Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Abolitionist against retentionist countries




By the end of the 60s there were only 55 abolitionist countries with no death penalty. At present, this number has increased up to 140 abolitionist countries, so there are only 58 countries where the death penalty is retained.
However, not all 140 abolitionist countries have the same laws in relation to the capital punishment. In fact, we could divide these countries into 3 different categories:
•    Abolitionists for all kinds of crimes: 97 countries
•    Abolitionists only for ordinary crimes: 8 countries
•    Abolitionists in practice (death penalty could be applied by law but it is never applied): 35 countries
Next map clearly shows which countries fall into each category and where they are located: 



For those who naively think that Europe is an oasis and it has always been, just some data: Spain abolished the death penalty for all kinds of crimes in 1995 (up until that time, article 15 of the Spanish Constitution accepted that military judges could apply the death penalty in times of war). And not only is Spain a newly abolitionist country: the United Kingdom abolished the death penalty in 1998, Greece in 2004 and Latvia in 2012.

Sources:
  1. A post at Delivering Data about the history of abolition of capital punishment: http://www.deliveringdata.com/2012/12/light-against-death-penalty.html
  2. List drawn by Amnesty International of abolitionist and retentionist countries: http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty/abolitionist-and-retentionist-countries
  3. Article 15 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978:
  4. http://www.congreso.es/consti/constitucion/indice/index.htm

     
    
    
    
  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Should society accept homosexuality?



This is the question asked by the think tank Pew Research Center to 37,653 people in 39 different countries to draw a survey about the acceptance of homosexuality around the world.
According to this survey, Spain is the country where homosexuality is most accepted: by 88% of respondents. However, we should take into account that such countries as Belgium, Norway, Sweden or The Netherlands, where homosexuality is well accepted, are not included in this survey. Therefore, if this survey was truly global, Spain would probably not rank the first.
The country with most homophobic respondents (again, according to this survey) is Nigeria, with only 1% of acceptance. In fact, five of the six African countries included in this survey show an acceptance degree of less than 8% (Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria), and the sixth (South-African Republic) shows an acceptance of only 32%.
In the Middle East, figures are quite similar: 2% in Tunisia, 3% in Egypt and Jordan and 4% in Palestinian territories, but also 18% in Lebanon and 40% in Israel, where homosexuality is better accepted. However, none of Middle East countries reaches 50% acceptance.
In Latin America, figures seem to be better. Of the seven surveyed countries, only two (Bolivia and El Salvador) show an acceptance of less than 50%. The rest of Latin American countries in this survey (Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Argentina) seem to accept homosexuality much better, although none of them reaches 75%.
In the Asia/Pacific region, homosexuality acceptance is very variable: 79% in Australia or 73% in the Philippines, but 2% in Pakistan or 3% in Indonesia.
Canada and the United States also show a fairly good acceptance of homosexuality: the former by 80% whereas the latter by 60%.
In Europe, it is worth highlighting the case of France, where in six years the level of acceptance dropped from 83% to the current 77%, fruit of the open debate about same-sex marriage and the strong campaigns launched by the extreme right parties against the gay community. On the other hand, figures are reversed in Germany: in five years, homosexuality acceptance has increased from 81% to 87%, ranking number two after Spain, and the third position is for the Czech Republic, with 80%.
The countries with a less stable attitude in relation to homosexuality are South Korea, from 18% to 39%, more than double, and the Unites States, from 49% to 60%, only in five years in both cases. The reverse situation is observed in France, as stated before, and in Turkey (from 14% to 9% due to the governmental campaigns launched by the conservative Islamic party), as well as in the Palestinian territories, from 9% to 4%.

Sources:
  1. The Pew Research Center: http://www.pewresearch.org/
  2. The global divide on homosexuality report, which you can read online: http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/06/04/the-global-divide-on-homosexuality/
     
    
     
     

Monday, June 10, 2013

A major increase in university fees in Spain


Recently, the increase in university tuition fees is so significant that many students are left out of the education system because they cannot afford such fees.
The University System Observatory (OSU in Spanish and Catalan) published some reports abut the increase of university tuition fees and its effects. Some data:
Spain is the sixth country with the highest tuition fees. Only universities in Portugal, UK, The Netherlands, Italy and Ireland are more expensive than in Spain.
By virtue of the Royal Decree Law 14/2012 passed last year (a bill of education reforms), university students are charged with 15 to 25% of the total cost of their degree. But there is no way to put these costs down into real figures, so regional governments set the price of university fees on the base of different criteria. Catalonia is where tuition fees have increased more significantly, and where master’s degrees and PhD are more expensive:
•    Since 2001, university degrees have risen 84% to 103% more than the retail price index.
•    Since the implementation of European degrees in 2008, these are 71% to 76% more expensive than the retail price index.
•    This year, tuition fees have reached their top increase: a growth of 67% in only one year. This means about 607 € to 949 € per university year.
In the following chart you can see the rise of tuition fees in Catalonia, showing the prices of university degrees in euros:



Sources:
  1. The case of a good student who left university because he could not afford tuition fees: http://scientiablog.com/2013/06/07/una-puta-mierda/
  2. University System Observatory (OSU): http://www.observatoriuniversitari.org/es/

