Relevant quote: "Even my health insurance provider asked if I was going to sue. When I said, “I don’t think so,” the woman on the phone said, “Well, we might sue on your behalf.” "

We don't need tort reform, we need asshole reform, starting with insurance companies.

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/04/15/a-slippery-slope/

The patient arrived in critical condition last month at the Bagram Air Base hospital in Afghanistan, with what American military doctors at first thought was an all too typical war injury: metal shrapnel from an improvised bomb lodged in his head.

The rest at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/10/world/asia/10military.html?hp

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A second video on the US version of TV newshackery

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I just can't hold back today. My morning news gorge begins with Yahoo! news and today I just can't take it: every other section has a story that speculates on some event that may or may not happen, whose outcome fits someone's political agenda, and the news outlet was just too lazy to fact-check the assertions contained in the story.

AP and Fox seem to be the leader in this form of story crafting, but all the news outlets are guilty of it, and it drives me crazy.

Today's gems:
• Success of lone gunmen may shift al-Qaida strategy AP – 55 mins ago
• Analysis: Greece's crisis could presage America's Wed AP--Mar 10, 1:46 pm ET
• Big Bang experiment may reveal dark universe: CERN Reuters -- Mon Mar 8, 1:14 pm

And I'm only halfway down the news sections in my Yahoo! news portal. Out of the first 20 or so stories, three are purely speculative. When I read these headlines, my first mental instinct is to reply, "Dragon's may fly out of my butt each time I fart." Really, WTF!?!

Assessments of these kinds of story reveal that the contents of the story have been created by some PR person and handed to a "journalist," who then rewrites the release with conditionals so that no work is required to back up the assertions contained in the story. Finally, a headline writer, who may or may not write a headline related to the content of the story AT ALL, will throw in additional conditionals to make the decision defensible to 3rd graders suffering from severe head trauma.

Let's look at today's stories, shall we? "Success of lone gunmen may shift al-Qaida strategy" is based on the underwear bomber incident in December of last year -- not even a gunman. "Gunman" was used as a metaphor for "bad guy." And here's the source of this wisdom: "U.S. officials and counterterrorism experts." Yup. Those guys (and gals). Hey, I'm a US counterterrorism expert (because I say so) and dragons could fly out of your butt when you fart well before al-Qaida shifts its strategy on lone gunman.

" Analysis: Greece's crisis could presage America's" is a little better. It is prefaced by "Analysis:" even though it appears in the news section of Yahoo! "Analysis" means "Editorial" meant to look like news. So here the gist of that story: Some guy at an economic analysis company feeds a storyline to a reporter who's out of ideas today. The clue is halfway down the story:

"Someday it will happen if we don't get our act together on spending, our debt under control and our economy to grow faster," said Allen Sinai, chief global economist for New York-based Decision Economics Inc., which provides financial advice to corporations and governments."

So Allen feeds a story that will play well with Republicans looking for a hammer to beat on the Administration that says that there may be parallels (dragons may fly) between Greece's financial situation, and that of the United States, (fire-breathing dragons, yes sir!). Allen gets a Google hit, AP reporter gets a story (and gets paid for writing stories about as useful as dragon-emitting farts), and everyone is happy. Except for those of us who are trying to make sense of what they read and really don't have the mental space to examine and comprehend the impact of dragon-farting.

Finally, last story: "Big Bang experiment may reveal dark universe: CERN Reuters -- Mon Mar 8, 1:14 pm." I'ma gonna blame this on lazy headline writing, but dragon's poke their head out of my butt for this one too. "Big Bang experiment designed to reveal dark universe." would have been an accurate headline. Less emotive, (fewer dragons), but more revealing and more clueful about how science works.

As it is, I'm picturing a 25-year-old news nerd slamming out headlines between gulps of Dunkin Donut's coffee, watching "American Idol" via TiVo, texting to their Facebook friends, and thinking to herself, "this story is really boring, it needs some dragons."

In summary and to conclude: If you call yourself a journalist and write speculative articles, and label them "creative writing exercises with no intrinsic value" then I will defend your desire for professional integrity. However, post these kinds of stories as news, and I begin to regard you, and your "news organization," as propagators of, (what could be an al-Qaida based hoax) the dragon-fart theorem. And that my friends, is unforgivable.

