Unacceptable: U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials

Shame, shame, shame:

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

Yet another example of prioritizing corporate avarice over concerns of health and the environment. See here, here, here, and here for brief overviews of the benefits of breast-feeding.

A concise and useful guide on placing multiple ggplots in R

A great tutorial and guide by Baptiste Auguié. Helps explain how to layout multiple plots in a single window, and provides useful tutorial and examples.

Coal Stories from NPR's Embedded Podcast

NPR’s Embedded podcast is doing a set of stories on America’s coal country. It is fascinating and worth a listen or two or ten. A recent piece on NPR.org has beautiful (and intense) pictures that track nicely with the second episode (both the first and second are embedded below).

10 rules for writing fiction, or just for all endeavors

In 2010, the Guardian asked writers for some tips and guidance - for ten of their “personal dos and don’ts”. Zadie Smith’s read like a dictum for any creative endeavor:

When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.

When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.

Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.

Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

Don’t confuse honours with achievement.

Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand - but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

These feel universal - truths across time and disciplines (granted, with a little adaptation). Most of them certainly feel relevant to my lil’corner of science.

"Place Lag" and the magic of flight

Kottke posted a link to a vox.com article by Mark Vanhoenacker, a 747 pilot and author of Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot. This chunk of the article quoted by Kottke perfectly articulates a feeling about flight I’ve never been able to adequately put into words:

I came up with the term “place lag” to refer to the way that airliners can essentially teleport us into a moment in a far-off city; getting us there much faster, perhaps, than our own deep sense of place can travel. I could be in a park in London one afternoon, running, or drinking a coffee and chatting to the dog-walkers. Later I’ll go to an airport, meet my colleagues, walk into a cockpit, and take off for Cape Town. I’ll fly over the Pyrenees and Palma and see the lights of Algiers come on at sunset, then sail over the Sahara and the Sahel. I’ll cross the equator, and dawn will come to me as I parallel the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, and finally I’ll see Table Mountain in the distance as I descend to the Mother City.

Then, less than an hour after the long-stilled wheels of the 747 were spun back to life by the sun-beaten surface of an African runway, I’ll be on a bus heading into Cape Town, sitting in rush hour traffic, on an ordinary morning in which, glancing down through the windshield of a nearby car, I’ll see a hand lift a cup of coffee or reach forward to tune the radio. And I’ll think: All this would still be going on if I hadn’t flown here. And that’s equally true of London, and of all the other cities I passed in the long night, that I saw only the lights of. For everyone, and every place, it’s the present.

How Society Pays When Women's Work Is Unpaid

Claire Cain Miller in the NYT:

In countries around the world, the ways in which men and women spend their time are unbalanced. Men spend more time working for money. Women do the bulk of the unpaid work — cooking, cleaning and child care.

This unpaid work is essential for households and societies to function. But it is also valued less than paid work, and when it is women’s responsibility, it prevents them from doing other things.

“This is one of those root inequalities that exist all over in society and we just don’t talk about it very much,” Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Gates Foundation, said in an interview. She said she was inspired by her own observations when traveling to other countries as well as by time-use data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “If we don’t bring it forward, we basically won’t unlock the potential of women.”

We’re starting to explore ways to quantify (objectively) the time spent gathering fuel in rural India. There are some opportunities to put a wage potential to the time savings, too. India has a National Rural Employment Guarantee that provides a daily wage for up to 100 days per year.

Interesting to see this issue in the NYT, but a lot of the details of the difficult work of women was left out — fuel gathering, water collection, cooking, laundry, animal husbandry, fieldwork, dealing with husbands and mother-in-laws. Note: these are mentioned in Bill and Melinda’s blog post.

The Return of London's Fog

London’s fogs may be about to make a comeback. Christine Corton, in the NYT:

In January, researchers at King’s College London announced that pollution levels on Oxford Street, in central London, had exceeded limits set for the entire year in just the first four days of 2015. Similarly alarming numbers have been recorded for other streets in the city — and yet the mayor, Boris Johnson, has delayed implementation of stricter air-quality measures until 2020.

What’s happening in London is being played out in cities worldwide, as efforts to curtail the onslaught of air pollution are stymied by short-term vested interests, with potentially disastrous results.

