Monday, December 5, 2016

Vote Now! The 2016 Miserable Crank Awards: Day One

It's time for the 7th annual Miserable Crank awards, where we determine the worst events of the year!

The categories are:
  • Worst Government Decision 
  • Worst Technological Advance
  • Worst Sports Event
  • Worst Embarrassment
  • Worst Business Decision
  • Worst Popular Trend
  • Worst Incident
  • Worst Entertainment
  • Worst Person
  • Worst Inconvenience
Simply vote for one candidate in each category over the next three days. Then, you can vote again for any one event as the "Worst Thing About 2016" 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 of the candidates are appropriate.

(The second day of voting is for Business, Popular Trends, and Incidents.The third day of voting is for Entertainment, Person, and Inconvenience.)

Voting will end on Thursday, December 15th. The results will be posted the following Monday.

 Venezuela. Just...Venezuela
Everything about Venezuela is not great right now. Food shortages, rampant inflation, riots...everything you've ever heard about a failed state is happening right now in Venezuela. There's plenty of blame to go around--about two decades of flat-out socialism takes up the lion's share--and none of the solutions are easy. The usual solutions generally boil down to "Send in the Marines, causing resentment and creating future terrorists" and "Leave it alone, causing resentment and creating future terrorists," so we'll see how that goes.

 "Have a vote," they said. "There's no way the UK will leave the European Union," they said, right up until the point where the UK did exactly that. Frustrations over political control, immigration, and economic stagnation reached a boiling point as voters decided to leave the EU--a shocking outcome that will most likely have long-term economic ramifications. Thank goodness America would never make some boneheaded decision like that! 

Supreme Court Vacancy 
 After the untimely but not exactly unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, long the court's conservative bulwark, early in the year, most people expected the process to unfold like it normally does: the President nominates a perfectly acceptable candidate, everyone freaks out about everything while a whole Congressional Opera goes on, and then they get confirmed in an anticlimactic vote. Not this time, though; congressional Republicans, sensing blood in the water, declared this to be uncharted territory. Supreme court vacancies aren't typically filled during an election year (mostly because Supreme Court justices usually have the good grace to not die at inconvenient times), and so they decided to use the Presidential election as a referendum on the court--you know, the exact sort of political influence that's not supposed to happen between branches.

Panama Papers 
 Rich people hate to pay taxes. Who knew? An anonymous source leaked a few decades' worth of financial and legal papers primarily dealing with certain offshore accounts, which are one of Panama's leading exports. While perfectly legal, they're hugely embarrassing, as a handful of relatively important politicians from around the world were found to be taking advantage of their lax reporting requirements. (Strangely, the US was largely absent. Mostly because the US is its own offshore account.) The leak was controversial--a lot of the documents were covered by the equivalent of attorney-client privilege, making them useless in most legal proceedings. 

Flint Water Crisis 
After Flint, Michigan went under emergency management after years of fiscal disaster, one of the decisions was to change the source of the city's water supply. That decision in and of itself wasn't particularly controversial or bad; however, the water was supposed to have been treated differently to accommodate Flint's aging pipes. As anyone who has ever dealt with a government bureaucracy could figure out, this never happened; the result was a water supply poisoned with lead. And since the water wasn't treated, the coating on the pipes had wore away, making it next to impossible to use the lines, necessitating either extensive (and expensive) treatment or extensive (and expensive) replacement. Whether the crisis was precipitated by simple greed, gross incompetence, criminal miscommunication, or (most likely) some combination of all three is still being determined.

Microsoft AI Tweetbot
Progress is not without its risks, right? Microsoft decided to test the waters by launching a twitter account, named Tay, run by what was effectively an artificial intelligence. More accurately, it was designed to "learn" through public conversations on how to respond to and initiate conversations. It took all of a day for it to become a dirty-talking Hitler-loving embarrassment, after which it ran for President. I, for one, can't wait for the singularity. 

 Galaxy Note 7 
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was one of the hottest new gadgets to be launched this year. No, really, it was literally the hottest, as in it would routinely catch fire. Okay, maybe "routinely" is a bit unfair, but the reports of the battery generating excessive heat and on occasion bursting into flame were alarmingly common. Samsung ended up having their chance of what could have conceivably been an iPhone killer go up in smoke. (Sorry.) 

Yahoo Email Breach
 Another year, another email hacking story. This time, troubled company Yahoo was the target, but this time was a little different--the numbers were staggering. Over 500 million accounts were conceivably hacked, and a non-trivial number of those--like, a thousand or so--weren't started ten years ago just to sign up for fantasy football and then immediately forgotten. 

 Wikileaks is still at it--this time, releasing information on a variety of topics. Most notably, they threw a wrench into the 2016 Presidential Election, as documents and emails about then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concerning the Iraq War, the inside mechanizations of the Democratic National Committee, and internal emails to Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta all were released before the election, causing no shortage of embarrassment. One almost misses the day when controversial conversations were conducted drunk in the sidewalk outside of a bar in DC.

Pokemon Go 
One of the summer's greatest trends, Pokemon Go--an adaptation of the classic game of wasting money and weird-ass cartoons--was launched and quickly became overloaded. Users could download the game on their phones, and then use location-based services to catch Pokemon strategically placed around your living space. A lot of credit is due for getting kids and adults alike to get out and get some fresh air, but at the end of the day everyone is chasing pixels. Gotta Catch 'Em All! And by "'Em" we mean "an impending sense of worthlessness."

