Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Scam Alert

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 26, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Ring, ring, ring. I crawled out of the vehicle I was working on and headed for the phone. “Richie’s,” I said, answering the phone. The voice on the other end of the line was furious. “I want you to stop calling me,” she shouted. I assured her that I had not called her. “Well, someone there is calling me,” she retorted. “I work alone, so I can assure you that no one called you from here,” I replied, adding, “my company never makes unsolicited phone calls.” “I know that the calls have been coming from you because your number is on my Caller ID,” she shrieked. 

I tried to calm her down by telling her, “I think that I know what is going on.” I explained that I had received telemarketer calls that showed on my caller ID as local phone numbers. A telemarketer knows that you are more likely to answer the phone if you think the call is from a local number. I’m not sure that she believed me, but at least she wasn’t yelling by the time our conversation ended. She and I had both been the victims of spoofing, and you probably have been too.

Spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity. Scammers often use neighbor spoofing, so it appears that an incoming call is coming from a local number or from a company that you may already know and trust. It seems that almost daily, I get robocalls that seem to come from local numbers.

The most common robocalls that I receive go something like this. “Hi, this is Susie calling with the vehicle service department. I see here that the warranty on your car is about to expire, and I was calling to see if you would like to extend this warranty to keep your car protected.” The Federal Communications Commission says that calls like this are the most common robocalls and were the top unwanted call complaint filed by consumers last year.

Unfortunately, we can’t trust the phone’s caller ID or the email address on the message in our inbox. The Facebook profile we just got a message from may not be our high school classmate. Spoofers and spammers have a lot of nasty tricks up their sleeve, from posing as a member of the IRS to lying about your car’s warranty. No matter who the spammer is, their goal is to separate you from your money. Spoofers and scammers are shockingly successful. Research from Statista, the number one business data platform, shows that Americans lost over nineteen billion dollars to scam calls in 2020.

Number spoofers are like modern-day pirates, commandeering phone numbers instead of ships. Spoofers’ and pirates’ goal is the same: to make a profit by dishonest means. According to the Federal Communications Commission and the Truth in Caller ID Act, call spoofing is illegal only when the caller intends to “defraud, harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value” from the call recipient. In these cases, people found guilty of call spoofing can be fined up to $10,000 per call. Unfortunately, prosecutions are rare. 

Maybe, like me, you have received phone calls threatening that the Police, Sheriff, IRS, or DEA will be at your house shortly to arrest you if you don’t make payment arrangements. Or that the Police need donations for death benefits for officers who die in the line of duty, or the firefighters need money. The list goes on and on! We live in a world where we are unsure about who to trust.

On March 17, 2021, The Federal Communications Commission fined Texas-based telemarketers $225 million for transmitting approximately one billion robocalls, many of them illegally spoofed, to sell short-term, limited-duration health insurance plans. At that time, acting FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel issued a statement saying, “the FCC receives more complaints about robocalls than any other issue. It’s easy to see why! Robocalls are intrusive and annoying, and during the last few years, the number has skyrocketed.  Worse, many of these calls involve scams. To protect ourselves, many of us rely on Caller ID and only pick up the phone if we recognize the number.  

So one of the most insidious things robocallers do is trick people into taking the call. They disguise who they are by spoofing their number and instead use numbers that we trust—friends, family, and familiar institutions.  

This isn’t just frustrating—it’s dangerous. When we can’t trust that the number we see is the number that is truly calling, we’re less likely to pick up the phone and more likely to miss important calls from those we really care about.  

So today we do something historic: we impose the largest fine ever for the illegal spoofing of telephone numbers. The individuals involved didn’t just lie about who they were when they made their calls—they said they were calling on behalf of well-known health insurance companies on more than a billion calls.  That’s fraud on an enormous scale.

This is a just outcome. But the truth is that given the size and scope of the problem, we have to do much, much more.”

Gentle Reader, all of us are susceptible to being scammed. Whenever I hear of someone caught in a scam, I want to say, “What in the world were you thinking? Couldn’t you see that it was only a scam?” I may have never fallen for a telephone scam, but I have fallen for Satan’s deceptions many times. The Bible informs us, “Most importantly, be disciplined and stay on guard. Your enemy the devil is prowling around outside like a roaring lion, just waiting and hoping for the chance to devour someone. Resist him and be strong in your faith. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (VOICE) Satan is always stalking us, looking for a way to enter into our lives and destroy us. For some, he uses selfishness and greed. And for others, he uses doubt and fear. He suggests that we should hate those who are different from us or disagree with our views. Regardless of what tactic he uses, Satan intends to scam us out of our relationship with God. Please don’t fall for his scam.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Cutting Down Trees

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 19, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I love trees. I always have. When I travel in areas that do not have trees, I wonder how people can live there. One of the reasons I love the place where I live in Western Arkansas is that we have so many trees. When spring comes each year and the trees leaf out; it lifts my spirits. The various shades of green that cover the hillsides are beautiful. And I find autumn to be a magical time of year when the leaves on the trees change from green to many shades of orange, red, yellow, and brown.

