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Deaths That Don’t Have to Happen: The Relationship Between Knowledge and Health

Editor’s note: As part of  a writing class I took this summer, I had to do a group project addressing a social issue within our society.

Part of that assignment was writing an essay that promotes activism to address the issue.The research inspired me, so I decided to share that essay with you. Hope you enjoy! 


Knowledge, and the desire to use it to better our own lives, as well as the lives of everyone else. This is what has made our species so great.

Fire, the wheel, internal plumbing, electricity, refrigeration. All of these creations were the result of intelligent people with an insatiable drive to solve major problems that affected everyone within their communities.

As the world progressed into the modern era, more and more of these advancements came from the realm of medicine. For thousands of years, smallpox was a scourge that regularly plagued populations all over the world.

A close-up of the smallpox virus. Click to enlarge. Magnification: x28,500

In the 19th century, the disease was killing 400,000 Europeans every year. In the 20th century, it accounted for an estimated 300 million deaths worldwide.

Now, consider this: the vaccine for smallpox was discovered, by a man named William Jenner, in 1796. However, it took more than 160 years for the World Health Assembly to pass a worldwide resolution to eradicate the disease in 1959, and another 20 years for the disease to be completely eradicated.

There hasn’t been a single documented death from smallpox since 1980, but it took nearly 200 years to make that happen.

Click to enlarge

Our modern world is no different. Every year, 3 million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases, half of that being children 5 years old or younger.

Other preventable diseases, like diarrhea and pneumonia, claim the lives of another 2 million children who are simply too poor to afford things like clean water and basic treatment.

If you’re keeping track, that’s 3.5 million children dying every year from basic problems that we solved ages ago. Another way to think of it: imagine every kid enrolled in public school in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston dying this year. Imagine, just for a second, all the human potential that we are losing along with these children.

I know you may be thinking that it’s somewhat inevitable that developing countries lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to new vaccines, treatments or procedures, so chew on this for a second: out of a list of 18 developed countries, the United States was at the very bottom when it came to deaths from preventable causes.

For people under the age of 75, these preventable causes account for 23% of total deaths for men and 32% of total deaths for women.

Preventable disease per 100,000 citizens. Click to enlarge

How many more people are we going to let die simply because they lack access to resources that are so plentiful that they are taken for granted by the rest of us?

We have to always remember that the position of privilege we find ourselves in only exists because someone at some point in history fought for our right to good healthcare.

So now, it is our responsibility, our duty, to use this position of privilege to extend this same basic human right to health to the countless people still living without it, not only in our country but across the globe.

WOW! This Artist Uses Acrylic Paint to Make Real People Into Walking Paintings (Photo Gallery)

Many artists have earned their reputations by being able to take two-dimensional canvases and turn them into realistic, 3-D looking images of people.

Alexa Meade is a Los Angeles-based artist who decided to turn that formula on its head. Rather than trying to paint 3-D images of people on canvas, she paints directly on the skin of real people, creating an optical illusion that makes them appear to be flattened, 2-D images.

Her work has been displayed in some of the most famous galleries in the world, including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in DC, among others.

You can check out some of her work below. Click an image to enlarge:

You can learn more about Alexa and see her in action in this short video from PBS News Hour:

To check out more of her work, you can visit her website here.

(h/t APlus)

If These Photos of Dogs Underwater Don’t Make You Smile, Nothing Will (Photo Gallery)

Seth Casteel is a photographer based out of Chicago and Los Angeles who specializes in taking pictures of animals.

Though he photographs all types of animals, dogs are one of his favorite subjects. A few years back, he shot a series of photos of dogs playing underwater. Check out the pictures below (click an image to enlarge):

The success of the photos landed him a book deal, and the photo-book “Underwater Dogs” was released in October of 2012.

Casteel’s photography company, Little Friend’s Photography, specializes in lifestyle pet photography. Casteel describes this art form as,

“embracing the at-ease mentality of pets on location in the natural surroundings.”

