Nobody knows anything, redux

A year ago, I wrote a post called Nobody knows anything. Here’s what I said:

The older I get and the more I learn about things, the more I realize that nobody knows nuthin’ about anything.

Those self-proclaimed experts are lying. Predictions are pointless. Anyone that tells you that they know for certain how something is going to turn out is probably going to be wrong.

All simplicity is a lie.

It was written in the context of baseball, but it was eerily prescient given the outcome of the Presidential election.

We have statistical models and advanced polling and supercomputers, and they all pointed to a decisive Hillary Clinton victory. They were all wrong. And what I think this shows – and where I think the failure of big data lies – is that people are wildly unpredictable and don’t fall neatly into models. Clearly, there’s a real anger that permeates throughout our country far more than we thought. Our echo chamber on Facebook and Twitter is not how the majority of this country thinks and feels.

I had trouble sleeping last night and woke up this morning with a feeling of profound anxiety. Then I took a shower and started feeling a little better. The sun still rose, the subway still came, I listened to my morning podcast, had my two cups of coffee like I always do, and life goes on. My mom texted me ‘it will be OK’ and I think that’s right. Things will be OK. They have to be.

But I can say that from a position of immense privilege. Things might not be OK for immigrants or Muslims or women or the LGBT community. And the new wave of anti-Semitism that’s been popping up on social media is absolutely terrifying. So part of me doesn’t know if things will be OK. I hope they are.

I was in London a few months ago. Everyone was fresh off the panic of Brexit, and people were endlessly fascinated with the US election. As soon as someone – a cab driver, a barista, a random person on the street – heard my American accent, they immediately asked about Trump.

Is he actually going to win this thing?

My response each time was a confident No.

But despite my confidence, people there weren’t so sure. Everyone I talked to thought Trump could win. Social stigma disappears in the booth, they said. People are angry. People want change. No one thought Brexit would happen, and then people voted, and then it did. The same will happen across the pond, mate.

They were right.

Donald Trump is our next President. No one knows anything.


William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane, the Assassination of William McKinley, and Donald Trump

Let’s talk about William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst, you may know, was an American newspaper magnate in the early twentieth century. He owned just about all of the largest in papers in every major American city. He also expanded to magazines and created the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world.

Hearst became so wealthy that he built a frikkin’ castle on top of a mountain. Hearst Castle is now a major tourist destination – we made it a point to stop there on a family vacation in 2001. It’s big and bold and breathtaking, sitting high above the California landscape. It has some of the finest pieces of art in the world. There are like 150 pools. What they don’t tell you on the tour is that Hearst was a thin-skinned lunatic.

Wealth wasn’t enough for ol’ William. He sought power. He controlled the editorial positions and coverage of political news in all of his papers, thereby exercising enormous political influence. Problem was, Hearst routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures, and distorted real events. Consider this anecdote:

“We had a crime story that was going to be featured in a 96-point headline on page one,” remembers Vern Whaley, an editor for Hearst’s Herald-Examiner. “When I found the address that was in the story, that address was a vacant lot. So I hollered over at the rewrite desk, I said, ‘You got the wrong address in this story. This is a vacant lot.’ The copy chief that night was a guy named Vic Barnes. And he says, ‘Sit down, Vern.’ He says, ‘The whole story’s a fake.'”

Hearst basically invented yellow journalism, and he used it to get what he wanted.

In 1898, he called for war against Spain. Public support grew. And, uh, then we went to war against Spain.

After World War I, he called for an isolationist foreign policy. Public support grew. And, uh, we became an isolationist nation, despite the atrocities developing abroad.

He used his influence to win elections, twice winning a seat to the House of Representatives as a Democrat.

There was no one to check Hearst. No internet, no 24 hours news cycle, no Daily Show, no John Oliver. Hearst owned the largest papers, controlled what they said, and so he avoided criticism in the press. He was untouchable. William Randolph Hearst could get away with anything.

Let’s talk about Citizen Kane.

