Sunday Reading – 07/11/2021

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.

Antioch Seeks To Be NorCal Cannabis Capital With Mega Marijuana Facility At Former Kmart – Antioch is one step closer to being what the mayor calls the cannabis capital of Northern California with plans to turn an old Kmart into a multi-faceted marijuana facility in east Contra Costa County.

The Antioch city council this week unanimously approved a use permit giving the project the green light to move forward, with the support of Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who credits the cannabis industry in Antioch for making up for lost sales tax revenue during the pandemic.

Antioch is already home to Coco Farms cannabis dispensary which can potentially become one of the largest facilities of its kind in the country once it builds out a planned 130,000 square-foot indoor canopy for cultivation.

A block south of Coco Farms, San Francisco-based Radix Growth plans to convert the former Kmart which has been vacant since 2018, a 95,000 square-foot facility on E. 18th St. just west of State Route 160, into a facility that will house everything from an indoor cultivation area to a retail dispensary.

…Thorpe said is excited about the potential benefits.

“I don’t mind being known as the cannabis capital of Northern California because it’s increasing the quality of life of those in Antioch and providing economic opportunity for residents and folks in eastern Contra Costa County. Read More > at KPIX 5

Magnitude 6.0 quake strikes along California-Nevada border – An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 rattled the California-Nevada border Thursday afternoon, with people reporting feeling the shaking hundreds of miles away, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries.

The earthquake struck at 3:49 p.m. in a region about 250 miles (402 kilometers) east of San Francisco and south of Lake Tahoe. Its epicenter was 4 miles (6.5 km) west-southwest of Walker, a California town of fewer than 900 residents. It was followed by dozens of aftershocks, with at least a half-dozen of magnitude 4.0 or greater, the USGS said.

The epicenter was near the Antelope Valley fault. The earthquake was the largest one recorded since a magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck the area in 1994.

The quake was “a classic normal faulting earthquake for eastern California,” and aftershocks were common in the region, seismologist Lucy Jones tweeted.

Preliminary reports had indicated two earthquakes striking 25 seconds but 100 miles (161 kilometers) apart. But the U.S. Geological Survey reviewed the shaking and removed the report of a magnitude 4.8 quake in Farmington, about five miles (8 km) southeast of Stockton.

The uncertainty was caused by the remote location, which had fewer seismic instruments, said Austin Elliott, a USGS geologist. Read More > from the Associated Press

Could Newsom’s accelerated recall backfire? – When Newsom signed a bill to move up the date of his own recall election, it was an indication both he and the Democrat-dominated Legislature are banking on the idea that an earlier election could help him stay in office. But there’s also a chance the Sept. 14 date could backfire: Newsom now has less time to rally Democratic voters, who appear significantly less enthused about the election than Republicans. A recent poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found a whopping 75% of Republicans are highly interested in the recall, compared to just 36% of Democrats, a discrepancy reinforced by a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll.

Santa Clara County Revises Official COVID-19 Death Toll Down by 22 Percent – On Friday, Santa Clara County health leaders announced a drop in its COVID-19 death toll by nearly a quarter after it refined its approach in reporting the data.

The county reported that it had reviewed each COVID-19 fatality and was only counting those whose cause of death was from the virus and not those who tested positive for COVID-19 at the time of death but did not necessarily die from the virus.

The new approach meant that the death toll dropped by 22%, specifically from 2,201 to 1,696 deaths.

The refined approach in Santa Clara County comes as county officials try to figure out the true impact of the virus on the community. Last month, Alameda County health leaders refined their approach to reporting COVID-19 deaths as well and also registered a drop in that county’s death toll by about a quarter. Read More > at KPIX 5

The rise of a generation of censors: Law schools the latest battlement over free speech – Free speech on American college campuses has been in a free fall for years. From high schools through law schools, free speech has gone from being considered a right that defines our society to being dismissed as a threat. According to polling, the result is arguably one of the most anti-free-speech generations in our history. The danger is more acute because it has reached law schools where future judges and lawyers may replicate the same intolerance in our legal system.

A recent controversy at Duke Law School highlights this danger. “Law & Contemporary Problems” is a faculty-run journal that recently decided to do a balanced symposium on “Sex and the Law” — including transgender issues — and asked Professor Kathleen Stock of the University of Sussex (who has criticized transgender positions) to participate.

Protests erupted over allowing such intellectual diversity.

The new set of student editors demanded that Stock be removed from the symposium. The faculty board issued a statement explaining the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom, particularly on a journal that serves as a forum for debates on contemporary issues. Students resigned rather than associate with a journal offering both sides of such issues. Read More > in The Hill

Ivy League Study Shows How US Media Created a Climate of Fear Over COVID-19 – The authors of the paper—Bruce Sacerdote, Ranjan Sehgal, and Molly Cook, who hail from Dartmouth College and Brown University—analyzed the tone of COVID-19 related news articles written since January 1 and found a striking difference in the way US media covered the pandemic compared to media in other countries.

“Ninety one percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty four percent for non-U.S. major sources and sixty five percent for scientific journals,” the authors concluded.

To be sure, pandemics are hardly a cheerful topic. We’re not talking about a firefighter rescuing a kitten from a tree or a local man winning the lottery. But that wouldn’t explain the discrepancy in media coverage or the fact that positive developments do occur in pandemics.

This invites an important question: how did US media respond to positive developments?

“The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials,” the authors found. “Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining.”

The trend toward pessimistic news coverage was so acute, James Freeman noted in the Wall Street Journal, that the media mostly missed the amazing vaccine development story that took place right under their nose.

As the NBER report states, US media stories discussing President Donald Trump and hydroxychloroquine alone outnumber all the stories on vaccine R&D media produced during the pandemic. Read More > at the Foundation for Economic Education

EDD fiasco takes a surprising turn – Bank of America wants out – Just how dysfunctional is California’s unemployment department?

Apparently so dysfunctional that Bank of America, which since 2010 has had an exclusive contract with the state to deliver unemployment benefits through prepaid debit cards, wants to end the contract — even though the Employment Development Department just renewed it for another two years.

The news, first reported by ABC 7 in San Francisco, comes about a month after a federal judge — as part of a class-action lawsuit first reported by CalMatters — ordered Bank of America to stop using an automated fraud filter that blocked tens of thousands of legitimate claimants from accessing their benefits after they reported suspicious account activity. The bank said it received 230,000 claims of debit card fraud from October 2020 through March 2021.

Bank of America’s desire to end the contract is striking, given that both the bank and the state rake in merchant fees whenever an unemployment debit card is swiped. EDD has pocketed millions in fees amid the pandemic: It earned more than $47 million from March 2020 through April 2021, even though the claims of more than 1.1 million jobless Californians remain in limbo.

However, Bank of America told state lawmakers it lost “hundreds of millions” of dollars on the contract last year as it scrambled to respond to California’s rampant unemployment fraud, which experts say could total upward of $31 billion.

  • Bank of America: “We have advised the state that we would like to exit this business as soon as possible.”

Ultimately, the cost of California’s unemployment fraud will likely fall on taxpayers. And businesses will likely shoulder the staggering weight of California’s unemployment insurance debt, which experts estimate could reach $26.7 billion by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, EDD is still struggling to answer the millions of calls it receives each week — so much so that California’s 80 state assemblymembers were just given the green light to hire two staffers each to handle EDD problems. Read More > at CalMatters

Elon Musk admits self-driving is harder than he thought as Tesla owners troll him over missed deadlines – Elon Musk is admitting that self-driving is a harder problem than he originally thought as some Tesla owners are trolling him over yet another missed deadline for Tesla’s self-driving program.

Musk has a long history of failed predictions regarding Tesla bringing a true self-driving system to market.

It was first supposed to happen in 2018, then 2019, and in more recent years Musk has been more careful about the way he talks about full self-driving and now instead refers to a “feature-complete” system that would still rely on the driver’s attention but could lead to true autonomy with data proving that it’s safer than humans.

This “feature complete” system is now Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta, which first started being released to early access owners back in October 2020 as part of a limited program.

Tesla has since released several software updates for FSD Beta, and it has expanded the early access pool, but the program has certainly slowed down in recent months.

