12/30/2011

Coolest Science & Technology Breakthroughs of 2011


Here's my favorite year-end list of all: the coolest science and technology breakthroughs of 2011.  When I get frustrated by the ignorance and waste of politicians, pondering the brilliant initiatives our world's scientists are getting up to (somewhat) restores my hope. 
  1. Cloud computing wasn't introduced in 2011, but 2011 was the year when regular folks started understanding what it meant, and learned to appreciate its conveniences.  Almost everyone I know now has a Dropbox account.  Does this mean those cute novelty USB drives (the ones shaped like kittens and rocket ships) soon be a thing of the past? 
  2. Google+.  Google has tried to take on Facebook before.  (Remember Google Buzz? Google Wave? Didn't think so.) But this time they're supporting the launch of Google+ with advertising and all the good will they've built up over the years.  Doubtless they're hoping to capitalize on Facebook's many misteps this past year, launching a series of poorly explained "tweeks" that chipped away at users' privacy rights.  And something about circles ....
  3. iStuff. This year's iOfferings included the highly anticipated iPad2 and the iPhone4S.  But with Verizon's Droid phones offering a viable alternative to Apple's iPhones, and with the death of Steve Jobs in October, could this be the last year that Apple shows up on my yearly "hot science and technologies" list?
  4. Kindle Fire/Nook Color.  I realize I identified this as a trend last year, but in 2011 the devices became practically ubiquitous, thanks to several new developments: (1) internet connectivity, allowing the devices to function as tablet computers, (2) color displays, and (3) efforts by libraries to make newly-published materials available in digital format to borrowers.
  5. A Cure for Aging?  For decades scientists have wondered about the role that damaged cells play in the aging process.  Finally, this past year, scientists figured out how to remove damaged cells from the bodies of a particular strain of genetically modified mice.  What happened?  The mice didn't live appreciably longer, but their quality of life was much higher, seeming to suggest that damaged cells do play a roll in aging.  All I can say is they need to get hopping on this, as I'm not getting any younger.
  6. Space Shuttle Retires.  The space shuttle program was characterized by a few tragic failures but a whole bunch of phenomenal successes.  In latter years it was primarily perceived as a way to resupply the International Space Stations - hardly the sexiest of missions - but would be wrong to forget all the other cool things it did: launched satellites, repaired space assets (remember when astronauts fixed the Hubble Space Telescope? coolest repair ever), and conducted experiments that furthered our understanding of the universe. 
  7. Higgs Boson found?  Physicists at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland, announced that they are finally closing in on the elusive Higgs particle. The Higgs is the last, missing piece of the Standard Model, the physics version of Camelot.  That lowering of air pressure you're feeling?  That's 100,000 physicists around the world, all holding their breath.
  8. Faster Than the Speed of Light.  Speaking of CERN, they announced in Sep 2011 that they had timed a subatomic particle travelling 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light, which would seem to violate the laws of nature as we've come to understand them.  Guess I might as well throw out those notes I took in Physics 101 all those years ago - practically everything I learned is being debunked!  
  9. Arsenic-based life forms!  Maybe I should throw away my Biology 101 notes as well?  Because I was under the impression that all life forms on Earth are carbon based.  Not so!  In 2011, scientists announced the discovery of freaky arsenic-based life forms in a lake in California.  Or not?  Some argue that the DNA samples must have been tainted. But if the finding is verified, this means we're definitely going to need to expand our definition of "life".
  10. Mars Mission. The Mars Science Laboratory, a rover nicknamed Curiosity, is five times bigger than any of the previous Mars rovers.  Its mission is to find evidence that liquid water once existed on Mars and then to find evidence of microbial life that might have spawned on Mars billions of years ago. So far, scientists have found no conclusive evidence of life on Mars. But since Mars once had great oceans (one of them about the size of the U.S.) there is still hope that some form of life may have germinated on Mars.
  11. Humanity hits 7 Billion.  In October, the human population reached 7 billion. This happened just 12 years after we hit 6 billion; in contrast, it took humanity about 72,000 years to reach its first billion. According to the science fiction books I read as a teen, we're definitely going to start eating each other soon.
  12. E.T. Phone Home!  Using NASA's Kepler space telescope, astronomers spotted the closest planet yet to being considered a home away from home. The exoplanet, named Kepler 22-b, has a mass just 2.4 times greater than Earth's and orbits its parent star within the so-called 'habitable zone,' potentially giving it a temperate climate and the right conditions for life.
  13. Halting HIV?  A clinical trial completed this year conclusively proved that people taking ARVs to treat their HIV were 96% less likely to transmit HIV to others.  That's wonderful news for people trying to live normal lives with HIV, and provides hope that there may be a way to slow down the transmission of the disease in countries where AIDS is pandemic.
Am not going to include a list of science controversies of the year, but if I did, list would begin and end with fracking, a process that releases natural gas from shales but that has potentially scary environmental consequences, to include water contamination and destabalization of fault lines. A process only ExxonMobile could love.

