Damning Dietary Data

Below are some tweets from Nina Teicholz, the journalist who authored The Big Fat Surprise. Her book has pushed further the debate that Gary Taubes earlier helped bring out into public view.

Both of their writings are an eye-opening critique of how we got to this place of mass health catastrophe that, if it continues, will bankrupt and cripple our society. Healthcare costs are going up not only because of big biz exploitation but also because the American population has become more sickly. Most healthcare money now goes to chronic conditions that were rare in the past, and those costs are skyrocketing. This is trending toward disaster.

The graphed data she shares does one thing well. It clearly shows that, as she and others have written about, most Americans have been following the dietary guidelines given by mainstream authority figures, scientific institutions, and government agencies. Americans are eating more whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. This is true in terms of both percentage of calories and number of calories. We’ve been doing what we were told to do. How has that worked out? Not so well.

Furthermore, saturated fat consumption also decreased over this period (not included in graphs). In fact, it had been decreasing since the early 20th century, prior to the beginning of the epidemic of obesity and heart disease. This is corroborated by the fact no study has ever found a causal link between saturated fat and heart disease, despite probably trillions of dollars spent on researching diet and nutrition this past century. It’s not for a lack of trying to find such a causal link.

It turns out that the main proven causal link, that of sugar, was apparent in the earliest data. But interestingly, even sugar can’t be solely blamed for the sharp rise of chronic diseases over the past few generations. Teicholz points out that, “Sugar consumption has actually declined since 1999…so have refined grains.”

Then again, that was a small decline following a massive increase over the prior century. Keep in mind that Teicholz is only talking about added sugar. That leaves out the increase of foods that are naturally full of sugar such as fruit, especially considering that fruit has been developed to be higher in sugar than what was available in the past. Plus, that leaves out the entirety of how simple carbs in our modern diet have shot through the roof, and as far as the body is concerned they’re treated the same as sugar since they convert so easily.

Taken altogether, we are nowhere near the lower level of sugar and carb intake as seen in the early 1900s. And the consumption in the 1800s was so low that the pro-carb experts today warning about the dangers of low-carb diets should be surprised that the American population somehow survived and thrived, with a citizenry that by the end of the century was on average the tallest among countries where such data was kept. That in the 21st century our added sugar addiction has finally hit a plateau should offer no comfort.

About the graphs, this is one of the cases where the data does speak for itself. Not that it proves anything specifically. It simply shows what has changed in relation to what else has changed. Quite telling, though, in its potential implications. Obviously, the standard dietary ideology can’t explain this data. The ruling experts don’t even bother to try to explain it. Heck, they do their best to avoid even acknowledging it. This is inconvenient data, to say the least. But in their corporate corruption and hypocrisy, it doesn’t stop the powers that be to continue pushing the same diet with claims that eventually it will have the opposite effect. What they won’t allow in public debate is what are the real causes behind all of this. That is dangerous territory because then we’d have to tread upon the high-profit territory of processed foods.

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On a related note, this might be the reason Anthony Warner is an “Angry Chef” in attacking “fad diets” and “bullshit”. That is to say anything other than the dominant paradigm.

I had noticed an earlier book by him, but his most recent book caused me to research him further. I was willing to take him seriously, up to the point when I saw in his book where he referred to Professor Tim Noakes as a “diet author”. Noakes is a top-rated researcher on diet and nutrition, the leading expert on the ketogenic diet in South Africa where he successfully defended himself in a government trial funded by millions of dollars of taxpayer money for the sin of having suggested a traditional foods diet to a pregnant woman. What are Warner’s credentials as an authority on diet and nutrition, well other than being a blogger and corporate shill? None.

A former anonymous blogger, Warner has admitted to being a corporate consultant and development cook for food manufacturers. With corporate money overflowing from his pockets, he unsurprisingly “goes to great lengths to absolve the food industry and its relentless marketing of processed food from playing any role in modern diet problems,” as it was put by Bee Wilson. Warner goes so far as to defend the besmirched name of sugar. From a Guardian article by Tim Lewis, he is quoted as saying,

The rhetoric that sugar is poison, it’s killing us, has become completely accepted… We’re told it’s just empty calories. Well, we kind of need calories to live. But a lot of people will read that and say, ‘He would say that. He works for a big cake manufacturer.’… Sugar has an enormous amount of energy and is one of the most important building blocks for life. But they say, “It has no nutritional value.” That makes absolutely no sense.

That is amusing. I never thought I’d see a defense of sugar. Even the most mainstream scientific institutions and governmental agencies no longer try to defend sugar, although they did so in the past and have been slow to change. It’s scientific consensus at this point, both within and outside the establishment, that sugar is bad for health and is empty of nutrition. Consistency, of course, is irrelevant in his line of work — as explained by Chris C. at The Low Carb Diabetic forum:

I’m just thinking how unintentionally ironic his fevered defence of sugar is. Since he and his dietician pals all believe in calories in calories out, surely a food “full of energy” is the last thing to recommend that fat people eat even in their world?

Warner must be getting paid very well. His corporate advocacy is one of the greatest examples of sophistry I’ve ever seen. There appears to be no big money food interest or food product he won’t defend — besides sugar: white bread, potato chips, processed meat, fast food, etc; pretty much anything and everything that comes out of a factory. As to be expected, he and his books get promoted on corporate media.

The Angry Chef can do as much damage control as he wants on behalf of corporations. Any informed person doesn’t care what a corporate shill has to say. And at this point, neither should anyone pay attention to dietary guidelines from governments that are no more reliable than corporate hackery. Besides, it’s become overwhelmingly clear that governments and corporations regularly collude, specifically when the profits of the food system are involved (See Marion Nestle, among others). We are left to inform ourselves as best we can.

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The USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee Gets The Spanking It Deserves
Tom Naughton

As you’ve probably heard, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) recently gave the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee the spanking it deserves. Here are some quotes from an editorial in The Hill written by Rep. Andy Harris, who also happens to be a doctor:

The nation’s senior scientific body recently released a new report raising serious questions about the “scientific rigor” of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This report confirms what many in government have suspected for years and is the reason why Congress mandated this report in the first place: our nation’s top nutrition policy is not based on sound science.

In order to “develop a trustworthy DGA [guidelines],” states the report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), “the process needs to be redesigned.”

Among other things, the report finds that the guidelines process for reviewing the scientific evidence falls short of meeting the “best practices for conducting systematic reviews,” and advises that “methodological approaches and scientific rigor for evaluating the scientific evidence” need to “be strengthened.”

In other words, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are far from the “gold standard” of science and dietary advice they need to be. In fact, they may be doing little to improve our health at all.

Heh-heh-heh … remember what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, wrote a piece in the British Medical Journal criticizing the dietary guidelines as unscientific? Dr. David Katz (who reviewed his own novel under a false name and compared himself to Milton and Chaucer) dismissed her critique as “the opinion of one journalist.” The USDA’s report, he insisted, “is excellent, and represents both the weight of evidence, and global consensus among experts.”

Then for good measure, he and several other members of The Anointed tried to harass BMJ into retracting the article by Teicholz.

And now along comes the NASEM report, saying Teicholz was right. The “opinion of one journalist” (which of course was shared by countless doctors and researchers) is now the official opinion of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. You gotta love it. Perhaps Dr. Katz can write a rebuttal to the NASEM report, then review his rebuttal under a false name and compare himself to Albert Einstein.

Anyway, back to the editorial by Rep. Harris:

It seems clear that the lack of sound science has led to a number of dietary tenets that are not just mistaken, but even harmful – as a number of recent studies suggest.

For instance, the guidelines’ recommendation to eat “healthy whole grains” turns out not to be supported by any strong science, according to a recent study by the Cochrane Collaboration, a group specializing in scientific literature reviews. Looking at all the data from clinical trials, which is the most rigorous data available, the study concluded that there is “insufficient evidence” to show that whole grains reduced blood pressure or had any cardiovascular benefit.

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Unsavory Truth
by Marion Nestle
pp. 108-113

[US senator William] Proxmire was right about the [National Academy of Science’s Food and Nutrition] board’s ties to industry. Those were revealed in 1980 during a dispute over the first edition of the US dietary guidelines, which advised reductions in intake of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol (meaning, in effect, meat, dairy, and eggs) to reduce the risk of heart disease. The board opposed the guideline so vehemently that it issued a counter-report, Toward Healthful Diets, arguing that fat restrictions were unnecessary for healthy people. This infuriated health advocates, who charged that at least six board members had financial ties to industries most affected by the guidelines. Sheldon Margen, a professor of public health at the University of California, for example, objected that “the board’s range of expertise is too narrow, its ties with industry too close to avoid the suspicions of bias, its mandate is too ill-defined, and its mode of operation too secret.” Others criticized the board’s support by an industry liaison committee whose members represented eighty food companies. The furor over the report so embarrassed the academy that it eliminated the industry panel, removed board members with strong ties to food companies, and appointed new members with fewer industry ties.

That was not the only instance of early concerns about conflicted committees. I asked Ken Fisher, who in the 1970s had directed the nongovernmental Life Sciences Research Office (LSRO), about his experience appointing committees to review the safety of food additives. In 1958, Congress had defined two categories of food additives: new chemicals that needed to be proven safe before they could go into the food supply and substances with a history of common use—sugar, salt, flavorings, and the like—that could be considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS). In the early 1970s, questions about the safety of GRAS additives led President Richard Nixon to direct the FDA to evaluate them, and the FDA commissioned the LSRO to conduct the reviews. The LSRO appointed committees to do this work and was immediately confronted with the problem of what to do about candidates with ties to companies making or using the additive under consideration.

The review committees eventually issued 151 evaluations of more than four hundred GRAS additives. In a report on this work, Fisher said that the LSRO required candidates to report grants, contracts, and consultancies, as well as investments and holdings.  It did not permit members with such ties to participate in discussions or vote on final decisions. Fisher told me that all members “were made aware of these conditions and all agreed—after some back and forth.” He recalled “one conflicted member, who of his own volition, absented himself from the vote on the decision.” He also recalled that committees “rejected several of the monographs on substances because they were incomplete and clearly biased in coverage of published positive or negative studies on certain substances.”

Fisher’s comments suggested that conflicts of interest only rarely caused problems with GRAS reviews. But in The Case Against Sugar (2016) the journalist Gary Taubes presented the GRAS review of sugar (sucrose) as highly conflicted. His book notes that the chair of the overall GRAS review process was George W. Irving Jr., a former head of the scientific advisory board of the International Sugar Research Foundation, and that the GRAS committee relied heavily on materials provided by the Sugar Association. The 1976 GRAS review concluded that “other than the contribution made to dental caries, there is no clear evidence in the available information on sucrose that demonstrates a hazard to the public when used at the levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced.” According to Taubes, the Sugar Association took that to mean that “there is no substantiated scientific evidence indicating that sugar causes diabetes, heart disease, or any other malady.” He has harsh words for critics of the idea that sugars are harmful. “If you get a chance,” He advises, “ask about the GRAS Review Report. Odds are you won’t get an answer. Nothing stings in a nutritional liar like scientific facts.”

The FDA’s GRAS reviews still elicit concerns about conflicted interests. A 2013 analysis of the GRAS review process concludes that the industry ties of committee members not only threaten the integrity of GRAS reviews but also the integrity of the FDA’s entire scientific enterprise. In a commentary on that analysis, I pointed out that without independent review of GRAS additives, it is difficult to be confident that the ones in use are sage.

My question to Fisher about GRAS review committees had induced him to search through notes packed away for decades. Among them, he found memos indicating that Mike Jacobson had asked to have consumer representatives appointed to GRAS review committees, but, he said, “We opted not to do so as it would imply the other members of the [committees] were not consumers.” Fisher was referring to Michale Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), whose concerns about conflicted advisory committee members also date back to the 1970s. Jacobson was arguing that if federal agencies insisted on permitting members with industry ties to serve on advisory committees, they should balance viewpoints with an equivalent number of consumer representatives.

Jacobson holds a doctorate in microbiology. He began his career working for Ralph Nader, cofounded CSPI in 1971, and retired as its director in 2017. CSPI’s purpose is to improve the American diet, and it continues to be the largest nonprofit organization engaged in advocacy for a broad range of nutrition issues, among them conflicts of interest caused by food industry sponsorship. I served on the CSPI board for about five years in the early 1990s, remain a member, and subscribe to its monthly Nutrition Action Health letter.

In 1976, Jacobson asked a member of Congress with a strong record of consumer advocacy, New York Democrat Benjamin Rosenthal, to help him survey the heads of university nutrition departments about their faculty’s ties to food corporations. Jacobson told me why he had done this: “It was so obvious to me that professors were touting their academic affiliations while shilling for food manufacturers and trade associations. I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to collect information about the matter.” Rosenthal introduced their report of the survey results, titled “Feeding at the Company Trough,” into the Congressional Record, with this blunt statement:

Nutritional and food science professors at Harvard, at the Universities of Wisconsin, Iowa and Massachusetts, and at many other prominent universities work closely and often secretly with food and chemical companies. Professors sit on the boards of directors, act as consultants, testify on behalf of industry at congressional hearings, and receive industry research grants. Many professors with corporate links also serve as “university” representatives on Federal advisory committees. . . . One can only come to the conclusion that industry grants, consulting fees and directorships are muzzling, if not prostituting nutrition and food science professors.

The report named names: it characterized Fred Stare, the head of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, as a “food-industry apologist,” but it also listed the industry ties to sixteen other eminent scientists, nearly all members of prestigious national committees issuing advice about nutrition and health. It proposed three strategies for countering conflicted interests: balance, disclosure, and new funding mechanisms. All merit comment from today’s perspective.

To achieve balance, they wanted consumer representatives to be appointed to nutrition advisory committees. This seems entirely rational, but in my experience federal agencies view experts who avoid industry ties on principle as too biased to appoint, especially if they state those principles publicly. I was a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory of Committee in 1995, but only because I had previously worked with the assistant secretary of health, Philip R. Lee, who insisted on my appointment. I served a s a consumer representative on two FDA advisory committees in the 1990s, Food Advisory and Science Advisory, but have not been asked to join another federal committee since the publication of Food Politics in 2002. The FDA’s current practice is to appoint one consumer representative to its committees, hardly enough to have much influence on decisions.

With respect to disclosure, the report comments on the failure of the named professors to state the full extent of their industry ties: “As long as collaboration with industry continues to be viewed by the academic community as ethical and respectable, it is important that the public know about potential sources of bias. . . . In such matters, respect for individual privacy must yield to society’s right to know.”

To help accomplish the third strategy, funding, the report raised the idea of a nonprofit, public interest group to “launder” industry contributions before they reach universities. But I doubt that such a group could maintain its objectivity if it depended on ongoing donations. I also doubt that companies would be willing provide ongoing support for research that might risk producing unfavorable results.

pp. 193-

[Founder of Harvard Department of Nutrition Fred] Stare ran into precisely the same difficulty faced by the Nutrition Foundation: the need to please donors to get ongoing support. For this reason, or perhaps because his personal beliefs coincided with those of his donors, eh was widely recognized as a nutrition scientist working on behalf of the food industry. His public statements consistently defended the American diet against suggestions that it might increase the risk of heart or other chronic disease. He, like officials of the Nutrition Foundation, could be counted on to state the industry position on matters of diet and health and to assure reporters and Congress that no scientific justification existed for advice to avoid food additives or eat less sugar.

