Thursday, December 23, 2010

200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes: Nothing more clearly demonstrates the story of progress than this exuberant Swedish guy

Hans Rosling begins this video by saying, "Having the data is not enough. I have to show it in ways that people both enjoy and understand." And boy, does he ever. Really, Rosling is amazing. Just watch this 4-minute video.

I can't think of a better way to encapsulate the gist of The Secret Peace than with this video. It clearly and creatively shows the progress of the world, at least in terms of two of the most compelling facets of the story, wealth and health.

Other facets are available on Rosling's web site, Gapminder. This is a list of indicators - a long list - that includes everything from countries' birth rate, to unemployment, to the average marriage age, to cell phone adoption, to working hours. On any of them, by selecting "Visualize", you have control to move the slider and advance forward and back through the decades at a whiz, watching the countries of the world dance like carbonation, all slowly drifting toward peace.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What is the secret to happiness?

I didn't write The Secret Peace to try to make everyone happier. I did it to reveal information that I think is the truth; as a corrective to a common sense view and media perspective that I think is incorrect because it is too pessimistic. If my research had revealed that the media is often too optimistic, I would have written in the opposite direction. Thankfully, it didn't.

Nevertheless, if world peace is the goal, and one way to define that is a world where everyone is happy, it's certainly worthwhile to work toward our own and others' happiness. Lots of good research is coming out now (some of it counter-intuitive) that is finally shedding a light on just what makes us happy, and author Dan Buettner is at the forefront of it.

Listen to this 6-minute clip of Dan being interviewed on NPR. He's traveled to some of the happiest places on earth to discover their secrets: the security of Singapore, the tolerance and humility of Denmark, and the good weather and environmental consciousness of San Luis Obispo. In all the places, researchers have discovered that things like socializing, less commuting, getting married, and spending money on experiences rather than objects tend to make people happier. Listen to the interview for more great obvious-in-hindsight advice on happiness.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Secret Peace is now available on the Kindle!

The Secret Peace reveals the hidden history of current events: that the world is heading toward peace, believe it or not. Now you can find out all the good news on your Kindle, iPad, iPhone, and more!

Buy the Kindle edition on

And if you prefer good ol'-fashioned paper books, follow the link below to Amazon. (Makes a great, uplifting gift for the holidays, too!)

Buy the Book on

Read the book already?

If you liked it (or even if you didn't, but you have some useful feedback), why not add a review on Amazon? It only takes a minute and it's much appreciated. The link below goes directly to the review page; you can just start typing.

Write a review on Amazon

- Jesse

Friday, November 26, 2010

What would you rather be in: a war or a car?

Military deaths are a controversial subject in any country, at any time. I talk about them in my book; how the types of wars we're fighting nowadays are generally less fatal than in the past. I found some interesting numbers that relate to that in Superfreakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

They write than from 2002 to 2008 (the book is from 2009), there were an average of 1,643 active military personal deaths a year. Weirdly, if you look at the mid-1980s, when we weren't fighting any active wars, there were more than 2,100 military deaths per year. Why? Well, the military is actually smaller now, and we also have better medical care, so more people with injuries survive. But also, it seems that the accidental death rate back then was higher than the death rate by hostile fire now. Strange.

US military casualties
Looking at the chart I made here (click on it to see it larger), with the most recent wars at top, you can see just how few casualties we've had recently when compared to some of our conflicts in the past. In fact, both the current Afghan war and the first Gulf War in 1991 have too few deaths for Excel to even generate a bar for them. (Of course, none of these numbers take into account the other side of the conflict, including their civilians. The Civil War number is so high in part because both sides of the war are included, and it took place on U.S. soil (which few wars have) so civilians were killed, too.)
This information is all incredibly useful so that we can keep these conflicts in perspective when debating their merits. Here's another interesting tidbit from Superfreakonomics: Since 1982, about 42,000 active U.S. military personnel have been killed - roughly the same number of Americans who die in traffic accidents every year. So maybe the best lifesaving bang for our tax buck would be to pull everyone out of Iraq and Afghanistan and put all that money into making tons of safe public transportation instead.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Presenting the Future of Peace

I had the privilege of giving a talk a few months ago on "The Future of Peace." I forgot to post it to the site, but I had a few requests, so here it is. Download the PPS file. I tried to make the slideshow short, fun, and to the point. Some sample slides:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good riddance, Rinderpest

This was reported in Futurific Leading Indicators, an extremely expensive report I subscribe to that is well worth it for its use of the word futurific alone:

"In only the second elimination of a disease in history [smallpox famously being the other, in 1980], rinderpest - a virus that used to kill cattle by the millions, leading to famine and death among humans - has been declared wiped off the face of the earth. Rinderpest, which means "cattle plague" in German, does not infect humans … but for millennia in Asia, Europe and Africa it wiped out cattle, water buffalo, yaks and other animals needed for meat, milk, plowing and cart-pulling."

"The official ceremony in which the World Organization for Animal Health will declare the world rinderpest-free is scheduled for May. (That organization … was created in 1929 chiefly to fight rinderpest.) … 'This is something the entire global community can be proud of,' said Dr. William R. White, director of the United States Department of Agriculture's foreign animal disease diagnostic laboratory on Plum Island, New York."

