Sunday Reading – 11/08/2020


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.

U.S. adds 638,000 jobs in October and unemployment sinks to 6.9% in strong show for economy – The U.S. regained 638,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate fell sharply again to 6.9%, reflecting a surprising show of strength for the economy even as coronavirus cases rose to record highs.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast 503,000 new jobs. U.S. stocks declined in early Friday trades though after a four day election week rally.

Private-sector employment rose by a more robust 906,000, but a sharp decline in government employment pulled down the overall total.

The better-than-expected employment report suggests the economic recovery is growing deeper roots, giving the next occupant of the White House some breathing room when he takes office in January. Read More > at Market Watch

Millennials of Color Are Optimistic About the American Dream – Contrary to today’s conventional wisdom, young people—especially youth of color—are optimistic about their futures. They believe they will succeed in life and achieve the American Dream, defined on their terms. And they say education plays a key role in this effort.

More than 4,000 respondents ages 13 to 23 (Gen Z) and 24 to 39 (Millennials) were surveyed in late June 2020 by Echelon Insights on their beliefs and attitudes concerning the American Dream, along with issues like education and their community.

The most striking attitude of these young people is their faith in the work ethic. More than eight in ten think that “If I work hard, I…will…succeed in life”. Hard work not only brings success, seven in ten believe it allows them to move up the economic ladder.

Nearly eight in ten believe their individual lives will be better or the same as their parents—though Gen Z are more optimistic than Millennials.

Despite today’s racial turmoil, Gen Z and Millennials of color are more likely than whites to think they will have a better life than their parents. Read More > at Real Clear Education

The Problem with Honey Bees – To many people, honey bees symbolize prosperity, sustainability and environmentalism. But as a honey bee researcher, I have to tell you that only the first item on that list is defensible. Although they are important for agriculture, honey bees also destabilize natural ecosystems by competing with native bees—some of which are species at risk.

The rise in hobby beekeeping, now a trendy activity for hundreds of thousands of Americans, followed strong awareness campaigns to “save the bees.” But as a species, honey bees are least in need of saving. Media attention disproportionately covers them over native pollinators, and murky messaging has led many citizens—myself once included—to believe they are doing a good thing for the environment by putting on a beekeeper’s veil. Unfortunately, they are probably doing more harm than good.

High densities of honey bee colonies increase competition between native pollinators for forage, putting even more pressure on the wild species that are already in decline. Honey bees are extreme generalist foragers and monopolize floral resources, thus leading to exploitative competition—that is, where one species uses up a resource, not leaving enough to go around.

But determining honey bees’ influence on natural ecosystems requires empirical testing. It is possible, for example, that alternate foraging habits of native bees—differences in their active times of day or preferred plants, for example—could lead to little effective competition. Honey bees are so ubiquitous, though, that it has been hard to test exactly how their introduction, and subsequent resource monopolization, affects ecosystem networks. Read More > at Scientific American

US Gambling Industry Hit Jackpot at Polls on Tuesday – Even though they couldn’t bet on the results of the presidential election, gamblers in the U.S. won big on Tuesday thanks to what happened at the polls.

Six states — Maryland, South Dakota, Louisiana, Virginia, Nebraska and Colorado — voted to either implement legal sports betting, or add or expand casino gambling.

Maryland, South Dakota and Louisiana approved sports betting while Virginia approved casino gambling at four locations within the state. In Nebraska, bettors will now be able to play casino games at horse racing tracks and in Colorado there will now be more casino games in general and fewer limits on wagering.

Although it’s been less than three years since a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for all 50 states to offer sports betting, at least 25 states and the District of Columbia could have legal sports wagering in place by the end of 2021. Read More > at InsideHook

Voters Used Ballot Initiatives To Defy Power-Mad Politicians – Ballot initiatives are a mixed blessing. People can vote for some really stupid things, and people can reject important reforms. But they’re also an important democratic tool, a way citizens can cut through the influence peddling that dominates state capitols across the country. When lawmakers serve entrenched interests, particularly in states where one party dominates, a ballot initiative is a way to reverse their bad conduct.

We wouldn’t have the current trend toward drug legalization without ballot initiatives. We’d have much fewer criminal justice reforms. We probably wouldn’t have legally recognized gay marriages.

On Tuesday night, in several states, voters used ballot initiatives and referendums to reject the best-laid plans of their political elite.

In California, Ballot Initiatives Replace Republican Opposition

In several states, a single party controls both the governor’s office and the legislature. In California, control is so very firmly in the hands of the Democratic Party, thanks to a legislative supermajority, that it’s pretty much the veto-wielding Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision which bills become laws.