Johnny Manziel
 Manziel was the rising star in the National Football League a few seasons ago. Drafted into the lowly Cleveland Browns, he played solidly if inconsistently. The Browns would take what they could get, but Manziel's off-field antics managed to get more headlines than his underwhelming performance. This year, things came to a head: his marketing agency dumped him, he was being investigated for domestic violence, he was suspected of being on drugs, and his agent fired him--thereby somehow making his nickname "Johnny Football," supposedly the epitome of pro football, non-ironic, ironic, and then non-ironic again. On the bright side, he doesn't play for the Browns anymore. 

Rio Olympics
 As usual, the Olympics was a bit of a shitshow this year. I say "as usual," because the Olympics tend to be held in places that aren't exactly ready for a huge undertaking like the Olympics. Rio de Janeiro was no different. Not only did the growing threat of Zika cause a lot of international travelers a non-trivial amount of grief, but there were plenty of concerns over the quality of the water (which, you know, was going to be used in swimming events) and a bike trail collapsed (which, you know--well, you can figure it out). All of this was under the cloud of a massive political scandal involving (surprise!) the state-controlled oil company, making quick resolutions to these issues problematic. 

Ryan Lochte
 One of the main concerns of the Olympians was being safe--Rio being a bit of a cluster of rampant street crime, even as the Olympics began. So it wasn't a huge shock when swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed to have been robbed (along with some fellow athletes) at gunpoint while out for the night. Of course, the story very quickly started to unravel, as it turns out the "robbers" were "security guards" who were accosting Lochte and his teammates for public urination and the destruction of property--basically, blaming their likely drunken shenanigans on the failing state of Brazil. Brazilians were not exactly thrilled, and it was no small matter to get out of jail and their passports back--no one said the word bribe, because, you know, that would be embarrassing. 

Colin Kaepernick 
Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, gained a lot of attention earlier this year when he protested recent civil rights issues by not standing for the National Anthem. Reactions tended to be mixed--the 49ers, and many veterans and football players, respected his right to protest, while others felt that it was neither the time nor the place, especially during ceremonies that honored veterans that had little to do with race relations. Kaepernick's favor started to fall a little more after declaring he wasn't going to vote, and further still when he praised Fidel Castro. Many people contend that Kaepernick should be protesting the fact that for some reason San Francisco has a football team.

Leicester City
 You know every single stupid after school movie about sports? About how the scrappy, horrible team somehow manages--usually though a series of inspirational speeches and a hard-at-work montage--to beat the Big Bad Rivals to win the Championship? And how in real life that never, ever works because of money and bullshit? Well, somehow, amazingly, the oft-overlooked Leicester City F.C. managed to win the Premier League, one of the top-level soccer championships. At one point, the chance of them winning was 5000:1. If you're not familiar with European soccer or don't care about gambling, a good analogy was if Air Bud won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

The Aleppo Moment
 This was going to be the Libertarian Party's year--two historically unliked candidates were running, there was a decided shift in public attitudes about things such as marijuana, and both major candidates seemed to have ran on relatively niche and unpopular platforms. Enter Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and the 2012 candidate. While hopes were already inflated, Johnson polled at a relatively impressive 10-13% throughout the campaign--that is, until he was frozen out of the debates. More embarrassing, however, was his "Aleppo Moment," where he (seemingly) had no idea what an "Aleppo" was (it's Syria's largest city, for those keeping score at home). While he claimed to have thought it was an acronym since the reporter had abruptly changed subjects, the damage was done--it ended up being the only sound bite to get any traction on the news. 

Bison Kidnapping
  Kids, leave the important stuff to the professionals. Two Yellowstone tourists came across what appeared to be a cold baby bison. They did what anyone would do in such a situation--kidnap it and shove it in their SUV. And when told to release it by park rangers--you know, because it's a baby and it's a bison and it's Wyoming--they received a ticket. Sadly, the bison later had to be euthanized because the mother rejected it since it got to ride in the back of a sweet Jeep Grand Cherokee. 

Militia Takeover In Oregon
Oh, the Pacific Northwest. Never change. A group of militia members took over a bird sanctuary in eastern Oregon in protest of the Bureau of Land Management's practices in the area. There's always been friction between the BLM (not that one, the other one) and a lot of the ranchers, hunters, and other landowners throughout the entire west, but this was a full-scale takeover of federal land. After a few of the members left to get snacks (that's not a joke), and one of the leaders shot and killed when he appeared to reach for a weapon, the takeover eventually dispersed, with most being arrested. They were eventually acquitted and (presumably) got snacks. 

Boaty McBoatface 
When the UK government let the public vote on the name of one of their new research vessels, most people proposed a lot of names recognizing important members of the scientific research and nautical communities. Ha! Just kidding. In the only time a public vote in the UK would go wrong this year, the top name was Boaty McBoatface. The minister in charge eventually came up with a decent compromise, naming the vessel after a more appropriate concept (Sir David Attenborough) and the Boaty McBoatface moniker was given to the remote-controlled submersibles. 

 Bob Dylan Rejecting His Nobel
 The Nobel Committee announced this year that Bob Dylan, famed folk singer, had won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, largely for his poetry in the form of songwriting--an unprecedented feat, especially since experts generally define his style as "chylffgh kdffheeeeer". Dylan responded with--well, he didn't respond. At all. The Nobel Committee had to publicly shame him into acknowledging his prize, which he seemed to be perplexed over; at one point, any mention of the prize was scrubbed from his web site. He eventually accepted, although declined to attend the ceremony, which presumably conflicted an appointment he had at 4:20. 

[Voting is now closed.]

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