Archive | May 2010

Tobacco Around the World and into the Lap of the Developing World

Tobacco has long been known to be linked with multiple negative health outcomes and it thought to be the number one cause of mortality in the US. At the time of my birth, more than half of all American adults smoked and over the course of my lifetime, the efforts of the medical and public health community, in addition to changing attitudes toward health and well being, have resulted in that number being halved. However, the majority of present day smokers are among the poorest of Americans. This results in increased health costs for a group which largely has no health insurance, in addition to a fair proportion of an already strained income going into the coffers of corrupt tobacco companies and federal, state and local tax funds. Put it this way, in 2010, a pack a day smoker will spend approximately $150 a month on cigarettes, or $1800 per year. A minimum wage smoker in Michigan working full time will spend 11% of his or her pre-tax income on cigarettes. This, of course, not only endangers health, but reduces opportunities for increasing living standards, thus exacerbating the cycle of poverty, a condition which tobacco companies could really care less about.

American tobacco companies, feeling the pinch of a declining number of customers have been looking abroad for new patrons. As developing economies expand and residents move from completely agrarian to cash based economies, the mix of addiction, access to monetary income, low awareness of long term negative health effects and nonexistent regulation will result in a windfall for such companies. Indeed, wordlwide production of tobacco is slated to be higher now than at any point in human history and the number of smokers has reached unprecedented levels, mostly in developing economies such as those in Africa and Asia.

Malawi is a major tobacco producer. Tobacco is grown on farms owned by British Tobacco at the expense of farmland that could be used to grow food. Tobacco requires curing, which requires that forests be cut to provide wood, further decimating the already bare landscape and creating prime mosquito habitat, excellent for the spread of malaria. Yet, despite this, tobacco was seen by my colleagues as an important economic hope for the future of Malawi, as if they were oblivious to the clear exploitation of foreign companies indifferent to the future well being of the country.

I recently encountered a story of a 2 year old in Indonesia (which is what inspired this post) who smokes 2 packs a day at the encouragement of his own father. It is worth mentioning that British American Tobacco recently purchased a large stake in the Indonesian tobacco industry. I wondered how much awareness people in the developed world have of how corrupt American companies, unable to do business here due to the political power of wealthy democracies, export their poisons elsewhere. It makes me think that about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We will be willing to place heavy restrictions of the production of oil in our waters, but will be happy to support off shore drilling in Nigeria, far away from our own interests.

Segregation in the US: What Rand Paul Should See

Recently, I’ve been back into home building and completing a long overdue manuscript. These posts are intended to both keep me sane and further the cause of procrastination. In addition, I hope to sharpen my GIS skills and reduce the amount of time it takes to produce some interesting maps.

The US Census has, since 1980, collected data on the segregation of racial groups in the US for major metropolitan areas. From a third party website, I was able to download a database of racial dissimilarity indices for 1980, 1990 and 2000. A “dissimilarity index” is defined as follows (from the wikipedia entry):

“The ‘index of dissimilarity’ is a demographic measure of the evenness with which two groups are distributed across the component geographic areas that make up a larger area. The index score can also be interpreted as the percentage of one of the two groups included in the calculation that would have to move to different geographic areas in order to produce a distribution that matches that of the other group. The index of dissimilarity can also be used as a measure of inequality.

The basic formula for the index of dissimilarity is:


bi = the black population of the ith area, e.g. census tract
B = the total black population of the large geographic entity for which the index of dissimilarity is being calculated.
wi = the white population of the ith area
W = the total white population of the large geographic entity for which the index of dissimilarity is being calculated.

Basically, it is the difference of the percentage of each group in the census tract relative to the larger metropolitan area in this case.

A raw map of the data for Black/White segregation in the year 2000 appears below and highlights the metropolitan areas which were considered in the index:

But this map only tell part of the story. Looking at the map, it’s clear that Black/White segregation diminishes as one moves further west. Kriging the results provides some more insights into the geographic distribution of segregation in the US:

From the map, it’s clear that while the South has it’s share of segregation, the worst separation of racial groups exists in the industrial midwest along Lake Erie. This is, of course, no surprise. It has been long known that Michigan is one the most segregated states in the Union. Segregation also appears to run rampant along the Mississippi river, mostly concentrated in Memphis and St. Louis, MO.

