Reading and Success in School

Kids who read a lot do better in school. In fact children who are read to also have a higher success rate in school according to the National Education Association’s facts about children’s literacy page.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a division of the U.S. Department of Education, children who are read to at home enjoy a substantial advantage over children who are not:
Twenty-six percent of children who were read to three or four times in the last week by a family member recognized all letters of the alphabet. This is compared to 14 percent of children who were read to less frequently.

Here are some of differences that one finds between kids who were read to and those who were not.

The NCES also reported that children who were read to frequently are also more likely to:

  • count to 20, or higher than those who were not (60% vs. 44%)
  • write their own names (54% vs. 40%)
  • read or pretend to read (77% vs. 57%)

According to NCES2, only 53 percent of children ages three to five were read to daily by a family member (1999).

The more types of reading materials there are in the home, the higher students are in reading proficiency, according to the Educational Testing Service.

The Educational Testing Services reported that students who do more reading at home are better readers and have higher math scores.

Reading increases a child’s ability to gain information from book, computers and other printed sources. And reading increases the child’s interest in and knowledge of the world. But where do you start looking for books to read to your kids or for them to read? A trip to the book store can be an adventure but so can books online. In researching this article we ran across an excellent source, Disney Wonderful World of Reading. Check out this offer and get your kids a book or two or a half a dozen!

The Harry Potter Effect

As the Harry Potter series of books was coming out it became apparent that not only were kids willing to read at higher level to enjoy the stories but the effects of their reading spilled over into their homework. The Christian Science Monitor wrote about Harry Potter and the magic of reading.

A 2006 study by Scholastic and Yankelovich found that the Harry Potter books have had a positive impact not only on kids’ attitudes toward reading, but also on the quality of their schoolwork. The Kids and Family Reading Report surveyed 500 children ages 5 to 17 and their parents or guardians. More than half of Harry Potter readers said they hadn’t read books for fun before the series, and 65 percent said they have done better in school since reading the books. The study also found that the reading habits of boys – who consistently have lower literacy test scores than girls – changed the most as a result of reading the books.

Reading and success in school are linked but so are reading and enjoyment of life. If you want to get your kids started on the road to being readers consider the Disney Wonderful World of Reading for wholesome stories that everyone enjoys.

Drinkable Sunscreen Is Bunk

If you thought that they finally came up with a drinkable sunscreen you are wrong. The maker of two products, Osmosis Skincare and Harmonized Water, is being sued for consumer fraud by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. CNBC reports on the so-called drinkable sunscreen.

The makers of two brands of “drinkable sunscreen” failed to prove their product really protects users against sunburn and instead relied on “seriously flawed” testing that “recklessly gave consumers hollow assurances that they were protected from known health hazards,” according to a consumer fraud lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

Osmosis Skincare and Harmonized Water – both controlled by the same Colorado-based owner – have advertised their enhanced water as the “world’s first drinkable sunscreen,” protecting users from harmful ultraviolet light. The water contains a “form of radio frequencies called scalar waves,” according to Osmosis. “When ingested, they vibrate above the skin to neutralize UVA and UVB, creating protection comparable to an SPF 30.”

What the heck are scalar waves? Rational Wiki has some useful info on this subject.

The main current proponent of scalar wave pseudophysics is zero-point energy advocate Thomas E. Bearden, who has concocted an entire pseudoscientific “scalar field theory” unrelated to anything in actual physics of that name. It starts with Maxwell’s equations originally having been written as quaternions; Bearden holds that the (mathematical) transformation to vectors lost important information.

The claim that these products have properties other than that of water is disputed by the Iowa State Attorney General in their petition to the court. It turns out that “doctor” Johnson was forced to surrender his license to practice medicine in the state of Colorado back in 2001. They contend that Johnson does not prove that his water has the said properties. The attorney says that although drinkable sunscreen is bunk the burden of proof is on the seller and not on the state.

Testimonial versus Proof

The way that makers of products like the so-called drinkable sunscreen manage to avoid trouble with the law is that they never make any claims. Rather they publish testimonials from people who state that they used the product and that they got better or in the case of the drinkable sunscreen did not get burned. In fact the products themselves have disclaimers saying that these products were not evaluated by the FDA. The manufacturer’s attorney says that these disclaimers are sufficient to protect his client.

