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Whitewater School Board Meeting, 9.14.20: 5 Points

Updated 9.16.20 with meeting video.

At last night’s meeting of the Whitewater Unified School District’s board, the board voted unanimously to offer a choice of either face-to-face or virtual instruction beginning September 28th and continuing through the semester (absent any alterations in the event of significant COVID-19 infections). Parents received, last night, an email requesting their choice for their children’s instruction.

A few remarks —

 1. Health Trumps Estimates. In these months since the pandemic led to significant restrictions in March, it has always been true that how people fare, and how institutions actually function, matters more than mere estimates of either.  I’ve avoided estimates of my own, in the same way that a reasonable layperson avoids calculating the trajectories of interplanetary probes: it’s a job best left to those familiar with the field.

(During the comment period last night, a parent questioned the soundness of interpretations of epidemiological data by laypeople. Yes, and yes again. A commitment to learning – where one truly respects formal study – requires an acknowledgment that almost everyone involved in these discussions is untrained in public health or epidemiology. They’ve a responsibility to decide, but these decisions require humility, as some officials last night readily acknowledged.)

There are, however, two sound assumptions that require no training at all: parents will be unforgiving about injuries to their children and the true test of all past and current estimates begins now that school returns to session (for K12 and for the local college campus).

 2. Politics.  Ordinarily, an action from a school board or town council would have an immediately discernible political consequence (about those the decision benefitted, and those it did not). That’s not true about this pandemic: a determination – at least a serious one – depends on the outcome of the pandemic months from now, stretching into the new year. Political estimates now would be ephemeral only; a lasting assessment depends on how actions today look next year.

 3. Scarcely Begun at All. Watches, phones, and wall calendars all tell the same tale: this school district has been in session for only two weeks, and only about ten school days during that time. However this semester unfolds, the academic year has hardly started. There have been no large-group daily interaction as would be typical with a face-to-face return. Doubt not: the moral position is – and must be – that one hopes against injury.  It’s simply a blunt concession that schools across the country have, as yet, limited experience with returning classes.

 4. Money for New Employees and Supplies. While I’m supportive of those who worry about the costs of protective items for classes, as government should be limited (and frugal to keep it limited), the cost of protective items, and support staff, is trivial as against the cost of immediate injury.

Indeed, even the mere economic loss from this current recession (excluding economic estimates of personal injury) is so great that the cost of a few more employees, protective barriers, etc., should be unnoticeable by comparison.

After this pandemic ends, Whitewater will still be struggling economically. That’s not a public health prediction; it’s a sound assessment that Whitewater’s stagnant, pre-pandemic economy will experience especial difficulty recovering from the current recession. Minimizing additional loss in the way the district is considering – a few people more, a few more supplies – is no burden at all.

A post-pandemic economy that yet remains stagnant is a burden the community will have to face and overcome.

 5. Asides.

Public comment should be free and unguided, with restrictions only for time limits or against profanity. It is natural that some members of the public will be emotional; they should be allowed to express themselves (as they were allowed last night).… Continue reading

Local Politician Tells District Administrator How to Read District’s Own Approved Documents

In Whitewater, a local charity, the Whitewater Community Foundation, publishes a website in which the city council president poses as something like a reporter. It’s an obvious conflict of interest, from a man who shows no understanding of either proper journalism or conflicts of interest.

Where Whitewater departs from the conventional in natural beauty, she does so to her credit (as the city is beautiful). Where Whitewater departs from convention in standards, she does so to her detriment (as rejection of time-tested principle is unworthy). See Whitewater’s Local Government: Always Literally, Not as Often Seriously

One reads that after last night’s lengthy school board meeting, Whitewater Common Council president Lynn Binnie spoke with Dr. Caroline Pate-Hefty, the Whitewater Schools’ district administrator.

Binnie writes in the Whitewater Community Foundation’s publication that

In a conversation with Dr. Pate-Hefty after the meeting this writer [Binnie] expressed the view that, given the current rapidly increasing level of positive test results in Whitewater, it is possible that the balanced case incidence metric might by September 23 enter the “Red,” very high risk level, wherein the Jefferson County model recommends all virtual instruction. Pate-Hefty indicated that the board had confirmed that, while they would be consulted in that event, it would remain their intention to continue with the September 28 plan.

Honest to goodness.

One can assume confidently that, whatever one thinks of this decision, Dr. Caroline Pate-Hefty has sufficient comprehension to understand the model’s color-coded tiers and the condition of the city as well as a Whitewater councilman.

What could this man say on the subject that this woman would not already know? 

More significant still — a school board of seven men and women unanimously approved this plan before he spoke with her. Nothing Binnie said to Dr. Pate-Hefty after the meeting would – or could – alter the board’s authority to determine this matter.

(A board’s lawful decision sets policy authoritatively – there’s no legitimacy in going around a board. This is a repeated problem of understanding for Binnie. He once asked a former district administrator to defend a decision that had been made by the board, not the administrator. No and no again: a school board decision – on a sign for the high school – had already been made. The district administrator had no independent obligation to Binnie apart from relying on the board’s decision. See A Sign for Whitewater High School.)

Now, I’ve not met the district administrator, and perhaps never will. We’ve not corresponded, and apart from a public records request that might one day go to the district under law, it’s unlikely that we will ever correspond.

One should, however, be attentive to her work. The measure of her public role as district administrator – her writings, statements, live or recorded remarks – are objects of governmental policy. Even when one does not comment on a meeting or a communication, it’s important to listen to it or read it.

A sound commentary on an administration demands some remove from the immediate action. One discerns best from a position of distance and detachment.

(At the same time, Dr. Pate-Hefty would gain nothing by speaking with me, as any other use of her time would be more profitable.)

For it all, whether writing in support or opposition, it would never occur to a discerning person to explain to this district administrator matters that her intellect, education, and her own observation would easily make plain.

Daily Bread for 9.15.20

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be sunny with a high of sixty-eight.  Sunrise is 6:36 AM and sunset 7:02 PM, for 12h 26m 48s of daytime.  The moon is a waning crescent with 5.6% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand four hundred seventh day. 

 The Whitewater Common Council meets via audiovisual conferencing at 6:30 PM.

 On this day in 1916, Tanks are used for the first time in battle, at the Battle of the Somme.

Recommended for reading in full — 

Yasmeen Abutaleb, Lena H. Sun, Josh Dawsey and Rosalind S. Helderman report Top Trump health appointee Michael Caputo warns of armed insurrection after election:

A top communications official for the administration’s coronavirus response urged President Trump’s supporters to prepare for an armed insurrection after a contested election and accused government scientists of “sedition” in a Facebook Live chat that he described in detail to The Washington Post on Monday.

Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing the coronavirus response, leveled the accusations and promoted other conspiracy theories in a Facebook Live event first reported by the New York Times. Caputo confirmed the authenticity of the video in comments he made to The Post.

….

In the Facebook video, Caputo criticizes government career scientists, the media and Democrats, the Times reported and Caputo confirmed. He said he was under attack by the media and that his “mental health has definitely failed.”

“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” Caputo said in the video, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.”

Caputo also said the CDC, which is part of HHS, had a “resistance unit” that aimed to undermine Trump. Without offering any evidence, he also accused scientists “deep in the bowels of the CDC” of giving up on science and becoming “political animals.”

They “haven’t gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops” to plot “how they’re going to attack Donald Trump next,” he said in the video. “There are scientists who work for this government who do not want America to get well, not until after Joe Biden is president.”

He also predicted that Trump would win the election but that Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, would refuse to concede. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he warned in the video. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing. If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”

 Meg Jones reports Marquette University students living at Schroeder Hall must quarantine for two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak:

A cluster of coronavirus cases at a Marquette University dorm has prompted officials to quarantine the entire residence hall for two weeks.

Students living at Schroeder Hall at Marquette were notified late Monday that they must quarantine in their rooms starting at 10 p.m.

The university says 373 students live at Schroeder, one of the large dorms on the downtown Milwaukee campus, and 3% have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Schroeder Hall residents are asked to not move out or leave town for two weeks because of fears they could infect their families and home communities.

If students do choose to leave campus to quarantine, they must stay off Marquette property for 14 days and then must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of their return to school.

Disc golfer hits 530 ft hole in one:

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Helpful Advice for Whitewater, Wisconsin

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is rightly celebrated as a masterpiece.

It also offers useful political advice, even for small town officials. From that musical’s Washington on Your Side, consider this sage observation on the limits of intra-institutional reform:

If there’s a fire you’re trying to douse,

You can’t put it out from inside the house.

There’s much to be said for an independent position, or at least a single position free from myriad conflicts of interest.

No one – ever – uplifts a community by lowering its standards.

Daily Bread for 9.14.20

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of seventy-seven.  Sunrise is 6:35 AM and sunset 7:04 PM, for 12h 29m 41s of daytime.  The moon is a waning crescent with 12.2% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand four hundred sixth day. 

Whitewater’s planning commission meets via audiovisual conferencing at 6 PM.  The Whitewater Unified District’s school board meets in closed session at 6:30 PM, and in open session at 7 PM, via audiovisual conferencing.

 On this day in 1944, Maastricht becomes the first Dutch city to be liberated by Allied forces.

Recommended for reading in full — 

 JR Radcliffe and Meg Jones report University of Wisconsin-La Crosse pauses in-person instruction for two weeks as cases spike there and in other cities that host UW campuses:

As the second University of Wisconsin campus switched to virtual learning because of an alarming rise in coronavirus cases Sunday, statistics show seven state communities where colleges are located are among the fastest-growing COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation.

On Sunday UW-La Crosse issued an urgent “shelter in place” order, citing an increase of COVID-19 cases, and suspended in-person undergraduate instruction for two weeks.

Figures updated Sunday in The New York Times show Whitewater, Madison, La Crosse, Platteville, Eau Claire, Stevens Point and Green Bay are in the top 20 metro areas where new cases are rising the fastest in the last week, on a population-adjusted basis.

All seven of those Wisconsin cities are home to UW campuses, where classes for the fall semester started recently.

(Emphasis added.)

See New York Times data to which Radcliffe and Jones refer, Monitoring the Coronavirus Outbreak in Metro Areas Across the U.S.: Where There May Be Bad News Ahead.  

(These data describe places with a population of fifty-thousand or more, leaving data for small cities like Whitewater inclusive of an area greater than the respective city proper; the data are week-over-week only. I offer no assessment or prediction about these data – the link provided simply shows the basis for the Journal Sentinel’s reporting about Whitewater and other Wisconsin college towns.)

 Shawn Johnson reports Wisconsin Judge Denies Kanye West’s Bid to be on Presidential Ballot:

A Brown County judge has rejected rapper Kanye West‘s attempt to get on Wisconsin’s presidential ballot, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court could still have the final say.

In a decision handed down late Friday night, Brown County Judge John Zakowski ruled that West’s campaign missed the state’s deadline to file his nominating signatures.

Wisconsin law requires independent presidential candidates to file at least 2,000 signatures from eligible Wisconsin voters “not later than” 5 p.m. on Aug. 4. Multiple videos taken that day showed an attorney for West’s campaign entering the front door of the Wisconsin Elections Commission roughly 14 seconds after 5 p.m.

West’s campaign argued that because state law sets at deadline of “not later than” 5 p.m., the signatures should count.

But the Wisconsin Elections Commission voted 5-1 to reject that argument and on Friday, Judge Zakowski upheld the ruling.

“The court finds that, basically, 5 o’clock is 5 o’clock,” Zakowski wrote.

Zakowski went on to compare the 5 p.m. filing deadline to a 9 p.m. cutoff for liquor sales.

“The court’s own personal experience is that at some stores the hour, minute and second hand appear on the check out screen,” Zakowski wrote. “When it is one second after nine, the alcohol cannot be scanned thereby preventing its purchase. In other words, any time after 9 o’clock means it is later than 9 o’clock and alcohol cannot be purchased, even at 9:00:59.”

Katsiaryna Shmatsina observes Any Putin intervention in Belarus will meet ‘huge pushback’

Daily Bread for 9.13.20

Good morning.

Sunday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of seventy.  Sunrise is 6:33 AM and sunset 7:06 PM, for 12h 32m 33s of daytime.  The moon is a waning crescent with 20% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand four hundred fifth day. 

 On this day in 1862, Union soldiers find a copy of Robert E. Lee‘s battle plans in a field outside Frederick, Maryland. It is the prelude to the Battle of Antietam.

Recommended for reading in full — 

Devi Shastri reports UW students describe chaos as COVID-19 raged through residence halls, leading to lockdown:

Students were running to the Walgreens across the street and the nearby Fresh Market, stocking up on food and supplies. They had been told they had just a few hours before they would be isolated in their dorms for two weeks, inciting panic.

“There were people buying gallons of milk, boxes of cereal, tons of food, cases of water, just stocking up for this quarantine,” [student Lauren] Tamborino said.

Teachers started emailing her to say deadlines on homework assignments were being pushed back. Students were told if they left the dorms after the 10 p.m. lockdown, they would not be allowed back in.

And all of this was unfolding on Wednesday, one week to the day after classes started.

UW-Madison officials sent out information about when meals would be delivered and promised medical care, mental health support and strict enforcement of restrictions on gatherings.

“We know you want to be here and we hope this necessary step will help us achieve the goal of remaining on campus all year,” said a message to students in Sellery and Witte halls.

Watching the chaos, Tamborino knew one thing: She did not want to be here.

Students in UW-Madison dorm quarantine share inside perspective:

Some Families Choosing to Take Students Home:

Kelly Meyerhofer reports UW-Madison orders more sorority and fraternity houses with COVID-19 cases to quarantine:

More than half of sorority and fraternity houses near UW-Madison’s campus are now under quarantine for at least the next two weeks.

Of the roughly 1,500 fraternity and sorority members who live in university-recognized chapter houses, 820 have received quarantine orders from UW-Madison and the city-county health department. This includes the 420 members put under quarantine last week after 38 members recently tested positive.

The Greek life quarantine orders are in addition to the more than 2,200 students quarantined in Witte and Sellery halls and 124 students in the university’s separate quarantine housing. Altogether, there are at least 3,100 students in quarantine, or roughly 10% of the undergraduate student population, though the number is likely higher when accounting for the unreported number of students who live in off-campus, non-Greek housing also in quarantine.

A UW-Madison list of Greek chapters currently in quarantine includes 22 sorority and fraternity houses. The university recognizes 40 chapter houses.

Yvonne Kim reports ‘Steeper and faster than we expected’: UW chancellor addresses campus COVID cases:

“I think none of us expected quite the magnitude of rise that we saw at the very beginning of this week, which really led us to take action,” [Chancellor Rebecca] Blank said. “We knew that there would be some spikes … Students would come; there would be some partying. The amount of that rise was steeper and faster than we expected, and steeper than some of our fellow schools in the Big Ten.”

Bugs, Weeds, Snails: Your Sushi Is Served:

Daily Bread for 9.12.20

Good morning.

Saturday in Whitewater will be rainy with a high of seventy.  Sunrise is 6:32 AM and sunset 7:08 PM, for 12h 35m 25s of daytime.  The moon is a waning crescent with 29.1% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand four hundred fourth day. 

 On this day in 1958, Jack Kilby demonstrates the first working integrated circuit while working at Texas Instruments.

Recommended for reading in full — 

 Dan Diamond reports Trump officials interfered with CDC reports on Covid-19:

The health department’s politically appointed communications aides have demanded the right to review and seek changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly scientific reports charting the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, in what officials characterized as an attempt to intimidate the reports’ authors and water down their communications to health professionals.

In some cases, emails from communications aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other senior officials openly complained that the agency’s reports would undermine President Donald Trump’s optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to emails reviewed by POLITICO and three people familiar with the situation.

….

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports are authored by career scientists and serve as the main vehicle for the agency to inform doctors, researchers and the general public about how Covid-19 is spreading and who is at risk. Such reports have historically been published with little fanfare and no political interference, said several longtime health department officials, and have been viewed as a cornerstone of the nation’s public health work for decades.

But since Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no medical or scientific background, was installed in April as the health department’s new spokesperson, there have been substantial efforts to align the reports with Trump’s statements, including the president’s claims that fears about the outbreak are overstated, or stop the reports altogether.

Caputo and his team have attempted to add caveats to the CDC’s findings, including an effort to retroactively change agency reports that they said wrongly inflated the risks of Covid-19 and should have made clear that Americans sickened by the virus may have been infected because of their own behavior, according to the individuals familiar with the situation and emails reviewed by POLITICO.

 Tony Romm reports Patients may have seen ‘significant’ delays in medicine deliveries by USPS, Senate report finds:

Patients who rely on the U.S. Postal Service for their prescription drugs may have experienced “significant” delays in their deliveries, according to a Senate report released Wednesday, which accused Postmaster General Louis DeJoy of jeopardizing the “health of millions of Americans.”

Several major U.S. pharmacies told the two Democratic senators leading the investigation — Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.) — that average delivery times have ticked up since the spring, leading to a flood of angry calls from customers and costly requests to resend their medications.

Warren and Casey did not identify the pharmacies, but their report comes nearly three weeks after they asked Walgreens, CVS, and other pharmacies and benefit managers to detail the effects of DeJoy’s changes at the Postal Service. This summer, he implemented policies to reduce overtime and mail trips, which postal carriers say have led to backlogs nationwide.

 Mary Trump contends that Donald Trump is fundamentally a racist and liar:

Video from Space – Weekly Highlights: Week of Sept. 6, 2020:

Videos featured: Californian wildfires seen from Space, SpaceX releases booster cam video of a Falcon 9 launch and landing, Zero-G corporation is delivering weightless experiences, and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission captured trajectories of particles ejected by Asteroid Bennu.

Friday Catblogging: Santa Monica Mountains Are Experiencing a ‘Summer of Kittens’

The National Park Service writes The Santa Monica Mountains Are Experiencing a “Summer of Kittens”:

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.— It’s been one mountain lion kitten den after another this summer for National Park Service biologists in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills. In total, 13 kittens were born to five mountain lion mothers between May and August 2020. For photos and video, click here.

This is the first time this many mountain lion dens have been found within such a short period of time during the 18-year study, in which a total of 21 litters of kittens have been marked at the den site by researchers. Previously, the highest number of dens found in one year was four (across 10 months in 2015). Three additional litters have been found when the kittens were older (at least six months old) and had already left the den site.

“This level of reproduction is a great thing to see, especially since half of our mountains burned almost two years ago during the Woolsey Fire,” said Jeff Sikich, a wildlife biologist who has been studying the mountain lion population at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “It will be interesting to see how these kittens use the landscape in the coming years and navigate the many challenges, both natural and human-caused, they will face as they grow older and disperse.”

Each visit to a den occurs while the mother is away hunting for food, feeding, or just resting. A biologist will track her movements via telemetry, while colleagues approach the den area. Once the den is found, the researchers will conduct the workup on the kittens a short distance away from the den. This typically takes less than an hour.

The biologists perform a general health check, determine the sex of each kitten, take various body measurements, including weight, obtain biological samples, and place one uniquely numbered and colored ear tag in each of the kittens. This tag helps to identify them in the future with remote cameras and when recaptured for the placement of a radio-collar. The kittens are all returned to the den before their mother comes back.

Daily Bread for 9.11.20

Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will be mostly cloudy with a high of sixty-four.  Sunrise is 6:31 AM and sunset 7:10 PM, for 12h 38m 17s of daytime.  The moon is a waning crescent with 39.3% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand four hundred third day. 

 On this day in 2001, the September 11 attacks take place, as a series of coordinated terrorist attacks killing 2,977 people using four aircraft hijacked by 19 members of al-Qaeda. Two aircraft crash into the World Trade Center in New York City, a third crashes into The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, and a fourth into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Recommended for reading in full — 

Ed Yong writes America Is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral:

Trump embodied and amplified America’s intuition death spiral. Instead of rolling out a detailed, coordinated plan to control the pandemic, he ricocheted from one overhyped cure-all to another, while relying on theatrics such as travel bans. He ignored inequities and systemic failures in favor of blaming China, the WHO, governors, Anthony Fauci, and Barack Obama. He widened the false dichotomy between lockdowns and reopening by regularly tweeting in favor of the latter. He and his allies appealed to magical thinking and steered the U.S. straight into the normality trap by frequently lying that the virus would go away, that the pandemic was ending, that new waves weren’t happening, and that rising case numbers were solely due to increased testing. They have started talking about COVID-19 in the past tense as cases surge in the Midwest.

“It’s like mass gaslighting,” says Martha Lincoln, a medical anthropologist at San Francisco State University. “We were put in a situation where better solutions were closed off but a lot of people had that fact sneak up on them. In the absence of a robust federal response, we’re all left washing our hands and hoping for the best, which makes us more susceptible to magical thinking and individual-level fixes.” And if those fixes never come, “I think people are going to harden into a fatalistic sense that we have to accept whatever the risks are to continue with our everyday lives.”

That might, indeed, be Trump’s next solution. The Washington Post reports that Trump’s new adviser—the neuroradiologist Scott Atlas—is pushing a strategy that lets the virus rip through the non-elderly population in a bid to reach herd immunity. This policy was folly for Sweden, which is nowhere near herd immunity, had one of the world’s highest COVID-19 death rates, and has a regretful state epidemiologist. Although the White House has denied that a formal herd-immunity policy exists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently changed its guidance to say that asymptomatic people “do not necessarily need a test” even after close contact with an infected person. This change makes no sense: People can still spread the virus before showing symptoms. By effectively recommending less testing, as Trump has specifically called for, the nation’s top public-health agency is depriving the U.S. of the data it needs to resist intuitive errors. “When there’s a refusal to take in the big picture, we are stuck,” [emergency-management professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Njoki] Mwarumba says.

Migrating Nighthawks in Wauwatosa: