Archive for August, 2019

Service of Reporting to the Public New–Dire–Drug Side Effects When There Are No Alternatives for Chronic Ailments

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

Pill organizer Photo: tripsavvy.com

I get that people want to make smart decisions about their health, especially these days when many doctors don’t have time to explain the pros and cons of the meds they prescribe. And in spite of thorough vetting by the FDA before a drug is approved there often are discoveries of adverse side effects over time when patients take new drugs.

But when there are no alternatives the information we read and hear via consumer media can serve to frighten more than enlighten, and to what purpose?

Here’s the headline that inspired this post: “New Study Adds to Concern About Certain Drugs and Dementia Risk.”

Lisa Field wrote: “As people get older, they’re more likely to need medications on a regular basis to manage one or more chronic conditions. Some of these medications fall into a class known as anticholinergics and may not be ideal to take for long periods because they could increase the risk of dementia.” In an article on nextavenue.org Field highlighted results of a study published in a recent issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Photo: attorneygroup.com

She continued: “If there are no effective non-anticholinergic medications or other non-drug interventions, then I think whether the benefits of taking the medication outweigh the potential risks depends very much on the individual circumstances and the severity of the condition for which treatment is needed,” said the professor of medical statistics in primary care at the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine.” Carol Coupland authored the study.

Tell me the point of worrying patients with this information if their chronic condition forces them to take an essential medicine for the rest of their lives which, one hopes, is longer than the time a dreaded side effect like dementia might set in? Should consumer editors and bloggers, TV and radio news producers table articles and programs that spotlight dire drug side effects until alternatives exist for these patients?

Photo: medshadow.org

Service of Who Are Students Cheating–Themselves or Future Employers &/or Customers?

Monday, August 26th, 2019

Photo: businessinsider.com

I’ve written previously about high school and college students paid to take tests for others and ghost writers who draft college and grad student papers for a fee. A newer twist to student cheating is brought to us via the web: hundreds of sites claim to offer tutoring but actually sell offers to complete assignments with original work.

According to Tawnell D. Hobbs in The Wall Street Journal, “As the school year starts off, colleges and high schools are increasing steps to spot and fight a persistent form of cheating in which students find someone online to do their homework.”

The paltry and lackluster solutions offered in the article don’t portend much success. And it sure has taken schools a long time to wake up. One participant in the article said he’d worked for the cheating websites for a decade and he stopped eight years ago.

Because they won’t want to pay for multiple drafts, posits Hobbs, some high school teachers require multiple drafts thinking that some “aren’t likely to pay someone” for more than one. This doesn’t sound like an effective preventative to me–how much does it cost to copy a few pages?

Other teachers have students increase the work they do in class. Fine, but this solution doesn’t address cheating on homework.

Some public school districts, such as Wake County’s in Cary, N.C. have upped the punishment–the severest being suspension.

Hobbs reported that students should expect to pay from $15 to a few hundred dollars for their homework assignments. One fixer out of Tulsa charges on average $20-$30 for math, chemistry and physics. The person was so bold as to be interviewed by this prominent reporter and allow his name to be published. I’ve deliberately not mentioned his name.

Another participant in the article said that for 10 years and until 2011 he earned $60,000/year working for the cheating websites. “’I would take students through entire semesters. Once they’ve used your words,’ it’s hard for them to start turning in their own work without getting caught, he said.”

Photo: marketbusinessnews.com

Tricia Bertram Gallant, director of the Academic Integrity Office at the University of California—San Diego told Hobbs “We as a society have let this get out of control. We’ve reached a new level when people are willing to admit they do this for a living.”

Hobbs reported that “a Wall Street Journal review of 100 websites offering tutoring help or writing services, or both, found they promise custom high-school and college work. Some websites offer to run work through anti-plagiarism programs to prove it is original.”

Students are also bold to admit that they cheat!

According to Hobbs student gripes with the websites include missed deadlines or poor work “according to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau and online reviews.”

Will I need to wonder if my appendix or other body part is being removed or repaired by a doctor who, in med school, paid someone to complete that particular procedure’s homework? What happens to these students when they get a job–can they perform? Does the cheating ever stop? Were you an instructor would you implement pop quizzes so as to compare the quality of work with what you received in homework assignments? Is there a solution with teeth?