This image should help you visualize rinderpest. Unfortunately, in real life, it looks much more boring: you can see it here on Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A single chart of the world economy

Yesterday we looked at a bunch of complex charts about the Millennium Development Goals, so today I thought I'd simplify it and just post one simple chart I found in The Economist. This reassuring line dips drastically during our global recession, but can now be seen having bounced completely back.

Note that the key element here is the depiction of global GDP, not just the U.S. Our economy is certainly not quite that strong yet. But we're doing ok, all things considered. Just read what Warren Buffett had to say in this adorable op-ed in the New York Times yesterday. He praises "Uncle Sam" for saving us from a much worse downturn: "overall, your actions were remarkably effective." Check it out here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hey, how are the Millennium Development Goals doing?

Since we're just about done 1% of the new millennium, I thought it'd be a good time to check in with the Millennium Development Goals. These are the goals that all UN member states have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. There are eight goals, and while progress has been mixed, some countries have made remarkable progress, and many have even already surpassed their goals, five years early.

For example, in 1990, 77 percent of the world was using an "improved" water source, but now it's up to 87 percent, close to the MD Goal of 88 percent. And, in the chart below, you can see the progress each region of the world has made towards reducing the infant mortality rate (under-five, actually). Every region shows significant progress, with even Sub-Saharan Africa, the notable straggler here, still reducing their number from 184 (per 1,000 births) in 1990 to 144 today, a 21 percent reduction.

Or look at the number of people living with HIV today, as shown in another chart from the MDG 2010 Report. That number is still rising, but since the number of newly-infected people has been dropping quickly, this is due in part to fewer people dying of the disease. All 3 trends are illustrated in the chart below.

Lastly, let's look at the big one: the world's poor, measured in the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day. At least 15 poor countries, many in East Asia and Southeast Asia, have already met their 2015 goals, due to the drastic poverty reduction in China and other countries. Other regions are progressing strongly as well, with only Western Asia and Russia seeing setbacks. If we look at the developing world overall, we see that 46 percent of the population lived in extreme poverty in 1990, but by 2005 that had been reduced to 27 percent, nearly meeting the MD Goal already.

You can see more of these charts on Wikipedia here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Again, trust your neighbors: trick-or-treating is safe

This topic is a perennial pet peeve of mine, and I mention it in my book. It parallels my last post (about Kitty Genovese), as another example of misinformation that leads to less trust in society and a more pessimistic worldview than is warranted.

This article in the Daily Herald, "Schaumburg Halloween candy tampering a hoax, police say", is about a 16-year-old boy who, to get attention, stuck a needle in his own Halloween candy and claimed he found it there.

The article runs along fine until the last paragraph, which states:

"According to websites like and, true incidents of trick-or-treat candy tampering and other related examples of “Halloween sadism” have been documented and, while rare, are not urban legends as they’re sometimes claimed to be."

Which is wrong. If you go to Snopes and look up Halloween poisonings, a big red circle is sitting next to a very clear "FALSE".

I recommend the Snopes article to everyone; I won't repeat all its details here. It lists several incidents, but none fit the story of neighbors inserting needles or poison or razor blades into candy and them giving them out for Halloween. The story has been around for 50 years, and is simply not true.

I think it's amazing that the Daily Herald article itself is about a hoax (it even clearly says "hoax" in the title), and they are aware of and even mention it, and yet still can not give up the belief that Halloween poisonings are real. It's like they threw "" in there without anyone clicking through and actually reading it.

It's sad that it's so difficult for us to believe people wouldn't poison kids. As I said in my last post, trust your neighbors a little more. They're not as bad as you think.

Update: Ok, there is a second Snopes article here that focuses on needles, not poison. It's weird that there would be two separate articles on this. Nevertheless, it seems like many more cases involving pins and needles have been documented than poison. However, most were revealed to be hoaxes, with the exception of one event in Minneapolis in 2000. No one was hurt.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trust your neighbors; if you were being murdered they would probably help you

Have any of you, like me, had to sit through a Sociology class in which they discussed the 1964 Kitty Genovese murder? Or, maybe you've seen one of the estimated 1,000 books, articles, or documentaries about the case? (Alan Moore used it as part of his vicious vigilante Rorschach's motivation in Watchmen.) If you're old enough to remember it, perhaps you read the infamous front-page New York Times article that kicked off the nationwide media frenzy. It started:

"For more than half an hour, thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens."

It's no exaggeration to say that this story had far-reaching effects on the American psyche for decades to follow. The crime didn't matter, but the fact that 38 people watched it, with either the classic apathy of "I didn't want to get involved" (the famous quote from one of the witnesses), or worse, a sick voyeuristic glee, well, that shocked the world. Nothing better encapsulated the feeling of traditional American values coming apart at the seams. Nothing better expressed the fears of rising crime, the obvious dehumanizing consequences of urban living, and the just-plain-nastiness of New Yorkers, to boot. As Jim Rasenburger describes in American Heritage,

"The Times article detonated on breakfast tables, then mushroomed into an expanding cloud of gloom. Newspapers disseminated the story across the country. The 38 witnesses were roundly and personally vilified, but to those in the business of worrying about such things, their actions—or rather, inactions—reflected a broad crisis in American society. As clergymen decried the incident from their Sunday pulpits, politicians spoke gravely of the country’s moral lethargy. Mike Wallace broadcast a CBS radio special called “The Apathetic American.” Loudon Wainwright concluded in Life magazine that Americans were “becoming a callous, chickenhearted and immoral people.”"