You can check out more of Casteel’s work on Little Friend’s Photography’s website here.

(h/t CBS News)

Californians Prepare to Vote On A Plan to Split the Golden State Into 6 New States

The idea is the brainchild of Timothy C. Draper.

Draper is the son and grandson of successful venture capitalists. His father founded the Draper & Johnson Investment Company in 1962 and served as both chairman and president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

His grandfather founded Draper, Gaither and Anderson, one of the U.S.’s first venture capital firms in 1958.

Timothy Draper has a vision of six separate Californian states

Timothy attended Stanford University, where he earned an electrical engineering degree before going on to get his MBA from Harvard Business School.

After spending a year at Alex, Brown & Sons (the oldest investment bank in the U.S., founded in 1800), Draper left to start his own venture capital firm with Jon Fisher and Steve Jurvetson.

Draper and Jurvetson are credited with coming up with the idea of advertising at the bottom of Hotmail messages, and the firm, DJF, owned 10% of Skype when it sold to eBay for $4.1 billion in 2005.

Early this year, Draper proposed an initiative to divide California into 6 separate states.

Click to enlarge

In support of his plan, he argues that the state is too big to be representative of its citizens or to be competitive economically:

“With six, you do get a good sense that you can drive 45 minutes in any direction and maybe be part of a different state and it keeps those states on their toes,”

he said while speaking at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. If his plan is approved, each of the six states would have its own government, with it’s own elected officials and Congressional representatives.

Draper recently used Twitter to announce that he had submitted a petition with 1.3 million signatures to put his 6-state initiative up to a popular vote.

The plan definitely has its opponents though. Steve Maviglio is the spokesman for the OneCalifornia committee:

“This is a colossal and divisive waste of time, energy, and money that will hurt the California brand, our ability to attract business and jobs, and move our state forward together,”

he told the San Jose Mercury News. Many opponents also point out that even if Californians vote in favor of the plan, carrying it out would require an act by Congress.

Steven Maviglio is one of the plan’s biggest opponents

Draper also has plans to expand the use of digital currencies. On June 27th, he won an auction to buy 30,000 bitcoins (worth an estimated $19 million) that were confiscated from the dark web’s illicit marketplace Silk Road by U.S. Marshalls.

He plans to use the bitcoins to help start-up bitcoin exchange Varuum increase the use of dgital currency:

“With the help of Vaurum and this newly purchased Bitcoin, we expect to be able to create new services that can provide liquidity and confidence to markets that have been hamstrung by weak currencies,”

Draper said through a statement from Varuum.

As for the six state initiative, the signatures on the petition are currently being verified before an official date for the vote is announced.

Rad more from CBS News here.

The Streets of Chicago Are 4 Times More Deadly Than the Battlefields of the Middle East

This Fourth of July weekend saw joy, laughter, fellowship and fun. It also saw another rash of murders in the streets of Chicago.

The 3-day weekend starting on the 4th saw eight murders in Chicago. Two more have already been reported for today.

While this weekend was slightly more violent than others, it is definitely not an aberration. Easter weekend this year saw 45 separate shootings in Chicago. The weekend before that, there were 35 shootings in 36 hours.

In recent years, Chicago’s violence has the nickname “Chiraq”. Since the start of this year, the city has has seen 196 murders. That’s more than four times as many American fatalities as the 46 so far in Afghanistan and Iraq this year.

The homicides this weekend were a result of multiple shootings at Independence Day celebrations around the city which left another 60 people injured.

Total murders per year in Chicago from 1991 to 2011. Click to enlarge

Murder totals in Chicago actually peaked at 943 in 1992, and steadily declined in the decade that followed. But that number spiked again in 2012, which saw 521 murders. The majority of these murders were related to gang activity and the increasingly lucrative drug trade in Chicago.

To combat the rise in violence, Chicago dispatched hundreds of extra police into particularly dangerous neighborhoods, and reached out to community leaders for support.

