Sunday Reading – 10/04/2020


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.

Video: Non-verbal autistic boy says his family’s names for the first time – A heartwarming video published by the group “Uplift” has surfaced online and quickly gone viral via social media. The video shows a young boy with non-verbal autism beginning to speak.

Prompted by his mother, 5-year-old Micah repeats the name of his siblings and other family members, eliciting their cheers and his own ecstatic celebrations.

According to the video, Micah also spoke his own name for the first time. Read More > at Disrn

A 5-year-old sent a toy Baby Yoda to firefighters as a thank you gift and now they take it with them while they fight fires – Firefighters have unleashed a new weapon in the fight against forest fires that have spread across the western U.S. in recent weeks.

That weapon? The smallest and most adorable Force user in the Star Wars universe.

For those not familiar with the tiny Baby Yoda, he took the world by storm after his 2019 debut in season one of Disney’s The Mandalorian. In the show, the masked Mandalorian warrior defends Baby Yoda from a myriad of bounty hunters and mercenaries who mysteriously want him dead.

Earlier this month, 5-year-old Carver from Oregon donated a Baby Yoda doll to firefighters as part of a drive for local fire stations.

Carver wrote a note and sent the doll on its way.

Baby Yoda has made the rounds from fire to fire in multiple states – including Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah – giving moral support to firefighters on the front lines. A Facebook page called “Baby Yoda fights fires” has tracked his journeys. Read More > at Not The Bee

Triple America – In his new book One Billion Americans, Matthew Yglesias, the Vox co-founder and gadfly progressive, goes wild. He shape-shifts from MAGA enthusiast to immigration devotee, from Swedish-style democratic socialist to Cold War nationalist to Focus on the Family stalwart…

The serious, but perhaps not literal, title reflects the author’s view that the United States needs more people—a lot more. Indeed if it doesn’t become three times bigger than its current 330 million, he writes, the country is at risk of finding itself in the back seat of a Chinese-dominated world.

At its peak, America, “the greatest nation in human history,” had “more people, more wealth, and more industrial capacity” than any other country, but its advantage is shrinking. With a massive population and a growing economy, China influences what movies can be made, what CEOs and basketball players can say out loud, and even what subjects can be studied in universities. A billion Americans may not guarantee global hegemony (India is not about to become a superpower), but aggregates matter, especially in a globalized marketplace.

This “unhinged nationalist,” imperialist thesis has caused some progressive hair to catch fire. Yglesias appears to have expected as much. He waves away concerns that a larger population would reduce our quality of life. He observes that ailing cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, Rochester, and Dayton were all thriving when they had more people than they do now, and beyond these needy cities, America has plenty of space for more people. If the Lower 48 had 1 billion people, for example, it would still have only the density of France. Denser places have all sorts of advantages over more rural provinces. The resulting talent clusters bring business investment, specialization, higher productivity, and more innovation, not to mention more downstream services like cleaners, shops, bars, and restaurants. Read More > at City Journal

Tasing Moms Who Refuse Masks Does Not Make the World a Healthier Place – Once a desire—or even a good idea—is turned into a mandate enforceable by the cops, violence is only one disagreement away.

A much-shared video of an Ohio mom getting tased and handcuffed at a middle-school football game should be a reminder that turning everything into a legal matter is just begging for violent conflict. Once a desire—or even a good idea—is turned into a mandate enforceable by the cops, violence is only one disagreement away.

In watching the video, it’s obvious that there was plenty of bad judgment going around in the open-air bleachers of Logan-Hocking School District that day. That goes for mask-resistant Alecia D. Kitts herself, rules-spewing school officials, and the Logan Police Department cops who escalated assertions of their authority over a minor dispute into a lightning ride.

Let’s start with Kitts. Video of the incident starts after the cops grab her, but apparently that came after a prolonged argument over her refusal to wear a mask while watching the game. She claimed to have asthma and so be exempted, but that didn’t satisfy the folks running the event who asked her to leave.

Here’s the thing: while there’s debate over the effectiveness of masks—the CDC is for them, while the World Health Organization remains lukewarm—that’s irrelevant when you’re in somebody else’s domain. It’s their property so they make the rules. If they want you to wear a face mask, or a propeller beanie, or to take off your shoes, you should comply or leave. That’s just good manners. Throwing a hissy fit because a host asks you to do something you don’t want to do in their facility isn’t an option.

Second in the bad-judgment parade are the school officials, who must know that there are huge tensions over mask-wearing, which has become a point of contention and a partisan divide. Should it be that big a deal? That doesn’t matter—it is. But there are constructive approaches for addressing controversial issues. Read More > at Reason

Drink coffee after breakfast, not before, for better metabolic control – A strong, black coffee to wake you up after a bad night’s sleep could impair control of blood sugar levels, according to a new study.

