The Second Annual “No, This Year Is Not the Worst”

According to an APA poll, 59% of Americans think that right now is the lowest point in American history that they can remember. This is particularly astounding when you consider some of the things that Americans have lived through: the Great Recession, 9/11, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, and the JFK assassination, just to name a few low-lights. But, in spite of all of those things, the majority of Americans feel that right now is the worst. Well, the fact is that those people are wrong. Let’s go through this year’s list (which is actually very different from last year’s ).

High Profile Sexual Assault

It started with a trickle and quickly turned into a flood. Beginning with Harvey Weinstein, the list of perpetrators has expanded to include Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Roy Moore, Al Franken, Russell Simons, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, and John Conyers. And this is a condensed list. The world can’t be good if so many famous and influential men have abused their power and assaulted or harassed women, right? Indeed, it is awful that this has been happening and that it is so prevalent. However, the most important thing here is that we are now discovering that these terrible things have been happening.  At a minimum, the result of this discovery is that these men are not being allowed to continue their patterns of abuse. A hugely positive effect of all these accusations is that an increasing number of women are now feeling assertive and secure enough to come forward with their stories, and they are finally being taken seriously. Furthermore, with all of the stories that have coming out, there will certainly be a push-back on assaulters and abusers, both famous and unknown, in the years to come. This won’t end this harassment, but it will reduce it, and that is definitely good.

The Political Environment Is So Polarized

The common argument is that the war of words is getting bigger and uglier by the day. Trump tweets hateful things. Nazis are protesting in America again. Violent leftist groups are growing, too. No one can have a civil conversation at a holiday dinner. Congress is becoming more polarized. It’s worse than it’s ever been–America is splitting apart! So goes the common narrative of what is occurring in our current political climate.  However, what some are viewing as a new phenomenon of an unprecedented division between parties is, in fact, a return to the status quo. Historically speaking, the bipartisanship of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s was merely a quirk of the Cold War era and the remnants of segregation politics. Back then, the political parties worked across the aisle more often as Southern Democrats allied with federalist Republicans, and Rockefeller Republicans joined with New Deal Democrats. So, while the decline in segregation and institutional racism is quite obviously a good thing, one downside of this shift has been an overall decline in bipartisanship. As for a rise in the profile of racist and violent groups, well, it is just that: a rise in the profile of these groups. If you genuinely believed there was no KKK–or racism, in general–since the 1960’s, then this year has likely been a shock. But, wow, really? Here, as with the preceding example of systemic sexual harassment, learning is ultimately progress. Yes, there is still a vitriolic, racist element in the US. When we learn that a problem exists, however, that means that we can then address it. It’s an ugly thing, but this knowledge is important.

The Economy Is Terrible and This Generation Is Worse Off Than the Last

You often hear stories about student loan, credit card, or housing debt. How medical care, housing, and education prices have surged. Such stories have made for a widespread, negative consensus: the generation now in their 20s is the first in decades that is worse off than the generation before them. So the story goes. This notion is patently and ridiculously untrue. Examining the facts, we see that advancements in technology and the constant improvement of products and services from businesses worldwide point to an obvious conclusion: the youngest workers in the US (and beyond) have the greatest buying power ever. The result is that this generation is doing the best ever financially. Are those issues listed above—debt and increased costs—are those real issues? Yes, they are.  However, on aggregate, it is (financially) better to be born in the 1980’s versus any time before it. Yes, there is still poverty and homelessness, but the rates of these have decreased to some of the lowest levels in US history. In addition, unemployment around 4% is near historic lows, as are current interest rates. (High interest rates were, in fact, one of the aspects that bedeviled previous generations, but that now no one talks about.)

Trump Is an Idiot

No disagreement here. We just need to ride this out for another 7 months to 7 years. It turns out he is as incompetent as we had suspected he would be, and so he has accomplished very little. So, while the US may be losing time on correcting problems, we aren’t really getting worse because of him–or at least things are not getting as bad as quickly as many might have predicted. It is possible that the US–and the world, at large–can be great with a terrible US president, just as some of the worst periods of American and world history have coincided with some of the best presidents.

High Profile Shootings

The events in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs Texas are indeed tragic. And mass shootings are, in fact, happening more and more often. The reality, though, is that the probability of dying in a mass shooting is still around a one-in-a-million chance. More of this was outlined in a previous article, but to sum up, there are lot of more pressing and deadly issues that are facing us right now.  Efforts to deal with these issues would, ultimately, help save a lot more lives than a massive gun-control campaign would. These shootings are dramatic, yes, but they do not genuinely endanger the vast majority of Americans. Reminder: murder–and crime in general–is at a historic low.

 

So, all of this begs the question: Why is it that everyone thinks that right now is the worst? For some, it’s simple: they just haven’t lived through much. If you’ve only been paying attention to the news in the past couple of years, then yes, this might be the worst year since 2014. Maybe people are just forgetting about some of the issues that the US has faced in the past, and then worked to overcome. The fear that many Americans felt after 9/11 doesn’t feel as bad in retrospect. For those who remember Nixon’s resignation, it was bad, but we’ve definitely had better presidents since then. Or, perhaps the reason that people think things are so bad right now might be that they are repeatedly being told so. Both the mainstream media and social media are overflowing with negativity. For larger media outlets, this negativity is what catches the eyes of readers and viewers. Indeed, very few seem to care about a story of another decade of peace, or another year wage growth. As for social media, well, consider your own online habits. Do you post about whatever new appalling thing Trump has said, or about an economic indicator that has gone down for one month (but up the previous three years)? You are certainly within your rights to do so. However, do you also post about new technological wonders, or peace agreements, or continued reductions in America’s level of carbon emissions? Well, that tendency on your part—and on the part of a lot of people—might serve to skew everyone’s view of the current state of the world. The fact is that the world is not worse than ever. Someone should let Americans know this.

OVER-HYPED NEWS: Mid-October-ish Edition

This is our occasional rundown of news that keeps making headlines, but that you can probably ignore. There is a lot of news around—this will help narrow it down.

5) US Men’s Soccer Team Not in the World Cup (New!)

Why this is news: This is the first time in decades that the US men’s team has not made it in. And this happened how? By losing to…Trinidad and Tobago? Dang, really?!

Why this is not: The US team had a good run of making it to the World Cup. Actually, one of the longest streaks in FIFA history. Seriously, the US has never been the soccer powerhouse that it might have seemed to be. This shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Plus, did we really want the US team to go to Russia? This way it is like a boycott, but without the diplomatic embarrassment.

4) Harvey Weinstein Assault Charges (New!)

Why this is news: This is a very powerful figure in media, and he is going down. He has been removed from his company. Criminal charges are being brought up against him. It is starting the powerful #MeToo campaign. For a long time, people have been saying that Hollywood is sleazy, and now we have proof.

Why this is not: Everyone already knew that Hollywood was sleazy—this is just more proof. This is not the liberal equivalent of charges against conservative candidate Trump (or even television personality Bill O’Reilly). Those charges were against higher-profile people. Honestly, had you ever even heard of Harvey Weinstein before this month? If you answer is yes, then you probably live in LA. This is a news story that is catering to the media-saturated coasts. Middle America gives zero craps about this story. This story is important, just not this important.

3) German Election and Rise of Nationalism (New-ish)

Why this is news: A far-right nationalist party, Alternative for Germany or AfD, is in the Bundestag (German parliament) for the first time. There was Brexit, then Trump, now this!

Why this is not: After Trump won, the nationalist movement lost ground in the Netherlands. Then, nationalists came in a distant second in the French presidential elections. Then, an even more distant fourth in the French parliamentary elections. Then, they were entirely eliminated from the UK parliamentary elections. But, now, oh! They broke the previous minimum threshold to actually enter the Bundestag. Heavens, no. Plus, by the way, the Free Democratic Party—the antithesis of AfD—also surged in votes this election, and will be part of the governing coalition. AfD will not be in the government. So, just cool your Siemens-manufactured jet engines, alright?

2) Las Vegas Shooting (New)

Why this is news: The events in Las Vegas were dramatic and awful. Mass shootings such as this one are unique to the US, and many people want answers as to why they keep happening.

Why this is not: As horrible as mass shootings are, they are still objectively very rare. There are many other tragedies that the US could apply itself to and help save far more lives for its efforts. Don’t believe me? Well, here is a more detailed description of this.

 

1) North Korea (Up one place)

Why this is news: Both sides of this particular conflict have nuclear weapons. Both side have leaders who shoot their mouths off. People are worried that one of these two guys might get twitchy and follow through with a threat.

Why this is not: Dios Mío! How is this still in the news? This is still just a war of words. Actually, calling this a “war of words” makes it sound like something meaningful is being said. Instead, what we’re witnessing is more a dull exchange of uninspired insults (e.g. “Rocket Man”). But now, at least, we have all learned what the word ‘Dotard’ means. DEFCON still at 5 the lowest alert level.

 

Belated Boozy McNewsface!

Sorry, Z took a weekend off.  But here, for your listening pleasure!

It’s a cheerful cast in which Bob and Brad out-cynical Z and make you so happy about the world.  Topics include North Korea, Flint, Michigan, and your inevitable, horrible demise.

Click HERE to subscribe to all The Red Couch Podcasts on iTunes.  Not an iTunes person?  We got you covered.  Subscribe on Google Play HERE

Boozy McNewsface – Week 3

New Boozy McNewsface!

Brad and Z are joined by Dr. Bob to discuss all the insanity involving the debt ceiling, Amazon, and, as always, Trump.

Today’s theme music is “Nature’s Nectar” by Pure Grease.

Click HERE to subscribe to all The Red Couch Podcasts on iTunes.  Not an iTunes person?  We got you covered.  Subscribe on Google Play HERE

 

Two Hurricanes Are Not Proof of Global Warming

Depending on who you talk to, Hurricane Harvey was a 500-year or a 1000-year flood. And not that long ago were Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, also both 100-year events – all in just over a decade. Clearly, global climate change is causing more and worse hurricanes. There are so many once in a century events, how could it be anything other than our previous records being outdated, as the climate changes quickly. It is angst for some, schadenfreude for others. To some, this is what polluting Americans deserve, or at the very least, the logical result of increased carbon emissions. Carbon emissions go up, global temps increase; the warmer Atlantic produces more and bigger hurricanes. It’s simple.

It’s inaccurate. First off, what does a 100-year event mean? It is not something that only happens once in 100 years, it is something that has a one percent chance of happening every year. So, it is possible that it will happen twice in a lifetime and then not at all for hundreds of years. A thousand-year event has a one in a thousand chance of happening. But this also refers to one type of event (flood, hurricane, snow fall, etc.) and one place (New Orleans, Key West, Buffalo, etc.). So – and this will be condescending – you might have noticed that the US is a big place. The likelihood of a thousand-year event happening somewhere in the US is rather high. A 100-year event is probably going to happen every year, somewhere. So having three 100+ year events happen in just over a decade is… likely.

Here is a fun pop quiz: before Hurricane Harvey, when was the last category 3 hurricane to the US? It was Hurricane Wilma in October of 2005. That’s nearly a 12-year gap with no major hurricanes making landfall anywhere on mainland US. The likelihood of just Florida having no major hurricanes for ten years is 1 in 7,400! That point doesn’t seem to be brought up much in the recent conversation about global warming equals big hurricanes. Maybe global warming and an increase in hurricanes aren’t tied together.

Lots of people jumped on the climate change / hurricane bandwagon after 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth – the posters even featured a hurricane swirling out of a smoke stack. This did seem to make some sense. 2004 and 2005 were horrible years for hurricanes in the US. In addition to the infamous Katrina in 2005, four major hurricanes hit Florida in 2004 alone, affecting 1 in 5 homes in the state. The 2005 season started so early and had so many hurricanes that they ran out of names. The idea that global warming was creating more hurricanes seemed entirely plausible, although with a limited data set. But then there was a 12 year gap with no major hurricanes (Yes, Superstorm Sandy was in this time period and it did a lot of damage, but that was in spite of not being a major hurricane).

So does this mean global warming is a lie? No! It’s really real. We know because 16 of the 17 hottest years on record for the whole world have been this century. This is long range and global in scale. It is pervasive. It is abnormal and without comparison. None of that can be said of the Atlantic hurricanes that reach the US and their associated damage. These are sporadic, regional, and ultimately comparable to the recent history of these storms. So stop citing one or two big hurricanes as evidence of global warming. It is inaccurate and makes climate change skeptics point to a gap in major hurricanes (in this one corner of the globe) as evidence that there isn’t global warming. Saying one rare hurricane is evidence for climate change is just as dumb as providing a snowball as proof there isn’t. Don’t be that person. If any skeptics are going have their mind changed, it will be with consistent and accurate science. Exaggerations will provide more evidence to skeptics that all of science is conjecture and can be second guessed.

Record heat waves, rare flooding, and catastrophic droughts may make for big headlines, but each as a single event proves nothing regarding climate change. If you are on the side of science, then really understand science. Don’t overstate reality to try to make a point. The reality of climate change is convincing enough.

 

The Deadly Storm

Over the past few weeks, the effects have been devastating. This has been the strongest storm to hit in 53 years. There are 10 people dead, 200 injured. Power outages lasted days past the storm. Eventually 1,000 national troops needed to be sent in to help the city with the overwhelming task of clean up. Now stories are coming out about possible corruption in a government agency that is responsible for monitoring these sorts of storms.This is the result of Typhoon Hato which struck Macau on August 23rd, and also affected mainland China and nearby Vietnam.

But what Americans are really interested in is another storm, right? Annual rains were stronger than usual, causing unexpected flooding. Roads were covered in waist-deep water, flights were cancelled. And although the causalities in the city are lower, more remote rural areas have had at least 500 deaths. Red Cross has called this one of the worst regional humanitarian disasters in years. These are, actually, the monsoons that are hitting Mumbai India currently.

Perhaps the story that those in the US are following is the persistent rains that has caused 40 deaths so far, where large numbers of livestock have also perished. The UN warned that over 100,000 people are at risk of the continued floods. A man from a western suburb told reporters “Where can we go? We’ve lost home, our money and our clothes.” This man was from the edge of Niamey, the capital of Niger where this is happening.

None of those are the story being covered in the US. Americans are actually concerned about Houston and nearby parts of Texas affected by hurricane Harvey. And to be fair, Houston is much closer to most Americans than these other disasters. And Americans are more likely to know people in Texas versus Niger or Macau. But, the only metric Harvey is worse in, is economic damage. For lives lost, damage done, lives ruined, each of these other storms are worse. The only reason the economic cost is higher in the US is because it is more developed, but that also means the US has a greater capability for recovery. In the US, the focus on Harvey to the exclusion of these other stories seems odd.

Even more bizarre, hurricane Harvey is being covered in foreign countries as much as the US. The BBC has had front page coverage of Harvey for days. The storms in India and Niger aren’t even the top story in regional sections. Hong Kong’s paper, the South China Morning Post, covered typhoon Hato in depth as it hit, but has quickly switched to headlines about Harvey as well.

Part of the reason the world, not just the US, focuses on the US is because of new wires. There are four main new wire agencies which supply a large amount of information to newspapers and TV stations around the world. Two agencies are in the US, one in the UK, one in France. These agencies cover the Western world much better than say Niger and India. This creates a skewed view of the world. A lot more news stories are covered in developed countries. Furthermore, when developing countries are covered, it is often just natural disasters or conflict. It turns out that countries like Peru, Nigeria and Nepal have business deals that happen, peaceful elections, fashion designers with new lines coming, and more. But the West seldom hears about it unless you really dig.

As I stated in my original article for the Red Couch, if you don’t learn about the rest of the world, expect to be surprised by it. There are a lot more people outside the US than in it, and they are becoming wealthier and better connected. Everyone’s future will have more to do with Mumbai, Niger, and Macau, and less with Texas. The world is changing; shouldn’t your news feed, too?

 

 

Who is this guy?

The true enemy won’t wait out the storm. He brings the storm.

–Jon Snow

The Night King is the chief and foremost of the white walkers, produced by the children of the forest to defeat the first men thousands of years ago. In a Bran-vision, we learn he became blue-eyed with a shard of dragonglass to the chest by Leaf, transformed forever into the Night King, and ultimately turning on those who created him. In my opinion, he was probably one of the first men himself, before being captured and morphed. And I’d be holding a grudge too.

But that’s about all we know. Since his first appearance in season four, the Night King has been murky and mythical. Except there isn’t much of a myth.

It’s very easy to give the Night King zombie-like features and have us all assume he’s the most evil thing ever. But for him to be a believable villain, I need to know what he believes. Unlike Cersai, the Night King is a largely undeveloped and a frankly uninteresting player in Westeros. So if he is to be our primary bad guy moving forward, the show better get to work.

The Night King and Bran are irrevocably connected. He regularly sees Bran in his visions and even scratched him once, leading to Hodor doing what he does best. There is a hot rumor going around that Bran is the Night King, and while I have no idea how this is possible, it’s entirely possible.

I hope the Night King becomes a fully realized character, because there is a goldmine of possibility. Is he a vengeful man, forever marching against the forces which created him? And why are the white walkers marching now, after all this time?

It’s easy to ignore these questions and accept the Night King as an all encompassing malevolence. But his lack of character development seems like a real departure from George Martin’s novels.

So here’s to the Night King. I’m pulling for you man.