Sunday Reading – 08/01/2021


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.

More ‘good fire’ could help California control future catastrophes – Prescribed burns are one of the essential tools of modern fire prevention, and researchers at the Berkeley forest have spent decades experimenting with them, learning how best to use fire to clear away highly flammable underbrush and make the forest healthier. Yet even as climate change drives wildfires to more dangerous extremes, California is setting fire to only a tiny fraction of the million acres a year experts like York say is needed to lessen the severity of wildfires that have exploded in recent years, burning through many of the state’s wildly overgrown landscapes and taking lives and homes with them. 

About a third of California’s 100 million acres of land is forested, so fire will always be a part of its landscape. But for York and many experts, the essential question as California confronts a future of climate-intensified fires is straightforward: “Do you want to control when and where your fires and smoke happen, with prescribed fire?” York asks. “Or do you want to wait until it comes to you, in a way you really have no control over?” 

Contradictory as it may seem, fire is part of the natural life cycle of forests. The forests of the American West are so well adapted to flames that many species, such as the giant sequoia, even rely on fire to survive: Its seeds need fire’s intense heat to release from their cones and germinate.  

Before white settlers arrived, an estimated 4.5 million acres of forest burned every year, set either by lightning or Native Americans, who used fire to manage the landscape. Both types of burns left scars in tree rings, which provide hundreds of years of historical records showing that burns occurred regularly every five to 20 years across many of the state’s forests, though smaller or gentler cultural burns not big enough to leave scars happened as often as yearly in some areas.

Those ancient forests, Native Americans and scientists say, looked much different than forests today. Then, only 40 to 60 trees per acre grew in much of the Sierra Nevada; today, hundreds of smaller trees crowd together on an acre—making forests more vulnerable to disease and pests, and primed to burn catastrophically.

In order to get the state back on track with its historical fire patterns, researchers suggest that about one million acres should be burned every year. The reality has been more than an order of magnitude away, despite persuasive evidence that prescribed burns are effective. Last year’s Creek Fire, for example, burned explosively through parts of the Sierra Nevada. But when the blaze approached Shaver Lake, near Fresno, it ran into big swaths of land that Southern California Edison had treated with prescribed fire over the past 20 years. The fire “dropped down to the forest floor” and became controllable, says Craig Thomas, the director of the Sierra-based Fire Restoration Group, likely saving lives and property. Yet, in 2019, the last year for which figures are available, only about 118,000 acres were deliberately burned in the state. Read More > at National Geographic

Nobody’s ‘Gonna Talk’ – The ballad of the Chowchilla bus kidnapping – In 1976, a school bus carrying 26 children and their driver disappeared from a small California town, capturing the world’s attention. Forty-five years later, we revisit the story.

…It’s hard to blame the town for sidelining it, because Chowchilla was not just the site of the largest kidnapping for ransom in American history, but also of one of the most idiotic crimes ever visited upon the state of California. It was a crime so perverse and unbelievable that it sounds like, for lack of a better phrase, utter bullshit.

What happened to Chowchilla is the story of a generation-defining crime that briefly shook the world, and the ripple effects it had on the state’s heartland. It’s about the huge differences between urban and rural California, the rich and the poor, how a town overcame being dragged to hell and back, and what we have to learn from the fading ghost stories of the 20th century.

It’s also about cars.

It’s 1976, 11 days after the bicentennial. The American Freedom Train, a government-sponsored restored steam locomotive, is rolling through the country hawking patriotic kitsch. In a few months, Jimmy Carter will surrender his peanut farm to become president of the United States and end the Nixon era. Evel Knievel is figuring out a really flashy way to try to go off and kill himself (a tank of live sharks). Elvis Presley is really sweaty and has a year to live. Alec Guinness is filming a shitty sci-fi movie called Star Wars and he hates it but doesn’t yet know what 2.25 percent of royalties in perpetuity is going to look like. Oh, and “Convoy,” a fake country song about truckers written by a New York ad guy, is popular. Really popular. You can’t avoid the damn thing. It’s turned CB radios into a huge fad for adults. (That’ll come up later.)

