Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

May 30, 2009

Wow, racism does that?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:16 pm

If you go here: http://www.boston.com/news/health/blog/2009/05/experience_of_r.html

you’ll find at bostom.com, in a regular feature “White Coat Notes: News from the Boston-area Medical Community,” an article entitled “Perceived racism linked to weight gain, researchers say.”

Hooo boy! As author Frances Kendall once said to me, “Everybody who touches that subject gets burned.”

But, fools rush in…

Perceptions of racism — from being treated with suspicion in a store to unfairness in employment or housing — can heighten stress levels and affect health, research has shown. A new study from Boston University links these smoldering signs of racism to weight gain in black women, suggesting a possible explanation for the their higher obesity rates compared to white women.

Yvette Cozier, an epidemiologist at the Slone Epidemiology Center at BU, led a survey of more than 43,000 women enrolled in the long-running Black Women’s Health Study. Writing in the June issue of Annals of Epidemiology, she and her co-authors describe participants’ reports on their weight, body mass index, and perceptions of racism.

OK, research design looks OK at first glance. Though you’re treading on shaky ground when using self-description of emotional states, as every competent researcher knows. The sample size certainly seems more than adequate.

At the beginning of the eight-year study, the women were asked if they sometimes felt they were treated poorly in a restaurant or store, whether they thought people considered them dishonest or less intelligent, and if they had felt unfairness on the job, in housing, or from police. The women, 21 to 69 years old at the study’s outset, were placed in four groups based on how frequently they said they experienced these signs of racism. Their weight was recorded every two years from 1997 through 2005. Their waist circumference was measured at the beginning and end.

At the end of the trial, all the women had gained weight. But the women who said they felt higher levels of racism gained more weight and had bigger waist-size increases compared to the women who felt the least racism. That held true after accounting for factors such as education, geographic region, and beginning body mass index.

OK, the second variable is something that can be objectively measured and compared to the emotional states, and the extraneous variables seem to have been controlled for.

Now the conclusion:

“Racism is real and it has real effects,” Cozier said in an interview. “It can result in real changes in the body.”

“Racism is real…” no kidding? I thought it was a myth.

“…it has real effects.” Well, I guess being insulted, assaulted, robbed, lynched or whatever are real enough to suit anyone’s standards.

“It can result in real changes in the body.”

Yep, getting shot or having the stuffings beat out of you results in some pretty real changes.

I’m sorry, I shouldn’t mock the good doctor without knowing more about her. She isn’t necessarily a public speaker, may have been quoted out of context, or may just have been searching for a rhetorical trope to introduce her conclusions with.

That particular trope may have a formal name in rhetoric. Where I come from we call it, “the triumphant discovery of the obvious.”

Higher stress changes hormone levels that influence food choices and where in the body fat is stored, the authors write. That makes an association between the stress of racism and weight gain, particularly around the waist, fit with other research in humans and animals, they say.

This is doctor-speak for pure speculation. What they dare not speak about is the established fact that people of different races store fat differently, apparently due to climatological adaptations. This may or may not be relevant – but it seems relevant that it wasn’t even included in the discussion.

Cozier said she was interested in learning whether there was another reason beyond diet and exercise that could explain why black women tend to be heavier than white women. Her study did not include white women, so a direct comparison is not possible, she said, but the unique experience of racism appears to be a potential contributor to the difference.

“Her study did not include white women…” so she thinks the controlling variable is racial discrimination, and didn’t examine a control group which presumably doesn’t experience it?

Folks, I haven’t read the full article, published in the ‘Annals of Epidemiology’ (and when the heck did overweight become an epidemic?) but this looks an awful lot like shopping for research results to support your conclusion.

What seems to me a far more defensible speculation (I won’t say conclusion, since the study was not designed to test this) is that weight gain has a lot to do with how far you think you’re in control of your life, versus how much you think it’s controlled by external factors you have no control over – such as other people’s attitudes.

Weight control is by far the simplest physical problem to prescribe for. (In the vast majority of circumstances, I know there are medical conditions that complicate it.) And it’s quite possibly the most difficult prescription to carry out.

You eat more than you burn, you gain. You burn more than you eat, you lose. Period.

I.e. there is no “beyond diet and exercise.” That’s not even medicine, it’s physics.

And yes, I’m acutely aware that it’s easier said than done. A lot of things are. Everyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking knows that.

