The Leading Cause of Death in Each Country

Everyday, an average of 150,000 people die worldwide. What kills them varies wildly from country to country.

Citing the collaborative research of hundreds of researchers from around the world, the following short video from Vox.com shows the number one cause of early death by country. The results clearly demonstrate the influence of geography, culture, and economics on human mortality.

Here is a map of the data pulled from the video.

No.1 Cause of Death Around the World

The video also introduces the idea of measuring “years of life lost”, which compares the age of death to the potential maximum lifespan (presently an average of around 86 years). This method captures the true scope and tragedy of early death. After all, a country can have a high death rate because its aging population is reaching the limit of human longevity; hence why the leading causes of death in richer country are those that tend to strike the old, like stroke and heart disease. This shows that most people in those nations are managing to live long lives at or near (if not beyond) the potential human average.

But if most people in a given country are dying from things that occur well before old age, than it denotes serious socioeconomic and political problems: issues like war, lack of public health infrastructure, rampant poverty, and so on. Hence why poorer countries have more people dying from causes that are otherwise easily cured, treated, or even preempted in richer nations.

As the video points out, as many as 40 percent of the deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa occur to people less than five years old. This is a stunning figure, especially when one looks at the specifics: something as mundane in the developed world as diarrhea can be a death sentence in other parts of the world. And for all our concerns about violent crime, most people in the U.S., Europe, and other developed nations can rest assured that they are unlikely to die at the hands of another person (though for certain communities within these countries, that is a different story).

A country’s leading cause of death can also reveal certain peculiarities in their culture, history, or society. Persian Gulf countries have a strong subculture geared around drag racing and risky driving, leading to their unusually high rate of death by car accidents. This could be linked to high youth unemployment and a repressive social environment, which leads to boredom, angst, and the pursuit of these sorts of thrills. Meanwhile, China’s high rate of stroke deaths portends its rapid development and industrialization, but also spells trouble as it deals with rich-world problems without yet establishing a rich-world public health system.

This data is at once fascinating and disconcerting. It shows the huge level of disparity between certain parts of the world, and reaffirms how our success in life — including our capacity to live full, healthy lives — is largely a product of random chance. We are at the mercy of geography. Had I been born in Bolivia, the Congo, or Pakistan, I could have long died from the banal childhood afflictions I suffered without worry. Then again, if had I been born in North America, Europe, or Australia a century or two earlier, there would be a similar likelihood of dying from infectious disease.

Source: IFLS

Haiti’s Imposing Citadelle Laferrière

Some of the largest and most sophisticated fortresses in the Western Hemisphere can be found in Haiti, of which the most famous is Citadelle Laferrière. Located in the north of the country, this defense network was built not by the powerful French Empire that ruled this lucrative colony with an iron first, but by the newly freed Haitians themselves.

Citadelle Laferrière

Citadelle Laferrière (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Shortly after achieving independence in the early 19th century, Henri Christophe, a former slave and key leader in the Haitian Revolution, briefly took control of the northern part of the country as a self-appointed king. Like most Haitians, he knew full well how shaky the country’s newfound freedom was: it was second only to the United States in liberating itself from European colonialism in the hemisphere. It was history’s first successful slave revolt and first black republic, having managed to fight off three leading powers (France, Britain, and Spain). Needless to say, these factors did not endear the Haitians to the European-dominated global system. Continue reading

Boston Leads the Way in People-Centered Urban Planning

When it comes to making cities more liveable and efficient, many Americans tend to look abroad for examples, namely to places like Germany, the Netherlands, and Singapore. But it is nice to find a model closer to home, especially since it gives lie to the notion that America’s car-culture poses unique challenges that foreign cities do not face.

As PRI reports, Boston is one of the biggest and most prominent participants a new movement that is sweeping communities of all sizes across the United States. Continue reading

An Amazing Time Lapse of Video of Austria

After two years and about five terabytes of footage, Thomas Pöcksteiner and Peter Jablonowski have created an unforgettable time lapse of their country. In less than three minutes, you can really appreciate the sheer natural and cultural beauty of this alpine nation of 8 million.

Courtesy of Gizmodo.

The First and Only U.S. Museum on Slavery

I was surprised to learn recently that the United States has only one permanent museum dedicated to the history of slavery: the Whitney Plantation near Wallace, Louisiana, which opened just this past December.

