NPF: SUMMER GRILLING PRIMER, PART 2 – SETTING THE STAGE

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 31st, 2008 by Ed

(Weekend bonus, on the off-chance that anyone cares about this topic)

I could have titled this "The Majesty of Fire" because this is about the part of outdoor cooking that gives us that clean, puerile thrill: burning shit. Applying matches to stuff and watching big flames shoot up into the air. Using your kettle grill for a miniature re-enactment of the Dresden firebombing. You and your matches becoming Shiva, the Destroyer of Worlds.

The reason for avoiding that title is that fire has precious little to do with cooking. This is a widespread misconception among the grilltarded – that food is cooked over roaring flames. No. Food is not cooked by fire. Food is cooked by heat. Fire is not a necessary indicator of heat. Not to get all existential about it, but what is fire? Perhaps a necessary first question is, what is charcoal? Well I'm glad you fucking asked.

Charcoal: Real charcoal is wood. That's it. It is wood that is "cooked" at an insanely high temperature (around 1000 degrees) in an anaerobic environment until every atom of water, tar, and other organic compounds are vaporized leaving only a solid hunk of light, brittle carbon. It begins its life as normal firewood sealed in a metal retort which has only a few small holes to allow steam and volatile gases to escape. The retort is heated for hours to "burn" away everything but the carbon. But that's the trick; in the absence of oxygen, it doesn't actually burn. After allowing the retort to cool for several hours without air, the wood becomes charcoal. And charcoal is an easy-to-ignite, clean, and dense source of fuel.

(Pre-Fire steps: Is the bottom of your grill free of ashes from previous cooking sessions? If not, empty it. Open the bottom ventilation holes on your kettle.)

Fire: Igniting charcoal simply initiates the process of burning off whatever impurities remain in the wood and unlocking our access to the fuel inside. If you see flames and decide to cook your food over them, you are cooking your food in a bath of hot, toxic gases being vaporized so that the fuel can begin generating heat. I can't stress this enough, yet I try because I have seen it so many times: do not douse your charcoal in lighter fluid, set it ablaze, and throw your food over the ensuing inferno.

So what should you do?

Well, you could invest $15 in a chimney (or, if you're handy, I suppose it would be simple to make one out of an old coffee can). In this instance your task is simple: ignite the chimney (from below, of course) and wait. WAIT. Wait until you see no flames, no smoke, and almost no "black." You want uniform ashing and heat. That means everything is light gray and emitting a sinister red glow.

Sans chimney, the "pyramid" method works well. Arrange an appropriate amount of charcoal in a pyramid formation on your grill's lower grate, ignite (prefereably without lighter fluid, but I won't get all judgmental), and wait. WAAAAAIT. Novices see the fire disppear and assume that they either missed their opportunity to cook or need to add 3 gallons of lighter fluid. No. You're fine. The fire will "go out" after a few minutes. Really. It's OK. When you see the uniform light gray and the sinister red glow, you're ready. Here is a visual reference. Do not even think about cooking until you see that (although I assume you'll be dealing in smaller quantities).

You are now prepared to cook. If you have a gas grill, all you had to do was turn a knob. But it is a good idea to do so and let the fake lava rocks or ceramic tiles (which will be doing the actual cooking) heat up for at least 10 minutes before proceeding. The food you plan to cook should be at room temperature or thereabouts; take it out of the fridge before you start lighting fires to let it warm up. Under no circumstances should food be taken directly from the fridge (or, god forbid, the freezer) and thrown on the grill. This will dramatically increase the odds of the charred exterior/raw interior phenomenon.

Now that you're prepared, you need to figure out if you're grilling or barbecueing.

The standard American way to do either is to spread all of the coals across the bottom grate, apply the top grate, and throw food at it. Let's not be standard Americans, grilling pre-formed Wal-Mart beef patties (now featuring 10% more spinal column!) inbetween laps of the Jack Links 400. To understand how to set up your heat source, let's understand the two different types of heat involved.

