Category Archives: Family

Map of the day: Western Hemisphere happiness


From Views of the World, the always informative blog of British geographer Benjamin Henning, a look at how the nations of the Western Hemisphere fare on the Happy Planet Index [click on the image to enlarge]:

From the blog post, where you can find the full map, which is based on a remapping of the world to show the nations resized to match their relative populations:

March, 20th is the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, recognising ‘the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world’. Bhutan is credited as the first country to have implemented the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ as an official measure for the state of a nation, introduced in 1972. After the global financial crash in 2008, ideas about giving the ‘spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of [people] and natural environment’ more prominence over mere economic development are reflected more and more in international efforts towards a sustainable future.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI), developed by the New Economics Foundation, takes a rather radical approach on this issue. It aims to measure well-being and happiness by taking a universal and long-term approach to understanding, how efficiently people in a country are using their environmental resources to live long and happy lives.

This cartogram maps the results of the 2016 Happy Planet Index from the perspective of people. The gridded population cartogram shows the world resized according to the number of people living in each area, combined with the national HPI score:

The indicators that are used for calculating the HPI score cover life-satisfaction, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes and the ecological footprint. As argued in the report, ‘GDP growth on its own does not mean a better life for everyone, particularly in countries that are already wealthy. It does not reflect inequalities in material conditions between people in a country.’ This explains why consumption patterns are seen as more important for well-being than production. It also acknowledges that inequalities in well-being and life expectancy are important factors in the overall happiness of the population in a country.

When taking these notions into account, the rich industrialised countries score much worse in achieving sustainable well-being for all. Of the 140 countries included in the HPI, Luxembourg is the most extreme example for a wealthy nation scoring very badly – it does well on life expectancy and well-being, and also has low inequality, but sustains this lifestyle with the largest ecological footprint per capita of any country in the world. It would require more than nine planets to sustain this way of life if every person on Earth lived the same way, showing that the standard of living comes at a high cost to the environment.

Among the positive stories is Costa Rica, which is also highlighted on the map. The country has persistently scored highest in all HPI releases (the 2016 edition is the third, after 2009 and 2012). More of a surprise might be the high score for Mexico (second), which is credited to massive efforts at improving health and environmental sustainability. Despite challenges with tackling inequality, well-being is perceived higher than in the wealthier northern neighbour, the United States. Quite a few Central and South American nations, as well as some Asian and Pacific countries do better than many wealthy nations. However, the African continent shows that at the bottom end extreme poverty can be a limiting factor in achieving sustainable well-being.

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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Americans having less sex under austerity


Only singles are having the same number of couplings, while folks living together, with or without a marriage certificate, are marking the sign of the two-back beast a lot less than they did back in 1989.

And the rate of sex for married couples has dropped to below that of folks who are living together without the paperwork, a novel trend in demographic history.

Just why remains unclear, but there are suspicions.

There’s one interesting finding: Folks who watch pron do it more often than those who practice X-rated abstention.

The story, from Florida Atlantic University:

Across the board, Americans are less sexually active than ever with the sharpest decline among people in their 50s, people with a college degree, people with school-aged children, people in the South, and those who do not watch pornography.

Using data from the General Social Survey with a representative sample of 26,620 American adults from 1989-2014, researchers from Florida Atlantic University, San Diego State University and Widener University, published their results today in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior [$39.95 to read the article for non-subscribers]. Results showed a drop across gender, race, region, work status and education level. A surprising result from the study revealed that the “marriage advantage” no longer holds true as the steady fall in the rate of sexual activity was in those who are married or living with partners. This group went from having sex 73 times a year in 1990 to about 55 times in 2014 – even below the frequency of sexual activity for never-married people who have sex an average of 59 times a year.

Unsurprisingly, the study found a steady decline in frequency of sexual activity as people age, from more than 80 times a year for people in their 20s, to about 60 times a year by 45 and 20 times a year by 65. But controlling for age and time period, the group having sex most often were those born in the 1930s (Silent Generation), while those having sex the least often were born in the 1990s (Millennials and iGen).

“Overall, all American adults are having sex about nine times fewer per year since 1989-1994 and this is particularly driven by an increase in the percentage of unpartnered adults who have sex less often on average,” said Ryne Sherman, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. “However, while the sexual frequency of unpartnered individuals remained unchanged albeit relatively low, the sexual frequency of partnered individuals has dropped the most, about 10 times less per year.”

The researchers also found that this decline was not associated with hours worked or pornography use. If anything, those working more and reported watching X-rated movies had higher sexual frequency.