The next big step is expected to be the FSD v9 Beta update, which Musk has been promising for a while now. Read More > at electrek

To Stop Climate Change Americans Must Cut Energy Use by 90 Percent, Live in 640 Square Feet, and Fly Only Once Every 3 Years, Says Study – In order to save the planet from catastrophic climate change, Americans will have to cut their energy use by more than 90 percent and families of four should live in housing no larger than 640 square feet. That’s at least according to a team of European researchers led by University of Leeds sustainability researcher Jefim Vogel. In their new study, “Socio-economic conditions for satisfying human needs at low energy use,” in Global Environmental Change, they calculate that public transportation should account for most travel. Travel should, in any case, be limited to between 3,000 to 10,000 miles per person annually.

Vogel and his colleagues set themselves the goal of figuring out how to “provide sufficient need satisfaction at much lower, ecologically sustainable levels of energy use.” Referencing earlier sustainability studies they argue that human needs are sufficiently satisfied when each person has access to the energy equivalent of 7,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per capita. That is about how much energy the average Bolivian uses. Currently, Americans use about 80,000 kWh annually per capita. With respect to transportation and physical mobility, the average person would be limited to using the energy equivalent of 16–40 gallons of gasoline per year. People are assumed to take one short- to medium-haul airplane trip every three years or so.

In addition, food consumption per capita would vary depending on age and other conditions, but the average would be 2,100 calories per day. While just over 10 percent of the world’s people are unfortunately still undernourished, the Food and Agriculture Organization reports that the daily global average food supply now stands at just under 3,000 calories per person. Each individual is allocated a new clothing allowance of nine pounds per year, and clothes may be washed 20 times annually. The good news is that everyone over age 10 is permitted a mobile phone and each household can have a laptop.

How do Vogel and his colleagues arrive at their conclusions? First, they assert that “globally, large reductions in energy use are required to limit global warming to 1.5°C.”  The 1.5°C temperature increase limit they cite derives from the 2015 Paris Agreement in which signatories agreed to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” Read More > at Reason

Home School Applications in California Nearly Triple From Pre-Pandemic Numbers – According to new statistics released by the California Department of Education, home schooling in California continued to grow during the 2020-2021 school year, reaching record levels of students learning from home.

The number of new home schooling affidavits filed by parents with the California DOE has nearly tripled in the last few years, going from 14,548 in the 2018-2019 school year, to 22,433 in 2019-2020 and 34,715 in 2020-2021. A further 3,215 affidavits for private schools with 6 or more students were also filed in 2020-2021, another large increase from previous years.

While exact numbers of students were not given in reports, estimated figures based on the new affidavit numbers points to similar increase percentages. Pre-pandemic, California had roughly 200,000 home schooled students, with 6.1 million public school students and around 500,000 private school students. However, with the pandemic, as well as other factors such as an increase in parents removing students due to issues over what is being taught, the number of new homeschooled students kept pace with the number of new affidavits with close to 400,000 being homeschooled for at least part of the 2020-2021 school year. The estimated figures also keep pace with the national average of between 5%-11% of students being homeschooled during that time period. Read More > at California Globe

Why There’s New Hope for Alzheimer’s Patients – How much hope can Alzheimer’s patients and their loved ones take from the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a new drug this month? Researchers and drug makers have labored fruitlessly for decades to develop treatments that can slow the disease’s progression. More than 100 experimental drugs have failed in clinical trials, but researchers may be on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Biogen’s newly approved monoclonal antibody drug, aducanumab (known by the brand name, Aduhelm), is the first treatment that has shown evidence in clinical trials of reducing amyloid plaque in the brain and slowing cognitive decline. It isn’t a cure. But it and similar treatments could transform the disease from a death sentence to a manageable condition like diabetes or multiple sclerosis. “We are now about to take the journey toward transforming Alzheimer’s disease from a terminal disease as we know it to a chronic disease,” Cleveland Clinic neurologist Marwan Sabbagh said in a NeurologyLive video cast.

More than 70 Alzheimer’s drugs are in the clinical pipeline, many employing different strategies. Neurologists like Dr. Sabbagh believe that ultimately a combination of therapies will be needed to hold off or—dare to dream—reverse Alzheimer’s. “I think we are now where MS was when I graduated from medical school 29 years ago,” he said. Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

Gut microbe secreted molecule linked to formation of new nerve cells in adult brain – The billions of microbes living in your gut could play a key role in supporting the formation of new nerve cells in the adult brain, with the potential to possibly prevent memory loss in old age and help to repair and renew nerve cells after injury, an international research team spanning Singapore, UK, Australia, Canada, US, and Sweden has discovered.