In Chowchilla, 150 miles southeast from San Francisco, it’s a normal July afternoon. Languid, hot, and unremarkable. A bus driver is picking up kids from summer school. His name is Ed Ray. A humble rancher with a humble day job, married to a humble bank teller named Odessa. Stocky, about 55 years old. Looks like a guy you don’t want to fight; a guy who works with his hands and knows his way around baling hay. He doesn’t talk much. He’s from down the road in Merced but went to high school here and doesn’t plan on going anywhere else.

…Ed presses on to his next stop. When he turns onto Avenue 21, he sees a white ’71 Dodge van blocking the road with its door open.

He tries to weave around the empty van when a guy in overalls with pantyhose covering his face jumps out in front of the bus with a revolver. The man walks to the driver’s side window and asks Ed, with no intimidation in his voice, “Would you open the door, please?” Ed opens it.

Two more identically dressed figures jump in, one with a rifle, which is quickly pointed at Ed. Everybody goes to the back of the bus. The one without a rifle starts to drive, and the one with the revolver hops in the van to follow them. They drive about a mile and park the bus in a bamboo thicket. Nobody’s yelling. It’s so calm, it’s violent. Twelve kids are ushered into the white van. Ray and the other 14 kids get into the back of a second van, this one green. There’s a partition behind the driver’s seat and the windows are sealed. It’s hotter than hell, and pitch black. Some of the kids sing songs to cheer up, like “If You’re Happy And You Know It” and “Boogie Fever” and “Get Down Tonight.”

Back in town, it doesn’t take long for people to get worried. You can set your watch by Ed. Something’s happened. “We got a phone call, and then immediately it was on television, on the local stations, that the bus was missing,” said Ronnie. “Parents began to wonder what was going on 15 minutes after their kids didn’t get home.”

The town becomes a CB radio posse. People start driving all over the county looking for the bus, for the kids, for Ed. By 6:30 pm, about two and a half hours since anyone saw the children, the sheriff’s department has a plane in the air. Ronnie, meanwhile, forms a small search party with two others. They go out in a Jeep with no top, driving through orchards with spotlights, looking for anything at all.

A couple of hours later, the bus is found by a police sergeant, empty, devoid of clues. Read More > at Vox

The biggest aspect of the Gavin Newsom recall no one’s talking about – Two polls released within the span of the past week have made it clear that many Californians do not know what to do at the bottom of the Gavin Newsom recall election ballot.

For those unfamiliar with the process, the ballot — which will be mailed out to voters beginning Aug. 16 — contains just two questions: 1. Should Gov. Gavin Newsom be recalled? 2. Which candidate should replace him?

If a majority of voters decide to recall Newsom, his replacement will be whichever candidate receives a simple plurality of votes on question two. The replacement — like Newsom, if he survives — would have to run for re-election in 2022.

Californians who vote “no” on question one can still vote for one of the 46 candidates on question two and have their votes counted, meaning the many pro-Newsom Democratic voters in the state will have a say in who might replace Newsom if the recall is successful — a scenario that seems highly possible given recent polling.

What those Democratic voters might do on question two has been the most under-discussed major story line of the Newsom recall.

Unlike the Gray Davis recall in 2003, where Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante ran as a backup plan of sorts, there are no elected Democrats at the bottom of the ballot this year, with YouTuber Kevin Paffrath emerging as the only Democrat who has polled over 1%. It has helped Newsom paint the recall as a partisan endeavor, and his team has a directive for Democratic voters looking for guidance on question two.

“Leave it blank,” Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click said via email. “Voting NO is the only way to block the Republican power grab and prevent the Republican takeover of California.”

