23.5.20

MARKING OFF.

Last November, this image was making the rounds as the people of Hong Kong sought to throw off the yoke of the mandarins in Pekin.


It never occurred to me that the same thing would be true in the United States, and yet, that is exactly what we're seeing in Lansing, in Madison, in Springfield, in Sacramento, wherever the brain-brothers of Governor Andros seek to render their charges under an absolute despotism.

It's too much, also, for Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass.
“If you’d told me six months ago that the governor of Illinois would declare churches ‘nonessential’ and shut them down, while liquor stores are ‘essential’ and open, I’d have asked what blend of weed you were smoking,” Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society told me.

What we’ve been smoking? Fear. It’s all been tightly rolled in the scraps of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. We’ve been inhaling deeply for months.

And the leaders of the lockdown party — Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot — are on the verge of losing control. Rookie politicians make rookie mistakes.
The pushback builds, and I don't mean Chicago's mayor pushing back on the federal government correctly identifying the Second City as climbing to the top of the coronavirus league tables.

I, however, am running out of useful material.  There's a monster backlog of bookmarks and draft posts for me to clean out, and a Victor E. Garden to plant, and more wiring to do on the railroad.

Thus, in the spirit of all of those arbitrary executive orders, I am taking a blogging sabbatical of undefined duration and scope.  Thanks for looking in.  Once the e-clutter (and more than a little genuine clutter) is cleared away, I'll consider resuming posting.

A PANDEMIC DOES NOT SUSPEND THE RULE OF LAW.

Reason's Jacob Sullum writes, "Courts are beginning to recognize that public health powers, while broad, are not a blank check."
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials have imposed unprecedented restrictions on our liberties and livelihoods, acting on the assumption that they can do whatever they think is necessary to protect the public from a potentially deadly disease. The courts, which were initially reluctant to second-guess state responses to COVID-19, are beginning to recognize that public health powers, while broad, are not a blank check.

The Wisconsin case involved a dispute between two branches of the state government. The Republican leaders of the state legislature argued that Andrea Palm, a Democrat who runs the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, was exercising powers she had never been granted when she ordered the closure of "nonessential" businesses and confined residents to their homes except for purposes she approved, threatening violators with fines and jail.

This case was not simply a partisan spat. It raised the question of whether a single executive branch official can unilaterally criminalize heretofore legal behavior, based on nothing more than her own judgment of what is required to protect public health.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court last week concluded that Palm's order qualified as a "rule" under state law, meaning she could not legally impose it without following emergency rulemaking procedures she admittedly ignored. Those procedures, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said in the majority opinion, provide "the ascertainable standards that hinder arbitrary or oppressive conduct by an agency," ensuring that the "controlling, subjective judgment asserted by one unelected official…is not imposed in Wisconsin."

Palm argued that her order was authorized by a statute that says her department "may authorize and implement all emergency measures necessary to control communicable diseases." But as Justice Daniel Kelly noted in a concurring opinion, that broad interpretation erases the distinction between the legislative and executive branches.

"Under our constitutional form of government, the Legislature cannot possibly have given the Secretary the authority she believes she has," Kelly wrote. "If we agreed with the Secretary's reading of [the law], we would have to conclude the statute violated the separation of powers by conferring on the Secretary the power to make laws without going through the rule-making process."

In the Oregon case, Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff concluded that Gov. Kate Brown had violated the statute she cited as the authority for her business closure and state-at-home orders. Under that law, Shirtcliff said in a ruling on Monday, such orders can last no longer than 28 days.

Whether or not you agree with these decisions or the policies they overrode, the principle at stake is vitally important. Even in an emergency—especially in an emergency—government officials are bound by the law.
Exactly. Especially in an emergency. Where governors are issuing ukases that continue the house arrests indefinitely, or until an effective vaccine is found, or the Second Coming, those ukases are not exactly limited in scope and duration, and there is plenty of time for legislatures to go into special session, and the relevant departmental secretaries to issue proposed rules and call for public comment. Not only that, there are enough online conferencing platforms up and running that almost anyone who wishes to submit a comment is likely able to do so.
"If we tolerate unconstitutional government orders during an emergency, whether out of expediency or fear, we abandon the Constitution at the moment we need it most," Texas Supreme Court Justice James Blacklock observed earlier this month. "Any government that has made the grave decision to suspend the liberties of a free people during a health emergency should welcome the opportunity to demonstrate—both to its citizens and to the courts—that its chosen measures are absolutely necessary to combat a threat of overwhelming severity. The government should also be expected to demonstrate that less restrictive measures cannot adequately address the threat."

Whether COVID-19 control measures can pass that test, Blacklock suggested, depends on emerging knowledge about the epidemic. "As more becomes known about the threat and about the less restrictive, more targeted ways to respond to it," he said, "continued burdens on constitutional liberties may not survive judicial scrutiny."
Yes, and it's up to the relevant judges to do their jobs. “I don’t need to hear two days of testimony from a medical expert that if these executive orders aren’t continued the world is going to end,” [Clay County, Illinois judge Michael] McHaney said. “I don’t need to hear that. This is a legal issue, a legal argument on whether this governor had the authority to issue this executive order under Illinois law and pursuant to the Illinois Constitution. Period. That ain’t hard.”

It's also up to the people filing suits to do their jobs.  In Michigan, a suit challenging their governor's authority to issue an order applying equally everywhere in the state failed.
A 1945 law cited by [governor Gretchen] Whitmer, a Democrat, is not limited to regional emergencies and can have no end date, said Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Court of Claims.

The opinion effectively means the governor's orders stand, including a stay-home decree that is likely to be extended beyond May 28.

“It would take a particularly strained reading of the plain text of the (law) to conclude that a grant of authority to deal with a public crisis that affects all the people of this state would somehow be constrained to a certain locality,” Stephens said.

The claims are “meritless,” she said.
In Ohio, also, a judge rules that the relevant public officials must issue proposed rules and seek public comment, and legislatures must act.
Responding to a May 8 lawsuit filed by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law on behalf of 35 gyms, Lake County Court of Common Pleas Judge Eugene Lucci enjoined Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton from penalizing the plaintiffs or similar businesses for violating the lockdown, provided "they operate in compliance with all applicable safety regulations."

In issuing her business closure and stay-at-home orders, Acton relied on a statute that gives her department "ultimate authority in matters of quarantine and isolation." Lucci concluded that Ohio's lockdown does not meet the legal requirements for "isolation," which is defined as "the separation of an infected individual from others during the period of disease communicability," or a "quarantine," which is defined as "the restriction of the movements or activities of a well individual or animal who has been exposed to a communicable disease during the period of communicability of that disease." A quarantine is supposed to last only as long as "the usual incubation period of the disease" — two to 14 days, in the case of COVID-19.

By contrast, Lucci writes, "The director has quarantined the entire people of the state of Ohio, for much more than 14 days. The director has no statutory authority to close all businesses, including the plaintiffs' gyms, which she deems non-essential for a period of two months. She has acted in an impermissibly arbitrary, unreasonable, and oppressive manner and without any procedural safeguards."

Gov. Mike DeWine already planned to let gyms and fitness centers reopen next Tuesday, subject to social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions. But Lucci's injunction adds to the smattering of court decisions recognizing that state officials must comply with the law even when they are responding to a public health emergency.

