for everyone involved.

Sandra Fluke vs. Rush Limbaugh
No one really won in this war of words between activist Sandra Fluke and blowhard radio host Rush Limbaugh. Fluke was called to testify after the issue of birth control in the new health care law was brought into question; after her remarks, Limbaugh unceremoniously called her a "slut" based on her testimony. While Limbaugh was rightfully chastised for his vulgar statements (and his apparent ignorance of how the female reproductive system works), Fluke's testimony wasn't flawless either, being full of the sort of half-truths and obfuscated statistics that advocacy groups love to use. In the end, it helped launch the "War On Women" that continued throughout the 2012 presidential campaign in that great American tradition of offering a small amount of real issues candy-coated with loaded buzzwords, misrepresentations, and name-calling. U.S.A.! U.S.A!

End Of The World
Last year, some random pastor from a no-name church claimed that the end of the world was neigh, and he became the punch line to every joke in America. Meanwhile, a centuries-old, barely translated stone tablet about the Long Count calendar from the long-dead Mayan empire and people treat it as if it is set in stone (ha). Major motion pictures and daily freakouts on Coast to Coast AM aside, there is zero evidence that a cataclysmic maelstrom of disasters will hit the earth anyt

The Most Unsportsmanlike Conduct Perpetuated By A  Bunch Of People Running Around And Hitting  Things With Other Things For Money



NHL Lockout
Aside from the usual complaints about millionaires fighting with billionaires, the National Hockey League's inability to come to an agreement over the 2012-2013 season signals both what is right and wrong with hockey. While it is a growing sport--jumpstarted by a lamentable but much-needed break a few years ago--it's still the least popular sport in the United States. Most franchises are broke, many clubs are an embarrassment, and someone, somewhere decided that Nashville was a hockey town while Quebec City was not. Pessimistic players took the quick boat to Europe, where there was plenty of money to be made in the Russian leagues and plenty of Dutch hash and Swedish prostitutes in the otherwise subpar European leagues. There is a chance that an agreement will occur, but not before half the season is gone, much to the disappointment of Phoenix Coyotes fans. Both of them.
                                           
Lance Armstrong
Once hailed as an uber-athlete much on the level of Bruce Jenner, Michael Jordan, or Captain Lou Albano, Lance Armstrong won the grueling Tour de France seven consecutive times, a feat impressive in and of itself but even more amazing given that he was a cancer survivor. He also translated his celebrity into charitable giving through his Livestrong campaign, which helps with cancer awareness. Sadly, however, he was stripped of all his titles when it was found that he had illegally doped and engaged in drug trafficking during most of those years, reinforcing the notion to impressionable children everywhere that anyone who is successful got there by being a cheating bastard, and no amount of cheap plastic yellow bracelets sold will cover up the shame.

NBC's Olympic coverage
NBC has positioned itself to be the exclusive broadcaster of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, and in that role managed to somehow completely ball it up. Refusing, at first, to show any events live and heavily editing other events for cheap prime time consumption, they also spoiled many victories though the blatant commercialization of the contests. They cut into many ceremonies to cram in more ads, especially galling in a case where they broke away from a showing of a moment of silence for the 7/7 London Bombings. They refused to live stream any coverage, citing a tin-eared explanation that the ceremonies "required context," something apparently not required in their airing of, say, the dismal sitcom Animal Practice. In an age of social media where news travels instantly, NBC instead chose to ignore its existence, much like it ignores the existence of any culture aside from American.
                                                                                                                               
Gisele Mouthing Off
After the New England Patriot's loss in Superbowl XLVI--a rematch between them and the New York Giants--there were plenty of people available for which fingers could be pointed. None was more eager to do so than one Gisele Bundchen, the wife of dashing star quarterback Tom Brady. Previous to the game she asked that people pray for a Patriots victory, a request some found tasteless. But that was nothing compared to her complaints after the loss, when she defended her husband and blamed the receivers for not catching the ball. While there's a grain of truth to the claim, it was also awkward--no football player really wants his wife to 1) defend him in public over his playing abilities, and 2) in the process place the blame on his teammates. Presumably Gisele is going to have to get even more extra hot to make up for her lack of decorum, but we are not sure if that's possible.

New Orleans Saints Bounty System
Football is a violent sport. Anyone who states otherwise doesn't understand the game, quite possibly because they've sustain a steady stream of concussions for their entire lives. In any case, the NFL has taken a particularly hard stance against the physical damage that is done to this inherently combative game. So when it was revealed that the coaches under the New Orleans Saints were actually offering cash bounties to take out specific players on the other team, it took exactly what the NFL was trying to prevent and made it even worse--somehow making the Saints look like an even more horrible team, a feat previously assumed impossible. 

[Voting is now closed.]

Monday, December 10, 2012

Vote Now! The 2012 Miserable Crank Awards: Day One

It's time for the 3rd annual Miserable Crank awards, where we determine the worst events of the year! It was a pretty rough year, for a variety of reasons, so there was a buyer's market for bad decisions and horrible events. I had to leave out some truly awful stuff--the poor face-eating methhead from Florida didn't make the cut, sadly. But that's okay--that is a true and shining testament to the horrible nature of mankind. 