I just experienced a particular, particulate version of this hell first-hand in Delhi. For the last few days of my trip, a dense, thick haze - clearly not an innocuous fog - permeated the city and surrounding environs. On one trip back to our flat, all of my fellow taxi passengers complained of burning eyes and sore throats.

The closest PM monitor during that drive back — actually quite far from us — read over 250 �g/m3. That’s around 10x higher than a ‘bad’ day in the US. Moreover, we guessed that the levels we were experiencing were closer to 350 �g/m3. As a point of reference, the maximum mean hourly PM2.5 concentration in London since 2008 was approximately 30 �g/m3.

Corton points to a behavioral component to the historic London Fog episodes — a parallel I find particularly interesting:

There was a cultural component, too. The British were wedded to their open fires. Closed stoves, popular throughout much of Europe, especially in Germany, were shunned by Londoners. During World War I, Britons were exhorted, in the words of the famous song, to “keep the home fires burning.” Politicians were simply not willing to risk unpopularity by forcing Londoners to stop using coal and go over to gas or electric heating instead. In Britain today, in an echo of these earlier concerns, the government is cutting subsidies for onshore wind and solar farms, anxious not to offend voters in rural areas where such facilities would be built.

It took a disaster to force London to change direction. In 1952, a “great killer fog” lasted five days and killed an estimated 4,000 people. In a Britain trying to turn a corner after the death and destruction of the Blitz, this was unacceptable. A Clean Air Act was passed in 1956, forcing Londoners to burn smokeless fuel or switch to gas or electricity, power sources that had become much cheaper as these industries expanded.

Let’s hope that policy levers and momentum — not a disaster — can help transition away from solid fuels in India and beyond.

A Primer on Household Air Pollution and Health

A Primer on Household Air Pollution and Health in Environmental and Occupational Case Studies, UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Instructors: Sadie Costello and Ellen Eisen. 7 October 2015.

Boston Globe: Why food allergy fakers need to stop

Neil Swidey, in the Boston Globe:

I know you want your dietary preferences to be taken seriously, and you think invoking the A-word is a harmless little white lie. But you have no idea how much trouble you’re causing and how much you’re helping to erode hard-won progress for people with genuine allergies and disorders.

In a stunningly short slice of history, we’ve gone from food allergies being met with ignorance or indifference in the restaurant world to their domination of the discussion between server and diner, starting with the greeting and continuing all the way to dessert. The seriousness with which most chefs now take allergies has opened up the restaurant experience to a whole group of people who previously couldn’t risk dining out. That progress should be celebrated.

But it shouldn’t be taken for granted. And we’ve come to a tipping point, thanks to the explosion of faddists and bandwagon-jumpers and attention-seekers who wrap their food dislikes in the packaging of allergy and disease. After witnessing enough diners who make a big fuss about how their bodies can’t tolerate gluten and then proceed to order a beer or dig into their date’s brownie dessert, fatigued chefs and managers are beginning to adopt a less accommodating approach. But the people who may ultimately pay the price for this pushback won’t be the “free-from” fabulists. They’ll be those with serious conditions.

Amen. Beth has celiac disease; we’re lucky to live in the Bay Area, where we can go out to eat from time-to-time and be relatively safe. That said, in the past year, the number of times we’ve had to explain the allergy as “real” as opposed to a preference has ballooned.

A Low-Cost, Carbon Dioxide Monitoring System for Estimating Household Air Exchange Rates

Pillarisetti A, Lam NL, Pokhrel A, Hill LA, Allen T, Kunwar B, Pandey B, Thapa S, Sijali TR, Smith KR, Bates MN. A Low-Cost, Carbon Dioxide Monitoring System for Estimating Household Air Exchange Rates. International Society of Exposure Science. Henderson, Nevada: October 2015.

Predicting Personal PM2.5 Exposures from Kitchen Concentrations and Survey Data in Homes Cooking with Biomass Fuels: A Pilot in Lao, PDR

Hill LA, Garland CR, Delapena S, Pennise D, Boatman MR, Phimmasone A, Kotting P, Vongnakhone K, Pillarisetti A, Smith KR. Predicting Personal PM2.5 Exposures from Kitchen Concentrations and Survey Data in Homes Cooking with Biomass Fuels: A Pilot in Lao, PDR. International Society of Exposure Science. Henderson, Nevada: October 2015.