The New York Times is running an article about Dr. Peter J. Pronovost of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, who's made a career of hospital safety. His work was highlighted in a New Yorker article about 18 months ago. But this particular article highlights the nexus between political culture, physical organization, and method.

It's fascinating to me to see threads common to poor systems implementation and management embedded in the working culture of hospitals: warning signs ignored by "people who count;' workers so beat down by a culture of privilege and overwork that they don't feel that fighting for proper hygiene or questioning a "superior's" decision is worth the battle.

It's also fascinating that he's made a career battling "simple" errors, like not washing hands before treating a patient. The article doesn't plumb the mindset of "superiors," but it does give an overview of problems facing someone attempting to improve organizational culture to better serve their customer.

Best of all, the article ends with helpful tips that anyone can use:

"Q. WHAT CAN CONSUMERS DO TO PROTECT THEMSELVES AGAINST HOSPITAL ERRORS?

A. I’d say that a patient should ask, “What is the hospital’s infection rate?” And if that number is high or the hospital says they don’t know it, you should run. In any case, you should also ask if they use a checklist system.

Once you’re an in-patient, ask: “Do I really need this catheter? Am I getting enough benefit to exceed the risk?” With anyone who touches you, ask, “Did you wash your hands?” It sounds silly. But you have to be your own advocate."

Theodore Dalyrmple has written an excellent essay in The New English Review on the dynamics of online comments.

I have long been intrigued by the potential value of comments to original stories, and revolted by what passes for discourse in most public media venues. I've toyed around with comment rating and filtering systems to play with the idea that perhaps there are mechanical methods of filtering the sapphires from the gravel, but so far have only come up with a couple of "solid" ideas.

First, if the subject being commented on is serious, the commentor should use his or her real name, and should be verified as a "real" person. I think that, for most people, attaching one's name to a piece helps trigger self-editing.

Secondly, human editing of comments after they're posted, (the old bbs "moderator" function), is critical to creating civilized discourse. Sometimes people lashing out online is simply a way of crying for attention. Once people learn that indeed, people are paying attention to them -- in a good way -- often their behavior adjusts to fit the customs of those around them. Having a moderator "pay attention" and offer helpful hints, then warnings, then censorship/banishment has repeatedly been shown to produce constructive results.

It's worth noting that in the world of online education, the "mentor/proctor" function is seen as one of the best bang-for-the-buck enablers of online instruction.

Third, it's almost a rule that after 100 comments, 95% of all the useful new ideas on a piece have been expressed, and the vast majority of those 100 comments are reactions to the new ideas. This would be a worthy thesis to study I think. The followon would be to create a system that cuts off after 100 (or so) comments, or perhaps 30 main comment threads. After a while the comments just get impossible to wade through.

Finally, as a general practice, it might be a good idea for an author to recap what they heard in the comments (after say, a couple weeks). Sort of a "summary of feedback." This would help close the loop between authors and readers, and help build the relationship between the two.

Just a thought.

In his post in Salon, Glenn Greenwald nails the behavior of the Democratic party.

Greenwald uses Jay Rockefeller's bait and switch on the health care public option to illustrate the "run left govern right tactics" that mainstream D's used to capture the House and Senate in '08, and then stall the progressive reform they were empowered to make after they won the elections.

This is why I'm an independent. In my book, any institution that is so big that it can make it's own weather, is too big to be effective and useful.

I had no idea there was such a thing as a "pro kayak angler." I'm pro-kayak, and I'm an angler, but I suspect this means that someone gets paid to fish in a kayak.

If this is the case, I'm gonna be looking for my back pay for all those days fishing in a kayak on the Missouri.

Be that as it may, even though these are mean geese, they aren't anywhere near as terrifying as the full-grown, mean and ornery swans that used to live near my Dad's place in Kilmarnock. They'd start attacking when you first hit the dock just getting ready to go out. I suspect someone got tired of it and ended up with a swan-based gumbo. But all of us who stayed at the house in the early-90's remember the swan attacks as visceral, defining events when we'd go out on Mill Creek to fish.

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