Photo: eastlakecv.com

 

Service of Leveling the Playing Field for Admission to Top Public Schools

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Photo: lemongrad.com

Speed reading lessons gave some school kids a leg up in my youth. [My parents didn’t spring to finance that trend.] I didn’t know of test prep in the day though I sure could have used those classes: My pencil-paper-multiple test-taking skills are atrocious.

Leslie Brody reported in The Wall Street Journal that Ronald Lauder and Richard Parsons spent “an additional $1.5 million on their campaign to preserve the admissions test to elite New York public high schools, this time by providing free test preparation and advertisements encouraging more students to take the exam.” The team had previously spent $860,000 for advertising and lobbying. Their initiative is called the Education Equity Campaign

Photo: chalkbeat.org

Lauder graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and Parsons was the CEO of Time Warner. According to Wikipedia, Lauder’s school “is ranked #49 in the National Rankings,” fifth within New York, 6th in the NY metro area and 67th among STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] high schools, reported usnews.com. “Schools are ranked on their performance on state-required tests, graduation and how well they prepare students for college.”

The campaign’s objective: “to help low-income students in underrepresented communities get into the eight specialized high schools.” [Wikipedia listed 9]. In addition to the Bronx High School of Science these are Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Technical, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, Staten Island Technical and Stuyvesant.

What’s the impetus for this initiative now and the philanthropist’s attempts to bolster a different avenue for the underserved population to follow for admission to some of the best high schools in the city? Mayor de Blasio wants to deep six the exam “to better integrate the public high schools.” Specifically he wants to “admit the top 7% of performers from each middle school citywide, using course grades and state test scores.

Photo: twitter.com

In 1970 CUNY, the City University of New York, experimented with changing the standard admissions recipe in favor of open admissions to level the playing field for the diverse city population. Some say that this ruined the stellar reputation of one of the top schools in the state if not the country at the time. CUNY accepted any high school graduate whether or not they had taken the Regents exam. I skimmed nyc.gov “History of Open Admissions and Remedial Education in the U.S.” and read that five and six years later the trustees twice voted to “reestablish admissions standards.” The first plan would have required CUNY applicants to demonstrate 8th grade competency in reading and math; the second would have required those community college students who did not have a minimum high school average, class rank, or General Equivalency Diploma score to obtain remediation through a ‘transitional program.’”

Skipping ahead: “In the 1990s, the university had begun to try to restore the balance between the two and a return to bachelor’s admission standards that emphasized Regents courses, high school grades and standardized testing….”

This is a tough topic and there may be no perfect solutions. Given the unevenness of student competition in public schools in any city, what do you think of de Blasio’s approach–to fill the best specialty public high schools from the top 7 percent of each public middle school in NYC? Or do you think that the Education Equity Campaign’s goal to train underserved students to take the admission tests is a fairer answer and one that would better capture the top students in the city? Is free prep for some and not everyone fair to middle class parents who may not have the means to pay for such classes for their children? What do you suggest?

Photo: educationequity.nyc :

Service of a Bad Sign: Who Approves the Proofs?

Monday, August 19th, 2019

Photo: wshu.org

It’s not just road signs in the NY Metro area that need to be corrected at significant expense, but sloppy work by admins that when added up must cost corporations a pretty penny.

I read an Associated Press story in The New York Post which reported that all the signs to the newly named Gov. Mario Cuomo Bridge need patching to add his initial–M. “The nearly $4 billion bridge over the Hudson River opened last year. Connecting Westchester and Rockland counties north of New York City, the span replaced the former Tappan Zee Bridge — or, officially, the Gov. Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge.”

Photo: lohud.com

The article continues the “missing ‘M.’ fixes come as a state agency is also correcting a misspelling of the name of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in New York City. For over 50 years, one “Z″ was missing.” Hmmmm.

On a far smaller scale, a bank put the III that had been at the end of my husband’s name at the end of mine, i.e. Jeanne-Marie Byington III. I called to correct the error for future statements. It took three calls and additional incorrect references to my name for III to disappear.

At another institution, I changed a joint account to one in my name. After asking me all sorts of financial questions for 10+ minutes, the customer service person ordered new checks. [I may be the last person on earth to use checks.] I noticed that the account numbers on the new checks matched those of the closed account. Can you hear the bounce of checks near and far had I not caught the error?

As for the road signs: Who proofs them? Must we spend money to fix them right now when funds could be better applied to road repair?