Citizen Kane, you may know, was released in 1941 and is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Maybe the greatest. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling and cinematography, a miracle for its time. Here’s Roger Ebert:

Its surface is as much fun as any movie ever made. Its depths surpass understanding. I have analyzed it a shot at a time with more than 30 groups, and together we have seen, I believe, pretty much everything that is there on the screen. The more clearly I can see its physical manifestation, the more I am stirred by its mystery.

What you may not know is that Citizen Kane was loosely based on Hearst’s life. Orson Welles never confirmed this, but, I mean, come on. It’s not that hard to connect the dots. Charles Foster Kane builds a newspaper empire, obtains massive amounts of wealth, builds a castle atop a mountain, and then begins a ruthless pursuit of power, ultimately ending in tragedy and death.

Remember the part where I said that Hearst was a thin-skinned lunatic? Right. So, yeah, he wasn’t really a fan of Citizen Kane. Not surpisingly, he didn’t like the idea of the film painting a very unflattering portrait of him.

And remember the part where I said that Hearst always got what he wanted? Right. So, yeah, he used his influence and resources to attempt to prevent the film from being released.* Welles and his studio resisted the pressure, but Hearst was ultimately successful in pressuring theater chains to limit showings of the movie.

*As it turns out, Hearst never watched the film.

The resulting box office numbers were mediocre. It was only later that the movie was appreciated and watched by the masses.

Let’s talk about William McKinley.

McKinley was our 25th President, serving from 1897-1901. He has the same expression in every single picture.

McKinley was also one of four Presidents to be assassinated, along with Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and John F. Kennedy.

Why is it that we know so much about the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy, but nothing about McKinley?* I mean, sure, he didn’t free the slaves or speak in a funny New England accent, but he was the President. And a good one! I think I speak for all of us when I applaud the Dingley Act of 1897, which led to rapid economic growth and a brighter future for all Americans. He won his re-election by a landslide and had the good foresight to pick Teddy Roosevelt as his Vice President.

*Or Garfield, but we can talk about him another time.

McKinley was an important man. A good man. We should know more about his assassination.

Thankfully, I have this blog. So, here’s what happened: On September 6, 1901, McKinley was visiting Buffalo, New York, for an event called the Pan-American Exposition. Things were a little more lax in 1901, and McKinley was out and about shaking hands with the public* when he was shot by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. Perhaps the main reason we don’t talk about the assassination is because Czolgosz is an impossible name to say.

*McKinley enjoyed meeting with the public and was reluctant to accept security (lol). In fact, the President’s Secretary feared an assassination attempt would take place on this trip FOR THIS VERY REASON and twice took it off the schedule (lol). McKinley restored it each time (lol). Really, McKinley’s assassination is a result of an ‘ehhh it’ll be fine’ attitude.

Anyway, this guy Czolgosz had lost his job during the Panic of 1893 and turned to anarchism. He viewed McKinley as a symbol of oppression. So he decided to kill him. He attended the event in Buffalo, went to shake the President’s hand, and shot him twice. One bullet grazed McKinley, and the other entered his abdomen and was never found.

Here’s a drawing of the incident:


Thirteen days later, McKinley died from gangrene caused by the bullet wounds.

The next morning, Teddy Roosevelt took over, became wildly popular, and had his head etched into Mt. Rushmore. We forgot all about poor old Willie McKinley.

It was right around the turn of the twentieth century that William Hearst began dabbling in politics. Hearst was a Democrat. The sitting President, William McKinley, was a Republican. This was a problem for Hearst.

So, Hearst asked the best writers he could find to smear McKinley and bring him down. The gaudier, the better. In February 1900, a guy named Ambrose Bierce wrote a column and closed with a reference to the assassination a few days earlier of the Kentucky governor, William Goebel.

The bullet that pierced Goebel’s breast
Can not be found in all the West.
Good reason: it is speeding here [to Washington]
To stretch McKinley on his bier.

In early 1901, an unsigned column (widely attributed to Hearst editor Arthur Brisbane) called McKinley a ‘bad man’ and declared:

If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done.

The killing must be done. Six months later, McKinley was assassinated.

There’s no doubt – this is all very curious. Hearst was a massively influential man, he always got what he wanted, he printed an op-ed that called for the killing of the President, and then the President was killed.

But … no. I’m not accusing William Hearst of conspiring with Czolgosz (or others) to have McKinley killed. That’s not where I’m going with this, especially because I don’t want Hearst’s family to sue me for slander (even though that would be great fun and hilariously ironic).

Here’s where I’m going with this:

Words matter.

We live in a country where we can say and write what we want. It’s a great thing. But our words are not without consequence.

Was Czolgosz inspired by Hearst? Maybe, maybe not. But his newspapers certainly influenced the general public’s perception of McKinley. And perception can grow like a snowball, inciting anger and fear and a general sense of anxiety that is not always based in facts.

And all it takes is one person – a Czolgosz, a John Wilkes-Booth, a Lee Harvey Oswald – to turn that anger into something much worse.

And that brings me to Mr. T.

He said this two weeks ago:

Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Though the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.

Can … can you just not say that?

Yes, he backtracked, he said he never meant to imply that people should, like, get out their guns and kill Hillary Clinton. But there are crazy people who will hear those words and legitimately think about doing that.

Hearst and Trump have a lot in common.

A desire to be in politics

And Trump, like Hearst, speaks to a massive audience. But please, use some discretion. Watch your language. THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING. And please don’t incite violence, because that never ends well.

One other thing.

September 5th, Labor Day, is the 75th anniversary of Citizen Kane’s release in the US.

And the day after that, September 6th, will be the 115-year anniversary of McKinley’s assassination.

The two events are hastily connected. Citizen Kane is loosely based off a guy who may or may not have inspired McKinley’s assassination.

But on those two days, let’s have a moment of silence. Not for remembrance. Not for recognition. But because sometimes it’s good to stay quiet.

These are the facts

I am appalled by the amount of misinformation out there – on the economy, on crime, on investing, on baseball stats, on just about everything.

I am even more appalled by how when confronted with real, empirical stats, people don’t care. Lately I’ve heard a lot of this:

It doesn’t matter what the facts are, I don’t feel as safe as I used to.

I don’t care what the government says, the economy is worse than it was eight years ago.

I don’t care what sabermetrics say, lineup protection is really important.


Never mind that violent crime is on a decades-long trend downward.


Or that unemployment has halved, the deficit has plunged, and the stock market has tripled.


Or that I literally wrote a thesis on the myth of lineup protection.

People don’t care! None of it means anything. The other day, Jake Tapper of CNN confronted Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chair, about the declining crime in this country. And here’s what Manafort said: “It doesn’t matter, people don’t feel safe.”

Sighhhhhh *takes swig of whiskey*

There are a myriad number of reasons why our feelings are different than reality. A lot of it has to do with the 24 hour news cycle. A lot of it has to do with how every bad thing is now broadcasted live, on people’s cell phones, for all the world to see, and it spreads like wildfire on social media. A lot of it has to do with political theater and fear-mongering. A lot of it has to do with the fact that everyone has a voice now. I mean, you’re reading this, aren’t you?

We are exposed to much more than we used to be. We used to live in these nice bubbles where our only source of news was the paper and the evening nightly news. Now we don’t.

I don’t doubt that people don’t feel as safe as they used to. But I was taught to question everything, to look at the data, to keep an open mind, to act pragmatically, and to call out BS when I see it. That’s what informs my feelings. I don’t care about thundering rhetoric or fear tactics or ridiculous online memes. I care about the facts. I hope you do too. I realize not everyone is a robot like me, but I expect facts to have some bearing on how you view the world.

Ezra Klein at Vox:

Donald Trump is not a candidate the American people would turn to in normal times. He’s too inexperienced, too eccentric, too volatile, too risky. Voting Trump is burning down the house to collect the insurance money — you don’t do it unless things are really, really bad.

Here is Trump’s problem: Things are not really, really bad.

But people are angry nonetheless. Really angry. It’s unsettling to see this much anger when things have improved. What if things really were bad?


It can be difficult to have disagreements in real life without devolving into an angry demon monster. We don’t always have the facts at our disposal, we don’t always express our views eloquently, and if you’re in a large group it can be difficult to get a word in edgewise.

So, here is what I propose to my many thousands of readers. Let’s enter a new stage of life, where we listen to what others have to say, where we present evidence-based information if it doesn’t jibe with reality, and where we hold people accountable for spreading misleading information or outright lies. We can get there, I think, by following these five rules:

  1. Listen.
  2. Question everything.
  3. Look at the data.
  4. Keep an open mind.
  5. Be kind.

Imagine having an imaginary conversation with your Aunt Judy. She’s 67 years old, she first logged onto the internet in 2014, and her primary source of news is through email forwarding chains. Here’s a picture of her:

Aunt Judy

At a family gathering, Aunt Judy has a few too many glasses of wine and blurts out: THIS COUNTRY IS VERY UNSAFE, CRIME IS TERRIBLE, I REMEMBER WHEN I COULD LEAVE MY DOORS UNLOCKED, GIVE ME MORE WINE.

Now let’s follow the five steps.

Listen. Hear what she has to say, even it disagrees with your own opinion. Especially if it disagrees with your own opinion.

Question everything. Is this backed up by facts? Is crime actually going up?

Look at the data. There are literally an endless amount of sources that show that crime has decreased over the last several decades. It will take you five minutes to Google this.

Keep an open mind. Maybe crime is going up in certain parts of the country! Maybe gun crime is a real problem! Maybe this is a nuanced issue with many things to consider!

Be kind. Don’t yell at Aunt Judy. There is no need to get angry. Give her another glass of wine.

Aunt Judy may not change her mind, but maybe she’ll start to question her own beliefs. Maybe she’ll start to look at the facts. Maybe she’ll reconsider that third glass of wine. All of these things are small steps on the way to a more informed, a more civil, and a more intelligent society.

Tax policies of Clinton, Sanders, Trump, and Cruz

I recently watched the vlogbrothers videos that explained the tax policies of Clinton/Sanders and Trump/Cruz. They were really well made and informative and relatable and I wish the regular media would do stuff like this.

Tax policy is, of course, not everyone’s cup of tea, but presented the right way it can be somewhat interesting. So let’s spend today looking at the tax policies of the four remaining Presidential candidates.*

*I meant to post this before Ted Cruz dropped out.

OK, so to start: in 2015, the United States government spent $3.8 trillion dollars, divided up like so:


Now that you have that baseline, let’s look at everyone’s tax policies:

Ted Cruz


Cruz’s tax policy dramatically simplifies the American tax code, to the point where he would abolish the IRS.

Currently, we have seven tax brackets. If you filed as a single taxpayer in 2015, you paid:

10% on your first $9,225 earned
15% from $9,226 to $37,450
25% from $37,451 to $90,750
28% from $90,751 to $189,300
33% from $189,301 to $411,500
35% from $411,501 to $413,200
39.6% for $413,201 to ∞

This is, of course, minus any deductions – interest on a mortgage, charity donations, student loan interest, child care costs, or just the standard federal deduction (which anyone can take – in 2015, it was $6,300).

Cruz wants to a flat tax of 10%, with a $10,000 standard deduction. Let’s look at how that would effect millionaires:

Current Cruz
Income $1,000,000 $1,000,000
Standard Deduction $6,300 $10,000
Taxes Owed $349,874 $99,000
Tax Rate 35.0% 9.9%

They’d pay a lot less in taxes. How about someone who makes $250,000:

Current Cruz
Income $250,000 $250,000
Standard Deduction $6,300 $10,000
Taxes Owed $64,027 $24,000
Tax Rate 25.6% 9.6%

They, too, would pay a lot less in taxes. What about someone making the median US average of $52,000:

Current Cruz
Income $52,000 $52,000
Standard Deduction $6,300 $10,000
Taxes Owed $7,894 $4,200
Tax Rate 15.2% 8.1%

So everyone would pay less in taxes, but the wealthiest Americans would by far receive the biggest cuts.

Cruz would also eliminate many tax deductions except for mortgage interest and charitable donations. He would also eliminate all federal gift and estate taxes, and repeal all corporate and payroll taxes in favor of a 16% VAT (value added tax). This would be a tax on business revenues, minus their capital investments and the money they pay to other companies.

