Category Archives: Policy

The Good Nurses

At first reflection, Charles Graeber’s 2013 book, The Good Nurse, might provoke dread in anyone who thinks they or their loved ones will depend at some time on the work of health care professionals. But my further thoughts about the story led me to affirm that, while anyone in Charles Cullen’s position could do what he did—kill dozens (maybe hundreds) of patients with random overdoses in order to satisfy his need for control—none of the nearly three million nurses currently working in the US has.

If I didn’t know any nurses and had never been a recipient of their care, Cullen’s chilling work might cause me to fear nurses or hospitals in general. But in the last few years I have depended on the care of some excellent nurses, and I currently hang around a lot of them as a volunteer. My relationship with genuinely good nurses protects me from such an irrational fear.

Indeed, irrational fears are often enabled by a lack of familiarity with their object:

One of the most common abuses of power is generating irrational fear based on hate and mistrust. But we can choose not to be controlled and limited by irrational fears and resist the appeals to hate by taking control and overcoming those fears.

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Getting Better, V

News of success is the best way to inspire continued progress, according to Australian think tank Future Crunch.

“We really feel that negativity leads to cynicism, apathy, hopelessness and even hate,” said FC’s Tane Hunter. “While it does galvanise a few people into action, for the vast majority it really causes a retraction.”

“We believe a much better way to inspire change is through optimism. We believe that’s the best method and emotion to drive creative innovation and to build a better future.”

One example is to go beyond the stories heralding the economic “success stories” of these nations in the last few years:

According to Future Crunch, the greatest economic success story of all time is currently taking place in countries around the world.

For most of recorded history, they said, only a tiny elite enjoyed higher standards of living. By far the majority of people were dirt poor—”bone-crushing, unrelenting, one-inadequate-meal-a-day, soul-destroying, no-dentist, no-doctor, no-electricity, single-accident-means-life-and-death poor”; inequality was just the way the world worked. As recently as 1970, around 60% of the world’s 3.7 billion people lived in extreme poverty. Today, less than 10% do, the lowest proportion of people in extreme poverty ever.

As Oxford researcher Max Roser puts it, the front page headline every day for the last 25 years should have read:


Future Crunch know the world is not a perfect place. “We still have massive issues with climate change, mass migration, Trump, Brexit, the rise of the alt-right, terrorism and Syria,” Hunter said.

But they insist, “you have to hold two ideas in your head at once: that the world is getting better and the world is not yet good enough. Our successors in the past should really give us hope as we move forward into the future.”

For the average human being on the planet today, the world has never been a better place. That’s a story well worth telling.

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Getting Better, IV

Max Roser, an economist working at the University of Oxford, said that at the close of 2015, only 6 percent of Americans surveyed believed the world was getting better when, in fact—by many significant measures—it is:

According to Future Crunch, the year 2016 saw:

  • The discovery of potential cures for Parkinson’s, AIDS and sepsis, the rollout of a cheap vaccine for cholera, and dramatic declines in malaria death rates
  • Big wins for LGBT activists in Japan, Finland and Slovenia, and women’s rights in India and Iceland
  • Global declines in executions
  • Drops in income inequality in the US and China
  • Increases in German employment (despite huge refugee intakes)
  • Big conservation wins for tigers in China, elephants in Chad, bees in Europe, forests in Cameroon and oceans in Indonesia
  • The accelerating death of the fossil fuels industry and the incredible explosion of renewable energy around the world

…but these stories were vastly underreported.

“Forget fake news,” Future Crunch said. “Our real problem is balance. Respectable news outlets say they’re giving us an objective view of the world, yet drown us in a daily deluge of conflict and negative headlines. It’s manufactured drama and we can’t tear our eyes away. Bad news is great for business…because it’s an addictive product. That’s why it’s everywhere.”

Roser gives three more reasons for these overwhelmingly negative erroneous views:

  • It is hard-wired in human psychology to watch for signs of danger.
  • The 24/7 structure of the media highlights negative subjects.
  • We are unaware of how inconceivably exceptional our current living conditions are from the perspective of our ancestors.

Each of us controls the information we consume and the worldview we form as a result. Are you brave and discerning enough to recognize how far we’ve come and help continue to make things better?

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The Most Important Place in Town


I was reminded recently how starkly the mission of the public library contrasts with that of the “membership library” near me. An article described the membership library as having the look of “a turn-of-the-20th-Century private club,” which it is since “use of the collection and reading room is restricted to current subscribers.”

The public library’s mission, on the other hand, is simply “connecting people.” All of the people in its community, that is. No paid subscription ($55 – $1,500/year for the membership library) required. For this and other reasons, a community’s public library can be its most important place. By allowing everyone to explore, interact, and imagine, public libraries do more than provide information. They build citizens.

In the Seinfeld episode, “The Library,” Jerry said, “What’s amazing to me about the library is that, here’s a place where you can go in, you take out any book you want, they just give it to you and say, ‘Bring it back when you’re done.’ It reminds me of like this pathetic friend everybody had when they were a little kid that would let you borrow any of his stuff if you would just be his friend. That’s what the library is, it’s a government-funded pathetic friend. That’s why everybody kind of bullies the library. ‘I’ll bring it back on time, I’ll bring it back late. Oh, what are you going to do? What are you going to charge me, a nickel?'”

