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.
Barnes & Noble confirms hack exposed customer details – Barnes & Noble has emailed its customers saying that it has been the “victim of a cybersecurity attack,” in which personal data was accessed. The breach not only affected B&N’s corporate IT systems but the Nook e-reader platform as well, leaving Nook owners unable to download books to their devices. This also meant that cash registers at B&N stores were rendered unusable while engineers scrambled to contain the issue. In a statement to The Register, the company says that it is “investigating the cause” but added that there was “no compromise of customer payment details.”
In the email to users, as published by The Digital Reader, the company said that while payment data was not accessed, data such as email addresses, billing and shipping addresses, as well as phone numbers, were. More troubling is that a user’s purchase history could potentially have been breached, which could theoretically lead to blackmail or other repercussions if that data was published. In a tweet from the official Nook account, B&N said that it was “working urgently” to get the service “back to full operation,” which has unfortunately “taken longer than anticipated.” Read More > at Engadget
Unregulated ‘greenwashing’? ESG investing is under the microscope as the money rolls in – There’s growing appetite to invest in a more sustainable way, but experts warn that transparency is needed in this space if it’s to really do any good for the planet.
ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) describes investments made with an aim to contribute to a better environment, society or workplace and it’s becoming increasingly popular. The share of global investors that have applied ESG criteria to at least a quarter of their total investments has jumped from 48% in 2017 to 75% in 2019, according to data from audit firm Deloitte.
And this is only expected to keep rising.
“We have seen a booming of the number of, for example, ESG rating and scoring providers and that is an area which is largely unregulated and it is difficult for us to make sense of the different scorings and ratings if there is no clarity on the underlying methodology,” Alessandro d’Eri, a senior policy officer at the European financial watchdog ESMA, told CNBC.
He added that there’s another issue which is “the mismatch between the expectations of investors in wanting more and more to invest in ESG type of products and the actual availability of products that are truly ESG compliant or sustainable.”
This is the biggest challenge facing sustainable investing: there is no clear-cut criteria about what makes a company ESG investable. Read More > at CNBC
Scott Peterson’s 2004 murder convictions to be reexamined – The California Supreme Court has ordered a second look at for killing his pregnant wife and unborn son, less than two months after it overturned his death penalty. The court sent the case back to San Mateo County Superior Court to determine whether Peterson should receive a new trial, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The court said a juror committed “prejudicial misconduct” by failing to disclose that she had been involved with other legal proceedings. The juror had filed a lawsuit in 2000 to obtain a restraining order after her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend harassed her while she was pregnant, the Times said.
The juror said she feared for her unborn child. Yet when asked as a potential juror whether she had ever been a crime victim or involved in a lawsuit, she answered no, Peterson’s attorneys told the Times.
Is it Time for Texas and California to Leave the Union? – David French begins his book about the dis-integration of America along what is by now a well-worn path: “We increasingly loathe our political opponents.” “A person belongs to their political party not so much because they like their own party but because they hate and fear the other side.” “The number of Americans who live in so-called landslide counties—counties where one presidential candidate wins by at least twenty points—is at an all-time high.” “At this moment in history, there is not a single important cultural, religious, political, or social force that is pulling Americans together more than it is pushing us apart.” Sigh. It is impossible not to agree with French’s assessment, especially if you spend much time watching the cable news channels. Whether the great mass of the American people are so deeply polarized is an interesting question. I doubt it, frankly.
So, what’s the remedy? Taking his cues from the British people’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union (Brexit), French wonders if we should begin to brace ourselves for successful secessionist movements in the United States. In chapters 12 and 13 of Divided We Fall, French writes a fictional account of Calexit and Texit, the secessions of California, with one-tenth of the U.S. population and the fifth largest economy in the world, and Texas (29 million, the 10th largest economy in the world). Though I admire this book, I found these fictional chapters unconvincing. In other words, I came away from these chapters less convinced of the possibility of serious secession in the United States than when I began to read them. Read More > at Governing
Jet Suit Paramedic Reaches Stricken Hikers in Seconds – Arriving as quickly as possible to the site of a medical emergency is a critical goal for any paramedic. It may be easy enough in urban and even rural areas, but when someone is stuck high up a mountain there are often no expedient options. Drones may offer help in certain cases, such as delivering external defibrillators for bystanders to use, but nothing can replace having a professional medic onsite.
