The Lebanon fuel crisis & when girls fall behind in math

in July 12th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of July 12, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

Europe is on a mission to make transportation systems more inclusive, a problem revealed by efforts to overhaul city transport to be greener. For example in Germany, some mothers with children have to dodge cyclists on busy paths that are sometimes barely wider than a stroller. Local mobility experts blame generous car lanes optimized for the traditional male commuter, and are working to introduce new pathways that are gender-sensitive and barrier-free.


The fuel crisis sweeping the Middle East

Mon Jul 5

Lebanon is suffering from a severe fuel crisis. In major cities like Beirut, cars are waiting hours for just a third of a tank of gasoline, a cap enforced by the government. These lines are so long that food is being delivered to waiting drivers, at least six shootings have taken place over the past two weeks, and taxis are disappearing altogether. Some even worry that valet attendants are siphoning fuel from the cars they park.

How did the situation get this bad? Might depend on who you ask.

  • First off, Lebanon has been in a state of disarray, worsened last year by the Beirut port explosion that led to the government’s resignation. The country’s currency has lost 90% of its value since 2019, crippling its ability to import fuel and other supplies.
  • Now, utility workers are blaming a recent fuel scandal with Algeria where a tainted fuel import led to the arrest of 17 people. The Algerian company, which supplies 70% of the fuel used by Lebanese power plants, denies allegations and will not renew its contract with Lebanon in retaliation — a harsh blow for a country dependent on imports.
  • Meanwhile the government is blaming smugglers and panic buying, though there are no available figures on how much fuel has been smuggled out to sell on the black market in Syria, which is also in a fuel crisis. Smuggling is very profitable as gasoline in Lebanon is heavily subsidized.

In fact, amidst Lebanon’s economic crisis, smuggling has become a serious problem across a range of goods from fuel to arms to drugs to food supplies. The Lebanese military is struggling to take control of the situation as the border is not very secure and the geography difficult to navigate. Still, they’re deploying Land Rovers to patrol 250 miles, erecting new watch towers, and closing a few makeshift metal bridges. So far, Syria has not offered to help.

Some additional resources...


How the treatment of boys and girls early in life determines their math ability forever

Sun Jul 4

While many of us were opposed to watching movies in 3D with those headache-inducing glasses, thinking in 3D could be a gamechanger. In fact, new research has surfaced highlighting the importance of spatial reasoning, the ability to think and manipulate objects in three dimensions (for example, using an instruction booklet to build furniture). In studying nearly 600 kids, the researchers found that spatial reasoning is core to understanding math later in life, regardless of gender.

So why then do men end up being better at math than women later in life? It all comes down to the differences in how each gender is treated at an early age. Namely, young boys are handed toys like building blocks that develop spatial reasoning while young girls are given toys that optimize for social skills. The various studies specifically find that:

  • Spatial reasoning is not biological. No difference in spatial reasoning ability exists among preschoolers. Instead, male advantages manifest between ages six and eight.
  • Gender stereotypes hinder. Stereotypes about spatial intelligence between boys and girls, like saying that women can’t read maps, lead more girls to develop anxiety around math as early as elementary school.
  • Once the spatial gap exists, it’s tough to recover. While children as young as three with low spatial abilities can improve them in subsequent years, they are unable to fully catch up with the children who start off with higher spatial reasoning skills.
  • And this potentially explains the current gender gap in STEM fields, as twice as many men become top math performers later in life.

So what can be done? All kids should experience spatial reasoning early, which can happen in a variety of ways:

  • Encourage toys that get them manipulating three dimensional objects, such as building blocks, LEGO, or even action video games.
  • Speak to children with spatial language (above, below, larger, smaller, etc).
  • Involve them in spatial tasks. For example, handing a map to a daughter while planning a road trip and encouraging her to pick a route.

Some additional resources... 

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No room for a baby stroller? I’d say it’s time to re-tire this path.

Art Credit: Colin Douthwaite

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