Convection heat, the kind that makes grilling go, is really fucking hot. It is the heat that rises directly upward from your charcoal. Placing your hand a few inches above your coals will be nearly unbearable when they are glowing and ready to go. Radiant heat, as the name implies, radiates outward in all directions. Placing your hand a few inches away from the same coals but at, say, a 60 degree angle would be much more bearable. The point is that putting food over your coals subjects it to phenomenal heat; placing it on the grill but not over the coals subjects it to gentle heat.

When grilling, you need to establish at least two "zones" on your grill. Invest in a long pair of metal tongs to allow you to manipulate the white, glowing charcoal. You need a high-heat grilling zone and a safety/no heat zone. In other words, not all items on the grill will cook uniformly. So if, for example, one were to put all of the charcoal on one half of the grill, the other half would be cool (absent convection heat). Since your grill will not be covered during proper "grilling" the radiant heat will have almost no impact on your cool zone. Here is a simple visual representation of two-zone grilling. The metal pan is useful for catching food drippings, which maintains a clean grill. It also makes arranging the coals easier. It's remarkably simple but greatly reduces the incidence of nuclear char on your food. Grill in the hot zone, then slide the food into the safe zone to wait for its buddies. Gas grills achieve a similar effect by having a raised grate (a "burger balcony") to allow food to be taken off high heat when done.

Barbecue employs a very similar setup. Here, however, we are concerned about radiant heat (never convection) and therefore we want to ensure a wide, even distribution of coals that will not subject the food to convection. Translation: transfer the glowing coals to the sides of your grill and leave the center open. Weber sells nifty little baskets that clip to the sides of the grill and hold coals, or you can simply modify the setup described above for grilling by placing the empty pan in the middle of the grate and arranging the coals around it. In a gas grill, this effect is created by turning on the left burner while leaving the right one turned off. If your gas grill has only one burner, you can't barbecue. Hope you like hot dogs.

Holy crap, you haven't even put food on the grill yet and you're like 97% of the way to pure excellence. I know that makes little sense, but trust me: the overwhelming majority of the mistakes that lead to poor cook-out experiences are made before anyone touches a piece of food. You can avoid this by remembering just a few basic rules:

1. You're not cooking with fire, you're cooking with heat.
2. Be patient; cooking before your heat source is ready means cooking your food in toxic gases.
3. Investing in a few cheap tools – metal pans, tongs, etc – pays off big-time.
4. Know in advance if you are grilling or barbecueing – and the difference between the two.

Next week, you're actually gonna fondle some meat. Conceal your glee.

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ALSO

Posted in Uncategorized on May 30th, 2008 by Ed

There's this. New album's on iTunes now too. Speaking of horrible aural spectacles.

NPF: EAR RAPE

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 30th, 2008 by Ed

There have been many efforts to determine the worst song in the English language (on a personal note, my money is on "Barbie Girl." It literally makes blood squirt out of my ears.) two Russians decided to stop discussing it and take matters into their own hands.

Based on honest-to-god research, they compiled a list of what people consider to be the most unpleasant, loathsome, annoying characteristics of music. Then they combined them all into one song, "The Most Unwanted Song." I think you can see where this is going.

Examples of these characteristics were holiday themed songs, choruses sung by groups of children, and advertising jingles. Hence there is a lengthy chorus about Wal-Mart sung by children and backed by sleigh bells (not to mention an opera singer). The most annoying instruments are apparently the bagpipes (well, duh), accordion, and flute. They are all prominently featured.

Oh, by the way, it's 22 minutes long.

I didn't sell this very well, but this is all you need to know: at minute 1:40, a female operatic soprano starts rapping about the Old West over a spastic techno beat and a wall of accordion. Listen to it for about 10 seconds and tell yourself "This goes on for 20 more minutes."

(the kiddie Wal-Mart chorus kicks in around the 14 minute mark)

BUNDLED SERVICES

Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on May 29th, 2008 by Ed

One anti-gay marriage opinion column, three arguments, three logical fallacies. That's efficiency!

