For sheer gonzo journalistic activism, John Oliver surpassed his mentor John Stewart (now in full "elder statesman" mode, post-retirement) in the first year of his solo spin-off show. This year, his reporting (because what else can we call it, even if the ostensible aim is to make us laugh?) upped the ante with a move so bold, powerful and disruptive it should immediately be adopted as a blueprint for any post-bureaucratic, crowd-funded and -sourced social justice movements that aren't using it already (see also the Occupy Wallstreet movement). In other words, as some reported it, the man out-gifted motherfucking Oprah!).
4. Vincent Van Gogh Visits the Gallery - Doctor Who Series 5
I haven't watched Doctor Who since I was a wee child visiting my Dad's side of the family outside of Toronto. Wide awake with jet lag the first few nights, I would stay up late after everyone else had gone to bed, watching TV in my grandparents' wood paneled rec room, watched over by a set of matching leather recliners covered in crocheted throw blankets. I'd take my plate of Christmas tree cookies (you know the ones with the pastel green icing and ornaments made of those little round silver candy balls? Aww, yeah...), curl up on the plaid fold-out couch and watch hours of strangely foreign television, two remote controls and the TV guide section of the Toronto Sun close at hand. You had to cross-reference every TV listing against a card my grandparents kept next to the remotes to translate all the Toronto channels into their corresponding Oakville or Burlington affiliate. This was back when TVs had two dials, so if you wanted to watch the one UHF channel that actually broadcast something, you had to get up and switch it manually because the remote control couldn't do that. Also, I am a thousand years old. Anyway. I can vaguely remember watching Doctor Who at some ungodly hour and, as a result, drifting in and out of consciousness. This was back in the day when the Doctor was a super tall white dude with an afro and a long knitted scarf. The beginning of the show had this crazy music and psychedelic animations that looked like someone's idea of an acid trip. My search for that exact intro took me down a rabbit hole that I don't think I'll transcribe for you, but it did bring back this video showing an episode of The Polka Dot Door, which seemed to be the only "kid" show that was ever on television when I visited my dad—try not to get too depressed thinking about that as you watch it—followed without commercial break by the sudden appearance of scary acid flashback space tunnel Zzzzeeewwwnnnananana theme song. Hello kids! Naptime is ovvverrrrrr. I'm pretty sure this viewing experience contributed to my early impressions of Canada—the eastern Canada of my dad's side of the family anyway—as this strangely displaced sort of time capsule, like a snow globe of mid-century Suburbia.
British filmmaker Adam Curtis released his latest documentary for the BBC in October.
6. Former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan's short video histories of BC, including Three Waves of Urban Reform in Vancouver and his TEDx talk, The History of British Columbia. This 14-minute video on the origins of my province, delivered in Vancouver by one of our former mayors, is not only an absolutely riveting history lesson; it actually taught me more about Canadian history than I learned in all my years of formal education in the United States.
7. The Future of Cities
Without a doubt, the most optimistic and uplifting video you could hope to find with an ominous-sounding title like that... And if that's too optimistic and "science/the slums will save us" for you, then maybe you'd rather stick with the Cities of Doom version? (That's right here, thanks to The Intercept, and it's by the same folks who brought us every US war ever.
Did you know that gay Russian vampire sex opera was a thing? Me neither, and yet there it is, in all its glory—mmrowr. You can find a few morsels on the historic production of "Les Bonnes" (translation: The Maids) and its director Roman Viktyuk, but unfortunately you'll need a good Russian translator to learn much more than the basics.
This is the final video on my Best of 2016 list, but it's certainly not the least-best. It's just the last one I saw this year, the day after Christmas, and it seemed a more than fitting way to close out the year, the list and everything that was 2016.
If you've watched the first epic season of Westworld, this chronologically ironed-out supercut is a nice refresher and, for the first 30 or 40 minutes anyway, is actually pretty helpful. Even those of you who made it all the way to the end of episode 10 secure in the knowledge that you were following along with every twist, turn and time-jump, I guarantee you'll see something in the Outline's version that makes you go, "oh, that scene... okay, I get it now." They've squeezed everything into just 95 minutes, but you might find yourself wishing the "yadda yadda'd" parts were speeding by just a little bit slower. And while we're on the topic of Westworld...
Best Feature Wall for the CEO whose Corner Office you Can Have When You Pry it From his Cold, Dead Hands 2016
No doubt about it, this is the feature wall you want to be standing in front of when you have to deliver ultimatums and thinly veiled (or naked) threats to your hapless underlings. It's in the same general design milieu as Hannibal's ever-so-ironic "living wall," a tiered concrete herb garden that somehow amplified the menace of the black-paneled dining room.
While one says, "I'd love to have you both for dinner some time," the other says, "Get in my way and I'll have you replaced by a bot (unless I already have?)..." It only occurred to me halfway through this that I was in fact comparing the two Hannibals. (And so it goes.)
Best Films of 2016(-ish)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Straight Outa Compton
Dallas Buyers Club
The Big Short
Where to Invade Next
Edge of Tomorrow
Best Film of 2016 Compared to How Bad its Reviews Were
For a highly-anticipated comic book adaptation summer blockbuster featuring an impressive lineup of Hollywood shoulda-known-betters, Suicide Squad attracted more than its fair share of derision and hand-wringing this year. The first half of the movie is spent introducing twice as many characters as we really need in a string of expositional flashbacks set to loud-ass classic rock and hip hop songs accompanied by machine gun fire. (I get it.. the aggressively disjointed soundtrack is supposed to symbolize how they're this motley grab bag of characters thrown together by circumstance, not a "team" in any way (the better to juxtapose against their cooperation later, yo—it's poignant). Yeah. In execution, it reads more like someone traded an old pillowcase full of cash for however many singles from a bargain bin on the sidewalk labelled "basketball game intermission music" (I don't care if it's called an intermission).)
