Sometimes a Fantasy Is All You Need: The NCAA Tackles COVID-19

A recent article in The New York Times illustrates the magical thinking that prevails in the NCAA, and indeed, throughout much of higher education, on the topic of the coronavirus:

When Kansas State opened the doors to its athletic facilities, welcoming its football players back to campus starting the first weekend in June, administrators breathed a sigh of relief once the first batch of coronavirus tests came back.

The first wave of athletes spent a week in quarantine before voluntary workouts, as all players were required to do, and the scorecard was pristine: 90 tests, zero positives.

Another six players straggled in a day or two later and were swabbed. Again, no positives.

Then by June 12, the final group of 24 arrivals–largely freshmen–was tested. But just a week later, Kansas State shut down its workouts until at least mid-July after two positive cases in that final group morphed into four and then eight before leaping to 14, as nearly half the team needed to be checked again.

With its announcements on Saturday, Kansas State became the first school from a Power 5 conference to shut down football activities. Two other Football Bowl Subdivision schools did the same after outbreaks among their athletes, with Houston making the decision on June 12 and Boise State on Monday.

Continue reading

COVID-19 Narratives (3): A Physician’s View of the Front Lines

[An anonymous submission by a physician at a New York City-area hospital.]

If you wanted to concoct a story of a cruel, vengeful god who plotted to induce madness upon all of humanity, you could not do better than the COVID-19 pandemic. Under normal circumstances, all it takes is a few sensible, simple, commonsense hygiene practices to prevent infectious illness from becoming a major public health problem. As diseases go, the usual suspects are pathogens we know well (influenza, rhinovirus, etc.), whose disease courses tend to follow a familiar and predictable narrative: prodrome, syndrome, convalescence, immunity. Serious illness is an exception to the rule with these players, and it clusters predictably in familiar groups of outlier hosts: the very old, those with severe medical problems, the very young. These individuals are at risk roughly as to how old, close to being newborns, or medically complicated they are. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (32): Who Does Not Treat Shall Not Eat

All those thought-experiments you might have encountered while studying consequentialism versus deontology in grad school or some intro ethics course are about to become terrible realities in New York City and northern New Jersey within the next few hours. I’m writing this on Sunday night, April 5th. By tomorrow morning, there’ll be no escape in this area from the misery I’m about to describe. The surge is imminent. The minimizers, deniers, and skeptics were wrong. What you’re about to see is the twenty-first century equivalent of a painting by Hieronymous Bosch. Figure out now whether you want to look or avert your eyes. Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (27): COVID-19 and the Banality of Evil

Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (23): “A Disdain for Science”

A plea from my sister-in-law, Jessica Franklin, MD, of Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey. She posted this on Facebook, and was reluctant to have it posted publicly, describing it as more a “frustrated, heart-broken rant than a reasoned opinion.” But there’s been no paucity of reasoned opinions at this point. Every other commenter on her Facebook post has a story to tell about someone’s backsliding or refusing to comply with social distancing, the ban on gatherings, etc. If we’re going to break our health care workers and our health care facilities in this excruciating way, we should have the courage to watch it happen in real time.  Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (14): “The Eyes of a Masked Stranger”

A message from my sister-in-law Jessica Franklin, MD, after her first full day treating COVID-19 patients at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, a region (meaning New York City and its immediate suburbs) that’s been described as “the epicenter of the global pandemic.” Her message begins in the block quote below the fold.

As a one-time hospital “environmental services worker” (aka “janitor”), I particularly appreciate Jess’s inclusion of that profession in what she says below. If physicians and nurses will have to go without personal protective equipment, what do you think will happen to janitors? I can tell you what happened to us when I was working as a hospital janitor at Overlook Hospital in my 20s. We were told to clean up hazardous waste without any personal protective equipment at all. Because if we didn’t do it, who would? At that wage, what choice would anyone have? Say “no”? Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (3): Creeping Death

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
–Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

I count it as a great blessing that I have so far, at age fifty, managed to avoid becoming a father. Amusingly enough, my ex-wife once told me, flat out, “Before I met you, I was on the fence about having children. I no longer am. You would make a terrible father. So I’ve abandoned the idea.” Music to my ears.

And yet, I’ve just had a phone conversation with one of my best friends, in which he asked me whether I would temporarily take custody of his child in the event that both he and his wife die of COVID-19. “Yes,” I say, without hesitation. I actually like his kid, as kids go. Granted, the custody he imagines is temporary, until family members could come and do a formal adoption. My friend knows me well enough to know that coronavirus or no, it makes little sense to turn me into a bona fide step-father. One catastrophe is enough. Continue reading

Injustice and Its Victims (Or Not)

Michael Young and I are hanging out at an undisclosed location in New Jersey, riding out the coronavirus by trading barbed moral intuitions with (or at?) each other. We need help. I mean, we need your help adjudicating a clash of intuitions about injustice. I doubt that anything of great significance turns on which set of intuitions is right. But I called bullshit on some of the crap Michael was slinging at me, telling him that I would appeal for a verdict to the Final Authority of All Philosophical Authorities, vox populi. Or at least the voice of a handful of self-selected readers of Policy of Truth, the moral and epistemic paragons of the Internet.

I won’t tell you which of us holds which view until I get some responses. This is my idea of an incentive to get you to respond. Like you care. Continue reading

Bernie, Cuba, Literacy, and Ill-Gotten Gains

I’m finding the dialogue of the deaf over Bernie and Cuba exasperating. I’m not going to comment on the details–on the “first-order issues,” we might say. What I want to say is that it helps to clarify the underlying issue and make some relevant distinctions.

The basic issue is that Cuba is supposed to be a dictatorship, which is evil, but Bernie is praising it for increasing literacy, which is good. Assume (for the sake of argument) that Cuba is a dictatorship, and dictatorships are evil. The puzzle is whether you should ever praise an evil thing for doing a good thing; it’s a puzzle whether (or how) good things can ever arise from evil things. Put slightly differently, it’s a puzzle whether evil agents should ever get credit for any of the good they do (or seem to do), given the discredit they deserve for the very great evil they do.

Continue reading