We’re number 28! We’re number 28!

❝ Every study ranking nations by health or living standards invariably offers Scandinavian social democracies a chance to show their quiet dominance. A new analysis published this week — perhaps the most comprehensive ever — is no different. But what it does reveal are the broad shortcomings of sustainable development efforts, the new shorthand for not killing ourselves or the planet, as well as the specific afflictions of a certain North American country.

❝ Iceland and Sweden share the top slot with Singapore as world leaders when it comes to health goals set by the United Nations…

The massive study emerged from a decade-long collaboration focused on the worldwide distribution of disease. About a year and a half ago, the researchers involved decided their data might help measure progress on what may be the single most ambitious undertaking humans have ever committed themselves to: survival. In doing so, they came up with some disturbing findings, including that the country with the biggest economy…ranks No. 28 overall, between Japan and Estonia…

❝ The U.S. scores its highest marks in water, sanitation, and child development. That’s the upside. Unsurprisingly, interpersonal violence (think gun crime) takes a heavy toll on America’s overall ranking. Response to natural disasters, HIV, suicide, obesity, and alcohol abuse all require attention in the U.S.

Also noteworthy are basic public health metrics that America. doesn’t perform as well on as other developed countries. The U.S. is No. 64 in the rate of mothers dying for every 100,000 births, and No. 40 when it comes to the rate children under age five die…

It may come as a surprise to Americans; but, most of the world considers healthcare a necessity and a right. I had to feel the pain viewing a discussion on economics when a leading Danish economist had to laugh when asked a question about American insurance companies and their control over Congress.

He replied, “the United States is the only industrial nation in the world where healthcare is still considered a privilege.” He was right of course.

We’re number 2, we’re number 2

Jesse Philips

New Mexico is the second-most federally dependent state in the nation behind only Mississippi, according to a new report from the financial website Wallethub.

That’s actually down one spot from last year, when the site ranked it No. 1 in the nation.

WalletHub compared the 50 states based on state residents’ dependency and state government dependency, looking specifically at each state’s return on taxes paid to the federal government (calculated by dividing federal funding by IRS collections); its share of federal jobs and federal funding as a percentage of state revenue.

New Mexico ranked highest in the nation in terms of federal contracts received and second-highest in federal grants received. It was fourth in return on taxes paid to the federal government, eighth in federal funding as a percentage of state revenue and fifth in its share of federal jobs.

Federal spending in New Mexico has long made up a huge share of the state’s economy. The state is home to two national laboratories, and federal land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management also have a large presence. The state’s persistently high poverty rate and aging population mean it also draws a large share of federal social spending, including Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

This is one of the so-called improvements that are bleated by hacks who praise our moderate Republican governor. Susana Martinez gets the moderate title because she hasn’t succeeded in being as corrupt an idjit as Sam Brownback of Kansas or Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. In addition, they have wholly tame conservative state legislatures that let them experiment with curing economic problems with direct additions of poverty, handing tax dollars back to corporate treasuries, slicing-and-dicing education.

Governor Susana tried all of those – and didn’t succeed. She put some healthcare providers out of business with phony claims of fraud. The Republican tradition of lying about voter registration wasted $200K – and came up with about a dozen improperly-registered immigrants, most of whom didn’t vote anyway.

She has succeeded in increasing unemployment. She gets bonus points from the Republican National Committee for that one. Meanwhile, maintaining the highest-paid scientists dedicated to death and destruction in the world remains a higher priority than dealing with climate change. Los Alamos coneheads love her.

Hopefully, she’ll be Donald Trump’s choice for vice-president.

Smart people are better off with fewer friends

James Cridland/Flickr

Hell might actually be other people — at least if you’re really smart.

That’s the implication of fascinating new research published last month in the British Journal of Psychology. Evolutionary psychologists Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Norman Li of Singapore Management University dig in to the question of what makes a life well-lived. While traditionally the domain of priests, philosophers and novelists, in recent years survey researchers, economists, biologists and scientists have been tackling that question.

Which makes more sense to me. At least, leaving out the priests.