So, naturally, it's not true. In recent years, several people have stepped up to point out the inconsistencies in this tale. The mistakes include:

  1. There weren't 38 "eyewitnesses", as the article claimed. There were perhaps 7 or so. There were several more "earwitnesses" who heard various bits and pieces, but even they don't add up to 38 people.

  2. One reason that there weren't more witnesses was that the attack happened at 3:20 in the morning. Most of Kitty's neighbors were asleep.

  3. The article was based on an error-filled police report. For example, there were actually two attacks, not three.

  4. The first attack took place in view of some windows, but from far away (and in the dark), it appeared to witnesses to be a domestic dispute. The woman walked away on her own, and her staggering appeared to be drunkenness.

  5. Only one witness ever saw the knife.

  6. The second attack took place shortly thereafter, when the murderer caught up to Kitty in a foyer-type space in the back of a building, out of the line of sight of anyone.

  7. There was no 9-1-1 emergency line in 1964, so calling the police meant waiting for the operator to connect you. In fact, perhaps the only good thing to come out of the aftermath of the inflated media coverage of the Genovese murder was more support for establishing 9-1-1, in 1968.

  8. Nevertheless, at least one person did call the police, and possibly several. The police arrived later than they should, but they arrived.

  9. The article claimed that the police didn't arrive until after Kitty's death. In reality, she died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

  10. Kitty's murderer was caught several days later when a Corona (another Queens neighborhood) man saw someone acting suspiciously and called the police. Yeah.

So instead of 38 people watching Kitty die, we get a handful of people, some of whom called the police and some of whom probably should have, but didn't. Their inaction probably wasn't due to apathy but confusion. For example, our upstairs neighbors here fight all the time, and we can hear them yell. I've called the police on more than one occasion, but not every time. You have to make a judgment call and only report something if you think the seriousness or violence warrants it. Perhaps over the years of living in apartments in the city, there have been sounds in the night that I half-sleepingly heard that were actually crimes but I never reported. How responsible should I feel for that?

Reading about the fallacies in the Genovese story got me madder than usual, really struck home. It's because this story is one of those rare events that becomes a public myth, much larger than itself. It warps people's perspectives for years, even decades, and no amount of mitigating caveats and dry counter-statistics can change the mind of someone won over by the visceral impact, the resonance, of the myth.

(Perhaps it's hitting home because I used to work for Meetup, a site that brings people together in community groups and is thus dependent on social capital and neighborly trust. So, trying to grow the site including trying to get people to abandon irrational fears of their neighbors. People often left comments after Meetups expressing surprise at how "friendly" and "normal" the attendees were, revealing their low expectations.)

How different would Americans have felt - still feel - about the neighborhood of Kew Gardens, about Queens, about New Yorkers, about city living, about their own neighbors, about humanity, had that article not been published? It's impossible to know how many subtle demographic and social trends would have turned out differently. And when trust disappears and social capital erodes, it turns these negative myths into self-fulfilling prophecies that then take decades of hard work of community-building to overcome.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Are we in a cultural golden age right now?!?

Are we living in a cultural golden age? Since this is a blog about positive trends, you've probably guessed I'm going to say the answer is Yes. I go into it quite a bit in The Secret Peace book, a lot of which is based on Steven Johnson's work in Everything Bad is Good For You. I'm revisiting it again here because I just found this interesting article in the A. V. Club, in which Leonard Pierce delves deeply into the issue.

Pierce's main concern is not whether or not we're living in a cultural golden age - to him, as to me, it's just obvious we are. ("… the older I got, the less patience I had for the retro-minded bores of every age who bitched and moaned about how nothing was as good as it was during the years when they just happened to be in college.") His concern seems to be why people don't believe it. After all, "With communications technology, increased globalism, and the seemingly endless proliferation of the Internet, it literally has never been easier to listen to any kind of music, watch any kind of movie, read any kind of literature, or experience any kind of culture you choose. Films that only two decades ago were almost impossible to see outside of big-city festivals or film schools can now show up in your mailbox within a day or two of a request for them. Television shows—in what even the jaded admit is a golden age of television—can now be watched in a variety of ways at almost any time, often without advertising. Technology has made rare books less rare, cult comics less cultish, and global culture more local."

He comes up with some really thoughtful explanations for why it's hard for people to believe we have it good nowadays. Check out the article to find out what they are.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Majority of world now educated

The WorldWatch Institute reports that educational attainment is steadily rising worldwide. In 2010, worldwide, over 61 percent of adults (15 and older) finished at least some secondary school (high school) during their lifetimes. This had been 36 percent back in 1970 and 50 percent as recently as 1990 (see chart I made.) This leaves now only about 1 in 10 adult males and 1 in 5 adult females worldwide who have had no schooling whatsoever.