The problem with Cruz’s tax plan is that it would dramatically reduce the amount of federal revenue, by approximately $8.6 trillion over the next ten years. Cruz says that by eliminating the IRS and some other government programs, they can save maybe $500 billion over the next decade, but that’s still $8.1 trillion short. Even if you cease all military spending*, you’re still be $2 trillion short.

*Cruz, of course, wants to increase military spending.

Some economists argue that the shortfall would be partially offset by increased economic growth, but even the most optimistic models show a dramatic increase in the federal deficit, unless we also cut Medicare or Social Security. So, yeah, Cruz’s tax policy would be awful for a lot of people. And I’m not saying that because I’m a liberal hippy from New York. I’m saying that because MATH.

Donald Trump


Trump wants to increase the standard deduction by more than Cruz – $25,000 for single filers and $50,000 for married couples filing jointly. He would then collapse the seven tax brackets into four, with the top rate being 25% on income over $432,000 per year. Trump would also eliminate federal gift and estate taxes and most deductions. But he would cut corporate tax rates instead of replacing them with a VAT.

Trump’s tax plan actually costs the federal government more than Cruz’s plan, which I didn’t think was possible. It’ll cost the government between $10 and $12 trillion over the next decade. Trump argues that his tax plan will be revenue neutral, but even the right-leaning Center for Federal Tax Policy wrote an op ed that was titled:

Donald Trump’s Tax Plan Will Not Be Revenue-Neutral Under Any Circumstances


Trump could dissolve the military, and he’d still need to find $6 trillion to cut in order to make his policy revenue neutral.

I’d like to sit down with Trump (or Cruz) for an hour and go through some of the math in Microsoft Excel. I’d run some calculations and conclude by saying:  Look at the math, ya dingus. At that point, I imagine they would drop out of the race in shame.

Hillary Clinton


Clinton’s tax plan is simple: KEEP EVERYTHING THE SAME.

There is one slight exception: she wants to add a higher tax rate (43.6%) for any individual that makes over $5 million.

Bernie Sanders


Under Sanders’s tax plan, everyone pays an additional 2.2% tax, which goes towards paying for a single-payer healthcare system. He also adds some additional brackets:

12.2% on your first $18,000 earned
17.2% from $18,001 to $75,000
27.2% from $75,001 to $150,000
30.2% from $150,001 to $230,000
35.2% from $230,001 to $250,000
39.2% from $250,001 to $500,000
45.2% from $500,001 to $2,000,000
50.2% from $2,000,001 to $10,000,000
54.2% from $10,000,001 to ∞

Sanders’s tax plan is considerably higher. Also – one thing he does that neither Cruz, Trump, nor Clinton do is increase the payroll tax by 6.2% to further fund his single payer healthcare system and two years of free education (the payroll tax normally includes stuff like Social Security (12.6%, 6.2% of which is paid by you and the other half paid by your employer) and Medicare (2.9% below $250,000, 3.8% above), which is automatically deducted from each paycheck).

Additionally – Sanders would re-introduce the Social Security tax at $250,000 (right now, you do not pay Social Security tax on any income over $118,000). So under his plan, you do not have to pay Social Security tax between $118,000 and $250,000, but you do have to start paying it again after $250,000.

The taxes are ridiculous – if you make more than $5 million, you’ll be taxed at 70.4%* (with payroll taxes), plus all of the required state and local taxes. Even if you make $50,000, you’ll be taxed at 32.5%.**

*54.2% + 6.2% Social Security tax + 6.2% single payer healthcare tax + 3.8% Medicare tax

**17.2% + 6.2% Social Security tax + 6.2% single payer healthcare tax + 2.9% Medicare tax

Sanders would also add his 2.2% tax increase to capital gains, and he would tax all capital gains above $250,000 as normal income.

Of course, Sanders’s increased taxes are partially offset by lower healthcare premiums. So the idea is that while your taxes go up, the average person would pay less money per year in healthcare costs.


In summary, Cruz and Trump want to significantly lower taxes, which will make your paycheck bigger but will leave the federal government vastly under-funded. Clinton wants to continue the same tax policies as Obama. Sanders wants to add new taxes, especially for those with high incomes, that will pay for a single payer healthcare system and free education. Got it? Good. Tax policy is exciting.

Same as it ever was


We have very serious problems in the world. When I turn on the news (especially the goddamn local news) or log onto the world wide web, I tend to be greeted with messages like the one above. Everything is awful. Everything will continue to be awful. Stay tuned for Jeopardy, up next.

You know what, guys, we’ve always had very serious problems in the world. We’ve solved some of them, we’ve created some new one’s, but by and large the problems we’re dealing with are a variation of the same problems we’ve faced before. Politics. War. Disease. Sports. Young people. As David Byrne said, it’s the same as it ever was.

Or, as I’ve written before, everything is a remix.

Now, I don’t mean to delegitimize the world’s problems. They certainly exist, big and small, and complaining can be fun. In a weird way it brings people together. Humans like to complain, and we’ve always liked to complain. But most of the inane crap we’re complaining about is not unique to our time.

Let’s take a look at some examples of stuff people have been saying for the last 100+ years:

On the American dream…

U.S. consumers seem suddenly disillusioned with the American dream of rising propserity. “I’m worried if my kids can earn a decent living and buy a house,” says Tony Lentini, vice president of Mitchell Energy in Houston. “I wonder if this will be the first generation that didn’t do better than their parents. There’s a genuine feeling that the country has gotten way off track, and neither political party has any answers. Americans don’t see any solutions.” Time Magazine, 1992

The percentage of Americans living in poverty is lower, crime rates have halved, and GDP has doubled since 1992.

On baseball…

As baseball is no longer a sport, but a business, and a rather low business at that, it must he treated like the stove business and the express business whenever it obstructs the sidewalks or interferes with the clear right of way of pedestrians. — New York Times, 1891

Baseball revenues have compounded at annual rate of (approximtaely) eight shmagillion percent since 1891.

On stock buybacks…

Fortunately, when investors start getting antsy — as many have in the wake of the Dow’s latest, weeklong skid — Corporate America has a potent tranquilizer in its remedial arsenal: the stock buyback. The traditional stock buyback — under which a company repurchases its own shares from investors — is so commonplace in the age of the steady-as-she-goes bull market as to be a cliche. — CNN, 1998

The stock market has doubled since 1998.

On the general pace of life…

It is, unfortunately, one of the chief characteristics of modern business to be always in a hurry. In olden times it was different— The Medical Record, 1884

I long for the pace of life before indoor plumbing and antibiotics.

On conversation…

Conversation is said to be a lost art. Good talk presupposes leisure, both for preparation and enjoyment. The age of leisure is dead, and the art of conversation is dying— Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, Volume 29, 1890

We talk a lot about about millenials of the 21st century, but rarely do we talk about those scallywag 20th century millenials.

On American companies manufacturing abroad…

Goods will be so much cheaper, but what will become of all the American Industries?Judge Magazine, 1888

American industries did just fine after 1888.

Take a look at this 1964 political ad put out by Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats. It looks like it could have been made in 2016.* The part from 3:07 on is especially prescient…

*except for the smoking part.

By the way, the dude from this ad is still alive and spoke with CNN last week.

Here is some other stuff people have said forever:

On marriage…

The rock upon which most of the flower-bedecked marriage barges go to pieces is the latter-day cult of individualism; the worship of the brazen calf of the Self. The Atlantic, 1907

On narcissism…

This was the cover of New York Magazine in August 1976:


On twenty-somethings…

They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. Time, 1990


Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.

We are living in the best time ever

We like to talk about what makes us outraged. This is true in the media. This is true among our friends on Facebook and Twitter. It is true everywhere, because we are humans, and we are innately drawn to fear and anger. Outrage gets ratings. It can be intellectually seductive. And so we listen.

And if you’ve been listening to the outrage, then you have heard people talk about a world that is dark and scary and terrifying. It is a world that is worse than before. Maybe you share this view.

This is not wrong, necessarily. The world is a scary place. But it’s always been that way.

