What are the Odds?

Odds: the chances or likelihood of something happening or being the case. I have three examples of situations that defy the odds.

First, probably a 20,000 to 1 case. When I worked in DC years ago my habit was to take a walk during during my lunch break, often instead of eating lunch. One day I bumped into two people I knew and hadn’t seen in years. The first was Ernie Friesen, former Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, and the second, just a few minutes later on the same street, Bill Weiner, a law professor and golf pal from Lansing, Michigan. Granted DC is a tourist mecca, but to see two people within minutes, two people I hadn’t seen in years? What are the odds?

Second, probably a million to 1 case. Karen and I were returning our rental car at the San Francisco Airport about 15 years ago . We parked, grabbed our luggage, and got on the elevator. Before the doors closed along came a couple and I pressed the open door button. I recognized them right away, but after they thanked me they turned away from us toward the front of the elevator and assumed that position most of us assume on an elevator with strangers; namely, avoiding eye contact with the other passengers. I spoke up: “Hi Elli, hi Joe.” Turned out we knew them from our DC days. Elli and I worked together for several years at the law firm I managed. What are the odds?

Last, probably a few million to 1 case. To begin, I admit to having studied the Russian language and even taught it for several years at the high school level. Since moving to North Carolina I have bumped into several Russian men and women and shared some of my experiences from 1965 when I spent 10 weeks in the tnen USSR, but this example of chance encounters with Russians takes first prize for this article.

Several months ago I happened to meet Olga when I slipped into the hot tub at the Rex Wellness Center in Raleigh, NC, not far from our home.. People who go the the Center are very friendly and more often than not greet each other as they pass by. When I got into the hot tub I said good morning to the 3 or 4 people already cooking. When the lady I sat next to said her good morning I detected an accent and asked her, in Russian, if she was from Russia. Surprised, pleasantly I hope, she introduced herself, told me she was from Moscow, and we had a short conversation, some of which was in my very rusty Russian.

This afternoon, several months later, on Saturday of the Memorial Day Holiday weekend, there were 3 people in the entire pool area at Rex Wellness, something I have never experienced. There are usually at least 10-15 people in the pools, hot tub, sauna, and steam room. I did my exercises and laps, and when I got into the hot tub I said good afternoon to the one other person already in. When I greeted her she looked familiar. I had not seen Olga in months. I thought she might be the Olga I had met months ago and asked her if her name was Olga, and she said yes! When I told her I had been hoping to see her again to practice my Russian, she said that this was the first time she had ever come to the Raleigh Center! I told her about the other Olga and she said she wasn’t surprised, that Olga was a very common female name. And, like the first Olga, she is from Moscow. We chatted for a while, mostly in English, some in my rusty Russian, and as we left we agreed to try and get together with our spouses some time. Two Olgas from Moscow in a hot tub in Raleigh, NC, in a matter of months. What are the odds?




The moon was clearly visible through my bedroom window and woke me up a few nights ago.

So what? Not unusual, you say.

What if I told you it was a full moon shining right on my face while I was in bed? And what if I told you that in order for the moon to do that, it had to be positioned within an area of my window, which is about ten feet high, an area that could be completely covered, with room to spare, by half of an ace of hearts playing card?

See what looks light a flashlight just to the left of center in the half-circle window, shining right in my face? That white portion of the photo is the left half of a cathedral ceiling, which means the “flashlight,” also knows as the moon, was peeking through a window at least 10 feet high.

Took the photo with my cell phone, which I keep handy for just such once-in-a-lifetime thrills. After all, you never know when you’ll want to take a photo when something wakes you up in the middle of the night, April 14, 2019, in Wake Forest, NC.

Weather Woes – Our 12 Seasons

A good friend of ours writes a column in our local weekly newspaper and this week included a list of North Carolina’s 12 seasons:

“Winter, Fool’s Spring, Second Winter, Spring of Deception, Third Winter, The Pollening, Actual Spring, Summer, Hell’s Front Porch, False Fall, Second Summer, and Actual Fall.”

Aside from wearing out the controls on the thermostats switching back and forth between heat and air conditioning, our friend notes the challenge of deciding what to wear, particularly on those days that begin like one of the winters and end up like one of the springs. Or even the summers.

Many advise wearing layers, which works to an extent, but often results in having to remove a layer or three, with nowhere to hide and no place to store the removed layer. This happens often on golf courses, resulting in dangerously overloaded golf carts that were already dangerously overloaded with the rotund, and removed clothing flapping in the breeze like flags on the carts or blown around until stuck in a bush or tree.

Medicare Adventures, Part 2

Let me point out at the start that all of the doctors and staff involved in what follows were absolutely the best; I mean not a bit of criticism of any of them.

A few years ago I wrote about a day long medical adventure involving Wake Med, an unnecessary ambulance ride, a CT scan, and a bill for $10,555.09 for a diagnosis of diverticulitis. Medicare paid $957.50 and I made a copayment of $200.00. At the time I wondered about the 9 cents in the total bill, the 7 hours it took to get to the diagnosis, and the surprising high cost.

Today I write about a more expensive medical adventure, but one that is much more serious; namely, a cardiac procedure at Rex Hospital called catheterization in which a slim tube – the catheter – was inserted in my wrist and used to determine that 2 of my cardiac arteries required stents because they were nearly blocked. My cardiologist said the main artery – he called it the “widow-maker” – was 80% blocked. The catheter was also used to install the stents.

The reason for the procedure: shortness of breath and occasional light-headedness. So far I have noticed some improvement, but not as much as I’d hoped. I am advised that more improvement is possible over time.

The costs associated with this are quite high. The hospital invoice is $51,017.56, of which Medicare paid $7,868.31 (15.4%). The cardiologist’s invoice is $6,343.00, with $594.09 (9.4%) paid by Medicare. Clearly the Medicare minions don’t use straight percentages of the charges and clearly the hospital and Medicare minions don’t use the IRS method of rounding to the nearest dollar. 56 cents, 31 cents, 9 cents – do they really care?

We now have Medicare Supplement insurance, which, unlike Medicare Advantage, has much higher premiums but not copays. And I’ll have to wait to see what the supplement policy paid, but can’t imagine it made up the differences between the invoices and what Medicare approved.

I recall not being Lyndon Johnson’s biggest fan. Now that the Medicare system he was instrumental in creating has saved us from medical bill bankruptcy my position has changed a bit.

Making America Unsafe Again

In the February 18, 2019, issue of TIME magazine, page 25, Ian Bremmer (see some of Bremmer’s impressive credentials below) presents an article titled “The end of a U.S.-Russia arms treaty spells long-term trouble.” The title refers to the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.

A few quotes from the article:

“Washington’s decision to walk away from the INF Treaty is yet another sign to Europeans that the U.S. can no longer be counted on as a partner.”

“In an era of stronger U.S.-E.U. Relations” there might have been a way “…to get the Russians to respect the terms of the deal rather than the U.S. deciding to do away with it altogether.”

Bremmer points out that the INF Treaty might have been a way for the U.S. and Russia “…to make the world a safer place. Now it’s yet one more point of tension.”

I’m looking forward to hearing from my many friends who support the current administration about this subject. For my part, I agree with Bremmer.

From Wikipedia:

“Bremmer is most widely known for advances in political risk; referred to as the “guru” in the field by The Economist[11] and The Wall Street Journal[12] and, more directly, bringing political science as a discipline to the financial markets.[13] In 2001, Bremmer created Wall Street’s first global political risk index, now the GPRI (Global Political Risk Index). Bremmer’s definition of an emerging market as “a country where politics matters at least as much as economics to the market”[14] is a standard reference in the political risk field.

Bremmer has published ten books, including the national bestsellers Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World (Portfolio, May 2012), which details risks and opportunities in a world without global leadership, and The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations (Portfolio, May 2010), which describes the global phenomenon of state capitalism and its implications for economics and politics.

Bremmer is a frequent writer and commentator in the media. He is the foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large for Time, a contributor for the Financial Times A-List,[16] and has also published articles in The Washington PostThe New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalHarvard Business ReviewForeign Affairs and many other publications. He appears regularly on CNBCCNNFox News ChannelBloomberg TelevisionNational Public Radio, the BBC, and other networks.

Criminal Case Sentencing Guidelines

The phrase “Sentencing Guidelines” has been in the news lately. It refers to a method of assisting criminal court judges to determine a sentence based on a number of factors, most notably including mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

Not only do guidelines assist, they also require judges to apply a range of sentences that fall within the guidelines or place on the record the judge’s reason(s) for not doing so.

Originating in the Federal Courts, sentencing guidelines have been introduced at the state level. Guidelines are typically for felonies only.

My own experience with the development of sentencing guidelines was formed in the mid 1970’s when, as the State Court Administrator, I secured a federal grant to implement sentencing guidelines in Michigan.

The process began with a series of meetings that included judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and defense attorneys. I recall at one meeting a hypothetical felony case was discussed in depth, after which each participant was asked to write a recommendation for a sentence along with reasons for same. The case involved an armed robbery in a retail store, no shots fired, no injuries. To the surprise of everyone, the recommended sentences were widely disparate, all including prison, but ranging from a few years to lengthy sentences of twenty or more years. One participant recommended a life sentence with parole eligiblity after twenty-five years.

The need for some form of sentencing standards became apparent.

The end product was a set of charts that included rows of factors to be considered and columns showing lengths of sentences. In Michigan in the 1970’s, a probation officer would consult the charts and prepare a sentencing report for the judge which included a sentence conforming to the guidelines.

Readers who would like much more detail are invited to search on the phrase sentencing guidelines. There are descriptions of the federal system and the various state systems, including Michigan, which has a manual published by the Michigan Judicial Institute.

The Missing “G” in GOP

Years ago I read “American Odyssey,” long out of print, a history of the origins and development of Michigan.  For several years, while working at the Michigan Supreme Court as the State Court Administrator, I gave copies of the book to the people I worked with, particularly those who had come to Michigan from elsewhere in the U.S.

My goal was to afford new staff the opportunity to learn about the State of Michigan and some surprising aspects of its history, one of which was the first convention of the new Republican Party near Jackson, Michigan, just south of Lansing, in July of 1854 – a half dozen years before Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican to be elected President.  A great part of the impetus behind the formation of the Republican Party was opposition to the extension of slavery.

Somewhere along the line the Republican Party became known as the GOP, the Grand Old Party.  I don’t argue about the words “Old Party,” even thought the Democratic Party is older.  But at this stage I must object to the word Grand, which is defined as stately, dignified, and highly idealistic, at least not when I think of our current Tweeter-In-Chief and many of his minions, some of whom are in the U.S. Congress.  Possibly the last straw for me was his recent reaction to the report on climate change prepared by U.S. government scientists: “I read part of it.  It’s fine.  I don’t believe it.”

To paraphrase a recent summary from an NPR news program summing up the current White House strategy: Start a fire, blame someone else for starting it, then take credit for putting it out.  One might well add: Be sure to disagree, disparage, and/or ignore most everything about former staff and much of the work of the intelligence community and other government agencies, except, of course, what is contained in the tweets emanating from the White House.  The G in GOP is missing these days.