Last week I had several trees taken out of my backyard. It was painful for me. Remember, I love trees. When I first saw the building lot where my house now stands, the thing that impressed me the most was the trees. Almost immediately, my wife and I knew that this was where we wanted to build our house. When we started building, it pained me to take out trees to have room for our house, but I knew it was necessary.

The story of the trees in my backyard started over a year ago. Our house is almost thirty years old, and the deck at the back of the house had deteriorated. I decided to replace the deck with Trex composite decking. I chose composite decking because composite materials offer outstanding durability and low maintenance. After removing the old decking and installing the composite, I needed a railing. My old deck had wooden planters and benches, but I wanted a proper railing on my new deck. Trex offers composite railing, but the cost was high, and I was not crazy about the way it looked. I investigated cable railing systems, but once again, the price was high, and I wasn’t sure that I could make it look nice when I installed it.

Another part of my plan was to pour a cement patio below the raised composite deck. I called several concrete finishers but could not get anyone to make a bid on the project. For several months, my project was on hold. I enjoyed the deck and the new outdoor furniture we purchased, but the lack of a railing made me nervous. While looking at my Facebook feed, I saw where someone had a local craftsman, John, build a beautiful gate. I contacted John and asked him if he could build a custom rail for my deck. He said that he could and came out the next day to make a bid on the job. Within a couple of weeks, I had a beautiful new railing on my deck.

But I still wanted a concrete patio. I learned about someone who did concrete work, and I hired him to pour the slab and build steps. The job that he did was terrible. Several people who saw the finished product told me it was the worst workmanship they had ever seen. I was devastated. Once again, my project was on hold, and I didn’t know what to do. After several weeks of feeling discouraged and helpless, I decided to call a local builder of fine homes and talk to him about my problems. He gave me the name of the concrete finisher that he used and told me that if anyone could figure out what to do to repair my terrible concrete job, Sam could. When I called Sam, he made an appointment to look at the concrete. He told me that the only thing he could do was cap the entire slab with another four inches of reinforced concrete.

When Sam gave me the bid for the job, I told him that I wanted him to do it. He told me that he would put me on the schedule, but It would be spring before he could get to it. Just in time for Easter, I had an attractive professional concrete patio. It had taken almost a year, but I was excited and happy to have my project almost finished. There was just one more thing that I needed to do to make it complete. Because I had caped the bad concrete with four more inches, I now had an eight-inch drop-off. I needed to bring in topsoil and raise the level of my backyard.

If I were going to do dirt work in my backyard, I would need to plant grass. When we called Kathy to ask her about doing the work for us, she told us to get grass to grow, we would need to take out some trees. Grass needs a minimum of four to six hours of sun a day. I resisted at first. I love my trees and the beautiful shady yard. But after thinking about it, I realized that I had a decision to make. I could have my trees or a nice lawn. But I could not have both. The trees are now gone, and my backyard is much more open. I know that when my yard has beautiful grass, I will be happy. But for now, I am a bit sad that my trees are gone.

The loss of my trees reminded me of a story I once read about Robert E. Lee. After the Civil War, the General visited a widow in Kentucky. She took him to see the remains of a once beautiful tree in front of her house. There the widow cried for the tree destroyed by Federal artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss. After a brief silence, Lee said, “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it.”

The beautiful old tree in the widow’s front yard might symbolize something in your life. It might be something that an enemy damaged. You feel justified in your hate. Our nature is to hold on to offenses, to desire justice, repayment, or even revenge. If that “tree” is still standing in your life, it is a constant temptation to nurture hate and unforgiveness. Is this how you want to live? General Lee’s words apply here: “Cut it down, and forget it.”

Gentle Reader, forgiveness does not mean you are to ignore that someone has wronged you. Forgiveness does not mean that you close your eyes to moral atrocity and pretend that it didn’t hurt. Forgiveness means that you determine in your heart to let God be the avenger. He is the judge, not you. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31,32 (NIV) It is time to cut down the tree.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Battle of Franklin

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 12, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It was 4:30 In the morning when Major General Schofield and Brigadier General Cox rode into the outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee, and commandeered the house belonging to Fountain Branch Carter. Cox’s division was the vanguard of the Federal army under General Schofield’s command. The Federal army had been marching all night after quietly slipping away from the Confederate army in Spring Hill. 