Of course, leaving question two blank would leave Newsom’s replacement up to the state’s Republican voters, who currently seem to be preferring conservative radio host Larry Elder… Read More > at SFGate

Unemployment going in wrong direction – Another sign that things in California aren’t going back to normal: New unemployment claims jumped to their highest level since the state’s June 15 reopening, with more than 67,400 residents submitting claims for the week ending July 24, according to federal data released Thursday. Not only is that an increase of nearly 11,000 from the week before, but it also accounts for nearly 20% of all claims filed nationwide — even though California represents less than 12% of the country’s civilian labor force. Paradoxically, the uptick in jobless claims comes amid an outpouring of jobs, with many businesses struggling to hire workers. Job postings in California were more than 5% above pre-pandemic levels for the week ending July 27, according to Michael Bernick, a former Employment Development Department director and attorney at Duane Morris.

  • Bernick: “The conventional wisdom (has been) that hiring in California would come in September when the (federal) unemployment supplement of $300 ended, the schools reopened and child care became more available. The past few week’s numbers suggest that September may not bring that major reduction in unemployment claims or increase in hiring.” Read More > at CalMatters

How to spot a good fake ID – Good fake IDs will use the same card stock as real IDs. Their laminates won’t be able to be peeled back. Their photos will be photos that the person took themselves. Their data will be the actual data that the person inputted themselves, and the ID will be scannable. It’ll show that exact same ID’s data.

In order to spot a good fake ID, you have to be more clever than that. 

Here’s how you do it.

1. Check the edges

Feel the edge of your actual driver’s license. You’ll notice it’s smooth with rounded corners. This is because your ID is laser cut.

The edges of a fake ID might be rough, or have little threads. This is the sign of a hand cut or machine cut ID. These are fake.

2. Check the laminate

Laminate on hard plastic is difficult to do correctly. Fake IDs have come along way since the days where it’d just be glue-on laminate, but that doesn’t meant the laminate is perfect.

On your real ID, the laminate is almost unnoticeable, except for a slight glossy sheen. It ends at the end of the card, although if you look very closely at the edge of the card you can see two or three layers: the laminate, the card stock, and possibly another layer of laminate.

On fake IDs, the laminate is often not so well stuck on. The laminate gets folds or dirt underneath it, especially around the edges. It also frequently pokes a tiny bit beyond the edges, which you can see if you flash a light directly on the edges.

Even if the laminate is stuck on correctly, it’s difficult for fake ID manufacturers to get the same kind of laminate as real ID manufacturers. They use substitutes, which are often far too reflective. You can often see this extreme reflectivity on fake passports, too. Read More > at Trevor Klee

The Insect Apocalypse That Never Was – For the past four years, journalists and environmental bloggers have been churning out alarming stories that insects are vanishing, in the United States and globally. Limited available evidence lends credence to reasonable concerns, not least because insects are crucial components of many ecosystems. But the issue has often been framed in catastrophic terms, with predictions of a near-inevitable and imminent ecological collapse that would break ecosystems, destroy harvests, and trigger widespread starvation. Most of the proposed solutions would require a dramatic retooling of many aspects of modern life, from urbanization to agriculture.

Considering the disruptive economic and social trade-offs being demanded by some of those promoting the crisis hypothesis, it’s prudent to separate genuine threats from agenda-driven hyperbole. Are insect declines really threatening to precipitate a catastrophic ecological crisis? And, given the available data, what should a responsible society be doing?

…Headlines swept the world predicting imminent “ecological Armageddon,” a chilling turn of phrase provided by Dave Goulson, a professor at the University of Sussex and one of the paper’s co-authors. Goulson was a relatively unknown English biology professor at the time, but rapidly became the public face of the crisis narrative. Although these claims were received with immediate and widespread skepticism in the entomology community, journalists seized on the “end of world” narrative and energetically amplified it. “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here,” announced the New York Times Magazine in November 2018,..