1. It is not the business of judges to make public policy.

Red herring with a dose of false dilemma. The question is about the legality of gay marriage, not some tired talking point about activist judges greedily re-writing the law. Disputes over marriage laws end up in the legal system because that is where we resolve legal disputes. He attempts to bolster that argument by (subjectively and pejoritatively) characterizing legal decision-making as "mak(ing) public policy." That's one way to describe it. Alternatively, I'd characterize the courts' work as "fulfilling their vital and constitutionally mandated responsibility to our democratic system by providing a peaceful and impartial forum for the resolution of disputes over matters of law." But that's just me.

2. The radical transformation of marriage won't end with same-sex weddings.

Slippery slooooooooooooooooooope! Man on llama! Man on tree! Orgies! Pedophilia! Corpsefucking! Bigamy! Trigamy! Mormon Hold'em! Circle jerks! Cleveland steamers! Alabama hot pockets! Tennessee taco swaps! Daisy chains for satan! Where will it stop??!?!11!?!?!one?!?!!!!!!one!111!!???

3. Society has a vested interest in promoting only traditional marriage.

Which is why we have drive-thru Vegas weddings and no-questions-asked quickie divorces, right? Our legal and social respect for the sacred institution of Hetero Marriage is clearly deep and abiding. That is why two intelligent and committed gay people cannot get married but two mouthbreathing idiots can meet in a trailer park, bond over their shared struggle against rickets, and get married in 10 minutes at the courthouse before rushing home to tend to their meth labs. Their inevitable divorce, motivated by the realization that married people qualify for fewer food stamps, will be just as rapid. The author goes on to connect marriage and the production of children, apparently unaware that the latter can occur in the absence of the former. Sure, a solid marriage is a good environment for child-raising. But the author fails to support his implication that it is either the best or only one.

And, for the record, the lowest divorce rate in the nation? Liberal, elitist, homo-loving Massachusetts. The highest, discounting Nevada? Rednecked, god-fearing, homo-hating Arkansas.

(thanks, non-seq)

SOUL SEARCHING

Posted in Election 2008 on May 28th, 2008 by Ed

As the primary election season drags on interminably, I have officially reached my breaking point for the media trope about Salt-of-the-Earthiness and the reverence with which journalists and Pundits await the pronouncements of Real America; you know, the one represented by the (unironically) mesh-hatted, F-150 driving, no-fancy-haircut-gettin', barely-literate, Evangelical Protestant EveryMan from Pigsknuckle, Pennsylvania. One of the remaining candidates bases her viability entirely on her appeal among these Authentic Americans who are far more important than the sneering intellectuals, effeminate urbanites, and unwashed coloreds on the prowl for government handouts. Real Americans live in rural areas, the cultural mythology of which recalls the Norman Rockwell America that, of course, never existed but sure was perfect in the Good Ol' Days.

Well, fortunately I live in southern Indiana. So I count, according to the media, although my lack of truck, chewing tobacco, favorite NASCAR driver, and screaming risk factors for adult-onset diabetes may reduce the value of my opinion. Nonetheless.

If you are like me and you have spent some decent amount of time living in an area that qualifies as Real America in the standard Pundit Narrative, something feels odd about this premise. I find inescapable the feeling that if Bedford, Indiana or Rantoul, Illinois or Somerset, Pennsylvania somehow "are" America, then America is well and truly Fucked. Chris Matthews may look at the backward, uninformed, anti-fancy-book-learnin' Guy in Flannel Shirt and see the soul of the nation, but if that person is America then America belongs in the darkened corridors of a Dickensian state-run mental institution, picking corn out of his own shit and throwing it at the doctors who make the mistake of trying to go near him.

