Sunday Reading – 09/06/2020


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.

They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen? – What a week. Rough for all Californians. Exhausting for the firefighters on the front lines. Heart-shattering for those who lost homes and loved ones. But a special “Truman Show” kind of hell for the cadre of men and women who’ve not just watched California burn, fire ax in hand, for the past two or three or five decades, but who’ve also fully understood the fire policy that created the landscape that is now up in flames.

“What’s it like?” Tim Ingalsbee repeated back to me, wearily, when I asked him what it was like to watch California this past week. In 1980, Ingalsbee started working as a wildland firefighter. In 1995, he earned a doctorate in environmental sociology. And in 2005, frustrated by the huge gap between what he was learning about fire management and seeing on the fire line, he started Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology. Since then FUSEE has been lobbying Congress, and trying to educate anybody who will listen, about the misguided fire policy that is leading to the megafires we are seeing today.

The pattern is a form of insanity: We keep doing overzealous fire suppression across California landscapes where the fire poses little risk to people and structures. As a result, wildland fuels keep building up. At the same time, the climate grows hotter and drier. Then, boom: the inevitable. The wind blows down a power line, or lightning strikes dry grass, and an inferno ensues…

Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.

“It’s painful,” said Craig Thomas, director of the Fire Restoration Group. He, too, has been having the fire Cassandra conversation for 30 years. He’s not that hopeful, unless there’s a power change. “Until different people own the calculator or say how the buttons get pushed, it’s going to stay that way.”

…A seventy-word primer: We dug ourselves into a deep, dangerous fuel imbalance due to one simple fact. We live in a Mediterranean climate that’s designed to burn, and we’ve prevented it from burning anywhere close to enough for well over a hundred years. Now climate change has made it hotter and drier than ever before, and the fire we’ve been forestalling is going to happen, fast, whether we plan for it or not.

Megafires, like the ones that have ripped this week through 1 million acres (so far), will continue to erupt until we’ve flared off our stockpiled fuels. No way around that. Read More > at ProPublica

Second effort to boost wildfire funding falls flat in the California Legislature – An eleventh hour push in the California Legislature to direct $500 million to wildfire response and prevention fell flat Monday, marking the second late attempt to boost fire funding that failed in the last week.

The efforts to secure more money for wildfires fizzled out as blazes burned more than a million acres across the state during the frenetic final days of the legislative year.

Arguing that California needs to do more to prevent fires, Democrats in the Senate came up with the plan to spend a half-million dollars on fires after a bill to generate $3 billion for wildfire and climate projects through the extension of a fee on electricity bills failed to gain traction last week.

But even the scaled back spending plan was fraught with legislative hurdles that proved too difficult to overcome and the plan was scuttled before it was officially introduced. Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins’ office confirmed that the bill was dead late Monday. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

Legislature leaves much undone – When the Legislature reconvened in January, the stage was seemingly set for a year of sweeping action on California’s most vexing political issues, such as a chronic housing shortage, homelessness and an embarrassingly high poverty rate.

Democrats enjoyed overwhelming majorities in both legislative houses, the Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, was fond of pursuing “big hairy, audacious goals” in contrast with cautious predecessor Jerry Brown, and the state’s roaring economy was pouring billions of extra dollars into the state treasury.

However, the most telling fact about the 2020 legislative session, which drew to a fitful close Monday night, is the long list of issues that either didn’t get addressed or received just token attention, including those stemming from more recent traumatic events.

…Bolder moves were proposed, such as a $100 billion economic stimulus package, raising income taxes on the wealthiest Californians, imposing a tax on their wealth, overhauling the economics of rental housing and home ownership, ending single-family zoning to allow more multi-family housing, and stripping violent cops of their legal status.

Some were justified, such as taking away the certification of miscreant cops, and some were outlandish and unworkable, such as a wealth tax. But all were shunted aside as legislative leaders — and Newsom — opted for risk-avoidance and hope that Democrat Joe Biden will unseat Republican President Donald Trump in November and then provide California with many billions of dollars to buy its way out of difficulty. Read More > at CALMatters

California lawmakers failed to enact sweeping police reforms. Here’s why. – Activists tried to pump up their presence from afar with celebrity endorsements on social media. Kim Kardashian was among those urging state legislators to pass a bill creating a statewide system to yank an officer’s badge in cases of misconduct or criminal conviction — a proposal police fought as being unfair to their due process rights. The measure died when the Assembly did not take it up for a vote by Monday’s midnight deadline to pass bills for the year.

bill to make more police misconduct records available to the public also stalled late Monday night, when the Senate ran out of time to bring it up for a final vote. And that was after it had been narrowed to mollify law enforcement’s objections, removing a provision to make public all complaints of excessive force, whether or not they were substantiated.

