Archive for December, 2011

MA101 in 2011: the Greatest Hits

Ahhh, late December.  Is there a better time to be a blogger or a columnist?

Is'' cool, guys, I still got t'morrows column. S'gonna be a top 10 post. Yeahhhhh!

You knew I wouldn’t let the whole season go by without phoning it in at least once.  Not that I was up late drinking or anything; in point of fact I’m up early because my miserable cat pissed on my feet as I slept (2011 is getting its last licks in, apparently).  But in the name of tradition and plain ol’ self-aggrandizement, my gift to you for the weekend is:


This is it, then — with image searches filtered out as well as I could manage (an imprecise science at best), these were the 10 most-read posts in 2011.  Not all of them are from 2011, mind you; these are just the favorites among readers this year.  Without further ado, let’s start with…

#10:  Cute Animals and Tasteless Advertising at Henry Vilas Zoo

Ahh, the touching story of feuding giraffes and the divorce lawyers advertising near their pen.  This was posted on, which I assume accounts for some of the popularity.  Also, dearly as I love my local zoo, we all gotta admit that it doesn’t generate that many returns on a Google search, so I get some traffic from well-meaning tourists too.

#9:  The Writing Life:  How to Thoroughly Abuse Caffeine

I believe I can thank Elizabeth Craig for the high hit-count on this one, as she Tweeted a link to it (to her very large audience of followers, which of course includes me) some time after it originally went up.  Double-dipping is always good for the numbers, and it wound up getting retweeted around for the next few days.  But hey, if you wanted to go ahead and share it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter today, no one would complain about you being late to the party.

#8:  The Giraffe Penis as a Cautionary Anecdote

The internet’s original cautionary tale about fact-checkers and their vital role in journalism!  If you haven’t seen this story yet it’s worth clicking on today, and I can personally assure you that it does not include any ungulate eroticism — just plain old bad journalism.  The high hit-count is mostly due to the story’s status as a hoary old internet chestnut; there’s still a lot of people out there Googling “giraffe penis.”  Go figure.

#7:  Random Writing:  The Hunks of the Western Literature Canon

Speaking of hoary old chestnuts, this was the site’s very first “hit” post (and it was a pretty relative term back then — still is, really).  Subject matter is exactly what the title would imply.  Why yes — yes there are pictures, now that you mention it.  Perhaps worth a peek, no?

#6:  For the Nerds:  Less than Twelve Parsecs

Star Wars content always does well.  The post was also linked on a couple of message boards, which always helps.  Even if you’re not big on the venerable trilogy, there’s a valuable lesson in plotting and script-writing that goes with this one.

#5:  The Best Way for SF/Fantasy Fans to Waste Time EVER

An embarrassingly popular post, given that it is essentially a link to other people’s content.  The blog The Passive Voice picked the link up, which certainly contributed a good number of hits.

#4:  Hail to the Bus Driver

I can’t tell if this one is popular because it’s a well-written essay with an actual message (unusual for MA101, I know) or because a lot of people search Google Image for “school bus.”  But it appears popular even with the search engine hits filtered out as best I can, and it’s been linked a few times in other discussions, so I’m going to go ahead and score its popularity as legitimate.  Something to be said for the occasional lapse into semi-serious thought, apparently.

#3:  Traumatize Your Friends and Relatives with Traditional Christmas Music

Not surprisingly, this one surges in popularity every December.  This year’s holiday-themed mockery was fairly late in going up, just a few days before Christmas, so perhaps it’ll be a strong shower by next year’s list.

#2:  Badass Superheroes and Their Shameful Origins

Full disclosure time:  I actually pitched this one at first, and they bounced it.  I’m big on recycling that way.  But readers seemed to like it here and Cracked went on to run a couple of my other pitches, so it worked out all around.

And The Big #1:  The Top 10 Most Absolutely Overrated Books You’ve Probably Had to Read

This will probably always be the site’s chart-topper.  There isn’t much I can do about that.  What can I say?  People really hate reading.

