Adventures of File Clerkdom

After seeing The Colbert Report’s show the other day, the flashbacks started. You see, in this segement, he talks about the perks that doctors get from pharmaceutical companies.

Unfortunately (or fortunately if you love Colbert), the part I’m referring to (Corporate Health) isn’t until 4 minutes into the video, but in it he says that pharmaceutical companies are cutting back on those perks (pens, mugs, etc) in order to save money.

Now, for the flashbacks. When I was 15, I worked in a medical office as a file clerk for a summer job. I’d say that throughout the summer that I worked there, I probably only had to get my own lunch maybe 4 times. That’s a fairly liberal estimate too. Why did I never get my own lunch? It’s not because I wasn’t eating.

You see, the drug reps — that’s what we call them — would often buy lunch or breakfast for the office in exchange for hanging around and trying to talk to the doctors while they eat. Often times, it really turned out that Mr. or Ms. Drug Rep would sit there and watch the young file clerk read her summer list of novels for Honors American Lit. And since the young file clerk always took a late lunch in order to avoid a packed break room, it often was just her and the drug rep. The file clerk read. The drug rep shifted in their chair. Drummed their fingers on the table. Cleared their throat. Then the inevitable question would arise.

“So, does Dr. ____ usually eat in?”

“It varies.” The young clerk says in the very vague way that only teenagers can seem to get away with.

“Like how?”

“Well, Thursdays are Dr. _____’s half day. He sees some people and then plays golf for the rest of the day.” (By the by, if you think doctors playing golf is a stereotype, it may well be. I’m sure that you can find plenty of doctors who don’t play golf, but there is a basis for that particular stereotype. Jus’ sayin’.)

“I see, but this isn’t Thursday.”

“Right, but Dr. _____ is a specialist. He does rounds at the hospitals — referals, you know — and only comes to the office to see patients or to talk to the other doctors.”


photo by Plutor of Flickr
photo by Plutor of Flickr

The industry just makes me laugh and cry, really. The entire health care system. It’s so sad that you have to laugh at it just so it doesn’t drive you crazy. These pharmaceutical companies spend all this money with their drug stamped on pens, pads, mugs, stress balls, lunches, little foam things in the shape of organs–no really, I have a yellow brain like that. They spend all this money just for doctors to avoid talking to them. Oh, and these are just little things. I know companies used to give away tickets to sports events, or dinners to extremely expensive restaurants (Smith and Wollensky comes to mind). I mean, you can get some pretty serious loot from being a doctor.

Don’t get me completely wrong. For the most part, I’m not a fan of drug reps. I find them to be more of an annoyance and waste of money that could be going to patients, but they are somewhat successful at times. Doctors will generally listen to whatever new drug this person is marketing, but I’m most concerned that this is the primary form that doctors hear about new medicines.

If a drug is truly going to change patients’ lives then why is it necessary to give so much of this crap away just to get attention? Sure, providing medical offices with lunch may give you face to face time with the doctors, but the doctors I’ve don’t appear overly persuaded by a free meal or a few pens. If the drug truly would work well for the patients, then they’ll try it and if not, then they won’t.

Of course, that’s just from personal experience. I would like to see some studies or statistics on whether drug reps truly do make a difference or not. I have a feeling, though, that it’d be hard to find a control group of physicians who have never been approached by a drug rep.

Harlot Symposium: Presidential Rhetoric

Check out Harlot’s latest call for contributions for a symposium on presidential rhetoric:

Presidents and Presidential Hopefuls of 2008/2009
Presidents and Presidential Hopefuls of 2008/2009

Throughout a heady election season, the conclusion of a divisive administration, and an inauguration that attracted a record 1.8 million people to Washington D.C., American presidents and presidential hopefuls have performed a flurry of persuasive acts, some stilted, some eloquent, some mangled, some unintentional, some iconic. What have been the most pivotal moments in American politics in the last year? What stood out, made you laugh, made you yell, made you think? What conversations should the nation — and the world — have as we move forward?

We welcome short contributions of 500-750 words or video/audio productions of 1-2 minutes (or any combination thereof) that explore an issue or phenomenon you think is stimulating, amusing, or uncomfortable — as long as it is insightful. Submissions are due by Monday, March 2, 2009.

Submission Information

We’ve been getting some questions here at Harlot about our submissions. Not to worry, we have and will answer to those askers directly, but for as many people out there who actually ask, there are more who simply wonder. So, if you’ve been wondering the same thing, hopefully I can answer some for you right now.

