Fathers’ Day

When you read what you wrote a few years ago, it seems written by someone else. I recycle it here. I suggest you also click on the original post, since it has added insight from relatives who knew my father longer than I did.

I loved my father and he was loved by many. He served his country in World War II and by working w/o complaining at a dirty and hard job for more than 30 years. He married a good woman and stayed true to her until death parted them, raised a family and gave his children opportunities he never had. My father was a kind man who did his part to make the world better. Almost a quarter century after his death he is still fondly remembered and the values he taught still light the way for his children and grandchildren.

The measure of a successful life is one that has filled a valued place. My father’s life was success.

Click here to read the original post on Facebook.

I thought it might be a good to complete my parent series and rather than wait until father’s day. Unlike my mother’s case, I did know my father as an adult, so I know rather more, but still not much about the early years. We did not have much contact with his side of the family. Both his parents died before I was born. He and his fraternal brother Joe were the youngest. They were born twenty-two years after their oldest sister, Helen.

My dad with my sister and me.

I was named after my father, so I am technically John Matel, Jr. John Matel Senior was born in Duluth, Minnesota. His father, Anton, had come over from Poland around 1900. His mother, Anastasia, was of Polish ancestry too, but she was born in Buffalo, NY. My father never told me much more than that, although I understand that her family was from Galicia in the Carpathian Mountains. They spoke Polish in the home and that was my father’s first language.

I found out later that my grandfather’s family was from what is now eastern Poland: Suwalki and Mazowsze. I learned this from a cousin called Henrik Matel who found me when I was working at the Consulate in Krakow. Henrik’s father was my grandfather’s brother, so Henrik was my father’s generation, not mine. His father & another brother went to France to work in coalmines. My grandfather made a better choice and went to America. Henrik did not know much else. His father died in a train accident when he was only eleven (his father not Henrik :)). His mother remarried and evidently, his was not very fond of her first husband and kept none of his papers. Henrik unwisely returned to Poland after WWII, believing communist promises that things would be good there. Young men make bad choices and believe more in the promise than the practical.

My father with his brother Joe and Ted. Ted became a priest.

Henrik lamented that the Polish side of the family were a bunch of drunks. Things didn’t change much in America. Now you know as much about my father’s prehistory as I do and I suspect a little more than he did.

My father talked about growing up in the depression. He kept some of the frugal habits from those times. He saved bacon grease to use as butter, for example. And he did not waste food. His childhood home was small and crowded. It was on 4th Street. I went to see it. Things had changed. It was in a gentrified neighborhood and considered a small home for a single couple. My father’s home housed eight. Their toilet was in the basement, which has a dirt floor back then. He told a funny story about his youth. The family went to see “Frankenstein” and it scared my future father. His brothers set up a dummy in the basement and the made it sit up when little Johnny went down to use the toilet. He said he no longer needed to use the toilet.

The freeway has also cut the neighborhood up. My grandparents bought the house because it was only a few blocks their church St Stanislaw. The freeway made it a long walk around a busy street.

My father and his friends, young just before the war.

My father got a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was stationed near Superior, WI, where planted trees and cut trails. It gave him a lasting appreciation for forestry, which he passed to me. How else can you explain a city boy so attracted to the woods? Some of it is myth, or just a feeling, but whenever I look at the groves of trees planted by the CCC I think of him, even when they were not planted by the CCC. They are mature forests now, but in the Dust Bowl years, they were pioneers.

After getting out of the CCC, my father got a job at Medusa Cement, where he stayed for the rest of his life, except for the time he was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was drafted into the Army soon after Pearl Harbor. He never told me much about that part of his life. I know he got seven battle stars, so participated in all the big actions of the war in Europe. He was not really have there for all of them. He told me that he remembers nothing at all about Anzio. But where his unit’s planes went, he officially went too. He landed at Normandy a few days after D-day. The only time he actually got near fighting Germans was during the Battle of the Bulge, closer than he wanted. He got a Purple Heart, which indicates some proximity. He did not go into details, except to claim he was drunk and could not recall.

They had a point system for discharge from the military as the war wound down. My father had a lot of points because of those battle stars & Purple Heart mentioned above, so he was among the first U.S. soldiers discharged and one of the first home He always expressed a special fondness for Chicago, the city of his discharge. Since victory in Europe was still such a fresh memory, people were eager to welcome him home and buy him drinks. It is a once in a lifetime experience and not everyone gets anything like it in his lifetime.

My parents’ wedding.

My father went back to work at Medusa Cement and married my mother in 1946.

Our house in Milwaukee was full of artifacts of my father’s work. He did a lot of work on the house, but never got very good at it. He and my maternal grandfather built the boiler, constructed the steps in the back and built the retaining wall by the alley, for example. All these things worked for the purpose intended, but they were odd and off balance. The boiler threw most of the heat out through the sides. That meant that the basement was very warm – the rest of the house not so much. (On cold days could freeze water by the wall. I know. I did it.) The steps were all unevenly spaced and lopsidedly leveled. The wall leaned artistically and improbably in both directions with drainage holes made from beer cans cut out on both ends. The evident surplus of beer cans explained much of wall’s other oddities.

During my childhood, my father worked most of the time. The Interstate highway system was being finished and that meant lots of overtime. The old man put in twelve-hour days all summer and most of the fall. He was worn out when he came home and his main recreation was drinking beer. He drank a lot of beer, at first Schlitz, later Pabst and then Budweiser, but he never missed a day of work because of that, or for any other reason. I don’t remember him ever taking a sick day.  

Maybe he just denied sickness because he hated doctors. He went to the doctor only once from the time he got his discharge physical out of the army in 1945 until the time he died more than fifty years later. On that occasion, he had a cyst removed from his stomach. The doctor forgot to sew it up. Forgot. After that, he said that the medical profession had their chance and he was not going to give them another. When the doctors finally got their second look at him, the day he died, they could not believe my sister when she told them that he did not take any medication besides Budweiser.

Dad at work.

I really didn’t get to know my father until after my mother died in 1972. As I mentioned, he worked all the time and went to bed early. After my mother died, the old man was grieving too, but he tried to make it easier for my sister and me. He tried to cook, but was not very good at it. Nevertheless, my father was nothing if not stubborn. He ate what he cooked and made us eat it too. I recall watching some bread bake in the toaster oven. The old man asked if I thought it was ready. Just at that point, it burst into flames. We still ate it.

Even funnier was the pork chop incident. My aunt Florence instructed the old man to bake some pork chops and then save the bones. It was likely that they were to be used for soup, but I don’t know. Anyway, my father got the instructions wrong the next day and baked the bones again. Supper was a pile of very black pork chop bones and a baked potato. My sister and I laughed and we would not eat the bones, but he old man would not admit a mistake. He stubbornly gnawed on the bones and claimed to like it.

(Funny the little things you remember. My father had the front room. His roof leaked and when there was rain we would often hear him in there “shit. shit. shit.” But we never managed to fix the roof. Or another time my sister and I were watching TV when we heard a thump followed by “shit. shit. shit.” His bed had collapsed and thrown him to the floor. He was probably more upset that we heard it and thought it was so funny.)

My father dropped out of HS in the tenth grade, claimed that he could not see the blackboard and his family could not afford glasses. But he respected education and made sure my sister and I went to college. To help me with money in college, he helped me get a job at the Medusa cement company, where I got to work those twelve-hour overtime shifts and make the big bucks. Most of the time I loaded cement bags onto pallets. It was a very hard, boring and dirty job and I hated it. The bags weighed as much as 94lbs. Everything hurt at the end of every day. But at one point, the boss assigned me to hopper cars, i.e. railroad cars full of cement. I worked from noon to midnight, which was great. I could sleep late and then meet my friends at the bars at midnight. At the job, I got to lift very heavy tools and smack things with sledge hammers (something young men like) but in between the hard work I got time to just hang around by the river and wait for the cars to empty (something else young men like). Then I got to ride the empty railroad cars to the end of the dock, applying the brakes and jumping off just before the rammed into the car in front.

I told my father that I thought this job was fun; maybe I could take a semester off school and make a little extra money. The next day, he made sure the boss gave me the midnight till noon shift, which did not suit me at all. There was not much time to go out drinking with my friends and staying up all night was hard. The old man explained that the worst thing a young man could get was a job he liked that did not have a future. He promised make sure that I would never like the job too much until I graduated college. He wanted me dislike work enough that I would stay in school in expectation of something better. I did. Thanks Dad.

I also worked hopper cars during Christmas break, BTW, but it was less fun. I remember working at night and looking at the temperature on the Allen Bradley clock tower. It always seemed to be five below zero. I would work as fast as I could out there by the tracks, get the cement moving and then rush into my father’s work-space and sit in front of the heater. My co-worker, LC (Slim) Duckworth, used to sleep in front of his own propane heater very close. He was used to it. I could not stand it because it let out terrible fumes that made me dizzy. Slim had no complaints until he started his pants on fire from sitting too close for too long. We put him out w/o any lasting damage, but he never sat near that heater again. LC was the strongest man I knew, but his ability to sleep almost any time was his most remarkable skill. He could sleep standing up. I learned much of his technique, but never achieved his true master sleeper status.

My father retired when he was only fifty-six. He already had thirty-six years in, since he got credit for his time in army. I can understand why he wanted to quit. The job was noisy, dusty and hard. Nevertheless, the plus side is that he had many friends at work. His job involved loading trucks from the silos above. He ran machines that did it. While he had to stand much of the day, it was not otherwise physically very hard. He had long since graduated from loading bags and unloading hopper cars. He knew all the truck drivers.

It was fun to watch the interactions. You had to learn to understand the “arguments”. All blue collar workplaces would be called “hostile” by today’s standards but it was more fun and you learned lots of uses for the F-word. If you just listened to the words, you would think they hated each other. They were always swearing at each other, calling each other names and making jokes about each other’s’ characteristics. But you soon noticed that the worst insults were reserved for the guys they liked the most. There was often the argument where my father called one of the guys a dumb Pollack, the guy answered back calling my father a stupid Pollack and a third guy telling them they were both right.

Early retirement was a bit of a mistake, IMO. I suppose he thought it was worth it. At first, I think it was. He had time to read and relax. It deteriorated after that. Retirement can be a dangerous profession.  

We drifted apart as parents and children often do, when I moved away. In the FS, you are FAR away. My father had a blind spot when it came to my career. When I told him that I planned to take the FS test, he told me not to waste my time. He said that such careers were “only for rich kids” and that I could never get a job like that. Had I taken his advice, it would have been true. You can’t get what you do not try to get. I cannot blame him. It was just farther than he could see. He was just projecting his experiences.

I didn’t make it back in time when the old man died. My sister called me and I got on the next flight from Poland. But the next flight was the next day and then I got stranded in Cincinnati. When I called to tell my sister that I would be late, my cousin Luke answered and told me that my sister was at the hospital and my father had died. I figure he died as I flew over Canada. I remember looking down at the savage beauty, the forest and the frozen lakes and thinking it was over. I do not know if I REALLY thought that or if I have just created this memory ex-post-facto. The mind works like that.  

My father never made much money but, after my mother died, he spent even less. He never owned a car, never went anywhere for vacation, didn’t waste money on clothes and ate nothing but bean soup, cabbage soup and kielbasa that he made himself. He used to talk about his stash of “cold cash.” We did not think much of it. But when my sister was cleaning out the freezer, she found around $20,000.00 in $100 dollar bills, wrapped in foil like hamburger. The old man hated banks and did not want to have any money that would earn interest that he would have to pay taxes. When dealing with old depression era people, it was a good idea to look around and do not hire stranger to clean up those nooks and crannies. I wonder if subsequent occupants have found money around the house in places we didn’t see.

According to what my sister told me, my father fell down and couldn’t get up. When asked how he was, his last words were, “I can’t complain.” He used that phrase a lot and it was not surprising he would fall back on it, but it seems an appropriate thing to say at the end.

I still miss him. I hope my kids will be as lucky as I was. I can’t complain.


I have been doing a lot of walking lately. Weather is nice and I have a lot of audio books. My book now is “The Open Society and its Enemies”, a classic of the philosopher of science Karl Popper. It is maybe too detailed, but well worth it. My method is to walk to Navy Federal, where I met CJ.

Spring has turned to summer in Virginia, but it is still not too hot.

The lindens are blooming. I love the scent of them. It is elusive. If you get too close, you cannot smell them as well as when you catch the wonderful smell at a distance in the wind. Linden are the European version of basswood. Our American basswood is bigger, but with less prominent flowers. Bees love both. There is even a special kind of honey, called basswood honey from the pollen they gather this time of year.

Linden are common in Germany and Poland. In German they call them linde and in Poland Lipa and they are loved in both places. There is great cultural significance. One of the most iconic boulevards in Berlin is called Unter den Linden – Under the Linden. When I was in Poland, I visited an ancient linden tree, under which the Polish (and American) patriot Thaddeus Kosciusko rested after defeating the Russians with his peasant army at Racławice. I am not sure of those details and ask Iwona Sadecka and Elżbieta Konarska to confirm my ageing memory.

In central Europe lindens bloom a little later than they do in Virginia, more in July than in June. The Poles even named their month we call July after it – Lipiec.

Each year the linden blooms bring back wonderful memories. Our sense of smell is very primal. It goes right to the soul. I think I am even more fond of them because scent is so elusive and ephemeral.

My first picture is Chrissy and me on Ward’s Walk at Navy Federal. Next are those linden blooms. Picture #3 shows a couple American elms, probably the “Princeton” variety, resistant to Dutch elm. After that is the picnic area at Navy Federal. Chrissy and I had a picnic lunch there. Last are some ash tree near my house. They have treated those trees to prevent the emerald ash borer and they are some of the few still extant.

Beer in the time of plague

Still not back to normal, but getting there. You have to wear a mask to get in, but once you are at the table, you can drink your beer in peace. Hard to drink with the mask.  

We are at the original branch of Caboose brewery, on the W&OD bike trail. I have stopped here a few times when biking, as many of the customers do. Surroundings are pleasant.


Anniversary of D-Day. Both my father and Chrissy’s father landed at Normandy. Although neither took part in the first assaults, both got purple hearts later in the war.  

My father rarely talked about his war experience and I am sad to say that I did not ask very much. He got seven battle stars, i.e. participated in the major battles in the European theater and got that purple heart at the Battle of the Bulge. I did ask about that, and my father told me that he had just cut himself while drunk and they gave him the purple heart. He always minimized his service.  

The problem is that we do not ask our parents about their lives until it is too late. I think it is because we lack the context to want to know until we get older. When we are young, we just cannot perceive that our parents were ever young like us. It is only when we are old as they were that we appreciate their youth, and by then it is too late.   I probably talked to Chrissy’s father more about his war experience than I did my own. He was more willing to talk. He was a tank driver and mechanic. He got his purple heart when his tank was destroyed and he was hit by debris from it. He was evidently outside the tank when it happened. His colleagues were killed. I do not know more details. My fault. My first picture is my father in his uniform and after that is Chrissy’s. Last is my father on the job at Medusa Cement. People like our fathers risked their lives to save our country and then went on to build it for us.  

If I can share a couple of funny follow ups about my father’s story.   My father had a “Milwaukee accent” the likes of which no longer exist and it must have been even more pronounced when he was young. It was related to the immigrants who had some trouble pronouncing the “th” sound.   As a result, his military records say he lived on “Port Street”. His parents house was on 4th Street. I imagine when he was asked, he told them 4th street, but pronounced it something like “vote” but with a little more f sound at the start. The guy listening thought he said Port and that was the record.   My father was among the first to be discharged at the end of the war. They had some kind of point system, where you got credit for campaigns etc. With his seven battle stars, he was near the top.

They dropped him in Chicago. You can imagine what it must have been like at the end of the war, seeing your first hero come home. Anyway, he got a lot of free drinks, and for the rest of his life thought Chicago was the friendliest town in the world. He told me that all you needed do was show up in bar, talk to people and they would buy you free drinks. That has not been my experience.   One more. My father had no souvenirs of the war, not even his own uniform, which he said he lost in a crap game. That may have been accurate.   My uncles had all sorts of stuff – German helmets, bayonets, all sorts of patches. One of my uncles has an SS hat and even weapons. I saw a Lugar and a rife, I think it was called a Mauser. The Lugar was evidently a big deal. It is amazing how they got all that stuff home and were allowed to bring it.   Mauser was one of the things my father called “good” cats, so I am not sure if I recall correctly.  

Good and perfect

This technique is employed big time by the self styled “moral leaders” of our society.
We can always imagine better than anybody can achieve, so you are guaranteed to be right when you say that anybody, anywhere at anytime is not living up to standard. You can also seize the rhetorical high moral ground. The only problem is that it is completely dishonest and ends up harming everyone.

I spent my career trying to explain the USA to foreign audiences. When I gave a lecture, I would usually start by saying that anything they think about the USA is probably true. We have great examples of the good and bad in humanity within our borders. We strive to be “more perfect” which implies we will never get there. But we had to apply the “compared to what?” criterion, the only valid measure.

This was not a defensive crouch. It rather expressed a belief in diversity, progress and continual improvement, as well as a preference for the real world good over the ethereal perfection. America, I explained, is lived better than it is often portrayed, and it was not in spite of our lack of perfection but because of it. When I gave this talk before the fall of the Soviet Union, I used to digress into the Soviet constitution, which I said was much better than ours in theory, but horribly wrong in practice. It was good to be compared to such a benighted place.

Most of my talks were give-and-take, so each was different and responded to peculiar audience preference. Each was different and adaptive. In all modesty, I was very good at these things, and always got good reviews and request. I brag about this for a specific purpose here. What made them good was the give-and-take. I never knew exactly what I would say.

And I would close my program with a recognition of that. I would explain that the reason that they liked the program is that they had helped build it, that I could not do it w/o them, and that the reason we could do so well is that we were not scripted. My implication was that we were seeking something good, but did not expect perfect.

Kettle Moraine Camping

I still get the Story Worth Questions, even if I do not always write answers. This one asked me to describe my first camping trip. It is below.

The first time I went camping was in when my HS friend Dwayne Gorgon and I rode bikes up to Kettle Moraine State Forest.  It was a big adventure for me, more of one than the actual travel would justify.  It was not really all that far, a day trip, but a big deal then.
It was a hard trip for me at that time.  My relationship with Dwayne was a little odd. He was a swim team colleague. We started out together and we used to practice together summer mornings at Kosciuszko Park.  I was a significantly better swimmer and our abilities diverged in our junior and senior years.  I think he felt it unfair that we worked out the same, but I got better.  On the other hand, he had a better bike and I think he was a better bicyclist than I was.  It is the kind of rivalry that both spices and sours relationships among teenage boys.  I tried not to lord my abilities over him, but I think that made it worse for him.  Dwayne was less circumspect in showing he was faster on the bike.

Kettle Moraine is glaciated landscape, that produced wave-like topography.  The country trunk roads did not flatten the hills or go around them, so you got a lot of ups and downs.  To going down is not usually worth the coming up.  You peddle as fast as you can down the slope, but it is never enough to get back up the other side.  Crossroads are a complicating factor.  Roads tend to cross at the bottom on hills and in those days often featured four way stops.  That means you come down fast on one slope and you are supposed to stop before starting up the other.   There was not much traffic on those roads, so we tended not to stop.  It was scary, however.  You could not see over the hills or around the curves, so you always worried a bit that a car would come along.

We ended up at the campground not very much before dark.  There is a little poignancy to this story, in that I tried to call home from the phone booth, charges reversed in those pre-mobile phone days. It still made a big difference to me that my parents knew of my exploits, especially my mother.  My father answered and said that my mother had already gone to bed.  Odd. Turned out that she had gone into the hospital.  She would never come home.  She knew this was going to happen, but she also knew that we had long planned the trip and did not want to ruin it for me.  My mother did not want me to see her in her declining condition and did not want my sister or me to visit.  We thought she would be home soon, but we never saw her again.  But this was in the future on that night.

That night was the first time I saw the milky way.  Milwaukee was darker in those days, but still had streetlights enough to obscure the milky way.  I was amazed by the stars, the three-dimensional vastness.  But it seemed that the mosquitoes were as common as the stars.  We were unprepared for camping (a persistent theme in my camping experience).  The mosquitoes tormented us until the wind picked up sometime in the pre-dawn darkness.  The wind the blew the mosquitoes away also blew in storm clouds and they dumped heavy rain on us as we rode back home.

It had been a hot ride up; it was cold and wet on the way back.  It did not rain all the time. It just rained hard when it rained.  In the open country, you could see the rain coming, but could do nothing to avoid it.  I was exhausted by the time I got home and went to be early.  I still recall my dreams, well images from the dreams.  They were letters, like F, HH etc.  Wisconsin’s county trunk roads have letters not names.

Social isolation walk

Chrissy & I did our socially isolated walking today. There are lots of people out walking in the parks and trials of northern Virginia. People keep their distance, but smile as they walk withing six feet of each other.

It makes me think about the future of dense cities. We have a lot of space available in our urbanized suburb. People who live densely packed in high rises really do not have the going out options. Will this affect people’s choices about where they choose to live? Will suburbs and rural areas be the new destinations of choice?

One thing we have more than enough of is deer. We see dozens every time we walk around. I never see so many when I go down to the farms. Suburbs are wonderful habitats for deer, squirrels, doves, some sorts of hawks, rabbits, geese and foxes – too wonderful.

Boozy plans

I have big plans for my social isolation down on the farms. As I wrote elsewhere, I have planted my seeds & trees and it is too early to cut the weeds. My new idea – a split rail fence. I have a bunch of logs left over from the last harvest and I can drag them out with my ATV. I am not talking a long fence, mind you, just enough to look cool and give me lots of good exercise and a project to do. If old Abe can do it with those primitive tools at his disposal, I can do it.

Now, I do question my current motivation. Yesterday was a “beer free day” down on the farms. Today I am back home & this day is not. I noticed that my estimation of the ease of my projects increased with each once of the golden liquid. I admit that I may not finish, but I figure I can start.

How hard can it be? I have an axe and I used to know how to use it. The logs are pre-cut and dried out.

I have a theory about boozing and America’s expansion. Imagine the situation on the frontier in Tennessee. The local guys are consuming the local corn improved into a liquid form and they start to talking about adventure in Texas. They have heard of it but they do not know too much about the details. How hard can it be? Sure enough, there are dangerous Comanche and it is not part of the USA, but – hey – how hard can it be?
Before they know it, some are hold up in the Alamo and others are shortly avenging them at San Jacinto. This was repeated a thousand of times, big and small, all over the West, and the places where these guys went became the United States of America.

I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.

I know this sounds disrespectful, but I think we underestimate this sort of motivation.
Scientists now think that beer was invented before bread, and there is certainly no doubt that whiskey was important on the American frontier. The plans made under the influence are sometimes fulfilled as commitment extend beyond.

I pity the fools who drink so much that it ruins their lives, but similarly I pity those who have never partaken and never understood that their contemplation has more than one speed, and the forward and backward are not the only options.

COVID-19 and the Northern Border

I participated in a Wilson Center Webinar “COVID-19 and the Northern Border” on April 14, 2020.  It was a follow up/update to Wilson Center’s publication “Reports from North America’s Borders: Experts React to New COVID-19 Travel Restrictions.”   The panel was introduced by Wilson CEO Jane Harman and moderated by Chris Sands, Director of the Canada Institute. Panelist included:  Alan Bersin, Global Fellow, Mexico & Canada Institutes, Wilson Center; Former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy; Kathryn Friedman, Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Research Associate Professor of Law & Planning at the University at Buffalo; Laurie Trautman, Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Director, Border Policy Research Institute Western Washington University & Solomon Wong, President and CEO, InterVISTAS Consulting Inc.
Notes from each participant are included below.  They were in general as upbeat as you could expect given the nature of the crisis.  The good news is that the closing of the border was done with consultations between the USA and Canada and carried out in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, bred of long and trusting relationships.

Canada and the USA agreed to temporarily restrict all non-essential cross-border travel for the first time since September 11, 2001.  The agreement restricts travel for tourism and recreation but allows business travel crucial to our integrated supply chains.  Until the closure, $2.7 billion worth of goods crossed the Canada-U.S. border every day.
Please refer to the earlier comments of participants hereYou can also watch the event at this link.

Alan Bersin – Global Fellow, Mexico & Canada Institutes, Wilson Center; Former Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Policy
Governments Canada and USA agreed on how to let goods pass, if not people, so not like 9/11.  Not unilateral.  Ended up with a North American approach.  First time we had something like this. Also, not indefinite shutdown.  USA and Canada announced 18 March for 21 March with review a month later.  This was an orderly shutdown and not a complete one.

Recognized importance of keeping supply chains.  Public health concerns well balanced with economic ones.  People cooperating.  Not much confusion or anger.
Question is how to restart economy.  We can say that instead of being a source of grief and conflict, it may be a bright spot, as way to help the general restart of economy. An example for good.

Re 3M exporting masks to Canada.  Trudeau called the WH and it was changed. There was talk about barring PPE for export but explicit exception for Canada and Mexico.
It is working well because of relationships and trust and confidence built over a long time.
Supply chains v human traffic

A weak point has been sharing information about supply chain integrity.  In future will need more information developed and exchanged.  New techniques in information technology will allow us to share information w/o comingling, which might compromise sensitive or proprietary information.

Recognize the importance of North America.  Use C-19 experience to think about how North American can work even better.

Kathryn Friedman – Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Research Associate Professor of Law & Planning at the University at Buffalo
Buffalo-Niagara Passenger traffic down 98%, bus traffic down 99.6%.  28-30% commercial traffic down.  Industries that rely on cross border (mostly tourism) are badly hurt.

People mostly abiding by rules.  On the USA side, there is not much problem.  On Canadian side harder. People who work in the USA must quarantine when they come back.
USA-Canada – shows how a good relationship can work.  We always have to “weed the garden” but the system is working well.

Laurie Trautman – Global Fellow, Canada Institute, The Wilson Center; Director, Border Policy Research Institute Western Washington University
In NW not many workers pass back and forth.  Concerned that Canadian discretionary spending will not be back very quick.  Canadians buy gas, get their Amazon purchases etc.  Flow of American going north was much smaller and they were not shopping much.
Hopes this crisis shows the importance and effectiveness of working of the border.

Solomon Wong – President and CEO, InterVISTAS Consulting Inc.
Passenger traffic almost gone, but decline not so much, since cargo has filled some of the void.  Delta etc are converting to cargo very rapidly.  Moving medicines and perishable good.

Some experience with SARS and MERS, so they can better adapt to risks.   Air travel has been a conduit for super spreading.  Flights from China are coming back.  Flights from China to Vancouver have been full, still not going back.
Role of big data – finding asymptomatic carrier of disease is fundamental challenge.  The undiscovered territory is what can be done with large data.  In China they can check where you went.  Lots of potential privacy issues.  Chinese less concerned with these issues.
Lots of room to grow.  Do not focus only on tech or too much on tech.  People and process matter.

Jane Harman kicked off.   Have we learned lessons since 9/11 re other countries?
Wong – lesson learned is that people need to be reassured. If there are too many different forms, too much complexity, it makes people afraid.
Friedman – Maybe cannot handle other countries as easily as Canada.  Our countries are extraordinarily integrated. No other place is like that.
How will restriction complicate supply chains and family reunification.
Trautman – trucks are still moving.  Changes in demand are affecting more than peculiar border issues.  For example, Washington State processes oil and ships back to Canada. They are doing less, since there is a big drop in demand.
Friedman – family visits are still problems due to quarantine.
Have you heard timeline for more stringent measures?
Bersin  – had not heard of more stringent. April reassessment will identify what worked and what did not, maybe develop best practices.  Tension between more bureaucracy and more local initiative. So are is working okay.
We will need to resume step by step.  Border can be crucible for opening other sectors, based on data.  Mechanisms still not up to do this.

America emerges

The news seeping out now is that the USA had enough ventilators and ICU beds. In fact, we have more ICU beds both in absolute total and per capita than any other country and there are no reports of anybody being denied a place.

Better in our minds
We can always imagine better and we always fear worse. This is part of human nature. We need to resist letting our projections & projections become the narrative. We cannot let the imagined perfect be the enemy of the actual good, nor let our crazier fears determine our reactions to real situations.
The American reality is always less good than we can imagine, but usually better than things we have seen.

Experience shows that our big and diverse country requires diverse and distributed decision-making. This means that we almost always come up with optimal (for the real world) solutions, but it also means that success will not be equally distributed. Over the long run, and even the medium one, it means that the general level has improved more than had we determined the one “best.”

Adaptive and flexible beat the one right thing
Adaptive and flexible systems, as ours is, just outperform command and control in complex and uncertain situations in all but the shortest of time frames. Their problem is with the narrative, again a feature of human nature. We think in terms of stories with somebody doing something leading to results. The problem is that in a distributed decision system nobody is in charge of the whole thing and solutions emerge not from the mind of a signal leader, but rather from the interaction and relationship of many minds, often coordinated by networks we cannot see, run by nobody. Embracing this has been a secret of American success that has perplexed the world, and most of us, for around 250 years. It is counter-intuitive to think that we do not need a central leadership.

e pluribus unum
We must resist our intuition on this. One people, one country, one leader appeals emotionally to many people, but recall where the slogan comes from and that is sounds even better when shouted in German.
The better slogan is out of many – one.