Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Back in my day, we worked in the coal mine every morning before preschool. And we liked it!"

An excerpt from my book, a stand-alone piece of good news:

"Another benefit to globalization is the reduction in child labor, as parents become more prosperous and move away from agrarian work. In 1980, an average of 23% of ten to fourteen year old children in developing countries were working. By 2000, that number had dropped in half, to 12%. In China alone, those twenty years saw a drop from 30% of children laboring to a mere 8%. Remember, going back a century ago—let alone longer ago than that—many countries had a majority of their children out working in the fields."

It's impressive that economic growth in the past 30 years (yes, world growth from the past 30 years is still very net positive despite the current economic crisis) is perhaps even more impressive than recorded, when you factor in this removal of people from the labor force at the same time as the growth.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book is almost here!

I've been working around the clock (literally) to complete the publication of my book, The Secret Peace. This has been a 3-and-a-half-year process, and a really crazy ride sometimes. I'm proud to say that it's nearly complete, and that the book should be available by the end of the year.

Here's some promo text from the back cover of the book. It's a highlight of the main theme of the book. What's fun are some of the top pieces of "good news" that are included:

Recession. Afghanistan. Global warming. There's no doubt that countless dire crises consume the world. And yet, positive change is also all around us, under the media’s radar. Here is evidence of history’s true trend: a convincing picture of declining war, advancing health, equal rights, revolutionary technology, and more, including the surprising reasons why peace is unfolding. This powerful shift in perspective—not trite “positive thinking” but a realistic look at a hidden truth—is needed now more than ever. The Secret Peace isn’t an excuse to pat ourselves on the back, but a powerful call to action to step up our efforts to spread peace to all corners of the earth.

Did you know?

The world’s nuclear weapons have decreased by almost 75%.

Global life expectancy is 68 years and rising fast.

40% of people in Africa now own a mobile phone.

The world’s literacy rate is 83%.

The number of people killed in wars has been dropping for decades.

And wait until you hear the rest of the good news ...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jessica Alba is going to have more babies than you

My thesis with this blog is that everything in the world is getting better. Well, now we know that the human race is even getting more beautiful. In a valiant effort to verify our superficiality, researchers discovered that women rated as "attractive" tended to have 16 percent more children than everyone else, and more girls than boys. This adds up fairly quickly.

My most-likely-wrong math tells me that if we assumed 1% of the population was beautiful at some point in the past (a very conservative estimate) and reproducing at 1.16x the rate of everyone else, after 46 generations, you'd have more than 90% of the population beautiful. Let's say it's 25 years per generation, which means this would take a little more than 1,000 years. But, in the meantime, the most beautiful people out of the now slightly-more-beautiful pool are still reproducing faster. I would need some sort of statistics or calculus class at this point, but suffice to say, I imagine women are much more beautiful now than they were 1,000 or even 100 years ago. (And that's even ignoring the fact that everyone now is healthier, taller, bathes regularly, and has all their teeth.) Isn't this solid proof that the world is getting better?

And what about the other half of us humans? Handsome men showed no difference in their reproductive rates in the study, thus proving that no one really cares what men look like, and that we should just go ahead and wear sweatpants into the office every day. I laugh at the guys on Mad Men, with their slicked-back hair and their fancy ties. Suckers.

photo: Jessica Alba on her way to having 16% more babies than you.

source: "A planet full of Angelina Jolies," The Week, August 14, 2009, p. 22.

If anyone is gooder at math, chime in.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More good trends than you could possibly imagine fitting in only two paragraphs

Many alleged dangers in the West are secretly trending toward peace, despite everyday worries and media scares. Deaths by fire have declined 50 percent in twenty years, thanks to smoke alarms and other building safety measures. Teen pregnancy is way down in America, which is mostly due to increased birth control, not abortions; the teen abortion rate has been dropping significantly too, as has the overall number of abortions. In fact, the percentage of teenagers having sex has actually decreased over the years, and teens are waiting longer before having sex, not that you'd know it from a panicky media. As reported by The New York Times:

"There's no doubt that the public perception is that things are getting worse, and that kids are having sex younger and much wilder than they ever were," said Kathleen A. Bogle, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University. "But when you look at the data, that's not the case." … "I give presentations nationwide where I'm showing people that the virginity rate in college is higher than you think and the number of partners is lower than you think and hooking up more often than not does not mean intercourse," Dr. Bogle said. "But so many people think we're morally in trouble, in a downward spiral and teens are our of control. It's very difficult to convince people otherwise."

The rates of teens dropping out of high school, smoking, and drinking have also been declining for a decade. For example, the percentage of 12th-grade boys who reported binge drinking (having five or more alcoholic beverages in a row in the past two weeks) dropped from 52 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 2007; girls’ rates during that time dropped from 30 percent to 22 percent. Methamphetamine use in the U.S. has dropped significantly in the past few years; the proportion of 18-year-olds using the drug in the past year dropped by two-thirds since 1999, thanks mainly to education efforts. This success surprisingly curtailed a well-publicized growing crisis with crystal meth in rural America. The number of chronically homeless people in the U.S. dropped 30 percent in just two years, from 2005 to 2007, thanks to a new government “housing first” strategy. Traffic accidents—the leading cause of death among young adults—are dropping precipitously. Around 42,000 Americans died in car crashes in 2002, compared to 52,000 in 1970, even though the population density and number of cars rose dramatically. Workplace fatalities are down, too. Safer technology helps prevent accidents, and then our healthcare advances allow a higher number of those who do have accidents to pull through.

And trust me, there's a lot more good news where this came from!

PS. I have sources for all these, of course. If anyone's interested, let me know.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The 3 best pieces of news about trash you'll hear today

Recent awareness about waste over the last few decades, in the form of recycling, reusing products, and manufacturing better packaging, is paying off. As The Economist reports:

"… the pace at which the rich world churns out rubbish has been slowing. Between 1980 and 2000 the amount of waste produced by the OECD countries increased by an average of 2.5% a year. Between 2000 to 2005 the average growth rate slowed to 0.9% … well behind the rate of economic growth (2.2%)."

The way we get rid of the garbage we do produce might soon be radically changed, too. Lots of new, high-tech disposal methods are being developed. One particularly interesting one is called “plasma gasification,” and uses electricity to make plasma so powerful it can disintegrate any trash into its constituent molecules. We’re talking about banana peels, aluminum cans, dirty diapers, and even chemical weapons. The only output from that process is a black glass that can be used for many different types of construction and a synthetic gas that could be converted into fuel. Even more of a miracle, it’s self-sustaining: electricity gets it going, but then as long as you put in trash the plasma keeps on working.

More down-to-earth technology is partially responsible for the trend to less trash. As the computer age dawned, many people predicted a “paperless office”—but instead, as information was disseminated more easily, printing was in much higher demand. But it’s finally coming true. Since 2001, American office workers’ paper use has been in steady decline. A new generation is entering the workforce, one more comfortable with storing information on their computers, and increasingly, on the Internet. High-end paper remains in demand, for specialty uses such as printing photographs. But using paper for mundane tasks such as forms and memos is increasingly antiquated. Why risk losing a piece of paper when you can store something online, accessible to everyone and easily indexed and searchable? It’s now commonplace to pay bills online, file taxes online, and use Google to find restaurants—unused Yellow Pages books lie lonely in apartment building lobbies.

“Less is more,” The Economist, A Special Report on Waste, p. 16, February 28, 2009; Michael Behar, “The Prophet of Garbage,” Popular Science,, March 1, 2007; “Not dead, just resting,” The Economist, p. 18, October 11, 2008.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Freeman Dyson has some cool ideas

I'm a few weeks behind on posting because I'm planning my upcoming wedding, so sorry about that. This article appeared two weeks ago in the NYT magazine. Freeman Dyson is one of the world's foremost physicists and a famously creative thinker. He has some good ideas that parallel some of my thoughts in the Secret Peace.

For example, he says, "The purpose of thinking about the future is not to predict it but to raise people’s hopes.”

A large part of the article is about the environment, specifically global warming. Unlike the growing consensus, Dyson thinks global warming isn't a problem. He's not a denier; he knows it's happening, and knows it's man-made. He just doesn't think it will be a big problem, and that it's being blown out of proportion.

I totally agree. Global warming is real and is a problem, and if we had no other problems to worry about, global warming would be worth devoting all our resources to. But there are worse things in the world.

When people say global warming will have "bad" consequences, do they mean harmful to humans, or harmful to nature? I believe protecting nature is important, but humanity must take precedence. The wholesale slaughter of nature is useless and should be condemned, but as for preserving species and climates exactly as they are now, is that intrinsically necessary? Nature is ever-changing with or without us.

Helping the environment is not a bad thing, but I believe the motives to do so should dovetail with helping people. Improving air quality increases our health, developing new fuel sources will take oil money away from dictators, and so on.

Here's the logic:
  1. Global warming is only a potential problem, it's not a full-blown problem yet.
  2. It might not turn out to be as drastic as we think.
  3. even if it is drastic, it might be drastic in a good way.
  4. even if it is drastic and bad, though, we can find ways to deal with it.
  5. even if we can't deal with it, we have plenty of worse problems right now to deal with regardless. These problems are real, rather than potential; and more easily solvable, because we already have experience toward solving them.
Protecting the existing biosphere must take a back seat to addressing the evils of war, poverty, and inequality. These should demand our immediate attention.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's not easy to get nuclear weapons

I've got a section in my book about how it's much harder for terrorists to get nuclear weapons than you might think. Here's some more interesting info, from the New York Times: It's also really hard for countries to become nuclear.

This beautifully-designed diagram (click to see it bigger) shows how countries have influenced other countries' proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Very few countries have developed the bomb by themselves in a vacuum. Most have relied on shared information or espionage. Despite over 60 years of existence, only 9 countries have the bomb (represented by the circles above). Since its creation by the U.S., those other 8 countries relied on scientists that migrated or shared information legally or illegally.

Also, a surprising number of countries have started nuclear programs and then stopped: South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, Iraq, and Libya. (And former soviet republics Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine voluntarily gave up their weapons and transferred them to Russia.) These are the hexagons in the chart. Very few countries, in fact, even want nuclear weapons - they're expensive and draw too much heat from the international community.

The threat of nuclear proliferation is real - the boxes in the chart are Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Syria, which are all possibly working on weapons programs, and Iran is a major threat - but it's not an epidemic, as press articles may sometimes imply.