[Plura-list] LA begins randomized covid testing; Trump and the Rapture Right; Foxconn's potemkin "Innovation Centers"; The power of collaborative note-taking; AMC is going bankrupt

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sun Apr 12 14:15:59 EDT 2020

Today's links

* LA begins randomized covid testing: Is distancing working?

* Trump and the Rapture Right: The end of the world is a feature, not a bug.

* Foxconn's potemkin "Innovation Centers": Empty promises and empty

* The power of collaborative note-taking: From WIPO meetings to

* AMC is going bankrupt: Maybe allowing them to buy all their
competitors was a bad idea?

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🕸 LA begins randomized covid testing

LA County is beginning a program of randomized serological Covid-19
tests, using a marketing agency's tool for selecting representative
samples to administer 1,000 tests at drive-up windows.


They want to conduct this test fortnightly for three months, which will
cost $1.1m.

It's a crucial step, one that will infuse our policy (health, economic,
educational, etc) discussions with much-needed facts.

Getting a baseline of infection rates versus people reporting (even
mild) symptoms will help us get a better handle on the danger presented
by the virus, correcting for the selection bias that attends only
testing people known to have been exposed or presenting with symptoms.

It's true that we don't know if the presence of antibodies indicates
immunity. There have been some reports of reinfections by people who had
symptoms, tested positive, then tested negative (some even had multiple
negative tests).

This is a separate, massive unknown that randomized testing won't
necessarily help clarify. If it's true that recovering from coronavirus
doesn't confer immunity, it will be very dire, because it means that we
won't be able to attain herd immunity without a vaccine (~18 mos).

I am tentatively optimistic that this is not the case, based on analyses
like this:


Tldr: if you administer a *lot* of tests, then even very rare errors
will crop up (a 1-in-a-million error will happen about 5 times in 5m tests)

It seems, on balance, that it's more likely that the very unlikely event
that someone had a malady other than coronavirus also had a
false-positive coronavirus test, got better, then actually *got*
coronavirus, than it is that recovering from covid doesn't confer immunity.

The former is very, very unlikely. My lay understanding of virology
suggests that the latter is very, very, *very* unlikely. When a
phenomenon is very, very, very, *very* widespread, both outcomes are

(But also: motivated reasoning is a thing. All our lives would be much,
much better if recovery conferred immunity, so it may be that I'm
unconsciously overweighting that possibility for self-serving reasons).


🕸 Trump and the Rapture Right

US politics over the past 40 years have been dominated by a coalition of
plutocrats and evangelicals, whose priorities are weirdly out of step
with anything resembling Biblical Christianity. It started with Reagan,
but reached a peak with Trump.


On its face, this is weird. Trump, after all, is the least Christian
prominent mainstream US politician in recent memory: a philanderer, a
cheat, a liar, a cruel xenophobe, a buck-chaser. He's devoid of empathy,
charity, or kindness.

As Bob Moser writes, understanding how self-described "Christians" could
back such a man requires that you delve into their theology, which is so
selective in its view of the gospels that it's practically heretical.

"The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and
patriarchal at its core. They aren't fighting a culture war. They're
making a direct attack on democracy itself." -Kath Stewart


Pence's worshipful glances at Trump don't reflect a marriage of
convenience. Pence literally believes "we're in the bloody final period
of history before Jesus Christ returns to vanquish Satan" (so do Pompeo
and Mark Meadows).


Rapture Christians long for the end-times when a cruel God torments
their enemies while they are swept up to heaven. The end of the world is
a feature, not a bug.

"[The future is] a never-ending struggle … until the Rapture. Be part of
it. Be in the fight." -M. Pompeo.

Their leaders have declared Trump "a pagan king" …"placed in the White
house to help speed events along toward the Apocalypse."


Republicans have long reveled in being really bad at governing. When
your philosophy is "Governments are incompetent and their powers should
be yielded to rich businesspeople," then administrative incompetence
only proves your point.

Bad as that is, it's made infinitely worse if the Christmas-voting
turkeys you rely upon to win office view each catastrophe as a step
towards the Big One that precipitates the Rapture. Talk about perverse

Trump probably didn't know much of this before he got elected. He's the
machine-learning President, an unsupervised algorithm that doubles down
on whatever gets him the most cheers. He's GIGO embodied.


But now he knows all about it and he loves it, because Rapture
Christians cheer on his stupidest decisions. Which explains a lot about
how badly he bungled the pandemic response.

But now he knows all about it and he loves it, because Rapture
Christians cheer on his stupidest decisions. Which explains a lot about
how badly he bungled the pandemic response.

That belief started to wear thin when evangelical pastors started
dropping dead of coronavirus, of course.


Understanding the nature of the bond between the worshippers of Mammon
and self-proclaimed Christians is key to understanding the current
situation, from epidemiology to economics.

The more I learn about evangelicals' "Christianity" the more I feel like
I'm trapped in "A Fish Called Wanda": "Aristotle was not Belgian, the
principle of Buddhism is not every man for himself, and the London
Underground is not a political movement. I looked it up."


🕸 Foxconn's potemkin "Innovation Centers"

Trump and Scott Walker promised billions to the giant Chinese
electronics company Foxconn and let them start bulldozing Wisconsinites'
family homes, but there's no sign of the promised megafactory Foxconn
said they'd build in exchange.

Foxconn, after all, has a long, long, long history of securing massive
credits and incentives to build factories and then never building those


A year ago, Josh Dzieza described how Foxconn was buying up buildings,
gutting them, and leaving them empty. Foxconn called them "innovation


Foxconn told Dzieza that he had it all wrong and promised a full and
forthright correction, and also swore that a year later, the "Innovation
Centers" would be humming with industry. The correction never appeared,
and a year has gone by and…

They're still empty shells.

I mean, *duh.*

Profs at the universities that Foxconn swore it would recruit from
report "no visible activity whatsoever" on that front. Foxconn isn't
even showing up for the university's grad recruiting fairs.


Foxconn hasn't taken out permits to renovate most of its "Innovation
Centers." No construction has taken place.

As to the factory, it will now be a tiny little thing, and may or may
not open in May.

Ladeez and gennulmen, I give you…The art of the deal!


🕸 The power of collaborative note-taking

I really like Willow Bloo's guidelines for collaborative note-taking in
videoconferencing, using Google Docs to allow three editors to
simultaneously edit the doc in realtime.


That kind of notetaking requires intense engagement with the speaker,
which is especially important when you're in a situation that makes it
hard to pay attention (like a videoconference).

My first experience with this was when Jamie Love brought me to WIPO to
be an observer for the Broadcast Treaty. WIPO is one of those processes
that is so performatively dull that it's virtually impossible to follow,
which is how so much terrible stuff gets done there.

But Wendy Seltzer had a brilliant idea: we'd make an ad-hoc wifi network
(in those days, there were no data-plans for phones and WIPO did not
have wifi in the sessions) and connect our laptops to them. Then we'd
use Etherpad to collaboratively transcribe the sessions.

At least three of us would do this at a time: one person would
transcribe verbatim, one would correct typos and add formatting, and one
would annotate with plain-language translations of diplomatese so that
the process was rendered legible to laypeople.

Then we started to publish these twice per day, going up to the
mezzanine where there were shared PCs, and crawling beneath the tables
to unplug an Ethernet cable and plug it into a laptop with a wifi card
to make an ad-hoc network that was connected to the internet.

This proved to be utterly transformative to the process. WIPO meetings
are notionally public and nonsecret, but the Secretariat would publish
minutes six months after the meeting, and only after each speaker was
given a chance to edit the record of their remarks.

Combine the staleness of the minutes with the rampant redactions and
revisionism with the opaque argot spoken by diplomats at UN specialized
agencies and you ended up with impenetrable, irrelevant "records" of the

Publishing realtime, annotated, unredacted minutes twice per day upended
the process. We got slashdotted and diplomats who had literally never
heard from their capitols over WIPO meetings started getting midsession
phone calls to congratulate or condemn them.

The discourse changed immeasurably. When nations had a change in
government, the new diplomats who took over the WIPO brief began to rely
on our annotated transcripts, rather than the official ones.

The normal WIPO process – whereby giant corporate lobby groups like
IPFI, MPA and Pharma called all the shots and diplomats made regulations
that served their goals – fell apart, as did the Broadcast Treaty.

Exposing the public to the substance of the meetings put strong curbs on

(WIPO *hated* this. Not only did our handouts disappear and turn up
stuffed behind the toilets, but the Secretariat threatened to eject us
for writing about their "public" deliberations)

Collaborative note-taking is a powerful tool. It doesn't just sharpen
your engagement – it produces a record that is far superior to even a
verbatim transcript.


🕸 AMC is going bankrupt

AMC is America's biggest cinema chain, thanks to the lax antitrust
enforcement that let it gobble up Odeon, UCI and Carmike, funded by
massive cash infusions from private equity money a Chinese conglomerate.
Now it's about to file for bankruptcy.


The company is a kind of poster-child for financialization. Its Chinese
owners, Wanda Group, made their money speculating on Chinese
real-estate, a hotbed of fraud. Its US owners, Silverlake Partners, are
a notorious debt-loading looter specializing in leveraged buyouts.

The combination of effectively free money (Silver Lake don't just abuse
leverage buyouts, they're also giant tax-dodgers) and a free hand to
scoop up other companies put the majority of America's cinematic eggs
into one basket, and its bottom just fell out.

Even if the company gets a bailout, they are so leveraged – that is,
their corporate robber-baron owners have plunged them into such
unsustainable debt – that bankruptcy is effectively inevitable.

It's such a ghost-ship that they've even furloughed the CEO.

Lucky for plutocrats everywhere, the DoJ is killing the rule that stops
movie studios from buying cinema chains, meaning that the drained husk
of American movie theaters will likely end up part of a vertical monopoly.



🕸 This day in history

#15yrsago Agoraphobic ex-junkie metal singer invents natural penis
enlargement technique

#15yrsago In decline: TV, radio, newspapers, books, mags

#10yrsago Hitting computers with rocks: the history of publishing

#10yrsago International trade can't ration finite fossil fuels or tuna,
but enthusiastically restricts infinite knowledge

#10yrsago UK MPs call for ID cards and surveillance, but demand privacy
for themselves

#1yrago Illinois almost passed a bill that banned devices that record
you without your consent — and then Big Tech stepped in

#1yrago Talking Radicalized with John Scalzi in the LA Times

#1yrago Ford CEO: we "overestimated" self-driving cars

#1yrago Florida man convinces Western Union clerk to insert a thumb
drive, steals $32K, does it again, gets caught

#1yrago The Pinkertons' plan for climate change: a mercenary army that
guards one-percenters as the seas rise

#1yrago Artist designs a machine-learning assisted sculpture, then casts
it in the powdered remains of the computer used to design it


🕸 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation

Currently reading: I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about
tech, "Uncanny Valley" and Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You Will."

Latest podcast: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots

Upcoming appearances:

* Apr 22, Flatten The Curve Summit https://flattenthecurve.tech/

* Apr 23, Canada Reads Q&A

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book
about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies
and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the
monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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