2019’s Weirdest (and Funniest) News Stories

2019’s Weirdest News Stories - Carlos GaminoBy Attorney Carlos Gamino

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know we’re big fans of strange news stories. We did a little digging in the archives and found these gems from 2019 – they’re some of the weirdest pieces we’ve ever read (and this time, we didn’t get any from FloridaMan.com, which is packed with fabulous fodder).

Trial by Combat

A Kansas man in the middle of a raging custody battle wanted to settle a series of disputes with his ex-wife in true Game of Thrones fashion. David Ostrom, the aspiring fencer, put his rapier-like wit on display when he requested that an Iowa judge allow him to sword fight his ex-wife “on the field of battle, legally.” He also asked the judge for three months to find samurai swords that were up to the task.

The judge denied the request, which could end in death, by saying, “Such ramifications likely outweigh those of property tax and custody issues.”

Border Patrol is Getting Crappy Signals and These Vultures Are to Blame

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection radio tower in Texas is sending out mixed signals since a horde of vultures has taken up residence, fowling things up for on-the-go agents. Apparently, the birds have been there for the past 6 years – and a rep from CBP said, “They will often defecate and vomit from their roost onto buildings below that house employees and equipment.” The scavengers usually feed on carrion, which isn’t always easy on the digestive tract, and one of their primary defense mechanisms is vomit.

Walmart Dressing Rooms: Enter at Your Own Risk

Pennsylvania police are frantically searching for suspects after someone released bedbugs in an Erie County Walmart’s dressing room. A manager found a pill bottle teeming with live bugs in a boys’ jacket for sale, and a hygiene contractor called out to examine the scene found several crawling around the men’s dressing room the next day. Rumor has it that the prosecutor is also itching for a conviction in the case.

What Are Your Favorite Weird News Stories From 2019?

What weird news stories stuck with you from last year? I’d love to hear all about them, so drop a link on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Attorney Carlos Gamino

 

 

Stress and Your Heart: You’re More At-Risk Than You Think

New Study Says Burnout is Bad for Your Heart - Carlos Gamino By Carlos Gamino

A new study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology says that chronic stress and exhaustion can be a key factor in arterial fibrillation, or AFib – the most common heart rhythm disorder. AFib is also the leading cause of stroke in Europe and the U.S., affecting more than 33 million people worldwide.

So if you’re feeling burned out, experts say it’s time to step back and calm down.

“We’ve known that stress can cause other types of heart disease, but this is the first study to really link exhaustion to potentially increasing your risk for a cardiac arrhythmia,” said study author Dr. Parveen Garg, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. “We’re drawing a link between exhaustion and atrial fibrillation which really hasn’t been described before.”

As many as 80 percent of American workers say they feel stress on the job, and more than half say they need help managing it.

The 25-year study followed almost 12,000 people who didn’t have AFib, and only people who scored highest in “vital exhaustion” were more likely to develop the condition. (Vital exhaustion is a medical term for irritability, extreme fatigue and a feeling of demoralization.)

“Vital exhaustion is associated with increased inflammation and increased activation of the body’s physiologic stress response,” Garg said. “When these two things are chronically activated that can have serious and damaging effects on the heart tissue, which could then eventually lead to the development of this arrhythmia.”

Vital exhaustion is a serious issue – and its key symptoms are feeling constantly overwhelmed, emotionally and mentally drained, demoralized and exceptionally tired, even after a full night of sleep. You might experience mental blocks, a lack of motivation, stress eating (or loss of appetite) and insomnia.

Experts suggest that you can help ease your own mental fatigue by:

  • Staying organized
  • Being realistic about the things you need to accomplish
  • Doing repetitive tasks in bulk
  • Rethink how you’re expending energy
  • Don’t ruminate or over-worry

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this study, why Americans are so over-stressed and burned out, or anything else. Please feel free to share on my Facebook page or on Twitter!

Carlos Gamino

 

Google Storing and Analyzing Health Records

Google Storing and Analyzing Health Records - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Google and Ascension – a healthcare company operating 150 hospitals across 20 states and the District of Columbia – have partnered to store and analyze healthcare records for millions of people. The two companies say it’s a push to improve medical services, but critics say that Google, which also bought Fitbit, is ready to aggregate and analyze millions of data points that it has no business seeing.

