Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thank Goodness It's [Black] Friday

In honor of Black Friday 2008, I created an audio slideshow of part of the day's happenings and customer response at Brooklyn's Kings Plaza Shopping Center.
You can find the soundslides project here.

The Flu: Senior's Vaccination Day and Beyond

By Heather J. Chin
NY City News Service

Sunset Park, NY – With flu season here and January/February peak times just around the corner, health providers at Brooklyn’s Lutheran Medical Center and in hospitals and clinics throughout the city are trying to get both children and adults – including those over 65 years of age – to get their flu shot.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) named last week National Influenza Vaccination Week. Tuesday, December 9, was Children’s Vaccination Day. Thursday, December 11, was Senior’s Vaccination Day.

“[Parents and grandparents] may bring in a child for immunization, but they won’t for themselves,” said Norma Villanueva, M.D., M.P.H., the Network Chief of Child and Adolescent Health at Lutheran Medical Center.

Read the rest of the article here...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

COMMENTARY: Bush unharmed by tossed shoes; Will the same fate await the tosser?

So President Bush was the target of two shoes thrown at him - quite haphazardly - by an Iraqi television journalist whose employer, Al Baghdadia, is based in Cairo, Egypt. In the video clip viewed ’round the world, Mr. Bush tells a security agent that he is fine after the incident, later joking about the incident and telling the assembled press that he didn’t feel the least bit threatened by the attack. The journalist, however, may not be so fortunate.

While an attack on any world leader, however innocuous the weapon and bland response from the attacked, is cause for alarm and legal consequence, I have serious doubts about the existence and stability of any current Iraqi justice system. They didn’t have a fair one before the U.S.’ 2003 invasion and they haven’t had a chance to build one now, and with a history of lack of due process in the region, regardless of professional standing and international attention, it seems a very real possibility that Muntadar al-Zaidi, the journalist apprehended, faces either a violent fate or an untimely demise.

The words that al-Zaidi shouted in Arabic while throwing his shoes have been widely translated to have been: “This is the farewell kiss, you dog!” However, an unaccredited blogger at The False Oswalds expands the translated quote to “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog. … This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”
Whether this is accurate or not, I don’t know, but CNN expands the translation to: “You killed the Iraqis!” These add another layer of context to al-Zaidi’s motivation for the assault.

In that CNN article, it is also noted that al-Zaidi is the same journalist who was kidnapped in November 2007 on his way to work and then released three days later. I do not know if there are reports of what happened to him during his captivity, whether he was tortured or not. But I imagine that after the initial impulse to throw his shoes at President Bush wore off and he was surrounded and restrained by security agents, his mind flashed to those three days from one year ago and he came into a panic about his current situation. That is the only thing I can think to explain the blood trail on the carpet and the cries from an adjacent room while other Iraqi journalists apologized to the President and Mr. Bush made light of the situation.

I would love for someone to brief the U.S. president on the final translation so that after the jokes have subsided, he will no longer lack understanding of al-Zaidi’s cause. And hopefully, he will actually reinforce his claim that this show of protest - which is more than just an empty ploy for attention - is proof of democracy in Iraq by ensuring that Mr. al-Zaidi is not executed or tortured for his form of expression.

Big Pharma Under Fire for Reverse Plagiarism

The pharmaceutical industry is coming under fire for allegedly hiring ghostwriters (writers who work for pay, but not a byline) to write positive reports/analysis of clinical tests on drugs with possible efficacy issues - and then recruiting notable doctors to stick their names on it. This issue has been bandied about for months and suspected for longer, but now U.S. Senator Charles Grassley from Iowa is renewing the fight.

Is the fact that this possibility has surfaced doesn’t surprise me troubling? Even before I declared my concentration in health/medicine reporting, I was aware of the corruption and rampant abuse of power by what is referred to as Big Pharma. Government deregulation and regulation on a slew of business and healthcare policy issues end up benefiting these corporate entites, whether allowing unapproved drugs and drugs with possible side effects to go on the market before they are fully vetted by the FDA or removing/weakening price caps on prescription drugs so that Pharma can charge more for less and profit from donations of life-saving drugs to Third World countries. And of course there are the deceptive drug ads that have had varying levels of regulation over the last two decades.

Journal articles are an important “first draft” introducing new developments in medicine to the public and are among the sources used by health professionals and medical reporters in their story research. Doctors and reporters already look at journal articles with a wary eye, and the likely possibility of journal articles being fabricated can be even more detrimental to the trust people place in such written work.

And that doctors would sign on to put their names on these works they haven’t written - even if they agree with what is being written - is egregious and says they condone this deceptive practice. Like the regulations placed on drug advertisements, all that would be needed is for the doctors to acknowledge that this IS NOT their work. It would be better if it were, but if this is the way they want to roll, then disclose your affiliations.

It is tantamount to plagiarism.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Season of Hope: Holidays on Wall St.

By Heather J. Chin

The Christmas melodies of Gavin deGraw and Aretha Franklin were two of the main attractions at the New York Stock Exchange’s annual tree lighting ceremony this year. Beyond the glitz of Rockefeller Plaza, Wall Street’s celebration has the distinction of being organized by New Yorkers for New Yorkers, with plenty of holiday cheer permeating the gloom that become a familiar part of our days.

Hundreds of New Yorkers past and present gathered downtown for an evening of celebration, rumination and time with family before facing a new year and uncertain economic times.

Larry Lampiasi came downtown to watch his granddaughter sing with her schoolmates in Brick, New Jersey’s Monsignor Donovan Choir. As a self-employed salesman, he says he’s felt the economic pinch, but thinks the holiday season will help.

Jack Ruppenthar, also present to support his grandson in the choir, agreed, noting that the current economic recession would hurt those with financial investments and retirement savings and 401Ks. But with the holiday season upon us, he thinks it “will make people think more, being a little more frugal … putting more thought into the quality of gifts over the quantity of gifts.”

The ceremony outside the NYSE building on Broad Street between Wall Street and Exchange Place is quite possibly the most personal, meaningful and even oldest of all the high-profile holiday events in New York City, as it takes place in the heart of old New York and has been a tradition since 1923.

This year, while Mr. DeGraw and Ms. Franklin’s drew audience members who recognize their music and name, the evening’s entertainment and festive atmosphere also catered to the younger generation. Performances from local teen musicians were featured: Long Island rock band Push Play and 14-year-old Tiffany Giardina – her music is included in an upcoming movie, “Another Cinderella Story” – who grew up in New York.

Also on hand was 25-year-old jazz pianist and singer Peter Cincotti, whose blend of traditional jazz and classic styles with rock and pop made his song “December Boys” and his Christmas-themed melodies transfix crowd members of all ages.

Alceste, a New Jersey native and former retirement center COO who moved to Florida several years ago, noted the impact of the current economic crisis on both the younger and older generations.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Where did the prostitutes go, Mommy?"

By Heather J. Chin

Sunset Park – Prostitutes have long plied their trade along the Gowanus Expressway’s southern end in Brooklyn, coexisting quietly with their working class neighbors and largely ignored by police. But when residents began complaining in late September that men had begun soliciting sex from young girls and teachers at a nearby elementary school, the cops took fast action.

A series of morning crackdowns over three weeks resulted in 39 arrests along 56th and 57th streets between Second and Third Avenues, according to Deputy Inspector Jesus R. Pintos, of the 72nd Precinct. But the prostitution busts were only part of a larger effort that shows how local law enforcement can involve community organizations to find long-term solutions for neighborhood crimes.

The campaign began with getting the offenders off the streets. In what Inspector Pintos described as “precinct-based enforcement,” officers arrested 21 johns – the term used to describe the predominantly male clientele of prostitutes – and eight prostitutes. They also arrested nine others for related crimes of car theft (cars used by those arrested) and drug use or sales. Five vehicles were also confiscated at the scene.

Within days, the only signs that illegal activity had taken place were used condoms and other debris scattered on the sidewalk. The Brooklyn D.A.’s office lent several hands to deal with that. Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes assigned individuals sentenced to community service hours in the neighborhood to assist the precinct in sidewalk clean-up.

To maintain the quality of life in the area and prevent the problem from simply relocating, police increased surveillance. First they installed Sky Watch – a surveillance tower that extends via mini-crane atop an NYPD car, traveling between high crime areas in the city – along the main intersection on Third Avenue and 56th Street during the two weeks following the arrests. Precinct officers were also assigned to conduct regular sweeps of the problem corridor, making arrests when necessary.

For residents and schoolchildren, the effect of the changes was immediate. “Where did the prostitutes go, Mommy?” one grade-schooler asked her mother on the way to school a week following the first arrests. The grateful mother shared the story with Deputy Inspector Pintos at the monthly Community Council meeting. Says Pintos, “We’re making headway, but we’ll continue to monitor the problem.”

Others are trying to help those arrested in the busts. The Red Hook Justice Center, in collaboration with the 72nd precinct, is offering first-time offenders an alternative to trials and jail. Instead they have to attend “Project Respect,” often called the Brooklyn John School. The six-year-old program puts offenders face-to-face with former prostitutes, videos of sexually abused children and images of the diseases inflicted on them.

EPIC (Ending Prostitution In our Communities) and “Saving Teens at Risk” are two programs targeting prostitutes above age 21 and younger girls, respectively. They offer educational and rehabilitative services to help these women find other options and to deal with the issues that originally caused them to turn to the streets. Kings County DA statistics note that 80 to 90 percent of the women prostituting themselves have been sexually abused. The U.S. Dept. of Justice says that girls enter prostitution at an average age of 13.

According to Gerianne Abriano, Bureau Chief at the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, “the vast majority [of offenders] that come to Red Hook go through these programs. Anyone with a prior record, we try to get them drug [or other] treatment. [And as for] the prostitutes, they tend to be the most accessible. We have good results with them.”