The usual stuff is still happening, here are a few non-tropical cyclone-related items I have noticed to which attention, attention must be paid.
- The total of U.S. military dead in the cakewalk in Iraq now stands at 1,894. No doubt after six more bite the dust we'll get a brief notice in the paper of the new round number, but meanwhile it's out of sight, out of mind. While we're on the subject of making Iraq a bright, shining example to the Greater Middle East (whatever in the delta quadrant of the galaxy that is), the U.S. has been beseiging, for some mysterious reason, the Turkmen town of Tal Afar for two weeks -- which I know from Iraqi newspapers, although the information only made the U.S. media a few days ago. Our heroes have been dropping bombs on them from airplanes, and civilian casualities are piling up. You can read an incomplete, inaccurate account in an Australian newspaper (they apparently think the people there are Sunni Arabs), and Juan Cole comments, "Then there is the war in Iraq. I don't need to tell you that that isn't going very well. In fact, what in hell are you doing in the godforsaken Turkmen city of Tal Afar? Is it really a big threat to the United States? Is it likely to be friendly to us if you drop 500 pound bombs on its residential districts?"
- Don't forget the coming worldwide killer influenza pandemic. But don't worry -- they'll put somebody well qualified in charge of preparedness. I nominate Jack L. Shelton, Chairman of the U.S. Polo Association.
- The Congressional leadership has promised to interrupt its scheduled business only briefly to approve disaster relief. Then they're going to get back to making America stronger by cutting $35 billion from so-called mandatory programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps, Supplemental Security Income (for very poor disabled people), and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The president's Commission to Wack Medicaid has recommended, among other improvements, charging poor people up to $3 copayments for their prescriptions. We're talking mostly about poor elderly and disabled people here, most of whom have multiple prescriptions. It may seem incredible to people with trust funds, but when there's too much month at the end of the money, $15 in co-pays means you don't get your pills. But at least they won't have to pay the estate tax! That's going to be permanently repealed.
- Frederick Sierles and colleagues, in the new JAMA (Abstract only available to the riffraff) report on a survey of third year medical students. They review some literature: drug company marketing to M.D.s influences them to prescribe the companies' products, often inconsistently with guidelines, when the drugs have no advantage over less expensive alternatives, and "non-rationally." Most doctors don't think that gifts from drug companies influence them, but they're wrong. It turns out it starts in medical school. On average 3rd year students attend one event sponsored by a drug company every week. 93.2% were required by one of their professors to attend a drug company-sponsored lunch. 80.3% believed they were "entitled" to gifts from drug companies. 85.6% did not know whether their school had a policy on this legal form of bribery.
Next, I'm gonna talk about the good news. There is some.