Monthly Archives: February, 2007

Are You Depressed? Depends Where You Live

People are about as depressed as their culture lets them be — or so seems to be the indication from a recent study about rates of depression in various countries around the world. This article in Forbes explains:

…The U.S. tops the list, with 9.6% of the population experiencing bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or chronic minor depression over the course of a year. That’s compared with a .8% rate documented in Nigeria. The findings are part of a 2004 study of 14 countries by researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Harvard Medical School.

Ronald C. Kessler, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and principal investigator for the study, says the findings are likely related in part to Americans’ willingness to talk about their depression.

“In Nepal, for instance, it’s against the law to be mentally ill,” he says. “No surprise, nobody there admits to being mentally ill. It’s all about what people are willing to tell us.”

Wow — can you imagine a culture in which it is illegal to be mentally ill? Guess it helps keep the disability rolls down, if they even have disability rolls.

Keeping Things Under Wraps

In strikingly undeveloped countries, Kessler says, people don’t talk about being fulfilled. They’re often just focused on making it through the day.

Americans, on the other hand, tend to be forthcoming and have had much more public education about mental illness than most other countries combined, says Mary Guardino, founder of the New York-based national nonprofit mental illness advocacy group Freedom From Fear. Direct-to-consumer ads promoting prescription drugs, which aren’t legal in many countries, also encourage American consumers to seek treatment for depression. [full text]

One reason I am aware of this issue is because there are several people from other countries who work in the residential program where I work. You can tell when you talk with them that they are not culturally trained to be aware of mental illness in the same way that American-born people are.

In this way, I think other cultures may have important things to teach America about its tendency to overdiagnosis and overpathologize normal life experiences such as grief, fear, sadness, anger, and mood variability, particularly in children.

Another important aspect of this study is how it delineates the many different subjective factors that influence the diagnosing of mental illness. The article notes that the way the questions were translated to subjects had an impact on lowering the numbers of those diagnosed, as did the clinicians’ decisions about when to treat patients.

“Who Killed the Electric Car?”

I just watched a fine documentary entitled Who Killed the Electric Car? (thanks for the tip, Guy) that I would recommend to anyone interested in alternative technologies, the environment, and the ways in which corporate America and the government conspire to maintain a status quo that profits the few at the expense of the majority. The movie is currently available on DVD, and you may view its trailer below:

[direct link]

I also recommend checking out the website of the organization, Plug In America, for additional information on the topic of plug-in vehicles.

Severe Poverty Rises to 32-Year High

This article from McClatchy Newspapers provides some new statistics on rising poverty levels in the US, particularly poverty at the most severe levels — individuals earning $5080 or less a year, and families earning $9903 or less. The article also provides commentary on these statistics from think tanks of the libertarian, liberal, and conservative persuasions. From the article:

WASHINGTON – The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation’s “haves” and “have-nots” continues to widen.

A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 – half the federal poverty line – was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That’s 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period. McClatchy’s review also found statistically significant increases in the percentage of the population in severe poverty in 65 of 215 large U.S. counties, and similar increases in 28 states. The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn’t confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation’s 37 million poor people into deep poverty – the highest rate since at least 1975.

The share of poor Americans in deep poverty has climbed slowly but steadily over the last three decades. But since 2000, the number of severely poor has grown “more than any other segment of the population,” according to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“That was the exact opposite of what we anticipated when we began,” said Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who co-authored the study. “We’re not seeing as much moderate poverty as a proportion of the population. What we’re seeing is a dramatic growth of severe poverty.”

The growth spurt, which leveled off in 2005, in part reflects how hard it is for low-skilled workers to earn their way out of poverty in an unstable job market that favors skilled and educated workers. It also suggests that social programs aren’t as effective as they once were at catching those who fall into economic despair.

About one in three severely poor people are under age 17, and nearly two out of three are female. Female-headed families with children account for a large share of the severely poor. [full text]

Real ID is Real Nightmare

Today’s Washington Post reports on the growing and diverse opposition to the federal government’s plan to create a national identification card:

As Bush’s ID Plan Was Delayed, Coalition Formed Against It

Inspired by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a sweeping federal law to tighten security requirements for driver’s licenses is in jeopardy of unraveling after missteps by Congress and the Homeland Security Department, analysts and lawmakers said.

While Washington has delayed implementing it, a rebellion against the program has grown. Privacy advocates say the effort could create a de facto national ID card. Meanwhile, state officials charge that complying with federal requirements will cost $11 billion and potentially double fees and waiting times for 245 million Americans whose licenses would have to be reissued starting next year.

The issue threatens to turn into a partisan fight. The White House expects to release its driver’s license plan, Real ID, this week and has warned congressional critics not to thwart or further delay a program that was recommended by the Sept. 11 commission.

“If we don’t get it done now, someone’s going to be sitting around in three or four years explaining to the next 9/11 commission why we didn’t do it,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee on Feb. 13.

