The following links are just news items and opinions that pass my desk throughout the week. I don’t necessarily support or advocate any of the items, they are just interesting reads.
The Future of the Coronavirus? An Annoying Childhood Infection – As millions are inoculated against the coronavirus, and the pandemic’s end finally seems to glimmer into view, scientists are envisioning what a post-vaccine world might look like — and what they see is comforting.
The coronavirus is here to stay, but once most adults are immune — following natural infection or vaccination — the virus will be no more of a threat than the common cold, according to a study published in the journal Science on Tuesday.
The virus is a grim menace now because it is an unfamiliar pathogen that can overwhelm the adult immune system, which has not been trained to fight it. That will no longer be the case once everyone has been exposed to either the virus or vaccine.
Children, on the other hand, are constantly challenged by pathogens that are new to their bodies, and that is one reason they are more adept than adults at fending off the coronavirus. Eventually, the study suggests, the virus will be of concern only in children younger than 5, subjecting even them to mere sniffles — or no symptoms at all. Read More > in The New York Times
Long to-do list – Lawmakers returned to Sacramento on Monday to kick off a new legislative session — but time is already running out to respond to some of the pandemic’s most pressing issues.
Around 2 million Californians could lose their homes on Feb. 1 if lawmakers don’t extend the state’s eviction moratorium. A similar number of people currently can’t access their unemployment benefits due to a massive claim backlog and apparently ill-targeted anti-fraud measures. Meanwhile, the vast majority of California’s 6.1 million K-12 students haven’t been inside a classroom in 10 months.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who proposed a record-breaking $227 billion budget on Friday, wants lawmakers to immediately act on a few key proposals that can’t wait until June, when a final budget will be approved after months of negotiation. They include:
Other issues likely to dominate the legislative session include increasing housing production and decertifying bad cops — bills on both topics failed last year — expanding broadband access, revamping the unemployment department and banning fracking.
But the ultimate test for both Newsom and lawmakers will be school reopenings, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. Teachers unions have already opposed a Democratic bill that would force schools to reopen when infection rates drop, and when Newsom hinted Friday that the state might intervene if unions and schools boards can’t agree on a reopening plan, the pushback was swift.
California schools update – Newsom on Thursday unveiled a new website to track school reopenings and coronavirus cases — a marked policy shift from last year, when California was one of the few states that didn’t require schools to report either of those metrics. The website could signal Newsom’s desire to accelerate school reopenings — an effort that has stalled in recent weeks amid sustained pushback from superintendents and teachers unions. Also Thursday, the governor issued updated school safety guidance, including:
- Requiring students of all ages to wear masks. Previously, kids in 2nd grade and below didn’t have to wear face coverings.
- Permitting schools to reopen only if their county’s coronavirus case rate is 25 per 100,000 residents or lower. Previously, Newsom wanted schools to reopen once their infection rate dropped to 28 per 100,000.
With many districts remaining in distance learning for the foreseeable future, the State Board of Education wants to apply for a federal waiver that would allow students to skip standardized testing for the second year in a row — sparking concerns that the state won’t have any comprehensive data on students’ learning loss amid the pandemic. Read More > at CalMatters
North Dakota Bill Would Let Censored Citizens File Lawsuits Against Facebook, Twitter – A bill proposed by Republican lawmakers in North Dakota could enable lawsuits to be filed against Twitter and Facebook by users who have seen their accounts deleted or censored.
The new bill (pdf), sponsored by six legislators, is titled, “an Act to permit civil actions against social media sites for censoring speech,” and it stipulates that websites with more than 1 million users would be “liable in a civil action for damages to the person whose speech is restricted, censored, or suppressed, and to any person who reasonably otherwise would have received the writing, speech, or publication.”
For individuals who have been censored, compensation includes “treble damages for compensatory, consequential, and incidental damages,” according to the bill. Read More > in The Epoch Times
They Can’t Leave the Bay Area Fast Enough – The Bay Area struck a hard bargain with its tech workers.
Rent was astronomical. Taxes were high. Your neighbors didn’t like you. If you lived in San Francisco, you might have commuted an hour south to your job at Apple or Google or Facebook. Or if your office was in the city, maybe it was in a neighborhood with too much street crime, open drug use and $5 coffees.
But it was worth it. Living in the epicenter of a boom that was changing the world was what mattered. The city gave its workers a choice of interesting jobs and a chance at the brass ring.
That is, until the pandemic. Remote work offered a chance at residing for a few months in towns where life felt easier. Tech workers and their bosses realized they might not need all the perks and after-work schmooze events. But maybe they needed elbow room and a yard for the new puppy. A place to put the Peloton. A top public school.
They fled. They fled to tropical beach towns. They fled to more affordable places like Georgia. They fled to states without income taxes like Texas and Florida.
The biggest tech companies aren’t going anywhere, and tech stocks are still soaring. Apple’s flying-saucer-shaped campus is not going to zoom away. Google is still absorbing ever more office space in San Jose and San Francisco. New founders are still coming to town.
But the migration from the Bay Area appears real. Residential rents in San Francisco are down 27 percent from a year ago, and the office vacancy rate has spiked to 16.7 percent, a number not seen in a decade.
Though prices had dropped only slightly, Zillow reported more homes for sale in San Francisco than a year ago. For more than a month last year, 90 percent of the searches involving San Francisco on moveBuddha were for people moving out.
Twitter, Yelp, Airbnb and Dropbox have tried to sublease some of their San Francisco office space. Pinterest, which has one of the most iconic offices in town, paid $90 million to break a lease for a site where it planned to expand. And companies like Twitter and Facebook have announced “work from home forever” plans. Read More > in The New York Times
California fighting endless war with unemployment fraud. Why state is a prime target – Criminals are still brazenly attempting to steal millions in COVID-19 benefits from California’s beleaguered unemployment agency, but now they’re operating from the four corners of the globe and targeting the state with cyber-weapons.
Months after district attorneys unveiled a prison fraud ring that conned the California Employment Development Department out of an estimated $2 billion or more, the head of an identity-security firm working for the state says global cyber-criminals are bombarding EDD with fraudulent unemployment claims at a stunning clip.
Blake Hall, chief executive of ID.me, said in an interview this week that systems deployed by his company are flagging $750 million worth of bogus claims each week.
Although all 50 states have been distributing unemployment benefits since the pandemic generated mass layoffs last spring, Hall said California has emerged as the criminals’ most tempting target. Fraud rings as far away as Moscow are feeding stolen identities into the EDD system in an effort to siphon unemployment dollars from the state, he said.
…Hall said the sheer size of California — which has handed out more than $100 billion in pandemic unemployment benefits — makes it an obvious target for fraud. He added that California appears to have been more lenient than some other states when it comes to claims that were backdated — an approach that would enable criminals to tack on additional weeks of benefits to their haul.
An EDD spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the backdating issue. Read More . in The Sacramento Bee
The Nuclear Energy Advancements Of The Past Four Years Will Blow Your Mind – There are a hundred reasons why nuclear energy can play a massive role in the future of American power and prosperity.
It creates high-paying jobs better than any other energy source. Its fuel sources are abundant. It fuels NASA’s most innovative projects. It offers a solution to conservation concerns without devastating the economy. And despite its sensationalist image, it is far safer than fossil fuels, and about the same in safety as solar and wind.
“Nuclear provides 55% of our country’s clean energy, and about 20% of our power, and it’s one of the most reliable generators that we have on the grid today,” says Dr. Rita Baranwal,…
Miniaturized fission plants are smaller, safer, cheaper, and now far closer to being a reality.
This September the design for a Small Modular Reactor (SMR), designed by NuScale Power, gained approval from the federal government. It’s the first such reactor to be approved, ever. Small reactors like NuScale’s offer the possibility of fundamentally changing the economics of nuclear power.
