Report from Louisiana: Unfocused

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We are now three weeks into this quarantine business, so how’s it going for you? I thought I would be so productive and get some projects done, make some progress on my book, do some inspired writing…nah. Not happening. My creativity is dry as a bone. Gone.

I did a little blog post about that on SIGIS, and got a lot of unexpected feedback with people feeling the same way, which was reassuring in a way. It’s not just me.

It feels a little like the days and weeks following 9/11, to me. An overwhelming powerlessness and anxiety. Turns out there are a lot of people feeling this same way.

I’m incredibly frustrated with the inability of people to follow simple directions and stay home. Once again, this church in Central, Louisiana held services yesterday with 500 people in attendance this week, which thankfully is about half of what he had last week.

Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church says, “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated, …We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

He’s not alone in his commitment to disregard the stay at home order issued by Governor Edwards. In New Orleans, a growing epicenter of COVID-19, authorities had to break up a large gathering this weekend where people gathered for a Second Line event. Video on social media shows revelers in the neighborhood drinking, dancing, and playing music. Now, warrants have been issued.

In an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in Texas, Governor Greg Abbot has put a travel ban of sorts in place. If you travel to Texas from Louisiana, you have to fill out paperwork indicating where you will self-quarantine for the next fourteen days. This does not apply to commercial traffic and the like, obviously.

The grocery stores are beginning to level out however there is still no toilet paper, Clorox wipes, or hand sanitizer anywhere and there has not been for three weeks. My grocery store, apparently depressed by the long empty shelf, now is stocking laundry baskets on that aisle.

The big-box stores in our area, Sam’s Club, sometimes gets those items in; Saturday morning the line to get into Sam’s wrapped around the building as they let in twenty-five people at a time. Hundreds of people in line, much closer to each other than six feet, mind you, and VERY close to each other the closer to the front of the line they got. Insanity.

I’ve mad a couple of quick grocery store runs and have found that some people are keeping their distance but there are others who completely disregard your personal space. I was looking at the eggs yesterday when a man leaned right in front of me and grabbed a carton.

I’m looking at grocery delivery services now or curbside pickup; the turnaround on curbside pickup is days out however. If you need something quickly, too bad.

At any rate, this is our new normal. With Trump’s federal distancing extended to the end of April, I expect that our school year is effectively done, which saddens me somewhat.

Now, if I could just get my creative spark back.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Lockdown in Illinois goes from smiling faces to a preview of tyranny

Blogger running on a Cook County Forest Preserve trail earlier this month

By John Ruberry

Illinois is now in its eighth day of lockdown as part of Governor JB Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Life is anything but normal here.

There’s not much good to report.

On the other hand a few days ago I planned to compose a feel-good entry focusing on the the few good things to report on from where I live in Morton Grove, Illinois about coronavirus. But things quickly turned south. And now we just might have a preview of the damage an overreaching government that claims to be looking out for us can inflict.

I’m a runner–and I’ve not let the lockdown cut back on my hobby. (Oh, Peter Da Tech Guy has been begging me to write a running post for a while–here you go!) After all outdoor activity, including running, is allowed according to Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order, as long as I practice safe-distancing, which I do. During my runs through the Cook County Forest Preserve trails near my home, I’ve seen more people on the paths, including entire families, since the issue of the shelter-in-place order. When the coronavirus crisis fades away, some of those folks might pick up a new appreciation of nature and become physical fitness enthusiasts as well.

I’ve also seen more people smiling at me and waving during my runts. And I reciprocate.

That was through Wednesday.

In Chicago in the early part of last week, particularly on the lakefront, the parks and paths were packed with runners, walkers, and cyclists. There were picnics and barbecues and basketball games. Which caused Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, to freak out.

“You cannot go on long bike rides,” the Democrat scolded. “Playgrounds are shut down. You must abide by the order. Outside, is for a brief respite, not for 5Ks. I can’t emphasize enough that we abide the rules.”

“If we have to … we will be forced to shut down parks and the entire lakefront,” the mayor said that day.

And so she did. In a condescending press conference the following day, Mayor Tenderfoot announced, while upping her warning that training for marathons was also not allowed on the lakefront during the lockdown, that all Chicago parks along the lakefront, along with the 606 Trail on the North Side, were closed and would be barricaded. Violators of Lightfoot’s order face a citation and a $500 fine.

Okay, I get it. COVID-19 can be deadly. Playing close contact sports such as basketball is stupid. But cooping people up in home will be psychologically demanding. And what will happen if the internet in Chicago slows down to a trickle because of an overwhelming demand in residential areas?

Will spouse abuse instances spike? And child abuse?

And it’s not just a Chicago issue in Illinois. At a large park in Skokie, the town just east of me, a friend of my daughter’s was playing tennis with her boyfriend. Someone living next to the park called the police, they them to told stop playing and leave. The cops also cleared out the rest of park. There were no gatherings there of more than ten people. Just a few people here and there, I was told.

On Friday Lightfoot encouraged people to call the non-emergency 311 line to inform on businesses that are deemed non-essential that remain open. Employees can rat out their bosses. Violators face up to a $10,000 fine.

What we are witnessing in Chicago is a preview of life under a Green New Deal tyranny-of-the-enlightened-few led by know-it-alls like Lightfoot. Because of “climate change,” the city’s lakefront could be closed for weeks during the summer. After all, many people drive to the lakefront parks and the adjoining neighborhoods.

On a national basis industries such as travel could be altered and possibly destroyed. Travel by jet spread the virus. So let’s shrink the airline industry, which produces greenhouse gases. What about the jobless pilots, machinists, and the flight attendants? Force them to attend a green jobs training program doubling as a re-education camp.

If the government goes after jet travel will the automotive industry be next? What about recreational boating? Why not shutter restaurants that serve food deemed as unhealthy? Who hasn’t heard obesity called an epidemic?

Does a family of four really need a huge house? Do you really need to take an out-of-state vacation?

Presumably in a Green New Deal America the running trails near my home will still be open and I can train for a marathon if I choose. But I’ll expect to see fewer smiling faces there.

Yes, I’m taking COVID-19 seriously. I’m washing my hands and drowning them in hand-sanitizer. I’m keeping safe distances.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Report from Louisiana: Stay at Home

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Finally, yesterday afternoon, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards issued a “stay at home” order across the state. All “non-essential” businesses are shut down; restaurants are still open for curbside pickup and delivery, you can still take your dog to the vet, and liquor stores are open.

So, not much has changed under this order from what has been happening all week.

Via The Advocate:

Louisiana has the fastest growth rate of confirmed cases in the world, Edwards said, citing a University of Louisiana at Lafayette study. Louisiana ranks third in the nation — behind New York and Washington State — in per capita cases of people infected with the deadly novel coronavirus. The growth trajectory shows Louisiana increasing its confirmed cases on the same steep angle as Italy and Spain, where the virus has become exceptionally widespread.

Most of the cases in Louisiana are in Orleans parish with a known cluster of cases in an assisted living facility in New Orleans, but like everywhere, COVID-19 is spread throughout the state.

It is not likely to improve for a while as there are still far too many people that don’t appear to comprehend the gravity of what is happening.

Sunday, in East Baton Rouge parish, The Life Tabernacle Church hosted over 1,800 people at their Sunday morning service. Pastor Tony Spell said “if anyone in his congregation contracts covid-19 he will heal them through God.”

If anyone still doubts the severity of this virus, take a look at a viral Facebook post by Chicago resident Michael Bane.  He describes the progression of COVID-19 as it has attacked him after a “brief encounter” with someone who later tested positive for the virus. Bane wanted to put “a human face” on the virus and stress to people the importance of staying home.

The numbers in Louisiana continue to climb and as I write this, there is plenty of traffic I can still see outside my window. Our shut-down order doesn’t take effect until 5:00 p.m., and grocery stores (which will remain open) are packed with people clearing the shelves of whatever staples remain. As with much of the country, there has been no toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rice, dried beans, or bread for at least two weeks. If you catch it right, you can get milk or meat as stockers work frantically to keep shelves stocked.

On the plus side, random acts of kindness are on the uptick. One of my neighbors left a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread on my porch yesterday. Neighborhoods are pulling together to support one another, and people are getting creative in keeping the little ones entertained. One activity I saw yesterday was a “bear hunt,” where neighbors put a stuffed bear in their windows for kids to spot, or find, on walks with their parents.

I’m counting my blessings right now and staying inside.

Stay safe wherever you are, stay home, and wash your hands!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Review, Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

By John Ruberry

“While we can’t predict where the next influenza pandemic is going to come from,” Dennis Carroll, the director of the emerging threats unit of US Agency for International Development, says in the third episode of the new six episode Netflix documentary series Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak, “there are certain places that you want to pay particular attention to–and China is one of those, that’s the place where we’ve seen the emergence of virtually all of the deadly influenza viruses over the last half-century.”

Carroll says this while images of a Vietnamese wet market, where live chickens are sold and slaughtered, are shown.

“We know that viruses move from wildlife into livestock into people,” he says early in that same episode.

I’m writing this from home in Illinois, where I am living under Governor JB Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order because of the COVID-19 coronoavirus outbreak. While the origin of this disease is still being debated it is likely, according to experts, that it did first infect humans at a wet market.

I saw Pandemic last week on my Netflix welcome screen and at first I looked away and said to myself, “If I want to know about pandemics I can switch on the local news–or cable news.” And I was concerned that this was, to use the legendary chant from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a “bring out your dead” series. And it starts that way, with Carroll, at a mass grave in western Pennsylvania, one that is marked by a single crucifix. The site contains the remains of victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Yes, not only can it happen here–but it has happened here.

And the “not-if-but-when” pandemic has arrived, only it’s coronavirus instead of influenza.

The focus of Pandemic is on the scientists, the aid workers, and the doctors on the front lines of disease prevention and cures. People like Jake Glanville and Sarah Ives, the scientists who are working with pigs in Guatemala to develop an all-strains flu virus, as well as Dr. Dinesh Vijay, who treats flu patients at a crowded hospital in Jaipur, India. But disease isn’t just an urban phenomenon. In Pandemic, we meet Holly Goracke, the sole doctor at tiny Jefferson County Hospital in rural Oklahoma, who works 72-hour shifts. And we also become acquainted with Dr.Syra Madad, the director of the special pathogens program of New York City Health and Hospitals.

Along the way we are introduced to anti-vaccination activists in Oregon, health care workers at an Arizona border detention center, and World Health Organization disease fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who not only face the risk of contracting the extremely deadly Ebola virus, but also getting murdered by gangs.

Surprisingly, religion is viewed favorably in this scientific docuseries. Madad, Goracke, and Vijay all rely on faith to strengthen them as they battle disease.

Not surprisingly there are a few knocks in Pandemic over lack of funding from the Trump administration. Including from Madad. But she’s not infallible. In January, in a CNBC interview shortly after the debut of Pandemic, Madad praised China’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, although she did parse her statement with, “It’s too early to tell.” I wager she’d like to take that praise back.

If you are suffering from anxiety over coronavirus, you may want to stay away from Pandemic. The same goes if you are an anti-vaxxer–you’ll just get POd. Also, I suggest if you decide to view Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak then take it in just one episode at a time. At times the series is emotionally exhausting.

Pandemic is rated TV-14, Netflix says, because of foul language and smoking. And there are some disturbing scenes.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

COVID-19 and rethinking grade school

Let’s be honest, nobody’s kid is this excited over Kahn Academy!
Techno Source introduces Kurio Xtreme-the Ultimate Android Tablet Built for Kids–designed for extreme play and the safest online experience. Featuring a faster Intel(C) Atom(TM) processor, Bluetooth technology and 24/7 customer support right from the tablet, Xtreme comes with $300+ of kid-safe content, including exclusive Kurio Motion body-controlled games. (CNW Group/Techno Source)

Like most people, my kids are now home from school. At first, I’m sure most kids celebrated, like mine did. Yesterday was a turning point for my youngest daughter though, because when she told me that she was going back to school in another week, I told her that wouldn’t happen.

My prediction is that we don’t go back to anything normal until at least April. While I don’t believe the gloom and doom, 12-18 month recession, Fallout-style post-apocalypse robbing your neighbor for toilet paper worldview that seems to get pushed around, I also don’t think this will quickly resolve itself. We are going to hunker down for a lot longer than anyone imagined. This is not like a hurricane, where the storm passes and normalcy is restored in around 1-2 weeks. It’s going to take a while.

In the aftermath, it’s going to change grade school education. Right now my kid’s schools are struggling with how to fairly teach classes. I say “fairly” because there are still kids that don’t have internet at home, so simply saying “Move your class online” isn’t always going to work. Worse still is that we have lots of parents that just don’t care about their kids education and viewed school as the babysitting service so they could go to work. Normally teachers could cover up this problem, but COVID-19 is tearing that scab off.

There will be a bunch of kids that will benefit from learning at home. People will be surprised to find that in terms of hours of education per day, schools are fairly inefficient at teaching high-performing children. That’s a combination of large class size and the 90/10 rule of poor performing children, where you spend 90% of your time teaching the bottom 10% of your class. At home, in the right setup, a high performing kid can blow through lessons quickly when there is no bullying, food fights, and other distractions.

When these kids go back to school, schools will want to hold them back. We’ll hear about “social development” problems of skipping a grade. But that’s not really an issue. The problem is we view grade level and age as linked, even though we know that some people mature and learn faster than others. In the past, these kids were one-offs because there just wasn’t a lot of them. It’s going to become much more obvious when thousands of kids nation-wide test high enough to merit skipping a grade.

The reverse is true too. Plenty of kids won’t test high enough to merit passing their grade. In many cases it won’t be there fault. Many kids benefit from the structure, discipline and food that comes with school, and too many have parents who can’t or won’t provide a decent home to learn in. We cannot abandoned these kids. As a nation, we should be planning to hold summer schools to catch these kids up.

Perhaps COVID-19 can change how view grade school education in general. Instead of linking age to grade level, we focus more on testing and placing kids according to their performance, giving kids that are high performing more challenges early on. This means they graduate sooner and have more chances at a younger age for higher education. For kids that struggle, why are we not regularly providing summer school? We know the kids that aren’t doing well. Making them come to summer school, both to finish their current grade and to get a jump on the next grade, might be the ticket to better performance. It also gives us an excuse to pay teachers more and give them full-year compensation.

COVID-19 sucks, but it might be what we need to change our old views on grade school education.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

The Silence of LA

Don’t be afraid

by baldilocks

When it’s over, it will be great.

I will miss the quietness, however.

My residential street runs parallel to a nearby busy boulevard and it makes a great short-cut to avoid heavy traffic

But there are no speedbumps on my street and, as a result, drivers fly down it on their way to and from work. There are lots of near misses, if the amount of horn-honking is any indication.  And I’m not a little surprised that there hasn’t been any trading of lead-encased propellants in the five years that I’ve lived here. This is Los Angeles, after all.

However, other than the speeders, my very racially integrated neighborhood is quite peaceful and the near shutdown of the city due to COVID-19 has given it surrealism. It’s almost like living in the country.

No one is in a rush to go to work because so few are even allowed to go. The schools and colleges are shut down.

It’s certain, however, that much work and education is being conducted via digital means and when the shutdown ends, it will be interesting to see how these things will be transformed by the revelation that more stuff gets done when employees and students stay home.

Back to my nearly traffic-free street: I mentioned on Twitter that I had prayed for a long time that drivers would stop speeding down my street and in the last few days it has happened! Of course, I didn’t pray that it would come from a citywide quarantine, but I do know that God is a multitasker. Also, it is far from the first time that He has answered a prayer of mine in a way that I didn’t expect.

The moral of the story is obvious: be careful what you pray for.

However, I will continue to pray for the physical, financial, and spiritual healing of our country. And I’ll wager that it will shock the world in how it comes to pass.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

Follow Juliette on FacebookTwitterMeWePatreon and Social Quodverum.

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Higher ed: Not ready for prime time

By Christopher Harper

As most colleges and universities cancel in-person classes, many of these institutions are woefully unprepared to teach students online.

When a started teaching online in 2005, I had more than two months of training, and I still had questions. In the current transition, teachers are being asked to get ready, without significant help, in a week or less.

I’ve watched some of the training videos from my university and from national organizations, which are utter torture from bad audio to inane content.

I wanted to learn how to teach online. Many professors professors consider the teaching method as inferior. One colleague sent around a post that tried to convince people to fail in the changeover to online classes because it would give the administration more leverage to force people to do it in the future.

Since I have taught online courses for many years, I have often told my colleagues that the data don’t back up the contention that in-person classes are better.

The real problem is ego. Many professors have a captive audience classroom environment as the master or mistress of the universe, doling out precious bits of knowledge to the students.

It’s not surprising that a survey by Inside Higher Ed found that many professors think online classes do not meet the requirements for a successful learning experience.

Forty-four percent of those surveyed said they taught a course better than anyone else could do so online. Thirty-eight percent said it was possible that both experiences could be equal. Eighteen percent had no opinion.

The survey also found that the more prestigious the school, the greater the ego from its professors.

“The ratios change significantly by subgroup of faculty members. Community college instructors, for instance, are more likely to agree than disagree that online learning can achieve equivalent outcomes in the classes they teach by a 53 to 31 percent margin, while the ratio for private college baccalaureate professors is 15 percent agree to 72 percent disagree,” the survey found. See https://www.insidehighered.com/news/survey/professors-slow-steady-acceptance-online-learning-survey

Ironically, those who have taught online classes found the experience made them better teachers.

“When those instructors were asked how their online experience has most improved their teaching skills, 75 percent said they think more critically about ways to engage students with content,” the report found.

What’s interesting about the research is that colleges and universities often talk the talk of technology but often do not reward those who use it. That’s because most of the people making the decisions are former faculty members rather than professional managers.

Less than a quarter of those surveyed said their institutions reward teachers who do online courses in tenure and promotion cases. Also, those who teach online don’t make any more money.

Students generally applaud the availability of online courses because they provide greater flexibility in scheduling a balance between class and work. Also, students said the availability of online material makes it easier to study for exams. Although online platforms offer the ability to collaborate with other students, surveys find that individuals prefer to do such work in a face-to-face environment.

Although college administrators debate whether online courses cost less, I am convinced they do. The problem is that higher education still has to allocate funds for the administrative maze that colleges have created in recent years. As a result, it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Whatever the case, a grand experiment is about to commence. I hope it ends well even though most colleges and universities aren’t prepared for the experiment.

Report from Louisiana: COVID-19 and online teaching

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – What a difference a day makes.  Wednesday, last week, I was cutting across the Atchafalaya Basin on an airboat enjoying Spring Break, and within twenty-four hours of that Governor John Bel Edwards closed down K-12 schools, universities were shuttered, and everyone is practicing social distancing. Well, except New Orleans; they do their own thing there.

As an educator, I can tell you that my students are full of anxiety. Fortunately, I’m in a better position than a lot of people in that my kids have already been using Google Classroom. I immediately posted a sort of “check-in” assignment and on Sunday, still technically on Spring Break, most of my kids responded. Since then, most have filled in.

By Friday, my husband and I had returned to Shreveport and decided we needed a few groceries after being out of town for a week.

Big mistake.

The store was chaos.

You’ve seen images from all over the country, or seen it yourself, I’m sure. Even today, days later, there are zero paper products in the stores. Zero dried beans, no rice, canned goods are sparse. Things are restocking, but good grief – what chaos.

In Louisiana, our schools are closed until mid-April; I’ve got friends in other states who have said they won’t return to school at all this year. So far there are no directives from the Louisiana State Department of Education on graduation or testing, which has filled my students with anxiety.

As of today, all casinos in Louisiana are closed for two weeks, except those on Indian reservation. The economic loss to the state is estimated at $22 million.

With bars and restaurants closing, people staying home from work, schools closed…I don’t even want to think about the long-term economic effects of this.  It’s mind blowing, to me.

So, meanwhile, I’m teaching school from home, trying to reassure my students and still be sure they are learning. We are staying in as much as possible. Louisiana currently has 114 positive cases and two deaths. Most are in the Orleans parish area – no surprise given that Mardi Gras just happened.

Stay safe where you are. Be smart. Don’t panic or overreact.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.