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My preventive mastectomy: Staying alive for my kids

By Allison Gilbert 

Allison Gilbert and her mother, Lynn, in 1995 on the day Gilbert got engaged. Her mother died two months later from ovarian cancer.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Author Allison Gilbert shares why she chose to undergo a double mastectomy after testing positive for the breast cancer gene.

I’m not a helicopter parent and my children would tell you I don’t bake cupcakes for their birthday parties. But I’d readily cut off my breasts for them — and recently, I did.

Removing breast tissue uncompromised by cancer is relatively easy. It took the breast surgeon about two hours to slice through my chest and complete the double mastectomy seven weeks ago.

The time-consuming part was left to the plastic surgeon who created new breasts out of my own belly fat so I could avoid getting implants. Total operating time: 11.5 hours. And I don’t regret a second.

The decision to have surgery without having cancer wasn’t easy, but it seemed logical to me. My mother, aunt and grandmother have all died from breast or ovarian cancer, and I tested positive for the breast cancer gene.

Being BRCA positive means a woman’s chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer is substantially elevated.

“Patients with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations have 50%-85% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and up to approximately 60% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer,” according to Karen Brown, director of the Cancer Genetic Counseling Program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Gilbert at age 5 or 6 with her mother on a ferryboat.

By comparison, the lifetime risk of breast cancer for the general population is 13% and 1.7% for ovarian cancer.

CNN iReport: Tested for the breast cancer gene?

At my gynecologist’s urging, I tackled the threat of ovarian cancer first. Because the disease is hard to detect and so often fatal, my ovaries were removed in 2007, a few years after my husband and I decided we were done having kids.

The most difficult part of the operation came in the months that followed: I was thrust into menopause at 37. Despite age-inappropriate night sweats and hot flashes, I was relieved to have the surgery behind me and wrote about it in my book, “Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children.”

The emotional release was short-lived. Less than a year later, my mother’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and died within four months.

Aunt Ronnie’s death set me on a preventive mastectomy warpath. I had already been under high-risk surveillance for more than a decade — being examined annually by a leading breast specialist and alternating between mammograms, breast MRIs and sonograms every three months — but suddenly being on watch didn’t seem enough, and I began researching surgical options.

Gilbert, her husband, Mark, and their children, Jake and Lexi, at a birthday celebration.

Regardless of my family history and BRCA status, I still went back and forth on having a mastectomy. I vacillated between feeling smug and insane.

Over the years, I’d read too many stories like the one in the Wall Street Journal last week, on doctors who make fatal mistakes (up to 98,000 people die every year in the United States because of medical errors, according to the Institute of Medicine). I was anxious about choosing a bad surgeon and a bad hospital.

The stakes felt even higher after I decided to go an unconventional route to reconstruction. Implants generally offer a quicker surgery and recovery, but they’re also known to leak, shift out of place, and feel hard to the touch and uncomfortable.

I would also likely have to replace them every 10 years — not an unimportant consideration, since I’m 42.

Ultimately, on August 7, I underwent double mastectomy with DIEP (Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator) flap reconstruction. The benefits would be that my new breasts would be permanent, made from my own skin and flesh, and I’d be getting rid of my childbearing belly fat in the process.

Gilbert and her husband, Mark, near their home in Westchester County, New York.

I had multiple consultations with surgeons who explained every reason not to have the procedure. They warned me that I’d be under anesthesia unnecessarily long and I’d be opening myself up to needless complications.

While every concern was valid, it wasn’t until I was six doctors into my investigation that I realized the likely reason why I was getting such push-back. The plastic surgeons I was consulting, despite their shining pedigrees and swanky offices, couldn’t perform a DIEP. The procedure requires highly skilled microsurgery and not every plastic surgeon, I learned, is a microsurgeon.

It also requires a great deal of stamina. The doctors I interviewed who perform DIEP flaps were generally younger and fitter than those who didn’t. On average, a double mastectomy with DIEP reconstruction takes 10-12 hours, while reconstruction using implants can take as little as three.

