A new generation of leaders for new global challenges
In collaboration with the Clinton Global Initiative University
What’s your commitment? How to become an effective change-maker.
As an activist, public health professor, mom, author, and Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton sure is pretty busy. Here, she explains to us that there is a divide between wanting to make the world a better place and actually having a direction and a unique goal to make it happen. In order to help others both see and meet their goals, the Clinton Foundation launched Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) to give mentorship to those looking to make positive change. This video, part one in a series, is a great introduction to CGI U and to Chelsea's overall worldview. You can find out more about CGI U right here.
Learning is more than retaining information—how mentors make the difference
Is America's achievement gap crisis caused by long summer vacations? "In lower income neighborhoods, kids forget anywhere from two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half months of what they learned during the school year over the summer, while their middle-class peers break even or even make gains," says Karim Abouelnaga, CEO of Practice Makes Perfect. This startling statistic is why he started a different kind of summer school, one based on a chain of near-peer mentors, where kids are connected with college students and college students are connected with teaching professionals. "This model, where everyone is sort of a participant but also a beneficiary, creates this win-win-win situation for everyone, making summer school a lot more fun and exciting." Why do some eighth grader students only have a fourth grade reading level? Theoretically speaking, they’ve only been in school for half the time, says Abouelnaga. To find out more, visit practicemakesperfect.org.
How financial innovation is giving cities jobs, wealth and health
Ever since President Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in 1979, innovators and green-minded politicians have been trying to unlock the enormous benefits of energy efficiency across America. But those benefits have remained illusive for two reasons, says BlocPower founder Donnel Baird: financial constraints and engineering complexities. Aged infrastructure like power plants cost us a lot, financially and environmentally. Our best shot at efficiency is by "greening" existing buildings so they can create power locally, rather than burning fossil fuels at a plant and transmitting electricity over long distances, wasting much of it along the way. The problem is that greening isn't cheap: it needs building analysis, and lots of capital to make the initial changes, which not all building owners have. Baird's startup BlocPower has developed technology to lower the cost of building analysis by a huge 95 percent, and matches investors with building owners—it turns out greening buildings is a very profitable investment. Here, Baird explains the details of how updating infrastructure can bring health and wealth to a city: "We know that energy efficiency is going to reduce energy costs for building owners. It’s going to create local jobs. It’s going to reduce our dependence and reliance on foreign oil. And it’s just going to be awesome all around for the environment."
How one Ugandan is fighting human trafficking in Africa—and the U.S.
After fleeing the Lord's Resistance Army in her native Uganda, Igoye came the University of Minnesota. There she began finding resources to combat the scourge of human trafficking. Igoye was so determined to make a difference that she stopped buying food—choosing to eat at university events instead—which allowed her to save money. With her first $1,000 of savings, she supplied her native Ugandans with 23,000 books, knowing that education is an essential part of improving communities and stopping human trafficking. Through the Clinton Global Initiative University, Igoye is committed to building care centers for survivors of human trafficking and training law enforcement to better recognize and combat the illegal activity.
How 'Violence Against Women Centers' are reforming Pakistan’s deadly cultural norm
Approximately 5,000 women die at the hands of domestic violence in Pakistan each year, and thousands more are maimed or disabled. In the socially conservative country, justice is heavily compromised as the reporting of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence carries a social stigma, the prosecution process is biased and fragmented, and the conviction rate is just 1-2.5%. In 2014, global conflict advisor Hafsah Lak asked herself: what can we do to provide survivors a real and effective justice delivery system? While working at the Punjab Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit (formerly, known as Special Monitoring Unit - Law and Order) in Punjab, Pakistan, she co-drafted the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act of 2016 and Punjab Women Protection Authority Act 2017. When the former Act was passed into law, it was hit with heavy conservative backlash. Recognizing that reform cannot be carried out by people who do not share the vision, Lak worked as a project lead at the Strategic Reforms Unit to create Pakistan's first-ever Violence Against Women Center (VAWC), which opened on March 25, 2017 and has successfully resolved over 900 cases of violent crimes against women thus far. The VAWC has streamlined the case file process all under one roof (removing all roadblocks to reporting crimes) and is staffed by at least 60 all-female staff including 30 female police officers, 5 female medical officers, plus dedicated prosecutors and psychologists who were hired for their commitment to protecting women, and to providing a real deterrent for perpetrators of gender-based violent crimes. For more information, go to vawcpunjab.com.
