Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘life expectancy

Re-inventing Public Health: Covid-19 inequity

COVID-19 and inequity — public health needs a third revolution

For many Americans, George Floyd’s murder ignited a new level of momentum to confront police violence against people of color.

The COVID-19 pandemic — which is killing black Americans at nearly two and a half times the rate of whites — has put a spotlight on our nation’s shameful racial divide in public health.

While the first and second public health revolutions vastly extended life expectancy by making strides against communicable disease (cholera, typhoid and dysentery) and chronic illness (heart disease and diabetes), racial gaps (and minority ethnic groups) remain a persistent contributor to negative health outcomes.

In a nation with growing economic disparities, scarred by centuries of systemic racism, the third revolution in public health must address the root causes of our remaining pervasive health inequities — poverty, pollution, housing, food security and other basic needs.

Since our systems have resulted in these issues disproportionately impacting communities of color, we need to conceive, develop and implement solutions that prioritize the wellbeing of people and communities that have been overlooked for far too long.

COVID-19 and inequity — public health needs a third revolution

It’s a daunting task, to be sure. But, with an approach I call precision community health, we can target our limited resources to be effective at addressing the most urgent public health inequities, while also supporting the eradication of racism throughout our society.

Investment is needed in public health systems, including state-of-the-art data collection and communications tools.

With these we can collect granular data on everything from asthma rates to housing conditions and police violence, broken down by race and income.

That data can then be transformed into knowledge to guide decision-making.

We can leverage social media and other communications strategies to deliver precisely targeted messages to ensure people have information they need, when and where they need it, to make informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones.

We can also invest in people by creating a national Public Health Corps, similar to AmeriCorps.

Recruitment could start with our country’s community health workers, our invaluable set of frontline public health workers who are already trusted members of the communities we serve today.

But importantly, these workers’ expertise and training can also build equity in communities today, by linking people to resources on housing, food security, employment and more.

Community health workers are also uniquely positioned to have an immediate impact on the spread of COVID-19 by performing the critical task of contact tracing — reaching out to those who test positive for COVID-19, helping them identify others they may have been exposed, then supporting them through quarantine and testing.

For any of our efforts to succeed, we must account for and honestly confront the distrust many people feel in our public institutions.

In this time of massive societal upheaval, we have a tremendous opportunity to shift our focus and resources to fully embrace public health solutions. But our field will need to reckon with our own painful history of systemic racism to realize our full potential.

If we are to continue making the breakthroughs that improve and extend lives as public health has done for decades, we must embrace the moment we are in.

It’s time to rethink public health by understanding the inequities that are making people sick and targeting resources where they are needed most.

Bechara Choucair, a family physician by training, was commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health from 2009 to 2014.

He is currently senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente and author of “Precision Community Health: Four Innovations for Well-being.”

Note: My Daydreaming health re-structuring project


American life expectancy takes a hit, cooling Earth with antacid, and more top insights

During the week, the Daily Rundown brings you the day’s trending professional news.

On the weekend, we try to keep you current on the big ideas that can help you see what’s coming. Read on and join the conversation.

American life expectancy continues to fall: Life expectancy in the U.S. fell to 78.6 years, declining by 0.3 years since 2014, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC attributes the decline — a concerning reversal after a century of improvement — to a spike in suicide deaths and drug overdoses. Not all Americans are faring the same, though: Rural areas are at greater risk than urban centers, and northern and coastal states are doing better than southern states. • Here’s what people are saying.

Cooling Earth, by dimming the Sun: A team of researchers from Harvard is planning to release calcium carbonate — a white powder commonly found in antacid — into the stratosphere via balloon.

The goal? To determine if these particles can effectively reflect sunlight, cooling Earth and potentially mitigating the effects of climate change. It’s early days for such solar geoengineering efforts: The initial $3 million test will release 100-gram plumes of calcium carbonate, the amount you’d find in a typical bottle of antacid. • Here’s what people are saying.

International students are skipping the U.S.: Over the past two years, foreign student enrollment in American universities declined by 10%, according to the International Institute of Education.

The decline — a major reversal from recent years — threatens the nation’s $42 billion higher education market.

What’s keeping students away? Immigration concerns, tuition costs and fears about physical safety in the U.S., the BBC reports. The situation would be worse if not for China, which had 360,000 students in the U.S. in 2018, up from 60,000 in 2000. • Here’s what people are saying.

Nurses turn to second jobs to make ends meet: Between 10% and 14% of nurses who began their careers from 2006 to 2016 have second jobs, according to new research from New York University.

Some are picking up extra shifts, others are driving for Uber, selling crafts on Etsy or consulting.

What’s behind the shift? Stagnant wages and student loan burdens, reports LinkedIn’s Jaimy Lee. Such extra work comes at a cost: studies have found that nurses with side jobs collaborate less with clinicians and patient satisfaction suffers. • Here’s what people are saying.

An airbag that works like a cocoon: Auto supplier ZF is looking to develop an “external side airbag” that can spring into action from the outside, shielding the entire side of a car.

The same kind of sensors that sound alarms when you’re driving too close to another vehicle could detect if another car is approaching at an unsafe speed, triggering the launch of the external airbag.

Such protection could significantly reduce the impact of a crash, help internal airbags do their job better and limit the risk of crash-related fires. • Here’s what people are saying.

One last idea:  Many of us associate our embarrassing moments, or our slip ups, with failure. But, as actor and entrepreneur Jennifer Lopez recently told LinkedIn’s Dan Roth, it’s only when we’ve given up on trying altogether that we have failed.

“Failure is not falling down and making a mistake, or choosing the wrong movie, or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. It’s stopping. Stopping is the failure, not continuing forward is the failure, not keeping going.”

Share your burning career questions in the comments with #YouAsked and we’ll get experts to weigh in.


How colonial powers handled sovereign debts of “weaker nations”?

Wars: Uncanny connections to Sovereign public debts

In the 20th century, USA went on a rampage of conquering and occupying nations under colonial powers (Spain) in Cuba, Philippines, Puerto Rico…  and practically controlled nations under French and English  powers until sovereign debts accumulated in WWI and WWII were restituted. 

The motto is a fundamental capitalist system that war is the quicker default alternative to resolving matters with weaker nations.

France, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany conducted their raids around the world to maintain “exclusive” trade facilities in each country they occupied militarily.

The direct connections among exorbitant levels of accumulated public debts and wars have been recognized for centuries, on black and white.

We witnessed that war is one of the preferred defaulting mechanisms on outrageous contracted debts, particularly when the creditor nation is weaker militarily.

In the last two centuries, the world witnessed 320 defaulting decisions by debtor nations.

Is it a coincidence that the last two centuries experience as many wars?

If you compare the two graphs of dates on defaulting and the timing of subsequent wars then, you realize that there are direct interrelations between the two factors.

1. In 1770, (England sovereign debts amounted to 140% of its GNP)

Adam Smith wrote: “At a level of accumulation of national debts, there are no examples that the debts have ever been repaid.  Public revenues were always freed to be spent, but never to paying off any debts. Governments prefer to default, occasionally admitting the debts, occasionally pretending to have paid off debts, but always incurring a real debt.”

2. In 1716 France, after the monarch Louis 14, was totally bankrupt:

The Scottish John Law convinced the French Regent to issue paper money covered by gold for easy circulation of money and internal trade.  To entice the public into accepting paper money, interests were added, secured by a special perpetual fund called the “General Bank“.

This bank was to be supplied by financial resources converging from the America’s colony of greater Louisiana.  The Mississippi Company, (later renamed the “Western India perpetual company“), was collecting indirect taxes for France.  Speculation by French nobility transformed the central bank into a machine for printing worthless paper money and the collection from Louisiana stopped to converge to France.

In 1748, Montesquieu in  “Of the spirit of laws” wrote:

“There are a few financial specialists disseminating the concept that public debts multiply wealth and increase circulation of money and internal trade.  Facts are, the real revenues of the State, generated by the activities of industrious citizens, are transferred to idle classes.  The consequences are that we make it more difficult on the industrious citizens to produce profit and worst, extending privileges to the passive classes.”

In 1781, Jacques Necker, France minister of finance, proclaimed that “There can be no peace in Europe unless public debts are reduced to the bare minimum:  Public debts are sources for increasing the military capabilities designed for destructive activities; and then more debts are accumulated for the reconstruction phase.  A devilish cycle that is anathema to prosperity and security.

Necker was the first financial official in France to present a transparent statement sheet of all the revenues and expenses for the budget and he encouraged the French monarchy to emulate England by submitting complete budged so that investors and lenders be informed of the financial situation and be encouraged to considering France as a viable country to invest money in.

At the time, England had replaced Holland as the financial center of the world and the central Bank of England was already established.

All indicate that trends in growing sovereign debts in the richer and developed nations are not going to change till 2014.

In that year, it is expected that Japan public debts (mostly internal) will reach 250% of its GNP, Italy 130%, England 100 %,  the USA 100% (or $20 trillion, the interest alone representing 400% of its fiscal yearly revenues), France 95%, and Germany 90% of GNP.  The US will have to reimburse $850 billion in 2012 and finance one trillion.

The emerging States and most of Latin America countries are experiencing steady drop of their public debts to an average of 40% of GNP by 2014.

My question is:  If almost all States have incurred public debts then, who are the creditors?  

China economy has saved 2.5 trillion and Brazil and Turkey less than 500 billion.  All these savings cannot cover the amount of necessary public debts required by the debtor nations.

Fact is, world finance is functioning on worthless paper money and other financial tools transmitted here and there to give the illusion that the system is functioning.

So far, the IMF and the World Bank are controlled by the G8 who can withdraw at will from these supposed to be international financial institutions.  This situation of relying on magical financial illusions cannot persist for long.

A third World War will be created intentionally by superpowers in order to starting from scratch before establishing sustainable financial institutions, rules, and regulations.

If you carry a credit card at an interest rate of over 20% then, you know that the principal could never be paid since the credit limit is 50 times your real annual income  in order to finance a purposeful inflationary policy to give the illusion that the ratio of public debts to GNP is being reduced.

Not only 20% interest rate is exorbitant, but adding unpaid monthly installements to the principal is what all ancient customs forbade.

For example, if people of “independent means”, (called rentier) in French, could invest in a productive businesses generating profits of over 20% they would not have lent their money.  It is imperative that payments on interest should not last more than 7 years and further monthly payments automatically directed to paying off the principal.

Thomas Jefferson recommended, and then imposed his view when he became President to the new Independent America, that loans should never be contracted out by States for longer than 19 years so that future generations do not have to suffer decisions of the living ones.

As life expectancy is increasing, I suggest that Constitutions should force governments and official institutions to restrict the life of any loan to be 5 years shorter of the lower number of the average life expectancy or the age of retirement of citizens in the creditor nation. 

Anyway, if the loan is a private one, the lender should be able to enjoy his placement while alive and not suffer from defaulting decisions.

Note:  Reviewing the history of public debts since antiquity, the consequences of incurring huge public debts are the same:  Whether the dept is contracted out to a person (the monarch) and the debt is cancelled once the individual is dead, or the public debt is shouldered by a sustainable “immortal” entity such as a State, the weaker creditor will be punished.

The militarily weaker creditor will suffer now or later; it is a matter of delayed punishment for loaning a more powerful debtor whether voluntarily or after coercion.

How death has changed over 100 years in Britain

Childhood was once perilous and adult lives were often cut short – but life expectancy now tops 80 years

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”, but just how – and at what age – we are likely to exit the world has changed dramatically over the past 100 years, thanks to changing social structures and advances in medicine and technology.

While once childhood was a perilous period and adult lives were often cut short, life expectancy at birth now tops 80 years in the UK.

The data collated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) encompasses all causes of death, labelled according to the World Health Organization’s international classification of diseases – hence cancer is split into different types, rather than grouped together. The labels for causes of death are those used at the time the records were made.

Infant mortality and measles

“The oldest inhabitants recollected no period at which measles had been so prevalent, or so fatal to infant existence; and many were the mournful processions which little Oliver headed, in a hat-band reaching down to his knees, to the indescribable admiration and emotion of all the mothers in the town,” writes Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, capturing the devastation measles could bring.

Measles was the leading cause of death in children in 1915

Number of deaths per 10,000 deaths


1. Measles
2. Broncho-pneumonia
3. Diphtheria
4. Whooping cough
5. Tuberculous meningitis
6. Bronchitis (other)
7. Pneumonia (type not stated)
8. Meningitis, other forms
9. Scarlet fever
10. Pulmonary tuberculosis

Yet even before the introduction of a vaccine against measles in 1968, and subsequently the MMR vaccine in 1988, the rate of deaths attributed to the infection had begun to fall.

The trend has been used by some as evidence of the virus becoming less deadly. But experts say in reality it is down to other factors including better nutrition, improved health services – such as the development of antibiotics, preventing death from secondary infections – and, crucially, reduced overcrowding due to better housing. “Measles is incredibly infectious so if you have got overcrowding it spreads like wildfire,” said Helen Bedford, professor of children’s health at University College London.

Even so, as of 1955 measles was still the eighth leading cause of death in those under 15.

Deaths from measles only became a rarity with the introduction of vaccines – a move that could also have helped to drive a drop in childhood deaths from other diseases, given that measles can leave the immune system weakened for more than two years.

But measles remains a deadly disease. Between January 2016 and July 2017, 35 deaths were reported in Europe, primarily among unvaccinated individuals – a situation that has been blamed, at least in part, on the impact of anti-vaccination campaigns.

“In 2015 [worldwide] there were 134,000 deaths from measles. That’s 15 deaths every hour,” Bedford added.

Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatrics at the University of Oxford, agreed that vaccination was a priority. “The thing we can do today [in vaccination] that would make the biggest difference to child mortality in the world would be to get the extra 20% of children vaccinated against measles who are not currently vaccinated.”

War and traffic

Diseases, whether acute infections or chronic illnesses, account for the vast majority of deaths, regardless of decade. But data for 1945 reveals the impact of another deadly outbreak: war.

In the year the second world war drew to a close, it was the seventh leading cause of death for those aged 14 or under, and the 10th leading cause of death for those aged 15-49. The figures only relate to those who died in England and Wales and do not include deaths abroad, so those who died in world wars overseas are not in the data.

Other societal changes are also reflected in the data. Probably down to both reductions in deaths from infectious diseases and an increase in traffic, in 1945 deaths linked to motor vehicles entered the top 10 causes for the first time, being the second most common cause of death in under 15s with more than 1,050 cases.

Motor vehicles were the second highest cause of death among under 15s in 1945

From 1955 to 1995, “motor vehicle traffic accident involving collision with pedestrian” was the leading cause of death among children under 15, albeit with declining figures. By 2015 it had fallen out of the top 10 causes altogether.

Nick Lloyd, road safety manager at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said the decline in deaths was probably down to a number of factors, including the use of child car seats – keeping children inside cars safe – changing car design to reduce the chances of a pedestrian being killed in a collision, better road safety education, the introduction of traffic calming measures and even a reduction in the number of children who walk or cycle to school.

Suicide on the rise

According to the ONS, suicide encompasses deaths that are known to have been down to intentional self-harm and death by injuries where the intent was undetermined.

However, the latter does not apply for those under the age of 15 since such deaths could, for example, be down to abuse or neglect – so although suicide can be recorded as a cause of death for those aged 10 and over, the figures presented here only encompass those for individuals over the age of 14.

Trends in those taking their own life are far from simple – with changes in rates over the last century showing different patterns for different age groups, sexes and even methods.

“The risks for different groups of people are quite different,” said Elizabeth Scowcroft, research manager at the Samaritans.

Taken together, one thing is clear: in recent decades suicide has become one of the leading causes of death among those aged 15-49 – and men are about three times more likely than women to take their own life.

In 2015, suicide was one of the leading causes of death among people aged 15-49

1. Suicide (specific methods)
2. Accidental poisoning by narcotics and psycho-dysleptics
3. Alcoholic liver disease
4. Breast cancer
5. Chronic ischaemic heart disease
6. Acute myocardial infarction
7. Cancer of lung, bronchus and trachea
8. Brain cancer
9. Pneumonia
10. Accidental poisoning by other drugs, medicaments and biological substances

Older population

In 2015 Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and unspecified dementia all made it into the top 10 causes of death for the first time.

It’s far from a straightforward shift and probably down to a combination of factors including longer life expectancy, as more people reach the oldest ages, and better survival of other illnesses.

But this is not the full story. Improvements in diagnosis and changes in the ways in which deaths are recorded or classified have probably also played a role.

Searching all deaths from 1945, for example, there is no mention of dementia or anything similar – yet it is unlikely that there were no deaths at all from diseases that cause dementia.

Dementia was one of the leading causes of death for the over 85s in 2015

1. Chronic ischaemic heart disease
2. Dementia
3. Cancer of lung, bronchus and trachea
4. Pneumonia
5. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (other)
6. Acute myocardial infarction
7. Stroke not specified as hemorrhage or infarction
8. Alzheimer’s disease
9. Vascular dementia
10. Prostate cancer

One possible clue might lie in the number of deaths in the early to mid 20th century that are classified as “senile decay” or simply “old age”. Since what are now known as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were once considered a natural part of the ageing process, it is possible that such deaths were, at least in part, swept up under these catch-all labels. The labelling system used in 1965 offers further insights with the appearance of “senile psychosis” and, in 1985, “other cerebral degenerations” – a label which included Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It could also be that some deaths now counted as dementia might have been attributed to other illnesses present in an individual.

In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at


The data was collated by the Office for National Statistics from the general register officer and reflects the causes of death as reported at that time. It’s not possible to accurately draw trends from changes in the specific causes of death as definitions vary over time. No children under the age of one are included in the data.

Death rates are based on the number of deaths attributable to any given cause across all age groups. All the classifications are taken from the international classification of diseases, which is currently managed by the World Health Organization


Much better off Spending On Experiences

Most people are in the pursuit of happiness (a new concept created in the 20th century: The short life expectancy didn’t leave much room to be picky, and the family word even harder to eek a living to the dozen offspring…).

There are economists who think happiness is the best indicator of the health of a society.

We know that money can make you happier, though after your basic needs are met, it doesn’t make you that much happier.

But one of the biggest questions is how to allocate our money, which is (for most of us) a limited resource.

There’s a very logical assumption that most people make when spending their money on objects: a physical object will last longer, it will make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like a concert or vacation.

According to recent research, it turns out that assumption is completely wrong.

One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades.

“We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.” (Is that why companies have to produce new products?)

German skydiver via Shutterstock

So rather than buying the latest iPhone or a new BMW, Gilovich suggests you’ll get more happiness spending money on experiences like going to art exhibits (not free?), doing outdoor activities (not free?), learning a new skill, or traveling.

Gilovich’s findings are the synthesis of psychological studies conducted by him and others into the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point.

How adaptation affects happiness, for instance, was measured in a study that asked people to self-report their happiness with major material and experiential purchases.

Initially, their happiness with those purchases was ranked about the same. But over time, people’s satisfaction with the things they bought went down, whereas their satisfaction with experiences they spent money on went up.

It’s counterintuitive that something like a physical object that you can keep for a long time doesn’t keep you as happy as long as a once-and-done experience does. (Does that include mobile phones?)

Ironically, the fact that a material thing is ever present works against it, making it easier to adapt to. It fades into the background and becomes part of the new normal. (Isn’t going back to normal one of the definition of happiness and contentment?)

But while the happiness from material purchases diminishes over time, experiences become an ingrained part of our identity. (Thus, the longer the list of adventures the more complex a personality you are?)

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich.

“You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.” (Too general a statement to be convincing)

One study conducted by Gilovich even showed that if people have an experience they say negatively impacted their happiness, once they have the chance to talk about it, their assessment of that experience goes up.

Gilovich attributes this to the fact that something that might have been stressful or scary in the past can become a funny story to tell at a party or be looked back on as an invaluable character-building experience. (The more personal stories you accumulate in order to share, the happier you are?)

Another reason is that shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared consumption. (Shared consumption or sharing objects?)

You’re much more likely to feel connected to someone you took a vacation with in Bogotá than someone who also happens to have bought a 4K TV.

Greg Brave via Shutterstock

“We consume experiences directly with other people,” says Gilovich. “And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”

And even if someone wasn’t with you when you had a particular experience, you’re much more likely to bond over both having hiked the Appalachian Trail or seeing the same show than you are over both owning Fitbits.

You’re also much less prone to negatively compare your own experiences to someone else’s than you would with material purchases.

One study conducted by researchers Ryan Howell and Graham Hill found that it’s easier to feature-compare material goods (how many carats is your ring? how fast is your laptop’s CPU?) than experiences. And since it’s easier to compare, people do so.

“The tendency of keeping up with the Joneses tends to be more pronounced for material goods than for experiential purchases,” says Gilovich.

“It certainly bothers us if we’re on a vacation and see people staying in a better hotel or flying first class. But it doesn’t produce as much envy as when we’re outgunned on material goods.” (The lower the envy quality the happier?)

Gilovich’s research has implications for individuals who want to maximize their happiness return on their financial investments, for employers who want to have a happier workforce, and policy-makers who want to have a happy citizenry.

“By shifting the investments that societies make and the policies they pursue, they can steer large populations to the kinds of experiential pursuits that promote greater happiness,” write Gilovich and his coauthor, Amit Kumar, in their recent article in the academic journal Experimental Social Psychology. (Are we promoting tourism?)

If society takes their research to heart, it should mean not only a shift in how individuals spend their discretionary income, but also place an emphasis on employers giving paid vacation and governments taking care of recreational spaces.

“As a society, shouldn’t we be making experiences easier for people to have?” asks Gilovich.

[Top Photo: Justin Lewis/Getty Images]

You don’t have infinite money. Spend it on stuff that research says makes you happy.

How the poor are fairing?

What could the poor people do every day?

Dave Ramsey probably wasn’t expecting this much pushback when he shared a piece by Tim Corley contrasting the habits of the rich with those of the poor.

Ben Irwin posted this Dec. 3, 2013

20 things the poor really do every day

In her response on CNNRachel Held Evans noted that Ramsey and Corley mistake correlation for causality when they suggest (without actually proving) that these habits are the cause of a person’s financial situation.

(Did it never occur to them that it might be the other way around?)

Ramsey fired back, calling the pushback “immature and ignorant.” This from a guy who just made 20 sweeping assertions about 47 million poor people in the US — all based on a survey of 361 individuals. ramsey

To come up with his 20 habits, Corley talked to just 233 wealthy people and 128 poor people.

Ramsey can talk all he wants about Corley’s research passing the “common-sense smell test,” but it doesn’t pass the “research methodology 101” test.

To balance the picture a bit, I wanted to take a fact-based look at 20 things the poor do on a daily basis…

1. Search for affordable housing.  Especially in urban areas, the waiting list for affordable housing can be a year or more. During that time, poor families either have to make do with substandard or dangerous housing, depend on the hospitality of relatives, or go homeless. (Source: New York Times)

2. Try to make $133 worth of food last a whole month.  That’s how much the average food stamp recipient gets each month. Imagine trying to eat well on $4.38 per day. It’s not easy, which is why many impoverished families resort to #3… (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)

3. Subsist on poor quality food.  Not because they want to, but because they can’t afford high-quality, nutritious food. They’re trapped in a food system that subsidizes processed foods, making them artificially cheaper than natural food sources. So the poor are forced to eat bad food — if they’re lucky, that is… (Sources: Washington Post; Journal of Nutrition, March 2008)

4. Skip a meal. One in 6 Americans are food insecure. Which means (among other things) that they’re sometimes forced to go without eating. (Sources: World Vision, US Department of Agriculture)

5. Work longer and harder than most of us. While it’s popular to think people are poor because they’re lazy (which seems to be the whole point of Ramsey’s post), the poor actually work longer and harder than the rest of us. More than 80% of impoverished children have at least one parent who works; 60% have at least one parent who works full-time. Overall, the poor work longer hours than the so-called “job creators.” (Source: Poverty and Learning, April 2008)

6. Go to bed 3 hours before their first job starts.  Number 15 on Ramsey and Corley’s list was, “44% of [the] wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. 3% of [the] poor.” It may be true that most poor people don’t wake up three hours before work starts. But that could be because they’re more likely to work multiple jobs, in which case job #1 means they’re probably just getting to bed three hours before job #2 starts. (Source: Poverty and Learning, April 2008)

7. Try to avoid getting beat up by someone they love.  According to some estimates, half of all homeless women in America ran away to escape domestic violence. (Source: National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009)

8. Put themselves in harm’s way, only to be kicked to the streets afterward.  How else do you explain 67,000 63,000 homeless veterans? (Source: US Department of Veterans Affairs, updated to reflect the most recent data)

9. Pay more than their fair share of taxes.  Some conservative pundits and politicians like to think the poor don’t pay their fair share, that they are merely “takers.” While it’s true the poor don’t pay as much in federal income tax — usually because they don’t earn enough to qualify — they do pay sales tax, payroll tax, etc.

In fact, the bottom 20% of earners pay TWICE as much in taxes (as a share of their income) as do the top 1%. (Source: Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, January 2013)

10. Fall further behind.  Even when poverty is the result of poor decision-making, often it’s someone else’s choices that make the difference. If you experience poverty as a child, you are 4 times less likely to graduate high school.