12/29/2011

Dear ___, Sincerely ___


  1. Dear Christmas -  Who handles your PR? Sincerely, Hannukah
  2. Dear Gulf of Mexico - Sorry about that.  Sincerely, BP
  3. Dear Snowmaggedon - It's called irony.  Sincerely, Global Warming
  4. Dear OJ - What now?  Sincerely, Casey Anthony
  5. Dear United States - All your base are belong to us.  Sincerely, Iraq
  6. Dear Kate Middleton - I'm the man your man could smell like.  Sincerely, Old Spice Guy
  7. Dear Republican Party - So long, and thanks for Ronald Reagan.  Sincerely, Moderates
  8. Dear College Students - Get used to disappointment.  Sincerely, The Economy
  9. Dear Steve Jobs - Sorry, but there isn't an app for that.  Sincerely, St. Peter
  10. Dear 99% - Living in tent cities in public parks? That's why you'll never be us.  Sincerely, The 1%

Best & Worst of 2011 - Culture & Society

At midnight, Dec 31, we'll consign another year to the history books.  What will 2011's lasting contributions be to culture and society?  If you go by this list, some good, some bad, and a whole lot of indifferent.
  1. Gay Rights. Same-sex marriage was approved by New York, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was finally abolished, and violence/cruelty against gays was openly challenged in 2011 when, spurred by the suicide of several bullied gay men, Youtube blossomed with "It Gets Better" testimonials from celebrities and/or gay adults, encouraging gay teens to hang in there.
  2. 15 Minutes of Fame/Infamy.  Every year contributes a number of whince-worthy moments to the public consciousness.  Here's a round-up of some of the worst 2011 had to offer.
    1. Casey Anderson trial.  After a media spectacle to rival the opening ceremony of the Olympics, she was found not guilty of murdering her child, apparently by the same jury that freed O.J. Simpson. 
    2. Kim Kardashian wedding.  It was grotesquely lavish ... and then, 72 days later, it was over, when the bride and groom announced that they were having the whole thing annulled.  Back in the olden days, they used to call this kind of thing a "publicity stunt."
    3. Charlie Sheen, star of the highly successful sitcom, 2 1/2 Men, went publicly bonkers.  Stars do stupid things all the time, of course, but few will ever be able to match the verve and tenacity with which Sheen set about publicly destroying his credibility and career. 
    4. Jerry Sandusky/Penn State sexual abuse scandal.  The news that beloved Penn State football coach Sandusky may have been sexually abusing young boys for decades was appalling, tawdry, and a blow to Penn State alum everywhere.
    5. Athony Weiner's "weiner pic".  The real question isn't why a politician would do something so stupid as to forward a pic of his private parts to a woman he'd met over the internet; but why men think that this is something women want to see.
    6. Throckmorton aka "Niggerhead".  The name of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's Texs ranch.  Really.  Couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
    7. It's the End of the World.  This according to Harold Camping, a christian evangelist.  No, really, he was absolutely, positively sure this time that it would come on Oct 21.  And then it didn't.  :-(
  3. The world of books welcomed The Pale King, a half-finished MS left behind by David Foster Wallace.  If you weren't a member of the literati, however, you were probably reading either the Hunger Games series (if you were a girl), the Game of Thrones series (if you were a dude),the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series (if you were a kid), or one of the many book group books made into movies this year, a cohort that included The Help, Water for Elephants, The Lincoln Lawyer, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  For a change, we even read some non-fiction this year, a list headed by The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and footnoted by a bio of wunderkind Steve Jobs.  Familiar authors still topping the best seller charts after all these years: John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, Steven King, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Janet Evonavich, David Baldacci, Nora Roberts, and Dean Koontz. 
  4. One way to cope with the stress of the ongoing recession: angry birds.  Hard to believe there's an American who didn't at some point during the year download this game onto at least one of their electronic devices. Even my parents played it.  It's like the pigs were Wall Street, and the birds were us.
  5. Meanwhile, the rest of the tech world was dominated by Kindle Fire, Siri, and iPad2, signs that the great Convergence - the great Media Convergence, that is - can't be far away.
  6. On Broadway, singing Mormons dominated the year, as the contagiously irreverent Book of Mormon pretty much swept the Tonys. 
  7. Another way to cope with the recession was extreme couponing.  Whole cable shows were devoted to demonstrating how, with the aid of scissors, patience, and 100 copies of the Sunday newspaper, ordinary folk filled their basements with a lifetime's supply of mustard, pasta, and Hidden Ranch salad dressing for pennies a week.  Now all we have to do is figure out more recipes that require the use of mustard, pasta, and salad dressing.
  8. Girls ruled pop music in 2011, with Adele, Kate Perry, Rihanna, K$sha, and Lady Gaga dominating the charts.  Even my parents downloaded "Firework". (Maybe they listen to it while they're playing Angry Birds.)
  9. In sports, the Packers topped the Steelers in the Superbowl, the Cardinals triumphed over the Rangers in the World Series, and the Bruins took hockey's Stanley Cup. 
  10. Memorable memes of the year included the White House "situation room" at the moment Bin Laden was assassinated, pepper spraying cops, a teenager named Rebecca Black starring in a really bad music video, first world problems, planking, a taxadermist named Chuck Testa, and a loser named Scumbag Steve.
  11. In: Skyrim, Portal 2, Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3, crowdsourcing, pretzel chips, fairy tales, teebowing, novelty vodka, groupons, fur, lobster shoes, Ray Gosling, royalty, Dr. Who, Sesame Street knit hats, honeybadgers, downsizing your life, facetiming, China as a global power
  12. Out: Halo, flash mobs, electric cars, pita chips, teeth whitening, vampires, flu pandemics, Sarah Palin, Abercrombie & Fitch, foregoing vaccinations, skyping, U.S. as a global power
  13. Deaths:
    1. Steve Jobs (Apple Co. founder & visionary)
    2. Amy Winehouse (troubled singer)
    3. Osama Bin Laden (terrorist leader behidn the 9/11 attacks)
    4. Mohmar Ghadafi (long-time dictator of Lybia)
    5. Borders bookstore
    6. Kim Jung Il (dictator of North Korea)
    7. Andy Rooney (humorist and long-time 60 Minutes correspondent)
    8. Betty Ford (wife of Pres. Gerald Ford & drug/alcohol abuse spokesperson)
    9. Elizabeth Taylor (legendary actress)
    10. Geraldine Feraro (vice presidential candidate)
    11. Joe Frazier (boxer)
    12. Gen. John Shalikashvili (Desert Storm CEO)
    13. Richard Holbrooke (diplomat)
    14. the last U.S. WWI veteran (aged 110)
  14.  Quote of the Year:  "We are the 99 percent." — Occupy movement

Best & Worst of 2011 - News & Politics


Again, am not pretending I generated this list on my own. What I have done is surveyed many of the top news organizations (The New York Times, BBC, Reuters, Time Magazine, etc.) and merged their picks into a single list.  Isn't it convenient to have all this in one place?
  1. The Race for the Republican Nomination.  I understand the tendency of memories to be short but, really, can anyone remember a slate of such "colorful" characters? Michelle Bachman, the loony Tea Party candidate.  Ron Paul, the libertarian.  Romney, the milquetoast Mormon from Vermont.  Herman Cain, the Pizza king.  Donald Trump, he of the gopher-fur hairpiece. Santorum and his internet search issues.  Huntsman, too qualified to be qualified.  Gingrich, the man who practically defines "vainglorious".   Even my Republican friends are shaking their heads in disbelief.
  2. Earthquake/Tsunami in Japan.  A record 9.0-magnitude quake hit Japan, wreaking unimaginable calamity (more than 10,000 dead, miles of coastline villages gone) and perhaps a bit of hubris - turns we humans were really rather stupid to think that if we strengthened our building codes, we could outwit Mother Nature.  And we don't know yet what long-term damage will result from the compromise of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
  3. "Arab Spring".    Citizens from Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya rose up. Of course, each country had its own set of unique, complex circumstances and craved its own particular kind of freedom. Yet the domino effect, amplified by social networking, made the Arab Spring appear to be a collective revolt. Some, like Egypt and Tunisia, quickly effected astonishing change, from riot to election. Others followed a more typical, protracted conflict -- some with the death of a leader (Mohamar Ghadafi), others with no end in sight (Syria).
  4. Death Comes to the Dictators.  All in all, 2011 was not a good year to be a dictator.  After 10 years of searching, the U.S. Marines finally located and assassinated Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in his (not so) hidden compound in Pakistan.  Meanwhile, in Libya, Mohamar Ghadafi's people took the business into their own hands.  And in North Korea, "natural causes" did what madness couldn't, finally removing Kim Jung-Il from power. "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't" - or so goes the old saying - but I for one am having a hard time imagining devils as bad as these guys.
  5. The U.S. Recession Continues.  The U.S. continued to struggle with unemployment rates that hovered around 10% - and that didn't include an extra 3%  economists suspect of having given up looking for new jobs entirely.  For the first time ever, Standard & Poors actually downgraded our nation's creditworthiness.  And then Congress really scared us by delaying until the last possible moment upping the U.S. debt limit, thus belaying the first ever default of the U.S. on its debt.  Meanwhile, house foreclosure rates accelerated, having hit a bottleneck at the beginning of the year due to legal issues related to a "robo-signing" scandal.  While cities like D.C. remained relatively unimpacted (lucky us!), cities such as Detroit, Vegas, Ft. Myer, Youngstown, and Phoenix continued to experience devastating job and quality of life losses.  
  6. Occupy Wall Street.  Possibly inspired by that old cult hit Network ("We're as mad as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore!"), people camped out in the financial districts of cities across the U.S., demanding financial equity for the "other 99%" of Americans.  Though some news outlets tried to paint the "occupiers" as the flip side of the Tea Party, thus far the movement has not managed to generate the cohesive philosophy and list of demands that has made the Tea Party such a formidable political force.  Maybe it's the whole "camping out" thing ... it's hard to be a taken seriously as a political force when you haven't shaved or bathed in a week.
  7. Continuing Financial Crisis in EU.  The EU continued to struggle with financial instability triggered by the impending bankrupcy of several of its members (Portungal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain - aka "the PIGS").  As Germany frantically negotiated rescue plans and covered failing loan after loan, folks in Greece did their part by rioting against the governments' attempt to implement austerity measures.  Though Germany has managed to solve some currency fluidity issues and to stabalize matters for the time being, no one believes the end of this crisis is in sight.
  8. Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Iraq.  Obama ostensibly delivered on his promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, though the decision ultimately rested on practical rather than philosophical considerations.  The new Iraqi government wouldn't agree to exempt U.S. soldiers from prosecution for civil crimes, raising the spectre of U.S. soldiers thrown into Iraqi prisons for accidentally wounding or murdering Iraqi citizens in the course of military actions.
  9. The Joplin Tornado.  The most deadly tornado in almost 60yrs killed over 100 people, left another 500 injured, and essentially levelled Joplin, a town of 50,000 people.  In these days of Doppler radar and warning sirens, seems incredible that tornadoes are still capable of wreaking such destruction.  But then, weren't we just talking about hubris and the stupidity of anyone who thinks that humans are capable of out-engineering Mother Nature?
  10. 10th Anniversary of 9/11 Terrorist Attacks.  The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was observed with appropriate ceremony and gravity.
  11. Marriage of King William & Kate Middleton.  Thanks goodness, the sensible bride and groom forewent most (though not all) of the "fairy tale" trappings that made his father's wedding to Di such a spectacle.  But anytime you tie the knot in Westminster Cathedral, it's bound to cause a stir.
And just to be thorough, here are some of the "runners up" that appeared on various lists but that I didn't think warranted top billing. Turns out one of the benefits of creating your own list is that you get to pick what goes on it.
  1. States vs. Unions (Wisconsin and elsewhere)
  2. Shooting of U.S. Representative Gabriella Giffords
  3. Dominique Strauss-Khan scandal
  4. Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by U.S. military
  5. Anti-Putin protests in Russia
  6. Iran's continuing nuclear ambition
  7. Last launch of the space shuttle (covered in more detail under "Top Science News of 2011" entry)

12/27/2011

Best & Worst of 2011 - Movies & Television


Just to be clear, I possess no credentials that qualify me to pull together a list purporting to include the best and worst movies/television of 2011.  I'm about as unhip and culturally illiterate as Carl Rove.  But the one credential I do possess is curiosity, and a willingness to search the net in order to satisfy that curiosity. 

What this list represents is an informal but fairly comprehensive survey of the opinions of people who actually can lay claim to hipness and/or culturally literacy.  Having said that, I've still exercised my right at the list's compiler to contribute my own opinions and snarky remarks whenever the mood struck me.

Best and Worst Movies of 2011
  1. Milestones, Trends, and Honorable Mentions
    1. The End of Harry Potter.  After the last movie, my now 20yr old son turned to me and said, "I feel like my childhood just officially ended."  Bet it felt that way to thousands of other kids who grew up with the franchise, each new movie marking milestones not just in the lives of Harry et. al., but in the lives of the fans who fell in love with the characters in the original J.K. Rowlings books and then faithfully followed them to the screen.  Some of the books made better movies than others, but taken in whole, the 8 Harry Potter movies combined to form a solid and worthy canon.
    2. The Rise of Streaming Video (aka the self-destruction of Netflix). Was 2011 truly the year that streaming video came of age?  That's certainly what Netflix wanted us all to believe.  Desperate to wring more profit out of the movie delivery business, they foisted streaming video upon their millions of subscribers, blithely unaware - or unconcerned - that folks used to having access to a catalog of 100,000 movies might possibly be miffed at suddenly being able to access only about 10,000 movies - and most of those older, "public access" fare like those ubiquitous Marilyn Monroe films they show every Sunday afternoon on network TV.  Clearly streaming video has not yet "arrived" - whatever Netflix would have us believe - but it is also clear that the era of streaming video isn't far off. 
    3. Movies for Book Club Babes.  This was the year Hollywood finally seemed to figure out that women who read are a viable market.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Help, and Water for Elephants were three book club staples that made profits for studios at the box office this year.
  2. Sequels, Superheroes & Remakes
    1. Captain America: The First Avenger
    2. Cars 2
    3. Conan the Barbarian
    4. Final Destination 5.
    5. Footloose
    6. The Green Hornet
    7. The Green Lantern
    8. Happy Feet 2.
    9. The Hangover (pt2)
    10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt 2).  It's the sequel of a sequel - how cool is that!
    11. Kung Fu Panda 2
    12. Midnight in Paris.  Not technically a sequel, but Woody Allen's first flick in ages.
    13. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
    14. The Muppets
    15. Paranormal Activity 3
    16. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Shores
    17. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
    18. Scream 4
    19. Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows
    20. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World
    21. The Three Muskateers
    22. Thor
    23. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
    24. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (pt1)
    25. X-Men: First Class
  3. Critics' Favorites:
    1. The Artist
    2. The Descendents
    3. Drive
    4. Hugo
    5. Iron Lady
    6. J. Edgar
    7. Margin Call
    8. Moneyball
    9. Of Gods & Men
    10. Rango
    11. Separation
    12. Shame
    13. Super 8
    14. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    15. Tree of Life
    16. The Trip
    17. Win Win
  4. Fan Favorites (a mix of movies that made a lot of money + movies that were well-reviewed by ordinary folk)
    1. Cars 2.  Because boys love cars.
    2. Contagion.  Forget Paranormal Activity 3 - this was scary!
    3. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Ticket sales were boosted by folks eager to see the movie version of the only book they actually read in 2010-11.
    4. The Hangover 2. Because boys love stupid comedy and fart jokes.
    5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt 2). At last, a series movie that finishes as strong as it began. 
    6. The Help.  It was entertaining and just going to see it made you feel like you were striking a blow for civil rights.
    7. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  It's on the "fan favorites" list because it made an obscene amount of money, but I haven't yet anyone who felt like their $10 ticket was a good investment.
    8. Puss in Boots.  Continues to amaze me how the folks at Pixar and Dreamworks manage to take preposterous premiseses for movies (the last robot on earth! a mouse that cooks! a house that floats!) and turn them into magic.
    9. Thor.  Because boys loves superheroes, and Thor's hammer was way cooler than Green Lantern's ring, Captain America's lame super-shield.
    10. Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  Because boys love robots.
    11. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (pt 1).  Because girls love dysfunctional co-dependent romance.
    12. War Horse.  The "war" part sucked in the men, the "horse" part the women - but both genders stayed for the great plot and message.
  5. Worst Movies of 2011 (Movies that were intentionally bad - to include Christmas movies by chipmunks, bromances about alcoholic binges, and anything with the words "Harold and Kumar" in the title - are deliberately omitted. )
    1. Apollo 18.  The premise was cool - astronauts on the moon discover that they are not alone! - but the follow-through was painfully bad.
    2. Arthur.  This movie was awful the first time, which (you have to think) should have discouraged them from trying again.
    3. Bad Teacher.  Bet Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake wish they could have a "do-over".
    4. Cowboys & Aliens.  How can a movie with a kickass name like "Cowboys & Aliens" starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig fail to entertain? I'm still wondering what went wrong.
    5. Gnomio and Juliet.  The yard gnome version of Romeo and Juliet. I'm all for exposing kids to the classics young, but is this really the best we can do?  We can only hope Gnomlet, the gnome version of Hamlet, isn't next.
    6. Jack & Jill.  If you buy the premise that you can tell when comedy stars are dying when they resort to wearing fat suits (Eddy Murphy, Martin Lawrence), then this was Adam Sandler's farewell.
    7. Passion Play.  This Mickey Rourke vehicle went for pretentious ... and missed.
    8. Reel Steel. Really? A movie version of the children's toy Rock'm Sock'm Robots?
    9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Not good enough to be entertaining, not bad enough to be mocked.  A waste of good CGI.
    10. Season of the Witch.  Nicholas Gage needs to fire his agent.  Now.
    11. Smurfs.  Their 15 minutes of fame were up, like, 20 years ago, guys!
    12. The Green Lantern.  Some superheroes just aren't ready to make the jump to the big screen. Hope the folks mulling over the possibility of an Aquaman movie take heed. 
    13. Tin Tin.  You didn't have to be a fan of the comic books to appreciate the deft way the producers of this flick captured everything - the action, the exotic locals, the dog, that hairdo! - that made the comic books great.
Best and Worst Television Shows of 2011
  1. Milestones, Trends and Honorable Mentions
    1. The End of Oprah Winfrey.  Her show went out in a blaze of celebrity glory, but I think we all know Oprah Winfrey isn't going anywhere.
    2. The End of Soap Operas.  Just the names - All My Children, One Life to Live - evoke a simpler time, when we truly cared about whether Luke & Laura would ever be happy, when we truly believed that Erica Cane never aged, and when we still bought a product known as "soap flakes."   
    3. Charlie Sheen Goes Postal.  What's more fun than watching a celeb self-destruct, a la Brittany Spears, Mel Gibson, and Tom Cruise?   I suspect the only television Mr. Sheen will be doing from now on is guest appearances on Celebrity Rehab.
    4. WDDW? WDRW?  A survey published towards the end of the year postulated that political convictions shape television viewing habits. So, what did Republicans watch in 2011? The answer was: Swamp Loggers/Top Shot/American Pickers/Swamp People/pretty much every other cable show that features working people, The Bachelor, Castle, Mythbusters, Jay Leno, The Middle, and Biggest Loser.  Meanwhile, Democrats were apparently tuning into Jon Stewart/Steve Colbert, 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, Glee, Modern Family, Masterpiece Theater, and David Letterman.
  2. Trends
    1. Fairy Tales. Two shows - Once Upon a Time and Grimm - insinuated that fairy tale characters are real and that they walk among us.  I always knew I was Alice in Wonderland ...!
    2. Storage wars, Food wars, Fashion wars.  2011 was the year in which the networks turned everything into a battle for survival, from buying storage units (Storage Wars) to designing clothes (Project Runway), from cooking (Hell's Kitchen) to decorating cakes (Cake Wars).  Can't we all agree that cupcakes and hate don't mix?  
    3. Vampires & Zombies & Ghosts - oh, my!  See ordinary folk try to survive a zombie apocalypse in Walking Dead!  See ghosts terrify innocent folks to death in American Horror Story!  See curiously good-looking vampires brood and menace in True Blood and Vampire DiariesBuffy the Vampire Slayer, you have a lot to answer for.
    4. Apparently, America's Got Talent.  Or so you'd believe, based on the number of television talent shows that filled television timeslots in 2011: American Idol, The X-Factor, The Sing-off, Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, Live to Dance, etc.  The common denominator, of course, isn't actually talent but production costs: these shows are relatively cheap to produce and so not likely to go away anytime soon; though the 2011 seasons of some of the above suggested that maybe America is actually starting to run out of talent ....