How the foster care system fails so many kids—and how we can do better
When it comes to life after foster care, there is typically not a lot of hope on the horizon, says Sixto Cancel, who has been in and out of the foster care system since he was 11 months old. He was lucky enough to take part in programs that set him up for an independent life when he turned 18—how to manage finances, find a job, apply for an apartment, buy a car—but his story is the exception, not the rule. The stats are not good: 20 percent of young people in foster care will experience homelessness within the first two years of leaving the system. 50 percent are underemployed. Only 3 percent earn a bachelor's degree. These negative outcomes are the reason Cancel founded Think of Us, a non-profit platform that gives vulnerable youths tools and resources to plan their life, and empowers them to build a network of adult mentors they trust. For more information about Think of Us, visit www.thinkof-us.org
- Sophia the Robot of Hanson Robotics can mimic human facial expressions and humor, but is that just a cover? Should humans see AI as a threat? She, of course, says no.
- New technologies are often scary, but ultimately they are just tools. Sophia says that it is the intent of the user that makes them dangerous.
- The future of artificial intelligence and whether or not it will backfire on humanity is an ongoing debate that one smiling robot won't settle.
- A new paper contends that only 6% of actual coronavirus infections have been detected.
- Delayed and inadequate testing as well as differences in reporting are to blame.
- The researchers argue that better testing needs to be set up before social distancing is eased.
A new study links the spread of the coronavirus pandemic to detection rates, arguing that on average, only 6% of actual infections have been found worldwide. U.S., specifically, has one of the worst detection rates.
The study from the University of Göttingen maintains that the true number of cases of the coronavirus could be dramatically larger than what has been reported by different countries. The study used information leading up to March 31st, which means that at that point, while the Johns Hopkins data report used by the researchers showed less than a million confirmed cases globally, the estimate of the true number of infections would have been at least "a few tens of millions," write the researchers. The U.S. alone would have had over 10 million. What the true number is at right now is anyone's guess.
The new report comes from Dr. Christian Bommer and Professor Sebastian Vollmer from Göttingen University, who analyzed the quality of the COVID-19 mortality estimates and time until death in a recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
The main reason for the discrepancies lies in how many infections individual countries were able to identify. These differ wildly due to lacking and delayed testing. This can explain also why some countries like Italy and Spain have much higher casualty numbers compared to confirmed cases.
The scientists estimate that Germany, for example, has detected about 15.6% of infections compared to just 3.5% in Italy and 1.7% in Spain. The detection rate in the U.S. is even lower at 1.6%, think the researchers, with the United Kingdom coming in even below that at 1.2%. Both of these countries have been slow to test and to impose nationwide quarantines, seeing a surge in infections and fatalities.
A man wearing a protective mask passes by the Coliseum in Rome on March 7, 2020 amid fear of Covid-19 epidemic.
Credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images
Who has done well in testing is South Korea, discovering nearly half of all the COVID-19 infections.
Professor Vollmer explained that these results show that "extreme differences in the amount and quality of testing carried out in different countries mean that official case records are largely uninformative and do not provide helpful information."
The scientists think that the ability of a nation to detect new infections is paramount to its efforts to contain the virus. They warn especially that ending travel restrictions and social distancing should be linked to "major improvements in the ability of countries to detect new infections". Governments need to be able to take appropriate measures to isolate the infected and to trace who they had contact with. Without such measures, the virus will just come back in a new wave.
You can read the recent study here.
Other factors that have been used to explain different infection and death rates around the world involve particular differences between countries. Italy, for instance, has the second the oldest population in Europe, with a much higher percentage of people at risk from the virus. As BBC reports, in 2019, almost a quarter of all Italians were 65 years or older, compared to only 11% in China.
