Showing posts from March, 2013

Kids' Restaurant Meals Healthy? Don't Go There!

Big surprise!  Children's meals at restaurants are still unhealthy! And we're not just talking about McD's and Burger King.

According to a new study of the "nutritional quality of meals for children on the menus of the nation’s largest chain restaurants ... 91 percent do not even meet the standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell program," as reported by the NYT's Stephanie Strom.

Just five years ago, Strom writes, a similar study found that 99 percent of kids' restaurant meals were unhealthy so I guess we've made some progress.  But not nearly enough. Strom notes that even though restaurants are now bragging about their "healthier" options for kids, truly healthy meals have gone from one percent to only three percent of what's offered.  Not nearly enough, experts agree.

Strom singled out in her story Subway, which does not offer sugared sodas with its kids meals, but offers water or nonfat milk instead…

How Much Did This Really Help? More Newtown Facts

Now that more information about Adam Lanza and the Newtown massacre are about to hit the airwaves, how much do we really need to know? Make that, want to know.

That he fired 155 bullets in less than five minutes, according to NBC News?  That he fired 154 of those bullets from his assault rifle and just one (to kill himself) from a handgun?

And big surprise, that he had a certificate from, or was a member of, the National Rifle Association?  All these facts came out today at a press conference held by the chief prosecutor investigating the slaughter.

So, does this make any of us feel better?  We sort of knew the main outline from all the newscasts.  This is just shedding a little more light (if there is any light to Adam Lanza).  We also learned just last week that he had a seven-foot spreadsheet of all the mass killings of recent years.

But does this help us make any more sense of this horrific crime?  Not for me.  We always knew this kid was really messed-up, and I'm not sure it…

Bad Blood: Brother Against Brother

A rather interesting article in The Advocate (Stamford, CT) caught my eye this week.  It was about Michael Skakel, who was convicted years ago of murdering a neighbor back when they were both teens, and an appeal he's successfully brought for a re-opening of the case.
What intrigued me was that, as part of the rationale for once again prying open the case, his lawyers did it on the basis that he received poor lawyering the first time around (even though the lawyer was celebrity Mickey Sherman, of NBC and CNN fame).  This, of course, happens 
But as part of the appeal, Skakel's new attorneys argued that Sherman didn't call the "right" witnesses to testify.  One of those witnesses was Thomas, Michael's older brother.
The case garnered so much attention because the Skakels were nephews of Ethel Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy's widow.  (Another brother was accused of having sex with a minor, but he crashed into a tree skiing and died.)
According to a story by The Adv…

Robots That Kill

I've been writing about healthcare technology for a while and one of the areas I've focused on is how robotic surgery is changing the face of medicine.  Well, maybe not so much.

The big pluses were supposed to be that it was non-invasive, required only a single incision, people healed faster, there was less blood loss, and its outcomes were supposed to justify the cost (sometimes twice "open surgery").

Only, a major study just recently found that outcomes are no better with this type of surgery, and can sometimes even kill you, according to a story in today's NYT by Roni Caryn Rabin.

This kind of surgery is typically used for prostatectomies and hysterectomies (my own OB-GYN performs them this way).  How it works is that the surgeon sits at a console  in the operating room connected to a camera that provides a high-definition picture of the surgical site, then moves the robotic arms to mimic what his own hands would be doing, based on the camera image.

Sounds g…

Sandy Hook: Does Money Really Help?

I admit, I was a little confused when people began sending money to Newtown, site of the 2012 horrific elementary school massacre.  What good does money do?  It can't bring the kids back.

But then I started to read that it could pay for counseling and therapy and perhaps with burial expenses, so I thought, okay.

Now people are arguing about it.  Guess you have to expect that, any time humans -- and cold, hard cash -- come together.

Over $10 million was raised, and let's be honest, it felt to many like the one thing you could do to try somehow to compensate these parents for their unspeakable loss.  And most likely, it felt good.

