By far the most compelling reading in this issue is Atul Gawande’s long fascinating study of how chain restaurants manage to produce tasty food — he uses the Cheesecake Factory as his case study — and the ways in which hospitals would benefit from reproducing such systems. If you’re like me, you probably think you don’t want to know too much about what happens in restaurant kitchens, fearing the worst. But Gawande’s account surprised and impressed me — of course, it makes sense for there to be strong accountability in restaurant management, otherwise they wouldn’t stay in business. And it’s accountability in several directions — to proper health standards; to the customer; to keeping costs affordable and waste to a minimum — that the author sees as key and makes a persuasive case for. As a physician employed by a hospital himself, he acknowledges the resistance that doctors have to systematizing procedures, but he also reports on several cases where hospitals have adopted these systems successfully. His article makes me realize that we, the public, have gotten accustomed to healthcare (the scheduling, the costs, the recommendations) running for the convenience of the doctors, when it should be the other way around.
Another healthcare-related high point in the issue: James Surowiecki’s Financial Page column, “Downsizing Supersize,” a very sensible analysis of Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to limit the size of sodas for sale. Some express outrage and consider this a form of governmental micro-managing, but I have to say I support the idea 100%, and Surowiecki lays out the case superbly.
What else? Having gotten caught up in various Olympics dramas, I found Ben McGrath’s report from London to be entertaining. I have a strange ambivalence about Lena Dunham — I can’t tell if she has real talent, or just a high tolerance for self-exposure — but I read her Personal History essay on “First Love” anyway. I’m intrigued with those writers who are managing to incorporate up-to-the-minute social media in their stories — Justin Taylor’s “After Ellen” is nominally fiction, and narrated by a man, but otherwise it’s in the same category as Dunham’s piece.
Steve Coll’s profile of Imran Khan, former cricket star now running for top office in Pakistan, gives me some hope that that country can avoid falling completely under the sway of Islamist fundamentalists. And Adam Gopnik’s book review/essay, “I, Nephi,” proves that no matter how intelligently you’re willing to discuss Mormonism, there’s no way that the religion doesn’t come off as absolutely crazy-pants.
And now that Mitt Romney has named his running partner, you may want to go back and read Ryan Lizza’s recent profile of Paul Ryan — yes, he’s handsome and well-spoken, but like Romney committed to economic policies that unavoidably benefit the 1% more than the rest of us folks.