In this case, Acton purported to criminalize a wide range of previously legal conduct, threatening violators with a $750 fine and up to 90 days in jail. But those misdemeanor penalties are legally authorized only for people who violate orders that fit within the health department's statutory powers. Lucci concluded that Acton's orders did not.

"The general public would be harmed if an injunction was not granted," Lucci writes. "There would be a diminishment of public morale, and a feeling that one unelected individual could exercise such unfettered power to force everyone to obey impermissibly oppressive, vague, arbitrary, and unreasonable rules that the director devised and revised, and modified and reversed, whenever and as she pleases, without any legislative guidance. The public would be left with feelings that their government is not accountable to them."
Yes, and when a government becomes destructive of those individual rights, it is the obligation of the people to alter it.  These governors and departmental secretaries have a better chance of keeping their offices by treating their constituents as citizens with the rights to dissent and to review, rather than as children to be bossed around.

HONORING OLIVER WILLIAMSON.

Over the years, I have had occasion to refer to his work on peak load pricing, opportunism, and the emergence of institutions.

David Henderson reports that Professor Williamson has crossed the final summit.  Alex Tabarrok offers recollections.  RIP.

EMBRACE THE POWER OF "AND."

The proprietor of Right on the Left Coast had a coronavirus test.  Positive news, it was negative, to engage in Trumpian trolling about it.

That post includes an instructive Venn diagram.


Likewise.

20.5.20

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE.

James Lileks.  "He’s got a point — if the Chinese Communist Party hadn’t lobbed a huge cruise ship from Wuhan into a New York nursing home we wouldn’t be in this mess."  Go.  Enjoy.  It does no good to live through a world-historical event without being able to laugh at some of it.

CLOSING UP THE LAKE COTTAGE FOR THE WINTER?

Every spring, my colleagues in Economics set up a conference to showcase recent student research, and sometimes there's a themed symposium of faculty research, or perhaps a panel discussion on some Pressing Issue of the Day.  This year, everybody was busy making up some sort of online classes on the fly, and a gathering of people in a closed room would not be healthy.

Five members of the faculty did manage to put together a virtual panel discussion on the first round of quarantine relief.  The program runs about 38 minutes.


At the time of the recording, the country was still into "thirty days to slow the spread" and it might have been possible to view the policy actions as the equivalent of preparing a lake cottage for the winter or battening down before a hurricane.

The research opportunities are likely to be broader now, with all the actions people are taking to connect formerly separate supply chains for inter alia food and toilet paper, and to decouple from China, and, at least among some elements of the United States's political class, to reconsider their participation in the international institutions.

19.5.20

A FAILURE TO ACKNOWLEDGE ERRORS FOMENTS CYNICISM AND FURTHER DISTRUST OF EXPERTS.

That's Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics, still smarting from the spanking all the psephologists got in the 2016 presidential election.
Consider Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis was castigated for failing to close the beaches during spring break, and critics suggested that the state might be the next New York. I’ve written about this at length elsewhere, but Florida’s new cases peaked in early April, at which point it was a middling state in terms of infections per capita. The virus hasn’t gone away, of course, but the five-day rolling average of daily cases in Florida is roughly where it was in late March, notwithstanding the fact that testing has increased substantially. Taking increased testing into account, the positive test rate has gradually declined since late March as well, falling from a peak of 11.8% on April 1 to a low of 3.6% on May 12.

Notwithstanding this, the Washington Post continues to press stories of public health officials begging state officials to close beaches (a more interesting angle at this point might be why these health officials were so wrong), while the New York Times noted a few days ago (misleadingly, and grossly so) that “Florida had a huge spike in cases around Miami after spring break revelry,” without providing the crucial context that the caseload mimicked increases in other states that did not play host to spring break. Again, perhaps the real story is that spring breakers passed COVID-19 among themselves and seeded it when they got home. I am sure some of this occurred, but it seems exceedingly unlikely that they would have spread it widely among themselves and not also spread it widely to bartenders, wait staff, hotel staff, and the like in Florida.
The other conjuring trick the catastrophe-chasing reporters like to use is the "cases spiking" that upon review is simply more inclusive testing finding more total cases among fewer total people tested.  Meanwhile, Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker (D-Chicago, or is it D-Lake Geneva?) continues to rely on the forecasts of the Seattle model to make his constituents angrier.

It doesn't help, either, that there is no such thing as an expert consensus on the value of closing the seed aisle or limiting beach going to the strip between high tide and low tide or allowing no more than two people in a boat.
Elites are now loudly and consistently saying that this is not time to open; we must stay closed and try harder to contain. When confronted with the discouraging recent trends, elites respond with a blizzard of explanations for local failures, and point to a cacophony of prophets with plans and white papers declaring obvious solutions.

But, and this is the key point, they mostly point to different explanations and solutions.
Bet on emergence.
So while the public will uniformly push for more opening, elites and experts push in a dozen different directions. If elites would all back the same story and solution, as they did before, they would probably get it. If they would say “We agree that this is what we did wrong over the last few months, and this is the specific policy package that will produce much different outcomes over the next few months.” But they aren’t saying this.

So elites and experts don’t speak with a unified voice, while the public does. And that’s why the public will win. While the public tends to defer to elites and experts, and even now still defers a lot, this deference is gradually weakening. We are starting to open, and will continue to open, as long as opening is the main well-supported alternative to the closed status quo, which we can all see isn’t working as fast as expected, and plausibly not fast enough to be a net gain. Hearing elites debate a dozen other alternatives, each supported by different theories and groups, will not be enough to resist that pressure to open.

Winning at politics requires more than just prestige, good ideas, and passion. It also requires compromise, to produce sufficient unity. At this game, elites are now failing, while the public is not.
There is a way, though, for the boffins to make common cause with the public.  Here's Stanford's Scott Atlas.
The total lockdown may have been justified at the start of this pandemic, but it must now end — smartly, without irrational, unnecessary requirements contrary to medical science, common sense and logic.  The goal of the strict isolation was accomplished in the overwhelming majority of places. We have direct data on risk and extensive experience, individually and as a nation, with managing it, even as new cases arise. We know that gradually relaxing total isolation will lead to more infections, but that’s acceptable, given that we know whom to protect and this disease is not harmful to the vast majority of infected people.
By fall, should the summer heat drive the virus into hibernation, I'm hoping to see the kind of testing and local quarantining protocols in place to manage contagions without destroying the childhood vaccinations, chemotherapies, meetings of addiction support groups, and all the other dimensions of public health that have been slighted in the past two months.

REDISCOVERING CIVIL LIBERTIES?

I'm not a fan of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the price I pay for occasionally purchasing something from the British Broadcasting Corporation store (or is it requesting a Democrat ballot in the open primary) is one of their Trump-deranged surveys pushing me to send them money (not a chance) and comment on how awful any impediment to immigration, abortion, or sex-change operations must be.

The organization is still putting wokeness ahead of liberty.
The [union] also alleges that, by protecting the due-process rights of those who have been accused of sexual assault, the administration is violating Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which, among other things, guarantees women equal educational opportunities. Or, put another way, the ACLU alleges that unless men who are accused of rape are discriminated against to the point at which their guilt is preordained, women will be unable to enjoy their own legal rights. Once upon a time, this line of argument was repugnant to [it] — and to the point at which it was happy to defend the speech rights of neo-Nazis who were explicitly trying to upset minorities. Now, it is not only happy to pick sides, but to pretend that it is doing so in the name of equality.

