Friday, January 28, 2011

Health Care Reform, A Doctor Weighs In

Dr. Carl N. Steeg is a retired pediatric cardiologist.  During his career, he was the Director of Pediatric Cardiology at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Politically, he is a moderate who tends to vote on issues, not parties.  At the ballot box he has voted for Democrats and Republicans alike and has supported both liberal and conservative issues, after carefully weighing the pros and cons.  Since he has spent years as an academic, as well as, seeing patients, I wanted to get his views on our changing health care system.  Here is our interview:

Q:  Why do you think health care needed an overhaul?
A:  Basic health care is a right, not a privilege. It's [now] a system built on capital and competition.  This has some advantages, but not necessarily for the greater good.  People should be as secure in their right to health care, as they are in the right for clean water, protection and security.

Q:  As a doctor, do you support the recent changes in health care?
A:  Basically I do, because it tends to move us to a universal (or single-payer, if you will, system which insures coverage for all).  The question remains at what financial sacrifice?

Q:  President Obama had to compromise to get his legislation passed.  What do you think of his plan?
A:  It moves medicine in the correct direction.  There will always be compromises.  After all, it's all politics, isn’t it?  The compromises deal primarily with financial issues, not with the basic concepts of universal coverage.

Q:  Will “Obamacare” help people?
A:  I hope so, and I believe it will.  Should there be some negative aspects, or loopholes that come to pass in which the status of certain people may actually get worse, then Obama must lead in efforts to correct these loopholes.

Q:  Can the U.S. afford President Obama's plan?
A:  I don’t know.  In my readings I haven't come up with an answer as to whether it will cost more, less, or about the same in the long run.  The question should not be can we afford it.  The question is, where are the country’s priorities.  We as a country must understand that nothing is free.  The ultimate question is, what in the way of taxes are we willing to pay in order to achieve health care reform.

Q:  Do you think the government can run a complicated system like health care efficiently?
A:  No, the country cannot run complicated systems well.  I don’t know who can run complicated systems well – computers can, maybe.  But does universal health care have to be so complicated?  There are ways to make it less complicated and more available.

Q: Explain how.
A:  The delivery of medical care can be handled by nurse practitioners for many issues that do not require the services of a doctor.  This lowers costs and makes basic care more available.  As far as less complicated, when dealing with medical providers today, you often deal with multiple insurance carriers -- who must communicate with each other.  It would be less complicated to deal with one or two.

Q: Do you see a single-payer system as inevitable?
There is little doubt in my mind that we are in the agonizing process of moving towards universal health care, such as exists almost everywhere in the world.  People want to be free of the fear of non-affordable health care, and this need will, by the demand of the people, eventually come to pass.  We Americans, imbued with our historical fear of big government, and ever historically dedicated to what we believe are our “individual rights,” will have to change.  We, as a society, will not be in a position, in the near future, where, rights such as health care will be relegated to each individual’s responsibility without thinking of the effects on our whole society.  It would cause a two-tiered system which, as medicine becomes ever more costly, shouldn't exist.

Q:  I think some Americans worry about health care moving towards a system resembling socialism.  How do you respond to these fears?
A:  Of course we already have it in the form of Medicare, don't we?  It's interesting that we provide finances for the care of all Americans over a certain age, whatever their financial status, but not for all Americans yet to reach that age.  Socialized medicine is OK after 65, but not before 65.  Weird.

Q: Having spent your career as a doctor, give us some final thoughts on what you believe we face in improving health care:
A:  [Like other industrialized countries] medical care should be available for everyone equally.  It is one of the "rights" in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," and it should be a guarantee that a caring society grants to its members.  But we have to come to the realization that there are many tricky turns -- financial, philosophical, and ethical -- in our road to getting there.

