Monday, November 02, 2009

Book Keeping: Speed-Writing For Success - Content

To kick off National Novel Writing Month, an enterprising YA author reveals how her participation in the day writing frenzy landed her a book deal

Posted using ShareThis

Friday, October 30, 2009

ENTERTAINMENT OP-ED: Tyra Banks puts on a show and show's off her ignorance

So Tyra Banks and her "America's Next Top Model" crew decided to plaster colored skin creams all over their contestant's faces in an effort to make them look, as one contestant put it, "so exotic." Some are calling it a return of the hated blackface. Others argue it's just acting. All wonder if it's going to even be a controversy.

I've detested this show since it was first a twinkle in the WB/CW's eye so nothing they do that's offensive or controversial really surprises me since I find the whole concept and industry behind high-end fashion modeling offensive and degrading, but this is just astounding because for all my hate on Tyra Banks and the fact that young women actually eat her superficial crap up, I kind of figured that she and her peers were just working with what they've got and are savvy enough to use society's obsession to their advantage, but this just makes them flat out stupid, in my opinion.

I mean, really? How does this not ruffle anyone on set's glittered feathers? Is such acceptance of such ignorance and consumerism over humanity really so pervasive? Heck, as noted in EW, they even mixed up racial identity with national and cultural identity, telling the aspiring models that Hawaii's a melting pot of races so they're each going to portray a jumble of Greek/Mexican, Moroccan/Russian, Botswana/Polynesian, Tibetan/whatever individuals.

Shows like Ugly Betty try to show the intelligence and thought process behind fashion shoots, the covering of all bases and being smart about it. These showrunners didn't even bother, reducing Native Americans to an eagle-staring people and Tibet to a stereotype of tranquility and oppression.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

PHILADELPHIA & TRENDS: Gardening in the Classroom

Published on Friday, September 4, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Classrooms go green to teach nature's ways

By Heather J. Chin
Inquirer Staff Writer

It is midday at Khepera Charter School in Mount Airy, and about two dozen middle schoolers are standing on the grass, staring at trees. Their science teacher, Kim Johnson, offers clues as they try to identify Japanese maple, sugar maple, pine oak, and spruce.

Such excursions are common at the school, where the lawns and a small vegetable garden have been an "outdoor classroom" for five years. English teachers read poems and have kids write essays in the sunshine. In math class, students measure the lawn's perimeter or solve problems while watching squirrels play.

The point, said Johnson, whose students call her Mama Omatayo or Mama O. (to foster a sense of family, faculty are referred to as Mama or Baba), is to provide learning experiences outside the four walls and to connect children with nature.

Rita Stevens, a special-education teacher at Philadelphia's Huey Elementary School at 52d and Pine Streets, takes a similar tack. She has been using the school's vegetable and flower garden to motivate her third to fifth graders to learn to read and write. Between weeding and watering, the kids label both the plants ("tomatoes" and "peppers") and their parts ("stem," "leaves" and "fruit").

"The kids are hands-on and they will learn how to read words associated with something," explained Stevens. "They'll make the effort to learn about what they're working with."

Learning experiences like these are why Johnson and Stevens joined 48 fellow educators at the third annual Green City Teachers workshop in July, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The two-day event trains educators in safe and best planting practices through hands-on work in one school's garden.

This year, Luis Muñoz-Marin Elementary School at Third and Ontario Streets in North Philadelphia was the host. On patches of soil behind the school and in the parking lot, teachers weeded, swept, built wooden frames for seed beds, tested soil for lead, applied mulch, and planted trees and vegetables. They also bonded over shared goals, challenges, and a desire to spread the word: Whether indoors or outdoors, large or small, gardens are a valuable educational tool.

Read the full article here.

PARENTING: How to halt nail-biting

Published in the August 2009 issue of PARENTING magazine.

5 Ways To Stop Nail Biting

Tricks to stop that unsightly gnawing that can lead to infection

By Heather Chin, Parenting

Sure, nail biting is a common childhood habit, and, in most cases, won't last -- but it's also unsightly and can lead to infection. How to stop it? Try these tricks from Dawn Huebner, Ph.D., author of What to Do When Bad Habits Take Hold.

Hand her something or place your hand on hers when she's nibbling.

Top her fingertips with colorful adhesive bandages or slather on lotion -- the taste will get her attention, and it will help smooth jagged cuticles.

Offer her raw carrots, cukes, or a plastic straw to chew on.

Regular exercise, such as jumping jacks or even kids' yoga, can help, as can carrying a stress ball.

Constant criticism can fuel your nail-biter's chomping (making her do it even more), and bitter polish can seem like punishment. Instead, praise your child regularly when she doesn't attack her nails.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

COMMENTARY: Cuban Students Expelled For Appying To U.S. Scholarships

U.S. Scholarships get Cuban College Students Expelled

"A sample of the actions taken by the current U.S. administration in its efforts to ideologically permeate university students is to offer them scholarships through the Interests Section to train them in the area of leadership," reads an internal document of the Ministry of Higher Education obtained by El Nuevo Herald.

