Archive for November, 2013

Odds and Ends Monday

November 21, 2013

A Few Days Late…

Since September, it seems that I have been spending more hours a week in the air than I have spent on the ground working. This is a real drag on my lifestyle and relationships. I’m not a party animal type, but I do enjoy putting a movie on my 10 ft. screen, cranking up the volume just a bit, and sipping on a glass of decent Cabernet now and then – or spending a long lunch with a good friend and catching up on their going-ons. Instead, I pull up a cheap armchair in a hotel room somewhere more often than not for the news on an HD TV before turning off the lights. It’s not really so bad, I suppose. Heck, I don’t have HD TV at home – I need one for Christmas!

So, to the tid-bits:

My research on wireless security initiatives is progressing – I have a solid use-case set for airport communications along with a comparison of the various technologies that are applied on the airport surface. The AeroMACS WiMAX profile proves a winner compared to any other wireless technology being considered by the civil aviation industry today. The only significant shortcoming for WiMAX is the susceptibility to interference in the assigned frequency spectrum. A jamming signal in the same spectrum looks a lot like a very effective denial of service attack. I think this particular threat makes a good topic to focus on.

I am reading a fascinating book by Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia. This is an historical account of T.E. Lawrence’s time in the Middle East during the First World War. Lawrence’s battlefield is familiar to me after my years in Saudi Arabia. Aqaba, Wadj (Wejh), Yenbu, Rabegh, Jeddah, Tabuk, Medina, and so many more. These cities on and near the Red Sea were all familiar to me in the 1980’s. There was something wonderful about the expanse of the desert and the variety of the landscape that I really found beautiful and absorbing. The people were hospitable, and some were anxious to meet me and talk over tea in the suqs (the markets). Most people I came to know on the Red Sea coast had no significant knowledge of their history. In Tabuk, there was a very old locomotive from the Hejaz railway from the World War that was sitting in a few pieces on its side rusting away in the sand. I convinced the Mayor and the local cleric at the principle Mosque to right and reassemble the locomotive and erect a plaque to tell the story. I was happy to have paid for the plaque. I wonder if the locomotive and my plaque are still in that Tabuk city park today.

Lawrence in Arabia is captivating, and it tells the story of Lawrence’s exploits so superbly that I can almost imagine my way back in time. Anderson is a sharp scholar with a keen wit who presents the historical context masterfully. Read this book!

My quarterly excursion to Rice University in Houston over the weekend allowed me some quality time with old friends. David and I recounted a few “sordid” stories of our college days. Marta and I automatically engaged in a very European kiss cheek to cheek three times for luck. Greg and Lissa filled the empty seats at our table for brunch, Davy swooped in at the last moment, and we all thoroughly enjoyed a few casual hours walking the campus after so many years away. The campus is still a comfortable place for me to stroll about in.  Ten hours driving and one night In Houston was quality decompression time after so many trips to Europe – and to DC, Montreal, DC, Cleveland, DC, Phoenix, DC, DC, DC, DC…

Speaking of Cleveland, that City is turning around a bit. There are nice renovations in the entertainment district on the lake, and there are new affluent developments and a wonderful nature park near the airport. The city is “abuzz” about it’s music scene, and the people of Cleveland are optimistic about their future.

A rant – air travel is horrible and getting progressively worse. The airlines cast new equipment and changes in procedures as improvements. Well, new and different don’t often translate into better as far as I am concerned. I have flown in new American Airlines Airbus 319’s several times in the past few weeks. These planes are a bit noisier than Boeing equipment, and the seats are more compact. Width aside, every other seat dimension is 3-4 cm (about 1-½ inches) too small. The armrest is particularly uncomfortable for me as it is too short for my elbow to find a resting place anywhere except for directly on the seat marker that has sharp edges sticking up above the surface at the end of the armrest, and it is too low causing me to lean sharply to one side or the other. Lumbar support as far as it goes is in the wrong place, the headrest is at my shoulders, and the upright incline is set too vertical at about 8 degrees instead of a more comfortable 12 or 15. These seats are designed for children! The power and entertainment system hardware is on the floor to one side of the seat bracket, and it is a huge assembly that takes away precious room under the seat with sharp edges that really aggravate my ankles. There is no storage place at the seat for a magazine or newspaper or tablet or laptop making a drink or food incompatible with anything work or entertainment-related – worse than before, if you can imagine… The entertainment system has an awkward user interface that requires a terrific number of selections to find – to fine what? There is no content available without making a purchase. What was airbus thinking? What was American Airlines thinking? The surface looks good, but it is simply bad design when you peel back the vernier… If you spend 40 hours a week in the air, you will quickly notice these elements, and you will grimace.

Last night’s Rice Alumni event was quite interesting. What lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis? Well, we heard all about it in the Texas Theatre where Oswald was apprehended. What a neat venue for this event! The missile crisis was bluster and bluff by Niki, and plugging the military-industrial complex by Jack. When backed into a corner, Niki pushed missiles into Cuba to retaliate for US missile installations in Turkey that the president may not even have known about, and we had a real stand-off. “Want a war?” Khrushchev  asked, and Kennedy said, “No, but there are a few terms and conditions in that contract…” Cooler heads prevailed, and it was a good thing they did.

I am finally home for awhile. Good!

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A Healthcare Rant from Me…

November 14, 2013

Aren’t you all tired of this healthcare wrangling  in Congress? Tired of the website disaster? Tired of the monthly insurance bills? Tired of the letters from your insurance companies that are saying “you don’t have to do anything.” and then describing all the things you should do or consider doing? It just goes on and on…

I have opinions. Anyone who knows me thinks I have an opinion on just about anything (and I do)! Disagree with me if you like, but here is what I think:

Change is difficult for the average person. You get used to a process, you budget for the expenses, you have relationships, and then, “Wham!” Things change, and you have to figure it all out. Bummer. Most people don’t like changes to important things in their lives, and most changes come with a wrinkle or two. People don’t like change. Maybe we all just need to “get over it, and get with the program”.

Healthcare is important, and healthcare is expensive. It should be less expensive. Healthcare is complicated. As one gets older, the decisions seem to become even more important and more complicated. This needs to get easier as you get older and not harder. Are you helping a parent make healthcare decisions? It is daunting, even for me!

Obama-care establishes a minimum insurance “quality” and coverage benchmark. I say”Good!” I know that some people are so encumbered by health insurance expenses that they buy poor quality insurance because that is all they can afford. This is a problem, but I think that the healthcare credits fix much of this affordability problem. We need to get rid of the garbage policies in this industry.

The website didn’t work very well out of the gate. I say “Bad…” It should have worked. It should have. When I am disappointed by the quality of a service I am paying for, I refuse to pay the bill. I am a taxpayer, for crying out loud, and I would like Congress to stop payment on that check to the website contractor. The good news here is that it will eventually work like it should.

The law is the law. All this wrangling by the Republicans in Congress should have taken place years ago. Now that Obamacare is law, Congress can fix what is broken in the law, change what proves not to work, streamline what doesn’t work well enough, and improve this horrible law over time. I read this law as it went through its many iterations. It started out as a sensible, noble effort to make the poor and middle class healthier and make healthcare more affordable, and the draft law got worse and worse as the politics unfolded and edits and amendments piled up. In the end, it was a really messy law. There is a lot of room for improvement. Congress – get to work on this!

I am struck by the fact that we in the US spend about twice as much per capita for healthcare than any other industrialized country in the world. But we do not live longer – we are kind of in the middle of the pack for that statistic. Infant mortality is shockingly high in the US. Our doctors are skilled, and our hospitals are modern and well equipped. There are obviously big and bad problems with the “system” – with the processes that healthcare providers are following. AMA – let’s fix that!

When I am not satisfied with my healthcare, I don’t have any real recourse except to seek a new provider, and if I am ticked off enough, I guess I can sue. If I am dissatisfied, I don’t have the latitude to refuse payment (or they will sue Me). I, as the consumer, don’t have any significant power in this market. That issue is still unaddressed. I want a consumer “Bill of Rights” for healthcare.

When things are broken, and they are, my friend, a good manager sets objectives and delegates tasks. Here is what I would do:

  • Describe the scope of the problem and justify the incentive to repair what is broken. US healthcare costs twice as much as it should, and care outcomes are just average compared to the rest of the world. A healthy population is simply more productive and happier.
  • Heed the 80-20 rule. Don’t “upset the applecart” for the 80%… If that is what needs to be done, then move a little more incrementally with a Phase1 and a Phase 2 and so on to limit impact to the 20%.
  • Set a burden level for the healthcare  industry in the economy – 10% of GDP would be in line with the rest of the industrialized world. “Right-size” this sector of the economy.
  • Set coverage targets: a 1-sigma, 2-sigma, 3-sigma approach. 68% should be covered by insurance from the private marketplace without any government assistance; 95% should be covered with the benefit of credits if necessary for the additional 27% of the population; provide indigent care (medicaid) for 4.3% of the population so that 99.7% of the population receive healthcare.
  • Set performance goals: Infant Mortality down to less than 2% after five years of improvement programs – down from more than 6% today, for example.
  • Set a participation transition timeframe that is realistic. Six months is really a short period of time for people to change something so fundamental. Make it a year. I see that President Obama has essentially just done this. Give every business and every individual the entire year of 2014 to make the necessary changes.
  • Pay for performance improvement. Audit the hell out of poor performers – poor hospitals, bad nursing homes, incompetent doctors, etc. Challenge poor performers with incentives to improve – or go out of business.
  • Address the “tall pole” expenses. The last two-months of life problem is a “tall pole”. This is the most costly category of healthcare to provide. It has ethical considerations, quality of life considerations, and total scope of care considerations. This is complicated, but it is a crucial component of care to address.
  • Focus more on prevention. Focus more on lifestyle. Make chronic illness management more effective and efficient.

My bottom line here is that a healthy population is a more productive population and a happier population – you aren’t working when you are ill in the doctor’s office, and you aren’t happy to be there, and you don’t want to be still paying that bill when you return to the doctors office the next time you need healthcare…

I believe that the Government has a vested interest to enable a productive economy to the greatest extent possible in part by putting a comprehensive healthcare system in place – healthy people are more productive. I believe that every person in the country has a natural desire to be as happy in their lives as they possibly can be day to day, and everyone should have a desire for the most effective healthcare possible when they are ill or injured. A comprehensive National system gives everyone the same vested interest and an organization that is accountable to you and me for system performance if “done right”… And it hasn’t been done right.

There is a lot to fix.

A “Who Dun-It” Murder Mystery for You

November 10, 2013

I like a mystery, don’t you? The 2012 trial of Scott Peterson for the murder of his wife and unborn child, and most recently the trial of Martin MacNeill for the murder of his wife both hinged completely on circumstantial evidence. Inconclusive Coroner findings, no witnesses, hypothesis after hypothesis, emotional testimony of loved ones all led to guilty verdicts in both cases. Who really did the murders? I was swayed by the depth of circumstantial evidence in the Peterson case, but I am not so convinced in the McNeill trial. At the end of the day, only Peterson and MacNeill know what they each did.

Let me take you on a journey back in time to 1972 – actually, let’s go a bit further back to August 1968 when I joined the Boy Scouts Troop 800. I recall walking into my first troop meeting at the church, and just before I opened the door, an older boy jostled me with a smile and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Macon Hill. I’m one of the Patrol Leaders. What’s your name?” I was shy as a kid, but Macon was naturally friendly, and I was glad that the first scout I met was Macon. I liked him – he was lanky and a bit athletic looking with  brown hair that had a slight wave in front, and he smiled easily when he spoke. “Go inside and find a seat. I have to get this meeting started in a few minutes!” Macon earned the rank of Eagle Scout – I remember his Court of Honor. He had ‘the right stuff” – a leader in the troop who I looked up to. He had “grit”, but he didn’t have guile or malice. I enjoyed Macon’s company in the troop.  He was a few years older, so we were never close friends, but I liked Macon.

Here is a grainy picture of Gordon Macon Hill. I didn’t know that his first name was Gordon until I googled him. He looks older than I remember – maybe this is from 1974:

Gordon Macon Hill

Or, maybe this photo is from a St. Marks School yearbook. There are several sources on-line for reprints of school yearbooks. You can purchase one at Amazon.com to see what everyone even remotely associated with the murder looked like back then:

(Reprint) 1971 Yearbook: St. Mark’s School of Texas, Dallas, Texas

In 1972, I learned from a family friend that Macon was in terrible legal trouble. He had been arrested for murder. Here is the story that Macon related to me:

In February (1972), he and several friends from St. Marks went to a party where alcohol was served (all were under age). After the party, he and Bobby went to another friend’s house to “crash” for the rest of the night. Around noon the next day, Bobby Sammons was found shot to death in the shower. The Police were called. He didn’t remember anything clearly from the night before. He didn’t kill Sammons, and he had no idea who did.

Here is a synopsis from the appeal trial records in 1974:

The last time the deceased, Bobby Fred Sammons, Jr., was seen alive by any of the witnesses other than appellant was when he left his home with the appellant at approximately 12:30 a.m., February 20, 1972, to spend the night at the home of Milburn “Mibbs” Matthews. The body was found in a shower in the Matthews’ residence around noon. Sammons had been killed by three shots from a .22 caliber pistol which was found in the appellant’s car.

Macon was arrested for the murder and convicted in Collin County Court (I believe) in May, 1972. Macon’s conviction was appealed, and the conviction was upheld on January 9, 1974. Here is judge Douglas’ formal Opinion for the appeal:

HILL v STATE | Leagle.com

Macon consistently maintained his innocence. He told me that he was honest with his police interviews, and that he had not lied or mislead in his testimony. He did not know who the murderer was, and he had no reason to suspect who the murderer was with any certainty, so he did not even speculate.

On March 25th, 1974, Macon was found hanged in his jail cell at the Collin County jail in McKinney, Texas. You can read the Associated Press account of the apparent suicide here:

Brownwood Bulletin, Tuesday, March 26, 1974, Page 3

Macon was buried in Dallas:

Gordon Macon Hill (1954 – 1974) – Find A Grave Memorial

And not to forget the victim Bobby Sammons:

Bobby Fred Sammons, Jr (1955 – 1972) – Find A Grave Memorial

That’s Macon’s tragic story.  But there is more to the story – there always is… Before I get to that, I have to say that I am surprised about just how much information I was able to “google” in just a few minutes for somewhat insignificant events that happened more than 40 years ago. A small town murder is just a blip on the timeline of the world. Look what I could find with one query! What I can not find is the trial transcript from his 1972 conviction – I want to read that. And I can not find the record of Macon’s Eagle Scout award.

Why my interest? Well, Macon’s conviction was based solely on circumstantial evidence, and the recent high profile murder convictions of Peterson and MacNeill were also based solely upon circumstantial evidence. I am always surprised when a murder prosecution is successful  without a witness. But what really prompted me to spend a few minutes to surf the web and write this post was a dream I had one night a few months ago where I could hear Macon’s young voice say, “Brian, I didn’t kill Sammons. Will you find out who did?” I am certain that my subconscious is “connecting the dots” while I am sleeping, but until a few months ago, I had not thought of Macon since his death when I was in my early teens.

There is always more to the story – like I was saying… Here are the few tidbits I can recall:

The murder happened after a drunken night with “the boys”. Were these just drunk kids playing with a loaded gun? I don’t think so. Macon knew about gun safety. His family owned a ranch in the Palestine area of Texas, if I recall. I learned to shoot a gun  with some instruction from Macon and his father during a scout campout at Hill ranch one weekend.

There were rumors that a member of the jury had been approached by someone and encouraged to render a guilty decision. Just unfounded rumors at the end of the day.

While waiting for his appeal, Macon was free on a bond. He spent some time living with a teacher of his from St. Marks and his family who were also friends of our family. Macon received death threats over the phone while he was waiting for his appeal – one reason he was living with this teacher and his family. He had a car accident where it was suspected that his breaks had been tampered with. His teacher was convinced that someone was trying to kill Macon before he could testify at his trial.

Macon was gay. He never told me so, but I knew. He hung out with a few boys at St. Marks who a few I suspected were gay, too. Even at the age of 13 or 14, I could figure that out. His teacher confirmed my suspicion. We wondered if that somehow figured into the motive of Sammon’s killer. Was there an adolescent gay encounter with an unwilling or regretful partner? Or a jealous lover spurned who committed suicide? …or who committed murder? Who knows what event lead up to the murder. I believe the “jealous lover spurned” did it – whoever he was.

Macon’s suicide in the Collin County Jail was a mystery. Where did the belt come from? A number of people my parents knew suspected that the Collin County Jail guards did a few of their own executions of inmates that got off “too easy”. I frankly find that really hard to believe, and I think I dismiss that outright. Who really knows what happened.

It costs a small fortune to send a child to St. Marks School for Boys in Dallas – even forty years ago. St. Marks was an exclusive school with children from wealthy and powerful families in the Dallas area. Would a prominent family try to shield their child from the scandal of this kind of tragedy by influencing events during a trial? Try to kill the suspect who knew too much about the personal life of their reckless son? Bribe the jailers to take matters into their own hands? Again, who really knows…

I am sure that Macon was innocent.  So, if Macon didn’t kill Bobby Sammons, then “who dun-it”? I’ll dig a little further when I have some time!