Tencent profit tops forecast as fintech and cloud revenues surge

Tencent Holdings Ltd posted record quarterly profit on Wednesday, smashing market expectations, as the social media and gaming giant booked a rise in the value of its investments while fintech and cloud revenues helped make up for declines in games.
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Skateboarding improves mental health, helps build diverse relationships, USC study says
The findings, which indicate the sport fosters community and encourages resilience, fly in the face of commonly held misconceptions, researchers say.
The Most Unadaptable Book in Fiction
There are a few moments, reading Joan Didion’s 1996 novel The Last Thing He Wanted, when it’s possible to sense why someone saw cinematic potential in this exceptionally interior and evasive story. This is a tale about gun-running in tropical climes, about beachside murders and political corruption. But its author also wants to deconstruct the prototypical elements of storytelling, such as character, description, and plot. This world is so destabilized that language itself has become untrustworthy, and so even the simplest of facts cannot stand. There’s no single truth to rely on. The story is narrated by a magazine writer who may or may not be Didion herself, and who’s parsing how a female reporter got swept up in an arms-dealing scandal in 1984. While the story is fictional, the book is deeply attentive to real government duplicity during the Reagan era, in which “even the most apparently straightforward piece of information could at any time explode.”Dee Rees’s adaptation of The Last Thing He Wanted debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival to baffled reviews, and has inspired similar confusion since it arrived on Netflix last Friday. The movie is, Stephanie Zacharek wrote for Time, “such an ambitious piece of work that it’s hard to know where to start with it.” In The New York Times, Glenn Kenny concluded that “the big problem with the movie isn’t the muddle, but the strain” of Rees’s attempts to make things make sense. “How does a director as stellar as Dee Rees (Mudbound, Pariah) go so thunderously wrong adapting a 1996 novel by the great Joan Didion, with a cast headed by Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, and Willem Dafoe?” Peter Travers asked in his Rolling Stone review, perhaps unwittingly answering his own question. Didion’s prestige as a writer is such that virtually anyone would want to attach themselves to a project with her name on it. But there’s also a good reason only one of her novels has previously been turned into a film or television project: Her work, this movie suggests, is unadaptable.That isn’t a slight on the work itself. Didion’s novels and journalism are defined by a detached lucidity, often a vehicle for her unnerving appraisal of internal turmoil as symptom and statement of an unraveling world. Particularly in her fiction, Didion concerns herself with the dark lie of American identity: a legacy of blood and corruption in Run, River; the perversion of innocence in Play It as It Lays; the fragility of order and peace in Democracy and A Book of Common Prayer. Arms dealers recur in her stories, as do dead and dying parents, sterile society dinners, and heroines paralyzed by anxiety and a nonspecific sense of dread. (My favorite moment in the novel version of The Last Thing He Wanted is when Elena McMahon, in her former life as the wife of a Beverly Hills tycoon, sits glumly “in front of a plate of untouched cassoulet” at an Academy Awards watch party, so disaffected that she can’t even enjoy the show.)But the interiority of Didion’s novels, combined with their experimental structure, tends to defy translation into the framework of film and television. The Last Thing He Wanted, in particular, is a work intended to challenge simple comprehension; even its title contains two possible interpretations. Language, the book suggests, can be distorted until it becomes meaningless. Early on, the unnamed narrator explains her impatience with writing itself, “with the conventions of the craft, with expositions, with transitions, with the development and revelation of ‘character.’” To impose order on a set of circumstances so specifically about evasion—in this case the duplicity and doublespeak of American institutions in the 1980s—seems absurd to her, and so she homes in on the story’s technical elements instead: tactical erdlators, high-capacity deep wells, laterite. Everything else is too uncertain, too changeable, too taxing to try to reckon with.The narrator’s ostensible focus in the book is Elena, a woman who is variously—in the story’s achronological sections—a society wife and mother in California, a reporter covering Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, and an accidental-ish gun runner whose mission takes her from Miami to Costa Rica to an island that’s possibly St. Lucia. Readers are first introduced to Elena in the Caribbean well after she’s been caught up in a shadowy conspiracy involving CIA fixers and a fake passport. Then, the novel dances among fragments of her former lives—her employment at a beach resort, her exit from the campaign trail just before the California primary, and, finally, her decision to help her ailing father complete an illegal million-dollar arms sale in Central America.That Elena’s motivations are hard to unravel is a problem with the story that even Didion acknowledges. “The facts of Elena McMahon’s life did not quite hang together,” she writes early in the novel. “They lacked coherence. Logical connections were missing, cause and effect.” The first section of the book has a dreamlike quality, in which a sleep-deprived Elena drifts through events in a vertiginous haze. On a flight to Miami she experiences “a brief panic, a sense of being stalled, becalmed, like the first few steps off a moving sidewalk.” Her mother has recently died and her world is folding in on itself in indecipherable layers. Elena appears to be mired in a state of ennui that makes imminent peril seem preferable to suffocating sameness. “What no Didion heroine can entirely reconcile herself to,” Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker last year, “is the split between what she wants and what a woman is supposed to do.”In the novel, confusion is the reigning state that colors the action; it’s meant to communicate how turbulent and untrustworthy American authorities were at the time, shipping arms to Nicaraguan rebels in off-the-books transactions while denying that such transactions were taking place. “This was a business,” Didion writes, “in which truth and delusion appeared equally doubtful.” When Elena reads the papers one morning over breakfast, news stories convey global destabilization: earthquakes, unusual wind patterns, reef erosions, political protests, even infertile pandas. As she takes on her father’s final sale, she meets people with multiple names and varying nationalities in uncertain geographical locations. “You will have noticed that I am not giving you the name of this island,” Didion writes, explaining obtusely that “the name would get in the way.”The only constant amid this intentional obfuscation is discombobulation, conveyed through Elena’s fractured mental state. The book’s atmospheric uncertainty can make for a frustrating reading experience, even as its immersive qualities build into an Orwellian fever dream. It’s an intoxicating work, skillfully crafted, but it also resists at every point the strictures of mainstream storytelling.Rees, to her credit, seems committed to keeping the spirit of Didion’s original work intact, while restructuring it into a more linear narrative (Rees co-wrote the screenplay with Marco Villalobos). The movie opens with Anne Hathway’s Elena on assignment in El Salvador in 1982; she’s documenting war crimes alongside a photographer, Alma (Rosie Perez), and barely escaping assassination attempts. Having discarded the book’s narrator, and without the space to communicate Elena’s interiority and how passively she floats toward danger, Rees and Hathaway instead present Elena as a crisis junkie, simultaneously addicted to conflict and compelled to reveal abuses of power around the globe. In one scene, a very Didionesque Elena strides through the newsroom in a jumpsuit, smoking ferociously. In another, she existentially eats an apple.In its first half, the movie is propulsive in a heady-conspiracy-thriller kind of way, and its disorienting events are easier to accept. But as Rees is forced to reckon with the terminal self-obfuscation of the novel in the second half, each plot point gets harder and harder to justify. Ben Affleck’s character, a State Department fixer named Treat Morrison, gets none of the backstory from the book; he’s just a square-jawed suit who shows up in odd places and may or may not be an ally. The British character actor Toby Jones appears, playing a rum-soaked hotel owner who in his own words once ran the only “first-rate gay bathhouse in all of Port au Prince.” David Arquette pops up, with even less context and even fewer lines. In the final scene, Rees discards the plot of Didion’s book altogether, changing the ending to make it somehow even less plausible.What’s left is a sticky, indecipherable tangle. But The Last Thing He Wanted is at least an interesting mess, and it seems to illuminate some of the landmines that come with turning novels into works of film and television. It’s notable that the only previous adaptation of one of Didion’s novels, the 1972 drama Play It as It Lays, was done by the author herself. Didion’s own screenplays—which she co-wrote with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne, and which she seemed to view as a starkly commercial undertaking—imply how separately she saw the crafts of fiction and movie writing. Making movies, she wrote in the essay “In Hollywood,” is defined by “a spirit not of collaboration but of armed conflict,” a process in which any artist’s work is going to be tweaked and corrupted. Even writing about film, she observed in the same essay, has long been “a traditional diversion for writers whose actual work is somewhere else.” In other words, to try to reconcile her fiction with an art form that she herself disdained is an undertaking that’s doomed even before it begins.
