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.
Vaccinated people safe from delta variant and other COVID-19 mutations – The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are thought to be effective against the highly transmissible delta variant, meaning another major wave of infections and hospitalizations is unlikely.
“If you’re vaccinated, you are safe from the variants that are circulating here in the United States,” said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday.
In the U.S., more than half of the population over 12 years old has been fully vaccinated, and roughly 67% of adults have received at least one dose. Seventy-eight percent of seniors, prioritized for the shots due to their increased vulnerability to severe illness, have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been a massive success despite its bumpy start in mid-December when Pfizer’s vaccine was first granted authorization by the federal government. Hospitalizations have fallen to their lowest levels since early April 2020, with about 16,700 patients hospitalized on average this week. Read More > in the Washington Examiner
Face masks not necessary in US to curb Delta variant, CDC chief says – Vaccines mean face masks aren’t needed indoors in the United States against the Delta coronavirus variant, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
“If you are vaccinated, you are safe from the variants that are circulating here in the United States,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday on “Today.”
The CDC will leave decisions on face mask requirements up to individual states, Walensky said.
“Fully vaccinated people do not have anything really to fear from the Delta variant,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told MSNBC. “We’re going to see cases, but we’re not going to go into a crisis.” Read More > in The Modesto Bee
PG&E seeks $3.6 billion in rate hikes for wildfire safety – Pacific Gas & Electric asked regulators Wednesday to grant a $3.6 billion rate hike to help it pay for hardening its power systems to prevent deadly wildfires.
The nation’s largest electric utility requested the hike beginning in 2023, with half of the increase devoted to wildfire safety, spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo told the Sacramento Bee.
The hike would increase the average residential bill by $36 a month for gas and electric service, although the state’s Public Utilities Commission typically only grants a portion of any requested rate increase, the Bee said. Read More > from the Associated Press
How polluted is your favorite California beach? Read this report card – Here’s some good news (and then some not-so-good news) for those seeking a summer respite by the sea: Beaches across California are much cleaner than in years past.
In its annual survey of more than 500 beaches, Heal the Bay reported Tuesday that 93% of California’s beaches logged good water-quality marks between April and October 2020 — an encouraging assessment for a coastline that sees all manner of trash, pesticides and bacteria (not to mention microplastics, automotive fluids and tire particles) flushed into the ocean whenever it rains.
A severe drought has meant less-polluted beaches during the summer — particularly in Southern California, where Orange County had 10 of the state’s cleanest beaches. But even a dry year has led to troubling patterns during the winter and stubborn pockets of pollution along the coast.
For the second year in a row, an unusual number of beaches in San Mateo County topped the list of dirtiest beaches in California. Read More > in the Los Angeles Times
That’s when Newsom sued Secretary of State Shirley Weber — whom he appointed to the position just months ago — for refusing to correct his lawyers’ filing mistake that could result in Newsom appearing on the recall ballot without “Democratic Party” listed next to his name. The legal feud, first reported by Courthouse News, suggests that Newsom sees the potential omission as a threat: In campaign fundraising emails and ads, Newsom has appealed to the state’s deep bench of Democratic voters by depicting the recall as an effort led by Republican extremists.
The jaw-dropping news came only hours after state lawmakers passed a bill that would waive certain recall rules they wrote just a few years ago and allow the election to be held earlier than expected — a move likely intended to help Newsom stay in office. Newsom immediately signed the bill into law, meaning that if state officials — including Weber — act quickly, we could know the election date as early as Friday.
Though the recall bill accounted for less than 0.1% of the whopping $263 billion budget the state Legislature passed Monday, it sparked a sizable political battle as Republican lawmakers argued the governor shouldn’t be able to change procedures affecting his own election.
- Assemblymember Kevin Kiley, a Rocklin Republican considering a gubernatorial run: “It is not hyperbole to say this is qualitatively the same thing that happens in corrupt, sham democracies. … Those in power use their power to make sure they don’t lose their power.”
- Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, a Los Angeles Democrat: This debate is “becoming overly political and it’s all about saying as many things as negative as possible about the governor. … I don’t want the (Assembly) floor to be misused that way.” Read More > at CalMatters
Rattlesnakes everywhere: the odd consequences of California’s drought – California and other states across the south-west are in the grips of a historic drought. The conditions have produced consequences that extend beyond the risks of a decreased water supply and worsening wildfires. And as urban development creeps further into once-wild areas, the drought has also increased negative interactions between people, animals and pests – who are all trying to adapt.
“Rattlesnakes are becoming more common in the places where we live, work and play,” Ramirez says. After opening his business in 1985, he’s become a go-to source for removal and public education about the snakes, speaking to the media and producing safety videos for California’s office of emergency services. He clears snakes from properties and public areas and relocates them to uninhabited areas.
As essential water sources start to run dry, other wild animals have also been spotted searching the suburbs for water, sustenance and reprieve from the intensifying conditions. Wildlife veterinarians have reported the numbers of abandoned babies or injured animals brought into their centers and animal sightings – especially of bears who are venturing deeper into urban areas – are surging.
“The bear population is expanding its range, so bears are showing up in areas where they’ve never seen before,” Rebecca Barboza, a wildlife biologist who studies the trend for the California department of fish and wildlife, told ABC News this month.
Less perilous pests may also pose more problems during drought conditions. Ants, cockroaches and rodents and other visitors also need water to survive and human homes are typically where they go to find it when it’s absent in outdoor environments.
“Drought conditions not only mean that a pest’s water supply dries up, but natural food sources can also be harder to find as well,” Mike Bentley, an entomologist for the National Pest Management Association, says. “Drought often drives pests into homes or other structures in search of these resources to survive”. Read More > in The Guardian
Data undercut Newsom’s ‘roaring back’ claim – Virtually any utterance from Gavin Newsom’s mouth these days, as well as those from his press office and other outposts of his administration, contains the phrase “roaring back.”
When, for example, the Legislature passed a state budget to meet the June 15 constitutional deadline, Newsom issued a statement declaring that “California’s economy is coming roaring back.”
Not surprisingly, it’s also the key slogan in his resistance to a campaign to recall him, something voters will decide later this year.
…That said, do the facts support Newsom’s repetitive “roaring back” claim?
To be sure, some Californians have prospered in the 15 months since Newsom declared a public health emergency due to COVID-19 and imposed restrictions on personal and economic activities.
Those who could continue to work at home maintained their incomes and those on the top rungs of the economic ladder were enriched as the values of their investments such as stocks expanded, thanks largely to the Federal Reserve’s cheap money policies.
However, broader economic data offer scant support for the “roaring back” mantra the governor is chanting these days. It’s more like creeping back — slowly.
The state’s monthly report on employment, issued on June 18, frames the glacial pace of improvement. The state lost nearly 3 million jobs after Newsom ordered widespread business closures in March 2020, and since then we’ve recovered roughly half of them. Our 7.9% unemployment rate is still twice what it was before the shutdown and is the third highest of any state, slightly under Hawaii and New Mexico.
In addition to the official unemployment rate, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics makes other calculations, including an important one on underemployment, called U-6, which includes not only workers without jobs but those who are only marginally attached to the labor force and those working part-time.
California’s U-6 rate through the first quarter, 18.4%, was four percentage points above the national figure and the third highest of any state, behind Hawaii and Nevada. Even more disturbingly, the U-6 rate in Los Angeles County, 24.1%, is higher than that of any state.
The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported this month that during the first quarter of this year, California’s economic output increased by 6.3%, slightly lower than the national rate and in the lowest third of the states.
The federal bureau also reported that California’s personal income grew by 42.8% during the first quarter, which sounds impressive until one looks at the nation as a whole and learns that California’s growth was the second lowest of any state. The bureau notes that nationwide, “transfer payments” — mostly federal aid programs rather than earned income — accounted for virtually all of personal income growth. Read More > at CalMatters
US just finished dead last among 46 countries in media trust — here’s why – The U.S. media is the least trustworthy in the world, according to a comprehensive new Reuters Institute survey encompassing 46 countries.
Yes, you read that right. The country with among the most resources in this arena – human, technical and otherwise – finished dead last. Finland ranked the highest, with a 65 percent trust rating. In Kenya, the trust rating clocked in at 61 percent.
But here in the U.S.A., the home of global media giants including the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN, we’re trusted by a whopping 29 percent of those reading and watching.
‘The Truth’ vs. Objectivity in American Journalism Today – Lately, the local ABC News affiliate in Washington, D.C., has been running promotional spots with the well-worn tagline “speaking truth to power.” That is an odd slogan for a media outlet that can certainly be counted among the powerful in the region. It also raises a question as to whether this local news department has truly discovered “the truth” and is devoting its broadcasts to sharing it with its viewers.
At least implicit in the use of the slogan is a recognition by the station that truth does indeed exist. Sadly, many in American journalism are increasingly denying the existence of objective truth and calling for an end of objectivity in journalism. As Stanford University communications professor emeritus Ted Glasser said recently, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.” In other words, the task of a journalist is to push the progressive narrative forward, truth and objectivity be damned.
Glasser isn’t alone. Recently, in a speech at Washington State University, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt also questioned the value of objectivity. “I think it’s become clearer that fairness is overrated,” he said. “The idea that we should always give two sides equal weight and merit does not reflect the world we find ourselves in.”
Regrettably, The New York Times has also caught this fervor to push a narrative. It recently announced plans to scrap its op-ed page after 50 years in favor of “guest essays.” Their stated purpose, according to editor Kathleen Kingsbury, is to publish pieces with “intention.” Translated, that means pieces that serve to advance an agenda. She confesses that Times editors will place their “thumb on our scale in the name of progress, fairness and shared humanity.” In other words, the Times will be selecting opinion pieces that fit a narrative, rather than offer informed dissent and contrary views. Evidently, The New York Times, like my ABC News affiliate, has possession of “the truth” and will only publish essays consistent with that truth.
Seeing this trend away from fairness in American journalism, my fear is that we will never return to an objective news media that reports the facts – who, what, when and where – and trusts readers and viewers to make judgments based on evidence and logic. The justification given by the Times in 1970 when it created the op-ed page — “as a move to open the opinion pages to the voices of others, presenting a range of views on major issues” — now sounds quaint and from a time long past. Read More > at Real Clear Politics
Should homeowners pay for climate change? – …As if a second dry winter and historic heat wave were just the opening acts, California homeowners are girding themselves for another destructive fire season that could raise their wildfire insurance rates to unaffordable levels.
The problem is catching. California’s streak of infernos has already created record liability for insurers: Insurance companies lost a total of $20 billion in 2017 and 2018, twice the industry’s profits since 1991, according to a white paper by Milliman, a financial consulting firm.
Insurers are betting climate change isn’t going away and that’s why they’re now pushing the state to allow them to factor in future flooding, mudslides and forest fires into customer premiums. If they don’t get their way, they say they’re just going to continue to drop more homeowners from coverage in a state where one out of three homes have been built in or near dense vegetation.
That tees up a contentious debate in the Legislature over who should be responsible for the costs caused by natural disasters to homes built in the wildland-urban interface — homeowners, insurance companies or government entities that allowed them to build in the first place. Others argue that construction should be banned entirely in fire-prone areas in spite of a statewide housing shortage.
Draft recommendations from the Climate Insurance Working Group, established to advise state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, suggest allowing a contentious move to let insurance companies adjust premiums based on projections from natural catastrophe models. The shift, they say, will more adequately allow insurance companies to charge rates based on extreme fire risk. Supporters believe it could discourage building and rebuilding in high-fire zones. If adopted, it would be a dramatic change from the current structure, which is determined by historic rates.
