NationMaster Relaunch: Get the Facts the Property Ad Left Out

Today I’m excited to announce the relaunch of NationMaster.

When we launched with international statistics back in 2003, we were loved for bringing stats from all over to one place, into a clear consistent, interface. The next generation of NationMaster continues that tradition.

The market for international stats has intensified and competitors like The CIA World Factbook copied our features while taking the authority as the primary source. The major source, The United

11850733_10153628760539739_3702430470972749142_o

Nations and its many divisions, also got better at providing the data themselves.

I’d received many requests for a more local view of NationMaster but had always thought that it was too much effort, too fine-grained and well catered for on other sites.

That was until I started looking for a new house to buy. I was staggered by the amount of information that was out there but how much effort it is to bring it altogether into a cohesive picture. It’s the biggest purchasing decision most of us will make, yet our field of view is too narrow, our information sparse. We receive surprises after purchase – not all good. We have little means to accurately price the places.

 

Hyper-local data

Enter NationMaster version 4. We have loads of stats comparing areas but those now areas can get very fine-grained (down to 200 to 800 people). Other sites tell you what the suburb is like. We’ll tell you about your neighbours.

11807665_10153628775864739_8838632047984785444_o

 

Scoring: Quantifying the touchy feely

We make your life easier by scoring every property in Australia according to convenience, education, seniors and affluence. These boil down many considerations into a single number between 1 and 10, so you can skip complex  considerations.

 

New Focus

We’ve sharpened our focus in this version to a single vertical, if not use case. We chose international stats because they were interesting and understandable. Now we have a new criteria: does the variable help users buy a property?

 

Maps

11780006_10153628692384739_4514934342870457270_o

We’ve geospatial. NationMaster tells you now how far things away and how much they affect you. Mouse over a point of interest and it highlights that point on the map. And vice versa!

 

We’re available just for Australia so far. Check it out!

Watch Google Dream of Strange Animals Emerging From The Earth

See amazing pictures of Google dreams of natural forms mutating out of our Mother Earth.

Our blue Earth is a beautiful oasis of nature. Now thanks to Google, we have been able to bring it to life in a new and fascinating way.

These images are not the product of any artist. It’s all machine. Google’s image recognition algorithms were reversed to reveal what it remembers of the photos it’s been fed – clearly it’s seen a lot of animals. When it “dreams”, strange, evocative images emerge. 

So we fed satellite photos and other maps into this engine provided by DreamScopeApp. What you get is an even more powerful reminder that we our planet is alive. And it’s amazing to reflect that it’s our machines that reminded us of this.

Imagine if aliens could look down on our planet from space with a special view that show what kind of life forms evolved here. We guess they’d see something like this.

8aa38fa0-b862-4625-a85c-700f68b79a32 (1)

Here Italy’s natural topography becomes truly reptilian, as if a giant chameleon was trying to blend in:

bdeacce7-9bc4-4bac-b69e-66442a93b02a

The British Isles is transformed here with seal-like creatures emerging out of the oceans while giant bird heads roost on Scotland:

9a60c6a4-5457-4119-ad93-c77fe4406b9d

Here we see mutant creatures emerging out of Japanese islands. How long until someone can use the neural networks to have these awkward creatures trot around the globe?

f348079d-667f-423f-be8a-5dc0b01f503a

And here we fed it a classic world at night photo. Human imagination is at its richest in the dark and so it seems for neural networks too, with some of the most fully formed heads I’ve seen. South America even has a body and legs like some extinct bird.

0ffe9d91-34e5-4759-b638-4ef98dcf4b53

 

USEFUL: Announcing NationMaster Data Visualisation Search

NationMaster now lets you search the entire web for images that are data visualisations of some kind. This is a first of its kind anywhere on the web. Put in a keyword and you’ll get back pie charts, graphs, infographics, scatterplots and many more.

NationMaster visualisation search engine

We stat geeks here have always found Google Images lacking for stats, however great it is for photos. There are too many amateurish pictures and photos. With NationMaster Graph Search, it’s just the facts.

And we also make it the images nice and large. Google Images thumbnails are tiny and pixelated – once again, fine for photos but not enough detail for graphs.

You can search pretty much any topic you like. We have covered most of the web. The results are in an attractive Pinterest-style format.

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 3.54.41 pm

Already we’ve found this tool useful in backing up our face-to-face arguments. We just pull out our phone, put in the keyword and have visual justifications for our views. Very handy and useful!

Try it now!

Why These Ten Dangerously Polluted Cities All Smell Different.