Although Google Cloud executive Tariq Shaukat insists that the deal – dubbed Project Nightingale – is perfectly legal, not everyone agrees. Part of the controversy surrounds the fact that the data isn’t anonymized. Google and Ascension can see exactly which records belong to which patients. That means every ailment, every prescription and every doctor’s visit you’ve ever made will be available to Google if you’ve been at an Ascension hospital facility.

“All of Google’s work with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations (including HIPAA) regarding patient data, and come [sic] with strict guidance on data privacy, security and usage,” Shaukat wrote.

This deal with Ascension, in conjunction with Google’s acquisition of Fitbit, has critics railing. The Fitbit acquisition is another matter; some experts believe that Google will use Fitbit data to sell products to users.

Google and Fitbit both claim that Fitbit health data won’t be mined for Google ads, but the company’s track record suggests otherwise. In 2012 and 2013, Google paid almost $40 million to settle charges that it lied to users about how it would track online behavior after it purchased the DoubleClick ad platform. Sure, that’s a slap on the wrist for a huge company like Google – and it likely doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things – but their track record does matter.

“These promises about what they’re going to do with data in the context of merger approvals deserve absolutely no weight,” said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at the Open Markets Institute, which fights against monopolies all over the United States. “Especially when you’re talking about a company that has persistently violated the privacy laws, been repeatedly fined – a persistent recidivist when it comes to privacy violations.”

In fact, this year alone, Google has been fined over $170 million because its subsidiary, YouTube, has illegally tracked underage users.

With Google’s Project Nightingale, there’s no way for a patient to opt out of his or her records being shared with Google. Because Google and Ascension have the monopoly on these records and the tech they’re using to analyze them, patients have no choice.

“There’s no agency from the patient to say, ‘No, I don’t accept this,’” said Hubbard. “If they are a monopoly provider and they’re not giving them any options, patients can’t say, ‘I’m going to go to another healthcare provider.’” That may also be true for your Fitbit data, which Google is likely to combine with your health records.

What Do You Think?

Now that large companies are buying up access to data – even the most private health data – is there any hope of consumer privacy left? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so please share your opinion on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

Most Americans Don’t Understand Their Own Dementia Risks

What's Your Dementia Risk - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

If you’re like most people, you know there’s a chance that you’ll eventually suffer from dementia – but do you know what the risk factors are that could increase your chances of getting it? According to a new study published in JAMA Neurology, you probably don’t.

Here’s what you need to know.

What’s Your Dementia Risk? You May Be Surprised

Almost half of all American adults believe they’re likely to eventually develop dementia – and the results of a study conducted by Dr. Donovan Maust, a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Michigan, suggest that most people don’t understand the connections between physical and brain health.

In the study, a majority of people who rated their own health as “Fair” or “Poor” also believed that their chances of getting dementia later in life were low – and many who said they were in “Excellent” health believed that their chances of getting dementia were high.

Many study participants said they tried at least one of four unscientifically proven memory-protecting methods, such as taking supplements and doing crossword puzzles. While there’s evidence that mental stimulation can help, it does take more than crossword puzzles – like chess, reading about unfamiliar topics and taking higher education classes at an advanced age – there’s absolutely no scientific evidence that supplements can stave off the disease.

However, research has shown that regular exercise, a healthy diet and limited alcohol intake (as well as a non-smoking lifestyle) do help make dementia less likely.

“We really haven’t done a good job of getting the word out that there really are things you can do to lower your risk,” said Maust.

But the fact remains that one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. There aren’t any medications or treatments to effectively prevent it, although European research strongly suggests that it boils down to lifestyle.

What Do You Think?

Do you think you’re at risk for dementia? Why do you feel that way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so please share your opinion on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

The 9-Year-Old Who’s Graduating College

 

Laurent Simons - Carlos Gamino

By Attorney Carlos Gamino

Child prodigy Laurent Simons is earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Eindhoven University of Technology in Belgium – and apparently, it’s a tough curriculum, even for students of an average graduation age.

Laurent is a fast learner, according to professors at his school; he’s been described by staff as “simply extraordinary.” He’s rocketing through the program faster than others do, and he’s on track to conclude his studies by December. He plans to embark on a PhD program in electrical engineering while also studying for a medical degree, according to his father.

“Laurent is the fastest student we have ever had here,” said Sjoerd Hulshof, the university’s education director for electrical engineering. “Not only is he hyper-intelligent but also a very sympathetic boy.” Other educators have said “he is like a sponge” and said that he has no problem absorbing new information quickly.

Laurent’s parents are trying to keep him balanced, though.