Overall, Black/White segregation levels improved from 1980 to 2000 in all regions as can be seen from the table and graph below. The West Coast region appears to have the lowest level of segregation and the Midwest competes with the Northeast for the title of the highest level, which really isn’t all that far off from the traditionally segregated South.

Where people choose to live is obviously not an issue, but segregation in the US is more than race/ethnic groups opting to live in communities of like minded individuals. It is the result of decades of bad policy decisions which restrict movement of economic groups to specific geographic areas, which serve to exacerbate economic and social inequality. This, if course, has grave implications for the ability for groups to represent their neighborhoods in politics and results in the unfair distribution of health, educational and economic resources, as we all know. It is also important to note that African Americans are not the only marginalized subgroup in the US. We could easily perform this analysis for Hispanic groups, Asian groups and poor whites and potentially produce similar results if we are to assume that a large proportion of segregation in the US is driven by economics.

It is apparent that, given Rand Paul’s recent brainless comments on the overextension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the realm of private business, that this issue is not only relevant, but important. Some private businesses, if left to their own wiles, would pick and choose it’s customers to cater to wealth subgroups and further marginalize poor individuals and thereby make the problem of lack of access to resources in the US worse than it already is. It is worth mentioning that the United States has been said to be at least as segregated as apartheid era South Africa, which is a sad comment on the nature of American society. Although very difficult to prove without some counterfactual referent, we can potentially attribute at least some of the decline in the overall levels of segregation to good policy decisions such as that of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mr. Paul and his cheap, double talk style of campaigning would do right to recognize the importance of government for setting societal standards which create opportunities for all.

Gay Marriage in Malawi

The brunt of my graduate work is connected to Malawi, a small country in sub-Saharan Africa and, agreeably, one of the poorest areas of the planet. Despite intense poverty and incredible challenges presented by malaria, HIV/AIDS, TB, non-existent infrastructure, widespread illiteracy, low levels of education and health care, they have a functioning central government, don’t kill each other in deep ethnic squabbles, and are normally some of the friendliest and kindest people on Earth. I love Malawi. It is truly one of the most endearing places I have ever been.

However, the story of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza troubles me on several levels. Tiwonge and Steven are the first Malawi gay couple to openly challenge the deeply conservative rejection of homosexuality that exists all over sub-Saharan Africa. Last year they attempted to have a traditional Malawian engagement ceremony that turned into a public spectacle and sent waves over all of SSA, whose residents often deny that homosexuality exists on their continent. This, in addition to the proclamations of Uganda’s President that homosexuals should be met with the death penalty, have exposed the deep seated and backwards bigoted attitudes that the majority of Africans have toward people who choose to enter into relationships that differ from traditional male/female pairings.

Tiwonge and Steven released an entirely brave and inspiring statement, that spits in the face of worldwide intolerance of homosexual relationships:

Tiwonge said: “I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless.”

“We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will not and never stop loving Tiwonge,” said Steven.

As a reward for their bravery, Tiwonge and Steve have suffered public humiliation, imprisonment and now have been sentenced to 14 years hard labor, for the sole offense of being in a relationship that differs from the majority in this deeply conservative continent. It has to be said that 14 years in Chichiri prison, where these two have until now been housed, is tantamount to a death sentence. It is likely that neither of these men will last two years in the deplorable conditions of what is possibly one of the worst prisons in the world.

As a researcher in public health and as a political liberal, my views on homosexual relationships and personal sexual choices should be clear. If Tiwonge and Steven’s story had occurred in the United States, I would consider packing up shop and moving out of the country. I am absolutely positive that a large number of Americans favor the death penalty for homosexuals and would rejoice at seeing homosexual couples jailed and eventually killed. However, despite a conservative rhetoric that gets thrown around at election time, we have political checks and a functioning economy that keep the worst from occurring in 2010, in part due to a sick and bloody past of social exclusion and intolerance. Granted, we still have much work to do.

