Monday, December 9, 2013

Vote Now! The 2013 Miserable Crank Awards: Day One

It's time for the 4th annual Miserable Crank awards, where we determine the worst events of the year!

(Below are the votes for Government, Technology, Sports, and Embarrassment. The second day of voting, for Business, Popular Trends, and Incidents, can be found here. The third day of voting, for Entertainment, Personality, and Inconvenience, can be found here. And the vote for the overall worst event can be found here.)

There are a few changes this year. There is a new category: Technology. In previous years, technology was more or less covered under business. However, businesses have been doing a bang-up job of jacking things up all on their own, so we've split the category up. This gives us a nice, even 10 categories total (plus the final Award, for a total of 11 votes). In addition, I've changed the "Worst Event" category to "Worst Incident." "Event" sounds like it could be anything on this list, while it's supposed to be reserved for things like disasters or major news stories. 

I've also removed the overly-long category titles (that joke has old before I even started this four years ago), although you can still read them in the category headings.

Like last year, we'll be splitting up the voting over four days: four categories today and then three for the next two days, then one final vote on Thursday. Hopefully, this makes things a little more readable. (Just so you know, I don't break it up like this to increase page views; I did it in response to previous years. I received feedback that it's easier to digest having a few categories a day instead of trying to read all 50 entries at once.)

The categories are:
  • Worst Person
  • Worst Business Decision
  • Worst Entertainment
  • Worst Government Decision
  • Worst Embarrassment 
  • Worst Sports Event
  • Worst Inconvenience
  • Worst Popular Trend
  • Worst Incident
  • New! Worst Technological Advance
Simply vote for one candidate in each category. Then, you can vote again for any one event as the "Worst Thing About 2013" on day four. On that day, you can vote for the same candidate as you had in the past 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 19th. The results will be posted the following Monday.

Here are the candidates.

 Government Shutdown
Americans are notorious for complaining about the government right up until the point when they need it. In a completely manufactured crisis, caused by [insert your own political beliefs here], Congress and the President could not agree on a budget, and so after weeks of negotiation the non-essential functions of the government shut down. While there was a lot of noise and fuss and crankiness about services not being processed, by and large the impact of most citizens outside of those going to national parks was fairly minimal. Still, for a nation that hates its government so much, regardless of party, they get particularly angry when it stops doing things that in the end are at most mildly important.

NSA Spying Scandal
I have absolutely nothing snarky to say about the revelations that the National Security Agency has been spying on American citizens, or at least their metadata, without a warrant. Nothing, I say. If you guys at the NSA need that in writing, just check my email.

Sochi Olympics Anti-Gay Laws
No one has ever accused the Russians of being soft and cuddly. Their entire culture is pretty much predicated on the idea that being a cold, heartless bastard was a benefit. Hey, I guess someone has to play the heavy; might as well be the country that literally lives in an icebox and has had all emotion drained out of them, Dalek-style, through eighty years of communism. So when the Russian city of Sochi was awarded the Winter Olympics, diplomats worldwide thought this would be a great chance for Russia to show its positive side. Instead, Russia promptly passed an anti-gay law, stating that homosexuals weren't going to be able to enter or compete in the Olympics. After backpedaling a bit (but not really), calls for boycott and a huge demerit on their international reputation remain that no amount of gold medals in skeet shooting or vodka-chugging can solve.

The Health Care Website
President Obama's signature moment in office--the passage of the Affordable Care Act--hinged quite precariously on what is known as the health care exchange, a place where people without health insurance can go online and purchase a health care plan. This was important for a variety of reasons--it was the only way the whole system was going to work, and people were to be penalized if they didn't. Given this thought, one would think that the government (and the Obama administration specifically) would have put a little bit of effort in making sure that the one single thing that could torpedo his entire legacy could, you know, work. However, no one--even the President--should ever underestimate the power of the government to jack things up. After an anemic October and an excuse-filled November, things seemed to be more or less on track in December--although (as of this writing) signups are still embarrassingly low. Even if it all works out, it was an incredible mess for something that should have worked pretty well from day one.

IRS Targets Tea Party
No one really likes the IRS. Americans generally hate taxes, so they are more than willing to shoot the messenger (in some cases, literally). It's all a bit silly, of course; the IRS just collects the money. They don't set tax rates or make the policy or spend the money wastefully; they're just accountants trying to do their job. So when it turns out that the IRS was, in fact, targeting specific political groups for audits--in this case, various branches of the Tea Party--it infuriates people. It turned the IRS--an ostensibly neutral organization--into an arm of a political ideology; and it played into the hands of the exact sort of groups that always thought the IRS was only a few steps above the Illuminati and the Bilderburgers in tinfoil hat rankings.

Facebook Graph Search

Another year, another two dozen changes to Facebook's privacy conditions. Facebook initiated a new search function on their web site which makes it easier to find results using "contextual" cues, which I assume more or less amounts to creating a smarter algorithm to find out who your ex-girlfriend is having sex with now. Of course, as with all things Facebook, the new change ended up shifting all of the things people have set to private on their accounts to public, forcing everyone to once again change everything on their page before their boss finds out they were doing wheatgrass whiskey shooters last Monday instead of staying home sick.