"Applying for such scholarships reveals, at least, an unacceptable ideological inconsistency. More serious yet is the case of students selected by the Interests Section who upheld their decisions even after a political discussion with them."

The document, released in July, acknowledges that students and professors longed "to obtain personal benefits" and suffered "a confusion and poor understanding of the basic pillars that sustain the ideology of our revolution."

--> So if I understand this correctly, the "ideological inconsistency" is one of seeking personal benefit through education, versus faith in the Cuban Communist Party's ability to provide an education that would benefit the people over the individual. ... Okay, I recognize the pride issue, but ideologically, wouldn't the creation of a widely educated populace potentially benefit the people they would grow up to serve? Or is my reasoning tainted by its support of a global education versus a tightly controlled national education?

This issue makes me wonder: is the reluctance and resistance by some U.S. citizens to consider the idea of our students - and leaders - going abroad for part of their education or career experience as a good thing.... is this a sign of "ideological inconsistency" with our own nation's ideals? Or is this a sign of the rigidity of thought that is so clearly displayed by the Cuban government here?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Fun Food Talk: Road Chow

In this lifestyle article in USA Today, registered dietician and nutrition blogger Elizabeth Ward advocates for high-sodium, processed fast food as healthy food options. For breakfast, a McDonald's Egg McMuffin or french toast sticks at Burger King? For dinner, a cheeseburger and salad with dressing or, whoa, Beefaroni? I'm all for convenience and practicality, but when you're labeling something "healthy," there's a line that shouldn't be crossed.

This is appalling. Healthy isn't just about calories and a balanced meal doesn't mean balanced between the levels of fat and sodium content. Being on the road doesn't mean being checked out of the sanity department when it comes to feeding you and your family a healthy - and cost-effective - diet.

On the contrary, it's a prime chance to get the whole family - kids of all ages, too - to collaborate on their meals, making it a fun project. Bring the cooler, people, and pack your own fresh snacks, something like sandwiches, fruit, water, 100% juice, veggie and cookies. I'm not a registered dietician, but I do know I'd rather feed my family food with ingredients that I can actually read and identify.

Speaking of family, Ward is apparently the author of several books on nutrition, including Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During and After Pregnancy. If her suggestions for "healthy" road food is any indication, I shudder to think about what she's recommending moms-to-be introduce their impressionable, unbrand-loyaltyed children. Parents are role models, including when it comes to our eating habits, and teaching toddlers and kids that it's okay to stuff yourself with edible "food" items just because it's low in calories is not a lesson we should be presenting.

For some other road or picnic food ideas, check out these links. There's the snacks and the main food. And for the family full of kids, there's always this list of tips from Disney Family and Road Trip America.

On the vegan front, there's Jennifer McCann's day trip lunch for her and her preteen son, as seen on Vegan Lunch Box. McCann also has a suggestion for a large vegetarian picnic spread.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pennsylvania and New Jersey: Winning By Quitting

Published on August 17, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Smokers have more options than ever in the fight to kick the habit.

By Heather J. Chin
Inquirer Staff Writer

Nina Ball regularly walks by a row of smokers outside the charter school in North Philadelphia where she helps youths find jobs and get into college. A year ago, she might have bummed a cigarette there.

But today, after a series of group counseling and fitness sessions at a local health clinic, she hopes she has replaced her addiction to nicotine with another obsession: a drive to write and perform poetry.

"When I'm keeping busy with things I love, I feel less of a need to smoke," said Ball, who ditched her Marlboro Menthol 100s 10 months ago.

As Ball learned, the methods to stop smoking are growing. A few programs offer group counseling and fitness together - to counter fears of weight gain and encourage overall health - along with nicotine replacement products and drugs. Most sessions are free, courtesy of the money that tobacco firms pay yearly to states to cover smokers' health-related costs.

Insurers also may cover some prescription drugs for those enrolled in a state-sponsored cessation program.

Hospitals, in addition, are pushing smoking cessation to their patients. Studies suggest that they are likelier to quit when the health risks are high.

Each year about 443,000 people die from smoking nationwide, including about 20,000 Pennsylvanians and 11,000 New Jersey residents.

Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Personal Health: For Kids, Increased Screen Time Can Equal Increased Blood Pressure

Published on August 10th, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Kids' screen time is linked to development of hypertension
More time plopped in front of a screen - computer, video, video game, and, particularly, television - may raise the risk of elevated blood pressure in children, according to a new study.

The researchers tracked activity levels of 111 children ages 3 to 8 - 57 boys and 54 girls - round-the-clock for a week via measurements from an accelerometer worn over the right hip as well as parents' reports of the average time their child spent sitting or engaging in activities that ranged from painting to watching TV. They also considered age, sex, height, percentage of body fat, and other differences.

