May 2, 2007

The Downside of Free Drug Samples

Many hospitals and clinics have started banning free drug samples and stopped inviting drug company sales representatives because they say that free drug samples create more harm than good.

According to a feature article in the New York Times: "“The doctor will say, ‘Here, start on this, and let’s see how it works,’ ? said David J. Rothman, president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession, a research group at Columbia. “The question to the doctor is: If you didn’t have it in your drawer, would that have been your drug of choice??

Some medical groups and solo practitioners have also changed their policies. Dr. Jonathan Mohrer, an internist in Forest Hills, Queens, said he closed his sample cabinet in part because his office was overrun with sales representatives. “It was totally spinning out of control,? Dr. Mohrer said. “They were meeting each other and schmoozing in the waiting room — it was like a party.?

His office staff had to spend time arranging the cabinet, throwing out expired medications and rummaging around for the right drug. Patients were kept waiting while sales representatives were whisked in.

But there’s an upside to the samples. Using samples, a doctor can see if a patient can tolerate a new medication before the patient goes out and buys a 30-day supply. Physicians who treat poor people like to have samples on hand for them, and for uninsured patients.

Samples also provide patients with the convenience of one-stop shopping, said Dr. Hema A. Sundaram, a dermatologist in suburban Washington. “Usually a patient has waited some time to see a doctor and rearranged their whole working schedule, and then it may be another four or five days before they can fill a prescription,? she said. “They’re often busy, working people, with family responsibilities. I feel there shouldn’t be any further delay.? (Dr. Sundaram acknowledges that she is paid for speaking on behalf of drug companies.)

A 1995 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that 11 percent of the statements drug company representatives made during presentations were inaccurate, and all of the inaccuracies were skewed in favor of their products."

Moral of the story from this article: ask your physician about the nature of the drug and why they're giving it to you as a free sample.

Bush Vetoes Iraq Exit Bill, His First Veto of the Year

After Congress passed an Iraq spending bill for $124 billion, with a timetable for pullout of overseas troops, last week, it reached President Bush's desk on Tuesday. He vetoed the bill, only the second of his presidency and the first of this year.

In a televised speech, he called the bill a "prescription for chaos and confusion," and said he had to veto the bill due to the timetable element.

According to a New York Times article that was printed in both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press: "Democrats concede they do not have enough votes to override the veto. But, speaking in the Capitol shortly after Mr. Bush’s remarks, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, and the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said they would not be deterred from pushing the president as hard as they could to bring the troops home.

“If the president thinks by vetoing this bill he will stop us from working to change the direction of the war in Iraq, he is mistaken,? Mr. Reid said. He added, “Now he has an obligation to explain his plan to responsibly end this war.?

The fight has been brewing for nearly three months, ever since Mr. Bush sent Congress his request for emergency financing for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including money to support his troop buildup. The next chapter begins Wednesday, when Congressional leaders are expected to meet Mr. Bush at the White House to open negotiations on a new bill. They are expected to look for ways to preserve the benchmarks for Iraqi progress that were included in the initial bill while eliminating the timetables for troop withdrawal that Mr. Bush has emphatically rejected."

Continuing ... "The veto, announced by Mr. Bush at 6:10 p.m., just before the network news broadcasts began, was quickly seized on by Democratic groups.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a group financed, in part, through labor union money, presented a television advertisement criticizing the White House and Congressional Republicans. The group also planned a series of rallies across the country. In the Capitol, several Democrats and Republicans said they were eager to find common ground on the Iraq spending bill and bring an end to the bitter fight.

“Unfortunately, people are getting locked down in their respective positions,? said Senator Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine. “The White House wants to have open-ended latitude on how to conduct a war, but I don’t think that is simply an option at this point.?

Its Official: Prince Harry Will Serve in Iraq

Amid speculation regarding Price Harry's viability as a likely target to Muslim warmongers, he is now set to be deployed to Iraq this month with the rest of his Blues and Royals regiment as a lieutenant. Rumors are circulating that the prince's picture had been downloaded and sent to numerous militia groups, making his an easier target, especially concerning along with the string of attacks on British forces in southern Iraq as of late. Prince Harry's unit will be sent to southern Iraq.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times (and printed in the Pioneer Press): "A Sunni insurgent leader told the newspaper that his group had people "planted" inside British military bases who were under orders to track Harry's movements.

But London-based defense analyst Tim Ripley said the level of the specific threat against the prince has been exaggerated.

"Once he's got his uniform on, his helmet on and he's in a tank, how do they know it's him?" he said.

