Tag Archives: united states

Fatness Index 2 years on: the good, the bad, the ugly

Two years ago I saw that Richard Florida and Andrew Sullivan had re-posted a map created by calorielab that color-coded US states by weight.

As I found it interesting I created a North America wide map the included Canadian data (knowing that it probably would be a perfect apple to apple comparisons). The map and subsequent blog post turned into one of my best viewed pages with well over 20,000 pageviews.

The very cool people over at Calorie Labs informed me that they have released an updated version of the American map (posted below, you can see the original at their site here). Not too much has changed, but after looking at the map I’ve a few comments.

Calorie lab’s release of an updated version of the map has triggered a few thoughts and some lessons that I think should matter to policy makers, health-care professionals and citizens in general. Here they are:

The Good

The amazing people at Calorie Lab. When I created the map 2 years ago I didn’t even check to see if their work was copyrighted. Although the data was public domain, I copied Calorielab’s colour palette as I was trying to create a “mash-up” of their work with Canadian data. I wanted the maps to look similar. My map was a derivative work.

Did the people at Calorielab freak out? No. Quite the opposite. They reached out, said thank you and asked if I needed help.

It seems this year they’ve gotten even cooler. I don’t remember if the original map’s license but with the publishing of their 2010 update they wrote:

CalorieLab’s United States of Obesity 2010 map is licensed for use by anyone in any media and can be downloaded in various formats (small GIF, large GIF, SVG, EPS).

There’s a line directed specifically at people like me. It says, please, use this map! Not only is the license open but they’ve provided it in lots of formats (Which is great cause two years I had to recreate the thing from scratch and it took hours).

So naturally you are wondering, where is David’s 2010 mashup-Northern American Fatness Index.

The Bad

The bad is that trying to find the Canadian data is a pain. A couple of times a year I get a cool idea for a visual or graph that Statistics Canada data might help me create. In minutes I’m on their webpage and, within 5 minutes, I’m walking away from my computer fearing I might throw it out the window.

StatCans website may be the worst, most inaccessible government website in the western world. Whatever data you are looking for always seems to be at least one more click away.

It spent an hour trying to find data that StatsCan allegedly wants me to find. (This in an era of google where I generally find data people don’t want me to find, in minutes). Ultimately, I think I found the relevant data on overwieight/obesity figures by province (but who knows! Should I be choosing peer group A, or B, or C, D, E, F, G? None of which have labels explaining what they mean!).

The Ugly

Sadly, it gets worse. Even if you a) locate the data on Statscan’s website and b) it is free, it will probably still be inaccessible.  The only way the data can be viewed is with a Beyond 20/20 Professional Browser. You need to learn a new software package, one 99.9% of Canadians have never heard of, and that only works on a PC (I’m on a mac). The data I want is pretty simple, a CSV file, or even an Excel spreadsheet would be sufficient, something the average Canadian could access. But I guess it is not to be.

So I give up.

You win StatsCan. There are 10s of thousands of Canadians like me who would love to do interesting things with the data our tax dollars paid to collect, but even when your data is free and “open,” it isn’t. You’ve enjoyed tremendous support in the last month from those Canadians who understand why you are important (including me) but many Canadians have had to go up a steeper learning curve around why they should care. I might suggest they’d have gotten up that curve faster if they too could have used your data.

Myself, healthcare professionals, students and countless others could paint innumerable stories explaining Canadians and Canada to one another – helping us grasp our history, our social and health challenges, as well simply who we are. But we can’t.

In the end I’m still one of your biggest supporters, but frankly even I feel alienated.

Note: If someone wants to help me get this data, I’ll take a cut at recreating the map again, otherwise, as I said before. I give up.

Some More Core-Periphary Maps

Those who’ve been reading my blog for a long time may remember one of my more popular posts comparing the Firefox 3 Pledge Map (locations of downloads of Firefox 3 back in June 2008) versus Thomas Barnett’s Map (published in The Pentagon’s New Map – his blog here).

PNM%20remixed%202

firefox PNM mash up 2

A little while back a friend shared with me a new map, called The Walled World, that she’d found over at The Raw Feed (a great site, BTW) which offers a similar perspective… but with clearly delineated walls that show who is being kept out of which parts of the world.

the-walled-world-large

All three maps continue reasonate with me. The first offers us a stategic overlay. Which countries are powers/maintainers of the international system – which places are seeking to radical alter it, or cannot seem to become part of the core.

The second shows the virtual implications of that gap. Here, the gap between core and periphery is made starkly clear in technology use.

The final shows the physical manifestation of the gap. A stark reminder of the fences we build and the enormous sums of money and energy poured into keeping certain people out.

As a final note, I do think the third map is slightly misleading. As disturbing as it is, it is actually far, far too flattering to many traditional western powers as it continues to place them at the “centre.” In a world where the United States appears to be in decline this type of map makes China, Brazil, India and Russia (and even South Africa) look like non entities. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Articles I'm digesting – Feb 13 2009

New Planets & an Unknown Object Discovered Beyond the Solar System

Future telescopes such as NASA’s Kepler, set for launch in 2009, would be able to discover dozens or hundreds of Earth-like worlds. The Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), to be launched early in the next decade, consists of multiple telescopes placed along a 30 foot structure. With an unprecedented resolution approaching the physical limits of optics, the SIM is so sensitive that it almost defies belief: orbiting the earth, it can detect the motion of a lantern being waved by an astronaut on Mars.

The last sentence says it all. My mind = blown.

Fareed Zakaria – Worthwhile Canadian Initiative (via Sameer Vasta)

Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot seize. The Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, was the 15th-largest bank in North America one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It hasn’t grown in size; the others have all shrunk.

So what accounts for the genius of the Canadians? Common sense. Over the past 15 years, as the United States and Europe loosened regulations on their financial industries, the Canadians refused to follow suit, seeing the old rules as useful shock absorbers. Canadian banks are typically leveraged at 18 to 1—compared with U.S. banks at 26 to 1 and European banks at a frightening 61 to 1. Partly this reflects Canada’s more risk-averse business culture, but it is also a product of old-fashioned rules on banking.

I’ve always thought Zakaria was one of the smartest commentators in the US. I’ve unbelievably excited he has his own show on CNN. Finally a show where real ideas are discussed not by pundits but by actual wonks. His show single-handedly elevates the entire CNN brand. Now he’s saying nice things about us. Hopefully we won’t let it go to our heads.

How the Crash Will Reshape America: The Last Crisis of the Factory Towns by Richard Florida.

When work disappears, city populations don’t always decline as fast as you might expect. Detroit, astonishingly, is still the 11th-largest city in the U.S. “If you no longer can sell your property, how can you move elsewhere?” said Robin Boyle, an urban-planning professor at Wayne State University, in a December Associated Press article. But then he answered his own question: “Some people just switch out the lights and leave—property values have gone so low, walking away is no longer such a difficult option.”

Perhaps Detroit has reached a tipping point, and will become a ghost town. I’d certainly expect it to shrink faster in the next few years than it has in the past few. But more than likely, many people will stay—those with no means and few obvious prospects elsewhere, those with close family ties nearby, some number of young professionals and creative types looking to take advantage of the city’s low housing prices. Still, as its population density dips further, the city’s struggle to provide services and prevent blight across an ever-emptier landscape will only intensify.

Many of the old industrial clusters are dying and we’ll have to manage this decline while helping figure out what the next wave will look like. This is part of the reason why think the federal government’s failure to invest in green technology/innovation will stand as one of the biggest lost opportunities of the century. At the peak of a financial crises and at the moment when our cities – particularly our mid-sized cities – need to think about what their economies will look like for the next 100 years (think renewable energy, green roofs/architecture, mobile computing, next-generation social services) we’ve plowed $30B into 20th century buildings and roads. Hopefully the good news of Zakaria will outweigh the bad news from Florida. I hope so, since it appears this crisis won’t be sufficiently significant to spur us to rethink our future.

Why Smart Power matters

America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America. The best way to advance America’s interest in reducing global threats and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global solutions. This isn’t a philosophical point. This is our reality.

The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice. Our security, our vitality, and our ability to lead in today’s world oblige us to recognize the overwhelming fact of our interdependence.

I believe that American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted. We must use what has been called “smart power,” the full range of tools at our disposal — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural — picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy. This is not a radical idea. The ancient Roman poet Terence, who was born a slave and rose to become one of the great voices of his time, declared that “in every endeavor, the seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first.” The same truth binds wise women as well.

- Hillary Clinton, January 13th, 2009

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hillary Clinton used the term “Smart Power” no less than 12 times. It is a clever term, one that seeks to navigate between the Hard Power of military might and economic coercion, with the Soft Power of ideology, culture and agenda setting. Does the term signal something new in US foreign policy? Depends on your time frame. Without a doubt it marks the end of the George W. Bush foreign policy era. Clearly the blustery swagger of a shoot first, ask question later has ended. This is a United States that will be more cautious and more engaging. But rather than the start of something new, Smart Power likely signals a return to the Bill Clinton and Bush Sr. era of foreign policy. Indeed, as important as the term Smart Power was, the focus should lie not on the term, but on the revealing paragraph leading up to it:

“The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice. Our security, our vitality, and our ability to lead in today’s world oblige us to recognize the overwhelming fact of our interdependence.”

Here the guiding principles behind the shift to Smart Power are revealed. Two strike me as paramount. The first reaffirms what I think will be the buzz word of the Obama administration: pragmatism. Despite his soaring speeches and inspiring words Obama is first and foremost interested in achieving the possible – stretch goals are fine – but ideological dreams are not for him. Second, in this speech, the United States’ next Secretary of State signalled to the world that it once again recognizes it cannot go it alone. The acknowledgement of interdependence is the antithesis of “you are with us or against us.” It is an recognition that allies – real allies, not the minnow states bullied into participation – are required to sustain and enhance the stability and prosperity of the international system. Bush Sr. understood this when creating his coalition for the first Gulf War, Clinton sought, insofar as possible, to build similar agreement when advancing his international agenda.

These have two dramatic impacts for Canada – and other countries. The first is that we should expect the Americans will ask us what we think – our advice or thoughts may not change their opinions, but we will likely be asked and when that happens, we’d better have something smart and meaningful to contribute. Second, the opportunity of being consulted comes with it the responsibility to contribute and support, even when the decision or strategy isn’t one that we completely agree with. When you’ve been part of the discussion you can walk away when the rubber hits the road. Third, those who have a well thought out plan for solving a problem will win out over those who have grievances to share. Demonstrate to this administration that you can solve a problem through realizable actions and I suspect they will listen and support you.

For Canadians nowhere is this change in attitude possible more important than on the management of the Canadian Border. I would have a new briefing plan of how we believe the border should be managed ready and waiting for when Clinton or Obama’s first arrives in Ottawa. If the Obama administration acts as it talks, I suspect it will reward and seek out, not those who do as it says, but those who solve the problems they care about. This is a welcome return to the diplomacy of the 1990’s which was also cautious and smart. It was also a good period for Canadian-American relations.

Canadians have spent years hoping the Americans will change. Now that they have, are we ready?

Las Vegas and the end of US

Just returned from Vegas for work. While the place seemed normal (as normal as Vegas can get) it was doubly surreal to be there at the beginning of a depression (yes, I’ve decided that we are now in a depression, over-reaction perhaps, but who knows).

The mood was captured by a skype chat between myself and an (american) friend of mine who was there working with me:

[15/12/2008 5:40:34 PM] David Eaves says: actually last night, I was sitting at the bar waiting for my take out. Between the glamourized homeland security tv ride along show, the gambling, the faux roman-style architecture of the Palazzo, and the hopped up gladiatorial style football coverage I was struck by how facist/starship trooperesque the whole thing was
[15/12/2008 5:40:37 PM] David Eaves says: totally depressing
[15/12/2008 5:41:38 PM] XXXXX says: i know.  now you know why i hate vegas so.  got off the plane to a woman at a slot machine wearing 3 stacked cowboy hats.  if they weren’t paying me, i would have gotten right back on that plane.

It really was depressing. Of course, on the surface the whole place looks unaffected by the economic problems. But then, relying on how things look on the surface is the worst way of taking the termperature in Vegas. Things are clearly not going well, and are only going to get worse. A lot worse.

I was also struck by how Las Vegas related to the earlier post on cultural theories of risk. Las Vegas must be home to the fatalists. I mean, here is a place that literraly is high grid, low group – and where it doesn’t matter what you do, fate – or luck – controls your destiny, and in the end, even she can’t stop the house from winning.

BTW – Sorry for slow posting – I’m completely jet lagged and exhaused. Intense travel, work and catching up with old friends has left me drained.

The Power of Dissent – Linking Colbert and al-Zaidi

I think the story of Mr. al-Zaidi – the journalist who threw his shoe(s) at President Bush during and Iraqi press conference – is fascinating. It reminds of just how infrequently a president – and in particular this president – has actually had to confront dissenting opinions. And how dangerous this is, both for the country and for the office holder. How can one govern if you are not receiving a diversity of opinions, and are not, from time to time, forced to confront those who disagree with you, or whom your decisions have negatively impacted?

The challenge of permitting dissent is inherent to the office itself. Power is itself a deterrent – do people really want to anger the most powerful person in the world? What if they need a favour later? Then, there is always the temptation to soften one’s message in the hopes of influencing, rather than arguing, with its holder. Traditionally protests were one way those on the outside could try to be heard. But today the dubiously legal special “protest zones” that are often set up are rarely in view of the president. Here we aren’t even talking of engaging dissent – just acknowledging it! All of these challenges, either active or passive – protect and insulate the president, ultimately to their detriment.

In the case of al-Zaidi, I’m uncertain of whether his protest is one that should be supported – anything that threatens the independence and freedom of the press corps needs to be considered carefully. But then, given the limitations this president has placed on people, their have been few other outlets and few people willing to stand up.

This is why I Stephen Colbert is so important . His speech at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner will be remembered as one of the bravest, most important acts of the Bush era. I re-watched the first 20 minutes the other night with a friend who’d never seen it and was reminded by how painful, awkward, brutal and deserving it was. Indeed, it is so awkward I often have to stop watching it (I HATE social awkwardness – I literally want to jump into the TV and mediate it. Maybe it is the curse of my consulting, or maybe it is the curse of being a middle child). It is remarkable how the man just keeps going. But thank god he does. It may be one of the few moments when the president truly had to confront a vicious critique of his administration.

Can anyone think of other moments when the president has had his cocoon penetrated? Would love to hear them.

Of course, in the end, a balance is usually struck. The tighter the lid one puts on dissenting opinions, the more pressure builds for them to eventually erupt out. Colbert and al-Zaidi pail in comparison to what is perhaps the best example of this pressure cooker expoding – the 2008 election.