Excessive TV time and total screen time were linked to elevated blood pressure - a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and other health problems - even when possibly related measures, such as body fat, were separated from the analysis. Children who spent less than 30 minutes a day in front of a screen tended to have the lowest blood pressures, the researchers report in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. (The average was 90 minutes.)

Interestingly, the researchers did not find an association between blood pressure and sedentary behavior in general, leading them to suggest that factors specific to watching a screen - eating foods high in sugar, fat and salt, for example, or disruptive sleep patterns that have been associated with TV time - might play a role. - Heather J. Chin

Read the full article here.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Tweets Untweeted

As Twitter continues to defend against a hack attempt with "collateral damage," thus preventing me from tweeting important news, I am posting here the two tweets untweeted, in order from most recent backwards.

@alfranken Thanks for the Service Dogs for Veterans Act.

@Rick_Bayless Thanks for your fantastic, tasty and wonderfully gracious meal tonight on Top Chef Masters! It's a joy to have such respect!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Personal Health: Antipsychotic Drugs May Increase Risk to Older Diabetics

Published on August 3, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

A warning for older diabetics who take antipsychotic drugs
Older diabetics who start on an antipsychotic drug may face a greater risk of high blood glucose levels, or hyperglycemia, according to a study published in the July 27 Archives of Internal Medicine.

The findings are based on a Canadian study of 13,817 diabetics aged 66 and older who took antipsychotics in a two-year period for dementia and other conditions, while also receiving insulin-treatment, oral hypoglycemic (blood-glucose reducing) agents, or no diabetes treatment. Eleven percent - 1,515 people - of patients were hospitalized for hyperglycemia or related conditions.

Those starting on antipsychotics were particularly at risk; after their first prescription, they were eight to 15 times more likely to be hospitalized than those not getting the drugs.

The connection between hyperglycemia and antipsychotic use has been studied in younger patients with schizophrenia, but research in older adults is limited, the researchers said. If the use of antipsychotics in older diabetics with dementia cannot be avoided, the study's authors conclude, then patients and relatives should be on the alert for signs of high blood sugar levels once treatment begins. The researchers recommend enhanced glucose monitoring for all patients starting antipsychotic drugs. - Heather J. Chin

Read the full article here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Food News: Lobster In Need of New Marketing?

Hey, cheap lobster everybody!

What's most fascinating to me is the talk of down-marketing lobster from celebratory treat to everyday food. While a cool and clever idea, I'd think that if successful, it could backfire if and when prices go up again and they end up having to catch more lobster than they can, especially if the industry really is so well managed. Or lobster may not have the same appeal anymore.

Do people eat lobster because they like the taste or texture or because they think it's a special, once-in-a-while food that appeals to their desire to appear well-off and make a good impression?
Would the demand for lobster stay the same if it were stuck in the frozen food aisle along with similar-tasting shellfish like shrimp?

If so, then maybe they'd end up making more money than ever once prices rise again.

Pennsylvania: Pediatricians and Paperwork

Published on July 27, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Summer's no vacation for pediatricians

Pediatricians know it's summer when the health forms start piling up.

For everything from day care and camps to college and driver's license applications, each form asks different questions and often requires handwritten answers.

"It's overwhelming, particularly in the summer" when camps, school, and sports seasons converge, says Jeffrey Bomze, a pediatrician whose Bryn Mawr practice sees around 3,000 patients a year. "It's not just a signature and out the door."

Every year, pediatricians typically see about 95 patients per week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. At nearly 5,000 patients per year, four health forms per child, and about eight minutes per form, that means one person could spend 333 workdays a year on health forms alone.

And it's getting worse.

Read the full story here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Personal Health: Unlabeled food additives can hurt kidney patients

Published on July 27, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Food-label study: Meat additives could harm kidney patients

Raw meat and poultry products may contain hidden food additives that can be harmful for people with kidney disease, reveals a new study into the potential health risks of incomplete food labeling.

The research, which appears online in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, focuses on the presence of dietary phosphate and potassium, often injected into fresh meat along with sodium, antioxidants, and flavorings. Too much of both substances can cause death in patients on dialysis.

Researchers purchased 36 uncooked meat and poultry items, most of which listed additives but not amounts, at several supermarkets in northern and central New Jersey. Items were transferred to separate plastic bags to prevent lab technicians from seeing the food-labeling information.

The results showed products labeled as "enhanced" with a 28 percent greater average phosphate concentration than additive-free products. High potassium content was present in 20 percent of the enhanced products.

The authors conclude that more complete food labeling is needed to help an already at-risk group.

- Heather J. Chin

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Philly Region: Summer Camps Deal With Swine Flu

Published on July 16, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.
I contributed some reporting on this.