We now know much more about the depth of Stare’s food-industry ties from documents that came to light in 2016 when Cristin Kearns and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco published an analysis of internal documents of the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), the forerunner of today’s Sugar Association. The documents included letters between the SRF and Mark Hegsted, a faculty member in Stare’s Harvard department, about the SRF’s sponsorship of a research review on the effects of dietary carbohydrartes and fats on cardiovascular disease. The review, written by Stare, Hegsted, and antoher colleague, appeared in two parts in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967. The letters show that the SRF not only commissioned and paid for the review but also pressured the Harvard authors to exonerate sugar as a factor in heart disease, then and now the leading cause of death among Americans. Other documents from the mid-1960s demonstrate that the SRF withheld funding from studies suggesting that sugar might be harmful.

I wrote the editorial that accompanied

Percentages of Suffering and Death

Steven Pinker’s theory of decreasing violence is worth taking seriously. There is an element of truth to what he says. And I do find compelling what he calls the Moral Flynn Effect. But I’ve long suspected violent death rates are highly skewed. Depending on what is being measured and how, it can be argued that there has been a decrease in the rate of homicides and war fatalities. But there are others that argue these numbers are inaccurate or deceiving.

Even accepting the data that Pinker uses, it must be noted that he isn’t including all violent deaths. Consider economic sanctions and neoliberal exploitation, vast poverty and inequality forcing people to work long hours in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, covert operations to overthrow governments and destabilize regions, anthropogenic climate change with its disasters, environmental destruction and ecosystem collapse, loss of arable land and food sources, pollution and toxic dumps, etc. All of this would involve food scarcity, malnutrition, starvation, droughts, rampant disease, refugee crises, diseases related to toxicity and stress, etc; along with all kinds of other consequences to people living in desperation and squalor.

This has all been intentionally caused through governments, corporations, and other organizations seeking power and profit while externalizing costs and harm. In my lifetime, the fatalities to this large scale often slow violence and intergenerational trauma could add up to hundreds of millions or maybe billions of lives cut short. Plus, as neoliberal globalization worsens inequality, there is a direct link to higher rates of homicides, suicides, and stress-related diseases for the most impacted populations. Yet none of these deaths would be counted as violent, no matter how horrific it was for the victims. And those like Pinker adding up the numbers would never have to acknowledge this overwhelming reality of suffering. It can’t be seen in the official data on violence, as the causes are disconnected from the effects. But why should only a small part of the harm and suffering get counted as violence?

It’s similar to how one looks at all kinds of data. In the US, blacks now have freedom as they didn’t in the past. Yet there are more blacks in US prisons right now than there once were blacks in slavery. And in the world, slavery is officially abolished which is a great moral victory. Yet there are more people in slavery right now than there were during the height of slavery prior to the American Civil War. Sure, the imprisoned and enslaved at present are a smaller percentage of the total population. But for those imprisoned and enslaved, that is no comfort. For each person harmed, that harm is 100% in their personal experience.

It’s hard to argue that an increasing number of the oppressed is a sign of the moral arc of history bending toward justice. Even assuming violence rates are decreasing, a highly questionable assumption, morality is not and cannot be measured in percentages. Suffering is a total experience.

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Sex at Dawn
by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
p. 185 (from A Fistful of Science)

Only one of the seven societies cited by Pinker (the Murngin) even approaches being an immediate-return foraging society … The Murngin had been living with missionaries, guns, and aluminum powerboats for decades by the time the data Pinker cites were collected in 1975 — not exactly prehistoric conditions.

None of the other societies cited by Pinker are immediate-return hunter-gatherers, like our ancestors were. They cultivate yams, bananas, or sugarcane in village gardens, while raising domesticated pigs, llamas, or chickens. Even beyond the fact that these societies are not remotely representative of our nomadic, immediate-return hunter-gatherer ancestors, there are still further problems with the data Pinker cites. Among the Yanomami, true levels of warfare are subject to passionate debate among anthropologists… The Murngin are not typical even of Australian native cultures, representing a bloody exception to the typical Australian Aborigine pattern of little to no intergroup conflict. Nor does Pinker get the Gebusi right. Bruce Knauft, the anthropologist whose research Pinker cites on his chart, says the Gebusi’s elevated death rates had nothing to do with warfare. In fact, Knauft reports that warfare is “rare” among the Gebusi, writing, “Disputes over territory or resources are extremely infrequent and tend to be easily resolved.”

Steven Pinker: This Is History’s Most Peaceful Time–New Study: “Not So Fast”
by Bret Stetka, Scientific American

Still, there are many ways to look at the data—and quantifying the definition of a violent society. A study in Current Anthropology published online October 13 acknowledges the percentage of a population suffering violent war-related deaths—fatalities due to intentional conflict between differing communities—does decrease as a population grows. At the same time, though, the absolute numbers increase more than would be expected from just population growth. In fact, it appears, the data suggest, the overall battle-death toll in modern organized societies is exponentially higher than in hunter–gatherer societies surveyed during the past 200 years.

The study—led by anthropologists Dean Falk at The Florida State University and Charles Hildebolt at Washington University in Saint Louis—cut across cultures and species and compared annual war deaths for 11 chimpanzee communities, 24 hunter–gatherer or other nonstate groups and 19 and 22 countries that fought in World Wars I and II, respectively. Overall, the authors’ analysis shows the larger the population of a group of chimps, the lower their rate of annual deaths due to conflict. This, according to the authors, was not the case in human populations. People, their data show, have evolved to be more violent than chimps. And, despite high rates of violent death in comparison with population size, nonstate groups are on average no more or less violent than those living in organized societies.

Falk and Hildebolt point out Pinker’s claims are based on data looking at violent death rates per 100,000 people. They contend such ratios don’t take into account how overall population size alters war death tallies—in other words how those ratios change as a population grows, which their findings do. There is a strong trend for larger societies to lose smaller percentages of their members to war, Falk says, but the actual number of war deaths increases with growing population sizes.

Slow Violence
by Rob Nixon, The Chronicle

We are accustomed to conceiving violence as immediate and explosive, erupting into instant, concentrated visibility. But we need to revisit our assumptions and consider the relative invisibility of slow violence. I mean a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous but instead incremental, whose calamitous repercussions are postponed for years or decades or centuries. I want, then, to complicate conventional perceptions of violence as a highly visible act that is newsworthy because it is focused around an event, bounded by time, and aimed at a specific body or bodies. Emphasizing the temporal dispersion of slow violence can change the way we perceive and respond to a variety of social crises, like domestic abuse or post-traumatic stress, but it is particularly pertinent to the strategic challenges of environmental calamities. […]

The long dyings—the staggered and staggeringly discounted casualties, both human and ecological—are often not just incremental but exponential, operating as major threat multipliers. They can spur long-term, proliferating conflicts that arise from desperation as the conditions for sustaining life are degraded in ways that the corporate media seldom discuss. One hundred million unexploded land mines lie inches beneath our planet’s skin, from wars officially concluded decades ago. Whether in Cambodia, Laos, Somalia, or Angola, those still-active mines have made vast tracts of precious agricultural land and pastures no-go zones, further stressing oversubscribed resources and compounding malnutrition.

To confront slow violence is to take up, in all its temporal complexity, the politics of the visible and the invisible. That requires that we think through the ways that environmental-justice movements strategize to shift the balance of visibility, pushing back against the forces of temporal inattention that exacerbate injustices of class, gender, race, and region. For if slow violence is typically underrepresented in the media, such underrepresentation is exacerbated whenever (as typically happens) it is the poor who become its frontline victims, above all the poor in the Southern Hemisphere. Impoverished societies located mainly in the global South often have lax or unenforced environmental regulations, allowing transnational corporations (often in partnership with autocratic regimes) the liberty to exploit resources without redress. […]

Our temporal bias toward spectacular violence exacerbates the vulnerability of ecosystems treated as disposable by capitalism, while simultaneously intensifying the vulnerability of those whom the human-rights activist Kevin Bales has called “disposable people.”

Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World
by Timothy Morton
Kindle Locations 2154-2174

When we can see that far into the future and that far around Earth, a curious blindness afflicts us, a blindness far more mysterious than simple lack of sight, since we can precisely see so much more than ever. This blindness is a symptom of an already-existing intimacy with all lifeforms, knowledge of which is now thrust on us whether we like it or not.

Parfit’s assault on utilitarian self-interest takes us to the point at which we realize that we are not separate from our world. Humans must learn to care for fatal substances that will outlast them and their descendants beyond any meaningful limit of self-interest. What we need is an ethics of the other, an ethics based on the proximity of the stranger. The decision in the 1990s, rapidly overturned, to squirrel plutonium away into knives and forks and other domestic objects appears monstrous, and so would any attempt to “work” it into something convenient. Hyperobjects insist that we care for them in the open. “Out of sight, out of mind” is strictly untenable. There is no “away” to throw plutonium in. We are stuck with it, in the same way as we are stuck with our biological bodies. Plutonium finds itself in the position of the “neighbor” in Abrahamic religions— that awkward condition of being alien and intimate at the very same time.

The enormity of very large finitude hollows out my decisions from the inside. Now every time I so much as change a confounded light bulb, I have to think about global warming. It is the end of the world, because I can see past the lip of the horizon of human worlding. Global warming reaches into “my world” and forces me to use LEDs instead of bulbs with filaments. This aspect of the Heideggerian legacy begins to teeter under the weight of the hyperobject. The normative defense of worlds looks wrongheaded. 39 The ethical and political choices become much clearer and less divisive if we begin to think of pollution and global warming and radiation as effects of hyperobjects rather than as flows or processes that can be managed. These flows are often eventually shunted into some less powerful group’s backyard. The Native American tribe must deal with the radioactive waste. The African American family must deal with the toxic chemical runoff. The Nigerian village must deal with the oil slick. Rob Nixon calls this the slow violence of ecological oppression. 40 It is helpful to think of global warming as something like an ultra slow motion nuclear bomb. The incremental effects are almost invisible, until an island disappears underwater. Poor people— who include most of us on Earth at this point— perceive the ecological emergency not as degrading an aesthetic picture such as world but as an accumulation of violence that nibbles at them directly.

Tortured Data

“Beware of testing too many hypotheses; the more you torture the data, the more likely they are to confesss, but confession obtained under duress may not be admissible in the court of scientific opinion. ”
—Stephen M. Stigler, “Testing Hypotheses or Fitting Models?” (1987)

That is useful advice for everyone, but even moreso a warning to those seeking to massage cherrypicked data to tell just-so stories. In particular, a few HBDers (human biodversity advocates) can be quite brilliant in their ability to speculate and gather data to support their speculations, while ignoring data that contradicts them. This is seen in the defense of race realism, a popular ideology among HBDers.

Some HBDers and other race realists are so talented at speculating that they come to treat their ideologically-driven interpretations as factual statements of truth, even when they deny this is the case. Just as they deny the consequences of such ideologies being enforced for centuries through social control, political oppression, and economic inequality. A result can be misinterpreted as cause, an easy error to make when evidence for direction of causation is lacking. It leaves the field open to self-serving bias.

When one starts with a hypothesis that one assumes is true, it’s easy to look for evidence to support what one already wants to believe. There are few people in the world who couldn’t offer what they consider evidence in support of their beliefs, no matter how weak and grasping it might appear to others. This is even easier to accomplish when looking for correlations, as anything can be correlated with many other things without ever having to prove a causal connection, and it’s easy to ignore the fact that most correlations are spurious.

None of that matters to the true believer, though. Torturing the data until it confesses is the whole point. As in real world incidents of torture, the validity of the confession is irrelevant.

Alt-Facts of Employment

 

Here is a topic I return every so often. It’s the related nexus of unemployment, permanent unemployment, and underemployment along with how it relates the larger economy, the black market, inequality, opportunity, welfare, poverty, homelessness, desperation, etc. I don’t have any new thoughts, but I was looking at a lot of articles and decided to share them.

There is so much disagreement over the data, what exactly is the data and what it means or doesn’t mean. The reason for this is that there is so little useful data. I’ve always been concerned not just about what the data includes but also what it excludes… and so who is excluded and for what or whose purpose. Still, much can be ascertained from what data is available, if one is willing to consider it honestly. The number appears to be shockingly low for adults working “good jobs” who potentially could work, if full employment was available (not to mention if full opportunity and economic mobility was available). So many Americans have given up on looking for work or the kind of work and many others, for various reasons, are simply not seen in the data.

So much of human potential goes wasted. This kind of data isn’t just numbers. It’s people stuck in place or running place, too often falling through the cracks. It’s people struggling and suffering, working hard and not being counted or else wanting to get ahead but feeling blocked. These people are frustrated and ever more outraged or else resigned. Many others are simply tired and just doing what they can, what they must to get by.

The poorest of communities, in a large number of cases, have the majority of their residents unemployed and the majority of their men caught up in the legal system. The main economy in these communities it the black market of drugs, prostitution, and other basic work paid under the counter.

The problems we face are far worse than gets typically recorded in the data and reported in the media. Some of these problems have been developing for decades, such as stagnating/dropping wages and the shrinking middle class. And they are inseparable from the problems of worsening corporatism, failed governance, lost public trust, growing national debt, crumbling infrastructure, externalized costs, and much else.

These problems are real and urgent for those who are most harmed by them. Data on such things as unemployment, however it is measured, is just the tip of an iceberg that sits teetering atop the tip of a vast oceanic mountain range.

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Nearly Half of Millennials Say the American Dream Is Dead. Here’s Why.
by Natalie Johnson, The Daily Signal

One in five suicides is associated with unemployment
Science Daily

The Opioid Epidemic and the Face of Long-Term Unemployment
by Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Lack of jobs linked to gun violence at schools
by Megan Fellman, Futurity

Alternate Unemployment Charts
ShadoStats.com

The Invisible American
by Jim Clifton, Gallup

The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment
by Jim Clifton, Gallup

Gallup Is Right: The Unemployment Rate Is A Big Lie
by John Manfreda, Seeking Alpha

Only 44 Percent Of U.S. Adults Are Employed For 30 Or More Hours Per Week
by Michael Snyder, The Economic Collapse

Neither Employed, Nor Unemployed
by Bud Meyers, The Economic Populist
comment by Bud Meyers

Gallup CEO Blasts Press’s Complacency in Covering Unemployment and Underemployment
by Tom Blumer, NewsBusters

The Low Unemployment Rate Is A Momentary Calm Before The Coming Economic Storm
by Drew Hansen, Forbes

Long-term Unemployed Struggle as Economy Improves, Rutgers Study Finds
Rutgers Today

47% of Unemployed Americans Have Just Stopped Looking for Work
by Dan Kedmey, Time

US unemployed have quit looking for jobs at a ‘frightening’ level: Survey
by Jeff Cox, CNBC

In U.S., One in Four Unemployed Adults in Financial Distress
by Lydia Saad, Gallup

Nearly half of U.S. workers consider themselves underemployed, report says
bAlexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune

Despite Reports, Unemployment Is Still A Major Issue For Veterans
by Dan Goldenberg, Task & Force

Unemployment rates are higher for young people, minorities
PBS NewsHour

UIC Study Shows High Unemployment Among Black, Hispanic Youth In Chicago
CBS Chicago

Nearly half of young black men in Chicago are neither in school nor working
by Rob Wile, Fusion

One in four black, Hispanic workers is underemployed
by Andrea Orr, Economic Policy Institute

Stuck: Young America’s Persistent Job Crisis
by Catherine Ruetschlin and Tamara Drau, Demos

Nearly Half Of Unemployed Americans Are Under 34 Years Old: Study
Huffington Post

Fed: Nearly half of recent college grads struggling
by Irina Ivanova, Crain’s

Untapped Talent: The Costs of Brain Waste among Highly Skilled Immigrants in the United States
New American Economy

ILO: Only one in four workers has a stable job
DW Akademie

New Study Predicts Nearly Half of All Work Will Be Automated
by Patrick Caughill, Futurism