“We will keep building on our strategy, putting more officers on the street in summer months, proactively intervening in gang conflicts, partnering with community leaders,”

said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a recent statement.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy

It seems to be working. Last year, Chicago tallied 415 murders, the lowest that number has been since 1965. And as of June 30, Chicago had experienced nine fewer homicides than in that same period last year.

But these rates are still much higher than most cities. By comparison, New York City (which has three times more residents than Chicago) only had 350 murders in 2013.

So why is the murder rate so high? Many people would point to high rates of poverty, but Chicago actually has lower poverty rates than other major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Poor schools also play a major part in the crime, but Chicago actually has a higher percentage of high school graduates over the age of 25 than New York City, Los Angeles or Houston.

A breakdown of the victims of Chicago’s 2012 murders. Click to enlarge

There is no one reason for the violence in Chicago, but there are a few other major factors that have contributed to it. One of these factors is depopulation and gang fragmentation.

In the 80s and early 90s, the majority of the homicides in Chicago centered around low-income government-subsidized housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes.

A picture of Cabrini-Green before it was demolished

Starting in the late 90s, the city carried out an aggressive campaign to demolish these high-rises as part of a plan to reduce crime. However, this just displaced tens of thousands of residents, exacerbating the issues of poverty they faced while simply spreading the criminals who had been sharing the buildings with them out to new neighborhoods.

The demolition of these centralized crime hubs has also led to a fragmentation of the gangs in Chicago. During the early 90s, much of the drug trade was controlled by Larry Hoover, who was head of the Gangster’s Disciples street gang.

This gang (which controlled a number of Chicago’s subsidized high-rises) was no stranger to violence, but it also had a very strict hierarchy that maintained unity and order amongst its gang members.

The arrest of drug lords like Hoover and the destruction of their headquarters created a power vacuum that broke Chicago’s gangs into countless smaller “sets”, which now battle amongst themselves for turf, power and money.

Larry Hoover is currently serving a life sentence for a murder in August of 1973

But maybe the biggest reason for Chicago’s high crime rates is the lack of jobs. Despite the fact that Chicago has higher levels of education than other large cities like New York, Houston and Los Angeles, it still has a much higher rate of unemployment (13.7%) than these other cities.

The gang violence exacerbates this problem by driving potential employers out of the inner cities, leaving only a handful of low-paying jobs to the residents who remain. This de-population also reduces property values which in turn further limits the public funds (ie. taxes) available to help fight crime and improve conditions.

Whatever the reasons are, the reality is inarguable: Chicago has a serious violence problem, and the fact that it doesn’t get the media airtime that Iraq, Al Qaeda ad ISIS do won’t change the fact that for every soldier we have lost overseas this year, we’ve lost another four youth in Chicago.

Continue reading The Streets of Chicago Are 4 Times More Deadly Than the Battlefields of the Middle East

5 Quick Thoughts on All This Donald Sterling Business (Opinion Piece)

1. This Story Isn’t Really About Racism

The first thing I did when I started doing research for this piece was to search “donald sterling racist” on google. However, I changed the date range to only find results from before January 1st of this year. Google came up with over 600 results. A sampling of the best:

  • A Deadspin article from last July about Jeff Pearlman, who is writing a book about the NBA in the 80s. For the book, he talked to former Clippers GM Paul Phipps. Phipps told a story about when Rollie Massimino, who was coaching for Villanova at the time, was being interviewed by Sterling as a replacement for recently-fired Clippers coach Paul Silas. Massimino called Phipps the next morning and angrily informed him why he would be passing on the job:

“Here’s this guy [Sterling]… and he has this blonde bimbo with him, they have a bottle of champagne, they’re tanked. And Don looks at me and he says, ‘I wanna know why you think you can coach these niggers.’”

Rollie Massimino and his 1985 Villanova National Championship team
  • An ESPN article by Jamele Hill from 2009 in which she started off like this: “Donald Sterling makes Rush Limbaugh look like Martin Luther King Jr.” She discussed the $2.725 million judgment Sterling had just been ordered to pay for his second federal housing discrimination lawsuit. She also quoted one of his property managers from the proceedings of the case- he said Sterling, examining a newly acquired property, explained that it smelled because,

“All the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean. And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day.”

  • An ESPN article from all the way back in 2006 when my homie Bomani Jones (who had one of the best responses to this whole thing) broke the original story of the lawsuit which would eventually result in the massive judgment Jamele Hill wrote about in 2009. He also talked more about the first lawsuit, in which Sterling settled with the 19 plaintiffs for an undisclosed amount (he also had to pay $5 million in attorney fees). One of my favorite excerpts from Bomani’s piece (remember this is from 2006):

“It’s not Sterling’s job to bring attention to his ethical transgressions. That’s the job of the media. And as it relates to Sterling, we have dropped the ball. In American sports, issues of race are unavoidable. But when we turn our attention to those issues, we tend to do so in discussion of sensational topics. And we do so with little more than passing interest. We’re more concerned with people saying stupid things, transgressions that even undeniable racists could criticize. People from every walk of life are entitled to slam someone for talking too much. In Sterling’s case, we’re confronted with racism in its most problematic form. And up until now, we’ve said very little.”

ESPN analyst Bomani Jones has been trying to tell us how racist Sterling is for a long time…

This last quote makes my first point perfectly. Nobody cared when a rich old owner of a historically bad team was actively trying to keep minorities out of the apartments he owns, but a 15 minute conversation where he says a few racist things out of anger and jealousy is what brought the ship down.

The rise of social media has expanded our access to information and different viewpoints, but it has also prostituted our media. All major news outlets have detailed data on what types of stories are the most likely to “go viral” on the internet, and they adjust what they cover and how they cover it to try to tap into this virality potential.

This story was big not because Sterling was “caught being racist”, but because the way in which he was caught created a perfect, real-life drama of power, money, sex and scandal: billionaire NBA owner, caught on tape, super racist soundbites, recorded by his mistress who happens to be half black and half hispanic.

Everybody on social media during the scandal

There were so many bizarre aspects to the Sterling story that every new piece of information just seemed too ridiculous to be true. We had to click the links to see for ourselves. The media was just drooling all over their keyboards. Updates couldn’t come fast enough.

And THAT is why we put Donald Sterling in the stocks of the Facebook town square and threw digital rotten vegetables at him. Not because we didn’t like that he was a racist, but because the crazy way in which he revealed his racism to all the people who didn’t know about it (or care about it) before the TMZ tape made the scandal a “trending topic” on Facebook and Twitter for a little while.

2. V. Stiviano Is The Most Interesting and The Most Vile Character In This Story

The striking and enigmatic V. Stiviano: the woman with only an initial for a first name who has been skating around with a strange visor on since the scandal broke…Well, actually she does have a first name…she used to at least. Apparently she was Maria Vanessa Perez until 2010, when she changed her name because she hand’t, “been fully accepted because of my race.”

A recent (and strange) picture of V. Stiviano…

She was getting millions of dollars in gifts ($1.8 million apartment, two Bentleys, a Ferrari, a Range Rover, and bundles of cash, among other things) from her sugar daddy Don Sterling, so why would she want to set him up all of a sudden?

Nobody seems to know. But it’s worth noting that on March 7th, Sterling’s real wife, sick of seeing Stiviano with all of the toys and money that her husband showered upon her, filed a lawsuit which accused Stiviano of, “engaging in conduct designed to target, befriend, seduce, and then entice, cajole, borrow from, cheat, and/or receive as gifts transfers of wealth from wealthy older men whom she targets for such purpose,” (apparently you can’t just call someone a gold digger in a lawsuit).

Rochelle Sterling with her husband (Image: Reuters)

Now what happened between then and the TMZ tape is pretty hazy. Some people think Stiviano threatened Sterling to do something about his wife’s lawsuit and simply followed through when he refused. Some people think she made the tape as insurance in case she got in over her head. Stiviano’s lawyers have said she was not the one who released the tape to the media, and TMZ has declined to comment on their source or whether they paid for the tape.

This past Friday, Stiviano sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters of 20/20- it was the first real interview she had done since the tape was released. I guess real is the wrong word, though. The interview is an 18-minute audition for Stiviano’s future acting career. She tries her hardest to come off as the sympathetic young woman who is the only one who truly understands this monster with a heart of gold. The only problem is, she’s just a terrible liar and is very obvious when she is reciting scripted soundbites.

The journalism in this whole piece is also awful. Specifically, Walters fails to ask the two most important unanswered questions: if Stiviano is Sterling’s biggest supporter, why would she have recorded the conversation, and if she didn’t give it to the media, who did? Instead, Walters endlessly probes the nature of their relationship, trying to get Stiviano to reveal some sex secrets. Then she asks her a series of basic questions about whether or not she thinks Sterling is a racist and all that jazz. Yet another example of the media caring more about sensationalism than information.

This story is about a clever, silver-tongued young woman who seduced a rich, ignorant and vulnerable old man, a man who spent his whole life doing and saying whatever he wanted. It was only a matter of time before Sterling’s combination of bigotry, infidelity and reprehensible behavior caught up to him. His downfall just happened to take the form of a slender half black half Mexican woman with an exotic look, a pornstar voice and an insatiable appetite for wealth.

To me, Stiviano is the more vile of the two main actors in this drama. Sterling has never cared much about hiding his ignorant views, and has been silent for the most part since this story broke. Meanwhile, Stiviano is trying to take the moral high ground by playing not only the victim but also the merciful, gracious young minority woman who still believes Sterling isn’t truly racist at heart.

This is why she irks me more than Sterling- she’s pretending to be the lone protagonist in the story after compromising the two most fundamental aspects of her identity: her womanhood and her ethnic heritage. She sold both of these things out when she decided to play mistress for a racist old man in exchange for her luxury lifestyle.

(By far my least favorite part of the tape was hearing her tell him she would change her skin color if she could. Finding out why she changed her name didn’t help her case either.)

3. Sterling Didn’t Really Lose

A $2.5 million dollar fine is nothing to Donald Sterling (Forbes put his net worth at just under $2 billion). And even if the NBA succeeds in forcing him to sell his team, he will still be winning for a number of reasons.

First, it’s a good time to sell. In the past year, two sub-par NBA teams in small markets have been purchased above market value: the Sacramento Kings ($534 million) and the Milwaukee Bucks ($550 million).

Not only have the Clippers recently become a title-contender and huge TV attraction (Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan’s dunk-shows draw in a lot of viewers), but they are located in the second largest city in the country with a population more than three times larger than the cities of Sacramento and Milwaukee combined.

So, despite only being valued at around $600 million, most experts believe the Clippers will sell for closer to a billion dollars, 80 times more than the $12.5 million Sterling paid for the franchise in the early 80s.

If he were voluntarily selling the team, $200 million of that billion would go to federal taxes and another $123 million would go to California state taxes. However, a stipulation in the federal tax code states that money received from a forced sale or other “involuntary conversion” cannot be taxed (the idea being you shouldn’t have to pay taxes on something you didn’t want to sell in the first place). So, Sterling might walk away from the transaction with a fat, tax-free check.

4. The Game Has Changed

Regardless of how racist and ignorant the things that Donald Sterling said were, we also need to be upset that he was illegally recorded in his own home and nobody seems to being doing much to prosecute the person responsible (whoever that may be). If this had been a court case, everything that Sterling said on the tape would have been immediately thrown out as evidence, since taping a private conversation without the other person’s knowledge is a serious crime.

