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The Fear Digest

Not Finding 'Friends,' Getting Fat, and Other Things That Freaked Out Americans This Week

We entered 2015 the way we left 2014: worried about everything.

Welcome back to the Fear Digest, the weekly top ten countdown of the terrors transfixing America. Read last week's column here.

10. Not Being Able to Find Friends on Netflix
It felt like a much lower-key week, fear-wise, than usual. Maybe that can be chalked up to some residual good cheer from the holidays, maybe it was that everyone was just staying indoors as much as possible to gorge on chocolate, meat, and sex acts—or maybe we were all just consumed with watching Friends. The beloved, much-reran 90s show, about six attractive people who spend their days on a variety of couches reciting jokes, hit Netflix on January 1—except, uh oh, for a few hours no one could find it. The situation was so dire out there in twentysomething-land that some blogs ran posts explaining how to search the streaming channel for the sitcom equivalent of comfort food. Fortunately this all got cleared up and today you can gorge yourself on 200-plus episodes documenting the gang's adventures having sex with one another in unrealistically large Manhattan apartments.
Last week's rank: Unranked


9. Our Own Fat Asses
Another New Year, another spike in gym memberships across the country, meaning that everyone has yet again resolved to finally get into fucking shape. It's a promise a lot of us make periodically, to improve ourselves; to not just work out and eat healthier and drink less, but to be the sort of people who do those things. We want less procrastination, less aimless web surfing, less time wasted searching PornHub for extremely specific fetishes. We may end up bettering ourselves in some small way, but we will almost certainly not start pumping iron and running on treadmills—in fact, the economic fortunes of the gym industry depend on people buying memberships and then not following through. As usual, we can expect people's fear of obesity to subside into guilt at not doing something about it before returning to the usual apathy.
Last week's rank: Unranked

8. Bad Luck
Implicit in all New Year's resolutions is the idea that if we started running and drinking kale juice instead of malt liquor we could keep some of the nastier sorts of death at bay. Except that's not exactly true; for example one recent study by researchers at John Hopkins found that "bad luck" was at the root of many cases of cancer. A lot of media reports about the study were wrong about what the researchers' numbers meant, but the fundamental point here, that sometimes terrible things just sorta happen, remains depressingly true.
Last week's rank: Unranked


7. Being Shot by a Random Person
Speaking of bad luck, there were a couple horrific gun-related accidents in the news this week. First, a two-year-old boy accidentally shot his mother at an Idaho Walmart after removing a 9mm handgun from her purse on Tuesday. Then, early in the morning on New Year's Day, a police chief in suburban Atlanta shot his wife while apparently moving the loaded gun that was in their bed. The moral of the story is, obviously, don't keep a gun in your bed—and, more broadly, maybe you don't need to take a deadly weapon with you everywhere you go?
Last week's rank: 4

6. The Islamic State
The most famous extremist group in the world is now attempting to seize some Lebanese border towns to secure their positions in Syria while the US continues to bombard them with airstrikes. In the militants' fantasy world (as revealed by a bunch of images floating around online), however, they were setting fire to Big Ben and the US Capitol, flying sophisticated fighter jets, and, most bizarrely, galloping away (in horse form) from a pack of wolves.
Last week's rank: 8

5. The NSA
If the Islamic State appeared a bit impotent this week, so did the NSA—a report in Der Spiegel based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed that the spy agency was having trouble in 2012 tracking users who used Tor and reading emails that were encrypted using PGP. You can still hide from the government, it turns out. It's just increasingly tricky.
Last week's rank: 7


4. The FBI
If privacy advocates were cheering when they heard that the Man couldn't crack every code known to humankind, no doubt they were groaning at the reports that when the secret court that is supposed to oversee FBI surveillance refuses to give the G-men a warrant, they just circumvent that decision and spy on their target anyway. That sorta sucks.
Last week's rank: Unranked

3. The Weather
More alarming than abstract fears about the national surveillance state were the very real fears about the snow and ice currently being dumped on most of the country. At least five people were killed as severe winds hit California this week, and terrible road conditions led to a massive multi-car pileup in New Hampshire that involved dozens of vehicles.
Last week's rank: 3

1a. The Cops
1b. People Who Hate the Cops
For the second straight week the antagonism between the police and the people who hate them tops this list. New York City remained the center of this suddenly intense conflict, with NYPD officers barely arresting anyone in protest of what they see as a lack of support from Mayor Bill de Blasio. It's at the point where Police Commissioner William Bratton has to tell his cops not to turn their backs on the mayor at a funeral today for Wenjian Liu, who was shot to death along with his partner a couple weeks ago—a request which the rank and file ignored. Since that shooting, nearly 20 New Yorkers have been arrested for threatening the police; in St. Louis, a man was detained for tweeting about killing officers; Durham, North Carolina, has seen two separate incidents where the cops were fired at.

That NYPD officers would apparently stop doing their jobs out of pique is pretty shameful, but the truth is that a lot of people would rather cops take it easy and not hassle people for minor bullshit like illegally selling cigarettes—and anyway, the argument goes, if they can cut back on arrests without endangering public safety, they should already be doing that. But it's hard to have a conversation about reforming police practices when there's so much distrust in the air. In New York, the cops don't trust the mayor, much of the public doesn't trust the cops, and the anti-cop protesters don't listen to the mayor. In that sort of climate, maybe fear is a rational response.
Last week's rank: 2 and 1

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.