30.3.20

IT MIGHT NOT BE THE END. IT MIGHT BE BETTER THAN THE END OF THE BEGINNING.

A professor emeritus from the Medical College of Wisconsin (the former Marquette medical school) has time to crunch some numbers.  "I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the epidemic."  The numbers he's been crunching are those put out by Johns Hopkins.  (One of these days I'll have to post about how recent events put me in mind of several Tom Clancy novels ...)  Feel free to crunch the numbers yourself, dear reader.  Note, in particular, "If there were a confounding effect from increased surveillance (more testing revealing yet more cases), the apparent velocity should be going up."  We're still staying home for the most part.

LET THE BENEFICIARY BEAR THE BURDEN?

Streetsblog's Kea Wilson notes a surprising unintended consequence of people working from home and limiting their shopping trips.  "[T]he Real Cure For Freight Truck Congestion is Fewer Cars."  It's not that the trucks have suddenly become more nimble, rather it's that in the absence of traffic jams, the gear-jammers are able to maintain their cruising speeds and carry out their 62-overtaking-61 maneuvers without multitudes of in-a-hurry commuters being inconvenienced.

Then she gets off into the weeds of Utopian Wonkery(TM).  "Even some #BanCars advocates acknowledge that the world would probably be better off if our highways were the domain of more fast-moving freight trucks rather than a slow-moving mix of trucks and cars — at least until we build a greener option, like a comprehensive national freight rail network." Unlikely. The railroads got out of the retail freight business, particularly in urban areas, years ago.  All those package trucks making delivery on Manhattan?  The infrastructure of car-floats, warehouses, and drayage terminals by which the small stuff used to get there is long gone.  It might be that Union Pacific's Global One, which Chicago and North Western built on an old potato yard, lifted more than a few refrigerated containers of produce and frozen food until it closed.  In Milwaukee, the rail yards that used to service Commission Row offered the builders of expressways space that could be taken without inconveniencing as many employees and congregations.

All those horse-drawn wagons and hand carts were the way we used to do break-bulk delivery.
And it should be noted, of course, that when it comes time for trucks to exit the highway and venture into our cities, high truck speeds are a disaster — because fast-moving freight is deadly for walkers. That’s why many safe streets advocates have long argued for a safer urban delivery model that requires large trucks to stop at distribution centers outside the city, to split their loads among smaller vehicles. (And yes: those “smaller vehicles” should include bike couriers.)

But until we have a true revolution in freight delivery, we can at least celebrate the fact that there are fewer private cars on the highway — and that trucks are getting respirators to hospitals a little faster because of it. And while Rebecca Brewster isn’t sure that the trucking industry is likely to become an ally of the [vehicle miles travelled]-reduction movement anytime soon, she says the industry is enjoying the plunge in traffic while it lasts.
I submit: it might be more productive for highway departments and local authorities to prohibit the movement of forty-foot or longer trailers in urban areas. The speed and mass are one safety challenge, the reality that those things don't fit the streets very well, and jump curbs even when the driver properly executes a right turn well into oncoming traffic.

But it appears to be business as usual: in Wisconsin the authorities are issuing overweight permits to haulers of foodstuffs and toilet paper, look for additional pet projects in the next round of borrowing for infrastructure.  As far as that retail railroading: perhaps once the highway departments understand the roads are assets.

29.3.20

THERE'S SOMETHING CALMING ABOUT WATCHING TRAINS.

Power Line's Steven Hayward thinks so.
So as we settle in to what I’m calling The Great Hunkering Down, it appears I may have acquired a mild form of a non-contagious hobby to pass the time: trainspotting. Lately on my late afternoon walks when I’m working at my temporary residence (long story) down in central coast wine country, I’ve taken to walking along a dirt road parallel to the train tracks around the time the daily northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight (which I sometimes ride up to the Bay Area) rolls through. I am surprised at how often it seems to run on time these days; it has a reputation for running hours late all too often.
He's also using a remote-controlled camera (at least I hope it is a remote-controlled camera) to get pictures of the trains rolling above the camera, and more recently, meeting on either side of the camera.

THINKING ABOUT RETURNING TO WORK.

We've been considering the tradeoff between risking mass contagion and risking mass deprivation.

The first step toward getting back to work is getting a better idea of how bad the contagion is.

A team of public intellectuals at American Enterprise Institute have provided a framework making use of that data.  It's a long report and I'm grappling with a slow internet this afternoon, the quote is only a little piece of what's over there.  I consider it relevant to today's post.
To guard against the risk that large outbreaks or epidemic spread could reignite once we lift our initial efforts to “slow the spread,” the trigger for a move to Phase II [partial reopening of ordinary life] should be when a state reports a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days (i.e., one incubation period); and local hospitals are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalization without resorting to crisis standards of care; and the capacity exists in the state to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms, along with state capacity to conduct active monitoring of all confirmed cases and their contacts.
The report includes a number of footnotes, not hyperlinked, that I have snipped for simplicity's sake. By all means read the full report.

Note that the recommendation depends on a number of metrics: curve-flattening over a fortnight; sufficient capacity to serve the anticipated future cases; sufficient resources for testing and monitoring.  There is no time horizon for any of these items, meaning a reopening of any region by Easter or May Day or what have you is going to be incidental, not deliberate.

That does give the people making policy a basis, though, for telling their subjects constituents the conditions under which an end to their confinement might be in sight.  Given that a number of the state emergency measures have been rolled out piecemeal and then extended, my fear has always been that without some sort of end condition, the time will come when continuation of the social distancing and business closures will prompt civil disobedience.  Chicago's mayor was able to close all the lakefront trails and such attractions on a nice day, early in the emergency order.  Wait another month, wait for that first really nice day, wait for the little kids to spontaneously go to the neighborhood tot-lot: will the Powers that Be still be respected if there isn't some firm sense that there is an exit strategy?  Now contemplate the high-schoolers and young adults heading to the beaches.

28.3.20

WILL AMTRAK'S CONTEMPORARY DINING REMIND PEOPLE OF SOCIAL DISTANCING?

Brian's Travel Spot offers a lament on "The Demise of Amtrak’s Full Dining Service."  His main points are familiar to my regular readers.
Although the new service is touted as an “upgrade” by Amtrak, it’s anything but. Having experienced (and loved) the full service dining car, what’s replaced it is vastly inferior, as Amanda and I discovered when we took the train from New York to Atlanta at the start of this month. Instead of a bustling dining car, full of happy passengers, we found a near empty carriage, grumpy staff and, while the food was good, the menu was limited (particularly if you don’t eat meat). As an experience, it was an immense disappointment, fundamentally detracting from the enjoyment of our journey.
The bulk of the column recites many of my observations (it's useful, though, for people who are not hardcore ferroequinologists to point them out).  What occurred to me, though, is that the act of picking up your meal, or having it delivered, imitates the experience of dining out during these days of shelter in place.
Under the old service, you would book your slot in the dining car then make your way down to the dining car when the time came. Unless there were four of you, you’d be sat on a table with a selection of your fellow passengers, the waitstaff making up tables of four on the fly. I met some very interesting people as a result and never had a bad experience.

One of the touted benefits of the new system is its supposed flexibility, allowing you to eat in your sleeper compartment if you want (with your attendant fetching your food) and doing away with the need to reserve your dining slot. However, the reality of the new system turned out to be quite different.