Squirrels are now building nests out of plastic
A photographer has taken startling pictures of a squirrel appearing to use plastic bags in an effort to build a nest. Henry Jacobs captured the images while walking along the Lee Valley Navigational Canal, in the London Borough of Haringey, British news agency South West News Service (SWNS) reports. Upon seeing the squirrel exhibit “odd”...
Missing New Mexico woman from ‘secluded’ Mennonite community found dead in Arizona
The body of a missing New Mexico woman has been discovered in the Arizona desert, more than 270 miles away from the “secluded” Mennonite community she mysteriously vanished from over a month ago, and investigators are calling it murder.
Virginia health officials awaiting coronavirus test results for two patients
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Judge clears path for Philadelphia to open safe-injection site to combat overdoses
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Kazuhisa Hashimoto, inventor of the Konami Code used in multiple video games, is dead
Kazuhisa Hashimoto, creator of the ubiquitous Konami Code used in multiple video games, is dead at age 79.
Family taking photos on railroad tracks narrowly escapes train in terrifying video
Lights, camera... run.
Why we can’t always be “nudged” into changing our behavior
Text message reminders and mailed information packets don’t change student behavior much, it turns out. | Getty Images/EyeEm Recent studies looked at “nudging” interventions and mostly found disappointing results. Are we more likely to click on the first result on Google than the second? Are we more likely to eat a big meal if we use a big bowl? Are we more likely to apply to a top college if we get a personalized admissions packet? All of these questions have been explored in the research literature on behavioral “nudges,” or methods for slightly changing the environment to change people’s behavior. The term was popularized in a 2008 book by University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Weight, and Happiness. Nudges became particularly popular in nutrition — experts are eager to find easy ways to change people’s eating habits — and in education, where researchers are casting a wide net for cheap ways to improve outcomes for students. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to change things in those two areas — at least that’s my takeaway from a bunch of disappointing “nudging” results in the past few years. Early research in nutrition and education suggested that humans are very suggestible. Packaging sizes, plate sizes, location on a buffet table, and other small things affect what we eat; sending a $6-per-student information packet to high-achieving low-income students substantially increased the number who wound up enrolling in top colleges. But last year, we learned that if things sound too good to be true, they probably are. Much of the “nudge” research on nutrition came from Brian Wansink, a former Cornell researcher who had 15 studies retracted after he was found to have engaged in academic misconduct (and after other researchers couldn’t get the same results). While there are no allegations of academic misconduct in studies evaluating the effectiveness of nudges for educational interventions, those efforts have ultimately been disappointing too. A larger-scale attempt at replicating the information packet intervention found that it had no effects on getting low-income students into top colleges. “Sometimes it takes more than a nudge,” the research group MDRC concluded. Another study sent text and email reminders to 700,000 high school seniors and incoming college students encouraging them to apply for financial aid. The hope was that the reminders would get more students to fill out aid applications. It didn’t work. The candid, if disappointing, summary of their results: “no impacts on financial aid receipt or college enrollment overall or for any student subgroups. We find no evidence that different approaches to message framing, delivery, or timing, or access to one-on-one advising affected campaign efficacy.” “It didn’t seem to matter how we framed the message or how we sent the message; we weren’t finding differences between them,” one of the study’s authors said. A different study tried “nudging” students to study more by giving them accurate estimates of how much harder they’d need to work for their desired grades in the class. The effort didn’t make the students work harder; it just made them accurately expect lower grades. None of the interventions they studied produced any significant academic benefits — not for at-risk students or for the college population as a whole. As a recent college graduate with mediocre grades, that didn’t surprise me at all. Students might not have had access to the accurate estimates, but they already knew that studying more would mean they got better grades. No one at college is going to be surprised by this information. Similarly, it’s not surprising that information packets alone aren’t enough to get students to make a decision about a topic as fraught and complex as where to attend college, or that text message reminders aren’t enough to get them to apply for financial aid. But is the right takeaway that nudges don’t work at all? Probably not. The very first result I mentioned — that people are more likely to click on the first Google result than the second — is absolutely true. People also buy things at eye level in grocery stores more often than things that are harder to see. And maybe some of the education interventions that have shown promising results will replicate, even if most don’t. But we should expect modest effect sizes, and smaller effects on any goal that’s already highly valued and that people already have lots of reason to have thought about and worked on. Frustratingly, nudging might have the smallest effects on things we care about the most. Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter and we’ll send you a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling the world’s biggest challenges — and how to get better at doing good. Future Perfect is funded in part by individual contributions, grants, and sponsorships. Learn more here.
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Man says he paid $1,000 ransom for dog stolen from parked car
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Georgia reports first coronavirus case in the country
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Dr. Siegel reports from Nebraska biocontainment facility: Coronavirus may be 'more contagious than the flu'
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Green New Deal would cost swing-state households around $75G in first year: study
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Sanders campaign co-chair: Bernie 'has made history'
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Chinese space mission reveals what it's like on the farside of the moon
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Supreme Court tosses D.C. sniper case after change in Virginia law
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Could life have existed on a warm, wet Mars? Ancient Earth crater may explain how
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NBA betting odds: Nets’ starting five offers a lot of value
Though it’s not exactly Golden State’s storied “Death Lineup” of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Igoudala, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant (or Harrison Barnes earlier), the Nets’ recent starting lineup has been earning a profit vs. betting markets. Since Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert coalesced as the starting lineup...
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2 New Jersey state troopers face child porn charges for explicit texts
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If the coronavirus hits America, who’s responsible for protecting you?
Young women wear masks as protection against the coronavirus during Chinese New Year celebrations in London on January 26, 2020. | Barry Lewis/In Pictures via Getty Images What the response to a Covid-19 outbreak in the US could look like. The outbreak of the coronavirus — and Covid-19, the disease it causes — in mainland China has provoked a response the likes of which the world has never seen. Hundreds of millions of people in the country have had their travel restricted; many have not even been allowed to leave their homes. All of this is aided by the vast Chinese surveillance state. Meanwhile, though the number of new cases in China dropped to 406 on Wednesday, bringing the total to 78,000, China is ramping up capacity to treat tens of thousands of sick people, with new hospitals going up nearly overnight. Many people still haven’t returned to work, though some of the restrictions are being eased. Draconian restrictions on movement and the intensive tracking of people potentially exposed to the virus are just some of the ways China — a centralized, authoritarian state — has responded to its outbreak. What would have happened if the outbreak had started in the US — or if it comes here next? Alex Wong/Getty Images Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses reporters at the State Department about the coronavirus outbreak on February 25, 2020. The number of confirmed cases in the US is small: just 14, and 12 are related to travel. An additional 45 people who were sickened with Covid-19 abroad have returned to the US for treatment. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted its message on the likelihood of the coronavirus spreading in the United States. “Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in this country,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a press call. She said it’s a matter of “when,” not “if,” and that “disruption to everyday life might be severe.” There’s still a lot we don’t about the virus. It’s a novel, fast-spreading disease to which people have no immunity. So far, no vaccines or drugs to treat it exist, though both are being developed. That said, many of the cases of Covid-19 are mild, as Vox’s Julia Belluz reports. The fatality rate — which remains an early estimate that could change — is hovering around 2 percent. A virus of these parameters could spread very quickly. While there’s much we don’t know about how this could play out with regard to how many people will get sick and how sick they’ll get, what we do know is the United States has dealt with outbreaks — polio, tuberculosis, and H1N1 flu, for starters — before, and many health officials have been anticipating a new one. There are lots of professionals on the federal and local levels who stand ready to try to stymie the spread of coronavirus in the United States. That’s not to say our system is perfect, or even necessarily prepared for this incoming novel virus. But it’s worth thinking through what responses are possible in the United States and how they might become politicized. There are a few really important things to know. The biggest one: Public health is a power that’s largely left up to the states, which introduces flexibility into our system. But it also introduces inconsistencies, local politics, and laws, with varying protections for civil liberties. The biggest question remains: Can our health care infrastructure handle an influx of thousands of new patients? Public health is largely up to the states The first question to ask about outbreak response in the United States: Who is in charge? You may think “the White House,” or some arm of the federal