Thinkin’ about stuff……

Just finished reading an article about the Old Post Office in Washington, DC.  I spent a few years in that building in agent training and later in the Washington Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Most of us took the buses that dropped us off and picked us up within a few paces from the entrance.  I recall the morning I arrived early, only to discover, along with a few others, the frozen body of a homeless man who often panhandled up and down the local streets.

The Old Post Office is now Trump International Hotel, characterized by author Alex Altman in the June 15, 2017, issue of TIME magazine as “The Suite of Power; Why Donald Trump’s Washington Hotel is the Capital’s New Swamp.” Save up for a 90-minute couples massage at $460 or a VIP package (a week?) in a 6,300 square foot townhouse suite on two floors overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, advertised for $500,000.

Not quite causing the inspiration from our top civil servant that John Kennedy provided in his inauguration speech:

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage…  Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

More on the order of “Ask not what I can do for you, but what you can do for me.”

Instead of Overbooking……

Nobody asked, but I have the answer to airline company overbooking, and I learned it in the summer of 1965 while on a graduate Russian language study tour of the USSR.  The tour was managed by Indiana University and funded by the National Science Foundation.

Our group, 25 high school Russian language teachers, showed up at the airport for a flight from one Soviet city to another. We were on time.  In fact, we were a bit early. Our departure time came and went, and we waited.  And waited.  Finally the professor in charge of our little group asked whether the flight had been cancelled, the aircraft was in need of repair, or what other reason explained why we were waiting for more than 2 hours for our flight. The answer: “We are waiting for more passengers to fill the seats that are still vacant.”

Problem solved.  Instead of overbooking, just don’t take off until the seats are all spoken for.

And thank you for flying Aeroflot.

Arithmetic and Health Care

Kevin Schulman, M.D., professor of medicine at Duke University and visiting scholar at Harvard Business School, provides us with a brief and, thank you very much, understandable explanation (Raleigh News & Observer, March 23, 2017, “Why the health care market doesn’t work.”)

First, the concept of any insurance system: we all pay into a pool of money that is used to reimburse us when whatever is insured is damaged and requires some of the pooled money to be fixed. Or, in the case of health care, healed – we hope.

In short, all of us who put money in the pool are sharing the risk. Few of us will avoid the misfortune, the need to have a car restored, a home repaired, a business to prop up after a fire or other disaster, a serious health problem treated, and so on. Those of us who never suffer such misfortune help finance the relief for those who do. (Somewhere along the line I recall reading that Ben Franklin either invented the concept of insurance or transplanted it in the Colonies.)

Health insurers are stuck trying to predict the ratio of healthy to sick people who will sign up for their policies. It’s not much of a stretch to grasp that the larger the number of sick policyholders the higher the cost of the insurance. That’s why the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare – I never could figure out which was which; a smidgen of humor there…..) had a provision requiring people with no health care to pay what amounted to a tax.

For the pool to work, everybody has to jump in.

Next, here is the arithmetic to demonstrate the importance of the healthy/sick ratio. Dr. Schulman provides a conceptual model. “The key question is what proportion of the population who sign up for insurance will be healthy.” Suppose 80% of the population is healthy and each of those healthy people will require $1,000 a year for their health care services. The other 20%, sick people, will require $10,000.

80 healthy people x $1,000: $ 80,000

20 sick people x $10,000: $200,000

Total: $280,000

Cost per person ($280,000/100) $ 2,800

Decrease the number of healthy people to 70% and you get:

70 healthy people x $1,000: $ 70,000

30 sick peopole x $10,000: $300,000

Total: $370,000

Cost per person ($370,000/100) $ 3,700

Note the difference between $2,800 and $3,700 is $900. As a percentage, the difference is 32%.

Does 32% ring a bell, sound like a number that closely resembles the increases in health insurance premiums we’ve been hearing about?

What happened is that health insurance industry estimated (guessed) wrong. They used the 80% healthy percentage and wound up with the 70%.

And then there is the assumption that doctors and hospitals will work together to bring down the cost of health care? Why on earth would they do that? We have a profit based, market driven health care system, the object of which is to make money. Where is the incentive to lower prices?

If we start over with our health care system, shouldn’t the foundation principle be that we, the people, have an inalienable right to health care? If we don’t start and stick with that principle, the health care system will always be great for some, barely adequate for many, and attainable only in emergency rooms and the rare clinic for many more.

More Satire, Please

Did you happen to take in the late night program that featured sidewalk interviews with U.S. citizens who didn’t know that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were the same? Some preferred the former because it was “affordable.” Others, clearly fans of Michelle, allowed as to how Obamacare was the better of the two.

Satire. What would we be without it?

In my adopted State of North Carolina, this morning’s newspaper contained a report, obviously satire, about ten of our legislators who think it would be a good idea to eliminate the requirement for a permit for those who would like to carry a concealed handgun. Must be satire. No one in their right mind would want more concealed handguns out there, although those geniuses did include a lengthy list of places where concealed handguns would not be allowed. My guess is that TSA-like frisking stations would be set up in hundreds of locations to help law enforcement gain compliance with all those places all those gun-carrying folks would have to check their weapons bedore entering. Need some gun lockers too. Good job creation with all that.

And then there is the idea that personal opinion and not so much science should inform national policy on such subjects as vaccines, fuel economy standards, carbon emissions, endangered species, pandemic response, and protected waterways (TIME, 2/13/2017, p. 19).

And let’s build up more climate change denial out there. Satire has surely been the motivation behind those obviously doctored photographs of retreating glaciers, the elimination of any mention of climate change on the White House website, and the freezing of EPA grants.

Good grief…..

Loyal Opposition – Thanks, Coach

Great Britain’s lawmakers (Parliament) who are not in the party of the country’s prime minister are known as “back benchers” or the “loyal opposition,” emphasis on “loyal.”

A brief column in this week’s Sports Illustrated (January 30, 2017, page 18), provides us with an excellent example of loyal opposition as stated by Coach Greg Popovich of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. An Air Force veteran, he offered his thoughts on the state of the union:

“I’d just feel better if somebody was in that position that showed the maturity and psychological and emotional level of somebody that was his age. It’s dangerous, and it doesn’t do us any good. I hope he does a great job, but there’s a difference between respecting the office of the presidency and who occupies it. And that respect has to be earned. But, it’s hard to be respectful of someone when we all have kids and we’re watching him be misogynistic and xenophobic and racist and make fun of handicapped people….

“….But I felt great today watching the march in protest [of] how he has conducted himself, because it tells me I live in a country where a whole lot of people care. And we have to be vigilant to make sure that, although we all hope that he does good things for our country, that we don’t get embarrassed by him and roll back liberties that have been worked for [for] so long.”

Thanks, Coach…….

Surprised By Numbers

First, an iceberg larger than the State of Delaware is about “…to break off from a giant ice shelf in Antarctica. It, the iceberg, measures 1,930 square miles. Source: TIME, January 23, 2017, p. 11.

Makes we wonder if Iceberg Delaware will be visible from the beach this year…..

Second, take a guess as to how many bombs the U.S. dropped last year. Hint: it was 3,027 more than in 2015.

According to an anlysis of Defense Department data by the Council on Foreign Relations, the total for 2016: 26,171. That comes to 12,192 in Syria, 12,098 in Iraq, 1,337 in Afghanistan, 496 in Libya, 34 in Yemen, and 3 in Pakistan. Source: ibid, p. 11.

Makes me wonder how many of those bombs hit targets that threatened the security of the U.S…..

Last, take a guess as to the combined total of nuclear weapons the U.S. and the Soviet Union had on hand during the height of the Cold War. Hint: it was in the tens of thousands.

The answer: seventy thousand. Source: The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes, Simon and Schuster, Foreward to the 25th Anniversary Edition.

Makes me wonder how many are still ready to go if someone decides this planet has been around long enough…..

Active Hate Groups in the United States

Today’s mail included a map quantifying the number of active hate groups in our country in 2015: 892.   Also quantified was the number of antigovernment extremist groups: 998.

The map was distributed by the Southern Poverty Law Center:


The hate groups include the KKK (190), Black Separatists (180), Racist Skinhead (95), White Nationalist (95), Neo-Nazi (94), Neo-Confederate (35), Christian Identity (19), and Anti-LGBT/Other (184).

The map clearly shows that the vast majority of the hate groups are in the eastern half of our country. Alaska and Hawaii are the only 2 states where no hate groups are shown. Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana show 41 of the 190 KKK groups exist in those 4 states. Neo-Nazis apparently the Midwest; 20 of those groups are in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

The Bible’s maxim that the poor shall always be among us means more than just people who have no money, the homeless being the primary example of that type of poor. We need to expand the definition of poor to include the poor of spirit, the hateful, the seperatists, the demigods, those who insist others must believe what they believe, love only those of whom they approve; sadly, it appears that they shall always be among us as well.