D. Heimpel

Daniel Heimpel's life as a journalist

Archive for September 2009

More on Marijuana

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It is amazing how far gone Los Angeles is in regulating Medical Marijuana. From producers, store-front dealers, the magazines that carry their ads and journalists like myself, the city’s inability to control how Marijuana is distributed has been a windfall. Read my story Potshots Over Los Angeles Pot Shops that ran in the LA Weekly today.

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Written by dheimpel

September 24, 2009 at 5:24 pm

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The Happiness Doctrine

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Here is take a look at last’ weeks Ways and Means’ aubcommittee hearing on Fostering Connections to Success:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-heimpel/the-happiness-doctrine_b_293575.html

Please have a look and pass it on.

Written by dheimpel

September 21, 2009 at 9:58 pm

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Learning to Be a Man

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Hit this link to read what I have to say about mentorship, a key part of helping make the lives of foster children better:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-heimpel/learning-to-be-a-man_b_288459.html

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September 18, 2009 at 10:39 pm

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Fighting For Foster Care Reform

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Hello All,

Please read the following post I wrote on the most important reform to hit foster care in our generation for the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-heimpel/the-fight-to-make-well-be_b_287575.html

I am now frantically writing more about what actually happened at the hearing, which I watched via the internet. If you can pass this blog around I would appreciate it.

-Daniel

Written by dheimpel

September 15, 2009 at 8:51 pm

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Well-Being as Law

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Well-Being as Law

Fostering Connections to Success paves the way to well-being as the goal for child welfare agencies – now it is a matter of implementation.

As the longest, most involved story I have yet written on foster care came out I found myself deeper into the movement to change the system then ever before.

The story I wrote chronicles the life of John Kyzer, a young man who I have come to know very well over the past three years. Unfortunately the toll of the system weighed so heavy on him that despite being a good person with the same potential for greatness that anyone else has he is now drifting. I hope that drifting will stop and I hope that he will find the happiness that he deserves. To that end I will continue to be a part of his life and offer my help whenever he wants it.

The story was published exactly at the same time that I was in Washington D.C. talking to the industrious and varied national advocacy groups who fight for kids like John and the 500,000 others in the system.

Right now all are ramping up efforts to implement the greatest reform to come to the system in the last decade, and by some experts’ estimates: the past 30 years. That reform if the Fostering Connections to Success and Increased Adoptions act of 2008, which was signed into law by President Bush in the twilight of his presidency. The law is an amazing amalgamation of very divergent but important pieces to the puzzle of changing outcomes for young people in the system and marks a fundamental shift in the ideology of the department.

In a nutshell Fostering Connections provides optional matched federal monies to states and counties, which extend care past 18 and increase placements with family members over unknown foster parents. But it also has placed requirements on the public Child Welfare departments across the country to notify kin if a child is taken into state custody, increase efforts to keep siblings together, enhance health care standards and keep kids from bouncing from school to school even if they are bouncing from group home to foster home and back again.

As Rob Geen of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who has emerged as one of the leaders in the movement to implement Fostering Connections, says: the focus has moved from safety to well-being. In more explicit terms this means that this law is intended not only to make sure that kids are taken out of harm’s way, but also to make sure that they live lives that are safe and joyous.

Fostering Connections gives foster children the chance to be children. And when children are given the opportunity to be kids they tend to grow into much better adjusted adults. I have met many foster children who have grown into wild successes as adults, but they often did this despite the system. Fostering Connections moves us closer to a world where foster care alumni can say their success is at least partially because of the system.

The problem is Fostering Connections requires states to write implementation legislation. Here in California Assembly President Karen Bass spearheaded such legislation. But the current state budget crisis has pushed the start date for such programs until 2011. Thus far across the nation even the mandatory changes are far from being enacted – and with everyday that passes, we miss a chance for a child’s smile today and a better future tomorrow.

To learn more about Fostering Connections and how you can help speed implementation the following organizations are great resources:

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute: www.ccainstitute.org

Generations United: www.gu.org

The American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law: www.abanet.org/child

The Annie E. Casey Foundation: www.aecf.org

Casey Family Programs: http://www.casey.org

The Child Welfare League of America: http://www.cwla.org

First Focus: www.firstfocus.net

Child Trends: www.childtrends.org

Voice for Adoption: http://www.voice-for-adoption.org

The Center for the Study of Social Policy: www.cssp.org

The Children’s Defense Fund: www.childrensdefense.org

Foster Club: www.fosterclub.com

The National Foster Care Coalition: www.nationalfostercare.org

Foster Care Alumni of America: http://www.fostercarealumni.org

Written by dheimpel

September 12, 2009 at 5:18 pm

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Thin Guilt

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A couple of weeks ago I wanted to write a story about the proliferation of television shows like Dance Your Ass Off, More to Love and the Biggest Loser. Shows that exemplified what I thought to be an American acceptance of being fat: harbingers for a very, very heavy society.