Leo Tolstoy once wrote “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. The Earth today has hundreds of dangerously polluted cities but the sources of pollution vary widely from city to city, such that badly polluted cities indeed smell different. Here is a selection of some cities with some of the worst air and what’s in it.

 

1. Ahvaz, Iran 


Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 2.00.06 pm

The World Health Organization says Ahvaz is the one of world’s most polluted cities.  Ahvaz is a city known for oil fields, heavy industry with a sugar processing plant and a coal-burning power plant. 

Air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides increase the susceptibility of respiratory infections.

Finally chronic exposure to ozone and certain heavy metals reduce lung function, while the later responsible for asthma, emphysema, and even lung cancer.

 

2. Beijing, China

beijing-4

Air pollution in Beijing is mainly caused by burning coal in factories, power plants and oil combustion by vehicles. Coal provides not only 80% of China’s electricity, but also generates air pollution, from soot to sulphur dioxide.

Chinese industrial cities, such as Shenyang and Lanzhou, are also known for theirhigh levels of smoke pollution. China, which now has over 120 cities with more than 1 million people, currently burns in excess of 2 billion tonnes tonesof coal per annum (and it is likely to remain its dominant fuel for decades to come).

In 2008, of the twenty most polluted cities in the world, nine were to be found in China. Population of Lanzhou inhales air with average levels of pollution that are more than 100 times the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines. Located at the bottom of a narrow river valley, Chinese city planners unsuccessfully attempted to solve Lanzhou’s pollution problem by blasting the tops off the surrounding hills to allow the smoke to escape.

As far as the impact on people’s health, the analysis revealed other repercussions from the emissions of its coal-fired plants in 2013, including: approx. 320,000 children and 61,000 adults suffering from asthma, 36,000 babies born with low weight, 340,000 hospital admissions and 2 million doctor visits, and approx. 141 million days of sick leave.

Map of the 257,000 premature deaths annually due to the air pollution from the coal-fired power plants in China

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 2.14.49 pm

The WHO’s Global Burden of Disease report estimated that 1.2 million people died prematurely in China in 2010 due to air pollution as a whole which includes emissions from industry and transport as well as the coal power sector. 

In 2012, the WHO estimated that over 1.5 million people of total work population annually were killed by respiratory and other diseases associated with air pollution (the great majority in developing countries).

3. Ulan Bator, Mongolia


AJ201404020003M

Mongolia’s capital city, Ulan Bator, is a dangerously polluted city but the main cause is not industry but coal ovens in the Mongolian tents that house the majority of the population.

In recent years, Ulan Bator doubled its population of 1.2 million although Mongolia is still world’s least-densely populated country with only three million inhabitants with the territory size three times that of France.

Tens of thousands of nomads who came from the steppes seeking work set up their traditional houses called yurts in the suburbs.

Pollution in Ulan Bator is seasonal. In winter, the temperature drops to minus 30 and pollution in some parts of the city goes up to 2,000 micrograms.

In Mongolia the pollution problem is escalated through poverty. Lower-class residents often use old tires and various waste instead of coal boxes which produces toxic smoke.

Traditional Mongolian Drummer Stove

Both Mongolian government and American donors have incentivised residents to replace the traditional drummers with modern stoves that are more economical, use less coal and emit fewer pollutants into the air in an attempt to reduce pollution.

In addition to the “clean” stoves, the Mongolian government offered assistance with improving yurt isolation as well as through mass planting of trees in neighbourhoods with high yurt density that are built on higher elevations around the city.

One of the worst sources of the pollution is dust. The dust originates from the district of Ger’s heating activity, the desert, the dry ground condition and the ash ponds emanating from the power plants. Strong winds, particularly in spring, also allow dust from the Gobi desert and other arid regions of Mongolia to reach to city.

When breathing, the lungs of Ulan Bator citizens, especially those living in Ger districts act like air filters, catching and storing the harmful dust which scientists call “particulate matter” (PM). PM smaller than 2.5 microns or “PM2.5” can cause severe respiratory illnesses. Air pollution is responsible for one in every ten deaths in Ulan Bator. It is the number one cause of deaths in town and it is free to roam the city looking for new victims. It kills slowly and painfully, and there’s little one can do to protect against it.

Indoor air pollution is typical of countries that heavily use wood, coal and other solid fuels as primary energy use (cooking and heating stoves without chimneys and open campfires in homes as well as inadequate furnaces). A major factor on the health conditions of poor households is the use of fossil fuels and pollution.

4. Lahore, Pakistan

road-pollution

Lahore has topped the list of most polluted cities with highest air pollution level of PM 10 =198 and PM 2,5= 68 in 2010. 