In total, I met with 10 surgeons before choosing my team, and while I am now thrilled with the outcome, all the years of research and worry took a toll on me.

The worst moment came one night when my husband and I were in bed. I began to cry uncontrollably and wished I could talk with my mother and aunt about which procedure to have, which doctor I should choose, and whether I should even have the surgery.

Gilbert's Aunt Ronnie and Gilbert's daughter, Lexi. Her aunt died from breast cancer in 2008, four months after the diagnosis.

Then a moment of bittersweet grace clarified what I needed to do. It struck me that the reason I couldn’t speak to my mother and aunt is exactly the reason I had to have the surgery.

Undergoing a prophylactic double mastectomy was a great decision for me. It’s clearly not a choice every woman would make, but I’m convinced without it I would have been one of the estimated 226,000 women the American Cancer Society says is diagnosed with invasive breast cancer every year.

I could have tried to eat my way to a cancer-free life, but even Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of the popular vegetables-are-key-to-health book “The China Study” admits diet may not be enough to protect BRCA patients from cancer.

Gilbert and her husband, Mark, at a basketball game.

“We need more research,” Campbell told me. “Conservatively, I’d say go ahead and have the surgery, and eat a plant-based diet after.”

I also could have waited for a vaccine, a pill or some other medical advance to come my way that would have made such a radical decision avoidable.

Perhaps MD Anderson Cancer Center’s newly announced war on cancer will produce positive results for patients who are susceptible to triple negative breast cancer, the type of aggressive disease likely to afflict BRCA1 patients and the kind my aunt most likely died from.

Gilbert's children, Jake and Lexi, in Tikal, Guatemala -- the last family vacation before Gilbert's surgery.

But every surgery substitute seemed locked in hope, not statistics. And as I’ve told my husband and children, I wasn’t willing to wait. I love them more than my chest.

My preventive mastectomy: Staying alive for my kids

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Lil Wayne Mocks Mitt Romney In New Song

Nicki Minaj got the headlines for saying she’d be “voting for Mitt Romney,” but another track on Lil Wayne’s Dedication 4 ridicules the GOP candidate, too. “Nigga call me Mitch Romney!”

By Michael Hastings

Nicki Minaj made headlines when she sort of endorsed Mitt Romney in a remix of the hit song “Mercy” on Lil Wayne’s new album Dedication 4, released earlier this month.

But another song on the album — called “Cashed Out” — also mocks Romney, taking shots at the GOP candidates strategy of stashing his money in off-shore bank accounts in Bermuda, the Caymans, and Switzerland, to name a few.

The song begins:

As another election year upon us. This last four years has been good to me. A couple of dollars in a couple different bank acccounts. Some here, some off shore. Nigga call me Mitch Romney!

In recent days, questions have been raised about whether the hip-hop community still supports Obama. The answer appears to be: yes.

President Obama with Jay-Z and Beyonce at a recent New York fundraiser.

Lil Wayne Mocks Mitt Romney In New Song

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Texting & Driving: Teen Drivers Don’t Necessarily Practice What They Preach

texting while driving

Texting & Driving: Teen Drivers Don’t Necessarily Practice What They Preach

by James M. Flammang

“Do as I say, not as I do.” Plenty of parents and other adults have long been criticized for delivering this argument to youngsters. Now, it appears that teenage drivers are adopting that same illogical stand when it comes to texting and driving and other high-risk driving.

According to a recent national survey conducted by State Farm and Harris Interactive, teenagers riding in a car are actively discouraging the driver from texting while driving. But when they’re behind the wheel themselves, it’s a different story.

While in passenger mode, 78 percent of surveyed teens claimed they “spoke up and pointed out a driver’s distracted behavior.” Having done so, 84 percent insisted that the driver listened to their objection and ceased the distracting activity.

State Farm cites the comments of an 18-year-old Pennsylvania driver, Navea Frazier. “When I’m in a car with my friends,” Frazier reported, I say, ‘Hey, don’t do that. I’ll text for you.’ I’m the designated texter. And they always stop driving distracted.”

Of the 16 percent of teens who chose not to point out the troubling behavior, nearly half said, “they felt the driver could handle the distraction.”

Most distressing is the response from 34 percent of the surveyed teens: While they might ask friends or others not to text and drive, they continue to engage in texting themselves when behind the wheel. “Research tells us that texting while driving can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving,” says Chris Mullen, State Farm’s director of technology research. Teens need to “understand that no one can handle driving distracted.”

teen texting and driving

Another study, by the National Safety Council, reveals a troubling disparity between attitudes about drowsy driving versus driving while intoxicated. “Drunk driving is universally viewed as dangerous,” says Janet Froetscher, president/CEO of the Council. However, “young people especially don’t understand the very risks associated with drowsy and distracted driving.” They often believe sleep-deprived driving is “understandable” rather than “wrong.”

According to the Council, sleep-related and alcohol-related crashes “occur predominantly among young drivers.” Furthermore, during long highway trips, drivers under age 30 are more sleep-deprived than those in other age groups.

texting and driving

As for those respondents who claim the distracted teenage driver always stops texting when warned by a passenger, we’d bet that a bit of exaggeration is going on. Either that, or teenagers have changed considerably in the 21st century. A few decades back, suggesting from the back seat that a young driver tone down his antics was more likely to result in snickers and derision from other passengers than immediate cessation of the dangerous misbehavior. Are you a teen or adult who thinks texting and driving at the same time is a distraction you can handle?

Learn more about driving safety and improving your driving skills in autoMedia’s Drive Smart section. 

Texting & Driving: Teen Drivers Don’t Necessarily Practice What They Preach

 

6 Other Types of Life Insurance Every Policyholder Should Know About

life insurance

Knowing about the basic types of insurance out there is a great start towards finding the perfect solution. Usually, an insurance agent will talk at length with any new customer to discover their particular needs so they can suggest a policy that makes the best fit.

There are a few other types of life insurance out there that provide specific solutions. In certain cases, it just makes sense to go with these prepackaged plans.

Here are 6 special-need types of life insurance everyone should know about before making an insurance decision.

1. Mortgage Life Insurance

One of the main concerns of insured people is what the loss of an income stream can mean for their family in the event of their passing. This is particularly true if they have costly bills to worry about, and for most that means the mortgage.

One unique form of insurance offered by life insurance companies, mortgage life insurance, can provide enough to pay off an entire mortgage in the case of the policyholder’s death.

The death benefit is paid directly to the beneficiaries and does not have to be used to pay off the mortgage.

Keep in mind that these policies are form of term insurance. It is not a permanent benefit.

2. Senior Life Insurance

If the policyholder is concerned about a beneficiary’s ability to handle a large cash payout directly after the occurrence of death, senior life insurance might be the answer. Instead of paying the entire death benefit at once, small amounts are released in the early years preceding the policyholder’s death. After a set period has passed, the entire amount is released.

3. Juvenile Life Insurance

For those who want to get their child off on the right foot with their insurance, juvenile life insurance policies are available. This is a way to build up cash value early in a child’s life while leveraging their low risk of death to access a low premium.

This provides a head start for the insured, building up a good deal of interest over those additional years.

4. Family Life Insurance

Losing anyone in the family can be financially devastating – not just the breadwinner. If the insured wants to cover the entire family, including the children, family insurance may be the answer.

This type of insurance is sold in units per person and allows for those who bring in the highest income stream to be insured for the most, reflecting the realities faced by the modern-day family.

5. Family Income Life Insurance

With family income life insurance policies, an income amount is agreed to be paid out for a certain number of years after the insured (usually the breadwinner) passes away, allowing the family time to prepare for a new standard of living.

6. Credit Life Insurance

Most people take on debt for a reason and accept the risks associated with that debt. But there’s one risk no one likes to create – the risk of leaving all debts behind for a grieving family.

Credit life insurance provides an answer. Like mortgage insurance, it pays off the balance of loans, whether they are car loans, education loans, or even credit cards.