The day before, Confederates seemed to have the upper hand. By 4:30 P.M., they had almost ten thousand troops in Spring Hill with another ten thousand two miles away. The Federal army of around seven thousand men was pinned down, with the nearest reinforcements two hours away. At sundown, the situation seemed grim to the Federal defenders behind their barricades. There was confusion in the Confederate ranks as battle plans changed. Confusion gave way to frustration as night fell. The Confederates started fires, cooked supper, and bedded down for the night. Many of them were only two hundred yards from the main road north out of Spring Hill.

Under cover of darkness, the Federal army was able to make its way past the Confederate positions. After marching all night, they made it to Franklin. General Schofield hoped that the pontoon bridge he had requested from Nashville would be at the Harpeth River. Unfortunately, the pontoon was not there yet, so the Federal army was trapped between the river and the Confederates.

Around the southern edge of Franklin, there were old entrenchments dug by Federal forces a year earlier. General Cox put his troops in the old defenses and ordered them to improve the breastworks. The defenses passed through the property of Fountain Carter. By that afternoon, most of the Federal army was entrenched in a line from riverbank to riverbank of a loop in the river, hoping to retreat across the Harpeth River when it became possible. 

The history came to life for me as we toured the Carter House in Franklin. Our tour guide was able to help us understand the events of that fateful day. Her straightforward, concise storytelling brought the day’s happenings into focus and helped us visualize the battle. As I stood in the exact location, I could imagine the Federal soldiers in their breastworks watching as the Confederates appeared in the open fields to the south around 3:30 in the afternoon. From their vantage point two miles away, it looked like a grand military review, but the Federal soldiers were somber as they watched thousands of Confederate soldiers fall into formation.

Federal division commander, Brigadier General George D. Wagner ordered his men to take their position along an elevation about half a mile from the main Federal works. His three thousand men were between the Federal line and the amassing Confederate army.  Col. Emerson Opdycke led a brigade in George Wagner’s division. When General Wagner ordered Opdycke to join his fellow brigade commanders, he saw the folly of such a position and was in no mood to follow Wagner’s commands. The position was isolated, and already the Federals could see swarms of Confederates appearing on the next ridge. An attack was imminent, and there was no chance for Wagner’s small force to stop the assault. Instead, Opdycke deployed his brigade about two hundred yards behind the Carter House.

Wagner’s decision to move into the field between the two armies was a mistake. The Confederate line overwhelmed Wagner’s men. The Federal defenders stampeded back towards the main line after firing a single volley. The Confederates followed in close pursuit, using their Federal foes as human shields. Afraid of hitting their comrades, the riflemen on the Federal main line held their fire as they watched the intermingled crowd surge towards them. As a result, the last half-mile of the Confederate advance was largely uncontested, allowing the charge to hit the main line with full force.

As the Confederates poured into the breach in the Federal line, Emerson Opdycke’s brigade, instead of being in retreat with Wagner’s other men, was in reserve, about 200 yards north of the Carter House. Opdycke quickly ordered his brigade forward to the breastworks. Opdycke’s counterattack helped seal the breach. Thousands of men surge into a deadly vortex of combat with shovels, bayonets, sabers, and pistols. Hand-to-hand fighting around the Carter House was furious and desperate. Firing continued around the Carter house and gardens for hours. Each side fired through or over the top of the parapets at close range, trying to dislodge the other. After hours of fighting, the call came for the Confederates to fall back. 

Our group listens quietly as the tour guide tries to help us understand the extreme violence and carnage that happened that fateful November day in 1864. There were so many casualties in the area around the Carter House that men died standing up because there were so many bodies that they couldn’t fall. She showed us the farm office, a small clapboard building that is full of bullet holes. The house and outbuildings have hundreds of bullet holes still showing. Of 15,000 Union troops engaged, some 200 died, and more than 2,000 were wounded. The Confederates had 23,000 men at Franklin; around 1,750 died, and 5,500 were injured or captured. Private Sam Watkins of the 1st Tennessee called it “the blackest page in the history of the war.” When recounting the battle, one soldier said, “It was as if the devil had full possession of the earth.”

