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March 28th, 2014:

Friday random ten: All in the family

We had family in town last week, and we went and visited more family in New Braunfels while they were here. So here are some family-oriented songs.

1. Aunt Avis – Widespread Panix
2. Uncle Dave – Leah White
3. Uncle John – Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick
4. Cousin Dupree – Steely Dan
5. Goodbye, Cousin Early – Asylum Street Spankers
6. Cousin Kevin – The Who
7. Sister Fatima – Don McLean
8. Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts For Soldiers – Shorty Long
9. Brothers – The Vaughan Brothers
10. Me And Baby Brother – War

How’s your family doing?

Abbott sides with medical malpractice

Awesome.

Dr. Christopher Duntsch

The Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, accused of protecting a neurosurgeon who allegedly killed and maimed patients, gained an ally this week in Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Abbott filed motions to intervene in three separate federal court suits brought against Baylor Plano by former patients of Dr. Christopher Duntsch. They have alleged that Baylor knew Duntsch was a dangerous physician but did not stop him from performing back surgery.

The suits challenge the constitutionality of a state law that requires the plaintiffs to prove that Baylor acted with actual intent to harm patients. Abbott seeks court permission to defend the statute.

If Abbott’s position is upheld, the patients would have a much harder time winning a suit against Baylor. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, James Girards of Dallas, criticized the attorney general’s motion.

“I think it’s absolutely insane that he has chosen to defend the hospital that enabled this … sociopathic neurosurgeon to wreak havoc on its patients,” Girards said. “I hate to think he’s doing it to pander to the medical lobby.”

Kay Van Wey, a Dallas lawyer who filed two of the suits, also attacked the attorney general. “Mr. Abbott is making it clear that his priority is to protect hospitals, not the patients they harm,” she said.

Wondering where you’ve heard the name Christopher Duntsch before? Let me quote from this Observer story, which I blogged about last October.

In late 2010, Dr. Christopher Duntsch came to Dallas to start a neurosurgery practice. By the time the Texas Medical Board revoked his license in June 2013, Duntsch had left two patients dead and four paralyzed in a series of botched surgeries.

Physicians who complained about Duntsch to the Texas Medical Board and to the hospitals he worked at described his practice in superlative terms. They used phrases like “the worst surgeon I’ve ever seen.” One doctor I spoke with, brought in to repair one of Duntsch’s spinal fusion cases, remarked that it seemed Duntsch had learned everything perfectly just so he could do the opposite. Another doctor compared Duntsch to Hannibal Lecter three times in eight minutes.

When the Medical Board suspended Duntsch’s license, the agency’s spokespeople too seemed shocked.

“It’s a completely egregious case,” Leigh Hopper, then head of communications for the Texas Medical Board, told The Dallas Morning News in June. “We’ve seen neurosurgeons get in trouble but not one such as this, in terms of the number of medical errors in such a short time.”

But the real tragedy of the Christopher Duntsch story is how preventable it was. Over the course of 2012 and 2013, even as the Texas Medical Board and the hospitals he worked with received repeated complaints from a half-dozen doctors and lawyers begging them to take action, Duntsch continued to practice medicine. Doctors brought in to clean up his surgeries decried his “surgical misadventures,” according to hospital records. His mistakes were obvious and well-documented. And still it took the Texas Medical Board more than a year to stop Duntsch—a year in which he kept bringing into the operating room patients who ended up seriously injured or dead.

In Duntsch’s case, we see the weakness of Texas’ unregulated system of health care, a system built to protect doctors and hospitals. And a system in which there’s no way to know for sure if your doctor is dangerous.

I’d call this a case of putting politics above people, and it’s completely in character for Greg Abbott. I think he just doesn’t believe anyone should be able to sue for medical malpractice. You can call it what you want – Texas Watch calls it “defending the indefensible” – I’m sure the Wendy Davis campaign will have a name for it as well.

The Mayors love high speed rail

As well they should.

The mayors of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth announced Thursday their unified support for the construction of a privately funded bullet train between the two metropolitan regions.

“If successful, Houstonians will have a reliable, private alternative that will help alleviate traffic congestion and drastically reduce travel times,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said at a press conference at Houston City Hall.

Texas Central Railway announced in 2012 its plans to build a 200 mph rail line that would transport passengers between Dallas and Houston within 90 minutes. The company has said it will not require any public subsidies to fund the multi-billion dollar project, which it is developing in partnership with a Japanese firm, Central Japan Railway.

The mayors praised the project and predicted it would aid the state economically and environmentally by reducing the number of people traveling by car.

“Not only will high-speed rail significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion for Dallas and Houston area residents, but it will also create new, high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

The endorsements come as the Federal Railroad Commission is “30 to 60 days” away from formally launching an environmental impact study of the project, said Robert Eckels, a former Harris County judge and president of Texas Central Railway. The study, which will be funded by Texas Central Railway, is a critical step on the project’s path to drawing approval from federal regulators.

Mayor Parker’s press release for this is here. As you know, I’ve been following – and a fan of – this project for some time. What’s especially exciting about this is the news that Texas Central Railway will be getting the EIS process started soon, because from there is where it begins to get real. I had the opportunity along with a couple of my blogging colleagues to meet with Eckels and other TCR folks and ask them some questions about the project; PDiddie wrote up some notes from the meeting. I don’t have a whole lot to add to that except to say that you should check out TCR’s latest presentation about the state of their business, and then go look at Eckels’ presentation at a recent HGAC brown bag lunch, which is on YouTube. It’s an exciting time. Dallas Transportation and Texas Leftist have more.

Zipcar expands in Houston

Very cool.

A car-sharing service on Wednesday expanded from spots on the Rice University campus to other locations in Houston, providing city residents with another option for transportation.

Zipcar is making available 25 vehicles in 10 different locations in Houston including the downtown area, Mid-town, Greenway Plaza, and Upper Kirby.

“We want the locations to be five minutes walking distance from neighborhoods, so they can see it as their car,” said Kaye Ceille, president of Zipcar. “They also know that the car may be used by their neighbors, and that’s why its car-sharing.”

[…]

Zipcar was introduced to Rice University in 2008, allowing students, staff and faculty to use its services.

Of course I noted Zipcar’s arrival at the time. Here’s more from their press release.

Beginning today, 25 Zipcars are available by the hour or by the day for residents, students, businesses and visitors in the city of Houston. Zipcar’s revolutionary “wheels when you want them” service offers a wide variety of vehicles, from MINI Coopers to pickup trucks, and includes gas, a reserved parking spot, insurance, and 180 miles per day, making it a great option for those looking for convenient and cost-effective transportation. The launch, which makes Houston the company’s 27(th) major metropolitan area, will be supported by a retail office where members can interact with a local team.

Zipcars are parked in prime locations throughout Houston including the Downtown area, Midtown, and Greenway Plaza/Upper Kirby. Zipcar expects to expand the service to additional neighborhoods in the near future. The vehicles are parked in designated parking spots and can be reserved in seconds on Zipcar’s mobile app, online or over the phone. Rates start as low as $9 per hour and $73 per day. Membership information is available at www.zipcar.com/houston.

[…]

Zipcar’s consumer launch builds on its successful program with the city of Houston FleetShare program in which Zipcar technology is embedded in city-owned vehicles, increasing efficiency, accountability and lower overall fleet costs. Zipcar has also offered service to Rice University students on campus since 2009. In addition, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University will be adding Zipcars on and near campus to further provide alternative transportation options to students, faculty and staff. These programs are expected to launch in Fall 2014.

“I want to welcome Zipcar to all of Houston,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “This is another major step forward in Houston’s ongoing effort to change the way we live and get around the City. Sustainable transportation options offer convenience, are less of a burden on our pocketbooks and also have a big impact on our environment.”

Here’s the map of where Houston’s Zipcars currently livel there are actually several downtown spots for them. I’m sure it will expand to more locations soon. I guarantee that being a Zipcar member is cheaper than owning a car, and having that option available will make living and working in these places a lot more attractive. Sometimes you just need a car, but unless you need one every day having Zipcar around makes a lot of sense.

Endorsement watch: DMN goes Kinky

Since pretty much every newspaper endorsed Hugh Fiztsimons for the Democratic nomination for Ag Commissioner in the primary, they now have the choice of picking a new candidate for the runoff or ignoring it and hoping it goes away. The Dallas Morning News chose the former by endorsing Kinky Friedman.

Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman

Richard “Kinky” Friedman’s run for agriculture commissioner revolves around one issue, or more precisely, one crop. The comedian and author was carrying the flag for marijuana long before Colorado legalized it and Gov. Rick Perry softened his stance on the wacky weed. In politics, he’s mostly a one-song act.

But at least we know what Friedman, 69, stands for. And, when pressed, he is able to discuss the importance of water conservation and the need for immigration reform.

Jim Hogan, his opponent in the May 27 runoff, is basically a mystery. The Johnson County insurance salesman surprised everyone by finishing first in the March primary without really running any campaign at all. He spent a few thousand dollars and did some social networking from the Cleburne library.

In the handful of interviews he’s granted, he revels more in the fact that he managed to win without running than focusing on what he would do if elected. His message seems to be that he’ll figure it out when he gets there. That’s not good enough. The agriculture commissioner has to be a strong voice for policy that will help the state face important challenges. Hogan, 63, doesn’t offer that.

Even though Friedman is mostly about smoke, at least his positions are clear. That makes him the better choice for the nomination.

That’s pretty much how I see it, and kudos to the DMN for getting Kinky to talk about more than just pot. Lord knows, I tried when I interviewed him, but I was no match for his message discipline. I totally get it if you find this choice distasteful, but it works for me.

On a related note, in the Republican runoff, the DMN went for Tommy Merritt on the grounds that his opponent is much worse.

[Sid] Miller, on the other hand, lacks the disposition or even the willingness to work with those who don’t see eye to eye with him. The Stephenville rancher has aligned himself with flame-throwing rocker Ted Nugent and insists on calling the Civil War “the War of Northern Aggression.” We gave Miller, 58, the opportunity to explain, revise or downplay his position on both matters. He declined.

Miller either doesn’t understand the divisiveness of those relationships and words, or, even more disconcerting, doesn’t care.

“Both” is always an option with choices like this. I suspect it’s mostly the latter in this case. I’ll say this much, a Kinky versus Miller matchup would not be boring.