government. But per the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution, public health is not a power specifically given to the federal government, and so it rests mainly with the states, as well as large cities with strong public health departments, like New York City. “It’s important to remember that public health is actually a police power that is delegated to the states,” says Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown. This may be good news if you’re nervous about the Trump administration’s preparedness for a significant outbreak. The federal government does have some powers, including the right to quarantine travelers coming from abroad (the CDC recently issued its first mandated quarantine on travelers in 50 years due to Covid-19), and to impose travel restrictions. If things get really bad, the federal government “can basically federalize state response if there’s a failure of local control,” says Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC and former New York City health commissioner. But local control comes first. Mark Wilson/Getty Images National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci (center), director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addresses reporters about the coronavirus on February 25, 2020, while flanked by Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, and HHS Secretary Alex Azar. The federal government maintains the CDC, the premier disease-tracking and prevention research agency in the world, whose guidance is essential during an outbreak. The agency also maintains a strategic stockpile of medical supplies like respirators to deploy in a wide-ranging pandemic. The administration could also appoint a person (like a Covid-19 “czar”) to oversee coordination between the many departments of the federal government (Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and others) to aid the response. It hasn’t yet, though Politico reports that President Trump is considering FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb for the job. “There used to be a White House office in charge of pandemic prevention and response,” says Ron Klain, who led the response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic und the Obama administration. “President Trump abolished the office in 2018.” How local governments could intervene in an outbreak Cities and states hold most of the power to act during an outbreak. What could they do? “There are pros and cons to the decentralized way we do public health in the US,” Frieden says. “There’s enough autonomy so that New York City doesn’t need permission from New York state or the CDC or the federal government to announce an outbreak and begin aggressive control measures.” How aggressive could it get? State governments, as well as some large cities, have the power to order quarantines for people who may have been exposed to an infection. (Quarantine refers to the practice of isolating people who may have been exposed to a virus from other people, to prevent them from spreading the illness before they have symptoms.) The power is not only to order quarantines, but to enforce them. “Public health is actually a police power that is delegated to the states,” Katz says. “You could end up with someone coming to your door, and saying ‘you’ve been exposed, and you’re either coming with me, or you have to stay in your house.’” Luca Bruno/AP An empty courtyard of the Statale University in Milan, Italy, on February 24, 2020. In Lombardy region schools and universities were ordered to stay closed and sporting events were canceled as authorities seek to contain cases of COVID-19 virus that have made Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe. They could force you to stay at home, or detain you in a facility. “There are still some places in the country where they may put someone with active TB [tuberculosis] in a jail cell,” she says, “because it might be the only place available for negative pressure containment [an air purification scheme].” To be clear: that’s an extreme scenario. Katz says these detainment powers are rarely, if ever, used. To start, a quarantine order would probably be voluntary, and possibly limited to people who know for sure they have had direct contact with someone who is sick. (Katz suggests, if it comes to it, to think of quarantine as like jury duty: an annoying civic duty you just have to endure.) Health policy experts also debate the effectiveness of using mass quarantines and shutting cities down to stop or prevent the spread of an outbreak. Generally, the focus is on isolating patients who are actually sick and quarantining contacts who may have been exposed to their disease. But that’s not to say a local government wouldn’t use turn toward quarantines or travel restrictions, despite public health experts advising against them. During an outbreak, local authorities would likely be taking their guidance from the CDC and the federal government. But it would be up to these local authorities to enact the “disruption to everyday life” that Messonnier mentioned in the press conference. Quarantine is not the only option for slowing an outbreak. Depending on how the virus spreads, it could be extremely hard to find the people who have been exposed, and to put them in quarantine. So other measures can be put into place. These include postponing or canceling mass gatherings like sports events, concerts, or religious gatherings. It could mean closing schools (any local school board could decide to do this independently), and encouraging telework. The CDC calls these measures “social distancing” and they’re designed to slow the spread of a contagious disease. (Other good practices during any outbreak: Stay home if you’re sick, cover your coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands!) Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images The San Carlo Church seen empty in Milan, Italy on February 26, 2020. The country is struggling to understand how it went from six coronavirus cases to 374 cases and 12 dead since last Friday, becoming Europe’s worst-affected country. The CDC’s Messonnier wants people to prepare for the possibility of these social distancing measures, and figure out how they might still live and work around them. “Think about what you’d do for childcare if schools or daycares are closed,” she said. “Is teleworking an option for you? Does your healthcare provider offer a telemedicine option? All of these questions can help you be better prepared for what might happen.” (The CDC maintains a guide for families to prepare for pandemic flu here. The recommendations should also apply to a respiratory illness like Covid-19.) What’s not going to happen in the US: the wholesale lockdown of a city, like what has occurred in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated. “It would be impossible to shut down a major city in United States,” Klain says. “You couldn’t feed the people in the city without things coming in and out. You couldn’t remove the garbage. You couldn’t run the health care system. In the end, if you tried to shut down a major city in the United States, more people would die from the impact on the hospitals in that city ... then you would save by like slowing the spread of Coronavirus.” The cons of this system The pros of our decentralized public health system is that individual communities can be nimble, and decide what’s best for them in dealing with an outbreak. The con is that, we end up with a potential patchwork of responses. Viruses don’t care about state or city boundaries, and people routinely travel among them. That could make it harder to, overall, control the spread of an infection across state and city lines. Katz has conducted research into the variety of quarantine laws that exist across states. “Most of these laws are really old and haven’t been updated,” she says. “A lot of the state-level regulations have not been updated since the civil rights and individual rights laws of the ‘60s and ‘70s went into effect.” Some laws don’t provide protections like a right to legal counsel when being quarantined. Very few states — only 20 percent — have provisions to keep people from being fired from missing work during a quarantine. The upshot is this: Because many states haven’t bothered to revise these laws, they haven’t thought through what a modern-day quarantine should look like, and what rights need to be respected. Katz’s co-authored 2018 paper on this sums it up starkly: Fewer than half of state laws even include right to counsel during a quarantine, and many fewer have written protections for being able to choose a medical provider or receive compensation for damages that may occur. While half of the states have granted explicit police powers to enforce public health actions during a quarantine, half do not. And only 20% provide any employment protection for individuals forced to stay away from work for the betterment of society. More worrisome, less than half of the states have language in their laws and regulations related to providing safe and humane quarantines. “We believe the variation between states and the inclusion of curious rules creates an environment across the country that will result in unease, confusion, and possibly civil unrest if large-scale quarantines are ever required,” the paper concluded. Getty Images Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testifies before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee on February 25, 2020. HHS is asking Congress for a $2.5 billion emergency supplemental to prepare for the growing global threat of coronavirus. The patchwork also introduces politics into the mix. Governors, mayors, school boards, and other local officials are politicians. And we know politicians don’t always heed the best available advice of scientific experts. A few weeks ago, during a House hearing on the emerging coronavirus outbreak, Johns Hopkins University infectious disease expert Jennifer Nuzzo testified before a House Subcommittee, saying that international travel bans during outbreaks don’t really work, and are unproductive. Congressman Brian Mast (R-Fl.) responded that her testimony “does not pass the test of common sense.” Political responses to the outbreak may be wide-ranging. Some may fear acting will hurt their local economy. Others may overreact. In 2014, a teacher in Maine was placed on leave because he had traveled to Dallas, a city where an Ebola patient died in a hospital (the teacher had not visited the hospital). During the Ebola outbreak, then New Jersey Governor Chris Christie forced a nurse who had treated Ebola patients in Africa into quarantine. She never exhibited symptoms of the disease, and experts concluded she posed no risk. But the governor held her in isolation anyway. The nurse ended up suing the state, arguing her rights were infringed on. Already, we have seen some ways in which local politics can influence the US response to Covid-19. The city of Cosa Mesa, California has gone to court trying to block federally quarantined patients from going to a facility there. The Trump administration scrapped plans to send quarantined people from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to a facility in Alabama after local outcry. Another fear: That Trump undermines the advice and messaging of the CDC, for political or personal reason. The “sharpiegate” incident where the Trump displayed an altered version of a NOAA hurricane forecast map for the press. Trump has previously erroneously tweeted that Alabama had been at risk for the storm. The altered map made Trump seem like he was correct all along. The White House is getting moving on a coronavirus response, requesting Congress for $1.25 billion in emergency funding to prepare (though they request the money be sourced from funds that go to work on the Ebola virus). Trump, so far, has been downplaying the risk of the coronavirus taking hold here, but is reportedly “furious” about how the news of the disease is impacting the US stock market. Are hospitals ready? The scariest what-if to think through is this: What if a disease like Covid-19 does start to spread widely here, sending thousands or more to hospitals across the country. One of the worries here is also that transmission would likely begin in a big, urban environment with international travel hubs. Could our institutions handle that? “No,” Klain says bluntly. “That’s one of the most dangerous things about this. It could overwhelm a local healthcare system.” “We don’t have extra hospitals just sitting around with doctors and nurses and beds with no patients in them,” he says. That’s not the way our healthcare system works, right? Underperforming hospitals are shut down. Generally hospitals run pretty full. What if all of a sudden 10,000 sick people needed hospitalization in a major city? There’s no 10,000 extra beds sitting around someplace.” (It bears mentioning another concern: this is the American health care system; where sick people are known to avoid care due to fears of high medical bills.) Carl Court/Getty Images American citizens leave the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, to be repatriated to the US, on February 17, 2020. We’d have to build tent hospitals to triage patients, and possibly cancel elective surgeries to free up beds in facilities. “You’ll find patients backed up in the emergency room, you will find patients on gurneys because there aren’t enough beds,” says William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt. He says all hospitals will have a pandemic preparedness plan, which is often rehearsed. But even the best plans have flaws. During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, Schaffner says that caregivers in their pediatric emergency department were getting fatigued. But “we didn’t have kind of a team on the bench who were emergency pediatric emergency room certified to go in. So we got volunteers from the rest of the pediatric physician staff.” These staff members had to quickly be trained for the emergency room. Diseases are chaotic by nature. Outbreaks test the system, and will reveal its flaws. Just how unprepared is the US medical system for a big outbreak? Hopefully we won’t have to find out.
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A Tesla electric car crashed into a barrier in Mountain View, California, on March 23, 2018. Tesla’s Autopilot has been implicated in at least three fatal car accidents in the United States. | KTVU via AP Tesla is facing heat from federal officials following another fatal accident involving its Autopilot. Tesla is facing heat from federal officials following another fatal accident involving Autopilot. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently found that Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving feature was partially to blame in a 2018 fatal car crash, adding yet another accident to the technology’s already worrisome record. What’s even more concerning is that Tesla doesn’t appear too interested in addressing these concerns. That Tesla’s Autopilot has been implicated in a crash isn’t new. In fact, after this investigation, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt pointed out that in 2017 his agency called on Tesla and five other carmakers to limit self-driving features and to build better technology to monitor drivers in semi-autonomous cars. Tesla is the only company that hasn’t formally responded to those recommendations, though it did start warning drivers more quickly when they take their hands off the wheel. But it seems the company is unwilling to address its self-driving technology’s shortcomings — or to ensure that its drivers properly understand what the Autopilot feature can and can’t do. The NTSB’s findings serve as a stark reminder that the federal government has a role to play in regulating these technologies, and furthermore, its light-touch approach doesn’t seem to be working. “We urge Tesla to continue to work on improving Autopilot technology and for NHTSA to fulfill its oversight responsibility to ensure that corrective action is taken when