The Map of Stereotypes

Gallup conducted a global survey of levels of emotion.  The results are interesting.  The least emotional country in the world?  Singapore.  The most emotional country in the world?  The Philippines.  The US came in as the 14th most emotional country.

There seem to be certain cultural trends on display here.  If you live in a country that used to be a part of the Spanish empire, you are more emotional than your counterparts that live in formerly communist countries.  So, if you’re living in Lima, you’re going to be a lot more demonstrative with your emotions than a stoic Muscovite.  Unfortunately, Cuba was not surveyed, so we can’t see what the intersection of salsa and Marx yields.

And (with the exception of Russia) larger countries tend to be a bit more emotional than smaller countries.  I know that when talking about the geographic size of countries, making an exception for the largest country is a bit of a stretch, but Russians have always thought themselves exceptional, so I thought that it was a fair point to make.  Perhaps emotion is a luxury that smaller countries find in short supply.

And, as with other polls that Gallup has conducted in the recent past (read: all polls done this fall for the general election), there may be room for debate on certain findings.  For example, the poll finds that Britain is more emotional than Italy.  Really?  But that doesn’t conform to all of my stereotypical imagery about shouting, wildly gesticulating Italians, as opposed to the proper, emotionally frigid English.  Not sure I buy at least that part of the survey.

Silliness aside, there is a certain lesson to be drawn from the survey, particularly when it comes to emotionless Singapore.  In terms of the measures we look at when we assess a country’s economic and material well being, Singapore routinely comes out on top, ahead of the US, the Nordic  countries, or Switzerland, traditionally the leaders of the pack, so to speak.  Apparently, however, they’re not that happy.  Or, if they are, they’re at least having a very difficult time of articulating it.  The country is known for being an emotionally buttoned-down place where displays of emotion, while not frowned upon openly, are at least not overtly encouraged, and rather rare.  Just goes to show you that money can’t buy you love, or, in this case, emotional functionality.


Hitting the Books

The FBI raided the main branch of the Detroit Public Library this morning, in what appears to be a part of an investigation into corruption in the library system.  DPL, like many other city organizations, has had a hard decade, enduring declining funding, cutbacks, and, ostensibly, a shrinking readership.  In addition to the problems they face, DPL leadership has demonstrated a penchant for bone-headed moves, at one point buying 20 lounge chairs at $1,100 a piece while it was in the process of laying off workers, along with some similarly fancy garbage bins.

When FBI raids come to mind in connection with crooked politics, it’s usually contractors, mayors and congressmen that get taken out in cuffs, with boxes of evidence following.  In Detroit, we’ve had our fair share of that recently.  It’s just odd to think that the political culture in Detroit  is so corrupt that it extends even to the public library system.

While we still don’t know what’s going on with the investigation, it’s not a good sign.  Libraries are not routinely raided by the Feds.  And this is just one of a long laundry list of problems that the city government faces that they’re simply not acknowledging or handling properly, if at all.  Today, a vote will be coming up that will either reject or authorize John Hantz to purchase a substantial chunk of land on the city’s east side for the purposes of urban farming.  By all accounts, City Council is poised to reject the measure, one that would redevelop parts of the city, clear blight and create jobs.  The City Council has also been stalling a vote to move control of Animal Control department from under the auspices of the Health Department to the Police Department (both organizations having proven records of massive dysfunction), a move that the city has held up for months now over questions involving contracts, money and control.  And finally, the city is set to run out of cash a month from now, a problem the City Council has long been aware, and long ignored.

Next year, we have elections in the city to elect a new City Council (by district for the first time) and a new Mayor (assuming Mayor Bing does not stand for reelection).  A lot of time will pass between then and now, and much could change, but, likely not for the better.  Set all of that against the backdrop of either a state takeover of the city because of its inability to pay its bills or a municipal bankruptcy, and the situation becomes just that much more acrimonious, painful and difficult to resolve.  However, with everything happening before us, the political status quo is on its last legs.  They’re either going to have to start acting like responsible governments do, by actually moving an agenda that focusses on restructuring and growth, or they’re going to be rendered obsolete, stripped of their power either by the governor or a judge, by which point new candidates will have replaced them solely by virtue of their own incompetence.

We’ve Got the Sugars

Ah, to be rich.  Or at least living in an affluent country.  You go from having to worry about malaria to just getting too fat, such is the conundrum of progress.  In America, we have an epidemic of diabetes.  About 26 million Americans have the disease, a staggering increase since 1995.  This figure represents nearly 10% of the total population.  There’s a few correlations about the disease that can be easily made.  It’s more prevalent where there’s more obesity, less physical activity and more poverty (the American south).

And it’s expensive.  Diabetes is not only a health problem in and of itself, but it can lead to other, and more costly, related health problems.  Joints, the cardiovascular system, the eyes, limb viability, all of these are health issues that can be trigged by the onset or the neglect of treating diabetes.  So we’re paying not just for the diabetes itself, but all of the other health problems to which it leads.  And when I say we, I mean you.  Your insurance premiums are higher than they could be if we took a hard line against diabetes.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York got a lot of flack when he started imposing limits on the size of sugary drinks sold within the city.  His critics charged that he was continuing the expansion of the nanny state, that governments are infantilizing the citizenry to such a point that it’s become offensive, and that the government does not know better than the people who elect it.  Well, when it comes to the consumption of soft drinks (or, as Michiganders like to say, ‘pop’), I disagree.

We have an agricultural policy that subsidizes the production and distribution of sugar and corn syrup.  It’s cheaper than it ought to be.  And Americans are notorious the globe over for their love of sweet flavors.  It’s what we’re used to, and it’s what we as consumers demand.  But, it’s killing us.  Putting limits on the size of sugary beverages that are sold isn’t unreasonable, it’s an appropriate and responsible government response to a problem that’s costing both the states and the Feds $174 billion annually.

Basically, we can’t afford not to act, and hope that Americans, as both consumers and citizens, eventually get their act together.  We do not have the financial luxury of underwriting our obesity for that long.  To do so would be an act of fiscal malpractice, and, worse still, hundreds of thousands of people that would not have to die would.  The choice is clear.  The government should begin crafting policies that curb the spread of not just diabetes, but of all of the communicable diseases that plague affluent countries.  That’s not a nanny state.  It’s called public health policy.

Conspiracies v. Reality

With the election behind us, now we can focus on the truly important business of governing, and trying to dig ourselves out of the fiscal hole in which we’ve put ourselves.  But, at least for a few news cycles, let’s focus, instead, on a tawdry sex scandal that, while totally salacious with distinct overtones of crazy thrown in for good measure, that ultimately has no bearing, whatsoever, on our national security.

Of course I’m talking about the affair between General David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell.  They’re part of the crew, but there’s more, including an FBI agent (who sent shirtless photos of himself) General John Allen, US commander of forces in Afghanistan (who sent thousands of emails to a friend, that were either flirty, or possibly of a sensitive nature) and Julie Kelley Real Housewife of Tampa (who has at various points believed that she had diplomatic immunity against the onslaught of the media stemming from her ‘Honorary Consul’ title granted by South Korea).

It’s complicated, but, at the end of the day, it’s not nearly as complicated, nor as salacious as it seems.  Yes, Petraeus was balling Broadwell, and that’s a no-no, particularly when you’re a public figure (and in charge of our foreign intelligence service).  But as for the rest of it, it’s an exercise in silly season story telling.  Put all of this against the backdrop of Benghazi, throw in a madder than hell Republican faction on the Hill, and you have all of the trappings of a media circus that will, I believe, ultimately uncover nothing more than David Petraeus, after a sterling career, finally proved that he was his own worst enemy.  The other findings will likely include that Jill Kelley is batshit crazy, that John Allen probably was flirting with her via email, and that people, even important and powerful people, make dumb decisions all the time.

But it’s not the conspiracy that people make it out to be.  The questions about who knew what when, and why or why not certain actors were told are pointless.  Were laws broken and was our national security endangered?  At this point, and I believe ultimately, we’ll find out that was not the case.  The country has collectively worked itself into a tizzy of such dizzying proportions that what really matters at this point, namely, how we’re going to govern for the next four years has been completely overlooked.  And that’s much to our detriment.

What happened here wasn’t a conspiracy.  What happened was a bunch of adults made some very, very childish decisions that ended up in public.  And while we can’t prevent that from occurring (as rewiring human nature is impossible) we can decide what it is that we demand from the media.  We wanted it, they gave it to us: an episode of reality TV that has as much cultural value as they all do (read: very little, if any at all), with higher political stakes than the producers of any reality TV show could ever imagine.  There’s no conspiracy here, it’s just idiocy.