This week’s election results show how, as unpredictable they may be, ballot initiatives can serve as an important check on such power. California voters rejected several policies that are strongly supported by Democratic leaders.

The biggest blow: Proposition 22 cut the legs out from A.B. 5, which all but eviscerated the freelancers’ ability to work for themselves, requiring companies to employ private contractors and pay them a host of benefits. The purpose of A.B. 5 was to attack companies like Uber and Lyft and destroy the gig economy in the state, all in the service of union jobs. The legislation was so badly designed that it was hitting freelance writers, musicians, Realtors, language translators, and other independent workers. Lawmakers weakened A.B. 5, but kept the assault on rideshare and delivery drivers. So Uber, Lyft, and the like forced the matter onto the ballot as Proposition 22, asking voters to decide whether these drivers could remain freelancers.

In defiance of, well, the entire Democratic power structure (including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, and the technically independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders), voters in California supported Uber, Lyft, and their drivers. With all the ballots counted, Prop. 22 passed with 58 percent of the vote. Many of these same voters overwhelmingly supported Biden and Harris in the election, but they see the importance of letting people decide if they want to be freelance workers. Read More > at Reason

How Not to Deal With Murder in Space – Mario Escamilla was furious. A colleague of his, nicknamed Porky, had just stolen his jug of raisin wine. So the 33-year-old Escamilla grabbed a rifle and set out to reclaim it. He had no idea he was about to get tangled up in one of the knottiest homicides in history—a killing that also raises serious questions about how humankind should handle the first, inevitable murder in outer space.

Escamilla worked on T-3, also known as Fletcher’s ice island, a Manhattan-size hunk of ice that at the time was floating north of Canada in the Arctic Ocean, roughly 350 miles from the North Pole. T-3 had been occupied off and on since the 1950s, and 19 scientists and technicians were stationed there during the summer of 1970, studying ocean currents and wind and weather patterns.

Despite the constant polar sunshine in the summer, the weather could be harsh, with temperatures dipping down to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit sometimes and winds reaching 160 miles per hour. But the worst thing the scientists faced was boredom: Besides work, there was almost nothing to do. For movies, they had a few 16-millimeter reels they’d seen a dozen times each. For music, they had two eight tracks. One was Jefferson Airplane.

To compound the problem, the scientists had virtually no contact with the outside world. Satellite communication was iffy and often failed. And planes couldn’t land on T-3 most of the summer, since the surface of the ice turned mushy under the sun. So after the initial arrival of people in the spring, that was it. Just 19 smelly dudes, with little to do but stare at one another and drink.

…A struggle for the raisin wine ensued, and in the confrontation that followed, Escamilla shot not Porky Leavitt, but his boss, Bennie Lightsy, square in the chest. He bled out moments later. With the help of newspaper articles, court transcripts, and online reminiscing from people who were there, I’ve laid out more details about the killing in my new podcast—along with many more details about life on the impossibly remote T-3 (including, because I know you’re curious, how they went to the bathroom). But here I’d like to focus on what happened after Lightsy’s death, because that’s when the real chaos started—the legal mess.

T-3 was technically run by the U.S. Air Force, but Escamilla was a civilian, so they couldn’t court-martial him. The nearest land mass was Canada, but T-3 lay well outside Canada’s territorial waters, so it had no jurisdiction there. Perhaps the United States could have claimed the ice island—similar to the many uninhabited “Guano Islands” full of rich, natural fertilizer that the U.S. government seized during the 1800s. But unlike the Guano Islands, T-3 was temporary—it would melt away in the 1980s—so under international law, no nation could claim it. Perhaps the law of the sea applied? After all, T-3 was in some sense the literal high seas, being high-latitude frozen seawater. Except, the law of the sea applies only to navigable areas, and T-3 wasn’t navigable.

In sum, T-3 was neither fish nor fowl. “Murder in Legal Limbo,” Time magazine called the case. Some legal scholars seriously questioned whether any nation had the right to try Escamilla. As one noted, “It may shock the layman to learn that there may be parts of the world in which possible murders may go untried.”

In the end, might essentially tried to make right here. Four U.S. marshals undertook a harrowing, multiday journey via plane and helicopter, first to Greenland and then T-3, fighting brutal Arctic winds and weather. Upon landing, they grabbed Escamilla, the rifle, and Lightsy’s frozen body for transport back to the United States. Read More > at Slate

Are infections seeding some cases of Alzheimer’s disease? – Two years ago, immunologist and medical-publishing entrepreneur Leslie Norins offered to award US$1 million of his own money to any scientist who could prove that Alzheimer’s disease was caused by a germ.

The theory that an infection might cause this form of dementia has been rumbling for decades on the fringes of neuroscience research. The majority of Alzheimer’s researchers, backed by a huge volume of evidence, think instead that the key culprits are sticky molecules in the brain called amyloids, which clump into plaques and cause inflammation, killing neurons.

Norins wanted to reward work that would make the infection idea more persuasive. The amyloid hypothesis has become “the one acceptable and supportable belief of the Established Church of Conventional Wisdom”, says Norins. “The few pioneers who did look at microbes and published papers were ridiculed or ignored.”

In large part, this was because some early proponents of the infection theory saw it as a replacement for the amyloid hypothesis. But some recent research has provided intriguing hints that the two ideas could fit together — that infection could seed some cases of Alzheimer’s disease by triggering the production of amyloid clumps.

The data hint at a radical role for amyloid in neurons. Instead of just being a toxic waste product, amyloid might have an important job of its own: helping to protect the brain from infection. But age or genetics can interrupt the checks and balances in the system, turning amyloid from defender into villain. Read More > at Nature

Five Strange Facts About Dreams – …five strange findings about dreaming from the psychology literature:

1. Bad dreams are nothing to fear

No one likes a bad dream, but they do serve a purpose: research suggests that they prepare us to better face our fears. This finding comes from a two-part study. First, participants slept with EEG electrodes fitted to their heads. Several times in the night, they were woken by the researchers, who asked them about the content and emotional tone of any dreams. The team found that the key brain regions that are active when someone is feeling fear are the same whether they are awake or dreaming…

2. You can control your dreams

During a so-called lucid dream, the dreamer realises that they are dreaming and can control what happens. There has been no end of attempts to find ways to induce lucid dreams — mostly unsuccessfully. However, a study at the University of Adelaide, Australia, that explored a few potential techniques found that one was effective. When used in the five minutes immediately before falling asleep, the “MILD” (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams) technique worked 46 % of the time. It consists of simply repeating (to yourself) the phrase: “The next time I’m dreaming, I will remember that I’m dreaming.”

5. Some people’s daydreams take over their lives

For some people, their daydreams are so vivid and absorbing that “real life” fades into the background. As one sufferer of Maladaptive Daydreaming (MD) explains it: “I am careful to control my actions in public so it is not evident that my mind is constantly spinning these stories and I am constantly lost in them.” Although MD does not feature in standard mental health diagnostic manuals, there are online communities dedicated to it. And as the researchers behind a recent study on MD write in their paper, “in recent years it has gradually become evident that daydreaming can evolve into an extreme and maladaptive behaviour, up to the point where it turns into a clinically significant condition.”… Read More > at Research Digest

Latino Leaders Are Fighting California’s ‘Unbelievably Regressive’ Climate Policies – California has some of America’s most aggressive climate change policies. But those policies are facing fierce opposition – not from big business or the oil and gas sector – but from the state’s Latino community.

Over the past two years, California’s Latino leaders have filed lawsuits that aim to halt several climate-focused regulations due to their negative effect on low- and middle-income Californians. Those same leaders are also calling out the Sierra Club and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for their support of regulations that are increasing the cost of energy, transportation, and housing in California, which has the highest poverty rate in America.

The Latino backlash against California’s climate policies — which has largely been ignored by state and national media outlets — exposes the growing chasm between the state’s powerful bureaucracy, which is closely aligned with California’s entrenched environmental groups, and the Latino and demographic realities of America’s most-populous state. It also presages a potential clash at the national level if federal policymakers attempt to implement California’s stringent climate measures throughout the rest of the country.

California has the largest Latino population in the country. Some 15 million Latinos live in the Golden State and they account for about 40 percent of its population. Latino leaders are objecting to the state’s climate-change rules because they will further exacerbate California’s housing crisis and increase poverty. When accounting for the cost of living, 18.1% of the state’s residents are living in poverty and the poverty rate among Latino and Black Americans is roughly twice the rate for whites.  Read More > in Forbes

California Dungeness crab season delayed to protect whales – California wildlife regulators on Wednesday postponed the start of the commercial Dungeness crab season to protect whales and sea turtles from becoming entangled in fishing gear.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it was pushing back the scheduled Nov. 15 start of the season to Dec. 1.

The recreational fishing season will be allowed to open on Saturday.

The postponement affects fishing zones from Mendocino County north of San Francisco to the Mexican border.

The move came after biologists found 50 humpback whales in one week last month off the coast of San Francisco and another 25 in the Monterey Bay area, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

There have been a record number of whale injuries and deaths in recent years as the whales, which normally are migrating south to Mexico by the start of the crabbing season, have stayed off the California coast longer.

They may be hanging around to feed on anchovies that have been pushed into shallower waters because of warming ocean temperatures, scientists have said. Read More > at ctpost

Neanderthals and humans were engaged in brutal guerrilla-style warfare across the globe for over 100,000 years, evidence shows – Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were closely related, sister species who evolved from the same ancestor and co-existed for millennia.

But scientists have tussled with trying to explain why Neanderthals went extinct around 40,000 years and humans lived on.

Several theories have been put forward to explain how this happened, including competition for the same resources, such as food and shelter; Neanderthals being unable to adjust to rapid climate change; and direct confrontation.

Now it is believed a combination of all of these things contributed to the Neanderthal extinction.

But the latest data reveals the two hominin species were fighting grisly guerrilla-style battles for 100,000 years. Read More > at Daily Mail

Supreme Court Rejects Qualified Immunity Defense for the First Time in Years – Earlier today, the Supreme Court issued a decision rejecting a law enforcement officer’s “qualified immunity” defense. Taylor v. Riojas was the first such Supreme Court ruling since 2004. That alone makes it significant. Whether the Court will take more forceful action to curb qualified immunity in future cases remains to be seen.

Qualified immunity is the notorious doctrine under which law enforcement officers and many other government officials are immune from civil suits for violating constitutional and statutory rights in the course of performing their duties unless they have violated “clearly established” law. Courts have interpreted “clearly established” so narrowly that officers routinely get away with horrendous abuses merely because no federal court in their area has previously decided a case with essentially identical facts.

In Taylor, a 7-1 majority (the just-confirmed new Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not participate), concluded that the lower court had gone too far in granting qualified immunity to prison officials in an egregious case where they subjected a prisoner to horrific treatment. Read More > from The Volokh Conspiracy 

U.S. manufacturing near two-year high; road ahead difficult – U.S. manufacturing activity accelerated more than expected in October, with new orders jumping to their highest level in nearly 17 years amid a shift in spending toward goods like motor vehicles and food as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.

The survey on Monday from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) was the last piece of major economic data before Tuesday’s bitterly contested presidential election. But the outlook for manufacturing is challenging.

“Manufacturing rebounded strongly with fewer restrictions on economic activity and stimulus efforts, but the path forward will be more difficult as the economy continues to cope with the pandemic,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The ISM said its index of national factory activity increased to a reading of 59.3 last month. That was the highest since November 2018 and followed a reading of 55.4 in September.

A reading above 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing, which accounts for 11.3% of the U.S. economy. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index rising to 55.8 in October. Read More > at Reuters

The Limits of Rhetoric – Deep-blue cities and states are eager to declare their social-justice credentials. New York mayor Bill de Blasio has set up a commission designed to uproot the city’s “institutional” racism, while California governor Gavin Newsom brags that his state is “the envy of the world” and will not abandon its poor. “Unlike the Washington plutocracy,” he proclaims, “California isn’t satisfied serving a powerful few on one side of the velvet rope. The California Dream is for all.”

Yet California, though well known for its wealth, also has the nation’s highest poverty rate, adjusted for housing cost. If rhetoric were magic, metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago would be ideal places for aspirational minority residents. But according to statistics compiled by demographer Wendell Cox in a newly released report, these cities are far worse for nonwhites in terms of income, housing affordability, and education. New York and California also exhibit some of the highest levels of inequality in the United States, with poor outcomes for blacks and Hispanics, who, population-growth patterns suggest, are increasingly moving away from deep-blue metros to less stridently progressive ones.

The current focus on “systemic racism”—often devolving into symbolic actions like mandatory minority representation on corporate boards, hiring quotas, and an educational focus on racial redress and resentment—is not likely to improve conditions for most minorities. “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness,” Martin Luther King said. “He merely exists.” That remains true. Our lodestar should be upward mobility: improving how well people live, across the board. When it comes to that criterion, blue states and cities are falling short. Read More > at City Journal

Earth Keeps Pulsating Every 26 Seconds. No One Knows Why. – Why is Earth pulsating every 26 seconds, and why can’t scientists explain it after 60 years? This is an enigma wrapped in a periodically predictable mystery motion. It could be a harmonic phenomenon, a regular seismic chirp caused by the sun’s energy, or a beacon drawing scientists to its source to begin a treasure hunt.

In the early 1960s, a geologist named Jack Oliver first documented the pulse, also known as a “microseism,” according to Discover. Oliver, who worked at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory at the time, heard the noise, but didn’t have the advanced instruments seismologists have now at his disposal.

Since then, scientists have spent a lot of time listening to the pulse and even finding out where it comes from: “a part of the Gulf of Guinea called the Bight of Bonny,” Discover says.

It seems like reams of new scientific research emerge every day, but the mystery pulse is a good reminder that so much remains to be discovered. Scientists have studied the pulse and debate its origin, but it just hasn’t reached a tipping point of interest to be solved. Discover explains that researchers have likely been studying higher-priority seismic events instead, which makes sense. Read More > in Popular Mechanics 

Apple, Google and a Deal That Controls the Internet – …their companies were in tense negotiations to renew one of the most lucrative business deals in history: an agreement to feature Google’s search engine as the preselected choice on Apple’s iPhone and other devices. The updated deal was worth billions of dollars to both companies and cemented their status at the top of the tech industry’s pecking order.

Now, the partnership is in jeopardy. Last Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a landmark lawsuit against Google — the U.S. government’s biggest antitrust case in two decades — and homed in on the alliance as a prime example of what prosecutors say are the company’s illegal tactics to protect its monopoly and choke off competition in web search.

The scrutiny of the pact, which was first inked 15 years ago and has rarely been discussed by either company, has highlighted the special relationship between Silicon Valley’s two most valuable companies — an unlikely union of rivals that regulators say is unfairly preventing smaller companies from flourishing.

Apple and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, worth more than $3 trillion combined, do compete on plenty of fronts, like smartphones, digital maps and laptops. But they also know how to make nice when it suits their interests. And few deals have been nicer to both sides of the table than the iPhone search deal.

Nearly half of Google’s search traffic now comes from Apple devices, according to the Justice Department, and the prospect of losing the Apple deal has been described as a “code red” scenario inside the company. When iPhone users search on Google, they see the search ads that drive Google’s business. They can also find their way to other Google products, like YouTube. Read More > from The New York Times

A Small Target in a Big Case Scott Galloway on the antitrust case against Google. – Late last month the Department of Justice filed a long-anticipated antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the company of engaging in anti-competitive practices. It’s the most aggressive challenge the DOJ has made against a tech giant since it accused Microsoft of anti-competitive practices in 1997. The lawsuit homes in on Google’s search dominance in the United States (Google represents 80 percent, according to the complaint) and the practices and deals that have solidified that claim. The case is sure to take years, but the ramifications for Silicon Valley — and the country in general — may be huge. Intelligencer spoke with Scott Galloway, marketing professor at NYU Stern School of Business and co-host of Vox Media’s Pivot podcast, about the complaint, the potential remedies, and the odds that a tech executive will end up in handcuffs sometime after Election Day.

What is your initial read of the DOJ’s complaint?
Antitrust action is overdue and late. But at the same time, the fear around this is that it may have been hurried as an opportunity for the administration to score points before the election, which may have diminished the voracity of the suit — as evidenced by the fact that a number of DOJ lawyers stepped back from the case this summer, saying they weren’t ready…

Is that because the DOJ is being shrewd?
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it echoes. This is an echo of the DOJ case against Microsoft. And the DOJ, which was initially successful against Microsoft, said that Microsoft was using bundling power and economic might to force every computer hardware manufacturer to bundle Internet Explorer. The DOJ is taking a page out of that notebook and saying, “Google has been bundling its search with the biggest distribution points, whether it’s Apple or Mozilla.” Read More > at Intelligencer

OPINION: What’s old, and who, can be made new again – One of the most persistent themes in my conversations with voters across the country, no matter who they are voting for, has been this outside pressure from our culture to shed the past and how it formed who we are as people because it has been rendered unacceptable in today’s society. The cultural curators in our country, the entities who hold the power and influence in everything we do from how we consume our news, watch our sports and movies, and use our phones, long ago shed any association with people who live and work and pray outside of the super ZIP codes of wealth and power. The cultural elites rarely have anyone in their boardrooms, C-suites, newsrooms, or bureaucracies who went to a state school or sit in a pew every Sunday or own a gun or grew up in a community with a mix of social-economic experiences.

If you don’t know anyone like that, how do you sell them soap or craft a tweet or market to them or entertain them if you don’t know them? You can’t.

But because they have the power in how you use technology, interact with institutions, view media, and watch sports and movies, they also have the power to move culture in their direction, often shaming voters into believing you are their friend, you are part of their tribe when you think, and wear, and use words and phrases the way they want you to.

In short, they won’t tell you anymore that you are not needed or wanted if you just come to their side. Read More > in the Washington Examiner

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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1 Response to Sunday Reading – 11/08/2020

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