Pluralistic: 10 May 2020

Today's links

Probability and pandemics (permalink)

I recently tweeted a link to a Reddit thread in which a passenger on an American Airlines jet complained that "American Airlines makes you stand 6 feet apart when boarding and still sells out flights." The post included an image of a crowded AA flight.

So many commenters to my tweet and on Reddit asked "Why is ANYONE flying?"

I understand the question, but to understand the answer, you need to consider the scale of the pandemic.

Let's say you (reasonably) assume that an issue that is urgent enough to warrant a flight arises 0.1% of the time. In America, that means 300,000 people have issues of sufficient urgency…every day.

Just keep playing with that number: 1 in a million? 30,000 people. Per day.

As it happens, we had a socially distanced farewell picnic with a friend who is moving back to London from LA last night (two blankets, two meters apart).

Their circumstances are incredibly complicated and also personal, so I won't explain them here, but basically, it's a combination of a string of really bad, rare beats and the alternative (staying here) is neither physically safer nor psychologically healthier.

The coronavirus has affected ~7B lives. That means that seven ONE-IN-A-BILLION problems are cropping up every day.

As a planet, we're finally doing a ton of testing (not so much in the USA or UK, but…). That means that super-rare test failure modes will crop up a lot. Like the incredibly rare cross-contamination of three consecutive tests that deliver false positive or negatives.

Or the incredibly unlikely circumstance in which two people in close quarters, one of whom is sick, fails to infect the other.

It's worth looking closely at these things to see what's going on there, but their mere existence could just be the kind of odd coincidence that crops up when you flip a coin 7 billion times every day.

It's worth looking closely at these things to see what's going on there, but their mere existence could just be the kind of odd coincidence that crops up when you flip a coin 7 billion times every day.

Maybe they just got incredibly, amazingly, wildly lucky. Or maybe they just had the incredible BAD luck to have a succession of false-negative results from their tests.

It's REALLY unlikely that you'll have several false negatives, and it's really unlikely that you could indulge an eyeball-licking kink without transmission, but it's a big, weird world.

Flip a coin enough times and it will land heads 50 times in a row. Or land on edge 50 times in a row. We're doing a lot of coin-tosses, is what I'm saying, and so not seeing highly improbable outcomes is even more improbable than the outcomes themselves.

(Image: CoinInvest GmbH, CC BY-SA, modified)

Striking New Orleans garbage collectors replaced with prison labor (permalink)

New Orleans trash collectors don't work for the city; they work for a temp agency called People Ready, which pays them $10.25/h and denies them hazard pay and sick leave. On Wednesday, they went on strike.

The city immediately hired a replacement work force: prisoners from Livingston Parish, hired out through Metro Services Group, who pitch themselves as "helping persons who had been incarcerated return to society in a meaningful and productive way."

The prisoners earn 13% of the wage that the striking People Ready workers made. They do not receive PPE.

"They are really trying to use those dudes to do our job, and they paying them way less than they were paying us….trying to show the world that people will still do our job without giving us the proper protective equipment." -Strike leader Gregory Woods

Factchecking virologist/conspiracist Judy Mikovits (permalink)

Your racist Facebook uncle may have sent you a link to a trailer for "Plandemic," a conspiracy movie that stars a disgraced virologist called Judy Mikovits who makes a string of claims about her credentials and the coronavirus.

Science Magazine evaluated those claims.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of claims that Mikovits makes about her credentials and the science of coronavirus are provably false.

Some highlights:

  • "Dr Judy Mikovits has been called one of the most accomplished scientists of her generation"

"Mikovits authored 40 papers and wasn’t widely known…before she published the 2009 Science paper…. The paper was later proven erroneous and retracted."

  • "Her 1991 doctoral thesis revolutionized the treatment of HIV/AIDS"

"Mikovits’s Ph.D. thesis, “Negative Regulation of HIV Expression in Monocytes,” had no discernible impact on the treatment of HIV/AIDS."

  • "[Her] blockbuster article in Science… sent shock waves through the scientific community… revealed the use of animal/human fetal tissues was unleashing plagues of chronic diseases."

"The paper … only claimed to show a link between one condition and a mouse retrovirus"

  • "It started really when I was 25 years old, and I was part of the team that isolated HIV from the saliva and blood of the patients from France where [virologist Luc] Montagnier had originally isolated the virus…"

"At the time of HIV’s discovery, Mikovits was a lab technician in Francis Ruscetti’s lab at NCI and had yet to receive her Ph.D. There is no evidence that she was part of the team that first isolated the virus."

  • "There is no vaccine currently on the schedule for any RNA virus that works.

"Many vaccines that work against RNA viruses are on the market, including for influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, rabies, yellow fever, and Ebola."

  • "I’m not antivaccine."

"In the PowerPoint presentation she sent to Science, she calls for an immediate moratorium' on all vaccines"

  • "[Italians are] sick with inflammatory disorders. They got… an untested new form of influenza vaccine that had 4 different strains of influenza, including the highly pathogenic H1N1. That vaccine was grown in a cell line, a dog cell line. Dogs have lots of coronaviruses."

"There is no evidence that links any influenza vaccine, or a dog coronavirus, to Italy’s COVID-19 epidemic."

  • "Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem."

"It’s not clear what Mikovits means by “coronavirus expressions.” There is no evidence that wearing a mask can activate viruses and make people sick."

Pandemic countermeasures from the porn industry (permalink)

As we look to how to re-establish daily contact with one another before the pandemic is fully contained, there's a useful historic precedent (and several cautions) in the measures the porn industry employs to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Every 14 days, every porn performer gets an HIV test. A single positive test shuts down all shoots nationwide. It's called the PASS program.

Performers and technicians wear gloves and other PPE where feasible, and everything gets sterilized.

But the parallels are imperfect, as is the PASS system. HIV is much less contagious than coronavirus (the sound technicians at a shoot would be at greater risk of coronavirus than from an infected performer than of HIV).

And while the PASS system's 14-day window is a good anti-HIV measure, it isn't frequent enough to contain the spread of chlamydia and or gonorrhea, which are estimated to infect 24% of performers.

But porn does share some important parallels with public health: just as nurses "float" from one facility to another, so do porn performers float from one set to another.

And just as with other industries, the porn industry is relatively mobile and will relocate when regulations are deemed to onerous (when LA required condoms and permits, shoots moved out of the city).

(Just as self-described "utopian socialist" Elon Musk has pledged to relocate Tesla manufacturing to a state where workers' lives are cheaper).

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Microsoft calls infringers "thought thieves"

#15yrsago Access to Knowledge Treaty first draft is live

#10yrsago Man doesn't know what happened at the Hustler Club, but it wasn't worth $21K

#10yrsago Roy Lichtenstein's estate decides they don't own the rights to everything he ripped off, after all

#5yrsago What did the courts just do to NSA spying?

#5yrsago Class of 2015: most indebted in history

#1yrago Chelsea Manning's statement on the occasion of her release

#1yrago The awful true story of Diana Jean Heaney, and the "hitchhike slaying"

#1yrago After elderly tenant was locked in his apartment by his landlord's stupid "smart lock," tenants win right to use actual keys to enter their homes

#1yrago Google mistakenly started handing out a reporter's cellphone number to people searching for Facebook tech support

#1yrago Frontier receives $283.4m/year in taxpayer money, neglects network, rips off customers — and Trump's FCC won't investigate

#1yrago Sanders and AOC team up for an anti-loansharking bill that will replace payday lenders with post-office banking

#1yrago A former college admissions dean explains the mundane reverse affirmative action that lets the rich send their kids to the front of the line

#1yrago Ever, an "unlimited photo storage app," secretly fed its users' photos to a face-recognition system pitched to military customers

#1yrago Delta targets its workers with anti-union apps that push deceptive memes

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 688 words (13685 total).

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

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

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

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