I’ll also add that the researcher didn’t even touch upon another well-known observation. Body image problems seem to be a White girl thing in this country. Anorexia and bulemia seem to be confined pretty exclusively to white teens and 20-somethings.

The brightest spot in all of this is, the comments section.

The first 11 out of 110:

Couldn’t an underlying insecurity lead to both weight gain and higher sensitivity to apparent slights? How is the causality demonstrated here?

Posted by pg May 26, 09 07:24 PM Obviously racism hasn’t gone away – your study proves it – you are a racist!

Posted by Don Johnson May 26, 09 07:58 PM Come on. Of all the stories I’ve read today this has got to be the most outrageous. Honestly, some people are going to try and use every trick in the book to blame their bad habits, whether it be eating, drinking, smoking whatever on someone or something else.

It seems that no one is accountable anymore for their actions in this country. Let’s see, why don’t we blame the recession on “blue eyed white males” which the president of Brazil recently did.

Posted by Jim May 26, 09 07:59 PM If McCain were president, George Bush would be linked to weight gain.

Posted by lol May 26, 09 08:08 PM It is clear, very clear, that social experiences of discrimination against lead to pernicious hormonal and behavioral changes. It is not just a matter of habits, there are social and structural determinants of health. People under stress do not have the same chance of controlling themselves when eating. If they are under acute stress, the corticotropin hormone makes them to eat less. Right after the acute stress, the corticoids are still high and the corticotropin low and they eat a lot. That is well known. The weakness of this study is the utilization of perception of discrimination against as a measure of racism. I do not know how well correlated are other measures of racism with perception of racism. I also do not know what other measures of racism are reliable.

Posted by John Smith May 26, 09 08:21 PM I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. This is, quite possibly, the most asinine thing I’ve ever read.

Posted by urkiddinme May 26, 09 08:24 PM I have felt all the the feelings associated with the discriminatory practices listed above. If you want to discuss a problem, let’s discuss self-esteem and the effects of being a woman, especially an aging woman, in this society. Let’s do a study on that and see what results we get! That said, everyone has felt rejected and has been treated unfairly: male, female, black white, Asian, Hispanic, Christian, Jew, young old, etc. Yes, there is discrimination in this world and it is not restricted to black women.

Something else to consider is that just maybe the store clerk, policeman, waitress

or other perpetrator of “discriminatory” behavior was just having a bad day and took it out on thew closest person. It happens to me all the time and I’m not a black woman.

Posted by Kathie May 26, 09 08:28 PM Jim,
I was going to write something, but you covered it all.

Posted by Joe May 26, 09 08:30 PM I had to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently gone to The Onion after seeing this headline

Posted by Jack May 26, 09 08:33 PM One who suffers feelings of inferiority regardless of race or ethnic background, is more likely to eat unhealthy comfort food. I agree with the commenters above. This is a ridiculous correlation. Pray tell, who funded this foolish study?

Posted by Noname49 May 26, 09 08:49 PM Wow. Low self-esteem due to racism causes obesity. How ’bout we just say low self-esteem = bad self image. Hmmmm. Duh. Next up… candy is sweet. Also, this just in, people that yell have sore throats. How about, ‘People who are constantly put down have a tendency to snap?’ Ooooh. Does someone actually pay money for studies like this?

Thank God! Maybe the lunatics haven’t quite taken over the asylum quite yet.

Note: When I was copy editing for the Polish Academy of Science Annual Review, I got a paper that measured fat gain in Polish women, correlated with the education level of their husbands. The study found that women’s tendency to stay slim correlated with higher levels of education of their husbands.

Note: Other posts about racism can be found here. So if you’re going to write in and call me a racist – read the damn things first.

http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/11/racism-versus-culturism.html

http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2007/02/racism-some-questions.html

http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2007/10/that-which-must-not-be-said-and-why-it.html

May 28, 2009

Recognizing Israel’s "right to exist"

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:41 pm

It’s on the news again. The president is trying to get Israel to make territorial concessions in the hope their enemies will be satisfied, make peace, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

I can’t believe I’m still hearing this garbage about getting Hamas, Abbas and Whatsisass to recognize Israel’s “right to exist.”

The very term Israel’s right to exist is a lie.

Israel’s enemies aren’t against the existence of a Jewish nation, they’re against the existence of Jews period. End of story.

