Global Attitudes Towards America and China

Edit: I apologize in advance for the disjointed nature of this post. It was originally supposed to be about the U.S., but during my research I found interesting material on China as well, which I felt made sense to include given that country’s rise. I figure the data and infographics would be worth sharing anyway.

World powers tend to be polarizing among the global community, and the United States is certainly no exception, especially in light of recent events: aside from the lingering anti-Americanism that arose in response to the invasion of Iraq a decade ago, controversial policies such as drone strikes and foreign spying have incited further disapproval and hostility.

Add to the mix well-publicized domestic problems , such as an increasingly dysfunctional political system and sclerotic economy,  and the U.S. seems a lot less appealing as both an international player and a national role model — indeed, even many Americans themselves appear to concede this point.

So how has America fared abroad given its apparent decline in fortune and moral credibility? And what of China, a country whose growing wealth, rapid development, and subsequent global clout seem to make it ripe as a succeeding superpower?  Well, if the recent Pew Research Center survey of 44 nations is any indicator, the track record remains as mixed as ever, although the results may surprise you.

Here are the top ten biggest critics and fans of the U.S.:

Overall, the U.S. remains fairly popular in Sub-Saharan Africa, much of Asia (particular East and Southeast Asia), Europe, and Latin America. Notably, it is viewed more favorably than its biggest current rival, China (especially in Asia) and has a far more positive image than Russia, with which relations have visibly soured to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Here are some charts from another Pew study showing China’s standing among roughly the same nations polled for the U.S. survey:

Notice the discrepancy with regard to the Middle East, which is broadly America’s greatest critic and China’s biggest booster. Pew’s assessment of the data goes a bit further in detail on the U.S.’s biggest detractors and supporters:

Anti-Americanism is particularly strong today in the Middle East. In Egypt only 10% of the public favor the United States, which long backed the regime of Hosni Mubarak and failed to oppose the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government that succeeded him. Support is not much higher in Jordan (12%) and Turkey (19%), both countries that are notionally Washington’s allies. Those not-so-warm feelings for America have fallen 17 percentage points in Egypt and 13 points in Jordan since 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, when there appeared to be some hope in those nations that Uncle Sam would pursue policies more to their liking.

In addition, less than a quarter of Russians (23%) have a positive view of America, whose image is down 28 points in just the last year, a casualty of Washington’s opposition to Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

But there are still corners of the world where America is held in high regard. In European countries surveyed, half or more of the publics in seven of nine nations say they see the U.S. in a positive light. Top of the list are Italians (78%), French (75%) and Poles (73%). Only in Germany, where U.S. favorability is down 13 points since 2009, has the positive image of the United States slipped significantly. And, despite this slippage, roughly half of Germans (51%) still see America favorably.

Asians are also pro-American. In fact, the Filipinos are the biggest fans of the U.S.; 92% express a positive view. South Koreans (82%), Bangladeshis (76%) and Vietnamese (76%) also agree. Even half the Chinese give Uncle Sam a thumbs up. However, Pakistanis (14%) share no love for the United States (but neither do Americans have much affection for Pakistan).

The U.S. is also feeling the love from Latin America, where majorities see the U.S. in a favorable light in eight of nine countries surveyed. Salvadorans (80%) are particularly positive in their assessment, as are Chileans (72%) and Nicaraguans (71%). Notably, despite all the tensions between Washington and Caracas, more than six-in-ten Venezuelans have a favorable opinion of the U.S.

And Africans express particularly positive views about America. Strong majorities in all seven nations surveyed back the United States, including roughly three-quarters or more of Kenyans (80%), Ghanaians (77%), Tanzanians (75%) and Senegalese (74%).

France, widely considered by most Americans to be the most anti-American country in the world, is actually one of our key boosters. This may be attributed to the two nations having similarly exceptional foundations in Enlightenment Era revolutions, but there is likely some genuine admiration of U.S. culture as well. Germany stands out for its very divisive attitude towards the U.S., which probably hasn’t been helped by recent revelations of CIA spying in that country. As Europe’s leading economic and political power, Germany may regard America’s traditionally large role on the continent as an increasing rivalry. Of course, differences in foreign policy initiatives and stances certainly don’t help.

Vietnam’s overwhelmingly positive view is pretty surprising given the horrific toll of the war with the U.S., whose scars still linger to this day (the nearly 20-year conflict ended in 1975, not necessarily that long ago in the public memory). Anecdotes from American travelers to Vietnam have also highlighted this warm attitude, which may have a lot to do with demographics — a large chunk of the Vietnamese population was born after the war and thus has little memory of it — as well as history; spanning three thousand years, Vietnamese civilization has contended with many invaders, including centuries of resistance to China. Maybe a comparatively meager two-decade conflict just isn’t as pivotal in the grand scheme of historical memory.

In any case, I can spend hours dissecting the basis of each country’s attitudes towards the U.S. and  China, but sadly, time is short. It is worth pointing out that despite the lukewarm or unfavorable attitudes towards China, even critics can concede one thing: like it or not, the country is the next in line for superpower status:

Note that this poll assesses only 20 countries, albeit many of the same ones covered in the poll of attitudes towards the U.S.

Whatever change in the real or perceived power of either country — and their resultant shift in global image — it can be certain that as long as any nation wields great influence in the world, it will have a fair share of critics and fans alike. But in an increasingly multi-polar world, where power is more diffuse than ever, will any of this really matter? Will any superpower be able to act freely without concern for international opinion? How important is a nation’s brands to its ability to conduct affairs or executed initiatives abroad? What are your thoughts?

How The Ancient Egyptians Spoke

If you have ever wondered how the Ancient Egyptian language sounded, listen to the liturgical hymns of the Coptic Church, the only place it is still widely spoken.

First recorded in 3400 BCE, Egyptian is the earliest known language in history, rivaled only by Sumerian. Like all languages, it evolved over its long lifespan, becoming Demotic by 600 BCE and Coptic by 200 CE. It began to decline thereafter, going extinct by the 17th century and surviving only as a religious language, with very few fluent speakers outside of some clergy (my research suggests that only one family is known to speak it as a first language).

There have been sporadic but unsuccessful efforts to revive Coptic for mainstream use. Below is one of the few videos I have found of Coptic being spoken outside of a liturgical context. Superficially, it sounds a lot like Arabic, which isn’t too surprising since it falls under the same large language family of Afro-Asiatic and evolved during centuries of Arab rule (some things do sound familiar to me, such as the term for “and”). 

A Sobering Centennial

On this day 100 years ago, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia one month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, thus triggering the First World War, one of history’s deadliest conflicts.

The war lasted a little over four years and lead to the deaths of 16 million people (nearly half civilians), the wounding of 20 million more, and the end of four empires (Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, and Ottoman). Its political, social, and cultural impact remains to this day, with many of its unresolved consequences contributing to the even bloodier Second World War just 21 years later.

Time does not permit me to write as extensively about the topic as it deserves, but I advise you to scour the web for all the great articles and reflections concerning this seminal event in human history. Though often overshadowed by the much larger war that followed, its legacy remains strong to this day.

Haiti’s Underrated But Out-Sized Influence

It is a shame that so few of us know how unique and influential Haiti’s role in history has been. After gaining independence in 1804 – following a decade-long war against one of the most powerful empires in the world – Haiti became the first and only nation in history to be established as a result of a successful slave revolt; many of its first political leaders were former slaves.

Haiti became the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean, the second independent nation in the entire Western Hemisphere after the United States, and the second republic in the Americas. It produced such prominent military and political figures as Jean-Baptiste Belley (the first black representative in the Western world), Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (the first and highest-ranking black officer in the West), and Toussaint L’Ouverture (brilliant military strategist and along with Dumas the highest-ranking black officer in the West).

Moreover, Haiti’s unlikely success against a major power inspired revolutionaries across the hemisphere, who looked to it for both inspiration and military strategy. Many historians regard Haitian independence as a catalyst for independence movements across Latin America, which picked up pace shortly after; indeed, Simon Bolivar, the seminal figure in Latin American independence, received refuge, money, and military support from Haiti.

