Category Archives: Children

Image of the day: A U.S. history reconstruction


In a recent post we entered the notion that “history” is a construction, with no two individuals or nations sharing the same perspectives on events of the past.

Thanks to the always interesting Metafilter, we chanced on an unusual construction of an 1862 U.S. history from a Japan that had, until nine years previously, barred entry to their nation’s mainland by traders and adventures from the West and only opened up after Commodore Matthew Perry landed on the shores of Tokyo Bay on 8 July 1853.its shores, backed by the guns of his famous Black Fleet.

Rutgers University historian Nick Kapur recently tweeted some starling images from Osanaetoki Bankokubanashi by Kanagaki Robun, a child’s history of America drawn for second-hand sources.

The volume, a precursor the today’s manga, features George Washington [and his wife “Mary”], Benjamin Franklin, as well as Bennie’s arch-enemy and would-be assassin John Adams, as well as other curious characters. There’s a truly buizarre series of illustrations of John Adams’ spouse begging eaten by a giant snake, after which the Mountain Fairy lends him a hand to enact his revenge, as so much more. The while book may be view online here.

And now for out favorite illustration, featuring Samurai warrior George Washinton [sic] staving off an attack on his spouse Mary [sic] by the evil British warlord Asura [demon] and his diabolical minions [click on it to embiggen]:

Map of the day: A European Muslim divide


Long, long ago, back when esnl was covering civil rights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a frequent response from white folks when asked about darker-skinned folks went something like this: “Well, I guess some of them might be alright, but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.”

Flash forward six decades and an ocean away to Europe and consider these results from a new survey from the Pew Research Center, mapping responses to how non-Muslim folks in Europe would feel if one of their children decided to marry a Muslim:

Chart of the day: Mortgaging their futures


From Naked Capitalism comes a stunning graphic of the monster that is eating the futures of America’s young:

America’s banksters are consuming the wealth of a generation, to the tune of $4 trillion, according to a study by Demos.

Their key findings:

  • Our model finds that an average student debt burden for a dual-headed household with bachelors’ degrees from 4-year universities ($53,000) leads to a lifetime wealth loss of nearly $208,000.
  • Nearly two-thirds of this loss ($134,000) comes from the lower retirement savings of the indebted household, while more than one-third ($70,000) comes from lower home equity.
  • We can generalize this result to predict that the $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt will lead to total lifetime wealth loss of $4 trillion for indebted households.
  • The wealth loss will be greater for households with larger-than-average levels of student debt: students from low-income families, students of color, and for-profit students.

Way back when we started college, tuition was either  cheap or non-existent, and an aspiring student could figure that a summer job and maybe some part-time work during the school year would cover all her costs.

But thanks to the combination of tax cuts at the federal and state levels and the GOP push for privatization, college has ceased to be a birthright for the middle class, much less the poor.

A country that feeds on its poor is headed towards collapse.

Headline of the day: The want freedom. . .to die


Yep the Koch brothers’ pals in Congress really do want to kill the poor, and the quickest way to do that is cut them off from things like emergency rooms and maternity care.

From the New York Times:

Consensus Eludes G.O.P. With Health Vote Looming

  • The hard-line Freedom Caucus met with President Trump but failed to reach a consensus on changes to the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
  • They are pressing to eliminate federal requirements that health insurance plans provide basic benefits like maternity care, emergency services and wellness visits.

UPDATE: But it’s even worse. . .

More on what the Zealots want to cut from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

House Republicans, looking for a deal to secure their health care legislation, may scrap one of the Affordable Care Act’s most important consumer protections: requiring individual health insurers to cover ten essential health benefits.

The benefits are:

  • Pediatric services, including oral and dental care
  • Pregnancy, maternity and newborn care
  • Outpatient care
  • Emergency services
  • Hospitalization
  • Prescription drugs
  • Mental health and substance abuse services
  • Laboratory services
  • Rehabilitative services
  • Prevention services and chronic disease management

Without the mandatory coverage of essential benefits, the health law’s limits on out-of-pocket spending would be “essentially meaningless” because it applies only to those essential services, according to a blog post on Thursday by Timothy Jost, an Emeritus law professor at Washington and Lee University.

The health law’s ban on annual and lifetime coverage limits also applies only to essential benefits, meaning they too would be eliminated under the still-evolving GOP bill.

Kids in religious countries lose in science, math


A new study of the impact of religion on the minds of growing children reveals a disturbing finding: When religion dominates, kids fare poorly in science and mathematics.

The study offers a hint of things to come in the United States, where the government is now controlled by a party eager to hand off education to church schools while simultaneously declaring an allegiance to improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

With the Department of Education headed by a confirmed Christianist who made her billions off private schools, the outlook is bleak for our children.

From Leeds Beckett University:

The more religious people are, the lower children in that country perform in science and mathematics, according to new research at Leeds Beckett University.

The research [$35.95 to access] , published today in the academic journal Intelligence, reveals that more religious countries had lower educational performance in science and mathematics.  The study also shows that levels of national development and time spent on religious education played a role in students’ attainment.