Kanazawa and Li theorize that the hunter-gatherer lifestyles of our ancient ancestors form the foundation for what make us happy now. “Situations and circumstances that would have increased our ancestors’ life satisfaction in the ancestral environment may still increase our life satisfaction today,” they write…

First, they find that people who live in more densely populated areas tend to report less satisfaction with their life overall. “The higher the population density of the immediate environment, the less happy” the survey respondents said they were. Second, they find that the more social interactions with close friends a person has, the greater their self-reported happiness…

But there was one big exception. For more intelligent people, these correlations were diminished or even reversed.

“The effect of population density on life satisfaction was therefore more than twice as large for low-IQ individuals than for high-IQ individuals,” they found. And “more intelligent individuals were actually less satisfied with life if they socialized with their friends more frequently…”

Why would high population density cause a person to be less happy? There’s a whole body of sociological research addressing this question. But for the most visceral demonstration of the effect, simply take a 45-minute ride on a crowded rush-hour Red Line train and tell me how you feel afterward.

Kanazawa and Li’s second finding is a little more interesting. It’s no surprise that friend and family connections are generally seen as a foundational component of happiness and well-being. But why would this relationship get turned on its head for really smart people?

I posed this question to Carol Graham, a Brookings Institution researcher who studies the economics of happiness. “The findings in here suggest (and it is no surprise) that those with more intelligence and the capacity to use it … are less likely to spend so much time socializing because they are focused on some other longer term objective,” she said…

But Kanazawa and Li’s savanna theory of happiness offers a different explanation. The idea starts with the premise that the human brain evolved to meet the demands of our ancestral environment on the African savanna, where the population density was akin to what you’d find today in, say, rural Alaska (less than one person per square kilometer). Take a brain evolved for that environment, plop it into today’s Manhattan (population density: 27,685 people per square kilometer), and you can see how you’d get some evolutionary friction.

Similarly with friendship: “Our ancestors lived as hunter–gatherers in small bands of about 150 individuals,” Kanazawa and Li explain…The typical human life has changed rapidly since then — back on the savanna we didn’t have cars or iPhones or processed food…and it’s quite possible that our biology hasn’t been able to evolve fast enough to keep up. As such, there may be a “mismatch” between what our brains and bodies are designed for, and the world most of us live in now…

There’s a twist, though, at least as Kanazawa and Li see it. Smarter people may be better equipped to deal with the new (at least from an evolutionary perspective) challenges present-day life throws at us. “More intelligent individuals, who possess higher levels of general intelligence and thus greater ability to solve evolutionarily novel problems, may face less difficulty in comprehending and dealing with evolutionarily novel entities and situations,” they write.

If you’re smarter and more able to adapt to things, you may have an easier time reconciling your evolutionary predispositions with the modern world. So living in a high-population area may have a smaller effect on your overall well-being — that’s what Kanazawa and Li found in their survey analysis. Similarly, smarter people may be better-equipped to jettison that whole hunter-gatherer social network — especially if they’re pursuing some loftier ambition.

RTFA. Interesting. I haven’t included all the details. And I haven’t found free access to the complete study.

Reflexive and positive response to the article in my household was as expected. My wife and I live as two hermits interacting with an enlarged world online. People in general, rarely. Everyone in our community knows us. We walk a lot. We wave at everyone as they drive by. They are our neighbors.

Poop power runs city vehicles in one Colorado town

Click to enlargePhoto/City of Grand Junction

No matter how you spin it, the business of raw sewage isn’t sexy. But in Colorado, the city of Grand Junction is making huge strides to reinvent their wastewater industry – and the result is like finding a diamond in the sludge.

The Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant is processing 8m gallons of Grand Junction’s human waste into renewable natural gas also known as biomethane. The RNG is then used to fuel about 40 fleet vehicles, including garbage trucks, street sweepers, dump trucks and transit buses.

It’s possible through a process called anaerobic digestion, which breaks down organic matter into something called raw biogas. The biogas is then collected and upgraded to RNG – at pipeline quality – and can be used as electricity, heat or transportation fuel.

Turning wastewater into biogas is not new in the US. For decades, biogas has been used for heating or to power generators and micro-turbines to produce electricity.

