Wednesday, May 20, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Save The Restaurants!

The modern American restaurant and its variants --- cafes,
bistros, diners, brasseries, coffee shops, cafeterias, and
eateries --- have become central institutions in our national
life and indispensable to our social culture.

Shutting them all down at the outset of the current pandemic
emergency might have been an inevitable step to take for a
sensibly brief period, but any extended period of imposed
closure will profoundly damage the industry and force a
large percentage of individual establishments to close
permanently.

In Minnesota, and particularly the Twin Cities and its suburbs,
some restaurants (which are able to do so) are open for takeout
and delivery. But these services are only temporary --- they do
not generate enough revenue to sustain the enterprise.

Restaurateurs are entrepreneurs, and they can and want to
adapt to safety requirements for their staffs and customers.
Most of them have the facilities to do so.

The restaurant business is a tough business in good times.
Even successful and popular ones often have a run of only a
decade or two. A few, most of them with large seating capacity,
survive a long time. They are more likely to make it through a
longer shutdown, but their number is small.

With proper sanitary, spacing, preparatory and table delivery
measures, it would appear there is no reasonable cause to keep
restaurants in most locales closed for public seating.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Polarysis And Pandolemics

As Prairie Editor readers know, he on occasion invents a word
or phrase when existing language fails to provide. (Two of his
most notable examples were during election years --- in 2004 
it was the megastate
“Minnewisowa” (now in the dictionary),
and in 2016 it was “
media coup d’etat” (made famous through
the efforts of his friend Newt Gingrich). Circumstances are so
extraordinary in 2020, The Prairie Editor had to invent TWO
new words, “
polarysis” (voter opinion stuck in unresolvable
division), and “
pandolemics” (political rhetoric in the health
emergency).

---------------------------------------------------------------------

As the shutdown and lockdown phase of the pandemic
emergency appears to be gradually ending (although in
some U.S states it was not imposed), voter interest in
the 2020 national election campaign seems to be
returning. Certain media and political figures, of
course, tried all along to keep it on the political front
burner. It would also appear that the deep ideological
division that existed before the pandemic is as strong,
or stronger, than ever.

This polarysis is being fanned, as usual, by the media
with ever increasing pandolemics and other devices of
incendiary sensationalism.

Buckle up your political seat belts! An extended blame
game will now likely ensue over the next five months
until election day. It has already begun. It isn’t going to
stop. It’s going to very likely become quite ugly.

To be sure, there is a lot at stake --- the presidency,
control of both bodies of Congress, governorships,
and control of state legislatures. Each of these
elected institutions will have a part in dealing with
the problematic post-pandemic world.

Because there is so much at stake, and the traumatic
effects of the pandemic crisis will still be raw and
fresh, we should not be surprised at the continuing
polarysis and the pandolemics it will spawn. U.S.
elections are traditionally hard-fought, rarely polite,
and usually break established rules.

This cycle should provide more political fireworks
than ever.


------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Rogue Waves

A rogue wave is an unexpected maritime danger for ships
and boats at sea. Rogue waves are not fully understood
yet, but they have long damaged or sunk vessels of all sizes.
(The tallest known rogue wave was estimated a 115 feet
high; the tallest precisely measured was 80 feet high.)
Big waves that occur in storms, from earthquakes or
volcanoes (tsunamis), or from other explainable causes,
are not rogue waves.


------------------------------------------------

It is not too soon, I think, to speculate about and discuss 
U.S global strategic and security relationships during and
after the pandemic “rogue wave” which is now occurring
worldwide.

The American debate is as old as “the halls of Montezuma”
and  “the shores of Tripoli’ --- that is, when and where to
extend American power, and should we be the guardian or
a policeman to the globe.  Two world wars, several
regional wars, and numerous humanitarian rescues, have
left contemporary American generations wary and weary
of putting our soldiers in harm’s way without “victory” or
at least visible positive outcomes. Yet a savage 20th century
instructed the Western democracies over and over that
strategic passivity or avoidance courts disaster.

That debate continues.

Many historians have pointed out that what really
enabled  the catastrophe of World War II was the global
economic trauma of the Great Depression --- and not
only very weak or misguided statesmen, dictators, or
feckless international organizations. In fact, the value of
European trade fell two-third between 1929 and 1932, and
unemployment skyrocketed. Unlike the post-World War I
and Depression U.S.,  Central and Eastern European
nations, most of which were only recent democracies,
saw the rise of radical political groups on the left and the
right. Critically, the German democratic Weimar Republic
survived its notorious reparations burden and
hyper-inflation crises of the 1920s (while most of it
Western neighbors were rebuilding from World War I),
but it could not survive the Great Depression. Profound
economic weakness caused by the “rogue wave” of the
financial collapse of the early 1930‘s severely hobbled the
strongest European nations, Great Britain and France, in
protecting other European democracies from fascism and
communism.

That is why an overlong shutdown response to the current
pandemic is so risky because it might profoundly weaken
free market North American, European and Asian
democracies in their long struggle against new malign
and global totalitarian and barbaric forces.

As I write this, those nations  --- and in the U.S., those
states --- which adopted the shutdown strategy to combat
the pandemic are in varying processes of reopening their
commerce and economies. It is now uncertain how  much
damage has been done. Just as some medical experts
overstated the medical impact of the pandemic (so far),
those economic experts who are predicting a global
depression, runaway inflation and fiscal chaos might be
indulging in worst case melodrama. Nevertheless,we are
in uncharted territory --- no one knows what the
aftermath will bring.

This further complicates the decision-making about when
and where to reopen economies that have been shut down.
Not only does risking individual lives and individual (as
well as local business) fiscal well-being have to be weighed
and considered, the economic health of nations needs to be
taken into account.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: One Industry's Contrarian Furure?

The aftermath of the national pandemic shutdowns is likely
problematic for most U.S. industries, but one very large and
important sector might ultimately benefit from the crisis.

American public education, from pre-school to post graduate
levels has been in a qualitative decline for decades, even as its
costs have soared. Whether local or state government-run,
a concurrence of controversies, lack of discipline, political
correctness, degeneration of curricula, swollen class size.
excess of unnecessary management, teacher union demands,
and too much non-educational distractions have brought
secondary school systems to very low levels in many locales,
especially in large inner-city areas.

As a response, educational alternatives have risen, including
private, charter, home-schooling, religious --- and most
recently, online. As these alternatives have grown, financial
pressure on public education has increased.

Current shutdown of  in-person schooling will end probably
with the onset of the next school year, but for now all students
are receiving their education online or by home-schooling,
alternatives most parents and pupils did not consider for
themselves previously. Having experienced them, a
certain number are likely to continue with online and
home-schooling education. That number now is unknown,
but if that number is only 2-4%, it could have major impact on
government-run public education.

Home-schooling is one of those few institutions embraced by
both conservatives and progressives, albeit for different
reasons, including reduced curriculum offerings, overlarge
class size, arbitrary revisionism of U.S. and world history,
banning of school prayer, imposed political correctness, and
increased drug use and violence. When shutdowns end, most
parents will return to their work away from home, but some
employers will reduce their overheads by continuing that some
work at home --- thus reducing the day care function of having
children in schools. For those parents who don’t want to
home-school, there is online schooling as an option.

Perhaps even more devastating could be the consequences for
colleges and universities.  The cost  of a higher education have
soared in recent decades. An Ivy League bill was $2500 a year in
1960; today it is about $70,000 per year (and rising). Other
private colleges and universities are the same or not far behind.
State colleges and universities are lower, but often still very
substantial.

In addition to demands for refunds for the shortened school
year caused by shutdowns, colleges and universities now
face resistance from parents to paying so much to send their
sons and daughters away to school. As with secondary schools,
most colleges were already facing a crisis before the shutdowns,
especially in the undergraduate liberal arts programs where
political correctness, historical revisionism and free speech
issues were increasingly overshadowing quality education.

Intercollegiate sports have spawned huge campus stadiums,
and produce key financial funding from attendance and
alumnae giving.   The immediate future of large stadium and
indoor arena crowds is now uncertain.  The sports themselves
will return, but the industry behind them could be much
changed.

Online higher education had already become a factor before
the shutdowns, but it could now have a major boost as
traditional colleges and universities struggle with new
enrollments, financing and other campus issues.

In the short term, the higher education industry faces major
post-shutdown consequences and challenges. But for those
American parents and students concerned about runaway
higher education costs, the failing quality of
undergraduate liberal arts programs, and the general
decline of campus environments, the current emergency
could prove to be  a catalyst for better higher learning
education  ahead.

Similarly, the public secondary school industry, facing
credible competition from private and technological
alternatives, could begin to halt its recent downward drift
by responding to post-shutdown challenges and the needs
of its true clients --- parents and pupils.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Political Insomnia

National politics these days apparently does not know how
to sleep. Like insomnia, this is not a healthy condition, and
I suspect the U.S. body politic suffers for it.

Keeping us up, I think, are too many cups of media caffeine.
The current medical crisis leads often too easily to contrived
anxiety, finger-pointing, scare-mongering, fake news, rumors
and premature conclusions. Each of these can be politicized,
especially in an election year, especially in THIS election year.

Former Pennsylvania Governor and first Secretary of
Homeland Security Tom Ridge, a Republican, recently
made an eloquent plea for older veterans. other vulnerable
elderly, and health care providers in an April 29 op ed in
USA Today. He argues for patience and compassion, not
politics, on the issue of when and how to end shutdowns.
Others have persuasively argued that those who politicize
this issue by demanding the shutdowns be extended
indefinitely (to their benefit in the coming elections) are
ignoring the economic and psychological well-being of those
in the small business community and those of all ages who
are made vulnerable by isolation. Former Democratic
Congressman Tim Penny thoughtfully suggested in March
that shutdowns be targeted at infection “hot spots” such as
nursing  and retirement homes, as well as crowded urban
areas,  and not necessarily universally. Like Tom Ridge, Tim
Penny opts for practical and commonsense solutions instead
of political ones.

Some medical experts have apparently seriously
overestimated the impact of the medical crisis on the
general population, but there is no doubt about the heavy
impact on the elderly and medically vulnerable.

The solution is to apply common sense, ingenuity, reliable
data, compassion, and the good will of the community.
Politics, temporary inconvenience, grandstanding, too much
haste or too much delay lead us away from the best courses
of public health security.

The president, federal health agency chiefs, and governors
each have sobering and difficult decisions to make in this
crisis. They each have political roles, but this is not a
political crisis --- it’s a medical crisis.

There is plenty of time for politics later.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Now For Cruise Ships?

From the 1980s through the1990s, I was a lecturer on the Cunard
Lines, and before that, I sailed on numerous cruise ships that
made the transatlantic crossing from he U.S to Europe and back
--- as well as in the Caribbean. My Cunard gig added South and
Central America, a Panama Canal transit, and the Pacific Ocean
to my cruising map. My most recent sailings were on the then
new Queen Mary 2 going  to he U.K., and on the maiden voyage
of the mega-ship Norwegian Epic from he U.K. to New York, both
in 2010. Altogether, I sailed on 31 international and 3 domestic
passenger ships in more than four decades. (That doesn’t count
numerous local tour boats and private yachts.)

Obviously, I love sailing on cruise ships and the superlative
travel experiences they provide, I am writing this piece now
because it might become an experience of the past --- made so
by the pandemic that stranded several ships en route, resulting
in exasperating quarantines, interrupted cruises, and finally,
the cancellation of the worldwide cruise season just beginning
its peak period.

How big is this industry?

There are more than 325 cruise ships currently operating
worldwide with 550,000 lower berths capacity. In 2018, there
were 27.2 million ocean cruise passengers with a $126 billion
economic impact. New ships providing 32,000 lower berths at
a cost of $7.4 billion were added in one year. (For the years
2018-2025, 220,000 new berths were projected to be added
with new ships at a cost of $51 billion.) The cruise industry
employs about one million total workers with $41 billion in
annual wages. The recent annual growth rate for the industry
has exceeded 5%. About 1000 ports worldwide welcome
cruise ships and their passengers. The two major cruise
destination markets are the Caribbean and Mediterranean,
but there are significant markets to South America, Hawaii,
Alaska, the south Pacific, United Kingdom/Ireland,
Scandinavia, and the east coast of North America.

Only one cruise line, Cunard, now has frequent and regular
transatlantic sailings between the U.S.and Europe. For almost
200 years this was the primary passenger ship route for
millions of tourists and immigrants.

All this has now suddenly and unexpectedly come to a halt.
All cruise sailings worldwide have been suspended, as has so
much public activity. The uncertainty from economic and
social shutdowns on land is equal or greater for the seagoing
cruise ship industry.

Cruise ship travel has many unique attractions (which is why
I love to travel by ship), but it has a few drawbacks, too,
including the new one presented by the pandemic.

The attractions have included the psychological security of
an alternative to air travel (as trains do), the extraordinary
fine dining on cruise ships (almost always included in the
price of the ticket), the numerous amenities and activities
onboard during a cruise (sports and exercise activity, health
spas, lectures, concerts live theater,, films, card games,
casinos, night clubs and late-night dancing, computer
instruction, cocktail parties, duty-free gift purchases, and
above all, perhaps, meeting and getting to know some very
fascinating fellow passengers), and being able often to
visit glamorous ports using the ship as your hotel. Most
ship cruises have celebrities onboard, either as ship
performers or lecturers, or as fellow passengers. One of    
my trips included a legendary Broadway and film star who
I met in the line of the ship’s sumptuous (lobster and filet
mignon) midnight buffet, and who graciously sat with me;
and on the same voyage, a famed Nobel Prize laureate in
physics who attended my lectures.

Finally, a ship cruise is an incredible bargain when
compared to any other form of travel. For about $100-$150
a day per person, everything (room, five  meals, amenities,
transportation and entertainment) is included. The same
any other way would three times as much or more. There is
rarely a need , incidentally, to pay the brochure rate for a
ticket, since big discounts are available from ship lines
eager to fill unsold berths, especially close to the sailing
date. Of course, ship passengers can spend more than $150
a day for a bigger room and luxury extras, but it really isn’t
necessary)

On the downside,if you don’t have “sea legs” and the ship
runs into bad weather, it could be rough going --- although
ships usually provide free shots or pills to avoid seasickness.
Just as some are anxious about flying, others are anxious
about travel on water. If you are in a hurry, ship travel is not
for you. A transatlantic voyage takes five or six days. A plane
will do it in a few hours. But then, an air flight is nowhere as
much fun as a cruise.

Ships today vary greatly in size. I’ve sailed on small, mid-size,
large and mega- ships, and each provides a different kind of
cruise experience. For me, the best is a new, mid-size ship
(1500-2000 passengers) that provides significant amenities
and facilities. Smaller ships, carefully chosen, can provide
special charm. I sailed on a megaship on its maiden voyage,
but  it carried 4200 passengers, and that’s too big for me, On
the other hand, if  I were traveling with children, it might be
ideal with its free daycare,  programs for children, and lots of
other children to meet and  play with.

In the past few years, most of the new ships have been
mega-sized. That is to say, 3500 or more passengers, and up
to 2000 crew. They have as many floors as a skyscraper, and
almost too much going  on. They are small cities at sea.

Are these megaships now nautical dinosaurs --- victims of
a social distancing asteroid that crashed into the sea?

Considering current problems, including the cash flow crisis,
the answer might be yes, but advance cruise bookings for
next year are already reportedly strong. With some ingenuity
and adaptability, the megaships  could also provide special
features in a post-pandemic travel world --- and survive.

Cruise lines already are very sensitive to onboard sanitary
conditions. Some ships each year experience nonovirus
(a mild stomach illness that lasts a few days) outbreaks, but
they are very rare. All ships provide onboard medical staff
and facilities. The large Queen Elizabeth II had not only a
hospital, but an operating room for emergency surgery.
Megaships have the space to now provide enhanced medical
facilities, including isolation beds, intensive care --- and
extra doctors and nurses --- as well as well-stocked ship
pharmacies and extra medical equipment. Knowing a ship
is well-prepared for medical services (and emergencies)
could be quite reassuring to cruise passengers.

Larger ships also have bigger indoor spaces for dining,
recreation and programs to reduce crowding and enhance
post-pandemic social distancing.  New health-conscious
dining menus and expanded spa programs might also
attract passengers, as might less crowded shipboard
programs and carefully designed itineraries.

But this large and recently booming industry has been
dealt a serious and unexpected blow. Unlike other some
industries, it has been completely, albeit temporarily, shut
down.

How it will fare when it relaunches its next season, and
global vacation travel resumes, is for now an open question.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 24, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Uncertain Sequences" (poem)


UNCERTAIN SEQUENCES
by  Barry Casselman

The sudden arrival of solitude was a surprise attack
on our apathies about each other.

We had harbored no doubts about the daily course
of the world we passed through in numb routine
as if we were winter birds flying south
or gestating salmon going upstream.

Now we wonder what course is next
after intrusion is somehow subdued.    

We call the future with  numbers discerned by our own decoders,
but the future only answers by asking us to record a message.            

In almost every score of years, an abrupt flash point occurs,  
reminding us how fragile we are, how little we know
what we think we know about.

Solitude uncloaks a condition we are compelled
then to clothe with other solitaries to warm our passage
through the unheated space of our planet’s wordless orbit.
We invented dress codes we call languages
to connect to the other ones, those we can reach.

Days of unexpected solitude are in andante tempo,
and unless we improvise, they play the same songs,
the same songs from old dreams we did not understand.

We compose new melodies in vivace as a way out of this.

The next season wakes us again.



Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.