[Plura-list] US public health officials on apps: "Meh"; Volcano gods demand workers; Animal Crossing Haunted Mansion

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri May 8 12:28:25 EDT 2020


Reminder: I'm doing a reading, talk and Q&A tomorrow at the Essence of
Wonder online sf con, and then I'm chairing a panel:


Today's links

* US public health officials on apps: "Meh": Exposure notification is no
substitute for labor-intensive contact-tracing.

* Volcano gods demand workers: Reopening is only possible under threat
of starvation and homelessness.

* Animal Crossing Haunted Mansion: Needs more AOC.

* This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019

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


🤦‍♂️ US public health officials on apps: "Meh"

The "contact tracing" apps are actually "exposure notification" apps.
Contact tracing is an incredibly labor-intensive, high-touch,
face-to-face process with a long-proven track record in epidemics.


Automated exposure notification tools can be a useful adjunct to the
work of contact tracing, though the apps that are being rolled out
(including those built on the Google/Apple API) are untested.

Worse, they're operating in a data-vacuum for essential variables like
"epidemiologically significant contact."

Making that number too large risks flooding users with false alarms that
train them to ignore warnings, while going the other way will miss out
real cases.

On top of that, there's the digital divide: the people who are least
likely to have smartphones (poor people, old people) are more likely to
get coronavirus (because of the runaway spread in precarious work
environments, crowded shared homes and underesourced nursing homes).

They're *also* more likely to experience severe and even deadly symptoms
because of comorbidities like age-related ailments and poverty-related
cardiovascular/nutritional/stress problems.

And finally, there's the looming risk that exposure notification apps
will become permanent mass surveillance apps. This is exactly what
happened after 9/11's "temporary emergency measures" were passed: 19
years later, most of them are still with us.

As it turns out, I'm not the only person who's ambivalent about exposure
notification apps. Public health officials are also not that big on them.


Instead, officials in states like NY, CA, and MA, and cities like SF and
Baltimore are rolling out tens of thousands of human contact-tracers.

Former/current federal public health officials, both R and D, want a
national army of 180K tracers.


They say addressing the pandemic will cost $12b for contact-tracers,
$4.5b for quarantine housing in vacant hotels, and $30b in income
support for voluntary self-isolators.

They've seen contact tracing work, and they believe in it, but they also
understand that contact tracing's secret sauce is a person-to-person
human trust-bond between the tracer and the subjects. It's hard, and

As Fred Vogelstein writes in Wired, academic epidemiologists are trained
to ignore the traditional tech industry promises of an "easy" fix with a
machine that replaces humans. And they're severely allergic to trying
untested methods during emergencies.

Add to that the general bad odor that Silicon Valley has created for
itself through toxic, monopolistic tactics, which is why politicians are
less likely to go to the mattress to defend high-tech approaches.

There are signs that the tech industry is scaling back its ambitions,
offering apps to manage the record-keeping and minutiae of manual tracing.

The alternative would be to go down the Chinese/SK/Singapore route of
apps that jettison privacy protections.

Not only are these apps impossible to square with US constitutional and
temperamental constraints, but they'd also face the (insurmountable?)
hurdle of being so mistrusted by large amounts of the public that they
wouldn't be used widely enough to work.

What's more, the countries with "successful apps" ALSO had titanic
numbers of human contact tracers laying down shoe-leather. Whether you
think the US should or shouldn't do apps, there's no evidence that apps
will work without legions of human contact-tracers.


🤦‍♂️ Volcano gods demand workers

"Re-opening" isn't about saving ordinary workers and earners. You can't
save someone by infecting them with a deadly disease. In a world without
contact-tracing, therapeutics, tests, PPE, santizing products, etc, more
contact means more risk of illness and death.

"Re-opening" is about saving investors: the 1% who constitute the major
shareholders in large firms whose calculus goes like this: "30%
unemployment means that for every worker who dies on the job, ten more
will apply to take their place."

These people are willing to risk workers' lives and shoppers' lives
because they believe they do not have a shared microbial destiny with
the rest of us.

They think they won't get sick, and if they do, they think they'll get

That's because they never had to go without medical care because they
lacked insurance or because their insurer-imposed rationing denied them
the care their doctors advised them to get, so they are less likely to
have chronic illnesses and other comorbidities.

They can afford premiums to gougers for PPE for shopping trips, and if
they do get sick, they can afford private rooms, hoarded ventilators,
and home care (with PPE for the workers who care for them).

For the investor class, "re-opening" is low risk and high reward.

There's only one fly in the ointment. People don't want to throw
themselves in a volcano to appease the economy gods. The vast majority
of Americans think re-opening is a bad idea.


That's why the gloves are off, like in Ohio, where bosses can use a
confidential snitchline to rat out workers who won't come back for fear
of their lives: these workers will lose their unemployment benefits,
their homes, their grocery money.


It's not just Ohio. Iowa also has a snitchline for bosses who want to
punish mulish, uncooperative workers who think their job isn't worth
their lives. These workers also face a choice: starve or sicken.


Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend: "fear of catching the
virus would be considered a voluntary resignation, which disqualifies
workers from receiving unemployment benefits."

Of course, everything's bigger in Texas, including (especially) the
terrorization of the workforce. After the shortest-in-the-nation
lockdown, Texas re-opened with an injunction to bosses to "report any
job refusal."


Ideologues - like the mayor of Las Vegas - tell us that we can reopen
because the market will drive employers to find safe ways to operate.
They are wrong.


In Dallas, workers at the Hillstone Restaurant Group - which reopened
last weekend - were told that if they wore masks to work, they'd be
fired, because " face masks don't complement the restaurant group's
style or level of hospitality."


While Amazon lied to Southern California warehouse workers, telling them
that the state's paid sick-leave law didn't extend to warehouses and
warned them that they'd be fired for missing shift. Sick workers are
coming in and infecting others.


Right wing politics require alliances between elites - (rightism is
essentially the belief in rule by elites) - and large groups of turkeys
who'll vote for Christmas.

Evangelicals: "we'll support domination by the finance sector if you'll
give us performative cruelty to brown people, queers and women seeking


But these alliances are destined to fracture. The finance sector and the
ultra-wealthy got billions in helicopter money. Workers got $1200 as a
ten-week "liquidity bridge" are now being sent into death-traps on pain
of starvation.


The antidote is a peoples' bailout, like the $2,000/month stimulus
proposed by Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Ed Markey, retroactive to
March, for every adult and every child.


"If we can bail out large corporations, we can make sure that everyone
in this country has enough income to pay for the basic necessities of
life." -Bernie Sanders.

Related: Rashida Tlaib's proposal to mint 2 $1T coins to fund a $2K
one-time cash infusion and $1k/month every month until the crisis has
been over for a year.

The problem (for investors) with these proposals is that they take away
the leverage employers want to use to get workers to risk their lives. A
worker receiving this stimulus would only go back to work if it seemed
safe - not because it seemed preferable to homelessness.

The right loves to talk about "moral hazard" in the context of social
safety nets ("if we let people see a doctor without paying, they won't
take steps to keep themselves from getting sick or injured").

But reality demonstrates, time and again, that the real moral hazard
comes from letting investors socialize their costs and privatize their


🤦‍♂️ Animal Crossing Haunted Mansion

[[Note: You probably want to look at this one on the web!

Thus far I've escaped the Animal Crossing infection, but Weary Bones's
in-game re-creation of the Haunted Mansion represents a deadly new
mutation that has put me at grave risk of contracting the disease.


It's a wonderful interpretation of the pinnacle of themepark
achievement. Just look at this stretch-gallery!

Or the corridor of doors/portrait corridor.

Love his take on Madame Leota's seance room.

Next: the ballroom/swinging wake (I miss the Hatbox Ghost, though I
appreciate the commitment to originalism here).

The attic is great, but that take on the bride? Chef's kiss.

His graveyard really nails the delightful chaos and higgedly piggeldy of
Marc Davis's masterpiece (and the avatar's emote is super-suggestive of
the caretaker's tremors).

How committed is he to the bit? He included a lengthy switchback queue!
This is surely destined to be the most anachronistic casualty of the
pandemic as switchbacks are totally incompatible with social distancing.

There's literally only one thing I could think of that would make this
better: AOC.

No, seriously. She's doing constituent in-game visits with Animal Crossing.


"It was so sweet. Island belonged to a family of three. We exchanged
fruit, took pictures, and I signed a bulletin note using my touch screen."



🤦‍♂️ This day in history

#10yrsago Big Content's depraved indifference

#5yrsago Keurig CEO blames disastrous financials on DRM

#1yrago The best political commentary of the Australian election cycle:
"Honest Government Adverts" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJrXI3rBbSA

#1yrago Buried in Uber's IPO, an aggressive plan to destroy all public

#1yrago Why "collapse" (not "rot") is the way to think about software
problems https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02117588/document

#1yrago Test your understanding of evolutionary psychology with this
rigorous quiz


🤦‍♂️ Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/),
Slashdot (https://slashdot.org/), Neatorama (https://neatorama.com/).
Thanks to Josh Fouts (https://twitter.com/JoshuaSFouts) for suggesting
today's newsletter emoji: 🤦‍♂️.

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 518 words (12966

Currently reading: Facebook: The Inside Story, by Steven Levy.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 02)

Upcoming appearances:
May 9: Being Civil With Security Experts, Essence of Wonder,

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

"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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