And that’s it for the greatest MA101 hits of 2011.  Did your favorite make it?  Leave a comment and tune in next year…

The Joy (and Benefits) of Setting Your Manuscript Aside for a While

Have you ever written a large manuscript before?  Novel, cookbook, master’s thesis?

Illuminated masterpiece?

Did you set it aside for a while before starting your major revisions?


It’s the end of what I’ve come to think of as “beta-reading month,” and edited copies of my manuscript are trickling back in (still a few to go — if you’re reading this you know who you are!).  Reading them has been helpful, certainly, but also oddly a treat.

It’s been nearly a month since I visited this story.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve forgotten what happens in it (though my memory can be a little sieve-like), but particular images or turns of phrase are jumping out as surprises, and in many cases as surprisingly good, which is a joy.

There are also bad things which I had not really noticed before.  These are less of a joy to find but also certainly something that I’m able to see more clearly for my time off (flagged comments from beta readers help too, of course).

Back at the start of December, when I fired this off to my various helpful friends and relatives, I was still coasting on a wave of frenzied writing.  Setting it aside for a whole month seemed impossible.  I figured at the very least I would have to start immediately on a sequel, just to keep from going insane.

Working retail during the Christmas rush helped, mind you.

But the month off has turned out to be one of the best things I ever did for my writing brain.  I’ll be headed into the New Year ready and exited to finish revisions — and yes, that means you’ll be seeing posts soon about how to actually use beta-reader comments, the good ones and the bad.


Ocean Marketing, the Avenger Controller, and Evidence of a Less Civilized Culture

As regular readers no doubt know, one of the primary joys of running MA101 is keeping an eye on the latest and greatest in communications failures.

The internet is something of a paradise of these.  The past few months have been very good to me (and I haven’t even touched politics, a firm principle of mine that weakens every time a presidential candidate says something really stupid).

But I have to say, I’m not actually sure what to do with the Ocean Marketing/Avenger controller thing.

Gaming news is not my forte.  Kotaku has a much better summary than I could ever do, but for those of you who, like me, know so little about games that you thought that was a photo of bondage gear, a very quick recap:

A customer who had pre-ordered that squid-like plastic thing above sent an e-mail asking if his order would, as promised, arrive in time for Christmas.  The reply he got was vague, and a request for clarification got met with some impressively juvenile dick-waving on the part of the company’s official PR representative, from the “Ocean Marketing” firm:

You just got told bitch … welcome to the real internet check kotaku in 2 weeks when they are reviewing free PS3 Avengers we send them as well as G4 and all the other majors hell yeah , don’t forget to check Amazon,, play n trade , Myers , Frys and a ton of other local stores coming your way you think you speak for billions son your just a kid you speak for yourself no one cares what you think that’s why were growing and moving 20-50 thousand controllers a month. We do value our customers but sometimes we get children like you we just have to put you in the corner with your im stupid hat on. See you at CES , E3 , Pax East ….? Oh wait you have to ask mom and pa dukes your not an industry professional and you have no money on snap you just got told.

There’s a fair amount more, but that gives you the general idea.  And we all know about it because the original customer forwarded the e-mails on to some of the names that got dropped, including Penny Arcade co-creator Mike Krahulik, who promptly fired off an e-mail saying that they would not be giving this particular firm a space at their popular PAX (“Penny Arcade Expo”).  The reply from the same Ocean Marketing representative was slightly mind-boggling:

