Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A New Yorker Occurance on the Bus

by Me

Ah, ha! This morning I saw a man reading the January 15, 2007 issue of the New Yorker on the bus. Now I don't feel so bad for just beginning the January 29 issue. This week though, I am making a concerted effort to catch up (this week's anniversary issue has an article on the creators of "24" that I can't wait to read). However, I'm also determined not to skip ahead. I will give my New Yorkers their due respect and read them in the order they were published.

While I'm on the subject, I guess I should write a New Yorker post, which I've been neglecting to do as much as I have the magazine. --

Jerome Groopman's article on how doctors think ("What's the Trouble?") validates, sadly, my grandmother's belief that doctors don't know what the hell they're talking about. We all know that doctors are occasionally wrong - they are human, after all. But of course, the scary part is, frequently when doctors are wrong someone dies. The even scarier part is that the problems which often cause misdiagnosis are problems that seem to be the result of, well, human nature. For instance, a heuristic to which doctors may be particularly prone is "availability," which refers to "the tendency to judge the likelihood of an event by the ease with which relevant examples come to mind."

If you are an overworked doctor with a roomful of patients waiting to be seen, how likely is it that, given human nature, your diagnosis will not be based on how quickly examples of the relevant symptoms and diagnosis come to mind? My guess is, not very likely. Of course, all doctors should try to be as thorough as possible, especially since not doing so could put lives at risk. But the likelihood that that will happen every time, all the time, is idealistic. Yet, as with all ideals, it is certainly something to which doctors should aspire.

Steve Martin's "Seventy-Two Virgins" was surprisingly funny. I say "surprisingly" because reading an article in the "Shouts & Murmers" section is often like reading a mystery: I'm always trying to figure out where the hell the joke is. Yet, "Seventy-Two Virgins" was entertaining and even, on occasion, laugh-out-loud funny. For instance, Virgin No. 16: "Even I know that's tiny." Or, Virgin No. 49: "I really enjoyed that. Thank you very much. Gee, it's late." Or even, Virgin No. 45, "When you're done, you should really check out how cool this ceiling is." Come on, you gotta admit, it's a little harsh but it's funny.

David Sedaris' piece "The Birds" is typical Sedaris fare - a memoir-ish piece in which he finds the funny in a situation that, in anyone else's hands, would be a typical, everyday occurance. On this occasion, two birds begin to ram themselves crazily into Sedaris' window for no apparent reason. Sedaris' plan - to tape album covers onto the windows to discourage them from attacking - strangly enough, works. "There I filled the windows with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Armatrading, and Donna Summer, who has her minuses but can really put the fear of God into a chaffinch." Only David Sedaris. Why can't my life be that crazy? Then again, maybe it is and I'm just not observant enough to notice.

What the hell is happening in Russia? In "Kremlin, Inc." Michael Specter writes, "Since 1999, when Vladimir Putin, a career K.G.B. officer, was, in effect, anointed as President by Boris Yeltsin, thirteen journalists have been murdered in Russia. Nearly all the deaths took place in strange circumstances, and none of them have been successfully investigated." And here I'd thought Russia was trying to work its way out of its Communist era. Apparently though, with the permission of his people (at least, according to Specter), Putin is working Communism back in.

Specter is quick to point out that, though the death of dissenting journalists may be placed at the feet of Putin and the K.G.B., the destruction of free media is as much the media's fault as it is their government's. In an effort to ensure that Yeltsin would win the 1996 presidential election against a pro-communist conservative, the media purposely skewered their reports in favor of Yeltsin. But, Specter writes, "...when Russia's young democrats jettisoned the rules of democracy they also forfeited their independence."

Because democracy has been a part of the United States' fabric for so long, it's easy to forget that applying its principles may not be as simple as it looks to us Americans. In fact, half the time, it's not even simple for us (see abortion rights and gay marraige) and we've been doing it for a few hundred years. Even still, the protection of the rights we hold so dear require constant viligence and clarification. If they didn't, what would the Supreme Court do with its time? So we have to ask ourselves, if we were forced to make the same choices that Russians have had to make recently, would we choose differently? "In today's Russia...stability is everything and damn the cost," Specter writes. It's a tough choice: civil liberty or stability? Which would you choose?...Are you sure?