…Of one of the major studies used to promote the apocalypse narrative (Sánchez-Bayo), Saunders noted an appallingly selective and apparently willful misrepresentation and manipulation of the data:

From a scientific perspective, there is so much wrong with the paper, it really shouldn’t have been published in its current form: the biased search method, the cherry-picked studies, the absence of any real quantitative data to back up the bizarre 40 percent extinction rate that appears in the abstract (we don’t even have population data for 40 percent of the world’s insect species), and the errors in the reference list. And it was presented as a “comprehensive review” and a “meta-analysis,” even though it is neither.

Reflecting broad concerns among ecologists, Saunders also worried about the failure of prominent news organizations like the New York Times to treat alarmist claims with proper skepticism, and argued that ideological group-think had captured the media on this issue:

Most journalists I spoke to have been great, and really understand the importance of getting the facts straight. But a few seemed confused when they realized I wasn’t agreeing with the apocalyptic narrative—”other scientists are confirming this, so why aren’t you?”

Professor Saunders has written a stunning four-part series on what she sees as the manipulation by narrative-promoting journalists and scientists [Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4]. Read More > ay Quillette

Las Vegas police solve an old murder case using record-low volume of DNA – Las Vegas police appear to have smashed a record while using ancestry to find cold case suspectsBBC News reports that Vegas law enforcement claims to have solved the 1989 murder of 14-year-old Stephanie Isaacson (pictured here) using the smallest known volume of DNA. Investigators sent just 0.12 nanograms of DNA samples, or about 15 cells, to Othram’s gene sequencing lab to help find a match. For context, a typical home DNA testing kit collects at least 750 nanograms.

Othram used the sequences to comb through ancestry databases and pinpoint the suspect’s cousin and identify Darren Roy Marchand as the culprit. The team confirmed the match by comparing the sample against Marchand’s DNA from an arrest for a 1986 murder case. Marchand was never convicted and died in 1995.

The breakthrough won’t necessarily thrill everyone, however. There have been concerns that law enforcement might violate privacy when conducting these tests, and the Justice Department has established guidelines precisely to prevent those kinds of abuses. While there’s no indication Vegas authorities crossed boundaries in the Richardson case, a much larger range of potentially solvable cases also widens the potential for more privacy violations. Read More > at Engadget

The Weird Case of a Man 3 Doctors Declared Dead Who Woke Up Just Before His Autopsy – Spanish prison authorities were baffled after a prisoner who was declared dead by three separate doctors woke up in the morgue – just hours before his own autopsy was set to commence.

The prisoner, then-29-year-old Gonzalo Montoya Jiménez, was found unresponsive in his cell during a morning roll call on 7 January 2018 and had been transferred to a hospital mortuary in a body bag when pathologists heard something strange.

Snoring. Coming from inside the bag.

Jiménez, who was serving time for robbery in the maximum security wing of Asturias Central Penitentiary in northwest Spain, was first attended by two doctors on duty in the prison, after he was found sitting unconscious in a chair in his cell, with no signs of violence being evident.

Sensing no vital signs, the doctors declared him dead, and an hour later a forensic doctor inspected the body, concurred with the first evaluations, and issued a third death report.

Only later in the morgue did physicians realize something was terribly wrong. Read More > at Science Alert

How Science Lost the Public’s Trust – But what does it mean to believe in science? The British science writer Matt Ridley draws a pointed distinction between “science as a philosophy” and “science as an institution.” The former grows out of the Enlightenment, which Mr. Ridley defines as “the primacy of rational and objective reasoning.” The latter, like all human institutions, is erratic, prone to falling well short of its stated principles. Mr. Ridley says the Covid pandemic has “thrown into sharp relief the disconnect between science as a philosophy and science as an institution.” . . .

Vaccines have been central to the question of “misinformation” and the White House’s pressure campaign against social media to censor it. Mr. Ridley worries about the opposite problem: that social media “is complicit in enforcing conformity.” It does this “through ‘fact checking,’ mob pile-ons, and direct censorship, now explicitly at the behest of the Biden administration.” He points out that Facebook and Wikipedia long banned any mention of the possibility that the virus leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.