As last year, there are nine categories with five candidates each. Unlike last year, though, we'll be splitting up the voting over four days: three questions a day (here is he vote for Day Two), and on the fourth day will be the final "Worst Event" question. This makes it a little more manageable to read through all the entries now that we are up to 45 total candidates. The categories are:

  • Who Is The Most Miserable Person We Permit To Contribute To Our Society? [Personalities]
  • What Is The Most Indefensibly Stupid Business Decision? [Business]
  • What Is The Weirdest Nonsense We Continue To Allow Ourselves To Be Entertained By? [Entertainment]
  • What Is The Most Ridiculous Government Decision Everyone Hates But No One Will Ever Do Anything Meaningful About? [Government]
  • What Is The Most Embarrassing Reason To Be A Member of the Human Race? [Embarrassment]
  • What Is The Most Unsportsmanlike Conduct Perpetuated By A Bunch Of People Running Around And Hitting Things With Other Things For Money? [Sports]
  • What Is The Greatest Disruption From Allowing Us To Live A Comfortable Middle-Class Lifestyle? [Inconveniences]
  • What Is The Worst Thing Everyone Else For Some Reason Loves But I Hate With A Passion Unparalleled? [Popular Things]
  • What Is The Most Painfully Awful Event or Idea of 2012? [News Event]
Simply vote for one candidate in each category. Then, you can vote again for any one event as the "Worst Event of 2012" on day four. You can vote for the same candidate or a different one; it's up to you. Whichever one wins the overall vote wins the Worst Event, and whoever the runner-up is in that category wins that category instead. I retain a little bit of judgement and discretion on this one, however, since not all off the candidates are appropriate.

Voting will end on Thursday, December 20th. The results will be posted sometime that weekend, probably on Friday. 

The Most Miserable Person We Permit To Contribute To Our Society


Donald Trump
The resident loudmouth of New York City, Donald Trump once again proves that while the freedom to be an asshole is inherent in our republic, but it's significantly easier for someone with loads of cold cash. While his obnoxious personality is endearing to some--and accusations to the contrary, he's quite the successful businessman--his latching on to the birther movement seems wacky even by crazy rich millionaire standards. And his last-minute election pitch to throw up a good bit of serious dough for some unspecified dirt on Obama was a particularly embarrassing failure of his otherwise faux-optimistic personality. Sadly, he's the sort of person who also has too much money to simply shut up and disappear.

Kim Jong Un
After the death of fearless leader Kim Jong Il, his son promptly took over the reins of his father's cult of personality (and, incidentally, the nation of North Korea). While he has engaged in some much-needed social and economic reforms for the otherwise failed state, he's still up to the old man's tricks. Whether it's doing public executions, sending off dissidents to political camps, or launching aggressive, treaty-breaking rockets, his priorities appear to be keeping all outsiders away from the atrocities visited upon the people by his father...and possibly by himself.

Chris Brown
Not much has changed for singer Chris Brown: he still seems remarkably unrepentant about beating the shit out of singer and (apparently, for some unknown reason, current) girlfriend Rihanna; Rihanna still seems to be dating him; and millions of people still buy his records and invite him to awards shows. Of course, continuing to allow Brown near social media was probably a bad idea. When comedienne Jenny Johnson engaged him on Twitter, he proceeded to use some quite unfortunate terms in response, the exact sort of thing a known woman abuser shouldn't really be saying if he actually cared about his transgressions. His management wisely shut his account down, but not before reinforcing to everyone that he is still a horrible, horrible excuse for a human being.

Bashar Al-Assad
He's never been the #1 Villain in the Middle East Review--top billing having gone to Osama bin Laden, co-starring one Mr. Saddam Hussein--and he's always been more of an inconvenient sideshow. But with all the stars in retirement (ahem), Al-Assad's newest role in Syria as Evil Douchebag With Smarmy Mustache has made him a breakout star. Trying to wage a civil war against civilians, stomping the bootheel on protestors, and contemplating using chemical weapons (wonder where that came from), he's become a poster boy for everything that is wrong in the Middle East.

Rick Santorum
Long residing on the punchline end of the Republican Party, for a brief time he became precariously close to becoming less of a joke and more of a front-runner. In his short time in the limelight (it was only a month but seemed like about eight hundred years) he somehow managed to screw up everything from the birth control non-issue-that-suddenly-was to upending what normally was going to be a smooth primary campaign. In the end, his simplistic and Neandertholic stances on issues ended up being more of an embarrassment than any sort of reflection of the voters as a whole and he ended up becoming a non-factor. Except for all of those poor clueless people who tried to look him up on the internet.

The Most Indefensibly Stupid Business Decision

Apple Patent Wars
Apple prides itself in being a company that is perfect in everything, including its near-flawless ability to make Chinese factory workers want to kill themselves. So it wasn't too much of a shock when Apple and Samsung clashed in a patent war over their phones. Patents being what they are--a nearly inscrutable resource for lawyers and engineers to befuddle consumers and corporations--it eventually created a situation where Apple ended up winning but looking incredibly petty in the process, effectively defending its main innovation of being able to power an iPhone with their owner's own smug sense of self-importance.
                            