But now different groups are fighting over just how the money should be distributed, according to Peter Applebome in today's NYT.  Taking a lot of the heat is the United Way, because quite a bit of the money went to that organization, Applebome writes, and survivors told him they've seen very little or none of it and are concerned that it will …

What We Won: Background Checks?

So it looks like that's all we're going to get.  After all the blood that was spilled in Newtown, and Aurora and  the 14 other mass killings last year, we're just getting background checks.

Which, the Republicans, bless their hearts, want to emasculate even further by requiring that no records be kept of the checks.

After all the tragedy and grief and promises to make it stop, we're getting background checks.  That's it.

Some say background checks are a huge step in the right direction. But why do I feel so defeated?

And it's not even 100% sure that Congress, when it returns from recess, will even vote in that.

I think back to December 14 often and how I was driving to an after-school homework club for elementary school students when I heard some local radio jocks talking in muted voices about a shooting. It took a second before I realized, hey. They're talking about a real shooting.  And can it be, kids died?

I continued driving and the facts began sinkin…

Blame Lanza's Parents? Maybe Not: the Parkers

Would I have the strength?  Or the desire to do it?  I don't know.  But Alyssa and Robbie Parker did, meeting with Adam Lanza's father barely a month after his son murdered their daughter Emilie at Sandy Hook Elementary.

They recently spoke to Norah O'Donnell on CBS This Morning about their January 23rd meeting, and they talked about how they hoped it would bring them closure for them as well as for Peter Lanza.

Not much has been released about what was actually discussed but when O'Donnell asked if it had been emotional, it was the one time Robbie Parker's voice wavered.

Do they hold Peter Lanza accountable, the Parkers were asked, and Alyssa said it wasn't his decision to make, so how could they? Was his parenting to blame?  Here they were a little more definitive, agreeing that yes, it was possible.

But I've wrestled with that. If my son, who is 11, did something this heinous, or even something not so, would I feel responsible?  The answer is yes.  When …

And So It Goes. . .

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo is backing down, too.  In the face of the assault weapon ban dying in Congress, "Cuomo Favors Easing Part of Newly Passed Gun Law," according to Thomas Kaplan and Danny Hakim of The New York Times.

What's he's easing, they report, is the restriction on the legal capacity of magazine rounds, down from seven, as in the newly-passed law, to nothing.

The gun-control law, approved in January, banned the sale of magazines that hold more than seven rounds of ammunition. But, guess what?  Seven-round magazines are not routinely manufactured. And, oh, those poor legal gun owners.  "Although the new gun law provided an exemption for the use of 10-round magazines at firing ranges and competitions, it did not provide a legal way for gun owners to purchase such magazines," Kaplan and Hakim write.

So here's the "compromise" -- you can still buy magazines that hold 10 rounds. But you can only use seven.  Now who's going to be…

Gun Control: Back to Business As Usual

Well, the naysayers were right.  As Newtown slowly sinks into the background, all our courageous senators and representatives are sliding down with it. Just heard today that the assault rifle ban has once again been lifted from the gun control plan that will go to the Senate today for approval.

Should we be surprised?  I guess not.  Outraged?  Yes.

Despite all the tragedy and hand-wringing over the Newtown massacre of 20 small children, and the brave agreement among sensible gun owners that something must be done, we're once again back in the embrace -- and fear -- of the NRA.

Guess we can't blame it all on the Colts and Sturm Rugers, er, I mean the NRA.

Thankfully, there are four states that have moved to more restrictive gun laws; New York, Hawaii, California and surprisingly, to me, Illinois.  And hopefully, Connecticut will join their ranks soon, though Gov. Malloy wants to allow those who own assault rifles to keep them, although the Democrats in the state legislature wa…

Mentally Ill? Keep Your Guns

I was astounded to read over the weekend that Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy -- remember Newtown? -- feels all gun owners, including the mentally ill who could harm others or themselves, should be allowed to keep all their guns, including assault rifles and those which carry magazines with more than 10 bullets.

What?!  The New York Times also reported today that even in states where women know their exes have guns and will come after them still do not confiscate the guns. I realize this is what the pro-gun lobby is so terrified about.  Relinquishing their rifles.  But do they truly want to be in the next theater that's sprayed with bullets as they watch the latest Disney release?

(A quick side note -- three of five homicides in the U.S. are people committing suicide.  Sadly, the mentally ill often figure here.)  

I believe in personal freedom.  That women should have the right to their bodies, and abortion.  That people be allowed to drink Big Gulps. That salt (there you go again, Mayor…

Ow, It Hurts. REALLY.

Not a surprise but a recent study has found that not only do women react differently to certain medications than men (and are in danger of overdosing on many common over-the-counter and prescription drugs), but we feel pain more, too.

According to Tara Parker Pope, women in the study had pain levels 20% higher than men.

Doctors put it down to women's hormones, organ size relative to men's, more fatty tissue and other causes that are feminine in nature and may cause medication to be absorbed, or not, differently than for men.  Since almost all studies have been based on men (hence, women not realizing they're having a heart attack when they feel nauseous and their jaw hurts vs. men's pain in the chest), there's still an awful lot we don't know about medicine, women, and pain. But here's the worst part.

Laurie Edwards notes in the NYT Sunday Review that anesthesia can be a problem for women and even something as relatively benign as Ambien lingers in a woman…

The Next Adam Lanza Before He Strikes

The New York Times reports today on a unique program going on in Los Angeles that identifies kids who fool around with guns and shrapnel and/or have said they want to shoot up a school.  According to Erica Goode, the program hopes to find these ticking time bombs before they detonate.

They even have nicknames for the kids, calling one "Jared Loughner," after the man who mowed down people in the Colorado theater last year, who was obsessed with guns and killing, staying in touch with his mother to make sure the teen was stable and not showing any signs of committing violence, Goode writes.

Logically enough, many of these kids show the instability or rage or depression that Adam Lanza, the Newtown serial killer who obliterated two first grade classes; Loughner, and others before they commit a crime.

The Los Angeles School Threat Assessment Response Team is one of the most intensive efforts in the country working on picking out those who are drawn to violence, and trying to preven…


Turns out teens have so much trouble getting enough sleep because their melatonin levels are lower than in childhood, and when your kid tells you he just can't fall asleep early enough to get up on time, believe him.  It's true, Dr. Max Gomez says on CBS TV New York. It's biology.

Of course, I'm watching this while trying to wake up my son from a sleep that resembles hibernation (one morning I just couldn't, no amount of shaking his arm, yelling or threats worked, though I didn't try the one others swear by, cold water).

But it turns out that kids who are home-schooled and usually wake 20 minutes AFTER most schools have started, do better.  These kids, on average, Dr. Gomez says, sleep 90 more minutes than kids who go to regular schools,

So what?  Home-schooled kids supposedly do better -- graduating at higher rates, getting better grades and ready to jump into lessons shortly after they wake up, while other kids can take up to two hours to start functioning n…

Choke That Cellphone User? Wait. Here's Why

Have you ever wanted to kill (oops, contain) someone yakking on their cellphone next to you on the bus?  Had to read the same paragraph over 12 times to get its meaning?  Been unable to work on an assignment your boss needed yesterday?

A new study has found why.   It's because our brains feel the need to fill in the blanks when we only hear one side of a conversation.

According to Douglas Quenqua, "College students who were asked to complete anagrams while a nearby researcher talked on her cellphone were more irritated and distracted — and far more likely to remember the contents of the conversation — than students who worked on the same puzzles while the same conversation was conducted by two people in the room."

As Tyger Latham reports, "According to Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, authors of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us, the reason cell phone conversations are so grating to most of us is because they are in fact "half conversations," in which you…

Guess Who Gets Killed the Most?