“They can be factory-built and assembled on site much faster than these larger gigawatt-scale reactors. And so part of what we have seen with the cost overrun and the schedule delays… will not be experienced with SMR or microreactor deployment,” Baranwal said.
The mass-produced nature of these small reactors creates a wallet of benefits. The plants can be built far more cheaply while retaining the same safety guardrails of a larger plant. Once installed, each 100-megawatt plant would cost around $500 million to construct but generate $1.3 billion in sales and create 7,000 permanent jobs, according to a study on the design. Read More > in The Federalist
A Conspiracy Theory Worth Considering – This sounds dumb and almost conspiratorial, but I just want to say it: I suspect that the general sense of unease and panic in our politics is partly a physical and hormonal reaction to a novel substance introduced into the human environment by giant and somewhat nefarious corporations.
The novel substance in our environment is a “smartphone,” and I think it’s literally inducing people to a kind of low-level panic, and paranoia, especially in conjunction with social media.
…The smartphone itself is physically causing us to be stressed out, emotionally dysregulated, anxious, and fearful. It therefore primes us for radicalism.
A smartphone, when operating, is a small, backlit screen. Let’s start with “backlit” part. You’ve probably read that phones emit blue light. We have lots of scientific research about the effect of blue light on the circadian rhythms that are an important part of human sleep. Blue light is particularly effective at suppressing the secretion of the sleep-aid hormone melatonin. As almost anyone knows, good sleep improves hormonal regulation across the board, and with it, mood and outlook.
But it’s not just the backlit nature of the screen that’s messing with our hormones. It’s also the relatively tiny size and vertical plane of it. First of all, a small screen in the hand often changes our posture. Staring into a cell phone for hours a day can feel like flying coach from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia — you spend lots of time with your shoulders falling forward, hunched over with a sunken chest, and a head tilted downward. This posture dramatically increases the release of stress hormones. It can also lower oxygenation and activate subtle and not-so-subtle fight-or-flight responses. Using our phones often causes us to literally take on the posture — and subsequently the hormonal dysregulations — of a depressed and fearful person.
…Anyway, it seems dumb to think that our posture, our eye movements, and poor sleep contribute a great deal to the parlous state of our politics. But I can’t help thinking that it does. And I can’t stop thinking about how the pandemic restrictions reduced normal convivial social interactions, confined people inside their homes more, and sent them to social media for stimulation. How much of our social distemper is self-induced? Maybe the only return to normalcy is to turn off, log out, and drop the phone. Read More > at National Review
U.S. Cancer Death Rate Continues 30-Year Decline While the Incidence Rate Is Flat – The American Cancer Society’s latest roundup of cancer statistics is now out and the news is generally good. The data on cancer mortality and incidence rates are through 2018 and 2017 respectively.
The report notes that “after increasing for most of the 20th century, the cancer death rate has fallen continuously from its peak in 1991 through 2018 [latest data], for a total decline of 31 percent, because of reductions in smoking and improvements in early detection and treatment. This translates to 3.2 million fewer cancer deaths than would have occurred if peak rates had persisted.” The falling cancer mortality trend can be largely attributed to increased early detection along with the advent of effective new treatments for various blood cancers, non-small cell lung cancer, and melanoma.
On the other hand, cancer incidence rates have flattened in recent years. As the report notes incidence trends reflect both patterns in behaviors associated with cancer risk (reduced smoking) and changes in medical practice, such as the use of cancer screening tests. Read More > at Reason
US intelligence agencies have 180 days to share what they know about UFOs, thanks to the Covid-19 relief and spending bill – The director of National Intelligence and the secretary of defense have a little less than six months now to provide the congressional intelligence and armed services committees with an unclassified report about “unidentified aerial phenomena.
“It’s a stipulation that was tucked into the “committee comment” section of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which was contained in the massive spending bill.
That report must contain detailed analyses of UFO data and intelligence collected by the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force and the FBI, according to the Senate intelligence committee’s directive.
