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?


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.

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.

Dangerous Assignments & Assassinations

Who?  Journalists. “Protecting The Press,” by Harold Evans (TIME, November 19, 2018), lays out the numbers:

“From 1992 to 2018, combat crossfire killed 299 journalists, 179 on dangerous assignments. No fewer than 849 were murdered at the instigation of governments – often their own – criminal gangs,terrorists, corrupt businesses, all of them maddened by a presstrying to do its job, independently winnowing verifiable facts from complexity and exposing wrongdoing.”

A free press is a requirement for genuine democracy, but am I am left wondering just how heroic journalists must be when targeted for death for doing their work and ridiculed as enemies of the people.

I recently forwarded an article to some family and friends by Washington Post fact-checkers claiming our Commander In Chief has made 6,420 inaccurate and just plain false statements in 649 days. 649 days of babble and counting. One of my friends wrote back to tell me that the CIC is “not a politician,” that he is keeping his promises, and that he, my friend, respects the office of President. I have yet to understand that response. Does that mean that politicians are never inaccurate or engaged in falsehoods? What do campaign promises have to do with just saying whatever comes to mind, true or false? And do those who find the babble worthy of criticism not respect the office? And did those fact-checkers makeup those 6,420 inaccurate and false statements?

I think not.

I have a few heroes left. Among them are the men and women who prod and verify and work to bring us the facts. At least we in the U.S. are not killing our journalists. But we can’t just look the other way when they are slandered for doing their job. To be sure there are some that have an axe to grind or don’t always get it right, but by and large they are not the enemies of the people.

Fiction and Truth

The novel “The President Is Missing” is as promised, “With details only a president could know, and the kind of suspense only James Patterson can deliver.” Those who like to read fiction now and then will enjoy a well-written novel. Those who believe that sometimes the only way to get at the truth is through fiction should be frightened.

Fictional President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan faces impeachment and a major terrorist has obtained the money and the people with the skills neccessary to develop a virus to infect all U.S. cyber systems.

The story moves along briskly and with lots of the kinds of surprises a good novel requires. Duncan’s political foes often frustrate him and waste precious time. Experts in cyber counter-terrorism are recruited. Questions about who can be trusted interfere with efforts to avoid the disaster.

Is the U.S. in danger of cyber attacks? They have already happened. Many have already been prevented. Is it possible the entire U.S. cyber system could be shut down with one virus? That’s the frightening question this novel has posted in large letters. Will fiction predict truth?

Shifting gears from that dire question and closing on a more hopeful note, without disclosing any specifics, I was taken with the following comment from the fictional president: “Think about how much more rewarding it would be if we all came to work every day asking, ‘Whom can we help today and how can we do it?’ instead of ‘Whom can I hurt and how much coverage I can get for it?'”

“Whom can we help today and how can we do it?”

What a great way to approach each day, provided to us by a fictional president.

The 2nd Amendment and Gun Control

United States Constitution, Amendment II: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I recently saw on the news (CNN, June, 2017) that nearly 1,300 children were shot and killed in our country every year. I don’t want children killed with a gun at school or anywhere else.

First, a bit of what the media like to call “Breaking News.” Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has called for a repeal of the 2md Amendment (Raleigh News and Observer, March 27, 2018). I agree, mostly because I’m convinced the 2nd is, as Justice Stevens notes, “…a relic of the 18th Century….” and hasn’t been correctly interpreted since roughly 1850. Here is my take on understanding it.

Let’s begin with the first clause: “A well regulated Militia….” Those are the first four words, and as my education in the subject of the English language concludes, they are the basis for the rest of the sentence. Everything that comes later in the sentence relies on and refers to “A well regulated Militia….” (Dictionary definition of a militia: a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.)

Next comes: “… being necessary to the security of a free State….” When that was written, the “free State” had not much of an army, navy, air force, coast guard, or merchant marine. None of those were at all enough to ensure the security of a free State. In fact, a couple of them (air force, coast guard, and merchant marine) didn’t even exist. Hence the need for “A well regulated Militia,” intended to be what was needed to secure the “free State,” not unregulated hundreds of thousands of individual gun owners, but “A well regulated Militia.”

Next comes: “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms….” The long accepted use of the phrase “the people,” as in “We the people…,” the first words of the Constitution, is that “the people” means the total population – “the people” equals the entire country. “The people” refers to all the people, the entire population, not individuals who just want a gun, or a collection of guns.

The last few words of the 2nd, “…shall not be infringed” means that the people, the country, shall not be forbidden, precluded, disallowed, to form those well regulated militias to protect and defend the free State. It does not mean individuals stocking up on guns and stockpiling ammo for target practice, amusement, drive-by shootings, school shootings, night club shootings, or any of the other horrible shootings that taken the lives of children and other innocent people, shootings that happen more in our America than in any other country.

Here is what I would include in a new Constitutional Amendment. The right of individuals who have reached a minimum age of 21 to purchase and own guns for limited and legal uses; however, I would ban private ownership of any automatic, military-style weapons. I also support rigorous background investigations, waiting periods, firearms training, and limits on the number of rounds in a magazine for a semi-automatic weapon. After background investigation, training, and a waiting period, I would require a license to complete all purchases of guns, said background investigations and licenese(s) to be renewed on an annual basis. I would make ownership transfers between individuals, including family members, subject to the same requirements as those transfers and purchases from a gun dealer. There should be due process required of anyone to obtain and keep any gun from any source.

Some will say I’m proposing too many safeguards, too much cost, and too much regulation that will never work. Some will say it’s too late, that too many weapons are already in the hands of people who have no business owning them. I know this article will be met with those criticisms and more, but I am sick and tired of learning about shootings, dead and injured children, dead and injured innocent people. We cannot simply hope another shooting won’t happen. We cannot just offer thoughts and prayers to families that have lost children and other family members. We must act now. We must convince our elected officials to act now. Americans can and must do better.

I don’t care how much time and money and regulation it takes. I don’t want children killed with a gun at school or anywhere else. I don’t want innocent lives lost by gunfire no matter what and how long it takes to achieve a safer democracy. I don’t want to minimize the risk of mass shootings; I want to eliminate that risk.

Nobody Asked Me, But…..Volume 3, No. 6

Nobody Asked Me, But…..Volume 3, No. 6

Some friends asked me why I write these blog articles. By the way, is “blog” an acronym, and if so, for what? Anyway, I write because I like to write, I’m interested (if not anxious these days) in current events, and I enjoy trying to come up with interesting and informative articles to send to family and friends.  In the “Nobody Asked Me, But…..” articles I try to point out a few of the zany if not crazy stupid news articles that appear on social media, my newspaper, and other outlets; e.g., my daily quote calendar. Here are some examples:

First, I saw a post on Facebook the other day that claimed Ben Carson, our HUD Secretary, said: “I think illegal immigrants who commit crimes should have their citizenship revoked.” Probably generated by some Russian hacker, so I’ll ignore that one. Besides, nobody with a high school diploma would make that mistake.

Next comes a statement from today’s newspaper about a poor guy who lost several toes and part of his foot due to an infection. He has diabetes and is on disability, and is worried that a federal heating assistance program is about to be wiped out by our Leader and other leaders in Washington. He lost his job and is struggling to heat his home for himself and his fiance and their five children. Never mind that, the important part of the article states that he won’t vote for Trump again if this heating assistance program is eliminated. Wait – fiance and five children? Somebody call a pastor, priest, or civil servant who is allowed to perform marriage ceremonies.

And finally, there is the NC State Legislator that is trying to figure out a way out of his comments about “communist democrats.” He says he didn’t mean all Democrats, just the Communist ones. Comparing himself with General George S. Patton, who once apologized for slapping a soldier, noticed that regular Democrats might have felt somewhat miffed. He went on to recall how “Nikita Cruchev” had long ago predicted that “…Communists would conquer America without firing a shot,” and that a major part of that strategy would be disarming “our people.”

Can’t help being astonished about these little stories…..good grief.