The U.S. prison system as a terrorist university; why the suburbs make you fat; the "happiness-maximizing" number of sex partners
Which is more likely to breed anti-Americanism and radical Islam—an American-run prison in Iraq, or an American-run prison in America? The depredations at Abu Ghraib notwithstanding, a report from the Department of Justice suggests that the answer may be the latter. Despite recent cautionary examples like Jose Padilla, who is believed to have been radicalized in prison before allegedly plotting to detonate a dirty bomb (the shoe bomber Richard Reid is thought to have been similarly radicalized in a British prison), the Justice Department reports that safeguards against religious extremism in federal prisons are still remarkably lax. No national Islamic organization is currently authorized by the Bureau of Prisons to approve new Muslim chaplains, which has led to an acute clerical shortage. There is currently only one chaplain for every 900 Muslim inmates, and no new Muslim chaplains have been hired since 2001. This gap is being filled by inmate-led prayer sessions—and inmates, according to interviews with prison officials and Muslim chaplains, are likely to radicalize their fellow prisoners, urging them to overthrow the U.S. government (because "Muslims aren't cowards," as one group of converts was taught) and preaching a breed of "Prison Islam" that distorts Koranic teaching to promote violence and gang loyalty. France has already seen the results of a similar trend, the report notes. In French prisons inmates exercise considerable control over Muslim worship, creating a "terrorist university" that spreads anti-Semitic and anti-Western tapes, books, and pamphlets throughout the penal system.
—"A Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Selection of Muslim Religious Services Providers," Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General
When the Center for Global Development ranked rich countries' commitment to fighting global poverty in 2003—taking into account trade, immigration, investment, peacekeeping, foreign-aid, and environmental-protection policies—the United States came in a miserable twentieth out of twenty-one nations. The 2003 index, however, drew complaints of unfairness and inaccuracy. According to a Washington Post columnist, it considered only "multilateral" peacekeeping, ignoring the missions America takes on alone; it measured gross rather than net immigration levels, giving an unfair boost to Switzerland and other countries that admit numerous foreign workers only to kick them out later; and it excluded private foreign-aid donations, which some U.S. tax incentives encourage. In this year's "Ranking the Rich" index, which corrects for these and other factors, the United States rises to a four-way tie for seventh place—still behind global good cops like Sweden and Canada, but even with France and Germany, and way ahead of Japan (which ranked dead last for the second year running). Judging from the rankings, America excels at helping the developing world indirectly, through trade policies that benefit developing nations and through its easygoing (or at least loosely enforced) immigration laws. When it comes to direct aid, the United States is far stingier, coming in nineteenth on the index, ahead of only Greece and New Zealand. And on environmental policies the United States ranks last.
—"Ranking the Rich: The 2004 Commitment to Development Index," Center for Global Development/Foreign Policy
Immigrants to the United States may not necessarily find a better life than the one they left behind, but they are likely to enjoy a longer one—longer even than native-born Americans, according to research published recently in the Canadian Journal of Public Health. Male and female immigrants to the United States live 3.4 and 2.5 years longer, respectively, than their U.S.-born counterparts, and that gap widens dramatically in the black and Hispanic populations. Whereas U.S.-born black men have a life expectancy of 64, their immigrant counterparts live to an average age of 73; and whereas U.S.-born Hispanic men live to 73, on average, their immigrant counterparts have a life expectancy of around 77. This gap—which prevails even though immigrants are poorer, less likely to have health insurance, and less likely to visit doctors than the general population—may reflect the tendency of immigrants to be among the healthier people in their country of origin; immigrants also have better dietary habits than the U.S. population as a whole, and they smoke and drink less. (According to the National Institutes of Health, black immigrants are one third as likely to be smokers as American-born blacks.) But these advantages seem to erode over time; as immigrants acculturate to the United States and, presumably, adopt the unhealthful habits associated with life in their new country, their chances of disability and chronic illness increase.
—"Health, Life Expectancy, and Mortality Patterns Among Immigrant Populations in the United States," Gopal K. Singh and Barry A. Miller, Canadian Journal of Public Health
If the European Union were a U.S. state, it would rank forty-seventh in per capita GDP, according to a report from Timbro, a Swedish free-market think tank. (Yes, there really is one.) In annual income the average European is on a par with residents of Mississippi, West Virginia, and Arkansas. (And the report excludes the newer, poorer EU nations of Eastern Europe.) The picture isn't much rosier even in wealthier European states like France and Britain, both of which have per capita GDPs slightly lower than Alabama's. Only tiny Luxembourg scores better than the American average. The United States' material advantage extends beyond income: Americans spend 77 percent more annually than Europeans, own more appliances, and (presumably thanks to our wide open spaces) have homes providing, on average, 721 square feet per person—nearly twice the average size of European residences. The study's authors allow that fast-growing GDP is "not the be all and end all of happiness and prosperity," citing more "intangible" (and quintessentially European) factors such as equality, leisure time, and the environment. But they note, with a defensiveness undoubtedly endemic among Swedish free-marketeers, that "material resources" are a "precondition of much of the wellbeing which people like to call intangible."
—"EU versus USA," Fredrik Bergström and Robert Gidehag, Timbro
Monogamy is the key to a thriving sex life, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study aimed at quantifying the links among income, sex, and general happiness. Married people have considerably more sex than swinging singles and gay divorcees, and the "happiness-maximizing" number of sexual partners in a given year is almost exactly one. Rising wealth has no positive effect on the frequency of sex, and increased education actually has a slightly negative effect, particularly among men. (This is unfortunate news for the well-educated, since they are the group for whom sexual activity has the highest impact on happiness.) Strikingly, men consistently report more sexual activity than women do. Unless a disproportionate number of men in the sample population are gay or visit prostitutes, it "is not easy to see how this gender difference can be genuine," the authors write; they gently suggest that this discrepancy may be attributable to "exaggerated memories" among the male population.
—"Money, Sex, and Happiness: An Empirical Study," David G. Blanchflower and Andrew J. Oswald, NBER
Over the first two thirds of the twentieth century black Americans abandoned the South in droves, producing a "great migration" northward in search of manufacturing jobs and more social equality. Now a Brookings Institution analysis suggests that a reverse "great migration" seems to be picking up speed, driven by an improved economic and racial climate in the South and the strong cultural and familial connections that many blacks still feel with the region. According to Brookings, migration accounted for a net gain of more than 600,000 black residents in the South from 1975 to 2000, while the rest of the country lost black residents. College-educated blacks are leading the way southward, and the biggest beneficiaries of the shifting migration patterns and attendant "brain gain" are booming "New South" cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte, and Memphis. But the trend extends across all the southern states except Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi—and even in those states the outflow of blacks has slowed dramatically over the past decade. Meanwhile, cities in the Rust Belt and the Northeast, in particular, have been losing black residents for some time, and California's long reign as a "black migrant magnet" seems to have ended. From 1965 to 1970 and again from 1975 to 1980 California's net gain of black residents was greater than any other state's; in the last five years of the 1990s, however, its net loss of black residents was larger than that of any other state except New York.
—"The New Great Migration: Black Americans' Return to the South, 1965—2000," William H. Frey, Brookings Institution
Forget McDonald's—it's the leafy avenues and spreading parking lots of suburbia that are to blame for America's obesity epidemic. According to an exhaustive new study examining the link between population density and health in 448 American counties, the residents of the country's more sprawling counties tend to be heavier and have more weight-related chronic illnesses—particularly high blood pressure—than the residents of more densely populated counties. The study relied on a U.S Census—based "Sprawl Index" that assigned the lowest numerical scores to the most sprawling counties (352 points for crowded New York County; 63 points for suburban Geauga County, outside Cleveland), and found that for every fifty-point increase in the degree of sprawl, the odds of a county resident's being obese rose by 10 percent. Cities encourage walking and physical fitness, the authors argue, whereas suburban homes are so far from friends, stores, and workplaces that even the most health-conscious residents are forced off the sidewalk and behind the wheel.
—"Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl," Barbara A. McCann, Reid Ewing, Smart Growth America