It should also describe in detail “an interagency process for ensuring timely data collection and centralized analysis of all unidentified aerial phenomena reporting for the Federal Government” and designate an official responsible for that process. Read More > at CNN
Government Paid Millions to Chase UFOs and Werewolves – In 2008, the United States Defense Intelligence Agency gave $22 million to the exotic science division of Las Vegas billionaire Robert Bigelow’s space startup — Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies, or BAASS — to study “breakthrough technologies” and UFOs. A Debrief investigation, including new unredacted internal documents, illuminates some of the odd history of this secretive program and reveals that some of the government’s money was directed to even stranger things than they had in mind.
In 2008, at the behest of Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, then the majority leader, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) funded the Advanced Aerospace Weapon System Applications Program (AAWSAP). According to the solicitation bid, the purpose was to explore “potential breakthrough technology applications employed in future aerospace weapon systems.” Though the Pentagon told The Debrief earlier this year that the DIA was not investigating UFOs, significant evidence exists that seems to contradict their position. The confusion may stem from the fact that the project’s solicitation document purposefully left out mention of the controversial topic altogether.
After winning the contract, BAASS was tasked with studying and generating reports on exotic science that could lead to “potential breakthrough technology.” BAASS, alongside a team of scientists, generated 38 such reports. Redacted copies of internal BAASS security reports that have been posted online indicate that, before the AAWSAP program was defunded in 2010, the company had assembled an in-house team of investigators not only to write those 38 reports, but also to travel around and look into sightings of monsters, the paranormal, and other bizarre UFO-related phenomena in Utah.
Indeed, a leaked collection of unredacted internal BAASS documents examined by The Debrief now confirms that the DIA-sponsored organization was not only investigating “foreign advanced aerospace weapon threats from the present out to the next forty years,” but also UFOs — and a lot of other anomalous things even more unaccustomed to attention from the government. Read More > at The Debrief
Democrats And Republicans Should Argue More — Not Less – Of course, most Americans avoid talking politics at family get-togethers in the first place because they worry that political disagreements will ruin the holidays.
But this is a mistake.
On the heels of a contentious presidential election, it may seem strange to be advocating for more, not less, partisan bickering. And to be clear, I don’t support the kind of social media sniping that has become a mainstay of public discourse. But at its heart, political disagreement is actually critical to a democracy, so when we’re able to have these kinds of disagreements with people we know and trust, like family, we should.
Given the polarized era we live in, though, we find ourselves increasingly isolated from those we disagree with, and political disagreement is surprisingly rare. Consider the results of a survey on social networks conducted this summer by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life, where I serve as director. Nearly identical majorities of Democrats and Republicans (55 percent versus 53 percent, respectively) reported having no one in their immediate social circle who had opposing political views.
This lack of political diversity is on the rise in our friendships and in our marriages, too. According to a recent YouGov survey, all Americans (but Democrats in particular) are less likely now than they were four years ago to have friends with political views very different from their own. Politics also increasingly influences whom we marry.
It’s true that interacting with people who disagree with us politically can be difficult. In our social network survey, a majority (57 percent) of Americans say it is a stressful and frustrating experience to talk about politics with people who disagree with them. But some of this anxiety may have to do with the fact that we’re just really bad at understanding our political opponents. A study from 2015, for instance, found that Americans routinely overestimated just how divided the Democratic and Republican parties were. Across a range of issues, such as taxes, immigration and trade, people perceived their political opponents as being more extreme than they actually were. And a 2018 survey of 2,100 Americans conducted by More in Common, an international think tank, revealed that Democrats and Republicans widely misunderstood the views of the opposing party on basic questions of race, immigration and gender equality. This misperception even extends to how we think about our political opponents’ wealth, sexual and gender identity, religious beliefs or racial identity. A 2017 study found that Americans held consistently biased perceptions about the type of people who identified as Democrat or Republican. Read More > at FiveThirtyEight
California has the most vaccines of any US state; it has used only 27% of them – California has more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine than any other U.S. state, with 2.8 million received since Jan. 11, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This makes sense, as California is the most populous state in the country with about 40 million residents.
