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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Funny Story

I don’t watch the television program Empire, a drama that follows the head of a music empire whose three sons and ex-wife battle for his throne. One of the “stars” is a fellow named Jussie Smollett who reportedly makes about $125,000 per episode. 
    Back in early January, Smollett, who is black and openly gay, got letter made out of cut out letters at the Fox studio that contained a homophobic death threat and made apparent reference to President Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan. 
     Then in Chicago on January 29th, Smollett said two white men approached him around two in the morning, shouted racial and homophobic slurs, poured an "unknown chemical substance" on him and wrapped a noose around his neck.
     Later police arrested two black Nigerian brothers who told detectives Smollett paid them to attack him. As a result Smollett was charged with a felony for allegedly filing a false police report. Police don’t like it when people lie to them. But, apparently it’ not a crime when police lie to the public, but that’s another story. 
     The Chicago grand jury charged Smollett with 16 felony counts… one for every alleged lie he told police. According to investigators Smollett carried out the staged attack and gave their theory for the reason behind it. First he attempted to gain attention to his desire to get paid more money on Empire by sending the false letter. When that didn’t work he paid the two men $3,500 to attack him. Additionally, in the process he dragged Chicago’s reputation through the mud. 

     After much media attention and bantering between lawyers, the Cook County State's Attorney recused herself "out of an abundance of caution." Recused, meaning she considered herself unqualified to perform legal duties because of a potential conflict of interest or lack of impartiality.  It's not clear to me why there was a conflict of interest or why she would be impartial...maybe she is a fan of the show?!  No, wait!  Her name is Kim Foxx and is the fact that she is black have anything to do with it?  Foxx ran on a platform of criminal justice reform and stated she wanted to focus on “restoring faith in our criminal justice system” and “bridging the divide between the community and law enforcement.
     Finally charges against Smollett were dropped and the Cook County State's Attorney's Office refused to explain why the 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct were dropped, but Smollett agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond. A judge also agreed to seal Smollett's court file at the request of his attorneys and the prosecutors had no objection. 
     Besides everyone looking like an idiot, it makes one wonder how much money changed hands.

UPDATE (3-28-19) Smollett is being investigated by the FBI as to whether he sent himself the hate letter laced with white powder and the dismissal of the criminal charge against him.

Monday, March 25, 2019

X-ray Specs

     A few readers may remember the novelty ads appearing in magazines to X-ray Specs, an item that were advertised as being able to allow you to "see the bones in your hand, see through clothes!" 
     Some versions of the advertisement featured an illustration of a young man using the X-Ray Specs to examine the bones in his hand while a voluptuous woman stood in the background. In case anyone is wondering...they didn’t work. 
     After mailing in a dollar plus 25 cents for shipping and waiting 6-8 weeks for delivery, you got a large pair of “glasses” with plastic frames and white cardboard "lenses" printed with concentric red circles and emblazoned with "X-RAY VISION". 

     The lenses consist of two layers of cardboard with a small hole about a quarter-inch in diameter through which objects were viewed. There was a feather is embedded between the layers of each lens. The feathers diffracted light causing the user to receive two slightly offset images. 
     For instance, if viewing a pencil, one would see two offset images of the pencil. Where the images overlap, a darker image is obtained, giving the illusion that one is seeing the graphite embedded within the body of the pencil. 
     The principle behind the illusion was first patented in 1906 by George W. Macdonald. In 1909 Fred J. Wiedenbeck patented a tube employing the same principle. X-Ray Specs were improved by Harold von Braunhut, also the inventor of Amazing Sea-Monkeys
    There was even a movie inspired by X-ray Specs released in 1963, X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes starring Ray Milland; it was a low budget film about the experiences of a doctor who acquired x-ray vision by testing vision enhancing eye drops on himself.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Beginning of Newspaper Sensationalism

