You are currently browsing the Breaching The Web blog archives for November, 2009.

Systemic benefit

November 13th, 2009

One of the largest, and largely invisible, benefits of national health care systems is the ability to carefully target treatment at a population level to maximize benefit. A good example of what I mean is the way that European nations are managing their swine flu vaccines:

[A]cross most of Europe, vaccine to protect against the pandemic flu is mostly given by invitation only to those at highest risk for flu complications.

“That is one of the great advantages of the British health system,” said Dr. Steve Field, president of the Royal College of General Physicians. “We have a list of all the names of patients who qualify to be vaccinated.”

When Britain unrolled its pandemic vaccination program last month, it designed its campaign to ensure that priority groups — including pregnant women, health workers and those with chronic health problems like diabetes, cancer and AIDS — get the shots first.

Instead of advertising that vaccine had arrived and waiting for the lines to form, Britain’s National Health Service sent letters, inviting all those who qualify to make an appointment and get the shots first.

This ensures that the people who are most vulnerable get the vaccine first, reducing the number of severe complications and deaths. This saves the system money by reducing the number of serious flu cases, and it maximizes the number of people who will live through an epidemic, both by reducing complications in the first place and ensuring that resources (money, space, doctors, medication) will be available for those who become seriously ill.

By contrast, in the US we let Goldman Sachs get the vaccine, while high-risk groups still have not received it.

Some will no doubt say that it’s outrageous that European governments are “rationing” the vaccine this way. Personally, I find our method of rationing — letting the rich people get it first — to be far more morally objectionable, not only because it privileges the wealthy, but also because it introduces more risk into the system without providing any systemic benefit. As with the bailouts of the bank system where we privatized profit and socialized risk, America’s method of vaccine distribution privatizes health and socializes death.

Is that who we really want to be?

Things I have learned

November 10th, 2009

One of the most important things I have ever learned is, sadly, the one I forget most often. Here it is: believe what people say about themselves, because it is probably true.

That is all.

Excellent things, addendum

November 4th, 2009

I thought I had said all the tings I wanted to say about Excellent Things in Part 1 and Part 2 But I thought of one more excellent thing I wanted to share:

7. My U.S. National Park Passport. At most National Parks you can get a stamp (the kind you imprint, not the kind you lick or peel) with the name of the park and the date of your visit. The park service calls these “cancellations.” The cancellations are freely available at the visitor center, ranger station or shop of most parks. The park service sells an inexpensive spiral-bound book that you can collect the stamps in. I often forget to take mine on trips, so many of my stamps are stamped on receipts and taped into the book later. I consider these paste-ups second-rate — they are better than nothing, but I always wish I had remembered my passport. You can also buy stamps (the kind that you peel) to stick in the book–every year they print one national stamp and one for each park region. I guess the idea is that you save the stamps and then get cancellations of them at the parks. The stamps are of no interest to me — it’s the cancellations that I’m after. We’re planning a vacation to the Outer Banks soon, and not only am I going to make sure and take my passport to get a stamp at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, but I’m also going to buy a US Lighthouse Society passport so that I can collect lighthouse cancellations as well.

I really like these tiny, inky, often blurry mementos of trips to our National Parks. The full spaces remind me of fun trips (and often of scavenger-hunt like difficulties in finding the stamps — there are whole websites devoted to where and how to find them at various parks). The blank spaces in the book remind me of the treasures our country holds, many of which I will probably never see, but this tiny book is a useful reminder that they are there.

My Excellent Things series of posts is a meme started by NowThis — if you are interested, just write about people, places, food, songs, things, whatever. I’d really like to know what things you consider excellent.

Excellent things, part 2

November 3rd, 2009

A continuation of Excellent things, part 1. Inspired by Now This, this is a list of things I think are excellent, with notes about why. Part 1 was about Chatsford teapots, Tellicherry Indian Black Peppercorns, and Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree Liquid Castile Soap. Part 2 continues below:

4. Roku Digital Video Player. This little device allows you to stream video from Netflix, Amazon video, and the MLB channel. We use it only for Netflix. I really like it because it’s so convenient — and the Netflix streaming library includes a lot of indie movies, cheesy 80’s TV, and zombie movies, which neatly defines my personal cultural Bermuda Triangle. If you want to watch mainstream studio releases or current TV, the Roku is ok (but not great) for that, because the studios and networks are pulling back a lot of content. Supposedly there are other channels in the works (a hulu channel would rock my world), but even if the Roku stays just the way it is right now, I would continue to consider it a great buy.

5. Gaye Adegbalola. Gaye is a member of Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women who I love. Their music is heartbreaking, funny, insightful, and delicious. Sadly, Saffire is going their separate ways. I saw their next-to-last performance on Halloween. Gaye is my favorite member of the trio — she’s charismatic on stage, and her songs are full of rage and passion and wit in equal measure. Luckily, she has several solo albums under her belt and tours alone and as a guest with other bands, so even after Saffire is gone, we can still see and hear her. I recommend Saffire’s many albums, but I’ve come to realize that as much as I like Ann Rabson’s boogie woogie piano and Andra Faye’s amazing voice, Gaye is the reason I like Saffire so much.

6. Folia, a social networking site for gardeners. This website is extremely flexible and can be used as a plant database, a garden journal, and/or as a “Facebook for gardeners.” It’s the total package: keep track of your plants, record what you know about them, document what you did and when you did it, and talk to other gardeners. It’s changed and reinforced my feelings about my garden in positive ways, and it makes gardening more fun for me.

If you feel like participating, consider yourself tagged!

Excellent Things, part 1

November 2nd, 2009

I picked up this proto-meme (or is it a mutated meme? or a GMO meme?) from NowThis. He asks:

What do you not just like, but think everyone should know about? Can be anything. A food, a place, a website, a product, an idea, a song, a book … whatever.

Since it’s nearly gift-giving season, I thought this was an excellent question. Because I have so much to say about these things, I’ve divided the list into two parts. Here’s part 1:

1. Chatsford teapots. They have a special basket that you insert that makes brewing loose-leaf tea easy, and it’s also easy to clean. The basket is very large, giving the tea enough room for the “agony of the leaves” as they unfurl and move about in the hot water. Those metal tea balls are much too small.

2. Penzeys Spices Tellicherry Indian Black Peppercorns. These look like ordinary peppercorns, but they pack a more peppery punch than the kind you buy at the grocery store. Not hot, not dry, just peppery. I really like all of the Penzeys herbs and spices I’ve tried, but if I were allowed to buy only one, it would be these peppercorns. I’ve tried their “whole special extra bold” peppercorns, and I can’t tell the difference between those and the tellicherry — someone with a more sensitive palate might be able to taste the difference, but for me, the whole specials are not worth the extra cost.

3. Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree Liquid Castile Soap. Hippy soap with tea tree oil. This soap is vegan, fair trade and organic. You could eat it and it wouldn’t kill you (although it might make you sick). This is the only soap I use — I even shampoo my hair with it. It’s gentle, not drying and helps to heal skin issues like acne, eczema, hives and psoriasis.