Notably, France’s failure to take back what was then the world’s richest colony contributed to its decision to abandon colonialism in the West and sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States.

Needless to say, Haiti’s independence rocked the institution of slavery throughout the Americas, which would unfortunately contribute to its endemic poverty and instability: for obvious reasons, none of the racist or slave-owning nations that dominated that international system at the time wanted to support the first and only successful black republic, especially one born from a slave revolt.

Thus, Haiti would remain isolated and periodically preyed upon for much of its history. Two decades after expelling the French, it was forced to pay 150 million gold francs in reparations to French slaveholders in order to receive recognition and end its political and economic isolation. Though the amount was reduced in 1838, Haiti was unable to finish paying off its debt until 1947, leaving the country deeply impoverished — but no less proud and culturally rich.

The Troubled Waters of South India and How It Impacts Us

I love and appreciate art of all kind, especially that which brings attention to important issues and conveys them in an impactful and digestible manner. Such is the case with the photographs of Selvaprakash Lakshmanan, who has captured the lives and struggles of South Indian coastal communities while bringing attention to a troubling intersection of several modern global problems.

Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu. Fishermen protest near the proposed nuclear plant on World Fisheries Day. Credit Selvaprakash Lakshmanan / New York Terms

The New York Times offers a great slideshow and summary of his brilliant and thus far unique project, as very few journalists or photographers have explored this area.

It was as much an environmental project as a human one, he discovered. As he learned while making “Life in Troubled Waters,” the harrowing issues facing these communities encompassed many symbolic and complex problems that resonate in the globalized 21st Century.

Mr. Lakshmanan was educated about the environmental issues while serving as a participant journalist for the Fojo Institute’s Coastal Management program. “With most of my stories before, it was more people-centric,” he said. “And the cause made me look, holistically, at how it is closely connected to the environment and the social, geopolitical, and economic issues. Each issue is interconnected, either in a direct or indirect way.”

While interviewing residents of villages in Tamil Nadu, he learned that an increase in shoddy industrial construction on the shoreline had led to erosion, which threatened the fishermen’s houses. Several of his photographs documented homes falling back into the sea and the attempts to build storm walls that buttressed against its power. Rising tides, a byproduct of climate change, presumably played a part too.

Indeed, Lakshmanan’s work is sorely needed, since this part of the world — like so many others — remains invisible to the wider global community, let alone the powers that be.

Since most of India’s massive population lives in inland cities, the coastal areas he’s investigating are typically underreported and overlooked. It is Mr. Lakshmanan’s mission to bring awareness of what’s going on in those areas. He has seen the effects of coal-fueled, thermal power plants spewing fly ash into the ocean. And salt mines that raise the salinity of the soil, destroying mangrove forests, which leads to further erosion. In addition, he said, “human waste and urban sewage systems go directly into the sea.”

But like so many humanitarian issues nowadays, the bigger picture is far more complex, and the intrepid photojournalist did an excellent job capturing both the nuance and global relevance of this seemingly localized issue:

But rather than present the fishermen as blameless, Mr. Lakshmanan was quick to point out why the Sri Lankans are so angered by the poaching. Apparently, the Tamil Nadu fishermen use a technique called bottom trawling, which has been banned in Sri Lanka but not India. In this type of fishing, nets are dragged along the seabed, which destroys fragile Sri Lankan coral reef ecosystems.

This was confirmed earlier in the year by Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Sri Lankan Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Development, who said, “Because of this method of fishing, the bottom of our Northern sea and the marine environment get completely destroyed. In the future there will be no fish left in the North.”

Ironically, most of the catch for which these Tamil Nadu fishermen risk their lives is then shipped out internationally or to the voracious urban markets in India. From there comes the sewage that pollutes the water, forcing the fish further out to sea where the fishermen follow, to their peril. It is a baroque tale that befits our intricately woven globalized society and perhaps a harbinger of larger resource wars to come.

It is that final point, which I have emphasized, that made this project stand out for me. It reaffirms a crucial but underestimated fact about our rapidly globalizing world: that just about every system — commercial, political, or cultural  — on every level — local, national, and regional — has significant  international connections and influences.

Much like the butterfly effect of chaos theory (which I admit to possibly misattributing), even the seemingly smallest and most localized actions can set in motion numerous other changes and consequences beyond our initial calculations.

As Lakshmanan notes at the end of the article, the environmental calamity looming over south India and northern Sri Lanka — like so many catastrophes across the world — is in large part driven by the voracious demands of consumers halfway across the planet. We take for granted how easily our goods come to our homes and stores, unaware of the exploitation, corruption, and environmental degradation we are unwittingly driving.

And just as our actions have impacts across the world, so too does the reverse happen: the destabilization and degradation resulting from our consumption will come back to haunt us, in ways ranging from refugee crises to climate change. We need a global perspective that recognizes this reality and can implement solutions across borders — no small feat, to say the least.

The Joys — and Benefits — of Houseplants

To those who don’t know, I love plants. In fact, I sometimes wonder why I didn’t (or don’t still) become a botanist. Whether it is reading up on them, admiring them on walks, or tending to them in my garden, I love immersing myself in plants. I just can’t make enough space in my home, bedroom, or office for plants of all shapes, colors, and sizes; no visit to a store with a garden section is complete without me passing by to see what’s available and what more I can squeeze in.

Of course, you don’t have to be a plant-fanatic to appreciate the joys and practical benefits of plants. They are an important but often overlooked element worth considering for almost any room. Available in many shapes, sizes, and varieties at affordable prices, they offer everything from aesthetics to even health promotion.

For starters, houseplants add well-needed, eye-catching greenery to bland spaces, especially offices, waiting rooms, foyers, or other utilitarian areas that often lack decorative pieces. They’re a great way to bring some life and vibrancy into your living space, and the presence of houseplants has been known to promote relaxation and reduce stress – needless to say this is a must for offices and study rooms, and I find myself feeling much less stressed and unfocused in the presence of my plants (after all, one’s environment plays a big role in mood and psychological health).

Speaking of environment, research has shown that plants create healthier environments by serving as natural filters, sucking up harmful pollutants and producing oxygen to clean out and freshen the air. Many plants also help to regulate the temperature and humidity of a room, not unlike the cooling effect you may experience among lush vegetation outside. To maximize these effects, at least four plants per person are recommended, although any number will offer some benefit — including, say, the dozen or so I have in my own bedroom.

While all houseplants confer some benefits, a few do so better than others. Here are the big three to consider as air cleaners courtesy of News.Mic.

Areca Palm: Instead of splurging on a humidifier, you might want to try one of these. At its full height, this tall, leafy plant transpires up to a full liter (about four glasses) of water, warding off dry office air. The shrub also absorbs particulate matter, some of which can lead to heart disease, asthma and a host of other severe health problems, according to a NASA study.

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue: While many plants inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen during the day, this plant’s long, dark leaves push fresh air into the environment at night, making it a good complement to the areca palm. It also absorbs nitrogen oxide, a fossil fuel and agriculture byproduct that accounts for 6% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and cancer-causing formaldehyde.

The Money Plant: Instead of another cup of coffee, you might want to give this plant a shot. Like Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, the money plant sucks up formaldehyde and other building pollutants. It also absorbs benzene, an air pollutant found in car exhaust that can cause dizziness, drowsiness and headaches.

Here’s a great TED Talk by researcher Kamal Meattle that explores the benefits of plants in indoor areas, ranging from greater health and productivity among workers, to even lower energy costs:

For what it’s worth, my own personal experience confirms a lot of this research; as a sufferer of depression and anxiety, not to mention mild respiratory problems, I have noticed a notable alleviation of all these issues.

Of course, even if I didn’t enjoy practical benefits, I’d love plants all the same. There is just something so visceral about it — maybe it’s an atavistic impulse from our origins in more natural environments (which we’ve long since detached ourselves from), or maybe it’s a natural yearning for the (idealized) tranquility of nature — who knows. But it makes no difference to me.

 

The Most Important Lesson From 83,000 Brain Scans

Daniel Amen is an American psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist who is a strong advocate of utilizing single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) as a diagnostic tool for better identifying and treating mental illnesses. In the following TED Talk, he discusses his research involving the use of SPECT (including several touching success stories resulting from its application) and highlights its importance in improving the efficacy of psychiatric treatment.

