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.

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

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.

April 15, 2007

Grand Forks is "Still Afloat" and Still Recovering

A decade after the worst flood in Red River Valley history, people are still recovering, but are celebrating the comeback that Grand Forks has seen.

For the Pioneer Press, two reporters followed the stories of Grand Forks natives Tom and Jean Dunham and Craig Kalenze, as well as talking to mayors from both Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, an economics professor at the University of North Dakota, and a local artist who has her commemoration work up currently at the North Dakota Museum of Art.

"A decade after a record Red River flood destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, sparked a devastating downtown fire and drove thousands of people from the city, Grand Forks still seems undecided about the defining moment in its history.

Whole sections of the community have been abandoned and residents suffered an estimated $2 billion in damage. But the flood might be the best thing that ever happened to the Red River Valley.

Since the water receded, Grand Forks' population has rebounded - adding approximately 3,000 more residents from
its preflood numbers. There's a new SuperTarget, a Lowe's and a Menards on the edge of town and a domed football stadium out by Interstate 29. When Cher played the arena in 2002, it was the biggest crowd not just of her farewell 'Living Proof' tour, but of her entire career.

"I think a lot of people thought we'd just been washed away," said Mayor Michael Brown, who was elected in 2000. "But here we are, stronger and better than ever." "

Continuing: ""We lost good residents, who lived in these low-lying areas. Most of them were on fixed incomes," said Mayor Lynn Stauss, who was in office in 1997. "There was no way with the money we gave them. ... We gave them a fair price for their homes, but inflation pushed the price of rebuilding up too much ... they just had to move away."

Even today, hundreds of families are still paying that price. The federal Small Business Administration made more than $155 million in long-term home loans to more than 7,600 area residents in the year following the flood, according to a University of North Dakota study.

"There's story after story of people that have drained their life savings, their retirement, just to rebuild here," said Al Grasser, Grand Forks city engineer. "That's not apparent from the outside, when you kind of go down the street. You see the nice house put back together, 10 years later, you get an almost surreal image of it. Time has disconnected us from that." "

Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman also did an expose on the Grand Forks flood anniversary, highlighting his talk with one of the Catholic priests in the area.

Taken from his piece: ""North Dakota is mean country," says the Rev. William Sherman, a retired Catholic priest who has lived through it. "It's harsh and it can be cruel. But the people here are tough, and they are survivors. They are used to difficult times. So they could take it.

"But it left scars."

Anyone who lives in the Red River Valley, from Wahpeton to Winnipeg, knows what Sherman means when he talks about "it": The devastating flood of 1997, which cascaded down the valley (moving south to north, with the north-running river), sweeping across towns and farms, causing $4 billion in damage.

The apocalypse came with ice and fire. I was among the many journalists who covered the disaster and I will never forget the sensation of standing in freezing water in hip boots while ashes fell on my head from the sky. All we needed was Charlton Heston to send Egyptian chariots into the water and I would've sworn we were all extras in a remake of "The Ten Commandments."

Ten years later, it still seems like something biblical happened."

The whole event is very emotional for me, as well. I lived near Fargo at the time of the flood, and we were hurt from the flood as well. I was only ten at the time, but I helped with sandbagging after school and was up one night helping my family haul water out of the basement of our newly built home. I remember seeing pictures and hearing stories on the news, and it's only now that I really understand the devastation of it all. My parents, I think, must have been very affected. Both of them graduated from the University of North Dakota (and I spent my freshman year of college there), so for them to see their college town being washed away by flood waters must have been hard. I remember going on college tours at UND and they were constantly making comments like, "That's new, that's been renovated in the last eight or nine years, after the flood."

I decided to do my "notable" entry on this event this week, because its something that I can directly relate to, and that my family (the bulk of which live in North Dakota's River Valley) has dealt with in the past.

Thanks to all the reporters who are commemorating this anniversary, and I wish I could be in Grand Forks this weekend to help them all celebrate and remember what was lost and what was gained in the aftermath of the '97 flood.

April 1, 2007

Chocolate Jesus Sculpture Creates Religious Diversity Angst

After artist Cosimo Cavallaro created a milk chocolate sculpture of a naked Christ with his arms outstretched as if on an invisible cross. The sculpture, which was set to be debuted in an NYC gallery on Monday, and be on display until Easter Sunday, has now been cancelled, due to angst from the Catholic community.

According to CBS News: "“This is one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever,? said Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League. “It's not just the ugliness of the portrayal, but the timing — to choose Holy Week is astounding.?

He called for an economic boycott of the hotel, which he described as “already morally bankrupt.?"

In an Anderson Cooper interview between Donohue and Cavallaro on CNN, Donohue also attacked Cavallaro's religious beliefs and referenced the Taliban, as well as Judaism and the presence of swastikas. Cavallaro said his only purpose was to share the "sweetness of Christ."

Donohue continually told Cavallaro that his art should be placed in a "dump in SoHo so that no one will pay attention."

