The world’s improving in many ways, and he can prove it

One of the dozens of charts on Dr. Rosen's sites; from the Our World in Data Facebook page

One of the dozens of charts on Dr. Rosen’s sites; from the Our World in Data Facebook page

Don’t take my word for it. We have a lot to be optimistic about. So on days when worries about the state of the world are bringing down your spirits, head over to Max Rosen’s Our World in Data or check out his Facebook and Twitter streams. The Oxford economist provides data on the big issues facing us. Here are some of the encouraging trends:

  • A billion people lived in absolute poverty (less than $1.25/day, adjusted for inflation) in 1820. The same number live in absolute poverty today, but world population is seven times larger.
  • Some of the worst diseases humanity has ever known have been eradicated or are closing in on it.
  • The number of oil spills dropped from an average of 24.6 in the 1970s to 3.3 in the 2000s.
  • Child mortality plummeted between 1970 and 2012.
  • Literacy rates are increasing globally.

Rosen does not gloss over issues such as deforestation, CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions or the increase in smaller, state-based wars (though the decrease in deaths is dramatic). However, what his data prove is that overall we have a lot more reasons for hope than for gloom.

If we can get climate change in check and reverse the growth in income equality, we will have even more to make us optimistic. Rather than throw up our hands in despair, we need to pull on our work gloves. Discouragement is normal, but Rosen’s data build a compelling case to believe in our species.



Toddlers and oldsters play together in this care center

Homes for the frail elderly can be some of the most depressing places on the planet, though residents like my Aunt Grace (Is your door open? I need to talk) brighten the lives of those consigned there. Splitting old people off from the rest of society may be convenient, but it is no better practice than marginalizing people because they have physical or emotional challenges.

Providence Mount St. Vincent in Seattle is bringing the very young and the very old together in a care center. They eat lunch together, put together puzzles, share stories and toys, play games, and give each other loving attention.

Filmmaker Evan Briggs captured the interactions in her film, Present Perfect. Disturbed by how “generationally segregated” we are, she set out to study how the intergenerational interactions affected both groups. Of the exchanged she witnessed, she observes, “Some were sweet, some awkward, some funny – all of them poignant and heartbreakingly real.”

A $50,000 Kickstarter campaign brought in more than $100,000 so Present Perfect will be completed and distributed. When it is, it will be a don’t-miss film to see. If this intergenerational program improves the lives of this care center’s frail seniors and enriches the lives of the toddlers, it will be well worth replicating.



Rescue horse now heals female inmates

When Cannwyll was rescued by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), he was so thin his ribs showed like an equine xylophone. The gentle horse responded to his rescuers with love. Now he is giving female inmates at the Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, Florida, a chance to be rescued from whatever life setbacks led them to prison.

An anonymous tip sent a cruelty investigator to Cannwyll’s last race in March 2014. By the time the horse could be rescued, his weight had dipped to well below 900 pounds. In April 2015 he began recuperating, physically and emotionally, at Second Chance Farm.

Housed at the Lowell Correctional Institution, the farm schools female inmates in every aspect of horse care. They use that training to give retired racehorses a second career.

The fate of retired racehorses is not pretty. Two out of three of them are euthanized, abandoned or slaughtered. The ones that end up at Second Chance Farm are the lucky ones. A handful will live the remainder of their lives at the farm. Others are headed for adoption.

What happens between the women who care for them and the horses they train is healing on both sides. They are all throwaways, the horses because they no longer (or never did) earn money for their owners, the women because their mistakes have landed them in a place where their lives and identities are replaced by the label, “inmate”.

The women at Second Chance Farm give the horses in their care a chance to live out a normal life span. The horses give the women self-confidence, a sense of purpose and valuable job and life skills. That sounds like a good investment.


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The science is in: happiness improves health

Happy Stick Girl by Prawny, via morgueFile

Happy Stick Girl by Prawny, via morgueFile

Happiness does more than improve our mood. It improves our health.

Don’t take my word for it. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, has put together a list of Six Ways Happiness Is Good for Your Health. The six are:

  1. Happiness protects your heart
  2. Happiness strengthens your immune system
  3. Happiness combats stress
  4. Happy people have fewer aches and pains
  5. Happiness combats disease and disability
  6. Happiness lengthens our lives

Each claim is backed by links to studies carried out since 2000. They provide compelling evidence that happiness puts more life in our years and more years in our life.

Happy people lift our spirits. When you’re on the downside of the roller coaster life offers us, you might need a nudge out of the trough. You will find it on the site’s suggestions for cultivating happiness.