England’s Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), which operates in areas where people go hiking through remote terrains, is now testing a jet suit as a way to get paramedics quickly to just about anywhere. The regions covered by GNAAS are very hilly, rocky, and mostly lacking trees. Helicopters can fly around but landing is often a big challenge because of the uneven surfaces.
The organization partnered with Gravity Industries, a company that develops jet suits, to test out the technology for emergency medical applications and as seen in the following video, there’s clearly a great deal of potential.
In the experiment, “stricken” individuals were located about a 25 minute hike up a hill. Using the jet suit, a paramedic was able to reach them in less than two minutes, easily landing nearby on a rocky surface. Read More > at Medgadget
Why Disney Is Shifting Focus to Streaming Video – Citing the “tremendous success” of its streaming efforts since last November, Walt Disney Co. announced late Tuesday a reorganization of its media and entertainment businesses. The media giant will now focus on “developing and producing original content” for its streaming services, including legacy platforms like DVDs. Distribution and commercialization of content are going to be centralized in a single media and entertainment distribution organization.
Distribution and commercialization mean figuring out ways to make money across all the company’s platforms, including Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+ and the soon-to-be-delivered Star international streaming service. While Disney is not planning to withhold original content from theaters, neither does the company see the Mouse House’s future in the old distribution model.
Simply put, direct-to-consumer (DTC) services like streaming and DVD sales allow Disney to keep a far larger portion of the profits instead of sharing them with theater owners. Theater owners AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Cinemark Holdings Inc. traded down 7.9% and 8.7%, respectively Tuesday morning. Last week, London-based Cineworld, owner of Regal Cinemas, temporarily shut down all its 534 U.S. Regal theaters. Read More > at 24/7 Wall St
California kept prison factories open. Inmates worked for pennies an hour as COVID-19 spread – While much of California shut down this spring, Robbie Hall stitched masks for 12 hours a day in a sewing factory at a women’s prison in Chino. For several weeks, Hall and other women said, they churned out masks by the thousands but were forbidden from wearing them.
The incarcerated seamstresses at the California Institution for Women grew increasingly worried: The fabric they used came from the nearby men’s prison, where an outbreak ended up killing 23 inmates. And their boss regularly visited both institutions.
“Are we safe with her going over there and coming back here?” Hall remembered asking her co-workers as they sewed.
Then it happened.
In early May, COVID-19 broke out in the sewing factory, sickening at least four incarcerated workers, including Hall. She spent weeks in the hospital struggling to breathe.
California’s prison system has taken drastic measures to combat the coronavirus, halting rehab programs, religious services and educational classes. But correctional authorities kept one type of operation running through much of the last six months: prison factories. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
COVID-19 Has Changed The Housing Market Forever. Here’s Where Americans Are Moving (And Why) – Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, more deep-seated, tectonic-sized questions beyond markets and interest rates are being asked this time around that no one really has the answers to yet—like will people feel safer living in the south and southwest where they can spend all year social distancing outside? What if companies let workers work remotely for the rest of their lives? Why go back to retail shopping when I’m already ordering everything online? What’s the point of living “downtown” if half of the restaurants, bars, and museums never open back up?
By every metric, Americans are moving faster now than they were before the pandemic.
Page-per-property views on real estate platforms like Realtor and Zillow are up over 50% year-over-year almost everywhere, inventory in America’s 100 top metro markets has been shrinking since March, along with days on market and the gap between list-to-sale price. A lot of real estate experts prefer the word “despite” when it comes to accounting for this phenomenon while the pandemic’s still raging, when it’s probably more accurately “because of”.
…“The current housing market is driven by several noteworthy factors. First, America’s demographics are skewing younger as the Millennial generation—the largest in U.S. history—is finally embracing home ownership. Second, the technological promise of the mid-1990s of freeing workers from their desks has come of age in 2020, as the coronavirus-induced quarantine has forced employers to rely on workers working-from-home. Americans have been resoundingly successful at navigating this transition, and in the process, discovered the benefits of shorter commutes and the flexibility of being able to work from anywhere. In turn, this has shifted consumer preferences for housing, driving the transition into suburbs, smaller cities, second-home destinations and even rural areas. Third, riding in the wake of a decade’s worth of home price appreciation which has outpaced income growth, many Americans are seeking affordability again, leading many buyers into suburban neighborhoods and away from high-cost, high-density urban downtowns.”
Who’s notably absent from all the data?
Not a single city in California or the Pacific Northwest ranked anywhere near the top of anyone’s “Best Of” lists in terms of where Americans are moving, which suggests that the effects of COVID’s first flight from coastal cities last March may be fossilizing permanently. New York City, Long Island, northern New Jersey, Honolulu, Chicago, and Philadelphia were also conspicuously in the basement, reinforcing America’s net emotional migration away from high-priced real estate markets as well as high-tax, high-lockdown urban locations. Read More > at Forbes
Supreme Court Justices Slam Google For Apparently Cheating Its Way To The Top – The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Google v. Oracle on Oct. 7. The case involves several legal issues, all of which boil down to one principal question: Did Google cheat and steal its way to the top? While a decision on the case isn’t expected for a few months, the justices’ pointed questioning at the Big Tech giant points to the answer being a clear and resounding yes.
At the start of the decade, Google was at risk of losing its tech dominance. Its search and advertising monopoly relied heavily on personal computers, which quickly started losing steam with the rise of the mobile phone marketplace. That posed a problem for Google, which didn’t even have a mobile operating system of its own.
Google didn’t want to cede more control of the marketplace to the likes of Apple and Microsoft. To get ahead, it knew it needed to move — and fast. Rather than create entirely on its own all the parts of the mobile operating system that has now come to be known as Android, Google elected to use more than 11,000 lines of coding from Oracle’s Java to make it run.
Internal emails from Android head Andy Rubin show that he advised the company to negotiate for a license. The company appeared to agree initially, as it asked for and received terms and pricing from Sun Microsystems, the owner of Java at the time. That’s when the plot twist began.
Ostensibly not liking Sun’s terms, Google co-founder Larry Page wrote, “If Sun doesn’t want to work with us, we have two options: 1) Abandon our work and adopt MSFT CLR VM and C# language, or 2) Do Java anyway and defend our decision, perhaps making enemies along the way.” The company ultimately chose option two, setting the stage for a heated 10-year-legal battle that finally made its way to the Supreme Court this week. Read More > at The Federalist
A Shocking Find in a Neanderthal Cave in France – In February 1990, thanks to a 15-year-old boy named Bruno Kowalsczewski, footsteps echoed through the chambers of Bruniquel Cave for the first time in tens of thousands of years.
The cave sits in France’s scenic Aveyron Valley, but its entrance had long been sealed by an ancient rockslide. Kowalsczewski’s father had detected faint wisps of air emerging from the scree, and the boy spent three years clearing away the rubble. He eventually dug out a tight, thirty-meter-long passage that the thinnest members of the local caving club could squeeze through. They found themselves in a large, roomy corridor. There were animal bones and signs of bear activity, but nothing recent. The floor was pockmarked with pools of water. The walls were punctuated by stalactites (the ones that hang down) and stalagmites (the ones that stick up).
Some 336 meters into the cave, the caver stumbled across something extraordinary—a vast chamber where several stalagmites had been deliberately broken. Most of the 400 pieces had been arranged into two rings—a large one between 4 and 7 metres across, and a smaller one just 2 metres wide. Others had been propped up against these donuts. Yet others had been stacked into four piles. Traces of fire were everywhere, and there was a mass of burnt bones.
Recognizing the site’s value, the caver brought in archaeologist Francois Rouzaud. Using carbon-dating, Rouzaud estimated that a burnt bear bone found within the chamber was 47,600 years old, which meant that the stalagmite rings were older than any known cave painting. It also meant that they couldn’t have been the work of Homo sapiens. Their builders must have been the only early humans in the south of France at the time: Neanderthals.
The discovery suggested that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than anyone had given them credit for. They wielded fire, ventured deep underground, and shaped the subterranean rock into complex constructions. Perhaps they even carried out rituals; after all, there was no evidence that anyone actually lived in the cave, so what else were the rings and mounds for?
Rouzaud would never know. In April 1999, while guiding colleagues through a different cave, he suffered a fatal heart attack. With his death, work on the Bruniquel Cave ceased, and its incredible contents were neglected.
…After drilling into the stalagmites and pulling out cylinders of rock, the team could see an obvious transition between two layers. On one side were old minerals that were part of the original stalagmites; on the other were newer layers that had been laid down after the fragments were broken off by the cave’s former users. By measuring uranium levels on either side of the divide, the team could accurately tell when each stalagmite had been snapped off for construction.
Their date? 176,500 years ago, give or take a few millennia.
“When I announced the age to Jacques, he asked me to repeat it because it was so incredible,” says Verheyden. Outside Bruniquel Cave, the earliest, unambiguous human constructions are just 20,000 years old. Most of these are ruins—collapsed collections of mammoth bones and deer antlers. By comparison, the Bruniquel stalagmite rings are well-preserved and far more ancient. Read More > in The Atlantic
State closing inmate firefighting camps – California will close eight inmate firefighting camps by the end of the year, state officials announced Friday — an action that raises serious questions about not only the state’s plans to combat ever-larger fires with already overstretched firefighting crews, but also the ethics of its reliance on cheap prison labor. Some have likened the practice to a legalized form of slavery. Inmate firefighters usually earn between $2 and $5 a day, though their work reduces their sentences and many youth inmates say the fire camps changed their lives for the better. Other incarcerated workers have been producing face masks, hand sanitizer and furniture amid the pandemic for an hourly rate of 8 cents to $1, though the products are later sold to state agencies for millions of dollars, a recent Los Angeles Times investigation found.
California’s prison population has dropped by nearly 22,000 since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Sacramento Bee. Last month, Newsom announced plans to close a Tracy prison within a year. Read More > at Calmatters
Humans Are All More Closely Related Than We Commonly Think – The late esteemed English actor Christopher Lee traced his ancestry directly to Charlemagne. In 2010 Lee released a symphonic metal album paying homage to the first Holy Roman emperor—but his enthusiasm may have been a tad excessive. After all, says geneticist Adam Rutherford, “literally everyone” with European ancestry is directly descended from Charlemagne.
The family tree of humanity is much more interconnected than we tend to think. “We’re culturally bound and psychologically conditioned to not think about ancestry in very broad terms,” Rutherford says. Genealogists can only focus on one branch of a family tree at a time, making it easy to forget how many forebears each of us has.
Imagine counting all your ancestors as you trace your family tree back in time. In the nth generation before the present, your family tree has 2n slots: two for parents, four for grandparents, eight for great-grandparents, and so on. The number of slots grows exponentially. By the 33rd generation—about 800 to 1,000 years ago—you have more than eight billion of them. That is more than the number of people alive today, and it is certainly a much larger figure than the world population a millennium ago.
…The consequence of humanity being “incredibly inbred” is that we are all related much more closely than our intuition suggests, Rutherford says. Take, for instance, the last person from whom everyone on the planet today is descended. In 2004 mathematical modeling and computer simulations by a group of statisticians led by Douglas Rohde, then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, indicated that our most recent common ancestor probably lived no earlier than 1400 B.C. and possibly as recently as A.D. 55. In the time of Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti, someone from whom we are all descended was likely alive somewhere in the world.
Go back a bit further, and you reach a date when our family trees share not just one ancestor in common but every ancestor in common. At this date, called the genetic isopoint, the family trees of any two people on the earth now, no matter how distantly related they seem, trace back to the same set of individuals. “If you were alive at the genetic isopoint, then you are the ancestor of either everyone alive today or no one alive today,” Rutherford says. Humans left Africa and began dispersing throughout the world at least 120,000 years ago, but the genetic isopoint occurred much more recently—somewhere between 5300 and 2200 B.C., according to Rohde’s calculations. Read More > at Scientific American
At Disney World, ‘Worst Fears’ About Virus Have Not Come True – Attendance has been low since the July reopening, but health officials and worker unions also say safety protocols have kept the coronavirus at bay.
In July, one infectious disease expert said Walt Disney World’s reopening was a “terrible idea” that was “inviting disaster.” Social media users attacked Disney as “irresponsible” and “clueless” for pressing forward, even as coronavirus cases surged in Florida. A few aghast onlookers turned Disney World marketing videos into parody trailers for horror films.
Attendance has been lower than anticipated. Travel agents say families have been postponing Christmastime plans to vacation at the Orlando-area resort, in part because of concerns about the safety of flying. In recent days, Disney World, citing continued uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic, began laying off 15,550 workers, or 20 percent of its work force.
As tumultuous as the three months since the reopening have been, however, public health officials and Disney World’s unions say there have been no coronavirus outbreaks among workers or guests. So far, Disney’s wide-ranging safety measures appear to be working.
“We have no issues or concerns with the major theme parks at this point,” said Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, which includes Disney World. Read More > in The New York Times
Inside Disney’s Ugly COVID Reopening Battle in California – When The Walt Disney Co. planned to reopen its American theme parks in July, they released a now-notorious trailer, splicing shots of theme park attractions with a chorus of Disney cast members chiming “Welcome home!” The ad projected an air of insistent normalcy, disrupted only by the workers’ uniform masks. It seemed to contain the latent hopes of the Trumpian COVID-19 era: the desire to not let the virus “dominate” lives, to relax into the open arms of entertainment, to return to business as usual with modest accommodations: Masks, ample sanitizer, a “no hugging” rule.
But in California, the welcome was not especially warm. When the company announced plans to reopen the Anaheim resort, it had not yet gotten approval from the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic roadmap, which assessed preparedness in a four-phase system, put amusement parks in Stage Four—so far down the line that he had not yet released reopening guidelines. Disney backtracked under pressure, opening just a small retail and restaurant strip. But the entertainment empire, one of the state’s largest employers and a major source of tourism revenue, did not let up in its campaign to reopen—waging a three-month battle with California that has at times caught workers in its crossfires.
“All of our other theme parks both in the United States and around the world have been allowed to open on the strength of our proven ability to operate with responsible health safety protocols,” a Disney spokesperson told The Daily Beast in a written statement. “Promoting health and safety for our guests, cast members, and the larger community is a responsibility we take seriously.”
In September, as rumors floated that the company internally planned for a late-month reopening, tensions between Disney and California were at a high. After a surge in summer cases, the state had revamped its reopening protocols, with a state-wide tier system for reopening businesses. Theme parks remained in the final tier. On Sept. 22, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Product’s Josh D’Amaro made a public plea that the Governor “treat theme parks like you would other sectors, and help us reopen.” (Other large venues like concert halls and convention centers have not been permitted to reopen). D’Amaro’s plea came with a warning. Nearly 80,000 Orange County jobs, he cautioned, lay on the line.
Just days later, D’Amaro’s prediction proved true: Disney announced plans to lay off 28,000 domestic workers, almost all from theme parks, most from California. In a statement, the Chairman claimed the company’s financial struggles had been “exacerbated in California by the State’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.” The layoffs, which will be finalized Nov. 1, could kick thousands of workers off their health insurance. Read More > at The Daily Beast
Social Media Outrage is Killing People. – Riots have become a nightly occurrence in America, driven by social justice-fueled outrage against police brutality. Every city is just one officer-involved shooting away from erupting into violence. Despite the evidence (including bodycam footage) that exonerated the police officer involved in the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Ricardo Munoz, who lunged at an officer in Lancaster with a knife, riots erupted in the Pennsylvanian city and elsewhere across the country. The protesters’ anger was primarily fueled by misinformation and agitation on social media.
Not all of this protesting starts out ill-intentioned; all it really takes to get someone to march against injustice is to show them that this injustice is happening right outside their doorstep. Most people care about right and wrong, and when they perceive an injustice, they’ll do whatever’s possible to make sure they’re standing on the right side of history after the ashes settle. And most people who protest aren’t doing so just to score woke points or start trouble. They believe what they’re told—and what they’re being told, in this instance, was that a 14-year-old autistic boy was “executed” in cold blood by a psychopathic police officer in Lancaster, PA.
On September 13th, 28-year-old Ricardo Munoz lunged at a police deputy with a knife following an altercation with his mother, prompting one of his siblings to call 9-1-1. When police arrived, Munoz charged at the responding officer through the front door and attempted to stab him—footage of which was caught on the officer’s bodycam. The officer has no choice but to respond, shooting and killing Munoz.
This sequence of events was then retold on social media by popular commentators like T. Greg Doucette, an American lawyer whose Wikipedia page claims that he is “best known for indexing videos of police brutality.” Insead of a neutral recounting of the events that transpired during the Lancaster shooting, Doucette falsely claimed that Munoz, an adult who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia with a history of violence (he stabbed four strangers, including a minor, in 2019), Doucette described the shooting as a “summary execution of a reportedly autistic man they claim was armed with a knife.” Read More . at Human Events
The Great California Exodus Accelerates – California may be the most populous state in the Union, but it could transform into the exodus capital of America.The Golden State has witnessed its population stall, declining slightly from 39.96 million to 39.78 million in the second half of 2019, according to the Department of Finance.
Growth has slowed close to zero or even declined in most coastal counties. The San Francisco Bay Area advanced, and counties east of Los Angeles witnessed modest growth. However, Los Angeles County shed residents for the second consecutive year in 2019. It is unclear how severe the population drop is in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic and the state government’s proposed tax hikes.
Contrary to internet mythos, it is not only high-income earners who are packing up their things and saying goodbye to Newsom. Studies, including one from the Public Policy Institute of California and another by the Empire Center for Public Policy, have found that poorer households are more likely to flee than their affluent counterparts. But considering the policing being proposed or enacted, it is safe to say that the wealthy have no reason to be some of the left-behinds. Read More > at Zero Hedge
Comparing the Global Rate of Mass Public Shootings to the U.S.’s Rate and Comparing Their Changes Over Time – The U.S. is well below the world average in terms of the number of mass public shootings, and the global increase over time has been much bigger than for the United States.
Over the 20 years from 1998 to 2017, our list contains 2,772 attacks and at least 5,764 shooters outside the United States and 62 attacks and 66 shooters within our country. By our count, the US makes up less than 1.13% of the mass public shooters, 1.77% of their murders, and 2.19% of their attacks. All these are much less than the US’s 4.6% share of the world population. Attacks in the US are not only less frequent than other countries, they are also much less deadly on average. Out of the 101 countries where we have identified mass public shootings occurring, the United States ranks 66th in the per capita frequency of these attacks and 56th in the murder rate.
Not only have these attacks been much more common outside the US, the US’s share of these attacks has declined over time. There has been a much bigger increase over time in the number of mass shootings in the rest of the world compared to the US. Read More > at SSRN
WHO warns against COVID-19 lockdowns due to economic damage – The World Health Organization has warned leaders against relying on COVID-19 lockdowns to tackle outbreaks — after previously saying countries should be careful how quickly they reopen.
WHO envoy Dr. David Nabarro said such restrictive measures should only be treated as a last resort, the British magazine the Spectator reported in a video interview.
“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Nabarro said.
“The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”
Nabarro said tight restrictions cause significant harm, particularly on the global economy. Read More > in the New York Post