Standard of Proof

To get approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a product or medicine with therapeutic value the manufacturer needs to pass a couple of tests. First of there needs to be proof that in animal and then human trials there is no proof of harm. Then the gold standard is a double blind cross over trial. People are treated with the product without the person being treated or the person doing the treating knowing who is getting the product and who is getting a placebo. Results are tabulated by someone who never sees the patient or physician. Then half way through the study the treatment and placebo are reversed. People need to have gotten better on the treatment in both halves of the study and need to have experienced no benefit in the placebo half. Drinkable sunscreen is bunk because scalar waves are bunk and because exposing a dozen people to the sun for an hour after drinking the water does not meet the standard of proof.

When Has a Debt Collection Company Gone Too Far?

Consumers complain about debt collectors. In Colorado, in fact, debt collectors lead the list of top consumer complaints to the state attorney general.

Gripes about debt collection companies again topped the list of consumer complaints reported to Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s office last year, her office announced Tuesday as part of National Consumer Protection Week.

Coffman’s Consumer Protection Section logged 8,707 complaints and inquiries in 2016. Other top complaints involved utility companies, telephone scams of all sorts and problems with auto dealers.

If someone owes you money you should be entitled to seek to collect. And if a debt collection service pays a creditor 10 cents on the dollar they have a right to try to collect on the original debt. But when has a debt collection company gone too far?

Abusive Debt Collection

This info and advice about debt collection abuse comes from an attorney web site.

Federal law prohibits abusive debt collection.  This is conduct by debt collectors where they “harass, oppress, or abuse”.  Bill collectors may not call without identifying themselves.  They may not call before 9 am or after 8 pm. They may not call you at work.  Unless you give permission, these calls violate federal law.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires debt collectors to stop calling if you tell them you want no further contact.  If you notify the collector that you are represented by an attorney and give the lawyer’s name and address, the collector then violates federal law by ever contacting you and not the lawyer.  Of course, your attorney has a duty to reasonably communicate.

Within five days of a collection agency’s first communication with you, often an annoying telephone call, they must send you written notice.  The notice must include information including the amount owed, the name of the original creditor, and your right to dispute debt’s validity. If you do not dispute within 30 days, they’ll tell you they will consider it valid.  If you do dispute, they must send you verification.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act specifies what is considered harassment or abuse.

(1) The use or threat of use of violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation, or property of any person.
(2) The use of obscene or profane language or language the natural consequence of which is to abuse the hearer or reader.
(3) The publication of a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay debts, except to a consumer reporting agency or to persons meeting the requirements of section 1681a(f) or 1681b(3)1 of this title.
(4) The advertisement for sale of any debt to coerce payment of the debt.
(5) Causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number.
(6) Except as provided in section 1692b of this title, the placement of telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity.

These are examples of when a debt collection company has gone too far. Other issues are false and misleading representations and unfair practices. If you believe that a debt collection company has gone too far contact an attorney and have them deal with the issue.

If Genetically Modified Foods Don’t Cause Cancer What’s Wrong?

In the last twenty years the amount of genetically modified food that we eat has increased astronomically. Along the way people started to worry that these “changed” foods were dangerous even to the point of causing cancer. The bottom line is that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) don’t cause cancer but there are other problems. Here is a graph from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showing the increasing percentages of genetically modified crops in the USA in the last twenty years.

According to the USDA:

Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for effective weed control.

Insect-resistant crops containing the gene from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) have been available for corn and cotton since 1996. These bacteria produce a protein that is toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life.

As the graph shows the percentages of corn, soybeans and cotton planted as GMOs has risen over the years into the 80% to 95% range with soybeans leading the way.

The odds are that unless you are very knowledgeable and very careful the majority of what you eat includes genetically modified ingredients.

Do GMOs Cause Cancer?

Regarding if GMOS cause cancer the MD Anderson Medical and Cancer Center at the University of Texas:

Many people believe that altering the DNA of a plant or animal has a significant effect on a person’s chances of developing cancer. But the current research on the health risks of GMOs is inconclusive. In other words, researchers cannot confirm whether or not GMOs increase cancer risks.

The problem is that proving that something does not and will never cause cancer is a virtual impossibility. Thus, while there is no proof that GMO’s don’t cause cancer there is no firm evidence that they do. So, if genetically modified foods don’t cause cancer what’s wrong?

