Thursday, August 12, 2010

Update on job situation

Okay, this post goes out to my FaceBook friends. It's too long for a status update, so I'm posting it here. Because this is more public than FaceBook, I'm going to be a little less specific than I might be otherwise.

I'm sorry I've confused so many of my friends about my job situation. I guess I don't post updates often enough to explain the whole narrative. Here's the story:

For the last 8 years I've worked for the same company. That company is very large, has different divisions, different contracts, and different positions on those contracts. For 6 of those 8 years I worked on one contract, and held several different positions on that contract. Last year, congress declared my job on that contract illegal. The basic explanation is that my job was to provide system engineering technical assistance (SETA) to the government that included providing a review of the technical performance of developmental contractors. In some cases, it was my own company that held those developmental contracts. (It's not just me. One large defense contractor is being forced to sell an entire division to comply with the law.) Congress (reasonably) outlawed these "organizational conflicts of interest" (OCI).

Thinking to avoid being left suddenly without a job as this acquisition reform act was implemented, I looked for, and found in January of this year, a different job within my same company on a different contract. The job I interviewed for there was to be the Enterprise Architecture Team Lead. There was some sort of miscommunication between myself and the Program Manager as part of my moving to that contract, and I ended up just as a member of the team, and not the lead. This was a bad fit for a number of reasons, and I asked to be taken off that contract. At that time, I started interviewing and going to job fairs.

Well, in May my company kindly moved me into a new position, working on a proposal. That was fun, but it only lasted a month. Since then I've been in a "temporary" position in the company. Basically, I am charging overhead and sometimes doing really cool stuff like strategy development and supplier relationship management, and sometimes sitting in my cube with nothing to do. I've kept interviewing this entire time, with no offers. My boss told me "keep looking" [he meant inside the company] because "the overhead account could run out any day."

On Tuesday, I got two job offers: one inside the company, and one outside the company. I'm pretty sure which one I'll pick, but there's some complex calculus going on and I don't know for sure.

I hope that clears everything up! Sorry I wasn't clear about things.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Got a message from Hyundai

I got this email from Hyundai today:

Hello and thank you for your feedback regarding Hyundai advertising.

Hyundai Motor America would like to thank you and other consumers for sharing concerns about a new ad titled "Wedding" which aired during the opening games of the FIFA World Cup broadcast last week. We take comments of this nature very seriously. Because of feedback like yours, we have removed the ad from all Hyundai communications and stopped airing it.

We credit the passionate World Cup viewers and Hyundai owners for raising this issue to us. The unexpected response created by the ad, which combined both soccer and religious motifs to speak to the passion of international soccer fans, prompted us to take a more critical and informed look at the spot. Though unintentional, we now see it was insensitive. We appreciate your feedback and hope you will accept our sincere apologies.

With appreciation,

Hyundai Motor America

Here was my original message to them:

Dear Hyundai USA:
My attention was recently drawn to the "Soccer Mass" ad that is playing for Hyundai during the Word Cup. I'm sure no one at Hyundai intended this to be offensive or insulting, but you should realize that many will find it as such. I think I would best describe it as "disturbing," since it seems to take such a cavalier attitude towards something which I, as a Catholic Christian, hold so dear. Imagine an ad where a soccer game interrupted the funeral of a serviceman, and you might get a sense of how disturbing that would be.
I hope you decide to pull this ad for the remainder of the World Cup, and try to show a little more sensitivity to us Catholics in the future.
I don't think I could have asked for a better response. Thanks, Hyundai!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Strange Police Actions

I had a very strange interaction with some Arlington County police officers today. I was coming out of Ballston Mall on the Wilson Boulevard exit near Stuart street. I saw on the sidewalk a woman's wallet. I looked around and didn't see any woman whom it might belong to, but I did see a police officer sitting in his car a few feet from me.

I picked up the wallet and walked to the police officer's car. I waved to him and he rolled down his window. I showed him the wallet and said I had just found it lying on the sidewalk. He pointed to the other police car in front of him and said: "That officer there will help you." Okay, I figured he must be busy with something.

I walked to the next car and repeated my interaction. The second officer got out of his car with a scowl on his face, took the wallet from me and threw it at the other police officer! I asked, "Is there a problem, officer?" He looked at me and said: "You don't have a problem. That other officer has a problem."

By this point, the other officer had gotten out of his car, and the two police officers started exchanging angry but indistinct words with each other. I walked across Wilson Boulevard as fast as I could reasonably do without drawing attention to myself, and went down Stuart street hoping to leave the angry men with guns behind me.

I hope they worked it all out quickly.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Conservative Option

With the election in Massachusetts complete, I've realized that I've waited in vain for a conservative, any conservative, to offer a reasonable option on health care reform (or, more properly, health insurance reform). Deciding to apply my systems engineering experience to the problem of health care provisioning, I've come up with what I propose as a truly conservative and workable health care reform proposal. It's simple, makes the minimum changes to the existing system, and will serve to lower costs for all. It even has a simple title: "Universal Secondary Health Insurance."