The research, led by Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at Leeds Beckett, alongside David Geary, Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, is relevant for the government’s announcement in the budget that it will be investing £320 million into new free schools, including faith-based schools.

Professor Stoet explained: “Science and mathematics education are key for modern societies. Our research suggests that education might benefit from a stronger secular approach. In that context, the current UK policy of investing more money in faith-based should be reconsidered.

“The success of schools and education in general directly translates in more productive societies and higher standards of living. Given the strong negative link between religiosity and educational performance, governments might be able to raise educational standards and so standards of living by keeping religion out of schools and out of educational policy making.”

The researchers combined data from the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), OECD’s Education at a Glance, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the World Values Survey, the European Social Survey, and the United Nationals Human Development Report.

Analysis of the data sets allowed conclusions to be drawn about international levels of religiosity, schooling and educational performance, and levels of human development (measures in regard to health, education, and income).

Levels of religiosity were determined using representative questionnaires carried out around the world in the World Values Survey and the European Social Survey among the adult population. Levels of school performance in mathematics and science literacy were based on scores from children aged between 14 to 15 years old.

Considering the relationship between religiosity and educational performance, the findings suggest that by engaging with religion, this may lead to a displacement of non-religious activities.  Although relatively few countries have data on the time spent on religious education, it appears that the time spent on religion has a negative correlation with educational performance in mathematics and science.

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California: Roundup™ must carry a cancer warning


A new California law will force Monsanto to slap a cancer warning on its Roundup weedkiller.

Score one for the good guys.

The story, from RT America:

California to force Monsanto to label its herbicide as possibly carcinogenic


Program Notes:

Agrochemical giant, Monsanto has lost its court battle in California after a Fresno county judge ruled that the active ingredient in the company’s notorious weed killer ‘Roundup,’ glyphosate, can be added to the state’s list of cancer-causing agents. Once the chemical is added to the list, the company will have one year to label that it’s a possible carcinogen on their products. RT America’s Brigida Santos reports, speaking to Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, and Alexis Baden-Meyer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Charts of the day: Latin American land inequality


Two significant graphics from Unearthed: land, power and inequality in Latin America, a major study of land distribution in Latin America, reveal the gross inequalities of land distribution in the Americas.

First, a look at agricultural land tenure rates, featuring the percentage of farms in each country owned by the top one percent of landowners:

More from the report:

Latin America is the world’s most unequal region in terms of land distribution. The Gini coefficient for land—an indicator of between 0 and 1, where 1 represents the maximum inequality—is 0.79 for the region as a whole, 0.85 in South America and 0.75 in Central America. These figures indicate much higher levels of land concentration than in Europe (0.57), Africa (0.56) or Asia (0.55).

According to this indicator, Paraguay (with a Gini coefficient of 0.93) is the country where land is most unequally distributed, followed by Chile (0.91) and Venezuela (0.88). At the other end of
the spectrum is Costa Rica (0.67), which has the most equitable land distribution in the region. Most Latin American countries have extremely high levels of concentration with Gini coeffi-
cients above 0.80, while the ratio is over 0.90 in Chile and Paraguay.

Compared with the distribution of income—for which Latin America is also the most unequal region in the world—land distribution is even more inequitable. The regional Gini coefficient for income is 0.48 compared with 0.79 for land, and is higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa (0.43), North America (0.37) or the East Asia-Pacific region (0.37).

And, next, a look at what crops are planted on those vast latifundias:

Note particularly the vast acreage devoted to soybeans.

The great majority of those acres are planted with Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans, according to this September report from Reuters:

South American farmers are expected to sow 57 percent more area with Monsanto Co’s second-generation, genetically modified soybean seed Intacta RR2 Pro in the new planting season, a company executive said.

Intacta, which tolerates the herbicide glyphosate and resists caterpillars, was planted on 14 million hectares in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in 2015/2016.

Farmers are expected to plant 18 million to 22 million hectares this season, Maria Luiza Nachreiner, head of South American soy operations, said in an interview before Monsanto announced it would accept a $66 billion takeover bid from rival Bayer.

“We have a positive outlook this crop,” Nachreiner said.

Intacta will account for 31 percent to 38 percent of the planted area in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, up from 24 percent this season, she noted.

Monsanto does not release specific numbers about the area planted with its seeds in Brazil, the world’s largest soybean exporter. For years, its Roundup Ready Soybeans dominated the regional GMO seed market, peaking in 2013/14 with 84 percent of Brazil’s soybean area, according to data from local consultant Celeres.

To maintain those crops, farmers are also basically forced to use Monsanto weed-killers, most notably glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in the company’s Roundup,.

Roundup has been linked with a growing number of human health problems, but weeds have been growing tolerant, forcing the company to create new blends featuring even more toxic chemicals, including 2,4-D, one of two chemicals used in the toxic Agent Orange blend sprayed over much of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, resulting in a growing number of severe infant deformities.

Yet another study links plastics to fetal deformities


We’ve posted scores if not hundreds of items warning about the serious public health threat posed by the plastics that serve as one of the foundations of modern life.

Now comes word that not only does a plastic often used in food packaging and children’s toys and drinking vessels cause deformation in the genitals of young boys; it can also alter the genes of infants in the womb.