Besides the fact that education should be considered an a priori good in and of itself, rising levels of education help push forward so many other secret peace trends. As I mentioned in a recent post, I believe a major force pushing peace forward is the spread of information to a wider base of people. With more information in the world, and more people able to access it and understand it, those people are also now able to process it and generate their own new knowledge, contributing to the virtuous cycle.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wear your seat belt!

I never thought I'd be writing this, because I am decidedly not a car person. I moved to NYC and got rid of my car seven years ago because I hate to drive. And a few months ago my wife had her foot run over by a van! Nevertheless, I just got around to reading Superfreakonomics (which was a great read, and, not surprisingly, is being flagged by spellcheck here), and it has some nuggets of positive news about driving.

Nearly 40,000 people died in U.S. traffic accidents in 1950, it says. That's roughly the same number as today, but that masks the good news, which is that we drive a lot more today and there are a lot more cars on the road. So the rate has dropped: the rate of death per mile driven was five times higher in 1950 than it is today.

Seat belts are a huge part of that, and the book describes how Robert McNamara (yes, that Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense one) was the person at Ford who pushed for them originally. Prior to that, they were used in airplanes, but no one had thought to put them in cars. However, turns out it's much easier to install seat belts than it is to get people to wear them, and for decades, they didn't. But the rate of people wearing their seat belts in the U.S. has risen from 11% in the 1970s to 21% in the mid-1980s, 61% in the mid 1990s, and over 80% today. It's estimated that seat belts reduce the risk of death in an accident by as much as 70%; since 1975 they have saved about 250,000 lives. Each seat belt costs about $25 to put in a car, making them one of the most cost-effective lifesaving devices ever invented.

PS> Btw, if we go back even farther in time, transportation was even more dangerous. In 1900, for example, horse accidents killed 200 New Yorkers, 1 in every 17,000 residents. And that's not taking into consideration diseases spread by widespread horse dung (200,000 horses in NYC meant 5 million pounds of horse manure a day.) In 2007, 274 New Yorkers died in car accidents, but with more people that works out to only 1 in every 30,000 residents.

Monday, September 6, 2010

New buses revolutionize my street

We live in Manhattan between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Over the last two months or so, the city has repaved and repainted those two streets, and it's all part of a big experiment to revolutionize the city's bus system. I read about it in this New York Magazine article.

See, it's simply too expensive and time-consuming to work on the subways now, unfortunately, but the buses are super cheap by comparison, offering great return on transit investment. Recently, cities around the world, such as London and Bogotá, have had a lot of success revamping their bus systems. So New York is trying it out in a few places, including these two avenues now. "These, along with the Bx12 line in the Bronx, are being promoted as trial programs for what [MTA head Jay Walder] hopes will be, by the end of his tenure, a reconfiguration of the city’s streets. 'When the city adopts a world-class ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ system, people are going to have a tough time, efficiency-wise, telling a bus apart from a subway—it’s going to be like a subway with a view,' predicts Kyle Wiswall, general counsel for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign." Here are some of the great ideas they're implementing:

  1. The buses have their own dedicated lanes, reserved exclusively for them, which really improves the overall speed.

  2. New buses are built lower to the ground, making them easier to board and thus speeding up boarding times. They also have two entrances.

  3. You pay before you board, from a vending machine that gives you a receipt.

  4. Bus shelters are larger and hold more people.

  5. Soon, buses will be equipped with signal priority, meaning they can keep traffic lights green as they approach.

  6. There are new exclusive bike lanes, too, and parking has been moved to the other side of them (meaning, curb, bike lane, parking, car driving lanes, bus lane.) So, parked cars form a buffer between the bike lane and the rest of the traffic, which is much safer.

I'm anxious to see how this works and hope it's successful enough to be implemented elsewhere in the city soon. My alternative is waiting for the Second Avenue Subway, which was first proposed in 1929 and still not due to open (in part) till 2016. Until then, I'll happily take the bus.

Photo: You can see the new First Avenue includes speed boosts!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The economic crisis reveals clues to pushing the secret peace forward

I just finished reading The Big Short, Michael Lewis's account of the subprime mortgage crisis from the perspective of the few rare people who saw it coming and bet on it, shorting the market and eventually making lots of money. It is brilliantly written and fun to read, highly recommended. Listen to this passage, in which he describes one group of those rare investors starting their investigation:

"Typically when they entered a new market - because they'd found some potential accident waiting to happen that seemed worth betting on - they found an expert to serve as a jungle guide. This market was so far removed from their experience that it took them longer than usual to find help. ... Eventually they figured out that language served a different purpose inside the bond market than it did in the outside world. Bond market terminology was designed less to convey meaning than to bewilder outsiders. Overpriced bonds were not "expensive"; overpriced bonds were "rich", which almost made them sound like something you should buy. The floors of subprime mortgage bonds were not called floors - or anything else than might lead the bond buyer to form any sort of concrete image in his mind - but tranches. The bottom tranche - the risky ground floor - was not called the ground floor but the mezzanine, or the mezz, which made it sound less like a dangerous investment and more like a highly prized seat in a domed stadium. A CDO composed of nothing but the riskiest, mezzanine layer of subprime mortgages was not called a subprime-backed CDO but a "structured finance CDO." "There was so much confusion about the different terms," said Charlie. "In the course of trying to figure it out, we realize that there's a reason why it doesn't quite make sense to us. It's because it doesn't quite make sense." ... The subprime market had a special talent for obscuring what needed to be clarified."