As I stood on the battlefield in Franklin and contemplated the carnage that happened there, I thought about another great battle. Revelation chapter 12 presents what I feel is a good way for a Christian to view history. It describes a great spiritual war raging behind the scenes. The apostle John saw a vision of war in heaven. He saw the dragon defeated and hurled down to earth. “Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.” Revelation 12:7-9 (NLT)

Gentle Reader, the book of Revelation presents a vivid image of reality. It is the spiritual reality behind the wars that rage around us. Just like Satan whispers temptations in our ears, he also creates dissension among countries and urges them to fight. I love studying history, and history reveals an unending cavalcade of war and struggle. But God has promised that there will come a time when there will be no more war. “The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4 (NLT) I’m longing for that day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Supply Chain Disruptions

My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 5, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

Warm hues spread over the landscape as the rosy golden light of sunrise makes its appearance. The sun is just coming up as I pull up to the storage building where my supplier dropped off my glass order during the night. A sense of apprehension comes over me as I roll up the garage door. It has been difficult for my glass supplier to fill my orders for the past couple of months. I am never sure how much of my order will be waiting for me in the storage building. 

My fears were confirmed as I loaded my glass onto my shop truck. Five pieces of glass were missing from my order. Five customers would have to be called and told that I would not be able to do their job until a later date. I would have to reschedule five jobs. I let out a long sigh. “What a way to start my day,” I thought. 

My supplier is in Little Rock, but I can also order glass from warehouses in Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, and Atlanta. When I order from out-of-state warehouses, I never know when I will receive the glass. I have had parts on order for over a month that I haven’t received yet. The wall of my office is covered with post-it notes for jobs. Many notes say, “call when the glass comes in.” I have been in this business since 1973, and I have never experienced supply disruptions like this.

When I called my supplier to find out about my latest batch of missing glass, I could hear the frustration in his voice. I’m sure that there were many calls that morning similar to mine. He told me that sales were the strongest he had ever seen. In the first quarter of 2021, sales were far higher than in any previous first quarter in the Little Rock warehouses’ existence. But their stock couldn’t keep up with demand. In the auto glass industry, the supply chain moves slow. When the warehouse orders more glass, it can take months to receive. It looks like it could be several months before their stock will meet the demand.

As I talk with customers and try to explain to them why I can’t get the glass that they need, many have told me of similar issues in other industries. I started researching the supply chain problems and found that many sectors followed a similar pattern during the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturers slashed orders from suppliers and reduced production when sales plummeted early in the pandemic. When sales started improving in the 4th quarter of 2020 and then took off in 2021, production and delivery could not keep up with demand, producing shortages.

Chris Rogers, a supply chain analyst for Panjiva, says, “the combination of stockpiling activity, a continued surge in goods ranging from electronics to appliances and a lack of air freight capacity has led to heavy congestion at U.S. ports. Also problematic is the shortage of empty containers and other equipment needed to haul products away from port facilities. Meanwhile, consumers are likely to wait longer for deliveries and face higher costs for in-demand items as container shipping rates jump.”

Phillip Sanfield, the spokesperson for the Port of Los Angeles, was recently asked about the supply chain problems. He said, “a total of 34 container ships mostly from Asia are now anchored off the ports of both Los Angeles and Long Beach, waiting to unload cargo including furniture, auto parts, apparel, and electronics. The system is definitely strained. Under normal conditions, it’s rare to have container ships waiting to get into the complex.”

Experts say that retailers are likely to face continued supply chain disruptions and delivery delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic for quite some time. “In 2021, organizations will face a challenge unraveling this complexity,” says Michael Ward, a web developer at Writemyx. “Sophisticated supply chain understanding is essential if organizations are to be resilient in the face of global upheaval.” Nader Mikhail, writing for Supply Chain News, says, “the global pandemic applied pressure to the supply chain in ways not previously seen. Much of the supply chain industry is still hanging on for dear life. Unfortunately, most companies with supply chains are far from where they need to be to deal with large-scale disruptions.”

It looks like we can expect supply chain disruptions for some time to come. I don’t think that there is going to be a quick fix in my industry. But there is a sure supply chain. Writing to the church at Philippi, Paul says, “this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NLT) We can be sure that God’s supply chain will not break down.

God’s supply chain works because God gives us the grace and strength to meet every new challenge daily. “God can give you all you need. He will give you more than enough. You will have everything you need for yourselves. And you will have enough left over to give when there is a need.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NLV) The world these days seems to feel almost helpless as everything around us is so unstable. Just watching the news can cause fear and uncertainty. Don’t fill your mind with all of the bad news around you. Instead, focus on God and his promises. Especially the promise that He will supply your needs.

Gentle Reader, “those who look to the Lord have every good thing they need.” Psalms 34:10 (NIRV) God doesn’t promise that you will have everything you want, but he has promised everything you need. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” Philippians 4:11 (NLT) You can trust God when He says he will supply all your needs. His supply chain will never be disrupted. “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.” Romans 8:28 (VOICE)