Thank you, Carl, for your unique perspective.  Healthcare is already universal, in the sense that it hits everyone as a need, a concern and a big expense.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Oscar Nominations 2011

The nominations for this years Academy Awards were announced this morning.  Below are the major categories, i.e. the ones we care about.  I'm going to go out on a limb and highlight who I want to win.  Not who I think will win, but who I would vote for, if I had a ballot.  This year there are many fine films and brilliant performances, making the choice of winner all the more difficult.  What an honor to get a nod in such a tight race.  Best of luck to all the nominees. Let's have some fun.  Who do you think deserves to take Oscar home on Sunday, February 27th? Here are my picks:

Best Picture
The Kids Are All Right      True Grit
Inception                               Winter's Bone
The Social Network            Toy Story 3
The King’s Speech               127 Hours
The Fighter                            Black Swan
Best Director
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David O. Russell, The Fighter

Best Actor
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Javier Bardem, Biutiful

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone She is spot on!  Can't decide this one. Ok Jennifer.
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech Adore him. This may be the toughest category!
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right Love him!
John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town

Best Supporting Actress
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit  13 year old HS played 14 year old Mattie Ross -- going on 40.  She is in nearly every scene and carries the film.  This young actress doesn't sound or act anything like her character.
Amy Adams, The Fighter  Love her!
Jackie Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Best Original Screenplay
The King's Speech
The Kids Are All Right
The Fighter
AAnother Year  Love Mike Leigh! 
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Social Network
True Grit
127 Hours
Toy Story 3
Winter’s Bone

BBest Cinematography
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
True Grit
Best Film Editing
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network

Original Song  The suspense of this award is seeing who shows up to sing the songs.  No one cares who wins, except the winner.
Coming Home from Country Strong
I See the Light from Tangled
If I Rise from 127 Hours
We Belong Together from Toy Story 3

Listen up media: Often film critics tell us who will win an Oscar.  Cowards.  C'mon.  Be Brave.  Put yourself out.  Tell us who should win and why.  You're film critics for goodness' sake.Filmstrip

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Stop At Henri Bendel's NARS Counter

712 Fifth Avenue, New York
Recently, I got a call from NARS at Henri Bendel's to come in for a makeover.  Unlike e.v.e.r. before, I looked natural and dare I say, like a professional model or actress when all made-up.  I know it wasn't just my imagination because as I circulated the floor afterwards, strangers took the initiative of telling me how pretty I looked, and this doesn't normally happen to me.  Gee whiz, could I stir such flattery every day?  Realistically?  Nooo, not if I have to do my own makeup.

I don't know what possessed me to accept the invitation as I rarely do such things, but it turned out to be a great experience all around, and I learned a few tricks of the makeup trade.  My appointment was at a slow time of the day, and the cosmetologist spent an hour on my face!  At the end of the hour I wore 31 products -- 5 different items on my lips alone -- so I should have looked my very best!  Fortunately, I had a makeup artist who was very talented and conscientious too.  That makes a difference.  Gissel ... herselflovely and sweet ... from Seville, could make a baked potato look gorgeous.

There is one consideration though.  When a professional spends so much time making you up, you feel pressure to buy something, and NARS is an expensive line.  But, I knew this going in and went anyway in order to learn something new.  And, I have a pretty good idea what cosmetics to spend my money on.

In general, you need to spend more on makeup when top ingredients and rich pigments count.  The colors will last all day, and not fade off your face.  You can save on moisterizers and cleansers that are nearly the same despite price points.  There's no need to pay more for skin care, or products when cheaper versions exist to give you similar results.  According to many experts, here's how to break it down:
Spend on:
Anti-Aging serums – Stay informed on the best ingredients and latest technologies for your face.
Foundation – I don't wear, or buy it.  But the consensus is to spend if you use foundation everyday, since it determines how the rest of your makeup looks.
Concealer – For under eye dark circles, we are well acquainted!

Save on:
Body scrubs and exfoliators – Try exfoliating with table salt while showering.  It works.
Bronzers – I don't use it, but then again, I don't usually walk around with the sculptured, high cheek bones that Gissel defined for me.
Mascara – Another item I usually skip. I have long lashes and don't want to look like a raccoon at the end of the night.
Eyeliners - like 
Eyebrow pencils – Don't mind if I do once in a while.

Spend and Save on:
Lipsticks and lip glosses – You need some lipsticks with good pigments that will stay on your lips for hours, plus some fun, trendy shades you don't mind reapplying.
Eyeshadow  Ditto.  I don't usually wear this either.
Skin and face moisturizers – Some of the drug store brands – like Booths No. 7, Olay and L'Oréal – are bargains, containing effective ingredients.  Unless you have an allergy, you can use these.  Spending more on eye cream makes sense because the skin around the eyes is more sensitive.

Gissel taught me (1) to try different looks and not be married to just one; (2) celebrities aren't born beautiful; it takes lots of products to look good and; (3) having a skilled professional share tips and show you how to better apply makeup is a wonderful opportunity.

Just decide how much you will spend before you go, and stick to your budget!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Healthy Spices In A Well-Stocked Kitchen

Good cooks already know how important spices are in meal preparation.  Not only do herbs and spices make food taste better, they may help you live healthier and longer.  So says a slew of experts, including Drs. Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen (the "You" doctors), Dr. Andrew Weil (a proponent of integrative medicine) and Alison Gernand (from the University of Texas School of Public Health).  Studies show that adding spices to a diet helps ward off disease, regulates cholesterol and blood pressure and averts upset stomach, amongst other ailments.

So to prepare savory dishes at home, be sure to keep the following healthy spices in a well-stocked kitchen.  Think of it as inexpensive, preventative medicine:

1) Garlic – Good in meat, vegetables, soups and salads.  Lowers blood pressure and is good for your heart.
2) Onion – Also versatile in cooking.  An onion is a heart-friendly vegetable used as a spice. It fights cancer, relieves colds and clears your respiratory system.
3) Parsley – High in vitamin C and iron.  Parsley fights lung cancer and protects you against aging and rheumatoid arthritis.
4) Oregano – It is rich in anti-oxidants and thought to fight breast and ovarian cancer.
5) Rosemary – Good for your eyes; it may reduce the risk of developing cataracts.
6) Thyme – Soothes coughs and has antiseptic properties.
7) Cinnamon – Helps to lower cholesterol, blood sugar and keeps metabolism in check for healthy weight control.
8) Nutmeg – Relieves nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Fights insomnia.  Lowers blood pressure, increases circulation and reduces joint pain.
9) Allspice – You will taste hints of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It relieves bloating and muscle aches.
10) Clove – Has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties.  Eliminates intestinal parasites and bacteria.
11) Ginger – Boosts the immune system, fights colds, soothes upset stomach, relieves gas and is good for your heart.
12) Bay Leaves – High in vitamins A and C.  Lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.
13) Turmeric – Used in Indian dishes, it has anti-aging properties and fights prostate cancer.
14) Cilantro [aka coriander] – Protects against urinary tract infections.
15) Crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper and paprika – Excellent source of anti-oxidants.  Red peppers contain capsaicin, a natural inflammation reducer.  They may help you lose weight also.

You might also pick up basil, tarragon, sage, cardamom pods and star anise.  Although fresh herbs and spices are ideal, substitute dried for convenience.  After you have a well-stocked spice rack, try making this delicious and easy treat:

Authentic Masala Chai

6 cups water
1 inch-thick slice of fresh ginger, smashed with the side of your knife
3-4 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons black peppercorns, or ½ teaspoon ground pepper
10 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods, crushed
2 star anise
I add a pinch of nutmeg and a dash of vanilla extract.
8 black tea bags (or 8 teaspoons of loose black tea)
2 cups milk
½ cup honey

1. Combine the first 8 ingredients and bring to a boil.
2. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Turn off the heat and let the spices steep for 10 more minutes.
4. Next throw in the tea bags and steep for another 3-5 minutes.  Remove the tea bags, and strain the solid spices from the chai.  This mixture can be stored in the refrigerator.

When you are ready to use, add the milk, vanilla and honey to the chai. Heat in a pot on top of your stove, or microwave until hot.  Enjoy!

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Gerry Rafferty - Right Down the Line

On January 4th, 2011 Scottish musician Gerry Rafferty died of liver failure. Best known for his pop hits, [solo] "Baker Street," "Right Down the Line" and [with band mates] "Stuck In the Middle With You," he was a life long alcoholic, which must have been genetic, because his father was one also. I want to acknowledge him for his distinctive voice and fine songwriting. Not only are his tunes catchy and likable, but his lyrics are crisp, precise and brilliantly simple. When you listen to him, he is really saying something that is universal. Few musicians write about relationships, or the human condition with as much clarity and understanding.  Many artists never have a memorable song.  Gerry Rafferty had three and a good album -- or two.  Not too shabby; it makes you wonder what might have been.  R.I.P. [For more read this from the NYT.]

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pass The Pepper Mill, Please

It appears I'm going to have to bite the bullet. There's a kitchen gadget I need, and it never, ever goes on sale.  I'm talking about a pepper mill.  Research leads me to a French company.  Peugeot makes a high end pepper mill, which reportedly will last through the years.  The model I have in mind is called “Nancy.”  That's right ... Nancy.  Who knew pepper mills have names?  Could it be a joke the French are playing on Americans?  If so, they'll never admit it.  

Regardless of not knowing why a pepper mill has a proper feminine name, it has a clear acrylic body to be able to see the peppercorns, along with stainless steel grinding mechanisms, so it won't soon become dull through use.  There are several sizes.  Does size matter with Nancy?  She's staying mum.  I'm selecting 7 inches -- not too big and not too small.  And it's easy to handle and refill.  

Nancy replaces a $1.99 no-name pepper mill I purchased from CVS as a test to see if freshly ground pepper makes a big difference in cooking.  Yes, it definitely does.  A world of difference in flavor.  Now I'm wondering if I need a salt grinder too.  I'm thinking no, but please weigh in if you are a cook.  Costs: $28 each.  

Update: I bought the set, and they look so darn cute together.  My mills work great!

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Ringing In The New Year

New Year's Day has come and gone, but the new year has just begun.  I don't make New Year's resolutions, per se.  I think you need motivation, direction and discipline everyday to live a life of purpose, as well as, the flexibility to meet the challenges that will invariably arise.  Nothing earth-shattering here ... stay positive, always do your best, learn from your mistakes and keep trying.  (Sometimes, trying something else.)  I don't believe this way of thinking guarantees you'll achieve every goal, get rich, or avoid all hardship, but I think over the course of a lifetime, you'll find contentment in knowing you were the best you could possibly be.  You will live a meaningful life, and one that you direct.

That being said, there are a few things I'd like to have more and less of in 2011:

Laughs with family and friends
Fabulous voices to listen to – (No mosh pits for me!)  Music by gifted performers who really can sing.
Interesting books to read – What will I discover in the new year?
Congress working together – Compromise, government getting the job done
Pilates – Good teachers nearby
Organization of home and work space – Forever makes me happy! 
Wholesome, delicious food to eat – Forever makes me happy!
Patience – Practicing it, receiving it
Generosity of spirit – Possessing it, receiving it
Transparency – Living it, being surrounded by it. Forever makes me happy!

Negative people - Life is too short.
Lindsay Lohan - Her mother, her father 
Kate Gosselin - And the journalists who interview her.
Heidi Montag - Ditto.  Let's go back to, you must have a talent to become a celebrity.
Christine O'Donnell and those like her - "I am not a witch."  Enough said.
Processed food 
Movies – That are slight, depressing or pointless.
Facebook – A little goes a long way.
Twitter – A miniscule goes a very long way.

And finally, I'd like to share a clever quote from Suzy Orman, who gives advice on tracking your spending and staying out of debt, “You are creating a life where people come first, then money, then things.”  It's a good thought to start a new year, don't you agree?

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