Research from the Centre for Nutrition, Exercise & Metabolism at the University of Bath (UK) looked at the effect of broken sleep and morning coffee across a range of different metabolic markers.

Writing in the British Journal of Nutrition the scientists show that whilst one night of poor sleep has limited impact on our metabolism, drinking coffee as a way to perk you up from a slumber can have a negative effect on blood glucose (sugar) control.

Given the importance of keeping our blood sugar levels within a safe range to reduce the risk of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, they say these results could have ‘far-reaching’ health implications especially considering the global popularity of coffee.

…”As such, individuals should try to balance the potential stimulating benefits of caffeinated coffee in the morning with the potential for higher blood glucose levels and it may be better to consume coffee following breakfast rather than before. Read More > at EurekaAlert!

Apple announces Fitness Plus virtual workouts – Apple is launching a new subscription service for virtual fitness classes called Fitness Plus, the company announced during its presentation today. The service integrates with iPhones, iPads, and the Apple TV, but Apple says it’s built for the Apple Watch. Access to the service will cost $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year, and you’ll get three months free with the purchase of a new Apple Watch. It also comes bundled as part of Apple’s new Apple One subscription. Apple says Fitness Plus will be available before the end of the year.

Many of the workouts require just a set of dumbbells or no equipment at all, Apple says, which should give you the flexibility to do them wherever’s convenient for you. There are 10 different workout types available, including cycling, treadmill, yoga, core, strength, rowing, and HIIT routines, and there’s a program built in for absolute beginners. You can select workouts based on their duration, and Apple says it plans to add new workouts every week. Read More > in The Verge

Flu Season Never Came to the Southern Hemisphere – Mask wearing and social distancing for COVID-19 may have cut influenza cases south of the equator

In March, as coronavirus widened its global sweep, one health statistic quickly flattened: influenza cases. In the Southern Hemisphere, flu season would have been just taking off, but cases were virtually nonexistent. “Never in my 40-year career have we ever seen rates … so low,” says Greg Poland, an influenza expert at the Mayo Clinic. Although researchers need to study the reasons further, several told Scientific American that coronavirus prevention measures—handwashing, mask wearing and social distancing—are working against flu transmission. If those measures continue, Poland says, countries could see the most dramatic drop in influenza cases in modern human history. U.S. health experts still recommend flu shots, however, because not everyone in the country is observing measures to contain the virus and because COVID-19 could perhaps be more threatening in people who contract flu. Read More > at Scientific American

Researchers use membranes that remove salt from water to help ‘split’ sea water into fuel – The power of the sun, wind and sea may soon combine to produce clean-burning hydrogen fuel, according to a team of Penn State researchers. The team integrated water purification technology into a new proof-of-concept design for a sea water electrolyzer, which uses an electric current to split apart the hydrogen and oxygen in water molecules.

This new method for “sea water splitting” could make it easier to turn wind and  into a storable and portable fuel, according to Bruce Logan, Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering and Evan Pugh University Professor.

“Hydrogen is a great fuel, but you have to make it,” Logan said. “The only sustainable way to do that is to use renewable energy and produce it from water. You also need to use water that people do not want to use for other things, and that would be sea water. So, the holy grail of producing hydrogen would be to combine the sea water and the wind and solar energy found in coastal and offshore environments.” Read More > at Phys.org

California Economy Will Take Several Years to Recover – California’s economy began to bounce back this summer thanks to an infusion of federal jobless benefits and business loans along with the reopening of some workplaces, but a full recovery from the coronavirus downturn will take more than two years, UCLA economists predict.

The UCLA Anderson quarterly forecast released Wednesday suggested California payrolls will drop 7.2 percent this year to 16 million jobs, a loss of some 1.5 million since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They are expected to climb back slowly, by just 1.3 percent next year and 3.5 percent in 2022.

The Golden State’s unemployment rate, which was 3.9 percent in February, will average 10.8 percent this year, then fall to 8.6 percent next year and 6.6 percent in 2022, the forecast calculated.

Nonetheless, “the news is not all bad,” economist Leila Bengali wrote in the report, noting that some industries are faring far better than others. A precipitous drop in travelers has hammered California’s leisure and hospitality sector, where payrolls are projected to fall 25 percent this year, but “the housing market is an area where we project particular strength and a quick recovery to pre-recession levels.” Read More > at Governing

No Need to Wait for Herd Immunity – As we get closer to full approval of one or more of the promising candidates for a Covid vaccine, it’s becoming clear that we will not quickly have an adequate supply to vaccinate the entire adult U.S. population, and that many will forego this first round of vaccination. As such, it’s unlikely that an emergency vaccine will allow us to stop the spread of infection through herd immunity.