“We don’t want him to get too serious. He does whatever he likes,” said his father, Alexander. “We need to find a balance between being a child and his talents.” And as for Laurent? He loves playing with his dog, Sammy, and playing on his phone. His main mission, though, is to develop artificial organs.

He’s an official child prodigy – in fact, he’s the textbook definition of the term. A child prodigy is a person under the age of 10 who can produce a meaningful output in any domain that’s equal to the level of an adult expert. Laurent is in good company, too. Other child prodigies included Mozart, Stevie Wonder and Blaise Pascal.

What Do You Think?

Have you been following Laurent’s story? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so please share your opinion on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Attorney Carlos Gamino

Weird News for November 2019

Narwhal the Unicorn Puppy - Carlos GaminoBy Attorney Carlos Gamino

If you’re a regular reader of this blog – and I hope you are – you’ll know that every now and then I like to cover weird news stories. This month has been filled with them, but two of the best I’ve heard are about a trio of cows who swam five miles after a hurricane and a puppy with a tail (yes, a tail) growing from its head.

The Olympic-Grade Swimming Cows

Three cows who were swept off Cedar Island on the coast of North Carolina during Hurricane Dorian somehow swam more than 5 miles, surviving under harsh conditions, and ended up roaming the Cape Lookout National Seashore Park on the state’s Outer Banks. The cows, who were presumed dead with dozens of other animals (including 28 wild horses), showed up and started grazing. Park staff noticed the first cow about a month after the storm had passed – and then, within the past two weeks, the other two revealed themselves.

The National Park Service is currently trying to figure out how to get the cows home, and one option is to sedate them and put them on a boat back to the island.

Narwhal the Unicorn Puppy

A sweet, weeks-old puppy was found abandoned in Missouri in early November. Unfortunately, that’s not uncommon – but although conditions were well below freezing and the poor pooch had the early stages of frostbite on one paw, he’s now doing exceptionally well.

And he has a tail on his forehead (hence the name Narwhal the Little Magical Furry Unicorn, but Narwhal the Unicorn Puppy for short).

After doctors examined him, they determined that the tail on his head really is a tail – but it doesn’t wag and it’s not connected to anything. He also has a tail on the other end; this one is just extra. Vets say there’s no medical reason to remove it because it doesn’t appear to bother him.

Narwhal was found with another dog – dubbed Poppa Smurf – who’s a Daschund Terrier mix. Rescuers believe Poppa Smurf may be Narwhal’s father, but they haven’t done any tests to find out. The rescue organization who has him has received dozens of adoption applications, but he’s not quite ready to go to his forever home just yet.

What Do You Think?

Do you have a weird news story to share? I’d love to hear it, so please share on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Attorney Carlos Gamino

Experts Say Vaping Bans Not Necessary Outside the U.S.

Vaping Deaths a U.S.-Based Phenomenon - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

“It’s a no-brainer – if you stay on cigarettes you will lose a day of life for every four days that you smoke,” said John Britton, a professor and respiratory medicine consultant who’s the director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at Nottingham University. A flat-out ban (on e-cigarettes) will kill people.”

But with vaping bans being considered in legislatures all over the country – and with some bans on particular flavored liquids already in effect – is that really true?

Experts seem to agree that the recent spate of vaping deaths in the United States is a localized problem. It’s not happening elsewhere.

In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern of illness in the UK or elsewhere, although Indian officials announced a ban on the sale of all e-cigarettes, citing concerns about the U.S. deaths. India has the world’s second-largest population of adult smokers.

“It would be a great shame if people were deterred from using e-cigarettes because of what’s happening in the U.S.,” said Ann McNeill, a professor of tobacco addiction at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology  and Neuroscience at King’s College in London.

Critics say that this is the influence of Big Tobacco – the companies that profit from making cigarette sales.

But there’s no denying that there are upwards of 1,299 Americans with confirmed or probable cases of serious lung injuries and deaths linked to vaping.

What Do You Think?

Do you think there’s something strange going on with vaping bans, or are they a necessity in the U.S. and elsewhere? I’d love to hear what you think about this, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or chime in on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino

Delta Airlines Helps High School Runners

Delta Airlines Helps High School Runners - Attorney Carlos GaminoBy Attorney Carlos Gamino

A high school cross country team from Ocean City, New Jersey almost missed an important track meet in Orlando when its flight, run by Frontier Airlines, was cancelled – but Delta Airlines stepped up. In a seemingly rare piece of great news, the airline caught wind of the fact that the team would miss the important event and booked all the athletes on a private jet to their destination.