The Corporate Farm

This writer grew up on the Northern reaches of the American Corn Belt. The typical farm was 160 acres so there were four farms and four farm families per square mile. Today the average farm size across the entire USA is 446 acres and where this writer grew up you can drive mile after mile and not see a family farm. The average age of farmers is also increasing as young people cannot afford to go into farming or simply choose not to. And incidentally the world has more people and more mouths to feed. Thus we see the development of corporate agribusiness. Think Progress writes about how corporate agribusiness is quietly seizing the heartland.

Corporate agribusinesses have managed to convince voters across the Midwest to approve vaguely-worded measures that could have wide ranging impacts, from preventing environmental legislation against factory farms to allowing animal mistreatment in slaughterhouses. These right-to-farm laws are gaining traction in big ag states across the country, but opponents say they are nothing more than a continued “power grab” by corporate agribusinesses.

The vague language in right-to-farm amendments can prevent states or localities from regulating any number of issues, from pollution, pesticide use, or animal abuse, no matter how much evidence there may be that a certain practice or company is harming the environment. It also makes it much harder to stop factory farms from poisoning water or air quality with noxious animal waste, or even keep track of repeat offenders.

In many areas the family farm is simply gone and replaced by factory farms. The short term bottom line is important and not long term preservation of the soil and water table. Genetically modified crops may not cause cancer but they are a part of the corporate takeover of agriculture.

What Are the Pitfalls of Gift Cards?

One of the most popular gifts to give or receive is a gift card. If you have hard to shop for people in your life give them a gift card and let them pick out their own gift. But, are there pitfalls to gift cards? According to KHON2 these convenient cards can be easy targets for thieves.

Greg Dunn, CEO of Better Business Bureau Hawaii, says “one of the things to do when you get a gift card is look at the back of it and make sure that the (number) hasn’t been scratched off.”

Most gift cards have a three or four digit PIN under a silver scratch-off that’s used to verify a card’s balance.

But thieves have found a way to steal the card’s value, even before it ends up in someone’s hands.

“Criminals could scratch off the PIN number and have recorded the gift card numbers as well as the PIN,” Dunn said. “That’s the only information they would need to steal, whatever balance that may have been placed on that gift card. They could check it over and over and over until that gift card is sold.”

When you buy a gift card, make sure that the silver scratch-off has not been scratched off.

Use It or Lose It

You get a gift card for Christmas and use it to purchase something. But there is a remaining balance and you put the card in a drawer thinking that you will eventually use the remaining value on the card. ABC News says that you need to use it or lose it.

Like many consumers, Mei Mei Giang of California has a whole collection of unused gift cards sitting in a drawer. But when she recently tried using one of them – a gift card she’d received a couple of Christmases ago – Mei Mei got a shock. The $100 card wouldn’t work, even though it had not expired.

In this lady’s case it had to do with antifraud efforts on the part of the retailer. It is less work when old cards are deactivated and the store does not need to track the presence or absence of activity. When this happens and it is only a year or so since you got the card you can often appeal to the retailer and get the card activated again. If it is a lot older good luck!

Are You a Terrorist?

According to The New York Times, a transit office in Washington, D.C. has been arrested by the FBI and accused of aiding ISIS with gift cards for Google Play and then giving them to an undercover agent. Apparently terrorists use online games as a form of communication to avoid detection by the authorities. This may not be so much a pitfall of gift cards as a pitfall of whom you give them too. Nevertheless, beware whom you give gift cards to if they can be used to purchase something suspicious. On the other hand who would have thought that Google Play was a tool used by terrorists?

Is Increased Consumer Confidence Warranted?

People are spending their money in the belief that good economic times are just ahead. The consumer confidence rating from the University of Michigan came in at 98.5 on the scale used and is higher than predicted and higher than last month. According to Business Insider consumer confidence is at its highest in a dozen years!

Consumer confidence has surged in the wake of the US election, as improved outlooks for growth and jobs have bolstered the index.

“Consumers expressed a higher level of confidence January than any other time in the last dozen years,” said Richard Curtin, the survey’s chief economist. “The post-election surge in confidence was driven by a more optimistic outlook for the economy and job growth during the year ahead as well as more favorable economic prospects over the next five years.”

Curtin did caution that the current boost in confidence comes from expectations and not actual improved circumstances.

“Overall, the post-election surge in consumer confidence was based on political promises, and not, as yet, on economic outcomes,” said the press release.

Is increased consumer confidence warranted and if so, what should you do about it?

Preparing for Good Economic Times

When you just lost your job and the country is heading into recession is not the time to buy a new home. But when there may be more jobs and higher income you may just want to go shopping for the home of your dreams. The same applies to taking a vacation, taking the family to a nice restaurant or buying a new car. Those with long memories will recall the steady increase in interest rates that went with the inflation of the 1970’s. It turns out that consumers are taking out loans at the highest level in 20 years in expectation of a booming economy and higher interest rates. Is this increased consumer confidence warranted?

Are You Republican or Democrat?

According to the folks who did the consumer confidence survey your political affiliation has a lot to do with whether you think things are better or not! This is most split people have been in half a century over whether things are getting better or not with Democrats on the negative side and Republicans holding a positive view. What do the folks say to study the economy? The business publication, Forbes, predicts higher growth.

I am devoting my first article of the year to a forecast of the U.S. economy’s prospects given the world economic scene. So far they have been decently accurate, but none predicted major changes. This time is different. The promise of an important decrease in regulatory and tax burdens on U.S. businesses suggests that the U.S. economy will grow faster than most analysts expected. In addition, (and mostly due to internal rather than external factors), the U.S. economy will be a key driving force of other Western economies.

A cautionary note comes from the Lombardi Letter. There is the chance that a so-called trigger event could rock the U.S. economy.

A tremendous amount of systematic risk entered the financial system, potentially throwing a wrench into the cogs of U.S. economic order. This has predominantly manifested on two key fronts: legislation and free trade.

These folks are saying that Trump and the Republicans don’t know what they are doing and run the risk of really messing up with would drag down the economy and consumer confidence.

Who Has Access to Your Medical Records?

It used to be that the doctor patient relationship was sacred and that only your doctor knew private information regarding your health. Is that true today as medical records are computerized and stored on a hackable central server? Who has access to your medical records besides your doctor? Health IT discusses health IT consumer skepticism regarding health-related data privacy.

A majority of consumers are skeptical of health IT, partly due to an increasing doubt in data privacy, according to a national Black Book survey.

The patient survey, conducted from September through December 2016, included 12,090 adult consumers. Survey participants were asked to evaluate the technology they were exposed to, knew of or interacted with as an active patient in the last 12 months, according to a news release on the survey.

More than half of patients surveyed are skeptical about computerized medical records and the tools available to use that data. The researchers believe that in large part this is because people believe that hackers can access their information.

Withholding Information

What happens when patients do not tell their doctor everything necessary for an accurate diagnosis? This is a concern because increasingly patients are unwilling to reveal all of their medical information to their health care provider. In 2013 66% or responders admitted to holding back on what they told their doctor and now that number is 87%! People believe that the government, their employers or retailers are privy to information about pharmacy prescriptions (90%), mental health history (99%) and chronic conditions (81%).

Does Your Doctor Know How to Use the Tools?

Many patients surveyed (69%) think that their primary care physician does not have enough knowledge and skill in the use of computerized medical records to trust them with all of their personal information. The trust issue has more to do with patient perception of the skill of the provider in using IT tools (84%) than distrust of the IT technology (5%). Patients going to smaller hospitals (fewer than 200 beds) have more of an issue with health related IT than those receiving care at larger hospitals (more than 400 beds).

Too Much Information Can Defeat the Purpose

The point of going to the doctor is to get better or to avoid getting sick in the first place. An accomplished and skillful physician can often listen to a few words of a patient’s history, do a brief exam and order perhaps one confirmatory lab test in order to get the answer needed. He or she can then prescribe treatment and a follow up. All of this can be very fast and efficient and cost effective. Now how does that work out when the physician is required to fill in the check boxes on a cumbersome computer program and cannot exit a given screen until the computer is satisfied? It should be no surprise that 94% of physicians “find the surplus of health related data overwhelming, redundant and unlikely to make a clinical difference.” In other words medical IT systems often waste the care giver’s time, are burdensome and do not help in making people better or helping them avoid getting sick, which should be why these systems are there in the first place. Now add the fact that people withhold vital information from their caregiver and we have a problem that has made health care worse instead of better.

Will It Kill You to Know Your Genetic Predisposition?

Is too much information dangerous? Science News reports that some critics are concerned that getting health information from genetic testing can be harmful. The publication goes on to report a study done at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. It turns out that folks who receive genetic health data are not especially upset.

As consumers have been able to learn more about their genetic makeup in recent years through personal genomic testing, one big criticism has been that without someone to interpret it, the health information could be harmful to the receivers.

Not so, according to a University of Michigan study that shows that less than 2 percent of customers regret receiving such information, and only about 1 percent say they are harmed by the results.

“These data suggest that many of the concerns and criticisms about putting this information into the hands of consumers may presume an exaggerated likelihood of harm,” said J. Scott Roberts, associate professor of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health.

People who get genetic testing are interested in health risks, physical traits and their ancestry. The vast majority, 94%, said they would do it again. What do you learn from genetic testing?

Genetic Testing

What is genetic testing? The National Institute of Health explains.

Genetic testing is a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. More than 1,000 genetic tests are currently in use, and more are being developed.

Here are three methods of genetic testing.

Molecular gene tests single genes or short lengths of DNA to identify variations or mutations that lead to a genetic disorder.

Chromosomal genetic tests analyze whole chromosomes or long lengths of DNA to see if there are large genetic changes, such as an extra copy of a chromosome, that cause a genetic condition.

Biochemical genetic tests study the amount or activity level of proteins; abnormalities in either can indicate changes to the DNA that result in a genetic disorder.

Very commonly the recipient of genetic testing information will want to speak with a genetic counselor to help sort out just what the information means. A specific result may confirm a diagnosis. It could tell you that you are the carrier of a genetic trait which does not bother you but could be passed on to your children. Or a test may tell you that you are at greater risk of getting a certain disease but that whether that happens is not certain. To the extent that you can change your diet or lifestyle in order to avoid a certain disease, genetic testing can be very valuable. To the extent that you know that your children are likely to have birth defects you may choose not to have kids or to adopt. And there are times when you will learn nothing useful from genetic testing.

Don’t Get Cheated Out of a Merry Christmas

The Christmas carol Twelve Days of Christmas details all the gifts your true love will send you from a partridge in a pear tree on the first day to 12 drummers drumming on the twelfth day. We would like to remind all consumers that there are at least a dozen ways to get cheated out of a Merry Christmas as well. Courtesy of CBS Detroit and the Better Business Bureau of Michigan here are some thoughts about how to avoid being cheated over the holidays. The high points are theirs and the details are ours.

Beware of E Cards

Many people like to send their Christmas Cards via the internet. It certainly saves on postage and having to fill out addresses and repeatedly write the same set of greetings time and again. But beware of malware in E cards as malicious individuals may use an attractive E card to download nasty viruses into your computer.

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire Phone Calls

The holiday season is a favorite time for fraudulent organizations and individuals to call soliciting money or claiming to be a government agency that right now needs your personal info. Being the victim of identity theft is not the way the enjoy Christmas. And before you give to an organization, check them out to make sure that your money is really going to help someone out and not padding the bank account of a scammer.

Fake Rolex Watches and More

The Romans knew about this. They said, let the buyer beware. If you are looking for a gift for that special someone and find a luxury item at an unbelievably low price you are going to be scammed. There are lots and lots of counterfeit products out there and your special someone will not be impressed when they find out that you sent them a cheap knockoff of a Rolex!

How You Pay Is Important

Gift cards are a great way to let your friends and family get what they want and are especially good for that hard to shop for person in the family. But be careful when someone, especially on the internet or on the phone demands that you use a gift card, wire transfer money or other unexpected means of payment. These may be a set up for fraud. Stick with your own credit cards, checks or debit cards.

Fake Websites

In the internet age people don’t just make fake Rolexes. They create fake website to sell them from. Beware of websites that offer high end items that are way too cheap.

Fake Charities, Fake Travel Arrangement and Fake Deliveries

These are all ways to cheat you out of a Merry Christmas. Check out charities before giving. Go through a reputable travel service or air carrier. Don’t pay for delivery of things that you did not order and your Christmas will be merry.

Playing on Your Sympathies

An old scam that never goes away is for an older person to receive a phone call saying that their grandchild has been hurt in a distant city and that one of their friends is calling on their behalf. The people who do this can spend all day making calls and only need to hit pay dirt a couple of times. All you need to do is use common sense. A similar scam is trying to get you to buy a pet online from a nice picture. You need to see the animal first and best buy from a reputable pet store or risk getting a disease and soon to perish pet.

The Internet Is Not All Safe

Everyone has hand held devices these days that require WIFI locations. Beware sending personal info when out and about because scammers can hack you from these sites and deny you a Merry Christmas and more.

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