An effective vaccine can still fit into a broader transmission-control strategy, however. A few months back, I wrote that it’s “reasonable to conclude that we may see continued outbreaks for more than one to two years,” and that the U.S. needs to learn how to coexist with the virus. Even a moderately effective vaccine of limited availability and acceptance can significantly improve our ability to do this.

In the next six to eight weeks, the FDA is likely to review an interim analysis of the results of one or more of the Phase 3 trials underway. Many assume that this review will result in FDA approval of vaccine for emergency use; full approval will most likely come in the first quarter of 2021, after six months of follow up.

If emergency use of the vaccine is granted, the highest risk and most vulnerable individuals will be among the first vaccinated. While it’s not yet clear exactly who will fall into these categories, they will likely include health-care personnel, first-line emergency responders, those with chronic disease, and the elderly. (With luck, they will also include those living in communities hit hardest by the virus.) But even if only elderly people receive the first round of vaccinations, it will significantly change the risk-benefit equation for controlling the spread of Covid. Read More > at City Journal

New California Law Aims To Diversify Juries, Adds Tax Filers To Pool Of Potential Jurors – California is expanding the pool of prospective jurors beyond those with driver’s licenses and the voter rolls, under new legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The governor this week signed Senate Bill 592 by State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which has been dubbed the “Fair Juries Act.” Under SB592, jury commissioners across California would be required to include anyone who files state taxes along with DMV records and lists of registered voters.

Under the new law, which goes into effect next year, the Franchise Tax Board would be required to furnish a list of state tax filers to all jury commissioners by November 2021. Lists would be updated annually. Read More > at KPIX 5

College No Place for Free Speech Fans, Rankings Show – When it comes to protecting free speech, America’s colleges and universities are earning a failing grade. That’s the upshot of a comprehensive new study that asked almost 20,000 students at 55 schools how tolerant and open to controversial ideas their campuses are.

The University of Chicago received the highest score – just 64.2 points out of a total of 100; DePauw University was at the bottom, with 44.2 points. The University of Arkansas, the University of Minnesota, UC-Berkeley and Princeton were bunched in the middle with about 53 points.

Even accounting for grade inflation, that still smells like an F.

The College Free Speech Rankings generated by the survey – which was commissioned by RealClearEducation (RCE) in partnership with The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) – are significant because they offer the first-ever national ranking of free speech based on student perceptions. Research firm College Pulse conducted the survey that forms the basis of the rankings. Read More > at Real Clear Politics

The Substack Superstar System – Until recently, when a prominent writer like Andrew Sullivan lost his job for voicing controversial opinions, he had two options: write for the other side or fade into obscurity. But when Sullivan was fired from New York Magazine recently, he turned to Substack, a platform that lets authors publish and monetize a newsletter or sell standalone content directly to readers. Sullivan claims that he has more than 75,000 subscribers and is making more money than he did at New York.

He’s not the first to turn to a newsletter. In May, chef Alison Roman started a Substack newsletter after leaving the New York Times under fire for criticizing two Asian women and using turmeric in a recipe without showing sufficient cultural sensitivity. Sometimes cancellation is not even necessary. Some writers, like Matt Taibbi, left Rolling Stone to write a paid newsletter because he wanted more independence.

Newsletters are just one way that writers can free themselves from institutions. Katie Herzog, former beleaguered writer at The Stranger, now devotes her time to a podcast and raises money through Patreon. Like Sullivan, she claims to be earning more than she did as a staff writer.

These experiences are part of the growing unbundled economy, an economic trend that extends beyond media. Up until fairly recently, we consumed many goods and services bundled together. Your airline ticket price included a meal and checked luggage. Your cable bill included hundreds of channels. A newspaper subscription offered content from many journalists. But changing economics and technology have made bundling less necessary and attractive—at least in the short run. A bundled service offers lots of variety for a fixed price, but you end up paying for things you don’t want. Now, when we book flights online, we can see other airlines’ prices for identical routes; an airline can appear more competitive by breaking out different services. Streaming platforms mean that we no longer must pay for cable channels we don’t watch. And now, members of the media whom colleagues deem “problematic” don’t have to tolerate a hostile newsroom; they can send out an email newsletter or broadcast a podcast to their audience and collect money directly. Read More > at City Journal

The COVID-19 vaccines furthest along in clinical trials are the fastest to make, but they are also the hardest to deploy – On the day that a COVID-19 vaccine is approved, a vast logistics operation will need to awaken. Millions of doses must travel hundreds of miles from manufacturers to hospitals, doctor’s offices, and pharmacies, which in turn must store, track, and eventually get the vaccines to people all across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with state and local health departments, coordinates this process. These agencies distributed flu vaccines during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic this way, and they manage childhood vaccines every day. But the COVID-19 vaccine will be a whole new challenge.