Reddit Misnames Suspect

Everyone loves a mystery. Not everyone, it turns out, loves it when you accuse the wrong person of being a terrorist. The web site Reddit, heretofore not exactly known for their impressive deductive skills (and more for their cat-loving, society-hating meme perpetuators), decided to take up the task of finding the Boston Bomber in a sort of "crowdsourcing" version of what professional homicide detectives do for a living. Using the surveillance photos and tapes provided by the Boston police department--along with plenty of private photos and made-up speculation--they were able to finger one man, Sunil Tripathi, as the suspect. Except, you know, it wasn't. College student Tripathi has been missing for about a month, and some lazy armchair sleuths on Reddit put two and two together and got negative infinity. Aside from putting the family through immense amounts of pain (their son was found dead a week or so later after the misidentification) it also garbled up the search for the real killer. Reddit sent some free pizza to the family of the wrongfully accused, though, so now it's all cool.

XBox One

Next generation consoles are always a big deal; video games are big business, and the companies who make the systems know that it's a hard-fought battle for the dollars of the gaming public. So when Microsoft, the creator of the XBox system, released their newest version (XBox One), there was a mighty backlash. The new policies included having an "always on" catch for gaming (so if you were without internet, you couldn't play, even if you were playing solo); an inability to sell or give your games to anyone else once purchased; and a motion-sensor camera that could never be turned off (and, with recent news about the NSA spying scandal and Microsoft's complicity in providing information to the government, made it all the more creepy). In a spectacular way, Microsoft had somehow managed to draw distinct parallels between the government's liberty-destroying policies and being able to shoot virtual zombies on the weekend without being slightly inconvenienced. Needless to say, consumers were wildly offended by the entire announcement. The backlash was such that they revised or reversed many of these policy decisions, but not before a lot of bad press.

Laboratory Meat

Meat substitutes have always had a bad reputation. Usually, with good reason, since most fake meat tastes like pre-chewed processed cardboard with red coloring added for ambiance. Even by adding condiments, such as guiltless self-pretentiousness, it never really tasted very good, and vegans were forced to eat peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast or face a protein-deficient lifestyle. Dutch scientists have come up with...well, it's not exactly meat, but it's not not meat, either. (If you want to know, Wikipedia claims it's "an animal-flesh product that has never been part of a living animal with exception of the fetal calf serum taken from a slaughtered bred cow," if that makes you feel any better.) While there are still some ethical concerns, if successful it should prove to help aid in hunger, reduce livestock issues, and (most importantly) get vegetarians to just shut up about it already.

YouTube Comments

There are few places on the internet that are more horrid than YouTube comments. If you needed to set a trap to capture the world's stupidest, most racist citizens, inviting them to comment openly on a YouTube video is probably the most efficient way of doing so. Google, who owns YouTube, decided to solve two problems at once: force people to log in to Google Plus in order to comment on YouTube. This would make people not only comment anonymously, but it would also force people to sign up with Google's fledgling social media network. While a lot of users grumbled about having to sign up for a (admittedly free) service they don't really want, the fact that going to YouTube no longer wants to make people take cyanide pills probably means that it was a good, if ham-fisted and poorly executed, idea.

Manti Te'o's Fake Girlfriend 
Hey, who among us hasn't been catfished once or twice? Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o had spent his Heisman-level senior year repeatedly dedicating his success on the playing field to his sick, and eventually dead, girlfriend. It made for great press and garnered a lot of sympathy...right up until the point that it was revealed that it was all faked. That's right, the girl he was so in love with and yet never met in real life turned out to be an elaborate, soul-crushing hoax. The saddest part about this whole ordeal is that at the end of it all he suffered the indignity of being drafted by the San Diego Chargers.


Aaron Hernandez

Football players are a notoriously violent bunch. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made a point of increasing the penalties due to "personal behavior" infractions, including those not related to the actual playing of football. Usually this is embarrassing stuff, the stuff like drugs or domestic violence that you or I would be thrown in jail for in a heartbeat but mysteriously turns into "just another thing" when it's a football player with a huge contract. Of course, there's a limit to the sort of things one can get away with, as New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez found out the hard way. This season, he was indicted for murder and it currently being investigated for multiple other murders. Helpfully, he is currently listed as a free agent, although I'm sure the definition of "free" is pretty fluid.

A-Rod Absolutely Did Not Do Any Drugs

One of major league baseball's biggest stars (and thus, by law, plays for the Yankees), Aaron Rodriguez has his share of admirers and detractors. However, the ongoing drug abuse scandal in baseball (mostly dealing with steroids and other performance enhancing drugs such as HGH) finally caught up with him. After denying that he's ever used such drugs, then testing positive, then helping aid in the cover-up, then finally getting banned for 211 games, A-Rod still continues to play while his suspension is under appeal. Of course, thanks to how the players' union and contracts in the MLB are set up, he'll still collect a paycheck, worth around $80 million or so, while he's suspended. Man, Major League Baseball, you sure showed him!

