Later On

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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Teenagers Have Become Lovely Human Beings. But Why?

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Kevin Drum has a chart that shows the remarkable changes, and also a reason why: this is the first generation to grow up in an environment that is almost completely free of lead pollution.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2018 at 1:59 pm

In Britain’s Playgrounds, ‘Bringing in Risk’ to Build Resilience

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Not risk in terms of firearms, of course: it’s not the US. Ellen Barry reports in the NY Times:

Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.

Four years ago, for instance, teachers at the Richmond Avenue Primary and Nursery School looked critically around their campus and set about, as one of them put it, “bringing in risk.”

Out went the plastic playhouses and in came the dicey stuff: stacks of two-by-fours, crates and loose bricks. The schoolyard got a mud pit, a tire swing, log stumps and workbenches with hammers and saws.

“We thought, how can we bring that element of risk into your everyday environment?” said Leah Morris, who manages the early years program at the school in Shoeburyness in southeast Britain. “We were looking at, O.K., so we’ve got a sand pit, what can we add to the sand pit to make it more risky?”

Now, Ms. Morris says proudly, “we have fires, we use knives, saws, different tools,” all used under adult supervision. Indoors, scissors abound, and so do sharp-edged tape dispensers (“they normally only cut themselves once,” she says).

Limited risks are increasingly cast by experts as an experience essential to childhood development, useful in building resilience and grit.

Continue reading the main story

Outside the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, which attracts more than a million visitors a year, a placard informs parents that risks have been “intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.”

This view is tinged with nostalgia for an earlier Britain, in which children were tougher and more self-reliant. It resonates both with right-wing tabloids, which see it as a corrective to the cosseting of a liberal nanny state; and with progressives, drawn to a freer and more natural childhood. It is also supported by a growing list of government officials, among them Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, the powerful agency that inspects British schools.

Ms. Spielman has poked fun at schools for what she considers excessive risk aversion, describing as “simply barmy” measures like sending schoolchildren out on city field trips in high-visibility jackets. Late last year, she announced that her agency’s inspectors would undergo training that will encompass the positive, as well as the negative, side of risk.

“Inspections will creep into being a bit more risk-averse unless we explicitly train them to get a more sophisticated understanding of the balance between benefits and risk, and stand back, and say ‘It’s O.K. to have some risk of children falling over and bashing into things,’” she said. “That’s not the same as being reckless and sending a 2-year-old to walk on the edge of a 200-foot cliff unaccompanied.”

Britain is one of a number of countries where educators and regulators say a litigious, protective culture has gone too far, leaching healthy risksout of childhood. Guidelines on play from the government agency that oversees health and safety issues in Britain state that “the goal is not to eliminate risk.”

Australia last fall introduced new standards for playground equipment, instructing operators to consider the benefits, not just the risks, of activities that could result in injuries. Cities and school districts in Canada and Sweden are following suit.

(In the United States, a country with far higher litigation costs, government agencies overseeing play safety are not known to have made any such changes.)

The shift to seeing some benefit in risk, advocates say, signals the end of a decades-long drift toward overprotecting children.

Beginning in the late 1970s, parents were buffeted by warnings about hidden dangers on playgrounds and predators lurking in suburban neighborhoods. Behavior changed: In England, the percentage of schoolchildren who went to school unaccompanied dropped from around 85 percent of 9-year-olds in 1971 to around 25 percent in 1990, a team of British researchers found.

Play spaces also changed: Plank swings and steel merry-go-rounds disappeared, while impact-absorbent rubber surfacing spread over so-called drop zones, driving up the cost of new playgrounds. A market appeared for lab-tested, safety-certified fiberglass boulders. The result has been a gradual sterilization of play, said Meghan Talarowski, an American landscape designer who has compared British and American playgrounds.

“It’s a rubber floor, a little structure surrounded by a fence, it’s like a little play jail,” she said of playgrounds in the United States. “As a grown-up, you’re sitting there on your phone, waiting for them to be done.”

Ms. Talarowski, who was struck by how much more adventurous playgrounds were when she moved to London in 2015, threw herself into gathering data. Using a quantitative tool developed by the RAND Corporation, a research center, she used video to track the behavior of 18,000 visitors to London playgrounds, then compared it with similar data on visitors to American parks.

The findings suggested that exciting equipment had a pronounced effect: The British playgrounds had 55 percent more visitors over all, and children and teenagers were 16 to 18 percent more active. The features that held visitors’ attention the longest — sand, grass, high swings and climbing structures — were elements American park managers use sparingly, because of high maintenance costs and the risk of falls, Ms. Talarowski said.

In Britain, though, risk has become something to (carefully) brag about.

