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According to an Environmental Protection Agency report released Tuesday, 55 percent of the 1.2 million miles of river and stream lengths in the US are in poor biological condition for aquatic life. In addition, only 21 percent of waterways were given a rating of “good,” down from 27 percent in 2004.
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While Mexico’s reformers admit there is still work to be done, the country as a whole has just crossed the goal line of offering universal health care. Like health care reform in the US, many Mexicans were skeptical that such a plan could work and many special interests stood in the way of change. But after eight years of negotiations, government officials were able to implement a new payment system that ended incentives to provide as many services as possible and a new focus on preventative medicine will help avert illness and its high treatment costs.
A new survey of air pollutants from cities all over the world takes the broadest look yet at how breathing harmful chemicals affects the heart. The results are dramatic. Even short term exposure, defined by the study to be less than seven days, was associated with an increase in heart attacks. While the magnitude of air pollution is small relative to smoking, blood pressure and diabetes, it reaches far more people—everyone in a given city—and personal choice is removed from the equation, making pollution an issue of justice as well as health.
Luckily, the air of American cities has been getting steadily cleaner over the past few decades as cars, trucks, industry and consumer products have been forced to get cleaner. “Areas with excessive levels of one or more of the five pollutants [fine particles, coarse particles, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide] include the Los Angeles basin, California’s San Joaquin Valley, the Salt Lake City area, Phoenix, New York City and Philadelphia.” For many years, the focus of pollution’s effects were on the lungs.
Were more women in positions of political power, the Earth would be a more peaceful place, says former secretary of defense Joseph Nye. Referencing Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s latest book, Nye says women’s evolutionary role in society has emphasized skills like nurturing and peace keeping—historically, women have not banded together to wage war on neighboring villages. In cases where powerful women, like Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton, have advocated violence, it is because they have conformed to male roles, says Nye.
What’s the Big Idea? Though American women continue to lag in leadership positions, holding just five percent of top corporate positions and 16 percent of seats in political legislatures (compared with Sweden’s 45 percent), gender discrimination is being broken down. Some credit must be given to the decentralized nature of modern communication networks in information-based societies, says Nye. Shared and distributed leadership are becoming more valuable than strictly hierarchical organizations as technology brings a more feminine approach to politics.
As NPR recently reported, there’s a high price to pay for being a black atheist in America. African Americans who come out of the closet as nonreligious may be cut off by their own families, may be labeled a “race traitor” or an “apostate”, or accused of lacking morals or having “holes in their souls” – this despite the fact that atheism, humanism and freethought have a strong and lively tradition within the African-American community.
Health experts, including a Harvard nutritionist, believe a healthier body is achieved by concentrating on how we eat, not just the kinds of food we consume. Called ‘mindful eating’, the practice has its roots in Buddhism and is catching on in some surprising circles. From the nutrition departments of ivy league schools to Google HQ, spiritual teachings are making their way into meal time. The process involves concentrating on the experience of eating, which means switching of the electronic gadgets, avoiding chatter and chewing patiently.
“The most fecund population on the planet is the rural poor,” Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler observe in their recent book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. Demographers have found alarming birth rates in the developing world, and it is linked to what Diamandis and Kotler call the “heartbreaking” logic:
Three boys are desirable because one will probably die, the second will stay home to tend the farm; both providing for parents as they age and making enough money to send the third child to school so he can get a better job and end this cycle.
The cycle will not end as long as 2.2 million children are dying each year from drinking contaminated water. Enter Dean Kamen and his Slingshot, a $1,500 water purifying device that generates 1,000 liters of water a day.
As Diamandis and Kotler write, “Beyond being a water purifier, the Slingshot is an extremely well-targeted family planning device: a prophylactic disguised as a drinking fountain.”
Watch Kamen describe his invention here:
What’s the Latest Development? The Semantic Web, also known as the Web 3.0, is set to come of age this week when a powerful data crunching service becomes available to the public. Wolfram Alpha has been online since 2009 but has had trouble gaining traction in circles beyond statisticians and math fanatics. That may change on Wednesday when its data processing algorithms become available to anyone looking for a more numerical representation of information. The new service is premised on the idea that people prefer reports over answers.
Severe income disparity and fiscal imbalances are the biggest threats to globalization, according to the 2012 Global Risks report released last week. The content of the report will be on the agenda for the annual World Economic Forum taking place in Davos on January 25-29.
The findings, which results from a survey of 469 industry experts, indicates a shift towards social and economical risks and away from the environmental risks seen in last year’s report. In the 2012 report, 50 risks are assessed (compared to 37 in previous years) and grouped into five categories: economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological.
The gains of globalization are at risk of being reversed by the “seeds of dystopia,” according to the report. The Arab Spring, the Occupy movement and the protests in Europe are the results of the civil discontent emerging from the lack of job opportunities, social entitlements and a stable economy.
“For the first time in generations, many people no longer believe that their children will grow up to enjoy a higher standard of living than theirs,” said Lee Howell, the World Economic Forum Managing Director responsible for the report. “This new malaise is particularly acute in the industrialized countries that historically have been a source of great confidence and bold ideas.”
Other major risks includes the “dark side of connectivity,” where cyber attacks, subversion and espionage make us vulnerable to the pitfalls of online systems.
Anything “organic” or “low-fat” must be good for you, right? Ask people how fattening those organic chocolate-covered peanuts are, and they’ll guess a lower number than they did for the non-organic version. They’ll also eat more than they would have otherwise. The same goes for “low-fat” products. The effect has been called the “health halo” and it’s pretty well-documented. But now it seems health halo may be too narrow a term: This study hints that any association with virtue makes a food feel healthier. In two clever experiments, people who thought that a company engaged in “fair trade” saw its chocolate as less fattening than did people who didn’t know that about the company.
In one experiment, Jonathon P. Schuldt of California State University at Northridge and his co-authors signed up 56 people through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site and paid them each a nickel to estimate how the number of calories in a Petersen’s chocolate bar compared to other brands. Twenty-nine people simply read that Petersen’s, a small (and fictional) company, made really good chocolate. The other 27 learned, in addition, that Petersen’s was a “fair trade” company—and those people guessed a significantly lower number of calories for the Petersen’s product.
That result doesn’t close the case, as the authors note in their paper, published online this month in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Maybe “fair trade” can be taken to imply fair dealing for customers as well as suppliers. And anyway, what entitles the psychologists to assume that people are all alike? If you approve of the fair trade movement, maybe there is a halo effect around fair trade products. But what if you think squeezing cocoa farmers is an admirable exercise in maximizing shareholder value for Petersen’s stockholders? (Such people exist, of course, and a number of them are running for President.) If you don’t see the halo in one domain, you’re unlikely to see it in the other.