A seemingly devastating characterization. But if you take away the smarmy, hipster snarkiness, the comedian is paying the library a massive tribute. Indeed, the public library is about going out of its way to lend things—books, movies, music, magazines—that many people couldn’t or wouldn’t acquire for themselves. And, yes, it does it on very generous terms. Pathetic? On the contrary, I consider it remarkable and an incredibly noble facet of our society.

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Getting Better, II


It has become a recurring theme for me to dwell on the belief that, in the grand scheme, things are truly getting better. I’m now considering a previous post to be Getting Better, I and this as a second installment.

Last month, Max Roser of shared what he considers proof that life is getting better for humanity. Listed here and depicted by the chart above is my summary of that information:

  1. Percent of people living in extreme poverty:
    • 1910 – 82%
    • 1950 – 72%
    • 2015 – < 10%
  2. Percent of people dying by age five:
    • 1900 – 36%
    • 1940 – 24%
    • 2015 – 4%
  3. Percent of people literate:
    • 1900 – 21%
    • 1950 – 36%
    • 2014 – 85%
  4. Percent of people in democracy:
    • 1900 – 12%
    • 1950 – 31%
    • 2015 – 56%

May this data affirm that our efforts—large and small—do have a positive effect and motivate us to keep on keeping on to make the world better for as many people as possible.

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A Work in Progress


Acknowledging a problem is the first step to solving it. Many times, however, defensiveness and insecurity lead to intentional blindness and denial instead:

  • In 1965, CBS News aired a story of war atrocities committed during a raid by US soldiers on the Vietnamese village of Cam Ne. David Halberstam wrote that many viewers “called in to scream their anger at CBS for [broadcasting the story], portraying our boys as killers.” While “the reality itself was uglier than [reporter Morley Safer] had said,” callers insisted, “American boys didn’t do things like that.”
  • When Ford introduced the 2002 Explorer SUV, rather than emphasizing the many changes that Ford had made “to reduce the risks that the Explorer will roll over or kill other motorists in crashes,” the company chose not to mention the changes. The company was dealing with the safety issue by largely ignoring it. Jose Rosa, an assistant professor of marketing at Case Western Reserve University who specializes in auto advertising, explained, “To emphasize safety is going to come across as an admission that the previous vehicle was unsafe.”
  • In a 2014 Fox News story on the release of a Senate Intelligence Committee report describing torture performed by the US, the anchor said, “The United States of America is awesome. We are awesome. But we’ve had this discussion. We’ve closed the book on it. The reason they want the discussion is not to show how awesome we are. It’s to show us how we’re not awesome. They apologized for something.”

If you don’t consider yourself, your company or your country a work in progress, the only direction to go is backwards.

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Paths to More Progress


Despite what the drug industry and some segments of the media want you to believe, Paul McCartney was right. In almost every way, “it’s getting better all the time.”

On the Tonight Show, President Barack Obama told Jimmy Fallon: “Despite the news, despite all the rancor, the truth is if you had to be born at any time in human history and you didn’t know who you were going to be ahead of time…you would choose now. Because the world is actually healthier, wealthier, better educated, more tolerant, less violent than it has ever been.”

In March, 2015, Dylan Matthews of made a list of ways the world is getting much, much better:

  1. Extreme poverty has fallen
  2. Hunger is falling
  3. Child labor is on the decline
  4. People in developed countries have more leisure time
  5. The share of income spent on food in the US has plummeted
  6. Life expectancy is rising
  7. Child mortality is down
  8. Death in childbirth is rarer
  9. People are getting taller
  10. More people have access to malaria bednets
  11. Guinea worm is almost eradicated
  12. Teen births in the US are down
  13. Smoking in the US is down
  14. War is on the decline
  15. Homicide rates in Europe are falling
  16. Homicide rates in the US are falling
  17. Violent crime in the US is going down
  18. The supply of nuclear weapons has been rapidly reduced
  19. More and more countries are democracies
  20. More people are going to school for longer
  21. Literacy is up
  22. The number of unsheltered homeless in the US is down nearly 32 percent since 2007
  23. Moore’s law is still going
  24. Access to the internet is increasing
  25. Solar power is getting cheaper

Leif Wenar, chair of philosophy and law at King’s College London, asked in the New York Times in February, 2016, “Is Humanity Getting Better?” He contended that the 70-year period since World War II has been the most prosperous, most democratic and most peaceful era in recorded human history.

Wenar conceded that, “No decent person would deny that violence is still much too high everywhere. And there is no guarantee that any of these positive trends will continue.” But, he insisted, “batting away the positive facts is lazy, and requires only a lower form of intelligence” and to dwell entirely on what remains lacking blinds us to our capacity for continued progress.

“The real trick to understanding our world,” he said, “is to see it with both eyes at once. The world now is a thoroughly awful place—compared with what it should be. But not compared with what it was. Keeping both eyes open gives depth to our perception of our own time in history, and makes us better able to see where paths to more progress may be open.”

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