It's those with mental illness. According to Nicholas Bakalar, "people with mental illness may be at sharply increased risk of dying by homicide, a new study has found."

Bakalar reported that, "after controlling for age, education level, income and other factors, they found thatpeople with mental illness were almost five times as likely to be a victim of murder as a person without a psychiatric diagnosis."

Substance abusers, for obvious reasons, were among those most likely to be victims of homicide -- 9 times the risk of the average population. Those with personality disorders were next, at triple the risk of the general population, while depressed people had 2 1/2 times the risk, and those with anxiety or schizophrenia had about twice the risk, Bakalar noted.

It's been talked and talked about how our mental health system needs shoring up, if not rebuilding. But what's one of the first programs to be slashed when the budget-cutters come out?  You guessed …

Guns Rights Extremists Target Their Opponents

Now I really have heard it all.  According to a column by Joe Nocera in today's NYT, "Politics By Intimidation,"gun control activists are now being targeted and harassed by gun rights extremists in Oregon.

It reminds me of the early abortion wars (or should I say, current?), when people carried around photos of aborted fetuses and men lined up in front of clinics to try to prevent women from having the right to their own bodies.  I remember marching on Washington in the late '80s, a time when we pretty much thought we had it all licked.

But now it's coming back. Anti-abortion nuts. Gun rights loonies. Newtown wasn't enough for these crazies.  Are they going to shoot a gun control advocate through the head, as she's sitting down to dinner as happened years ago to a physician who performed abortions?

I realize I'm getting off the subject but this bothers me so much. . .People -- under the guise of their rights -- trying to prevent others from exercising…

Should They or Shouldn't They? Release Psych Records

I'm in a bit of a quandary. I heard today that the VA is refusing to honor the part of the healthcare law that requres them to release the names of those they consider likely to hurt themselves or others.

Part of me thinks, I sure hope I'm not around when that PTSD-crazed vet starts emptying his assault rifle at ShopRite.

Yet, as someone who saw a therapist for marriage and other counseling, I'm not so sure I'd want my name swirling around out there, either. The provision is set to take effect Saturday.

It's a very delicate balance.  We all deserve to be protected from those who might hurt us, or themselves. But shouldn't our most fragile veterans also be protected from having their very personal information released?

I'd love to hear your opinion. It's so hard because Newtown is still taking up a lot of space in my brain. 

Surprise! No Guns in Most U.S. Homes

In a staggering (to me, at least) front-page story in the New York Times today, the presence of guns in homes in this country has declined precipitously.

The rate of those who keep guns in their homes is now at 34%, down from 50% in the '70s, the article notes -- in complete contradiction to reports of guns flying off shelves in the wake of the killings of 20 children in Newtown last year, dozens at a movie theater in Aurora, CO, and last month's shooting spree by a former cop in California.

So why do I not feel better? Maybe because women are now jumping into the game, too. According to Billy Hallowell, "In a survey last year by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 73 percent of gun dealers said the number of female customers had gone up in 2011, as had a majority of retailers surveyed in the two previous years," rising from 13% in 2005 to 23% in 2011, as reported in a Gallup poll. adds that gun makers are taking notice, "creating everything from …

Sit in a Wobbly Chair, See People You Think Unstable

Ever sat in a wobbly chair? According to new research, "It makes us judge others’ relationships to be unstable. Wearing a white lab coat, thought to be a doctor’s coat, helps our concentration and focus. Literally washing our hands rids us of guilty feelings," Christie Nicholson writes at 

We've known for some time that the body can affect the mind -- relax and you'll get pregnant (not true!), think of the audience in underpants when nervous before a speech, don't walk under a ladder.  Oh wait, that's a superstition. But still we believe it and it can sometimes actually make us trip or fall down stairs or have some kind of accident, when we do.

