Sunday Reading – 02/14/2021


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.

The Decade in Review: A Political Earthquake in California Local Government – The last ten years have seen an extraordinary shift in local government representation across California. Historically conservative majorities on City Councils have collapsed, beginning in November 2016, and ushered in hundreds of newly elected local officials that are substantially more diverse — and substantially more progressive — than the state has likely ever seen. 

The adage that “there’s no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole” was the zeitgeist of local politics for decades. And while infrastructure may remain relatively non-controversial, in today’s City Halls there are most certainly partisan ways to fill budget gaps, manage pension obligations and assert local control over hot button issues such as immigration, public safety, public healthy, housing, environmental regulations and other key matters. 

So while conservatives controlled a plurality of seats over years of our tracking at GrassrootsLab, a remarkable turn of events transpired in 2016 — Democrats took control of City government on a statewide level. Moreover, since that inflection point, the Republican share of local seats has been in complete freefall for three cycles now, with the GOP losing a substantial share of seats in 2016, 2018 and 2020. 

…Contra Costa County, on the other hand, which has been one of the few remaining battlegrounds in State legislative politics and home to various centrist legislators, has swung notably left. Less than half of Contra Costa City Officials were Democrats at the outset of the decade, now they number more than two-thirds. Read More > at California County News 

CDC says schools are safe, but Biden continues to ignore science, doctors – “There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely. Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools.”

  – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky

Great news, right? If you’re a single parent who’s been trying to work while raising children and attempting to home school for the past 10 months, that CDC assessment may qualify as the best news you’ve heard in your adult life.

But on cue, here comes the teacher unions that don’t seem to have the wellbeing of students near the top of their priority lists. Youth suicides continue to skyrocket amid the pandemic, while kids increasingly zoom out from Zoom classes and fall further behind in their education. Some unions argue that conditions for safely reopening still aren’t there, pointing to a need for all teachers to be vaccinated despite Walensky pointing to data that say vaccinations are not a prerequisite. Read More > in The Hill

Local control likely preserved – Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers are primed to unveil this week an elementary school reopening plan — one that seems likely to preserve the current model of local school districts negotiating agreements with teachers unions, raising questions as to whether the deal will actually accelerate students’ return to campus.

Newsom at a Tuesday press conference emphasized that “we can safely get back our youngest children … into schools in small cohorts.” But the question of teacher vaccinations — the main sticking point in reopening negotiations — appears likely to be resolved on a district-by-district basis, suggesting that the state’s patchwork of school reopenings won’t be replaced by a standardized system anytime soon. 

How soon teachers can expect to get vaccinated will depend largely on where they live, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports. While Marin County and the city of Long Beach have already begun vaccinating some teachers, others — including Santa Clara and San Mateo counties — have no estimate of when teachers might get vaccinated. And districts differ on vaccination policies. Alameda Unified plans to bring back K-5 students on March 8 without vaccinating teachers, whereas the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified sees vaccinating all teachers as a prerequisite to reopening schools.

The upcoming proposal appears likely to retain local control, “recognizing that each county is uniquely positioned as it relates to this pandemic,” Newsom said.

  • Newsom: The plan “would allow for collective bargaining, allow for localism, but at the same time set up expectations that our default and our priority is to get our kids safely back into school.”

Still, Newsom acknowledged “it’s very unlikely” all teachers will be able to receive a vaccine “before the end of the school year” — suggesting that districts with such a requirement could remain shuttered through the spring.

Meanwhile, another educational challenge is brewing. Thousands of California families chose to keep their kids out of kindergarten amid the pandemic — and many will enter first grade next school year behind the curve, putting immense pressure on an already strained system, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports. Read More > at CalMatters

New data shines light on student achievement progress — and gaps — in California and US – New education data released today by researchers at Stanford University shows a complex, nuanced — and in some places, troubling — picture of student achievement and racial gaps based on standardized test scores across California and the nation. 

In California, average math and reading test scores rose for all student groups except Black students over the past decade, while gaps in test scores among most student groups remained steady or narrowed. The exception was the gap between Black and white students, which widened.

Approximately 55% of California’s 6.1 million public school students are Latino, 22% are white, 9.3% are Asian and 5.3% are Black. The data was compiled by Stanford’s Educational Opportunity Project, headed by Sean Reardon, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. The project has updated its database with millions of new test scores, demographic information and other data from 57 million students nationwide. Read More > at EdSource

California Massively Increased the Amount of Housing the Bay Area Has To Allow. YIMBY Lawsuit Says ‘Eh, Could Be More.’ – In a man-bites-dog story for the ages, California activists are suing the state for planning for too little housing.

On Thursday, the pro-housing development groups YIMBY Action and YIMBY Law filed a petition in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda, against the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), arguing that the department failed to consider the Bay Area’s imbalance between jobs and housing when determining how many new homes the region has to plan for.

That failure to consider the jobs-housing balance, their petition claims, violates state laws and has resulted in HCD giving the Bay Area a planning quota that’s short over 100,000 homes.

Understanding what’s at stake in the YIMBY groups’ lawsuit requires some background on the exceptionally bureaucratic, acronym-heavy Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process by which the state government hands down housing production goals to California’s metropolitan regions.

Every eight years, HCD gives the state’s regional government councils—which in the Bay Area is the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)—a quota for how many new housing units they’re projected to need. Regional governments like ABAG then divide up that regional quota among local governments. These local governments are then required to change their zoning laws to accommodate however many units the state and regional governments are saying they need.

Government agencies determining needs, setting quotas, and handing down plans is no free marketer’s dream. At the same time, this RHNA process is the main way by which California’s state government can force localities to loosen zoning laws that prevent developers and property owners from building housing where the market will bear it.

That’s the idea, at least. Read More > at Reason

Cops playing copyrighted music to stop video of them being posted online – On several occasions, cops have started playing popular music when they realize they’re being filmed. The odd behavior has a point: they hope that copyright-strike algorithms on YouTube, Instagram and other social media sites will prevent the video being posted and shared.

Instagram’s enforcement of their own policy seems to be unpredictable and  inconsistent, and it’s hard to tell what the algorithm will catch during a livestream. There have also been plenty of high-profile of incidents of DJs and artists being penalized for playing their own songs (fans of the Verzuz series may remember Swizz Beats warning Beenie Man and Bounty Killer not to perform their own songs for more than 90 seconds). And for prominent activist accounts like Devermont’s, the stakes are particularly high: too many violations can risk getting your entire account banned.  Read More > at BoingBoing 

Mob Vandalizes Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s Home – A group of far Left activists upset over Sacramento’s homeless policies descended on Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s home last weekend, terrifying his family and causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.

“This was not protest. This was anarchy,” the mayor wrote in a statement. The assailants — clad in black and wearing helmets — lobbed rocks, destroyed artwork, and repeatedly called out his children by name.

The mayor has received criticism after the deaths of several unsheltered homeless people during rainstorms last month. The California Homeless Union has demanded Steinberg’s resignation and said it will launch a recall effort if he fails to do so.

The group has refused to condemn the violence, California Public Radio reports. Read More > at California City News

How Fossil Fuels, Ironically, Are Critical In The Development Of Renewable Energy Sources – We talk increasingly about “critical minerals,” sources for elements spanning the periodic table that are vital, considered to be strategically important, and for which substitutes are very difficult and expensive or simply non-existent.

In the grand competition among nation states to “decarbonize” and reach “net zero”, the rush of one-upmanship ignores an important truth: Hydrocarbons are critical minerals, permeating all facets of human existence and endeavor.

Every defense and non-defense technology, every consumer and industrial product, every vision of the future requires the molecules derived from combinations of carbon and hydrogen with other elements.  These form the basis for materials without which we cannot live.  If nothing else, the pandemic has shined a light on the immense significance of materials supply chains.  Without medical grade plastics for ventilators and intravenous equipment, food grade plastics to secure and support distribution of supplies and countless other indispensable applications, our very survival is at risk.

Because of the overwhelming focus on fuels and fuel combustion, the “easy” alternative solutions for hydrocarbon energy fuels greatly understate and misrepresent the materials requirements and challenges.  From blades for wind turbines to tires (and much else) for electric vehicles (EVs), hydrocarbons will continue to be primary ingredients for all energy technologies and modes of transportation.  Plastics comprise roughly 50 percent of materials content by volume of conventional internal combustion vehicles.  This will increase with demand for advanced materials to support electric and electronic components, and to reduce vehicle weight as makers strive to improve performance of batteries. Read More > at Forbes

Great white shark numbers up significantly in Monterey Bay – Researchers have discovered a “dramatic increase” in the number of great white sharks swimming in Monterey Bay in recent years, including an area off Santa Cruz County where a surfer was killed last year, according to a new study published Tuesday.

Juvenile great white sharks—younger animals that are between 5 and 9 feet long—that traditionally concentrated in warm waters off northern Mexico and Southern California have moved north since 2014 as  have warmed, the study found.

After they are born, great white sharks stay in warm waters near the shore to feed on fish, rays and squid, said Sal Jorgensen, a marine researcher with UC Santa Cruz and co-author of the study, which was published in Scientific Reports, a peer-reviewed journal from the publishers of Nature.

After two or three years, they grow larger than 10 feet long and swim out to deeper, colder waters. Their teeth widen and become more serrated. They reach sizes of 17 to 19 feet long and eat sea lions and other marine mammals, often in colder waters in places such as the Farallon Islands. Read More > at Phys.org 

Three countries are due to reach Mars in the next two weeks – A small fleet of spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates, China, and the United States will reach Mars this month after launching from Earth last year. The march to the Red Planet marks a marathon of firsts: it’s the UAE’s first foray into deep space, China’s first independent attempt to land on Mars, and NASA’s first shot at deploying a Martian helicopter.

The rare convoy of Mars-bound spacecraft launched off Earth in a slim, roughly two-month window last summer when Earth and Mars lined up just right in their orbits around the Sun. This planetary alignment only happens once every two years, and three countries took advantage of it in 2020, just as outer space reemerged as a playground for scientific discovery and displays of national power.

First in line to reach Mars this month is the Emirati Hope orbiter. After launching seven months ago on a Japanese H-IIA rocket, the car-sized Hope probe will arrive in Mars’ orbit on February 9th. It will spend nearly two years surveying the planet’s atmosphere to study daily changes in Martian weather. It puts the UAE on track to be the first Arab nation to deploy an interplanetary probe and join a small group of spacefaring countries that have done the same.

Trailing behind the UAE’s Hope probe is China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which will reach Mars a day later on February 10th. The five-ton spacecraft will hang out in Martian orbit to survey the Utopia Planitia region, where a large deposit of water ice lies beneath the planet’s surface. Three months later, in May, Tianwen-1 will deploy a lander and rover bundled together for a landing at Utopia Planitia — a daring attempt to become the second country to land and operate a rover on the Martian surface.

Later this month, China’s Tianwen-1 rover will get some company on the planet’s surface. NASA’s Perseverance rover, nicknamed “Percy,” will touch down on February 18th at the Jezero Crater, the site of an ancient river delta believed to bear traces of past life. Its touchdown location is some 1,600 miles away from China’s rover (about the distance between Miami and upstate New York). It’s NASA’s ninth mission to the Martian surface. Like any robot destined for a Mars landing, Perseverance will endure the infamous “seven minutes of terror” — a blazing dash through Mars’ atmosphere for a fully automated soft landing. To mission managers, it’s akin to taking your hands off the steering wheel of a $2.4 billion car.

In that sliver of time, the spacecraft will need to use a combo of parachutes and four propulsive engines to slow itself down from 12,100 mph at the top of Mars’ atmosphere to complete stillness on the Martian surface. A 14-minute communication delay between Mars and Earth means Perseverance’s wicked descent to the Jezero Crater — an unpredictable territory with cliffs, vast sand dunes, and large boulder fields — must be fully automated. By the time mission engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory get word that Perseverance entered Mars’ atmosphere at around 3:48PM ET, the rover will have already made it to the surface — or crashed on impact. Read More > at The Verge 

The Most Amazing Fact About Koalas – Koalas are absolutely fascinating creatures. Females have two vaginas, and males have a bifurcated penis split into two prongs. They also have one of the smallest brains in proportion to body weight of any mammal, perhaps an adaptation to their eucalyptus diet, which probably isn’t nourishing enough to support a large brain. Koalas also digest their food for as long as 200 hours!

But all of those incredible factoids pale in comparison to this one: koalas have fingerprints that are almost indistinguishable from human prints!

Maciej Henneberg, a forensic scientist and Wood Jones Professor of Anthropological and Comparative Anatomy at the University of Adelaide, originally made the discovery back in 1996. As reported by NewScientist:

With his colleagues Kosette Lambert and Chris Leigh, Henneberg obtained three male koalas that had been killed by cars and a 46-year-old female chimpanzee that had died in captivity. Using a scanning electron microscope, they compared the koala and chimp prints with those from humans. Strangely, given that chimpanzees are our closest relatives and themselves have human-like fingerprints, the koala prints were even more like those of humans.

Even more amazing, primates and koalas’ ancestors branched apart between 70 and 80 million years ago, suggesting that both independently evolved their fingerprints. Read More > at Real Clear Science 

A Chance to Liberate Booze Delivery — if Government Allows It – It is a story almost as old as America itself: technology advancing faster than government can keep up. Everything from the invention of rail travel to the development of drones has challenged governments to keep up with the pace of change. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that alcohol delivery is the latest frontier to stress the always uneasy relationship between government and technology.

Uber’s recent announcement of its $1.1 billion acquisition of the drinks delivery service Drizly is being hailed as a gamechanger that could “turbocharge” the growth of online-enabled alcohol delivery. While the deal will no doubt expand alcohol delivery options in many places, delivery of booze — bottles, cans and even pre-mixed cocktails — has already been experiencing exponential growth during the pandemic as more and more Americans are sheltered in place and ordering groceries, takeout meals and just about everything else to their door.

In fact, the online alcohol delivery marketplace grew by 80 percent in 2020, according to data from IWSR Research, an industry observer. A majority of states did their best to respond to the crisis by authorizing many forms of to-go and delivery alcohol during the pandemic.

But most of these reforms were only temporary emergency orders. The reality is that alcohol delivery is still subject to a host of restrictive laws and rules that will limit substantial growth unless more durable reforms are enacted. Eleven states still do not allow alcohol to be delivered from retailers such as grocery or liquor stores at all, while many other states do not allow third-party independent-contractor services such as DoorDash and Grubhub to facilitate these deliveries. Read More > at Governing  

Build the Electric Vehicle Supply Chain From the Mine Up – In a span of just 24 hours, two major announcements signaled a turning point for electric vehicles (EVs). First, President Biden announced that the entire federal vehicle fleet – some 650,000 cars and trucks – would be moving to made-in-America EVs. A day later, General Motors announced its intention to stop producing combustion-engine cars by 2035. The pivot to EVs has become a sprint.

This moment offers both the potential for significant progress in reducing emissions and the opportunity for the U.S. to win the accelerating race for the future of the auto industry and the millions of jobs it supports. But if we don’t get serious about building the domestic-mineral supply chain to support it, it’s a race we could lose.

…What we need now is a commitment to prioritize the production and a mines-to-markets strategy that enables us to build infrastructure for the electrification of transportation that will support American industry and millions of American workers.

There’s no time to lose. Demand for the minerals and metals of the EV revolution is poised to soar. The World Bank projects that demand for some key metals like lithium and nickel is expected to jump 500 percent by midcentury. We will need to produce the same amount of copper – so essential to the electrification of various industries – in the next 25 years as humanity has produced in the last 5,000.

Despite trillions in mineral reserves, the U.S. has drifted into an alarming mineral-import reliance that has become a glaring economic and national security vulnerability. A report from the U.S. Geological Survey confirms that we are now completely import-reliant for 17 key minerals and 50 percent or more import-reliant for 29 others. Reversing this situation and reshoring critical mineral production will require balanced policy that encourages production and robust domestic demand. Read More > at Real Clear Energy

The spiraling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction – Here’s a thoroughly modern riddle: what links the battery in your smartphone with a dead yak floating down a Tibetan river? The answer is lithium – the reactive alkali metal that powers our phones, tablets, laptops and electric cars.

Lithium-ion batteries are a crucial component of efforts to clean up the planet. The battery of a Tesla Model S has about 12 kilograms of lithium in it, while grid storage solutions that will help balance renewable energy would need much more.

Demand for lithium is increasing exponentially, and it doubled in price between 2016 and 2018. According to consultancy Cairn Energy Research Advisors, the lithium ion industry is expected to grow from 100 gigawatt hours (GWh) of annual production in 2017, to almost 800 GWhs in 2027.

But there’s a problem. As the world scrambles to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the environmental impact of finding all the lithium required to enable that transformation could become a serious issue in its own right. “One of the biggest environmental problems caused by our endless hunger for the latest and smartest devices is a growing mineral crisis, particularly those needed to make our batteries,” says Christina Valimaki an analyst at Elsevier.

In South America, the biggest problem is water. The continent’s Lithium Triangle, which covers parts of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, holds more than half the world’s supply of the metal beneath its otherworldly salt flats. It’s also one of the driest places on earth. That’s a real issue, because to extract lithium, miners start by drilling a hole in the salt flats and pumping salty, mineral-rich brine to the surface.

Then they leave it to evaporate for months at a time, first creating a mixture of manganese, potassium, borax and lithium salts which is then filtered and placed into another evaporation pool, and so on. After between 12 and 18 months, the mixture has been filtered enough that lithium carbonate – white gold – can be extracted.

It’s a relatively cheap and effective process, but it uses a lot of water – approximately 500,000 gallons per tonne of lithium. In Chile’s Salar de Atacama, mining activities consumed 65 per cent of the region’s water. That is having a big impact on local farmers – who grow quinoa and herd llamas – in an area where some communities already have to get water driven in from elsewhere. Read More > at Wired

Solar Panels Are Starting to Die. What Will We Do With The Megatons Of Toxic Trash? – Most people seem to believe that wind and solar panels produce no waste and have no negative environmental impacts. Unfortunately, these people are wrong.

In reality, everything that humans do has an environmental impact, whether it be mining, using a coal-fired power plant, or even tourism. When it comes to energy and environmental policy, the real question to ask is not “will there be an impact?” but rather, “can the impacts be minimized?” and “do the benefits outweigh the costs?”

Because everything has an effect on the environment, it is important that everyone understands the impacts of all energy sources so we can make the best possible energy decisions. We are constantly making trade-offs in our lives whether we recognize it or not.

A recent article in Grist warns of a looming onslaught of solar waste as solar panels in the United States begin to reach the end of their 25 year lifetimes. The article begins:

“Solar panels are an increasingly important source of renewable power that will play an essential role in fighting climate change. They are also complex pieces of technology that become big, bulky sheets of electronic waste at the end of their lives — and right now, most of the world doesn’t have a plan for dealing with that.”

Unlike other forms of electricity generation, like nuclear plants or coal plants, there doesn’t seem to be any foresight on how to deal with the waste that will be generated when solar panels and wind turbines reach the end of their short lifetimes. Remember, nuclear plants can run for 80 years, as can coal plants with proper maintenance and upkeep, but even the best wind turbines and solar panels will last for just 25 years, creating staggering amounts of waste products. Read More > at Center of the American Experiment

The First U.S. Funeral Home That Turns Bodies Into Compost Is Now Open – For almost a decade, Katrina Spade has been developing a new way to deal with dead bodies.

In 2011 as a graduate student in architecture, Spade began questioning what would become of her corpse after death. Unsatisfied with the options available, she spent years refining her own solution: “natural organic reduction.”

This December, after years of feasibility studies, fundraising, and legislative efforts, Spade’s company, Recompose, started turning its first customers into compost.

Recompose’s process centers around the “vessels,” a stack of gleaming white hexagonal steel tubes, currently housed in a nondescript warehouse in Kent, Washington. When someone dies, staff place the body, as well as wood chips, straw, and alfalfa, into the container, which provides the optimal amount of heat, water, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen for decomposition. Over the next 30 days, naturally-occurring microbes—and a few turnings with a tool similar to a dough hook—break the body down. The resulting soil (about 1 cubic yard worth) dries for two weeks to a month before it’s distributed to families or donated to an ecological restoration project.  Read More > at Vice 

What’s Going On With All These Coronavirus Variants? An Illustrated Guide – OK. So what in the heck is going on with all these variants? Why is everyone so worried? And how do they work?

To answer these questions, let’s go back in time to January 2020, when we were all blissfully going about our lives, eating in restaurants, cramming into elevators at work and dancing at house parties on the weekends.

Back then, the coronavirus looked a bit like this (well, not really, but if it was made of Legos, it would look like this).

The virus is basically a ball with little “spikes” on the surface poking out.

Now, our cells aren’t stupid. They don’t just let any virus inside willy-nilly. Not in the slightest. The cell actually goes to great lengths to keep intruders out. For anything to enter, the intruder must figure out a way for its spike to bind to another spike on the cell’s surface. You can think of this binding as a secret handshake. The handshake tells the cell, “Oh, it’s OK. We can let this guy inside.”

That’s exactly what SARS CoV-2 has done. Sometime in 2019, probably in China, SARS CoV-2 figured out a way to interact with a specific “spike” on the surface of human cells, called ACE2. This interaction wasn’t perfect. The spike and the ACE2 didn’t fit together perfectly. Read More > at NPR Goats and  Soda

Facebook Knew Calls for Violence Plagued ‘Groups,’ Now Plans OverhaulFacebook Inc. in 2019 redesigned its flagship product to center on what it called Groups, forums for like-minded users. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg called them the new “heart of the app.”

Now the social-networking giant is clamping down on Groups. The effort began after Facebook’s own research found that American Facebook Groups became a vector for the rabid partisanship and even calls for violence that inflamed the country after the election.

The changes, which Facebook escalated after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, involve overhauling the mechanics of a product that was meant to be central to its future.

Facebook executives were aware for years that tools fueling Groups’ rapid growth presented an obstacle to their effort to build healthy online communities, and the company struggled internally over how to contain them.

The company’s data scientists had warned Facebook executives in August that what they called blatant misinformation and calls to violence were filling the majority of the platform’s top “civic” Groups, according to documents The Wall Street Journal reviewed. Those Groups are generally dedicated to politics and related issues and collectively reach hundreds of millions of users.

Roughly “70% of the top 100 most active US Civic Groups are considered non-recommendable for issues such as hate, misinfo, bullying and harassment,” the presentation concluded. “We need to do something to stop these conversations from happening and growing as quickly as they do,” the researchers wrote, suggesting measures to slow the growth of Groups at least long enough to give Facebook staffers time to address violations. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal 

Sheryl Sandberg Downplayed Facebook’s Role In The Capitol Hill Siege—Justice Department Files Tell A Very Different Story – Just after the Capitol Hill riots on January 6, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer admitted the company’s ability to enforce its own rules was “never perfect.” About the shocking events of the day, she added: “I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate and don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer, shortly after the Capitol Hill riots on January 6.

Forbes reviewed data from the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University, which has collated a list of more than 200 charging documents filed in relation to the siege. In total, the charging documents refer to 223 individuals in the Capitol Hill riot investigation. Of those documents, 73 reference Facebook. That’s far more references than other social networks. YouTube was the second most-referenced on 24. Instagram, a Facebook-owned company, was next on 20. Parler, the app that pledged protection for free speech rights and garnered a large far-right userbase, was mentioned in just eight.