“Conformity,” Mr. Ridley says, “is the enemy of scientific progress, which depends on disagreement and challenge. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts, as [the physicist Richard] Feynman put it.” Mr. Ridley reserves his bluntest criticism for “science as a profession,” which he says has become “rather off-puttingly arrogant and political, permeated by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.” Increasing numbers of scientists “seem to fall prey to groupthink, and the process of peer-reviewing and publishing allows dogmatic gate-keeping to get in the way of new ideas and open-minded challenge.”

The World Health Organization is a particular offender: “We had a dozen Western scientists go to China in February and team up with a dozen Chinese scientists under the auspices of the WHO.” At a subsequent press conference they pronounced the lab-leak theory “extremely unlikely.” The organization also ignored Taiwanese cries for help with Covid-19 in January 2020. “The Taiwanese said, ‘We’re picking up signs that this is a human-to-human transmission that threatens a major epidemic. Please, will you investigate?’ And the WHO basically said, ‘You’re from Taiwan. We’re not allowed to talk to you.’ ”

He notes that WHO’s primary task is forestalling pandemics. Yet in 2015 it “put out a statement saying that the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century is climate change. Now that, to me, suggests an organization not focused on the day job.” Read More > in The Wall Street Journal

California and Five Other States Ban… Gaming Computers? – Six states, led by California’s fulltime climate alarmists, this week enacted a ban on the sales of high-end gaming computers.

Niche Gamer reports that Dell is already following the 2017 law that just went into effect. According to the gamer-focused site, Dell has “pulled the sale of seven of its eight Alienware gaming desktops” from California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

Trying to order one of the banned machines will trigger an alert: “This product cannot be shipped to the states of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont or Washington due to power consumption regulations adopted by those states. Any orders placed that are bound for those states will be canceled.”

The offending component would seem to be the power-hungry NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, but it’s no problem to order the card separately and install it yourself. I tried ordering one from Amazon without any hassle.

Gamers, you might have guessed, aren’t happy.

Since gamers typically love customizing or even building their own gaming machines, the six-state ban seems somewhat unlikely (cough, cough) to have much effect on the power consumed by gamers. Read More > at PJ Media

People Left Cities for Rural Zoom Towns. How Does That Impact Wildfire Risk? – On the other hand, we also saw the boom of “Zoom workers”—or knowledge workers who can conduct their work online. These workers typically work from anywhere. For these workers, the pandemic enabled them to move out of the city and work in more rural locations with natural beauty.

As such, the pandemic has given birth to a massive real estate boom in these so-called “Zoom towns” where knowledge workers relocated during the pandemic. These picturesque locations, particularly in the West, have seen a spike in real estate prices.

But there is tremendous risk associated with these growing Zoom towns in rural areas —almost all of them are in high wildfire risk areas. Living in a cabin in the woods seems idyllic until a spark of lightning ignites the forest and endangers your home.

We found that the Zoom town with the highest fire risk in our sample is Mariposa, CA, a picturesque town near Yosemite, followed by Springdale, UT, and Lake Arrowhead, CA. Meanwhile, the most expensive Zoom towns in our sample were Aspen, CO, and Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. The Zoom towns with the fastest price appreciation were Glen Ellen, CA, Truckee, CA, and Big Bear, CA, with annual price appreciation exceeding 25% in each location.

In general, our analysis finds that Zoom towns with lower home prices tend to carry higher wildfire risk. However, these same areas, which carry high fire risk, are also experiencing the highest appreciation in property values, as remote workers drive up demand. For those who deal with risk, such as the insurance industry, this can be a worrisome trend. Not only are more people moving to these higher-risk areas, but the property values (and subsequent potential losses) are growing at unprecedented rates.  Read More > at Priceonomics

National Police Association hits Congress for probing Jan. 6 attack while ‘ignoring’ 2020 violence – The National Police Association is criticizing Congress for investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot while “ignoring” the hundreds of protests that turned violent last year.

