5 Extremely Random Groups Helping Out In All This
Look, you don't need us to tell you that the world is a massive dumpster fire right now. But, to paraphrase Mr. Rogers, let's look for the helpers. Not in the usual places, though. Let's look for the helpers in some of the absolute weirdest, least expected places anyone could think of ...
Mathematicians Are Refusing To Work With The Police
Lots of groups are cutting ties with the police like Hollywood, pro-athletes, and uh ... mathematicians? Surprisingly, mathematicians work with the police a lot, helping them with things like data work and statistical modeling. And many of them are absolutely done with it. 1,500 number nuts (or "numbnuts" as they call themselves) signed an open letter calling for mathematicians to stop working with the police to examine algorithms that directly impact people's lives (like, say, facial recognition systems), and to add ethics to data science courses.
The letter is particularly against "predictive policing." That's like the pre-crime unit in Minority Report, but way less cool: it's just using statistics to predict where crimes will happen next, based on where they've been happening so far. Predicting crime lets police departments put officers there so they'll be quickly available, or so the theory goes. But in practice, since cops largely arrest people of color, any system that makes predictions based on that arrest data is going to put innocent BIPOC in the crosshairs and let off white criminals. That's one reason why Tarik Aougab, a math professor at Haverford College who co-wrote the letter, says that, "Collaborating with police in any capacity contributes to white supremacist violence and oppression." And you know things are pretty serious when even mathematicians are saying that.
The letter is also serious about the need to make sure math models that affect people's lives are built ethically. It calls for public audits of algorithms that do things like hiring employees, sentencing convicts, or identifying criminals (with facial recognition) -- all of which have been criticized as biased and inaccurate. It also stresses that data science courses should teach students about the ethics of using various mathematical and statistical tools (that's very common in, say, biology or engineering, but not math). All in all, the letter-writers are saying: the answers you get from applied math depend on the assumptions you start with, and they're not necessarily "pure" or "objective."
The whole thing got broad support in the math world, too. It's been signed by mathematicians working both in academia and the corporate world, and it's getting published in Notices of the American Mathematical Society. So, feel free to give the next mathematician you meet the secret Resistance (social distancing) head nod.
Dark Web Criminals Are Refusing To Profit Off The Pandemic
If you've heard of the dark web, you probably imagine it as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. And that's accurate -- after all, it's designed as a place where basically no-one can trace your real identity, so criminals use it all the time. But apparently, even criminals have something like a conscience, at least when a major global pandemic hits.
For example, on some forums for buying and selling stolen website accounts, people have been telling each other to take care of their elderly family members, and they've been expressing solidarity with the people of Italy ("It's a US, Mario!"). And on another criminal forum, when a rando asked for advice on how best to take advantage of people in all this, others begged him not to (it's unclear whether that awoke the last sliver of conscience in him.)
One drug forum took things a step further. Monopoly Market, a new drug exchange, permabans anyone taking advantage of COVID fears. COVID "cures" and items there's a shortage of are all off the table, according to a forum post: "No magical cures, no silly f***ing mask selling, toilet paper selling. None of that b*******. We have class here." Seriously, how big of crook do you have to be to get banned from the dark web? Also, Monopoly Market really, really wants to make sure dealers keep customers safe: "You should already be doing this but please wear a pair of gloves, old pair of reading glasses, and a face mask if available. Vendors in all conditions should be keeping a certain level of good hygiene."
Sure, not all dark web communities are frequented by criminals with ethical standards this high, but this is something. It's kind of comforting to know that at least some parts of the dark web aren't living up to its awful reputation. Somehow, some scammers have a limit to how low they can stoop, and some drug dealers adhere to strict hygiene standards.
Hasidic And Orthodox Jews Are The Biggest Blood Plasma Donors
Hasidic and Orthodox Jews were some of the communities hit hardest by the pandemic, losing hundreds of people. That tragedy had at least one small silver lining, though -- it led to a large spike in donations of blood plasma from COVID survivors (which is believed to have COVID-treating antibodies), as Hasidic and Orthodox Jews are the groups that have donated the most nationwide by far, making up possibly half the total. Like in a Dracula wet dream, 12,000 donors signed up in just over a month, which completely filled New York and New Jersey blood banks and forced new donors to drive to Pennsylvania and Delaware.
