Jan 252015
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Osteoarthritis is the most common type of joint disease.   It affects more than thirty million individuals in the U.S. alone.  Experts estimate that osteoarthritis as a diseases in our healthcare system, costs us more than $186 billion a year in medical care, drugs, and lost wages.  That’s nearly $2 trillion a decade in just the U.S.!

Instead of something that causes aches and pains, think of osteoarthritis as a disease process.  However, unlike other diseases that affect organs and body chemistry, osteoarthritis is centered on the aging of a joint.  This aging happens through the degeneration or wearing away of the hyaline cartilage, the padding between where the ends of bones meet together.

Hyaline cartilage is located inside what are known as synovial joints; these types of joints are located in the hip, knee, shoulder, elbow, thumb, wrist, and spine. This article and its inventive solution focus on the knee joint, though this would be applicable to any type of weight-being joint, such as the spine, ankle or hip joints.

jointThis image is a frontal view of a normal, healthy knee.  The kneecap has been removed for purposes of illustration.  Here, you will see a large upper leg bone (femur) and a lower leg bone (tibia).  Click the image to enlarge.

On closer inspection of the space in between these bone ends, you will also see articular cartilage, that is, a thin grey-colored cartilage pad that is seemingly glued to the bottom surface of the top bone.   There is another instance of articular cartilage, where another pad is glued to the top of the bottom bone as well.

In between the respective upper and lower cartilage pads, there exists a small space filled with fluid that has the look and consistency of egg whites.  This is known as synovial joint cavity.  This enclosed system of cartilage pads and synovial fluid is what allows our joints to glide so easily.

While the design is certainly intelligent, once there is any type of known or even unknown damage, everything starts to go downhill.  In fact, there are two major reasons why weight-bearing joints like the knee, spine and hips will develop osteoarthritis – namely, old age and injury.

As an individual becomes older, they simple lose synovial fluid.  Why do they lose it?  No one knows for sure.  But when it does happen, the cartilage pads begin to start rubbing against each another.  Because there is little to no synovial fluid lubrication, the cartilage pads start to fray – much like a square of packing foam flecking off into little pieces when you rub it quickly.

xray-osteoarthritic-kneeAs the rubbing cartilage wears down over time, these torn pieces, as well as pads touching, cause inflammation to start in the joint.  Think of it like a perpetually sprained ankle or a jammed finger, except that it’s silent and painless for years.  This inflammation eventually leads to the formation of bone spurs, tiny, pointed growths of bone coming off the joint bones.  The bone spurs can eventually start cutting into tendons and nearby soft tissue, causing more inflammation and substantial pain.  Note the normal vs. osteoarthritic knee x-ray to the left.

The second way one develops osteoarthritis is when they have had a prior injury, especially if it occurred many years ago.   So when a joint becomes injured, the damage to cartilage, tendons, bones, and other joint tissues never heals to the way it was originally made.  Although the pain from the injury may leave in a matter of days or weeks, this imperfect healing sets up long-term, mild misalignment and joint function, which in turn leads to slow development of osteoarthritis.

For example, let’s take an eleven-year-old gymnast.  She does her dismount off of the balance beam, lands slightly awkward, and twists her left knee.  When she goes to the emergency room, it is discovered that she has developed a moderate level tear in her medial meniscus.  This is a piece of fibrous cartilage that helps reduce friction between the two lower leg bones meeting at the knee.

The young girl gets the appropriate orthopedic surgery, has top-notch therapy, and is back turning handsprings and competing without pain in the next five months.  She feels no pain and her left knee is fully functional.  All seems well to her, the parents and the coaches.

Now fast forward through this young girl to adulthood at the age of thirty-four.  When going down some stairs quickly, she feels a sharp twinge in her left knee.  Surprise!  It’s the same left knee she once damaged, now returning as a slowly-developed chronic knee problem.  This is common pattern with many weight-bearing joints, including the hip, spine, and ankle.

In fact, other than the pain itself, the hard part about degenerative arthritis is that, in my cases, the loss of synovial fluid and damage to the cartilage has no pain or symptoms.  The person typically feels fine and has no idea that this process is going on.



Because the synovial fluid acts as a liquefied buffer keeping the cartilage separated, allowing for proper joint movement, this invention seeks to replicate that purpose in an entirely different manner.  This invention will allow the damaged synovial joint, not to wither down to bone-on-bone, but rather to be afforded the benefit of halting the disease and its limitations altogether.

My idea is to invent a surgically implantable set of magnets or magnetic strips within or proximal to the cartilage tissue.  Since magnets can both attract and repel, depending on the way their like or unlike ‘poles’ face each other, the invention would have at least two magnets where similar poles faced each other.  An example of the invention would be the former discussion of the knee joint, where for example, one magnet would be implanted in the top cartilage layer with its positive pole face down, and another magnet would be implanted in the bottom cartilage layer with its positive pole facing up.

The opposing negative magnetic fields would repel one another so that the knee joint (or whatever joint is applicable to the implant) would be afforded a natural magnetic buffer.  Ever try to push two magnets together that have the same polarity?  So hopefully you get the picture here.  Such magnets and strength of magnetic fields would be gauged based upon weight of individual, joint type, location and current condition of the target body joint.

The magnets would have to be made or buffered by covering material that the body would not reject.  Additionally, the magnets may have to be anchored down to the bone outside, below, or above the cartilage, depending on the joint and location.  Though the idea is in its infancy, it sure beats years of pain pills and joint replacement surgery.

Jan 252015
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“With great power there must also come great responsibility.”   A popular catchphrase popularized by Stan Lee in an August, 1962 edition of Spider Man. Sometimes we can learn life lessons, even from comic books.  Perhaps auto repair facilities can too.

When discussing vehicle repairs, the ‘power’ rests in the more than 165,000 establishments employing 720,000 automotive service technicians and mechanics.  These facilities take in an estimated $85 billion annually from the car and truck drivers of America.  But is all that money collect by honest means?

Not on your life.  And I’m not going to sugar coat it either by saying that most vehicle service shops are honest and wouldn’t pad the bill or make suggestions on repairs you wouldn’t need.  I simply believe that this is a regular occurrence at most repair facilities.  When repair shops have knowledge and power, they can easily and seamlessly leverage fear and manipulation upon the unsuspecting car and truck owners.  Small costs, big costs, little lies, big lies…it’s all dishonest.

It should come as no surprise that vehicle repair problems make up the largest group of consumer complaints. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that consumers lose tens of billions of dollars each year due to faulty or unnecessary vehicle repairs.  This is due to a number of reasons such as relatively low cost of damages, difficulty proving the necessity of repairs, and the intent of the perpetrator.

Vehicle repair fraud, inclusive of deceptive trade practices is a national epidemic that literally flies under the radar.  This is because most drivers don’t have the inclination, time, or persistence to hold unscrupulous mechanics and dealers’ feet to the fire.  Ignorance costs money and some people would prefer to stay ignorant rather than taking the time to properly prepare and gain power in the transaction.

Okay future customers…let’s get some knowledge and leverage.  First off, when you go into most medium to larger sized vehicle repair facilities, you are dealing with a service advisor rather than with a mechanic.  Most service advisors or service writers may be or may have been mechanics, but are now salesmen for the company.

And you guessed it – most of these individuals are paid on straight commission based on labor time and parts sold.  This means that their chief allegiance is geared more toward selling products and services rather than looking out for you as the customer. From this point forward, please assume that service advisors are not to be blindly trusted or that they are a caring friend looking out for you.  The worst that can happen is that you’re wrong and they’re honest.

Auto mechanics in these same facilities work a bit differently.  Sometimes they make straight commission that totals between 35-45% commissions on their labor.  This is where cases of ‘padding the time’ comes in.  How can a mechanic fit two 2-hour jobs in 3 hours?  You figure it out.  How would you know when you’re in the customer coffee break anyway?

In other cases, mechanics are paid on a flat fee per job type.   In other words, their inclination is to get through as many jobs as possible in a day.  Whether this means that the mechanic didn’t spend enough time on all their repairs is a suspicion that is certainly up for debate.

Key Sights and Strategies:

1.  Make sure the facility displays both an up-to-date state license AND certification, from either ASE9 or AAA.

2.  If it’s engine problems, the facility must have a good engine analyzer/scan tool, instead of relying on “their experience”

3.  If you are going to a shop for a second opinion, DON’T tell them it’s a second opinion visit and DON’T tell them what the other facility said.  Let them figure out and price it themselves – the compare notes.

4.  If you are getting new tires ask to be shown the BUILD DATE.  Some tire companies offer great deals because you are buying tires that are actually several years old.

5.  If you purchased the car from a dealer, even some time ago, call and consult them.  Often times, an item may still be under warranty and the dealership will be paid by the manufacturer for the repair.

Attention!  The most common scams, according to many vehicle repair whistle-blowers and vehicle trade organizations:

  • Changing the transmission fluid too early and frequently
  • Premature replacement of spark plugs
  • Finding “new problems” during a simple oil change
  • Misreporting wear and condition on brake pads toward selling replacements
  • Commencing repair work on your vehicle without first getting your authorization to perform the repair work
  • Representing that work and services had been done or parts had been replaced in your vehicle, when, in actuality, the work and services were not done and the parts were not replaced
  • Charging customers for parts that weren’t used, as well as charging for the labor required to install the non-existent replacement. It’s a double rip-off!
  • Adding labor time
  • Cutting the rubber boots that cover your axle and charging you an expensive repair.
  • Alignments done every 5,000 or 10,000 miles
  • Fuel injection cleaning service
  • Adding on shop supplies and disposal fees

Now that I’ve done my best to drag down the vehicle repair industry, let me give my politically correct statement by saying that there are many reputable auto repair facilities, service advisors, and auto mechanics.  There – done.  Now for my suggestions to combat situations which will most likely happen so long as you drive a car or truck.

Preventative Homework

First, as I wrote earlier, the very best thing you can do is find an auto repair center that is an AAA Approved Auto Repair facility, or is a part of the ASE “Blue Seal of Excellence Recognition Program”.  Among other things, these companies need to go through a background check, have a strong community rating with the BBB, and employ ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) technicians.  For mechanics, ASE certification is achieved only after rigorous training and testing.

Second, get several recommendations from your friends, family, and co-workers; then match up the recommend facilities with the AAA list. When there is a match, do a Google, BBB, and/or Yelp search to make sure there are no consistent complaints out there.  There are always a finite amount of complaints when dealing with large numbers of customers, but in this way, the general checkout and feeling will be positive.

Finally, open up your vehicle manual to get an idea of when scheduled maintenance products need to be addressed.  Oil changes are typically done at 5,000 miles, not the 3,000 that is pushed by your local oil change franchise.  Changing a timing belt is usually done with 100,000 miles and not the 60,000 that is suggested by the service manager during your oil change.  Get the picture?

Arriving at the Repair Shop

Now you’re at the vehicle repair shop.  Something has happened to your car or truck that needs fixing, or perhaps you’re simply maintaining it.  My final important points for you:

1.  BE AWARE.  Remember when I first spoke of knowledge and responsibility?   It is true that that an educated consumer is the deceitful repair shops’ worst nightmare.  Unsavory repair shops strive to give off a façade of intimidation and fear, which works extremely well when most of their customers have no real knowledge or want of knowledge regarding their vehicle.

They use all types of tactics involving manipulation, deception, and intimidation because they know that for perhaps every twenty or thirty targets, they will find difficulty with one.  The odds are stacked in their favor, considering most disgruntled customers will simply leave or pay the bill with a threat of following up, are typically followed by little or no real action.

Remember, not all auto repair fraud is obvious or high in price.  Perhaps during your tire replacement, there’s an extra $110 for an alignment not needed.  What about a $50 shop supplies bill for a half of can of lubricant and two rags, or $80 for two brake pads not needed for another 10,000 miles?  Why scare someone away with a surprise $1000 charge when something lesser noticeable can be repeated with ease so many times?


Any reputable repair facility should not become irritated at questions.  If they do – leave.  If they don’t give you clear answers – leave.  If what they are recommending doesn’t sound kosher – leave.  If they seem perturbed – leave.  You’re not an easy mark – get the hint?


You need to get a written estimate that includes prices for parts, labor, and miscellaneous charges such as shop supplies and disposal.  On the estimate should be the warranty length and if it includes parts and labor.  Finally, the estimate should include whether the parts are OEM, aftermarket, new, or used.  Make sure the shop understands that if charges are going to exceed the estimate, they need to contact you first to receive approval.


This is imperative as there are typically two forms you have to sign.  First is the authorization for inspecting the car and determining the problem.  Second is the authorization to perform repairs.  These should not be on the same page.  Make sure you always date everything you sign.


Repairs should be guaranteed, including parts and labor.


Tell them that you want to keep the boxes of the new parts, as a standard practice.  Ask if they can put the old part(s) in the new boxes as well.  You don’t need to explain to them because it is your right in all fifty states.  However, just between you and me, it’s because you want to make sure that when they say they are replacing a part, they are doing it.


This is a great resource.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a free tool, which allows you to check make, year and model for any recalls, investigations or complaints.  Here is the link.   You can also determine if your call needs a repair for any recalls over the last 15 years, by clicking this link.  Having all parts and labor covered, is always better than spending your weekend getaway or summer vacation money.


At the very least, it shows that you want them to prove the problem to you.  If they say they don’t let customers in the shop for insurance reasons, have them explain why you need the repair and how dangerous it would be to not repair the item.


Before authorizing any work, the web offers tremendous resources to help determine if the quote you are getting is reasonable or not.  There are a number of online resources, though I like http://www.automd.com/repaircost, where you type in your vehicle’s year, make, model, and proposed auto repair.   Napa also carries a good site at http://www.napaautocare.com/estimator.aspx.

Dec 212014
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The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than one human organ is illegally purchased every hour worldwide.  During that same year, more than 11,000 black market operations are performed, some in respected and well-known hospital settings.  Of all organs transplanted both legally and illegally, approximately 75% are for kidneys.

Black market traders and illegal organ traffickers prey upon poverty-stricken people in numerous countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America.  In many prosperous countries such a us America, desperate patients with financial means make contact with human organ brokers.  Many of these traders of ‘bodily goods’, located in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Brazil, Israel, and Eastern Europe, find willing donors who are typically impoverished, unemployed, and looking to pay off debt.

Organ brokers promise these donors payment, iPads, and expense-free vacations to the United States.  In many cases, donors typically don’t get the money they were promised. Instead, they are plagued with serious health problems that will prevent them from working.  They also face much shame and depression from their communities.  According to watch-groups Organ failure solutions, Organs watch, and ESOT; the typical organ donor is a male of about 28.9 years old with an annual income of $480, while the typical recipient is a male of about 48.1 years old with an annual income of $53,000.

