Pluralistic: 08 May 2020

exposure notification,contact tracing,apis,epidemiology,shoe leather,late-stage capitalism,stimulus,snitchlines,shared microbial destiny,class war,guillotine watch,aoc,animal crossing,haunted mansion,disney,disneyland,themepunks

US public health officials on apps: "Meh"; Volcano gods demand workers; Animal Crossing Haunted Mansion

Pluralistic: 08 May 2020 volcano-gods


Today's links

US public health officials on apps: "Meh" (permalink)

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 hard-to-automate.

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 (permalink)

"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 better.

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 abortions."

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 gains.

Animal Crossing Haunted Mansion (permalink)

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 (permalink)

#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"

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

#1yrago Why "collapse" (not "rot") is the way to think about software problems

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

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (, Slashdot (, Neatorama ( Thanks to Josh Fouts ( 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 total).

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

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

Upcoming appearances:

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:

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