Our attendant came to take our dinner orders in mid-afternoon. If there was the possibility of having our food delivered, it wasn’t mentioned.
These days, if you're ordering take-out, the people running the eateries that are still open are probably happy for the business, and it's good manners to tip generously.  The demoralized staff of the table cars, not so much.
On previous trips, the dining car was a hive of activity, full of conversation and with a warm welcome from the waitstaff (on one particularly memorable journey, everyone, regardless of age or gender, was endearingly referred to as “baby doll”). This time, we arrived to find an empty dining car, bereft of any atmosphere, plus one extremely grumpy, uncommunicative member of staff.

Even though we clearly didn’t know the routine, we had to go and ask for our dinner. Amanda went up and was wordlessly handed a large white bag with sleeper car and compartment number written on it. And that was the sum total of our interaction with the staff.

The food itself was pretty good, although my vegan Asian noodle bowl (the only thing I could eat on the entire menu) was spicier than I’d have liked and resulted in my lips going numb. Amanda similarly enjoyed her red wine braised beef, although she wasn’t a fan of the polenta (which, in its defence, I quite enjoyed). The chocolate brownie (Amanda) and toffee crunch blondie (me) were also good, but a far cry from the desserts I’d enjoyed and previous trips.
Yes, although simply taking a brownie, or one of those ready-to-mix oatmeals off a common table isn't worthy, as the author notes, of "a breakfast buffet that many budget hotels would be embarrassed to serve."

Perhaps in current times we don't have to be singing about bluebirds over the cliffs of Dover.
In closing, the new dining service is a massive downgrade from what went before and I wish Amtrak would reverse its decision. It’s a loss, by the way, not just for the sleeper car passengers: with the old full service dining car, coach passengers were also allowed to eat in the dining car if they wished, paying for their meals. That option has also gone with the new system. Sad times indeed.
Dinner in the diner: nothing could be finer, than being reminded of the days of social distancing.

THE END OF FASHIONABLE NONSENSE?

Power Line's Steven Hayward has been offering what he calls "Observations on the Great Hunkering," and in his latest are a number of Cold Spring Shops themes.
Reusable grocery bags and and personal coffee mugs have been banned, and plastic bags are making a comeback. Even the New York Times admits that high-density urban form and mass transit, which environmentalists have been trying to cram down our throats for the last 25 years, are detrimental to controlling a pandemic.
To an economist, everything is a tradeoff, including the tension between the contagion of ideas and the contagion of plague, and there's more in the project pile to keep me writing.

It's cathartic, too, to see him open up a can on the superfluous deanlets and deanlings.
And don’t even get me started on the indispensable role of all those assistant deans of diversity and inclusion that have sprung up like topsy on every campus. How can we possibly overcome this health crisis without them? (I’ll come back to this later, too. The financial hit colleges and universities are going to take from this is likely to be substantial, with many colleges perhaps going out of business as soon as next fall or the year after. And perhaps the necessary belt-tightening to stay alive will see some of these asshat administrators given their much-deserved pink slips.)
The short answer is that their contributions are so far tangential to the health crisis. Hectoring a few people who note that the current plague originated in China? Yawn. Perhaps their current silence will be a harbinger of their future absence.

THERE ARE NO SOLUTIONS, ONLY TRADEOFFS.

Michael Smerconish's Saturday morning show devoted a fair amount of time to the political economy of shelter-in-place responses to a pandemic.  The show poll question (scroll down) was "Is a universal quarantine worth the costs it imposes on the economy, community and individual mental and physical health?"  The correct response is "it depends" and credit ought to be for your explanation.  Online polls don't work that way, and the response as of 9 am God's time was that it was worth it.

His show spent a lot of time, though, on the "it depends."  One guest was Stanford's Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine, who tackles the question, "how deadly is COVID-19/WUHAN?"  The short answer, which probably frustrates people no end, is "we don't know."


That is, there are two components that have to be measured first: the transmissibility of the thing (that requires serious testing of the infected and the exposed but not ill alike) and the lethality of the infection.  The common cold, for example, is contagious but rarely kills people who get it.  Ebola, on the other hand, kills its hosts so fast that contagions die of natural causes, if you will.

Yale's David Katz also appeared, and he noted that it's probably too late to do anything other than the shelter in place protocols, as the opportunities to test and contain have passed.


Once the immediate contagion has been tamed, though, there's going to be an opportunity to pause and reflect. Did it make sense, for instance, for all the colleges and universities to close down and send home students, many of whom might have been asymptomatic carriers, to their families, where the older adults might have been at greater risk?  Note, though, that neither practitioner ruled out a modified reopening of business as usual, once additional testing and understanding of the transmissibility and lethality of the bug became available.

The show also included New York University's Arthur Caplan addressing the possibility of triage at hospitals or emergency clinics.  (That's a battlefield phenomenon: for all the hours the old televised M*A*S*H offered, only rarely did we see it in action, and generally in its benign form, e.g. Hawkeye Pierce assuring a G.I. he'd be fine and they'd be back.  The part where they make the mortally wounded comfortable, not so much.)

The point the doctor makes is that it would be foolish for clinics to have to make these decisions up on the fly: better to have some guidelines, and pray they don't have to implement them.


Those clips might help allay peoples' fears.  This thing is by no means over, and yet the people whose reputations depend in fair part on getting the understanding right are working on getting the understanding right.

We'll conclude this weekend's briefing with Lester Holt's signoff piece from the NBC Nightly News.

"Your grandparents were called to war.  You're being called to sit on your couch."  (That's excessive, there might be a to-do list at home or something, but for the most part it doesn't involve random death from the sky.)


That's not to say it's time to R-E-L-A-X, not by any means, nor that there are lots of controversies still to address (and I will be participating in that.)

27.3.20

ON MY WORKBENCH.

There are several social-media projects involving model railroaders.  The common idea is to make the best use of your confinement to quarters in building a project.

It's not as if I lack for projects, but I did start a new one to get in on the fun.


That's the Gilmaur Models kit of the American Locomotive S-2 yard switcher.  British etched brass kit, North American prototype.  Yes, I'm fortunate enough to know Britishers who work in North American O Scale.  We'll continue with the show below the jump.

THE MORAL EMPTINESS OF UTILITARIAN THINKING.

The way economists express it is, "there is one too many 'greatests' in 'greatest good for the greatest number.'"  Robin Koerner of the Foundation for Economic Education puts it this way.
Utilitarianism is the moral philosophy that says that a good or right action is one that does the most good for the most people. One of the fundamental problems with it is illustrated by asking a simple question: if we can save 10 lives by killing one person and donating his organs to 10 others, shouldn’t we do so? There’s a reason the answer is “no.” Yet, in its response to COVID-19, many jurisdictions are happy to risk huge damage to the physical and material health of many people to save others.
There's a class of hypothetical exercises called "trolley problems" that get people to get beyond the sentiment to the tragic vision.
The classic exemplar considers whether you’d flip the points on a train track to send a trolley loose from a train that was going to kill three people on its current course down another track where it will kill only one. If you flip the points, then the moral upside is that you saved three-minus-one-equals-two lives net; the moral downside is that you were directly responsible for killing a man.
Mr Koerner distinguishes the canonical trolley problem from the shelter-in-place orders in an intriguing way.
To make it a better fit to the situation we find ourselves in under the threat of COVID-19, we need to mention that the people standing on the train tracks within the sound of the oncoming trolley are not without agency. They all know the trolley is coming; they can use whatever choices they have to get off the tracks, and most (although not all, it is must said) have the ability to do so.