Happiness is achievable, and it is good for us.


Boy with leukemia gets back yard makeover

Public spaces can be toxic for Bryan Carroll, but he still wants to have fun. What the community of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, community did for the 7-year-old boy will melt your heart.

Bryan was diagnosed with leukemia a year ago. He has spent a lot of time in hospital. He told a family friend, Leanne Christy, his dream of having a more interesting back yard to play in. She launched a campaign on, hoping to raise enough money to make his dream come true.

With money from compassionate donors and the help of about 50 volunteers, Bryan now has a back yard that would be the dream play space of any child. Not only that, two of his hockey idols, Sidney Crosby and Nathan Mackinnon, showed up to celebrate the back yard renovation.

Dealing with an illness Bryan may not survive is hard on everyone in the family. The good people of Dartmouth have sprinkled some joy on the difficult journey. Thanks, Global News, for sharing this story with the world.


Double hand transplant recipient will swing on the monkey bars

Zion Harvey in hospital after hand transplant; photo clip from NBC video below

Zion Harvey in hospital before hand transplant; photo clip from NBC video below

Zion Harvey lost his hands when he was a toddler. A bacterial infection ravaged his body. He lost his hands and feet to gangrene and needed a kidney transplant. The two-year-old not only survived. He grew into a normal, boisterous, cheerful 8-year-old. With leg prosthetics he could run and jump. Using his forearms he could write, feed himself, read, and play computer games.

What he could not do was toss a football or swing on the monkey bars. So when the courageous little boy was offered the chance to become the world’s first hand transplant recipient, he agreed.

Zion was already taking immunosuppressant drugs to keep his body from rejecting the transplanted kidney. So he was ready for the delicate surgery when a pair of hands became available. Thanks to the kindness of the parents whose child died, that little one’s hands are now attached to Zion. After incredibly complex and lengthy surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Zion has hands that will grow with him.

Watching the NBC video, I was struck by the confidence and joy of the small boy and the love and admiration of his mother. Zion Harvey has not been limited by the extraordinary challenges he has faced. His spirit has blossomed in a family that could teach all of us a lot about love.

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Vending machines offer free books

The Buk bilong Pikinini library opened at UPNG is an incredible facility that allows pikininis - children - to access free basic education in a library environment

The Buk bilong Pikinini library opened at UPNG is an incredible facility that allows children to access free basic education in a library environment

JetBlue and Random House are not the first to offer books through vending machines. John Geoghegan wrote A Brief History of Book Vending Machines for Huffington Post. In it he described the generally unsuccessful efforts to sell books that way. Some libraries have tried it as well, making it easy to borrow books in such places as train stations and community centers.

What makes the new scheme special is the attempt to put free books into the hands of children who have few or no opportunities to own them. Washington, D.C., is the lucky recipient of book vending machines in Southeast D.C.’s “book deserts”. The Soar with Reading machines are in a Salvation Army, a Safeway, and a Baptist church. Text messages can alert parents to the arrival of new books, and children can return as often as their hunger for a new book makes them itch to go back for more.

Libraries have been providing free access to books for a long time. May that continue forever. But the chance to keep, cherish and re-read a beloved book is not a part of everyone’s life. Every child should have that delicious experience. If this pilot project is a success, a lot more youngsters may discover the pleasure and pride of having their own shelves of beloved books.


Changing life for women, one laugh at a time

When Liza Donnelly was young and impressionable, her mother gave her a book of cartoons. That set her on her life’s path. As she told the TEDWomen 2010 audience:

I drew, and I drew, and since I knew that humor was acceptable in my family, I could draw, do what I wanted to do, and not have to perform, not have to speak — I was very shy — and I could still get approval. I was launched as a cartoonist.

The New Yorker cartoonist and Forbes columnist focuses her humour on the crazy rules that set the boundaries of women’s roles. She is working to change them, one laugh at a time.

I learned about her 2010 TED talk from another creative woman in my online world, Joan Becht Willette. You can catch the flavour of her work in this poem of hers, “Indomitable Spirit”.



Puppets bring a street performer and an aging activist together

Ricky Syers has been performing on New York streets for years. He got tired of working as a laborer, turned to music, then began creating puppets that make even harried grownups slow down to watch. Recently, the 50-year-old performer met Doris Diether and made a marionette of the 86-year-old activist. The friendship blossomed, and now the two of them can sometimes be seen performing together.

Syers’s whimsical creations would make anyone smile. So if you’re feeling down, don’t wait another minute. Meet a man following his Muse all the way to joy.

Follow Syers on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.