It was also revealed that the high pollution levels were mainly caused by emissions from vehicles, industrial activities and fine natural dust and aerosols. Moreover, the movement of air pollution from neighbouring countries has also worsened the air quality of the city.

Combustion of fossil fuels in transport, power plants, power stations and households all caused health problems with the lungs such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and respiratory tract irritation. There were also an increased number of hospital admissions of patients with heart problems. The mortality rate increases in the days of higher content of CO2 in the air.

5. New Delhi, India

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 3.14.48 pm

Even though New Delhi has had a public transportation system for the past three decades, the number of cars has grown from 180,000 to 3.5 million.

New Delhi has other sources of air pollution apart of increasing numbers of vehicles on the road. More than one thousand brick kilns produce vast quantities of smoke while feeding the city’s construction industry. Construction industry also generates its own pollution which is further increased by farmers setting agricultural waste on fire to clear cropland. Road dust comprises 50% of total pollution with industry contributing 23% while vehicles accounted for only 7% of air pollution.

In summer, in addition to the road dust already present on the Delhi roads, dust storms from the desert to the south-west contribute to increased fugitive dust, worsened by the growing number of vehicles. This is exacerbated by the low moisture content in the air, leading to higher suspension of road dust (40% of particulate pollution in summer, compared to 4% in winter). In the winter months, the mix of pollution sources changes dramatically. The use of biomass, primarily for heating, contributes to as much as 30% of air pollution in winter. In summer, biomass accounts for only 9% of particulate pollution.

With one fifth of deaths worldwide, India experiences the worst of outdoor air pollution and on a massive scale. Globally, air pollution-related deaths has increased by 300% since 2000. About 65% of these deaths occur in Asia.

6. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

 Riyadh_sandstorm_sm

Sandstorms contribute to Riyadh’s air pollution. These occur in dry and semi-arid areas and are formed when a strong wind carries sand and dust from a dry surface. Particles are moving,causing soil erosion in one placeand is moved elsewhere.

Wide range of pollutants like dust, soot, fly ash, diesel exhaust particles, wood smoke and sulfate aerosols can be found in the form of tiny particles in the air. Some of these fine particles can become lodged in the lungs and could trigger asthma attacks. Studies have shown that the number of hospitalizations for asthma increases when levels of particulate matter in the air rise.

Sandstorms contribute to Riyadh’s air pollution. These occur in dry and semi-arid areas and are formed when a strong wind carries sand and dust from a dry surface. Particles are moving, causing soil erosion in one place and land elsewhere.

Wide range of pollutants like dust, soot, fly ash, diesel exhaust particles, wood smoke and sulfate aerosols can be found in the form of tiny particles in the air. Some of these fine particles can become lodged in the lungs and could trigger asthma attacks. Studies have shown that the number of hospitalizations for asthma increases when levels of particulate matter in the air rise.

8. Moscow, Russia

Moscow is the capital and the most populated region of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural and scientific region in Russia and in Eurasia.

russia-fires_1695543c

There are also smaller regions. Moscow occupies the central area of ​​the European part of Russia. Rich deposits of iron ore and brown coal have been found around Tula, Voronezh and Kursk, and large Podmoskovske basin. In the middle region is Moscow, the capital and the largest city and industrial centre of Russia. Around Moscow, there is a series of satellite cities with heavy industry. Moscow has five airports, harbour canals and navigable rivers linked to the five seas. Major industrial centres in the region are also Jaroslav, Ivanovo, Tula, Vladimir, Smolensk, and many others.

According to data, the content of harmful substances (carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter) in the air exceeded the standard five to eight times over in some regions of Moscow.

Sulfur dioxide is produced when coal and crude oil are burned. Coal-fired power plants, particularly older plants that burn coal without SO2 pollution controls are the worst SO2 polluters. Oil refineries and diesel engines that burn high-sulfur fuel also release large amounts of SO2 into the air.

9. Mexico City

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 3.01.21 pm

Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the with a population of 19 million. It is located in a basin and surrounded on three sides by inaccessible mountains. The city still has major problems with the devastating earthquakes and lack of drinking water.

Fast population increase is causing a rapid growth of Mexico City and the authorities are taking a number of measures in order to control the growth. Population growth brought a host of problems such as the lack of housing, increase the number of homeless people, air pollution, etc.

It has been all too common to make a direct association between population growth and factors like CO2 emissions, environmental degradation, global warming, and other manifestations of climate change. Indeed, human activities now contribute to a substantial percentage of the accumulation greenhouse gases. However, more people does not necessarily mean more emissions.

