Friday, July 31, 2015

10 things you don’t know about “10 Things You Don’t Know” articles

Seems like half the feature articles online these days are headlined “10 Things You Don’t Know About” one thing or the other.

Curious to learn more about this increasingly popular genre of formulaic journalism? Here goes. 

1. "10 things" was the brainchild of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence

Two years ago the Iranian intelligence service, which had been tasked with contaminating the USA's water supply with a drug to reduce the average American's IQ by 20 points, came up with an easier solution. A staff member developed a prototype for the first 10 Things article, which was placed on Buzzfeed. The rest is history.

2. They are tailor-made for the way we live today

10 Things articles are perfect for our attention-addled, multi-tasking society. They're short, sweet, and you don’t even have to read the text under the headings. Simply eyeball the bold text sentences that begin with the numbers 1 through 10 and you’ll get the gist of any 10 Things story.

3. Web site publishers love them

News and social media web sites know that stories that begin with 10 Things generate lots of click-throughs, which means lots of advertising revenue for them. Last week on the Huffington Post, for instance, “10 Things You Don't Know About Kourtney Kardashian’s Post-Baby Hemorrhoids” out-pulled an article on the same page headlined “U.S. Accidentally Nukes Toronto” ten-to-one, returning a tidy profit to Huffington’s parent company, AOL. (Psst. Check out the list at right of the "Popular Posts" on The two most widely-read both follow the formula.) 

4. You don’t have to be an expert to write 10 things about something

Simply come up with a subject most people know very little about (e.g. Einstein’s theory of relativity, American history, etc.) … look it up on Wikipedia … and, voila, you'll find 10 things about it that will come as news to some people. Submit your article to your favorite web site and you're in business!

5. No skill or talent is needed to become a 10 Things author

Any moron -- even one who flunked Freshman English -- can rewrite Wikipedia sentences and place numbers in front of them. And because there are no transitions between paragraphs, there's no need to worry about bridges as you would if you were writing a conventional feature article that required thought and skill.

6. There is something in every article to make readers feel smart

People who write 10 Things stories always throw in one or two facts their readers already know so the readers will feel smart. For instance, one of the “10 Things You Don't Know About KFC" was that the fast food chain specializes in chicken, and "10 Things You Don't Know About Ringo Starr" informed readers Mr. Starr was a Beatle.  

7. It's easier to write about complicated topics 

Paradoxically, 10 Things writers have found that the more difficult the topic, the easier and quicker it is to write about since it is unlikely anybody knows anything about it. The story that holds the record for being the fastest 10 Things article ever written, "10 Things You Don’t Know About Nuclear Physics,” was researched, written and published in one minute, twenty-two seconds.

8. The average American reads more than one hundred "10 Things" articles each and every month

And the genre is even more popular in China, where readers devour an average of 231 stories each month that start with "10件事情你不知道 …"

9. The Associated Press, Reuters and New York Times know a winner when they see one

Because the public no longer reads stories that don't begin with 10 Things, editors at the AP, Reuters and the Times have informed journalists that, effective September 1, every article must follow the 10 Things formula.

10. You’ll feel regret when you finish reading one

Seventy-three percent of readers say they actually feel dumber after reading a 10 Things article and 88 percent admit to being ashamed they wasted their time. See what we mean?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Stalking Dr. Palmer

I received a BB rifle the Christmas I was 11.

My father showed me how to load it and look through the sight to target my prey.

I stepped outside, took aim at a bird perched on a tree branch, and pulled the trigger. The bird toppled to the ground.

Seeing that dead bird gave me no pleasure, no sense of triumph, no sense of accomplishment. I never picked up that gun again.

There are many things whose appeal I cannot begin to fathom  – among them kale and Hillary Clinton – but trophy hunting supersedes them all. I've visited game reserves in South Africa and Namibia, where I was able to observe elephants, lions, leopard, rhinos and other endangered species in their natural habitats. It was – and for once I'm using the word properly – awesome. And humbling. As close to magic as it gets here on earth. One of the most profound experiences of my life, right up there with witnessing the births of my children. So I have been following with interest the saga of Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe.

Palmer, who fancies himself a big game hunter, paid $50,000 for a permit he asserts he believed gave him license to kill Cecil, a giant lion beloved by the locals. Palmer's guides lured Cecil out of the sanctuary where he lived, enabling Palmer to wound him with an arrow, but Cecil got away. Palmer and crew then stalked Cecil for two days before shooting him, after which they posed giddily with his carcass for the camera, then skinned him and cut off his head to hang as a trophy in one of Palmer’s houses. One of those houses is located a few miles down the road on Marco Island, Florida. I know this because a local TV station posted the address on Facebook to make it easy for protesters to find. Meanwhile, up in Minnesota, people have left plush lions on the front steps of Palmer's dental office to register their disgust.

Palmer has gone into hiding. He has been vilified by the press and by social media users. He has received death threats. Jimmy Kimmel cried while talking about Cecil. Palmer has had to hire a PR agency to deal with the damage to his reputation and his dental practice which, if I were a betting man, I’d have to guess is pretty much down the toilet. He will be lucky if he can get a job at one of those teeth whitening kiosks in the mall after this.

Now that he’s being stalked himself, perhaps Palmer is better able to understand how Cecil must have felt during those two days before he was finally put out of his misery.

Hunting for something you’re going to eat is one thing. Hunting because you want a stuffed head hanging above your fireplace to show the world you've got a big dick or whatever it is that trophy hunters feel compelled to prove, is something else.

All this outrage over Cecil's slaughter has made that perfectly clear to other Walter Palmers who, if they have any sense, will think twice before they fly off to Africa to kill lions, elephants and other endangered species. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Shorts stop

I hate shopping for clothes.