The religious diversity and displaying of beliefs and stereotypes displayed in the interview was astounding and disturbing. The CBS News article was able to remain very objective and not editorialize at all, but it definitely speaks to the remaining religious persecution and diversity in this country.

The CBS News article
The CNN Anderson Cooper interview

March 25, 2007

Childhood Vaccine Costs Anger Pediatricians

The rising cost of vaccines is angering many medical workers. In this (quite long) feature article printed in the New York Times, Andrew Pollack examined this trend, full with statistics from clinics, insurance companies, and more. There was a heavy focus on newer vaccines such as Gardasil and the renewing of flu vaccines. He also reported on what is required for most children to get, and the average costs of these, comparing different states.

"Getting a vaccination was not always so difficult. In 1980, it cost only about $23, or $59 adjusted for inflation, for the seven shots and four oral doses needed to immunize a child, according to data provided by Dr. Thomas Saari, who is emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin.

Today, though, a child who receives all the recommended vaccines would receive as many as 37 shots and 3 oral doses by the 18th birthday — at a cost exceeding $1,600."

"“We cannot pay for the vaccination of the American public any longer,? said Dr. Dorothy A. Levine, a pediatrician in Stamford and New Canaan, Conn. “We’re not giving them with as much vigor as we should, and the main reason is financial.?"

"About 85 percent of the nation’s children get all or at least some of their inoculations from private physicians’ offices, which operate as businesses. The federal and state governments pay for vaccines for about 55 percent of children, mainly poor ones. But even those government-subsidized vaccines are mainly administered by private doctors."

Numbers were extremely prevalent in this story, from percentages of populations, to costs and comparisons to years. Although this could potentially get very confusing, the NY Times did a very good job of keeping the numbers spaced out enough for the reading public to better understand the significance of this trend. Good job!

March 11, 2007

Now, Here's a Trend that I was Unaware Of: Couples Want Separate Bedrooms?

Although it struck me as strange when I ready the lead of this feature article by the New York Times, the more I read on, the more the whole idea made sense. It is becoming more and more popular for couples to have separate bedrooms in their houses, due to different sleeping habits or disturbances like snoring.

Builders have noticed an increase in couples who want separate master suites or in one case, separate wings of the house. They predict that 60% of new custom houses will be built this way by 2015.

The couples that Tracie Rozhon interviewed all had very legitimate reasons for wanting separate bedrooms. Most decide to make the change after children have grown, but they like to keep it "hush-hush" so as to not create speculation about troubles within the marriage.

And although it may seem like this would put a damper on the sex life, most of the couples say that it actually has improved the intimacy level, bringing the relationship back to a time when they were dating, a more mysterious time.

Overall, this was a very well written article and very interesting. The seemingly oddity about it caught my eye and kept it there. Because it was a feature piece in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, I was unable to find a similar story anywhere else, but it is a notable trend and an interesting article that I thought was worth writing about.

Challenges in writing this story included making sure enough information was gathered from all ages of the country as well as different backgrounds. While the reporter included interviews from couples experiencing these changes, she also got opinions from builders, contractors, etc. as well as sociologists from the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, which added credibility to her article.

I just wonder if I'll ever want a separate bedroom ...

March 4, 2007

In a Winter Wonderland, Spring in Stores is Upon Us

While we are all shoveling out our cars, taking ski trips and snow days, and enjoying the white stuff that we didnt have two weeks ago, stores like Target and Gap are long gone with their winter gear.

Snow in March is a fact of life in Minnesota, but when weather strikes, where can you go to get what you need? Allison Kaplan of the St. Paul Pioneer Press did a little researching and found stores that offered some limited supplies for those of us who didn't get it the first time around, and that is much appreciated.

For things like winter jackets, hats, mittens, gloves, boots, snowblowers, sleds, and snowboards, Ms. Kaplan surveyed the area and can tell you if what you need still exists in the Metro, and where to get it if it does.

For clothing goods like jackets, boots and long underwear, there are plenty in stock at the local sporting goods stores, as well as snowboards and skis.

For the more practical people, they will be saddened to know that all of the snowblowers in the area are completely sold out. Sleds are short on the lists as well. She jokingly suggests using a cafeteria tray. I've been using boxes.

This article could have been challenging because surveying all of the possible places to get these sort of things probably took alot of time and effort, but the outcome is much appreciated for people like me who are now wondering, "Where can I still get that stuff?"

Unfortunately, I'll be sticking with boxes for my sledding adventures.

February 25, 2007

Nonfiction Book Authors are Opting for Comedy Central Publicity

(This article merely an interesting piece printed in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. I couldn't find anything similar to compare it with.)

"Since when did microlending, global poverty, constitutional law and civil wars in Africa become topics for frank discussion on fake-news comedy shows?"

Since Jon Stewart, of the Daily Show, and Stephen Colbert, of the Colbert Report, began interviewing serious book authors on their Comedy Central programs.

Many publicists for authors are taking notice. These days, they would rather have a spot on one of these shows than on Charlie Rose, long known for its interviews of serious book authors.

"After a “Daily Show? appearance, several publishers said, the author’s Amazon ranking rises and the daily sales figures “pop,? in industry parlance. It is not at all unusual, one book publicist said, for a title to go from a 300,000 rank to a spot in the Top 300 — not often the case after shows like “Charlie Rose.?"

"Part of the surprise, publishers said, is that the Comedy Central audience is more serious than its reputation allows. The public may still think of the “Daily Show? and “Colbert Report? audience as a group of sardonic slackers, Gen-Y college students who prefer YouTube to print. But publishers say it’s a much more diverse demographic — and more important, a book-buying audience."

“It’s the television equivalent of NPR,? Ms. Levin, of Free Press, said. “You have a very savvy, interested audience who are book buyers, people who do go into bookstores, people who are actually interested in books.?

All reported the New York Times.

Not only was this article interesting and insightful, the online version featured videos of the interviews done by Colbert and Stewart, which allows the reader to see the issue in action.

The Claim-Support model was also seen in this article. The reporter clearly did her research. When looking closely, a formula is seen, but it is not perceived when casually reading, which is important. Just about every statement was supported with a quote from a notable source or statistics from publishing companies. This added substantial credibility.

Overall, this article was very intriguing and the reporter did an excellent job.

February 15, 2007

Franken Announces Senate Bid

Known primarily for his career as a comedian, Al Franken announced Wednesday at the end of his radio show that he plans on running for the Minnesota Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, challenging Republican Norm Coleman. He heavily admitted that it will be a challenge and that he will likely make mistakes, but he also wanted the Minnesota people that he is taking this decision very seriously.

Stories on this event were widely available, from the Pioneer Press, Star Tribune, a short AP story out of the New York Times, and a good-sized article from BBC News. All said basically the same things, contained the same quotes, etc. The more local papers (the Press and the Strib) contained the most information, with more direct information from Franken himself, whereas the NY Times AP story was more in the style of a brief. I was impressed with the BBC article, as it was longer and more detailed than I expected it to be.

I couldn't see any real challenge posed by this story. The event was expected to occur, and people to interview on the issue were likely widely available and ready for comment. The BBC reporters probably had the hardest time, since they were across the pond.

February 11, 2007

Minneapolis Named Nation's 4th Most Fit City by Men's Fitness Magazine

In an informal survey conducted by Men's Fitness Magazine, Minneapolis ranked number four of America's most fit big cities behind Albuquerque (no.1), Seattle (no.2), and Colorado Springs (no.3). The fattest cities are marked as Las Vegas, San Antonio and Miami. Criteria was based on lifestyles of the cities, including fast-food restaurants per capita and availability of gyms or bike paths.

Both the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press spent only a brief space on this hail to Minneapolis. Both publications used the Associated Press as their source, but picked slightly different parts of the report to include in their article. The Star Tribune seemed to be slightly more general in their article, which is odd considering that the Strib is a more "Minneapolis" based newspaper than the Pioneer Press, who gave more detail and used a quote from the editor of Men's Fitness magazine.

February 4, 2007

Controversial Billboards to Show Amber Alerts

Digital billboards around the city have come under fire for being unsafe to drivers, and the company behind them has just announced a partnership with the Amber Alert group to post missing-child alerts on the billboards. While no one seems to be against the posting of Amber Alerts, the controversy with the safety of the billboards themselves is overshadowing the good service that is being provided. Since the Amber Alert program was put into effect in 2002, 14 children have been lost and found using the program.

Both of the Twin Cities papers covered the announcement of the partnership rather similarly. The Star Tribune's article was significantly shorter, but got the point across about the issue, whereas the Pioneer Press provided a brief background on the billboards themselves, in case the audience had not seen one. All attribution was accurately done.

January 25, 2007

Michele Bachmann Makes News With President Bush

After President George W. Bush gave his annual State of the Union Address on Tuesday, he followed tradition by mingling and signing autographs for the members of Congress. One in particular, however, made sure she got the attention she wanted. Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann had her program signed by the president, and then proceeded to place her hand on his shoulder and keep it there for a full 24 seconds, before bringing him in for a kiss on the cheek.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press spent much of their Thursday report on the popularity of the video of the event on KTSP's website, whereas the Star Tribune devoted more of their story on the reactions of various parties involved, and compared her interaction with others, such as Representative Norm Coleman.

A challenge faced well by both publications was that of writing such an article and keeping opinion out of the story. Many people have an opinion on the matter, whether they are disgusted with Bachmann's actions or understanding.

The leads of the stories were very different. The Pioneer Press's was slightly more direct and contained more information about the event. The Star Tribune, on the other hand, used more of a teaser type of lead, giving just enough information to get the point across, yet still intrigues the audience to continue reading the story.

You can check out the KTSP video here.