Although the air pollution in Mexico has vastly decreased in the last two decades, levels of harmful pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone are still above the World Health Organization’s recommended levels for Mexico City.

Acceptable levels of sulphur dioxide stated by the Norma Oficial Mexicana are 0.130 ppm as a maximum daily average and 0.030 ppm as a yearly average.

Current levels of sulphur dioxide are 0.076 ppm as a maximum daily average and 0.10 ppm as a yearly average. Both levels are acceptable according to the Norma Oficial Mexicana.

However, the standards set by the World Health Organization are 20 µg/m3 as a daily average and 500 µg/m3 as a peak 10 minute average. Against these standards, Mexico City fails with 156 µg/m3 of sulphur dioxide daily and 967 µg/m3 maximum average over 10 minutes.

According to the Norma Oficial Mexicana, Mexico City is above limits of ozone with 0.123 ppm every 8 hours. According to the World Health Organization, who creates guidelines on safe limits at 100 µg/m3, Mexico City pollution in 2011 is PM 10 = 93 and PM 2,5= 25.

One of the main culprits is the transportation sector: the country’s fleet of inefficient trucks and cars consume dirty diesel fuels and emit high levels of black carbon (the second most powerful contributor to climate change behind carbon dioxide) and particulate matter. These contaminants not only impact the environment and worsen climate change but they also have grave effects on people. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified black carbon, particulate matter and outdoor air pollution generally as carcinogens. In 2013, the World Health Organization said that 14,700 people in Mexico died from outdoor air pollution.

The city’s government plans to further reduce vehicle emissions which are the city’s greatest source of pollution. Pemex, the state oil monopoly, plans to build a $9.3 billion plant to produce low-sulfur fuel. Officials plan to add hybrid buses. A suburban train system is to replace hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

10. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 3.06.59 pm

Dhaka is capital of Bangladesh and one of the world’s largest cities.

According to the WHO, old, poorly serviced vehicles, brick kilns (there are currently about 1,000 in and around Dhaka), dust from roads and construction sites, and toxic fumes from industrial sites are major sources of air pollution. 

Air pollution in Dhaka to the World Health Organization in 2013. is PM 10 = 180 and PM 2,5 = 86.

According to the Department of Environment, the density of airborne particulate matter (PM) reaches 463 micrograms per cubic metre (mcm) in the city during the dry season (December-March) which is the highest level in the world.

During the dry season (October to March), vehicular emission, particular motor cycles, diesel trucks and buses (most do of the sources), and open land wind erosion; biomass burning in the brickfields and city incinerators (to the fine mode); are the major sources of PM pollution. The source apportionment study conducted by the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Centre, Dhaka, Bangladesh for fine and coarse particulates at two stations: farm gate and Dhaka University premises.

A study, Environmental Performance Index 2012, conducted by the US universities Yale and Columbia, found Dhaka to be the 31st most polluted city out of 132 cities across the world. The study concluded that an estimated 15,000 premature deaths, as well as several million cases of pulmonary, respiratory neurological illness are attributed to poor air quality in Dhaka.

Who Cares About China’s Enormous Workforce?

Untitled copy

Is its massive economic growth making people happy? If so, who?

Most people would think the obvious, the boss is happy, but is that entirely the case with China. Who is benefitting from the current state of affairs, particularly the Chinese government’s policy of growing a healthy middle class?  Although China is rapidly becoming the world’s largest consumer market as well as the world’s largest goods manufacturing base it is still estimated that up to two thirds of its population is living in poverty with a significant amount living below the UN’s defined level of poverty. Often those living in the most significant poverty are found on the fringes of China’s society, in the derelict rural villages or as urban poor in China’s massive and growing metropolises, many are seeking work, some are incapable of finding work and maybe some just don’t want to work. Yet, currently China is experiencing a major shift in its human settlement pattern as a large proportion of the impoverished rural population is migrating towards the cities in order to find the work they need to sustain themselves and their families.

China’s open door to the Western market

China is a communist country, which after accepting that capitalism was the only way to achieve significant economic growth, now has a heavy reliance on capitalism for continued economic growth. This policy has allowed many Chinese business people to come up from nothing to being amongst the wealthiest industrialists in the world. The success of the average Chinese business magnates could be attributed to deft business acumen and the drive to succeed at all costs, but it cannot be denied that the most significant factor in the economic development of China is China’s massive population which is willing to work for extremely low wages. This, as well as various government mandated tax incentives, has allowed China to enjoy an unfair advantage in the global manufacturing market. However, this advantage has come through the exploitation of the Chinese people.  This exploitation has, for some, come at a heavy price while for others the economic success has been the best thing to happen to them and their families, greatly increasing their standard of living; sometimes in a very short period of time.