Some camps report swine flu cases

By Kristin E. Holmes
Inquirer Staff Writer

Camp directors are battling more than unruly youngsters this summer. They have been contending with outbreaks of what they think is the swine flu.

Some area camps, as well as ones outside the region that host large numbers of youngsters from the area, report sending home dozens of campers who have exhibited flulike symptoms.

Pennsylvania health officials say they know of 10 to 20 camps in the state that have had a high-enough incidence of the flu to warrant control measures such as isolating campers or sending them home.

"I'd say we've had a fair number of camps that have clusters of illness," said Stephen Ostroff, acting state physician general and director of the state Bureau of Epidemiology.

In South Jersey, fewer than five cases have been reported to health agencies. Reported cases might be low because officials test for the flu only when patients are hospitalized or clusters of illness occur.

No camps in Pennsylvania or South Jersey have closed, officials said.

Read the full article here...

International and Food: Italian Province Bans Non-Italian Ethnic Food

GlobalPost has a story up today on a ban instituted in the Italian province of Lucca, against all ethnic restaurants and shops that sell goods using non-provincial or non-Italian ingredients. Here's an excerpt:

The law banned the opening of any new ethnic restaurants, “with a view to safeguarding culinary traditions and the authenticity of structure, architecture, culture.” It also prohibited the opening of any commercial premises serving food and drink “whose business is related to different ethnic groups. If an established restaurant owner decided to produce a non-Italian menu, it must include “at least one traditional Lucca dish made exclusively from ingredients commonly acknowledged as being typical of the province.”

On one hand, I understand the desire to keep traditions alive, but on the other, I find it a bizarre and dictatorial thing to do. It's also pretty confounding. Requiring at least one dish per restaurant menu to be made from local ingredients is one thing, but to both give favoritism to established restaurants and to expect locals to only cook and eat in a certain style and method is a rather clear affront to basic freedoms. And, with the allowance of a French restaurant yet not a Sicilian one, could be targeting Middle Eastern cuisine in particular. There have been few concessions, so there's not a lot of ammunition on that front to go by.

Plus, it disregards the human inclination to not want to eat the same thing every day and to resist unnecessary bans. It's not as if the entire province was going to stop eating Italian food.

As a foodie and some time cultural analyst, I also find it interesting, though, how Lucca's governmental leaders have caught on to the idea of food as a gateway to a culture. It makes sense, in a way, with Italian history, culture and identity steeped in the art of joining gastronomic delights and the foundation of a life well-lived.

Then there is the use of "local food" as a cultural cuisine-specific phrase, as opposed to the "grown-here" ideal making the rounds here in the United States. I'd never thought of it like that. And I'm glad that such a ban would never fly in the America I know, thanks to American's wide-ranging palate, diverse backgrounds, and recognition that food of all spices and origins is a huge business. And after all, our country is a melting pot, in both a social and gastronomic sense.

Music: Olympus PEN Camera Ad Campaign

This song, written for the Olympus camera company, is really beautiful and sweet. And the stop-motion animated video is jaw-dropping.

Here are the song lyrics:

Down Below – Johannes Stankowski / prod. & arranged by Michael Kadelbach

Be just who you want to be, my friend
You just got to trust in fate.
Do the things you want to do ‘cause life don’t wait
Take it easy, keep your head up high
No need for sorrow and despair
Just keep on moving, it’s such a wonderous world out there

The years are flashing by and everything will change
But way down deep inside – we all just stay the same
And down below
Old memories come alive and then we know
Down below

It’s a long road we all got to walk
But there’s an awful lot to see
And the sun keeps rising up wherever you may be
Fly the ocean, dive into the blue
No need for sorrow and despair
Just keep moving, it’s such a wonderous world out there

The years are flashing by and everything will change
But way down deep inside – we all just stay the same
And down below
Old memories come alive and then we know
Down below

The years are flashing by and everything will change
But way down deep inside – we all just stay the same
And down below
Old memories come alive and then we know
Down below

Friday, July 17, 2009

International: Asylum for the Domestic and Sexually Abused?

This post is in response to this NYTimes article, which reports on an issue that reveals the indignance presented by the Bush administration and the walking-on-eggshells hesitation by the Obama administration as regards setting asylum criteria that would consider sexual abuse and physical abuse as eligible instances to would trigger asylum.

The reservation is understandable, but one can be protective without being cold and hard and hypocritical. What, ultimately, makes political or religious asylum any different than asylum based on sexual abuse? Perhaps it reflects our existing willingness and even desire to ignore physical and sexual abuse in domestic situations even of our own citizens.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Personal Health: Excessive Hair-Pulling

Published on July 13, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

An aid in cases of hair pulling
A common dietary supplement containing an amino acid may help people with trichotillomania, also known as compulsive hair pulling, according to a study by researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis.