Chik-Fil-A Controversy
It is generally never a good idea for corporations to wade into the realm of public policy. Most of the time, any vocal support for a non-core-business-related issue will have the primary goal of enraging your customers. So it was with Chik-Fil-A. After its owner made remarks concerning their opposition to gay marriage--not exactly something that a fast-food chicken-based restaurant has a whole lot of influence over--it caused a backlash and a PR nightmare. While there were defenders for both sides (and it arguably generated more business, at least temporarily) it was seen more like a needless distraction than any sort of progress on the fried chicken/gay marriage dichotomy our founding fathers envisions for our nation.

AMC/Dish Dispute
The world of cable and satellite television is murky and complicated. Channels and providers routinely battle it out in a never-ending cycle of deals, compromises, and threats, all of which basically end up making everyone else subsidize access to ESPN. So it was with Dish Network and AMC this year. While it wasn't the only dispute between satellite and channels, it was one of the more high-profile ones; with critically acclaimed, highly-anticipated programs such as Mad Men and The Walking Dead gone from the airwaves, both sides risked losing subscribers and/or their core audience. While it was eventually resolved, it reminded everyone that unemployment, food security, and Middle East violence isn't nearly as important as missing the season premiere of Breaking Bad.

Facebook Goes Public
Facebook has revolutionized modern society. That's not a bold claim; that's a verifiable fact. Social media has transformed how we communicate, how we organize our lives, how we find love, and even how we look for jobs. So when the biggest force of change since the first Internet-based companies almost a decade and a half ago decides they are going to form a publicly traded company, one would expect it to be a pretty good deal. Sadly, once the congratulations and parties were over, no one realized exactly how this game-changing company was going to actually make any, you know, money. It turns out: no one really knows, including the people running the company. Oh, sure, they said it was a lot of data mining, but many forecasters weren't sure exactly what the potential was for that. And thus the true game changer in our modern economy was revealed: in order to make money, the money has to be made in a secret formula and with creepy, intangible things, like a company that knows how much you spend on vintage scarves this year and how much time you spend on growing virtual peaches.  Good luck selling that to your 401(k) provider.

Disney Acquires Star Wars
Intellectual property is a fragile thing. Once out of the hands of its creator and into the hands of a faceless profit-hungry corporation, you risk alienating fans at the expense of monetizing a legacy. Of course, it helps when the faceless corporation actually has a face and isn't much of a corporation; for decades, this was the case with George Lucas's Star Wars franchise. However, after the announcement by Lucas that he was selling the entire IP rights to Disney--the same amoral libertines that have no problem shoving Cinderella 4: Teatime for Princesses with zero regard for the Brothers Grimm in your face (or, more accurately, your child's face when watching the commercials in cartoons)--there was a distinct fear that the era of Star Wars was over. Then everyone remembers that it was Lucas himself that shit all over that era with Episode One: The Phantom Menace, so everyone more or less figured that it couldn't get possibly worse.

The Weirdest Nonsense We Continue To Allow Ourselves To Be Entertained By



Gangnam Style
America has always been accused of being egocentric--blissfully, almost violently proud of not knowing about anything outside of our borders. This is a rather bold claim, not unwarranted but often exaggerated. Still, you can't deny that when we find some ridiculous way to make ourselves feel culturally superior, we catapult it into our national entertainment consciousness to the point of it being immensely popular with absolutely no hint of self-awareness. It's like voting the horse prom queen and then realizing that she doesn't look so bad after all. Anyway, enter Korean (the good one) anti-American pop star sensation Psy and his gimmick-laden, freakishly Asian YouTube video for "Gangnam Style," a catchy if off-putting song that has taken America by (as they say) storm. The goofy video and empty-calorie lyrics (I guess?) aside, his biggest crime is encouraging flab middle-aged men to dance that horse-riding dance at every wedding (or...prom?) from now until it is long past its ironic sell-by date.

Honey Boo Boo
Reality TV--long the Schneider of television programming--is still a rockbed for the bottom line for networks everywhere, both culturally and financial-report-wise. Still, there are times in which some of us just want to turn out the lights with a glass of wine for some right proper self-reflection. A unfortunate spinoff from the even more unfortunate reality program Toddlers & Tiaras, the star--one Miss Honey Boo Boo, Esq.--reaches down to the depths of depravity much deeper than any of us want to go. We often watch reality television as a reflection of ourselves, but Here Comes Honey Boo Boo shovels down a few feet deeper and actually wants us to start taking the back off and trying to stick a bent paper clip in mankind's reset button. While there are glimmers of hope on this atrocity of a show--they genuinely seem to care for each other, and there's a surprising amount of creative responsibility displayed by the parents--there's still a certain level of exploitation that is unmistakably present. Much like Hota Kotb on The Today Show.