Current affairs in the labour pool

Patterns of economic development are also skewed in China. Initial development policy during the early economic revolution was development of China’s coastal cities as a way of ensuring the economic routes to the West were secured. This led to massive development of the coastal region as a manufacturing center while leaving a significant portion of the country to remain underdeveloped and relatively stagnant. The development on the coast has also led to the drainage of manpower from the rural regions further propagating the downward spiral of economic and social stagnation. While a small proportion of urbanized China have become rich industrialists, mainly profiting off of the exploitation of their fellow Chinese, many average Chinese workers live in what, by Western standards, is considered to be poverty. However, despite what a Westerner may think, the average low wage earning Chinese migrant labourer is still enjoying a far better standard of living than the one they did in the country side. When this is taken into consideration along with the fact that there is a distinct difference in what is considered to be a good standard of living between the East and the West the average Chinese migrant worker is doing emotionally well, and is generally grateful to have the opportunity to earn and become more than they were on the countryside. Many migrant workers see their work in the sweat shops as a way to gain better opportunities through education and the ability for them to support their families. Often only meager wages over time is enough to build a house for one’s family in the countryside, which is more often than not, a significant increase in the standard of living for an entire family.

Filling the spaces in between

Although the development and standard of living increases along the Eastern coastal region have been occurring for the last 25 years relatively little development has occurred along the Western frontier. This is something the Chinese government is currently focusing its efforts on with the Western Development Policy. The Western Development Policy is China’s way of attempting to harmonize the economic growth of the country through the creation of industry and infrastructure throughout the Western regions, this also includes creating national parks. Should this policy come to fruition it would shift the balance of wealth creating a more equalised market base for China’s new middle class. This would also boost the standard of living for the people of the traditionally impoverished and depressed rural regions as they would now have more opportunities to tap into China’s booming economy, and often in the case of the poor in China, a little bit of opportunity and money can go a long way in securing the mental health of a family and a village.

By products of development

Pollution from the massive industrial growth and the needs of the population has left China with a major pollution problem that needs to be dealt with if China wants a future for its people. Currently China is operating the most coal fired power plants out of any nation in the world this has created a large smog problem for Chinese cities leading to the degradation of the standard of living in the major urban centers of China. When additional pollution factors are taken in to account, primarily the Chinese car industry, which has the world’s largest market base cater to, and the massive amounts of environmental pollution that have occurred as a result of the rapid industrialization of China, the legacy of China’s pollution will potentially have global consequences. Currently many rivers in South Eastern China are potentially polluted beyond repair. In cities under the right environmental circumstances the air quality can be bad to the point of low visibility reminiscent of London England’s Great Smog incident of 1952. In recent times satellite imagery has captured a recurring large brown cloud originating over Asia, this phenomenon has become known as the Asian Brown Cloud. It is no secret that pollution poses significant risks to the physical health of human beings it also poses a significant threat to the mental health of the population. Recent incidents have seen many Chinese express their discontent through environmental activism, migration from the cities or various other ways. Although the Chinese government has taken action against this problem, China is the number one producer of green energy in the world and has made strong efforts to clean up its coal emissions, the fact is, China is addicted to manufacturing and the energy needed to feed its industrial machine. Because of this the potential healthcare burden of millions of sick and dying residents in China, be it from past or present pollution, would cripple the Chinese economy, forever.

Migrants viewed as interlopers

Although Chinese cites demand labour is, in many cases, filled by migrant workers many traditional residents of a destination city, justified or not, view migrants and interlopers within their cities further exacerbating local problems; in light of this apathy towards outsiders should not be seen as an attitude held by everyone in China’s cities. Xenophobia (the fear of strangers) is a fundamentally detrimental social problem which can lead to a vast amount of social ills including violence between groups, exclusion of outsiders from society, and the enclave factor which can lead to micro-societies within societies, which, can lead to fractionalization of a population. An example of the fractionalization in China was seen in 2009 when false rumours of the raping of Han Chinese women at a toy factory led to an eruption of violence amongst migrant Han Chinese workers and local Uighur left up to 200 people dead and over 100 injured. Situations like this lead to deep-seated resentment in a community which can manifest itself in many ways which can lead to the general degradation in the quality of life for everyone in a community.

