372. Linkages

CQ Press used to be Morgan Quitno but thats not where the names Q comes from. CQ, as opposed to MQ, had something to do with Congressional Quarterly once, but apparently no more, unless the companys history was written by Tony Gilroy, writer-director of Duplicity, in which case it might mean Congressional Quarterly will now be published from MQs hometown, William S. Burroughsburg, Kansas.

Anyway, CQ, whatever that sinister appellation might mean, released its (or “its”) annual rankings of most dangerous states, and as always states reach the top only by resembling New Mexico in at least three of the following four areas: poverty, political corruption, frantic sprawl, and hot summers.

Its easy to understand how Nevada and Louisiana beat New Mexico at its own game, but I was a little puzzled by South Carolina sneaking ahead of us. After all, Wikipedia assures us that “Violence was relatively low in the state.”

Heres a handy online flip-chart of the top- and bottom-ranked from AOLs Wallet Pop. Compare it to the same sites list of unhealthiest states. Notice any similarities?

And then we can go over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site and take a look at this map of heart disease and stroke death rates.

Its easy to think of reasons why some states and regions are more violent than others. I picture the enraged North Dakota ex-husband climbing into his pickup, determined to kill the new boyfriend, but after half an hour he has to stop and buy gas. Then he passes a cafe and realizes hes getting kind of hungry. Then, since hes near the Wal-Mart, he might as well pick up a few things he needs. By then its getting dark and more snow is forecast – not really a good time to be on the roads. So he heads home. Another homicide averted.

For those of us used to getting our information from such unreliable sources as judicial opinions, its a little harder to think of reasons why cardiovascular health should have a geographical relationship to violence.

And then we get to accidental deaths. Accidents, of all things, ought to be randomly distributed. How could chance occurrences occur other than by chance? And yet… The map is pretty blotchy for motor vehicle deaths, too. The most violent states are also the states with the most accidents and the highest rates of death by cardiovascular disease.

Of course, people die elsewhere. Suicide, for example, turns out to be a Rocky Mountain thing. (A new slogan for New Mexico: Where Southern violence meets mountain despair!) And all those inhibited New Englanders suffer the burden of not dying young, or perhaps of not killing: check out colorectal cancer rates. I happen to live in the nations liver disease capital (New Mexico, Land of Big Livers!) but other violent states such as Louisiana are at the other end of that particular scale.

But the correspondence between violent death, accidental injury and death, and cardiovascular disease isnt coincidence, I think. A powerful clue is suggested by yet another map: low birth weight births by state. Another hint is offered by figures 4, 5 & 6 of this report, which illustrate the depressing finding that “[f]etal and perinatal mortality rates vary considerably by race and Hispanic origin of mother.” Self-evidently, race and Hispanic origin arent the cause of those particular variations.  Those categories are capturing something about the women and children that goes deeper than skin color or last name.  But what?

Does the criminal justice system have anything to do with public health?  Most people dont, in fact, think of them as related, much less as the same thing.  But the topics discussed at the CDCs website sound like the names of divisions in a DAs office: Child Abuse / Maltreatment, Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Violence, Youth Violence.

Ive spent much of the past several months, to my own astonishment, discovering what a wonderful laboratory the criminal justice system has created for social scientists who study the effects of trauma on human beings.  Did you know we have regular academic journals with titles such as Violence against Woman and Child Maltreatment

Future posts will describe the things that we (that is, they) have learned about what violence does to people.  Many effects last long after the bruises, and even the scars, fade.  Low birth weight,  fetal/infant mortality and cardiovascular disease are three of the lingering effects.  Lower academic achievement and consequent lower lifetime earnings are two more.  Risk-taking behavior is another. 

The strongest statistical link of all tells us that weve finally discovered the cause of violent crime: previous violent crime.  Tolerating violence now means encouraging it in the future.   Much as with Plessy v. Ferguson, Im afraid its going to take many generations to begin to undo the damage the Supreme Court inflicted with just a few pompous-yet-careless words. 

Future posts will develop these themes.

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