Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New York Ranks Last in Happiness Rating

December 22, 2009

In this season given to tidings of comfort and joy, word has come that we New Yorkers are the sad sacks of the United States. This is something of a surprise. Sure, we complain a lot. Grumbling could qualify as the official state sport. But are we really the unhappiest of them all?

It seems so, judging from a study by two economics professors, newly published in Science magazine. The academics — Andrew J. Oswald, of the University of Warwick in Britain, and Stephen Wu, of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. — examined piles of data, tossed them into a research Cuisinart and came up with a guide to American happiness, ranked by state. On the smiley scale, New York landed on the bottom.

Dead last?

“I’m sorry about that,” Professor Oswald said by phone from Warwick.

It’s rather dismal. If there were a National Happy League, we’d be the New Jersey Nets. We’re No. 51 out of 51. The District of Columbia was included in the list as if it were a state. It made it all the way to No. 37 despite the handicap of having Congress in its midst.

At least New Yorkers can take comfort in knowing that their immediate neighbors in Connecticut (No. 50) and New Jersey (No. 49) are not appreciably happier.

A remarkable aspect of this study is that Professors Wu and Oswald concluded that we are not gruntled without even having asked what we think of Albany, Donald Trump or Thom Browne suits. Rather, they focused on two sets of information.

One was a survey of 1.3 million Americans done over four years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which asked people about their health and how satisfied they were with their lives. Those self-assessments were stacked against “objective indicators” borrowed from researchers at U.C.L.A. They included state-by-state variances on quality-of-life gauges like climate, taxes, cost of living, commuting times, crime rates and schools.

When the two sets were blended, the economists discovered that the subjective judgments closely tracked the objective ones. In other words, people knew what they were talking about when they said if they were happy or not. Americans who described themselves as satisfied tended to live in places where the quality of life was good by most standards — where the sun shone a lot, the air was reasonably clear, housing didn’t leave you busted, traffic wasn’t too fierce and so on.

“We were actually surprised that the match was as strong as it was,” Professor Wu said in a phone interview. “The strength of the correlation is very, very high.”

The state-by-state rankings were not a priority, he said. But they are what has inevitably drawn the most attention. In case you were wondering — and you know you were — the Top 10 states on the happiness scale are, in descending order, Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, South Carolina, Alabama and Maine.

Louisiana? Uh, didn’t it have that huge hurricane, what’s her name, a few years back?

Yeah, Katrina is a complication, the professors said. Some of their data predated the storm. But the hurricane is not all that defines Louisiana. Like nearly all the other states in the Top 10, it is warm. (Surprisingly, sunny California is way down in the ranks, No. 46.)

It falls to a New Yorker to ask how it is, if this is such an unhappy place, that more people are living in the city than ever before: an estimated 8.4 million. “That’s a very sensible point,” Professor Oswald said. Many people, he said, do indeed think of states like New York and California as “marvelous places to live in.”

“The problem,” he said, “is that if too many individuals think that way, they move into those states, and the resulting congestion and house prices make it a nonfulfilling prophecy.”

Not to be unkind, but some states that made the Top 10 are among the poorest in the country. Are people there truly happy, or are they wearing “What, me worry?” smiles.

More important, might contentment be overrated? Seriously, isn’t restlessness, even outright discontent, often a catalyst for creativity?

We’re from the Harry Lime school. If you’ve seen the film classic “The Third Man,” you will remember that character’s admonition: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.

“In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”


Refusal to release autopsy raises suspicions

December 22, 2009

Refusal to release autopsy raises suspicions

County medical examiner cites investigation as the reason for holding on to information

The Detroit News

Dearborn -- The Wayne County medical examiner's refusal to release its autopsy report on Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah is fueling concerns in the Muslim community about a possible cover-up of facts surrounding his death, a community leader said Monday.

Abdullah, 53, was killed Oct. 28 in a gunfight with the FBI at a Dearborn warehouse. The FBI said Abdullah, an alleged leader of a radical Muslim separatist group involved in fencing stolen goods, fired a weapon that killed an FBI dog.

The county Medical Examiner's Office denied a Nov. 2 request The Detroit News filed for Abdullah's medical examiner report, saying it was not complete.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan, said the county office has not responded to a request from his organization requesting a copy of the report once it is completed. The office also quoted exorbitant fees for copies of autopsy photos, he said.

Dennis Niemiec, a spokesman for the county, confirmed Monday that the report is completed but is being withheld at the request of Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad, who does not want the report released until his department completes its investigation. The county will seek more information from Haddad about how the release of the report would hamper his investigation, Niemiec said.

Haddad could not be reached for comment.

Walid said medical examiner reports are frequently released during active police investigations.

"The unfortunate and perhaps unintended consequence is that the failure to release the autopsy report and the very exorbitant amount for the pictures is raising in the minds of some people in the community that there's a potential cover-up," Walid said.

How many times he was shot, whether he suffered dog bites, and whether Abdullah was handcuffed after he was shot are among the questions on people's minds, Walid said.

Special Agent Sandra Berchtold, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said it was not the federal agency's call to withhold the report. However, "evidence is often not released during an ongoing investigation," she said.

© Copyright 2009 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

the tragedy of the political neutralisation of the American Muslim community

Also dismally absent from the discussion is the tragedy of the political neutralisation of the American Muslim community. Dissent, a core American political value, is one denied to American Muslims who cannot point to the vacuity of many of the terror charges produced against suspects or that pronouncements about the radicalisation of their community may be premature.

Any critique whatsoever of the policies that lead to terror arrests or that highlight the injustice of condemning those who have yet to be charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime is deemed as apologia favouring terrorism. As the unabated political fever for establishing a connection between AfPak and American security rises; American Muslims must contend not simply with the burden of increased scrutiny but also with a tragic political silencing.
-"Climate of suspicion" by Rafia Zakaria