Some of the kids hit social media to ask Delta for help – and it answered the call. One message read, “Super excited to fly down to Disney to run, but our flight got cancelled!!! @Delta can you help?”

Delta spokesman Drake Castaneda confirmed that the company received the messages.

A Frontier spokesman, Zach Kramer, told USA TODAY, “We became aware that a sports group, traveling to a competition, was affected by the cancellation and our team began looking at other options to get them to Orlando as soon as possible. We found the opportunity to book the group on a new flight with another airline and assisted with helping them make new travel arrangements.”

Within hours of learning the flight was cancelled, Delta officials had a plane lined up for the team. The company found a spare aircraft and called in a reserve crew to help the kids, despite the fact that Philadelphia to Orlando isn’t a normal Delta route. Fortunately for the teams, the chartered flight left at 3 a.m. and arrived in Orlando at 5 a.m., with plenty of time to spare before the races began.

It paid off, too – both the junior varsity and varsity teams earned first and second place in a variety of events.

What Do You Think?

Does this affect your opinion of either Frontier Airlines or Delta Airlines? I’d love to hear what you think about this, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or chime in on Twitter.

Attorney Carlos Gamino

Drug Distributors May Settle Opioid Legislation

Drug Distributors About to Settle - Attorney Carlos GaminoBy Attorney Carlos Gamino

Three major drug distributors – McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp., and Cardinal Health, Inc. would collectively pay $18 billion over 18 years under a deal they’re currently negotiating, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Massive lawsuits are creating a domino effect across the drug industry, in which drug makers, distributors and even pharmacies are being sued by nearly every state, as well as thousands of city and county governments. There are currently more than 2,000 lawsuits that all allege the same thing: The industry aggressively marketed prescription painkillers – particularly opioids – and operated under very loose oversight, and those two factors contributed to the opioid crisis that’s sweeping the U.S. like wildfire.

At least 400,000 people have died from opioid overdoses in the U.S. in the past 20 years, and the litigants are suing to cover communities’ costs for battling addiction.

A final deal could include other companies, in addition to the three currently in settlement talks. Some experts have suggested that settlement should include the donation of opioid addiction treatment drugs.

Some companies plan to go to war over the suits, while others – like OxyContin manufacturer Perdue Pharma LP filed for bankruptcy last month to try to implement a settlement. Still others, like Johnson & Johnson, are ready to settle and put a cap on the total liability. Johnson & Johnson released a statement that it would “remain open to viable options to resolve these cases, including through settlement.”

What Do You Think?

Do you believe the big drug companies should settle for billions? Do you think that’s enough? What would you include in the settlement? I’d love to hear what you think about this, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or chime in on Twitter.

Attorney Carlos Gamino

Toxic Algae Blooms May Be Worse Than We Thought, Scientists Say

Toxic Algae Blooms May Be Worse Than We Thought, Scientists Say - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

Potentially toxic algae blooms in freshwater lakes all over the world – including many in Wisconsin – have become much more intense over the past 30 years. Even worse, rising temperatures make it harder for lakes to bounce back, paving the way for more toxic blooms and creating a cycle that’s going to be difficult to get out of.

The Wisconsin DNR advises people not to swim during a blue-green algae bloom, which can cause illness or death in people and pets. Some of the symptoms of toxicity from these blooms include stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle weakness and difficulty breathing – and those carry over to pets, as well.

Blue-green algae, a form of Cyanobacteria, is basically what you call “pond scum.” It doesn’t have to be blue-green, either. It’s been recorded as blue, green, reddish-purple and brown, as well. This type of bacteria grows well in lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams, especially when the water is warm. It grows quickly, creating floating mats of algae. Usually, these blooms occur between mid-June and late September in Wisconsin, but as temperatures rise, we’re likely to see them earlier and later in the year.

These toxic blooms aren’t confined to Wisconsin. They’re becoming more widespread all over the world, putting hundreds of aquatic species (as well as humans and other animals) in danger. The booms cost the U.S. about $4 billion annually because they damage drinking water, agriculture and the tourism industry.

What Do You Think?

Have you seen a blue-green algae bloom in a lake or pond near your house? Please feel free to share your photos with us on social media so others know what to look for – and share your thoughts about these toxic blooms on my Facebook page or chime in on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino