I’ve been enjoying how incarceration rates, politics, and alternatives are dominating the news today. I don’t follow this conversation closely so it’s been good to see some numbers and hear the different perspectives.

When I first started listening, last night, I heard the numbers presented as totals on CNN, like this list from the International Centre for Prison Studies:

1 United States of America 2,239,751
2 China 1,640,000
3 Russian Federation 686,200

That probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. But, I thought, the real question is how dangerous do we think we are compared to other countries. Or, perhaps, how evil do we think we are…

So I looked up the incarceration rates per capita, which, to be fair to the media, is how almost everyone is displaying the data. Here are the same countries (Plus Canada. My wife is Canadian so I like to make comparisons between the US and Canada.) picked out of a chart on Wikipedia:

Rank Country (or dependent territory) Prisoners per
1  United States 716
8  Russia 484
124  China 121 or 170[2]
133  Canada 114

Apparently, here in the land of the free, we consider each other somewhere between 4 and 6 times as dangerous as they do in that repressive regime, China. And well over 6 times as dangerous as Canadians consider themselves. What do you think, Canadians? Are you 1/6 as dangerous as we are?


On a challenge from the blog 400 Days ’til 40 I did a quick-and-dirty calculation of our carbon footprint for a year here in California. I just used the top hit on Google for “carbon footprint calculator” and made my best estimates for all the values they asked for:

1. I live in California, USA, in a household of two.

2. I use no natural gas, heating oil, coal, LPG, and no net electricity by virtue of a solar array, thanks to an investment by my father. Reanna and I cook with propane, and a little research is leading me to believe we will go through approximately 50 gallons in a year, maybe less. Our share of the firewood that my parents burn for heat in the evenings is about .4 of a cord. My share of all this contributes .08 metric tons of CO2 per year.

3. I fly to Portland and to Albany every year to work at Not Back to School Camp. That contributes .95 metric tons of CO2. Something like a quarter of a ton for each leg. Pricey!

4. Car travel is the biggest polluter at 5.05 metric tons of CO2. This amount probably varies quite a bit each year and is way up from my Eugene, OR lifestyle. This estimate includes a few trips to town each week, a dozen trips to the LA area, and one long road trip to Canada. That’s a bit less than 2 tons for each of those kinds of commutes.

5. I use a significant amount of bus and train travel on my business (and some other) trips as well, adding about .12 metric tons of CO2.

6. The second biggest polluter is a group of “lifestyle” choices. 1.21 tons for eating animal products, 1 ton for owning one car, .5 tons for eating only “mostly” local produce, .61 tons for buying stuff with packaging, .17 tons for buying “some” new equipment, .41 for throwing some stuff away, 1 ton for sometimes going out to movies and restaurants, and .4 tons for having a bank account. Total = 4.21 metric tons of CO2. (The highest value possible here was 24.53 tons.)

Here is the summary they gave me:

  • Your footprint is 10.41 metric tons per year
  • The average footprint for people in United States is 20.40 metric tons
  • The average for the industrial nations is about 11 metric tons
  • The average worldwide carbon footprint is about 4 metric tons
  • The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 metric tons

I have plenty of questions about and criticisms of the way this calculator works. They ask my household size first but do not indicate if they are calculating my individual footprint or my household’s. That could change my score quite a bit if I’m taking the blame for Reanna’s share.

I’d like find a calculator which takes into account more specifics, too. I have owned the same car for 20 years, for example, but the way they asked the question gave me the same carbon footprint as someone who has a brand new SUV every year. Miles driven, too, is not as important as number of gallons of gasoline burned (see my mileage/fuel tracking project here). I buy some things with packaging and I throw some stuff in the landfill (see my landfill tracking project here), but “some” is a vague category to hang such a precise 1.02 metric tons of carbon on! What about grass-fed versus industrially produced meat?

On the other hand, two metric tons is a pretty tight carbon budget, and finding a more accurate calculator will not likely shift my score dramatically. And with this calculator, I am at 520% of my two metric tons, this with a relatively low-profile lifestyle for an American. I could come down to 222% if I did not own a car and never drove one. If I also stopped eating animal products and stopped going to movies and restaurants, I would be close, at 112%. If I also stopped flying, I could actually come in under budget, at 64%, leaving some slack for others.

That’s a pretty discouraging proposition! The biggest barrier is the isolation. No travel means never seeing a large part of my family and community. And the idea is that kinds of lifestyle choices would have to become the norm, not just the domain of eccentrics….

I’m going to have to do some more thinking about this.

I once heard an interview on NPR with a woman who had been born a slave in the US. What struck me most about it was that it had been recorded after I was born, in 1971. I had never even considered the possibility that my lifespan had overlapped with anyone who had seen the Civil War! One lifespan between me and the Civil War–that means two lifespans between me and the Declaration of Independence. A 90 year old could have seen both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and a 101 year old could have seen both the Civil War and me. I’m about halfway through my life, so that makes the US about two and a half lifespans old.

This was my first taste of what a young country the US is. When I learned about it in school, the Civil War seemed so long ago. People dressed funny, talked funny, and so many of them still thought slavery was a good deal. But that stuff just goes to show how fast fashion and ethics can change.

Before this experience, racism always seemed like this inexplicable anachronism: Where do these backwards idiots come from? We figured this stuff out ages ago! But the last Americans who actually owned slaves, bought and sold people, died only about 20 years before I was born.

My second taste was when I house-sat for a family who were Laura Ingalls Wilder fanatics. I re-read some of her books and watched a bunch of Little House on the Prairie episodes and started researching her life a little. She was born in 1867, just after the Civil War ended, had her log-cabin, covered-wagon young life, got married in 1885, and died in 1957. Laura Ingalls Wilder wasn’t just around for Manifest Destiny and the destruction of the last Native American societies. She saw cars, radio, television, airplanes, and  the Jazz Age. She saw World War I, World War II, the atomic bomb, communist revolutions, Fascism, the Great Depression, Hitchcock movies, nuclear submarines, the Korean War, and DNA.