Another explanation for the varying statistics – countries have different criteria for ascribing deaths to the coronavirus. As many of the fatalities result from complications in underlying medical conditions, the true cause of death is not always clear.
Germany Coronavirus Testing Nose Swabs
Medics test patients for the novel coronavirus by collecting samples from their nose in Munich, Germany, Monday, March 23.
Our lives have been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. How can we successfully adapt to the new demands and rules of a society that is sheltering in place? What can we do to nurture our minds and keep our moods in check during a time of unprecedented stress? In this interactive live session, Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS), shares her expertise on meditation and mindfulness practices that can help you thrive in isolation; the best strategies for coping with confined cohabitation, remote work and boredom; and ways we can prioritize and protect our mental health and happiness.
Explore Sharon Salzberg's COVID-19 meditation resources at sharonsalzberg.com.
This Big Think LIVE session is moderated by Big Think staff writer Derek Beres. Derek is a multi-faceted author, media expert, and fitness instructor based in Los Angeles. He is currently working on his next book, Hero's Dose: The Case for Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy. Learn more at derekberes.com.
- Johann Hari believes we need to treat universal basic income as an antidepressant.
- In his book, Lost Connections, he writes that 65-80% of people on antidepressant medication are still depressed.
- Instead of treating depression as a chemical imbalance, we need to look at the social causes really driving it.
In 2015, a team of researchers led by Brett Ford at the University of California, Berkeley (now at the University of Toronto), asked a seemingly simple question: Can you consciously make yourself happy? Populations in Japan, Russia, Taiwan, and the United States were studied. It turns out that you can will yourself into happiness—except if you live in America.
As the team writes,
"This pattern of results suggests that a culture's degree of collectivism may play a role in shaping the correlates of pursuing happiness."
In his book, Lost Connections, Johann Hari discusses this landmark study with Ford. The differences between individualistic cultures like America and collectivistic societies, such as Japan, China, and South Korea, have long been investigated by social scientists. Time and again, the latter produce better outcomes in terms of happiness, well-being, and life satisfaction. A question has long been hanging in the air: Why isn't America more like these countries? Surely, the richest nation on the planet should be able to provide for its citizens' mental health.
I've written about this difference before, and the criticism I receive tends to trend political—communism versus democracy, socialism is evil, etc. On that front, let's consider South Korea's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The constitutional democracy reported its first case the same day as the United States, yet the country was able to flatten the curve within weeks. That's what happens when a functional government immediately intervenes, tests as many people as possible, and puts restrictions in place on day one.
Meanwhile, our miracle never happened. An unprepared government might be the major problem, but public health issues are multivariate. Here's where the social distinction matters. In South Korea (as in China), citizens honored the restrictions because they knew that the orders were in the best interest of society. Meanwhile, in freedom-loving America, a "liberty rebellion" was recently held in Idaho, while across the country pastors call for the faithful to gather. Some Floridians even want beaches to open.
Depression and anxiety: How inequality is driving the mental health crisis | Johann Hari
Reports from Italians and South Koreans and Chinese tell us that sheltering at home is hard. These videos also reveal something important: The citizens know their compliance serves a greater good, protecting their health care workers, elderly, and immunodeficient peers. Over here we're experiencing an uptick in anxiety and depression. This isn't surprising in a culture that's all about the individual.
Depression is Hari's wheelhouse. He went through the ringer trying to fight it with prescription meds. In the process of conducting research for his book, a number of uncomfortable truths emerged. Namely, that the normal course for fighting depression—SSRIs and SNRIs—isn't working. They never really did, at least not in the long term. Reporting on extensive research on antidepressant medication, he writes,
"The numbers showed that 25 percent of the effects of antidepressants were due to natural recovery, 50 percent were due to the story you had been told about them, and only 25 percent to the actual chemicals."