But now it's becoming clear to researchers that our bodies can affect our minds.  Nicholson did a Q&A with Art Glenberg, who she described in her story as one of the "founding fathers of the embodied cognition field," and a pyschology professor at Arizona State University. In the inter…

Sugar With That Coffee? Not at Dunkin' Donuts

OK. So you don't drink Big Gulps full of sugary stuff. But did you know that your Starbucks drinks may now be censured, too?

According to Vivian Yee and Michael M. Grynbaum, NYC's "new regulations regarding coffee hinge on delicate calculations about milk, calorie and sugar ratios. As with other sugary drinks, coffee cups 16 ounces or smaller are unaffected. But unlike sodas, which will max out at 16 ounces, cups of coffee larger than 16 ounces can still be served as long as the barista adds no more than three to five packets of sugar. (The limit depends on the size of the drink.)"

Fortunately (and somewhat nonsensically), those lattes and frothy drinks (Dr. Phil calls them "hot milkshakes") will be exempt, because they are 50% milk and the NYC rules don't apply to them.

“This will have no impact on a large cup of joe, unless more than four packets of sugar are added,” Samantha Levine, a city spokeswoman, told Yee and Grynbaum. “Real sweet tooths who want…

Therapist? No, Dentist!

Thumbing through The New York Times this afternoon, I came across a story about how hair salons are becoming the new "seats of power." Hair stylists have known for years the intricate, intimate facts of their clients' lives.  What else are you gonna do, sitting in that chair for an hour? I've heard that that's how many women finally wind up telling about domestic violence in their lives.

It made me think of my husband, a dentist, who also finds himself hearing stories about divorce, estranged children, fatal diseases, run-amok kids, and truly tragic stories, almost every day. I'll admit, it's hard to talk with those tools in your mouth, but somehow people still confide the most amazing things to him.

One of his toughest patients, a burly, brusque NYC transit worker, told him how his heart was breaking because his girlfriend's 5-year-old grandson was moving with his mom and dad to Florida and he would never get to see him.

Another, one he's had f…

Happy families? Really?

Who was it who said that happy families are all alike?  It's the unhappy ones that are interesting. Well, if Tolstoy were alive, he might recommend a new book that purportedly can help you have the first kind.  That is, if you're a certain stereotype.

I had the TV on yesterday afternoon  and Katie Couric was interviewing some guy who said what matters most when disciplining your kids is where you sit.  What?  Apparently, if you sit on a rigid surface, you'll be rigid in your treatment of your kids.  If you sit on something cushioned, you will be more flexible and inherently, supposedly, better able to get through to your kids.

Works for marriage, too, the writer, Bruce Feiler proclaimed, adding that he and his wife solve their arguments better if they sit side by side on a bench than if he's at his computer and she's sitting at a lower level on the couch.

I don't know about that.  Seems my husband and I have a hard time of it no matter whether we're side by…

MRI....Mind Reader?

Not that you don't have enough to fear when your doctor orders an MRI, but now don't go in there thinking he's a jerk for keeping you waiting.  According to a new Cornell study, MRIs can now pick up on what you're thinking.

By scanning your brain, it's alleged that doctors can figure out what you think of others.  My mother-in-law comes to mind!

David Worthington writes, "Volunteers were asked to consider how specific people might react to situations after studying those individuals’ personality traits. By analyzing the brain activation patterns, researchers were consistently able to recognize which person a volunteer was thinking about."

However, it doesn't work on those who have autism or other types of mental illness.

Spooky?  You bet.  Worthington adds that MRI technology has "already been deployed in courtrooms as a lie detector, can be used to predict how well someone will learn, and is being used to more accurately map the human brain.&qu…

Want bliss with no drugs?

I thought my son was a little crazy when he fell asleep (on the floor, no less!) watching a video of a person opening a box containing a Mont Blanc pen. The video simply showed someone (presumably a man, with those hairy arms!) very slowly unfolding the flaps of the box, opening it, sliding out the pen, then reverently touching and stroking the pen (I realize what I'm describing could also be something else).

In any event, the rest of the video simply consisted of the man unscrewing the top of the pen to find the nib, then rolling out a white sheet of paper and slowly guiding the pen over the paper without touching it.

All the while talking in a soft, soothing voice about the pen, and how much he loves it, and rustling the paper.

I thought it was all a joke until my son sent me the site where he found this, where it's actually described as a real thing, "the good feeling no can explain."

Apparently, it's something the mind does, and it's called "Autonomo…

Saddest sack city? Detroit

Saddest city in the U.S.?  A Gallup poll just named Michigan, mostly because of all the troubles plaguing Detroit.  Violent crime spreading virally, home prices at the bottom of the bucket, decreasing by 35%, according to a story at  And people just plain sick and tired of being poor, cold, and without hope for the future.

On Tuesday, Kurt Badenhausen writes, the city was in danger of being taken over by the state.

The happiest city?  You probably guessed it.  Hawaii.  Who couldn't beat depression with warm breezes, surf and sun?  (Although when I went there years ago on a vacation, I had five days out of seven of rain. Still, I managed to get sun poisoning on the one day I could go to the beach!  And on top of it all, I'd reluctantly agreed to see a former boyfriend, who was stationed there. Not my favorite vacation.)

My son and Adam Lanza

My son didn’t turn in his math homework.
A straight-A student, he brought his grade down to an F.  This has happened before.
The weird thing is, he does it.  He just doesn’t turn it in.  I’ve heard it’s a middle school thing.  The excuses range from “I left it in my locker” to “It wasn’t in my folder” to “I couldn’t find it in my desk.”
Huh?  True, it’s not like he committed mass murder, but still.  It makes me wonder how well I know my son.
And it made me think about that woman who wrote, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” after Newtown.  She was on a PBS special this week and she talked about how she carries a Tupperware container full of knives, hammers, and other sharp kitchen tools in her car in case her son attacks her again with a knife.  He was 10 at the time.
She said they live on eggshells, terrified of the next violent eruption.  The child himself said he hates it, but can’t control himself.
Probably a lot like Adam Lanza.
I realize that, in the scheme of things, not handing in h…

Newtown was Good for the Gun Industry

I don't know if I can feel any sicker about what happened at Sandy Hook. But an AP story in yesterday's Advocate (Stamford, CT) notes that Sturm Ruger is "having trouble keeping up with demand for guns."

Some stories also point out that guns are good for your stock portfolio.

Net sales for Ruger increased 34% to $141.8 million, from $93.2 million, according to Rob Varnon.  Want to feel even more nauseous?  Varnon reports that earnings rose 77% over 2011.

Now, before you gun owners start shouting at me, you certainly have a right to buy a gun.  I get that.  But do you really need an assault rifle to shoot a deer?  I have a friend who yesterday said it's not guns that kill people, it's lunatics. But once again I say, just where do these lunatics get the guns?

I'm heartbroken to read that the best Congress can do, after everything that has happened, is put in place background checks.  I read yesterday that the GOP, at first agreeing with this, now wants to e…

I hate Facebook

I hate Facebook.
Not the site itself but all the fun I’m missing. Last year I was devastated to read about a neighborhood party we weren’t invited to, all the pictures of people dancing and drinking, and having a really good time.
Or the vacation another friend took when I thought she was right here in Stamford, struggling through the snow like the rest of us. Or the picture showing another friend ramming into her husband in bumper cars. 
It reminds me of all the parties with the cool kids I wasn’t invited to in high school. I was quiet and mousy in those days, and didn’t smoke or drink or do anything that was even remotely cool. (It’s only now, bumping into old friends, that I’m finding out some thought I was, well, attractive.)
But that’s another column. 
I read once that people put on Facebook what they want others to think is happening in their lives.  The gourmet meals they prepare. The half-marathons they run in record time (sorry, Paul Ryan). And, of course, the straight A’s…