      
     
      
    

Monday, June 3, 2013

Myths about cancer



Although we are learning more and more things about cancer, there are still some myths and some false ideas about this disease. These wrong concepts about cancer make it more difficult to implement good prevention measures against it. A recent survey of the Catalan section of the Spanish Cancer Association (AECC) reveals some of these false ideas about cancer, which apply to Catalan citizens but may well be extrapolated to most citizens around the world.
Here you have some bits and pieces of this survey:
1. 12% respondents believe that cancer is a disease appearing only in developed countries.
2. 15% respondents do not know that cancer can be prevented. In fact, the AECC considers that 75% to 80% of cancers are due to external factors which can be easily modified to lessen the risk of developing this disease.
3. 13% respondents consider that underwire bras may cause breast cancer.
4. 30% respondents believe that deodorants may cause breast cancer.
5. 10% respondents consider that a hard blow may cause cancer.
6. 22% respondents do not believe that being overweighed or following an unhealthy diet may result in a cancer.
7. 20% respondents do not know that doing physical activity can reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Sources:
  1. The survey Myths about cancer drawn by the Catalan section of the Spanish Cancer Association (available in Catalan and Spanish languages): https://www.aecc.es/Nosotros/Dondeestamos/Barcelona/Paginas/Mitesdelcancer.aspx

     
    
      

Monday, May 27, 2013

A future with shanties

Original picture: Andrés Dapena Boixareu

In Brazil they are called favelas; in Argentina, villas miseria; in Chile, callampas; in Uruguay, cantegriles; in the Dominican Republic, barrios; in Venezuela, ranchos; in Guatemala, asentamientos; in Mexico, ciudades perdidas; in Ecuador and Colombia, invasiones; in Paraguay, chacaritas; in Peru, pueblos jóvenes; in Costa Rica, tugurios; in Morocco and other former French colonies, bidonville; in some former British colonies, slums; in Turkey, gecekondus; in Angola, musseques; in India, jhugi or bustee; in Pakistan, kachi abadi; in Sri Lanka, mudduku; in the South African Republic, imijondolo; in Lithuania, Lušnynai; in Serbia, Kartonsko naselje; in Portugal, bairro de lata; in Spain, chabola, which comes from the Basque language; and in Catalan we call it barraquisme.
That’s what urban planners call precarious settlement, informal settlement, marginal district or misery zone: a type of marginal settlement around most cities in the world, with poor health conditions, no basic services and populated by socially-excluded citizens. 
The latest report of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) provides some facts and figures about these settlements and about their forthcoming future. It’s worth reading!

Some bits and pieces from this report:
1.- Cities are gaining more and more inhabitants, not only in terms of absolute population but also if compared to rural areas. Out of the 229 surveyed countries, 88% increased their urban population in ten years. Moreover, most of the 28 countries which reduced their urban population, this reduction is less than 1% and none of them are large countries (except for the Russian Federation, which reduced its urban population in 0.2%). Most countries reducing their urban population are small islands in the Caribbean or Oceania, some small European countries like Liechtenstein, Latvia, Andorra and Macedonia, or some republics of Central Asia, like Kirgizstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. And the most shocking figure: all 229 surveyed countries, including these 28, are expected to increase their urban population by 2020 and 2030.
2.- Among urban population, the number of citizens living in shanties is shooting up. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s area with major shanty town problem, 61.7% urban people live in shanties with very poor health conditions. In South-East Asia, 35%; in Latin America and the Caribbean, 23.5%. In some other countries, figures are even more devastating: in Central African Republic, 95.9% of urban population is living in shanties; in Chad, 89.3%; and in Mozambique, 80.5%.
3.- In 2001 there were 921 million people living in shanties. Four years later, there were more than one thousand million people: one of every three urban inhabitants of our planet. And figures are still growing: the population of shanties is estimated to grow 2.2% every year, in about 25 more million people. By the year 2030 or 2040 there will be two thousand million people living in shanties, which is about 50% of the world’s urban population.

Sources:
  1. Virtual exhibition Shanties, the Informal City about shanties in Barcelona: http://www.barraques.cat/en/
  2. Report State of the world’s cities 2012-2013: http://www.unhabitat.org/pmss/listItemDetails.aspx?publicationID=3387
  3. Data of section 3 are taken from Rafael POCH-de-FELIU’s book La actualidad de China, un mundo en crisis, una sociedad en gestación, published by Crítica (no English version available): http://ed-critica.claudator.com/libro/la-actualidad-de-china-978847423316


      
     
     
     

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Armed kids

Some weeks ago, mass media reported a sad piece of news from Kentucky, in the USA. Once again, a kid (this time a two-year-old girl) was shot and killed by her five-year-old brother with a rifle. The news stated that it was an "accident". But how can we consider it an accident when parents give a rifle to a kid? In this case, this is literally what happened: it was not an adult’s rifle left on a table unattended, but it was a child-size rifle given to him as a gift, specifically marketed to children as 'My First Rifle'
by the company Cricket, specialised in weapons for kids. Just like that: weapons for kids.
When we started writing this post, on the day after the fatal accident, we checked the company’s catalogue on its website: http://www.crickett.com/crickett_kidscorner.php. However, as you can see if you click on the link, this website is not found any more. But here you have some pictures:





This tragedy is one among many others and it will be used by those who advocate for a better control of firearms in households. But in the US, owning a gun is a constitutional right and most US citizens agree with it, so it won’t be easy to change. A good example of the lack of control over firearms, which is considered to be usual in US households, is the campaign of some mothers who denounce that there is a national schizophrenia about this issue: there are laws overprotecting kids (like the law banning the Little Red Riding Hood tale at school because the little girl on the story carries a wine bottle on her basket) while kids are allowed to own and use firearms.

 
Last week, while newspapers were busy talking about the Kentucky tragedy, a group of parents from Michigan claimed that Anna Frank’s Diary should be also banned from school. Their reason: this book is too pornographic because the female protagonist discovers her own body, and children should not have access to such dangerous material.

Sources:
  1. The news about the toddler shot dead by her brother: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2317512/Kentucky-boy-5-shoots-sister-Caroline-Starks-2-child-size-22-caliber-rifle-given-GIFT.html
  2. The claim to ban Anna Frank’s Diary for being too pornographic: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/29/anne-frank-diary-pornographic-7th-grade-michigan-parent_n_3180134.html
    
   
    
    

Evo Morales: the VAT man


Every country can tax books as convenient. In the European Union, for instance, there are remarkable differences: Spain and Italy tax books at 4%, whereas Denmark taxes books at 25%. The EU countries with lowest taxes on books are Luxemburg, at 3%, and the United Kingdom, at 0%. Such differences between countries led the virtual bookstore Amazon to move its European headquarters to Luxemburg, where salaries are rather high but taxes are very low.
Moreover, taxes are also different if we talk about print books or e-books. In Spain, for instance, e-books are taxed at 21%, whereas print books are taxed at 4%. In order to end up with such big differences, the European Commission is planning to unify criteria by the end of the year 2013 (to be in force by 2015).
Needless to say, the price of books affects the reading rates. Therefore, printing houses and other institutions which promote reading habits advocate for low taxes on books. In the case of Spain, having a fixed price for books (which lets small- and medium-sized bookstores survive) and paying a reduced VAT of 4% are good measures to promote reading.
Some days ago, the president of Bolivia Evo Morales passed some acts to promote reading habits among Bolivians, including a National Library Network with funds to buy contemporary literature and the suppression of taxes on books (it was 13%) and on book transaction (it was 3%). Thanks to these measures, Bolivians can buy books 16% cheaper.
When announcing these measures, Evo Morales talked about a major problem in Bolivia: the low reading rate. And he set himself as a good example because he admits that he rarely reads a book. However, most Spanish newspapers gave a new nuance to this piece of news and the headlines were “Evo Morales does not like to read”. Only the small print revealed that the Bolivian government will pass some measures to promote reading. And not all newspapers included this information either.

Some examples:
El Mundo: «Evo Morales: "I don’t like to read"»:
http://www.elmundo.es/america/2013/04/30/noticias/1367307011.html
ABC: «Evo Morales: "I don’t like to read "»:
http://www.abc.es/internacional/20130430/abci-morales-gusta-leer-201304300833.html
La Vanguardia: «Evo Morales: "I don’t like to read"»:
http://www.lavanguardia.com/internacional/20130430/54373016764/evo-morales-no-me-gusta-leer.html
El País: «Morales admits that he does not like to read after passing a law to reduce taxes on books»:
http://economia.elpais.com/economia/2013/04/30/agencias/1367286502_156441.html
El Periódico: «Morales admits that he does not like to read»:
http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/internacional/morales-admite-que-gusta-leer-2378316
20 Minutos: «Evo Morales admits that he does not like to read: "I have this problem"»:
http://www.20minutos.es/noticia/1801885/0/evo-morales/no-gusta-leer/baja-impuesto/
La Gaceta: «Evo Morales does not like to read»:
http://www.lagaceta.com.ar/nota/542975/mundo/a-evo-morales-no-le-gusta-leer.html
Libertaddigital / esRadio: «Evo Morales: "I don’t like to read"»:
http://esradio.libertaddigital.com/fonoteca/2013-04-30/cultura-evo-morales-no-me-gusta-leer-58173.html

Sources:
  1. VAT policies on books around Europe: http://publishingperspectives.com/2012/07/why-is-europes-policy-e-books-so-schizophrenic/
  2. Amazon in Luxemburg: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/06/us-tax-amazon-idUSBRE8B50AR20121206
  3. VAT rates in Spain: http://www.tumbit.com/how-to-guides/articles/93-spanish-iva-explained.html
  4. Fixed book price: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed_book_price_agreement
    
    
   
   
   

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Justice and corruption


Some weeks ago, an opinion poll was published at Metroscopia website, gathering Spanish citizen’s opinion about justice and corruption, and the results were rather discouraging.
To the question "Do you think that the investigation on Gürtel case will be completed on a reasonable amount of time and those involved will be eventually prosecuted and condemned?", 78% of respondents replied that they don’t. When this same question is formulated for Urdangarin case, the answer is quite similar: 77% replied that they don’t.
When those polled are asked why justice is so slow when dealing with corruption cases, most people have a clear answer: 85% believe that political parties and lobbies put pressure, and 65% believe that judges are afraid of the negative consequences of such trials on their professional careers if bigwigs are eventually condemned. 
Also, 87% of respondents consider that a unit of anticorruption judges should be created, as there is a unit of anticorruption prosecutors.