But what doesn’t make sense is the Golden State is getting its allotment into the arms of citizens more slowly than other states.
California has only used 27% of its doses, administering 782,638, according to the CDC.
Other states — including ones with massive populations such as Texas and New York — are moving more quickly, and their vaccine rates (number of doses administered per 100,000 people) are much higher. As of Monday, California ranks 42nd in terms of administering the vaccine.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed in a press briefing Monday to speed up the state’s vaccine rollout and pledged 1 million shots will be administered by Sunday, Jan. 17, more than doubling what’s been done so far.
That effort will require what Newsom called an “all-hands-on-deck approach,” including having vaccinations dispensed by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, dentists, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, and members of the California National Guard. Read More > at SFGate
We asked all 9 Bay Area counties for their vaccine plans. Here’s what they shared. – In pursuit of an answer, we reached out to all nine Bay Area counties and asked their health departments to provide their vaccine plans. We asked several questions: How many vaccines have you distributed? When can seniors get inoculated? When will vaccines be available to the general public? How will people in your county be notified when the vaccine is available to them? What’s being done to speed up the vaccine process in your county?
All the counties got back to us except Contra Costa. While some of the responses were all over the map and none of the counties could give a date for when they will begin inoculating the general public, our investigation allowed us to sort through the confusion and pull together some of the most important information.
First of all, we learned many aspects of vaccine distribution that are consistent in all counties. A few of those key points:
— The state of California’s prioritization plan dictates vaccine allocations for each county. In other words, the state decides how many vaccines each county gets.
— Vaccine providers — which mainly consist of health departments and health care providers such as Kaiser and Sutter Health — are receiving and administering the allocations.
— The state has developed phased allocation guidelines that recommend to counties who should get the vaccine first. Counties are currently focused on Phase 1a, which includes workers in health care and long-term care settings and residents of skilled nursing facilities.
Counties will next move onto Phase 1b. Tier 1 of this phase includes persons 75 years and older and people who are at risk of exposure at work in the following sectors: education, child care, emergency services and food and agriculture.
You can find a complete rundown of the state’s allocations guidelines here Read More > at SFGate
The Guy Who Built The World Wide Web Is Building A ‘New Internet’, Where You Control Your Data – Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know Tim Berners-Lee is a pretty important dude in the technology world. He’s the father of the Internet, responsible for the birth of the World Wide Web as we know it.
And he hates what it has become. So he’s taking some action to fix it.
You see, for years now Berners-Lee has expressed his distaste at how major corporations have taken what was supposed to be a free environment and placed restrictions on it. He doesn’t like how groups like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have effectively centralized the Internet, nor how they control people’s data. So he’s instead working on a new platform and startup that’s declaring war on Big Tech.
…Inrupt is built on the ‘Solid’ platform, something he and others at MIT have been working on for years. Solid is basically designed to be like the early days of the Internet, wild and free, and Inrupt will be the way to access it, at least to start. In a demonstration for the piece, he pulled up what looked like a very basic browser page, completely barebones. Part of an app built for his personal use, it displays his calendar, address book, chats, his music etc. It’s like if you combined Google Drive with WhatsApp, Spotify, and pretty much every piece of cloud storage and online connectivity you use today, all in one place. The difference here is that all the information is under his control.
The basic idea is that each user is assigned a Solid ID and Solid pod when they first come online on the platform, that can be hosted wherever you want. Pod here stands for personal data store, which is what it does. Instead of apps like Google Drive, where your data is stored on the company’s server and therefore subject to their data harvesting. On Solid however, all your data exists in your Solid pod. When an app requests access, Solid will authenticate and then you can choose to give it access to your pod. Read More > in the India Times
Study explores the effects of morning weather on people’s mood and wellbeing at work – The weather can greatly affect daily experiences, for instance, increasing or decreasing the yearning to spend time outdoors or making commutes to the workplace more or less enjoyable. While several past studies have investigated the effects that the weather can have on people’s overall mood and energy levels, the extent to which it can influence their experiences in professional environments is still poorly understood.