Critics in both parties will try to delay the launch of the program by offering an amendment to legislation that Senate Democrats are pushing to implement remaining changes suggested by the Sept. 11 commission.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the homeland security panel, said in a statement that Real ID may not provide real security and that it is opposed by states “because it is overly burdensome, possibly unworkable, and may actually increase a terrorist’s ability to commit identity theft.” [full text]

For more detailed analysis of the myriad ways in which the Real ID plan is real problematic, real burdensome, and real unnecessary, visit www.realnightmare.org, a companion site of the American Civil Liberties Union. The Electronic Privacy Information Center also provides extensive information and history on the Real ID Act here.

Lower Recruitment Standards Get Seal of Approval

A recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle raised concerns about how the standards for enlistment in the U.S. armed forces have seemed to erode in recent years as the all-volunteer military has sought to keep up with the demands foisted upon them by the Bush war machine:

Not the best or brightest

As casualties rise and the Bush administration moves to place more American soldiers in harm’s way in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the overextended military is lowering its standards to recruit more service members from the dwindling pool of volunteers. Since the beginning of the Iraq war, the military has offered larger cash bonuses at enlistment, loosened age and weight restrictions and allowed more low-testing applicants and high-school dropouts to enlist.

But a new study, using data obtained from the Pentagon through Freedom of Information requests, reveals that the military is now granting waivers that allow more recruits with criminal records, including felony convictions, to join the services, particularly the Army and Marine Corps. [full text]

Not to be outdone, the Navy has broadened its standards for enlistment to include—are you ready for this?—other species! The Washington Post has the story:

Marked for Duty

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — If they are allowed to police parts of Puget Sound, this is how Navy-trained dolphins and sea lions are expected to nab terrorists in wetsuits:

Using its sonar, a dolphin locates a swimmer approaching Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, where Trident submarines with long-range nuclear missiles are based. Swimming through the water in spurts of up to 30 mph, the dolphin seeks out and bumps the swimmer with a “nose cup.” The device releases a strobe that rises to the surface. An armed Navy security team speeds toward the flashing light.

Alternatively, a sea lion collars swimmers around the piers of the naval base. Sea lions have excellent underwater hearing and, with their large eyes, can see underwater five times as well as people. Carrying a C-shaped leg cuff in its mouth, a sea lion dives, approaches the swimmer from behind and snaps the cuff around one ankle.

Swimmers participating in the training exercises often do not know where the cuff came from and almost never see the sea lion, the Navy says. After the cuffing, the sea lion darts away and a security officer uses a rope to haul in the swimmer.

“This is a mature technology and has been used on a bunch of occasions,” said Tom LaPuzza, a spokesman in San Diego for the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program, which announced last week that it wants to deploy dolphins and sea lions in Puget Sound.

To bring its technology north, however, the Navy must finesse its way around climatological, legal and political obstacles.

The water in Puget Sound is at least 10 degrees cooler than Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are used to in San Diego or in their native Gulf waters. So when the Navy tried to bring the dolphins north in 1989 and 1993, judges in Seattle agreed with animal rights groups that the dolphins might be harmed. One judge ordered the Navy not to move the dolphins until it studied the health consequences.

And public attitudes in the area toward the use of marine mammals for military purposes are downright icy. [full text]

Gunning for Those Against Guns

Apparently, the National Rifle Association and other rabid gun enthusiasts value the right to bear arms considerably more than the right of free speech. Woe to those who dare inject some common sense into the debate over the use and ownership of firearms. Consider what has recently happened to one of their own who took exception to the use of military-style assault rifles for hunting, as reported by the Washington Post:

‘Terrorist’ Remark Puts Outdoorsman’s Career in Jeopardy

SEATTLE — Modern hunters rarely become more famous than Jim Zumbo. A mustachioed, barrel-chested outdoors entrepreneur who lives in a log cabin near Yellowstone National Park, he has spent much of his life writing for prominent outdoors magazines, delivering lectures across the country and starring in cable TV shows about big-game hunting in the West.

Zumbo’s fame, however, has turned to black-bordered infamy within America’s gun culture — and his multimedia success has come undone. It all happened in the past week, after he publicly criticized the use of military-style assault rifles by hunters, especially those gunning for prairie dogs.

“Excuse me, maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity,” Zumbo wrote in his blog on the Outdoor Life Web site. The Feb. 16 posting has since been taken down. “As hunters, we don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them. . . . I’ll go so far as to call them ‘terrorist’ rifles.”

The reaction — from tens of thousands of owners of assault rifles across the country, from media and manufacturers rooted in the gun business, and from the National Rifle Association — has been swift, severe and unforgiving. Despite a profuse public apology and a vow to go hunting soon with an assault weapon, Zumbo’s career appears to be over.

His top-rated weekly TV program on the Outdoor Channel, his longtime career with Outdoor Life magazine and his corporate ties to the biggest names in gunmaking, including Remington Arms Co., have been terminated or are on the ropes.