* * *

A Sense of Urgency
America Is Not Great For Most Americans

Common Sense of the Common People
We’ve Been Here Before
Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects
On Welfare: Poverty, Unemployment, Health, Etc
Minimum Wage, Wage Suppression, Welfare State, etc
Invisible Problems of Invisible People
Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration, Race, & Data
Worthless Non-Workers
Whose Work Counts? Who Gets Counted?
Working Hard, But For What?
To Be Poor, To Be Black, To Be Poor and Black
Structural Racism and Personal Responsibility
Race & Wealth Gap
Our Bleak Future: Robots and Mass Incarceration
End of Work as Endtimes
American Winter and Liberal Failure
Conservatives Pretending to Care About Economic Problems
Conservative Moral Order & the Lazy Unemployed
Conservatism, Murders & Suicides
Republicans: Party of Despair
Rate And Duration of Despair
Poor & Rich Better Off With Democrats
Unequal Democracy, Parties, and Class
‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Germany

‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Finland
Problems of Income Inequality

Immobility Of Economic Mobility; Or Running To Stay In Place
Not Funny At All

Mean Bosses & Inequality
The United States of Inequality
Economic Inequality: A Book List
The Unimagined: Capitalism and Crappiness
The Desperate Acting Desperately
Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates
From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations
Costs Must Be Paid: Social Darwinism As Public Good

Data and More Data

Here is some data and analysis that caught my attention. It’s about demographics, class identity, social views, and party politics. One set of data is actually from the UK. It likely is similar to US data.

If I was feeling inspired, I’d look for some patterns across it all. But I’m not sure what to make of it. There is so much intriguing data I’ve come across lately. It makes me endlessly curious. It’s a lot of work sifting through it all looking for connections and patterns.

I figured I’d just throw it out there for now. Maybe later on I’ll have some commentary about it. But let me make one point while I’m thinking about it.

It particularly stands out that Clinton’s supporters are a bit more racist than Sanders’ supporters. It’s still not a majority, but the difference needs to be explained. It doesn’t make sense according to mainstream views.

Clinton is claimed to be the minority candidate, ignoring that Sanders won the majority of young non-whites. More importantly, Sanders has won the strongest support from the lower income demographic, including the infamous and supposedly racist white working class.

Yet “while Clinton’s supporters are less racist than Trump’s — no surprise — they are, on some measures, as racist (and in once instance, more racist) as supporters of Kasich and Cruz.” How does one make sense of that? Republicans are regularly stated as being racist.

Maybe Clinton’s having called certain people ‘superpredators’ wasn’t a mere gaffe. And maybe a significant number of her supporters agree with that assessment. But let’s be clear: This can’t be blamed on poor whites, a population that has no particular love for Clinton.

By the way, how did FDR’s party of the working class become the New Democrats, the party of the neoliberal professional class? On top of that, what does class mean these days, whether in terms of actual economics or social identity?

* * *

The Parties Invert
by Ronald Brownstein

In the history of modern polling dating back to 1952, no Democratic presidential candidate has ever carried most college-educated whites; even Lyndon Johnson fell slightly short during his 1964 landslide. (This analysis uses the American National Election Studies, a poll conducted immediately after the vote, for the elections from 1952 to 1976, and the exit polls conducted by a consortium of media organizations for the elections since.)

From 1952 through 1980, in fact, no Democratic nominee reached even 40 percent with college-educated whites, except Johnson. During that same period, no Democratic nominee failed to reach 40 percent of the vote with non-college whites, except George McGovern in 1972 and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Over these eight elections, every Democratic nominee except McGovern ran better, usually significantly better, among non-college-educated whites than among their college-educated peers. This was a world in which Democrats were the party of people who worked with their hands, and Republicans represented those who wore suits and worked behind desks.

But the period since 1984 has seen an accelerating reversal of that historic pattern. During his landslide defeat to Ronald Reagan in 1984, Walter Mondale ran slightly better among college-educated than non-college-educated whites. In the next three elections, Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton ran almost exactly as well with both groups.

Since then, every Democratic presidential nominee has run better with college-educated than working-class whites. From Al Gore in 2000 through Barack Obama in 2012, the share of the vote won by the past four Democratic nominees among college-educated whites has exceeded their performance among non-college-educated whites by four to seven percentage points.

White Violence, White Data

Here is my response to those who like to argue that blacks commit a higher percentage of violent crime. Such data simply shows the how many blacks were convicted, and not the actual racial rates of criminal activity. Besides, we know many other things as well.

We know that blacks are disproportionately targeted and profiled, stopped and frisked by the police. We know that blacks are more likely to be arrested more often and convicted more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes. We know blacks are more likely to be charged, convicted, and incarcerated for gun-related crimes and drug-related crimes, despite the fact that whites are more likely to carry illegal guns, to carry illegal drugs, and to use illegal drugs. We know that, when convicted, blacks are sent to prison for longer sentences, even for the exact same crimes. We know this was even institutionalized with drug laws which made the sentencing longer for drugs commonly used by blacks than drugs commonly used by whites.

The police focus most of their time in poor minority communities. It is unsurprising that they find more poor minority criminals. We tend to find what we look for. The data makes it obvious that many whites disproportionately get away with crimes because the police are mostly concentrated in the poor minority communities. A white person can shoplift and walk out of a store at the same time as a black person, and yet the black person will more likely get stopped when the alarm goes off. Whites have the privilege to more often get away with crimes.

Whites commit most of the white collar crimes. These crimes cost untold millions of dollars of damage every year.  They destroy lives and sometimes entire communities when untold numbers of people lose their life savings. Yet these crimes are the least likely to go to court or to lead to conviction and incarceration.

Whites also have a long history of mass violence that dwarfs all the individual violence of blacks combined. Most large-scale wars, wars of aggression, and world wars are started by majority white countries with white-dominated governments. The largest genocides were committed by whites. Most school shooters and serial killers are whites. Most of these acts of violence by whites rarely lead to trial, much less conviction, for the simple reason that much of this is state-sanctioned violence. The government doesn’t even keep good data about police corruption and police brutality. When police kill innocent people who were a threat to no one, typically the officer gets paid leave. Even when whites commit war crimes, there are rarely any consequences, except in the most extreme cases such as the Nazis. As long as they were on the winning side, they get accolades, parades, and medals.

Nonetheless, even ignoring the racial prejudice, in terms of raw numbers most homicides and other violent crimes are committed by white Americans. So, numerically speaking, an American is on average far more likely to be harmed by a white than by a black. This is even more true for anyone living in a white majority community for most crime against whites is committed by whites, and most communities in this country are white majority. Of course, most whites live in white majority communities. This is the very reason most crime in this country, violent and otherwise, is committed by whites. If racial prejudice in policing and the courts were ever to end, if we were to ever know the real number of white crime, it would be even higher still.

Racists have no response to all of this overwhelming proof of widespread racism. There can be no response to such political evil except to either demand justice or remain in silent shame.

* * * *

This has been on my mind for a long time. I want to write a detailed post about this one day. The data used by racists (or racialists or race realists or whatever, same difference) is frustrating because it isn’t honest data being used to make an honest argument.

There is one telling detail that I decided to leave out of the above summary.

White Southerners show the strongest support, of any demographic, for illegal wars of aggression and illegal torture. White Southerners, especially in the poor rural South, are among the most violent and crime-ridden in the country. They also are the most supportive of state violence used in policing, in the War on Drugs, and through mass incarceration. Whites in general and white Southerners in particular are strongly supportive of the harsh racial prejudice used against minorities by police and the courts. Most of the police, judges, and jurors convicting minorities harshly are white.

None of this gets included in rates of violence. Support of state violence is considered normal and acceptable, at least by whites who are disproportionately less likely to be the victims of it. When the victimizers keep the data, it is unsurprising what kind of official data is kept and shown to the public. And it is unsurprising what gets ignored and whitewashed. Most of the data is kept by whites for the purposes of a white majority society.