So far, lawmakers appear receptive but Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t tipped the scales. “The administration strongly supports land use planning requirements and building codes to bolster wildfire resilience in our communities,” said Gopika Mavalankar of the governor’s office. Read More > at CalMatters
Here be humans – We’re not the man we used to be. Over the last twenty years, genomics, ancient DNA and paleoanthropology have joined forces to completely overhaul our understanding of the origin of our species. The true diversity and complexity of human evolution over the last few hundred millennia surpasses even the most unhinged imaginings we might have hazarded just a short generation ago. But greater clarity has left us with a messier and less elegant narrative. Our species’ status, it turns out, is “complicated.”
In the year 2000, the orthodoxy was that humans spread across the world 60,000 years ago, and were descended exclusively from a small population in Africa. Neanderthals and various other human groups (and yes, we didn’t even deign to give them all names) were evolutionary “dead ends.” Of interest mostly to scholars, they were dismissed as failed experiments in a world our ancestors won. Today, this tidy story of us no longer passes a basic fact check.
In 2010, genomes recovered from ancient remains of “archaic hominins” in Eurasia turned out to have genetic matches in many modern humans. It seems they weren’t quite as “archaic” as we thought. In addition, we had to get used to the new reality that a solid 2-3% of the ancestry of all humans outside Africa is Neanderthal. About 5% of the ancestry of Melanesian groups, like the Papuans of New Guinea, actually comes from a previously unimagined new human lineage discovered in Denisova cave, in Siberia of all places.
Since these first major overhauls, the genetic picture has only grown more complex. Trace, but detectable (0.2% or so), levels of “Denisovan” ancestry are found across South, Southeast, and East Asia (as well as among indigenous people of the Americas). Similarly, trace but detectable levels of Neanderthal ancestry actually appear in most African populations. And, though we have no ancient genomes to make the triumphant ID, a great deal of circumstantial DNA evidence indicates that many African groups harbor silent “archaic” lineages equivalent to Neanderthals and Denisovans. We call them “ghost” populations. We know they’re there in the genomes, but we have no fossils to identify them with. Read More > at Razib Khan’s Unsupervised Learning
Solar Has An Unlikely New Enemy – Utility-scale solar farm projects are increasingly drawing opposition from environmentalist groups, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, citing the Battle Born Solar Project, which will cover—literally—14 square miles, or, as the WSJ puts it, 7,000 football fields. That’s a lot of land to cover with solar panels, which would render it useless for any other purpose.
Opponents of the Battle Born Solar Project from the nearest community are not among renewable power skeptics that mock solar farms. They are, in fact, environmentally conscious people who are, however, concerned that the massive solar farm will spoil the land, upset ecosystems, and last but not least, make their beautiful views less beautiful.
It was really bound to happen. Anyone who’s had the chance of seeing a utility-scale solar farm knows they are not exactly works of art that one would enjoy seeing on a daily basis. The logic, as with so many other things, seems to be, “It’s great, but I don’t want it in my backyard.” And it’s not all about aesthetics, either. Build enough massive solar farms, and we might have a climate problem on our hands.
Earlier this year, two researchers from Sweden and Australia challenged an idea that has been circulating in the public space for a while. They challenged the notion that building a few giant solar farms in the Sahara desert will solve the world’s energy problems.
Not so, Zhengyao Lu from Sweden’s Lund University and Benjamin Smith from Western Sydney University warned. Solar farms have a heat problem, and the bigger the farm, the bigger the problem becomes.
Solar panels convert light into electricity at an average rate of 15 and 20 percent. So, 15-20 percent of the light solar panels absorb, they convert into electricity. The rest appears to be the problem, according to Lu and Smith. Read More > at Oil Price
Microsoft rolls out the first Windows 11 preview – Windows fans and developers can get their first taste of Windows 11 today, as Microsoft has begun rolling out the first preview for Windows Insiders. The build will show off the operating system’s refined interface, with a centered taskbar and redesigned Start menu, as well as its improved window management. But you’ll have to wait a bit for some of the more advanced features, like the integrated Microsoft Teams chat and Android app compatibility. To try out the Windows 11 preview build, you can sign up on the web or from the “Windows Insider Program” section in Windows 10’s settings.
You’ll have to make sure your PC meets the Windows 11 minimum hardware requirements to test the preview build, naturally. (Microsoft is making an exception for systems that meet the Windows Insider program’s requirements though. Yes, it’s all very confusing.) Microsoft’s compatibility app will let you know if your system passes muster. Read More > at Engadget
Federal regulators warn of risks to firefighters from electrical vehicle fires – As the popularity of electric vehicles grows, firefighters nationwide are realizing that they are not fully equipped to deal with them. So they have been banding together, largely informally, to share information to help one another out. In fact, Buck recently spoke on Zoom about the incident before a group of Colorado firefighters.
That’s because the way that electric vehicles are powered triggers longer-burning fires when they crash and get into serious accidents. Electric cars rely on a bank of lithium-ion batteries, similar to batteries found in a cellphone or computer. But unlike a small phone battery, the large batteries found in the Tesla Model X, for instance, contain enough energy to power an average American home for more than two days.
So when an electric vehicle gets in a high-speed accident and catches on fire, damaged energy cells cause temperatures to rise out of control, and the resulting blaze can require a significant amount of water to put out. Such vehicles, given their large electrical energy storage capacity, can be a considerable hazard, known as “stranded energy,” to first responders.
But training to put out these fires can’t come fast enough as more electric vehicles arrive on U.S. roads every day. According to IHS Insight, an industry analysis firm, the number of registered electric vehicles reached a record market share in the United States of 1.8 percent and is forecast to double to 3.5 percent by the end of this year. But IHS notes that 1 in 10 cars are expected to be electric by 2025. Read More > at NBC News
Researchers engineer cells to destroy malignant tumor cells but leave the rest alone – Researchers at McMaster University have developed a promising new cancer immunotherapy that uses cancer-killing cells genetically engineered outside the body to find and destroy malignant tumors.
The natural killer cells’ ability to distinguish the target cells, even from healthy cells that bear similar markers, brings new promise to this branch of immunotherapy, say members of the research team behind a paper published in the current issue of the journal iScience, newly posted on the PubMed database. Read More > at Medical Xpress
Scientists Are Harnessing Sound Waves in Hopes of Treating Alzheimer’s – In 2010, a 67-year-old former executive assistant for a Fortune 500 company was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. By 2014, her doctors confirmed she had Alzheimer’s disease.
As her disease progressed, she continued to live independently but wasn’t able to drive anymore. Today, she can manage most of her everyday tasks, but her two daughters are considering a live-in caregiver. Despite her condition, the woman may represent a beacon of hope for the approximately 44 million people worldwide living with Alzheimer’s disease. The now 74-year-old is among a small cadre of Alzheimer’s patients who have undergone an experimental ultrasound procedure aimed at slowing cognitive decline.
In November 2020, Elisa Konofagou, a professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Ultrasound and Elasticity Imaging Laboratory at Columbia University, and her team used ultrasound to noninvasively open the woman’s blood-brain barrier. This barrier is a highly selective membrane of cells that prevents toxins and pathogens from entering the brain while allowing vital nutrients to pass through. This regulatory function means the blood-brain barrier filters out most drugs, making treating Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases a challenge.
Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce live images from the inside of the human body. But scientists think it could also be used to boost the effectiveness of Alzheimer’s drugs, or potentially even improve brain function in dementia patients without the use of drugs. Read More > at leaps.org
The Population Bomb Doomsday Scam – It may be the most astonishing story of the year that no one is paying much attention to. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported on their front page, “Chinese officials are drawing up plans to further loosen birth restrictions and transition toward policies that explicitly encourage childbirth,”. According to Chinese insiders, China, the most populous nation on the planet, is replacing its brutish childbirth restrictions with a program allowing, and even rewarding, couples for having kids. Beijing has announced that its demographic problem today is too few young people, not too many.
The New York Times put the point even more emphatically in its coverage of this amazing twist of fate, by acknowledging in a headline that the dreaded “population bomb” of the 1960s and ’70s has turned into a global “population bust.”
Let us put it even more concisely: the greatest environmental/demographic scare of the second half of the 20th century — overpopulation — is now officially conceded to have been a monumental fraud.
To appreciate what an embarrassing reversal this is for the green movement, consider that 40 to 50 years ago nearly all the scientists, policymakers, U.S. government agencies, and experts at the United Nations told us that rampaging population growth would lead to a Malthusian doomsday with the world in our lifetimes running out of food, energy, and nearly everything else. If ever there were an ironclad “scientific consensus,” this was it.
The experts were only off by about 99 percent. In reality, there has been no mass starvation other than in draconian socialist economies like North Korea and mid-1980s Ethiopia. The University of Oxford’s Our World in Data reports that worldwide famine deaths have sharply decreased from an annual average of over 1.6 million in the 1960s to less than 40,000 in since 2010 — and that total famine deaths worldwide (not just in Asia) were less than six million from 1980 through 2016.
Instead, even as the world’s population doubled from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 7.4 billion in 2015, food production rose even faster. India with 1.39 billion people has become a major agricultural exporter. Death rates nearly everywhere have plummeted. In the United States farm productivity rose so rapidly — with an almost tripling in yields — that the government has had to pay farmers not to grow so much food.
The world’s population is larger, but humans today live longer and are healthier, vastly more prosperous, and better fed. Our World in Data reports that from 1970 through 2015, world extreme poverty fell from almost 48 percent to less than 10 percent. Read More > at The American Spectator
San Diego Is Relatively Drought-Proof – and Has Prices to Prove it – The 2021 California drought is as bad if not worse as the one in 2014, which endured for five long, dry years. As of Friday, 33 percent is in a state of “exceptional drought,” the most severe drought category given by the federal U.S. Drought Monitor.
Farmers in the Central Valley are ripping up almond trees, according to Bloomberg. Those living along the headwaters of the Russian River in Mendicino County have been told to use no more than 55 gallons per day – enough to flush a toilet six times, according to CalMatters. Santa Clara Water District voted this month to place 15 percent water reduction targets on residents countywide, according to San Jose Inside.
Yet San Diego officials aren’t just calm in the face of these troubling conditions, they’re downright celebratory.
All the hoopla is because, well, officials here spent a lot of money on deals to secure more supplies and build water infrastructure. That’s why San Diegans pay some of the highest water rates in the state and country.
Until the 1990s, San Diego bought about 95 percent of its water from the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District, which controls a huge aqueduct channeling Colorado River water to Southern California – still the primary drinking water source for the region.
…The Water Authority spent $568 million to raise the walls of the San Vicente Dam 117 feet so it could store more water for emergencies. It’s part of an approximately $1.5 billion so-called Emergency Storage Project, which also added storage at Lake Hodges and the Olivenhain Reservoir. These large bowls in the Earth are where we store that Colorado River water.
The Water Authority looked for more ways to cut its dependence on the long straw to the Colorado River controlled by Metropolitan. In 2003, the Water Authority struck a deal to buy Colorado River water from Imperial County, enough to quench 1.6 million people a year for up to 75 years.
The Water Authority also spent money on fixing up two canals Imperial uses in exchange for more water that would have otherwise seeped out of those canals into the ground. About 50 percent of San Diego’s supply is Colorado River water that once went to Imperial. In total, 68 percent of San Diego’s drinking water in 2020 came from the river.
…So around 2015, the Water Authority helped open a desalination plant in Carlsbad, the largest in the country at the time, which cleans ocean water to drinking water standards. It’s the most expensive water San Diegans use, while the Colorado River water we get from Los Angeles is one of the cheapest.
Other than that, San Diego has just a little bit of surface water, groundwater and recycled water it can rely on, for now.
That’ll change once the city of San Diego builds its massive wastewater-to-drinking water recycling system dubbed Pure Water. The city estimates it can support over a third of San Diegans’ drinking water needs by 2035. San Diego is the Water Authority’s biggest customer. If the city fills a third of its drinking water needs with recycled water, San Diego won’t have to buy as much Colorado River water from the Water Authority. Read More > from the Voice of San Diego