The NRA on Thursday pointed to the collapse of Zumbo’s career as an example of what can happen to anyone, including a “fellow gun owner,” who challenges the right of Americans to own or hunt with assault-style firearms. [full text]

No Bad News

Without fail but not without sorrow, each day brings an abundance of bad news. Have you had enough? Then, I bring you “No Bad News,” as performed by the lovely Patty Griffin. Enjoy…

[direct link]

By the way, I am very pleased to share that I just purchased tickets to Patty’s show at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, MA on April 21. I don’t think that I have been this excited to see a musician perform since I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rock the joint in Jacksonville, FL in 1981.

U.S. Ally Imprisons Blogger

I am ever grateful that I have the freedom to offer my opinions and insights on the pages of this weblog. And though some may take exception to the dissent I frequently express and even question my loyalty to America, I remain free to voice my point of view. Sadly, though, there are individuals elsewhere in the world who are not so fortunate and are persecuted for speaking out. Consider the case of Abdel Kareem Nabil, as reported by the Associated Press (via Editor & Publisher):

Egyptian Blogger Sentenced to 4 Years for Insulting Islam

An Egyptian blogger was convicted Thursday and sentenced to four years in prison for insulting Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and Egypt’s president, sending a chill through fellow Internet writers who fear a government crackdown.

Abdel Kareem Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, an Islamic institution, was a vocal secularist and sharp critic of conservative Muslims in his blog. He also lashed out often at Al-Azhar — the most prominent religious center in Sunni Islam — calling it “the university of terrorism” and accusing it of encouraging extremism.

His conviction brought a flood of condemnations from Amnesty International and other international and Egyptian rights group and stunned fellow bloggers.

“I am shocked,” said Wael Abbas, a blogger who writes frequently about police abuses and other human rights violations in Egypt. “This is a terrible message to anyone who intends to express his opinion and to bloggers in particular.”

Judge Ayman al-Akazi issued the verdict in a brief, five-minute session in a court in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. He sentenced Nabil to three years in prison for insulting Islam and the prophet and inciting sectarian strife and another year for insulting President Hosni Mubarak.

Nabil, wearing a gray T-shirt and sitting in the defendants pen, gave no reaction and his face remained still as the verdict was read. He made no comment to reporters as he was immediate led outside to a prison truck.

Seconds after he was loaded into the truck and the door closed, an Associated Press reporter heard the sound of a slap from inside the vehicle and a shriek of pain from Nabil. [full text]

American Interests in Africa Threatened?

The Washington Post reports on some alarming news from Africa:

For First Time, Chimps Seen Making Weapons for Hunting

Chimpanzees living in the West African savannah have been observed fashioning deadly spears from sticks and using the tools to hunt small mammals — the first routine production of deadly weapons ever observed in animals other than humans.

The multistep spearmaking practice, documented by researchers in Senegal who spent years gaining the chimpanzees’ trust, adds credence to the idea that human forebears fashioned similar tools millions of years ago.

The landmark observation also supports the long-debated proposition that females — the main makers and users of spears among the Senegalese chimps — tend to be the innovators and creative problem solvers in primate culture. [full text]

The Bush administration immediately responded by putting the military on high alert and dispatching a destroyer, the U.S.S. Tarzan, to the waters off Senegal. White House spokesman Tony Snow would not confirm reports that air strikes on chimpanzee encampments were under consideration. However, an anonymous source at the State Department expressed concern that the White House was overstating the threat posed by the monkeys and had simply “gone bananas.”

The Indirect Costs of War

The direct costs of the war in Iraq are widely known and tallied regularly by the National Priorities Project, Iraq Coalition Casualties, and others. However, the indirect costs—which may be less obvious or visible—are no less important or worthy of consideration. Indeed, because they may fly below the radar, such costs can be even more pernicious and problematic, as noted by the New York Times in this report:

Long Iraq Tours Can Make Home a Trying Front

In the nearly two years Cpl. John Callahan of the Army was away from home, his wife, he said, had two extramarital affairs. She failed to pay his credit card bills. And their two children were sent to live with her parents as their home life deteriorated.

Then, in November, his machine gun malfunctioned during a firefight, wounding him in the groin and ravaging his left leg. When his wife reached him by phone after an operation in Germany, Corporal Callahan could barely hear her. Her boyfriend was shouting too loudly in the background.

“Haven’t you told him it’s over?� Corporal Callahan, 42, recalled the man saying. “That you aren’t wearing his wedding ring anymore?�

For Corporal Callahan, who is recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and so many other soldiers and family members, the repercussions, chaos and loneliness of wartime deployments are one of the toughest, least discussed byproducts of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and loved ones have endured long, sometimes repeated separations that test the fragility of their relationships in unforeseen ways.

The situation is likely to grow worse as the military increases the number of troops in Iraq in coming months. The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it was planning to send more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, causing widespread concern among reservists. Nearly a third of the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have done more than one tour of duty.

Most families and soldiers cope, sometimes heroically. But these separations have also left a trail of badly strained or broken unions, many severed by adultery or sexual addictions; burdened spouses, some of whom are reaching for antidepressants; financial turmoil brought on by rising debts, lost wages and overspending; emotionally bruised children whose grades sometimes plummet; and anxious parents who at times turn on each other. [full text]

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