“The COVID situation is significantly different and more complex than anything that we have had to deal with in the past,” says Kris Ehresmann, an infectious-disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health.

The two leading vaccine candidates in the U.S.—one developed by Moderna, the other by a collaboration between Pfizer and the German company BioNTech—have progressed so quickly to clinical trials precisely because they are the fastest to make and manufacture. They rely on a novel vaccine technology whose advantage is speed, but whose downside is extreme physical fragility. These vaccines have to be frozen—in Pfizer/BioNTech’s case, at an ultracold –94 degrees Fahrenheit, colder than most freezers—which will limit how and where they can be shipped. The ways these vaccines are formulated (without added preservatives) and packaged (in vials that hold doses for multiple people) also make them easier to develop and manufacture quickly but harder to administer on the ground.

The leading vaccine candidates both deploy a new, long-promised technology. Their core is a piece of mRNA, genetic material that in this case encodes for the spike protein—the bit of the coronavirus that helps it enter human cells. The vaccine induces cells to take up the mRNA and make the spike protein and, hopefully, stimulates an immune response.

By using mRNA, vaccine makers do not need to produce viral proteins or grow viruses, methods that are used in more traditional vaccines and that add time to the manufacturing process. This is why Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have been able to get their vaccines into clinical trials so quickly. Moderna went from a genetic sequence of the coronavirus to the first shot in an arm in a record 63 days. Read More > in The Atlantic

‘It’s almost a joke’: In rural California, governor’s gas-powered car ban is a stretch – It’s a long drive to just about anywhere Gary Wright needs to go. A rancher in the far northeastern corner of California, he sometimes has to drive nearly 100 miles, one-way, to get to where his cattle graze. It’s 36 miles to Klamath Falls, Oregon, for a significant errand run.

There are only a few gas stations along the routes through the forests and high deserts in Modoc County — let alone electric vehicle charging stations. There are none near the rangeland where Wright’s cattle graze.

Electric vehicle companies say battery technology is improving, but as it stands, the best electric car batteries currently on the market have a range of no more than 250 miles. There are few options for electric pickups like the ones Wright would need to haul equipment and livestock trailers over long distances.

“It’s not practical at all,” Wright said. “It’s almost a joke to me. I just can’t fathom anybody thinking that’s a reality.”

Newsom’s executive order expanded on a 2018 mandate by then-Gov. Jerry Brown calling for 5 million zero-emission cars by 2030. Brown also established a goal of 250,000 charging stations, including 10,000 direct-current fast chargers, and 200 hydrogen fueling facilities in the state by 2025.

State officials and environmental groups say the 15-year runway in Newsom’s executive order gives the state plenty of time to make it work for everyone. They say more options for pickups are coming on the market, battery technology is rapidly improving, and the vehicles are growing cheaper as demand increases. Power companies and electric car manufacturers also are already working aggressively to install charging stations across the state, even in its remote corners.

But concerns about low income and rural areas not having access to charging infrastructure are well-founded, a Sacramento Bee analysis of state data shows. The state will need to make a significant investment if rural or low-income Californians will be able to make the switch to zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

The number of electric vehicle charging stations is multiplying in California, but areas without a high concentration of wealth continue to lag behind the rest of the state, including the vast rural stretches of Northeastern California and much of the Central Valley. Read More > from The Sacramento Bee

Newsom signs law allowing transgender inmates to be placed in prison by their gender identity – California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Saturday allowing transgender inmates to be placed in prisons based on their gender identity.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) will now house inmates based on their gender identity rather than their sex assigned at birth — but only if the state does not have “management or security concerns” with individual inmates.

The law Newsom signed Saturday requires officers to ask inmates privately during the intake process if they identify as transgender, nonbinary or intersex, then inmates can request to be placed in a facility that houses either men or women.

The CDCR cannot deny requests solely because of inmates’ anatomy or sexual orientation. When a request is denied, the state must provide a written statement to the inmate explaining the decision and give them an opportunity to object. Read More > in The Hill

More Voters Are Independent, But Minor Parties Still Struggle – Around the country, lots of voters are unhappy with the two major parties. The number of people registering as independents has been growing for years. According to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans identify as independent — a larger share than either Republicans or Democrats.

Although many people say they don’t feel at home either in the GOP or the Democratic Party, their actual voting behavior shows that they are more fearful of one party or the other taking power. That’s especially true during a time of intense polarization, when the worst outcome would be that the party you hate the most wins.

Minor parties are still falling prey to a self-fulfilling prophecy: Most people won’t vote for them because they don’t believe they can win. Polls this year consistently indicate that third-party candidates will take a much smaller share of the presidential vote than they did in 2016, when many people couldn’t bring themselves to vote for either Trump or Clinton. Read More > at Governing

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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