With this in mind, researchers at Leuphana University Lüneburg have recently carried out a study investigating the effects of daily morning weather on how people feel while they are at work. Their paper, published in the IAAP’s Applied Psychology journal, specifically examined people’s energy levels, job satisfaction, burnout and stress on a daily basis as they related to morning weather.
“The idea for this study came spontaneously during a team meeting on a bad weather day,” Laura Venz, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told MedicalXpress. “Everyone was sluggish and talking about the weather. Usually, we research how factors at work, such as conflict, high workload, or support, relate to how employees feel; that day brought the crazy idea that seemingly irrelevant factors, like the weather, might indeed play a role as well.”
…Interestingly, the data they gathered suggested that morning weather was only related to positive wellbeing states, and not related to negative ones. In other words, the researchers found that the better the weather was in the morning, the more employees felt energized and satisfied with their work. Contrarily, when the weather was bad, people felt more fatigued and unsatisfied. On the other hand, more negative wellbeing indicators, such as burnout and stress, appeared to be unaffected by the weather. Read More > at MedicalXpress
Dems affix ‘coup’ label – In a sign that the movement to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom is increasingly perceived as a serious threat, the California Democratic Party took the extraordinary step Tuesday of branding it as a “coup” and alleging that its backers were linked to the violent mob who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week.
- Party Chairman Rusty Hicks: “This recall effort, which really ought to be called ‘the California coup,’ is being led by right-wing conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, anti-vaxxers and groups who encourage violence on our democratic institutions.”
- Randy Economy, a recall spokesperson: “Our recall effort is tied to all Californians. Jesus Christ, they’re going to go there? That’s how bad the Democratic Party is in California.”
The press conference marked the party’s first attempt to combat the recall effort, which has gained steam in recent weeks amid a series of high-profile endorsements and cash infusions. Organizers said last week they had collected more than 1 million of the 1.5 million signatures needed to prompt a recall election, underscoring Democratic strategists’ warning that Newsom shouldn’t ignore the effort.
But although Democrats attempted Tuesday to “draw a straight line from the horrible events of last week in Washington, D.C., to current events here in California” — in the words of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria — they were unable to provide proof that white supremacists or other extremists were linked to the Newsom recall. Hicks also acknowledged the “legality” of the recall, which, unlike a coup, is a democratic mechanism written into the California constitution that allows voters to remove an elected official by popular vote, as CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.
Several Democrats also accused former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican who last week launched a gubernatorial exploratory committee, of trying to “exploit” the recall to revive a “flagging political career.”
- Faulconer: “Comparing the capitol attack on our democracy to a recall effort allowed under the state Constitution, signed by 1 mil. people across the political spectrum, is absolutely disgraceful.” Read More > at CalMatters
No, Efforts To Recall California Gov. Newsom Are Not ‘A Coup’ – In remarks described by political observers as both factually wrong and politically foolish, California Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks called the growing effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom as “the California coup.”
“This recall effort, which really ought to be called ‘the California coup,’ is being led by right-wing conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, anti-vaxxers and groups who encourage violence on our democratic institutions,” Hicks said Tuesday at a press conference meant to condemn the endeavor, which remains in the signature-gathering stage.
Sherry Yang, a spokesperson for the Democratic party, kicked off the event by also calling the recall a “coup.”
Hicks provided no evidence linking the recall to the groups he cited. Nor did he explain how the recall effort, which is a legal process to remove a local or state elected leader and has been allowed by the state constitution for more than a century, was akin to a coup — which it clearly is not.
We’re aware that Hicks was using partisan rhetoric to cast the recall effort in a negative light when he referred to it as “the California coup.” He later said the party wasn’t challenging the legality of the campaign.
