In the podcast rounding up 10 good songs from 2021, I pondered the difficult question: “Was 2021 even worse than 2020?”
On a strictly personal note, some good things happened. I found a calling of sorts in substitute teaching. I’ve got a kid enjoying college. I was able to play music and go curling again, at least for a little while. For better or worse, I worked my ass off, writing 100-ish stories during the Olympics, pulling together a book on Coach K, and self-publishing yet another book, this one intended to set up a business that I wound up abandoning. The worst news personally: Some unfathomable tragedies were inflicted upon people close to me.
A couple of weeks ago, I figured 2021 was indeed worse. In 2020, we could laugh about it, and at the end of 2020, things looked hopeful. We were getting rid of a president who actively hated about 60% of the country and used another 35% or so as pawns in a twisted game. We were turning the corner on COVID-19. Today, we know we’re not really rid of that guy, or at least the forces that brought him to power, we still have shocking celebrity deaths (we’re down to one Monkee, and as I’m writing this, news has come across that Betty White left us just shy of 100), thinly veiled racists are taking aim at our schools, and COVID-19 keeps coming up with new ways to make us miserable. I wonder when we’ll be asked to walk around with pillows on our faces and having indoor dining that consists solely of milkshakes and anything else that can be consumed through a straw. (Hmmm … an all-milkshake restaurant might be a good investment idea …)
But as you’re preparing to comfort your dog while fireworks go off, read on and dare to be optimistic. As Alexandra Petri points out, we were not hit by meteors this year.
Science: Joe Manchin can obstruct all he wants, but the clean-energy revolution is well and truly underway. Also, we’re getting a lot better at medicine. A lot. Good timing — imagine COVID if we hadn’t revved up so quickly on vaccines (Noah Smith).
Prosecution: Yeah, I know — we’ve been told since about 2016 that Trump won’t be able to survive the next revelation, and that next revelation either lands with a whimper or not at all. But this might be the year (Salon). Meanwhile, the GOP is wasting money paying for his legal bills (PBS).
COVID vaccines vs. Omicron: One vaccine dose reduces hospitalization risks by 52%, two doses reduce them by 72%, and a booster takes that number down by 88% (BBC). Also, children are tolerating vaccines pretty well (NYT).
Evolution vs. Omicron: The risk of hospitalization with Omicron is roughly one-third that of hospitalization with Delta (BBC). Before you dismiss that news as simply a function of Omicron hitting mostly young people in South Africa, where the peak has likely passed (WaPo), consider lab research showing Omicron’s limited effects on the lungs (NYT). Even though case numbers in the USA have gone through the roof (in part because we’re testing as much as capacity will allow), hospitalizations are still far lower than they were in September and barely half of what they were at COVID’s peak (NYT).
Progress in China: Wind and solar projects, tons of forest, wild animals protected. Even pandas. (Mashable)
Workers’ rights: The flip side of the Great Resignation is that a lot of people have simply decided not to be pushed around any more (Wired).
Biden’s doing better than you think: The roundups …
- 40 new federal judges (WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin)
- Infrastructure bill, executive orders on immigration (The Atlantic’s David Frum)
- GDP growth, 4.2% jobless rate, non-farm payroll among 10 factors in which Biden ranks either first or second among recent presidents (Bloomberg’s Matthew A. Winkler, who might give too much credit to Biden for these stats but still has a point)
And if it gets any worse, we’ll just move to Ireland. Happy New Year.