The international investigating team led by Principal Investigator Professor Sven Pettersson, National Neuroscience Institute of Singapore, and Visiting Professor at Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), and Sunway University, Malaysia, found that gut microbes that metabolize tryptophan—an essential amino acid—secrete small molecules called indoles, which stimulate the development of new brain cells in adults.

Prof Pettersson and his team also demonstrated that the indole-mediated signals elicit key regulatory factors known to be important for the formation of new adult neurons in the hippocampus, an area of the brain also associated with memory and learning. Memory loss is a common sign of accelerated aging and often an early sign of the Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Read More > at Medical Xpress

Why rising oil prices matter — and what comes nextWhy it matters: Gasoline, diesel and jet fuel come from oil — which is also used widely in the chemicals industry. Climbing oil prices mean higher costs for consumers and businesses at a time when prices for many goods and services have already been rising.

Driving the news: On Thursday, WTI crude rose above $75 a barrel for the first time since October 2018. This, as OPEC+ meets to discuss how much to increase supply.

What they’re saying: “The global reopening is driving very strong oil demand at a moment when U.S. production growth remains relatively muted and OPEC has close to 6 million barrels sitting on the sidelines in a coordinated production cut,” RBC Capital Markets’ head of global commodity strategy Helima Croft tells Axios.

State of play: Oil prices are rising now because the delayed demand from the economies moving past the pandemic is being addressed by an industry that has cut way back on production capacity.

Threat level: “The pent-up demand for oil that’s happening now only is a small degree of what will happen in a much larger degree as many of these countries come out of the pandemic,” Dicker says.

  • “$75? You better enjoy it because you’ll see maybe twice that by the middle of 2022.” Read More > at Axios

Rumours of the demise of cars have been greatly exaggerated – Cars are having a moment almost as improbable as the stunts in the Fast and the Furious movies that celebrate them.

Just a few years ago, obituaries were being written for the motor car — millennials and Gen-Zers, so the argument went, were going to swerve away from car ownership as more of them moved to cities with myriad public transport options and ride hailing services like Uber. Besides, concern about the adverse impact on the environment would deter young people from making purchases.

Then the pandemic hit. Now, as the world recovers, used car prices are going through the roof in many countries. Waiting times for driving tests have blown out. And online requests for driving directions are soaring, while public transit route inquiries have plunged. An EY survey of 3,300 consumers in nine countries found that 32% of non-car owners said they intended to get a car in the next six months. About half of those prospective buyers were millennials.

Turns out the appeal of cars — despite taking a few hits over the years — is as resilient as the Fast and the Furious films, the latest of which debuted in cinemas recently after earlier instalments grossed billions of dollars worldwide over the past two decades.

…Even before the pandemic, younger would-be homebuyers on the hunt for affordable accommodation had been venturing further away from big city centres and locations with dense public transport systems. That trend has accelerated in the wake of Covid-19, as workers newly able to work at least some of the time from home fan out into smaller cities and suburbs, where owning a car is seen as more normal.

Yet if the trend of remote work persists and more people buy cars, that may not mean more congestion on roads. So far in the US at least, the booming interest in cars hasn’t meant more miles being driven on aggregate as people take fewer trips overall.

“A resurgence of car ownership might be more of the story versus a resurgence of car usage,” said Michael Brisson, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in the US. “People may want the ability to travel and may be taking more short trips, but I can’t see anywhere that shows they are driving more miles.” Read More > in The Times

Instant water disinfectant ‘millions of times more effective’ than commercial purification – The creators of a new instant water disinfectant, made using only hydrogen and the surrounding air, claim their invention is “millions of times more effective” at ridding water of viruses and bacteria than commercial purification methods.

In addition to revolutionizing municipal water cleaning, the inventors of the novel technique suggest their disinfectant can help safely and cheaply deliver potable water to communities in need.

Around the world, an estimated 780 million people are without reliable access to clean water, and millions more experience water scarcity at least once a month.

The technique — described Thursday in the journal Nature Catalyst — uses a catalyst of gold and palladium to instantly turn hydrogen and oxygen into hydrogen peroxide, a common disinfectant.

In lab tests, researchers found their catalyst yielded not only hydrogen peroxide, but a variety highly reactive compounds called reactive oxygen species, or ROS.

It turned out that these novel compounds were responsible for the majority of the new disinfectant’s impressive antibacterial and antiviral abilities. Read More > at UPI

‘One of our worst nightmares’: Joy, anxiety as third wolf pack enters California – The California Department of Fish and Wildlife identified a new pack of gray wolves in southern Plumas County this spring, bringing the total number of officially recognized packs in the state to three

The three wolves in the Beckwourth pack were first spotted in May 2021 on a trail camera, and the tracks of two wolves were noted earlier that year in the same general area in February 2021, according to Fish and Wildlife

“It’s a little bit surprising,” said Kent Laudon, a wildlife biologist employed by Fish and Wildlife to conserve and manage the state’s gray wolf population. “First we had one pack. All of a sudden last year, we had two, and now we have three.”

For conservationists, the growing population is good news. 

While the growing population and the identification of a new pack in Plumas County is cause for celebration for environmentalists, it can be problematic for ranchers, as the animals can attack their cattle.  Read More > at SFGATE

California delays considering supervised sites for drug use –  California lawmakers will wait until next year to continue considering a bill that would give opioid users a place to inject drugs in supervised settings, the bill’s author said Tuesday.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, said he was told the Assembly Health Committee will delay a hearing on his bill until January.

The measure would allow Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles County to start programs giving people a place to inject drugs while trained staff are available to help if they suffer accidental overdoses.

“Safe consumption sites are a proven strategy to save lives and help people into recovery,” Wiener said.

Currently the sites are illegal in the United States, but legal in Canada. Read More > from the Associated Press

Moderna enters clinical trials for its mRNA-based flu vaccine – Moderna has injected its mRNA-derived vaccine for the seasonal flu into a human volunteer for the first time as part of a Phase 1/2 clinical study, the company announced on Wednesday. 

This is a very early test for the new vaccine technology, geared primarily towards building a baseline understanding of the treatment’s “safety, reactogenicity and immunogenicity,” according to a Moderna release. mRNA-1010, as the vaccine has been dubbed, is designed to be effective against the four most common strains of the virus including, A H1N1, H3N2, influenza B Yamagata and influenza B Victoria. 

According to the World Health Organization, these strains cause between 3 and 5 million severe cases of flu every year, resulting in as many as 650,000 flu-related respiratory deaths annually. In the US alone, roughly 8 percent of the population comes down with the flu every winter. The company hopes this vaccine will prove more potent than the current 40 to 60 percent efficacy rate of conventional flu vaccines.  Read More > at Engadget

Lab analysis finds near-meat and meat are not nutritionally equivalent – Plant-based meat substitutes taste and chew remarkably similar to real beef, and the 13 items listed on their nutrition labels—vitamins, fats and protein—make them seem essentially equivalent.

But a Duke University research team’s deeper examination of the nutritional content of plant-based meat alternatives, using a sophisticated tool of the science known as “metabolomics,” shows they’re as different as plants and animals.

“To consumers reading nutritional labels, they may appear nutritionally interchangeable,” said Stephan van Vliet, a postdoctoral researcher at the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, who led the research. “But if you peek behind the curtain using metabolomics and look at expanded nutritional profiles, we found that there are large differences between meat and a plant-based meat alternative.”

Several metabolites known to be important to human health were found either exclusively or in greater quantities in beef, including creatine, spermine, anserine, cysteamine, glucosamine, squalene, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. “These nutrients have potentially important physiological, anti-inflammatory, and or immunomodulatory roles,” the authors said in the paper.

“These nutrients are important for our brain and other organs, including our muscles,” van Vliet said. “But some people on vegan diets (no animal products), can live healthy lives—that’s very clear.” Besides, the plant-based meat alternative contained several beneficial metabolites not found in beef such as phytosterols and phenols.

“It is important for consumers to understand that these products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable, but that’s not to say that one is better than the other,” said van Vliet, a self-described omnivore who enjoys a plant-heavy diet but also eats meat. “Plant and animal foods can be complementary, because they provide different nutrients.” Read More > at Medical Xpress

Aerial Sheep Herding in Yokneam from Colossal on Vimeo.

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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