The second half of the movie—or whatever time we have left after all 597 characters have been introduced) is what you've come to expect. CGI-car/stairwell/helicopter chase, sets riddled with thousands of bullets, not one of which hits the good guys, various bad guys' henchmen's heads exploding, and a final conflagration of fire, CGI effects, a debris tornado and a heroic act of self-sacrifice/hail Mary pass enabling the good guys to pick themselves up, dust off the rubble and hug/kiss/fist bump "yay, team" as the camera pans skyward to... the big reveal setting us up for a sequel. I mean really, people... it's not climate science. Suicide Squad was no worse than any other comic book movie made in the last decade (well, obviously it was worse than Deadpool). It was a hell of a lot better than Batman v. fucking Superman (not to be confused with "Batman Fucking Superman," which I for one think would have been a much better movie). I mean, how is it that I've even seen that piece of shit movie?! If nothing else, Suicide Squad has Will Smith, Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Joel Kinnamen... Even if you somehow don't care for Will Smith, statistically speaking, you must like one of them. I feel like anyone who hated Suicide Squad couldn't possibly have seen X-Men: Apocalypse. As always, though, How it Should Have Ended provides the definitive last word.
Worst Film of 2016
X-Men: Apocalypse (Frumpy Jean Grey and Cyclops at the height of teenage awkwardness when boys are never attractive, even to teenage girls? Gross. Is this really what the franchise has come to? It's so gross it doesn't even make me feel old, just annoyed. At least the critics seemed to agree with me on this one. I suppose we'll have to wait for the next Deadpool movie to see the X-Men treated with a little respect.)
Best Bias Confirmed By the Numbers in 2016
Global Wealth Databook This 2015 report lays out the figures behind the oft-repeated fact that the richest 1% owns 50% of the world's wealth, or in the words of the report:
"To be among the wealthiest half of the world in mid-2015... an adult needs only USD $3,210 in assets, once debts have been subtracted. However, a person needs at least USD $68,800 to belong to the top 10% of global wealth holders and USD $760,000 to be a member of the top 1%. Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 88% of the world's wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 50% of global assets."
Best Unasked Question Answered in 2016
During a Q&A at SMOC, costume designer Eduardo Castro and his team were discussing the challenges of sourcing and constructing fantasy costumes for the ensemble cast of Once Upon a Time. One of the more elaborate designs on display was a Chinese warrior-princess costume, which the team had to deliver over 90% complete before the part had even been cast. Someone in the audience asked innocently, "What if the costume hadn't fit the person they cast?" The panelist replied without a moment's hesitation, "Well, these are professional actresses, so whoever it was, she was going to be a size two or a size four." Nervous laughter bubbled up, only to cease a second later as was quite clear he was speaking without a shred of irony; he was simply stating a fact based on professional observation. He added, perhaps in response to the awkward silence, "A more mature or matronly character might be a size four or a size six... Any other questions?"
Coolest New App Undoubtedly Destined to be Used for Evil
Terrapattern is a similar image search engine that uses "deep learning machine vision techniques" to look for patterns in visual data using the same satellite imagery used by Google Earth. So far there are only a handful of cities available but don't let that stop you from getting sucked into a surveillance drone wormhole only to find yourself emerging after an hour of zooming and clicking and comparing side-by-side with the actual Google Earth (because Terrapattern has none of the friendly overlays that tell you things like where you are, what the fuck that cluster of shipwreck-looking things might be, why the water looks so fucked up and rust-colored and oil slicked or if that massive black lagoon you just zoomed in on somewhere near the NY/New Jersey border is in fact an above-ground tailing pond of toxic fucking waste (and anyone who's lived there is probably thinking, no fucking shit, this is news?).
A Handful of Statistics that May or May Not be Related (not that anyone is asking)
Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban had pulled off an unprecedented reduction in the nation's production of opium. The Independent called it "one of the quickest and most successful drug elimination programmes in history. According to the UN Drug Control Programme's (UNDCP) annual survey... Production of fresh opium, the raw material for heroin, went down by an unprecedented 94 percent, from 3,276 tonnes to 185 tonnes." (Richard Lloyd Parry, The Independent,reporting)
According to a CIA report on the global heroin trade, in 1998, around 41% of the world's opium was produced in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By 2007, Afghanistan was responsible for 93 percent of the world's opium supply (Opium.org) and it remains so to the present day. According to Wikipedia "The US invasion has in fact been causal in a massive increase in opium production, with public eradication efforts being largely window dressing. Notably, there was a large increase in the area under cultivation between 2002 and 2014" (undisputed, btw).
Since 2000, the CDC reported a fourfold increase in heroin and opiate-related deaths. While the increase in prescription drug deaths has leveled off since 2010, deaths due to heroin have sharply increased over the same period. "Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 55,403 in 2015. Opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, with 33,091 overdose deaths in 2015 (20,101 due to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 due to heroin)." (ASAM)
It can't be media hype or hyperbole when it's the CDC calling it an epidemic. And when they preface their report with the sentence, "Opioid prescribing* continues to fuel the epidemic," you know it's bad. Notice how they used the verb "prescribing," which implies a prescriber, rather than the passive, inanimate, blameless noun "prescriptions?" More numbers: "In 2014, almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids," with just over 500,000 abusing heroin.