The amino acid N-acetylcysteine occurs naturally in the body and is sold in pill form in health-food stores.

Two to four percent of the U.S. population suffer from trichotillomania, a physically, emotionally and socially damaging condition that often coexists with other psychological disorders.

Fifty sufferers - 45 women and five men, with an average age of 34 - were randomly assigned to take 1,200 milligrams to 2,400 milligrams of N-acetylcysteine or a placebo for 12 weeks. Most were also receiving psychotherapy or psychotropic drugs.

After nine weeks, more than half of the supplement-takers reported improvement - such as reduced hair-pulling urges and fewer hair-pulling episodes - compared with 16 percent of those on the dummy pills. The positive response continued for the remaining three weeks.

The study is reported in the July issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

- Heather J. Chin

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Philly Local: Hospitals Expand Safe Sleep Practices

Published on July 7, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Hospitals push safe sleep practices for infants

By Heather J. Chin
Inquirer Staff Writer

For the last year, parents have been banned from sleeping with their sick babies at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.

The hospital instituted the policy after three infants over three months were pronounced dead in the emergency room after bed sharing-related accidents at home.

Babies who sleep with a parent can become overheated, be rolled onto, or be smothered by soft sheets or pillows. They can also lose circulation if wedged between the mattress and furniture.

The hospital's ER typically gets one such death every couple of months. But the "little cluster" of tragedies early last year inspired St. Christopher's nurses to propose that the hospital lead by example.

"Today, people often don't have primary pediatricians," said emergency nursing director Kirsten Johnson-Moore. "So emergency departments, I feel, have a responsibility to educate and prevent."

Read the full story here...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Personal Health: On Statins and Walking Aids

Published on Monday, July 6, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Likely benefits to prescribing statins to curb heart disease

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, the standard of care for people with heart disease, may also benefit many patients who are merely at risk of developing the disease, researchers report in a review of 10 previous studies involving 70,000 people worldwide.

Prescribing statins as a preventive measure to patients with risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure was associated with a 30 percent drop in major heart disease and a 12 percent drop in deaths over an average of four years, researchers said on, an online British medical journal.

Statins are powerful drugs, and the researchers - several of whom reported support in the past from manufacturers - stopped short of recommending their use for all people at risk of developing heart disease.

While men over 65 who have other risk factors and older women with diabetes and other risk factors appear to be most in danger of developing heart disease, they write, "the correct identification of such people remains a challenge," as does prediction of an individual's risk. - Heather J. Chin

Study of falls suggests need to teach safer use of walkers

More than 47,000 older Americans a year - 129 a day - seek treatment at hospitals after falls involving walkers or canes, according to a six-year review of ER records that suggests more time should be spent teaching people how to use walking aids.

Falls are the leading cause of injuries in people over 65. Less than 3 percent involve walking aids, but the researchers, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said they were the frailest and most vulnerable population. And while twice as many older people use canes than use walkers, the researchers found seven times as many injuries associated with walkers.

Fractures were the most common type of injury. Men injured their head and neck most frequently, while women hit their hip or pelvis. Women, who are more likely to use walkers, made up 77 percent of all falls examined.

The goal now, the authors write in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, is to identify potential risk factors that lead to falls, to design better walking aids, and to provide education on safe usage. Information about falls and how to prevent them: - Heather J. Chin

Friday, July 03, 2009

Pennsylvania: Insuring the Uninsured

Published on July 1, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Bill to expand Pa. health insurance sparks debate

By Michael Vitez and Heather J. Chin
Inquirer Staff Writers

Democratic leaders in Pennsylvania hope to double the number of residents who receive state-sponsored health insurance, known as adultBasic, but Republicans fear the costs may be too high.

The Pennsylvania House on Monday voted, 104-98, in favor of HB 1, to increase the number of individuals receiving adultBasic from 45,000 to 90,000.

Republican leaders in the Senate say they might oppose the effort. Carolyn Scanlan, president and CEO of the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, also expressed reservations.

Pennsylvania, like the nation, has seen the numbers of uninsured soar in the last year as the economy has declined, making a bad situation much worse.

AdultBasic is designed for people who earn too much to qualify for poverty programs such as Medicaid but can't afford insurance themselves.

An individual is eligible for adultBasic if he or she earns $21,600 or less; a family of four can earn $44,000 or less.

The program can't begin to meet the rising need. The waiting list, officials say, is growing by 20,000 a month and projects 270,000 as of today.

A year ago, it was at 96,000.

Read the full story here...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Personal Health: Music and Electronic Medical Records

Published on Monday, June 29, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

Music therapy may help control blood pressure
When it comes to matters of the heart, music may be more than just the food of love. A small study by Italian researchers has linked swelling crescendos - volume increase - to heart rate arousal and gradual decrescendos to relaxation.

