Thursday, January 16, 2014

David Satter about Russia

The Character of Russia

For centuries, the Russian traveler, crossing the border, felt an inexplicable lightness, as if an unseen burden had been lifted from his shoulders. In 1839, the Marquis de Custine recorded the comments of a German innkeeper in Travemunde who remarked that when Russians arrived on their way to Europe, they had a "gay, free, happy air." When they returned, the same people had "long, gloomy tormented faces." Their conversation was brief, "their speech abrupt." The innkeeper concluded that a country that "one leaves with so much joy and returns to with such regret" must be a "bad country."

The reason for the Russian travelers' relief on reaching the West was that, in Russia, the individual is expendable. On crossing the border, he acquires rights, security and the protection of law. Napoleon said that in Europe, there were really only two countries, Russia and everyone else. In the West, the individual is an end in himself. In Russia, he is the means to an end. He can be used for any purpose, his life has little value and his individual personality is not taken seriously.

This condition exists because in Russia, the state is sacred. This mentality is difficult for an outsider to comprehend so the intentions of the Russian regime are constantly misunderstood. When they are deciphered, they seem too bizarre to be real, which prevents the outsider from grasping their seriousness. In Russia, the regime is less a government than a religious crusade crystallized in the institutions of a state. Its preferred field of action is the whole world. The regime does not guarantee the welfare of its citizens because it does not aspire to. It exists for a "higher" purpose and does not recognize moral limits on the pursuit of its goals.

The tsars explained the Russian system on the basis of the "Russian Idea," which was a defense against the notion that Russia differed from the West only its backwardness. According to this idea, Russia's supposedly spiritual culture was actually superior to the materialism of the West. The Russian state was holy and it was the state's mission to bring godliness in the form of (the Russian) religion to the rest of humanity.

The Russian Idea, though developed to defend Tsarism, came to characterize Russian thought generally. The supporters of the regime saw the state's mission in terms of religion, the opponents in terms of socialism but both believed that it was the role of the Russian state to save the world on the basis of a totalitarian ideology that combined "philosophy with life" and "theory with practice."

The durability of this state mentality was such that when the Tsarist autocracy fell, the communist regime which succeeded it not only incorporated all of its repressive features but radically intensified them. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the notion of the priority of state goals guided the reform process whose lawlessness led to the complete criminalization of the country. When Russia began to experience economic growth and relative prosperity under Putin, the result was not the development of democracy but, again, the glorification of the state and a new policy of repression.

In a speech given in April, 2008, Putin expressed his philosophy in terms that have been traditional in Russia for hundreds of years. He said that "maintaining the governance of a vast territory, preserving a unique commonwealth of peoples while occupying a major place in world affairs calls… for enormous sacrifices and privations on the part of our people." This, he said, has been "the story of Russia's thousand year history." The Russian people "do not have the right to forget this." In other words, Russians should support the regime's ambitions, at the cost of "enormous sacrifices and privations" until the end of time.
In the interest of preserving Russia's status as a great power, millions of people were put to death deliberately during the communist era but there is no desire in Russia to commemorate their fate. The official view is that there were dark chapters in the country's history and also glorious deeds and it does not pay to dwell on the dark chapters. Russia was great in the past and will be great in the future. As for the need to change the state mentality that justified the murder of millions in order to guarantee Russia's supposed "greatness," the question is given little thought.

Recent weeks have seen signs of change in Russia. After twenty years of post-Soviet corruption and abuse, Russians have begun to protest against the ruling regime. They have, in effect, given themselves a second chance to gain the democracy they sought but did not achieve after the fall of the Soviet Union. The attempt will lead nowhere, however, without a change in the low value attributed to the individual in Russia, an attitude that, to a distressing degree, the people share with the regime. But for such a change to take place, Russia must discard its pretensions and honor its dead. Such a break with the past will not be easy. But it is within the capacity of a nation that tried to create heaven on earth and it is the only path to a better future.


David Satter, a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and a visting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), is the author of It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past (Yale). Age of Delirium, a documentary film about the fall of the Soviet Union based on his book of the same name, was recently released.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Vagina Facts: 10 Things You May Not Know About Lady Parts

If you fantasize about other women (or like lesbian pornography or erotica), you're definitely a closeted lesbian.