I always thought demand was supposed to increase first, and then supply... but what do I know about economics?
And from heroin to...
Our Heroine Of 2016
Diamond Reynolds, the woman who captured the tragic murder of her boyfriend, Philando Castille, on video when he was shot four times by police while reaching for his auto registration during a routine racial profiling/traffic stop. At that point, she bravely began broadcasting the video live from her phone. Watching it is harrowing, and her narration throughout the ordeal is the saddest fucking thing you've heard (until the next police shooting caught on camera by a spouse, which came out maybe two weeks later). Ms. Reynolds managed to keep filming and explaining what was happening while the cop (who at times seemed to be truly losing his shit) screamed and waved his gun at her and her 4-year old daughter who was sitting in the back seat the whole time. The most heartbreaking moment in the video is after she and her daughter have been ushered into the police car—Ms. Reynolds in handcuffs—and she finally breaks down crying and her little girl tries to comfort her.
We can all imagine terrible things that might happen to us, or our loved ones... and watching this tragedy as it occurred, knowing how it ended, it's almost unimaginable. But we're only seeing it because this woman had the courage, as one of the worst moments of her life was unfolding, and her own life was still at risk, to turn on her camera and keep recording. The only thing worse than what Diamond Reynolds went through is the fact that atrocities like this happen all the fucking time. It's just that now we have the technology to shine a light that allows white people to see it.
Anyone can report the facts (at least that's what we thought before Election Day—maybe now all bets are off?), but making facts beautiful, compelling, clickbaity and share-worthy? Now that, my friends, takes artistry. Such artistry, in fact, that it's come all the way back around to being seen as a science—data visualization, as they like to call it—the artsy science of turning data into infographics for the Excel-illiterate masses. Does it bother anyone else that the word "infographic" is shaped more like an adjective than a noun, like photographic or pornographic? And why is it I have to add "infographic" to Dreamweaver's custom spell check dictionary every time I upgrade to a new version? Those last two are probably just me...
1. The Hedonometer
Despite its vaguely Barbarellian-sounding moniker, the Hedonometer was not designed to bring its users to undreamed of heights of pleasure. What it does is analyze the frequency of certain words on Twitter, assigning them a value on a continuum from very, very sad to very, very happy and then map them over time to show that our "mood swings" correlate to world events. Well, no fucking shit. It looks like in 2016 the saddest point of the year was when 52 people died in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, followed very closely by the US Presidential election, or as it's shaping up to be remembered, a special episode of "Punked," brought to you by Vladimir Putin.
But the Hedonometer has been diversifying its offerings, like this graph showing every major US city (as represented by their Twitter followers, anyway) ranked from happiest to saddest... or is it saddest to happiest?
Wait, what the fuck is this chart trying to say? Assuming red is happy and blue is, well, blue... then how happy is, say, Milwaukee? What is the Y-axis exactly? (For that matter, what's the X-axis?) What the fuck kind of lunatic puts the same data set down both axes? Is it like a multiplication table or one of those things where you find your sign along the side and your partner's sign along the bottom and the box where they meet in the middle is your compatibility score?
Next we have the Hedonometer Books Project which is about mapping "the shape of stories," based on a Kurt Vonnegut technique. You mean telling the story out of sequence because the narrator is "unstuck in time?" No, notthat Kurt Vonnegut technique—and strangely enough, there aren't any Vonnegut books in the project... Anyway, by "quantifying the emotional arcs of stories," they've "extracted and analyzed the emotional arcs of 1,722 novels from the Project Gutenberg corpus using sentiment analysis, and found six common shapes." Why, you might ask? I blame Moneyball. Maybe they figure if algorithms saved baseball, why couldn't they do the same for book publishing? Let's match the six story shapes to the "seven story types" and see which one didn't fit the algorithm.
1. Rags-to-riches (AKA rise) — The timeless classic; it appears on both lists.
2. Tragedy (AKA fall) — Always a bridesmaid, but Tragedy appears on both lists.
3. Man-in-a-hole (AKA rise-fall-rise) — Equivalent to "Overcoming the monster."
4. Icarus (AKA rise-fall) — "Voyage and Return" fits if you return to exactly where you started.
5. Cinderella (AKA rise-fall-rise) — I don't know, does a new pair of shoes count as "Rebirth?"
6. Oedipus (AKA fall-rise-fall) — The only two left are "The Quest" and "Comedy," so... Fail?
Best Infographic that Doubles as a "Going Outside" Checklist
[via FB (thanks, Mother!). I generally have at least four or five of these things going on any time I go outside... And don't forget gloves, to keep your hands warm and germ-free.]
I don't usually read pop star profiles, especially not profiles of pop stars whose names and faces I recognize but of whose actual music, I couldn't name a single example, but this interview found its way onto a lot of "Best Of" lists at the end of last year, and I defy anyone to read just about any paragraph without immediately understanding why. Miranda July is cast against type here as our audience proxy. She's about as far from "everywoman" as—well, as Rihanna—but there's something about her New York art scene hipster persona, as endearingly, awkwardly jaded as it is, that makes her the perfect foil for her subject matter. The interaction between these two apparently vastly different women feels so surprisingly intimate that the combination is greater—more interesting, at any rate—than the sum of its parts.