Neither Pundits nor candidates question this assumption that if Bedford, Indiana is America we should be OK with that. Hillary Clinton and David Brooks look at Bedford and see our romanticized, neglected national virtues. I see crushing poverty, virulent and endemic racism (a KKK Grand Wizard calls it home), oppressive ignorance, fast food diets, Third World teen pregnancy rates, bile-spewing conservatism from people on food stamps, unplanned development that sprawls idiotically across the land, xenophobia, and knee-jerk demonization of the pretentious liberal elites who think they are too good to live like Bedfordians (i.e., in their own filth). I see people fighting to ban science from their already pitiful schools and replace it with a religion to which they slavishly adhere but minimally understand. I see people voting Republican to stick it to the queers and the liberal media and the snotty college professors and the goddamn feminazis while their right-wing heroes institute economic policies that decimate Bedford and its residents. I see everything bleak and hopeless about America, everything that suggests people have given up and, unable to understand why their lives are so miserable, wait for Rush and Glenn and BillO to tell them who to blame (hint: anyone different).

The media dutifully muse over accusastions of Obama's Elitism or Nancy Pelosi's "San Francisco Values" or out-of-touch East Coast wannabe-European leftists who can't understand Real Americans. It never occurs to them, at least not on camera, how most Americans (not to mention the reporters and pundits themselves, making six figures and living in the most elite communities in New York and D.C.) would choose if given the chance to live in Bedford or San Francisco. Janesville, Wisconsin or New York. Odessa, Texas or Boston. The Americans who would pick Bedford are not representative of anything other than their own ignorance and inflated conception of Virtuous Rural America. It shows the extent to which they have invested their lives in an ideology that regularly fucks them but excels at re-directing their anger. Bedford isn't America; Bedford is a garbage heap we should look at only as a reminder of what happens when people politically mobilize to screw their own tangible interests in pursuit of "social issues" and moral outrages that will always be dangled and never addressed.

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CASH COWS

Posted in Rants on May 27th, 2008 by Ed

My current university has numerous top-tier graduate programs but is sometimes the butt of jokes about the quality of its undergraduates. The criticism is not entirely without merit, but broad generalizations about any university with 20,000 undergrads are inherently unfair. In reality, every school has some mixture of brilliant students, students who are just along for the ride, and students who absolutely do not belong in a college environment. The ratios may be different (Yale vs Community College) but all three types are present at every university. From the Ivy League to the local night school, there are a lot of people in the higher educational system who utterly lack the skills necessary to succeed and should not be there.

That's a harsh, elitist thing to say in America 2008, isn't it? Well, "Professor X" at the Atlantic Monthly lays out the argument quite nicely in "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower." This essay should be mandatory reading for everyone involved in the business of higher education. If you've ever taught courses beyond high school I think you'll identify with his committment to teaching and frustrating realization that he is dealing with students who are devoid of some very fundamental college-level skills.

I've had students who are more than intelligent enough to write their own ticket in life, students whose eagerness and ability to understand complex arguments exceed that of some of my colleagues. They're both smart and committed. And they're not terribly rare. At IU, I'd estimate that they are about 25% of the undergraduate population. The next 50% are the people who are just shuffling through. They are easy to deal with, because either they will do the work and pass (they're capable of doing what we ask – if they bother to do it) or they will do nothing and fail. They don't participate in class, know why they are here, or care; they're thrilled to slide by with a C-.

The remaining 25% are Professor X's students. I mean this with the utmost respect toward undergraduates and none of my characteristic condescending prickness: about 25% of the students I deal with are, in the words of Nigel in Spinal Tap, "not exactly university material." Like Prof. X, I am not talking about people with a few learning or academic problems. I'm talking about students who are utterly devoid of the basic math, writing, research, communication, and problem-solving skills required. They do not know how to write a basic research paper. They don't understand the difference between fact and opinion, sentence and fragment. They often lack basic computer skills. Frankly, they don't merely lack college-level skills; some do not even have high school-level skills.

Like Professor X, I can spot these students immediately. And no matter how many times I explain what a research paper is, I inevitably get a sprawling, poorly-researched, barely-in-English summary of their opinion. Of course I do not hate these students or think they are incapable of learning. In most instances they simply have not been taught these skills (or were taught poorly). It is beyond frustrating for me, because I cannot turn political science classes into High School English 101. I do not have the time (or the training/expertise) to teach them how to write.

Who is to blame? Well, I'm glad you fucking asked.

High schools and parents play a role. The former pass students who lack basic skills, often because the latter have taught those students to do shitty work and then complain/negotiate their way to a B. But a far larger burden rests with the colleges. We are culpable. The admissions criteria in most colleges these days (with elite exceptions, of course) revolve around the means to pay. If you (or Mom and Dad) can write out the tuition check and you meet some ridiculously low standard (21 on the ACT), you're in. The universities goddamn well know that a relevant portion of the students they accept – especially in borderline-fraudulent moneymaking scams like "distance learning" or "extension" programs – can't hack it. They aren't prepared. They will not succeed. And we take them anyway because they can write the checks.

This is a serious ethical dilemma for universities. The folks in the state capitol cut the budget and the schools respond by admitting lower and lower tiers of applicants to make up the revenue. Rather than honestly telling some applicants "I'm sorry, but you are not ready to succeed in this environment" we smile and take a few semesters of tuition from them before they fail out. We take students – usually white, upper- or middle-class kids who lack college skills but have well-off parents – to subsidize other students. And the people who teach have to deal with the fallout – the emotional pleas, the poor nights of sleep, and the profound sadness that accompany handing a D- to a student who tried but simply isn't able to produce at the required level. The $12,000 per year grad student on the bottom of the food chain is left to deliver the bad news. As the author says,

Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines. I sympathize with this stance; I subscribe to the American ideal. Unfortunately, it is with me and my red pen that that ideal crashes and burns. … (the students) are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college. I am the man who has to drop the hammer.

Bill Clinton and that dude from the West Wing like to say "Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything." Some vague, unspecific "education" for "everyone" is the key to solving our problems. In the reality-based community, postsecondary education simply isn't for everyone. But what is the alternative? As we've seen blue collar employment disappear or settle into the $10/hr-no-benefits trough, the futility of one commonly proposed "solution" – that we should expand vocational or technical education as a college alternative – becomes clear. Why sink money into training people for jobs that will be in Mexico or Indonesia when they graduate?

No, instead we have financially able families sending unprepared people to college in the desperate hope that doing so will turn Billy into a lawyer. As working class jobs disappear in droves, people panic and buy into the delusion that the world needs an infinite number of engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and pharmacists. Even if that were true (hint: it isn't), the ability to pay for an expensive education isn't going to turn some of these students into white collar professionals any more than buying an expensive set of golf clubs will turn a talentless, uncoordinated person into Tiger Woods.

NO HOLIDAY

Posted in Rants on May 26th, 2008 by Ed

People often complain (justifiably) that Americans fail to remember the meaning of major holidays. We're too busy buying seasonally-themed candy, tacky decorations, and expensive gifts. I think also-ran, non-gifting holidays get it even worse. How much time do you spend on Labor Day thinking about the sacrifices people made to improve our working conditions? You don't. We don't. Likewise, Memorial Day is about camping and driving and cook-outs and the Indy 500. I'd be surprised if half the country could even describe what this holiday is intended to mean.

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At absolute random, I plucked one of the 4,080 (and counting) U.S. military deaths off of the official coalition casualty list. This is Jose Paniagua-Morales. He died on March 7, 2008 from blunt trauma and blood loss after his vehicle was attacked with a roadside bomb in Samarra, Iraq. He was a 22 year-old from Bell Gardens, California. He had been in Iraq less than a month. Jose and a lot of other human beings appear in our discussions about political issues as numbers or abstract ideas, in stories about "casualties" or "surges" or terrorism. Conceiving of reality as a sterile statistic is intended to make it easier on the suburban TV-watching public. "2 killed in roadside attack" goes down a lot more smoothly than reality, which boils down to this: Jose Paniagua-Morales was somebody's neighbor, somebody's friend, somebody's son, and a guy on the bus to the rest of us. There's nothing unique about him. He was a person who did what he was asked to do and succumbed to the inherent dangers of the task. But he had a life and a story, like 4079 other Americans, 176 Brits, 33 Italians, 23 Poles, 18 Ukranians, approximately 40 people from other Coalition countries, and somewhere between 90,000 - 150,000 Iraqi civilians and combatants.

Today's a good day to remind ourselves that we're sitting in our comfortable homes talking in abstract terms about war while, a world away, lives are being lost or ruined on a daily basis. That those lives rarely have a face or name is an unfortunate manifestation of our society's inability to deal with guilt or accept responsibility for our decisions. We cope by overcompensating and making angels out of the dead. I don't think that "honors" anyone's memory. Jose might have been a great guy. He might have been a jerk. My guess would be that he is like all of us – a lot of people loved him and some people didn't like him much. That's life. What's important is that, regardless of what role he played in the lives of people who knew him, he won't be playing it any longer.

NPF: AN OPEN LETTER TO BILL O'REILLY

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 23rd, 2008 by Ed

BillO,

I'm sorry I've waited so long to write, as I had to give priority to Chris Tucker and the vegans. Frankly you need a level of mental care far in excess of anything I can give you in this forum, but I'm willing to try because I care.

Bill, you need help. Seriously. Let's nip this in the bud before someone dies. We're all getting a good laugh out of watching you blow your stack on the set of Inside Edition (where you honed your unique brand of hard-hitting, substantive journalism) but it's nothing we haven't already seen you do. We all get angry sometimes, but, if we may draw a few lessons from Cold War-era international relations, it's important to recognize the value of a proportionate response.

Most people take a progressive approach to fury, slowly working in increments from mild irritation to pant-shitting rage. Those intermediate steps are important. They serve a purpose. Think of it like being with a woman, Bill. You can't go from "Hi, my name is William" to hard anal in 15 seconds. Hopefully this example illustrates the necessity of the incremental approach. The steps between mild irritation and explosive wrath are like lube…lube to let your circulatory system glide through one more potential stroke.

That's the terrifying thing about these video clips, Bill – you go from slightly terse to Hiroshima in the blink of an eye. There is only one person who can do that safely; his name is Wolverine. Are you Wolverine, Bill? I didn't think so. I'm worried. If your temper is set on a hair trigger like this, you're going to get pissed off at work some day. You'll come home, find out that your maid put your golf clubs in the wrong closet, grab a rolling pin, and bury it in her skull. Where are you going to be then?

Don't be fooled by the fact that Joe Scarborough probably got away with killing the woman he was fucking on the side…even though you're a TV star, the next stop will be life in prison. While I think that's best for you – you really do need to be someplace where you can be supervised – I realize that it isn't what you want. You want to continue filling the vital role you occupy in our national discourse.

Find a hobby that allows you to hit things, Bill. Tennis. Boxing. Drums. Chopping wood. Rugby. Play some violent video games that allow you to kill things without consequence. Listen to Slayer. Leave sweaty, panting messages on your co-workers' voicemail. Buy a dog and kick it. Cut yourself. You have so many options, and all of them are better than the road on which you're currently traveling at breakneck speed. It leads somewhere bad, Bill. The final act of this play isn't going to be pleasant. If you maintain the status quo, it will be somewhere on the continuum between a crippling aneurysm and a Richard Chase-style murder. If that sounds preposterous, you should realize that most of America has very little difficulty picturing you going down in a hail of police gunfire surrounded by the half-eaten remains of your victims.

Sincerely,
Ed

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TECHNICALLY CORRECT

Posted in Election 2008 on May 22nd, 2008 by Ed

Hillary Clinton has spent the last two months waxing noble about "letting the democratic process play out", i.e. leaving the nomination unresolved until every state has held its primary or caucus. Here is just one example of that refrain. How laudable.

Our democratic process is important. It's always a good thing when candidates and elected officials remember that. Hillary does. Perhaps that is why she had one of her staffers offer the Young Democrats of America $1,000,000 for the support of the group's two unpledged superdelegates. Believe it or not, this is legal.** It's just, you know, completely fucked up.