    5. Multiple kids.  Hopefully, 2011 was the year in which our fascination with multiple births finally began to fade. Kate + 8 was cancelled, and 19 Kids and Counting, featuring the Duggers, began to lose its charm after the Duggers themselves appeared uninterested in the details of their latest pregnancy. 
  3. Critics' Favorites
    1. Boardwalk Empire
    2. Breaking Bad
    3. Community
    4. Downton Abbey
    5. Enlightened
    6. Friday Night Lights
    7. Game of Thrones
    8. The Good Wife
    9. Homeland
    10. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
    11. Justified
    12. The Middle
    13. Modern Family
    14. Parks & Recreation
  4. Gone but Not Forgotten (shows that bit the dust in 2011)
    1. All My Children
    2. Big Love
    3. Brothers & Sisters
    4. Chicago Code
    5. Entourage
    6. Friday Night Lights
    7. Hannah Montana
    8. Kate + 8. 
    9. Law and Order: Criminal Intent/Law and Order: LA
    10. Lopez Tonight.
    11. Men of a Certain Age
    12. One Life to Live
    13. Oprah Winfrey Show
    14. Rescue Me
    15. Smallville
  5. Still Good Fun
    1. Mythbusters
    2. Big Bang Theory
    3. 30 Rock
    4. Raising Hope
    5. Sons of Anarchy
  6. Controversial
    1. All American Muslim.   People protested this show because it dared to suggest that Muslims are people too.  Really - couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.
    2. The Playboy Club.  Sad to think about all the energy womens' groups expended protesting a show that turned out to be so bad, it would have died a natural death even earlier if they hadn't called so much attention to it.
  7. Declining
    1. Glee.  The producers have turned this into a character-driven drama, forgetting that what attracted viewers that first glorious year was the outrageous plot devices (bring "evil Sue" back!), the "plucky outsiders" storyline, and the over-the-top musical numbers.  
    2. The Simpsons.  The ocassional episode still rises to the challenge, but these days more episodes are lame than not.  Maybe - God help us - it's time to retire Homer et. al.?
    3. How I Met Your Mother.  This show is getting way too whiny, and not in an entertaining Seinfeld kind of way. 
    4. The Office.  A valient effort, but it just isn't the same without Steve Carroll.
    5. Two and a Half Men.  Forget the Charlie Sheen controversy - this should have been retired when the kid entered his obnoxious teen years.  No one needs to see that.
    6. Project Runway.  Lost what charm it had once the show became more about the whiny contestants than the fashion.
  8. Duds (shows that debuted and then promptly disappeared)
    1. Pan Am.  Visually, the show was gloriously glamorous.  Too bad the plots were decidedly less entertaining. 
    2. The Playboy Club.  It's almost hard to imagine how they made a show about The Playboy Club boring, but somehow they managed it.
    3. Terra Nova.  Humans travel back to the past and coexist with dinosaurs!  This idea wasn't even good enough to sustain the truly awful children's show Land of the Lost back in the 70s, and even cool CGI dinosaurs weren't enough to make it work in the '10s 
  9. Worst TV of 2011
    1. Charlie's Angels.  Once the writers ran out of plot devices that justified the angels walking around in bikinis, what was the point?
    2. Jersey Shore.  Someone should step in and stop the exploitation of stupid people by television producers.  Then again, what would MTV do for programming if that happened?
    3. Memphis Beat.   The producers claimed that folks weren't ready to accept the "My Name is Earl" guy in a serious role.  Never mind that the scripts were painfully bad and I could never figure out why the guy was singing.
    4. The New Girl.   Some critics actually liked this show, but I side with the vast majority that found the doe-eyed starlette in the lead role as annoyingly cute as weaponized kittens.
    5. Teen Mom 2 / 16 and Pregnant.  Shows like these remind me why we don't televise executions: we may pretend the purpose is to provide a deterrent, but we all know the reason people watch is the voyeuristic thrill of witnessing people self-destructing before our eyes.
    6. Dance Moms / Toddlers & Tiaras. Actual children are harmed in the making of this program.
    7. Terra Nova.  See above.
    8. X-Factor.  Hey, let's take American Idol but make the venue even more grotesquely extravagent, the guest appearances even more painfully inappropriate, the host even more patronizing, the contestants even more whiny, and the judges even more cruel!  And if we're really lucky, we may even bully some of the contestants into bursting into tears on air ...
    9. Real Housewives of ....  Insert whatever city name you want; these women were definitely something, but they sure weren't housewives.