OK Mike whatever you say lol , are you sure hour not in Boston I spoke to the person who ran the show in Boston last year. If you let some little kid influence you over a pre order then we don’t want to be a your show ,Ill be on the floor anyway so come find me , I’m born and raised in Boston I know the people who run the city inside and out watch the way you talk to people you never know who they know it’s a small industry and everyone knows everyone. Your acting like a douchbag not that it matters pax east pax west , e3 , CES , Gamer Con , SSXW ,Comic Con, Germany I’m all over the place. If we want to be there we will be there with industry badges or with a booth you think I can’t team up with turtle beach , Callibur or Koy Christmas , I can’t get Kevin Kelly to pull some strings or G4 , Paul Eibler Ex CEO of take 2 ,  Rich Larocco Konami , Cliff Blizinski Epic who were working with on a gears version , Activision who were working with on a MW3 and Spider man Bundle , The Convention Center Owners themselves , Mayor of Boston come on Bud you run a show that’s all you do and lease a center in Cities you have no pull in its all about who you know not what you do.  I’ll see space where ever I want , with who I want when I want and where I want so many ways around you and so many connections in this industry its silly. Anyway , I have no issue with you Sean Buckley Engadget, Scott Lowe IGN and the list goes on and on. Little kids unhappy with a PRE ORDER starting trouble and you email that to us , he’s a customer unless you’re his boyfriend then you should side with the company not the customer. Be Careful

And thus a man’s life was ruined, because Mike Krahulik simply posted the whole thing on Penny Arcade, which sees enough hits a day that I’d rather use hyperbole than wear out my “zero” key by hitting it that many times.

If you want to see the whole posted conversation over on Penny Arcade! it’s here.  The backlash has apparently been so unpleasant that the original offender is now begging for mercy, much to Mike Krahulik’s evident delight.

Now for those of us outside the gaming world it’s a little hard to process a story like this.  I mean, this is just not something you see in other industries.  Even very bad PR professionals don’t usually fire off e-mails belittling customers in explicit terms.

So my advice to the rest of you is to take this for what it is:  concrete evidence of the savage and primitive culture that lives among us.  This shit, right here?  This is why I have to tell people to never read the comments (which I did with the help of an old Penny Arcade comic, I realize now, looking back at it).

Because the harsh reality of it is that the author of those e-mails is someone who managed to make a successful career out of managing public relations for gaming technology companies.  Perhaps no longer — but he had his run.  He was a public face for competitive companies.

And that’s just a tiny bit scary.

So welcome back to MA101, ladies and gents and persons of indeterminate gender, and stick around for more of what the internet dragged in, along with our usual writing advice, off-color jokes, and pictures of fuzzy ponies. Tune in five days a week, M-F!

Site Announcement: Holiday Schedule

Good readers, I’m off for the holidays.  I’ll be traveling the next few days, spending time with the family, etc.

Misanthropology101 will return on Wed. Dec. 28.  Until then, please enjoy our latest holiday-themed post from yesterday, or this picture of a fuzzy ponies on parade:

So fuzzy! So festive!

How to Reduce Holiday Stress (A Multifaith Guide)

Boy, is there anything more stressful around the holidays than feeling like your faith is being mocked by the phony forces of “multiculturalism” and “political correctness”?

Well, some of us might argue traffic, or shopping malls, or snow (or the terrifying and continued lack of snow in central Wisconsin, seriously now folks it is the solstice and I would like to get on with that shit please).  But apparently we are not news; news is people flipping out because someone said “holiday tree” instead of “Christmas tree,” or, alternatively, because someone famous said “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” or just “have a nice day.”

So for those of you who are feeling the stress of having your faith belittled, don’t worry.  MA101 is here to help.  Take slow deep breaths and remember our Calming Points for each of the major faiths this December:


  • Christmas is a one-day holiday.  You don’t have to get worked up the other 30 days of December.  All that red and green stuff going on the rest of the month?  Not actually anything to do with Christ.  It’s okay if people aren’t taking it seriously.
  • If you do want to get worked up for a whole month, you actually have that holiday.  It’s called Lent, and it will start on February 22, 2012.  Heck, it’s not even just a month; it’s forty days.  No one else will give a shit, because retailers can’t make money off of fasting and penitence, but you’ll have your whole season of being grumpy that people aren’t Christian enough.
  • The Bible actually sort of proscribes Christmas trees.  I mean, not for Christmas specifically, but Jeremiah 1-4 reads:

1Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:

 2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

 3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

 4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

Which sounds kinda familiar, honestly.  So maybe it’s okay if people are calling those things “holiday trees.”  In fact, just to be on the safe side, you’d better ditch yours next year.


  • Okay, Hanukkah is an unimportant little holiday tarted up so it can compete with Christmas.  That secret is out at this point.  But really, isn’t that kind of awesome?  Bring on the Hanukkah bush and Hanukkah Harry and all that crap.  It’s fun, it’s got that kind of hip I-don’t-actually-give-a-shit Jewish vibe, and you can confuse the goyim by saying meaningless Yiddish-sounding words and then glaring expectantly like they’re supposed to be giving some culturally-appropriate reply.
  • Eight nights as opposed to one.  Be sure to get good and offended when the Christians are busy getting good and offended about something being not Christmasy enough:  “Excuse me?  We’re two nights into Hanukkah, your holiday isn’t for another three days, and you’re already trying to stomp all over our special day?  Oy, what a schlmozzel!”
  • Let’s face it, menorah are way prettier than creche scenes.


  • Actually, I have no clue.  Ramadan was kinda around Christmas a couple years ago, but it moves every year.  So…enjoy not having to buy presents, I guess?
  • Here, tell you what — you can get your share of holiday self-righteousness in by telling me what the heck Muslims do in December, holiday-wise, down in the comments section.  Go ahead and be super offended that I didn’t already know.  It’s my gift to you.


  • Don’t think of the angel on top of the Christmas tree as an offensive symbol of Christian dominance over your tradition.  Think of it as shoving your tradition right up Christianity’s c*nt!
  • On that subject, Christmas trees as we use ’em today were pretty much a Victorian upper-class invention.  It’s not actually all that related to the fact that some other people in other places and other times also decorated trees.  It’s just not that novel of a decorating technique, when you get right down to it.


  • Given that the primary lure of atheism, as far as I can tell, is the smug sense of superiority when other people talk about their faiths, why would you get worked up about all the extra Christmas fuss?  It is like icing on your delicious intelligentsia cake.  Revel in it.  Every shopping mall Santa is proof of your personal superiority.
  • Or, alternatively, you could just relax because December is the same as every other month in your cold and godless existence.  What people do or don’t do during it doesn’t matter anyway.  They are simply blocks of matter fulfilling meaningless biological imperatives.  Cheery!

And That About Wraps it Up

Not all the world religions, of course.  There’s a couple continents we’ve basically skipped, in fact.  But I think we’ve hit all the major ones that make regular cable-news appearances in December, fussing and fighting about whose traditions are being denigrated, because seriously when was the last time you saw a devout Hindu waving a sign outside Macy’s to remind us that “IT’S ALL ABOUT SURYA”?

Do we all feel calmer?  I hope so.  If we’ve missed any soothing thoughts that you like to dwell on, feel free to add them below in the comments section!

One Last Stephen Bloom Lesson: How to Know When You’ve Written a Right Proper Cock-Up

Last post on this subject, I promise.

But yesterday’s post may have left readers just coming to this story a little confused about why University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom needs to be thinking about apologies and how to make them.  That was my poor communication and I apologize for it (see what I did there?).

There are a couple ways to tell when you’ve written, published, and taken responsibility for a piece that has offended more people than you meant it to.  Obviously you can read the comments, if it’s published online, but how often do I say “never read the comments” around here?  They’re simply not a valuable barometer.

No, the signs telling Stephen Bloom that he cocked up good and hard are all the creative and public ways people directly affiliated with his professional well-being are finding to distance themselves from him.  So if you are a writer, particularly one employed in an academic setting, you might look for any of the following warning signs:

  • Speaking of the university you work at, its president slams you in a public letter, describes herself as personally offended by your writing, and firmly clarifies that you “do not speak for the university.”
  • Did we mention that the governor of the state took some time out of his busy schedule to call you “out of touch” and your writing “a very nasty, negative piece”?