The strangest part about this is that Hillary is technically correct; she is letting the democratic system play out – our democratic system. The system is so thoroughly dominated by money that paying for votes, directly or indirectly, is simply par for the course today. This is the way the system works. American Politics v.2008 makes Gilded Era corruption and influence-peddling look positively quaint in comparison.

**I never fail to note (to my students' disbelief) that there's absolutely no legal reason a delegate or elector in the Electoral College cannot be bribed. George Soros, for example, could have contacted a bunch of Bush electors in 2004 and offered them $5 million apiece to flip. In the ~20 states that don't have pledged/committed elector laws, that would be entirely legal. Primaries (or nominations more broadly) are even worse; they're run according to party (DNC/RNC) rules, most of which have no legal standing.

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MEDICO-FASCIST CABAL DECIDES: BLACKS TO DIE IN PANDEMIC!

Posted in Rants on May 21st, 2008 by Ed

It is barely worth mentioning what a poor job 24-hour cable news media do of delivering substantive news. In real news' place we get a cloying mixture of celebrity news, personality-driven political "coverage," and bald efforts to create, or fan the flames of, mass hysteria. Common household products are killing your kids! Immigrants are coming in sweaty, brown, job-taking, daughter-raping droves! Terrorists are lurking behind the Wal-Mart! Know the 10 signs that your middle schooler is involved in a satanic gay sex orgy cult!

Cue the CNN masterpiece "Docs list who would be allowed to die in a catastrophe" from this week. The story (and its corresponding TV segment, of which I could not find a video clip) details the manner in which hospitals are prepared to respond to a pandemic or disaster that overwhelms the healthcare system. It's laden with even-handed gems like:

To prepare, hospitals should designate a triage team with the Godlike task of deciding who will and who won't get lifesaving care, the task force wrote. Those out of luck are the people at high risk of death and a slim chance of long-term survival.

Wow, this is all very shocking. Doctors – real ones, not those cool ones on House – sitting around playing god and grimly plotting the deaths of millions. Beware, America. Soon your doctor-turned-Soup Nazi will sternly point in your direction and declare "No treatment for you."

My question is how or why, in the first week of May 2008, this is news. What this story describes is a simple triage system, and it's a basic emergency management plan that every healthcare provider on the planet has – and has had for decades. Hospitals and doctors are, and have been, trained and prepared to deal with a pandemic or major disaster that would overwhelm the ability of the system to treat every single patient according to severity. In such instances, patients are treated according to their prospects for long-term survival. If a bomb levels the Superdome during a Saints game and 100,000 people show up at the hospital at once, the patients with severe and likely mortal injuries will not be treated before people who are badly hurt but can be saved with immediate care. If vaccines or medication to treat a disease are scarce, the 23 year old mother of two gets treated before the 91 year old guy on dialysis. This is not new. This is not shocking

While the CNN story darkly hints at "lists" of who gets to live and die (Blacks? Jews? Short people? Muslims? White males?) the truth is pretty banal. The list includes people over 85, patients with severe trauma, patients over 60 with 3rd-degree burns on more than 40% of their body, and people with advanced mental impairment (late stage Alzheimer's, for example). I know that this "story" is intended to provoke moral outrage, but if a catastrophe overwhelms the system I'm OK with bumping the 70 year old with 75% burn coverage to the bottom of the list. If resources become scarce, the person who is going to require $1 million worth of care and die anyway should not be treated first. Shocking, I know.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, nuclear war, and a global disease pandemic have inspired healthcare providers to make these plans long before CNN decided to report on them. Therefore one of two things is true of the coverage. It is either entirely ignorant of the fact that this is not a new phenomenon – i.e., the work of a 25 year old reporter who skidded out of Rutgers journalism school with a C average and no understanding of how to do research – or it is interested solely in shock value. Neither would surprise me and both are equally embarassing.

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