If the secret peace were half of a vast historical Manichean struggle, that paragraph would be a perfect description of its evil dark half. In the book, I claim that the main force pushing civilization closer to peace is the snowballing spread of information. If that's true, then theoretically anything that hinders the free flow of information is detrimental to the cause of peace. And here we see a perfect example. The obfuscation described above was a huge contributing factor to the entire economic crisis.

Other examples abound. My wife and I are constantly surprised at how difficult it is to navigate the health insurance system; that's a sign that it was intentionally created that way. For the same reason, some stores make it hard to find prices on products, and some web sites make it hard to unsubscribe from newsletters. These are, sadly, often not accidents or signs of bad design; they are signs of skillful design, at least from the point of view of evil.

But the whole theory of the secret peace is that the good news is outweighing the bad. And that means there are more instances now of people sharing information and being transparent than in the past. So I'll leave you with two quick examples from the NY Times:

Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer’s
By Gina Kolata

"In 2003, a group of scientists and executives from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the drug and medical-imaging industries, universities and nonprofit groups joined in a project that experts say had no precedent: a collaborative effort to find the biological markers that show the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the human brain. Now, the effort is bearing fruit with a wealth of recent scientific papers on the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s using methods like PET scans and tests of spinal fluid. More than 100 studies are under way to test drugs that might slow or stop the disease. And the collaboration is already serving as a model for similar efforts against Parkinson’s disease."

In a Twist, Nonprofits Review Technology Failures
By Stephanie Strom

"Technology’s potential to bring about social good is widely extolled, but its failures, until now, have rarely been discussed by nonprofits who deploy it. The experience in Guyana might never have come to light without FailFaire, a recurring party whose participants revel in revealing technology’s shortcomings. ... Behind the events is a Manhattan-based nonprofit group, MobileActive, a network of people and organizations trying to improve the lives of the poor through technology. Its members hope light-hearted examinations of failures will turn into learning experiences — and prevent others from making the same mistakes."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crime STILL dropping, despite recession

USA Today: the FBI announced that "violent crime dropped 5.5% last year despite a deep recession that has made millions desperate. It was the third such drop in a row and a continuation of the downward trend going on for almost 20 years. News coverage of the event was perfunctory, the political posturing minimal."

Common sense says that crime would go up when the economy's bad, right? But, "As the Great Recession demonstrates, losing a job doesn't suddenly turn law-abiding people into criminals." Violent crime has dropped more than 40 percent from its peak in the early 1990s.

This raises two questions: Why is crime so low? And, why don't people know it?

As to why crime is so low, there are many theories. From what I've read, I tend to think the three largest contributing factors (there are probably many) are better policing methods, better anti-crime technology (more video cameras, for example, and easier ways to find stolen cars), and more people in prison. Incarcerating a record number of people causes other problems, though, which I get into more in the Secret Peace book.

And why don't people know about the low crime rate? Why do some of mine and my wife's relatives still fear that when we walk around New York City at night, we are really walking around New York City circa 1975? Probably for the same reason everyone doesn't know other Secret Peace trends, too - they're gradual and less easily conceived of as compelling news stories. Here's hoping that word spreads, since having low crime but still living in fear is no fun at all, and diminishes the hard work that the police and others put into getting us here over the last few decades.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Forty billionaires donate to charity instead of buying panda chairs

This weekend, while furniture shopping in SoHo for my friend, we saw a chair made out of stuffed panda toys. The price tag? $75,000. The rich really are different - and by different, I mean crazy.

But maybe not all of them. Last week, Warren Buffet announced that 40 wealthy individuals and families have signed on to the Giving Pledge, a project he started with Bill and Melinda Gates. This means those rich folks will be giving away more than 50 percent of their wealth (in some cases, much more.)

As this Daily Finance article describes, "Each person who chooses to pledge the bulk of their wealth to charitable causes will make this statement publicly, along with a letter explaining their decision. The Giving Pledge is a moral commitment to give, not a legal contract. It does not involve pooling money or supporting a particular set of causes or organizations. At an annual event, those who take the pledge will come together to share ideas and learn from each other."

The list includes Mayor Bloomberg, Pierre Omidyar, Ted Turner, Paul Allen, and Barry Diller (who is of special interest to me since I just started working for his company, IAC.)

Of course, some pundits must look at everything, even these charitable acts, through a polarized political spectrum. Evan Newmark ( suspects that Buffet is providing cover for President Obama to raise taxes (aka let the Bush tax cuts expire) by reminding us how rich the rich still are. This seems like a stretch. Steven Perlstein points out in The Washington Post that theoretically, these donations actually reinforce "trickle down" theories and make the case that private donations can be more effective than government spending. He thinks that those people donating should focus instead on just paying their full taxes, since the mega-rich often have an easier time dodging their fair share, and the money spent is also then (ideally) accountable to citizens.