necessary,” Sumwalt told reporters. “It’s time to stop enabling drivers in any partially automated vehicle to pretend that they have driverless cars.” Here’s the background: Two years ago, a 2017 Model X that had its Autopilot feature engaged was driving along a highway in Mountain View, California, when it struck a concrete barrier at a speed over 70 miles an hour. The crash was ultimately fatal for the driver, who died of injuries related to blunt force trauma. After a months-long investigation, the agency identified seven safety issues related to the crash, including limitations to Tesla’s crash avoidance system and driver distraction. Among them, it appears that the driver was playing a game on an iPhone provided by his employer, Apple, and that he didn’t notice when the Autopilot steered the electric vehicle off-course. “The Tesla Autopilot system did not provide an effective means of monitoring the driver’s level of engagement with the driving task, and the timing of alerts and warnings was insufficient to elicit the driver’s response to prevent the crash or mitigate its severity,” reads the report. “Tesla needs to develop applications that more effectively sense the driver’s level of engagement and that alert drivers who are not engaged.” The board also found that Tesla needed a better system for avoiding collisions. Like many semi-autonomous driving systems, Tesla’s Autopilot can only detect and respond to situations that it is programmed and trained to deal with. In this case, the Tesla Model X software never detected a crash attenuator — a barrier intended to reduce impact damage that was damaged and not in use at the time of the crash — causing the car to accelerate. Tesla didn’t respond to Recode’s request for comment by the time of publication. So what happens now? Tesla has argued that its cars are safer than average vehicles, but these crashes keep happening, and fatal crashes involving Autopilot seem increasingly common. Meanwhile, Consumer Reports has continued to find issues with vehicles with these autonomous abilities. Last year, the organization reported that Autopilot’s Navigate feature could lag “far behind a human driver’s skills.” Security researchers have also said that it wouldn’t take too much to trick these vehicles. Researchers have shown how placing stickers on the road could coax a Tesla into dangerously switching lanes while the Autopilot system was engaged. And last week, the computer security company McAfee released findings that a Tesla using the intelligent cruise control feature could be tricked into speeding by placing a small strip of electric tape onto speed limit signs. Shortcomings like these are why it’s so important for drivers to pay attention. Nearly three years ago, the NTSB called for car companies implementing these autonomous systems like Autopilot to create better mechanisms for monitoring drivers while these tools are turned on, in part to alert them when they need to take control of the vehicle. Tesla is the only auto company of six that hasn’t formally responded to the federal agency. At the same time, Tesla is known for overstating its vehicles’ abilities. On and off in recent years, the company has described its cars as having “full self-driving capabilities” or has advertised that the vehicles have “full self-driving hardware,” despite the need for drivers to stay engaged while on the road. Whenever criticism over this sort of marketing language reaches a breaking point, however, Tesla has removed the language. The Tesla website currently paints a confusing picture of its cars capabilities: Screenshot from Tesla’s site. All that marketing copy aside, a Tesla using the Autopilot feature is nowhere near a fully autonomous car. The issues that have cropped up around Autopilot have raised concerns about the new safety issues that self-driving vehicles could introduce. More importantly, these issues have bolstered demands for regulators to test this technology more stringently — and hold carmakers accountable when they build dangerous tech. Whether or not that will actually happen is unclear. The Trump administration has, in fact, encouraged federal agencies not to “needlessly hamper” innovation in artificial intelligence-based technology, and, earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced new rules that are meant to standardize and propel the development of self-driving cars. Those rules won’t do much good if companies leading the charge toward this futuristic technology, like Tesla, refuse to follow or even acknowledge them. So it’s time for Tesla to do something different. At the very least, the company could answer government regulators’ calls to develop better ways to monitor drivers as it continues to improve its self-driving technology. Obviously, Autopilot doesn’t live up to its name quite yet, so either the company fixes it, or it can risk endangering the lives of its drivers. For now, please don’t text and drive. It’s dangerous. And if you own a Tesla, definitely don’t text and drive — or play a mobile game — when you’re using Autopilot. That’s potentially even more dangerous, since you might feel a false sense of security. Overestimating the abilities of technology like Autopilot puts your life and the lives of others at risk. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.
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