Even if Kurzweil and company are wrong about an exponential change trajectory, linear change would be dizzying enough. If Laura went from covered wagons to nuclear submarines, what am I going to see as an old man in the 2060s? Let’s hope for sustainability, teleportation and compassion, not creepy geo- and bioengineering disasters!

I’m learning a lot about child abuse this term. It is no fun. It’s got me feeling sad–depressed, even–pissed off, and creeped out. Did you know that 1 in 20 American men sexually assaults a child? That’s 15,000,000 men! I’m having trouble with that.

I saw a documentary last night called Playground, about child sex traffic in the US. I’m still feeling heavy about it. One of the points it made: If someone broke into a woman’s room and raped her, a video of the crime would not be called “pornography.” It would be called “footage of a crime” or “evidence of sexual assault” or something like that. Footage of a child being raped shouldn’t be called “pornography,” either. That gives it too much legitimacy, like it’s just one of the more repulsive niches of that booming industry, pornography. How about we call it “footage of a child being raped”?

I listened to a story on NPR a couple days ago about a how high divorce rates and teen-pregnancy rates are correlated to the state’s political ideology. Republican states have significantly more divorce and teen pregnancy. In fact, as a whole, the US divorce rate has been holding steady since the mid-90s, while the “red state” divorce rates (and teen-pregnancy rates) continue to rise. That means the blue states make up the difference and their rates are falling. NPR speculated that it’s because in family-values states, people get married earlier because of social pressure or so they can have sex, but choose badly because they don’t know themselves as well as they would several years later, when Democrats tend to get married. They also note that states that are swinging Democratic, like New Hampshire, are starting to have less divorce and teen pregnancy too.

It makes some sense, though I wouldn’t have guessed it. There are a couple of things not made explicit in the story that I wonder about. First, I wonder if the Republican fixation on “family values” issues is being driven by this phenomenon; to someone living in a Republican state, divorce and teen pregnancy are really pressing issues, because their ideology and behavior are not matching up. It could even be a vicious cycle: Values driving divorce driving values…. Second, I wonder how much of this has to do with money. Social class, really. Red states tend to be poorer, and poverty puts serious stress on a marriage. And poverty is correlated with a lot of other stressors, like substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse. Also, they mention that the demographic whose divorce rates are dropping the most are women who have graduated from college. I’ve been attending a state university for a few years now, and I can tell you that it’s not full of poor people. These kids (‘ parents) have money.

I was learning about and being shocked by the prevalence of rape of women in college for my crisis line training when an essay by Eli Lehrer caught my eye, “Ending Prison Rape.” It’s about the apparent controversy and reluctance to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. I looked into the numbers a bit, and it looks like there is a good chance that there are as many rapes of men in prison as of free women in the US.

(Here are some Bureau of Justice Statistics links, if you want to look into it:,,

No one deserves to be raped. Why do we have this weird double standard? Not even the most outrageous comedian would joke about women being raped, but it’s a very common joke about prisoners. Hilarious! It’s like that’s just part of the deal–part of your punishment. If you break the law, you get raped. You gave up your right to not get raped when you did such-and-such.

Most of these men will be getting out, someday. I know very few people really think that there is any rehabilitation going on in prisons, but getting raped is the opposite of rehabilitation. Does anyone seriously think a man can be raped into being a good citizen? That they will treat others better for having been raped? The evidence on trauma does not support this view. Or perhaps we think it’s a way of keeping people from breaking the law. Better not do that, they rape you in there… Lehrer’s essay says that some are saying this is a state’s rights issue, as if states should be able to decide which American men are suitable for raping. That would be fine with me, I suppose, if they unanimously decided that no rape was acceptable, period.

Still, for some perspective, the Prison Rape Elimination Act’s estimated 13% of men in prison raped gives better odds than the 20% of women raped in college. Perhaps there should be a College Rape Elimination Act of 2010.

This is part 3 of a series of things I learned during my Bachelor’s degree in psychology that I thought should have been headlines in the mainstream news. If you missed them, here’s part 1 and part 2. Again, if you’re interested or skeptical, leave me a comment with a specific question and I’ll give you my references.

Egaz Moniz Was Given the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1949 for Developing the Prefrontal Lobotomy: This “psychosurgery” involved slicing or scrambling the front part of the brain, and tended to produce more manageable behavior in “patients.”

40,000 Human Beings Were Lobotomized in the United States Between 1936 and 1977: These were men, women, and children with “illnesses” like schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, anxiety, homosexuality, criminal behavior, and being hard to manage.

Antipsychotic Thorazine Hailed as “Chemical Lobotomy”: Yes, this was meant as a compliment.

200,000,000 Prescriptions for Antidepressants in the US in 2007: That’s quite a few prescriptions.

80% of Antidepressant Prescriptions in the US Not Written by Psychiatrists: Consider that it may be a good idea to at least see a specialist in mental illness before taking psychotropic drugs or giving them to your kids.

Some Psychopharmaceuticals as Effective as Exercise in Treating Depression: But who wants to exercise when you’re depressed?

Sleep Deprivation the Most Effective Treatment For Depression, By Far: Never heard of this one? Maybe it’ll hit the news when someone figures out how to make money from sleep deprivation.

The World Health Organization Found That Schizophrenics Recover, But Only in Countries Without Easy Access to Psychopharmaceuticals: Schizophrenics can recover? Well, yes, it looks like they can. And yes, the WHO data shows a correlation, not necessarily causation, but an interesting correlation!

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