     Helen Jewett (October 18, 1813 – April 10, 1836) was an upscale New York City prostitute whose murder, along with the subsequent trial and acquittal of her alleged killer, Richard P. Robinson, generated an unprecedented amount of media coverage. 
     Her murder was an early example of a media sensation when newspapers of the day ran lurid stories about the case and the trial of her accused killer. On paper in particular, the New York Herald, fixated on the case to the point that its coverage became the standard by which tabloid sensationalism such as found in supermarket tabloids is measured by even today. 
     The murder of one prostitute normally would even be considered news, but the competition in the rapidly expanding newspaper business at the time made coverage of the case a smart business decision. Stories about the murder and the trial in the summer of 1836 culminated in public outrage when the accused was acquitted which in turn lead to more sensational news coverage. 
     Helen Jewett was born Dorcas Doyen in Temple, Maine, into a working-class family. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother died when she was young. From the age of 12 or 13 she was employed as a servant girl in the home of Chief Justice Nathan Weston of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. While there, she developed into a sexually assertive young woman and upon reaching the age of 18 left the Weston home at the first opportunity and moved to Portland, Maine where she worked as a prostitute under an assumed name. She subsequently moved to Boston and finally New York under a succession of assumed names. It was in New York City that she adopted the name Helen Jewett. 

     Because of her attractive appearance, she found it easy to fins employment in the countless houses of prostitution in New York. In a memoir published in 1874 by Charles Sutton, the warden of The Tombs, the large prison in lower Manhattan, she was described as having "swept like a silken meteor through Broadway, the acknowledged queen of the promenade." 
     Her accused killer was Richard Robinson who was born in Connecticut in 1818 and apparently received a good education. He left to live in New York City as a teenager and found employment in a dry goods store in lower Manhattan.
     In his late teens Robinson began consorting with a rough crowd and the name Frank Rivers when he visited prostitutes. According to some accounts, at the age of 17 he happened to run into Jewett when she was being accosted by a hoodlum outside a Manhattan theater and Robinson beat up the man. Jewett gave him her calling card and Robinson began visiting her at the brothel where she worked. 

     At some point during the early 1830s Jewett began working at a fashionable brothel in lower Manhattan and she apparently broke up her relationship with Robinson, but by late 1835 they had gotten back together. 
     Accounts vary, but in early April, 1836 Jewett became convinced that Robinson was planning to marry another woman and threatened him. Another account says Robinson had been embezzling money from his employer to spend on Jewett and he became worried that she would expose him. 
     Jewett’s madame, Rosina Townsend, claimed that Robinson came to her house late on a Saturday night, April 9, 1836, and visited Jewett. In the early hours of April 10, another woman in the house heard a loud noise followed by a moan. Looking into the hallway, she saw a tall figure running away. A short time later, looking into Jewetts’ room someone found a fire smoldering in her mattress and she was dead with three wound in he head and her blood was pooled on the floor. 
     The women and night watchmen doused the smoking mattress and the body with water from the backyard cistern. The police checked the backyard, which seemed the likely escape route since the front door was locked. Nearby the fence was a hatchet; on the other side lay a long cloak. Richard Robinson was the suspect. 
     Police found Robinson in his rented room, in bed. His pants had whitewash on them that was believed to have been from the fence he had climbed over when he made his escape. It was this incriminating evidence that lead to his being charged with Helen Jewett’s murder. Robinson told his neighbor, “Do you think I would blast my brilliant prospects by so ridiculous an act . I am a young man of only nineteen years of age yesterday, with most brilliant prospects.” 
     The murder happened at a time when penny press newspapers which old for a penny and focused on sensational events were emerging in New York City. The New York Herald, which had started a year earlier, seized on the murder and began a media circus. 
     The Herald published lurid descriptions of the murder scene and as well as exclusive stories about Jewett and Robinson, much of it exaggerated if not outright fabricated, which was gobbled up by the public. 
     The trial was a circus. Six thousand people crowded the second floor of city hall in hopes of witnessing the trial. On the second day, the mob broke the railings in the courtroom and fifty marshals were called to clear the building.
     Robinson went on trial June 2, 1836 and his defense team, hired by his relatives, was able to find a witness who provided an alibi for Robinson. It was widely assumed that the defense's main witness, who ran a grocery store in lower Manhattan, had been bribed. The prosecution witnesses were mostly prostitutes who weren’t believed anyway. The witness, Robert Furlong, later committed suicide after his business failed. The public was shocked when Robinson was acquitted. Soon after he left New York for the West and died not long after. 
     The year following her murder, the New York Herald published a front-page article noting that murder was on the rise in New York City and hinted that the acquittal of Robinson may have inspired other murders. As a result of the trial newspaper men had soon realized that sensational accounts of high-profile crimes sold newspapers and began competing for readers by featuring lurid crime stories. 

     Thus was born a lot of what we see in print and on television today even when it comes to blurbs for “news” stories that are going to appear on the 10 o’clock news.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Cat Toes and Falling Cats

     A polydactyl cat has a congenital physical anomaly called polydactyly (or polydactylism, also known as hyperdactyly), which causes the cat to be born with more than the usual number of toes on one or more of its paws. But, we’re not taking about them. 
     Counting cat toes seem simple until you actually do it because are you counting all toes or just functional toes?  You could count a fifth little toe on your cat's front paws, but usually not on the back ones. 
     Although a cat has four toes on each back foot and five on each front foot, one of the five front toes isn’t used, so they have four functional toes on the front and back. 
     The functional toes have claws that retract when they're not in use, helping them to stay sharp and unbroken for when they're needed. That fifth toe on the front feet is a dew claw. 
     Dew claws are on the inside of the foot, a little bit above the others and they don't touch the ground and normally are not retractable. Dew claws often get snagged on things and usually needs clipping more often than her other claws to prevent it from growing in a circle and back into her toe. 
     Cats have more pads than toes. On the front feet there are seven pads, one for each toe, a big pad in the middle, and a tiny one a bit higher up. These sensitive pads help cats sneak around silently plus they also help announce where they have been. When a cat scratches on a tree (or your furniture) the pads release a scent that tells other cats somebody else has been there. 
     Made famous by Ernest Hemingway, polydactyl cats have extra toes on their front paws. Usually, it's just one extra toe per paw, but occasionally there might br two or three extras. If the toe count goes past five, it’s a genetic mutation that is often found in some cat lines.
     Usually the extra toe is a functional toe, but it's common for them to have nails that grow at odd angles and that require frequent trimmings. The current official world record holder has 27 toes.
     All cats have claws and all except the cheetah can retract them at will. Along with the giraffe and the camel, cats step with both left legs, then both right legs when they walk or run. Cats don’t have sweat glands on their bodies so sweat through their paws, but they rely more on the evaporation of saliva off their fur to maintain normal body temperature. 
     While we are on the subject of cats, I've included a video explaining why cats land on their feet.  We once had a cat jump out a second floor window onto concrete and land unhurt. One cat that fell32 stories onto concrete suffered only a chipped tooth and a collapsed lung and was released after 48 hours.  
     It's quite possible for a cat to survive at a terminal velocity of 60 miles per hour, as demonstrated by a study done on 132 cats falling an average of 5.5 stories, published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 90 percent survived, albeit many required medical attention.
     Theoretically if you throw a cat off a 13th floor it wouldn't matter how much higher you go because the cat will hit the ground with the same velocity and force as it did on the 13th floor. If scientists are correct, a cat could survive a fall of the Empire State Building. Where are they Mythbusters when you need them?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Where Do These Rumors Come From?!

     It’s making the rounds again and I saw 5 or 6 Facebook posts today stating that starting tomorrow a new Facebook rule says they can use your photo and everything you've ever posted becomes public, even messages that have been deleted. 
    People are advised that they can follow a procedure that will give notice to Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against you, blah, blah, blah. The hoax cites law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103) and the Rome Statute as defenses against Facebook’s use of your images. 
     The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) contains rules applying to many types of commercial contracts, including contracts related to the sale of goods, leasing of goods, use of negotiable instruments, banking transactions, letters of credit, documents of title for goods, investment securities, and secured transactions.
     The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court in 1998 and went into force in 2002. It give the ICC the jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, not copyright infringement and privacy concerns. 
     Well meaning, but gullible people keep falling for this old hoax which has been around since at least 2012. What they don’t realize is that when they joined Facebook they agreed to their terms and conditions and granted the company a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings).” 
     Even if you delete pictures they’ll still be available on the site’s archives and backups. Rather like when you delete something on your hard drive, it’s still there. Police find incriminating evidence of deleted files all the time. 
     Facebook users are advised to publish a Privacy Statement as a means of stopping Facebook from using material they post and some versions mention Channel 13 News as a source. Channel 13 news could be literally hundreds of news stations. Where I live Channel 13 is in a city a hundred miles away and is not even available locally. 
     The Privacy Notice has no legal standing and posting it will do nothing whatsoever to protect the privacy of users. The whole message is useless garbage, but for a lot of people, if it’s on Facebook, it’s true.

Other posts about Facebook: 
Facebook Addiction
A Rant 
Politics and Facebook Twaddle

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Ed W. Freeman and Bruce Crandall, Real Heroes

     We live in a society where we are besieged with fake heroes, people in sports and Hollywood with their ignorant selves spouting drivel all the while making their millions and living in a fantasy world. They can’t compare to Ed W. Freeman (November 20, 1927 – August 20, 2008) and Bruce Crandall (born February 17, 1933). 
     During World War II, Freeman served for two years in the Navy aboard a fleet oiler. During the Korean War, Freeman was a First Sergeant in the Army’s Corps of Engineers, but his company fought as infantry soldiers. He participated in the Battle of Pork Chop Hill and earned a battlefield commission as one of only 14 survivors out of 257 men who made it through the opening stages of the battle. 
     The commission made him eligible to become a pilot, but when he applied for pilot training he was told that at six feet four inches he was too tall. Hence his nickname, Too Tall. In 1955, the height limit for pilots was raised and he was accepted into flying school. He first flew fixed-wing Army airplanes before switching to helicopters. 
     By the time he was sent to Vietnam in 1965, he was an experienced helicopter pilot and was placed second-in-command of his sixteen-aircraft unit. He served as a captain in Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). 

     On November 14, 1965, Freeman and his unit transported a battalion of soldiers to the Ia Drang Valley. After arriving back at base, they learned that the soldiers,who were outnumbered 8 to 1, had come under intense fire and had taken heavy casualties. Enemy fire around the landing zones was so heavy that the landing zone was closed to medical evacuation helicopters. 
     Though not Medevac pilots, Freeman and his commander, Major Bruce Crandall, volunteered to fly their unarmed, lightly armored UH-1 Huey in support of the embattled troops. 
Had a ride in many of these

     Freeman made a total of fourteen trips to the battlefield, bringing in water and ammunition and taking out wounded soldiers under heavy enemy fire in what was later named the Battle of Ia Drang. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of major, designated as a Master Army Aviator, and was sent home from Vietnam in 1966. 
     Freeman received the distinguished Flying Cross for his act of bravery but for decades those who survived this battle felt he should have received the Medal of Honor. Finally, on July 16, 2001, Congress awarded the Medal of Honor to Freeman with the persuasion of Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Crandall, other survivors whom he had rescued and Senator John McCain. 
     President George W. Bush presented him the MOH before witnesses Vice President Cheney, the secretary of defense, secretary of veterans affairs, the joint chiefs as well as members of the Joint Chiefs, Senator John McCain, Senator Craig, Congressman Otter, and Congressman Simpson from the delegation of Idaho. 
     Freeman passed away from complications of Parkinson’s disease at the age of 80 on August 20, 2008 and was buried in the Veterans Cemetery in Idaho where he lived. 
     In March of 2009, the United States Congress designated the US Post Office in his place of birth, McLain, Mississippi, the Major Ed W. Freeman Post Office.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


     Many think propaganda is something new, but it is not. The word itself came into common use in the U.S. when World War I began. 
     With the rise of the Greeks those who made up the citizen class were conscious of group interest and were well informed on the problems and affairs of their city-state and thus propaganda and counter-propaganda emerged. 
     They didn’t have newspapers, radio and television, but they did have games, the theater, the assembly, courts of law and religious festivals which could be used for propaganda purposes. They also enjoyed orators and Greek playwrights could use drama for their political, social, and moral teachings. 
     Wars have always been a good reason to use propaganda. Governments seek to persuade their citizens of the justness of their cause and hide the horrors and failures. 
     Misinformation and disinformation are widely used to distract people from the truth and create new realities. In 1933, Hitler realized the potential of propaganda and appointed Joseph Goebbels as Minister for Propaganda. Goebbels was remarkably effective and much of the propaganda literature discusses in detail the methods they used. 
     Governments continue to tell people what they think they need to know and advertisers use propaganda techniques and most people are taken in and fail to see how they are manipulated. 
     Bernays' Propaganda written in 1928 began with the sentence, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society.” He believed most of the citizenry was an uneducated, ill-informed mass whose views should be directed rather than allow them to think. Thinking on higher matters was really for leaders who could decide what was best for lesser people. 
     In 1936 Boston merchant Edward Filene helped establish the short-lived Institute for Propaganda Analysis which sought to educate Americans to recognize propaganda techniques, but it wasn’t very successful and didn’t last long. They did, however, produce a list of seven propaganda methods that have become a standard. 

1) Bandwagon: Pump up the value of joining the party. 
2) Card-stacking: Build a highly-biased case for your position. 
3) Glittering Generalities: Use power words to evoke emotions. 
4) Name-calling: Denigrating opponents. 
5) Plain Folks: Making the leader seem ordinary increases trust and credibility.
6) Testimonial: The testimony of an independent person is seen as more trustworthy. 
7) Transfer: Associate the leader with trusted others. 

     When watching the news, listening to a speech, reading a paper or even looking at  a Facebook meme, how many of these methods trying to manipulate your thinking can you spot?

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Stanley Brothers

     The Stanley Brothers were a bluegrass duo of singer-songwriters and musicians made up of brothers Carter Stanley (1925–1966) and Ralph Stanley (1927–2016). They performed as The Stanley Brothers with their band, The Clinch Mountain Boys, from 1946 to 1966.  Ralph kept the band name when he continued as a solo artist after Carter's death, from 1967 until his own death in 2016. 
     They were born on a small farm in Dickenson County, Virginia and listened to the likes of the Monroe Brothers, J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers and the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. 
     They formed a band, the Lazy Ramblers, and performed on radio in Johnson City, Tennessee. World War II interrupted their musical career, but once both returned from the Army, they resumed their musical pursuits. 
     They formed their band, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, in 1946 as the first band to copy the Monroe sound. Carter played guitar and sang lead, while Ralph played banjo and sang with a strong, high tenor voice. Financially hard times in the early 1950s forced them to begin working for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. 
     Eventually, Monroe and the Stanley Brothers became friends, and Carter performed for several months with Bill Monroe in the summer of 1951. In August 1951, Ralph was involved in a serious automobile accident that almost ended his career. Following his recovery, Carter and Ralph reunited to front their Clinch Mountain Boys. 
     As bluegrass music grew less popular in the late 1950s, they moved to Live Oak, Florida, and headlined the weekly Suwannee River Jamboree on radio from 1958 to 1962. In 1966, the brothers toured Europe, and upon returning home they continued to perform until Carter's death of cirrhosis of the liver in December 1966.  
     Around 1970, Ralph ran for Clerk of Court and Commissioner of Revenue in Dickenson County, Virginia only to state this: What happened is, somebody traded me off—they used my popularity and money to elect somebody else. I was done dirty. And I'm so proud that I was done dirty, because if I had been elected ... I woulda had a job to do ... maybe woulda finally quit. So that's one time I was done dirty and I want to thank them for it now 
     Ralph was popularly known as Dr. Ralph Stanley having been awarded an honorary doctorate in music from Lincoln Memorial University of Harrogate, Tennessee in 1976.
     Many years later, Ralph revived the Clinch Mountain Boys and performed with them through 2013. He recorded one last album in 2015 with his son, Ralph II. He died of skin cancer.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Electronic Medical Devices