The 24 subjects, half of whom were experienced singers, were monitored using electrocardiograms while they listened to five random tracks of classical music, including Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Verdi's La Traviata. As volume increased, so did the subject's blood pressure, heart rate, and blood flow. Long melodies led heart rhythms to synchronize with the tempo. And during a two-minute silence, breathing and blood pressure dropped.

The authors, who have done similar research before, hope their findings will show how music therapy can help in rehabilitative medicine. The paper was published in the journal Circulation.

- Heather J. Chin

Some patients are often left in dark on test results
Physician failure to notify patients or accurately record notifications about abnormal test results is common, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Records that were part electronic and part paper-based were more likely to be incomplete than those consisting entirely of one or the other.

The study examined 5,434 outpatient medical records from 19 community-based and four academic medical centers that offered primary care services, as well as the centers' methods of documentation - paper records, electronic medical records, or partial electronic records. Eleven blood tests and three screening tests - mammographies, Pap smears, and fecal occult blood matter - were examined in patients who were between 50 and 69 years old when treated.

Out of 1,889 abnormal test results, 135 patients were not informed of them promptly - either within 21 or 90 days, depending on the type of test. That was a failure rate of 7.1 percent. Three medical centers had a zero error rate while the rest ranged up to 26.2 percent.

The authors aim for more awareness of how often these errors occur and how managing results can reduce failure rates and successful malpractice claims from uninformed patients.

- Heather J. Chin

Philly Local: Philadelphia VA Prostate Cancer Scandal

Published on June 23, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.
I contributed some reporting to this story.

Specter plans hearing on VA prostate cancer treatment

By Marie McCullough
Inquirer Staff Writer

Four years ago, after talking to doctors at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, the Rev. Ricardo Flippin opted for a radiation therapy that would precisely target his prostate cancer and leave nearby organs unharmed.

Instead, his prostate cancer got too little radiation while his rectum received so much that he suffered excruciating, permanent damage.

Flippin, 68 - a minister, teacher, and Air Force veteran - is hardly unique.

The Philadelphia VA has notified 92 prostate cancer patients treated between 2002 and 2008 that their "brachytherapy" radiation doses were too high or too low. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has shut down the brachytherapy program in Philadelphia and three other VA hospitals with less serious problems.

Yesterday, the unfolding scandal prompted Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) to say he would hold a hearing on the matter in Philadelphia on Monday.

Read more here...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Philly Local: High School Health Fellowships

Published June 10, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Fellowship seeks to give ninth graders a boost

By Heather J. Chin
Inquirer Staff Writer

A new fellowship program will pair about two dozen low-income ninth graders in Philadelphia with professional mentors this fall to prepare them for careers in health care and science.

The Karabots Junior Fellows Program will offer traditional mentoring from physician experts over three years as well as field trips, extra classes, college prep, internships, video seminars, and online networking. It is funded with an initial $800,000 grant from the Karabots Foundation in Fort Washington.

"You can't fulfill a dream unless you have the dream," said George M. Wohlreich, chief executive officer of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, a professional society that is hosting the fellowship and providing mentors. "Our goal is to help them create a dream and show them how to fulfill it."

As the need for health care rises, the demand for qualified candidates is growing, too. But many low-income minority youth lack academic and familial support to keep up with their better-off peers.

Read more here...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Midtown Lunch Spot: Meal O'Bama

A chalkboard sign advertises the daily specials at Meal O'bama, the recently renamed food cart located on the corner of W39th Street and 7th Avenue.

Other fast-food chains, such as Obama Fried Chicken in Harlem and Brownsville, have gained media attention in recent weeks for changing their name to reference President Barack Obama.

This vendor stand seems not to be attracting controversy, though. It is supervised by Mr. Muhammad Rahman, famous for formerly being a chef at the Russian Tea Room, who owns and operates a small chain of food vendor carts called Kwik Mart throughout Midtown.

A day-in-the-life timeline of the workers and cooks who operate the Kwik Mart vendor chain, of which this cart is a part of, can be found on the NYC eatery blog, Midtown Lunch.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Eureka!? - Job Networking Is Mutually Beneficial-

Today, the New York Times has a piece on job networking social gatherings. The whole nut of the article hinges on the fact that these groups are proliferating in small and large sizes around the country. And that successful networking requires helping others while they help you.

That this still strikes some as novel saddens me. I wonder if more people are more giving now that many are all in the same boat. Or if it's just a more cutthroat environment.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

May 2-3: Sakura Matsuri - Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

New Yorkers of all ages relax beneath the cherry blossom trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Head to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden website to find out more about New York City’s Sakura Matsuri - a Japanese festival to celebrate the blossoming of cherry trees - coming up this weekend. Over 50 events and performances will take place under the BBG’s 220 cherry trees.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Subway MTA Workers Protest Planned Layoffs and Silent Union

Reported by Amber Benham, Heather Chin and Jacqueline Linge
NY City News Service
for NYC On Deadline

Update (May 11, 2009): Following approval from the New York State Legislature for a $2.26 billion bailout of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the agency’s board voted today to raise subway fares and road tolls by 10 percent instead of the proposed 23 to 30 percent. The commuter and subways/bus hikes will take effect on June 17 and June 28, respectively. The compromise also reduces service and staff cuts to only those coming from retirement and workers quitting.