Screaming and writing blog posts by citizens of wealthy states on the societal faults of poor and struggling countries will be seen at the worst hegemonic and at the least hypocritical, given our own troubled histories. A cruise through the comments section of a recent article on the House Resolution aimed at Tilongwe and Steven’s plight is both illuminating and disturbing. The west is largely seen as the root of homosexuality in Africa. We are seen to be exporting our moral depravity with the aim of decimating the African family and spreading HIV (not as if heterosexual Africans don’t do a good enough job already). In addition, they accuse us of violating their sovereignty by imposing a moral will on a small, impoverished country. But I applaud the Congress for even making this relatively toothless resolution, calling for the recognition of human rights in a struggling and developing country. If Malawi is to expand, it must, like all countries, unveil and exorcise it’s moral demons, just as we have to do on a daily basis. Granted, the Congress is drawing resolutions against Malawi and not wealthy human rights hell-holes like Saudi Arabia.

Illiteracy in 1870

I’m back to house construction, but here’s my quick post that would be incredibly socially relevant, were this the 19th century. The University of Texas at Austin’s map library houses this beautiful map of county level illiteracy in the US in 1872 from the 1870 Census, interpolation and all:

I downloaded the US Census of 1870 and, with modern computing power was able to produce this not nearly as attractive map representing the same thing, except that it took me 10 minutes as opposed to the number of days it took whoever to draw the above (and superior) map:

The 19th century censae are absolutely fascinating. I don’t think people really have an appreciation for how challenging things were at the time without seeing it. Obviously, the powers that be thought illiteracy to be enough of a problem to include it in the census and go to the trouble of making a map by hand. Not to mention the incredible challenges of conducting a census by foot, assembling data by hand and still coming up with a reliable database of information. Developing countries face these same internal troubles today in conducting large censae. Incredible.

What’s interesting about this map from 1870, is that it’s really not that different from a map of educational attainment from 2000. While overall rates of literacy and education have gone up, the distribution of educational level has not:

Hate Map

The Southern Poverty Law Center has created a map of hate groups around the U.S. Find your local hate chapter. They are likely closer to home than you think.

Michigan has 26 hate groups listed by the SPLC, including racist hate groups, anti-immigrant hate groups, radical white power Christian hate groups (Jesus was white??), and the absolutely bonkers Jewish Defense League. It’s hard to say whether hate groups are increasing in the U.S. I theorize that there has been a constant of racism, bigotry and intolerance throughout the history of the U.S., but these groups are getting a lot more attention from the authorities than previously afforded.

Of course, Texas has the most overall number of hate groups, but, given population, Montana has the largest number of hate groups: 1.2 per 100,000 people.

Lynching Data

A later continuation of this analysis is here.

I should be writing the take home portion to my qualifying exam, but I’ve gotten plenty done and I’m too tired to continue. Cruising the internet, I found a website which has compiled a data set of reported lynchings for 10 southern states from 1882-1930. The HAL Project. Project HAL: Historical American Lynching Data Collection Project is from the University of North Carolina Wilmington aims to “accumulate a database of lynchings that took place at any date within the present borders of the United States.”

The database contains information on 2806 lynchings which took place across 10 state from 1882-1930. It includes the name of the victim (when known), sex, offense, date and county in which it occurred. The contents are disturbing.

As can be seen in the above graph, the large majority of lynching victims were of African descent, but a small minority were white persons. Lynching appears to have peaked (assuming that the reporting of the data is robust over time) around the turn of the century and gradually trailed off until the beginning of the Great Depression. Offenses one could be killed for were many. There are 385 different offenses listed but there have to be 50 different categories for murder and 50 more for rape (The data needs serious cleaning). The majority of killings were (claimed to be) for murder, rape and assault related offenses, but there are killings for “insulting a white woman” (more than 30 people died for this offense), “voting Democrat”, “testifying” and “reporting moonshiners”. Mostly, though, one can assume that a good percentage of these people were only guilty of being black and that the local authorities encouraged the reprehensible behavior of it’s citizens. Bossier Parish in Louisiana had the most reported lynchings at 26.