Unlike mortgage insurance, however, credit life insurance is purchased through the financial institution orchestrating the loan in the first place. Payouts are made directly to the lender rather than the family of the deceased.

Do any of these life insurance types seem to be the perfect match for what you’re looking for in a policy? Get in touch with a seasoned professional today to discuss more or find out if there is something else you don’t know about.

6 Other Types of Life Insurance Every Policyholder Should Know About

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Islamic Poultry for Latino Tables (Yes, They Have Chilies, Too)

“We were taught what we needed to sell by the customers,” said Ahmed Elrabat, whose father helped found the shop in the 1980s.

By ANA FACIO-KRAJCER

Sebastian Flores walked out of Al Salam Pollería with a free bag of white-feathered chicken heads.

Mr. Flores, 26, an immigrant and a regular customer of Al Salam, a Muslim, family-owned halal poultry shop, was driving home when he developed a craving for the treat. He was planning on sprinkling the chicken heads with poultry seasoning and roasting them in the oven, the way they did back home in Puebla, Mexico.

Customers like Mr. Flores are the lifeblood of Al Salam Pollería, a thriving shop that opened 28 years ago “by accident,” according to its founders. Abdul Elhawary and his brother-in-law, Safwat Elrabat, who died 12 years ago, opened the shop in East Los Angeles because the zoning there allowed the sale and on-site slaughter of live poultry, in accordance with their religion’s dietary requirements.

Chicken feet at Al Salam Pollería, a Muslim, family-owned business that caters to Latino customers.

There were few halal butchers in Los Angeles in the 1980s, Mr. Elhawary, 60, said, so the family expected large numbers of Muslims from across the city to make the trek to buy halal poultry.

That never happened. Much to their surprise, though, Latino immigrant customers did show up, and in large numbers.

“It was a very happy coincidence and very happy surprise,” said Mr. Elrabat’s daughter, Iman Elrabat-Gabr, 37, “that Latinos were really interested in fresh chicken.”

Animals must be killed according to Islamic law for their meat to be halal, a practice followed at the store only when a customer requests halal meat.

“Around 1989, when we found out that 90 percent of the customers are Latino and we only had 10 percent that are non-Latino, we changed the name in the business cards to Al Salam Pollería,” Mr. Elhawary said. Originally, it had been Al Salam Farms; “salaam” means peace in Arabic and “pollería” is poultry shop in Spanish.

Ms. Elrabat-Gabr recalls that in the beginning, chicken feet would end up in the trash. Muslims did not eat them. But her family soon learned that in Latino culture, the feet were used for chicken soup and were considered a treat for children. The chicken heads, on the other hand, are an uncommon request and are given away free to customers, she said.

Abdul Elhawary, the owner of Al Salam Pollería.

“In Southern California, we believe we were the first Muslim-owned poultry store that figured out that Latinos are just as much interested in live chickens — fresh chickens — as we are,” said Ms. Elrabat-Gabr, who helps out at the East Los Angeles store. Her family, she said, takes pride in having discovered a niche market in Latino communities.

The East Los Angeles shop has been so successful over the last 20 years that members of the Elrabat and Elhawary families have opened three other butcher shops in Latino enclaves. Mr. Elhawary runs a shop of his own (L. A. Fresh Poultry Pollería) west of downtown Los Angeles. Ahmed Elrabat, 35, his nephew, owns a storefront (Pollería el Matador) in Southeast Los Angeles, where a large Mexican flag hangs from a pole outside.

Except for a few Koran verses on a wall and a small porcelain figure of the Kaaba shrine in Mecca atop a refrigerator, Al Salam Pollería, identified easily by the rooster on its roof, resembles a business that caters to the Latino palate. The products for sale include dry pepitas and chilies for mole poblano; various herbs like epazote, essential to some Mexican dishes; and Mexican candy like mazapan.

“We were taught what we needed to sell by the customers,” said Mr. Elrabat.

Ms. Elrabat-Gabr said her father had often spent entire days speaking only Spanish at the poultry shop and “before he died he was more fluent in Spanish than English.”

