As Congress not-so-hopefully stares down the ominously named "fiscal cliff," we can also report that 2012 was a year that saw good manners take their own cliff dive. From a romping royal to a brash billionaire, precocious pop stars to cheating competitors, for many, this was an annus horribilis that many boldface names would just as soon forget.


Captain Crunch: Francesco Schettino

So much for going down with the ship. In January, the captain of the Costa Concordia abandoned the vessel he had just run aground in the Western Mediterranean, leaving 300 frightened and befuddled passengers still aboard. If it weren't for the strident insistence of a local coast guard official, Schettino would not have returned to complete the evacuation.

Postscript: Thirty-two passengers and crew died during the disaster. Schettino is currently awaiting trial for manslaughter.

Takeaway: An emergency often brings out the best of humanity. Unfortunately, Schettino proved just the opposite.


Half-Wit: Angus T. Jones

The star of TV sitcom Two and a Half Men, television's highest paid teen, angered his cast mates and fans when he posted a video on the web in which he slammed the show as "filth" and encouraged viewers not to tune in.

Postscript: Jones offered a mea culpa after the incident, saying--somewhat hollowly--"I apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and direspect of my colleagues." Um. Yes.

Takeaway: Don't bite the hand that feeds you. (The actor's chances of ever nabbing another gig where he earns $350,000 per episode were slim to none even before his outburst.)


Camelot Crasher: Taylor Swift

In the midst of a summer romance that is now but a memory, singer Taylor Swift and her beau,

Conor Richardson Kennedy (grandson of Bobby Kennedy) failed to RSVP to his cousin's wedding until hours beforehand and then, after being asked to stay away by the mother of the bride, showed up anyway. (Did I mention the RSVP was sent via text message?)

Postscript: Swift's people denied the incident as much ado about nothing, but Vicki Kennedy, the bride's mother, gave an interview to the Boston Globe that indicated otherwise, as did comments by attendee (and stepmother to Vicki Kennedy) Kathie Lee Gifford.

Takeaway: If you're invited to a wedding, you must RSVP. And not on the day of.


No More Mr. Nice Guy: Pete Wells

In a restaurant review that will likely go down as one of the meanest ever written, New York Times critic Pete Wells derided TV chef Guy Fieri's new Times Square eatery, Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, with a screed that oozed with biting lines that compared the watermelon margarita to “a combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde” and posed a series of snarky interrogatives such as: "When you hung that sign by the entrance that says, WELCOME TO FLAVOR TOWN!, were you just messing with our heads?" The article quickly went viral, with many relishing its bite; others questioned its brutality.

Postscript: The review spurred curiosity-seekers to book tables at the restaurant to see if the food and the service were indeed as awful as Wells complained it to be. Fieri appeared on the Today show to state his case.

Takeaway: "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say it at all," can't ever apply to a critic, but this reviewer seemed to gorge on massive helpings of his own cruelty.


The Naked Truth: Prince Harry

What happened in Vegas didn't stay in Vegas for Britain's young Prince Harry. On a wild weekend at the Wynn Hotel, he cavorted in the nude with friends while playing billiards in a pricey suite. It wasn't the first behavioral transgression for the ginger-haired royal, and most likely will not be the last.

Postscript: Although cell-phone pics of the prince made the rounds on the Internet, Britons largely shrugged off the incident, with nearly 70-percent of those surveyed indicating that his antics were completely acceptable for a young single man on holiday.

Takeaway: When you live in the public eye, don't ever presume that you can escape the camera lens. Then again, if you're young and charming, the public may let you off the hook.


Twitter Takedown: Chris Brown and Jenny Johnson

Comedienne Jenny Johnson found herself at the center of a media maelstrom when she baited mercurial R&B star Chris Brown on Twitter, with the two engaging in a tit-for-tat, profanity-laced social media insult-fest that carried on for several hours.

Postscript: Brown quit Twitter; until he didn't, reinstating his account about 10 days later. His first Tweet? #CarpeDiem. For her part, Johnson wrote about the incident for GQ, beginning, "This is not an apology." And indeed, it wasn't.

Takeaway: If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't Tweet it.


Not Very Presidential: Donald Trump

Demonstrating his continued disdain for President Barack Obama, the billionaire real estate developer spent much of election evening blasting cranky Tweets to his followers about the way the night was going down. Among his petulant (and not always well spell-checked) Tweets included the following plaints: "This election is a total sham and travesty. We are not a democracy!" "Lets [sic] fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us." and "The phoney electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one [sic]. The prior month, Trump had offered the president $5 million to be given to a charity of the chief executive's choosing in exchange for the release of the president's college transcripts.

Postscript: Trump still believes the President's school records might help prove his long-held assertion that the commander-in-chief might have been born outside the U.S. "Only a very stupid person would believe otherwise,” said The Donald, who insists that someday people will say: 'Donald Trump was 100% correct.'"

Takeaway: If you decide to share your political beliefs via social media, make sure you fact-check, spell-check and reality-check beforehand.


Man in the Mirror: Justin Bieber

So much for modesty. When teen mega sensation Justin Bieber was pulled over by the West Hollywood police for making a turn the cops deemed unsafe, the young star (who, by the way, was in a white Ferrari) couldn't resist taking to social media. Snapping a picture of the patrol car's lights in his sideview mirror, the Biebs quickly posted the photo to Instagram. Justin, who has a mind-blowing 32 million followers on Twitter, clearly believes that an unexamined (and unshared) life is simply not worth living--even when you're sitting in the hot seat.

Postscript: The pop sensation's career is none the worse for his run-in with the law.

Takeaway: If you're rich and famous, moving violations are no great cause for concern. (See: Paris HiltonLindsay Lohan, et al.) As for the rest of America, make sure you remember your manners in traffic court.


Watch the Birdie: Women's Olympic Badminton

Eight women's badminton players (four from South Korea, two from China and two from Indonesia) were disqualified during the summer Olympics in London when it became apparent they were trying to throw matches in an attempt to game the rankings for later matches. Included amongst those tossed out of the Games were world doubles champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China. "Sport is competitive," International Olympic Committee Vice President Craig Reedie told the Associated Press. "If you lose the competitive element, then the whole thing becomes a nonsense."

Aftermath: Even without their star players, China took home five gold medals and a total of eight in the sport.

Takeaway: No one likes a sore loser, but even worse is a deliberate loser.


Pregnant Pause: Michael Christian and Mel Greig

Posting as Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, Australian radio DJsMichael Christian and Mel Greig of 2Day FM pulled a sophomoric prank and successfully talked their way through to the attending nurse for pregnant Kate Middleton, who'd been taken in to King Edward VII Hospital for dehydration. Sharing their recorded phone call for all of their Aussie countryfolk (and the rest of the world) to hear, the two DJs divulged privileged medical information about the princess over the airwaves.

Postscript: The DJs' actions took on new (and unexpected) gravity when the nurse who answered and forwarded their phone call was found hanged in her home, the result of a tragic suicide.

Takeaway: A goofy impersonation is one thing; a reckless violation of privacy is another.