I took the data and merged it with the county codes so that I could open it up in ArcGIS and produced this map:

The darker areas represent areas that saw more lynchings. You can see that there are several counties in southern Alabama and Florida that had little qualms about killing people outside of the law.

I do not have specific demographic data for counties for the southern US from that time period. However, I do have the percentage of population that is African-American today. Assuming that this percentage is a rough estimate of the percentage today, I was able to look at state data and found that, given the portion of the population who actually was African-American at that time, Kentucky and Florida killed more people than any of the other states. In sheer numbers, Mississippi killed the most.

Through simple Kriging, I was able to discover some hotspots of lynching in the southern states. It appears that the most lynching occured along the Mississippi river in the Delta area, near Montgomery, Alabama, and in mid-Florida. The Appalachian areas seem to be the lowest, likely due to there not being a large African-American population there.

All in all, while I applaud the people at UNC for keeping this, I find it deplorable that I have likely walked the planet with people who actively participated in lynchings and people who were silent spectators at these events. These were our grandfathers and grandmothers. In fact, I would not doubt that I have even spoken with someone who was witness to one of these disgusting events. It is my opinion, that life in the US will forever be stained by our dark and bloody history and I would hope that no one is ever allowed to forget this disgusting chapter, which really wasn’t all that far in the past. I wonder how, in a climate of right wing, jingoistic cries of American moral superiority, how one can say this is any different from public executions that occurred under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Iran or our happy trading partners in Saudi Arabia . Granted, lynchings are (thankfully) an extremely rare event today, a testament to our progress as a nation and the hard work of those who believe in peace, but there are still cries for it’s return among existing hate groups.

I thought about it today as I was compiling this. In 13 years in Mississippi, I cannot even once remember school sanctioned teaching of the Civil Rights movement and the events which lead up to it. Mostly, we were imbibed with mealy mouthed stories about the oppressive North and nonsense about State’s rights, the evils of General Sherman, etc. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009, that Mississippi officially decided to make teaching of the Civil Rights movement mandatory in public schools, MORE THAN 45 YEARS AFTER THE FACT.

Makapads: Appropriate Technologies for Africa

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear a lecture from Moses Musaazi at the Science Environments in Africa Conference here at the University of Michigan. Dr. Musaazi is a professor of electrical engineering at Makerere University in Kamplala, Uganda. Recognizing the need for the development of technologies appropriate for the poor in Africa, he has made two important contributions to the lives of people in Uganda, and surely to all of Sub-Saharan Africa. He argues that technological development aimed at users in Africa must recognize the special conditions that exist there which will inhibit the spread of technologies that may be applicable to the developed world. Technologies must be take into account the challenging environment of Sub-Saharan Africa (dust, rats and heavy rain), widespread illiteracy and difficult lifestyles and, most importantly, new technologies must be cheap to be able to reach the multitudes of impoverished persons throughout the sub-continent.

Dr. Musaazi has introduced two technologies which have proven successful thus far. The first is an interlocking brick (Interlocking Stabilized Soil Bricks: ISSB) which does not require that the bricks be fired. Environmental degradation due to the large amount of wood required to fire bricks is wide spread throughout SSA. Dr. Musaazi’s bricks can be made out of any soil with a small machine that can be used on-site.

In addition, the bricks air-dry and can be used a mere four hours after being made so that construction can commence immediately. He indicates that a house of typical size for that of a family in SSA can be built and livable in less than two weeks, and does not require the cutting of a single tree.

Not only is the brick good for building households, but it is also good for building water storage containers. Water can be collected off the roof of the household and stored, thereby relieving households members of the burden of having to walk several kilometers to fetch water.

In the developed world, we take the wide spread availability of water completely for granted. I believe that many people on this end of the globe cannot even imagine the immense benefits of having water available at all times in a household. Women are more often that not tasked with obtaining water, which has serious implications for the educational achievement of both adults and children and has serious effects of society as a whole. Educated women are the key to good health in populations and an indicator of the level of progress a society makes in respecting human rights and welfare.