I’ve heard that you’ve been calling for submissions, but can’t find anything on your site.

Hmm, indeed. Our initial inclination to simply announce this through our blog seems to have been a bit misguided. Well intended, perhaps, but there are obvious flaws with this logic. So, we have updated the homepage to show our call for the second issue. It includes the graphic version and the text version as well as instructions on how to submit.

I can’t figure out the submission process.

We do recommend that you check out the For Creators page as well as the information about Online Submissions. We’ve recently added step by step instructions on how to submit.

I can’t find any information about actually submitting through the system.

This information is now located on the For Creators page, the call for submissions on the main page, and here. More in depth instructions of the system which include going through the Five steps of the Submission process are available here: (opens in pdf)

There’s also a video from Open Journal Systems about the process at this address:

What are the Submission Instructions?

How to Submit
1. Register as a creator.
2. When logged in, there will be a link in the right column called “user home,” which will show the roles for which you’ve registered. Click on your role as “creator.”
3. This will take you to a page titled “Active Submissions.” Underneath, there is a smaller heading that says “Start a New Submission.” Click on the link that says “click here to go to step one of the five step process” link.
4. From there you can work your way through the steps by entering information into the fields and clicking “Save and Continue.” You may submit the work in step five.

What do I do if I’m still confused?

If you still have questions, then you can email the editors at or the tech team at

George W. Bush’s Farewell

I can’t help but feel it’s embarrassing the U.S. media has slighted its outgoing president.

Sure, his approval ratings are quite low, and sure a pilot crash landing on the Hudson River was riveting news, but I’m still surprised the major media outlets largely cut directly to and then directly away from President Bush’s farewell speech without giving much build up or much conversation afterward.

Even this Time‘s piece from November 2008 says it’s “the nature of mainstream journalism to attempt to be kind to Presidents when they are coming and going but to be fiercely skeptical in between,” and yet this article is anything but kind and celebratory. Googling “Bush” and “farewell address” shows an odd listing: The second hit is Ariana Huffington’s piece, “Bush’s Farewell Address: Still Delusional After All These Years,” which is anything but a charming look at Bush’s legacy. Even knowing the current atmosphere is not in Bush’s favor, I’m surprised the article ranks so high.

The eyes of the country are certainly looking forward, but it’s worth taking a look at how President Bush has been packaging the remaining days of his presidency. I can’t seem to remember where I read an article about the Bush administration working hard since the election to paint a flattering picture of the president, but it seems true. Bush gave a record number of interviews, and I recall reading a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of Bush, and the picture was flattering.

But then there’s Bush’s final press conference:

(The complete 47-minute press conference is hosted on C-SPAN)

I was watching CNN when I heard one commentator call Bush’s performance “pathetic.” They are really giving him no love.

And then there’s President Bush’s farewell address:

(Click here to see Part 2 of the farewell address.)

The speech contains some of the usual (see the transcript here) — gratitude for having served, a positive look toward the past, an optimisitic look toward the future, and honor expressed over remaining an American citizen (though I am surprised how close  line echos President Clinton’s farewell speech: Bush said, “It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your President. [. . .] I have been blessed to represent this nation we love. And I will always be honored to carry a title that means more to me than any other – citizen of the United States of America,” while Clinton said, “In the years ahead, I will never hold a position higher or a covenant more sacred than that of President of the United States. But there is no title I will wear more proudly than that of citizen”). The speech also held some unusual moments, like the inclusion of American citizens and their individual stories, a touch that is reminiscent more of state of the union addresses than farewell speeches.

The line that struck me as the most poignant came after mention of the September 11th attacks:

As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did.

Sadly, what followed didn’t build up on the emotion of the statement. The job of the president can be a lonely, harrowing experience. Some more humanity and  humility in the president’s words and demeanor would probably have the media — and the public — respond more sympathetically and respectfully to a departing United States President.

The End is Nigh . . .

Stanley Fish’s column in the New York Times yesterday focused on the astute scholarship of Dr. Frank Donoghue, Associate Professor at The Ohio State University, and his most recent book, The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities25103023

The topic in the cross-hairs is the fate of the modern university and the axis that the conversation hinges on is one of economic and social utility versus a special sort of “inutility.”  Fish wants us to see the university as most valuable when it doesn’t intervene “in the social and political crises of the moment” and argues here as well as in his book, Save the World on Your Own Time, that the university should not view itself as instrumental, that is, “valued for its contribution to something more important than itself.”  I’m not so sure that Donoghue would get behind this; his critical project is more about clearly articulating the problem than it is about offering solutions.  In fact, if you were to ask him, as I once did, he will probably offer you the same chuckle that I got.  He said, “Solve it?! You can’t solve it.  It would be like trying to ‘solve’ capitalism.”

What might be interesting for readers of this blog–those interested in rhetoric, composition, literacy, and other really cool schtuff–is that our discipline, I would argue, is often at the center of these issues.  Whether it’s the idealized rhetoric of the liberal arts institution that universities still troll out in their television spots or the economics of the required first-year writing course and its attendant issues of tiered labor and corporate management theories, the stuff many of us do every day (and how we defend it) is inextricably bound to the issues that Donoghue explores.  I urge you all to read this book and arm yourself (yes, I am quite conscious of the militarized rhetoric) with a strong historical knowledge of how we arrived at this point. The end may be nigh, but that means a beginning is near as well . . .


visualizing communication

If understanding the medium through which communication happens is an essential part of any successful rhetorical analysis, then the video below might provoke a few thoughts about rhetoric in a digitally connected age.  GPS equipment is used in part to track the movement of telephone calls, fiber optic lines, taxis and airplanes:

If you find this interesting, head to Flowing Data to see other projects, like the growth of Wal-Mart since 1962.

From Deadbeat Funny to Dead Serious

David Sedaris. Sarah Vowell. James Thurber.

These authors are commonly classified as “humorists.” Now, this category has me a bit contemplative. Where is the line between funny Creative Non-Fictionists and Humorists and why is it necessary to classify these individuals in a separate category from other Creative Non-Fiction writers?

I’ve personally seen David Sedaris essays in Creative Non-Fiction anthologies, along with Thurber; though, I’m still waiting for someone to stick Sarah Vowell in one. She deserves it.

Wikipedia defines a humorist as “a person who writes or performs humorous material. The material written and/or performed by humorists tends to be more subtle and cerebral than the material created by stand-up comedians and comedy writers. The intention is often to provoke wry smiles and amusement rather than outright belly laughs.” Wikipedia also defines Creative Non-Fiction as “a genre of writing which uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives.”

I suppose I agree generally with those definitions. Humorists do tend to be wry and witty. Creative Non-Fiction aims to tell true stories in an aesthetically entertaining way. Sure. This would make humorists such as Sedaris, Vowell, and Thurber Creative Non-Fictionists as well; however, it seems as though they aren’t treated as such. It’s as if because they’re popular authors, they automatically need a special title to separate them from other less well known authors or authors that just don’t sell as well.

Honestly, I find the label of “humorist” demeaning. There’s this prejudice against things that are funny–as if they don’t require as much skill to construct or perform. (The closest thing to a comedy given Best Picture from the Academy Awards in the past ten years would be Shakespeare in Love, which won in 1998. That’s a Romantic Comedy, though. If we want to be strict with our categorization, then we’d have to go all the way back 1977, when Annie Hall received that coveted Oscar. But I digress.)

I disagree whole-heartedly. In fact, I may even be offended at such a thought. Indeed, drama and comedy require different skills and execution of those skills, but a badly executed joke is just as painful as an overly-maudlin drama (ie the Lifetime channel). My point being that these authors are worthy of the title “Creative Non-Fictionist” and the respect that comes with that label rather than merely being presented as a lowly “humorist,” which really seems to be saying “not funny enough to be a comedian, not literary enough to be a real writer.”

Maybe I’m just taking this personally.

I do wonder, though, if there is a category of itself that exists that is based on truth, but isn’t devoted to it. For instance, there’s this online magazine called The Deadbeat. Really, there are all kinds of articles from funny to seriousish and all around, but one article, The Dynamic of Socializing Online: 101, caught my attention for its amazing snarky, snarling, sardonic sarcasm.

Now, there is truth to what the author says, but it contains a large amount of sarcasm and hyperbole, which makes that truth less literal and more symbolic or figurative. Would this be humorism? There is a truth, but the truth is found by critiquing the misdirections that the author presents. You see his or her false representation of what is going on and through that observation, the truth is revealed, but it’s interesting because the author intended for you to critique him or her in that manner, so that you could arrive at their real meaning. Hmm.

Complex, ain’t it?

