1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

US Gov. Asked Twitter to Delay Maintenance

Via Sullivan, it seems that the State Department asked Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance that would have disabled service today in Iran (i.e., last night here). That's a pretty remarkable step, not necessarily in terms of being an extraordinary measure in itself, but because the move demonstrates the administration's interest in new technology and its role in the current Iranian crisis. Kudos.

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Shepherd Smith, Voice of Reason

It's getting eerie to watch clips of Shepherd Smith speaking with apparent honesty and sensibility against the conservative CW on Fox. Take the following clip, in which he points out that the attack on the Holocaust Memorial Museum reflected an advisory homeland security recently issued which the right flipped out over:

Almost makes me feel bad about forwarding the following to my friends (key words: Jenny Lopez, Curb Job, Blow Job):

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Cyber Attacking the Atlantic?

Just got back from my bachelor party. Due to regional confidentiality agreements, I can only report that it was in a town named "the meadows" by 19th-century Spanish immigrants.

But I'm feverishly reading about the Iranian elections, and came across this post by Andrew Sullivan (who's been all over the story):

The Atlantic is struggling to keep the site up despite what seems to be a digital attack. Please be persistent in trying to reload.

If that's true, it would be a pretty remarkable indicator of where the digital age is heading. Welcome to the 21st century.

UPDATE: Sullivan has reported that their servers were only overloaded -- no "denial of service" attacks. This doesn't surprise me -- whereas I wouldn't put such a thing past a country with very sophisticated state digital infrastructure (say, China), in a place like Iran, where I'd assume most of the techies are liberals, it would have been remarkable.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Superb Health Care Article

Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, has written a brilliant article about healthcare reform for the New Yorker. Its basic thesis: while there are a host of theories about how to reduce the cost of healthcare in the United States, the greatest problem is over-treatment -- the prescription of medications, treatments, tests and surgeries that are redundant, unnecessary, and sometimes harmful.

To research the article, Gawande flew to MacAllen, a rural Texas county that's the most expensive health care market in the United States, despite having average or below-average patient outcomes, and residents who are, on average, as healthy as anywhere else. There's a sharp moment when he sits down with some physicians at a diner to talk it over:

“It’s malpractice,” a family physician who had practiced here for thirty-three years said.

“McAllen is legal hell,” the cardiologist agreed. Doctors order unnecessary tests just to protect themselves, he said. Everyone thought the lawyers here were worse than elsewhere.

That explanation puzzled me. Several years ago, Texas passed a tough malpractice law that capped pain-and-suffering awards at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Didn’t lawsuits go down?

“Practically to zero,” the cardiologist admitted.

“Come on,” the general surgeon finally said. “We all know these arguments are bullshit. There is overutilization here, pure and simple.” Doctors, he said, were racking up charges with extra tests, services, and procedures.

I thought this discussion was fascinating, because it confirmed my little experience discussing the subject with my best friend, a neurosurgeon practicing in Nashville. Back when he was going through medical school, we used to talk about the high cost of medical care, and he always insisted the problem was malpractice suits; insurance against malpractice was bankrupting doctors and forcing them to add extra testing. When I pointed him to studies showing that malpractice awards were dropping even as insurance costs skyrocketed, he shrugged it off. It was the lawyers, plain and simple.

I have a feeling that now, after many more years of practice and experience, he sees things differently (and I'm looking forward to asking him at my bachelor party next week). My guess is that the malpractice canard is a commonly-held but superficial excuse that one would encounter early on in medical education -- especially while interning and doing early rotations. But as doctors gain more experience, they gain a richer, more nuanced understanding that complicates that reassuring but misleading perspective. And that's what is reflected in the exchange above: initially, the doctors offer the comforting excuse that it's the fault of lawyers and court cases -- not their own. But when push comes to shove, they recognize the problem lies closer to home.

Which isn't to say that insurance reform, digitization, universal coverage, prescription cost controls, etc., aren't key to moving forward. But a huge component is getting physicians to recognize that, despite excellent medical skills, their daily decisions contribute incrementally to the national health care problem.

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