This isn’t like the cycles of conquest we’re used to hearing about from European history. Poland was conquered and dismembered between Russia, he Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Prussia for 135 years – but there were still Poles.

Those powers subjugated and sometimes attempted to assimilate many various subject nations. They didn’t try to exterminate them genetic stock, lock and barrel.

But that’s what the jihadists want to do.

And how do you know this, you terrible, xenophobic, racist, intolerant person? (I hear you say.)

Oh gee, let me think for a minute…

Could it be because they say so? Loudly, conspicuously, and at every opportunity?

Call it a hunch.

May 21, 2009

Memorial Day, 2009

Filed under: Eleagic mode — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:05 pm

“On, sons of Greece! Set free / Your fatherland, your children, wives, / Homes of your ancestors and temples of your gods! / Save all, or all is lost!” Aeschylus, The Persians

Those lines were written by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus. For his part in creating the art of tragic drama, he won immortal glory. Winner of the highest honors his own and other Greek cities had to offer, he wrote this epitaph inscribed on his tomb.

“Under this monument lies Aeschylus the Athenian, Euphorion’s son, who died in the wheatlands of Gela. The grove of Marathon, with it’s glories, can speak of his valor in battle. The long-haired Persian remembers and can speak of it too.”

There is not a word about his fame as an artist, only about his service as a common foot soldier in the battle that saved his city and his civilization.

This Monday we celebrate Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember our countrymen and women killed in our country’s wars.

Memorial Day is not a day for the glorification of war, celebration of past victories, or lamentation for heroic defeat. It is a day to remember that for each and every American who died in a war, whether that war was inevitable or avoidable, the world ended for someone and was forever damaged for others.

It is fashionable in some circles these days to be “against war,” and to decry the horrors of war.

Congratulations. Only a lunatic is “for” war.

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity,” said Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe World War II.

The sixth century Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius, considered by some military historians to be the greatest field commander in history, said, “All men with even a small store of reason know that peace is chiefest of blessings.”

Gen. Robert E. Lee, who Winston Churchill called, “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived,” said, “It is good that war is so terrible, lest we should learn to love it.”

Does anyone think their moral authority to condemn war is greater than these men’s?

Our oldest living veterans went to war in a time when men like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Hideki Tojo commanded armies and fleets that laid waste to nations.

Our fellow-citizens in today’s military serve at a time when weapons of terrifying power are in danger of falling into the hands of rogue nations, failed states and international terrorists.

Some day there may come a time when men “shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war any more.”*

Some day perhaps, Memorial Day will be “a dim remembering of a cursed time, when man was a wolf to man.”**

But that day is not yet.

And until that day comes, men and women in uniform, our countrymen, must continue to put themselves between their homes and those who would destroy them. And we must continue to honor those who did not fail in their duty, lest the day come when there is no one left willing to stand between our homes and war’s desolation.***

* Isaiah II

** Bartolomeo Vanzetti to the judge who condemned him to death, “Your laws, your courts, your false god, will be a dim remembering of a cursed time when man was a wolf to man.” Very eloquent, especially for a man for whom English was a second language. Too bad the sumbitch was guilty. Unfair trials sometimes convict guilty people too.

***O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us as a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause, it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Fourth verse, it’s really a better poem than it is a song IMHO.

Note: This appeared as an op-ed in the weekend edition of the Valley City Times-Record.

May 16, 2009

Oh God, not this "sophisiticated European" crap again

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:09 pm

If you go here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/so-john-edwards-had-an-af_b_203742.html

to the Huffington Post, you’ll find an article by a Johann Hari, a columnist for the London Independent, entitled, “So Jonathan Edwards Had an Affair — Grow Up, Adultery is not a Political Issue.”

Hari invokes the Monica Lewinski scandal:

“Memo to America: Grow. Up. Have you forgotten the lesson of Lewinsky so soon? While al-Qa’ida plotted a murderous attack on the US, the twice-elected president was busy being impeached over a few bouts of consensual oral sex. It meant nothing. It was nothing. But it skewed your politics for years.”

Hari is half-right here. Outraged and uptight Republicans focused on the sex aspect of l’affair Lewinski to the point where the real issue was totally obscured.

The real issue was perjury – lying under oath, and witness tampering. And that damn well does impact the issue of whether a public official is fit to serve.

A society can survive a high crime rate, even a high violent crime rate. What it cannot survive is allowing the trivialization of perjury, and witness and jury tampering. Tolerate these – for any reason, and you haven’t got a justice system left.