Sources:
Metroscopia website: http://www.metroscopia.org/
“Clima social” survey, March 2013: http://www.metroscopia.org/climasocial/item/clima-social-octubre-2012-copy-2-copy-copy-copy-copy?category_id=3
        
     
   
   
    

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Responsible water consumption



This summer Barcelona will be host to the 15th World Swimming Championships. It is a good chance to raise awareness about water problems, so we wrote the script of seven videos, each lasting for about one or two minutes, with all kinds of information about water. The producer Brutal Media is the author of these videos, which you can watch here:

1.- How much water is there in the world?





2.- Fresh water, salt water




3.- Drinking water


4.- Water consumption in Barcelona


5.- Virtual water



6.- The water cycle



7.- A finite resource



Sources:

  1. Barcelona 2013 15th World Championships:
    http://www.bcn2013.com/en/inicio
  2. Our posts about water issues: http://www.deliveringdata.com/search/label/WATER
  3. Brutal Media: http://brutalmedia.tv/BRUTALMEDIA.TV/esp_nueva_web.html
     
     
     
    
   

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Spanish army against the French army


Last Easter, François Hollande, President of France, announced that in the following five years the French military expenditure will be not increased, resulting in a cut of 30,000 million euros. He also plans to make redundant one third of the French army, which is currently made up of 300,000 soldiers. This is the most significant cut executed in the French defence budget so far.
Last summer, the British army also announced major cuts: 20,000 out of the current 120,000 soldiers of the British army will be made redundant.
What about Spain, where the financial crisis is much more devastating than in those two countries? No news, on the contrary. In Spain there is twice the number of soldiers than in the UK (despite having 16 million inhabitants less). There are no cuts, but on top of it, the budget for the Spanish army will be increased in 28.21%.
On this same day when these cuts in the French army were announced, newspapers also reported how the Spanish defence budget is wasted: a pilgrimage to Lourdes for 17 military men and police officers, costing 12,331 euros.

Sources:
  1. France announces a cut in its military budget: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9955667/French-defence-cuts-could-harm-British-military-partnership.html
  2. Cuts in the British army: http://www.deliveringdata.com/2012/07/cutout-soldiers.html
  3. Increase in the Spanish defence budget: http://www.deliveringdata.com/2012/09/a-crisis-free-army.html
  4. The Spanish Ministry of Defence finances a pilgrimage to Lourdes: http://www.laicismo.org/detalle.php?pk=20067

      
      
      

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Advertising in the classroom


Channel One News is a twelve-minute satellite television programme broadcast in the USA. Designed as a ‘current affairs’ bulletin aimed at children and teenagers, the programme is often full of trivial reports about celebrities and attractive lifestyles. Of the twelve-minute running time, two are wholly dedicated to advertisements.
In 1989, the directors of Channel One signed an agreement with 12,000 of the 50,000 primary and high schools across the USA to show the programme in classrooms. In exchange, the broadcaster would subsidise the schools’ video equipment and audiovisual material. Eight million students watch the programme almost daily alongside their teachers.
Of course, the majority of schools that have signed up to the agreement are located in poor and marginalised neighbourhoods, which would not otherwise be able to afford audiovisual resources. The programme has received a lot of criticism due to the fact that these twelve minutes every day add up to six teaching days being lost each year, one of which is entirely dedicated to advertising. The annual cost to the taxpayer of these six teaching days is 1.8 billion dollars.
In addition, the fact that this programme is seen in class accompanied by teachers leaves the children even more vulnerable to the dangers of advertising. If you see it in class, it must be good for you. Therefore, those hamburgers that your teachers showed you must be good for your health.
Research shows that the children that see this programme in class are more willing, on average, to accept statements such as ‘brand clothing is better’ or even ‘a good car is more important than a good education’.
The products advertised include fast food brands, soft drinks, video games, Hollywood films and plenty of other items that are hardly beneficial to the wellbeing of the kids. Advertisements have even included army recruitment campaigns and messages sponsored by tobacco companies.

Sources:
  1. You can find this and other examples of the extremes that child advertising has reached in Juliet B. Schor’s book ‘Born to buy. The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture’: http://www.aef.com/on_campus/classroom/book_excerpts/data/3005
  2. Channel One News: http://www.channelone.com/
     
    
    
    

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reordering the ranking


Lists can often be found in the media ranking the richest and poorest countries on the planet, the nations with the greatest economic growth or the lowest rates of corruption and so on. The names at the top of these lists are usually the same countries, perhaps with slight variations in the order. The same can be said at the bottom of the list.
With this in mind, it is refreshing to discover that there are other ways of classifying the levels of development and happiness of a country’s inhabitants, and the results of such rankings can throw up a few surprises. Every year since 2006, the London-based think tank the New Economics Foundation has published the Happy Planet Index which measures each country’s development based on life expectancy, the subjective perception of happiness and the nation’s ecological footprint. According to this ranking, the ten countries where the inhabitants have the longest, happiest and most sustainable life are as follows:
Costa Rica
Vietnam
Colombia
Belize
El Salvador
Jamaica
Panama
Nicaragua
Venezuela
Guatemala
The highest ranking European country does appear until number 18... and it is Albania. The United States of America, which often tops the chart in such rankings, has to settle for position 105 out of 151.

Sources:
  1. The New Economics Foundation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Economics_Foundation
  2. The Happy Planet Index: http://www.happyplanetindex.org
    
    
    
   

Monday, March 11, 2013

A sinking country


Tuvalu is a tiny country in Polynesia (covering just a quarter of the area of Barcelona) made up of nine coral atolls. Not many people have heard of it, although it did make the news a few years ago when it allowed various television companies to use its internet domain (.tv) in return for sums of money that far exceeded the country’s GDP.
The golden toad of Costa Rica has the dubious honour of being the first known case of extinction resulting directly from current climate change. Tuvalu may soon go down in history for being the first country to disappear for the same reason. With the country’s highest point at just five metres, the rising sea levels due to the melting of the polar ice caps will soon swallow the group of islands up. It is not just Tuvalu that is under threat: Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Tokelau and the Maldives are all facing the same watery demise. Around half a million islanders will have to abandon their homelands and become the world’s first climate refugees. Within a few years, the waves will claim the beaches, drown the vegetable patches and engulf the coconut trees with saltwater. Experts believe that it is too late to do anything to save these countries from their fate, but there is still hope for the rest of the world... as long as we take action right away.


Sources:
  1. Tuvalu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuvalu
  2. What is an atoll: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atoll
  3. The golden toad of Costa Rica: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_toad
  4. Data on the effects of climate change on the atolls of Polynesia are taken from Mark Lynas’s book “Six degrees: Our future on a hotter planet”: http://www.marklynas.org/books/
   
    
    
  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Water in the privacy of our homes


Most water we consume is meant for farming and cattle raising: to be precise, seven out of every ten litres. Two more litres are meant for the industry and transport, and the remaining litre is meant for urban use and direct water consumption.
However, water consumption (in terms of volume and use) varies from country to country and from town to town. For instance, in Barcelona, 64% water is meant for domestic use, 29% is meant for industrial use and trade, and 7% is meant for municipal services.
As average, Barcelona citizens use 122 litres of water every day. Some of it (30%) is wasted when we flush our toilets, another 20% is used when we have a shower and another 20% is used by our washing machines. 10% is used when we wash our hands, 9% when we wash our dishes and only 5% of the total amount of water is directly consumed as drinking water or cooking water. The rest, 4% is used for cleaning and 2% for watering our plants.

Sources:
  1. The Water footprint of humanity, a survey on how we manage the water resources of our planet: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/02/06/1109936109.abstract
  2. Barcelona water consumption data are taken from the environmental education programme Agenda21, drawn by the Town Council of Barcelona: http://80.33.141.76/ag21/index.php/publicacions-2 (at present, Agenda21 website is still under construction and it can only be read in Catalan language. Some documents are translated into Spanish, but water consumption data are only available in Catalan language)

    
    
    
  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cluster bombs in Syria


Some time ago we wrote a post about cluster bombs, reporting that even if in 2008 an international treaty was passed to ban the use, manufacture, sale, manipulation and storage of cluster bombs, the truth is that this type of bombs are still circulating. They are mainly used to terrorise civilians because this type of bomb devastates large areas without telling the difference between civilians and military targets. 
The NGO Human Rights Watch published a report accusing the Syrian Government to use these bombs against civilians, causing the death of at least eleven kids during a bombing in November 2012. And it is not the first time that this NGO reports the use of such bombs in Syria.
According to this NGO, Syria is not the only country using cluster bombs. Libya (during Gaddafi’s regime) and Thailand also used these bombs against civilians. In the case of Syria, cluster bombs were manufactured in the Soviet Union during the seventies.
For the moment, only 16 countries condemned the use of cluster bombs in Syria, and Spain is not included in this list… What a coincidence! It just so happens that Gaddafi’s cluster bombs used against his civilians were manufactured in Spain. In the town of Saragossa, to be precise, where the company Instalaza manufactures weapons, including cluster bombs until 2008, when they were banned. 
And guess who was the consultant and representative of Instalaza during the years in which this company manufactured and sold cluster bombs to Gaddafi? None other than Pedro Morenés, the current Spanish Minister of Defence. Maybe that’s why Spain does not condemn the attack of the Syrian regime.

Sources:
  1. Post at Delivering Data about cluster bombs: http://www.deliveringdata.com/2011/11/following-cluster-bomb.html
  2. Report by the NGO Human Rights Watch about the use of cluster bombs in Syria: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/11/27/syria-evidence-shows-cluster-bombs-killed-children-0
  3. Other attacks performed by the Syrian army with cluster bombs: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/23/syria-despite-denials-more-cluster-bomb-attacks
  4. Pedro Morenés, the Spanish minister of Defence: http://www.fincaforsale.co.uk/?p=1759
    
   
   
   

Monday, January 21, 2013

Denying the global warming


We do not know yet the extent and consequences of global warming on our planet, but at least we agree that global warming is occurring and does exist. However, some people and some institutions insist on denying the existence of global warming, arguing that it is all a campaign against fossil fuels, the development of Third World countries or even just the interest of some scientists to get more funds for their climate research after striking fear into citizens’ heart.
It is quite easy to refute climate change denial: just check the research evidence on this issue published by most scientists and you will realise that 95% of scientists doing some research on climate agree that there is global warming. Moreover, there are lots of literature references about the interests of climate change deniers or those who do not accept such evidence.
Nevertheless, climate change denial (like many other conspiracy theories) has some supporters and, above all, generates some sort of confusion among citizens, who do not have enough scientific knowledge to get their own opinion on this issue.
In order to fight against this confusion, here we give you a simple yet solid argument to realise who is behind this false debate: a list of organizations accepting the existence of human-induced global warming and a list of organizations denying it. Needless to say, it is not a thorough list (it includes US organizations mainly) but it will help you understand who is behind each position. Here we go:

Organizations not accepting that there is global warming:

American Petroleum Institute
US Chamber of Commerce
National Association of Manufacturers
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Industrial Minerals Association
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
Great Northern Project Development
Rosebud Mining
Massey Energy
Alpha Natural Resources
Southeastern Legal Foundation
Georgia Agribusiness Council
Georgia Motor Trucking Association
Corn Refiners Association
National Association of Home Builders
National Oilseed Processors Association
National Petrochemical and Refiners Association
Western States Petroleum Association
National Agnotology Producers Association
The Astroturfing Consortium

Organizations accepting that there is global warming:

U.S. Agency for International Development
United States Department of Agriculture
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
National Institute of Standards and Technology
United States Department of Defense
United States Department of Energy
National Institutes of Health
United States Department of State
United States Department of Transportation
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
National Center for Atmospheric Research
National Aeronautics & Space Administration
National Science Foundation
Smithsonian Institution
International Arctic Science Committee
Arctic Council
African Academy of Sciences
Australian Academy of Sciences
Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
Academia Brasileira de Ciéncias
Cameroon Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of Canada
Caribbean Academy of Sciences
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Académie des Sciences, France
Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina of Germany
Indonesian Academy of Sciences
Royal Irish Academy
Accademia nazionale delle scienze of Italy
Indian National Science Academy
Science Council of Japan
Kenya National Academy of Sciences
Madagascar’s National Academy of Arts,
Letters and Sciences
Academy of Sciences Malaysia
Academia Mexicana de Ciencias
Nigerian Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of New Zealand
Polish Academy of Sciences
Russian Academy of Sciences
Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal
Academy of Science of South Africa
Sudan Academy of Sciences
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Tanzania Academy of Sciences
Turkish Academy of Sciences
Uganda National Academy of Sciences
The Royal Society of the United Kingdom
National Academy of Sciences, United States
Zambia Academy of Sciences
Zimbabwe Academy of Science
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians
American Astronomical Society
American Chemical Society
American College of Preventive Medicine
American Geophysical Union
American Institute of Physics
American Medical Association
American Meteorological Society
American Physical Society
American Public Health Association
American Quaternary Association
American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Society of Agronomy
American Society for Microbiology
American Society of Plant Biologists
American Statistical Association
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
Botanical Society of America
Crop Science Society of America
Ecological Society of America
Federation of American Scientists
Geological Society of America
National Association of Geoscience Teachers
Natural Science Collections Alliance
Organization of Biological Field Stations
Society of American Foresters
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Society of Systematic Biologists
Soil Science Society of America
Australian Coral Reef Society
Australian Medical Association
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Engineers Australia
Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
Geological Society of Australia
British Antarctic Survey
Institute of Biology, UK
Royal Meteorological Society, UK
Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
European Federation of Geologists
European Geosciences Union
European Physical Society
European Science Foundation
International Association for Great Lakes Research
International Union for Quaternary Research
International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
World Federation of Public Health Associations
World Health Organization
World Meteorological Organization

Sources:

  1. Climate change denial and human-induced global warming: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change_denial
  2. 95% of scientists doing research on climate do agree that there is global warming: http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus-intermediate.htm
  3. Groups accepting or denying the evidences of global warming: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2013/01/global-warming-debate-is-no-debate-at-all/
   
    
    
    
    

Monday, January 14, 2013

The best at tax evasion


Tax Justice Network is an international network of associations, academics and activists with a shared objective: fighting against tax fraud and black economy. In a report published in November 2011 about tax abuse worldwide, there is a list with the countries recording the highest black economy levels in relation to their GNP. Bolivia ranks the first, with 66% of its economy in the black market. Russia ranks number two, with 45%, and the list goes on with Papua New Guinea, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The average world tax evasion is 18%, so one out of every six euros is not taxed.
However, if we get focused on the amount of money evading taxes (instead of the GNP), then the US ranks the first because every year 337,349 million dollars are lost to tax evasion. Brazil is the second and the list goes on with Italy, Russia, Germany and France.
What about Spain? In this report, Spain ranks number ten in the list of countries losing money to tax evasion. To be precise, Spain loses 82,000 million euros every year because black economy is not under control (it represents 22.5% of the Spanish GNP).
It is rather difficult to put such large figures into context, but here you have a good example: these 82,000 million euros lost to tax evasion stand for 14 times the total amount of the health and education budgets in 2013.
 
Health budget 2013: 3,852.27 M€
Education budget 2013: 1,944.73 M€
Total amount: 5.797 M€

Sources:
  1. Tax Justice Network website: http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/front_content.php?idcat=2
  2. Post at Delivering Data about black economy in Spain: http://www.deliveringdata.com/2012/04/some-data-about-black-economy-in-spain.html
  3. Tax Justice Network report about black economy: http://www.tackletaxhavens.com/Cost_of_Tax_Abuse_TJN_Research_23rd_Nov_2011.pdf
  4. The Spanish General State Budget of 2013: http://graficos.lainformacion.com/politica/presupuesto-estatal/presupuestos-2013-en-que-gasta-espana_W4M1nXSktquMQkDRSSpBR6
   
   
   
   

Monday, December 31, 2012

A time for lists


On the last week of the year, mass media offer lists about the most important pieces of news, the blockbuster films, the best-selling books, the best goals or the prettiest celebrities of the year.
Among all these lists, one of the most amazing is the list of the world’s wealthiest people, published by Forbes. However, we should say “wealthiest men” because there are only 4 women included in the fist 50 top rich people. And this list is published worldwide because it seems that everybody wants to know who the richest man on Earth is. Every Christmas, we are reminded that the Mexican Carlos Sim and the Americans Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are the top three, and the Spanish Amancio Ortega is the fifth thanks to his clothing merchandiser Inditex, including brands like Zara.
However, this list never questions the legitimacy of such fortunes. And it is never said that any of the three richest men on Earth, with a wealth of more than 44 billion dollars, is rich enough to end up with the world’s famine for one year, according to FAO. If we take the top five rich men, they have enough money to eradicate the world’s hunger for six years.
This kind of comparison is usually labelled as demagogic because life is never so simple, but in this case it is. Only if one of these men decided to do things differently, the world could make a positive change. However, if they are the richest men on Earth, they are not likely to be willing to change society.

Sources:
  1. Forbes magazine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbes
  2. Forbes’s with the world’s billionaires: http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list/
  3. A post at Delivering Data about how much money is needed to eradicate world hunger: http://www.deliveringdata.com/2010/11/how-much-money-is-needed-to-eradicate.html

   
    
   
  

Monday, December 24, 2012

How much water is on Earth?


It is estimated that the total amount of water in and on the Earth (including saline and fresh water, liquid and solid water in icecaps, groundwater and surface water) amounts to 1,400 million cubic kilometres –that is, about 332,500,000 cubic miles, which is such a large number that we cannot get a clear picture of it.
This water is distributed as a thin layer with a maximum-low depth of 11,000 metres in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans located in the western Pacific Ocean. Taking into account that the Earth radius is more than 6,000 km, this trench is not very deep. Jacques Cousteau, the well-known French oceanographer, used a very graphic explanation to understand how thin this layer of water is: if we immerse a billiard ball into water and then dry it with a towel, the moisture film on the surface of this ball will be proportionally higher than the amount of water on our planet. However, this thin layer takes up 71% of the world’s surface, so most of the Earth is water-covered.
This amount of water has been invariable since it first appeared 4,500 million years ago. Water is neither destroyed nor created, so it will always remain the same. However, what is not the same –be it natural or man made—is the condition and distribution of this water.
 

How much is drinking water?
Only 2.5% of the planet’s water can be considered fresh water for its low saline contents. Most terrestrial ecosystems and its species (including humans) need fresh water to survive, so even if it is not a scarce resource, it is a limited resource. Out of this 2.5% of fresh water, 79% is found in the icecaps, 20% is groundwater and only 1% is on the surface. Moreover, out of this 1% of surface water, 50% is in lakes, 38% is soil moisture, 8% is in the atmosphere, 1% is found in living beings (like us) and 1% in rivers. In short: accessible drinking water represents only 0.008% of the total available water in our planet. Get this picture to better understand it: if we could include all the Earth water into a 5-litre container, fresh water would be a teaspoonful, but humans could only drink a couple of droplets from it.

Sources:
  1. These data are taken from the book Guía de bolsillo para personas inquietas: http://www.intermonoxfam.org/es/informate/productos/libros/ciencias-sociales/guia-de-bolsillo-para-personas-inquietas
  2. You can read this book online here: http://books.google.es/books?id=a7vZ4P8KlssC&printsec=frontcover&hl=es&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

   
   
   
   

Monday, December 17, 2012

How do we spend our money?


At the end of October 2012, the Spanish National Institute of Statistics published the Survey of family budget 2011 to check how Spaniards spend their money. This report concludes that the average household expenditure in 2011 amounted to 29,482 € --that is, 1% less than in 2010. The rent item shows the greatest increase, whereas car purchase has been reduced a lot.
But beyond these conclusions, this survey helps us understand our set of values and how we do spend our little money: Spanish households spend 272 € every year in press, books and stationery, standing for 0.9% of our family budget, whereas we spend 894 € in phone services, which represents 3% of our budget. Education represents 1.1 % (311 €), which is less than our budget for shoes (382 €, 1.3%). Medication, pharmaceutical products and other health material represents 1.3% of our expenditure (374 €), which is less than our expenditure in tobacco (436 €, 1.5%). And finally, flowers, pets and other leisure items or equipment stand for 1% (386 €) and jewellery stands for 0.7% (207 €), more or less like our expenditure in press and books.
How does the financial crisis affect our consumption? If we take a look at the family budget of 2006, we’ll realise that the item “press and books” has been reduced in 20.5%, but tobacco has increased in 11.4%.

Sources:
  1. The Spanish National Institute of Statistics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instituto_Nacional_de_Estad%C3%ADstica_%28Spain%29
  2. Survey of family budgets 2011: http://www.ine.es/en/prensa/epf_prensa_en.htm
   
   
    

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Light against the death penalty


On 30 November 1786, that is 226 years ago, death penalty was abolished in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It was the first time that a European country legally abolished this penalty. Leopold I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, as enlightened prince, introduced this reform of the penal code, as well as other laws to boost trade, industry and agrarian productivity, and he suppressed the naval force kept up by the Medici.
To celebrate the first abolition of the death penalty in Europe, the Community of Sant’Egidio, together with 300 more organizations worldwide, launched the international campaign Cities for life to fight against death penalty in the world. For 10 years, every 30 November, more than 1,500 cities around the world light some of their most emblematic buildings to raise public awareness against executions. According to a report drawn by Amnesty International, in 2011 there were 676 people executed in 20 different countries, not including the thousands of people believed to be executed in China, where these figures are top secret. Some other countries like Iran also keep a secret list of executions not included as official information, so the total amount of executed people could double the officially reported figures.
So far, death penalty is abolished in 140 countries. It is quite a major step if we take into account that by the end of the 60s only 55 countries followed the example of Tuscany. At present, there are still 58 countries where death penalty is legal, even if not always applied.
As of 31 December 2011, there were 18,750 people under death sentence worldwide in the death row of many prisons.

Sources:
  1. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Duchy_of_Tuscany
  2. Leopold I, Grand Duke of Tuscany (later on known as Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_II,_Holy_Roman_Emperor
  3. Community of Sant’Egidio: http://www.santegidio.org/index.php?langID=en
  4. Cities for Life campaign: http://nodeathpenalty.santegidio.org/
  5. Death penalty in 2011, according to Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ACT50/001/2012/en/241a8301-05b4-41c0-bfd9-2fe72899cda4/act500012012en.pdf

   
   
   
   

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Deconstructing international cooperation


The investment of public resources in international cooperation has never been too generous. During the 90s, citizens pushed governments of rich countries into donating 0.7% of their gross national product to cooperation projects, but so far only five countries (Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Norway and Sweden) meet this target. The rest of countries don’t, with an average contribution of only 0.3%. And even worse, with the current financial crisis, there have been some cuts in international cooperation budgets. In Spain, regional governments have cut in four years this budget meant for official development assistance (ODA) in 71%.
During the 10th annual meeting of NGO regional coordination held some days ago in Bilbao (Spain), regional governments were reported to go on with such dramatic cuts in 2013. Regional governments are expected to cut an extra 44% on ODA: from the current 240 millions to just 134 million euros.
This dramatic cut has direct consequences: many health, education and nourishment projects in Third World countries are now blocked, and most of the on-going projects are likely to be blocked too at this rate. Moreover, the budget for development education also suffers cuts, affecting all the programmes and campaigns of social awareness and advocacy meant to promote cooperation among Spanish citizens, as well as the importance of individual actions (like what and where we buy things) in our global world.
Contrary to the (relatively) significant social support shown in the demonstrations against the cuts in education and health, cutting the cooperation budget does not seem to be considered unacceptable, as if international cooperation could be left aside during our financial crisis. Maybe we are not aware of the importance of cooperation projects. After all, it is not such a huge budget. By cutting in international cooperation, our financial problems will not get solved: regional cooperation only means 5 euros/year per citizen. However, the defence budget represents 368 euros/year per citizen: we’d rather learn to cut better!

Sources:
  1. The five countries donating 0.7% of their gross national product to cooperation: http://www.oecd.org/investment/aidstatistics/developmentaidrosein2009andmostdonorswillmeet2010aidtargets.htm
  2. The data for this post are taken from official documents of the 10th annual meeting of NGO regional coordination (in Spanish): http://www.congde.org/index.php/noticias/vernoticia/id_noticia/1791