“There were at least 574 violent riots in 2020, and yet today’s Congressional hearings are focusing on only one riot, January 6th, 2021, and hearing testimony from only a few of the police officers involved,” association spokeswoman Betsy Brantner Smith told The Washington Times on Tuesday.

The retired police sergeant said immediately after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in Minnesota police custody last May, “policing was attacked from all sides” despite law enforcement agencies grappling with “violent riots night, after night, after night.”

“Brave police officers attempted to defend stores, apartment buildings, churches, hotels, several of their own precincts and courthouses and even a Ronald McDonald House from looting, arson and vandalism,” she said, adding that one officer was paralyzed and countless others suffered “horrific” injuries.

Sgt. Bratner Smith pointed to a July poll which found that nearly two-thirds (66%) of 996 likely voters said they think Congress should investigate the “574 protests that involved acts of violence, including assaults on police officers, looting and arson” last year.

The poll was conducted by the NPA and Rasmussen Reports.

If Congress does not investigate the 2020 protests, she says the nation will experience “unprecedented levels of gun violence,” which has already been on the rise. Read More > in The Washington Times

Liquidation of cows.’ How the drought creates chaos on California ranches, dairy farms – Jennifer Beretta has been working as a dairy farmer since she was 6 and knows some of her family’s 700 cows by name. One of her favorites, a Jersey named Harmony, has won top prizes at the Sonoma County Fair.

But business is business, and right now business is bad. California’s devastating drought has dried up most of the Beretta Family Dairy’s pastures, driven up the cost of feed and made milking cows unprofitable. The Beretta family has sold off more than 40 of its cows this year, and could sell more before too long.

All over California agriculture, water sources are being reduced to a trickle. Fields have been idled and even some fruit and nut orchards are being dismantled because of shortages. Based on what happened during the last drought, the financial losses to agriculture will be enormous.

In short, California’s $50 billion-a-year farm economy is turning nightmarish. And nobody’s losing more sleep than the state’s dairy farmers and beef-cattle producers, who are scrambling for feed to keep their animals alive.

Raising cows for milk or meat is a $10 billion-a-year business in California — bigger than wine grapes, bigger than almonds, bigger than anything else in the agricultural sector. But the drought has quickly turned the economics of dairy and beef upside down. Faced with steep increases in the cost of feed — assuming they can find it — beef and dairy farmers are watching their profits disappear.

The result is, many are selling off animals at a pace rarely seen.

Where does the drought come in? Ironically, it could bring prices down in the short run. As ranchers and dairy producers cull their herds, more and more animals will get turned into hamburger meat, glutting the market.

But over the long haul, the situation will reverse itself because of the shrinkage in herd sizes. There will be fewer products in the coming months and years. Read More > in The Fresno Bee

Adding Human Gene Boosts Crop Yields by 50 Percent – Adding the human gene that produces the FTO enzyme to rice and potatoes boosts yields of those crops by 50 percent in field tests, report a team of researchers associated with the University of Chicago, Peking University, and Guizhou University. Their report in the journal Nature Biotechnology says the modified plants grew significantly larger, produced longer root systems, and were better able to tolerate drought stress. In humans, the FTO enzyme erases certain markers that regulate the production of proteins associated with cellular growth. In plants, the FTO enzyme similarly erases markers that inhibit their growth.

“The rice plants grew three times more rice under laboratory conditions,” reports the accompanying press release. “When [the researchers] tried it out in real field tests, the plants grew 50% more mass and yielded 50% more rice. They grew longer roots, photosynthesized more efficiently, and could better withstand stress from drought.”

“This is a very exciting technology and could potentially help address problems of poverty and food insecurity at a global scale—and could also potentially be useful in responding to climate change,” said University of Chicago Economics Nobelist Michael Kremer in the press release. Read More > at Reason

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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