But I did a lot of research into Buffet's and the Gates' charitable histories and motivations for my book, and I'm choosing to look at this a lot less cynically. Nothing is forcing these uber-rich people to donate; they could be wasting money on panda chairs. These billionaires all have their own individual reasons and made this commitment as a personal choice. Good for them, and hopefully this continues to set a great example for others.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

"The battle for gay rights has been won" ... somewhat

"The battle for gay rights has been won" ... well, in Britain anyway, as described by Julian Glover in The Guardian, which I read reprinted in The Week. He concludes that since Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, hosted a big Downing Street reception for "lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender Britain", no single party can now claim to be the natural home of the gay vote. Gays do continue to face some discrimination, but "the fact that someone is gay or lesbian need no longer be their primary defining characteristic."

Public opinion is shifting in America, too. Despite frequent headlines over the past few years about controversy over gay marriage, Americans are becoming more receptive to almost every other issue regarding gay rights. For example, in May, one poll found that 78 percent of Americans would like to see the ban on openly gay soldiers lifted (compare this to a much more closely divided split in the 1990s on the issue.)

In related news, Argentina recently became the first country in Latin America to legalise same-sex marriage, after fierce debate. Actually, it's only the 10th country to do so worldwide (along with Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and some parts of Mexico and the US), although another 20 countries perform civil unions, and they are recognized in a growing number of other places, too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shareable interview and IndieReader

Hey everyone,

Thought you'd be interested in this recent interview on The Speed of Good Trends. Rachel Botsman (co-author with Roo Rogers of What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption) was kind enough to interview me about The Secret Peace, and came up with some excellent thought-provoking questions. ("It's 2020, how do you think technology will have transformed democracy?" is a good example.)

The book is also now available for sale on IndieReader. if you're reading this, I'm sure you own a copy of my book already, but browse IndieReader for a great variety of books. Each book is vetted and reviewed on the site to ensure quality, and I got a very nice staff review from Kathryn Livingston. Check it out here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wow, Hiroshima is doing great! ... Or is it?

I received the following email forward from a friend. Follow along with me and you can practically smell my skepticism:


(All caps - already a good sign.)


(Comic Sans, giant font … even better.)

What happened to the radiation that's supposed to last thousands of years?? ... What's The Death Rate? ...

(Are these questions meant to be rhetorical? Sarcastic? A few additional sentences would have helped indicate this was written by someone who can string thoughts together coherently.)


(Now imagine those 3 photos all much larger but completely mismatched sizes.)

We all know that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed in August 1945 after explosion of atomic bombs.

(Almost a grammatically correct sentence.)

However, we know little about the progress made by the people of that land during the past 64 years.

(Yeah, what have the Japanese been up to, anyway? Last I heard from them, some farmers had asked me to come help their tiny feudal village with a bandit problem. It's certainly not like they're the world's 3rd-largest economy or anything.)


(Imagine 9 similar photos there, all of the same glittery cotton-candy Tron Vegas wonderland city of the future. Incredibly beautiful photography.)

So, what to do with that? If true, it is awesome, and I could write a Secret Peace blog post about the good news. But, all signs pointed to hoax. So, I looked it up on Nothing. Good sign (I can't recall Snopes ever failing me before), but I couldn't believe it, so I kept Googling increasingly specific sentences from the email, and sure enough, there was a site debunking it.

It's a hoax: the present-day photos are actually from the city of Yokohama (Japan's 2nd-largest city.)

It's always difficult to discern the motives of hoaxsters. Is the goal here just to make us feel better as Americans in case we have any lingering guilt over being the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon? I mean, it was 65 years ago; myself and most other readers certainly didn't have anything to do with it personally (although it did happen on my birthday.) The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki aren't the most controversial American historical events by far; people may be conflicted about Afghanistan now, or the Vietnam War, but WWII remains fairly non-divisive here.

At any rate, whatever the reasons, the fact remains that's it's a hoax, so there's no Secret Peace news here, right?

I thought so at first, but then I realized several positive ironies I want to point out.

First, why not use an example that's real? How about Tokyo? As Wikipedia puts it, "The bombing of Tokyo in 1944 and 1945, with 75,000 to 200,000 killed and half of the city destroyed, was almost as devastating as the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined." And now Tokyo is inarguably one of the world's largest and most impressive cities. (We know the answer to why they didn't use Tokyo: it's because most Americans aren't familiar with its bombing, and nuclear bombs are more dramatic and compelling.)

Second, Yokohama is still real. Those are still real photos in the email forward. Look at this one:

Nice, right? Hey, even after getting nuked, the "people of that land" (ugh) managed to build this awesome city. Why is that less of an achievement because it happens to be 400 miles east of Hiroshima?

Third, and most ironic of all, I looked up Hiroshima. I would love to find out firsthand what it's like - please chime in if anyone has been there in person - but from what I can tell from Wikipedia and elsewhere, it's a perfectly nice city.

More modest than Yokohama, but wow, what a beautiful place. In other words, the original post could have been 100 percent correct, but they had to overshoot their mark and go for the flashier photos. If I were a Hiroshimian, I'd be offended that they skipped over the hard work I did rebuilding my real city and showcased the gaudy theme park of my neighbor to the east.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stupid, stupid terrorists!

An article in The Atlantic this month by Daniel Byman and Christine Fair makes the case that terrorists are, well, stupid. In general, most of their plots are small in scope and even those fail. They're essentially a ragtag bunch of fumbling morons - lucky for us.

