I heard yesterday from some neighbors, a group of UM Dental students, that on a previous occasion when the Dental School had offered free dental checkups and fillings for the public, there were only about three patients who showed up to take advantage of it. With so much demand for health care and so many people who cannot afford it, I see this situation as a sad mismatch between excellent intentions and the failure to reach the appropriate audience to let them know about the opportunity to take advantage of the offer. I know that when I personally was trying to raise interest in our “Opening Doors” event, I visited churches, wrote to schools, asked numerous friends and acquaintances, generally racked my brain for possible ways to tap into the appropriate interested individuals, and worked for hours and hours trying to publicize the upcoming project. At the occasion itself, we had an adequate crowd, but, frankly, I was expecting more people, considering the amount of time and effort that had been expended in trying to spread the word about an excellent presentation that could possibly impact students’ future in the health professions. In conclusion, with the UM Dental School’s “Give Kids a Smile” Day offering free dental care for children aged 5 to 12, coming up soon, and since I know from experience how hard it is to publicize similar events, I am trying to help out by jumping into the attempt to spread the word.

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I was having a little conversation with someone at lunch today about health care costs, and after a while our talk meandered over to a very specific local site–the University of Michigan. I happen to be familiar with the fact, from being on various internal committees, that health insurance costs here are on an upward trend of 10%/year, which, although all costs are going up everywhere nationwide, is higher than it should be. The UM is self-insured. As a result, the keepers of the funds at UM are worried; however, I am happy to say, they are very reluctant to have to cut benefits for their employees; therefore, they are trying mightily to reduce costs. We see their attempts in the various MHealthy preventive programs–the exercise promotion with fun and financial incentives; the health assessment with $2,000,000 worth of incentives; and the Wellness Champions for various units, who are supposed to provide psychological incentives. From both a personal and an institutional point of view, I wish that more people in the UM community understood this and would willingly and enthusiastically take responsibility for their own health. It is not such a difficult thing to do, and it might have positive results both individually and with respect to the common good.

Kenneth May, UM Dental School Chair, performed a gracious introduction and welcomed the audience. Afterwards, a liturgical dance was performed by some 8 women in colorful garb. Then Frank Ascione, Chair of the School of Pharmacy, welcomed everyone in the Dow Auditorium of the UMHS. I also spotted Douglas Strong, UMHS CEO in the audience. Raymond Gist, Chair of the MLK Program, introduced Dr. Joanne Dawley, the first female president of the Michigan Dental Association, who happens to also be an African Amercian woman, an individual who earned her undergrad degree at UM and her DDS at UM School of Dentistry. The keynote address was about “the perfect storm,” meaning what is happening in Michigan economically as well as socially with particular concern about the lack of regular dental care for children who are African American, especially in the inner city. That was essentially it. She quoted statistics to reveal how dismal the situation is and gave a few examples of how lack of dental care can cause systemic disease and even death in one case (fulminating infection in a young man whose mother could not afford to have his tooth extracted in time). Then Q&A with a little discussion about the free dental day at UM but the fact that this is insufficient care. A couple of other questions were followed by a reception in the hall; there was another short segment of dance by the liturgical dancers, and then some of us (those with tickets) went to lunch downstairs in the lunchroom, which was set up nicely with lots of tables-room was just about filled. After lunch, more Q&A and then flowers were presented to Dr. May by a woman with a lot of charisma, possibly Valener Perry, I believe, who said that he was her actual dentist and that she retains her actual teeth (Dr. May had given Dr. Dawley a bouquet on stage right after her presentation).

I have continued to ponder the blog-o-sphere. Last night on BBC World Service, there was an interview with a journalist who protested that blogging is not journalism. Just because a person has something to say and posts it, does not entitle that individual to be considered a reporter, this interviewee stated. That may be the case; however, in an op/ed piece in today’s (1/18/09) NYT “Horatio Alger Relocates to a Mumbai Slum,” Anan Giridharadas points out thst the social is back in politics, that whereas a decade or so ago, Americans were said to be “bowling alone,” now there has been “a neo-Tocquevillean flowering online, of Wikipedia editors, Twitterers, and bloggers, an unpaid army stirred by that ancient impulse to blow in larger currents.” My feeling about the burgeoning blog trend is that this is a wonderful new era and I love it. I have always enjoyed reading “Letters to the Editor” and have considered them to often be the most interesting section of the daily newspaper. Now, I can wallow in blogs as if they were lengthy “letters”, thus keeping current with events and other people’s perspectives on them and skip “the straight news” entirely if I want to.

I am interested in what is going on in the Ann Arbor area and consequently I scour the local media pretty thoroughly on a regular basis, reading in print: “The Ann Arbor Observer,” “The Metro Times,” “Between the Lines,” “Current” and whatever other free papers I find around town. And online I read: “The Ann Arbor News” “Arbor Update,” and now “The Ann Arbor Chronicle.” Now, it seems that the News wants to change its ways and become more focussed on the local news, a role now being quite well played by the new Chronicle, and to emphasize the online aspects of keeping abreast with what is occurring in our town and surrounding areas. The editor of the News, in fact, wrote in an editorial on Sunday that he requests input as to what readers want to see in the paper. In reply to his editorial (I usually read all the commentary and blogs, as well), he received quite a bit of constructive criticism about the mlive.com website, which is not easy to negotiate, although it has become a little more organized and aesthetically pleasing lately. Respondents wrote both in the News blogs and in a Chronicle column. Of course, it goes without saying that the current economy is a huge factor in stimulating this desire for change on the part of the local media, but it seems very obvious that ordinary, everyday people’s habits are changing, too, perhaps because they have become used to the ability to blog and comment and they want to maintain and expand this feature, thus having even more say in how the news is presented and even what it consists of. And, the corollary to this theory is that online is the way to go. I personally am staying tuned for even more changes in our local media.

Randolph M. Nesse “used to believe that truth had a special home at universities.” Mr. Nesse, professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and an expert on evolution and medicine, now thinks “universities may be the best show in town for truth pursuers, but most of them stifle innovation and constructive engagement of real controversies — not just sometimes but most of the time, systematically.” Faculty committees, he complains, make sure that most positions “go to people just about like themselves.” Deans ask how much external financing new hires will bring in. “No one with new ideas … can hope to get through this fine sieve.” –Josh Fischman
Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus 12/15/08

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The Cost of Textbooks Is Driving Electronic Solutions
Chronicle Commentary 11/24/08 by
Mark R. Nelson: Are Colleges Ready for Digital Textbooks?
When I was an undergraduate, one of my favorite professors posted a cartoon from The Chronicle on the bulletin board outside his office. It was labeled “Library of the Future” and showed a librarian, near a row of computers, unpacking boxes containing spray cans with fragrances like “Odor of Old Books” and “Scent of Paper.” Less than two decades later, I see there is probably room for a product like that. And, more surprising to me, I am part of the move toward digital and away from traditional print.
http://chronicle.com/weekly/v55/i14/14a02901.htm?utm_source=at&utm_medium=en