Twilight Comes to an End
The oft-mocked Twilight Saga, a whitewashed rekindling of the vampire mythos, reached its final sparkly conclusion this year. After four poorly-written books and five poorly-received movies, fans who were too lazy to read bad fiction at least got to see it displayed in screen. Even beautiful cinematography and a futile attempt to do something exciting besides watching pale 60-year-old teenagers brood over each other couldn't paper over what was essentially the product of a Mormon cosplayer's truth-or-dare fanfiction.
                                
Lana Del Ray
The poster girl for manufactured fame, this quote-unquote independent sensation became the bane of the internet long before her much-criticized performance on SNL. When her musical career failed to take off under her previous persona--Lizzie Grant--she hired some lawyers and businessmen and PR hacks and reinvented herself, changing her name to the exotic "Lana Del Ray" and proceeded to crank out the exact sort of pop-culture laden music right from a marketer's survey, fortified with a healthy dose of blatant musical cock-teasing--and still had the brass ones to convince everyone she was a "gangster Nancy Sinatra." While her talent is shallow and her critics very vocal, she has still managed to stick around to completely disabuse the "indie" label until it has no practical meaning, the only final contribution to our culture is leaving hipsters with something to argue about over fair trade coffee at the Amish bookstore.

Ted Nugent
Around a decade ago, it was in vogue to tell singers and entertainers to "shut up and sing"--and that is still, generally, good policy. When celebrities such as the Dixie Chicks spoke out against the Iraq War, they found themselves losing fans (and, more importantly, sales). That said, everyone has a right to free speech so long as they're willing to accept the criticism of the fans that pay them money. Old-school rocker Ted Nugent (aka Sweaty Teddy, aka washed-up classic rock musician), long known for his conservative opinions, found himself on the other side of the battle. Alas, he lost more than just money--an ill-worded statement sloppily advocating the assassination of President Obama found him losing tour dates and an interrogation from the Secret Service, a group not exactly known for their subtlety. Much like Ted's lyrics.


[Voting is now closed.]

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Short And Incomplete List Of Things I Will Never Understand

Minecraft.

People's hate of reality TV. I mean, I get it, it's trash, but so is 90% of music, movies, restaurants, books, stand-up comedians, charities, job descriptions, your friends, and the government. Why get all bent out of shape about a single TV genre?

The fashion industry and how it's about one step above Gitmo in terms of pretty much everything.

Skateboarding. That seems like just the sort of thing that disappears from your life when you turn 10. It's like one step above sippy cups and one below getting an actual car.

Pirating advocates. (As in music/movies/media/etc.) I understand why they exist, but I've heard so many ridiculous justifications from shitty armchair lawyers as to why it's not stealing when it's completely apparent that it is the exact definition of stealing I almost have to laugh.

Live concerts. At least of the get-so-drunk-before-the-concert-you-remember-nothing variety.

Why people pay so much for an iPad/tablet when you can get a much more powerful and versatile laptop much cheaper even if it is a little less convenient.

Likewise, how on earth teenagers are allowed to have $500 phones for any reason. /oldmanrant

How radio stations make any money.

How restaurants don't make any money. You and I both know they spend, like, pennies for a crate of sub-grade meat for soup stock and scrambles they change five bucks for.

Electronica and/or techno music. I mean, I get it--different tastes and all that--but it just seems to me like "I enjoy listening to an endless loop of the theme song of the clueless tech segment of NPR programming."

Math Trades.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Next Big Sitcom

Remember back in the day, when most sitcoms had some sort of theme? Today, all sitcoms are pretty much the standard family setup (yawn) workplace comedy (snore), or possibly random groups of friends (boooring), yet back in the day we managed to mine astronauts plagued by paranormal activity, vaguely corrupt Indian reservations, and even freakin' Nazi prison camps for solid laughs. Where did those days go?

So as a public service, I'm going to propose several "alternate" settings for sitcoms. You can cram as much quirk as you want to make it hip--get Kat Dennings on the phone, shove Katy Perry in a historical costume, heck, drag Dick van Dyke and a healthy dose of irony out of retirement--and you can plug them in however you want and spin that stale television straw into comedy gold.

The Big House
(Alternate Title: Prisoner's Dilemma)

A cell block of quirky inmates live out their 112-episode-or-so sentences in a desperate attempt to make life manageable. Watch as hardened felons become friends and band together when times get tough--from the hardass new warden to the day they switched to generic orange juice. You'll laugh so hard, it will be criminal!

Stock Characters: The Crafty Deal-Maker, the Humble Philosopher, the Wise-Cracking Cook Staff
For Your Consideration: Heart-wrenching visits from six year old sons once a year.
Potential Problem: The mess hall is gonna have a lot of sausage on the menu, if you know what I mean.

Moonbase Alpha
(Alternate Title: Space For Rent)

Six astronauts are charged with living on a moonbase for years, not only battling a hostile environment bent on killing them, but with bureaucratic red tape from Earth and each other's annoying peccadillos. Bonus points if it's set in the 1980's and involves Stephen Root being the contact from Earth they speak with over the intercom.

