Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dept. of the Treasury--the scam

I just got a call from an automated voice purporting to be someone from the Department of the Treasury. Unfortunately, I took the call, so I don't have a recording of it and am reconstructing from memory. The voice gave a name and said he was calling from the Department of the Treasury and that I was wanted in some serious financial matter, in, I think, Maryland. It said this was the second time they had attempted to contact me and that I should call back a certain number and talk to a federal agent.

Now, luckily, I am pretty sure that I do not have any pending business back east and I am always a bit dubious of an electronic voice telling me to do anything, but as there's always the slight anxiety that you have done something terribly wrong on your tax return or something like that, I decided I would look up and see if there was such a thing as a Department of the Treasury scam. And sure enough, there was. Or I should say, there are, because there are many of them.

Here's what I found on the Department of the Treasury website:

"There are numerous telephone and email scams in which individuals claim to be employees of the Treasury Department.  These scammers often state that they are from the “Department of Legal Affairs,” offer grant money in exchange for you wiring a small payment, or threaten to arrest you within a short period of time unless payment is made. Do not provide personal information or payment to these individuals.  Their actions are crimes under Titles 18 and 31 of the United States Code, and the Treasury Office of Inspector General is working to stop them."

Unlike me, you may have the presence of mind, or better yet, get a recording of this kind of phone call. If so, you can report it all to the Department of the Treasury. They will want:

  • the exact date and time that you received the call(s)
  • the phone number of the caller
  • the geographic location and time zone where you received the call
  • a description of the communication.
Go to the website mentioned above for the email to contact. 

As with so many of these types of things, forewarned is forearmed. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Heimlich Maneuver

(I edited this to add this picture at the top in case someone was actually trying to figure out how to do the Heimlich maneuver and not just here for my palaver.)

This post isn't as unrelated to my last post on Sadiq Khan as it might appear. I happened to click on my Google alert for him, and after reading an article about how he is ordering a review of London's capacity to respond to terrorism, particularly in how well the city is able to respond to multiple simultaneous attacks, I happened to see an interesting sidebar in the Guardian on how Dr. Henry Heimlich, the man whose name is attached to a technique to save people from choking, actually had to use the technique for the first time at the ripe old age of 96 on one of his table companions at dinner.

Principle of the Heimlich Maneuver-CDang

I'm sure we've all heard of the Heimlich Maneuver, but if you're like me, you never really stopped to think about the man behind the name, or even less to wonder if he was still around. Apparently he is, and a very healthy 96, too. Although he can't exactly be said to have "invented it", he certainly can be credited with promulgating it. It came as quite a surprise to me that he only first described it in 1974.

Wikipedia thinks fit to call this technique "abdominal thrusts", apparently not willing to give him absolute credit for it. The practice has even come under some scrutiny. Wikipedia says that from 1985-2005, the Heimlich Maneuver was the only recommended treatment for choking, but has since been downgraded. For a person who is conscious, we're instructed to first try back pats, and only if that doesn't work go on to the abdominal thrusts that Heimlich advocated. It's also better to try less aggressive techniques with children.

Heimlich himself has fallen a bit into disrepute with some. Roger White, MD, who apparently has been connected with the Mayo Clinic and the American Heart Association, is quoted in the Wikipedia piece as saying "There was never any science here. Heimlich overpowered science all along the way with his slick tactics and intimidation, and everyone, including us at the AHA, caved in."

Be that as it may, the technique undoubtedly saved a life at his hands this week, and no doubt countless others. I found this image on that same Wikipedia page of a U.S. Medic teaching the Heimlich Maneuver to Afghans:

                                                                                                             John T. Stamm

I have even practiced the Heimlich Maneuver once myself, or at least some variation of it. I was at a Thanksgiving dinner with my family, and my mother, who was sitting next to me, started acting as though she was choking. Fools rush in, as they say, and from my vague conception of it, I did what I think was fairly creditable imitation of the procedure. Unfortunately--well, fortunately--she wasn't really choking, but couldn't get the words out to tell me. All ended well. The upside is, I got some practice. Whether this anecdote makes you feel like you'd like to sit close to me at a meal or as far away from me as possible is your call. Safe to say, you would be better off sitting next to Dr. Heimlich.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Of buses and Sadiq Khan

I don't know about you, but I am pretty psyched about Sadiq Khan becoming the first Muslim Mayor of London. Partly because it throws such a wrench in the works of the same old tired discourse about Muslims, refugees, terrorists and how in some people's heads (and speech) they are all pretty much the same thing. Also because it shows Londoners as being a cut above we Americans in their ability to discern racist tactics in electioneering and to rise above them. I am sure Khan isn't perfect, nor are Londoners, but I think they are perhaps a little less imperfect than we are in the present historical moment.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Anyway, I put Khan on my Google alerts, a thing I've started doing just recently, and that's why I got the following news. According to the Telegraph, he is going to introduce a new bus fare called The Hopper, which will allow people for the single price of £1.50 to travel as far as they can get in an hour. He tweeted:

I’m introducing a one hour ‘Hopper’ bus fare from September. I’m committed to making travel more affordable for all Londoners

People are already getting in the spirit of the thing by trying to figure out just how to get the most mileage for your buck. More power to them.