Here's how it will work: the US government will establish a fund that will provide secondary health insurance to everyone. That's right, the coverage is universal with no one left out. This secondary health insurance initially pays 20% of all your qualified out-of-pocket health care expenses. (There's plenty of law about qualified health care expenses, so I won't try to define it.) That's no great shakes by itself, except that it lowers costs for everyone. Where it gets really helpful is that once you have spent 20% of your adjusted gross income on health expenses, the fund now starts paying 80% of your qualified expenses.

This is great in several ways. First, it helps you because you are almost assured not to go bankrupt paying for health care. Whatever health problems are going on in your life, those costs are mostly covered once you've spent 20% of your income (which, by the way, is about what most middle class folks spend, anyway.) Second, it helps the insurance companies, because they know that their risks are limited. The insurance companies also aren't going to be stuck with a huge bill for a single person's illness. Third, it helps the poor because it provides more coverage to those who need it most; the high-rate coverage kicks in earlier the less money you make.

How will we pay for this fund? The same way that your bank deposits are insured by the FDIC; the same way that rural areas are assured of telephone service; by a fee imposed upon the service providers. In this case, the health insurance companies will all have to contribute to this fund, and everyone will benefit. Yes, that raises the cost of health insurance, but you and I are already paying these costs in the current system. Our hospital bills are higher, our insurance rates are higher, our ambulance fees are higher, because of all the people who currently use these services without paying for them. This approach ensures that these higher costs are covered by normal health care spending, and not disproportionately by us when we have an emergency or serious health problem. By the way, the money you spend buying health insurance will be included under the 20% of income cap. If you buy health insurance for 20% of your AGI, then the 80% coverage of further out-of-pocket expenses kicks in immediately.

How do we make this system fair for everyone, including the insurance companies? That's where the universal mandate comes in. Everyone benefits from this fund, so everyone has to pay into it. This is better than having Uncle Sam pay for the fund, though, because it's not a tax. Congress doesn't get a chance to divert your health care funds to pay for public television or the V-22 Osprey. You are paying for health care, and it goes into a fund that pays for health care only.

Now, this universal mandate is a big boon to the insurance companies, so we have to put some additional constraints on them. Some of these features are the good parts of the existing legislation. "Universal Insurability" is one feature. You can't be denied coverage. No lifetime maximums is another. If we have to buy insurance, then the insurance companies have to treat us with justice.

There's a couple of other issues of justice that we need to deal with in the conservative option. First, retain the Hyde amendment. Abortion is not health care, it's the termination of a human person for the convenience of another, and the government shouldn't be paying for it. Neither will the secondary insurance fund. Neither can you count coverage of abortion from an insurance company as part of your out-of-pocket expenses.

Second, the fund needs to provide coverage for illegal aliens. I know there are a lot of conservatives who will balk at this, but the truth is that you are already paying for their trips to the emergency room by higher fees. By making the illegal alien eligible, he also has to buy health insurance and contribute (indirectly) to the fund. However, an illegal immigrant doesn't have a legitimate adjusted gross income, so he never moves to the 80% coverage bracket. His coverage stays at 20%.

Third, subsume Medicaid. I'm not proposing anyone touch Medicare, which is the current insurance for older Americans. Medicaid is the program that provides supplemental insurance coverage for the poor. Instead, if your AGI is below 150% of the poverty level, you start out at the 80% secondary coverage. This gets interpolated back to the 20% coverage when your AGI approaches 400% of the poverty level. This has the effect of actually lowering taxes, since we no longer have the payroll tax into the Medicaid fund.

There are a couple of additional steps that health insurance reform legislation should take to "bend the curve" of cost growth. First, eliminate direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs. You know all those ads on TV for depression medicines? You and I are paying for those ads when we buy our own drugs. If the drug makers have the science to back up their claims, let them make those claims to doctors, not tax my wallet to advertise them on TV.

Finally, phase out over a few years the tax subsidy to employers for providing health insurance. There's no reason to subsidize insurance companies through a tax break, they're already making good money. As the tax subsidy to employers phases out, more of us will be buying insurance ourselves, instead of having our employers do it for us. This has the effect of putting power back in the hands of consumers. Right now, insurance companies don't answer to us, because we aren't paying them directly! They answer to our employers, who are paying them -- paying them with what should be our money! As any conservative knows, whoever pays the piper calls the tune. We want insurance companies who are responsive to our needs. To get that, we need to be the ones paying them. Remember, however, that what you pay to the insurance companies is included in the 20% AGI cap. That's where your tax break stays in place.

This is what real health reform looks like. It covers everyone. It keeps you from losing your life savings because of an accident or illness. It provides justice for the poor, and it puts the power back in the hands of consumers. It's well past time for a politician to stand up and put a true conservative plan on the table. Let this be the answer to true health insurance reform.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Votes on America's Got Talent

So, a vice I've got is I'm a dedicated watcher of America's Got Talent. This season especially has brought out some outstanding talent. It's tough to pick among some of the very best, but here's my list for what order the finalists should be in:

11. Wait, Wait, Number 11?!!? I thought there were only 10 finalists! Indeed there are, but I had to put a vote in for Nick Cannon. He has really shined as much more talented than Jerry Springer at hosting a show like this. He can't win, but way to go, Nick!

10. Hairo Torres. They say Hairo is the best at what he does. Indeed, but there's a good reason no one else does it. He's fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck, but not very entertaining. He's easily shown-up by the club dancers around him, each of whom should be a finalist if Hairo is. In the "it's an honor just to be nominated" category, it was indeed an honor for him. He should take the honor and go home.

9. The Voices of Glory. I was fretting when the Fab Five and VoG were the last two on the first round. I cheered when they both went through. I really like them. However, there are a lot of singers in the final (6). Compared to the other singers, the two boys in this trio (especially 13-year old Avery Cole) really don't have the chops. 9-year-old Nadia is wonderful, but not good enough to pull this trio to $1 Million.

8. Drew Stevyns. I had been pretty much ignoring Drew as he went along, as he's a rather nondescript pop-style singer. He really gave a great performance of George Michael's Careless Whisper ("Guilty feet have got no rhythm"). However, his performance was all in the singing. That song has some great guitar riffs, and he just played rhythm (ironically) behind his singing. He doesn't really have the guitar chops to present himself as a singer-songwriter or solo pop artist. Drew belongs as the lead singer in a great cover band, not as a Vegas act all on his own.

7. Grandma Lee. Her first performance was hilarious, and her comic timing was perfect. On each successive performance, her material has gotten weaker and repetitive. Also, as the stakes have gotten higher she's clearly gotten more nervous, and her timing has failed. Piers thinks shes funnier than she is, but that's not surprising, he's British. Unless she seriously steps it up for the final with all new material and impeccable timing, it's time for Grandma to have a guest appearance on Jay Leno's new show, and then go home.

6. Texas Tenors. These guys are individually decent singers. Put them together with a very large dose of cheese (to quote Piers), and they're a very entertaining act. I'd be happy to see them at the Birchmere at some point. But one night at the Birchmere is not a standing show in Vegas. They've made a name for themselves, and if they keep refining their act, they've got a career to look forward to, just not as winners of AGT.

5. Lawrence Beamen. A very nice man with a very nice voice. Listening to him is nice. Nice is not necessarily interesting. His talent and performance merit a decent finish, and maybe a single on some Simon Cowell anthology album, but not the big prize.

4. Fab Five. Okay, this is the first one on the list that I wouldn't mind being wrong about if they win. Their back story is great, and they are on the cusp of being the Next Big Thing. I liked the firefighter skit, but the majorette piece -- Riverdance meets Bring in Da Noise Bring in Da Funk meets Toni Basil. It's not clear they've got enough variety to do an entire Vegas show, but they keep pleasing and surprising, so if they find a way to keep delivering, more power to them!

3. Barbara Padilla. Oh, man, did I want to to put her at #1! I cried from the beginning to the end of her Ave Maria. The opera world is tough, though. I don't really have the expertise to know how good she is. I think Cristina Nassif is awesome, and no one's really heard of her. If Barbara is as good as I think, she'll have a great opera career, regardless of whether she wins AGT.

2. Recycled Percussion. Okay, I admit, I don't really like them very much. But, much as with Eminem, I can admire their talent. Plus, it takes a great deal of creativity to make music (that can be appreciated) by hitting an old van with a sledgehammer. If they hire some additional creative writers/choreographers, they could be the next Blue Man Group. They are very Vegas, and know how to structure a performance. I'll never go see them, but they would certainly be deserving winners.

1. Kevin Skinner. I don't think I can be happy if Kevin doesn't win. He just draws the audience into his world, and makes you love it. When he sang "You were always on my mind," I felt like I had never heard the song before, because it was so gentle and sincere. I'm ready to buy his album, and buy tickets for his next performance at Nissan Pavillion. He's already won in my mind, and I hope he gets the $1 Million to go with it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dear Washington Post Editor

Well, I guess The Washington Post is not going to publish my letter to the editor, since the original letter to the editor it references is no longer available on their website. I thought I wrote a good letter, so here it is:

Dear Editor:

In a 16 June Letter to the Editor, Sophia Panieczko of Manassas wonders rhetorically "If the goal of antiabortion activists is to reduce or eliminate abortions, why aren't they enthusiastic advocates of the use of contraceptives?" Perhaps Ms. Panieczko is unaware of actual contraceptive failure rates. A June 2008 study published in "Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health" showed average contraceptive failure rates of 12% per year. This is "substantially unchanged" from other studies in 1995 or 2002. If half the undergraduates at a university of 10,000 students are sexually active, unmarried, and using contraception, then this results in approximately 300 children per year. All of these children are, by definition, unwanted, and most will be aborted. If advocates of "planned parenthood" really have "every child a wanted child" as their goal, why aren't they advocating for the elimination of contraceptives? Unlike Ms. Panieczko, I won't engage in idle and insulting speculations about what others' motives might be.

I hope The Post's readers eventually learn the truth about the ways in which contraception leads to abortion.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Best Mass Ever!

So, there was an interesting message on our parish website today:

A Message from Father Specht

Feast of the Assumption

August 15th is the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, the day that the Church celebrates the Blessed Mother’s spiritual and physical entry into glory. Because August 15th falls on a Saturday this year it is not a holy day of obligation for the faithful. This means that there is no requirement to attend Mass on the feast this year.
This feast is also one of a handful of feasts that include a proper Vigil Mass. A vigil is a Mass intended to be celebrated on the proceeding evening, and containing it’s own proper prayers and readings.
Over the last two years the choirs have spent a great deal of effort expanding their familiarity with “proper” musical parts of the Mass. Most people do not realize that each Sunday and Feast Day Mass also has assigned its own “proper” music, intended as an intimate part of that specific celebration along with the specific prayers and introductions (prefaces) to the Eucharistic Prayer itself. We have used the English translations (and sometimes the Latin originals) of this music during most Sunday noon masses.
Now that these elements are in place we are able to celebrate some masses in a more solemn way. The Vigil of the Assumption of Mary will be celebrated on August 14th at 7:30PM. This Mass will be fully chanted in Latin with the proper music parts. Mass celebrated in this way is likely to fullest expression of the reforms of the Novus Ordo, the Mass instituted by Paul VI. The Holy Hour normally scheduled for Friday evening will not be held on the 14th.
Please consider joining us for the celebration of this great vigil.

Intrigued, and alone for the weekend (my wife & kids are out of town) I went. I have two words to say: "Wow!" and "Yeah!"

Wow. This was one of the most beautiful Masses I've been to. Yes, better than Easter Vigil at the Abbey, although that was excellent. What was wonderful about this was it finally felt like we were doing Mass the way it was intended to be. This took us, our community, in many ways out of the mode of creative self expression, and instead into the mode of conforming ourselves to Christ. It's like in a marriage where it stops being an effort to accommodate the other person, and instead becomes natural to be the person your spouse needs you to be.

Yeah! This is the Mass I've been yearning for. This is the Mass that the Council Fathers promised us. The use of Latin ties us with the rest of the Church. The expanded collection of readings (in English) open up the Word to us more fully. The use of Gregorian Chant (and some polyphony) expresses the richness of our Western heritage. The audible canon with responses facilitates full, active participation. (I know some people won't like me saying that, but I really find the inaudible canon of the extraordinary form indefensible. )

I know I said before "Latin, I just didn't get it..." and I promised to go an Extraordinary Form Mass, which I did eventually do. Here's why the Mass this evening was so much better than the one I went to before:

1. Consistency of language. Except for the readings & the homily, the Mass was in Latin. There was none (well, maybe one minor mistake) of the random switching between languages as in the previous Mass I attended

2. Gregorian Chant. Singing or chanting everything gave me, as I predicted, the time to understand what was going on. Thank you, Fr. Specht, for chanting the entire canon. I know that's not easy for you, but it adds richly to the experience.

3. Pacing. Nothing seemed rushed about this Mass. (Yes, it took about 90 minutes, but it seemed shorter than many 45-minute Eucharistic-Prayer-2 rush-jobs I've attended because I was never distracted.)

A couple of things I appreciated:
  • Having the words of the Collect, the Gradual, the Offertory, etc. in English. I found that I could scan the English first, and be able to catch enough of the Latin keywords to both know where we were in the prayer, and let the beauty of the experience fully affect me.
  • Also, I really like it when the acolyte incenses the congregation. Indeed, we are all together offering ourselves as a sacrifice of praise. Talk about active participation! We are also gifts offered to God.
  • Ad Orientem. As I said in my previous post, once you've seen this, you'll never want to go back.
  • The Choir learning all the parts. They did a great job helping all of us navigate this somewhat unfamiliar territory. Sure, they were a little rough in some parts, but I don't think the Holy Spirit minded.
Now, maybe we could start having Mass Ad Orentem every Sunday at the Noon Mass, hey Father?

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Fr. Specht!