I know you homeschoolers out there are always on the lookout for creative math word problems.  I present the following:

A seminarian needs to schedule an MRA (it’s like an MRI but looks at blood vessels in particular).  His insurance requires that this test take place at a hospital 14 miles away as the crow flies, but 24 miles away using conventional over-land routes.  Google maps suggests the drive will be 32 minutes but mapquest says 36.  His last class ends at 11:30 and Evening Prayer is at 5:00.  If there is 15 minutes of prep time, the test itself takes 45 minutes, and it takes 20 minutes to clean up and check out, and the hospital runs an average of 25 minutes behind schedule, how late can the seminarian schedule his appointment in order to make it back to the seminary in time for vespers?  (Assume, of course, massless springs, no air resistance, and frictionless pullies as necessary.)

Hmm, probably not quite Catholic enough to make it into Seton, though it does have a Catholic theme, and a contemporary political hot topic as well with respect to the health care issue.  (It would be much more convenient for me to go to the hospital across the street, but HMO rules are HMO rules).  Oooooh, I got it, Part II: How many rosaries can he pray while he’s driving and undergoing the test, if it normally takes 20 minutes to pray one five-decade rosary?  Ignore time lost for distractions on the road for such things as trying to safely merge into traffic.  Or, for the more advanced kiddos, assume 80% efficiency while driving and 90% while undergoing the test; those MRI machines make a lot of noise and the techs interrupt from time to time.

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It’s around 10pm last night.  I get back to the rectory from a visit home with the folks and am gathering a few things out of my car.  I look up and next thing I know there’s a guy I’ve never seen before walking up to me.  Ask if I can help him.  “You work here?” he asks.  I answer in the affirmative.  “You a priest?” he asks.  No, I’m not, I reply, and again ask if he there is something he needs.

My guard is up slightly because the other day someone came by looking for the pastor upset about some letter received regarding a tuition matter, and apparently being asked to schedule an appointment when he stopped at the office wasn’t good enough so he thought he’d just come over to the rectory and try to talk right then.  I think a few people received such letters, so there may have been a few less-than-happy people out there.  Fortunately, another priest was home at the time and got stuck with fielded that gentleman’s concerns, but right now it’s just me and this dude in a dark driveway.

The guy is wondering if he could be let into the sacristy.  He thinks he left his cell phone in church after “the last Mass” and wonders if he could look for it.  Smells fishy to me.  I suspect if I ask him further he won’t remember what time “the last Mass” was, or who the celebrant was, or where he sat, or what brand his cell phone is.  But if I open up the church, and he goes pew by pew and finds a phone, he’ll suddenly remember exactly where he sat and what kind of phone he has (though he probably couldn’t tell me the names of anyone in the address book).  Okay, so I’m cynical, but people who are trusting and nice are the ones who get ripped off.  Anyway, I politely ask him to go to the parish office in the morning once it’s open and ask if anyone turned in a missing cell phone.

Not good enough; apparently, he needs to look for his phone NOW.  Can’t I get someone to let him in?  No.  The church is all locked up, there’s nobody there to let him in.  Well could one of the priests let him in?  I said I’m not sure  if anyone is home.  He sort of calls my bluff as he looks at the four cars in the driveway and the lights on in the house and asks if one of the priests might still be awake.

Finally I start to show my irritation and lay it out.  It’s 10:00, the church is locked up, there’s nobody who can let you in, come back in the morning when the office is open.  I wanted to add, you didn’t care during the daylight hours about your missing phone, so why do you suddenly care about it at 10:00?  Do you really want me to go wake up the pastor to ask him to unlock the building for you?  Would you like me to call you in the middle of the night to go open up whatever office you work in because I might have left a paper clip somewhere in the building?

Meanwhile my guard is still up: one hand is in my pocket wrapped around my cell phone with my fingers ready to dial 911; the other has a hold of my key fob with my finger on the red panic button.  Fortunately, this guy realizes that I’m not letting him into the church, asks what time Masses are in the morning, and turns and walks away.  Whew.

(Post script.  This morning I asked the custodian to keep an eye out for a phone while he mopped the church.  He told me he didn’t see one.  Interesting.)

I was logging in to an online account.  In order to enhance security, it required me to create a new password, and to choose a new “challenge” question and answer in case I forgot said new password.  The new password I could do, even though it required some obscure number of characters with an assortment of letters in multiple cases, numbers, and even a special symbol or two.  But, I had a real hard time with the security questions, because I don’t think I could recall the answer to any of them if asked.  Here they are, along with why each is impossible to answer.

  • Who was your childhood hero?   When in childhood?  When I was 6, it was probably He-Man.  I discovered Batman (the Adam West version) when I was around 8 or 9 and thought he was really cool.  But a few years later I started to watch Get Smart on Nick at Nite and really thought some of the agents there were heroic.  With my luck, I’d pick Batman today, and then when I need to reset my password, I’ll respond with He-man, and have my account locked out for good.
  • What are the first and last names of your first boyfriend/girlfriend?  This would require one having a girlfriend.  Should I answer N/A, Not Applicable, Does Not Apply, Non-existent, or something else in that vein?  How will I remember that answer later on?
  • Which phone number do you remember most from your childhood?  It’s a toss-up.  I was a phone number machine growing up…I knew them for everyone in the family.  This was back before everyone had cell phones.  Quite a few stand out.  My parents still have the one (although the area code has changed).  We still use the digits of a relative’s phone # growing up as the passcode for the garage door.  My grandparents’ number in New York was memorable because it contained five 6’s in a row.  So, which do I answer for this superlative question?  And will I remember it again when I have to answer this challenge question in the future?  For example, suppose I pick my parents’ #, but had to open the garage a few times lately and so that number sticks out.
  • What was your favorite place to visit as a child?  Another superlative question.  Childhood encompasses a good 10-15 years; there were a lot of changes to what might have been the favorite place.
  • Who is your favorite actor, musician, or artist?  (A) Which of the three do I pick?  I answer “Clark Gable” right now, but when resetting a password, I pick “Norman Rockwell.”   (B) Another superlative.  I don’t have a particular favorite in any of these; my mood changes way too often.
  • What is the last name of your third grade teacher?  Finally, an objective question that has a clear, definitive, invariable answer for most people.  One problem here though, at least for me.  I have no idea how to spell it.  She was one of my favorite teachers during elementary school, but her last name was long, and there are several sounds that can be expressed multiple ways — was that a cu in the middle or ku?  Did it end with en or in?  Third grade was just too long ago and I don’t remember.

I understand the need to have security questions that are difficult for someone to crack.  But the questions should be something with a clear, distinct, invariable, yet repeatable answer.  Asking someone to pick out a memorable event/person/moment of a long span of time leaves too much room to forget what was picked later on.  Asking something like a phone number presents problems (did I format that as (111)-555-1234 or 111/555-1234 or just 555-1234) , to say nothing of the complications that can arise from articles, spacing, and nicknames. (was that teacher Mrs. Jane Doe,  Mrs. Doe, or Jane Doe?  Was my elementary school John F. Kennedy School or did I write it as JFK Elementary?  Was my favorite supervillian The Riddler or just Riddler?)

I also think using superlatives is detrimental on two fronts.  First, for those of us who don’t really have a favorite x, it’s hard for us to remember what we picked.  And, for those who DO have a favorite x, it would probably be easier for a “friendly” identity thief to hack the account.  For example, suppose “Bob” really liked a particular musical group, to the point of wearing apparel with their logo, having bumper stickers for this group, maybe a screen saver on a work PC that featured this group, etc.  Now, suppose an unscrupulous friend or colleague decides to hack into “Bob’s” account.  By dumb luck he figures out the user name, “bob_smith,” and clicks “I forgot my password.”  Aha, we’ll reset your password as long as you answer this question.  What is your favorite musical group.  The thief, realizing all Bob’s fandom for this group, simply types in the name, and viola, he’s in.

I agree with the need to make it harder for identity thieves to break into our information.  But, let’s not go so far as to make it impossible for us to get in there ourselves.

So, under Obamacare, insurance companies are going to be unable to deny people because of pre-existing conditions starting in 2014.  On the one hand, that’s good news, because it gives the USA four years to vote in some people into office that will turn over this crap.  Insurance companies are also going to be subject to a premium tax on what they call Cadillac plans, plans that cost some high amount of money and provide comprehensive benefits.  So, these issues and figure the consequences.

N.B.  I have not read all the provisions of this bill.  (I highly doubt most of Congress has read it either.)  I am just going by what I’ve seen in some media reports.  I would hope that some of these issues may have already been ironed out by the people that crafted this package, but I have a feeling that they weren’t. 

First, pre-existing conditions denials.  Frankly, they exist today in an effort to save insurance companies, and the people who participate in their plans, money.  By limiting who the company will issue a plan to, they eliminate the excessive risk that comes from people with extremely expensive, chronic conditions.  This lowers premiums for people. 

Any insurance company that wants to stay (1) in business and (2) competitive in the market needs to keep premiums low.  The way to do this is by charging higher risk individuals a higher rate (500% higher than base is not unheard of).  Those who are the highest risks are denied coverage.  True, it’s not compassionate; it’s not exactly the kindest thing to do.  It’s business.  And insurance companies are in business to make money, just like any other business.

So now, under the new plan, private insurers will have to accept everyone, regardless.  That’s great for the consumer.  But, what actually happens?  The sickest of the sick come in and rack up the claims.  Insurance companies will have to charge higher rates to make up for the higher claims.  They may be able to rate up the most chronically ill, but that only works to a point, and costs for the entire plan will go up.  So now, everyone will pay more.   Which is going to make health insurance more costly for everyone, and I imagine more people will drop coverage because they simply can’t afford it.

Looking at the premium tax, it’s another case of Insurance Pricing 101.  I’m not sure at what point a plan is considered a “Cadillac” plan.  But, if the government is going to charge a 40% premium tax, one of two consequences will occur.  Either (1) companies will have to raise their premiums 40%+ to offset the tax, or (2) they’ll simply stop offering the plans.  How else is the plan going to pay the tax?Either way, people will no longer have these plans.  Which will force them into lower-benefit plans, which means higher out-of-pocket costs and fewer things covered.

The natural consequence of both of these provisions is higher costs for health insurance, and higher incidence of people being uninsured because they are unable to afford coverage.

Exactly how does this help our health care system?

I hate it.  It sucks.

Enough said.

I opened my mailbox this afternoon to find four (4) credit card offers.  Now mind you, three of them were from one particular card company.  Still, in the past few weeks, I seem to be getting quite a few credit card offers from a variety of banks and card issuers.

Obviously these companies consider a man who has not had a steady source of income for the past 6+ months, and who will not have a steady source of income for a good couple years, a good credit risk.

And we wonder why banks have been in trouble.

Part of me really wants to apply for all these cards, get like $100,000 in debt, and then file bankruptcy and run off with my riches.  Bankruptcy stays on the record for, what, 7 years?  I’ll be in the seminary for 6 of them, so….

Of course, that would be immoral, so I’m not going to.  I hope.

The sheer destruction and loss of life is heart-rending, and it’s obvious that the survivors need whatever aid they can get, and it behooves all of us to assist in whatever way we can.

But, watching the TV news coverage of the situation makes me wonder.  I see these news reporters and A-list news anchors (with annual salaries that probably exceed what an entire Haitian town might earn in a lifetime) reporting from the scene about how difficult it has been to get aid out to the people.  They interview people who are giving first-hand accounts of the lack of help they are getting.  They present emotional pleas and make it seem like the rest of the world is simply too slow to get help out there.  It takes a bad situation and makes it more upsetting.

Now, the journalists were able to get out to these remote villages to interview people.  They obviously have whatever equipment and people are necessary to shoot video, interview people, edit story packages, and set up a satellite uplink to get things on-air back in the states.  They certainly aren’t walking all those miles carrying all that equipment.

So, my question:  in the truck with all the equipment, does it occur to them that maybe they should throw in a few dozen cases of water and some rations of food to dole out while they’re getting these stories?  Or are these guys simply interviewing these suffering folks and saying “well, maybe the UN will get out here eventually.  Thanks for talking with us.  We’re going to go back to our hotel now, freshen up, and eat an early dinner because we’re live at 6:30 tonight.  Take care now.”

Just a random thought.