We need to be more careful and more honest about what data we use and for what purpose we use it. Data never speaks for itself. Instead, data speaks for those who control how the data is gathered, measured, and used. We need to keep that in mind, if we care about morality and justice, if we hope to ever create a free and fair society.

Looking the Other way: Willful Ignorance and Intentional Blindness

Ignorant. There is no word like it. Calling someone ‘uninformed’ or ‘misinformed’ doesn’t have the same force nor even the exact same meaning. No word can take the place of ‘ignorant’.

Yet it is politically incorrect to call someone ignorant. I’ve had comments deleted on Amazon reviews because I called someone ignorant when I meant it as a literal statement in that person was, as defined by the dictionary, “lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular.” It is considered mean-spirited to point out that someone is ignorant, even when or especially when it is true.

This just makes it all the more frustrating. Our society has a taboo about facing ignorance. We wouldn’t know how to function as a society without such ignorance. It can feel like it goes beyond even just ignorance. Along with an unwillingness to talk about ignorance, there is an ignorance of ignorance. It is the default position for nearly all social interactions and public discourses.

It can seem pointless even trying to blame anyone for being ignorant. The seeming unconscious obliviousness is immense. People are just ignorant. They don’t know any better, so the story goes.

My focus has been mostly on racism as of late. The ignorance in this area is more frustrating still. It is a systemic and institutional ignorance that makes possible the systemic and institutional racism.

Why are so many people ignorant about the continuing reality of racism?

“It can be tempting to think that today most white people are racist primarily because of an inadvertent lack of knowledge about the cultures and lives of people of color. Many white people in the United States and other white privileged countries do not often personally interact with people of color, and when they do, such interactions often are of the trivial sort found in consumer exchanges. Given the de facto but persistent racial segregation of many cities, neighborhoods, and schools and the paucity of non-stereotypical portrayals of people of color on television and in Hollywood movies, white solipsism is a real problem.”
~ Shannon Sullivan, Revealing Whiteness, Kindle Locations 219-223

But is ignorance reality a default state? How can an unintentional passivity toward racism cause it to be to remain so stubbornly in place?

There is a study that was about attentional focus. It measured this by eye gaze. As I recall, it had to do with differences between liberals and conservatives. There was something that either conservatives don’t appreciate or doesn’t fit into their worldview. They put an image of this thing or something like that in their visual field. What the researchers found was that the people who had a vested interest in not seeing something intentionally didn’t look in the direction of what they didn’t want to see. At some level, they had seen it, even though in questions they acknowledged no awareness of it being there.

These people went to great effort to maintain their experiential blindness. This is how willful ignorance operates. There is an intention behind the behavior, even if it isn’t fully conscious.

“A similar temptation is to think that white people are racist because they lack accurate knowledge about the (alleged) scientific, biological basis for racial categories. This view of racism holds that many people fail to understand that there are no necessary and sufficient biological or genetic conditions for dividing the human population into distinct races. Because of this failure, they mistakenly think that race and racial hierarchies are real. Demonstrate the lack of scientific basis for race, so says this eliminativist view, and racism will disappear because the categories on which it is based-white, black, and so on-will have disappeared. Racial categories and the racism they support are like the emperor who wears no clothes. All one need do is honestly point out the emperor’s nakedness, and the illusion of his clothing will disappear. Dismantling the biological theories of race upon which racism rests likewise requires merely the same straightforward good will to acknowledge the obvious: the lack of the scientific data to support racial categorization.’
~ Shannon Sullivan, Revealing Whiteness, Kindle Locations 227-232

I’m a lover of knowledge. I want to believe that knowledge matters. The issue isn’t really about knowledge, but about ignorance and the two aren’t necessarily oppositional. People know and don’t know things all the time. People are fully capable of dividing their minds and their lives, never making the connections that would cause them to see the full picture.

Knowledge isn’t just about facts, but more importantly about comprehension, about a visceral and emotional sense of really getting what something means and why it matters. Knowledge isn’t an abstract intellectual exercise. Truth is a moral force or it is nothing at all.

Pointing out data without a way of conveying meaning won’t undo ignorance. List the numbers of dead in the recent genocide against Palestinians won’t have an impact. But if you forced someone to spend a week having Israeli bombs falling all around them with dead bodies and destruction that couldn’t be ignored, all of a sudden that list of numbers would be viscerally real and would have an emotional impact. Mere knowledge that could be easily dismissed would become a truth with moral force.

Westerners can be told the data that objectively proves genocide. But data is just data. There is great power of the mind to not really see or comprehend the data, to dismiss it, ignore it and rationalize it away. It isn’t unintentional.

The oppression of dark-skinned people in Palestine follows the same basic pattern of the oppression of dark-skinned people in America. The mechanisms are the same. The details really don’t matter in defense of the social order and in upholding the status quo. Much has changed in the US over the centuries. Racism morphs to fit the times and yet basically continues on.

I sometimes try to make sense of this as mere inertia. But that doesn’t really explain anything at all. That is just an avoidance of responsibility and an avoidance of the despair that would accompany taking responsibility.

“Rather than an innocuous oversight, it was an active, deliberate achievement that was carefully (though not necessarily consciously) constructed, maintained, and protected. Du Bois eventually saw that to understand the white ignorance of non-white people, one has to hear the active verb “to ignore” at the root of the noun.”

We are ignorant because we ignore. This is willful ignorance. It isn’t just racial bias in institutions, residue of past racism. No, racism is alive and well, in the minds of all of us. We are afraid to call a spade a spade. It is politically incorrect to point out that our society is still racist.

The Midwest, Is It Great?

I’m a big fan of the view that regions in the U.S. are more or less culturally distinct, although with plenty of overlap at the borders. As a Midweseterner, I have pride in my region, along with significant criticisms, but for the moment I’ll focus on the positives.

I’m not offering a serious analysis here. I just came across an article about the Midwest that offered some data and so I thought I’d share it. The article is This Is Why It’s So Great To Be A Midwesterner, According To Science by Sara Boboltz. It is a HuffPo fluff piece, but some of the data is nonetheless interesting.

Regional Differences In Personalities Confirmed In New Study

“Their findings: Friendly and conventional were the most common traits among people living in the South and north-central Great Plains region, while relaxed and creative were the most common traits for those in the Western and Eastern seaboard areas. New Englanders, on the other hand, were most likely to possess the traits of uninhibited and temperamental.”

Yeah, friendly and conventional. That sounds about right. This might seem strange in some ways, though, for these same parts of the Midwest are also historically known for their progressive and socialist politics. So, it is conventional in its own way, but not in the way the MSM media portrays what is conventional in the US.

By the way, there appears to be one state that is a good balance between Midwestern and West Coastal predispositions. That state is Wyoming. It rates moderately high on friendly and conventional while it also rates moderately high on relaxed and creative. Colorado also looks fairly balanced between the two.

Volunteering in America: Research Highlights

“Highest volunteer rate: Since 1989, the Midwest region of the United States has had the highest volunteer rate among U.S. regions for all adults, with a rate of 23.9 percent in 1989, and 30.2 in 2008. This is a shift from 1974 when the West had the highest volunteer rate.

“Largest number of volunteers: Since 1974, the number of volunteers in the South has almost doubled from 10.5 to 20.7 million, giving the South the largest number of volunteers of all the regions. Just between 2006 and 2008, the South has gained almost 300,000 volunteers. The Midwest comes in at a distant second in volunteer numbers at about 15.6 million.”

Two other regions need to be given credit. The West region doesn’t have the highest rate of volunteers, but apparently those who do volunteer make up the difference for they win the award for most volunteer hours on average. In the Northeast region, they are dedicated to fundraising and so at least they put their money where their mouth is. As for specific states, Utah and Alaska deserve respect in their volunteer activities.

Route 66, Midwest culture charm international tourists, study finds

““When Europeans travel on Route 66, most of their feedback is that it’s a very different experience from the big cities like Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., which can all seem very much alike,” Huang said. “Route 66 reveals the inner beauty of the U.S. Midwesterners are friendly, easygoing and enthusiastic. They’re proud to tell you what they have in their community and are willing to share their heritage, their history and their stories. A lot of tourists enjoy that.””

I’m not so sure about this study. It seemed rather limited and self-serving. Route 66 extends way beyond the Midwest.

Montanans, Alaskans Say States Among Top Places to Live

“Residents of Western and Midwestern states are generally more positive about their states as places to live. With the exception of the New England states of New Hampshire and Vermont, all of the top 10 rated states are west of the Mississippi River. In addition to Montana and Alaska, Utah (70%), Wyoming (69%), and Colorado (65%) are among the 10 states that residents are most likely to say their state is among the best places to reside. Most of these states have relatively low populations, including Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, and Alaska — the four states with the smallest populations in the nation. Texas, the second most populated state, is the major exception to this population relationship. Although it is difficult to discern what the causal relationship is between terrain and climate and positive attitudes, many of the top 10 states are mountainous with cold winters. In fact, the two states most highly rated by their residents — Montana and Alaska — are among not only the nation’s coldest states but also both border Canada.

“With the exception of New Mexico, all of the bottom 10 states are either east of the Mississippi River or border it (Louisiana and Missouri). New Jersey (28%), Maryland (29%), and Connecticut (31%) join Rhode Island among the bottom 10.”

This seems less about the Midwest. It is only parts of the Midwest that show this pattern. What this actually shows is that the Midwest is split between Eastern and Western Midwest and between Lower and Upper Midwest. This corresponds to the parts of the Midwest that were settled earlier and those settled later, which corresponds to the concentration of populations in rural areas and big cities.

Pinterest Hits 10 Million U.S. Monthly Uniques Faster Than Any Standalone Site Ever -comScore

The popularity of Pinterest in the Midwest isn’t necessarily a good thing. I don’t have any strong opinion about Pinterest, but I’m not sure what value Pinterest adds to the Midwestern quality of life.

America’s Most Affordable Cities

“But the Midwest dominates when it comes to affordability, with 11 metro areas making the list, including five in the state of Ohio alone: Cincinnati (No. 3), Dayton (No. 4), Akron (No. 6), Toledo (No. 11), and Columbus (No. 20). Michigan landed three cities on the ranks: Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Warren. Even as Detroit languishes in the wake of banruptcy, the suburban hub of Warren, half an hour away, is experiencing an auto manufacturing renaissance of its own.”

The real story in the data is that it is extremely expensive to live in the West. That probably has to do with the combination of large populations and low availability of water. Many Western states are dependent on immense government funding to maintain their massive infrastructures.

Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest

“While a decade of efforts to reduce air pollution in the United States has improved air quality in many cities in the Northeast and Midwest, 175 million people are still exposed to dangerous levels of smog and soot, a new report reveals.”

Once again, the real story is that it sucks to live in other places. Having clean air shouldn’t be something that gets praise. Rather, clean air should be seen as a basic human right. The Midwest simply has less polluted air, relatively speaking. But we all share the same freakin atmosphere and so we all end up breathing the pollution, just that some get more of it than others.

Utahans Least Satisfied With Air Quality

“Meanwhile, residents of the northern Midwest are the most likely to be satisfied. South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming top the list, with 96% satisfied in each state. Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are also among this group, as are far away New Hampshire and Vermont. These regional similarities may be related to the climate or geography in these disparate parts of the country, or a matter of population density, or some combination of the three, as in Utah.”

Of course, it is nice living in low population states so that you aren’t constantly sucking on heavily polluted air. This is probably a large reason for why people living there love their states so much. However, those people in those states indirectly contribute to the pollution in the rest of the states by products they buy that are made and transported from elsewhere. It’s the old problem of costs being externalized onto others.

It is strange, though, that Utahans complain about their air quality. I wouldn’t think that Utah has higher rates of pollution than the coastal states. Maybe they are a sensitive group of people. The article blames it on a weather phenomenon that traps the smog where most of the residents live. Could that possibly be worse than some of the bigger cities famous for their smog? Maybe so.

Want a three-car garage? You’re more likely to find it in the Midwest

“For one, housing hasn’t grown evenly in all regions of the country. New homes are largest in the South, where the median floor area last year was 2,469 square feet; they’re smallest in the Midwest, at a median 2,177 square feet. (The median for the whole country is 2,384 square feet.) But over the past four decades, home size has grown the most in the Northeast: The median floor area of a new home there was 61% above the corresponding median in 1973. [ . . . ]

“Midwesterners, by contrast, appear more interested in garage space than living space: 38% of new homes in that region have garages built for three or more cars, well above all other regions. (Perhaps they need the room for their snowblowers and other winter gear?)”

I’m not sure why Midwestern homes would have less floor area. But it is understandable that Midwestern homes have larger garages.

Midwesterners do need more winter equipment. Plus, in my experience, Midwesterners simply love to do manual labor, such as doing their own yardwork or building things. Midwesterners love to have equipment that can be used to accomplish things, whether blowing snow or sawing wood. There is a self-reliant streak, which seems to make Midwesterners reluctant to hire out work, even among those with the money to afford it.

That is just a hypothesis. But I would like to see data about it.

States in West and Midwest Lead Nation in Teacher Respect

“Residents living in several states in the West and Midwest lead the nation in saying teachers in their communities are well-respected. Nevadans and Louisianans are among the least likely to say this about their local teachers — slightly more than six in 10 residents in each state say their teachers are well-respected.”

The differences are worthy of note. In some states, it is nearly 9 in 10 residents who say teachers are well-respected. But pointing that out misses the fact that the majority of all Americans say teachers are well-respected. But you wouldn’t know that by paying attention to right-wing media or listening to conservative politicians.

Buying lunch out? Survey shows Midwesterners spend less than others

“The credit card company found that Americans typically buy lunch out almost twice a week and spend about $10 each time. Specifically, average national spending was $18 per week, or $936 per year.

“But spending patterns varied by region, and Midwest diners spend less on lunches out than people in any other part of the country, the results showed. They went out 1.7 times per week and spent only $8.90 each time, for a weekly average of $15.13.

“Southerners led per-week spending, going out twice a week and spending $10 each time, or $20 a week. Westerners spend $10 per lunch 1.8 times a week for a total of $18.

“Northeasterners lunched out the least, but spent the most when they did, dining out for their midday meal 1.5 times a week but dropping $11.40 each time, for a weekly total of $17.10.”

I don’t know what could possibly explain this. Maybe this relates to the Midwest being a more affordable place to live. So maybe it is also a more affordable place to operate a restaurant, and so cheaper prices for meals served. But it is hard to say. There could be many factors involved.

Anyway, I’m not sure this is evidence for Midwesterners being cheap or thrifty.

The Midwest Accent

“The examples of the cot/caught merger and the Northern Cities Shift serve to contradict the perception that Midwestern speech lacks any distinguishing characteristics. However, both of these developments have been in operation for several decades at least. Why haven’t they entered into popular perceptions about Midwestern speech? Perhaps they will come to be recognized as features of the dialect in the same way that dropping of /r/ serves to mark Boston speech or ungliding of long i (‘hahd’ or hide) marks Southern speech. But, considering the general stereotypes of the Midwest, it seems more likely that they might never be recognized. One thing about linguistic stereotypes is certain: they have less to do with the actual speech of a region than with popular perceptions of the region’s people. As long as Midwesterners are viewed as average, boring or otherwise nondescript, their speech will be seen through the same prism.”

This article is about a shift that is occurring in the Midwestern dialect, a shift that few seem to be noticing at present. It is a change that may lead to larger changes in American English. The Midwest has for a long time been a source of what is considered Standard American English. As Standard American English changes in the Midwest, it likely will shift across the nation.

I don’t know why this matters all that much. It does imply something culturally important about the Midwest. This is the Heartland and it is called that for a good reason. The Midwest has always been central. It is central in terms of geography, in terms of population concentration, and in terms of infrastructure. It is the crossroads of the country.

Who Moves? Who Stays Put? Where’s Home?

“Both the survey and Census data indicate that the biggest differences in the characteristics of movers and stayers revolve around geography and education. In the Midwest, nearly half of adult residents say they have spent their entire lives in their hometown. That compares with fewer than a third of those who live in Western states. Cities, suburbs and small towns have more movers than stayers, while rural areas are more evenly split. Three-quarters of college graduates have moved at least once, compared with just over half of Americans with no more than a high school diploma. College graduates also move longer distances — and move more often — than Americans with a high school diploma or less, and employment plays a greater role in their decisions about where to live. By income group, the most affluent Americans are the most likely to have moved.”

That is interesting in a number of ways.

There are differences between more rural and more urban states. But many of the farming states still have most of their populations concentrated in urban areas. So, a rural state isn’t necessarily the same as having a majority rural population.

Something else that came to mind is that the Midwest tends to highly value education. But maybe the Midwesterners who get the most education tend to move away from the Midwest. I don’t know. There are a ton of college towns all over the Midwest, although I’m sure they don’t represent most of the population.

Anyway, it does fit the stereotype of the Midwest. One thinks of the region as a settled place with relatively stable communities. This would follow the aspect of the friendly and conventional Midwestern personality.

 

Maps of the World: What Unites & Divides

There has been a set of amusing and edifying maps that have received some attention on the web:

40 Maps They Didn’t Teach You In School

Some I had seen before, but many were new to me. The one that caught my attention was about freedom of press. It is the type of thing that gets me thinking.

The US just gets a satisfactory rating, along with Australia, much of Europe, four countries in South America (including the large Argentina), six countries in Africa, and some of the island countries off the coast of China. Satisfactory isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t great. A rather sad state of affairs for supposedly freedom-loving Americans.

What is more predictable are the countries that get a good rating, although not entirely predictable. Canada, of course, gets a better rating than the good ol’ US of A. Also, a large section of Northern Europe predictably rates well. Among the British Isles, it appears only Ireland has a good rating. What is mind-blowing is that Nambia in Southern Africa rates good as well.

Sadly, America is less than great. More like middling, if anything. But anyone paying attention already knew that.

In response to that map, the Washington Post put out its own sampling of maps:

40 maps that explain the world

What stands out to me is how similar the US is to many countries Americans wouldn’t identify with.

The US is a majority Christian country, like the rest of the Americas and also like the entirety of Southern Africa (the majority of the African continent, in fact). More interestingly, the US has about the same number of atheists as Argentina and Saudi Arabia.

Canada and Europe follow the typical pattern in having more gay rights than the US, but the protected freedom for gays is also higher in South America and South Africa. South America even has high rates of tolerance for gays, although less so in South Africa. The US has moderate tolerance for gays, but we just don’t believe in protecting their rights like other Americans. This tolerance rating doesn’t seem to have anything to do with religion since, for example, Canada has the same atheist rating as the US.

One would suspect that tolerance correlates to diversity. Familiarity and empathy tend to go hand in hand.

Despite being an immigrant nation, the US is only average on the ethnic diversity scale. South America and Africa are more diverse. It says a lot too that Canada is more diverse, as Canada rates better than the US on most measurements (either the American Dream emigrated North or always was there). Europe is shown as the least ethnically diverse region in the world, although Spain a country with millennia of multicultural history is more middling like the US (maybe unsurprising as more than half of the US used to be part of the Spanish Empire; then again, Hispanic Mexico is more ethnically diverse than both the US and Spain).

I must admit I feel suspicious about the ethnic diversity map because I don’t know how ethnic diversity is being defined and measured. The US might be middling simply because the population is so mixed up with ethnic intermarriages. Reading the related article, it sounds more like the researchers were measuring ethnic perception which I’m not sure is the best method. I’m thinking that what is being measured is more about whether people identify more with their nation or with their ethnic group (tribe, clan, etc). Developed countries have show more ethnic homogeneity because more people simply identify with their country.

Racial tolerance is a good measure for comparison. In this, the US and Canada are the same (and also Australia, the other British-founded country). So is most of the rest of the Americas, Central and South. Europe is a mixed bag. Spain has a fair amount of racial tolerance. The most tolerant in Europe are Britain and most northern countries. Interestingly, once again South Africa fits in here as well. Pakistan for some reason also rates well in racial tolerance.

The welcoming to foreigners map offers a different perspective. Racial tolerance may only apply to races within one’s country. Canada seems to be the only country in the world, as far as I can tell from the maps, that rates highly both on racially tolerance and welcoming to foreigners. Canada is beginning to sound like utopia. That said, countries like Mexico, Brazil and South Africa also rate fairly well on both. The US, like Spain, is only middling on this measure. Argentina is one of those countries that, while racially tolerant, isn’t friendly to strangers. The map shows some surprising locations that apparently would be good places to travel in or move to: Turkey, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and a few others.

Some other maps are truly bizarre in their implications.

Why the heck do all the countries in the Americas rate highly emotional?

The US and Canada are one big mass of emotional expressiveness. Another blot of emotion is found down in South America with El Salvador being the second most emotional country in the world. All the countries in the Americas are just plain emotional. Most of the rest of the world is emotionally frigid in comparison. There are some exceptions, though. Like always, Africa is a mix with Angola being highly emotional. The Arab United Emirates and Oman pop up again, along with somewhat higher ratings for many Middle Eastern countries. The Phillipines, former colony of Spain and the US, also rates high (the most emotional country in the world) along with relatively high ratings for the other nearby island countries and Australia (plus, the nearby Southern Asian countries). In Europe, the countries that stand out for their emotionality are France, Spain and Ireland (it’s hard to tell from the map, but it looks like Belgium also rates high).

There are two patterns here that interest me. First, Spanish and English speaking countries tend to be highly emotional. The US gets a double dose on this account. Canada similarly gets a double dose with British and French influence. Second, post-Soviet countries are among the most emotionally stoic. Emotion in Europe appears to generally increase as you move West. The reason for these patterns is not entirely clear to me. Why would the English language correlate to emotionality? The English people aren’t known for emotional effusiveness. On the scale, the English are just moderately emotional. Maybe there is something about the Celtic influence as Ireland rates highly. English-speaking countries like the US do have large amounts of Irish ancestry. Ireland would also relate to France and Spain for the Irish originate from the Basque who live in the border region of those two countries. This might explain an element of the low ratings of the post-Soviet countries for the Celtic populations were most concentrated in Western Europe.

The other odd map is that of feeling loved or not. It seems to fit almost perfectly to the emotional map. The countries that tend to have high rates of emotional expressiveness also tend to have high rates of feeling loved. Maybe that isn’t so odd, after all. How can you know that you’re loved if no one expresses love to you? Anyway, the Americas are one big love-fest.

I purposely saved the Muslim maps for last.

Some Muslim countries want democracy and others less so. Quite a few of the Muslim countries in Africa say they prefer democracy to a strong leader. The same is found with Turkey and Tajikistan along with the Southeast Asian islands and peninsula. However, on either side of Tajikistan are two countries (Kyrgizstan and Pakistan) that are unfriendly to democracy. The Middle East overall is mostly averaging in its support or lack thereof for democracy.

The map of perceived religious conflict within a country is almost a mirror opposite of the pro-democracy map. Does the perceived religious conflict cause a lack of support for democracy? Or vice versa?

The third and final Muslim map shows why generalizing about all Muslims is problematic. It is a map about honor killings, specifically whether they are never justified over female sexual offenses. A few Muslim countries are apparently evenly split between those who say it is never justified and those who disagree. It looks like there are only five Muslim countries with a clear majority who think such vigilante justice is sometimes or always justified. However, most of the Muslim countries rated here have a majority supporting the view that is never justified.