Wednesday, January 02, 2013

And the top 25 of the 100 Best Things I Saw, Read, Ate, Heard, Or Otherwise Experienced in 2012 (AND SOME THINGS THAT SUCKED, THROWN IN)


25.  Jeremy Lin:  Remember him? Probably not.  He was the only reason to care about the NBA in 2012, if you ask me -- and now I'm not sure where he is.  I do know that I wish I had a "LINSanity" shirt for people to look at quizzically five years (or five weeks) from now.

24/23/22/21:  The books and blogs by Michael Offutt, PT Dilloway, Andrew Leon, and Rusty Webb.  Lots and lots of people have this year celebrated the emergence of the "indie author," but each of these authors in 2012 wowed me in different indie ways.

Rusty Webb blogs at The Blutonian Death Egg, and as the world anxiously awaits both his return to full-time blogging AND the sequel to A Dead God's Wrath, he sent out War Angel, a touching and dramatic story of a World War II era escape from the Nazis.

Michael Offutt meanwhile did nothing short of creating not one, not two, but multiple worlds populated by insane artificial intelligences, angels, and sexy hockey players.  In Slipstream and then its sequel Oculus, plus the free The Insanity of Zero, Offutt subverted sci-fi by twisting it ninety degrees and giving it a sharp-but-touching shine.

Andrew Leon donned the mantle of such child-to-adult authors as Rowling and Tolkien, and I'm not being hyperbolic.  His The House On The Corner is a modern classic; his Shadow Spinner looks like it will out-King Stephen, and he even managed to bring a lump to my throat with Christmas On The Corner... while killing goblins galore in that book.

And PT Dilloway singlehandedly revived classic superherodom.  In this era of emo-Spidermen and gargle-voiced dark Batmen, Dilloway's Scarlet Knight shone through the book A Hero's Journey in a book that simultaneously is an ode to and an updating of Siegel and Shuster's golden age heroes.

Those four authors are not just supportive folk, but excellent writers, writers on a level I can only aspire to.  I've just finished reading Leon's latest and I'm digging into the sequel to A Hero's Journey before settling in for some Oculus.  People who love reading ought to pick up whatever they can by each of these guys. 

Moreover, each of their blogs brings something different to their writing and their personas; not just writing tips and hype, they offer perspectives on music, history, pop culture, and great drawings.  I don't get to read their blogs daily like I used to, but I

20.  The last year of the "Bowl Championship Series."  The BCS might be the single greatest thing to ever happen to sports, and especially college sports, and I am sad to see it end.

I know, that's not a popular stance; people love playoffs and hate polls and popular opinion controlling who wins, except that they don't really believe either of those things.

If you really loved playoffs, instead of guesstimates and polls, we wouldn't vote for president.  A vote for president is just popular opinion saying who is the best at that moment, based on... what?  What was the criteria for picking Obama over McCain and then Obama over Mittens?  Performance? Not hardly.

If you really loved the playoffs then you loved it when the 7-9 division-winning Seahawks beat the defending champion New Orleans Saints in the playoffs a few years ago, and you loved it when the 9-7 Giants beat the 15-1 Packers last year in the playoffs; you wholeheartedly support that and never once grumbled that the best team wasn't in the Super Bowl.

If you love the playoffs.

People who love playoffs have to argue against them, as Jim Rome did when he complained that the Wisconsin Badgers, and unranked team with 5 losses, got to play in the Rose Bowl this year against Stanford.  Rome (an idiot blowhard whose livelihood depends on the continued existence of the kinds of people who take being called a douche as a compliment) blamed the BCS, but it was a playoff that sent Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl: The Big 10 has two divisions now, and Wisconsin (barely) won its division and got the right to compete in a playoff to go to the Rose Bowl, sending Nebraska to the Cap One bowl.

Playoffs are just one way to resolve a championship, and not always the best.  Lovie Smith got canned this year because his 10-6 team didn't make the playoffs, and maybe they should have, maybe they shouldn't have, gotten a chance to play for a championship, but we'll never know because fans don't get a say in who makes it into the playoffs.

Under the BCS, things were different.  First off, popular opinion -- as expressed by polls -- factored into standings, so a team that caught fire at the right time would get rewarded.  Secondly, the way the BCS worked was to make it so that even a single loss generally cut you out of the running for a championship.