I think this might be overstating it a bit - click through and read the comments after the article for a good debate - but it reminded me that I do make a related argument in my book. It's useful to remind ourselves that terrorists, by definition, are not as powerful as we think they are, or as powerful as they claim to be. (The entire reason to use terrorist tactics is because you're not strong enough to use conventional tactics.) So, our fears of terrorism and the reactions we've been taking as a country are practically guaranteed to be overblown.

Of course, you can counter with this argument: better safe than sorry, right? Better to overdo it than to be unprepared.

Not a bad point of course, but nevertheless, keeping the War on Terror expansive does have the nasty side effect of playing right into the terrorists' hands in terms of messaging. Treating them as powerful warriors makes them feel as such, and makes more recruitment possible.

A better attitude? Treat them as petty criminal scum. Vandals, not soldiers. A type of (loosely) organized crime, not a righteous army. The sort of group you'd have to be a nitwit to join up with.

(The Secret Peace delves into this in a lot more detail (hint, hint.))

Image by Frank Stockton

Monday, June 7, 2010

More Improvements in Global Health

The Health chapter is perhaps the least controversial in my book. It's easy to see how much global health is improving, especially over the long term - the last 100 years, say. Here's another tidbit to add to the list.

A new report revises down the estimates of the number of infants that die every year. An article in the Economist focuses on how this new way of reporting contrasts with past methods, notably the UN's. Some organizations are upset because they feel that if the public thinks that this issue is improving, they'll stop donating, even though obviously there is still a lot of work to be done. That would be a shame if that happened ... you would think it would instead be a good opportunity to say, "Look, what we're doing is working! Keep it up! Donate more and let's beat this."

The irony is that regardless of which statistical method you prefer, the trend is pretty straightforward. Check out this chart I made.

What's even crazier is that this huge decrease is happening while the total world population is still increasing*, making it an even larger success in terms of percentage.

* And no, the world's population growth isn't a big problem. It's slowing down. I talk about that quite a bit in the book.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thanks again for the book launch!

Thanks again to everyone who came out a week ago to show their support for my newly released book, The Secret Peace. We were at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum Bookstore, with over 80 people in attendance! So great to see you all and get to share the joy of the book with you.

I put together a little video of the best photos and videos of the event. Take a look (you might be in it.)

Thanks! Jesse

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Secret Peace: Book Launch Party today

Stop by this evening and celebrate the release of my first book, The Secret Peace! Contrary to the picture above, there won't be fireworks, but there will be wine and snacks, and I'll be selling and signing copies of the book. Have fun mingling and show your support for the result of four hard years of research and writing! (Purchasing a book is optional, but encouraged. If you already have one, bring it and I'll sign it!)

Friday, April 23, 2010 - 7:00-9:00 pm
New York City Tenement Museum Bookstore
108 Orchard Street, Lower East Side, NYC

The Tenement Museum demonstrates a perfect example of the main thesis of the book - that the world is getting better and world history is advancing toward peace. One hundred years ago, so many people in this city lived in squalor unimaginable to us today. The Secret Peace reminds us to be thankful for what we have and to appreciate how far we've come - and then to work harder to spread peace and prosperity to the areas of the world still in need of help.

Feel free to just come by. Guests are welcome, too!

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thanks to Classics Book Store!

My wife Rachel and I traveled down to NJ on Friday so I could do a book signing at Classics Book Store, on scenic Warren Street in Trenton. It was a beautiful day and we set up a table outside.

I sold a bunch of books, we got to chat with some passersby as well as some of our friends who stopped by, and perhaps coolest of all, Rachel handed out almost 300 Secret Peace bookmarks to people. (Turns out everyone walking by was super friendly and polite, and most of them took bookmarks. I guess they don't get as many people handing out things on the street there, like us jaded New Yorkers.)

I want to thank everyone who came by, everyone who bought a book, and especially the kind folks at Classics Books!

Eric, from Classics Books

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Breaking news: Earth not sucked into black hole

From The Week, April 9, 2010:

"World doesn't end: After months of delay, the Large Hadron Collider finally revved into action this week, smashing subatomic particles together at close to the speed of light in a simulation of the Big Bang. The LHC, the world's largest particle accelerator, is a 17-mile-long underground ring that cost $10 billion to build. ... Rolf-Dieter Heuer, head of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which operates the collider, says it will usher in, 'a new period of discovery in the history of mankind.' A few alarmists ... had theorized that the collider could produce a black hole that would swallow Earth and kill all 6.8 billion inhabitants. So far, that has not happened."

There's at least one post-apocalyptic fear debunked. Expect a similar blog post from me on December 22, 2012.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Saved by the Bell: The Secret Peace years

I had the honor two days ago of being invited to speak at Princeton Day School to high school seniors about my book, careers and general life tidbits. They are in a class that is meant to get them thinking big-picture about their goals in life, including making a personal credo. So, they invite guest speakers in to talk about their own paths.

I focused on the message of The Secret Peace, which in a way is my own credo. I also talked about the process of publishing a book, and where creative industries are in general, since they're changing so much. Overall, I emphasized being flexible and how the careers they'll see in the future will be even more malleable and less linear than today's. After all, I'm now a Product Manager with Meetup - a job that didn't remotely exist when I was in high school.