From Seattle Children’s Hospital:

Exposure during early pregnancy to some phthalates—man-made chemicals commonly found in household plastics, food and personal care products—can have adverse impacts on developing fetuses, according to a new study led by Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a pediatric environmental health specialist at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and associate professor at the University of Washington.

The study [ a staggering $42 to read], published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that increases in exposure to certain phthalates during the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with higher estrogen concentrations and lower testosterone concentrations in the fetus, thus increasing the chance of a genital abnormality in male babies at birth.

The study reinforces that some phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and can alter concentrations of naturally-produced hormones, which help regulate and control different cells and organs in the body. Sathyanarayana’s previous research has directly linked fetal exposure to diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) to the development of genital abnormalities and increased risk of future reproductive health issues in boys.

Sathyanarayana sat down with On the Pulse to discuss the key findings of the study:

Q: What are the new, significant findings from this study?

We found that increases in phthalate exposure in early pregnancy was associated with higher estrogen concentrations (MBzP, DEHP, MiBP) and lower testosterone (MCNP and DEHP) concentrations. In other words, the phthalates were associated with increases in female hormones and decreases in male hormones.  We also found that having higher testosterone in pregnancy was associated with a lower chance of having a male baby with a genital abnormality, which means that anything that reduces testosterone, like the hormone DEHP, will increase chances of having a male baby with a genital abnormality.

Q: How is that different from your most recent published study on phthalates?

The study I published previously showed the link between phthalates and male genital abnormalities in the male reproductive track. This study looks at one of the possible causes of the genital abnormalities—changes in hormone concentration. One of the biggest criticisms of epidemiology, which studies the causes and effects of health issues in a specific population, is that we identify associations but we don’t really know how or why those associations occur.

Another big take-home point is that there is little evidence in humans that EDCs actually affect endocrine pathways. This is some of the strongest evidence showing that these chemicals actually do affect endocrine pathways.

Q: Why would it matter that someone’s endocrine system is affected?

Our endocrine systems control all the hormones in our body. Hormones are essential for us to live. Estrogen is vital for female reproductive function, as well as mental and cardiovascular health, which is a point that people sometimes miss. Estrogen and testosterone are not only for reproductive development. If you don’t have proper levels of estrogen or testosterone, your mood, your cardiovascular health will be affected. Our hormones keep us balanced every day.

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Map of the day: Europe’s low fertility rates


Europe is undergoing a population implosion.

While some countries have higher birth rates than others, no country produces enough babies to maintain a constant population.

One has to wonder if the phenomenon contributes to Europe’s rising tide of xenophobia.

From Eurostat:

More from Eurostat:

In 2015, 5.103 million babies were born in the European Union (EU), compared with 5.063 million in 2001 (the first year comparable statistics are available). Among Member States, France continued to record the highest number of births (799,700in 2015), ahead of the United Kingdom (776,700), Germany (737,600), Italy (485,800), Spain (418,400) and Poland (369,300).

On average in the EU, women who gave birth to their first child in 2015 were aged nearly 29 (28.9 years). Across Member States, first time mothers were the youngest in Bulgaria and the oldest in Italy.

Overall, the total fertility rate in the EU increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015. It varied between Member States from 1.31 in Portugal to 1.96 in France in 2015. A total fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered to be the replacement level in developed countries: in other words, the average number of live births per woman required to keep the population size constant without migration.

Total fertility rate below the replacement level of 2.1 in all Member States

In 2015, France (1.96) and Ireland (1.92) were the two Member State with total fertility rates closest to the replacement level of around 2.1. They were followed by Sweden (1.85) and the United Kingdom (1.80). Conversely, the lowest fertility rates were observed in Portugal (1.31), Cyprus and Poland (both 1.32), Greece and Spain (both 1.33) as well as Italy (1.35).

In most Member States, the total fertility rate rose in 2015 compared with 2001. The largest increases were observed in Latvia (from 1.22 in 2001 to 1.70 in 2015, or +0.48), the Czech Republic (+0.42), Lithuania (+0.41), Slovenia (+0.36), Bulgaria (+0.32), Romania (+0.31), Sweden (+0.28) and Estonia (+0.26). In contrast, the highest decreases were registered in Cyprus (-0.25), Luxembourg (-0.19) and Portugal (-0.14). For the EU as a whole, the total fertility rate increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015 (+0.12).

Chart of the day: World environmental child deaths


From the World Health Organization’s Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment [open access], a graph of the leading environmental causes of childhood deaths worldwide [click on the image to enlarge]:

With the Trump Administration rapidly dismembering the Environmental Protection Agency, a new report reveals just why protecting the environmental saves lives, especially young ones.

From the World Health Organization:

More than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments. Every year, environmental risks – such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene – take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years, say two new WHO reports.

The first report, Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment [open access] reveals that a large portion of the most common causes of death among children aged 1 month to 5 years – diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia – are preventable by interventions known to reduce environmental risks, such as access to safe water and clean cooking fuels.