According to The Atlantic, the museum is the brainchild of a white, 78-year-old lawyer named John Cummings, who has spent 16 years and $8 million of his own fortune to build the project. Partnering with Senegalese-born scholar Ibrahima Seck, who serves as the museum director, Cummings hopes to use the Whitney Plantation to educate people on the realities of slavery, both historically and in terms of its modern legacy.

You can see a great short film about it here or below.

While American society is known for its poor historical memory in general (though especially as it pertains to uncomfortable matters like slavery), it still intrigued me that there has never been a museum about this seminal topic in U.S. history.

Foreigners of the American Revolution: The Prussian Who Helped Make the U.S. Army

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (Wikimedia)

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (Wikimedia)

In a previous post, I outlined the role of Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British in the American Revolutionary War. But plenty of Germans fought for the Patriots, too, of whom the most famous is Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.

Born in Prussia, he joined the military at age 17, and saw combat in the Seven Years’ War, then one of the biggest conflicts in European history. By the end of the war, he had risen to become captain, and even served as one of the right-hand men of Frederick the Great, one of history’s most brilliant military reformers.

Discharged from the Prussian Army once the war was concluded, Steuben found himself unemployed and deeply in debt. Through a chance meeting with the French minister of war, he was introduced to none other than Benjamin Franklin, the noted Francophile and diplomat who was trying to garner support for the Patriots in Europe. The French believed that the Americans could use an experienced soldier from one of the continent’s leading military powers, and doubtless Franklin agreed.

Steuben’s credentials and force of personality made such an impression on George Washington, that he was immediately appointed as Inspector General. Though a temporary post, it would grant the Prussian considerable influence in managing the training, logistics, and discipline of this ragtag, unprofessional, yet spirited Continental Army (which consisted of various local and provincial militias slapped together). Continue reading

Foreigners of the American Revolution: The Hessians

Hessians. (Landofthebrave.info)

During the American Revolutionary War, Great Britain tried to shore up its small troop numbers in North America by hiring German mercenaries, known collectively as Hessians, after the state that contributed the largest contingent, Hesse-Kassel. (King George III had German roots, including a royal title within the Holy Roman Empire, and was thus able to pull some strings with various German princes.)

Numbering around 30,000, the Hessians made up one-quarter of Britain’s forces in the war, and fought as distinct units led by their own commanders, albeit under overall British control. Participating in almost every major campaign, they were a visible presence in the conflict, and were proficient fighters with a fearful reputation (among both Loyalists and Patriots).

But despite their military advantage, and the fact that mercenaries were standard in European warfare at the time, the Hessians were a huge public relations disaster for the British. In fact, their use was one of the main factors that convinced many Americans to fight for the Patriot cause (at the start of the war, the majority of colonials, including many Founding Fathers, merely wanted greater rights and autonomy, rather than outright independence).

The reasons for this are twofold. Continue reading

The World’s Most Liveable Cities in 2015

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has published its annual Global Liveability Ranking for 2015, which determines which cities are the best to live in based on 30 factors related to safety, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and environment. As always, the results are quite interesting. Of the 140 cities around the world assessed for liveability, the top ten were more or less the usual suspects.

The order is virtually unchanged compared to last year, with Helsinki dipping two places, Perth and Auckland each rising by one, and Zurich entering the top ten. Melbourne retains its top spot for the fifth consecutive year.

As in previous years, cities in Australia and Canada dominate the top ten, together making up seven spots. Fellow Anglophone country New Zealand maintains its usual toehold, as do small Nordic and Germanic countries.

Indeed, as the EIU observes, the most liveable places tend to be “mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density” — hence the fairly low ranking of prominent metropolises like London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo.

As far as the United States is concerned, Honolulu, Hawaii once against gets the highest ranking in the country, with Atlanta, Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and even Washington, D.C., performing fairly well. Once again, there is a pattern of medium-sized, relatively less dense cities doing well.

But given that each of the factors are weighted, each city has its own unique advantage even if it does well overall. For some it could be climate and environment, while others’ lean more towards culture or world-class education.

Meanwhile, the bottom cities are unsurprisingly places wracked by war and/or socioeconomic collapse, with Damascus, Syria, being dead last, followed by Dhaka, Bangladesh; Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea; Lago, Nigeria; and Tripoli, Libya.

The Economist, the EIU’s corporate cousin, also identified an overall dip in average liveability rankings worldwide.

[Since] 2010 average liveability across the world has fallen by 1%, led by a 2.2% fall in the score for stability and safety. Ongoing conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Libya have been compounded by terrorist shootings in France and Tunisia as well as civil unrest in America. In Athens, austerity rather than unrest has weighed on the provision of public services, while Kiev saw the sharpest fall over the last 12 months and is now among the ten least livable cities ranked.

The following infographics show how cities have been faring over the past five years.

It is interesting to see the capitals of Zimbabwe and Nepal, each among the world’s poorest countries, seeing an appreciable increase in their liveability (albeit from a fairly low base). And even though it ranked among the lowest on the index, Nigeria’s megacity of Lagos is seeing some improvement, as you can see more clearly below.

Reporting on the results, CNN noted some positive developments in fairly surprising places.

By contrast, some regions have bucked the trend — seven Chinese cities improved their ranking over the last 12 months “largely because of a lower threat from civil unrest,” the report said. “Chinese cities saw liveability fall in the wake of riots and unrest in 2012, most notably due to widespread anti-Japanese sentiment.”

China’s top-ranked city, Beijing, moved up five places to 69 in the global ranking.

But Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests last year resulted in a 3.2% decline in livability. Though the protests were largely peaceful, some parts of the city were brought to a standstill for several months.

However “Asia’s World City” still remained three places above city rival Singapore — 46th and 49th place respectively.

“Hong Kong’s liveability has been hit by the disruptive protests that took place last year. The city retains bragging rights over its regional competitor Singapore, but by a tiny margin. In fact both cities can still lay claim to being in the top tier of liveability where few, if any, aspects of life are restricted. This has not been the case in other parts of the world, with instability and unrest features undermining the scores of a number of cities globally,” said Jon Copestake, editor of the EIU survey.

As certain parts of the world continue to develop and prosper, we may find ourselves with a larger and more diverse collection of liveability cities across the world. It is a fitting trend given the parallel growth in both urbanization and globalization; more people are moving to cities and across borders, bringing with them cultural ideas, urban planning concepts, and the like. Perhaps that is why so many great cities — including most of those in the top ten — tend to be of a multicultural and cosmopolitan character.

Granted, the EIU is hardly the sole authority on the subject of liveability. Indeed, as with most any study, its ranking has some notable caveats; for example, it does not take into account the cost of living, which means that an otherwise liveable city might be out of reach from the average person. Some have also noted an apparent “Anglocentric” bias in the results, with cities in predominantly English-speaking countries consistently ranking the highest.

So for the sake of fairness, here are the results of two other leading annual surveys measuring cities’ living conditions. As it turns out, there is quite a bit of discrepancy, though a few familiar faces across the board, too.

First up is the Quality of Living Rankings conducted by Mercer, an American consultancy specializing in human resources and financial services. Unlike the EIU’s purportedly more academic look at liveability, Mercer’s survey is apparently geared towards helping companies determine the best places to expand their operation. Nevertheless, it encompasses an extensive criteria of 39 factors, such as safety, culture, recreational opportunities, etc. New York City is used as the baseline with 100 points.

Of the 221 cities analyzed, the following made the top ten for 2015.

  1. Vienna, Austria
  2. Zürich, Switzerland
  3. Auckland, New Zealand
  4. Munich, Germany
  5. Vancouver, Canada
  6. Düsseldorf, Germany
  7. Frankfurt, Germany
  8. Geneva, Switzerland
  9. Copenhagen, Denmark
  10. Sydney, Australia

Since the survey began in 2010, Vienna and Zürich have remained first and second place, respectively; Vancouver, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and Sydney have more or less maintained their positions for the past five years. While the usual suspects from the EIU’s ranking gave a solid showing, it appears that Germanic countries are the ones that dominate Mercer’s index.

As far as U.S. cities are concerned, Honolulu once against performs fairly well at 36th place overall, but trails behind San Francisco (27) and Boston (34). Indeed, all the best cities in North America are Canadian; after fifth-place Vancouver are Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary.

In Asia, Singapore takes the top spot, followed by Japanese cities Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, and Osaka. For the Middle East and North Africa (e.g. the Arab World), Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Muscat (the capital of Oman) are the only ones to make it into the top 100. Oceania’s best cities are exclusively Australian, while Sub-Saharan Africa’s best city for quality of life is Port Louis, the capital of the island nation of Mauritius (which itself is one of the most stable developed African countries). Cape Town and Johannesburg, both in South Africa, round up the top three.

If you haven’t had your fill of liveable cities, we come to the third and final big index on the subject: The Monocle Quality of Life Survey, carried out by global affairs and lifestyle magazine Monocle. Conducted annually since 2007, this year’s edition was apparently the “biggest shake-up” yet, as it introduced 22 new metrics — such as international travel routes, public library systems, and good lunch options — that led to big changes in the top 25.

Without further ado, here is Monocle’s take on the best places in the world to live.

Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Interestingly, the results of this index are a lot more diverse than the other two. No country has a majority of top cities, though Australia and Germany enjoy a plurality with two spots each. We also see Japan perform a lot better, not only taking the top spot (which is an unusual for both an Asian city and a metropolis), but capturing two other high spots. (And this time, Portland, Oregon, leads U.S. cities.)

Taken together, the results of these big three surveys (and to be sure, there are a few other rankings out there), show a clear consensus: places like Vienna, Melbourne, Sydney, and Zurich are clear models to follow. Countries like Australia, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland seem to know a thing or two about how to create great cities. Whether for cultural, economic, or political reasons, these nations, and their leading urban centers offer, a lot to learn in a world of rapid urbanization.

We would do well to continue analyzing them — assuming of course that what makes cities great is something that can be clearly conceptualized and implemented, rather than an amalgamation of various historical, geographical, and sociocultural factor that are not so neatly emulatable. What are your thoughts?

How Awe Can Heal

Among the feelings and experiences that transcend all cultures, languages, and civilizations is the sense of awe and wonder one has upon reflecting on the beauty of nature, a masterful work of art, or some other emotionally captivating sensory experience. While we all enjoy such feelings, most of us would probably never imagine that they could be good for our health.

But according to recent study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, embracing the beauty of the world — be it artwork, music, wilderness, etc. — has a measurable positive impact on both mental and physical wellness. As The Telegraph reports:

In two separate experiments on more than 200 young adults reported on a given day the extent to which they had experienced such positive emotions as amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride.

Samples of gum and cheek tissue – known as oral mucosal transudate – taken that same day showed those who experienced more of these – in particular wonder and amazement – had the lowest levels of the cytokine Interleukin 6 which is a marker of inflammation.

Psychologist Dr Dacher Keltner, of California University in Berkeley, said: “That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests the things we do to experience these emotions – a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art – has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.”

Cytokines are chemicals necessary for herding cells to the body’s battlegrounds to fight infection, disease and trauma but too many are linked with disorders like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s.

Dr Jennifer Stellar, of Toronto University who was at California University in Berkeley when she carried out the study, said: “Our findings demonstrate positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health.”

This is also one of the first studies to explore the role of cytokine in depression as well as autoimmune diseases; people with clinical depression also tended to have higher levels of inflammation, showing yet another correlation between physical and mental health. By feeling awed, curious, and captivated by something, individuals who would otherwise be withdrawn from the world’s beauty and left to wallow in self-perpetuating sadness and poor health can enjoy a palpable respite.

To be sure, these are the results of one relatively small study, involving a little over 200 young adults, and the researchers are by no means advocating nature or art as a substitute for medication, therapy, and the like. But this does confirm a long-standing observation of how a sense of awe of the world around us — be it natural or human-made — is good for mind, body, and soul (whether you define the latter in secular or spiritual terms).

Speaking for myself, I can definitely attest to feeling at my calmest and least depressed when I am listening to a brilliant composition or immersing myself in nature (even at a park or my own backyard). It has not always worked, nor should be expected to, but even the mere thought of all the beauty there is to embrace and experience is enough to comfort me during some of my darkest moments. Our species needs more than just the basic needs of survival to truly live and flourish. Together with diet, exercise, social support, and a sense of purpose, the fulfilment and stimulation that comes from all the natural and humanmade beauty of the world cannot be understated in importance. It all comes together.

Next time you are feeling sad or otherwise off in some way, consider giving this a try. Again, it is by no means a cure-all nor viable for everyone, but it is a shot. We all need to escape from our heads once in a while, especially if there is a lot despair and sadness stewing around. Never underestimate the sense of inspiration and comfort that well placed wonder can have.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Why Americans Do Not Appreciate World War One

While Europeans marked the centenary of the First World War with a series of often solemn and contemplative exhibits, ceremonies, and other formal commemorations, the United States was auspiciously absent in any such major remembrances. This is despite the fact that the war cost some the lives of around 115,000 American soldiers — more than in all other post-1945 conflicts combined — and that the U.S. ostensibly played a major, if belated, role in the conflict.

David Frum of The Atlantic goes over four main reasons why the U.S. has left the once widely revered “Great War” out of its noted pantheon of venerated conflicts. Continue reading