Hundreds of transit workers - train conductors, bus drivers, track inspectors and station agents - joined New Yorkers outside the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Midtown headquarters last Thursday to protest everything from transit layoffs and budget cuts to fare and tuition hikes. Their massive presence and loud cries punctuated a campaign that began over six months ago when the MTA announced a budget shortfall of 1.2 billion dollars. Since then, the deficit has ballooned as tax revenues fall.

Proposals for closing the budget gap include a 23 to 30 percent fare hike effective June 1, the reduction of commuter bus, subway and train service, and the elimination of up to 3,000 jobs, 1,100 through immediate layoffs and the rest after workers retire or quit, according to the MTA. Transit Workers Union Local 100 estimates the removal of at least 819 bus operators, over 700 station attendants and 317 managerial administrators.

The proposed hike would mean one-way subway fares of $2.50 from the current $2. A 30-day unlimited Metrocard would cost $103, up from $81.

Read more and view the AUDIO-SLIDESHOW here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

For Two Brooklyn Catholic Schools, Life After Salvation

by Heather J. Chin
NY City News Service
March 26, 2009

Sunset Park – Three teachers, three parents and two parish (church) members gathered at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Elementary School to discuss how to increase enrollment by focusing on the school’s neighborhood ties. They are part of the school’s newly formed marketing committee, created two months after everyone thought the school would close and only one month after they began counting their blessings.

After the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn – the fifth most populous in the United States – announced the fate of 22 Catholic elementary schools on February 12th, students, parents and staff at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School and Our Lady of Angels School felt relief, tempered with cautious optimism. With eight schools set to close and others merging, the two schools in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge had escaped the worst. But with enrollment and private school cost affected by the economy, they need some change to prove they can also grow.

“One thing we’re doing is we will continue the after school program, enriching it for a more academic-oriented focus,” explained Theresa Cassidy, a member of the marketing committee who has taught pre-K and kindergarten classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Help for the past 24 years and whose son and relatives have attended the school. “It’s [been] more that parents know their children are somewhere safe, but now we will offer a little more.”

Fiscal strength and steady enrollment are two of the main benchmarks required of the schools. Currently, both schools are part of their respective parishes, receiving some financial and curricular support from church leaders. In September, OLA will become Holy Angels Academy, an independent Catholic academy with four diocese Members in charge of the faith-based curriculum and an independent Board of Directors overseeing strategy and business operations.

“We’re really positive about it, really excited,” said Stephanie Sanadria, a mother of a __-grader and treasurer of Homeschool, now called the Parent’s Association, at what will become Holy Angels Academy. “We’re looking forward to [the two-tiered governance model]. We’ll be the first in Bay Ridge… We think we’ll be in the forefront of this.”

OLPH, meanwhile, will remain a parochial school and will have to improve both recruitment and fundraising efforts, sending a regular report on their progress to the diocese.

“Through marketing and grants, we’re hoping to attain more financial opportunities for the school,” said Anne Stefano, OLPH’s principal, noting that enrollment is “average” with 262 pre-K to 8th grade students, and the goal for the next five years being to raise that total about 25 percent.

A new nursery program has been established so more children are on track to eventually become students. The school day will also get longer, starting at 7:30 a.m. and end, after the after-school program described by Cassidy, at 6 p.m.. And alumni volunteers and students from the sixth to eighth grades will continue to assist with mentoring and teacher-help in the after-school program. The point: to further embrace children and families into a larger, more comprehensive community, doing more than just get the school and church to grow.

The growing Hispanic and Asian communities will also be courted. This will be done through both word of mouth and a focus on religious education students at the Ming Wong school, the Saturday school that rents space at OLPH. With a 106-year history, OLPH has educated generations of students who would bring their kids and grandkids. Not enough years have passed for minority students to do the same thing, but in that tradition, they attract younger siblings and relatives.

Or you bring yourself back, as eighteen-year-old Joshua Deliz is doing two days a week this Spring. A senior at nearby Xaverian High School and a graduate of OLPH, he returned as a volunteer to help his former kindergarten teacher, Ms. Cassidy. Asked what made the school so special, he noted his attachment to it and the individualized attention students get. He also cited the staff’s longevity – he estimated that his younger sister currently has around 80 percent of the same teachers he did.”

The advantages held by OLPH, OLA and the handful of other schools in Brooklyn and Queens that were “saved,” compared to those that closed, were that “they had the capitalization to devise a plan” that had promising strong financial and community resources, according to Father Kieran Harrington, the Communications Director at the Diocese of Brooklyn. Some closing schools, he noted, were running over $400,000 in deficits and were structurally unable to survive.

Whatever their logistical advantages, OLPH and OLA’s most valuable asset is the devotion of their communities, stretching from current students and families to alumni and day-to-day church parishioners. So despite both himself and his wife working full-time, Bay Ridge parent, Matt Cassamassino, said they “definitely help out when [they] can.”

“There was a petition online, there was a Facebook group – it was about getting the neighbors to show support,” said Cassamassino, whose daughters attend OLA’s first grade and pre-K classes. “People who weren’t connected to the school anymore but were still connected with the parish. … Over 800 people signed the petition.”

When Sunset Park resident Patricia Delle Cave, whose three daughters, all of whom are either current or upcoming students, found out about the threat of closure while picking up her daughter, Meaghan, from kindergarten at OLPH in January, she immediately wrote to and called the bishop’s office. Her daughters were upset, too.

“When [Meaghan] found out, her heart was broken. She understood. She cried,” Delle Cave said. “Olivia, my three-year-old, was upset. She had her heart set on coming here.”

The strong bond even brought families out to their home away from home for private celebrations. Delle Cave brought her entire family to OLPH’s Little Doctors Blood Drive on February 15 – her wedding anniversary – three days after the school’s good news came. Having been planned during the period of uncertainty, the big event became a magnet for the joy and relief felt by the school community.

“When Olivia heard that the school wasn’t going to close, she said ‘Good. Now I don’t have to karate chop someone!”

It’s this kind of playful and devoted dedication that Cassidy, the pre-K teacher, believes makes schools like OLPH and OLA special and more than just a building and classes. Delle Cave agrees.

“Anything they need,” she said, “I will come running.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

AIDS Activists Flunk New York City Health Care Services

D. D-minus. F.

Those are the grades that HIV and AIDS advocates gave to New York City’s health care services.

To mark President Obama’s 50th day in office on Wednesday, March 11, AIDS and HIV prevention advocates from around the country issued a health care report card grading the nation’s progress in finding a cure for the epidemic. The “End AIDS Report Card,” compiled by the activist organization Campaign To End AIDS, failed the city across the board on the services such as housing and medication distribution.

“We need a national strategy to end AIDS,” said Charles King, CEO of Housing Works. “Twenty five years into the epidemic and we still don’t have a coherent national strategy on prevention or on treatment services and care. There has to be a strategy that involves every single state and every single locality doing its fair share.”

New Yorkers gather in Harlem in front of a statue of civil rights advocate, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., to protest what they call a failing city health care system.

Go to NYC On Deadline to read the rest of the report, view video coverage and listen to interviews.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

From Garden to Green Jobs: Returning Brooklyn Youth To Their Green Roots

At the third annual Making Brooklyn Bloom event on Saturday, March 7, hundreds of New Yorkers of all ages gathered on the grounds of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (off Eastern Parkway and Prospect Park) for a day of running around newly budding flowers, watching fish swim, making solar-powered toy racecars, pressing fresh apple cider - and, of course, learning.

Local and citywide organizations such as Sustainable Flatbush, Just Food, the Food Bank of NY, TreesNY, Red Hook’s Added Value farms and the upcoming Brooklyn Urban Garden School, encouraged participants to experiment with hands-on projects at their volunteer tables, emphasizing the fun and ease of activities that promote food, environmental and social sustainability.

Click here to read more and view a SLIDESHOW of the day's events.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Live-Blog: Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline

Reported live on Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Children’s Defense Fund’s New York chapter is holding a one-day summit in Central Brooklyn called “Connecting the Neighborhood Dots: Promoting Solutions to Dismantle the Pipeline to Prison.” Hosted by CUNY’s Medgar Evers College in partnership with the Casey Family Programs, the day has been scheduled full of panel discussions and presentations by leaders in the children’s advocacy and juvenile justice organizations.

I will be chronicling the start of the conference and the back-to-back morning sessions that focus on the disproportionate impact of prison and the criminal justice system on specific communities in New York City, mainly in the Bronx and Central Brooklyn, and how community-based strategies can promote healthy children, families and neighborhoods.

Read and watch the full coverage here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

COMMENTARY: Link between HRT and breast cancer rates?

After reading this news article about research touting a link between hormone-replacement therapy and increased breast cancer rates, I can't help but doubt the veracity of this study (not uncommon with research studies. Always read with caution.) Before jumping on the blame-HRT bandwagon, why don't the researchers account for the possibility that the severe menopause symptoms could be linked to the increased risk and rates of breast cancer? This, rather than HRT being the cause of the cancer? The two issues - severe menopause symptoms and breast cancer rates - may not have separate factors.