“A polluted environment is a deadly one – particularly for young children,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”

Harmful exposures can start in the mother’s womb and increase the risk of premature birth. Additionally, when infants and pre-schoolers are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke they have an increased risk of pneumonia in childhood, and a lifelong increased risk of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to air pollution may also increase their lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Top 5 causes of death in children under 5 years linked to the environment

A companion report, Don’t pollute my future! The impact of the environment on children’s health, provides a comprehensive overview of the environment’s impact on children’s health, illustrating the scale of the challenge. Every year:

  • 570 000 children under 5 years die from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and second-hand smoke.
  • 361 000 children under 5 years die due to diarrhoea, as a result of poor access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.
  • 270 000 children die during their first month of life from conditions, including prematurity, which could be prevented through access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in health facilities as well as reducing air pollution.
  • 200 000 deaths of children under 5 years from malaria could be prevented through environmental actions, such as reducing breeding sites of mosquitoes or covering drinking-water storage.
  • 200 000 children under 5 years die from unintentional injuries attributable to the environment, such as poisoning, falls, and drowning.

Ongoing and emerging environmental threats to children’s health

“A polluted environment results in a heavy toll on the health of our children,” says Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits.”

For example, emerging environmental hazards, such as electronic and electrical waste (such as old mobile phones) that is improperly recycled, expose children to toxins which can lead to reduced intelligence, attention deficits, lung damage, and cancer. The generation of electronic and electrical waste is forecasted to increase by 19% between 2014 and 2018, to 50 million metric tonnes by 2018.

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U.N experts slam pesticides as a global health threat


And they’re calling for an end to their use and a shift to sustainable agriculture worldwide.

It’s a message we heartily endorse, but it won’t sit well a Trump administration and national legislature dominated by corporate interests.

From the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

Two United Nations experts are calling for a comprehensive new global treaty to regulate and phase out the use of dangerous pesticides in farming, and move towards sustainable agricultural practices. They say: “excessive use of pesticides are very dangerous to human health, to the environment and it is misleading to claim they are vital  to ensuring food security.”

The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and the Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that widely divergent standards of production, use and protection from hazardous pesticides in different countries are creating double standards, which are having a serious impact on human rights.

The Special Rapporteurs pointed to research showing that pesticides were responsible for an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year. The overwhelming number of fatalities, some 99%, occurred in developing countries where health, safety and environmental regulations were weaker.

Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility. Farmers and agricultural workers, communities living near plantations, indigenous communities and pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure and require special protections.

The experts particularly emphasized the obligation of States to protect the rights of children from hazardous pesticides. They noted the high number of children killed or injured by food contaminated with pesticides, particularly through accidental poisonings, the prevalence of diseases and disabilities linked to chronic exposure at a young age, and reports on the exposure to hazardous pesticides of children working in global food supply chains, which is one of the worst forms of child labour.

The experts warn that certain pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a threat to the entire ecological system on which food production depends. The excessive use of pesticides contaminates soil and water sources, causing loss of biodiversity, destroying the natural enemies of pests, and reducing the nutritional value of food. The impact of such overuse also imposes staggering costs on national economies around the world.

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How the U.S. military weaponizes video war games


Back in the 1971 a friend took us to the Stanford University campus we were taken to visit a massive mainframe computer that was probably about as powerful as the processor in today’s cell phone.

Ushered into a large , dark room, we were escorted to a man sitting in what resembled the command module of a high tech [for those days] spaceship featuring a comfortable upholstered chair positioned in front of a large black-and-white monitor

The screen displayed a solar system, and the fellow in the chair was controlling a moving objects we soon realized was a spaceship. The game was amazing, precisely the sort of thing you’d expect from a bunch of nerds with advanced degrees, with planets and sun all functioning as gravity wells that could trap the ship. Then there was that enemy ship. . .

When we got our chance to take the helm we were hooked.

But it took at 1960s mainframe to run it, so Spacewars! Was strictly a plaything for academic and corporate nerds.

It wasn’t for another 20 years that we could find a comparable home game, a Spacewars! version for the now-forgotten Vectrex home gaming system.

But the fascination of the game, which goes back to early fascination boys seem to have with playing solder, didn’t come into full blossom until 1990s, with the arrival of the first almost-realistic war games enabled by advances in hardware and software.

And once the games became realistic, they drew the attention of the Pentagon.

And therein lies the tale.

The Pentagon’s war games fascination at its costs

Two European doctoral students, Scott Nicholas Romaniuk of the University of Trento and Tobias Burgers of the Freie Universität Berlin, looked at this unique intersection of popular culture and the military/industrial complex.

They detail their findings in The Conversation, a plain language, open source, online academic  journal:

Violent video games have become embedded within American culture over the past several decades and especially since 9/11. First-person shooters, in particular, have become increasingly popular.

These games – in which players are positioned behind a gun – have turned a generation of kids into digital warriors who fight terrorists and battle alien invaders. Many play first-person shooters for pure, innocent enjoyment. Some like achieving objectives and being a part of a team. And, for others, it simply feels good to eliminate an enemy – especially someone who’s trying to harm them.

For the U.S. military, the rise of first-person shooters has been a welcome development. In recent years, the military has encouraged many of its soldiers to partake in the thrill of violent video games as a way to continue combat training, even when not on active duty. (In fact, using games to teach military tactics has been a longstanding practice in the U.S. military: Before video games, troops were encouraged to play military-themed board games.)

