Suffer the Children, Suffer the Country

Children are every country’s most vital resource. This is true not just morally, but also economically. Investing in the health, education, and skills of children offers the highest economic returns to a country. A new study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows which high-income countries are doing well when it comes to making these investments – and which are doing poorly.

The report, Child Well-Being in Rich Countries, takes a holistic view of the conditions of children in the United States, Canada, and Europe – 29 countries in all. The top-ranked countries, where children are best off, are the social democracies of Western Europe. The Netherlands heads the list, followed by Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and Germany.

At the bottom one finds a major surprise: the US, the richest large economy in the world, is in 26th place, followed by three much poorer countries: Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania. France and the United Kingdom are ranked in the middle.

The study assesses children’s well-being in terms of material conditions (related to household-income levels); health and safety; education; risky behavior (such as excessive alcohol consumption); and physical environment, including housing conditions. Although the study is limited to high-income countries, national governments – and even cities – in other parts of the world should replicate it to analyze their own children’s well-being…

The differences between the social democracies and the US show up strongly in category after category. In the social democracies, less than 10% of children grow up in relative poverty (meaning households with less than half of the country’s median income). In the US, the rate of relative poverty exceeds 20%.

The costs to the US of allowing so many of its children to grow up in poverty, poor health, poor schools, and poor housing are staggering. A shocking proportion ends up serving time in prison – especially in the case of non-white poor children. Even those fortunate not to fall into the trap of America’s vast prison system often end up unemployed and even unemployable, without the skills needed to obtain and keep a decent job.

The UNICEF findings are powerful. High national incomes are not enough to ensure children’s well-being. Societies that have a strong commitment to equal opportunity for all of their children – and that are prepared to invest public funds on their behalf – end up with much better outcomes.

American conservatives used to consider educating our children an asset. That conservative ethos has shriveled into elitism, contempt for everyone and anything that doesn’t muster enough dollars to catch the eye of corporate princes.

The footmen for the moneyed class assigned the task of keeping this nation’s politics tidy – see little need to educate the poor. After all, we can just just hire folks from other countries to fill necessary tasks. Or move the jobs closer to a supply of wage earners educated at some other nation’s expense.

Grandma probably was right – quit boiling your kid’s pacifier!

For years, health officials have told parents not to share utensils with their babies or clean their pacifiers by putting them in their mouths, arguing that the practice spreads harmful germs between parent and child. But new research may turn that thinking on its head.

In a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, scientists report that infants whose parents sucked on their pacifiers to clean them developed fewer allergies than children whose parents typically rinsed or boiled them. They also had lower rates of eczema, fewer signs of asthma and smaller amounts of a type of white blood cell that rises in response to allergies and other disorders.

The findings add to growing evidence that some degree of exposure to germs at an early age benefits children, and that microbial deprivation might backfire, preventing the immune system from developing a tolerance to trivial threats.

The study, carried out in Sweden, could not prove that the pacifiers laden with parents’ saliva were the direct cause of the reduced allergies. The practice may be a marker for parents who are generally more relaxed about shielding their children from dirt and germs, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research.

“It’s a very interesting study that adds to this idea that a certain kind of interaction with the microbial environment is actually a good thing for infants and children,” he said. “I wonder if the parents that cleaned the pacifiers orally were just more accepting of the old saying that you’ve got to eat a peck of dirt. Maybe they just had a less ‘disinfected’ environment in their homes…”

…Health authorities tell parents to do things that can lower the rate of transmission to their children, like not sharing utensils or putting their mouths on pacifiers.

But Dr. Joel Berg, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, said those efforts are misguided, since parents are bound to spread germs simply by kissing their children and being around them. “This notion of not feeding your baby with your spoon or your fork is absurd because if the mom is in close proximity to the baby you can’t prevent that transmission,” he said. “There’s no evidence that you can avoid it. It’s impossible unless you wear a mask or you don’t touch the child, which isn’t realistic.”

Dr. Berg, who does salivary research at the University of Washington, said the new findings underscore something he has been telling his patients for years, that “saliva is your friend.” It contains enzymes, proteins, electrolytes and other beneficial substances, some of which can perhaps be passed from parent to child.

“I think, like any new study, this is going to be challenged and questioned,” he said. “But what it points out pretty clearly is that we are yet to fully discover the many and varied benefits of saliva.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it, again. The immigrants on either side of my family who didn’t live to be older than the average American were the cigarette smokers. The rest all beat the numbers by decades. And they weren’t squeaky clean-freaks.

Wind farm contractors hope to lure back lobsters

New wind farms off Germany’s North Sea coast will provide an ideal habitat that could help restore the lobster population near Heligoland after British bombing during and after World War II drove them away.

Biologists at the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research are breeding 3,000 lobsters to be released next year into the Borkum Riffgat offshore wind farm near the island 70 km off the German-Dutch coast.

The 1.5 square km island had a thriving fishing industry before it became a Nazi fortress in the war, pounded by Allied bombs, and then later used for target practice. It is now a tourist resort…

Lobsters, whose local population is 90 percent smaller than it was 70 years ago, need a firm seabed to thrive…”The new wind parks mean lobsters may settle in a new habitat, because the stony foundations offer a favorable environment,” project leader Heinz-Dieter Franke said.

The 700,000 euro scheme is funded by compensation paid to the state of Lower Saxony by utility EWE for any potential ecological damage caused by the construction of its wind park. The money will fund breeding, reintroduction and monitoring of the lobsters for roughly two years.

“With Germany’s shift to renewables, we could have 5,000 wind farms by 2030, so if it works, this kind of project could have a huge effect on the lobster population,” Franke said…

Lobster expert Dominic Boothroyd, general manager of Britain’s National Lobster Hatchery, said the idea of using the hard foundations of a wind park made sense and that projects to reintroduce young lobsters had taken place in Britain and Norway, though not on wind farms.

“From these projects, we know the animals survive and that they contribute to fishery and reproduce…” Boothroyd said.

If there are no other impediments to the revival, this all makes great sense. Ask anyone who ever lived and worked on the Gulf of Mexico through the period of the introduction of drilling platforms.

The operative word is “structure”. Fishing of all sorts in all locations improved with the growth and spread of every kind of platform throughout the Gulf – and every other body of water of moderate depth where the structure effect could be felt.

Brasilia police cancel embarrassing order for World Cup raincoats


They’re safe even if Kaka prays for rain!

Brasilia police have canceled an order for 17,000 raincoats for use at the World Cup because next year’s tournament will be played in the dry season…”The military police made a mistake in listing the product among those to be acquired with a view to the World Cup which will be held in the dry season,” said the Federal District government…

Brazilian media had criticized the plans as an example of wasteful spending by authorities, pointing out that the jackets would have cost a total of $2.66 million.

Rainfall is very rare between May and July in Brasilia and the air humidity often drops to 30 percent.

The Brazilian capital, a planned city founded in 1960, will stage five matches at the World Cup and will also host games at the Confederations Cup in June.

Most of the proper football fans I know are hoping for a successful tournament. What really counts is getting to watch our favorite sport without interference from greedy grasping businessmen and their kissing cousins in politics.