Personally, I found Amen’s points to be compelling and reasonable. The growing prominence of psychiatric problems in our society, coupled with issues of inaccurate diagnosis and inadequate treatment, makes his argument for the wider use of SPECT seem self-evidently true.

However, after doing some research, I dug up quite a lot serious skepticism and criticism towards Amen’s claims, as well as his professional endeavors (apparently, he hawks a lot of pseudoscience while making hefty profits from his private practice). Much of the controversy and debate is cited and expanded upon in this article from Science Based Medicine, a source I deeply trust.

Personally, I remain undecided, as I just came across Amen and his subsequent detractors. I will have to look into these matters more deeply when I have the time, but I invite you all to see the video, read the criticism, and decide for yourselves. As always, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts here. Thanks for reading.

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The world’s tallest slum—a “pirate utopia”—is being cleared by the Venezuelan government

Eupraxsophy:

It is fascinating to see people come together autonomously to create an impromptu, self-sustaining, and stable community.

Originally posted on Quartz:

On a rainy night in September 2007, hundreds of squatters made their way into the third-tallest skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, and set up a temporary encampment. The unfinished, 45-story building—intended as a bank headquarters in the center of the capital—had sat vacant for more than a decade, after the developer’s death and the country’s 1994 financial crisis put construction on hold.

Eventually, nearly 3,000 of the city’s poor—many of them refugees from insecure shantytowns—would join the initial squatters, creating a makeshift city with apartments up to the 28th floor, even though there are no elevators or, in some places, even a facade. The squatters organized their own electricity, running water, and plumbing, along with bodegas, a barbershop, and an orthodontist. The improvised community became known as Torre David, or the Tower of David, after the developer, David Brillembourg.

Torre David in the skyline of Caracas

Torre David in the Caracas skyline.

Yesterday, the Venezuelan government began a long-threatened eviction of Torre David’s residents. They are…

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Chart: A ranking of European countries by how much couples argue over household chores

Eupraxsophy:

Interesting research. I wonder what, if anything, does this say about sociocultural attitudes towards gender roles, relationships, romantic expectations, or other factors that may contribute to conflict between partners. I’d be curious to see research like this involving other countries across the world.

Originally posted on Quartz:

Marital bickering is not just for married couples. If you’re an unmarried cohabiting couple in Europe, you’re actually more likely to argue about whose turn it is to clean the toilet than a married couple would, according to a new report. But you may be less likely to argue over paying the gas bill than a wedlocked duo.

The report, published in the journal Demographic Research, surveyed cohabiting and married heterosexual couples in 22 European countries and determined how much they each argue about specific issues. Couples living together are more likely to argue over housework than married couples, while married couples were more likely to disagree over paid work and money, the researchers found.

The report also exposed differences in the overall rate of couples arguing from country to country. Couples in Greece, for example, are living the good life; they’re the least likely to squabble about household work divisions, paid work and money. Norway and Finland are…

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Gym workouts and sunbathing do more for your brain than crosswords and Mozart

Eupraxsophy:

This could certainly explain why my mind feels sharper on days or weeks when I workout more regularly. As it has long been observed, the health of mind, body, and spirit (even in the secular sense of mood and attitude) are inextricably intertwined.

Originally posted on Quartz:

Doing puzzles and listening to classical music might improve your concentration momentarily, but they don’t actually make you any smarter. That is, they don’t improve your long-term brain function, according to The Economist’s interview of Nicholas Spitzer, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California and editor-in-chief of BrainFacts.org.

“Let me dispel a brain development myth,” Spitzer told The Economist. “Many people think classical music is going to enhance brain function (the Mozart effect) or playing particular games sharpens one’s cognitive function. These theories have been looked at in detail and they don’t stand up. It is disappointing in a way, but what we have learned is that exercise is the key thing for brain function.”

By exercise, he means general activity and—more importantly—exposure to sunlight. In a recent study (paywall), he found that rats produced different brain-altering chemicals based on environmental factors. He thinks that our…

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