Rihanna hugged me hello and we sat down in front of two glasses of white wine. ''Your eyes are amazing,'' she told me, pulling her chair closer. ''I'm staring at you and I feel like my eyes are gonna blur because all I can see are those tiny dots.''
''Well, it's mutual,'' I said stiffly. ''Trust me.'' It was probably the weakest compliment she'd ever received but praising her seemed like a slippery slope. I glanced down at my carefully typed-up questions, looking for an easy opener.
9. The Original Captain Trips by Todd Brendan Fahey
I for one would love to see the fascinating man known as the "Johnny Appleseed of LSD" given the big Hollywood-biopic treatment. On a personal level, he unites some of my favorite topics—the Manhattan project, Cold War spy agency intrigue, psychedelic research and little-known Vancouver history. I can't quite imagine Tom Hanks playing him, but he seems to have the right of first refusal for all "Captain" roles these days so I'm sure he could pull it off (especially when you consider the final sentence in the excerpt below).
They called him "the Johnny Appleseed of LSD." He was to the psychedelic movement nothing less than the membrane through which all passed to enter into the Mysteries. Beverly Hills psychiatrist Oscar Janiger once said of Hubbard, "We waited for him like a little old lady for the Sears-Roebuck catalog."
Those who will talk about Al Hubbard are few... He is treated like a demigod by some, as a lunatic uncle by others. But nobody is ambivalent about the Captain: He was as brilliant as the noonday sun, mysterious as the rarest virus, and friendly like a golden retriever.
Welcome to the Dark Net, a wilderness where wars are fought and hackers roam. More definitions. The Dark Net exists within the deep web, which lies beneath the surface net, which is familiar to everyone. The surface net can be roughly defined as "anything you can find through Google" or that is otherwise publicly indexed for all to see. The deep web is deep because it cannot be accessed through ordinary search engines. Its size is uncertain, but it is believed to be larger than the surface net above it. And it is mostly legitimate. It includes everything from I.R.S. and Social Security data to the internal communications of Sony and the content management system at The New York Times. It includes Hillary Clinton's e-mails and text messages, along with everyone else's. Almost all of it is utterly mundane.
Because Monopoly is one of the best-selling games of all time, most of us learned to play it as children... However, few people know all the rules (more on this later) or how to form a cohesive strategy. This results in games where people more or less roll the dice and go through the motions until somebody wins. Because of the way the game is designed, this inevitably results in one person acquiring a majority of the assets on the board, and beginning the slow, painful, friendship-destroying process of grinding the other players out of the game, turn by turn. This is why Monopoly starts as a fun exciting romp, only to turn into a bitter cesspool of despair.
It was July of 1977. A crew from Neiman Marcus had come to the Andes mountains, near the border of Chile and Argentina, to scout locations for a fur catalog shoot. As the SUV climbed farther and farther up the mountain, snow started to fall, blanketing the road. The passengers, including a young Jerry Hall—sitting in the backseat, draped in a fur coat and fresh off her first runway show in Paris—began to panic. A Neiman Marcus executive peered out the window, trying to get his bearings. Visibility was close to zero when the driver threw the car into reverse, desperately trying to turn around. What he didn't know was that the SUV's rear wheels had stopped just two inches from the edge of the cliff.
The SUV now dangled precariously off the side of the mountain.
I sat down in a corner of the sofa. Prince didn't deign to join me at first. With his back to me still, he drifted over to the food table, as if in search of something he wasn't sure he had asked for. And not finding it there, had no choice but to sit down. He positioned himself on one of the leather chairs to the left of the sofa, his posture a caricature of weariness. I was immediately transfixed by his slight frame; his straightened hair, cut relatively short, but curled, added an additional one or two inches. (Prince stands 5'4″ tall.) There was more silence, and as it unfolded, I took in his face, which had the exact shape, and large eyes, of a beautiful turtle.
Easily the most depressing article I read all year, and that includes the next one on this list, so you know it must be bad.
More than 1,000 women and their families are suing J&J and Imerys [Talc America, the biggest talc supplier in the country and the sole source of the powder for J&J], claiming the companies have known of the association with ovarian cancer for years and failed to warn them.
Among the most painful revelations... in the 1990s, even as the company acknowledged concerns in the health community, it considered increasing its marketing efforts to black and Hispanic women, who were already buying the product in high numbers.
It began, begins, will begin again. With a sound, reported as a dull crack. A firecracker in the distance. A backfire, a chair tipped, hitting the floor.
It's a shift of air, an exhale. It will begin with a thud, a whimper.
On a robin's-egg-blue morning in paradise—in my town, yours; at the intersection; on the subway... Someone will jerk, as if stung by a bee. Another... The swarm is suddenly everywhere. People flail to a music that can't be heard. Bodies disassemble in strange slow motion. Someone's elbow explodes, a head vanishes, the carnage horrific. Everyone else flees, squeezing wherever they fit. Someone calls 911, someone else. It doesn't seem real. How could it be? Here we are at our prayer group, at our holiday party, in our home. There's the polite man you work with, the classmate, the harmless stranger—now wearing a black tactical vest, swaddled in ammo. Why? It's a prank, an audition. It can't be real.
Despite the press conference, the case was fairly low profile. It received more attention back in Canada than it did in Los Angeles, where the suspicious disappearance of a young woman—though not exactly common—wasn't a rarity either. And with no news to report as the days went on, coverage of her disappearance basically ceased.
That was, until February 13, when the LAPD summoned the public's help again. This time, the department released a video. They wouldn't confirm it at the time, but the video was taken by the Cecil Hotel's elevator security camera in the early hours of February 1. It was, it turns out, the last known footage of Lam. And it was so strange, so creepy, so inexplicable that the release turned the case inside out.
Why not end this list on a happy note (for once), right? This list, despite being about Twitter of all things, made me laugh (and "share" things!) more than almost anything this year. A few of my favorites are below, but it's worth taking the next hour to read all 100.
[The best 404 Error Not Found screen of 2016 made me forget WFT I was even looking for.]
Best Lists of 2016 (AKA the literal "List of Lists")
1. A Nonfiction Map of the United States
I wondered which west coast state would get Kathryn Schultz's The Really Big One and the prize goes to Oregon—a chilling nonfiction horror story for the mildest, mellowest state on either coast. And for the fly over states, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a wittier, more pleasant yet fun-fact-filled depiction of the state that brought us Elvis Presley and Jack Daniels than Tennessee's pick, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon is a perfect choice for Maryland, although I haven't exactly done any opposition research to confirm this, and I love The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson for Illinois (not to mention David Foster Wallace's Ticket to the Fair as the runner-up). My only real disagreement is with Nevada. Maybe Fear and Loathing feels like too foregone a conclusion these days, but really, who would take Tom Wolfe's Vegas over Hunter S. Thompson's?
2. Most Popular TV Shows Set in Every State (IMDB)
What do you think they'll say for Maryland? It could be "The Wire" or it could be something else, right? It could be The Blacklist... or Joan of Arcadia. I'm kidding, of course it's The Wire. You'll start to notice The Wire is a running theme throughout the list of lists this year, since Mr. Pink and I finally decided to watch all five seasons of it, hopping on the bandwagon just one year shy of ten years after its conclusion. But will we become like everyone else who's seen it, endlessly making references to it, then sighing and shooting pitying glances at you when you don't understand them, constantly telling you it's the best show ever created and comparing other shows to it until all you want to do is curl up with a Smallville marathon just to spite us?
Well... I think, in our hearts, we both know the answer to that one, don't we?
4. BBC's Top 100 Films of the 21st Century
I've actually seen around 40% of these movies, which is amazing considering how infrequently I ever go to the theater anymore. I was especially pleased to find "Only Lovers Left Alive" and "25th Hour" on the list, and some of my favorite movies of all time even landed in the upper third, including "Fury Road," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Memento" and "Lost in Translation." There is a lot of Richard Linklater and quite a bit of Wes Anderson (so the naughties = normcore?), but also a lot of Paul Thomas Anderson, which I think is awesome (even if I did feel "There Will Be Blood" was overrated and still haven't gotten through "The Master"). On a related topic, Katherine Bigelow... she won Best Director for The Hurt Locker (or was it Zero Dark Thirty?), so I guess must have been good? But I think she's overrepresented with both films making the list, and sadly, I don't think either would be on here if they'd been directed by a man. Also, two films by Lars Von fucking Trier? Ugh. If you like your lists with a little more backstory and rationale, check out their deep dive into the top 25 (of which I've seen over 50%!).
6. Full List of Bad Words and Top Swear Words Banned by Google
But not really because the list contains of thousands of common English words that you can find on any site about literally anything other than gaming the almighty Page Rank. It was compiled (by a site improbably named freewebheaders.com) by a blogger who wants to help people avoid being excluded from the One True Search Engine's Puritanical algorithm for inadvertently using one of these not-in-fact forbidden words (including, seriously, "god" and "hell"). The list is posted as a downloadable zip file because they're that concerned about being blacklisted, but I guess their paranoia is working because the site appeared on page one of my search results (for something completely different—and, in retrospect, weird—but still). I took the great personal risk of downloading the full list so you may do so (if you wish), without fear of opening a Pandora's Box of toxic malware. (And fuckety fucking fuck censorship.)
8. The Most Popular Character Names in Movies
The Numbers is an incredible site. Who knew there was actually a place where you could find an analysis of every movie character name in every film ever ? The most common male name is Jack; for females, Sarah. There are occupational names, too(since it's a compilation of "named" characters, and the occupations are even more interesting and telling than the names. Reporter is #1. It even comes in above "Jack" in the rankings. The next most-common character occupation is Nurse, then Doctor, and then—can you guess? Bartender (they are, after all, the "aristocrats of the working class"). There's also...
9. The Numbers list of top grossing films by plot keyword
Sortable by keyword, commonality and the combined box office gross of all movies with that keyword (domestic and international). They count things like "narration" and "direct-to-video" as keywords, but if you ignore those, you get an interesting picture of the stories we tell via cinema—and what we pay to watch—over and over again. You can find weird comparisons when you sort the list by ranking; for example, the #1 keyword in the database by a huge margin is Romance, then Dysfunctional Family and Relationships Gone Wrong rounding out the top three. Romance accounts for nearly five times as many entries as War, some will be pleased to learn.
But—I know, there's always a "but"—when you start digging into the actual keywords, you start to wonder how the hell they classify these things... e.g., there are 14 entries under the keyword Coma, but somehow the 1977 sci-fi classic "Coma" isn't one of them? "Gladiator" doesn't appear under the keyword Gladiators, furthermore, and—let's make this last one a Jeopardy round, shall we? If the answer is Dinosaurs in the Modern World, whatis the question? Hint: I'll take anything starting with "Jurassic." (Hell, I'll take anything starting with Godzilla.) The one and only title in this category is... Poseidon Rex!(?!), released in 2014 with a combined box office gross of $0... just in case you were about to look it up.
Oh well, if the Presidential election of 2016 has taught us anything, it's not to let little things like relevance or accuracy get in the way of your enjoyment of a numbers game. Y'feel me?
Let's get a couple of quick ones out of the way, shall we...
Best Shoes of 2016 (they're Cthulhu-fabulous)
Best (okay, maybe second-best) Way to Waste 30 Minutes That You'll be too Embarrassed to Share with Anyone
Because I have no shame, however, I'm happy to share with you; the Monster High Avatar Creator, the only imaginable thing that would make being a "tween" today superior to being one in the 1980s. (As cool as it is, it obviously pales in comparison to having a paper route, unsupervised sleepovers, R-rated movies, neon jelly bracelets and shoes, making mix tapes from the radio, passing notes on actual paper, lying about what you did last summer/over the weekend/any time you like with no digital footprint to contradict you, and gaining the upper hand when someone calls by letting your parent answer the phone: "Tell them I'm not home!")
Best show of the year, by a mile. Holy fuck, is it good... I've actually downgraded several other shows on IMDb since watching Westworld because it's so goddamned good. (Me, scanning my Watchlist for unrated items: Westworld, 10. The Night Of, 7. Wait a minute, I gave The Good Wife an 8?! Ugh, must've been back in Season 4... 6. I even downgraded The Walking Dead. Yeah, well. Better late than never.)
2. The Wire (2002-2008)
That's right, we finally got around to watching The motherfucking Wire and it was amazing—why didn't anyone tell us? Kidding, kidding. Obviously everybody told us. TIME magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Cracked, The Guardian, Charlie Brooker and Barack Obama have all described The Wire as the best dramatic television series in history. (It's ranked second on Rolling Stone's Top 100 after The Sopranos, but that's just Rolling Stone always having to be the rebel.) For me (and maybe considerably less so for Mr. Pink), half of the fun was watching something set and actually filmed in downtown Baltimore, so close to my old neighborhood I could actually point out street signs and landmarks, exclaiming, "oh my god I lived two blocks from there—okay, sorry, I know, okay, can you rewind it? I know, I'm sorry. Geez."
Of course, I found plenty of reasons to interrupt while we were watching, sometimes even pausing so I could wax nostalgic about what it was like "back in the day," or to comment on how much worse the murder rate was when I lived there (early 90s) than it was when the show took place (early 2000s). Heh, as if that makes me a badass or something.
But while I have you here... So, in the early 2000s, there were around 300 homicides every year in the city of Baltimore, but the worst year on record was 1993, when there were 353. That was the year David Simon published Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which became the basis for his first two shows, "Homicide" and "The Corner," before The Wire, and it was also the year I left Baltimore for Seattle. In the two decades since then, the city has had a steadily declining population and a declining crime rate—until recently. Although there are now 15% fewer people than there were in 1993, 2015 was the second-worst year on record for total murders with 344, and the worst by far if you're counting per capita.
(As a little perspective, last year there were 516 murders in Canada. In all of motherfucking Canada. Just saying.)
3. Bates Motel
7. Better Call Saul
8. American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson
9. American Horror Story
10. House of Cards
11. Game of Thrones
13. Walking Dead / Fear the Walking Dead
20. Mr. Robot (Or is it? I still can't decide if this show is clever and complex or just pretentious and targeted more or less straight at my demographic. Sometimes a picture =/> 456 words.)
Top Five Television Guilty Pleasures (if one were inclined to feel guilty for liking things)
You know how Shades of Grey infamously started out as Twilight fan fiction and then graduated into soccer mom porn? This show feels like The West Wing fan fiction that accidentally gained traction with the same demographic that voted for Hillary without any reservations whatsoever. (Spoiler alert for anyone who watches Scandal, and apologies to everyone who doesn't, and/or is already thoroughly disgusted with this show. This includes Mr. Pink.) So the premise is it's about a political "fixer" who's having an affair with the President, and her motley crew of "gladiators in suits," which somewhere around season two, morphs into, like, "crypto-assassins in suits?" It started out as a DC procedural with not-exactly ripped-from-the-headlines storylines, some intriguing characters, snappy if at times O.T.T. dialog and a lot of Grey's Anatomy style bed-hopping.
Just like "Seinfeld" and "Will & Grace" ("Jack & Karen") before it, Scandal's extended cast is far more compelling than the mismatched lovers at its ostensible heart. Take for instance the long-suffering "steel magnolia" first lady, who you're programmed at first to hate until she wears you down, one "I am southern woman, hear me roar" monologue at a time. By the third season she's a far more interesting onscreen presence than the President himself, or his forbidden fruit, whose mood-o-meter is forever stuck between "pouty" and "weepy." Then there's his Chief-of-Staff, a perfunctorily closeted version of Stamper from House of Cards (only Republican, and a lot less conflicted about being an evil dick). His husband is the weirdest mashup of homage and caricature-assassination I think I've ever seen. He's a "journalist" and a straight-out-of-Stepford househusband and daddy (to their African-American adopted daughter, naturally), an uncanny mashup of Glenn Greenwald and Anderson Cooper that's so obvious—and egregious—it really makes you question the supposedly ultra-liberal undertone of the entire show.
While early Scandal felt like a teenage girl's homage to The West Wing, by season three, it was pretty clear I was just watching a telenovela, one with just enough "smart" dialog and political-sounding intrigue to trigger those receptors in my brain and keep me watching. In truth, there are few shows I can think of that have less genuine interest in politics—or dialog, for that matter, which is scrapped in later seasons for characters taking turns delivering histrionic monologues, character filibusters and of course, Olivia crying. In every. goddamned. episode. (To be fair, Homeland found itself in the same character quicksand last season. WTF, TV? Is all of Hollywood PMS-ing on a synchronized cycle all of a sudden?)
It got to the point where I could only watch it when Mr. Pink was out of the room. Not that he would turn it off; he would just make loud crying noises every time the main character was onscreen—which is pretty annoying, but not a deal breaker. The real problem was he would sit down and start asking questions—who's that guy? Why is he doing that? How is Huck (or any character really) not in prison for murder? That's so stupid. (Okay, fair point. By the fourth season, every character is implicated in multiple murders and no one ever goes to jail. Well, once in a while but only temporarily until a "backroom deal" is made. Not even in the 1990s could so many (white) people be murdered in DC without the slightest hint of blowback or, I don't know, investigation?) Will I nonetheless watch Season six as soon as it's released on Netflix? You bet your ass I will. (I have to fill the hours while Mr. Pink is occupied with "World of Tanks" somehow, after all...) But this is the last I'll ever speak of it. As anyone who's ever watched a telenovela knows, it's impossible to explain to anyone who doesn't; you'll never get them up to speed and you'll just sound like an idiot trying. Again, a picture=some words.
[Courtesy of IMDB. Olivia takes a quick break from crying to conspire with the Murder Twins.]
2. Skin Wars
4. Carpool Karaoke with James Corden
The ones with Elton John, Gwen Stefani (featuring, for some reason, Julia Roberts and George Clooney) and the one with Michelle Obama (featuring Missy fucking Eliot!!) are nearly perfect—also, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I had actually written, "I only wish there were more episodes with musicians I actually gave a shit about. Can we get some Copycat Carpool Karaoke up in here, please?" But then I went to YouTube to retrieve a link and found a new episode posted with Madonna(!) and now I feel bad about my ambivalence... well, not really. Is it a guilty pleasure if I feel guilty for feeling guilty about liking it?
5. The Good Wife
I was going to put this show on my regular "best of" list but then I added Westworld at the last minute and I saw this one trailing at the end at #21 and thought, you know, fuck this show. It lasted seven seasons, arguably two more than it should have, and I never really understood why I kept watching in the first place (especially after Kalinda left in amid ugly rumors about a feud between her and the title character lasting several seasons, to the point where their much-hyped final "reconciliation" scene had to be pieced together with CGI). Oh yeah, that's right, we stayed for Christine Baranski and Alan Cumming, and there is absolutely no shame in that. But after seven seasons, the final episode aired this year (spoiler alert—as if you're going to go back and watch it now anyway) and it was so pointless... just a lot of flailing around, trying to salvage the pathetic arc of a weak, indecisive and annoying character while consciously avoiding actually giving her a traditional "happy ending." (Have we learned nothing from Damages and Weeds et al?) The end result was exactly what you get—and deserve—when you put your story in the hands of a committee and let the clamoring voices of public opinion poison every genuine choice you might have made, until what you're left with is literally a protagonist with no agency or personality, stumbling down a hallway, alone and bewildered, as if to say, "how did I get here?" Well, for once Alicia and her audience were thinking the exact same thing.
Most Anticipated Show of 2017
Not Westworld, because for that we will have to wait until 20-motherfucking-18! But we might be able to console ourselves with (former Hannibal showrunner) Bryan Fuller's triumphant return to television, American Gods (which looks awesome!).
Pluto's atmosphere, as photographed by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. Launched in 2006, it spent the decade making carefully-choreographed flybys with the solar system's gas giants and Kuiper belt objects. 2016 finally brought it—and us—face to face with Pluto.
In May, massive wildfires forced the evacuation of 90,000 people from Fort McMurray, Alberta. There were no direct fatalities but over 1,456,810 acres were destroyed, including 2,400 homes and buildings. The fires halted a quarter of Canada's oil production, equal to approximately one million barrels a day. Insurance claims are estimated at around $9 billion, making it the largest and costliest disaster in Canadian history.
Photo credit: Smithsonian magazine. A subglacial lake underneath a quarter mile of ice feeds Antarctica's Blood Falls. The water is three times saltier than seawater and therefore too salty to freeze, and it's extremely rich in iron. When it comes into contact with the air, it rusts, depositing blood red stains on the ice as it falls. (Or to paraphrase one scientist, "We were just fucking elated to learn it was definitely not because of something we did. I mean, come on—a Bleeding Glacier? That's just a bit on the nose, don't you think?")
As the Sun.co.uk put it, "The iconic photo (credit: Reuters) of Leshia Evans standing in front of a line of heavily armed police perfectly captures the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement."
Photo by Scott Olson, Getty Images.
On December 4, after months of protests at Standing Rock, a rare victory celebration after the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the Dakota Access pipeline to pass near the Sioux Reservation.
While I remained blissfully unaware of the Pokemon craze going on all around me, a certain historic strip club down the street was not. (I guess you don't get to survive 65+ years as the city's oldest stationary funhouse without having your finger firmly on the pulse of what people really want.)
Photo: Twitter/ABC. In a scene eerily reminiscent of "Twelve Monkeys," deer descended on the nation's capital in January, briefly taking back the streets as the human population hid inside.