Ripley said a decision not to send him would be a much harder order.

"It would be a devastating blow to the morale of the British Army in Iraq if, as a result of a huge amount of media froth, he didn't go on account of it's too dangerous," he said. "What do you tell the thousands of other troops, along with their families, who have to go?"

According to an AP Wire story printed in the Star Tribune: "
Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt said the decision would be kept under review, but he hoped his statement would end media speculation on Harry's deployment.

"The decision has been taken by myself that he will deploy in due course,'' Dannatt said. "I would urge that the somewhat frenzied media activity surrounding this particular story should cease in the interests of the overall security of all our people deployed in Iraq.''

He spoke after newspaper reports cited unidentified senior military officials as saying an army review was likely to lead to Harry being banned from the battlefield, although he could still do a desk job."

Harry is a recent graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and has been enthusiastic about serving his country. He will be the first royal to serve in military combat since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew as a helicopter pilot in Britain's conflict with Argentina over the Fakland Islands in 1982.

The two stories were basically the same, the LA Times piece being slightly shorter, and a little more confusing about the nature of the threats toward Harry. The AP story, however, cleared up my confusion.

Despite Rumors of Chaos, Closing of Highway 36 Goes Smoothly on First Day

A section of Highway 36 closed on Tuesday for construction between White Bear Avenue and Century Avenue. After being publicized for months in newspapers, on the radio, and on television, most people thought that the morning and afternoon commutes on Tuesday would be chaotic. Surprisingly, it went smoothly, according to morning and afternoon articles in both the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune.

Reported and posted online after the morning rush hour, the Pioneer Press said "Motorists met today's challenge of getting around a partially closed Minnesota 36, and found that traffic on some alternate routes were chugging along." While many people were still skeptical about the afternoon rush hour, convinced that it would be "backed up forever," an evening post on the Star Tribune's website painted a different picture.

According to the Star Tribune article: "MnDOT's Regional Transportation Management Center in Roseville watched traffic behavior with freeway cameras during the morning and evening rush hours and concluded that most motorists were taking the posted detours onto Interstate Hwys. 694 and 94, judging by traffic volumes.

Todd Fairbanks, a dispatcher for the traffic center who watched evening rush hour via camera, was pleasantly surprised.

"I wasn't sure what to expect," he said. "The word got out there, well in advance, so people were aware of the closure. We'll be fine."

While many residents said they had steered free of the work zone, motorists passing through found themselves backed up for a mile or two on eastbound Hwy. 36. They detoured onto side streets, backing up traffic for blocks at some Maplewood intersections."

Still, many commuters anticipate the delays to get longer as the summer continues. From the Strib: "Rachel Franco, of Oakdale, predicted that the worst is yet to come, as people stop leaving early or later.

Meanwhile, John Hourdos, director of the Minnesota Traffic Observatory at the University of Minnesota, said it typically takes three to four weeks for people to settle into a pattern. In the first few days, people may leave early and try their new routes and then gradually try their old departure times on their new routes until they can't improve their travel time by making different choices.

During that time, Hourdos would not expect things to go "boink" and break down. "If that doesn't happen the first few days, the learning process is gradual and it will not produce crazy results," he said."

The section of road will be closed until November, a length of time that was (interestingly) reported differently in the two news stories. The Star Tribune said it would be closed for "months" while the Pioneer Press said "until November." Other reports have said "five months" or "six months," creating a disparity as to exactly how long the road will be under construction.

May 1, 2007

Mike Hatch Resigns

Former Attorney General Mike Hatch announced today that he is stepping down from his position. This occurs after a flurry of rumors regarding the policies put forth by Hatch in recent months. Since January 1, three dozen staffers at the Attorney General's office have left, complaining of harsh policies.

In a letter to his successor, Lori Swanson, Hatch wrote, "It is apparent that changes I made during my administration are unfairly being attributed to you. It is not appropriate that you should become the target of complaints involving my administration."

According to the article in the Star Tribune: "Swanson placed Hatch, who was accused during his years as Attorney General of being rough on his staff, in a top position with a salary of nearly $107,000 when she took office in January."

According to the shorter article by the Pioneer Press: "Hatch, a Democrat, was attorney general from 1999 through last year, when he ran for governor and lost. Swanson was Hatch's longtime protege and became his solicitor general, the No. 2 slot in the office. She was his hand-picked successor for the DFL nomination for attorney general last year."