No. No no no no, and no. But by the way, if you fantasize about other women and do identify as a lesbian, that's totally cool. Do we have to discuss (yet again) the role that fantasies play in our lives? I must admit, I'm getting tired of having to justify the fact that women have a myriad of fantasies -- some of which may not fit the good girl image that people may have of us. Nonetheless, thinking about someone or something doesn't mean that you want to act it out in real life; it's possible, but not definite. And by the way, I know many (let me repeat, many) heterosexual women who enjoy all sorts of lesbian erotica and pornography and are quite fulfilled by their heterosexual sex lives.

Read more here

Monday, June 17, 2013

Quality of Mortality Statistics from Civil Registration in South Africa

Two World Health Organization comparative assessments rated the quality of South Africa’s 1996 mortality data as low. Since then, focussed initiatives were introduced to improve civil registration and vital statistics. Furthermore, South African cause-of-death data are widely used by research and international development agencies as the basis for making estimates of cause-specific mortality in many African countries. It is hence important to assess the quality of more recent South African data.

The authors employed nine criteria to evaluate the quality of civil registration mortality data. Four criteria were assessed by analysing 5.38 million deaths that occurred nationally from 1997–2007. For the remaining five criteria, we reviewed relevant legislation, data repositories, and reports to highlight developments which shaped the current status of these criteria.

National mortality statistics from civil registration were rated satisfactory for coverage and completeness of death registration, temporal consistency, age/sex classification, timeliness, and sub-national availability. Epidemiological consistency could not be assessed conclusively as the model lacks the discriminatory power to enable an assessment for South Africa. Selected studies and the extent of ill-defined/non-specific codes suggest substantial shortcomings with single-cause data. The latter criterion and content validity were rated unsatisfactory.

In a region marred by mortality data absences and deficiencies, this analysis signifies optimism by revealing considerable progress from a dysfunctional mortality data system to one that offers all-cause mortality data that can be adjusted for demographic and health analysis. Additionally, timely and disaggregated single-cause data are available, certified and coded according to international standards. However, without skillfully estimating adjustments for biases, a considerable confidence gap remains for single-cause data to inform local health planning, or to fill gaps in sparse-data countries on the continent. Improving the accuracy of single-cause data will be a critical contribution to the epidemiologic and population health evidence base in Africa.

Joubert J, Rao C, Bradshaw D, Vos T, Lopez AD (2013)

Evaluating the Quality of National Mortality Statistics from Civil Registration in South Africa, 1997–2007

PLoS ONE 8(5): e64592. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064592

East Germany Rulez

In post-unification Germany, lingering conflicts between East and West Germans have found some unusual outlets, including a debate of the relative superiority of East and West German ‘Ampelmännchen’ pedestrian traffic signs. In our study, we probed the visual efficacy of East and West German Ampelmännchen signs with a Stroop-like conflict task. They found that the distinctive East German man-with-hat figures were more resistant to conflicting information, and in turn produced greater interference when used as distractors. These findings demonstrate Stroop-like effects for real-life objects, such as traffic signs, and underline the practical utility of an East German icon.

Peschke C, Olk B, Hilgetag CC (2013)

Should I Stay or Should I Go – Cognitive Conflict in Multi-Attribute Signals Probed with East and West German ‘Ampelmännchen’ Traffic Signs

PLoS ONE 8(5): e64712. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064712

Mortality Attributable to Seasonal and Pandemic Influenza

Official statistics under-estimate influenza deaths. Time series methods allow the estimation of influenza-attributable mortality. The methods often model background, non-influenza mortality using a cyclic, harmonic regression model based on the Serfling approach. This approach assumes that the seasonal pattern of non-influenza mortality is the same each year, which may not always be accurate.

The authors used a semi-parametric generalized additive model (GAM) to replace the conventional seasonal harmonic terms with a smoothing spline of time (‘spline model’) to estimate influenza-attributable respiratory, respiratory and circulatory, and all-cause mortality in persons aged <65 and ≥65 years. Influenza A(H1N1)pdm09, seasonal influenza A and B virus laboratory detection time series were used as independent variables. Model fit and estimates were compared with those of a harmonic model.

Compared with the harmonic model, the spline model improved model fit by up to 20%. In <65 year-olds, the estimated respiratory mortality attributable to pandemic influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 was 0.5 (95% confidence interval (CI), 0.3, 0.7) per 100,000; similar to that of the years with the highest seasonal influenza A mortality, 2003 and 2007 (A/H3N2 years). In ≥65 year-olds, the highest annual seasonal influenza A mortality estimate was 25.8 (95% CI 22.2, 29.5) per 100,000 in 2003, five-fold higher than the non-statistically significant 2009 pandemic influenza estimate in that age group. Seasonal influenza B mortality estimates were negligible.

The spline model achieved a better model fit. The study provides additional evidence that seasonal influenza, particularly A/H3N2, remains an important cause of mortality in Australia and that the epidemic of pandemic influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 virus in 2009 did not result in mortality greater than seasonal A/H3N2 influenza mortality, even in younger age groups.

Muscatello DJ, Newall AT, Dwyer DE, MacIntyre CR (2013)

Mortality Attributable to Seasonal and Pandemic Influenza, Australia, 2003 to 2009, Using a Novel Time Series Smoothing Approach

PLoS ONE 8(6): e64734. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064734

World Health Organization Guideline Development

Research in 2007 showed that World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations were largely based on expert opinion, rarely used systematic evidence-based methods, and did not follow the organization's own “Guidelines for Guidelines”. In response, the WHO established a “Guidelines Review Committee” (GRC) to implement and oversee internationally recognized standards. We examined the impact of these changes on WHO guideline documents and explored senior staff's perceptions of the new procedures.

Since 2007, WHO guideline development methods have become more systematic and transparent. However, some departments are bypassing the procedures, and as yet neither the GRC, nor the quality assurance standards they have set, are fully embedded within the organization.

Sinclair D, Isba R, Kredo T, Zani B, Smith H, et al. (2013)

World Health Organization Guideline Development: An Evaluation. 

PLoS ONE 8(5): e63715. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063715

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

How to Find Treasure Troves

Magnus Hirschfeld

In this paper Ralf Dose describes the thirty year long research on the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, the German sexologist and founder of the Institute for Sexual Science. Ralf Dose offers insights into how the Magnus Hirschfeld society retrieved some of the "Treasure Troves" of Hirschfeld's personal belongings and items from his institute, like his death mask, his exile guest book and a collection of Japanese dildos.

What do you think are the most valuable lessons to be learned from the 30 years experience of the Magnus Hirschfeld society? And whose "Treasure Troves" would you try to retrieve? The full paper can be read below.

Feel free to read, comment, discuss and let us know you own experiences.

To read Ralf Dose's full paper click on "Read more"

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Breastfeeding policy: a globally comparative analysis

WHO | Breastfeeding policy: a globally comparative analysis
There was at least one project in Russia aimed on breastfeeding promotion. A byproduct of that project was Philipov et al estimate of completeness of Russian abortion statistics.
Guess, other products were less useful.
We have a very cold winter here in this country.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Prisoners of the USA and the USSR


US Prison Industrial Complex Versus the Stalinist Gulag

by SEAN on MAY 11, 2013
In a recent column, “Incarceration Nation, Fareed Zakaria claimed that number of people in the United States under “correctional supervision” exceeded that of Stalinist Russia. The assertion comes via Adam Gopnik, who wrote an extensive article on the US prison system in January. “Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America–more than 6 million–,” writes Gopnik, “than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.” Correctional supervision means adults on probation, in jail or prison, and on parole. Zakaria follows Gopnik’s incantation of Stalinism with some horrifying figures:
Is this hyperbole? Here are the facts. The U.S. has 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. That’s not just many more than in most other developed countries but seven to 10 times as many. Japan has 63 per 100,000, Germany has 90, France has 96, South Korea has 97, and Britain–with a rate among the highest–has 153. Even developing countries that are well known for their crime problems have a third of U.S. numbers. Mexico has 208 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, and Brazil has 242. As Robertson pointed out on his TV show, The 700 Club, “We here in America make up 5% of the world’s population but we make up 25% of the [world's] jailed prisoners.”
It is no hyperbole to say that the US prison industrial complex is unacceptable, especially for a country that purports itself the world’s preeminent democracy. But it is hyperbole because placing the US next to Stalinism (and Nazism for that matter) is inherently hyperbolic. The rhetorical move is supposed to provoke an emotional reaction not stimulate critical awareness. And as much as American liberals would like to think that the numbers of bodies ensnared in the US prison industrial complex is as bad, if not worse, than Stalinist Russia, the situation is far more complicated.
Here I don’t mean the quality of the Stalinist system No one is claiming that the US system is worse than Stalin’s forced labor camps. I only mean the quantity of humans in both systems.
The Stalinist penal system was a complex network of punishments and detentions: prisons, noncustodial forced labor, corrective labor camps, forced labor detention (katorga) special settlements, and corrective labor colonies. I won’t go into the meanings and various differences between these. Though experts make clear distinctions between these various units, to the popular mind, they all fall under the general name of gulag. The numbers of people, which also included children, in this penal machine at any given period remains partial. Up 20 percent of the gulag population was released every year, new inmates went in, corpses went out, some even managed to escape. But exactly how many people under Stalin’s correctional supervision is unknown.
Here’s the population of some of these institutions between 1935 and 1940:
gulag3540
According to the straight numbers, the Stalinist system did not exceed the US’ six million during the years of the Great Terror. In 1938, there were 2.7 million people in the “gulag.” But this doesn’t include everyone under Stalinist “correctional supervision.” Therefore it doesn’t take account of prisons and released gulag prisoners who were forced to carry “Form A” which detailed their past crime, prison term, the deprivation of civil rights up to five years, and restricted where they could settle. There were roughly 2 million people released from the gulag between 1934 and 1940 which etches the Stalinist number closer to the United States.
Things change in 1953, the height of the Stalinist gulag. Here are the numbers:
gulag1953
This means an estimated 7.4 million people were under Stalinist correctional supervision 1953, exceeding Zakaria’s and Gopnik’s 6 million for the United States. Again the numbers are probably higher since these numbers don’t include everyone in the Stalinist penal system.
Things get even more complicated when you consider the gulag population per 100,000 citizens.  According to Eugenia Belova and Paul Gregory, the Soviet institutionalized population in 1953 was 2,621,000 or 1,558 per 100.000. When you include special settlements, the numbers jump to 4,301,000 or 2,605 per 100,000. This puts the 760 per 100,000 in the United States into perspective.
The numbers in the United States should produce outcry. No argument there. But caution is required when Stalinist Russia is thrown into the mix, that is, if you want to go beyond rhetoric and emotion.
Other Sources:
Eugenia Belova and Paul Gregory, “Political Economic of Crime and Punishment Under Stalin,” Public Choice, 140, 2009.
Steven A. Barnes, Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society, Princeton, 2011.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Latvian censuses: 1913, 1925,1930, 1935, 1970, 1989

Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Census at BethlehemStolen from comments to timbes5 Live Journal

historic Latvian census results
I take a liberty to point to some Latvia's census results:
1) census in Riga and environs in 1913
2) Latvian census of 1925
3) Latvian census of 1930
4) Latvian census of 1935
5) USSR census of 1970 in Latvia
6) USSR census of 1989 in Latvia
Also I'd like to mention Latvian Statistical Atlas of 1938 which was published on 20th anniversary of Latvian independence:
* * *
Numbers of censuses 1913-1935 (4 in 22 years) and then (4 in 30 years) demonstrate an obvious difference between national and communist government. The most important is delay from 1945 to 1959.
+ there are no 1959 and 1979 censuses

Friday, April 26, 2013

UN Data in more convenient format

Thanks to Gene Shackman

The UN Terms of Use page says
"All data and metadata provided on UNdata’s website are available free of charge and may be copied freely, duplicated and further distributed provided that UNdata is cited as the reference. "

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Missing Children in North Caucasus

Window on Eurasia: ‘Missing’ Children in North Caucasus Part of Broader Problem with Russian Census, Moscow Demographer Says

Paul Goble
3 человека в минуту
Staunton, March 29 – Reports that North Caucasus officials have “lost” more than 110,000 children they claimed in 2010 were residents of their republics are part of a broader problem in which officials there and elsewhere falsified census reports in order to suggest that the Russian Federation has “at a minimum” 2.5 million more people than it in fact does.

That is just one disturbing conclusions about the results reported by the 2002 and 2010 Russian censuses which Sergey Zakharov, the director of demographic research at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, offered in the course of an interview posted online yesterday.

Because Russia, like many other countries, does not have a population register as such, Rosstat relies “above all” on data about “demographic events” like births, deaths, and marriages, and on censuses which the constitution requires be conducted every ten years, Zakharov notes. Unfortunately, there are many problems with such data, especially that from censuses.

“It is difficult to call the 2002 and 2010 censuses good,” the demographer continues, adding that he would give them a grade of  “C-Plus.” Among the worse problems manifested in them, he says, are the efforts by officials to report that their regions and republics have more residents than in fact they do in order to obtain larger subventions from Moscow.

Among the worst offenders in this regard are leaders in the North Caucasus, a fact that has been highlighted by official discovery that those leaders have somehow misplaced tens of thousands of children they claimed in 2010. But that region is far from the only one where official malfeasance boosted the overall numbers.

That region, Zakharov says, added one million to the real number, but it was closely followed by over-reporting in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  In those cities, many people refused to “open their doors” to census takers and the original count was quite low.  Then-Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov gave an order to use information contained in administrative registrars.

As a result, “many people were double counted” in the census, first by their census declarations and then by these alternative sources.  In 2002, this happened but it was illegal, Zakharov continues, but for 2010, “Rosstat completely legalized” that approach. “Otherwise, it simply couldn’t overcome the lack of willingness of the population to cooperate.”

Rosstat says that only 15 percent of the reported count in 2010 reflected the use of such alternative enumerations, “but we consider that the real figure is much greater.”

No country has ever conducted a perfect census, Zakharov says, but Russia’s problems with the collection of data mean that officials cannot come up with good policies except by accident because they do not have data about the population on which they can rely.  And both officials and demographers are aware of this.

One way to address it, he continues, is to conduct mini-censuses between those that embrace the entire country. The Soviet Union conducted one of these in 1985, and the Russian Federation plans to do one before the 2020 enumeration, focusing in particular on issues involving reproduction rates.

“The number of people born is increasing” in Russia, Zakharov says. “But whether this means an increase in the birthrate is a big question because it is no secret that Russia is at crest of a demographic wave,” in which the large generation of Russian women born in the 1980s is having children.

Indeed, it seems likely that “the average number” of children per woman “is not changing although the absolute number of births is increasing” because there are more Russian women now in the prime childbearing years of their lives.  When their number declines as it will, Zakharov says, so too will the number of births.

The Russian government’s pro-natalist policies, including “maternal capital,” are unlikely to change that, the demographer says. They may change when women have children but not how many.  To affect the overall number, he says, requires first of all “a struggle with poverty” and even a return to a more rural lifestyle, something which is unlikely to occur.

Russian women have a fertility rate of 1.6 percent, far below the 2.1 children per woman per lifetime needed to keep the population stable as well as below the 2.6 children per married couple per lifetime. Zakharov adds that “no more than 15 percent” of Russian women want three children or more, something far more would need to want to make a difference.

Consequently, expecting as some Russian officials do that they make the three-child family the norm or even more common is “completely utopian,” as the numbers show and as international experience confirms.

Science of Environmental Factors of Health

Friday, March 29, 2013

Unmet need for family planning


Definition: The percent with an unmet need for family planning is the number of women with unmet need for family planning expressed as a percentage of women of reproductive age who are married or in a union. Women with unmet need are those who are fecund and sexually active but are not using any method of contraception, and report not wanting any more children or wanting to delay the birth of their next child.

Calculation:
Based on: Westoff C.F and L. H. Ochoa (1991). Unmet Need and the Demand for Family Planning, DHS Comparative Studies No. 5. Calverton, Maryland: Macro International; and Westoff C.F. and Bankole A. (1995). Unmet need: 1990-1994. DHS Comparative Report No. 16, Calverton, Maryland: Macro International.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

German church supports contraception


In Germany there was a public uproar about a woman who after having been raped, was refused treatment and in particular emergency contraception in 2 catholic hospitals in Cologne. Catholic hospitals in Germany receive financial contributions from the State... The doctors were afraid to loose their job if they gave the pill, because some time ago (gestapo style) undercover anti-abortion women had asked for it at catholic hospitals and then denounced the hospitals and doctors to church hierarchy, which then ordered catholic hospitals not to offer emergency contraception.

After this new case got public, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne (on the right), issued a statement, after consultation with unspecified experts, that "in the light of new scientific evidence" (mainly the study of Kristina Gemzell et al.) the emergency pill did not have an abortifacient effect. Therefore, if the "morning after pill is used with the intention of preventing fertilization, this is in my opinion justifiable," he said. A morning after pill, which would prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs, however, was unacceptable. "It belongs to the nature of new knowledge, that it is often controversial. The Church can only explain the moral principles. The individual doctor in a Catholic institution must then conscientiously weigh his own scientific judgment, whether a drug is preventing fertilization or nidation and so come to a responsible decision."This statement was immediately attacked by anti-abortion organizations and doctors who disagree with the claim, that the morning after pill has no anti-nidation effect.

Now in 2 German States, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, the governments have reached an agreement with representatives of the catholic church, that in all relevant hospitals under its ownership, women who have been raped can obtain the pill, and that doctors can freely decide to treat patients.
A petition launched by the family planning organisation Pro Familia, has been tabled with the federal government with more than 50'000 signatures, asking for an obligation for all hospitals in Germany to offer emergency contraception.

The German Bishops' Conference is expected to issue a statement on the matter this week.

source: Anne-Marie Rey
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