Come to think of it, I hate shopping for anything (except cars) and am confident I speak for the majority of my gender when I say that most men would agree with me. Have you ever met a man who, when you asked what he did that day, replied, “I went to the mall, tried on lots of clothes, bought several bags full, brought them home, tried them on again, then decided I didn’t like them, so I plan to take them back so I can do it all over again?”

Of course not. Women do it all the time but men don’t have time for that kind of nonsense. We’re too busy doing manly stuff. This morning, for instance, I made a pie. 

Happily, my wife loves to shop so she buys all my shirts, underwear and socks. Living in the tropics, I have little need for long pants; I have more than enough to see me out, left over from my years up north. I do, however, have to shop for shorts, which I wear 365 days a year. I’m a size thirty-five, a size that’s damn near impossible to find, so I can't order them online. I have to go from store to store, trying on lots of generously-sized thirty-fours and undersized thirty-sixes to find the rare pair that will fit.

I set aside one day a year to replace shorts that have started fraying and/or have shrunk from repeated washings and/or (most likely) have been ruined by spilled food and wine, and today was that day. Because I have such a hard time finding shorts that fit, my annual shorts shopping trip is generally an all-day proposition.

But not today.

At the very first store I visited, a helpful salesman pulled off the rack a pair of size 35 shorts from a shipment he said had arrived overnight. They fit perfectly. So I bought five more pairs in different colors. Then I grabbed two shirts that were on sale – the first I’ve bought myself this millennium.

I was home a half hour after I left –and that’s including the 20 minutes it took to drive to and from the mall. My wife was incredulous.

“Why didn’t you look at other stores?” she asked.

“Because these fit."

“But how do you know they fit? You couldn’t have possibly tried them all on.”

“I tried on one pair. They fit, so the others will, too."

“How can you be sure you wouldn’t have have found some you like even better somewhere else?”

“I can't. But these are fine.”

“But they are all just alike except for the color.”

“What’s your point?”

“You don’t get shopping,” she said.

Perhaps I don't. All I know that is that, mercifully, I won't have to do it again for another year. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Just in time for the Fourth, a dachshund reviews the ThunderShirt

My name is Billy Ray. I’m an 11-year-old miniature long-haired dachshund. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I’m afraid of everything.

I’m terrified of the doorbell.

I freak when the phone rings.

I weep, shake uncontrollably and hide under the bed every Wednesday when the lawn men arrive with their noisy machines, and refuse to come out for hours after they’ve left.

Thunderstorms scare me shitless. (Just ask my dad, who spent an hour scrubbing the laundry room floor after that big storm last month.)  

But nothing -- nothing -- sends me over the edge like fireworks.

I grew up in Connecticut, in a house situated halfway between fields where two towns staged massive fireworks displays every Fourth of July. The Fourth, to me, was my own personal Battle of Stalingrad. I was thrilled two years ago when we moved to Florida full time.

Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. Fireworks are legal here. Any idiot can buy them and set them off and lots of them do, starting days in advance of the holiday. The week leading up to the Fourth, last year, was the worst of my life. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I had to be carried outside and, once on the ground, ran back to the door, desperate to get away from what sounded like sniper fire all around me. Intellectually I know I’m not going to be struck by a Roman candle or blown to smithereens by a string of firecrackers being set off on a beach a mile away but I can’t help myself. I’m a dachshund. Neurosis is hard-wired into my DNA.

A few weeks ago, following the laundry room incident, dad returned home with a product he had seen on TV called a ThunderShirt. It is basically a straight jacket for dogs, a girdle with a hole for my head that wraps around my trunk and is held together with Velcro snaps. They say I look ridiculous wearing it, but if you ask me, no more ridiculous than my dachshund sister, Bonnie, looks in the ruffled purple dress mom bought her at PetCo last year which has no function whatsoever other than to make her look like a hairy, big-nosed Barbie.

That evening, when we heard the distant rumblings of an approaching thunderstorm and I started to shake, dad wrapped me in the ThunderShirt and placed me between him and mom on the sofa as they watched Orange is the New Black on Netflix. (Season three, by the way, isn’t on par with the first two. It’s as if the writers don’t quite know where they’re going and Piper, the star, has been relegated to a supporting role, but I digress.)

There were thousands of ka-booms that night – Southwest Florida is known as the “lightning capital of world” for a good reason – but you know something? I made it through just fine in my ThunderShirt. It made me feel …how to say this? ... protected …secure … enveloped by a sensation that isn’t quite love but is definitely more than like. Granted, I was hiding under a sofa cushion during most of the storm but, for the first time, I didn’t feel impending doom.

And that feeling has continued this week, as fireworks have been going off all around me. I'm OK, thanks to my ThunderShirt. I can’t quite explain it.

I’m writing this post as a public service for other dogs who may need help during the upcoming Fourth of July weekend. Be assured I’m not a paid spokesdog for ThunderShirt which, by the way, can be purchased online at or at pet supply stores (though, if the manufacturer would like a new spokesdog, I’ll be happy to model because I’m much handsomer than the Jack Russell Terrier featured on the web site).

My fellow dogs, we don’t ask for much. A bowl of fresh water. A can of Cesar Home Delights® Pot Roast with Spring Vegetables Dinner once a day, along with a handful of imported Danish kibble. We bring our masters lots of pleasure. We, after all, are the only creatures who love them unconditionally. Even they don’t love each other unconditionally. So if you, like me, are terrified by fireworks, ask your caregiver to run out and buy you a ThunderShirt this very minute.

Sacrificing your dignity is a small price to pay for feeling safe and secure as the world explodes around you. Or the doorbell rings.

Happy Fourth everyone. Be safe.