Sunday, March 25, 2007

Maryland Public Affairs Radio

Local news and public radio are two of my lifelong passions. That explains this Laurel Connections Blog and also my recent experiments with producing audio podcasts here.
Last night Joanne and I joined a large and happily eating crowd at St. Vincent Pallotti High School's annual Bull & Oyster Roast fundraiser where we met Sheilah Kast.

Sheilah Kast is one of public radio's most accomplished reporters and she recently began hosting a new local public affairs show called Maryland Morning on WYPR (88.1 FM). Maryland Morning is heard from 9 to 10 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with interviews about Maryland news, arts, politics, science, and history.

The only other source of Maryland public affairs radio is Kojo Nnamdi's Maryland Politics Hour on WAMU (88.5 FM). Unfortunately, Kojo's Maryland show only airs a couple of times a month. Kojo visited Laurel last March and he had the courage to provide me with a microphone.

The addition of Sheilah's Maryland Morning to the local affairs radio spectrum provides our community with new opportunities for local news and information. However, there is a problem receiving WYPR's signal here in Laurel. I can only get their signal on my radio on the second floor of my home or in my car.

But this is not really a problem in the information age because Maryland Morning is available via the web. You can always listen live via streaming media at 9 AM. Or simply point your browser at one of their recorded shows and listen at your convenience.

Joanne and I enjoyed the Pallotti event and it was a real pleasure meeting Sheilah Kast. I forgot to mention that Sheilah's escort for the evening was a tall, good looking fellow named Jim Rosapepe, her husband and Laurel's very own 21st District State Senator and all around good guy. Good luck to them both.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Conversation with Police Chief Dave Crawford

Last week three people robbed a homeowner on 6th Street in Laurel. Two people talked their way into the home and while they distracted the owners, a third person snuck in and stole cash. Laurel's police chief Dave Crawford discusses this case in today's podcast. We also asked him about himself and his vision for public safety in Laurel.

Click here to listen: or here. You may need to click the play button a couple of times. Please post your questions and comments for the Chief in the comments section below.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Best Dentist - "Absolutely" the Best Dentist

Holly Hoglund, my good friend and neighbor, has patiently explained the teaching business to me over the past dozen years of shared dinners, back yard picnics and front porch seminars.

I'm a recovering engineer who was inclined to believe that any "system" can be quantified and all defects removed via central planning.

Holly was the first teacher that made me question my opinions about our US education system. Maybe schools and students are not widgets to be measured, manufactured and costed. Holly recently forwarded me the story below.

Good teachers inspire their students. The very best teachers arrive in their classroom every morning convinced that they will change the world in spite of ineffective government policies. My sincere appreciation to Holly and all of her tireless colleagues. - rw

The Best Dentist - "Absolutely" the Best Dentist

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've got all my teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard about the new state program. I knew he'd think it was great. "Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?" I said. "No," he said. He didn't seem too thrilled. "How will they do that?" "It's quite simple," I said. "They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better," I said. "Poor dentists who don't improve could lose their licenses to practice."

"That's terrible," he said.

"What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try to improve children's dental health in this state?"

"Sure I do," he said, "but that's not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry." "Why not?" I said. "It makes perfect sense to me."

"Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all work with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can't control? For example," he said, "I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don't bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem and I don't get to do much preventive work."

"Also," he said, "many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay."

"To top it all off," he added, "so many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?"

"It sounds like you're making excuses," I said. I couldn't believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job. "I am not!" he said. "My best patients are as good as anyone's, my work is as good as anyone's, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most."

"Don't' get touchy," I said.

"Touchy?" he said. His face had turned red and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. "Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist.

They may leave me, and I'll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?"

"I think you are overreacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse making and stonewalling won't improve dental health'...I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC," I noted.

"What's the DOC?" he asked.

"It's the Dental Oversight Committee," I said, "a group made up of mostly lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved."

"Spare me," he said, "I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy it," he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you measure good dentistry?"

"Come watch me work," he said." Observe my processes."

"That's too complicated and time consuming," I said. "Cavities are the bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute measure."

"That's what I'm afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can't be happening," he said despairingly.

"Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The state will help you some."

"How?" he said.

"If you're rated poorly, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out," I said brightly. "You mean," he said, "they'll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? Big help."

"There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."

"You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score on a test of children's progress without regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools."

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.

"I'm going to write my representatives and senators," he said. "I'll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point."

He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.