If I’m making more mistakes lately…

Yesterday’s post was hastily done. A longtime reader pointed out one mistake, and a questionable one–a tricky was/were instance, which, since I wasn’t actually there to see the event, means I can’t actually tell you which one would be proper… Although in the rest of the English-speaking world, “were” would be correct. Except Canada, perhaps.

I have some, er, distractions going on lately.

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How I fought the insurance company and lived to tell about it

My dad was a doctor. Dad told me on several occasions that if I ever came home and said I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor too, he’d lock me in my room for seven years. One of the reasons for this was because he hated dealing with insurance companies. I vividly remember going out to the mailbox one day and finding a letter addressed to Dr. Farquhar, with a very angry note written on the front of the envelope: PLS LET THE DR READ THE LTR. I asked what this was about, and Dad said insurance was refusing to pay for a patient’s treatment. He said it happened a lot.

Now I’m 33, and my insurance was refusing to pay for treatment my wife needed. The best-case scenario without her medication would have involved numerous hospitalizations. The worst-case scenario? Coma or stroke if a lot of things went wrong. If everything went wrong, death wasn’t out of the question.

Here’s what I did about it.This isn’t exactly how I wanted to tell everyone, but my wife is pregnant. She’s also diabetic, and diabetes and pregnancy aren’t exactly the best combination. It wasn’t long before she was complaining about nausea. That wasn’t anything new; she can get bad nausea at times even when not pregnant. We try to keep a decent supply of Emetrol (or a generic version) on hand because of it. But we didn’t know if it was safe for her to take that while pregnant, so I suggested she ask her doctor. The doctor put her on a generic version of Zofran, a powerful anti-nausea drug.

The difference was like night and day. Without the drug, she couldn’t be up and around for more than 3-4 hours at a time. With the drug, she could function almost normally.

But after a month, the party was over. The insurance company refused to pay for the drug any longer. The doctor protested, but to no avail. So the doctor prescribed alternative anti-nausea drugs.

None of them worked.

She started a rapid decline. Within days, she couldn’t keep food down. Four days after that, she couldn’t even keep water down. She went to the doctor, and her doctor sent her straight to the hospital where she was admitted and treated for dehydration and severe morning sickness (I don’t remember the medical term). They kept her in the hospital overnight.

When her doctor visited, I asked him what to do. He said insurance companies do this all the time.

"Let me get this straight. This guy with no education, who’s never seen her, knows better than you do what’s best for my wife?" I asked.

He said he sees this every day, and he’s sick of it.

"So do I need to look into getting a lawyer and suing this company for malpractice?" I asked. After all, there was at least one time when Dad said a patient needed one treatment, and a different doctor decided to do a different treatment and the patient died. The patient’s family, based on what Dad said, sued the other doctor for malpractice. If a doctor can be sued for practicing medicine badly, why can’t an insurance company be sued when it practices medicine badly?

He said if I did that I’d probably end up on CNN and he’d love to see the public pay that kind of attention to the insurance industry, but it wouldn’t help my wife any.

So I asked about buying the drug outright, without insurance. It was going to cost more than $400 a month. That’s outside of most budgets. I probably could have made it work, by making some cutbacks on food purchases, taking on some extra work, and if all else failed, borrowing some money, but it shouldn’t be necessary. This is why we get insurance in the first place–to cover these kinds of expenses.

So I looked into what it would cost to import the drug from Canada. The best price I found was $330–not much help.

I called my boss and told him what was going on, originally for no reason other than to provide justification for why I wouldn’t be at work the next day. But the more I told him, the more apparent it became that the situation offended him too–and not just because I was missing work over it. And that gave me an idea.

If the situation offended him, then it probably would offend the decision-makers at the company too. I decided I needed to talk to my boss and ask if I would be going over his head by talking to the higher-ups about the situation.

He gave me the OK, so I wrote a letter to my employer’s upper management. It wasn’t very long. In point by point fashion, I described my wife’s medical needs, what the doctor had done about it, what happened after the insurance company stopped paying for the drug, and what risks were involved with my wife not getting the treatment that she needed. I spelled it all out in lay terms. I also tried to be very matter-of-fact about it. They didn’t need my opinions on the matter–the facts spoke for themselves. Nobody would want their wife or daughter to have to go through what my wife was going through. And that was what I was counting on.

My letter climbed up the corporate ladder and over to HR very quickly. Not long after that, the HR director had the insurance company’s representative on the phone. Before the day was over, my wife had her medicine, and by the next day, she had a case manager assigned to her.

I believe this is the only approach that would have worked, and this is why:

1. I have an acquaintance who once worked for an insurance company, in the IT shop. He told me the majority of insurance adjustors who make decisions about what the insurance company will and won’t pay for are frustrated people with minimal education (sometimes just a GED) and they get their jollies by overruling doctors. It’s a power trip, and it’s what gives their lives meaning. Calling up the 800 number on the back of the card and complaining doesn’t do any good because it just proves to them how much power they hold. And calling the number and treating whoever answers the phone to a profanity-laced tirade (or even just asking the person where he or she went to med school) really drives home how much power they hold.

2. I’m just one customer and I have no control. The insurance company doesn’t care if I leave, because all they lose is a bad customer. Remember, customers who pay into the system and don’t take anything back out cause profits to rise. Customers who take money out of the system cause profits to fall. And besides that, I have no say in where my company buys its insurance anyway. The only way for me to change insurance providers is to change jobs, and that’s not only impracticel, it’s also very difficult.

What I had to do was to take my case to the people who do make that decision, and appeal to them. Working from the assumption that none of them would want the same thing to happen to their wives and daughters, I just presented the facts and let them come to the conclusion that the insurance company would do the same thing to anyone else in that situation too–including them. After all, they’re covered under the same plan I am. And of course they wouldn’t want that. What I basically did was raise the stakes. The insurance company wouldn’t be sorry to see me go, but what insurance company wants to risk losing a whole company’s business?

3. I kept my cool. By my own admission, to call me a loose cannon is an understatement. If I don’t like something, everyone around me knows it. But I wasn’t going to make any friends by saying "You guys are idiots for choosing to buy insurance from [company x] because they’re trying to kill my wife and unborn child." My emotions and opinions were more likely to make them get mad at me, and I needed them to be mad at the insurance company, not me. So I trusted them to be reasonable, rational people and come to the same conclusion I would when presented with the same seven basic facts.

So that’s how I got an insurance company to let my wife have a drug they decided they didn’t want to pay for.

Give me a little time to process what I just saw…

I finally got around to seeing Supersize Me, the documentary film where the filmmaker ate three meals a day at McDonald’s for 30 days to see what would happen.I need to think more about what I saw. But here are some random thoughts that occur to me after seeing it.

The first thing that comes to mind is Rod Carew. Carew was the second-greatest hitter of his era (since I’m a Kansas City Royals fan, of course he can’t be as good as George Brett). Early in his career, Carew was slumping. He asked his hitting coach what was wrong. He happened to be eating ice cream. The coach ripped the container of ice cream from his hand, threw it in the nearest trash can, and told Carew to quit eating junk. He tried it. He quit eating junk food and quit drinking soda. He was 38 before his batting average dipped below .300 again.

I know I’ve read several times on John C. Dvorak’s blog the comment, “Someone wants us fat.”

When I worked in fast food, if we didn’t try to “suggestive sell”–that is, when someone ordered a soda, ask, “Is that a large?” or something similar, we could be reprimanded. I didn’t upsell unless the manager was in earshot. I was always in trouble. I know for a fact the reason I didn’t get fired was because they didn’t want me talking–I knew lots of things that company didn’t want getting out. (None of that matters now; the company folded in 1993.)

In the film, Morgan Spurlock visited a school of troublesome kids. The school served healthy lunches–fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that were prepared fresh, rather than out of a box. The behavior problems largely disappeared. Television and video games get a lot of the blame for the rash of ADD and ADHD. And maybe kids do watch more TV and play more video games than we did 20 years ago when I was a kid. But kids today do eat a lot less healthy than we did. We ate out a couple of times a month, generally. Kids today eat out a lot more than that, and there are a lot more convenience foods in the grocery stores now than there were then.

Spurlock experienced depression. Depression is almost an epidemic. All I have to do to get hits on my web site is write about depression. In college I became a hero when I wrote about depression in my weekly newspaper column–professors were asking me to lunch, asking me to guest-lecture classes, and students I didn’t know from Adam were stopping me and thanking me. I thought I was the only one who ever felt depressed. Turns out it was the people who didn’t ever get depressed who were weird! And every time I write about depression here, I get tons and tons of hits. People are desperate enough to solicit advice from some guy they never met who isn’t a doctor and hasn’t so much as taken a biology class since Gulf War I–me. Maybe the problem is what they eat.

But hey. There’s big, big money in depression. I did a quick Google search, and 90 tablets of the low dosage of Paxil (let’s see what ads that gets me) costs $189 in Canada. Of course, in the United States, we pay more. Assuming 90 tablets is three months’ worth, that’s $2.10 a day. I know what GlaxoSmithKline’s saying: ba-da-ba-ba-ba, I’m lovin’ it!

And of course the fast-food companies want us fat. When we’re fat, we order more. We eat larger portions more frequently. The less healthy we are, the more they benefit. And the more the drug companies benefit.

Another symptom Spurlock experienced was fatigue. That’s another common problem. And who benefits from that? Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Starbucks, mostly. Who can function anymore without that jolt of caffeine in the morning?

I’m not saying it’s a big conspiracy. I’m not real big on conspiracies. I’m perfectly willing to believe the fast-food phenomenon happened and the companies that sell drugs and caffeine were the lucky beneficieries.

I’ll tell you something: I gave up fast food at 25, when my dad’s cousin started having serious health problems. That was a reality check for me: my closest male relative died at just over twice my age, and then when another one of my closest male relatives reached that age, it was just a lucky break that he didn’t die also. I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, asked myself if I wanted my life to be half over, and started eating turkey sandwiches from Subway (with just veggies and mustard–hold the fatty crap) for lunch pretty much every day.

And a lot of times when things have started going wrong, I haven’t been eating as well. I know that’s true for me right now.

I’ve seen Dr. Mark Himan on TV a couple of times the past few months. The things he says make a lot of sense. My wife and I have one of his books and another one on order. I think it’s time for me to read the one we have. I’m 31 now, and sometimes I feel like I’m losing my edge. Maybe I should do what Rod Carew did, and see if I get it back.

This author says used book sales don\’t hurt authors or publishers

In case you didn’t know it, Amazon.com sells used books as well as new books. This New York Times story (via News.com) says authors and publishers still don’t like used book sales because they say it hurts new book sales.

I happen to be a published author. I say they need to quit whining.In case you didn’t know it, here’s how authors are generally paid. Authors get a royalty on each copy of the book sold. The royalty varies. On a typical Dummies book, the royalty is about 25 cents. Other publishers pay closer to 10 percent of the cover price. When you buy a book for $25, the author will probably see $1.50-$3 of it.

When the publisher agrees to take the book, the author gets an advance, usually of a few thousand dollars. Celebrities might get half a million or more. A first-time author might get less than $10,000. Generally the advance is determined based on expected sales. So I’ll always get a fraction of what a marketing machine like Phil McGraw gets, since he can essentially turn his daily TV show into an hour-long commercial for his book until he’s happy with the sales.

The advance is paid back by withholding royalties. So, if I were to get a $6,000 advance to write a book and got a royalty of $1 per copy, I would start seeing royalties after 6,000 books were sold.

Some people say used book sales hurt authors and publishers because these books exist and are bought and sold outside of this royalty structure. If you buy a used copy of Optimizing Windows, I don’t see a penny of it. Unfair, right?

Wrong. I got my royalty on that copy when the copy sold the first time.

The only time that a used book sale truly hurts the author or the publisher is when a copy that was sent to a reviewer or an otherwise free copy ends up on the used book market. This happens, even when the free copy is stamped “Not for resale” or something similar. But even then, the harm is minimal. Optimizing Windows got a huge burst in sales when Sandy McMurray reviewed it. Thanks to him, the book made Amazon’s Top 10 in Canada and even hit #1 a couple of times. He made me thousands sales. I don’t give a rip if he resold his review copy–it’s still a huge gain for me. As far as I’m concerned, if a review results in two book sales–which it inevitably will–that free copy did its job.

And, sadly, books go out of print. Once that happens, the only way to get a copy is to buy a used one.

I have no problem at all with used books. It keeps books circulating, and I believe that people who buy used books also buy new books. They’re also more likely to talk about books, which will result in more sales of both used and new books.

Besides, if you buy a book and you don’t think enough of it to keep it, shouldn’t you be able to get some of your money back out of it?

Vindicated?

This article on Windows installation at Firing Squad preaches all the same things I was preaching nearly six years ago in my Windows 9x book.

Where to find the stuff has almost all changed, and msot of the old utilities don’t work anymore, but these are exactly the same concepts I yammered on and on about. Funny, I’ve been told system optimization is a waste of time…Incidentally, this is the second article on optimization that I’ve seen in less than a month. The other one read an awful lot like a Windows XP translation of an article I published in Computer Shopper UK back in 2000, which in turn was a shortened version of one of the chapters in the same book.

So I guess people don’t just throw their 2-gigahertz computers away and buy new ones when they start to seem slow?

It really makes me wonder what would have happened if, after the book received a gushing review in Canada and was perpetually sold out in stores up north, if those 3,000 copies of the book that languished in a warehouse in Tennessee had made their way into those stores.

That’s OK. That was five years ago, nothing can change it, and I really don’t have any desire to be a computer author anymore. I find the only way to really know a lot about computers is to work with them for 40-60 hours a week in a production environment. Labs don’t cut it–you can never underestimate the effect of 1,000+ users hammering on what you built. Never. And if you spend those hours working, that doesn’t leave enough time to write books and release them in a timely fashion.

So rather than write mediocre computer books or send myself to an early grave by working full time in addition to writing for 30-45 hours a week, I’d rather have a life, make a decent living, and not write computer books.

Outsourcing hurts all of us

Cringely has written eloquently about the effects of outsourcing to India.

Outsourcing hurts more than just IT.Every day, I drive past an old factory. I don’t know what’s in it now. From its appearances, not much, because I’ve never seen any traffic around the place. The sign and the smokestack says “International Shoe Company.” Curious, I did a little bit of digging. It seems that at one time this was the largest shoe manufacturer in North America. It’s pretty obvious that it isn’t anymore. It’s not for lack of people around to staff the factory–there are plenty of people in the neighborhood. From the looks of some of them, they could use a job. But the factory sits, abandoned, for one simple reason.

We don’t want to pay people $5.25 an hour to make our shoes. Those of us who are willing to pay people $5.25 an hour to make our shoes can’t, because not enough other people are willing.

So the once-proud factory sits.

I drive past a smaller operation every day too. It’s boarded up and fenced up, and overgrown with weeds. A faded sign says, “Missouri Candle and Wax Co.” It obviously never employed as many people as ISCO did. But there’s a neighborhood all around it. I’m sure at one time it supported a few households in the neighborhood around it.

Not anymore. The neighborhood’s in better shape than the candle place, due to some rehabbing that’s going on. But I guarantee the people moving into those houses don’t work anywhere in the neighborhood, because the jobs aren’t there anymore.

The jobs aren’t there because we don’t want to pay people $5.25 an hour to make our candles.

Now, I can kind of see paying lower prices for shoes, in some cases. You need shoes. I can’t so much as walk to my car without shoes, some days. If you don’t have a lot of money, you’ll buy the cheapest shoes you can find. It’s a matter of survival.

But candles? Candles are a luxury item.

Like Cringely says, the government isn’t going to do anything about it because the government doesn’t care. Big business wants to offshore, and modern Republicans don’t seem to believe big business is capable of doing anything wrong. If big business says it should outsource, well then, God Himself must have handed them a stone tablet that says, “Thou shalt outsource.” Democrats won’t solve the problem because Democrats need needy people in order to keep their jobs. So Democrats profit from offshoring just as much as Republicans, although for different reasons.

Richard Gephardt suggested solving the problem by instituting an international minimum wage. That would solve it neatly–if a Chinese worker makes $5.25 an hour, then suddenly it’s cheaper to pay the $5.25-an-hour worker who lives next door to make your candles and shoes and computers.

But Richard Gephardt isn’t going to be our next president, and Richard Gephardt knows just as well as you and I know that there won’t be an international minimum wage coming down the pike any time soon. It’s just election-year rhetoric.

That means you and I have to solve the problem.

Cringely said one thing that I disagree with. He said companies who offer good customer service grow. Maybe sometimes they do, but if that were true, virtually everybody would be bigger than Wal-Mart, because at Wal-Mart, “customer service” is synonymous with “customer returns.” If you need to know where you would find mineral oil, it’ll take you half an hour to find an answer to your question. If you’re lucky.

I guarantee if you walked into A. G. McAdow’s in Pharisburg, Ohio in 1883 looking for mineral oil, my great great grandfather could tell you if he had it and where it would be. He’d even know what the stuff was.

I’ll tell you what customer service is. It absolutely shocked me when I got it last week. I went to Marty’s Model Railroads, and I’ll admit, the reason I went there was because they have the best prices I’ve found locally on used train stuff, and I can get it without the hassle of bidding on eBay. I asked Marty if he had a Marx coupler. He went and looked. He came back and said he didn’t have a coupler but he had an entire truck, and asked what I wanted to do with it. I said I wanted to make a conversion car. He pointed me to the cheapie bin, told me exactly what I should look for, and then when I found an $8 car that was suitable, he took the car, along with the Marx truck, into the back room, drilled out the Lionel truck, and came back with the one-truck Lionel car and a nut and a bolt. We put the car back together on his counter, by the checkout. Then he charged me 10 bucks.

Ten bucks would have been a good deal if he’d just handed me all the pieces and said good luck. But with his tools in the back room, he was able to do in five minutes what would have taken me most of an hour.

Later that week, I took in two Lionel locomotives for repair and bought another conversion car–this time, not because I knew I’d get the lowest price, but purely because I knew he’d treat me well.

When I go to pick those locomotives back up, I need to tell him that’s exactly why.

Marty’s business is growing, but I don’t know if that’s because of outstanding customer service or if it’s simply because he’s the only shop left in eastern Missouri that fixes Lionel trains.

Activists talk about thinking globally and acting locally. Building a sustainable economy requires less global thinking and more local acting.

Don’t go to Lowe’s and Home Depot if there’s a corner hardware store you can go to. The last two times I’ve gone to a local mom-and-pop hardware store I got help without asking for it, got exactly what I needed, and got out of there faster than I’d be able to get out of the big-box store. And as far as the price, I probably made up for it on gas. Remember, Lowe’s and Home Depot are megacorporations. More of the money you spend at the mom-and-pop place will stay in the area.

Don’t go to Wal-Mart if you can get what you need someplace else. Target is a megacorporation too, but it puts more money into the communities it works in. But if there’s a locally owned business left, frequent that.

Don’t go to chain restaurants if there’s a locally owned place you can go to instead. It seems like St. Louis has a thousand delightful locally-owned restaurants. There is no reason whatsoever for a St. Louisan ever to eat at Olive Garden.

And wherever you go, check to see where the product you’re buying was made. I needed a putty knife the other week. The cheapest one was made in China. The one on the peg next to it was made in Canada and it cost 10 cents more. I bought the Canadian one. Neither one helps the U.S. worker, but when I buy the Canadian one, I know the guy who made it was paid a fair wage, and that’s worth the extra 10 cents to me.

Sometimes you have to get creative to avoid these things. If I want model train stuff, Lionel and its competitors all seem to be building everything in China. But I don’t have to buy new stuff.

The same goes for clothes. If all the clothes you like are made in countries that operate as the world’s sweatshop, buy used ones. At least then the operation that created the sweatshop doesn’t profit a second time. Besides, used clothes are cheap. And no one will ever know those year-old clothes weren’t originally your year-old clothes.

DVD players are all made in China today. So there, the decision is pretty easy. Buy the cheapest one. Then you’ve got more money left over for the times when you do have a choice.

Finding a list of countries whose workers earn a living wage has proven difficult for me. Does anyone else out there have such a list?

Of course, I would first prefer to buy locally made and then used, given the option.

How to heal

I had a conversation with a friend over the last couple of days. I won’t go into specifics to protect the people involved, but this friend is in the unfortunate situation of being surrounded by people with problems.
One of those people called on Tuesday night. It was a two-hour conversation. I asked how it went. Short version: The caller received a long list of things to do that will help solve the problem. But my friend wasn’t optimistic and fully expects to hear back from this person again in a couple of weeks, miserable as ever, and having not done a single thing on the list.

Someone else in this person’s life is facing a horrible disease. This disease wasn’t my dad’s area of specialty, but it was an area of interest for him. He wrote about a form of the disease in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association in 1979. I wished aloud that Dad was still alive so I could get his opinion on what this person needs.

Then I realized it doesn’t take Dad’s Bachelor’s degrees in physics, chemistry and biology and his Doctorate of Osteopathy and his 23 years of practicing medicine to understand what this second person needs. I don’t know much about this second person’s needs, but I saw a common thread between the first and the second.

Neither of them want help enough.

I’ve been there. I battled depression from the ages of about 14 to 21. I wasn’t willing to do anything about it until spring of 1995. I was used to it and I’d always managed to live with it. Part of me believed I thrived off it. My favorite writers were always depressed, so to me, being pessimistic and gloomy all the time was an asset. And I still believe to this day that some of the best stuff I ever wrote was written during a mood swing. I knew–or at least suspected–that I had a problem, but I wanted that problem.

Then one day, that problem became too much to bear. I woke up one morning and realized I couldn’t live like that anymore.

I relapsed a couple of years later. You see, I hadn’t wanted the depression to go away. I just wanted a milder form of it. Or I wanted to be able to invite it back over for a visit, because it was my crutch. I was fortunate. When it came back, it came back harder. It crushed me under its weight. I couldn’t get to work on time anymore, and when I did get there, I was unproductive. Most of the people I worked with couldn’t stand to be around me. My friends from that time period felt sorry for me, but I only have one friend left from those days. Some of those friendships would have gone away anyway, but I think part of it was just that it was too much work to be my friend right about then.

I knew life couldn’t go on that way. And in both cases, getting help was a lot of work. I came away from my therapy sessions with more homework than I got from some of my college-level classes. And the work was harder than a lot of my 300-level Journalism classes.

When you’re lurking in the Valley of the Shadow of whatever, and it took a culmination of events that took place over a lifetime to get you there, you can’t expect a two-hour phone conversation to change it. And you can’t expect it to go away on its own.

But I wanted to beat it badly enough. I was willing to do my homework. I wanted it gone, at any cost. If that meant I’d never write again, so be it. Better to be unpublished and happy than published and miserable. And–this will come as a shock to some, and as an “oh, duh!” to others–once I was rid of my problem, I found I didn’t need it. I went on to publish a book that went so far as to be Amazon.com’s #1 seller in Canada for a couple of weeks–and the concept was something I thought of after therapy, so it’s not like I developed it in depression and saved it up for afterward–and then I published a handful of magazine articles across the Atlantic.

So take it from me. You can turn around, even when you think you have everything to lose by facing your problem and getting it fixed.

So how do you pray for someone who doesn’t want help?

I think it helps to remember that there is one prayer that God will always answer yes to, no matter who prays it, no matter when they pray it, and no matter how they pray it. When someone says get lost, God complies immediately. And when our lives without Him become so miserable that we can’t take it anymore and we want Him back, He’ll come back even more quickly than He left, if that’s possible. But I think those are the only two prayers that are guaranteed to be answered with a yes.

When a person doesn’t want help from you or me or their doctor or their therapist, they don’t want help from God either. And it’s not really in God’s character to butt in uninvited and give unwanted help to somebody. It seems like sometimes He intervenes anyway, but I have to wonder if it isn’t because His back was against the wall and He had to do it for somebody else’s sake. (This is just me talking; don’t get any ideas about me being a prophet or anything.)

So how do you effectively pray for someone in that situation?

I think it’s pretty simple. They have to want help. They have to want it enough to be willing to change. I knew I was on the right track when I wanted my depression gone so badly that I didn’t care if I ever wrote effectively again. I was willing to pay any price to beat my problem, including giving up the most important part of my identity.

You can’t truly be helped until your problem is so big and so crushing that you’re willing to do absolutely anything to get rid of it. My friend Mark once said that nobody knows that they have the will to survive until they really need it. I’d rather say nobody knows that they have the will to survive until they really want and need it. Mark would probably agree. He didn’t say it in so many words, but I got the distinct impression that he didn’t really want the will to survive until he had to pick out his own coffin. The problem wasn’t real to him until then. But something about picking out a coffin did it for him. But once the problem became real and he wanted to beat it, he did. “There’s no way… I was going to let them put me in that box,” he told me. And even though it was more than 10 years after the fact, he still had the determination of a marathon runner in his eyes when he talked about it.

So when a person doesn’t want help, I think it’s premature to pray for healing. Pray for the problem to become real to the person who has it. Pray for the problem to become crushing if necessary. Pray for something to happen that will make the person want help. At any price. It hurts to pray like that for someone you love. Even when you know God loves that person more than you do.

I know, as Christians we’re supposed to pray for miracles. But you know what? I’ve spent a lot of time around apathetic people. I think being cured of apathy is a bigger miracle than being cured of almost any disease. Praying that way still leaves plenty of room for God to work, which opens the door to lots of other nice possibilities, like praying with that person be so much better than merely praying for that person. And of course, that’s the perfect time to pray for that second miracle.

Fun with 419 spam

If you are a carbon-based, oxygen-breathing mammal with an Internet connection, you’ve undoubtedly received countless 419 scam spams.
In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I’m talking about messages coming from people from distant countries with vaguely African-sounding names who have had a close relative or business associate, usually with a high-ranking position, killed under tragic or mysterious circumstances, leaving behind a large amount of money that they now want your help in embezzling or laundering through your U.S. bank account, and in return for your services, they’ll give you a percentage.

And you thought you were the only one who had all these connections to powerful people. Sorry to burst your bubble, Sparky.

What do you do when you get one of these? Some people get irritated and delete them. Some people call me. It usually takes me about 4 seconds to figure out it’s a scam and finish their story (and mine’s usually better, if I do say so myself). Some people write back and mess with them. That takes time and creativity. Unfortunately, my oversupply of creativity is matched only, it seems, by my oversupply of humility and my shortage of time.

What you’re supposed to do (if you’re a U.S. citizen, which I know a good number of you are not) is forward the mail to 419.fcd@usss.treas.gov. Include the words NO LOSS. That helps the Feds know who’s doing this. They won’t contact you if you haven’t lost any money. But the key to catching crooks is data. So send ’em data. Typically I’ll paste the full mail headers back into the message as well.

If you’re lazy but want to mess with them, you can use the Business Reply Generator. Plug in the name of the guy who e-mailed you and the details of the letter, and it generates a rambling response. Copy and paste it and send it back to ’em. Some people are afraid of responding because they might get more of this stuff. I doubt it. These aren’t typical spammers who are paid in volume–they only make money if people respond and fall for the scam, which involves advancing money for bribes/expenses/whatever, until they lure the victim into a foreign country where they can kidnap and hold the victim for ransom and get even more money.

So I would think wasting their time is more likely to get you put on a don’t-waste-your-time-with-this-guy list than to get you put on a quick!-fire-up-the-mail-server-we-found-a-working-address list.

If nothing else, the automated reply generator is amusing. Click “more” to read the response it put together for me. I especially like the last sentence, which, the way I read it, means “I’ll post it on my Web site.”

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Copyright terriorists can’t take what they dish out

Aw, poow widdle awe-aye-ay-ay! Poow widdle bay-bee!
The RIAA, if you recall correctly, is endorsing legislation that would permit copyright terrorists holders to knock off or hack into computers they suspect are being used to violate copyright law. So I guess calling what they want “copyright terrorism” is apt. Read more

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