You think the past was better? Then you haven’t studied your history. Please check your frame of reference. Do you want to go back to pre-1973, when you could be drafted and die in combat without having a choice? You want to go back to the 1980s, with its 14% unemployment and 15% inflation, plus the constant fear of nuclear annihilation? Seriously, when do you want to go back to? You want to go back to a time with no electricity, or running water, or indoor heat, which was true for 99% of all human history?

I would like to argue that, despite everything that is truly screwed up in this world, we are living in the best time in all of human history, especially here in good ol’ America. TO THE FACTS:

Violent Crime

Ask any old person and they will tell you about the days they could leave their house without locking the doors. They’ll lament about the rise in crime, specifically violent crime, over their lifetime.

Except … none of that is true. Violent crime rates in the US have dropped significantly – and continue to drop with each passing year. In 1991, the year I was born, there were over 750 violent crimes for every 100,000 Americans. It’s now closer to 350.


Source: here

So why does it feel like crime rates are going up?

Well, there’s terrorism. School shootings. Gun violence. It seems like these have only increased over the years. But in reality, you are far less likely to die of a violent crime in 2015.

And yes, gun violence is absolutely a problem. In fact, I would argue it is our biggest national security threat. Look at this:


If we were rational beings, we would be more concerned about gun violence at home than terrorism abroad. But we are not rational. Terrorism is scary and unknown and random. As a child of New York and a runner of the 2013 Boston Marathon, I can attest to that.

But I am also a student of MATH. And the math tells me that in America you are far less likely to die of a violent crime. You are, however, more likely to die of:

A drug overdose
Complications from pre-term birth
A traffic accident

And that is why I:

Don’t do drugs
Am a male
Don’t drive.

The Economy

First, let’s talk about our friend GDP, or gross domestic product. GDP is the aggregate monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced. So when we talk about growing the ‘real economy’, we’re really talking about GDP, or the total output we create in a given year.

GDP growth has hovered around 2-3% for the last few years. It’s not a particularly sizzling rate of growth. But it is growth. And yet many people think we are still in a recession. Do people know what a recession is? It’s two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. We haven’t had that since September 2009.

In 2015, the United States’ GDP will be at its highest point ever, over $18 trillion in the aggregate. Well done, everyone.

OK, now let’s talk about unemployment. We’ve had 68 consecutive months of job growth and an unemployment rate that has halved since 2010. We are now at 5% unemployment, a rate that the Fed deems full employment.


Source: here

Say what you want about the Obama administration, but there’s no doubt that his fiscal policies have been huge drivers of job creation. Like, how could you look at the chart above and think otherwise?

Finally, we have the stock market. Now, I must put on my finance hat and note that the stock market is not the economy. Corporate profits do not define the health of a nation. As an example, in 2015 we saw lower oil prices and a stronger US dollar. Both were great for the American consumer. But they had negative effects on the market, especially oil suppliers and companies that do a lot of business abroad.

That said, millions of people have their savings locked up in 401k’s and pensions and mutual funds, and their livelihood is directly tied to the performance of the market. So while the stock market is not the economy, it is hugely important.

The S&P 500 dropped by more than 50% between October 2007 and March 2009, and I am so very thankful that I did not reach retirement age in 2008. But the market has recovered all of its losses and then some in the six years since, compounding at a yearly rate of almost 20%. This year, the market reached its highest point ever.


This chart reminds me of the Warren Buffet quote:

The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.

If you had sold your investments in 2009, you would have lost quite a bit of money. If you were able to weather the storm until present day, you’re in pretty good shape. And if you had bought in during the 2008 and 2009 lows, you would actually be in better shape. In summary:



Everything will be alright.

Yes, there are still problems in the economy. We need better infrastructure – our roads and highways and railroads and bridges and tunnels are crumbling. Millions of Americans are living in poverty. The real median household income has been stagnant for quite some time. But on the whole, we are in a much better place in 2015.


Could you imagine, twenty years ago, that in 2015 the vast majority of us would have a device, in our pockets, that held all of the world’s information? It could send signals to space and back in a tenth of a second. It could make phone calls and play music and record video in HD. And it would cost a small fraction of what computers cost in the ’90s.

We have Google Maps. There is no excuse to get lost anymore. You can calculate the most efficient routes to any place in the world. You can get real-time traffic data. You can find places to eat.