Think about that:  College football was the only sport where every single game counted -- and the quality of the opponent counted, too, because if you scheduled too many creampuffs to play, you wouldn't get ranked high enough to contend for a national championship.

So all the BCS did was encourage college football programs to schedule tougher and tougher opponents while at the same time never losing a single game.  You can debate whether it was the best way to choose a champion or not -- there's no right or wrong way -- but it was the only system that made all the games count.  I will miss it.

19.  The Magician King, by Lev Grossman.  This book almost didn't make the list, in part because I finished it only just before the 31st and in part because I had mixed emotions about it.  For a book about magicians on a quest to save magic from a return of the gods, it has precious little magic, and even fewer magical battles.  In particular, I was disappointed by the lack of mighty dragons versus the gods... oh, SPOILER ALERT!... battles, in that there is a scene in which one magician explaining how they have to save the universe points out that the dragons are coming out of hibernation to fight, leading me to expect that there would be at least one scene of dragons fighting... but there was not.

With all that, though, it made this list because in the end it is an amazing book and the point of it is not so much to have magical fights and such as it is to provide a thoughtful sort of look at magic, which makes it sound boring but it's not.

The Magician King is a sequel to The Magicians, and the books together are a kind of meta-Narnia crossed with a grown-up Harry Potter; in the first book, a group of kids gets invited to a magical college and learns magic, but it's not Potter-esque magic with some wands and stuff, it's serious business involving all kinds of intricate details and various disciplines.  The first book ends with a small group of the kids finding a world they call "Fillory," a thinly-veiled Narnia where they take over as kings and have to fight one of the original kids who went to Fillory.

The Magicians picks up with the four as kings, including Julia, a "hedge witch" who learned her magic not through a sanctioned school but through her own efforts, and about 1/2 the book tells what Julia was doing while the other rich, spoiled kids were going to their fancy school.

In unfolding that story, and a barely-there quest to discover seven keys, what Grossman does is present a fascinating mixture of prep-school, rich-kids vs. poor kids storylines, a history of magic, a "what if we got to live out our favorite childhood stories" them, and more, but it's all done with a thoughtfulness and attention to detail that reminded me, most strongly, of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke.  These are books that don't exist simply to have big battles and rollicking times, they present magic as an entire world in and of itself, one in which the existence of magic irrevocably shapes how people live.

It's hard to explain.  But I loved both books, in the way that one can love a troublesome child: not always directly, but always anyway.

18.  Workaholics: Pretty much, intellectually, the exact opposite of The Magician King, Workaholics is a show I only got into because sometimes I'd see bits of it while waiting for Tosh.0 on Comedy Central, so I finally watched an entire episode, and it is about the funniest dumb thing I've ever seen.  The "adventures" of Adam, Anders, and Blake as they work low-level telemarketing jobs and spend their weekends getting drunk and high or both are hard to describe -- so I won't try.  I will sum it up simply by noting that in one episode they have to camp out at the office because their home is infested with bugs, so they drop 'shrooms and make up a song about Catherine Zeta-Jones while also setting up a laser-maze and other booby traps to catch the burglars they believe were sent by Joe Biden.

Time for more podcasts:

17.  99% Invisible: Ostensibly about architecture, this podcast makes you look at the world differently.  One podcast was about a fence in New York where a little-known poet's work lives on; another was a discussion about how neighborhoods are subtly shaped to keep people out -- like using winding roads that make it hard for newcomers to find their way, or the way roads only exit onto busy roads but there are no entrances from those busy roads, and more.  I don't even care about architecture, and I love this podcast.

16.  This American Life: I hate listening to stuff on the radio, because you can't pause it or re-listen to it and you might miss stuff.  I've taken to downloading my favorite radio shows because of that, and This American Life is among those.  While it's gotten spotty towards the end of the year with some episodes I didn't much care for, TAL's presentation each week of two or three or four different stories that each demonstrate some aspect of modern life in a unique manner is fun to listen to, and occasionally heartbreaking, as it was with the story about the mom whose son was suffering from terrible mental problems, or the episode where an elderly woman took out personal ads to find a friend for her adult son, who has autism and would be alone after she died.

