Ouch! That hurts, doesn’t it? Paper Cuts are our short, erratic and slightly painful updates on current, local and national events. See our website for more Paper Cuts at thefineprintmag.org.


In mid-September, as Hurricane Florence was poised to strike the East Coast, Donald Trump took to Twitter to tout his administration’s “enormously successful” disaster relief efforts in the Caribbean. He then went a step further, disputing a recent study that tallied the true death toll from Hurricane Maria at 3,000 U.S. citizens.

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump tweeted on Sept. 13. “When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths…”

Then Trump blamed the Democrats, tweeting that the party had inflated the death toll to make him look bad.

“If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list,” he tweeted. “Bad politics.”

These statements overshadow a genuinely valuable question we should be asking:

How exactly do we calculate casualties from natural disasters?

According to an October 2017 report from the National Center for Health Statistics, medical examiners are instructed to differentiate deaths that are directly related to a natural disaster from ones that are indirectly related (for example, flash flood drownings versus life-support equipment failings).

But no standardized methodology currently exists for determining disaster-related mortality. Many doctors stop recording indirectly related deaths after about four or five days, John Mutter, a disaster researcher at Columbia University, told The New Yorker.

“There is a tendency to minimize the dead because it looks bad, and so the current system is set up to produce the smallest official death toll possible,” Mutter said.
So how did we get from 16 deaths, two weeks after the hurricane, to 3,000?

In late August this year, George Washington University published a study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government that suggested local doctors only counted casualties directly related to the storm. By looking at “excess mortality,” the number of people who were expected to die during a typical six-month period compared to the actual fatalities that occurred, the study found that 22 percent more deaths occurred in Maria’s waterless and powerless aftermath. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, over 70 percent of the population had no electricity or water two months after Maria.

In late September, almost two weeks after Florence hit North Carolina, two men died while repairing damages from the storm — indirectly related deaths. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper added them to the death toll, bringing it to 39 at the time. Why would storm-related deaths in Puerto Rico be any different?

By Marcelo Rondon.



In early October, Motherboard reported that Apple has introduced “software locks” that would effectively prevent independent and home repairs on Mac computers containing a “T2” security chip, which include the 2018 Macbook Pro and iMac.

Once the software lock kicks in, the computer will only work again if Apple Service Toolkit 2, Apple’s official diagnostic software, is run. The toolkit is available “only to persons working at Apple-authorized service facilities,” according to an Apple training presentation. This means that if an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service provider is inaccessible to you, you’re pretty much out of luck.

“This is a continued campaign of obsolescence and they want to control the ecosystem and bring all repair into the network they control,” said Kyle Wiens, CEO of free repair guide website iFixit, in a Motherboard interview.

Though iFixit ran tests that determined Apple has yet to implement its “killswitch,” the practice is unsurprising in light of the company’s track record. Last summer, the Federal Court of Australia fined Apple $6.6 million in wake of its refusal to refund customers struck by error 53, a message that disabled thousands of users’ iPhones. According Apple’s website, error 53 appears when devices fail a security test. One of the most common causes of the error? Repairing one’s phone through an unlicensed store.

Apple’s encroaching control over how its customers repair their own tech is similar to restrictions upheld by John Deere and auto makers such as General Motors, who often require owners use specific diagnostic codes or software to replace parts of the device.

Effectively, electronics companies argue that you aren’t buying their products — you’re licensing them, making you subject to whatever rules the manufacturers set forth about how you use them. Emerging “right to repair” legislation in 19 states seeks to combat companies’ hold over the ways we fix our devices by requiring manufacturers make parts, tools, repair guides, and diagnostic software available to the public. But it’s not without pushback: Public records show Apple is lobbying against this legislation in New York. 

“Independent repair companies have been fixing MacBooks undaunted by the user-hostile activities Apple has taken,” Wiens said to Motherboard. “It could be really detrimental to schools, to people who live in rural areas. If they stick with this, it seems like a huge argument in favor of right to repair.” 

By Vincent McDonald.