We’ve never been fans of the [union], but at least it once had a purpose. Now, it has become just another progressive interest group, beholden to nothing but the weathervane.
Perhaps so, although when Common Dreams picks up an objection to widespread contact tracing, perhaps all is not yet lost.
"We don't yet know if any of these technologies will work, but we do know that we currently lack many of the protections needed to guard against abuse or overreach," [senior legislative counsel Neema Singh] Guliani added. "If we as a country decide to go down the path of tech-assisted contact tracing, our lawmakers must first enact robust safeguards to prevent these tools from exacerbating existing disparities and violating our civil rights and liberties."
I bet that doesn't mean it's unconstitutional to track home-schoolers or vaccine refuseniks, but that's a second-order quibble.  The "progressive interest group" allegation is not wrong.
"Instead of expending resources on the development of immunity passports, policymakers should focus on the implementation of widespread, free, and quick testing for Covid-19, without creating a new privacy-invasive data infrastructure that threatens everyone's rights," [senior staff attorney Esha Bhandari and Racial Justice Program director ReNika Moore] wrote. "There are better ways to both advance public health and protect individual rights that we should focus on in order to emerge from this crisis."
By "free" they mean "tax-supported."  That was the case for the polio vaccines on a sugar cube, and the smallpox shots the public schools used to administer, and yes, that's a less intrusive strategy than having the social media companies providing the contact tracing applications and selling masks and estate planning services as a way of financing them.

IS THE NARRATIVE BEGINNING TO SHIFT?

I watch the Sunday shows, despite sometimes regretting turning them off, or tuning in Mass for Shut-Ins instead.  On occasion, my tenacity is rewarded.  Consider the way last Sunday's Meet the Press took shape.  The first guest, after the predictable establishmentarian fluffing, was Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  The interesting bits came late in the conversation.
CHUCK TODD: What do you tell -- we've gotten quite a few emails from viewers who say -- and I've had plenty of conversations with folks who say, "Hey, you know what, our area's just fine. And I don't understand why all these lockdowns -- and boy, they did all these lockdowns in that state. And our state's the same way without all the lockdowns. Were they really all necessary?" What do you say to that viewer who they look in their own neighborhood essentially and think, "I just don't see it."

DR. TOM INGLESBY: Yeah. Well, I think lockdowns were necessary. They actually have changed the course of the epidemic in the United States. We have the largest epidemic in the world. Five times as many cases as any other country in the world. And you can see over time that the curve is moving in the right direction. And it is now appropriate for states to be thinking about how to very carefully reopen and do it as safely as possible. But, yes, I think we needed to get control of this epidemic in the country. And now reset. And now places where there is very little disease, those are the places where it's going to be safest to gradually reopen.

CHUCK TODD: Give us a sense of what you think the next three months are going to look like with this virus. We keep talking about what the fall might look like. But given what we've seen -- what you've studied around the world in various climates, what do you -- and seeing what our reopening status is essentially going to be. Right? Where it looks like about half the country is going to stick with some, some social distancing guidelines. What do you expect the summer to look like?

DR. TOM INGLESBY: Well, it's difficult to predict. The future really is in our hands. It depends on how people in individual states react to the situation. If people continue to be very careful about physical distancing, wearing cloth masks when outside, avoiding gatherings, I think -- I'm hopeful that states will be able to control their outbreaks. We also need to have very strong contact tracing efforts around the country. That's what countries around the world have used with a lot of success. So if you get a case, you investigate it quickly, you make sure all those contacts are safely quarantined. And we keep control that way. I think -- we shouldn't think of this as kind of starting and stopping and this is over. This is a longer-term --

CHUCK TODD: Right.

DR.TOM INGLESBY: -- process. And we're all in it together. And our actions are going to matter. I think, you know, the models in this country, the leading models predict that there may be as many as 110,000 people who have died by this disease a month from now. Those are models. It's possible for us to do better than models. It's also possible for us to do worse depending on what people decide to do, their own actions.

CHUCK TODD: What do you say -- what do you take away from a situation in Georgia where they were one of the first states to try to reopen. There was a lot of doom and gloom predictions. And so far things have gone okay.

DR. TOM INGLESBY: Yeah, Georgia has been about the same as it was before the lockdown ended. My understanding is that many people in Georgia are cautiously and carefully moving back towards reopening. So I don't think people should see the reopening process in Georgia as everything happened at once and everything restarted in the same way. It seems like there's a lot of caution by individuals around the state. But that being said, it does -- it's a good beginning in the fact that it hasn't gotten worse. It does take time for us to see the change that might occur following changes in policy because it takes a while for people to become sick after getting infected. And it could take even longer for them to be hospitalized. So I think it's too soon for us to say in any state how things are going. We need to see a couple more weeks.

CHUCK TODD: Alright.

DR. TOM INGLESBY: But it's good news that things have not gone in the wrong direction.
That's a conversation in which a public health official concedes lessons learned, which is what doing science is about.  Politicians are another matter, but that's material for a different sort of post with a different sort of audience (public administration and administrative law types, primarily) in mind.

For now, take away "It is possible to do better than models."  For my economics readers, there's probably an epidemiological equivalent of the Lucas Critique, namely, that agents will revise their behavior in response to the policies that treat agent responses as predictable, at work.  Also take away, "things have not gone in the wrong direction."

That conversation could have been the sort of thing by which the old Establishment Consensus got to its policy: reasoned discussion, then the panel chews it over, and the staff-level bureaucrats who are watching get to work drafting things.

But what came next was even more unusual.  Peter Navarro is currently the closest thing to a procurement czar in the Trump administration, and, predictably for Meet the Press, some of that conversation turned to more ways in which Somebody in Charge invoked the Defense Production Act (or was it burned some incense and said a few Hail Marys) more broadly.  However, at no time did the moderator get into his truculent chipmunk mode, this despite having ample opportunities.  That despite the conversation taking a turn that might have been, well, triggering.
CHUCK TODD: I want to ask you quickly about the [Centers for Disease Control] and ask you whether the president has confidence in the CDC. It does seem as if the initial guidelines, they didn't want them put out. They put down very limited guidelines with more detailed ones coming later. CDC hasn't been able to give a briefing now in over a month. Does the president have confidence in the CDC as our lead, as our lead on this pandemic?

PETER NAVARRO: Well, I'd say two things about that. First of all, you should ask the president that question, not me. But early on in this crisis, the CDC which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing. Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back. But going forward with these guidelines, the important thing to understand here for the American people is this, opening up this economy is not a question of lives versus jobs. The fact of the matter is and what President Trump realized early on is that if you lock people down, you may save lives directly from the “China Virus”. But you indirectly, you're going to kill a lot more people. And why do I say that? We know statistically based on our experience with the China trade shock in the 2000s that unemployment creates more suicides, depression and drug abuse. But we also know this in this crisis, as we've basically locked down our hospitals for everything but COVID, women haven't been getting mammograms or cervical examinations for cancer. We haven't been able to do other procedures for the heart or the kidneys. And that's going to kill people as well. So if you contrast like this complete lock down where some of the people in the medical community want to just run and hide until the virus is extinguished, that's going to not only take a huge toll on the American economy it's going to kill many more people than the virus, the “China Virus” ever would.

CHUCK TODD: I've got to ask you this question about the president. On one hand he says he wants to leave these decisions up to governors. But it does seem as if -- if he doesn't like the decision of a governor, particularly if they're in the Midwest, he expresses his view. How does that help the governor be able to make their own decisions?

PETER NAVARRO: Look, I report directly to the president. I'm one of the top five advisors on policy. I let the president speak for himself. That's all I can say. I do think that what we're seeing here across this country in terms of different responses, that it is very useful to leverage local control. But on the other hand, I'm a Californian. And when I see the mayor of Los Angeles want to lock down that city through the end of July, I've just got to have to scratch my head. I think that California -- that's the only way I see California ever becoming a red state. Because my folks back in Orange County are not going to put up with that kind of nonsense. And it is nonsense.
Now, perhaps all that provocation went out because Mr Todd is also minding his manners. A month or two ago he disclosed that the producers were wise to provocateurs, particularly of the Republican variety, hoping to be invited on in order to get into a confrontation that would later go viral on the likes of News Busters and Twitchy, and he might have passed on the bait (government failure with those CDC tests, China virus, lockdown nonsense) so as to deprive the populists of their clickbait.  OK, fine, and yet the messages (Washington expertise sometimes isn't, deaths of despair might accompany quarantine, China is a ten-meter country, and overweening governors are wrecking their states) got out on establishment television.

13.5.20

NO BAILOUTS UNTIL TRAVELLING CONDITIONS IMPROVE.

Jazz Shaw reacts to news of a crowded airplane.
As I’ve said here repeatedly, airline travel was a horrible experience before the novel coronavirus hit unless you happened to be wealthy enough to fly First Class all of the time. And now, with all of this COVID-19 business making everything even more of a horror show, it’s only getting worse. If I can somehow avoid ever taking a plane again for the rest of my life I will certainly do so.
For years, travellers have been willing to put up with the cramped conditions in exchange for bargain fares. Will the spillover effects of the pandemic change that market equilibrium?

THERE IS NO FLORIDA ANOMALY.

Joe Nocera understands science.
Florida, [governor Ron] DeSantis said again and again, was being guided by “facts, data and science.” His many critics disagree, accusing him of playing to Trump in handling the crisis. But if you take even a cursory look at Florida’s numbers, they tend to bear him out. DeSantis is right about how the virus treats the young differently from the old. In Florida, people 65 and older account for 26% of all cases but 83% of the deaths. People younger than 55 account for only 7% of the death toll.
Florida's protective measures differ in thickly settled areas, and their public health team recognized, early on, the threat to people in rest homes, something that a number of governors have handled badly.

LONG DISTANCE TRAINS NO LONGER USE GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL.

The metaphor, apparently, still has merit. Why New Yawk is 'Grand Central Corona'.  "Any account of how we got to this place, with deaths nationally headed toward 100,000, must center on Gotham, which was seeded with the virus early and then seeded much of the rest of the country."  That's right, seeded much of the rest of the country.
The central role of New York’s outbreak shows that decisions made by state and federal officials — including waiting to impose distancing measures and to limit international flights — helped shape the trajectory of the outbreak and allowed it to grow in the rest of the country.

The city joins other densely populated urban hot spots around the world, starting with Wuhan, China, and then Milan, that have become vectors for the virus’s spread.
Yes, even if there is no longer a Twentieth Century Limited or Ohio State Limited for travellers to ride.
New York’s prominence in seeding the national spread appears to have begun in early March, two weeks before stay-at-home orders were put in place.

“New York acted as the Grand Central Station for this virus, with the opportunity to move from there in so many directions, to so many places,” said David Engelthaler, head of the infectious disease branch of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona.
The extension of the phenomenon to other parts of the country, with other sources and sinks, is straightforward, and it poses a challenge to currently lightly affected areas that rely on tourism, such as Wisconsin's North Woods.
Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services previously issued guidance for Illinois residents and others who have a seasonal or second home in the state, urging them not to travel or face 14 days of self-quarantine. “You should bring your own groceries and essentials as self-quarantine does not permit shopping at local stores for supplies,” the agency said.
Bring your Illinois money, but not your Illinois plague. That's not going over well south of the Cheddar Curtain.

THE TOURNAMENTS ARE IN JEOPARDY.

Reality comes for the Mid-American Conference.  The non-revenue tournaments for the non-revenue sports are first to go.
Starting with the 2020-21 academic year, the league will not hold postseason tournaments for eight of its non-revenue sports: baseball, softball, men’s or women’s soccer, men’s or women’s tennis, women's lacrosse, or women's field hockey.

The league — the only Division I conference that still has divisions for basketball — also will eliminate its East Division-West Division format, play two more league games per season for a total of 20, and narrow its postseason field to eight teams.
Remaining tournaments in other sports will also limit participation to the high performers.
[Mid-American] schools are facing massive financial shortfalls during the next academic year. Western Michigan University is projecting losses as high as $85 million for next school year, while the University of Akron plans to cut six of its 11 academic colleges.

Ohio University laid off 140 employees and eliminated positions, and many other MAC schools are considering similar measures.

In its announcement Tuesday, the [conference] also made alterations to a number of other sports. Its volleyball tournament will be limited to four teams, swimming and diving championships for both men’s and women’s teams will now be a three-day event, and it will conduct its golf and track and field championships in two days for men’s and women’s teams.
For the moment, the two football divisions and the early December title game in Detroit, and weeknight games, will continue.

THEY'RE STARTING TO ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.

Senator Rand Paul has a medical degree, and he's going after the simulations that scared public officials into locking down the sick and the healthy alike.  "At this point, predictive models have proven to be nearly useless. And Senator Paul hit the head on that nail with a sledgehammer."  That part of his questioning of contagion coordinator Anthony Fauci, M.D., has mostly been lost in the usual media foofaraw over personalities and motives.  It's easier to posture and preen than to dip into the details of heterogeneous agents let alone higher-order differential equations.  And yet, perhaps the after-action review will ask more questions along the lines of "Paul said the models have gotten more wrong than they have gotten right" once we're pretty sure we've pretty much finished slogging through hell.

11.5.20

SCRATCHBUILDING ON A GRAND SCALE.

Akash Kamble is a mechanical engineer and station master with Mumbai's monorail.  He's had some time, with Indiana's shutdowns, to work in 1:35 scale.
"I first started with cardboard and foam-based train and engine models, but later moved to working with aluminium. My research involves reading about trains, their specifications and poring over their drawings. I make models of 1:35 scale, realistic and a perfect match [to the original]. The continuous involvement slowly leads to perfection," says Kamble, a resident of Ambernath, adding, "I have made a model of the most powerful green coloured WAG-9 electric locomotive and two coaches of the Garib Rath train. Besides this, one of my favourites is the diesel locomotive, a few coaches of the Mumbai local and a mail express."

He has also found the time to give finishing touches to earlier models, giving them a realistic feel. To acquire a weather beaten look of a diesel locomotive, he uses candle light against the aluminium sheets.
His detail work is good.  The article does not say whether the models are powered, or not.  But can't we use a better expression than "chug" for a monorail?  "[Kamble] has acquired drawings and technical specifications of the Mumbai Monorail and hopes to complete the project before the city chugs back to normal."  Best wishes.

RICHARD VEDDER WENT THERE.

The people running higher education often serve as court intellectuals for Democrats, which means they must think in terms of continued quarantines and bailouts with public money, rather than making any sort of public commitment to operating safely in the presence of coronavirus.

Because public moneys are involved, public participation in any such relief includes structuring such bailouts in such a way that there will be public support.  Thus, Ohio University's Richard Vedder, emeritus in economics, offers "Six Ways to Keep American Universities Alive."  Most of it is standard stuff, but there's this.  "Tell faculty: we have lowered research expectations from you—one less annual article in the Journal of Last Resort is acceptable. But you may have more classes on teaching days."  There's also this.  "Many schools should close—they are losing their appeal and often offer mediocre quality."

But he might be the moderate.  "For far too long, American higher education has exploited the hopes of students and their families, as well as the goodwill of legislators and the American public."  Yes, badly.  But it's cathartic to read a proposal that includes, "Remedial courses—that is, pre-college-level courses offered by a college or university—should not count toward an academic degree or for college credit. No college that awards credit for remedial courses should be eligible for bailout funds."  That recommendation might also recognize that there is a new Cold War coming.  "Colleges and universities may only receive bailout funds if they receive no more than 20% of their tuition revenues from international students; if they receive no more than 5% of their tuition revenues from students from any one foreign country; if no more than 5% of their undergraduate students are foreigners; and if 35% of graduate students in each department are American citizens."

I'm not sure whether the proposal is serious, or a Trumpian Art of the Deal opening position.
Colleges and universities that object to these conditions will, of course, be free to go their own way. They will be free to employ superfluous administrators and free to enforce political conformity in the place of real education. They will remain free to suppress intellectual freedom by way of “diversity statements,” and to pose ideological litmus tests for faculty appointments. They will be free to tolerate, as they do now, student mobs that threaten or commit violence to prevent the expression on campus of views they dislike. They will be free to teach students to hate America and free to admit and provide financial aid to illegal aliens. They will be free to call for “sustainability,” by which they mean the government takeover of the American economy in the name of the environment. They will be free to pretend that courses in remedial composition and algebra deserve college credit. They will be free to mold students into social justice activists instead of educating them to become self-reliant, well-educated contributors to a free society. They will be free to facilitate the extension of Chinese influence throughout America. In short, colleges and universities will be free to abuse the freedoms that a free society provides.
Only not on the taxpayers' money?

AN ANOMALY CAPABLE OF FRACTURING THE THEORY OF GENERAL RELATIVITY?

I don't know whether or not Albert Einstein actually did quip about a single experiment being able to show him in error.  I do know that there is likely all sorts of prestige to be conferred on the physicist that finds such an anomaly, and the quest for one has extended to the edges of the known universe.  It's also likely that reconciling general relativity with quantum mechanics will continue to engage fertile brains for a long time to come.

The point behind such concepts as "data driven" and "science based" is that sufficiently many anomalies ... sometimes, as in the Michelson-Morley quest for the ether wind, a single anomaly ... places people claiming to base their actions on evidence are under some obligation to ... revise their priors in the presence of sufficiently strong evidence to the contrary.

That's the message Eric Hovde, a candidate for public office in Wisconsin, is sending to the state governor Tony Evers (D - Public Instruction, the first "E" is long) in this.



The initial predictions were equally scary in Minnesota, and the evidence going on two months into the house arrests is similar.
Our political leaders now find themselves trapped. Along with the experts on whom they relied, they have invested heavily in their narrative. There is little evidence they have carried out the kind of objective, data-based cost/benefit analysis that is indispensable to responsible crisis management. But having started down this road, they can’t change course without acknowledging that they have made a vast miscalculation.

Today, the shutdown appears to be a tactic in search of a strategy. The government has moved the goalposts. Now that we have enough ICU beds and ventilators, we are told testing and contact tracing are crucial before the economy can fully reopen. But this approach will not stop the virus, in part because of the high incidence of asymptomatic carriers. Until we have a vaccine or effective therapy, policies that prudently facilitate the development of herd immunity are the best way to counter the threat we face. Ironically, the shutdown is making that more difficult to achieve.

Minnesotans have been herded into a massive new regime of political control over the details of ordinary life. They have been pummeled by apocalyptic propaganda that pressures them to comply. Those responsible include political leaders intent on extricating themselves from the disastrous steps they have taken, without acknowledging and reversing their mistakes, and a complicit media that refuses to criticize or ask hard questions.
Yes, the political leaders DID have a way out, on toward the end of March or the middle of April, which was to thank the citizens for their cooperation in getting the case loads well in hand, and offering some immediate opportunities for people to resume their lives in a responsible way.  (The editorial board of Chicago's Tribune suggested that opportunity is present about NOW in Illinois, but governor J. B. Pritzker (D- Chicago) is offering those opportunities in the most arbitrary and condescending way.)

I'm more worried that all the shutdown theater will make the return of the Wuhan coronavirus in the fall, should that be in the cards, nastier.  A number of the models I'm looking at do raise the possibility of a bigger second wave, heterogeneous agents and reduced susceptibility among the initial super-spreaders notwithstanding.  That's going to put the public officials in a bad place, as the lockdowns are likely to become moot by common consent, somewhere between Memorial Day and Independence Day, and the warnings of public officials for constituents to become more prudent after Labor Day might be, shall I say, downplayed on the basis of previous experience.

OVERTHINKING THE NIGHT TRAIN.

It's a New Yorker article, with Anthony Lane writing for the kind of audience that can be enticed into subscribing with the prospect of a dweeby (and contagion vectorlicious) tote bag.  "Night trains are making a comeback, and, even at a time of enforced leisure, their nostalgic luxury and latent sense of adventure make them a perfect imaginative indulgence."  He's right about settling in and enjoying the show.  His marvelling at the late night menu offered on the Night Scot demonstrates, shall we say, a lack of awareness of what the Amtrak menu is on what remains of the overnight service out of New York.  There is a good epigram about the fare structure, "the closer you adhere to the perpendicular, the less you pay," and a lesson in how not to work the trap in case the conductor or car attendant left it open.

WORKING COMFORTABLE.

Philadelphia area columnist and radio talker Chris Stigall is no fan of upscale quarantine chic.
How else can you explain the complacency among many in Pennsylvania today? A governor who has the economy in a headlock, limiting the movements and activities of every citizen young and old.

He shows no sign of restoring normalcy or constitutional liberties because, you see, “it’s too risky.” He’s moved the objective from flattening the curve and keeping our hospitals from being overwhelmed to “eradicating the virus” or waiting for a vaccine.

Those goals cannot be achieved. There can be no eradication of a virus. It will mutate as the flu does every season, or it will fizzle out as SARS did years ago. But Gov. Wolf can’t control that outcome. A vaccine might never be developed. They haven’t found one for HIV, for example.

Still, my suburban neighbors seem largely unmoved. Why? Because they don’t feel the pain or the hurt of a lockdown. Oh, sure, maybe they’re scared of getting sick, or maybe they’re afraid of their elderly loved ones getting sick. I worry about that, too.

But that’s a well-off, suburban person’s worry because they have nothing else to worry about.

So many of these people have jobs already based out of their homes. Six-figure incomes tied to some large corporate entity that still operating as they always have. One parent brings home the handsome direct deposit while the stay-at-home parent posts on social media about every day being a holiday now that the “kiddos” are home full time.
The political economy in his column might or might not be correct.  But the phenomenon of keeping the upscale compliant and bought off while the precariat suffers appears to be part of the narrative these days.  A few days ago, Chicago's WMAQ television station ran a public service announcement (I couldn't find it in a quick pass through their website) apparently intended to reassure kids.  Something like "do what you have to do now and you can enjoy life as if nothing has happened."  The kids themselves: quite-well-scrubbed, in a setting tidier than even the most fertile imagination of Architectural Digest.  The privilege check, when it comes, might be way nastier than the appalled indignation of the Student Affairs types.

9.5.20

ON MY WORKBENCH.

Lately, it's been fiddly electrical work, no serious metalworking.


Many years ago, I rebuilt the Atlas F unit at left with a Pittman motor, and added a battery-powered Mars light circuit.  There's also a floating battery for the Mars light.  After review, I've decided to re-equip it, and the one at right, with onboard power.  The radio control module goes where the battery holder used to go, the batteries go in the B unit, which carries two batteries, giving me either an A-B or an A-B-A diesel set.

RUSH LIMBAUGH WENT THERE.

He was being funny, late on last Thursday's show, and he came up with this.  "My favorite conspiracy theory is that this virus is the work of a bunch of lunatic billionaires who really believe that we are destroying the planet and they have discovered that we can’t get to Mars in time and we can’t colonize the moon so they have come up with a way to get rid of billions of people to make the world have a longer survivability potential."  I've been referring, recently, to Tom Clancy novels, but I had no plans to go anywhere near Rainbow Six.

As the novel involves precisely that kind of lunatic billionaire, as well as some clandestine work to shut down the plan and disappear the plotters, because of the risk of "a global panic when people realize what a biotech company can do if it wants," though, well, perhaps there's another story in it.

Regular readers of Tom Clancy know that the likelihood of a secret being blown is proportional to the square of the number of people in on it.  The novel left a number of possible dots to connect to put together yet another story, one with the potential to topple governments.  If I had any sort of novel-writing skills, I might essay such a thing, although it might be more productive to offer some of the dots, as if a mental exercise in quarantine, should anyone wish to essay such an effort.

There are almost enough dots to make a post as long as a Tom Clancy novel.  They're below the jump.


THE SHUTDOWN THEATER GOES ON AND ON AND ON AND ON IN ILLINOIS.

Illinois has long been the canonical example of failures of the blue social model, and, not surprisingly, its governor, J. B. Pritzker (D-Chicago) is one of the rogues gallery of micromanagers who are treating their citizens much like the Addams Family treated its Lionel set.

He's been getting push-back, particularly from people outside Chicago.  A legislator from the southern counties filed a suit, alleging the stay at home order was limiting his ability to work with his constituents.  I'm not sure what the status of that litigation currently is.  A few days later, another legislator, this time from the northern counties, filed a similar suit, but this one noted the arbitrariness of defining essential businesses, in that traditional clothing stores had to close, but general purpose stores with grocery departments, could remain open.  In Illinois, at least, people could browse the clothing and toy departments at the likes of Target and Wal-Mart, those weren't roped off by executive order like we saw to our east.  Again, I'm not sure what the status of that litigation is.  About the same time, a church in Lena, on the North West Frontier, brought suit arguing that the continued closure of churches was an abridgement of the freedom to worship.  A subsequent modification of the ukase allowed worship services to resume, although in person gatherings could not exceed ten people.
"Religious organizations and houses of worship are encouraged to use online or drive-in services to protect the health and safety of their congregants," the order reads.

This puts religious services in the same classification under the order as activities like going to work at an essential business, partaking in outdoor activity or exercise, taking care of loved ones and grocery shopping or obtaining necessary supplies.
Church services of long duration with a lot of group singing and call-and-response prayer do run the risk of exposure in a way that relatively quick stops at the grocery store do not. In addition,
The study authors noted that religious participation may serve as an important antidote to despair and an asset for sustaining a sense of hope and meaning. They also wrote that religion may be associated with strengthened psychosocial resilience by fostering a sense of peace and positive outlook, and promoting social connectedness.

“These results are perhaps especially striking amidst the present COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ying Chen, research associate and data scientist at the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and first author of the paper. “They are striking in part because clinicians are facing such extreme work demands and difficult conditions, and in part because many religious services have been suspended. We need to think what might be done to extend help to those at risk for despair.”
That's right, that's a Harvard study. As in the place that put one Barack Obama on the fast track to the presidency.

At the same time that the governor was allowing some worship to take place, he pushed back on the legislative lawsuits, suggesting that there were emerging hot spots downstate, posing a possible risk to the hospital capacity in those areas.  And yet, the emergency capacity that your tax dollars provided at McCormick Place is being "deconstructed" ... but no word on it being stored, or strategically positioned at Springfield or Rockford or somewhere to be quickly moved to those hot spots.  The governor noted that it was placed in Chicago "out of an abundance of caution" and it served twenty-nine patients.  Just don't get any ideas, downstate, about exercising your own caution.

Slowly, though, the governor is catching on that you deal with outbreaks differently in different parts of the state.  On Wednesday, the latest revision of the ukases offered a common plan for easing the confinement to quarters, but it could be applied differently on a regional basis.  (Kane and DuPage counties, immediately west of Cook County, i.e. Chicago, immediately requested to be moved to a different region.  Developing, as they say.)  "The final phase of Pritzker’s plan, when conventions, festivals and sporting events resume, won’t kick in until there’s a vaccine, treatment or widespread immunity to COVID-19."  Pro tip: what is the effect of heterogeneous susceptibility on the threshold exposure leading to immunity?  I would be delighted if somebody at one of these briefings, whether at the county, state, or federal level, would ask that question.

With or without the applied mathematics, the latest ukase is too much for the editorial board at Chicago's Tribune.
By April, most of us understood that flattening the curve of infection would extend the peak of new cases to May. But that would mean success because the sick would be treated, hospitals wouldn’t be overrun and health care workers would be better protected. It’s why we, and many others, advocated repeatedly for Illinoisans to say home and local officials to contain their impatience.

In short, flattening the curve, then, did not mean eliminating the coronavirus.

Just this month, state and city officials decided they could pare back the field hospital built at McCormick Place. At no point so far has Illinois run out of ventilators. As of Sunday, the Chicago area had 64% of ventilators and 18.6% of ICU beds available. Again, this is success.
The failure Illinois shares with many other hard-hit states is its failure to protect the rest homes.
The national media have paid copious amounts of attention to the risk of spreading the coronavirus in places like the beaches of Florida and the reopening of businesses in Georgia. A refocus of the national media’s attention and criticism upon the nursing homes in states like California, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York is long overdue. A lot of people have relished accusing the anti-lockdown protesters of “killing grandma.” It is time we took a more serious look at what lawmakers’ decisions led most directly to the deaths of so many grandmothers and grandfathers.
Team Tribune are not yet there, but they're losing patience.
We have preached patience and we support the stay-at-home order’s extension to May 30. To relax the state’s posture too quickly could invite a second wave of infections. Pritzker must not lose this war. But what the governor also needs to keep in mind is how to define victory: containing the coronavirus. We don’t want his pursuit of the perfect outcome to unnecessarily delay the restarting of activities.
They're also rediscovering what "consent of the governed" means.
On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers pushed back against Pritzker’s latest five-phase plan. The governor also faces court challenges for stretching his executive authority too far. Similar legal challenges are unfolding in other states. Those challenges are not based in blind ideology. They are not cheap political stunts, as Pritzker characterized them.

They are rising from a legitimate question of how far one-man authority due to an “emergency” can go. Can we say today what will constitute “emergency” in three weeks? Even two? No. The evolving nature of this virus means we all have to be flexible, and keep the focus on what’s attainable. That includes Gov. Pritzker.
Exactly. Emergency orders are limited in scope and duration as a matter of law and republican principles. If the emergency is of long duration, think a world war or a blight that wipes out all the grain, the legislative bodies and the courts have enumerated powers in crafting a longer-lasting response.

ANOTHER PRETTY PIG SIGHTING.

Suppose a county fair had a contest to find the prettiest big pig.
So imagine this is going down and there are only two entrants this year because there are lots of pigs that are pretty and lots of pigs that are big, there are very few that are both pretty and big.  And the judge comes in and he just looks at the first pig and says, “That’s an ugly pig.  Let’s give the award to the second pig.”  What’s the judge’s mistake?  It’s kind of obvious.  Well, sure that pig is ugly but the other pig might be even uglier.  You might as well look at the second pig first.
That's a standard point in political economy: one might be able to demonstrate under carefully drawn whiteboard diagrams how the right kind of Stiglitzian omniscience gets you allocative efficiency.  But it helps to then ask whether or not that kind of omniscience exists anywhere outside Joe Stiglitz's word processor.

Unfortunately, The Week essayist Jeff Spross didn't get the memo.
Rationalizing the production of masks and ventilators and food and so forth would require stepping outside the market context: It would require some authority to take in information about who needs what and where, then reorganize production and supply chains and shipping to meet those needs. In other words, it would require central planning by the U.S. government.

Obviously, this need for central planning will wax in crises and wane in normal times. The problem we've run into is we have been so allergic to proactive government industrial planning in normal times, that America has no real institutional capacity or know-how for it now that the crisis is upon us. The U.S government's attempts so far have been flailing and embarrassing.
Nice try. I have a lot of fun with pundits tossing around ideas like "allocation czar" simply because I've had some experience with how those worked out.  (Not well.)  The current president does seem more interested in dunking on the previous president for not replenishing the federal reserves of protective equipment in the wake of previous Ebola and respiratory disease events than in loosening regulations in order to bring additional producers into action, and the federal restrictions on the sale of food in interstate commerce are hampering intrastate commerce.  The first pig might fall short on prettiness; all the same, the second pig might look better in the abstract than in the flesh.  Bet on emergence: those dairy farmers and swineherders are looking for any opportunity to sell their goods.

NOTICE OF DIVERSION OF SERVICE.

Dave "Voluntary Xchange" Tufte is having more trouble migrating posts between weblog platforms than Dashing Commuters do changing trains at Jamaica.  Accordingly, he's been doing most of his posting at his SUU Macroblog, which is part of the learn-from-home approach universities have been relying on of late.

There's a lot going on there, complete with highlighted notes for students curious about what will be on the exams.  With a major macroeconomic event going on and a lot of dubious statistical inference driving policies these days, he's not lacking for work.

7.5.20

THE RETURN OF THE GRAY CHAMPION?

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's words, "Suddenly, there was seen the figure of an ancient man, who seemed to have emerged from among the people, and was walking by himself along the centre of the street, to confront the armed band. He wore the old Puritan dress, a dark cloak and a steeplecrowned hat, in the fashion of at least fifty years before, with a heavy sword upon his thigh, but a staff in his hand to assist the tremulous gait of age."

Megan Fox sights an event in Sacramento.
When police showed up in riot gear holding batons to intimidate the crowd full of moms and kids and peaceful Americans, Dr. Cordie Lee Williams, a United States Marine vet, took his bullhorn and spoke to them in a way only another man who has taken an oath to protect the Constitution can. What happened after that is nothing short of stunning.

“In the face of tyranny, in the face of freedom, are you going to sit there in your riot gear against peaceful protesters or are you going to say, ‘You know what? It’s time to stand up for my country. I took the oath of office and it said I will defend [against] all enemies both foreign and domestic,'” Williams began. “I know you’re doing your job, but I’d rather lose my job than lose my soul,” he said. “What are you going to go tell your little girl or your little boy tonight? That you took a baton and you crushed somebody’s skull that was a mom? Is that what a tough guy does? That’s not what honor, courage, and commitment means in the Marine Corps.”
Here's Hawthorne's prophesy.
I have heard, that whenever the descendants of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their sires, the old man appears again. When eighty years had passed, he walked once more in King Street. Five years later, in the twilight of an April morning, he stood on the green, beside the meeting-house, at Lexington, where now the obelisk of granite, with a slab of slate inlaid, commemorates the first fallen of the Revolutions. And when our fathers were toiling at the breastwork on Bunker's Hill, all through that night the old warrior walked his rounds. Long, long may it be, ere he comes again! His hour is one of darkness, and adversity, and peril. But should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invader's step pollute our soil, still may the Gray Champion come, for he is the type of New England's hereditary spirit; and his shadowy march, on the eve of danger, must ever be the pledge, that New England's sons will vindicate their ancestry.
Different sort of domestic tyranny, different sort of an invader, different heirs to Governor Andros.

WHY WOULD WE NOT WANT TO BE GOVERNED ON THE BASIS OF SCIENTIFIC EXPERTISE?

Hillsdale College president Larry P. Arnn offers Thoughts on the Current Crisis.  By all means read it in full, and focus, carefully, on this statement.  "It is offensive when any member of our government, expert or not, addresses us chiefly as carriers of a pathogen to be kept indefinitely in our homes."  Exactly.

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT.

Power Line's John Hinderaker is no fan of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's educated guesses about when coronavirus infections will peak in each state.  Start here, where he notes, "I have followed that model and its predictions for a while, and have concluded that it is more or less useless."  He's been keeping track of the weekly forecasts for Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas, and that's a useful service, as he previously noted, because "As a result I have a record of IHME’s projections for those five states on those dates, which is significant because, as best I can tell, each version of the IHME model’s output is sent to the memory hole when it is updated."

And yet nobody, in journalism or in government, seems to be asking the health boffins, "What evidence would persuade you to abandon IHME's forecasts?"

Robert Verbruggen is similarly skeptical.
The model simply doesn’t work, and the folks behind it are still futzing with its fundamental workings as the pandemic enters its least predictable phase.

During this crucial period when the country is reopening, we can have no faith in the model’s output. It shouldn’t be used to inform policymaking decisions at all. This isn’t to slight the scientists who took on such a difficult task; it’s just a realistic assessment of how the project turned out.
Perhaps the policy makers are in the position of the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight despite having dropped them up the street because the light is better.  I doubt it.  John "Grumpy Economist" Cochrane knows a thing or two about mathematical modelling, and he's been at work.  One suggestion:
If we had just enough random testing to know how many people are infected in our local area, people and officials could follow the top graphs not the bottom graph. It is not expensive. In the model, one can back out the number of people infected from the increase in the number "resolving." The rate of hospital admissions might be a widely publicized number now available that could be a very good guess.
State officials have still been concentrating, perhaps not unreasonably, on infected areas, and inviting people who are showing symptoms to be tested. In Illinois, for instance, a Rockford area testing site ended one day with unadministered tests, as fewer people than they prepared for showed up.  There's a to-do-list of projects, and a number of interesting suggestions in the comments.  Consider, in particular, this model.  If you love anomalies and paradoxes, try this: greater variability in susceptibility suggests a lower herd-immunity threshold.  There's also Matlab code, dear reader, should you have the computing capacity and the time to play with ideas.

NEVER MIND ANTIFRAGILITY. THINK ABOUT RESILIENCE.

I want to start another meditation on supply chains with a history lesson.  Would you rather go to war, dear reader, with tanks that epitomized Platonic perfection and precision engineering, or would you take your chances with tanks machined to something less than precise tolerances, and where it would be wise to drop the oil pan 50 kilometers out of the works, to drain the metal shavings from the oil sump?

Those of you who are familiar with the War will recognize in the former the imposing looking German super-tanks that had an annoying habit of throwing a sprocket when the tread was digging into snow, and in the latter the Soviet T-34s that shrugged off tundra and steppe and mud all the way to the Elbe.

Or those of you who have been following my model railroading efforts over the years might be tempted to think about those oh-so-nicely-laid-out British etched brass kits, with lots of fiddly bits, and when they all go together right they're beautiful miniatures, and contrasting them with the North American machined brass mechanisms that look, well, not quite prototypical, but they're easier to assemble and they're good runners and relatively easy to service.  People who tinker with British sports cars will get the picture ...

When I wrote this, four years ago, I was not expecting the kind of confirmation we're now seeing.  "One of these days, the Invisible Hand is going to smack those investors and those companies that gave pride of place to short-term performance and shareholder value and liquidated the company."  Oh, there was also this.  "Business also operate in environments where evolutionary forces are at work, and perhaps the air carriers are now discovering what many other businesses have had to learn the hard way.  In economics, there is an efficient level of redundancy."

Now, it's the meat packers learning the same thing, also the hard way.  Here's Edward Tenner, in The Atlantic.
Overlooked is the fact that too much zeal for lean operation has pitfalls of its own. In practice, the pursuit of efficiency has often resulted in the consolidation of smaller companies and facilities into larger ones; in greater congestion as more people are packed into smaller spaces, whether in office towers or aboard commercial airliners; and in the tight coupling of deliveries and other business processes in ways that, at least when all goes well, speed up production and reduce warehouse inventories. But consolidation, congestion, and tight coupling may also make our economy less efficient in the long run—and our society more vulnerable to outside shocks such as the coronavirus. Efficiency, in fact, can be hazardous to our well-being, and a strategic amount of inefficiency is crucial in keeping society healthy.
By all means, read the whole thing. I consider it noteworthy when any Atlantic article acknowledges the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Then note that both Andrea Germanos with Common Dreams and National Review's M. B. Dougherty identify the same failing with tightly coupled meat packing relying heavily (in the best technocratic fashion, no less) on a few producers operating a few big factories.  There's still a bit of the old style commission merchant channel of distribution left, but it's not currently sufficiently nimble (and I have not gotten around to technocratic rigidities with the force of law) and not operating on a scale that the local grocers and food banks would benefit by.

The worst might be yet to come.
Cities are, however, particularly vulnerable to deliberate and focused sabotage, and a modicum of preparation might be wise.  "Just as the huge militaries of the early 20th century were vulnerable to supply and communications disruption, cities are now so heavily dependent on a constant flow of services from various centralized systems that even the simplest attacks on those systems can cause massive disruption."  That the majority of the world's population now lives in urban areas (and correspondingly relies for its food and fuel on the efforts of a relative few) makes rendering the supply networks antifragile a desirable thing.  To the extent that the cities and supply networks are themselves emergent, rather than the fruits of Intelligent Design by Wise Experts, their chances are better.
The Wise Experts with the M.B.A. and similar credentials are getting their comeuppance. Is it too soon to ask that the big city mayors who have been mishandling the response to the coronavirus get the same?

IS WEEKNIGHT FOOTBALL NECESSARY?

For years, the Mid-American Conference has scheduled football on school nights in November in order to get some sort of television exposure.  Despite that, their athletic programs receive support in the form of student fees that provide a few students with the opportunity to skip weeknight classes and go to the game at no additional charge.

Now comes the Wuhan coronavirus, and the Mid-American host universities in Ohio are facing hard times.  The vultures have been circling at the University of Akron for some time, and now comes the reckoning.
The university’s 11 colleges and schools include the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Applied Science and Technology, the College of Business Administration, the College of Engineering, the College of Health Professions, the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, the Graduate School, the School of Law, the LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education, the Williams Honors College and the Wayne College campus in Orrville.

[University president Gary] Miller also said he has been working with the athletic director to “significantly reduce” the athletics budget, about which he plans to make announcements “in the next week or so.”

Last month, Miller announced that the university’s cost-saving measures were set to include 20% reductions in athletic expenses and the expenses of all non-academic administrative divisions.
New president, new retrenchment plan, same general idea.

At Athens, there are also changes in the air.
Ohio University had budget woes long before the pandemic. Professors were fighting probable cuts to instruction even as the coronavirus bore down, so they welcomed a March email from President M. Duane Nellis saying that cuts to personnel were on pause.

The reprieve is apparently over. According to accounts from affected professors and their colleagues, some program and department chairs have begun notifying tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members that their contracts will not be renewed.
Again, the vultures have long been circling, and the same faculty who acquiesced in administrative ukases when it was all about the virtue signalling and the special education are finally catching on.
Even if many of the players are mum in public, enough conversations were happening internally to spark a no-confidence vote against Nellis and Deb Shaffer, senior vice president for finance and administration, at a Faculty Senate meeting Monday night. The motion passed overwhelmingly.

Loren Lybarger, associate professor of classics and world religions and president of the campus AAUP chapter, said that “primarily our demand is for transparency, but also for real shared governance, for bringing faculty in and having real discussions about the situation and alternative solutions.”

The university announced prior to the coronavirus outbreak that it planned to close a major budget deficit via incremental reductions of approximately $26 million over the next three years across its colleges. It was also pursuing $8 million in cuts through administrative efficiencies.

While the university has blamed declining enrollment for the deficit, among other external factors, many faculty members blame internal mismanagement of funds. A campus AAUP analysis, for example, found that there is no “demographic cliff” concerning enrollment, but rather more gradually declining numbers of college-bound seniors that can be dealt with through general faculty attrition instead of mass layoffs.

Faculty salaries can’t be blamed for the crisis, either, the AAUP found. While salaries are a major expenditure, they haven’t increased in any significant way in real dollars since the 1970s, and the faculty-student ratio has not increased in that period.

By contrast, the number of regular administrators per student has shot up by 45 percent since 2010, from about 800 to 1,190, according to the AAUP. Individual faculty members also cite administrative salaries that exceed $200,000 in one of the poorest counties in Ohio. Athletics are another faculty sore spot, with programs typically running an annual deficit of $20 million.
That general attrition does not excuse the administrators from asking whether weeknight football, or the proliferation of boutique-multicultural course offerings of little intellectual value, might not be the saecular equivalent of whipped cream in the wardroom.  The article comes from Inside Higher Ed, though, and the lotus-eaters have to have their say.
Many professors at Ohio and elsewhere have commented that it’s not a good look to gut a women’s and gender studies program of its only full-time instructional faculty and to deny the African American studies department its only tenure-track professor when diversity and equity are part of every institution’s strategic plans.

Bill Reader, a professor of journalism at Ohio, said under-the-radar layoffs in popular programs in terms of enrollment don’t raise hopes for increasing overall university enrollment. He criticized the university for saying it was pausing personnel-related budget cuts for a month while apparently planning for them all along.

“We really rely on students coming from Cleveland, Toledo and Cincinnati, and if they’re reading about incompetent leadership who are not valuing academics and trying to protect pet programs and innovation centers and mediocre athletic programs in football and stuff like that, then of course they’re going to be reticent to sign contracts and agree to enroll, especially in this COVID-19 situation.”
It's not a legislative death sentence. It's having the same effect.