The Senate also failed to discuss or vote on a bill prohibiting police from using tear gas or rubber bullets on demonstrators, which police said would leave them with only more dangerous options for dispersing unlawful crowds.

Lawmakers did pass a measure requiring the state attorney general to investigate when police kill unarmed civilians, a proposal that has stalled in years past. Supporters see it as a significant step to build trust by making investigations more independent, though the final version was neither a high priority for activists nor a target of police opposition.

The Legislature also passed a bill banning police from using chokeholds and neck restraints, which police also did not oppose. Many departments already ban those tactics but the bill would make a uniform policy for the whole state.  Read More > at CALMAtters

Bid to allow duplexes on most California lots dies after Assembly approval comes too late – A bill that would have allowed for duplexes on most single-family lots in California passed the Assembly late Monday night, but died when the year’s legislative session came to an end before the Senate could take it up for a vote.

After an initial attempt fell short of passage by three votes, the Assembly took a second look at Senate Bill 1120, passing it with a margin of 42 to 17, just one vote more than was needed and just three minutes before a midnight deadline to clear both houses.

But the bill did not reach the Senate with enough time for legislators to take it up, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), the bill’s author, confirmed.

SB 1120 wouldn’t have outlawed single-family houses. But it would have required local governments to permit applications to convert a house into a duplex or to demolish a house and build two units, either as a duplex or two single-family houses. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times

The Real Threat to U.S. Elections Doesn’t Come from Beijing or Moscow – It shouldn’t surprise us that foreign countries have preferences about American electoral outcomes. Why wouldn’t they, given U.S. influence in the world? According to political scientist Lindsey O’Rourke, during the Cold War, the United States engaged in 64 attempts at covert regime change. More recently, we have overthrown and ultimately helped kill leaders in Iraq and Libya, while aiming to replace governments in Syria and Venezuela. Hillary Clinton believes that Vladimir Putin’s grudge against her goes back to comments she made about the 2011 parliamentary elections in Russia, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently urged the Chinese people to overthrow their government.

Given the American propensity for regime change overseas, it makes sense that other nations would seek, in turn, to interfere in American politics—for reasons of self-defense, if nothing else. What’s less understandable is the moral indignation that American leaders express about what are relatively minor incursions, compared with U.S. violations of some of the most fundamental rules of international law.

…Of course, it’s possible that China or Russia wants a certain side to win in November because it sees an opportunity to take advantage of Americans or engage in foreign aggression. Nonetheless, simply knowing which candidate Xi or Putin favors tells us nothing about which way Americans should vote.

Right now, Americans are extremely pessimistic about their institutions and the direction of the country. Yet, as liberal journalist Ezra Klein argues in his recent Why We’re Polarized, the system may be broken from the perspective of what’s good for the country, but it still works fairly well from the perspective of those in power. Government contractors still get paid, lobbyists make major profits, and top government officials can still leverage their time in power into lucrative private-sector work. Coming from the other side of the political spectrum, Charles Murray’s Coming Apart documented how the Washington, D.C. metro area has become home to the nation’s wealthiest counties in recent decades.

…America, and American democracy, will be better off if we think less about what foreign countries want to happen in November and more about the agendas of those drumming up concern about it. Read More > at Real Clear Defense

Next up: Californians brace for the ‘twindemic’ – For months, health experts have warned about a possible spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations for the fall and winter months, when colder weather will drive people indoors and holidays will likely bring friends and extended families together. That, on top of the impending flu season, could create what Gov. Gavin Newsom and others have referred to as a “twindemic.”

Doctors and public health officials across the state are echoing this message. A combination of COVID-19 and influenza could put serious pressure on a health care system that is only starting to stabilize after a summer of peaks in hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units.

…There is a glimmer of hope, though. Hospital and state officials say they are better prepared for a possible second wave of COVID, and can draw from the lessons learned during these past six months. Hospitals have refined their surge plans, and the state has come out with a plan to significantly increase testing capacity starting in November. Supply-chain constraints for coveted protective gear have also relaxed some.

Still, the toll of COVID plus the flu will depend largely on people’s behavior, Edward said.

A reminder: While there is no vaccine ready yet to fight off coronavirus, the flu is preventable. Oh, and also, people can get both at the same time.

In a best case scenario, Californians largely heed to public health recommendations, get their flu shots, and contribute to a mild flu season. Rutherford pointed to countries in the Southern Hemisphere, like Australia, where flu season usually peaks in August. In late August, Australian health officials reported that flu activity there was “lower than average” for that time of year.

This could be because this year’s vaccine was a good match to flu strains, or perhaps people are still taking protective measures against COVID-19, such as wearing masks and socially distancing, Rutherford said. Precautions can protect against both illnesses.

In a worst case scenario, high flu activity in California coincides with another coronavirus surge.  Read More > at CALMatters

‘Entrepreneurship of necessity’: Business applications soar to highest level in 13 years – Applications for new businesses seeking to hire workers have surged this year to their highest point since 2007, according to the Census Bureau, a development that has surprised economists and suggests that jobless workers are looking to entrepreneurship to stay afloat.

Between the first and second quarters of 2020, over 1.7 million business applications have been filed. Of them, roughly 1 million seek to open a business that will hire staff.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said John Haltiwanger, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland and a research associate at the Census Bureau.

Haltiwanger said that it was too early to tell whether the increase in applications would translate into sustainable businesses and jobs.

Applications have increased both for sole proprietorships, which don’t plan to hire workers, and employers, who plan to take on staff.

Economists mostly credit the increase in applications to the conditions created by the mass layoffs caused by the pandemic. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

Taiwan kite festival accident sees 3-year-old girl lifted high into the air as crowd watches on

How did human butts evolve to look that way? – What makes humans different from other animals? Ask any ten people and you’re likely to get ten different answers, ranging from our relatively large brains, to our incredible use of language and symbols, to our ability to dramatically modify the world around us.

But if you asked me, I’d say that it’s our butts.

Take a look around the animal kingdom. Even our closest living relatives among the great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas), don’t have proportionally as big butts as humans do. The main reason for this probably comes down to our unique style of locomotion. We’re the only mammals alive today whose primary way of getting around is walking on two legs. And becoming upright bipeds has had some important consequences for our derrières.

The anatomical structure that we generally think of as a “butt” is made up of adipose tissue (fat) sitting on top of our gluteal muscles, which are attached to the bony pelvis. Ultimately, it’s the shape of our pelvis that dictates the shape of our butts, and that set of bones has undergone some major changes over the last six-or-so million years. Read More > at Massive Science

No, Michigan voter data wasn’t hacked by the Russians – Michigan’s secretary of state on Tuesday refuted a news report asserting that the state’s voter registration database had been compromised in an example of how election officials are combatting misinformation weeks before the presidential election.

The statement came in response to a report in Russian media outlet Kommersant claiming that recently purloined data on American voters was available on a hacking forum. It turns out that data was already publicly available, and it appears to have been repackaged by whoever was advertising it.

“Our system has not been hacked,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office said in a statement. “We encourage all Michigan voters to be wary of attempts to ‘hack’ their minds, however, by questioning the sources of information and advertisements they encounter and seeking out trusted sources, including their local election clerk and our office.”

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the FBI said they “have not seen cyberattacks this year on voter registration databases or on any systems involving voting.”

“Information on U.S. elections is going to grab headlines, particularly if it is cast as foreign interference,” the CISA and FBI statement continued. “Early, unverified claims should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.” Read More > at CyberScoop

The Case for Making Virtual Public Meetings Permanent – The coronavirus shutdowns have made many things virtual: school, work, church, even real- estate tours. Local governments, like other institutions, have an obligation to continue to conduct business, so for five months now they too have relied on various forms of virtual meetings.

Online public hearings and other meetings have become a common practice nationwide, using a variety of videoconferencing services. As is usually the case when new technology is rolled out quickly, there have been setbacks, glitches and unexpected consequences. Rural areas often struggle with slow Internet. Trolls have Zoombombed some public hearings. But overall the process has been a relatively inexpensive and effective way, particularly for larger municipalities, to continue public business in a challenging time.

The question, as has been asked in many contexts through 2020, is why can’t this COVID-19-era innovation become permanent? Rather than return to the hassle of holding most public meetings in person, why not continue to make them remote?

The first advantage is that it reduces costs, which is one of the reasons many businesses are planning to institutionalize remote work, continuing it on a large scale after the pandemic passes…

Second is that it would increase public access and participation. A common criticism of public meetings is that their participants represent only a small segment of the community: the people who have time to go to public meetings…

A third advantage seems less obvious, but is important: It would go a long way toward preventing public meetings from devolving into emotional trainwrecks… Read More > at Governing

Walmart’s $98-a-year Amazon Prime rival launches September 15thWalmart+ is finally here. On September 15th, customers can hand over $98 a year, or $12.95 a month, to join the membership-and-benefits program. The big perk that Walmart+ offers is unlimited free delivery on orders over $35 from its network of 4,700 stores across the US, many of which can do same day. Otherwise, the only other notable feature of the service is fuel discounts, offering “up to” five cents off a gallon at Walmart, Murphy USA and Murphy Express gas stations. Rounding out the offering is Scan & Go, the company’s app-based shopping service that lets users scan their products on their own phone for faster checkouts.

The big selling point of this is to expand free, fast and cheap deliveries to the parts of the US that Amazon has yet to reach. Given that services like Prime Now are clustered in around 100 big metro areas, there’s plenty of the US that Walmart can grab. It helps that Walmart’s big footprint and distribution network will hopefully reach folks that feel ignored by the online mega-retailer.  Read More > at Engadget

Amazon’s drone delivery fleet hits milestone with FAA clearance – Retail behemoth Amazon.com Inc. took a big leap toward delivering goods from the sky by becoming one of only a handful of companies certified by the U.S. government to operate as a drone airline.

The Federal Aviation Administration designated Amazon Prime Air an “air carrier,” the company said Monday. That allows Amazon to begin its first commercial deliveries in the U.S. under a trial program, using the high-tech devices it unveiled for that purpose last year.

Amazon and its competitors must still clear some imposing regulatory and technical hurdles before small packages holding the likes of cat food or toothpaste can routinely be dropped at people’s homes. But the action shows that they’ve convinced the government they’re ready to operate in the highly regulated aviation sector. Read More > at MSN Money

2025: Google U. Vs. Microsoft U.? – Fast forward to 2025. The annus horribilis, 2020, is in the fairly distant past. The popular esports national championship is taking place —-between two powerhouse higher education teams —Google and Microsoft. Just as a century earlier America fixated on the Harvard vs. Yale football game, and later ball throwing contests between top SEC universities known more for football than learning, schools like Alabama and Ole Miss, now the insurgent for profit high tech giants are battling.

Far fetched fiction? Not necessarily. Both Google and Microsoft, along with many other high tech private powerhouses, are moving headlong into teaching employable skills, and certifying vocational competence. Why? For many Americans, traditional higher education is vastly too expensive and too hung up on weird and even threatening left-wing ideology and indoctrination, rather than scholarly dissemination and discovery. Many mostly semi-affluent Americans still want four or five gap years between adolescence and life, provided by residential “colleges” serving the strange triple functions of country clubs, hedonistic party sites, and halls of learning. However, an increasing proportion of the population of our slow growth, aging and debt ridden society are just saying “no” to traditional college.

Non-traditional providers of knowledge, like 2U and Coursera, are reportedly booming, and a few nimble and risk-taking state universities like Purdue (which bought Kaplan’s on-line services, now Purdue Global) and the University of Arizona (which is buying Ashford University) are moving into non-traditional modes of delivery in big ways.

But now the big guns are getting really involved. Google is moving quickly to offer high level vocational training via several Google Career Certificates, short courses (six months or so of training) hosted on Coursera designed to offer a big vocational return at a moderate cost—many initial participants will get scholarships from Google in its effort to quickly achieve critical scale economies… Read More > at Forbes

The FBI’s digital security guide for local police actually has good OPSEC advice – An FBI cybersecurity guide instructs local police officers on how to avoid surveillance and harassment online amid ongoing protests against police brutality throughout the U.S.

The instructions include a range of advisories for smaller police agencies, ranging from ways to avoid harassment on Facebook to the best methods for removing personal information from publicly available databases. The 354-page document, titled “Digital Exhaust Opt Out Guide,” was released publicly in June as part of the BlueLeaks data dump, a trove of law enforcement materials made public by transparency activists calling themselves Distributed Denial of Secrets.

Federal authorities have distributed the guidelines to local police fusion centers — the state-operated hubs where federal, state, local and other law enforcement agencies share threat information and training tools — amid protests over the death of George Floyd and other unarmed Black Americans at the hands of police. Read More > at CyberScoop

The Case for Adding 672 Million More Americans – The United States is not “full.” In fact, it is empty. Right now, the country has about 93 people per square mile. Many, many countries are far denser than this, and not just city-states like Singapore (more than 20,000 per square mile) or small island nations like Malta (3,913 per square mile). South Korea has 1,337 people per square mile, and Belgium has 976. If you tripled the population of the United States, adding the new Americans only to the Lower 48 and leaving Alaska and Hawaii intact and unchanged, the main part of America would be only about as dense as France and less than half as dense as Germany.

A transformation on that scale is almost impossible to imagine, in large part because the American political system has fallen into a state of torpor and dysfunction driven by, among other things, the absence of the shared sense of purpose that once bound the national experiment. But while contemporary politics is terrifying in certain ways, it has also opened up again the possibility of goals, and projects, and ideas — probably the biggest opportunity in a generation for new ideas to take hold. So here is one big one: a billion Americans.

When America faced down Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, we were the big dog. We had more people, more wealth, and more industrial capacity. (Back in 1938, the gross domestic product of the U.S. alone was larger than that of Germany, Japan, and Italy combined.) But against China, we are the little dog: There are more than 1 billion of them to about 330 million of us. Chinese people don’t need to become as rich as Americans for China’s overall economy to outweigh ours. If they managed to become about half as rich as we are on a per person basis, like the Bahamas or Spain, then their economy would be far larger than ours in the aggregate. To become one-third as rich as we are, like Portugal or Greece, would be enough to pull even. To stay on top, we probably need to grow the country threefold — to one billion Americans.

Conservatives argue that the country can’t take more immigrants — that it should effectively close its borders or, at the very least, restrict immigration to a trickle. Progressives tend to disagree, even while being inclined to say that the particular towns and cities they live in should be preserved as is, opposing any further real-estate development as a pernicious disruption. Meanwhile, America’s birthrate has slipped to a historic low, and nobody in the political mainstream seems to think we can or should do anything about it. But a three-to-one advantage in population is really hard to overcome. Thankfully, tripling the size of the nation is something that is in our power to achieve. It would just require more immigrants and more programs to support people who want to have additional children. Read More > at Intelligencer

California’s Property-Tax Holy War – California’s Proposition 13, the successful 1978 initiative that limited property-tax increases, has long been considered the third rail of the state’s politics. Former governor Jerry Brown, coasting to victory in the 2014 gubernatorial election, called the constitutional amendment “a sacred doctrine that should never be questioned.” But now a coalition of public-sector unions, school districts, progressive advocacy groups, and Democratic politicians are betting that they can overturn at least half of Prop. 13, in the process enacting a huge tax increase on state businesses during a steep recession. Theirs promises to be a hard-fought battle, pitting rich unions against well-financed business groups—a contest that will prove decisive for California’s future. If the union-led effort succeeds, it will show that the state has made a pivotal, if not permanent, move to the left, and the rest of Prop. 13 will likely be the progressive movement’s next target.

Prop. 13 limited the amount that commercial and residential properties could be taxed in California to 1 percent of value. Crucially, the constitutional amendment also restricted reassessments of value to when a property changes hands, or when construction enhances the value of a home or commercial property. Several trends encouraged public support for the proposition, including the rapid growth of California government, skyrocketing local taxes, and a series of state supreme court decisions that redistributed property taxes in some wealthy districts to poorer areas. Watching property assessments soar during the inflationary 1970s, older homeowners strongly supported the initiative.

Though Prop. 13 has been a boon for some owners, especially those who have retained their properties for a long time, it hasn’t restrained the overall growth of taxes in the Golden State, which ranks 11th in total tax burden on individuals, in part because of its steeply progressive income tax—the highest rate in the nation. The Tax Foundation also rates California as the third-worst business climate among states because of its combined tax burden—including its corporate, sales, and personal income taxes. When you consider the state’s heavy-handed regulations, too, the business outlook already looks glum. According to a survey by Chief Executive, CEOs rate California the nation’s worst business environment. Read More > at City Journal

Why Americans are buying more guns than ever – Americans have been on a record gun-buying spree in recent months.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and protests for racial justice, the gun industry’s trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, estimates that gun sales from March through July were 8.5 million. This is 94% higher the same period in 2019.

Firearms industry consultants estimate July sales alone were 2.0 million units, an increase of 136% over July 2019.

These estimates are based on the number of background checks conducted by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The FBI reported that eight of the weeks in this period are in the top 10 highest weeks since the agency began collecting data in 1998.

Gun ownership can be motivated by the belief that having guns helps to ensure freedom to do and live as one chooses, particularly for individuals concerned with protection and defense.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that 40% of recent gun buyers are doing so for the first time, partly driven by citizens’ perceived need to protect themselves in a period of uncertainty and civil unrest, as well as calls to defund the police.

This idea is supported by data showing that more than 99% of recent sales are handguns, which are typically used for self-defense, and by research showing that buying a gun for self-defense can be motivated by feelings that the world is generally dangerous. Read More > at The Conversation

Referendum filed to overturn California flavored tobacco ban – Opponents of California’s recently signed ban on flavored tobacco are seeking to overturn the law with a referendum, following a common industry playbook to battle unwanted California laws.

The measure that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Friday, CA SB793 (19R), prohibits flavored tobacco with an exemption for hookah — a landmark victory for public health interests who have warned that vapes loaded with sweet flavors are hooking a new generation on nicotine. Tobacco and convenience store interests waged a fierce but unsuccessful fight to block the bill.

…A successful campaign to overturn the just-enacted flavored tobacco ban in America’s most populous state would deal a stinging setback to the growing public health movement to limit or outright ban flavored tobacco. California’s efforts are being closely watched as other states and cities consider similar measures.

But even if voters ultimately were to turn back a referendum, just getting it on the 2022 California ballot would benefit the tobacco and vaping industry. Under California law, a referendum that qualifies for the ballot suspends the measure it targets until voters weigh in. Read More > at Politico

The Stoicism Of Chadwick Boseman – Three years ago, when a journalist asked Chadwick Boseman about the physical demands of starring in three movies in rapid succession, he told the actor, “You’ve been through the wringer.” Boseman replied, “Oh, you don’t even know. You have no idea. One day I’ll live to tell the story.”

He did not. When Boseman died on Friday, his passing left the public in shock. Boseman had cancer, but never went public with his battle, even after skyrocketing to worldwide fame. He was a superhero, after all.

Boseman’s team announced his death in an Instagram post that also revealed his condition. “Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it progressed to stage IV,” the post said. It also noted that “From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”

That amounts to a remarkable act of stoicism made more remarkable by the anti-stoic culture in which he lived. That culture is even more anti-stoic for celebrities and men. Whatever Boseman’s reason for keeping his cancer private, the decision was unusual.

Stoicism is increasingly framed as a negative quality for men. This trend was epitomized by the American Psychological Association’s new guidelines on masculinity released last year. “The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity – marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression – is, on the whole, harmful,” the group argued. Read More > in The Federalist

Analysis: How renters, landlords and banks fared in the eviction compromise – California renters financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic will be protected from eviction until at least next February, while small landlords will be offered some foreclosure protections, under a measure approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom late Monday night.

The deal was passed by supermajorities in both state legislative chambers, with both Democrats and a handful of Republican lawmakers supporting the bill while pleading for additional federal intervention.

The emergency measure, which Newsom and other backers have framed as a stopgap to buy time until the federal government steps in with more direct financial assistance, is the product of contentious negotiations between tenant groups, landlord interests, and bankers over who will be left bearing the financial brunt of missed rent payments precipitated by the pandemic. Nearly one million Californian renter households have had a member suffer a job loss since the pandemic struck according to a recent UC Berkeley analysis, leading to worries of a possible “tidal wave” of evictions.

But while tenants, landlord and banking groups all urged lawmakers to approve the bill, the compromise’s specifics have left some parties severely disappointed. Several prominent tenant groups are already demanding Newsom issue a new executive order to stop evictions for renters not financially impacted by the virus — evictions that could begin Wednesday.

Renters can’t be evicted for payments they missed from March, when the pandemic first struck, through Aug. 31. From September through Jan. 31, if renters come up with 25% of the rent they owe, they will also be protected from eviction. Renters can pay that 25% at any time before Jan. 31.

Starting Feb. 1, eviction rules go back to normal. Miss your Feb. 1 rent? You can be evicted, even if you got laid off because of COVID-19. Unable to come up with that 25% of missed rent between September and January? You can also be evicted.  Read More > at CALMatters 

Watch a Toyota-backed flying car’s first public, piloted test flight – Toyota-backed SkyDrive has finally conducted a public, crewed test flight (via Observer) for its flying car after years of work. The startup flew its SD-03 vehicle around the Toyota Test Field in the city of Toyota with a pilot at the helm. While it wasn’t autonomous, as you might have guessed, it showed that the aircraft could work as promised in the field.

The SD-03 is billed as the smallest electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) vehicle in the world, and it’s meant to usher in a “new means of transportation” for urban life. It has a total of eight rotors that help it fly safely even if there’s a motor failure.

Read More > at Engadget

Reform, Not Defunding – Protests have spread across the United States for months now, along with calls for defunding local police departments. But the movement to defund police has a crucial flaw: the policy that it seeks would harm the minority communities whom the protesters claim to care about. Moreover, those communities don’t even agree with it.

Cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Portland are making significant cuts to their police budgets, while others, including Houston, Chicago, and Newark, have maintained or even increased spending levels on law enforcement. The glaring differentiator between these cities: those with black mayors or many black council members have opposed demands to cut their police budgets. Even in New York City, where Mayor de Blasio agreed to some cosmetic cuts, some black and Latino council members opposed even these.

recent Gallup poll found that 81 percent of African-Americans opposed reducing police in their neighborhoods; 61 percent wanted the same amount of police, while 20 percent wanted more. (Out of the four major ethnic groups, Asian-Americans were the most likely to want reduced police presence in their neighborhoods.) This black support for more police comes even as black respondents to the poll reported the highest frequency of police interactions and the lowest confidence that their interactions will result in positive treatment. Read More > at City Journal 

BUILT TO LAST – A BuzzFeed News investigation based on thousands of satellite images reveals a vast, growing infrastructure for long-term detention and incarceration.

China has secretly built scores of massive new prison and internment camps in the past three years, dramatically escalating its campaign against Muslim minorities even as it publicly claimed the detainees had all been set free. The construction of these purpose-built, high-security camps — some capable of housing tens of thousands of people — signals a radical shift away from the country’s previous makeshift use of public buildings, like schools and retirement homes, to a vast and permanent infrastructure for mass detention.

In the most extensive investigation of China’s internment camp system ever done using publicly available satellite images, coupled with dozens of interviews with former detainees, BuzzFeed News identified more than 260 structures built since 2017 and bearing the hallmarks of fortified detention compounds. There is at least one in nearly every county in the far-west region of Xinjiang. During that time, the investigation shows, China has established a sprawling system to detain and incarcerate hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities, in what is already the largest-scale detention of ethnic and religious minorities since World War II.

These forbidding facilities — including several built or significantly expanded within the last year — are part of the government’s unprecedented campaign of mass detention of more than a million people, which began in late 2016. That year Chen Quanguo, the region’s top official and Communist Party boss, whom the US recently sanctioned over human rights abuses, also put Muslim minorities — more than half the region’s population of about 25 million — under perpetual surveillance via facial recognition cameras, cellphone tracking, checkpoints, and heavy-handed human policing. They are also subject to many other abuses, ranging from sterilization to forced labor. Read More > at BuzzFeed

Your Coronavirus Test Is Positive. Maybe It Shouldn’t Be. – Some of the nation’s leading public health experts are raising a new concern in the endless debate over coronavirus testing in the United States: The standard tests are diagnosing huge numbers of people who may be carrying relatively insignificant amounts of the virus.

Most of these people are not likely to be contagious, and identifying them may contribute to bottlenecks that prevent those who are contagious from being found in time. But researchers say the solution is not to test less, or to skip testing people without symptoms, as recently suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Instead, new data underscore the need for more widespread use of rapid tests, even if they are less sensitive.

In what may be a step in this direction, the Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would purchase 150 million rapid tests.

The most widely used diagnostic test for the new coronavirus, called a PCR test, provides a simple yes-no answer to the question of whether a patient is infected.

But similar PCR tests for other viruses do offer some sense of how contagious an infected patient may be: The results may include a rough estimate of the amount of virus in the patient’s body. Read More > in The New York Times

About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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