image

The ones left behind

Those run down by the development in China have in most cases been left in the dirt and are often forgotten. In many cases cheap labour is also viewed as disposable labour and if a company can walk away from a problem, it will. And even though there are labour laws, workers protection organizations and labour unions in China that are intended to protect the workers in many cases they do not particularly since poor migrants often cannot afford legal defense. In cases where lighting is bad workers have been known to develop eye problems which significantly hinder their ability to find another job should they be fired. In other cases workers that are injured or crippled permanently are left in to fend for themselves often without any compensation; there are laws designed to protect these workers but they must win their case. If a crippled worker loses they may end up on the streets with little to no hope for redemption. Emotional problems faced by workers have also contributed to elevated suicide rates amongst migrant workers, and even though suicide hotlines have been set up in some areas in an attempt to address this problem, ubiquitous mental healthcare is still unavailable. Raping of women in sweatshops in places other than China is a problem, in China there is little evidence that raping of female workers is a large scale problem. Cases of varying degrees of sexual harassment in Chinese factories do exist on a significant scale but are in many cases not recognized as a communal problem by the community as a whole leading to an overall lack of the infrastructure required to care for victims of sexual harassment. In many cases the victim does not seek help to stop abuse. The struggle faced by the unredeemed workers of China is probably the most emotionally painful and bleak. Yet as China matures and adjusts to being a large industrial nation there may even be redemption for the most destitute of workers sometime in the future.
The dissidents

Although social protest and vocally opposing the practices of the Chinese government is generally a bad idea there are some people who do not whole heartedly agree with the direction that China is moving in both politically and economically. Amongst the more recognizable case, to the West, is the contemporary artist Ai Weiwei who has been openly vocal about his criticisms of the state to the point where he was arrested and held for a number of days for vague reasons and eventually released without charge. During which time he alleged he was emotionally tortured by his captors. Although there are countless individuals who have been locked up for directly opposing the central government over the years since China’s economic miracle, there are examples of people who work to change the situation through more subtle tactics often working within the framework of the Chinese system. They include workers rights groups, trade union and individual rights lawyers among others who try to level the playing field for the workers of China to ensure they have a standard of living worth living. A proportion of the youth of China, the ones most exposed to the trends of globalization through the internet have increasingly used the internet for activism against their social situations in China, speaking out about the issues that affect them and the average people of China including economic and environmental issues related to China’s economic bulldozer.

 

Making A Murder Go Away

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.34.01 pm

Chicago police figures report a drop of nearly 300,000 serious crimes in 1993 to just over 50,000 in 2013. Can we believe it?

In a recent special report, ”The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates”, Chicagomag.com investigates the somewhat shaky foundation for the city’s impressive drop in crime. The first part, published this Monday, reveals some jaw dropping reasons for this miraculous development. It tells a story about police officers and other officials working within the justice system who systematically re-label serious crimes into something less serious, or in some cases, completely writes them off as “noncriminal” investigations. The piece illustrates this madness with the story about Tiara Groves, a 20-year old girl, who was found tied up, gagged and murdered in an abandoned warehouse in Chicago. This was later ruled “noncriminal” because of the pathologist’s inability to explicitly state the cause of death (unspecified means).

Tiara warehouse

The warehouse where the body of 20-year old Tiara Groves was found

For us at the crime section of Nationmaster, this is interesting for a laundry list of reasons.

Imagine the implications. If murder rates can be manipulated like this, how can we at all be sure of statistics relating to crime? If the act of gagging, tying up and murdering someone can be considered “noncriminal”, how about battery and bicycle thefts? Crime statistics is to be taken with a healthy scepticism even without this kind of statistical abuse. But when these attempts to “sugar coat” your statistics also enters the picture, it undoubtedly gets harder still. Comparing crime statistics within a certain geographical area over time is usually more reliable than making grand statements based on the crime statistics reported by two different countries. With the Tiara Groves case in mind, why this is becomes painfully obvious.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.37.15 pm

If you can make a murder go away, how about the less serious offences?

Crime statistics are already handled differently from country to country, and this kind of “dressing up” your numbers makes a comparison even sketchier. Also, changes in routines within a certain geographical area will cause numbers from one year to another to change, regardless of the actual trend and the physical reality. For example, changes in the willingness from the public to report crimes to the police, for whatever reason, and what types of crimes the police decide to focus extra resources on are two kinds of routines that generally have a heavy impact and can skew crime statistics over time. Murder rates have, however, traditionally been a steady rock for criminologists to cling to with regards to the truthfulness in the quantity reported. With these findings and revelations, this might have to be revaluated and more scrutiny might be needed even here.