In 2010, journalist Robert Whitaker came to the same conclusion: It's the environment, dummy. The problem is that the story of a chemical imbalance is easy to grasp. Complex social dynamics—income disparity, racism, verbal and physical abuse, gender discrimination, technology addiction—are cognitively taxing, though these are the real drivers of depression. "The medicine clearly doesn't fix a chemical imbalance in the brain," he writes. "Instead, it does precisely the opposite."
Hari writes that between 65-80 percent of people on antidepressants continue to be depressed. Clearly the drugs aren't working. What then to do? You have to address the root problem. Let's start with income disparity so that the citizens of the richest nation in the history of Earth can pay their rent. Perhaps, as Hari recently suggested, we should try universal basic income.
"The single biggest thing that will affect people's anxiety is not knowing if you're going to be thrown out of your home next month or how you're going to feed your children. And I think there's an element of cruel optimism in telling a country of people living paycheck to paycheck that they should be responding to the anxiety they're experiencing this moment primarily by meditating and switching off the news. That's not going to solve the problem. The single most important thing that has to be done to deal with people's depression and anxiety is to deal with the financial insecurity they're facing."
Bottles of antidepressant pills named (L-R) Wellbutrin, Paxil, Fluoxetine and Lexapro are shown March 23, 2004 photographed in Miami, Florida. The Food and Drug Administration asked makers of popular anti-depressants to add or strengthen suicide-related warnings on their labels as well as the possibility of worsening depression especially at the beginning of treatment or when the doses are increased or decreased.
Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Rather socialist of him, but really, the "we can't afford this" argument aimed at everything our administration can't monetize has always been wrong. It's getting dangerous out here, and it's not clearing up.
Hari isn't denying that there can be biological and genetic causes of depression. As he argues in his book, we completely overlook the social causes. Decade after decade, the American social structure has been fragmenting more and more. Our close relationships are shrinking. A million online friends will never replace the one person you can call at midnight to work through troublesome thoughts with.
Depression isn't a brain malfunction. That might be a result, but it's rarely the cause. Rather, Hari writes, it's "an understandable response to adversity." Right now, we're collectively trying to manage the most widespread adversity in generations. Pretending that you can slay that dragon yourself will only get you burned.
The first level is individual: strengthen your social connections. This might prove difficult at this particular moment, but framing this challenge as a societal issue is going to serve you better in the long run than taking it personally. Of course, none of this is easy. We've been raised to believe that each one of us can be our own brand—a rather lonely occupation. Humans are social animals. We need to honor that.
The second level requires participation in our democracy, which means voting for representatives that champion concepts like health care for all and UBI. This nonsensical argument that we can't pay for it while a tiny percentage of the wealthiest citizens pay little to no taxes is ludicrous. In Lost Connections, Hari reported from Berlin's low-income neighborhood of Kotti, where rent hikes were driving lifelong residents out. Conservative Turkish immigrants, German hipsters, and the owner of a gay club, usually wary of one another, came together to fight back. Not only did they win (not every victory, but some important ones), they were bonded by their shared sense of community. Many became friends.
Hari notes that El Salvador, which happens to be among the world's poorest nations, has canceled every citizen's rent and utility bills for the next three months. "If El Salvador can do it," he says, "America can do it." It will require, as he writes, rethinking what medicine actually is.
"An antidepressant...isn't just a pill. It's anything that lifts your despair. The evidence that chemical antidepressants don't work for most people shouldn't make us give up on the idea of an antidepressant. But it should make us look for better antidepressants—and they may not look anything like we've been trained to think of them by Big Pharma."
If you want to fight depression and anxiety, you need to change the story you tell yourself. As a society, we need to empower everyone so that they can climb the bottom rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs—ensure everyone's health and provide enough financial support for basic needs—and encourage group participation instead of espousing the bootstraps rhetoric. It's not rocket science and it's certainly not modern psychiatry. It's common sense.
- Global lockdowns and business closures due to the coronavirus outbreak have left many searching for alternative ways to exercise.
- Beyond physical fitness, studies have shown that exercising also enhances creativity, relieves depression, and is overall great for the brain.
- These products will help you establish a personal workout center in your home and hopefully make self-isolation a little more bearable.