“It’s about exploring controlled risk, risk that we’ve carefully designed,” said Chris Moran, manager of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, as he led guests through Tumbling Bay playground, built in 2014 at a cost of more than $1.5 million. “We’ve got the gorse bushes, which are quite spiky,” he said. “The child will touch it and learn it is a spiky bush.”

Aspects of Tumbling Bay, with its tall tree houses and wobbly bridges, would make an American park manager blanch. Its 20-foot climbing towers, with natural, gnarled boughs lashed together with willow wands, were made by hand, not in a factory (which would share legal liability in case of an accident). Waving prairie grasses stand higher than the head of an adult (which could block sight lines.) There are expanses of sand (could contain animal feces or sharp objects) and boulders (no manufacturer, no shared legal liability.)

The park requires an intensive safety inspection regime — half of it has been barricaded off since November so that rotten boughs can be replaced — but, so far, any injuries have been minor ones, Mr. Moran said. “We’ve always won the argument,” he said.

Underlying the difference in play is a difference in law. The United States uses the jury system for personal injury cases, and liability costs, as a percentage of gross domestic product, are more than double those of most eurozone economies.

In addition, American families must “find someone to blame to cover the cost” of medical care, unlike their counterparts in European countries, which have socialized health care, said Ellen Beate Hansen Sanseter, a Norwegian professor of education.

“In Norway, the society has already paid for it,” she said.

Support for freer, riskier play in Britain has built to the point where even prominent safety advocates endorse the idea. But change on the ground is patchy. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 6:47 pm

A great story of informed persistence: Virginia vinticulture

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This worth reading. By Eric J. Wallace at Gastro Obscura:

FORTY-TWO YEARS AGO, GABRIELE RAUSSE received a phone call from a childhood friend who told him he had to “drop everything and come to America.”

The phone call was from one viticulturist to another. Rausse was 30 years old and working on a French vineyard. (He had been working in Australian wine, but his visa was revoked on a technicality.) His childhood friend, Gianni Zonin, was president of the Italian winemaking company Casa Vinicola Zonin. The two had grown up together in Italy’s Veneto wine region, and their phone call forever changed the U.S. wine industry.

Together, Zonin insisted, he and Rausse were going to establish the first Virginia vineyard to have commercial success growing Vitis vinifera, the species of grape responsible for fine wine.

“I was worried,” says Rausse. “All I could think was, ‘My God, he’s gone insane.’”

The year was 1976, and at that time, the idea of making premium wine in Virginia was crazy. While Napa Valley was establishing itself as a world-class producer, few had taken the idea of making European-style fine wine on the East Coast seriously since Thomas Jefferson tried and failed some 200 years earlier. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warned that vinifera varieties would not survive the winter. Even if they did, native pests and diseases would kill them off. According to wine-historian and journalist Richard G. Leahy, East Coast vineyards of the time made beverages that were almost universally “more relatable to winos than wine.” Crafted from French-American hybrids or native grapes that yielded flavors comparable to bubble-gum (think Boone’s Farm), the wines were essentially considered a bad-joke by connoisseurs.

On the call, Rausse debated how to tactfully turn down his friend. But he had a second thought.

“My only plan was to get my visa fixed and return to Australia. Suddenly, I realized going to America would let me practice my English,” he says. “So, I accepted. But with a big caveat. I told Gianni, ‘I’ll help you with your fool’s errand. But once I get my visa, I’m gone.’”

ZONIN HAD CONSIDERED ESTABLISHING AN American vineyard since visiting Napa Valley in 1961. He hoped to create a distribution center and further Casa Vinicola Zonin’s reach. He also worried that his family’s 11 vineyards might be nationalized by communists who seemed capable of winning elections in Italy. After inheriting the company presidency, the sixth-generation scion set out on a grueling survey of “every American viticultural region willing to build a winery.” After traveling to Oregon, New York, and California, he visited an Italian-born friend at the University of Virginia.

The visit coincided with the bicentennial of Jefferson breaking ground at his Monticello estate. Charlottesville was celebrating.

“I remember studying Jefferson’s attempts to cultivate vinifera in Virginia,” says Zonin. “I was fascinated by the idea of a president being a viticultural pioneer.”

Touring Monticello and the mountainous countryside surrounding Charlottesville, Zonin was reminded of his home in northern Italy. “It was so beautiful and somehow familiar. I was falling in love with the area,” he muses. He began to ask questions about soil, rainfall, and climate.

Then he learned of Jefferson’s enlistment of one of the 18th century’s most prestigious wine personalities, Philip Mazzei, an Italian, to manage his experimental vineyard. He also learned of Jefferson’s assertions that the venture would have succeeded if Mazzei’s vines had not been trampled by horses during the American Revolution. Says Zonin, “I began to think, ‘Maybe they chose this place for a reason.’”

Zonin returned to Italy, but Charlottesville stayed on his mind. In his spare time, he studied the region’s microclimate and traced the city’s latitude across the globe, comparing the data to that of sister regions in Italy.