     In the late 1980s, a fellow named William Charles Nelson (born June 19, 1951) built an electronic device he claimed could diagnose and destroy disease by firing radio frequencies into the body. 
     At age 33, Nelson was a part-time mathematics instructor at Youngstown State University in Ohio.  He was a Star Trek fan with an autistic son and became obsessed with creating a space-age device that combined modern mathematics with alternative therapies. 
     In 1984, he moved to Colorado where he started to sell his homemade medical device. He registered his company with the FDA in 1989 as a maker of biofeedback machines, meaning he could sell them only as stress-relieving tools. By law, he could not claim the devices diagnosed or treated disease, but he did it anyway. 
     The device, the Electro Physiological Feedback Xrroid was claimed to be a remarkable invention...it could zap everything from allergies to AIDS to cancer. It was known as EPFX or, alternately, as Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface (QXCI). 
     The device claimed to balance bio-energetic forces, something that the scientific community does not recognize as real. The device mainly reflected skin resistance (how easily low-voltage electric currents from the device pass through the skin), which is not related to the body's health. 
     Some people chose to use Nelson’s invention instead of seeking or continuing conventional medical care and some died as a result. In one documented case, undiagnosed and untreated leukemia resulted in the death of a patient. 
     The device used so-called energy medicine and claimed to read the body’s reactivity to various frequencies and then send back other frequencies to make changes in the body. The machine is made up of circuit boards and computer components that run software full of colorful graphics of the body. 
     During a typical EPFX treatment, a patient may watch as a computer screen displays an animation of the interior of an artery blocked by white blobs, representing cholesterol. Then the blobs shrink and disappear. 
     Nelson built his business by recruiting a sales force of physicians, chiropractors, nurses and thousands of unlicensed providers, from homemakers to retirees, drawn by the promise of easy money. As a result, more than 10,000 of the devices sold in the United States alone.
     In 1992 the Food and Drug Adminstration, which regulates medical devices, asked that Nelson stop claiming that the EPFX could diagnose or cure diseases and stop selling them.  He didn’t and in 1996 was indicted on nine counts of felony fraud. You would think that would be the end of it, but it wasn’t. Wilson fled the United States to Hungary where he continues to operate and is also involved in, among other things, homeopathic medicine.  Imports of the devices to the US are banned.
     Wilson lives in Budapest with his fifth wife and their children and has a personal staff that includes a cook, hairdresser, nanny, security guards and chauffeurs. He is also now a woman known as Desire Dubounet. 
     With all the charisma of a televangelist, at the international EPFX conferences in Budapest, Nelson bounds onto a stage in front of a cheering crowd wearing a dress, heels and a lot of makeup. The crowd is made up of several hundred including machine owners and people hoping to buy one.  The crowd jumps to their feet and applaud as he explains how he is a genius and uses the EPFX to cure cancer and AIDS.  It works...he claims to gave sold 17,000 EPFX devices worldwide at a cost of $19,900 each. If my calculator is working correctly, that's over 338 million dollars.
     He also claims to have worked as a contractor for NASA while a teenager and he helped save the Apollo 13 mission. He claims to have been an alternate member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. He has eight doctorates, including degrees in medicine and law, listed on his credentials. None of it is true except for the degree claim, but they are from unaccredited schools and mail-order degrees.
     After the conference he appears at his lounge, Club Bohemian Alibi, where he sings rock songs. Like modern televangelists, he also has a movie production studio where he creates films that portray him as the crusader of alternative medicine and the FDA as a corrupt villain. 
     See Desire’ Dubounet, the man who left America to find freedom who is no longer a man for complete details.

     Today in the U.S. there is a growing field called energy medicine that is supposed to offer alternative therapies based on the belief that the body has energy fields that can be manipulated to improve health. 
     Devices range from handheld machines the size of a television remote to huge machines that weigh hundreds of pounds with costs ranging from $1,200 to $55,000. Many manufacturers and operators follow FDA rules and disclose that treatments are unproven. 
     Today you can see former basketball great Shaquille O'Neal appearing in TV commercials claiming you can turn off pain using an Icy Hot Smart Relief gizmo.
     The devices uses TENS Therapy and is designed for back, hip, knee and shoulder pain. It costs $29.99 and includes one reusable electrode pad. A electrode refill pack, including a replacement battery, costs an additional $14.99, and should last about a month. 
     TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation and the gadgets are actually quite popular. They attach to your skin with sticky electrodes and send a low level of electricity through the skin to where you're feeling pain.
     Some doctors say that TENS devices can actually help patients reduce the amount of pain-relieving medications they need to use, including opioids. Icy Hot claims the device uses the same technology used by doctors, relieves painful muscles and joints, has 63 intensity levels and is prescription strength.  It’s good for sore aching muscles and relief of chronic pain associated with arthritis. 
     There is also another popular device called Quell. It cost $300. The manufacturer says their device is five times as powerful as cheaper TENS devices out there. 
     Do these things work? Many patients say they do, but it’s also claimed it’s because of the placebo effect, a psychological phenomenon in which patients report improvement that cannot be linked scientifically to treatment. People feel better through the power of suggestion or because they believe they are expected to feel improvement. 
     Blame the FDA. In 1997, Congress passed the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act, which made it cheaper and quicker to bring a device to market which lead to an explosion of energy-device on the market. The act also exempted many manufacturers of low-risk devices from submitting proof their machines worked and were safe. 
     The new law placed manufacturers on the honor system when it comes to classifying their devices. A lot of manufactures simply claim their products are for biofeedback and legally can be used only relieve stress. 
     But, many biofeedback machines are marketed with wild claims ranging from offering full diagnostic and treatment systems, assess the health of organs and clear health blocks, to relieving allergies and dental problems. Devices are also claimed to be able to strengthen the body’s immune system and relieve inflammatory ailments and health improvements are shown on a computer screen as they occur. 
     In one interesting case St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Missouri actually bought two of Nelson’s machines. Hospital administrators learned about the purchase from a newspaper and launched an investigation into how the EPFX machines got approved. It turned out that a registered nurse who worked in the department where the devices were used was also a regional sales manager for the EPFX. In addition, a hospital vice president who oversaw the department conducted training sessions for EPFX operators worldwide. Hospital officials there said the devices were used only for stress relief and the case was closed. 
     St. John's Hospital, run by the Sisters of Saint Mary in St. Louis, was reorganized and renamed in 2012 and in 2015 had to repay the Federal Government millions for fraudulent billing activity.  Here's another juicy story involving the repayment of 34 million dollars in fraud. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Car Batteries on Concrete Floors