We have Amazon. You can buy anything you want from the comfort of your own home.

We have logistical systems that, while still flawed, are vastly improved. Shipping. Mass transit. Air travel. Food production.

Sometimes I walk around New York City and I think to myself, how does all of this food get here? The process of feeding nine million people, in a confined space, every single day, goes largely unnoticed. Food does not spontaneously appear. We’ve developed these amazing systems to transport, store, and serve food on the largest of scales.

Back in the 1970s, there was a pretty big concern about overpopulation, made famous by Paul Ehrlich’s* book The Population Bomb. It warned of the mass starvation of humans in the 1970s and 1980s due to overpopulation, as well as other major societal upheavals, and advocated immediate action to limit population growth. And guess what? The population did explode – the world population has more than doubled since the book’s release in 1968. And we’ve adapted. Hunger and poverty rates have dropped worldwide.

*Paul Ehrlich is still alive, and he still stands by the basic ideas of the book. In 2009 he said that “perhaps the most serious flaw in The Bomb was that it was much too optimistic about the future.” He believes that the book achieved its goals because “it alerted people to the importance of environmental issues and brought human numbers into the debate on the human future.”


Despite all of these objectively cool and amazing things, why does it feel like everyone is always complaining?  We’re doing alright, guys. We are living in the best time.

As I’ve said many times before, it is not a bad thing to have optimism as a default setting. So I’ll say: I think 2016 will be even better than 2015. And I hope this trend continues, every single year, until the inevitable heat death of the universe.

The electoral college

I am officially registered to vote, which means that, on Tuesday, I will be fulfilling my civic duty to the country by participating in the odd, confusing, and outdated electoral college.

A brief reminder of how the electoral college works: when you vote on election day, you are actually voting for a group of state electors who will usually* vote for the state majority. The 538 electors are spread out across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the first candidate to 270 wins.

*There have been 87 instances in the past where electors have voted against the wishes of the majority. It has never decided an election, but it is a possibility.

I’ll be honest: I really dislike this process. Not in a I’m going to make it my life-long mission to eliminate the electoral college way, but in a  This system is very outdated and we can do better way. The electoral college was instituted in the eighteenth century when it was difficult to collect votes and travel to faraway places – so it was necessary to have a group of electors vote on the country’s behalf. This system was also used to protect the rights of the states that were struggling to free themselves from tyranny.

This was all well and good 200 years ago in a nation trying to institute federalism. But, I would argue, it is no longer necessary – and it gives swing states like Florida and Ohio a disproportionate influence on the election. In a fair democracy, all votes should be equal. A country that is by the people and for the people should, in fact, give the votes to the people – not to the states and their respective electors.

And the states, by the way, are not represented proportionately.* Take my home state of New York, for example. New Yorkers make up 6.2% of the U.S. population, but the state only accounts for 5.4% of the electors. This means that a vote in New York actually counts for less than a vote in Wyoming or Alaska. The disparity in California and Texas is even greater. This is because smaller states are given three electors no matter what, even if proportionately they should only receive one or two.

*Some U.S. territories aren’t represented at all – American citizens in Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands have no impact on the Presidential election. The District of Columbia didn’t have electors until 1961.

Here’s a crazy scenario: since a candidate only has to win ‘states’ and not ‘people,’ a candidate could, in theory, win only 22% of the popular vote but still win the election thanks to the electoral college. This is unlikely, but there have been instances where a candidate wins the majority but still loses the election, most recently in 2000.

It boils down to this – I believe that every American vote should count equally. I also believe in simplicity, progress, and reason.

The way I see it, there are 42 states that will vote one way or the other no matter what this Tuesday, which leaves eight undecided: Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire. There is a possibility that Romney wins Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, and Virginia, with Obama winning Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Hampshire. And what would happen in this case? It would be a tie – 269 to 269.

The chances of this happening are pretty low, but what if it did? The House of Representatives (controlled by Republicans) would pick the President and the Senate (controlled by Democrats) would pick the Vice President – which means we would most likely see a Romney/Biden White House. I think the country would explode.

I’ll leave it to the great CGPGrey to explain further and send us out in style: