Dmitriy T.M. sent in a link to the website If It Were My Home. The site allows you to select two nations and then explains how your life would compare if you lived in each one in terms of rates of HIV/AIDS, employment, energy consumption, infant mortality, class inequality, and other factors (based on CIA data). As an example, Dmitriy chose to compare the U.S. and Ukraine, “the 2 greatest countries in the world, as determined by the poll conducted in my head”:

You can then choose one of the items for more details; I selected life expectancy:

The site is set up with the U.S. as one of the default comparisons, but at the top there’s a button that lets you select a non-U.S. comparison. (Note: Reader Parodie says it appears to detect whatever country you’re accessing the site from and set that as one of the default comparisons.) It’s a fun site that you can spend quite a bit of time playing around with.

UPDATE: Just a caution–a couple of readers seem to have found situations where the math doesn’t add up in the comparisons of some countries. And other readers noted that this does an enormous amount of averaging, which definitely hides the differences in quality of life in various countries, which are so extreme in some nations that “averages” might be nearly meaningless.

My great-grandma was born in 1914 and lived until 2005, so she witnessed an enormous amount of technological and cultural change during her life. I asked her once what single thing she found most impressive or was most grateful had been invented. She answered, without hesitation, “the electric washing machine.” As the mother of 7 children with a husband who did not do housework, laundry had been the bane of her existence. Getting a washing machine that had a hand-powered wringer helped, but it was still exhausting. The way she saw it, getting an electric washing machine changed her life. Her fear of ever again having to do laundry by hand with a washboard was so great that she kept the hand-crank-powered washer next to her electric one until the early 1990s, just in case.

In this TED clip, “Hans Rosling and the Magic Washing Machine,” sent in by Dmitriy T.M., Rosling discusses the ethical problems involved in efforts to combat climate change that rest primarily on telling individuals in developing nations that because we need to use less energy globally, they just can’t have the same appliances and conveniences, like electric washing machines, that those of us living in (post-) industrialized nations do:

Transcript after the jump.


When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the twin disasters received a lot of media attention. However, it didn’t take long before concerns about the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors became a major focal point of media coverage. I remember first hearing about the explosion that damaged the outer containment building at one of the reactors. Every few hours brought more news accounts that seemed to indicate impending disaster — possible radiation clouds set to arrive in Tokyo within hours, evacuations of employees from the reactors, more explosions, the possibility that a full core meltdown would occur. Officials in the U.S. expressed concern about the 20-kilometer (12 1/2-mile) evacuation zone established by the Japanese government and suggested Americans evacuate a larger area.

But criticisms have emerged of media — particularly much of the non-Japanese media — coverage of the problems at the nuclear reactor, suggesting the reporting was often inaccurate or that the severity of the situation and potential dangers were exaggerated, and as a result drew attention away from the destruction and suffering caused by the earthquake and tsunami. The blog Japan Probe posted screen captures illustrating the different tone of coverage of the attempt to dump water from military helicopters onto Reactor 3 as part of the efforts to keep the fuel rods cool. The first, from the Huffington Post, implies more of a sense of panic and looming disaster than does the title to a BBC article using the same photo:

Japan Probe also links to a New York Times map, titled “Forecast for Plume’s Path Is a Function of Wind and Weather,” that shows when various detecting stations could potentially be able to pick up what the NYT takes pains to say would be “extremely low levels” of radiation that would have “extremely minor health consequences” (that last phrase bolded). Here’s the scenario that was forecast for March 18:

Scary, right? But then take a look at the color legend for the map:

The radiation levels indicated by different colors are reported in “arbitrary units.” So the different colors reflect differences in the potential level of radiation as it might hypothetically spread. But it’s based on a scale where the reader has no way to know whether the difference between purple, yellow, and red are actually meaningful and whether everything from 0.001 to 100 units, or a hundred billion gazillion units, all still count as “extremely low levels”of radiation, or if the red would indicate we’re all going to die.

I’m sure that the scientists who developed the model explained what the arbitrary unit was, but as provided in the NYT map, despite the text saying there is little to fear in terms of health, the map with the color coding seems likely to generate concern without providing much useful information.

UPDATE: Dmitriy T.M. just emailed me a link to a post about this topic at TechCrunch, which includes a clip from CNN in which Nancy Grace “schools” a meteorologist about how he’s totally wrong about radiation:


And the San Francisco Chronicle has a post up on SFGate summarizing some of the problems with coverage (via Talking Points Memo).

On the topic of concerns about radiation levels, my friend Kelly V. sent me a graphic put together by xkcd to put the level of radiation exposure from various sources into some context. The image is too large to fit in the space available here, but it’s worth clicking over to take a look. Here are two segments of it, but really, go look at the full image:

I’m certainly not in a position to adequately sort through the actual dangers posed by what’s going on at the Fukushima reactors, but it’s certainly worth questioning media coverage, especially insofar as that coverage drew attention away from the horrendous aftereffects of the earthquake and tsunami.