Taken by Jimmy King, the last known photo of David Bowie was posted on Instagram on his 69th birthday, just two days before his death on January 10, 2016.
And finally, when the weight of the world gets too heavy and you need something a little stronger to pull you out of the death-spiral of sadness and anticipation of the looming Trump presidency (#Fuckface von Clownstick), just remember there's a Tumblr called Animals Sitting on Capybaras... Kick back, relax, start scrolling and don't forget to read the comments. If that doesn't bring a smile to your face, I don't know... maybe it's time to just do the heroin.
"To me, every story ever made has a social message or messages within it. To me, everything is political because politics at their core mean "relating to citizens," and I see connections between everything in this universe, and as such, everything relates to me and the responsibility that comes with that is tremendous. I am now interested in using fiction as a vehicle for self-exploration." —Ales Kot, interview with Disinfo.com
1. Material, Book One by Ales Kot
My first out-of-body moment reading "Material" happened when a character suddenly launched into an out-of-left-field yet completelyastrologically accurate description of the Uranus-Pluto square and how it correlates to the current socio-political state of the world. It's not a theme—it's never even mentioned again, but anyone with one foot (even a toe) in that world knows how unusual is it to find offhand references to astrology that aren't couched in the obligatory scorn, mockery and quasi-scientific "corrective" scolding. From there, my warm feelings of affinity and admiration was compounded with every footnote (many of which list the names of young black men murdered by police in recent years). After reading this book, I went on a mission to find out about its obviously intelligent, sensitive, socially aware creator and found, among other things, this interview where he talks about his intentions and influences. (Among them, an amazing BAFTA speech by Charlie Kaufman. It's ostensibly about screen writing, but also creativity, writing in general, and being a decent human being in the world. I found it profoundly and unexpectedly moving—much like Material.) As a depressing postscript: there won't be a Book two; the series was cancelled by its creators after four issues. They vaguely hinted at three unreleased issues to be published in late 2016, which are now long overdue... but maybe one day.
2. Saga by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughn
I suspect that I will still be reading The Walking Dead right up until the bitter (apparently planned long ago by Robert Kirkman) end, and watching its TV namesake, long-after I've ceased deriving any pleasure from the experience—a grim prospect, but one I can bravely face, just as long as we also have Saga and Westworld.
3. Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
I've never been big on mixing sex with humor (what?), maybe because I had never before seen them come together so masterfully (pun—such as it is—intended).
7. Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios
As with almost all my favorites, it was the incredible art that first lured me into Pretty Deadly. On the first page, a figure kneels at the water's edge. Her fingers meet and merge with those of her reflection, while other sets of hands, ghostly, scarlet and grasping, reach up from beneath the surface. Pretty Deadly is a fable as intricate and imaginative as any analog mythology, and—just as the title suggests—every page delivers a perfect blend of the grotesque and the sublime. I can't remember the last time I finished a book and immediately flipped back to the beginning to read it again (or the last time I laughed out loud and found myself trying to tell Mr. Pink about the butterfly and the skeletal bunny who are trying to talk to the armadillo but he's so frightened he springs up into a ball, and why in the hell that's so funny).
8. WE3 by Grant Morrison
10+ years old now, but so good... It's about a trio of castoff pets given a second chance at life (or something like it) as deadly experimental cyber-weapons, until their top-secret program gets decommissioned and cue the inevitable blowback and fallout. I would respectfully recommend W3 to any military veterans you may have in your life. Hoo-Ra.
9. Nowhere Men: Volume 1 by Eric Stephenson
("Science is the new rock & roll.") A weirdly immersive, original book that I was afraid had been a one-off (or, like Material, cancelled!), until I discovered late this year that a Volume 2 has indeed been published.
10. reMIND: Volume 1 by Jason Brubaker
Beautiful artwork and a strange, sweet, quirky little story pull you in close and compel you to overlook the increasingly disjointed plot and the fact that the best character disappears in the middle of it for like half the book. Then you find yourself reading Volume 2 online, ignoring all the typos and comments (crowd-sourcing editors?) and the interminable click, click, clicking to load page after page through the meandering, borderline-drunken and dialed-in final third. By the time you finally get to the end, you realize there's a good goddamn reason the thing hasn't been published yet, and quite possibly never will be. I'd still recommend Volume 1, if you can just stifle your curiosity about how the story ends. (Spoiler alert: by the time it does, you won't care anymore.)
To the person who landed on my site while searching for "yellow pages commercial is this the man that robbed you." (Maybe if he'd asked, "is this the man who robbed you?" Kidding. DUDE. I FEEL YOUR PAIN.)
Best Quote of 2016
"I feel retarded that I can't spell 'Pocus.'" (Mr. Pink, overheard at a very exclusive Hawaiian/ Tiki-themed party.)
Admire the toxic and allergic bridge 5 on the planet Wow. I guess when your website is called "Newsakin" (it's akin to news?), expectations must be lowered. The text underneath the headline clears up everything nicely though: "Dragon King Kong demand in China for pedestrians with a length of about 185 meters high 22 meters, Meixi Lake District, Changsha City." Do you want to read that again?
Best Tagline for a Business in Vancouver
If this were Pop Culture Happy Hour, I would be disqualified under the "Zaxxon rule" but for my (oh so many) local readers, I have to give a shout-out to Catfe in Vancouver for the very fact that it exists and also for having the perfect tagline: "You had me at CAT."
Stay tuned for more lists throughout the month of December...