Mr. Elhawary, who was a high school French teacher in Egypt before emigrating to the United States in 1980, said learning Spanish had not been difficult for him.

“French helped me digest the Spanish language. Spanish is a very beautiful language. It’s musical,” said Mr. Elhawary. “Once you know the language, it breaks the barrier between you and the person.”

A private joke between the family and their shoppers.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Latinos and Muslims had many things in common.

“And sometimes even the food tastes similar because of the many years of interaction between the Muslim Arabs from Africa and Spaniards,” said Mr. Ayloush, whose Mexican-American wife converted to Islam. “You’re talking about 700 years of Muslims living in Spain. And those same Spaniards are the ones that came to Latin and South America and brought with them much of that Arab culture.”

Adrian Pantoja, a professor of politics and Chicano studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., said the family showcased the ways some of the city’s ethnic entrepreneurs had learned to adapt.

“For me, it’s one example of perhaps hundreds of thousands of little shops like these in Latino neighborhoods,” Mr. Pantoja said.

Mr. Flores, the customer with his bag of chicken heads, said he was a regular patron, and not just because of the quality of the food.

“Here they treat you well and they speak Spanish,” Mr. Flores said. “It’s good that they are willing to learn from another culture.”

Islamic Poultry for Latino Tables (Yes, They Have Chilies, Too)

5 beached whales doing better at Florida center

Veterinarians fed fish drinks to five rescued pilot whales Sunday and kept a close eye on them, trying to nurse the mammals back to health so they can one day return to the ocean.

The five whales were among a group of 22 whales beached in South Florida on Saturday. The rest died of natural causes or had to be euthanized.

The two calves and three juveniles were brought to Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Institute for rehabilitation. Experts said the animals were worn out, but mostly doing well.

“They’ve all been through a pretty stressful ordeal. We’ve seen each of them, at one point or another, have a little bit of trouble and need a little bit of help,” said Dr. Michelle Davis, senior veterinarian for SeaWorld Orlando.

Some of the whales have been breathing faster than usual at times, causing them to float away from the group and become less active, she said.

Several organizations were working together to care for the whales. About 10 people monitored them around the clock and one person was assigned to each whale to watch it constantly. The whales are being fed fish smoothies through a feeding tube every four hours.

Wildlife experts believe the youngest whale _ a female under the age of 2 _ was still nursing. Her mother did not survive.

“The baby is swimming around the group, calling and whistling for the mother, so we’re working to become the mom,” said Stephen McCulloch, Harbor Branch program manager.

Experts are teaching her to drink formula from a bottle.

Davis said it was not clear why the whale pod stranded at Avalon Beach State Park in St. Lucie County.

Allison Garrett, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service, said it’s possible one of the animals became sick and the rest of the pod followed it onshore.

“They won’t leave (a sick whale). They’ll stay together,” she said.

The five survivors have only minor injuries and scrapes. The goal was to get the five whales strong enough to survive a roughly two-hour trip to their new home at SeaWorld, which could take about a week.

Davis said she did not know how long it would be before the whales could be released back to the ocean. Until they get better, the whales will rehabilitate together in a pool.

“Even now in the pool, most of them are staying together and swimming around together all the time. That’s definitely a way to decrease their stress level,” she said.

Hundreds of residents came to the beach to help Saturday, flipping the animals upright so they could breathe better. Volunteers covered the whales with moist towels and poured water over them.

By evening, it was clear that most of the whales would not make it. Necropsies will be performed on them.

5 beached whales doing better at Florida center

In Isaac’s Wake, the Bayou Blackout: 900,000 Without Power as Storm Moves Inland

Hurricane Isaac, while dissipating, is still wreaking havoc on the area surrounding New Orleans, causing major flooding in Mississippi, threatening a dam failure in low-lying areas, and causing one fatality so far.

By MADISON GRAY

Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

Rescue workers transport residents trapped by rising water from Hurricane Isaac in the River Forest subdivision

Almost two days after Hurricane Isaac made landfall, striking the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, entire towns have been inundated with floodwaters, downing power lines across the region. Workers are scrambling to restore electricity to the affected area, a 300-mile wide swath of land stretching from southwesternMississippi to eastern Texas.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said utilities through the state are reporting a total of 900,000 were without electricity Thursday. Power utility Entergy said more than 760,000 of their customers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas are experiencing power outages. As the storm moves toward Baton Rouge at a painfully slow nine miles per hour, despite flooding and storm surges still gripping the state, Entergy says they’ve dispatched a crew of 10,000 workers to help turn the lights back on.

“We have damage assessment teams on the ground in southeast Louisiana and repair crews are starting to restore power, so restoration has already begun,” Entergy spokesman Chanel Lagarde told TIME. “But we’re still being hampered by weather conditions, so that will slow us down.”

(PHOTOS: Scenes of Isaac’s Wrath)

He said that the utility is working as fast as possible, but given the circumstances, there’s no estimate when power will be fully restored to the area. “Until the storm gets out of here and there’s a full assessment, it’s hard to tell.” Some New Orleans residents are approaching their second day without power, and with temperatures expected to climb into the upper 80s this weekend as the storm vacates the city, concern turns to the stifling heat.

“We’re asking for customers’ patience. It’s been a very frustrating storm because it’s moved so slowly,” Lagarde said. “We couldn’t get people on the ground yesterday, so we’re asking customers to give us some time.”

(PHOTOS: The Most Destructive U.S. Hurricanes of All Time)

While no deaths have been reported because of lack of electricity, the storm has claimed its first victim. A tow truck driver was killed by a falling tree in Picayune, Miss., Sue McClaney, associate administrator in the Pearl River County planning office told TIME. The Associated Press reports the tree fell on the driver of the truck, identified by officials as Greg Parker, just after midnight. McClaney said the area is still inundated by the storm’s effects — 37 roads in the area are flooded. To compound matters, she said: “We’ve got high tides coming in right now.”

Those tides are stoking fears that a dam close to the Louisiana-Mississippi border may fail, threatening low-lying areas and forcing the evacuation of Tangipahoa Parish, La. Gordon Burgess, the parish’s president, told  WWL-TV that the threat affects 50,000 to 60,000 people, who were given a mandatory evacuation notice at about 10 a.m. Thursday.

Jindal said that officials are working on a controlled breach of the dam, without which waters would rise to a level of 17 feet affecting several communities along the Tangipahoa River very quickly. “If this dam were to break, it would take about 90 minutes for this water to get to Kentwood,” he said, referring to the Louisiana town lying south of the dam in McComb, Miss.

At a news conference, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said Isaac brought heavy precipitation to the area, but noted that preparations and improvements made since Hurricane Katrina held. “Isaac dumped 10 to 15 inches on the region,” he said. “Our levees and floodgates held as they were designed to do.”

Also on Thursday, President Obama declared a major disaster for Louisiana, which releases FEMA funds to 36 parishes for emergency measures. State and local recovery efforts will be supplemented by federal aid on a cost-sharing basis, the agency said in a statement.

As Isaac begins to dissipate and cleanup efforts begin in the Gulf Coast region, the National Weather Service reported that the fifth named hurricane of the 2012 season has formed. Kirk is currently located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and is moving northwest at 12 mph. However, it is not yet considered a threat to land.

In Isaac’s Wake, the Bayou Blackout: 900,000 Without Power as Storm Moves Inland  

Saving texters from themselves

texting driving statistics

by Matt Brownell from CarInsurance.com in Personal FinanceInsurance

Texting and driving has been blamed for more than 100,000 car crashes a year , and according to one study it raises the chances of an accident by 23 times. And now even mobile carriers are getting fed up with it.

In recent weeks, AT&T has stepped up its ” It Can Wait ” campaign against texting and driving, including a renewed push for DriveMode, a free app the carrier developed to curb texting while driving.