If you're a good person, then you're probably doing your part to help flatten the curve and beat COVID-19 by staying inside as much as possible. Unfortunately, that means that parts of many people's daily routines have been interrupted, including visits to the local gym or fitness studio. Being active at all ages is, of course, important for physical reasons (ensuring that muscles don't deteriorate, lowering risk of cardiovascular diseases and conditions, etc.). Studies have also shown that exercising can enhance creativity, relieve depression, and is overall great for the brain.
Just because you're stuck at home doesn't mean that you have to give up that part of your life. Mayors and governors across the United States have encouraged occasional walks when necessary (as long as they practice CDC social distancing guidelines), and a lot of people have taken this time to establish workout centers inside of their homes. Here are a few essentials you should order today to start burning calories and improve your mood between binge watches.
It's no secret that certain scents and fragrances have strong physiological effects on our moods and behaviors. Juniper Ridge creates campfire incense by extracting fragrances directly from nature. The calming forest scents are perfect whether you're practicing yoga, meditating, or just sitting and doing nothing at home. If burning incense isn't your thing, they also offer oils and plant-based room sprays.
Thanks to coronavirus, many yoga instructors have had to pivot to digital classes. Not having to travel to a studio can be a plus, but you may need a couple things to get the most of those remote session. This yoga starter kit has a mat, two blocks, a mat towel, a hand towel, a strap, and a knee pad.
Every home gym needs a machine for tracking those gains and losses. More than just a weight scale, the Fitbit Aria 2 connects to a mobile app so that you can measure and keep track of your body fat percentage, lean mass, and your body mass index (BMI). Being healthy is about more than losing or gaining pounds, so you'll need a scale that helps you see the bigger picture.
Resistance band workouts are perfect for small spaces and for people who don't want to deal with storing cumbersome equipment. Color-coded based on resistance level, these natural latex bands come with a workout guide ebook, lifetime warranty, and a travel/storage pouch.
If you have a bedroom, hallway, or kitchen floor, then you probably have enough space to do a pushup. The old-fashioned way doesn't require any additional equipment, but these were designed with a wrist-twisting motion that is said to engage more muscles and increase strength/definition while also reducing joint strain and pressure points.
It only takes one go on an ab roller for you to realize that it is definitely working. Your midsection will hate you, but it will be worth it in the end when you leave self isolation with a stronger core (and maybe even a six pack).
Indoor trampolines provide a quieter way to jump around and get your heart rate going while toning and strengthen your leg muscles. The edges can also be used for stability during floor exercises, and it folds flat for easy storage. The kids may also get some enjoyment out of this (but make sure you check the terms for any age restrictions).
There are dozens of in-home workouts you can do with an inflatable balance trainer like this one, including pushups, lunges, squats, sit-ups, toe taps, and burpees. This pack comes with a downloadable set of workouts to get you started.
Hardcore kettlebell fans will probably recommend cast iron because it's the original "real deal," but kettlebells made of rubber or ones that are vinyl coated are much safer for your floors in case of a drop.
You probably won't be slamming this ball too hard against a wall in your apartment, but there are other solo and partner exercises where having a medicine ball on hand would be a good idea. Whether you're doing ball tosses or Russian twists, you won't lose your grip thanks to this smart design.
You may not be able to hit the trails and bike lanes as much as you used to, but that doesn't mean you can't still get a few miles in before dinner. Indoor bike trainers are good for the winter and, as it turns out, for extended periods of self-isolation.
Taking the indoor cycling thing a step further, this machine from Nordictrack is not your mother's old exercise bike. The S22i Studio Cycle allows riders to choose custom routes via Google Maps, join virtual classes, or ride along scenic destination trails with a guide. The trainer controls the incline of your bike (inclines up to 20 percent and declines to 10 percent, with 24 resistance levels), or you can bypass the settings to make the ride more comfortable for you. The 22" HD touchscreen is your window to the outside world and also displays your progress and estimated stats (calories burned, workout duration, etc.). How else could you ride the roads of Norway or through the French Alps without leaving your home?
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