Keep in mind, under- or over reporting different types of criminality can be very beneficial for certain groups within law enforcement. Getting patted on the back for a job well done (under report) or more funding (over report) might be just too alluring for certain individuals. The statistics we provide at NationMaster are to be interpreted with all these caveats in mind. Remember Tiara Groves.

Why Some Americans Eat White Dirt

Woman from the Southern United States eating white dirt.

Woman from the Southern United States eating white dirt.

“I remember my mom and my aunties eating that white dirt like it was nothing,” Mamie Lee Hillman told NPR. “It was an acceptable thing that people did.” Hillman was raised in Greene County, Georgia, where she recalls digging for dirt to snack on. White dirt is chalky, soft clay called kaolinite that is common throughout the world, but has large deposits in the southeastern United States.

The practice of eating dirt may seem antiquated or bizarre to most people, however this behavior is fairly common. Today, especially in the South of the United States, you can find packaged bags of dirt for sell as ‘novelty items’ in small shops and flea markets.

It was the selling of dirt as a snack food that caught the attention of Adam Forrester, a filmmaker and assistant professor of photography at Troy University. His new documentary, Eat White Dirt, will profile this hidden, but common behavior.

article-2542411-1ACF8F1F00000578-777_634x344

NPR reports, the practice of dirt eating is at least 2 million years old, when Homo sapiens were only Homo habilis. Sera Young, Nutritional Anthropologist at Cornell University, mentions that eating dirt is the result of a disorder called pica. Pica forms as the result of a severe mineral deficiency that can occur because of a lack of iron or during pregnancy.

People with pica crave non-food items like ice, charcoal, and starch. Dr. Young notes that when asked why they enjoy eating dirt, people with pica simply don’t have answer.

One theory on why dirt eating has persisted is that clay acts as a natural filter that, when ingested, acts as a “mud mask for the gut,” and binds harsh chemicals in the intestines before they can enter the bloodstream. This theory may seem far-fetched, but recent tests have shown that rats that eat kaolin are less susceptible to death or disease when exposed to various poisons.

Because of its binding properties, however, clay will also absorb good nutrients and can contribute to other illnesses like anemia.

Dr. Young estimates that hundreds of thousands of people are affected by cravings caused by pica, especially pregnant women whose immune systems are suppressed as a biological precaution during pregnancy. Yet little is really known about the disorder because sufferers are embarrassed by their compulsion.

Forrester hopes that his film will shed more light on the practice. Eat White Dirt will premiere in select venues this summer.

Eat This Water Bottle To Stop Plastic Pollution

This Edible Water Bottle Could Save the Planet

This Blob Could Stop Plastic Bottle Pollution

According to National Geographic, Americans buy 29 billion plastic bottles of water a year; 5 out of 6 of these bottles meet the landfill and will stay there for approximately 450 years (the average time it takes for plastic to biodegrade). So what is an environmentally responsible person who likes to hydrate to do? Enter the Ooho globule, the water bottle you can eat.

Developed by a group of Spanish design students, the Ooho is a creative, healthy, and earth conscience alternative to plastic water bottles. Designers Rodrigo García González, Pierre Paslier , and Guillaume Couche say the Ooho is a gelatinous blob made from water through a process called “sperification.” When a person gets thirsty, all they have to do is pierce the double membrane and drink. If you happen to be hungry and thirsty, just take a bite out of the Ooho and it will feed and hydrate you at the same time.

The process of sperification began in labs in 1946. It is a technique used to shape liquids into spheres that has become popular among chefs in Spain. Water is frozen into ice before being encased in the double membrane to prevent mixing with membrane ingredients. The Ooho’s membrane is made from calcium chloride and brown algae that creates a seal around the water, and also makes the Ooho edible.

The Ooho only costs 2 cents to make and can be created at home. Co-Designer Rodrigo García González says now consumers can feel comfortable drinking from the tap again. “The reality is that more and more, when we drink water we throw away a plastic bottle,” García told Co.Exist. “Eighty percent of them are not recycled. This consumerism reflects the society in which we live.”

The use of the Ooho is only limited by consumer imagination. Currently, marathon runners can use the edible water bottle to hydrate instead of wasting paper cups. Electrolytes can also be added to the membrane to give athletes a boost similar to Gatorade, reports the Huffington Post. Check out this video by Fast Company on the Ooho and how it could help save the planet.

The Paediatricians Who Think Child Vaccinations are “Messing with Nature”

Are Childhood Vaccinations Against Nature?