But this case was tried in the court of public opinion, where those things don’t matter. And that’s why I say the game has changed: public figures no longer enjoy the luxury of privacy. You can buy a secluded estate, get encrypted phone numbers and IP addresses and take every precaution to maintain your privacy, but you never know when a random comment you make could be discreetly recorded or a private e-mail message hacked.

And regardless as to how illegally your words were obtained, the court of public opinion is a bloodthirsty mob that cares little for your loss of privacy. No matter how much explaining, contextualizing or apologizing you do, the damage will be done. People don’t remember the truth that emerges after the scandal, they only remember the scandal itself.

How many people remember this? How many people remember that they were found totally innocent at the end of it all?

Think seriously to yourself: how many times have you said something in a private setting, whether angry or joking or drunk or whatever, that you know would destroy your public image if it suddenly became a trending topic on the internet? If your answer is never, you’re probably lying to yourself. Which brings me to my last point…

5. We Need To Stop All This Moral Relativism 

How many people would have cared about the Donald Sterling tape if he wasn’t an NBA owner? Not many. Besides the hollywood scandal allure, people were drawn in by the hypocrisy of a racist man owning a predominantly black team in a predominantly black sport. But the incoherent spoken racism heard on the tape is infinitely less consequential than the institutionalized racism of the housing discrimination issues from Sterling’s past.

We get mad when we think we have to, and then choose to ignore the things that actually should make us mad. Many of the same people who I have seen patting themselves on the back for criticizing Sterling’s racism would be quick to say institutionalized racism is a thing of the past if I started arguing in favor of affirmative action, for example. Do you really think Sterling is the only rich old white man who doesn’t want young minority families in his apartments?

One of the biggest reasons why race still persists as an issue today is because of large-scale issues like housing discrimination or the practice of funding public schools through property taxes (ensuring that the poorest schools get the least funding). But when people try to do things to correct these issues on a large scale, they run into barriers. Why? Because people are only willing to deal with problems if it means they don’t have to sacrifice anything.

Sterling was a perfect example: everybody who wanted to show how un-racist they were could simply jump on Facebook and blast the NBA owner for his phone conversation. Writing a status cost a person to show how “anti-racism” they were without actually costing themselves anything.

But what if they had been one of those people living in Sterling’s apartments? How would they have reacted to the discrimination lawsuits in 2003 and 2006? Would they have been publicly criticizing him for his housing discrimination if it meant more young minority families moved into the complex?

Or take the school funding example. Everybody was all for providing more funds to poor schools until they found out that some of those funds would be coming from the richer schools in upper-class neighborhoods. Then, all of a sudden, it became socialism and “class warfare”.

So my final point is this. Don’t say that you really care about a problem unless you’re willing to sacrifice something of your own to fix it, because all of the rabble-rousing pretenders in the crowd make it much harder for the people who actually do care to be heard.

 

A Government Spy Plane Just Caused A Computer Glitch That Re-Routed Hundreds of Flights

Yesterday evening, a U-2 spy plane, a Cold War-era aircraft that is still in use by the U.S. government today, entered air space monitored by the Los Angeles Air Route Traffic Control Center.

Upon entering this airspace, the U-2 caused a glitch by overloading a computer system at the center.

As a result of the glitch, the system re-routed hundreds of flights in an attempt to avoid the spy plane, despite the fact that it was flying at an altitude of 60,00 feet (about 20,000-30,000 feet higher than passenger aircrafts).

Los Angeles Air Traffic Control Center (Photo: Daily Mail)

The glitch caused delays and headaches for tens of thousands of travelers arriving to, departing from and/or passing through the Los Angeles International Airport.

Sources told NBC News that the spy plane had a U.S. Defense Department flight plan, and confirmed that the aircraft was a “Dragon Lady”, a nickname for the U-2.

Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not spoken officially about the incident or released many details yet. FAA spokeswoman Lynn Lunsford did respond to an e-mail from Reuters with this:

“We aren’t confirming anything beyond what we already said about it being a software issue that we corrected.”

Read more from Reuters here.