Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Mouse Wars Part 3 - One Gone


We now know for sure there are (or were) at least 2 mice - we saw them both today. They were in the middle of the living room, and appeared to be scrapping. I scared them away when I entered the room and they went behind the couch. #3 son got the small blue garbage can ready and we watched. One tried to make a dash in the direction of the door when #3 son dropped the can on top of it.

I grabbed a piece of poster board and slipped it carefully under the upside down can. We slowly flipped the can over and took it outside. There is a large field on the other side of a wooden fence about 150 feet away from the house. We tossed the mouse over the fence. Hopefully, it's not like a dog and able to find its way back.

We chased the other mouse around for a few minutes. It ran into the kitchen under the refrigerator. When I pulled the refrigerator out it ran over my foot back into the living room. We eventually lost it under the couch again.

The gap in the stairs is about to be sealed. This will eliminate another hiding place for them. Perhaps with the loss of hiding places we can successfully catch the ones which remain and get them outside. Our only other hope is that they will eat the poison. So far I think we've had a couple nibbles at it, but no sign of any actual deaths.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Mouse Wars Part 2 - The Mice Find Another Way


I appears, perhaps, the mice were not entering our apartment through the cracks in the back of the closet we found yesterday. The sneaky buggers were using the closet as a "way point" hiding place to get into the kitchen and/or the bird cage. It was a clever diversion, but one we won't fall for again.

Common wisdom tells us if we see one rodent, there are more. We think we have visual confirmation: a dark brown and a light brown mouse.

There is an alcove between the stairs and the closet in which we patched up the cracks yesterday. We saw a mouse sneak past the small Christmas tree we have set up in front of the alcove and then run around the corner into the kitchen. I followed, but I didn't see where in the kitchen it went. I suspect it followed the wall behind the trash can and the water dispenser, then under the refrigerator. 

Later, we saw what we suspect was another mouse sneak out from under the closet door and around the corner into the kitchen. I followed again, but it was too fast for me.

Upon closer inspection of the alcove and and stairs area we found a small gap between the bottom stair and the wall of the staircase. It's partially covered in carpet, so it was not easily seen while standing above it. This crack won't be as easy to patch as the cracks in the back of the closet. Here, we will probably need to wedge something in the crack to seal it. I'm thinking we could use a soft wood wedge, like those which come in a HAZMAT barrel patching kit.

In the meantime I did lay out some poison. I would still rather not kill it (them), but I don't see a way to catch them unharmed so I can release them outside. Perhaps if we can seal off all the entrances to our apartment, they'll go somewhere else. That would be fine with me. But, with the poor attention to detail which went into this place, there could be dozens of gaps and cracks around the walls. Today we'll concentrate around the alcove and the gap we found in the stairs. Afterwards, we'll have to deal with the situation as it presents itself.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Mouse Wars Begin

What we've suspected for the past few days was confirmed last night: we have a mouse in our apartment.

Our suspicions started with the faint sound of scratching under the stairs. It was later reinforced when we heard it again just a little louder somewhere behind the kitchen cabinets. Last night, we saw the varmint. It was sneaking out from under a closet door and ran around the corner into the kitchen.

We suspect it's getting food from the bottom of the bird cage. Sidney knocks food down off his feeder shelf onto the floor of the cage so he can scratch around (it's a big cage - about 4 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 5 feet tall). There is a gap where the bottom door meets the frame of the cage which is too small for Sidney to squeeze through, but wide enough for a mouse.

Now the question is: how do we get rid of it? I called our apartment management the other day and the most they would do for us is give us some poison bait, so we're pretty much on our own. Mice have a very important part to play in our ecosystem - outside - so I really would rather not kill it. Unfortunately, I don't know of a way to catch it live for release. Mice are very good at avoiding traps but terrible at avoiding poisons. I can't recall ever seeing a live catch trap for a mouse.

We pulled everything out of the closet we saw it come out of and found some cracks where the skirting board along the back wall meets the skirting boards which go along the side walls. (The builders didn't really pay attention to detail when they built this place). We filled the cracks with silicone caulk and inspected all the boxes in the closet for signs of nesting. After we put everything back in the closet, we heard some scratching under the stairs - where the cracks in the closet led. Perhaps we've sealed it in and it'll have to find another way out - preferably outside.

For now we wait and watch.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Illegal To Be Annoying

City officials in Brighton, Michigan recently passed a law making it illegal to be annoying. It reads in part:"It shall be unlawful for a person to engage in a course of conduct or repeatedly commit acts that alarm or seriously annoy another person and that serve no legitimate purpose." The law was purposely written so that a police officer has the authority to determine what is annoying.

OK - now I'm annoyed. It's hard to understand what these folks were thinking. This gives the police some pretty extraordinary power to detain people based on their own opinion of what's annoying. This opens up the floodgates for people to be arrested and fined for picketing the city hall, for having a disagreement with a neighbor, or letting kids play touch football in the street. These may be "frivolous" examples, but that's where this kind of law can lead.

Bottom line: This type of law is unconstitutional. The good people in Brighton (and Royal Oak - where a similar law was passed) should be annoying their city leaders for passing this ridiculous law and demand it be repealed.

If you read the article linked below, you will also note the Brighton police chief used to work in Royal Oak and now works in Brighton. Coincidence? I think not.

Read the full story on Click On Detroit.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Short Twitter Survey

Recently, fellow tweeter Rick Osborne and I had a tweet-versation about how to best tweet blog postings and other kinds of promotions. I questioned him when he re-tweeted his own tweet about a blog posting on his site a number of times throughout the day.

He had good reasoning for posting as he did. He has several hundred followers who are spread in many different time zones. He was going under the assumption that his followers may only read the first page of tweets and therefore might miss the tweet about the blog posting.

When I go on Twitter, I go back and read all the new posts starting with where I left off during my last visit. My question to him was based on the assumption that most people use Twitter like I do, going back where one left off and reading all the tweets going forward. Under that assumption, repeated posts might be considered tweet spam.

I think we both have valid assumptions; but, since they are both based on how we do things I thought it would be a good idea to ask around and see how others read posts on Twitter. To that end, I've created the following survey to learn how others read posts in Twitter and what they might consider spam.

Please answer the following questions and help us learn about your Twitter habits. After a few days I'll share the results with everyone here. Please feel free to tweet this around your circle.



Sunday, December 21, 2008

Live Tweets From A Plane Crash

This morning I read an AP story by P. Solomon Banda about the plane crash of a Houston-bound Continental airliner where someone actually live-tweeted about the crash. You can read Mike Wilson's tweets here: http://twitter.com/2drinksbehind. I don't think I would have the presence of mind to even think about Twitter, but Mike even took a photo on his phone and posted it.

I don't know Mike, but I have to say: well done. I'm glad you made it out OK and thank you for sharing about your experience.

Background:

For those of you who don't "tweet" Twitter is a micro-blogging site. It's a place where people can post their thoughts and observations. It's called "micro" because each post has a strict limit of 140 characters. It's a great place to connect with friends and family throughout the day.

I highly recommend checking it out. If you want an interesting experience, click on the "Everyone" link and read the posts. What you will read are the last 20 tweets posted to the site. You get a very interesting perspective of the stream of consciousness of people around the world.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Whataburger Love in Michigan

My mom enjoys Whataburger. The only problem is, there are none in Michigan where she lives. So, she's limited to visiting when she comes to Texas for a visit.

For the past couple of years, I've thought about getting her some Whataburger merchandise on a gift-giving occasion. I didn't do it until this Christmas, though. I ordered her a Whataburger mouse pad, which looks like one of Whataburger's ketchup containers, and a Whataburger 50th anniversary coffee mug.

Little did I know that my step-dad was a "Whatafan" too. He appropriated the mouse pad. Now I hear they are racing to the kitchen in the morning so they can be first to grab the Whatamug.

I ordered him a whatamug this morning. I can't have those two acting like a couple of kids, can I?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ugly Scott

My friend Scott is anything but ugly. But, who am I to argue? Whatever he may call his blog, his point of view is unique, thought-provoking and entertaining all at the same time. I invite you to check him out at Ugly Scott.

I Have No Taste - Follow Up

I reported in an earlier post I was having trouble with my senses of smell and taste. You can read it here if you missed it.

I'm happy to report that since starting on the zinc and magnesium supplements my taste and smell are working rather well. I rarely get the burning smell which plagued me and I'm starting to taste things better.

Please remember, if you smell odd things which no one else does go see your doctor. Although rare, these sensations can be indicators of serious health conditions. It's nice to know, though, that if the odd smells are not from a serious health condition that treatment is available.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beef and Blizzards in Deming

A friend of mine often insisted the World's best Dairy Queen was in Deming, New Mexico. Having never been to Deming, I didn't completely understand why. But, he insisted nonetheless, and was quite adamant about it. I remained neutral on the subject until I had a chance to stop there.

Deming was a small city (maybe it still is), on Interstate 10 between El Paso and Tucson. It's about 1/3 the way to Tucson, and about 2/3 the way to El Paso - depending on which direction you go. I was once on a four-day weekend and decided to drive to Tucson from El Paso to visit my friend. On my way, I had to stop to see what he was talking about.


View Larger Map

Coming from either direction, all the food places were on Pine Street, just south of the interstate. On the east side of town was the Dairy Queen, and on the west was the Arby's. Two of my favorite fast food places, what more could I ask for?

The Dairy Queen wasn't all that much different from the Dairy Queens found in Texas. I did find there were two things which made this DQ stand out: 1. it was in a great location to stop when travelling through the desert and 2. the people were very, very nice. 

When I got to Tucson, I had to tell my friend he was absolutely right about that Dairy Queen, it really was the World's best.

When my boys were small, even before #3 son was born, we loved to eat at Arby's. When we would drive there, I'd get them bouncing in the back seat (as much as one can bounce strapped into a child car seat or booster seat) yelling "Beef, beef, beef, beef, ... !" It was our favorite meal: Beef!

On another occasion, I was driving from Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to El Paso. My family had come to see me graduate from an Army school there and we were on our way back to visit my in-laws in El Paso until we flew back to Germany where we were stationed. During my six month stay at "The 'Chuc'" I drove to El Paso almost every weekend to visit my family. On those trips, I ate quite a few meals at that Arby's (and the World's greatest DQ). I was more than familiar with the road, and exactly how long it took to get to Deming going in either direction.

Heading west to El Paso, about 20 miles outside of Deming, the signs started to appear. They weren't large billboard signs, but smaller signs set just about eye-level, attached to the supports of the larger signs. The signs were shaped like the distinctive Arby's hat, and had the number of miles until the Deming Arby's printed on them. "20 miles to Arby's," "10 Miles to Arby's," "5 Miles to Arby's," (the anticipation is growing) "Arby's - Next Exit." We started bouncing and yelling at the first sign. For 20 minutes we were hollering out "Beef! Beef! Beef!" By the time we pulled into the parking lot we were in a carniverous frenzy and we'd worked up a big appetite.

There is one visit to that Arby's which really causes it to stand out in my memory.

On one of those weekend trips to El Paso, I was riding with an acquaintance who also had family in El Paso. We stopped at the Arby's (of course, I insisted). We got there about 5 minutes to 9:00 pm. I never lived in a small city like Deming, so it never occurred to me that they would be closing at 9. We walked in, ordered, and waited for our food. Then I heard someone back in the kitchen remark something like he'd just finished cleaning the fryer area. I asked, what time they closed? The person who took our order replied that they closed at 9.

Both of us tried to cancel our orders. We insisted, quite strongly, that they not mess everything up on our account. The workers in the place had already started preparing our order and insisted they would never turn away any customer before closing time. They even refused our request to change our "dine-in" order to a "to-go" one. I was very impressed by this, not so much because the entire crew chimed in agreeing that no customer should be turned away before nine, but more because there was not one real "adult" in the entire group. They all looked like high school kids, and most of them probably were. That really stuck in my head even after more than 10 years.

I don't have much call to drive through Deming any more. You can be sure, though, if I do I'll be having beef and Blizzards.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Four "Gotchas" In ASP.NET 3.5

I learned 4 things about developing ASP.NET applications in the 3.5 Framework today:

1. Importing/converting a .NET 2.0 user control may not work. You might have to create a new user control and copy the code from the 2.0 version control to paste it into the new one.

2. When you create a new web page, don't do the right-click, "Add" then "New Item" thing. You won't get to select a master page if you go that way. Instead, right-click on the master page and select "Add Content Page." Why they changed it from the old method I have no idea.

3. Web.Config files are a special issue. You might find it best to copy the code from an already-existing 3.5 app and paste it into your new web.config. (This will mostly apply to my colleagues since we share code and have settled on standardized web.config files for the most part.)

4. When you publish, if Visual Studio insists on creating App_Code and App_Data files instead of compiling the files in those folders into a dll in the bin folder, right-click on the web root then click on "Convert To Web Application." That will change the build. This is another step added in that we didn't have to do before and one which makes no sense. If you try to run the app with those two files, the Framework kicks off an error telling you those folders are not allowed. Why even have an option where one can keep them?

I know some of you are out there wondering why I didn't know this before we went from VS2005 to VS2008. I find I learn things better by doing rather than just reading about it. Although the learning time might be longer, I'll retain the knowledge better and make up the time later.

Ambidextrous

I was at the bank the other day with my wife opening an account. The lady helping us was ambidextrous. I watched as she moused with her right hand and wrote with her left at the same time. I mentioned to my wife what a time-saver that would be for me if I could do that. It's like the lady I know who can write with both hands simultaneously - and have what she wrote in both hands be perfectly legible.

What a handy skill (no pun intended). (Well, maybe a little pun).

I wonder if I could practice enough to master left-handed mousing and right-handed writing. Maybe I'll try that some day.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Hilton Hot Water Update

The week after I returned from the Texas EMS Conference, I used the contact us form on www.hilton.com to complain about the hot water problem I had at the downtown Fort Worth Hilton. (You can read more about that here and here).

I wasn't expecting too much more than an apology, so when I received a reply the next day from a Guest Relations Specialist in Memphis giving me a reference number for my complaint it was a bit of a surprise. Later that same day, I received another email from the Front Office Manager of the Fort Worth Hilton offering me 5000 HHonors points.

Naturally, I took the 5000 points, but also stressed in my reply that I told them about my problem so they would fix the hot water situation. Hopefully they will follow up and make some changes.

My group will be attending next year's EMS Conference, again in Fort Worth. If we end up staying there I'm still going to check the hot water as soon as we check in.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Local Radio Disappears

I don't live in a big city, so my choice of radio stations is somewhat limited. This is exacerbated to a large degree because many of the local radio stations are owned by one large national company.

I like to listen to talk radio, especially when the talk is about local happenings. The local talk station (also owned by the big conglomerate) features syndicated shows most of the day, but the morning and evening drive time show were local hosts talking to local people about local events. That is, until this past week.

The morning guy was let go. Granted, he was only doing radio part time, so he'll land on his feet. The real bad thing is now we have to listen to The Wall Street Journal Report. My goodness that is a bad show. It's like CNN Headline News for radio, only worse. I had to turn it off the other day because it was driving me nuts. They play ESPN Radio at night and on weekends. I'm not that huge a sports fan, but at least the people on ESPN Radio are interesting and entertaining. That would have been a far better choice.

I emailed the radio station yesterday to express my displeasure and disappointment at their choice of programming. I went to their web site and sent an email to the address shown on their contact us page. A few minutes ago I got a reply - the email bounced. No such domain.

Why is it that we have to put up with so much schlock? It's all very disappointing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Please Help The Salvation Army

My sisters are in the process of kicking off a non-profit organization the purpose of which is to help raise money for other non-profit groups and to provide scholarships for those who wish to become firefighters to help pay their way through the fire academies. The group is called Chadderbox and is named for my brother-in-law, Chad Wessels, who was a firefighter killed in the line of duty a few years ago. Chad was the kind of guy who never met a stranger and liked to chat with everyone he met, thus the name "Chadderbox."

Much to my shame, their website at www.chadderbox.org is showing GoDaddy's domain parking page. Click on the link anyway, by the time you read this it might be up and running.

Thankfully, my lack of attention to the web site has not stopped me nor the other members of Chadderbox from fulfulling the mission to raise money for other non-profit organizations. 'Tis the season for the Salvation Army's kettle campaign and the Chadderbox folks have set a goal to raise $10,000 for the Salvation Army during the holiday season, and we need your help. Please consider donating to this worthy organization. I know how busy The Salvation Army was in Texas assisting those affected by hurricane Ike this past fall and I'm sure they'd like to be ready to help with disaster relief again when the time comes. Please click on the link below and give what you can. Thank you!

Personal fundraising widget for 2008 Red Kettle campaign

By the way, the web geek in me loves the Salvation Army's web site. It was very easy to set this campaign up, join, and create the widget which generates the link above. They are very web savvy. Hats off to them for making it easy and fun to help.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dramatize

My wife and I were talking about people who always seem to have some sort of drama going on in their lives, be it real or imagined. I don't know if this is the first time it's been used this way, but upon getting off the phone with a drama queen we know, she said that she'd been "dramatized."

I thought it quite apt and offer this new definition of dramatize: To endlessly talk about your problems, real or imagined, to someone else usually while dominating the conversation. "I hate to talk to Ashly, all she does is dramatize."

Dramatized: to have been talked at about someone else's ongoing "drama," normally only because one wants to appear to be polite. "I just got off the phone with Joe and I'm dramatized from his endless problems."

Let's spread the word of the day - dramatize!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Texas EMS Conference - Day 3

The first session of the morning was entitled "The Emergency Reponse to Africanized Honey Bees" by Dr. Bryan Bledsoe. Here are some points he brought up:
  • Because someone is stung so many times in an Africanized attack there is not only an allergic reaction risk but also a risk of invenomnation. Even though the venom is no more potent than European bees' but because they sting more during an attack more venom is introduced to the stingee.
  • It's hard to tell the difference between africanized and European bees.
  • Bee venom contains histamine, pheromones, enzymes, peptides, acids and amino acids.
  • Brazilian researchers were experimenting with interbreeding africanized and European honey bees to try to get more honey. Several swarms escaped and the bees began to spread north.
  • The bees migrate north at about 200 miles per year. They are now around San Francisco across the country and are even found in Florida.
  • Africanized bees prefer to nest in the ground.
  • It's important to make a plan to respond to bee attacks.
  • Persons who are allergic should not respond to bee attacks even if they are on duty to avoid EMS personnel becoming patients.
  • It's a good idea to have a list of experts in dealing with africanized bees to assist.
  • A good thing to also have a bee response cache with beekeeping clothing, duct tape, and allergic reaction meds.
  • Fire personnel can use water to knock the bees down enough to affect a rescue, but this is only temporary. In order to kill the bees foam or soapy water must be used.
  • There is a device called BeeAlert™ which can be deployed to kill the bees. It uses a proprietary surfactant in a fog which will drown bees. The product can also be sprayed on victims to kill the attacking bees.
  • Victims need to be carefully evaluated for systemic versus localized reactions. Remove the stingers to relieve pain and stop continuing envenomnation. Consider prophylactic diphenhydramine. Victims with systemic reactions should be transported.
Dr. Bledsoe was the speaker for the next session entitled "Neurological Trauma." He reviewed the physiology of brain injury, signs and symptoms, and treatment options. It was a very good review with some new things - at least new to me.

The Hilton had hot water problems again this morning. My roomie told me he waited about an hour for the hot water to come for his shower in the evening. I don't think we'll stay in this hotel again.

Overall, it was a good event. I learned a bit from the sessions I attended - lots of new information.

Now, it comes time to head home. I hope the traffic isn't too bad. Considering this is the busiest travel day of the year, I'm not too optimistic.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Texas EMS Conference - Day 2

First, a note about the hot water: There was hot water this morning and I didn't have to wait very long to get it. I'm glad for that since I was late waking up. My phone locked up sometime in the middle of the night and didn't go off when it was supposed to.

The first session of the morning was entitled: "Precious Cargo: Pediatric Emergencies" and was presented by Bolleter. He had a few points to make regarding pediatric calls and why they shouldn't be difficult:
  • Don't Panic
  • Take a systematic approach to each call (do the same thing every time and be thorough)
  • Look beyond the obvious
  • Follow your protocols
  • Be aggressive - remember: Ventilation, Oxygenation and Perfusion
The main thing to do is to look for something "that just ain't right."

The second morning session was presented by Dr. Racht and was titled "The Twenty Most Important Things." And here they are:
  • Resuscitation
  • Hypothermia - post arrest hypothermia. This is new and important. I don't know much about it, so I attended a session on it in the afternoon.
  • Airway Management
  • Breathing - remember not to over-ventilate
  • Stroke Management
  • Spinal Movement Restriction
  • Infectious Diseases - like MSRA in particular
  • The Medicine of Dispatch - dispatch operators instructing the caller on how to assist until help arrives. They can help quite a bit.
  • Acute Coronary Syndrome
  • End Title Carbon dioxide
  • Interoperability (this is still an issue, though it is getting better)
  • Weirdos - like those who would perpetrate mass casualties
  • Hospital Diversion - Dr. Racht says this practice needs to stop
  • Determination of Death in the Field - we need to get better at this
  • Keeping Up - there is ALWAYS something new to learn
  • EMS Designated Receiving Centers - those emergency departments which specialize in certain areas
  • Errors - we need to be more open about mistakes so we can learn from them
  • Turf and turf wars. This has to go
  • "Customer Service" Pre-hospital, in-hospital, we need to make sure we're doing the right thing, taking care of the patients physical as well as emotional needs. We also need to be sure we treat everyone with respect.
  • Love what you do and do what you love - if you don't love EMS then go do something else.
The final morning session I attended was presented by Dr. Pepe entitled "US Trauma Care: Experience in Iraq." This was a very informative talk dealing mostly with trauma care.

One thing Dr. Pepe stressed was not to ventilate so much that positive pressure builds up in the chest, thus slowing or stopping blood flow back to the heart for recirculation. This is something which goes against was I was taught in school which was to bag fast and bag often. Studies are starting to show that for those patients who have hypoperfusion and hypovolemia will more likely have a bad outcome if they are ventilated too much. Bagging needs to be done much slower, around 12 times per minute. Overzealous positive-pressure ventilation hurts patients more than it helps. Also, bleeding must be stopped before fluid resuscitation begins. Otherwise, you're just wasting your time.

Another thing Dr. Pepe brought up which is something I've heard a little about the use of tourniquets. Because of faster response times, quicker time to definitive care and improvements in treatment, any damage which might be caused by the tourniquet can be repaired. It's better to save that person's life than to worry about losing an extremity.

The first session after lunch was entitled "Liability For Negligence of Paramedics and First Responders" given by Kevin Madison who is an attorney and an EMT with a volunteer service.

Kevin discussed current statues and case law regarding negligence in lawsuits in Texas (of course, I'm not an attorney nor do I profess any legal knowledge other than my opinion based on what Kevin said. If you have any questions, please contact Kevin at his web site: www.code3law.com).

The current wording of the "Good Samaritan" law in Texas indicates that EMTs (basic, intermediate or paramedic) are considered "First Responders" and are not to be help liable for damages unless there is willful and wanton (gross) negligence. Current case law, Dunlap versus Young being one example, also holds that the statue covers EMTs.

But, this exemption is not spelled out as clearly in the statue as it could be. The law reads, in effect, that only those who are licensed in the "healing arts" can be held liable for simple negligence. Those licensed professions are listed in another statute and do not include any level of EMT.

The question comes to mind, and has been argued by plaintiffs seeking damages from EMTs, that since paramedics are licensed under Texas law, they should be included in the simple negligence category. The courts, however, have disagreed.

No cases challenging this interpretation of the law has yet made it to the Texas Supreme Court, so the question is still somewhat up in the air. The way to fix this is to lobby our legislators to change the wording of the "Good Samaritan" statute and specifically include EMTs in the language.

The next session was given by Kelly Grason (www.kellygrason.com) and covered tips for handling those occasions when a patient is violent and needs to be restrained. The bottom line is that all EMS services need to have plans and protocols in place to cover these types of incidents. Most don't. Also, most times it's best to let LEOs handle restraining since they are specifically trained to do so. If a patient is restrained by LEO, make that LEO ride with you in the back of the ambulance.