The references are a mix of public posts and private messages sent on each platform, discussing  plans to go to the Stop the Steal march, some containing threats of violence, as well as images, videos and livestreams from the breach of the Capitol building. Read More > at Forbes

The missing continent it took 375 years to find – It took scientists 375 years to discover the eighth continent of the world, which has been hiding in plain sight all along. But mysteries still remain.

In 2017, a group of geologists hit the headlines when they announced their discovery of Zealandia –Te Riu-a-Māui in the Māori language. A vast continent of 1.89 million sq miles (4.9 million sq km) it is around six times the size of Madagascar.

Though the world’s encyclopaedias, maps and search engines had been adamant that there are just seven continents for some time, the team confidently informed the world that this was wrong. There are eight after all – and the latest addition breaks all the records, as the smallest, thinnest, and youngest in the world. The catch is that 94% of it is underwater, with just a handful of islands, such as New Zealand, thrusting out from its oceanic depths. It had been hiding in plain sight all along.

In addition to New Zealand, the continent encompasses the island of New Caledonia – a French colony famous for its dazzling lagoons – and the tiny Australian territories of Lord Howe Island and Ball’s Pyramid. The latter was described by one 18th-Century explorer as appearing “not to be larger than a boat.”

Zealandia was originally part of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, which was formed about 550 million years ago and essentially lumped together all the land in the southern hemisphere. It occupied a corner on the eastern side, where it bordered several others, including half of West Antarctica and all of eastern Australia.

Then around 105 million years ago, “due to a process which we don’t completely understand yet, Zealandia started to be pulled away”, says Tulloch. Read More > in the BBC

California builders not in much of a homebuilding mood – California homebuilders modestly increased their single-family construction plans in 2020, but the expansion badly trailed a national building boom.

In an odd pandemic year that boosted homebuying, California recorded 61,700 new permits for single-family residences, according to Census Bureau data compiled by the St. Louis Fed. My trust spreadsheet tells us that 2020 permits in California were 4% higher than 2019’s pace, but that’s fairly meek growth …

1. Single-family permits rose 14% elsewhere in the U.S.

2. Only 11 states performed worse than California.

3. California’s slice of the nation’s single-family home creation fell to 6.3%, below its 6.9% average in the previous five years.

California’s meager production of new homes was certainly a reason statewide sales price leaped 11% in a year, pushing the median sales price for an existing single-family home to $659,380. Limited choices and higher prices didn’t deter too many house hunters as sales rose 3.5% vs. 2019.

Now, builders claim the state is a tough place to build as regulations make construction costly and new land hard to develop. Let’s also note that California is one of the nation’s most-profitable places for new-home construction, and developers seem in no hurry to bolster the supply shortage. Read More > in The Mercury News 

Who should be accountable for Employment Department mess? – It may be difficult to believe, but there is a state law, the State Leadership Accountability Act, that commands state agency heads to personally ensure that their programs are performing honestly and effectively.

Its stated rationale is that “prevention and early detection of fraud and errors in program administration are vital to public confidence and the appropriate and efficient use of public resources.”

It’s difficult to believe because California’s government is afflicted with managerial messes for which no one is held personally accountable, such as the truly horrendous meltdown of the Employment Development Department.

EDD was inundated with applications for state and federal unemployment insurance benefits early last year when Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down much of the economy to battle COVID-19.

As claims processing bogged down, the department waived many anti-fraud validation procedures and just shoveled money out the door. That led to at least $11 billion in fraudulent payments and an official rebuke from the U.S. Department of Labor about California’s laxity.

In reaction to fraud, EDD began holding up or even canceling benefit payments. Meanwhile, the feds told the state to revisit cases that lacked the required verification and claw back any excess payments. Read More > at CalMatters

About Kevin

Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-UPI, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Trustee RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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