Sunday Reading – 10/11/2020


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.

Why California had rolling blackouts – Mainly: poor planning

Two months after Gov. Gavin Newsom called for an investigation into California’s first rolling blackouts in nearly two decades — during which time residents were twice warned that blackouts could return — a group of key state agencies released their preliminary findings.

The findings raise serious questions about the ability of California’s electrical grid to meet ambitious environmental goals, including 100% clean energy by 2045 and Newsom’s recent order banning the sale of new gas-powered cars in 2035. The agencies pinpointed three main reasons why nearly 1 million customers lost power over the course of two days in August:

  • Inadequate preparation for a “climate change-induced extreme heat storm.”
  • Insufficient energy in the early evening hours due to the state’s increased reliance on clean energy.
  • Complex market mechanisms, including one that allowed power plant operators to sell energy to other states even as a shortfall loomed.

To prevent future blackouts, the three state agencies that oversee energy — the California Independent System Operator, California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission — said they would revise their plans to account for extreme weather events, ensure energy generation and storage projects are completed on time, accelerate new projects, and “enhance” market practices.

The state has struggled to meet its own deadlines for transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy. After the rolling blackouts, it voted to keep four controversial gas-powered plants running, although they were supposed to be phased out by the end of 2020. And over the past three years, it shut off some gas generation in anticipation of battery storage it has yet to build, according to the Los Angeles Times. From Calmatters

‘Micro weddings’ are a thing. California desert wedding planners create ‘little love bubble’ – Wedding industry data show about half as many weddings are expected to occur in California this year, with the coronavirus pandemic derailing large gatherings and state guidelines permitting only ceremonies.The state saw more than 241,000 weddings last year, a figure that’s expected to drop by roughly 50% in 2020, according to data from research firm The Wedding Report. Total associated sales were about $7.1 billion last year, and expected to be close to $3 billion this year.

While event planners are seeing many nuptials postponed, weddings that are going forward tend to be smaller, more intimate events. Palm Springs area hotels, once full of hundreds of guests for weekend destination weddings, are putting together new elopement and “micro wedding” packages for couples who want to make it official regardless — or perhaps because — of the pandemic.

Receptions are not allowed under current California guidelines for Riverside and San Bernardino counties. But some micro weddings are culminating in small dinner parties anyway, with loved ones gathering in small groups at boutique hotels or prviate estates. Other couples, like Chung and Gorman, are eloping.

“Micro weddings” have a way of narrowing the focus, Jones said, on what the day is all about: celebrating love and cherishing the present.

“The fact that people are still doing this, what does that tell you?” she said. “That love and commitment are important to everybody, and they’re going to make it happen.” Read More > in the Desert Sun

Enrollment Is Dropping In Public Schools Around the Country – Orange County, Fla., has 8,000 missing students. The Miami-Dade County public schools have 16,000 fewer than last year. Los Angeles Unified — the nation’s second-largest school system — is down nearly 11,000. Charlotte-Mecklenburg in North Carolina has 5,000 missing. Utah, Virginia and Washington are reporting declines statewide.

Comprehensive national data aren’t available yet, but reporting by NPR and our member stations, along with media reports from around the country, shows enrollment declines in dozens of school districts across 20 states. Large and small, rich and poor, urban and rural — in most of these districts the decline is a departure from recent trends. Over the past 15 years, data from the U.S. Education Department show that small and steady annual increases in public school enrollment have been the rule.

Six months after schools around the country shut their doors amid coronavirus lockdowns, these fall enrollment declines come as schools have been scrambling to improve remote learning offerings and to adopt safety procedures to allow buildings to open for in-person classes, sometimes just a few days a week. In many parts of the country the start of the year has been marked by multiple changes in planswidespread confusion among teachers and families, deep concerns about safety, and worries about unequal access to technology.

“We are not alone in this,” Chris Reykdal, Washington state’s superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement this week announcing a 2.82% decrease in enrollment statewide, driven by a 14% drop in kindergarten. “As our nation continues to fight the spread of COVID-19, states across the country are seeing changes in K–12 enrollment as families make decisions about the safest and most effective learning environments for their children.” Read More > from NPR

Amazon’s Massive $10 Billion 2020 Prime Day – Amazon.com Inc. has announced its Prime Day event, which some experts say pulls in more revenue than any other day in the company’s calendar. Estimates for the day, which lasts almost two days, are that revenue could top $10 billion. The hugeness of the figures can be put into context. It is more revenue than Nordstrom Inc., the old-line national retailer, should register for the entire year.