The last session was a fun and entertaining story session by Kelly Grason and Gary Saffer. They told some funny stories with some good lessons on what not to do as an EMS provider. I'm told Kelly has a book out which can be purchased off his web site (linked above). I'll bet it's a fun read.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Texas EMS Conference - Day 1

The EMS Conference kicked off this morning with the keynote address by Dr. John Griswell who spoke on medical ethics. That's a tough sell first thing in the morning, and it's tough to make it interesting, but he did a pretty good job and he brought up some good points:
  • Doctors and EMS are in the medical practice together and neither can function alone.
  • Ethics is not legality. Legal standards are minimum standards. Ethical standards should go above legality.
  • One common denominator in unethical behavior us a sense of entitlement or superiority. "We're better than they are so we can use them," or "They were going to die anyway" statements can be used to rationalize ethical lapses such as in Nazi Germany or in many ethical lapses in the US.
The second session I attended was entitled "America's School Shootings" by Ken Bouvier. His was a very informative and entertaining presentation. Don't get me wrong, the subject was totally serious and Ken was serious. But, he did throw in a joke or two at tasteful and appropriate times. Some of the main points of his presentation were:
  • School shootings have been going on for a long time and will happen again. It's up to the police, fire and EMS communities to have a plan in place in case it happens in their area.
  • The scenes are usually chaotic and inherently unsafe. Sometimes EMS crews will have to jump in before the "all clear" is given. It could take up to an hour for things to settle down enough to where things are truly "safe."
  • The kids who perpetrate school shootings fit a certain profile:
    • History of clinical depression or signs of clinical depression which were not noted until after the fact
    • History of suicidal thoughts or actions
    • Had low self-esteem
    • Tended towards satanic and/or Nazi ideals
    • Were taking Ritalin and sometimes another anti-depressant
    • Many were late bed-wetters
    • Most were members of broken homes
    • Almost all were victims of some kind of abuse
It is mostly incumbent on the parents to lock up their guns securely and to only allow kids to use them under proper supervision - especially if they have some of the profile signs listed above.

The last session of the morning was entitled "The ABCs of Cardiac Arrest: Is the 'B' Necessary?" given by Ken Navarro. Ken made some very interesting observations about assisting cardiac arrest victims with compression-only CPR (or CCR - Cardio-Cerebral Resuscitation):
  • Despite changes in ALS techniques, there has been no statistical increase in survivals of cardiac arrest victims.
  • Studies have show there is no real statistical increase in out of hospital cardiac arrest patients, and good-quality CPR is most effective.
  • CPR techniques need to be taught properly and graded objectively. Most people cannot tell if they are compressing deep enough, fast enough and allowing the proper time between compressions.
  • Starting in the 16th century and continuing until the 19th, a fireplace bellows was commonly used to resuscitate those in respiratory arrest. (Trivial fact which was interesting to me)
  • Compressing the heart alone isn't responsible for moving blood around the body during compressions. It's also the effect of pressure change in the chest which helps move things along. Compressions must be deep enough to change the pressure in the chest to sufficiently help the heart move blood.
  • Often times, while using a BVM, too much pressure is built up in the chest so blood movement is either slowed or stopped because the blood can't get into the heart to get pumped.
  • Studies show that bystander no-compression CPR is no less effective than more traditional methods.
  • A Wisconsin study showed (again) that good quality compressions make the most difference when determining what will lead to greater survivability.
It was a very interesting session.

The afternoon kicked off with a presentation by Kirk Mittleman entitled "Critical Calls Take Critical Thinking." 

He started off the session by showing two video clips showing the importance of seat belt usage and how wearing them can increase the survivability of people in motor vehicle collisions. The first was by the Montana Department of Transportation called "Room To Live" which stressed the fact that there is room to live inside a vehicle during a collision and that being ejected raises the chances of being killed. It is quite a moving story. The second was of a related topic showing how one person not wearing a seat belt can cause injury or death to the other passengers even if they are belted. Here's where you can catch it on YouTube

The rest of the presentation was quite good, but I really think these two videos should be the highlights of it. I plan to show these to my kids (one drives, another is about to, and the youngest needs to make sure to wear his belts).

Dr. Ed Racht and Dr. Paul Pepe gave a great talk entitled "In-Hospital Care Driven by EMS" which pointed out examples of equipment and techniques which started in EMS and made their was into hospitals instead of the other way around. Those in EMS have always had to be more "creative" and find ways to get things done for their patients outside the "nice" confines of a hospital. EMS is also aided by hospitals which now specialize in types of care (i.e. trauma, stroke, sepsis, pediatrics, etc.). 

Dr. Racht talked about a web site which rates hospitals by certain criteria based on surveys taken by patients of those hospitals: www.hospitalcompare.nhs.gov. I just checked out some of the hospitals in my area and it was a bit of an eye-opener. I recommend you check it out.

The last session of the day I attended was called "Port-Partum Pre-Eclampsia" given by John Rinard. Not knowing much about pre-eclampsia I found it quite informative. It's especially telling that pre-eclampsia and eclampsia can occur up to 4 weeks post-partum. I had no idea that was the case.

We're staying at the Hilton. It's a nice place with a bit of history. This is the former "Hotel Texas" which is where John F. Kennedy stayed the night before he was shot in Dallas. There are pictures hung all around the building showing President Kennedy at various times around the hotel that fateful morning.

I have a complaint about the accomodations. In the bathroom are the "obligatory" signs inviting guests to help save the Earth by reusing their towels. It's a nice idea, which I often do. But, I think it's rather hypocritical to ask us to save the Earth by reusing our towels when I have to run the water for 10 minutes before it gets hot enough to shave with. That's very wasteful. I know it might be petty, but I've shaved with cold water enough times that I know I don't like it. Although there is not sticker on the back of the door indicating how much the room is worth per night, I'm sure we're paying enough for there to be hot water without waiting that long.
** Follow up on the hot water situation **

There is also a low-flow shower head in the tub. Hotel owners and managers: please hear this - "low-flow" and "water-saving" does not have to mean low water pressure. You can have both water savings and high pressure.

Now, that's not to say I'm totally dissatisfied with the hotel. It's good, but I expect a bit more from the Hilton name.

Dinner this evening was at The Reata. Very good chicken-fried steak and excellet desserts. If you're in Downtown Fort Worth it's definitely worth stopping by.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Texas EMS Conference - The Day Before

We drove up to Fort Worth this afternoon to get ready for the Texas EMS Conference which begins tomorrow at 8:30am. The trip itself was uneventful, other than the unusually high traffic volume compared to other Sundays I've made the trip north. We made our obligatory stop at the Czech Stop in West to get some poppy seed kolache (yes, that the way it's spelled in Tex-Czech and I know it's not a "real" kolac if it has stuff other than fruit on it - but they are so good).

After we checked into the hotel, we headed over to the convention center to check out the exhibition hall. There were a lot of EMS services actively recruiting - I guess showing that medical care is a real recession
-proof field. No matter what the economy is like, people get sick and hurt and need assistance.

I took some pictures of a few interesting vehicles. Harris County EMS had some new vehicles on
 display. I like the new Dodge Charger, though I think it would have been excellent in red or yellow (the Charger being one of the only cars I think looks good in yellow). The
 ambulance looks good in the same color scheme.










There was another, smaller, vehicle on display which I can only describe as a Segway on steroids. there were two models, one which looked pretty basic and the same basic setup, but with plastic motorcycle saddle bags.





































We had dinner at Razzoo's, which is a chain restaurant featuring Cajun style food. I hadn't eaten at one before, but we went on the recommendation of one of our group. He did not disappoint, either. The food was excellent and I ate way too much. There is a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse connected to the hotel. I've never eaten at Ruth's Chris and have wanted to try one. Although we are limited in what we can claim on an expense report, we might eat there tomorrow and "eat" the cost over the limit ourselves.

I heard someone call on 146.52 a while ago, but didn't respond when I called back. I'm beginning to think the antenna which came with my Yaesu VX-3 is very limited. The higher gain antenna I purchased separately is rather long and somewhat inconvenient to carry, but it seems to make a huge difference in my transmission strength. I might just switch to it permanently. I'm also thinking a telescoping whip might work well, too. With that I can collapse it for monitoring and extend it when necessary.

I'll write up some thoughts about the sessions I attend tomorrow. I'm looking forward to some good instruction.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Obama Makes Me Go "Hmmmmm"

This took me rather by surprise: Obama's campaign web site was retooled to ask people to assist the victims of recent fires in California by donating to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army or by volunteering to help via Governor Schwarzenegger's Californiavolunteers.org web site.

To say I'm very pleasantly surprised by this would be an understatement. Obama has leaned towards the "big government" side of things, so to see him do something like this is very interesting to me. I've oft quoted John Kennedy's words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." I think of those words as a cry for people to stop asking the government to help all the time and take care of themselves and help their neighbors. I'm all for Americans helping Americans.

Still, I have to wonder if this is how an Obama Presidency will look once he takes charge. We shall see, we shall see.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Have A Problem With Government Bailouts

I have a BIG problem with the proposed bailout packages being put together in Congress. I understand why this huge cash infusion is desired, I understand it's a huge political nightmare for those in power to not do anything about the economy, and I'm willing to go along with dumping money into the economy (though begrudgingly). I don't, however, think it's a good idea for the government to borrow (or just print more) money to do it. Isn't that how we got into the mess in the first place?

My main complaint is: the Federal Government has no business buying ownership stakes in individual businesses. I believe this is an unconstitutional power creep into the affairs of private businesses. (I use the term private as a general description of businesses which don't belong to the government whether they are public or private companies or corporations.)

I, again begrudgingly, went along with the idea of the Federal Government buying up bad debt from banks and other lending institutions. I don't think it is within the purview of government to own land, except that land on which government installations are built on. Buying mortgages or property would at least have an "end game" to it. Once the economy starts growing again, the government could easily sell any unpaid securities back to private companies and sell any property it gained and use the profits to pay off some of the national debt. 

What happens, though, when the government starts buying pieces of private companies? Where's the end game in that? To be sure, we may hear things like "It's only temporary" or "Once things are going OK we'll sell the stocks back to the public," etc. But I don't think it's going to be that simple. Government programs, once started, have a nasty habit of never going away.

Why do I see this as a bad idea? Here's why:

First - where is this stock going to come from? Shares of stocks already out in the public market have already benefited the companies which issued them. They issued the shares, those shares were purchased, and the companies have already received what they were going to get. If the government comes in and start buying those shares already on the market, the price per share may go up, but the issuing companies really don't get any benefit from that action. And, if the government decides to divest itself of the shares, the prices will drop from the sudden availability of those shares.

As I see it, in order for the government to actually infuse money into companies, those companies will have to issue new shares for purchase. This will put money into the companies, but would dilute the shares already outstanding and thus possibly cause another drop in the markets. That certainly won't help those who already own shares. If the companies issue new shares and then purchase those shares directly back, the possible negative impact on the outstanding shares might be lessened. Still, the stock markets are strange entities and tend to fluctuate for no reason at all and just the action of issuing new shares might make the outstanding shares lose their value.

Second - When the government owns shares of stock, how much influence will it have over the running of those companies of which they hold shares? I've already heard more than once that the government should have a say in how the companies are run to make sure their (our) money isn't wasted. Of course, the government knows just how to not waste money, don't they? Really though, the government already wields a lot of influence over companies through regulations and taxes. How much more influence will they want? I see this as a major problem with any stock buying scheme. It's tantamount to nationalizing a large sector of the economy, and that is never a good thing. 

I think we need to be very wary of any bailout which involves government ownership of private companies. Ronald Reagan put it best when he said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" I've written before in this space and I reiterate here: The more freedoms we yield to the Federal Government, the more we head towards having no freedoms at all. If we go along with this plan, I can almost guarantee there will be a new government bureaucracy out there which will be set up to manage "our" stock portfolio before the end of Obama's first term.

So, you may be thinking to yourself, "What ideas do you have to fix things?" I'm glad you asked, because there is an example from history which might show a far better solution.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, the economy was in a bad way. As I recall, things then were far worse than they are now. Living in the Detroit area in those days, I remember things being especially tough for the auto industry. Like today, they were making the wrong cars at the wrong time and, unlike today, the quality of those cars was very, very bad.

All of the "Big 3" were having financial problems caused by losing sales to imports and because the economy was bad overall. However, Chrysler was, by far, the worst off. Like today, they were on the verge of collapse, and that collapse would have put many more thousands out of work. Prospects were rather bleak, to say the least.

Then, along came Lee Iacocca. He was a business genius and knew the auto industry inside and out. He had a plan to revive Chrysler, but in order to put it into action he needed cash. Instead of going to the government for a hand out, he asked for a hand up. He got leaders in the Congress to go along with loan guarantees so Chrysler could borrow money again. This turned out to be a great move for everyone concerned.

Iacocca was able to revive Chrysler very quickly, and managed to pay off all the loans he made based on those government guarantees within a few short years. Not only did he get Chrysler back on its feet and moving in the right direction, he also purchased the languishing American Motors Company and helped keep its Jeep division alive under the Chrysler name. This is truly a fantastic success story, and one I think bears scrutiny today.

Now, there may not be any more people with the business acumen of Lee Iacocca. Perhaps he was one-of-a-kind. But, certainly there are some folks out there smart enough to pull off a similar feat. I am certain of one thing: those people are most likely not going to come from the Federal Government. To quote Reagan again: "The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would hire them away."

Although loan guarantees are, in my opinion, unconstitutional as well, they do have a couple of advantages over stock purchase programs. One, they don't involve the government throwing huge wads of cash everywhere. Loans help keep the cost to all of us down. Two, they keep the private sector private.

There are those who say there is no money to lend. I disagree. There may not be a lot of money in Citi, AIG, and others who are now hurting because they got greedy and speculated in bad loans. But, there are many more banks and lenders who didn't get greedy and kept themselves out of the current mess. They might not have billions to loan individually, but when smaller loans are combined together they can be enough. This way, the risk is also spread out across many companies which will minimize further risk to the financial sector.

There are other solutions to our problems other than running to Big Daddy for cash. There are other alternatives to ease the current financial problems which don't involve us giving our hard-earned cash and hard-won freedoms. I think we need to consider those before we just let our leaders throw a lot of our money away.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Excellent Social Marketing: Knights of NI

"Ah, these are dark times when passing ruffians can go around saying 'NI' to an old woman."  - Roger the Shrubber from Monty Python's "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Yesterday I had chance to hear Deirdre Walsh speak about her role in National Instruments' social marketing on on-line community. Their's is a great case study about how to well use an on-line community not only for the benefit of the company but, more importantly, for the benefit of the community members who are customers of the company.

National Instruments (NI) is based in Austin, Texas and makes hardware and software for testing. It's a company whose customers are pretty much into all things engineering. Deirdre illustrated how they built their on-line community to allow not only NI's employees to help customers, but also to help the customers help each other. It is quite a success story.

There are a select few among those who belong to on-line communities who go above and beyond sharing their knowledge, and the NI community is no exception. There is a handful of people who posted over 16,000 entries in seven months. The folks at NI wanted to reward those people with some kind of special status in the community. They turned to the community to ask what this status sould be called and the community responded the name should be the "Knights of NI." (Read the postings on the subject.)

Now, for a web geek like me, I thought this was not only very funny, but a great play on the name of the company bounced off a movie done by a group of folks who are well-loved by techies and geeks. This certainly goes on my list of way cool things.

Aside: I have to give kudos to Jive Software for putting on the workshop where Deirdre spoke. It was high with good content and very low with sales pitch. Hats off to Jive for putting together a very informative event.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fun with the IRS

We recently had some dealings with the IRS which is a great example of bureaucratic silliness and rather humorous. It all started about the time everyone started getting those tax "rebate" checks ...

We got our rebate check in the mail and happily put it into the bank thinking we might use it for a vacation or to purchase a freezer. Apparently, we weren't meant to keep it, for a day or two later we got a notice from the IRS that we owed them $200 more than the amount of the "rebate." I thought something was fishy, "Maybe this is the government's way of looking like they're giving out lots of money, but they really aren't because they take it right back." Although that would be an hilarious absurdity this wasn't the case.

We really did owe the government the money they asked for. A few years ago I settled an outstanding credit card debt with the bank which issued the card. I had heard that one needs to claim a debt forgiveness as income at tax time. Thinking the person at the bank with whom I was dealing would know a thing or two about such matters, I asked. He told me that if the forgiveness was considered income, I would get a W4 (or a W2 something) from the bank. Otherwise, he informed me, it wasn't.

I try to be an upright guy who strives to do the right thing, and paying taxes honestly is a Biblical command (Matthew 17:27, Matthew 22:15, Romans 13:6-7). Although I had no reason to distrust the person at the bank, I thought it best to ask around for another opinion. I consulted with a CPA and a couple other people I know who have some experience with the tax code, and they echoed the answer the person at the bank gave me. Satisfied, I waited to see what would happen come January.

When it was time to do taxes, I hadn't gotten anything from the bank other than a letter declaring that the debts were no longer owed. There was no IRS form to be seen, so we happily did our taxes without counting the "forgiveness" amount as income. We got back a pretty healthy refund that year, too.

When we got the letter from the IRS earlier this year, enclosed were copies of the IRS form the bank sent to the IRS along with a copy of the recalculated return for that year. Ta-daa, we owe them money. I was a little miffed about the whole thing because I felt the bank did me a disservice. But, the bottom line was that we owed the money based on the recalculated amount.

My wife and I described this situation with an accountant about this whole event, thinking it rather humorous. She offered to recalculate our taxes for that year and see if we could knock the amount we owed down a little; at least enough to get it where we just had to pay the "rebate" amount. She was successful, so we sent in an amended tax return along with a check for the amount we felt we owed.

A few weeks later, we received a letter from the IRS letting us know they were going over our paperwork again and that they would contact us again if need be. I figured the matter was pretty much settled and consoled myself with the though that the amount extra we sent in would pay for body armor for a soldier in Iraq - a worthwhile expense.

But, this wasn't the end of the matter. 4 months later we received another letter from the IRS. They accepted our amended tax return, but we owed some more money based on the interest accrued from the time we sent in our amended tax return until they accepted it. The total we still owed was $2.00. Now, I thought, we're getting into the absurd.

Thinking it over, I figured based on a person's salary to go over the paperwork, computer cycles, printing and postage, that letter cost far more than $2.00 to send. What a waste! I was pretty ticked off about it - not so much that the IRS wanted more money but that the bureaucracy was now wasting my money sending out a request for 2 bucks.

In the end, I sent a check for $2.00 to the IRS. Rather than quibble over 2 bucks and sending this transaction further into losing territory I thought it best just to give them what they wanted and get it over with. Ah, but that wasn't to be.

The day after I dutifully sent in my $2.00, we got not one, not two, but three envelopes from the IRS. The first envelope contained a check for $5.72. The other two envelopes, one addressed to me and the other to my wife, contained identical copies of documents which showed how the IRS actually owed us money, rather than we owing them $2.00. By this time the whole affair is so absurd I can't stand it. Not only did they lose money sending the bill for $2.00, now they've compounded the loss by $5.72 and however much it cost to process that check - and the waste of sending two identical letters to us.

As I described this series of events to the accountant who figured our amended return for us, she cautioned us to make sure if there is any interest which was paid to us that we make sure to count it as income next year or we'll be sure to be audited again. We better check those letters carefully. Though I'm not concerned about an audit, I certainly don't want to cause the national debt to increase because I forgot to claim a few cents as interest income.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Is Socialism Inevitable? Part 3: Desire

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance who voiced his opinion about the recent election where he expressed the desire that all new people would be voted into Congress. I was quite surprised as most people have object to my "Vote the Bums Out" idea.

During our talk, he asked a very poignant question: "Don't people realize they are voting in socialism? Do they really want that?" I answered with a huge "Yes."

When the founders of our nation decided to split from Britain, they knew they were in for a lot of trouble. Declaring independence was treason against The Crown and the British were known to be ruthless against those who encouraged rebellion. So important was the cause of freedom to them they literally risked life, family, friends and property and a getting into a very risky war in order to secure it. Many were tortured, executed, their families were broken up, their homes burned to the ground, their land seized and given to others. Yet, they stood firm to the end and we are the beneficiaries of their efforts. Their desire for freedom and democracy was greater than their fear for their own safety and well being.

From what I observe, today we do not have such desire for our freedom. We are content in getting along with our "nice little life" (thanks to John Eldredge for that phrase) that we scarcely notice we are giving our freedoms away little by little. We're content to sit around and, so long as no one interferes with our plans, we don't pay much attention to what's going on around us. Frankly, we are spoiled rotten.

You see, most of us have not had to fight for, nor even work hard to enjoy the freedoms we enjoy. We consider it our birthright and most don't realize that tyranny is only a generation away. We sit around fat, dumb and happy and expect that the things we have will always be there. We've deluded ourselves into a state of peaceful ignorance - the likes not seen in a society since the fall of the Roman Empire.

You see, like that empire of old, most of us have grown lazy and think there's no one out there powerful enough to come and bother us and interfere with our daily lives. As our society falls apart from splitting families, parent-less children, a sub par education system, ignorance of issues (other than those having to do with celebrities) the shell around us continues to erode away. We are so full of greed, selfishness and avarice and couldn't care less about what's going on around us. In one or two generations we've gone from a society which valued strong families and strong communities to one in which families are considered "quaint" and we don't even know what many of our neighbors look like. The glue holding our society together is coming apart and we scarcely take notice.

And we sit around and ask for more. Since we can't or won't take care of ourselves, we petition the government to come be our nanny. Instead of looking to leaders who will challenge us to do better, we look to those who will "take from the rich and give to the poor." Unlike President Kennedy who said we aim to go to the Moon, not because it's easy but because it's hard and challenged us to do for others instead of waiting around to see what we can get from the system, we look to so-called leaders who promise to give us what we want. Unfortunately the payment for those things is to give up a little more of the freedom that is our inheritance.

Is it too late? This I'm not sure of. The tide certainly appears to be against us. Unfortunately, there aren't enough people willing to speak the truth with a little tough love. Our children need to be taught to read, and then to read the Constitution. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and our families and quit looking to the government to take care of us.

We can't do those things without a desire to do them.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I Have No Taste

While it is true I'm not much of a snappy dresser and if my wife didn't decorate our home it would look a rather plain, that's not what I refer to. You see, I've started to lose my senses of taste and smell and rather often I smell something burning when there's nothing burning around me.

I started to notice this in late June and early July, 2008. I spent a day or so in a place where there were a lot of smokers. Having quit smoking a few years ago, my nose is very keen to pick up the scent. It's not unusual for me to catch a whiff of burning tobacco even days after being around it. At first, I didn't think much of the smell of something burning, but as weeks went by I started to get somewhat concerned. Smelling something that no one else smells was not unusual for me since I've always had a sensitive nose, but smelling something so strongly that no one else does at all wasn't. And it was getting stronger all the time.

Researching on line, I found there were a number of reasons people sometimes smell things which aren't there: trauma to the head, severe nasal allergies, sinus infection, exposure to certain chemicals and a tumor in the brain. I couldn't think of any recent occasion I experienced any of the first four things, so I decided it was time to visit the doctor to make sure it wasn't the fifth.

My primary care physician referred me to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. While he informed me that tumors are very rare, his body language and constant "hmmm, this is strange" comments unnerved me a bit. As he did his tests, we found I couldn't smell mint very well and nor could I smell lemon (I had to very deeply sniff it 3-4 times to get the scent) and my taste of salt was diminished. As we talked about my signs and symptoms, I realized I couldn't smell coffee nor taste many things. It was time for me to go "hmmmm."

Earlier this week I underwent an MRI and found out there's nothing in my head that's not supposed to be there (though someone did ask if I checked to see if anything was missing - no, I forgot to ask about that). For the week I had to wait to learn the results of the MRI I was really caught in the "what ifs" of having a tumor or not. I'm quite glad it wasn't, though I really just wanted to know what was going on.

Looking back I can see this problem probably started a long time ago. My blood pressure has been up for the past few months. I realize now I was way over-salting my food because I can't taste salt very well. I've since given up extra salt, though I can still taste black pepper so I use it. Blood pressure is down a bit now.

I also noticed over the past few weeks that if I eat very spicy food I don't smell the burning whatever as much. Bring on those jalapenos!

My advice to those who are experiencing similar problems: Go get checked out. Loss of taste and smell is common as people age. But, smelling things which aren't there could be a sign of a very serious problem. My doctor assured me that a tumor causing symptoms like mine are about 1 in 100; however, it would be nice to rule out that your in that 1%. My doctor recommended taking supplements of zinc and magnesium, which I will try. (Remember, don't try any medication or supplements without consulting your physician. I'm not a doctor, though I'm handsome enough to play one on TV).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Is Socialism Inevitable? Part 2: Responsibility

To be a free people means to also be a responsible people. One of the great hallmarks of US history has been the pioneering and "do what it takes" attitude the people. In the past, people didn't sit around and wait for someone else to take care of them, they went out and did what it took to take care of themselves and their families. Taking "charity" was unheard of. A person's pride was at stake and few would accept a handout unless they faced extraordinary and dire circumstance.

Granted, sometimes folks honestly need a hand up or help through a bad situation. Although their families and friends should help them first and foremost, it's not completely outside the realm of local and/or state governments to help the truly unfortunate to get them going in the right direction again.

It often appears, though, there are fewer of  us who need a hand up compared to those who just wish to get on the dole and make no effort to take care of themselves. We don't see a reason to work hard to earn our way and feel the government should take care of us and ours. Instead of working hard and learning how to better ourselves, we tend to opt for the "easy way" of letting someone else (read: the federal government) take care of us. We scream life is unfair (and it isn't, nor was it ever) and insist on getting what we feel they are entitled to be it "free" health care, "free" day care, "free" senior care, other "free"things.

Nothing is really "free" though. Those things we will rely on and, indeed, already rely on are not "free." Someone has to feed the government money machine. So we happily elect leaders who promise us more "free" things and promise they will "stick it to" the "rich" and the "greedy corporations" in order "to make things fair." Then we complain bitterly when those same "rich" people move their money into tax shelters and the "greedy" companies cut staff, raise prices or move overseas because it costs too much to operate the US. Because most of us, are blinded to reality, the cause and effect relation of "taking from the rich" and "giving to the poor" is not seen as the reason the rich and the corporations take their money elsewhere.

There is quite a bit of irresponsibility among the leaders of corporations, too. Instead of being responsible and looking to the long term in their attitudes about employees and customers, many companies look to the myopic view of the short-term bottom line and try to squeeze every last penny out of their efforts. Instead of rewarding the loyalty of employees many companies cut benefits, institute salary caps or let full-time employees go and hire all part-time staff. It's appalling how those companies operate, and yet we really don't hold them accountable at all by witholding our money from them. We customers blindly buy products and don't complain to the companies or vote with their checkbooks when quality and value suffer because they cut too many corners in order to make an extra buck. *

Probably the most irresponsible entity on the face of the Earth is our Federal Government. Money is wasted here, there and everywhere. The $100 screwdrivers and toilet seats are the stuff of legend - and they are true. It is amazing how much money the government can piddle away in such a short time. I'm not referring to the big-ticket items like the war against terror or the space program, but the money wasted on "bridges to nowhere" or endless bureaucracies. This isn't a "Democrat" or "Republican" problem - it's a government problem which trandscends party affiliation. Most people just shrug off the growing national debt and ignore the money wasted just so long as they get "theirs." And this is the government we want running our health care system?

Because we don't bother to look, we don't see how government-run programs in other countries fail to meet the needs of their citizens. Because we don't bother to look into matters for themselves, we assume when TV or a politician tells them we should have, for example, free health care the same as Canada or England do, it's true. We don't bother to check and find the people in those countries don't like their health plan and wish theirs was more like ours.

We also don't see that in every country where socialism was tried it was an utter failure. We can look at the former Soviet Union, countries of the former Warsaw Pact, or the former Yugoslavia and can see socialism/communism did not work. Although the ideal of socialism is to make all things fair and equal, in the countries where it's been tried there was still a social class system where, as Orwell put it, "some are more equal than others." Unfortunately, power corrupts and those with the power tend to live outside the very system they insist is best for everyone.

I had chance to visit the Czech Republic in the months right after the Iron Curtain fell. As I drove through the cities, I couldn't help but think that the entire country needed a coat of paint. I asked a person I met during my business there why everything looked so drab and dreary and in disrepair. His response was that if everything belonged to everyone, then it really belonged to noone. I guess if something belongs to nobody, then nobody will care enough to take responsibility for it. After instituting a number of reforms between my first visit and another visit 3 years later I could see drastic changes. Buildings were fixed up and painted and everything seemed more colorful. Even the clothing worn by the people I saw was brighter and more cheerful. It was almost like leaving the black and white world of Kansas for the Technicolor world of Oz.

A great story is the one told in the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness." The main character in that movie finds himself in a very bad place. His wife left him, he couldn't make any money selling medical equipment, he lost his apartment, his car and ended up out on the street with his young son. Instead of wallowing in self pity, he pulled himself up and pursued a career selling investments with a large firm by joining as an unpaid intern. There was stiff competition as a dozen or so young people were going out for the one open position. It took a lot of determination, hard work and guts, but despite all the disadvantages he faced he got the job by outworking everyone else and doing what it took to make things happen. It's a great example of someone working hard to achieve a goal and make their life better.

But today it seems that there are fewer and fewer of us who are willing to go an extra 5 feet, let alone an extra mile to make things better. We often don't look beyond what instant gratification will provide us. Instead of working hard and educating ourselves to get out of a minimum wage job, we complain bitterly that we can't make ends meet on minimum wage and that it needs to be raised. We make excuse after excuse and keep ourselves down instead of taking advantages of opportunities - or even making our own opportunities.

There are still many, many opportunities left in this great nation of ours. And it can be even greater still if we all would "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country." If we don't wake up, then the government will have to step in and take care of things, but only because we won't do it for ourselves.

* Please note: I'm not in favor of forcing companies to change their ways through more government regulation. What I advocate here is to let the market handle things. People will often shop with causes they support in mind; such as they purchase from companies who are making efforts to be green or to purchase from suppliers overseas who don't run sweat shops. The same could apply to purchasing from those companies who treat their employees with loyalty and respect. The products those companies produce may cost a little more, but the quality and care that goes into a product made by happy employees will more than make it worth the little bit extra the item might cost.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Is Socialism Inevitable? Part 1: Education

Education is an essential element of a free people. Without it, people cannot even begin to live in a free and self-governing society. Without the basics of understanding the written and spoken word, one cannot understand ideas or ideals nor can he or she participate in honest debate. It's difficult to stand for something if you have no idea what anything is. The ability to learn and understand was important to our Founding Fathers so they were the first champions of free public education. Wise and prescient men they were for they could see that an uneducated citizenship would easily be lead to tyranny.

And they were correct. Today we have a generation or two of young men and women who have come out of our education system woefully ill-prepared to take care of themselves. Instead of training to be solid on the basics, they learn "feel good" English and mathematics. Instead of raising the bar and helping students achieve, the standards are lowered so more kids pass. 

Those who can't even meet the lower standards are passed along, either to make the numbers look good or to just merely get rid of them. Parents make excuses and expect their kids to get good grades even when they are not earned. The jobs thus available to these children are menial and low-paying and later they will look to the government to make everything "fair" or turn to crime to "level the playing field." 

And that's even if they stick around long enough to graduate. Statistics show over the last few years fully a quarter of all high school students drop out. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in which children are likely to be less educated than their parents and are more likely to drop out of school.

The schools themselves in many cases have literally become battle zones. Kids who are never taught discipline by their parents are not allowed to be disciplined in school. The ones who really want to learn are unable to because the havoc created makes it impossible to learn anything. 

When those who wish to learn more go on to college, many times they have to take basic classes to catch up so they can start doing college-level work. I was visiting a friend who teaches at a small college and spoke with some of his coworkers. One lady was the person who coordinated remedial training classes for incoming freshmen. I was astounded when she told me well over half the students who come into their school require remedial training before they could even begin college-level work. This is appalling and should be shouted from the rooftops.

Parents, instead of teaching their children life lessons about disappointment, losing and failure, they coddle the kids. In sports, no score is kept and everyone gets a trophy so the kids' feelings aren't hurt. In the name of "esteem building" kids are pumped up with undeserved praise. Later in life, when disappointments come to those kids, they don't know how to handle it. They never learn the skill to persevere and keep trying until they reach a goal, to do something difficult and succeed. So, when school work becomes "too hard" they drop out or just "skate along" until it's over.

In a relatively short time, we end up with a generation or two of people who are woefully ill-prepared to take care of themselves and whatever family they might have. In trying to let them succeed so much when they are young, their guardians set them up for failure. As they grow into adulthood, those young men and women have no idea how to handle the basic things the "grown up" world expects them to take care of. 

All the while they give up the freedom they have been blessed to enjoy because they simply don't know any better and just want what they feel they're entitled to.

We should all be appalled at this trend in education. Where are the parents protesting against such terrible treatment of their children? Where are the parents when the kids drop out? Why are the news outlets not shouting this crisis from the rooftops? Instead we see scant notice of this, while the media report the latest happenings of Britney and her sister, Brangalina's children and 24/7 OJ coverage.

Now, how do we reverse this trend?

Money alone is not going to solve the problem. For example: The Detroit Public Schools system had a budget of $1.2 billion, which works out to about $11,400 per student, yet the graduation rate calculated by the school district is only 67%. If you believe outside sources, the graduation rate is even less at about 25%. Either number is unacceptable.

The Federal Government isn't the answer. All they can do is pass laws requiring the states to uphold standards which the states set for themselves as in the "No Child Left Behind" law. This is totally worthless and does nothing to hold the school systems themselves accountable. The Department of Education is a waste of the taxpayers' money, the role of which should be reduced to recommending standards and promoting them to the states.

The states aren't doing much better. In an attempt to hold at least an appearance of standards for students, many have opted for standardized testing. Although students have to at least learn something to pass the tests and move on, many times it's only those to test well who do well.

School districts and teachers need to be accountable, too. I'm sure the vast majority of teachers go into the field because they love kids and love to pass on and instruct in learning. I'm also sure there are quite a few "bad apples" who through lack of desire, lack of education or lack of skills have no business being a teacher. Those teachers need to be let go and teachers unions need to quit blocking attempts to let them go.

Although money alone won't solve our problems, teachers also need to be paid a better wage for all the work they do. We often read about the exorbitant salaries corporate CEOs, celebrity and sports figures make, yet we expect our teachers to work for so little that many have to take on second and third jobs to make ends meet.

Then we come to the parents. The primary responsibility to teach children are the parents who brought them into this world. Unfortunately, it's often those very parents who look at schools as nothing more than daycare and do not bother to learn what their offspring are doing in school, how they are doing, what their teachers are like etc. It's ultimately the parents' responsibility to make sure their children are taking education seriously and to hold them accountable.

Ultimately, it's we - all of us - who need to start taking education seriously. We are last in industrialized nations in education. Can we maintain our global leadership in technology, industry and other business if our children are not properly educated? The answer is absolutely not.

Eventually the answer will end up being socialism because no one will be able to take care of themselves and will need "Big Daddy Government" to step in and take care of them.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is Socialism Inevitable? Introduction

Some of my coworkers and I had an excellent discussion recently about politics and the presidential race. I voiced my opinion about "voting the bums out" which was met with just a little skepticism.

I did get to discuss one question I've been mulling over in my head for some time: Is socialism in the United States inevitable?

If you take time to read through some of my postings in this space, you will find I am against socialism and "big government." The very idea of socialism is anathema to me. I find the federal government is already unconstitutionally far too intrusive into the everyday lives of the citizens of  our nation. The saddest part is: those very citizens are, in many cases, inviting the government to step in and take away our constitutional freedoms.

In order for a people to be free, I believe they must have three things: Education, Responsibility and Desire. Without these three things, they cannot be free. In my next few postings I will deal with each of these things individually. So, please stay tuned.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Now They've Done It or My Future Weight Gain

Rumors have been circulating around here for months. "A Cracker Barrel is going to be built off I-35," people would say. I would cringe each time I heard it. "I hope they never do," I would reply. Most people would look at me like I was from Mars. I can almost hear them thinking, "Is he nuts, we need more good restaurants around here."

I couldn't agree with them more. Chain restaurants have been popping up all over the area for the past 4-5 years. It's been great for our community.

I found out last week a Cracker Barrel opened up down the road about 1/2 an hour away. I was somewhat relieved at that news. "It's just far enough away," I thought to myself. *whew*

My relief was short-lived, though. Last Monday I noticed a new building being framed out on my way to work. Nothing unusual these days. Even though times are rather tough for construction crews new stuff is still going up all around the area. The day after I saw that frame going up there was the tell-tale sign that a Cracker Barrel was, indeed, going up in our town. There were a dozen or so working bricking up the signature fireplace and chimney which is the central part of any Cracker Barrel restaurant.

I'm done for.

This is terrible. I might as well start buying bigger clothes now. My bank account will be drained. Life as I know it will end.

You see, it's not that I don't like Cracker Barrel. Quite the opposite: I like the place way too much. I can hardly drive by a Cracker Barrel on the highway without stopping. The temptation is sometimes too great and I will go gorge myself with Uncle Hershel's favorites or the Country Boy breakfast even if I'm not particularly hungry. I can almost smell the bacon, gravy, biscuits - I'm salivating here just thinking about it. 

With one on the way to work, how will I be able to resist? What was once a treat to make a day trip or a great vacation even better will become an obsession, almost a curse. How can I resist those tempting goodies? Eggs to order with cheesy hash browns, wheat toast to dunk into my over medium eggs...

I'm done for.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Loves My Crocs™

Some call them "doctor shoes" or "nurse shoes." Some call them "stupid shoes" or "ugly shoes." I don't care what others think about them, they're the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. I'm referring to my Crocs™

When my wife brought her first pair home, I was a Croc mocker, too. I choose to live and let live about that kind of thing, though, so I didn't pay much attention to them. Until one day I happened to put them on.

I needed to take one of my boys someplace and we were in a hurry. I was just planning to do a "drive by" drop off and head home. I slipped on a pair of Crocs and headed out the door. During the short time I was in the car and walking back and forth from the parking lot I was hooked.

They don't seem like they'd be good for your feet, but I have found they certainly are for me. I have heel spurs which often give me grief while wearing regular shoes. Although there is no visible arch support and there doesn't appear to be padding on the inside, my heel spurs never bother me when I wear the Crocs. I once spent all day walking and standing for just about 12 continuous hours and my feet, shins and knees felt fine afterwards. My toes are free to move around in them and the holes over the top and around the sides allow the whole of my feet to breathe. When I wear them, it feels almost as if I am bare footed. 

*** WARNING: Riding a motorcycle without proper footwear can be dangerous. Do not try this at home. ***

I've found Crocs to feel wonderful when riding a motorcycle. I have no problem breaking and shifting. It feels so good to have the wind blowing on my feet that it's worth the risk. I guess it's similar to how those who ride helmet less feel when the wind blows on their head.

My wife decorates hers for the seasons. The holes on the tops make for excellent mounting points for various doo-dads. During Christmas time 
last year, she even had colorful flashing light all across the top with evergreen-looking material and shiny plastic packages. They were quite festive.

The only disadvantage I see in wearing crocs is when it rains. The ones I wear let water in if I step in a puddle. I have seen models without the holes around the side and I might pick up a pair to see how they work in the rain.

I am merely a fan and not a professional reviewer. I was not renumerated at all for this posting. It just hit me on the way home from work today how much I enjoy wearing these shoes.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Extreme Generosity

Despite vows of poverty, they’re millionaire monks Wisconsin monastery sells printer products online; profits go to charity

Here's a group of men who have taken vows of poverty, yet still run over a million dollars in annual sales with their on-line company - with all money over what they need to run their monastery going to charity.

It's not the "most profitable" business model money-wise, but it's cool enough that I think I'm going to buy my ink from them.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Vote The Bums Out

I didn't watch the presidential debate. I figured it was going to turn out to be a "bash fest" with both candidates blaming our current troubles on the other guy and accusing the other of not having a good plan to solve all of our problems. Two real issues are: both candidates are part of the cause of our problems and neither one of them seems to understand that government is not the solution to our problems.

Both candidates have been in congress for many years. What have they done up to this point to fix our problems? Not a thing. They are a part of a group of 600-some-odd people out in Washington who have no concept of reality as it is for us "regular folk." They pass idiotic laws which do no one any good and they don't take care of the things they're charged to. That's both of them, not just one or the other. Republicans and Democrats have had their turns as president and congressional majority and what have they done? All they've done is make things worse with stupid regulations and wasted money - all of which costs you and me a too large part of our hard-earned wages.

I believe in this country. I spent the better part of my adulthood serving and protecting her. I've been privileged enough to see other countries first hand and learn about a great many more. Of all the nations in the world we have the most potential for regular folks to make a good life for themselves by working hard and taking care of their own. Unfortunately, the entrenched parties have long led us down the path of socialism - a system which is proven to be an absolute failure everywhere it's been or is still being tried. Freedom for the masses is what this country was founded on and made this country great, and that's the principal which can make this country great again.

I understand government is necessary for a well-ordered society. But government can become too bloated and ineffective and not serve the people. Our Founding Fathers were very, very wise when they drafted our Constitution creating a government limited in its scope and power. If we would stick to those basics, we'd all be better off.

Some reading this will think me naive, but I don't believe I am. I know we can't have utopia on Earth, but if we go back to the basics of the Constitution with limited government leaving us alone except as outlined in that document we would at least be going in the right direction. Reversing the tide of bloated government, pork-barrel politics and entitlements will be hard work. But it's just as worthy of our hard work as fixing the banking crisis, the energy crisis, etc.

This election, I'm really stuck on whom to support. I don't even have a "voting against the other person" or "lesser of the two evils" choice this time around. Therefore, my voter platform this election is "VOTE THE BUMS OUT - ALL OF THEM."* 

Naive? Maybe I really am. Irregardless, I know I'm tired of the same old horse manure coming from Washington and I don't think anyone running for office has any intention of stopping the flow during their watch.

* I know we can't technically vote the president out of office since he's leaving and we're choosing a new one. But, we can vote against the two entrenched parties and let them know we're tired of the same old business.