And the amazing thing is, it wasn't one person that had the idea to do this. Several independent efforts to recruit donors started up at the same time in the community. One Johns Hopkins doctor contacted a friend in the community and asked if anyone would be interested in donating blood, and he got a positive response right away. But at the same time, a couple of initiatives had already started up from within, by people who had nothing to do with each other. We'd make a joke here, but that kind of dedication to giving is seriously impressive.
One of the organizers of those drives, Avraham Weinstock, thinks this happened because the idea of kindness, or chesed, is so foundational to the community. Plus, very close community ties -- which let people quickly get the word out about donation drives -- probably helped, just like organizers who were committed to making something positive out of the pain inflicted by the pandemic.
Musicians Are Performing (Via Phone) For Hospital Patients
In April, Dr. Rachel Easterwood, an ICU physician in a New York City hospital, was feeling frustrated about how little she could do to help some patients. Around that time, she listened to a cellist friend play for her on her phone, so she got an idea: Maybe, at least, she could play live music for patients. It turned out that the cellist, and a violist friend of his, co-directed a nonprofit that used to hold free concerts in places like nursing homes and homeless shelters. Pretty soon, musicians from all over the country were playing music for hospital patients while sheltering at home.
They expanded the program to the hospital's staff to great results. Staff would occasionally gather in the break room and listen to a concert just for them -- in one case, when an ER physician died, there was a somber concert in which Bach, Edith Piaf, Saint-Saens, and Elton John were played. The concerts really boosted staff morale, and the patients loved it too.
Dr. Easterwood saw one patient smile after a performance and realized it was the first time in this whole situation that she'd seen a patient do that. Another patient's face "lit up," according to the doctor who treated him, when they told him he could get a private concert. They had to stop the performance when the patient needed to be intubated, but that patient's last moments of consciousness "were embraced with beautiful music."
For the musicians, the whole arrangement turned out to be fairly unusual, but rewarding. Usually, musicians take their cues from the audience's response, so playing for patients who are heavily sedated is totally different and even a bit surreal. But for some of the musicians, the whole experience was so emotional that they cried while performing.
Medical Fetishists Are Helping Keep Us Stocked With PPE
Medical fetishists are folk that are super horny for medical stuff and situations; now, they're horny to save our healthcare systems. No, really. For example, a Chicago enema nurse donated gowns, masks, disinfecting wipes, and alcohol swabs. At the same time, an Austin domme not only donated her supplies but also started hand-sewing masks instead of seeing clients. Another domme, who happens to be a nurse, apparently even volunteered to return to work if necessary. And the thing is, with shortages so bad, these people are actually making a difference.
In the UK, there's an example of fetishists helping out that takes things to the next level. In March, the British National Health Service asked MedFetUK, a small medical fetish supply company, if they could donate disposable scrubs to the NHS. After he got over his shock, the co-owner, David Hyde, explained that they don't have a lot -- they only keep about 25 scrubs at a time. And, to his even greater shock, even that turned out to be enough to help, and the NHS nicely asked Hyde for that meager stock of scrubs.
For context, the pandemic started with a global PPE shortage so bad that the World Health Organization asked for PPE production to rise by 40%. The British Medical Association said that the UK, in particular, needed millions of units of PPE. And the need was so urgent they they had to cobble together those millions from anywhere they could.
Hyde happily sent off the scrubs and would have thrown in hand sanitizer and face masks if he wasn't out. None of his customers complained that their medical roleplay would have to be less immersive, at they could just pretend the added wait time was because they were in a US hospital. Sadly, he soon started feeling pretty uneasy after realizing the awful implications of the fact that the nation's hospitals were desperate for just over two dozen scrubs. Which is truly disappointing, but we hope that grim realization doesn't stop other PPE(rverts) from helping save us all.
Top image: David Cohen 156/Shutterstock, NatashaLove/Shutterstock