The games allow soldiers to take their combat roles home with them and blur their on-duty responsibilities with their off-duty, noncombat routines and lives.

But what effect have these video games had on U.S. soldiers? How accurately do they depict military life? And do they actually help recruit, train and retain troops?

From battle screen to battlefield

As part of a study, we interviewed 15 current and former members of the U.S. military who were between 24 and 35 years old to understand the role violent first-person shooter games played in their recruitment and training.

The majority of interviewees told us it was important to stay in the mindset of a soldier even when not on duty. To them, first-person shooters were the perfect vehicle for doing this.

Game preferences varied among the soldiers we interviewed, but popular titles included “Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2” and “ARMA 2,” which a current member of the Army said was “one of the most hardcore assault experiences in gaming.”

Meanwhile, an Iraq War veteran described “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” as “the ultimate first-person shooter experiences ever” and “intensive and highly realistic approaches to tactical combat. The choice of attacking with stealth or unleashing an all-out frontal assault full of mayhem is yours. It’s violent, it’s chaotic, it’s beautiful.”

In this, the Iraq War veteran seems to say that video games can reflect real-life combat situations, an attitude that others share.

Altered realities

But it’s tough to make the case that games accurately simulate what a soldier’s life is really like. First, military tours of duty are not solely made up of hard-charging, chaotic battles, like those in first-person shooters. The majority of soldiers won’t participate in any full-frontal combat operations.

Second – and, most importantly – in the digital world there are no legal and ethical considerations. When things go wrong, when innocent people are killed, there are no ramifications. If anything, the games warp these real-world consequences in the minds of players; in 2012, psychologists Brock Bastian, Jolanda Jetten and Helena R.M. Radke were able to use brain scans to show that playing violent video games had the potential to desensitize players to real-life violence and the suffering of others.

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Why are we fat? Republicans, Democrats disagree


If the recent elections have taught us anything, it’s that Democrats and Republicans are so deeply divided that one might reasonably argue that the system has broken down, with folks of great wealth fueling the divisions for their own ends.

So how deeply divided are the two parties?

Well, they can’t even agree on what makes folks fat.

It’s that old nature/nurture divide that lurks beneath so much of political divisiveness, with the Republicans arguing that Calvinism, with its doctrine of predestination, rules at the bathroom scales, while Democrats argue that it’s something fueled by the environment.

From the University of Kansas:

People’s political leanings and their own weight shape opinions on obesity-related public policies, according to a new study by two University of Kansas researchers.

Actually, Republicans — no matter how much they weigh —  believe eating and lifestyle habits cause obesity, the research found.

But among Democrats there is more of a dividing line, said Mark Joslyn, professor of political science. Those who identify themselves as overweight are more likely to believe genetic factors cause obesity.

“Self-reported overweight people were significantly more likely to believe obesity is caused by genetics than normal weight people,” Joslyn said. “The belief that obesity is due to genetics tends to remove blame. Obesity is not a choice, some would argue, but rather people are simply genetically wired to be obese. In this way, overweight people are motivated to believe in the genetics-obesity link. We found normal weight people were not so motivated.”

Joslyn and Don Haider-Markel, chair and professor of the Department of Political Science, published their findings [$36 to read] recently in the journal American Politics Research.

The research could have important implications for policymakers, especially at the local and state levels that tend to focus on public health interventions, either through appealing to healthy lifestyles by constructing biking and walking paths to encourage exercise or by passing stricter regulations on food and drinks, such as demanding publication of calorie counts and levying taxes on soft drinks.

Former New York City Mayor — and billionaire — Michael Bloomberg has donated millions of dollars to fund pro-soda tax initiatives in major cities. Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia are among those that have passed them in recent years. Obesity rates have risen recently in the United States, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2015 that 71 percent of adults were overweight and more than 17 percent of youths were obese.

Still, most Americans oppose bans on large-size drinks and higher soda taxes, Joslyn said, which is likely a disparity between the perception of the problem and support for government intervention. Those who have argued against soda taxes, for example, often refer to a “nanny state,” blaming government intervention when they perceive personal choice is causing the problem.

For policymakers, as obesity rates continue to climb and the debate surrounding how to make people healthier continues, the genetic attribution as a cause may continue to rise as well, which could influence people’s opposition to certain practices.

“To the extent that genetic attributions increase in popularity, stronger opposition to discriminatory hiring practices by weight can be expected,” Joslyn said.

Also, it’s likely the issue remains politicized because most Republicans are inclined to support individual blame for obesity and not supportive of government regulations.

Finally, while the soda taxes have gained much attention, most government action recently does seem to be directed toward changing people’s individual behavior, such as developing public spaces to encourage fitness and ways to discourage unhealthy eating habits, like publication of calorie counts.

“If obesity persists in the face of such initiatives, blame and discrimination of obese people is likely to continue,” Joslyn said. “On the other hand, if governments treat obesity similar to diseases that afflict the population, as circumstances beyond the control of individuals, then individual blame and discrimination may diminish.”

Program notes

The genome dynamically interacts with the environment as chemical switches that regulate gene expression receive cues from stress, diet, behavior, toxins and other factors. Epigenetics is the study of these reactions and the factors that influence them.

So what’s it all about?

From Scientific American:

In a study published in late 2011 in Nature, Stanford University geneticist Anne Brunet and colleagues described a series of experiments that caused nematodes raised under the same environmental conditions to experience dramatically different lifespans. Some individuals were exceptionally long-lived, and their descendants, through three generations, also enjoyed long lives. Clearly, the longevity advantage was inherited. And yet, the worms, both short- and long-lived, were genetically identical.

This type of finding—an inherited difference that cannot be explained by variations in genes themselves—has become increasingly common, in part because scientists now know that genes are not the only authors of inheritance. There are ghostwriters, too. At first glance, these scribes seem quite ordinary—methyl, acetyl, and phosphoryl groups, clinging to proteins associated with DNA, or sometimes even to DNA itself, looking like freeloaders at best. Their form is far from the elegant tendrils of DNA that make up genes, and they are fleeting, in a sense, erasable, very unlike genes, which have been passed down through generations for millions of years. But they do lurk, and silently, they exert their power, modifying DNA and controlling genes, influencing the chaos of nucleic and amino acids. And it is for this reason that many scientists consider the discovery of these entities in the late 20th century as a turning point in our understanding of heredity, as possibly one of the greatest revolutions in modern biology—the rise of epigenetics.

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Homeless in one of California’s richest cities


We started reporting in California back in 1967, just as hippies started flocking to California’s sunshine in hopes of, well, who knows what?

Many of them arrived in old Volkswagen vans and battered panel trucks, mobile homes for those with little money but high on hope [and a lot of other stuff, too].

We had moved to Oceanside, working for the late, lamented Blade-Tribune.

Every newsroom back then had police scanners, tuned to the frequencies of local police,m sheriff’s, and state law enforcement agencies, so we kept our ears attuned to code numbers for significant crimes as well as the occasional cop-to-cop banter.

We also had to learn another kind of code, the peculiar terms used by local cops to describe people, things, and activities. [One such term we learned a couple of jobs earlier was sail cat.]

In Oceanside, we started hearing a new term, creepy-crawler.

Which I soon learned meant hippie.

When parking becomes a matter class politics

Oceanside was booming, thanks to the Vietnam War, because the engine of the town’s economy was the adjacent Camp Pendleton, a veritable factory for turning out well-trained Marines to fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

You saw the occasional pickup truck with a camper or a trailer, even cars like the Nash Ambassador with a front seat that dropped back level with the back seat to form a very comfortable bed, as we know from personal experience.

Until the creepy-crawlers came, the occupants of those vehicles had either been tourists or folks visiting Marines at the base, people who in any case looked like everybody else and contributed to the local economy by spending on meals and other things.

Creepy-crawlers, on the other hand sucked money out, what with their panhandling and all — or so the reasoning went.

But even worse, they freaked out the straights and scared people off, what with their long hair, unshaven skin and those weird clothes, the beads, and all that pot and other weird shit they were taking.

Not exactly what you wanted in a town where to official motto was Tan Your Hide in Oceanside.

Like many other cities up and down the coast, California began enforcing new or rarely used parking ordinances, aimed at hippies while simultaneously also banning those who had once been tolerated, thanks to all those pesky civil liberties lawyers who were fighting against selective enforcement.

In other words, the unwillingly unemployed and the working classes were also victimized along with the creepy-crawlers.

Hippies are, for the most part, long gone, but the poor remain, today’s victims of laws drawn up in a different era.

How a Santa Barbara tackles the problem

A few years after we worked in Oceanside, we took an interim job in Los Angeles, where we I handled printing jobs for an NGO. We met a graphics designed who lived in Santa Barbara, a town to the north I’d only passed through on the Pacific Coast Highway.

What’s it like? I asked.

You know what they say about Santa Barbara, don’t you? she replied.

Allowing as how I didn’t, she responded: It’s the home of the very rich and the very poor, the newly wed and nearly dead.

Just as Oceanside was middle class, Santa Barbara was home of some of California’s richest, and remains so today. And in very few places do the rich exercise their control so openly, with the shameless assistance of the local newspaper.

And in Santa Barbara, laws against folks sleeping in their vehicles are strictly enforced.

From BillMoyers.com:

Homeless in the Shadow of Santa Barbara’s Mansions

From the accompanying report:

Twelve years ago, the Safe Parking program, run by the nonprofit New Beginnings Counseling Center, began offering a provisional solution. Its program places those sleeping in their vehicles into 20 private parking lots scattered around the city and provides bathroom facilities and some security. The parking lots are available only overnight and the cars must move by early morning. The group estimates they take 125 vehicles off the street every night and help more than 750 people a year.

The stories that Safe Parking’s clients tell me often involve a catastrophic financial loss precipitated by unemployment, domestic violence, injury or illness and the resulting medical bills. Most are working, although they have often lost secure, decently paid jobs and now struggle to make ends meet with multiple part-time jobs. A growing number of those forced to live out of their cars are families. All have been priced out of a brutal housing market.