Interesting about the coverage of these two stories is that they reported the numbers differently comparing the amount of people who have left since January. The Star Tribune reported it as "three dozen" while the Pioneer Press reported "more than 30."

Whats confusing is that, and maybe it is just me, but I wasn't aware that Mike Hatch was still working for the Attorney General's office, or exactly what position he resigned from. Is the general public just as confused?

April 29, 2007

"Legally Blonde" Film Gets Transferred to Theatre

A Broadway version of the popular 2001 film "Legally Blonde" starring Reese Witherspoon opened recently in New York. In this review of the show, New York Times writer Ben Brantley raves about the dancing, sets, costumes, and athleticism of the cast, but subtly says that its not as good as the film version, that the main character lacks oomph, and that the message may be wrongly received.

Excerpts from Brantley's article: "This high-energy, empty-calories and expensive-looking hymn to the glories of girlishness, based on the 2001 film of the same title, approximates the experience of eating a jumbo box of Gummi Bears in one sitting. This may be common fare for the show’s apparent target audience — female ’tweens and teenagers who still believe in Barbie. But unless you’re used to such a diet, you wind up feeling jittery, glazed and determined to swear off sweets for at least a month.

“Legally Blonde,? the musical, has Laura Bell Bundy, the kind of young woman who summons instant parental pride in the middle-aged. In addition to her prom-queen prettiness, she sings and dances flawlessly, and she delivers silly lines as if she meant them.

But she lacks the quirkiness and irresistible watch-me egotism that a big, heroine-worshiping musical needs at its center. Imagine “Hello, Dolly!? with Shirley Jones instead of Carol Channing, and you’ll get the idea.

But Mr. Mitchell is also a passionate fan of vintage Broadway musicals. So every so often “Legally Blonde? rolls out another big number that pays tribute to its female star, à la “Hello, Dolly!? and “Mame.? Elle is allowed to be the center of not one, but two high-stepping parade numbers. Ms. Bundy responds to all this attention with a glossy graciousness, though what you’re hungering for is baby-diva fireworks.

You see, “Legally Blonde? lets a gal have it all. She can play the bimbo while admiring bimbos of the opposite sex. She can wear pink as if it were navy blue. And while she knows that appearance isn’t everything, she also knows that it counts for an awful lot. Hence a makeover sequence in which Mr. Borle is transformed from academic geek to corporate Greek god.

But what about those who don’t appreciate the value of a manicure or a leg wax? Among Elle’s Harvard classmates is a dowdy lesbian (played by Natalie Joy Johnson), who is routinely the object of the show’s most unsavory jokes. Which makes you wonder uneasily if the message of “Legally Blonde? isn’t just that it’s O.K. to be pretty, but that it’s not O.K. not to be."

Link to the full article

Ireland Announces Election in Light of Political Questioning

Ireland Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced that the country's next general election will be held on May 24. Ahern also vowed to continue his 10-year reign. Ahern and Ireland's symbolic head of state, Mary McAleese, signed a document on Sunday allowing parliament to dissolve for the four weeks that the campaigns will be running. McAleese said the newly elected parliament would convene on June 14 to elect a new government.

Ahern belongs to the Fianna Fail party of Irish politics. The party has dominated elections since the 1930s. Issues for debate will likely include the state of the economy in Ireland, as well as transportation and health care.

This election could be a major turning point in Ireland, as the Fianna Fail party has been challenged by more left-leaning parties such as Sinn Fein or the Green Party, both of which expect to gain seats in Dail Eireann, Ireland's key lower house of parliament.

This article came out of the Sunday edition of the New York Times. A "world briefs" version also appeared in the Star Tribune.

April 26, 2007

What Will Bush Say?

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have now officially passed the bill giving a deadline for pullout in Iraq, according to articles from the Washington Post (printed in the Pioneer Press) and the New York Times.

The bill, which would approve $124 billion dollars in military spending, also contains a demand for troops to be pulled out by October 1 of this year. According to the Washington Post article:

"The bill also establishes benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet:

# Create a program to disarm militias.

# Reduce sectarian violence.

# Ease rules that purged the government of all former Baath Party members.

# Approve a law on sharing oil revenue.

If the Bush administration does not determine by July 1 that those benchmarks are being met, troops would begin coming home immediately. The goal would be to complete those withdrawals by the end of the year.

If the benchmarks are being met, troops would begin coming home no later than Oct. 1, with a goal of completing the troop pullout by April 1, 2008."

Bush has vowed to veto the bill when it reaches his desk on Monday, only the second veto of his presidential career. The veto will also come almost exactly to the day that four years ago Bush proclaimed and end to major combat.

According to the New York Times article on the Thursday Senate approval of the bill: Overall in the congressional vote over the last two days, "On the final vote, 216 Democrats and 2 Republicans supported the bill; 195 Republicans and 13 Democrats opposed it. The legislation provides more than $95 billion for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through Sept. 30, with the money conditioned on the administration’s willingness to accept a timetable for withdrawal and new benchmarks to assess the progress of the Iraqi government."

The Senate vote was 51-46, quite short of the 2/3 majority benchmark that would be needed for them to override a presidential veto.

On a final note, I thought both papers covered the events very thoroughly, which I appreciated. Along with some analysis of what will likely happen in the future, they are doing the best they can to provide this information to curious Americans.

New Twins Ballpark Approved

The Hennepin County Board has officially approved the building of a new Twins ballpark along with the possibility for a 30-year lease on the property, a huge step for the franchise. Construction is slated to begin this summer and finish up for opening in 2010.

According to an Associated Press article that appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (surprisingly, not a full scale hyperlocal story): "Under the agreement, the Twins get to keep all revenue from ticket sales, advertising, naming rights, tours and concessions during baseball games. They must share 10 percent of net revenue from non-baseball events with the authority."

According to a short mid-day posted story on their website, the Star Tribune reports this: " “This is another huge milestone," said Dave St. Peter, president of the Twins. "Symbolically, it means a 30-year lease, which is a huge deal for this franchise. What this mean is the new ballpark is fast becoming a reality. We persevered for this and now we can see it. ?

The ballpark authority will meet later today to formally approve the agreement."

I found it very interesting that the Pioneer Press, widely known for its hyperlocalism and commitment to stories that directly affect Twin Cities citizens, that they relied on an AP wire story, while the Star Tribune, a more (inter)national newspaper, sent out a reporter to get the story, and posting it mid-day on the website. I appreciated the promptness by the Star Tribune, and I hope to see a longer expose on the ballpark soon in the Pioneer Press.

April 25, 2007

Minneapolis/St. Paul Catholic Archdiocese gets a New Conservative Bishop

Roman Catholic Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn., was named Tuesday to succeed Archbishop Harry Flynn for Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Known to have very conservative viewpoints when it comes to enforcing Catholic rule, Nienstedt has "prohibited cohabitating couples from being married in Catholic churches. He barred female pastoral administrators from leading prayers at a semiannual leadership event. He once disciplined a priest for holding joint ecumenical services with a Lutheran congregation after the Catholic church had been destroyed by a tornado," according to the article in the Pioneer Press.

According to the Star Tribune: "He has pushed for an amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman and has taken conservative stances on issues ranging from Terri Schiavo to the causes of homosexuality. But he skirted questions about whether he will be liberal or conservative, calling such labels "too political" and saying that "the Holy Spirit, not I" will mediate disagreements among Catholics.

"The church is like a football field with goalposts and boundaries, but a good many things can be accomplished within the structure of the game," he said. "Jesus has given us instructions, and we have to be faithful to them, so if someone is out of bounds, they may be whistled down. But yes, we can always talk about issues.""

The political and social views of this priest may or may not affect the attitudes of his public, but only time will tell.

April 22, 2007

Preventative Programs a Good Idea?

Area universities Macalester and St. Thomas have programs to potentially prevent emotional outbursts like the one at Virginia Tech this past week.

Programs in which various professors, administrators and residence hall advisors get together once every few weeks and monitor student behavior is drawing alot of attention as a possible way to help deal with potential mental problems in students.

According to the article in the Star Tribune: "Macalester started its "case management" group after a much-publicized series of student suicides at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The family of one student who killed herself in 2000 sued MIT for almost $28 million. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

At Macalester, people from almost every department, including residence halls, student life, international programs and athletics, take part in the biweekly discussions, which are confidential. The idea is that staffers scattered across campus know different things about Macalester's 1,800 students and can create a fuller picture when they come together. Someone from the residence halls, for instance, might know that a student had been fighting with a roommate, while someone from counseling might know that she had problems at home.

Depending on the problem, the student might get academic help, Hamre said, or be asked to go to counseling.

The University of St. Thomas has a similar group called FLAG, which usually meets once a month. Even on a campus with 5,600 undergraduates, it's surprising how often staff members know about individuals' struggles, said Jane Canney, vice president for student affairs."

According to clinical research, depression is on the rise on college campuses. "In spring 2006, nearly 44 percent of college students reported that in the last school year, they had felt so depressed that it was difficult to function, according to a survey by the American College Health Association. Nine percent said they had "seriously considered" suicide.

