[Plura-list] Commercial real-estate's looming collapse; Test-proctoring software worsens systemic bias

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sun Aug 9 11:11:36 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Commercial real-estate's looming collapse: Highly leveraged REITs and
extinction-level events don't mix.

* Test-proctoring software worsens systemic bias: Also pedagogically
bankrupt and run by corrupt, petty shitheads.

* This day in history: 2019

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


🍼 Commercial real-estate's looming collapse

Commercial real estate is in *biiiig* trouble. Malls - already under
threat before the plague - will be full of empty storefronts. Offices,
oy. They'll lose tenants when their businesses collapse. Surviving
tenants will take advantage of higher vacancies to negotiate lower rates.

Those tenants won't need as much space anyway: between layoffs and mass,
permanent work-from-home (which will let employers seek the cheapest
labor, anywhere in the world), demand is gonna fall *off a cliff*.

That's really really bad news, because commercial real-estate is super
leveraged thanks to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), the favored
vehicle of overseas money-launderers seeking to clean their corrupt
gains, as CZ Edwards explained last year.


The REITs borrowed titanic sums on grossly overinflated valuations based
on absurdly optimistic occupancy projections. As Randall Head explains
in a post on Dave Farber's Interesting People list, this leaves their
creditors - the banks - vastly exposed.


Here's the bottom line: "A middling-sized bank which in Jan had twenty
billion dollars of commercial loans, secured by liens against $25B of
office towers and shopping malls now has twenty billion dollars of
commercial loans secured by liens against $18B of real property."

That $25b valuation was based on the assumption of 80% occupancy. After
the Comet Covid's extinction-level event (exacerbated by gross
mishandling, from epidemiological ineptitude to deficitphobic
austerity), $18b is generous.

Banks that loaned to plutes cleaning money for crooks? Dead. They'll
need bailouts, nationalization, or wreaths.

Head: "If you thought it was fun bailing out the FSLIC, you're gonna
LOVE bailing out the FDIC, especially when every other economy is
bailing out its banks."


🍼 Test-proctoring software worsens systemic bias

On the one hand, high-stakes testing is pedagogically bankrupt, but on
the other hand, it sure produces numbers that universities can focus on
increasing, and then trumpet when those numbers are higher than they
used to be. I guess that's important?

The problems with high-stakes testing were magnified by lockdown, with
universities demanding that students infect their computers - often
shared with family members - with spyware that claimed to perform
"invigilation" (anti-cheating surveillance).


Having decided that invigilation software was easier than finding a way
to evaluate students without useless high-stakes tests, universites
began a campaign of cruel bullying to crush student opposition.

At Wilfrid Laurier in Ontario, computer science students were required
to purchase webcams that were not available to sale, on pain of flunking.


And when students around the world complained about the problems with
invigilation tools, the CEOs of these massively profitable ed-tech
profiteers did what any responsible exec would do: they doxxed their
underaged critics.


Writing in MIT Tech Review, Shea Swauger describes the disproportionate
impact that invigilation software has on marginalized students,
especially Black and trans students and students who are parenting young
kids from home.


For starters, the facial recognition software has the well-understood
algorithmic racial bias thanks to deficits in training data.

That means that when Black students sit their exams, the tools demand
that they increase the lighting to aid in facial verification, and often
reject them outright, so they can't sit the exam at all.

Similar problems occur for trans students who are transitioning, whose
faces are no longer recognizable by the facial recognition system.

Meanwhile, the systems' unblinking eyes are incapable of distinguishing
between students who are cheating by having a confederate in the room
and students with young kids being interrupted as they sit their exams.

Likewise, they can't tell the difference between someone who gets up to
cheat and someone who gets up because they have a medical condition that
requires them to take frequent toilet breaks.

Creepily, the tools require students to pan the camera around their
living spaces for "room checks," and then let their profs download and
view these images of intimate living quarters, including any family
members who have nowhere else to go.

These are important considerations, and there's an equally important
principle lurking behind the surface, which is that the problem isn't
merely that the algorithm is racist or that the tool discriminates
against marginalized students.

The fact that facial recognition struggles with Black faces is the
result of a training data deficit, which can be easily fixed, by feeding
the algorithm LOTS of Black faces to chew through.

That's what Chinese quasi-state surveillance companies did, using
Zimbabwe's driver's license database to perfect its ability to recognize
Black faces.


That means that China - and repressive regimes elsewhere that buy
Chinese surveillance tools - can spy on Black people really accurately.

This is not an improvement.

And as to high-stakes testing: it's a fool's errand, completely
uncoupled from real-world knowledge work *and* any pretense of rigorous
pedagogical assessment.

Even if we found a way to do high-stakes testing without victimizing
Black, trans, poor, and parenting students, it would still be garbage.


🍼 This day in history

#1yrago Facebook has filed a laughable patent-application for the
well-known practice of "shadow banning"

#1yrago The NRA spent $70,000 on a consultant to help Wayne LaPierre
choose which mansion to purchase

#1yrago RIP, Linux Journal

#1yrago Billions on the line as Facebook loses appeal over violating
Illinois facial recognition law


🍼 Colophon

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

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Friday's progress: 517 words (41820 total).

Currently reading: The Deficit Myth, Stephanie Kelton

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 12),

Upcoming appearances:

* Virtual event with Christopher Brown for his novel "Failed State," Aug

* Induction into the CSFFA Hall of Fame, Aug 15,

Latest book:

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

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

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

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

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