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Quote of the day: U.N. rights chief’s Trump angst


From Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a statement in his report today to the 34th session of the Human Rights Council:

In the United States of America, I am concerned by the new Administration’s handling of a number of human rights issues. Greater and more consistent leadership is needed to address the recent surge in discrimination, anti-Semitism, and violence against ethnic and religious minorities. Vilification of entire groups such as Mexicans and Muslims, and false claims that migrants commit more crimes than US citizens, are harmful and fuel xenophobic abuses. I am dismayed at attempts by the President to intimidate or undermine journalists and judges. I am also concerned about new immigration policies that ban admission of people from six predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days, as well as policies which greatly expand the number of migrants at immediate risk of deportation – without regard for years spent in the US or family roots. These threaten to vastly increase use of detention, including of children. Expedited deportations could amount to collective expulsions and refoulement [forcible expulsion of refugees to countries where torture or worse is likely — esnl] ], in breach of international law, if undertaken without due process guarantees, including individual assessment. I am especially disturbed by the potential impact of these changes on children, who face being detained, or may see their families torn apart.

Homophobia, inequality, religion, and the law


Imperial revanchism is integral to rising tide of authoritarian movements of the extreme right, a hunger to return to the glories of an imagined past.

The ISIS slogan might as well be Make the Caliphate Great Again, given their claims to be the modern reincarnation of an empire that once stretched from India and the islands of the Asian seas to Modern Spain and Portugal.

Here in the U.S., many hard-core Republicans dream of a return to the 17th Century, with patriarchy enshrined, divorce impossible to obtain, schools mandated to teach an established religion to ensure orthodoxy.

As noted in an earlier post, they want to muzzle the press and [as another posted noted] impose draconian curbs limiting and even abolishing the right to peaceably assemble

Authoritarian regimes play to social reactionaries by fanning the flames of deeply buried resentments, then directing the collective rage at hapless and helpless targets named as the villains who brought down the ancien régime.

Common to almost all such regimes is suppression of anything considered sexually deviant, most notably in the criminalization of homosexuality.

An academic seeks correlates

Amy Adamczyk serves as Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at City University of New York, where her work focuses on how personal religious beliefs and social groups [from micro to macro] shape the way we attitudes about criminality, social deviance, and health-re;ated behaviors.

Her most recent book is Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality, a look at attitudes in this and other countries.

What follows is Why do some countries disapprove of homosexuality? Money, democracy and religion, an essay written for The Conversation, a plain language open source academic journal:

With Trump’s removal of federal protections for transgender students, debate over LGBTQ rights rage again across the U.S.

Despite these disagreements, Americans are relatively liberal compared to countries across the world, where the consequences for gay or transgender citizens are far more dire.

In Europe and here in the Americas, only a minority of people believe that homosexuality is never justified. The percentage increases in places like Russia, India and China. In Africa, the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia, attitudes become even more conservative.

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Why are there such big differences in public opinion about homosexuality? My book, “Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality,” shows that a key part of the answer comes in understanding how national characteristics shape individuals’ attitudes.

Within countries, a similar set of demographic characteristics tend to influence how people feel about homosexuality. For example, women tend to be more liberal than men. Older people tend to be more conservative than younger ones. Muslims are more likely to disapprove of homosexuality than Catholics, Jews and mainline Protestants.

Just like people, countries too have particular characteristics that can sway residents’ attitudes about homosexuality. I have analyzed data from over 80 nations from the last three waves of the World Values Survey, the oldest noncommercial, cross-national examination of individuals’ attitudes, values and beliefs over time. It is the only academic survey to include people from both very rich and poor countries, in all of the world’s major cultural zones. It now has surveys from almost 400,000 respondents.

My analysis shows that differences in attitudes between nations can largely be explained by three factors: economic development, democracy and religion.

Money matters

Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands are some of the richest nations in the world. They are also some of the most tolerant. In sharp contrast, countries like Uganda and Nigeria are quite poor and the vast majority of residents disapprove.

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How does the amount of money a country has shape attitudes? In very poor countries, people are likely to be more concerned about basic survival. Parents may worry about how to obtain clean water and food for their children. Residents may feel that if they stick together and work closely with friends, family and community members, they will lead a more predictable and stable life. In this way, social scientists have found that a group mentality may develop, encouraging people to think in similar ways and discouraging individual differences.

Because of the focus on group loyalty and tradition, many residents from poorer countries are likely to view homosexuality as highly problematic. It violates traditional sensibilities. Many people may feel that LGBTQ individuals should conform to dominant heterosexual and traditional family norms.

Conversely, residents from richer nations are less dependent on the group and less concerned about basic survival. They have more freedom to choose their partners and lifestyle. Even in relatively rich countries like the United States, some people will still find homosexuality problematic. But, many will also be supportive.

Regardless of how much money they make, most people living in poorer countries are likely to be affected by cultural norms that focus on survival and group loyalty, leading to more disapproval.

Freedom of speech

The type of government also matters. People living in more democratic countries tend to be more supportive of homosexuality.

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Democracy increases tolerance by exposing residents to new perspectives. Democracy also encourages people to respect individuals’ rights, regardless of whether they personally like the people being protected.

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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.

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.