An Old Wives Tale
     I always heard that you should never store a car battery on a concrete floor because doing so will cause the battery to lose its charge. 
     But, I wondered, how could that be? It just doesn’t make sense because concrete is a mix of cement/gravel/sand/rocks. Besides, there’s a hard plastic layer between the floor and the guts of the battery, so how could a battery discharge? 
     A hundred years or so ago car batteries were lead-acid batteries that had glass cells all encased in a wooden box. If they were left on concrete or cement floors, the moisture from the floor could cause the wooden box to wrap, allowing the glass cells to shift and break. Battery acid would then leak.  Moisture and wood were the culprits.
     Car batteries evolved into a nickel-iron battery encased in steel with a hard rubber casing which meant the glass cells wouldn’t break, but the batteries still discharged. How was that possible? The rubber casing was porous and often contained carbon. The battery would absorb moisture off of the floor creating an electrical current between the battery cells causing them to discharge. 
     Modern batteries are encased in a hard plastic shell that eliminates the soaking up of moisture, so concrete floors are no longer cause for a car battery to go dead. In fact, nowadays cement and concrete floors provide a fairly good barrier between the battery and extreme temperature changes that could cause damage to the cells allowing for a discharge leak. 
     However, car batteries can still lose their charge in a number of ways, so they do have a shelf life. 
     Dirt and dust can become carbonized, creating electrical conduction which drains the battery. The top should therefore be kept clean. 
     Self-discharge occurs over time with lead-acid batteries when reactions within the plates happen as the battery ages. 
     Heat is a battery’s enemy. According to one manufacturer a car battery in a hot climate will last, on average, only two thirds as long as it would in a cold climate. When stored, the warmer the air surrounding the battery the faster the rate of discharge. Batteries should be kept in a cool place. 
    That's cool, not cold. A battery that is at a low state of charge and exposed to freezing temperatures can freeze causing the case to crack, so they should be kept fully charged.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Tax Refunds

     For most Americans preparing taxes is a chore. Working through 12 months of finances, deductions, credits and income can be laborious even if the burden is eased using software. Software is a good investment because it can save wading through the more than 100 pages of instructions that come with Form 1040, the most basic of all Internal Revenue Service tax forms. 
     But usually there’s a pot of gold, actually more like a cup of gold, at the end...historically about 3 out of every 4 taxpayers receive a refund and over the past decade, the average refund has been around $3,000. As a result, most people have become accustomed to receiving a sizable refund each year... until this year when average refunds have dropped. 
     Needless to say, I have heard several people who have, either without thinking or out of ignorance, blamed President Trump because of his hallmark legislation, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Claiming that their tax refund is down because of President Trump is simply false. 

     The obvious explanation is that if the tax rate was cut 3 percent it meant a smaller tax bite out of each paycheck and more take home pay. And, if a smaller amount is withheld for taxes, it means a smaller refund...simple math. But, here’s the funny thing...President Trump is still a villain. 
     If people want more money at the end of the year the solution is a simple one: don’t blow the take home pay increase, save it.