Dearest Nobody

In the news yesterday, the U.S. Army apologized for 7,000 letters sent to the surviving families of deceased soldiers who fought in the present Iraq war. Apparently the contracted company suffered a printing problem where the placeholder salutation, “Dear John Doe,” was not properly replaced with the recipients’ names and titles. Ouch. The letters were meant to notify the fallen soldiers’ families of services or gifts they could receive from nonprofit organizations.

Letter from the U.S. Army

(Download the .pdf file hosted by CNN here.)

(On a quick side note, I’m fascinated that they chose to capitalize “Soldier” and “Survivor.” While the move strikes me as archaic, it’s simultaneously respectful for that exact reason.)

I don’t bring up this story to poke fun at the U.S. Army for this mistake — it’s much too sensitive an issue — but I wonder how  the recipients must have responded to the letters. The Army has supposedly sent out an apology, but I can’t seem to locate it. You can read their press release here.

I am reminded of two related stories. One is admittedly minor and even silly in comparison, and the second is one that comes with the gravity of history, great loss, and a way with words from an important man.

Related Story #1

On November 5th, 2008, I received an email from JetBlue, the cool, fresh airline I frequented back when I lived near a city it serviced. Now I simply ignore their emails until I move again (from what I could see, they don’t seem to have an easy way to delete one’s account without contacting customer service — very clever). The critic in me, however, can’t help but open these emails to see how companies represent themselves these days, and I certainly had a moment when I opened this particular email.

Letter from JetBlue

I am addressed as “Mr. Soandso.” Huh. My mind quickly did a few loops at the time, the first beginning with the technology problem and then ending with questions regarding the company’s views of its customers: (1) obviously an improper or mistakenly forgotten link to the database caused the problem; (2) the placeholder doesn’t sound nearly as cool as JetBlue markets itself; (3) people actually use “soandso” these days? (4) why am I a Mr.? (5) I can’t believe I’m a Mr., especially a Mr. Soandso; (6) what general image must they have of their customers?

Somehow I really got put off at the idea that JetBlue thinks of me as “Mr. Soandso” rather than a “Dear Jetsetter” or even something as innocuous as “Dear JetBlue Customer.” (JetBlue sent out an apology within an hour or more of the error, but it appears I didn’t save the email.) To be honest, I’m really surprised at how much I was bothered over the “Mr.” From what I understand of technology, a placeholder doesn’t need more than a single character to tell the software where to insert the proper data. Adding the gendered title, if I’m correct, would be unnecessary. In my mind, then, it really says something about who the heads of the company think they’re servicing.

A quick aside: I’m reminded of an old classmate who would write “snazzy title here” at the top of her academic papers when she couldn’t come up with a title. She shrugged and looked a bit embarrassed the first time I noticed it, but I loved the idea and still do. It evoked such a positive feeling about the work: By intending to write a really snazzy title, she meant she intended to write a really snazzy paper as well. How else to get a graduate student pumped about writing a seminar paper?

But if Jetblue thinks I’m simply “Mr. Soandso,” they don’t think I’m snazzy at all. When I imagine the character they construct to represent the target audience of their marketing materials, I can only picture shiny shoes, a suit, and tie. A business man. Am I taking this slip personally? No. But I feel like I’ve been given an accidental glimpse into the company. It’s like taking a peek into a restaurant’s unkempt kitchen and realizing why some people in the business tell us we’re better off not knowing what goes on back there if we want to continue enjoying the luxury of eating out.

Alas, I am making too big a deal about this particular story, but I’m doing so to make a larger point: If I could read so deeply into a human and/or technology failure in a case where nothing more than my ego and consumerism are at stake, I can only imagine (or, honestly, perhaps I can’t) what it must feel like to receive a letter regarding the death of a family member and be addressed so coldly.

Related Story #2

And then I think about one of the best letters of all time, one attributed to Abraham Lincoln nearly hundred and fifty years ago, in which the president addresses the mother of five soldiers who where thought to have been killed during the Civil War. (A print version follows below.)

Lincoln to Mrs. Bixby

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

The letter and the (now inaccurate) storyline may be familiar to those of you who have seen an adaptation in the film, Saving Private Ryan. How sad to think that such a deep apology was (apparently) promptly destroyed by the receiver, for the mother was sympathetic to the South rather than to the views Lincoln held.

I wonder how the “Dear John Doe” letter was received today — even if it’s not the letter that actually breaks the news — if over a hundred years ago a mother and citizen could so decidedly disregard a personal letter from the President of the United States of America.