In SSA, girls have the added problem of running the risk of being raped on the way to fetch water. Having a water source near the household minimizes this risk and protects her physical and psychological health and well-being.

The second technology he presented was the Makapad, a sanitary pad for women. The lack of sanitary pads is a serious problem for women in SSA, especially for girls. Girls cannot go to school during their menstrual period, interrupting their studies on a monthly basis in addition to creating a sense of isolation and marginalization during menstruation.

The Makapad is made from papyrus, which grows wild all over Uganda and the Sudan. Papyrus is more absorbent than cotton and requires little processing to make it usable for sanitary pads. 10% of the Makapad comes from recycled office paper waste but the most important aspect of the Makapad is that it can be made completely by hand.

Dr. Musaazi has established a factory near Kampala and employs women from a nearby refugee camp. While one could argue that mechanization would create make production more efficient and cheap, Dr. Musaazi argues that, in spite of inefficiency, employing a large number of people is important to contributing to the living situation of refugee women in Uganda.

Note: As usual, graphics are blatantly lifted from other websites. Please visit the links above to help spread the word.

Naoyuki Kawahara

Recently, Fumie had sent me an episode of Jounetsu Tairiku (“Continent of Dedication”). This one was on Naoyuki Kawahara, a Japanese doctor who presently works in the Sudan. There are many foreign doctors who forgo their financial futures to treat patients in developing countries, and all are truly heroic, in the deepest sense. However, Dr. Kawahara’s story was inspiring to me.

He had originally been a rugby player, then suddenly deciding to enter medical school in Kyusyuu. After two failed attempts at passing the grueling entrance examination to Kyusyuu Daigaku’s medical school, he got in and obtained his medical degree in surgery. He then spent a year in Sudan working for the Japanese Foreign Ministry as a diplomat, making an incredible sum of money.

At the time, the Sudan was accused of harboring Al Qaeda related groups and Japan has suspended all aid. Despite being restricted from seeing patients due to sanctions, Kawahara would covertly practice medicine in his free time after seeing the deplorable level of medical care in that country. It is truly sad that the health and welfare of poor individuals would be used as a leveraging tool to get governments to crack down on terrorists who threaten the health and welfare of citizens of wealthy countries (Aid to Sudan from Japan has recently been reinstated).

After some time, Kawahara decided that seeing patients was much more rewarding than being a diplomat and left the Foreign Ministry to practice medicine full time in the Sudan, despite having a wife and three children in Japan.

Now he works to set up rural clinics in the Sudan. In a country where doctors are few and the doctors who are there remain in the urban areas, rural regions who experience the most serious disease burden are neglected. Kawahara wishes to encourage the development of rural health clinics and the creation of conditions that will help Sudanese doctors to move and practice where they are needed most. In all of the arguments about health care here in the US, one forgets that medical conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa are deplorable. Clinics operate with no electricity or water. Rural clinics often have no system of record keeping where women often don’t even know when their children were born. In addition, the worst areas are continually upset by regional conflicts and warfare. Despite the incredible challenges, the bravery and dedication of African physicians is sometimes not enough to overcome the challenges to venturing into troubled areas. Dr. Kawahara deserves special mention.

Money is not the answer to Africa’s problem. The knowledge, skills and dedication of trained individuals to helping create conditions which combat the vast and deep structural difficulties are essential.

Here is the video, it’s in Japanese, which isn’t a problem for me but…

As an aside, I am reminded of an interesting lecture given last night by Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom. Her work has been primarily to combat deforestation worldwide using local village level administrative resources to develop protective systems. These systems work not by using heavy handed governmental enforcement to discourage forestry poaching, which contributes to global and local climate degradation, but by using indigenous tribal resources to empower local persons to act as managers and protectors of local forest resources.

