Monday, April 28, 2008

Life Expectancy, Poverty, and the (not so) surprising results

Last Summer New York magazine ran a “look-how-great-we-are” story about how the average life expectancy of New Yorkers had for the first time in history surpassed that of the rest of the country. You see, as the article took exhaustive pains and several thousand words to point out, there used to be crime here but now it’s totally safe.

Plus we walk, unlike all those stupid fat lazy bastards in the rest of the country. And we walk fast, unlike all those stupid fat lazy bastards the come here on vacation (boy, they sure are annoying and we sure are cooler than them aren’t we?). Plus, we go to really fancy doctors that are totally the best in the world, and we shop at expensive organic food stores. All of us. Well…..expect the Bronx, which oddly enough seems to be the only exception to the rule.

After devoting 10,000 words to patting it’s target demographic on the back (and yes that includes me to some extent), they finally got to the point in the last few measly paragraphs. It turns out that there was one part of New York City that bucked the trend, and (shock, gasp!) it was the area with little to no gentrification. They could have saved a lot of space and printed only this part of the article:

“Of course, the built environment wouldn’t have done New Yorkers’ health any good if it hadn’t been catalyzed by the city’s economic bonanza. Gentrification cut both ways. A more cynical—and possibly clear-eyed—explanation for New York’s life-expectancy gains is that gentrification drove many of the city’s poorest people out of town.”

Exactly. The city got healthier because it became filled with rich people who can afford fancy doctors and organic food, the problem didn’t get fixed. It just got pushed out.

And the story of the Bronx, the one borough where the life expectancy actually declined in the last 20 years, is in fact the none-to-shocking story of all of poor America. When you’re poor, you often can’t eat well, even if you wanted to, all the cheap food is the worst for you.

This week the New York Times took notice too, recounting a recent study the revealed that from 1983-1999 life expectancy (for women) in the US did not improve, and in fact, declined in hundreds of places in the country (for men life expectancy rose, but with a difference of 5.4 years between poor and wealthy). The lines along which life expectancy declined or stagnated? One guess: poverty. The shaded areas on the map double as some of the poorest in the country.

The links between poverty, health, and life expectancy are so painfully obvious (from prevention and management of chronic and fatal disease, unhealthy diet, smoking, drugs, alcohol (which are far from problems of poor, but are treated and dealt with differently), and of course stress).

The fact that we need these studies to bring the gaping income inequality to a discussion, or the fact that the more “advanced” we get the worst the situation gets is disgraceful. It’s so terribly embarrassing as a country, to be so rich, to pose as some sort of world leader, and at the same time be so woefully, cluelessly indifferent.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

For Your Listening Pleasure

I read a quote years ago that being a good writer is 3% talent and 98% not getting distracted by the internet. So in my quest to keep myself more focused (and because my MP3 player is dying a very slow death) I’m mildly obsessed with free music listening methods.

Pandora: It’s the old standby, and honestly the one I go back to the most because I have rated enough songs and given enough “seeds” that they get what I like generally. I can also listen to it the most passively. The problem? It’s kind of like my bed, still nice and all, but there’s a dent in the mattress in the shape of my body that I keep falling in even when I try to sleep in a different spot (i.e. it’s getting a bit old, and while sometimes they are right on with suggestions of new music I might like other times they are very hopelessly off, and won’t take the hint that I don’t like the red hot chili peppers)

Songza: I was obsessed with songza a few weeks ago, and it’s great for what it is (basically a music search engine). Finding and listening to bootlegs covers from concerts and half forgotten songs from your youth is pretty cool, and it’s handy for testing out a new band before investing in an actual CD. The drawback? It’s high maintenance, you can’t just sit and listen, you have to feed it all the time.

Muxtape : I just discovered this one today, so it’s my current obsession. It’s totally web 3.0 user generatedness, so it’s of course hit or miss, but the basic idea is that you can sign up and make your own “mixtape” of songs that other peeps can listen to (and of course buy the songs from Amazon). But without signing up you can just listen to random mixes, and once you find someone with decent taste you got an hour or so of good listening. The drawback seems to be the unsearchability of the site, either for artists or users, so the mix I’m currently listening to that’s pretty cool I may never be able to find again. (Correction: It looks like each has it’s own address, so I guess you can remember that to get back to it, still not that convenient)

ps. I officially enter my late 20s in one week, and my birthday always makes me get all retrospective about my life, which may explain why this song seemed to fit my mood so perfectly today