The app allows users to temporarily disable texting and e-mail functions, thereby reducing the urge to fire off a quick text or read email at a stoplight. Calls to 911 are allowed. The app also allows you to set an auto-reply message to anyone who texts you while it’s activated, and it lets you set up a limited list of contacts whom you can call (or receive calls from) behind the wheel.

Sprint offers the Drive First app, which automatically kicks in when the phone’s GPS detects that it’s moving faster than 10 mph. When active, the app locks the home screen, auto-replies to text messages and sends any phone calls (outside of five allowed numbers) to voicemail. But the service doesn’t come free: After a 15-day free trial, it will cost you $2 per month per line.

T-Mobile’s DriveSmart is free in its basic versions; a premium app that senses a vehicle in motion and notifies parents of any override costs $4.99 a month.

Dozens of other applications are available for smartphone users, with varying levels of restrictions and functionality, at prices that range from free to monthly fees.

But all of them work only if you choose to use them.

It’s dangerous, illegal and expensive

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the major phone carriers are offering such tools. In addition to the increasing the odds of an accident, texting while driving is also illegal.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 39 states and the District of Columbia have outright bans on texting while driving, and five more ban it for novice drivers. Fines can be substantial. But only a few states treat texting as a moving violation — the kind that can hit your driving record and eventually raise your rates.

Get into an accident, though, and you will be lucky if you walk away with only a texting violation as a reminder.

An at-fault accident can raise your rates substantially: An analysis of 841,000 car insurance quotes delivered through CarInsurance.com’s rate-comparison engine shows that drivers with a single claim were quoted rates that averaged $300 more than drivers with no claims, an increase of about 17 percent. An accident surcharge could hurt your rates for years.

And even that pales next to possible criminal prosecution. Prosecutions of texting drivers under manslaughter or negligence laws have become distressingly common; in fact, a Massachusetts teenager was sentenced in June to jail time under the state’s vehicular homicide law. He also lost his license for 15 years.

How much technology do you want?

Few people will lock their phones away, however dire the consequences. Instead, apps try to make texting less tempting and less distracting.

There’s iZup (as in, “eyes up”), a third-party app that shuts down your phone’s texting and data functions except for the GPS, as long as you’re going over 5 mph.

DriveSafe.ly, on the other hand, still lets you receive texts, but it reads them aloud so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. The free version will read messages up to 25 words in length, while a premium version for $14 a year has a larger word count cap and lets you dictate responses.

iOnRoad not only reads texts aloud, but also turns your phone into a collision-warning system. Mount it below your rearview mirror and the app uses your phone’s camera to monitor both your position in the lane and the distance to the car in front of you.

Despina Stavrinos, an expert on distracted driving and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, prefers those apps that totally shut down texting.

“Removing the whole element of distracted driving is the best way to combat the issue, but I’m not in support of the ones that do talk-to-text,” she says. Dictating texts or listening to them, she explains, is a “cognitive distraction” akin to talking on the phone, which is less dangerous than taking your eyes off the road to text but still a serious distraction.

The fine print at 60 mph

The rapidly evolving technology of text-avoidance still has some kinks.

For instance, apps that automatically activate at high speeds can’t distinguish between users who are moving fast because they’re behind the wheel or because they’re a passenger in a car or train. Some have a password-protected override in the event that you’re not the one behind the wheel. (Meanwhile, a team of engineers at Rutgers University has developed an app that uses the car’s Bluetooth speaker system to determine where the phone is located, providing a possible solution to the passenger problem.)

Another issue is that few of the available text-shutdown apps work on the iPhone, which doesn’t allow apps to run in the background and affect basic phone functions like texting. (The iPhone version of DriveSafe.ly, for instance, apologetically explains that reading text messages aloud “is not technically possible on iOS devices.”) The best bet for iPhone users is to dictate texts using Siri, though apps like JustDrive can at least be used by parents to monitor their teens’ behavior.

Finally, it’s worth noting that texting is hardly the only thing that can distract you on the road. As Stavrinos points out, “we pick on text messaging, but anything can take your attention off the road, even a child crying in the backseat.”

Anybody got a crying-child app?

Saving texters from themselves

Pediatricians offer new support for circumcision

By 

The American Academy of Pediatrics Monday morning jumped into the controversial topic of circumcision, issuing a highly anticipated new report that offers more support for the procedure without fully recommending it for all boys.

The pediatricians say new research has shown more definitively that circumcision can help prevent future STDs. But, whether or not an infant should undergo the procedure, they say, is best made by informed parents.

The new statement, published online Monday in Pediatrics, is sure to exacerbate tensions between two factions that have emerged since the AAP last issued a more neutral report on the procedure in 1999 (reaffirmed in 2005).

The statement authors seemed to be fully aware of the atmosphere, since their conclusions walk a line between outright endorsing the procedure and staying on the sidelines.

It cites (and includes in an accompanying review of) new evidence that demonstrates the health benefits of infant circumcision. Still, the statement does not go so far as to recommend it.

A review of recent studies “indicates that preventive health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure. Benefits include significant reductions in the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life and, subsequently, in the risk of heterosexual acquisition of HIV and the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections,” the statement says.

It also calls for the procedure to be covered by insurance.

It goes on to add, however, that the medical benefits are not great enough to outweigh some other personal family beliefs.

Susan Blank, the pediatrician who chaired the task force that produced the statement said in an accompanying commentary that, “ultimately, this is a decision that parents will have to make.”

The new statement will likely bolster those who have or plan to circumcise their male children, including many who consider it a religious prerogative.

It may also hearten many in the medical community who view circumcision as an important protective procedure. Just last week, a report published by Johns Hopkins researchers in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine say a decline in rates of circumcision in the United States could cost billions in avoidable health-care costs.

But it is sure to anger the growing ranks of activists, many of whom call themselves “intactivists,” who have become vocal in condemning circumcision, calling it a form of genital mutilation. Last year, an attempt to ban parents from circumcising their children in San Francisco received enough support to get on the ballot, but was withdrawn before it went to voters.

The divisive issue does not fit into any predetermined political framework. It often pits parents who might otherwise be on the same ideological team against one another.

Depending on the perspective, some say the decision to allow parents the choice to circumcise is a matter of religious freedom, others say it is a human rights issue, while still others say it is a personal family matter.

The cultural debate over circumcision became even more visible in recent months after a German regional court’s decision against a Muslim couple that ostensibly made it a crime to circumcise a child.

In Europe, circumcising boys tends to be less accepted, only about 10 percent of boys there undergo the procedure. In the United States, currently a bit more than half of boys are circumcised.

That’s a big drop from about 80 percent 20 years ago.

Experts say the drop is connected to cultural and religious shifts but may be even more attributable to finances. One of the points the Johns Hopkins researchers made in their report last week is that while the rates have fallen, so too has the likelihood of insurance covering the procedure.

 

Related Content:

Circumcision, the cut that divides

To cut or not to cut? Readers have feelings about circumcision

Pediatricians offer new support for circumcision

MAYOR BLOOMBERG TO BAN EMPLOYEE TERMINATIONS TO CONTROL VIOLENCE IN NYC!

by Cardigan 

Angry White Dude

After today’s shooting of a former co-worker in the Empire State Building by a disgruntled fired employee, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new tactic to combat violence in his city. Bloomberg has long blamed violence on guns even though New York has a strict ban on gun ownership…except for liberal celebrities who own guns but call for gun bans. After the shootings today at the Empire State Building, which killed two people including the gunman, Bloomberg said:

“New York City, as you know, is the safest big city in the country and we are on pace to have a record low number of murders this year but we are not immune to the national problem of gun violence.

As you know, guns have a violent tendency to get up, leave their homes, and arbitrarily shoot people. This gun violence must stop. As such, we long ago banned gun ownership in New York City because of the violence perpetrated on innocent New Yorkers by these reprehensible, violent, unpredictable guns!

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MAYOR BLOOMBERG TO BAN EMPLOYEE TERMINATIONS TO CONTROL VIOLENCE IN NYC!

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