Stock Characters: The Know-It-All Captain That Keeps Screwing Things Up, The Foreign Exchange Russian, the Woman With Awkward Hygienic Needs
For Your Consideration: 99 Luftballoons, baby!
Potential Problems: Production values, since everyone will be floating.

Step Right Up
(Alternate Title: The Big Top)

This ensemble comedy will showcase a broad range of characters as well as the gloomily hilarious side of the circus business. Follow fire-eaters, weightlifters, and carnies as they entertain the locals while snarking at each other. For extra credit, performances can be either done straight (and awesome) or comedy fodder for what is generally a collection of travelling failure.

Stock Characters: The Draconian Cost-Cutting Manager, the Flamboyant Ringmaster, the Unintelligibly Foreign Lion Tamer
For Your Consideration: Clown makeup doesn't run when it comes in contact with tears.
Potential Problem: Elephants Local 203

The Black Flag
(Alternate Title: Walk The Plank)

Yarrr! It's time to take to the high seas with this motley cast of renegades and buccaneers. Being aboard a ship in close quarters is ripe for comedy, plus it allows for occasional visits to local tribes for much-needed foils for the characters (also: opportunities for guest stars! Beyonce as a Caribbean goddess, anyone?)

Stock Characters: The Salty Sea Captain, the Naive Cabin Boy, the Barely Closeted First Mate, the Wise and Understanding Cook
For Your Consideration: A once-a-season visit to the local native tribe should remind us that, eyepatch or no, we're all human.
Potential Problems: Anyone remember Waterworld? No, seriously?

Hat Trick
(Alternate Title: Past the Post)

How aboot a game of hockey, eh? A rather sad-looking lot of minor-minor-league hockey players in the wilds of Canada--or, possibly, a burned-out logging town in northern America--play games in empty arenas while always under the threat of getting shuttled to the minor-minor-minor-league in an even worse burned-out logging town. Add some exciting hockey play once in a while along with a barrage of one-liners and it's every hockey fan's delight.

Stock Characters: The Hotshot Center Who Isn't Nearly As Good As He Thinks, The Alcoholic Coach, The Language-Garbling Import, The Wealthy Goofball Owner, The Barely Intelligible Goalie
For Your Consideration: That nail-biter of a game they lose on purpose because of 1) the rival star's kid's leukemia 2) the best player on the team runs away to find his true love 3) keeping the aging pro who used to play for the team's record intact.
Potential Problems: A few too many accents and Canada references for American audiences.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Get Rich Quick

Yesterday was the much-hyped Powerball drawing, where the jackpot swelled to over half a billion dollars. (Assuming an annuity and that you pay zero taxes, of course.) Plenty of moral guardians (calling the lottery, quite sourly (and, sadly, accurately), a tax on the poor) and humorless economists (the chance of winning is nowhere near the cost of buying the ticket) miss the point, of course; plenty of people (myself included, I should add) are more than willing to pay two dollars to dream about being a millionaire, even for just a day.

Yeah, that's sort of corny. But it's the best kind of rich--you don't have to work for it, you just get it for the simple virtue of being lucky. And that does have some sort of reality-TV level sort of satisfaction to it. Of course, there are plenty of downsides as well; even though everyone assumes that problems go away once you have money, you more or less just trade them for a different set of problems. (Watch any of those sad television shows devoted to past winners and you'll see it's much more than just having "rich person problems.") That is; alas, the downside of not earning money--since you didn't work for it, no one thinks you are entitled to it. And most likely none of us poor folk could properly handle it without help. I would end up spending it all on vintage Pokemon posters and platinum bars to keep it "safe" from internet scammers and the gummit.

There is, of course, not much true in the get rich quick world. Aside from pyramid schemes and shady fly-by-night scams, you're not going to get the payoff without some sort of risk, and most people are pretty poor judges of assessing risk. It doesn't help when there are forces actively working against you to keep you from succeeding (I'm thinking about competition--which if it is a threat it by definition is already successful--but in my more paranoid times the government can easily apply as well) and there's very little incentive to take risks without losing everything. That's why working to get rich is not nearly as popular as simply gambling it away or settling for less; when the world seems stacked against you, there isn't much incentive to take a chance.

So aside from the normal dollar-signs-in-the-eyes halo of the lottery jackpot, people love it because it seems to have no downside (everyone has a couple of bucks to waste, so if you lose no big deal) with all upside (if you win, yay!). So let the sourpusses whine about how much people play the lottery; we all know that we simply buying tickets to be a potential millionaire.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Things That The Internet Gets Wrong About News

I heart the internet, much like our forefathers likes the steam engine and anti-ballistic missiles. But that's not saying that the internet doesn't make mistakes. Sometimes they are horrible mistakes and sometimes they are simply differences of style. Still, I think the internet needs to take a long, hard look at itself and get its act together. This is particularly noticeable in the realm of news, of which the internet is (thankfully) becoming a significantly more important source. A few of the major points:

1. Stop sticking ads in the middle of news stories
I'm not talking about standard ads--like a dancing cactus trying to sell me car insurance or a flashing orc persuading me to give World of Warcraft a try. I'm talking about actual links that are in the format of a regular sentence (with the appropriate link) so it looks like it's part of the story. I have come across too many news items that do this:

According to the State Department, Al Qaeda and North Korea have joined forces and have purchase massive quantities of sarin gas and dirty bombs and storing them in Kashmir and the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Pakistan and Cuba have both installed generals that have been clkinically declared insane and placed in charge of their respective nuclear programs.

What is the hot new purse Kim Kardashian wore to the AMAs?

Officials state that the chance of survival of the human race five years from now is practically zero.
This needs to stop.

2. Not every news story needs to be a video
I get it that it's awesome that we have this wonderful resource that allows us to do massive amounts of multimedia. It seems a shame to have it be a waste. Yet I can't imagine how many times I wanted to read a story, click on the link, just to see that it's actually a news report I have to watch. To paraphrase Socrates, I don't have time for that shit. I read news on the internet because live reporting is generally very poor, with more emphasis on inflection and cadence than content. Now, that's not always the case and sometimes the visual medium is better, but as a general rule if a story can convey the information in a news story, use words. You can use a video, too, but make it optional.

Add to this that many people can't really watch those on work computers or on their phones and it's just infuriating.

3. When I search for something, don't pretend that there's news about it when there isn't.

Not all search engines do this, but many do. I will type in something obscure, like "How many Mormon butchers are registered voters in Florida?" and the search results will lead off which "NEWS about Mormon butchers who are registered voters in Florida" and for a brief moment I will flip my shit that I might be able to get exactly the information I want right up until the point where I realize that that is false. Turns out that it will give information about Mormons and butchers and registered voters and Florida, but not all in the same article. WHY are you such an info tease, Yahoo!?

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Case Against The Elf On The Shelf

There are a lot of sickening traditions that the world has created and propagated--including but not limited to Honey Boo Boo, Aztec sacrifice, and the Byzantine ridiculousness Western democracies call tipping--but none are nearly as insidiously ingratiating than the Elf on the Shelf.

For those that don't know, the Elf on the Shelf franchise--for now that there is an actual animated movie it can be properly called a "franchise"--centers on the eponymous Elf. The elf, once purchased, is placed somewhere in the house, where he keeps an eye on the children; once they go to bed, the elf magics his way back to the North Pole to submit a report.

Actually, the elf is not so eponymous--an elf's "magic" is created when you name him. Now, if I were an elf and I was (inevitably) named Snutterkins or Honeyfluff the only magic I would be interested in would involve getting drunk and sneaking back before daybreak. You can't run a successful surveillance operation with any sort of seriousness when you are named by a five year old who eats crayon shavings for breakfast.

The fun-and-games part of it is the fact that parents are supposed to hide the elf each night, and the kids are supposed to find it--but whatever you do, don't touch it, because then the elf will lose his magic and not be able to report back to Santa.

Don't ask me why The Elf on the Shelf bothers me so much. Perhaps it's the blatant outsourcing of parental responsibility to a fake mythical creature. Maybe it's the glossing over of a century's worth of Santa Claus-related tradition. Maybe it's the Big-Brother-esque nature of the concept. And maybe it's the fact that in this shitty economy parents are more than willing to shell out thirty American dollars for what amounts to a dime-store children's book and some Malaysian-assembled felt.

(There is also a certain amount of irrational hatred of the fact that the book has, in large, imposing letters on its cover, "A Christmas Tradition," as if that's part of the marketing gimmick to get guilty parents to buy it. Anything that has to specifically be labeled as a "Tradition" probably isn't.)


And so it's marketed as a simple way to keep the kids in check. But here's the problem--there are a lot of logical fallacies in the elf's backstory. For instance, if the elf is hiding, how is he keeping surveillance on the kids? That seems to be a manifestly inefficient way of keeping tabs on the rugrats. Second, if the elf has the supposed magical ability to go to the North Pole and back in a night, why can't they all just "magic" it all from the North Pole, as Santa presumably has done for about a century and a half? And, finally, there is a fatal flaw in the elf mythos: if touching the elf means that he can't report back to Santa, why wouldn't a kid be bad, then touch the elf so he can't tell Santa? I mean now that the elf has been established as the conduit for Santa's information, the weak link is simply to touch the elf and Santa is none the wiser. Then a child can be bad and get presents.*

The thing that makes me the grumpiest, I think, is why this was necessary in the first place. I mean, c'mon: to believe that the original story about a fat man with a red velvet fetish and a dearth of razor blades delivering a world's worth of toys to good children and shafting the bad ones with market-price coal was completely unbelievable, but once an inanimate flap of cotton gets throw in the mix it all makes sense now. There was this burning, gaping hole in the story of Santa Claus that needed to be filled by Bumperfart the Elf. And thirty dollars, American.