Child Farm Labor

When I was 13 years old (in 1982!), I got a job at a local grocery store, a Jitney Jungle for all of you Mississippians out there. Because it was a grocery store, it was considered, in Mississippi’s infinite wisdom, an agricultural operation. This meant that they could hire people under the age of 16. The Carter administration had raised the federal minimum wage to $3.35 an hour in 1981 (where it would stay until 1990) but the subsequent Reagan admin had made special concessions to the agricultural industry so that they could hire child labor for half that price, $1.67. Jitney was an agricultural operation, so it could hire a good brunt of it’s workers for half the price of a regular human being. There were few limits on what your employer could ask you to do and even if there were, it’s doubtful that employers would have paid attention. The job wasn’t bad but I was white. I can imagine that rural black children in Mississippi conscripted to work on real farms were subjected to horrendous conditions and vast exploitation. This was my first introduction to the world of dirty agricultural politics at the expense of workers who have little rights. It had the added effect of my never voting Republican throughout my adult life, not that Southern Democrats at the time didn’t have their hands in it as well.

Michigan fairs no better than Mississippi. The present laws on hiring child labor in Michigan are absurdly lax. While children who seek to work at fast foods restaurants and formal businesses require permits and are protected under strict accounting measures to insure fair treatment, agricultural work is largely exempt and one can only assume that children of documented and undocumented immigrants fair even worse. Go around to any farm in Michigan and see whose picking your tomatoes. Then, ask yourself, in a climate which produces bigoted laws like that in Arizona, how people too young to protest will speak up against exploitation. While a great many family farms likely responsibly and fairly pass their traditions on to their children through shared work on the farm, the lack of laws to combat true exploitation is disturbing. We made great strides to keep child labor out of the manufacturing sector in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 2010, we would hope that with the industrialization of agriculture, farming would catch up. Clearly, despite denials (read the comments and try not to vomit), slavery is alive and well in the US. A harrowing account of migrant farm labor from 1969 could have been written yesterday.

The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act) was introduced in Congress last year, but has seen little action. I encourage everyone to write their Congressman or Senator to prompt Congress to act to pass this Act, which works to protect child workers from rampant exploitation.

“Child farmworkers as young as 12 years old:
• often work 12 or more hours a day in scorching heat, bending over for hours as they pick fruits or vegetables;
• risk pesticide poisoning and high rates of injury from knives and heavy equipment;
• suffer fatalities at five times the rate of other working youth; and
• have only a 55 percent chance of finishing high school. ”

For an informative video and more info, see the page on the Human Rights Watch site. . Please write your Congressman and encourage them to put the CARE Act back on the drawing table.

You can easily get a message sent through the automatic feature on the Human Rights Watch site, which locates your Congressmen by your Zip Code, presumably. It’s HERE and very easy.

Graciela Mellibovsky Saidler

I found this to be particularly inspiring. Statisticians generally don’t get recognized for important acts of bravery nor are they often killed by their government. Ms. Saidler deserves special recognition, I believe.

“Graciela Mellibovsky Saidler was a 29-year-old Argentine government economist. In 1976, she produced a statistical study on conditions in the slums of Buenos Aires which was so deeply embarrassing to the military dictatorship that it was publicly singled out by the Junta leader, General Jorge Videla, as an example of the infiltration of subversives into the government. Shortly afterwards, on September 25, 1976, she “disappeared.”

In 1984, her father, Santiago, wrote a letter to the American Statistical Association, asking its help in determining her fate. In response, the ASA posted advertisements in Argentine newspapers offering a reward for information on her whereabouts. A fer weeks later, the ASA received a letter from a former “death squad” member, Antonio Francisco Valdez, who claimed knowledge of her death.

The ASA, in conjunction with the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the American Association for the Advanced Science (AAAS), sent investigators to Buenos Aires to interview Valdez who, at the time, was imprisoned for ordinary criminal charges. He gave a statement in which he confessed, in chilling graphic detail, to torturing and killing Graciela, referring to her as the “beautiful Jewess.” He also demanded an exorbitant sum of money to disclose the location of her grave. A few weeks later, he escaped and, after murdering his wife, was killed in a shoot-out with police.

More than three decades later, the ultimate fate of Graciela, likt those of thousands of other Argentine desaparecidos, remains unknown. Her aging parents, Santiago and Matilde, have never given up their search for her.

Excerpted from Jana Asher et al., Statistical Methods for Human Rights, Springer. “

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