Prime Day runs from midnight Pacific Time on October 13 through the end of October 14. It covers 19 nations: United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Spain, Singapore, Netherlands, Mexico, Luxembourg, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, China, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Australia, Turkey and Brazil. The only people who can participate are Amazon’s 150 million-plus Prime members. However, anyone without a Prime membership can sign up for a free 30-day trial.

Research firm eMarketer forecasts Prime Day sales will reach $9.91 billion, of which $6.17 billion will be in the United States. Last year, Amazon sold 175 million items over Prime Day. That figure could top 200 million this year. Even Amazon faces a delivery challenge at that level, despite its extensive warehouse and sophisticated logistics system. eMarketer principal analyst said, “While demand will be strong, the event will be more difficult to plan for than in previous years.” Read More > at 24/7 Wall St

Is Great Barrington Declaration A Solution To Endless COVID Lockdowns? – Let’s be honest. As we approach late autumn and then winter in the northern hemisphere, nobody knows what’s going to happen. We may see another surge in coronavirus cases, or we may not. We may see flu season exacerbate the effects of COVID, or we may not. We just don’t know.

Making the situation worse is that this uncertainty is absolutely killing the economy. Go downtown in any major American city. It’s a ghost town. We can’t live like this indefinitely. Is there some other approach that we can take as a society to minimize the harm of COVID while maximizing productivity and happiness? A group of successful and respected infectious disease experts says yes, and they have written a statement that they have called the Great Barrington Declaration.

The authors refer to their approach as “Focused Protection,” the gist of which is “to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.” Not that this really matters (because public health policy shouldn’t be a popularity contest), but more than 10,000 scientists and medical practitioners have signed it.

Are the authors right? I certainly think so. Back in May, we reported on a Swedish epidemiologist who believed that lockdowns did nothing other than delay the inevitable; i.e., they simply push new infections down the timeline. Therefore, while lockdowns can be useful to avoid overwhelming hospital bed capacity, they may not lower the overall number of cases. In other words, we’re destroying the economy while essentially accomplishing nothing.

Worse than that, like all policies, lockdowns are having negative unintended consequences, such as delaying cancer detection and treatments and increasing the number of people with depression or other mental illness. Divorce has increased. Some have argued that, in terms of saving lives, the costs of the lockdown outweighed the benefits. Read More > from the American Council on Science and Health

Proposition 68 grants boost efforts that benefit salmon, steelhead – The California Natural Resources Agency announced today it is directing nearly $50 million in Proposition 68 funding to 15 projects that can immediately help improve ecosystem health for Central Valley salmon, steelhead and other native fish.

The projects – ranging from floodplain restoration and gravel enhancement to the installation of fish passage and fish screens – will help boost the viability of salmonids and other native fish in the Sacramento River mainstem, the Yuba, Feather, American and Mokelumne rivers, Putah Creek and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. They are expected to improve food availability, spawning, and/or rearing habitats for salmonids and improve habitats in the Delta for salmonids, Delta smelt, and longfin smelt.

State agencies including the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board worked in partnership to select the projects for funding.

Voter-approved Proposition 68 of 2018 authorized more than $4 billion in funding for natural resources-related programs including habitat conservation, expanded access to parks and water resilience projects. The measure directed $200 million to the California Natural Resources Agency to support multi-benefit water quality, water supply and watershed protection and restoration as part of improving environmental health in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems.

This $50 million was allocated in the 2019-2020 state budget from Proposition 68 to fund habitat improvement projects. Read More > from the California Natural Resources Agency

California’s big budget bet fizzles out — will Newsom support new taxes? – Well, it doesn’t look as though California’s big bet on a federal stimulus package that would allow the state to reverse $11 billion in budget cuts is likely to pay off.

In a Tuesday tweet that sent shock waves through Wall Street, President Donald Trump announced he was ending negotiations on a coronavirus relief package until after the November election, accusing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of trying to “bailout (sic) poorly run, high crime, Democrat States.” The move has massive implications for California, which planned to rescind cuts to state employee salaries, courts and the UC and CSU systems if the feds supplied aid by Oct. 15. (Late Tuesday night, Trump expressed support for more stimulus checks and small-business aid.)

It also raises the question of whether Gov. Gavin Newsom will change his mind about levying new taxes on millionaires and big businesses as other revenue sources dry up and the state racks up billions of dollars in delayed payments owed to K-12 schools and community colleges. The governor’s press office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Read More > at Calmatters

Dollar General Aims at Higher-End Shoppers With New Store Concept – Value-oriented retailer Dollar General will soon be testing the waters of a slightly more affluent customer base than it’s typically served in the past. On Thursday, the company unveiled its new popshelf store concept initially meant to attract families earning between $50,000 and $125,000 per year.

The 16,720 Dollar General Stores currently in operation are, in general, found in smaller and less affluent communities. The company says about 70% of its stores are found in towns with populations of less than 20,000, and that 75% of the nation’s consumers live within five miles of a store. This location strategy has largely removed the much bigger Walmart as a prospective head-to-head competitor, but it’s also meant Dollar General tends to serve lower income families. CEO Todd Vasos has said in the past that the majority of its business comes from families with annual household incomes of less than $50,000. Other estimates indicate the retailer’s core customers are families earning less than $40,000 per year.

Popshelf stores won’t simply be located in more affluent zip codes, however. The merchandise mix will be different too. Whereas Dollar General stores focus on consumer staples, popshelf will feature home decor, party supplies, entertainment goods, and other non-consumables that “bring joy” to shoppers. The company isn’t completely abandoning its value-oriented basics roots, however. Thursday’s announcement explained that 95% of the items sold in popshelf stores will cost $5 or less. Read More > in The Motley Fool

Bay Area home prices soar with suburban boom – With millions out of work, and restaurants, shops and retailers closing, one spot in the economy shines for thriving and affluent professionals — Bay Area real estate.

As if the devastating pandemic had passed over the tech campuses, Spanish-tiled roofs and Tesla-filled garages of Silicon Valley, luxury home sales exploded in August and drove median prices up 16 percent from the previous year to levels approaching the market peak in 2018.

The median sale price for an existing single family home in August in the Bay Area was $975,000, according to DQNews data. The gains were driven by a limited supply of properties for sale and a greater portion of high-end homes selling, agents and economists said.

Year-over-year prices soared throughout most of the nine Bay Area counties: increasing 19 percent to $1.73 million in San Mateo; 18.6 percent to $1.34 million in Santa Clara; 18.6 percent to $770,00 in Contra Costa; and 13.4 percent to $975,000 in Alameda. The pandemic has continued to cool demand in San Francisco, where prices gained 3 percent to $1.55 million, according to DQNews.

The number of Bay Area homes sold grew by about 9 percent from last August, as traditional spring buyers waited until summer to tour and close deals. Read More > in The Mercury News

Vallejo City Council Declares Public Safety Emergency – The Vallejo City Council unanimously approved a motion Tuesday night declaring a public safety emergency in the wake of several officer shootings of people of color.

The declaration will allow the police chief and city manager to hire staff and adopt police reforms more quickly. The police department is being urged to expand community policing and independent oversight measures, while identifying more opportunities for transparency.

Vallejo spokeswoman Christina Lee said the department faces “a crisis of legitimacy and trust” amid rising crime rates and an avalanche of police misconduct allegations.

The problems at Vallejo PD have been going on for years. Vallejo and its police department were hit hard by the 2008 recession — during which the city declared bankruptcy — and the ramifications can be felt to this day. Additionally, between 2015 and 2017, the city paid more money per officer to settle civil rights lawsuits than nine other Bay Area law enforcement agencies, according to the East Bay Express.

Milpitas mayor threatens to sue California over homeless housing project – When Santa Clara County won nearly $30 million in coveted homeless housing funding from the state, county officials were practically jumping for joy. But in Milpitas — where the new housing project will be located — it’s a different story.

Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran is threatening to sue the state, the county, and anyone else involved in plans to turn the city’s Extended Stay America hotel into long-term housing for homeless residents under Project Homekey. He argues the project, which is exempt from the city’s usual permitting process, was rushed through without input from Milpitas officials or community members.

“A lot of folks here in Milpitas, we feel kind of left out in the cold,” Tran said in an interview. “The more folks in town are getting into this fast-moving process, the more we’re concerned about not having a voice.” Read More > in The Mercury News

Iran’s declining regional influence – Following the signing of the Abraham Accord between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel, US President Donald Trump last week trumpeted his peace-making credentials at the UN General Assembly. “These groundbreaking peace deals are the dawn of a new Middle East,” he declared.

The response to the accord from Tehran was decidedly less rosy. Long having posed as champions of the Palestinian cause, Iranian regime figures lined up to deride the agreement as “scandalous” and “treasonous”. Yet it is reasonable to assume that the plight of the Palestinians is not Tehran’s primary concern here.

The Palestinians were perhaps not front of mind for the UAE, Bahrain and Israel during their discussions, either. A key factor that seems to have drawn them to the negotiating table is their mutual disquiet at the reach of Iran.

Indeed, the accord, which promises to normalise relations between the Gulf states and Israel, may portend the crystallisation of a regional anti-Iran bloc and could lead to an Israeli presence in the Persian Gulf. That will set alarms bells ringing in Tehran.

Since the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the rapid growth of pro-Iran players in Iraq, many observers have been fearful of Tehran’s projection of influence across the Middle East. Now it would seem that the ground has shifted. Tehran is on the back foot, overextended and relatively friendless. Read More > in The Interpreter  

Gov. Newsom Says He Is in ‘No Hurry’ to Reopen Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood – Don’t expect DisneylandUniversal Studios Hollywood and Knott’s Berry Farm to open anytime soon, according to California Gov. Gavin Newsom at a press conference Wednesday.

He said there is “no hurry in putting out guidelines,” but state officials are continuing to work with amusement parks in California after the pandemic prompted closures in March. He called the process “very complex,” adding, “We don’t anticipate, in the immediate term, any of these larger theme parks opening until we see more stability in terms of the data.”

Newsom also revealed, following reports last week that Disney executive chairman Bob Iger had stepped down from the state’s economic recovery task force, that there were disagreements in working out guidelines for reopening Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other theme parks. Read More > at Variety

Newsom announces plan to conserve 30% of California’s land and coastal waters – Saying more needs to be done to preserve nature as a way to help address climate change, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday committed the state to a goal of protecting 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030.

Newsom signed an executive order directing the state’s Natural Resources Agency to draw up a plan by Feb. 1, 2022, to achieve the goal in a way that also protects the state’s economy and agriculture industry, while expanding and restoring biodiversity — the vast variety of animals and plants — that live in areas as varied as the Bay Area’s tidepools to arid deserts in Southern California to mountain forests across the Sierra Nevada.

California becomes the first state to commit to the “30 x 30” goal — a growing effort by dozens of environmental groups, scientific organizations and the National Geographic Society to preserve at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans in their natural state by 2030.

How much of Newsom’s announcement was symbolism was not entirely clear Wednesday. In California, 47% of the state is already owned by the federal government, mostly in national forests, national parks and desert lands owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Read More > in The Mercury News

Apocalypse Never – We are frequently warned that humanity is beset by ecological catastrophes that could kill off civilization, perhaps even our species. Not so, insists environmental activist Michael Shellenberger in his new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.

Shellenberger, whose activism led Time to name him a “Hero of the Environment” in 2008, argues that while significant global environmental problems exist, they don’t constitute inexorable existential threats.

Shellenberger’s analysis relies on largely uncontroversial mainstream science. He points out that climate change has not made natural disasters more harmful to human life and wealth, and that fires have declined 25 percent around the world since 2003. (They have become more frequent and dangerous in some specific areas in the past decade, though not to historically unprecedented levels.)

He uses data to question frightening predictions about species extinctions. Warming will affect sea levels and food production, he grants, but the problems thus caused would be manageable by an ever-wealthier human race.

The book is a sustained argument that poverty is humanity’s most important environmental problem and that rising prosperity and increasing technological prowess will ameliorate or reverse most deleterious environmental trends. Read More > at Reason

The Plastic Pandemic – The coronavirus pandemic has sparked a rush for plastic.

From Wuhan to New York, demand for face shields, gloves, takeaway food containers and bubble wrap for online shopping has surged. Since most of that cannot be recycled, so has the waste.

But there is another consequence. The pandemic has intensified a price war between recycled and new plastic, made by the oil industry. It’s a war recyclers worldwide are losing, price data and interviews with more than two dozen businesses across five continents show.

The reason: Nearly every piece of plastic begins life as a fossil fuel. The economic slowdown has punctured demand for oil. In turn, that has cut the price of new plastic.

Already since 1950, the world has created 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste, 91% of which has never been recycled, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Science. Most is hard to recycle, and many recyclers have long depended on government support. New plastic, known to the industry as “virgin” material, can be half the price of the most common recycled plastic.

Since COVID-19, even drinks bottles made of recycled plastic – the most commonly recycled plastic item – have become less viable. The recycled plastic to make them is 83% to 93% more expensive than new bottle-grade plastic, according to market analysts at the Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS). Read More > at Reuters

Discovery enables adult skin to regenerate like a newborn’s – A newly identified genetic factor allows adult skin to repair itself like the skin of a newborn babe. The discovery by Washington State University researchers has implications for better skin wound treatment as well as preventing some of the aging process in skin.

In a study, published in the journal eLife on Sept. 29, the researchers identified a factor that acts like a molecular switch in the skin of baby mice that controls the formation of hair follicles as they develop during the first week of life. The switch is mostly turned off after skin forms and remains off in adult tissue. When it was activated in specialized cells in adult mice, their skin was able to heal wounds without scarring. The reformed skin even included fur and could make goose bumps, an ability that is lost in adult human scars.

“We were able to take the innate ability of young, neonatal skin to regenerate and transfer that ability to old skin,” said Ryan Driskell, an assistant professor in WSU’s School of Molecular Biosciences. “We have shown in principle that this kind of regeneration is possible.”

Mammals are not known for their regenerative abilities compared to other organisms, such as salamanders that can regrow entire limbs and regenerate their skin. The WSU study suggests that the secret to human regeneration might be found by studying our own early development. Read More > from Washington State University 

Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven copyright battle is finally over – The band were sued for copyright in 2014 over claims they had stolen the song’s opening riff from Taurus, by a US band called Spirit.

Led Zeppelin won the case in 2016, but it was revived on appeal in 2018.

A court of appeals upheld the original verdict earlier this year. Now, the US Supreme Court has declined to hear the case, definitively ending it.

Stairway To Heaven regularly appears on lists of the greatest rock songs ever written, and the case has been one of the music industry’s most closely-watched disputes. Read More > in the BBC

These 24 planets may be more ‘habitable’ than Earth, astronomers say – Who needs to flee to Canada when there are 24 planets more suitable for life than planet Earth?

Astronomers have discovered two dozen planets, all more than 100 light-years away, that are perfectly capable of sustaining human life as 2020 continues to rear its ugly head in our end of space.

These “super-habitable” worlds are older, bigger, warmer and have more moisture than Earth, according to the study, led by Washington State University geobiologist Dirk Schulze-Makuch and published in the journal Astrobiology.

There’s no confirmation that life exists on these planets, but the study used those characteristics to search for super-habitable potentials across 4,500 exoplanets, simply defined as planets that orbit stars outside of our own solar system. Read More > in the New York Post

15 Percent of Tibet’s Population Transferred to Chinese Training Centers as Mass Labor Program Expands: Report – More than 500,000 Tibetans have been transferred to Chinese training centers since the beginning of 2020, as an existing mass labor initiative expanded in the region. The figure accounts for roughly 15 percent of Tibet’s total population. According to a new Reuters report, published Tuesday, the militaristic recruitment program primarily targets rural farmers who are then trained to support Chinese industries.

Its presence in Tibet, fueled by quotas established by Chinese authorities, marks a significant expansion of a labor program also seen in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the country’s northwest. In Xinjiang the initiative is linked to internment camps that China officially calls “vocational” facilities, where researchers estimate at least 1 million Uighurs were detained over the past several years. Documents obtained by the Associated Press last year confirmed that those held at the detention centers were subject to ideological instruction and behavioral re-education. The Chinese government claimed to have released detainees from the camps in December, but concerns about subsequent forced labor practices surfaced soon after. Read More > in Newsweek

Political Ignorance Is Bliss – …Because it illustrates the irrationality of getting angry over something you can’t change. I can’t change the weather. However, I can adjust my own behavior in response to the weather. It makes no sense to seethe at the heat spell—I should switch on the A.C. and move on with my life.

…Consider also that the psychological harm of “losing” in politics is greater than the psychological benefit of “winning.” A 2019 working paper by Sergio Pinto, Panka Bencsik, Tuugi Chuluun, and Carol Graham finds that the loss of well-being experienced by partisans when their party loses is significantly larger than any well-being gain experienced by the winners. And seeing one’s side lose an election can have surprisingly devastating results. Immediately after their candidate lost the 2016 presidential election, the decline in life satisfaction experienced by Democrats was greater than the adverse effects of losing a job—a life event that has some of the worst documented effects on people’s well-being. Estimates based on recent survey data suggest that roughly 94 million Americans believe that politics has caused them stress, 44 million believe that it has cost them sleep, and 28 million believe that it has harmed their physical health.

I suggest looking to the advice offered by the ancient Stoics for coping with fate. “When a dog is tied to a cart,” philosophers Zeno and Chrysippus analogized, “if it wants to follow it is pulled and follows, making its spontaneous act coincide with necessity, but if it does not want to follow it will be compelled in any case. So it is with men too: Even if they do not want to, they will be compelled in any case to follow what is destined.”

Electoral outcomes are, for all practical purposes, a matter of fate over which we as individuals have no control. We can either accept them and adjust our behavior accordingly or we can pointlessly obsess over them to the detriment of our own well-being.

…Perhaps most troubling of all is partisans’ willingness to dehumanize those on the other side. A study by Vanderbilt University’s James Martherus and others found that more than half of partisans rated members of the opposing party as less evolved than members of their own party—they located out-party members farther away from an image of a modern human on a scale showing the stages of human evolution. Martherus and his colleagues also presented partisans with a fake report, accompanied by a photo of broken chairs, about a cookout where a fight had broken out, causing a rush to the exit and a number of injuries. When the event was affiliated with the Republican Party, Democratic subjects were more likely to agree that the eventgoers were “like animals”; a similar result was found when Republicans were told the gathering was Democratic. A different study yielded a similar finding: About 20 percent of respondents believe that many members of the opposing party “lack the traits to be considered fully human—they behave like animals.”

Dehumanization is a grave social problem: It can lead to discrimination, increased punitiveness, and violence. Indeed, 18 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Republicans “feel violence would be justified” if the other party wins the 2020 presidential election. Read More > at Reason

One form of exercise proves to be most effective for long-term weight loss – WEIGHT LIFTING, also known as resistance training, has been practiced for centuries as a way of building muscular strength. Research shows that resistance training, whether done via bodyweight, resistance bands or machines, dumbbells or free weights, not only helps us build strength, but also improves muscle size and can help counteract age-related muscle loss.

More recently it’s become popular among those looking to lose weight. While exercises such as running and cycling are indeed effective for reducing body fat, these activities can simultaneously decrease muscle size, leading to weaker muscles and greater perceived weight loss, as muscle is more dense than fat. But unlike endurance exercises, evidence shows resistance training not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, but it also increases muscle size and strength. Read More > at Inverse

U.S. service economy grows again in September, ISM finds, and employment turns positive for first time in seven months – The huge service side of the U.S. economy — retailers, restaurants, banks, hospitals and the like — expanded in September for the fourth month in a row and employment also grew for the first time since the pandemic began, a survey business executives showed.

An index of nonmanufacturing companies rose to 57.8% last month from 56.9% in August, the Institute for Supply Management said Monday.

Any number above 50% means more companies are expanding. Strong gains in both the ISM service and manufacturing indexes suggest the recovery set down more roots in September. Read More > at MarketWatch

AMC Entertainment Expected to Run Out of Liquidity Within 6 Months – Despite AMC Entertainment Holdings opening over 80% of its movie theaters by mid-October, ratings agency S&P Global says the theater operator’s financial condition is dire and it expects the chain to run out of money within six months.

That outlook could change if AMC is able to raise additional capital before then, but S&P doesn’t see that as likely. It warned the risk of default is great as it lowered its rating on the theater operator to CCC- from CCC+.

AMC has danced around the brink of bankruptcy as it restructured its debt, but as the potential for any movie blockbusters to draw in crowds this year fades, S&P’s outlook for the theater operator has darkened considerably. It wrote, “We believe a liquidity crisis is all but inevitable even if the company were to fully reopen all of its theaters.”

The Christopher Nolan spy movie Tenet didn’t draw nearly as many people in as was hoped, taking in just $3.4 million in its fourth week, and now more big-budget movies are being pushed out until 2021. The twice-delayed James Bond film No Time to Die was pushed back yet again till next year, leading Regal theater parent Cineworld to shut down all of its theaters in the U.S. and U.K. Read More > at The Motley Fool

The ecological impact of fences – Humans have swamped the planet with fences, but there is a gaping hole in knowledge about their ecological impact – an issue scientists are now drawing attention to.

“Fences are so common that they have become nearly invisible, even to ecologists,” says Alex McInturff from UC Santa Barbara, US, lead author of an international paper published in the journal Bioscience.

“The fact that we’ve wrapped the Earth with enough fencing to reach the Sun makes it especially surprising that we don’t have a clear understanding of the scope, scale and types of ecological effects they have.”

…On an ecological level, the researchers discovered fences can create “no man’s lands” – much like those with barbed wire during World War I – that only allow a narrow range of species and ecosystems to flourish.

Even fences designed to protect conservation areas, keep out invasive species or shield wildlife from vehicle collisions can have unexplored ecosystem consequences. Read More > at Cosmos

The Pirates of the Highways – On America’s interstates, brazen bands of thieves steal 18-wheelers filled with computers, cell phones, even toilet paper. And select law enforcement teams are tasked with tracking them down.

“If you have enough of something and you can sell it for cheap enough, you can make it disappear very quickly, and your profit is 100 percent,” said Manteca Police Department Sgt. Joe Ahuna, who has worked on cargo theft cases in California’s Central Valley region.

In fact, some of the highest value and thus most targeted loads in recent years have been snack nuts. When a drought greatly diminished the supply of nuts, thereby raising the demand for them, seasoned truck thieves became more interested in going after nuts than they were big-ticket electronics or medicine. Nut theft reached a peak in early 2015, with 31 nut heists costing carriers more than $5 million.

“How are you to track individual nuts?” said Sgt. Shawna Pacheco, a supervisor in the California Highway Patrol’s Golden Gate Investigative Services unit and a member of its Cargo Theft Interdiction Program. “When those nuts get transported to a warehouse where they are processed — some are legal and some are stolen — but all are crushed and bagged, so good luck telling the difference.” (Similar networks of licit and illicit buyers are relied on to fence everything from lunch meat to designer clothes, and the same strategy is at play today in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Sheriffs in North Carolina recently tracked down a stolen semi carrying 18,000 pounds of toilet paper.) Read More > at Narratively

The Crypto State? – Throughout history, world powers—Spain, the Netherlands, France, Britain—have found themselves routinely replaced by more dynamic rivals. Today, many speculate about whether the United States will cede place to China as the global superpower. What if this is the wrong way to look at the question, though—and what if we’re living through a more radical transition? What if all contemporary states are in the process of being replaced by a new kind of “state,” as different from existing governments as they themselves differed from ancient empires or primitive tribes?

Technological development creates new sources of power, and it’s possible to discern a logic to that growth. First, information: Google knows more about you than your government ever will. Second, community: Facebook brings more people together on a single collective platform than any society, including China or India, can match. Third, currency: Bitcoin is a new kind of money, decentralized and free from political control. Fourth, law: smart contracts are computer programs working without human intervention. All that remains is to combine these elements, and a new form of governance will be born. What might it look like?

In an essay published in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg offers a philosophy of history to explain the rise of Facebook. The arc of that history moves from tribes to cities to nations—and now to something beyond. “Today we are close to taking our next step,” he writes. The truly remarkable thing is not that Zuckerberg thinks that humanity is becoming a global community—implausible as that claim is—but that he thinks his company, which he obviously does not regard as merely a company, can help make it happen: “Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community,” he says. “In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”

When Zuckerberg calls Facebook the “social infrastructure” for community, the term is the very one that you would use to define the state. The state makes human communities possible; it builds them, organizes them, and keeps their members together. Or, as Zuckerberg puts it, it supports us, keeps us safe, informs us, and includes and engages us. Of course, Facebook, with no territory and no claims to territory, is dedicated to building a global community not in physical but in virtual space. By freeing itself from geographical constraints, this new community would be open to every person on the planet. Read More > at City Journal

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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