Pluralistic: 15 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. HRDAG analyzes the best covid-19 studies: Ninja statisticians FTW.
  2. Chelsea Manning's supporters pay off her $256,000 fine in a day: She had our back so we have hers.
  3. The Onion is there for us: Doing for pandemic what they did for 9/11.
  4. The CIA's information security is really terrible: Root password was "123ABCdef".
  5. Euroleaks: exposing the secret workings of the Eurogroup: Where they decided to strangle Greece.
  6. Things to do with kids during lockdowns: A crowdsourced list.
  7. Covered Dish: A site for stories of mutual aid during a crisis.
  8. How to pull your business out of China: A guide for the anxious.
  9. This day in history: 2005, 2015, 2019
  10. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

HRDAG analyzes the best covid-19 studies (permalink)

The statistician I trust most in this world is Patrick Ball, founder of the incredible the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, a human rights NGO that uses statistically rigorous methods to produce evidence for war crimes and genocide tribunals.

HRDAG's methodologies have been used to provide an empirical critique of US predictive policing, to compile the first-ever national statistics on civilian shootings by police, and to investigate the bail system.

In Mexico, HRDAG's methods were used to predict – and then unearth – mass graves all over the country, attributed to narco gangs who operate with impunity thanks to corrupt and/or frightened local officials.

HRDAG's work on refugees and war-crimes in Syria are among the best pictures we have of what's going on in that ghastly war:

So when I found out that the HRDAG team had been digesting and validating the best Covid 19 stats, I was fascinated and eager to read their conclusions.

In particular, I'm interested because HRDAG's work is twofold:

  1. Do the best statistical work possible, with incredible thoroughness
  2. Explain the conclusions of that work to nontechnical people making life-or-death decisions

The two best studies we have on coronavirus come to very different conclusions on mortality: the first (Li et al) concludes that the death rate will average out to 0.24-0.48%; the other (Riou et al) puts the rate at 1.6%.

This is a massive discrepancy. As the HRDAG team explains, the most important difference is in the assumptions each paper's authors' make about how many undocumented cases there are (mortality=deaths/cases, so the denominator makes a big difference!).

Basically, the problem is we're not able to test enough well-seeming people to get a sense of how many undocumented cases there are, and until that starts happening, the infectiousness and mortality just can't be reliably computed.

But as the team points out, there is near-total certainty about what we should do now: social distancing and handwashing. Everything else might be unknown, but that is a take-to-the-bank certainty.

Chelsea Manning's supporters pay off her $256,000 fine in a day (permalink)

Yesterday, Chelsea Manning was freed from prison; having been jailed for nearly a year for refusing to testify to a Grand Jury, spending much of that time in solitary confinement, a form of torture (Manning attempted suicide the day before her release).

The judge fined Manning $256,000 for her noncompliance.

A day later, her supporters have raised the cash to pay her fine, and then some.

They're still seeking funds to help Manning pay her living expenses while she reestablishes herself.

She had our back, so we've got hers.

The Onion is there for us (permalink)

I remember 9/11, hunkering down on IRC and blogs, not even knowing what to call it – I called it "The Current Situation," which Jason Kottke and others picked up.

And I remember when The Onion did its first post-911 issue, the scathing, brutally funny, uncompromising tonic of it.

The Onion has suffered many changes since, including a humiliating turn in the barrel of private equity ownership, but that old bite is still there, and it still has the lycanthropic capacity of turning us all into ha-ha-only-serious types who are laughing at and with fear.

Just for openers, we've got "Health Experts Worry Coronavirus Will Overwhelm America’s GoFundMe System." I mean, what a fucking bullseye.

"Research director Dr. Monica White, who stressed that if the pandemic were to grow any worse, there simply would not be enough $5 and $10 donations from sympathetic strangers to go around."

The CIA's information security is really terrible (permalink)

Joshua Schulte is the alleged leaker behind Vault 7, a release of CIA cyberweapons that exposed the recklessness of hoarding vulnerabilities in widely used software (as opposed to fixing them), and contributed to the ransomware epidemic. Part of Schulte's defense is that the CIA's information security was incredibly lax, so the leaks needn't have originated with him. To that end, his lawyer has revealed some incredible, stupid mistakes the CIA made on the cybersecurity front.

For example, the stolen hacking tools were taken from a Confluence VM whose password was "123ABCdef." And the Devlan server's root password was "mysweetsummer." Both were shared teamwide and available on the intranet. The justification for this lax security was that the intranet was only accessible to the CIA's elite hacking unit, the Operational Support Branch.

The Snowden leaks revealed the existence of the NOBUS doctrine, the idea that No One But Us is smart enough to do what we do. That doctrine justifies discovering and hoarding bugs in code that Americans rely upon, because it presumes that America's enemies just aren't smart enough to replicate the feat and attack the people who rely on US spooks for safety.

But NOBUS has been a dead letter since day one. Not only are the "good guys" prone to self-deception and stupidity, but the "bad guys" are every bit as smart as them.