Still, words matter and not everyone who heard or read his comments will fully understand what they mean. Read More > at Capital Public Radio
Environmental groups sue in bid to block EPA ‘secret science’ rule – Green groups on Monday filed a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent a new rule limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) use of certain studies from taking effect.
The lawsuit takes aim at the EPA’s Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science rule, also known as the “secret science” rule, which restricts the use of studies that don’t make their underlying data public.
The agency has billed the rule as a transparency measure, though its opponents argue that it will prevent consideration of important public health studies that can’t publish their data for reasons such as privacy.
The suit also argued that the rule will “cripple the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect public health and the environment by fundamentally transforming the ways in which the agency may consider and rely on scientific evidence.” Read More > in The Hill
How To Respond to the Great Deplatforming of 2021 – So how should those who value a free and open society feel about the deplatforming of the commander in chief, the ongoing purge of many of his supporters, and repression of discussion of 2020 election voter fraud claims?
Twitter is a private company and CEO Jack Dorsey’s capacity to evict even the president of the United States is something to be grateful for. But what if the network power of a handful of Silicon Valley giants is so great that there’s nowhere for the evicted to turn? And are Facebook, Twitter, and Google acting independently, or are they bending to the will of Congress at a time when tech has become so deeply politicized?
The takeaway from the great deplatforming of 2021 is that we need an open digital commons more than ever, a place where individuals maintain ownership of their own identities and where speech is highly resistant to political pressure.
Decentralized networks are vital to protecting open discourse not only from Twitter, Facebook, and Google, but from Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas), Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), President-elect Joe Biden, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who have the real power to stomp on the free speech rights of American citizens.
It’s easy to forget that Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg embraced the concept of a neutral “public square” not long ago. Zuckerberg told Congress in July 2020, “We do not want to become the arbiters of truth.”
…But the greatest threat isn’t coming from Silicon Valley.
To get what they want from tech CEOs, both Republicans and Democrats have regularly threatened to strip away the liability protections provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is sometimes known as the internet’s “First Amendment.“
Democrats want to leverage Section 230 to force them to weed out misinformation, which they falsely imagine can be sorted out by panels of accredited experts or fine-tuned algorithms. Republicans have threatened to repeal Section 230 unless platforms commit to “viewpoint neutrality,” a standard that Daphne Keller of Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center told Reason in June 2019, is impossible to uphold.
…Communicating freely might take more work in the future, and your favorite politician might get banned or your favorite app taken out of the store. But in this cat-and-mouse game, the mice far outnumber the cats.
That said, in the short term, the decision makers at Twitter and Facebook may want to consider that repression tends to have the unfortunate effect of pushing legitimate dissidents and dangerous, unsavory extremists into the same channels.
Sigmund Freud theorized that when thoughts or experiences are repressed, they inevitably resurface in more deranged and damaging forms. When our dominant communication platforms seek to repress widely held beliefs and opinions, those beliefs and opinions aren’t likely to simply disappear but rather reemerge elsewhere in less visible forums where they’ll face less scrutiny. Read More > at Reason
Fiat Chrysler teams with startup Archer to build an electric air taxi – Archer Aviation is one of many startups trying to build an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, among Volocopter, Hyundai, Lilium and many others. The startup just boosted its standing, however, as it has announced a partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).
Archer plans to build a composite eVTOL aircraft capable of traveling 150 MPH for distances up to 60 miles. FCA will provide access to its “low-cost supply chain, advanced composite material capabilities and engineering and design experience,” according to Archer. The aim is to unveil the electric aircraft design in 2021 and start manufacturing in 2023.
Archer said it’s been “hyper-focused” on the customer part of the design, aiming to offer “increased safety while producing minimal noise” compared to helicopters. “Now, we are working with a seasoned, industry-leading automotive partner… to produce thousands of aircraft reliably and affordably every single year,” said co-founder and co-CEO Brett Adcock.
All passenger aircraft must pass a rigorous FAA certification process that’s daunting even for experienced companies like Boeing, and it’s still not clear how “thousands” of air taxis would fit into the current air traffic control system. On top of that, so far we’ve seen zero eVTOL aircraft that look ready for human transport or mass production. Read More > at Engadget
The Bad Retraction – Using retractions as censorship undermines scientific integrity.
Just before Christmas, the prestigious journal Nature Communications retracted an article that examined the informal mentorship of junior scientists. Among other findings, the paper concluded junior female scientists benefitted from male mentors more than they did female mentors. This set off a firestorm of moral indignation on social media, putting pressure on the journal which then retracted the article following a second (and very unusual) round of peer-review.
Is such a retraction warranted? Or are we seeing retraction increasingly being used by journals as censorship of unpopular conclusions in the “cancel culture” age? Wired magazine recently documented that retractions of controversial science seem to be on the increase. The Wired article made an unironic comparison to The Purge movie, acknowledging that politically charged papers are judged differently than those that are not.
Obviously, any research paper with fatal flaws should be retracted. But this shouldn’t be based on popularity or Twitter mobs. Indeed, the argument that controversial papers should get more scrutiny is an odd one, scientifically. Such an argument is a recipe for disturbing scientific inquiry, which obviously distorts the scientific record: you better find the right things with your data or else you’ll be canceled. Further, papers that support popular moral narratives are arguably as likely to do harm as those that contradict them. Bad science leads to bad policy, bad medical decisions, bad use of grant funding, promotion of societal myths, and distracts from real solutions to real problems. That’s true whether the finding is popular or not. Read More > at Psychology Today
Deepfake laws emerge as harassment, security threats come into focus – A new flurry of state and federal legislation that aims to better understand the creation of doctored video and audio files — and help victims respond — couldn’t have come soon enough, analysts say.
The manipulated content, better known as deepfakes, has been used to falsely portray House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as ill or inebriated in a video that went viral in 2019. Other examples include a faked video of former president Obama, and an artificial intelligence service that has been enabling users to transform photos of women into nude pictures, enabling abuse, blackmail and other kinds of harassment.
Potential malicious uses of deepfakes include fraud, inciting acts of violence or sowing political unrest. Last week, several Trump supporters proposed on Parler that Trump’s concession speech may have been a manipulated video.
The chatter is only more evidence that the existence of deepfakes, and the lack of truly effective screening mechanisms, allows people to doubt truth, or re-affirm their belief in conspiracies. It’s an issue that the U.S. government now is trying to research, in part because of the potential national security threats that come along with an erosion of trust. Read More > at CyperScoop
This Is the Best-Selling Vehicle in America 39 Years in a Row – The list of the best-selling vehicles has been tallied now that all major manufacturers have released their 2020 numbers. The Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) F-series full-sized pickup once again held the top spot, although its figure dropped 12%. The next two vehicles on the list were also full-sized pickups, a trend that persisted for years.
The importance of the F-series to Ford cannot be underestimated. It represents over 30% of sales at America’s number two car company. Its importance also counts as a critical part of Ford’s global sales, particularly because the manufacturer does poorly in China, the world’s largest car market.
Total F-series sales last year reached 787,422. America’s second best-selling vehicle last year was the full-sized Chevrolet Silverado from General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM), at 594,094. It, in turn, was followed by the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) full-sized Ram, with 563,676 units sold. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St
Researchers close in on ‘universal’ flu vaccine as COVID-19 fight takes priority – Researchers believe they are one step closer to a “universal” flu vaccine, even as concerns over the seasonal virus move to the back burner during the COVID-19 pandemic.
T cells found in the lungs may hold the key to long-lasting immunity against influenza A, the more common and often more severe form of the virus, according to the researchers behind a study published Friday by Science Immunology.
These cells, which the researchers call resident helper T cells, help the body initiate antiviral responses against new influenza strains even after experience with only one type of the virus, the researchers said.
This type of “generalized” immune response, against all virus strains, is not possible with the currently available yearly vaccine formulations, they said. Read More > from UPI