“But as far as we know, we are the only municipal wastewater facility in the nation producing biogas used as vehicle fuel,” said Dan Tonello, wastewater services manager for Grand Junction…

The environmental benefits are abundant for Grand Junction. According to Bret Guillory, utility engineer for the city, “we may be reducing greenhouse gases by as much as 60% to 80% … This is compared to the old process of flaring off the raw gas at the plant, and burning diesel and gasoline in some of our larger fleet equipment.”

Developed over 10 years, the project is worth $2.8m. The cost to produce and compress the RNG is around 80 cents per GGE, while it’s sold to the fleet department for $1.50 per GGE.

The project will pay for itself in around seven years,” Guillory said. “Not a bad return on the investment…”

Regardless of the source and use, greenhouse gas emissions decrease when fossil fuels (like natural gas) are replaced by RNG, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As well, methane from rotting waste that otherwise would have been absorbed into the atmosphere is now used as a renewable energy source.

RNG is practical because it can fuel anything that runs on natural gas. And according to the EPA, it’s also produced, transported and used in accordance with all the same rules as fossil natural gas.

I keep forwarding articles like this to the nearby city’s Wastewater Plant management. They have a steady supply-side stream from 60-70,000 citizens. They’ve installed a solar field which provides significant power. I’m confident they know about progressive systems like this. What I don’t know is whether the administrative structure is run by petty bureaucrats happy with a job and not interested in rocking the boat – or if operations are run by folks interested in change and progress.

I keep on trying.

BTW, if you ever wander through Grand Junction during late summer harvest season, check out every roadside stand you see for the best peaches in the Rockies.

Life in a banana republic-state

❝A Starkville, Mississippi, high school teacher has been cleared to return to the classroom after being suspended over a student’s vegetable-based presentation for how to properly put on a condom…

❝The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District released a statement on…saying…administrators had investigated the incident, and Sheree Ferguson would face “appropriate disciplinary action”. However, it did not say what that was or when she would return.❞

❝The district suspended Ferguson after a student in her English class on 12 November made a career presentation about becoming a sexologist and used a cucumber to demonstrate condom use.

❝State law prohibits any kind of demonstration of condom use during sex-education classes. In many districts, the classes teach abstinence only…❞

❝The announcement about Ferguson’s return to work was made after more than three dozen people marched outside Starkville High School on Friday morning to support her.

❝“You’ve got a bunch of really bright kids in there and they’re passionate about their teacher,” Roben Dawkins, the father of one of Ferguson’s students, told The Clarion-Ledger. “It’s their opinion it wasn’t the teachers fault, but she’s the one having to take responsibility for it in the long run.”❞

❝Camryn Dawkins, a Starkville High junior, told the Commercial Dispatch that she came up with the idea to protest Ferguson’s suspension and worked with senior Tyrese Kelly to get word out to students…

❝“I love Ms Ferg to death. Ms Ferg is the best English teacher I’ve ever had and we just wanted to take a stand as students for what we believe in.”❞

Of course, the students and their parents taking a stand against the 19th Century ideology that governs states like Mississippi is even more dangerous than the simple act of educating kids. The clown-show-Confederacy fears modern information and thought almost as much as democracy and equal opportunity.

Smoking rates in America the lowest in more than 50 years — but…

But smoking is increasingly a problem of the poor.

That’s according to newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that the percentage of adults who smoke cigarettes has continued to decline…21 percent of Americans smoked regularly in 2005 (about 45 million people), and in 2014 that number was down to 17 percent (about 40 million people):

It’s a remarkable shift. In 1964, when the surgeon general first began a public health campaign on cigarettes, nearly half of the adult population smoked.

But thanks to tobacco taxes, smoking bans, and public awareness campaigns, cigarette use has been on a downward trajectory for decades.

This major public health success story hasn’t been a total victory, either. Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US, contributing to some 480,000 early deaths and more than $300 billion in health care expenditures and productivity losses every year. The push to eradicate smoking has been especially slow going among poorer Americans.

Generally speaking, poorer Americans smoke at higher rates than wealthier Americans. The CDC shows this by looking at the relationship between insurance coverage and cigarette use.

People insured by Medicaid or those who are uninsured tend to be poorer, on average. In 2014, 29.1 percent of Medicaid recipients and 27.9 percent of the uninsured smoked. By contrast, only 12.9 percent of those with private insurance smoked.