The other part of Schulte's defense is also noteworthy: that he is such a colossal asshole to work with that his co-workers scapegoated him because they all justifiably hate his guts. From his lawyer's close to the jury: "They proved to you that you can call him Voldemort or Vault Asshole or Asshole or John Galt. But one thing that you cannot call him, after four full weeks, because the evidence isn't there, you cannot call him guilty. Please acquit."

Euroleaks: exposing the secret workings of the Eurogroup (permalink)

Diem25 is the Democracy in Europe Movement, founded by Yanis Varoufakis and Srećko Horvat, a populist-left movement founded in response to austerity, looter capitalism, the rise of neofascist and nationalist movements, and the betrayal of Greece by Syriza.

Diem25's latest project is Euroleaks, a portal for leaked confidential information about European establishment schemes to impose austerity and preserve the wealth of plutocrats. It's a joint project with Mera25, the Greek arm of Diem25.

The site launched with a huge tranche of leaks from the 2015 Eurogroup meeting, an "outrageously opaque" affair characterized by extreme secrecy, at which appointed bureaucrats doomed millions to privation.

If you're trying to make sense of all this (secretive and complex) stuff, the explainers page is a good place to start:

Here's a petition to move these meetings into the public eye:

And here's how to donate to support Diem25. I gave.

Things to do with kids during lockdowns (permalink)

The community from Princess Awesome and Boy Wonder have been busily compiling a smashing list of activities to do with your kids while you're all at home together.

My favorites:

  • Have each kid pick a topic they'd like to learn about and spend 30 mins each day on that topic
  • Have each kid write a letter and/or emails to a different friend or family member each day
  • Facetime grandparents a lot
  • inventory the plants & wildlife (from bugs on up) in your yard.
  • Working on learning to sew using stuff we have on hand.
  • Learn how to make a stuffed animal
  • Visit online learning resources that have dropped their paywalls

Covered Dish (permalink)

There's a passage in my novel Walkaway about disaster response:

Do you go over to your neighbor’s house with: a) a covered dish or b) a shotgun? It’s game theory. If you believe your neighbor is coming over with a shotgun, you’d be an idiot to pick a). If she believes the same thing about you, she’s not going to choose a) either. The way to get to a) is to do a) even if you think your neighbor will pick b). Sometimes she’ll point her gun at you and tell you to get off her land. But if she was only holding the gun because she thought you’d have one, then she’ll put on the safety and you can have a potluck.

The point of this is to decide if you're a "covered dish" person or a "shotgun" person.

Geoff MacDougall took this to heart and created as a place to chronicle "Stories of beauty, kindness, and hope during the Coronavirus crisis."

Some of the current highlights:

Portland distillery turns their alcohol waste into free hand sanitizer:

NY ISP offers free internet to students who need to study from home:

Scottish cornershop owners distribute free care-packages to elderly people:

Open source hardware ventilators:

Go add your own!

How to pull your business out of China (permalink)

Reading the China Law Blog offers a window into the minutiae of western companies doing business in China that fascinating under normal times, but even more compelling during the crisis.

Today's entry recapitulates the site's longstanding advice on pitfalls from bad partnerships (basically, they might steal your idea, counterfeit your stuff, put a lien on your assets, and even kidnap you if you try to visit in person).

But, tellingly, it also recapitulates the site's advice for terminating your relationship with a Chinese manufacturer without getting ripped off (or kidnapped, I guess?). Like not discussing the matter until it's a fait accompli, double-checking your trademark registrations, having a your next manufacturing contract in hand, and thoroughly understanding the true costs of doing business elsewhere.

The author, Dan Harris, describes why he posted this today: five years ago, they'd get 100 companies seeking advice on setting up in China for every company that was leaving. Today, the ratio is 1:1 (and would be worse if everyone who needed legal advice sought it out).

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago ETECH notes: Rules for Remixing (Rael Dornfest)

#15yrsago ETECH Notes: Web Services as a Strategy for Startups (Stewart Butterfield)

#15yrsago ETECH Notes: Danny Hillis and Applied Minds

#15yrsago ETECH Notes: Bezos on vertical search and A9

#5yrsago Sending Terry Pratchett home with HTTP headers

#5yrsago Constituent silenced by spammer-turned-UK Tory party chairman was telling the truth

#1yrago Self-insurer Walmart flies its sick employees to out-of-state specialists to avoid local price-gougers

#1yrago Letterlocking: the long-lost art of using paper-folding to foil snoops

#1yrago Security researchers reveal defects that allow wireless hijacking of giant construction cranes, scrapers and excavators

#1yrago Beto O'Rourke was in the Cult of the Dead Cow and his t-files are still online

#1yrago Big Chemical says higher pollution levels are safe in West Virginia because residents don't drink water, and are so fat that poisons are diluted in their bodies

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Alice Taylor (, Bruce Schneier (, Huby Cuijpers, Kottke (

Currently writing: I've just finished rewrites on a short story, "The Canadian Miracle," for MIT Tech Review. It's a story set in the world of my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I've also just completed "Baby Twitter," a piece of design fiction also set in The Lost Cause's prehistory, for a British think-tank. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel next.

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland: it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs. Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; it's a magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

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:

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