On a related note, and as a contrasting example, Dmitriy T.M. sent in a cartoon based on an idea by artist Kazuko Hachiya that explains the problem at the Fukushima Daiichi facility to kids through metaphors about constipation, pooping, and farting. So…there’s that. It’s unclear whether the video has really been shown on Japanese TV to actual children or not.

UPDATE: Reader Rei Tokyo, who lives in Tokyo, says the video has never been shown on local TV to their knowledge. I have a feeling this is more of an internet sensation outside Japan than within it.

Given the events in Japan and the ongoing concerns about the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, I just wanted to point out that the New York Times has several very helpful images that explain the design of that type of nuclear reactor and what has happened over the last several days. The Union of Concerned Scientists has also posted several updates on their All Things Nuclear page.

The last decade or so had shown gradually increasing public support for nuclear energy. Just a year ago a Gallup poll of 1,014 U.S. adults showed the highest level of support since they first asked about nuclear power in 1994, with 28% saying they “strongly” and 34% saying they “somewhat” favor nuclear energy:

In November 2009, Ipsos MORI, a market research firm in the U.K., interviewed a representative sample of 2,050 people in Great Britain about their perceptions of the nuclear energy industry (at the request of the Nuclear Industry Association). Results of the question “How favorable or unfavorable is your opinion or impression of the nuclear energy industry?”:

Men viewed the nuclear industry more positively than women did:

Not surprisingly, the crisis in Japan has led to concerns about nuclear power in other countries; Germany, for instance, is at least temporarily shutting down all facilities built before 1980. There is likely to be increased scrutiny of older nuclear power facilities, in particular.

Sangyoub Park, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Washburn University, sent in this map showing the location and age of reactors in the U.S. (via the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission):

Though the current events in Japan would seem likely to decrease public support for nuclear energy, if the crisis at the Japanese nuclear facilities are contained with relatively little perceived harm, it’s possible we could see little long-term impact on public opinion. People might think that if a nuclear plant can be hit by an earthquake and a tsunami, suffer multiple explosions and fires, and not have a core meltdown, then they must be pretty safe. I’ll keep my eye out for polls on the subject over the next few weeks/months.

UPDATE: Sangyoub found a Gallup poll released this afternoon showing that the ongoing problems controlling the damage to nuclear reactors in Japan have increased public concerns about the possibility of a nuclear disaster in the U.S.:

This led to a dip in support for nuclear energy; the percent “somewhat” or “strongly” opposing nuclear power rose from 33% in 2010 to 38% now:

Related posts: the power of images in the environmental movement and Chernobyl, then and now.

Stephen W. sent in a photograph of a public relations notice at a gas station in Kansas City.  The notice, from BP, explains that the owner of the BP gas station is a member of the community:

The notice is clearly an effort to smooth over the negative publicity BP has recieved as a result of the oil spill in the gulf.  On the one hand, it seems obvious that it’s disingenuous for BP to claim that they are “part of the community.”  And, if one wants to boycott BP, one would not want to buy at a BP station.

On the other hand, BP is right.  According to the National Association for Convenience Stores, 80% of the gas in the U.S. is bought at convenience stores and in only 2% of cases are these owned by major oil companies (the remainder is largely sold through superstores like Costco and Sam’s Club).  57% of the time, these stores are owned by a person for whom it is a small business and it is the only convenience store they own.

So it is true that, in almost all cases, attempting to police or punish BP by refusing to buy their gas is also hurting a small business owner who has zero control over BP and its policies.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

In the TED video below, Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation Energy Policy Initiative gives a fascinating 17-minute talk on the political psychology and the political economy of oil… and how the former distracts us from the latter.

Among other revelations, she tells us that:

1.  Oil pumps are purposefully designed to look like ATMs to make us feel better about using them.

2.  Having a car that runs predicts employment more than a GED.

3.  Oil production reform has amounted, largely, to exporting the risk to other countries, and…

4. We pay for our oil dependence not only at the pump, but with our taxes.


Via BoingBoing.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

This 8-minute video from Powering A Nation documents the fight of Kindra Arnesen to save her family and her Gulf Shores community. It’s a stirring portrait of how one family has been affected by the oil spill and is trying to fight back:

Via NPR.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

In today’s edition of context is everything, this 1962 ad for the ironically-named Humble Oil and Refining Company brags that it produces enough energy to “melt 7 million tons of glacier!”



This giant glacier has remained unmelted for centuries. Yet, the petroleum energy Humble supplies- if converted into heat- could melt it at the rate of 80 tons each second! To meet the nation’s growing needs for energy, Humble has applied science to nature’s resources to become America’s Leading Energy Company. Working wonders with oil through research, Humble provides energy in many forms- to help heat our homes, power our transportation, and to furnish industry with a great variety of versatile chemicals. Stop at a Humble station for new Enco Extra gasoline, and see why the “Happy Motoring” sign is the World’s First Choice!

Ad and transcript borrowed from Ms. Marx.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.