By 2005 at the University of Minnesota, antidepressants were the second-most prescribed medication at the student health center pharmacy."

Legalities can sometimes be a difficult line to walk, however. "The students are adults, and you can't force them into counseling," said Cecilia Konchar Farr, an English professor at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul.

"I can say, 'I'm concerned about you and I want you to get help,' " she said. But "even that is dangerous territory."To say to someone, 'I'm concerned about your mental health'... there may be a potential lawsuit there."

Although this approach seems to work and be helpful at smaller private campuses like Macalester and St. Thomas, programs like this would likely only work within departments rather than with the entire campus at a big state school like the University of Minnesota, or Virginia Tech, for instance.

Nevertheless, this sort of idea could prove to be helpful in the future

Heres a link to the Star Tribune article.

Orphanage Fire Kills Five

According to an article in the New York Times, a fire at an orphanage in downtown Sarajevo, the capitol city of Bosnia, early Sunday morning has taken the lives of three baby boys and two baby girls by smoke inhalation. Nineteen other children and workers are currently being treated for injuries, mostly smoke inhalation, and are not thought to be in critical condition.

According to the article: "The fire broke out in a third floor room of the Ljubica Izevic children’s home shortly before 6 a.m., said Dubravko Champara of the prosecutor’s office."

"A nurse who had tried to save some of the babies was also injured, with burns to the arms and face, Mr. Champara said in a telephone interview."

April 18, 2007

Supreme Court upholds Abortion Dispute

According to an AP Wire story that appeared in the New York Times and the Star Tribune, as well as many others, the US Supreme Court has ruled to uphold 2003's Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, a small victory for conservatives.

According to the article: "It was the first time the court banned a specific procedure in a case over how -- not whether -- to perform an abortion."

"The outcome is likely to spur efforts at the state level to place more restrictions on abortions."

The story is a big one for those involved in women's rights as well as those on the religious fronts.

The ruling was voted at 5-4.

I was a little surprised that I didn't see anything related to the vote in the Pioneer Press, but I was glad that one of the two papers had printed the article.

West Point Cadet found to have Drowned in Goose Lake

Nicholas Rossini disappeared on December 17th, and the West Point Academy student's body was just found in Goose Lake in northern Ramsey County. According to the autopsy, he drowned.

According to the Pioneer Press:

"He left his parents' home before dawn, giving no hint of where he was going.

The Rossinis and their five daughters expressed optimism that a lesser evil had befallen Nick until the very end. They theorized he had suffered a head injury in the accident that left him dazed, perhaps unaware of his own identity." [on the day of the disappearance].

Investigators believe that he had been on a jog when he met his fate. He was wearing running sweats and the time of his disappearance corresponded with his West Point training schedule. They say he might have fallen through the thin ice on Goose Lake, thinking that it was frozen over completely.

According to the Star Tribune: ""There's absolutely nothing to indicate that Nick took his own life," [White Bear Lake Police Chief Lynne] Bankes said. "There was no trauma to the body nor any reason to believe this was anything but a tragic accident.""

Both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press wrote long exposes on this discovery, including many interviews with family members and friends.

Double Homicide in North Minneapolis

This is the extent of the story that the Pioneer Press had on its website as of 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday:

"Minneapolis police are investigating the discovery of two bodies late Tuesday in North Minneapolis.

Two men were found shot to death about 11 p.m. Tuesday in an alley in the 4700 block of Sixth Street North. Their names are not available.

No one is in custody. Anyone with information is asked to call 612-673-3781 or 612-673-2733.

The two deaths mark the 17th and 18th Minneapolis homicides since Jan. 1. On this date last year, there had been 16 homicides reported."

As of the same time on the Star Tribune, their story had been updated to include a full story instead of just a brief. It is suspected that a robbery was involved in the double homicide discovered in an alley in North Minneapolis late Tuesday night. The article said that these killings are the 17th and 18th that have occurred in Minneapolis this year.

Police have talked to witnesses who heard the gunshots: Peggy Ryan and Roslyn Richmond, the latter who called herself the "eyes and the ears of the neighborhood" and regrets not calling the police sooner.

Names of the victims have not been released and the suspect is likely still at large as the investigation continues.

This type of story is difficult to write when there is such limited information at the time of printing, which is likely the problem that the Pioneer Press ran into. It is appreciated however, that the Star Tribune takes the time to constantly update their website throughout the day when new information comes up.