*To be fair, it's possible that if Santa does not hear back from an elf at all that he will send a Rambo-esque rescue mission after him, but I doubt Saint Nick has time for that. That sounds more like an Easter bunny thing to me anyway.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Paths Not Taken

Much discussion has been made after this election about the future of the Republican Party. This is the sort of postmortem that occurs after most lost elections, of course, and sometimes it involves some introspective naval-gazing and sometimes it involves an uncoordinated bloodbath of no consequence. A generation ago, the Democratic Party has suffered a grand total of one Presidential win in 24 years--and that was the hapless Jimmy Carter. It took that long for the party as a whole to basically get their shit together to elect Bill Clinton, who was a far cry from the liberal base that Lyndon Johnson has cemented so many decades before.

It's not quite that bad yet for the Republican Party, but I think it's important to look at the future of both parties. While some of this might not make a difference in 2016, nor is anything set in stone, there are real differences (and a further string of evidence that there will never be any sort of "permanent" majority by either party).

For the Republicans:
  • This isn't news, but the Republicans will have to make major inroads into the Hispanic demographic. This is certainly going to be tricky, since Hispanics aren't simply one-issue (i.e., immigration) voters; they tend to be socially conservative and fiscally liberal. There is a danger in embracing populism too much (lest they lose support from other constituencies), so parsing this issue might require blatant pasting of support (nominate and run more Hispanics while tacking to a more pro-immigration stance) while the more nuanced aspects of the demographic are sorted out.
  • As a corollary, it's important to remember that the larger a group is, the more diffuse it becomes. For Hispanics, it may mean that they fracture into two or even three camps: the small business owners, veterans, and Catholics might become Republican, while the younger and more labor-oriented Hispanics might remain Democratic. We already see this happening, but as time goes on it, like so many other demographics, won't act as a base for either party. (This, of course, works both ways.)
  • The litmus test for social issues in general needs to be removed. High-profile platform floor fights that were witnessed this year at the convention are ultimately damaging from a PR perspective. It used to be that platforms were meaningless safety valves to let hard-right or -left delegates vent out their frustrations; platforms don't mean anything and aren't binding, and for decades were never given a second thought. (For example, there were planks on the 2012 GOP platform that Romney did not agree with, but you wouldn't know that from the coverage.) In today's media landscape, however, the platform is front and center, and will now have to be treated as such--and a case can be made that, since it has no practical effect, it may be worth discarding altogether. Republicans can easily frame social issues differently.
  • What about the Tea Party? In some ways, the Tea Party is a scapegoat; it's not like these were people who previously had stayed home on election day. It's just a better-organized collection of a faction within the Republican Party. (Just for the record, there's equivalent factions in the Democratic Party as well.) Most likely they will remain a force, but not anything close to what they were before.
For the Democrats:
  • The temptation is going to be to keep things going the way they have--two solid electoral victories where key swing states became even more blue is probably a good recipe to keep doing. Still, there is a danger in becoming more complacent; after all, the Republicans managed to flip it in 2000 after a solid two elections under Bill Clinton. If the Republicans crack one big demographic--say, Hispanics or single women--the entire formula falls apart. The fact that Congress is as divided as ever means that there isn't a solid majority for either side.
  • Aside from demographics, there are some unique fissures in the Democratic party, almost all under the flash point of labor unions. There are already deep ideological differences between Hispanics and unions (open immigration--i.e., more low-skill and low-wage workers--cause pressure to keep wages down), and the fight between environmentalists and unions is just going to get worse (energy workers in particular will most likely face hard times if Obama's presented policies take effect). 
  • The biggest throwdown is going to be for public sector unions: their pensions, after decades of generous contracts and lackluster oversight, are going to explode rather shortly, and the money just isn't going to be there. This is going to force most workers to dramatically increase their contributions or take pension cuts, neither of which will be a happy time for either side. (And there isn't really any other sort of recourse--the promises made had zero chance of being feasible.) Of course, the Democratic Party has counted on this constituency and holds pretty much all the places of power to deal with the public sector, so when the shit hits the fan there is literally only Party to place blame. Unions and environmentalists aren't going to be voting Republican anytime soon, but this is the exact sort of thing that causes them to stay home. 
So what will happen in the next few elections? While Democrats have certainly made gains in both the South and the West, the Republicans have been surprisingly successful the past two years in New England. Despite the huge wins for Obama in 2012, states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are still very close, where only a shift in 2 or 3 percent will flip it. About the only state that is no longer a swing state after the past three elections is New Mexico, which Obama won handily by 10 points (although this was surely skewed by the presence of Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate who was a former governor of that state).

What should each side do? The Democrat's job is simpler (although not necessarily easier): hold on to those demographics they have managed to win the last two times: single women, Hispanics, and suburbanites. The Republicans is more complicated, since it will involve balancing different constituencies. The most lucrative tack is probably to dial back on many social issues so they don't scare away those demographics they used to win handily, but also should start poaching in New England and western states; both of these areas seem to prefer fiscally conservative and socially moderate Republicans, and making them more plentiful will let them win seats in sympathetic states like New Hampshire, Maine, Colorado, and even (maybe) places like Oregon and Connecticut. The map won't change much, but it will certainly change as elections continue. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Pixel Best

Time magazine recently ran an article detailing the best 100 video games of all time.

Lists done by magazines are almost always done to create controversy, while readers debate what should and should not have been added to the list, and discussing the merits of each. Thankfully, this list is not ranked; ranked lists often add an extra layer of artificial controversy while people debate about whether something should be #56 or #57 on a list of 100.

Still, this list is reasonably (and surprisingly) solid, although I would think they should rename it "most influential"--most of the early games (like Pong) aren't even close to being the "best games ever."  I really would only change some of the similar games (for example, I would place Maniac Mansion instead of Grim Fandango, even though they are both excellent games). And I don't quite get how the sequels are incorporated into the game; in some write-ups the game represents the entire franchise (King's Quest is a proxy for all King's Quest games) while others are about a specifically sequel (say, Half-Life 2).

There's also the problem of platform abuse: it's hard to compare, say, Civilization on the PC, Goldeneye 007 on a console, and Angry Birds on your iPhone. Yeah, they're all games, but the creations are almost too different to compare properly. Also I'm not sure that Solitaire really counts.

Things sort of fall apart towards the end, as the multitude of platforms fracture the list beyond comprehension. I've never even heard of a lot of these games even though I'm fairly well-versed in popular video game releases. And there are some glaring omissions, such as Fallout 3. And there doesn't appear to be more than one real-time strategy game in the mix--a genre that dominated PC gaming (think Command and Conquer and Age of Empiresfor about three years--which is laughable. (The comments also seem to be lamenting the fact that Minecraft isn't listed, but I don't know enough about the game to say much.)  (Also: no Pokemon? Really?) Still, it's an interesting read, especially for younger gamers who aren't familiar with the arcade and computer games of the 70's and 80's.


Friday, November 23, 2012

And They're Off!

It's not entirely unusual to start jockeying for the White House only days after the election, and this time was no exception. Of course, four years is a long time, and the names that were batted around in 2008 and 2004 and 2000 ended up not meaning a whole lot, so don't take too much stock in what's being talked about now. Still, why not do some baseless speculation?

For the Republicans, they benefit from having a huge pool of politicians. The winners in 2010 and even 2008 have now gained enough experience and political capital to be contenders, and the disaster of the Romney campaign has flushed a lot of the old guard out. Still, the names that keep resurfacing for the GOP--namely, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindall, and Chris Christie--bode well for those looking for change in the GOP. Christie and Jindall predate the Tea Party movement, and while Rubio has certainly benefited from their support he never properly signed on to the movement. While they all hold traditional Republican positions, there's enough diversity in their political pedigree (Christie is a moderate, while Jindall has had years of hands-on management of a disaster-ridden state) to be actively different. Rubio is still early in his senate career, so there's plenty of opportunity for growth (and disaster, of course), but the demographics (Florida + Hispanic) suit him perfectly.

I'll throw my own names in there, namely Nikki Haley and Kelly Ayotte. Haley is the Governor of South Carolina, and a decent if unremarkable choice. She still has some proving to do during her tenure, which has been quiet and lackluster so far. Ayotte, a current Senator from New Hampshire, is a solid, moderate Republican but has little name recognition. Aside from that, very few of the candidates--potential or otherwise--from the last election will appeal to many next election cycle, with the exception of Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, or John Thune. All are solid, uncontroversial conservatives (and, in Huntsman's case, appealingly moderate). Anyone else that will probably run, such as Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, or Paul Ryan, will probably be successful; if none of the new upstarts are unable to get a quick foothold these stalwarts will be an early favorite.

The wild card for the Republicans is going to be Rand Paul. He clearly has presidential aspirations, and he's a clear beneficiary of the Tea Party. And yet he doesn't quite fit the conservative template. His position on gay marriage is the same as Obama's (he wants to let the states decide) and he routinely is the voice of opposition for defense spending and the drug war, both cause celebres of conservatives. He also holds many positions much more libertarian than conservative. However, many of his other positions--which he would call "nuanced" but everyone else calls "controversial"--probably will mean he has no political future. (For example, his position on private property trumping the Civil Rights Act of 1964 sounds reasonable in an academic sense, but it will take a rival politician seconds to simply call him--with some political justification--a racist.)

The Democrats are a little less interesting; most likely Biden will run (and probably win); if he chooses not to, for whatever reason, Hillary Clinton will instead. (It's always possible, of course, that Hillary runs regardless.)  Both are moderate Democrats, but both are probably too old to run in 2020 so there may be some keen competition between the two. There is a pretty good chance that a young upstart will also run--even if they lose, they'll force the party more to the left and will easily make a name for themselves. That person probably hasn't seen their political fortunes rise just yet, although Julian Castro (mayor of San Antonio), Cory Booker (mayor of Newark), and Elizabeth Warren (Senator-elect of Massachusetts) are good potential candidates. However, none have been around long enough (or a high enough office) to really make a proper impact.

Obviously, everything will change in four years, so don't follow things too terribly closely. Still, place your bets now.