Miami Dolphins Bullying

Football players have a certain fellowship with each other. They win together, they lose together, they perjure each other when they get arrested for sexual battery charges together. So when there is a tale of discord in the locker room, it's usually a pretty big deal. Sure, there are plenty of egos and competition for playing time, but in the end they are a team. When Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins abruptly quit the team, stating that his working conditions had become emotionally intolerable, it raised a few eyebrows. When the details emerged--fellow teammate Richie Incognito (not his real name--oh, wait, yes it is) had been harassing him (or, if you prefer the current redefined to the point of meaninglessness buzzword, "bullied")--Incognito was suspended. This went from simple shenanigans like leaving cafeteria tables when Martin sat down to the slightly more irritating threatening to kill his mom. Bullying has now become an official thing in the NFL, which will ultimately result in a random month being picked where all the players in the NFL can pick a color to wear on their jerseys to provide Awareness Against Bullying, and then they can all sleep better each night on a huge sack of money they earned by beating the shit out of each other.

Mike Rice

High school sports are pretty rough environments--there's lot of anger, hormones, and rage being channeled by the kids. College sports are even more so, since there's a lot more at stake (and, usually, a lot more anger, rage, and hormones). It takes a particular sort of coaching style to be able to handle these volatile students, whether it's a mixture of tough love and encouragement, or the fortitude to tell someone that they just aren't good enough. Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice had his own particular style, which basically boiled down to throwing basketballs at kids' heads and cursing at them like a sailor who just stubbed his toe while starring in a role on Deadwood and internally suppressing his rage-fueled daddy issues (I assume). Needless to say, he was fired; with that resume, the only job he can get now is with the Dolphins.

Anthony Weiner

Everyone more or less thought that Anthony Weiner, the New York member (har) of congress who had to resign a few years ago after sending pictures of his junk to random women, was going to go away. Not so! In fact, he came back swinging (heh) in a race for the New York City mayorship. His campaign started off slow, but eventually as his poll numbers started to rise (snort), he decided it would be the best time to, once again, send even more pictures of his crotch to women. Only this time he was trying to sway Hispanic votes by naming his dong "Carlos Danger." I'm particularly annoyed by Weiner's antics because he has forced me to type the word "dong." Twice, now.


Cover Of The Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone magazine has always teetered on that fine line between fantastic journalism and being about barely one step above a mimeographed fanzine about how they are the first 13 year old ever to understand the lyrics in Houses of the Holy. And they've never shied away from controversy--and, in many cases, rightfully so. Still, the magazine took some heat when they ran what more or less amounted to a Glamour Shot of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the people allegedly responsible for the Boston bombing. It was a picture not unlike how they would portray, say, a young Bob Dylan, or a basket full of puppies, or President Obama (all of which, I'm certain, are functionally equivalent in the dreamworld utopia of the Rolling Stone editors). Hunter S. Thompson would be proud. Or not. I'm not sure; he was kind of crazy.

Fast Food Worker Strike

Oh, don't get me wrong--I know working in retail, especially fast food, sucks. We've all done it, and it's a dirty, unfulfilling job. Still, it's unskilled work that requires minimal education and creates very little productivity, and it's pretty much designed to be thankless, entry-level work. So when unions organized a strike amongst fast food workers in places like New York, most people find it difficult to generate a whole lot of sympathy. Sure, it sucks when grown men and women have to sling greasy burgers to make ends meet, but the vast majority of workers are not grown men, but teenagers and temporary workers. The whole thing would have been merely a blip had they not been striking for the princely sum of $15 an hour, an absurd amount even in the high-priced confined of the Big Apple.There was a lot of eye-rolling over cashiers demanding more money than many people whose jobs require degrees, cementing how little the strikers know about economics, the nature of their jobs, or the world in general.


The flagship icon of the self-absorbed narcissistic social media environment we’ve created for ourselves, the “selfie”—a kindergarten-level slang word to represent what one would normally call a “self-portrait,” only usually done in a mirror taken with a cell phone, sporting a duckface expression, and done in a filthy bathroom filled with sadly informative toiletries—has become so ingrained in our culture that it’s now A Word In The Dictionary (tm). About the only thing one can say is that at least it’s not random pictures of people’s food.


OK, so it's not really all that fair to throw an entire generation under the bus, and there's always that bone-dusting trace of "every generation is worse" about the sentiment (as I wave my cane and suck on my Werther's), but there are several unique challenges for the Millennials. Every young generation is full of horrible ideas that are pretty lame, act ungrateful, and think they know everything. But the Millennials are the first generation that is inexplicably proud to post all of this, publicly, online, and constantly on social media. Everyone--including myself--was an embarrassment when they were young--heck, even the Greatest Generation no doubt annoyed their parents by scampering about in the soup lines and fussing about the "right to vote." But at least previous generations had the good graces to keep their horrible ideas more or less to themselves.  

[Voting is now closed.]

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