At the point where that many people with direct influence on your life are lining up to distance themselves from you, and in some cases be publicly seen as antagonists to you, you cocked it up good.

Or that’s the lesson I hope someone would take from such a high-profile firestorm.  Whether Stephen Bloom (who wisely waited until a year-long assignment to Michigan before writing his piece) belatedly catches up or not, I guess we’ll see.

But probably not on MA101, since I promised this would be the last time I kicked this particular football around.

Stephen Bloom, Iowa, and Yet Another Lesson in How to Mishandle an Apology

So I don’t know if you saw any of the coverage, but a journalist named Stephen Bloom wrote a piece for The Atlantic called “Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life” that upset some Iowans.

Not exactly big news outside of Iowa, I grant.  But it ran in a national magazine with 400,000 subscribers, and Mr. Bloom’s opinion of Iowa was sufficiently unflattering that even out-of-staters were pretty willing to believe that there was less-than-objective journalism going on here, so it’s getting kicked around the Internet by bloggers like Yours Truly.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette has a good round-up list of all the various responses and fallout, if you’re interested in pursuing the story a bit further, but all you really need to know for today’s lesson is that Bloom wrote a lengthy opinion column that offended just about everyone in Iowa, where he happens to reside and work as a professor of journalism at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and that people were unshy — although, being Iowans, largely polite — in telling him their feelings.

Did I use the word “Iowa” a lot in that sentence, or what?

The next day, Stephen Bloom sent a written statement to the Des Moines Register:

“For 40 years as a journalist, I’ve tried to shine a light into dark corners. That’s what good journalists do. They don’t accept what politicians, government bureaucrats, corporate spokespeople say is the truth. Good journalism isn’t just reporting. It’s making observations, trying to make sense out of the world and its shadows — even if readers don’t agree with those observations.

“This lengthy story asks readers to think about the long-term future of Iowa. It raises uncomfortable truths rarely discussed — but truths that absolutely need to be discussed no matter how difficult it may be to do so.

“When my book ‘Postville’ came out in 2000, I was called some of the most hateful names imaginable. Many of my fellow Iowans took issue with me and what I reported. Eleven years later, the issues I raised in that book — about undocumented workers, pollution, unsafe working conditions, sexual abuse, financial irregularities — all have proven true.

“As happened with ‘Postville,’ over the last several days, I’ve received scores of emails and phone calls, calling me all sorts of hateful things. Some of the responses, frankly, are frightening.

“Diversity of opinion is a cornerstone of democratic thought and principle. It’s what we hold above almost everything else.

“The easiest response to my article is to condemn me and the issues I raise. That’s a tried-and-true tactic. Kill the messenger, ignore the message. That’s safe and convenient. But it doesn’t get at some of the raw, undeniable questions this story poses.”

Astute observers will notice that what this statement lacks, at any point, is an apology or a concession that the Atlantic article might have been a matter of opinion rather than fact.  The central argument is that no one but Stephen Bloom is talking about the things Stephen Bloom is talking about, with the underlying assumption that this is because they are scared rather than that this is because these things exist only in Stephen Bloom’s head.

Should you ever find yourself, as a writer, pissing off a vast swath of people, this is not how to handle it.

Say you’re sorry.  You can say it insincerely; you can even do one of those half-assed “I’m sorry we can’t agree on this issue” sorts of things.  But crying victim and complaining that people can’t be reasonable because your writing is just too true for them makes you look like a world-class asshole.

Even to Iowans.

Full Disclosure:  Like a lot of the people who actually noticed this story, I grew up in Iowa.  But even if you didn’t, seriously — just say you’re sorry when you piss off that many people at once.


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