Khan's father, in case you missed it, was a bus driver for much of his life. And I, in case you missed it, have been a bus rider for much of my life. So I'm sad to report that Santa Cruz, liberal, environmental bastion that it is or wants to be seen to be, is taking a different path. According to our local weekly the Good Times:

Since the 2008 recession, Santa Cruz METRO’s expenses have exceeded revenues, forcing the bus system to dip into its reserves. Rising operating costs, stagnant funding, flat ticket sales, and a growing backlog of repairs and capital needs have pushed the transit system against the wall.

The ways that lie open to Metro, according to their planning and development manager, are three. Cut the routes' frequency, cut the hours and days they operate, or cut out routes all together. 

To be fair, there have been a series of public meetings to discuss these cuts, and I probably should have gone to the one that was downtown last week. But helping to evaluate which of three bad options is best really isn't my cup of tea. In fact, I think it's asking riders and other concerned citizens the wrong questions. It's asking them to fight over the wreckage. 

As a county which I am pretty sure largely believes that climate change is real, I have never really understood why there hasn't been a more active campaign to get people out of their cars and on to public transportation, and I find it extremely odd that the county government is sitting idly by while it's being further eroded. There's a lot of heated debate here recently about the proposed rail/trail which will use the old railroad tracks to provide a trail and train along the scenic coastline. (Most of the debate is about the rail, not the trail.) Trails are fine and trains are fine, but actually not generally that practical for getting to work and shopping and school. I know a lot of people say they will bike to work if the trail is there, but most of them probably have a car to jump into in a pinch. You know--stuff happens. 

Buses, however, are the vehicles of students, the poor, the elderly, people with physical impairments and the working class. They're not particularly fun or glamorous--they are just a necessity for many. I echo the sentiment of bus rider Patricia Fohrman when she told KION news, "I definitely will be buying a car and I shouldn't be driving a car I cannot judge distance or speed and I haven't driven a car in perhaps 40 years but I will buy a car.” 

For all our sakes, I really hope Patricia doesn't end up having to buy a car. And for similar reasons, I hope I don't either. 

                                                                                                      Richard Masoner

And yes, I do find the destination of this bus just a wee bit ironic...

I'm editing this to add a link on the situation that has since come out in our local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, talking precisely about these sorts of concerns.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016



I have racked up a bunch of things I am curious about that I haven't had time recently to write about, but this one is leaping the queue. I was at a discussion group I attend on Monday nights yesterday evening, and the guest speaker was Terry Corwin, who is president of the Santa Cruz Land Trust. She was there to speak about various projects that the land trust is pursuing, but at the end spoke of one of the most common ways that the trust protects and preserves land. Simply put, they buy easements of a farmer's property and the farmer is free to use the land in whatever agricultural way they see fit, but they are restricted from selling it for development or other non-preservation practices.

This was all very interesting and I hadn't heard of the concept before, but what brought it to my attention again today was that this very concept appeared in my friend Leslie Karst's new mystery novel, Dying for a Taste. I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that the protagonist, Sally Solari, ends up in the Marin County area, talking to a farmer. How does the farmer support their organic vegetable enterprise? Why, easements of course. And Sally Solari proceeds to describe easements and their function in almost identical terms as Terry Corwin did.

I always find it intriguing when something I've gotten by not knowing about for my whole life gets mentioned twice in the space of less than 24 hours. So now that we know how easements function in land preservation, there's just one question.

What exactly is an easement?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word hails from the 14th century and meant even then compensation or redress. It's roots are in the Old French aisement, with its sense of comfort and convenience, use and enjoyment. The legal sense which we're talking about here, meaning the legal right or privilege of using something that is not one's own, comes from the early 15th century.

In the two agricultural/preservation senses that I've just come across, the concept of an easement sounds relatively simple to decipher, but  having now looked at "Easement Basics" at a site called FindLaw.com , like most legal entities, there is a lot that is subject to interpretation. Here is the kind of legal logic from that website that I'm talking about:

For instance, if Alvin owns a piece of property and grants Barbara a right-of-way on the road across the property, Barbara has an easement in Alvin's property. Barbara may use the road, but may not stop others from also using the road, except to the extent that their use interferes with her own use of the road. Alvin may exclude everyone except Barbara from crossing his property, while continuing to use the road himself. - See more at: http://realestate.findlaw.com/land-use-laws/easement-basics.html#sthash.ncguedvL.dpuf 

As the website makes more than clear, Barbara and Alvin's problems are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to resolving disputes over easements, which are often recorded in documents which may be vague or not have foreseen all the issues that might arise overtime. If you think about the Supreme Court and how the justices often puzzle over what constitutes the Founders' Original Intent, you can probably get a glimpse of the scope of the problem.