Friday, April 25, 2008

Ranking, American Style

It's sad that I acquire the bulk of my stats these days from the Today Show and the New York Times, especially considering their somewhat questionable journalism (I mean, is the best color for spring shoes more important than continued turmoil in Kenya? hmmm), yet yesterday, they featured NBC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman who relayed some pretty unsettling information about the state of our union. She discussed a study by the University of Washington and Harvard University on life expectancy among Americans, particularly women. Despite the trillions of dollars we spend on health care, we rank 42nd in the world in life expectancy, behind some countries from the former Soviet Union. According to the special guest, the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates among countries of the "developed" world (think G8 countries, European Union). Even Cuba, a country that we have demonized to no end, had a lower infant mortality rate than us. Cuba also happened to far outshine us in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, as they aggressively promoted safe sex practices and their HIV/AIDS treatment programs are free to those in need. The United States government can hardly fathom teaching its young people about their own bodies, God forbid begin to tackle HIV/AIDS seriously, despite the growing infection rate and the fact that we have a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS than most nations in the developed world, with the exception of Spain, whose rate is only slightly higher than ours.

Yikes.

We have some catching up to do, especially if we plan on upholding our image as the best country in the world, so much so that we participate in domination by force to get people to think and act just like we do. But other statistics are alarming as well. As our country scrounges up change to afford rice (they actually have started rationing rice at large wholesale stores like Sam's Club and Costco!) and drives across state lines to find slightly lower gas prices, we also continue to imprison more people than any other country...IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Many activists against what they call the "prison industrial complex" have dubbed America's prison system as a modern, more nuanced version of slavery in which more people of color continue to be its target, despite the level of their crimes or even status of guilt.

It seems as if the United States' ranking "successes" lie in highly negative aspects of our culture, practices on which the rest of the developed world - our competitors, allies, and peers - frowns upon and statistics that demonstrate our inability to do much better than the nations we have set out to "correct" or "save." It's time that we start looking at ourselves in the mirror and recognizing that we must devote serious time and energy to addressing our flaws, starting with the ignorance that allows us to continue touting ourselves as the best there is.

- Wendi Muse

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