Lead and Terrorism, Energy Infrastructure and Religion and Education

As the end of this year of trials and tribulations draws near, we were called to jury duty this week. It was our first time as a potential juror and our experience suggests that jury duty is a prime target for a cocky start-up to make more efficient. We sat in a room with pretty good Wi-Fi for much of a day until just before closing time our name was called to a jury pool. With 18 of our peers we trudged into the courtroom where the judge and lawyers asked us a series of questions, including how many would be able to participate in the trial if it lasted all week. Because our jury summons indicated it was a one-day duty (misleadingly it turned out), many of the potential jurors in our pool said they had circumstances which made them incapable of serving more than a day (child care issues, business meetings and unable to remain seated that long were all cited–should we have offered the latter a cushy pillow?). So many said they were unavailable that our whole pool was thrown out and the judge announced we would start over the next day. INTN dutifully showed up the next morning but as it turns out, the defendant did not. And since no other trials were ready, we and the rest of our fellow potential jurors were released into the wild. There must be some sort of app that could be designed to make our juror selection system much more efficient. But as we start to learn java script and wonder how we monetize for the legal system, we examine a possible link between lead and terrorism, ponder the need for worldwide energy infrastructure and discover which religions provide the most education. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, blindfolded and holding a scale to all the wonders of our world.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Get the Lead Out, Lower Terrorism?

In the late 1980s when we lived in Washington, D.C. and it was the murder capital of the country, we were mugged coming out of a Kentucky Fried Chicken and had our two-piece dinner stolen. It’s a long and, believe it or not, funny story that we would be glad to tell you over a few beers. Why was crime so bad then and so much improved now?  Not enough people are aware of the probable role lead in the environment played in the increase in crime in the United States and once lead was cleaned up and leaded gasoline banned, the subsequent drop in crime. Kevin Drum has been the leading journalist on this issue and has documented both the correlation and scientific arguments for the lead crime theory. It has certainly been proven that children’s brains are damaged by exposure to lead. So, the theory goes, when they grow up, they are more likely to commit crimes. This means if lead does affect children’s brains in a way more likely to lead them to commit crimes that there would be an 18 year or so lag for the increase in crime and decrease once lead is out of the environment. So what does this have to do with International Need to Know?  Well, the same patterns of an increase in crime followed by a decrease once lead is removed, especially leaded gasoline, are also found overseas. And, recently Drum on his blog created a map (see below) of when leaded gasoline was phased out of countries in the Middle East. He then predicts that crime will fall in those countries 20 years after the phase out. So, for example, in Egypt leaded gasoline was phased out in 1998, which if the theory is accurate, means crime will start to fall, well, right about now. Drum also speculates that this could lead to a decrease in terrorism from such countries in the coming years. He admits this is speculative but it will be fascinating to watch whether this prediction comes true. We predict if terrorism does decrease, the militaries and intelligence agencies will take credit much the way the police and courts took credit for the reduction in crime, citing “broken window” and other such policies as the heroes. We wonder many policies we enact are based on misinterpretations. In the meantime, I guess we are grateful our cholesterol is at  least slightly lower than it would have been due to D.C’s once high crime levels.

We Need More Energy

As the former head of Exxon prepares to become the new U.S Secretary of State, we stumbled across Exxon’s forecasts for energy usage over the next 24 years. They expect the world to use lots more energy going forward with huge increases in energy usage in transportation, residential, commercial and industrial sectors. From 2014 to 2040, Exxon predicts energy usage worldwide to increase 65%. As we have said before, we expect solar to increasingly have a larger share of energy generation as costs continue to fall and storage issues are finally being solved. But there are two big challenges for solar to become the dominant energy source. One, as we see from Exxon, is that the demand pie grows like an out of control Thanksgiving dinner. Even as solar generates more power, more power will need to be generated. Second, the world needs to build grid infrastructure to accommodate the new sources of power. We referenced recently a Chinese effort to build a super grid and Germany is currently spending 60 billion Euros to rebuild its grid and is expected to spend another 150 billion Euros to continue to expand its electricity distribution networks. But there is far more to do in both developed and developing countries to build new and revamp old electric grids. It is one of the great infrastructure challenges of our time and will require smart political energy to accomplish.

Where you live more important than what you believe

They say never talk politics or religion at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners (which seems strange for the latter, but never mind). But today we stride unafraid into religion at INTN as we examine a PEW Research Center demographic study on religion and education. The study finds that Hindus have the fewest years of formal education. But, as the study itself points out, that says more about where the majority of Hindus live—India, Nepal and Bangladesh, all developing countries—than about the religion itself. For example, in the U.S., Hindus have a much higher education attainment level than Christians. Jews have the highest educational attainment level, but again most Jews live in the United States and Israel, both highly developed countries. Hindus and Muslims while behind other religions in years of formal education training, are also the religions with the largest increases in years of educational attainment. So, they’re catching up, quickly. The highest educated groups also have the smallest gender gap. So with Jews and Christians, who have the highest average educational attainment level, women trail men by a small level in terms of formal years of education (and for Jews, women do not trail at all).  More of our fortune is determined by geographical circumstance than we may guess.

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