“I noticed the average rainfall and temperature were nearly identical to areas in central Italy,” says Zonin. Virginia had long summers and mild, extended falls that often featured low rainfalls—ideal conditions for growing grapes. “That’s when I knew I wasn’t going to establish just another California vineyard. I was going to do this in Virginia.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 9:31 am

Speculative but alluring: Black Death’s silver lining

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2018 at 5:18 pm

Lead, Crime, and New York City

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The lead-crime hypothesis has been solidly verified, but journalists seem to remain ignorant of it. Kevin Drum in Mother Jones points out the most recent example of journalistic ignorance on display:

A whole bunch of people have emailed to ask what I think of Adam Gopnik’s latest piece in the New Yorker“The Great Crime Decline.” It’s a review of Patrick Sharkey’s new book, “Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, the Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence.” Sharkey’s basic point is that crime is bad, a view that I hardly need to be convinced of, but he seems to have an unfortunately conventional view of why it declined so much in the 90s and aughts:

What made the crime wave happen and what made it halt?…[Sharkey] is an enthusiast of the hypothesis that local community organizing was a key factor in the crime drop….He also finds that incarceration accounted for some of the crime decline, and so did more aggressive policing.

….Sharkey, as good as he is at explaining what happened—whom it helped, what it permitted—isn’t as good at explaining why it happened. The curious truth is that the decline in crime happened across the entire Western world, in East London just as it did in the South Bronx. At the same time, the relative decline in New York was significantly bigger than elsewhere. Sharkey’s guess that the crime decline can be attributed to the uncomfortable but potent intersection of community action and coercive policing seems about as good as any….With the crime wave, it would seem, small measures that pushed the numbers down by some noticeable amount engendered a virtuous circle that brought the numbers further and further down.

….We cured the crime wave without fixing “the broken black family,” that neocon bugaboo. For that matter, we cured it without greater income equality or even remotely solving the gun problem. The story of the crime decline is about the wisdom of single steps and small sanities.

In some sense I don’t blame Gopnik for this. He’s primarily an essayist and critic, not a social scientist or a reporter who specializes in urban policing. At the same time, reviewing a book in an unfamiliar field and then shrugging his shoulders and saying the book’s guess about crime “seems about as good as any”—well, even an essayist might think about spending an hour or two googling to get up to speed on alternate theories.

Sharkey, of course, is a different matter. For some reason he doesn’t explain, he dismisses the effect of lead as “vastly overstated” and says he finds it “difficult to believe” that the crime decline was caused by either lead or any other exogenous shock. Ten years ago that would have been fine. Today it’s journalistic malpractice. And the weird thing is that if Sharkey had spent any time with the lead-crime hypothesis, he would have found that it was practically made to order for him. Check this out:

A real problem, going forward, is the one identified by Black Lives Matter and associated groups: police violence. As the social cost of stop-and-frisk and mass incarceration has become, rightly, intolerable, we ask if the crime decline, with its unprecedented benefits for the marginalized populations, can survive. Sharkey emphatically thinks it can, and so far there’s no evidence to counter his view.

….Effects that we don’t normally track are surely related to the crime decline, not least the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement itself. Without a general understanding that crime was no longer the real problem but that the response to crime might be, the movement could not have caught a surprisingly large, sympathetic audience….Ironically, though the urban crime wave is over, it still persists as a kind of zombified general terror, particularly in places where it was never particularly acute.

Sharkey very much wants to persuade us that the crime decline is permanent, and that we should change our policing and incarceration strategies to recognize this. He’s absolutely right, but the best evidence for this is the lead-crime connection. It was lead that poisoned young brains and produced a generation of criminals. With the lead mostly gone, young people today are back to normal. They just aren’t as dangerous as they used to be, and that change is permanent. It’s really peculiar that Sharkey dismisses this, given how strongly it reinforces his point. It’s also peculiar since it explains otherwise mysterious things like the fact that crime declined throughout the world, not just in the United States.

But in another way, this isn’t surprising. I don’t understand why this is so, but for some reason New Yorkers seem to be especially resistant to recognizing lead as a prime cause of crime. Part of this, I suppose, is that New York was ground zero of the great crime wave and New Yorkers have been bombarded with theories about crime for decades now: Bill Bratton, CompStat, Rudy Giuliani, broken windows, community policing, stop-and-frisk, the breakdown of the black family, etc. etc. More than any other city, they’ve been told over and over and over that the great crime decline is due to various interventions by the great and good. But the truth is that although New York’s crime rate fell faster than the national average, it didn’t fall any faster than it did in other big cities, all of which have seen violent crime rates drop by 70-80 percent since 1991:

I don’t know why Sharkey so casually dismisses the effect of lead, since it explains so much: the overall decline in crime; the decline in different cities with different policing strategies; the international decline in crime; the fact that crime rose and fell more in big cities than in rural areas; and the fact that crime rose and fell more among blacks. No other theory comes close to explaining all this, or to explaining why crime rose in the first place. In the end, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2018 at 11:09 am

An Updated Lead-Crime Roundup for 2018

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Kevin Drum blogs in Mother Jones:

A few weeks ago I promised an updated roundup of evidence about the link between lead poisoning and violent crime. Here it is.

It’s in three parts. Part 1 is the basic story. Part 2 is various bits of commentary explaining different details and predictions of the hypothesis. Part 3 is a roundup of all the lead-crime studies that have been done since 2012 that I’m aware of.

1. A Brief Summary of Lead and Crime

The lead-crime hypothesis is pretty simple: lead poisoning degrades the development of childhood brains in ways that increase aggression, reduce impulse control, and impair the executive functions that allow people to understand the consequences of their actions. Because of this, infants who are exposed to high levels of lead are more likely to commit violent crimes later in life. There are three types of research that confirm the connection between lead and crime:

  • Brain studies. Neurologists have performed MRI scans of adults who were exposed to lead as children. They’ve found that because lead is chemically similar to calcium, it displaces the calcium needed for normal brain development.
  • Prospective studies. These are studies that begin in childhood and follow a group of children through adulthood. The children are measured along the way and their adult outcomes are catalogued. Several prospective studies have shown that children who are exposed to high levels of lead are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for violent crimes later in life.
  • Population studies. These are studies that depend on statistical analysis of groups, rather than individuals. Dozens of population studies have found strong correlations between the exposure of a group to lead and the level of violent crime committed by the group later in life. These groups can be neighborhoods, cities, states, or countries. For the USA, the correlation between lead and crime looks like this:

No single study is proof of the lead-crime hypothesis. However, the accumulated evidence for the hypothesis is pretty overwhelming. I outlined the case for the lead-crime hypothesis in 2012 in a magazine piece called: Lead: America’s Real Criminal Element.

In a nutshell, this article argues that atmospheric lead from gasoline tailpipes rose steadily after World War II, affecting babies born in the late 40s and beyond. The leading edge of this generation became teenagers in the late 60s and was more prone than previous generations to committing violent crime. Every year the population of teenagers with lead poisoning increased, and violent crime increased with it. This is why the 70s and 80s were eras in which crime skyrocketed.

In the early 70s the United States began to phase out leaded gasoline and newborns became steadily less lead poisoned. Like clockwork, as the leading edge of this generation became teenagers in the early 90s, the crime wave started to recede. By 2010, an entire generation of teenagers and young adults—the age group responsible for most crime—had grown up nearly lead free, and the violent crime rate had plummeted to half or less of its high point. This happened across the board: in big and small cities; among blacks and whites; in every state; in every city; and, as it turns out, in every other country that also phased out leaded gasoline.

It’s important to emphasize that the lead-crime hypothesis doesn’t claim that lead is solely responsible for crime. It primarily explains only one thing: the huge rise in crime of the 70s and 80s and the equally huge—and completely unexpected—decline in crime of the 90s and aughts. The lead-crime hypothesis is the answer to the question mark in the stylized chart below: . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, including more charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 February 2018 at 10:17 am

Cape Town asks for disaster zone status to stave off drought

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Climate change is starting to bite hard. Aislinn Laing reports in the Times:

Cape Town has pleaded with the South African government to declare a national disaster as it faces the prospect of becoming the first modern city in the world to run out of water.

Draconian restrictions will be imposed this week to try to eke out dwindling water supplies, but unless the four million people living in and around the city drastically cut their usage the taps will be turned off on April 12, known locally as Day Zero.

Most residents will have to collect water for washing, cooking and drinking from one of 200 communal collection points to be installed around the city and guarded by soldiers in case the shortages lead to violence.

The region has experienced three years of drought; conditions so dry that they can be expected only once every 300 years. That, and a failure by national and local governments to maintain the city’s infrastructure and curb water usage, is being blamed.

From Thursday, when summer temperatures are forecast to hit 28C, residents will be asked to use only 50 litres a day per person, down from 87 litres. Those who fail to adhere to the measures will have restricters placed on their taps. An eight-minute shower typically uses more than 60 litres.

Helen Zille, the provincial governor, has written to President Zuma warning of an “imminent crisis” and urging him to declare a disaster, which would allow extra funding and police, military and medical specialists to be deployed. She said that thousands of jobs had already been lost in the agricultural sector and that the vital tourism sector was also at risk as visitors cancelled their summer holiday trips.

Residents, fearing the worst, have been urged not to stockpile water from their taps but usage appears to have risen anyway as the restrictions loom.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2018 at 10:45 am

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