Rents in Santa Barbara have skyrocketed in recent years — 20 percent in the last year alone — with one-bedrooms priced at $1,500 or sometimes significantly higher. The simple calculus of supply and demand is partly to blame. With a vacancy rate below 0.5 percent, a crisis figure, the housing market is at the mercy of landlords. Nor are there enough subsidized units to make up the shortfall for low-income renters — or plans to build sufficient numbers of new ones to meet the need, advocates say. “Santa Barbara’s housing market is broken and has been,” explains Chuck Flacks, executive director of the Central Coast Collaborative on Homelessness.

Fukushima student survivors bullied in Tokyo


If there’s anything that the recent elections have taught us, it’s that fear leads to violence.

And fear is easily aroused through reckless talk about others we associate with danger, even more so when the objects of are fear are immigrants from a land associated with danger.

The immigrants don’t have to come from other lands or even look different than we do.

Which brings us to our story.

From the Japan Times:

Fresh cases of bullying have been reported targeting children who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture amid the nuclear disaster that started in 2011, this time in Tokyo.

According to Tokyo Saigai Shien Netto (Tossnet), a group of lawyers supporting Fukushima evacuees, three schoolchildren who moved to Tokyo in the wake of the triple core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were subjected to bullying at an elementary school in Chiyoda Ward between 2011 and 2015.

According to the group, one elementary school student and two others who now study at a junior high school were called names repeatedly, with classmates shunning them by saying radiation might spread from them. One of them recalled being called kin (germ).

The group on Monday reported the incidents as cases of bullying to the board of education in Chiyoda Ward. The board of education says it had not been aware of the incidents and will look into facts surrounding them.

Child antibiotic-resistant infections soar 700%


The Enterobacteriaceae are members a family of bacteria that don’t thrive in the open air, proliferating instead in water, soil, and the digestive tracts of larger animals. Like, say, us.

While many Enterobacteriaceae are helpful in digesting what we eat, others are much more nasty, including Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Yersinia pestis [cause of the bubonic plague].

For most of the seven decades we’ve spent on planet Earth, a dose of penicillin or some of the other antibiotics developed since would provide a reliable cure,

But no longer, because overuse of antibiotics both in human medicine and in industrial animal agriculture and the failure of patients to take full courses of prescribed and unprescribed medications have given rise to bacteria capable of withstanding all those medications.

In just eight years, starting in 2007, the rate of antibiotic-resistant Enterobacteriaceae in U.S. children has soared a shocking 700 percent.

From Case Western University:

The adage that kids are growing up too fast these days has yet another locus of applicability.

In a new, first-of-its-kind study, researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have found a 700-percent surge in infections caused by bacteria from the Enterobacteriaceae family resistant to multiple kinds of antibiotics among children in the US. These antibiotic resistant infections are in turn linked to longer hospital stays and potentially greater risk of death.

The research, published [an astounding $251 to read — esnl] in the March issue of the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, is the first known effort to comprehensively examine the problem of multi-drug resistant infections among patients under 18 admitted to US children’s hospitals with Enterobacteriaceae infections. Earlier studies focused mainly on adults, while some looked at young people in more limited geographical areas, such as individual hospitals or cities, or used more limited surveillance data.

“There is a clear and alarming upswing throughout this country of antibiotic resistant Enterobacteriaceae infections in kids and teens,” said lead author Sharon B. Meropol, MD, PhD, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. “This makes it harder to effectively treat our patients’ infections. The problem is compounded because there are fewer antibiotics approved for young people than adults to begin with. Health care providers have to make sure we only prescribe antibiotics when they’re really needed. It’s also essential to stop using antibiotics in healthy agricultural animals.”

In the retrospective study, Meropol and co-authors Allison A. Haupt, MSPH, and Sara M. Debanne, PhD, both from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, analyzed medical data from nearly 94,000 patients under the age of 18 years diagnosed with Enterobacteriaceae-associated infections at 48 children’s hospitals throughout the US. The average age was 4.1 years. Enterobacteriaceae are a family of bacteria; some types are harmless, but they also include such pathogens as Salmonella and Escherichia coli; Enterobacteriaceae are responsible for a rising proportion of serious bacterial infections in children.

Continue reading

A Muslim girl fights for her individuality


And we mean fight literally.

A wonderful documentary from Jayisha Patel of Australia’s SBS Dateline, a look at Fareeha, a remarkable young Indian women skilled in a very untraditional martial art struggling to make her way to the national championships.

It’s a story about a person from Hyderabad whose dream is to become a police officer so that she can protect young girls in a nation riven by religious and sexual violence.

Her struggle reveals tensions universal in modern life, created when cultural norms created in an era of slow travel and limited technology were evolved at a time when organized religion dominated all aspects of civic and familial life.

While the West dubs the struggle triggered by America’s armed imperialism Islamist, what has happened in the U.S. and Europe might be called a Christianist insurgence. While authoritarianism in the Mideast and North Africa is fueled by an authoritarian interpretation of the Koran and sayings attributed to the Prophet, while the authoritarianism of the West is inspired by an authoritarian interpretation of the Bible, relaying heavily on particularist selection of passages from practices proscribed by Torah and a vision of the imminent future taken from Revelation.

The cultural norms   struggles against are not so different than the gender-based laws many Republicans dream of enacting.

And when you look at how the Christianists really want to control women and their roles, is it really that different from what the Islamists want?

In that context, enjoy a remarkable, true story about a triumphal struggle.

From SBS Dateline:

India’s Wushu Warrior

Program notes:

What happens when cultural tradition clashes with a young person’s dream? Dateline meets a Muslim girl whose passion for martial arts is raising difficult questions for her family.

John Oliver tackles the GOP war on Obamacare


In the latest episode of his HBO series, John Oliver casts a suspicious eye at the Republican rhetoric surrounding their attack of the Affordable Care Act.

It’d be hilarious were the Republicans not seemingly bent on killing off the poor.

Obamacare: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Program notes:

Congressional Republicans could soon vote to repeal Obamacare. John Oliver explores why their replacement plans are similar to a thong.

Quote of the day: Drawing lines in the sand


From Branko Marcetic of Jacobin, writing on the ouster of Milo Yiannopoulos from the speakers list of the American Conservative Union’s annual CPAC conference:

[T]things that will apparently get you disinvited from CPAC (after a number of years, anyway):

  • Appearing to defend pedophilia
  • Attacking other conservatives
  • Promoting a particularly conspiratorial form of Islamophobia

Things that won’t get you disinvited from CPAC:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Islamophobia
  • Homophobia
  • Association with well-known racists and racist groups
  • Defending marital rape
  • Defending verbal abuse by a spouse
  • Advocating for war crimes
  • Calling for the murder of journalists

Chart of the day: EU second language learning


From Eurostat, a look at how many European second school students are studying languages other than their own [click on the image to enlarge]:

blog-lingo

More from the report:

French: second most popular after English

Learning a foreign language at school is very common in the European Union (EU), with more than 17 million lower secondary school pupils (or 98.6% of all pupils at this education level) studying at least one foreign language in 2015. Among them, more than 10 million (58.8%) were studying two foreign languages or more.

English was by far the most popular language at lower secondary level, studied by nearly 17 million pupils (97.3%). French (5 million or 33.8%) came second, followed by German (3 million or 23.1%) and Spanish (2 million or 13.6%).

These data are issued by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. Currently there are 24 official languages recognised within the EU. In addition there are regional languages, minority languages, and languages spoken by migrant populations. It should also be noted that several EU Member States have more than one official language.

Luxembourg, Finland and Italy on top for learning several foreign languages

In 2015, all or nearly all lower secondary school pupils learnt at least two foreign languages in Luxembourg (100%), Finland (98.4%), Italy (95.8%), Estonia (95.4%) and Romania (95.2%). In contrast, fewer than 10% of pupils were studying two or more languages in Hungary (6.0%) and Austria (8.8%).

English, French and German: top 3 foreign languages studied in the EU

English is by far the main foreign language studied during lower secondary education in the vast majority of Member States. In particular, all pupils attend English classes in Denmark, Malta and Sweden.

French is one of the two main foreign languages studied by all pupils in Luxembourg and is also the top foreign language studied in Ireland (by 60.4% of pupils) and Belgium (52.8%). In addition, French is the second most popular foreign language studied at lower secondary level in nine Member States, with the highest shares of learners recorded in Cyprus (89.2%), Romania (83.6%), Portugal (66.6%), Italy (65.4%) and the Netherlands (55.6%).

Besides being studied by all pupils in Luxembourg, German ranks second in eight Member States, with the highest shares being registered in Denmark (73.6%), Poland (69.2%) and Slovakia (53.6%). Learning Spanish is notably popular in Sweden (43.7%) and France (39.0%), while Russian, the only commonly studied non-EU language, came second in the three Baltic States – Lithuania (66.2%), Estonia (63.6%) and Latvia (59.7%) – as well as in Bulgaria (16.9%).

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic. . .

Things are much more provincial here in the U.S., as the Pew Research Center noted in a 2015 report:

[T]he U.S. does not have a nationwide foreign-language mandate at any level of education. Many states allow individual school districts to set language requirements for high school graduation, and primary schools have very low rates of even offering foreign-language course work. Some foreign-language learning standards can be met by taking non-language classes. For example, California requires one course in either the arts or a foreign language (including American Sign Language) for all high school students. Oklahomans can opt to take two years of the same foreign language or “of computer technology approved for college admission requirements.” Conversely, New Jersey students must earn “at least five credits in world languages” or demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English before they can graduate high school.

Perhaps because of these varying standards, few Americans who claim to speak a non-English language say that they acquired those skills in school. Only 25% of American adults self-report speaking a language other than English, according to the 2006 General Social Survey. Of those who know a second language, 43% said they can speak that language “very well.” Within this subset of multilinguals who are well-versed in a non-English language, 89% acquired these skills in the childhood home, compared with 7% citing school as their main setting for language acquisition.

It reminds us of an old joke we heard back in college some 44 years ago:

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

A. Trilingual.

Q. What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

A. Bilingual.

Q. What do you call a person who speak one language, and that badly?

A. An American.