So who pays for the reprinted checks? I don’t know what to think about the banks’ administrative errors except that I hope that the departments at each institution that add and subtract deposits and withdrawals do a better job.

Photo: yonkerstribune.com

Service of I Never Thought It Would Happen Here: Warnings about Travel to the U.S.

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

Photo: newyorktour.com

Most American tourists who plan to visit countries that are in the news due to unrest read the State Department’s website to evaluate the danger before booking the trip. International travelers no doubt check in with the keeper of their country’s travel warnings as well.

It breaks my heart that we’re now the subject of warnings by other countries. The potential impact goes well beyond the slap at my national pride and obvious financial repercussions.

Our state department assigns each country with one of four numbers to reflect the safety of travel: 1=exercise normal precautions; 2= increased caution 3= reconsider travel and 4= do not travel. Businessinsider.com recently focused on South American countries reporting1’s such as French Guiana, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Suriname and 2’s Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Guyana and Columbia to 4: Venezuela.

Photo: newyork.cbslocal.com

The reasons for Venezuela’s last level: “The State Department warns of crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, and the arbitrary arrest and detention of US citizens. The agency ordered government employees and their families to leave the country in January 2019. There are also shortages of food, electricity, water, and medicine. The agency warns against travelling between Simón Bolívar International Airport and Caracas at night and not to take unregulated taxis from Simón Bolívar International Airport.”

Claire Parker’s Washington Post article “Gun violence in America prompts Amnesty International and a growing list of countries to issue travel warnings” raised my eyebrows and made me sad: How can this be happening in MY country?

Parker wrote: “A travel advisory the organization issued Wednesday ‘calls on people worldwide to exercise caution and have an emergency contingency plan when traveling throughout the USA. This Travel Advisory is being issued in light of ongoing high levels of gun violence in the country.’ ”

Parker added that Uruguay and Venezuela “have also discouraged their citizens from traveling to the United States, citing this weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, as indicators of danger and a rise in hate crimes. The Japanese Consulate in Detroit, meanwhile, released a statement Sunday calling the United States a ‘gun society’ and urging Japanese nationals to stay alert after the Dayton shooting.”

Photo: thrillist.com

She continued: “These are just the latest countries and international groups to label gun violence in America a safety concern. In recent years, Germany, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand have issued similar warnings about travel to the United States.”

Shouldn’t Washington pay attention to this dramatic shift in image that points to the United States as an unsafe place to visit–and by extension, doubts about the security of this country as a safe place in which to park money? You’d think that this would be a wakeup call to immediately revise gun sale regulations and enact measures to ensure reasonable private gun ownership for an administration that honors the almighty dollar above all else.

In addition to lives, which seem to be last in a line of priorities for Congress, and the shame of the well-deserved reprimand by the international community, much more is at stake than hotel, restaurant, and airline bottom lines. Real estate and American-owned businesses should be prepared to suffer losses as international investors seek safer havens for their treasure.

And it’s not just violence-by-guns turning tourists away. A Crains New York news alert on Wednesday August 14, 2019 warned: “Chinese tourists sidestep NYC as trade war rolls on.” To end on a fittingly mercenary note, who, in DC, is watching the store?

Photo: bustle.com

Service of Healthy Frozen Desserts–But is it Ice Cream?

Monday, August 12th, 2019

Photo: saltandstraw.com

I have tried ersatz food and have learned that if for whatever reason I cannot find the real thing, I’d rather pass. This goes for meatless burgers, diet sodas or sugarless salad dressing and cookies.

Someday I would like to be proved wrong. In the case of ice cream, my verdict about the increasingly long list of faux treats stands–based on what they sound like: No thanks.

Plant based products at Expo West 2019 Photo: vegtv.com

Anne Marie Chaker’s Wall Street Journal article, “‘There Was Something Else Ground Up in the Ice Cream,’ Children Revolt at Plant-Based Treats,” brought me up to speed on the artificial landscape for ice cream. She wrote “For ice cream lovers, it is the summer of our discontent. Eager to woo health-conscious consumers, food brands are marketing a growing range of ice cream alternatives made with ingredients such as avocado, cauliflower, beets, zucchini, oats and navy beans.”

One man in her article passed on dairy-free ice-cream [an oxymoron?] made of avocado. Other frozen treats in this category include ingredients from soy to sweet potato, pea protein to coconut.

Some dairy ice creams are supposedly healthy, promoting benefits like being “light” while including probiotics. Additional ingredients are spices or vegetables such as turmeric, cinnamon, spinach, zucchini or cauliflower. I like these vegetables and seasonings but for dinner, not in ice cream.

Chaker reported: “Ice cream must contain at least 10% milk fat for it to be labeled ice cream, according to federal regulations. Farm to Spoon bills itself as a ‘plant based frozen dessert’ while Snow Monkey pints made of banana purée and other ingredients say it is a ‘superfood ice treat.'”

I might like these frozen desserts if they tasted OK, but not as a substitute for my favorite food group. Maybe they’d work as a side to a main course. Have you tried any of these exotic concoctions? Would you seek them out? What faux or tampered with foods to make them healthy do you like? In referring to ice cream in Chaker’s article, several people used the word “fun.” Don’t vegetable-based frozen treats sound anything but fun?

Real ice cream Photo: tatecooking.com

 

 

Service of Why Women Stress Over Maintaining a Tidy Home

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

Photo: housebeautiful.com

I drove my husband nuts when I’d tidy the apartment before a trip lest the plane crash and family and friends, clearing out the place, think I was a crummy housekeeper. When our house was for sale, I’d scour every inch when strangers I’d never meet viewed it.

Claire Cain Miller addressed probably why my husband didn’t care and why I stressed about it: the condition of where we lived reflected only on me.

The headline of her New York Times article was: “Why Women, but Not Men, Are Judged for a Messy House– They’re still held to a higher social standard, which explains why they’re doing so much housework, studies show.”

Photo: scarymommy.com

Miller didn’t address something just as important to me: I like returning to a neat and clean home if I’ve been away at work for a few hours or on a trip.

Miller wrote: “Even in 2019, messy men are given a pass and messy women are unforgiven. Three recently published studies confirm what many women instinctively know: Housework is still considered women’s work — especially for women who are living with men.”

One of three studies concluded: “Socially, women — but not men — are judged negatively for having a messy house and undone housework.

Photo: howdoesshe.com

“The additional time that women spend on unpaid household labor is a root of gender inequality — it influences how men and women relate at home, and how much time women spend on paid work.” She reported that according to Department of Labor stats “women spend 2.3 hours a day on house tasks, and men spend 1.4 hours.”

Indoor chores are mostly women’s and outdoor ones–more weekly than daily–are men’s. Men who live where there are no lawns to mow or cars to wash don’t pick up additional indoor tasks she reported.

“When participants” in a study where 624 people were shown photos of either messy or neat rooms, “were told that a woman occupied the clean room, it was judged as less clean than when a man occupied it, and she was thought to be less likely to be viewed positively by visitors and less comfortable with visitors.” Respondents were harder on messy men, concluding that they were lazy slobs.

“But there was a key difference: Unlike for women, participants said messy men were not likely to be judged by visitors or feel uncomfortable having visitors over.” My first husband had an aunt who, I was told, washed her kitchen floor as often as two to three times a day. I never dared invite her.

Miller interviewed one psychologist who said many women thought “‘I should relieve my husband of burdens’ — it’s so automatic.’”

You’d think that these days when both parents work and fathers help with chores their sons will spend more time doing them as adults. “So far,” wrote Miller, “what we know about the next generation is that girls are doing less housework. But boys aren’t doing that much more.”

My boss in one job said that if her wastebaskets were empty she considered her home was ready for company. And you? If you live with someone, how do you divide the chores? Do you feel that women are on the hot seat where keeping a home tidy is concerned and that men are off the hook? Does such thinking impact dynamics at work?

Photo: liveabout.com

Service of Loosey-Goosey with the Time: Tut-Tut Amtrak!

Monday, August 5th, 2019

Photo: blog.amtrak.com

I am spoiled by Grand Central Terminal and passionately dislike the way Penn Station in NYC operates because it treats its passengers like cattle. You can’t stroll to your seat at leisure as early as 15 to 20 minutes ahead of departure as at GCT. Instead you’re lined up like convicts and treated little better than cattle. More about my recent on-boarding experience below.

Because I’d not been to Penn Station in a dog’s age, I visited to buy my ticket the Monday before a Thursday trip upstate. I had no idea what the lines were like on a weekday in summer and with an 8:15 a.m. departure, didn’t want to get there early yet still miss my train.

I asked for a one-way trip to Whitehall, NY. My hostess told me the time and I’d confirmed it online.

“That train leaves at 7:15,” said the ticket clerk. In fact, it did. [My hostess was surprised because she’d called Amtrak the day of my arrival and the voice message matched the online information, confirming an 8:15 a.m. departure.] I wonder how many people missed the train that travels only once a day.

For no reason I could fathom we subsequently had a 45 minute layover in Albany.

I asked for a schedule—to learn the destination station and also the stop just before mine. “There are none,” said the clerk.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

On my second arrival at Penn Station at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday I found two lines of passengers and asked the person ahead of me, “Does this train go to Canada?” Answer: “Yes.”

Turns out there were two trains going to Canada: one to Montreal and the other, Toronto. I had no idea where my train was headed—remember: there were no schedules to reference and my ticket [photo above right] identified only my destination.

Meanwhile an Amtrak employee was shrieking at the passengers, treating us as though we were imbeciles if we were in the wrong line. The secret was in the number that was printed on the ticket. There it was on mine, along with many other lines of numbers, without any ID as to what that number referred to.

Photo: nyclens.com

At Grand Central there are stairs to negotiate to reach a few tracks otherwise there are mostly ramps and an optional elevator or escalator broken up so each ride is short. For Amtrak, to reach the platforms, there are steep, narrow escalators that aren’t convenient if you’re juggling a suitcase, handbag, tote with reading material and cup of coffee. [I won’t buy a cup of coffee before boarding again if my hands are full!]

Fortunately I thought to pull out my ticket to show the angry, screaming Amtrak employee before I reached the front of the line that headed for the escalator, where she stood. With all her caterwauling, never once did she ask the passengers to have their tickets in hand. She was a terrible representative for any business.

This intro to the trip was a shame as the train itself was comfortable, clean and accommodating. Unlike Metro North’s commuter trains out of Grand Central, this one had upholstered seats, tray tables, a waste container, several WCs and water as well as a snack car.

Have you been surprised–good or bad–by a travel experience lately? When confronted by a grouch who screams at you and the other passengers, do you respond in kind?

Photo: frugalfrolicker.com

Service of Check Washing: My Check Becomes Your Check

Thursday, August 1st, 2019

Photo: handwritingdocumentexamination.com

Hank Goldman, a loyal follower of this blog, urged me to “write about the scams and games targeted at senior citizens purporting to be get-rich-quick schemes where the victim soon winds up being poor. They are related to the oldies where a voice with a bad phone connection claims to be a grandson asking for money.”

These schemes against the vulnerable aren’t new. Long before ATM machines a great aunt was taken to the cleaners by someone who had her withdrawing big sums of money from her bank account until a suspicious teller finally called her son. I don’t remember what the swindler’s story was or where she met him—just that it happened.

The elderly aren’t the only vulnerable targets either. Scoundrels give hope to the terminally ill and those wanting to look forever young, gladly sucking their money with placebos and short-term pricey solutions some of which may do nothing and others potentially more harm than good.

Photo: 1st.postalinspectors.uspis.cov

Back to seniors as marks. Goldman zeroed in on one trick: “the literal washing of checks, in acetone–nail polish remover. The bank information remains intact while the acetone erases everything that the check writer has entered… Then the perpetrator signs the check and enters the new amount.”

Where do they find the checks? “They fish them out of mail carriers’ large plastic boxes [photo below, center] parked in luxury buildings where they easily identify the envelopes meant for doctors,” wrote Goldman. “This happened to me with a check for my dentist. The perpetrator took it when the doorman was looking away. The dentist had a few instances like this.”

Photo: cvs.com

Added Goldman. “This trick is easily done if you use a regular ballpoint pen. Instead, use a roller ball pen because that ink is less easy for swindlers to wash off.”

I’d written previously about the new mailboxes in NYC in the “Sticky Mail Boxes” section of “Service of Wacky things People Do.” The boxes no longer open wide enough to accommodate a fat 9 x 12 envelope. They are designed with thin slits in which to slide a letter or two to prevent anyone from fishing for checks.

Nothing will stop those up to no good. I wonder how postal delivery staff will protect mail theft from open containers in future. Has one of your checks been “washed” or do you bank on the Internet exclusively? Have you heard of new scams we should know about?

Photo: mercurynews.com

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