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.