Measuring Vertical PM2.5 Concentrations in Rural India: The Design, Development, and Evaluation of the Aerial Particle and Temperature Sensor (aPATS)

Pillarisetti A, Allen T, Allen-Piccolo G, Vaswani M, Arora NK, Smith KR. Measuring Vertical PM2.5 Concentrations in Rural India: The Design, Development, and Evaluation of the Aerial Particle and Temperature Sensor (aPATS). International Society of Exposure Science. Henderson, Nevada: October 2015.

Laboratory and Field Based Performance of an Integrated Air Quality and Stove Use Monitoring System

Pillarisetti A, Johnson MA, Garland CR, Allen T, Gill M, Delapena S, Charron D, Pennise D. Laboratory and Field Based Performance of an Integrated Air Quality and Stove Use Monitoring System. International Society of Exposure Science. Henderson, Nevada: October 2015.

Household Air Pollution Exposures of Pregnant Women Receiving Advanced Combustion Cookstoves in India: Implications for Intervention

Balakrishnan K, Sambandam S, Ghosh S, Mukhopadhyay K, Vaswani M, Arora NK, Jack D, Pillarisetti A, Bates MN, Smith KR. Household Air Pollution Exposures of Pregnant Women Receiving Advanced Combustion Cookstoves in India: Implications for Intervention. Annals of Global Health, In Press, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aogh.2015.08.009

Diane Arbus: Family on the Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, N. Y

Saw this photo taken by Diane Arbus in ~1968 at the Whitney a month and a half ago and did a triple take. It has Mad Men / Matthew Weiner inspiration written all over it: squint a little, and you can see Betty, Bobby, and Don, surrounded by litter, cigarettes, and disdain.

Conditional cash transfers for energy poverty... and murder reduction

Conditional cash transfers — paying people to change behavior, usually to spur positive ‘social’ outcomes — continue to be in the news. Much of the focus is on their use as poverty reduction tools (Bolsa Familia in Brazil, JSY in India) through encouraging behaviors like antenatal care visits and sending children to school.

Two recent article — one in the NYT, one in Mother Jones — highlighted the use of CCTs and other targeted cash transfer tools for dramatically different outcomes.

In the NYT, poverty and energy issues were at the fore:

The Indian government subsidizes households’ purchases of cooking gas; these subsidies amounted to about $8 billion last year. Until recently, subsidies were provided by selling cylinders to beneficiaries at below-market prices. Now, prices have been deregulated, and the subsidy is delivered by depositing cash directly into beneficiaries’ bank accounts, which are linked to cellphones, so that only eligible beneficiaries — not “ghost” intermediaries — receive transfers.

Under the previous arrangement, the large gap between subsidized and unsubsidized prices created a thriving black market, where distributors diverted subsidized gas away from households to businesses for a premium. In new research with Prabhat Barnwal, an economist at Columbia University, we find that cash transfers reduced these “leakages,” resulting in estimated fiscal savings of about $2 billion.

There’s even more “smart” targeting coming soon. My advisor and colleagues in India have been working to “[describe] how the LPG subsidy could be even more completely targeted to the poor without any actual ‘taking away’ of the subsidy from the rich and middle class, which would likely trigger heavy political push back. As a result, several hundred million additional poor Indians could have affordable access in the next decade without increasing subsidy costs to the government (indeed probably reducing them) or LPG imports — both not likely to be popular.”

In Mother Jones, CCTs were being used to reduce murders:

Richmond hired consultants to come up with ideas, and in turn, the consultants approached [Devone] Boggan. It was obvious that heavy-handed tactics like police sweeps weren’t the solution. More than anything, Boggan, who’d been working to keep teen offenders out of prison, was struck by the pettiness of it all. The things that could get someone shot in Richmond were as trivial as stepping out to buy a bag of chips at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Boggan wondered: What if we identified the most likely perpetrators and paid them to stay out of trouble?

It seems to be working.

It was a crazy idea. But since ONS was established, the city’s murder rate has plunged steadily. In 2013, it dropped to 15 homicides per 100,000 residents—a 33 year low. In 2014, it dropped again. Boggan and his staff maintained that their program was responsible for a lot of that drop-off by keeping the highest-risk young men alive—and out of prison. Now they have a study to back them up.

On Monday, researchers from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a non-profit, published a process evaluation of ONS, studying its impact seven years in. The conclusion was positive: “While a number of factors including policy changes, policing efforts, an improving economic climate, and an overall decline in crime may have helped to facilitate this shift, many individuals interviewed for this evaluation cite the work of the ONS, which began in late 2007, as a strong contributing factor in a collaborative effort to decrease violence in Richmond.”

Josh Marshall: Obama on the Hoofbeats of History

Marshall, writing at the Editor’s Blog at TPM, eloquently describes the last month in American life, placing President Obama at its center:

It was a momentous week. I had wanted to write something about it at the time. But I couldn’t quite form my views on it. It seemed more like something to take in than to talk about. In one short string of events so much of the President’s legacy which had been up for grabs, contingent and uncertain, was suddenly confirmed and driven home in ways that allowed little doubt. Not all of these wins were Obama’s of course. He did not even support marriage equality in 2008 let alone run on it. The Court’s decision and the sea change in public opinion which made it possible and perhaps inevitable were the products of decades of activism stretching back into years when no one had ever even heard the President’s name. But we’re talking here not about a single person or political leader but of the aspirations of those who elected him. And judged through this prism, the rush of events in late June come together as a unified picture.

Reminds me of a part of Marc Maron’s interview with President Obama on WTF, when the President spoke of the slow march of change. It also harkens back to the use of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change is Gonna Come”, right?

A fever dream of liberal change, punching through into reality through the tireless work of an administration. An incredible — and uniquely American — month, with incredible progress punctuated by tragedy.

Progress with an escape hatch : "Beer Can" by John Updike

Cleaning up the server and stumbled upon this unpublished draft. Updike, sigh, swoon.

This seems to be an era of gratuitous inventions and negative improvements. Consider the beer can. It was beautiful — as beautiful as the clothespin, as inevitable as the wine bottle, as dignified and reassuring as the fire hydrant. A tranquil cylinder of delightfully resonant metal, it could be opened in an instant, requiring only the application of a handy gadget freely dispensed by every grocer. Who can forget the small, symmetrical thrill of those two triangular punctures, the dainty pfff, the little crest of suds that foamed eagerly in the exultation of release? Now we are given, instead, a top beetling with an ugly, shmoo-shaped tab, which, after fiercely resisting the tugging, bleeding fingers of the thirsty man, threatens his lips with a dangerous and hideous hole. However, we have discovered a way to thwart Progress, usually so unthwartable. Turn the beer can upside down and open the bottom. The bottom is still the way the top used to be. True, this operation gives the beer an unsettling jolt, and the sight of a consistently inverted beer can might make people edgy, not to say queasy. But the latter difficulty could be eliminated if manufacturers would design cans that looked the same whichever end was up, like playing cards. What we need is Progress with an escape hatch.

Susanna Hertrich's Risk Perception Art

Susanna Hertrich:

A reflection on common fears in societies where anxieties have become a lifestyle choice (2010 - ongoing).

Regarding the piece above:

Public dread and actual deaths caused by most common sources of energy. Based on a longterm study by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

via @darbyjack

India is building millions of toilets, but that's the easy part

Rama Lakshmi, in the Washington Post, on the push for many, many more toilets throughout India:

Modi has made toilet-building and sanitation a rallying cry since October. He has enlisted large companies to help. In the past year, his government has built more than 5.8 million toilets — up from 4.9 million the previous year. But reports show that many of them are unused or that they are being used to store grain, clothes or to tether goats, thwarting Modi’s sanitation revolution.

“Even as we accelerate toilet construction now, much more needs to be done to persuade people to use them,” said Chaudhary Birender Singh, India’s minister for rural development, sanitation and drinking water. “For long, we assumed that if the toilets are built, people will automatically use it. But we have to diligently monitor the use over a period of time and reward them with cash incentives to the village councils at every stage. Only then will it become a daily habit.”

This all sounds really familiar.

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