A lawyer once pointed out to me, that if a prosecutor finds evidence of witness tampering by a murder suspect, many would happily drop the murder charge if they could send the perp up on the tampering charge.

But our pols evidently don’t have to live under the same law as the rest of us.

Hari goes on:

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Continental Europe has a mature model where politicians’ affairs are considered irrelevant. The idea a French President would be debarred from office for sleeping with somebody other than his wife is preposterous.

Talking about “a right to know” about affairs is silly. We no more have a right to know about Edward’s sex life than we have a right to know what he looks like naked.”

True enough. When Francoise Mitterand died, his wife and his mistress (with her daughter by him) walked in the funeral procession hand-in-hand.*

I did not then, nor do I now give a frak who Bill Clinton, or Jonathan Edwards, sleeps with.** If I were the president of this land, I’d have a hareem in the East Wing of the White House. (Uh, you know I’m kidding honey. Just making a point!)

I care about taking an oath seriously, and I care about courage.

Caught out in lies that were certain to be uncovered eventually, neither of these wimps had the guts to look the press in the eye and say, “Who I sleep with is none of your damn business!”

Once a pol does this and makes it stick, then maybe we’ll grow up and become tres European.

*Interesting side note. Some years back I asked a Japanese fellow-grad student about then-Prime Minister Tanaka, and how the Japanese press treated the fact that he had a traditional arrangement with a concubine and second family in a house across town from his wife and primary family. (I’d read it in Newsweek.)

She answered, “Oh, does he?”

She wasn’t shocked you understand. She just didn’t know. Which answered my question.

**Although I’ve got to say, what the hell is wrong with these guys’ taste? They’ve got access to some of the most beautiful women on the continent – and they get caught with a pudgy Valley Girl and a skank groupie.

May 14, 2009

The administration and those photos

Filed under: Politics,Terrorism — Stephen W. Browne @ 4:24 pm

Note: This appeared as an op-ed in the weekend edition of the Valley City Times-Record.

“There were young knights among them who had never been present at a stricken field. Some could not look upon it and some could not speak and they held themselves apart from the others who were cutting down the prisoners at My Lord’s orders, for the prisoners were a body too numerous to be guarded by those of us who were left. Then Jean de Rye, an aged knight of Burgundy who had been sore wounded in the battle, rode up to the group of young knights and said: ‘Are ye maidens with your downcast eyes? Look well upon it. See all of it. Close your eyes to nothing. For a battle is fought to be won. And it is this that happens if you lose.”
Froissart’s Chronicles, 14th century

President Obama, announced he would authorize release of photos showing prisoners undergoing “enhanced interrogation.” Right-wingers announced the imminent downfall of the American republic.

Then he changed position and said he wouldn’t. Left-wingers announced the imminent downfall of the American republic.

Reportedly, top US commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan personally told the President they opposed release, arguing it would make the US mission more difficult.

Most of the controversy concerns “waterboarding,” a technique used on three terrorists a total of six-and-a-half minutes. It’s also routinely used on U.S. military personnel training to resist interrogation.

One of the terrorists the CIA is known to have waterboarded is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The 9/11 Commission claims Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was “the principle architect of the 9/11 attacks.” Under questioning he boasted, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl, in the City of Karachi, Pakistan.”

Pearl’s body was found cut into ten pieces in a shallow grave in the outskirts of Karachi in 2002. A video of Pearl’s last minutes was posted on the Internet, and featured on snuff-DVDs sold as light entertainment in parts of the Middle East where they don’t like us much.

The arguments about “enhanced interrogation” concern whether the techniques used are, or are not torture. And given they are, is torture ever justified?

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the CIA didn’t tell her they would actually go out and do what they described in the briefings she attended. The minutes of the meetings show, to put it bluntly, that she’s lying her head off.

Anyone who says they’d never use torture under any circumstances is lying their head off. Tell anyone that someone they love more than their own life is in the hands of Khalid’s buddies, and watch them join the “waterboarding is for sissies” camp in two seconds.

The question is, how far can we go before what we do destroys us and the ideals that define us as a civilization? Is there too high a price to pay for survival?

Maybe – but you have to survive to have that discussion.

We are justifiably proud of the progress we’ve made since the not-so-long-gone days torture was acceptable legal practice, and executions and bear baiting were public entertainment. What we too-often fail to realize is, that progress has not been evenly distributed across the globe.