If you spend your entire childhood in poverty, you are 5 times less likely to graduate. Which means your future has been all but decided for you. (Sources: World Vision, Children’s Defense Fund, Annie E. Casey Foundation)

11. Raise kids who will be poor.  A child’s future earnings are closely correlated to their parents’ earnings. In other words, economic mobility — the idea that you can claw your way out of poverty if you just try hard enough is, more often than not, a myth. (Sources: OECD, Economic Policy Institute)

12. Vote less.  And who can blame them? I would be less inclined to vote if I didn’t have easy access to the polls and if I were subjected to draconian voter ID laws that are sold to the public as necessary to suppress nonexistent voter fraud. (Source: The Center for Voting and Democracy)

13. When they do vote… vote pretty much the same as the rest of us.  Following their defeat in 2012, conservatives took solace by reasoning that they’d lost to a bunch of “takers,” including the poor, who voted for Democrats because they want free handouts from big government. The reality is a bit more complex. Only a third of low-income voters identify as Democrats, about the same for all Americans, including wealthy voters. (Sources: NPRPew Research Center)

14. Live with chronic pain.  Those earning less than $12,000 a year are twice as likely to report feeling physical pain on any given day. (Source: Kaiser Health News)

15. Live shorter lives.  There is a 10-14 year gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor. In recent years, poor people’s life expectancy has actually declined — in America, the wealthiest nation on the planet. (Source: Health Affairs, 2012)

16. Use drugs and alcohol pretty much the same as (or less than) everyone else.  Despite the common picture of inner city crack houses, drug use is pretty evenly spread across income groups. And rich people actually abuse alcohol more than the poor. (Source: Poverty and Learning, April 2008)

17. Receive less in subsidized benefits than corporations.  The US government spends around $60 billion on public housing and rental subsidies for low-income families, compared to more than $90 billion on corporate subsidies.

Oil companies alone get around $70 billion. And that’s not counting the nearly $60 billion a year in tax breaks corporations enjoy by sheltering profits offshore. Or the $700 billion bailout banks got in 2008. (Source: Think By Numbers)

18. Get themselves off welfare as soon as possible.  Despite the odds, the vast majority of beneficiaries leave the welfare rolls within 5 years.

Even in the absence of official welfare-to-work programming, most welfare recipients enroll in some form of vocational training. Why? Because they’re desperate to get off welfare. (Source: US Department of Health and Human Services)

19. Have about the same number of children as everyone else.  No, poor people do not have loads of children just so they can stay on welfare. (Source: US Department of Health and Human Services)

20. Accomplish one single goal: stay alive.   Poverty in America may not be as dire as poverty in other parts of the world, but many working poor families are nonetheless preoccupied with day-to-day survival. For them, life is not something to be enjoyed so much as endured. These are the real habits of the poor, those with whom Jesus identifies most closely.

[Note: This post has been updated to more clearly identify the source for each claim made below. The original post included links to each source but did not call them out as clearly.]

“Don’t work. Don’t tell the truth. Be hated…”: Commencement address by Adrian Tan. Part 1

Guest-of-honour at NTU convocation ceremony, Adrian Tan, author of The Teenage Textbook (1988), delivered this speech to the graduating class of 2008. I split the speech into two posts, the second part will expand on “Be hated” and “fall in love“.

“I must say thank you to the faculty and staff of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information for inviting me to give your convocation address. It’s a wonderful honour and a privilege for me to speak here for ten minutes without fear of contradiction, defamation or retaliation. I say this as a Singaporean and more so as a husband.

My wife is a wonderful person and is perfect in every way except one: She is the editor of a magazine, she corrects people for a living. She has honed her expert skills over a quarter of a century, mostly by practising at home during conversations between her and me.

On the other hand, I am a litigator. Essentially, I spend my day telling people how wrong they are. I make my living being disagreeable.

Nevertheless, there is perfect harmony in our matrimonial home. That is because when an editor and a litigator have an argument, the one who triumphs is always the wife.

I want to start by giving one piece of advice to the men: when you’ve already won her heart, you don’t need to win every argument.

Marriage is considered one milestone of life. Some of you may already be married. Some of you may never be married. Some of you will be married. Some of you will enjoy the experience so much, you will be married many, many times. Good for you.

The next big milestone in your life is today: your graduation. The end of education. You’re done learning.

You’ve probably been told the big lie that “Learning is a lifelong processand that you will continue studying and taking masters’ degrees and doctorates and professorships and so on. You know the sort of people who tell you that? Teachers.

Don’t you think there is some measure of conflict of interest? They are in the business of learning, after all. Where would they be without you? They need you to be repeat customers.

The good news is that they’re wrong.

The bad news is that you don’t need further education because your entire life is over. It is gone. That may come as a shock to some of you. You’re in your teens or early twenties. People may tell you that you will live to be 70, 80, 90 years old. That is your life expectancy.

I love that term: life expectancy. We all understand the term to mean the average life span of a group of people. But I’m here to talk about a bigger idea, which is what you expect from your life.

You may be very happy to know that Singapore is currently ranked as the country with the third highest life expectancy. We are behind Andorra and Japan, and tied with San Marino. It seems quite clear why people in those countries, and ours, live so long. We share one thing in common: our football teams are all hopeless. There’s very little danger of any of our citizens having their pulses raised by watching us play in the World Cup. Spectators are more likely to be lulled into a gentle and restful nap.

Singaporeans have a life expectancy of 81.8 years. Singapore men live to an average of 79.21 years, while Singapore women live more than five years longer, probably to take into account the additional time they need to spend in the bathroom.

So here you are, in your twenties, thinking that you’ll have another 40 years to go. Four decades in which to live long and prosper.

Bad news. Read the papers. There are people dropping dead when they’re 50, 40, 30 years old. Or quite possibly just after finishing their convocation. They would be very disappointed that they didn’t meet their life expectancy.

I’m here to tell you this. Forget about your life expectancy.

After all, it’s calculated based on an average. And you never, ever want to expect being average.

Revisit those expectations. You might be looking forward to working, falling in love, marrying, raising a family. You are told that, as graduates, you should expect to find a job paying so much, where your hours are so much, where your responsibilities are so much.

That is what is expected of you. And if you live up to it, it will be an awful waste.

If you expect that, you will be limiting yourself. You will be living your life according to boundaries set by average people. I have nothing against average people. But no one should aspire to be them. And you don’t need years of education by the best minds in Singapore to prepare you to be average.

Life is a mess.  What you should prepare for is mess. Life’s a mess. You are not entitled to expect anything from it.

Life is not fair. Everything does not balance out in the end. Life happens, and you have no control over it. Good and bad things happen to you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Your degree is a poor armour against fate.

Don’t expect anything. Erase all life expectancies. Just live. Your life is over as of today. At this point in time, you have grown as tall as you will ever be, you are physically the fittest you will ever be in your entire life and you are probably looking the best that you will ever look.

This is as good as it gets. It is all downhill from here. Or up. No one knows.

What does this mean for you? It is good that your life is over.

Since your life is over, you are free. Let me tell you the many wonderful things that you can do when you are free.

Resist the temptation to get a Job. Spend time to Play

The most important is this: do not work.

Work is anything that you are compelled to do. By it’s very nature, it is undesirable.

Work kills. The Japanese have a term “Karoshi”, which means death from overwork. That’s the most dramatic form of how work can kill. But it can also kill you in more subtle ways. If you work, then day by day, bit by bit, your soul is chipped away, disintegrating until there’s nothing left.

A rock has been ground into sand and dust.

There’s a common misconception that work is necessary. You will meet people working at miserable jobs. They tell you they are “making a living”.

No, they’re not. They’re dying, frittering away their fast-extinguishing lives doing things which are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, harmful.

People will tell you that work ennobles you, that work lends you a certain dignity. Work makes you free. The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. Utter nonsense.

Do not waste the vast majority of your life doing something you hate so that you can spend the small remainder sliver of your life in modest comfort. You may never reach that end anyway.

Resist the temptation to get a job. Instead, play. Find something you enjoy doing. Do it. Over and over again.

You will become good at it for two reasons: you like it, and you do it often. Soon, that will have value in itself.

I like arguing, and I love language. So, I became a litigator. I enjoy it and I would do it for free. If I didn’t do that, I would’ve been in some other type of work that still involved writing fiction – probably a sports journalist.

So what should you do? You will find your own niche. I don’t imagine you will need to look very hard. By this time in your life, you will have a very good idea of what you will want to do. In fact, I’ll go further and say the ideal situation would be that you will not be able to stop yourself pursuing your passions.

By this time you should know what your obsessions are. If you enjoy showing off your knowledge and feeling superior, you might become a teacher.

Find that pursuit that will energize you, consume you, become an obsession. Each day, you must rise with a restless enthusiasm. If you don’t, you are working.

Most of you will end up in activities which involve communication. To those of you I have a second message: be wary of the truth.

I’m not asking you to speak it, or write it, for there are times when it is dangerous or impossible to do those things. The truth has a great capacity to offend and injure, and you will find that the closer you are to someone, the more care you must take to disguise or even conceal the truth.

Often, there is great virtue in being evasive, or equivocating. There is a great skill. Any child can blurt out the truth, without thought to the consequences. It takes great maturity to appreciate the value of silence.

In order to be wary of the truth, you must first know it. That requires great frankness to yourself. Never fool the person in the mirror.

Don’t work. Be hated. Love someone

What are human development indicators?  Are they compatible with human basic rights?

Any progress in that endeavor?

Such as Life expectancy in developing countries, infantile mortality rates, infantile-juvenile mortality rates for children below 5 of age, formal schooling duration…

The last decade witnessed a doubling of world GNP to $62 trillion, sort of counting 12 zeros, irrespective of the turmoils and catastrophes that this decade experienced, in invading Iraq, worldwide financial crisis, recurring tsunamis, explosion of nuclear power plants, widespread civil wars in the poorest States…

China quadrupled its GNP and many nations are emerging as potential heavy weight in stabilizing global economic fluctuation.  Unfortunately, two-third of that growth is accounted by real estates and financial stocks markets.

Economic growth set aside, human development indicators are worsening. The world community is witnessing deterioration in selective abortion of girls in China and India, public health degradation, social security instability, increased inequalities among citizens, increased cost of living, shrinking of valuable job opportunities, displacement of temporary work of steady jobs…

While global GNP doubled in this decade, cereal production grew only by 10% and energy consumption remained at the same level, if we discount the coal production in China that accounted to 30% in energy production increase.

Consequently, food prices increased 140% in the last decade and prices of real estates more than doubled.  The standard of living decreased everywhere from last decade level, even if the US and Europe, as the GNP doubled!

What’s going on?

One percent of the Americans earn more than 25% of the total profit and concentrate more than 50% of the wealth of the nation.

You have the same trend in India and many States with absolute monarchies and oligarchies.

Most of that “economic growth” can be localized in owning consumer goods such as cars and other luxury items by Chinese, Indians, and emerging nations’ upper classes and financial growth of multinational enterprises.

Calamities in the least developed countries are being compounded:  Governments of rich nations are no longer contributing effectively to the well-being of the poorest of the poor and civic organizations are relied upon for solidarity with the people not sharing the same opportunities and qualifications.

The determined Arab mass upheavals are demonstrating the yearning of people for basic human rights and dignity, and the uprising are not about to abate.

I believe that seriously tackling the basic criteria of quality of life necessarily lead to improving basic human rights in freedom of expression, liberty of gathering and organizing, and fair equitable election laws that represent all community strata, and laws that prohibit discriminations based on genders, ethnicity, language, and race…

Let us take seriously the UN Charters as super laws governing decency in human relationship.

Note: Statistics were extracted from an article by the economist  Xie Guozhong, published in the French weekly “Corrier International”

Is it you sprout a piece of memory here and there, now and then?

It is hard to chew on the adage in Ecclesiastes that “all is vain” on the premise that we are doomed to die anyway.

How many generations mankind needed to suffer and struggle in order to climb down from trees and then walk on two?

How many generations did mankind need to sprout a piece of memory here and there before fabricating a hand tool?

How many generations before this hand tool was mass-produced?

How many generations to communicating verbally?

How many genration to learning to write?

If pain is far more powerful than life, love, dignity, and loyalty then, how mankind specie managed to barely survive over a million of generations?

Even in the last century, life expectancy was no longer than 40 years:  People died of normal diseases (small-pox, measles…), and all kinds of pains lingered for many years without effective pain killers or any convincing remedies (think of the favored blood-letting method).

What happened that, in just the last four generations, mankind moved from fabricating tools into this world of instant communication facilities, including images and video, and in “streaming” platforms?

Certainly mankind’s brain must have changed, altered, and added a few pieces of hardware to make this qualitative jump!

When scientist throw numbers in the billion and trillion of neurons and synapses in the brain then, you know that efforts are lacking into investigating any additional thousands of neurons and synapses in every new generation.

Certainly the hardware of our current brain has changed in many ways and it is urgent to know how, how much, and why.

Mankind had been observing and recording data from time immemorial since he mastered the written languages, but mostly, mankind has been pondering and working on premises that could not be validated or experimented with (namely measuring the variables).  Galileo said:” measure what can be measured and then, learn to measure what could not be measured”.

In the last four centuries, scientists have been analyzing simple data of simple experiments (mainly, one independent and one dependent (or data) variables and then matching data to a simple equation.)

Then, in 1920, scientific methods for designing complex experiments could be performed because a method for analyzing data was available to scientists: working on the variability of errors (after controlling for consistent errors or confounding variables).

This method might not be that convincing, but it was something to start with.  After the invention of computers, a paradigm shift occurred that says: “collect data and let data talk and reveal the relationships among variables or factors.”

Since then, all kinds of statistical programs have been written to mine abundant data, analyzing them, jugling with far many interrelated variables (interconnection), and then interpreting them.  Instead of cause and effects relationship we frequently hear of correlations.

Fast digital communication and efficient transmission of data and studies have allowed scientists to select vast amount of research studies and data and then evaluate a trend in any subject matter.

Thus, scientists felt inclined to accepting results and conclusions on theories and hypotheses based on the excuse that research studies are peer-reviewed and professional publishers must have validated the reliability and accuracy of data and information.

We have reached a stage that many scientists don’t even bother to using statistical analysis methods or validating experiments:  They are confident relying on the already acquired “scientific evidences and procedures“.

The second qualitative jump is creating sophisticated precision measuring tools and precision manufacturing facilities based on digital computing.

The generations of the 40’s and 50’s had the most exciting and tougher times of all generations:  They lived to witness a halucinating quantity of new inventions that they barely could fathom or use in timely fashion, conmmensurate with the quick stream on the market of new inventions and products.  Any problems using the consumer products? No problem:  We will ponder on these difficulties (after hundreds have been injured and harmed.)

Do you think I went into a tangent?

Let me refocuse on the intended purpose of this article.  Is it too tough chewing on the adage “all is vain in this life?”

Large communication and transmission highways to connecting with people and trends have been established.

First, this mentality of marketing products and services has strengthened the concept “You cannot succeed unless the masses rally to your product.”

Thus, catering to the vast majority of the population is the first step toward other more impotant advances into reducing pain, suffering, famine, and poor economic statuses.  Every one has to be able to afford certain consumer products in order for companies to outpace competitors.

If hungry people can have facilities to communicate and acquire the ability to connect with this illusory world of their’s then, at least hope of being integrated to other populations can come to the rescue of this wretched life.

Forget ethics, moral, and political rights of the downtrodden.

If they can be saved from famine and pain for economic reasons then, invest in poorer States and the poorer classes.  At least, this attitude cannot be vanity under any twisting of the mind.

Note: you may read my previous articles:




November 2020

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