Relatedly, education also makes a difference: Of adults with a graduate degree, only about 5 percent smoke. Meanwhile, about 25 percent of those who haven’t graduated high school smoke.

Of course, there are no smoking bans at Tea Party cell meetings.

Sex education is a human right — Erika Sánchez

When I was 17, I thought I might be pregnant. I had just fooled around with an acquaintance of mine, and my period was a few days late. Though there was no real penetration and fertilization was practically impossible, I convinced myself that I was carrying a fetus and that my life was over.

I took a pregnancy test. It came back negative, but I was still terrified. What if it was wrong? What if I had taken it too early? I frantically scoured the Internet for information. I was just a few months shy of my 18th birthday and learned that the law required my parents’ consent for an abortion. I knew I would never carry out a pregnancy at such a young age and that my conservative, immigrant parents would never agree to the procedure, so I considered my choices, which included traveling to a state without parental consent laws or asking my friend’s mom to take me to the clinic and pose as my own mother. On top of it all, I worried about the cost. I was hysterical — until I finally got my period.

This experience demonstrates how abysmal my sex education was. The overarching message that girls received in my high school health class was that if we had sex, we were going to get knocked up. Our school’s teen pregnancy rate was very high — we had a daycare full of students’ babies — so it seemed quite plausible to me…

What I needed was information and support, but I didn’t know where to turn. Unfortunately, our education system has not improved much since I was a teenager. Sex education continues to be under attack in the United States despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that a comprehensive curriculum can save young people’s lives. Teaching children about the importance of using condoms and getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, can keep them from making detrimental choices. Experts estimate that one person age 15 to 24 in the U.S. is infected with HIV every hour of every day. But while some developing countries such as Guatemala and Indonesia are taking important steps to improve their sex-education programs, our country keeps gutting them indiscriminately.

RTFA for the breadth of what Erika Sánchez has to say.

I think you and I know who is responsible for lousy education becoming worse. There is a broadly cast minority of Americans whose belief systems are rooted in ignorance, in a conviction that knowledge not only is forbidden fruit; but, a danger to stability and safety – to be prohibited. Only the guidance of some priest, pundit or politician is acceptable. Only rules formulated in the dark Ages can be trusted.

This defines a number of conservative currents in American ideology. They are embraced by fools.

500 million taxpayer dollar$ training Syrians to fight ISIS ain’t exactly a success

Is this part of their training?

Only four or five Syrian individuals trained by the United States military to confront the Islamic State remain in the fight, the head of the United States Central Command told a Senate panel on Wednesday, a bleak acknowledgment that the Defense Department’s $500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters has gone nowhere.

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the top American commander in the Middle East, also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States would not reach its goal of training 5,000 Syrian fighters anytime soon.

His comments came during a testy hearing in which a succession of senators from both parties criticized the American-led effort in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State, the Sunni militancy also known as ISIS or ISIL…

In May, the Defense Department began its training program for up to 5,400 fighters a year, in what White House officials described as a necessary component of President Obama’s strategy to use local troops on the ground against the Islamic State, combined with American air power.

…General Austin told the Senate committee that many fighters in the first class of 54 graduates of the training program for Syrians were attacked in July by an offshoot of Al Qaeda, the Nusra Front, and either fled or were killed…

He acknowledged that the program was behind schedule, and said that the military was reviewing it. Asked how many fighters were still in Syria, General Austin said that “it’s a small number.” He added, “We’re talking four or five.”…

“So we’re counting on our fingers and toes at this point when we had envisioned 5,400 by the end of the year,” Senator Claire McCaskill said.

Actually, we only need the fingers on one hand – or the toes on one foot.

$500 million for 4 or 5 fighters still in the game. Tell you what, Mr. President. I’ll need more than my social security check. Give me $100 million and I’ll go over and fight as an American civilian senior citizen.

Airfare, new military duds, snazzy firepower – I’d really like one of those $5000 sniper rifles – enough to hire a couple gangbangers to cover my butt.. I could get into action for less than $100K. I’d leave the rest of the money behind to fund education for school kids here in New Mexico. I’d fight for them.