Behind the shield of fat-induced bad health, I could safely lob judgment on what I saw as a perverse trend of upward spiraling obesity. An Internet search gave me what I needed: reams of data saying that being fat was indeed bad, dangerous, an epidemic!

“Health is a secular god,” Paul Campos, a University of Colorado law professor who recently co-authored a controversial paper questioning whether obesity is a true health crisis or a moral panic, told me. [http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/short/35/1/55]. “When that happens it is very easy to repress that what is really driving this stuff is an aesthetic judgment that fat is disgusting and a moral wrong.”

At this statement I had to take pause. Was my aversion to fatness, my desire to write about the subject, somehow a way to vent my prejudice against fat people?

That would be hard to believe considering my background. By my sophomore year of high school I was 5’ 10” tall and weighed 225 lbs, which calculates to a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 32. I was clinically obese, and I hated every day of my life for it.

Through team sports and a self-imposed ban on soft drinks, I started shedding the weight. Fourteen years down the road and I am two inches taller and 45 lbs lighter with a BMI of 24, which means I am normal – Ha. Understandably, after having lived through all the shame of being heavy — the problems with the girls, the mediocrity at sports and the layering of clothing to cloak my belly – my pervasive thought associated with fatness was negative.

This formed in my mind, what in psychological terms is known as a schema, a network of concepts that give structure to some aspect of the world.

My “fat” schema was all bad and wrapped up with personal shame, a perceived collective laziness and overall disgust. Schemas are good for putting new ideas into old boxes, but can interfere with creating new ways of looking at old concepts. This hampered my ability to take in novel information, so even as a journalist who is supposed to go into every story open and rigidly unbiased, I felt myself resistant to science that said maybe being fat wasn’t as bad as I had spent my whole life thinking.

Before I started researching I would have never guessed that the mortality rate for overweight people was less than for normal weight people. Or that evidence from scores of diet studies including tens of thousands of dieters would say over and over again that diets don’t work at all. But the most telling truth was that as we have grown heavier as a society, we have also collectively increased our life spans – meaning that even if we are fatter as a society we are also healthier; at least longer lived. That rattled my unfounded hypothesis (sinister suspicion) that being fat was killing America.

My fat schema started falling apart. Clearly there is a wide range of conditions linked to obesity and being fat can be detrimental to your health. But to what extent? Much less than what I had though a certainty. And it dawned on me, that in one immensely important realm of thought, I had simply abandoned critical thinking. I had let my own bias rule my conclusions.

And in realizing that I, a person paid to think critically, had been so lazy as to not understand such a topic that touched me and everyone around me on so many levels I got scared — scared that I wasn’t the only one.

I spoke with Gina Kolata, who has written countless obesity-related stories for the New York Times and wrote a book on the subject: Rethinking Thin. “Fat people are discriminated against and just scorned more than anyone else in society,” Kolata said.

Having lived through being fat, I knew how the scorn felt. I like so many others was told that I had to loose the weight. I did and that emboldened my belief that if I could do it anyone can. But as I point out in a recent story which I wrote for Newsweek.com the vast majority simply can’t. Still society cries for them to do it. Even the CDC, an agency charged with protecting health, calls for weight loss to combat the ills of obesity, when there is little evidence that weight loss is possible in the long term and a ton of evidence that shows dieting can be dangerous.

When I started to dive into the material it became clear to me that I had spent my life like many around me: thinking that obesity is not only ugly but terribly unhealthy. With the science throwing into question just how unhealthy being fat is, my judgment on obesity seems disproportionately about the way being fat looks – and that is ugly.

Dealing with America’s health problems, including obesity, is already an immense task. Clouding facts with aesthetic prejudice will only make that task more difficult.

Written by dheimpel

September 8, 2009 at 3:25 pm

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Updated Website

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Okay,

So www.dheimpel.com has been updated.

Please take a look at some new stories that have gone up and a slightly revamped look.

-D

Written by dheimpel

September 5, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized