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Tue, April 23

Column: Taking a moment to look at the positive

Good news. Here are a smattering of pieces of good news here and around the world, just because sometimes it's good to remember that good things are happening too.

You would almost think the Arab Spring turned into a complete disaster. Syria is still an oppressive mess. Egypt overthrew one virtual dictator only to ultimately embrace another. But there is a country where the Arab Spring didn't lead to perfection but certainly to improvement. Tunisia. It has had two peaceful transitions of power and has a constitution that includes democratic voting, equal rights for women, and freedom of speech. It may take them a while to perfect these, just as it did with us, but they're peacefully working on it.

In our country the rate of teen pregnancy continues to drop. The Health and Human Services Department reports that over the twenty years ending in 2010 the rate dropped by about half. What their studies find is that, "this decline is due to the combination of an increased percentage of adolescents who are waiting to have sexual intercourse and the increased use of contraceptives by teens."

The generation just coming of age may stay healthier longer not just because of better health care, but also because they are taking better car of themselves. In 2000 about 20 percent of teens and young adults lived up to national guidelines on exercise. By 2010 that had gone up another 10 percent.

After the crash the rate of homelessness shot up. It's still not good, but at least it's getting better. Instead of being up in the 650,000 range it's now a mere 580,000. A long way to go, but going the right direction.

Deaths from war are declining. It may seem hard to believe with the daily bad reports from the Middle East, but globally, since WWII, with some ups and downs along the way, the number of people dying in wars has been on a steady and considerable decline. In the links with this piece on line is one to a PBS Great Conversation video with Steven Pinker who wrote on this topic and makes for fascinating listening on a number of related topics.

We've had good progress on a number of disease fronts, and some setbacks. Over the last 15 years the rate of global incidence of Tuberculosis has fallen about 15 percent or so. The rate of deaths from it has fallen much more dramatically, cut by about half. Another serious affliction, Guinea Worm, has almost been eradicated in a mere 30 years since determined efforts were made to stop it. That's an especially impressive accomplishment since it isn't high-tech medicine that has stopped it, since there is none for it. It's just good, hard work at education and helping people treat it in ways that don't spread it. Former president Carter's organization has been at the forefront on this.

Women dying in childbirth and child mortality continue to decline. Globally the rate of women dying in childbirth has fallen close to half over the last 25 years. In Africa it has done the same, but since it was a much worse problem to start with, that's a much bigger accomplishment. The global rate of children dying at birth or up through age five continues to fall. In some developing regions the rate has fallen by 70 percent.

People living in absolute poverty continues to decline. To be in absolute poverty is to be genuinely barely subsisting, and sometimes not even. The percent of people in the world at that level has been steadily falling. In 1980 it was about half the world population. Now it's below 20 percent. Some regions, like the portion of Africa below the Sahara, are on a much slower decline, but still declining.

The business of the news is to tell you what has happened, and naturally that is predominantly what has gone wrong. A columnist such as myself tends to pick an issue and point out what's being done wrong about it and advocate what should change. The constant stream of that can sometimes be misleading. The numbers on deaths from war, for instance, will be a surprise to many people because how can that be true when we daily read of war horrors? That's just the problem. It seems like that can't be true, but then again, the news is not going to have headlines that any two neighboring countries did not go to war today. We have to look at what is being done wrong in order to improve things, and there are some things that are going the wrong direction and need more attention, but it helps to keep a clear picture to occasionally step back and look at what is going right.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at


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