Our enemies come from a culture which holds public beheadings – and parents bring their children and let them kick the head around like a soccer ball. Where to murder someone who insults you, your clan, or your religion is praiseworthy. Where mothers teach sons if their wife, daughter, or sister is raped, their duty is to murder her.

Our enemies think we are soft, and their ruthlessness will overcome our power. Whether they are right or not, is a still-open question.

So Mr. President, I’d say go ahead and release those photos. If we allow these things in our name, we ought to be willing to look at them.

But if we do, let’s look at that Danny Pearl video too.

May 11, 2009

Hey, I won something!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:21 pm

No, it wasn’t the lottery. Not yet, and you won’t hear about it from me when I do…

What I won was First Place in the North Dakota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest, in the category of Personal Columns – Serious, among newspapers of 12,000 or less circulation.

I posted it here http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2008/06/fathers-day-lessons-for-older-dad.html

I also won second place in the category of Picture Story, for a photo series on a drill the first responders of our community staged in front of the local high school – very fake-gory it was and a great drill.

It seems very appropriate on the day I’m going to pick up my family at the airport. They’ve been evacuated to my parents home on the east coast, and it’s given me an excellent opportunity to rediscover something.

Being a bachelor sucks.

The house is eerily un-haunted. There are no sounds at night, no breathing on the other side of bed, and beyond her in the crib. And beyond the crib in the next room.

I’d have welcomed the company of a ghost.

Now I’m getting my family back – can the lottery be far behind?

May 9, 2009

A recommendation and my plan for voluntary term limits

Filed under: Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:34 am

Have a look here: http://www.pjtv.com/video/Afterburner_/The_Cost_of_Media_Bias/1736/6337/

at Bill Whittle (my favorite blogger) video-commenting on media bias. Chapter and verse, chapter and verse.

God I love the video age! It’s getting harder and harder to maintain hypocrisy and lies in public anymore.

Whittle speaks of an aristocratic congress-for-life. Some say the cure for this is term limits.

Well, term limits have been passed a few times, and just as quickly overturned, or delayed forever by challenges in the courts. Does anyone really think the political class will willingly put up with exclusion from the gravy train?

So I have “a modest proposal.” We propose a social contract with those who would undertake the noble sacrifices of public service. Which (so they say) are a burden they undertake for the Greater Good of Us All.

You altruistic public servants can have three consecutive terms in office.

After one, you have to spend at least an equal amount of time making an honest living before you run for any public office again.

Or, you can have two terms in office. After which you spend an equal amount of time in jail.

Or, you can have three consecutive terms in office, after which we take you out and shoot your sorry ass because you’re hopeless.

May 3, 2009

And speaking of pictures…

Filed under: Personal,Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 2:32 pm

We had an exchange at the office the other day, which I’m still chuckling over, for reasons I can’t quite explain.

The weather outside was foul, and our town is still rationing sewer use. The durn college sports auditorium electronic billboard is flashing, “Yellow is mellow, brown flush it down,” if that gives you an idea.

At any rate, I got an email from my father with pics of my wife and kids. They’re staying with my parents on the east coast while the emergency lasts.

(I suspect my boy became instantly popular in school after telling his new schoolmates there were no toilets in our town, “Ewwww gross!”)

At any rate, I was telling a female colleague in the office about the pics, and how the sun is shining on the bay and everything looks so beautiful.

“I don’t want to see them,” she said grumpily.

“Damn she looks good!” I remarked.

“Steve!” she said, shocked.

“Hey, that’s my wife I’m talking about.”

What can I say? Nine years and I’m still crazy about my wife.

There was a time that was considered shocking. The Polish King Jan III Sobieski, who led the Polish-German forces that relieved the siege of Vienna by the Turks, had a wife Maryszenka. Their relationship was the scandal of Europe at the time.

You see, one doesn’t know how to put this delicately, but the king was known to be in love with his wife.

That just wasn’t done!

Polish popular movies still make fun of this. I saw one in which foreign ambassadors come to the palace to meet with the king, and the palace staff find him in a corner enjoying a little slap-and-tickle with the queen.

Since the king was often away on campaign in those turbulent times, they wrote to each other a lot. It’s a pity their correspondence hasn’t been translated, I’m told it deserves a place among the masterpieces of delicately erotic literature.

“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”

G.K. Chesterton

May 1, 2009

Ooooo am I getting it now!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:53 pm

Note: What follows is an editorial for the Valley City Times-Record. It follows a story I did, which is described in the editorial. The story was accompanied by two pictures. One of two North Dakota Highway Patrolmen in their shirtsleeves in the freezing water, and one of the rescue team working to save the life of the young lady whose car plunged into the frigid water.

In the picture you can clearly see her face. She remains in critical condition in a hospital in Fargo.

There has been some controversy about the picture, to say the least. The family of the accident victim did not like it at all, which I fully understand. They’ve got to be mad at somebody, and there really isn’t anyone to be mad at: no other driver caused the accident, no pothole in the highway, not even a bartender who served one too many drinks. It was a damn goose in the road the driver swerved to avoid.

Reactions are mixed. A Fargo TV station called us and begged for the pictures. Others think it was tasteless. I’m sorry I can’t reproduce the pic, but it’s not my property anymore. What I saw, and I believe the pic shows, is brave and skillful men working their hearts out to save the life of a young woman who might be anyone’s little girl.

Now, even as we speak, a loudmouthed sports caster on the local radio station is going on and on about how we only did it to show them up (absurd, they’re a radio station) and I should be fired, blah, blah, blah.

At any rate, here’s what I have to say about the incident:

***********************************************************************************

*Volunteers do their communities proud

Wednesday evening was hectic to be sure. I was on my way out of the office to follow a story when word came in that a woman was trapped in a car in Hobart Lake.

Following a fire engine to the scene, I saw personnel from the state Highway Patrol, Barnes County Sheriff’s Office, Sanborn Fire Department, and Valley City/Barnes County fire, rescue and ambulance, not to mention the wrecker from Gille Auto. They were moving so quickly, smoothly, and with such coordination you’d think they did they did this every day.

Rescue Lt. Scott Magnuson, who led the team of divers who recovered the victim from the submerged car, rightly said the rescue was a team effort by a lot of people, starting with the witnesses who called in the report via cell phone. Remember when a witness would have had to drive to the nearest gas station to use a phone?

Highway Patrolmen and Sheriff’s Deputies immediately established traffic control and secured the scene, a vastly under-appreciated part of any rescue effort.

A couple of the first Highway Patrolmen on the scene shucked their shirts and jumped in the frigid lake and located the car, saving the rescue team precious time. I was freezing my keister off just standing there fully clothed in the wind and rain.

All of them performed crucial roles, but the success of their efforts depended on the highly specialized training and equipment of the volunteer fire and rescue personnel.

Without the men and equipment; the wet suits, rubber boat, SCUBA gear, and tools, I have no doubt that good men would have killed themselves in a possibly futile attempt to rescue the victim. It takes nothing away from the professionals to say, our volunteers are awesome!

The tradition of volunteer responder has a long and honorable history. The first fire brigades were founded in ancient Rome, the Corpus Vigiles.

The all-volunteer, privately financed Royal National Lifeboat Institution, organized in 1824, has 272 lifeboats assigned to 210 stations in the British Isles. Since it’s founding the RNLI has saved more than 124,000 lives, an average of three a day, at a cost of 435 crew members killed in the line of duty.

Volunteer responder services exist because small communities just flat can’t afford to maintain highly trained full-time professionals for emergencies that are thankfully rare. In the United States, 73 percent of all firefighters are members of volunteer fire departments, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council.

The NVFC is a non-profit membership association representing the interests of the volunteer fire, EMS and rescue services, and serves as an information source regarding legislation, standards and regulatory issues.

On the web there is also VolunteerFD.org, a place for volunteer firefighters to come and share information with their fellow unpaid professionals. They operate the Sponsor a Firefighter program which suggests ways in which individuals, businesses, and communities can support their volunteer first-responders.

One way some communities support their volunteers, is to provide tax incentives to volunteer.

The IRS previously considered such benefits income subject to federal taxation, until Congressman John B Larson (D-Conn.) proposed the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA). George Bush signed the bill into law, in December of 2008.

H.R. 3648 exempts all tax benefits provided by state and local units of government to volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel from taxation by the federal government. Additionally, the first $360 per year of any other type of benefit that a volunteer receives would be exempted from taxation.

VRIPA expires at the end of 2010. So if you’d like to do something for the men and women who guard your lives, you might make a note to write your congressman next year.

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