Despite my best efforts to stop the practice of using such a phrase, I find people sometimes still say cloud computing is all about “cows not pets”. What they mean to say is in the harsh world of cloud you shoot the vulnerable instead of caring for them.
The truth about cows is the opposite, however. Ranchers spend a ton of money on veterinarian science and care about cattle health improving because if they can fix one they can translate that to tens or hundreds of thousands of others saved.
It’s a lot of money on the line when looking at cattle health because typically there are many to one owner.
This is very unlike pets where most people have a few at most and put them down before they’d spend $500 on care.
It’s a harsh truth but proof of it is in how little is actually known about domestic cat health.
Unlike cattle health being rigorously studied in universities around the world and funded for obvious macro economic reasons, researchers rarely if ever find a pet owner willing to pay for science studies that would improve the lives of cats… owned individually by other people.
If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.
Suddenly a thought occurred to me… instead of trying to untangle economics about cows and pets I should instead propose people adopt this Quiller-Couch phrase to explain cloud.
Years ago I won the TSA competition for security slogans.
I’m not proud, especially because I didn’t enter it and nobody told me my slogan had won until an external investigator pointed out that someone borrowed it from my 2006 blog post and claimed the prize for themselves.
Anyway I’ve written a little here about the strange dearth of security slogans, a missed opportunity, during COVID-19.
Not quite “loose lips sink ships” but maybe if I work at it a little I could get closer with chat room vacuum ruins zoom boom. The problem is it’s too specific to one company, but hopefully you get my drift.
I had a little bird,
And its name was Enza.
I opened the window
Ok, I couldn’t resist. Here’s a simple security education poster from WWII, which I’ve updated simply to reflect COVID-19:
It’s become infuriating to me every time I hear someone say they’ve seen 0 deaths so far, or who ask why worry if they don’t know someone personally affected. Education campaigns are sorely missing here.
Security professionals ought to be good at predicting likelihood and severity of harms. Prediction is what the industry is supposed to be doing in order to put controls in before it’s too late (as well as clean up afterwards, but let’s not go there). So let’s have some slogans going and get word out maybe?
A simple viz shows why the 0-deaths-so-far-crowd need quickly to get a clue, but it doesn’t make for a pithy phrase or poster.
Let me know if you can think of any good way to condense that graphic into a rhyme…
Today is National Vietnam War Veteran’s Day, set on March 29th because in 1973 it was the last day American combat troops were in the Republic of Vietnam. The White House in 2012 gave a Presidential Proclamation to create a national day for Vietnam War veterans.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 29, 2012, as Vietnam Veterans Day.
The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. The bill passed the Senate last month and the House last week.
In an odd twist the a man who signed it was gifted five deferments from service in the Vietnam War; four were academic and one was lying about his fitness.
“They were spurs,” he said. “You know, it was difficult from the long-term walking standpoint.”
He played football, tennis, squash and golf through his deferments; he even later boasted about his health as “perfection” and “bone spurs” being not an issue, yet somehow he pulled the 1-Y “disability” deferment (qualified for service only in time of war or national emergency) a year before the lottery draft system began.
They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate [long-term walking spur] couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to the Fallen.
Anyway, today got me thinking about presidential election tampering, and in particular reminded me of the corrupted 1955 national referendum in Vietnam that arguably is what set America on a path to war.
A man named Ngo Dinh Diem essentially was chosen by Americans in 1954 to lead the country, and his access to American aid helped position him as Prime Minister under the ruling “French Puppet” Bao Dai, who he then deposed.
Diem was no champion of representative democracy. His political philosophy was a not entirely intelligible blend of personalism (a quasi-spiritual French school of thought), Confucianism, and authoritarianism. He aspired to be a benevolent autocrat…Diem’s idea was to create a cult of himself and the nation. “A sacred respect is due to the person of the sovereign,” he claimed. “He is the mediator between the people and heaven.” […]
To secure his winnings, Diem called for a referendum to determine whether he or Bao Dai, the former Emperor, should be head of state. Diem won, supposedly with 98.2 per cent of the vote. He carried Saigon with 605,025 votes out of 450,000 registered voters. [CIA’s Major General Edward] Lansdale’s main contribution to the campaign was to suggest that the ballots for Diem be printed in red (considered a lucky color) and the ballots for Bao Dai in green (a color associated with cuckolds)… this simplified Nhu’s instructions to his poll watchers: he told them to throw out all the green ballots.
Just to re-iterate, their 1955 anti-communist campaign platform was that red meant go, green meant stop and… a preference for milk and butter is immoral just like gambling, booze and sex.
If all that isn’t crazy-sounding enough, apparently 150,000 more votes were cast in the capital city of Saigon than the actual number of people listed on the electoral roll.
Diem declared himself President with much public fanfare as a result of an obviously fraudulent “election”, labelled anyone else claiming rights or power to be a dangerous threat to stability, and slid South Vietnam into a cruel and undeniable totalitarian state.
Thousands of Vietnamese suspected of disloyalty were arrested, tortured, and executed by beheading or disembowelment. Political opponents were imprisoned. For nine years, the Ngo family was the wobbling pivot on which we rested our hopes for a non-Communist South Vietnam.
This election was a crucial turning point as President Eisenhower the following year ordered the first American military advisers into South Vietnam to train Diem’s conventional Army, used in harsh repression of the country, while the French prepared to exit completely by 1956.
You can imagine why for Diem that represented a major difference between support from Eisenhower and JFK. The latter was literally enabling South Vietnamese people, especially minority groups, to defend themselves from an oppressor, not simply backing top-down regime tactics.
Thus, despite overall expanding commitments and years of increased aid from America, not to mention escaping multiple prior coup attempts, on 1 November 1963 Diem’s brutally repressive autocratic regime was abruptly deposed by South Vietnam’s own military and he was assassinated.
The ultimate effect of United States participation in the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem was to commit Washington to Saigon even more deeply. Having had a hand in the coup America had more responsibility for the South Vietnamese governments that followed Diem. That these military juntas were ineffectual in prosecuting the Vietnam war then required successively greater levels of involvement from the American side. The weakness of the Saigon government thus became a factor in U.S. escalations of the Vietnam war, leading to the major ground war that the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson opened in 1965.
It had to be Vice President LBJ who opened the major war, as by that point he had become President. 21 days after Diem’s assassination, JFK himself was assassinated.
The dramatic power shift in both countries escalated American involvement in South Vietnam and brought ever more direct military intervention that eventually accounted for 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties, over 150,000 wounded… before the March 29, 1973 final day of withdrawal.
As a footnote, the Vietnam War very nearly ended five years earlier in 1968. Nixon at that time cruelly campaigned on ending the war, while he also scuttled American peace talks to intentionally increase casualties.
Unclassified tapes have since proven his secret strategy was more Americans should die because it would help him get elected President.
Once in office he escalated the war into Laos and Cambodia, with the loss of an additional 22,000 American lives, before finally settling for a peace agreement in 1973 that was within grasp in 1968.
Election interference is definitely not new territory for the US, whether it be abroad or at home or some combination of the two. This National Vietnam War Veteran’s Day is perhaps a good time to reflect on what that means in the past as well as future.
Update March 30th: The man in the White House today openly stated that he believes suppression of votes gives him power and will continue to do so:
…admitted on Monday that making it easier to vote in America would hurt the Republican party. …made the comments as he dismissed a Democratic-led push for reforms such as vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting as states seek to safely run elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic. …Republicans have long understood voting barriers to be a necessary part of their political self-preservation.
All the talk I hear in America lately about the necessity of naming a virus for Asian origins — to play racist blame games instead of saying COVID-19 or even 2020 pandemic (both obviously superior choices) — has started to remind me of the 1960s CIA “training” for Vietnam with Kipling’s book “Kim” and how they got it and another of his works completely wrong:
Americans back home became impatient for results in Vietnam, proponents of the war were always quoting—or, rather, misquoting—a little-known poem of Kipling’s (just four lines, written as a chapter heading for “The Naulahka”), saying that “you cannot hurry the East.” The phrase, Benfey writes, “wormed its way into the very highest levels of decision-making.” But what the poem actually says is that you cannot “hustle” the East, and even then, Benfey demonstrates, the word had connotations of cheating and deception. You come away from his book thinking that it might be a good idea to stop your ears whenever someone in authority starts invoking Kipling, unless it’s to quote from his “Epitaphs of the War”
If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
The doctor who was principle architect of aggressive and successful South Korean response to COVID-19 put it like this, when reviewing the current US and UK approach to a pandemic:
…refusal to implement mass testing for the coronavirus in the United States will have “global repercussions” […] “The United States is very late to this,” he said. “And the president and the officials working on it seem to think they aren’t late. This has both national and global repercussions […] We in Korea were thinking, ‘Are these people in their right mind?'”
…a new plan to reopen swaths of the country shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic via a targeted, county-by-county mitigation effort…administration would categorize counties as “high risk, medium risk and low risk.” This would allow areas less impacted by the virus to put in place looser restrictions than ones that have been ravaged by the illness. It’s uncertain how effective such labels may be in containing the virus, however, given that asymptomatic carriers may move from region to region undetected…
So it begs an all too important question of how counties surrounded by high risk could even be expected to enforce tests of the asymptomatic at borders; how would they stay low risk while encouraging those most at risk to move about more? But wait one minute, what if that’s the wrong question entirely and there’s no intent to stop the spread of the virus?
Who gains new enforcement powers, and why, is the real key to this story.
The idea of county authority being used to stop the spread of a virus, thus bypassing the legal authority of states in favor of its counties, makes no sense until you move into a completely different frame of reference.
The White House giving a nod directly to county law enforcement for the special position to trap and keep people away who pose a “threat” to their jurisdiction…has a particular significance in politics and in American history.
America’s Black Holocaust explains how someone accustomed to exclusionary thinking might settle on counties being the preferred unit to handle boundary enforcement powers in America.
Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs. Others passed laws barring African Americans after dark or prohibiting them from owning or renting property. Still others just harassed and even killed those who violated the custom. Some sundown towns also kept out Jews, Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans, or other groups. Sundown towns range in size from tiny villages to cities. There are also many “sundown suburbs” and neighborhoods -– and even entire counties.
Even entire counties.
How have counties handled enforcement of borders, especially when it comes to keeping non-whites out? The answer is a colonial-era concept of the Sheriff, an elected and very political position without accountability.
Don’t believe anyone who suggests Sheriffs are automatically somehow representative of their county population’s best interests, given they may be elected without any real qualifications at all. Also, when we look across America, the data says 80% are white and only 41 out of 3,000 are women.
…the government had forced the unnamed [infectious COVID-19] man to stay in his home. But this week, Nelson County Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa told the Kentucky Standard that deputies will park outside of the man’s home for 24 hours a day for two weeks.
Parking multiple deputized people outside a man’s home 24 hours a day is a taxpayer-funded protest, not a quarantine. They might as well be burning a cross on his lawn to send him a message about what happens if he leaves his home.
With his red “Make America Great” hat prominently displayed in his office here in Titusville, Ivey is part of a wave of county sheriffs who feel emboldened by [the White House occupant’s] agenda, becoming vocal foot soldiers in the nation’s testy political and culture wars.
“[Shaking hands with the White House occupant] was a highlight of what I have been doing all these years,” [Dickson County Sheriff] Bledsoe added. “It was a privilege and honor to be a part of that and meeting other sheriffs and having some common goals…”
A Sheriff having common goals with the current White House should concern everyone in America, if history is any guide.
Of course you might say not all Sheriffs are bad in America, and you’d be right. But think of it this way instead, Sheriffs who are the most loyal to the White House agenda would get discretionary powers while Sheriffs who don’t offer enough fealty get ranked as high risk until they are voted out.
I’ve written about problems like this here before in regard to a particular 2019 Sheriff in Iowa who arrested two men as they were working on a security project, because he didn’t like being audited and didn’t respect any higher authority than himself:
I’ve also written about it here before in regard to a particular 1960 Sheriff in Arkansas who murdered an innocent black man, fabricated a story about it with fake evidence and intimidated witnesses into silence, and faced no consequences:
A bonus reference is that last blog post includes yet another example, the 1897 Lattimer massacre:
…Polish, Slovak, Lithuanian and German miners killed by being shot in the back by a Sheriff who decided to end legal protests by murdering everyone.
Sure there are good Sheriffs, but this is really about shifting dramatic new amounts of power to the bad ones.
There’s little positive outcome I see ahead from an America First platform of the White House when it uses a cover of pandemic concerns to propose more labeling and discriminatory power go directly to counties for their Sheriffs to enforce. Let’s be clear here that America First in 1916 meant KKK, in 1936 it meant Nazis…today it still means the same things.
These are the people who thrive on social unrest coming from high unemployment and who use fear-laced xenophobia to seize excessive powers through militant actions in what they see as their “culture war” (ethnic cleansing) to preserve white supremacy.
…a neo-Nazi movement leader based in northern Europe, said that he welcomed the pandemic as a necessary step to help create the world that his group wants to see. …it’s possible that a member of the target audience will decide to take action and commit an act of violence.
To me the announcement today has every appearance of turning America backwards 150 years towards the kind of white police state organized at the county-level that extremist right-wing violent groups like “Posse Comitatus” and “Citizens for Constitutional Freedom”, let alone America First, have very long dreamed about.
Ari Ne’eman, a scholar at Brandeis University, put it best when she said:
What this is really about at the end of the day is whether our civil rights laws still apply in a pandemic. I think that’s a pretty core question as to who we are as a country.
Anyone who knows a little Sundown Town history, or has spent time inside white supremacist groups, probably heard some very familiar and distinct sounds being whistled today.
“…although many former sundown towns are now integrated, they often face ‘second-generation sundown town issues,’ such as in Ferguson, Missouri, a former sundown town that is now majority black, but with a majority-white police force.”
Oh how shall I its deeds recount
Or measure the untold amount
Of ills that it has done?
From China’s bright celestial land
E’en to Arabia’s thirsty sand
It journeyed with the sun.
O’er miles of bleak Siberia’s plains
Where Russian exiles toil in chains
It moved with noiseless tread;
And as it slowly glided by
There followed it across the sky
The spirits of the dead.
The Ural peaks by it were scaled
And every bar and barrier failed
To turn it from its way;
Slowly and surely on it came,
Heralded by its awful fame,
Increasing day by day.
On Moscow’s fair and famous town
Where fell the first Napoleon’s crown
It made a direful swoop;
The rich, the poor, the high, the low
Alike the various symptoms know,
Alike before it droop.
Nor adverse winds, nor floods of rain
Might stay the thrice-accursed bane;
And with unsparing hand,
Impartial, cruel and severe
It travelled on allied with fear
And smote the fatherland.
Fair Alsace and forlorn Lorraine,
The cause of bitterness and pain
In many a Gaelic breast,
Receive the vile, insatiate scourge,
And from their towns with it emerge
And never stay nor rest.
And now Europa groans aloud,
And ‘neath the heavy thunder-cloud
Hushed is both song and dance;
The germs of illness wend their way
To westward each succeeding day
And enter merry France.
Fair land of Gaul, thy patriots brave
Who fear not death and scorn the grave
Cannot this foe oppose,
Whose loathsome hand and cruel sting,
Whose poisonous breath and blighted wing
Full well thy cities know.
In Calais port the illness stays,
As did the French in former days,
To threaten Freedom’s isle;
But now no Nelson could o’erthrow
This cruel, unconquerable foe,
Nor save us from its guile.
Yet Father Neptune strove right well
To moderate this plague of Hell,
And thwart it in its course;
And though it passed the streak of brine
And penetrated this thin line,
It came with broken force.
For though it ravaged far and wide
Both village, town and countryside,
Its power to kill was o’er;
And with the favouring winds of Spring
(Blest is the time of which I sing)
It left our native shore.
God shield our Empire from the might
Of war or famine, plague or blight
And all the power of Hell,
And keep it ever in the hands
Of those who fought ‘gainst other lands,
Who fought and conquered well.
These coronavirus quarantine times,
Definitely need some new soap rhymes.
Plenty of soap sits on shelves all around the world, yet toilet paper and hand sanitizer are disappearing far too quickly, leaving shelves barren. Why? I’d say it’s a lack of action by nations to run anti-hoarding public service announcements (e.g. it’s illegal in many places) as well as pro-soap safety slogans and information campaigns.
First of all, psychologists believe that hoarding behavior during a crisis is related to a sense of control. It’s ironic because hoarding exhibits instead both a lack of control as well as a transfer of power from the individual to large corporations known to use their fortunes to further reduce individual control.
Toilet paper in some cultures, for example, represents training people from a very early age on healthy living habits in a very inexpensive bulk retail format. Buying huge amounts of paper at low cost arguably feeds into a tribal association with a fundamental product for keeping oneself clean and safe.
Water and soap would of course be cleaner than toilet paper. Studies report how infections decrease among those who use a bidet, so a spike in bidet installations and decrease in paper would be beneficial for multiple reasons. Yet when someone starts to panic it may not be an ideal time for them to shift into thoughtful things like washing with soap at the toilet instead of paper (although data suggests it is starting to happen anyway).
Thus, hoarding is about people in faith-based toilet paper societies needing to feel in control of their cleanliness and safety if a novel virus starts to scare them. Buying rolls of paper feeds directly into feelings of something tangible being done, to avoid feelings like loss of control. It’s a primitive but effective trauma coping mechanism.
People also have developed a kind of blind faith in hand sanitizer. Unlike paper, sanitizer benefits mostly from slick marketing that manages to squeeze popular perception of control into an unremarkable pump bottle or box of tissues. Sadly, on that note, the marketing often is entirely deceptive and unsafe because it doesn’t work at all as advertised:
The front of the package doesn’t mention that it’s alcohol-free; the back includes small print that lists benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient and the label “alcohol-free formula.” Nowhere on the Amazon product listing does it say it’s alcohol-free.
Here’s another take on it from Supramolecular chemistry expert Palli Thordarson who tweeted out why soap with water is superior:
The scientist went on to explain that disinfectants, wipes, gels and creams containing alcohol – hand sanitisers – are effective at killing bacteria, but don’t break down the structure of the virus. […] The Tweets come after Dr Norman Swan also declared soap was better on ABC’s 7.30 program.
There is no real comfort or any advantages to the sanitizers only more risks (such as toxic additives and false advertising) versus other known safer and more effective options such as soap and water.
One of the crazier things I hear, for example, is that hand sanitizer is more “convenient” because you don’t always have water with you. This of course begs the question of why you can have hand sanitizer with you if you can’t carry a small bottle of water?
Another thing I hear is that hand sanitizer saves time. And that is exactly the problem with it. Doing a 20 second minimum of soap and water washing is what makes it so effective. Going faster turns out to be less effective for both, plus you often find people squirting sanitizer multiple times and rubbing for 20 seconds anyway.
More to the point, being out and about in the real world with exposure to things like dirt, dust and oils makes sanitizer even less effective versus hand washing with soap. But again, hoarding is evidence of people seeking feelings of control through retail therapy, not about them making smart life choices.
Despite these facts, sales research shows percentages are up massively for sanitizer while soap doesn’t even make the chart
Second, there is of course is another explanation. Hoarders actually are predatory criminals aiming to corner a disaster market and profit from artificial scarcity that they hope makes them rich as they slowly kill their neighbors.
Amid coronavirus fears, this couple has made more than $100,000 reselling…
“The woman ahead of me bought $2,000 worth of thermometers,” said Zapatak.
The only people really benefiting from such panic and hoarding of goods are large conglomerates like the Koch family that dominate an industry and who infamously tend to stoke panic in democracies by claiming absurdly false things like Eisenhower was a Communist.
…reflect and amplify the least evolved parts of our biology and behavior: the remorseless struggle for survival that is the highest achievement of the reptilian part of our brain and the fears, rages and insecurities that flourish in primitive parts of our limbic system, our emotional brain.
Just remember, the more your reptilian brain parts panic buy things like sanitizer and toilet paper instead of locally sourced soap, the more a giant Koch empire is working to undermine democracy, not to mention you’re probably stockpiling a product that denies it to someone who actually needs it.
What is really on point now is a round of public service announcements and posters to remind people to stay calm and lather.
During the Great Fire of San Francisco, for example, the Oakland Mayor simply said businesses that use surge pricing during disasters (e.g. the entire predatory business concept of Lyft and Uber) would have their assets confiscated by the military.
Instead of that, several states (at least California, Washington and New York) had to direct Amazon to block gouging crimes based on hoarders. New York also committed to producing 100,000 gallons per week of it’s own public version of hand sanitizer, safer than the misleading commercial/private labels, for distribution wherever Amazon’s hoarders had attacked.
With the current absence of leadership ability in federal government on this topic, perhaps Amazon security staff could take it upon themselves to hack into anyone detected on their platform using gouging practices and seize assets for Amazon to redirect/redistribute. I suppose that’s like a man-in-the-middle platform attack by the platform itself, as hoarders would get no money in a sale and the product would be intercepted when it shipped. Probably too much legal red tape and coordination among private sector executives for that to work.
But seriously, law enforcement could be sent to these criminal-minded hoarding caches to seize their ill-gotten assets and redistribute via Amazon to vulnerable populations:
…they watched the list of Amazon’s most popular searches crowd with terms like “Purell,” “N95 mask” and “Clorox wipes,” sellers said, they did what they had learned to do: Suck up supply… Mr. Colvin does not believe he was price gouging. While he charged $20 on Amazon for two bottles of Purell that retail for $1 each, he said people forget that his price includes his labor, Amazon’s fees… “I’m not looking to be in a situation where I make the front page of the news for being that guy who hoarded 20,000 bottles of sanitizer that I’m selling for 20 times what they cost me.”
That’s right, Mr. Colvin believes his fellow citizens deserve to be gouged or dead because illegal hoarding isn’t free for him (just think of the legal fees alone to stay out of jail and avoid angry mobs) and Amazon wants a cut of his hoarding. Perfect example of market failure and why privatized systems can be the worst thing during times when societies need collaboration and cooperation the most.
One doctor, in a desperate appeal to get people to stop hoarding and start donating instead, explained it like this:
If doctors and nurses die because of inadequate protection, all the toilet paper and dried pasta in the world won’t save you.
There are many other examples of hoarding behavior in history of war (coronavirus has very similar dynamics as nations going to war) and how the hoarders were dealt with, so it’s a wonder nobody in government anywhere seems to be creating modern versions of these types of public service campaign posters.
It’s an inspirational story that is a common refrain in the big data world — sophisticated computer algorithms sift through millions of data points and divine hidden patterns indicating a previously unrecognized outbreak that was then used to alert unsuspecting health authorities and government officials. The problem is that this story isn’t quite true: By the time HealthMap monitored its very first report, the Guinean government had actually already announced the outbreak and notified the WHO.
The FP article goes on to clarify the problem was never a lack of social commentary to monitor, which legitimately came early and wasn’t even noticed by big data systems anyway. The problem was that official channels of news were downplayed by purveyors of “artificial intelligence” (AI) to take all the credit by simply repeating those very same official channels of news.
Thus, contrary to the narrative that data mining led to an intelligence coup, HealthMap’s earliest signals on March 14 were actually simply detections of this official government announcement in French. Despite all of the attention and hype paid to social media as a sensor network over human society, mainstream media still plays a critical role as an information stream in many areas of the world. This is not to say that there were not far earlier signals manifested in the myriad social conversations among medical workers and citizens in the region, only that it was not these indicators that HealthMap — or anyone else — detected.
Most recently at the 2019 RSA Conference for example, I presented this story of failed Ebola warnings as one of the top ten security disasters of ML.
My presentations since 2014 also have included references to insurance companies running very secretive big data systems in the cloud to model pandemics — not to mention chemical weapons — spreading in America (since at least 2008 federal security researchers have said a pandemic is a greater threat to the US than nuclear attack). Did you know the insurance rates of a commercial property may have several pandemic models in its estimated risk? Perhaps I will dig up some of my old 2014 slides and post here again to illustrate better.
One true “in the trenches of big data technology” experience I used to like to present, for example, was how one very large insurance company got a phone call from Amazon demanding some kind of formal advance notice before its cloud services were lit up for pandemic simulations. 2014 was a time when the whole of Amazon’s cloud simply couldn’t handle the loads of powerful and real pandemic prediction models based on truly big data.
A lot has changed since then, although some things have not. Let’s talk now about COVID-19.
On the plus side a pandemic-prediction technology company founded during the Ebola crisis has recently claimed success in the early warning game:
…December 30, 2019, BlueDot, a Toronto-based startup that uses a platform built around artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data to track and predict the outbreak and spread of infectious diseases, alerted its private sector and government clients about a cluster of “unusual pneumonia” cases happening around a market in Wuhan, China. That was the first recognition of the novel coronavirus that has come to be known as COVID-19.
Before looking at this tall claim more carefully, note the list of “first places” in the same story:
In the case of COVID-19, the system flagged articles in Chinese that reported 27 pneumonia cases associated with a market that had seafood and live animals in Wuhan. In addition to the alert, BlueDot correctly identified the cities that were highly connected to Wuhan using things like global airline ticketing data to help anticipate where the infected might be traveling. The international destinations that BlueDot anticipated would have the highest volume of travelers from Wuhan were: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, Phuket, Seoul, and Singapore. In the end, 11 of the cities at the top of their list were the first places to see COVID-19 cases.
Here they are again:
Bangkok in Thailand
Tokyo in Japan
Taipei in Taiwan
Phuket in Thailand
Seoul in South Korea
In reality the initial confirmed spread outside China went to the US as well as Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
If you squint you may be able to see the cities listed at the top of the BlueDot list are near to flat on the bottom of the chart, unless they’re not on the chart at all because too few cases exist.
Countries like South Korea, US and France are rocketing upwards. As the author explains without mincing words, there’s an obvious causation for the difference in rates:
South Korea cases have exploded, but have you wondered why Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand or Hong Kong haven’t? All of them were hit by SARS in 2003, and all of them learned from it.
SARS had a huge impact in 37 countries. The ones that setup national pandemic command centers, getting prepared for the next virus, are showing direct benefits. Their use of big data has been to enhance preparedness by enabling testing and containment routines, best exemplified by the Singapore public dashboard.
Meanwhile in America, the lessons from the spread of a deadly virus seem to have been mostly ignored or reversed by the current administration, leading the country towards a repeat of tragic American history.
It’s time we go back to 1981 when American scientists initially noticed a new virus because unusual levels of the uncommon drug Pentamidine were being prescribed. That kind of uptick in consumption is a text-book early warning sign for big data systems to easily understand.
However it took another five long years under President Ronald Reagan before there was even a statement made about deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that had been flagged in 1981. FIVE YEARS and 25,000 dead Americans happened before the President started to focus on HIV. There was open ignorance and dismissal from 1982 to 1987 that thousands of deaths from a virus even could be worthy of public concern. Sound familiar?
Similarly, in the the current anti-science White House, a CDC response center was closed and communication shut down about viruses despite intelligence offices formally predicting a coming pandemic. In fact, the director of offices warning a virus would be a real national security concern was instead fired for fairly open political reasons.
Redfield’s primary qualification for appointment seems to be his close association with extremist religious anti-science organizations. “Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy” (ASAP) spread propaganda that AIDS was “God’s judgment” against Americans who deserved to die because they were believed to be a result of single-parent households with weakened patriarchal values (weakened male domination over women).
A decision to slow down a SARS-CoV-2 testing in America may be related to Redfield looking for ways to corner and profit from test kit distribution channels, rather than jump right into big data acquisition/analysis or deploy tests kits ready to go (available from China since January 17th and openly distributed by WHO since February 6th, as exemplified by Singapore and Korea test data).
The real value, even to a corrupt huckster, should been seen as analytic platforms for data accumulation and subsequent analysis. That opportunity is many magnitudes greater than personal profit he may have salivated over when scheming about cornering test kit markets.
There’s no proof yet of this level of corruption causing the CDC test kit delays, it just seems incredibly likely given Redfield’s short-lived CDC predecessor Fitzgerald was forced to resign due to corruption, when it was reported she was investing in tobacco as grants went to a company where she and her husband held stock.
Perhaps it wasn’t corruption, though. It also could have been the kind of incompetence seen with CDC doing a huge drawdown in China, removing two-thirds of its experts in the past two years. Instead of long-term professional, localized scientific relationships designed to instantly collaborate on “the next SARS”, someone in America instead cooked up a concept of just-in-time teams for short-term pandemic expeditions.
…our hope is that we could get directly involved in China to be able to review…
On top of Redfield having learned the exact wrong lessons from America’s HIV response on the way to being appointed head of CDC during the current pandemic, there’s also the fact that Mike Pence was appointed to lead nationwide response despite his own infamous mismanagement of HIV.
The lesson from the HIV crisis for current U.S. politicians therefore seems to have been the very opposite of preparation. There has been no hard drive to get a national command center for immediate pandemic test and containment, let alone any plans to update from Ebola-era mistakes to the latest and greatest big data technology (although they did just put out a feeler request for new investments).
Let’s be frank here, to some the only lesson of AIDS/HIV was… the American President can get away with indifference if not negligence, playing golf and refusing to lift a finger until it’s obvious why literally tens of thousands of Americans needlessly are dying on his watch.
BlueDot is notably Canadian.
So let’s go back to details of that BlueDot announcement for a minute. FP complained in 2014 that AI really meant just reading regular news channels and trying to take credit for it as novel. The core to that long quoted passage above, starting this blog post, is here:
…mainstream media still plays a critical role as an information stream in many areas of the world. This is not to say that there were not far earlier signals manifested in the myriad social conversations among medical workers and citizens in the region, only that it was not these indicators that HealthMap — or anyone else — detected…
That is quite literally what happened in China again this time. A detailed JAMA graph lays it out by day to clearly show a timeline of social conversations and then news stories. Click to enlarge.
The text boxes are basically this:
Dec 25: //not on JAMA timeline// The head of gastroenterology (Lu Xiaohong) at Wuhan City Hospital No. 5 says conversations were on disease spreading among medical workers treating a group of new pneumonia patients; several Chinese news outlets release reports from anonymous labtech claiming 87% similarity to SARS
Dec 26: 4 unusual pneumonia cases noticed in HICWM Hospital by a Dr. Zhang
Dec 27: Dr. Zhang reports unusual cases to government CDC (later review of records suggest as many 180 cases, probably not realized at this time)
Dec 28-29: 3 more pneumonia cases in HICWM
Dec 30: //not on JAMA timeline// Wuhan Central Hospital’s emergency department director (Ai Fen) uploads diagnostic record to WeChat, without knowing contagion rate
Dec 30: government starts active case finding in Wuhan City
Dec 30: //not on JAMA timeline// Wuhan Central Hospital ophthalmologist (Li Wenliang) mentions quarantined emergency patients to a WeChat group, indicating SARS-like virus
Dec 30: //not on JAMA timeline// Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED) broadcasts English translation of Wuhan Municipal Health Committee RFI: “urgent notice on the treatment of pneumonia of unknown cause”
Dec 31: Wuhan health officials formally release news to China’s national health officials including their CDC and the global WHO
And on Dec 30th BlueDot claimed credit for being the first to notice. This is quite exactly what FP was complaining about in 2014, when a machine reads the news and says it was early while being on the same timeline as an existing human global notification system.
To be fair, BlueDot was right there on the clock and neither claims AI to be a cure-all, nor that they were doing something amazing other than reading the news others were publishing. As they put it in their PR they “flagged articles in Chinese that reported 27 pneumonia cases associated with a market”.
Technically speaking that reference means BlueDot either read December 15th early reports about 27 cases (five days later the total number of confirmed cases had more than doubled to 60) or were repeating a Chinese government’s official December 30th announcement of 27 cases of viral pneumonia being investigated. It appears to be the latter.
While the system worked as designed, it still gets classified as a failure under the 2014 definition of high expectations for phrases like big data or AI. Local news and social channels reported the outbreak of pneumonia with SARS-like potential. Then people or machines both read that and flagged it as early warning signs of another SARS-like incident.
Reading newspapers around the world and reporting them on the same day was hot new technology of 1920. Hard to call this really newsworthy itself in 2020. As I said before, a lot has changed, while some has not. I wish BlueDot didn’t call their warnings early, and instead called them inexpensive or less complicated.
Nonetheless, if we allow the bar to be lowered to allow heavily funded startups to succeed and be measured for easier finish lines, BlueDot did indeed do what they advertised by reading news about SARS-like pneumonia as it was published and then repeating it for others to also read.
I’m not just pointing out a lowered bar has risk because I want to be captain obvious who says be wary of PR from startups. I actually believe we should hold the bar higher for them. There are technical solutions that really could give early warning signs that are ahead of the local reporters themselves, perhaps even before social conversations reach the reporters.
That is both why I’ve been writing my new book, and also is the focus of software I’m working on now. We can do better with big data technology, and we will.
Supposedly the Medal of Freedom allows the occupant of the White House to award “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”.
In the latest news, however none of those concepts seem to apply to a golf player named Gary Player who is set to be awarded this supreme award. The primary explanation of his selection seems to be in this sentence:
Trump played with… Player last fall at his private club in northern Virginia.
Who is Player? What is he known for besides playing private club golf with someone in the White House?
By 1981 Player was widely confronted for his ongoing propagandist role promoting apartheid rule, according to “Off the court” by Arthur Ashe and Neil Amdur, page 147:
Gary Player, a South African, says, “I’m a golfer, not a politician,” when the media asks for his views. He’s a hypocrite. I would like Gary Player to address himself to the question of whether he favors apartheid or not — a simple yes or no would do…
This came as Player responded to sanctions against apartheid in 1981 by establishing his “Million Dollar Challenge” tournament in Sun City and inviting Americans to invest. When I say responded to sanctions, here is what Bishop Tutu said (quoted in the 5-20-1981 “Statement to International Conference on Sanctions Against South Africa”); the environment where Player conceived his new event was clear:
Those who invest in South Africa should please do so with their eyes open. They must not delude themselves that they are doing anything for the benefit of blacks. Please let us at least get rid of this humbug. They must understand that they are buttressing one of the most vicious systems since Nazism.
Perhaps it should have been called the Most Vicious System Since Nazism Challenge?
In 1987 Player was still being condemned for breaking boycotts of apartheid, internationally known for his continued high-profile role promoting white supremacist government. He is listed by name in the “Centre Against Apartheid, Department of Political and Security Council Affairs” report on page 11:
Mr Player is not known for his sensitivity to the plight of the downtrodden. He described apartheid South Africa as “maligned, misunderstood, pilloried” after he was heckled while playing abroad.
He was closely tied to the ruling National party during the 1970s as a member of a clique that launched a pro-apartheid newspaper with the help of illegal government funding.
He has also been criticized for failing to speak up on behalf of his country’s best-known golfer of Indian descent, Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum, who was forced in 1963 to stand in the rain to accept a major trophy because he wasn’t allowed inside the racially exclusive Durban Country Club. Mr Player later said he welcomed Mr Sewgolum playing in South African tournaments because he brought “colour” to golf.
Adding confusion to the history, is Player’s own version, where he sees himself as a change agent (claiming in 1961 he asked for Mandela to be set free although not jailed for life until 1964, and that in 1971 he formally asked for apartheid in sport to end). Compare that to his habit of using Mandela’s voice for non-change, pushing the program of reconciliation instead of equality after apartheid.
CBC interview: “I said, ‘I have so much admiration for you.’ I said to him, ‘It is remarkable, how can you not have revenge?'”
TimesLive interview: “I said ‘Mr Mandela you must hate white people and have tremendous amount revenge’. “He said ‘to the contrary‚ I have no hatred and no revenge…”
He also complained in 1993, quoted in “Golf’s Global Ambassador from South Africa“, that as someone from a “brainwashed” white supremacist background he found it unfair to be expected to change and oppose apartheid if American golfers weren’t facing opposition to the Vietnam War.
Instead of explaining why this illogical whataboutism by Player is so morally bankrupt, perhaps I only need to point out how the official history of Pebble Beach indeed recounts 1972 opposition to the Vietnam War in the face of Nicklaus and what he thought of it:
Overall, while Player clearly has tried for decades to rehabilitate his image after gladly becoming the internationally condemned face of an apartheid regime, later acting as if he had actually wanted to be a change agent… he also very much became a fan of weak reconciliation after apartheid ended, preserving white economic domination and losing the support of even Mandela.
Seems like a “nice guy” opportunist ambassador who has been more than willing to go along with whatever regime or leader can make him rich quickest.
Just not seeing his qualification for such an award. As Maria Farrell explained recently:
The moral hazard is clear; why would anyone do the right thing from the beginning when they can take the money, have their fun, and then, when the wind changes, convert their status and relative wealth into special pleading and a whole new career?
Those gun-running high-dollar events fit perfectly and could at least explain the white nationalist White House today rewarding him for some long clandestine security angle. He may have been playing a role to help massage American business interests through and around the global apartheid boycotts (per the Nixon-era white nationalist “Tar Baby” foreign policy as described in 1976).
I’m being told a hidden science laboratory has been revealed deep inside an American corporation, tasked with finding a final solution to the problem of staff productivity loss from illness.
As weird and twisted as this may sound for a national healthcare system to be so deficient that a self-interested empire builder has an illness laboratory, it’s entirely true.
Amazon is working on a cure for the common cold in a years-long, top secret effort called “Project Gesundheit,” according to three people familiar with the effort.
It’s secretive because a search to cure the common cold would obviously make everyone very sick if they found out, right? And these people leaking details definitely are not trying to slow or stop its progress before it’s too late.
I mean of course Amazon’s CEO dresses like the villain in an Indiana Jones movie and calls his secret research to eliminate unfit workers Gesundheit…