Syringes  and their contents evoke fear and mistrust among some sections of the community.

A growing number of pediatricians are promoting the delay of certain childhood vaccinations and the forgoing of others completely. Although discouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics, alternative childhood vaccination schedules are not a forbidden practice. As a result, pediatric practices that offer alternative vaccination schedules are popping up across the nation.

Pediatric Alternatives in Mill Valley, California treats between 1,500 and 2,000 children a year. Stacia Kenet Lansman, the founder and head physician, has 20 years of experience in pediatric medicine. In 1998 she opened the clinic with the goal to, “start children and families out with healthy habits and routines so that they are more likely to stay healthy.” This includes skipping many recommended child hood vaccinations like polio, hepatitis B, and chicken pox.

Dr. Lansman believes that over vaccinations have contributed to the recent surge in autoimmune disorders and other chronic conditions in children. She told Mother Jones, “I think we’re just messing with nature. The incidence of asthma, allergies, and autism spectrum disorders has dramatically increased since the 1990s. And the reason for this we don’t know. But my concern is that vaccines have played a role.”

Although she encourages parents to get the meningitis vaccination and the DTaP shot-which fights against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, she claims that children do not need protection against other “low risk” diseases for their age group. For example, she advises parents to forgo the hepatitis B vaccine, which is contracted mainly through sexual activity and intravenous drug use, behavior she says, “Children are not engaged in.”

A recent health survey reports that 13% of parents currently use an alternative immunization schedule. The practice of picking and choosing which childhood vaccinations to administer based on, what seems like; parental preference is a trend that has many pediatricians worried. Dr. Alanna Levine, a pediatrician in Orangeburg, New York comments, “I think that policy is dangerous.  I think it puts children at risk when they are most vulnerable.”

Saad Omer, a professor of public health at Emory University, agrees with Dr. Levine.  “You want to give vaccines as early as possible to protect the child,” he told Mother Jones, “If you delay, you are leaving the most vulnerable period for the child open.”

The decision to vaccinate a child rests with the parents. However, alternative vaccination schedules go against the recommendations of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parents should exercise due diligence before pursuing a tailor made vaccination schedule for their child. Children do not live in a bubble. And just because measles are not common in California, doesn’t mean a child won’t come into contact with a person from a country that is riddled with it. Is the freedom to opt out of childhood vaccinations really worth the risk?

 

 

The secret of Japan’s mysteriously low crime rate

Japan is often considered slightly odd compared to other countries. Its economic success, distinct culture and disciplined population has made Japan rather unique, and produced one of the lowest crime rates in the world. The country has 127 million people yet street crime is almost unheard of; the murder rate is only lower in tiny Monaco and Palau, and the use of drugs is minimal compared to other industrialized countries. The Japanese intolerance to illicit drugs  – seen as evidence of bad personal character – were demonstrated with the national outrage the followed when two well-known sumo wrestlers tested positive for marijuana in 2008.

Japan: Many people, no crimes.

A Japanese friend of mine explained that going to prison would be an unimaginable social stigma for most people, leading to a widespread public perception that crimes are mostly committed by foreigners. The belief that almost all Japanese are law-abiding also creates a system that routinely treats suspects as guilty until proven otherwise. In such a hierarchical and deferential society, suspects face enormous pressure to cooperate with the investigators and admitting guilt, leading to a conviction rate in the courts of more than 99%.  The criminal justice system is founded on a strong belief that the criminal must repent for his crime – not simply being punished the law – and Japanese prisons are well-known (or notorious) for their strict discipline and order.

It is a undisputed fact that Japan has achieved a remarkable

safe society compared to other industrialized countries, and they incarcerate far fewer than for instance the UK (with a prisoner rate 3 times higher) or the US (13 times higher). Yet it is also a carefully maintained image that ignores many darker aspect of the Japanese society. Its modern surface often doesn’t extend to social attitudes towards women in this male-dominated culture. Unlike the rare violent crimes, sexual assaults are said to be widespread and severely underreported. The existence of chikan (“perverts”, meaning men groping women in public) is a massive problem and has led to the creation of “women-only” carriages in most major cities. Japanese police are also criticized for failing to take victims of sexual crimes seriously time and again as a result of either chauvinist bias or an inability to investigate such crimes.

What are most disturbing are however arguments that the low crime is partially a result of a police culture that are obsessed with keeping crime statistics low. Former detectives claim that police is unwilling to investigate homicides unless there is a clear suspects and frequently labels unnatural deaths as suicides without performing autopsies. Coincidentally, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Sexual crimes are widespread in Japan