15.  Radiolab:  This is like This American Life only with science.  For the best possible introduction to this podcast, listen to "Loops," which discusses repetitions in life -- loops -- through looking at a comedy routine, a woman who completely lost her memory and was stuck in a 2-minute repetition of herself over and over, the death of a whale, and other mind-boggling concepts.  I learned more listening to Radiolab this year than I did in college.  All of college.

14.  Stuff You Missed In History Class:  Exactly what it sounds like, only better.  This podcast doesn't actually focus on much stuff you learned in history class; instead, it talked about how come we have the Madame Tussaud wax museum, explaining that wax sculptures were the People magazine of their day, or an explanation of Guy Fawkes, or other little-known or possibly-misunderstood historical detail. I like to listen to these as I drive; they cover a good 30-40 minutes sometimes and the two hosts are pleasant and not stilted.

13.  Stephen Colbert:  Yes, he was around for longer than 2012.  But in 2012, he became a force.  Not always for good (see the next entry) but a force nonetheless, and for a guy who used to have a small part on The Daily Show to be shaping the face of national politics, that's really saying something.

12.  Citizens United:  Much like the BCS, I might be the only person around who liked this court decision freeing up campaign cash from corporations.  The decision itself was issued in 2010, but really came into play in 2012, and while it is generally bemoaned as the death of politics as we know it, consider this: The big corporate money did not win a single battle this year.

Not one.

Billionaires bankrolled fringe candidates, corporations backed tea party nutjobs, and the end result was that we re-elected a moderate Democrat who will be slightly tougher (we hope) on Wall Street than his opponent would have, and we still have national health care.  Taxes were just raised on the rich.  Unemployment insurance was just extended.  There are still problems and pockets of resistance, but on the whole, the electoral picture has gotten brighter, not darker, for social and fiscal liberals since the issuance of the Citizens United decision.

11.  The Panera Sausage-and-Gouda Baked Egg Souffle.  Every Friday, I begin my day with a breakfast meeting among the partners at my firm.  We meet at Panera, and when they have these available, my day starts a little brighter.

10.  The Chive:  We're getting near the end of the list here, and remember that these aren't necessarily numerically ordered beyond 1-3 or so.  The Chive is one of those websites that collects up funny pictures and scantily-clad girls and GIFs and such, but I think it's a cut above the rest of those for two reasons.  First, they have the most awesome photographs, especially under "Daily Morning Awesomeness," and their collection of funny photos and the like is easy enough to page through for a quick break at work.  But second, The Chive also has a charity operation, "Chive Charities." That's an effort that grew out of their occasional posts about people who needed help, posts that generated such responses that eventually they formalized it to help people out in a more organized manner.  They give 100% of all donations to the specified campaigns, and the people they help range from a baby with Brittle Bone disease to a fire department that helped after Hurricane Sandy to a victim of the Aurora shootings (remember those? They happened, too.)

If you're going to look at "Things That Bounce Thursdays," which, let's face it, many of us are, it doesn't hurt to also be reminded that you can help someone.  My own rule is that every dollar I spend frivolously -- buying songs off iTunes, or eating at Rocky Rococo's -- ought to be matched by a dollar of charity.  You don't have to go that far.  But you could give a buck or two in exchange for "Girls With Future Lower Back Problems."

9.  The Editing Room:  Are you one of those people that can't help pointing out the flaws in movies?  Yes, you are.  And at The Editing Room, they have fake abridged scripts for movies, written by people who are one of those people, etc.  Many of the scripts are hilarious.  Here's a sample from "Trouble With The Curve: The Fake Abridged Script."


CLINT’S DAUGHTER is AMY ADAMS, so he presumably had her when he was A MILLION.
Okay, I’ve been devoting all my time to my law career, putting my personal life on hold, and now I’m up for partner of my firm! …I think I see where this is headed.
Yes, especially considering your partnership is in the hands of me, the bureaucratic asshole from every movie ever. Will you quit just this law firm, or the entire legal profession? Only time will tell!
Since this is playing out in the most formulaic manner possible, I presume my advancement hinges on one major case?
Indeed, and as usual there is one other person in contention for this position only he doesn’t deserve it because he’s a conniving prick.
Wow, just how deep does the cliche run here? Here’s a good test: hey Dad, how would you describe our relationship? Strained, would you say?
Hrm? Fuck off, I’m watching the game.
Hoo boy, we’re in for a rough time.

8.  The Superficial:  This is one of those sites that could make a list like this every year, and should.  Sweetie loves celebrities and celebrity gossip, and I love Sweetie, so I have tried to keep up with her by following celebrities and gossip because otherwise all we have to talk about is my job, which is boring to everyone but me.  And a little to me.

The Superficial is a gossip website, but it's funny.  And a little mean, maybe, but not unwarrantedly and I get the feeling that the meanness is done out of love, of sorts, maybe? I don't know, probably.  The Superficial also mixes in the odd bit of political and/or football commentary, but it's mostly stuff like this:

Kim Kardashian’s Sex Tape Sales Increased 80% Because She’s Pregnant

January 2nd, 2013 // 12 Comments

Kim Kardashian Pregnant
Kanye West Knocked Up
Kim KardashianRead More »
“Well, now that I know Kanye West really is stupid enough to be on the hook to Kim Kardashian for the next 18 years, might as well see how he did it but in spectacular Ray J‘s Penis-vision!” said a whole bunch of people, according to TMZ:
Vivid says video-on-demand purchases of the sex tape have spiked 80% since Sunday night … the fattest increase they’ve seen since Kim’s wedding to Kris Humphries.
Further, Kanye’s been boosting biz for months now. We’re told overall sales of Kim’s sex tape — be it VOD, online, or DVD — have steadily increased every month since he and Kim hooked up last Spring.
Of course, a more likely scenario considering the golden shower was cut out (Please tell me that’s how women get pregnant, or I’m going to look really stupid.) is that Kanye is stocking up to hand these out as wedding favors because what better way to commemorate how they ended up together in the first place? I can almost see the inscription now:
AUGUST 10!!, 2013!!!!!

You either like it or you hate it.  I like it.

7.  Have I mentioned Wonderella yet? I don't think I have. Wonderella deserves a spot on this list.  I nominated her for Time's Person Of The Year.

6.  Voyager I: Voyager I has traveled farther than any manmade object ever in history.  It is 11,000,000,000 miles from Earth.  It was the first thing we ever launched that hit the "magnetic superhighway" where the sun's magnetism meets magnetism from outer space.  It's been doing this for a long time now, but I'm including it here because this year I heard that any day now, it will be completely outside the solar system.  Wherever we go in the future, something from us will have gone first.  Drake's Equation be damned: we might be the first intelligent species to reach out to others.  Those Pacific Islanders didn't go to Europe, after all.

5.  Xena.  Just because she's not on a show anymore is no reason to cut her off this list.  Also, I couldn't really think of anything else to go here but that's okay because the odds that I correctly numbered this list are 1 in a gazillion.

Although if I were to have used this spot for the actual hottest woman of the year 2012, I'd probably have to go with Emma Stone, the only really outstanding thing about the Spider-Man movie:

But Mila Kunis would be a close second:

Or, if I were going on "Just TV" I would probably put Elisha Cuthbert:

4.  Snapped!  I have to hand it to Sweetie: She watches this show, which is about women who have killed or tried to kill their husbands (She's just watching it for entertainment value and not for any other reason and what's this I'm supposed to sign? A new life insurance policy? I'm sure that's nothing...) and she has gotten me into it, mostly because I cannot believe the things people do.  PEOPLE! THEY ARE SO WACKY! Like this one woman who tried to kill her husband by hitting him with a bar stool... when he was already dying of cancer.  She claimed self-defense.  That's not even the best one.   The best one was the woman who got busted for killing her husband with a hammer; they busted her because she used a discount card at the store to buy the hammer, saving $0.39.  THIRTY-NINE CENTS!.  When the cops asked her about that, her story --seriously -- was that someone must have stolen her card, off her key chain, and then PUT IT BACK ON HER KEY CHAIN.  That is one clever killer.

I will never admit to Sweetie how much I like this show (she doesn't read this blog which is why item number 5 can exist) because in our family knowledge like that is power.  But I really like this show.

3.  Dinosaur Comics. This is the smartest comic around and I can't wait to read it every day.  I go back sometimes and read the archives, just because.  I am so in awe of this guy I can't even say.  It's one of those things that follows my usual progression:

1.  What is this? This is stupid.
2.  I mean, it's okay.
3.  Huh.  That's clever.
5.  I am going to invent a time machine to go back and do this idea before he can.  Where did I put that socket set? I don't own one? Never mind.  I will just tell everyone about it a lot.
6.  That won't get annoying, I'm sure.

2.  "Some Nights" by fun.

Yes, it deserves its number 2 spot on this list.  I listen to it all the time.  I jog to it (I'm jogging again!), I use it to pick me up when I'm down, to put me down when I'm too excited and need to get to sleep.  It is the soundtrack to this story, even though I haven't made that explicit yet -- I listen to "Some Nights" while I write that.  This album was the second most amazing thing I came across in 2012, which is all the more remarkable because of what is number one:

1.  Felix Baumgartner's jump from space. It's the kind of thing I like to look back on and think "Man, I was alive when that actually happened."  I don't know what else to say about it.  It's so amazing that it leaves me virtually speechless, and that's even considering that I didn't see it live, as I was sitting on the couch reading and didn't know it happened until after. But still: I was alive during it, and that's gotta count for something.

2012: I was alive during it, and that's gotta count for something. 


Andrew Leon said...

I'll have to check out Grossman.

Your 24-21 just cuts off. In case you didn't know.

Liz said...

How long did it take you to come up with this list? Because I occasionally think about making lists like this, but I figure it'll take too long, and I'm too lazy to bother.

Well, that, and I'm the sort that would want the numbers--all the numbers--to mean something, and I would get so obsessed with that I'd never finish.

Andrew Leon said...

And, wow! I've never been part of someone's top anything list, so WOW!
I don't actually know what to say about that.
Oh, have you ever seen Homestar Runner? Now I need to go look at Homestar again and all because of your dinosaurs. If I read comics online, I would read that dinosaur one. I love every one of those you post.

Briane P said...

Andrew: I got interrupted mid-thought and must never have gone back to it. The sentiment still stands, though.

Liz: Each one was done the day it was posted. About an hour, maybe 90 minutes, overall.

Andrew: I'm going to check that out. And I believe you can buy Wonderella and Dinosaur Comics as books.

Andrew Leon said...

Well, let me know what you think of it. I used to follow it pretty regularly (I even have a Strongbad video game my kids got for me), but they stopped updating regularly at some point, and I fell out of the habit. I'm not sure if they're doing new material, now, or not.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Jeez I don't know how you squeeze in all these podcasts and comics and all that stuff. I'm tired just thinking about it.

Watching the Sugar Bowl last night I think that's good evidence for why there should be a college football playoff. I mean the #21 team trounced the #3 team, so that shows just how narrow the gap is between most teams.

I know the NCAA loves all that bowl money but they should look at the big picture and see how much they can make off a playoff. Look how well the basketball tournament does!

Briane P said...

Andrew: I watched the Christmas episode, and wasn't sure what to make of it. It seems like the kind of thing that will grow on me.

PT: If they would make football teams play 5 games in 3 weeks, I might go for that. But the NCAA Tournament isn't, strictly speaking, a "playoff," because the committee chooses most of the teams based on secret criteria and then has them play for the championship. Conference championships help autoselect some of the teams, now, but all that does is let a weak Wisconsin team into the NCAA tournament automatically.

The lowest-ranked team to ever win the NCAA mens tournament was a #8, Villanova, in 1985, which suggests that the committee is very good at seeding and that there is a big gap between 9-16 and 1-8. Which in turn says that the first couple rounds of the "playoff" are meaningless exhibition games designed to bring in more TV money by pitting schools without a hope of winning against the eventual champions.

That can be exciting, but that is also the exact description of a regular season. If the NCAA tournament were to go back down to 32 teams, there would be no real noticeable difference in the teams which make it to the Final Four; all that would happen is a billion in TV money would get spent elsewhere, and fans wouldn't have to sit through crummy exhibition playoff games.

That said, I like the tournament.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Thank you for including me in your list, Mr. Pagel.

I'm not a fan of Lev Grossman, but to each his own. I think he ripped off C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling just a bit much.

Briane P said...

I think he tried to present a weird sort of "magical realist" version of those books.

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