I got to speak to about 100 kids, answered some good questions, and spoke with some really eager, dedicated students afterward as well. I want to thank Mrs. Walker (also my own teacher waaay back when) for hosting me - it was a blast!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Which New York City would you like to live in?

1863 New York:

1970 New York:

2010 New York:

Yes, I know the top photo is actually a movie. It's just there for fun. The real point is to contrast the two videos. (The second one, which I took, is actually from Summer 2009.) In 1970, Times Square was a porn den and Washington Square Park was a drug haven. Today there are kids playing in the renovated park spaces of both.

I was in line at the Chipotle on St. Marks behind two guys lamenting the loss of the "old New York" - a common refrain. They could not believe there was a Chipotle on St. Mark's Place.* These are the same type of people upset that there is a Disney Store in Times Square. Me, I'll take consumerism over crime (and grime) any day. You can have too many Disney Stores, or you can have a much higher chance of an early death. Tough choice.

* Of course, they still chose to eat at Chipotle, and not the thousands of independent restaurants still thriving in the city (and on St. Mark's Place.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Secret Peace is finally here!

For anyone who hasn't heard, after all my Facebooking and Twittering, the book is here! Buy it from Amazon today! Seriously, go do it right now. I'll wait.

What's the book about? Well, what if world peace was right around the corner? There's no doubt that countless crises consume the world. But The Secret Peace reveals thousands of pieces of evidence showing how history's true trend is one of advancing health, increasing nonviolence, receding poverty, and expanding equal rights. This isn't an excuse to pat ourselves on the back, however, but a powerful call to action to step up our efforts to spread peace worldwide.

I also want to say thanks for your support!

I'm so grateful for all the support I've received during the last four years of researching and writing The Secret Peace. (Take a look, you might be in the acknowledgments!) If you know me well and want to continue your support, please forward this email along to your friends and acquaintances. Post it to Facebook. Tweet it. Buy multiple copies of the book, so you can read it more than once. And of course it also makes a great gift.

Thanks again, I hope you enjoy it!
- Jesse

PS. Stay tuned for info about the release party!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Collaborative Consumption

Last week I spoke with Rachel Botsman & Roo Rogers, authors of the upcoming book What's Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. They are tracking the rise of new economies based on sharing, swapping, and lending - democratically distributing ownership. These new economies are being made possible by new technology, and have the potential to radically reduce the costs of certain goods for people as well as lower their environmental impact.

This concept has already upended certain industries. Netflix, which is basically just a better way of sharing DVDs that other people have watched, has eaten into DVD sales. Its ease of use and
recommendation/filtering engine make it superior to old video stores. Ebay and Craigslist have given people much more efficient ways to get rid of products they don't need anymore, without making them go to waste.

Botsman and Rogers point out that the Green movement often emphasizes personal sacrifice and guilt - not the most enticing bandwagon to jump onto. Instead, these new systems have the benefit of being in the users' own self-interest; in fact, that's the only way that they can work.

Several of these programs are on the cusp of going mainstream. Two that could have drastic environmental impact (for the better) are car-sharing (as Zipcar as done) and a smart energy grid, which would allow customers to sell back any energy they generate, and distribute it with less waste.

In the past, economies were small and local because not only was it difficult to communicate across large distances, it was impossible to trust people you didn't know. So, transactions were limited to people in your local circle and couldn't scale. Along came large corporations, which were able to take advantage of economies of scale and drastically mass-produce goods. Great, except in order for that to be efficient, all the goods had to be relatively similar commodities. This introduced a lot of waste as people settled for things not 100% perfect for them. In addition, buying your own copy of something (a lawn mower, say, or a DVD) was the most efficient thing to do, because it was the cheapest option. But the negative externality of environmental harm was never factored into the cost.

Today, technology can allow non-local trust. You can reliably enter into contracts with individuals around the globe, online. This is because people have ratings (think ebay or Amazon resellers.) A positive rating from 100 or 1,000 people becomes equivalent to a first-hand rating of someone we've actually met. Better, perhaps. What the authors predict, and argue for, is an aggregated reputation system across all your web sites and transactions. This becomes a reputation that you can't escape, just as you couldn't escape a bad reputation in a small town in the past. There would be no way to cheat that system.

Those are just some items the authors discussed, along with my own interpretation. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the book.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Good (health) news from Massachusetts

The news is focused on Massachusetts this week, so it made me remember this tidbit below. From The Week magazine:

Smoking has plunged 26 percent among lower-income smokers in Massachusetts, after just two years of an unusual state program targeting tobacco use. Patients enrolled in the state's MassHealth insurance program receive free counseling and medications to help them stop smoking. Anti-smoking advocates said the results suggest that expanding the Massachusetts prgogram nationwide could save tens of thousands of lives. "These findings are extraordinary," said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "They hjave major public-health implications as Congress is debating health-care reform."

And of course, this is during a time in which smoking rates in America - as in many developed countries - have been dropping for decades. Currently, less than 19 percent of American adults are smokers, the lowest percentage since at least World War I. In 1964, for example, when Surgeon General Luther Terry wrote a landmark report on the hazards of smoking, 42 percent of Americans were smokers.