Whereas those who are scared of contracting COVID-19 can take precautions, the people who lose their jobs or homes on account of government-imposed measures have no say in what is happening to them. If restaurants in my home city of Seattle were to remain open, no one would be forced to frequent them and expose themselves to the associated risk. All concerned—proprietors, workers, and customers—would have a choice in that. On the other hand, the minimum-wage server who is laid off or the business owner who can’t cover his costs has no means of protecting herself.
The distinction he draws is incomplete: if I understand the risks of exposing myself to contagion, or of being a vector, and stay away from restaurants and coffee houses, haven't they suffered the loss of my business just the same way as if the governor of Illinois has ordered me to stay away?  Yes, the proprietor of the business is operating under fewer constraints and can choose to stay open or reduce hours or cut prices or what have you, all choices the governor has taken away.  It's not clear, though, that an emergent response to a plague will end better than a managed response to a plague, although the incompetence of the managers matters, bigly.

Mr Koerner weighs those possibilities in his essay, ending here.
If the answer is “no,” then to return to our trolley problem, how can the government even tell on which set of tracks the smaller number of people, or the less vulnerable people, are standing—and down which they think they should send the trolley?

Let us make a final modification to the coronavirus trolley analogy: you won’t be flipping the points; the government is doing that and you’re one of the people on the track. The government action you support is likely a function of which track you think you’re stuck on—and that will depend on your personality, physical health, financial health, and other factors.
What's interesting, and perhaps encouraging, about the reaction of public intellectuals is that logic appears to be trumping ideology.  Consider, first, Swarthmore's Timothy "Easily Distracted" Burke, first expressing skepticism about the class of trolley problems.
I’ve always seen a certain style of thought experiment in analytic philosophy and psychology as having limited value–say for example the famous “trolley problem” that asks participants to make an ethical choice about whose life to save in a situation where an observer can make a single intervention in an ongoing event that directs inevitable harm in one of two directions.

The problem with thought experiments (and associated attempts to make them into actual psychological experiments) is that to some extent all they do is clarify what our post-facto ethical narrative will be about an action that was not genuinely controlled by that ethical reasoning. Life almost never presents us these kinds of simultaneous, near-equal choices, and we almost never have the opportunity to reason clearly in advance of a decision about such choices. Drama and fiction as well as philosophy sometimes hope to stage or present us these scenarios either to help us understand something we did (or was done to us) in the confusion of events, or perhaps to re-engineer our intuitions for the next time. What this sometimes leads to is a post-facto phony ideological grandiloquence about decisions that were never considered in their actual practice and conception as difficult, competing ethical problems.
We'll come back to that later: the role of drama or fiction or speculative philosophy might well be to learn from past situations how better to respond when history rhymes, or perhaps better so, to avoid getting there in the first place.  First, though, note that the professor, no libertarian he, expresses a sentiment similar to that of Mr Koerner.  "This is too important to leave to the meritocratic leaders of civil institutions and businesses, too important to be left to the various elected officials and authoritarian bureaucracies, too important to be deferred to just one kind of expertise."  It's not quite "bet on emergence," but it's no endorsement of Wise Experts combining Platonic and Solomonic Wisdom for a (nonexistent) Common Good, either.  There's more than a little Tragic Vision in his argument.
It cannot be that saving the most lives imaginable from the impact of the pandemic is of such ethical importance that the destructiveness of the sudden collapse of the world economy is unimportant. It cannot be that business as usual–already deformed by inequality and injustice–must march forward over the deaths caused by the unconstrained, unmanaged spread of COVID-19.
Where any of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding, there is no Business as Usual.
This has to be something that people decide, and that people are part of deciding. For myself, I think that we will have to put a limit on lockdowns and quarantines and that limit is likely to be something like June or July in many parts of the United States and Europe. We can’t do this through December, and that is not about any personal frustration with having to stay at home for that length of time. It’s about the consequences that duration will wreak on the entirety of our social and economic systems. But it is not anything that any one of us can decide for ourselves as a matter of personal conscience. We the people have to decide this now, clearly, and not leave it to CEOs and administrators and epidemiologists and Congressional representatives and well-meaning governors and untrustworthy Presidents. This needs not to be a stampede led by risk-averse technocrats and managers towards the path of least resistance, because there’s a cliff at the end of all such paths. This is, for once, an actual trolley problem: no matter what we do, some people are going to die as a result of what we decided.
I think he's being optimistic about people being patient until mid-summer, simply consider Our President's hope of restarting something resembling normal life in parts of the country by Easter.

Former education secretary William Bennett along with Seth Leibsohn make a similar point about the tradeoff.
Today, to paraphrase the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald, we have engaged in the volitional destruction of the economy and caused unbridled panic over a number we don’t know we will reach but most think will not surpass the combined annual death toll of the regular flu and annual traffic deaths, to say nothing of opioid deaths.

We are being disproportionate. The measures being undertaken now will have far-reaching and potentially disastrous consequences. We need to be attentive to isolation as potentially more dangerous than normal life, leading to more suicide, more opioid abuse and more domestic abuse – endemics we have waged other “wars” on. We will soon start to see the consequence of lost wages. And the elderly, who are most at risk for their physical health are also now most vulnerable from the economic consequences as their nest eggs and retirements evaporate.

What, a sane society needs to ask, is the national fatality rate of the disease and what is the result of losing everything else? As of now, we believe the first number is 1.2 percent. That is, if you catch this virus and if you test positive, your odds of dying from it are 1.2 percent. And if you are under 60, much less than that. We have no idea of the results of losing everything else.

As the economist Steve Moore wrote us: “We have gone from a crisis from an act of nature to a crisis that is manmade from the stupidity of shutting down our economic engines. I don’t know how serious this virus will be but I do know if the economy stays paralyzed for another month the carnage will be in the trillions of dollars. The health impact alone from bankruptcies, unemployment and isolation could be worse than the disease.”
Put another way, the policy makers are throwing a switch without complete knowledge of what is at risk on either track. But everybody can see the pressure on intensive care wards and emergency rooms in the big cities: when the gunshot victims and casualties of car crashes come in on a normal weekend, at least the medical staff is not at risk.

It is to "re-engineering our intuitions," though, that I wish to return.  These trolley problems have always bothered me, particularly if it's a runaway empty railcar, as there's this little thing called splitting the switch.  That's a pain in the you-know-where for real or model trains, but in the hypothetical, that rules out anybody being run over.

The challenge, though, dear reader, is in recognizing that the situation, while foreseeable, is poorly foreseen.  Consider a lengthy essay by Ed Yong in The Atlantic.  "A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility."  Indeed, and we've had previous warnings that dangerous stuff lurks out there.

There's something, though, about humans putting themselves in a position where they think they're in a trolley problem, although it often comes expressed as a binary choice.  But, thinking back four years, to the supposed "Flight 93 election," how was it back then that presidential selections had deteriorated to the point that a cuckoldess and a reality-show entertainer could capture the nominations of what were supposedly serious political parties?  Likewise, today, how is it that public health had deteriorated to the point that avoiding the various -isms and -phobias, or not being intolerant of "do your own thing" (or perhaps relying on enough Lysol and penicillin to make it go away?)  mattered more than recognizing that plagues are still loose on the land?

WHERE STUDENT-ATHLETES COMPLETE REAL DEGREES.

Former NIU athletes now nurses on the front line of pandemic.  Because the story deals with the pandemic, it is currently not paywalled.  "'If things are to get bad, that’s when I feel like this is actually my calling, you know what I mean?' [onetime gymnast Courtney] Dowdell said. 'I'm more than happy to help whenever I can.'" She's on the front lines, at Chicago's Rush Presbyterian.  Stay safe.

JUST TEACH THE CONTROVERSIES.

Widespread online college instruction as an emergency response to the COVID-19/WUHAN pandemic means widespread public diffusion of the indoctrination efforts at fostering critical thinking being made by the professors and instructors.  People are still going to their corners: thus Breitbart's Alana Mastrangelo sees the leftists fearing some sort of repression.  "Professors are now worried that the political bias they bring to the classroom will be easily recorded and exposed to the public now that their courses have been moved online due to the Wuhan coronavirus."

Emma Pettit, writing for the house organ for business as usual in higher education, predictably sees things differently.
Research shows that though faculty members skew left politically, and conservative students can feel marginalized, there’s no evidence of a siege on conservative thought in the classroom. Nevertheless, “indoctrination” is a common right-wing talking point. And the transition to remote learning could mean students have more recorded material than ever to share, should they want to.
Note the elision: "no evidence of a siege." No, it's more of a quarantine: Marx, but not Sowell, for instance.  It's amusing, though: after thirty years of diversity hustlers promulgating speech codes and stirring up the woke rage mobs in order that people less anointed "watch what they say."  Now the shoe is on the other foot, and it's the professors watching what they say.
Dylan Bugden, an assistant professor of sociology at Washington State University, said that after his institution announced it would pivot to online instruction, he decided he would not record lectures. To teach, he’d instead post presentation slides, short quizzes, activities, and an exam, and he’d be available for office hours.

“I find it difficult to teach without referring to important events and issues in the world,” Bugden explained in an email. “Doing so is a powerful way to help students see that what we learn in class is not just abstract or a mere intellectual exercise, but matters for the things they and their peers care about.”

Unfortunately, he said, that approach opens faculty members — especially women and people of color — to attack. Bugden teaches about such environmental issues as climate change and population growth, and he says he has received course evaluations in which students tell him to leave politics out of his material. His political views aren’t a secret, and the likelihood of an online campaign against him seems low, Bugden said. “But the risk is so severe that it’s simply not worth it.”
Typical Chronicle deflection: when it's clear that the affirmative action hires are being vetted for their ideological purity, rather than for their academic potential, does it really come as a surprise that the students figure it out?

Teach the controversies, and even the most rabid of Breitbart readers will appreciate the efforts.  The wokescolds of Student Affairs, not so much, but it's time for them to pound sand.

THE SMALL PLATOONS.

My mom has told stories of knitting onesies for Britain in the early 1940s.  That was a high-school project, they'd receive shipments of purple yarn (it being a war, having pink or blue ones were inconsistent with the spirit of austerity) and make them in various sizes for the infants.

The same sort of thing is at work in contemporary sewing clubs, only these days it's face masks for health professionals.  (The story is a video out of Rockford, there are no embed options, sorry.)

It's like any other war effort, there are shortages, these days of quarter-inch elastic.  I heard a radio report on this phenomenon out of Milwaukee where somebody was suggesting crafters look in their notions box.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS KILLS.

Tucker Carlson signed on last night with his version of why New York has become the hottest hot spot for COVID-19/WUHAN in the United States.



There's plenty of blame to go around and Our President did not follow up properly on his ban of travellers from Communist China.

It's clear, though, that boutique multiculturalism and woke virtue-signalling served as vectors for contagion, and not of a good kind.  "Last month you told New Yorkers to go party it up in Chinatown and insinuated that anyone who stayed home to avoid infection was racist."

The mayor of New York City was still suggesting that his constituents go east side, west side, all around the town early in March.  Yes, it was still business as usual in DeKalb, although Illinois officials clearly were already considering measures to shut down normal life.

New York's mayor, not so much.
"Since I’m encouraging New Yorkers to go on with your lives + get out on the town despite Coronavirus, I thought I would offer some suggestions," de Blasio tweeted on March 2. "Here’s the first: thru Thurs 3/5 go see The Traitor [at Lincoln Center]. If The Wire was a true story + set in Italy, it would be this film."
First work the problem, then have the inquiries. But let the record show that the political class are not covering themselves with glory here.

26.3.20

THE COVID19/WUHAN VIRUS IS NOT TRAVELLING BY TRAIN.

In fair part, that is because the Passenger Rail operators are reducing frequencies.

The Hiawatha service, for instance, is the Builder and one corridor train, leaving Milwaukee in the morning and Chicago at the close of the business day.  That's representative of the regional routes radiating from Chicago generally.  By contrast, the Amtrak Day trimming of service left Milwaukee with three Chicago trips.


Florida's Virgin Brightline have suspended the operation of all trains (the service recently expanding to almost hourly between West Palm and Miami) for the duration.  The publicly funded Tri-Rail commuter service continues to operate.  Construction of the Brightline extension to Orlando continues.

Craig "Amtrak in the Heartland" Sanders calls the roll of cancellations and curtailments: additional regional routes today, California (just watch the naysayers on that bullet train pile on); ridership on the Chicago hub regional services has almost vanished, prompting the curtailments.

EERILY PRESCIENT?

In October 2015, economics writer Megan "Jane Galt" McArdle paid a tribute to seven-layer salads and tuna casseroles and all the other stuff the foodies disdain.  "Don’t judge yesteryear’s cooking by today’s standards."
The modern foodie cannot imagine a world in which he or she would enjoy sitting down to a meal of poached eggs on toast points drowned in floury white sauce, followed perhaps by a dainty frozen salad. And after looking at food pictures of the era, you can sort of understand why.
Check your privilege, modern foodie.
A lot of the ingredients we take for granted were expensive and hard to get. Off-season, fresh produce was elusive: The much-maligned iceberg lettuce was easy to ship, and kept for a long time, making it one of the few things you could reliably get year round. Spices were more expensive, especially relative to household incomes. You have a refrigerator full of good-looking fresh ingredients, and a cabinet overflowing with spices, not because you’re a better person with a more refined palate; you have those things because you live in 2015, when they are cheaply and ubiquitously available. Your average housewife in 1950 did not have the food budget to have 40 spices in her cabinets, or fresh green beans in the crisper drawer all winter.
That lettuce really wasn't so easy to ship. I recall advertisements placed by the Southern Pacific Railroad of the day touting the cushion-underframe refrigerator cars and other packing practices to get that stuff from the Imperial Valley to New York. Then that statement about spices relative to household incomes summarizes in one sentence just how much improvement in real well-being has taken place in the three score and fifteen years since Victory -- and why the adjustment to the pandemic is both disorienting and likely to be manageable.

Here's how she summarizes that real income.  "If you understand why folks ate Trippa alla Romana, you should not be confused about the tuna casserole or the creamed chipped beef on toast."  Precisely.  In addition, the cooks of that era were either Depression babies or the children of Depression babies.
These days, people who don’t like to cook, or aren’t good at it, mostly don’t. They can serve a rich variety of prepared foods, and enjoy takeout and restaurants. Why would you labor over something you hate, when someone else will sell you something better for only slightly more than it would cost you to make something bad?

In 1950, the answer was “because we’re not made of money.” A restaurant meal was a special treat, not a nightly event, and prepared foods were not so widely available, in part because women tended not to work, but also because food processing technology was so advanced. So women had to cook whether they liked it or not. Many of them didn’t like it, so they looked for ways to reduce the labor involved. And it’s far from obvious that what they did with those shortcuts was worse than what they would have done without them. Think of the kind of casserole a bad cook might have made without canned soup and frozen vegetables. She’d probably have boiled the vegetables, because that’s the easiest way to prepare them, and boiled them to death, because she wasn’t too fussy about timing. (Out of season, those vegetables would have been limited to a few hearty root vegetables.) If there was a sauce, it probably would have been horrible. Let’s not even start on what she might have done with the meat. Canned soup and frozen vegetables start sounding pretty good.

That was the baseline most people were working off. They were not comparing what they ate to what they might have gotten at a good restaurant; they were comparing it to what they would have gotten without the shortcuts, because, to reiterate, most of them rarely ate at a good restaurant.
I just pointed a search engine at "tuna casserole recipes" and found about 22 million entries, and several of them up in the last few days.

'TIS A CURIOUS FORM OF CONSERVATISM, LASSIE.

Columnist S. E. Cupp sees federal failure everywhere.
Donald Trump has, in a word, been a disaster. He is too small a man for this big a job.

Over in Congress, the picture isn’t much prettier. While Americans are out of work, running out of money and afraid for their lives and livelihood, lawmakers squabble over procedure and petty politics. Republicans want a stimulus package to include a nearly $450 billion slush fund for Treasury and President Trump to hand out to ailing firms of their choosing.Democrats have larded up a stimulus bill with galling pet projects for solar and wind energy and Big Labor, while allocating so-called “emergency” funding to everyone from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to Howard University and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Congress, too, is letting Americans down in an urgent time of need.
Why, then, pivot to hoping that people who lack a vision of how to work the problem, let alone the ability, can somehow "come together?"
Philosophical debates over big and small government, free-market economics and even the meaning of compassion are bouncing around in the ether as we try to get a hold on what is happening and what to do about it.

Conservatism can and should provide a guide.

Over the past four years, the Trump era has muted conservatism’s influence in Republican politics. Principles and policies conservatives have long held dear have been bastardized and repackaged by Trump, leaving real conservatism floating like the jetsam of a shipwreck.
I suspect that "shipwreck" metaphor is causing chuckles in some circles. The problem, dear reader, is that there is no common understanding about what "conservatism" means in national politics, although, to the extent that it means skepticism of grand constructions and respect for life's hard-earned lessons, it's not what the lady is writing about.
It must be up to small-government conservatives to urge bigger government in a time of crisis. Federalism is an important political model for self-governance, but not when states can’t get surgical masks and hospital gowns. If there’s ever a time to feed the beast instead of starve it, it is now.
Sorry, no, it is the constraints the beast has been imposing that have made both the immediate readjustment to the situation slower, and the expectations of succor from Uncle Sugar (in addition to that Kennedy Center for the glitterati, we're again on the hook to enable the airlines to continue to cram seats closer together, add upcharges for everything, and not feed us) stronger.  "Who knew that a virus would threaten to turn the Land of the Free into a command society where what we do is directed and paid for by the state?"

We'll have Ms Cupp to thank when, once the crisis passes, the dirigiste impulse will not (just another iteration of moral equivalent of war) and any objections she raises will be met with a Tim Russert-like, "Back in 2020, you wrote ..."
The ultimate result will be to transform a more-or-less free society, driven by individual preferences and private decision-making, into one in which planning is centralized and costs are shifted according to governmental priorities. You can assume that some calculation will be built into that spending, too – rewards for friends and punishment for enemies, as is always the case in politics. That is, we're becoming a country in which much of what we do is both mandatory and subsidized.

When this is all over, don't expect politicians to lose their taste for ordering us around. That's a hard habit to break. You can be certain, though, that they'll want us to thank them profusely for the checks they cut to offset some of what they inflict on us.
Of course they will, that's what the mid-level bureaucrats of the New Deal got away with through the Great Society.  I suppose that's the one blessing that so many senior members of the current political class are as old as they are, they won't be in charge for as long.

THE SMALL PLATOONS COME THROUGH.

Last week, we noted that households stocking up on cleaning supplies put the Rockford Rescue Mission (and presumably other such agencies) in a tough spot, having to resupply for more intensive cleaning.

Over the weekend, some of the Mission's neighbors did find themselves with more cleaning supplies than they initially perceived to be necessary, and they shared.
City First Church banded together, with the goal of helping the homeless. On its wish list, household staples like bread, medicinal items and any type of cleaning supplies.

The church did take extra precautions by requiring team members to wear gloves while retrieving donations, as well as disinfecting all items that came through its doors.
The emergency is not yet over. In Rockford, however, the metropolitan area has been dealing with straitened circumstances for some time.

FOUR PERSPECTIVES ON THE FOURTH TURNING.

"Four speculative possibilities" reads the thesis nailed to Newmark's Door.  Some of the columns might lead to more extended exegesis here.

24.3.20

A VIRTUAL SCAVENGER HUNT.

One of the features several travelling model railroads use is a scavenger hunt, in order to occupy children of all ages, including those of us in their second childhood who might be looking for additional modelling tricks.

In that spirit, I offered one to layout tour visitors.


The solutions are below the jump.

THE CHUTZPAH IS BREATHTAKING.

It is the nature of rent-seekers to seek rents, and a national emergency is as good a reason as any to do so.  Think about the transportation bill in 2005 that midwived the Tea Party, yes, those people got more vigorous in the 2008 and 2009 financial bailouts and stimulus bills, and the unedifying wrangling over the spring relief bill Our Political Masters are crafting is just Business as Usual, even if the contagion is not.

Thus it ought come as no surprise that Matt "Dean Dad" Reed puts in a case for the state universities.
This isn’t a panacea; states have been disinvesting from public higher ed for a long time. But going from a slow decline to a dead stop would be catastrophic for many colleges, and once that capacity is gone, getting it back is much more time-consuming and expensive.

Yes, we need to look at different ways of doing business. But to do that, we first have to survive.
It's in his interest to make that argument, and it's in the interest of Inside Higher Ed readers to post generally concurring comments and blame stingy state legislatures.

Perhaps, though, those "different ways of doing business" might come from the state universities themselves.  For the past thirty years, they've offered a simulacrum of the craziness emanating from the Browns and Oberlins, probably more for the benefit of serial administrators who hope, for instance, to parlay a directorship of affirmative action at a directional state into a gig at an Ivy.  Foucault, with genderfluid potties, never mind whether there's any learning going on.  Let the people who run the regional comprehensives and the mid-majors consider whether doubling down on access is really the best strategy, when the students and faculty are in on the non-aggression pact that characterizes the subprime party school.  (Those clueless spring breakers who made the national news might have clarified more minds about what often goes on in "college" these days, all that talk of mission, vision, values, social responsibility, ad infinitum, ad nauseum notwithstanding.)  I take no joy in pointing out that excellence has long taken a back seat to inclusion, access, all the rest.  I take no joy in noting that perhaps it takes a new virus to concentrate minds.  I will take no pleasure when the state legislatures start asking questions about the necessity of, oh, campuses in Macomb and Edwardsville and Carbondale and Charleston, let alone of Eau Claire, Menomonie, Stevens Point and River Falls.  It will come to this, though, because the impunity with which the people running state higher education have been sticking their fingers in the eyes of the very people who they seek to tax, namely those individuals who don't belong to any of the protected classes and thus must be privilege shamed.

23.3.20

FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN YEARS AGO.

Franklin Roosevelt's inaugural address in March 1933 has been in the news lately, simply the latest political football. I'm struck by the timing: it was that famous 87 years from Independence to Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and the next 87 years would take us to 1950 and the Great Power Saeculum, complete with nuclear weapons and a polio vaccine in development.


What, though, is the state of contemporary fear?  Reason's Jacob Sullum contemplates the decisions a successor to Franklin Roosevelt, the current governor of New York, must make. "The fear, the panic, is a bigger problem than the virus." Don't issue the shelter order, people might take actions in anticipation of such an order. "Because you watch things like that all day….Somebody says something, and then it's on the screen right away. 'Oh my God, I'm going to be locked in my home. I better go to the store and buy stuff.'" Issue the order, then you might destroy the civilization in order to save it, and the health providers might be overwhelmed all the same.  Read the article in full for the nuances and qualifications.  Reflect, though, dear reader, on this. "In the face of all that uncertainty, public officials may imagine they are erring on the side of caution. But that is true only if you ignore the negative impact of aggressive interventions."  As of Sunday night, the governor is equivocating: a ukase is not a shelter in place order.

Consider as well, dear reader, the adjectives President Roosevelt used to describe the fear in that speech: unreasoning, paralyzing.  With the distance of those four score and seven years, it is easy to see the highlight reel and cue "Happy Days Are Here Again."  There was, at the time, no such thing as consensus.  Townhall columnist Tom Tradup treats the hostility between the current president and the legacy press as something new.  "Helpful consumer tip for snowflakes in the Beltway press corps: if you keep playing your dopey game of 'Poke the Bear' with this president, don’t be surprised if you get a few claw marks when he stands up to you."  As long as there's no place to go, let it snow (oh, wait, that's just tonight's prolonged winter) find some online archives of Chicago's Tribune from 1933, or see what your search engine gives you for "Martin, Barton, and Fish;" or contemplate the open hostility between High Society and that parvenu Franklin.  For that matter, were the famous fireside chats a way for a president to bypass the traditional gatekeepers by putting his own material out on the radio?  For extra credit, once the travel bans end and the trains resume service, take a ride to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and examine, carefully, the gallery of editorial cartoons.  Think George W. Bush or Barack Obama got handled roughly by the caricaturist?

For additional perspective, what Angelo "Ruling Class" Codevilla notes when he writes, "Those who fault the Trump Administration’s response to the virus would be a lot more credible had they not spent the past three years blaming him for everything imaginable. Also, their credibility would rise to threshold level were they not so obviously inconsistent in their advocacy of domestic shutdown and of open external borders," is that sometimes there is loyal opposition, and sometimes there be copperheads.  But who will write the history has yet to be determined.

His concluding sentence, however, could be applied with equal force to the Depression era, or to secession and nullification.  "Thus they are showing that the virus of partisanship has already hurt America far more than the coronavirus ever can."

A PREDICTION OVERTAKEN BY EVENTS, AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY.

Four years ago, W. R. Mead wrote a long American Interest essay about the sclerotic conventional wisdom that I excerpted from and commented extensively upon.  One sentence in particular stands out.  "The 2020 election may take place against an even darker background than what we now see; if America’s intellectuals and institutions don’t start raising their games, 2016 could soon start to look like the good old days."  I surely didn't anticipate events turning out as they have; as his essay focuses primarily on the shortcomings of the smug credentialed elite, I'm not sure he expected globalization and technocracy to self-discredit in the way it has.

TWO CHEERS FOR TRANSACTION COSTS?

What value is there in foreclosing on a restaurant or nail salon or any other business that is closed for the duration?  Probably very little, as now the financial institution that owns it has to find some new owner once the quarantines pass, and the most likely bidder, which is to say, the owner foreclosed thereupon, now has a blot on his credit report.

Moreover, the publicity from foreclosing on housing because the owner hasn't been able to make payments because the governor has deemed his work non-essential will conjure up images of Snively Whiplash twirling his moustache (and tying somebody to the tracks just ahead of an onrushing trainload of toilet paper?)

It's perhaps in that spirit that a bank I do business with is offering sixty-day suspensions on foreclosures and ninety-day suspensions on mortgage and small loan payments.

Look for that to become more common.

22.3.20

THERE'S NO SURGE PRODUCTION AT THE PAPER MILLS.

Apparently, you don't just ramp up production at the paper mill and call an extra train.
Companies that help supply these everyday paper products are stunned and trying to adjust to this rapidly evolving new normal in consumer behavior.

They're faced with tradeoffs. Many were already operating their manufacturing facilities 24/7 prior to the pandemic. Now, some are limiting their facilities to essential workers and contractors. It's unclear, however, what they will do in the event that those workers get sick.

"If you ask me why everyone is grabbing toilet paper, I can't really explain it," said Tom Sellars, CEO of Sellars Absorbent Materials in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His company is a processor and converter of paper and related products. "It's not like we are suddenly using more of it. But the surge in demand could strain the supply chain," he said.

Georgia Pacific, the maker of Angel Soft and Quilted Northern toilet paper, said that last week, some orders from retailers nearly doubled. The company managed to ship out 20% more than its normal capacity. And the American Forest & Paper Association, an industry group representing paper product makers, noted the industry is working hard to respond to the sudden spike in demand.
Paper mills produce a tissue paper that can be cut, perforated, and rolled into toilet paper or sliced and interleaved into facial tissue.  The cutting takes place in what a steel guy might understand as a slitting mill.  But creating a new tissue mill isn't easy, and the ones that exist are pretty much running at capacity.
The pulp (virgin or recycled) is delivered to paper mills that turn it into large rolls of paper called "parent rolls" that are over 100 inches wide. The rolls then arrive at paper-coverting facilities, like the one run by Sellars.

"We purchase large rolls from mills and our equipment cuts and packages them into the designated end product like toilet paper or kitchen towels, depending on the quality of the paper," he said. Packaging and shipping are the final steps in the chain.

So what happens when there's an unexpected demand spike?

"Most mills are 24 hours, 7 days a week operations already. They are running on fixed capacity," said Sellars. "It's not like there's an idle machine that can be cranked up to increase production."

Retailers also have a set amount of toilet paper inventory. "What I suspect is happening right now is retailers are tapping into toilet paper inventory that's sitting in their warehouses until they get more shipment from producers," he said.

For suppliers, rapidly increasing production may not be feasible. So they might instead recalibrate factory production to make more of one type of product and less of another. "For example, less bathroom paper towels and more toilet paper," said Sellars.
A Chicago Tribune story describes the situation in a similar way.
“It’s not like suddenly all the toilet paper factories in the world are burning down,” said Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies manufacturing supply chains. “They’re still cranking this stuff out.”

If anything, toilet paper supplies are suffering from being too steady, Shih says. Typically, demand for the product is flat proportional to the population — there is no hot season for toilet paper. That means that factories are designed to run as efficiently as possible around the clock to produce a constant stream of product, with little room for increase or decrease.

When that constant supply meets a spike in demand, shoppers suddenly run into empty shelves.
I hope the operators of the paper mills are familiar enough with the cobweb dynamics that clutter a lot of introductory economics texts that they'll pull with an even strain rather than ramp up for now only to have to scale back once the panic passes.

It's not as challenging to set up a slitting mill, as an alert Bangor entrepreneur discovered.
When Marc Cooper first acquired a building on the outskirts of Bangor last summer with the goal of converting raw tissue paper into finished goods, he didn’t foresee the global pandemic that would flare up some eight months later — let alone the effect it would have on his business.

With the confirmed arrival of the coronavirus in Maine, panicked shoppers have been stripping toilet paper from the shelves of their local supermarkets as soon as it can arrive.

Cooper’s business, TissuePlus, only started making toilet paper in the last week, but he now has two shifts of workers cranking out rolls of it from early in the morning to past midnight. He then sells the finished goods at a wholesale price to regional distributors and suppliers.
The parent rolls come from mills in Baileyville, Maine, as well as from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.  (Hmmm, backhaul loads for Bangor and Aroostook boxcars.)

Parent rolls are a low value relative to weight commodity, there are paper mills using recycled paper and pulpwood all over the country.

CONTAGIONS, FOR GOOD OR FOR ILL.

That's the fundamental tradeoff of people living in thickly settled areas.  On the good side, the contagion of ideas makes for greater prosperity and previously unrealized gains from trade.  On the bad side, the contagion of disease makes for greater suffering.  Tristan Cleveland of Strong Towns summarizes, "These lessons are particularly important for cities, because the very things that make cities successful economically make them successful at spreading pathogens."  His post is primarily for future city officials and students of planning, perhaps preparing to fight the next plague more effectively based on the lessons currently being learned.

In New York's Times, Michael Kimmelman is struggling with the same tradeoffs.  I think he's in error about the origin of cities in the first place.  "Historians tell us that cities emerged thousands of years ago for economic and industrial reasons — technological leaps produced a surplus of agricultural goods, which meant not everyone had to keep working the land."  These "leaps" did not happen by magic.  It's more accurate to think about a division of labour emerging between inventors and users of technology, and some combination of accumulated wisdom and pattern recognition led to more formal methods of ruling.  He recognises, subsequently, the tension between good and bad contagions.
During the last century, millions of urban-dwelling Americans fled to the suburbs. Cities cleared old neighborhoods and replaced them with giant housing projects in vast empty spaces, arguing that crowded urban slums had become petri dishes for disease.

But people have been moving back into cities even as technology has created myriad new ways of connecting remotely. Cities have become epicenters of new capital and creativity, because proximity breeds serendipity and strength, from which new ideas and opportunities arise.
Apparently gentrification is not relevant under current circumstances, but I digress.  The politics, not so much: the people are where the agglomeration economies are and also where the large clusters of Wuhan virus contagion are emerging.  The challenge right now is that the executive orders being issued by governors in the states with big cities might be destroying the positive contagions in order to damp down the unhealthy contagions.  (That's speculation on my part, but it's something people are thinking about.)

Meanwhile, James Lileks is asking a pertinent question.  "The more pertinent question would seem to be this: are you less likely to get the bug if you drive in your car to a large grocery store, or take a subway to a small, crowded one?"  Once the plague passes, there might be plenty of social science opportunities just based on that.

I'M SURE THEY WON'T BE MISSED.

Tucker Carlson anticipates the elimination of diversity deanlets as a class. "Countless deans of diversity and inclusion will be out of work." That's another long-held hope of mine. But it's happening without any initiatives on my part.

Consider the virus response announcements being issued by Northern Illinois University.  At least at this time, these are from members of senior management, but so far none of the functionaries in Diversity or Student Affairs have issued any cautions against insensitive behavior whilst online.  More tellingly, the Diversity tab that used to be prominent on the university web page and on administrative sub-pages is no longer there.  The links are still there if you know where to look, but evidently that's not something to be immediately in your face.

THE DISPENSARIES OF DEMOCRACY.

The boutique distillery with its exotic whiskies might be Arch Deluxe writ large, and the experience of tasting the various mixes is likely not conducive to healthy living in a plague.

The alcohol from those stills, however, when mixed with the right ingredients, makes a healthy hand sanitizer.  The owners of such places are entrepreneurial-minded enough to see the opportunity, and in many cases, such as DeKalb's Whiskey Acres, the product goes directly to first responders and clinics.
The distillery, at 11504 Keslinger Road, DeKalb was approved Wednesday by the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to convert its distillery to make hand sanitizer, using a special formula approved and passed on from the World Health Organization. By the end of next week, Walters said he hopes to have several thousand bottles of hand sanitizer to donate free of charge to Kishwaukee Hospital and countywide paramedics and police officers who respond to 911 calls.
The conversions are beginning to catch on, although the proprietor reports inquiries coming in from first responders up to a hundred miles away.

Perhaps once the contagion is tamed, there will be an opportunity for a thank you party buying the products the distillery ordinarily offers.

REALITY IS SOCIALLY CONSERVATIVE.

That's a regular theme of mine.

Here is the same theme, as interpreted by The American Conservative's James Pinkerton, with an apothegm for our times.  "In the end, as Emerson would say, people have to grapple with stern right-wing reality—or they won’t be around to do the grappling."

Perhaps his analogy of contemporary life as more in grasshopper mode than ant mode claims too much.  We're better able to live like the carefree grasshopper because of the accumulated efforts of the ants who came before us.

DITCH THE TOURNAMENTS. MODIFY THE AUTOMATIC BID.

An ESPN columnist notes that an upset by an also-ran team in one of the so-called mid-major conferences leads to an automatic bid for a low-seeded one-and-done, and if the regular-season champion does not have a sufficiently solid body of work, it's either one of the lesser tournaments or an early start to the off-season.
It took Fresno State 87 days and 18 basketball games to prove it was the Mountain West's best team in the regular season. It took one game for the Mountain West to determine that Fresno State wasn't the team the conference would send to represent it in the NCAA tournament.

We can do better than that broken math. Conference tournaments can be a means for women's college basketball to innovate. They shouldn't be an instrument of punishment for mid-major teams that already struggle to compete on level terms with Power 5 peers.
The commentator's argument is incomplete, in that the power conferences are able to exploit an unintended consequence of Title Nine, and keep additional players on scholarship, compared with the men's squads. But the men's teams in some conferences have gone to a form of flexible scheduling in the latter part of their seasons with a view toward strengthening their stronger teams' performance ratings, in the hope that an oopsie in the tournament (on any given day and all that) will not be the end of post-season play for the presumptive favorite.

The commentator envisions a role for the tournament, though, in which the incentives are all wrong.
"All eight teams have the same allure, the same dream, of playing in the Big Dance," [South Dakota head coach Dawn] Plitzuweit told them of the Summit League tournament. "Every single player that's playing has that goal."

That is undeniably part of the allure of conference tournaments. The tension of win-or-go-home basketball is entertaining. A regular-season game in January can't replicate it.

"I think there's something that's really special and fun about [tournaments]," Plitzuweit continued. "I also think there's something very challenging about that as a mid-major."

But we already know that drama doesn't require the additional stakes of an NCAA tournament automatic bid. We see it all the time. If Stanford had upset Oregon on a buzzer-beater in the Pac-12 final, the crowd would have roared, the players would have danced and the title would forevermore have belonged to the Cardinal to display in the rafters and in record books.

And yet we would have already known both teams were NCAA tournament locks. A loss wouldn't even have cost the Ducks a No. 1 seed.

So let all conference tournaments stand on their own merit. Rebrand them as cup-style competitions, where conference teams compete for a prize separate from the regular season -- and separate from any NCAA tournament implications.
Perhaps the players and coaches will take the additional games seriously as a way to tune up, or perhaps it will be the college basketball equivalent of those "exhibition" football games in which the starters hold clipboards.  That's not something I claim to understand.  The economics, on the other hand: the concession that Stanford and Oregon are both in, irrespective of the tournament, simply recognizes that the other conferences are simply irrelevant window-dressing to make college athletics resemble some sort of open competition among amateurs, when the reality is that an alignment of the 64 top basketball schools into four big conferences is still likely; and outside of their tournaments, which could be used as ways to set the final four, the conference tournaments are not a financially appealing proposition.

19.3.20

THE LOGISTICAL SYSTEM IS STILL WORKING.

The last social event for the spring might have been the O Scale gathering in Lombard and environs.

My railroad hosts layout tours during that gathering.  For those who couldn't make it, here's one of the featured trains.


The potato warehouses of Aroostook County have inventory, and the paper mills of northern Maine and elsewhere in New England continue to produce toilet paper stock.

Keep calm and model railroad.

18.3.20

PERHAPS THE PANDEMIC WILL CONCENTRATE SOME MINDS IN HIGHER EDUCATION.

Matt "Dean Dad" Reed reflects on the adjustments higher education is making to the sudden closure of all campuses.  He concludes, "When this surreal interlude ends, which it will, we’ll have a choice to make: learn from it, or not. I’m an educator; I root for learning. We may need to lead by example."

A good place to start might be with all the latter-day copperheads who are more concerned that any responses we make individually or with others to the Wuhan virus not commit any of their made-up thoughtcrimes, even if that gets in the way of working the problem.

Perhaps while the deanlets and deanlings of Student Affairs don't have the usual hordes of snowflakes around griping about being triggered or microaggressed against, somebody will ask what useful purpose these idlers are serving.

We could start with currently-online-only Northern Illinois University, where The College Fix's Christian Schneider (via Insta Pundit) has obtained a treasure trove of anonymous reports various stukachi have provided to a multitude of "bias response" offices.  One such report defies parody.
A student representative to the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality Governance Council reported a number of faculty members for opposing creating “all-gender” restrooms in Reavis Hall on campus.

The student obtained a string of private e-mails in which one English professor states she does not want to “sit in men’s pee.”

“The term transgendered is used several times within one email interaction, while as a minor offense shows a lack of competency towards discussing trans and queer identities,” complains the student.
Some background, dear reader. Reavis is part of the Zulauf-Reavis-Watson complex put up to handle the expansion of the early 1960s, and its current use is for the offices of English, Communication and Journalism, and the aforementioned center, which used to be called Womens' Studies, plus some classrooms devoted principally to courses in those fields.  Put another way, that would be the perfect venue for those any-purpose potties (and the virtue-signalling signage on the doors thereto.)  I wonder, though, if any of the men accused of being sloppy have their own cause of action against the faculty member, or of the governance council for rumor-mongering and disseminating fake news.

It's all a bit much for one of Insta Pundit's commenters.  "At the risk of divulging too much information about myself, I guess that after living vicariously through Ivy League, Big Ten, and Flagship State School alumni bemoaning the foolishness and stupidity of the current student bodies at their alma maters, I now can be throughly disgusted by mine."  It's probably scant consolation that there were only 71 reports submitted to the bureaucracy in the past year, out of a student body much larger than any at the Ivies, and no bakeries were boycotted or guest speakers beaten up last year.

University administrators or publicists "did not respond to a request from The College Fix seeking comment."  Perhaps it is a good time to hammer on Northern Illinois, before the local snowflakes become more brazen.

DID YOU FIND YOURSELF WITH MORE CLEANING SUPPLIES THAN YOU THOUGHT NECESSARY?

The Rescue Missions and other homeless shelters might be able to use some of them.

We'll start in Cumberland, Maryland, where Salena Zito filed a report.
The sign outside the ancient red-brick building, once a notorious brothel for railroad travelers, reads: “Doorway to Hope at the Gateway to the West.”

Inside the shelter, which in warm weather can accommodate 62 men, women, and children, is at capacity, and lunch is being served by the staff, as well as the executive director, Pastor David Ziler.

In the cold weather, they can sleep 84, and Ziler says they are at capacity, a number they rarely hit.

“I think people are just kind of freaked out a little bit right now. So, the guys who would normally sleep out in tents, they're all of a sudden seeking refuge. And so, we're not used to seeing these numbers,” says Ziler. “We’ve also seen a spike in need for baby formula and diapers, and more people are coming in for our meals,” he said of the areas with people who are not in need of shelter, just in need.
Local people are still helping with cash and in-kind contributions, but what happens when somebody screens for the Wuhan virus?
“The issue we're going to have, which we haven't hit yet, is isolation because honestly, we are a homeless shelter. We don't have the space to isolate. So even if we find somebody that's homeless, if they're not meeting the criteria to be hospitalized, how do you isolate a homeless person? Right? You can't just say, go home,” [Pastor Ziler] said.

He and his staff of eight started coming up with solutions for what to do when that ultimately happens Tuesday.

“We just started brainstorming: Are there churches available that we could use their gymnasiums for isolation? We have started asking around the faith-based community to fill this need as to how you isolate a homeless person?” he explained.

Ziler said he has never looked to the government to solve problems. He is, like he does every day, relying on his faith to soldier through when he feels the strain. “I've never believed that government's responsible for individuals. The government's responsible for the ever-arching protection of our country. It's the church and the community that's responsible for individual needs. And that's why we're here, because we believe that to the core value,” he said.
That said, there might be student housing available just up the Western Maryland at Frostburg where the state university, in the same fashion as universities everywhere, is closed for the duration.

Closer to home, the stockpiling for spring cleaning and beyond is having an effect on Rockford's Rescue Mission.
"We are in desperate need of cleaning supplies," says the Mission's Crystal Savage. "With 165 people we are really tying to keep everyone safe, and we really do need donations of cleaning supplies as well as toilet paper because those are things that we can not find anywhere."

Not only do workers need cleaning supplies, but a new normal means the Mission must change the way it services food, too.

"We're no longer doing lines, we're not doing the buffet-style," explains Savage. "Everything needs to be pre-packaged and then individually put out before our guests and residents come to sit down."

To go bagging options, like brown paper bags, are needed. Other items like pre packaged food helps as well. Leaders tell 23 News it could cost them $90 a day to purchase these items on their own.
Under ordinary circumstances, the items would be available for purchase, assuming the cash is on hand, but currently, those items are mostly missing from store shelves.
[Ms Savage] says they have faith that God and the community will help with the rest. "You know the Israelites were in the desert, and God provided the manna for them every day," she says. "And so we just have faith that our community will help us get that manna that we need every day, and that manna right now is cleaning supplies, toilet paper and food."

To donate these emergency items you can drop them off at the West State Street location Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Rescue Missions, wherever they might be, are also gearing up for their Easter dinners.