Prices paid to organ donors vary widely on type and location.  Kidneys range from $1,000 in India and $2,700 in Turkey to upwards of $150,000 in certain parts of Europe.  Livers range from $4,000 to $157,000, corneas average $24,000, unfertilized eggs $12,500, skin averages $10 per square inch, and bones/ligaments go as high as $5,500.

surgeonmoneyIn many cases, brokers are nationals from other countries that live in Europe or the United States.  To get around the illegality of organ-selling, they forge documents indicating that the recipient and seller are related, claiming the act is a family donation.  Most of these surgeries take place in foreign hospitals that turn a blind eye to organ trafficking.

An estimated 10,000 organ transplants are believed to take place in China alone every year.  Up to a reported 7,000 of these organs are harvested from either unwilling or executed Chinese prisoners.  Their country alone has 1,500,000 million citizens waiting for an organ donation.

As of this year, there are nearly 118,000 people waiting for life-saving organ transplants in the U.S., 85,000 of which are potential kidney recipients.  The wait for a healthy and legitimate donor can be up to three years, with 6,000 of these people dying each year.  This is why many diseased patients end up going to the black market.

Even with donors who freely elect to contribute their organs upon death, the World Health Organization estimates that only ten percent of the world’s needs for organ transplantation are being met.  According to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the process of organ donation and transplantation can save as many as eight lives.  But there simply aren’t enough healthy donors and organs in supply to meet the growing demand of those in need.

For this reason, I subscribe to the notion that, starting with the United States, there should be a legalized system allowing for-profit organ donation.  This way, the families of those who died and donated, or selected charities, at least have the opportunity to receive compensation for these life-giving gifts. 

There are two human drives at play here, both very strong and symbiotic with one another.  The first is the desire to survive and the second is the strong incentive of money.  Death and money are great motivators, especially if they can be tied together with a supply-and-demand system in a capitalistic society.

Is it any different than an auto parts store expecting payment from a garage before it provides the radiator?  Would we expect Pep Boys to give it away for free? If such laws were instituted today, wouldn’t we expect that customers with inoperable cars, or garage owners to directly or indirectly, start stealing parts from existing cars?

And before people get sanctimonious on me, let’s not forget the people who receive these organs get the gift of life – so they win.  Plus, BMW-driving surgeons, well-paid anesthesiologists, and corporate/church-based hospitals are all paid too.  The only one who isn’t paid here is the auto parts store, errr…the provider of the organ, without which this system isn’t ‘operable’.

If donating organs is such a humanitarian act, then why don’t the doctors and hospitals regularly donate the surgeries and the facilities needed to make transplantation possible?  Not just on rare occasions, when they can get good publicity from it.  The simple fact is that motives are rarely unselfish – and we need to see a for-profit organ donation system as good for all parties involved.

Every day, 150,000 die in the world.  What if they now chose to donate, strictly from financial motivation?  Even if half of these people were not suitable donors, that still leaves up to 600,000 people waiting for all types of transplants that could be helped or saved.  THIS IS ONLY JUST WITH A SINGLE DAY OF DONATION!

So what’s holding us back?  Bioethics?  Cut the bullshit already.

Sure, it would raise the amount health insurers and Medicare/Medicaid would have to pay out.  So our health insurance and taxes would rise…except if insurers and medical professionals were made to get a sizable haircut.  Not fair?  For saving human lives?  Where are your ethics now?  Hiding behind your million dollar retirement accounts, country clubs, fancy trips and children’s private schooling?

The fact is that when organ supply increases, private costs for these healthy organs go down.  A tremendous amount of lives are saved.  Organ brokers are called upon less and less.  And there are a lot of people that would have the money to pay.  And best of all, people could still choose to donate and NOT get paid.  They can choose to be ‘ethical’, but it’s their choice – rather than being foisted upon them.

With much of the world in poverty or lower-income status, why shouldn’t willing buyers have their money paired up with a dying individual who wishes to leave some financial benefits to their friends, family, or charity?  Plus, they’re dead – so what good are healthy organs that stay in a body that stays in the earth?

Why not create a well-run and regulated middle ground that establishes safe programs, protects donors wanting to receive compensation, protects organ recipients who are happy to make such payment, and provides safety in both the determination of usable organs and their surgical environments and outcomes?

How do the poor afford organs?

Well, how do they afford them now?  They don’t – because they are put on a list where how much money you have doesn’t make any difference.  None of that will change, except if there are more donated organs. Then there are less people on the waiting lists and less time to wait.

Let’s get past ourselves here…and start saving lives.

Dec 092014
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ralph-baer-02_wide-5c1a8361ab88d5406b9b2e3fd3ea5b895240ff16-s800-c85Yesterday brought bad news as Ralph Baer, widely regarded as the ‘Father of Video Games’ passed away.  He was 92 years old, and unlike other inventors, was able to see the unfolding of what began as a simple experiment nearly 50 years ago.

Baer, who manage to escape Nazi Germany with his family in 1938, wound up in Brooklyn, New York.  At age 16, he took a correspondence course on how to fix televisions and radios, which would prove most helpful down the road.   Later in 1943, he helped write plans for the D-Day invasion, and served under General Dwight Eisenhower.

After the way, Baer went to college on the GI bill and wound up getting one of the first degrees in television engineering.  He started work in 1951 for Loral, building televisions.  It was at that time that he came up with the idea of putting games on television sets – an idea that met with little support.  It would be another 15 years when Baer again brought the idea up to his new employer, who game him $2,500 to try to make it work.

In 1969, Baer, who would go on to receive 150 patents, recalled that in an early meeting with a patent examiner and his attorney to patent his new video game console, “within 15 minutes,  every examiner on the floor of that building was in that office wanting to play the game.”  This brown box system would eventually be licensed by Magnavox in 1971, and in 1972 would become the Odyssey ITL 200, the first commercially available video game system.SONY DSC

I recalled my father bringing home this system when I was just five years old in 1973.  I think he paid under $100 for it, and it came with a number of available games on very thin printer board cards, which slid into the top.

Such games includes football, invasion, baseball and haunted house. The latter requiring a plastic sheet that was taped and hung on the television screen.  I played that haunted house game for hours on end.

Baer would go on to to invent the electronic memory game Simon through Milton Bradley.  As for the Odyssey, it sold nearly 350,000 units in 3 years, but made the bulk of its money in defending the related patents against the likes of Atari, Coleco, Mattel and Activision.  Magnavox won every single infringement case over a 20-year period, which leading to them collecting more than $100 million.

In time Baer would go onto to receive the National Medal of Technology from President George Bush in 2006, as well as an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010.  The man, quite simply, started an entire industry from an idea that he would not let go of.

Take a read on the internet, and you will find comments on popular tech and gaming websites carrying his story.  The great thing is that gamers from thirty years ago and today, all people have nothing but nice things to say about Ralph Baer.  In fact, one commenter noted, “Congratulations Ralph – you’ve made it to the next level.”

Nov 262014
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PHOTO: U.S. Library of Congress. Digital ID 19233

John Wilkes Booth, a Maryland native, who though born of modest means and never finishing school, went on to become a very popular stage actor in the 1860’s.  Booth, who was never one to be quiet on his political views, publicly denounced President Lincoln, and sympathized strongly with the Confederacy.  Included with his attitudes was a staunch advocacy against the Abolitionists’ stance on ending slavery.

Booth and his conspirators hatched a plan in 1864 to kidnap President Lincoln in exchange for the Union releasing all Confederate prisoners taken in the war.  It never happened.  On April 12, 1965, an already disgruntled Booth learned that Confederate Army leader Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses Grant and the Union Army at Appomattox Court House.  The news sent Booth over the edge; his anger transformed into immediate thoughts of assassination.

On Good Friday two days later, Booth had his epiphany was picking up his mail at Ford’s Theater, when he learned that Lincoln and his wife would be attending the play Our American Cousin that same evening.

Quickly, Booth and several Confederate sympathizers hatched a plan to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State William Seward, and Ulysses Grant, who was also to be at the theater that evening.  The prevailing thought by Booth centered on the notion that the coordinated deaths of the Union’s leadership would reignite the Confederacy to pull together and get back in the War.

Instead of attending, Mrs. Grant (who was not on good terms with Mary Lincoln) and her husband Ulysses, chose to take a train to Philadelphia to visit family.  Seward, who was in fact violently knifed in his home by co-conspirator Lewis Powell, lived on.  Another co-conspirator, George Atzerodt, had the job of killing Vice-President Johnson.  At the last moment, Atzerodt wound up losing his nerve and fled Washington D.C.

Booth, who as a celebrity actor, was given unquestioned access to all areas of the theater, held up his end of the deal.  At about 10:25 PM that night, he made his way through an entry door into an area just outside the door of the Presidential Box.  He barricaded the entry door from the inside.

Lincoln’s bodyguard, a policeman named John Frederick Parker, had in fact gone to a nearby tavern during the show’s intermission – never to return.  The President was completely unprotected – the conditions were ripe for Booth.

During perhaps the funniest moment of the play, Booth opened the unlocked door of the Presidential Box, walking behind Lincoln, and fired the fatal .44 caliber round into the back of the President’s head.  The President fell forward, being caught by Mary Lincoln.

While trying to make his initial escape from the box, Booth fought with, and stabbed Major Henry Rathbone, who with his wife had joined the President and Mary Lincoln that evening.  After the attack on Rathbone, Booth flung himself over the box at Ford’s Theater and, in mid-flight, caught the spur on his boot on the bunting decorating that hung over the front of the presidential box.  The 12-foot fall culminated with Booth crashing on the stage floor below, with a fresh fracture of his left Fibula.  With adrenaline flowing and mission accomplished, Booth delivered his most famous line, “Sic Semper Tyrannis” (meaning “Thus always with tyrants”.)

The audience, who up to this point believed that the commotion was part of the show, heard Mary Lincoln and Clara Rathbone scream and Major Rathbone yelling “stop that man”.  From that point pandemonium ensued within Fords’ Theater.

Booth ran off the stage and, in an alley behind the theater, got on a waiting, saddled horse.  He rode quickly, arriving at the bridge across the Anacostia River – the first of several points of escape to the south.  There he ran into a Union Army sentry.  After explaining that he was out late and was heading toward Beantown, Maryland, the soldier allowed Booth to pass.  Later, he and co-conspirator David Herold met up at Mary Surratt’s roadside inn.

After much drinking, both Booth and Herold left the inn.  However, the pain of the fractured leg became too much for Booth to ride on.  They stopped at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who sets the broken leg at about 4 A.M., though Mudd has no idea what events had previously transpired.  When Mudd heard about Lincoln’s death and the widespread rumor of Booth’s involvement the next morning, he immediately ordered the two off his property.  Thereafter, Booth and Herold found their way to a Confederate agent named Thomas Jones. Over the next five days, Jones had them ‘wait it out’ in the swamps of southern Maryland, and eventually they crossed the Potomac River into Virginia.

With little aid from the South’s remaining soldiers, Booth and Herold made their way to Richard Garrett’s tobacco farm in Bowling Green, Virginia.  Unknown to Booth and Herold, the union troops were hot on their trail.

The men of the 16th New York Cavalry arrived at the Garrett farm at 2 o’clock on the morning of April 26, 1865.  After the soldiers interrogated Garrett and his son, they soon discovered that Herold and Booth were hiding in the barn on the property.

Fifty army soldiers got to the barn and unlocked the door, yelling for the men to come out.  Herold, who gave himself up that night, would later be tried, found guilty and hung, along with Mary Surratt and other co-conspirators.

But Booth was defiant and refused to give himself up.  A Calvary officer named Luther Baker tried to negotiate with him, but to no avail.  Just then, Everton Conger, a cavalry soldier at the back of the barn, lit some straw – the barn quickly caught fire.  With broken leg, Booth hobbled toward the barn door and, according to a soldier’s testimony, was trying to level his pistol in an attempt to shoot one of the soldiers.  At this time, Sargent Thomas “Boston” Corbett fired and struck Booth in the neck, piercing the spinal cord and rendering Booth immediately paralyzed.

Booth, age 26, died several hours later.  His repeated last words were, “Tell my mother that I died for my county.”

That is the story of Booth and his demise, as recalled in the history books and agreed upon by most historians.  However, Finis Bates, a promising Tennessee attorney told a strange offshoot to this popular account.

Bates, the grandfather of actress Kathy Bates (Misery, Fried Green Tomatoes), would eventually became the Attorney General for the State of Tennessee.  According to Bates, his life changing encounter would set him on a unique course in history.  This was set forth in a 1907 book written by Bates entitled The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth.

In 1873, Bates, then a recently-minted attorney, was living with his family in Glen Rose, Texas.  One day Bates met a man named John St. Helen.  St. Helen, who according to Bates, walking with a noticeable limp, was a liquor and tobacco merchant who lived in the nearby Granbury, Texas.  Bates recalled that in the early days of their ‘friendship’, the gregarious and well-known St. Helen had particular tendencies to recite Shakespeare from memory.

Five years passed and, in 1878, St. Helen became suddenly ill.  According to Bates, St. Helen, believing he would not continue living, summoned him to his bedside.  On his word, St. Helen proceeded to tell Bates a crazy story of how he was, in fact, John Wilkes Booth.  Bates recalls the conversation in his book:

 “I am dying. My name is John Wilkes Booth, and I am the assassin of President Lincoln. Get the picture of myself from under the pillow. I leave it with you for my future identification. Notify my brother Edwin Booth, of New York City.” 

St. Helen told Bates how Vice-President Andrew Johnson was the mastermind behind a quiet cabal designed to assassinate Lincoln.  Moreover, he proceeded to say that the man killed in the barn by Sergeant Corbett was a plantation hand named ‘Ruddy’, asked by Booth to go back and fetch items lost on the escape route.

St. Helen told Bates that he had clearly known about the pursuing army and how close he and Herold were to being caught that night.  Moreover, the man shot in the barn that night was not Booth, but the red-haired Ruddy.

According to a 2007 article, written by Michael Finger of the Memphis Flyer, historical accounts of Booth mention his curly black hair, even though two citizens who saw the dead body at Garrett’s farm described it as red-haired.  Finger writes:

“According to some reports, Herold [the co-conspirator, who gave himself up] surprised his captors by asking them, “Who was that man in the barn with me? He told me his name was Boyd.”

And even though hundreds of people in Washington knew Booth well, no close friends were called to identify the remains. Instead, the Army relied on a few military men who had seen Booth on stage, along with the proprietor of a Washington hotel where Booth had lodged.

As recounted in a 1944 issue of Harper’s, the strangest testimony came from Booth’s personal physician, who had once operated on Booth’s neck. When this man examined the body, he was stunned: “My surprise was so great that I at once said to [the surgeon general], ‘There is no resemblance in that corpse to Booth, nor can I believe it to be that of him.'”

St. Helen would live on, far past his infamous confession to Bates.  The attorney, who initially disregarded the story as bunk, never forgot St. Helen’s confession.  Many years later, Bates contacted Washington D.C., trying unsuccessfully to collect on the original $100,000 bounty laid out by the U.S. Government for Booth.

In 1878, Bates, calling himself William J. Ryan, arrived in the South Texas town of Bandera.  According to journalist Logan Hawkes, after teaching public school for some time, Ryan opens a private school where he teaches students not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also classic literature and acting.

According to the legend, Ryan fell in love with a local lady with whom he will marry — until she mentions that, among the guests she had invited to the wedding, was a relative who was a U.S. Marshal.  Booth (now Ryan) made a familiar choice, fleeing town in the dead of night.

Some accounts state that Ryan, who once again took on the name of St. John, moved to Leadville, Colorado to pursue mining.  Thereafter, in 1883, he changed his name to David E. George, and found his new home in the town of Enid, Oklahoma.

We fast forward to January 13, 1903, at the Grand Hotel in Enid, Oklahoma.  There, in room number four, a sixtyish year old man named David E. George lets out a scream.  As the proprietor and his wife unlocked the door, they found the man gurgling and writhing in pain.  He had taken red wine with strychnine, a common poison.

George had related to a hardware store salesman, just a day before that he was purchasing the poison to kill a loud, disturbing dog.


David E. George Image Source: C. Wyatt Evans.  The Legend of John

The next day, the Enid town newspaper wrote about the deceased Mr. George, an alcoholic painter who had a habit of frequently blurting out quotes from popular Shakespearian plays.

George’s body was sent to the town’s undertaker, William Penniman.  As a matter of formality, Penniman would not have the body buried until it was claimed by someone.  As time went by, no one claimed the body.  In a peculiar decision, Penniman tied the body of David George to a chair in his funeral parlor, opened its eyes and placed a newspaper on its lap.Separately, while David George was being embalmed, the Reverend Enoch Covert Harper came to view the body.  Immediately he recognized the body as the same person who, three years earlier, had relayed a story of his being John Wilkes Booth to Harper’s wife-to-be, Mrs. Jessie May Kuhn.  At the time, both Reverent Harper and Mrs. Kuhn thought George’s story to be highly incredulous.

If this were the end of the story, it would be eye raising enough.  However, it gets, as one would say, more tarnished.

Papers found on the dead Mr. George requested that, upon his death, Mr. Bates would be summoned.  As asked for, Finis Bates received word of the death, came to Enid, and in looking at the body, confirmed that George was indeed the man he formerly knew as St. Helen years before.  With no one else to claim the body, Bates took possession of George’s body.

Bates looked to capitalize on what he deemed his good fortune.  He transformed the body of David George to that of the ’Mummy of John Wilkes Booth’.  The body was brought by Finis and those he employed, to World’s Fairs, Circuses, and even as a potentially purchasable item by Henry Ford.

Doctors were brought in to identify the corpse, and though it has a scarred eyebrow, broken leg, and crushed thumb (as Booth had), no confirmation could ever be made of its authenticity to Booth.  Thus, Bates never got his claim to fame.  The mummy changed hands many times over a period of more than fifty years.  Its whereabouts are now unknown.

All of these stories have been a consistent sore on the remaining Booth relatives.  For years, remaining Booth relatives have tried to have John Wilkes Booth’s body exhumed for DNA analysis.  Because the Smithsonian institute has kept three vertebrae of the burned body that was pulled out of the barn in April, 1865, a simple DNA test between the bones and the Booth body could prove once and for all that Booth was really killed that day.

The case for exhuming Booth was heard and the request was denied by Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan.  The chief reason is because Green Mount Cemetery (in Baltimore) is not certain where John Wilkes Booth is buried, and there is evidence that three infant siblings are buried in a coffin on top of his remains. Exhumation would inappropriately disturb these individuals.  Moreover, the court felt that the evidence from Garrett’s farm was overwhelmingly convincing.

But the Booth family keeps on trying.  In 2010, Lois Trebisacci of Westerly, R.I. identified herself as the great-great-great granddaughter of legendary actor Edwin Booth, the trigger man’s brother. He died in 1893 and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

She sought permission for experts to compare Edwin Booth’s DNA to spinal bone remains of the man believed to be John Wilkes Booth, located in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., and the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.  Both museums have as of this writing, never granted permission for such a test.

Near the end of my studies on this topic, I ran across a letter that was written on October 24, 1907 by Reverend R.B. Garrett and notarized by Shelby County Tennessee resident A.R. Taylor in 1933.  In the letter, Garrett clearly recalls, as a young boy, the day Booth was killed.  R.B. was the young boy who told the Calvary men that Booth and Herold were in the barn on his father’s land.  Moreover, it came from a man (of God) who quite frankly had nothing to gain from writing the letter, except that it directly refutes Bates’ story.

Perhaps conspiracy theorists could say that the good Reverend wanted to ‘keep the story going’ so that his family would always be remembered in American history.  As for me, I’m waiting for the DNA test.  I always love a good conspiracy.

Nov 182014
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socialmediaI’m all in for freedom of speech and a right to our personal privacy.  Back off government – we the people are YOUR employers.  I might even be so bold as to let you know that I am a fan of Edward Snowden, whom I consider an American patriot.

But my ideology to steadfastly fight for our freedoms and inalienable rights may have suffered some pause today.  Such was the case today when I received this text from my 17-year old daughter.

‘Dad, someone made a threat against our school.  We’ve been in lockdown for the last hour.  I’m OK.’

A lockdown?  Here in Manhattan Beach?  This is one of the safest school districts in all of California.  What’s going on?

Well it seems that someone got the idea to use the social media program Yik Yak to post a threat against Mira Costa High School.  The post read, ‘If you go to Costa [Mira Costa High School] you should watch out very closely at school today.’   The digital post was obviously perceived as a threat either against the school, its faculty, the kids or perhaps all of the above.

Police arrived quickly and thereafter secured the school.  The response from the school and law enforcement was both professional and appropriate.  Coming home for dinner, I chalked it up to some frustrated pimple-faced teenage boy, who might be taking out some of his adolescent frustrations.  But just after dinner, a smug second text was posted.

‘Nice try Costa, today was just a drill.’  Soon after, our High School principle, after consulting with the Manhattan Beach Police Department, decided to close school for tomorrow.  Yik Yak’s anonymity platform allowing for more fear, once again.

For the uninitiated, Yik Yak is a social media app that allows users to post comments anonymously.  Its similar to Twitter, but you don’t need to put in any information to register and use it.  The kicker is that only people within a 5-mile radius can see each others’ tweets.  Nice to know the creep or ‘creepette’ (to be fair) that wrote this is close to our kids and school.  Makes the threat all that more believable.

Yik Yak has been extremely popular on college campuses, both positively and negatively.  A number of schools from Vermont, New Mexico and Chicago have banned the app because of hateful racial and anti-gay statements.  In just the last month, there were three instances of schools being put on lockdown after mobile Yik Yak postings, threatening to bomb the properties.

Just yesterday, Southeast Polk High School in Des Moines, Iowa canceled its classes due to a shooting threat made through Yik Yak.  To be clear, I don’t blame the Yik Yak app directly – but the technology has opened up a new comfort zone to send threats, which in and of themselves are attacks against our psyche.

Freedom of speech is a very powerful right we have in this country.  However, it clearly doesn’t give people the right to threaten others.  In the case of such threat, I for one applaud law enforcement’s use of using digital tracking and forensics to find these vermin.  I truly hope that the person or persons who thought it necessary to post these comments, are made to answer for their actions.

In the meantime, my kids will get a day off of school tomorrow.  At first I felt that our school should stand firm and remain open, with the help of police.  Then I quickly came to the conclusion that erring on the side of safety for kids, is never too great of a sacrifice.  My introspection leads me to wonder if too much free and untraceable speech, especially in the hands of the socially irresponsible, is necessarily a good thing.

Illigitimi Non Carborundum.  Translated from Latin to mean ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’.

Oct 202014
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Remember playing the board game Monopoly?  There was no worse feeling than landing on your fellow player’s Boardwalk property, with their two red houses.  One of the most unfortunate ways to end your game and fun.

Enter real life.

You have a company, a dream or personal desire to stake your claim on the internet.  In searching for the right matching or brandable domain names, all the ‘best’ .COMs are taken.  Finding a domain today has become…well, so limiting.  Like opening up a Christmas morning present to find you’ve received a set of ice cube trays.  Perhaps this is why out of every 1,600 domains searched for, less than 1/10th of 1% become registered.

So what you want is taken…now what?  A .COM domain made up of three or more words and perhaps a name including a hyphen?  How are people reading, watching or listening to ads supposed to remember that?  Actually, they don’t.

Enter ICANN – the organization that coordinates and governs the Domain Name System (DNS), or address system of the internet.  Generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .COM, .EDU, .MIL, .ORG began in 1984 and have been the mainstay ‘right of the dot’ endings for years.  However, many abbreviations, plus one and two-word domain names with these endings became taken by corporations, associations individuals and domain investors.  As a result, much of the premium and semi-premium digital real estate for the next generation of internet users and businesses was taken.

In 2011, ICANN voted to allow internet address system to grow substantially by allowing the registration of largely unrestricted new endings to the right of the dot.  Then Chairman of ICANN, Peter Thrush stated: “[This] decision will usher in a new internet age. We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration. Unless there is a good reason to restrain it, innovation should be allowed to run free.”  

Today, there are more than 417 new gTLDs in use.  Some of these include business terms like .beer and .plumbing, geographic names like .paris and .berlin, as well as foreign symbols such as .移动, which is Chinese for mobile.  Now ‘JohnsPizzaShopofBrooklyn.com’ can simply become ‘Johns.pizza’.  With more than 2.5 Million registered domains with new gTLDs, the space is growing and gaining traction.


By far, the most popular new gTLD is .xyz – an ending which is purposely positioned as highly generic.  The CEO of .xyz is Daniel Negari, an entrepreneur and visionary in this space.  His intent is to remove domain restrictions for the next generation of internet users, by creating a low-cost global alternative to .com.  In just over four months, .xyz has greatly outpaced all other gTLDs by selling more than 630,000 domain names – and is on pace for more than 1 million names in its first twelve months of operation.

Opposition to Negari’s vision  typically comes from domain investors, who all have a vested interest in seeing .com domains remain free from such competition.  However, as gTLD growth continues to increase, large companies are also getting on board.  Many such as Amazon and Google have invested in their own extensions.  Yahoo has gone on record as saying, “The .com suffix had special meaning for the first generation of Internet users.  For children born this century, it’ll be just one fish in the sea.”

Many of us rarely play Monopoly anymore.  When we do, it’s because nostalgia keeps this game alive.  For some reason, we remember having fun with this game as children.  But we’ve grown up and realize there are much better opportunities for us, and for the next generation for growth and learning.  The same is true with .com – it’s had a great run, but it’s time to move forward.

This isn’t your Daddy’s internet anymore.

Oct 062014
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The practice of medicine is a profession, and pharmaceutical marketing is a business. Physicians and hospitals have their obligations to patients, while drug companies put their allegiance toward public shareholders and private corporate owners.  Simply stated, the interests of medicine and the pharmaceutical industry are not aligned – despite the fact that they ultimately have the same customer base.

According to Consumer Reports, nearly half (46 percent) of American adults take prescription drugs, the average adult taking four prescriptions regularly.  Twenty-five percent of these people, ages 18 to 39, take two medications regularly.

There can be no denying that in many cases, pharmaceutical drugs have extended the quantity and quality of life.  Generalized examples are Penicillin, Insulin, Ether, Diuretics, and Viagra.  Individual medications such as Advair® for asthma, Gleevec® for chronic myeloid leukemia, and Remicade® for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease have definitively been shown to be life-changing.

For many years, the drug industry operated in a reactive fashion.    People developed diseases, researchers studied the conditions, scientists developed the drugs for treatment, and drug manufacturers marketed the drugs to the physicians and hospitals that would then distribute them to patients.

Today’s pharmaceutical companies participate in an industry that is riskier than ever.   First off, just one out of ten-thousand or .01% of all created drug compounds is ever approved from the Food & Drug Administration.  Only 15% of those approved will ever cover just the developmental costs, usually over a seven to ten year period.  So, drug companies either need “blockbuster” creations to find more customers for existing products or……create new diseases out of thin air.

About 20 years ago, Lynn Payer, a health-science writer, coined the term “disease mongering”.  She defined the practice as “trying to convince essentially well people that they are sick or slightly sick people that they are very ill”.  This comes from Payer’s book Disease-Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick.

Other authors and researchers, such as Ray Moynihan, have dubbed this Big Pharma strategy as “the corporate construction of disease”.   The strategy works especially well in the United States, as it is only one of two countries in the entire world that allows for the marketing of prescription drugs directly to consumers.

Several of the more popular strategies employed by drug companies, as told by Payer and others, include:


Inventing Diseases

Drug companies file for and receive patents on their compounds for a 20-year period, giving them a monopolistic advantage against other players in the market.  But once that patent is expired, generic medications (copies) quickly flood the market and the benefit is lost.  This can cost drug companies billions in potential revenue each year.

According to Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor of pharmacology and director of the industry watchdog group PharmedOut.org at Georgetown University School of Medicine, a perfect example of inventing a disease is/has been demonstrated by Eli Lilly.

In 1999, the drug giant stood to lose a lot of profit when the patent for its prized-drug Prozac® was going to expire.  They knew that Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) had been proposed but not approved as a real disorder in the guidelines for psychiatric disorders.

Symptoms include the normally accepted gamut of symptoms such as:

  • mood swings
  • marked irritability or anger
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • marked anxiety
  • decreased interest in usual activities
  • difficulty concentrating
  • lethargy
  • change in appetite
  • breast tenderness
  • insomnia


For years, gynecologists have classified these feelings and symptoms as normal and common prior to a woman’s menstrual cycle.  But in this case, Eli Lilly put massive amounts of funding, studies, and surveys to conclude that it was actually not normal, but a condition known as PMDD.

Naturally, Eli Lilly was looking out for the best interests of those suffering women.  Although psychiatric organizations would not recognize it as a real disorder, the Food and Drug Administration did.  In doing so, they allowed Eli Lilly to rebrand and recolor its Prozac pills as Sarafem®, thus extending its patent life for the treatment of PMDD.

We now have psychotropic anti-depressant medication for pre-menstrual symptoms.  Well, that’s innovation and looking out for the betterment of women across the world.  Now women can have a legitimate reason for missing work or school during their ‘PMDD days’.

Eli Lilly ran advertisements directly to consumers on TV and in women’s magazines relating to Sarafem.  One such ad featured an ordinary-looking woman angrily trying to pull a grocery cart from a row.  The tag line read: “Think it’s PMS? Think again … It could be PMDD.”  Wow, what’s next…going postal?

Within two years, Eli Lilly sold Sarafem for $259 million.  Once several of the other anti-depressant kingpins such as Zoloft® and Paxil® got into the PMDD game, Eli Lilly wasn’t the only game in town.


Taking common behavior and making it sound like it’s a sign of a serious disease 

According to popular author Dr. Andrew Weil, a common tactic in the disease-mongering arsenal is to attach polysyllabic, clinical-sounding names to what used to be seen as normally short-lived conditions.  In most cases, the new, formidable names come complete with acronyms, which add even more gravitas. Thus:


  • Occasional heartburn becomes “Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease” or GERD.
  • Impotence becomes “Erectile Dysfunction” or ED.
  • Premenstrual tension becomes “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder” or PMDD.
  • Shyness becomes “social anxiety disorder” or SAD.
  • Fidgeting legs becomes “restless leg syndrome” or RLS.


While it is true that extreme variations of such conditions may require pharmaceutical treatment, Big Pharma does very little to draw distinction between serious and mild manifestations.  Thus, a shift in leverage for the average individual’s understanding is slated in favor of the drug industry.

When someone has a small amount of gastric upset following a spicy meal, it is labeled “GERD,” and nervousness before giving a speech is “SAD.”  And, of course, the drug industry is there to help by using existing drugs meant for other conditions to now be available for these common, yet uncomfortable conditions many people have.  The more ‘many’ there are, the more profit can be had.


Promoting fear of death as a means to sell drugs

In 2003, Pfizer ran an advertising campaign in France and Canada for their statin medication Lipitor®.  Their print advertisements, such as the one shown below, were supported by the Canadian Lipid Nurse Network and the Canadian Diabetes Association.



image tag drugs



The point of this advertisement, along with a television counterpart, was to get people to have their cholesterol checked and treated (with Lipitor), or else face the very real possibility of death.

Did Pfizer ever make financial contributions to these supporting organizations?  One surely must assume that they lent support to this type of marketing because it was for the betterment of individuals and not for any quid pro quo relationship (sarcasm mine).

And guess what else?  Studies back then and today DO NOT support the conclusion that if you don’t take statins, you are at a high risk of cardiovascular events and hence death.

In a recent study in the British Medical Journal, Julia Hippisley-Cox, professor of clinical epidemiology and general practice, and Carol Coupland, associate professor in medical statistics examined data from over two million patients, including over 225,000 patients who were new statin drug users.

They found that for every 10,000 women being treated with statins, there were only 271 fewer cases of heart disease.  Moreover, the statin drugs caused 74 cases of liver damage, 23 cases of acute kidney failure, 39 cases of extreme muscle weakness and 307 cases of cataracts.  Ergo, statin drugs helped 271 people but harmed 443 people.

In 2012, the medical journal Atherosclerosis showed that statin use is associated with a 52 percent increased prevalence and extent of calcified coronary plaque compared to non-users.  None of the participants in the study – 6,673 in all – had any known coronary artery disease at the time.  In other words, using statin drugs increased ‘artery clogging and stiffening’, which is a hallmark of cardiovascular disease in itself.

What’s just as bad, drug companies have pushed the envelope in developing many different ‘Pre-Conditions’.  Numbers that used to be normal for blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol have all been lowered due to the collusion between pharmaceutical companies and support from physicians.  Would it surprise you that such relationships typically involve some type of monetary compensation for opinion?

Do you know people who fall into this new high range of normal?  They are now classified as those having pre-hypertension, pre-diabetes and borderline high cholesterol.  Guess what this means?  You got it – they qualify for being on medication.

Stopping Big Pharma from disease mongering won’t be easy. They are funding their efforts with tremendous amounts of money, as well as with political and professional interests.  This process is disempowering all-too trusting citizens by tapping into our fear of suffering and death, as well as manipulating the Food and Drug Administration and those who can legally deliver their products to the masses. Here are three tactics I recommend:


Create a Law for Clear Disclosure

One tactic I would use would be to put into law a process similar to that on Wall Street, where financial analysts who recommend stocks, bonds, and mutual funds MUST disclose if they have a position in such a company.

Physicians, medical organizations, universities, non-profit charities, etc. would all need to disclose in their research or news articles that they either did or did not have a relationship with the product or drug company they were writing about or recommending, despite whether the research was positive or not.

This disclosure would need to be in big bold letters at the top of every article.  Transparency goes a long way in leveling the playing field of information and decision-making.  It also re-establishes lost trust.


Simplifying Results For Easy Reading

Today, the FDA requires that every study done by a pharmaceutical organization on their drug(s) must be made public.  That’s fine, except that most ordinary people don’t understand how to read these studies, nor do they want to take the time.  People assume that if studies are done by reputable institutions, they must have the best interests of suffering patients at the top of the list.

People want and need this type of information to make informed choices, but it needs to be simplified to perhaps an eighth grade reading level.  These studies are not just for patients and interested individuals, but also physicians.

Patients truly believe that their physicians take the time to read the latest articles on medications and then weigh the pros and cons to make a responsible and well-thought-out decision on determining use.  In many cases, doctors themselves rely on pharmaceutical salespeople to shorten their learning curve through short lunches and strategically-designed product literature.


Pharmaceutical Report Card

When all the studies are done, the articles are written, the promises realized and the complaints filed, I’d like to see the Food and Drug Administration grow a set of elephant-sized testicles and step up to provide an overall current grade to each drug on the market.  A lot of parameters would go into this grading, including perhaps all past and current scientific studies.  These would be broken down to positive and negative results.  Another parameter, for example, would be filed complaints and successfully-settled lawsuits.

In the end, such a report card format could provide updated, validated data from a trusted non-pharmaceutical resource, so that people and physicians could determine a medication’s effectiveness and safety.



Sep 292014
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Question:  What do goal lines, field goal posts, first downs and out-of-bounds punts all have in common?  

Answer:  With respect to football placement, in many situations, they still involve some level of human guessing. 

Instant replay has helped the game immeasurably.  I dare say that when applied to past NFL history, that technology would have resulted in new winners, losers and champions.  So we know that technology helps to bring certainty, and I now put forth the idea in an entirely new way.


How many times during a football game does a referee guess at:

  • The exact spot of the ball, with respect to forward progress
  • If the football broke the plane of the goal line
  • Exactly where an out-of-bounds punt crossed the sideline
  • Whether a field goal was inside or outside of the post



525px-TDOA_GeometryFootball computer-chip insertion and football field computer mapping.   Here a very tiny set of computer chips are implanted on the inside both ends of the football – just outside the bladder of the ball, but inside the nose.

Next, create a mapping system, for locating the ball within the field.  GPS doesn’t work indoors, due to bouncing off roofs walls and other structures – and it is not very accurate.  Therefore, we would need to utilize a grid-based system, where a dense network of low-range (ultrawideband) receivers would be planted into the playing field.  Techniques used within this system would include localization using Time Difference of Arrival (TDoA) – also known as ‘multilateration’.

This system would be mapped to a specific computer-based image of the football field, passing on location results as pixel points on this field map.  So when the any transmitting chip, on either end of the football breaks through  and pass on location results as exact points on this image.  This would also include receivers placed on the tops of field goal posts.  Effectively, the entire field would be ‘covered’ by an electronic grid network.

So now:

  • The punter shanks the kick…now WE KNOW where it’s to be spotted.
  • We can be sure that within a large pile of players at the goal line, the running back DIDN’T break the plane of the goal line.
  • The tip of the ball DID in fact reach the first down marker with forward progress on the pass.

This is the beauty inherent in having specific location points of the football during every game.  This would optimize many of the the remaining mistakes, which are too valuable to leave in the hands, opinions and judgement of the officials.  Google, NCAA, and NFL…feel free to reach out to get this started.  My son and I will be happy to attend any and all games during testing.

Upgraded parking, beer and hot dogs mandatory.

Sep 072014
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Okay, let’s get the scary numbers out of the way.  Health insurers, including Medicaid and Medicare pay nearly $2.9 trillion each year on health insurance claims.   This equates to our healthcare system being the fifth largest economy in the world, only behind the United States, China, Japan and Germany.  Private insurance premiums are skyrocketing for small plans, large plans and individuals.  The U.S. is $17 trillion in debt – plus, add in an extra $40 trillion just for Medicare and Medicaid unfunded liabilities.

Health insurers blame doctors, hospitals, defensive medicine and patient over-utilization.  Doctors and hospitals blame the greed of health insurers and looming malpractice insurance costs.  All groups point fingers at the progression of chronic disease in America, through genetics and the lack of patient responsibility in exercising and eating right.

According to New York Times, 6 percent of Medicare patients who die each year make up an astounding 27 to 30 percent of all Medicare costs.  While the numbers for private health payers are not made public, I have spoken to health payer insiders who point to similar values.  All told, nearly $1 Trillion or a third of all total yearly health payer payments made to hospitals and physicians are for a person’s last year of life.  The hidden gem in this plan is in the disproportionality and direction of payment monies by Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurers, and self-insured corporations (herein ‘health payers’).

The ‘Transitions Plan’ starts with an understanding that those who die are in a sad way, a monetary commodity.  Their use of the U.S. health system allows for a trigger of funds between health payers and hospitals, labs, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and other healthcare services.  Yet many of these suffering individuals will die in slow, lingering manner, and leave very little money to their loved ones.

Since 1989, the proportion of those older than age 75 with mortgage debt has quadrupled.  Many seniors have large amounts of debt due to high medical bills, long-term care, and dwindling retirement savings.  In addition, credit card debt for seniors is larger and rising faster than for the younger generations.

Many people who are not senior citizens are also ‘last year’ patients.  Some come from the nearly 47 million Americans living in poverty, as well the working, lower-to-middle and middle-income earners.  While a portion of this population has life insurance, the industry reports that of all U.S. adults, only 60% carry any level of coverage at all, and our country is underinsured for life insurance by nearly $15 trillion.

Now ask a chronically ill person or even an elderly person what they think about being kept alive for as long as possible.  Apart from our own selfish motives for keeping them from death, those going through the suffering recognize the importance of dying with dignity, instead of slowly wasting away through a myriad of medical appointments, drugs, therapies, surgeries and lab tests.

Here’s where the Transitions Program begins.  It’s a system where health payers identify terminal or highly likely terminal patients, and forego payment for most medical services.  The restriction of such claim payments is authorized by the patients themselves.  In return, they receive a guaranteed tax-free, single windfall payment, which constitutes a large portion of what would have been paid out to the medical community.

Take Charles Smith, a 68-year old man, who has just been diagnosed with Stage 3B lung cancer.  The average case has a 95% chance of death.  Let’s estimate that between chemotherapy, radiation, lab tests, doctor visits, home health, costly medications, pulmonary therapy and several possible surgeries, a typical health payer can expect to reimburse out between $345,000 and $375,000.

The health payer, ABC Insurance Co. receives the patient’s initial diagnosis on a medical claim.  It’s flagged and the case is passed to their medical management department.  Once substantiated with medical records, the health payers’ actuaries set an estimated value of $350,000 on the case.

Now the health payer gets in contact with the patient and presents the offer for the voluntary transitions program.  The letter would include the following:

  • Notification from the payer, that with the current diagnosis, they are offering the opportunity for the beneficiary to participate in the Transitions Plan.
  •  That the program is voluntary. If the beneficiary does not choose to choose it, nothing will change with their current health coverage.
  • If accepted, the payer will send a one-time, tax-free, non-refundable payment to Mr. Charles Smith for $185,000.

Once the payment had been made, the following would occur:

  • The health payer would no longer be responsible for payment for any treatment or services, directly or indirectly related to the chronic condition. All such conditions would be clearly named in the Agreement.
  • The insured could continue to see medical providers and have them bill services to the health payer, so long as such conditions are separate from the main diagnosis and other listed conditions. However, payments for any future medical services billed would not be guaranteed, and in keeping with company policy, must be determined as medically necessary.
  • The insurer would continue to pay, on an as-needed and medically necessary basis, any palliative or ‘pain management’ care, associated with the main condition. This would not include hospitalization, therapy, home health or premium-brand medications.

What has just happened is a unique meeting of the minds between poor to middle class dying Americans and the health insurance industry.  In giving insureds the option to be financially compensated, health payers shift payments from the medical establishment, back to individuals who are taking clear control of their lives.

Ultimately, the cost savings can be passed on to insureds in the form of reduced premiums, perhaps mandated by government to certain levels based on certain savings points.  How this is governed will be important, though the basic concept would remain the same.

Imagine Mr. Smith having less than $20,000 of total savings and no insurance.  He is divorced, yet has two children who are also in the lower income class.  While $185,000 of tax-free money is not millions, it could make a difference to that family and perhaps their ability to afford healthcare, a home or even college.

Without the Transitions Plan, Mr. Smith might struggle to pay his remaining debts and have no money left over for funeral expenses.  Now he might take or at least send his two kids and their families on a trip around the world.   Perhaps he may choose to contribute to several 529 plans for the education of his grandchildren.  He could also choose to give to charities, political groups, churches or even share it with his most beloved friends.

Let’s remember that the Transitions Plan is voluntarily accepted, where the choice lies with the coherent patient.  If mentally unable, then perhaps they simply default to the normal relationship with their health insurer, or the decision could shift to his immediate family or appointed surrogate.

The strange rub is that public payers, private health insurers and corporations that pay for their own health benefits will now have the ability to help others transition and leave perhaps better legacies.  Nothing puts a smile on a face, especially in times of stress and depression, quite like when they give, and get to see others enjoy their gifts.  Contrast this transaction with the same monies going into medical and drug house pockets, leading to a continual raise of everyone’s plan premiums.

What of our country’s health dollars?  How much could actually be saved?

Let’s assume a generous 25% patient participation rate, where Medicare, Medicaid and health insurers save an average of 50% on last-year claim payouts.  That’s an estimated $125 Billion annually – just for starters.  The Transitions Plan may not be the entire answer for our growing healthcare crisis, but current times call for new and inventive solutions.  We could do far worse than to empower the sick and dying.